Tales From Janus Valley

Feel the Hunger
Blood in the Water

The ruins were the remains of a vast temple complex. The structure had been flooded at some point in the distant past, and looked centuries old. Somewhere within, the lost crew of The Scarlet had wandered off. As the party wandered through the darkness, they were beset by visions and memories. This ruin wasn’t as abandoned as it seemed.

The sound of sobbing drew the heroes down a hallway. In an alcove sat a sobbing elf girl, with visible gill slits. As the party approached the strange child, she abrupty degenerated into one of the strange aquatic creatures that had bedeviled them. Before their startled eyes, the creature vanished. Befuddled, the party continued on, and abruptly found themselves being sacrificed by a degenerate elf woman they knew to be High Priestess Megada. They saw the priestess begin to change before life left their bodies and they apruptly found themselves still in the empty hallway, unharmed. Who was High Priestess Megada, and why did they all know her? Strange. More visions appeared as they trudged through the halls. One of the parasites, born from the corpse of a mermaid that wasn’t there. A mural showing a seaside elf city before it crumbled into ruin and bloodshed. Sharks that swam through air. When the party entered a ruined shrine, they found themselves stabbing a priestess of Melora to death atop her sacred altar. The grisly deed completed, they felt the ground begin to shake before the vision faded again. An illusory tidal wave threatened to sweep them down a hall. Now the party found themselves atop a ziggurat in darkness, and peacefully let themselves be sacrificed to sate Sekolah’s endless hunger. Who? Now the hallway dissolved around them, and they found themselves in a sunlit plaza. High Priestess Megada, still a beautiful elvish woman, was entreating them to abandon Melora and take up the worship of Sekolah. Finally, in the last room, the party found a number of the degenerate fish-elves rifling through piles of cast-off junk. The party hurled themselves into combat, and the creatures disappeared again. The junk was real enough, however. It was mostly the valueless possessions of townsfolk; changepurses, papers, fishing and potters’ equipment, and one spellbook, bearing the mark of the Arcane Academy and belonging to one Quintus Meridius. Ominous. At the end of the labyrinth of visions, the party found stairs leading upward, and one very conspicuous kobold handprint in a smear of pitch.

The party ascended, finding dry but deserted upper halls, and sporadic smears of pitch that eventually led them to a starcase down to the water level. Their trail dead-ended at a featureless room ringed with runic circles. Inside one of them was an elvish man, hanging in midair and covered with dozens of superficial cuts. Zed roped him and dragged him from the stasis field, only discover that the wounded figure was none other than the missing Quintus Meridius! Before he could regain his senses, an elvish woman appeared that the party recalled from the visions to be the High Priestess Megada. She directed the party to come with her and seemed put out when they refused. Abruptly, she disappeared, telling the party they’d be sacrificed one way or another. The room filled with more of the parasites, and, somewhat anomalously, the party felt water begin to pool around their ankles.

The party fought the parasites, feeling jabs from unseen attackers, and the invisible water continuing to rise. Krisella was the first to make the discovery; these parasites were summoned distractions, and dissolved into mist. From somewhere, Megada taunted the party, mocking them for falling to her enchanted idol, just as the townsfolk had before them, and declaring them powerless in the face of her ancient sorcery. On the floor, Quintus choked, gurgled, and finally rose to his knees, and, hatred in his voice, dispelled the illusions that held the party in sway.

The bare room was banished. The party was on a lengthy walkway leading to a ziggurat, atop which stood the missing crew of The Scarlet. The room was swiftly filling with water, and ominous shark fins cut through the rising tide. Between the heroes and the obscene ritual taking place above, and handful more of the fish-elves stood revealed, tossing spears down at the adventurers.

Quintus explained as best he could. His research into the artifact was interrupted when the strange “Call” began. He had been affected, but like the party, had the force of will to resist its stronger effects. He’d tried to save the townsfolk, but had been captured, and had spent the last two weeks in captivity, being ritualistically bled for his defiance. Now though, the mad priestess had to be stopped. Visok opened by vaulting up the side of the ziggurat, looking to take the fight right to Megada. The priestess had a contingency ready, and mighty Visok found himself trapped by more stasis runes. The goliath fought through the magic, but found himself out of the fight.

Back below, Krisella ignited their attackers, paving the way for Zed to help the weakened Quintus through the swiftly rising waters. The two battled bravely, fending off the spears of Sekolah’s faithful and the sharks that gnawed at them. The battle wore on, but Krisella’s daggers found their mark, and Zed snapped the last fishy neck with bone-cracking force. The two clambered up the ziggurat, wounded wizard in tow, and found themselves face to face with the once-elvish priestess.

She interrupted the ghastly ceremony she was preparing to threaten them. “What have you accomplished?” she sneered. “You’ll drown here, and all your efforts will be for nothing. Sekolah has won!” And she might have been right, too, were it not for a wily kobold, who chose that moment to contribute. From somewhere in the crowd of ensorcelled sailors, Scoop leaped onto the priestess’s back, and smeared a streak of pitch across her eyes. The priestess’s wild thrashing sent him hurtling to the base of the tower, but his timely distraction broke her concentration, and the rising waters halted, the stasis runes fell dormant, and her carefully maintained illusion dropped.

