Egressive Behaviour

Fireside: Dragonfall Part 1

_EF3669B06F784D69F60C2526326274BB8199A22C09E19FE166_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngRaddan

Raddan hovered at the rear of the battered group of survivors as they filtered into the newly constructed stronghold, watching the clearly weakened slaves to make sure they all made it safely within the walls. He nodded a greeting to those they’d left behind on watch, though the expression upon the mask remained grim. As if to answer their unspoken question, the sorcerer simply said, “It’s over, we got him. He bled us well though… and we lost Valdasar.” It was the first time he’d spoken the dragonborn’s name. Whatever the responses from the three, his mind remained elsewhere. Raddan looked over their new burden, crammed into the tight space in such a manner that they appeared in danger of bursting down the walls. This is in severe danger of being a logistical nightmare.
Amidst the crowds, he caught sight of Eran laying their fallen cleric to rest as best he could. It didn’t take an archmage to see the lad would be suffering from this loss, moreso than the rest of them. With an uncharacteristic sigh, the masked man turned back to Alvin and his comrades. “I’ll take the first watch,” he said, “do what you can to see that the refugees are fed and watered.” Raddan then stepped away, moving up the makeshift staircase and into the solitary watch tower, overlooking the battleground of the troglodyte warbands. He settled into a restful position, hands going through the automatic motion of lighting his pipe. Between the thin tendrils of smoke, he caught glimpses of Eran moving below, assisting the survivors of the beholder’s lair. It was good that the man was working but Raddan knew from experience that the peace wouldn’t last. He turned his gaze back out into the grim darkness of the cavern. The hunter would have to combat his demons alone, Raddan had his own spectres to deal with.
Reaching into a deep pocket within his robes, the sorcerer withdrew a single, odd coin. He didn’t look at it, he knew the feel by heart, even through the thin fabric of the gloves he always wore. Slowly, he began to walk the coin between his fingers, the motion a silent accompaniment to whatever thoughts lay behind that metal face.

_729EEEA8C9563733010D13A8D23FF347962F7552B2FF31E415_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngLoic Gwawr’llwyd

Loic had yet to react to the death of their comrade observably. After the battle, he’d gone straight to business, tending to the treasure and the hundred-something people they’d returned freedom to. When he considered it, he couldn’t tell whether he was in shock and refused to accept it, or if having died, himself, had given him this calm regarding others going through the same transition. Death was not the end, after all, and he was allowed to know this first-hand. When he thought of the old man finally meeting face-to-face with his great dragon god for the first time, it gave him a warm sensation of profound satisfaction. It felt like that was where Valdasar belonged now, watching over them from that place far, far away.
There also existed the elation of discovering the amazing items in Karaziker’s hidden stash. The mechanical man was absolutely, mind-bogglingly fascinating. Its parts were so complex, he could not fathom what manner of intelligence could have conceived such a contraption. Its shell was blocky and a little crude, but the spaces where he could see between the plates, all the tiny spinning gears and levers? He could confidently say it was a divinely elegant design. Thankfully, the shield guardian wasn’t the jealous type.
Before he could examine all these items in peace however, he wanted to speak to the mass of former slaves. As he roamed, he could tell that many of them already had places they intended to get back to. He didn’t know how long they’d all been down here, but he wasn’t about to let them walk into a demon-filled Underdark without making them aware first. If he did it well enough, perhaps they would gain new companions, or at least a good word or two down the line if they were to ever land in an inhospitable place. He’d seen drow within the throng. No doubt their branded foreheads would keep them from rejoining their dark kin in station completely, but maybe it would be worth it to stop by and ensure they knew the identities of their rescuers first. Perhaps these rogues could be of use to Vizeran, and the beginning of what Loic had been secretly calling The Underdark Renaissance.
The wizard floated up above the crowd by twenty feet and spread his arms out to indicate he required attention. He seemed completely unconcerned about displaying his unnatural left limb. Then, he cleared his throat and began in a confidant, projected voice.
“I realize some of you have been down here longer than others.” He paused, letting his eyes make contact with a few scattered individuals in the crowd. “I also realize some of you may have been here for so long that you have forgotten the dangers of the Underdark wilds. I must inform you that you now have additional threats to contend with, but they can be avoided with awareness and the right information.”
Another pause suggested the following sentences would be the most imperative. “The material plane has been fractured in places, periodically opening dimensional rifts to the Abyssal Plane. There aren’t many, but those rifts that have appeared have unleashed enough powerful demons to pose a threat to us all: dwarves, drow, elves, humans, all denizens of this world alike. Seek some place that you think could withstand the passing of one of these beasts. There will be strength in numbers. On your travels, if you come across a purple-colored mist, find another route. That is an indicator that you are either very close to one of the worst of them, or that you are near a rift. These demons are abominations created by evil and entropy. I do not advise attempting to reason with them, if you somehow survive getting close enough to even speak to one. My companions and I are on our way to stop the madness and return stability to our planar boundaries. You are welcomed to aid us in our mission, but you will not be forced. If you are interested in helping, please approach me after this so that we can discuss details, as well as just how you might be best suited to lend a hand. My name is Loic. And, if you simply wish to return to your homes, please do still rest yourselves and have some water from the stream first. Take a little time to gather your wits before heading out.”
With a satisfactory nod, the wizard descended back down to the ground and made his way back over to his golem, who was protectively holding the Robe of Eyes, and his new mechanical friend. “Now let’s take a proper look at you,” the wizard muttered as he approached the Duo-drone. Without regard for its personal space, and the sliver of sentience he’d so far seen, his long tentacle coiled around the mechanical creature and drew it forward beneath his analytical eye.
Whatever its face was made out of, it was capable of showing expression. Notably, its mouth was badly damaged. It caused Loic to believe that if that piece were repaired, this guy could be capable of conversation. Then, he’d simply be able to ask what it was and how it functioned, to see if it could be of any additional use to the mission. Not to mention, he was just very curious. One would imagine the idea of a non-organic sentience to elude modern science for another several hundred years.
“Raddan may be able to fix you sooner than later,” Loic said hopefully to the Duo-drone. “If he cannot, then I will be able after we rest a while longer. I can do this for now, though.” He snapped his fingers and cleaned the automaton of any dust, dirt, or light rust that had been building up on its surface. Quickly, he turned a little and did the same thing to the Robe of Eyes, preferably dispelling it of any demons of the odorous variety. Then, he took it from his guardian and slipped it on over his head as he concluded. “Come, let’s find him. …Maybe find Shedrak too before anybody else does.”
Loic, his two metal companions, and Peet the Basilisk, began the search for the shrouded figure with the mask. When he didn’t seem to be anywhere obvious, they were able to track down one of the Zhentarim men, who indicated that he could be found in the watchtower. The half-elf went up alone, as he was uncertain if the steps would support all four of his mini-party, and poked his head around the corner.
“Hi. Do you have a moment?”

_EF3669B06F784D69F60C2526326274BB8199A22C09E19FE166_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngRaddan

The figure standing watch did not turn to face Loic and a thin cloud of odorous tobacco rising up from the opposite side of the hood was the only immediate response. In his free hand, a coin walked from index finger, across the others and back again once more before Raddan made it vanish into an obscure pocket. He spoke quietly into the darkness. “I stand watch.” It was a clear statement, let the half-elf infer from it what he would.

_729EEEA8C9563733010D13A8D23FF347962F7552B2FF31E415_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngLoic Gwawr’llwyd

“What does that mean?” the wizard asked. It was his natural way to assume as little as possible. Misinformation was a curse, and he did his best to keep it at a minimum.
The coin being fiddled with didn’t go unheeded. One thing at a time, the wizard reminded himself.
“If it makes a difference to you, you don’t have to go anywhere. Just wanted to see if you’d be willing to help fix this automaton we found enough to give it its voice back. Would you, please? A mending spell ought to be enough.”

_EF3669B06F784D69F60C2526326274BB8199A22C09E19FE166_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngRaddan

The man sighed irritably. “Do none of you people realise it’s a bad idea to distract a sentry?” This was twice now, he did not care for it happening again. “Spells are as much your area of expertise as mine, moreso I’d wager. If you’re so desperate, I’ve little doubt you could attempt the repairs yourself. Otherwise, it’ll keep until I’ve been relieved.”

_729EEEA8C9563733010D13A8D23FF347962F7552B2FF31E415_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngLoic Gwawr’llwyd

Loic’s eyes widened in a moment of surprise and anger at being insulted and so quickly dismissed. He had to remind himself quickly that Raddan could’ve been up here, brooding alone, for a while before now. His mood could be residual from whatever he’d been dwelling on. Likely Valdasar, if the sorcerer was even capable of having that kind of empathy towards another. So far, he did not openly exhibit any ability to connect with people.
“Keep your sass pointed elsewhere,” replied the half-elf calmly. “I’m not the enemy. To answer the question of why I don’t do it myself, I only have one spell that could manage this, and I would require all of my energy. After keeping Eran and Ilia in the air, I need some time. And then, I imagine to use my strongest magic of the day for something less important than defeating an enemy would be wasteful. I know mending isn’t the strongest one in your own arsenal. There is logic behind it, please believe. If you are concerned about someone keeping watch, then I will summon Yvve to relieve you for the half second it will take you to cast and return to your post.”
Instead of walking away in disgust, which is what he very much felt like doing, he stepped onto the platform and casually approached the man’s back, trying to hold himself as submissively and unthreatening as possible, shoulders down and feet shuffling slowly.
“I sense you are throwing up more obstacles than there need to be with this. You don’t have to do that. And if you come across a problem or a limitation you wish lifted, I would be delighted to find a way to cut through it with you.”

_EF3669B06F784D69F60C2526326274BB8199A22C09E19FE166_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngRaddan

“Sass?” the sorcerer echoed. “You’d do well to stop envisioning barbs everywhere. This is about discipline, nothing more. A sentry should be left to do his job, lest those relying on him be caught unaware. You’re interfering with that.” If the wizard couldn’t grasp even that simple concept, Raddan would waste no further effort on it. The offer of the draconic familiar standing guard brought another cloud of smoke to the fore and when he felt Loic begin to move closer, the shrouded figure stood a little more upright, light fingers working to extinguish and dismantle the pipe. “I don’t trust your little friend’s eyes as well as I do my own. I have volunteered the watch and I will stand it, my assistance can be sought later.” With the pipe tucked away, a black gloved hand wrapped around the haft of the spear, a visual message to accompany his words. “Problems are a thing we’ve all had enough of for one day but if you want to solve an immediate one, I’d head back down those stairs and start distributing what little food we can spare between the survivors.”

_729EEEA8C9563733010D13A8D23FF347962F7552B2FF31E415_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngLoic Gwawr’llwyd

“Raddan. You are not a sentry. You are a sorcerer, and one of the handful of people who will save the world.” He made a point to maintain eye contact, unwavering even as the masked man went for his weapon. “We have three fine men able to do this lesser task, and a couple of beasts. Your particular specialties are very much welcomed elsewhere. That’s all.”
Loic lifted an eyebrow at him, then casually turned and left without instigating anything further. On his way back down, he spoke to the Duo-drone, but it was possible the sorcerer could still very faintly hear the wizard say, “I guess we’ll have to wait. Raddan’s not done being an unscientific sourpuss.”
Off to find Shedrak. He wasn’t very difficult to spot. Loic glided through the crowd and gently took the fellow by the sleeve, drawing him out to the short tunnel, carved by the river, that separated them from the larger caverns. With the five of them standing around together, the weird collection of organic and metal entities resembled a proper posse. For a second, Loic strongly considered taking them and running, swapping these guys in exchange for the elf, the other half-elf, and especially the tiefling-cambion-whatever. Lael could come.
Alas, as much and as often as the others disappointed him, he understood the value of other free-willed minds giving input on plans. He was just humble enough to know exactly what the best things were about working in a group.
“So! What are your plans from here, Shedrak? You’re a decent spell-chucker. I would ask that you join us on our mission, but I sincerely cannot guarantee your safety. There is a very high death risk, honestly. If not for the demons, there are drow chasing us with the intent to kill, and the others will probably never like you because you had a hand in killing Valdasar. That said, I completely understand if you don’t want to go.”

Shedrak looked shocked and surprised when Loic approached him. He immediately bowed and lowered his head, allowing Loic a clearer view of the tattoos of eyes that ran from just above his eyes to the very crown of his head. There were four sets of eyes in total and the last set looked directly at Loic as he spoke.
“Oh great and powerful Loic, how may Shedrak be of service to you and your friends? Shedrak sees many things and Shedrak will happily see things for you.” To illustrate the point, he tapped the tattoos on his head. “A blessing from the great Karazikar, Shedrak can see all around him. Is there is any service Shedrak can lend to you and your incredible companions?”

“Well, I don’t know.” Loic tilted his head curiously. “How far can you see? Can you see through things? Is it divination magic?”

“Shedrak can see all around him, Shedrak can see things which are invisible, Shedrak helped the great Karazikar by seeing those who approached The Maw.”

“Can you see into the Wormwrithings? Can you locate exactly where we could find a live purple worm egg, right this second?”

He began to look a little scared as he answered. “Shedrak cannot see that far, Shedrak could see from the centre of the Maw to the outer ring, please forgive Shedrak for not being able to do what is asked.” He raised his staff above his head. “Shedrak will now punish himself for not satisfying your demands, Shedrak promises this will not happen again.”

“Woaaaahh, woah there!” Without thinking, Loic lashed out with his tentacle and wound its tips around the aloft staff, attempting to ensure the man did not descend upon himself. “That’s not my thing! You’d piss me off worse if you hurt yourself on purpose. I want you to be in good health, Shedrak. If you hurt yourself, it’ll be more difficult for you to perform further services. Let’s not, hmm?” The half-elf finished in a gentle tone, giving the staff a small tug down in an attempt to guide the man.
“It’s perfectly alright if you can’t see that far. To have extraordinary sight at all is, by definition, extraordinary. I’m just testing your limits, so that I can better understand what sort of tasks can be given to you, you know? And for future reference, honest mistakes can be forgiven, within certain circumstances. If one were to follow your logic, then you’d be dead right now because, again, you helped kill Valdasar, whether you did it directly or not. If the darkness on the blade had not been dispelled, he would still be here. We all liked that guy, and it is not beyond some of us to seek revenge.”
“But that’s not going to happen.” His tentacle began to release the staff. “Do you now understand your new situation, and specifically what you are expected not to do?”

Shedrak lowered the staff to his side once again and then stood up straight, no longer bowing. He refrained from looking look Loic in the eyes however, still appearing quite afraid.
“Shedrak… understands… Shedrak should not punish himself, you should punish Shedrak when Shedrak deserves it.”

“Right,” Loic nodded, but his skeptical expression lingered. It would take a lot more than that to undo whatever horrific process turned this man into this… pathetic subterranean subspecies, but it was a start in a good direction. Perhaps some psionic therapy sessions would be in order at some point.
“Let’s try something else. What can you tell me about the drow that had been enslaved? Do you happen to know their names, and where they come from?”

“Only Shedrak was blessed with a name by the great Karazikar, no one else has a name. Shedrak found some of them a month ago while they were travelling through, but Shedrak found one of them yesterday, hunting for a purple worm nest.”

The wizard’s eyes widened with recognition. If a drow was searching for the worm nest, there was a high likelihood that it had to do with the same reasons he and his companions were here now. They needed to talk to these dark elves sooner than later. He didn’t want to do it alone, though. If they were recently captured, then they were probably unbroken and still very willful. No telling what tricks they still possessed, even without their possessions. One of them was probably the owner of the sword they had found two days ago, in this complex.
“Thank you, Shedrak. That was valuable information. I would like you to point the one out to me that came along yesterday. Then, I have one thing left to ask you for now: do you use a spellbook, or are you a natural sorcerer?”

Shedrak began walking away as soon as Loic suggested pointing out someone specific. “Come, Shedrak show you.” He walked a little ways through the crowd of slaves and pointed to the drow, specifically to one whose clothes look different from the rest. Upon close inspection, the clothes this particular drow was wearing was a type of armor which has been destroyed by magical attacks and acids. “This is the one you seek, oh great and wise Loic. Shedrak has always cast spells. Shedrak hasn’t read books, the great Karazikar did not bless Shedrak with books.”

“Fair enough.” The wizard stood should-to-shoulder with the sorcerer, still staring at the one in the heavily damaged armor. “A little later, I will learn which spells you know, and we will talk more. Please stay with me for the sake of the information you have. We go to find Lael, and then we’ll see what we can see about these drow, if they are friend or foe.”

With a dramatic cloak-swishing, he turned and began his hunt for the grey woman all in white, stained with red.

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The Vast Oblivium
Ingredient Number 1

s morning arrived and our heroes awoke from their camp the previous night, a feeling of unease came upon them. The day had come and the time was almost at hand in which they would have to attempt to claim the central eye of a beholder. Before leaving the campsite to head out towards the monster in question, the team decided to reinforce the area that they were in. The campsite served as a good location, close as it was to both the beholder’s lair and the purple worm nests; coupled with the fresh water running through the cavern, it seemed the ideal place to set up a small defensive outpost. With everyone pitching in, it did not take long to clear away a suitable area of the cave and, using what bits of scrap wood and stone they had to hand, the rudimentary stronghold soon began to take form. With the knowledge that Karazikar had a large number of slaves which he had collected over time, the heroes were conscious that these poor beings would need a safe location to move to once the battle was over.

The stronghold they constructed took them fifteen hours to complete. It wasn’t much to look at, nor would it stand up to to a concentrated attack, but it did provide shelter against most things that may have been lurking in or passing through the local area. At least, that was the hope, for who truly knew what might be lying in wait out there in the dark abyss?
Once they were certain their work was done, they left the three remaining helpers from Gauntlgrym in the stronghold to defend it. In the meantime, they made their way out towards the beholder’s domain. They knew they were getting close to Karazikar’s lair, exactly how close was largely indeterminable but with every step they took the feeling of being watched from somewhere in the distance grew ever stronger. As they travelled the party began formulating a cunning plan to ensure they could quickly dispatch the beholder without putting themselves in too much danger. Their scheme would incorporate a fancy new piece of weaponry that Eran had been constructing on his travels using his smithing tools. He had been hard at work, slaving over hot irons to smelt a sharp new hook into the end of a kukri blade. With this new form of savage knife, they hoped to embed the weapon into their target, making it both extremely difficult and painful to remove.

barbedKukri.png

The plan was to give Eran and Ilia the ability to fly, and complement this by turning them invisible. They would circle around the beholder in an attempt to flank it and once in position, they would plunge the barbed kukri into the beholder’s back. Once the kukri was securely embedded in the flesh of the aberration, Eran would cast the darkness spell on the blade itself, plunging the area immediately surrounding the beholder into an almost impenetrable blackness. The hope was that if the beholder was blinded by the magical darkness, killing him and retrieving his malevolent eye should then be fairly simple. As ready as they would ever be, the party ventured out to see if their plan would indeed give them the edge against this beholder and pave the way towards collecting all of the ritual ingredients.

