Ancient Dread

A long running Palladium Fantasy RPG 1st Ed. campaign.  The campaign itself has run approximately two years of meat-world time w/ monthly/bi-monthly sessions.  A significant break was taken when the original group dissolved and new players were gathered.

Palladium Fantasy: The Ancient Dread Campaign
Strongbow: Elf Longbowman
Echo: Female Human Air/Water Warlock
Frederick: Male Human Priest of Apis
Eddie: Male Human Paladin/Noble
Klyn: Male Human Thief
Rod-Kym-Na: Elven Priestess of Dragonright.
Mug: Male Orc Fletcher, slave of Strongbow
Alta: Female Elf Sailor, former mate on Virtuous Maiden, companion to Strongbow
Ackdor (Gobbio): Goblin slave of Echo.  Very good looking
Malthes: Human boy. Rescued slave.  Natural Wizard. Attached to Frederick
Adelaide: Female Human. Companion to Klyn.
Roan: Wolfen 1st Mate/MindMage on Virtuous Maiden.
Capt. Macintyre: Captain of the ‘Virtuous Maiden’
Ahn-Sehm: Sentient sword of Eldren.  Bonded to Frederick then Echo
Tauren/Ka-Rhan: Male Gnome Assassin
K’lak:  (Race) Fire Warlock Slaver.  Killed during the “Slaver Battle”
Kraltos: (Race) Witch Slaver. Former owner of Malthes. Killed during ‘Slaver Battle’

Ma’lwai’yu Islanders: (Good Guys)
Te'ke:  Native Scout
Adisa:  Tribal Shaman/Mind Mage 
Hi’ng-tar’da: Tribal Chief
Ye'Tu: Head Shaman

 The GM ran a few sessions to acclimatize new players into the system.  I was not present but what occured was that the group formed and explored a cabin that turned out to be the recently abandoned lair of an evil witch.  Clues were discovered as to the whereabouts.

Following the map discovered in the hut, the party traveled through the northern Timiro woods, on the way enlisting the aid of an Elvish Longbowman to bolster their firepower.  They soon encountered a mad hermit who managed to slip a drug into their food while rambling on about the evil witch they are attempting to locate.  Upon awakening in the morning, they found the desiccated corpse of the hermit, looking as if he’d been dead a hundred years.  The body had a tattoo of a strange and unknown (at least to the party) symbol:

palladium map photo TimiroKingdom.jpg

The Temple of the Eldren
The hermit had told the group about a cave that would offer clues as to the nature of our quest.  Locating the entrance, it initially looks to be a natural cavern but further investigation leads the party into an area that had been intricately designed and older than any of them had ever seen before.  A series of traps and puzzles confounded the party for a time but they were eventually able to overcome them discovering some clues as to its builders and a prophesy of doom to come.  Soon a battle ensued against the recent inhabitants of the temple, a magic-user of some sort and a few inexperienced fighters, who were quickly dispatched.  Further exploration discovered the fact that the building was in fact a temple of an ancient race, previously unheard of,  known as the Eldren, destroyed during the Great Battle against the Old Ones. Some of the temple was inaccessible, reacting strongly to several attempts to penetrate deeper.  Much gold and several magical items were recovered. One item being a sentient sword created by the Eldren known as Ahn-Sehm (Servant of Sehm) that was assembled from pieces discovered in the temple. The sword, a sarcastic creature, became bonded to Frederick the Cleric.

Media & the Battle at the Warehouse
Leaving the buried ruins with their treasures, the party then traveled south to the Timiro port city of Media to hire a ship and follow the clues discovered as to the whereabouts of the witch. In a fit of civic duty, they took on a side quest to free some kidnapped children from a group of evil slavers. After using some of their funds to upgrade their gear (most notably Eddie purchasing some plate armor magically enchanted a remarkable white color), the group moved on the warehouse said to contain the brigands.

Strongbow levitated and took up a position on top of a nearby building to snipe any guards or re-enforcements.  There were a few present in front of the warehouse and, his keen elven eyes noticed, numerous ones watching from the windows in the building across the street. While the rest of the party snuck into an alley to enter through the back door, Strongbow began eliminating the outside guards.  They fell like the targets at a carnival tent. The alarm raised, more slavers rushed out of the building.  They also fell after taking mere steps outside the door.

With the building nearly emptied, Echo, Eddie, Freddy and Klyn rushed in from the rear. A brief but intense fight ensued, costing nearly all of the opponents their lives while the party received barely a scratch. The most prominent of the inside battle was by the Paladin Eddie, flailing enemies left and right in his blazing white armor leading to tales of the “White Knight”, a hero of the poor and downtrodden. Among the rescued children, a boy was discovered, filthy and unable to speak.  Clinging onto Freddie, the priest, he became part of the group.

Unfortunately, as happens all to often among those with great power or skills, jealousies began to appear. Alike as they were different, both Eddie and Strongbow had similar backgrounds.  Both were skilled fighters, Eddie a knight, Strongbow a Longbowman.  Both were from noble families, Eddie from Timiro, Strongbow from the Land of the South Winds.  Both were 2nd sons out in the world searching fame and glory.  The difference was why they had left home.  Strongbow had voluntarily gone out in order for his older brother to secure the family seat and prevent any divided loyalties. Eddie had 'encouraged' to leave due to his selfish and trouble-making behaviors in the hopes that he would either mature or... not come home. A win-win for his house.

During the fight, Eddie became a certifiable hero, slaying many enemies and earning the love of the common folk, but this was not enough.  Strongbow had killed 'more' of the slavers.  This disparity began to effect Eddie's frame of mind and his future with the party. 

 Following the battle, the party sold their animals and purchased some retainers/slaves including Mug the Orc Fletcher, Ackdor the Goblin Fighter and Adelaide the Bed Servant. Their loyalties ensured by breaking off their chains and equipping them with better clothes and supplies.  The ship the ‘Virtuous Maiden’ owned by Captain Macintyre, is contracted to take the party to Totugo, a pirate haven located far to the south in the Floenry isles.

 The Journey to Totuga
Several days have passed as the intrepid adventurers sail towards the pirate haven of Totugo in the Floenry Isles, far to the South of the Kingdom of Timiro.
The journey has been relatively quiet and Captain Macintyre has proven to be excellent host while they are aboard his 'Virtuous Maiden', a Bizantian Corsair.  At one point during the journey, he explains the name and how he acquired her. Previously, it was the property of a Bizantium Capt. who had a soft spot for gambling.  While he did his best to keep his wagers to coin, Macintyre  was having a strong run in cards, and the previous Captain. ended up wagering more than he could afford, and lost the ship as a result.  Allegedly the ship was named after the previous Capt's daughter, and Capt. Macintyre is fond of saying how many men have gladly ridden "The Virtuous Maiden".  Needless to say, Northern sea captains aren't fond of Macintyre which is why he stays mostly in southern waters.

One area of the ship that has not been quiet, however, is the cabin of the 1st Mate, Roan, a large (even for his kind) Wolfen who has been with Macintyre for many years.  A Mind Mage of some talent and a heart as big as he is, Roan has taken it upon himself to help ease the traumatized child rescued from the warehouse.  During the days, he conducts telepathic sessions on the boy with the calming presence of the Priest Eddie.  These sessions end with Roan highly agitated, bolting his door in the evening.  The roars and sounds of breaking furniture leave the crew on edge.

The party passes the time in various ways, typical of a diverse group.  Klyn, the thief, is barely seen, spending most of his time in his cabin with his bedpartner Adelaide.  Echo, the Warlock, spends her time sunbathing on the deck with her Goblin slave/bodyguard in attendance.  Much of the crew finds this one of the most entertaining things they've seen in some time resulting in the usual sailor humor, from snide to outright lewd.  Eddie, the Paladin, helps out among the crew and maintains his plate armor.  Strongbow, the Longbowman, discusses future endeavors and the possibility of a long term commission with the Captain and his Second Mate, a female elf sailor by the name of Alta who also comes from the Land of the South Winds.  She tells Strongbow that she is the firstborn child of a prominent fishing family and remarks that he looks familiar, a strong resemblance to a noble family.  Alta dismisses that thought though as an Elven family would never let a prominent son risk himself as a lowly adventurer. Freddie, the Priest of Apis, alternates his time between caring for the boy and trying to raise the spirits of the crew.  His eccentric antics leaves them befuddled but the appreciate his attempts to help along with his healing abilities. Mug is presented with an arrow mold and several ingots of lead and is overjoyed by the kindness shown to him, something he has never experienced before from any of his previous masters.

"Many thanks to you master. Mug shall begin the making of many arrows" he proclaims.
"Excellent. I have full faith in you."

"Master shall rejoice at having many arrows with which to hunt game, and annihilate his enemies, may they weep in terror."

 "I rejoice at having such a loyal and skilled Elfservant.".  With that, he hurries off.  Whenever the crew sees him, he is busy making arrowheads, a smile on his face and humming Orcish lullabies.

Two days out from Totuga, Roan calls the party into his cabin.  Much of the furniture is damaged and there are deep claw marks upon the walls. He begins to explain about the boy, whose name he's discovered is Malthes.  The firstborn of a peasant family in a Western Empire colony of the Ophids Grasslands, it was discovered early on that Malthes was a natural wizard, capable of manipulating energies even from the crib.  He was offered the opportunity to apprentice at a small wizard school due to his abilities.  Nearing the end of his apprenticeship he and some of his fellow apprentices made a pilgramige, but his troupe was waylaid by slavers. He was tortured, broken, and sold as a slave. Special order actually. The Witch Kratlos is the one who bought him. The boy was used as a source of flesh that was carved from his skin, and for other...atrocities committed by a witch named Kratlos. In addition to being a witch, Kraltos is a merchant for the Hitira Slavers, who specialize in debaucherous merchandise from the young to the forbidden.  Malthes is also very skilled in languages, knowing at least five including Northern, Southern, Eastern, Ogre, and Faerie along with being able to write both the Northern and Eastern human languages. . Has an incurable psychic scar from the result of a forced use of some sort of ritual that involves fresh human blood, a graveyard, and lots of chanting. The result is that it caused him to gain immense magical knowledge, beyond even what he was born with.   He also had a brand, marking him as the witch's property:
Just one more reason for that monster to die.

 Totuga - Strongbow, Mug & Alta
Arriving at Totuga, the party disembarks the Virtuous Maiden for a few days while the ship resupplies.  Ka-Rhan, the gnome assassin, says his farewells and departs.  
Inport - Strongbow, Mug, & Alta
Asking Mug, his Orc servant, whether he would like to go into town and perform any devotions to his faith, the Church of Taut, Mug repliesMug taught to be open to all paths of faith. Mug not know how to worship Taut"
"Mug apologize for being deficient"
Knowing that Mug has been raised a slave, it comes as no surprise that his former owners kept him as ignorant as they could outside of what they felt he needed to know.  Strongbow has no such foolish reservations.
"No need to apologize. Would you like to visit a church of your faith or explore other options?"
"Mug shall do as Master wishes. If Master wish to show Mug new path, Mug shall follow."
Over the course of the next few hours, Strongbow explains the basic precepts of the True Church of Dragonwright, his own faith, to Mug.  Mug proves to be an enthusiastic learner.  True enchantment fills his eyes as he listens to stories of Kym-Nark-Mar, Korameth, Zandragal and even Styphon, the dark god of the pantheon.  During the instruction, everytime Strongbow mentions Kym-Nark-Mar’s name, he gets a flash of giant reptilian eye and the feeling that it is expressing a deep, foreboding interest in him as well as a sense of patience as the wheels of a universal plan slowly turn in place. After a time, he sends Mug out to pick up fletcher supplies, rooster feathers and willow by Mug’s preference.  Turning, he finds Alta, the ship’s mate, standing by him. 
During the voyage, she felt that she had seen him before but couldn’t remember where.  Finally a memory struck her.  At a formal function many years before, a noble family was present from the Far Pendletor region of the Land of the South Winds.  Her family, prominent fishing magnates, had also been invited to attend.  Among the noble party was a tall, dark haired male, the same male that had been travelling with them on the Virtuous Maiden these last few weeks. She confronts him with this fact and asks him pointedly why an Elf from such an important family is out playing adventurer. 
“It’s a simple story”, he explains.  “ My older brother is a gifted politician but he comes across as aloof and standoff-ish.  The people don’t love him.  I have little desire to be involved in all those games so have spent my time out with the soldiers and the common folk.  I left home for a time to make his ascension easier when our Mother retired.”
"Any good sailor knows that a competent leader is better than a likeable one. So long as he has good people to smooth things over” Alta responds.  Her tone strongly implies that she has someone in mind when she mentions ‘good people’. 
"Oh I fully support him. We both just needed to get our feet wet and strengthen our positions first.”
"Then your house shall find good standing I imagine. How is your line?" Again she uses a suggestive tone. 
Strongbow responds with his own suggestion "We're one of the last elven houses in the world, it's sometimes hard to find new blood.”  He winks at her with a smirk on his face.
"Oh my, is m'lord flirting with a humble fishing girl?”  She draws in close to him. “What would the others say?"
“I don't think there's anything 'humble' about you and yes I am. I doubt a group that accepts a broken boy and a goblin love slave will be concerned. “
"Well then, my Lord, perhaps we can see about keeping the elven blood strong in the South Winds, should your wit prove strong enough to go beyond mere words".
Strongbow pulls Alta even closer to him “Is it my 'wit' you're wanting now?"
"Your 'wit,' yes.” She replies, ”Also more than a night's consideration. Assuming you are as skilled with your arrow as you are with your bow"
"Then we'll take things slow and see where they lead."  The kiss the they share doesn’t end on the deck.  

 Later, he takes her to a café in the heart of the city.  They spend the hours talking about their lives.  She spends most of her time on her years at sea and talks almost none of her home life.  She also asks little of Strongbow’s time at court but is more interested in his adventures across the Palladium world. It’s late when they return to the ship, walking much closer to each other than they had been previously.
Back on the ship, Macintyre seems impressed and comments that Alta has rebuked other suitors in the past. Those that pressed too hard wound up with their literal pride wounded.
"I wish you luck lad."
Alta takes to singing every now and then usually to help keep up morale singing chanties and the like, but tonight she's singing a song about love. Anyone who listens is captivated by her voice.  Strongbow with an unusual sense of intuition for a male, whistles along.  She notices and smiles.  