High Priestess Megada stood revealed. A towering mass of scales and jagged teeth, with a phosphorescent lure dangling over pale, bulging eyes. She roared in defiance, and prepared to attack.

Her first indication that her plans had done awry was a sudden burst of heat and light to her immediate right.

Her second, moments later, was an incandescent hammer blow from Visok that hit her brow with the force of an avalanche.

While the priestess was still recoiling from the shock, Zed had circled around her, and intercepted her chin with a mighty ki strike that sent her reeling backward.

…into Krisella‘s waiting grasp. The rogue traced a line in blood across the priestess’s eyes. Blinded and snarling, the priestess called upon dark magic, and began draining the water from the heroes’ bodies, in between wild swings with her trident. The adventurers didn’t let up in their onslaught, and soon, the priestess was forced into a hasty retreat below the shark infested water.

The heroes readied themselves, but a storm cloud coalesced in the center of the room. Thunder rumbled and lightning flashed, and the party started looking for cover, but Quintus came to the rescue, pulling himself together long enough to magically dispel Megada’s magic. She leapt from the water, throttling the wizard, and was greeted with a hail of projectiles from the heroes, who surrounded her once more. Blades, hammers, and fists struck again and again, and the bloodied priestess withdrew to the water once more.

The waters beneath the bewitched crew began to glow. High Priestess Megada emerged from the water (to another hail of projectiles) and threatened the party that their crew would die regardless, and they’d failed. Struggling to his knees, Quintus utilized one last burst of magic to snare the crew. He begged the heroes to finish the battle.

Visok obliged. He charged the priestess and caught her beneath the ribs with such force that her broken body was launched into the water. Through broken teeth, she continued to taunt the party that she was undefeatable as the chosen of Sekolah. Her tone shifted abruptly as Sekolah’s sacred sharks tore her to shreds. The feeding frenzy soon passed, and with it, the waters withdrew, and the crew slowly came to their senses.

Taking out the cursed idol, the party presented it to Quintus, who made the judgement call that it be destroyed. Visok happily complied, and the wicked statue of Sekolah was smashed to gravel.

The unnatural music that had plagued them all vanished. It had been a hard-fought battle, and the weary and determined heroes helped the sailors back to The Scarlet. Leaving the haunting Sunken Isles behind them, they sailed towards a more welcoming tomorrow.

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Heed the Call
Wind and Waves

Klasky had indeed come around. The malnourished sod’s fever had broken, and he was not only lucid, but eerily calm. His one request to the party was that they let him go, because he had some urgent business across the sea. The party questioned him and learned several things:

1. The music that the party had playing in their heads was the same as “The Call” that Klasky had been responding to.

2. He had been one of the first to hear it, but the rest of the town joined in.

3. The Call told him to take a boat and sail across the sea. When the boats ran out, it started telling him to light the lighthouse and await pickup.

4. He was nuttier than a squirrel’s pantry.

Against his vehement protestations, the party left Klasky secure in his cell. They crested the bluff to Shoals’ ancient lighthouse. There, Zed saw an ominous sight; The Scarlet had left port and was sailing, not in the direction their itenerary indicated, but towards in the direction of Klasky’s Call. Worse still, the party realized that this left them stranded.

Exploring the lighthouse, the party found that the ruin’s foundations were built on a cave system. Descending through the caves led them to a secluded cove that showed signs of recent foot traffic. The mass of varying footprints indicated that much of the town’s population had come through here recently. Less comforting was the presense of an anomaly; a single clawed, webbed print mixed in with the more mundane ones. A far more welcome sight awaited them; a single twenty-foot runabout was marooned on a clay spit. It was small and damaged, but as soon as the tide shifted enough, the party could get to it and make repairs.

Over Visok‘s protestations, the party set sail that evening, convinced that the mysterious Call was originating from the merman’s Sunken Isles. Alien music running through their heads, the party spent an uneasy night on the tiny craft in open waters, sailing towards an unknown fate. The gray hours of the morning brought a discovery. Merfolk’s kelp fields twisted and blackened by an unknown influence. The party pressed on, finally spotting the remains of a tower jutting out of the sea. More partly-submerged structures emerged from the mist, dark stones hinting at ancient ruins that now surrounded them. Dashiel gave a shout. Staring into the dark waters, the ranger was shocked to see a wide-mouthed face staring back at him. In an instant, the goggle-eyed presence flitted back into the depths. Unnerved, the party used Krisella‘s net to try and snare their observer. Visok lowered the net, and with a sudden jerk, the line went taut. Visok’s mighty muscles strained, and the tiny craft was taken for a whirlwind course through the ancient ruins. They whipped around shattered domes, and fallen spires, slammed against ancient balustrades, and found themselves suddenly adrift when the line went abruptly slack. Visok hauled it back in to find the line neatly sliced. There was a splash off to starboard, and the empty net portion landed on the deck with a splat. Real funny. The unexpected tour of the Sunken Isles had landed the party next to a vast structure, portions of which still seemed to be above water. Zed’s elf eyes spotted a mast peeking out from the mist, and the party sailed into small area jammed up with ships of all sizes.

