The Heir to Disaster

Session 44
Jamais Vu

The handiwork of the mysterious and long-deceased stone mason interred on Goriseld’s isle prevents ready access to the teleportation circle uncovered by the bard Leonidas. Using her powerful magic (and the magic of the powerful staff), A’Kelah is able to float the bodies of the magi skyward into a hole in the roof of the tower. However, limitations of these powers require her to take only those who need to go in; namely Saffron, Odo, Steffan, Solveg, Aurelius, the siblings Ekemon and Millicent, Nikola, and Lord Almdor. The veer sorceress is gone for hours, much longer than is ‘arcanely’ necessary to open the portal that escorts her charges to the private Dragomov sanctum on the other side of the world.

The rest of the Starhunters, along with Perren, Jaina, and Tariq (who have elected to stay behind and journey also to Arsam) wait for A’Kelah in the decrepit monastery where they have dwelt now for the better part of a week. At last, the veer does return, alone, having whisked away the magi with the circle’s magic, as Almdor instructed she could. So she claims.The Starhunters are eager to be rid of the dead wizard’s isle and its trolls, the ominous lake which girdles it, and the remote loneliness of the dripping, indifferent wilderness environs. Their destination is a place unknown to them, but they have descriptions from Dark Aelish (and the crumbling map of Rothwar) to go on. They venture south; Fendrys plots a course over the old dwarven Ancestor Road, until the Holy Road can be found where east they will go until they find the strange valley of flumes described by Aelish’s twin. They trek over moraines and skirt around kettle lakes, traversing the land they once saw as the birds see it, from the deck of Perren’s Swiftlight. As before, their magic chaperons them over the broad rivers, feeds them, and keeps the worst of the exhaustion at bay. Both Fendrys and Aelish get strange premonitions and whispers of disquiet from the fearful animals. The beasts tell of fiendish stirrings when they cross the half-buried flagstones of the Ancestor Road.

With the road and its devil’s footprints behind them, Embo waxes in the night sky. On schedule, Aelish is moonstruck and overcome by her curse. She departs the group to spare them her terrors. She has half-remembered visions of stalking human prey before fleeing their torches and brandished farming tools. On the third night of Aelish’s transformations, she renders unto Fendrys the mighty scepter of command found in Goriseld’s tomb. The Arch-Principle, exasperated, instructs the ranger to use this forceful item of rulership against her, its current owner. Her gambit succeeds, the scepter’s magic is enough to contain her bestial rage and Aelish-the-Raven poses no harm for two consecutive nights.

Soon after Aelish’s moon-madness they meet with the Holy Road. Although they were hoping to arrive east of Hinturnal, they are instead due west of the town. They make way for its gates to restock and prepare for the second leg of their journey. They are met with extreme suspicion by guards who fire warning arrows at their approach, they say ‘only the dead come this way’. Aelish is having none of this treatment. She demonstrates her Elected status with a miracle of daylight to the awestruck guardsmen. In kind, they summon an Elected of their own, the local Margrave called Hendrik, a paladin oath-sworn to Myrnoch. He uses his own power to command the truth from Aelish and, satisfied, he invites them to tell their tale at his citadel. Aodh slinks away and blends into the human settlement as is his way. Perren has too much wine and spouts off about his long lost brother and something about a hammer. They all learn the current year to be AL 8444 but none in the company, not even Aelish betray their status as ones adrift out-of-time.

Aelish and Jaina are contracted by Hendrik to minister to the needs of populace while they remain at his household. Local personages, having heard the rumors about two Arch-Guardians and a pair of half-elves in town, seek audience with the Starhunters. An Eladric prelate of the local pantheon named Eva has a tale out of Encer. She tells Jaina and Aelish about a Knight of the White Feather named Sir Rinnebert who went missing three years ago. Eva asks them if they knew of him or his whereabouts. An explorer and self-styled ‘goblin-hunter’ by the name Zhiglov presents himself as a guide to the lands around Arsam. A magus named Enezesku takes an interest in them as well. An elderly man, he is the head of Hinturnal’s university and Hendrik’s chamberlain. The Starhunters are summoned before Margarve Hendrik, Enezesku, and the local Athemist Justiciar Oran for an important meeting.

