Silanya

Expedition 100 - The aMesa-ing Birdmen and the Skeleton Man
The GOAT Expedition

On-time, +0.1HP. Pierre gains a hitpoint!

Summary:

Heroes!

Aa’li’naa Aurae (Formerly Linna)
Ayden Meyers
Hadley Jones
Night
Pierre Lee
Quincy

Magic Items

Goggles of Water-Breathing: 500gp, no attunement required. (Claimed by Hadley)
Headress of Religiousity: 200gp, advantage on religion checks. (Claimed by Pierre)
Sorcerous Book of Spells (Heroism, Faerie Fire, and Shatter): 600gp (Claimed by Ayden)
Rod of the Pact-Keeper +2: 2500gp. (Bought by Tabby)

XP/GP

(See spreadsheet log)

Day-by-Day:

Day 1:

We leave. The weather is not terrible and utterly uninteresting.

We arrive at hex 7.16, and Linna emerges from the portal, professing their newfound wisdom, with a blue-ish aura akin to teen-romance-themed creatures-of-the-night.

Barely a moment had passed before the shadow of a Roc eclipsed our path, five birdmen in tow. They unleashed a volley of arrows upon us. Our return missiles fell one assailant before they take revenge and down Hadley. Night also caught some arrows.

Eventually, Pierre’s roaring and clanking drew their attention. Apparently this was a signal to parlay, and they descended to ground level.

The birdmen informed us that our actions against the Roc has spurned her (despite, you know, her desire to eat us), and that the birdmen were obligated to carry out vengeance upon us. Pierre tried to show our good intent by reviving the fallen birdman, but was not successful.

Night’s translation below:



The pidgeon-butts then departed, and we gathered ourselves. A short rest later, and we departed for the mesa. Nearing the entrance, a nest of scorpions emerged to do their thing. In the process of declawing them, Ayden discovers he has a surprising resistance to their poison. Fearing for his life, Night transposed Linna with Ayden, freeing him from the arachnid and swapping their places moments before the threatening monster fell.

After retrieving the venom sacs and a quick nap, we approach the mesa proper. Pierre again lets out a yell, and a call to “Approach!” echos from the top of the cliff.

We enter the winding tunnels, and nearly stumble into a spiked pit trap. Beyond the pit we came into a room covered in blue-green moss and more pits. Various members of the group were subjected to psychic attacks from an unknown assailant, who could neither be seen nor smelled. Hadley and Linna then began to attack Quincy, while Ayden, in an attempt to flee, tripped into one of the pits, knocking himself out.

Crossing the pitroom, Night found an ugly multi-mouthed slug, which tunneled away into the rock. Escaping the various pits people (un)intentionally ended up in, we searched the pits and discovered a variety of items.

While resting, Linna sheds her skin, revealing the former-elven Linna with reptilian eyes. She then started eating the castoff for reasons unknown to the author. Unfortunately, our break was rudely interrupted by a charging two-headed goats. The goats felled Pierre and Ayden. We pulled them back, while Linna conjured a “boulder” to cover our escape. A quick bout of potions and explosions, and we emerged to slaughter the goats. With dinner in front of us, we then settle down for the night.

Day 2:

We emerge from our cave, and head up top. We meet a sentry, who asked the first-timers to demonstrate their skills. Night did an impressive kata, Ayden demonstrated his telepathy, Linna pilfered their quiver, and Quincy showed his strength.

We chatted for a bit, inquiring about the Roc (who’s upset over a missing talon), their culture and locations, and their relationship with the “filthy crawling ground-dwellers”. They asked us to disrupt the snares above the caver camps preventing them from flying into the camps. There was also a hilarious tale about a failed attempt to steal one of their arrows by some other ground-dweller and the humiliation that followed.

We then descended the mesa to explore the caves below. Taking the unexplored path, we come upon Old Empire construction. Heading up a staircase, we emerge into a large cave containing a huge obsidian ziggurat, topped be a statue of a snake chowing down on people. Atop, we find a trapdoor with a corpse in a chair 100 feet down. We begin to lower Night down the shaft. Part way down, Night passes an unseen barrier which blocks sound – thankfully, Ayden’s telepathy allows communication through the barrier. Night notices a wand in it’s hand, and we plan our heist.

We lower a second rope, and Night makes a move for the wand. A few feet from the corpse, lights flash in the eye sockets. Night teleports up the shaft, but the creature severs the rope with a blast of energy. Night deftly traverses the fall, when snakes begin to appear on the ground.

We all (save Ayden) began to ascent to help Night out, with Quincy taking the short way down. Unfortunately, the remainder followed Quincy after the skele-man destroyed the second rope. Skeleman continued its magical assault, but Night managed to hit a stunning blow before Linna blew away half of it’s skull with a point blank shot. Pierre followed up with a mighty pounce, nearly bringing it down, with Hadley delivering the killer strike. Skeleman attempted to get revenge with an explosive death throe of a cold fire blast.

We cleaned up the snakes (sorry not sorry, Linna), but not before one escaped and one managed to critically injure Hadley. We recovered the wand and took a short rest, during which the skele-man was subsumed by the stone floor.

Attempting to return home, we emerge from the mesa to a trio of gnomes hiding in a copse. Only Pierre could communicate with them, and they remarked that our potential friendship with the birdfolk was questionable. The then slunk off, leaving us mostly confused.

Just when we thought it was safe, three megamonitors burst from the bush. After one fled in mace-related fear, we dispatched the remaining two we semi-ease.

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Expedition 99 - Caverns and Catacombs
Beneath the Broken Forest

July 7

[Posted on time]

Heroes Cattle
Me   [Fern 1]
Jasper   [Jasper Perrin 3]
Pea Hair Pierre-Lee   [Pierre-Lee 5]
Had Lee Hadley   [Hadley Jones 4]
Cam Eal Camille   [Camille 4]

[
Changes:
Fern to lvl 2
Ghoulish claws
Jasper to lvl 4
Sharpened teeth (elegant)
Mink beast shape
Hadley
Claws of a beast
Spider beast shape
Camille to lvl 5
Horns…
Hippo beast shape
Pierre to lvl 6
Tiger teeth
Visited by creepy creature at night (Should probably get that checked out)

All beastly changes give a d6 attack (excluding Pierre who gets a d8) including a loss of one stat for a gain in another and 3 to 4 corruption. 4 corruption for the people that gained beast shape

There were also a variety of permanent injuries that I missed during a fight with dark smoke creatures
]

[This log may be difficult to read/understand. A general summery can be found at the bottom]

Day 1
My friends gave me a journal to write in. I’m not sure why but they said I would get money if I wrote what happens. I’ve never read about journal writers. Here’s hoping I’m still important.

Someone named Sow Van? Probably So Vin (Note to self: Ask someone how to spell last names) showed me around town. It was a bit stressful out in the open but I felt a lot better after he gave me a sandwich. I wasn’t hungry but it felt good to be normal. Another note to self: There’s some stashed food by the bakery.

[The next few pages show signs of heavy water damage]
The weather is great right now! It’s a lot like home. I’m writing while we wait for another hero to meet with us. I’ve been carrying his armor for a few hours now and my arms are about to give out.

I like the new arrival Pea Hair a lot. He lives in a swamp and he speaks gnomish! We talked a lot on our way to the portal but I get the feeling that Cam Meal doesn’t like us talking so much. I can’t imagine why… she doesn’t even understand gnomish! I’ll keep monitoring her glares as we travel.

Pierre and I are hiding right now because we heard hoofs a little ways away. Jasper, Hadley and Camille are checking it out so Pierre took the time to explain how everyone’s names work before meditating with his armor. He also taught me everyone’s name.

Everyone’s back but Hadley has a bloody nose, Jasper looks very tired and I think Camille punched a baby horse. Apparently these horses were harder to catch than expected. According to Jasper, there were a lot of horses but Camille and Hadley had to work together to catch a baby horse. Jasper brought a big one by themself.

There’s an ent at the portal. Jasper and Had talk forgetting to bring something to the ent.

[The next sections show no much less water damage]

The weather here is a lot warmer here. There is a large area of desiccated trees and a tree split down the middle nearby.

[At this point Fern takes ever increasing amounts of intelligence and charisma damage making the rest of the log much harder to understand. The rest will be a quick summery by myself]

Day 1

The way to the forest was uneventful. Before entering the portal, we found some horses and managed to capture 2. The rest got away. After going through the portal to hex 7.16, we were approached by some gnomes with blue, red and green hats. Their social hierarchy functions in the same order with blue on the top. After some light conversation, we were ambushed by thick, black, loamy, ovoid puddles. Coming as a swarm, they manage to kill a few gnomes by throwing globs of mud. Before any of us start falling, we manage to kill most of the loam creatures and fear the rest away. In the aftermath, Fern attempts to steal a red hat from one of the fallen gnomes but gets caught. The gnomes respond by attempting to murder Fern at all costs. It seems that attempting to steal red hats is equivalent to sacrilege. The team springs to action protecting Fern and defeating the gnome captain (Blue Hat) demoralizing the green hats into inactivity. Shortly after dispatching the gnomes, Pierre hides our attacks by clawing up the gnome bodies. We spot a roc in the distance so we start leaving. It lands and a few avian humanoids begin butchering the gnome bodies after which one of them splits a tree down the middle and nods at us. We head to the nearby temple and take a short rest.

We enter the caves through the temple mesa and take the left path instead of the right thanks to Hadley’s decisiveness. Eventually we come across a village of powerful flying moles. Thankfully they are friendly but caution is advised when entering the village as they possess the ability to collapse the cave system. If you want to show you are friendly, make a whistling noise. Hadley did a good job communicating friendliness to them through being able to communicate to them in their language. The stone in Hadley’s hand also helped after explaining why we murdered one of their clan in another expedition. They like being cleaned and will trade the service for gems. After we leave the village, the flying moles assist us in finding our next destination without walking into dead ends.

We come across a large chamber a few hours away from the mole village. The ground is covered in magic deflecting bones and the walls are lined with the masks of animals of all species. In the center is a bowl being dripped into from the ceiling. We all take a drink and gain the mutations above. The people with beast shape gain the beast of the masks they chose after drinking. Three doors open under the chosen masks and we go through the hippo mask door. The path ahead becomes a dark maze which takes a few hours to navigate. Eventually we come into a room where we fight three black smokey creatures. Many injuries are had but we pull through without casualties. The bones in the room rise into a 1 and we take a long rest.

Day 2

In the night there is scratching on the wall and none of us notice a creepy creature perched on top of Pierre. It does not attack him but it probably gives long term negative effects. Pierre wakes up and sees it but it’s gone before we can do anything about it. Tired after a long journey we prepare to head back. We leave the caves without indecent and find the chest with 4 flowers on our way home. Before we get back to the portal, we are visited by a roc again (possibly a different one from last time) and the avian creatures approach and we show that we are friendly by drawing a smiling face on the ground and showing that we killed gnomes earlier. They judge us on our coolness afterwords and all party members but Fern pass. Shows of strength and dexterity seem to suffice for looking cool. The rest of the expedition is uneventful.

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Expedition 98 - Cactpires and Black Ravens and Scorpiotaurs, Oh My
new desert friends

July 2, 2018

[posted on time, +0.1hp]

Characters
Sovan Dareshin (bard 7)
Ayden Meyers (sorcerer 3)
Jean-Lee “Gucci” Challenges-Debicourt de Ia Terre des Romances aux Rivalieux-Quandamouzieres Sur Vantera-aux Alpes Maritimes (cleric 4)
Bugle Reveille (fighter 6)
Sarene of the South Shores (cleric 4)

Changes
Jean-Lee levels to 5!

Loot:

  • Cactpire Sap (Healing Reagent) (1200 GP) (Claimed by Sovan)
  • Exhaustive Sacred Hand Crossbow (1000 GP)
  • Boots of Spider Climbing (1200 GP) (Claimed by Sovan + Val)
  • Miragefolk Dust of Dryness (20 GP)
  • Evasive Trinket of Skills (600 GP)

Log

Day One:

We set off and it’s warm as balls. I’m contemplating removing my chainmail. I’m sweating in places no person should sweat in. But I guess I should be “safe” or whatever.

We find the portal with no difficulty and loop through. We find ourselves standing on a steppe, with the land turning to desert to the south. To the north of us, we see a gross-ass blighted looking landscape with some very diseased-looking trees. It’s a little less hot here – yay for less chainmail sweat – but still warmer than I’d prefer. I’d prefer it like… ten degrees colder than this. With a tankard of cold mead in my hand. Chilling.

(Don’t worry Yamaa, I’ll actually do the thing this time. I can sense you, looking at me disapproving from wherever you are, out there in the ether.)

Right near us, we see a bunch of horses with arms. They whinny at us and some of them pull axes off their backs. Sovan immediately starts yelling at them in every language he knows and we all put our hands up.

They seem to be asking each other where we came from and determining that we’re there to kill them. Sovan casts a Minor Illusion of him hugging a horse with a sugar cube.

We all put our weapons down and hold our hands up. Except Bugle.

Sovan glares at Bugle. “Put the bow down!”

Ayden throws up a Minor Illusion of Bugle with no bow, superimposed over Bugle with very much a bow.

The horses look confused. Sovan tries talking to them in a soothing voice. Apparently the horses are saying that if we’d wanted to attack them, we would’ve done so by now. And they can’t let us near the yearlings.

The horses tell us to go south, and Sovan gives them a thumbs up as we start walking south into the desert, toward 7.05 where we’re supposed to meet the mirage folk.

It takes us about an hour to do so. The chainmail sweat situation has progressed… considerably.

Ayden Ray of Frosts the ground to cool us down… not realizing that Sovan told us that water summons the Cactpires (Cactus vampires. Look, I don’t get it either).

Ayden then Minor Illusions a wall of swords and plops himself down behind it.

Jean-Lee and I Bless the entire party while we run away from Ayden’s cold-spiked ground, and thankfully – at least for a minute – nothing pursues us.

As we leg it away, a giant worm-thing erupts out of the ground nearby and crashes down where the Ray of Frost was. So not a cactpire, but… something else.

Bugle is REAL tempted to shoot it, but Sovan flatters him into refraining.

We keep hustling away from the worm as it burrows back into the ground, and continue on our way. Sovan gives us a little prep lecture consisting of “WE DON’T OPEN TOWERS, WE DON’T SUMMON WATER IN THE DESERT, WE PUT OUR BOWS DOWN WHEN WE DO DELICATE NEGOTIATIONS” with Bugle interspersing: “GETTING INTO TOWERS IS LUCRATIVE AND EXCITING, WE CAN SIMPLY KILL WHATEVER THE WATER SUMMONS, THEY PUT THEIR BOWS DOWN FIRST” and Jean-Lee rambling about how he wants to fuck a scorpion. So business as usual.

[ ADDENDUM: OPERATION WINTER’S HEART ESTABLISHED QUITE CONCLUSIVELY THAT SIMPLY OPENING WARDS AND SLAUGHTERING WHATEVER EMERGES IS BOTH LUCRATIVE AND CONDUCIVE TO REGIONAL SECURITY AND THE PROSPERITY OF OUR FUTURE VASSAL STATES.]

As we approach the oasis, we try to make ourselves as nonthreatening-looking as we can (I still have a bigass axe sticking out my back, but hey.)

And then -

Out of a crevice in the ground, a pair of lassos shoot up.

One wraps around Ayden and drags him 15ft toward the crevice. The other one shoots toward me but I shake it off.

The one who lasso’d Ayden rakes him with its claws, but thankfully they scrape off his Mage Armour. It then bites him (-7 max HP, 9dmg).

Another lasso goes for me and thankfully misses.

Jean-Lee shoots a Guiding Bolt at the one on Ayden, which blasts a chunk out of its body, and heals Ayden. As soon as that happens, though, it starts extruding sap to patch its injury.

Its claws and fangs scrape at Ayden’s Mage Armour, while the other one reels Ayden further toward the crevice.

Another one lassos me, drags me toward the edge of the crevice, and bites me (-8 max HP, 6dmg, then -7 max HP, 2dmg).

I grab my ice knife and hack at the rope holding me, which breaks. It then explodes, catching the asshole in the face (9 cold dmg).

Bugle hits the one on me with three darts, tearing chunks out of its flesh, and then three more. It collapses and Bugle caws in victory.

Ayden Mind-Blasts the two cactpires on him using Brier’s eyes, but they don’t let go of the lasso.

Jean-Lee stabs one of them with a sword and appears to take some sort of recoil damages (5 piercing).

Sovan yells “fuck” a bunch of time at me, and I try to smile at him. I know it’s not worth healing me. But he keeps pointing at me, and I change, and it hurts, oh god it HURTS, and I look around and I have a tail.

I’m a scorpion.

As I’m trying to adjust to this, the two cactpires on Ayden heal their injuries and try to attack him again. He gets a magic surge (Resistance to all damage for the next five minutes). One of the cactpires pierces his shield with its claws.

Sovan goes pure white in the face as he yells “I just remembered, I have Inspires!” I try to clack my claws at him as reassuringly as I can, but then the asshole near me tries to escape and I sting the fuck out of it as it goes into the ground. I then scuttle over to Ayden and sting the fuck out of the asshole on him, while it pierces me – something I barely feel – godDAMN, I could get used to being a giant scorpion. Though the kids probably wouldn’t like it. Well, the younger kids wouldn’t. The older kids would think it’s rad.

Bugle casually flits over to the one that disappeared into the crevice and massacres it.

Ayden stabs the one on him, healing a little in the process. Jean-Lee piles on to the two remaining ones with some radiant attacks. Sovan Dissonant Whispers at them, and one of them dies, leaving only one remaining on Ayden.

It runs, and we all blast it. It dives down and tries to take cover, but the shooters in our party shoot it to death.

Sovan asks me if I just want to be a scorpion for the next hour and I clack my claws as a yes. I’d really like to not be a weak-ass sweaty noodle right now. I’d rather be a strong-ass sweaty gross monster. It’s great for the self-esteem.

We settle down at the oasis and I duck my tail into the water to cool down while the rest of the party explores. There is a fountain that has been almost completely worn away, except for a spindly arm down which water pours into a little basin. The fountain is powered by conjuration magic. The arm and hand are imbued with conjuration magic and water is running down from nowhere. Bugle and I keep watch while we rest.

Ayden drinks the water, which is cool and sweet and refreshing. Jean-Lee and I also drink, and we all fill up my canteens. Well, Sovan fills mine and hangs it on my back.

As the hour ends, I go back to being Sarene. Weak, weak human Sarene. (8 max hp) Ayden and Sovan take turns covering us with illusions so that it looks like there’s no one here. I scribble the details down in this log, remembering my scorpion time as best I can.

About late afternoon, a couple of nasty pale creatures stagger around near the oasis for a bit, but they don’t actually approach. Apparently these are the creatures who tried to eat Sil a while back. Bugle and Sovan shoot at them and kill them.

(Note to log: We also have 800gp worth of healing sap from the cactpires’ corpses.)

We go to bed, figuring we all could use a little healing (except Bugle, who seems to be having the time of his life).

In the middle of the night, while Bugle and Ayden are on watch, Ayden spots people walking toward the oasis for a little while. They look humanoid, with cloaks, like the mirage folk. Ayden and Bugle wake us in preparation. When they’re about 60-80ft away, they drop low and start sneaking. Sovan softly calls our greeting word, and they get up again and continue walking toward us. As they reach us, they start talking to us in their language, which Sovan has to cast Comprehend Languages to understand.

“We don’t have anyone with us who can translate, but I guess you guys are the people who showed up a while back,” they say. “Do you understand us?”

Sovan does a little dance when they ask, to confirm that we understand them.

“We have someone with us who can communicate with you, let’s get them. We’ll be back in the morning.”

We go back to sleep.

Day Two

About an hour after sunrise, a group of the mirage folk come toward us. One of them says, “I take it you can understand me now.”

We nod.

“Hi,” says Sovan. “You wanted us to do a favour for you?”

“Oh yes, you are those people then.”

“We represent them.”

“We’ll draw you a little map, show you where to go. We know where one of their villages is, in the middle of the slate lands by the chasm. There’s an old ruin there and a number of them reside there. Maybe 20-40 of them.”

Sovan asks if they have any known strengths or weaknesses, likes or dislikes.

“They’re fine with water. They’re quite magical, many of them have spells they can cast and some of those spells are quite powerful. They can issue people commands that are agonizing to resist. It takes them some time to work that magic so they won’t likely do it mid-combat. They also have people with more direct offensive magics, and they have some soldier caste people as well. Their offensive spells are blasts of energy in a line. There are a number of them with different capacities. There’s the mind-command which enslaves you on pain of agony or death. Some of their other powerful magics include summoning a cloud of noxious fumes, a long straight blast of energy, or a magic that slows and hinders our ability to move and fight.”

Ayden asks if they speak our language. “No. They do speak something different from us, but I don’t know how it relates to anything you speak. They can take about 2-3 times as much damage as one of our warriors, and each of our warriors takes a bit less than the cactus beings. They use illusions quite a lot; sometimes they’ll make you think they’ve vanished when they haven’t. They have a weaker mind-effecting spell as well that they use to lure individuals away from a group. Come to think of it, you will probably be able to understand them. They can choose to make you understand them. Some of them, at least.”

(Well dang.)

Bugle asks how they react to various weapons. It turns out they have no resistances, and their warriors have longbows. It sounds like fighting them at range, however, might be a good idea. But if we drop arrows on them from a distance they’ll probably just retreat into their buildings.

Bugle asks if they have markings or different colours. “The warriors carry bows, most of the rest don’t. They have terrible claws and a poisonous tail. The ones who have the mind-altering or commanding magic typically have silver piercings in their tongues.”

They offer to send a team of warriors with us, and give us some extra blessings and protections. Bugle asks if their archers would mind acting under his command, and they agree. Four archers step forward and hold their bows out for Bugle to inspect, and he does his usual lovable drill sergeant deal on them. What a fun guy.

[ ADDENDUM: IF MARTIAL DISCIPLINE, EFFECTIVE SMALL ARMS TACTICS AND A WILLINGNESS TO DO WHATEVER IS NECESSARY TO ENSURE OPERATIONAL SECURITY AREFUNTHEN YES, I AM VERY FUN INDEED.]

We agree that I’ll calm the scorpiotaurs’ emotions while Jean-Lee focuses on melee attacks. We’ll wait for a hunting party to come out and kill it far from the village, and then potentially hope for a rescue party to be drawn out, or target the ruin directly. During the planning, we decide that we’ll capture a scorpiotaur so that Ayden can Suggest to it to tell us information about their defensive techniques, and maybe even send it back to lure more of them out to us.

Finally, we set out to the meeting point, where they fetch their caster to apply protective spells to us. We also develop a few hand signals for use during combat.

And then we reach our lookout spot, and we wait. Night falls without incident, and we go to sleep, maintaining watches. One of them unstoppers a little vial and shakes a bunch of greenish powder onto the sand around us. The square covers about 30-40ft of space around us. Jean-Lee investigates it: it’s a kind of salt which dries his fingers when he touches it. This area of sand rapidly absorbs any sweat or water we might extrude, so that we don’t get fucked with by the cactpires. Sweet.

We try to get sleep as best we can, lying flat in our little blind.

Day Three

The sun rises, and we wait… and we wait. In the distance, we see a couple of very confused, lost-looking horses with arms. They don’t spot us.

More time passes… but finally, we see a small group of scorpiotaurs – five of them – heading off at an angle to us. They’re moving pretty fast. We follow them to archery range. They’re all wearing black headdresses, like cowls, and robes that run down and drape loosely over the scorpion body. Sovan, Jean-Lee, Ayden, and I stay low and dash toward them while Bugle and the archers stay back. We are about 450 feet away when they notice us, fanning out to approach us. They fire a volley at us, one arrow barely missing me and the other one slamming into my shoulder (2dmg). Another one hits me (9 dmg). It looks like they’re targeting me. Fucking greeeaaaaat.

We keep hurtling toward each other, me hoping they go for Sovan and not me (sorry dude). Doesn’t work – they keep going for me – but thankfully they all miss.

As we get closer, one of them fires on Sovan and misses off his shield. Sovan Fireballs two of them, which seems to singe them at least a little bit. Three of them surge forward in response and blast two long lines of lightning at Sovan, who dodges one of them and gets hit by another. Oh God, it’s bad (32dmg). And then Jean-Lee is slowed by a ray of mind-energy.

Jean-Lee and I both heal Sovan as another archer shoots his hand (14 dmg). Ayden empties the healing gourd down Sovan’s throat. Two more arrows miss Sovan as we stand clustered around him.

