The Heir to Disaster

'Be Wary of Dark Spirit'
Session 32

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 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, 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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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

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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

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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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Session 26
Lost In Translation

In a stroke of luck impelled by the quizzical gaze of “Mr. Grasp”, Leonidas gains custody of that which the Starhunters have sought—a long hidden memory. It is Fendrys, though, who will later come to understand this captured notion as ‘the answer to a question unknown’. The bizarre astral nightmare that is The Maze of the Blue Medusa collapses in a gaping and dripping mess of stone-become flesh, depositing A’Kelah, Aelish, Fendrys, and Leonidas into the Blind Eternity between the stars. They will later wake with a fractured awareness of their experience here, one punctuated by: an accusatory knight, a sedentary lich queen, a golden engine, a peacock automaton, aurum specters, a wraith-boy and his flayed-skin collecting body, a gang of bird-faced thieves and their glyph witch mentor, timeless “Chrono” and the vine-locked bloom of his brother “Zamen”, a swan paddling a pool of wine, a pickle; choked-on, a wedding couple frozen in embrace, those fucking chameleon women, the moon faced “Torgos Zooth” and the masked repairmen who keep the lamps lit.

Meanwhile…

Days after the four Starhunters disappeared into the painting called ‘False Chanterelle’, elsewhere in Rynas, a dangerous man is saved from the brink of death by an even more wicked angel.

Aelish, perhaps a wicked angel in her own right, continues to march her enigmatic path with the self-same zeal and conviction known to her namesake.

A’Kelah returns to her senses far away from her companions, far away from the painting, from the dovecote, from anything familiar to her on Em. She sits in a boat and it does not take her long to realize she sits in the wrong body, that of her stone-handed compatriot Aodh Chisholm Duncan, the halfling urchin run off to purloin the Crown of Rynas. Her companions in the boat, also thieves, grow suspicious quickly and pull ashore while asking many questions.

This leaves Aodh to wake up bewildered and confused in the 5’6" body-tower of the human Princess Aelish Samarkov. Leonidas’ mind is seated now in the hairless body of the veer sorceress A’Kelah Can-Tan. Fendrys rambles in the fey-touched skin of half-elven Leonidas Darksbane. This leaves Aelish to peer out from the keen gaze of fellow human Fendrys Stonehollow, whose body is powerful and profane in equal measure.

The four of them are in an unfamiliar attic near the seashore. For company, Ashen Chanter lies asleep in the room under a blanket. Lukiria Vanator and Damir Galkin are soon discovered coming up the stairs in response to all the voices they hear. The four Starhunters, very out of sorts in their new bodies, try to explain their presence here. Lukiria well understands the painting is involved. Her attention, through her wizardry, was signaled to the astral shear created by the Starhunters as they entered the painting. The Prosecutor explains how she came to the rescue of Damir as he defended the dovecote against an onslaught of goblins.

Lukya, like them, is much more confused by why their minds are scrambled, but she is certain the erratic boundaries of incidence swimming in the astral realm are responsible for this dilemma. “Perhaps it will wear off with time?” If not, she hopes that her colleague Beris Tanum can restore their minds to their proper homes—‘the landscape of thought is his specialty’ afterall.

As the Starhunters become more situated (as situated as they can be, given the circumstances) they learn they are guests in the house of the sailtheurge Thyvalda Valentin, captain of the ‘Karolina’. They are in the great port of Ibeadra, the powerhouse of blanche shipping. Aelish, through fasting and deep prayer, is able to sufficiently mortify Fendrys’ flesh and perform her miracles with the conduit of his body; this act will answer important theological questions for the sages in their towers, settling many debates. Aelish and Lukiria each focus their efforts on locating and contacting A’Kelah-Aodh. It seems Małgorzata has the halfling captive with A’Kelah’s mind trapped in it! Wolverton has gotten away with the crown. The succubus demands the ‘spider-can’ (and perhaps Aelish’s blood) in exchange for the halfling. Lukiria must attend to the dangers posed by the painting and Ashen and refuses to assist in this matter. The Starhunters however, convince her lover Thyvalda instead, to help them rescue their friend.

EXP
A’Kelah 1500
Aelish 1500
Aodh 1100
Fendrys 1500
Leonidas 1500

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Sessions 24 & 25
The Painted World

The Starhunters explore The Maze of the Blue Medusa.

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Session 23
Korakithrope

Crow_demon02.jpg

The Starhunters (minus Aodh) arrive in Hinturnal amid rumors of a painter in a nearby village who has mysteriously disappeared. A’Kelah visits the university in town while the others head north to the painter’s village. Sir Galkin remains behind with the veer, worried that if Aelish is in danger from assassins, her friends may be as well. A’Kelah studies the university’s maps and other lore to learn all she can of their destination, Arsam, the Dragomov skull, and of the Meridian. Most of what she turns up will help in locating the latest fallen star or else about the rural monastery of Arsam.