Among the haphazard collection of ships was The Scarlet. No crewmember was visible on her decks, however, and she’d apparently come in to anchor. The party approached cautiously, but a sickening crack and sudden rush of water from their tiny vessel sent them hurrying to the greater ship. As the party watched, their transport plunged beneath the waves. The Scarlet was indeed deserted, but mooring lines indicated that the crew had gone into a yawning hole in the half-submerged structure. The party was preparing to follow the trail inside when a tremendous impact launched them to their knees as seaspray exploded all around them. When they rose to their feet, an unwelcome sight awaited them. The deck was now swarming with aquatic humanoid creatures. Through wide mouths, the monsters gurgled some strange bastardization of elvish, and goggling eyes fixed on the party. At the behest of one clutching some kind of shark tooth amulet, the beasts attacked.

Krisella, Visok and Dashiel set aim on the lead creature. It landed a vicious hit on Visok when it manifested a spectral set of shark’s jaws that ripped into the goliath’s belly. Krisella stabbed at the monster, but when she tried to maneuver around it, another beast, whose dull stare belied its keen combat senses, raked claws across her back. The lead creature summoned a torrent of crushing water levelled at Visok‘s head, but the runepriest emerged unscathed from the attack and sent his assailant reeling with a hammer blow. Dashiel’s arrows struck true, and the creature slumped dead across the deck. Dashiel had little time to celebrate, however, as he was swiftly mobbed by a horde of the finned creatures. As ribbons of his blood flew through the air, a horrifying transformation took place. Each of the pallid creatures contorted, as if in pain. As one, their eyes turned solid black, and row upon row of vicious shark teeth emerged from their jaws. They launched into combat even more frenzied than before.

Zed had successfully defended his perch in the crows’ nest before jumping down, sending the creature mobbing Dashiel hurtling away like toys. This gave Dashiel the room he needed to finish off his last attacker and send an arrow into the back of Krisella‘s veteran opponent in a flurry of manual dexterity that defied anyone’s ability to track. Zed wrenched the veteran’s head off, and the last of the strange creatures fell dead. The creatures possessed little of value, other than the strange amulet that had been profaned with strange rituals, and the party made ready to pursue the missing crew.

Before them yawned the oppressive darkness of the half-sunk ruin. With the alien music still piping through their heads, they crossed over into the unknown…

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Silent Shoals
The Quest Gets Complicated

Shoals was a stone’s throw away. As the party neared their destination, runes flared to life on Amare‘s dossier. The mission facts were these: a mysterious artifact had been found in a Shoals fisherman’s net. Quintus Meridius had been dispatched by the Arcane Academy to examine the artifact, and had gone silent. It now fell to the party to find the artifact and the missing researcher.

As The Scarlet eased into port, Dashiel appeared just off the bow, bearing an ill portent. His mysterious benefactor claimed that the party had met an gruesome end when negociations with hobgoblins broke down, and Dashiel needed to keep them alive. Venturing out into the village, the adventurers found themselves in a veritable ghost town. Rotten food lay festering in abandoned market stalls, and dusty storefronts showed a once-bustling town now devoid of life. Following the dossier given to them by Headmaster Temeridan pal’Cosi Elihu , the party traveled through the empty streets to the home of local historian Richart Croslam.

The house was locked tight, but Zed and Krisella proved easily able to pop the locks. The historian’s home was a cluttered mess of local apocrypha. Zed found a ledger that said the historian had recently purchased an artifact off of a local fisherman. The ledger led the party to a strange idol inside a cupboard.

The statue was a dark purple stone, carved into the shape of a crouching humanoid with sharklike features. The figure was hunched over, gripping its knees. The mouth was full of jagged teeth, curved seemingly into a grin, and hollow eye sockets gazed back at the party over a pointed shark snout. One objective accomplished, the party stowed the ghastly idol, and continued exploring the town.

The next stop was the Seashell Tavern, Shoals’s only inn. The party hoped to find the missing Quintus Meridius. Instead, they found the inn had been ransacked. The doors had been kicked in, and everything of any remote value had been taken. Upstairs, in one of the boarders’ rooms, Amare detected traces of arcane energy, the faint remnants of a ritual circle. Quintus Meridius had possibly been here in the recent past, but had left no further trace. Much of the nearby side of town had been similarly ransacked. The looters’ trail led bad to the one gate out of town. Before leaving, the party stopped by the village gaol to see if the sheriff had left any insight into what they were facing.

The town gaol was locked up tight, but Dashiel was able to teleport inside and let the rest of the party in. They found Sheriff Baskhan’s logbook. Inside was a number of responses to calls of disorderly conduct, and an arrest of a citizen for attempting to steal a boat. That citizen, Klasky Smythe, was still in his cell. Badly dehydrated, and delirious with fever, Smmythe was in no condition to help the party. They made him drink, and left him locked up until he could regain consciousness. The trail of looting led to the town gate, where a discarded battering ram left no doubt as to the involvement of hobgoblins. The path led them to a thriving hobgoblin village. Under cover of night, the party attempted to infiltrate and see what the creatures had done with the townsfolk.