The party continued on through the tunnels and cave systems for hours, steadily making their way down winding passageways and getting deeper and deeper into the underdark. The sense of being watched continued to grow, becoming an almost tangible sensation as they crept ever closer to their objective. Eventually, the tunnel they were in opened up before them, becoming a large, cylindrical corridor that began ten feet below their position and climbed vertically away from them, reaching to a point beyond where the eye could see. Scrambling down the small ledge, the party could see that from their current position, the tunnel opened up into two directions, left and right. They had taken their first steps into Karazikar’s halls.

Faced with the imminence of the coming battle, the group set about quickly putting the final touches upon their plan. In order to make certain that the beholder would be facing away from Eran and Ilia when they made their move, Lael took Valdasar and headed into the tunnel first. Valdasar himself took up the demeanour of a weak and frail old man, indicating to Lael that she was free to be rough with him to further their ruse. The scheme was to have Lael present Valdasar to the beholder as a gift or sacrifice, depending on the aberration’s preference. If all went well, Lael might be able to keep the creature focused on her and Valdasar long enough for Eran and Ilia to reach their ambush positions.

As the two decoys began to move forward, Eran and Ilia set to poisoning their weapons. Ilia makes use of drow poison, while his half-elven comrade chose carrion crawler mucus, items which had been acquired in Gauntlgrym. As the paladin and her dragonborn captive turned to the left tunnel, they were briefly startled by the sudden appearance of a humanoid figure. Lael’s keen drow eyes quickly made out a thin, bald, human male with a slight hunch, standing in the hallway.

Shedrak.jpg
“Shedrak welcomes you to the halls of The Great Karazikar!” the man declared with a bow. After a closer look at the creature that was was bowing before them, Lael and Valdasar saw that just above his eyes was a repeating pattern of eye shaped tattoos that spanned the entirety of his reflective, dark skinned head. The thin man who called himself Shedrak straightened, holding in his right hand a tall wooden staff with a bronze eye housed atop it. The metal eye pointed directly at the decoys. “Have you come to offer something to The Great Karazikar?” he asked.
“Yes,” Lael quickly answered, giving Valdasar a shove toward the monk that stood before them. “Who are you in relation to the beholder?”
“Shedrak is a humble servant to The Great Karazikar.” Shedrak answered while kissing his hand, which he then touched to a scar shaped like an eye in the centre of his forehead.
“Well, take me to your Master then,” Lael commanded with her familiar air of importance. “I will not deal with his underlings.”
“What is it that you bring for The Great Karazikar?” Shedrak demanded, seemingly unfazed by the paladin’s apparent sense of nobility.
“I bring a slave for him,” she replied, looking at Valdasar, “he has something of mine which I want returned and in exchange I will offer him this.”
“What is it that The Great Karazikar has that you believe to be yours?”
“A drow, a drow of House Mizzrym, and I want it back.” Lael stated. As she spoke her demands, she reached up to remove her helmet, revealing plainly to the personage before her that she too was a drow.
“Shedrak will take you to worship The Great Karazikar, but Shedrak can assure you that there are no drow here in the servitude of The Great Karazikar.” The stoic monk responded, seemingly unaware that the drow before him held some modicum of significance.
“Are you certain of this?” Lael asked quizzically.
“Yes, yes, Shedrak does not lie. Come, The Great Karazikar bids you welcome to this domain.” Without another word, the monk turned and began walking north along the long, circular corridor, away from the rest of the party.

Back in the entryway into the tunnels Loic turned to Raddan. “That Shedrak fellow is concerning.”
“Just a little bit,” came the response from the masked individual, “I wonder how many more little fan boys this beholder has?”
“Do you think he will try to stop us if we dash forward to attack his master?”
“Clearly, although since he is walking away with Lael, maybe we have a chance to sneak by; he can’t see in two places at once.”
Lael and Valdasar moved along the corridor until it turned right, and then they began to move closer to the centre of the lair. Before them they could see a one-hundred foot long corridor which slowly rose in height until it reached another hundred feet above the ground at the centre of the lair. Similar tunnels stretched out in other directions from this central chamber, obviously connecting the inner sanctum with the outer ring. The entire chamber and its corridors had been so cleanly carved out that not a single shadow was cast within this entire area. The chamber was lit by bright crystals which circled a dark hole in the ceiling at the centre of the sanctum. Far below the ceiling the floor separated and the area immediately below the crystals appeared to be almost an island, floating in nothingness. The gap between the corridors and the floor of the central chamber was separated by a twenty foot chasm. The only way to cross the dark pit was using six rope bridges, one connected to each corridor. The bottom of the chasm lurked too far down to be seen, even by Lael’s dark-elven eyes. She and Valdasar followed Shedrak across one of the bridges, stepping out over the deep chasm. As they did so a mental message, almost like a whisper, came to Lael. It was the voice of Raddan.
“Is that fellow still with you? Cough once for yes, twice for no.”
There was but a single cough in reply.

Back at the entryway, the rest of the party made ready to enact the rest of the plan.
“Right lads, looks like that monk is still occupied, this is probably as good a time as any to move out.” Raddan informed the rest of the group.
They began to make their way around the corridors, Loic casting the fly spell on Eran and Ilia and the pair quickly took off into the dark corridor. Now was the time. The attack would begin in earnest soon.
Stood beside the pair of decoys, Shedrak raised his arms high up towards the ceiling. “Oh great Karazikar, bless us with your presence.” His voice echoed throughout the cave and the crystals high above began to vibrate. Something was coming.
Moments later Lael and Valdasar were staring up at the gaping hole in the ceiling to be greeted by the sight of an eye stalk peering out through the gap. A second stalk joined it, followed swiftly by a third. A moment later, the entire body of the beholder began to slowly make its way out of the hole, floating high up in the chamber with its central eye fixed firmly on the new visitors.
Karazikar.jpg

As Karazikar came into view Lael gave Valdasar a swift kick to the back of his legs, forcing the old dragonborn onto the floor before her. “Kneel, fool!” she hissed.
Valdasar grunted, but did as he was bid, intent on keeping up the ruse. As his scaly knees met the ground, Shedrak spoke.
“Oh Great and Powerful Karazikar, this pilgrim has travelled far and wide to provide you with an offering.” He bowed deeply, evidently he dared not make eye contact with the beholder. The human lowered his arms and gestured toward Lael and Valdasar, intent on presenting them to his master as the ones of whom he speaks.
With the beholder staring down at the newcomers, Lael defiantly stared right back into his central eye, contemplating their potential prize. A tense moment of silence passed before Shedrak whispered intently to Lael.
“Say something, offer him your slave!”
“Mighty Karazikar,” Lael started, “I come to you to offer you a slave, and I wish to speak with you. Will you speak with me?”
With his interest piqued, Karazikar lowered himself 20 feet closer to the pair. At the same time, back in the large circular corridor, Eran and Ilia were making their way around the halls, seeking a good vantage point from which to launch their attack. When Karazikar spoke, it was with a beguiling, ponderous voice. “I have… many slaves… what value… is this one… to me?”
“Given your many wonderful gifts, one cannot give you anything you need, for surely you have more than anyone else. This slave is a seer and his powers of sight can greatly aid you.” Lael said, intent on pandering to the beholder’s ego.
“Mmmm…” all of Karazikar’s many eyes immediately fixed on Valdasar. “What… can you… see?”
Valdasar remained silent, refusing to answer. Seeing his impertinence, Lael tightened the grip of the whip she had around his throat. “You were asked a question, slave. Answer him!”
“Ugghh,” came the pained reply as the barbed whip dug into his skin. “I do not answer to monsters!”
“As you can see, this one is still relatively wilful, perhaps you will have some fun ‘taming’ him?” Lael suggested to the beholder.
“I have… no need… of headstrong slaves. If you… have not… weakened him… why should I… waste my… time?”
“Would that please you to witness?” came the immediate response from the drow paladin.
“Please…” Karazikar answered, evidently eager both to witness the taming of the dragonborn and to see if the drow was up to the task.
Without even a hint of remorse, Lael drew back her barbed whip and cracked it hard against the back of the cleric. The barbs sliced through his robes and his draconic flesh, the poison sweeping through his veins as blood spilled to the ground, greatly weakening the cleric.
“Enough… I will do as you say.” the broken voice of Valdasar reached up towards his apparent new master.
“Ha ha haaaa… beautiful.”
“Very few can resist such drow persuasion, I assure you.” Lael chimed in.
“So… tell me… seer… what can… you see?”
“Come closer, and I will show you.”
Taking the bait, the beholder dropped another 20 feet towards the decoys.
“What… can you… tell me… about the… Maze Engine?”
Valdasar quickly racked his brain for any information he could recall about the Maze Engine, knowing that he had heard that term once before. He did remember that within the halls of the Gravenhollow library, the group had learned that the Maze Engine is an ancient spherical device that can be used to reshape reality. The prospect of such a device in the hands of the beholder was disturbing, to say the least.
“It is a means,” said the cleric eventually, “by which to undo the work of the gods, and shape the world as you see fit.”
“Can you… tell me… where to … find it?” The beholder almost looked excited at the prospect of finally having a location on the device.
Valdasar began to mumble, as if he was losing the strength to speak. “You must… come closer…”
Karazikar, now completely enthralled by the idea of finding the Maze Engine, threw all caution to the wind and descended once more. The beholder was now hovering a mere 40ft off the ground.
Hidden in the darkness, Ilia and Eran took this cue to drink potions of invisibility.
“Do to me what you will, monster! Greater beings than you watch over me, your end is nigh, murderer!” Valdasar screamed, the last word an agreed upon signal to the lurking ambushers.

At that sign, everyone sprang into action. Eran and Ilia took to the air and immediately charged towards the beholder, who currently had his fleshy back exposed to them. The beholder’s eye stalks flared and shook in anger at the deception. Suddenly, all of the bridges leading from the corridors onto the central plinth dropped down into the darkness of the chasm that lay beneath. In one moment, Valdasar, Lael, and Shedrak were stranded on the centre island with Karazikar.
With the beholders anti-magic field focused on Valdasar, the dragonborn knew it would not be wise to attempt magical combat against the beholder. Bereft of options, he charged forward towards Shedrak, trying to push him over the ledge and into the blackness below. Shredrak’s frail body belied a previously unseen agility, and he managed to just shift out of the way of the dragonborn’s attempt.

Eran flew up above the beholder, readying his strike with the barbed kukri. Unbeknownst to him however, Shedrak’s eye tattoos allowed him see things which are invisible, making him fully aware of Eran’s position. He stepped back, away from Valdasar, taking a whipping from the drow paladin as he did so. Angry at the insolence of these people, he cast greater invisibility upon himself and disappeared from view.

Karazikar began lashing out with his eye rays but the agility of the adventurers proved too strong and he was unable to harm them. Seeking sanctuary, he began to ascend towards his hole in the ceiling. As he retreated further upwards his body collided with Eran and the beholder stopped abruptly, unable to see what he had bumped into. Seeing his friend in potential danger, Ilia charged up and sank his dagger deep into the flesh of the beholder, his invisibility wearing off as his stealthy attack hit home. The poison on his blade merged into the creature’s blood stream and started to harm the beholder from within.

Distracted momentarily, the Karazikar barely noticed Eran shoving the barbed kukri into his back. With the kukri stuck in place, Eran held on tight, trying as much as he could to grapple the beholder and keep it from moving away from him. With the blade in place, it was time to attempt the next stage of the plan. With one hand on the kukri’s grip, Eran began to cast the darkness spell on the weapon. Although he completed the spell, nothing happened. No darkness formed. The familiar flare of magic did not appear and his spell failed. Across the cavern Loic, who possesses the ability to see invisible forms, spots out of the corner of his eye the hidden Shedrak. The man was muttering to himself and obviously busy countering Eran’s attempts at spellcasting.

Unaware of the magical failure, Karazikar lashed out at Eran with an eye ray, paralysing him in mid air. His body seized up, unable to respond to his mental commands. Helpless, Eran could only stare at the ceiling of the chamber as he plummeted almost sixty feet to the ground. The next few seconds seem to take an age as the ground came closer and closer. As Eran continued to fall, the rest of the party attacked the beholder with everything they had. Blow after blow, together they managed to whittle away at the beast. Each attack against the creature served to make it angrier and by the time Eran collided with the ground, the beholder was furious. The ranger’s body had barely impacted when the beholder launched a death ray at his the prone form. The green beam of energy struck the half-elf before he’d had a chance to move and in an instant, all the life within him was sucked away, his spirit drawn to some other plane.

Seeing the fallen warrior, Valdasar immediately reacted, running across to Eran to raise him back from the dead. As was the case with Loic, Valdasar received an answer to his prayers as life flooded back into Eran’s being. From the hunter’s point of view, an all-encompassing blackness suddenly gave way to the cleric standing above him, a smile upon his draconic features. A second later, a sickly green light flared behind the cleric, silhouetting the dragonborn’s visage. As the final blast of death magic struck Valdasar in the back, the cleric fell limp atop Eran, his soul called to the embrace of Bahamut.

First Eran had lost his father, Duon, to this beholder and now he had lost Valdasar. The guilt tore through the half-elf like a knife. He gently pushed aside the body of the dragonborn and climbed to his feet, a fury in his eyes. Using his own pain to fuel his strike, Eran charged the beholder and with a yell, drove his sun blade deep into Karazikar’s body.
As the beholder crashed down in a crumple of limbed eyes, a sudden wave of fatigue swept over the survivors. They had survived battle with a beholder and they now had the first ingredient they need. And yet, they had also lost a very valued member of the party and had no current method of reviving him. With few other choices, they carried his body with them as they started to leave the lair, hoping that the old man had found peace amongst the stars.

Intending to return to the troglodyte cavern, they stumbled upon Shedrak who was attempting to flee the scene. Halting him, the team managed to convince him to follow them and gain his freedom. Before they could go any further, a clamour arose from the dark chasm above which they had been fighting. Over a hundred of the beholder’s slaves rose up from the dark pit and, liberated from the tyranny of the beholder, sought sanctuary with the bedraggled adventurers. The emancipated beings were offered shelter in the stronghold that the party had created for this very purpose, a stronghold which they now named Valdasar’s Rest in honour of their fallen companion.

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Fireside: The Best of Intentions

_729EEEA8C9563733010D13A8D23FF347962F7552B2FF31E415_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngLoic Gwawr’llwyd

“Well that was… rather sad and pathetic,” said the wizard from his place towards the back of the caravan, after they’d just exited what he understood to be the boundary of the former troglodyte clan’s home. “Are you alright, Valdasar? I don’t imagine mass slaughter was your overall goal. What the hells happened back there?”

The shield guardian kept pace directly behind him, making noise with every step. Peet walked in front of Loic on his eight stubby legs, looking around freely once again with the help of his fancy new goggles.

ValdasarIcon.png Valdasar

Valdasar dusted himself off and shook his head sadly. “It seemed to go to plan – albeit a slightly altered plan – until the spells and arrows began to fly.” His gaze raked the battlefield. “I had intended to reveal myself to the troglodytes, but the hostage’s panic, coupled with the arrival of the riders…” He trailed off before adding, “I was certain the invisibility spell would conceal me until I reached you, giving ample time for the tribe to finish their battle and withdraw. I am truly sorry.”

_729EEEA8C9563733010D13A8D23FF347962F7552B2FF31E415_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngLoic Gwawr’llwyd

“I imagine that you are,” he simply responded, understanding that the cleric was not apologizing to him, but rather the sea of the dead behind them. And to himself, perhaps. He thought of Taman then, and mused over how it would have gone, had the human still been by their side. The more time that had passed without him, the more Loic was realizing just how crucial the mantle he’d taken within the group had been.

“Indeed. Physics still apply if you are invisible. Something to keep in mind. If the ground is covered in leaves or fungi, if it’s raining or snowing, if you cross a river or shuffle around in loose dirt with abandon, you will be observed. It surprises me a little, though, that you didn’t expect the female to do anything when you grabbed her. You don’t speak their language, and we established that. I have no idea what you were expecting. Fortunately, they were just troglodytes. Everything I’ve seen and heard of them depicts them as vile, evil little things. Surely they would have done more harm than good if suffered to live.”

Loic did not sincerely believe that. These troglodytes could have been different, and they could even have become additional resources if diplomacy had still been an option, before everybody started panicking. In that regard, he was proud of Lael. She’d stood beside him in equal disdain and half-hearted participation almost the entire time. But, chiding the priest wouldn’t be helping anything. Valdasar needed to keep a clear head, and stay aware and in the moment as much as possible. They all did. It would be better if he was supported into putting the catastrophe far behind.

ValdasarIcon.png Valdasar

“Unfortunately,” he replied, “we will never know of the other outcomes. Such is the nature of choice and consequence. Regardless of their nature…this should not have happened. Perhaps I was simply being naïve in thinking I could return the creature to her people, but…” Again, words failed him and he silently turned his back to the others.

_729EEEA8C9563733010D13A8D23FF347962F7552B2FF31E415_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngLoic Gwawr’llwyd

Loic sighed heavily. He was doing as much as he could to restrain his fury at the lack of willingness almost everyone in the gang seemed to have towards asking for help, and trusting one-another to be willing to give that help when the time came. He knew there was a purpose to bringing the female back to the safety of the fifty-foot-high cliff, as he thought they had agreed. Many, in fact. They could have spoken to her. They had magical tricks in their arsenals to calm people down, or at least restrain them. The point was that instead, Valdasar falsely assumed his plan was better than anything his multiple comrades could design together, and he’d paid greatly for that lost wager. Now the priest was going to take on all of his grief by himself and openly hold onto it like a child, instead of straightening up because they had a job to do, like Taman would have done.