But first, in private discourse with her companions, the Arch-Principle makes it known she has been in ‘holy contact’ with another lost Knight of the White Feather, Sir Damir. She is resolute upon using the power of the Meridian in a plan to rescue him from isolation and suffering in Hanezal’s prison realm of ‘Carceri’. Perren is enamored of the daring and heroic risk this poses; he tells Aelish he supports and will be at her side. Fendrys has unsettled vengeance for the fiends of that realm and he also agrees to go. A’Kelah too, remembering the presence of the Lurker there, has a need to return. Tariq, tugging nervously at his iron collar, calls this plan ‘madness’. Jaina, bereft of her memory as Perren’s confidant, is distraught and she must pray for Eladriel’s guidance on the matter. Aodh and Leonidas both squirm at the thought of such a plan.

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Session 43
Deep Speak

The distressing words of Prince Yuri Samarkov refer to his ‘many sins’. He is convinced his sister haunts him with her remote visitations from beyond the grave. He entreats her to come home, to show herself if it be true that she is returned and alive. Aelish does not wish to go home. During Aelish’s meditations and prayers, Leonidas takes it upon himself to further explore Goriseld’s tower. He uses his magic to gain entry to places hidden by the dead mason’s handiwork—just as he had done to enter the buried shell at the grave-mound of the giants.

The curious bard uncovers the old laboratory of the magus, packed away neatly for long-term storage. Hidden under an old rug, he also finds a mystic circle, a great arcane sigil used by the Wise to translocate themselves to far corners of Lakmyr and beyond. Such magic is a vestige of the once mighty Fallen World which, like mending honey and other wonders, has been uncovered by the sages of this era.

A’Kelah makes it known she will venture into the deep center of the lake and fulfill her promise to Goriseld. Meanwhile, Fendrys and Aodh learn that due to their affliction from the trolls, they are able to breathe the lakewater just as a veer like A’Kelah can. Because of this, the ranger and the rogue both elect to follow A’Kelah and put their water-breathing condition to a full test. Kohano (among the former prisoners set free by the Starhunters), being a veer herself, also agrees to come along. Deep down, more than 1,000 feet to the bottom they find a massive old tree as Goriseld had told. Clutched under the roots of said tree is a piece of amber the size of a boulder. Encased inside the amber is a large, aquatic thing with tentacles. The magic lights of the divers alert the creature; its many eyes open and lock with A’Kelah’s gaze. She goes limp a moment.

Both of the veer, Kohano and A’Kelah, swim closer to the amber stone. Suddenly Kohano’s life is extinguished before their eyes; snuffed out like a candle. Aodh and Fendrys look on in confusion and horror. A’Kelah reaches inside the amber, which becomes pliant yet gelid at her touch. She removes the encased creature’s ‘jeweled brain’ and takes it with her back to the surface. A’Kelah explains that Kohano made a choice to commune with the beast down there, just as she had—but that Kohano was too frail and she succumbed to the rigors of the union.

Examination of the jeweled brain reveals that that the trolls must have had been poisoned by this thing deep in the lake. The many intelligent and magically inclined persons on the isle, work together with Goriseld’s old laboratory tools. They are able, with time, to use the bizarre organ to brew a potion that can cure the afflicted Aodh and Fendrys. As six days elapse in the labor to find the cure, Aelish prepares for more and greater miracles. Her despondent mood is gone. The Arch-Principle receives a vision of the Dragomov throne room in Meppollin Palace. Undead sentinels guard the throne, symbols of Vela pervade the scene. The palace is falling into ruin and disrepair and myriad dead spiders litter the floor like so much ash from a fire.

