Shadows of the Past

Reunited
Session 43: Year 977, On the 14th of Jularon

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It had been nearly eight months since the events of the Games of Thorne and the ensuing Battle of Silverwatch Fort, and the world had moved on. And so had the once members of the Falling Stars.

After a short stay within Silverwatch Fort, Janos left for the city of Stonewall, joining Meister Eynn’s business, Emberfell Excursions.

Heading back to Elazaraan Academy to hone his skills, Quinn eventually met up with Janos, assisting him and Eynn in the business.

Returning home to Liras Avanor to check on his family, Corvus eventually headed south in pursuit of a violent criminal organization called the Hangsmen gang.

Seeking answers, Wyverna found her way to the pirate city of Razza and tangled within the lives of the Cleaver and Scult Ralfsdatter, before returning to the Sra Lussian Military Academy.

Elsewhere, were not looking good for the conflict between Valanor and Issalin. The small conflicts in Meddes were now spreading to engagements on the other continents, and though there had been no official word of war, it seemed that both sides were gearing up and preparing for it. It was becoming somewhat unsafe to travel between the kingdoms, these days, it was said. And it appeared that many of the smaller kingdoms were starting to take sides. The one attempt to bring the sides together, Silverwatch Fort, was now gone, now a Forever Endeavor Trading post called Everport, its ambassadors and unity all abandoned, in the wake of the battle and Thorne’s death. War was looming now, much closer than it ever had before.

And it happened, Corvus, Wyverna, Quinn, and Janos all arrived in Liras Menevol shortly before an event organized by the kingdom of Valanor to celebrate Thorne Silvershot, held one year after the beginning of the games, on Jularon 14th. It was an unveiling of a statue honoring the man and his death – an official funeral – held in Liras Menevol, his town of birth and where he spent many of his adventuring years. You weren’t excited at the prospect of revisiting the days of Silverwatch and Thorne again, but it did seem like fate, somehow, to once again be caught in the shadow cast by the Silver Arrow.

Finding each other after a brawl with some members of the Hangsmen gang, Wyverna and Corvus met another patron of the Maidenhead tavern, a man named Ranty, who soon revealed himself to be none other than Prince Ranton, younger of the two Antorius brothers. Along with some other familiar faces from Silverwatch Fort, as well as Ranton’s older brother and heir to the throne, Aldar, Ranton gave a rousing speech in honor of Thorne Silvershot and the legacy left behind.

The coming week was to be a celebration of the Silver Arrow, complete with games, parades, and retellings of Thorne’s exploits. Corvus and Wyverna were briefly brought on stage for their participation in Thorne’s most recent endeavor; waiting in the crowd for their Emberfell Excursions contact, Quinn and Janos recognized their old friends, and after the event, reunited.

Now, together once again, the party was met by the mysterious manager of the Menevol branch of Emberfell Excursions, Camodian Frell, who bid them to follow him in Meister Eynn’s new endeavor.

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The Battle of Silverwatch (Part II)
Session 42: Year 976, On the 10th of Octovon

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Augos 10th:

There was a moment of silence. Vara and the other house leads stood poised, ready, as an invisible form pushed through the smoke. As clouds passed overhead, a glimpse of the creature’s shape became visible – a hundred feet tall, at least, covered in horns. A glint of sunlight reflected from rows of teeth, large as a man.

An inhuman, echoing voice pierced the air in abyssal:

“SUCH FOLLY. YOUR ALLIES ARE FEW. YOUR HOPES ARE NONE. THERE IS ONLY GAL’MALOK, AND I HUNGER FOR VENGEANCE.”

Vara’s eyes began to glow a bright green, and she hovered slightly over the ground, brandishing her daggers.

“Well then, filth,” she said. “Come and take it.”

The creature roared, and two nearby buildings exploded in splinters of wood, throwing guards and others hundreds of feet across the Fort. The retreating demons stopped, turning back, empowered by Gal’malok’s presence.

“Now!,” a loud, unfamiliar man screamed, and several seemingly empty guard towers sprang to life. Hidden compartments in the top fell away, revealing elaborate elven-made, giant crossbows. Behind each was a pair of Ghosts. Without pause, the crossbows fired, leaving a shadowy trail of magical energy as they soared, striking into the invisible form of Gal’malok.

There was a strange hum, and suddenly the giant demon’s form became visible as the dark energy was absorbed by the demon’s skin, turning it a dark, scaly grey. The creature was enormous, bulging, glowing with energy lighting its insides. It was covered in scars and old, ancient injuries. Many old arrows and spears still stuck out from its back and shoulders.

Gal’malok lurched forward, scraping at its own skin, heaving, injured, looking to the sun for help.

“YES,” it said, looking around, searching. “ALWAYS THE CLEVER BOY. WHERE ARE YOU HIDING?”

The crossbows continued to fire, and Gal’malok screamed in pain, slashing at the nearest tower, and smashing it to pieces. Then, it showered the other towers with a green poison breath, killing the ghosts who occupied them.

“ENOUGH OF YOUR GAMES,” it shouted to no one in particular. “NOW I SHALL PLAY MY OWN. I SHALL SLAUGHTER.”

And with a roar, Gal’malok strode to Silverwatch House, roaring in anger as it began its attack.

The remaining Silverwatch fighters engaged Gal’malok at Silverwatch House, shooting ballista rounds, waves of arrows, and trying to hold the beast back as Vara and the other house leads unleashed a torrent of attacks and magical spells to hold it back.

As the others made their way into the foray, the Stars realized that this was a fight that not even the house leads could win – not on their own. The Stars made their way back into the fort, running into several small groups of demons returning to the battle, emboldened by their leader.

Corvus shouted to the others to get to the towers, and charged the demons to slow them down. Without wasting any time, Janos rushed across the rubble toward the furthest tower. Quinn ascended the closest tower, finding a large ballista, powered by some sort of magical ammunition, with 3 large runic-covered bolts nearby.

Quinn quickly analyzed the bolt, activating its magical potential, and did his best to load it into the ballista, firing a strong shadowy bolt at Gal’malok. The bolt struck the demon’s midsection, and it howled in pain, its skin darkening, absorbing the shadowy energy.

Seeing the damage done, Janos climbed the other tower, finding an injured ghost at the top. The ghost rose to his feet, helping Janos load and fire the ballista, striking another hit against the demon.

Below, Wyverna drew the attention of a group of attacking demons, leading them within range of a few ghosts, who tried to assist the dragoon with a barrage of arrows. Nearby, Corvus, having forced the demons away from the tower, climbed up to help steady the ballista as Quinn fired another bolt, sparing what seconds he could to strike down an enormous demon which had attempted to ascend the tower after him.

Gal’malok turned, spraying another mist of green acid at the Stars and ghosts, who took shelter when possible, fighting through the pain and attack to continue their ranged assault. On the ground, Vara and the other house leads did their best to dodge the demon’s attacks, climbing atop the massive creature to strike blows upon its head and upper body, but its armor was seemingly invincible to mortal strikes, and one by one, the heroes of Silverwatch were thrown aside.

As Quinn prepared to launch their last bolt, the large demon found purchase upon the top of the their tower, cornering them. Trying to buy Quinn time, Corvus leaped on the demon, sending them both crashing to the ground below, just as Quinn’s ballista fired.

Janos and Wyverna saw to another successful bolt fired, and earned Gal’malok’s attention, for the last time. The giant demon took a single large stride, destroying both towers, sending a hail of stone, wood, along with the Stars and ghosts, to the ground below. An avalanche of debris fell upon them as they hit the dirt, exhausted, struggling to maintain consciousness.

As the Stars slowly crawled out of the rubble, Gal’malok roared with fury and strode to Silverwatch House, before pausing abruptly. Crouched atop the remaining roof of Silverwatch House was Saze, who stood to face the demon.

“Where is he, she-elf?”, Gal’malok rasped. “Where is Thorne?”

Heren, covered in blood, rose to his feet defiantly.

“I’m right here, filth,” he said. “Come and get me.”

Gal’malok laughed, taking a step to the stage, grabbing Heren in one of its claws lifting him off the ground like a doll.

“We had a bargain, she-elf,” Gal’malok said to Saze. “You were to deliver the clever boy.”

Suddenly, a murmur spread through the crowd, and above the Stars could see a blanket of incoming fired arrows, which struck the remaining smaller demons with uncanny precision. Then, emerging from the smoke and flames from deep in the fort, a large creature strode forward, slowly. It was the Crone, a monstrous form of wood and foliage and vines, flanked on each side by no fewer than fifty ghosts, who spread out in groups and began emptying satchels, placing objects all over the fort grounds.

Gal’malok held Heren in front of him as a shield, starting to crush him.

“Deliver him to me, creature,” it said. “Or I shall kill them all, beginning with the false boy.”

“Very well,” said a loud, booming, masculine voice, and the Crone fell apart in pieces, revealing a giant, multi-arrowed, glowing arbalester underneath, which fired immediately at Gal’malok, wrapping around the midsection of the giant demon and pinning its arms to its sides, holding a large, blazing hot ring in place over its chest, which hissed as it seared into the demon’s skin. The demon screamed in pain, dropping Heren as it struggled to break free.

A tall, thin man emerged from the rest of the Crone disguise. Underneath was a pale, weathered, scarred ranger with silver hair and long beard, adorned in leather and animal skins. He reached behind the arbalester, producing an enormous, elaborately decorated golden longbow, slinging it over his back as he looked up the sky, which began to darken quickly as clouds swirled above.

“Thorne,” Manton muttered to himself.

The ghosts froze, looking at Thorne, then each other, apparently confused.

“To your posts!” he shouted to the ghosts. “You’ve all sworn a blood oath, fulfill it now or forever be forgotten by your kind.”

The ghosts immediately returned to work, emptying sacks and arranging stones in shapes all over the fort grounds. Thorne strode toward Gal’malok, and a dozen demons charged forward, each struck in the head by an arrow by Thorne, who loosed multiple arrows at once without looking or stopping.

“I’ll take it from here,” he said to those at Silverwatch House as he advanced. “Need to make this quick.”

Gal’malok strained against the ties, addressing the ranger.

“Always the clever boy,” it said. “But no matter. I have grown powerful, too powerful for your games. The wrathblood flows through me in excess, and it answers my call!”

With a scream, Gal’malok ripped the bonds, freeing itself dropping the strange stone disc to the ground. On its chest, strange runic symbols were visible, burned into the creature’s skin. Janos and Quinn exchanged a glance – they were common teleportation runes, but written mirrored.

As Thorne approached, Gal’malok spewed a shower of green acid. Thorne lifted his bow and a magical shield extended around it, absorbing all of the liquid, which was drawn into an arrow and shot back at the demon’s feet. The acid erupted, burning through the ground and creating a large pit, which Gal’malok fell into.

“Enough, ranger!”, Gal’malok hissed. “Return it! I have not followed you to the ends of the world, waited a lifetime, just to—.”

“Shut your mouth, trash,” replied Thorne, in abyssal.

Thorne motioned to a pair of ready ghosts nearby, who launched several arrows at the pit, covering the edges in a shiny, slimy substance. Gal’malok tried to climb out, struggling and slipping as he failed to gain purchase on the now-slimy ground.

Thorne reached into his tunic, removing a black stone which was covered with bright green pulsing runes, then tossed it casually towards the pit.