Of the party, Krisella made it the furthest, sneaking into a crate beside a hobgoblin cookfire, but got stuck when a burly hobgoblin sat on top. Dashiel trailed two young braves who made reference to “going back tonight.” Just when it seemed like Krisella might be discovered, Zed made a distraction by knocking a large stewpot out of a matron’s hands. In the resulting commotion, Krisella was able to rejoin the party. After more recon of the town, the party withdrew back to Shoals for an oddly uneasy night’s sleep.

Morning came, and no more answers. Searching the town turned up no new discoveries, and Klasky was too feverish to help, muttering gibberish like “the hunger” and the elvish words “I can hear you.” While the party worked to make some sense out of him, Krisella slunk away to parts unknown. Zed was eventually able to use an old elvish treatment that would break the man’s fever, but it would take time. Not knowing where Krisella had gone, the party sat down to wait for her.

In truth, Krisella had disguised herself as the late Captain Lokrash and returned to the hobgoblin town. She’d hoped to use the pirate’s legendary reputation to cow the town into giving up what it knew. At first, everything seemed to be going as planned, as the townsfolk were terrified of her. Unfortunately, it seemed that Lokrash was viewed as an outlaw by hobgoblin society as well, and the mighty chief had Krisella slapped in irons and thrown in with the other prisoners, all hobgoblins.

While Krisella spent an uneasy night imprisoned in the hobgoblin town, further intrigues developed in Shoals. Zed and Dashiel found that, shortly before dawn, they had begun hearing strange music coming from the sea. They travelled to the coast, only to find that, while the music was seemingly coming from the northeast, it was entirely in their heads. Dashiel believed the music was some kind of summons, but he couldn’t imagine for what. Realizing they were long on mysteries and Krisella was still missing, the party tracked her back to the hobgoblin village and staged a daring raid.

Dashiel infiltrated the camp and disarmed a guard, but soon found himself overwhelmed. As they marched him to see the chief, Zed took advantage of the confusion to knock out two sentries and don their armor. He followed in pursuit.

Unknown to the rest of the party, Krisella had attempted a bold escape in the early morning hours. She had tangled with three of her jailers before shedding her disguise. The jailers blinked at her in confusion before tossing her into a small lodge to be questioned by the chief.

As the chief prepared to question first one trespasser, then an unexpected second, Zed made his move. He attempted to knock out and replace one of the guards escorting Dashiel only to be discovered. A battle was quickly brewing when a furious chief demanded some answers. Dashiel explained that they’d come looking for the missing townsfolk. The chief roared that the townsfolk had been gone for days, and that, per the stipulations of their treaty, the hobgoblins had committed no crime. The party agreed, and informed him that since they had no quarrel with each other, they’d be happy to leave. The chief, simmering with rage, encouraged them to do so.

The hobgoblins had proven a dead end. The party returned to Shoals with no answers, and a few bumps and bruises. At least Klasky was probably awake…

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The Castaways' Lament
Let's Get Kraken

The burning wreckage of the pirate ship sank into the sea. The party fished up a small chest from the debris, which contained a selection of watertight maps. Amare added them to her growing collection, but confirmed the crew’s suspicions. Between the storm and the attack of Captain Lokrash, The Scarlet had been blown off course. The ship now found itself in deeper waters, far from etablished shipping lanes.

The morning brought a cessation to the driving winds, and the crew attempted to get back on course for the village of Shoals. At once, Leehi called down from the crow’s nest. He’d spotted some castaways marooned on a rocky outcropping, and calling frantically for help. After a brief debate, the crew sailed over and hauled them aboard.

The four castaways told a grim tale. Their ship, the Taledon, had lost its course and wound up lost in the deeper waters. During the night, it had been attacked by Etnabashti, the great kraken of the north seas. It had shattered the ship to splinters, and a handful of survivors had barely made it to the rocky outcropping. That number dwindled as the kraken pulled more to their doom, until it retreated to the depths, apparently sated. Captain Hale was incredulous that the old mariners’ tales were true, much less that Etnabashti was preying on ships, but he ordered the ship to leave with all haste nonetheless.

No one was surprised when great tentacles rose from the churning water, bringing the ship to a standstill. Visok, separated from the rest by the mammoth tentacle that gripped the bow, began crushing it with hammer blows. Krisella slashed a tentacle that had gripped an unfortunate crewmember, who fell to the deck injured, but alive. Beneath the ropy mass of flesh, Krisella noticed something squirming obscenely within the kraken’s tentacle.

At the aft of the ship, the captain had been grabbed by another of the beast’s arms. It looked like he would be dragged to a watery grave when Amare leaped into action, cutting the captain loose and slashing at two tentacles with precision cuts.

Back at the bow, Krisella and Visok made short work of the tentacles holding the ship down. In short order, the stumps of the creature’s arms were waving in the air. When a third was severed, strange polyps ripped from the exposed wounds and landed on the deck. With a roar, the kraken retreated into the depths, and a great cloud of ink stained the sea black.