Perhaps the half-elf’s irritation would be less extreme if others weren’t doing the same: refusing to trust in the greater capabilities of one-another. Eran had designed a plan to take out Karazikar, but only accounted for himself within it. That bothered him for several reasons, and had been lingering in the back of his mind for days. Would Eran always be like that, or was it something he could learn to reject? Would someone have to die in order for him to understand why it was important? Didn’t Loic just go through that as the perfect example? Ah, yes. That was the true reason for his anger. His death hadn’t taught anyone anything.

“Is this going to affect your confidence in the next battle?” he finally asked, very calmly putting a cork on the bottle of anger at his core. It was much easier to control when he understood its source.

ValdasarIcon.png Valdasar

Valdasar turned a cold look on Loic, the remorse of moments before completely gone. His tone was hard, far more so than he had used thus far. “If I allowed every mistake, every grievance I have suffered in my life to affect me so then I would not be here.” He looked back out to the field of the dead. “There is nothing more to discuss.”

Ilia Ferrelle Ilia

Ilia looked at the bloody mess of bodies and sighed. It wasn’t in his nature to bring about such wanton destruction – assassination was a selective, surgical and considered craft – but he also knew he didn’t have a group solution that would have produced a better outcome. This disturbed him more than he would care to admit. What would Queen Adrie have done? Could she have found a better solution? It seemed the Underdark was diligently and comprehensively exposing his inadequacies. At this rate he would never return to his village.

He shut his eyes, tried to place himself in the crown of the Shade Tree, surrounded by lunar orchids, their sweet aroma just out of reach.

The shuffling and talk of the group brought Ilia back down to the Underdark, their grim surroundings, the putrid smells of a battle. He heard Valdasar and Loic in discussion. He could not hear the particulars but had little doubt about the subject-matter. Such rash action was a problem. The party would not survive if they could not construct and stick to a plan. Ilia had perhaps been too solitary. He saw Eran just ahead and moved aside him. “What the hell was Valdasar thinking?” murmured Ilia, “Gods knows it took us a lifetime to agree on a plan. What’s the bloody point if we disregard it immediately?”

_729EEEA8C9563733010D13A8D23FF347962F7552B2FF31E415_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngLoic Gwawr’llwyd

Loic was appreciative of the cleric’s sudden coldness, even if it was directed at him. That was exactly the face he wanted to see on all of them before meeting the Beholder. He joyfully smiled in response with an enthusiastic, “Excellent!” Then, he wandered past the others, glancing side-long at the moving rogue, until he reached the mouth of the tunnel that would lead them west. Here, he sat down against the rock wall and waited for them to decide whether they would continue or take a short rest. Naturally, he was prepared for both. If they continued, then he would use the pearl. If they stayed, then he would cast a minor illusion that would hopefully take care of the smell that was about to get a hundred times worse…

_0ED0649699E7168F5F3C32261DD399BF96AC30B0FD25431324_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngEran Lyoka

Eran looked over the cavern at the remains of what had been the troglodytes. He didn’t regret his actions, everything died and one had to kill if one’s survival was threatened, it was the nature of things. How the situation had deteriorated and caused him to act had troubled him. They had a semblance of a plan and it all turned to havoc because of the dragonborn’s whim. It was a mistake, one he would hopefully learn from.

He heard the conversation between Loic and the Cleric, and thought it rich that the wizard was lecturing Valdasar on the virtues on sticking to the plan. It had been a little over six days since the half-elf had gone off in what was supposed to be observation that then evolved into a delay tactic and finally turned into some vain attempt at glory seeking. It had ended in many of them having to abandon the defence and protection of the interior to save him. Yet death hadn’t seemed to humble him much. If anything the wizard had come away more sure of himself.

He shook his head at this mess, then looked at Raddan who was examining the sword they had just picked up from the opposing side’s leader. He had been a steady force in all their confrontations so far, him and Ilia seemed like the only two he could comfortably rely on in the coming confrontation. A chill ran down his spine as he thought of the beholder.

His friend moved up beside him and offered the same misgivings about their current situation. “I don’t know my friend,” he said with grave pity in his voice, “it seemed a misguided notion.” He couldn’t fault the Cleric’s good nature, if anything he liked the old goat. If anyone deserved the glory from the battle at the tower it was the dragonborn, he thought. He had vigilantly sustained everyone in the fight and had selflessly tended to Loic at the crucial moments. However this day he had made a naive choice, things were never as black and white as he had wished them to be. “It’s his burden to bear.” A fact the dragonborn seemed to have accepted, judging by the brash end of his conversation with Loic.

He looked around the dark cave once again. A familiar sense of foreboding came to him, a sense of being watched. He looked back at the sword they had just looted, it was of drow design and Eran wondered if they had just picked up another of Lolth’s scrying tools? He was going to pose the idea to Raddan when the thought of dark weapons drew his eyes down to the bloodied dagger at Ilia’s side. They were ushered so quickly out of the tower after the attack he had not fully addressed the issues regarding the weapon with the elf. He looked him in the eyes. “Are you okay?” he asked with heartfelt concern.

Ilia Ferrelle Ilia

Listening to the ranger as they walked side by side, he realised just how much he had missed hearing a friendly voice. He also realised how far away from the group he had been in the last few weeks of travel. He had never felt on less sure footing as in the Underdark, and he knew just how much this had affected him.

“Well, it will be all of our burden to bear if someone dies because of an act of folly like Valdasar’s today.” Ilia sighed, “Let’s hope you’re right. We can’t afford to mess around when we encounter your beholder.”

Ilia was hardly surprised at Eran’s next question. He knew it was coming, yet he still wasn’t quite prepared for it. For a flicker of a moment, he wanted to say, “No, I’m not okay. I’m losing control. I hear the screams of the dying.” He wanted to look earnestly at Eran and confide in him. But, no sooner had he grasped these thoughts, than they slipped from his mind and were replaced by something else.

He responded coolly, “I’m fine. Just feeling the wear and tear of the Underdark.” He made to change the subject, “I’ve been making us some drow disguises. Not much work needed, a few minor adjustments to the drow clothes we found and some appropriate paperwork, should we need it in Menzoberranzan.” He paused, “Should we go over the plan for the beholder?”

_0ED0649699E7168F5F3C32261DD399BF96AC30B0FD25431324_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngEran Lyoka

The ranger could sympathise with Ilia about that, he couldn’t imagine any surface dweller ever feeling comfortable down here. Perhaps Ilia’s distance of late had been his way of dealing with it, he knew the elf was having issues with his mind being manipulated so often during the start of their journey.

As he continued it was good to hear that the rogue had regained his focus. “Disguises! That’s well considered.” He had not thought about their eventual infiltration of Menzoberranzan as of yet. Truly it was the rogue’s realm of expertise and it seemed like he’d been giving it some forethought. “Have you had any ideas on how to get into House Beanre?”

When the wood elf asked about Karazikar again another chill ran through his spine. The sense of being watched remained. “Yes… but not out in the open.” He considered their location for a moment. The troglodytes had lived here, food and water must be abundant. It seemed a good location for a base camp. They would have to do something about the bodies however. “We’re getting close, this would be a good camp and fallback position in case things go wrong.” he said calmly to the elf. Considering the possible outcomes, he recalled that he had seen Duon with a number of slaves and that this would also be a good place to bring them if they managed to liberate them. Eran dare not think of the alternative.

Ilia Ferrelle Ilia

Ilia could see the concerned look in Eran’s eyes and for a moment he felt like a prisoner: trapped and screaming out for help, but eliciting no response. And then the thought was gone.

“Not as such. I will speak to Lady Lael, I suspect she will provide a number of valuable insights that will be of use,” he pondered. “It will be tricky getting us all in – but necessary I think. And I suspect there will be little room for error. I could easily adopt the guise of a guard or servant and arouse little suspicion, but I don’t speak the language, which could become a problem. Lael would be best, of course, as a drow and an obvious authority figure but her… principles… may put us all at risk. And don’t forget we must save Lara.”

Ilia turned to look straight at Eran, scanning for any hint of expression. “Well, when you wish to talk about Karazikar, please find me. I am keen – as I’m sure you are – that we make this hunt as efficient as possible,” Ilia hesitated for a second, carefully choosing his words, “It has not passed me by the fresh torment you must have suffered since you discovered the identity of our target and, of course, your father’s existence…“ He looked sincerely at Eran, aware that he had neglected their friendship when Eran quite possibly needed it most, “I should have approached you sooner… I can only imagine how difficult it has all been for you. Forgive me.” He lowered his head in shame.

_0ED0649699E7168F5F3C32261DD399BF96AC30B0FD25431324_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngEran Lyoka

Lara, the hostage they had agreed to save. With all that was going on he had almost overlooked getting her out of Menzoberranzan. It was a blessing that under the assassin’s dark attire was a truly altruistic person at times. He knew their plans in Menzoberranzan were better left to him and Lael. Eran would keep his focus within his talents, the hunt.

Ilia proved again his good nature with his apology. Eran had not expected it, or required it. He was used to dealing with his inner pains alone. Yet he had asked and it filled him with reassurance that the elf was there regardless. He then felt guilty for not doing the same. “There is nothing to forgive my friend. You’ve had troubles of your own and it is me that should have come to you, I’m sorry. In regards to my father…” He let out a long sigh, the tension he’d been holding for days flushed out of him.

“Honestly Ilia I don’t know what to feel. I’d already accepted his death, grieved for him, became my own man in his absence. To suddenly be told he is alive, it feels like a dream or a lie. A non-reality that could only be broken when we are face to face. Even then should it be joy I feel… or shame?” The hunter was flushed with sadness. The recent conflict had begun to catch up with him. His eyes reddened. “I left him… me and Oz fled and left him, for seven years! He may not even be the same person anymore… he…” Eran stopped. The emotions had taken over but he pulled himself under control. Not here! He could not drop his guard here.

He composed himself and faced his friend once again. “I thank you for you friendship Ilia.” He looked the elf in the eyes. “If I don’t make it out of there… I know you’ll see it done.”

Ilia Ferrelle Ilia

Ilia listened quietly and sympathetically to Eran, it was suddenly clear just how much he had bottled up inside. Ilia had never seen such an outburst from Eran, the hunter who had always been level-headed, always pragmatic. It was obvious just how much he loved and respected this man, that he was desperate to find him and terrified of just what he would find. It was evident he needed to talk this out.

But just as quickly as it had begun, it had ended. Eran composed himself and his stream of questions and concerns were replaced by his familiar, pragmatic demeanour. A door had been shut on this subject for now.

With a heartfelt, reassuring smile Ilia responded, “Of course, friend. I will do everything in my power to end this and get your father out alive. You have my word.” A silence stood between them for a moment. Ilia tried to lighten the mood, “There’s never a secret tavern, hidden from the eyes of Lolth, when you need one, eh?”

He turned to Eran, a hand on his shoulder, “We should speak more later. In the meantime, I have seen your surveyor’s eye assessing this place for a camp. It will need some clearing I suspect,” He turned to the bodies littered around them, “Anyway, I will leave you to your craft. Come get me when you need to clean this place up. In the meantime I will talk to Lady Lael.”

_0ED0649699E7168F5F3C32261DD399BF96AC30B0FD25431324_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngEran Lyoka

Eran nodded in gratitude. He couldn’t say much more, but as Ilia began to walk away he spoke. “Thank you Ilia. If our roles were reversed, if this was your master, be assured I would do the same."

_EF3669B06F784D69F60C2526326274BB8199A22C09E19FE166_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngRaddan

Standing amidst the fallen bodies of the troglodyte warriors, Raddan cast a glance at the odd longsword one of them had carried, its bearer likely a leader of some kind judging from his posturing before the battle. After a quick scan to satisfy himself that the area was secure, the sorcerer bent to examine the weapon. The design was unusual enough to pique his curiosity and with it, his suspicion. Running his eye over the blade, he quickly noted the similarities with drow design. Having yet to touch the weapon, Raddan sought out the one drow present.

“Lael, you mind taking a look at this?” He gestured to the sword in a manner that bespoke the need for caution, the discussion regarding Ilia’s weapon still fresh in his mind. “Looks to be drow forged, can you make anything of it? I don’t know enough of your kind and your customs, would the weapon have markings, maybe indicating the owner’s House?” Moving a pace away to give the paladin some room, Raddan stared thoughtfully at the corpses surrounding them. “These kinds of creatures don’t usually get their hands on blades as fine as this,” he muttered, almost to himself. “Leavings from the beholder’s lair perhaps?”

_0ED0649699E7168F5F3C32261DD399BF96AC30B0FD25431324_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngEran Lyoka

Letting Ilia go Eran approached Valdasar and Loic; the wizard had now perched himself apparently awaiting some course of action. As he did he looked around, searching the shadows, expecting to see something watching from within. He spoke to Valdasar first. “I trust you are unharmed?” He saw no point in berating the old dragon any further. He just wanted to be sure he was okay.

Then he addressed the pair of them. “I might just be getting paranoid but I can’t shift the sense of being watched." As he said it, he glanced around once again. “We’re close, probably within his domain already. This location has food, water and can be fortified, it’s also a good distance from the purple worm nest. I suggest we make a hunting outpost here, use it as a fallback position in case things go wrong." He looked around once more. “Obviously we’ll need to clear up the bodies, scout and secure the nearby caves." He looked again at Valdasar.

“Additionally, I saw my father with a number of other slaves.” Eran was being careful not to use his father’s name. “I’m not sure what condition or state of mind they will be in when we find them. Having a location close by where they can be safe and well fed also seems wise to me.” He was sure he didn’t want these half starved slaves tagging along when they encountered the purple worm nest. “However I’m not as practiced in the art of healing as yourself and would value any insights you could give.” He valued the Cleric’s opinions but also thought it would be good to set his mind to task, rather than have him dwell on recent events.

_729EEEA8C9563733010D13A8D23FF347962F7552B2FF31E415_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngLoic Gwawr’llwyd

When Eran approached, rattling off a list of things to do, Loic snapped his fingers at his shield giant and pointed at the sea of corpses. The behemoth mechanism began to move, scooping up a pair of troglodytes and walking over to the waterfall pit, where it unceremoniously dropped them down. It proceeded to pick two more up and do the same. If the wizard remembered correctly, there was a small whirlpool down there that could potentially take the dead far away.

Loic inhaled like he was about to speak, but then it seemed like the hunter was onto the next thing, speaking intently to Valdasar. At some point, he would try to ask Eran if it was too late to work on the plan. If they were being watched, they may have to backtrack, just a little, to hold that conversation. He was still confused regarding what his role would be in all of it, and as he continued to think about it, he thought he might just stay out of it completely if his skills were seen as undesired. If Eran did have any ideas about what he could be doing – that wasn’t busy work – then he would surely want to hear it.

When the state of the minds of Karaziker’s slaves came into question, Loic also noted he would have to tell Eran that his ability to meld with other minds could provide some aid for such things as post-traumatic stress. It would have to be a repeated procedure, but he felt that it was possible to help his father sort out again what was real and what were fabrications. He could also help him, in a way, find his true self again by taking him back into the former workings of his brain, very much the same way a body repairs itself by assessing the DNA code and adhering to it in the afflicted spot. Definitely worth a try for a loved one.

But he wasn’t the one being asked at the moment, and he remained bored of everyone telling him that he talked too much. If they disliked his tendency to give them additional options, then they didn’t have to have them. At least, not this very moment. If time passed and they missed their chance, so be it. He’d simply prioritize himself and Lael getting out alive. The rest could do as they pleased.

Loic yawned and absently looked down at Peet, who had made himself comfortable in the wizard’s lap. He ran his hand down the basilisk’s spiny back and slipped into a cozy daydream.

Laeltoken2.pngLael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir

“What a tragic waste…” Lael muttered under her breath. Whether or not it was about her botched attempt to glean lizard meat from the fallen beats, or the senseless slaughter of the privative savages was not clear. Perhaps both, or neither. The paladin sat atop her mount once again and glared beneath her helm. She had not enjoyed witnessing that, the sour taste of their victory made worse by Eran’s partaking of sport with the killing of the last survivor. Gold had exchanged hands for that shot and it was repulsive.

She sat silently affixed in her place for some time as the others moved about, chatting idly to themselves, when the feeling of being watched descended upon her. Being a drow of the surface made one accustomed to such feelings. Lael closed her eyes, trying to gain a sense of where the feeling came from but this was strange, it came from everywhere and yet nowhere.

It was Raddan who disturbed her, with his rude and disrespectful request of her. How was she supposed to present these brutes to her matron grandmother, if they couldn’t even manage the basics of propriety. Perhaps offering safe haven within her house was not the right plan.

Irritably, she stuck out her arm to take the sword.

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The Hunt For Ingredients Begins
Tunnels, Purple Worms, and Troglodytes Oh My...

izeran was fuming; his tower had been discovered. 300 years had he been here and it was the best location he had found. It was within a few days walk of Menzoberranzan but hidden in such a way that no drow had passed by since he’d arrived. All his of his machinations, his careful attempts to keep his life and plans secret were dashed now that his dark kin knew where he was. He had to move on. The only thing that had changed recently was the presence of those idiotic adventurers and so, the blame lay with them. They had no idea what game they played in, nor could they comprehend the delicate performance that had gone on for centuries between him and the spider queen herself. At least they now knew what they must do. Vizeran would meet them when the time came to create the black heart and no sooner. Vizeran provided Eran a blank piece of parchment with the instructions to write a message on the material. When the group were ready to create the dark heart, they could use the paper to contact the drow archmage and Vizeran would find them on his own time. No longer would he allow these people to get in the way of his larger schemes.

Meanwhile, Raddan and Eran were now convinced that the chess pieces, which they recovered from the fallen debris of their counterparts, were playing some part in Lolth’s ability to track them. Confirmed by the vision and message that Loic had received from Ghaunadaur, it became clear that something had to be done about those tokens. In an attempt to discover the nature of Lolth’s espionage, Raddan began to consider if the items were possibly being used by as part of a scry spell. Knowing that scry spells usually function more effectively when scryed to something with which the spellcaster has intimate familiarity, the sorcerer was also aware that a normal scry spell usually required the caster to be on the same plane as the target. This could only mean that either Lolth was using some of her servants on this plane to scry through the tokens, or the Queen of Spiders was using some form of advanced scry spell which allowed her to see through planes.

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Raddan assumed it would be the latter since Vizeran was fairly confident that no one could see his tower or anything inside of it. It was unlikely he would have overlooked a simple scry spell, though his arrogance had already revealed his instincts were not flawless. Unsure how much information Lolth may have and fearing she may yet gain more, Raddan instructed everyone to pass him their tokens. Once he had all of the chess pieces in hand, he proceeded to give them to Ilia to place in the bag of holding. The hope was that even if Lolth could continue to scry the items inside the bag, she would be left viewing the pocket dimension inside it and be unable to view the party themselves.