“No!,” Vara screamed in protest, as Gal’malok desperately reached for the stone, swallowing it. The demon began to laugh maniacally.

“You fools,” Gal’malok hissed. “You should have stayed hidden. Now I shall end you all, beginning with—”

In a motion almost too fast to see, Thorne pulled and loosed an arrow, which struck Gal’malok in the perfect center of the runic ring on his chest. The arrow began to glow blue, and the runes lit up in response, pulsing with magical energy. Similar bluish glows appeared within the stone circles placed all over the fort grounds – teleportation rings, Janos and Quinn realized.

“Pitiful,” Gal’malok sneered, breaking off the arrow and tossing it aside. “Nothing can penetrate my armor.”

“Now!,” Thorne shouted, ignoring the demon.

All over the fort grounds, groups of ghosts pulled out bags labeled with “Forever Endeavor Mega-Magic Arcane Explosive”, dumping handfuls of small metallic balls into the portals at their feet. The Stars could hear a handful of muffled explosions within Gal’malok, each bomb lighting up its chest cavity as it went off. After a few seconds, the explosions stopped, and Gal’malok collapsed into the pit, blood pouring from the demon’s mouth and eyes. The pit quickly began to fill with the demon’s blood, black and green and glowing.

Without hesitation, Saze dropped from the roof of Silverwatch House and strode through the exhausted survivors, removing the abyssal key from a satchel and setting it down beside the pit and uttering some strange incantations.

The other house leads tightened the grip on their weapons, approaching her, but Thorne waved them off as he approached the dark elf.

Above, the sky continued to darken, the clouds swirling violently.

“He’s coming,” Thorne said to Saze, motioning to the sky above.

Vara wiped blood from her face, limping over to the Silver Arrow.

“Who’s coming?,” she coughed. “And what is this? You had the wrathstone, all along? We could have killed it at any—.”

Swiftly and without warning, Saze struck Vara from behind, sending her sprawling on the dirt, unconscious.

“Get her out of sight,” Thorne said to a trio of nearby ghosts, who began to drag Vara away from the battlefield.

Saze returned to the abyssal key.

“She’ll never forgive you for this,” she said.

Thorne sighed.

“No,” he replied. “But maybe one day she’ll understand.”

Thorne turned to face his army of ghosts.

“Get in position,” he said. “Phase three.”

The ghosts immediately began to move, taking strategically high positions all over the Fort, within view of Thorne, bows drawn and at the ready.

The sky above had turned nearly pitch black now, dark as night. Most of the other house leads, Rynn, Zaelorius, Manton, Somdutto, Heren, and Pelore, joined Thorne and Saze. Thorne gave Heren a hearty clap on the back.

“Well done, boy,” he said. “Well done indeed.”

The others were solemn, quiet.

“What the hell is this?,” Manton asked, stone-faced, gesturing around.

Thorne went deadly serious, cleared his throat, and took a step atop a nearby pile of stones, addressing the house leads and the survivors of the battle. The Stars, leaning on each other, limped their way to the rest of the crowd.

“I know you’ve been through a lot,” Thorne began, looking around. “In a few minutes, you shall be free of this, be free of me, forever, but now…”

Suddenly, an icy wind blew through Silverwatch Fort, now shrouded in darkness. The wind seemed to carry whispers upon it, hissing.

“I’m sorry for what is about to happen,” Thorne continued. “There was simply no other way.”

He reached inside his tunic, removing a strange silver medallion in the shape of a bird, placing it around his neck.

“I’m sorry,” Thorne said, barely audible. “I’m so sorry.”

Nearby, the abyssal key hummed loudly, having devoured nearly all of Gal’malok’s blood. A pair of ghosts ran to Thorne’s side, dropping a small stone ring on the ground, which began to light up with runes as the portal within activated – there were dozens of them, all over the Fort grounds, all glowing.

Thorne nodded at them, then turned to Saze.

“Is it enough?,” he asked.

“It might be,” she replied.

The wind suddenly picked up, chilling the bones of everyone within Silverwatch.

“Well, it’ll have to do,” Thorne replied.

“Thooorne,” it seemed to hiss. It was now dark as night, above.

The Stars all felt themselves freeze, their eyes wide with fear, a sense of endless dread, crushing phobia. They dropped to their knees, trying to fight the feeling, but nearly unable to move. Most of the others in Silverwatch fell in similar fashion. The house leads seemed frightened as well; Somdutto dropped to a knee as the others looked around, wide-eyed, terrified.

“No,” Manton said, his voice shaking. “No, oh gods, Thorne, what have you done?”

Then, a shadow, black as an abyss, appeared, engulfing Thorne. The clangs of metal, and grunts of pain were the only sounds to escape the dark mass.

Suddenly Thorne disappeared, dropping into the portal and emerging from another, some fifty feet away, hailing dozens of glowing arrows at the cloud. The Stars could see that Thorne was already covered in blood and cuts, his clothes shredded, revealing armored plates of metal with glowing runes beneath.

“Get down!,” Manton shouted. “Everyone get down!”

The ghosts began to fire arrows at the cloud, which sped toward Thorne with lightning speed. Dozens of daggers flew out from the cloud, each one striking a ghost in the neck, cutting their throats as they dropped to the ground, lifeless, their bows clattering to the ground.

The shadow vanished, then reappeared around Thorne, who howled in pain, and his bow was knocked away. The ranger disappeared once more into a portal and appearing hundreds of feet away. His face was badly slashed, and his left arm hung mostly limp at his side. His clothes were ragged, now, nearly in tatters, and most of the runic armor had been cut away. Thick streams of blood ran down his chest and legs.

Thorne whistled, and Razza appeared from behind Silverwatch House, diving at the shadow.

“Saze!”, Thorne screamed, furious. “For fuck’s sake, Saze!”

The tiger hawk and shadow collided, and there was a screech as the bird was sent tumbling into the dirt, a trail of bloody feathers floating behind it. The shadow rushed towards Thorne with lightning speed. The Silver Arrow backed up, slowly, looking for an escape he knew wasn’t there.

With the shadow mere feet away, the abyssal key exploded in light, creating a large dome of pure white at its center, pushing the black and darkness away to its edges. The overpowering dread and fear instantly left the Stars, and the icy wind vanished.

Where the shadow had been now stood a man, thin, masked, covered head to toe in black leather armor and a flowing, hooded cloak, that seemed to move as if alive. In his hands were a pair of ornate curled daggers, dripping blood.

The man looked around, confused, for only a moment, but it was enough for Thorne to act. The silver arrow produced a length of Forever Endeavor’s magical chains, hurling them at the man, who was forced to his knees as the chains bound his arms and legs behind his back, leaving him entirely immobile.

Thorne relaxed and spat blood, before turning to the man and holding up the bird medallion.

“Recognize this?,” Thorne asked.

Thorne tore a piece of his cloak and tied it around his bloody left arm. The kneeled man raised his head, and spoke in an eerie, raspy, echoing voice that sent shivers down the Stars’ spines.

“So,” the man said, amused. “A trap, after all. How elaborate. The demon was a nice touch. And here I thought you had forgotten about me.”

Thorne grunted, shedding the rest of the runic armor.

“The Silver Arrow never forgets,” Thorne replied.

A ghost approached Thorne, cautiously, handing him his bow. Saze walked briskly to Thorne’s side.

“Kill him,” she said. “Kill him now.”

“Not yet,” Thorne replied.

The other house leads joined Saze and Thorne, their weapons drawn.

“By gods, what are you waiting for?,” Manton asked, exasperated. He lifted his axe and took a step forward. “Fine,” he continued. “I’ll do it myself.”

In a split second, Thorne had an arrow notched in his bow, aimed at Manton’s neck.

“Get BACK!,” he shouted at Manton, sweeping his bow toward the other house leads. “ALL of you, get back!”

“What are you doing?!,” Saze screamed, furious. “We waited a decade for this – we won’t get another chance. Kill him!”

“Yes,” the man said, sounding bored. “Get it over with.”

Thorne turned to him.

“Oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t you?,” Thorne snapped. “No, I know better. I know it all, now – who you are, WHAT you are. I know everything Relmand knew.”

“Ha,” the man scoffed. “Then you know nothing.”

“Where are they?,” Thorne asked.

“Where ARE they?,” the man replied. “Then you know even less than Relmand.”

“I know this,” Thorne said, producing a strange dagger, its blade of purple, glowing glass, wispy shadows swirling around it. “Now, answer me – where are they?”

The man sighed, looking around at the carnage left by the battle.

“An abyssal key AND a soul reaper,” the man mused. “There is so much blood on your hands. The once gallant Silver Arrow, we’re not so different after all.”

“I’m nothing like you, murderer,” Thorne said through clenched teeth. “You left me no choice. For years! Decades! There was no other way – I had to see it through.”

“Then,” the man said, looking up, now serious, “you finally understand what it takes.”

Thorne stiffened up, pointing the dagger menacingly.

“Tell me where they are,” Thorne said, “or I’ll end you. For good, this time.”

“Do it then,” the man replied. “Add my body to the pile at your feet. Thousands by now, I believe.”

Around them, the white dome flickered slightly, then dimmed, as the humming of the abyssal key grew slightly quieter.

“And yet,” the man continued. “Still not enough.”

Saze and the others closed in, starting to surround Thorne and the man.

“Do it,” Manton ordered Thorne, gesturing to the failing magic around them. “Do it now.”

“This is it,” Saze rasped. “We won’t catch him again.”

“She’s right,” Zaelorious added. “Do it now, or we will.”

Thorne turned, brandishing the glowing dagger, spinning in a circle.

“No,” he said, desperately. “He knows where they are, don’t you see? He knows—”

The hum of the orb dropped out for a split second, and the immense fear once again flashed through the crowd, like a bolt of lightning. Manton cringed, holding his head, while Somdutto and the others dropped to a knee.

“Not yet,” Thorne said, his voice hoarse, almost gone. “No, not yet.”

Saze sprinted toward the abyssal key, shouting to the nearby ghosts to grab every body near the pit and toss it into the remaining blood. The white orb brightened once again, for a moment, then began to visibly dull – within moments it would be gone completely.

“Now!” Manton screamed, pushing past Thorne and swinging his axe at the kneeled man.

The man deftly backflipped from the ground and out of the way, still chained, while wisps of shadow began to slowly surround him. Rynn leapt into the air, thrusting with his spear, and the man rolled out of the way, standing up as he kicked the leg chains off.

A burst of flame exploded near him as Zaelorious shouted an incantation, and the others leapt into action. The man easily dodged the oncoming attacks, kicking Somdutto to the ground as he flipped over Rynn, knocking him into Manton’s oncoming charge.

Pelore unleashed a flurry of arrows, and the man spun, deflecting them back, striking Zaelorious in the chest. He fell to the ground, coughing blood.

“Not yet,” Thorne muttered. “No, not yet – there’s still time.”

Manton charged again, and the man rolled through his legs and over the back of Rynn and Somdutto, who fell to the ground, bound by the magical chains. The man, now free, spun, throwing a fan of silver daggers in Thorne’s direction.

Heren pushed Thorne, taking a dagger in the neck and dropping to the ground, as an injured Pelore crawled over in an attempt to stop the bleeding.

“Saze!,” Thorne cried.

