Tales From Janus Valley

A New Direction
Someone Needs Our Help

The Headmaster called everyone into his office. Having considered their words from their last encounter, he had decided to take his expedition in a different direction. Out of thanks for their years of decorated service, however, he offered them handsome Academy-branded bags of holding, and wished them luck in future endeavors.

Now left to their own devices, the party was about to set on the road once more, only to be distracted by a disturbance near the Academy’s vaults. A young man was trying to get access to his father’s vault, only to be denied, as he had neither the key, nor identification. His pleas that he’d been robbed while at the Inn of the Crossroads fell on deaf ears, and he was turned away. Perhaps identifying with his frustration with the Academy, the party sat down with him for a talk.

The young man was called Corrin Hawke, the latest in a long line of gentleman adventurers, and he was after his father’s equipment, stored in the Academy Vaults. His father had gone missing on an expedition recently, and Corrin had vowed to take up the family business and find what happened to his dad. Unfortunately, he explained, the night before, he’d been robbed of his travelling gear, and all his identification. In return for a considerable reward, the party agreed to help him recover his possessions and be on his way.

The Inn of the Crossroads was bustling, and tracking down the culprit didn’t promise to be easy. To set up cover, Varris started a rowdy drinking contest with a washed-up orc wrestler and some dwarven miners. Using the distraction, Zed was able to infiltrate the upstairs rooms and determine that the goods weren’t in the hands of anyone staying at the inn. A conversation between Amare and the kalashtar merchant revealed that a gang of thieves had been operating in the area. Finally, a hushed conversation between Nyrineab and the shadowy gentleman in the corner led to an ID. The young elf man who’d been flitting around the periphery was the perp. The party nabbed him, but then a misunderstanding broke out with the proprietor. In the confusion, the elf bolted. Visok was easily able to catch the bandit, but allowed him to escape so he’d lead them to his base.

The trail dead-ended at a cave in the woods. The party crept along, Zed disarming the numerous traps as they went. At one point the party was separated by falling doors, and threatened to be crushed by a giant roller, but Amare was able to lodge the threat in the wall. The end of the path held a small room filled with chests that opened to reveal junk, but a hidden door led to the real mastermind: a young halfling woman, who threatened the party to stay where they were, her hand ominously on a lever by her side.

The halfling explained that she operated a Thieves’ Academy, and the party had stumbled across one of her students. Asking why they’d come, she immediately procured Corrin’s stolen property. Nyrineab decided that their business was concluded. Others were less convinced. It didn’t really matter, though, the halfling explained, as she was just buying time for her students to evacuate their training cave. Throwing the lever, she was launched into a hidden escape chute in the ceiling. Visok pursued up the shaft, only to meet a boulder that had been moved to block the way, bearing the message “You’ve just been had by Lilyberg Biscuitbarrel!” By the time the goliath moved the stone, the thieves were long gone. Swearing revenge, he set the cave on fire as he left.

Back at the Academy, Corrin triumphantly unlocked his father’s vault. Paying the party handsomely out of the strongboxes contained within, he gathered up the old adventuring equipment, and opened the ceiling to the sky outside. If the party was interested, he offered, he would be willing to enlist their services. He could promise excitement, danger, and sights they’d never seen before. As the party considered his offer, he removed the dust cloth from the giant object filling the vault: a huge magical ship, shining and silver, that could fly! Oh hells yes they’re in…

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The Silent City
Rock and Roll!

A short dash through streets choked with goliath statues led to a dead end. As the cursed fog poured in from both ends of the street, the party took to the rooftops, climbing as the fog levels rose. It looked like they’d bought enough time to form a plan, but the ground began rumbling ominously. Two giant rock elementals emerged from either end of the street, and began shaking the buildings with their mighty fists. As the creatures began their demolition work, the party realized that they needed to drop the elementals before they lost all their height advantage. Thankfully, Amare‘s swordmage skills were able to haul one to hammering range. Nyrineab got a few shadowy strikes in, able to hit the creatures without exposing himself to danger. As the last building on their side threatened to topple, Visok took decisive action, leaping across the street and into an opposing window while trailing a rope. With Amare’s trusty sword as an anchor, the party had an impromptu bridge. Zed made great use of it, leaping from elemental to rope, to rooftop without breaking stride. Monks don’t know the meaning of the words “unstable terrain.” With the elemental closing in, it was Amare that got the killshot, slicing its head off with her summoned sword. Unexpectedly, the elemental’s head thanked them.

The elemental spirit was a prisoner, forced to hunt trespassers against its will. One of the wicked gorgon witches, Petrakia by name, had survived the goliaths’ wrath, and had wrought her revenge in the form of the terrible curse that now gripped the city. She had made her home in the Craigeis Temple, in the heart of the city. The party now faced a dilemma. Petrakia could see them through the golem’s eyes, this they knew. She wasn’t about to subside the mists until she knew they were dead. By way of a ruse, the party opted to fake a suicide pact, in the hopes that it would make the gorgon drop her guard. Taking “poison,” the party laid down to wait out the witch.

The hours ticked by with no movement, and uncertainty gripped the party. The stone head sat on the rooftop, making further movements impossible. Unexpectedly, the wind began rising. A gale whipped up, and tossed the elemental’s head out of sight. As the implausible wind died down, so too did the fog begin to recede. Something strange had happened, but now was the time for action. When the streets were clear, the party hit the ground, and made for the Craigeis Temple.