Vizeran then began shooing them out of his tower whilst the group decided which of the ingredients to head out for first. Taking stock of their supplies and rations, the party decided to head towards the wormwrithings in search of both the purple worm egg and the eye of the beholder. It was not an easy decision to make as there are many things which desire the attention of the party but the close proximity of the wormwrithings helped to swing the vote. Lael brought up a vision she had in the Gravenhollow library about Zuggtmoy heading towards the area of the Underdark known as Araumycos, where she would attempt to enslave all fungi creatures to her will. The argument for haste in saving the myconids was not strong enough to take precedence in the immediate course of action.

With everyone outside the tower and a destination in mind, Vizeran turned back toward his tower and bowed his head whilst running a hand along the edge of the door. Suddenly the cavern began to shake as the tower, which has been housed inside a stalagmite, started to shift and shrink down in scale. Within moments the tower was no larger than a one inch cube which Vizeran placed in his pocket, leaving the stalagmite an empty shell. Turning back to the others, Vizeran said: “Very well, you know your plans and I must prepare for the ritual, I will stay near Menzoberranzan and I have given Eran a way to contact me when you are all ready. Be vigilant, collect all of the ingredients and we may just save the world.” With that he walked away in the opposite direction to the wormwrithings, indicating that he did not wish to travel with our heroes any longer than he needed to.

So began the long journey into the wormwrithings. The wormwrithings themselves were a series of twisting tunnels located to the northwest of Blingdenstone. Each tunnel had been created by the pruple worms, who occasionally moved through this area that surrounded their nests. As everyone headed through the tunnels, winding closer and closer to Karazikar’s Maw, they begin to formulate plans. Eran had spent time by himself in the library of Gravenhollow, specifically looking for information about the beholder known as Karazikar, in which he managed to collect some vital details about the creature’s lair. Together the adventurers discussed the many dangers of facing a beholder and how best they could defeat it to gain the central eye they required.

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Four days into the journey they found themselves in a tunnel which appeared to be quite fresh and didn’t turn off for miles. Eran’s primal senses alerted him to the presence of a purple worm heading directly towards them, straight down this particular tunnel. As the purple worm edged ever closer and closer our heroes found themselves stuck in the middle of a tunnel with few options. Thinking quickly, Eran and Loic jumped into action. Realising that trying to run away from the worm would be nearly useless, they focus on going sideways, out of the creature’s path. With Eran’s limited magical knowledge and Loic’s enchanted gloves working overtime, they managed to dig out a portion of the tunnel wall on one side. The area they cut out was just large enough to fit everyone inside and the group piled in with little time to spare. They could only pray that if they keep absolutely quiet, the worm would simply slither past them and they would not have to battle the monstrous creature. As the worm worked its way over the gap in the earth where the heroes were holed up, everything appeared to be silent. No sound permeated the air save the rumble of the earth shifting and moving around the body of the worm as it rotated through the tunnel like a snake.

Crack. Valdasar’s grip on his walking stick shifts and the end of the wood strikes the ground as it slides off a rock and hits the stone just an inch below. The purple worm immediately stopped. A very tense few seconds passed by and then the head of the purple worm shifted and looked, as much as a worm could, directly at where Valdasar and the rest of the party now stood. The worm’s mouth opened and a massive roar bellowed forth, sending a shower of saliva down the hidey-hole.

Without wasting any time, the rest of the party jumped straight into action. The reluctance to fight a moment earlier was gone, washed away by the need to protect each other. With a fury that was unfamiliar to the purple worm, the adventurers hacked and slashed at the worm. Ilia squeezed past the monstrosity and impaled it with his blade as he moved. Just behind him Lael, riding her lizard steed Angaste, climbed along the rock ceiling of the tunnel and positioned herself next to Ilia. The drow paladin drew Dawnbringer forth and struck, her powerful, sentient sword glowing with sunlight.

The purple worm lunged out in response, biting down hard on the shield guardian, Nathan. Slowly and surely the construct was swallowed and drawn deep down into the gullet of the worm. As the creature opened its mouth for a second bite attack against another party member, Raddan lashed out. Unwilling to let another member of the party be swallowed, he launched a fireball down the throat of the worm. The worm barely had time to register the strange new taste inside its mouth before its insides began to boil. The outside of the worm’s flesh began to expand and contract as it attempted to control the effects of the fireball. It failed. In a burst of purple and green goo, the worm abruptly detonated, leaving the shield guardian stood still motionless in the middle of the ruined corpse as if it were unaware of the strange journey it had just undergone.

That night the party rested without being disturbed, yet it began to dawn on them just how close they were getting to the lair of the beholder. After a few hours of travel further into the heart of the wormwrithings, the tunnel suddenly ended in front of them and dropped away. As they looked down through the opening at the base of the tunnel, they could see a large, spacious cavern with a number of smaller caves lurking along the sides. Bisecting the cavern in the centre and running from left to right was a river which, while not appearing too deep, was nonetheless flowing at a strong rate. On either side of the river stood two groups of lizard-like creatures who appeared to be shouting and waving weapons towards each other.

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One the nearer side of the river was a raised shelf of rock upon which stood two large stalagmites reaching high into the tall cavern. Strapped up and tied between the two stalagmites was one of the lizard creatures, whose figure suggested a very weak disposition. This captive appeared to be awake and was shouting along with the others of its kind. Across the river, one of the lizard creatures stood a foot taller than the rest, waving a very sharp, black edged blade aloft whilst shouting and pointing towards the captive on the other side.

The language being spoken by these creatures was guttural, an amalgamation of roaring sounds that, while somewhat similar to the Draconic that Valdasar spoke, was just too different to for the adventurers to comprehend. Without the ability to understand what was being said, the party reverted to an understanding of animal nature in an attempt to analyse the lizardmen’s behaviour. There wasn’t too much that they could learn beyond the fact that these creatures were a warlike race called troglodytes and that they were currently undergoing some form of civil war. Using their intuition, the party was able to discern that the captive being held on their side of the river belonged to the tribe wielding the black sword and was the source of the tension.

Realising that if they were to attempt to backtrack down the tunnel and try to get around the troglodyte lair, when they knew they were so close to Karazikar’s Maw, would cost them a lot of valuable time, the party began trying to think of ways to get everyone past the horde of lizards without stirring further trouble. While Ilia and Eran could probably sneak their way through fairly easily, certain members of the party had a history of not being capable of staying quiet when required; the group needed a plan that did not involve stealth.

After some deliberation a consensus was finally reached. It was decided that if the groups were fighting over a captive, then possession of that captive might allow them to bargain their way across the cavern. Valdasar, who wore the Cape of Mounteback, was capable of teleporting a large distance very quickly. This made him the ideal choice to invisibly sneak over to the captive and then instantly teleport back up to the tunnel where the rest of the party waited. It was hoped that this would allow them to capture the captive without opposition. Loic cast a spell of invisibility upon the dragonborn cleric while the others used a rope to stealthily lower him to the cavern floor some 40ft below.

Hidden from view by Loic’s arcane manipulations, Valdasar quietly made his way closer and closer to the captive. Loic’s psionic abilities allowed him to observe Valdasar even when invisible, so the wizard kept a close eye on what the old man was doing and kept the party up to date with his progress. His half-elven eyes followed the dragonborn across the cavern floor and up to the restrained captive. Carefully and quickly, Valdasar cut all the bindings keeping the captive locked between the two stalagmites and almost immediately disappeared from sight in a puff of black smoke. Loic turned to his right to where he expected to see Valdasar, but of the cleric there was no sign. Teleportation via the cape had always been instantaneous so why wasn’t he here? The only logical answer was that he must have gone somewhere else.

As he approached the captive, Valdasar had indeed been thinking that perhaps he could end the conflict altogether by returning the prisoner to its people. Thus, when Valdasar disappeared from between the two stalagmites with the captive in hand, he instead teleported to a position far over on the opposite side of the river. As soon as the captive reappeared in the cloud of smoke, with an invisible Valdasar next to it, it began to scream and shout once more. The noise of the captive now coming from a new direction drew the attention of all of the troglodytes. The tides of the battle had abruptly and drastically altered, though none of the troglodytes knew exactly why. In immediate response to the new situation, the armies of the troglodytes collided, their attempts at negotiation suddenly and irrevocably void.

His plan thwarted, Valdasar began making his way back towards the party in an attempt to stay out of the combat. As Valdasar stepped into the river in the centre of the cavern, his invisible form interrupted the flow of the water, drawing the attention of the troglodytes nearby. Fearing the danger that Valdasar had put himself in, Eran, Ilia and Raddan jumped down from their hiding spot and started to get involved in the battle.

In terms of combat prowess the primitive lizard creatures were distinctly amateur compared to the humanoid adventurers who charged into the fray. Spells and attacks flew across the cavern as troglodyte after troglodyte crumpled beneath the onslaught. Ilia led some of the troglodytes away from the group around a cliffside while Loic created a phantasmal image of a gargantuan purple worm charging towards the lizardmen. Though fearful, the troglodytes were a vicious race, ignorant of the concept of mercy and so, they kept fighting until the very last of them had perished. Tired after the journey and slaying so many creatures, the party took refuge in the cavern that they had just procured from the troglodytes, safe in the knowledge that no survivors remained to alert more of the lizard tribes.

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Fireside: The Fallen Part 5

Laeltoken2.pngLael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir

Lael allowed Loic to leave with no further input. His parting words amused her, perhaps if Loic knew the serene, impractical creature Lael was supposed to adhere to, he would realise what a misguided mess she truly was.

Lael sat on the bed for a moment and let the weariness wash over her. The Paladin’s aches were beginning to surface. She still had to go find Valdasar and endure his bleating. Lael was almost certain he would want to chastise her, preach and sermonise on the finer qualities she lacked. “Well, better get it over and done with.” The words were tiredly spoken as she rose stiffly to her feet. Before she left, she heard a guttural roar and it gave her pause. It was done.

She moved quickly, down one level back to where their fight took place. Lael could see the bodies had already been moved and stripped, although Drow blood still stained the floor. It was then she spotted the old lizard preparing only what Lael could presume was tea and made her presence known.

“I am here now, Valdasar.”

ValdasarIcon.png Valdasar

Valdasar glanced back at the drow for a brief moment before returning his attention to the tea. “Would you like a cup? It is very fine indeed, though one can expect no less from a man of Vizeran’s standing.”

Laeltoken2.pngLael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir

Lael shook her head. “No, I usually prefer my drinks stronger.” Perching herself on the edge of the table she watched him in silence before growing impatient. “Is there something you wanted in particular?” she said trying her best to hide said irritation. “I need to tend Angaste and ready my belongings.”

ValdasarIcon.png Valdasar

He looked at her in surprise. “So we have our next destination in mind already?”

Laeltoken2.pngLael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir

A confused look crossed over her features for a moment. “To Araumycos of course, to answer the call of Basidia.”

ValdasarIcon.png Valdasar

Valdasar brought up his cup and sipped from it delicately. “Interesting. I do not recall this being mentioned before. Do enlighten me, Lady, who – or what – is Basidia?”

Laeltoken2.pngLael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir

Snowy white eyebrows knitted together. “Basidia, the myconid from the dream we had from when we stayed in the library?”

ValdasarIcon.png Valdasar

The old dragonborn matched her perplexed look with one of his own. “I had no such dream. Who else do you know of has shared this vision?”

Laeltoken2.pngLael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir

Well that explained the group’s lack of action on the matter, but why had the myconid Basidiachosen to call to her only? “I assumed we had all had it, as that is what happened the last time.”

ValdasarIcon.png Valdasar

“Last time? So this is not the first time you have been visited by these…dreams? Premonitions?”

Laeltoken2.pngLael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir

“Ah-” Lael began, “that is a very long story.” She leant back on the table, deciding not to perch on it any further but instead sat, crossing her legs as she did so.

“Back at the very start, we found ourselves at the city of Gracklstugh, shortly after seeing Demogorgon rise from the dark lake at Sloobludop. As we rested in the inn that night, we were all drawn into a dream-like state. It was strange, we were not there but we were?”
Lael paused and ran her hand over her disheveled hair, as she struggled to explain the strange situation. “In this dream we were invited to the wedding of the demon prince Zuggtmoy to Araumycos, it took a sinister turn and we found ourselves breaking free.”

Lael decided it was better she omitted the part where her and Loic had shared that night together. She had lingered too long and struggled to wake herself from the twisting nightmare. It had been the Wizard who had woken her and saved her that night. The old cleric already assumed much about their relationship and Lael did not want to venture into the uncomfortable topic again.

“We came together to discuss it and decided that our best interest was to gather all the information we could and return to the surface as Zuggtmoy’s wedding procession would take her months to reach her destination. I guess we all thought that this would be over by now. We were wrong, the time is drawing near; she is almost there and the myconids are calling for us…”

ValdasarIcon.png Valdasar

“Interesting,” Valdasar mused, “though it appears you are the only one of us all to have been singled out by the myconids on this occasion. Have you spoken of the dream to anyone else?”

Laeltoken2.pngLael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir

Lael shook her head. “I have been distracted by other things.”

ValdasarIcon.png Valdasar

“So I imagine. Still, I believe it is worth mentioning, for your own safety as much as anything else. Do you have any clue as to why this might be? Any idea at all?”

Laeltoken2.pngLael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir

“You presume, that I have been singled out.” Lael quickly interrupted. “You are the first I have told, who is to say any of the others have not also been approached? You, Eran, Ilia and Raddan have never encountered this dream-like state and therefore could just pass it as a stress of the Underdark,” she shrugged, “and could simply dismiss it. Loic had the dream before but he also has other things on his mind. Who is to say?"

ValdasarIcon.png Valdasar

“Be that as it may, surely you agree there is no harm in bringing it to the attention of the others. Perhaps you are correct and they have simply not mentioned it, but if this phenomenon is particular to only yourself, or one or two others then there may be something more sinister underlying these dreams. Considering the nature of our foe, it is only prudent to be thorough.” He drained his cup and nodded appreciatively. “You are sure you will not try some?” he asked, tilting it in Lael’s direction. “A good cup of tea will do wonders for the body and the mind, even in times of… stress of the Underdark.”

Laeltoken2.pngLael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir

“While that is true, I am Oathbound to heed the call.” She hopped off the table and smoothed over the girdle of her armour. Once again she declined the tea, slightly humoured. “I much rather a hot bath to deal with those complications.”

ValdasarIcon.png Valdasar

With a chuckle, Valdasar set the cup back in its rightful place. “Why not both? One can never soothe away the rigours of battle too much. In my experience, moments of peace must be seized upon as if it were one’s last, for we can never know if it will be so.” He looked back to Lael with genuine interest. “You speak of an oath. Would it be appropriate of me to ask of it?”

Laeltoken2.pngLael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir

“It is a bold question but I will permit it, this once.” Lael replied eagerly. “I swore I would do my part in sending the demons back to the pit. To bring to justice to those who released them and all their conspirators.”

She looked slightly amused for a moment, the woman who had taken that oath had not realised how far that would stretch, eventually she would need to take her justice to Lolth herself. “The tenets are quite simple,” she continued. “If the choice comes between fighting my sworn foes or combating a lesser evil, then I must choose the greater evil. There can be no mercy for my sworn foes and I must do this by any means necessary.”

ValdasarIcon.png Valdasar

Valdasar contemplated her words for a short time before finally nodding. “It is easy to swear an oath, but difficult to keep it. It is a noble undertaking, even if the aim is not entirely altruistic, for it does not allow one to act with free abandon. It asks us to retrain ourselves, to stand where we would usually run, to walk the long, hard path and ignore the shortcuts presented to us.” He gazed at her curiously. “Do you feel you have the strength to see this through?”

Laeltoken2.pngLael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir

Lael let out a bemused snort. “I am a selfish creature, impulsive and impassioned. I was compelled to make my words, when something precious was taken from me.” Her mind crossed carefully over those awful few days and how much she had lost and stood to lose further. “Altruism is a trait for those that follow. I do not follow, I serve.” She gestured dismissively as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other.

“Yet, despite all my obvious flaws, I stand, I fight, I endure and I will till my last breath. Do not insult me with the abstraction of strength. I have shed more blood and endured more pain than most; even those who are most dear to me I have laid down and risked, to see this to the end.”

ValdasarIcon.png Valdasar

Valdasar listened to her carefully before giving a single nod of satisfaction. “That I do not doubt. I can only imagine what would force you to take such an oath. Still, whether to serve or to follow, it requires a kind of discipline that few are capable of. It is…an admirable thing.” He squinted as if examining her, his tone growing inquisitive again. “You are different from the others of your kind; a statement of the obvious, perhaps, but how have you come to oppose Lolth where so many drow have given themselves to her webs of deceit?”

Laeltoken2.pngLael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir

Lael looked surprised for a moment. she had never really thought about the first who turned away. “I was born to it, we have always been said apostates. As was my mother before me and hers and every mother as far as it is remembered.”

ValdasarIcon.png Valdasar

“I cannot imagine it made for an easy childhood. It does not take a sage to observe the ruthless ferocity with which Lolth’s followers pursue their enemies.”

Laeltoken2.pngLael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir

“Drow do not have childhoods.” Lael stated, a curl spreading at the side of her mouth. “We teach our young that our society is harsh as soon as they are able. For survival, most do not, but then again, that’s why I have seven sisters.” The smile faded as quickly as it had come. “Had seven sisters…”

ValdasarIcon.png Valdasar

The revelation brought a softness to Valdasar’s voice. He dipped his head. “I see. I am sorry.”

Laeltoken2.pngLael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir

The Paladin shook her head dismissively. “Such is the nature of these things, if there is not anything else, I should go prepare my things.”

ValdasarIcon.png Valdasar

“Yes,” he replied with a sigh, “I have kept you long enough. But before you go…”
Valdasar reached into his pack and brought out one of his packs of medicines and supplies. With quick, deft movements he parcelled out a small portion of pungent, yet pleasant-smelling herbs, wrapped them in a square of paper and offered it to Lael. “The next time you bathe, sprinkle a pinch into the water. These herbs are used to calm aching muscles and clear the humours.” He gave her a small grin. “A concoction I learned from the human merchant cities. It is quite effective.”