“It’s not enough!,” she shouted back. “Kill him, kill him now!”

The dome flickered out completely for a moment, during which the man disappeared and the icy terror returned. When the light came back, Manton was down, disarmed, and bleeding, with the man standing over him.

Now, only Thorne and the man remained.

“Damn you,” Thorne said through clenched teeth. “Damn you!”

Thorne pulled out his bow, notched a few arrows, and loosed them, with inhuman speed, toward the man. With the arrows a mere instant away from the man, the abyssal key suddenly went quiet, and the dome disappeared completely. The arrows lodged into the wooden wall of a building – the man had vanished once again, leaving only a wisp of shadows behind.

The air turned icy cold once again, and every onlooker, survivor, and ghost fell to the ground. Even Saze was knelt over, holding her head in her hands, shaking.

Suddenly, Thorne coughed blood, as the point of a dagger emerged from his tunic, above his heart. The man materialized behind him out of dark wisps, holding the blade.

“I’m sorry, old friend,” the man said, solemnly. “But you’ve seen the way, and the Silver Arrow never forgets.”

The man let go, and Thorne’s lifeless body fell to the ground with a thud. He looked over the body for a moment, contemplating, then reached down and picked up Thorne’s glowing purple blade, snapping it in half. The blade and its handle turned to dust, blowing away in the wind.

Without warning, two glowing halberds pierced the man’s midsection from behind. Saze screamed as she crossed her weapons, ripping the man in half. The man coughed and gurgled as his upper torso hit the ground, trying to grab the dirt with his hands and pull himself away.

Saze took a step forward and impaled the man into the ground. She spoke some ancient elven tongue, rasping, and her halberds glowed with a bright blue fire, then burst, disintegrating the man’s body, leaving nothing but a charred outline in the dirt.

The clouds immediately parted and the sun appeared, as the icy cold darkness and terror quickly dissipated. The other heroes regained their footing, running to their injured friends. Zaelorious was bleeding but alive, as were the others, though most were seriously wounded. Pelore wailed, holding Heren’s lifeless body in his lap.

The Stars, along with the survivors, ghosts, and other team members of Silverwatch, slowly gathered around the heroes and Thorne, taking in the scene.

Vara, now conscious, broke free of the ghosts restraining her, and rushed to the others, who now surrounded Thorne’s corpse. Saze used her foot to flip his body unceremoniously, grabbing the bird medallion from his neck and jerking it, snapping the cord as she looked it over. She then reached down and wiped the blood from her halberd’s on Thorne’s cloak, then casually sheathed her weapons and took off toward the docks.

“And where do you think you’re going?,” Vara, demanded, pointing threateningly at her.

Without stopping, Saze hung the bird medallion on Vara’s hand and brushed past her.

The Rook is dead,” Saze said, calmly. “I am free of you. If any of you enter the Darktide, or dare call upon me again, your life is forfeit.”

She continued on. No one followed her. Vara stood there, speechless, staring at the medallion.

The ghosts all removed their masks; each one was an elf. The Stars recognized most of them as former members of Silverwatch teams, who had disappeared, been disqualified, or been said to have left the games.

The remaining Forever Endeavor administration came out, quiet, for once, looking over the carnage with wide-eyed terror. There were hundreds of bodies littering the grounds. Few buildings were left standing amid the destruction.

Vara and the other house leads stood over Thorne, as Pelore covered his brother’s body. The ghosts joined them and the other teams, seeing to injuries and looking through the rubble and piles of bodies for survivors. A warm ocean breeze blew over as the midday sun beat down.

The battle of Silverwatch Fort was over.

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The Battle of Silverwatch
Session 41: Year 976, On the 9th-10th of Octovon

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Octovon 9th:

As Quinn spent the night in a cell being interrogated by Nimmonin and his Forever Endeavor cronies, Wyverna, Janos, and Corvus managed to escape into Farhoon Forest with minor injuries and return to the guard post.

Octovon 10th:

As the awards ceremony took place, an enormous army, thousands of demons, attacked Silverwatch Fort, quickly overpowering the guards and slaughtering anyone in sight. During the commotion, Quinn managed to escape from his cell in the FETC headquarters, and ran into Wyverna, Janos, and Corvus, who had followed the invasion force from Farhoon Forest. As yet, Gal’malok himself hadn’t made an appearance.

“I just want it on the record,” Janos said, gesturing at the mass of attacking demons. “I had nothing to do with this.”

“Now what?,” Quinn asked, looking around.

“We leave,” Wyverna said. “Through the forest. To the Boneyard or the coast. There’s nothing we can do here – not without…”

Her voice trailed off as a dozen more shapes emerged from the smoke. It was at least twenty people, members from Silverwatch teams, most of which had been imprisoned with you in the dungeon. They were covered in ash and blood.

“…an army,” she continued.

“They’re slaughtering us,” one of the fighters said. “And the spectators. Everyone.”

“We’ve got to stop it,” said another, pleading to Wyverna.

The group lined up, waiting for a response.

“We’re ready,” said a wizard, gesturing to Quinn. “What’s the plan?”

Wyverna sunk her spear into the dirt, then turned to face the other Stars. Janos shrugged, rolling up his sleeves. Corvus twirled his sword and clanged it against his shield. Wyverna looked to Quinn. Her eyes were cold, determined. The decision had already been made.

Quinn sighed and stood up, brushing the dirt from his tabard and slinging his gear into place. He gave her a small, tired nod.

“So,” a man in front asked. “What do we do?”

Wyverna turned to face the teams, pulling her spear from the ground.

“Something,” she said.

She shot Corvus a look. He smirked and gave an approving nod.

“We do something,” Wyverna said. “We fight.”

The Stars took command of the other team members, separating them into groups to create battle formations. Janos took the quickest ones, to strike out from cover. Quinn gathered those with magical users to combine their spells and attack from a distance. Corvus took charge of the armored fighters, creating a wall of formidable fights to protect the others. Wyverna assembled a line of pikemen for support, and took a command position between the other formations to more effectively give orders. Those with bows and arrows took position behind the others, waiting to fire on command.

Leading their makeshift army, the Stars moved forward into Silverwatch Fort, climbing through the collapsed buildings and fighting their way through fire, smoke, and a seemingly endless force of demons of all shapes and sizes. Through the haze, Janos could just make out Silverwatch House in the distance of screams and clanging swords, where the majority of the battle seemed to be taking place.

Cutting down dozens of demons along the way, the Stars came across what remained of the Sleeping Dragon. The building had been nearly torn in half from artillery rounds, but still, what remained of the walls sheltered a handful of innocent spectators who had been caught in the middle of the fight. The Stars took a protective position around the bystanders, trying to keep them safe within their ranks as they marched onward through the battlegrounds.

Finally, the group reached Silverwatch House, and saw the full chaos that had been brought down upon the Fort. Outside the burning house were Vara, Manton, Heren, Pelore, and many of the other house leads, along with some of the team members present at the award ceremony, Tavus, Raemus, Cecili, Krodor, and others, who struck out at the attackers when possible.

Surrounding them were endless hordes of demons, hundreds of monsters threw themselves at Vara and the other fighters, climbing over mountains of bodies to reach their quarry. At the very center of the battle was an enormous demon, nearly 50 ft. tall, wielding an enormous broadsword. Vara’s eyes glowed green and she seemed to float in the air as she dodged the attacks, screaming orders to the others as she fought, flanked by a dozen other green-eyed warriors dressed in spectator garb.

Saze was nowhere in sight, but the Stars noticed a handful of the Crone’s ghosts on rooftops, hiding out of sight, waiting for something.

As the Stars looked for an opportunity to join the fight, a handful of screams drew their attention. Several dozen spectators, those who had made a run for the docks, had been ambushed by another group of demons, and were being slaughtered. Manton yelled to the Stars as he tried to fight his way toward them, pleading with Corvus and Wyverna to protect the innocents and lead them to the docks, to the safety of the ships.

The Stars directed their forces to the northwest, intercepting the demons and holding them back while they saved those they could. Spectators were being struck down with joy by the demons, though an act of bravery from Corvus’s soldiers broke through the attacking line, sacrificing themselves to buy the innocents enough time to escape.

During the fight, another enormous horned demon appeared from a fiery crash, nearly 30 ft. tall, bearing down on the Stars and their small force. Suddenly, Manton appeared, sprinting away from Silverwatch House, and engaged the demon, ordering the Stars to take out the smaller demonic forces nearby. The Stars led their army through and around the fiery attacks of the massive demon as they dispatched the remaining forces, then led the survivors to the ships while Manton returned to Silverwatch House.

Once the innocents were safe, the Stars returned to the house, and their army spread out, joining the fight. Most of the invading forces seemed to have been quelled. The grounds were littered with the bodies of guards, teams, demons, and innocents, piled high within the debris of the Silverwatch buildings. As the others watched, Vara dealt a finishing blow to the giant demon, ripping a hole in its throat and sending it crashing to the ground.

There was a moment of silence, and as everyone caught their breath, something new arrived.

Crushing buildings below, an invisible force strode quickly through Silverwatch Fort. A booming, gravelly voice began to laugh as the giant footsteps shook the ground.

Gal’malok had arrived.

“Here it comes,” Vara said, wiping black blood from her face.

Manton spat at the ground, lifting his axe.

“I suppose so,” he said. “Too late to make a bargain?”

Vara smirked.

“I already made mine,” she said.

“Well then,” Manton replied. “Let’s get it over with.”

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The Coming Storm
Session 40: Year 976, On the 9th of Octovon

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Octovon 9th:

Tossing Corvus a shield from one of the FETC guards, Tavus drew his rapiers and advanced.

Nearby, Lucille stirred in her cage.

As the fight began, Wyverna pulled the unconscious guards out of the way, Janos watched from a distance, and Quinn and the Rolling Thunder stood back to give some room. Tavus was fast – too fast, it seemed – darting in and out with cruel precision, thrusting and slashing at Corvus, dancing around him as he tried to maneuver him into a corner.

Corvus fought back, slamming Tavus with his shield and slashing with his axe as he tried to spot a weakness in his opponent’s form. Tavus was a force, the Stars realized, and Quinn, Wyverna, and Janos exchanged worried glances. Corvus refused to back down, however, keeping his feet as he dodged attack after attack, looking for a chance, waiting for Tavus to make a mistake.

But so far, no luck.

The other Rolling Thunder members looked on smugly. Things were looking dire. Corvus began to lag, stumbling from the flurry of attacks, and it seemed that defeat was inevitable. But the Stars weren’t willing to give up, not with so much at stake.

Capitalizing on a strong hit from Corvus that knocked Tavus to the ground, Wyverna suddenly leapt into action, striking Bordstrom in the back and buying Corvus and the Stars a few precious seconds to make their escape. As the rest of the Rolling Thunder cried foul and drew their weapons, Quinn wasted no time, throwing a bottle of alchemist’s fire into the back of Lucille’s cage. The armored creature panicked and tried to escape, slamming against the bars and breaking free.

All hell broke loose.

Lucille began to charge around the vault, demolishing anything in her way – crates, merchandise, and, fortunately for the Stars, the Rolling Thunder. She was seemingly indestructible. Wood splintered as everyone scrambled to get out of the way of the trampling creature, while the Stars fought through the Thunder toward the rear exit.