Totugo – The Party 

Separate from Strongbow, Echo the Water/Air Warlock (along with her Goblin companion Ackdor), Frederick, Priest of Apis (Freddy), Klyn the Thief, and Eddy the Knight head into town.  Quietly, Klyn detaches himself from the party to locate the local Thieves Guild and find what he can find.  The others locate an inn in which to stay for the next several days.  As they walk, Ackdor, his muscles, trident, and demeanor imposing even for one so small, clears the path ahead of them in this rough and tumble port.  Echo looks on with approval of her well chosen purchase.
In the privacy of their room, Echo examines the pink orb they took with them from the Eldren temple back in Northern Timiro. Freddy and Eddy choose to go out exploring and seeing the sights, mostly unwashed pirates and ragamuffins. 
Out in town, Freddy and Eddy encounter Roan, the Wolfen Mind Mage and Mate off of the Virtuous Maiden.  He tells them that the rumor mills are saying that a Hitari slaver ship, the same group that had tortured the boy Malthus, has been spotted in nearby waters.  If it is true, the ship, the Damascus, would likely be little match for the Virtuous Maiden, especially re-enforced by the party’s firepower.  With a hostile growl at the idea of disemboweling the slavers, Roan turns and walks away. 
Before Roan is out of site, they turn their heads to the sound of someone frantically calling their names. Frederick goes to the runner, a young boy. 
Hello, there! What need do you have of me? “

"Please, come quick Sirs! To the Dog Tired Inn!" He responds, breathlessly. “The one called Echo is unconscious and not responding!”

Quickly they return to the inn and as they open the door to Echo's room, they encounter an angry looking goblin who quickly goes to a ready stance with trident at hand. He relaxes after recognizing them and beckons to a bed where Echo is resting with her hands across her chest.

"M'lady held a brilliant gem, and after a few moments passed out!”

Frederick rushes to her and lays his healing hands on her head.  After several minutes of healing Echo opens her eyes.

“Hello, Echo! Welcome back to us! What happened to you?”

Echo blinks in confusion as she tries to regain her thoughts. 

Eddy, always conscious of others, demands “Where’s the gem?”

Ackdordefense of his mistress, snaps back “"That is M'lady's possession and her concern"
“I’ll hurt you” Eddy threatens back, anxious for a fight.

Echo intervenes “It's safe, don't worry. And no threatening my bodyguard.”

"I'll threaten as I damn well please. You could've been dead." Eddy retorts. 

In an attempt to sooth the upset in the room, Frederick interjects with a suggestion “Let's all calm down and have a good chat. Perhaps if the good sir Ackdor would run down and get us all a cup of tea, and we can discuss this like the friends we are."

Following his lead, Echo adds “Tea would be nice. Go ahead, Ackdor.”

With a last snipe towards Eddy "Who do you think sent the runner you tin can?" Ackdor acquiesces to his mistress "Yes m'lady".

Frederick asks Echo if she is alright and if the gem harmed her.

“Not exactly”, she replies, “ I…. just wasn’t prepared”.

“Apis guided us to it,“notes Frederick”, so it must be important.  Do you require assistance?”

“If you wanted to stick around, I could try examining again,” Echo suggests”, Though I don’t know how much more I can get out of it.”

Eddy interjects “Should we get Roan to look at it?”

“I’d prefer that we keep it a secret among ourselves”, says Echo.

“Why?”, questions Eddy.

“Because it could draw unwanted attention,” says Echo.

“Even from just Roan?” Eddy asks.

Echo explains “Roan seems like a nice enough guy for a Wolfen, but we haven't known him that long.”

“Eddy, I also believe it better to have faith in those we have more of a history with.”, Frederick agrees. “What assistance do you need with the gem? I am more than happy to help.”

“Just having you around in case I get overwhelmed again would be helpful.”, Echo states.

Thrilled at being able to help Frederick exclaims “Absolutely! Let us wait for our tea, and then we shall proceed. “

As if wishing became reality, Ackdor returns with the tea.

“Did you get sugar?” Eddy demands.

Ackdor looks incredulously at Eddy, "Is my skin green? Of course I got sugar. Also Rum. M'lady may serve herself first."

Taking a sip, Echo opines “Good tea doesn't need sugar.”

Eddy’s spoiled noble side again rears its results “Echo is stupid.” He mumbles as Frederick loads his own tea with sugar.

“ I fear my sweet tooth takes my better judgement.” Taking a sip “Shall we continue?”

Ackdor however, hears the Knight’s comment. “Is there something that has caused you to insult m'lady so?" as he fingers his throwing axe.

Eddy sneers "Sugar is awesome. Bad Ackdor, bad!".

Trying to calm the belligerents, Frederick tries to interject “  Come now, friends, let us stay on the path we are walking and focus on the task on hand. We can discuss the finer points of cuisine later, yes? “

Echo, however, has had enough from the Knight, “Perhaps Eddy can help by shutting his mouth for once.”

“Nope”, Eddy snaps back. “Ackdor isn’t my friend.”

“I've seen sailors with better manners than this supposed nobleman.” Echo retorts.

“I've seen sailors with better slaves than a good looking goblin”, Eddy responds “Better bait, I mean .”

Slamming his cup on the table, tea spilling, Frederick loses his temper “SHUT UP!!!!We are companions and must act decently towards one another! “

“I’ll….” Eddy yells before he slumps down on the floor unconscious.  Unperturbed by this unexplained turn, Apis guides as she will, Frederick walks over to him and makes a pillow out of a cloak to put under Eddy’s head. 

Calmly he asks “Shall we continue while our hotheaded friend sleeps off his temper? “

All tension seems to have left the room.  After a deep breath, Echo responds to Frederick “Sure”.  A slight smile reaching her face. 

“I will be right here to ensure your safety” Frederick encourages.

Echo sets her teacup aside and holds the gem in both hands.  After a moment, her brow furrows in concentration as she focuses on it. After a few minutes, she looks up.

“Well, that went better.”

“Excellent!”, proclaims Frederick, “What did we learn?”

“In a nutshell it is…. Sort of a nutshell.” Echo explains, “ It’s a container holding a very old power.  I don’t know how to use it or get at it though.”

A cough comes from Frederick’s hip.  His sword, an intelligent being known as An-Sehm, offers his wisdom.

"It's age is older than I was before I was born,” An-Sehm says.

Echo asks, “Weren't you technically born when Freddie assembled you a week or two ago?”

“I think I just woke him up”, Frederick claims.

An-Sehm growls “"You don't know what the 'An-Sehm' are do you?”

“I thought it was you”, Frederick responds.

“In a way,” An-Sehm answers.

“Well then tell us a story, dear sword,” Frederick says, adding more sugar and sipping his tea.

An-Sehm begins,” The An-Sehm are those Eldren deemed worthy enough to serve Sehm for all time.  We arise above our mortal shells to exist forever as red stars, the symbol of highest power, called An. When we are bound to the insturments of Sehm, we become the An-Sehm. Weapons of power to guide those who bind us.  The Gem you hold is an old artifact, and only the highest of our order, the wizards and chosen, were allowed to know of its existence.It is said that inside is something of great power, but only a piece of knowledge. More than that wasn't revealed to the An. Allegedly there is a place in the south that the gem is to be set into to unlock its knowledge. Guarded by an ancient dragon.  All this is tale and legend. I don't know if said 'dragon' is even still there.”

Amidst the proclamations of talk of a great dragon, Eddie begins to awaken and Klyn enters the room.  Klyn informs the group that there is a bounty on the head of a slaver by the name of Kraltos.  Hearing that name, the boy Malthes, who had been quietly sitting off to the side, cries out, weeping uncontrollably. Kraltos is the same monster who tortured and abused the boy, causing his unstable mental state, a member of the Hitari slavers. 

An-Sehm again offers his advice “Echo, it would be wise to have your bodyguard escort young Malthes back to the ship.”

Echo has Ackdor leave with Malthes.  An-Sehm continues.

  “As you said, Kraltos is a witch. Some witches, especially slavers, have a way of imprinting commands into their brands.  Saying Kraltos' name lets him see and hear through Malthes' eyes.”

With this revelation, the party decides that taking out the slaver and his ship, the same one that Roan mentioned was in nearby waters, would be a worthwhile side-trek from their main quest. They find it unlikely that it would be difficult to convince the other party member, the Elf Strongbow, would be disinclined to agree.  Shortly after, they pack up their belongings and head back to the Virtuous Maiden, their course set. 

The Slaver Battle at Sea

As the Virtuous Maiden sailed out to find the slaver ship, the group spent the debating tactics.  Frederick kept falling asleep and losing his bell much to the amusement of Strongbow.  Malthus opened up a bit and it was discovered that he is a natural wizard and that he can cast the spells Fly as the Eagle and Sphere of Invisibility.
It was decided that the ship would come up alongside the slaver, rake it with arrows before closing to allow Echo to steam clean their uniforms, then engage with boarders. This worked well for awhile. The Longbow and Xbow teams showered the deck, taking out most of the slaver crew and several of their fighters.
Then the bad nasties hit. Two Shedim demons and a powerful fire warlock appeared hitting our Corsair with a Cloud of Ash.  While powerful, he wasn’t very bright.  The damp rain caused the spell to only do limited damage. Frederick engaged the Fire Warlock with several Lighting Bolts with support by the Xbow men, eventually taking the Warlock out before he could do much more than hurt a few of our hired fighters. Echo blasted the Shedim w/ a Gust of Wind, forcing them to hold on for their damned lives and preventing them from attacking. Seeing the demons incapacitated, the longbow team took out one Shedim and severely hurt the second. We stormed aboard. Eddie and Klyn waded into the fight. Klyn lost ANOTHER ax but picking up a dropped cutlass, carried on.  His goal to try and free the slaves below deck. Eddie carved a path of bodies, seemingly unstoppable even in the face of the Shedim demon. It eventually fell due to the combined efforts of the crew and party.
Klyn charged past the enemy and below decks, running smack into the witch, that monster known as Kralton, who had juiced himself up w/ numerous spells such as Armor of Ithan, Strength of Utgard Loki and Might of the Palladium making him nearly unstoppable. Klyn fought valiantly but was falling back to try and get help when he was cut down in mid-stride. Anguish across his face as he fell to the deck.  Eddie charged in heroically but was also quickly felled by this juggernaut. Freddie’s last lightning bolt seemingly bounced off while Roan’s psionic attack wounded him slightly before the giant wolfen was flung into the sea like a rag doll.
Seeing his companions fall, Strongbow charged into the fray, hoping to hold off the witch long enough for the Cleric to revive Eddie so the three of them could have a hope of taking out their opponent with their combined magical blades. The witch, however, was having none of that.  His familiar, another Shedim, burst from the water between the ships, pulling down the boarding planks and preventing Frederick or more re-enforcements from getting across.  Echo flew into the air w/ Ackdor in order to rescue overboard crewmembers, which included Alta, before they could become casualties of the demon or the sea.  As a last hope, knowing he couldn’t take out the witch alone, Strongbow expended all his mental abilities in a last ditch effort to hurt or kill this seemingly unstoppable creature. The Dragons were with him and the witch fell. The remaining slaver crew, disheartened from seeing their leaders deposed, quickly surrendered or were dispatched after that.
Freddie, in a fit of vengeance, beheaded the witch, bringing down the wrath of Apis. A search of the ship revealed much in the way of riches.  Gold, jewels, weapons, and the ship itself. The (former) slaves are released and given care. We are now on our way to the Far Pendeltor region of the Land of the South Winds.
Journey to Sulanok

As the Virtuous Maiden sails to Sulanok, a city on the Pendeltor Peninsula of the Land of the South Winds, the party and crew take stock of their victory, celebrate, and care for the freed slaves.  
The ship’s log incenses much of the crew.  While slavery is a common and accepted practice, torturing and abusing the higher races is frowned upon in civilized society.  What the monstrous witch and his cohorts did to these poor wretches was beyond the pale.  To his dismay, Strongbow discovers among the names some he recognizes, members of a family branch not to distantly related.  The ones who supplied them also a branch of the Trillof line.  That’s going to need to be dealt with and most severely. 
Echo, the party’s water/air warlock spends her time with her slave Ackdor and translating a journal she discovered in the cabin of the Slaver’s fire warlock, K’lak.  The journal largely makes reference to an organization known as, "Legion," but is non-specific as to the meaning behind it. Presumably it alludes to a large number of people. Each member of Legion is gifted/geased with a purpose that somehow revolves around a group known as, "The Chosen." Who they are or why they are chosen isn't explained.

There is a bit about The Chosen being sent off to retrieve something. It isn't clear what it is, at times sounding like a powerful weapon, other times a great treasure. Whatever it is the mastermind behind the "Legion," is desperate enough to get it that he has servants who are punished with immortal life until they fulfill their duty or suffer a fate worse than a thousand death referred to as "The Punishment of a Thousand," and was greatly feared by K’lak. For some reason or another this Master of Legion is unable to himself retrieve the desired treasure. Whether due to inability, or the need to remain hidden, the latter being hinted at more, isn't expressly explored either.

There are references to an archipelago in the southern seas, as the author put it, "Beyond the ken (understanding) of mere mortals."  The destination for the continuation of the quest.

Frederick the Priest, under orders from the goddess Apis due to his despicable behavior killing a captive, tells the party a sorrowful tale.  When he was a small child, the witch Kraltos and his slavers killed Frederick’s family and took him as a sacrifice.  Frederick’s beautiful singing voice was his salvation, such that it was.  The witch cut off Frederick’s manhood to the root to maintain that voice and kept them as a reminder as to who Frederick owned true allegiance.  Later escaping, Frederick became a servant of Apis but was ashamed due to his lack of organs.  Such has been his quest for many years, to retrieve his manhood and find a way to reattach it, making him whole again.  Since Apis greatly opposes senseless violence, she forced Frederick to reveal his shame to his closest companions. 
Strongbow spends much of his time with the Captain and Alta.  Negotiations over dividing the booty is friendly but intense.  They decide that the bounty of gold, gems, and jewels will be split between the captain/crew and the party.  The carcass of the Shedim that remained on deck will be sold to an alchemist in the city and the proceeds also split evenly.  The captain will keep the slaver ship, along with its supplies while the party, which had done some picking just following the battle, will keep what they have found.  The slaves will be turned over to Land of the South Winds constabulary for healing and un-conditioning.  For this, Captain Macintyre agrees to continue in the service of the party as they look for this archipelago past the Floenries. 
After these negotiations, Strongbow gives Alta, the lady elf he has taken to, a gift.  Following the battle, he picked up a short sword.  Normally not much of a weapon but this one being eternally sharp.  A fitting gift for such a sharp tongued one like Alta.  As she has also taken to Strongbow, she returns the favor with a gift as old as time.  

On to Sulanok.

Sulanok Pt I

As the Virtuous Maiden pulls into Sulanok, the party splits up to explore, refit, and take care of personal business.  Strongbow has need to head to the local Temple Dragonwright to see to Mug’s conversion to the faith as well as to deal with the discovery of family being among the discovered slaves they had rescued from the witch Kraltos.  He feels he should be able to get a satisfactory response as the High Priestess of this region also happens to be his younger sister, Nessa, third born in the Trillof family. 
As he dresses in his ‘work’ clothes, the less liable to draw attention especially in a port town, Alta expresses a desire to join him and Mug ‘to watch’, as she puts it.  He gets the feeling that while she may be curious to see what will happen, she’s more interested in being with him and offering her support.  No fool, Strongbow accepts her offer gladly.  