Laeltoken2.pngLael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir

His gift was a surprise to Lael. She certainly did not feel she deserved such a gesture. Reaching out for the parcel she took it and gave it a cautious sniff.

“Well, it does not smell unpleasant,” Lael conceived. “This is most generous.” With a respectful nod of her head, Lael pocketed the square before disappearing back upstairs.

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Fireside: The Fallen Part 4

_EF3669B06F784D69F60C2526326274BB8199A22C09E19FE166_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngRaddan

Raddan hadn’t even made it halfway down the stairs by the time he heard footsteps behind him. The sorcerer slowed slightly, allowing Eran to catch up. He motioned with his head but spoke no words. He was well aware how sound carried in enclosed stairwells like this, and he had little desire to share any more than he had to with Vizeran. As the pair reached the landing below, Raddan led his companion to one side and turned to face him. Catching sight of the volume the half-elf carried, he bent his head slightly to read the words embossed upon the spine. “Wise.” he said without preamble. “We’ll need every edge we can get. I’d have done the same if there’d been time, but I was too caught up trying to find out what happened to our cleric.” Changing the subject, he opened his hand, revealing his own tiny visage. “I hope you kept yours. I have something specific in mind for them. Did the drow have anything to say about the pieces?”

_0ED0649699E7168F5F3C32261DD399BF96AC30B0FD25431324_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngEran Lyoka

Eran shook his head. “You can tell by the length of our conversation that he was not forthcoming." There was exasperation in his voice. “He wanted to study it, but I was not keen to have that drow meddle with any effigy of me." He looked back up the staircase as though his eyes might shoot daggers that would punch through the stone to the floors above. " What did you have in mind?"

_EF3669B06F784D69F60C2526326274BB8199A22C09E19FE166_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngRaddan

“You mean aside from redecorating that library in drow blood?” Raddan asked with dark humour. When he continued, he was all seriousness. “If you’re the man I think you are, you’re also pissed off that Lolth managed to outplay us with these things.” At this point, the mask shifted into a confidential grin. “We’re thinking about it the wrong way. What she’s really done is hand us the initiative. Now, the simple answer to stopping her tracking us is to leave them here when we go, let her next batch of minions find them.” He held up a hand to pause any protest. “If you’re concerned about them harming you with it, I already tried it. On my own figure.” He clarified as an afterthought. “I’m willing to gamble she’s done all she could with them when she had them attack our lads outside Mantol-Derith.” Raddan spared a glance for the few survivors at that, all busy with their assigned tasks. Making eye contact with one of them, he nodded before turning his attention back to Eran.

“But I reckon we can do one better than just leaving them all here. First, we’re going to need to borrow a satchel from one of these Drow boys.” The sorcerer indicated the bodies of the fallen with a dip of his head. “And we’ll need one of the lizards. What few supplies we have left can be carried by the others easily enough. The difficult part,” he continued, fixing Eran with an intense stare, “is going to be the little surprise I want to leave for our ‘friends’. You made the rings for Gravenhollow, so the task falls to you. Do you have much experience crafting explosives and trap triggers?”

_0ED0649699E7168F5F3C32261DD399BF96AC30B0FD25431324_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngEran Lyoka

Eran chuckled halfheartedly at Raddan’s dry humour. Then listened to the masked one’s plan. He could see the scheme had merit, diverting the enemy forces away into a trap, but he’d not wish to sacrifice more of their resources for simple revenge. He did have a point, however. These could be used against Lolth, if they truly were the instruments she was using to track them.

“Aye, maybe… but I would need a proper forge and days to do such intricate work, which isn’t something we have right now," he said regrettably. “Problem is, we’re making a pretty big assumption these are what she is using. Not the largest leap, mind you, considering the source.” Eran still needed confirmation. “These could be another red herring? I don’t want to leave here without being sure that eight-legged bitch hasn’t still got a bead on us.” His frustration with the goddess’ manipulation was quite apparent. He did not care to hide it. Having a god on your back was stress he didn’t care for. “You said you’ve tested these yourself? What were your other findings?”

_EF3669B06F784D69F60C2526326274BB8199A22C09E19FE166_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngRaddan

“It doesn’t have to happen now,” Raddan countered. “And it doesn’t need to be fancy. You could work as we travel. We’ll just rig the lizard when we’re ready and set one loose before we get anywhere important. I’d advise we use my token for the lure and leave the others here; on the off chance she knows something of our personalities, it’d seem the more believable response. If the lizards are smart enough to obey verbal commands, sending it ‘home’ ought to be enough. I think it’s worth the attempt. Ultimately, it costs us little that we can’t replace. At the very least, it’ll throw Lolth off the scent and buy us some time. If we’re lucky, they’ll investigate the satchel and we’ll deny her a few more men to use against us in the future. I’m not gonna tell you how to do your job, but I’d consider packing as much blasting powder as you can spare into the satchel, and supplement it with a few handfuls of ball bearings. It’s been a few years since I last encountered them, but you don’t soon forget the effectiveness of such devices. I’d give you the bearings myself if I had them; your rogue friend may be able to help us there.” Raddan spared a glance back down the staircase. “If you can convince him to part with anything, that is. As far as testing the pieces, I only experimented by attempting to destroy mine. The results were largely fruitless. I see no other way that she might be keeping eyes on us, though if you have thoughts on the matter, then speak.”

_0ED0649699E7168F5F3C32261DD399BF96AC30B0FD25431324_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngEran Lyoka

“Well, the shield guardian did also spring to mind.” It was his next thought after chess pieces, the construct having been acquired at the feast under a questionable game of chance. He looked at his chess piece again. “I have something I can try: a ritual spell to sense the existence of magic in things. I’ll need ten minutes to prepare it, though maybe I can gleam some insight on this thing.” Something he should have done days ago now that he thought about it. He cursed himself for not questioning this sooner.

His thoughts drifted back to the device. Blasting powder? Eran had seen these devices done with oils and pig fats, but he wasn’t aware of any powders that could do such things. Even so, he had none of the materials he needed to create this on the fly or in a forge, save the steel which he needed for other plans. He grimaced inside. Does everyone think I can conjure this stuff from thin air? He thought to himself. He shook his head. Ultimately, he already needed what little time he could spare to create the barbed kukri he’d designed. They only had a few days before they encountered the worms, or Karazikar, although which they would meet first had not yet been decided.

“As for your device, it’s a worthy idea, but I don’t have the materials or the time, Raddan. Our first objectives are as little as two days away,” he stated and tapped the book. “This is not the only piece of research I’ve been doing in the last few hours. I have plans and require time to construct a few items for them.”

Leading Lolth on a wild goose chase is a worthy enough cause to send the lizard out on its own, he thought. “We could just send the lizard…” he paused, an idea forming in his mind. “What about something bigger?!" He glanced at the sorcerer with a cunning smile.

_EF3669B06F784D69F60C2526326274BB8199A22C09E19FE166_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngRaddan

“The guardian is also a possibility,” Raddan admitted, “though given the two options, my gut lies with the game tokens. The guardian is also a strong asset to throw away on a maybe, while a single lizard is not.” Listening to the hunter describe the ritual, Raddan recognized it as a simple ‘Detect Magic’ spell, something he had planned to have the wizard attempt. Finding out Eran could perform the same trick would save him a task. When the half-elf shot down his improvised bomb idea, Raddan grimaced unseen behind the mask. He’d expected to hear this, but it was more important than Eran knew that he make the attempt. He didn’t begrudge the hunter his plans, but Raddan maintained a private awareness that the group’s objective of choice had yet to be agreed upon. The worm egg was practical, given its proximity, but not the only option.

“I don’t expect miracles, but we’re in the tower of a drow archmage.” he reminded the other man patiently as he finished. “If there’s one thing mages like to do, it’s experiment. I’ll wager he has some alchemical supplies we could use. The powder may well be amongst them.” These were the words he spoke, but while Raddan gave no sign of having cast a spell, Eran would have once again heard a familiar whisper tickling his ear. I need you to agree to do this, even if you can’t. Say you will make the bomb. Do not let on you have received this message. He hoped the man could restrain his curiosity long enough for Raddan to accomplish what he was trying to do here. Unfolding his arms, he placed his own chess piece down on a nearby table and gestured for Eran to do the same. It would have been difficult to tell from the small slits of the mask’s eye holes, but there was an odd look in the sorcerer’s gaze. It was almost pleading. His voice, however, remained as steady as ever.

“We should gather the pieces here, so we know they’re all present when the time comes to move.” He stepped away from the table and began to head towards the downward spiral of the staircase, leaving Eran to make his decision. Raddan felt a familiar thrill at the gamble and spoke up as he moved away, hoping to entice the half-elf to follow. “Now, what’s this about bigger?”

_0ED0649699E7168F5F3C32261DD399BF96AC30B0FD25431324_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngEran Lyoka

Eran felt the words probe the back of his mind and as Raddan put his piece on table, he understood. She could be listening right now! Foolish boy! He could hear Duon’s voice in his head. He put his chess piece on the table and moved away, next to Raddan, continuing the charade that he now understood the sorcerer was trying to project. “You might be correct: wizards like to experiment. Loic’s a walking example!” he continued speaking, feigning the masked one’s casual tone. “If the materials are here, then it might not take that long. Sure, I think I can do it.” He raised his voice slightly as he moved away, so he could still be heard from across the way.

As they reached a suitably safe distance, Eran dropped his voice again, keeping his back to the objects. “Quite simple, we let a purple worm have them!" It was a grand idea, if he did say so himself. Let one of those monstrosities run around the Underdark with them in its belly. He’d pity any of Lolth’s followers who caught up with one of those. “If someone is watching us with these things then we put them in the bag of holding for now. Although I’m reluctant to put them in with the chalice, they’ll be in a pocket dimension removed from us!" It was the same reason they put the chalice in there in the first place. “We can then pop them out at an opportune moment, or better still, just dump them in the nest! Anyone that then comes looking will be in for a hell of a surprise!” He looked at the mask, almost trying to pierce through it, to see what was going on underneath. “Unless you have another idea?”

He looked back at the things then turned away. “We still need to be sure, though. I need to do the ritual; if our suspicions are right I should see some aura of divination magic from them."

_EF3669B06F784D69F60C2526326274BB8199A22C09E19FE166_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngRaddan

It appeared the hunter had quickly understood the same threat Raddan had perceived and proved himself willing to assist in the sorcerer’s attempt at deception. He let Eran explain his idea and contemplated for a moment before replying. “It’s a possible option. My own scheme is to attempt to bluff Lolth in such a manner that she’ll see straight through it. She seems supremely confident in her own abilities of deception, so with luck, she won’t expect us feeble mortals to then attempt a double bluff.” He gestured with a hidden hand towards the game devices behind them. “She may be watching or even listening, which I why I took strains to discuss the plan for a distraction and the associated bomb in front of them; now that she expects the trap, she won’t pursue it. It may be possible to combine what else I had in mind with your schemes with the worms.”

The sorcerer became silent for a moment, tapping an index finger against the chin of the metal face. “So you shoot down the bomb idea, for good this time. Say the wizard doesn’t have what we’re looking for. Whatever works. I’ll reluctantly agree. You then ‘convince’ me that leaving the pieces behind is a bad idea, as we don’t know the full extent of what they can do. I forward the idea of placing them in a bag of holding to keep them safe as we move and hopefully avoid her gaze. Losing the pieces in the Wormwrithings is a fine notion, but we’ll need a way to remove them from the bag so she can track them, without giving away that we’re alive. If they remain in the nest, she might assume we’re dead. If a worm gets them, she’ll either believe the same or waste time tracking it.” He turned his gaze back upon Eran, a new fire in his eyes. “I like the way you think, mate. Get that ritual done, and let’s get some answers. And when you’re done with that, see if that book has any mention of acids the worms might have in their guts. If it’s enough to digest the bag of holding, it may solve our deployment problem. It goes without saying that we need to keep this between us, at least until we’re sure everyone is separated from their little ‘gifts’.”

token5.pngLoic Gwawr’llwyd

He walked like a phantom through the room. While making a beeline towards the only fallen priestess he could see on the second floor, Cacynaidd slowly crawled out of the joint of the wizard’s wrist. He planted his feet and sank the fingers of his afflicted hand into her hair, then yanked her limp figure up until he could comfortably sink the blade into her throat. With some luck, a main artery would give him enough to collect in a new, clean vial.

With an unceremonious thud, the corpse was released and Loic continued past her, to what he could understand to be the remains of a Yochlol, the one he had been unaware of. He didn’t know where a main artery would be, so he poked several holes until he could find what he was looking for. Perhaps the blood of the demon lords held some interesting properties that could potentially affect other demons, but in most cases, blood was blood. He could make an exceedingly educated guess that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to ingest it. He’d accept some heartburn if using a Yochlol proved to be entertaining to his new friend.

On the first floor, the body of the priestess that had stolen his life had been dragged back to the ruins of the front door. She’d already been looted, and now simply slumped like a doll against the crumbled bricks. After slitting her throat with a clinical indifference and allowing some glacially-moving stuff to slide into the vial, he held it up to see if a similar reaction occurred to the one he witnessed before. It seemed like a success.

Loic held on tightly to the vial and moved back up the tower. He would perform the ritual in the privacy of a room, with as much around him to muffle what might become screams of agony as possible. If this was going to hurt, then the sort of things he could attract had a chance of being worse than drow.

Entering a small, dark room, the wizard closed the door behind himself and moved to the center of the floor. He commanded his basilisk to take a post in the corner of the room and to be absolutely silent, then he uttered a phrase and made a quick gesture to open the dimensional portal that would summon Yvve. The Faerie Dragon came to his call, and heeded his telepathic order to fetch Valdasar if he lost his faculties or his consciousness. It was time to begin at last.

Loic removed his thumb from the top of the vial. He proceeded to lower himself onto both knees and imbued the concoction with just enough minor magic to not taste like cadaver blood. Then, he put it to his lips and tilted his head back with a quick jerk, swallowing the contents.

“Ghaunadaur,” he said, in a volume appropriate for if the god were already present in the room. “I have done what you’ve asked. Are you ready to begin?”

A moment of silence passed. The only evidence from the outside that he was performing his ritual came in the form of a guttural roar of pain that could be heard clearly by anyone sharing that floor. Those on the second and fourth levels would have heard it too, although it was considerably more distant.

Loic rested with his shoulder slumped against the side of a bed, breathing heavily, in a position as if he were recovering from a powerful blow. His eyes were wide with the fresh memory of agony. Though it had only lasted a second, he’d never felt anything like it before. The young half-elf had been able to feel every snapping nerve as the skin of his arm had split in several places, exploding like an over-stuffed scarecrow. What was left of the flesh had slid right off and dropped to the floor, leaving a brand new piece of body still slick with blood and plasma. A massive forked tentacle, almost exactly like what he recalled to be Demogorgon’s arms, moved in response to his brain’s command. It had something like an elbow, but where his forearm should be, instead the bone structure suggested that the limb now had prehensile capabilities.

“Wow!” he said excitedly and shuddered. Loic was proud of himself, that he hadn’t blacked out. On the contrary, after the pain of the transformation completely subsided, he felt better than he had a minute ago. Stronger, somehow.

Ritual finished, and not a moment to spare, he got to his feet and rushed out of the room, Yvve and Peet close behind. He leaned into the stairwell and called upwards, “She’s tracking us by using the statuettes!”

_0ED0649699E7168F5F3C32261DD399BF96AC30B0FD25431324_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngEran Lyoka

Eran felt rejuvenated by having a solid plan. He looked up at Raddan. “Wrong book, but I read the right one earlier,” he said with a cocky smile. “Told you, I’ve been doing my research. And yes, their guts are quite acidic.” He patted the sorcerer’s shoulders in a mark of fellowship and encouragement. “I’ll start off the ritual. See if you can gather up the rest of these trinkets.” He paused and then considered his friend. “Except Ilia. I’ll speak to him when I’m done," he said painfully. He wasn’t sure how the elf would react, considering Raddan’s words to him earlier. He reached out again. Ilia was still outside. Doing the ritual would lose his connection to the rogue, but it needed doing.

He sat next to the chess pieces and began to focus his mind. This had been a new skill he’d picked up during his training with Georrah, but he had not practiced it since dwelling in the depths of the earth. He began muttering the incantation and moved his hand smoothly, forming the somatic signs. Most spell casters could cast this in a single motion, but the ritual demanded it be done over and over again. He did so, falling into an almost meditative trance as he felt the magical power build in him, fill him up, and then it was done. As it happened he felt his connection to Ilia fade.

He opened his eyes upon the game tokens, expecting a blur of light, but there was nothing; no aura or sign of magic upon them. His first thoughts were that he had made a mistake in the spell, that it wasn’t working correctly. He quickly grabbed his Solarblade. The aura of Evocation magic was strong on the magical sword. Dammit, he thought. He was so sure these things were the source of their problems. He glanced around. Maybe it was something else. He got up and looked around Alvin and the men, through the caravan, for any signs of magic that could be used against them. He made out to be helping the men load the lizards and tried to hide that he was actually searching them. He came to the shield guardian last, but it was pointless. It was lit up like the midday sun, as he knew it would be.

After looking around for the better part of 10 minutes, the spell faded. In frustration, he sat back down beside the two tokens. He stared at them considering the alternatives. His gut was telling him these were the source of their problems. Do these effigies need to be magical, he thought to himself. Can she perhaps use them as some anchor for her magic? He continued to ponder in his mind. He didn’t know enough about Divination magic to come to any conclusions. Better to consult with Loic about such things. And, as if the wizard had been reading his mind at that moment, he heard a cry come bellowing down the stairs: “She’s tracking us by using the statuettes!” Subtle, he thought.

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Campaign

elcome to the campaign log.

As our heroes adventure through the world the record of their activities are collected here for you to enjoy.There are two kinds of log types that can be found here: Session Summaries and Fireside. The session summaries are the record of the weekly gaming session which we play where the key points of the story occur. Battle ensue and hearts are broken as the story unfolds before our adventurers eyes.Fireside logs (pun intended) are the interactions of the players between the sessions. This is our players's opportunity to roleplay some of the more minute details of the campaigns. Friendships are made and torn, while our heroes take time to process what is going on in the sessions. While the session summaries are written by me , the DM, the Fireside is entirely the creation of our players. They take time out of their week to continue chatting as their PCs so that you get to know them better.

Enjoy

 

 

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Fireside: The Fallen Part 3

ValdasarIcon.png Valdasar
Valdasar blinked in surprise as the door to his own room was unceremoniously closed in his face, then looked to see Eran disappear up the stairs. In just a moment, he was alone. He chuckled lightly, shaking his head but did not depart. Instead, he opened the door once again and joined Loic and Lael, shutting the door behind him before folding his hands in front of him, evidently keen to remain and watch over his charge.

_729EEEA8C9563733010D13A8D23FF347962F7552B2FF31E415_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngLoic Gwawr’llwyd
“No, actually. Not exaggerated,” came his voice from inside the room, when the hunter inquired after the rumor of his death. “I just got back.”

By the time the Drow entered and shut the door, he was pulling his shirt down over his waist and tucking it in carefully. Loic turned to give her his complete attention instead of going for his leather cuirass, and by his confident posture, it was apparent that he was deliberately not trying to hide the abomination attached to his side.

“First of all,” he began and took a step towards her, “everything is alright. We won, and I’m okay.” The distress in her voice both surprised and concerned him. It was endearing that she still cared enough about him to illicit this intense reaction, but he needed to relieve her of it immediately. He didn’t enjoy tormenting her.

At about that time, the door opened and the wizard gave Valdasar a nod of acknowledgement. He was welcome during the conversation, but only because of how recently he’d been dead. Loic was still unsure about all of the side effects of being resurrected. Lael would have to either put a mask back on her feelings, or have some faith that the nice, elderly priest wasn’t going to judge her. The wizard had run enough tests on the fellow in the last handful of hours to have acquired that faith already.

“I went to Vizeran’s room to see what I could from the window. I saw a platoon of figures filtering into the front door, but I couldn’t get any closer before I knew they would see me. Even though I can make out shapes down here, I don’t have Drow eyes. So, I tried to cause as much damage as I could before they got in, from as far away as I could manage. I dropped some ceiling on them. The thing I hit happened to be a damn Yochlol. We have some phenomenal warriors on our team, I admit, but between the footmen and the priestesses, and then a Yochlol, I knew that my role in the battle would be to give you guys as much time as possible to split their forces. I tried several tricks at a distance first, but it resulted in wasted spell-power and they sought refuge inside the tower. To keep them away from the stairs, I engaged the Yochlol and one of the priestesses. I kept them occupied long enough for my golem to come take the hits for me, but just before he could reach us, the Yochlol caught me in its mandibles – it was a giant spider at the time – and that mostly did me in. The priestess took the opportunity to stick her blade through me. When I returned to awareness, I was no longer… here. I spent about six hours in The Fugue, and then I was returned to the material plane, and my mortality, by what I assume were the combined efforts of Ghaunadaur and our scaly friend here. Even better, Valdasar continued to heal me up, so I am fit enough to travel as soon as we can manage.”

“My condition.” Loic raised that hand up enough to indicate it. “It’s actually a gift. It’s still growing, but I believe it will become a natural weapon, one that I might actually be able to have some skill with.” He lowered his head a little, then his eyes, and quietly added, “I doubt it will look nearly as bad when it’s done. …Not as diseased.”

Laeltoken2.pngLael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir
Lael was stood behind the door when Valdasar decided it was in his best interest to be with them, the door had knocked her and she greeted the Dragonborn’s presence with an irritated huff. She moved then putting equal distance between the cleric and the wizard, leaning against the wall and folding her arms defensively. Staring at the toes of her boots as she listened to his story.

When he was finally done, Lael simply just stretched and moved as if she was leaving. She had no idea where to start with any of this mess. Should it be the stupid plan to distract a Yachlol and her handler, alone, or to continue the Ghaunadaur argument. She felt too weary to deal with either.

Resting a hand on her eyes she sighed. They stilled burned from being subjected to a lengthy battle with two sunblades in her vicinity. Her head throbbed, most likely from a blow taken, Angaste nagged for riders attention and Eilistraee’s song screamed at her.

Despite the overwhelming noise going on in her mind all the tired Paladin wanted was a simple answer to a question. “Why-” She began before stopping.This conversation was private, Valdasar could stand there in silent protest all he wanted but there were other ways. “
Ele ph’dos ji sei’lor pholor ulu kyorl ulu dosst ehmtu elge?” ((Why are you so consigned to your own oblivion?)) She Continued in Undercommon.

“Zhah dosst eluith’orth ji lotha wun udossa, wun uns’aa, nindel dos talinth dos z’klaen plynn aglust wun folt waela di’morad fridj ji udos wynthye?” ((Is your faith so little in us, in me, that you think you must take part in such foolish actions just so we succeed?))
She had turned back round now to face the half-elf, she didn’t look angry, just tired and saddened.

“Explain it, I truly do not understand. There was a Yachlol inside, but we dealt with it swiftly and quickly, because I am equipped and trained to deal with Lolth’s Handmaidens and because I had worthy allies by my side who knew their place, their purpose.” Lael decided to edge a step closer.

“Udos ph’l’vaen nin, ol zhah fridj udossa draa lu’Usstan shlu’ta naut xun nindol maglust lu’nausbyr shlu’ta dos.” ((We are the last now, it is just us two and I can not do this alone and neither can you.)) While she was speaking she started removing the gauntlet of her right hand, the hand she favoured most for her shield.

“Ol zhah telanthus nindel jal khaless zhah waela, zhahen nind xusst xor zhahus Usstan?”((It is said that all trust is foolish, were they wrong or was I?)) Lael asked carefully her hand stretched out for Loic to take.

_729EEEA8C9563733010D13A8D23FF347962F7552B2FF31E415_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngLoic Gwawr’llwyd
When the woman turned to leave, he cocked his head to the side in quandary. Had he overloaded her just now, as was his tendency to do to people? It hadn’t been intentional. That was the shortest version of the tale that he could possibly relay. The long version included things he doubted most of the group would be capable of fathoming.

But then she stopped at the door, and she asked the young half-elf a question. Loic frowned, both because he was sorry she hadn’t reached a comfortable level yet with Valdasar, and because she was apparently going to take this one on to herself as well, just like everything he’d done since he’d found himself at her side. That had to stop.

She turned to face him, and his expression was a reflection of her own: sad and tired. Its creases seemed to deepen when he was told that there had been another Yochlol, and that they had dispatched it without much trouble. He’d been fine half a second ago, but that dealt great damage to his sense of validation for having risked his life (and lost it). She sounded completely unappreciative, going as far as to call his actions foolish without the proceeding praise Valdasar had been so kind in giving him.

Despite that great sting, he reminded himself that Lael hardly ever knew what she was really talking about. She came from a place of faith and emotion. He’d noted that at times, she said things for no other reason than to take a stab in the dark at explaining happenstances she didn’t understand. With Loic, she did not understand many things, and it was possible that she could not.

He moved forward and took her hand when she offered it. He continued to move forward, boldly, and drew her into a sturdy, warm embrace. The woman barely had time to refuse before his good arm was around her waist, holding onto her tightly, and his cheek was gently leaning against the side of her head. He lingered and sighed through his nose, taking in her scent at the same time as he thought of what to say.

“…Ol zhah ’zil Usstan inbal telanthus, Lael. Ol zhah naut bauth dos. Xor khaless,” ((It is as I have said, Lael. It’s not about you. Or trust,)) he said as softly as he could. “Aphyon zhahus naut vel’bol Usstan zhahus p’luin. F’sarn taudl ulu inbal tahta dos.” ((Death was not what I was after. I’m sorry to have scared you.))

His grip relaxed, and the wizard moved away enough to look down at her. “I am not like you, or Eran, or any of those of whom you claim to know the places for. I am a wizard, and my greatest weapons are within my unorthodox ways. In there, on the second level, everyone else would have been caught up in the rage of my spells, because that is the nature of most of the ones I would have been able to use. Like you said, you had that point covered. In order to provide any kind of support at all, I decided to flank them. At the time, there was no second to spare to weigh the decision. It was either act, or don’t. I chose to act, not hide behind you in a corner, tossing fire motes aimlessly into the throng of bodies, hoping to land the enemy instead of you. And perhaps I was hoping I could save you, for a change. Perhaps I was fantasizing about my triumphant return, covered in demon blood, and how you would swoon at my amazing battle prowess.”

“Thankfully,” his face broke out into a smile, and he stared into her eyes intently, “there are many ways around and through death, and it appears that the Powers-That-Be agree that our mission is too important to let me rest in peace. Xo’al naut ulu eszak. Usstan wo naut ori’gato ol sha’nalt ‘sohna ji pi’rescho, lu’Usstan orn naut sevir dos. Ka rin’ov Usstan xun el whol trantz, zhaun nindel Usstan orn ragar ussta i’dol rath uss tangi. Fol i’dol.” ((Try not to worry. I won’t let it happen again, and I will not leave you so easily. If ever I do die in a more permanent manner, know that I will find my way back eventually. Some way.))

ValdasarIcon.png Valdasar
Valdasar observed the exchange between Loic and Lael but even the scant few words of Undercommon he had learned during his time underground were not needed to gauge the tone of the conversation. Lael’s anger was palpable, as was Loic’s remorse.
[12/22/2016 10:12:45 AM] moth banquet: “Do not judge him too harshly,” he said to Lael softly. “His actions were rash, to be sure, but facing even a portion of the drow raiding party within the confines of the tower was testing enough as it was. By delaying the sorceress and her demon, he ensured we were not overwhelmed.” His eyes flickered to Loic briefly. “But I would not put too much faith in being able to return from the Fugue at a whim, young one. If it were so easy, death would not be so great a mortal fear. Should your new benefactor have interceded and not I, a mere three hundred gold pieces would seem a pittance compared to what he would ask of you I am sure.”

_729EEEA8C9563733010D13A8D23FF347962F7552B2FF31E415_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngLoic Gwawr’llwyd
The tender moment between the two was dashed to pieces by the interruption of an (apparently blind) old man. Loic glared daggers at Valdasar. Could he not see what was being done here? Besides the level of intimacy he was intruding on now by speaking at that very moment, the dumb lizard tried to smack down any and all positivity he was attempting to give the paladin. She was distraught, and he was attempting to calm her. All the cleric had just done was make that harder, so he was forced to combat it.

“Stop pretending like you know things that you don’t,” he seethed at the priest, which was a bold contrast to how gentle his demeanor had been a second ago. “You’re not the one who died and went there, and you’re not the one that’s been speaking to That Which Lurks. I would vastly appreciate it if you kept your opinions to yourself. …Particularly in a moment such as this. Divine’s sake, have some tact.”

Loic was beholden to Valdasar now, and he respected the man more than he did most people, but it would not save him from the wizard’s sharp tongue when the young half-elf believed it was warranted.

ValdasarIcon.png Valdasar
Valdasar raised his brows calmly. “Tact, unfortunately, is as much a luxury to me as bed rest is to you at this moment. There is much to be discussed. And do not be under the impression that I hold my own knowledge with such certainty as you do yours. I do not speak from a position of knowledge of the realm beyond, but of Ghaunadaur himself – gleaned from accounts and tales centuries old. Only a fool assumes that a god who has already started to corrupt his body will grant him a fair bargain to return to the plane of the living.” He looked to Lael. “I presume you have seen the mutation, Lady?”

_729EEEA8C9563733010D13A8D23FF347962F7552B2FF31E415_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngLoic Gwawr’llwyd
By the Gods, it was as though the man didn’t understand what he was trying to do. Ghaunadaur didn’t matter right now. Or at least, he hadn’t, until the cleric continued to press on as an unwelcomed voice in the conversation. Naturally, this had Loic’s eyes rolling in open condescension. If he could magically silence the lizard, he would have.

“What the hell is wrong with you, Valdasar?” he said before it went any further. “Tact seems less of a luxury for you, more like a fairytale creature you’ve never seen before. If you’re going to sit there like a demon imp, trying to freak people out and chattering away, when you know this is a private moment and that we’re only letting you stay because I was dead a minute ago, then we’ll just go. You won’t be invited. Things. Are. Fine. Now shut the hells up about it. Go help Eran or something. We’ll be out in a minute.”

His eyes widened like he was trying to telepathically impart some piece of wisdom the cleric was clearly missing out on, and sort of half-nodded at the woman he was with to indicate that a moment of reprieve from all the terror was absolutely necessary right now, and he was ignorantly destroying the wizard’s efforts.

ValdasarIcon.png Valdasar
Valdasar cocked his head as he returned his gaze to Loic, a look of keen understanding in his eyes. "By all the- We have just survived a deadly assault by an enemy who now seems to know our precise location. You have only just died and been brought back to life, and your only concern is sheathing your sword? "

Laeltoken2.pngLael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir
When Loic took her hand, Lael sighed, relieved, but she barely had time to gather her thoughts on the matter before Loic had completely caught her off guard and drew her close.
Why did these surfacers think this was an appropriate way to behave around her, to invade her so? Pressing her hands against his chest to push him back and place him at a respectable distance before his arm snared his waist and she completely froze.

Was this right, was she truly okay with this? If Vizeran had done anything as bold lacking her expressed invitation he would have found himself on the end of Dawnbringer without any doubt. Yet she let Loic take such liberties and it troubled her.

Luckily her unease was swiftly ended as Loic let go and placed some distance between them. He talked of his juvenile fancy about saving her for a change and Lael’s mouth twitched into a smile. Lowering her head she pursed her lips and scrunched her face trying to subdue it. She was still mad at him, she didn’t want to give Loic the thought that he was absolved from it. Yet as he went on, the smile finally cracked and Lael had to cover it with her hand.

She gave Loic a look that was both amused and annoyed, mostly at herself. It was a deep relief to see that the sweet boy that took a Mace to her icey defenses all those months ago was still there, which is all she wanted to ensure.

‘Silly boy’ Lael thought. ‘Don’t you know you already have.’ the Drow female’s parted her mouth to express it but it was then Valdasar decided to interject. Lael had almost forgotten that the old lizard was still there.
Did the Dragonborn understand Undercommon? Lael wondered as she turned her head to gauge his words carefully, it seemed the Old man only responded to what they said in common, so it would seem.

The Paladin was not objecting to the point that Loic’s actions may or may not been necessary. Her motives were completely selfish and that the wizard should be more careful for her sake. A frown followed.

Would Ghaunadaur demand such a price? The calm waters she briefly held onto stirred again and suddenly she was unsure.
Yet before she could get a word in edge ways a debate took place and Lael found herself bouncing her head between the two.

When the cleric mentioned the corruption of Loic’s body she let her eyes fall on the twisted thing, so it was as she feared, the god was making his mark… Loic’s protest about speaking about it didn’t fill her with confidence either, despite his best intentions Lael’s shoulders dropped in disappointment. The young half-elf still didn’t understand.

And then it happened. Valdasar’s inelegant comment about Loic wanting to ‘sheath his sword’ that made the Paladin cringe physically. Her hand smothered her face to hide her embarrassment. If a dark elf could be seen blushing this would be the time it would be, Lael could feel the heat emanating off her face. “Oh, Goddess.” she whined. This was fine, if anything the paladin could deal with this misconception.

“Enough!” She irritably hissed with a stamp of her foot ensuring in the same movement she place the half-elf at a more respectable distance.
“Firstly, Valdasar. If all it took was a gift here and there, a touch or a kind word, then they would not call us Dark Maids ” Came the first retaliation, putting stress on the final word to get the point across that Lael meant it in the very truest sense of the word.

“Next, nothing staves away the fear of death like the warmth of another body but this is not what we are talking about.” As she spoke her voice got more shrill and her shoulders rose. “Lasty, it is no one’s business when, where or who I choose to lay with and I demand the entire conversation be dropped here.”

Turning her attention to Loic, Lael wearily brushed her hair out of her face. “Loic, there is only one thing I desperately want you to understand because I do not think you do. I need you to realise what place of torment you have placed me in.”

“This is not about what god you chose or why, my reasons are completely selfish and I confess to it. Ghuanadur is not the enemy of my enemy…” She paused and drew breath. “He is the the enemy. In my lifetime I have witnessed what his servants have done to my people. And I do not mean Drow, I mean those who follow the Silver Maiden, when his cultists laid siege to the Promenade, our holy place and heart of our church.”

“I need to know that this pact you have with him is temporary, it is circumstantial.” She moved back over to the wizard and laid her hand on his gnarled arm and spoke softer the stress slowly ebbing away from her voice. “ My greatest fear is not that you have chosen a evil god, but that one day I must choose between my faith and the sole friend I have in this world.”

“If what Valdasar says is true and Ghaunadaur is marking you, Am I supposed to turn on my family if they see it and decide you are a threat? Or what if your dark master decides that a as payment he wants my death, would you do it?” shaking her head violently she closed her eyes as her mind whirred all the terrible things that could happen because of this choice.

ValdasarIcon.png Valdasar
The Dragonborn sighed and hung his head. “I am sorry. This has been a trying time for us all and I should not have spoken so bluntly. But know, Loic, and you too, Lady Lael, that my presence here and now is not to interfere in your personal affairs. As you have said many times, Loic, there is precious little time and I do not know when I will have another chance to speak these words.”
He looked up, regarding them each in turn. “My visions brought me to Gauntlgrym, and to you. I did not know what significance you had and even upon hearing of your exploits, I had my doubts. But then came the sign, outside Gravenhollow. When your friend the deep gnome vanished beneath the shadow of a dragon; I knew then that you, along with your companion Taman, you have all been chosen. The Justicemaker himself is watching over you, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, and I must see you both through what is to come.”
His voice grew heavy, though whether it was through sadness or simple fatigue was impossible to tell. “Mistrust runs like poison through the veins of this…motley gathering of wizards, warriors and priests. I would not be surprised if Ghaunadaur wished to sow the seeds of disunity just as surely as Lolth herself. The two of you are vital to defeating this threat and I would not see our plight paralysed in its infancy.”
He looked to Loic. “I have seen friends, family and lovers torn apart by secrets and arrogance. Listen to your friend, but heed also the words of Eran and Ilia, and the masked one. You are chosen, but you are not alone.”

_729EEEA8C9563733010D13A8D23FF347962F7552B2FF31E415_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.png[[:loic-gwawr-llwyd | Loic Gwawr’llwyd]
Loic’s hand flew to his face at the exact same time as the one beside him, more with a mental scream of frustration than embarrassment. He was so dumb-struck at the cleric’s ability to completely miss a point that he didn’t have the words. As a handful of snappy comebacks filtered through his brain, he began to relax and direct his energy towards fixing the awkwardness and anger abundantly floating through the room again.