The noise drew guards, both from upstairs and the rear storeroom, and, still wearing the FETC uniforms, the Stars took advantage of the chaos to slip by the confused guards, declaring that Tavus had let Lucille loose. Once inside, the Stars quickly made their way to the secret door, dropping into the tunnels below Silverwatch Fort.

Up ahead, they could hear voices and see a light – guards were coming down the narrow tunnel from Silverwatch House! Quickly consulting the map, the Stars ducked into another tunnel leading to the Arkane Spires, hoping to escape out the front door. They pushed open a trap door and Janos looked over the piles of crates and leftover game props, realizing that he wasn’t alone. A bright blue light revealed a handful of the Crone’s ghosts, surrounding none other than Saze of the Darktide. In her arms, she held a small wooden box, blue light escaping from the lid.

Saze’s ears perked, and Janos saw the ghosts begin to fan out. He dropped back into the tunnel and reported, and the Stars began to turn around, but heard a commotion in the tunnel ahead – the FETC guards, now looking for them specifically. They quickly weighed their options, choosing to take their chances above where they could look for a chance to escape in an open area.

As they left the tunnel, Saze warned them to stay out of the Crone’s business, and ordered the ghosts to make sure they don’t follow her, before leaving through the front door of the spires.

The Stars tried to act quickly, spreading out and engaging the ghosts, who gave several warnings to stand down, saying they couldn’t allow them to follow. Corvus and Wyverna charged to the front lines, trying to force the ghosts to retreat, while Janos and Quinn spread out, attacking from afar.

Before long, a handful of FETC guards emerged from the trap door, looked over the ongoing brawl, then commanded everyone to surrender. The other ghosts called out to one near the door to escape and go on without them. That ghost, revealing their magical prowess, froze their pursuers and created an enormous ice wall to stop the others, before escaping.

The Stars fought desperately to elude the guards and make their escape. Quinn activated some of the game equipment to unleash a fiery beam which melted the icy wall enough for Janos to dodge through, as Wyverna and Corvus leapt over from an upper platform. Guards surrounded the ghosts, who immediately surrendered, and Quinn, who was soon overtaken.

Wyverna slammed against the doors with all her might, realizing they had been frozen shut. Managing to get them open just in time, she, Corvus, and Janos, waited as long as they could for Quinn. Seeing that he had been captured and that they were likely next, they ran out into Silverwatch Fort.

Ahead of them were nearly twenty FETC guards, armed with spears, pointing at the Stars as they rushed toward them.

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Taking Inventory
Session 39: Year 976, On the 4th - 9th of Octovon

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Octovon 4th:

After a few days of slow travel (due to Dinnigo’s missing leg), the Stars and remaining Golden Lions arrived at the Pens. They thanked Janos and the Stars (though Hobbs did so reluctantly), and left to rest before heading home and away from Meddes.

Making their way to Vara’s tent, the party overheard that Vorle, Perrath, Smed, and Barl had already been detained by the Forever Endeavor Trading Co., likely fined and sent home.

Inside, Vara and Heren stood over a desk signing the bottoms of stacks and stacks of official looking documents bearing the FETC seal. The Stars filled Vara in on the happenings at the old Silverwatch Fort, Jaxx’s involvement, and that Saze was looking to open a portal not only to the shadow realm, but to the plane of darkness beyond it.

Vara said that was what they had feared, but now they knew for sure. Answering what questions she could, she explained that they had tried to trap Gal’malok before, but that the first Silverwatch Fort was barely staffed, poorly defended, and that things had failed before they had a chance to begin. Thus, the need for FETC’s funding and support in the games.

She explained that the documents they were signing would give them some much needed resources from FETC, in exchange for signing away Thorne’s name, merchandising rights, and ownership of the mythical (she said) Silver Stash, a secret, legendary vault said to hold all of Thorne’s greatest treasures.

This new FETC support came with many limits and stipulations, and would last only until the evening of Octovon 10th, the day of the final awards ceremony. After that, Vara, Thorne, the teams, and all non-FETC personnel were to evacuate the fort immediately, as it was now the sole property of FETC.

Now, Vara said, it was up to herself and the other house leads, the heroes of old, to find Saze and stop her and Gal’malok both. The Stars wanted to stay and help, but Vara told them that this fight, these foes, were far out of their league, and that they had done enough.

She thanked the Stars for their service and said that FETC, and Nimmonin specifically, were searching for them, and that they should take some time away from Silverwatch until after the awards ceremony, when things calmed down.

On a map, she showed them an abandoned guard post about three hours away from both the Pens and Silverwatch Fort, a post that had been left off of all official documents and maps, left for the Ghosts of Farhoon Forest to utilize in their tasks, but it now sat empty. She advised the Stars to gather some rations and head to the post until things blew over, that she would send someone for them when she had secured them passage off of Meddes. If they didn’t hear from her in seven days, they were to assume things had gone wrong, and to get off of Meddes as quickly as possible.

The Stars left soon after, and found the guard post as described, in a peaceful and sunlit corner of Farhoon Forest. A stream nearby provided clean water and fish, and the greenery around them supplied game, berries, and nuts. The housing itself was built into the trees, empty inside except for some simple bedding and a table, and a magical light beacon which Quinn explained had been one of the lights they had watched for many nights atop the roof of Axe House.

Now out of the games and out of danger, the Stars spent the next week relaxing, recuperating, and forgetting about the troubles of Silverwatch Fort and Meddes. Indeed, within the calm and tranquil forest, it was like the outside world didn’t even exist.

But such a thing could never last.

Octovon 9th:

Announcing her arrival with a loud clanking of clanking metal and supplies, Vara hailed the Stars down to hear her. There had been an incident in Silverwatch Fort the other night: Saze had broken into the basement of the Arena, now being used as a warehouse for FETC, and something had been stolen.

Several guards had identified the intruder as a tall cloaked figure with a pair of halberds – Saze, of course. Though the guards were injured, no lives had been lost, which was a surprise to Vara, as Saze had seemed to have already passed the point of sparing others.

The other house leads were currently pursuing her, but Saze was an expert ranger, rivaled perhaps only by Thorne, and it was unlikely they would find her. In the meantime, Vara had another task for the Stars.

FETC denied the theft, which made it even more suspicious, and Vara said that Saze was cold, cruel, and calculating, and that she did nothing at random. If she broke into the warehouse, she had a plan, and they needed to find out what it was. She and her own men were too well known, she said, but the Stars, if disguised properly, might be able to slip in, find out what had been taken, and escape without alerting FETC to their presence.

Vara emptied out a large sack, which contained four FETC guard uniforms, tabards, swords, and other accessories, as well as a detailed blueprint of Silverwatch House and tunnels beneath it. She said that she knew they had been through a lot, that they had no reason to risk themselves further, but that she needed them, now, to stop a threat greater than one they had ever known.

She said they had all come to Meddes for different reasons, but they had come together something bigger than themselves, for a greater purpose, and that if they were willing, they had a chance to help stop others from experiencing horrors worse than their own, that they could help Thorne put an end to Gal’malok once and for all, before the demon and Saze have time to see their evil unfold.

The Stars agreed, and Vara explained the plan. They were to disguise themselves as FETC guards, enter Silverwatch House through the back door, and enter a series of secret tunnels that spanned the area below the Fort, entering the basement of the Arena and finding out what Saze had taken from FETC.

They would have to be careful, as rumor had it that FETC had hired more muscle after the recent break-in. If they were caught, they were not to implicate Vara in any way, as it would void her recent deal with FETC and put the greater plan in jeopardy. She also warned them against stealing from the warehouse, as FETC had a reputation for tagging and tracking their items.

And finally, she told them not to kill anyone – enough lives had been lost already.

She told them to find her at the Pens as soon as they found out what she had taken, and then she left, saying she needed to get back before anyone became suspicious of her absence.

The Stars donned the FETC gear and swords, leaving behind their other gear, armor, and weapons, making sure not to wear or carry anything that would give them away, then left for Silverwatch Fort.

Arriving near nightfall, the Stars hid in the treeline outside the northeast entrance, while Quinn magically imitated some animals nearby to distract the guards long enough for them to enter without close inspection. They then split up, feigning a patrol as they approached the back of Silverwatch House.

Inside, a pair of guards assumed Janos and Quinn were their replacements, and left, and Corvus and Wyverna joined them shortly after. In the basement of Silverwatch House, the party noticed the cells were filled with civilians and merchants they had seen around the Fort, likely competition for FETC that was being sent away.

In the supply closet, the Stars found the entrance to the tunnels and followed the detailed map given to them by Vara to a secret door in the basement of the Arena. Moving as quietly as possible, the Stars split up and began to search the shelves of goods in the warehouse, paying special attention to the most secure areas.

A short while later, after narrowly escaping several patrolling guards (and Corvus knocking one unconscious), the Stars had seen an empty crate of magical chains, an overflowing barrel of Thorne action figures, and some sort of alchemist’s fire. Corvus found and collected a handful of experimental healing potions, and the group met up near the hallway to the vault, where the most valuable items were kept.

Inside, the Stars found a pair of FETC guards and a door leading up to the Arena, as well as many reinforced metal cages (which had contained animals, previously). They distracted the guards long enough to knock them unconscious, and found what Saze had been after; one of the cages had been ripped to shreds, as well as the crates within, which were labeled as “Megamagic Incendiary Devices” – she had taken powerful magical bombs, and a lot of them.

One of the other cells contained a strange creature – a bull, unnaturally large and covered in interlocking plate armor similar to Razortusk, but more complete, fully armored so that no flesh shown through at all. Labeled LC33L, “Lucille” was fortunately locked in one of the cages, with warning signs plastered around.

Satisfied with what they had found, the Stars turned to leave, and were surprised as five shapes walked out of the shadows behind them. It was Tavus and the rest of the Rolling Thunder, adorned with FETC sashes.

Tavus said that the FETC had paid them to keep an eye out for intruders since the break-in, and how fortunate for him that it was Corvus and the Falling Stars. He dared the Stars to fight back, saying he had waited for this moment.

Quinn spoke up, trying to explain that they were here to help, and that Tavus and his team should step aside, if they wanted to help Thorne and save lives. He scoffed, saying that he wasn’t willing to let intruders go and risk his name and reputation with FETC for whatever the Stars had gotten themselves into.

Corvus spoke up, inciting Tavus to challenge him to a duel. If Corvus won, Tavus would let them all walk out the front door, no questions asked. But if Tavus won, they’d all be arrested and held by the FETC, to his pleasure.

Nearby, Lucille grunted, pacing impatiently in her cage.

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A Second Silverwatch
Session 38: Year 976, On the 1st of Octovon

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Waiting until the cover of nightfall, the Stars stealthily inspected the walls of the second Silverwatch Fort, looking for a breach in its defenses, as, though old and overgrown, the new tenants had taken pains to secure the perimeter. After an hour or so, Janos scouted a small span of the wall uncovered by greenery, realizing that part of the outer wall was an illusion and they would be able to pass through.

Inside, they noticed that the layout was similar to the other Silverwatch Fort, with a few minor changes, and the difference that, besides Silverwatch House, all of the other buildings were still incomplete – wooden beams and skeletal frames of structures littered the area, the remaining lumber and equipment strewn over the grass and dirt, mixed in with a handful of rusty shields, swords, and other old weapons.

