S2E13: The Horde of Kragh

The star drake left no doubt in our heroes' minds that it had full intention to kill them. Associated with the birth of the dragon gods, Tiamet and Bahamut, the star drake proved to be a heavy hitter and the fact it was a brethren caused Shimmer to pause in his attacks. The fight raged on and in the end, our heroes prevailed but one phrase echoed in Shimmer's mind even after the fight was done, "Become what you were born to be."

Almost as soon as the fight was done, the demon-hybrid Ihngril'raug appeared and carried the star drake's body off into the darkness, motioning that the treasure was theirs for the taking and Titus discovered that the last attack from the drake rendered Silvara permanently blind. Our heroes claimed the coin, gems, and magical items and rested for the night. Amongst the treasure of the room, Titus found the Hammer of Magalodahr that he had been searching for. Late in the watch, Lyra discovered that the lava pool was steadily growing. An eruption of lava suddenly burst from the pool as our heroes leapt into action and sped off through the tunnels. After nearly losing Gerath and Alexandria, our heroes made it to safety and trekked the rest of the way out of Kragh's Nest. 

They made their way back to Magalodahr where they were greeted after noticing that Hope was not among them. Dain arrived and swept Silvara to the clerics to mend her broken body as King Greybeard left his throne to meet with Titus. Titus turned over the hammer to the king who took it with gladness. Unfortunately, the king had nothing better to give the company but did give Titus a letter to deliver to Gunner back in New Cottonwood. After his meeting with the king was over, Titus and Alexandria rushed to check on Silvara. The clerics had done their jobs and her eyesight would be fully returned in a few days. 

In the pits of the nine hells, Hope stood listening to her Patron gloat about seizing his first placement of power. He told his warlocks that they should bask in awe over his glory. As he continued his monologue, Hope noticed a large, black spiderweb appearing above him. The devil dismissed all but three of his warlocks and turned to fight this threat. However, celestial javelins pierced the devil and drove him to the ground. Ihngril'raug walked out of the portal and greeted the warlocks. He swiftly killed the devil and consumed him. Speaking with Despair (Hope's alternated identity), Ihngril'raug got an understanding of how the Patron-Pact worked. He branded Despair with his hand, solidifying his position as her new patron of darkness and then sent her back on her way.

In Hammurabi, the company was met with a cold welcome. They were not allowed inside the village and kept constant watch over the group. Shimmer, however, was visited by Shir and gave him not only a spell to help protect his horde but also agreed to grant him several guard drakes after he had finished creating them. En route to South Warren, the company found Hope lying on the side of the road as if no time had passed. She joined them and they made their way to the glimmering city. 

While in South Warren, Athelstan visited Trololo who had learned new tricks. The hunter inquired about a larger guy and Trololo handed him an experimental weapon that he demanded Athelstan field test and write back about. Silvara's brother had sold what possessions she did not want to keep and gave her a decent sum of coin while Shimmer and Theristis paid into their business venture to get the ball rolling. 

Pit stopping at New Cottonwood, Titus delivered the note to Gunner. The dwarf gave Titus his blood vial back and closed up shop for good. Athelstan was confronted by the elf Hunter, father of Ira. He demanded to know what Athelstan had killed. After listing a few of the major beasts he had a hand in killing, Ira leapt into the hunter's arms telling him that she had already put her things in their cart. And with that, our heroes ventured back through the Black Mountains, across the bay, and back to Union. Carriages were waiting for them and hauled them back to their guildhall where Railyn was waiting for them. He hurried them inside and told them there was much work to be done. As Athelstan was walking in with Ira on his arm, he noticed a painting sitting in the entry hall. It was a large canvas depicting Tristin in the captain's cabin of a ship, holding the skull of Ragnar. Athelstan's eyes went wide and he let out a very loud, "God Damnit!!"

Railyn will tell the company the story of "Chasing the Smile" up to when he headed to the Guild Hall. There are several messages waiting for you as well.

S2E12: Genius and Time

The battle against the Guard Drakes raged on with the paladin Alexandria joining in on the fray. During the skirmish, Silvara managed to slip on the loose gravel and impale herself on her blade. Thankfully, Titus was nearby to aid her and bring her back from death's doorstep. Also during the confusion of battle, Shimmer inadvertently consumed Krass, one of the kobolds following the company. After the drakes were defeated, Shimmer and Alexandria nearly came to blows but made a promise to not harm the other as long as they were traveling together. 

Later in the afternoon, the company came around a winding path to an old outpost; most likely used by the dragonkin or other fowl beasts. However, what they found was a long table and a banquet laid out for them as well as a man dressed in ahead of it's time clothing at the head of the table. He welcomed them to the feast and said that he knew their patron. All the time during the meal, he kept gushing that it was exciting to not know the future and warned a few of them to keep some of their possessions close. He talked to Shimmer about the return of a creature of old but followed it up with, "then again, if the doorway's open there's nothing to stop just anyone from stepping through." And with that he vanished.

The company continued on their way and, using Shimmer's expert knowledge of tracking a dragon's lair, made their way into the winding spires of mountains. Late in the day, Titus, who was leading the troop, noticed what looked like a large group of tracks leading up towards the direction they were headed. Conversing with Silvara on the matter, revealed that they were tracks of the dangerous War Machines, the bulk that was Kragh's army. They decided to bed down in a cave for the night and during the last watch, Athelstan noticed a strange, spider-like creature watching them from the shadows that quickly disappeared. 