But, he didn’t have to. Lael stomped her foot and he stood to attention, as if awoken by a thunderclap. As her voice grew shrill, his ears climbed back marginally on his head, trying to get away from the audio assault. When she was finished putting it frankly to Valdasar and returned her attention to Loic alone, he tried to wipe the various shades of shock off his face and pay attention.

The wizard listened without interruption, but before he could reply, the cleric once again cut in. This time though, Valdasar’s words were much easier to swallow. He seemed to at least understand he’d done something wrong, but the manner in which he excused himself left what could have been a slight apology feeling hollow. Still, he listened without interruption.

“…O-okay,” he said half-heartedly to the Dragonborn, looking at the fellow like he wasn’t making a whole lot of sense. He really wasn’t. Loic did trust the majority of their travelling party. He had begun to doubt if he and Raddan would ever get along, but they didn’t need to. They could be rivals, he knew, and work just as well together. Ultimately, he didn’t understand where Valdasar’s worry was coming from. Perhaps he’d seen something that the wizard had not. “Well, give it some time, Old Man. We’re getting to know each other as fast as I imagine is possible without everyone being a Psionisist.”

Looking to the Drow again, he nodded over at his armor, which was still laying on the ground, then moved towards it. “Would you mind helping me a little? I would make a mess of it right now if I tried to tie knots.” It seemed he was going to wait for an answer to that first before continuing on the topic of what she kept insisting was his master.

With an impatient sigh, Valdasar turned to leave the room. He stopped at the door before glancing at Lael over his shoulder. “I will check on the others. My lady, if you please, I would like to speak with you as soon as possible. You will find me on the lower floors.”

Laeltoken2.pngLael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir
The Drow Paladin had exhausted herself spiritually with her outburst. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been worked up so much. She was quite certain that not even her sisters drove her to such extreme fluctuating emotions and from all she could recall all they did was bicker among themselves.

Loic’s request was simple enough and she swept the armor up in her arms as Valdasar requested to see her after. With a curt nod she agreed “I will find you after.”

She held up the armour and awaited the wizard to attempt to put it on. “I would say arms up, but I do not think I could reach.” Lael stated in a dry tone.

Valdasar left the room and closed the door. Alone in the hallway, he released a deep, exhausted breath and cast his eyes up to the ceiling. “Why, Bahamut, great Lord of Dragons, do you see fit to test me with the most taxing of all creatures; the young?”
With that, he shuffled towards the stairs and down to the lower levels.

_729EEEA8C9563733010D13A8D23FF347962F7552B2FF31E415_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngLoic Gwawr’llwyd
After she came over and Valdasar closed the door, he was finally able to respond to Lael’s fears.

“No need. Only one of the sides has been undone. Just… hold it open for a moment and I’ll slip in sideways.” Eventually, he got his long arm through its designated hole, and the rest was fairly simple.

“Regarding your question as to whether or not I will become like the cultists you know, I can say that is a certain ‘no’. Ghaunadaur doesn’t really seem to care who worships him, so long as he is worshipped, and he attracts a lot of sociopaths and hemophiliacs. Outcasts are simply within his realm of dominion. That’s not necessarily his intent. What those people do are not necessarily “in the name of That Which Lurks”. Same of many Drow who fail to see Lolth’s true vision, as I understand it. They can act according to what they think their god’s will could be, but many of them will never get confirmation on that. That aside, you must hear me when I say I do not intend to worship him. That takes free will, and I cannot give it to him, because in my own heart, I truly believe that to succumb to any one doctrine limits one’s potential and ability to see situations with total clarity. I am an ally, not a minion. If a priest of Ghaunadaur were to cross my path and you felt the need to cut him down for what they’ve done, then depending on the crime, if I agreed, then I would help you obliterate them. If I didn’t, then I would simply step out of your way. It’s more like a… uh, divine mercenary contract than picking a religion."

“So, do you understand that Ghaunadaur is not my master? He’s an investor. And that this isn’t some kind of cursed mark, it’s just a tool to help me complete the objective we all want?” He wiggled his extra long fingers.

Laeltoken2.pngLael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir
After the Half-elf slipped his monstrosity of an arm into the hole Lael set about to tying the open sides. Listening quietly as Loic spoke, not responding to each point not even with the micro gestures her face sometimes expressed.

Lael was practically done when he asked her if she understood and she nodded once in agreement. “That is all I needed and I won’t bore you further with tales of Ghanadaur’s famous deceptions. I trust you and will support you in this.”

As she went to check each tie was secure with a tug as the Drow did with her own armour she continued “My one redeemable quality in this life is my strength. I pride myself on my ability to endure long lengths of punishment but I do not know if I am strong enough to make that choice, and it would destroy me if I had to make it. I hope you now understand that…”

With one last tug Lael took back to admire her work. “There, not too bad, if I do say so myself, for someone that is usually dressed by others.”

_729EEEA8C9563733010D13A8D23FF347962F7552B2FF31E415_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngLoic Gwawr’llwyd
“Oof! Ow,” were some of the noises he made when she tightened the armor. That region was still extremely tender. As she stood back to inspect her work, he lowered his arms and nodded. “A little tight, but that’s probably for the best at the moment.”

With that, he grabbed up his big, black cloak and spun it around, onto his shoulders. “I admit that I hadn’t realized before how strong your feelings for me might be. Sometimes you can be hard to read. But now that I know, it does change matters slightly. I’ll be… extra aware in the future about putting you in positions you don’t appreciate.”

“I do think you should try to speak to Eilistraee about all this, if she would hear you. Lolth has been involved, now Ghaunadaur. I imagine if anyone were to have need of her at this very moment, it would be you. She may decide to lend you some guidance. Maybe she’ll even say that in times of war, the measures we take must sometimes be the lesser of two evils, or something, and she’ll give you her blessings. Then you could tell your family and they would have to forgive me. That is, if Eilistraee isn’t completely repulsed. If you need me to throw up a spell to allow you some privacy for the ritual, I can do that almost any time. Today I’m… a little depleted, but it’s not too difficult of a casting, and I have the power-storing pearl I have yet to tap on today.”

Loic moved for the door and put his hand on the knob, but he didn’t open it yet. “I’m not using our blood for the ritual any longer. The reward may have been higher, we may have even not had the last battle if I had done it quickly enough, but in the end I understood that it was the physical manifestation of the trust you all have given me, so I smashed the mixture. If I’d used it, it would have burned more bridges than I was willing to lose. I’m off now to collect the blood of the fallen priestesses instead. He’ll enjoy that, I think. Perhaps, if there is any Yochlol left, it could work as the demon blood ingredient we need for Vizeran’s plan as well.”

Laeltoken2.pngLael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir
When Loic spoke of how he smashed the vile of blood Lael’s face lit up. “Oh Loic…” She breathed with a sigh. Perhaps if Valdasar had not completely ruined her sense of pride earlier she may of embraced the young wizard in that moment. “Why did you not just tell me that instead of letting me make a mockery of myself with that emotional outburst.”

Lael let a breathy chuckle escape and shook her head. What a mess she had made, well it was too late now, she had said all those things and there was no taking them back. Had he just told her he smashed it, it would had eased all her doubts. When he told her of the deal and the plan it was almost as if all sense had left him, which had startled her as much in the first place.

“Tell the others immediately.” Lael interjected quickly before Loic could comment. “For as much as Valdasar generates annoyance with his pious bleating, he is right. Seeds of discord and mistrust will end us in great failure.”

She cautiously stepped forward and rested her hand on the wizard back. “The others have not known you as long as I have, They have not seen your kindness and generosity. If I have misjudged you, then surely they have too.”

“And besides their company is much more preferred than the dwarf and the half-orc.” Ending the touch Lael gestured dismissively trying to keep the tone light. The Drow female was mentally exhausted from this conversation alone, the battle hadn’t even left her breathless. It was funny how these things worked out.

Although she had decided not to answer on Loic’s generous gift of privacy to conduct her Flamesong. Lael was perturbed by how he knew of it. She had tried to be so careful to keep such a solemn and personal ritual private. Often going weeks without such a serene, spiritual release. Which generally left her more of a foul mood than usual.

So how did he know it? She had always checked before hand and after to ensure no one had spied on her. The young elf knew something, but not enough to know that talk of such things was completely taboo. Instead of denying it’s existence or confirming the ritual with questions Lael decided to just completely ignore it.

It has been many a year since Lael had begged the aid of the Silver Mother, instead using her ritual to convene praise and gratefulness that she had lived through yet another difficult encounter Or a status report on Lael’s progress and growth. Whatever took the Paladin’s fancy in that moment..
It had last happened one fateful day in the forest after a quite unpleasant squabble with her siblings. Lael looked down to her uncovered hand, her fingers caressing her palm. She never answered then, or perhaps she just did not answer at that time. It had been an age, since Lael had thought about that.

Perhaps it was time to try again.

“Loic, before you go.” Lael quickly said before he could flee, she was conscious of what the boy had said about her being difficult to read. He had not been the only one to tell her than in her life. “Not even the most legendary of Dark Song Knight’s would face a Yachlol alone. “What you did today was very brave, stupid and completely insane-” A smile crossed her face. “But very brave…” Turning away from him completely, Lael started to replace her gauntlet which she had removed earlier.

_729EEEA8C9563733010D13A8D23FF347962F7552B2FF31E415_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngLoic Gwawr’llwyd
He put on a helpless grin and looked at her from over his shoulder when the Drow berated him for the order in which he had explained himself. He validated it to himself because he had only started trying to tell her that everything was okay before Valdasar had rudely interrupted with so many reasons as to why, actually, things very much still were not. He’d told her as soon as he could have, he thought, but he was just glad to see her relief.

Lael came to stand behind him with her hand on his back. When she told him that it was likely the others were watching him with great caution, he scoffed aloud and rolled his eyes, muttering, “Them and everyone else that’s ever had the misfortune of meeting me.” Loic was a suspicious person, if for no other reason than the amount of things he knew that others didn’t. The unknown was often feared, and half the time it was for good reason. Still, he noted that, for her, he would attempt to maybe make some effort in the direction of his trustworthiness…

By the time she was done and making her way back to her discarded gauntlet, she’d put a subtle, genuine smile on the half-elf’s face. Between joking about the present company being preferable to the former and the praise she gave him for his actions today on the battlefield, he was feeling like their relationship was healed. Fortunately, it hadn’t lasted longer than a day. He hoped things would continue to be solved as swiftly in the future, where they were likely to end up in a quarrel again some way or another. The fact there was tension didn’t matter at all compared to the concept of sticking together and seeing it through, and everyone was becoming quite adept at that.

“Hey,” he said quietly when the woman fell into silence. “There is much more to you than your strength alone. You have a lot to offer anyone who would be so lucky.” The wizard turned the handle, opened the door, and casually began to make his way to the second floor of the tower, adolescent Basilisk waddling behind.

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Fireside: The Fallen Part 2

_0ED0649699E7168F5F3C32261DD399BF96AC30B0FD25431324_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngEran Lyoka

Eran finds Vizeran back in his library, but the room looks different, books have been thrown across the room and paper is everywhere. Vizeran is stood over his desk with a book open in front of him. Both hands are on the table either side of the book as he stares at it, the book turning its pages by itself. Eran is taken aback at the site, his first instinct is look around for signs of other Drow that may have gotten through, after a brief glance he could see no sign of struggle and assumed this was the Wizards doing.

He decided not to start out with accusations. The wizard had clearly avoided defending his own home but he seemed busy with something else? Its importance was unclear to the hunter but it seemed clear the Drow was desperate to achieve something. “Your tower is secure wizard.” He made the statement with authority. The tone almost questioning what the wizard was doing? As he did he heard foot falls behind him.

VizeranIcon.png Vizeran

“Huh?! Yes, yes, good” comes the response from Vizeran without taking his eyes off the book

Ilia Ferrelle Ilia

Ilia began to slowly follow Eran and the others, trying to maintain a composed facade while he made sense of the maelstrom that had ploughed through his mind. He had heard, and even felt, screams of utter agony. The sound had burst through his nerves, spreading out across his body. The pain and disorder was so great it clouded his concentration and fractured his recollection while its legacy persisted.

He now picked his way through the aftermath of the storm, a stranger in his own mind. He recalled the condescension and contempt that met him over the dagger, and a flash of an uncharacteristic rage flared. He abhorred their arrogance. The casual collection of assumptions they bundled into vacuous packages labelled ‘life lessons’. The sort of tavern-wisdom found in the more pathetic quarters of Neverwinter… The rage stirred inside… “How dare they… and to me.. of all people,” he muttered in disgust, “Eran too. I trusted him.” His lip curled in fury. He found himself clutching the dagger, slowly unsheathing it. “It is for me to decide who lives and who dies by this dagger, no one else,” he thought. The scrape of the bladed against scabbard sang to his ears, urging the blade to be drawn.

Loic’s voice came across the din of the others, unexpectedly bringing with it a small moment of clarity. “He’s alive… Valdasar has saved him, thank the gods.” The first ray of hope he had felt since adventuring in this forsaken Underdark. He moved to join the others, then hesitated at the foot of the stairs. “They will take it away. Loic will try to use it for himself. He will do anything to further his power.” His fingers touched the pommel of the dagger. “They cannot be trusted.”

A streak of pain momentarily flashed through his head, was gone and suddenly Ilia felt weary. There were too many people up in that tower, too many voices. He was struggling enough with the ones in his head just now. He would sit outside, in the cold, dark air, with Jag and try and find some calm. Perhaps an opportunity to talk quietly would come. He expected sooner or later Eran would want answers, as perhaps would the rest. He slipped silently away and found a deep shadow at the base of a large, ancient stalagmite. He sat down, wrapped himself in his black cloak, and let Jag nestle beside him, He turned to the cat, “Rouse me if someone comes my way.” And with that he began to trance, hoping that he might find some peace, and a little less anger.

_0ED0649699E7168F5F3C32261DD399BF96AC30B0FD25431324_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngEran Lyoka

The small meaningless acknowledgement from the Drow began to stir the anger in his gut. He stepped forward, but only a step. To travel any further might lead him to wrapping his hands around the Drow’s throat. He bit his lip, to stop the fury of his words. The salty taste of sweat and iron from the blood filled his mouth.

He looked back in gesture of disbelief hoping to see Ilia behind him but it was Raddan coming up the stairs. The support was welcome but he really wanted Ilia close at this time. He closed his eyes to get a sense of Elf, he’d been wise enough to know the rogue may slip away during the aftermath. So he had moved his hunters Mark spell onto him, in an attempt to track him down if he did. He was nearby, outside the tower, he would go to him after dealing with this wizard, he thought.

Turning back to him. “We nearly lost people defending this place for you!” He kept his tone cool and stern. " A simple explanation of why you are ‘here’ and not involved in the defence of ‘your’ home would seem like and obvious curtesy at this point." He said with enough force to grab his attention.

VizeranIcon.png Vizeran

Vizeran looked up from his desk and there was pure anger and hatred clearly visible in his eyes.

“This is my home and until I brought you and your companions to it I had enjoyed centuries of peace and security from the prying eyes of the drow priestesses.”
He straighten up and walked over to one of the shelves looking for a book, his demeanour calming somewhat as he did so.
“I felt confident when the attack began that you and your companions would be able to stop the attack quickly and you did, so I wasted no time in trying to find out how they managed to find me. My home is covered by the most powerful magics known to man, if I hadn’t been with you when you approached it you wouldn’t have seen it at all.”

“Those spells are all still active, I even tested it by stepping out of my tower for a moment and attempting to use divination magics to view the battle but I could not, I was blocked by the magic that protects it. There are many ways to fight a battle young half elf, and missing out on one assault to ensure we do not face another is a far better use of my time.”
He pulled the book down and began reading it.
“Now this location is not safe we need to leave here as soon as possible, I suggest you begin your search for the ingredients while I go separately to confirm my suspicion that it is you the drow tracked to my home, I will meet you all once you are done, here take this” he hands Eran a piece of parchment “when you have all the ingredients write me a message indicating such and I will contact you back with a time and place to meet you to create the black heart jewel, i will stay as close to Menzoberranzan as I can without drawing attention.”
Without another word he was back at his desk looking over his books not once looking up to acknowledge whether or not you agreed with him

_0ED0649699E7168F5F3C32261DD399BF96AC30B0FD25431324_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngEran Lyoka

Eran took the parchment and the scolding looks that came with it. He could lash back at the Drow but it served no purpose to argue with him. Which ever way this battle ended this Wizard had lost his home, he could not berate the dark elf for being bitter about it. The fact is they needed him and causing derision for the sake of it would not help the mission.

The wizards rant had brought up one important point though, one he’d already considered. They were being tracked as Loic had surmised, both the wizards had been sure the counter charms on this place would be sufficient to obscure Lolth and the other gods. So that meant they were either carry something else on them that was allowing Lolth and the Drow to track them or someone was informing on them? Eran didn’t want to consider the later, being suspicious of his allies would only doom the mission. So he considered the former instead, and there was only one thing he could think of that had a direct link to Lolth. Reaching into his pouch he pulled out the small chess piece of himself.

“Maybe I can save you the trouble.” He said with clenched teeth. Placing the chess piece on one of few clear spots of the table. “What do you make of this?”

VizeranIcon.png Vizeran

Vizeran reaches out a hand towards the chess piece, with obvious curiosity. He stops before touching it himself.
“Where did you come across this?”

_0ED0649699E7168F5F3C32261DD399BF96AC30B0FD25431324_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngEran Lyoka

“A Lolth ambush” He wasn’t about to go into details. “Her design”

_EF3669B06F784D69F60C2526326274BB8199A22C09E19FE166_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngRaddan

As Raddan re-entered Vizeran’s library, he shared a moment’s eye contact with Eran. The other man’s frustration and disbelief were apparent in that brief moment and after casting his eyes over the scene before him, the sorcerer felt his own, already substantial ire grow. He let Eran do the talking, observing in critical silence as was his usual way. At the idea of a drow showing courtesy, he had to stop himself shaking his head. If the paladin was anything to go by as an example of her people, that was the very last thing they could expect. When Eran demanded to know where the magister had been and Vizeran replied with equal fury, the sorcerer had to physically check himself. A quick twitch of his fingers was the only sign of his sudden, near overwhelming desire to send a fireball straight into the centre of the drow’s book. As Vizeran went on, Raddan held onto the fire within, choking the flames of his anger under an iron fist of discipline. The heat vanished and became a cold, dark hatred that well deep within. He’d done this once before and the bitterness hadn’t faded over the years. Now, in the face of the drow’s blatant disregard for what he clearly believed to be ‘lesser men’, Raddan found that well of dark, bitter water again and with every word Vizeran spoke, more icy liquid pooled in its depths.

