Minotaar's GWJ Overwatch D&D Campaign

Godfall

Beholder-kin of Spectators, Gazers, and a Gauth descended upon the party's ship while tiny toothy eyeball creatures tried to eat the ship apart! Quickly dispatching their foes, they feel the pull of a godfall - a massive gray expanse floating in the Astral Sea. A cave entrance awaits that takes them into a temple of a forgotten deity named Falinnia, a goddess of dreams. A spirit warned them that the ghosts of other martyrs to Falinnia went mad here, and she said that if they unlocked the power of the temple Falinnia would answer their questions.

Rooms with empty sarcophagi had switches to unlock the temple, but the mad ghosts indeed blocked their progress - animating giant suits of armor, crafting puzzles of endless rooms, or fighting them directly. They learned that the first spirit that warned them of the rest hadn't been here for nearly as long as the others, and activating the temple allowed them to be freed of their martyrdom and pass on. Azarek was keen on finding a piece of the godfall that could be used as a material component for his psychic anchor spell. When speaking with Falinnia she recommended they take a gemstone she created as a headrest for her most devout servant. Falinnia was delighted that new people had come to her forgotten piece of existence and could bear memory of her to the Material Plane.

Azarek hears Falinnia refer to mind flayers with disdain, and she calls them the "Sons of Fraal." She thinks his dreams lead him to The Far Realm, where the aboleth come from.

Vaelro asked about where the Horn of Valhalla might be, since she was led here. Falinnia told her to think about where she'd least like it to be...and a vision of the Githyanki capital of Tu'narath appeared in her mind. Vaelro shuddered at the thought.

IMAGE(https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/forgottenrealms/images/a/aa/Tunarath.png/revision/latest?cb=20180825135355)Tu'narath

Before leaving the godfall they partook in the dreaming herbs they'd found. Valka dreams of her family, which feels like home, even though none of them are in Tradeholdt anymore. Baz dreams of his creator, Verenestra. She feels cold, but not like winter - distant and out of touch. Azarek's dreams become divinations, as he can see the elder brain conspire with mind flayers to drug an aboleth into servitude. And Vaelro dreams of home, beautiful yet empty, and it makes her wonder if a house is actually a home if no one is there.

Refinancing

From the godfall they plane shift back to Shra'kt'lor, where Azarek meets up with Silah and they research what they can about Tu'narath. It's clear that Azarek wants to learn about the Seeming spell, a powerful illusion that can mask many people at once before the do any real infiltration.

So Vaelro, Valka, and Baz set out into the Githzerai capital's market and try and find the goods. They wind up speaking with Krolid the interplanar artificer who is more than happy to get what they need, but it always takes time. And time on the Elemental Plane of Chaos moves at varying degrees of speed compared to the material plane. Nonetheless, they decide to stay the night cycle for a crystal ball to be delivered to Baz and Vaelro to get a magical sealcoat on her armor. They also discussed obtaining that Seeming spell - and Krolid explained exactly how much it'd cost, which was far more than what they had. In order to strike a deal, Krolid proposes a job - steal a magical item called a Luckstone from a dragon's hoard and the spell scroll is theirs. All the information they have is that it's on an island west of the Sword Coast. Vaelro knows that if it's anywhere island-bound near the Sword Coast, she knows someone in Luskan, The City of Sails, who can give up some info.

Layover

Plane Shifting the repurposed githyanki astral schooner (now dubbed The Pragmatist) to outside the walls of Luskan, our heroes head into the pirate-infested port town looking for leads.

IMAGE(https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/forgottenrealms/images/6/6f/Luskan.png/revision/latest?cb=20190408204959)

Vaelro takes them to the Seven Sails Inn, a large building with wood planks on its roof to resemble a shark's fin. Twilby, the bartender and contact of Vaelro's tells them he knows there used to be a dragon that lived on the Whalebones, a set of islands in the Trackless Sea closest to Luskan. He's heard the dragon isn't there anymore, and people who go looking for it's hoard don't come back.

Valka is enticed to play a drinking game with some local patrons. Shots of clear liquid are poured for each drinker, but each drink is not the same - some are simple alcohols, others are pure liquid fire, and others still are actually just soured milk. Try as she might, she encountered one too many sour milks and lost her bet and breakfast. It was the last of her coin, save a few coppers.

Baz sees musicians on stage and immediately dances toward them and brings out his washboard and plays wonderfully along with the rhythm. He also sees a barmaid bring food out to another patron and asks if he can get some too. He's delighted when he does, but confused when she asks him for payment.

Twilby tells Vaelro to ask Captain Forscythe for more information, since he travels that way occasionally. Forscythe and his mates are playing Dead Eye Dice, and Vaelro and Azarek put up the gold to buy into their game. In a heated contest of luck, it came down to the dice between Vaelro and Forscythe in the very end. But luck was not a lady, it seems it was a stubby dwarf with rings in his beard and a smile on his lips as his arm swept the winnings his way.

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Vaelro asked with a smile if he'd ever heard of a dragon in the Whalebones, and indeed he had. Forscythe tells them of Tauntzoth of the Rocks, an old bronze dragon that went mad and died years ago. It lived on Finback Island, but tales tell that it's cursed and dying along with her. The island reeks of putrescence, and the wrecks of ships long abandoned by crews in search of treasure still lie on its southern beaches.

They find out how far it is and where it's located, and that a sailing ship travels faster with good winds then [/i]The Pragmatist[/i]. They attempt to hire Forscythe and his crew to carry them there. One of his spies overheard Azarek and Vaelro discussing what they were doing on Finback Island and exactly how much money they currently had, so the initial offer Forscythe proposed was quickly increased to a ludicrous amount of coin.

Leaving the bar after rescuing Baz and paying for his food, they are determined to make the trip in their own ship, regardless of how fast it is. Setting sail into the open ocean, they're surprised at how the wind does indeed affect them at high altitudes - so they begin other experiments in the sky and the sea over their travels. Baz shifts into a giant eagle or an octopus to scout around the traveling ship while Azarek is stuck at the helm, relentlessly commanding it. They even experiment with using conjured water elementals to help steer and guide the ship while the wind does the work of pushing it south.

On their third day of travel they see a black storm brewing to the west, and in order to avoid it they sail east. But in the bleakness of the ocean Vaelro spots a tiny island off to the east. Hootley is summoned to scout it out, but the bird comes flapping back to them with fury as he's being chased by a trio of giant flying beetles!

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The Finback

The trio of oversized insects fly down to the crew of the Pragmatist and attack with their mandibles and poison. Azarek is paralyzed by the beetle venom and his psychic connection to the ship makes it fall ever so briefly before Baz laces a magical restoration spell over him. Valka and Vaelro are quick to slice and dice the beetles - but it seems the storm they were trying to evade had its mind made up to overtake them.

A creature made of air and lightning descends upon the ship, rocking the vessel back and forth with winds, hail and lightning. It keeps its distance, swirling out of reach while hurling devastating bolts of lightning that crack open the deck of the ship. Azarek eventually relinquishes control long enough to cast a magical flying spell on both Valka and a giant simian polymorphed Baz. In short order the creature is slashed, has dead beetle carcasses hurled at it, and generally pummeled into submission. As the creature fades, the storm immediately recedes.

IMAGE(https://flashbak.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Shipwrecks-7.jpg)

As they come to the island they can see the shipwrecks on a small stretch of beach. They scout around the island before landing and find that the whole island is covered in a thick canopy of trees. The Finback mountain on the western edge is the highest peak in the surrounding islands known as the Whalebones. The vegetation goes up most of the way on the mountain, but they don't spot any cave entrances after hours of searching above and below the waterline. Eventually they settle down near the shipwrecks and investigate. No remains and no sails left on the ships seems odd, especially when the cargo deck is filled with barrels of rotting food. Into the jungle they go, trailblazing through thick brush. Hootley spies a tent village of odd looking lizard people. They are dressed in near nothing, their camp filled with common folk who are gutting boar, scaling fish, and weaving textiles when some of them spot Hootley in the trees. A raven is out of place in the jungle, which scares the lizards who grab for spears and bows. Before any harm could come to Hootley, Azarek transported him instantly back to his shoulder.

Relaying what he'd seen, a quick retreat was in order. Vaelro didn't want to take the chance getting spotted by natives, much less getting into anything violent if she didn't have to. Back aboard the ship they could see lizardfolk eyes spying their floating aircraft. A plan was made. Using the magical bag of food, lay out a wonderful meal (of delicious empanadas) to see if the lizardfolk can be lured out. When that doesn't seem to get their attention, they fly off, doing another lap around the island and trying to see hidden treasures. They do utilize the ships' navigational table to see a stone altar right outside a cave entrance at the foot of the mountain. When they return to the beach they see the empanadas still there. Aboard the ship, Baz and Valka snack on their ignored empanadas, only to discover they've been poisoned! How dare those impudent locals! A new plan was concocted. Baz would go to the empanadas. Hoping the lizardfolk are watching, he'd feign eating and fainting from the poison, while Vaelro stays hidden nearby and Azarek and Valka are aboard the airship a distance away so as not to scare them.

Their intent was so good, you guys. SO good.