They arrive at the temple and are greeted by an acolyte.  
“Good day sir.  I have a message for the High Priestess from her distant brother.  May I speak with her?” Strongbow obsequiously asks.
“One moment” the acolyte answers.  “Please remain here and I will see if she will see you.”
About a quarter of an hour later he returns.  “Her Holiness will see you.  Follow me.”
Mug follows along, carrying a chest entrusted to him by Strongbow.  His head swivels from side to side and smiling in wonderment at the majesty and beauty of the temple.  He had never before seen such grandeur. Strongbow puts his hand on Mug’s shoulder to reassure him, faintly catching Mug whisper “Just like dream”.   As they walk, Strongbow explains to Mug just what the temple is and what it stands for, the faith of the True Dragonwright, that not corrupted by evil cultists.  Mug listens with rapt attention.  
Alto is also looking around, highly impressed but cautious, almost uneasy.  She feels as if everyone there is staring at her although none are.  Strongbow notices this as well and takes her hand, squeezing it lightly and smiling at her.  She smiles back, some of the unease falling away.  
As they enter the sanctum, the acolyte leads them to a side chamber where the High Priestess is waiting.  She seems startled to see not only the expected ‘messenger’ but also an orc and female elf.  Strongbow bows to the priestess.
“I have a message from your brother Most Holy.  Not to be rude but he stated it was for her ears only.”
With a nod from the High Priestess, the acolyte bows and departs, closing the door behind him.  The High Priestess looks pointedly at Alta and Mug.
“Are these two privy to your message as well?”
Strongbow smiles and embraces her. “"Yes Nessa. The lady is Alta, my ........companion” He glances back at Alta and wink,“The orc is Mug, my Elfservant". 
Nessa laughs and returns his embrace eagerly. "It has been too long! How have you been -talor? We had heard word that you were still out on your adventures.”
"I'm doing well. It's been an interesting time. I'll have stories to tell for decades at the dinner table. How's Mother..and the rest of the family? "
Mug stands out of the way, the trunk next to him.  Even with his size, one would overlook him.  Alta watches intently, very interested in the exchange between long separated brother and sister. 
"Mother is doing well”, Nessa responds,”although she misses he second-born. Ereinion is doing as he always does. He has negotiated well, and has gained some small amount of grudging respect from the rest when several of his trade agreements have ended up locking theN'ktor dwarf clan into a position they find unfavorable.Idril is as scholarly as ever, and is becoming a very promising match. She will have her choice of suitors when the time comes.Earenduris his usual self.” She says the last with some menace.
Strongbow sighs “So all is as expected. And you sister? All is well w/ the faith?"
"All is well as it should be. The only oddity is the followers of Kym-Mark-Nar acting slightly off, but that's not surprising."
“No it's not but we'll need to keep an eye on that. Anyway, Why I'm here is twofold. The first is that Mug here has requested to join the church. Since he has been so loyal to me, I thought it would be a nice boon if here were blessed by the High Priestess.”
Hearing this, Mug breaks into an uncharacteristic coughing fit in surprise and shock. Strongbow chuckles in response.  
Nessa walks over to Mug and looks him in the eye, "None shall be turned away." she says to him with ritual gravitas, "Will you be as loyal to your faith as to your master?" she asks him.
Mug, humbly, responds, "Without question."
"Do you understand the tenets of our faith?"
"Master has told Mug stories. Of Kym-Nark-Mar and Zandragal, of Kormath and Styphon. Mug like stories of Dragons."
Nessa smiles a little. "Then you shall be welcomed to our faith, with appropriate ritual, and my blessings."
Mug fights back the tears.  Strongbow leans over to Alta and whispers “I think this is going well”.  She nods in return, her eyes wide.  
"An acolyte shall attend you for the remainder of the day to make sure you understand our following.” The High Priestess continues”,This eve we shall conduct your initiation to our order, and you will become one with us."
Strongbow nods to Mug to show his approval.  Mug nods back quickly and bows deeply before Nessa, "Mug wishes to learn."
Nessa puts her hands on his shoulders and raises him up, "Come with me." She turns to Strongbow and Alta briefly and says, "I'll be back shortly," and smiles. She then leads Mug off to find an acolyte.
Alta comments, "That's very generous and noble of you. I don't know that I've seen a happier servant."  He voice is full of sincerity. 
"He deserves it. I couldn't ask for someone more loyal and hardworking. “He pauses. "So, was 'companion' the right word?" He smiles slyly at her. 
"Perhaps." She smiles slyly at him, “So I am more than just some lass on a boat to you then?"
Her tone is both playful with an undertone of questioning.
"I certainly think so. Although I definitely like the 'lass on the boat' ", he winks at her and tickles her side.
She slaps at his hand and then looks into his eyes with a serious expression, almost as if she is searching for something there.  
“What?” he asks, “Tell me.”
"Would I still be your lass if I wasn't DragonWright?"
"It's the family's official faith. “Strongbow answers,” It's not a requirement though. "
She smiles quickly at that, and her smile slips a bit as the implication of being apart of the Trillof family hits. She quickly smiles again and kisses him full on the lips.  He kisses her back.
"Remember, I've MET some of the gods. I would be a fool to deny the worship of them and the 2nd son of IrethTrillof is no fool." He says, "Except maybe when we're alone".
She smiles playfully and is about to say something when Nessa returns.
"Well well, what happy days have come to our shores!" Nessa smiles at them in a teasing sense only a little sister can manage.
"And what is it that's making these shores so happy dear sister? "
"New faith and young love. I am eager to dash off a letter to mother."
Alta blushes furiously.  
"You always were a tattle tale.” Strongbow scolds Nessa as she smiles in that evil little sister way.
"Some things are just too good to keep quiet about though!" She playfully has a little bit of that whine that little sisters have.
"Brat. Well on the next matter, also involving letters, I'm going to require your vow of silence"
She notices the change in tone and adjusts quickly, "You have it. What is the issue?"
"While I've made some enemies over my travels, I've recently made some that involve the family. And I'm going to be making more. Ones that may require some severe retaliation. "
A sense of gravity comes over the room, and Alta speaks, "Would it be alright if I looked around the temple, Nessa?". An attempt to give the two siblings privacy. 
"You may ask Adept Tilar, and I'm sure she will be happy to show you the temple grounds."
Strongbow again squeezes Alta’s hand as she leaves the room. "My traveling companions and I recently took on a job to take out a slave ship. Turned out these were some major players in the south seas slave trade and are likely involved in the trade worldwide.”
He gives Nessa a brief story of the fight at sea between the crew and the slavers. The priestess listens intently.  
"Upon investigation, I found something that disturbed me greatly and will disturb you as well".Strongbow concludes, "Trilloffa's were part of the cargo."
Nessa’s eyes come alive with anger and her nostrils flair.  The Trilloffa’s are not only a branch of the family but the one that the house Mind Mage ,BerenTrilloffa, hails from. 
"Oh, it gets better.” He continues,” I found the log book of the slaver leader. Some of the people he'ld been trading with were included."
"Ok, you've asked my silence for a reason.” She says impatiently” Why?"
" They've been dealing w/ the Trilloffin branch of the family".
"So I can't have Beren rip the information from their heads? What do you plan do to about this situation. You wouldn't ask my silence if you didn't have something in mind."
"We're one of the last Elvish noble families left on Palladium. We can't afford a civil war. I'm going to give them a chance. I'm paying them a visit after I leave here. I will inform the head of the branch, I can't remember the fool's name at the moment, and tell them they will rehabilitate ALL the slaves at their own expense or the Trillof's will be informed"
"I see the wisdom in your actions, but still feel galled at the situation. How will you keep me appraised of the situation?"
I've picked up a number of magic pigeon scrolls. I also need you to deliver these letters. The two on top are to Mother and Ereinion to be opened only if something 'accidental' should happen to me. The third is to a Gnome named Tauren who is located at the Temple of Tark on the Islands. He's an associate of mine and will be keeping an eye on the Trilloffin's. SHOULD anything happen to me, most of their heads will no longer be attached. "
"A follower of Tark? Interesting." She takes the letters, "I shall see to their swift delivery personally. Is there any other foul news I should know about? Or can I finally enjoy my brother's return? Or brief visit knowing you," She smiles at the last part.
"One last thing, the chest over there is my savings. If you would please get it warded in your and my names and delivered to my room back home. It can be used as payment to Tauren just in case. Otherwise it will be for huge celebration when I return permanently. "
Nessa looks at the chest, impressed, "You have been a busy boy. I don't suppose I could persuade you to start keeping a journal of your tales? It would make a fine addition to the family library, and your exploits would likely be favorable in our lands as well." She says that last bit like it's already a done deal. While he doesn’t know it, his letters home have already generated widespread tales among the March.  
" I should really do that, shouldn't I? This whole responsibility thing. Eck"
"Maybe all of our efforts have been directed in the wrong ways," she glances out the way that Alta left, "to instill in you some sense of responsibility. At least tales of your travels would be something to keep us entertained. Ereinion is absolutely abuzz about your last communique to us. He's already commissioned several expeditions."
"Not sure what will come of it but from what we found, it looks like one of the archaic races exterminated during the war w/ the Old Ones."
Her jaw drops,”"You do realize that you've doomed yourself to storytelling tonight?"
"Very likely. As long as there's lots of food and drink. We'll be heading out in a day or so so I plan to eat, drink and be merry"
"That is wonderful news! I shall make sure that all is ready." She is smiling with excitement.
"Quick question, “Strongbow interjects, ”when you mentioned Eärendur, you looked at Alta. What was that about? What nonsense has he been up to lately and is mother grey from dealing w/ it?”
"She is nearly Grey from his antics. ” Nessa explains,” He becomes more and more brazen, making a fool of himself and of our family. He seems to think that he is above the people."
"There's a noble son I'm acquainted with from Timiro. Arrogant. Obnoxious. You name it. Barely tolerable to even be in the same room with most of the time. His family sent him out into the world to either mature or be rid of him permanently. "
"Are you suggesting we do the same?", she asks, obviously interested in the idea.
"It's a suggestion. Perhaps bring it up at the next council meeting. The one I've dealt w/, he's at a point somewhere between a hero of the common people and working on getting stabbed in the back".
Her face goes blank, "I just can't see Earen- as a hero of the people. The other part I can see just fine though."
"Have any tales of the "White Knight" in Timiro reached here?"
"There have been some word of a White Knight. Is your companion this supposed hero of justice?"
"Let's just say for now that he wasn't alone. "
"Heh, very well then."
"Now sister mine, I need to go and take care of that other matter we were discussing. "
"Yes, and I have matters to attend to as well. Shall we meet again tonight for dinner?"
“I think that would be excellent, yes.Now I need to go find Alta and deal w/ this. Take good care of Mug while I'm gone.”
"I will. Farewell."
Strongbow departs the room, leaving his sister to her duties. Now comes the time where he must deal with less pleasant members of the family. 

Sulanok Pt II
As Strongbow leaves the temple, he turns and begins heading to the household of Count Rylof, head of the Trilloffin branch of the family.  His goal, to announce himself to the Count and put an end to his dealing in family slavery.  Still dressed in his ‘work’ clothes, he goes to a side entrance and tells the servant that answers that he is a messenger from Her Lady Nessa Trillof, High Priestess of the Faith.

