Monday, December 21, 2009

SESSION TWENTY-ONE “Ascent to Kadagar’s Keep”

The night after Billy leaves, Ewald finds himself once again in the dreamrealm domain of Nulcragh, the fiery elemental of the hot springs. This time he is visited by the elemental itself, in the form of a billowy humanoid body of steam, with glowing embers for eyes. In a deep voice, Nulcragh tells Ewald the following.

“I have a message for thee stoneborn. The horned one treads a path on the edge of a great abyss. The only reason he yet breathes is my debt to him and you for slaying the creature that despoiled my domain. I would warn him myself in repayment of this debt but the powers that guard him ward his mind. He is cut from all celestial bonds and become enemy of the Gods. As child of Erod and servant of the great powers of this land it will fall to you to either save him... or destroy him. Tell him if you wish, that I consider this warning payment of my debt. Should he enter my domain again, I will steam the flesh from his bones and cleanse his spirit that it might better escape the dark places it now inhabits.”

With the final words, the dream dissolves in a hiss of steam and Ewald awakens, drenched in sweat.

Around the small fire that morning, while Gruff works on cleaning and preparing the wyvern hide, the group discusses their plans. Tristan has noticed Rory’s illness, and when questioned about it, Rory tells him the cause, relating that while the negative effects of Tashea’s geas are uncomfortable, it doesn’t seem to be getting any worse. Still, they consider whether or not they should first return the time scepter to their dragon mistress before doing anything else.

After some deliberation, and a strong feeling from Ewald that they should go after Kadagar soon, the party decides they will try to destroy the necromancer first. After some thought, Ewald gives Gruff a warning concerning his dark magics, not forcing the issue, but letting the Trulla know that his descent into shadow has been noticed. Gruff, for his part, points out that it’s not where the power comes from, but what you do with it that’s important. The argument doesn’t fly well with most of the party, but they let it go, for now.

Having found enough pony hair from the Hodra riders, Rory is able to conjure up some mounts for the party with his arcane spellwork. Thus provisioned, the group sets off up the Blackback valley, skirting the center and choosing a more difficult, but less obvious path.

The path first rises. Once past the Darkurth cavern entrance, it dips again. On the second day of travel, Rory, who has been scouting ahead, spots a Hodra warrior cutting toward his companions a quarter wheel behind. After first hiding, he then quickly returns to the others, warning them of the visitor in time for the group to hide themselves and their ponies as best they can.

Though they try their best, it’s obvious that the Hodra has seen at least one of them. Probably Ewald in his very shiny suit of magical Durin plate mail. Tristan keeps a bead on the approaching enemy with his bow while Rory prepares a web spell. At about the point that the Hodra notices the others, Tristan lets fly with his arrow and Rory lets fly with his spell. The result being a very dead, very immobilized Hodra. Gathering the warriors crossbow and bolts, and rifling his pockets for his few coins, Tristan then throws the body over his saddle and the party moves out. Tristan’s cloak is now draped over Ewald, to better camouflage the sparkly Durin.

Much later they dump the body over a likely cliff, hoping that the cause of death (should anyone find the body) will be considered an accidental fall. With no sign of pursuit and an uneventful camp that night, they feel they’ve evaded any detection.

Toward the end of the following day they come upon a large herd of ponies in a meadow on the eastern side of the valley. They know from the many smoke plumes in the valley that they are near the Blackback village now. The ponies are being watched over by two older Hodra. Though they feel certain they could make quick work of the herders, they are interested in keeping their presence unknown. The meadow is long and open, with it’s eastern end being walled by difficult terrain.

The plan decided upon includes Gruff summoning his wolf, Fenris, who will scare the ponies off down the meadow, thus allowing the group to ride through undetected. Unfortunately, when Gruff summons Fenris, his one-time pet growls and lunges at the Trulla, grabbing hold of his master’s arm with sharp teeth. Gruff is stunned. In pain and with an eye to his own defense, he lashes out with his new shadow magic, striking Fenris with shadowy tendrils that bat the dog down and make it cry out in pain. He then quickly dispels the beast as the other’s look on in confusion and fear.

The conversation that follows puts Gruff on the defensive once again. The others see this as further proof that Gruff is straying down a dangerous path. Gruff insists that it only means he must choose new creatures to summon, that with the change in his power source, his old ways must adapt.

Having still to cross the meadow, the plan is revised. While Gruff is forbidden by the group from summoning any more creatures for the time being, Ewald instead summons his owl. Then augmented by Rory’s illusion, the owl in the shape of a wyvern does the job originally assigned the wolf, flying out into the meadow and successfully sending the ponies off at high speed. The two herders watch stunned for a moment before giving chase, leaving the party to proceed unhindered.

