Shadows of the Dragon

Spectres and onward to Graystone

Returning to Overlook you learn that Rolen’s mother has been kidnapped by the vile Rand Staven. Having no choice, you track him through town to an old temple. There you infiltrated the hideout while rain water poured in from the broken roof above, mixing with the blood that quickly spattered the floor. Rescuing Rolen’s mother you were then witness to a dramatic confrontation between Xavier and Elora; learning that Elora’s daughter was the reason she betrayed Xavier to Rand all those years previous. Overwrought with emotion Elora fled into the storm darkened streets of Overlook, her tears mixing with the rain.

Returning to Ironfell manor that night you notice an additional setting has been laid out at dinner and you are presently joined by a human woman with short dark hair and a lithe figure. She wears a dark vest over a white blouse and dark pants. Half of her face is obscured by an abstract tattoo, its whirling patterns of green and blue highlighting her deep green eyes.

Bram introduces your new guest. “Agent Talianna has graciously come to Overlook to transport you to the chamber of solitude.” Talianna nods as she is given introductions."

“It is my honor and duty to safeguard the portal code of the chamber of solitude. The shadow council will meet with you tonight. But first let us enjoy whatever delicious feast Bram has prepared for us.”

After the dinner Bram escorts you all back to his sparing chamber. Here, you see that the white square now contains a circle of orange runes, drawn in chalk. Close to the circle Talianna has begun a complex chant combined with the somatic gestures of Traveling. The spiraling shapes pulse with a faint light and inside the circle a hazy image forms depicting what appears to be a large stone chamber. If there are any furnishings in that chamber you are unaware of them, but a circle of light illuminates part of the floor. Talianna continues to chant and move her hands in the fluid forms of magic while Bram ushers for you to move forward. “We will reopen the portal to return you here, good luck!”

As you step into the portal you find yourselves in the stone chamber. A pool of light surrounds you, revealing a featureless flat floor of stone and beyond it, only darkness. After a few baited breaths, you notice the chamber is quite cold.

Minutes pass before your eyes detect movement, three figures in long gray robes approaching from out of the darkness. Their cowls disguise any features you might have recognized and they stop at the edge of the light. Behind you the portal snaps shut with a slight hiss. There is a slight edge of cinnamon to the otherwise musty air.

After a few moments the center figure begins to speak in a voice like the bones of the world. “Hail those who would become as us, are you prepared?”

An awkward pause grows before you realize you need to respond, giving a quick affirmation.

“Are you trained?”

This time you know what to expect and quickly respond confirming your training.

“Are you tested?”

Again with the affirmation, you begin to wonder how many questions you are going to have to answer, and what happens if you answer one incorrectly.

“Are you trusted?”

After your last response the figure removes three goblets from his robe, their golden surfaces reflecting strangely in the pale light. Into the goblets the left figure pours a roiling liquid from a small crystal decanter. The liquid fluoresces bluish green in the dim light of the chamber

As she pours you hear her voice, soft like the wash of the sea shore. “The ritual of enjoinment is about conquering yourselves, this liquid contains the essence of the feywilde, the elemental chaos, and the shadowfell; a brew that proves deadly to those of weak stamina. For generations Spectres like yourselves have submitted themselves to its sway to inure themselves to the hazards of our work; not all who have done so have survived.”

The central figure then presents you the cups, and seeing no other choice you and your companions partake of the strange brew.

You find the liquid in the cup fascinating. It is sometimes cold and sometimes hot, thick yet thin, sour and sweet and it burns like nothing you’ve ever known. You see from your companions faces they feel much the same thing, their expressions shifting rapidly as they feel the varied and often contradictory sensations. Suddenly your muscles tense and your eyes water. Gasping you fall to your knees and the room goes black.

You awaken some time later, in a darkness so black it must never have known the warming touch of light. The blackness seems to move and pulse, twisting ribbons of shadow forming a sea so vast it overwhelms the senses. The smell of sulfur and the stench of rot fills your nostrils and you can hear the slow intake and exhale of some great creature breathing.

Somehow you begin to be able to perceive, the darkness only to willing to show you what lies within it. Hundreds of feat long, a great beast rests in that darkness and somehow you know this is not your world. The beasts five heads writhe in unison, one blue, one green, one black, one white, and one red. Each head moving in sinuous, hypnotic patterns, their draconic features somehow reflecting and amplifying the darkness. The great beast seems to become aware of you, its ten eyes fixing upon you as it unleashes a roar, shaking the aether around you. You feel yourselves being pulled, attracted, compelled to move closer to the beast; horrible temptation and lust mixing with your fear.

Awakening in the chamber of solitude once more, the three councillors stand around you their hands outstretched and glowing with a faint aura of shadow. “You have seen the beast?” the third asks, his voice like the sparks of hot coals. He does not wait for your response. “So it is. One step remains, be quick.”

With that proclamation, the robed figure produces a small knife. “Swear yourselves to the Spectres, let your blood seal your oath, and know that the power of this place will bind this covenant to your bones.”

Taking the knife you make a quick slit in the palm of your left hand, the sharp pain quickly overwhelmed as you feel something grating on your soul. As your blood pours onto the floor of the chamber it seems to be drunk in, the dark liquid disappearing quickly until not even a stain remains. The chamber seems to hum slightly and the three seem satisfied for the first time. There voices in unison they welcome you. “Welcome brothers and sisters, welcome to a brotherhood older than this world.”

With this proclamation the main speaker reaches into his robe and produces three small crystals, each no bigger then the nail of your thumb. "These will allow us to contact you; keep them safe. I’m afraid there is no time to recover, though you did well in handling the elemental rift in the Karak lode and have our thanks. Already things greater are brewing. You have been chosen for a mission of some importance. Agent Redfur…

You watch as Tor emerges from the shadows of the chamber, how he came to be here or for how long you are uncertain.

“The four of you are being given a new mission, one of critical importance. Decades ago, a race of monastics born of the Elemental Chaos established a fortress in Elsir Vale. These were the Githzerai, and they lived secretly in their remote outpost for many years before suddenly vanishing. Their Fortress of Graystone was well hidden, and remained uninhabited for hundreds of years, it’s location lost to the annals of time. It did not remain lost.”

“Some months ago, one of our scouts reported activity by a pack of gnoll mercenaries calling themselves the Wicked Fang. The interrogation of one of these mercenaries proved quite illuminating. With its blood spilled around it, the beast admitted to our agent that the gnolls have rediscovered Graystone Fortress. Our agent also learned that their leader Fangren, a follower of the demon lord Yeenoghu, has managed to open a conduit of power to Yeenoghu’s realm in the Elemental Chaos. We believe he plans to claim some small fragment of the demon lord’s power, transforming himself into an exarch of the Beast of Butchery. Exarchs are no small power and if one were to come into being in the Elsir Vale we fear the entire vale could fall and thus be pushed beyond our control. Though we are an old agency our resources are not limitless and we were not prepared to strike such a well defended and remote outpost but now we have a opportunity.”

Voice like waves interrupts. “Fangren has begun the ritual to turn himself into an exarch, the ritual is complicated and takes time so Frangren will be distracted. We believe with his distraction a small team has a chance to infiltrate Graystone Fortress and destroy Fangren and his pack. Only a skilled and competent team would have any chance of survival. You must find Fortress Graystone and stop Fangren’s ritual.”

The councillor with the voice like flame then holds up a leather tome. “In this book you will find a ritual to seal the portal that should be at the center of Fangren’s ritual and the portal key to this Chamber. Guard them well, the longer it takes you to burn this book the less your life is worth.”

Behind you, you here the slight hiss of a portal opening and the hazy outline of Bram’s sparring room can be seen.

Returning to Overlook, Talianna and Bram greet you with hugs and congratulations, but upon hearing of your new mission encourage you to set out immediately. Though the location of Graystone has been lost Bram suggests looking for a map at the Hall of Heroes, a small museum for local artifacts in Brindol. Realizing how precious the seconds were you quickly gathered your possessions and using horses provided by Bram set out that night. The cool darkness swallowing the clack of hooves as the rain from earlier in the day turned to snow.

The weather worsened as you traveled the several day ride to Brindol, the onset of winter leading to chill nights on uncomfortable ground. Arriving in Brindol you found an old and brittle map of the vale within the Hall of Heros. The map showed the location of Graystone fortress to the North. Before you could gather the map, one of the windows shattered as a flaming molotov cocktail was thrown in as several gnolls attacked. The cocktail quickly set the wood floor alight and you found yourselves having to deal with the flames, smoke, and the gnoll intruders.

Successfully managing the fire and the gnolls you then made your way towards Graystone. The terrible weather and hazardous journey took their toll and the journey was only made more hazardous as you became aware that someone or something was attempting to sabotage your expedition. After finding many broken bridges, false paths, and deadly traps the saboteur spooked your horses in the night causing them to run off a nearby cliff. From here on out you had to continue by foot.

Finally the gates of Graystone stood before you, huge stairs carved into the mountain leading up to a large stone door. Flanking the stairs stood four giant statures of Githzerai monastics, each posed in a different chakra stance. Besides the stairs a large waterfall poured icy cold water down from the mountain top, and combining with the winter conditions to make the stairs very treacherous. The gates were not unguarded and the gnoll guardsmen fought a pitched battle to hold the icy steps. The battle was rudely interrupted when a spirit of the earth who animated the large statues, their massive fists raining down bone shattering attacks. Your Brave actions and strategic thinking saw to the defeat both the guards and their summoned monstrosity.

Now you stand at the gates of Graystone, tired from your long journey but knowing their will be no rest.

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Into the Mines

After the battle with the Harpies, the group had explored the entirety of the Karak load, yet had not discovered the Elemental Rift. Weary, the group decided to go to the second floor bedrooms to get some sleep. While he was on watch, Rolen was set upon by a group of otherworldly beings! When Xavier awoke, he could faintly hear the old mans birds screeching in alarm. When their attackers were defeated, the group raced down to find a well-hidden door in the floor of the prison was wide open. Continuing into the mines, they dispatched several groups of underworld denizens before coming to a wide cavern with a glowing, pulsing chasm that split the room in two. Xavier knew at once this was the Elemental Rift. On the other side, a snakelike being with a vaguely female head lay on a pile of skulls with her demonic henchmen. Her henchmen seemed unable to cross the chasm easily, so Xavier began the preparations for the ritual to close the rift. At seeing this attempt, the Queen began a vicious mental assault on the group in which Dungard was rooted to the spot, unable to move! To make matters worse, a fiery elemental blasted out of the Rift and assaulted the party with massive waves of fire. Xavier had to abandon the ritual and the entire group focused on the Fire elemental. Once it was dispatched, Xavier moved to a more defensible position and began the necessary rituals. Meanwhile, Rolen, Dungard, Tor, and Galen fought valiently to protect the integrity of the ritual. After what seemed like hours but was actually less than a minute, the rift groaned and collapsed on itself, leaving just warm rock where it had been. The heroes then stalked to the Queen who backed away, but had nowhere to go. Suddenly, a floating sword swooped from behind her and lopped off her head.

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Searching the Karak Lode

After taking a quick break to recover from the ghastly attacks of the berbalang, the four adventurers and their new comrade Galen proceeded to search the basement for the elemental portal. They found a jail area with 1 man in a cell who had 7 canaries flying around him. The party let the man out of the cell and attempted to question him, but he would only respond with nods and got bored with the party easily. He then proceeded to direct his canaries in song.

The party gave up trying to extract more information from the crazy old man and decided to explore the rest of the fortress instead. Heading back up the stairs, the party headed back to the central courtyard where they suspected a nest of harpies might be. Opening the door to the central courtyard a large sand pile was in front of them. Tor walked carefully around the sand pile on the lookout for harpies. Suddenly a tentacle shot out of the sand pile and attempted to grab Tor. Rolen reacted quickly and sent two arrows through the doorway and severed the tentacle from the body below. Out of the sand pile a tentacled beast dripping saliva emerged from the depths. Tor and Dungard stood their ground as the creature lashed out. Attracted by all noise, the feared Harpies made their entrance with a bone jarring shriek. While the rest of the party was dazed from the fearsome shriek, luckily Rolen was out of range and started unloading arrows into the flying Harpies. Realizing that Rolen was out of range, the harpies started using their alluring song to pull the party closer to the harpies so they could claw them to pieces. With a couple more solid hits from Tor and Dungard the Carrion Crawler fell and the party was able to focus on killing the harpies before they were eaten alive. Rolen and Xavier continued to shoot the harpies whenever they had a chance while Tor and Dungard whipped their magical javelins. Even Galen contributed by whipping his daggers from behind cover. The harpies were no match for the party and quickly fell to the ground dead.

A glint caught Rolen’s eye and he pulled a small nondescript chest from the sand pile. inside was a map of orienteering and 4 teacups. They seemed valuable, so they decided to keep them and gave them to Galen for safe keeping.

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Wait, there's more of them?

Upon arriving at the Karak lode’s great stone gates the companions found them strangely silent. A rusted portcullis and a large iron-banded door blocked their entrance. Quietly sneaking forward, Rolen noticed shadows in several hidden arrow-slits around the entrance, but getting close an odd expression covered his face. He slowly made his way back to the others. “Their fake, dummies of straw with old weapons tied to them. I don’t see any real guards but it has to be a trap somehow.”

“Yeah, but do we have a choice?” asked Tor before shouldering his pack and making his way towards the rusted portcullis. Heaving with his might the portcullis let out a groan but didn’t move until Tor saw Dungard’s gauntleted hands helping to lift its heavy iron frame. Try to be quiet Rolen, Xaiver and Tor made their way under the gate as Rolen danced forward to check the door for traps.

A scrap of metal was all the warning he had as a second portcullis dropped behind him locking with a click and trapping him between it and the door with his companions on the other side. His keen elvish ears heard the hisses of some creature and from above and to his sides arrows began to fly through the air. “Fuck! Guys we have a problem.”

Though it looked bad for Rolen, trapped between the portcullis and the door and with murder holes all around, the heroic actions of Xavier and the mighty strength of Dungard were enough to keep Rolen alive and break into the entry.

Although successful in driving off the troglodytes the compaions were unable to prevent their leader, a vile hex chanter and one of their scouts from sounding the alarm. Holing up in the upper gatehouse the party waited in tense silence for the appearance of the enemy they knew were coming. After about a minute of the sweat building on their hands Xavier’s hardened battle awareness kicked in and he heard boots coming up the far stairwell.

A group of men and shifters, lead by the troglodyte scout Bob the unfailing, pinned the spectres in one corner of the guard house. Through valiant efforts the party managed to hold their ground until a door near their position opened and with a shout another group of shifters and men raced in to flank them.

Only the well honed reflexes and battle experience of the group allowed them to survive this onslaught, taking down their opponents with tactical precision and fierce determination. As the dust began to settle only two foes remained standing. One a human mercenary with catlike reflexes who wielded daggers with a furry had managed to hold of the Spectres attacks. Seeing his companions falling he surrendered to the party rather then face certain death. The other survivor past the initial rush was Bob, the troglodyte scout who had harried the party through the battle from a distance but had run out of javelins and so attempted to beat a hasty retreat.

Cutting his way to the stairway, Bob ran for more reinforcements, when Rolen deftly lept off the top of the stairway to land gracefully blocking his path with an arrow knocked and aimed at the scaly throat of the troglodyte. Rolen hadn’t prepared himself for the awful scent of sweating troglodyte however, and seizing on his momentary distraction Bob rushed passed him down the stairway.

Giving chase the heroes managed to pin Bob using a spider-web arrow in the next hallway and cut the lousy troglodyte’s throat before he could shout for more aid. Knowing they still had a prisoner to deal with the party made their way back to the upper gatehouse for a well earned rest.

Outside of combat, John, the prisoner, looked more like a young 18 year old boy then a seasoned veteran, but revealed that he was a hired mercenary of Queen Shephatiah, a beautiful female eladrin, who ruled over the Karak lode and surrounding environs. Sensing that he was at a turning point in his destiny, John, offered to join the party if they spared his life. While he had proven no match for the seasoned warriors of the party John’s knowledge of the Karak load proved invaluable to the party as they made their way to the depths of the basement.

In the dark, dry air of the catacombs the spectres found traces of travel in several areas and large amounts of gritty reddish dust that seemed to stick to their boots. A faint pulsing could be felt from the walls and the darkness at the edge of their torches was palpable. In the depths of the underground dwarven fortress a crypt carved with intricate dwarven runes laid in wait. Here the heroes saw the steel sarcophagi of the many fallen dwarves of clan Ironfell.

A sudden bang shot through the crypt as one of the doors swung open and from within emerged a blue skilled creature with crocked yellow eyes, bat-like wings that flexed with newly born might, and razor sharp claws. The creature charged down the rubble strewn corridor, hoping over chunks of fallen masonry. It smelled sharply of gore and before Dungard or Tor could react it was upon them. A whirl of claws and fangs the creature spit fury at the pair but then cackled madly and exploded in a burst of gore and psychic energy.

Tor and Dungard’s minds flayed under the assault, their eyes swimming with stars. Xavier suddenly shouted “Its a Berbalang, keep your guards up. Treacherous immortals Berbalangs can duplicate themselves over and over swarming over defenses and sacrificing their clones until none stand against them. We must find the true Berbalang if we are to stop this onslaught. Regroup!”

Tor and Dungard stumbled back while Rolen laid down covering fire with his bow. John made to rush forward but was warded back by Tor who knew the kid was no match for what they now faced. With a screech two more metal doors opened and more berbalangs filled the hallway. A tide of blood and fury filled the hallway, Dungard and Tor taking the worst of the assault as wave after wave of berbalang exploded around them and sharp claws penetrated their armor. Standing firm under the assault the warriors bought crucial time for Rolen and Xavier to evaluate the situation.

With a beat of its bat-like wings, one of the berbalangs suddenly retreated back into one of the crypts and a moment later new berbalangs were springing up in the hallway behind Rolen. Before Rolen could react they set upon him, ribbons of elvish blood spattered the walls as he succumbed to their assault. Their yellow eyes glinting with glee the berbalangs turned their blood soaked claws towards Xavier. Sweat covered him in a sheen as he danced to fend of attacks while concentrating on awakening the latent enchantments and runes he had laid into Rolen’s armor. With a flair the runes awoke staunching Rolen’s wounds and getting him back into the fight.

Now prepared for an assault from both sides, Rolen and Xavier battled their way to the side of Tor and Dungard as they pressed deeper towards the crypt where the berbalang had retreated. Their they managed to pin the foul creature with arrows and bolts as Dungard held off fresh berbalangs emerging from a nearby crypt. Weakened and exhausted from blood loss and creating so many duplicates so quickly the Berbalang slipped in the blood of Tor lowering its guard for a fraction of a second. In that moment Tor swung his sword into the exposed Berbalang’s flank cutting deep into its chest and up into its shuddering heart. Its eyes blazing the creature took a few more swings, each more desperate then the previous, before being taken down by the piercing barbs of Rolen’s arrows waves of arcane force unleashed by Xavier.

The crypt suddenly silent all that could be heard was the drip of blood off the walls and ceilings as their torches sputtered and flared in the gloom. Collapsing to the ground despite the ooze surrounding them Rolen, Dungard, Tor and Xavier began to put themselves back together as John kept careful watch down the corridor for anymore foul surpises.

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A Karaking we go

Following the destruction of the dwarves of clan Hammerfist the heroes made their way south, continuing through the heavy brush and razor sharp needles of the thornwaste. After another day of marching they spotted a line of sand in the distance and a great wall carved in the form of a serpent divided the thronwaste from the great sand dunes beyond.

At the edge of the waste, just inside the great serpent wall stood a tiny village. Small fields grew scraggly crops thanks to an ingenious irrigation system that looked far older then the other buildings in town. The idyllic visage shattered as a scream split the air coming from the village and Rolen and the others raced forward.

At the village they found many of the villagers had been rounded up by a fearsome beast. Over seven feet tall this great gnoll gripped a large, two-bladed axe with casual ease, lifting it from the corpse of a young man he had just decapitated. Blood stained the sand of the village square and the townsfolk looked close to panic. “Pay your taxes to the Queen now” growled the gnoll as its cruel eyes surveyed the villagers. “Hurry up you scum, Cralwer is getting hungry” the gnoll cackled as it pointed at its large mount, a giant blue scaled lizard with six legs each ending in scythe like claws. Razor sharp teeth gleamed in the predawn light as the beast growled hungrily at a nearby elder.

“Please, Warden, have mercy the drought has delayed our crops. We need more time.” cried the elder as he knelt next to the body of the young man. Tears left streaks on his dust caked face.

“Fool!” shouted the Warden, “Is that what you take me for old man? I know your irrigation system provides water for your fetid crops. The queen has had enough of your insolence. Show me your taxes now or I will kill every man remaining in this village before sunset.”

The elder collapsed, any fight left in him leaving “Please…” he began but was interrupted by the whirring sound of an arrow from the bow of Rolen who had seen enough. “Leave these people alone. They are under my protection now.”

The Warden howled and raced towards the party as Tor rushed forward to meet the great beast, Crawler. The air near the lizard smelled of ozone and the hairs on his body began to stand on end as Tor realized this was no lizard but a behir. Its gapping mouth opened as it spit for a glob of liquid electricity that arced across the sky before exploding around Dungard and Xavier. Screaming in pain the two almost collapsed as the lighting danced between them. Xavier gritted his teeth and continued his arcane chant of healing on Dungard before sprinting for cover behind a nearby hovel. Dungard, reinvigorated by the runes on his armor and Xavier’s chant, rushed forward to meet the beast.

With a great swing Dungard’s hammer connected, shattering one of the creatures six leggs and it hissed in pain, turning its slitted eyes at him. Tor took its distraction to launch his only deadly assault, calling upon the holy power of Pelor to smite the filthy creature. With a wet spar the creature lost another leg and it howled in pain as two of Rolen’s black-fletched arrows found their marks in its head. The behir howled again and entered a blood rage its jaws closing around Dungards armor clad leg and its teeth penetrating the metal like hot butter. Dungard’s blood mixed with that of the creature and he began to lose his vision but another bolt hit the creature and it collapsed to the ground.

Ducking back behind cover Xavier shouted for Tor and Dungard as the gnoll charged his position. But Xavier wasn’t the only one with allies. “Black arrows, to me!” howled the warden as he sprited the last gap between himself, Rolen, and Xavier unleashing a blindingly fast avalanche of axe blows.

From the nearby thornwaste three satyrs emerged, their goat like legs pumping as they sprinted with startling speed over the sand. Taking aim on their recurved shortbows the satyrs unleashed a spray of arrows upon Dungard and Tor. Feeling a sting of pain Tor looked down to see an arrow protruding from his calf and felt the sudden mixture of fire and numbness of poison. “Dungard, we’ve got to get out of the open. You take the satyrs I’ll go after the warden.”

Racing as fast as his dwarven legs could carry him Dungard raced across the field towards the satyrs, hoping to distract them while Tor recovered. His hammer made quick work of the first, smashing through the satyr’s guard, reducing his bow to kindling and his head to pulp. The other two proved more evasive, dodging his powerful swings as they looked for openings to fire off quick shots. Dungard dropped into a dwarven shield stance, a combat form he had picked up of the second of his instructors hired by his father. That instructor had been a real bitch and hand only lasted three months but at least the combat forms he had taught Dungard were real, unlike so many of the instructors who tried to coddle him. Dwarven shield was notoriously defensive, but if he could just hold off the archers a little longer…

Tor grimaced and rose to his feet, his calf almost buckling under the strain and his ears filling with the sound of his blood pumping. “Pelor… grant me your strength!” Tor chanted as he ripped the arrow free and touched his wound with the blessed golden glow of the sun.

An axe swing almost took off Rolen’s left arm at the elbow as the Warden continued to cut away at his defenses. He was getting tired and wasn’t sure how much longer he could dodge the massive creature’s attacks. Sweat beaded under his leather armor as he shouted to Xavier to pull back.

Xavier seemed to pay him no heed however as he finished an arcane chant along the length of his fullblade and it took to the air, swirling around the Warden and peppering him with attacks as if held by an invisible hand. “A handy bit of magic” thought Xavier as he knocked another bolt and let if fly into the gnolls left flank. “Ugh, this thing is like a fucking bull, Tor where are you?”

At that moment Tor entered Xavier’s line of sight, coming around the hovel and launching himself into the air as he brought his sword down upon the Warden. A clang of steel on steel sounded in the small village as the gnoll redirected his attention from cutting Rolen into smaller and smaller pieces and instead focused on repelling the raging shifter behind him. Seizing on his distraction Rolen did a quick side flip, bringing his left food up into the gnolls snarling maw and landing just outside the gnolls reach. Knocking two arrows with practiced precision, Rolen unleashed a flurry of black fletching into the retched creature. Arrows pierced the warden at the knee, right hand, and neck as he went down in a quickly spreading pool of blood.

Seeing their leader fall, and unable to make a dent in Dungard’s dwarven shield stance, the remaining two satyrs raced back towards the thornwaste. The first looked up as it heard an odd sound and found its face connecting with the large steel head of Dungard’s hammer as it spun through the air. Its nose caving in the creature fell to the ground with a pitiful mewling noise as its companion raced across the sands. On the verge of entering the thornwaste it suddenly fell, its leg pierced by a bolt from Xavier’s crossbow and its heart stopped by two black-fletched arrows.

Quiet suddenly blanketed the village as Rolen and Tor tended their wounds. Several of the villagers emerged from the hovels they had fled into during the fight, their eyes wide with shock at seeing their tormentor dead on the sands. Their elder, Lotho Elberesk, approached the group of blood spattered warriors and seemed at a loss for words before inviting them in. Behind him a large man with muscular arms and short cropped black hair gathered up the body of the young man with a tenderness of a father and carried the boy to the largest of the hovels. Tears streamed down his leather cheeks as he entered the tent.

Following elder Elberesk Xavier, Tor, Dungard and Rolen made their way to a similar tent the inside still cool from the desert night. “You have my thanks, but I fear that poor Artus’ death was only the beginning. The warden was an underling to the one he called Shephatiah, queen of the drylands, and her wrath over his death will be swift and terrible.” At that moment, the muscular man from outside entered the tent. “Elder, these men are heroes, would they have arrived but sooner Artus, my dear apprentice, would still be alive. At least they have enacted vengeance for his murder at the hands of that monster. Let us aid them, at least they have a chance against Shephatiah and her cronies, at least we’d be doing something!”

The elder sighed, before saying “Darkus, I know the boys death comes hard on you, it is hard for us all, but everyone we have sent against the queen has failed to return. I can’t send more men to their death.”

Sensing that an argument was about to breakout Xavier quickly said, “Where did the Warden come from, and where does this Queen who would butcher her own people live?”

Elder Elberesk stared at the warriors, taking in Tor’s armor, Dungard’s hammer, Rolen’s bow, and Xavier’s eldritch gear before replying. “The Warden first appeared from the desert a year ago, stating that Queen Shephatiah had come to reclaim her ancient throne. The name meant nothing to us, but the Warden slew several of our strongest when we stood against him. Now he orders us to pay tribute in goods and food or his blue worm will devour us. Or at least he used too. Where the queen is, we do not know, but he and his followers carry no more then a few days water when they emerge from the desert to the south. A few of our folk tried to follow the Warden’s trail when he first appeared, but they never returned. All I can tell you is that the Warden once came with a shifter, one like him,” pointing at Tor, “who spoke of returning to somewhere called Karak. The Warden beat the shifter soundly for that slip.”

“We’ll do it.” said Xavier as he began to gather his things. “We have been searching for Karak for our own reasons and cannot leave you to this plight.”

The elder seemed shocked but his face alight with the slight light of hope. “Thank you.”

“You should stay for the funeral, you were the ones who brought vengeance for the boy’s death, it is only right. Please stay, it would honor me.” said the smith Drakus.

“We will stay for the funeral, but then we must move on.” Rolen replied, his visage grim at what he had learned.

After a brief service for the boy they made their way into the desert beyond, heading south past the broken landscape. Traveling for three nights and sleeping for three days the companions passed seven pillars of basalt, each looking oddly artificial with their perfect hexagon shape. The basalt was the only landmark and Rolen assured them it was natural. At the seventh pillar harpy feathers gathered in the dust and the companions gripped their weapons tighter.

Almost ready to stop for the third day, the sun just a sliver on the horizon, a large basalt bluff came into view. “The Karak lode.” said Dungard “Last great home of the Ironfells.”

“Last great tomb of the Ironfells, do not forget that the clan fell here, the madness of the rift we have been sent to seal causing them to turn on one another.” replied Xavier grimly.

A harsh wind had begun to pick-up. “Sand storm is coming” Rolen added as he gracefully slid down the dune they had been standing on towards the bluff. “We had best find shelter there. If the storm catches us in the open I’m not sure we’ll be alive when it passes.”

With those grim thoughts the companions made their way towards the bluff.

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Spectres again?!?

Following your successful mission to discover and disrupt the inter-planar weapons and mercenary sales by the Shadar-kai scoundrel Sarshan, you were summoned before Lt. General st. Croix, the head of black-ops. Meeting him in an upscale elftown tavern you were introduced to Bram Ironfell, a member of a mysterious organization he called the Spectres, and you were shocked to discover that your companion Tor is also a member of this organization.

The Spectres are a semi-secret para-military group who views it as their duty to defend the prime material plane (the plane you live in) from other-planar groups. You had apparently come to their attention following your work at the nexus and were then seeded with an agent, Tor, to observe and evaluate your performance to determine if you would be acceptable candidates.

Given your success against Sarshan, Bram offered to allow you all to join the Spectres as recruits and undergo Spectre training, a brutal 6 week regimen of physical, emotional, and psychological stress meant to forge Spectre recruits into elite agents. Lt. General St. Croix stressed his, and the government’s desire to forge closer relations with the Spectres given the nature of the current conflict. As such he encouraged you all to join, stating that they had no one else qualified to join. He also announced he’d tell General Durkik that his son had been sent on a scouting and diplomatic mission to the east away from the fighting, providing a cover for your absence.

Of important note is that the Spectres must foreswear all oaths of duty to become full Spectres, their loyalty must lie only with the Spectres. So upon agreeing the group is no longer part of the UAO and were discharged by Lt. General St. Croix.

After this the group headed out of Overlook to Brindol to begin Spectre training. Along the way they were put to a series of tests of skill by Olivara, a Spectre agent and trainer responsible for them.

Though the training regiment was brutal the group made it through the 6 weeks and was offered their final test, a mission with a Spectre agent. Tor would accompany them on a mission of import to the Shadow Council, the group that leads the Spectres. The Spectres had discovered a scrap of parchment in on of Sarshan’s warehouses revealing what appeared to be a route to the ancient Karak Lode, a Dwarven mine of untold riches. This mine had been owned by the Ironfell clan in ages past but had been lost as the Dwarven empire declined. The mine could provide a source of wealth for the Elsir Vale to help combat the growing threat represented by the orcs, Sarshan, and their shadowy masters; but it was not for the wealth that the group was being sent. The parchment also contained the words Elemental rift in another hand and it is to seal off this possible rift that you are being sent.

Making your way southwest from Brindol the group headed towards the desolate Thornwaste where they hoped to find an outpost that would lead them on to the Karak Lode. There, they met a human ranger and swordsman named Mag. Mag viewed it as his duty to protect the barren landscape but offered to help the PCs if they could defeat him in a one-on-one duel. With a bit of luck Tor did manage to defeat Mag and Mag offered to guide you to Dunesend, a tiny community on the southern edge of the Thornwaste where you might find more information.

As the night ended the group had just been ambushed by a group of Dwarves wishing to claim the Karak lode for themselves. Though easily defeated the fight left a bitter taste in your mouths as you knew word of the lode’s rediscovery must have leaked somehow.

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Disaster!

The group of heroes were called into Orik’s office and ordered to find how the Orcs have been smuggling weapons through Overlook. They started their search with the informant, a smithy named Melinda Sweeny. She knew the Red Cloaked Daggers had something to do with the smuggling, so the party began combing the city looking for clues that eventually led them to a Dagger member named Jarl at a tavern called the Pickled Imp. Rolen stumbled into an underground fighting ring and Jarl invited the group to participate and during the first fight, a group of kobolds handily beat their opponents. In an attempt to gain more street cred, the group challenged the kobolds and after a short but intense combat, were victorious. His chest still heaving, Xavier immediately turned on Jarl and demanded to know who was smuggling the weapons. Jarl nearly fell backward and said the one name Xavier did not want to hear: Elora.
Hardly needing to hide, Elora was easily found at a cafe in Elftown. In exchange for information, she demanded the group track down someone named Modra, kill him, and bring her back his cloak. He would most likely be found at one of the tradestown alm houses, the Happy Beggar. Once there, the group found a secret passage to a tunnel where they fought a group of giant bats, climbed some poisonous fungus, and found a room at the end of the tunnel where they fought some shadowfell dogs and archers, easily beating their opponents.
Flush with the excitement of victory, the group had barely caught their breath when they opened the door at the end of the room to be confronted with a single old crone. Before Xavier and Rolen could even loose their bolt and arrow, the crone had completed a chant and before them appeared beings of absolute darkness and terror. Six of them appeared and swarmed Balazar, their very touch sapping his strength and causing his skin to rot immediately where they touched him. But their leader was much worse. He filled the room with an incessant, maddening babbling that made it hard for anyone to even think, let alone fight off these monsters of the darkness. Balazar was quickly overcome, and a voice called out, saying “Give me the cylinder and I’ll call them off!” So with his friends’ safety in mind, Xavier tossed him the cylinder. A dark shape darted out and grabbed it, and as soon as he had it, the wraiths advanced again, quickly taking down Dungar. Betrayed, Xavier and Rolen backed up, trying to regroup, but Rolen was surrounded and killed. Just steps away, Xavier braced for the worst when the wall of darkness and pain came after him, but as they reached out their horrid black tentacles, a bright line of runes eruped from the floor. They couldn’t pass! Xavier pelted them with bolts that seemed to pass right through them, but they eventually floated away seemingly more out of boredom than fear of Xavier’s attacks. Rushing to his friends’ sides, he found Balazar and Rolen were dead, but Dungar had a pulse!
After reviving Dungar, the two staggered back to the barracks, weighed down by the bodies of their companions. The clerics were able to resurrect Rolen, but Balazar had made it clear from the beginning that he was not to be torn away from the wonderful bliss that he believed he would find in the afterlife.
Now it was time to find a little revenge.

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Blocking the Nexus

The heroes continued into the heart of the Nexus, a room presumably at the center of the whole network of tunnels. Six different entrances all joined in the room. At the center of the room was a tower and Kalad charged in, shouting “Go for the controls on top of the tower!” As soon as they entered the room, hoards of orcs poured in through the various doors. They were handily dispatching them when an impossibly huge creature came lumbering in, followed by a much smaller creature. After a mighty battle, the huge creature was slain, conveniently forming a plank up to the top of the tower. After quickly working with the controls, Xavier and Rolen figured out how to fill the room with boiling water. Just as the last of the adventurers was leaving, a massive army of orcs began to swarm the Nexus, but it was too late. The group heard their screams drowned out by the hissing steam as they closed the escape hatch.

The group then reported back to their commander in Overlook, passing a long line of refugees on their way in. They were reprimanded for taking the orcs head-on as it was supposed to be a recon mission, so they were given several days’ leave.

As they were traveling around town, they soon felt they were being followed. Suddenly, a group of men jumped out from behind some baskets, leveling their crossbows threateningly. From the other end of the narrow alley, two other men with large halberds approached. The leader, who like the rest of them was wearing a long, red cloak, shouted at Xavier, “Elora sends her regards!” The men shouted “Give us the cylinder!” and charged. After a short but intense battle, the ambushers were either fleeing or dead.

Who were they and why did they want the cylinder? What’s it for? It’s time to find out.

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Deeper into the Nexus we go.
A lesson on why you do not make fun of Rolen for missing

   After taking a quick break, the party prepared to enter the next room. Xavier listened at the door and heard the muffled sounds of orcs talking a loud hissing noise. The party arranged themselves in combat formation with the melee in the front and Xavier and Rolen taking up the rear. Xavier used his magical servant to open up the door and the party rushed in.


    The room was well lit with large pipes running down both sides. Steam was hissing out of the joints of the pipes and several fire were basking in the steam coming from the pipes on the east side of the room. There were several orc drudges and two orc scouts working on subduing the fire beetles while on the other side of the room a shadowy creature was playing with a valve, while another orc scout was protecting him. Balasar and Dungard rushed in and dispatched a couple of orc Drudges. This attracted the interest of the fire beetles who rushed in and quickly killed another orc drudge. Balasar, Dungard, and Xavier focused on killing the beetles while Rolen sent two arrows hurtling towards the shadowy creature inspecting the valve. The creature easily dodged the arrows and laughed at Rolen saying “Silly elf, do you really think you can hit me, the great Iandra”. Rolen responded to these taunts with an arrow through each each eye and another one to the chest. Iandra exploded in a shadowy cloud when he died, but luckily the party was far enough away it didn’t effect them. The orc scouts, seeing Rolen take down Iandra so easily targeted him with there crossbows and he was forced to flee to the other room. By this time, the other members of the party had killed off the beetles and cornered one of the orc scouts. While Balasar, Kalad, and Dungard focused on the cornered orc scout, Xavier and rolen tried to kill the other two orc scouts, but one was able to sneak away.


    The party then inspected the room and found the body of one of the Farstriders with her head cut off. Looking over Iandra’s body, they found a “Deep Pocketed Cloak +2” and a “Flask of dragon’s Breath”. They also found a runed rod they kept in case it was important. The party arranged themselves in battle formation and continued onward.


    They opened the next door and it was pitch black. Xavier used a magic item to give himself darkvision and they slowly inched forward. They came to a crossroads in the hallway and peeked around. To the west kalad felt the presence of great evil and said it must be a monster from the underdeep. To the east there was some lights and they detected a cave troll and some orcs. The party charged in with Dungard and Balasar standing toe to toe with the cave troll. Three orc bombardiers hid behind the troll and threw explosive bombs at the brave adventurers. These bombardiers were much more competent then the one they had encountered before and were able to light most of the party on fire. Rolen used his magic bow to send an exploding arrow at the orc bombardiers while the rest of the party killed a couple of Orc Drudges and continued to attack the troll. With one big swing of his great ax, Balasar finally struck the killing blow to the troll. Before the party could take any more actions, the troll regenerated his wounds and stood up again. Xavier remembering his training, quickly struck the orc with an acid arrow and killed the troll for a second time and prevented it from regenerating anymore. The party then killed the remaining orc bombardiers and then surveyed the scene.


    The orcs had set up camp in a small shrine to Moradin. In one corner there was the mangled bodies of what looked to be the other members of the Farstriders. They searched the bodies and were able to find the dog tags of Edgar Summerfield. Kalad then purified the shrine and the party prepared to explore further. They considered trying to kill the monster from the underdeep, but decided that it was more important to close the final exit to the tunnels underneath the mountains.

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The Nexus
You mean we actually passed a skill challenge?

After rescuing Kalad the Paladin from Og the Orog champion, the four heroes climbed back up the stairs to rejoin the other members of the party. Their comrades had repulsed an attack by orcs, but at the cost of 3 more soldiers lives. The party was exhausted after their fights below the dwarven monastery and set up outside of the Monastery. In order to allow everyone to get enough rest Xavier set up magic eyes to watch the camp and raise the alarm if any intruders were detected.

Once the camp had been secured, they sat around the fire and listened as Kalad explained how he had become prisoner of Og. Kalad was not a member of the Monastery as they expected, but instead part of an secret dwarven organization dedicated to guarding the old dwarven passageways underneath the mountains. They didn’t have enough time to mount a defense against the invading orcs, so it was decided to destroy all of the exits on this side of the Stonetalen Mountains. Kalad had successfully destroyed the first exit underneath ? without issue and had just destroyed the exit underneath the Monastery when he was caught by an Orog. He told the adventurers that 1 exit still existed deep inside “The Vents” and needed to be destroyed to prevent the orcs from using the tunnels. Kalad was insistent that there was no time to be spared. Xavier decided the best course of action would be to send what remained of their troops back to overlook to warn the town of the danger and for the four heroes to press on and attempt to destroy the last exit themselves. After a good nights rest, the two parties separated with Xavier warning the soldiers to avoid battle at all cost and make the best time they could.

Xavier remembered that the elite unit the Farstriders had already been sent to the vents to investigate rumors that orcs were nearby. It was decided to visit the town of Lantern to see if they could meet up with the elite unit and get any information from them. It was hoped that the exit had already been destroyed. Kalad made it very clear that the diversion to Lantern was a waste of precious time. The trip to Lantern being very difficult with freezing rain slowing the party down. When they got to Lantern they realized the town was nothing more then a couple of small houses and a bar. Most of the people had already left to the safety of a walled town, and the few remaining citizens were packing up to go. Asking around, a few people remembered some mysterious people riding though town several days ago, but nobody had talked to them or seen them since. Rolen was able to buy a few more arrows from a hunter since he foolishly did not bring enough along.

The hero’s then set off for “The Vents” At eh entrance to the vents they found an abandoned camp that looked like it might have been from the elite unit. The fire had been smothered out and only looked a day or two old. They then proceeded to explore the noxious vents. They did their best to keep out the caustic gases, but were almost overcome several times. They came across a large pit and first Dungard Brashly tried to jump over it, but was luckily stopped at he last minute by Rolen before he plummeted to his death. A rope was thrown over a stalagmite and Balasar attempted to inch on a thin lip to the other side while tied to the rope, but slipped and fell. Luckily the other members were able to pull him back up. They then decided to see if they could find an alternate route. They were successful and came to an area that looked like it had been formed by dwarven skill. They heard orcs talking in the distance and Xavier translated them complaining how the traps had killed many of their members. He also discovered that they had found a way out and were trying to bring the map back to their commanders so that they could lead the army out of the caves. The team decided to ignore stealth and just rush into battle. Xavier heard the orc sergeants order a messenger to quickly go and bring the map to the army while they took care of the newcomers. The team quickly dispatched the enemies. An orc Bombardier threw bombs at the party but only managed to light his own sergeant on fire!!!. Rolen fearful that the messenger might get away run after him. In the rush of battle, he forgot about the orcs warning about traps and enabled the tunnels defenses. He was almost killed when two crossbow bolts thudded into him. Luckily the automated defenses also killed the orc messenger. Kalad remembered that the traps only target now dwarves so Dungard and him attempted to disable the defenses so the rest of the heroes could continue. Eventually they found the controls, but couldn’t figure them out and they just destroyed the control panel and disabled the defenses. At the end of the hallway, there was two doors and they heard orc voices behind them. The team then took a 5 minute rest while they decided what to do next.

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