Pressing onward, the company came to the mouth of the Dragon's Nest. Theristis, unfortunately, lost his horse that was far too scared to stick around and Alexandria tied her horse up to a nearby rock. As they approached, the company saw the same creature that Athelstan had spotted earlier that morning, patiently watching them approach the cavern. Within a split second, though, it disappeared once more and the company headed in. 

After hours and hours and traversing the winding labyrinth of the cave, Shimmer finally led them to a large room that was lined with seemingly dormant War Machines. As Titus took one step in, they came to life but stood there, silently watching. The silence was pierced by a high pitched shrill voice and an albino kobold who came rushing down to meet them. He took them by the hand and hurried them off to his own little room and offered them water. It was quickly deduced that the little creature had some how gone insane and they picked out his name: Vierlalo. After back and forth discussions and circular conversations, the company managed to get ahold of several maps to the caverns that led them to the deepest part of the facility. In a sad moment of revelation, they also discovered that Vierlalo had half of his brain removed and was being kept alive through magic.

They found a small cave to rest for the night in and during Theristis' watch, he heard a light voice on the air around him. It revealed it to be Ihngril'raug, a demonic monstrosity who had taken up residence in the caves after Kragh's defeat. It made a bargain with the assassin, promising to tell them where to find the last of the dragon's treasure as long as they defeated the beast that was guarding it. Theristis agreed on behalf of the company and the following morning, he followed the signs left for him deeper into the labyrinth. After hours of travel, they came to the deepest cavern that smelled of sulfur and heat. Upon standing in the entryway, they saw a large lake of lava with a small island near the middle. Above them, the ceiling was decorated like the night sky. Within moments, many of the stars started to move and a dragon-like creature dropped down onto the pile of treasure, letting out a mighty roar…

An Interlude 2

Three months ago. Union.

“You summoned me, father?” Gerath of Riviera stood at the doorway into his father’s study. The white doors were wedged open and the curtains were pulled back, letting in the spring sun. Howard of Riviera the Third sat at his large oak desk, pouring over reports and documents relating to his struggling enterprises across Union and beyond. Gerath had tried to suggest how to improve both relations and profits with their holdings but his father demanded he leave it alone.

“Yes, I did,” Howard replied. His voice was still strong even after years of grief and loss. At one point, Howard had five children; now he only had one. He stood from his chair, bringing a report with him. “I see here that you have requested funds to pay for an excursion from Lord Gregory Un’Tirest, Lady McKrerry, and attempted to gain an audience with the Archduke herself. What is the meaning of this?”

“Well, I have decided to undertake a long journey,” Gerath tried to smile but the intense anger from his father forced it to wait in the wings. “I plan on hiring a group of well-armed and noble individuals who will then accompany me to seek my fortune.”

“Fortune?” Howard scoffed. “You don’t need to seek a fortune. Your request is denied.”

“I’m sorry to say this, father, but that is not up to you.” Gerath straightened; this was a dangerous and definitive path he was about to embark on. Howard paused in pouring his drink and looked over to his last son. “I have made these requests on my own. As you can see, they bear my seal.”

“Your seal is a mockery of this house,” Howard quietly replied. He took his drink and gulped it down. “Do you know what I told your brothers before they left this house?” He did not wait for a reply. “I told them that the wars they fight, the battles they win, the damsels they rescue, all represent this house; this lineage.”

“And how many of my brothers came back?” Gerath asked. He knew that his father was not entertaining his first drink of the day. “How much of this family’s money did you squander on bribing generals and heroes to train my brothers and then send them off into the wilderness to die cold, tired, and alone? What were you trying to accomplish? Who were you trying to impress? No other noble house sent their children into the dangers of the world just so they could vicariously relive their glory days!”

“You watch your tongue, brat,” Howard glared at Gerath. His hand not carrying a glass of wine slowly ventured to the sabre at his belt. “Or I will cut it out.”

“Tongues and noses and eyes!” Gerath screamed. What few servants remained in the house could no doubt hear him. But everyone knew the House of Riviera was slowly dying thanks to a washed up hero who could not return to the world behind walls. “You have threatened to cut out each one a score times over and yet here I stand able to hear your threats, see your failures, and taste the blood in my mouth when you blame me for your short comings! I may not be a great hero of old, father, but I will make my journey, find my fortune, and return to Union a powerful noble who will bring the House of Riviera back to its days in the sun. That, I promise to the gods.”

“You are no son of mine,” Howard pulled his sword and staggered forward. Gerath, while not the best of swordsmen, had experience in dealing with drunken brawlers. After all, he was a man of the theatre. “My son would not speak to me in this way. My son would be welcome in my home. My son… all my sons, are dead. I hereby banish you from my sights, my land, and my purse. You are not worthy to represent the name Riviera, boy. Get out.”

“Father…” Gerath tried to back step. He had gone too far, let his temper get the better of him.

“I am not your father!” Howard barked, a tear starting to stream down his cheek. He slashed at the air with his sword, knocking over a vase. The crash was the exclamation mark. Gerath paused for a few moments, staring at the broken pieces on the ground. He turned and walked back into the corridor. They’las, the elf butler who had been with the House for decades, stood down the hall. Gerath walked towards him, clearing his throat and straightening himself.

“They’las,” Gerath managed to choke out. “I require a carriage. Could you be so kind as to fetch one for me?”

“Of course, sir,” They’las bowed and motioned for the servants to fulfill the request. “If I may be so bold, sir, where will you go? Surely you have friends in the city.”