IMAGE(https://www.dandwiki.com/w/images/c/c5/Lizardfolk.jpg)

The lizardfolk wait until they can barely see the ship and come out to secure Baz with force and purpose, taking him prisoner. Vaelro was specifically selected as a negotiator due to her excellent telepathy that transcends the language barrier. When she states she just wants to talk and doesn't want trouble, the confused lizard she speaks to only responds with "You will be food for Zedrazes!" Vaelro gets her hands tied behind her back and they begin to haul them away. Baz won't have it so he makes the first move and uses his fey powers to teleport to freedom. The tips of Baz's auburn hair begin to fade to white as he blasts the lot of them with a cone of cold. Vaelro uses her psychic blade to quickly free herself and start dispatching the lizards from the shadows(which she did not want to do). The conflict nearly resolved with Azarek and Valka arriving by magically flying, leaving the slower vessel behind. Some of the lizardfolk had escaped. Azarek really wanted to interrogate one of them, and he and Valka fly off trying to chase those that left. They come across the camp Azarek has seen before, though far less populated. Valka quickly snatched one of the smaller ones up over her shoulder and proceeded to fly back to the beach, with it clawing and biting her the whole way. Summarily dumped on the beach and bound by rope, the heroes get back aboard their ship and begin asking questions.

Vaelro begins speaking to the lizard telepathically. The lizard is upset at hearing voices in its head an screams for her to stop. They press on, asking it what "Zedrazes" is. He says its their god, and you will be fed to it. Azarek starts detecting the creatures thoughts as Vaelro keeps questioning the lizard. He sees images of the altar they'd spied with the navigation table, but in the creatures mind the altar had bodies of sailors packed atop it, lizardfolk bringing them as a sacrifice for whatever awaited in the cave beyond.

And at that point, the lizard shut its mind down, stared at its toes, and closed off its thoughts, screaming "Get out of my head! Get out of my head!" over and over until Vaelro put her hands up in frustration. Leaving their captive bound they discussed how they'd handle getting to that altar and seeing if they could magically locate the Luckstone near the cave. But that would have to wait for the next day...

Baz is sullen and takes to the top of the ship. His mood is changing in the night sky as he watches the island far below get overridden with fog. No wildlife to hear of see, it seems, which is quite odd. He passes this information off to Valka as she takes over the watch. The fog is thick now, surrounding the island. She doesn't hear the flap of wings, but she feels the weight of it tugging the ship down. She looks overboard for a moment in the moonless night and can only see that something is attached to the bottom of their airship. She runs below deck, clanging her swords together and rousing the others just before they hear a mighty roar from below.

The bottom of the ship explodes upward with force, a stinging and burning liquid shooting through the decks, splintering and both melting the wooden frame of the ship away. Coated in the acidic bile our heroes look down and can only see the face of a black dragon for a moment before it flies out of sight. IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/nV1LxA6.jpg)They rush above deck - the ship is starting to fall out of the sky! Azarek runs to the helm as the other three see the dragon circling around. Trying to protect Azarek they wall around him as the dragon slams into the side of the ship, clinging on and attempting to swallow Baz whole. They ineffectually swat at it before it launches away again, circling around to the bow of the ship and again unleashes its hideous acid breath all over our heroes and coating the main deck of the ship, eating away at the structure of the ship itself. The Pragmatist begins a nosedive, headed for the waters below. Baz quickly changes into a giant octopus, tentacularly snagging everyone and falling overboard into the ocean. Vaelro quickly ensures their safety with a press of the Cube of Force, surrounding them in an impenetrable force field and floating like an ice cube in a glass of water. OctoBaz helps swim everyone back to shore, and they quickly and ably find a place inland to rest. Baz's nature magics suppress sight and sound around them as they try and find sleep, though it's ridden with nerves and anxiety as they can hear the lizardfolk hunting for them, but never able to find them.

In the morning they retreat to the rocky shores to get their bearings and create a plan. With the ship destroyed, Vaelro reminds them that while she doesn't like a job incomplete, the option to use a scroll to get out of this stinking death-island is available. They don't want to leave with less than what they came with, so they decide to press on down the beach toward the Finback. Baz spends some time communing with the primal energy of the island to get a better insight into where they should go and what they're up against. While his magic can't penetrate into the mountain cave, he did find a cave entrance to the rear of the mountain that he'd never spotted before. So they head through the jungle, parallel to the beach to try and enter without disturbing the lizardfolk likely to be at the altar cave entrance.

Sneak as they might, they are discovered by a hunting party of lizardfolk! Large brutes and lizard priests attack alongside those with spear and shield. Our heroes begin to prevail, but one of the priests looks Valka dead in the eye and curses her, causing every bit of harm it takes to be inflicted back upon her! The barbarian, not happy about her circumstances, decides to power through anyway, feeling blow after blow inflicted upon herself. Baz gives chase as another priest tries to flee but is stopped short by Baz's thorn whip multiple times. Azarek webs up the brutes allowing Vaelro and Valka to carve them up quickly, but by the end of it all Valka was feeling the hurt something fierce. Some druidic healing later and some time to catch their breath, and surely they're ready to infiltrate a dragon's lair and steal its treasures...

Zedrazes Hoard Heist

Our heroes chose to regroup for a moment after the battle, resting within the silence of the druid's nature magic. They decide to follow the islands' rocky edge to get to the rear of the Finback, where Baz's communion with island told him there was an egress. Octobaz makes another appearance as they come to the right spot, but there's no visible opening. He goes below the water and slips through an illusion masking the entrance! Gathering the group for a swim, they enter into a pitch black cave that opens into a few passageways. Finding a small piece of land, they gather their wits for just a moment before set upon by more lizards!

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Dissimilar to the lizardfolk before, these large creatures resemble alligators with gigantic jaws and equally deadly claws. They catch a fatigued Valka off guard as they erupt from the water, snapping their whole mouths around the barbarian and thrashing her about. With the barbarian out of the way, they moved on to the druid - but Vaelro had one's number before it got to move on. A purple energy dagger caught the gator twixt the eyes and it dropped quickly. Baz took the time to recover Valka but it was a moment too soon as it snapped at her again and began to drag her underwater. Vaelro and Azarek threw everything they had at it to kill the gatorman before Valka was gone.

With a sigh of relief they had a rest before they scouted around the cave. Azarek's arcane eye spies the remains of a dragon, in skeletal form, atop a nest. Rooting around he comes across a bronzed egg, still in tact, far below the rocks and bones. Valka quickly heads out to investigate and pick it up. It weighs a ton, but every so often, movement can be felt inside. It is still very much alive. Azarek also scouts ahead to a larger cave opening surrounded by an acid pool - and further still he's come across Zedrazes himself. The gigantic black dragon is walking back to lay down on it's treasure hoard. The arcane eye is invisible and still provides use as Azarek keeps up his spycam - and some time later sees the dragon almost exit the cave - but stops short to grab a snack. Several lizardfolk priests are reconstituting the corpses of dead pirates, then "pickling" them in a light acid bath for Zedrazes. The dragon plucks one from an acid pool and swallows it whole before returning to its hoard.

IMAGE(https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/forgottenrealms/images/6/66/Young_black_dragon-5e.jpg/revision/latest/scale-to-width-down/340?cb=20190408023657)

So they're right there - but in planning their heist, and with the crazy pressures put on them by losing their airship to a dragon attack, being assaulted in the jungle when trying to hide, then spending a night in terror being hunted, they didn't have all their resources to quickly and ably find the Luckstone in the middle of the hoard. They decide to exit the way they came in and see if they can gather more information from the front of the cave, then spend the night resting in the dead dragon's nest to gather their spells and health before attempting their theft. Baz and Vaelro go on a mission to find a local bird for Baz to Wild Shape into, and with great success. They stake out the area where the lizards have the corpses of the pirates on stone altars. They look to be tending to them, and slowly bringing them into the cave, along with tanning leathers, cooking, and building. They wait a few hours, and while barely noticeable, Vaelro hears the rumbling of the dragon from within the cave, but it never exits.

Returning to Azarek and Valka who are already cooped up in the dragon nest, they hear a lizardfolk's voice coming from afar. Azarek's divinations understand the end of the sentence to mean "SUPPER!" Azarek uses Hootley to scout and see four lizardfolk with pieces of human flesh - a real arm and a leg - and waving them about in the water. One of the lizards spots the wizard's familiar and begins to swim after it to investigate. Our heroes surprise the lizard and dispatch it quickly, but not before it was able to call out for help - and yelling "Notify Zedrazes!" The chase begins.

Vaelro uses her daggers to both swim and teleport toward the other three lizardfolk, while Octobaz swims after them. Azarek casts Fly on himself and Valka and they dart toward the creatures. Valka manages to lock eyes by accident with one of the lizard priests, feeling that same cursed dread she'd felt before - but she carries on and flies after the one scrambling toward the dragon's cave.