Having passed the village, their next encounter comes when Rory startles a crippled Hodra carrying water from a stream. The Hodra has but one arm, and by his cries and limping gate, seems to be slow-witted. Nevertheless, he does cry out and fearing discovery Rory webs the poor creature and knocks him on the head, breaking his bucket.

Returning to the others to tell them what happened, they eventually reach the scene to find the Hodra once more up and limping quickly out of sight and around the bend further up the stream. Unsure of what to do, they decide the cripple is likely an outcast and not any kind of immediate threat. Tristan spends a moment repairing the Hodra’s bucket before preparing to continue on. As the group is about to depart, they hear a familiar voice coming from upstream. To everyone’s surprise, their one-time travelling companion, Pede Halfhelm comes around the corner with the Hodra in tow.

After a brief meeting on the trail with the Daagar smith, Pede insists that the group come to his cave where they can talk without the possibility of being spotted. They learn that the Hodra is Pede’s helper, a crippled warrior named Gorik. They also learn that with all the recent Daagar troops in the Blackback village, Pede has decided to spend his time in this isolated cave instead of in the village proper.

It seems that the besides all the Daagar troops, the dark priest, Master Laxxis has made his way to the village as well. At this news Gruff, who is having a hard time not killing the Daagar smith, becomes very interested in the conversation. His fear stems from the fact that Master Laxxis is the very Daagar who owned the Shadow Path Idol before him. Pede goes on to explain that Master Laxxis is desperately searching for something. Also, Kadagar’s lieutenants have been seen in the village. Bloodless undead warriors in fine armor.

When Pede shows them his newest project, a finely forged greatsword meant as a gift for King Gral, ruler of the Blackbacks, Gruff’s avarice nearly overwhelms him. Pede plans on giving the King the weapon in hopes of gaining himself a prominent place in the village, once the Daagar clear out that is.

Instead of murdering the Daagar and taking the sword, Gruff opts to commission Pede to make him his own weapon. He offers one of his dark gems as payment, which Pede immediately recognizes, and rejects. The smith claims that the gem is obviously one of Master Laxxis’ “special” gems and would not be tradeable in the village. With a bit of extra wariness, he asks Gruff for different payment, and is handed Gruff’s share of the Ettin treasure instead.

The party is shown to a small cave further up the stream where they stay the night, relatively certain that Pede won’t betray them to the Hodra. In the morning, Rory purchases a plain but functional bastard sword from Pede. Over an early morning breakfast, Pede lets on that Gorik is actually the son of King Gral, who challenged his father for leadership of the tribe and lost his arm and his wits in the duel. Though this all happened sometime before Pede arrived, the rumor has it that Gorik, like Kaz the Earthwalker, was against the alliance with Kadagar.

As the group sets out once more on their magic ponies, Gorik shuffles forward and hands Tristan a wrapped bundle. When he unwraps the gift, he finds it to be a punching dagger with a bone handle and finely crafted blade.

The parties journey from that point up to the small sapphire lake is uneventful. With every wheel further up the valley, the air becomes thinner and the weather colder. When they reach the lake, they find it perfectly reflects the blue sky and when standing at it’s edge, they can see clear to the bottom. Picking a campsite well out of sight of the lake itself, they await the night where they can watch the spring moon to see which of the many peaks it sets on.

While fishing for their supper, Tristan and Gruff spy a large figure on the other side of the lake. Watching unobserved, they see the creature enter the ice cold waters and disappear beneath the surface. They decide they’ve caught enough fish and return to camp.

Later that night, they spy a small mounted party come up the valley and skirt the far side of the lake, Though they can make out little detail, they can see that at least one or two are outfitted in metal armor that gleams in the moonlight. The party disappears through a gap in the rocks above the lake.

In the morning, after noting during the night the proper peak, the group decides that the mounted party they spied last night must be taking a roundabout trail to the keep. Deciding on a more direct path, they forego the ponies and instead implement a combination of Ewald’s Airwalk spells and Rory’s levitation to head straight toward the peak, moving over terrain otherwise impassible. Though Tristan is far from happy with the route, he toughs it out.

Several times during their approach they spy the small trail most likely taken by those on horseback or foot, but they keep a good distance away from it. When the trail enters a deep, snow packed canyon, the group opts to go over a mountain to avoid it. Coming down the other side they are rewarded with their first glimpse of the keep ruins, some eight or nine wheels to the east.