Fendrys, Leonidas, Vallon, and Aelish go north a few hours outside of town to visit the painter’s house and investigate his disappearance. In his absence are his triplets, Tomas, Ekaterina, and Eva. Each child is displaying a particular talent that has only recently come to the fore. Fendrys learns of Tomas’ great facility with numbers. Leonidas is intrigued and amazed by Ekaterina’s violin playing. Aelish talks with Eva about her father’s painting. Eva produces a sketch of the last painting her father worked on, a canvas which has also since gone missing—along with his easel—not long after the disappearance of the man himself. The sketch depicts a youth in chains and hints at the qualities of the painting itself which all who have seen it agree is ‘shamefully perverse, mildly significant, and not very good’.

Keen-eyed Fendrys, sensitive to disturbances in his environment, locates a set of tracks both in the painting studio and also leading away from the house outside. They all spend the evening there, summoning A’Kelah and Damir to join them that evening. The next day, they set out bright and early, traipsing into overgrown lands that were years ago sold to the Duke of Odenva. On their way, Leonidas chats up some of the locals to learn more about where the tracks lead and if they might be on the right track. He and Fendrys are both satisfied they are indeed on the right path. The ranger also discovers a raven following them just as an albatross does a ship at sea. He calls attention to it and all but Vallon think it an ill omen.

As evening descends, they arrive at the old Harkin farm described by the locals. As they ride their horses through a copse of trees, they are ambushed by three burly hobgoblins who mean to take them prisoner. When they do not submit, one goblin vanishes but is heard rushing away to presumably raise an alarm. Vallon and Damir quickly gallop their horses after the invisible goblin, leading Aelish along with them. Fendrys, Leonidas, and A’Kelah are left behind—on their more stubborn mounts—to deal with the other two goblins by themselves. Fendrys comes to blows with the creatures, his skill at arms being disrupted more by the chaotic magic of his friends than anything else. Further on, Aelish’s faith unmasks the third goblin who is subdued by Damir.

The old farm, where the alarm would surely have been raised, is nothing but a dilapidated barn and a crumbling dovecote. Dozens of ravens—at a dark, unnatural hour—are perched all over the rotting timbers of the barn making a cacophony of gurgling cries and caws. Fendrys and Vallon barge into the dovecote where a lantern’s light can be seen; Aelish realizes she can understand the raven cries and is happy to join the rest inside, to get away from the overwhelming chorus. The first Starhunters in catch a glimpse of a tall, floating, ominous figure right before it vanishes into thin air. The only one who does not enter the dovecote is A’Kelah, who instead flies up to the oculus at the roof to peer down from above.

The scoundrel Dougal—ever a thorn in the side of Aodh—is within. Just like them, it seems he has come all the way from the capital on his wicked business. He has a lantern and an easel and the stolen painting. He also has a pistol leveled at Vallon’s chest. Fendrys acts first, bravely and adroitly disarming the highwayman, but not without taking direct fire in the process. The gunshot sends the ravens outside swiftly into the night air. As this action quickly unfolds, a beam of moonlight enters the structure which appears to work some magic over the painting; its surface begins to undulate and ripple. Vallon springs forward to tip over the painting and shield it from any further moonlight. The elf strikes the easel with her blade, a risky and haphazard move that tips the painting directly onto the gut-shot ranger; Fendrys is gone from sight as the painting crashes down. Dougal screams at something he sees behind them all at the entrance, for the moon’s light has catalyzed not only the magic of the painting.

Aelish has transmogrified into a terrifying hybrid creature that is part raven and part woman. She has grown tall, sprouted wings over her arms and talons instead of feet, leaving her clothing in tatters. Dougal scrambles, lifting up the painting and scurrying under it like a trapped animal. He too is gone now. Crow-Aelish bellows out a screaming caw which signals freedom and agony in equal measure. She flies upward, through the oculus, right past A’Kelah, scattering dust and loose bricks as she goes. A’Kelah of course can also fly and pursues her raven-creature friend. Leonidas stands the painting back up to better assess what is happening with it. Soon after, Crow-Aelish wheels around and dives straight back to the dovecote through the doorway. She shudders her feathers as she comes to a stop and then steps into the painting right before the eyes and Leonidas and Vallon and A’Kelah. At this, Vallon jumps in right after her. A’Kelah gathers up their things and entrusts the knight Damir to guard this spot with his life. The half-elven bard and the veer sorceress ride their mounts under the pale moon light into the painting after their friends. A bewildered young knight remains, tempering the silence with his prayers to Eladriel.

EXP
Aelish 1000
A’Kelah 1350
Vallon N/A
Fendrys 1350
Leonidas 1350

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Session 22
As The Crow Flies

Aelish sends her knight, Sir Damir Galkin as a messenger to inform Dr. Taras of the matter of Ambrus Dragomov’s skull and to inquire after the supposed other Aelish. As luck would have it, Taras was personally underway that evening (10th Terentius) to reply—in person—to A’Kelah regarding those same topics. Thus, Damir and Taras return together to the Citadel Rosette. Damir and Vallon break away to prepare and plan for the journey ahead, east along the Holy Road.

