Scattered Jewels of Southsea

Awake
Bluce's origin story

Bluce

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Awake.

Why? How?

I saw her grip one of our own swords and slide it effortlessly into my chest. I looked into her expressionless eyes. I heard my heart stop beating. I felt the physical realm fade away. Is that what it’s like for her? I do not kill unless there is no other way. With her there was no other way. I’d spent countless years conditioning my body to acknowledge no limits. I used no weapons. I am the weapon. I fought with my eyes closed. Sight just limits me. It gets in the way. I knocked her down time and time again. I flawlessly delivered my most lethal techniques. But she kept getting back up. Am I like her? Are there others?

Others!

I leap to my feet. For the first time ever my heart knows fear. I see my brothers. My fear is justified. Their corpses litter the floor. Not one is left standing. All died defending the monastery against an unkillable foe. I was among them. I thought I was. Now I’m not.

Confusion. Sorrow. Pain.

Things I have never known. Peace. Tranquility. Effort. Accomplishment. These have been the bastions of my existence. I’ve never experienced anything else. I don’t know what to do with these new feelings. I understand most people weep at a time like this. I try but no tears come.

Noise! Movement!

I snap back into my discipline. Alert. Ready to die again. But it’s not her. It’s Shihan! I run to the master. Of course he would be able to survive. In all the world none can match his skill… but no. He lies broken. A shell of the man I know. He sees me. His confusion rivals my own. I see it on his face. I also see anger, betrayal… directed toward me. His face questions my still beating heart. He thinks I am like her. Then his eyes are empty. He is gone.

Tears.

Now I find them. They flow freely. I don’t understand them. They bring no comfort.

Rage.

I feel it. I welcome it. My discipline helps me control it, but it does not quell it. A glint of light catches my eye. The sword the she used to kill them; to kill me. Its blade gleams in the rising morning sun, still wet with all of our blood. I pick the sword up and and slide it into its scabbard. I don’t clean the blade. I need that blood.

Ruined.

I look around. Suddenly I am a stranger in this place. I’m not welcome among the memories of my brothers. They don’t trust me. Shihan’s final expression is burned into my mind. I strap the sword to my back. I’ll only need it once… when I find her. The search will begin now. Unconsciously my hand moves to the wound on my chest. It’s not there. Nothing. No wound. No scar. She could be hurt. She definitely had scars. Maybe I’m not like her.

Hope.

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Fellowship
Gwen thinks about how she got here

Gwen

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After the last war between the Rooks and Zepan Kingdoms not much was left for someone like me. The war ended much like it started; in a bloody fight with neither side knowing how or why. With a blood feud dating back hundreds of years I doubt any one cared any more.

As a Warcrafter for the Zepan Kingdoms it was my job to makesure the boys were ready to fight. Then the call came down that the men needed help in the field and I became one of the first War Engineers. It was a different kind of war being in the think of things. You see things. You see thing that shake you to your very core.

That’s when I found her…or maybe she found me, it hard to say. Sitting alone in a tavern in Anton I came to know Jil. Over a short time we became close friends. I told her of the war, the things that I saw and how I fled north to get away from all the fighting. That is when I opened my clinic to help the sick. At least my skills could be of some use.

Jil would often visit me between her adventures. But when she would return from her journeys she would be different to me, but her heart was always the same. Jil has always been in trouble, but it’s hard to protect one who is in danger of themselves.

I must try to protect my friend as she is the only one who helped me at my lowest point whether she knows it or not.

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Not a Caravan Guard
Finneus Reflects on the Night of the Defiler

I’m not a caravan guard. I’m not cut out for that kind of thing, with the danger and the fighting and the blood. I’d rather be in a nice cool room somewhere with a drink and a mark, a battle of wits and words. Out in the elements is not me in my element.

But Nathan needs the oats. I said goodbye to Jil in Tierm– every time I wonder if it’s the last time– and I set off with this ragtag group of misfits. They weren’t paying well, so they weren’t getting the best (they did hire me as a caravan guard, after all), but when push came to shove we did our fair share of pushing and shoving.