The Starhunters and the freed magi begin to talk of their next steps and what is to be done about the teleportation circle found in Goriseld’s tower. Aelish wants very much to use the Meridian to travel time and undo the things they all have seen here in this strange and doomed future. Almdor calls that uttermost folly. When shown, Lord Almdor teaches A’Kelah how to use the teleportation circle (its magic is beyond Leonidas’ grasp). The secrets of these circles are jealously guarded secrets and the Wise do not give them up easily. Almdor gives her a choice of learning a connecting the sigil for either the University in Elansory or a private Dragomov Sanctum in the Great Archipelago (where once he tutored a young Oksana). The veer opts for the latter. It is decided that Almdor will go to the sanctum—indefinitely perhaps—with the rest of the magi save for Perren, Jaina, and Tariq. Those three will join the Starhunters in a venture to the monastery at Arsam. There they hope to find answers. And the lawstone spoken of by Dark Aelish—who is still missing since the strange event that drove her away.

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Sessions 41 & 42
Mooncradle Lake

The great inestimable power of the Meridian has, in accordance with the collective will of the Starhunters, translocated all of them. They arrive to the isle of the wizard known as ‘Goriseld’ on Mooncradle Lake. They will soon determine that although they have traveled space by incredible mystic speed and accuracy, the calendar year (of A.L. 8369) they all knew as their shared reality has been swept away. A grave marker discovered on the isle reveals that at least as much as a few years have passed; it is feared considerably more years than that are gone too.

All but Sir Damir escaped from the prison realm of Carceri. The Starhunters have a baker’s dozen of other captive magi—once imprisoned by the vizier Azdar—now in their charge. Among these are none other than the august personage of the Lord Marquis Dessan Almdor and his protégé Kohano, the veer. The half-elven treasure hunter Perren Sparrowhawk and his companion, the elected guardian Jaina Mulongo from Myhtan are there too. Also in the company of the freed prisoners are two adherents of Myriath’s cult, the siblings Ekemon and Millicent.

The others are either promising University students or hapless foreign attaches from places like Dicia and Bravere. Their names are Tariq, Saffron, Odo, Steffan, Solveg, Aurelius, and Nikola. Every last one of them, it is presumed, was considered dangerous by the vizier and locked away in the terrible domain of the six-armed demoness Hanezal. All of the freed magi sport iron collars around their necks which prevent the will-working of their magic. Gone too are their memories; only Almdor (and to a lesser extent Perren) have their identities intact. Azdar stole their memories, but he had difficulty with the long lives of the elven folk, to hear Almdor tell it.

The misty isle, stepped on to from outside of space by the Starhunters, is abandoned and quiet from all but nature’s hum. Aelish retreats to deep and sustained prayer, being sorely grief stricken by the absence of Damir. She fears the loyal knight dead. Elsewhere, around the ivy-covered ruin of Goriseld’s ancient monastery Fendrys finds monstrous giant tracks that he warns the others about. A few such creatures, he can tell, last left the isle heading south quite recently. The magi prisoners are suffering from a state of privation; they lack proper attire and are in need of nourishment. They wash in the lake and the Starhunters spare them their rations. Leonidas attempts to use his magic chime to break the enchantment on their iron collars, but to no avail.

Almost immediately after the test of the chime, the gathered prisoners seem to lose hold of their senses and begin chanting an incantation in eerie concert. Aodh feels a stirring in his soul from something that has hung over him ever since the touch of the buried skull gave him a brush with death. Terrified at what this means, the halfling wills away this sense of dread to Fendrys (by dint of the power he acquired at Imris). Aelish too feels the same dread stirring within her. Thus, as the prisoner’s chanting mounts, the cleric and the ranger are both treated to a vision—a vision of Azdar speaking to Goriseld in this very room—while energy is sapped from their bodies. The energy flows directly into Dark Aelish and she cries out, “Oh no, Lesha! They have tricked me!”

Dark Aelish turns invisible and flees the chanting circle. Aodh tosses ball bearings to try to trip her up but he is too slow and misses his mark. Aelish chases after her twin. A’Kelah goes on the defensive, wary of danger and more tricks. Leonidas does his best to calm down the scared and confused prisoners. Fendrys, deeply shaken by what he has seen and experienced, broods by the lakeshore.