Taras receives a full accounting of the fantastic exploits of the Starhunters, as told by Leonidas’ expert tongue. He omits their experiences with Goriseld, with Lukiria, and although he mentions Oksana, her whereabouts and plans are not indicated. Taras then speaks of the skull of Ambrus Dragomov, and how it is something of an anomaly. The remains of the 138 Dragomov monarchs, their consorts and children, from Oran I and Eugenia I all the way up to Marina most recently, are all ensepulchred in their royal crypt here in Elansory, within the Great Pantheon. It is true the skull was found in the University’s private collection however—and it is marked with runic inscriptions. Only recently was it found, when a letter arrived from the monastery of Nephogar at Arsam inquiring after it. It seems the scribes there, hard at work on their translations, uncovered something that mentions the skull—and they would like it sent to them. Taras also says that this matter with the skull is fully enmeshed in red tape at present and that it isn’t going anywhere soon. A’Kelah, when she is not rudely insulting Taras’ performance as headmaster, requests a rubbing of the skull be made for her. He assents to this, but is clearly offended by his treatment from the veer, and takes his leave.

In the deep hours of that evening, as the Citadel slumbers, Aelish is stabbed in the heart by an intruder. Brutally awake, yet alive, she stammers out a scream and enough of the Verses to call upon Eladriel for aid. Fendrys is woken by Aelish’s miraculous calling. He stirs Leonidas and together the pair steal in the shadows to the rectory. The bard uses his Chime of Opening on its locked door while the ranger masks the mystic sound. Mother Superior Ludmilla is found dead in the hallway, her head and skull cracked wide open; a grisly smear of blood leads from the cavity of her head into the privy. They make haste to Aelish’s chamber which emits a holy light through a crack in the door. Fendrys removes the blade just as Leonidas heals the wound with the strongest exertion of his elven healing arts.

Aelish bolts out of bed and immediately works to help determine how this happened. They find a horrific scene in the privy. A strange creature, some crossing between a brain and a mosquito is flitting around, spattering blood and other effluvia all over the white marble and plaster of the room. Its basic escape instincts are failing. Leonidas and Fendrys dispatch it while Aelish raises the alarm.

Soon after, Vallon is encountered, providing the news that ‘the other Aelish is on her way’. They all make for the Citadel’s Holy Sanctum, but sure enough Aelish is encountered in the now simmering chaos of the church. Questions fail as Aelish appears wounded to see her friends have abandoned her for an ‘imposter’ and she cannot remember many of the details they ask her for. Aelish fades away from sight, looking increasingly terrified and confused and alone as she does until she is gone completely.

The Starhunters spend the rest of the night in the Knight Commandery while an inquest is made. Even A’Kelah is summoned from her watery slumber by Aelish. Knight-Commander Mikhail confers with Aelish about what should be done; Knight and Arch-Guardian agree that her mission calls her to be elsewhere. He provisions the priestess with food, horses, and other gear, hoping the distant trials she next faces will help rid his temple of more misery and conflict.

On the next day (the 11th), short of sleep, the Starhunters spend an overloaded day in various shops and stables. They gather supplies, new clothes, weapons and armor, as well as procure vital spell reagents. Some time is taken, during this interlude in the capital, to learn more of the pregnant women as well. The Starhunters see firsthand one miscarriage and it is clearly not human. Another report says a woman who opted to terminate had a snake pulled from her body. And Gage, also a scaled creature, suffers a rash that pains and embarrasses him.

As a final transaction, the platinum ore unearthed from Myhta Petraea is converted into an astonishing sum: over 5,000 gold thrones. This they store with dwarven Braided League bankers in exchange for letters of credit. With their business affairs and necessities in order, the Starhunters take again to the road.

They meet finally again with Aodh only to hear from the halfling that he is keen to pursue other exploits in the north. He has joined up with his associate Wolverton, a.k.a. ‘Blackjack’, in a scheme to steal the Crown of Rynas from (supposedly) the Duke of Vercetin for an unnamed client. The Starhunters plead with Aodh not to go, going so far as to consider tying him up against his will. In the end, Aodh is let loose, promising to return to them all when the deed is done, Crown in hand. Gage voices his interest in going as well. Finding the fallen star near Hinturnal—and any others later—will be much more trying without the halfling.

The Starhunters take the ancestral Holy Road toward Encer, staying at some of its famed hostels like the Inn of the Blue Cup and the Square Queen Inn (supposed birthplace of Aleksandra IV). When he is not singing rousing songs or spinning elaborate embroidery into already bombastic tales, Leonidas’ magic translates the runes from the rubbing of the skull. Doing this reveals Meridian symbols and, of course, the name of Ambrus Dragomov XI. A’kelah too uses her own magic, determining that neither Vallon nor Aelish are bewitched by any spells. Two days later, Fendrys confers with a fellow wanderer, an esoteric dwarf, and hears news of increased goblin activity near the monastery at Arsam.

As they near Hinturnal, Aodh’s reports of the scoundrel Dougal riding a fine swift charger are confirmed by the locals. His path leads toward a bit of interesting news: an eccentric painter locked himself up in his house, and then disappeared.

EXP
Aelish 900
A’Kelah 900
Aodh 900
Fendrys 1125
Leonidas 1125

Inspiration
+1 Inspiration to Kathy (for RPing the townsperson)
+1 Inspiration to Dov for clever idea (that I still need some clarity on)

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