Quinn activated the wand for tracking Saze, and they moved deeper into the fort. In the distance, the party could see the orange glow of lit arbalesters at the front gate, and they treaded carefully and quietly at first, trying to avoid another ambush from demons – or something worse.

On the ground nearby was a bright, polished shield bearing a lion’s head – belonging to the Golden Lions, Janos said, a team which had threatened him before and they heard recently had left Meddes altogether.

The trail led to the front doors of Silverwatch House, which Corvus tested, noting they were locked. Fearing a possible ambush, the Stars decided to look for another entrance. Wyverna leapt up to the rear balcony of the house, and Corvus followed, dropping rope to bring Quinn and Janos along.

Inside, the house seemed to be structurally sound, but something wasn’t right. There were no lights, and the place had been completely abandoned, including all furniture, trinkets – there was nothing to suggest anyone had ever been here, other than the building itself. Janos led the party through the dark hallways of the second floor and to a glowing, runic door. Inside was a strange runic circle, which Quinn and Janos determined to be a combination of warding and fiery magic.

Disabling the circle triggered the trap, which shot flames throughout the room, scorching the group. They gathered themselves and moved on, entering a vestibule of the entrance. Wyverna tested the front doors, revealing a pair of demons that had been left on guard. The Stars quickly took one of them down, and the other fled out the door and deeper into the darkness of the fort. Corvus gave chase while he could, hoping to keep the demon from reporting their presence, but lost track of it after several twists and turns.

Back inside Silverwatch House, the Stars began to search the first floor, finding a magically secured door to what they presumed was the basement. Heading upstairs in search of a key, the party encountered another trap while stuck in a stairwell, and as Janos tried to disarm it, were greeted by a familiar face – the tiefling Jaxx, from the Creeping Mold. He greeted Janos warmly and apologized for the violence, then led them down a few hallways and into a room filled with magical and demonic items, where a ritual was taking place.

In the corner was a pile of Golden Lions armor and gear, which Jaxx proudly claimed credit for, saying that he kidnapped them and had been using their lifeforce to power the rituals.

Jaxx explained that he had two different summoning circles going, for bringing demons into Idariel, and that the other was in the basement (and near completion). Foolishly assuming that Janos had come to assist him, he willingly spilled many of his secrets and answered the Stars questions.

They learned that Jaxx was working with the demon Gal’malok to summon demons into Meddes to attack Silverwatch Fort and kill Thorne, who had something of great value to him. Gal’malok had already attacked before, but his army had been depleted and he was himself too weak to kill Thorne (who the Stars now knew was merely Heren Belderone, posing as the Silver Arrow).

Jaxx mentioned that ever since Dalosh (a tiefling that the Stars had found hanged in the woods, months before) had been killed, things had been much harder for him. In fact, they had made a deal with Saze, where she would supply the green gems necessary for their summoning rituals, and in exchange they gave her instructions on how to carry out an ancient ritual for opening a portal to “the black”, a plane of pure darkness that exists beyond the shadow realm in which Gormahoon was said to reside.

The Stars realized that Saze’s plan involved the abyssal key after all, and using it to open a gateway to this plane of absolute darkness.

Jaxx also thanked Janos for destroying New Balbareth, an incident which sparked a tiefling revolution and war against the human nobles of the city. Jaxx said the movement was called the Brotherhood of the Void, and encouraged Janos to join.

In honor of his deeds, Jaxx then offered Janos the honor of finishing the summoning ritual to bring another demon under Gal’malok’s will. Corvus began to protest, but Janos gave he and the others a meaningful look, and accepted the task, intentionally sabotaging the ritual. At first, Jaxx allowed the mistakes, but tried to retake control, and that’s when Wyverna and Corvus grabbed him.

Incredulous, Jaxx began cursing them and then disappeared in a cloud of smoke, barely making his escape from the room and through the next door, which he sealed behind him. He had barely begun taunting the Stars when Wyverna kicked the door in, and the fight continued to the roof, which was frail and barely able to support everyone’s weight. Janos stayed behind to finish destroying the ritual.

Corvus tried to reason with Jaxx, who had been cornered, but still the tiefling continued to fight, trying to evade the Stars long enough to escape. Corvus and Wyverna kept close to him, however, with Quinn attacking from afar, and eventually, they managed to bring him to his knees.

Cackling the evil laugh of those who have a backup plan, Jaxx removed his cloak and revealed that he had written another demonic summoning ritual in tattoos all over his own body, which he then activated. However, Jaxx’s ineptitude showed once more, as the portal instantly sucked him through to the other side, just as Janos appeared in the doorway and joined the others.

Sighing relief, the Stars were shaken by a loud guttural growl, and a pair of enormous, slimy hands reached through the closing portal, forcing it open as it climbed through. The creature was an enormous toad demon, nearly fifteen feet tall and thousands of pounds, enough to make the wood supporting everyone creak, and then break as the Stars and the demon plummeted through the below two floors, landing in a storage room of the basement.

Trapped in a tiny room with an enormous monster, the Stars tried their best to spread out and surround the creature, but the demon could easily reach the party and swung its fists in a frenzy, destroying crates and pillars as it furiously attacked, throwing the Stars to and fro. After a hardfought few minutes, the Stars managed to bring the demon down, and they all took a seat in the ruins to rest.

A nearby locked door led them to the second ritual room which Jaxx had spoken of, where a demonic summoning ritual was nearly complete. Janos quickly assessed the situation, warning the others that there was no way of stopping it, but he might be able to lessen the effects. They stood by as Janos tried to manipulate the dangerous fel energy, bringing a torrent of flames through, which scorched the room as a piercing demonic howl sent shivers down their spines.

Leaping through the portal was a large demonic hound, jet black with bright green eyes and covered with roaring flames. The flames dissipated to a gentle simmer, and the hound shrank in size as a green rune burned itself into both the hound’s forehead and the back of Janos’ left hand. The felhound quietly walked to Janos and sat at his feet, ready to serve its new master.

Though the others expressed concerns, Janos let them know that he had done them all a favor in summoning the least powerful demon possible, and that its will was bound to his own, so the creature would be no danger to them.

Nearby, they found an advertisement for the Brotherhood of the Void, as well as a handful of potions and a pouch of what they assumed was gold belonging to the Golden Lions. They also found a mysterious note on old parchment which read “Beware the weeping man”.

As things settled down, the Stars heard cries for help nearby, and discovered a small antechamber containing three of the Golden Lions: Hobbs, Keller, and Dinnigo. Dinnigo was missing a leg, and the others looked badly beaten. They thanked the Stars for rescuing them, offering them the gold as a reward, asked about their missing friends, and then, together, everyone began the trek back to the other Silverwatch Fort.

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Homecoming
Session 37: Year 976, On the 28th of Septeran - 1st of Octovon

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Augos ???:

The teams sat resting in a small clearing, catching their breath after the escape. The Stars, Vorle, Perrath, Nimbles, and Saze were at the edge.

“There’s no time to waste,” Saze said, tucking the black orb into a satchel and heading for the dense trees of Farhoon Forest.

Nimbles gave a look, shaking his head.

“We could use a moment,” he suggested, gesturing to the exhausted fighters.

“Take as many as you’d like,” Saze snapped, walking past. “I’ve got more important things to do than wait for feeble.”

“In a hurry, eh,” Janos quipped, casually twirling a small flame over his fingers. “Got another human sacrifice to attend? Wouldn’t want you to be late, I know how you like to stand around and do nothing.”

She paused.

“Watch your tongue, whelp,” she said.

“Why,” Janos shot back. “Gonna sacrifice it?”

“I wouldn’t expect you to understand,” she said.

Quinn raised a hand.

“I mean,” he started. “If that’s the issue – we’ve had a lot of time lately to try understanding. We’re willing to give it a chance—”

“—If you’re willing to tell us what the hell is going on,” Corvus chimed in.

“You owe it to us,” Vorle added.

“I owe you nothing,” Saze said coldly. She held up the satchel, looking inside. “In fact, now, I owe nothing at all.”

“We’ve paid for it,” Wyverna said, standing. “We’ve paid in blood for that little piece of hell you’re holding. We want to understand, we just - we need to know that those who - that they didn’t die for nothing.”

“They didn’t,” Saze replied. “Well, they shouldn’t have. But your meddling may have changed that.”

“Wow,” Janos said, rolling his eyes. “So now this is our fault. Our mistake for trying not to let a bunch of monsters cut us into pieces.”

“That… got out of hand. But the process had to be accelerated. There was no other way.”

“So you were in on it,” Perrath said. “Guess that answers most of my questions.”

“I had a task to fulfill,” Saze repeated. “A task which required supervision.”

“So that was the plan all along,” Quinn said. “The whole Crystal Halls event, a charade. Those creatures didn’t stumble upon the teams…”

“You gave us to them,” Corvus said through clenched teeth, gesturing to the other teams. “All of us.”

“Yes,” she said. She showed no emotion.

“But why?” Vorle demanded, gesturing to the satchel. “What is that thing?”

Silence.

“Well,” Janos started. “First off all, why, I mean, the cultist was a dark elf from the Darktide, just like her. Friend of yours? And second, I know what that thing is, so if you don’t tell everyone, I will.”

Saze narrowed her eyes.

“It’s a key,” she said plainly. “A key which can seal off the shadow realm.”

“Or open it,” Quinn added, crossing his arms.

“Okay,” Corvus said. “Great, but who cares? You stood by while twenty people died, how can you justify that?”

“I am merely the blade,” she said. “If you want answers, ask the hand who wields me.”

“Vara,” Vorle said.

“The crone,” Quinn said. “She’s talking about the crone.”

Vorle stared blankly.

“I’ll fill you in later,” Quinn added, then addressed Saze. “Unless we are going to meet her now?”

“Yeah right,” Janos scoffed. “Like she’d ever let that happen.”

Saze smirked.

“Return to Silverwatch,” she confirmed. “Tell Vara what you will – she will understand. She serves the crone as well. She knows that we fight a war greater than this, greater than the petty squabbles of your games, your lands, your kings.”

Wyverna took a step toward Saze, and she turned to face the dragoon.

“We don’t doubt that it’s important,” Wyv said. “But people died. A lot of people died. We knew what we were getting into, coming here, but the others, they were innocent. What could be worth the lives of so many innocents?”

“You,” she said, gesturing to everyone. “All of you, you live in a dream. Pray that you never wake up, never wake up to the living nightmare this world has become.”

She turned to leave.

“That’s not an answer,” Corvus said, stepping in her way.

Saze briefly looked at Corvus, then through him, and stepped around.

“Not so fast,” he said, grabbing her arm. “Not until we get some answer—”.

In a flash almost too fast to see, Corvus flew threw the air and smashed back first, upside down against a nearby tree, cracking it in half. His axe, the handle cut in half, fell to the grass nearby, along with his shield.

Vorle unsheathed his sword, and Janos reached for his implement. Quinn held his staff tightly, looking around. A dozen of the other team members stood up.

“You Atrums would live longer if you kept your nose out of things,” Saze said mockingly, brushing off her arm.

From behind Saze, Wyverna took a step forward, raising her weapon, and with lightning speed, Saze spun, her arm outstretched and the tip of a halberd, unwavering, touching the center of Wyverna’s neck. A single drop of blood ran down into her armor.