He is taken to a waiting room, luxuriant beyond measure, especially from what one would expect from a Count of an impoverished land.  Strongbow feels that this room is less a waiting room that a display of opulence and influence.  It also has heavy leanings towards Western Empire décor rather than Land of the South Winds, even taking into account the strong ties between the two nations.
Before to long, he is facing Rylof.  An elf of middle years of average height and weight.  Green eyes and blond hair offset the classic elven grace and beauty.  He's dressed in a robe of state. A rich green trimmed with gold highlights and accents, a finely cut ruby brooch hangs about his neck. When he speaks his voice is smooth as opium smoke.
"Greetings messenger. To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit? What does the High Priestess of the Faith desire of me today?"
His voice is even, but with a light tilt to it. Not mocking or disrespectful, but clearly the man feels he has matters to attend to.
"Not only Mi'ladyTrillof but also from her brother Lictalor, my lord.”  Strongbow replies as he looks the Count directly in the eyes, his tone calm.
"It has been many years since I have heard from the 2nd son of Trillof. This must be a matter of grave import if the renowned hero has come to call on me." He sounds curious, and the matter has his attention.
"The family would like you to explain this...”
Strongbow opens the logbook to the relevant page.
Rylof curiously accepts the book and begins to go over the ledger. A frown deepens on his brown and his face becomes a mask of discontentment.
"and, before you answer...” Strongbow continues, " You may want look more carefully at who I am. Perhaps remembering back to an archery competition would jog your memory."
The Count’s eyes shine like knives.
"Also know that I am not the only one aware of this."
Rylof’s manner and bearing change slightly but noticeably.
"Well, I could bandy about with words, dance around the topic, and try to worm my way out of things. Maybe I'd be successful, but perhaps not.I do not wish to waste your time, and you obviously have specific things in mind. So let's not play this game, and just have out with it. What is it that you would have of me, my lord."
His tone is decidedly straight forward and without nuance. It's that tired, almost bored way of speaking to someone directly and without pretense.There is a noticeable emphasis/resentment on the, "My Lord."
"Good man. We don't have the luxury of being able to afford a conflict. So here is how this can play out. All of the slaves from that shipment have been rescued. You are going to rehabilitate them. At your own expense. If you do that, the extended family will not find out about this. you have my word."
He looks slightly intrigued.
"I am always happy to assist, my lord. Is there any specifications to these unfortunate's rehabilitation?"
Full mental and physical health. Family members to be returned to their households. Commoners to be found suitable employment/apprenticeship. You could even make yourself out to be the 'rescuer'.Certainly no other family members or retainers will find their way into similar situations."
"As you require, my lord. What of yourself? How are you to be compensated for your...service to these unfortunates?”
"Honestly? No compensation to me is required. I do, however, have several insurance policies in place should anything 'accidental' happen to me now or in the future. Should that occur, well, those responsible wouldn't have the opportunity to celebrate for long.”
A faint hint of a smirk appears on the Count’s lips when the ‘insurance policies’ are mentioned, as if he wishes to say “I have heard that before”.
"The slaves will be brought to your compound tomorrow. Progress will be monitored. Is there anything else we should discuss before I depart? Former slaves that is."
"It will be as you wish, my lord. Before you depart, might I offer you something to ease your troubles in this matter?”
"Of course, I don't want any rifts between our two branches."
"If you will wait here a moment then."
The Count departs the room for a few moments but quickly returns. In his hands he has something wrapped in a grayish green silk, a curved cone, with western calligraphy written upon it. He presents it to Strongbow with a slight bow of his head.
"A gift befitting the 2nd son of Trillof, and a hero of great renown."
Strongbow accepts the gift gratefully but carefully.
With a tone both of sincerity and mocking, the Count adds “Thank you for your presence this day, my lord. May you use it in good health, and bring great majesty to our family."
"And you my lord, with your permission, I will take my leave."
"As you wish. Go in good health."
Strongbow bows and departs.  As he returns to the Temple, he takes a different and more indirect route.  The package he leaves wrapped until he is well inside where he gives it over to several priests to check for any magical effects or curses.  Discovering none, he and the High Priestess unwrap it. 
Concealed in the sheets is a tusk of pure white ivory. Hollowed out and capped at the point in gold, while the wide end is rimmed in bronze with inlaid rubies and emeralds.Truly a majestic piece of art, a horn to call the attention of all. Reading its history through psionics divulges that it was used in some battles in the western empire against some slave revolts. It is fully functional, but could also be ceremonial.  It's origin was the Western Empire . It was stolen from a minor noble there and smuggled to the LOSW where it was given to Rylof as tribute from the smugglers in addition to their normal payments.
Strongbow reports the meeting to his sister.
"He's up to something and obviously thinks he can best the family. Keep a very close eye on him. "
"I shall send an acolyte around regularly to ensure his cooperation. I'll see to it that he's monitored closely."
“I wouldn’t expect anything less.  The Count seems as if he’s trying to make friends and allies beyond his station.”
"That will not happen. He doesn't have the influence beyond Sulanok. Still, it will be wise to not ignore him as you say."
"Exactly. And I really would much rather use that money to have a celebration than pay off my associate.”
“Your associate?” Nessa asks.
“My gnome friend who'll take care of things if I have an 'accident'”
She nods in understanding.
"A celebration is much more desirable.Speaking of, I hope you plan to join us for dinner tonight?"
“I am. Who else is in the city?”
"Idril will be here, and she would just adore seeing her brother again. Mama is still in Pendletor with Ereinion, and Earendur....."*she sighs*
“Some tavern, casino, or whorehouse I'm guessing?”
"Worse."A dwarf by the name Destor of the clan Grangite came to the temples earlier today. He had a nasty gash to the scalp, caused by our youngest brother. He brought our inebrieted sibling with him."
"Yes. And did not fare well. He is uninjured, but nursing a terrible hangover."
"What was the dwarf doing here in the first place? I thought we had an agreement w/ them?"
"We still do. He's here exporting goods to the north. He even has a writ stating his purpose.Destor makes several trips a year here and keeps a low profile out of deference. He brought in Earen because he has some knowledge of this area, and figured it would be a way to help soothe his presence here, as he put it."
 She elaborates that he was trying to help the Trillof family save some face, knowing Strongbow’s anger towards the dwarves.
“So we have to do all the formal apologies then....”
"Oddly enough we don't." she responds, "Destor only requested medical assistance and a place to stay for the evening before he departs on the morrow.Apparently the altercation Destor was caught up in was enough to get him ejected from the inn he was staying at."
“Please tell me you're not going to invite him for supper.” Strongbow exclaimed in disgust.
"He is being tended to and fed for his trouble, and being given a night without grief. He is NOT being invited to dine with the nobles of House Trillof"
“Good.  I have enough of them on the road, I don’t need to have them in my home. “
"The question brought up from all this is whether or not you wish your youngest sibling in attendance."
“Want? Not really. Should have there anyway? Probably. If we don't invite him, he gets slighted and causes problems. We invite him, he causes problems at the dinner table.You're the hostess, I leave it up to you.”
She looks slightly disappointed at being the one to have to make that call.
"If that is the case then tonight he shall not be in attendance as punishment for causing enough of a scene that even the dwarves were tired of his antics."
"Fair enough. Mother and Erin are going to have to decide what to do w/ him soon if he's escalated to this level of troublemaking.”
"I'll be writing her a letter tonight…and of course Alta will be present as your guest, I’ld hope?
“Excellent. Salmon for the main course?”
"If you wish it, but I would think you had tired of such fare after being away at sea for so long"
“I've only been at sea a short time. Much of my time has been spent in the Northern Wilderness and Old Kingdom mountains.”
"Then you shall feast upon fresh salmon."
Leaving his sister to her preparations, Strongbow goes to check on Mug who has finished his initiation into the faith.  He finds him in a vestibule with a smile on his face and asks if he would prefer to continue making arrows or would like to serve the meal this evening.
"Mug will do as Master wishes. Mug happy to serve. Mug happy to make arrows. Mug....happy!"
“That makes me happy as well. I would be pleased to have you assist in the serving of supper tonight for myself and some of my family.”
"Mug will make Master proud. Mug have re..req...wish. Mug have want of something."
"And what is that?"
"Mug learn to wear, 'right,' clothes for fancy dinner. Not say much, but must not look like mud"
"Some nice servant clothes you shall have".
Mug looks somewhat relieved, as though the thought of wearing his common clothes to an important dinner. Strongbow asks an acolyte to assist Mug in obtaining proper attire then goes to finding Alta still exploring He asks her if should would like to accompany him to dinner. 
She stops for a moment, and gets that dear in the headlights look, "This isn't an ordinary dinner is it?" She asks.
"Well not quite….My sisters will be there.”
There's a brief moment of terror in her eyes, mixed with anxiety, "How much time before dinner do I have to see if I can't find more presentable clothes?'
“Several hours at least. You've met one of them though and that went well.”
"High Priestess Nessa? She seemed very nice.”
She continued “"I'm glad to be well received, but when dealing with the nobleborn you must put on all appearances to satisfy their view of what they think the world is."
Her eyes widen in surprise in a, "Did I just say that aloud?" moment giving the impression that she was reciting something from memory/rote like she had heard it from her father or mother.
"What I mean to say is that it wouldn't do to make a poor first impression on your other sister."
Strongbow takes her hand and teasingly asks if her behavior with his was just an ‘appearance’.
"Only if the first time I met you, and saw you on a ship getting your hands dirty was an, 'appearance.'"
"Heh, well most of my family is very similar in personality to me but a hair more formal due to their official positions. Tonight is going to be an informal family/close friend affair so they'll be more relaxed. "
"I could still do with a bath, and a fresh change of clothes would not go amiss."
"That's what I'm planning on as well. Get some of the road dust and salt scraped off".
"I like the sound of that. If you don't need me for this few hours I'll be off to do just that."
She goes off to prepare herself for the evenings gathering.  Strongbow retires to his room to clean himself up, perform some long neglected devotions, and rest up before he joins his family and ladyfriend.

Sulanok Pt III
Sulanok Pt III
The dinner  is held in the temple in a private dining room. A roaring fire lights the room accentuated by numerous candles. The carpet is a deep red, and the walls are adorned with images of the True Dragonwright faith.The overall effect is both humbling and majestic.  Strongbow for the first time since he left feels relaxed and at home. 
Alta is shown into the room. For a period, it is just the two of them alone, the sisters having informed the acolyte that they would be along shortly, something about gossip.  Alta’s outfit is new, conservative, but she found a tailor of some skill from its quality.  She had also taken the time to add some lilacs into her hair for adornment.  Her bearing and grace show that of an adventurer, as one that would be from a romanticized or stylized storybook.  Strongbow is even more enchanted. He steals a quick kiss from her and compliments her on her choice of outfit. 
"Flattery will get you everywhere" she says, looking into his eyes.
The door opens, and a squeal of delight greats them as Idril, Strongbow’s youngest sister and the most beautiful and intelligent of the siblings, rushes up and embraces him.
"My big brother! What a delightful surprise!"
Her face has all the happiness and earnestness of a younger sibling happy to see her older brother.  He hugs her back enthusiastically.
"You've been away far too long, and the courts stories have begun to bore me. Tonight you will have to tell me all about the adventures you've been on. After you introduce me to your new friend that is."
“Idril, this is my lady-friend and companion Alta. Alta, this is my youngest sister Idril.”
Alta curtsies in a practiced fashion, Idril responds in kind. The two spend a few moments sizing each other up until Nessa invites everyone to take their seats.  Fine wine, fruits, and cheeses are already on the table as appetizers.
Strongbow raises his cup. "A toast... to family and friends."
Everyone seated at the table echoes, "To family and friends!"
Idril without hesitation, after a drink, begins to pester Strongbow for stories.  He starts out with the most obvious one, the story behind his sigil, red claw marks on a white field.  He tells of the Wayward Lady and her child, born with the help of a Wolfen general (The clawmarks and the white field), the abomination of Ceratus Dominus and his minions, the Burning.  He tells of the battle that defeated the monster and the many friends, companions, and foes alike that fell. 
They all listen. Alta is a little rapt, never having heard it before.Idril looks entranced. Nesa has a wry smile on her face. They're all enjoying the tales.After sufficient time has passed the door opens and in walks Mug and an acolyte bearing platters of food.Salmon, fruits, nuts, candied almonds, and dates are set at the table, more wine is brought out to refresh anyone's glass, and the servants excuse themselves.
"You have an Orc acolyte Nessa?" Idril asks
"Indeed. A fresh convert even."
"I'm amazed at how well he conducted himself. Very composed. Where did you find him."
"Another tale from our dear brother." Nesa teases Strongbow with her eyes over the rim of her glass. Alta tries very hard to stifle a chuckle and not spew her wine across the table.
"In Timiro. I was looking for a trained fletcher since I ran out of arrows on several occasions."
Idril, displaying her keen insight, probes: "Timiro has well behaved orc fletchers that are also capable of handling the manners necessary to serve food at an intimate dinner?"
"It seems I picked the best there is. He's worth 100 times or more what I paid."
"You have chosen very well then. His initiation went off very favorably. Truly the Dragons were watching as he made his vows." Nessa says.
"Excellent. Did he swear to any one in particular?
"Oddly enough he seemed about to, but then thought better of it. Kym-Nark-Mar seemed to have his interest the most, but he seemed to want to wait before taking a vow."
"Interesting. I think he'll do very well in our faith.”
"I will say that he is very eager to please."
"He is. He apparently had a very rough life before..."
"Things are different now, and I'm sure his life will be better here on in."
"Agreed. And how have things been here in the Marq since I've been gone?” Strongbow asks.
Nessa responds first, "On the whole things have been pretty quiet. Oh there's been trade agreements, negotiations, and squabbling aplenty, but on the whole things are more or less dull."
Idril adds on, "It can be worrisome though. Like the calm before the storm.Ereinion is starting to come more into his own at least. He still doesn't command the heart of the populace as you do, brother, but anyone attempting to subvert him would be hard pressed to make any progress."
"Good. We made a good decision w/ me leaving for a time then. I think much of what I bring back will be a great benefit.” He says, squeezing Alta’s hand.
She looks at him and smiles brightly.
"Speaking of bringing important things home, mother and I have been wondering when you will finally return to us for good?" Nessa asks.
"I'm really not sure yet. There are still lots of places I've yet to see and adventures to partake in. I'm still young and it's only been a few years.Are you all wanting me back so badly?”
Idril responds, "We all miss you, and worry about you of course. Your adventures are grand stories, and we love to hear them. But what about your duty to the Marq?"
Nessa’s face changes.  Before her expression looked like she was ready to debate Strongbow coming home. Now it's mildly uncertain with a dash of paranoia, and he notices that she's not looking him in the eye so much as looking over his shoulder.
“Me being away IS part of my duty.” Strongbow says,” To let Erin assert full authority and so I can get the experience needed for military command. I'm good but I'm not ready to run the house regiment yet nearly as well as Ganzer is.”
Noting Nessa’s expression, he mentally sends a question to Idril “Nessa’ upset.  Why
Idril glances at her sister , looks behind Strongbow, then gives him an, "I don't know," look.
Nessa, almost detached, says "Perhaps I just miss my brother and want to see him more. I suppose it's good for you to get your wanderlust out of your system, and bring back more stories for Idril."  She looks a bit shocked as she continues supper, as if she had seen a ghost.
Nessa shakes her head to clear it before continuing, "Not just Idril," she flashes you a winning smile, "I hear that Ganzer has talked about compiling your adventures into a singular text."
Reaching out to her mind, Strongbow senses that she doesn't have running thoughts, but a sense of pure awe.  Her mind is fumbling to come up with coherent sentences and thoughts, a mixture of, "he has a destiny," and, "I have to know more about where he's going,"
"So Alta," Nessa turns her attentions to Alta, "My brother has told me much of where he has been, but not where his adventures have taken him recently, or how he came to meet you."
Alta looks at him for a moment, trying to figure out how much she should say.  Strongbow smiles.
"Strongbow helped us out as we journeyed to the Floenry isles transporting goods and passengers. That's where we first met, and he distinguished himself amongst the crew."
"Ships that pass in the night?" Idril teases them.
"Distinguished? I just got lucky is all….And no. Same ship.”
Alta jabs his leg when he say, "I just got lucky".  He chuckles in response.
“What she means is that we got into a fight that turned out to be much nastier than we expected.”
Idril looks very interested, as does Nessa though she has heard the story earlier.
"Please tell us!"
"Yes Strongbow, tell us O great storyteller," Alta teases.
He tells the story of the battle aboard the Virtuous Maiden and the slaver ship.
"How exciting!”Idril exclaims,” Demons summoned right on the deck? It's a wonder you got out with your life!What kind of slaver consorts with a witch amongst their crew with that kind of power? Did you find anything about them?"
“Nothing much yet. That's where we're going next.”
Nessa asks you very intently, "Where *ARE* you going next?"
“Past the Floenry's. That's all we know right now.”
Idril looks taken aback, "Past theFloenry's? Towards the Eastern Territory?" Her look is that of the bookworm she is.
“South East” Strongbow corrects.
"I've not heard of anything past those isles. What mysteries have you uncovered?" Idril probes.
“That's the question. We haven't 'uncovered' anything as of yet.I thought those ruins we discovered would have kept you busy for years, nevermind looking for more to occupy your mind.”
Alta's interest is piqued, "Ruins?", another story she hasn’t heard.
"Yes, ruins."Idril says, "Apparently my brother just tripped over the remains of a lost race that died out centuries ago.I'm heading back there on the morrow to continue going over it. Very fascinating."
Strongbow looks at Nessa. "And you wonder why I enjoy travelling."
. "It was shortly before we hired Captain Mac to take us to the Islands." He tells Alta.
Alta speaks to Idril, "What have you discovered in the ruins?"
"Murals, frescos, artifacts. If our estimations are correct then this race would have been active during ancient times. Back to when the Old Ones were awake."
Strongbow mentally questions Melina, his Runic longsword if she has any memories of the Eldren. She replies positively but has few details. 
He tells the ladies “There's a pretty good chance they are one of the archaic races exterminated during the war."
"It would make sense," Idril continues, "although we've found no reference to the end of their race."
“It might be worthwhile to send some people to Bletherad to research them, “ Strongbow opines.
"Oh? An adventure of my own! Pretty soon Nessa, and Mama, and maybe even Ereinion will all wander off to explore the world," Idril giggles at the thought.
“If you set foot in that library, it would take the entire House Guard to drag you out.” Strongbow laughs.
Idril rubs her hands enthusiastically without realizing it
"You tempt me with the thought of such a place! It may be time to follow in your footsteps."
“Minus the demon fighting though.” He winks at Idril.
"Of course! You've already done that, so now I have to one up you."
“And how will you do that little sister?”
"I'll have to uncover a kingdom of a forgotten race that's still living in isolation."
“Anything could happen. Although w/ that spark in your eye, I think it might be time to start looking for a husband for you to keep you from getting into more trouble than Earendur.”
"When you can find one who can keep up with me I'll be happy to look the matter over. An intellectual with a scathing wit. Someone who will bolster our house in more ways than just being a husband."
“Nessa, “Strongbow says to her, “make sure mother and Erin know those are the requirements.”
"I'll include it in my letter tonight." Nessa responds, giggling.
Idril playfully pouts, "Worried about the competition brother?"
Alta watches the sibling interplay with much amusement.
“Not at all. I'm more worried about releasing Idril onto Palladium. May the dragons help us all.”
"I'm sure we'd need there help with Idril," Nessa agrees.
Idril is looking smug and pleased with herself. The doors open and the servants usher in, collect the plates, and leave everyone with a fine bottle of elven brandy and a platter of dates, candied almonds, and sweet meats.
“I will say, I haven't eaten like this since I left. dried meat, fruits and bread grows stale after awhile.”, Strongbow says, enjoying the foods.
"You do set a fantastic table," Alta says. She a little extra than she normally does. Unsurprising considering she lives at sea most of the time, and she is feeling slightly more comfortable with the sisters of the one she has grown attached to.
“Back to salt pork and hard tack in a few days though. Best enjoy this while we can.” Strongbow says as he offers a plate of sweetmeats to Alta. She takes several eagerly.
"The pleasure is mine when I get to entertain such an honored guest" Nessa nods her head.
"How have Mother and Erin been since I left? I know you've said he's been doing well but any other details? I know they're going to be upset missing tonight."
"Mother will be sad to have missed you, and would greatly appreciate a letter before you dash off on another adventure.” Nessa says,” Otherwise she keeps herself busy assisting Ereinion with administration. Ereinion is doing well as a negotiator, and while not fully trusted, people have begun to notice the stability that his influence has brought."
Idril pipes in, "What people don't see about Ereinion is that he is playing the long game. By the time it becomes apparent what he's been up to, he'll be too far entrenched to be removed easily. When you return that will only help to cement our foothold on this area."
“I think he's going to be the best Marquis we've seen in generations.” Strongbow says,”No offense to father of course.”
"I think father would be proud of the legacy he's left. Of you and your adventures," Nessa says,  looking at him, "and you with your knowledge and wit," looking at Idril, "and all of us." She pauses for a moment and looks a bit downcast, "I only wish that Earendur would do more to honor his name."
“We'll come up w/ something.” He says, comforting her.
"I'm certain we will."
Alta squeezes his hand and he responds back, looking at her. She seems to be enjoying her meal and the conversation.  He gets the feeling that she'd be quiet and observant in a more courtly setting. The kind of person who hears the whispers.It's plainly obvious that she's far more comfortable at sea than a formal setting.
“Now that supper is finished, I think we would all be more comfortable in the lounge.” Strongbow suggests.
"I agree. You can regale us with more of your stories"Idril says.
“If I do too much of that, we'll have nothing to talk about when I come home “ he responds, laughing.  The others join in in the laughter as they retire to another room filled with comfortable couches, pillows and a warming fire.  They spend the night telling stories of adventures, family, friends, and home.  The wine flows and the food and companionship fill them. Alta, her legs curled up beneath her, leans against Strongbow as he relaxes, his arm around her.  Her eyes half closed as she dreamily listens. 
Come the morning, the time for farewells has come.  Nessa and Idril shower Strongbow with hugs and kisses, wishing him safe passage and demanding he keep in touch more.  A promise he means to keep.  Nessa gives him a new Dragonwright medallion, his previous now being worn by Mug, as she blesses him and his servant.  The sisters hug Alta warmly and tell her honestly they hope to see her back soon. 
The trio, Strongbow, Alta, and Mug head away from the Temple towards the docks and an uncertain future. 