Aodh and Aelish seek the dark twin elsewhere on the isle. They find her, and Aelish gets in a few words with her, but only briefly before more trickery and illusions causes her to vanish for good once more. At this point, Aodh convinces the others to go along with his plan of drugging the collared magi with his sleeping draught. This should buy them all time to freely consider their options, he claims. Without Fendrys around to overrule the plan, the other exhausted Starhunters relent and attempt to help Aodh execute his plan. Magi, even those who cannot cast their magic, are a clever lot however. The plan is bungled and, upon discovery, the magi are outraged by this treatment.

To add distance from the angry prisoners, the Starhunters busy themselves with breaking into Goriseld’s old tower while Fendrys continues his solipsism. Leonidas dispels protective runes on the door. Inside the tower they find a simple sarcophagus containing the body of the wizard Goriseld himself. He was laid to rest upon a heap of treasure and books, outfitted in a magic rob and clutching a pair of magic staves. A’Kelah plunders the robe and spell-staff from the mummified body. The second staff, a rod that commands obedience, is prudently given to Aelish. As night comes, the Starhunters retire, with A’Kelah and Kohano seeking watery solace in the lake. Two giants, nasty trolls arrive with the down. The stomping of their wet, webbed feet rouses Aodh during his watch. The fire and miracles and arrows of the Starhunters kill one troll and drive the second away. During the melee, both Aodh and Fendrys are poisoned by the trolls fangs. They are quickly overcome with a sickness that makes them thirsty and dry; their skin goes clear and scaley. Only immersion in the lakewater keeps them safe from utter desiccation.

So many competing wills on the isle make the gathering fractious and temperamental. A’Kelah wants to fulfill her promise to Goriseld and investigate an ancient tree deep in the center of the lake. Aodh wants to further explore the rest of the tower. Others are desperate to leave the isle, but heading where? East to Arsam? North back into the mountains? South to the Capital? Aelish can try to restore Fendrys and Aodh to health, but first she reaches out in prayer three times seeking answers. Every response she receives is ominous.

Aelish calls out to Lukiria Vanator, but there is no answer; the Prosecutor is dead.

Aelish calls out to her Royal Providence, Agrafena Dragomov. The reply is an unintelligible dragon’s roar.

Aelish calls out to her brother Yuri, Duke of Samarkov. He responds! But his words distress her…

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Session 40
Hanezal

A’Kelah is to be under the bard’s spell until she sleeps it off. At Leonidas’ urging, the Starhunters retreat from the area of the sluice chamber he saw while scouting ahead. They next head for a dim orange light up ahead, though the corridor where it comes from is blocked by a heavy iron portcullis. The little halfling can squeeze through the bars of the gate with aplomb, however. He puts on his magic goggles (which reveal the darkness, plain as day) and scouts ahead. Beyond the gate, the sources of light are far still, emitting from around corners at the end of a long hall. Aodh notices he is being observed by smokey imps that hide in the shadows overhead. Aodh decides to double back, fearing he will get separated. One of the imps brazenly glides forth into a nearby corner to get an even better look at the halfling. Aodh can tell the creature does not realize he can see it and so he takes this opportunity to dispatch it with a thrown dagger; right between the eyes. The rest of the imps offer a hissing chorus of laughter—perhaps at the folly of their hapless brother. Aodh scrambles back through the gate and convinces his companions to head another way.

Even though A’Kelah has begun using her firechalk to mark their progress, the Starhunters soon after begin to feel overwhelmed and lost by the Carceri maze. Rather than wander aimlessly, the bard’s idea to return to the old fire-tender is agreed upon as their best course of action. It seems as though the walls and corridors of the place have changed since they first moved through it. They find their way to the fire and the strange old man beside it, but Leonidas is certain its location has moved somehow. The bard attempts to pose as the ‘Lord Pariah’ the fire-tender first called him, claiming he has ‘more prisoners’.