Kadagar’s fortress sits on the side of a mountain, it’s crumbled walls and jagged spires barely discernible from the stone of the mountainside. Directly below them, a vast and dark chasm encircles the mountain fortress. Nearing the chasm, all can hear the sawing and moaning winds that whistle constantly through it. Ewald has little doubt that such winds will be difficult to push through with his magics. But still the group believes that it is better to stay away from the trail itself, where guardians and watching eyes are more likely to spot them.

They decide to try the approach after dusk, when their midair hike will be less visible. Until then they get what rest they can in the lee of a large boulder, wrapped tight in their cloaks.

When the time comes, Ewald casts an Airwalk spell on himself and Gruff. Rory then casts a levitate on Tristan and himself and they tie off to their companions. Bracing themselves against the rushing, icy winds, they make their way out and over the chasm. As suspected, the winds are enough to slowly push them parallel with the chasm, but they make headway still.

Then, near the center of the great canyon, Rory spots trouble. From the darkness below he sees several swirling masses of ice and snow separate from the canyon walls and rise toward them. Before the snow and ice dissipate, he clearly can see the limbs of what can only be air elementals. Screaming out a warning over the blasting wind the hero’s barely have time to brace themselves before the elementals are upon them....

Sunday, December 6, 2009


As the group hunkers down, making what preparations they can for a somewhat unbalanced assault on forty or more Hodra, Rory spots more bad news. A second contingent of eighteen Blackbacks slowly make their way up the trail, driving a heavy sled pulled by two Kuldan brutes.

Somehow managing to keep their groans to themselves, the heroes watch as the new group of Hodra pull the sled to a halt before the narrow ravine leading to the springs. Being dragged behind the sled is a Neran prisoner. Little can be seen of him however, beyond his rough condition and blonde hair. None of the group recognize the man and they dare not attempt a rescue with such uneven odds.

The new group appears to be led by a Hodra shaman of some sort. After the enemy unloads the sled, they march off up the ravine, taking the crates and barrels with them and leaving no guard behind. A quick, invisible recon of the sled and supplies by Rory shows them to be food and foul smelling hodra beer. It appears the Blackbacks are having some sort of party.

Just before dark the last insult reveals itself as not one, but TWO of the wyvern-rider scouts can be seen flying into the springs. Thoroughly disheartened, Billy admits that any foray into the springs now would be near enough to suicide. Not even Gruff's usually unconquerable optimism can hold up to this situation. The heroes retreat further back into the stubby, highland trees and make a cold camp for the night, settled on returning Billy to his people in the morning.

That night, as Ewald sleeps, he is pulled into a strange dream. In the dream, which he at first believes to be real, he wakes in a steamy, dripping cavern. Through the billowing clouds of vapors he sees the Hodra shaman that arrived with the sled. Eying each other warily, they soon discover that each can understand the other perfectly. A conversation follows in which Ewald learns that the Hodra shaman is an Earthwalker (the Hodran equivalent of a druid) named Kaz.

Kaz and his people are at the Springs to rededicate the sight to a powerful fire spirit named Nulcragh. Kaz believes it is this elemental who brought them together in the dream. Although the Blackbacks and Ewald's friends are at war, Kaz believes they both have a common enemy in the Necromancer, Kadagar. Although Kaz follows his King, he believes Kadagar and his demonic ways will lead the Blackbacks to ruin. He cannot openly oppose the necromancer, but wishes him destroyed nonetheless.

After much discussion, and an equal amount of sweating, Ewald and Kaz come to an agreement. For his part, Kaz will urge his Hodra King to hold off any further searching for the Trulla of Namichek, and will allow the heroes to enter the springs and hold their healing rituals, if Ewald and his friends travel to Kadagar's stronghold and try to put an end to him. He reasons that doing so will undoubtedly aid the Trulla as well. Before the dream ends, Kaz gives Ewald directions to Kadagar's icy keep.

"Travel up the valley past the Darkurth stair. Past the home of my people and to the lake of saphires beyond. The necromancer's keep lies on the peak where the moon beds down in the springtime sky."

Ewald takes the opportunity to ask Kaz about the healing natures of the springs, inquiring of the Hodra whether their people have also used the springs in such a way. To this Kaz gives a very confident "no". Making it clear that Nulcragh is a powerful fire spirit but with no influence toward healing. "In all our lore and in all my experience, this spring has never healed anyone. If you have experienced healing here, it has come from within you, and not from Nulcragh."