“I do,” Gerath stared at the front doors. His mulled over who to trust; who to go to until remembered Muse mentioning someone in the city that could help him. At the time Gerath hadn’t realized what his old friend could have meant but now he did. “Actually, I need to find a visitor in Union; Queek Ekino of Bladweb.”

“I did not expect a local lord to visit me,” Ekino smiled as her servant poured the tea for herself and her guest. The drow servant watched the visitor with suspicion; it was something that made Gerath very nervous. “Especially one so young. So you are of the House of Riviera?”

“Yes,” Gerath returned the smile once the servant stepped away from the pair. He picked up his tea and sipped. “My goodness, this is lovely! What is it?”

“A concoction from my homeland; you probably don’t want to know exactly what it is.” Ekino smirked and took another sip. “Rumors are spreading through the local houses that your father has forsaken you.”

“Well, rumors can be a bit harsh,” Gerath tried to play it off but the intense gaze from the drow queen made him rethink his strategy. “However, in this case, they are quite right. My father and I had a falling out very recently and I am in need of assistance for my expedition.”

“An expedition.” Ekino echoed. She sipped her tea again and glanced at the servant. As if taking an order, the servant bowed and stepped out from the room, closing the doors behind him. “Tell me, Gerath, where is this expedition intended to go?”

“Well,” Gerath swallowed more tea. “A long time ago, I got it into my head to take a journey to the old caverns in the Free Marches… to where the Great Lizard resided.”

“Kragh.” Ekino spat; her voice and face changed with the mentioning of the name. “You wish to venture to Kragh’s nest to… what? See if there is anything left to plunder? I doubt the scavengers and adventurers have left anything of worth after a decade.”

“But surely there must be something left.” Gerath put down his saucer and cup and leaned forward. “I believe that with all the power and influence he had, there must still be something to find down there; some treasure that will be a great fortune for us all.”

“And get you back into the good graces of your father.” Ekino smirked.

“That would be a desired side-effect.” Gerath lamented.

“I will help you.” Ekino set down her tea and stood. Almost on cue the doors opened and the servant returned with a large tome. He set it on a pedestal and Ekino started flipping through it.

“What’s that?” Gerath tried to peer over and see what the Queen was staring at.

“Insurance.” Ekino glanced back. “I will fund your journey and even provide you with the hired help you need.” She stopped on a page, seemingly finding what she was looking for. Whispering a few words, she stepped back over to the young noble. Gerath suddenly realized she was holding some kind of document in her hand with various signatures on it. She spoke suddenly and Gerath was struck by a pain on his left shoulder blade. “There, that should do it.”

“What did you do?” Gerath asked, trying to rub the sore spot.

“Like I said, insurance.” Ekino closed the book and handed it back to the servant. “Do know that we now have a pact with each other, and I will aid you as long as you aid me. Go to the Dragon’s Nest and seek your fortune but I want you to look extra hard for an orb about a foot in diameter that is milky white; almost like clouds are trapped within. Can you do that for me?”

“Am I supposed to bring it back to you?”

“No,” Ekino sat. “I suspect you won’t find it; but that’s what I need: confirmation.”

“Yes, of course.” Gerath swallowed. “Out of curiousity, who are my companions on this journey?”

Ekino smiled and told him the address.

S2E11: Ring in a New Day

As the rest of the company searched the slums of Magalodahr seeking the last of the Syndicate, Lyra was busy studying in the library. Through out her studying, Lyra started to realize that a name she had never heard of was constantly coming up: Asgorath. It seemed that the dragons interviewed for the texts were referencing this entity repeatedly as well as a black dragon associating the name with another titan of old: Erek-Hus. Further study revealed to Lyra that the two titans were once bitter enemies and their return marks the beginning of the end of days.

After being kicked out of the library, Lyra started making her way back to her lodgings. En route, she managed to pick up a conversation between Dain and Shin. Shin was complaining that they didn't just execute the company when they arrived as they had evidence that the Slayers were planning on robbing the vault. Dain managed to talke Shin out of it and they both went their seperate ways. Lyra joined up with his companions and called for a group meeting.

Lyra spent the next few minutes berating the company about coming to Magalodahr to rob the vault. After some heated words, she left and returned to her lodgings while Hope did the same. Athelstan, Titus, and Lyra headed out to drink for the night while Theristis had sent a note to speak with Dain. The captain promptly turned up, using a magical door placed by Shin. He inquired if Theristis was successful. The assassin turned over the prize he received from Stonehelm, a lock of his hair adorned with his trinkets. Dain immediately asked what Theristis wanted in return. The assasisn replied telling Dain about the ring Hope was seeking and the captain took the information to negotiate with the King.

Meanwhile, Athelstan, Titus, and Lyra all ventured to a nearby tavern called the Mace & Pegusas. There, Athelstan managed to get Titus to come clean about why he was with the company; he was placed specifically by Ekino to watch the company and report back. After the interrogation, Titus demanded a full mug of Dragon's Fire Ale for Athelstan. Lyra, trying to keep them from getting drunk, cast a spell on a regular mug of water and gave it to the elf. Thinking that it wasn't that bad, Titus ordered two more mugs of Dragon's Fire. When it arrived, Lyra watched in horror as her two companions drank the Ale in one gulp. Drunkenness set it quick, followed by hallucinations, and finally long slumber. The Ale started to destroy their bodies. Lyra enlisted the help of Silvara to track down how to reverse the effects ultimately leading them to hiring local clergy to heal them instead. 