Enter Rod Kym Nar
As Strongbow, Alta, and Mug return to the ship, they discover that several members of the party have not returned, giving all indications that they won’t.  Frederick, Eddie, and Klyn had departed, taking all their belongings with them.  Echo had chosen to stay and continue the adventure.  Strongbow is glad of her company.  Several hours later, a new face appears.  From the Temple Dragonwright, a priestess by the name of Rod-Kym-Nar, declares her intention to join the party and assist them on their quest.  The Dragons have guided her to this place to help Strongbow and Echo succeed in finding…. What?  They still don’t know.  More supplies are needed.
They go through town to pick up gear for the extended journey.  Food, equipment, supplies, mules.. All the necessary items needed to survive the unknown.  Echo shows Strongbow part of her take from the slaver ship, a golden statue of some sort of bird.  Sensing its evil, Strongbow flings it into the harbor.  A sense of foreboding falls over the group as if some force is telling them it will make them pay for that.  
As they continue their sojourn through the markets, they notice a figure is following them.  A cloaked male, hunched over and creepy.  He doesn’t give the impression of hostility but instead one of wanting to communicate with them.  They grab a table at a diner.  Within minutes he slides up to the table and offers them a bag of …. Something… for sale for a mere 10 gold. 
“You buy, yes?  Master wants you to have. “ he says in a grating, whiney voice.
Echo tries to read his aura, the impression she gets is that he is ‘whole but crumbling’.  The party debates and decides to take him up on his offer, wondering who the ‘Master’ is.  The gold is exchanged and he places the bag on the table before shambling off.  Inside the bag is a ring.  Rod claims it and places it back in the bag for the time being.  They purchase the last of their supplies and head back to the ship.
For the first three weeks out at sea, things are uneventful.  As they sail past the Floenry Islands, the last known bastion of civilization in the south however, things begin to change.  The crew and passengers become anxious and stressed.  Tempers flare.  Several sailors get into a brawl remarking that they are not being paid enough to risk their lives like this.  Sailors who fought valiantly against a slaver pirate crew, magic users, and demons.  Strongbow seems unaffected by this malaise and uses this to inspire the crew.  He stands at the bow of the ship, facing the ocean head on.  They seem to sail through a wall, like the feeling of pressure preceding a storm front and the sensation of Doom and foreboding disappears.
The next day, shortly before dawn, land is sighted, a three island archipelago.  Sailing for a bit discovers a bay suitable to anchor in.  

 The party goes ashore along with their retainers and several crew.  Exploring, they see a mud covered native hiding in the jungle.  A shout by one of the sailors startles him and he bolts into the forest.  Strongbow and Rod-kym-na give chase while the rest stay behind on the beach.  Strongbow catches up with the native and indicates that the party is not hostile.  He learns the native’s name.. Te’ke, and they arrange a meeting for the following morning.  Strongbow and Rod return to the beach and they set up camp for the night, posting numerous watches as they are still unsure of this land and the inhabitants.
The next morning arrives early.  As the party trices up the camp, out of the jungle comes Te’ke and numerous members of his tribe including the tribe’s Shaman/Mind Mage Adisa.  Surprising the adventurers, Adisa speaks fluent, if archaic, Elvish. After some parley, the party accepts an invitation to the village, unarmed, in exchange for a representative (iow hostage) from the tribe, the ‘Beloved of Yetu’, to ‘visit’ the ship.  Rod slips on the ring she got back in Sulanok and understands the mutterings of the rest of the tribe.  Echo drinks a ‘Tongues’ potion and also understands.  The mutterings include dire threats against the party should anything happen to the ‘Beloved’ one.
The next day, a messenger arrives to drop off a little girl with the crew and lead the
team to the village of Ma’lwai’yu. Adisa gives the grand tour, and then—feast time!
After the feast comes story-time. Adisa tells of how she learned her skills. The Chief,
Hi’ng-tar’da, tells the creation myth of the islands. Strongbow retells a tale of defending a
village. Rod-kym-na’s story is a short but personal telling of being called to her god. Echo’s
is a highly self-indulgent and very tall tale of being awesome in a grand adventure.
After the stories, they move to the Chief’s hut, an indication that it is time to exchange gifts.  After story-time, the team gathers in the Chief’s hut for gift-giving. Strongbow gives
the Chief a pair of machetes for the tribe’s best scouts/warriors. In return, the Chief gives
Strongbow a mantle of leadership. Rod-kym-na receives a pouch, seemingly meant to hold
a large pearl. Echo gets a pouch of berries.
They are given a hut for the night and told to choose between Adisa, the Shaman, or Te’ke the scout, to guide them to meet the head Shaman, Ye'tu.  They decide on the scout.  Tomorrow they move into the jungle.  

The Journey To Ye'Tu's Hut
The party decides to take the trail to Yetu's location, rather than the river.  We load up the mules while Te'ke gives Rod-Kym-Na and I some information on the local flora and fauna.  It seems like most of the standard things that one would find on a tropical island although there are some differences, likely from the centuries of isolation from the rest of the Palladium world. 
The first day is uneventful.  We find small  'pockets' in the jungle where there is no vegitation for several yards.  Nothing magical or evil emanates from these open spaces so we use several of these as our campsite.  Standard watches through out the night.  No attacks during the first night but both Mug and Ackdor say they saw something watching us from the distance.  Ackdor, scouting around, finds large cat tracks a bit from the campsite.  Tracks that are larger than your normal jungle cat.  
 Throughout the next day, at least one cat continues to stalk us, never getting close enough to be a real threat or get a close look at it.  By mid-afternoon, Alta is looking unwell, sweating and stumbling while trying to keep up.  Some jungle affliction. Quickly cleared up by a healing drought, of which we've brought many, it foreshadows something we will experience numerous times over the next few days.  
We encounter several large cats over the next few days. None are overly hostile but the ones that look like large black panthers seem more intelligent than average and are the ones that have been following us.  Temporarily paralyzing one using psionics gives them the message that we are not just food to be trifled with.  A sickly anaconda and some bush pigs are the most serious threats we face until more of the jungle sickness strikes.  While the version that Alta is repeatedly hit with and also afflicted Mug is easily cured with some healing potion, Rod-Kym-Na becomes delirious with fever, nearly fighting us so she can ‘return to the temple’ before we convince her to take a sip of ‘holy water’.  
The night before we expect to reach Yetu’s, one of the cats decides to get brave enough to attack the camp.  It jumps on Mug from behind and mauls him badly until we manage drive it away. Even though he is quickly healed, nighttime and darkness will make him nervous and uneasy for the rest of his days. Poor Mug. 
We reach the location of Yetu.  A large swamp with an upraised hut on stilts in the middle.  No boats being present, we utilize a log as ballast to make our way across.  The entrance to the hut is familiar.  It is carved and designed into the shape seen at every Dragonwright temple across the Palladium world.  The gate. Yetu stands in the doorway and beckons us in.  Of the same type as the tribesmen, he is ancient and exudes the power of the dragon gods but not nearly so much as what stands on a pedestal in the middle of the room.  A giant tooth, rippling with waves of magic. One can only surmise the strength of the creature that shed it. 
He shows us a war club covered in runes, dwarven make and old.  Likely predating the Elf/Dwarf wars that destroyed the Old Kingdom.  Yetu explains that this came from the other island, L’hauth, the island of the evil ones, and that the next stage of our journey is there.  On that island we will face challenges that will test our bodies and mind but that will be nothing compared to what we will face beyond, challenges that will imperil our very souls. A place where we will have to make decisions that could change the direction of the entire world. 
We depart from the hut with the Shaman’s blessings and warnings on minds.  

 Assault on L'Huath
Upon return from Yetu’s domicile, we were greeted with much rejoicing by the Ma’Lwai’Yu villagers. Yetu’s daughter was returned and a grand celebration was held. Negotiations with Chief Ya’Tairda and Captain Macintosh proceeded in order for us to journey to the island of L’Huath, home of the evil Katuade tribe.

We decided that travel up the river delta towards the volcano would be the best option and the chief provided us with the use of one of his boats and food in exchange for the pillage of at least one small village from their enemies. Getting the crew proved to be more negotiations. Four sailors from the Virtuous Maiden joined us for some extra pay. From the tribe, 4 young bucks, eager to make a name for themselves, agreed to go just for the adventure and promise of plunder. Several bowmen accepted a quiver of arrows each and a warrior we nicknamed ‘King’ agreed for a Kobold-forged axe. Alta asked to stay behind to recover from the previous sojourn and I left Mug to care for her.

After loading up the food and supplies, leaving the mules in the care of the village, Macintosh towed our craft to the river’s edge and we began the tedious chore of rowing and watches in shifts to watch for the Katuade or hostile fauna. Things were quiet until a trio of large water snakes decided we were what was for supper. Two were quickly dispatched w/ arrows and swords but Echo decided a show of force was needed, vaporizing one w/ a fireball and taking the remainder of her frustrations out on an innocent palm tree. The rest of the crew tread cautiously around her after that while Ackdor strutted with pride. During her watch, Rod Kym Nar alerted me to the presence of a scout hidden along the river bank. Noting his location, an arrow through the gut guaranteed he would never report back.

The following morning, a party from our mutual enemies foolishly attacked our craft, not expecting the barrage of arrows and spells they received in response. In retreat, they led us straight to their village, a perfect opportunity to repay the chief and for our hirelings to earn some stripes/plunder. Their warriors were warned by the hunting party but it did little good. They were unable to stand up to the combined might of spells, arrows, and fighters that assaulted them. Rod, however, did foolishly attack one of their stronger warriors, getting hurt fairly severely in the process. An attempt by their resident warlock to turn the tide was quickly stopped by several arrows to his torso.

After clearing the village, a search revealed much in the way of booty. Steel weapons (dwarven forged if one can believe it!!!) and some primitive armor for our allies. Gold and jewels for the chief. A good haul overall. A statue of Styphen the Black, dark god of the Dragonwright pantheon, was left behind. We don’t need that kind of support. Deciding that the ones who fled were likely heading to get re-enforcements, we returned to the boat and are continuing our way up the river, our spirits much lifted by the success we’ve achieved.