The other lizard guard is quickly slashed at and dispatched, but not before throwing a javelin and Valka - which keeps her stormy fury going. Valero and Azarek start dealing with the priest that cursed Valka, and again not knowing what'd happened, inadvertently harming their barbarian in the process. Baz uses his fey powers to teleport time and again to catch up with the scout. Valka lands from her flight in front of it, and Baz behind it. It tries in vain to escape and shouts out toward Zedrazes cave beyond, before its run through by Fulmination, Valka's storm blade. A thunderous roar can be heard from the cave beyond. Azarek summons his most powerful spell and crafts a perfect Wall of Force to intercept whatever might come that way.

Valka is continually in pain from the curse as her comrades beat up on the lizard priest, her and Baz return and try to silence the last offender, but the priest saps the life from Valka with its magics, and she falls again.Before they can do anything else, the priest scrambles from her grasp and heads down the hall. As he's killed by Vaelro's blade, Zedrazes slams his giant claws into the invisible wall, scraping down the barrier. Green energy alights in the dragons throat as it spews a spray of acid, that cascades harmlessly down the forcewall. Knowing there's another way to get to his prey and kill, Zedrazes turns with alacrity and flees.

The group is now faced with a difficult and quick choice. They've always had an escape plan, to use the Plane Shift scroll Vaelro has to teleport back to Shra'kt'lor. But do they think the dragon is waiting for them? Is now the time to raid the hoard or do they escape with their lives and take no chances? Putting caution aside, they clasp hands and run toward the dragon's hoard. If any problems arise, it is mere moments to cast the spell to safety.

And inside they went - they could still hear the ruckus created by Zedrazes as he's begun to loop around toward the hidden cave entrance, lizardfolk chattering and shouting alongside. With only seconds to spare and no magic tricks to quickly locate the Luckstone, they combine their finely tune LOOT GOBLIN skills and start nabbing everything in sight.

Vaelro takes a softer approach, and uses her experience in thievery to gently work her whole arm into a pile of coins and feel for something distinct. And lo, she grasps at a stone with the markings described to her by Krolid the Interplanar Artificer just as a mass of lizardfolk, furious with their flagrant disrespect, storm into the dragon's chamber. So they gather together and hold hands, and recite the words of the Plane Shift scroll...

Tu'narath

Back in Shra'kt'lor, our heroes head to the market. Krolid the interplanar artificer had asked for the Luckstone in exchange for a very powerful spell scroll called Seeming - which allows the caster and their friends to disguise themselves for a lengthy period of time. It was just what they needed to blend in to the Githyanki capital, Tu'narath.

While exchanging goods, the metallic egg poking out from Valka's backpack begins to rumble and hatch! A bronze dragon wyrmling adopts Valka quickly and chitters toward the people surrounding her. Azarek can divine the wyrm's speech as Draconic, though he doesn't speak it himself. Vaelro connects to the dragon telepathically and delights in assuring it that it's in good company. They learn it's been given a name already - Nermi.

Azarek spends time discussing things with Silah to coordinate his deadly mission into the Astral Plane to Tu'narath. He asks Silah to look after the newborn dragon, as they don't have a plan for it yet and it can't stay in Tu'narath. She reluctantly agrees, as she seems at the same time excited as overwhelmed at the prospects of taking care of a dragon.

Baz gets the grand idea to pull together nature's bounty of a feast - one worthy of the fey princess. Speaking with several artisans and tradesmen across the open market of Shra'kt'lor, he ensures that everyone they know is invited to a Heroes' Feast. A bountiful spread of delightful foods and beverages is enjoyed by all, as our heroes bid their farewells and use a Plane Shift scroll to head to Tu'narath, the City of Death.
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Arriving in a landfill of unwanted items, they look around at the District of Discards for the briefest of moments before hearing thunderous footsteps approach. They hide and watch. A red dragon strides nearly over top of them, heading to meet a pair of Githyanki working around a table gathering items. They're assisted by a haggard looking elf, who wanders off to find more things - but the Gith are placing items in bags that they then deliver to the dragon, who takes the new additions to its hoard and wanders off the way it came.

The haggard elf surprises our hiding heroes, and is introduced as Tycho. Vaelro knew him some time ago when she was here, but he looks so far aged from what she remembers. He's apparently quite old, and was brought to the material plane for an experiment to understand the mythal of Silverymoon, where he's from. When he was brought back to the material plane, his age caught up to him. Vaelro explains that she found an escape in Tu'narath by pure chance - a silver astral pool opened up for the briefest of moments and she leapt through back to Faerun.
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Tycho

Tycho asked to come along and get back to the material plane. A plan is created revolving around Azarek's new Seeming spell, to magically disguise each of them as Githyanki warriors. Azarek chooses to disguise Vaelro as a Githyanki knight, to lend her an air of authority. The one entrance in or out of the District of Discards is guarded by a small cadre of warriors, who look bored at their post. Vaelro and her retinue of warriors confidently stride up to the guards and demand entrance, citing a magical plane shifting malfunction that put them here instead of inside the military district. The guards are suspicious, but ultimately allow them access so as not to incite the wrath of this knight.

Inside the city, it's a bustling metropolis. Plenty of buildings are several stories tall, a mish-mash of different cultural architectural styles and streets filled with military personnel. Our heroes hide in plain sight as they navigate their way to the tallest structure nearby, The Citadel of the Void's Eye. One of two mighty spires in the city, this citadel is a military installation that trains and expands the psychic abilities of the Githyanki. Vaelro knows its where she'd spent too much time against her will long ago, and her memories of it are hazy at best. The Locate Object spell is used to determine if they're on the right track - and the Horn of Valhalla pings on the spells divination, right in the center of the Citadel of the Void's Eye.

Tycho explains that there's no simple entrance to the citadel, he's heard that there's a magical teleportation device that grants access. They scout around the citadel and find a large statue of Gith, the ancient hero of the Gith peoples who gave them her name. A vestibule next to the statue has people coming in and going out - and they scout out that there's a room inside that must contain the teleporter - but they don't know the passcode that must be said aloud to utilize it. Their new plan has them follow another knight entering the vestibule and Azarek keeping his Detect Thoughts ability active on her mind, and easily gains the passcode.

After allowing the knight her solitude in the vestibule they take their own turn. A stone room with several circles marking places to stand is inside, and everyone takes their places and repeats the stolen passcode. Instantly our heroes are teleported to a new stone room, with blue markings on the floor that lead to a few large crystals suspended mid-air. There's also a guard who looks incredibly surprised to see the lot of them as they realize their magical disguise is dropped. As they quickly move to prevent this guard from sounding an alarm, the knight they'd followed from before heard their ruckus and comes back to check on what's going on. She immediately scrambles for help. As our heroes exit this teleportation room they realize their disguises are back on. It must be the room that prevents the illusion. Catching the escaping knight but failing to subdue her before she plane shifts away, they take a moment to begin to explore this circular citadel, but not after smashing the power crystals in the teleportation room that shut down illusions and allow teleportation to this section of the citadel.

Outside of the teleportation room is a series of large crystal slabs that look to be filled with roiling smoke. Azarek determines that these are a history of the Githyanki people and read them -
Long ago, before many of the worlds known in the present day were born, the evil illithids ruled a vast empire known to some as Nihilath. The illithid empire held many worlds and even a few planes of existence in their tentacled grip. After a thousand years of engineering, they constructed an artificial world known as Penumbra, a vast disk that circled a star.
Nihilath kept slaves. Hailing from conquered worlds of Zarum and Pharagos, the ancient cultures of those peoples were lost as the illithids performed thousands of years of experimentation and creating, among many, our favored people.
With this strength and resolve came our savior Gith, whose power was as strong as her will for freedom. Inciting rebellion against her illithid slavers, she gave us her name as the "children of Gith."
When insurrection from within came from the heretic Zerthimon, she exerted her power and told "those who spurn Gith" to flee in exile after destroying their leader, and they fled to Limbo.
Finally, Gith chose to give strength to her people and sent Vlaakith to the Nine Hells. She bargained with Ephelomon, consort to Tiamat, to provide safety to her people in a partnership with the red dragons. Dispater, Lord of Dis and the realm of Baator in Tiamat's domain, required a soul in exchange for such a partnership, and Gith willingly gave herself to honor the accord. She named her successor Vlaakith I, who was given the Scepter of Ephelomon, now used as the symbol of rule by her greatness, Vlaakith CLVII.

Azarek takes umbrage with the Githyanki take on Zerth's rebellion, but nevertheless learns a few new pieces of history.

The spell reads that the Horn of Valhalla is above them, so they head upstairs. They find a large orb that Vaelro knows is connected to the laboratory where she'd been captive, but don't know how to use it yet. They come across a closed door where they can hear voices coming from inside, and hide while the door opens and footsteps walk away. As whoever that was goes downstairs, they investigate the lab and see a stone slab with blood stains covering it. Notes on a desk discuss discoveries about Uthgardt barbarians, and claims that their subjects are from the Gray Wolf and Raven tribes (now extinct). A crude map is drawn of the barbarian homeland, and seems to depict Tradeholdt, though it was then called Raven Rock. Valka decides to use Shatterspike to destroy the stone slab, as it represents the pain in Vaelro's eyes of her time here.

