The Heir to Disaster

Session 37
Dark Aelish

Dark Aelish travels with a cohort of her own through southern Drazako. She makes way for Kalir, the sixth spoke of Corinth’s Meridian (since the inciting event at Imia). She and her cohort have with them the magic mirror found first by the Starhunters in the crypt of the Death Knight Athyxander. Aodh senses the mirror itself to be an artifact of the Meridian. Aodh, however, also senses a second artifact elsewhere. None can be sure what this means; which is the correct artifact?

A tense standoff with Dark Aelish and her cohort ensues at the meeting of her party with that of the Starhunters. One Aelish accuses the other of being a “monster” and a pawn of the powerful and mysterious vizier, Azdar. The Aelish with the silver streak in her hair demands to know why her doppelganger wears the clothes of Astral creatures, the ‘Mind Flayers’ that digested her thoughts. At these severe recriminations both Aelishes balk and are shamefully silent to one another. Aelish lights the Truth Tallow and stands her astral-clad twin in its light.

Many questions are leveled to Dark Aelish in this way, by Aelish and the other Starhunters. When the interrogation is exhausted, the tallow is carried before the rest of the cohort: Vilmos, Orban, Lililivren, and even young Marfa. Throughout the inquiry, it comes to light that Dark Aelish purchased the mirror from a traveler near Arsam—and that Eladriel guided her to acquire it. The Starhunters remain wary and mistrustful, especially of an unseen actor working upon the cohort or the mirror, for they saw the piteous old woman while inside the mirror speaking through it, to the outside. None among the cohort can attest to speaking into the mirror, and the magic of the tallow’s light blots out lies as well as it does darkness.

The Starhunters seek each other for council. Aelish contacts Lord Marquis Dessan Almdor with a miracle, his testimony avers he is Azdar’s prisoner—and that Dark Aelish’s story about being saved from the Astral Plane by his hand is ‘impossible’. If Dark Aelish is not a liar, she has been led far astray from truth. Or Almdor is lying. A’Kelah vies to abandon Dark Aelish and even the mirror. She sees a chance to get ahead and back on schedule for the next artifact due outside Ibeadra (which is still weeks away in early Kapryn). The others vote her down in favor of keeping Dark Aelish close, the better to observe her doings as they do not trust her. They remain undecided, for now, as to what they will ultimately do about her.

Days pass as their collective southern route leads them to the River Drayptur, but Dark Aelish allows the company of the Starhunters so long as she and Vallon lead. During this time, Leonidas notices Lililivren’s sigils, won in ritualized elven combat. They prick the old bard with twinges of bygone remorse.

The experience in Imris has made the Starhunters more sensitive spirits. Aodh has sensed a change in himself and in that of Aelish as well, but he does not fully know what it means. He pesters the bard for greater understanding about Dark Aelish on these matters, but Leonidas is mum. However, prolonged observation does lead Leonidas to learn the secret of Dark Aelish’s soul, yet he tells no one of his conclusion.

Bored by the snub of his old friend Leonidas, Aodh attempts to befriend and charm the sage Vilmos so that he can ultimately gather more information on the cohort. Vilmos, though cagey, is somewhat forthcoming with the rogue—being susceptible to flattery in the end.

Along the riverbank the two parties encounter fishers and trappers; they enter the lands of the Host of Khalkaszh, the wild men of Drazako. Dark Aelish trades with the men. The wild men urge them to visit their leader, Greyplume. Since neither party trusts the other alone with the mirror, a group consisting of members from each party is selected and the two bands split up. Fendrys, Aodh, and Leonidas go along with Vallon. The rest remain behind at the river with the mirror. The violent reputation of the Khalkaszh does not reveal itself, but Greyplume exacts his tolls and laughs at the folly of the outsiders when they tell him where they are headed. His men lead them to the ‘forbidden land’, the ‘abode of devils’, from where it is said, no one returns.

PROGRESS Aelish Aodh A’Kelah Fendrys Leonidas
TOTAL XP 62576 60766 61026 62776 62301
Session 37 1500 1500 1500 1500 1500
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Session 36
Refraction

Caught in a strange space between places, the Starhunters battle with a large alien being and its three attendants. These brainy, tentacled things lair in a bizarre cavity of compressed dust and long lost detritus. The Starhunters fling their spells and arrows at the creatures, but the spatial distortions here sour many of their efforts. As the melee rages, with the master creature emitting bolts of lightning off its protective force-shield, a watery-ceiling is being pulled down on them from overhead in mockery of gravity. As the water level reaches waist height, after everyone’s heads are already submerged, Damir slays the creature with only seconds of breathable air remaining at the floor. Its death stops the water from entirely filling the chamber.

In the aftermath, A’Kelah explores the water filled chamber above. The Starhunters come to realize some of the trinkets in this place are more recent and are not yet incorporated into the matrix of the ‘walls’. Each trinket bears some psychic connection to a place—presumably where it was lost or to the person who owned it. Fendrys recovers the golden ring entrusted to him by Aelish. The psychic trail of the ring leads to an echo of Stonehollow, a slate colored imprint of a place near and dear to the ranger’s heart; his boyhood climbing tree. This echo place, and all the others they find like it however, are just as inescapable as the monster’s lair; the lair itself acts as some sort of hub at the center of these trinket-place-spokes. Aelish too finds the gorget from Małgorzata’s armor, her trophy of victory over that fiend, in this place. The creature here was somehow able to steal these items remotely while they entered this place.

While they consider their options, Leonidas realizes his pack is overrun with spiders. They are on the loose from the jar which has strangely opened with a gash somehow. The bard throws down his pack, does a frantic shake-off dance, and promptly exits through the nearest ancillary trinket portal. He promptly leaves the jar and all of his companions behind with barely a word. Aodh, not even done rolling his eyes at the bard’s panic, rushes over and smartly plugs the jar’s opening with hot wax and oakum.

They briefly consider (the attempt of) using the golden ring to escape this nowhere place, however the echo space tied to the gorget bears investigation first. By following the psychic trail of the gorget, they are taken to an impression of a convent garden, every surface slate colored like the others. This garden is from Aelish’s formative years, yet two things about it are different. There is a lone inhabitant already present, an old woman, and she stands near a frameless window that floats, still, in the air over a central fountain. The woman’s accent and appearance mark her as someone from western Rynas, but she is not acting quite right.

The old woman boasts of how ‘they’ have “savored Aelish’s thoughts, tasted her worries and joys”. She attempts to strike a bargain with them, leveraging how imprisoned they are. Aelish makes it very clear there will be no deals made with this emissary, citing the cautionary words of Azdar of all persons, in regards to the danger that poses. After rest and prayer and consideration, Leonidas takes Aofh with him through the looking glass. He uses his magic to teleport them into the window of this place, to wherever and whatever lies beyond on the other side. When the old woman witnesses their escape, her voice breaks into a tremor. Her skull cracks open and a terrible, winged brain bug worms its way out! This is an even more gruesome repeat of what had happened with the Mother-Superior in Elansory because this time the victim of this terrible mind parasite was still alive when it broke free.