“You are about to make a large mistake,” Saze warned. Her eyes were jet black, unflinching.

Corvus groaned, slowly stumbling back to his feet.

“A knight of Caen is nothing to me but another body,” she said.

Wyverna opened her hand, dropping her spear to the grass. The others lowered their weapons as well. Saze looked at Nimbles, jerking her head toward the forest. He came to her side, reluctantly.

“If you follow us,” she said. “If any of you follow us, you will die a far worse death than your friends on the altar.”

Saze pulled her halberd back, flawlessly spinning it around and returning it to a sheath on her back. She headed into the forest.

Wyverna let out the breath she was holding.

“You’d do it again, wouldn’t you?” Wyv said in anger. “You’d do it again in a heartbeat, just for that.”

She pointed to the satchel. Saze paused, tightening its strings.

“For this,” she said, not turning around. “I’d kill you all myself – every one of you.”

And then they were gone.

Everyone stood silently for a few moments. Then Corvus rejoined the group, scoffing at his broken axe and returning the shield to his arm.

“Did I almost have her?” he asked, rubbing his head.

“So,” Quinn said, ignoring him. “This all seems horrible.”

“Which part?” Janos asked. “The imprisonment, the torture, or the evil dark elf with mysterious and obviously nefarious plans?”

“All of it,” Quinn replied.

“Nothing we can do about it here,” Wyverna said. “Let’s see what Vara has to say.”

“So that’s our plan?” Janos asked. “We’re gonna tattle?”

“We’re going to get information,” Wyv replied. “And THEN we’ll talk about plans.”

With that, the Stars got the others to their feet, and they began the journey back to Silverwatch.

“Think I almost had her,” Corvus repeated.

After Saze and Nimbles left, the Stars and Vorle gathered the rest of the teams and took a head count, excluding themselves, Barl, Perrath, and Smed.

Thirty one. Thirty survivors out of the forty-nine missing during the Crystal Halls, and a new addition.

An old man named Crock had been rescued as well, apparently. He said he was a sailor on a Forever Endeavor Trading Company ship called the Whispering Maiden, and stumbled out of Silverwatch Fort one evening, drunk, and woke up in the dungeon. Quinn, remembering that Thraim had left upon the same ship, asked him about the suspiciously long journey it was said to take, but wasn’t able to learn anything other than FETC was very secretive about its cargo, even around its own workers.

Septeran 28th:

After two days of traveling, camping, and foraging, the long lost teams finally arrived at the gates of Silverwatch Fort, but things had changed in their absence. The crossed silver arrows of Thorne’s sigil were missing, instead every banner bore the familiar FETC logo. The gate itself had been replaced, the rustic wooden construction reinforced with iron plates, bars, and rivets.

A pair of FETC guards stepped forward to the teams emerging from the forest, asking for identification. The Stars showed their medallions and the guards, surprised at the return of those thought dead and gone, ordered the gates open. A small gnome appeared, Blokkem Blork, a FETC representative who had previously tried to sponsor the Falling Stars during the games, demanding that everyone stop and be properly processed, but the tired, injured teams, out of patience, simply marched past and into Silverwatch Fort.

Inside, they realized that the date was Septeran 28th. They had been missing over forty days, captive for most of it.

Starving, the Stars headed to the great hall for a meal, but learned that meals were no longer free. FETC signs and notices hung everywhere, on every post, building, and corner, proclaiming new rules, regulations, and updated prices for everything within the fort. After eating, the other teams headed back to the Pens, and the Stars took a look around.

Everything about Silverwatch seemed to be different. Gone were the roaring crowds, masses of spectators, games, and excitement. The spectator tents were gone, replaced with worker housing for FETC. All of Thorne’s banners were removed, including those upon Silverwatch House, all replaced with FETC colors.

The Silverwatch guards were gone, as well as the Thornwatch, but there were more guards than ever inside in FETC uniforms, and the Stars learned that all guards were now answering to them. Nimmonin was said to reside inside Silverwatch House, and that Vara and the others had been relocated to the Pens with the remaining teams.

It seemed that FETC had entirely taken over Silverwatch Fort, and everything cost a bit of coin. Anyone not associated with them or unwilling to pay the updated prices had been sent home – merchants, guards, spectators. It felt like a ghost town.

The games themselves seemed to be over. The arena was relabeled as a FETC warehouse, the jousting, carnival games, and other arenas had been closed. The information for the games themselves had been relocated to a small corner of the fort, crowded in near the wall, showing what little there was to show: Tavus had won the weapon mastery tournament, Raemus had won the magic mastery tournament, and it appeared that the Rising Cobras and Rolling Thunder were far above the other teams in points. A glowing banner overhead proclaimed that only the award ceremony remained, to be held Octovon 5th, a week away.

Checking their mail cost coin as well, and the Stars learned only that the FETC had opened and looked through all letters, redacting the information from one sent from Meister Eynn. Another letter from Eynn to Janos had passed through, containing a simple code, and Janos let the others know it was an address located in the port city of Stonewall in Westeraan.

Heading to see Eynn in person, the Stars found out that he had left the Silver Assembly Hall a couple of weeks ago in a hurry. The Hall itself had new prices for vacant rooms, increased to absurdity. The doorman seemed happy to see Eynn gone, but not excited about the new FETC management. As the other Stars left, Corvus made small talk with the man, hoping to learn more, and he lamented the loss of his favorite employee, a chipper girl known as Kally, who had been let go but fortunately found work at the Sleeping Dragon.

Still hoping to find Eynn, the Stars visited the Sleeping Dragon, paid the cover charge and a handful of gold for overpriced, watered down ale (which, even in that state, was glorious, after a month of nothing but acrid, stale water). Reminiscing with Kally for a few minutes and appealing to her softer side, Corvus and Janos found out that the FETC was after Eynn, accusing him of stealing and selling proprietary information, and he had fled in the night, boarding a ship and leaving in secrecy, but had left them a note.

Making a quick stop at the registrar’s tent, Corvus confronted Asar Nohle, who was now in charge of tournament relations, apologizing for his brash behavior before. Taken aback, Asar accepted the apology, giving his own, and implying that the lost uniforms and banners at the beginning of the tournament disappeared after a bribe from another team member (the teams assumed it was Tavus).

After that, the Stars decided they had seen and heard enough, and needed to talk with Vara, to get some answers about the imprisonment, about Saze, and about Vara’s role in it. They headed back to the Pens (paying the new 1g surcharge for the cart ride), and saw that things had changed here as well.

The Pens were now unguarded, unprotected, and surrounded by dozens of tents of spectators, who freely roamed the grounds, complaining about their ejection from Silverwatch Fort. There was a celebration, as well, the remaining teams cheering the return of their lost friends amid dozens of frenzied stories retelling the ordeal. Everyone cheered the Stars as they came forward, toasting them and offering them pints of ale, but they had more on their mind.

The Stars headed to the center of the Pens where a large tent had been erected. In front were a pair of guards wearing half of their former Silverwatch uniforms. They expressed their distaste for FETC, saying they’d rather work free for Thorne than be paid to work for FETC, and let the Stars inside.

Before they could take another step, an enormous hand grabbed Wyverna by the front of her armor, and pulled her off the ground. “They’re fine,” Vara said, and the hand let go. It belonged to an enormous bearded man, nearly 8 ft. tall, covered with metal scales and leather armor, a massive axe hanging off his shoulder.

“Corvus my boy!” the man shouted, slapping Corvus on the back so hard it sounded like his armor had been dented.

The man introduced himself as Manton, also called the Mountain, and the Stars immediately recognized him as the legendary hero, his fame rivaled possibly only by Thorne himself.

The tent itself was a mess, covered with piles of gear, scrolls, maps, and crates. Vara sat behind desk overflowing with loose parchments. Around her were many of the other house leads. Som Dutto, Pelore, Thorne, Forli, and Rynn of Illius.

Wasting no time, the Stars demanded to know what Vara knew, telling them Saze had been apart of their disappearance, that they had been tortured with her knowledge, that she had done nothing to stop it.

Vara went deadly silent, then welcomed the Stars back, thanked them for their service, and told them to get some rest and come back in the morning. They reluctantly agreed, and could hear Vara yelling in anger as they left for Axe House.

The Stars found Axe House quite empty, with only the Oaken Shields remaining in as an official team, the other torches having been removed. They learned that Sandeev, the Crashing Waves, and everyone else associated with the escape attempt had been rounded up by FETC, fined, and sent home immediately, and mused that FETC would likely be coming for the Stars soon, if they weren’t already.

The Stars bathed, ate, and rested comfortably for the first time in over a month.

Septeran 29th:

Early the next morning, the Stars went to see Vara and talk things over. Manton and Forli were also present for the discussion.

The Stars told them of the whole ordeal, beginning with the Crystal Halls, and going through their rescue plan, imprisonment, and escape, leaving out no details. They told her of the cultists, the rituals, lost lives, and how Nimbles, Saze, and the Crone were involved, as well as they knew.

Forli, Manton, and Vara exchanged some words, and the Stars realized that Vara and the others had no knowledge of Saze’s doings, but had suspected she had been up to something for some time, and this confirmed it.

Vara sent Manton out to collect the other house leads, who soon joined them in the tent. Vara introduced Thorne as Heren Belderone, brother of Pelore and the man who had been standing in for Thorne Silvershot.

She told the Stars that a creature, a great demon named Gal’malok, had cursed Thorne, long ago, and had been hunting him for decades, thanks to somehow absorbing the power of an Arkimas Atlas, a living map.

Thorne arranged the games on Meddes to lure the creature here and trap it so that they could undo the curse and free him. The games were set up so as not to draw attention to their plan, using Heren as Thorne in order to draw the creature out. However, Gal’malok had grown too powerful, fueled by the bright sun of Meddes, and Thorne had disappeared, hiding somewhere in Farhoon Forest.

Heren has been taking demonic tinctures designed to give the appearance of the curse in an attempt to trick the Gal’malok into thinking that he’s the real thorne, in addition to using the attuned lanterns to confuse it, placing dozens of “Thornes” all over to confuse the Arkimas Atlas magic.

But things went wrong, and Thorne disappeared, gone into hiding. They brought Vesh to track him, but with no luck. The goal now, Vara said, is to somehow trap the creature, undo the curse, and then Thorne should resurface, putting an end to the whole ordeal. She said that it was important that Gal’malok was not killed outright, not before the curse was undone, or Thorne’s life and many others would be forfeit.

To this end, Thorne had called in every favor he had left, bringing the remaining heroes of the time to Meddes to assist in his trap. During this time, Thorne had met a creature of Meddes called he called the Crone, the mother of Farhoon Forest, who promised to assist in exchange for borrowing many of the best hunters from Silverwatch to protect its borders.

Though only there for their own wealth and benefit, the FETC was, unfortunately, necessary in the beginning to fund this excursion, and now, thanks to the missing teams and chaos surrounding the rescue attempt, the FETC had completely taken over Silverwatch Fort, putting an abrupt end to the games.

She continued, saying that a recent complication in the plan is that the Gal’malok has somehow been able to summon other demons to him, something they had thought impossible. They were sure he was getting help, and suspected many of the tieflings in Silverwatch, but now it seemed obvious that Saze was the one behind it.