The following day found Silvara heavily upset with her husband and sought her own lodgings. Theristis was delivered a package from the Royal Palace; the Red Ring that Hope was after. He delivered it to his companion who gave him a short hug in thanks. Hope gave the ring to Beetlejuice who left to deliver it. The two then joined Shimmer and Gerath to finish shopping for their journey into the Dragon's Nest and procured two monstrous beasts known as Aurachs (orcish beasts of burden). They all finished up what final tasks they needed to be done and looked forward to the travel the next day.

That evening, Hope (returned to her normal self) invited everyone to go dancing. Only Shimmer, Lyra, and Silvara accepted and they headed towards a dance hall/tavern called the Anvil (where you go to get hammered). They joined in on the festivities for many hours until Hope noticed a brute of a man staring at her from across the room. When she got close enough, she noticed the tattoos on his arm were decorated with demonic symbols. The bruite, Reigns, a demon serving her lord was sent to fetch her for a meeting. Hope consensually went with the demon and a note was left on her bedside table detailing that she had fallen in love and was remaining in Magalodahr. Accepting her decision, the company left the dwarf stronghold behind and headed out towards the Dragon's Nest. However, not three hours into the journey was the company beset by guard drakes baring down on them. In the midst of the battle, a shiny knight rode down from the hills, joining the fight…

An Interlude I

The Void. The Tower of Mirrors.

The doors of the ancient tower, floating aimlessly through the blackness of the Void, swung open. A man, dressed in a fashion centuries before it’s time, strode in. His dark brown hair was short and cut to part on one side, his eyes green with the pupils replaced by solid black hourglasses. He was clean shaven, a new trend he was trying out. He glanced at the walls around him; his eyes wandering over the dozens of mirrors that were stacked at high as the ceiling. Some were beautifully crafted, other simple wooden frames, but each one reflected the individual standing inside the mirror. The man took notice of the many that were covered in black veils, the glass shattered behind.

He continued down the hall before coming to a large study. In the center of the room was a monstrous desk covered in books, scrolls, papers, ink, and quills. The only sound was his own custom designer shoes and the scratching of a pen on parchment. The man sitting at the desk looked as though he should have been buried long ago. His beard was snow white and reached his ankles, his hair matching in color and was pulled back in a long braid down his back. The robes he wore were functional but hardly glamorous. They were a faded blue with accents of navy.

“What do you want, Gaunovaun?” The old man asked, not bothering to look up from his work.

“Good morning to you too, Shuzen.” Gaunovaun slide down into a chair, taking a moment to snap his fingers and do away with all the dust that would no doubt ruin his tailored suit. “And how does the Void find you this day?”

“There are no days,” Shuzen replied. He paused and looked up. “And I’m surprised the Night Serpent didn’t feast on you as you arrived. She’s been endlessly complaining about hunger recently.”

“Apparently, she’s moved on.” Gaunovaun started flipping through pages of one of the books; he already knew what it was and that there was a better version in about fifty-three years. “Probably because the Titans are bringing their war closer to the Rift.”

“I have not heard such rumors,” Shuzen continued his writing but Gaunovaun noticed it had slowed. “Besides, they’ve tried to get through the Rift before. I’m sure you remember they did not succeed.”

“Ah, but now, even I cannot see what the future holds.” Gaunovaun leaned forward with glee. “It’s an amazing sensation, not knowing the future. I’m actually enjoying myself.”

Shuzen paused and put down his quill. He leaned back in his chair, glaring at his guest. “And how does the Old One of Time suddenly not see all futures? I believe you love to push that fact into the faces of mortals whenever you can.”

“Because a loophole has been found,” Gaunovaun smirked. “Remember when that uppity hero managed to find her way to your tower?” He waited for Shuzen to nod in acknowledgement. “Well, shortly thereafter, the dragon Kragh revealed that he had one of the last Orbs of Dreams; Yogsothoth’s power still remains on the mortal plane.”

“You cannot be serious,” Shuzen replied. What life remained in his face was draining. “Something must be done. Call on your servants, find the orb. Nephilim must be made aware of this.”

“He is.” Gaunovaun crossed his legs and produced a small metal container from his jacket pocket and took a drink from it. “And while I do enjoy being surprised once in awhile, I do not like staring into oblivion. I’ve already made a deal with one of my best servants; she is confirming our suspicions that the Orb has found it’s way to Union.”

“The Rift.” Shuzen muttered. “Who has the Orb?”

“That… is a bit harder to tack down.” Gaunovaun admitted. “It seems that our friend Yogsothoth has enlisted help from our other brethren to keep it from us. I’ve been notified that the Swarm have made their return.”

“Asgaroth needs to be told,” Shuzen stood from the desk, wiping his hands on his robes. He reached for his staff to find that it wasn’t where he left it; odd. “He needs to be warned to not let Erek-Hus through the Rift if it is opened.”

“Asgaroth is a prisoner here, just like the rest of us,” Gaunovaun stood as well, keeping his eyes locked on the Old One of Knowledge. “He aches to be free of the formless Void just as you and I do. Just what is our existence here? To float through all eternity and nothingness, depending on mortals to serve our needs and keep us powerful? He wants to be free.”

“Then we fight him,” Shuzen turned with a start. “We fight them and drive them back to outer reaches, away from the Rift.”

“We’re not powerful enough to fight Asgaroth and Erek-Hus, much less defense the Rift against Yogsothoth and Leviathan,” Gaunovaun paused while giving a sly look. “At least not alone.”

“No,” Shuzen shot back after understanding his meaning. “I will not allow you to open that cage. Kaareon must remain chained else we all be destroyed.”