From their vantage point, Bugle and the archers shoot another volley, injuring more of the scorpiotaurs and killing one. Sovan drops a Hypnotic Pattern on two of them and directs us not to shoot them. Immediately after he says this, though, he and Ayden are both slowed. I miss one of them with a Guiding Bolt. Jean-Lee heals Sovan again.

Meanwhile, the warriors are about 160ft from us and miss Jean-Lee twice. Ayden feeds me a potion as another warrior hits Jean-Lee in the hand and he drops his sword.

Bugle and the archers target the asshole that keeps slowing us down, tearing several chunks out of him and disrupting his ability to slow us. Sovan drops another Fireball, I try unsuccessfully to Toll the Dead on one of them, and we are enveloped in sudden darkness as they start to run away. Jean-Lee runs out of the darkness and shoots the caster, which drops the darkness on us though he isn’t killed.

The other archer fires on Jean-Lee in retaliation, hitting once. Jean-Lee gets another arrow with a nasty hit (down to 5hp). Bugle’s archers kill one of the enemy scorpiotaur archers and bloody the scorpiotaur warrior on the other side. Sovan heals Jean-Lee somewhat and poisons the injured warrior. I also heal Jean-Lee.

The badly-injured enemy starts running off faster than we can shoot at him, and his comrade follows. Bugle’s archers kill one of them. I send a Guiding Bolt after the other, which lights him up for Bugle and his buddies to pummel.

Ayden sprints to the dude in the Hypnotic Pattern to tie him up, and Sovan and I join him. Bugle and his team finally kill the runner. Ayden and I truss up the Patterned asshole just as the Pattern drops, which is good timing. Bugle and the archers come up to meet us.

The asshole surrenders, clicking and hissing at us. Speaking in a raspy, clicky version of Common, it says “All right, I surrender, don’t kill me.”

Sovan says, “If you cooperate we won’t kill you.”

“What do you want?”

Ayden telepathically Suggests to it to tell us everything about its village, truthfully. It seems to flinch and gasps, “Pierced-tongue- it doesn’t work on me -”

Fine. We tell it we won’t kill it if it tells us everything about its village.

It says, “Give me an assurance you won’t kill me. Untie me, and I won’t put up a fight.”

We refuse, since it could drop an illusion on us. It offers to walk away from us while talking.

Ayden threatens it telepathically to tell the truth, and it finally agrees. Guess Ayden’s a scary motherfucker. At least in someone’s head.

There are 20 enemies in the village, plus captives. There are 50 buildings, of which they inhabit 8. They’re not all together all the time, but sometimes they group into larger bunches. Mostly, there are 6-7 of them in one place. Hunting parties get sent out to get food. The highest population is usually 30-40, and the lowest is usually 20. They are not very cohesive (it tries to lie about this, but we see right through that) and they don’t share food, so they probably send out hunting parties fairly often. It confirms that the pierced-tongue casters are the strongest, with the domination spells. Suggestion-type spells don’t work on them, but other mind-affecting spells do. There isn’t a central compound for prisoners, but each pierced-tongue has a few. It seems like the pierced-tongues control the captives, since it’s their word that dictates what happens to them.

We get everything we can out of it, and then Bugle shoots it dead and takes its eyes. Ayden and Bugle clink eyes and chew them down.

We get two magical items from their corpses – a hand crossbow and a pair of very nice boots. We explain to our mirage-folk friends that we can’t take the village right now with our current capabilities, but we’ll come back later with a bigger and stronger party. On the way back to the meeting point, Jean-Lee keeps trying to chat up the archers but Bugle keeps making them do repeated calisthenics drills. Shirts on and everything.

[ ADDENDUM: IT IS FRANKLY SHOCKING THAT AN OFFICER OF THE BESPECTACLED DWARF-MAN’S STATURE IS NOT MORE COGNIZANT OF HIS RESPONSIBILITY TO NEWLY ENLISTED LOCAL LEVIES. THE TROOPS EARNED THEIRCOMPETENT AND OBEDIENTCITATIONS AND ACCOMPANYING MEDALS; OFFERING THEM UNSPECIFIED FRATERNIZATION PRIVILEGES WITH NCOS SETS A BAD PRECEDENT OF ‘PERVERSE INCENTIVES’. THAT WAS A PUN. I REFER TO THE NOTION OF PERVERSE INCENTIVES, BUT ALSO INDICATE THAT THE OFFER ITSELF WAS PERVERSE.]

The lead druid of the mirage-folk isn’t overjoyed that we’ve only killed five, but he shrugs and seems not to be too fussed about it. He agrees to trade us a vial of the drying powder in exchange for Jean-Lee’s vodka, flask and all.

We thank the archers for their help. Ayden asks if they have any broken machinery, and they mention that the fortress in the south has some gears.

They point us toward a very secure resting spot for the night, and we leave them in search of a very-much-needed sleep. Some of the archers escort us, and after a while we meet up with a large number of mirage-folk. Sovan speaks with them and explains who we are. They agree to go with us and camp out with us for the night. We have about 30 of them coming with us at this point, along with a few young ones and families. This appears to be a full travel group.

It’s nice to be around young ones. I always miss the kids when I go out on an expedition. I teach these kids a version of Shutterclap, which is the hottest game going around the schoolyard these days. I’m not the best at it, but they seem to be having fun anyway. I can hear Sovan trying to learn their songs, which are sung in an odd kind of whisper that reverberates across the desert. It’s a companionable walk.

We reach the camp ground, and they sprinkle more of the drying dust to keep us safe from the cactpires. We set down and sleep for the night.

Day Four

We get to the fortress, which has a door set into the stone a ways up the mountainside. Mindful of Sovan’s issues with climbing, we try to find an easier way up.

While we’re looking, we see two cactpires climbing down into a nearby crevice. Why not fuck them up? They retreat a bit into the cave, though, to try and force us to fight them in a confined space. Bugle sends in two seeking arrows, lighting one up and running in with darts. They leap on him as soon as he gets into the cave, though, grappling and biting him. He psychically screams at them.

Ayden holds a Shatter, and Jean-Lee rushes in after Bugle, killing one. Sovan tells the last one it’s an asshole and Bugle punches it (1dmg; Bugle gets 5dmg). I send two spiritual nooses after it, but they miss – but we’ve backed it into a corner, and Bugle darts it to death.

We get 400gp more of sap from the two dickhead corpses, and then we go back to trying to climb the mountain. We find a rocky road up a side of the mountain, and start up. Sovan keeps fucking up, bless his clumsy-ass heart, so I try to help him – but then he just casts Fly to go up. Showoff.

As we walk in the door, there’s a flash of light and there’s a golem standing there, sending Scorching Rays out to meet us. Two of the rays hit Ayden and Bugle. Then it fuzzes and there are seven of it blurring around, with one of them smashing a kick into Sovan (18dmg). In a mechanical, echoing voice, it says “WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG?”

I try to Command it to halt, but it just fizzes in response. Ayden yells that we have no ill intent and that he’s just there to try and repair it. It screams, “200 YEARS AND NO ONE SHOWED UP?”

Sovan yells, “Please stop attacking us, it’s not our fault! No one told us to do anything!”

It blasts Bugle with a Scorching Ray again and tries to roundhouse kick Sovan, but Sovan ducks out of its way. Sovan tries to dodge a lightning ray that blasts out of its chest, but gets caught as it pummels him.

“USE THE COMMAND WORD, YOU IDIOTS, CAN’T YOU SEE I’M NOT IN CONTROL OF THIS THING?”

Bugle immediately yells a bunch of command words and it yells, “NOT THE GENERAL COMMANDS, THE RAVEN COMMAND!”

Jean-Lee yells something, which doesn’t work. Bugle shows it the Imperial Writ, and finally it shudders to a stop. “That’s not supposed to work but I convinced it to. What is going on? What took you so long?”

Sovan explains that it’s hundreds of years later, and about, well, the Corruption. Bit of a shellshock. Understandably.

Bugle starts inspecting the golem’s head-piece. Well, apparently it’s half-golem. Grafted onto a golem? A broken golem, that’s gone without maintenance for two hundred years. Ah. We all point to Ayden.

“I can’t restrain this thing enough to let you crack the innards. But Eleza will know, but she’s been tearing apart mechas and building something horrible, so she won’t want to talk to you.”

Sovan asks, “what have you been waiting for people to do?”

“Rescue us! Everyone here went insane apart from me, and turned into monsters. All I know is one day I was the only sane person left. I was talking to Eleza, and all of a sudden she ripped off someone’s head and started making a machine.”

Jean-Lee asks it what’s in the building. It’s a Black Raven installation which was staffed by 80-100 Ravens, of which it was the commander and Eleza was the Artificer. Marcus was the resident wizard, who is still around, though crazy.

Sovan tells it about our enchanted Black Raven necklace, which apparently could help it convince the mechanism that we’re Raven and make it leave us alone. Jean-Lee has a Raven sword right now, which could help – “Alright. Okay. I think I’m good. I’ve convinced it that you’re Raven, for now. It’s really quite broken, but it’ll do for now. You can try to fix me.”

Ayden checks it out. It’s incredibly complicated, and is the creation of a very powerful Artificer. We’d need to rebuild significant portions of it and re-lay some of the enchantments to fix it properly. If we had components from another one or two similar machines, we might be able to jerry-rig something in the short term – something akin to what Eleza is doing right now.

It says, “Well, there are some golems in there that may do the trick. Eleza made most of our golems, so she made me too. Presumably her other golems would do the trick, but I don’t think going in there for you guys is a good idea right now. Eleza is just as powerful and dangerous as I am and she won’t be holding herself back like I was.”

It explains a bit more about itself. The Ravens are the progenitors of the tower network. We explain that the tower network has messed up reality, and the network is both sending horrible corruption out as well as trying to hold the world together.

It tells us that the towers work by binding something extraplanar to pour its power into the tower, which feeds into a larger interconnected web of towers. They’re all anchored to one location, which was the original binding of an incredibly powerful being, and it can’t tell us anything more about that. This is fundamental to the construction of the tower network. The role of this facility is to identify potential targets for binding another similar creature. It allows them to scry the plains.

Black Raven can be found throughout the Empire, pretty much every city will have an installation of some sort, though it can’t tell us what to look for. There are some indicators which should be apparent to us once we know they exist.

We ask – if we want to get in contact with the thing that’s running the tower, how do we do that? How do we connect to the towers to talk to them, or re-establish the connection tower to tower

“Most towers should have someone who knew how to do that. If you can find one of the towers that was occupied by Ravens, that would be best. There’s one north of this desert and there’s one way off to the southeast, but that’s all I know. I don’t know what was bound in each.”

If the communication grid is still active, we could get onto it. If we do the bonding ritual with a tower, we should be on the network, though it’ll need an operator to communicate with another tower. If we have an operated tower, we can run it as a relay and run communications through it. We’d have to turn a tower on with someone bonded to it.

Apparently Eleza was a person, but is now part-metal because she started building herself a new body. Maybe this golem survived because it was in the system.

We may be able to find the Raven codeword in another shop, if it’s written down somewhere. The golem – Brack – takes us through some tips and tricks to decipher Raven codes, though it can’t teach us any more than that with any degree of safety.

We agree to come back next time with the code, and thank Brack for its help. It shoots off back into the building as we leave.

We make it to the portal, and camp for the night before returning home. Once there, Bugle manages to use his codes and the Writ to unlock a bank vault we stole a million years ago. We get the coin and a ring that were inside.

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Expedition 97 - Operation Winter's Heart
In which we survive despite our best efforts.

Operation Winter’s Heart, to wit, An Exploratory Sortie and Retrieval Operation Turns into a Pitched Battle Won By Martial Prowess and Sound Adoption of Battle-tested Kenku Tactics.


Expedition Personnel:

  • [Bugle Reveille], Military Rank Sergeant First Class, Special Infantry (Full Kenku Designation [The blowing of reveille, the need for silence gone, on an empty battlefield littered with the slain, tinged by sadness for those fallen, never to be acknowledged, in this officially unsanctioned battle of a dirty, vital little war]) (Fighter 6)
  • Quincy, Military Rank Staff Sergeant, Special Infantry (Full Kenku Designation [The steady pace of the dancer with blades towards their target, each step in counterpoint to the rag-dolled corpse of another intervening adversary]) (Fighter 6)
  • Silverleaf Moonshadow, Military Rank Staff Sergeant, Intelligence – Active Nature Manipulation Division (Full Kenku Designation [The sickening crunch as the ravening bear tears its prey in half from the head down]) (Druid 6)
  • [Night’s Mistress], Military Rank Sergeant, Special Infantry (Full Kenku Designation [The dying gasp of the stifled breath of the slain foe as the starry sky is blackened briefly, imperceptibly, and swift death falls among the foe on the wings of living night that the warrior wraps about her like a cloak] NB: This is one among many other names about which the Sgt. is to be consulted at the reader’s earliest available opportunity.) (Monk 5)
  • Martin van Horne, Military Rank Chaplain (Full Kenku Designation [The furtive snap of a needed bandage over an honourably obtained wound by the quiet and unobtrusive medical assistant who knows their place in the background.]) (Cleric 5)

Specially-Authorized Currency-Based Incentives:

4355 GP / 5 Operatives = 871 GP per Operative (or 725 GP if self-tithing to the ‘charitable’ Leshanna Memorial Fund Initiative).

Estimated Value To Personnel’s Combat Capabilities Of Experiential Field Training:

19977 XP / 5 Operatives = 4395 XP per Operative (Tactical Field Research Bureau Estimate, factoring in Guild Personnel Registry’s Administrative Efficiency Bonus)

Personnel Notes To File:

  • Sgt. [Night’s Mistress] achieves her Sixth Dan in her chosen Combat Discipline of [Redacted: Clearance Required.].
  • Chaplain van Horne was visited by the Sixth Blessing of the Reputedly Divine Entity ‘Elyra’ (So-Called).

Hostile Personnel / Natural Hazards Terminated:

  • 4 Avian-Form Living-Ice Construct-Weapons (Estimated Elemental Rank: Less than 1st)
  • 6 Humanoid-Form Living-Ice Construct-Weapons (Estimated Elemental Rank: 1st)
  • 6 Orb-Form Living-Ice Construct-Weapons (Estimated Elemental Rank: 5th)
  • 3 Titan-Form Living-Ice Elementals (Estimated Elemental Rank: 9th.)
  • NB: NONE OF THESE BEINGS HAVE EYES OR CLEAR OCULAR INPUTS OF ANY KIND. RESEARCH IS ONGOING INTO HOW BEST TO HONOUR THEIR SLAIN.

Useful War Materiel Recovered:

  • Elusive Plate Mail w. 1 Charge of Blur (Magic) (2100 GP)
  • Shadow Halberd w. 4 Charges of Burning Hands (Magic) (800 GP)
  • Potion of Clairvoyance (Magic – Cast Clairvoyance) (300 GP)
  • Potion of Fire Giant Strength (Magic – Set Strength to 25 for 1 hr.) (300 GP)
  • Potion of Superior Healing (Magic – Heal 8d4 + 8) (300 GP)
  • Living-Ice (Reagent) (1350 GP)
  • Ancient Key (Magic – Transmutation/Abjuration) (GP VALUE UNCLEAR AT THIS TIME)
  • Standard-Issue Old Empire Banishing Book + Dagger (0 GP – Redundant due to [Redacted: Clearance Required.])
  • Book – Cleric or Druid Quirk Level 1 Spell (Magic) (75 GP)
  • Technical Book – Purpose Unknown (120 GP)
  • World Detail Book – Topic Unknown (10 GP)
  • World Detail Book – Topic Unknown (10 GP)

Local Organizations Encoutered:

  • Indigenous Ice-Based Individuals (I-I-Is): Locals. Functionally immortal. Shockingly undisciplined. Apparently entirely without humour. (Allies of Convenience)
  • Outsider-Class Winter Entities: Hostile. Summon allies. Hugely vulnerable to aerial and ranged assault. Estimated Grade 9 ‘Wyvern+’ level threats. (Terminated)

Log Proper

NOTICESEALED MATERIALS CLASSIFICATION ALRAUNE SEVEN

IF YOU ARE UNCERTAIN WHETHER YOU ARE CLEARED TO BE BRIEFED ON THE CONTENTS OF THIS LOG, PLEASE CONSULT SUB-LOG [Redacted: Clearance Required.].

IF YOU ARE STILL UNCERTAIN, OR IF NOT CLEARED FOR SUB-LOG [Redacted: Clearance Required.], REPORT TO SGT. [BUGLE REVEILLE] IMMEDIATELY FOR DISCIPLINARY ACTION IN RESPONSE TO YOUR OPENING POTENTIALLY NON-PERMITTED MILITARY RECORDS, FOLLOWED BY CONFIRMATION OF WHETHER YOU WERE IN FACT CLEARED TO OPEN SAID RECORDS IN THIS CASE.

Day 1

The mission departs at dawn. Clear skies. Good visibility.

Red Emperor sends his consort to give us Aid and enhance my bow for the day, as well as to Send ahead to the I-I-Is to alert them that we are inbound.

We travel to the I-I-I Settlement without incident.

Their local tribal leader, a ‘Baida’ meets us. I provide them with the amusement their undisciplined and childish culture so craves: an intricately calligraphic transcript of a joke I Took from the voice of a sailor whom I shortly thereafter dunked in the harbour for public vagrancy, using the police authority granted to me by [Redacted: Clearance Required.].:

“What do you call two men with no arms and no legs stuck across a window frame? Kurt ’n Rod!”

The I-I-Is are not notably amused due to their congenital lack of humorous impulses.

(NB: This tendency was previously confirmed by first-hand observation. In the midst of a local wedding service early on during my stay, one of the participants reached to lift the thick veils of their intended clutch-partner.

(This ‘partner’; turned out (under these concealing garments) to be myself, who was fully equipped for tactical engagement – and who began firing repeated live ordinance into the attendees and Shaman officiant (knowing their immunity to such small arms) while helpfully and very audibly informing them of their need to practice “CONSTANT VIGILANCE”.

(Their reaction was severely lacking in the wry appreciation of their own lax and sloppy surveillance protocols appropriate to the situation. Even my relenting and helping them find their bound and gagged comrade did little to alleviate an initially…FROSTY…reception.

(This is further humour as the word indicates both Cold and Disdain.)

(My own discontent remains manifest: either these I-I-Is want constant and novel stimulation or they do not – their hypocrisy, and their tactical uselessness outside of their strategically unimportant empty wastes, are both disappointing in the extreme.)

Baida allows us to forego their ritual Challenge as my 3 weeks among them had taught them the error of attempting to engage with me in any test or challenge. She adroitly disguised her submission to our authority by asserting that we were already there for a mission to find her Sword. (Her desire for it seems more sentimental than tactical or otherwise sinister – she misses it.) I suppose that I too have on occasion [Redacted: Clearance Required.].

NB: The Emperor insists that I report on a tedious and unhelpful conversation he had while here with myself on reconnaissance, some time ago. Baida and Nuri, her chief Shaman, tried at the Red Emperor’s fervent request to recall how long they had been here and how long the Frozen Lands had been expanding. They could not. it was a long time ago. The Frozen Lands have doubled in size. They do not know how quickly they will continue to do so. In short: We learned nothing interesting and it took up much valuable time for training or otherwise advancing our position.]

Baida indicates where she lost it on our map – a Central Zone of stronger winter, the Heart of the Frozen Lands, near a Warded Citadel that burned their kind when they last approached it. Outbuildings surround the Citadel. She advises us that it is particular in its construction – it has an Ivory handle and a black iron blade.

There is also a great Ice Worm that hunts the Frozen Lands. We all wish to kill it save for the Chaplain who is not consulted for his thoughts on the matter. We decide to kill it later.

Meanwhile, Staff Sgt. Moonshadow works out which Bioweapon Shifter Form Assets are best suited to the cold – which all those not possessed of my notable fortitude and self-control found taxing to the extent that it impeded their efficiency. In the Central Zone, this cold starts to risk exhaustion, even in Cold-Weather Uniforms, in one hour.

Staff Sgt Moonshadow then quietly indicates that she is ready to use Locate Object to find Baida’s sword, and we prepare to leave.

Sgt. [Night’s Mistress] and Staff Sgt. Quincy take point, the latter carrying the former’s many weapons with his bulky musculature, ready to hand for her to use as necessary. Staff Sgt. Moonshadow and myself are the rear guard. Chaplain van Horne trudges unimpressively in the middle.

The air is too cold and dry for many flurries. As we approach the Central Zone visibility remains good. Staff Sgt. Moonshadow’s keen Elven eyes (Perception 25) spot incoming flurries of magical summoned ice quickly enough for us to prepare – I activate my Gem and an Arcane Arrow, Staff Sgt. Quincy arms himself, Staff Sgt. Moonshadow summons a Flaming Sphere near the impending Summoning site. (This magic reminds me, with heavy heart, of [Redacted: Clearance Required.]) Sgt. [Night’s Mistress] retrieves her spear. The Chaplain scurries behind us. We wait.

A hideously Avian-form construct-weapon entity emerges at speed from the snow ahead of us, made of Living-Ice, ramming into the Sphere and proving vulnerable to fire. We kill it, and then another that arises, with little difficulty – but not before they breathe cold in small 15’ cones at us (DC ~11). They seem to be automatons, not sentient adversaries. (1/8th XP)

As we wait for further assault, Staff Sgt. Moonshadow, standing in the vicinity of the summoning space, finds her constitution tested and is chilled slightly (4 cold damage). Nothing else occurs at this time.

We continue on, closing to Locate Object range. Humanoid construct-weapons emerge from the snow some few seconds later. We kill them without much difficulty and move on.

Locate Object indicates Baida’s sword is near 3 Easterly outbuildings. We decide to go there to find this primitive artifact as contracted.

On the way, 3 more powerful toruses of cold and snow form around us. They take approximately half a minute to fully manifest – Staff Sgt. Moonshadow uses this time to Dispel one (9 failed, 24 succeeded). No other form of hostilities proved effective on the torus phenomena. Staff Sgt. Quincy used his ‘magical nose’ (his terminology) to identify a line of magical power retracting from the Dispelled torus to the large central Citadel.

The other two torus swirls condense snow around them and crystallize into floating construct-weapons – large Orbs of ice. They are resistant to magical piercing damage but hurt badly by fire and normally by bludgeoning. Non-magical weapons have no effect. They are not easy to decisively terminate (~60+ HP), fly almost as quickly as I do (speed 40’) and blast long-range Evocation Artillery Spells from above in Cannonade (60’ radius, ~20 cold damage, CON 13 for 1/2 damage) or Sniper (Cold-based ‘Magic Missile’) configurations.

During the engagement, Avian construct-weapons periodically materialize, forcing me to kill them first when I have the opportunity as there is no other reasonable course of action with hostile bird-like winged smug self-satisfied organisms with bad manners and irritating habits.

We kill the Orb construct-weapons with our own weapons and the shape of a bear. It is frustrating in the extreme and I am tempted to [Redacted: Clearance Required.]

I order the squadron forward to kill the hostile actors (in the Citadel) clearly summoning these construct-weapons.

We move to the Citadel to start Anti-Abjuration exercises. The Thaumaturgy of Staff Sgt. Moonshadow and the Chaplain greatly injure the Ward. Then they are out of magical energy; I order a tactical extraction to let the Casting-equipped personnel recuperate back at the forward encampment we made inside the I-I-I village.

When safely back at said village, we explain to the impatient locals our need to proceed carefully and replenish our resources.

I am satisfied in the extreme during the early evening to watch Sgt. [Night’s Mistress] thrash the self-proclaimed ‘strongest fighter’ of the I-i-Is, Galen, 7 hits to 0. They may complain that my flight is ‘unfair’, but they can have no quarrel with the fairness with which Kenku dedication brought her this well-earned victory.

Staff Sgt. Moonshadow takes welcome initiative and attempts to confirm that the sword is not important – apparently not, save that they brought it with them when they came here. They have interesting conventional armor with unique military insignia emblazoned on its surface in which one more skilled in History might find something. I carefully sketched them (Forgery 15) – they may be found in Sub-Log Alpha Seven One to this Log.

Baida and Shaman Nuri’s other remnants of their past consist of an old longsword and a bizarrely impractical looking mace, as well as several books which years of crumbling and neglect have rendered entirely illegible, and thus even more tedious than any other book is by its very nature.

I share my fattened grubs with all who wish to partake. We sleep.

Day 2

We decide to make a a more tactically discreet approach. Sgt. [Night’s Mistress] summons the darkness to us (PWT Stealth 26). We are, decidedly, all but invisible to conventional sight.

Regardless, within 60’ of the Citadel 3 more toruses appear – nascent Orb construct-weapons. Staff Sgt. Moonshadow dispels 2 and we volley the third to swift death.