Out in the main hall, Azarek had been closely inspecting an incredibly wondrous crystal. Hanging in its own circular room directly in the center is the Void's Eye. It houses the experiences of past Gith who'd sacrificed themselves for the greater good - that greater good being Vlaakith, the Lich Queen of the Githyanki. Azarek devises a ritual to extract the memories and experiences of the Void's Eye, but he needs time. As he inscribes circles on the floor and works out incantations, the others watch out for any interlopers. Hearing footsteps coming back up the stairs, Baz casts a spell to mask their presence. The footsteps go in to the room with the destroyed slab, then come investigate the sullen darkness where our heroes are hiding out.

A githyanki sporting large horns and scales roams the room, and eventually comes across our wizard working on the ritual. Shouting "INTRUDERS!" the draconic gith attacks with a roar of flame from its throat, swirling the entire enclosed room of the Void's Eye in flame. It is supernaturally quick, dodging attacks and parrying others, so Baz gets the bright idea to take it out instantly, and casts Polymorph, changing the draconic gith into a tortoise. A mere moment of relief goes by before a berserker rounds the entrance and throws an axe directly at the tortoise (almost as if they had some kind of psychic connection), returning the gith to itself once more. Dispatching the berserker quickly, when defeated she dissipates into an ethereal form before fading away, rather than collapsing from wounds.
IMAGE(https://1d4chan.org/images/4/4e/Duthka%27gith_4e.jpg)

The gith continues to breathe fire over and over, so our heroes retreat for a moment - but Baz takes a chance and casts Polymorph once more, and the draconic gith is shelled once more. A brief respite ensues as they search around for any others who might come investigate, but feel assured they're finally alone (+1 tortoise). Azarek works quickly to finish his ritual. Gathered around, a psychic wave washes over everyone in the chamber of the Void's Eye. Years of experiences flood into their minds. The Githyanki people are a harsh breed of interplanar raiders whose experiences are often desperate, driven, and horrific. They do not believe in slavery as they were once enslaved, though they have no qualms about taking prisoners for grim experimentation and research who are discarded when their use is up. However, if they are raiding for bounty, they simply take no prisoners. Years of slaughter and domination weigh painfully on the mind when forcefully taken in. At the end of their collective vision, a haunting image of a pale Githyanki woman, gaunt of skin and wearing a gleaming crown. Her red eyes turn to look inward at their souls before the images fade away...

And the pain of the imagery must have weighed heavily on a tortoise's mind as the Polymorph fades once again and the draconic Gith rises again, to blast its flame breath! The others escape the room while Vaelro steps in and uses her Cube of Force to put an indestructible wall between her allies and this monster. It breathes its flame breath again, which was muted against the wall of the cube, yet singes Baz all the same. Baz shows the anger of Spring as he curses the Gith with a contagion of disease - a comparatively slow working spell, but it pays off in spades. As Valka climbs atop Vaelro's force cube to battle it sword to sword the Gith slows down, the disease poisoning it from the inside. Eventually the creature starts bleeding from its eyes, mouth and ears, fingernails and scales, and cannot manage to withstand the repeated blows of the barbarian. Valka senses the Gith slowing down and ends it quickly, from stem to stern.

A moment to recoup is debated as they cannot heal in this plane of existence without magical aid. Spells are used and they set off again. They know they need to find a way upward still but don't see any way up from this floor. So they descend and begin to search. They come across a room designed to aid in Githyanki training of telekinesis, and find a crystal slab that looks like the history slabs they'd found before, but on a smaller scale and seemingly a piece of a larger whole.

The next room is designed to train the Githyanki power of Non-detection. A creature stands in a circle and its surface thoughts are projected on a wall, like an image in a theater. Azarek's mind is recounting the experiences that led him here, and how his adventures have helped him unlock his magical knowledge. Baz's mind is an image of fey beauty, with himself shown as a mighty stag beset by shadowy otherworldly creatures (which must have been his allies) and a light that shines his way to lead them (presumably Verenestra). Valka's mind is a heroic showcase of her time in Tu'narath, even showing her hopes of stealing a Githyanki astral barge with comic simplicity. Vaelro's mind is a first person recounting of the experiments that her Gith captor performed upon her. Her hands were cut apart with slivers of crystal as she worked her hardest to not show fear or pain.

They grab a second crystal slab and move on to the third room. While they can hear voices inside and relying on their disguises, they go directly into the third room and find a Githyanki clearly magically abled, aided by another Githyanki assistant. A quick glance around the room reveals a third crystal slab. A giant moonstone floats in the room as well as a series of floating crystal slabs that the magician is working with. Our heroes are immediately questioned, and when Vaelro tries to come up with a fake name, Azarek steps in and attempts to magically suggest they move along. The assistant is very quickly fooled and scuttles out of the room, while the wizard is not so easily tricked. She casts a fireball at the party and then tries to use a Fey step to escape out of the room. But she's just not fast enough and she's caught and cut down.

With the third slab in hand and the pieces reunited, a vision of the orb on the floor above and an entry pass phrase, they think they've found the keys to the laboratory above. Also psychically stowed in the slab are notes on what is going on above the Void's Eye. There, Vaelro's former captor is performing his experiments using the Horn of Valhalla. He's been testing the berserkers psychic potency - the horn needs a week's time to recharge in the material plane, but the time constraints of the horns summons in the Astral is….lengthened. He's discovered that the berserkers summoned are real people (or were) and sometimes the same person shows up when summoned. He's considering destroying the horn as it comes close to enslavement - abhorrent by githyanki standards given their past, but has managed to convince himself that the spirits of a life once lived is not privy to the same freedoms as a living person. He is trying to prove if their spirits are captured inside the horn or if they exist elsewhere, but so far he's only found memories inside their heads of lives lived with no memory of the fellow berserkers summoned.

And so our heroes head upstairs...

...to find a door, and they hear conversation on the other side. Just as Valka is about to kick the door down, it opens. Cautiously striding inside, they see Zarloth, the Githyanki Commander from Vaelro's vision toying with the Brass Horn of Valhalla. Next to him is Tycho, whispering in his ear, and along the walls of this laboratory stand motionless barbarians - perfectly still, in fact, but armed nonetheless.

"I don't ever expect my experiments to come back," Zarloth says as he turns and glances at Vaelro.
"I needed to come back and get something," she replies as her eyes quickly dart to a side table. It holds a bust of the mighty Gith herself, though Vaelro's more concerned with the golden pocket watch draped over the bust's neck.
"I can't imagine what you may have forgotten on your way out, surely you left with far more than you ever had before I improved you," Zarloth says, his hand readying on his silver sword.
"I never asked for this!"

IMAGE(https://i.pinimg.com/originals/40/c1/69/40c16918977ab8ce35c8cad3d25a268e.jpg)
Zarloth

At the crescendo of the exchange our heroes rushed forward as Zarloth held aloft the Horn, and the berserkers came to life. The melee was pure chaos from the start - our heroes surged toward Zarloth and the Horn of Valhalla, but the spiritual berserkers intercepted them. Valka pushed her way to meet Zarloth toe to toe, exchanging blows back and forth. Tycho let loose spells and countered some of Azarek's, infuriating the Githzerai wizard, and forcing a rally at the back of the chamber. When some breathing room allowed, Vaelro decided to use her innate talents to her benefit. Baz intuits her plan and shunts her through a tear in space so Vaelro is directly behind Zarloth. She takes his cape and whips it up and over his head, and snatches the Horn from his hand. The berserkers immediately fade into the ether, now that their summoner no longer has control of the horn.

A fury takes hold of Zarloth as he rages and lashes out with his silver greatsword, causing wound after wound - but with numbers against Zarloth and Tycho, they are quickly overwhelmed. Amidst a heavy blow to Valka and Baz using the last of his restorative spells to get her on her feet, Azarek unleashes a bolt of lightning at Tycho sending the elven sorcerer down. Vaelro then concentrates for a moment, only the briefest of moments, feeling the power in herself surge through her hands forming a psychic needle that she hurls at Zarloth, lancing him directly through the skull.

Our heroes victorious, they spend no more amount of time than they have to on the Astral Plane, and use a scroll to get them back to Shra'kt'lor.

-----

A warm reunion moments later between our heroes and Nermie (who didn't miss them for the blink they were gone, but assuredly would have, given the chance). They gather their things, say their goodbyes to Azarek's mentor Silah and their favorite interplanar artificer Krolid, and seek a new buyer for the Horn of Valhalla in the Sword Coast city of Yartar.

Yartar is a trading town along the River Surbrin. Vaelro knows Garrett Stonelock, a local wealthy merchant who has a penchant for collecting rare magical items. More than anything, our heroes are interested in sleep. After spending a long stay in the Astral Plane where time moves at a standstill, they feel exhausted. The bribe the guards at the Shield of Yartar to allow them to sneak Nermie in bundled up in blankets. They find the Pearl Handled Pipe, a well-to-do tavern and inn, and settle in for some drinks, revelry, and sleep. During their stay they overhear patrons discussing a pair of Goliaths that got rounded up to work for the pumpkineers (or pumpkin farmers) who are staying at the Whitewings, a flophouse for destitute wayfarers. Resigned to look into that in the morning, they finally get their well deserved sleep.