The polyps unfolded insectile legs, and skittered across the blood-soaked timbers. Inside each one’s beady-eyed head was a set of gnashing, sharklike jaws atop an obscene proboscis. As one launched across the deck to sink into Krisella’s leg, her mind was assaulted by an ancient and unending hunger. Something vast and ravenous was influencing the parasites. Krisella retaliated to the intrusion with a double leg-drop that launched the beast into the depths. Visok flattened a second into paste before a lucky shot from a third ripped into his chest, nearly felling the goliath. Amare responded, and the creature found itself scrabbling at open air as her mystic aegis warped the beast overboard. It plunged beneath the waves and the party took stock of the grim situation.

The Scarlet had been further damaged in the battle. Of the four castaways they’d rescued, only two had survived. Another crewmember had been seriously injured, and a second had been dragged shrieking into the kraken’s maw. The captain declared that, given the circumstances, the ship would put in to port at Shoals to rest and repair. The party supported the decision, and settled in to an uneasy sleep.

Morning came, cool and foggy. As the first rays of dawn crept over the horizon, the squat buildings of Shoals appeared through the mist, dark and silent…

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Setting Sail
I'm On a Boat!

Back in Maynard’s Crossing, the party found that the city had mostly returned to normal. Life on the docks was bustling, and en route to their awaiting ship, they met their old friend Krisella who was beginning construction on a house in town. By coincidence, the village of Shoals was well known for its building clay. Krisella agreed to tag along to round out the adventurers’ ranks.

The Scarlet awaited them with her proud captain, Alonso Hale. He welcomed the party aboard, but swiftly set them to work picking up parts of the trade. Visok hit it off with his tutor, the burly minotaur deckhand, Thoom. Up in the crow’s nest, Zed was forced to endure Leehi Natrom’s tiresome stories. Amare‘s cartography experience put her in the approving eyes of the first mate Stella Nately, and Krisella quickly struck up a friendship with the ship’s quartermaster and the kobold cabin boy, Scoop.

The journey would take three days, whereupon the party would be given a rowboat and some supplies, and set off near Shoals. After four days, The Scarlet would return to pick them up, at which time they would have to be waiting. As the first day progressed, the crew found themselves in a dense kelp forest that swiftly entangled the ship. A school of merfolk were darting among the weeds, but otherwise ignoring the ship they’d snared. The crew members began grumbling, and in short order, the vessel was surrounded. The captain, incensed, was lowered down to negociate.

The language barrier made communications difficult, but the frustrated captain’s anger was picked up on, and tempers began flaring. Krisella intervened, and the merfolk and the captain calmed down long enough to fetch an interpreter.

Merman Las’Ta’Kem’ta spoke a halting bit of common. Despite his grievances with the surface, he could appreciate that the two cultures had to cooperate. At Krisella‘s insistance, he agreed to convince his people to clear their kelp beds and allow the ship passage. He also made reference to something called the Sunken Isles that didn’t appear on any of Amare‘s charts. Adding their probable location, the crew wished his people the best and parted as friends. As a final warning, Las’Ta’Kem’ta warned the crew that a storm was brewing.

The merman spoke true. The following day, The Scarlet was lashed by a brutal storm. It was soon to get worse. Cold, damp, and miserable, Zed spotted a row of lights off in the distance. As they grew larger, he barely had time to shout a warning before mounds of burning pitch struck the deck. All hands at the ready!!

The party sprang into action, putting out the fires that were consuming the ship.. Zed‘s next shout was for the crew to take cover just before a barrage of catapult fire smashed holes in the ship. The warning helped, but one unfortunate crewman was left dangling at the end of his safety line. Amare unhesitantly dug her sword into the deck and hauled the gasping sailor back aboard. Below decks, Krisella secured the ship’s cargo before heading back up to smother the fires. At Zed’s urging, the captain shifted to an intercept course, moving to engage their attackers. Another volley, this time of grapeshot, battered the ship, shredding lines and sending one rigger tumbling to his death. Thoom was peppered by a volley, and the boom he was anchoring snapped free, hurtling towards another deckhand. Until Visok caught it. The two ships were now close enough to see that the assailants were a crew of vicious- looking hobgoblins. As boarding lines were launched, two burly specimens hoisted a flag. The colors of the dreaded Captain Lokrash

The first batch of boarders barely even made it. Zed dropped from the crow’s nest and took out four of the pirates as he hit the deck. Krisella jumped to the enemy ship, intent on slaying the captain and claiming her ship (and hat). One of the nasty lieutenants grapped her, and things looked bad for Krisella, until Amare carved the captain’s face with a furious throw of her sword. The captain left the wheel and engaged Amare on the deck of The Scarlet. Visok leaped screaming at the hobgoblin lieutenants, only to bash Krisella instead, as her attacker used her as a human shield. He swiftly made amends, though, scattering pirates as he repeatedly hammered away at Krisella’s assailants.

Zed had carved a path of death through the pirate’s crew and, seeing Amare in mortal combat with their captain, ran along the pitching deck of the ship and surrounded Lokrash. The two of them beat on the captain, and with a neck-snapping twist, Zed took her down. The party set about mopping up the rest of the pirates and claiming their ship.