We break the Wards. Apparently we were meant to check which way they faced – when the Wards are fatally compromised, 3 15’ tall and loosely bipedal elemental Ice Titans – hereafter distinguished as 1, 2 and 3 – burst from the Citadel

I react first, rising up with my wings out of their reach and using my Psychic Scream to attempt to debilitate the elementals where they stand clustered (27 damage, Titan 2 fails its saves). Then I Surge, shoot Titan 2 and establish that magic piercing weapons are effective. (22 damage).

Approaching in turn, Staff Sgt. Quincy Surges and does murder (~50 more damage) but the creatures resist his Hell-Chain’s restraint. Titan 1 ripostes and 2 of 3 attacks on Staff Sgt. Quincy land (~30 damage).

Staff Sgt. Moonshadow sends a Flaming Sphere into Titan 2, which howls in vulnerability to flame (16 damage), but then Titan 2 hits Staff Sgt. Quincy twice in its rage and drives him into a half-feral lycanthropic berserker state.

The Chaplain heals Staff Sgt. Quincy by praying loudly at him. Sgt. [Night’s Mistress] uses a stored Burning Hands spell to deal Titan 2 28 damage with its vulnerability to fire, before adopting a Patient Defense Stance.

Titan 3 hits Staff Sgt. Quincy and then critically injures him – he is unconscious (Temporary Injury – Disadvantage to all Dexterity Skill Checks).

I shriek again and kill Titan 2.

Titan 1 hits Sgt. [Night’s Mistress] once as her Patient Defense dodges its two other blows – and then it summons a Humanoid construct-weapon in the midst of its attacks.

The Chaplain summons very meek and inoffensive cherubs as Guardians and then restores Staff Sgt. Quincy to consciousness with a yelped Word. Sgt. [Night’s Mistress] stands her ground but her attempts to stun Titan 1 fail. She then resumes her Patient Defense, which saves her from many blows as Titan 3 misses thrice

I place two well aimed sharpshooter shots, using my bow’s non-standard Draining feature on a critically accurate shot to do 69 damage between two magical arrows. This kills Titan 3. I then fly by Titan 1 to draw its reaction to me; it misses. All seems well.

Then Titan 3 surges forward towards Sgt. [Night’s Mistress]. Staff Sgt. Quincy attacks it before and during its move, but can neither trip it nor prevent it from knocking the Sgt. unconscious. (Permanent Injury – Lose Acrobatics Proficiency). It summons an Avian construct-weapon as well.

The Humanoid construct weapon hits the Chaplain. Staff Sgt. [Night’s mistress] is bleeding to death. I pluck a longer feather from the side of my face.

Staff Sgt. Moonshadow’s claws drip acid, her Sphere is like a tiny sun, but she cannot drop the last Titan. The Chaplain restores Sgt. [Night’s Mistress] to wakefulness with a touch – and my hand pauses on its way to my mouth, as she seems to be out of immediate peril.

Then she rises, launches a Burning Hands from her magic weapon, turns to run and is dropped again by the Titan’s great fist. The nearby Avian is shredded by the Chaplain’s Guardians as it closes to her but there is a Humanoid near her. She is on the ground and cannot, under any circumstances, be brought back to life.

Making a rational determination that she is a vital military asset and calmly deciding that it is an appropriate action, I fire a last arrow at Titan 3 and then consume my Task-Feather.

I initiate Termination Protocol, end condition [Redacted: Clearance Required.]. I quickly descend to the ground with an Arcane-enhanced Phase Strike, effectively terminating Titan 3. Staff Sgt. Quincy almost simultaneously terminates the last Humanoid construct-weapon (which could have killed her, was close enough to reach out and snap her neck).

Watching the last ice fall to the ground, I stagger as I fade back into myself, my shoulders aching from the impact of striking the Titan with a naked blade. (Permanent Injury: Lose Athletics Proficiency.)

I attempt to convey a bluff and hearty confidence in Sgt. [Night’s Mistress]’s survival to her, and am quietly confident that she is fooled. (Deception 21 vs. Insight 23 – she is not.) Meanwhile, I hand everyone, including the Chaplain, one of my most recent printings of the More Than Adequate Performance tokens. Staff Sgt. Quincy respectfully declines his out of humility and gratitude that I saved the Sgt. I graciously accept his kind gesture.

Entering the now abandoned Citadel, we find much treasure in this site. It is enumerated at the beginning of this Log.

Staff Sgt. Quincy carefully searches the facility (Investigate 30) and prepares an initial report – his best guess is that this facility was entered at some point after the establishment of its Wards. Perhaps, in the Old Empire, visitors could freely come in and out. Since corruption fell, the chains that bound the Titans broke, and with them the Ward of which the chains were part distorted.

This explains why more of the Ward than usual, the Chaplain pipes up, was dangerous to breach. I tell him to go find out something useful. With his magic magnifying glass, the Chaplain’s Ritual Detect Magic finds that there is much elemental ice magic here. In the lair of the giant Ice Titans.

I give him as much praise as this impressive discovery merits.

The Chaplain witters that it is important, he is not being pedantic, the Titans were trying to claw their way through Reality to get home and may well have done much damage to local metaphysics. “But they didn’t and can’t,” I write out on a card for him, “Because we killed them.”

He has no response, save to indicate that the Planar wall to the Demiplane of Ice is thinner here and the Frozen Lands will likely persist for many years. The I-I-Is will not melt. (The Emperor will be irrationally pleased, I can say with confidence, knowing as I do that most of his pleasures are decidedly irrational.)

Staff Sgt. Quincy’s careful Investigation, about this time, finds a very well hidden locked vault containing 4 books and a foot-long key, swirled in black and white. It apparently Unlocks a ‘thing.’ elsewhere. No useful specifics accompany this insight.

We also find the emergency anti-Outsider kit (Banishment Dagger + Ritual) as per normal for Old Empire Node-related facilities.

Then we leave. Finding Baida’s sword buried under the snow would be difficult for normal people but Staff Sgt. Moonshadow is magical, so we find the sword, dig it up, and I have the Chaplain carry it back with us.

Baida receives her sword back and hears our tale of successful ingenuity in the face of adverse encounters with unanticipated Outsider-grade enemy combatants.

She and the rest of the I-I-I reward us with a block of Ever-Frozen Ice, apparently most of their supply, which I commandeer for my own contributions to the war effort.

This strategically significant materiel secured, I must conclude that, save for a future visit to exterminate and effect aggressive forage within the territory of the purported ‘Ice Worm’ (so-called), this Zone can reasonably be concluded to be devoid of any future interest whatsoever and may safely be ignored at this time.

An operational determination that we ought to depart, suggested jointly by Staff Sgts. Quincy and Moonshadow and approved by myself, is universally. accepted by the enlisted personnel.

Return to Sila is effected successfully.

All personnel report to Central Headquarters for quarantine, debrief and what I must assume is a very subtle (though obviously necessary) examination for maintained operational efficiency, psychological stability and ideological purity.

That complete, and remuneration for this special field operation being distributed as regulations dictate, Sgt. [Night’s Mistress] and I begin her new training regimen. Her recently increased mastery of non-standardized magical ‘life essence’, both to exhibit a short-range ‘blink’ effect and to enable her fists to penetrate conventional magical protections, have made her an outstanding candidate for visitation of and ritual engagement with the flight-enabled local guerrillas of the Falcons’ Mountain Zone at first available opportunity.

That said, all mission personnel are cleared for standing down from Active Duty.

LOG ENDS

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Expedition 96 - Aythe's Soulmate
We meet Aythe's soulmate, trade with some Cavers, and investigate the secret basement of the temple

June 10, 2018

[posted on time, +0.1 hp]

Characters
Sovan Dareshin (bard 7)
Quincy (fighter 5)
Aythe (bard 4)
Martin (cleric 5)

Changes
Aythe makes a friend!
Quincy levels to 6!

Important Notes
The roc seems to be attracted to fire. Possible strategy for luring it in when we decide to kill it?
The Cavers are particularly interested in trading for high quality pickaxes, salt, spices, special metals, or information about locations for mining or locations marked with ravens. They have a lot of diamonds so they can buy a lot of stuff.
We found a permanent portal from 5.13 to 7.16 with a stable branch leading off it to somewhere in the vicinity of 8.04.

Log
[not in character voice this time, I’m a little brain dead and just wanted to get it written]
We went into the Felar Woods to look for a portal. We passed some Blazing Banners fighting skeletons, so we left them to it.

Aythe found a portal to 6.17, but when we came out there were 11 Eastern Abyssal Guard (the jerk ones) gathered around a magic circle with a mosquito demon trapped inside. The EAG seemed to assume we were demons too, so the caster shored up the circle and then they all turned and attacked us.

We tried to convince them that we weren’t demons, which they didn’t want to believe, but when we pointed out that their circle seemed to be breaking and about to let the demon out, they decided they had bigger issues to deal with and let us go. We offered to help with the demon, but they declined.

After a short rest, we crossed into the Broken Forest. In a previous expedition (92), we visited the Church of the Wild, and began to sense a connection with something somewhere else in the Broken Forest. When we crossed the border between hexes, Aythe’s sense of connection got stronger and we followed it to try to find whoever or whatever was on the other end.

Aythe led us to a clearing with a tree, where we met a tiny angelic moth-person who introduced itself to Aythe. It claimed to have come down here with its mother, but something killed its mother, and then when it felt the connection with Aythe it decided its purpose must be to help her. Near the tree there was the body of a dead celestial, which it said was its mother. The creature wanted to bond with Aythe. We asked it to wait until we could prep and cast Detect Evil and Good the next day, and it agreed.

When we asked what it wanted done with its mother’s corpse, it requested that we cremate her so her body couldn’t be used for power. We built a funeral pyre, set it on fire, and beat a hasty retreat before anything that might be attracted by the fire could come find us. Fifteen minutes later, a roc swooped in, knocked over the fire, picked up the remains of the celestial and flew away with it.

We slept.

Detect Evil and Good pinged the little creature as celestial and a little aberrant, which is basically what we expected, so Aythe agreed to bond with it. It dug out a little space in her neck and lives there now.

Our next goal was to establish trade with the Cavers. We went to the temple where we met them before and set the beacon, which was answered by another beacon far away indicating that the Cavers were on their way. Last time, it took them a few hours to arrive after they saw our beacon, so we decided to kill time by poking around the secret room we’d found under the temple (also in exp 92).

We climbed down the ladder and came to a little chamber with a door with a carving of a raven on it. As we examined the door, a stone barrier rolled into place to block off our exit back to the temple. The door clicked open to reveal a larger antechamber containing a set of black plate armour with raven wings on its helm. A section on its chest glowed as it asked for the password. We tried the password from the other Raven area we’d found (in expedition 95) but it wasn’t accepted – that was probably only a password for that specific area, and won’t apply elsewhere – and the suit of armour attacked.

It seemed to be in extremely poor repair, and several times it tried to activate abilities that didn’t work. Nonetheless, it was pretty tough (21 damage on a hit, could force a teleport to swap its position w a party member so they took the hit instead of it, limited healing ability, immune to force damage, probably magic resistant). We took it down and retrieved its core, which is a valuable crafting component, as well as collecting the plates that made up its body.

Inside the main room, were four statues which looked like the statues we saw at the Tomb of the Eight (exp. 17). There was a huge being with a vast maw devouring a tiny city; an extremely attractive sort of combination of various demon princes; a childlike figure with huge eyes surrounded by corpses and gnawing on a bone; and a giant beast of iron and fire. In the corner we found a bag containing a set of mildly magical tools, although we’re not sure what the tools are for. We also found a book written in some kind of cypher in a small compartment inside the dismantled suit of armor.

A very high investigate found a well hidden secret door covered in plaster, but we decided not to investigate further until after our meeting with the Cavers. We went upstairs sealed up the passage to the basement, then rested until the delegation of Cavers arrived.

There were 3 red hatted Cavers and 3 with blue hats, and the red hats seemed to be in charge. The red hatted Cavers were child sized and emaciated and twitchy; the blue hatted Cavers were significantly larger and more muscular. The lead red hat introduced himself as Roko. We showed off our trade goods, and they also expressed interest in the plates from the Raven armour. We traded most of the things we’d brought and the plates for a partial map of the underground and 4 magic flowers (spend some HD to cast a druid spell, one use). They mentioned that they had other valuable things which they would be hesitant to trade them because “to craft such as the gloves takes time” and could only be done by particular special Cavers with extra power. (I think? We didn’t think to ask for clarification or more details at the time, so if you want to know you’ll have to ask about it later.)

They wouldn’t tell us what their hats meant, but warned us against setting fires, and that the jackals were not to be trusted.

After they left, we waited for a while to be sure they were gone and then headed back down the ladder to open the secret room. When we scraped off the plaster, we discovered a magical ward, but determined that it was designed to keep things out not in (we made REAL sure of that) so we decided to break into the room.

The ward was really complex (DC 25 to get full effect from a ward breaking spell) so it took us many tries, but eventually we cracked it and went inside. The door opened into a burial chamber, which was empty except for a dais in the center of the room with a figure floating slightly above it. The figure looked to be a fully non corrupt human in old, old clothes, and was completely immobile. A pulsing glow rippled up and down its body from head to foot. Detect Magic saw strong abjuration and some evocation. We searched the rest of the room very thoroughly (31 investigate) but the body was the only thing there.

The body was still warm and gave every appearance of being alive but in stasis. Detect Evil and Good didn’t ping. We realized that if we broke the spell holding the person it might cause a shock to their system and hurt them really badly, so we decided to leave it be for now and head home, stopping on the way to pick up the snake skins we stashed at the potion refuge (in exp. 95).

On our way there, we ran into 13 giant boars, but we managed to Hypnotic Pattern all but 2 of them, kill the two standing, and book it out of there. They didn’t seem interested in chasing us.

After that, we found a permanent portal from 7.16 to 5.13, with a stable branch leading off it (probably to somewhere near 8.04, but we’ll have to go through it to find out for sure). The other end of the portal dropped us directly into the arboretum of our ent friend. Sovan cast Plant Growth for it and it gave us a beautiful antique spear in gratitude. We made it the rest of the way home with no further issues.

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Expedition 95 - We Unearth Some History
Many things try to kill us, none succeed

Sunday, June 3, 2018

[posted late, sorry]

BRAVE ADVENTURERS, DESERVING OF MUCH SONG AND DRINK

IMPORTANT CHANGES

  • Phoenix levels to 5!
  • Hadley gets a pebble embedded in their palm, learns Terran, and can Meld Into Stone once/LR!
  • Alexandre has developed back problems and loses 25% carry capacity!

MONEY AND EXPERIENCE

  • 2103 xp (includes sheet update)
  • 1442 gp (includes LMF donation)
  • LMF gp: 1084 gp

BOOTY

  • Falcon paraphernalia, 50 gp, bought by Hadley
  • Heist Journal of The Flashing Falcon (A series of elaborate notes, diagrams, and maps detailing various successful and dramatically difficult heists on various financial, political and military centres throughout the Old Empire. Indicates that most of the proceeds were spent almost instantaneously on strong wine, pleasant company and beautiful adventures of a different kind. The Falcon, after all, stole far more than just money from his victims – all too often, he stole their hearts. One early chapter, kept as a reminder of sorts, indicates the careful regimen of waxing, grooming, plucking and pomade-ing that kept the Falcon’s fabulously pointy goatee and mustachioes in their seductively curved condition. Once per prominent OE building [DM discretion], D20: useful hint on layout / stealthy ingress on 16+, flat out secret on 20), 80 gp, bought by Hadley
  • Kiss of the Flashing Falcon (The first volume of The Flashing Falcon’s Memoirs. Details daring escapades, chases over rooftops by irate spouses, high-stakes games of chance, duels, escapes, lost loves, tremendously long parties and the relentless pursuit of his nemesis, dwarven prosecutor-general Albert-Eglantine de Bouillon-Pareille aux Parfiterialle-contre-l’Oubliette de la Poisson Pechee…and the Falcon’s [rather more romantically inclined] pursuit right back. Signed [with a kiss]: ‘To Selena’), 10 gp, bought by Hadley
  • Tears of the Flashing Falcon, 10 gp, bought by Hadley
  • healing potion herbs (can be used to make healing potions w. ‘Life Stone’), 225 gp, bought by JL
  • Bumpwagon Portrait of Emperor, originally valued at 105 gp and later sold for 3000 gp
  • exquisite granite pestle, 25 gp, bought by JP
  • Powers of Air and Darkness, by Anonymous (A series of studies on Fae powers both officially recognized and tacitly enslaved by the Old Empire. The author [likely anonymous so as to confound attempts at revenge by his subjects or coercion to reveal his sources by the authorities] has clearly put great work into obtaining accurate and often brutally frank accounts of the Powers, informed guesses as to their abilities, and even allusions to their weaknesses), 40 gp
  • Mountaineering Routes of Sila – A Life Among The Clouds, by Viscount Soren Montcrieff (This rather jolly book by a professional mountaineer and Man of Action, Viscount Montcrieff was a fifth son of a great family who decided to stay out of the way of the important children and climb some bloody mountains, wot? His notes are mostly for the mountaineering enthusiast, but detail sites of interest and perils to avoid sufficiently carefully as to be of much use to the less leisure-oriented traveller. Advantage to navigate in mountain ranges and find climbing routes – although Vis. Montcrieff was not one for “tiddly little hills, bah!” so smaller cliffs and such are not covered), 60 gp
  • The Diaries of Valnessian XIV (Authenticated) (Found in Valnessian’s Refuge: this is the work of an exiled claimant to the Imperial throne, allowed a small lab and work to do but kept in a natural prison – he’d never survive outside, he frankly admits, in what he refers to as ‘the Land of the Wild’ [the Broken Forest]. It begins as an urbane and meticulously clever court intrigue narrative, with much of the Unseen Palace depicted more realistically and intimately than anywhere else in known literature. As he meets his downfall, it transitions to moving and philosophical poetry on exile and the price of ambition – and his small, carefully embraced hope that his work on potions and life-giving remedies might in some way atone for the suffering and strife he caused in his Court existence), 240 gp, bought by Morgan
  • Potions of the Wild Lands, by Valnessian XIV (A series of recipes for various concoctions; most start as elaborate failures, but by the end of this tome, they have been refined down to a handful of elegantly simple recipes for healing and restorative draughts. Allows making certain Potions with the Broken Forest’s herbs and a ‘stable Life Stone’ as catalyst, 30 pts with alchemy to crack the recipes, would need that Stone), 120 gp, bought by JL
  • black iron spiked dog collars (fine abyssal make), two at 10 gp each
  • 80 silvered arrows, 200 gp
  • cold iron bars (Reagent – Anti-Fey forging applications), 270 gp
  • silver coins, 120 gp
  • snakeskin, 200 gp (NB: another 600 gp stashed in Valnessian’s Refuge)

MAGICAL BOOTY

  • Skillful Force Bow of Draining (Bonus sets damage to Force 1 min, +3d6 necrotic to one attack/Exp and heal ½, Advantage to one Skill Check/Exp.), 1200 gp, bought by Hadley
  • Focus Lance of Fleet Foot (Action to make +1 for 1 minute [conc.]; +5’ move speed [for LANCES ONLY counts for horses]), 1200 gp, bought by Alexandre
  • Old Empire alchemy set (Advantage to make Potions), 400 gp
  • Sacred Masterful Collar (Gain Bonus Action w. Action surges; Lay on Hands 5 HP 1/Exp.), 1000 gp, bought by Alexandre
  • Greatsword of Cleansing (Black Raven make +1 Weapon; Action [or Bonus on hit with sword] to cast Disp. Magic @ 3rd 1/LR), 1600 gp, bought by JL
  • Raven Amulet (Black Raven symbol. Small ambiguous Divination tag. 6 Rounds Advantage to hit Ranger’s Favoured Enemy 1/Exp.), 1200 gp

TL;DR

On our way through the Felar Wood some Crested Skull attacked us, so no one has to feel bad about attacking them back. We also killed all of them, though, so we can probably just pretend we never saw them if we want.

A demon possessed an AG commander and got a lot of info on their routes and passwords and stuff. They’re changing up all of that now but that’s still pretty bad news.

A group of werejackals attacked us unprovoked and we killed their leader, so in terms of official initial diplomacy could be better, could be worse.

We found a hidden underground lab, the old residence of one Valnessian XIV. This is a monumental historic find or so I have certainly been hearing.

We went to the x-marked-spot on the map from the bone tube and opened up an old Black Raven cache there. I got cool stone powers!

LOG

Our mission: to follow the treasure map to whatever it’s showing in Hex 7.17. Our heroes: myself, Phoenix, JL, Alexandre (dwarf), and Alexandre (horse). (Honestly, I’m not a huge horse person but that one is definitely making a convert of me. We bonded later when I was grievously injured and could barely drag myself around and that king among horses helped carry my still heroic but tragically weakened limbs home.) We set off early but not bright. The weather is overcast, which is fine, and windy, which is not. Visibility is good but the wind plays holy hell with any kind of ranged shots. JL aids us sans the Alexandres and we set out for adventure.

We head along through the Felar Wood and try to portal but can’t find one. So we’re making our way down through the woods, it’s pretty quiet, and we see four Crested Skull following us. We magnanimously choose not to attack them, on account of being allies sometimes (spoiler: this is not one of those times). We’re pretending not to see them, failing utterly, and they suddenly launch a volley of arrows our way. They all target Phoenix, who’s wearing the lightest armour, and drop her with three hits — for a second it looks like she’s okay, but then the last arrow does a metric fuckton of necrotic damage. It fucks up her spine a bit, too, so for the rest of the expedition she has to be careful of jostling [temp -4 dex].

Then they smirk and one of them shouts something that I can only assume was a taunt, which is really only cute when we do it. JL blesses us and heals Phoenix. Alexandre runs up and kills Necrobow with two swings. I try to follow his lead and.……end up shooting him in the back and then missing really embarrassingly. So, you know, different results there but we’re all making an effort. They all take shots at Alexandre and maneuver around him, still laughing at us because they are dicks.

We kill one and then they start trying to run. They slip out of our reach like rogues, then send a couple arrows at Alexandre Jr, and Sr steps in to protect his valiant steed. One of the arrows hits him and knocks him out with a wicked case of tinnitus [4 temp wis dmg] and he doesn’t even fall off his horse because he’s got that tough as nails thing going on. JL smacks one guy with a hammer, I put a bolt in the other, etc., and they’re finally dead and ready for the looting. Phoenix finds us a place to rest and Alexandre attunes to the bow which turns out to be really sweet. And has since been bought by yours truly, if anyone wants a demonstration.

We keep on keepin’ on. The Felar Wood is almost eerily silent and we sadly do not run into any patrols. When we get near the slowly expanding Cold Zone, we find a rocky defile. Seems like it used to be covered by plants but they’ve all withered and died from the aforementioned cold. We spot a human hand sticking out of the ground. Phoenix throws a rock at it and it doesn’t respond by rising up and trying to kill us so we decide to investigate. It’s submerged in a peat bog which Phoenix walks over all monkily. She ties a rope around the body and Alexandre Jr. pulls it out, revealing a satchel underneath which she grabs with some seriously impressive reflexes. The body is dressed in Old Empire clothes and doesn’t look too impressive at first but then we find his books and discover that this was the Flashing Falcon! Thief and seductionist extraordinaire. He was carrying thieves tools, daggers, and three books — the first is a series of diagrams and notes from some very exciting heists, and then two more where he chronicles some more of his adventures. Seriously, he was so cool, he did a ton of really really impressive break-ins and also had mad game with the ladies and gentlemen and others and a cool mustache sooooooooooo probably literally the coolest person. Genuine fashion icon, ask Phoenix to show you the picture she drew, it’s really good.

So anyway, we collect all of his gear and then toss him back into the peat bog since the ground is pretty frozen and digging a grave would take forever.

We reach the Demon Plains and travel for two-ish hours before spotting about a dozen AG bodies sprawled in front of us. The Alexandres stay back and the rest of us sneak up. We’re just remarking on the curious nature of the scene — their weapons are bloody, their wounds look like they’d been fighting each other……and then one of the bodies judders to its feet with a ghastly gasp.

It’s got a spear-hole straight through its head and glowing, green eyes. It looks at us and wheezes out “YOU GOT A BIT TOO CLOSE” and then twists its head entirely around, ripping the skin and tendons apart so you could actually see its newly-broken spine [save v. fear].

It runs up to Phoenix, moving in jerks like a badly-controlled marionette, and strikes her with one black, glowing hand [14 necrotic, -4 max HP until LR] that withers her skin where it touches her, then it looms behind her and tells us, “DON’T WANT ANYONE TO INTERRUPT US.”

So of course we interrupt it. I run up and stick a rapier through it and the body drops. Black ichor drains out of it and forms into a floating creature with half a dozen long, spindly arms with tiny, creepy hands. It rasps out “OOH, YOU’LL BE A FUN TOY WHEN YOU’RE GONE” which Thanks, But No Thanks. I rapier again and slice off a couple of its arms while it cackles. Alexandre runs up and points out another opportunity for me, so I stab again. It’s looking pretty ragged at this point but seems to find this hilarious: “OOH, I’M RENT AND TORN” as it keeps laughing. JL runs over and suddenly gets Real Glowy and radiant light blasts away a few more arms. “I’LL REMEMBER YOUR FACES!” it exclaims in delight, which — fair. We’re memorable sorts. It oozes into another corpse lying near it and jerks that one up to its feet (a commander, this time) and says “THIS ONE WAS HARD TO DOWN THE FIRST TIME, LET’S SEE HOW YOU DO” and gushes blood from its eyes [more wis saves, unless you already passed one]. JL says, “You’re definitely not the most attractive corpse I’ve seen today.” It ripostes, “I WONDER HOW ATTRACTIVE YOUR CORPSES WILL BE” which… very, obviously. JL swings at him and misses (this body is wearing a chain shirt and carrying a shield) and then hits. I slice a chunk off its face and it laughs and garbles “IT’S MUCH HARDER TO TALK LIKE THIS!” It swings a glaive at JL twice and only hits once, because JL sparkles offensively at it and distracts it the first time. It says, “THIS ONE HAD A NEW FAMILY, HA HA HA” and then Alexandre realizes that it can extract memories from the bodies it possesses so yiiiiiiiiiiikes.

We keep whaling on it — Phoenix takes an eye out at one point and the glow remains in the empty, gorey socket and it says “I DIDN’T REALLY NEED THAT, SO THANKS FOR TAKING IT OFF MY HANDS” and peels some skin off its face. JL makes a quip about learning how to exfoliate and it actually looks a bit put out. No one does obnoxious trash talk like our boy. It’s looking pretty rough at this point and says “HMMMM THIS ONE’S VALUABLE” and disappears, rematerializing 500 feet away and running into the plains, then does it again and is too far away to chase. So the demons know a buuuunch of AG routes and passwords and stuff now. Go team Anti-Demon-Invasion.

We collect up the insignias and badges and head off to the fort. When we shout up to their scouts that we come bearing bad news, they take it very much in stride. They say they’ll make some changes to patrols and codes. Alexandre spends the evening talking to them and helping them bounce ideas around for damage control, and JL does some healing, and we have a lowkey night.

In the morning, we get moving again and it’s not fucking windy anymore thank fuck. We approach the Broken Forest and see ten-ish people riding towards us. They’re riding horse-sized jackals which is really cool. Alexandre ties a note to an arrow and fires it into the ground halfway between us. One of the riders goes over to look at it but their leader casually cuffs her as he rides by and almost kills her. The leader sets his lance and the rest pull out shortbows and we get a distinct impression that they aren’t really interested in talking. So we start shooting and hurt him a bunch. He pulls out a shield and taps out a signal and the whole group starts retreating which could have been a sign that diplomacy might be an option except on his way back he picks up Alexandre’s note and rips it up soooooooooo we just kill him. He drops his lance, which is good because it’s sweet a.f. Phoenix finds us a place to rest and Alexandre attunes to the lance [+5 ft move, action & concentration to make +1].

We’re going through the Broken Forest and JL spots light glinting off metal to one side because boy’s got eyes like a magpie. Phoenix throws a rock at it and it doesn’t explode, so we approach and uncover a metal trap door with a handle on top. I take a look at it and find an incredibly fine wire really expertly hidden beneath the handle. There’s a cantilevered set-up with a second wire but a bit of extremely clever work on my part with adhesives gets it open sans explosions. There’s a metal staircase spiraling down into dim light which is dandy unless you’re a horse. So the Alexandres hang out on the surface and the rest of us go exploring.

When we reach the last step on the staircase, Dancing Lights appear in the corners of the room. It’s a very nicely appointed little cave. There’s some kind of abjuration keeping the place dust-free etc but it doesn’t look like anyone lives here now.

We find an alchemy set that’s particularly good for making potions. A long corridor, with little sleeping nooks, leads to a small garden which is lit with natural light coming through slits in the ceiling, which must involve some kind of quartz reflectors built into the rock for the light to reach this far so that’s pretty cool. There are a bunch of potion plants, so we take some but not too many for the garden to regrow.

There’s a painting on the wall and Phoenix recognizes by the crest that it’s the last Emperor. He’s been painted to look a little bit like he could be a halfling, or an elf, maybe even a tiefling, it’s super deliberately ambiguous and honestly a little weird looking. Apparently it’s a Bumpwagon and apparently that’s a big deal. Then Phoenix finds a cubby behind a little camouflaging screen and retrieves four books, one of which is a memoir by Valnessian, the guy who lived here, and is an even bigger deal.

JL does some drugs and sees magic. There’s evocation in the fireplace, like it could be turned on if we knew how. There’s a closed door that is very, very abjurationy which we leave for a more magically inclined party. There are red gems on the ceiling that are evocation, like they might explode were the door to have been opened by someone less amazing at defusing traps.

Exploration complete, we head back upstairs to meet up with the Alexandres. When we close the trap door, dirt flows over it to hide it again. Phoenix finds us a place to rest. Partway through we hear snuffling and footsteps. Three mastiff-sized demon-dogs come padding into the clearing. Red drool is falling out of their slavering jaws and hissing and burning against the ground when it hits and we can feel the temperature rise when they get closer. JL blesses us which actually saves all our lives and the rest of us draw our weapons and get ready to fight on the assumption that even hellhounds will need to come over and bite us to hurt us. Turns out they breathe fire. WHO KNEW. So they stop 15 feet away and breathe out these gouts of flame [24, 20, 18 or half on a save] which we survive only because of the bless, and not by that much either. JL does his Big Whooshy Radiant thing and we spread out so they can’t breathe on us all at once. I start getting stabby, which Alexandre helps me with, and then one of them tries to rip my throat out and mostly succeeds. When I come to, it feels like my insides got burned so I’m preeeeetty sure there was demon drool? Down my throat? It was super [-5 con, half walking speed, universal damage vulnerability 2].

JL heals me and kills one with a guiding bolt, then I trip another one and Phoenix kills it with some extreme martial arts badassery, she just snaps its neck with a punch. The last one tries to go for the horse and Alexandre Sr redirects the attack and leaves it pretty rough, then JL and I finish it off. The demons were all wearing these spiky black iron collars. Alexandre puts one on Jr and it magically resizes to fit but doesn’t do anything else. We drink some potions and bandage the worst of it and finally finish our rest, which we now need a lot more than we did at the beginning. We hear a group of people passing by but can’t tell who and don’t feel super chatty. It’s not that late but we are extremely battered so we have an early night.

The next day, we continue on our actual mission since we’ve gotta be near x-marks-the-spot by now. We come to an area of rocky ground sloping down into a large depression and Phoenix spots a bit of weird-looking shadow at the bottom. She throws a rock at it and the illusion falls away to reveal a circular stone slab in the ground. Throwing rocks at shit is actually a super useful technique, y’all. We leave Alexandre Jr at the top and head down to check it out. JL snorts some magic drugs and sees that it’s glowing with abjuration. There’s a carving of a flying raven on it. Everyone is very excited, or should be, because the Black Ravens are extremely cool, if you’re into the very mysterious and expertly badass magic secret service thing.

We start poking around and see that there’s a tiny blank space in one of the otherwise extremely detailed wings. Alexandre pulls out his quill and goes to fill it in. The second the feather touches stone, it snaps into place and gets petrified and the raven’s eye opens and we hear a low, grating voice in our heads say PASSWORD (NB: at this point we have Absolutely No Idea what the password might be). Thank fuck, JL sees a flash of conjuration and notices that there’s a boulder nearby that wasn’t there a second ago. He mutters that to us, we look at the various boulders surrounding us and don’t see anything other than a bunch of boulders lying around. Then the voice goes INTRUSION and two of the boulders sprout arms and legs and battle is officially joined. JL’s magic eyes are still active (drugs save lives, yo) so he can see that the new boulder sent a little magic to the two animated ones, who are now radiating conjuration.

One of them punches Alexandre [11 dmg] and the other punches me, I slice at them a bunch, it’s all very violent. Phoenix runs up and tells them that we will leave and don’t want to fight. JL blesses us. Alexandre tries to figure out the password and remembers that sometimes things like this have a verbal password but also a token of some sort, in case you can’t talk or have non-initiates with you. He grabs the map case and puts it on the slab but the mental voice just goes INSUFFICIENT. STOLEN. NO LOCATION. The boulders tuck their limbs in and roll up the hill, then coming smashing down at us. One of them misses really badly and just smashes itself into a non-animated boulder and that’s pretty funny. The other rams into me and knocks me the fuck out, which is less funny. Messed up my shoulder, too [5 str dmg, disadvantage on tasks requiring dominant arm or both arms].

Phoenix spears it and does a ton of damage, and it starts crumbling. JL heals me up and goes Real Glowy again. The two boulder-guys take damage from him and so does the conjuring-boulder, so we know it’s alive too. JL then runs up the hill so they can’t Super Smash him. Alexandre drops his sword and draws his fancy werejackal lance, since non-magic weapons don’t do much to these guys. The conjuring-boulder hops up and sprouts limbs too and rams into Phoenix, knocking her prone, and then another rolls over her [23 dmg] and knocks her out. (Hilarious interlude though, while it was rolling past Alexandre to get to her, he just straight-up punched it. Just punched a rock.) Anyway, so Phoenix gets squished and got some sort of head injury, after JL healed her she couldn’t talk or make any noise at all until we got home. We hear NO SURVIVORS which tbh is not looking that unlikely. I stab one, which crumbles. JL guiding bolts the conjuring-boulder and the other remaining boulder-guy crumbles into dust, so I guess he disrupted conjuring-boulder’s focus. Alexandre lances it and it’s looking rough but still going. At this point, JL and Alexandre are whacking it and Phoenix and I are dodging and it’s looking not great. We hear DIE which is honestly a bit redundant at this point, and it smashes into Alexandre again. He manages to keep his feet but takes a ton of damage. We’re all trying to run up the incline except Alexandre, who’s staying at the bottom, and the boulder keeps targeting him, which we figure out is because he was closest to the cache. Seriously, he’s a really good guy to have on your team.

We whale on it some more but miss a few times. The boulder goes MUST DEFEND LIFE and then charges Alexandre and it’s a very solid hit — he looks like he’s about to drop. WHY NOT RUN? it asks. I shoot it, and so does Phoenix. JL takes a second to tell it that we don’t want to fight and are totes willing to go if it will let us and he’s pretty slick about it. Alexandre pipes in and tells it that he gets that it’s trying to protect this place and he wants it to keep doing its job, he just also thinks we’re the kind of people it doesn’t need protecting from and wants a chance to prove ourselves to it.

It slowly orients on him and says HELPLESS. BOUND. ATTACK. DESTROY. YOU STAYED. PROTECTED. ADMIRABLE. and then rams straight into him and drops him. A giant rock literally looked at Alexandre and decided that he seemed really steady and reliable. Honestly I’m not surprised that he basically out-stubborned a LITERAL ROCK because he is a stone cold (get it?) badass. Messed up his back, though [perm -25% carry capacity]. It goes NO SURVIVORS. THE CONTRACT WILL BE COMPLETE and comes over to loom at me. I manage to shoot it and it finally crumbles into dust. We hear I AM FREED NOW. I WAS BOUND TO SERVE THIS PLACE. THANK YOU (you’re very welcome, Rock Guy) and the dust blows away to reveal a small, glowing point of light. I try to pick it up with a bit of cloth but it phases right through the cloth and fuses into my palm which is not what I had intended but now I can meld into stone once a day and I also learned Terran!

I meld into the marble slab and feel a consciousness moving around in it and hear PROTECT. NO ONE FINDS. ASHIVERA, and the pebble in my hand quivers a bit. I pop back out, say the magic word, and the slab cracks in half and drops down to reveal a small shaft leading into a sealed, stone chamber. There’s a very awesome sword, a Black Raven amulet, a few bars of cold iron, some quivers of silvered arrows, and a bag of silver coins.

We take the stuff, close up the slab, and head off to a likely looking copse of trees for a snooze. We’re looking around when suddenly! Six snakes, dropping down out of the trees directly around us. The big ones. For reference, we’re all pretty beaten up at this point and JL has cast a looooot of spells. It’s all very fraught. Me, Alexandre, and JL whale on them. Phoenix is great — she runs off and one of the snakes chases her until we get around to killing it, she’s faster than it so she genuinely just leads it in circles around us and keeps it busy for the entire fight.

So there’s five snakes left, we’re all getting restrained and bitten and nearly dying. JL battleaxes the fuck out of one and then sheers a piece off the one next to it and two of them run away. The remaining ones keep wrapping around us which is extremely annoying. JL does a really attractive wiggle move to get out of one’s coils, seriously hot damn can that boy move his hips, and then it immediately just catches him again. Finally he smites one and a blade of light just slices it in half. The last one attacks him and misses and then we all take our shots and he finally kills it. Then we turn on the one that Phoenix has been kiting around and it starts running but we kill it just before it gets out of range.

Phoenix skins them and we lug the snakeskin back to Valnessian’s Refuge. We couldn’t carry it all home since I’m reaaaaal slow and Alexandre Jr is carrying me, but it’s nice and preserved for whoever goes there next. Phoenix finds us another place to rest up. Two of the bird-people fly overhead but they don’t see us. We start heading for home. At one point there’s three giant scorpions attempting an ambush, but JL notices them in time and we avoid the fuck out of that. We see some red- and green-hatted Cavers darting around between trees in front of us but none of us speak gnomish so we avoid that too. Pass Without Trace is awesome, thanks Night. We see a ruined building with a lit fire in it and — I know this will shock you all — also avoid that shit. Seriously, we are beat to hell and ready to go home and sleep for a week.

We have a pleasantly demon-free trip back through the Plains and stagger in with much loot and very many stories to tell.

Hadley ouuuut.


Addendum:

This expedition discovered an underground laboratory which formerly housed the exiled Valnessian XIV. They retrieved a set of his diaries containing unparalleled information about the climate and affairs of the Unseen Palace in the years of the last Emperor, as well as obviously providing significant insight into Valnessian’s own life. These records offer an unprecedented window into an area previously unilluminated.

The party also returned with a painting which Night and I believe to be a genuine Bumpwagon — traits include heavy oils in the background intimating vast spaces with details suggestive of furnishing/abstract iconography, well-tanned griffon-hide canvas with abjuration-laced priming layer, trace lines of bristle-splash left in. Its discovery in Valnessian’s possession supports its authenticity. Bumpwagon famously, and in that grand artistic style, drank himself to death. However, rumors tied him to Valnessian and his death to something less savory than terminal alcoholism. Apocryphally he is said to have painted a somewhat seditious portrait of an emperor resembling Valnessian and lost his public support and right to enjoy life unmurdered. Several allusions in the journals bolster this theory, monograph to come.

— Morgan Wheeler

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Expedition 93 - Servants of the Sundered
In which we talk to four birds, two trees, and a dragon.

April 7, 2018

[Posted on time – +0.1 HP.]

Changes

  • JP gains 1 HP from studying logs posted in a timely fashion.
  • Quincy gains 1 Corruption (with no apparent boon) after being downed by a psychic projection.

Notable Loot

  • Everyone recieves 3058 XP with timely log update. Everyone gets 607 GP, or 728 GP if they did not donate to the Leshanna Memorial Fund.
  • Sapling of the Sundered Pine. Grows into a permanent Very Secure refuge when planted; has healing properties [permanent] and offers a boon akin to Grandmother Dryad’s Blessing [on first use]. (2 * 800 GP)
  • Helpful Amulet of Locate Object. Can Help as a Bonus Action once per LR. One charge of Locate Object. (700 GP)

Preliminary Preparations

  • Valerian borrows the Spidersilk armor and the Healing Gourd.
  • The party brings a total of 21 healing potions.

Log Proper

Preamble

We accomplished a deadly mission, but not the one to which we had agreed; we destroyed a great evil, but may well have ushered in worse; we both greatly assisted and deeply displeased a powerful new patron.

The Sundered Fens should be marked down in all Guild records as very dangerous, both in terms of its denizens and in terms of the near-impossibility of acting correctly – in terms of moral certainty or our wider ambitions to save this continent – without extraordinary care and preparation.

And we should not eat any more proffered apples.

Valerian came again. They were cautious, this time – frustrated. The messengers that brought us our orders, humourless and inconsiderate and strange, clearly bothered them a great deal, their inconsistencies maddening both aesthetically and pragmatically. I touched their bow with the light of the Tree and it was magical – a decision that paid great dividends throughout our journey. Periodically they vanished where there was no remotely visible place to hide, and then strong things died when they reappeared. One grows accustomed to wonders, out here, but wonders they remain.

Sovan made good use of his lyre. We relied, as we always do, on Sovan simpliciter. He was magnificent.

I have missed Quincy. It was good to see him – and even today, I remember when he was far, far stronger than I, and his broad bank in front of me made me sure that he would always be the one protecting me as I hung back and saved lives and took none. We took a long road to get here. Part of me still blanches when that chain that slit my throat appears on his arm and lays waste to all around it. He said little, this outing, as is his wont; even laid low and polluted by the Vision Worm, that horrid Servant, he was uncomplaining. His nose for the arcane led us to our quarry. His selflessness saved others’ lives. I think he is at the cusp of a further breakthrough in his martial technique.

Tabitha remains a pure soul in an impure setting. I am never quite so certain of the value of my faith as when I see her own – blazing certainty, rejecting compromise and weakness and acceptance of failure. She has suffered more than she or anyone deserves, here – those hammer-blows that fall upon the Guild seem to strike at her nearest and dearest. The boats that brought her, and Marc, and Beauregarde, and Melora to this side of the ocean forged lifelong friendships – quite literally, it seems, though the lives be cut cruelly short. Tabitha reminds me of a bright blade I made once that was keen as an adder’s tooth; the sharper its edge, however, the more brittle. I will try to focus on helping her temper her grief and her outrage at this place; it may well become a source of ever greater strength.

Beth had to leave the expedition at the last minute; a sudden illness. She fired Lightning Bolt charges at my armour as a curious form of apologetic payment. I like her very much.

Day 1

Meeting by the wall, we stared out into a drizzling grey depression of a day. Our stated aim: to kill a ‘Servant’, a ‘smaller Puppeteer’, for the Sundered One of the Fens. I used my Forge Blessing to give Valerian a +1 longbow, which they used to great effect all the expedition.

Quincy and I took point (which with Tabitha and Sovan bringing up the rear, and Valerian as a mobile reinforcement in the middle of these two pairs. Tabitha performed a mighty and elaborate ‘high-five’ of solidarity with Sovan at their rear-guard status, and off we went.

Much of the journey there was uneventful – I will identify specific locales where any incidents of note occurred.

04.13: Crossing the bridge past the Blazing Banner waystation, we noted at least 2 hobgoblin patrols in the northwest of the region, massing near 05.12. They were too savvy to attack a party this strong, but they may need to be dispersed forcibly in the future, especially if they begin more active slaving or interference with Guild patrols.

Passing on, we find the 06.12 Tunnel to 13.07 north of the Blazing Banner fortress surveying that area. I cast Water Walk – not knowing what the tidal condition was on the other side of the Tunnel entrance – and we near-instantly travelled up to the Sundered Fens.

Signs of the impending End of Days they may be, but the Tunnels are certainly convenient in the interim.

13.07: As we splashed down onto the water, we saw that the tide was knee-high to a typical human (thigh-level to myself) but not notably moving – we seemed to be at high tide. (JP Nature: 25). As I surveyed the area, I saw few birds but many fish-folk – those who rode the tide inland and harpooned the bird-people on our last visit. Fishers of the land.

The Fishers seemed to alternate between creeping along the land and burrowing just under the muddy ground below the shallow waters. Sovan, seeing new friends to be had, as he always does, approached with Comprehend Languages up, smile at the ready.

Two Fishers disappeared beneath the water as we approached; others tried (ineffectually) to hide themselves. Not our best start, but not our worst.

My darling persevered: “Hello, friends!” They burbled back a non-verbal noise of threat and aggression. Sovan refused to take the bait, and offered the Fishers some lightly-spiced chateaubriand still redolent with brandy demi-glaze. One Fisher approached, sniffed, ate. Pushed a hideously slick hand, dripping with some natural secretion, into Sovan’s face. Sovan looked back at us – clearly thinking of handshakes gone terribly, horribly, wrong – but decided to endure risk for the sake of diplomacy.

The Fisher rubs Sovan, considers. It makes revolting burbling noises – Sovan’s Comprehend Languages lets him understand that it is saying “This one is clean.” It considers further – “…mostly clean.” Indefatigable, Sovan chirps back “Hi -” – pointing to himself – “SOooo-van.” And beams. The creature seems immune to his considerable charm and turns to Valerian.

The rest of us are groped in our turn and “mostly clean” seems to be the overall verdict. Perhaps, in context, it means Corruption? Notably, the Fisher seems almost actively displeased by our ‘cleanliness’. It looks around to its companions. “There are a lot of them. Let’s go.” (I must assume that it was unaware Sovan could understand it.)

Even his trilling, flutey “Goodbye, new friends!” receives not a wave nor a glance. Pearls before swine, I suppose? To adapt that old saying: ‘When one is tired of Sovan, one is tired of life.’

[ADDENDUM: WELL SPOKEN. THIS ANONYMOUS COMMENTATOR THINKS THAT RED EMPEROR IS A PRETTY COOL GUY AND IS SUPER FUN AT PARTIES, SQUAWK SQUAWK.]

[ADDENDUM TO ADDENDUM: SPECULATIVE NOTES ON THE IDENTITY OF PRIOR ANONYMOUS COMMENTATOR OR COMMENTATORS ARE NOT APPROPRIATE FOR INSERTION INTO OFFICIAL GUILD RECORDS. SUCH INEFFECTUAL ATTEMPTS TO IMITATE THAT COMMENTATOR’S COMMUNICATION PROTOCOLS CLEARLY INDICATE AN EXCESS OF ENERGY AND FREE TIME THAT MAY FIND ITSELF CURBED QUITE PROACTIVELY IN THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE.]

As the Fishers depart, Sovan offers more meat – ‘good meat after bad’ – and is ignored. The Fishers are unfriendly from the start despite our best efforts, which will ease my conscience later.

We look about us, and see that it is high tide. I put my hand to a nearby tree, recalling the Sundered One’s advice that they would find us at their leisure in these lands, and reach out with my senses, newly attuned to the Land by that apple the Sundered One gave me.

Almost instantly I feel watched from afar – spiritually, at first, and then quite literally as the tree bark cracks and the tree’s heartwood shifts into a great opalescent eye the size of a dinner plate. It blinks at me. I blink back. It closes.

Two minutes later, a cormorant perches on the tree’s branch. A messenger, a proxy for the Sundered One. Its first words, in Elvish: “Why are you here?” It seems honestly puzzled.

i look about the group, decide to keep going, and explain that it asked us here to destroy an ‘abomination’ of sorts, a Servant. I cite the Sundered Apple it offered me, which caused the Sundered’s Bird to visibly brighten and ask if it was delicious. I try to be diplomatic by alluding to the surface illusion of beauty and good taste that concealed its Corrupt core, but indicating that I appreciated the gift anyway.

“That – but – why – oh. Yes. The surface is part of the whole.” the Bird stutters, slightly raggedly. (It seemed momentarily confused by what I said but then remembered what I meant.) “All part of the artistry, I take it?” I asked ironically. “Yes!” it replied happily.

As Valerian weighed in quite animatedly on what they thought of this definition of artistry, we noticed a thing – the Bird, or rather the Sundered using it as a relay, caused us to silence when it spoke. All our sound just…cut out, so its soft deliberate fluting voice cut through the air unopposed: “Now. The Servant. Go North and West, then North and West and North, in equal proportions, and you’ll find a twisted tree there. Kill that.”

The directions do not get better on repetition or request for clarification, but we do find some things out:

  • The tree Servant mentioned is not the great Mangrove.
  • It calls other trees to its aid.
  • It is twisted, wrong; it distorts reality and deploys illusions; it affects the minds of others.
  • It is vulnerable to fire.
  • It sits atop a hill over the marsh, ‘where the land changes’.

Otherwise, the Bird cannot tell us much – it is unclear whether our ‘cleanliness’ or lack thereof comes from its touch. Regarding the Reef Snakes met on expedition 90, they are to the North-West of the Fens.

Asked about whether we should approach them, the Bird is largely indifferent; then it is…deeply confused. ‘Of two minds’, one might say. “Do what you want” is its final conclusion. After relaying this, the Bird flies away, apparently done with talking.

As it left us, we realize that we are no longer under the influence of Water Walking – clearly much time has passed without our being aware of it. Any conversation with the Sundered One or its Bird, therefore, risks the slippage of an unknown amount of time.

Immediately after this, and more pointedly, we realize that we are half-surrounded by a semi-circle of well over a dozen Fishers, armed with wicked harpoons. A trio stands behind them – one with a twisted driftwood staff, two burlier than their fellows and armed with simple but well-maintained crossbbows. As we watch, some are sinking into the mire, others emerging – they seem to burrow through the fen-matter as fast as through air. Our ambu

Valerian reacts faster than thought, and before our ambushers see them move they are sending an arrow into the shoulder of the staff wielder, obviously shattering their shoulder joint (42 piercing Sneak Attack). “Take the casters out first!” they trill, and there is a wild delight in their eyes at the prospect of righteous violence…and then they disappear from my view.

Rogues.

Sovan hums a song of terror from the deeps, of great fangs lashing out, and Major Image forms a vast sea monster near us, roaring and frothing. The Fishers recoil but do not break.

Instead, six of the regular Fishers surge forwards, and six harpoons lance out at Tabitha, visibly the least armoured among us. Adequately tactical beasts. She is hit once (11 piercing), twice (12 piercing) – tugged but resisting both times – and then the third sinks into her (11 piercing), yanking her fowards for a terrible bite. Three more spears drop her to the brink of death and shred part of her left arm. (2 Failed Death Saves, Temp. Injury: -1 DEX).

As she falls, she opens her eyes as my Healing Word, which as always is “TREE!”, washes over her and she is conscious. I summon my Spirit Guardians and, braced by the song of my ancestors, I charge into melee, standing astride Tabitha.

As Tabitha’s Pattern fades, another six Fishers split into two groups of 3 – one hangs back, eyeing Sovan’s monstrous Image, three trying to down Sovan – who they clearly see as its summoner. He is hit twice by harpoons (11 + 10 piercing), resisting the first reeling-in but succumbing to the second, to be bit grievously (7 piercing) as he enters the Fisher’s range…

…and from somewhere underneath me, I hear a weak “Oh, fuck, shit, SHOWTIME!”

Rather foolishly, I look down. Tabitha is glowing with Divine Flame, as her…‘perfectly normal half-elf’ heritage manifests itself. A wave of holy Fear spreads out from her slumped but radiant form, and I resist the Blessed Shroud but 4 of the Fishers do not and are terrified.

At some point I will have to talk to Tabitha about ‘trick plays’, and about the need to mention them to allies and to practice them with said allies before trying them out mid combat.

Wincing slightly, she stands, and Eadgils’ Gauntlet glows as one of its orbs heals Tabitha with Cure Wounds. She is safe, for now, and I am standing guard over her.

Happily, at this time, six of the Fishers miss Sovan from 30’ away with their harpoons. He smiles at them as if to say “Is that the best you can do?” He has always been something of a rascal.

Meanwhile, two of the Burly Fishers fire at Valerian, whom they can apparently see, and use what appear to be Battlemaster techniques to attack them – one hitting (19 piercing) though Valerian resists an apparent trip attempt. Their confederate with the staff launches out a vast inky tentacle from its staff that gets within a foot of Beausoleil before the armor cantilevers out a spike of Divine Essence Energy to angle the blow away from the pauldron-

[ADDENDUM: MUCH DISCUSSION OF ARMOR TECHNIQUE EXCISED. NEVER ONCE ARE THE SURPRISINGLY OBVIOUS WORDS ‘OR MAYBE I COULD LEARN TO DODGEUSED.]

- and it misses. Waste of a spell! I could empathize, were it not a vile Fisher Shaman attacking us after we tried to make friends.

Quincy steps forward to the cluster of six Fishers that missed Sovan with harpoons, and his chain flares with hellish glow, and he lashes them savagely (11 damage) and they are restrained in a web of chains coiled about them, though none fall prone. Still, he interposes himself; his face is set, neutral, but a certain air of ‘None Shall Pass’ sits in his stance. He is a rare presence among us, but a welcome one.

Valerian briefly blurs into view, kills the Fisher Shaman with an arrow between its mottled eyes, and vanishes once more.

Rogues!

Sovan gestures languidly and moves his Image monster over to the four Fishers fighting Tabitha and myself, only one of whom is not visibly broken in spirit by its proximity. His other hand points to Tabitha and words of encouragement Inspire her, while healing Sovan. Granny’s blessing is not to be trifled with any more than are her pranks.

Three of the Fishers near me break as their morale crumbles and the Spirit Guardians sing and smite them with their immaterial hammers and picks (13 radiant); I cuff one with Durandal as they flee and do another 6 damage. Meanwhile one of those that remain stabs Tabitha for 9 damage and she winces but does not fall.

Seeing her resilience, and trusting her capacity to handle so few foes while her Shroud is active, I run towards the Battlemaster Fishers and get them, as well as the Tabitha Fisher, within my Spirit Guardians radius. She will doubtless be triumphant! I ‘double down’ (as a slick city gambler might say) and launch a Guiding Bolt (16 radiant) which illuminates one of the Battlemasters…and then my Spiritual Hammer misses its skull regardless.

Near-simultaneously, the three Fishers attacking Sovan do, between them, a single glancing blow (6 piercing). Karma has its answers, I suppose.

Tabitha decides to let discretion be the better part of valour, and a Bless erupts from Eadgils’ Gauntlet over myself, Valerian and Quincy, then a Mirror Image trio bursts into life around her and she stands her ground.

The other Fishers retaliate – six missing Quincy, scrabbling to attack him from within the restraining Chain Net. Meanwhile one of the Battlemasters uses his martial prowess to actually penetrate Beausoleil and my Shield spell (13 piercing). I manage to maintain concentration on my Guardians but am rather surprised to be struck, I will admit. No construction is perfect; perhaps, though, if I double the connectors -

[ADDENDUM: YES, MORE ARMOR TALK TO EXCISE. WE RESUME THE BATTLE BELOW.]

Quincy kills one Chain-restrained Fisher (6 slashing) and injures another (10 slashing). Valerian pops into sight, grievously injures a Battlemaster Fisher (16 piercing) and hides anew. Sovan Shatters Quincy’s restrained Fishers, killing 1 and leaving 4 near death; his combined Word heals Tabitha and Inspires myself.

The three Fishers left near Tabitha suffer different fates – one dies to Spirit Guardians, one fruitlessly attacks a Mirror Image, at which his morale breaks and he flees. One clips Tabitha with a harpoon (9 piercing). I continue to attempt to drop the strongest foes, bloodying a Battlemaster Fisher with Guiding Bolt (20 radiant) and Spiritual Weapon (9 force).

More Fishers fail to injure Sovan, only one hitting him (10 piercing) and leaving him looking a trifle more ragged than usual. Tabitha uses Eadgils to Cure Wounds, runs into the shelter of my Spirit Guardians (evading any opportunity attacks) and badly hurts one of the Fishers that were upon her with Scorching Ray.

The Fishers near Quincy knock him prone with a harpoon thrust (13 piercing), but he parries the worst of it – taking another hit while on his back (6 piercing), he rises, muddy and grim, and kills 2 with three attacks. (8, 10, 7 slashing). Two remain in his chains.

As his blade falls, an arrow, seemingly out of nowhere, kills a Battlemaster Fisher (27 piercing). Valerian grins and vanishes. Sovan crows out his delight and shouts something mocking at Tabitha’s remaining adversary, who is startled enough to miss Tabitha with a harpoon.

My spells continue to pound at the remaining Battlemaster Fisher (22 damage total) but he does not fall; his plight, however, inspires the Fishers attacking Sovan to run for the hills. Tabitha uses Firebolt to reduce the last Fisher attacking her to a smoking ruin.

In a near simultaneous flurry of violence, the last Battlemaster hits me again (9 piercing) and is killed in turn by Valerian, as Quincy kills the last two normal Fishers near him.

Searching the bodies, their gear is simplistic and low in value, although we do find a strange amulet on the Fisher Shaman – a Helpful Amulet of Locate Object (see above). I search for a place of in which to take a short rest with Survival skills honed among the Stalkers of my Well, finding a spot of high ground on the NW edge of Hex 13.07 as the tide begins to recede.
.
Much healing ensues; when we feel better, if lighter of potion pouch, we discuss whether we are content with killing a Servant for this somewhat inscrutable Local Power. Overall, we decide that we should at least see the foe and decide for ourselves, but that we might engage in some diplomacy en route to the Servant. As such, we resolve that we shall attempt to locate the Reef Snake village before proceeding to the Twisted Tree’s demesnes.

To that end, we head northwest through 12.07 – our estimation is that the Reef Snake village is in 12.06. We observe areas of high ground around the lake and rivers, which seem to keep above even high tides; these areas descend into frequently flooded flatlands around them. We cross two rivers heading northeast out of 12.07 – one into 13.06, one into 12.06 – with patches of high ground around them. These rivers slowly turn into deltas as they near the sea.

(Sovan’s beautiful map is worth checking for more details on the specifics of the local topography.)

All seems well, our journey progresses north through 12.06 towards the Reef Snake village’s likely locale…until suddenly everything is awful.

Three Vast and squamous tentacles erupt from the ground immediately ahead of us, connected to a hideous central body – a dark floating ball rising out of the murk, with wide white teeth set in a disquieting and malicious smile.

Valerian reacts, again, near-instantly – firing an arrow into the Dread Orb’s centre of mass (18 piercing) and hiding extraordinarily well. Sovan sings a nasty little crab-canon-phrase of psychic harm, and the Orb seems unaffected; he inspires me and subsides to see if the Divine Light fares any better.

As we enter this desperate combat, we notice that a heavy mist has arisen all around us, and our visibility is strictly limited. Perhaps this obscured vision is what distracts Tabitha as two of the Orb’s three tentacles lash out and grapple her, one missing, but the others slamming into her hard (17 and 13 bludgeoning).

At about this time, Quincy and I, in the vanguard of the expedition, feel chilled and pained (5 cold damage) – but, sadly, fail to connect this to Valerian striking the Orb until I hit a weak spot with Guiding Bolt (32 radiant crit) and follow up with my Powerful Spiritual Weapon (14 force)…and both hits hurt myself and Quincy (in 10’ range of the Dread Orb’s main body) and Tabitha (grappled, in contact with its tentacles) (2*5 cold).

Quincy, learning this lesson where I did not, momentarily pauses in assaulting the creature to attempt to secure Tabitha’s release from its grip, but is overpowered (STR 9).

Tabitha herself is about to pass out, and I see her panicked intention to turn on her Mantle of Flame – and as far as we know, immediately provoke her own unconsciousness from the creature’s chilling feedback – but Sovan shouts for her to hang on, and she trusts him implicitly enough to begin casting a Scorching Ray.

A good decision: as she finishes the spell, Sovan has dashed forward on mighty Veillantif to grip her, Dimension Door to safety, and let her unleash her Rays – only one of which hits, but both scores the creature (8 fire) and, through heating it, prevents the chilling feedback damage that it unleashed before.

Valerian seems to be waiting for us to clear out before they fire; this proves a risky decision, as the Orb advances towards them, obviously entirely aware of their location despite their Stealth. We swing at it as it leaves us, only Quincy drawing a line of thick ichor from its side (10 piercing.) Its three tentacle attacks on Valerian do, however, all miss.

I try to draw the Dread Orb’s fire by taunting it and running past its view – it misses with a quick tentacle attack, as do I with Sacred Flame, before my Spiritual Weapon strikes true (10 force) – as, from behind, Quincy slashes at it, hitting twice from three attacks (7 + 5 slashing) before settling back to find his Second Wind.

Valerian seems reluctant to shoot it from so close, but as they reappear, and the creature seems poised to press its attack, chanting emanates behind Valerian – Sovan and Tabitha both have a finger outstretched, familiar white-hot motes glowing in the air before their fingers. I am instantly and heartily glad I did not follow into melee.

Valerian flips backwards, firing an arrow in midair, which snaps the target’s head back as both Fireballs streak forwards and the creature -

- ‘pops’ out of existence. I…am not sure what has happened, but from my recent studies into the nature of Arcane reality-sculpting (in researching the Corrupt), I know something is wrong. This thing was not corporeally real as we understand the term…and yet it was there? I am confused. (1/8 experience.)

Quincy is more practical and specific – he smells a line of power coming from the north with his wolfen senses. My own Nose for Magic can assist him once he directs me to the scent. A remote entity ‘puppeteering’ this Dread Orb we fought. We resolve to track back this scent and kill the master while weakened from its puppet’s loss.

The smell weakens and fades, but we march north along the straight line of its path. Some minutes later, Quincy picks up the scent again, but more dispersed – as if a whole zone is polluted, ostensibly closer to the originating source. The smell is detectable even to ourselves – a stink of fetid ozone.

Seconds later, a mass of vegetation surges towards us. A Shambling Mound. I still my readied Lightning Bolt to avoid empowering the beast (Arcana 24 to know lightning absorb property.) Meanwhile Sovan and Tabitha blast it with Fireball (28 fire) and Scorching Ray (26 fire)…and seem to do full damage where the waterlogged Mound should resist flame. Curious.

Valerian and Quincy miss.

I Investigate the surroundings (18) and find that it is at least somewhat illusory – this is not a real mound, these are not real mists about us. Tabitha Blesses me, along with Quincy and herself, and holds off on attacking in case the illusion is ultimately invulnerable.

While we debate this in breathless seconds, the Mound (Image?) slithers forward and engulfs Quincy (14 bludgeoning). He disappears inside it, and Sovan’s Dissonant Whispers make the Mound shriek (27 psychic), but the Mound fails to run.

Valerian strikes the Mound again from hiding (15 piercing), and Quincy escapes its grip as it reels. It dodges my Sacred Flame [NB: I was idiotically asking for WIS not DEX saves all along…] and I content myself with using my Well-given Rally to bolster Quincy’s resolve (5 THP).

Another Fireball from Tabitha does significant damage to the Mound (28 fire) but it rolls over Quincy once more (15 bludgeoning) and ignores Sovan’s efforts to frighten it. Valerian strikes the Mound with another well-placed shot, missing the struggling Quincy (16 piercing), just as Quincy briefly surges out of the Mound, dashes away – and is caught as he moves, sucked back in to the Mound’s interior.

When I try to drag the thing off of Quincy with Thorn Whip, unfortunately enough he turns out to move with his captor. Tabitha misses with a Firebolt; the creature flails outward at myself (missing) and at Quincy within (also a miss). The Mound ignores more of Sovan’s mind-affecting magic, but takes yet more savage damage from Valerian (23 piercing), before making Quincy’s form inside it…disappear. We have no idea, at that time, where to.

The second he was out of its space, I used Beausoleil to fire a Lightning Bolt into the Mound’s body and make it ‘pop’.

The second it disappears, we see an unconscious Quincy; he is not injured, but is slightly more Corrupt on waking and feels nauseous beyond belief (+1 Corruption – No Boon). I pick up the nearby scent of these apparitions’; master with my Nose for Magic and we swiftly track it down.

As we near the master, the Sundered’s Bird appears on a branch. It informs us that we have, through dumb luck, found a Servant it did not in fact hire us to destroy. It seems elated, still, at this chance opportunity – “Well done, it’s close!” it caws out – but informs us that it can’t help us find it beyond telling us to “look carefully”. The Bird flies away.

Its speech, all through this time, is confused, discursive; as it leaves, we see thick furrows carved into the branch where its claws lay.

Regardless, we find the source of all this mayhem – a 4-5’ long worm embedded in the ground, pulsing with hatred, half-coated with mud. The Worm begged for its life, but offered only unspecified but doubtless tainted power, mixed with further lies that it would spare us in future. Tabitha looked into its heart, and saw only its own selfish lust to propagate its time on this Plane.

I look at the wounds on my comrades and take great pleasure in incinerating it with my last stored Lightning Bolt. It turns to ash, some of which we collect to feed to Aythe as part of her blanket request for the remains of strong adversaries.

As I do, the oppressive ozone stink around us dies down; the Sundered’s Bird appears, asking us to ‘come North’ to find us, travelling ‘over the water’. Its voice is different than before, but we know not precisely how. It leaves hurriedly.

Deciding that our efforts to reconvene with our Patron can wait until we are no longer stinking and half-dead, we find a secure enough location for the night (Survival 20). We sleep. We take watches. We are not disturbed.

Day 2

The next morning, Quincy is less nauseous. Conferring, we decide to kill the Tree Servant already from last expedition before we get rewarded, reasoning that bringing two bounties will perhaps earn two rewards. So decided, we proceed N through 12.06, heading to 11.05, and with continual castings of _Water Walk we make swift progress.,

As we travel, a third river delta beneath our magically floating soles, we see the tide coming in aggressively; bird humanoids wheel away above us, and Reef Snakes watch us from the north – making no response to Sovan’s Draconic “Hello!” save to instantly flee.

I think of my Sending to Sin of the Reef Snakes, unanswered whatever I said. I think of the look in their eyes when I described myself as a Servant. I decide that any diplomacy with those folk is best done without me present.

We press on.

Mid-morning, we arrive in 11.04, and find a bizarre mishmash of lowland marsh and forested hills, interspersed with little visible rhyme or reason. We see highlands exten into 10.04 and 11.03, and full-on coniferous forest in 12.04. – surmounted by a truly gigantic pine tree, the equal of the Mangrove to the southeast, similarly visible for miles.

A sea cliff arcs up along the edge of the bay to our north.Bird people fight Fishers in small clusters; all ignore us. We breathe in air half swampy musk and half crisp ocean breeze, and we ascend to a larger hill in front of us to take the lay of the land and find the Tree Servant’s lair.

Sovan, Quincy and Valerian stealth away to the hilltop, seeing the Pine in 12.04 more clearly, but also a copse of trees in southwest 11.03 that likely shelter the Tree Servant.

Tabitha and myself, meanwhile – left behind for our…rather patchy history with sneaking about – take a brief break below to discuss the Lightbringer series. Midway through a discussion of Book III, the Sundered’s Bird lands near the two of us. “Good – I’ve found you,”: it croaks. “You’ve done what I asked.”

When I remind the Bird that it wanted the TREE dead and that we were off to get that done, the Bird got agitated quickly. It stated that it could not reward us for both, to which Tabitha responded by suggesting a ‘Tab’ (the unintentional(?) pun!) and asking if the Tree was Evil as the Worm was – in which case we two would both happily turn it to ash.

At this point, the Bird began to vacillate – the Tree WAS evil, yes, but its priorities had shifted, and so it recommended that we hold off on slaying it. I think back to the mixed messages we’ve received – I think of the name ‘The Sundered One’ – and I ask the Bird if it serves two masters. Tabitha follows up, asking for it to clarify what it means while avoiding calling it a liar (Persuasion 10).

The Bird is visibly upset at this question being uttered, and at her attempt to cajole it into honesty. As the others return, Sovan reiterating Tabitha’s plea for clarity, the Bird states flatly that it “cannot explain this [inconsistency] to [us].” It hops about anxiously: “Things are not what they appear. You – you know things – that – I d – I don’t know that you know -”

We glean from what the Bird says that

  • The Tree Servant is both ‘a problem’ and ‘not a problem’ at the same time.
  • The Pine Tree (12.04) and the Mangrove (13.06) are both the Sundered One.
  • The Pine Tree wants us to spare the Tree, the Mangrove does not.
  • The Sundered One’s priorities shift constantly.
  • It can, however, tell us at a later date which Servant we really should kill.
  • We should still go to the Pine Tree and get paid for the Worm Servant we slew.

The Bird leaves, still agitated. For the present, we decide to listen to this most recent directive and leave the Tree Servant for now. We head north to the Sundered Pine – as we go, we see hills crumbling away and falling into fens to our east. The landscape is shifting more to the marshy southeast terrain all around us.

Arriving in the 12.04 coniferous forest, we approach the great pine tree, and see a vast eye form on its side – as, for a second, a blighted patch mars all of the pine’s southern face. “YOU’VE COME TO ME.” a great voice echoes out of the tree.

We are in the direct presence of the Sundered One’s Pine.

It speaks to us again: “I OFFERED YOU…A GIFT. YOU SLEWTHAT SERVANT. A GIFTSHALL BE GIVEN.”

Two of its branches arc down, unfurl, and drop knots of natural heartwood on the ground before us.

These Sundered Saplings are described to us as repositories of the Sundered One’s magic – a well of power to “offer respite”. When I ask where the Saplings might best be used, the Sundered Pine muses that we should not plant them here in its domain, nor that of any other Power; otherwise they should function, and the Sundered Pine “should be able to reach them” and activate them.

The Pine seems sincere and grateful, if a trifle remote, throughout this discussion. It is frank that the Saplings will be a locus to potentially spread the Pine’s power; they will definitely, however, offer us shelter and healing forever as well as “strength” – something like Grandmother Dryad’s Boons – to whomever is present on their first being planted.

Regarding the Worm Servant, it is…both good and bad, in the Pine’s estimation, that we killed it. More good than bad. Asking about the Tree Servant, the Pine grows suddenly more stern – “why would I POSSIBLY want you to kill that?” It looks crossly down at us, and advises that next time we should return ‘here’ to find out what it wants. When we querulously ask if it means ‘right here at the Pine’, it snaps “Of course – where else would you go to meet me?”

(We stifle multiple Mangrove-related comments.)

I venture to ask about the blight I saw on the Pine’s south face, only to be cut off and told, VERY harshly, that I was mistaken and no such blight existed.

The interview ended quickly after that – for us, at least. For the outside world, it took most of a day, so we eventually slept nearby with very little accomplished for that entire second day of expedition.

The night is uneventful.

Day 3

We set off for home, as the Sundered Pine has clearly vetoed any attack on the Tree Servant at this time.

We make it as far as 11.05 before the Sundered’s Bird reappears and asks why we’re leaving without killing that Tree Servant. It is adamant that it never told us not to, and seems unaware of our discussion with the Pine. Of course it can reward us for killing the Tree Servant. We must do so at once!

The Bird is so insistent that we look at each other…

…consider…

And head back north towards the Tree Servant’s likely lair.

(At this point Quincy and Valerian begin muttering fabulously inventive profanities about this winged messenger and its mixed messages. Sovan, Tabitha and I try to be more cheerful about the confusion, but our smiles to each other are evidently strained.)

Only to be stopped by the Bird again. It questions where we are going…

I take several deep breaths.

We firmly tell the Bird that we were just ordered back to slay the Tree Servant and that it should let us do that. The Bird hems and haws, but very tentatively accepts our intentions.

OR SO WE THINK – I am sorry. Or so we think, because minutes later, a swarm of bird-persons, led by a frazzled looking speaker named ‘Arek’, swoop down in front of us. They look as if they have rushed here through a hurricane wind; I suspect that one iteration of the Sundered One warped them here at unsafe speeds to cut us off.

Arek introduces his people as the Flock. He disclaims any knowledge of what exactly is going on, and nervously tries to hint that he cannot say certain things he knows without endangering his own safety. He begs us not to kill anything ‘up here’ (among the Sundered Pine’s hills) – “Things will only be worse” if we do. The area’s landscape will become even more unstable in its rifts between Fen and Hills, at the very least.

Arek tries to drive home the point, when we mention that we despise the Fishers, by opining that the Fishers would love for us to slay anything we find in the Sundered Pine’s hills. The implication that the other side is pure, unmitigated evil is not entirely realistic, in my experience.

Nevertheless, we decide that this is not the day for a probing inquest into a free summary of local politics and agree to leave, the Tree Servant unmurdered for now. Arek and his fellows are visibly relieved.

The Flock, it turns out, have a trading post in 10.04, a third of the way in, to which we are welcome any time. Arek will not likely be there, but others can treat with us in his stead. We say our goodbyes and head southeast towards the portal. Surely, we think, this is our last discussion on the subject!

As we descend into 11.06, trotting along the surface with Water Walk, we hear a slight throat-clearing noise – and nearby we see a young black dragon.

“Hello.” it says, as meekly as any dragon reasonably can.

“Hello!” Sovan says, far less meekly than that. “I’m Sovan!”

“Call me…Dak.” Says the dragon. The BLACK dragon. (Most purely malicious of all the chromatic lineages.) The black dragon with whom we proceed to have a perfectly civil conversation.

What a job we have.

Dak opens with a welcome frankness – acknowledging that it is a Servant of the Sundered One. “The Mangrove?” I ask, beginning to grasp the divide we are facing. “Yes…” Dak says, almost sheepishly.

(Before you die, you owe it to yourself to see a dragon being sheepish.)

Dak goes on: “I know I’m not a convincing messenger, but I want you to take what the Northern people (the Flock, the Pine) say with a grain of salt.” I think he is either truthful or a brilliant liar. (Insight 22.) He proceeds to narrate at least one internally consistent version of events.

Dak chides us, ruefully, for killing the Puppeteer – we made things worse when we did. The Puppeteer is a sign of the Corruption, and of how things have changed, but that is not universally awful – the Sundered One Half (yes, you’ve likely already worked this out, but to us it was a welcome confirmation) he work for, the Mangrove, doesn’t mind being a half. The Pine is far more fussed about Unity and Purity and such.

I ask some questions and Dak confirms that, broadly:

  • The Pine supports the Flock; the Mangrove supports the Fishers. (Dak winces at our expressions when the Fishers come up; heasks us not to find guilty by association, at least not on his part.)
  • The Pine supports the land, the Mangrove supports the water.
  • The Pine supports what once was, the Mangrove supports what is coming to pass. Change. Destruction. Renewal.

Dak also confirms that the Worm we killed was a fellow Servant of the Mangrove, but ‘broken’ – although it was ‘useful’ nonetheless in shoring up reality and stability in the region. He understands why we had to kill the Worm, although he is not happy that we had to; there are now, he advises, only 7 Servants left including himself. Four serve the Mangrove (Dak being one.) Three serve the Pine.

He asks me to ‘read’ him, and I Detect Good and Evil – he is a bit Aberration, a bit Celestial. I report this and he sighs. ‘I used to be mostly Fey’, he grumbles.

I abruptly interrupt to ask if the Sundered Apple I ate might turn me into something like that Worm Servant. “Yes,” Dak replied, with a pained look that he held onto for most of the discussion. “In the worst case scenario.”

(As he is talking, I am briefly imagining myself, oozing, shrinking, embedded into – but no. Other solutions will be found. I will not turn; I will see to that most assiduously.)

Snapping back to the conversation, Sovan is asking if the Sundered Saplings are safer than the Apple I ate. “Oh, yes, most likely,” Dak reassures us. “They don’t lie – only we do. …I know that I am not able to do the best job of convincing you to trust us a little, but I want to be honest even where others may not be.”

I must say, his frankness IS rather refreshing.

The specifics of the ‘worse’ we made the world when we killed the Puppeteer, we ask? “You made it harder to hold the world together,” Dak grimaces. “DO NOT kill another Node-Keeper. Help it to be better instead.”

To clarify this rather singular bit of advice, Dak goes on to fill in many blanks in our picture of the Corruption event – with his own overt disclaimer that he has put much of this together on his own over centuries of careful consideration, and can prove almost none of this.

Dak confirms Aythe’s reading that the Puppeteer was a fusion of a powerful mage, keeper of the Felltower Node, and the Corruption Entity that overtook the Node Network. This Entity was, as best he can surmise, the fusion of a ‘god over gods’ that had come to prevent some unspecified calamity, a catastrophic instability of local reality, provoked, it seems likely, by there being “too many Nodes” in the Empire’s network.

This Arch-Celestial made a deal with Aberrant Powers to gain raw power by fusing with the Far Realm. It thereby became a powerful Divine Aberration that invaded the Node Network and turned it into a set of ‘stitches’ on the world that held it together…while leaking Corruption from the reality-warping, life-hating Aberrant side of its nature.

All of the Nodes the Corruption Entity touched thus became fountains of Corruption, and their Node-Keepers either died or fused with the Entity to form beings like the Puppeteer. Only Nodes knocked offline (as with the Dark Forest Swamp or Silesse’s Retreat) were spared.

Turning to the local specifics, the Mangrove Tree turns out not to be just a mighty growth – Dak confirmed that it is, in fact, an active (Corrupting) Node. But the particular nature of its Keeper, the Sundered One, renders it less hostile than those run by humanoids like the being that became the Puppeteer.

Long before the Corruption, the Sundered One was a great Fey spirit of the Land and Sea, and specifically of the creative chaos where they met in the Fens. Silanyans came to the region and forced this Arch-Fey into service as Keeper of the local Node. At that time, they still were one being. The Servants were its Fey courtiers.

Dak paused, here – very serious – and said to us all “I have to tell you…DO NOT talk to either Tree (the Pine or Mangrove) until memory of this discussion has faded into a background memory.” Both can, it seems, read recent and surface memories; this might be disastrous were either, but especially the Pine, to see that we had discussed the nature of the Sundered One, and especially that we knew it had been split.

This split was an act of self-preservation. The Sundered Pine, sensing the wave of Corruption inbound, broke as much as it could of itself away from the Mangrove Node, returning to the Pine that is its current home as the Corruption Entity took hold of the Node. In so doing, it preserved most of its pure Fey nature, but became obsessed with that ‘purity’ and the idea that it was not diminished or split with the Mangrove Node.

The two trees, Pine and Mangrove, remain connected halves of the once liminal and region-spanning whole. They exist in an uneasy truce – and Dak suggested that we not kill any more Servants of any stripe, as that tips the balance of power. When either half, either Tree grows stronger, they gain more influence – and might be able to more directly control the Servants…including Dak.

Dak was blunt about his vested interest in the status quo – he currently enjoys a measure of independence and unchanging Dragon nature due to its Master being divided against itself. He values that independence and will, if we resume Servant Hunting, try to kill us to preserve it. He would not relish that, but would not hesitate.

At this point I interjected: “This is very fine. But – to be frank as you have been – what would you have us do? The Puppeteer was destroying all in its path, as do all these Nodes. You would have us do nothing, but what point is there in keeping the world intact if the world becomes a blasted nightmare?”

Dak acknowledged my point: “There is a lot of truth to that, yes. The Entity came, and everything changed, but you have to understand that we’re still better off than we were before – it stopped…something, I don’t know exactly what. The Sundered One knows more but isn’t very straight with me – sometimes it can’t be, sometimes it doesn’t want to be. I DO know that, as far as it believes, this is an interim step before things get worse by far.”

“What you can maybe do,” Dak says tentatively, “is try to talk with the Celestial portion of the Entity. It’s part of a bad thing that wants you all to die – but that’s not ALL it wants and you might be able to help it see that it wants other things far more. What it came here to do. You need to try to talk with the Corruption.”

Apparently, according to Dak, we need to do so at a working Node. To wit: another Felltower. How manageable and reasonable. Pushing through our significant skepticism, Dak asks us to at least try to make contact with Corruption and try to find a better way forward. …likely, he is not wrong that it is worth the proverbial “College try.”

One location Dak suggests for a possible contact with the Corruption Entity is The ‘Blighted Steppe’ – a series of plains corresponding to 7.03, 8.03 and 8.04 on our maps. (It apparently took decades for it to glean that location, considering its spatial limitations vis-a-vis the Folds in the landscape.) That area has a Node, dormant but still connected to the Corruption’s area of the network.

If we activate that Blighted Steppe node, its local Corruption will spike (as with the Felltower Woods while that Node was active), but the Corruption will likely come through, at the very first, in a form more amenable to parlay. Right after this, it will likely attempt to kill us all, so we should speak quickly and to the point.

Amongst ourselves, later, we brought up Silesse’s node – if we could hook it back up to the Node Network (she was ejected forcibly during Corruption, saving her life) that might be another way to meet with the Corruption and talk…but would likely kill her or far, far worse. Never. Never EVER.

(…not unless there is truly no other hope.)

Alternatively, we could try talking to the Sundered Mangrove Node. It is less inimical to all life than many. But we should be aware that this is by no means safe – just not as terribly hateful as the Puppeteer we killed in the Felltower.

Whatever we do, Dak underscores once again, we should not kill any more Servants. Not even Dak’s enemies, or he may fight us to preserve the status quo – he does not know what killing more servants will do the precarious local balance between all Powers involved.

If we wish to talk to Dak further, he roosts near 11.06. He reiterated that the Mangrove Servants can and do lie, and that much of what he said is conjecture, but he asks for us to trust at the very least that he will not attack or impede us as long as we do not sink further into the war between the Sundered One’s two sides.

We say our farewells for the present, as Dak takes wing and we head to the 13.07 portal home.

No further incidents occupy us as we return to the Wall. We make it home.

As I write this, I look at the wine-dark stain in the shape of an apple on my hand, lambent in the soft candlelight by which I write, and I hope very much that it is the shadows and my imagination that make it blacken.

That make it pulse.

That make it cover a little more of my hand than it did yesterday.

Signed in the Light, this Twentieth Day of Cleansing,
Jean-Pierre du Vayrir de la Grand Contumace Saint-Emilion

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Expedition 92 - Another Tragedy in the Broken Forest
Giant scorpions aren't any more fun than rocs and megamonitors

Sunday, May 6, 2018

[not posted on time, sorry y’all]

CHARACTERS

CHARACTER CHANGES

  • Sovan levelled to 7 and gained advantage on interactions with the Church of the Wild music
  • Mag levelled to 3, lost 4 strength, and gained disadvantage to strength saves
  • Aythe levelled to 4, got a weird and mothy session resolve, got a bond to something in the Broken Forest, and has found one portal
  • Stu died

GP/XP

  • 1517 xp/person, including sheet update (42 xp for Stu)
  • 614 gp/each, 463 if donated to the LMF (29 gp for Stu)

SALEABLES

  • guava, 1 gp, bought by Jean-Lee
  • scorpion poison, 280 gp, could be used for contact poison
  • bone cylinder with map to something in 7.16
  • healing potion plants, 400 gp, bought by Jean-Lee
  • 15 books, 4 of them magical, from the raven library (see library catalogue)
  • clay gloves (advantage on gardening and harvesting/handling dangerous plants), 200 gp, _bought by Silverleaf [unless someone else wants them, she doesn’t have a claim to them so just lmk]
  • beacon rock from Cavers, 10 gp, bought by Sovan
  • random shit from Ksshan caravan, 180 gp

LOG

This expedition planned to explore Hex 8.17 in the Broken Forest. We went south through the Felar Wood for a while first to get somewhere with a clear shot at a portal. On the way we saw about 20 Crested Skull, mounted and pulling carts with statues and a lockbox. They fired a few warning shots at Sovan when he greeted them so we just kept going.

Stu opened a portal that took us to thick, hilly jungle (10.16). Right in front of us were a bunch of corpses being skinned and looted by some grey-skinned, moth-winged creatures wearing porcelain masks. One had with a rose outline, one had a scar painted down the enamel. Sovan greeted them in all his languages. One of them snapped its fingers and disappeared. Another started talking in Sylvan. When Sovan cast comp lang, it said that ‘the toy’ could speak and told him he was far from home. The invisible one appeared again and shot an arrow at Sovan but stopped when the other one asked it to. It asked us why it shouldn’t hunt us down as prey. Sovan told it that we’re talented, hard to kill, and useful potential allies. They asked for a gift since it was ‘near the festival’ and suggested the usual fey stuff like dreams, emotions, first borns. Aythe offered to get a memory from one of the bodies and then let them eat the memory. She did and they seemed pleased. They gave her some weird prophetic glimpse in return [extra session resolve to use later, but it feels a bit strange]. We assume that the dead things were powerful and evil, because after that Aythe cancelled her LMF donation.

While that was going on, Sovan went to take a healing potion and one of the moth fae reached out and touched it. When he drank it, it was very effective but he started grinning crazily and couldn’t stop for the rest of the day. When they were done taking the memory, they gave us directions and we looked for a portal away.

Then we went through the portal and fell into the ocean. The weather was good but the waves were still very strong. Sovan cast fly on Jean-Lee, who then picked him up. Stu turned into a crocodile and supported me and Aythe while she opened the portal back up. We popped out into another jungle area. This area didn’t have any obvious dangers, just a lot of monkeys eating guavas in the trees. After a short rest, we finally portalled into a stand of trees next to a small lake in the NW of 8.17.

While we were finding our feet, a megamonitor leapt out and attacked us. It knocked me out with a bite [cue massive damage roll] and almost flattened Aythe with a tail swipe [up at 1 HP]. Sovan healed me. Jean-Lee cast calm emotions on it and it started wandering away. Stu cast speak with animals and told it that I wasn’t worth eating and it could find something better somewhere else. It dropped me and fucked up my shoulder [4 perm strength damage and disadv on str saves], but then it was gone. We’d heard some lizard roaring from further away, so presumably it went off to go hunt with that one.

After another rest to heal, we harnessed Stu to Jean-Lee and Sovan cast fly on him so they could scout the area. A few hundred feet up, they saw the roc coming. They flew down and managed to hide with PWT and a fog cloud. We saw the roc crash into a different section of trees and fly off with a large goat instead. Apparently they live in pairs. One will hunt and bring food back to the nest to gorge itself on, then spends a while sleeping it off while its mate circles the nest to protect it. So if you see one successfully hunt, don’t go near the nest but the rest of the forest should be safe for a while.

As we were going through a patch of trees, we heard a crunching noise and got attacked by three giant scorpions. One took Jean-Lee down [temp -1 str, -2 dex] and grappled him. Another dropped Stu [temp -investigation prof]. Aythe made the one holding Jean-Lee think that disease was spreading up its claws where it was touching him, but it didn’t let go. The third one dropped me again [temp -4 dex] and almost killed me, but Sovan rammed himself between its claws to take the hit instead. He healed Jean-Lee and Stu, Stu cast Moonbeam. Then the scorpion grappling Stu killed him and started carrying him away. It looked fast at least.

Sovan got hurt some more and turned into a boar. I used the mace and they all started running. Sovan and Aythe each killed one as they ran past, but the one carrying Stu got away. I chased after and saw it disappear down a crevice. When I approached, a scorpion popped up and seemed to sense me but didn’t know exactly where I was, so they have some kind of blindsight or tremorsense. They’re tough to fight. Their shells makes them hard to hit [AC 15]. They can go around 40 ft, so they’re hard to keep up with. They strike three times at once, a poisonous stinger and then two claw attacks.

The next morning we went back to get revenge for Stu. We snuck up and saw five scorpions sunning themselves just inside the crevice. Sovan fireballed and we killed 4 quickly, then the last when it tried to run. We found a bone cylinder with a screwtop that turned out to have a map in it marking something in 7.16. There was the body of one of the gnome-like people (Cavers). He was wearing a red hat with a blue feather, which we took to give back to his people.

We recovered Stu’s body and buried him beneath a large tree near the lair. I didn’t know him well, but anyone could see that he was brave and competent and reliable. He served the Guild well and died honourably.

When the burial was done, we went to explore a nearby mesa. It was honeycombed with tunnels so we picked a likely looking one and went in. The tunnels look like they were originally natural but were expanded and changed in some places. As we were heading upwards (to see if we could reach the top of the mesa), five poisoned darts hit Jean-Lee. Sovan stepped out in front and made a show of not having any weapons, and several of the Cavers came out to speak with us. The spokesperon, Nif, was wearing a green hat with a red feather. He told us that we should leave and there was nothing here for us to see, until Sovan mentioned having killed a nest of scorpions (he also returned the hat to Nif, who gently cradled it) and he started fawning. Aythe started dancing in the background to charm them, which worked although apparently they’re not allowed to dance. They avoid the roc by travelling through underground tunnels, these are dangerous but not off-limits to us. The mesa contains a diamond mine, which the Progressed Ones use for magic. They ‘serve the land,’ but didn’t get too descriptive about it. They wouldn’t say any more about the Progressed Ones but told us to go to the temple and light a fire if we wanted to talk to someone official. A bell rang from above and Nif and the others ran off to deal with that, after getting permission from Sovan.

We took the tunnels down and came to a large, black lake. Jean-Lee cast light on a stone and threw it into the lake to reveal a bloated humanoid corpse face-down in the water about 30 ft from shore. We tied a rope to a lighted arrow so we could pull the corpse close enough to see properly. When the arrow struck, it reared up and shrieked. Aythe cast Faerie Fire and we saw about 20 creatures who’d been swimming towards us beneath the water. Jean-Lee turned undead and 15 of them ran, Sovan fireballed and killed 15 as well. Aythe flared into radiance and the rest of us got inspired to run away from them without drawing attacks.

The main one pulled some kind of black ichor out of its face and black appeared in the eyes of the grunts near us, then it dove underwater. They went incorporeal, so that not even magic weapons could hurt them, and got harder to kill – you’d think you got one, but then it would get up again. Eventually we killed them. Later on, one of the Progressed Ones told us that the hive only dies if you kill the focus, though.

We stumbled away. Jean-Lee had gotten hit and was feeling shitty. Some kind of rot was setting into his arm, fast enough that we couldn’t cut it out without amputating. Sovan had heard that sometimes Bless stops undead effects, if you do it fast enough. Jean-Lee blessed himself and we saw the image of a necrotic hand get ripped off his arm. Just before the mark faded he heard a voice in his head telling him to ‘come back’.

We took another path forward that avoided the lake. After travelling for a while, we found a chamber lit by sunlight coming through cracks high in the ceiling. There were big, broad-leafed plants that Jean-Lee said are used in healing potions so we collected a bunch of their leaves. Aythe left a ragdoll behind to help us find the place again.

We were going along a tunnel that seemed to be going upwards when we heard loud rushing water. We hid in a side chamber and saw two creatures rush past, filling the tunnel with water. They were human-shaped but made of water themselves. They passed by without noticing us.

After a few more hours of travelling, we saw light ahead and came to an open plateau shadowed by an overhang of rock. There were several very shabby buildings and a herd of large, two-headed goats. One charged us and we killed it, the rest stayed away after that. The buildings were mostly full of rotting grain and rusted weapons. Whoever lived here was about human-sized. A map on the wall showed a ‘probable location’ in the SE but it was water-damaged and basically useless. Upstairs, we found a room with a stone table and a carved, blank shield. With thieves tools, you can pivot it, then press the raven symbol on the other side and open a secret door near the stairs. Inside was a bookshelf, which we emptied out, and a crest with a black raven clutching something demonic looking by the throat.

The next day, we kept exploring. In one place, we saw a lot of bubbling, spraying water through a crack in the wall. Detect magic showed evocation but we couldn’t make out much else. Eventually we reached the surface and headed overland towards the temple.

After a while, we felt a strange humming that turned into singing – it sounded like a religious summons. We snuck up to a clearing full of all kinds of animals gathering peacefully. Trees were growing around them to form a place to worship and the earth formed itself into pews. A fire erupted from the ground in the centre and the animals bowed to it. I wanted to join [failed wis save], the others weren’t as interested. Flowers bloomed in a line ahead of me to lead me to the right pew, which grew to fit me and the rest of the group when they followed. Jean-Lee and I found the prayer refreshing and peaceful [regain a HD if we have expended one, disadvantage on next initiative]. Aythe felt a pulse connecting her to some moving presence in the north. Sovan tried to harmonize with the music and got an idea of how it works [advantage on checks to interact with it in future]. After a while, the song ended. The fire died down and the animals left. I think this happens regularly.

We reached the temple and explored it before lighting the signal fire. It’s open with pillars and druidic writing on the walls. In the centre, there’s a ring of statues: gods standing in a circle with their hands outstretched. We saw Herne, the Nameless God, Oberon, something that looked like an elemental plane god. One statue looked like some sort of con, it was a guy with a mishmash of divine symbols on his robes which apparently didn’t make sense except as a costume. Aythe found a mechanism under the back hem of the robe, which opened up the plinth to show a ladder descending into darkness. We shut it again and left it for the next party.

We lit the fire and saw an answering fire on a mesa several hours to the west. After three hours of waiting, the envoy arrived. Several Cavers carried him on a litter. He was ancient and withered, wearing a yellow cap with a red feather marker with an X. There were some invisible people hanging around as well. He introduced himself as Aster, using some kind of control over the others – he spoke through them using their voices in unison. When he wanted to offer his hand to Sovan to kiss, he had the underlings lift his hand for him.

We offered an alliance, possible trading, maybe service. Aster negotiated with Sovan and assumed the rest of us were his wards. He is very progressed, obviously. He didn’t tell us much about the pictures and the ward the last expedition saw since the Cavers have seen too many outsiders and demons to go around trusting everyone they meet. Apparently the pictures were potentialities. He warned us to be careful in the temple, since your spirit will be trapped in your body if you die here. He told us not to enter the settlements in the mesas without permission. Apparently, they will all be guarded or marked. The next time the call to prayer happens, he told us to just follow our guts and not try to use cunning to manipulate anything.

In terms of trade, we gave them Stu’s armour and they gave us two items in return. The first was a beacon of some sort. It’s a rock that they charged with electricity, and as long as we carry it with us the Cavers should know not to attack us. They also gave us a pair of gloves made of dirt that will help with gardening or harvesting dangerous plants. Next time we meet, we’ll bring items for trade and see how that develops. They might hire us if we prove ourselves trustworthy or if they really need us.

Once they’d left, Aythe looked for a portal home and we came out near where we wanted to be, in the middle of a ksshan caravan. We killed most of them and took their wagons, then got home without anything else happening.

View
Expedition 90 - The Sundered Fens
In which a Revival prompts a job offer.

April 7, 2018

[Posted late – no +0.1 HP. All apologies. Wedding stuff.]

Changes

  • Hadley levels to 4 (and takes Crossbow Expert feat)!
  • Marun levels to 2!
  • Herb levels to 2!
  • JP eats the Sundered Apple (2 Corruption) and gains the Thorn Whip cantrip and the ability to prepare Conjure Animals as per a Druid.

Notable Loot

  • Everyone recieves 569 XP. Everyone gets 321 GP, or 375 GP if they did not donate to the Leshanna Memorial Fund.
  • Rod of the Unseen Servant – Allows for the summoning of a permanent Unseen Servant (as per the spell); seems guided by the caster, as JP’s has become a lugubriously fussy butler named Heinrich. [Claimed by JP.]

Preliminary Preparations

  • Hadley borrows the Springvine Longbow
  • Herb borrows the Mace of Terror and Healing Gourd
  • Marun borrows Amara’s Gauntlet
  • Hadley, Herb and Marun bring 4 potions, Valerian brings 3, Night brings 2, I (JP) bring 0.

Log Proper

Preamble

My first expedition in some time. Since becoming, as Sovan won’t stop calling me dramatically, the ‘Phoenixheart’. My first since the Well took me in. Showed me the Forest – showed me where change, mutability, growth lurks even in what appear to be the very pillars of stability.

In its quiet way, a lot changed on this trip out.

For myself, at least.

But first – the journey, before the outcome. It was a chilly, windy day. We bundled up and gathered by the Wall. I was met there by four others.

Valerian I have known of old. They remain decidedly wild and slightly maddening and liquidly courteous. Around their arms and shoulders, the Armwrap coiled – for them a silken shawl that seemed to diffuse their elegantly wasted limbs’ movements, make them hard to track. After some time with the Stalkers, sparring, part of me started idly trying to identify where I’d look to deflect a blow as I closed and found it frustrating, if enticing, to watch their arms sway as if carried by an itinerant breeze. Perhaps if – or maybe if I pivoted – but I have not, surely, been brought to the point, even in the abstract, of imagining how my comrades might be bested -

They are, ultimately, very deadly at any range and supremely reliable, and that is all I need say about that.

[Night’s Mistress] (‘Night’, so named by [Bugle]) is a curious one, to my mind – a second Kenku that underscores the real lack of unifying monoculture between their flocks. Where he is all overt suspicion and caustic bluntness and military right angles, she…glides. She is very polite and helpful and extraordinarily hard for me to read; her past behaviour has at times been reckless but her moral rectitude seems unwavering. She is the sort of enigma, the shade of grey with whom I am finally beginning to become a little, little bit more comfortable. I am not sure how she and [Bugle] get on so well, except that when he flies she looks at him like a graven idol. I do not doubt that he would be uncomfortable with that characterization; I am less sure whether that characterization is not quite apt.

Highly effective once she closes; tremendous stealth-enabler. ‘Glass jaw’ – any further injuries to her core run the risk of incapacitating her.

Herb is a burly, grizzled, highly pugnacious Paladin-in-Training (not yet sworn to an Oath.) He is – from all the available evidence – garrulous, unscrupulous, antagonistic and blithely unconcerned with diplomacy. I found my tenure as his expedition leader / minder / apologist to the Corrupt deeply frustrating; my candour stems in part from my very strong belief that he will never actually read this Log past the pages indicating the GP value of his allotted treasure.

That said he is a neophyte in our Guild and many have grown rapidly (in more areas than purely martial aptitude) in the crucible that is this continent. My frustration with his present is a continued resolution to hope for better.

Marun is a fellow cleric, though he follows Leira of the Mists. She is a Goddess for whom I have significantly more time now than I did as a rather more judgmental young man; a puckish force of chaos, although in Marun’s hands it seems more like mischief than misrule. He is charming and possessed of many interesting, amusing and/or heartwarming stories, almost every one of which is at least partially a lie. I like him quite a bit. (Possibly out of ongoing familiarity with one of Silanya’s foremost ‘creative truthtellers’.

Marun is, however, very young in his Choosing, and as such his powers have much room to grow. Keep him safe and well-covered and he is an able healer.

Finally, we turn to Hadley. Hadley is boisterous, impetuous, and a devoted…disciple?…of the dearly missed(*) Camille. They are perhaps a little bit afraid, I think, that I will judge them harshly on that basis, or attempt to induce them to drink less and attend more services of the Tree – which they perhaps imagine, based on certain apocyphal accounts, are typically held near dawn and involve drinking very cold water and silently holding hands in fellowship. This is not strictly accurate. I hope to get to know Hadley better in future; this expedition did not prove to do the trick.

Give Hadley a ranged weapon and they will, with their marvelous eyes, do rather a staggering amount of damage from very far away.

Day 1

Our plan is to head to an intermediary point and form a portal to the lands north of Antorem without ‘pushing our luck’ regarding distance. We make our preparations and leave the wall into hex designate 04.13. Seeing the immaculate surface split smoothly before us, then reform, I cannot help but think of the crack – and of those who caused it – and grit my teeth in frustration.

For the moment, however, we head to the nearest bridge over the river and pass the Blazing Banner-occupied waystation also in 04.13.

Continuing on to 05.12, we see significant numbers of Blazing Banner cavalry in combat formation surrounding a hobgoblin outpost. We decide that our erstwhile allies of convenience can handle themselves, and that we are not going to risk the new blood’s life for a den of slavers, and ignore this conflict.

Further still to the northeast, in the high grass on the way to hex 06.12, there are many trampled down tracks coming and going from the nearby Blazing Banner fort, accompanied (as the trackers among us confirm) by wagon ruts. They seem to be aggressively supplying their own fortress from their farther headquarters to the southeast.

Entering 06.12 proper – Crested Skull territory – we see their light cavalry watching us from the north. I send out a cheery ‘Hello!’ and they fire warning shots that, obviously, do not risk injuring me whatsoever. As we continue, heading northeast and diverging from the road (though staying well south of the Crested Skull fortress), we head for the river – our landmark heading north. En route we see the burnt-out remains of a trebuchet and wagon, all but buried under many Blazing Banner corpses pincushioned with arrows. Logic suggests the Crested Skull, master archers, were involved. Nothing is to be done; we move along.

By early evening, we reach 07.11, the (poetically named) Crumbly Hills, walking northeast until the firmer land along the riverbank, then north on that safer ground.

Proceeding north along the riverbank, we spot a poorly concealed burrow – haphazardly covered with vines by someone with more enthusiasm for spycraft than talent. Entering, we find it to be an occupied Ogre cave [MPoI], although it is currently empty. The party decides as a whole to take bone cups and an ankheg’s carapace for later resale; feeling conflicted about robbing an empty house, however irrationally, I Create Food to make them a veritable feast. (Later, Marun impishly informs me that he ‘spiked’ it with hot peppers. I think I keep my face from blanching at the devastation that would wreak upon the careful spice balance I imparted to the bisque and laugh, weakly, at his well-intentioned jest.

As we leave, several live ankhegs begin to sidle towards us, only for the hill to collapse under them. We suspect a subterranean predator, but close inspection (and consultation with the Elemental in my armor) suggest a simpler solution: that the most ‘crumbly’ inland sections of the hills are treacherous; my own weight in armor might cause me to collapse the topsoil and be partially entombed. Worth noting for future parties!

Our northward trek leads us to the GrosQua fortress in 07.11, where we are greeted warmly. We are welcomed to stay and eat of their many mushrooms, fuelled by the Idol gained back from the Rebel GrosQua long ago. The tribe, we are informed, prospers; 2 new Shamans (possibly from a Fold in space-time?) have joined the community, and as yet no obvious hostilities have arisen from their Corrupted Glitch. The Banded are mostly gone, and they have been able to collapse the earth on those who do menace them and slaughter many. Their tribe’s food situation is stable, and they are otherwise peaceful. A ray of light in this dark place, at least for me, that our efforts led to a period of tranquility. If only for some.

Our bedroom is adjacent to their ‘mushroom fields’ – a vast cavern shored up by stone pillars, spreading fungus everywhere. I make the tribe, and the group, delicious quiche to go with the mushrooms. Marun harvests some of said fungi for the road – though there is much magic in spurring their unnatural increase, Detect Magic spies no appreciable magic left in the mushrooms once grown. They are safe to eat. That ascertained, we bunk in for the night.

Day 2

After we wake, Valerian shares some of their…unusual tea with Hadley; both find their eyes enhanced. (+ 10’ Darkvision.) We take our leave of the still-grateful GrosQua and proceed.

As we walk into 08.11, we are in the region once known as the Felltower Woods. Remembering what this place was – vast waves of Anti-Life, mutagens borne on high-frequency magic pulses from that hellish lair of the broken puppet-thing – I Detect Magic to ascertain what remains of the extraordinary aura of corruption. The result is mixed; while the ambient magic field continues to degrade, its ‘half-life’ (a coinage of Raevori’s) is such that the rate of decrease is slowing, and will probably persist as a low-grade residue for many years to come. Still, at present, the land is less blasted than it was, though it still seems sparsely populated – there are, indeed, far fewer of the Banded.

The Banded are not, however, entirely gone – as we passed a collapsed building, Hadley and myself see Banded excretions on the surrounding foliage and identify a likely occupied lair. From then on, most of us proceed with greater caution.

Carrying on into 09.10 – I manage (22 Perception) to see a Banded Ant nest [SW portion of hex, 1/3 into hex on diagonal line from SW corner]. Meanwhile, Valerian, Hadley and Marun begin a game of Hide and Seek. Before I can ask them politely to reconsider their judgment and timing, the Tree offers them a harsher lesson in choosing when to make sport as four Banded Hunters (the invisible scythe-armed skirmishers) appear and attack.

Valerian, with their truly remarkable reflexes, is Alert enough to turn and shoot one of their own ambushers with a nearly impossible headshot (37 piercing), but it survives and grazes them with one of its two counterblows (6 slashing). Another Hunter savages young Night with claws and bite (37 slashing), but she stays on her feet. The other Hunters miss. A Banded Gazer (the blurred ranged caster breed) emerges, Confuses Hadley, then peppers Herb with Scorching Rays, only missing with one Ray (14 fire).

We are able to respond, at last – Valerian for the second time. They go to hit the Gazer – and manage to nick it with an arrow (5 piercing) despite the permanent Blur effect on such beings, before hiding quite effectively among the trees (19 Stealth).

The Gazer drops Herb with more Scorching Rays but Marun fights off its Confusion effect; Herb begins to bleed out (1st Failed Death Save). I am finally able to act and send up Spirit Guardians while shouting the sacred word “TREE!” at Herb to heal him. (Later much is made of me using healing magic ‘for once’; I must try to accept that if it has become a Guild-wide joke, perhaps there is some truth to my combat priorities being unusual for a man of the cloth.)

Meanwhile, Hadley strikes out through the Confusion but critically misses, while Night disengages and runs out of melee to better situate her abilities (and not die.) As she is out of range of his healing, Marun chooses to Cure Wounds Herb to reinforce my own efforts to restore him.

The Hunters strike – though the most injured falls to Spirit Guardians – with one hitting Valerian with a light blow, while 2 fell Hadley, carving them as they fall [2 Failed Death Saves].

Valerian continues to sneak attack from the shadows, landing a deadly shot on one Hunter before Herb uses the Mace of Terror, setting all 3 to fleeing. I cast Guiding Bolt upon the Gazer and restore Hadley to consciousness with another Healing Word; Hadley is unable to act on waking (still Confused as it transpires) but shakes off that condition immediately after this momentary lull. Night readies their Darkness ki ability and begins dodging, while Marun lashes out with Sacred Flame, searing into the Gazer.

A second Hunter drops to my Guardians as the three survivors take to their heels – Hadley and I miss with attacks of opportunity as they go. Valerian makes a brilliant critical longbow shot upon the Gazer, after which Night drops her readied Darkness on its field of vision. I pursue the fleeing Hunters that remain to keep them in Guardians range. Herb shoots one such fleeing Hunter with his longbow. Night then kills that Hunter with her shortbow, while Hadley digs deep for a second wind and readies an attack on the next Banded to attack us. Marun misses it with a Sacred Flame.

Finally, my Guardians kill the last Hunter. Valerian, Hadley and I all ready ourselves to shoot the Gazer on Night dropping her Darkness – while Herb shoots into the black void and (surprisingly?) misses. The Gazer is, however, gone when Darkness lifts. Clearly this Gazer has heard about discretion being valour’s better part.

Licking our wounds, we make temporary camp in the nearby Baned Lair that we find (Survival 20) and restore ourselves. Searching the many, many half-gnawed corpses littering that foul creche, we find a lovely jeweled bracelet (250gp) on a long-deceased half-elf and take it, as I say a brief but sincere prayer of thanks that their old ornament can be used to fuel fresh life and our sacred mission.

Leaving our tempoarry camp, we walk into 09.10 to see the previously described zone of sharply demarcated and apparently permanent magical rainfall; Herb’s pleas for a shower regardless, we ignore it and head farther northeast into the lush and temperate Singing Rainforest.

The land ahead flattens into an elevated plateau that hugs the south edge of the Northern mountain range. As we march, we see the ‘Quiet People’ described by the Silver Lancers, but ignore them.

As evening falls, we hear and thereby move to avoid encroaching Singers, before finding a secure campsite and sleeping unmolested through the night.

Day 3

We press on into 10.10. It’s unseasonably cold and damp; the slender Night is wrapped in a blanket to stay warm in the sudden cold snap. Hadley, warmed from a night of ‘snuggling’ with Valerian into which I will not investigate too deeply in these notes, gallantly offers their cloak to Night, who gratefully accepts. It is strange to see a Kenku so…tolerant of…anyone else besides Sovan. Apparently it is not impossible for Kenku to express the sentiment ‘thank you’ or ‘yes, this IS your property that I am making free use of’.

[ADDENDUM: PLEASE RESTRICT FUTURE PERSONAL REMARKS SO INDICATIVE OF AN INTERNAL FAILURE OF REGIMENTAL MORALE AND/OR OPERATIONAL DISCIPLINE TO THE DOUBTLESS TEAR-STAINED PAGES OF ‘DEAR DIARY’. —AN ANONYMOUS COMMENTATOR.]

More Singers from the northwest as we march on; Night opens her mouth and the song Sovan taught her pours out. It’s a lovely imitation, if not quite the real thing; evidently the Singers think as I do, as they confusedly engage with the static reproduction, try to alter it, and fail. Ominously, I assess (based on lengthy experience with Sovan explaining the emotional tenor of Bardic music (aka Charisma 31)) that they are trying to make ‘Sovan’ bellicose and angry.

We decide to sneak off and not engage; Night sends forth a wave of concealment and trailing shadow, and we Pass Without Trace) along our way (Stealth 31). Behind us, we can see Blue Psychics fighting Singers as they tumble into the clearing, attempting to mentally dominate each other in a very even standoff. The Singers clearly expect to find allies in the clearing, which momentarily shocks them, but the battle is soon renewed; we leave before its outcome becomes clear.

Entering 11.09, our Night-assisted stealth leads us past a swarm of Antorem Hooligans, far outside their usual haunts in town.

Then, as we hit the border into 11.08, we find a Psychic treehouse. We offer to trade experiences for Powerful Thoughts, partially out of curiousity about these strange mental masters, partially as some such thoughts have already saved lives among our ranks. In order:

  • No interest in Hadley’s Prism Eyes (from a Jungle Prism Fruit)
  • No interest in Valerian’s…marvelous poetry
  • No interest in my psalms, explanatory pamphlets, brief agitprop theatrical pieces, or independent ministry regarding the Ever-Flowering Tree.
  • They are very interested in my memories of making Beausoleil, giving me a Powerful Thought of Misty Step – my mobility is an issue, and I am thankful.
  • They are similarly fascinated with Hadley’s abilities as a Battlemaster, offering them a Thought of Blindness.
  • Valerian demonstrates their preternatural Alertness for a Thought of Comprehend Languages.
  • Night, meanwhile, demonstrates her Ki energy and is extended a Thought of Levitate. .

Eventually, Hadley drives them off with what Valerian rather acidly (but not inaccurately) describes as ‘stupid offers of nonsense’.

We carry on into the new hex of 11.08, where trees high as the famed Southern Redwoods of Home are visible southeast of the hex’s centre through breaks in the tree cover; it is decided to investigate, cautiously, into this landmark.

We get within a mile of this copse of beautiful conifers, where my Clairvoyance can reach, and see a massive nest stretched between their boughs. It is as if tougher, slime-drenched spidersilk was woven on a massive scale into a platform. I also see a drained and bloodless corpse atop that platform, which lets Valerian’s studies into Natural Phenomena latch onto the details and deduce that the Wyvern we’ve been told haunts these woods is a rare bloodsucking type, larger and far more vicious than most. They immediately move to christen the web-spinning wyvern a ‘Spivern’, and we all enthusiastically agree. The location of its unique lair is thus of some significance [PoI].

Continuing onward to the northeast, we soon see this very Spivern, Huge in size, scoop up an unfortunate forest creature and fly off to feed. Even at a distance, it looks not to be trifled with.

Arriving in the northeast of 11.08, we nothing but plains due north. A slow decline leads down into 11.07, 10.08 and 12.08, which form a rolling, descending plains area; 13.08 is fully ocean, and sits on the other side of a 200’ sea cliff, one possessed of the jaggedly discontinuous profile that we have learned to associate with ‘rough folds’ from the compressed continent. The three hexes mentioned form a highland zone, with the cliff as barrier, cutting off around the northeastern portions of 12.08 and 11.07 and onward.

200’ below them, 12.07, 13.07, and 11.06 are a vast saltwater marsh, where the sea salt and the inland muck meet in a briny slough battered by rough and vigorous tides. Farther off still, in the northeast section of 13.06, a titanic mangrove tree, at least 80-90 meters tall, commands the surrounding terrain from on high.

Before exploring this great vista, we decide to make camp and rest until the next dawn. We will then attempt to reach the sea and walk along its edge before (hopefully) locating a Tunnel home.

That night, during the third watch, Valerian and I see an osprey alight on a nearby branch. It begins to talk to us in good Common, but only gets so far as – “Hello and welc-“ before a flash of silver Abjuration magic (not cast by any of us!) lashes out at it; the bird squawks, clearly offended, and flies off to the northeast – where the massive mangrove abides. It ignores my attempts at Sending it further queries or offers of parlay.

When Valerian climbs up, the tough, thick hardwood of the tree is unnaturally deeply furrowed where its claws met the branch.

Day 4

Our fourth morning underway, we see a camp of some kind – replete with smoke from a fire – by the 12.08 portion of the sea cliff, 3-4 miles away near the centre of the 12.08 hex. We decide to investigate this apparent settlement.

As we Head over, what appear to be riderless horses ride out from camp. Herb, _acting completely without sanction or consultation from the group, fires an arrow at these creatures, at which point they…use their human arms, on their horse necks, to draw bows.

I promise you that the following picture of what we see more clearly as they approach is not an asinine joke.

Horse-Man.jpg

I rush to the front but take no violent action; arrows sail towards me and repeatedly bounce off Beausoleil harmlessly. The party itself makes some Inconclusive volleying and misses; eventually the horse-people turn to my left to flank my bulwark and strike at the rest of the party. This in turn leads to the party pivoting to my right, to keep me between them; their slower pace but smaller circle around me means that both are even, and running in circles around me to no end.

(I am overheard by a member of the party to say, in Dwarvish, “This is an idiot sundial, and I its gnomon” and begged in the strongest possible terms to please append that remark to this Log. So pleaded, so done.)

Eventually seeing we’ve ceased to meaningfully threaten, the horse people fire a round of arrows into the ground and approach me.

Valerian uses their thought of Comprehend Language – provoking an immediate reaction of hostile alarm until it becomes clear that they are just trying to improve their linguistic abilities. We try to express our wish to open diplomatic relationships; the horses respond, quite reasonably, that attacking them was a sub-optimal opening to such a conversation. We explain Herb; their response best translates as ‘Control your idiots.’ We very securely tie Herb up immediately and with no regrets.

At this gesture, they visibly relax, and explain their settlement: it is a trading post for the ‘Sailing People’. They trade salted meat and fresh fruit – contextually, rare shipboard supplies – in exchange for commodities. Led back to their settlement, we are greeted by a wide array of stables and storage sheds, solidly if inexpertly built from wood. I attempt to solidify cordial relations by doing some Mending for the horsepeople. Before we leave them, they agree to stock ‘luxuries’ – jewels, coinage, and especially books – in future. They promise to try to respect, or at least not massacre, any party that shows them a Guild crest.

They have no idea what the osprey, or the silvery Abjuration burst that spooked it, mean.

Continuing on our way, we find that the horses’ carved path down the cliff leads only to a dock for trading; being fast-moving but heavy quadrupeds, they rarely if ever go to the swamp, a terrain where they are likely hard-pressed to accomplish much if anything.

Instead, we walk further northwest along the cliff, and take in the land below. A large lake in covers the southwest half of 12.07 and southeast third of 11.06, its southwestern edge pressed right against the sea cliff. Many rivers appear to feed out from this lake:

  • one descending southeast from 12.07 through 13.07 ;
  • a second running northeast from 12.07 into 13.06;
  • a third flowing along northeast along the 11.06/12.07 border into 12.06;
  • and a fourth river north from the middle of 11.06 into 11.05.

Stretching out from the southwestern cliff edge, the lake’s other borders are not clearly defined – gradually shifting from open water to marshy wetland. In a few areas, water runs more forcefully out into the wetlands beyond. The air is redolent both with salty sea breeze and the sulfurous miasma of the marshes. Mangroves, tiny children next to the gargantuan one to our north, predominate throughout.

Farther still from our clifftop vantage, the marshes degrade into tidal mudflats half-buried by water. Whereas the lake water looks clean and clean, the rivers and marshes look brackish – the salt tides pollute them. At the time of our first look out, we saw the tides at a low ebb – the flats were mostly exposed until 13.06, where a foot or so of water sloshed about the roots of the giant mangrove.

Birds flew in great wheeling arcs over the terrain. Night did not immediately insist on killing every single one. It was a refreshing and pleasant experience.

We moved to scale down the cliff face, rappelling as we went; our physically gifted party encountered no problems, though my armor did make my descent more fraught than most. When we were closer to the bottom, Night used a rather extraordinary set of flapping and twisting maneuvers to Slow Fall her way to safety.

At the bottom of the cliff, we looked out over the lake area’s slow northeast gradient to saltwater marsh. I immediately begin a Water Walk ritual – as we proceed, this turns out to have been a very useful notion of mine, as we avoid sudden sinkholes, and swift rivers that would otherwise need fording. It is resolved to repeat this ritual as necessary – it cuts into our profit margin but no-one looking down into the leech-infested muck finds it in themselves to put a price on never, ever touching that disgusting morass.

We continue northeast, the tide apparently endlessly receding before us, to hear a sudden loud series of ’CAW’s as a massive swarm of birds rockets down towards our vicinity from the northwest. A large group lands near us and stalks about, clawed feet patrolling high marshes, ripping out vines and seaweed. We understand very little of their intentions. We avoid them.

As we continue, veering slightly more to the north to reach the coast, two crocodiles approach us. Night stiffens; sensing her distress (as giant versions of these beasts did grievously injure her) we all but effortlessly kill and skin two perfectly normal crocodiles. She seems very pleased.

As we finish our butchering, we see two snake-folk, with long coiled bodies banded in black and white and human torsos under snake heads, emerge out of the water. One casts Tongues on itself – literally stroking along its mighty tongue – in a relatively high-order display of Clerical magic.

“What are you doing here?” it asks, with more of curiosity than hostility in its tone. We mention that we are explorers and not conquerors; he relaxes somewhat, introduces himself as Sin, using ‘he’ pronouns. His people should be called simply the Reef Snakes.

Querying Sin about the bird, he speaks of a local Power called the Sundered One that uses osprey messengers. It is a dangerous being that controls the waters, but is also mentally deranged by tidal patterns; chaos reigns when the tide changes and it fights all it encounters. To treat with it, Sin recommends, wait until the tide is decidedly in or out. Asked where the Sundered one resides, he points both northwest near the mangrove and northeast to the ocean. Asked if it is a god, a monster, or something else, he is glib and not to be drawn on specifics.

Notably, SIn scoffs at our querulous idea of his making introductions with this Sundered One on our behalf – we gather that he is risk to brave some risk involved. He mentions the dangerous entities known as Servants; foolishly, I do not long remember the significance of this term.

Sin has no idea what the silvery Abjuration that drove off the osprey means.

As is our adventurers’ wont, we ask about any deal we can make or service we can perform to make friends. It transpires, luckily, that they are plagued by undead – at which the divine among us, Marun, Herb and myself, perk up. Sin advises us that were we to enter 12.06 and destroy any undead we find there, his people would be appreciative, and could offer us valuables in exchange. We agree.

Asking (perhaps belatedly) for more details, we are told there are two main types: Risen are like aquatic zombies, but comparatively far more burly and quick; they hide underwater and attempt to drown intruders in the silty depths. Mist Wraiths are incorporeal ambushers and much more dangerous – they phase in, attack, and phase out, and are difficult to fully destroy.

Taking this under advisement, we head north to 12.06 to find our prey, only to be stopped by Sin – who informs us that there has been an attack and we must help the Reef Snakes currently in danger. We follow him to see 3 Reef Snakes fighting off a pack of 12 Risen. 1 Reef Snake is already dead, while another older one is continually chanting to maintain a powerful shamanic water barrier, like an outwards rushing torrent from the point on the mucky swamp in which they are immersed, washing back attackers and keeping them at bay.

We move to the attack. Hadley shoots one Risen and knocks it off its feet, which alerts them to our presence. 2 RIsen peel off and, burrowing just beneath the murk, come towards us, forcing us to fire at them through partial cover. Valerian kills the one Hadley weakened (who remained with the main pack), while Marun shoots one of those approaching, then Herb misses it entirely.

Meanwhile, another group of Risen, surge against the water barrier – one gets through, and we see that its claws paralyze on hit as it scratches the Reef Snake Shaman, who seizes to a halt and drops the barrier.

I run forward past the 2 approaching Risen, ignoring claws as they scrape against enchanted armor. While I distract them, Night runs past, on the other side and joins me. We are still a good move away from the Risen – Night could likely have made it to them, but evidently was loath to rush in alone when I am a far slower (albeit sturdier) companion.

Back with the main group, they focus fire – Hadley and Valerian hit and badly injure an approaching Risen of the 2 that left the main group, while Herb and Marun miss.

The Reef Snakes are beleaguered, as 4 Risen surge in – the Shaman’s 2 escorts shove the zombie things away as best they can, but still one escort is clawed, though they stay upright.
Sin comes to their aid – he rushes forward past me and Night, and with an almighty GUSH he slaps the water with his hand, forming a tidal wave that pushes 3 Risen away and out of sight with one great burst of natural prowess.

Inspired by his bravery and example, I close with the main Risen pack, _Shield_ing away an attack of opportunity, and summon my Spirit Guardians and Spiritual Weapon , which strikes at a nearby Risen. Night, hanging back, shoots that Risen, which lives – until Hadley, with a beautiful lobbed arrow, slays it from afar.

The 2 Risen that left the main group swing to attack us – one dies as it leaves the muck, battered to death by jolly hammer-wielding ancestors; another lives long enough to find it cannot reach me through their interference, only for Valerian to put an arrow between its eyes and end its confused misery. Marun, inspired, shoots; Marun, inexperienced, misses.

The Reef Snake escorts flail about as the Risen attack – one dying to a Risen claw which punches through the Frost Wolf’s Shield I throw in the blow’s path. At least, we note, another Risen simultaneously falls to the Guardians – and the Shaman finally, blessedly, ends their paralysis.

Herb shoots an injured Risen, while Sin grabs one and his hand shocks it with electricity, as a third dies to the Guardians, who sing and pivot in strict martial order as they kill. I follow up by using my bursting Hand of Glory / and the vast hammer of my Spiritual Weapon to kill two more Risen, right as another Risen emerges from the muck and vaporizes in turn. My five companions’ archery kills the rest.

What happens next is…possibly a diplomatic misstep.

Asking for the body of the recently dead Reef Snake, I concentrate – trace diamond dust upon their ravaged chest, and whisper to the Tree, as I did before to no avail with poor dead Amara: “Not yet.”

The Reef Snake starts – stiffens – breathes. He came back. Lord, great flowering beneficence, Root of Creation, I am humbled before the mercy I am so privileged to allow you to express through me. I am enraptured – distracted. Moreover, I walk around legends in the making, take tea with heroes; I am too inured to marvels to think about the true scope of such a gift.

I look up into the Reef Snakes’ faces and they are stunned. They are terrified. I touched a dead person and they lived. I was very stupid not to warn them, to ask them, to consider what this might mean to their culture, their faith.

That said…I would have done it again. Life is hope; life is potential; death ends a story. It is not, cannot be wrong to save a life worth saving.

SIn comes up to me, almost fawning, far more respectful of tone. He apologizes for not recognizing my power, and asks what nature of being I am – trying to be truthful, to honour my beliefs, I call myself a Servant. Which, in the case of the Tree, I am. I forget what ‘Servant’ means, in this land – ‘violently powerful Proxy for a power’. They offer us ‘a greater reward than they had originally intended’ – Sin takes from his own pouch an ivory rod that radiates magic and places it near me.

Then the Reef Snakes, to a one, flee in what appears to be abject terror.

It is a very uncomfortable feeling.

Moments later, we hear a soft sound behind us, and on a tree branch sits an osprey: it speaks, informing us that it is indeed a mouthpiece for the Sundered One. ‘We are welcome to its lands’.

The conversation is largely fencing, posturing, attempts to display a cool and unconcerned bravado on both sides (I will admit to some sabre-rattling of an urbane nature myself.) Like most Powers we have met here (the Grandmother, the Chainlord, the Puppeteer), the Sundered One is slippery of diction and reluctant to explain its cryptic allusions.

This being is very clear on one point – it wishes to hire me, specifically, to kill one of 5 local ‘Servants’ – beings it describes as akin to, if weaker than, the Puppeteer. It will not explain how it knew about our battle with that vile thing, nor what the silver abjuration was, save that it was – in 11.07 – ‘near the limits of its zone of influence’. I am, in turn, cagey – I promise nothing, but offer to speak again in future.

If the being is sincere, I would be happy to destroy new abominations – as long as this does not release some direr peril. Please rest assured that I will be reasonable and balanced in my judgment on this matter.

Please rest assured despite what happens next.

The osprey takes its leave, saying that the tide is turning and it will soon be unable to maintain a pleasant discourse. As it goes, the branch on which it rested bends low, and a bright red beautiful apple descends in front of me. Allegory made flesh.

Herb and Marun immediately pipe up, gushingly ask how I can resist eating this apple, and it truly does look beautiful – Detect Magic shows it as strongly magical but fading fast, but much of that is illusion to enhance the visual beauty of its appearance, as well as (more sinisterly) to exaggerate the transitory nature of its magic.

Beneath that illusion is strong Transmutation magic founded – as a followup casting of Detect Evil reveals – by a mix of Fey, Celestial and Aberrant magics. There is godly and natural force at work here, but somewhat distorted; nevertheless I take a huge, crunching bite.

Any who wish to understand why I, so long reluctant to in any wise embrace this Corrupted place’s gifts, would so succumb…I have tasted deep, literally and metaphorically, of the Well of Transformation. The silver circlet on my brow is not simply an ornament, but a commitment to explore a spiritual wanderlust entirely independent of my hitherto unshakable and, I feel, fully justified faith in the essential rightness of the Tree’s beliefs. I do not doubt Her or Her aims, but I most routinely doubt my own capacity to uphold myself as her lone Servant in these wilds, and as I walked the paths of the Stalkers of my Well, I was exposed to good, brave, wild-hearted people who found out far more than I have yet to about their unchanging bedrock values by seeing what – when everything was tested – refused to change, to melt away, to become amorphous.

I look at that apple, I feel nature in its balanced pulls of care and cruelty, wrapped in a divine shell overlaying a mysterious new opening for change in my life, and I do what I have agreed to in my heart of hearts for this year to come, I open myself to change. I bite.

The first rush of flavour is sweet, wth bitterness behind. I feel faint and slightly sick [2 levels corruption] but then I brace [WIS save 24] and a new awareness of the natural world, the land about me and the magics coming from its primal architects, rushes into my consciousness. [+WIS mod (2) Druid Spells to prepare].

With this new awareness, I feel it immediately as, on my bite concluding, the air around us starts to hum. The tide, far faster than it should be, is flowing in towards us. Looking out into the inrushing surf, gilled fish folk with wicked harpoons hunt the flocks of birds that still soar over the marshes, pulling them down as they are impaled for purposes unknown.

We retreat inland, southeast towards 13.06, in good order; the tide nears us, but unnaturally fast as it is, we can still outrun it with some effort.

As we enter 13.06, the tide is, however, surging anew and soon to be knee deep. We quickly find what appears to be a permanent Tunnel from the northwest of 13.07 to the centre of 06.12. Moreover, we sense a ‘branch’ in the space-time fold within the Tunnel that could lead elsewhere – probably as a permanent ‘fork’ in this Tunnel.

Thereafter, we are not attacked and no further encounters of note occur.

We make it home safely!

The only unknown item that we found, the mysterious Sin’s Rod turns out to create a permanent Unseen Servant that I claim, thinking of Sovan’s house, and Sovan’s area of my house, and in fact of any area in which Sovan spends an appreciable quantity of time, and seeing where a tireless Butler could be a great asset to a harmonious relationship and to my not having to hunt for rogue socks and eggy plates under heavy items of furniture. At least not by myself.

That aside, we return to Sila, strong in the light of the Tree. We are a little different…I am. But still – as much as anything is in this world – I find myself inescapably bound by certain remnants of the “same old, same old” as the twice-departed Herr Rohrbach once blithely, but not unwisely, put it to me.

Time will tell if this ultimately proves a comfort.

Signed in the Light, this Seventh Day of Growth,
Jean-Pierre du Vayrir de la Grand Contumace Saint-Emilion

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Expedition 89 - Trials and a Tribulation

March 17, 2018

[Posted on time — characters get 0.1 HP]

Personnel

Aa’li’naa Aurae (rogue [arcane trickster], 6)
Lee-Jean Challenges-Debicourt de la Terre des Romances aux Rivalieux-Quandamouzieres Sur Vantera-aux Alpes Maritimes (paladin [devotion], 5)
Beth Lorress (wizard [abjuration], 5)
Martin van Horne (cleric [life], 5)
Morgan Wheeler (wizard [divination], 3), Log-writer

Transformative Experiences

  • Lee-Jean remembers a reality where she was a high elf — learns one arcane cantrip of her choice.
  • Beth remembers a reality where she was half-elven — gains darkvision, elven eyes.
  • Martin lost an eye to the Consuming Way’s flaming touch, which replaced it with a fiery orb (shedding light as a torch). When he hits with a spell or a creature fails the save against his spell, he can choose to spend a spell slot or take 1d6 fire damage to find out that creature’s type, AC, senses, best save, worst save, a vulnerability, or a resistance.
  • Martin remembers a reality where he was a halfling — can attempt to hide behind creatures at least one size larger than he is.
  • Morgan remembers a reality where they were a consulting detective — advantage on investigation checks to look for clues, find secret doors.

Experience

339 xp for Aa’li’naa, 800 xp otherwise

Gold

Aa’li’naa: 347 gp
Lee-Jean: 344 gp, elocution primer
Beth: 143 gp, paid off Bugle
Martin: 544 gp
Morgan: -56 gp, modron glasses
LMF: 546 gp

Map Notes

  • Displacer beast lair with shimmering pool

Items

  • Books
    • TBD nothing book, 10 gp
    • TBD Xan memoir, 50 gp
    • TBD world details book, 30 gp
    • Magic book, 800 gp (ranger/pally learns cloud of daggers, hold person, see invisible)
    • Elocution primer, 200 gp (one reader can choose one of the following three options: advantaged persuasion and disadvantaged intimidation, advantaged deception and disadvantaged persuasion, or advantaged intimidation and disadvantaged deception. This lasts one year, after which they can choose the same or a different option, or a different reader can) bought by Lee-Jean
    • Poetry chapbook from ogres, 10 gp
  • Magic items
    • Modron glasses (darkvision [blind in bright light while on and for d4 rounds after removal], two rounds of truesight per expedition), 600 gp, bought by Morgan
  • Miscellaneous items
    • Chalcedony and teak box, 35 gp
    • Diamond weretiger statuette, 420 gp
    • Frog tongue for modron bounty, 100 gp
    • Fela silk for crafting, 450 gp, bought by Silverleaf
    • Cart from Crested Skull, 5 gp, left at the wall outpost for use by future expeditions
    • Ogre coins, 320 gp

SUMMARY

We returned the poison duke’s armour to the Consuming Way and Martin underwent their punishment, fulfilling the promise exacted on Expedition 85. They burnt out one of Martin’s eyes and replaced it with a ball of flame. NB: Their representative told Martin that he will forever be a part of something greater than himself and left him with a new ability, v ominous, also warned us away from their territory south of the river.

A’sshel’t’kov is upset that the apostates have the armour back, as it will apparently spawn another poison duke. He is both mad and disappointed that we did not consult him before meeting with the apostates and offer him the chance to provide us with counsel and a sniper team.

The wardens have a weapon which displaces living creatures within a 100 ft radius into a demi-plane between ours and the ethereal plane — leaving you stranded, static, and starving. They have used it near the portal on a group of apostates to great effect.

We were visited by the two snakes, who offered us several realizations/ideas and glimpses into alternate realities.

Aa’li’naa was tried and found potentially not evil-snake-person; she has been granted access to Roguetown. The library in Roguetown contains sections which might be useful for understanding/navigating the jungle’s factions, admittance may be possible in future.

LOG

The day dawned somewhat incongruously brightly, given the grim task we had set ourselves to (i.e., escorting Martin to something unknown but certainly unpleasant). We safely traversed the plains to the portal, passing some ruins which were empty and of little interest to my colleagues.

We exited the portal to find ourselves in the midst of a grotesque tableaux. The area within a 100 foot radius was slightly hazy, as if shrouded by a faint, intangible mist. We were surrounded by 54 blurred, frozen figures. Though otherwise paralyzed, their eyes would roll to orient on you at your approach. Proximity resulted in a low-grade staticky hum. Lee-Jean poked one with a stick and the fuzziness began to quickly spread along it. When she released it, the stick remained suspended in the air. Beth determined that they were inhabiting a demi-plane — that they had been knocked slightly out of phase, towards the ethereal plane but not fully into it. They were left conscious, immobile, and slowly starving to death.

We left the area and Martin sent to Opal, our Flowing Way contact. He had messaged her earlier to inquire as to where he might report to the Consuming Way and been told to ask again on our arrival. She told us to head east and follow the ‘obvious tracks,’ then asked if we had brought someone able to sense Ki. We had, perhaps shortsightedly, not. We followed the tracks northward. After an hour’s travel, a flare went up a half-hour to our south-west. We followed it and eventually reached a clearing in which two figures in slashed red robes stood before a large bonfire. One was poised to send up another flare, although we had not approached stealthily and one could not help but wonder whether that pose had been assumed solely as an insult.

They ordered Martin to put on the poison duke’s armour, which we had thought it more decorous not to wear. When it was donned, the monks reached down and pressed their hands on either side of the fire. Red light flowed down their arms and the flames twisted and shrank into a single, radiant point, then blossomed out into a tall, burly figure in solid red robes. The flames dissipated and left him standing before us, fully corporeal. The teleportation process looked quite draining on the two subordinates.

He taunted Martin — to the tune of ‘you saw something pretty and took it,’ ‘perhaps you will think more deeply when next you see something that you want that is not yours’ — and then pressed a finger to Martin’s eye. The eye vaporized and light washed over Martin’s skin. Lines rippled down the armour and the detailings etched into it seemed to come alive — images of warfare and slaughter lit up, seeming to move and bleed. The armour pulsed and glowed and burned. The light took on a golden tint, then the armour collapsed in pieces off his body and disappeared into puffs of smoke. The monk told him: “You will now forever be part something greater than you could ever be. Do not cross the river. Do not enter the territory. All who do will be consumed.” We decided not to pipe up that we were, in fact, intending to cross the river almost immediately.

When the smoke cleared, Martin was left shaken [drop roll, temp disadv. on initiative] with a ball of fire in his eye socket, casting as much light as a torch. He later discovered a new ability — on successfully using offensive magic against a creature, he can expend further magical energy or burn himself to gain certain insight into it [when he hits with a spell attack or it fails its save, can spend a spell slot or take 1d6 fire damage to learn creature’s type, AC, senses, best save, worst save, a vulnerability, or a resistance].

We headed back west towards A’sshel’t’kov’s outpost. En route, we became aware of a low, musical hum emanating from all around us. We felt a vibration run through us and saw that the shadows extending from our feet — the sun was directly overhead — were two long snakes, curling back and forth. Beth activated detect magic and saw that this was an exploitation of some sort of tension between us and something else; it was hiding within our shadows and using them as a conduit to appear to us. Lee-Jean demanded that they reveal themselves. They did.

A black snake and a white snake formed crawling up each of us. They gave off illusion magic and something else without an arcane classification and were strongly Outsider with a veneer of celestial (the black snake) and fiend (the white). Lee-Jean asked them what they wanted and they began to stare into our eyes. It created a hypnotic feeling — disconcerting but not unpleasant. She asked why they were here and the realization formed spontaneously in her mind that words were not the way to communicate. We felt our consciousnesses begin to fade. I looked away [wis save, 17 passed] and was suddenly aware that strength is respectable. Martin tried to hum along with them — inexpertly, but then his humming changed to meld into theirs. Beth thought about her prior experiences in the jungle — the earlier snake visions, the modrons — and tried to contextualize them in that system. She felt them become more regular and pantomimic and gained a sudden awareness that a life so skeptical of wonder really has its drawbacks. Lee-Jean felt as if she was assessing potentialities, seeing what could be, and the thought formed that living with contradictions will eventually grind down the spirit.

We then experienced an onslaught of images of ourselves in different lives, parallel worlds. Martin found it difficult to withstand and was badly distracted for the remainder of the expedition [disadvantaged drop roll: temp -3 int, leaving him at a delightful 2 int for most of the session]. Each of us was left a strong impression from one of the visions. Lee-Jean remembered being a high elf and learned [TBD wizard cantrip]. Beth saw a version of Lorress with elves living on its outskirts where she had been half-elven and her eyes physically changed, gaining darkvision. Martin remembered a life as a halfling and retained the knack of hiding behind creatures larger than him. I remembered working as a detective and picked up a few investigatory tricks [adv on investigation checks to look to clues, find secret doors].

The thought insinuated itself that an offering would be appropriate — perhaps blood. Lee-Jean cut herself for the snakes to drink from, Beth and I held out our hands to be bitten. When the black snake delicately bit my hand, I felt a warning and an apology — to be careful, that this place damages the soul, that the snake was sorry. Beth and Lee-Jean received that realization that they will be more capable if they grow stronger. Abruptly, the shadows, the humming, and the tension disappeared. We stood in the middle of a clearing, with many large snakes forming a circle around us. They bowed in unison and dispersed. Two hours seemed to have passed.

We carried on and reached the warden outpost. They have constructed a wall around the base since the assault, which was being repaired and cleaned by several modrons. The wall was scorched and pock-marked but only superficially. A warden opened the door and escorted us through, while others set up a table with provisions.

Several minutes later, A’sshel’t’kov approached and greeted us with a smooth cordiality. Then he asked why Martin was not wearing the poison duke armour. His demeanour changed abruptly on hearing the explanation. He chastised us for not bringing the matter to him — we had cost him a valuable opportunity to set up a targeted assassination of a high-level apostate. We had delivered a powerful magical item into the hands of his enemies, without even the courtesy to warn him that another poison duke would be spawning shortly (almost as if no one had explained to us how the armour worked — but I must assume that our ally had mentioned this to us previously). And after he had so magnanimously allowed us to keep that armour, trusting us to protect it, etc., etc.

He was unswayed by our protestation that we had been forced into a promise — as the jungle promises are much more malleable than we might assume, which he certainly could (would?) have told us if only we had asked. Our diplomatic ventures are confusing, our vacillations undignified, and to not even consider approaching him about this tantamount to an insult. (Throughout I did not sense any particular feeling on his part that there was any hypocrisy to demanding our trust and candor without offering us his.) He left us with the idea that perhaps it would be desirable to salvage something of the day by completing our proposed mission to induct Aa’li’naa into Roguetown. The door was then firmly indicated.

After leaving, the party had a brief discussion about what intelligence Aa’li’naa would be providing to him as several guild members are very fond of Roguetown, and at any rate wary of turning them into enemies. Aa’li’naa said that she intended to report back to the wardens but in the end we decided to leave it to the Black Wing pentadrone to decide how best to protect any important information.

When asked about the scene by the portal, Aa’li’naa said it was a trap laid to take out a group of apostates. Terrifying, although at least it needs to be prepared ahead of time and cannot be cast from afar. She seemed pleased at the result.

Partway to the river, we heard movement. Lee-Jean, Beth, and Aa’li’naa snuck to investigate and reported four apostates: one older, robed and carrying a familiar, and three young adults. Aa’li’naa wanted to kill them, I questioned the morality and the prudence. She explained that the apostates were exiled because they had selfishly put everyone else in danger but could not say how. I refused to kill based on that and was wary of initiating further violent retaliation from them. At length we let it be.

We crossed the river safely with Martin’s ritual water walk. The pentadrone was waiting outside the gates of Roguetown when we approached, and clearly prepared to act as judge; it wore powdered wigs on each of its five limbs. A monodrone handed Aa’li’naa manacles, which she dutifully put on, and brought her forward. The pentadrone launched into a prepared speech — “We have before us one who is a snake person. There are no redeeming features which could possibly induce me to-” — only to be interrupted by a monodrone crying out in distress that its cat was escaping and would surely run into danger! Aa’li’naa dove forward to rescue the cat (a monodrone with cat ears stuck on). When news of that noble act was relayed to the pentadrone (modrons can only perceive other modrons within one rank of themselves, so the story had to be farcically repeated up through the ranks), it determined that perhaps she could be redeemed — could at least be tried, for what is more heroic than saving a defenceless and beloved pet. Reading the logs can really only prepare one so much for actually meeting the delightfully melodramatic Black Wing.

Beth, Lee-Jean, Martin, and I were set up as proxies who would complete trials on Aa’li’naa’s behalf, before she underwent the final challenge. We were given four trials and allowed to assign them as we thought best. The Terrible Trials were as follows:

Gentle Restraint: Martin was taken to an interrogation chamber and seated before a modron who hurled vicious insults at him — “Is that your face, or is that a snake with a hat on it?” Warden weaponry was compared to various types of fecal matter. The political intrigues of the wardens were deemed uninteresting. Oubliette was referred to as — steel yourselves, gentle readers — not the most impressive fortress they had seen. Martin remained unphased. Finally they gave up and told him that he was too good at this and had caused them to doubt their job performance. He assured them that they had done very well (and surely an evil snake-person would not be so kind?)

Friendly Virtue: Lee-Jean was assigned an essay in which she was to detail her goodness (or rather, Aa’li’naa’s) and what she admired about Roguetown. It was judged in terms of its honesty, grammar, and adherence to modron values. A modron consumed her essay and approved it wholeheartedly.

Noble Answering of Mathematical Questions: I was taken to the sub-sub-basement of the Proving Grounds (passing through a library containing sections on warden weapons, strategy/tactics, and geometric theory). The proctor gave me the test and then marched out of the room after instructing me not to look at the answer key — presumably contained in the large booklet ostentatiously labelled ‘Warden Secret Weaknesses and Our Plans to Exterminate All the Wardens.’ I immediately and loudly proclaimed my love for math and disinterest in any form of cheating and got on to the test, which was far about my capabilities. At the end of two hours, my good proctor returned and triumphantly threw open the door with an AHA! sure that I would have fallen for their cunning ruse. It then demonstrated that had I opened the forbidden book, I would have been caught in a hold person. It demonstrated this by opening the book and activating that glyph itself, prompting other modrones to burst in and accuse it of being an evil snake-person.

Sustained Counting: Beth was taken to a spherical room and instructed to count to 1 million, by ones, while monodrones whacked her calves with lead pipes — as evil people have no heart to counting. She counted out loud for many hours, as they alternatively bruised her legs and then rubbed healing salves on them. By the next day, she was bleary-eyed and exhausted but triumphant.

Aa’li’naa was brought to the Chamber of Judgement. The pentadrone tested her virtue by demanding that she agree to give it any information it requested on the wardens and the guild. She correctly demurred on account of loyalty. He announced the good news — that she is ‘no longer the Evil-Snake-Person Aa’li’nna, but the Probably-Still-An-Evil-Snake-Person-We-Have-Decided-To-Give-A-Second-Chance-To Aa’li’nna (pending discovery of her true evil nature).’ All involved seem to be getting side-eyed, but no matter. We received three chits which we traded for four books, listed above.

The day passed peacefully. We went to the Church where Lee-Jean donated 5 gp, I donated 1 gp, and I received a chit (redeemed for a pair of glasses attachments giving darkvision and limited truesight). Beth took a stroll with her steadfast suitor Lieutenant Scar. A modron dressed as Pierre told us about a parade in the works depicting a mirrored version of our guild. Lee-Jean spent the afternoon providing direction to them so I expect it will be superlative. Aa’li’naa issued a challenge to one Commander Bush, who apparently still greatly distrusts her. She will prove herself by sneaking up on him; if she fails, he may shoot her once. I was allowed to scan the library’s section on geometric theory but not the more consequential sections. They may grant visiting reading rights to those if we bring them books relating to planar portals.

In the morning we set off on a toad-hunt (the modrons had given us a bounty for one). We were attacked by a new type of poison spawn — tall and slender, bubbling with green poison, vast bone-shard wings, gaping maw, sharp proboscis. It released a miasma that caused a slow effect and attacked with claws and proboscis. It was agile and exceedingly difficult to hit. It maneuvered around us to use us as cover against each other but did not target based on armour. When struck with melee attacks, it gushes poison onto its attacker [20 dmg from one backlash]. Initially, that damage could not be healed by lay on hands or healing word but we were later able to heal it with the gourd and cure wounds. We speculate that the creature has an aura which blocks healing in a radius around it. It is resistant to lightning. Radiant seems normally effective. It is not vulnerable to any damage types. We did a fair amount of damage to it and it flew into the air. Aa’li’naa and Lee-Jean fired shots after it. It threw down a pair of sharp bone spurs and dropped Lee-Jean, then flew away laughing.

We returned to Roguetown to rest and tried again on the third day. We found and killed a giant toad. Spotting a small red flag planted in the ground, we unearthed a beautifully crafted and abjured chalcedony and teak box with teeth detailing around the edges, containing a diamond figurine of a weretiger.

We crossed back over the river. I was curious about how deep it was and Aa’li’naa obliging stuck her head in and reported 25 feet here. Aa’li’naa lead us to a displacer beast cave (between the portal and A’sshel’t’kov’s base) for Neaten to scout. She has seen them drowning a weretiger, so expect some level of tactics if fighting them. Neaten reported several weird big cats, shimmering water, fancy armour (heavier than breastplate), and another tunnel.

Aa’li’naa split off to return to A’sshel’t’kov and the rest of us headed for the portal. The frozen apostates remained as before. We decided to kill them in what turned out to be a rather unmerciful mercy killing. We shot one and saw the arrow sink slowly into them with a sluggish bloom of blood as their eyes rolled wildly. Extrapolating, the arrow would have taken nearly 30 minutes to fully embed itself. The time distortion means that it might have taken months, maybe up to a year, for dehydration to kill them.

We returned to the plains and saw Crested Skull being attacked by asshole birds. We stood by and waited for the birds to finish killing them (the justification: they would be unlikely to help us, why should we help them?). The birds made relatively short work of our erstwhile allies, we killed the surviving birds, then took the now-unattended cart of fela silk. Onwards we went. We came upon two ogres, snuck up on them, and killed them. Hasting, smiting. The whole nine yards. It was very efficient work. We acquired from them a pile of coins and two books (a poetry chapbook and a magical elocution primer). The remainder of the trip was uneventful and we returned having successfully accomplished our named goals.

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