“See, that’s the great thing about being a Master of Time,” Gaunovaun was suddenly holding a long white staff that held a blue crystal on the end. Shuzen made a move to grab the staff but the Old One of Time was expecting the attack. He held out the staff causing Shuzen to slam against the desk, scattering books and papers. “I am endless and can learn and act within the ticks of a second. Your notes have told me what I need and where to find hs cage; not to mention how to open it. The more you know.”

With a flick of the staff, Gaunovaun launched Shuzen back against the wall with a loud thud and a crack. Shuzen slumped to the ground, unconscious. Spinning the staff around, the Old One of Time clicked his heels and walked back towards the entrance of the Tower of Mirrors, the key that he needed in hand.

Chasing the Smile, Part 13

Lul woke with a start. The blinding light of the hooded lantern obstructed his vision as he pulled at his bindings again. They still held tight. He couldn’t remember how many days it had been since he last passed out; or if it had even been days. His stomach growled; when was the last time he had eaten?

“Hello?” He tried to call out. His voice was weak and scratchy. When was the last time he had tasted water? “Is anyone there?”

His eyes slowly adjusted to the light enough so that he could make out the small table near the chair he was strapped to. On it were an assortment of blades, saws, wire, and a finger. Wait, did he see that right? He looked again, straining through the glow of the flame. Yes, he had seen right. There was an index finger sitting casually on the table next to a large butcher knife. Immediately, he started counting his digits, not daring to look down until he could feel all ten. He sighed in relief when none were missing. He looked down at his clothes. They had been torn, cut; underneath were small incisions but he felt no real pain. He blinked hard, trying once again to pull against his bonds.

“Hello?” He called out again. What answered made the cuts start to burn in remembrance.

“Well, well,” the sly, viper voice hissed back. It was human but had a strong drawn out accent. “It looks like my company has finally woken up from his nap. Welcome back to the land of the living.”

“Where are you?” Lul tried to toughen up his voice but he still found it weak and pitiful. “Show yourself.”

“You don’t remember me, Lul?” The figure stepped into the light, illuminating his sharp features, long stringy hair, and theater make-up depicting a white face and black, devilish smile across his face. He wore a butcher’s outfit that was splattered with blood. “I’m insulted.”

“You’re the Black Smile.” Lul could feel his heart rate accelerating. He suddenly remembered being captured after Ahkaris had jumped him and Railyn. He remembered being strapped to chair; being cut on by this maniac. “You murdering piece of-”

“Language!” The Black Smile struck Lul across the face. It was hard enough to nearly topple him over. “I’m not talking about what I’ve become; I’m talking about who I was. Look deep into my eyes, Lul. Remember me.”

“I don’t associate with psychopaths.” Lul replied, spitting blood onto the Smile’s coat. He nodded at the finger. “You planning on growing your collection?”

“Oh, this?” The Smile picked up the finger and tossed it into the darkness. “Hardly. I was never one to collect trophies; not my style. I’m an artist, you see, and I hold grudges.”

The Black Smile walked back into the darkness and was then suddenly illuminated by another hooded lantern. He tilted it to shine down on a woman; at least Lul thought it was a woman at one point. Her face had been cut down the center, the flesh pulled back to either side. Maggots roamed over her muscles and bone. She was missing all but two of her fingers and her left leg was completely gone clear up to the hip. It looked as though her chest had been cut open and then sewn back up. All the while as Lul looked upon the monstrosity before him, the Black Smile lived up to his name and grinned from ear to ear.

“Do you like it?” The Smile asked. “I took my time with this canvas; made sure that every brush stroke was done with precision and grace.”

“You’re sick.” Lul managed to choke out, prying his eyes away from the scene. In a flash the Smile was yanking his head back to look at the woman.

“You have to see it properly!” The Smile stepped back around to the front of Lul. “This is Ruby; she is… was a local smuggler. She worked for a woman named Obsidian. Do you know who also worked for Obsidian? Hope; the bitch who orchestrated my fall from power. Now, I know that she is currently out of town on some fool’s errand to the Dragon’s Nest along with her little friends. But we don’t have to worry about that. If she perishes overseas, fantastic! But when she returns, she will find her old associates flocking to bring me her head. And if you think that her little friends will help, they’ll have their own problems to deal with.”

“You talk too much.” Lul said. He had been struggling to work one of his arms loose during the Smile’s monologue and had finally succeeded. He swung in a wide arc at the serial killer and managed to catch him in the jaw. Surprised by this, the Smile stumbled backwards in shock but that damn grin never faded. Lul immediately took the opportunity and freed his other arm and legs.

“Yes, yes,” The Smile called after Lul as he tried to run. His legs were not cooperating very well and he stumbled to the ground repeatedly. “Run, run little rabbit. It’s no fun if the dogs don’t get to chase their prey.”

Lul crawled, staggered, and hobbled through the darkness, banging his already aching legs into tables, chairs, and over what he assumed to be more bodies. He scraped and clawed until he found a door. Pulling himself up, he reached for the knob when he suddenly realized he didn’t hear the Smile’s cackling anymore. Finding it far more disturbing to not hear him than to suffer through the torture of it, he turned the handle and ripped open the door.

“Lul,” A voice echoed inside his head as the bartender stared into two large, black eyes shadowed beneath a deep hood. “Attempting to leave so soon? But my friend is not done with you.”

A strong hand grabbed Lul by the shoulder, spinning him around. Lul stared deep into the wild eyes of the Black Smile and his ever persistent grin before everything went black.

S2E10: Hospitality of the Dwarves
Frustration and Revelation...