The fire-tender plunges his long, thin staff into the ever-burning fire of his ornate, grand cauldron. A shadow demon arrives, rising from inside the fire like a stage-actor from a trap door. It is Agdayne and his arms glitter with bronze bangles. His eyes are the cold motes of a remorseless, eternal being. The Starhunters parley with the demon. The demon offers to take them to ‘the Extremity’, allowing them to leave at no peril, all in exchange for Leonidas’ strange spider-jar. The Starhunters fall to a debate as to what to do. Agdayne displays patience for their ‘feeble, mortal’ conference, knowing that captives here are unable to escape once they enter. He vows to return when they have reached a union. When he does, A’Kelah has recovered her senses from the bard’s charm—but she offers no recrimination. Yet.

But first, the Starhunters plot. Aelish is confidant Eladriel will allow her to trap and bind the shadow demon Agdayne. Its arrival from inside the cauldron makes it an easy target for a circle of power. She posits that perhaps even Hanezal—whom they all suspect awaits at the Extremity—can instead be bound in a similar manner. In the end, this plan is considered too risky. They decide to be taken to the Extremity and face whatever is there, treating with Hanezal if they must. Agdayne arrives as promised and happily takes them forth through the maze when they agree to make the trade. The Extremity is a wondrous place under an upended pyramid from which issue lava-falls, down into a dark lake. Intense steam rises from the elemental admixture. There amidst the steam, coiled around the obelisk is the demoness Hanezal that has hectored them along the path of the Meridian.

She is lust and horror made incarnate. With a serpent’s body in place of legs and six arms, the nude abomination parades before them all. This is a creature that could only exist here in a place outside of places. Squamous demonic brutes arrive to attend her as ceremonial guards. She demands the spider-jar; in exchange they are free to go. The Starhunters deepen the bargain and ask for the other prisoners held here as well. Hanezal complies and Agdayne sees it done.

During the parley, Leonidas acts with such temerity that he attempts to fool the demoness with his illusions—but his magic is not powerful enough to make a convincing fake of the jar. Lucky for him, she is none the wiser. So the bard surrenders the true jar at Hanezal’s ultimate insistence. The prisoners are brought forth; Almdor, Perren, Jaina, and Kohano are among them. Leonidas gives Fendrys a wry smile, expecting here and now another deadly melee of spells and blades to commence. But all at once the Starhunters oblige Hanezal with Damir dutifully following Aelish’s lead. Hanezal snatches up the jar greedily. As her many hands begin to worry over the item in a frenzy, the gathered mortals rush to the obelisk to make their escape. Hanezal has kept her word and they step away from this place much in the same way they came—via the Meridian’s space-bending magic.

The power the Starhunters wield combined with the power of the Extremity, is such that they may, at this hour, translocate anywhere on Em. It is a joint decision, made in haste and spurred by a mystic confluence of thoughts and intents. They focus on a safe place, familiar to all of them. They elect to retreat to Goriseld’s lake. As they do so, Hanezal’s many hands unlock the ‘jar’, which looks more and more like a puzzle-box the longer she touches it. Spiders issue with unceasing constancy from the openings she makes. The roving black swarms race along her manifold arms and are in the process of enrobing her quivering, euphoric body. This is the last thing the mortals see before their retreat.

They tread again upon the living soil of Em. The isle of Goriseld’s lake is misty and cool. Fendrys is shaken by what he has seen, by what has transpired. He places the golden ring entrusted to him on his finger. Through his will, the magic of the ring undoes the opening of Hanezal’s puzzle-box “forever”. Aelish, when Fendrys admits what he has done, is overjoyed at the righteous sacrifice of his decision. She embraces him. In the chaos induced by the teleportation magic, from shepherding so many disoriented and weakened prisoners, they do not yet realize Sir Damir Galkin, brave Knight of the White Feather, has gone missing.

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Session 38 & 39
Wandering Stars

In deep prayer, the now Arch-Principle Aelish communes with Eladriel and receives the goddess’ oracular wisdom regarding her ‘dark’ twin. Aelish translates this divine message to her confidants and explains how she has interpreted it. The Arch-Principle concludes that her twin, who first stepped out of the astral plane at Leonidas’ coaxing, has no soul. Furthermore, a soul can be granted to her, by the sacred intervention of the angel Levesath—and that A’Kelah’s help is somehow required. The veer sorceress is dubious of this affirmation and would like more information. Alas, the gods speak in portents and enigmas only.