But the wily Captain Lokrash had one last trick. Half-paralyzed and bleeding out, she pulled an alchemist’s fire bottle from her coat, and with a final cry of “Death before defeat,” she hurled it into the hold of her ship. There, the charge ignited the pirate’s many volatile holdings, and a massive explosion rocked the ship. Visok bodily picked up Krisella and, with a mighty leap, jumped from the deck of the disintegrating ship. As the party watched the wreckage sink into the stormy sea, Zed presented Krisella with the famed pirate’s hat…

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The Vipers Moan
To Smash a Serpent!

Brelyn had linked up with Sergeant Gaespa Furlevar and her rangers, as well as newcomer Amare, who had assisted with the rescue of some Hala Xel civilians during the spirit uprising. Surveying the ritual chamber, they found a pit with three comatose shamans, an unconscious monk, four bloody adventurers, and a hundred-foot long, righteously angry primal serpent. FIGHT!

The snake was on the ropes. Amare wasted no time in laying her arcane aegis on the beast, hindering its attacks. Brelyn launched a ball of magical force that caught the unaware serpent upside the head. Tristan gouged at the creature’s eyes, and Zed, riding atop the monster, crushed its head into the ground. As the beast’s death throes sent the party diving for cover, Zed rose into the air and the fleeting shreds of the primal serpent tried to possess his body. Channeling his ki, Zed bound the fragments into himself, recieving a measure of the great snake’s speed, and some bitching arm tattoos.

Sergeant Gaespa Furlevar helped haul the party out of the pit. In gratitude for saving her city, she directed them to the temple reliquary, where the group found assorted bits of treasure that would no doubt fetch a good price. Noteworthy among them were the ancient remains of a clockwork snake, bearing the same glyph that the party had found emblazoned on various other treasures. No doubt Headmaster Temeridan pal’Cosi Elihu would be interested in this. Amare, being the well-read genasi that she is, was able to shed some light on the artifact. It turns out that the glyph was associated with a band of heroes from ages past, who used to be prominent in the area. The “Fivefold Order,” as they were called, had appeared on the scene to slay a monstrous threat, won great acclaim, then vanished in pursuit of a way to prevent some great cataclysm.

With Amare‘s scrying mirror, the party was able to contact the Headmaster. Tristan’s business savvy, as well as a cunning bluff regarding other potential buyers, landed the party a healthy profit on the item, and the Headmaster summoned his familiar to complete the transaction. The wizard had a lead on further employment for the party as well. It seems that one of his branch representatives had disappeared on a research expedition. Employment now assured, the party retired back to town to rest from the craziest night they could remember.

The following day was for both healing and mourning. A ceremony was held to honor the heroes that had saved Hala Xel, as well as the fallen. The party left the ceremony to the cheers of the crowd, only to be waylaid by a strange sight. The spiritual blessing still in effect, the party could see the ghostly form of a half-elf woman, looking at them with both hope and sadness. They attempted to communicate only for the shocked spirit to contact them telepathically.

“You’ve done so much already,” she said. “There is time to prepare now. For the first time, I can see hope. The visions always change but now, with you, it might be different than when I first saw it. I can show you, but it will take everything I have.” With help from Brelyn and Amare, the spirit’s mind opened, and the party saw a glimpse of what the future may hold.

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Azemiops Emerges
Why Did it Have to be Snakes?

Dashiel emerged from a confusing side adventure and reuinited with the party en route to the lair of their erstwhile foes. Through coiling caverns, the party followed the trail of discreet carvings that led them to the lair of the nefarious snake-worshippers who’d brought chaos to Hala Xel. Along the way, a curious thing happened. Zed picked up a retinue of otherwise ordinary snakes. With their unnerving legion of serpent followers, the party emerged into a larger chamber. Here, amidst piles more snakes, was a ornate gateway into a temple courtyard. Inside were meticulously carved snakehead motifs, some braziers burning a sickly green, and a balcony upon which the missing elders and Callio lay.

The party cautiously advanced, only for giant slabs to drop over the entrance. More cult assassins dropped down, and three robed figures emerged from the balcony.

The central cultist welcomed Zed and informed him that he was the end result of a centuries-long program to breed the ultimate elf. He claimed that Zed’s impressive lineage made him the perfect host for a great primal snake spirit. Once channelled into Zed’s body, Azemiops, the primal serpent, would be harnessed by the so-called Fanglord‘s magic and used as an unstoppable weapon against the cult’s enemies. Zed didn’t take kindly to the idea of being used as a living weapon, and a fight broke out.

At the Fanglord‘s cue, a sickly green mist began filling the chamber. His two retainers cast off their ceremonial vestments and displayed strange powers of their own. The party fought valiently, but the cult’s numbers and the Adder Mist took its’ toll. Even as the adventurers slumped unconscious, they felt the reassuring prescence of the Xelian Primal Spirits, assuring them that all would be well.

Awakening sometime later, the party found themselves in a vast ritual chamber. Down in the pit, Dashiel, Tristan, and Visok found themselves chained to the wall alongside the elder shamans. High above, in a circle of ominous runes, Zed was trapped in a ritual circle of vile power. Higher still, the cultists found their plans disturbed by the untimely awakening, and the two retainers, plus Callio attacked the party to defend the Fanglord’s sinister plot.