As our heroes entered the gates of Magalodahr, they were greeted by the Captain of the Guard, Dain son of Thain, hero of the Free Marches. Gerath immediately leapt from the carriage and introduced himself and identified the rest of the company. While this was going on, Silvara leaned towards Titus and suggested that she, at one point, had an attraction to shorter individuals. Immediately after, Dain and Silvara embraced like old friends. Dain informed the company that the guards would be accompanying them at all times during their travels through Magalodahr. The company was led off to their rooms while their horses and cart were taken to the stables.

Inside their rooms, they found very comfortable beds and accomidations. Titus found that he was gifted a sword from the Captain; Sovereign, the blade that struck Kragh. Jackson quickly discovered that the three kobolds managed to sneak their way into his room, asking about the small fountain he put together when he was bored. Before Dain turned to his duties, Theristis inquired about the location of Graul Stonehelm. Dain took the name and told the assassin he would see what his scouts could find but promised nothing. 

Hope took Titus, Theristis, and Shimmer to her room where she made a very definitive statement, "We're screwed." They batted around several ideas but ultimately did not get any closer to a plan to break into the Magalodahr Vault. Soon, they were informed that the banquet was ready for them. Across the table was a wide variety of foods ranging from elven dishes, to dwarven meat, and several kinds of potatoes, much to Jackson's delight. While Hope was expecting Dain to join the feast, she was let down when Shin, Dain's personal mage, joined them instead. He asked questions about the group, calling each by name. Eventually, he took his leave and the company retired to their rooms. 

The following day, the company was taken on a tour of the city and ended with a long, drawn out tale about the defeat of Kragh at the city gates. Shimmer, however, caught the scent of dragon and managed, with help from Theristis, to sneak away from the guards and find the creature. The Gold Dragon, Goldentooth, was an aged creature and inquired if Shimmer was headed East. After being pressed, Goldentooth revealed that the Temple of Io in Union had managed to find a mage able to open a rift into the Void where the spirit of Asgaroth was locked in eternal battle with Erek-Hus. He suspected that they planned to open the rift and allow Asgaroth to return to the material plane. Shimmer was spotted by the guards unfortunately and herded back with the group. 

The company was then free (with guarded escort) to venture through the city. Titus sent word to speak with Dain as Hope did as well, abeit more seductively. In the meanwhile, Titus managed to procure a longbow that once belonged to his beloved wife, a weapon she had lost nearly a decade ago during the battle against Kragh. Her old bow wound up in the hands of Athelstan. Theristis managed to find a magic dealer who had several bags of holding gathered from the dead over the years. He picked out the cheapest (one crafted by the undead) and told no one about the dealer's secret stash of goods. 

Lyra and Hope made their way to the Library of Magalodahr. And while Lyra engrossed herself in the several tomes of dragons the dwarves had, Hope tried to extract information from the centuries old librarian. Sadly for Hope, he was less than helpful, telling her about how he bunkered down among the books during the attack on the city and did not see any fighting at all. After she exhausted the dead end, Hope ventured back into the city and found her companions. 

Dain answered Titus' call and met him in a local guard house. It is then revealed that Dain had been contacted by Queen Ekino on Titus' request, warning the dwarf about the impending attack on the Magalodahr Vault. Dain thanked the cleric and wished him good health on his journey. Titus took the opportunity to ask about the magical hammer Gunner in New Cottonwood requested. Unfortunately, Dain tried to track down the hammer but was unsuccessful. 

Earlier in the day, Theristis was given a parchment from the Captain. It seemed his scouts had found where the Syndicate resided. After waiting until nightfall, the group (sans a studying Lyra and sleeping Jackson) headed into the slums of the city where the dwarven guard stood back, allowing the company to proceed with their business. Tracking down the address was easy. After making plans and using a Hat of Disguise, Theristis was primed to gain entry into the safehouse but Titus jumped the gun, attacking one of the other assassins. The company followed suit and slaughtered the three lookouts in moments. Pushing through the door, Theristis found Graul sitting quietly by a fireplace in an empty guildhall, the glory long gone. He discovered that the Syndicate couldn't keep up with the growing might of the other assassins guilds (the Derby Shire Derelicts, the Emerald Blade, etc.) and dwindled into obscurity. The only thing they had left was the Assassing's Thinblade, a trophy from the 'good old days' when it was just the Syndicate and the Guruthos. Graul offered the blade up in exchange that he live his days without having to look over his shoulder. Theristis agreed after taking the lock of hair that had all of Graul's trophies on it. The company kept their word and headed back towards the city, leaving Graul to live out his short remaining life in peace…

Chasing the Smile, Part 12

“Well that could have gone better,” Railyn commented more to himself that his queen walking beside him. He was finally getting used to his new leg but stairs still held a problem for the paladin. He just couldn’t get the same rhythm down as he had taken advantage of all those years past.

“The fool!” Ekino blurted out on the steps of the palace. Railyn quickly looked around to make sure no one was listening too intently. “We bring her undeniable proof about monsters and plots in Union and what does she do? Defer to her advisors on the matter; advisors that are no doubt in Onyx’s pocket!”

“Majesty, I’m not entirely sure this the appropriate place to have this discussion.” Railyn leaned in. His concern was met with a flash of magic across his queen’s eyes in frustration. “Then again, you are the queen of Bladeweb; you may do as you wish.”

“Thank you for your permission,” Ekino rolled her eyes and headed for their waiting carriage. Once they were inside, Railyn instructed the driver to take them back to their home away from home. Ekino’s eyes had softened in the short amount of time it took to get into the vehicle. She was watching out the window, staring aimlessly at the trees passing by.