The Khalkazsh men take the Starhunters, and most of the cohort, to the boundary of what they call zapret na zemlyu, the ‘Forbidden Land’, ‘for whom, it is reserved’. Marfa and Lililivren remain behind, encamped with the horses, some miles away. On a high ridge, shamanic poles topped with painted oxen skulls—like masks the monsters wear—warn of the danger ahead. A vast and ancient bridge, one of Em’s many colossal monuments from the Fallen World, runs arrow-straight for miles over a barren badlands. The bridge terminates at the trunk of a gargantuan stone tree in the haze-smudged distance.

Dark Aelish asks of Fendrys, “Which path should we take, the bridge or the land below?” The ranger knows, even from here that this place is home to giants and their terrible kin. He elects to take the company along the bridge, high above any giants they might encounter.

At mid-afternoon, miles along the stone causeway and hundreds of feet above ground is when Leonidas bellows out a howl of the great grey wolf spirit. In response, there is a magnificent screeching. A giant owl has found them and spirals down, riding the vortex of the wind. The creature, with feathers like birch bark, alights on the bridge ahead of them. A pair of elven queens, one dark, one light, appear in the saucer-like eyes of the bird. The queens, in synchronicity, call out for their ‘child’ in the primordial speech of the fey. Vallon approaches without apprehension, begging away both Fendrys and Leonidas. Vallon appears to hear the queens a moment further, as they talk on. Suddenly her sword rushes from her scabbard, a beam of sunlight flashes off the blade. Vallon slays the bird with one deep thrust into its gullet. The elf has already spun on her heels before the owl has had time to fall from the bridge.

Glassy-eyed and blank-faced, Vallon springs at the bard with preternatural grace and power. She and her blood-soaked sword enter a frenzy, cutting and thrusting at Leonidas’ neck. In his scramble to defend himself, Vallon’s sword pulls his rapier from its scabbard before his hand can even reach for it. It is tossed aside to join the falling owl. In concert with this shocking event, an alien Mind Witness, a horror of the Illithid, squeezes forth from the surface of the mirror held on the Orban, the dwarf’s, back. Vilmos and Orban had been in the rear of the company working to expose the mirror’s surface. Each of them has also gone mute and treads like a husk.

A’Kelah enters flight with her magic, but Vallon’s sword slices into her too and she loses hold of her spell. The veer falls. A pair of tentacled, many-legged panther beasts, denizens of the astral realm, leap from a tear in space opened by the Mind Witness. Dark Aelish screams at her twin in terror and grief—and then vanishes from sight. A tense battle ensues, but Aelish protects her comrades while they stand firm against this ambush. Leonidas, being cut to ribbons by Vallon, restrains her with his magic rope. Aodh and Damir make a valiant stand against the panther beasts. The brave halfling fells the Mind Witness with his flaming hammer. Damir, with great reluctance, kills Vilmos before his magic can blast Aelish from the bridge. Orban is shot dead by Fendrys. More arrows from the ranger finish off the astral panthers. During this pell-mell skirmish, A’Kelah returns, flying once more, having saved herself from a deadly fall with her magic. Rising above the scene, she blasts beast and cohort alike with bolts of lightning and storms of hailstones.

Amidst all this magic and bloodletting behind him, Leonidas takes his chance while he can. With Vallon wrapped up in his rope, the bard leaps from the bridge and drags the swordmaster along with him. He aims to follow in A’Kelah’s example and relocate himself with his magic before time runs out. His magic is slower and more sophisticated than hers, however. He fumbles the incantation in his terror. Dark Aelish reappears on the bridge, screaming after Vallon—helplessly watching the elf and the bard plummet and become small. Far down at the ground, there is a flash of light in report of Leonidas’ successful spell—that he cast just a few yards above the hard ground. The half-elf, and all of his momentum, are transported high above, within the bridge’s undercarriage. His body breaks at the impact and he begins to die.