Tristan and Dashiel effortlessly slipped their restraints and attacked the snickering tattooed witch. Seeing no need for such subtlty, Visok yanked his chains, and a good bit of masonry, from the walls, and put them to use smashing the spirit-channeling opponent. High above, Zed and Callio battled monk-to-monk on the sacrificial platform. Zed struggled to reason with Callio, but in the end, he proved to be the greater fighter. Hauling the unconscious monk onto his shoulders, Zed leaped from the platform to the ground below. The combined party vanquished the last surprisingly sturdy cultist, and a shout rang out from above.

Sure enough, the ritual had been completed, and Azemiops emerged into the material plane, but without a host to restrain it, the great serpent was uncontrollable. It proved this by devouring Fanglord Naj before attacking the party.

What followed was an earthshaking brawl that shook the temple complex as the party unleashed every technique at their disposal to take down Azemiops. Arrows fragmented into hundreds of stinging shards; a sonic scream was unleashed, ancient runes of godly fire were invoked, and flurries of daggermarks slashed the serpent’s face. And it would. Not. Go. Down. High above, faces both familiar and new appeared, marvelling at the astonishing sight…

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Talons Above, Fangs Below
A Deeper Game Unearthed

Leaving the scene of Apidia’s would-be hive, the party made for the Pinnacle Elm to bring down Acciptr, the spirit of vigilance. Along the way, they ran into the remains of Sergeant Gaespa Furlevar’s squad. Apparently, her team had been on their way to take down Acciptr when three of their number turned traitor. Gaespa took one down, but the others slipped away. They had scaled the great tree and were keeping the remaining rangers from appraching the great hawk. Zed and Tristan volunteered to sneak their way up and engage the rangers.

On the observation landing high upon the Pinnacle Elm, Tristan and Zed snuck up on the attackers and were offered a parley. In exchange for Zed, the two traitors offered to let Tristan go free. No deal. A violent melee ensued, and the rangers displayed an unexpected ability to summon snakes to attack the adventurers.

The battle was joined, both by Tanna and Visok sprinting up from below, and by Acciptr, who returned to her nest hauling an injured elf boy. The great hawk had designs on snatching Zed, but shockingly, one of the elf rangers intervened, shooting the spirit beast with a poisoned arrow.

Tanna‘s aegis kept the bird locked down, while Tristan kicked one of the rangers off the Elm to fall to the forest floor below. The second was quickly taken out with a dagger to the chest. The party hammered Acciptr with everything they had, and Zed’s flip kick brought the bird’s throat down to Tristan’s knife. Acciptr collapsed, and the party tried to get what information they could out of the dying ranger.

The ranger claimed that Zed was a messiah, destined to crush his group’s enemies. He claimed that his people were everywhere, and referenced someone called the Fanglord. Then he died, having raised far more questions than he answered.

Down below, Visok went to give Gaespa the good news and wound up saving her from a giant spider attack. Tristan rescued the wounded elf boy and left him in the Sergeant-Ranger’s care. Descending to the forest floor on the trail of Argiope, Zed spotted a legion of spiders marching towards a dark thicket. Jackpot.

The forest glen was the site of Hala Xel’s spider training ranch. Inside, giant weaver spiders were smothering the trees with vast webs of silk, while the riding spiders brought still-twitching cocoons to Argiope. The party cut their way in, and the spiders attacked.

Argiope opened by summoning a gigantic horde of mundane spiders from the forest floor. Tanna countered by using her fearsome dragon’s teeth technique, which sent a tidal wave of force through the glade, scattering the horde and decimating their webs. The spider’s venom began wearing the party down, but Visok unleashed his mightiest runes, keeping everyone in the battle. Tristan’s bit into the spider king again and again even as underlings flung themselves in the way of his blades. Finally, Zed snuck up on the great spider, and the two-pronged attack brought the beast down.

Victorious, the party set about freeing the trapped citizens. Though there were several casualties, and many more in dire condition, the situation was much better than it appeared. A greatful spider trainer offered Visok the heirloom boots that had belonged to his father, a reknown swordsman. Gaespa’s remaining two rangers undertook escorting the survivors to safety, but warned that the elders and Callio had disappeared from the ritual grove.

Dragging themselves to the grove, the rumors were confirmed. Callio and the elders were gone. In their place were the bodies of two assassins, and a note bidding Zed to surrender himself in exchange for their lives.

The Xelian Primal Spirits spoke to the adventurers, encouraging them to take arms against the threat slithering in the darkness beneath the city. In gratitude for defending the forest and purifying them of their corruption, the spirits offered a taste of their strength that instantly restored the party. It was time to go hunting…

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Apidia's Followers
Join the Hive

Things in the Merchant’s Bower were strangely silent. The party stumbled across a lone member of Hala Xel‘s ranger corps, incongrously tearing down curtains from a broken window. Grabbing the ranger, the party noticed the elf’s vacant expression and a glob of viscous jelly smeared across his forehead. Leaving him to his own devices, the party continued on, stumbling across a mob of people gathered in the central marketplace.

Sitting in an impromptu nest on a low-slung building was Apidia, the primal honeybee. A horde of civilians had assembled and were busily attending to the queen’s needs. As the party looked on, two muscled elves held a third down shrieking. The queen spat a blob of the viscous jelly onto his face, and the elf stopped his protestations and joined the collective.

The party split up, filtering through the crowd, who largely ignored them. Once in position, Dashiel launched an alpha strike on the primal beast. The crowd rushed to defend their queen, and sought to bury the party under sheer weight of numbers.

Unexpectedly, two of the leather-clad assassins leaped down from the trees, ensnaring Zed and trying to haul him off. Zed countered by unleashing his cacaphonous shout that bowled over much of the crowd and left one assassin dangling precariously from the platform.

The drone of Apidia’s wings summoned hordes of bees that stung at the party. Unfazed, Visok plowed through the crowd, leaving an opening. Brelyn dosed the area with a melting pool, and the shock brought a number of civilians to their senses. As Dashiel continued to rain arrows on the queen, Tristan had slipped through the crowd to face her, only to get knocked back into the mass of bodies by a vicious headbutt. There was a flash of light as Dashiel‘s faulty fey step flared up again, and the eladrin vanished. Undeterred, Visok goaded the bee into a charge and levelled it with a mighty swing of his hammer. Apidia’s brainwashing wore off of the civilians that were still standing, and they began to panic.

The two assassins had nearly hauled Zed off when Tristan shanked one from behind. Emerging from the swarm, Tanna joined in by charging over and decapitating him. Throwing off the last assassin’s net, Zed ended the battle with a bone-crunching uppercut. The marketplace was saved. The party helped herd the battered citizens to safety. Two beasts down…

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Fangs in the Darkness
Vipers Strike

Back topside, the elder shaman was overjoyed to get the missing totems back. In gratitude, he formally invited the party to the spirit ceremony the following night. Additionally, the party recieved a potent spiritual blessing. Its nebulously-defined effects weren’t exactly the reward most of them had in mind, but the shaman promised them that it would be a great boon to them in the future.

Now able to see the ambient nature spirits flitting about the city, the party was in a jolly mood. Things changed as they made for their quarters at the Wildvine Lodge. Leather-clad assassins dropped from the treetops, wielding strange bladed gauntlets that allowed them to swing branch to branch and deliver nasty doses of poison. Surrounded, the party launched into a desperate close-quarters struggle. Fey-stepping to safety, Dashiel launched a veritable storm of arrows at the attackers, and fought off crippling doses of poison to skewer one of the masked assailants on his longswords. Strangely, the assassins tried their best to keep Zed incapacitated with volley after volley of entangling nets, but the nimble monk slipped their restraints time and time again to batter them with unrelenting martial arts. Tristan sent one assassin hurtling off the platform, only to be shocked as he climbed back into the fight. Not having it, Tristan lopped one of the elf’s hands off before Zed‘s sling sent him hurtling over the edge. Brelyn proved nearly untouchable, ducking the attackers’ hooks and psychically assaulting them, forcing one to abandon the fight entirely. In the heart of the battle, Visok stood his ground, healing the party and thrashing his opponent even while the elf was still hanging from his neck. As the dust cleared, two of the assasins bodies were recovered. They had nothing in the way of identifying marks or credentials, and other than thier weapons and armor, the only possessions the two had were small glass vials of an unidentifiable liquid in their mouths. Brelyn‘s arcane skills dettected a hint of mental magic lingering on the pair, though she couldn’t determine its exact effects. The party carted the fallen back, looking to investigate the matter with Sergeant Gaespa Furlevar in the morning. Bidding them farewell, brother Callio warned Zed that he suspected something deeply ominous afoot.

The morning brought a return to normality. The party dropped the attackers from the previous night with the rangers, who identified the elves as being local, low profile citizens. The vials proved to contain highly concentrated snake venom. Replenishing their supplies, the party killed time until it was time for the spirit-calling ceremony. Surely the Xelian Primal Spirits could offer them guidance.

But nothing is ever easy. The cermeony started out promisingly enough. Suddenly, the shamans all seized in unison, and uttered out a choked “Poison…!” before dropping to the ground unconscious. Something had corrupted the ritual. The primal beasts emerged, twisted and enraged. Atrox, the primal panther, lept into the gathering, scattering the crowd, and allowing the other creatures time to escape. The party wasted no time. Joining forces with Sergeant Gaespa Furlevar and Callio, the party chased the beast as it teleported around the eldergrove, pinning it down and allowing the citizens time to get clear. The battle was long and brutal, as the great cat could move in the blink of an eye and turn almoust intangible at a whim. Finally, Visok spoke an ancient rune of immense power that weakened the creature, and a volley of arrows from two unparalleled rangers and a flurry of attacks from Zed took the beast down. With the blessing still in place, the party saw some miasma of spiritual corruption leave the dying panther, and as its spirit passed on, the purified totem began to glow softly again.

Hala Xel was decending into chaos. Sergeant Gaespa Furlevar deputized the adventurers into tracking and killing the wayward beasts while she rallied the Corps to protect the city. Callio promised to defend the fallen elders with his life. It was shaping up to be one long night…

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