The temple interior was dark and ominous. The temple heart was locked. A runic seal in the floor looked like it might open the way, but a piece was missing. A skittering sound revealed a tiny elemental construct in the form of a spider. As it saw the party, it bolted, and magical defenses in the temple floor sprang to life. Geysers of acid sprayed into the air, and the spider creature almost escaped when a bolt from nowhere blasted it. Their mysterious benefactor was a sorcerer, who had come to explore the city with a group of treasure hunters, of whom he was the last survivor. He had been responsible for the anomalous wind that had thrown the elemental’s all-seeing head from the roof. Thanking him for his involvement, the party located the spider creature, only to find that upon death, it had changed shape into a piece of the missing key. The party chased down another such spider, only to find that the first had come back to its senses and fled. In the ensuing chase, the party continuously beat on the key they had, and finally managed to secure the entire key. They pressed it into the seal, and ancient mechanisms activated. The great door swung open into impenetrable darkness. Petrakia was waiting…

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Vision Quest
Or: Getting Stoned in the Mountains

In the shadow of a circle of standing stones, a party of adventurers was tired and hungry. For three days, they fasted, awaiting the time to brew the sacred tea so that Visok‘s Ordeal could be conducted. Morale was low as the sun peeked over the horizon on the third day. The tea was brewed and swiftly drank, and shortly thereafter all of creation exploded into the parties’ brains.

It started with the sky. The sun wheeled overhead, joined by the moon and several seasons’ worth of constellations that began to dance through the heavens at breakneck pace. Whispers from the land grew in intensity until all of existence spoke in secret, hidden languages directly into their souls. The heroes sank to the ground, suddenly aware of their cosmic insignificance and reeling from the possibilities of the infinite. Each adventurer was confronted with a horrible, gnawing terror that they kept in the dark recesses of their minds. After seeming years of subjective torments, they were roused by a voice that manifested from a spirit that had appeared in their midst.

“Heed, travellers. Steel yourselves and prepare, for your test awaits! But take heart, if you are strong of will, the challenges you are soon to face will not…” And then something blasted him.

The party dizzily tried to climb to their feet as the unseen attackers closed in. It was their recurring nemeses, the purple-robed cultists. They’d chosen this moment for their latest attack on the party, hoping that the hallucinations would give them the edge they needed to take the party down. They’d brought three members this time: the chatty one with the fiery eyes who they’d encountered in the past, a diminutive member that split herself into numerous short-lived duplicates, and the hulking one who finally received a name when the fire-eyed one spoke the words, “Callithus? Get big.” He then grew taller then a house, and the fight was on. Drugs or not, these clowns were going to die again.

Callithus wasn’t quite as strong as his size would suggest, but he was impossible to ignore, and his massive fists were capable of knocking the party to the ground. Fire-eyes attacked the party’s minds. What he found in Nyrineab‘s head convinced him not to try again, but he had a measure of success by attacking Zed’s formidable will. The duplicator mostly served as a distraction, hurling wave after wave of copies of herself into the fray as expendable troops.

His vision compromised by the drugs, Nyrineab animated his shadow into a vicious little attacker that he set upon the mind-controller. Zed weaved into combat, dodging through the legs of the giant attacker and trapping the talker between his fists and the claws of the little shadow beast. Visok weathered a barrage of attacks, becoming bloodied himself before his hammer crushed the chest of the fire-eyed cultist. As the body pitched to the ground, Nyrineab‘s little shadow monster leaped onto the corpse, shredding it in the seconds before the false death ritual whisked his soul off to parts unknown. Zed utilized an opponent to vault onto Callithus’ expansive shoulders, where a ki punch cracked the titan’s skull. Now alone, the duplicating assailant demonstrated a surprising bravado, vowing to return a thousand times to kill the party, if they had to. When the party refused to be intimidated, she sent a final wave of duplicates in a spiteful suicide attack. The world still spinning, the party took a moment to catch their breaths when the standing stones around them stretched and flexed. The cliff face above them opened massive eyes, and the party found themselves clutched in the hand of an impossibly massive stone elemental.

The mountain spoke to them, largely in riddles and doublespeak. It did, however, offer a few words of interest to Visok. It showed him a mighty rune, of unknown properties, and encouraged him to finish what his father started. A few more rounds of cryptic symbolism, and the mighty elemental settled back to into his rest. As the tea cleared the party’s systems, it was as if nothing had transpired at all.

Back at camp, the Deorai rejoiced! A decade or so late perhaps, but Visok had completed his trials and become a tribesman in good standing. Elder Hadhra was now free to tell him the harrowing tale of their people.

Visok‘s father, she explained, had been a mighty runepriest himself, and dedicated to the safety of his people. He had led a band of the tribe’s greatest warriors to slay a nearby threat: a trio of vicious gorgon witches. The returned in triumph, but many months later, as the runekeeper celebrated the birth of his son, a crack opened in the mountain, and a terrible curse was unleashed. The gorgon’s wrath spilled through the streets in clouds of roiling purple fog that turned all who breathed it into stone. Many lost their lives that night. If not for the courage of Visok‘s father, there might have been no survivors. The runekeeper used all his magic, and sacrificed himself to maintain the wards so as many of his countrymen could escape as possible. Visok’s mother gave her life lifting the boy clear of the fog so he could be rescued. As it stood, most of the tribe was lost that night. Elder Hadhra‘s predecessor was another, and with her was lost the secret for crafting the Deorai scrying stones. If the tribe had the master stone, known as the Eye of the Mountain, they could re-learn the process. Without that stone, there was no way the party could complete the Academy’s task. Cursed city or no, Visok and his party were determined to recover the Eye.

The party travelled with the tribe for several more days, before approaching Cadiabh Morh. As the time of parting approached, Elder Hadhra took Visok aside. She had with her the mighty hammer that had belonged to Visok‘s father. He had laid it down when his son was born, and she wanted Visok to carry it with him. At this another elder objected, decrying a quest into the city as a fool’s errand, and the loss of one of their relics to be inexcusable. In his anger, the elder revealed that Visok had grown up with the elves because the rest of the tribe was stretched too thin to care for him. He had been given away. Party at his back, Visok aimed to show them what a mistake that had been.