It just turned out that we were pushing the wrong direction. This Defiler character up in Anton had ordered up some Orb to do some Dark Deed, and this Fenrial character had organized a resistance, which was in the process of failing when we arrived. Sunder called up her Matron and we all set course north to fight off the darkness, which we did. Hooray for our side.

But then the world went all funny and now I had to take a minute to find my bearings again. Did we do that?

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The Spores of Sight
Withervine recalls a recent find

Withervine

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As a vermin Lord it is my civic duty to harvest or relocate the various so called nuisances of the city and by harvest or relocate I mean reap any fungus for sell of consumption or alchemical use, or move molds and mosses out of sight. Most of which I still carry on my coat. However, whilst I was making my way through the slums of Broflan, I came across a peculiar type of mushroom, golden stems with bright blue caps and purple spots, truly a sight to behold if you’re a rot farmer.

Of course curiosity peaked my interest and I decided to take a few samples to the local apothecary for analysis. To my surprise the mushroom where somewhat magical in nature as I watched the ’poth dissect and distill the caps of these interesting little shrooms. How were they magical? Well when a man goes to cut a cap off a shroom and it sprays a phosphorescent spore cloud into the air which induces visions of things yet to come, you kinda gotta wonder.

After some experimentation with spores I figured out that the vision state can grant you future sight; a blurry, garbled, very hard to interpret future sight. While this is all well and good I decided to track down the source of these magic little mushrooms in hopes of gleaming a better understanding of them, as it turns out the seer that went missing earlier that week is for a lack of better words, responsible for the creation of what I like to call Sight Shrooms, I bet they’re still growing from his horrendously mangled corpse in the sewers of Broflan.

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Session 1: Opening the Iron Tower
In which the world is revealed to be quite a bit different than it was, Relic is discovered, Finneus and Sunder are lost, and a group of scholars helps solve a riddle

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Gwen was on top of the monument moments after the Upheaval stopped. She peered north, toward the collapsed dome of the town hall, but she didn’t see any sign of Finneus among the scattered groups of gawkers brought out by the battle with The Defiler. Bluce was looking the other direction for Sunder, but she had vanished into the shadows of the Lightbearers as soon as the shaking began. Neither had any luck locating their prey.

But Withervine saw a face he recognized: Amatharn was in the crowd, and the elf had something to tell her. But not now, in the middle of the crowd. He nodded to her, “It is nice to see you again, my old friend.”

“It is. Do you know what’s going on here?”

“I know some, but not all, of the happenings here. The rotting corpse atop the monument is a man known as The Defiler, and we have tracked him down to stop him from bringing these demon hordes upon the city and the surrounding countryside. But as for the earthquake and the stars, I am at a loss.”

Bluce was inspecting the iron tower that had popped up on the east side of the square. An odd structure with no doors, covered in tiny droplets of water, Bluce nevertheless found a strange series of glyphs on the side. They slid about when he touched them, but retained their three-by-three grid. The others joined him, and Withervine recognized the symbols as an old numbering system, but no combinations they tried seemed to make anything happen.

“We,” Bluce said, “are not masters of riddles and puzzles. Where might we find such a person?”

Gwen thought. She had lived in this town long enough to know that the Town Archive was a good source of historical information about the city, but this was a more esoteric case. “The Observatory on the west side of town would be our best bet.” And they set off.

They began on their way. The oddest thing was that the cobblestone streets all seem bigger, but there was no space between cobblestones; as if new cobblestones appeared to fill in the gaps as the road expanded. And they slowly realized that the same was true all around: between shops that were once touching were gardens filled with trees and vines; a small shrine to Ioun stood in a roundabout exactly where they had fought through a passel of demons the night before; in districts that had settled into old buildings there were some that looked to have been built yesterday.

They turned a corner and saw a dozen or so people gathered around a toppled building. Peering over their heads they saw that the building fell into itself and down into its own basement, which was now exposed and glowing with the faintly blue tint of some moss clinging to the walls. Laying in the middle of the rubble, a humanoid form with metallic skin reflected the blue light, but the form was motionless, laying on its back with a sword clasped in front of it.