Aelish and Vallon are discovered by Leonidas and Aodh in the beyond, out there leading a party—which includes young Marfa—south out of the steppe-lands. Aodh uses his geminate blade to show their friends the inside the mirror-prison what is happening; this also allows Aelish to see the other three back inside as well. A’Kelah uses her own magic to escape, following Leonidas’ example. After a tense and surprised confrontation, A’Kelah is allowed to examine the mirror; she summons forth Fendrys and Aelish to the scene with the item’s own magic. The tense standoff continues, all the more chaotic for having three new voices added to the mix. A’Kelah signals Leonidas to turn the mirror on Aelish and Vallon, both disappear as hoped for when shown their reflection.

However, A’Kelah is then assaulted by an invisible, phantom force. She quits the scene and the mirror drops down, flat against the ground. Not long after, while everyone wonders what is happening with the veer, Vallon escapes the mirror somehow. Aelish inexplicably reappears at the mirror and is seen helping the elf out again—having also used the mirror’s magic word as A’Kelah had done only moments ago.

Aelish is furious at the betrayal, the attempt to trap her and Vallon. Confused and devastated, she addresses herself,


“Is it not enough for you to take away my friends? Must you also take this company from me!? Must you insert yourself in my business here when you could be of better use further ahead!?”

PROGRESS Aelish Aodh A’Kelah Fendrys Leonidas
TOTAL XP 61076 59266 59526 61276 60801
Session 36 2766 2766 2766 2766 2766
View
Session 35
Lost and Found

Leonidas examines the stars and reckons they have just ten days before the next artifact of the Meridian activates—on Threemoon, 2nd of Nabor. Departing the silt and calm of the wasteland, they make all haste through the taiga. With their grim business in the wasteland of Imris concluded, the Starhunters take an eastern trail. They eventually find the vestiges of the old road that once connected the ancient and lost Shrine of Votive Jars to Ensroth. Who will ever believe them that the place was once host to a fell Night-twist tree of the bygone Huyaban witch-cult? Or that an angel razed the tree with one magnificent stroke? And that they were each there to witness the event with mortal eyes?
Aodh and Leonidas, over weary from their experiences in the shrine, struggle to keep up with Fendrys’ sure-footed lead. After three days time, they meet up with the river Drayptur and find an old wooden castle guarding a drawbridge. The inhabitants of the castle and the Starhunters both meet each other with caution, but cool heads win the day. Lady Kresimira, a baroness and widow welcomes them into her home. She is a proud warrior, oath-sworn to Myrnoch. Her castle keeps a watch on the border here for trolls and the risen dead that sometimes stray northward from nearby Limare.

======

Aodh insults the Baroness almost immediately, is nearly cast out, and instead finds warmth in the low-born bed of an indentured girl. Kresimira presents the rest of them with the news that Lady Bozhena, Duchess of Mosperas has laid siege to Ensroth. The duchess is unhappy with the town’s decision to join the Braided League, citing lost revenues; diplomacy has failed. Kresimira hears the tale of the Starhunters, but when they indicate they will steer clear of the siege, it is clear that she finds their courage—and their honesty—lacking.
The misunderstanding between what Kresimira expects of the Starhunters and the path they take is a prelude to their return to civilization after a month or more of deadly peregrination. The Starhunters depart at dawn, again through the wild places, avoiding Ensroth and its bitter siege. His Eminence, the great Fulcrum Fosoran XII reaches out to Aelish with a miracle. His tidings tell of ominous portents he has foreseen in Athemay’s guidance. The dead will walk in the capital. An army of goblins musters against the holy city of Encer. The Fulcrum exhorts Aelish to do what she will against these threats. The Arch-Guardian resolves to belay and stall even the summons of the highest magistrate in the land in favor of her holy mission; to complete her work upon the Meridian.

======

With Ensroth skirted, Fendrys leads the crew to join up again with the Bentcrest Guideway. The inns and tolls and mundane business of the road alienate the Starhunters. The weaver, the cook, the washer woman, the itinerant soldier, the wagoner with his load of grain, these people know nothing of the brutal horrors that lurk off the roads to which they cling. The Starhunters see bliss and ignorance in the smiles and humble troubles they encounter on the road. Sleep is hard to come by. A soft bed feels coarse, an ill-fit for scarred bodies and scarred minds. After the nightmares of the astral world, after meeting the darkness of a death-that-walks, each of the Starhunters is left wondering if they can ever truly walk again in comfort amidst their fellow countrymen.
In Emidar, a town also with a Braided League charter, the travelers re-supply and prepare to collect the artifact bound for Kalir. Aodh can already sense it. During their interlude there, Leonidas realizes there are rumors in town of Aelish having already been here. An investigation at an inn known as ‘The Fool & Cask’ reveals that, indeed, Aelish has been through here less than a week ago. Without much else to go on, they hurry east onto broad steppe lands of Drazako in search of the next artifact. Aodh guidance remains true. They find an ancient tollstone, tilted and half buried out in the steppe where nothing else but hardy grass and open sky can be found for miles.

======

Fendrys’ early investigation causes him to vanish from sight. As they all press on after him, space itself bends around the old tollstone in ways unimaginable, in ways that cannot properly be expressed here with mere words and temporal notions. They head into—and around and beyond—feeling always as though they are going down into the horizon. As the sky closes in around them, the scene darkens and begins to feel almost like a cave. While they fumble in this strangeness readying their weapons and lights, Aelish and Fendrys each realize they are missing something. The former, her trophy from the succubus and Fendrys the magic, golden ring!

======

They hear the familiar purring of the tentacled panther beast that once stalked A’Kelah and Aelish in the astral realm. Something in this outer non-place contacts their minds and summons them near. Fendrys then, duped by the summons, is gathered up in the stinging tentacles of a beaked and floating thing, a being which could only exist in the eternities between worlds where the rationale of the gods’ plan for life on Em is warped or missing completely. A yet larger aberration stares out at them here, with an eye ringed by tentacles and a toothsome maw. It lords over a pile of lost trinkets in an upside-down world. More creatures like the one ensnaring the ranger, in league with the central monstrosity, hove overhead to attack!

PROGRESS Aelish Aodh A’Kelah Fendrys Leonidas
TOTAL XP 58310 56500 56760 58510 58035
Session 35 1500 1700 1500 1500 1500
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Sessions 33 & 34
The Death of Athyxander / The Birth of Levesath

At the base of the Altar-shaft of Vela, the Starhunters shine their lights on surfaces that have rested in the quiet dark for unknown years. Motes of dust kicked up by their trespass flicker at knee-height. Below the church they explore ancient rectory facilities—a dormitory, a kitchen—and ossuaries where the bones of many hundreds of dead lend their shape and sculpture to the Shrine’s deep sanctum. One by one, they discover the remains of the fearsome yet pitiful ghosts haunting the nave above. Mistress Ursula sits in a corner, the very portrait of despair. Her husband, Zenon collapsed in the columbarium; apart from his beloved. The immature bones of their child, fetal-curled, are found in a font between them. Its little skull is cracked and delicate, like a robin’s egg.

The only things stirring down here are a handful of undead, though their minds are hollow and they simply paw at the walls in hopeless stupefaction. Rather than silence their misery, the Starhunters simply give them each a wide berth. Leonidas adds to the stirring of the dead by using a mystic scroll he found in the choir of the cathedral above. They have discovered some prior explorers who did not escape the ever present death of this place. The bard’s scroll grants a crude mockery of life to one of them so that it may speak and tell its tale. The dead man’s skull hisses out a name, “Peter” and that “the spirit of Corinth is beyond the Ossuary…”. Peter and his fellows died in this place, expiring to the ‘wails of the dead’, some 300 years ago. Fendrys takes a bearded axe and A’Kelah a dagger (a ‘geminate’ blade); she informs them that both of these weapons are enchanted.

============

During their charting of the crypts and rectory, something above cuts the rope they used to descend the shaft. Damir doubles back to investigate but finds nothing. The Starhunters have been cautions and as yet unmolested down here beneath the cathedral. Only two things remain for their investigation: a blasphemous ‘soul forge’ found in one of the ossuaries and a corridor of total blackness entire, such that no light will penetrate it. The soul forge is an anvil ringed by skulls set beneath an iron web for catching spirits. A’Kelah says it can be used to transpose spirits into physical objects. This information confirms for Aelish and Leonidas that at least one of the rumors they have heard about the dastardly and unsavory secrets of the Velan priesthood must be true.

At last and (mostly) unaffrighted, they each pass into the ‘Tenebrous Stair’. Their conduct through this causeway of abject darkness is born on many dozens of spectral hands. The hands are of course unseen, but they each feel them under their heels, tugging behind their knees, curling fingers around their toes, and brushing against their belts. They are deposited at the foggy threshold before Knight-Commander Athyxander’s tomb. At their encroachment upon his throne, Athyxander rises; dust spills out of the folds of his ancient tatters. The death knight musters the sorrowful remains of his once mighty army. A’Kelah, kept safe by her protective scarab, opens with a salvo of magic. A stygian blast of wind and ice pours from her palm. Leonidas, finding the spirit world so close in this place, animates the lids of sarcophagi and other debris with an incantation. The animated stones buy everyone precious time to scramble for cover as the death knight launches a blast of hellfire from an outstretched hand. Eagle-eyed Fendrys sinks arrows into the chinks of the knight’s armor while the last of his soldiers fall to Aodh’s fire-hammer. Leonidas calls upon the grey wolf spirit for aid and the beast crosses swords with the knight. A destructive wave from Athyxander levels the gathering, but the prayers of Aelish keep her companions intact. A second blast of fire, this one from the bard, topples crumbling columns which crush an undead soldier, narrowly doing Aelish the same harm. She rises from the wreckage, cursing the death knight just in time for Fendrys to deliver the killing stroke.

============

The tumult of the battle has sundered the floor, exposing a venous cavern of total darkness below. Issuing from those cracks are the cries and roars of a large and terrible beast that seems to be suffering, as though caught or injured. Fendrys calls upon the newly met dryad spirit for guidance. In a voice that hums like wasp wings, that babbles like a clear stream, the elven maid indicates it is within Aelish’s power (if she joins with the Lawstone) to abolish the Night-twist tree—the hateful roots of which penetrate well into Athyxander’s sanctum. The Starhunters approach the Lawstone—the mysterious skull found buried beneath a turtle shell hidden within a giant’s graveyard is assumed by the obelisk. Each member of the group this time conjoins with the quintessence that wheels around the Meridian; each is changed forever—in a way unique to them—by the union.

All that remains in Imris for the Starhunters is to gather the spoils of their deed and exit (though they must admit they do not know the way ‘out’). An extravagant hoard of platinum and silver, ancient coins from dwarven and elven times, is amassed at the empty throne of Athyxander. Each Starhunter though, takes only a handful. Aelish outfits herself with the powerful armaments of the death knight—his sword and shield—decorated in yellow gold with leonine devices. While sifting through the trash and treasure, A’Kelah discovers perhaps the greatest wonder of all the precious items gathered here, a mirror.

============

The mirror is enchanted and its potent magic can trap an entire person, from their soul down to their every last hair, behind its silvered glass. A’Kelah has discovered that one entity yet remains held within one of the mirror’s twelve chambers and she knows how to release it. After some debate, and plenty of arcane and sacred protections, the Starhunters elect to summon the entity housed in the mirror. An enigmatic fae creature whose very name is ‘a lovelorn sigh’ arrives in immediate protest of the Truth Tallow’s light. He offers a ‘ring for a ring’. His bargain: they unbind him from the magic circle they have placed around the mirror (that he has stepped into) and in exchange, he gives them a golden ring meant for his previous master. He is coy about the ring’s magic, but they ultimately decide to release him. He flings the jewelry at Aelish and vanishes in a puff of glitterdust. A’Kelah determines the ring’s power—and she is nearly as coy as the fae man about its properties.

It is at this point that Leonidas reveals how the Lawstone has affected him, what he has ‘seen’ on the souls of Aodh and Aelish. He says the souls of both the halfling and the cleric are augmented somehow. Their ‘shadows’ are not their own, though in truth his facility with death magic and the gods are both too shallow to fully understand the meaning of this observation. The Starhunters discuss these comments nervously, mixing accusation with conjecture.

============

Relieved to find the Tenebrous Stair is no more, and now just an ordinary staircase, the Starhunters depart the crypts of the shrine, leaving the beast below to howl alone in the darkness. In the cathedral above they discover parenthetical chapels of Athemay and Eladriel. A magic blindfold is found tied around Athemay’s head. The halfling, growing accustomed to the works of sorcery, takes ownership of the item. In Eladriel’s chapel the twin for A’Kelah’s ‘geminate blade’ is found (and it goes to Fendrys). There in the safety and grace of Eladriel’s chapel, Aelish announces to the group to profound power made clear to her by the Lawstone.

She will enact a miracle beyond the minor wonders promised to the elect. She will visit Atho’s will upon Em and an angel will live; a new star will brighten the firmament ever after. Aelish prays. Outside in answer; in the black bog, a blazing white light streams through the cracks of the desiccated cathedral. The angel Levesath, that spared them all from the certain death of a volcano, arrives. Damir weeps at the sight. Levesath washes Fendrys with its merciful pity. Then, a single shot from its golden bow unmakes the Night-twist tree in a mighty flash not of destruction, but Creation.

The Starhunters return to their senses, dazed and face down in the silt. They are back in the wasteland of Imris where, in place of a dark tree and empty shrine, there is once again a stone monolith.

PROGRESS Aelish Aodh A’Kelah Fendrys Leonidas
TOTAL XP 56810 54800 55260 57010 56535
Session 33 4000 4200 4000 4100 4200
Session 34 2800 2600 2600 2800 2800
View
Session 32
'Be Wary of Dark Spirit'

The antechamber of the Shrine of Votive Jars offers the Starhunters relative safety from the dangers of acidic slime and roving dead out in the swamp. Feeling alone and enclosed, they catch their breath while Leonidas sings an old elven song about hope in dark times. The antechamber is home to a large collection of shoes taken off by shrine visitors who never returned here to reclaim them.