In the morning, Ewald tells the others of his dream encounter and his agreement with the Earthwalker, Kaz. The shaman told Ewald that the rituals would last another day and then the group would be leaving the springs.

On a separate note, Rory's mysterious illness returns upon waking. In a moment of insight, he realizes that the illness is arcane in origin. From that realization it's but a quick step to realize that their dragon mistress, the green shagoran, Lady Tashea, and her cursed geas is responsible. He can only guess that using the Time scepter in direct opposition to Lady Tashea's commands is the cause, and that only returning the scepter and begging for forgiveness will end it.

That night, Gruff has a talk with his own "imaginary" friend, Seer Gavin, who makes it clear that the healing of Billy will take a great deal out of the old seer, and it will likely mean that Gavin will have trouble guiding Gruff for some time after. Gruff tells the old man that he understands and is thankful.

Things play out like Kaz says, and on the second morning after the dream-meeting, the Hodra pack their sled and make their way home. Waiting a short while to verify that all the hodra are indeed gone, the group then makes their careful way to the springs.

Laying Billy near the central pool, the group looks to Gruff for the next part of their mission. As Gruff starts to take advice from Gavin on the placement of Billy and the use of the dark gems, Tristan spots a dark shape crouching at the edge of the cliffs above them. Shouting out a warning, he draws his sword and raises his shield as a wyvern hisses and pounces from above.

All hell breaks loose as the group engages the beast, trying to lure it away from Billy while narrowly dodging and parrying its bites, claws and poisonous tail. It's at this point that Gruff has another of his patented, brilliant ideas. With a shout and a boost from his divinely granted strength, he leaps to the wyvern's back, grasping one of it's many spinal quills, intent on breaking the beasts will and mastering it. Wanting none of that, the wyvern spins and hops back up to the top of the cliff, there to hopefully squish the Trulla on its back before returning to finish off the others.

Now it's Rory's turn to shout a warning as a second, smaller wyvern glides in from the north. With quick casting, Rory sends a fireball coursing to meet it. As the blast hits, the beast cries out and lands a bit more quickly than it had planned. Though injured, the creature's tough scales seem to have stopped the worst of the fire damage.

In truth, none of the heroes have had a great deal of luck giving either of the beasts anything more than minor wounds, and most of those given by Tristan's magic blade. Still, Ewald's Airwalk prayer brings him up the cliff face to help his crazy Trulla friend. Gruff still retains his precarious seat, alternately dodging poison stingers and shouting at the wyvern, "Submit Damn You, I AM YOUR MASTER NOW!!!" with an occasional, "EWALD LEAVE IT ALONE!!!" thrown in to piss off the Durin priest.

While Tristan and Rory keep the smaller one busy below, Gruff begins to doubt his plan when the wyvern hisses, "FOOD STINKS OF SHAGORAN!" in a low, powerful voice. The words coming from the beast are enough to momentarily stun both Ewald and Gruff, but Gruff is the one to pay for the lapse as the wyvern's stinger finally finds its target and pierces the Trulla's back.

As the poison shoots into Gruff, he finally looses his hold and is tossed roughly to the ground. Weakening by the second, only Ewald, attracting the beasts attention, keeps the Trulla alive in the next few moments. As Gruff begins to lose consciousness he can hear the words of Gavin. "I can save you but you must speak the words Gruff. Only you can enact the magic!". With extreme effort, Gruff repeats the words told to him by his spirit mentor, feeling a stronger magic than any he had ever felt from Gavin before flow through him. With a soul wrenching lurch, Gruff can feel the poison being expelled from his body and dark energy coursing through him.

At the same time, he feels a sickening tear spreading through his soul, and feels fear and loneliness the likes of which he has never known before. But hey, he's alive.

For all the world Gruff seems to be dead, while below Rory and Tristan are still battling the other wyvern. With a shout of anguish Ewald runs through the air, down toward his friends below, and thus misses the next bit of shadow theater from Gruff.

With a lonely cry of frustration and anger, Gruff rises up and points at the wyvern above him. His eyes are shadow filled pits that momentarily keep the beast at bay. In that moment, strong tendrils of shadow shoot from Gruff's outstretched arms, ensnaring the beast in binding shadows that quickly drag it to the ground. Once bound, the shadows continue to constrict the wyvern. Soon it's bone begin to break and its strangled cries can be heard by Ewald and the others below.

As Ewald checks his movement and turns back toward the clifftop, the second Wyvern, having been injured more than once by Tristan's blade, turns and retreats. Fearing the beast might escape and warn the Hodra, and possibly just being really pissed off, Rory sends a second fireball. With a cry of pain and anger the smaller wyvern careens into the canyon wall, snapping it's wing and crashing to the ground.