“Your Majesty,” Railyn spoke quietly, trying not to disturb her too much. “I worry about your charges in the west. By now they should be in Magalodahr and yet we’ve had no word from them in the least. Does this not cause you concern?”

“They are adventurers now, Railyn,” Ekino smiled, remembering the old days. “Things tend to be forgotten on the road, when your life is in constant danger. I’m sure you remember.”

“I do,” Railyn hesitated. “But we could really use them back here sooner rather than later. We could send a delegation to the city, see if they have arrived yet.”

“No,” Ekino looked from the trees and singing birds to her companion. “Once I discovered that Gerath of Riviera was planning a trip to Kragh’s horde, I knew he was our ticket in. Full confession, I set up most of his contacts and arranged many of his connections. I need them to venture to Kragh’s Horde and determine whether the orb is still there or not.”

“This is still about…” Railyn paused, choosing his words. “Him, isn’t it? He wants the orb for some reason.”

“Don’t start this again, Railyn,” Ekino sighed and looked back out the window. “You know not of what you speak.”

“But I am a paladin, Ekino,” Railyn recognized his mistake but didn’t care. “I know what it’s like to have a promise made to you; to be sent on fruitless quests and risk your life all in the name of an empty promise. Gaunovaun can’t bring back Vamos.”

Railyn felt his body tense. He noticed that Ekino has barely moved the first two fingers on her right hand and he was held fast. She was calm, a frightening scene for the paladin. “Railyn, I do not like duality. I believe that there is more than just good or evil; there are many levels in between. You have never trusted by allegiance to the Ancient One of Time, have you? Because it doesn’t fit into your tiny little view of the world. I have allowed your interruptions and nay-saying for years because I respect and love you, Railyn. But in this endeavor, you are becoming far more of a hinderance. Therefore, you are banned from my court until our dealings in Union are at their conclusion. Then, you may be allowed back in my presence and in my service. Do you understand?”

“Ekino…” Railyn started before his body was shocked with pain. He tensed, waiting desperately for the pain to subside. When it finally did, he looked to his queen. “I understand, your majesty.”

“Good.” Ekino waved her hand ever so slightly and Railyn found himself being flung out the door of the carriage. He slammed into the stone pavement, his metal leg clanking loudly on the ground, alerting on-lookers. Realizing he could move, he stood and watched the carriage disappear around a bend.

The paladin brushed off his cloak and straightened his armor and weapons and started walking before realizing he had nowhere to go. Lul was still missing, the Chateau was closed off to him, and the Slayers were still out of town. He paused before starting off again with vigour. “I’m sure they won’t mind. Besides, they’re out of town.”

S2E9: Welcome to Magalodahr
Here there be griffins... wait...

Our story opens with Hope, kneeling in the middle of a circle of candles. A dark figure loomed in the smoke around her. Their conversation consisted of Hope pleading for 'power' that the figure could provide… for a steep price. For her life and the souls of her husband and child, Hope was granted the power she now wields. 

Dawn had not yet broken when the monk came to the Slayer's camp to fetch Hope, now calling herself Dispair, to work in the fields as she promised. As they passed through the village, she noticed a human wizard calmly standing near the northern edge, as if waiting for something. The monk accompanying Hope told her that he brought a dwarf delegation some time during the night; no one  knows why for sure. The monk then led her to the fields to work.

By dawn, Theristis and Lyra had gotten ready and wandered into town. Within moments, however, Lyra noticed that Theristis was nowhere to be seen. Knowing that he was an expert assassin and rogue, she shrugged her shoulders and proceeded on with her morning. Later, Theristis came to his senses and found himself standing over the body of one of the monks, sword in hand, and a large slash across the monk's throat. While the gruesome sight took him by surprise, he did feel much better and well-rested. Seeing that gatherers from the village were approaching, he stashed the body in an empty log and blocked the entrance with a rock. After a pit stop at the river to wash off the blood, he hurried back to the camp where he immediately informed Gerath that they should be on their way. Gerath agreed overwhelmingly and tasked the assassin with feeding Jackson and the three kobolds before heading off to gather the rest of the group. 

While walking around town, getting tips on basket weaving, Lyra noticed the wizard patiently waiting at the north end of town. She inquired as to why he was there and what he was waiting on. The wizard obliged her answers for a time before deciding that it was best to stop. Four dwarves exited a small shack nearby and approached the duo. The wizard promptly joined the dwarves and teleported them away. Just before leaving, however, Lyra noticed the crest of King Greybeard on the wizard's robes, signifying his service to the Throne of Magalodahr.

Moments, later, Gerath arrived, telling Lyra the good news about leaving much earlier than expected. He hurried off to the fields to meet with Hope. Hope turned her benefactor down saying that she had work to do and that they could stay until they were done. Back at the camp, Gerath mentioned this to Athelstan. The hunter was very willing to leave the camp for a time after interrupting Titus and Silvara's morning. He arrived at the fields and informed Hope they were leaving; Hope tried to argue back and even offered up cookies. However, during their conversation, the monks had already pressed on with their daily work and insisted that Hope go with her friends, "releasing her" from her debt. The two arrived back at camp but still Hope insisted they wait until mid-day. Theristis, somewhat nervous about staying near the village, took his panther and headed on up the road telling the rest they could meet up with him.

Around mid-day, one of the monks approached the camp as requested by Hope. She asked about a certain flower, hoping to find some in the area. The monk had no knowledge of the local flora and directed her to the gatherers. One of the gatherers told her that the only place he knows of where the nightshade grew was much further north around Wintervale. However, there was a purple and blue flower that grew in the ruins of a small village in the forest that could act as a poison, even though instead of paralysis, it caused deathly vomiting and dehydration. Hope tried to convince the rest to make a day long detour but to no avail and the group pressed onwards. 

Later that night, our heroes found themselves on the edge of the forest when a large rain storm blew in, threatening their campsite. Through the rain and mist, Lyra managed to identify a path that would lead them to higher ground. However, as they were trying to make their way, a large surge of water knocked the cart, sending Jackson and Kress into the water. Jackson immediately transformed into a crocodile and snatched the kobold from the water. Using magic and strength, our heroes roped Jackson and pulled him to safety just as the water was threatening them yet again. They waited out the rest of the storm and the water receded. 

The following day, the Slayers came across a small outpost built by the dwarves. It was decorated with dragon skulls and bones as a warning to the beasts who happen the area. The heroes did not linger and pressed on from the outpost only to be hunted hours later by a Royal Griffin, a rarity in the East but far more predominate in the Free Marches since the fall of Kragh. Despite Lyra's knowledge on the creature, which was very little as the beasts had yet to be fully studied, the heroes slew the beast and claimed feathers, claws, and beaks as trophies.  Only a few hours later, they approached the massive walls and gates of the dwarven city of Magalodahr. Atop the large stone walls, soldiers kept a sharp eye out and manned the windlances designed to take down dragons and other flying creatures. As if on cue, the doors of the city opened and the Slayers were met by a dozen soldiers flanking them. Another dwarf, missing half his beard and accompanied by four other dwarves dressed similarly to himself, approached and smiled at the group. "I am Dain son of Thain, Captain of the Guard. Welcome to Magalodahr."

S2E8: On the Road Again
All things dragon

With dawn breaking over South Warren, the Slayers pack their things and begin their journey towards Hammurabi Village on the other side of the Haunted Jungle. Before they left, Silvara rode up to them astride a black steed (a half-nightmare), ready for battle on the road ahead. The group headed off into the wilderness and through the Haunted Jungle, taking note of a pack of wolves that followed them through their territory. The wolves turned back without incident; a smart move on the animals' part. 

The Slayer set up camp and Theristis hurried off into the brush in search of poison tree frogs. His search was not in vain, as he managed to capture two and make a single dose of poison for use later. Hope also went searching for certain flora in the Jungle but came up empty handed. It was Athelstan and Titus who ran into trouble as they marched off into the Jungle to hunt. Titus took the lead as Athelstan followed behind. The cleric nearly tripped on a log but quickly determined that it was a living creature at his feet and not wood. Athelstan, unbelieving his companion, balked at Titus until the dragon lifted its head to look over the hunter's shoulder at his picture book. The beast loomed over the two, toying with his prey and savoring the meal to come. Titus tried to reason with the creature by proclaiming he had just gotten married. The dragon responded with the threat that once he was done with Titus, he would visit the widow. Titus leapt into a rage, attacking the powerful creature.

Meanwhile, back at the camp, our heroes were just beginning their watches when Silvara, Titus' new bride, was suddenly alerted. She leapt to her feet, arming herself, yelling to the rest to follow her; a dragon was nearby. Our heroes rushed through the jungle to join the fight. Despite a hard fight, two heroes nearly dying, and Shimmer finding himself unable to approach the beast, the dragon was driven off and the heroes returned to camp bloodied and bruised. 

Later that night, Athelstan was making his rounds during his watch. He found a small group of kobolds holed up in a cave muttering to themselves. After retrieving Lyra and Shimmer, they returned and discovered that the three kobolds, Kress, Krass, and Pret, were on the run, trying to find a new 'lord.' After a battering from Shimmer, the trio decided to follow the dragon and journeyed with them the following morning. 

The Slayers continued on their way before coming to a large field covered in orange-red flowers called Dragon Flame. Shimmer became quiet, realizing that the flower only grows on the grave sites of dragons and here they were standing at a massive field of the flower. As they solemnly walked through, seeing the small village up ahead, Silvara began to recite a prayer for the dragon souls found there. After the first verse, Shimmer picked up the song and continued through the rest of the prayer as our heroes came to the small bridge with a large sign with the word "Hammurabi". 

They soon discovered that the village was a very simple place. The monks living there were simple and self-sustained, not requiring coin or gems but trade goods. Shimmer placed a message to speak with the Temple Guardian, Shir. Titus, ever the prankster, traded for a pot and found a unique stone in the river. Giving the gift to Athelstan, he quietly cast a spell to simply confuse the hunter. The strange sounds reverberated from the pot until a single voice spoke out above the rest. Athelstan immediately set about washing off the stone to discover that it was actually a gem and the voice inside was adamant about being kept. This furthered Titus' belief that the hunter was simply insane.

To the group's surprise, Gerath and Theristis worked together to attempt to disguise Hope into a new identity, 'Dispair.' The tiefling adopted a strong southern bell accent and dressed herself in a sundress, completely confusing the patron and assassin. 

Later in the night, Shimmer found himself digging through the Black Forest when he was accompanied by a projection of an elf, decorated with white scales. Shimmer inquired about protecting his horde and Shir agreed to look into anything he could help about. Shimmer then asked another favor… a question, "Are the homids worth it?" Shir smiled and shrugged. "There are some who would believe they are the best the world has to offer but others who would rather see them burn. The real question, Shimmer, is are they worth it to you?"


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