Although unsure of Saze’s plans, Vara said that if what the Stars said was true and Saze was truly in possession of an abyssal key, she might be able to open a portal to another realm — most likely to the depths of Fel’taras, if she was working with Gal’malok — and could summon an army of demons to Meddes.

Unfortunately, Vara and the others were all being watched by the FETC, and until they knew what Saze was up to, they couldn’t risk taking action and abandoning the current plan. Begrudgingly, Vara admitted that the Stars might be the best chance for discovering what the dark elf’s plans were, and charged them with a task of reconnaissance, if they were willing. Not only had they proved themselves trustworthy, and capable, but Janos might be able to buy them some time, or bargain, if they encountered any demons.

Having suspected Saze for some time, they had secretly enchanted one of her halberds with a tracking spell, which would leave a trail for weeks, showing her comings and goings through Farhoon. She gave Quinn a small magical wand, which would make the trail visible, and told the Stars to take what supplies they needed from the tent.

She told them that they needed to know what Saze was doing, not only where she had been, and that the Stars were poised to make the most of the situation, as FETC had not yet realized their return, so no one would be looking for them and they could track Saze unimpeded, for a while at least, but that they would have to leave as soon as possible – that night, under cover of darkness.

Finally, she told them that they suspected Gal’malok hides during the night, as it is weakest then, but to be on their guard. If they encountered Saze, they were not to engage her, if they valued their lives.

With that, the Stars left, preparing their supplies and resting, and snuck out of Axe House and into Farhoon shortly before midnight. Janos and Quinn led the others to where they had encountered Forli and Saze talking, weeks ago, and sure enough, the wand picked up on the trail, illuminating a dull blue wispy trace of Saze’s path.

For two days, the Stars followed the path into the depths of Farhoon. Saze traveled dangerously, but silently, and without a trace – if it weren’t for the tracking spell, no one would ever have suspected that someone had passed through this way.

Octovon 1st:

Mid afternoon the next day, the Stars emerged from the near absolute darkness of Farhoon Forest into a sunny clearing, to a strange site. There, a mere few paces away, was what seemed to be a replicate of Silverwatch Fort, but old, grown over, dilapidated. The fort seemed to be both partially constructed and heavily damaged, the remnants of lumber, tools, and half-chopped trees littered the clearing around the gate, which had been barred from the outside. The magical trail led up to and through the gate, it seemed.

The walls itself were unfinished, but tall and durable, and scratched into the wall, nearly the entire length of the front of the Fort, was an abyssal phrase which Janos read to the group:

“KNOCK KNOCK CLEVER BOY.”

As the Stars explored the area, Corvus suddenly pulled and threw a small throwing axe, which stuck into the wooden wall. He pulled his makeshift dragonsteel sword and shield and gave the others a serious, curt nod, and they drew their weapons as well. Suddenly, several different types of demons emerged from hiding and attacked. As the Stars engaged the guards, several arbalesters appeared atop towers deep within the fort, launching a fiery barrage.

The Stars made quick work of the foes on the ground, ensuring that they wouldn’t be followed, then made a quick retreat into Farhoon Forest. They delved deep enough to ensure that they were alone, secured the area, and rested, waiting for the cover of nightfall to return to the fort, this time in search of another entrance, perhaps a breach in one of the destroyed walls…

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The Escape
Session 36: Year 976, On the ??? - ??? of Augos

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Every day in captivity, blood was taken from the Stars and dozens of survivors of other captured Silverwatch teams. After weeks, the cult began sacrifices, murdering at first a prisoner a day, then two, forcing everyone to jump into action.

After over a month of captivity, the Stars finally managed to break out of their cells, locate Nimbles, and disrupt the sacrifices, realizing that they were being used to power a magical orb.

A hectic few minutes and the Stars had opened the cells of every prisoner, who rallied around Wyverna. As Janos saved a would-be sacrifice, while Corvus used a makeshift weapon to to lead the others toward a corner of the large chamber, to a door Wyverna was convinced housed their gear and weapons – their only chance of escaping alive.

Vorle joined them and he and Corvus went to work on the armory door. After a few minutes, it started to splinter.

“Almost,” Wyverna said. “Almost.”

The other prisoners and teams were amassing at the door. The Stars recognized many familiar faces of those around, including Perrath, Smed, and Barl. Janos arrived a few moments later, helping the elven girl from the altar, who he introduced her as Ayn, setting her down to rest.

More and more pale creatures came out of the walls, the tunnels, everywhere, it seemed. There were dozens of them. In the center of the room, the blood well bubbled and erupted, shaking the room and sending rubble and dust down upon everyone.

Finally, the door opened.

“Inside,” Wyverna shouted. “Everyone, inside.”

Nearly thirty or so prisoners spilled into the large room, which was covered from floor to ceiling with weapons and gear. Vorle and Perrath grabbed spears and blocked the door, giving everyone time to arm themselves.

The others ran to the walls, reclaiming their equipment, finding their packs, armor, and weapons scattered in a corner, and quickly readied themselves for battle.

Wyverna paused for a moment, tossing her spear aside and grabbing an ornate, golden spear from the wall. The tip was glowing slightly, and covered with elven markings. She tested the heft of it, looked satisfied, and headed to the door.

Janos found a desk covered in dust and bottles. He scrutinized the labels, peering inside, then dumped five of the potions into his bag. He grabbed a few others, filled with glowing red liquid.

“Alchemist’s fire,” he said, carefully handing one to each of the others. “Don’t drop it.”

Corvus shoved the dragonsteel sword into his bag, along with a few small throwing axes found nearby.

Once everyone was armed, Wyverna jumped on a crate near the door.

“Games are over,” she said. “We’re fighting our way out. Stick together. Protect each other. And when you swing that sword, you better swing it to kill.”

There were grunts of agreement. Some looked scared and were shaking. Everyone looked weak. The door splintered again and again as the creatures heaved against it. It wouldn’t last much longer.

“Fight!, Wyverna shouted. “Fight for your lives!”

The door broke in half, and dozens of creatures flooded through. The teams roared, lashing out with swords and axes. Arcane missiles shot from the back of the room as archers hailed the creatures with arrows.

The Stars and the others pushed the creatures out of the armory, into the main chamber, fighting off the endless swarms. In the middle of the chamber, the ceiling was beginning to collapse. The statue of Gormahoon cracked and fell to pieces, breaking apart the altar and crashing into the blood well.

Vorle pushed to the front of the fight.

“How the hell do we get out of here?,” he asked.

“There,” Quinn shouted, pointing toward a door with twin torches.

Vorle nodded, then shouted at the army to follow him as they fought their way toward the exit.

Suddenly, an inhuman wail pierced the air, and shadowy, screaming tendrils shot from a doorway. Nimbles dived out, carrying something in his arms, running across the chamber and climbing up a pile of rubble into a large doorway at the top of the room. Behind him came the cult leader, screaming through the air engulfed in a shadowy cloud and flailing shadow tendrils, diving through the same door in pursuit of the half-elf.

“We’ve got this,” Vorle shouted to the Stars. “Go get him. Go get that son of a bitch.”

The Stars dropped down and ran to where Nimbles and the cult leader had gone, climbing the rubble and entering through a large stone doorway. As they looked back, they saw the tall robed figure standing at the top level of the chamber, looking on.

As they rushed through the hallways and up a tall spiral staircase, they came across Nimbles, badly wounded, lying on the stairs. He no longer had the orb, and was covered with blood and strange black bruises.

Corvus dropped his axe and worked to stabilize him as quickly as possible. Once the bleeding stopped, Nimbles urged them on.

“I’ll be fine,” he said. “Get the orb. Get the orb or it’s all for nothing.”

The party resumed their brisk pace, and emerging from the stairwell to the loud baritone voice of the cult leader barking orders to someone, they knew they were close. Glowing red eyes and daggers cut them off from their pursuit, slowing the party down while they cut their way through a handful of empowered pale creatures.

Back on the trail, the Stars noticed the hallways were now almost entirely restored, the architecture and quality of a high elven castle of some sort. Emerging into a small room with a deep, elaborately carved stone fountain, the Stars were temporarily stopped by the cult leader’s magic, which lit the doors with shadow flames, sealing the party in.

As they made their way to the other side, fighting off more of the pale creatures, the fountain bubbled and boiled with some sort of black, thick liquid, finally releasing an enormous abomination, a shadow of one of the creatures, covered in magical tar, which began to spin around the room, pulling Janos and Corvus into the shadowy whirlwind.

Janos teleported out of the madness, and Corvus fought his way out, turning to the creature and cutting it in half with two powerful cleaves from his axe. As the creature faded away, the doors opened, and the Stars steeled themselves, continuing on.

After many dark hallways and stairwells, the Stars emerged into a giant hall, surrounded by a staircase, leading hundreds of feet up to a door framed with sunlight. In the middle of the room was the cult leader, floating some fifty feet in the air, holding the orb and surrounded by a shadowy shield.

Below him, on the stone floor, were several shadowy runic circles, shielded and releasing shadowy, wispy forms of screaming faces and creatures. The cult leader shot magical tendrils at the Stars, trapping them within shadowy walls of dark energy.

The Stars spread out, trying to assess the situation, and the shadowy forms attacked at the cult leader’s command, trying to pull them through the shadowy walls, which scratched and clawed at them as they neared.

Exhausted from the captivity and weakened by the fighting pursuit, the Stars began to fall, one by one, but not before they managed to disperse some of the shadowy creatures. Seeing that their deaths removed the shields around the runes, Quinn shouted to the others to destroy them, and they went to work.

Those that were too weak to walk, crawled, and finally the Stars managed to destroy each of the runic circles, disabling the cult leader’s shadowy shield and disrupting the spell cast through the orb, destabilizing the magic and causing an explosive force which knocked the cult leader away. Quinn quickly secured the orb with a ghostly magical hand, and Wyverna limped to the cult leader, who crawled back toward the orb with frenzied anger, brandishing a dagger.

Without ceremony, Wyverna lifted her spear high and impaled the cult leader to the floor, as he uttered his final word: “Gormahoon…”. Inspecting the body, the Stars discovered the cult leader was a dark elf, like Saze, and carried a strange silver medallion known to the former empire of the Darktide.

Sensing the destructive magic of the orb, which Janos told the others was a shadowy force called an Abyssal Key, he wrapped it in his cloak and moved it out of sight.

As they recovered, Nimbles made his way into the room, holding his sides and ensuring that the orb was recovered. He then led the Stars up the stairs and out the door, which thrust the party back into the fresh air and greenery of Farhoon Forest. The door itself was perfectly hidden within a tree, and nearly vanished once they had exited.

Nimbles said little about the previous month, only that his task was complete, but he seemed to be regretting his part in it, and none too happy about what had happened, saying only that it had gotten far out of hand.

Before long, Nimbles and the Stars heard voices that led them to Vorle and the other surviving prisoners. Vorle proudly asserted that none had lost their lives in the escape, and the Stars let him know that they had sealed the cult leader’s fate, as promised.

Suddenly, disturbing the reunion, a loud crash of plate mail announced the arrival of a black guard, which drew its broad sword and began to rush at the vulnerable resting teams. Before it could take a step, it was impaled through the center by a glowing spear and dropped to the ground. Standing above it was the mysterious robed figure, who pulled back their hood and revealed themselves as Saze of the Darktide, dark elf and leader of Halberd House.