When Ewald crests the lip of the canyon he is presented with an unexpected sight to say the least. Gruff, apparently heeled, but obviously weary, kneels before the wyvern. The beast itself lies crushed and broken on the ground before the Trulla. It's feeble, fast diminishing cries are filled with pain. Unsure of what has happened, but suddenly feeling pity for the creature, Ewald steps closer.

The wyvern keeps repeating the same word, whispering, "Kill, kill.... killlll" Unsure whether it wants to kill or be killed, Ewald grants the mercy blow, sinking his axe deep between the beast's eyes.

Gruff continues to stare into nothingness, all traces of the shadow magic now gone.

As Rory and Tristan approach the injured wyvern below, Gavin's voice, whisper quiet and weak, tells Gruff that he must keep the second beast alive if Billy is to be healed. Tristan's raised blade is halted by Gruff yelling, "Don't kill the beast. I need it alive to heal my brother!!"

Several minutes later, the group watches Gruff, with worried, distrustful eyes. Having listened to his demands, they left the wyvern alive, though it's injuries are most likely such that it will die eventually anyway. At his command they pull the beast into a clear spot of ground and watch as he sets about creating a magic circle in it's own blood.

Both Rory and Ewald watch carefully, noting that the magic involved doesn't correspond with anything they are familiar with. Next Gruff sends the others away and works more on the circle. The others look on with apprehension as he enacts some sort of ritual. When he rises and approaches the main pool, it's plain to everyone that he's filled with some very powerful magic.

Next he has Billy get into the pool and then grasps his brothers hands. The magic flows from Gruff into Billy and both brothers pass out. They are carefully taken into the cave and left to rest. When Rory and the others check on the circle, and the wyvern, they are shocked to find that the beast has sunken in on itself and seems to have decomposed. Uneasy looks abound.

In Gruff's dreams he walks through the ruined and burnt cliffside village of his birth. In the way of dreams he knows that he is lost in a place that used to be his home. He searches for something but cannot find it. He knows beyond doubt that he has been separated from something important.

Billy awakens first. After a moment contemplating his legs, he lifts one cloven hoof and then the other before slowly rising to his feet. With a wide smile he lets out a great laugh and dashes from the cave, Rory follows but quickly loses the giddy Trulla as Billy races up the cliffside with more whoops of delight.

When Gruff wakes, it's with a cry of despair that is quickly muffled. Upon learning that Billy is healed he lets out his own laugh and runs from the cave as well. Soon he finds his brother, returning from his celebratory run and there's much slapping of backs and brotherly affection.

Fearing that all the yelling might attract more unwanted attention the group gathers their supplies and leaves the springs, making for their small campsite. Over a cold supper, they discuss their next moves. Billy insists that he can make it back to the mines on his own. Gruff and the others decide they need to move out toward Kadagar's keep in the morning.

At dusk, when Gruff steps away for his evening meditations, Rory thinks he hears the Trulla weeping. Gruff returns a while later, walking with a perceptible slump and sad demeanor but makes no comment.

With a final farewell and good luck, they part in the morning, one to bring new hope to his people, and the others to try and destroy an undead threat to all of Aeranos.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


(A quick note: It has been more than a month since our last session. The events are far from frssh in my mind. This is the barest bones of what I remember, and it's far from narrative. Sorry)

Gruff eventually wakes up.
The village is searched thoroughly for spies, undead or otherwise.
Billy decides to move the clan to the old mine. He also decides that going to the hot springs and getting healed is worth the chances involved.
The heroes lead the Trulla clan to the old mine.
Ewald, Billy and some of the Trulla search the mine. Tristan, Rory and Billy's best hunter go back out to cover the clan's tracks as best as possible.
Tristan's group encounters a hodra tracker, kills a hodra tracker and buries a hodra tracker in an unmarked grave in the woods.
Rory spots some large flying thing that flies off to the west.
In the mine, Ewald finds a good large cavern where the Trulla can get a bit more comfortable.
The next day, Tristan, Billy, Ewald, Rory and Gruff start their journey toward the hot springs, carrying Billy.
On the trip they spot a hodra wyvern rider, who thankfully doesn't spot them.
Several days of travel find them deep within Blackback territory and close to the springs. With the use of some invisibility Ewald airwalks on a recon to the springs. He's disheartened to find that the site has become a regular resort for the blackback hodra of the area. There are at least thirty hodra.
In a nearby gully, the heroes plan their next move...