Gwen ran toward it, sliding down the slope. Blue runes flashed around her, a wave of magic symbols flaring up and disappearing in her wake. When the ripples reached the form, he sat up just before Gwen leapt on his lap. “Relic!” she said.

Withervine was smiling behind her, and Bluce was at their side. A trio of old friendships rekindled instantly amid the unusual circumstances. “I did not expect to see the three of you together,” Relic said, “But where am I?” They explained what they could, but had no explanation for how he had arrived there.

“Someone liked you quite a lot,” Withervine noted. “This is a preservation chamber, and it is a Great Magic. Someone wanted you to survive. Who that was I do not know; I last saw you falling into the pit with Captain Harrin.” That being Relic’s last memory as well, he agreed to venture forth with his friends and seek out answers with them.

Around another corner, a brawl in a field drew the group’s attention. A passel of Cheapside residents were here in the Elf Quarter, fighting over land that didn’t exist an hour ago. A calm conversation convinced them to seek out other fields further in the posh district, so as not to fight every person coming to stake their own claim.

The next corner held another surprise: the ocean that should be hundreds of leagues away was now closer than the city wall should be. Ruins of buildings floated in the water, and across the expanse could be seen the observatory, sitting on its hill, the only building on the west side of town that was still dry.

Amatharn scouted out materials, Withervine became a giant ape and carried them to shore, and Gwen set to work building a boat. Bluce and Relic rowed around to rescued people, then set out across the bay. The door was ajar, and they group went in.

They were shot by the building’s security system. Mechanical devices popped out of the walls and drew first blood, and just when the tide turned in the party’s favor a Chaos Bender dropped from the ceiling and the fight began anew. When Amatharn slew the demon the constructs halted.

Gwen was the first through the door into the telescope dome, and when the candelabra swung at her she dodged easily. Immediately after the candelabra came an apology from an embarrassed Linus; “Oh! I thought you were the homunculi! Wh- what did you do with them?”

“We took care of them.” Gwen said, “Were they attacking you?”

“Yes! It was rather frightful. Just after the sky changed this one barged in,” he gestured to a pile of parts on the ground, “and started swinging. Never been a problem before this.”

“When the sky changed?” Relic said, “And did you know you’re on an island, now?”

Linus looked confused, “On a what?” He ran down the stairs and looked outside, then back. “An island!” He called out to the others; Lars on the big ’scope and Ariel scouting with her handheld; Clank working the machinery to shift the great eye. “The world is transformed above and below!”

“We did come to ask something,” Gwen said, “And see if any of you might know about it.” She borrowed Ariel’s telescope and showed them the Iron Tower. “It has these symbols on it; they move but we can’t determine the right order.” She took out a sketch, and the scholars gathered to relish the challenge. “Numbers.” “The order matters.” “These dots aren’t part of the numerals.” “Can’t you draw these in different ways; the pattern might mean something.”

It was Bluce who noticed that the rows added to fifteen. A little rearranging made the columns do the same, and then the diagonals as well. Fifteen all over. “A magic square,” Lars remarked. “Now I’ve got a whole new sky to catalog.”

“Don’t you want to come back to land with us?” Gwen said.

“Oh, we have provisions.” Linus said, “Enough for us at least. We’ll be fine.” And so they climbed back into the boat and rowed back across the bay, and left the boat with a helpful citizen.

Back to the town square, back to the tower, and a moment later the last glyph slid into place. The grate of metal sliding against metal filled their ears, and the outline of a door appeared on the tower wall. It recessed into the building, and then all at once a giant wave of water issued out of it, knocking everyone back and nearly drowning them. The water kept coming and coming, and after nearly a minute it slowed, then stopped. “The whole thing must have been full of water,” Gwen said.

“And it was pure elemental water,” Withervine noted, “this thing has come from the Elemental Chaos.”

The room immediately inside looked to be a supply room of some sort, but it was hard to tell. The crates were so water-logged it would be anyone’s guess what they once held. Beyond that was a hallway with rooms branching off that appeared to be living quarters, and in the beds they found the long-dead skeletons of two humans dressed in what may have once been leather uniforms. There was also a staircase up the tower, and when they finished their ascent they at first thought that they were atop the tower, but a moment later discovered that the walls of that room were merely transparent.