At last they pry open another set of doors and carry forth torch and lantern light into the blackness of the Shrine’s nave. Dozens of large jars with lids chained at their tops stand in rows to either side. More large suits of armor stand in silent guard. Fendrys readies his bow, but when they do no react, he pauses. A’Kelah chucks a lone shoe at one of them which serves only to startle someone or something in the shadows beyond. A child bellows out a scream. Moving ahead they see phantom footprints scamper away, leaving imprints in the fine layer of silt and ash that covers nearly everything.

=====

A’Kelah arms herself with a javelin from the sentinel armor and tests the floor. One of the smaller jars has tipped over and Damir rights it, setting it back in place. As they cross the transept, Aelish does an about-face and marches right back to one of a few of the jars without a chained lid and climbs inside.

Fendrys rushes over to try to pull her out, but he is not fast enough. Something then overcomes Fendrys as well and he instead begins to aid her by placing the lid on the jar. Aelish begins to wail and cry for ‘her child.’ Her screams issue from the jar as though it were a cannon, resounding along the vaulted ceiling above. A’Kelah and Damir argue about what is to be done about this strange behavior. Aodh starts to bash at the jar with his dwarven hammer, hoping to break her out like a chick from an egg.

At this, the (clearly) possessed Fendrys becomes truculent and throws punches at Aodh and Leonidas for their disruptions. Leonidas, however, expels the dark spirit from Fendrys with an incantation. Aodh and Damir and A’Kelah all realize in unison they can merely tip the jar over—and they do. Aelish crashes out of it. The glass breaks and Aelish gathers her wits. She finds jewelry amid the ashen glass wreckage of the funeral jar. Hurrying away from this scene, A’Kelah finds another fallen jar closer to the wall. It partially covers a hole in the floor that leads to a bone-filled chamber under the church. They do not investigate.

=====

Beyond the transept they find a trio of altars. Aelish leaves behind the silver jewelry at the pantheist altar. Leonidas uncovers some sheets of music and other writings with a set of pipes. A’Kelah purloins some old vials sitting unused. Inspecting a statue of the Velan Usher, St. Tytus the Veer, Aelish finds a wondrous candle which A’Kelah tells her is a Truth Tallow (those in it’s radiance must tell the truth; the dead are even less honest than the living).

The apse of the shrine is overgrown with the black, oily roots of the Night-twist tree that have wormed their way inside the edifice from outside. A mess of spiderwebs, thick as spun sugar, spans the gaps of the roots. They spy something glinting, caught up in the webs, halfway or more to the roof. In a heartbeat, a cluster of giant spiders descend their webs in the darkness. One of the spiders has horribly mutated, having fed on the (now deceased) Mind Flayer seen a moment ago in the webs. Aodh panics and flees to the choir to hide behind furniture. Leonidas is bitten, then turns invisible and also retreats. Venom stings his muscles, but he stays alert. A’Kelah blasts the arachnids with a pair of ice storms that bash the spindly legs and rip apart webbing though she too falls back. Aelish falls back as well to rally around her fearful allies. Fendrys and Damir hold fast and raise their weapons. The mutant spider blasts them all with high-pitched keen that dazes their minds; Fendrys and A’Kelah are left slobbering during crucial, life-threatening seconds. The spiders spin both of them up in webbing while they slacken. Damir is almost killed when his head disappears inside the mutant spider’s mouth.

=====

Brave Damir extracts his head with the bracing of his shield and slays two of the spiders. Fendrys still manages to propel his arrows with the acumen of a practiced yeoman, even while poisoned and wrapped in gooey webs. Leonidas quaffs a portion of his oriss extract and pushes himself beyond his limits. The added arrows of the halfling and oriss-fueled spells of the bard finish off the spiders.

In the aftermath, A’Kelah is quick to extract rare venom from the mutant spider and gather it in a newly acquired vial. They find the aforementioned dead Mind Flayer. Strange, alien goggles are taken from the creature and given to Fendrys; they will allow their wearer to see in this darkness where even magic light fails. They notice also that the bizarre clothing of the Mind Flayer is of a material and manufacture unknown to this plane. It reminds them all of Aelish’s garments. They discuss burning the creature and even dropping the corpse down the nearby ‘altar (shaft) of Vela’. Instead, they rest.

=====

The mystic shelter of Leonidas provides a modicum of warmth, its atmosphere a little less dust choked. They each do their best to tend their wounds and rest. The sights and sounds of the near and present dead, the oppressive darkness, the venom in their veins, the fugue of oriss, and the sheer mental strain of their travails makes rest difficult.

When they are ready, Leonidas urges the group to descend the altar-shaft rather than continue exploring. First, Aelish tries to summon daylight. The malevolent power of the Night-twist tree reaches into the heavens, beyond the lunar curtain and denies Eladriel’s power right there before their eyes,. The massive trunk wrenches and groans, expunging more of its oily black ichor in protestation of the Goddess.

Fendrys ties a knotted rope and they descend the altar-shaft in tandem in search of their destination, the Lawstone of Imris.

EXP
Aelish 3300
Aodh 4040
A’Kelah 3600
Fendrys 3300
Leonidas 3500

View
Session 31
Shadows of the Past

Muddy and blood-drenched and frightened half mad, the Starhunters rush into the dark woods of rural Zormava for as long as Aelish’s daylight can allow. They rest and wash, re-gathering their strength inside the confines of Leonidas’ mystic shelter. Azdar appears this night as a raven and coos to Aelish. He explains that he has spoken to the fiends and the risen dead of the mound, “they will not harm you”. The vizier and his silver-haired crow speak outside over the halfling’s quavering, wasting little body. Aelish demands to know why he has shown himself. Azdar demands Aodh be kept safe. And then he is gone.

The Arch Guardian need not be prodded to save her companion, however. She spends the night in deep prayer, making pleas to her goddess, Eladriel, on behalf of the dying Aodh. Killed once already and brought back from the brink, Aodh nearly rots away into dust from the touch of the undead. Aelish demonstrates once again the might of Eladriel is greater than even death—and there is no darkness or hatred that cannot be abolished by her grace. At the cleric’s touch, the rotting curse of Huyaba’s grave wardens upon the halfling is undone. The light of the sun (Holophy) returns in the morn.

====

Shaken but undeterred by the events of the burial mound, the Starhunters set off, as they always have, with an enigmatic object of power destined for one of Rynas’ lost Lawstones. Aodh is still too weak to walk under his own power and is thus carried on a stretcher by Damir and Fendrys which slows their progress.

They march on in the taiga amid brush and brambles. Skinny birch and aspen trees stand aside boulders that loom like grey ogres. After two days time, Fendrys’ ultra-keen senses notice a sourness to the wind and a faint agitation among the wild things. He knows a fiend is near. Is this some new devilry or do the terrors of the grave mound track their course? The ranger warns the others; Damir wishes to investigate. The Starhunters all talk him down from this plan.