Cadiabh Morh was dismal and silent. The gates stood open, and the streets were still littered with the horrified statues of Visok’s people. As they entered the heart of the dead city, an ominous hissing began. Roiling clouds of purple fog surged into view, filling the streets. Time to run…

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The Time a Squirrel Almost Killed Us
This Was That Time

The wee Davian Goldomain pointed the party in the direction of the “little man of the woods” who had sealed him in a magic bubble. Their path took them deep into the fey-haunted wilderness, where the sounds of trees splintering warned them of a titanic struggle taking place just ahead. Awaiting them was a warforged, Bassgod, a bard of some repute who’d watched the whole spectacle unfold.

A massive tri-horn behemoth, a rarity in these parts, was waging a life and death battle with a squirrel. At this point, the party reflected on how damned weird their lives had gotten, that the sight didn’t really surprise them. The behemoth was charging and thrashing, unable to hit his nimble opponent, which was wearing the beast down with sustained guerrilla attacks. The party opted to wait until the battle was over to try and sneak past the squirrel to the overgrown path they spied beyond. As the behemoth breathed its last, the squirrel set eyes on the party.

And what murderous eyes they were! Zed found himself bloodied with a single attack, and Dashiel‘s sharpest arrow strikes couldn’t hit the little monster. The party quickly fell back to a defensive position, with Varris hurling the injured Zed to safety before being pulled out of the fray by Bassgod’s magic beats. It was then that Nyrineab hatched an unorthodox plan.

By everyone’s best estimates, the squirrel was an ordinary forest critter with layers of powerful enchantments. Nyrineab having ritual training, he decided to ready a disenchantment ritual, step into the squirrel’s attack radius, and discharge the ritual on contact, and hope for the best. The preparations were made, and as the squirrel raced at the shade like a furry missile, he braced himself for impact. Mercifully, the enchantments dissolved on contact in a blinding flash, and the squirrel fell to the ground harmlessly. Visok opted to bash it anyway, just in case.

The way forward was clear, and eventually led to an ancient platform that held an overgrown portal. A small figure was busily working at something. The party opted to ready a surprise attack, only to have the plan go awry when Nyrineab offered to buy the kid back. The figure vanished into thin air, bellowing threats that quickly ended when he recognized most of the party.

The “litttle man of the forest” proved to be none other that disgraced gnomish wizard Khalid Kashem. He had been travelling around, making sure that potential fey crossings remained closed. He’d opted to borrow Davian’s dowsing rods to help in his work, only for the elf boy to see through his invisibility and follow him. Davian, it seemed, had considerable magical potential. He’d left the boy in a ward at his campsite to ensure his safety, and enchanted the squirrel to deter interruptions. The party found the murder squirrel to be perhaps a bit of overkill, but he boosted the enchantment on Zed‘s coat by way of apology. It wasn’t perfect, but it was appreciated. Kashem opted to return the boy to his family and try to smooth things over, but it took some of Bassgod‘s diplomacy to keep mother Goldomain from attacking the runt. Kashem’s offer of accompaniment fell on deaf ears, and he flew off into the sunset, leaving the party to resume their travels.

The party and The Goldomain Family parted ways at the outskirts of Hala Xel. Out of gratitude for helping to recover their son, the family had baked a bag of delicious elven waybread, which promised to keep the party fed for the next week. Following their map, the party began the treacherous climb into the Daelfarn Mountains.

The first sighting of the Deorai Goliaths came with the chance encounter of a herd of skygoats. These woolly creatures claim elemental ancestry, which meant their thick coats fade into wisps of cloud. The party knew from their briefing that these were the herd animals of choice for the Deorai, and sure enough, a goliath shepherd happened by, massive longbow at the ready, unsure of what to make of these strange outsiders. Bassgod got the gent to lower his weapon with some catchy beats. Unfortunately, further communication proved difficult, as the shepherd spoke only goliath, and only seemed interested in communicating with Visok, at any rate. Luckily, Nyrineab had another answer in his ritual book, that enabled some one-way communication. It took a great deal of pointing and gesturing, but when Visok showed off his runepriest powers, it got the party an audience with the Deorai.

The Deorai village was most suspicious of the travellers, and greeted the party with stern glares and disapproval. Their shepherd guide attempted to grant them an audience with the tribe’s elders, only to have his request refused. It appeared that the party was out of luck when one of the elders emerged. Elder Hadhra would speak to them.

She spoke a smattering of common, but seemed disappointed when she found that the party was indeed here to trade on behalf of the Arcane Academy. The Deorai Goliaths maintain a strict policy of non-interaction with outsiders. The only way to trade, she explained, would be if Visok performed The Ordeal, and joined the tribe.

The Ordeal was a Deorai rite of passage. To become a member of good standing, young goliaths journey west to a sacred location with a band of their fellows. In the shadows of the standing stones, they are to wait three days without food. At dawn on the third day, they are to build a fire and prepare tea from sacred herbs. After consumption, they will be tested mentally and physically. If they perform the rites to satisfaction, they are said to hear the voice of the mountains, and will return as full members of the Deorai people. Without fellows, the rest of the party could stand in for Visok’s Ordeal. Though they would not become citizens themselves, their participation would prove that he is a valued member of a community. The group agreed if it meant fulfilling their mission. Turning to the assembled crowd, Elder Hadhra shouted, “Rejoice, my people… the son of the Runekeeper will join the tribe!” Say what…?

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Convoy!
On the Road Again

Quintus Meridius arrived not long after to claim The Bone Butcher on behalf of the Arcane Academy. He brought a contract that the party signed, pledging to obtain a scrying glass from the Deorai Goliaths. He also brought a new party member, a shade warlock who called himself Nyrineab. With the nomadic goliaths set to move their camp in the next few days, it fell to the party to find a caravan out of town with which to travel. The options were three:

Would it be Slatewright’s Stonework, the team of dwarven masons who would show the party an underground route for a nominal fee?

Would it be Kragor and Sons Salvage, an orcish disposal team who were paying gold for bodyguards?

Or would it be The Goldomain Family, a family of elvish bakers, moving back to the countryside?

The debate went back and forth for a while, but in the end, the thought of delicious baked goods swayed the heroes, and they left with the Goldomains the following morning.

Travel was easy enough, thanks to the quiet roads and ample wagons. Dashiel gave some staggeringly unhelpful archery lessons to the family’s eldest, Zed fended off the wine-soaked advances of aunt Lorastine. Newcomer Nyrineab kept to himself mostly, but his shadowy countenance prompted youngest son Davian to ask if he was a wizard. Davian had designs on being a wizard someday and proudly showed off a pair of dowsing rods that he called his “magic wands.” The shade humored the boy for a little while, before his parents retrieved him.

The peace lasted until the third day of travel, when a panicked shout rose up, rousting the heroes. Davian had seemingly wandered off into the woods in the wee hours of the morning, prompting a hasty search effort. As the heroes combed the woods, they heard distant cries for help. They charged in the direction of the shouts, even as the forest grew progressively more unnatural. They soon found themselves in a clearing full of supernaturally large magpies that squawked “Help! Help!” at them. The lingering traces of magic in the air suggested sinister forces were at work, which was confirmed when the trees twisted themselves into humanoid shapes and attacked alongside the birds!

The feytouched creatures were a formidable fight, and the birds’ wicked screeches made positioning for the battle nearly impossible. Dashiel was knocked sprawling from a tree, and Visok weathered a pounding from one of the treants before they struck their attackers down. The treants’ passing had opened a trail, which the party wearily followed.

At the end of the path lay a serene little campsite. In the rear, Davian sat in a mystic bubble. The tyke seemed no worse for wear, and indeed seemed to be enjoying himself. Approaching the bubble triggered a glowing ball of light that flittered around the site, chanting “You don’t belong here!” in an impossibly annoying sing-song voice. At that point, the campsite rose up and attacked, because why wouldn’t it.

The bizarre security system wasn’t particularly formidable, but between burning campfire logs, flying tools, and a murderous tent, the party took a very strange beating before the wayward camp gear was put to rest. Davian seemed to enjoy the spectacle, and said that he’d followed “the little man of the woods” after he’d snuck into their camp the night before and stolen his magic wands. He said that the little man thought no one could see him, but Davian evidently could. He’d dropped the boy in the bubble “for safekeeping” and said he’d be back shortly. Where was this little man now? Why, he went right down that path there…

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The Greater Good
Uneasy Alliances

Facing off with The Bone Butcher, Zed and Dashiel found themselves with two choices: stand and fight the unkillable monster, or bolt. They chose the latter. After several close scrapes, they led the beast to a section of town that had been hit hard by Canopius Vig‘s zombie plague. Finding a large abandoned tenement, they weakened a few crucial support beams as the Butcher closed in. At the last moment, the pair snapped the last beam and dove out the window, bringing the rotting structure down on the creature’s head. It wasn’t a permanent solution, but it bought them time.

When the dust cleared, Vikus emerged from one of his customary hiding places, commending the duo on their quick thinking. A hasty plan was concocted. Vikus would search known hideouts for the trio of missing shapeshifters, and with them, the amulet. Zed and Dashiel, meanwhile, would take take advantage of the head start to lure the creature into the marsh, where they could hopefully buy more time. The exhausted duo successfully dropped the monster into a brackish sinkhole, and as it disappeared from sight, they hoped it’d stay gone long enough to mount a defense.

Back in town, Vikus had unsuccessfully spent hours checking every safehouse he knew of. Just when he’d decided to forget about it and hope a boat out of town, he was yanked inside by a person whose face was new, but whose demeanor was familiar. It was Krisella Blackwood, Sil, and Lexa. When he filled them in on what he knew, Lexa demanded to see the amulet in question. Using some of her artificer trickery, the changeling managed to jumpstart the age-old enchantment on the relic. Thus armed, but still without direction, the group headed for The Curiosityworks to call on the knowledge of Azir.

The old deva came through. The amulet, with its strange enchantment, had once been a part of an ancient artifact called an Eigen Jar. Similar in principle to bags of holding, it could store items in virtual stasis, but had to be specially prepared. To reconstruct such a jar, the party had together many rare supplies; ink for runes, herbal oil to conduct the enchantment, diamonds to build the array inside, and several rituals with which to prepare the vessel. As the party prepared to ransack the city for supplies, they received an unexpected offer of help: Naymax, lately of The Keepers, had come, lending his skills as an animal spy to track the creature distract it as best he could. Strange bedfellows indeed.

Throughout the city, heroes pitched in to get the supplies. Zed purchased inks, Dashiel helped brew potions, Krisella Blackwood filched gems from a guard lockup, Sil recovered tools, Amare grabbed ritual scrolls from the Academy office, and Visok laid down runes.

For the final stage, all the adventurers gathered together in the basement of the Magistrate’s mansion to grab Lexa‘s other golems. Over the course of manual labor, confessions were made, accusations were levied, and eventually a grudging respect was developed on the nature of teamwork and privacy. But more relevantly, the golem’s power supply was retrieved to power the cobbled-together Eigen Jar. Jar in hand, the gaggle of adventurers strode towards the swamp, to face their destiny.

The first warning the group had came as a bloodied hawk crashed to the ground beside them. As its shredded flesh changed once more into the form of elder Naymax, he choked out “I held it as long as I could… did you finish the device?” * group nod * “End this… stopping the butcher is all that matters…” Then he collapsed.

There was no time to mourn, however, as the undergrowth exploded into a shower of wood splinters. The Bone Butcher had returned. Lexa wasted no time in activating their last weapon. As the enchantments flared to life, a mist of smoke-like miasma was drawn from the Butcher’s surface. It thrashed and slumped to the ground as its mass was drawn into the vessel. It looked like the battle would be over soon when Lexa uttered the fateful words. “Uh oh.”

“Uh oh?” “The power supply is at capacity! It can’t overcome the creature’s resistance on its own!” Sensing this development, bone-butcher lunged at the group, ready for blood, only to be met with Sil’s sword, a desperate swing at a foe that had proved indestructable. No one seemed as surprised as the butcher when the sword cut its bony exterior.

It wasn’t much. Barely a scratch. As the creature dazedly stared down at its hide, the Eigen Jar drew from the fresh wound, widening it as more of the beast disappeared into the Jar. It hadn’t swallowed the creature, but it had made it vulnerable. The course of action was clear. As one, seven heroes surrounded a monster that, hours before, had been unkillable. Blow after blow rained down upon it, breaking more and more of it down into vapor that disappeared into the magic vessel. Holding nothing back, the party broke the monster down. As its head disappeared into its new prison, it cursed the party one final time, “i aM eTERNAL! i wILL rETURN tO sLAY yOU aLL!” Before it disappeared into a roiling cloud in the jar’s interior. Lexa gazed inside for a moment before hastily clamping the lid on.

In the aftermath, an agreement was reached. The Arcane Academy would be entrusted with the safekeeping and study of the Jar. When the party attempted to negotiate the donation of the artifact via Amare‘s mirror, the call was interrupted by Headmaster Temeridan pal’Cosi Elihu. He had another errand for the party, and offered payment, as well as the use of Academy resources. It seems he’d managed to locate the Deorai Goliaths, and wanted to trade for one of their fabled scrying stones. Once more into the breach, right gang?

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Unmasked!
The Game is Up

The Keepers were a strange lot. From their hidden grove in the Trackless Fen, they had been gathering in number to recover the mysterious amulet from Magistrate Krisella. Their leader, an ancient elf named Naymax, told the harrowing tale of the dreaded Bone Butcher. The creature had been summoned by a long-dead conqueror to serve as the ultimate weapon of terror and destruction. Its master slain, the creature was imprisoned for centuries until its prison was discovered and broken up for scrap. The amulet was the only known part of the prison that remained, and, the druids believed, still had some sway over the creature.

Reluctantly, Krisella Blackwood pulled out the amulet and gave it to the druid. Rejoicing, Naymax and the other Keepers offered to help the party in joint revenge against Falsella. The druids had lost brothers at the hands of her anti-shapeshifter alchemy, and were eager for payback. The heroes would lie in wait while the druids funneled her towards their position. At the signal, the druids would attack her bodyguards, distracting them long enough for the party to abscond with Falsella for questioning, and presumably torture. It was a solid plan that was sure to play out without a hitch.

The morning saw the party gathered on the crooked street called Beggar’s Walk. a few vagrants loitered nearby. Falsella and her pack of bodyguards arrived, right on schedule. Hidden from sight, Dashiel launched the signal; a pair of arrows aimed at the magistrate’s face. They both missed, and all hell broke loose as the cabal of druids fell from the sky in animal form. From the seething mass of clashing blades and snarling beasts, the fake magistrate flew at Dashiel, checking him into the wall as the rest of the party closed in.

The real Krisella Blackwood engaged her counterpart, who was no stranger with a blade. They traded blows, only for a startling development to take place. Falsella nicked Krisella Blackwood with a specially-treated blade… and the game changed in a big way. Unable to maintain her carefully chosen disguise, Krisella Blackwood stood revealed as a changeling. Falsella stared, dumbstruck, and muttered a few words that no one understood. Visok and Amare kept to the plan, and attacked the Magistrate. Rather than fighting, she dropped her own disguise, showing herself to be a changeling as well! She then bolted for the end of the alleyway, with Krisella Blackwood in hot pursuit.

Dashiel wasn’t entirely sure what to make of the developments, but with an uncanny shot, he destroyed the runed tile that he knew to be tied to the uncanny escapes their adversaries had been exhibiting. Boxed in, and under attack by Zed, Krisella Blackwood and the imposter climbed onto a neighboring building, frantically looking for a getaway.

A timely diversion came when a third Krisella appeared on a neighboring building, got everyone’s attention, and then blinded the congregation with brilliant explosives before attempting a getaway. Her escape was cut short, however, when Naymax intervened, taking the most recent Krisella hostage and unleashing a devastating spell that caused crushing vines to erupt from the street, ensnaring the party, and the bodyguards, and crushing several unfortunate beggars.

In the aftermath, Falsella felt it was time to come clean. The other magistrate was her sister. Together, the two of them had fallen into the position after borrowing the heroes’ identities to capitalize on their good reputations. The two were actually conwomen, who had adopted the identity of Mr. Killgrave to scam money from crooks in Maynard’s Crossing. The “bounty” they’d placed on the heroes was a pittance designed to draw the heroes’ eyes off the Magistrate in the hopes of keeping them occupied had they ever returned. She apologized for the trouble, and offered to free the adventurers and aid them against the murderous druids in exchange for helping her recover her sister. The party was divided on trusting the changeling, but agreed that The Keepers’ wholesale slaughter of innocent beggars needed to be punished.

A lot of mistrust was still brewing, but the newly outed imposter (Sil, by name) offered what assistance she could. Using an enchanted doorknob in conjunction with a network of specially runed tiles, Sil and her sister, Lexa, were able to travel from tile to tile almost instantaneously throughout Maynard’s Crossing. Arriving at the druid’s grove, the party had just enough time to recover the amulet from the druid’s lackluster hiding place. Krisella Blackwood pocketed her former keepsake, over the rest of the party’s protestations. The Keepers arrived soon after, unhappy to see their former allies seething with betrayal and furious about the deaths of civilians. A fight inevitably erupted.

Sil proved her mettle in combat, wielding a massive two-handed sword, while Lexa utilized metal constructs and magical concoctions to assist the uneasy alliance. The druids were quickly dispatched, but not before the Naymax escaped in the form of a swarm of locusts, promising revenge when the rest of his order arrived. The real threat, however, was the feelings of betrayal that now divided the party. On one side, Krisella (or Kree, rather), Sil, and Lexa. On the other Zed, furious at being lied to, Visok, furious about having a price on his head, and Amare, who narrowly prevented party-on-party violence. Compromised, team shapeshifter was ordered to leave the city and never return.

Opposition defeated, what remained of the party returned to Maynard’s Crossing to spread the word about the shapeshifters. Shopkeeper Azir wasn’t as shocked as they anticipated, and reminded them that Krisella Blackwood had proven herself a friend to him, regardless of what she looked like. He also asked about the whereabouts of the amulet, reminding them that The Bone Butcher would be back… an amulet that Krisella Blackwood had recovered from the druids once again. Dauntless, the party headed towards the city guard headquarters to reveal the truth about the magistrate’s identity only to be sidetracked by the sounds of chaos. in a street strewn with bodies and drenched in blood, The Bone Butcher turned to the party. “yOU dIE nEXT….”

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Back into the Fray
The Mobster, the Magistrate, and the Monster

It seemed like the party had been waiting for Krisella to return for months.

Bored of that, and lacking anything better to do, they headed for their old lodgings at the Goldleaf Inn. While the rest of the party wearily trudged upstairs to sleep it off, Zed and Dashiel stayed down in the common room, regaling the patrons with tales of their otherworldly adventures. It seemed that the party had been presumed dead in the intervening months. A welcoming crowd bought round after round for the thirsty heroes, and the two celebrated well into the night.

Unexpectedly, a handful of burly types cornered the heroes. They were members of the notorious Wharf Rats gang, and wanted to collect on a bounty that had been placed on the heroes’ heads. Zed warned the three hoods to hassle someone else, but when diplomacy failed, he sent one of the heavies hurtling across the room with a ki punch. Realizing they’d perhaps underestimated their marks, the remaining Rats rapidly capitulated, and the duo demanded answers from them.

It seems in the past few months, a major player had entered the scene in Maynard’s Crossing‘s criminal underbelly. He called himself Mr. Killgrave, and he was doing a big business on the docks. Smuggling, contraband artifacts, and protection were his stock in trade, and he’d placed a considerable bounty on the party’s heads. The two heroes decided to be proactive, and demanded their would-be assailants take them to Killgrave’s hideout.

Warehouse 37 on Wharf Row looked fairly unassuming. The low-slung building was boarded up, but dim lights between the boards and the sound of heavy objects being moved suggested something sinister was going on inside. Over their criminal guides’ protests, Dashiel and Zed posed as prisoners to slip into the crimelord’s lair.

Inside, The wiry shadar-kai emerged from the back of his workshop, pleasantly surprised that his lackeys had managed to subdue two of the heroes. When the two threw off their “captors,” the Kingpin ordered two henchmen to open the ominously large crate in the center of the workshop. Dashiel shot them both dead. The loss of his grand unveiling seemed to genuinely disappoint Mr. Killgrave, and he activated his trump card remotely. From inside the oversized crate, a ragged metal golem emerged, sporting a wicked looking attachment that launched lighting.

The battle was wickedly fierce. In a fight that torched a good portion of the warehouse, both Dashiel and Zed found themselves bruised and bloody. After an all-out slugfest, Zed cracked the golem’s hull, and Dashiel fired the lethal shot that blew the golem into twisted shards. During the fracas, Mr. Killgrave had disappeared, giving the party time to scavenge for valuables. They gave chase as the wily crime lord disappeared into the storm drains under the city.

He led the duo on a merry chase, at times seeming to be both a few steps ahead and several steps behind them. The chase finally ended at a dead end in an overflow cistern. As the two tried to figure out how he’d vanished seemingly into thin air, they heard the door behind them heave shut, and Mr. Killgrave’s voice, thanking them for playing.

Working together, the pair managed to reach a grate in the ceiling. As they worked to get it open, the racket drew the attention of a weaselly little man. He called himself Vikus, and claimed to be a friend of Krisella Blackwood‘s. In as vague terms as possible, he asked the two to go see the magistrate in an effort to recover some merchandise she had “obtained” for him. He told them that his employer, a mister Red Tom, was coming into town shortly, and was none too happy about both the loss of his merchandise and Mr. Killgrave’s impediments on his not-entirely-legal business. The party agreed, hoping to avoid an all-out turf war.

But Magistrate Krisella wasn’t accomodating. Hiding behind a gang of foreign mercenary bodyguards, her assistant kept them at bay with vague promises of a later meeting and seemed overly curious about where the party was staying. The two gave him no answers and returned to the Goldleaf Inn. There, sporting a new red-haired look and a face-concealing bandanna, was the real Krisella Blackwood, having performed some surveillance on the Magistrate that wore her face.

Overcoming some trust issues, the party worked out the facts: in the months since the party disappeared to do Eternity‘s dirty work, an individual impersonating Krisella Blackwood had taken advantage of her and the heroes’ good reputation to get elected Magistrate. The imposter, (hereafter dubbed “Falsella,”) acted very cagey in public, and had slipped away from her bodyguards during a disturbance before being set upon by a shapeshifting assassin, who she dispatched before vanishing down an empty alleyway. Zed confronted her with what they’d learned from Vikus about her shady background, and the party came to a newfound understanding about trustworthyness. Exhausted from the late hour, the party collapsed into their beds.

The next day was spent retracing footsteps. While no one could find a trace of either Falsella or Mr. Killgrave, they found that they shared an unexpected link: the spots from which both had disappeared featured an inconspicuous clay tile etched with an unidentifiable rune. The party took the runes to the curio seller Azir. The deva couldn’t ID them, but told the group to come back later, after closing time, and he’d try to find them answers. In the meantime, Zed and Dashiel infiltrated Falsella’s mansion, and found a library’s worth of pored-over law books, some well-weathered fighting armor, and a small fortune in a sack under the bed, which Dashiel swiped. As night closed around the party, they returned to The Curiosityworks, only to find that the door had been smashed down.

Inside, the shop was being ransacked by a hideous creature. It stood nearly eight feet tall, with a bony exterior and sickening tendony limbs. Its angular head darted birdlike as it sifted through the shop’s merchandise, as if searching for something. The party confronted it and it demanded that they surrender “the relic” before it attacked.

And what an attack! NOTHING the party tried did more than scratch the beast. Meanwhile, it moved with a nauseating grace as razor sharp claws shredded flesh. In desperate straits, Krisella Blackwood brandished the amulet that she’d obtained for Vikus, which seemed to give the creature pause. Its hatred of all living creatures was almost palpable as it spoke of its ages-long imprisonment. It claimed to be born to destroy, and to have no purpose beyond slaughter. It made a last desperate grab for the amulet, lacerating Krisella Blackwood’s hand in the process, before Azir emerged, wounded, but reading a potent banishment incantation from a scroll. Bellowing in frustration, the creature vanished, teleported to parts unknown.

Gravely injured, the party tried to make sense of what they’d experienced when a voice spoke to them from outside. “You survived an encounter with the Bone Butcher,” said a great owl perched on a nearby rooftop. As it fluttered to the ground, its features shifted until it took the form of a bearded human wearing a feathered cloak. “I am one of ”/characters/keepers" class=“wiki-content-link”>The Keepers," he said. “If you wish to help us stop this creature before it kills again, you should come with me…”

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Once More Unto the Space
and also Dashiel's Day Out

Dashiel found himself at a garden party being thrown by none other than the illustrious Lady in Autumn. Various elite of the Fey social circles had gathered for cocktails, idle chatter, and to goggle at some of the Lady‘s numerous objects d’art. Dashiel was blending in thanks to the garb of a Royal Guard Sergeant, helpfully provided by the mysterious Eternity. The enigmatic being had told him to look for a key, but what exactly does a key to open an extraplanar portal look like? There were orbs, statuary, singing crystals, a clock, paintings… but nothing that screamed “key.” Complicating matters was the fact that his arrival had apparently been detected, and other guards were insisting that he try to locate “the intruder.” His efforts now impeded, Dashiel drew the attention of a guard captain that was too curious for his own good. It looked like the jig was up when the gnomish wizard at the Lady’s right hand intervened.

The gnome introduced himself as Magister Khalid Kashem, and he sensed that Dashiel was both a stranger and pursuing his own ends. He offered to let the ranger go, on the grounds that he wanted to see how events would play out. Dashiel accepted, but asked if the Magister could point him towards some kind of magic key. Smirking, the gnome suggested he talk to the clock, and left to rejoin the Lady.

The clock, it turned out, was home to a clockwork fairy named Kee, because of course she was. She promised to open Ravan Romar’s portal, in exchange for passage back to the prime. Dashiel agreed, and after a tight escape, found himself back in the abandoned tower. The party stepped through the now-open portal and found themselves once again in Unspace.

The pocket dimension looked a little less shabby here in the past. There were more roads and structures, the air felt fresher, and also, there was a crazy wizard’s hologram to greet them. Ravan Romar welcomed the party cordially, before siccing a bunch of clay golems on them. The constructs weren’t very threatening, but they were numerous, and it took the party a while before the last one was sent tumbling into the infinity that was Unspace. That left the party on the floating walkways. To everyone’s surprise, Amare found she could manipulate them. The party made for the low-slung building Kee indicated, only to be distracted by the strains of “The Merry Golden Goblin.” The drinking tune was being played by a bard, Sauvignon, who was quite distressed. Like the party, his troupe of adventurers had been recruited by Eternity, but had met with ill success. He’d gotten trapped on a floating rock, and for some reason, his magic had failed him. The group rescued him, and soon stumbled upon one of his companions, none other than the mighty barbarian Varris. The growing band stepped inside the structure, heeding Kee’s warning not to touch anything.

Ravan Romar‘s living quarters, while tastefully decorated, held a dark secret. Every surface was enchanted to drop trespassers into an enchanted maze. Kee took the party to a portal that would bring them to the wizard’s workshop. The soft sounds of sobbing distracted the party. Another adventurer, Mazel, had teleported herself inside a room and was babbling about the loss of her own magic and the disappearance of her cohort Keto. Dashiel convinced her to come outside, and the frightened eladrin girl emerged. Kee and Amare activated the portal, and the group stepped through…

Into the maze. DAMN YOU, WIZARD! He’d changed his security, it seemed. No matter. Kee knew there was an exit to the maze… except the missing Keto suddenly appeared. The Warden normally called upon nature spirits to inhabit his body, granting him incredible abilities. In a place completely devoid of nature… something else was inhabiting him. The entity looked to be made of diaphanous wisps of arcane energy, given malevolent form. Keto was trapped inside, fighting for control. The party tried to navigate the maze, skirmishing with the entity until Visok and Varris tired of running. The combined groups made their stand, and entered a prolonged slog of a battle with the creature. The tables turned when Amare successfully ripped Keto out of the entity. The weakened creature fought a while longer until Varris forcibly donned the creature and became a draconic juggernaut. The unstoppable titan powered through the walls of the maze, eventually arriving at the portal, before the entity rejected Varris. Visok smote the creature, and the party was free. Kee fired up this portal, confidant that it would lead to Ravan’s workshop.

The party found themselves at the foot of the terraced structure where they battled the beholder Sclerex months ago and centuries from now. Huge arcane devices were channeling ongodly amounts of magical energy, and the very air crackled with power. In front of a rack of esoteric machinery stood the wizard Ravan Romar, who dared them to face him. “Come and get me…”

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The Eternity Dilemma
Time Keeps on Slipping

Life was grand in D’Neen. Nothing was exploding, no one was invading, and no prophecies were being fulfilled. The party took a break from their strenuous schedule of lollygagging to assist Quintus Meridius with his report to Headmaster Temeridan pal’Cosi Elihu. The two were at odds, but the headmaster soon set about grilling Visok on his familial relations. He seemed to be describing a new project in the works when the ritual was interrupted by a transmission from Dashiel’s mysterious wizard friend. He told the party that he required their assistance with a matter of the utmost importance. Before anyone could voice their numerous objections, he had summoned them to his sanctum.

The party soon found themselves in the prescence of a being who identified himself as Eternity. Apparently, he was real. Real or not, it was clear that he wasn’t ordinary. Underneath the unassuming hood was the body of a creature that had seemingly forgotten how to be mortal. If the unnaturally smooth flesh and unmoving musculature wasn’t creepy enough, each of Eternity’s “eyes” held an infinite expanse of starlight. He “explained” the situation to the best of his ability.

Eternity, it seems, was likewise working to understand the Red Sky. In his case, the event represented a moment in which all timelines collapsed into a single point. For everyone else, it might represent the end of the world. Eternity was a confusing mess of doublespeak and awkward tenses, but he tried to make sense as best he could. In the present, the Arcane Academy lacked the strength to fight or even comprehend the Red Sky. Eternity believed that had an evil wizard named Ravan Romar been defeated in the past, the Academy of today would be stronger and better able to respond to the otherwordly threat. He had asked the party to travel back into the past and slay the wizard, and spare the future of his evil. The story checked out to Amare, who remembered the records of the Academy’s near destruction shortly after its founding. Eternity told Dashiel that he would be instrumental in locating the key to the wizard’s sanctum, which lay in the Feywild, within the domain of the The Lady in Autumn. The party soon found themselves on their way before they could agree.

After a rough landing, the heroes found themselves in the undeveloped wilderness of the Janus Valley. Their objective was a tower nearby, through a scorched patch of earth that marked the territory of Carod ir’Ignus. The dragon had no inclination to let them pass, and a fight ensued.

The dragon was a vicious melee combatant, but his fiery breath was decidedly less than impressive. The party wasted no time in surrounding him and attacking from all sides. It looked like the deal was sealed when the dragon unleashed an earthshaking roar that knocked the party senseless. The dragon took to the air and was ready to send the party up in smoke. When he turned around to incinerate the lot of them, he was greeted with a shock. Krisella had only feigned being stunned and had sprinted over to knife fight a dragon. Her daggers couldn’t pierce the wyrm’s hide, but the dragon was so perplexed that he couldn’t get a bead on the nimble rogue. It bought the rest of the party time to recover, and Visok announced their return with a critical hammer smash that splintered the dragon’s wing. Zed wasn’t about to be shown up, and within moments was laying into the dragon, striking from all sides. Amare, her aegis having spun the dragon around throughout the fight, finally leashed its neck to the ground, and Dashiel finished it off with two arrows through its eyesocket.

The tower seemed eerily quiet. A slight burst of teleportation magic put the party on guard. Inside the structure, the only prescence was seemingly an old man, chained to the wall and pleading for help. Dashiel and Zed saw through the “old man”’s illusion, and Dashiel opened fire on the figure behind it. As the arrows struck, another teleportation spell activated, and in jumped five of the robed group that the party had encountered once before.

Their adversaries were vicious. The one that had been in hiding was first to fall, his blade made of twisting tendrils having failed to protect him from a hail of arrows. The others displayed sinister powers. One was fast and had exceedingly dense flesh. One carried bone knives and could dissolve into mist. One conjured devastating beams of intense silver light, and the last could turn the party against each other and wreathe his own allies’ weapons in a halo of flames. The battle was brutal, with Amare fending off strikes from the flame-handed attacker while Krisella found herself contending with the small one’s vicious daggers. Dashiel launched into a flurry of arrows that dropped two of the targets. Zed unleashed a flurry of strikes to all sides of the light-emitting one before launching his body away. Visok expended all his healing resources to keep the party alive before lodging his hammer in the spine of the final assailant. He spat out a few cryptic threats before died, vanishing like the others.

The party was left in a bare tower. In the floor, they discovered a very faint inset ring that marked an arcane gate. Dashiel steeled himself and vanished into the feywild to try and find the key…

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