From this height they could see all of Anton. To the east, toward the mountains, they saw that the city wall had toppled under a landslide. And the northern forest has seemingly broken through the northeastern wall and covered a large section of the city in that quarter. The Bell Tower two blocks north of the town square was shrouded in a heavy mist, but the rest of the city was clear. They could see south down the Via where all the most expensive shops in the town are, and a good half of them seemed to be in ruins. The paved road was shot through with random trees; at the far end they could see that the massive city gates were closed. To the southeast they could see the collapsed buildings of Cheapside, a fire burning in its heart, and to the southwest they could see the great tent still covering the market. The city, just like the town square, suddenly seemed to be twice as big as it was, though not uniformly: its once square shape was now a wandering trapezoid.

There were troubles all around. Which direction would they venture next?

New Questions

  • Where did Finneus go?
  • Where did Sunder go?
  • What is the Upheaval? What did it do, and why?
  • What’s this Iron Tower?
  • How did Relic end up in the Preservation Chamber? What became of Captain Harrin?
  • What did Withervine come to Anton to tell Amatharn?
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Sgt. Lorraine's Report

Relic portrait

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Herein lies my report for the recent activities of the Third Infantry’s patrol. What my unit discovered could very well have changed the war for us. We could have finally pushed the Rooks back into their mountains for good. Unfortunately, the promises that our discovery yielded could not come to fruition.

We were patrolling the eastern cliffs looking for any trace of the Rooks raiding party descending from the mountains. What we found instead was for more intriguing. A large metal door thrust up from the earth, composed of a material that had the color of bronze but far stronger. A new artificer in my unit, Gwen, was able to finally breach the door with the use of a little magic and tinkering. A great series of caves lead downward into the dark. We followed them as far as we could, constantly searching for any significance to the door.

What we found inside was breathtaking. Farther down the entrance corridor we found a small room covered in arcane sigils and machinery. Large bay windows gave us a view of a cavernous room full of mechanical and arcane secrets long forgotten, numerous apparatuses of spell and steel. The room seem to come alive when we entered, as if it felt our presence. I immediately tasked my men to study the runes and to explore the facility.

A breakthrough came through the day after. Gwen was able to decipher the arcane sigils, commanding them to activate, to mold and to create. I’m not sure if she knew exactly what she was doing. It looked like she was using the runes to shape something in front of her. It was an ethereal image that she was molding into specific pieces. When she seemed finished, the whole facility started to whirl and hum as arcane forces were fused into iron and steel. What the machine was creating, we had no idea. We watched in wonder as the Forge, as we had come to call it, continued on with its mysterious task.

What emerged was breathtaking. First a hand of iron, a torso of steel, and a helm infused with an arcane light. Slowly they were all linked together and finally a seal was burned onto the figure’s chest. The Forge had created the figure of a man, lean and strong. His features were made of burnished steel, his eyes glowing dimly with the blue dancing flames of arcane power. The Forge was not finished. It set flaming runes floating around his head, and started to make a rhythmic hum as it seemed to be speaking to its creation.

That’s when everything went wrong. So entranced by the wondrous operation of the Forge, we did not hear the Rook bastards creeping in behind us. The first to fall was my lieutenant and the battle was on us. We fought bravely, wielding great magic against the sheer ferocity of the Rooks. For every man that fell, we took two of theirs. But they were still coming, still pressing on.

Somewhere in the chaos something must have damaged the Forge. The facility itself began to shriek and bend back in on itself. Whether it was the age of the facility or the use of our arcane magic, I do not know. What I did know is that we needed to leave, and now. We barely escaped before the Forge collapsed in on itself, crumbling down the cliff face. Gwen had the brilliant idea to salvage what she could. As we made our way back through the caverns, back across the plains, Gwen could not stop studying one particular rune. What she had named the Heart of the Forge. What happened to the Warforged solider we saw the machine create, I cannot say.

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Be Calm. Endure. Find Peace.

Relic portrait

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Be Calm. Endure. Find Peace.

The first lessons I teach all of my students is this: To be in control is to be one with the ebb and flow of creation. Calm yourself in the energy of life, in the constant dance of the elements, in the strength of will. Keep your soul at peace, and you can endure the greatest of trials. Through each trial, you will know strength. You will know speed. You will know wisdom. But above all, endure and you will know peace.

It is a simple lesson. One that I teach to many beginning student, and one that I must regretfully reteach to many accomplished members of my order. Yes, we are privileged to be member to one of the oldest monasteries of the Centered Breath. Yes, we make ourselves conduits of the powerful Ki. Yes we hone our bodies to become the peak of physical perfection. But we do not do this for violence or personal glory. We do this to find harmony in ourselves. To find peace.

This lesson I must now teach to another. He came to us a battered fractured soul. He found our monastery in the dead of night, hammering on our gates for shelter. Of course we granted it to him, and of course he was welcome to stay. He spent the first week here saying little to anyone but himself. He simply ate at our table, slept in our beds, and toured the grounds.

It was on the eighth day that he even attempted to interact with another. Bluce was out sparring with the younger students in the yard, myself and a few other elders overlooking the duels. Bluce had been at it all morning, welcoming each new challenger with respect and sending them away with a valuable lesson learned. The younger students may have misinterpreted this lesson as “Bluce will hit you hard” but in the years to come they will reflect upon Bluce’s technique and his nimble use of Ki.

A match had just finished, a young student hobbling away, and Bluce looked around for his next opponent. It was near dusk and most of his brothers were busy finishing their daily tasks. One such soul approached him. “Relic” the Warforged muttered as he entered the circle. He said nothing else. He simply planted his feet in a determined stance, grabbed a practice sword, and pulled his shield up. Bluce would not dishonor our guest, and so he too assumed a fighting stance, simply saying “Bluce.”

They took their time. Sizing each other up, tracking each other’s movements. Then finally, Bluce struck. With a sudden stroke, he lashed out with his spirit and fist at the Warforged. Relic easily imposed his shield and swiped upward with his sword. Bluce quickly jumped over, the strength of his Ki propelling his body up and over the blade. The continued to trade blow for blow, parrying, dodging, blocking, deflecting. Myself and the other elders watched the Ki of both warriors radiate from each other, clashing and dancing with each other.

The sparring went well on into the night. I eventually sought out my bed and slept, satisfied that Relic had found some way to engage in his world again. When I awoke and walked out to the yard, I found both of them in the ring still. The sparring had ceased.

They were talking. Each eagerly sharing their soul and experiences with one other. Bluce told the Warforged about his life in the Monastery, his search for peace and perfection. Relic told Bluce what he could. That his origins were unclear, that he was made with a purpose with only a vague idea of what that purpose would be. He was confused and lost in the world, and could not help but feel that he must find his purpose and carry it out.

Day after day the cycle would continue. When Bluce finished his duties, they would spar. They would sleep. They would wake in the morning to talk and converse, to contemplate their world and themselves. Occasionally I would find myself including in these conversations of self discovery. I welcomed the chance to speak with Relic. On one such day he asked me a simple question.

“Master Shihan, I am a creature created for purpose. Most of my kind were created as soldiers, as tools for destruction. History tells of whole Warforged Legions used to conquer, subjugate, and destroy. But I know I am different. The one thing I remember from my Creation Forge is that I was made to protect. But I cannot help but feel that all I am is a tool of destruction. How can I protect when I am inherently a tool of destruction?”

I had been waiting for this question. For this one simple cry out from Relic’s soul. He had come here to find refuge. Instead he had found self reflection. He did not wish to destroy, or to unleash his fury on others. He wanted to protect, he wanted to ensure others knew Peace. I smiled at the Relic’s cold steel face, and very clearly told him…

“Be Calm. Endure. Find Peace.”