Seeing the Arch-Principle so grief stricken, A’Kelah extends her flying magic to include Aelish. Aelish then swoops down, not as a raven, but as a woman enchanted, to rescue the fallen. Aelish finds Leonidas hidden below the deck of the bridge, and through her, the mercy of Eladriel pulls him back from the brink. Leonidas rights himself, and relocates back to the bridge deck, still in a daze. Far down below, her miracles also save Vallon from death, but the elf enters the legendary ‘deep slumber’ of her kind due to the trauma. What can wake her is now a riddle for the ages.

In the aftermath of the battle on the bridge, Aelish and A’Kelah go some miles and hide Vallon’s body in one of the massive snail shells that litter the Forbidden Land. A cold, rainy night out of shelter is spent on the bridge by the others. Dark Aelish stays alone and apart, and will take awhile to shed her grief. That same evening within the snail shell in the land below, A’Kelah and Aelish have a close brush-up against a curious giant which sniffs them out. Its hairy, gnarled arm reaches into the shell, but the creature wanders off into the night when it feels nothing inside.

The Starhunters interrogate Dark Aelish once more. They are furious at this betrayal, but she is obstinate and resigned, swearing to either come along as their prisoner or die at their justice here and now. Dark Aelish attests (truthfully) to having no knowledge of the madness of the Mind Witness. They all press on along the bridge for the stone tree of Kalir, leaving the bodies of Vilmos and Orban behind. Dark Aelish walks as their shameful, lonely prisoner.

Another of the land’s great snail shells is found, this one like a burr on the stone tree, at the end of the bridge, where a doorway of sorts is formed in the shell’s spiral. Through that passage they go, being turned literally upside-down on their way. Within the inner chamber of the tree is an eight-spoked walkway leading to as many doors. The sky is at their feet and above is a blackness of darkness forever. Blocking one of the doors, a gaunt, starving giant sits amidst its own filth in a cage built at a scale to house it. Fendrys and Lenodias speak a while with the giant, though the half-elf dares to get too close and is grabbed and bitten by the creature. Ultimately, they decide to use the magic of the mirror to trap the giant. Proceeding through its cage, they use the mirror to enter a reflection-dimension of this strange place. In the reflection, a statue of Hanezal is coiled atop a broad spiral staircase which leads down, down into the blackness of darkness forever.

Down and down they go into a silent darkness. A lightless place. They corkscrew beside a single column of stone, on a staircase coiled around it like a snake, which hangs in this darkness. Beyond, out where their light is swallowed away, is an infinity into which all sound vanishes. The silence grows so oppressive that their footfalls deafen. They hear not just their own breathing, but the sticky blood gushing inside their bodies. Their hearts thrum like thunder and in some, it causes panic. Leonidas nearly falls face forward into the void when the stairs before him eventually cease.

Once again, A’Kelah’s great powers of flight afford progress against an obstacle that would prove too much for lesser persons. Her magic of flight transports the entire company down into the realm of Carceri. They meet an old, blindfolded, orc-blooded man standing next to a cauldron of fire and a hill of bones. He calls Leonidas ‘Lord Pariah’ and asks after ‘more prisoners’. Wary of the old man, the Starhunters wander off into the wending madness of this prison-realm, following their ears toward a steady sound which echoes and resounds amid stone archways and hanging chains.

The sound leads to a chamber of rushing water that Leonidas finds (scouting ahead). The water falls into a sluice where despicable, diseased creatures devour every piece of flotsam and jetsam caught there like pigeons fighting over breadcrumbs. A’Kelah feels the presence of the Lurker tug on her in this place and she steps forward to investigate. The bard however, is so appalled by what he has seen that he uses his magic to charm and cajole her away.

PROGRESS Aelish Aodh A’Kelah Fendrys Leonidas
TOTAL XP 66575 64766 65226 66776 66801
Session 37 4000 4000 4200 4000 4500
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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
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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

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