She quickly approached the group, snatching the orb away from Janos, unwrapping and inspecting it.

“It’s not enough,” she said to Nimbles.

He sighed.

“Trust me,” he assured her. “It’s enough. It’s all been enough. Too much, in fact.”

“It better be,” she snapped, rewrapping it and tucking it into a satchel. “If not, we won’t be the only ones to pay the price.”

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Plan B (Part IV)
Session 35: Year 976, On the ??? - ??? of Augos

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After narrowly escaping the worm, the two children led the party deeper into the dark tunnels below. For hours and hours, the group descended warily through burrowed tunnels and hallways of rock, interrupted only by perilous pits, twists and turns, and an ongoing high-pitched wind, ever howling at their heels.

The tunnels began to transition slowly into stone brick hallways, and the children slowed their progress, stopping to cover their eyes before reaching a turn in the path. Readying his weapon, Corvus peered around the corner, and was immediately hit with a pair of glowing red eyes of a stone idol (similar to the ones seen before in Farhoon Forest), which nearly dropped him to his knees. He steadied himself and called a warning to the others, and the party advanced with caution.

A few turns later, the stone walls and floors seemed to be intermittently transformed to ancient, golden wallpaper and carpeted flooring. A broken shell of a chandelier hung lopsided from part of the ceiling, and at the end of a long hallway, the party could see the dim flickering of a lit torch.

Led forward by the children, the party noticed a creature lurking at the end of the tunnel, a thin and wiry, pale, deformed humanoid, resting its hands through the gaps in a bright silver metal gate (made of Dragonsteel, a magical, unbreakable metal). The creature wore rags around its midsection and over its eyes, and immediately began barking at the children, gesturing them forward.

The children excitedly talked with the creature until it beckoned the party forward, who came reluctantly. The creature, though seeming blind, appeared to look them over, then paid the children in large mushrooms – one for each member of the group. Satisfied, the children ran away, as the creature pulled out a Silverwatch team medallion, emblazoned with the logo of the Dancing Dragons, and handed it through the gate to Corvus before letting them through.

Unable to understand any language, the creature managed to give its name as Ishk, and the party responded in kind, to Ishk’s satisfaction, before he began limping down a hallway, urging the others to join him. The hallway twisted until opening into a large arched room, adorned in places with golden wallpaper and sconces and lush red carpet, and others with dirt, rock, and ancient stone blocks. As they passed, the Stars noticed many other dragonsteel gates, some leading out to an enormous dark cavern filled with pairs of red glowing eyes.

Suddenly, a noise behind them revealed another creature, similar to Ishk, hobbling across the hallway in a different direction, with no clue as to where or how it appeared. Though unsettled, the party continued, as they still had their weapons and had yet to encounter any aggression from the creatures.

A short while later, Ishk and the party entered a large, dark amphitheater, where twenty or so of the pale creatures were chanting, bowing down to three robed figures in the center as shadowy wisps of glowing energy flew through the air. Reacting to your presence, the most ornately robed figure lowered a large tome and curved knife, ending the ritual, and the creature Ishk began to speak in its language, seeming to explain the party’s presence to the other creatures.

As they spoke, the other pale creatures began to climb near, encircling the Stars, Tsol, Perrath, Vorle, Smed, and Barl. Like Ishk, these pale deformed creatures all had dull red glowing eyes hidden behind blindfolds, appearing sightless but moving with unhindered precision.

One of the robed figures approached quickly, inspecting the Stars, before whispering to them and revealing himself as Nimbles. He asked them what they were doing there, then told them to be quiet if they wanted to stay alive. The cult leader, disliking their secrecy, cast a large Comprehend Language ritual, so finally everyone could understand each other.

The pale creatures were asking to eat the Stars, smacking their lips. Nimbles then introduced them to the cult leader and other robed figure as exarchs of Gormahoon, the god they serve. The Stars tried to play along and bluff their way through, which was almost successful, thanks to Janos’ timely use of shadowy magic, but the cult leader remained unconvinced, sending Vorle, Perrath, Tsol, and Smed away, and demanding the Stars prove themselves by taming a nightwalker named Bog’yon, who was mistakenly summoned from the shadow plane.

The Stars did their best to resist Bog’yon’s telepathic assaults, fending off his bodak servants until Bog’yon himself attacked them, while the pale creatures watched from above. Throughout their travels and trials, none of the Stars had yet seen a creature so powerful, and though they fought bravely, they were quickly dispatched, staying conscious long enough to see a great light from above sending Bog’yon back to the shadows.

Each of the Stars awoke, hazy, and they each realized their armor and gear was missing. Their injuries had been patched up by an amateur with old rags as bandages.

A new addition, however, was a strangely glowing stone shackle, attached tightly around each of their right biceps. Around the base was dried blood.

Somewhere was an echoing cry, and soft weeping. They were each in a windowless cell of sturdy stone walls and a dragonsteel gate, and only darkness beyond it, peppered with dozens of pairs of tiny glowing red eyes which seemed to burn into the back of their skulls. A dull glow from the metal bars gently lit most of the cell, but revealed little beyond.

They were captured.

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Plan B (Part III)
Session 34: Year 976, On the ??? - ??? of Augos

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Augos ???:

After Barl’s fall, the others quickly pulled out rope and anchored it to a crystal in the hallway, climbing down to join the dwarf. Forty or so feet below the stone floor of the crystal halls, the party found a river flowing within a large cave, seeming to come from below the walls of Duramar. A few moments after the Stars, Vorle, Perrath, Tsol, and Smed descended into the water and climbed ashore a rocky bank, the stone trapdoor closed, snapping the rope and the group’s chance of returning the way they came.

Nearby were the small remnants of a makeshift campsite, presumably created by one of the missing teams. Janos and Quinn noticed a smashed lantern of Lo’er, some breadcrumbs, and sitting on a rock, a parchment wrapped inside a golden ring emblazoned with a boar’s head. The parchment read:

“To whomever finds this ring – please see that Cevon Haranthol in the city of Reoth receives this, with all of his brother’s love. -Gabon Haranthol”

The rock itself had the word “caves” hastily scratched into it, with an arrow pointing away from the river. The cavern itself seemed to be natural, though one of the walls was huge stone blocks, which Barl said was likely the outer wall of the city of Duramar – or the hallways leading to it.

The party took a short rest, but Vorle was anxious to continue into the caves, having seen footprints and a small trail of blood drops leading to another tunnel, which Corvus recognized as a man-made passage, alerting the others. Led by Quinn’s light, they carried on.

The tunnel itself led to a maze of twists, turns, and forks, though bloody X’s marked on the corners seemed to point them down a path – the right one – the party hoped. A few hours later, a tight passage required Tsol to discard his bulky plate armor, while Corvus temporarily removed his, willing to bear the weight in case of future danger. As they passed, a horrid stench filled the air.

Vorle tried to keep spirits up, sharing a story of his time in the 9th Legion of the Valanorian army when he had to infiltrate a sewer to track down a rogue alchemist creating explosives. Perrath joined in, telling the others of a shipwreck that had him and a few others climbing a cliff wall for days before they reached safety.

A few hours and many bloody X’s later, the party found a small, enclosed cavern, where the body of an elf wearing a Dancing Dragons tabard had been laid to rest. His wounds were deep and had been bandaged as well as possible, but it wasn’t enough. His weapons and supplies had been removed. Above him, scrawled into the cave wall with a dagger, read:

“Trynn of the Nethervine. Friend and warrior to the end. You deserved more.”

Hours later, the party discovered a large hole in the ground covered with rank-smelling saliva, similar to the ones from the Crystal Halls above. A few hours later showed more of the same; more bloody X’s, more sloppily drawn than before, more wretched stenches, and, now, small quakes that brought dust down from the tunnel ceilings.

Emerging into a larger cave, the party heard whispering and came to a stop. Two small pale, deformed children, a small boy and a girl with stringy, dirty hair, sat in the middle of a room, arguing over something. They fled as the party approached, but returned to inspect the group as they stopped. Quinn, Smed, and Wyverna recognized the children as the same seen above in the Halls, and noticed they had been playing with items in a backpack covered with the familiar logo of Dibart Dyes.

Wyverna offered the children some food, and they seemed to calm down, sitting on the floor to continue drawing on the ground with charcoal. They had drawn a picture of a giant worm eating stick figures, as well as what seemed to be the logos of the Dancing Dragons, the Towering Titans, the Striking Spears, and a bird of some sort. The small boy pointed to the medallions around their necks, then started to draw the Falling Stars icon.

Though unable to communicate (other than the word “hungry”, which they knew in Elven), the party was able to determine that the children had seen another team, or at least knew where they had gone, from their pointing to medallions and down the tunnel path.

Tired and needing rest, Tsol urged the others to stop, and the party set up a small camp for the night with alternating watches. When the others awoke, Janos let them know that the boy had found a pool of blood somewhere nearby, and that they should investigate.

The pool was below another large hole in the wall, and based on the dripping blood and smell, the party now feared that this creature might be closer than they were comfortable with. However, unwilling to turn back, they urged the children to lead them on, and so they did.

A few hours later, the children came to a long, slippery slope, and hopped down. Though wary of being unable to return, the party decided to follow. Several more hours passed, and the Stars were now completely lost, they realized, and at the mercy of these small children, who led them quickly from turn to twist to turn, without stopping.

Around one turn, there seemed to be a dead end, but Corvus quickly realized it was actually a small section of a giant, scaled, wormlike creature, sitting still within two holes in the hallway. The children quickly mouthed to be quiet, and retraced their steps to the previous hallway, where they seemed to argue over the next direction. Finally, the girl and boy both pointed different directions at a fork, and waited for the group to decide.

Trusting the girl, who appeared slightly older, the Stars agreed to follow her, and were led to another slope, this one covered with flowing water and some sort of slime. Realizing now there was likely returning this way, Vorle and the others made sure to agree on descending further. At the bottom of the slope was a large hallway filled with water up to the knee. Janos spotted something shining in the water, and lifted up what seemed to be a pristine sword undamaged by the water – likely dropped recently.

Suddenly, another quake shook the room, and the kids squealed and ran into small holes in the wall, stopping only to point down the watery hallway, directing the party on where to go. Before they had a chance to move, however, a giant wormlike body broke through the walls of the hallway, creating a barrier before and behind the party, sealing them in.

The armored scales of the worm made it nearly impossible to hurt it, though Vorle and Janos were able to find vulnerable areas missing scales and plunge a blade through, causing the creature to temporarily flee – though not for long. Breaking through the floor and walls with its head and spiked tail, the giant worm tried to trap the party again and again before impaling them with poisoned barbs and devour them whole.

Perrath and Corvus put themselves between the worm and the others, attacking its vulnerable maw when it opened to swallow, and the others waded through the water as fast as possible, attacking the worm when possible and trying to flee the confines of the hallway.

After a harrowing few minutes, the party was able to escape the worm, fleeing as fast as possible to the impenetrable bedrock walls of a nearby cavern. Exhausted, the party dropped to the floor to regain their breath, as the children emerged from a small hole near the base of the wall.

The girl took Corvus’s hand, eager to continue, before gesturing back to the watery hall and repeating the only word they had understood so far.

“Hungry.”

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