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Getting Your Hands Dirty

Relic portrait

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Withervine, why are we down in the sewers again? Whenever we work a job, we always end up in the city’s sewers.” Hilda’s boots sank deeper into the sludge, a wash of filth now covering her tunic. She had to hold her hand to her mouth to keep from gagging. The town of Lamora was large and its sewers well used.

The druid kept marching through Lamora’s tunnel unperturbed, easily traversing the muck filled corridor. “Because the sewers hold a wealth of information and a great way of accessing the jails below the town barracks. Just because something offends your nostrils doesn’t mean it isn’t useful.” He smiled to himself and continued on. “Besides, you’ll never know what you’ll find under a town like this.”

“All I’m interested in finding is a way out. Hurry up Withervine, we don’t have long to get to the barracks. We need to catch the Captain Harrin’s ‘activities’ red handed, you know the mission.”

A shaft of light from above passed over Withervine’s face, making his grin look feral. “Torturing his prisoners and raising them back as servants, all to satisfy his studies. Despicable. Let the dead die, I say, let them feed back into the earth. Life is a cycle after all, one that we should-“

“Quiet! Do you see that ahead? Something moved.” Hilda drew her bow and knocked an arrow. She couldn’t tolerate any interference with her mission. “Hold tight, we need to be cautious about this… Wither? Wither, where’d you go dammit?” She held her breath and tried to slink back into the shadows. The elf was always doing this to her. At the sign of danger he’d shift and scamper off. She found it best to wait for him to make the first move.

So she waited.

And waited.

All at once she heard the sound of steel scraping steel, a howl and a splash. In a panic Hilda ran ahead to see what happened. Turning the bend she saw a tall metallic figure locked together with a large alligator. The steel clad man had Withervine pinned against the wall, but Withervine had the figure’s arm firmly in his jaws. Hilda raised her bow and tried to line up a shot, but they would not separate long enough. Then she finally got a better look at the unknown assailant.

“Withervine, wait! He’s not our enemy! He’s definitely not one of the Captain’s men!” She had seen it, the rune burning on his chest. That was no sigil of the Lamora guardsmen, and every guard wore it. “Release him now, dammit!”

Wither slid back into his own skin. Politely disengaging his jaw from the stranger’s arm, he relaxed and surrendered. “My apologies. Can’t be too careful in the creeping wild down here. Should’ve known you weren’t one of them. You smell too… Metallic.”

The figure stepped back into the light streaming from above. What passed for a face smiled back at them. “Good, I was worrying I was starting to smell like the tunnels down here. Been down here too long. You can call me Relic.”

Hilda extended her hand. “Well, Relic, what brings you down here? Don’t see many men tromping through the sewers in the middle of the night let alone a Warforged like yourself.

“I intend to break into the jail, release the prisoners, and ensure Captain Harin troubles no soul again.” Hilda was stunned that he spoke so openly about an act that was out and out treason. Relic misinterpreted the shock on her face as confusion. “Well, I couldn’t assault the barracks by myself, and I knew that the sewers would be the most advantageous way in. Just seemed smarter to delve into the sewers then face an entire garrison…”

Withervine nodded, “A wise plan and one that we both share. We are also after the Captain, so to speak. Did someone hire you as well? I’d hate to be a double on a job.”

“Job? No, I simply can’t let this injustice stand. He holds women, children, and the defenseless in those cells. Their only crime being too weak to fend for themselves. Such a monster like the Captain cannot be allowed to live.” Hilda smiled at the Steel man in front of her. Withervine might be here to combat the unnatural violation of the greater cycle, and she might be here for gold, but this Warforged was here for reasons far more just.

Relic looked farther down the tunnel. “Well, if all three of us are after the same goal, we should be leaving shortly. Half the barracks is asleep and we need the element of surprise. Withervine, you seem capable enough. Keep an eye out ahead of us. Myself and the ranger will follow your lead. “ He nodded and started to march off through the sludge.