Ancient Dread: Assault on L'Huath Cont.
Shadowy shapes on shore during the night. Remnants of the enemy villagers no doubt. No attack by them. We seem to have cowed them for now. Strange dreams of villages and odd necklaces. We’ve decided we’ll keep moving at night so they can’t rally their forces. Rod however is reluctant to stand watch at night because she has problems seeing. During the day, a few stray arrows were clumsily lobbed towards us but nothing of any consequence. The next day they got their dander up and, after a few miscarried attempts, decided to start dropping rocks on us after we entered a ravine. Rod flew up and dispatched the ones on the right while I started on the ones on the left but not before they managed to drop a rock on the boat, killing one of our ‘young bucks’ and putting a hole in the hull.

The pathetic attack by the tribesmen was nothing compared to what we saw next… a bask of very large crocodiles. Throwing chunks of the snake meat seemed to keep their interest away from us except for a pair that decided to follow along for some easy meals. It took awhile to tack through some rapids but we succeeded. Soon after we saw the volcano which King tells us is named Wannahackaloogi. It seemed fairly quiet but the closer we approached, the warmer the air and water was along w/ a smell of sulfur in the air.

Closing to the shore, it looked like there may have been a dock in some distant past and there were stairs carved into the side. King decided to come with us but the rest of the crew chose to stay w/ the boat. Our ‘Young Bucks’ have had their first taste of death and it is ash in their mouths. We climbed the 500’ walk and discovered an entrance to what appears to be an ancient Dwarven crafted cavern. A humanoid skeleton is visible in the distance and seems to have died violently, running from some unknown threat. After a rest, we will venture in.

 Entering the Volcano
Entering the tunnel, we note that it’s heavily carved in ancient Dwarven runes. The skeleton, a human by all accounts, was caved in from behind about a month ago according to Ackdor’s tracking skills. A fell voice boomed out to us from beyond although we couldn’t understand it. We chose to move forward. This was a mistake as when Ackdor, our point, crossed the line of the passageway, 4 huge golems began moving towards us. While we managed to deflect their initial blows, our own attacks seemed to just bounce off them.

Rod saved us all by calling on Kym-Nark-Mar. Unknown circles inscribed themselves into the ground underneath the golems. They began to crumble, cracking open and falling to the ground. It was then that Kym Nark Mar revealed himself to me. He told me that a mad mage is attempting to create a rune armed army so that he can awaken the Old Ones and defeat them once and for all. This mage has been hidden from the sight of the gods and they are looking for him. Our quest is to find him.

The circles, according to Rod and Echo, are two previously unknown/forgotten ones. Dispel Gargoyles and Dispel Gurgoyles.

The floor, upon further examination, is covered w/ powdered/crunched up bone. Echo, upon investigating the amphitheater, again receives the fell voice. The large doors west are too hot to touch. The Northern room is filled w/ partially crushed bodies. Both are filled with Dwarven weapons. We stock up and move down to the lower level.

There we discover numerous ancient apartments filled w/ coins and jewels. We pick up a few of the choicest items, noting the rest for later. Another room, a worship room of some sort of forgotten, evil Dwarven cult, stands in the center. On the altar lay a sword which called to Rod for help. Mentally drawing the sword to her, four of the statues, the largest we’ve seen, came to life. Game on.

The battle was vicious. Melina seemed ineffectual against the creatures. Although I was able to deflect most of the blows, I was glad that I had spent much gold enhancing my armor. The others were not as lucky with absorbing the onslaught but they were more effective in destroying these super golems. Echo’s lightning blasts proved especially effective, blasting limbs and felling several of them. Rod flew through the air striking the golems and healing the worst off of the party. King and Ackdor fought like berserkers until all were down. It is time to rest for a bit and recover before we move on.

  Volcano Descent

We sleep in one of the nicer apartments to heal up and let the spell casters rest. Awaking, we all feel not at ease. We decide to investigate the other large room to the SW. A door, carved w/ typical dwarven reliefs was very warm is on the far side of the hallway, same as the level above. We move to the next one to find it is locked. A few minutes fixes that. Ackdor pushes the door open. The area is quartered and filled w/ old boxes. The northern room is a dining hall. Outside of two dwarven statues reading as a presence, there’s nothing of any interest. We move down to the next level below us. 

The first thing we notice is that it’s definitely longer. There are 4 hot marble doors instead of three. A warehouse. Then a stuck door. Our curiosity is peaked. We move to the other side. I jam the lock. Another shop is armor which Rod needs. A bucket is filled with rings of a lightweight metal. Rod states that the mail is magical. We mark it for later and find her a suit of Dwarven chain that would work as a half-suit. Another room is bolted. Malina raises the dead to unbolt and a frightening Dwarf face launches out and yells to “GET OUT!”. The door unbolted and a group of undead dwarf skeletons come out. After striking me, Echo shatters it with a single blow. Other skeletons opened the other doors and began coming towards us. They were quickly dispatched. The room was filled with ancient coins. Avoiding a trap in the gem room, we find a box full of gems. We take those. Another room is a jeweler. Two boxes revealed a small bag of raw Mithril and a selection of 20 rings. One of which magical. I don’t like it whatever it is. A vision showed dark magic and a forge behind the large marble doors. A voice entices us to go down to the lower levels. We begin our descent.
  Zombies and 'Shrooms
The northern staircase is chosen by Echo as our path. I see what appear to be enclosures. Barred rooms that contain…. Something. Rod suffers some sort of mental trauma, turning her icy cold, that takes her a few minutes to recover. A voice, speaking ancient Elvish, warns us that we made a mistake by entering here. In the rooms, ancient corpses rise up and start moving to the edge of the bars. Behind us, the stairwell closes off from some sort of portcullis. We are trapped down here.

Rod regains her composure and turns the dead. The creatures move away from us to the back of their enclosure. To our left, Iron doors are chained shut w/ chains. The large room to the west is full of ancient equipment. A slave storage area according to Ackdor. Murder holes line the walls. The middle of the room is the guard station. The western wall is full of mine shafts that glow an orange light. The same direction as the large, hot doors above. The northern wall has three shafts. The Eastern path We head north.

It’s like we entered a swamp. Moisture, vegetation, moss, fungus, fill the cavern. Some of it glows creating a seeable light. Better for our human companions. Water rushes ahead of us. Steam rises from it. The middle passage seems to have less vegetation than the side passages. Looking down into one of the moss covered pits, I see a creature. Covered in an insect or lobster like shell but nothing like this world would develop. Echo suffers the same effects as Rod when she attempts to read the creatures.
Echo decides to get its attention and tosses a rock near the creature(Maxpary). It notices us, roars, and charges. Answering calls respond from the other pits. Looking behind, two more are shambling towards us. These appear to be undead(Maxpary Shambler). Melina’s ability to Turn the Dead works on these monsters. The others converge onto the group to attack. We make quick work of them.
While Rod is investigating the mushrooms in one of the pits, the creatures begin standing back up. These undead forms took a bit more as only magical weapons seemed to affect them. Echo, her face badly torn up by the monster, unleashes a stream of ball lightning on her attacker, frying it. Her second and third bolts sizzle by me, singeing my hair. I decapitate it, finishing it off.
Leaving the tunnel, the residents of the cages are coming towards us. Hundreds of undead shambling in our direction. Rod’s Turn Dead drives away scores of them but many more start coming through the side tunnels. King and I attack taking down a few of the skeletons. Realizing the numbers are against us, Echo calls for us to fall back and fills the tunnels w/ electrical fields, frying dozens upon dozens of the fell denizens. The sound is deafening. Snapping and crackling reminiscent of the popping of insects that wander to close to a flame. The flashing is hard to look at, blinding light. Taking out ones that make it through, my bowstring snaps. Rod Turns the Dead again to keep them at a distance.

The Dwarven Tyrant
The undead are held back by the fields.  We decide, with the help of the dragon gods,  that Rod will turn the dead and we will attempt to keep them away and make our way to the hot marble doors.  It is a difficult walk w/ all the corpses.  The zombies are not present in as many numbers as we expected.  Five large doors, ten feet in height, are there w/ huge brass rings, all intricately carved. A serpent eating its own tail.
We open the doors.  An orange glow covers us and a wave of heat nearly overwhelms us.  Inside is an ancient forge system. Overhead is the sky, the opening of the volcano.  The levels above have balconies and walkways.  Grabbing a few helmets, (Ackdor finding one truly fancy).  Rod calls out that the main chamber has turned freezing cold.  In the distance, Strongbow sees some sort of spectral image.  Evil.  Magical.  It flees from us.  Echo and Strongbow follow, almost getting trapped in one of the cages.  A strike by Melina doesn’t effect it.  Moving forward we find the zombies, waiting at the entrance to a mine.   Rod’s connection to the gods clears our way. 
Moving in, we eventually come to a split.  Two to the right, One to the left, and an alcove.  Feeling the history of the place, I ‘read’ the alcove. 
“I see hordes of slaves, armed w/ whatever they could, flooding through the mines.  Their rage directed at a circle of Dwarves surrounding their evil king with his armor and sceptor.  I find myself compelled to join them, one of them, even more hatred toward the dwarven oppressors than I normally feel.   The dwarves near me are going to die.  “
Stongbow turns and faces Ackdor screaming in ancient Dwarven “Die Dwarf Oppressor” and strikes at him.  Echo calls on Ahn Semh to help, beg Melina to break through  to him.  Power flows through Echo from Ahn Semh and catches Strongbow’s eye, causing him to turn his blade at the last second before impaling the Goblin .  Ackdor and Strongbow struggle, pulling the net from Ackdor.  A bolt from Rod misses.  King entraps him w/ a bola and Ackdor pins Strongbow to the ground.  Ahn-Sem’s power through Echo eventually coming to his senses. 
“The slaves are gone.  The dwarf on my back is gone, instead there is Ackdor who offers me a drink.  “
We move towards the circle. It appears to be a circle of graves.  In the center is malice. The king from Strongbows vision, standing, undead w/ the scepter.  A zombie grabs the arrow Strongbow shoots at the king.  Rod sinks into the earth as the rock turns to mud.  Strongbow uses all his mental abilities and the king collapses in a scream.  The ground freezes up around Rod, entrapping her.  The zombie guard falls to dust. 
Rod shifts her form and wiggles out of the hole.  She’s a Changling. We accept it for the nonce.  Echo senses magic. The Scepter and one of the grave registers.  Rod senses evil and again it is the scepter. 
  It speaks to us.   A Rune device.  We decide to dispose of it in the volcano.   Digging up the grave, we find the Rune stone that was the object of our quest.   Echo rummages through the king’s body and finds many ancient artifacts.

Finding our way out of the tunnels, we throw the scepter into the volcano.  The trap door is open.  On the way out we gather the jems, jewelry and weapons that we had marked for collection later.  King takes enough weapons for his tribe.  Several rings and a tiara, registering as magical, join the collection.

Welcome To The (Real) Jungle
We have been moving up the river for the last few days, heading SW to the inlet and march NW through the woods towards what we believe is the main village.  Chants from the natives put the crew on edge.  Rod has questioned them and they tell her that it is a challenge… “Come to the game” and invoking Cha-Qloa, a name we have not heard before.  King says it is the ‘Spirit of the Hunt”.  Counter songs have no effect.  It seems too easy.  We know there are many of the enemy out there but they are letting us pass and rest up from the volcano.  The watchers at night though disturb our sleep.
About a day or so from the inlet,  midday, standing on an outcropping rock, stands a man, wearing a skull like mask, headdress, and staff  who stares at us. Refusing to respond, he radiates evil and magic.  We pass underneath him . He does nothing but watch.  
Dawn approaches as does the inlet and beach.  The old man is there, along w/ near a score of armed warriors.  Sensing his emotions show anticipation.. fear… expectation.  We beach the boat and step off.  When the rest of the crew attempts to leave, the others get very excited. We stop.  The old man beckons just us forward asking us to set down our weapons.  We do and move to him, intuition telling us that this is a parlay. He is the ‘Speaker’.  He tells us that they have what we want but that they have hidden it.  Since we have performed their ‘ritual’ at the volcano, we are under safe passage.  We must find the ‘Hunt’, survive, and then we will leave w/ our prize.  The Speaker places a symbol on our foreheads in some sort of substance.  It tingles.  A wave of vertigo passes over us.   They turn and leave.  King informs us that the symbol is ‘of the hunt spirit’ and will keep us from being attacked by the locals. We are now part of the ‘hunt’ and will face ourselves in the ‘Deep, Dark, Jungle’.   The ‘other lands’, the land of spirit. 
We beach the boat on the north side of the lagoon and set off,  only the five of us, into the JUNGLE.  Strongbow, Echo, Rod, Ackdor, and King.  Cloying heat surrounds us.  Everything seems to radiate magic. Rod says she feels off… dizzy.  Echo, King, and Ackdor also feel it but not I.  Rod says the world feels ‘empty’, as if all the people are gone.  Night falls and we camp.  Minor annoyances only.   In the morning, an aerial reconnaissance by Rod shows we are surrounded by jungle as far as the eye can see.  There is no sun, only light.  Strongbow’s Gem of Direction spins incoherently.  Planning for our future, we spot bananas and coconuts along w/ fresh water. 
Eventually we come to a clearing.  In the center, about a half mile across, is a lake. In the center is a small island containing some trees and a smoking campfire.  No presences are noticed other than the Jungle, itself radiating.  Tracks show it as a local watering hole. Where then did the campfire come from?  The trees seem to contain some sort of fruit.  It is decided to get over to the island in various ways.  The fruit are mangoes.  The campfire has no tracks around it.  We rebuild the fire.  
A pair of tigers visit the lake during my watch.  We seem to share a common goal.  They stay in my mind.  Rod tries the water, feeling refreshed but notices no reflection for a moment before it seems to reappear.  A scream by Echo causes King to wake her. She had fallen asleep and dreamed of falling towards the sky.  King wakes us in the morning.  Echo, tasting the water, tells us it tastes like water from the pure elemental plane.  We all take our fill and decide to rest for the day. 
The next night, I sit in reverie, imagining a time before time, when Elves were one w/ nature. Thinking of Melina, I snap out of it, somewhat disappointingly.    King wakes us up in a panic.  There are large bubbles in the middle of the lake and Echo is missing.  Rod and I dive in after her.  I am disoriented but Rod reaches Echo who is about 30’ below the water’s surface and pulls her to the shore.  After she (Echo) recovers she tells us she doesn’t know how she ended up in the water.  We just notice that Rod is in her natural form.  I seem to have developed a tan.  Sensing magic, the fire registers.  I pour out the water onto it, extinguishing the smolder.   We decide to move on. 
Things appear darker, more ominous. We feel more a part of the jungle than before. A huge spider nest is avoided as we move deeper into the woods and make camp.  We are woken up by thunder and lightning.  Our Environmental Tents provide protection although the morning is like walking in a swamp.  Later we discover some more fruit.  Nothing untoward happens through the day.  We camp and enjoy some roast pineapple. The night is quiet. 
In the morning, we are low on water.  We strengthen our resolve and let Echo purify morning water.  A search turns up some coconuts around a small pond, about a ¼ mile across.  W/ fresh water and many coconuts, we move on.   A distant river is heard… Right at the edge of a cliff.  A tree has fallen across it.  We easily make it across and camp for the night and feast.  The morning is darker, much darker than it was before.  Almost as if it is a different place.
We come across another clearing.  