====

Two more days pass. Leonidas is able to observe in the stars: they have lost very little time, despite the strange darkness that came over the land while in the turtle shell. Then they encounter a troop of men being led by a Knight of the White Feather—a devout warrior monk like Sir Damir. These men carry torches at midday and they creep carefully through the woods, over-wary. They seem to be caught in a private darkness and hunting a beast. Once more, Damir is eager to hail a fellow brother in arms and once more the Starhunters urge caution. The knight and his men are abandoned to whatever strange plight has befallen them.

On Bringwater, six days out from the burial mound, they cross a lonely dirt road and head into a countryside of dense willow thickets. A’Kelah, never very sure footed on land, trips over a sun-bleached caribou skeleton. The aspen and birch trees begin to share their soil with evergreen firs and spruce needles.

====

On the following evening of Stonemark, Leonidas hears a familiar wolf-call, a howl he last heard long decades ago. He and Fendrys move for a closer look at the creature as Embo rises with a full face. The wolf is an elf-friend, a soldier that carries a sword in its jaws and he tells the bard it searches for wayward elven children. The beast does not trust Fendrys, though, and bids him to leave. Leonidas soon learns, as he moves in closer, the wolf is a spirit; it rushes to the camp where it leaps into the skull they carry. One of the eye sockets of the skull now houses a dim glow. All this while, Aelish has removed herself from her friends. She fights away the urge to transform under the full moon with the steel resolve only a cleric-elect could maintain.

The full moon of Em is four days. For the next two nights, Embo’s curse proves too great and Aelish succumbs to her moon-madness. Her body is transfigured and she runs wild into the night, unaware of her actions. She awakens in strange, wild places, alone and cold. Many hours are lost while Fendrys seeks her out in the mornings. On the fourth and final night again she staves off the curse. Aelish is gradually learning to temper the animal rage that plagues her blood.

====

Eventually, with many miles of wilderness behind them, Fendrys follows old byways and game trails to an ancient stone bridge. It is half-collapsed, but sturdy enough to bear them all over a rushing river. There are no trolls at this bridge, just a lone statue of Myrnoch, pock-marked with lichen and worn by the elements. Aodh offers a dagger to the collection of rusted weapons left in times long past. Perhaps it is the halfling’s recent and daring use of the Flare-Pestle of Lost Lokken, but he actually earns a wink toward glory from the god of battle.

Beyond the river they come across fields of scarlet paintbrush, purple columbine flowers and a massive herd of caribou. A’Kelah’s esoteric geography locates a place of power and she guides Fendrys that way. Fendrys is moved to find a tree of the Old Ways, like those once venerated in Stonehollow. A tender dryad, an immortal spirit of the forest, may still call this mighty oak her home. He sends the others away as he knows the presence of outsiders could scare a dryad away. Fendrys, perhaps longing for what was lost at his home, resolves to prepare an offering as his people would have. The rest agree this is a fine opportunity to take a day and rest from their long journey. The tree is indeed home to a dryad and Fendrys’ offering is cherished. The spirit of the dryad, ineffable like that of the wolf, also abides now as a faint glow within the other of the skull’s eye sockets.

====

Just a day’s journey from the dryad tree, the Starhunters arrive at the edge of the wasteland of Imris. The place is a desert of silt. It is warm and still under an ashen sky. The only landmark is a large rock formation in the distance. On the way to it, shadows cast by statues unseen are discovered. They learn the statues are not just invisible, but untouchable as well. After various magical experimentations on the phantom shadows, Aelish’s daylight is seized by a sinister force. They are all rapidly plunged into darkness and as before, day turns to night. While the sun plummets to the horizon, they are offered a glimpse of the world changed before them. In the dead land of Imris, shadow reveals what light can hide.

The distant rock formation is actually a church at the base of a Night-twist tree of legend (but the stories say all of Huyaba’s roots were torn up). The sickly black giant’s branches are bound up in a titanic mess of spider webs. The church is surrounded by a shallow, dingy marsh. Then the sun is gone completely and a blackness like the depths of the ocean prevails. A’Kelah’s lights still do not behave her command. Aodh lights his lantern, Fendrys a torch. Through a nearby tunnel of dark vines, the souls of the familiar dead bear solemn witness to their march. The church is guarded by skeletal sentries which the Starhunters blast through with hammer strokes and sword cuts and spell-bursts.

They enter the Shrine of Votive Jars.

EXP
Aelish 2500
Aodh 2500
A’Kelah 2500
Fendrys 2500
Leonidas 2500

View
Session 30
The Daughters of Huyaba

With the Usher firmly in their grasp, Leonidas finds the first use for his enchanted, entangling rope. Pavel is thus restrained and interrogated by Aelish. Meanwhile, Fendrys investigates the digging camp downhill. He finds a man mortally wounded by one of his arrows and stays with him while a humble prayer of compassion to Eladriel is uttered. Not wishing to waste time, the giantized Aodh continues to dig into the great mound where only he knows is best. A’Kelah, being the one who has worked her magic upon the halfling, is content to supervise that operation. Damir is given a duty to watch over the horses (who will not set foot on the mound).

Pavel tells Aelish he is being paid handsomely and that his men are promised whatever else can be unearthed. He is coy about whether or not ‘the artifact’ has been located yet—and about who his patron is. The Arch Guardian considers it a forgone conclusion that the foreign vizier in the capital is responsible. Aodh seems sure what they seek is still here and that Pavel’s men have excavated the wrong places. Fendrys peeks inside ‘Grimgrin’s’ pavilion. He is in a rush and finds little to go on; he is worried the scattered men may regroup and seize upon him at any moment. Most of the Usher’s valuables are locked up in strong-boxes.

=======

During her talk with the Usher, the death priest mentioned soldiers were also among his party. Fendrys finds these soldiers gathered at the edge of the woods. They have tower shields and crossbows and move like a concerted, well-trained unit. Their leader is one Sir Molnar and he and Fendrys parley. Neither man wishes any more blood spilt; Molnar demands Pavel be brought to him as a sign of good faith. As (rotten) luck would have it, Pavel ‘Grimgrin’ is entirely disgusted by his treatment from Aelish. He escapes his bonds with shocking alacrity. He dashes off, and, with the power of Vela upon him—vanishes inside a large burial stone embedded in the mound. Aelish’s religious training informs her that the cleric has bonded with the stone—and he is rather unassailable unless the stone itself can be sufficiently disrupted. The magic of Leonidas proves impotent at wresting Pavel from the stone.

Despite this mishap, Fendrys is still hoping to avoid confrontation even if he is certain the Starhunters outmatch Molnar and his men. Being without the Usher for treaty with the soldiers, they instead disguise Leonidas as the Usher and attempt a ruse upon the soldiers. Leonidas hollers for the soldiers to disperse. It is unclear if this ruse is successful or not, but A’Kelah and Aodh continue their spell-driven digging into the mound. A wary watch is kept for the soldiers in case they return. At some point during this strange standoff upon the ancient giant burial mound, Fendrys has a stark and stirring vision. He is sent deep into contemplation by it and so he relieves Damir of his duty for the peace and quiet it offers.

=======

The soldiers do return, but only to their camp, and only to carefully but quickly take it down. They then melt into the woods and are not seen again. Hours of more digging elapse. The halfling, first a giant man, later a giant badger—the better for turning the earth—grows weary. A’Kelah too grows weary. This continued and sustained spell-action strains her connection to the Lurker, particularly while so far inland. She takes some of the bard’s Oriss extract and pushes herself beyond her normal limits. The drug works its dream-like befuddlement upon her mind but she and the halfling press on.

Late in the afternoon, Aodh strikes something hard under his badger’s claws. A’Kelah can see from her higher vantage what looks to be the exterior of a massive turtle shell, just like the one she explored in the Mossthorne swamp. The exhausted halfling relents his digging and collapses, painted brown with wet clay at the bottom of his hole. Fendrys descends and chips away at the shell with his crowbar. He is making fine progress toward a puncture, but Leonidas is impatient. The bard takes A’Kelah’s hand. His magic carries them—with a puff and snap like a matchlock—within the shell.

=======

Inside, the two spell crafters find a cauldron, magic candles, and a statuette of the six armed demoness, Hanezal. Leonidas, a master at translating ancient runes, accidentally enacts a far-speaking prayer not unlike the power at Aelish’s command. However the recipient of the prayer goes unknown. The rest of the Starhunters finish punching a hole in the old rotten shell and clamber inside. The statue and cauldron represent a test and deterrence enacted by the ancients. They learn that these magics are still in place, even after centuries or more. The statuette accepts spells, and their experiments only get them halfway before the—again impatient—bard and halfling move the cauldron too early. The shell’s interior floods with poison and many end up bleeding from the eyes.

Eventually, after curing the poison, Leonidas slows down and examines the runes more carefully. The proper incantations are offered. The cauldron fills rapidly with blood. A’Kelah can see a chamber below, through the blood. She dives in. Just then, a wicked, cold scream from some nightmare unseen pierces the sky aboveground. The sun wheels in the sky and darkness blots the firmament. Aelish has sensed in her prayers that Damir is in peril. She rushes to him while Fendrys clambers up the rope fast behind her. The bard and the rogue plug their noses and jump into the blood cauldron after A’Kelah.

=======

Aelish and Fendrys save their knight companion from the brink of death. Their horses have not been so lucky; they lay in a twisted heap. Below ground, a deeper darkness pervades the chamber, such that Leonidas’ elven eyes cannot see through the blackness. For the first time, he knows the primal fear of man. His terror is all-consuming. A’Kelah’s illuminating spells take on a mind of their own and cannot be controlled by her. A torch is lit and Aodh locates the ‘star’ directly under their feet by prying up a flagstone. It is a skull, jawless and yellow like a burial shroud. The eager, nimble-fingered rogue moves to pick it up and is slain instantly at its touch.

Thinking fast, A’Kelah grabs her friend’s body and ‘steps’ up once through the blood into the shell and again up to Aelish and Fendrys who were already rushing back. Blessed Aelish restores the life of the halfling while she still can. Down in the darkness, revealed by the guttering torch light, ancient Svetogaz, daughter of Huyaba saunters toward Leonidas in her elegiac and twisted majesty.

=======

On pure instinct, Leonidas snatches the skull with a magic hand and teleports away the same way he intruded upon this place. He clambers up the rope while above, Fendrys heaves. The other sisters interred here, Gharr, Maartje, Kzen, and Quelustu are vomited up from the earth to surround the Starhunters. A thrashing battle of Eladric daylight against an ancient darkness transpires atop the mound. There emits a frantic spasm of Starhunter spells; fire bolts and cracking thunder while the shrieks and wails of the dead claw into the minds of the living. The dazed Aodh bravely crashes his hammer into a mummified kneecap and is himself slammed down in return. In the end, two of the sisters are slain, two others flee from Aelish’s holy rebuke. The last, Svetogaz, arises—bloodsoaked. The long entombed witch rushes forth in a frenzy of mad hatred until she is silenced by Fendrys’ arrows which drive deep into her papery exterior. The ranger grabs the unconscious Damir and together, they all flee the mound in dismay.

EXP
Aelish 4150
Aodh 4500
A’Kelah 4300
Fendrys 4300
Leonidas 4300

View
Session 29
Orbital

By way of Aelish’s divine affiliation, Perren reports he has found the Marquis Almdor ‘five days out from Emidal’ thanks to the miraculous work and guidance of fellow Arch Guardian Elaina. Lord Almdor, he claims is somehow ‘betwixt’ and that his stupendous airship, the Swiftlight, has been scuttled.

A’Kelah is first to arrive in Aletan. There she witnesses a large transaction of grain and other goods at the dock being mediated by dwarven merchants. While she waits for her companions to arrive, she sends two letters south to Elansory; to Dr. Taras and to Vallon respectively. Her letters provide an update on their activities and contain a hopeful look toward news from the capital or beyond. Elsewhere, north of the town, an errant drummer boy notices the rest of the Starhunters on the Upperthrone guideway. He skips off ahead to join a company of mercenaries bound for the war in the west and to tell Aletan of the coming of the Starhunters. In town, Leonidas and Aodh fall easily into their usual routine, each working the crowd in their own way. A distinguished composer named Franz approaches the bard and asks for his story. Aodh eventually leads some of the crowd to the Cloudgoat Inn to the eventual delight of the innkeep. At the pantheon, where once she hid from the prying eyes of Prosecutor Tanum, Aelish is overwhelmed by a throng of the suffering who seek her ministrations. The Arch Guardian observes her sacred duty, giving sight to a blind man, healing the sick, and offering blessings to the impoverished and the downtrodden. Aelish sends a letter to her brother. She uses this opportunity to mention her silvered hair—to in effect warn him of her doppelganger. She cautions him also of the inscrutable machinations of the vizier Azdar Ig-Hazoret Usa Kalar and encourages him to keep his warmongering righteous and true to the monarchy.

All this while, Aodh’s divination has lost track of the ‘memory’ in Leonidas’ mind. Many open questions plague the adventurers. Where is the other Aelish? Was it her cry they heard in the toll station? Why has the ‘memory’ faded from Aodh’s divination (even though Leonidas himself has not forgotten it)? Has something happened at Arsam? Should they venture to Arsam and investigate at the cost of so much time against Imris next?

Ever diligent, Fendrys sets upon the general stores and tinkerers and apothecaries of the town to repair and replenish the worn, broken, and depleted inventory on his crew. The veer, always ill at ease in human settlements of any kind, lays low and keeps to herself. When gathered at the Bright Star Inn, they pay a substantial fine—for disturbance of the peace—to one constable Dimitri, a man in service to Aletan’s Lord Mayor. It is through this exchange that they learn that Lukiria Vanator has had her status as a Prosecutor revoked. As the Starhunters are seldom at rest for long, they begin plans for their next journey, having decided on making all haste into the Duchy of Odenva in search of the ‘Imris Star’. They purchase five cart horses from the portage and mercenary company bound for Samarkov, at a premium cost. A faster passage down river, they learn, is delayed by the oncoming holiday of Rana and will waste more time than it saves. They know they will not arrive on schedule; they will race to catch up as best they can.

While in transit, Aelish reaches out in prayer to Zita Nemeth and to blind Gage. Lady Nemeth carries the gospel of Aelish’s work upon the Meridian to the Holy City of Encer. Gage is alive! He tracks Wolverton and the Crown of Rynas to Migorir not far from the capital. In their haste into Odenva, the Starhunters cross within forty miles of their ally, the kemik mystic, on the other (eastern) side of Elansory. Gage says he will await them in the capital, should he survive his travail and evade capture.

On the Bentcrest Guideway, the road goes into Rynas’ rural, taiga heartland. They pass the Company of the Moth heading north. It is a column of orcs come from across the sea to earn scars and gold in the wars of men; their banner is spattered in blood. Strange, face-painted shamans pound their drums while moths flit around mystic lights. A dense fog follows the marching of the warriors. Miles and days further along, they encounter the funeral cortege of a recently deceased textile merchant being taken from Elansory—where he died of brain fever—to his ancestral home. They do what little they can to help them repair the broken axle of a cart.

Eventually, Aodh’s guidance leads them away from the road, into the taiga. They are in the borderland between the duchies of Zormava and Odenva. They encounter tall menhirs that Fendrys says giants erected—in ancient times—to warn trespassers away from their grave grounds.

A’Kelah scouts into the sky where she spies a large, treeless mound some miles ahead. The birds whisper their secrets to Aelish about the place. Despite hoping to skirt the mound on their way, Aodh leads them all directly to it. By then it is late in the day. Not knowing what being so near overnight could lead to, they repair to a safe distance away with a determination to meet their task in the morning. Fendrys and Aodh, the most light-footed of the group steal into the deep dark night of the woods to investigate voices they heard in the far distance. Their scouting uncovers a grouping of tents indicating a dozen or more men. They have digging tools with them. Under the auspice of Fendrys’ ancestral magic, the halfling creeps within a stone’s throw of the strange men at their campfire. He poisons their water store with sleeping powder. Damir grows very nervous at the long absence of the ranger and the rogue, but they return safe and undetected after a frightful wander in the dark, back to the bard’s shelter.

The following day, they approach with a plan. A’Kelah will use her magic, tapping into the locus of the giant graveyard to transfigure the halfling into a hill giant. Aelish will sit on the giant Aodh’s shoulders and use her thundering voice to help scare away the men digging upon the mound. The men indeed scatter, but two rush to get the attention of a Velan Usher, Pavel ‘Grimgrin’. Pavel strides forth, unafraid of what he sees. Before he can command the ‘giant’ Aodh to stop in his tracks, Aelish countermands the order with a decree of her own. The Usher is held fast by the will of Eladriel. Aodh collects him like a bundle of sticks; Aelish pries away his talisman. For good measure, Fendrys releases arrows at the fleeing diggers. Emboldened by him, A’Kelah summons an ice storm, stirring up even more chaos and fear among the scattering men.

EXP
Aelish 1000
Aodh 1500
A’Kelah 1200
Fendrys 1200
Leonidas 1000

View
Session 28
Order and Resolution

The demoness banished by Aelish left behind the stolen armor she wore (its hallmarks and insignia indicate it belonged to Countess Deloda) along with two weapons: a longsword and a strange magic rope. The rope was seen to become a bowstring for a bow that formed out of nothing around it. When not a bow, the rope was seen to grapple and restrain Malgorztata’s enemies as a constricting snake might. Leonidas takes Malgorztata’s rope. Aelish takes the gorget from the armor as a trophy of her victory over the hussy.

Thyvalda is wary still of more fiendish tricks. It becomes clear the fiend Fendrys senses is tied to the stone hands of Aodh somehow. So Aelish anoints Aodh’s body with holy water in hopes it might cast out any malevolent possessors. Aelish resolves to exorcise the curse from Aodh’s body when she has her strength back. Thyvalda’s midshipman Olumide takes the rest of the demoness’ armor. Then the sailors and their captain later depart, heading south for Aletan.

The Starhunter’s reconvene with Aelish’s body and her sworn protector, Damir. Not long after talking with one another, the minds of the five wanderers are, by some force or quintessence, seated once again in the right and proper body. As the bizarre, out of body experience this leads to unfolds, each Starhunter is treated to the stolen vision—the ancient memory—Leonidas found in the Astral Plane.

Azdar later appears before them, using his magic to translocate in a ghostly form that can speak and hear, just as they had seen him in Myhta Petraea. He asks after ‘Hanezal’s ilk’, appearing relieved to hear either that Aelish is safe or that the fiend is gone; it is unclear which. During their audience with the enigmatic vizier, the Starhunters ask him about this memory they have. Aelish rightly presumes the memory to be Azdar’s own. This shift in subject alters the magus’ mood from haughty and coy to diffident and melancholy. With downcast eyes he asks where they might head next. They are coy with him in return. He departs.

Weary from their latest escapade, they decide to rest here in Forebridge, the town beside the toll station. A’Kelah is happy to be back in her veer body and sleeps in the Striton. An abandoned town is little better than the wilderness so Fendrys, Leonidas, and Damir agree to take watches.

In the dead of night during Leonidas’ time awake, a living shadow alike to those battled at Imia and Vorhon slips in silently and unnoticed, even to the half-elf’s keen nightvision. Inky black fingers lock around his throat, suffocating his cries for help. The touch of the shadow saps his strength, making the swing of his sword heavy and slow. Fendrys and Aodh awake to the sound of furniture skidding around in his struggle. Two more shadows spill in under cracks in the shudders. Leonidas collapses under his own weight. Aodh, also bereft of strength from his (body’s) recent captivity by these nightmare creatures, feebly crawls to toss a flask of burning oil at the intruders, even at the cost of burning the ranger too. Fendrys had shot awake and sprung into action to save his friend. Aelish, as before at Vorhon, casts one of the creatures away by brandishing her Figure of Eladriel. Fendrys dispatches the other.

In the silence that follows, a haunting cry from mid-river is heard.

Aelish steps out into the dim light of Embo and communes with a nightjar. She asks what the bird has seen. It talks of the shadows moving unnaturally. It flies off to reconnoiter while the Starhunters move to awaken A’Kelah and inform her they are leaving before more shadows find them.

Aelish is driven to exhaustion by the march in the night. Her waking hours are committed to prayers and mortifications to gain Eladriel’s blessings upon her body once more. They come to rest by the roadside. A’Kelah sticks to the river, blithely saying she will meet them in Aletan. At sun up, Aodh’s stone-handed curse is lifted by the prayers of a weary Aelish. Twin imps appear at the removal of the gloves inside a puff of rotten smoke. They descend on Fendrys, stealing his weapons and flying away amid curses as he shoots at them wildly. The imps vanish from sight as easily as they appeared. Later that day, as they head south, Aodh loses his directional sense of the ‘memory’ in Leonidas’ head despite the bard claiming he has not forgotten it.