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One quiet night
Observatory

At the observatory one quiet night, the ground to shutter, making such a fright
I ran from my bed to see what’s the matter; my companions were making a chatter
As we talked about these going ons, a beast with talons came flying along.
We ran for the door but before we got far out came the security system hidden in a jar.
We were saved with great luck, but the machine fired at us and we had to duck.
With a mighty roar the beast did lunge as we dashed past the door, taking the plunge.
We thought we were safe at last but then we heard a mighty crash.
The creature was dead as well as machines the heroes had blown them to smithereens.
Before me stood a very odd bunch: A man of metal and one swirling with Ki.
A women of fire, maid of beauty and an Elf who just reveled in being creepy.
We thanked each one for all of their trouble but before they left we helped them with a puzzle.
And now it is time to go back to gazing, to see all wondrous stars so amazing.

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Session 2: Fire and Hellfire
In which a fire in Cheapside is put out, a sportsman is encountered, some shady characters get away, a passel of Imps are scared off, a true nature is revealed, and yet another mystery is discovered.

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“I’m all for making sure the city doesn’t burn down,” Relic said.

Gwen nodded, “And I would like to make sure those people in Cheapside are okay.”

“Then we will go to Cheapside.” Withervine shrugged. He liked the cheap parts of town; that’s where the decay was easiest to spot.

Down the tower stairs they went, one after the other. Bluce made a quick glance about the town square but didn’t see Sunder or Finneus. He closed his eyes. He was good at fighting in the darkness, but fighting the darkness itself…

It was not hard to find the fire once they arrived; they just went opposite the direction of all those who were running for their lives, worldly possessions in their arms. And once the fire was found its cause was just as simple to spot: fire elementals ran from building to building, cackling and crackling.

Bluce and Amatharn ran forward and began the melee. The monk had his doubts about the mysterious cloaked figure, but he was beginning to suspect that he knew the source of her power. When she leapt on top of a building with a single bound his suspicions were confirmed. He had better keep an eye on this one. Fighting the darkness, indeed.

Right now the more pressing engagement was fighting the all-too-light beings before them, dodging tongues of flame and trying to keep them from burning more of the city. Down the street some other figures dressed in bright yellow were carrying out a similar engagement with another band of elementals, but on this side only a single building burned before Withervine’s assumed elephant form made putting the fire out much easier.

When the battle was won the yellow-clad figures approached. Emton Quagar of the Cheapside Canaries thanked everyone for their help. “We’ve been chasin’ these buggers down this road for an hour but they keep popping up more. ’Twas only when you cut them off that we could finally pin them down.”

“When did they appear?” Amatharn asked.

“When the world moved. At first we thought it was just a stove or a kiln that had caught some rubble ablaze, but then we saw these things running amidst the flames.”

“A lot of things seem to have happened when the world moved.” Withervine muttered.

“Aye,” Emton agreed. “We’ve also heard tale of a landslide in the east that’s knocked down the city wall.”

“Emton!” a voice called, “Emton Quagar I should have known it twas you who’d best those blighters.” Kirk was running out of the Penny Ante toward the gaggle. “And have you been helpin’ Emton out? Free drinks! Free drinks for savin’ my bar!” Inside everyone knew the Canaries, and drinks and songs were in ready supply for Emton and all his friends.

A pair of shady looking characters in the corner did not join in the revelry. They were speaking in hushed tones and looking at something on their table. When Relic approached them they fled. Amatharn lost one on the streets, but Withervine followed one to a run-down old house in a slum. Not wanting to go in alone, he marked the place and returned to the group. Gwen and Relic looked at their table and found a schematic for something, but could not identify it.

Meanwhile, a paige had arrived with a message for Gwen. “From Jil, to the fiery lady in the Penny Ante.”

“Who?” Relic asked.

“A friend,” Gwen said, and read the note. “We should head to Elder Sexton’s house.”

“But what of these two from the corner?” Withervine said.

“I have a contact pointing me toward something.” Gwen said, “Those two are just men who might not like being eavesdropped on.”

“I have no quarrel with them, but what of the landslide?” Relic asked, “If people are in danger…”

Amatharn smiled, “We should tell Emton to go help them. Emton!” And when she had his attention she got him to agree. They set off toward the Elf Quarter.

Passing through the town square, Withervine stopped to look at the forest that had sprouted up there. “Yes, very green. Hiding trees. Feywild species, not natural. Shouldn’t be here at all. Odd. Very odd.” He snapped off a twig and pocketed it.

Past tall hedgerows, deep into the nicest parts of town, the group came to Sexton Manor, now a collapsed ruin with a fiery pit where the door should be. Poking out of the pit were two small horned heads, little imp eyes peering at the intruders. “Did you do it? Did you call us here?”

Amatharn put on her best mistress-of-the-night pose. “I did. And you shall obey me.” But Withervine didn’t smell magic in the air, and didn’t see any bands of magic wafting about. “Odd. No one summoned them. There’s no summoning magic here.” The imps growled. When Gwen tried to convince them to stand down, they attacked, with four invisible imps appearing behind the group and whipping their poisonous tails about. Amatharn, pinned in the middle of too many devils, turned herself into a cloud of bats and swept past them; any of the party who had doubted were now sure of her nature. Meanwhile, empty suits of armor marched out of the pit to protect the imps, but as soon as a few of the devils were slain, the rest went invisible and ran.

That’s when Relic saw the dark figure hiding in the trees. An old woman in a dark cloak, and a moment later he was beside her, sword drawn. She put her hands up and fell prone, “Wait! I’ve nothin’ t’do wi’ this darkness! T’is ’im wot did it, that man who lived there! ’sa dark place, this ’ouse!”

“The man who lives here,” Gwen said, “is dead. He could not have summoned these.”

Withervine coughed, “As I said: no one summoned these. There is no summon here; they came some other way.”

“An’ they lie there in death.” Ysra said, pointing, “Aren’t devils s’posed ta disappear when they die?” Everyone looked. The sight of dead devils was an odd thing.

“Perhaps they have nowhere to disappear to,” Gwen said.

“Maybe this place is now their home?” Withervine asked.

Ysra nodded, “‘Is a dark place, this place. Darker still now wi’ dead devils on the stoop. I’ve watched it and it’s full of malice. I’m not goin’ near it.”

“Then get yourself someplace safer,” Relic said, “And let us search.” Gwen ventured in and began looking around, quickly finding the false wall and the stairway down hidden behind it.

As soon as they were inside the staircase Bluce unsheathed his sword and pressed Amatharn against the wall, “Are you a servant of the Raven Queen?”

Withervine put a hand on the monk’s shoulder, “I can assure you that she is not.”

“She,” Amatharn said, eying the blood-stained sword, “does not much care for my kind.” The sword found its sheath again.

Gwen stepped forward, “I need you to tell me exactly who and what you are.”

“It’s relatively simple, really, and you know it already.” Amatharn said, " I’ve been dead 48 years, without being dead. I’m a vampire." Gwen nodded. She liked to have the facts laid plain before her. She continued on.

In the darkness there was a second study, filled with abyssal books, pentagrams, and a large iron chest. “Orthogonal lines,” Bluce pointed at the chest. “Like the tower.” He thought a moment, “And like Sexton’s robes.”

Amatharn’s face lit up, “And his family crest.”

Withervine nodded, “His robes match the uniforms of the dead guards in the tower. There is a connection there. But what is it?”

Amatharn was busy trying to burn the black book that lay open on the desk, pictures of pentagrams and demons illustrating every page. But it would not burn, so she pocketed it.

A loud crack drew everyone’s attention back to the chest, whose broken-off top was now in Relic’s hands as he looked inside at a book. “A History of Anton.” Relic said, “Might be useful.” A bookmark opened to a page detailing the history of the city gate, which long predated the city itself. The wall was built around it. Then a missing page, and then the story of two brothers founding the Lusty Lion. “What could be on the missing page? And what does the gate have to do with anything?”

“Perhaps,” Withervine said, “we should go and find out.”

New Questions

  • Who’s Jil?
  • Who were those shady people in the Penny Ante?
  • How did the Feywild forest come to be in the Town Square?
  • How did the imps come to be in Sexton Manor?
  • What is the connection between The Defiler and the Iron Tower?
  • What should Amatharn do with the summoning book?
  • What does Anton’s city gate have to do with anything?
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