 Cobblestones, long set, have grass growing between them.  Large obelisks, obsidian and smooth, jut out from the ground.  In the center is an oval pool about 15’ wide and 7’ across.  It seems a holy place.  Calling to us. It wants us to drink. The water is deep and blue. We drink.  It flows through me, pulling something along inside. Our reflections in the water are gone.
Drums.  Drums in the jungle.
The hunt has begun. 

The Lizard City
Noting that I have no reflection in the pool, I see I have lost the deep tan and returned to my normal skin tone. Intuition tells us that we ‘shouldn’t’ leave w/o finding out what caused the loss and that they are w/ our goal. Concentrating, we can feel the direction of where they are. We notice a shadow watching us. Moving towards it, it flees into the jungle. Roughly the same direction as the pull. We follow, clearing a path.

During a pause, Rod prays to the Dragons for guidance. She hears that we are on a primal plane, dedicated to the hunt therefore we should act as hunters do. Ackdor picks up a trail, boots, avg. height, and follows it. Eventually we find a cave. The tracks lead into it. The tracks are the same size as each member of the group. We decide to follow, lighting torches for those whose eyes are deficient.

The opening is about 25’. The darkness seems to swallow us like a liquid pool of black. Our natural abilities to see in the dark do not work. Ackdor takes the light gem and steps inside. No light or sound transfers through the wall. The darkness does seem to move away from the light. We move inside. Our voices are muffled by the darkness. We are not leaving tracks nor does my gem of direction yet work.

Coming upon a wall, we discover paintings of a reptilian nature. Rod recognizes them as Pith, the Snake God of the Southern Jungle Pantheon. Ackdor disappears as we walk ahead. I move to follow him. Blinding light greets me. As the rest of the party follows, we are back in the jungle. A rushing sound in the distance. Tracks are on the ground. The Pull has also returned, towards the rushing sound. A river, quite wide. The Pull is upriver. Eventually stone structures are visible in the distance. Closer we get, it is a city, peopled, so to speak, w/ a reptilian race, identical to the ones we saw on the cave wall. There seems to be two different species, tall/stocky and shorter/slender. We cross the river, wishing to avoid a confrontation.

Of course, shortly beyond where we cross, the jungle clears to more city. We hear Elvish being spoken. Settling in until night, we decide to try and make a run through the city in the dark. Muffling our feet w/ my old cloak, we move through the city as silently as possible, crossing the river once again to head towards the ‘Pull’. A large step pyramid and complex, likely dedicated to Pith. We make it to the courtyard w/o incident. The cobblestones are smooth and well fitting. Pillars line the sides. Several guards are between us and the steps of the temple. I quietly move along the pillars to triangulate. A guard smells me out. He dies w/ an arrow through the throat. I call the rest of the group forward. They encounter another guard. Echo imitates the voice of some locals but he comes closer and draws a weapon. Ackdor and Echo quickly dispatch him.

There are guards on the steps and the walls are too smooth to climb. I levitate up w/ the ropes and the group climbs. A wandering guard notices the blood of one of the other guards. Two arrows drop him. We need to move quickly up the rest of the ziggurat. The last step I make up to find a grappling hook strike me in the neck. Melina heals me quickly but I am unable to speak.

The bodies are discovered and a general alarm sounds. Time to fight.

 The Lizard Temple Pt I
We are a few feet from the entranceway. Orange light spills out. We move into the entranceway. Strongbow, Ackdor, Rod, Echo, King. 4 guards are in the opening. I take a serious hit while parrying another. Ackdor puts his trident through its head. Another manages to hit itself in the head w/ a mace and entangling itself. It is dispatched by Strongbow. The others follow shortly. Echo lays down a sheet of ice on the steps tripping up several. One escapes down the back steps. After some quick healing, we head down.

At the bottom T, two giant snake statues. Strongbow reacts, almost striking it. He hears about half a dozen lizard men in the room. The group decides to charge decimating the front rank of lizards. The rest follow suite although King takes a serious cut that Rod struggles to heal.

 Our battle lust is still upon us so Strongbow, Ackdor, and Echo continue down to the next level. Two lizards, one in a red robe, one in brown are surrounded by another half dozen guards. Strongbow turns invisible and shoots the robed ones, wounding them. Rod flies down after healing King, missing a guard. King joins us. Echo puts up her electric field on the robed lizards. One drinks a potion, seeming to recover a bit as they fall out of the field. The brown robe, an earth warlock, puts up a wall of earth as Strongbow drops the red robed one. Ackdor charges into the fray but gets stabbed in the stomach. A dust storm engulfs us and the lizard guards. Strongbow, invisible, moves out of the storm, getting range on the brown robe. The melee continues in the sand storm, confused and blinding. Strongbow takes down the brownrobe then begins dropping the guards while the rest of the group continues to engage them. Ackdor is hurting badly, having been on the losing end of a fight w/ a guard. Finally they all are dead. We use a few minutes to catch our breath and heal Ackdor. Strongbow finds a potion on the body of the dead brown robe.
The Lizard Temple Pt II
After a rest, we begin to move down to the next level. Blackness surrounds us along w/ a feeling of reverence. Two statues stand in alcoves to each side. We move down a thin corridor, no lizards in sight. Turning the corner, we find the entrance to a gallery. Red carpeting lines the floor. On the walls are a procession of works. Masterpieces all. Transitioning from time immemorial to modern. All relating to the hunt. Farther in we find pedestals. Reliquaries topping them. We guess they are trophies and the remains of ancient lizard heroes. On the wall, one item, a skin of some legendary beast, radiates magic. On the advice of my fellow fighters, I leave it where it is. Inside the gallery, three pedestals stand out. A heft of a spear. A giant reptilian hand, large enough for a glove. An eye, onyx, following us wherever we go. Rod senses evil and collapses on the floor. When she awakens, she tells us the eye is that of the hunt god. Evil and hungry. As we leave, stomping proceeds us. The statues ensuring we have not violated the temple.

The lower level beckons us. I turn invisible to scout ahead. Four pillars. Four braziers. In a recessed area in the center, the lizard leadership stand. I make a small noise, alerting an acolyte. Attempting to contact Echo via telepathy, we open ourselves up to the hunt god. It hurts. Rod prays for strength and Kym Nark Mar pushes the thoughts from our heads. The lizards alerted, still aren’t entirely prepared for our assault. My first arrows fly, hitting the priest, others hit the fire warlock. The fire warlock retaliates w/ a cloud of smoke, blocking my view. Before Echo can engage, the Earth warlock puts up a wall of earth, blocking one of the entrances. The priest disappears. The lizard snipers pepper the area I’m in w/ arrows, hitting me several times along w/ a fireball from the fire warlock. More of my arrows fly, killing the fire warlock and towards the earth warlock. One of those is blocked, apparently by an invisible Rod. Echo enters the fray, killing the acolyte and wounding several others w/ her powerful lightning balls. Rod savages the earth warlock w/ a cut to the gut. King and Ackdor engage the lizard lord and prince. I see the invisible and note the priest growing to the size of the behemoth. With the last of my ISP, I give the evil eye of death to the priest, killing him as my companions eliminate the remaining lizards.

We are all hurt severely. We find our third item. A large clawed hand. Time to return to Alta.

The Wedding
Leaving the cave entrance, we return to the fountain w/o difficulty.  As we arrive, the urge to drink once again overwhelms us.  We indulge ourselves of the water.  It appears cloudier than before, near opaque, but as we drink, it feels as if we become whole again, the part stolen from us seeping back into our beings. Our shadows return.  In an instant, the world itself appears normal and we are surrounded by the enemy islanders, those servants of Styphon, armed and posed at the ready but wild eyed and terrified, seemingly of us.  The chief stands among them, equally hostile and on edge.  In a disgusted voice, he informs us that we were not supposed to survive but he will honor his agreement. It seems that we went through not only a non-traditional form of their rite of passage but one meant to be a suicide mission.  It is nice to disabuse him.  However we, as members of the tribe, are now banished from the island but may leave unharmed.   The warriors make way for us as we walk through them,
We note to ourselves that King, now a member of both tribes, may face some interesting social ramifications in the future.  Will it lead to peace negotiations or trouble? 
A scout takes us back to our outrigger and the Virtuous Maiden.  The homecoming is rapturous.  Alta and Mug were overjoyed to see me.  Sleep, as much as it’s desired, doesn’t come easily.  On return to the village, the celebration lasts days.  Food, drink, and dancing fill the hours.  In the passion of the moment, I propose to my beauteous Alta w/ a ring that I searched out in the volcano.  She accepts with her whole heart. The islanders cheer w/ one voice. The night is filled w/ much rejoicing, storytelling, and more drinking.
The next morning… late morning… we begin discussing and preparing for the next phase of our quest.  A return to Ye'tu and traveling to the third island, the island of spirit.  We get our armor repaired, stocks resupplied, arrows and gear worked on.  All the necessary tasks for another long journey.  Alta and I spend much time together.  She is reluctant to leave my side, knowing how dangerous the past has been and the future has become.  During the down-time, I send off a magic pigeon to the family, general notes on our well being and an aside of the news of my engagement, just to aggravate my sisters. Unbeknownst to be though, it doesn’t make it through the barrier we passed through those many weeks ago, hitting and exploding in a puff of magical feathers.  We are truly isolated.
The decision is made to take King w/ us.  Not only are his hand to hand fighting skills none to be despised, he is also an expert in what we expect the native flora and fauna will possibly be.  I am also reluctant to put Alta in the face of the dangers like we’ve encountered so far.  To mollify her over my leaving again, I make a fateful decision.
Alta and I are married among the tribe at high noon on the clearest day.  The Chief and Rod jointly conduct the nuptials. While it will have to be repeated for the families upon our return, this, thousands of miles away from our homes and surrounded by skin covered human savages, will be a binding ceremony in the sight of the Gods.  As soon as the vows are said, the sky darkens as an eclipse covers the sun.  Rod closes her eyes, apparently in a trance. When she opens them, they are not hers, they are those of the Dragon, burning with wisdom and age.  In a deep booming voice also not her own, ‘she’  declares  “I hereby recognize this union, and give my blessing to its longevity and faithfulness”.   The tribe is on their knees, faces planted to the ground in genuflection.  Rod recovers, a bit lightheaded after being possessed by the spirit of Kym Nark Mar and the sky clears.  Wide eyes stare at us, unsure how to react to this direct blessing of the Great Blue Sky.  Theirs are not the only ones.  Alta appears a bit startled and shaken by the realization of just how powerful this relationship has become.  What is she thinking?  I’m sure I’ll find out later.
Over the next few days, we continue our preparations and my Honeymoon.   A dream reveals to us that Kym Nark Mar is using us to draw out our nemesis in order to stop him.   His/It’s goal being to find a source of power and use it to arm an army and destroy the Old Ones once and for all, an impossible task.  We, as heroes, have been chosen for this task since the nemesis is invisible to the Gods.  We are deific bait.  We will not be lambs to the slaughter though.  My suspicions as to what this source of power is, being a former Dwarven stronghold, leaves me wondering what to do w/ it if we survive.  Leave it hidden?  Bring it back into the world?  What consequences for the world might our decisions lead to?
I part from my bride as we begin the third part of our quest on these islands.  We travel to Yetu’s domicile once again.  He reveals to us that he is the guardian of the ‘passage’ to the third island and that our worthiness will be decided by the trials of the passage itself.  We move on to the mountains covering the west part of the island.  In the mountains is a stone gate which leads to a tunnel that connects the two islands, underneath the waters.  In the tunnel are three shrines.  Kym Nark Mar has enchanted them so that only those w/ the three keys (stone plate, jewel, claw), each one connected to one shrine, may open them and continue.   At the entrance, Yetu opens the tunnel for us.  Our first glimpse shows the ruins of an ancient trade way long abandoned.  He warns us that darkness and dangers lie below.  I bite back a sarcastic comment as we enter. 

The Maze Runners

We enter the tunnel. Dwarven sized, it presents some issues w/ the taller members of the group. While ominous, no being has been in here for millennia. As we move through, we sometimes have to take alternate routes to progress. A tingling in the back of our minds feels like we’re being watched. The architecture, again while dwarf, seems almost from a completely different civilization. For several days we encounter nothing but boulevards.

Suddenly, the area opens into a courtyard. It is illuminated by some sort of natural reddish hue, hanging in the air like embers. A giant fountain, w/ a four pointed star as its figure, centers the yard.

Echo’s attempts to grasp one of the embers proves fruitless, staying just out of her reach. On either side of the fountain are buildings w/ a wall farther out ahead. The fountain is dry. Nearby we notice a hatch. Ackdor and King manage to rip open it, leading into a dark pit. Looking down we hear water. Rod climbs down and steps into some shallow, rushing water. Some sort of old maintenance tunnel.

We decide to investigate this side of the wall first. Opens that used to be there are filled w/ rubble, making them impassable. The western building has steps leading to a second story. A guard building. At the top, a guard walkway continues along the top of the wall. About halfway down, it is collapsed. The east building looks to have been explored. A wooden bridge spans partway across a chasm that abruptly ends.

A quick exploration of the buildings, we note one building only has light from the emberflies. Echo enters. A man sits there, looking to be ash and ember himself, in front of a fireplace. He shushes her then disappears. The room itself was once a forge, relatively large. Echo discovers some sort of tunnel system. We decide on the sewers. They seem to be a maze as they branch off repeatedly. Damnable dwarves. All dead ends. We return to the forge vents. Ancient ash causes some serious discomfort as we move through the vent. We move past the wall and into another section of the bazaar. It has mostly caved in. Moving through the rubble, a building far to the west has survived. Rod opens the door and is greeted by a gust of wind. It comes from another chasm. A bridge leads across it. Roping eachother together, we attempt to cross. The bridge stops partway across leaving a gap too far to leap. Echo summons a phantom to carry us across.

A third section of the bazaar, we find another forge and hatch. Down the hatch. An open space leads out to four directions. More damn dwarf tunnels. We follow the lefthand north rule. Many dead ends. As we move north, the water on the floor gets hotter. Climbing over shelves gets us to another hatch, cool to the touch. We exit.

A new area. Covered in skeletons both Dwarf and Human, all seeming to have died in agony. Scorchmarks are everywhere. The buildings, seemingly built at random, are burnt out husks. In front of a sigil, a pyramid floating in a sphere of energy, is the Ashman. He giggles and disappears. Touching the pyramid, we pass the first shrine.