In the morning they decide to part ways. Vaelro to see Garrett, Baz and Valka to look for the Goliaths, and Azarek to protect the homestead (and finally get to transcribing more spells into his spellbook). Nermie has big plans to go to the river, and while they don't like the idea of a dragon flying about the town, it's agreed to polymorph her into a bird so she can fly and explore undetected. They'd all agreed to meet back at the inn at noon. No problem.

Vaelro goes and meets with Garrett. He's in the barge building business, and business is good. A warehouse/factory is where he keeps his office, and after a brief welcome Vaelro offers him the Horn of Valhalla. He's interested, and honorable. Valero decides to leave it with him while he sends an employee to the bank to fetch the 5,000 in platinum they agreed upon. Hopefully it's enough to buy back Vaelro's home.

IMAGE(https://media-waterdeep.cursecdn.com/avatars/thumbnails/7/259/1000/1000/636284740704653038.jpeg)
The Horn of Valhalla

Valka and Baz wander about Yartar in search of Goliaths - it's not terribly difficult as they're titanic creatures that stand out in a crowd, especially the monastic refugees they suspect them to be. When discovered the Goliath they do find shares that the pumpkin farmers are a group of worshipers of Kozah - a deity that he'd not heard of before. But the tenets they subscribe to were very similar to Kord, worshiping the storms, lightning, etc. So they'd helped them, but lately their tasks were getting suspicious. He was delighted to know that Oakhurst is home to the Goliath refugees from the Kordic temple near Tradeholdt, and follow Baz and Valka.

And as chance would have it, on a busy street, in view of many - murder! A man rolling a wheelbarrow cries out, while a hooded figure darts away with the wheelbarrow. Vaelro, Baz, and Valka all saw this occur - and Vaelro recognizes the murdered man as Garrett's employee! When Baz and Valka see Vaelro give chase, so do they as well. Over rooftops, down side streets, teleporting and leaping to catch up, it takes little time for them to tackle the assassin. A human man with a lack of noteworthy features, they start to interrogate him. But he bites down on a capsule, and his eyes roll backward. Baz and Valka won't have him get out of it so easy and heal him of the poison instantly. The thief is confounded - but no more questions can be asked as the Shields of Yartar come to arrest the lot of them, and take the wheelbarrow full of platinum besides.

In a rare case of Lawful Good decision making, our heroes chose have justice be served, as they knew they weren't the guilty party.

So they got locked in the slammer.

Meanwhile...

Azarek saw the sun at the highest point in the sky, and wrapping up his scribing he steps out into the sunlight to wait for his compatriots. They do not arrive, and no one is surprised. Azarek is mostly concerned with Nermie, given his reservations on the polymorph idea in the first place. He knows she was headed to the river, so he decides to investigate. He wanders for a while until he notices a scuffle, he follows the trail outside of town to a pumpkin farm. The farmhouse seems quiet, and undisturbed, though it's evident it's a working farm with the crops outside. The doors and windows locked, Azarek attempts some B&E by flying on his magic broom to the second story and smashing in a window. He skulks like a skulky skulker through the house to find a basement full of cultists and a chained Nermie at the center of a summoning circle! Taking this upon himself he uses his psychic spells to suggest the cultists free their captive and leave. It works on three of the four cultists, and the remaining cultist is flabbergasted and at the display of raw magical power and chooses to fight back with his own abilities. He's quickly overwhelmed by Azarek and attempts to flee, which only causes Azarek to end this in a way he wouldn't care for, but he can't afford loose ends - so a Hail Mary of a Chromatic Orb sails through the air and lands on this poor cultist, killing him instantly.

IMAGE(https://i.ytimg.com/vi/AGukR-5uoOw/maxresdefault.jpg)

Another cultist comes to and begins answering questions. Apparently these worshipers of Kozah are set to bring about the return of Gorthok, the Thunder Boar - an abominable beast of such sheer power it would raze the city of Yartar and bring about a return to nature by blighting the land. While a somewhat noble cause, Azarek thinks there'd be better plans that don't involve the needless slaughter of innocents and is glad he's stopped this. He has the other cultist chained up, but can't seem to track the last two - the magical suggestion that they leave was one they took to heart and aren't seen again.

It's been said that the prison system in Yartar isn't perfect, but it's far from inhumane. So our heroes wait and wonder what will happen to them. Guards come and go, and they hear noises. Baz teleports outside his cell into the hall, and can see the assassin turned with his back to the wall. He mentions this to the others, who shout at him to get back before he's noticed. A door opens, a scuffle of movement is heard at the end of the hall. Hours go by before guards announce that Garrett Stonelock has vouched for the innocence of one Vaelro Dullot and her companions. The air gets cleared, and Garrett uses his considerable sway to free our heroes. Guards inspecting the nearby cells found the murderer in his cell with his throat slit. Who could have done this? Who was behind it? Answers were needed, but no clues were coming.

As they gather their things and exit, Garrett makes good on his payment. The recovered haul of platinum goes to Vaelro, who stashes it in a safehouse room in The Wink and Kiss, a local brothel. As the others head back to the Pearl Handled Pipe they're met by Azarek who recounts that he was fetching guards to take in his prisoner at the farmhouse. Their plans shift as they want to ensure the Goliaths here are able to join back with the ones in Oakhurst, so they decide to head back there to give both them and Nermie a more permanent home.

Baz whips up an incredibly powerful Fey spell to magically slip through the interconnectedness of the living realm, and opens a portal to Oakhurst through the trees.

They're greeted by Lucy, who fills them in on some local goings-on but then realizes she has a new friend in Nermie and they go off toward the river. But before they can get to town, Dent floats down on his flying disc and asks for a favor.

IMAGE(https://i.pinimg.com/564x/ac/78/00/ac78008ae8e36b9e4c5b69d3ee7b7cb3.jpg)
Dent

He tells them that he's in need of an item from a local white dragon. It's apparently been left unchecked in the Sword Mountains to the south, but Dent is only concerned with a particular necromantic ring that is in the dragon's possession. He claims he needs it as a part of his grander war with the red dragons, and he's trying to get someone else to retrieve it while he attends to other business. He promises to share spell secrets of the Sequester spell with them - it's here that he opens up that he's from a different time. He was a priest in the Temple of Ashardalon, a mighty and ancient red dragon of old. Dent had given his time and efforts to Ashardalon so that he might be granted power from the dragon. When that became clear it wasn't going to happen, Dent grew weary and planned his escape. He knew Ashardalon was going to war but Dent didn't want any part of it. Together, with a co-conspirator, they sequestered themselves and slept while the war raged on. Azarek remembers reading about the conflict in a book he found in the Sunless Citadel - the very same Temple of Ashardalon from 10,000 years ago. Ashardalon was defeated, and banished to another plane. Dent's own sequester spell only had him wake if Ashardalon ever came back to the Material Plane. And now here we are.

Unsure of what to do next, our heroes banter about the timing of things and whether or not this is something they ought to be doing, but since Dent has come through for them in the past, they decide to help. An accord struck, Dent leaves, and our heroes spend their time recouping in Oakhurst before magically transporting themselves south, to the once-bustling trading town of Phandalin.

The town of Phandalin was once a burgeoning trading town, but in recent times has been beset by Cryovain, the terrible white dragon of Icespire Peak. The dragon was left unchecked for too long in the region and amassed enough power to take food (in the form of people and animals) from Phandalin directly. When our heroes arrive, the last of the townsfolk are packing things to desert the frost-ravaged buildings. They stay only long enough to tell the tale of the dragon's aggressiveness and direct them toward Icespire Peak.

As our heroes make their way to the peak, they encounter several creatures still stuck fast in a frozen cocoon of ice. Notably, one is an ogre that carries a satchel of random items - perhaps the spoils of battle from those he's defeated. Amid various other items there's a notable hat - wide brimmed with a leather strap holding fangs of some creature around the crown. Our heroes learn it is a hat of wizardry, and although it is quite stylish, having been made by the Sassy Cactus Haberdashery, they do not utilize it (even though it looks absolutely dashing on Vaelro).

Closer to the peak the weather has become a near blizzard. Their gaseous mode of transport is too hazardous in such conditions so they climb on foot. When the peak is within their sight, several skeleton archers loose arrows upon them! They defend themselves but make haste to climb ever faster, destroying skeletons on the way by flinging them from their perches. When one spell goes off with a boom, a great draconic roar can be heard from above. They quickly make their way into the keep, fending off more skeletons as Cryovain begins to circle around the Hold looking for intruders. The dragon is too bid to fit down into the hold proper, so our heroes do recon and wait - the dragon seems to like to sit on its hoard on the roof, along with a smattering of other undead creatures shambling around, and the remains of scores of others strewn in the frozen landscape of the Hold's roof. There's a ring encircling Cryovain's foreclaw digit, as well - so they knew they must confront the dragon directly rather than make a play at stealing anything.

IMAGE(https://i.pinimg.com/originals/6e/16/19/6e161958de35995e784d7fed9ccfe38d.png)
Cryovain

And once their planning was over, they struck in earnest. Baz and Valka stormed up the stairs, Azarek took to the skies on his flying broom, and Vaelro scaled the wall behind the dragon. When they struck all of the undead creatures were caught off guard, but Cryovain was not - the mighty dragon immediately took to the skies and lashed out with its breath - and then it curled its fist, and a magical effect from the ring caused several undead creatures to rise from the collection of bones on the roof.

The fight was drawn out due to an undead caster on the field - Vaelro tried her best to assassinate him but was harried off by a multitude of corpses swiping at her while she hung from the ledge. Cryovain blanketed parts of the roof with an intensely slippery ice as it flew about them, swiping and biting at our heroes. Our gith wizard animated a battery of coins that began pelting the dragon over and over, so it went to ground for a moment. Baz tried to use his druidic magic to tether it to the floor but the dragon's will proved stronger. Valka took her opportunity to hack and slash at the dragon and rend its flesh. Dark red blood began to run down its flanks, staining its white scales.

The dragon was furious with Valka by this point, so it simply scooped her up, and took off straight up, then spun as it flung Valka as far as it could, away from Icespire Hold. Mid descent, Valka's screams caught Azarek's eye as he was still attempting to pelt the dragon with fireballs from a distance and corrupt Cryovain with coins. The coins dropped instantly as he switched his spell concentration to saving Valka, by making her fly. Valka's screams turned to whoops of delight as she rocketed back to the roof.

The dragon was already back on the roof, breathing his freezing cold breath toward Vaelro and Baz, and several of its own undead servants, all in an attempt to kill. With it closer to the ground, Vaelro was able to begin hurling psychic daggers at the dragon, several finding purchase in thinly-scaled portions of the dragon's hide. Baz takes the moment of advantage to free himself of the surrounding undead by eliminating the undead sorcerer, while Vaelro then gets a dagger directly in Cryvain's eye. The dragon drops.

But mere moments later the dragon is lurching back to its feet, beating its wings rapidly but not fast enough before Valka comes crashing back into it, on magical steps of air. Sword in one hand, radiant mace in another, she slashes and smacks the white dragon repeatedly, the radiant energy seeming to have great effect on the foe. Finally, the dragon falls, and its undead servants with it.

They loot their spoils in the dragon's hoard, but also they look to the dragon's fingers. Removing the ring first reveals no necromantic energy, but they spot beneath the surface another ring, wrapped around the dragon's bone. The real necromantic ring has fused with the creature's skeleton, which is grisly work to remove. But since they're no strangers to beast dismemberment, our heroes gleefully carve Cryovain into its best bits and and store it using some of the wizard's best necromantic tricks of his own to keep the parts fresh.

Returning to Oakhurst they're met by Dent once more, who explains Cryovain's difficult-to-kill nature was due to the rings. The necromantic ring was being used in conjunction with the a ring of regeneration, giving the dragon a zombie-like resistance. Dent keeps his word in exchange for delivering the ring he teaches Azarek the spell Sequester - and then as a measure of good faith also teaches him how to contact another plane. Dent says he's used such a spell in the past when seeking answers, and has heard the voice of Mystra, goddess of Magic, return his queries. He warns that it is a dangerous spell, some of the intellects in the cosmos are far too dangerous to probe, and it takes a fierce mind to ensure one doesn't go mad.

And after a day of play and recouping energy in Oakhurst with those they hold dear, they set off again for Yartar, to search for Vaelro's parents.

IMAGE(https://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/1a/57/05/1e/caption.jpg)
The Dullot Estate

Headed directly to the Dullot Estate a few hours outside of Yartar, they're met by guards who tell them that this is under watch by order of the Waterbaron until it's date of auction, and no one is permitted inside.

So our heroes go inside.

'Round the back they went, as it's an immense property, and under the guise of Baz's nature magics, no one would detect them anyway. Searching around inside they head toward Lord Dullot's work study, and look through ledgers and logs. Azarek searches for magical clues and sees a tether of energy coming from the underside of the desk that floats downward through the floor. It looks like a black handprint is pressed into the underside of the desk where the tether originates. They search around the house and with magical eyes open, Azarek sees dozens of tethers coming from all over the house, leading below the main foyer. While exploring around they run into Keswyck, the former butler of the mansion. He's grateful to see Vaelro alive and well, and explains the her family put the house up for auction themselves. He'd overheard Lord Dullot exclaim that they were targeted by someone but didn't know who. The Cartel now has them working off debt, and they're currently working for Pelona Orryn, who runs the Hand of Yartar, a mercenary company.

The ethereal tethers continue to be a curiosity - and while Vaelro never remembered there being a basement, or anything under the house, Keswyck recalled a portion of floor that had been covered a long time ago. In the kitchen they pull up floor boards and find an unfinished earthen set of stairs headed down. Below the house is a very large empty space, and at the center is an area of brick and masonry covering the dirt floor. All the ethereal tethers lead here. After some probing and investigation, they break apart the masonry and dig through the earth, but find nothing but more earth. Frustrated, they hear a clatter come down the steps. The guards must have heard something and investigated, as one of them tumbled down the stairs! After a quick scuffle they subdue the guards and tie them up while they do more investigating. Azarek learns that this place where the tethers meet is layered with several types of magic, and decides to try and learn more about it before meddling any further. The guards don't tell them much more than they already knew, but they let them live, giving them the scare of their life to ensure they don't go tattling.

The only lead they have at the moment is at The House of the Hand, where the Hand of Yartar mercenary company does business. It's a fort built inside the walls of Yartar. At the entrance of the fort they're met by two guards, who explain that it isn't so simple getting a meeting with Pelona Orryn. Vaelro leaves her name and the Inn they're staying at and looks forward to a reply. Surely enough, that evening at The Pearl Handled Pipe two women approach Vaelro regarding her query. The human woman, plain in look and dress, introduces herself as Davra Jassur. The other is a red skinned woman, with tusks and pointed ears. She carries a staff, and says nothing.

Davra explains that a meeting with Pelona Orryn is not available as she is indisposed. Vaelro asks if she's able to speak with their help, as the Dullots are servants there. Again, no. However, she offered to deliver a message to them. Remarks were made toward Davra about them keeping slaves, but she reassured them that the Dullots were indentured servants simply paying off a debt. Vaelro sends her family a message that she's back and working on helping them. And once Davra and the red skinned woman left, they hatched a plan.

Vaelro makes sure to do her own reconnaissance by staking out the place and talking with the locals. Azarek uses a magic eye to invisibly scout out the area. While he can't get everywhere, he does spot Davra and the red skinned woman about the area and sees them working on parchment and calendars. He notes that he has no access to the basement - the arcane eye cannot get through the doors that lead down there. And after he's scouted around and spotted Vaelro's younger brother Cris working the stables, he sees the red skinned woman get out keys to unlock a basement door and has Cris follow her. But by then, the time ran out on his spell.

Vaelro's recon tells her that nighttime is the best to go in due to the lack of people on the street, and Azarek is fairly certain that coming in through the tower is their best chance for a direct route to the basement. Their plan hinges on getting Baz to the tower and polymorphing the guard, and Hootley flying them away while the others scuttle up. Using expert timing from Vaelro's mental link, they do just that, and head downstairs.

The upper level of the House of the Hand has Davra's room - Vaelro sneakies inside and steals a letter she'd been working on that had a strange cypher to it. Descending further they come to an arcane laboratory that is filled with some kind of blood fueled magic. The black hand they'd seen in the Dullot Estate is a finely cut imprint in the stone floor, bits of stained blood still filling it. This is The Black Hand of Bane, symbol to the god of tyranny and terror. Vaelro once again sneaks into an adjacent bedroom and finds ransom letters - one in particular stands out as it mentions Queen Maewyn's brother of New Sharandar, suggesting he might be held here! Baz encourages Vaelro take something belonging to this person (who they assume is Pelona Orryn) so they may scry on her later. She nabs a nearby tunic hastily thrown over a chair, the ransom letter, and leaves.

They take as quick a route as any to the other section of basement, as they don't appear to connect. Needing to startle a horse to distract a guard, they scamper under Baz's nature magic and Vaelro easily unlocks the door. Once inside, it's a tunnel of stone and earth, a light coming from under the door to her right, and nothing from the door ahead. Vaelro slides into the door to her right quickly, and startles a guard at a desk who looks like she'd just woken from a nap. Vaelro quickly invents a story about her being a new recruit and some prank - which the guard believes in her stupor. But right before Vaelro leaves, another door in the room cracks open, and Cris looks her right in the eye and says, "Vaely?"

Reunited

Vaelro sees her brother and tries to dismiss him, but the jig is up. When the guard begins to get wise, she shouts for help, but is then tackled by a cool and collected Valka (rare, but it happens). They covered the guard's mouth and tied her up as Vaelro unlocked the cells of her father and mother for a very brief and tearful reuniting, and knew they had little time.

There's more servant cells to uncover and inside are three very different persons. One must be Queen Maewyn's brother, a dark skinned elf that the ransom note they'd found referred to. One was Garrett Stonelock, the dwarf who bought the Horn of Valhalla from Vaelro but refused to give up her identity, showed evidence of him being tortured. The last is a woman some years on, who looked like she might have been a warrior once - but now she seemed small, huddled up in the corner of a cell, unconscious.

Garrett explains that this is Pelona Orryn, the true head of the Hand of Yartar. Davra and her minion Scarlet are Zhentarim - a cabal of mercenaries led by evil wizards - and have replaced Pelona as the heads of the Hand, and keep Pelona here only until she's needed to be seen in public. Pelona apparently is under a spell of Scarlet's. Pelona screams about the nightmares and creatures she's seen, and Scarlet offers her restful sleep if she's compliant. At first, she resisted, and Scarlet only amplified her nightmares until she eventually caved in. She's apparently become a shade of her once formidable self.

IMAGE(https://i.pinimg.com/474x/d9/36/b6/d936b66691376267a092bf166a569cb8.jpg)
Pelona Orryn

IMAGE(https://i.pinimg.com/474x/8f/d7/de/8fd7de5341a8674c633caa199b2e2418.jpg)
Davra Jassur

IMAGE(https://i.pinimg.com/originals/8b/85/8d/8b858dca8e03cc94f4068affaa7e9a95.jpg)
Scarlet

The entryway to the servants quarters opens, and guards shout down the hall. Azarek quickly shuts the door magically, and Valka throws herself bodily at it to block the door. Before it closes, they catch a glimpse of Scarlet, the red skinned magician of the Zhentarim, who tried to launch a spell their way. They held the door shut as Baz begins his Wind Walk spell and whisks our Heroes and their freed "servants" toward the safety of Oakhurst.

Lefwyn the prince of New Sharandar, while appreciative of his freedom, decides to depart back to his home - and our heroes didn't get a chance to really discuss much with him. The rest of the wind walkers wind up in Oakhurst. Our heroes find it best to keep the Dullot family, Pelona, and Garrett all out of Yartar while the rest of this shakes out, and none of them disagree. During their downtime they decide to decipher the letter Davra was writing and come up with surprising results.

---
Lady Desmonda,

Concerning your most recent query, I have sent agents to look into the whereabouts of the Dullot girl, but sources still tell me she's been traveling far too erratically to keep pace. I'd heard a rumor that Stonelock saw her here in Yartar, but he won't discuss her, even when pressed. I'm having him punished accordingly.

The inspection of the gate in the Dullot Estate had complications - my cleric Scarlet activated it with an incantation in our Lord's language, and aberrant tentacles immediately took Uriah and Pelona through the vortex, so I had Scarlet shut it down. We took every precaution to reseal it before you arrive. Personally, I wasn't aware Banehold had such creatures - I'd been told such things were left to the Far Realms of Madness.

Once the auction has been made final and the estate is ours in the eyes of the Lord's Alliance, your ascent to the Banehold can be completed. I trust you will begin your journey here once this missive reaches you.

Safe travels.
Javra Dassur
---

The Investigation

After talking with Pelona, they find out her mind has been touched by another world. The Zhentarim believe there's a portal to another plane at the basement of the Dullot Estate. While they believe it to be the Banehold, it's suggested by the letter and by Pelona's horrific recounting that it likely extends to the Far Realms of Madness. Pelona also suggests that there are more Zhentarim in Yartar, likely belonging to the Cartel she and the Dullots once belonged to. She names Khaspere Drylund specifically, the proprietor of The Grand Dame, a gambling ship.

They gather their supplies and rest up for what's next. They decide to pay a visit to Drylund, and head back to Yartar. Valero pounds pavement learning where and when they can find Khaspere - he's hosting a gambling tournament cruise on his ship that sets sail tomorrow! Our heroes bide their time while they work out their disguises for infiltrating the tournament so they can snoop around Drylund's quarters and find evidence of his Zhentarim ties and get him to talk. They also need a whopping 500 gold each as an entrance fee. This could prove to be an expensive investigation.

Azarek casts an illusion over our heroes before they stride toward the gangplank of The Grand Dame, turning Vaelro into a blonde, Valka a half-orc, himself into an elf, and Baz into the only thing Baz could think of - a half elf that looks like Esh named Esh Halfelfman. A young dwarf was admitting the players by taking their entrance fee and having them sign the registration agreement, a lengthy document covering the rules of the boat. Their illusions held well in place, in spite of some insensitive questioning by the dwarf.

Aboard the boat, they mused around the tournament - nearly a hundred players milled about as dozens of guards of the House of the Hand looked on. Khaspere Drylund makes a grand entrance with some kind of octopus on his shoulder and formally welcomes everyone and announces the beginning of the festivities. As the tournament began, our heroes were quite taken with the game - but only for a moment. Vaelro, Baz, and Azarek had a streak of bad luck almost immediately and were eliminated from the tournament. Alls well for them - they begin poking and prodding around the ship. As they do they see several other eliminated players participating in magical duels and parlor tricks - nothing overtly grand or powerful, but they delighted in the lights and sounds they made. They all seemed to be partaking in small vials of a glowing blue liquid right before they began their magics.

IMAGE(https://miro.medium.com/max/1128/1*oqEhmjJriTqnJkJ46cGJcA.jpeg)
Khaspere Drylund

Azarek asks for a restroom, and oddly enough is escorted below decks by a Hand of Yartar who watched over the door as he "used the facilities." Of course Azarek never actually uses a restroom, he was covering his own casting of Arcane Eye to snoop around. His verbal components are overheard by the guard who yells at him to perform no such magics on ship and calls above for Khaspere. The stout man with his tentacled pet arrive in a huff at the guards accusation. Khaspere takes a swig of the blue concoction then casts a spell all his own that Azarek can instantly recognize as a dispelling abjuration. Khaspere must have assumed that it worked, even though Azarek's spell was still working quite well (and the Eye is very invisible).

While Azarek was coming up with the layout of the ship and not finding much, Baz decides he'll change shape into a spider and explore the captain's quarters. Finding only a bed and wardrobe, Spider-Baz doesn't discover any damning evidence. As Baz exits the quarters and crawls up the door, he's met with the unfortunate fate of being squooshed by a guard who was casually leaning up against it. Naturally, Baz instantly reverts to his normal self - and the guard immediately detains him and he's led back into the captain's quarters and is questioned by a furious Khaspere Drylund. The cartel conspirator does not sip of his blue liquid but rather unveils a golden pen, and places it to a pad of paper he keeps in his jacket pocket and writes "BE HONEST," showing this to Baz. Baz can feel the compelling need to be truthful, and as Khaspere asks some pointed questions that the elf artfully deflects rather than lie, Baz looks over his shoulder and sees the open air through the rear windows of the ship. He looks back to Khaspere, smiles, and shifts through a hidden sylvan path to be outside the boat, and falls into the water. He turns into an octopus all his own and begins swimming to shore.

Khaspere is beside himself that his tournament has been infiltrated. He storms out of his quarters where Vaelro and Valka have engaged in a mock play of fisticuffs to garner attention. Valka shoves Vaelro directly into Khaspere, and steals his fancy golden pen in the process. Khaspere immediately recognizes he's been victimized and calls the guards to apprehend Vaelro, who tosses a psychic dagger as far away as she can muster, teleports to it, and falls into the river.

This leaves Azarek and Valka (still disguised!) on the boat to finish the journey. Azarek insists that they can get away cleanly if they just stay beneath notice and exit when all the other players do at the route's end. While disembarking, Khaspere has the guards do a thorough inspection of all the passengers for any signs of foul play. Not wanting to take chances in getting spotted, Valka brings out the miniature obsidian horse figurine she'd obtained and calls its name - "CAVALO!" - and from that spot erupts a giant horse wreathed in a mane of fire, with dark black eyes. She immediately mounts it as Azarek sighs and gets on board with the idea of a fantastical equine escape. Cavalo takes off into the twilight sky, a trail of flame left aboard the deck of The Grand Dame.

The Assault of The Grand Dame

Our heroes meet back up at the Pumpkin Farm on the outskirts of Yartar and decide what to do next. It seems that the pen Khaspere had on him was Amaunator's Pen. A deity of law and judgement, this pen grants the user the ability to sway minds, sometimes en masse. They realize that Khaspere had done this to every player that came aboard his ship with the registration agreement they all signed. The agreement prohibited them from causing any harm to Khaspere, his ship, or any of his retainers for the month-long duration of the spell. Baz doesn't care for this kind of prohibition and summons the powers of the fey to restore their spirits from the pen's influence.

They know they need answers and Khaspere has them. Now armed with Amaunator's Pen they have means to force Khaspere to talk. So it should be as simple as heading back to The Grand Dame and liberating owner from ship. Baz focuses on Khaspere and finds him frantically pacing and worrying what he'll do - claiming that "they'll come for me" and "I'm doomed" over and over while a guard watched on in his quarters of The Grand Dame. They rent a sailing boat to travel down the Dessarin River and Azarek sends Hootley on regular intervals to scout ahead. Baz opts to turn into a sea creature to help speed the boat along while Vaelro navigates and Valka uses oars. In the morning dawn Hootley spied The Grand Dame as it's moored along the river bank, with the Hands of Yartar guards transporting things to and fro on rowboats to other people awaiting on land. With the ship making regular stops, they're able to catch up in short order.

They guide their boat alongside The Grand Dame and begin the assault. Several guards see their arrival and begin peppering them with arrows, but are heroes are more than a match for them as Baz reverses gravity on the top deck causing the majority of the guards to fall straight upwards, suspended in midair! The remaining guards are dispatched quickly through Azarek's mental magics or Valka's swords as they fight their way to the captain's quarters. Vaelro teleports her invisible self inside the quarters just in time to see Khaspere take a giant desperate gulp from his blue liquid as he utters the phrase "please save me," and tosses his little squid companion directly out the rear window of the cabin into the river.

A rumbling from under the ship can be felt as titanic tentacles emerge from the river! Valka and Khaspere are grasped and taken into the waters below as our heroes fight back the tentacles. Their plan also had included retrieving all the gold Khaspere took from the entry fees to recoup their losses. Vaelro, upon seeing Khaspere taken, makes a quick decision. He's down there with Valka, who is likely the most capable of keeping him safe. She has no real way of fighting a monster this large that's almost entirely submerged. But she can thieve. She works her way below decks to hunt for the gold, when she hears the hull off the boat begin to crack. The ship shifts and begins taking on water as she searches through a flooding cargo deck. She find the chest, with it's gold in and out of the partially broken chest and begins to fill barrels with the money, and launching them like cannon shot out of the broken side of the ship where they lazily float awaiting pickup.

Back in the action, Valka had managed to get a hold of, and then free Khaspere who tried to levitate himself back toward the ship and out of the water. As the monster grabbed him again Baz swooped in as a giant eagle to free him. This worked for a moment before another tentacle siezed the both of them, forcing Baz out of his giant eagle form. Azarek summoned Bigby's Giant Hand to scoop up Khaspere and keep him held atop their own non-sinking boat next to The Grand Dame.

IMAGE(https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTgdJPIQESzYzUwlxYyoUfKNa7_NGoEg4r8-w&usqp=CAU)

In all this fracas Valka was taken below and swallowed by the creature. This was a bad move on the monster's part. It didn't know that Azarek had ensorcelled everyone with a water breathing spell, and it also didn't know that the pesky human it swallowed was a primal rage dervish hells-bent on carving herself her own exit path. Despite the acidic insides of the monster Valka just continued to hack, slash, and destroy everything around her in the perfect darkness of this thing's guts. It got so absolutely sick of having a barbaladin inside of it that it spat her out into the murky depths of the River Dessarin and retreated altogether.

Finally reunited once more, they tied up Khaspere, looted their gold, and headed back to their new home away from home, the Pumpkin Farm.

The Interrogation

With Khaspere bound in the basement, our heroes decide on how to question him. Amaunator's Pen will provide a zone of truth, but he could still prove cagey. Intimidation must be leveraged carefully.

Vaelro decides to start things off by questioning him free of any influence. Khaspere spat at the notion, taunting them to use the pen on him despite some forceful questioning. And so, the zone of truth was applied - but Khaspere hadn't considered a mind-reader would be present, as Azarek dives deep into his memories. He sees an image of a woman - the referred to Lady Desmonda - humanoid with long flowing black clothing, markings on her face and beautiful hair. Khaspere gets angry and shouts for Azarek to get out of his head.

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)
Lady Desmonda

They realize that they need more from him and they need him to confess his crimes and his connections. Azarek tries more mental magics and suggests Khaspere be compliant with their requests. As his eyes glaze over Khaspere's temper fades away. He begins to confess to being Zhentarim, ousting the Dullots illegitimately in order to claim their estate at auction, and placing Davra Jassur in charge of the House of the Hand since Pelona Orryn had gone mad from seeing the portal to the Banehold. He admits he's seen the portal too and fears what will become of him. He describes creatures so alien and foul (but a point is made that he isn't describing Illithids), and that he's "sold his soul" to them and they haunt him. He's afraid that even in death they'll come for him.

At this confession they decide that this is what the Waterbaron of Yartar needs to hear to clear the Dullot name. As they try and make their rest for the night, a noise is heard from the cellar door - Davra Jassur, Scarlet, and a retinue of Hands of Yartar strike in the night! Their intent is clear - they mean to take Khaspere back! Scarlet puts up magical walls of fire and curses them with bane while Davra and the guards fend off Valka. Azarek was upstairs and flies down from the outside, and banishes one guard completely away while Baz turns into a dire wolf and blocks their exit. As the enemy's number dwindles Scarlet makes a move to escape and clasps hands with Davra, a guard, and Khaspere, and they're teleported away...all except Khaspere who's still befuddled from the attack. With a watch even more vigilant, our heroes finally rest and await dawn to go see Nestra Ruthiol, the Waterbaron of Yartar.

The Confession

The morning comes and a plan is hatched to go to the Waterbaron's Hall disguised as merchants and led by Khaspere. Khaspere is directed by Vaelro to act confident and natural, and like a light switch he is able to turn on the bravado to intimidate the guards at the Hall to permit them early entry to see Nestra.

After an uneasy bit of convincing Nestra calls for her court wizard, Halifax to ensure nothing is influencing Khaspere. Azarek freely admits that he's under the influence to tell the truth - they had used Amaunator's Pen to have Khaspere sign a contract stating he would confess everything he knew about his involvement with the Zhentarim, the Cartel, and the Dullots. They assessed that it was the only way he'd confess what really happened. Nestra calls for Halifax to "undo" any compulsion, and Halifax very clearly only plays at performing a spell, and shouts "It's time to tell your truth now, asshole!"

And so Khaspere does. Just as he'd confessed before, he does so with Nestra now. She follows up with questions regarding the Zhentarim inside the Cartel - Khaspere only knows of himself and the puppetry he installed in the Hand of Yartar with Davra and Scarlet. Nestra calls upon a scrivener to write up the halting of the estate auction and servitude of the Dullot family to the Hands of Yartar.

In the midst of this, Khaspere warns that Lady Desmonda will come to see things finished, and that she'll need the Dullot Manor signed over to her. Just as he was finished saying this, he begins to choke, and blood runs down his chest. The tip of a knife appears pointing out through his neck, and is removed by sliding out the back through his spine. Slowly, like smoke coalescing into form, Lady Desmonda appears and says "his usefulness was at an end thanks to you." She looks over toward Vaelro and says "You must be the Dullot girl I keep hearing about. As the last surviving heir to the Dullot Estate - I'm going to need you to sign this'' as she holds the Dullot Manor title and a bill of sale.

Vaelro barely contains her rage and asks her to repeat herself - Lady Desmonda clarifies, "Oh yes, I'd just told my assassin to get to work, and I told him to make it gruesome. Defying the Zhentarim needs to be shown a forceful response." At that point, it was on.

They assault Lady Desmonda, with knives, swords, spells - she recoils and smoky black wings erupt from her back as she takes off and layers a thick mental charm over the room "I just need her to sign this over to me and this can all be over." Everyone seems unaffected by this except for poor Vaelro, who clamors to get close and sign the documents.

Halifax tries to teleport away with Nestra but their exit is blocked by Scarlet, who begins a magical assault on Azarek, spells flying and counterspells countering. Davra joins the fray from another direction and proceeds to begin a martial assault on Valka and Baz. Lady Desmonda sees that her words didn't entirely take and calls for the spirits of those who serve to ensure their transaction is uninterrupted. Several shades are summoned that begin to swarm our heroes.

Azarek sees Vaelro compelled by Lady Desmonda and wreathes her in a wall of force, so she cannot physically hand her the contract. After Desmonda shows her frustration she calls for Scarlet to aid her, and a beam of disintegrating energy crumbles the wall. With contract in hand, Vaelro can't wait to sign it, so Azarek magically blinds her. Being the stickler she is, Vaelro needs to read the contract and starts frantically shouting "I can't see! I can't read it!"

Baz dodges the shades after him to gently lay a calming hand on Vaelro, using Verenestra's power to wipe away Desmonda's charm. He then reverses gravity on Scarlet, Davra, Valka and Lady Desmonda shuffling the playing field to their advantage. Valka continues her assault back at Davra, who was too slow in recovering from the gravity shift and crushes her head with the Mace of Disruption. Lady Desmonda cries out at the loss, and Scarlet unleashes a banishment spell sending Valka to a calm dimension of grass and sky, filled with large planets orbiting the world. In Valka's rage she tries to fight the celestial bodies.

Azarek slams Scarlet with a thunderous chromatic orb, breaking Scarlet's concentration on the spell and bringing Valka back where she belongs, as gravity is flipped back to normal once again. Vaelro, with the help of a distracting Hootley, starts pummeling Lady Desmonda with psychic daggers. Lady Desmonda replies in turn by brandishing a gigantic scythe made from smoke that carves into Vaelro with ample precision.

Baz calls upon Verenestra once again and brings Vaelro back to fighting shape, and the battle rages on. Scarlet makes a move toward the door and shouts some kind of retreat but Lady Desmonda does not want to leave without getting what she came for. This proves fatal. Distracted by rage, Vaelro takes the opportunity to let loose a psychic dagger that cleanly slits Lady Desmonda's throat, and as she clutches her neck another dagger lands right in her chest. Her wings go limp and she falls onto the throne room bannister.

Scarlet makes every attempt to go to her Lady and teleport away, but Valka lets no foe escape. The Mace catches Scarlet in the hip and Valka finishes her off with three clean strokes from Fulmination, the Kordic sword of vengeance.

The day is won.