In Aletan they learn the Lord Mayor is upset with them. The common folk desire their aid. And Lukiria Vanator has had her Prosecutorship revoked.

EXP
A’Kelah 1100
Aelish 1300
Aodh 1450
Fendrys 1300
Leonidas 1300

View
Session 27
Małgorzata

Knowing that A’Kelah, trapped in Aodh’s halfling body, is also doubly trapped by Małgorzata, the four Starhunters discuss how to rescue their friend. She is being kept in a dark place, so Lukiria’s scrying offers little information to go on. They decide to make for the area south of Pallenever, which Aodh confirms, with Aelish’s lips, to be his last known whereabouts.

It is decided Lukiria will teleport them to that area. The Prosecutor feels this is only fair as it was she who brought them all here—to Thyvalda’s home in Ibeadra—to begin with. Since Thyvalda is unable to sail at present, due to poor financial conditions brought on by the war, she is convinced to join in this excursion. She summons her two most trusted sailors, a pair of Silques from the Orc lands of Bazshdul named ‘Segun’ and ‘Mide’, for additional aid.

The intended destination is a coaching inn named the ‘Blue Rose’ which is of course just south of Pallenever. Lukya’s teleportation does not succeed, however, and the group finds themselves instead standing in a fountain within Elansory’s ‘White City’ in the dead of night. What is more, Aodh feels as though some force or presence watches Aelish’s body while in mystic transit. Aodh disobeys Lukiria’s request and opens Aelish’s eyes. He sees a glimpse of Aelish and Vallon traveling on horseback.

====

In the capital, Lukya uses her magic to transform Aodh-in-Aelish into a small, Myhtish child to disguise her. The group splits up between parties headed by Thyvalda and Lukiria to wait out the night. Frustrated, Lukya will make a second attempt the following day at noontime. Unfortunately, the second attempt also fails, taking them to a familiar inn at Aletan. Aodh again uses Aelish’s eyes during the transit and is treated to a new vision of Aelish and Vallon. Lukiria is furious and ashamed now and stalks off after a short talk with her wife. It is decided Aletan is close enough since they have indeed traveled hundreds of leagues in just two nights. The Starhunters head north along a familiar stretch of the Upperthrone guideway, where in fact Małgorzata was first in their lives.

They encounter peasants and other common folk fleeing south away from troubles and danger near Forebridge. They talk of moving shadows near the count’s castle. Aelish blesses a pregnant woman before they press on. With grim determination, the group is heedless of the warnings. After a day’s travel, when they know they are close, Fendrys and Thyvalda work together to pick a path through the marshy ground toward Forebridge. On the outskirts of the small town there, they find three dead bodies which have been torn apart by dogs. Aodh-in-Aelish speaks with the crows gathered and confirms the dogs that did this are in the nearby toll station.

The Forebridge toll station is nearly a furlong away on an island in the middle of the Striton river. Damir escorts Aelish’s body away to best hide her from Małgorzata.

====

By mere happenstance, in a stroke of great luck, Akelah-in-Aodh makes a daring escape from Małgorzata’s captivity using the dwarven ‘Fists of the Stonebreaker’ bonded to Aodh’s body. The magic of the gloves opens up holes in the walls that contain her. This is a feat Małgorzata must have been unaware of.

The dogs spoken of by the crows chase her, and one even escapes through the second hole she makes beyond the outer wall of the toll station. These are no ordinary dogs. Leonidas bravely ‘doors’ over to her—whereupon A’Kelah has a bizarre and heartening reunion with her body, out-of-body. The rest of the group, unable to jump the river so quickly with magic, scramble to find a boat. That plan is quickly cancelled, though, as Thyvalda uses her theurgy to control the waters of the Striton into a walkable bridge.

Leonidas with his charm and chicanery tries to defuse the situation with the dog, but it appears deaf or dumb to his magic. Everyone runs across the water-bridge. Fendrys, even at such a distance, even while dashing upon a flowing river, unleashes a storm of arrows with sublime accuracy, slaying the dog.

====

Małgorzata then appears at the roofline, felling Leonidas with some expertly shot arrows of her own. These arrows deliver poison into his veins and the bard’s world goes black. Malgorzata alights down to her quarry, tossing Leonidas into the river like a piece of refuse and retrieving her prisoner. The bard is fortunate to be in A’Kelah’s veer body as its water-breathing is all that holds him at bay from Vela’s grasp. Fendrys races to the shore and dives in after his friend. Leonidas is revived, healed and even able to use his own elven magic to cure his poisoned blood.

The Starhunters and the succubus then trade shouted words before she falls back to the castle. The crew gathers near the front gate and devises a plan. Throughout this ordeal, Małgorzata has continued her demands for the ‘spider jar’. They will use their current predicament of switched bodies to their advantage.

The fiend does not seem to know Aelish is actually present (inside the ranger’s body), so Fendrys-Leonidas and Aelish-Fendrys strike a false bargain in which they will enter with a claim to offer up the jar. Within the castle, the dwarves Thagnak and Halmuthra (once sworn guardians of the Crown of Rynas) have been recast as figures in bronze, their hair ablaze, just like the inhabitants of Lost Lokken. They are supplicant to Małgorzata now. Between the dwarves stands Murmur, the spy and trickster from Aodh’s crown adventure that happened here in this same castle. Murmur too is in fiendish thrall—perhaps he was all along? These three she calls her ‘emissaries’ and they await to take the jar.

====

With their entrance made, the ruse is barely given time to prosper as Aelish clutches the Figure of Eladriel hanging about Fendrys’ neck as soon as the goddess allows for it. The symbol flashes as the cleric’s commanding utterance of the Aquilan Verses recalls times of yore: when pestilential fiends such as the one before them—a plague upon Em—were sent screaming down into the furnace pit of the Watcher’s domain by the holy hosts. Małgorzata’s chiropteran wings crumple around her like so much rapidly burning paper. The space that contained the concubine of Gnost is diminished into nothingness, leaving behind a puff of sulfurous smoke and an echoing scream. Her emissaries remain, however, and they move in for an attack. Murmur quits the scene—vanishing from sight—almost immediately when Fendrys silences him from casting a single spell. A battle of fire and spattering poison ensues with the two bronze dwarves and another hell hound. Thyvalda and her sailors join the Starhunters in keeping Aelish safe while she focuses on holding Małgorzata at bay long enough to finalize her eviction from this plane. In the end, the Starhunters are victorious. The dwarves are buried in a hole in the ground. The Lokken Flare Pestle is recovered along with Małgorzata’s magic bow.

As the dust is settling, Fendrys senses the presence of one more fiend at hand. It hides on or about the halfling’s body…

EXP
A’Kelah 2500
Aelish 3500
Aodh 3000
Fendrys 3500
Leonidas 3400

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