When Eran produced the chess piece, Raddan felt the presence of his own token against his breast. It irked him that he hadn’t stopped to think about it much beyond his initial experimentation and a desire not to let anyone else get a hold of a ‘voodoo’ doll of himself. It seemed his usual sense of precaution had failed him, or perhaps backfired. And yet… As Vizeran examined the item, the first inklings of an idea began to form in the sorcerer’s mind. Despite his present anger, Raddan felt a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. Spying an opening, he spoke for the first time since entering the room.

“I will not waste words on you.” he said simply to Vizeran. He wanted to, desperately, but the enjoyment of verbally tearing into the bastard would be a temporary and altogether useless reprieve. “I’ve been down that path before with the likes of you, I know how it ends. Easier to separate a dwarf from his gold than have you see how great a fool you are.” Having his entire family slaughtered and taking up a hidden refuge without planning an escape route should he be discovered. Leaving the defence of his home in the hands of strangers. Being more concerned with assigning blame for his discovery than fighting for his own life. Trying to work against the demon lords and expecting no reprisal. He reminded Raddan of a lot of men, none of whom he respected. As he continued, his every word dripped with scorn. “But I will tell you this. If at some point in the future your life hangs in the balance, I will return today’s favour.” The mask then turned to Eran. “When you’re done with him, there’s things we need to discuss.” He nodded at the game piece occupying the table. “Keep hold of that, at least for now. I’ve tried to destroy mine, but it seems resistant. If he-” and he jerked his head in Vizeran’s direction, “happens to know a way, don’t let him interfere with it.”

Without so much as a glance at the magister, Raddan stalked out of the room and started back down the staircase.

_0ED0649699E7168F5F3C32261DD399BF96AC30B0FD25431324_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngEran Lyoka

The scorn in Raddan’s voice was thick and evidently match his own, as he told Eran he needed to speak with him privately the hunter nodded an acknowledgement. Seemed Raddan too had come to some conclusion about the chess pieces. If they were the source of the them being tracked… ?? yet truly couldn’t be destroyed as he said… ?? something else would need to be done with them. They could not travel the Underdark with a target on their backs. He looked back at the chess piece, heeding Raddan’s warning he picked it back up. “You seem to know what this is Wizard? I would hear your thoughts.” He’s tone was still stern.

VizeranIcon.png Vizeran

Vizeran continues to stare at the location where the chess piece was. “I don’t know anything about what that thing is, however, it is obvious it was crafted with care evident by how accurate a likeness it holds, If you would allow me time to study it privately I might be able to glean more information from it?”

He then looks Eran straight in the eyes with a blank look on his face, and arms folded under his cloak

_0ED0649699E7168F5F3C32261DD399BF96AC30B0FD25431324_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngEran Lyoka

The Drow seemed honest in his request but Eran wasn’t about to give some effigy of himself to a stranger, a Drow at that. Especially when Raddan had warned him of such actions. Then something caught his eye. “No… I’ll look into myself” he said coolly.

He let a moment pass and then looked down, now done with the Wizard and his excuses, noticing a large book that had caught his eye. " Creatures of the Abyss: A translation of the original Celestial addition". He considered it was beyond time that he got an understanding of the fiendish creatures they were currently facing. Further more some of the component parts required for this spell involved hunting them. He picked up the apparent bestiary, felt the brittleness of the ancient book. “Some information on our ingredients wouldn’t go to waist, I’m gonna borrow this.” He gave the wizard little choice. Seemed common courtesy was in short supply anyway. He turned away to join Raddan.

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Fireside: The Fallen Part 1

ValdasarIcon.png Valdasar
“I did good.” Loic’s words came to Valdasar as if through a fog as his senses returned to the plane. He allowed Loic’s hand to remain on his own as he used his other hand to gently probe and inspect the stab wounds.
“It was reckless of you, to go off on your own,” he murmured dourly as he went about his work with practised ease. “It was fortunate the drow leader did not see me as a threat, or I would not have made it to you in time.”
He then slipped his hand from Loic’s limp grasp and took out a small package of herbs and bandages, as well as his alms bowl. He crushed the herbs by hand, adding a tiny dribble of water from his waterskin before working them into a paste. He smiled then, his eyes filled with a admiration. “And yet, you may very well have saved our lives.”

_729EEEA8C9563733010D13A8D23FF347962F7552B2FF31E415_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngLoic Gwawr’llwyd
“You mispronounced brilliant,” the wizard weakly muttered. He slowly turned his head to stare at Valdasar while the priest busied himself with mixing what was safe to assume was a healing salve. There was a small, eight-legged reptile that began to nestle into the bend of the elbow of the disgusting, elongated arm of his left side. Stretched along his master’s length, Loic noted that his pet had grown quite a bit in the last week. It was possible he would not be able to carry him any longer, which also meant that his eyes would be obtaining their trademark abilities any day now. Presently, the basilisk kept his head down, resting his chin on the wizard’s bicep.

The Dragonborn smiled at him and acknowledged the potential importance of his actions over the course of the last battle. The half-elf only stared back at him, with an expression on his dirty face as though he were working through several thoughts at once. It was split suddenly by a wide, mischievous grin. “I only regret that there are no surviving witnesses to my performance. It was a highly entertaining show, if I do say so, myself.”

Loic didn’t care to explain himself unless he had to. Even he wasn’t completely sure what had come over him, but he imagined that it had been as complicated of a combination of things as anything else in the world tended to be. Things seemed to become exponentially more complicated in the Underdark, at that.

“Is everyone else alright? Vizeran?” A hand came to rub his face, trying to wake himself up more. Being put back into one’s body after what had felt like half a day’s time felt reminiscent of being woken from a very deep slumber. “And how long has passed since the battle? Do we still have the bodies of the priestesses? Did the Yochlol vanish?”

He was coming back now mentally, and as he did, he began to recall what sort of time limits they were all under. They didn’t really have any to spare. In that spirit, and with a stifled groan, he gradually began to sit up.

ValdasarIcon.pngValdasar
“The others are alive and well,” the priest responded. “The battle was drawing to an end as I brought you here, only a few minutes ago, but I have no idea as to the condition of the bodies.” He laid a steadying hand on Loic’s shoulder and pressed the cleansing herbs into his wounds. “The pain will subside in a matter of moments. Thankfully, the wound is clean and free of debris, so recovery should be swift. I must bind the healing mixture in place with bandages to avoid infection.”
He lifted Loic’s arms gingerly, winding a strip of cloth around his torso. “Almost there. You will be able to move, but not too quickly. The more you rest, the quicker your convalescence will be.” He paused, the grin still on his lips. “What ‘performance’ did you give our attackers exactly? It must have been convincing to keep them occupied for so long.”

_729EEEA8C9563733010D13A8D23FF347962F7552B2FF31E415_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngLoic Gwawr’llwyd
“Ow,” he said flatly as Valdasar started smearing stuff onto him. It smelled alright, thankfully. He said it again, the same way, when the cleric helped him raise his arms enough to wrap his trunk in bandages. The wizard mused that he probably looked like a proper fighter right about now. That’s not what he was, though, so he snapped his fingers and magically shed himself of all the old blood and dirt. Besides that sort of easy trick, he could still feel that his store of magical energy was greatly depleted. Valdasar said it had only been minutes since he’d fallen, and this would reinforce his claim.

Loic smiled again at the inquisition of what, exactly, had happened outside of the tower, and he shook his head. “Next time we sit down over dinner, I’ll regale you all with how I single-handedly took on a priestess of Lolth and a Yochlol at the same time. For now, we need to leave this place, and I need to find those bodies. In a perfect world, I’d have time to recover, but we are a long way away from any semblance of perfection.”

When Valdasar had finished the bandaging, Loic unceremoniously plopped his grotesque left hand on the cleric’s shoulder and proceeded to use him as leverage to stand up. He was sluggish, and he was wobbly, but he was able to compose himself to some extent and shuffle forward.

“Peet. Come. Head down,” he commanded, and the little blue one obeyed, hopping off the bed to heel at Loic’s feet.

Before exiting the room, he paused and glanced over his shoulder. “We can walk and talk, if you like. You might be interested to know that I remember everything from my brief time in the afterlife. It’s quite fascinating that all that happens is we essentially get banished from the material plane. I went to The Fugue, myself. Seems you’d go elsewhere if you died.”

_0ED0649699E7168F5F3C32261DD399BF96AC30B0FD25431324_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngEran Lyoka
Eran walked back into tower with a quickened pace making sure Ilia was following. He was concerned for his elf friend, he was certainly playing down the pain he was feeling while welding the dagger and his defensiveness reminded him of orb he held at Mantol Derith. He thought back to when he’d first seen him with it? The battle at Loudwater perhaps? That would make Karse the likely ruins he was talking about. A place of very dark history. Nothing good can come from there he surmised.

Yet another great concern was Loic, was this yet another party member lost this day? He hoped the Cleric could do something for him. As he rushed up the stairs to the second floor he caught Lael’s eyes. " It’s Loic" . He expressed more in the glance than in the words. Warrior to warrior, expressing a loss of a comrade. For she was a warrior in his eyes now, regardless of his earlier out bursts, they had fought back to back through most of the siege, and she had slew her kin as ferociously as he.

He continued up the stairs gesturing her to follow. “Valdasar!” He called in concerned. “Valdasar!” He repeated as he neared the third floor.

Laeltoken2.pngLael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir
Eran had jumped through the hole through the stairs and rushed out to meet battle. Before Lael could even react the sounds of fighting had stopped. Removing her helmet she let out a relieved sigh.

It was over. She brushed the hair that clung to her face with sweat and took a moment, to internally check her aches and pains as the adrenaline subsided and calm returned.
Surprisingly she was fine, she would be sore in a few hours, nothing she could withstand but there were only minor scratches.

She looked about her at all the bodies they had slain. Her fallen kin, her mother and sisters would not approve. It was fine, she thought to herself, she would face penitence eventually.
She kneeled to the warrior at her feet, and covered up the garish gash on his face with her hand.

This would be a face someone would miss, his chiseled jaw and high cheekbones were quite pleasing. From what she could tell from his stained hair it was once snowy white. Turning her head to what remained of the Yachlol she had carved in half earlier.

Lolth was getting desperate, or was it the newly reformed Do’Urden’s coming to finish their originals did not finish? She moved to the stairway to retrieve the remains of the priestess.
Lael checked her long and nimble fingers for a ring identifying her house and found none.

There was only time for a frown to befall Lael’s face before Eran had rushed up the stairs. She met his gaze, it was filled with worry and urgency. The word’s “It’s Loic” made her heart skip a beat.

She didn’t even need the gesture to scramble to her feet and meet his speed.

_729EEEA8C9563733010D13A8D23FF347962F7552B2FF31E415_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngLoic Gwawr’llwyd
The reason Loic hadn’t thanked the cleric yet was because it was within question just how much of the resurrection Valdasar had been a part of. As he stood in the doorway, he couldn’t get his mind off the echoes of what he had known to be the voice of Ghaunadaur, insisting Loic’s work on the material plane was not yet finished. His experience in the afterlife had been no less exciting than another day in the Underdark. Just before he’d awoken, he had been grappled by a massive tentacle that had come bursting forth from one of Kelemvor’s many dimensional doors, and though he had been unable to see beyond it after it had coiled around his head, he distinctly recalled the feeling of having been thrown a great distance by that long arm. How would it make Valdasar feel, he wondered, if he knew he’d had that kind of help? Would he be grateful or revolted? Would he begin to question his own abilities? There was no time for that.

Fortunately, the wizard didn’t have to say anything. Shouts came rolling up from the staircase, demanding Valdasar’s attention. He turned his head to see both Eran and Lael, side-by-side, dashing onto the third floor. Loic was immediately reminded that Lael had yet to see his transforming left appendage, and with the exception of the bandages, his top half was completely exposed. His cloak, armor, and even his undershirt had been removed in order for his wounds to be tended. So there it was, that long, gross thing, veined with green and over twice as long as it should be. His fingers could touch the ground if he stretched a little. Where it attached to his body around his upper shoulder and collarbone, the grotesque display gradually faded back into soft, pale, half-elf flesh. Instinctively, he shifted to where the majority of the limb was behind him (little good that did), and slowly faded back into the small guest room from which he’d come to retrieve his cloak and armor.

_0ED0649699E7168F5F3C32261DD399BF96AC30B0FD25431324_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngEran Lyoka
Eran reached the third floor to find Loic and Valdasar limping in the hallway. He sighed with relief as he met Loic’s gaze. One still filled with life. Thankful they had not lost another this day.

He then watch as Loic’s stare quickly moved to Lael and then to his… arm? Eran wasn’t sure what to call it anymore. A glimmer of shame or disgust washed over Loic’s face and he quickly obscured his limb from view. Lael had not seen it before, not even known about it from Loic’s reaction to her presence. In truth it had exacerbated beyond what Eran had seen only a few hours ago. Even he felt some revulsion to the sight, but he certainly couldn’t refute the wizards commitment to the mission.

" I see news of your demise have been somewhat exaggerated?" Eran said whimsically, attempting to break the tension, as the wizard fled back into Valdassar’s room.

Laeltoken2.pngLael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir
With the appearance of both Valdasar and Loic the tension dropped from Lael’s shoulders. “Thank the Goddess.” She muttered as she turned to return back downstairs or that was what she planned to do.
After all she was still mad at Loic, thinking it best to keep space between them, so the feeling to wring his neck did not completely consume her. Yet she caught sight of his arm. Completely pausing as her eyes followed it from his shoulder till the floor, which it nearly reached, her frown increasing as her scrutiny increased.

Was it an injury? Lael wondered, Valdasar did favor physical medicine instead of magical. Perhaps she would have convinced herself of that truth had Loic then not tried to hide it.

He retreated and she immediately gave pursuit. “Someone should check on Vizeran and ready the lizards. We should not stay here a moment longer.” Lael called back to Eran’s light hearted conversation starter before slipping into the room Loic had gone into and closing the door with her foot.

“Look at you.” She directed to Loic as soon as the door was closed. It was high pitched with stress. “What happened and what is wrong with your arm?”

_0ED0649699E7168F5F3C32261DD399BF96AC30B0FD25431324_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngEran Lyoka
Vizeran, yes the Drow wizard had not taken part in the fight. " Raddan wanted to check on him as well." He made a quick glance to see if the masked man had followed him but couldn’t see him at that moment. “I’ll go check.” He turned to leave but turned back " But we’re not leaving yet!" He said adamantly. " Not before we’ve figured out how they found us and others have regained their strength." He was talking about Loic but he was feeling the fatigue of battle himself now. “Loic” raising his voice. “Your shield guardian is standing outside like an idle child, can you have him guard what’s left of the door please.” He made it sound like firm request than an order.

He looked back down the stairs and shouted down to Alvin. “Alvin! Gather our supplies and whatever food and water you can source from the kitchen, we need to be able to leave at a moments notice!” He ordered. Then looking at the bodies of dead Drow. “Oh and gather the Drow weapons, I need materials?”. With that he shot up the staircase to the higher levels of the tower.

_EF3669B06F784D69F60C2526326274BB8199A22C09E19FE166_pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.pngRaddan
Raddan lingered as Eran darted inside the tower to search for Valdasar and his bloodied charge. He’d gotten a good look at the wizard once the demonic spider had been unceremoniously dumped back in its home plane and the mess the priestess had made of him didn’t fill him with much confidence in Loic’s ability to pull through. He remembered the dwarf in Mantol-Derith however, and Valdasar’s attempts to return his soul to the lifeless corpse. If the dragonborn could attempt the same spell again, it could only be hoped the results would be better this time. He stared down at the husk of the fallen drow priestess for a moment, eyes on the cloak she wore. It was clearly of drow design and given their eventual trip to Menzo-Berenzan, would doubtless come in handy. Raddan quickly stripped her of it, the actions quick, efficient and born of long practice. Once removed, he examined her a moment longer, searching for clues as to which of the drow houses had ordered the assault. While he didn’t know much of the dark elves’ ruling caste, a symbol could lead to a name and a name offered much. A thorough search turned up nothing. Evidently the drow had taken great care to remove all such traces to their origin before launching their assault.

With the priestess’ still warm body having been thoroughly examined, Raddan turned his gaze outward, eyes searching the darkness around the tower and beyond, down the tunnels into who knew where. He didn’t bother dulling the mask’s sheen this time, they knew he was there, if they were watching. The silent man studied it all with the experience of one who knew exactly what he was looking for. He’d spent enough time on the other side of this particular coin to know a thing or two about picking vantage points. As best as he could figure, they were clear for the time being. There was no telling if the drow had another force moving in though, they could have been sent in two groups for all he knew and those Raddan’s group had killed might have been impetuous.

With nothing further to accomplish standing out in the open, Raddan re-entered the tower and moved swiftly up, wincing slightly as Eran’s bellow to Alvin crashed against his ears from the floor above. He shared a look with the Emerald Enclave soldier, the mask showing a knowing expression. “He’s right, we’re not going to be staying here long. Gather as much as you can and prep the mounts, we’ll need every last drop of water and morsel of food that you can find. Set a sentry on the door too, I think we’re all getting a little tired of being caught by surprise.” Raddan knew the words would jar memories of the slaughter outside Mantol-Derith and felt no shame in doing so. With luck it would stir the man to be more vigilant. He did however, allow the mask to slip into a grim smile. “I’ll be down to give you a hand, once I get some answers from this craven drow magus.” The words were dripping with condescension, a sentiment he expected the three men to share. Few other soldiers he’d met had much love for those who deigned to lead and yet avoided the prospect of battle. He held up a hand as the trio began to separate and, taking hold of the most bloodied of the three, muttered a small healing spell. “It’s not pretty, but it’ll get you through the worst of it. Once I find the dragonborn, I’ll send him your way.” Raddan moved to head up the stairway after Eran, pausing on the first step to address them a last time. “You did good today lads, drinks are on me when we reach the next pub.”

At least Eran’s sudden reappearance confirmed one thing, Loic was alive. He hadn’t known the ranger long, but he knew people well enough. Raddan doubted the man would have returned his attention to the task at hand quite so rapidly if the magister lay dead at Valdasar’s side. The odds appeared to remain in their favour, for now. Taking the remaining steps two at a time, the sorcerer pursued Eran’s footsteps towards the summit.

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