  The Ashman

Passing through the portal, we continue our trek. The neighborhoods seem to get more ornate as we progress. The atmosphere, reminding us we are under millions of gallons of water, is disheartening. It feels…… thick. The emberflies continue to light our way. The passages narrow to a path. A gate blocks our way. To our left is a mound of rubble. Something tops it. Echo, the most nimble of us (unusual being a humie) climbs the rubble. Standing in front of her is the Ashman. He invites the group up after greeting her. He is standing in the middle of a circle. Echo and Rod recognize it as a Circle of Summon Devils. His skin looks like glowing coals.
He reminds us that the enemy of his enemy could be his friend and that the enemy we have in common is ‘Scorch’, a demon. He tells us that beyond the gate is a vault that contains something he wants. If we obtain it for him, he will get us past the next barrier which is otherwise impenetrable, a wall of animated corpses. Without his help, he claims, we will not have enough power left to defeat Scorch and his minions. The item he wants is a crown, made from arrogance. He is telling us the truth.
Continuing, he informs that the crown is in multiple pieces and that he will provide us with information on even greater enemies. We agree to work with him and he relates to us a story:
A dwarven king ruled the island and demanded his priest make him a crown. The crown was made but the priest made a second, later known as the fanatics crown, creating blind loyalty and dominion over those that served him. It was this king that caused the destruction of the island. The crowns jewels were separated into power, dominion and loyalty. Three stones must be placed on the crown.
Ashman gives us a box and warns us not to touch the crown. Three trials must be completed, the crown assembled, then brought back to him. He will then clear the way for us and owe us several favors which we may claim now or later.
We walk down to the gate. A pair of huge knockers hang from leering faces. It opens easily when we use the knockers. A building ahead of us is the vault. Behind it is a lake. Coming from the side of the building is the wall that Ashman told us about. From the ground to the roof is a writhing mass of animated corpses, moaning and squirming. Echo pokes it and narrowly avoids being grabbed by numerous hands.
Returning to Ashman, he tells us the first three trials are related to the items we need to recover. The fourth is a trial of desire, we need to reject our greatest wants. He gives us his name… Cinder. We move on to the vault. A giant building. Runes carved in many places. Entering the building is a long corridor. There appears to be some ancient traps that no longer work. At the end of the corridor is a circular hall, domed. Three doors lead out from it outside of the one we’ve entered from. A fence blocks off the back and in the distance is the lake and island. In the center of the room is another summoning circle. This one for Jinn. In the middle of the circle is a lamp.
Rod prays for guidance. He says we should bypass the temptation. We ignore the circle and lamp and move to the first door. It is filled w/ a reddish hue. In the center is an obelisk, at it’s peak is a glowing gem. Supposedly the gem of power. There are four statues. Three man height. One giant. All sense as presences. I attempt to pull it out using telekinesis. It stays put. Echo summons a phantom to try and grab it. As soon as it touches the stone, the statues begin to move towards us. Rod and I charge one, Echo, King and Ackdor charge the other. Two shoot arrows at Ackdor, another hits me w/ a lightning bolt. The melee continues. Ackdor continues to get hit w/ arrows while we strike various golems. After the three destroy the one w/ the sword, I notice that our hits on the magic user have had no effect. I realize that like calls to like. Echo destroys it immediately w/ her ball lightning. I drop my shield and sheath Melina, the archer is mine. His fear causes his next shots to fly off target. The rest of the group focuses on the giant. I quickly eliminate the archer and then we all turn on the giant. It eventually falls. The obelisk crumbles and we gather the gem in the box.

Roll the Bones or Greed is Good for You.

Following intuition, we avoid the North door and move on to the Easterly one. A strange sight befalls us. It is reminiscent of a great hall but is in ruins.

 A small gravel pit is in the center of the room w/ another obelisk. No gem tops this one. A great stone table is on the North side, carved in many Dwarven designs. On the other side, a skeletal dwarf w/ glowing, hateful eyes stands behind a half-moon bar, the back stocked w/ many fine. In the center of the back wall is a chained dwarf corpse, glowing w/ power from its chest. On the obelisk is an inscription which, surprisingly, we are all able to read. It makes itself legible.
To all great leaders, must ye show fealty. Give in not to pride, avarice, or debauchery. Only through these shall ye know truth.
Hung on the obelisk is a large sword, similar to a lochaber axe but with a shorter haft and longerblade , and a battle axe. There are many gouges and divets taken out of the obelisk. The dwarven bartender, as if reading our thoughts, tells us that they have dwarven mead and wine. Echo and Rod suggest that the bar is debauchery, the obelisk pride, and the table avarice. On the table is a very worn but lovingly crafted wooden box. 4” x 8”. There are no outside decorations. Echo volunteers to open the box. Inside is a pair of felt lined wooden cups and numerous bone dice.

Strongbow goes up to the bartender, sits and asks for a glass of his finest wine. The Dwarf asks if I am ready for this challenge and to accept fealty. He places a goblet of fine dwarven crystal in front of the elf and pours a glass of wine. It smells enticing, even for a dwarven vintage. It has an honey and oakey smell to it. Strongbow takes a taste. The bartender states that the challenge is fealty to the Dwarven lords. He continues drinking for a bit then declares he’s done. The bartender states “Your fealty is accepted”. A beam of yellow light shoots from the corpse on the wall and strikes Strongbow in the chest. Completely against his constitution, he feels slightly compelled to follow the dwarven lords. Echo bellys up to the bar and starts drinking heavily. Four drinks later and she is on the floor.

The Dwarf rejects her.

Rod moves up to the obelisk. The bartender follows. “Trial by stone?” Yes, replies Rod and takes the sword. The Dwarf takes the axe. Rod swings and takes a chip out of the obelisk. The dwarf strikes but the axe loses a piece. They continue the duel. After several more strikes, Rod breaks the stone in half. A beam of yellow light strikes her in the chest. She feels inclined towards the dwarves. Stone crumbles down into the gravel and a new one builds up. Strongbow moves up and draws Melina and strikes the stone against the protestations of the dwarf. As a piece comes off the stone, a burst of energy hits Strongbow in the chest, knocking him back several feet. The dwarf looks crossly at him. “You have failed”.

The dwarf walks over to the table and takes out the bone dice. Echo, managing not to waver, sits. The dwarf states that she must make a wager. She places the groups treasure bag, easily worth 200k gold, on the table. The dwarf pauses. Out of seemingly nowhere, he pulls out a beautiful gem and a bag of coins. He pushes the bag forward. “My first bet”. We place several magic items on the table. The dwarf matches w/ several other magic items.

Echo places the pink gem, the entire focus of our quest, onto the table. The Dwarf is befuddled. He glowers at us, filled w/ undying hate. “You have made an enemy this day”. The bones are rolled.
The dwarf rolls a 3.
Echo rolls a 7.

Unimaginable knowledge along w/ our riches are ours.

The wall spectre disappears. We collect the second gem.

Moving on to the next room past the next set of double doors. Inside the walls are marble and decorated w/ arms and armor. One side in white metal , the other black.

There are two lances, two long swords, two miters (hats), two breast plates, and two short swords on each side. There is a single crown on the white side.

Strongbow chooses a white short sword. Ivory grip, silver, and white steel for the haft.
Rod chooses the white crown. White gold inlaid w/ pearls, mother of pearl, and diamonds.
Echo begins to choose a white lance but the dwarven spirit inside her compels her to choose a black one, obsidian lance, onyx haft, and blackened bronze. It's weight is nearly more than she can bare.

A checkered board is laid out in front of us. It appears to be floating on water, easily jumped onto. It contains numerous statues, one side white, one side black. We match up our chosen items with those on the board. The black king has the white pearl glowing brightly on his crown. Our third item.

Strongbow leaps to reach an equivalent spot and falls throughthe board onto the water. He pulls himself up onto the board and takes his place along w/ Rod and Echo. A silence befalls the room.
Rod calls to one of the white pieces to move and it responds. The game begins. Pieces swiftly fall through the board as they are taken. Eventually a quandry comes up. Echo is moved involuntarily into a position to take Strongbow. A pawn takes her. She falls through and manages to swim to the shore. We check the king and it falls through the board into the depths below.

Rod and Strongbow feel a loyalty to the Dwarven empire. Echo attempts to have her water wisps retrieve the statue but they are devoured by a sea monster. Rod summons a Shadow Beast to delve and retrieve the statue. After a time, we realize it wasn't coming back up. A combined effort between the two mystical creatures wears down the beast and they manage to drag the statue to shore. Strongbow manages to pry it out of the crown. The geas goes away.

Now we have to obtain the crown. The last door leads to a bridge, unstable looking, a 50 foot span of river to a small island. On the other side is some sort of Dwarven crafts table. Echo ties a rope to a point and walks across, securing it on the other side. On the table is a crown of a meteoric metal. Intricately carved. It seems to have its own presence. It has three spaces for the jewels. What order is the question. We decide that power and loyalty feed into Dominion. Loyalty is on the right hand and power on the left.

Echo calls on the skills of Grim Ax to place the gems. On the table is a case for the crown. We place it in the box and latch it. Echo feels its pull. We return to the Ashman. He is ecstatic and burns through the wall of corpses. Beyond the wall is a tunnel leading to our final destination. The Ashman warns us that his opponent is a Baalrog that is raising an army and will do everything he can to stop us. No more puzzles, just blood and ashes.


Ancient Dread: The Eight Sided Ambush

We move past the wall, writhing and squirming around us in anger. The imposing ceiling is not quite as imposing. The buildings become more densly packed and less fire damaged. The quality of the buildings have become more urban than rural seeming. They are less built than carved from the living stone. Are we actually inside the third island?

We come upon a wall with a gateway. Closed. Two giant brass rings. Opening in. There was once a mechanism to assist opening but it's long gone. Rod casts a Portal spell allowing us to easily pass through. A long, pure white marble walkway stretches out before us, 15' wide. A large, ornate door ends it about 1000' away. On each side is infinite darkness instead of walls. The door, marble and inlaid with gold, an 8 sided design is depicted. A classic octagon. Various symbols surround it. The only recognizable one is an infinity symbol, flames, and some gems icons. Others are wavy lines, a three sided shape w/ one side open, and others. Acdor and Strongbow together open the door.
Inside is, unsurprisingly, an octagonal room, huge, about 25' in height. Seven separate panels circle the room set in from the walls. The six symbols from the door are on the floor, one in front of each panel. Between the walls and panels are circular hatches with a whitish metal. The panel directly across from the entrance has no symbol. Strongbow tosses an arrowhead at one of the symbols but nothing occurs.

We decide to try the wavy lines first, whether air or water, we have a strength there. Echo goes first, stepping on the symbol. Four Shedim demons and three gargoyles suddenly appear, attacking Echo. The blows come fast and furious, hurting several demons, Echo, and Ackdor. Echo summons an Ice Elemental to fight. King fells one of the Shedim. Strongbow uses his bracelet of Charismatic Aura to stop 6 of the creatures but is hit by one of the Gargoyles, tearing his face. King and Ackdor face off against the remaining Gargoyle while Strongbow calls on the demons to return to their fell dimension or face their wrath. They shake in fear and disappear with the smell of sulfur in the air. Rod raises her holy sword and expels the remaining monster. We rest for a few while Rod heals the party.

We move to the three sided square. Stepping on it, the hatch behind the panel opens up. A dwarf sized tunnel is behind it. Ackdor, the shortest of the group, takes point. A room, ten feet in height. A pedastal is in the middle of the room w/ a key. At the high end of the back wall is another tunnel. Rod takes the key. The tunnel leads to another room. Ackdor goes through and calls out that there is a keyhole in the floor. Turning it, there is a grinding noise from behind us. Returning to the octagonal hall, on the North Wall, there is a mural of an octogon. The section of what would be the the three sided square has slid out, revealing the symbol.

Again we move to the wavy lines. The tunnel is filled with water. Brackish and black. Echo summons a phantom to cast breath without air on the party and scout ahead. It returns and describes a room. The party swims down, unable to see but feeling our way with a rope. Pulling ourselves up on a ledge, we send the phantom to find the key which it quickly does. In the center of the far room is the keyhole. We return to the Octagon room. The mural is shifted.

 We move on to the gemstones. The tunnel is sparkling. Jagged. We make it down with only Rod sliding down with some injury. We find three keyholes in the first room. The following room has a wall of solid ruby, one of solid sapphire, and one of solid emerald. The keys are buried inside them about a foot in. Strongbow teleports the gem wall away to reach the keys. The phantom, hauling our a chunk of gem, gets destroyed by energy bolts in the tunnel. We decide to leave the rest. The keys turn. The mural shifts.

We move to the flame symbol. The cover is warmer but not scalding. Opening it, warm, dry air comes out. The tunnel, as before, is dark and requiries crawling. The heat increases as I move forward. The hatch at the bottom is warmer still. I open the hatch. On the wall, opposite to to the tunnel, is a grate. The podium, as in the other rooms, is centered. Rod expands to look into the grate. Heat is considerable from it w/ an orange light at the far end, about 20 feet. Rod volunteers to go down the tunnel but Echo suggests sending a phantom. It reports a bright orange room surrounded by about 5' of lava. Easily enough, Echo commands the Phantom to retrieve the key. The key turns. The mural shifts.

The dashed lines. We open the cover. The air is refreshingly cool and pleasant. Moving down the tunnel, I move the the panel aside and look out. There is an archway at the other end. Past the archway is a web, about 20 feet long and ten feet across. On the far side is a cave like room filled w/ stalagtites and stalagmites. We send the phantom forward. Inhuman screams in the distance. The phantom returns, severely wounded. It had fought a giant cave spider and defeated it. We send the phantom back to retrieve the key then dismiss it. The key turns. The mural shifts.

 Phantom MVP

The infinity symbol. Cool air and damp. The dais is octagonal instead of just round. A rope bridge on the far end. No railings. Echo, the most nimble of us, even for a human, crosses and ties a rope for the rest of us to cross safely. An ice elemental and the dias are the anchors. The far room is a huge octagon, two steps down is water. Hanging from the ceiling and covering much of the steps are vines, bluish-green in color. The party crosses over. There is some movement in the water, what it is we're not sure. The air is thicker than in the entrance room. Rod summons a Shadow Beast to search the waters. We send both the creatures in and they get attacked by multiple serpentine creatures. Rod and Echo recall their beasts. Several of the eels are floating dead on the surface but more are still there. Rod casts a portal into the pool, draining it into the cavern behind us. Several eels follow. The rest are left swimming in the few feet of water that remains. A lower portal drains the rest of the water and many more eels, the last flopping around in the few inches of remaining water. Echo sends the ice elemental in to send the rest of the eels into the portal and search for the key. We discover the key inside one of the large eels. A quick vivisection gets the key. The key turns. The mural shifts.

Follow TrailerDays on Twitter

No comments: