For the past year, talented and ambitious adventurers of every ilk have been arriving in Argyle, as word has spread of multiple wizards offering incredible bounties for successful completion of a mission, the details of which would only be divulged on a certain day. A prediction for that day, known to many, was that a celestial event would change the world forever.
The seven wizards, operating apparently independently, have been interviewing (either directly or through a proxy) and testing aspiring the brave and adventurous souls who have arrived, each wizard building out his/her "dream team" for the mysterious mission.
- Verkan Hammerchin, Ernest's dwarven fighter
- Jotur, son of Wrotrym, Jess's half-giant druid
- Waldo Waggins, Blair's halfling con-man
- Talon, Darren's elfin Bladesinger
You are a member of the team built by Callista Dredd, a powerful sorceress about whom little is known, for she resides in a multi-colored tower and never leaves.
You are an experienced adventurer. Alternately, or in addition, you have Overconfidence and some social skills in Merchant, Acting, etc that have gotten you through the interview process.
You should spend on Area Knowledge and Contacts if you expect to leverage either in-game.
Generally, these are 200 point characters with a up to -80 in Disadvantages, but this is layered atop the species templates. e.g., if your species template costs 20, you'll end up a 220-pt character.
You are advised to add Strong Will and/or Fearlessness.
Applicants may select from any of the following species:
For non-humans we'll use the D&D versions of the following species from here: http://gurpswiki.wikidot.com/racial-templates (or the bult-in GCA Fantasy template)
Base wealth means you have $5,000 in equipment (or $4000 in eq and $1000 in gold/silver/platinum etc). For perspective:
- Good steel (DR 7) on your chest and groin is $2300.
- A two-handed sword is $900 (or $3600 for "fine" quality +1 damage)
- A leather backpack is $100
Take one or more levels of the Wealth advantage if you need a bigger budget.
Characters may buy 1-4 levels of Magery.
The GM approves any magic items, which may or may not cost character points.
The PCs have made their individual treks from distant lands for their own reasons, to discover the grand city of Argyle bustling not just with the commerce and industry of a thriving port city, but a city virtually overrun with overconfident adventurers, all applying with the four urban-tower-dwelling wizards to be part of their quest team.
- Callista Dredd - you haven't met her yet but applied through her man, the 7' tall Maxwell -- tested with games of wit and chance, told to defend against a rabbit thrown at you, guile and endurance and dexterity, and a wand supposedly sensing your energies (causing looks of concern, dubious skepticism, mild surprise) [hires you]
- Thoxar Efarius - he has classic wizard look, asking weird magey questions mostly.
- Uldor Stefeus - interior of his tower is cloaked in illusion, naked models, grape vines, he is very fat and clearly wants buff warriors on his team. Pitfighter tests.
- Groonis Palth - An ancient gnome, tests concerned mostly history questions, magical assessments, language skills
Meanwhile, for the past few weeks, the "civilian" population is responding to the prophecy of the "Skyfire" in various extreme ways. One sect commits mass suicide on as the sun darkens. There is wailing in the street. A mass strike among several industries. Government crackdowns, hoarding, and rationing.
Shortly after the astonishing 15-minute "Skyfire" celestial event, colors of the world return to normal and the individual PCs receive notification that they have been selected for the team assembled by Callista Dredd.
In a stone antechamber on the ground floor of Callista's castle, the party becomes acquainted, and the dwarf and halfling even play a few hands of cards.
Eventually, Maxwell invites the team up to Callista's laboratory, where she explains some history, and her methods and conclusions. Long ago, an arch-mage called Vanalos, doubting his immortality, stashed his most precious artifacts in catacombs and keeps and caves, and then obscured and guarded them with his powerful incantations. But he also left himself magical "back doors" to some, including the Medallion of Wondrous Excellence, and this has been Callista's topic of research for the past ten years. And she warns: others, with more nefarious intentions, are also on the hunt.
Callista provides a portal to Lord Carfiliot's ranch, some miles northeast, where transport will be provided to the Gaian Coven, in Wildwood. The Lord's horses are remarkable: fine, jet-black specimens, who choose their riders, require no bridles, and mind-send simple communications. The Lord declares that Glinda Riddick, his neice, leads the Coven, and will recognize the horses.
Twelve exhilarating hours later, the party has reached the edge of Wildwood, where the horses detect a "two-legs" and stop. After an initial tension, soon the party is dining on roasted rabbit with Virion, an elfin trapper, who warns that males are not welcome in the Coven, and that molestation by crows is likely if you get too close. Before he goes, Waldo relieves him of a few rabbit pelts in a game of chance, and Talon pledges to put in a good word for him on his next visit to Silverdale (Elven Lands).
The party rides on and soon encounters the crow molestation. Dozens perch on branches surrounding the group, cawing relentlessly. They know they are getting close.
After a tense confrontation with the Coven's welcoming committee, Glinda Riddick is summoned, and upon hearing Talon and Jotur's polite greetings, and seeing the horses, she invites the team into the Coven. This broad natural area is home to scores of women and girls of various ages, and Glinda invites the party to sit with and explain their goals. The truth is told, and after a moment of consideration, Glinda pledges to convene her sages that night to learn which of her maidens might be "the one". But first, she says, "You'll need to do something for me."
The party is dispatched to deal with a troll that, she says, has been wandering an ever-growing circle and will soon cross paths with her hunters and gatherers.
A few miles away, they spot their quarry -- but there are in fact three of the foul creatures. DubDub slinks away to plan a sneak attack, Jotur begins casting a spell, and Talon and Verkan charge in. Talon alone rides his horse towards the creatures, despite Lord Carfiliot's warning to keep the horses safe. At the last minute, he commands his mount to stop short, catapulting the elf directly at his target where he plunges his sword through the beast's rubbery body. He then commences hacking off its head and limbs.
Verkan catches up and swings his axe several times, slicing through the air, but that is all. After being ripped by claws, he eventually connects.
Jotur's spell trips up the third troll for a few seconds, allowing the giant to advance and attack, and DubDub's throwing knife whistles through the melee to sink deeply into his target's eye.
In ten seconds, the trolls are smashed and sliced to pieces, but those pieces continue to wriggle towards each other in an attempt to reassemble. Talon starts a bonfire, and the chunks are loaded in, where they hiss and smoke and melt into nothingness.
Jotur pockets a twitching troll finger as evidence, and the party begins the trek back to Glinda.
To Argyle, and the Sea
The party returns to the Gaian Coven, where curious girls apply first aid to the dwarf's torn bits, and everyone is treated to a savory vegetable stew and roasted rabbit.
Glinda Riddick offers to conduct a ceremony that will identify which girl's destiny includes this quest, and has each party member swear a Vow to keep the girl safe. They each so swear, and receive a small gift in response.
The ceremony includes mass chanting, swaying, flame spirits and giggling trees, and results in the identification of Willow as the party's new member. Reluctant, she packs her things and the team rides out at dawn.
Checking in Lord Carfiliot's ranch two days later, they eat, drink, and rest for a bit and then ride on -- the horses may approach Argyle, but not enter the walls.
When they get to the main road to Argyle, they spot a party similarly comprised to their own. Four warriors, and a child, perhaps on a similar quest to their own -- competitors. Having been on relatively good behavior for several days, Dub Dub hatches a plan to seize the child, who is evidently not being treated well.
Despite Jotur's advice to simply avoid the dangerous-looking group, the party leaves the road and descends a hillside to await Dub Dub's kidnapping mission in the shelter of a grove of oaks and maples.
At dusk, Dub Dub makes his move, slithering through the high grass like a snake, and gets within spitting distance of the group. He makes nonverbal contact with the 10-yr-old girl and attempts to sever the leash to which she's attached, but uses the wrong side of his knife in the dark, which simply pulls on the warrior Crixus' wrist.
The shirtless warrior opens his eyes wide at the surprising presence of the trickster hobbit, giving the kidnapper a moment to hurl a dagger into his eye, and release the girl.
But then, Verkan Hammerchin, Talon and Jotur step out, and the approaching warriors prepare for combat. Unannounced, Verkan buries a crossbow bolt in Brugar's chest, instantly felling him, while Jotur intones an incantation that causes plants to writhe and grab at the foes.
Maximus turns and runs back up the hill, with Talon, mounted now, in pursuit. In his signature move, Talon halts the horse suddenly, somersaults thrice, and skewers his target through the vitals. He also falls, groaning, bleeding out.
Talon also encounters Denna, who, smiling, backing away, asks Talon, "What are you called?"
He replies, truthfully, to which she responds with a grin, "I'm delighted to make your acquaintance," before sneaking off into the night.
The party then leaves the injured to suffer and delivers the rescued girl to her parents' farm, where they express their gratitude with food and shelter.
In the morning, the party splits at the gates of the city, with Talon and Jotur carrying items of magical imbuement to avoid municipal magic taxes, and the dwarf and hobbit entering the city to gamble (and win) and procure a few items.
Their budget affords the services of one Damian Gray, a wild-eyed captain with a small crew of skinny scalawags and one exhausted pleasure-slave called Adonia. They sail up the coast mile to pick up the rest of the party, and then turn west into open waters before noon.
To the Isle
Weather is good for sailing, and the first few days on the high seas are uneventful but for Verkan's recreational brawling with the scalawag crew. Willow and Adonia bond (while she's not on duty), and Jotur spends breezy afternoons on the bow, gazing into his crystals.
Attack from Above
On the third day, while racing across large swells in a stiff breeze, an enormous white eagle begins circling the vessel. Its wing span is larger than the ship, and scalawags begin muttering and cursing this trip and its passengers.
In preparation, Jotus tethers himself to Verkan and DubDub, but Talon is intent on closer contact with the creature, and ascends the higher of the two masts.
The eagle suddenly dives towards the boat, rearing up at the last moment to deliver a wing buffet that sends men flying overboard. Captain Damian Gray sustains a head wound but remains onboard, and Talon is hurled into the sea. Verkan and DubDub are tossed over the railing by the blast, but saved from further indignity by the giant's rope.
Without a helmsman, the ship turns into the wind, sails fluttering and booms swinging to and fro.
The eagle begins plucking men from the ocean and tearing them in two. To avoid drowning, Talon wriggles out of his expensive chain hauberk and watches it sink.
Jotur, chanting and droning, deftly hauls the hobbit and dwarf aboard. Verkan immediately takes a shot at the avian attacker with his crossbow, punching a hole through its forty-foot wing. Injured, it plucks two more screaming scalawags from the heaving waves and flies off. Eventually, a dripping Talon is hauled aboard.
Jotur's incantation completes, and the ship mystically gets back on course, whereupon Jotus is free to assist the captain.
In the aftermath, with six crew members lost, the remaining scalawags demand the ship be turned around and mission aborted. Still bloody and ill-prepared to manage a mutiny, it is DubDub's dagger, Talon's sword, and Verkan's fists that put down the revolt.
The next day, Verkan begins acting strangely, just as a lookout announces an enormous whirlpool is ahead. Getting closer despite the captain's best efforts, the party sees that the whirlpool, large enough to swallow the ship, has... teeth.
Verkan insists that the ship be allowed to enter the frothing maw and in fact seems to be considering jumping overboard to ensure that he, at least, is devoured by it.
Scalawags are further terrified and repulsed, but Jotur again summons a new wind and blows the ship to safety.
The following day, another mutiny is put down with leadership and intimidation skills, and near sunset the party spots the granite crags of their destination. Getting closer, they see a shipwreck near the rocky shoreline (and a feathered boot that looks familiar). Above, and generally along the cliffs, are winged humanoids flitting about.
Into the Darkness
As the vessel approaches the shipwreck, with flying humanoids above, the scalawags are split. One contingent insists the time to turn around is now, and the other wanting to salvage the wreck. Mutiny seems nigh once again, and Damian Gray is no help, so the party must again shut it down.
Jotur staffs the prow while Dub Dub assists the shaken captain with ship-handling.
The flying creatures adjust their flight plan to come ever closer to the ship, and soon begin pointing at the party and barking to one another.
Suddenly, four scalawags tackle and begin beating Captain Gray. Dub Dub fumbles his dagger, but Talon jumps in and slaughters the attackers in an instant. Verkan, intending to tackle the attackers, instead crashes into a gory mess.
As cleanup commences, Jotur notices one particularly large male gargoyle headed towards the ship, evidently intending to land. As the dead and dying scalawags are tossed overboard, Jotur shouts a greeting to the approaching guest.
Then enormous gargoyle address Verkan as "Ur-Lord Roxor", and expresses his glee that Roxor has returned to lead them in a battle to kill and devour the "Sylvans" in the forest.
Verkan is about to express his objections to the obvious case of mistaken identity, but Jotur gives him a nudge, and soon, the party is aloft, hanging from ropes carried by gargoyles. Adonia is invited to come along, she agrees, and any objections from the scalawags are kept to themselves, glad to be rid of the party.
From a height of 500', they spot the inlet near Needle Rock supposedly inhabited by a minotaur, but their destination is the misty redwood forest atop the cliffs.
Less than a mile inland, the party suddenly experiences the weightlessness of freefall, accompanied by the squeals and snorts of two dozen hogs; the gargoyles are nowhere to be seen.
The party bounces through strangely rubbery and slippery branches, mostly escaping injury. The pigs land hard and most are killed or gravely injured -- whereupon tree roots pull their wriggling bodies beneath the forest duff.
Then Quaralee arrives, astride her iridescent rainbow dragon. Talon makes grandiose introductions and the party answers her curiosity with the truth: They are here at the behest of Callista Dredd to kill a minotaur, and thence to seize an artifact once possessed by historcal arch-mage Vanalos.
Quaralee confirms that there are minotaurs and other evil-magic experiments by the wizard Vatrix in catacombs deep beneath the forest. She says the world would be a better place if Vatrix were to perish. She then introduces the party to some of her subjects, who emerge from tree trunks -- all manner of grotesque physical misfits created via the magical merger of multiple species.
She knows of a secondary route into Vatrix's catacombs and offers up a guide named Ikkie, who appears to be an 8' tall frog-stork-child hybrid.
Before departing, at the request of the party, she provides:
- advice to meditate upon her when in need, and, "if you have been true of heart, I may respond."
- a black orchid of protection for each party member
- a baby turtle to Talon, in response to his request for physical armor
Ikkie leads the group to a cave entrance into which a stream plunges. Down they go, spotting the "neophids" along the way, 3' tall eyeless humanoids that subsist on cave minnows.
With smokey tallow candle in hand, the party eventually gets to a waterfall that is not climbable, and so they string together Dub Dub's cord to the end of Jotur's rope. The hobbit descends.
Upon wading out of the pool, he is set upon by three armed men with bull heads. He drops his candle, flees, and attempts to hide, but a machete blade slices his leg deeply, and he falls.
Jotur bodyslams the hobbit's assailant into oblivion as the other two man-beasts escape down the passageway.
Soon, Talon completes his descent and pursues them, cutting them down ruthlessly.
While Jotur helps DubDub to his feet, the dwarf assists the women down the dark waterfall before following.
Meanwhile, Talon emerges in a large chamber lit by powder-blue glowing stalactites. Here, Vatrix, his captive Varzallath (wrapped in a cocoon of amber), and his slave/assistant Sunny Violet. Vatrix is trying to awaken the enormous Minotaur, while the flame-demon Varzallath taunts and ridicules him.
Talon, sensing that the mage's shotgun-wielded staff might dangerous, attempts diplomacy, and works his way closer and closer to Vatrix with promises of alliance and collaboration. And then the elf murders the mage with three swift and devastating stabs, only the first of which is negated by the wizard's magic robe.
This sets the demon to joyous cackling, and awakens the monstrous Minotaur, which Talon approaches.
The creature suddenly strikes out with an enormous battle axe, nearly severing the elf's leg, and he somersaults out of range, bleeding badly. Shortly afterwards, he activates the magic turtle, and his skin grows scaly and tinted green.
Varzallath howls with laughter and begins taunting the elf (in the Elvish tongue).
Meanwhile the rest of the party enters the chamber, and the giant rushes forward to attract the Minotaur's attention before it slays the ailing elf.
This also does not go well, and seconds later, Jotur is on his back, both of his powerful arms crippled by dangerously deep axe cuts.
As the dwarf rushes in to begin his assault, DubDub hurls poisoned dagger, which seems to penetrate, but then falls out.
Verkan begins butchering the beast's powerful legs, only his armor saving him on more than one occasion.
Talon, unwilling to entertain any further demonic ridicule, strikes at the horror's face, and is instantly blinded for his efforts. Varzallath goes silent - and in fact, disappears.
Finally, the Minotaur drops to its knees, evidently succumbing to the hobbit's poison. Verkan takes the opportunity to strike at the creatures thick neck, and after a few bloody blows, the creature collapses.
Recognizing the moment, DubDub incants the brief verse provided by Callista.
A ball of green smoke appears, develops tendrils, caresses each living thing briefly, and then transforms into a jade-columned portal, showing an ocean of stars on a black sky.
Suddenly, a grotesque demon face rushes in, causing all to gasp, some to faint, and one dwarf to run maniacally in circles, hollering gibberish.
Blind, Talon is scarcely affected, and, guided by his Blindfighting training, steps forward pierces the face with the tip of his sword. It disappears.
As the rest of the blood-slick party comes to their senses, the night sky fades, and a mid-morning pastoral scene of hills and high grasses.
After collecting items of value (fire staff, ornate copper plate, a box of exotic incense, magic ring, and waterskins of healing water) from the chamber, they jump through, one by one. Sunny Violet, the foxwoman, joins the party.
The party arrives, battered and bloody, on a grassy hillside overlooking a river valley and small village. Nearby, a rocky outcropping hosts a polished disk with inscrutable runes, which lights up upon Willow's approach, providing an indicator pointing north.
When a young couple approaches, the monstrous party takes cover, allowing the hobbit and human women to do the talking. This starts well, but when they spot the giant, the run screaming back to the village.
Eventually Kai Tan, the village leader, reassures the villagers that Jotur is not an ogre, and so hospitality should be extended, as is customary here in Boshi. For the rest of the day, the party members luxuriate in hot springs, rest and eat, visit a healer, drink mead, and dance with festive villagers.
They also learn directions, accompanied by various warnings and admonitions, to the catacombs of Vanalos, and that a party of yellow-haired warriors preceded them by a few days.
In the morning, a horn is blown and the villagers leap into action, evidently herding small children to a grove of trees on the western edge of the community. Tax collectors from the city approach, five big armored warriors on stallions. The party marches out to intercept, but then notices Kai Tan doing the same, and diverts to talk to her. She waves them off, so they return to the village, apprehensive but wishing not to interfere negatively.
Minutes later though, Sunny Violet is pursued by one of the grinning spearman, and Jotur attempts to pluck him from his saddle. Unfortunately, he miscalculates the timing, and collides with the horse instead. Everyone goes down, and the horse and warrior are gravely injured. A tense standoff follows, but Jotur's diplomacy prevails when he pledges to heal the injured horse.
Satisfied that the tax collectors have not seized any children on this visit, the party bids farewell to the villagers and crosses the little rope bridge to ascend the slope of Azacca's Forest.
It's a bountiful place, with plentiful hunting and gathering. As cautioned by Kai Tan, Jotur conducts a brief ceremony of gratitude and leaves a gift of magic. Evidently, the demigod Azacca is satisfied, and Willow and Adonia's subsequent collection of wildflowers is permitted without consequence.
Late in the day the party crosses the plateau meadow and rests in the shade before ascending the steep and dusty scorched mountain, said by the villagers to have been set aflame by a demon some years ago. Still, nothing grows, and the blackened stumps provide no shade or comfort.
From the top of the ridge, a storm is spotted, which is upon them in minutes. Torrential rain quickly creates mud-chutes and slippery slopes, and the party struggles to keep their feet -- Adonia slips first and rockets down the slope out of sight.
Then the mud-lizards emerge from their dusty hibernation. Twenty-five feet long, they are poised with jaws agape just down the slope from a party that is struggling to remain upright as they slide down the muddy hillside.
Jotur, carrying the hobbit, falls down and yet is able to shape the earth below him with magic, arresting his slide.
The blinded elf allows his slide to accelerate, and in an unbelievable feat, slays a lizard as he somersaults over it.
Verkan goes toe-to-toe with his lizard, nearly losing a leg before slaying the creature.
DubDub attempts a heroic leap, but jumps right into the jaws of a lizard, and is injured badly. Jotur regains his feet and smashes the creature.
Eventually, the party reconvenes in the muddy ravine at the bottom of the slope, again battered and bloody.
After a brief rest and bandaging, they begin the ascent of the next forested mountain an hour before sunset.
Bloody and muddy, the party stops at the first flat camping spot they encounter. Jotur provides healing slumber to those in most need and a small meal is shared before Talon casts protective ward and the whole crew passes out.
In the misty morning they are accosted by a riddle-spewing giggling half-man who introduces himself as Kyp. The odd fellow welcomes the group to Thripsey Shee, and is impressed that the party has recently been to what he calls Quaralee Shee, another faerie forest where magic is strong and creatures such as Sunny Violet thrive. Kyp is further impressed by the party's ability to answer his riddles, which leads him to summon his friend Suki, who knows the "back way" into Vanalos' catacombs.
Sunny quietly elects to stay with Kyp, and Suki makes her way up the hill with haste, the party following close behind. A mile up the hill, she turns and confronts Verkan Hammerchin, evidently mistaking him for "Hagar Rock-crusher, Hagar mead-maker, Hagar thigh-spreader". She asserts that Verkan "owes her one", and with a wave of her hand, produces a grass hut and soft bedding. Verkan is pleased with the misunderstanding, and joins Suki for a remarkable roll in the hay as the rest of the party awkwardly backs away, ignoring the sounds of inter-species forest lovemaking.
The coupling is also a casting, and Verkan emerges with a grin, and a vacant mind -- he can think of no other task than trekking west to rescue Suki's daughter Merilee from a witch in a tree called Malicula.
The rest of the party begrudgingly accepts the side-quest, and Adonia enjoys cajoling the single-minded dwarf for details.
Late in the day, they encounter Twisk, an affable gremlin-goblin-type who offers "informations" for coin. Several exchanges seem beneficial, including that of approaching "vampire deer", and so Jotur summons mud and rock and sand to create a barrier around the party and Twisk's hut, to his gremlin's great amusement.
The party spends the night inside the barrier, aghast at the surrounding vampire deer, and glad to avoid tangling with the herd.
In the morning, a descent into a plateau of every-higher grasses leads to the witch-tree, which towers 300' high and is black with hundreds of cawing crows.
Talon hacks his way through the morass, leaving a path for the rest of the group to follow. As they approach the massive tree itself, the crows begin circling, swooping haphazardly, and generally causing mayhem.
While Adonia and Willow hunker down in the shelter of the high grasses, the rest of the group rushes forward, ducking crows, and fans out around the enormous trunk. With some difficulty, DubDub and Talon begin their ascent, while Verkan hacks at the ebony trunk and Jotur incants.
After displacing two frog-man guards (including DubDub's near-disastrous fall, avoided by using the frog-man's tongue as a bungee cord), DubDub and Talon reach the high branches and discover a sizable hut. Meanwhile, Verkan's hacking summons the witch herself, who probes him with malevolent magicks that he resists successfully. The tree begins bleeding, bright red blood.
The breach of her home summons her back to the heights, and Talon wisely attempts to use Varzallath's Staff as the witch approaches. With an effort of sheer will, he coaxes a blast of flame from the weapon, which seem to shatter the witch into ashes.
DubDub, meanwhile, fills his bag with witchy items, including what he assumes is Merilee, a lovely 2' tall woman with dragonfly wings, encased in a sheath of transparent amber.
Soon, the party reconverges and leaves the cawing crows to revisit Twisk's mountain keep.
A restful evening of squirrel-roasting and communing with plants becomes energized when Suki returns. The still slave-minded Verkan hands over the amber-encased sprite and Suki becomes a sort of vine-and-flower cocoon around her. In the morning, mother and daughter emerge, whole and happy, and young Merilee flits off into the trees, whereupon Suki agrees to do as she'd promised Kyp she would do, and lead the group to the 'back way' into Vanalos' lair and avoid the "Lord of the Flies".
With Jotur occasionally providing taxi-service for his shorter-legged companions, the party follows Suki miles around to the east slope of a mountain with a dramatic rocky crest. At the base of a 60' cliff, a tangle of thorns and berries (which are enjoyed by all) conceals a long horizontal crack in the rock large enough to crawl through. Jotur clears a path with his leathery arm, and everyone wriggles in after bidding farewell to Suki.
Within, by candlelight, the party examines some moldy debris before noticing that the ceiling is covered in 20lb bats. After whispering about options, Jotur attempts to ease the rusty old door off its hinges. This produces a rupturing metal sound that panics the bats -- and Adonia and Willow. Most of the bats depart, and after a moment, the party gathers their wits and moves on.
A hundred yards into the belly of the mountain, they reach a four-way intersection. Snaking lava tubes, up to 10 yards wide and high, wind away left, right, and forward. A brief discussion results in a right turn.
Some minutes of cautious candlelit travel further, and Willow asks, "Is that... daylight ahead?"
Sure enough, the blue-gray light of mid-afternoon sun in a cave is ahead. Jotur extinguishes the candle, and DubDub sneaks ahead to take a look. When he returns, he reports that there is a vast chamber with a hole in the ceiling, through which daylight streams. A chasm bisects the room, creating an obstacle between the entrance and the raised dais on the far side.
But the centerpiece of the room is is a 50' crystal ball, suspended by a skinny silver chain, that contains an enormous purple serpent, swimming in smoke.
Steeling their nerves, the party enters cautiously and Jotur coaxes the stones at the left edge of the chasm into a haphazard walkway and the group tip-toes across.
Mounting the dais, Verkan begins chipping gold from the cover of a sarcophagus, while DubDub examines a massive book, and Jotur examines a humanoid encased in polyhedric crystal. Spotting a large medallion, Jotur attempts to pry it out of crystal -- with sudden results.
The crystal shatters, and the red-robed wizard within utters, "Release..." as he crumbles to dust.
A moment later, the earth moves -- the mountain itself seems to shift a yard to the side in less than a second. Jotur and DubDub stumble and fall, and pebbles and dust cascade down the walls of the vast chamber.
Adonia and Willow flee.
Then, the serpent breaks loose, and shards of crystal sphere shower down upon all, wounding several, including Willow, Verkan, and DubDub. Talon immediately begins taunting the beast, staring up with his blind eyes.
Undeterred, Verkan buries a crossbow bolt in the belly of the creature, which seems to cause it to suddenly plummet to the ground near Talon, still hissing.
Meanwhile, the temperature in the room rises rapidly as the lava begins climbing higher in the crevasse, occasionally spitting out a huge glob of searing lava.
Jotur runs to the aid of the women as Talon deals with the injured serpent, piercing its vitals and hacking at its head.
Talon's luck runs out when the creature impales him with its barbed tail. But Talon, while badly wounded, returns the favor, severing the serpent's tail and then dealing a death blow to its scaly neck.
Meanwhile, the partially-looted sarcophagus opens suddenly, revealing a sturdy humanoid built of rune-covered granite. DubDub attempts a backstab, producing little more than a small spark, and the automaton sends him flying with a devastating kick to the ribs.
Verkan makes progress against the beast with his crowbar, but soon is down with a shattered leg and broken ribs. Through sheer force of will, he maintains consciousness and defends himself from the floor.
As the lava approaches the rim of the crevasse and threatens to block any hope at escape, Jotur rushes back over to the dais and casts a powerful spell -- which causes the stone golem to crumble into ordinary dirt.
Then, just in time, using the wizard's large table as a sort of raft, Jotur helps the rest of the party across the crimson river.
Jotur ferries the injured, traumatized party back the way they came, outside into the fresh air of the late afternoon, where bandages are applied, cool water is sipped, and the religious among the party thank their respective deities for escaping death.
The party moves a distance away from the volcano, carrying the incapacitated, and rests for the night.
Jotur meditates and seeks out guidance from Quaralee, mentioning that the party is near the faerie forest known as Thripsey Shee, which surprises her -- "you are on the other side of the world", she says. Also, "Travel swiftly, you are hunted."
In the middle of the night, Jotur senses a presence, and a small bird, silhouetted high in the canopy, flits away. He communes with the ancient tree, and learns that the bird was Tamurello, a sorcerer who has been absent from this forest for more than 400 years.
The next day, somewhat recuperated, the group resolves to retrace their steps to see Twisk who is eager for the company and ready with roasted squirrel. From there, to the faerie forest proper, with its hovering flower petals and strange birdsongs, where they again encounter Kyp, who invites them to a feast.
Strange forest folk attend, maple mead pours from a magical tree, birds sing in unison, and dancing occurs.
That night, Jotur once again seeks out the faerie queen in his meditations, and she tells him that a sorcerer called Tamurello is nearby, and capable of transporting the party home. What his price may be, she cannot guess.
Finally they arrive in Boshi, where they are once again received with hospitality and the healing waters of the natural hot springs.
After dark, the party investigates the hilltop to which they were originally transported. Finding no return portal, they return to the village and accept offers of shelter in various villagers' homes.
In the morning, they bid farewell to Kai Tan and her people, and follow rough wagon trail flanking the creek east, towards the lowlands, and late in the day are treated to a spectacular vista, scores of miles in 3 directions. To the north thick forests and craggy peaks. To the east, rolling green hills beyond a deep river valley, and to the south, cultivated lands and the haze of a city.
The languorous river is flanked by a wide, well-built road, and a train of four wagons is a few miles from the intersection with the wagon trail. The party decides to intercept and introduce themselves. Concerned that the travelers might be the "ben-wi" tax collectors previously encountered, Jotur, Talon, and the women stay concealed, and the dwarf and halfling show themselves.
Three of the four wagons are pulled by a pair of long-haired brown horses, and one is pulled by an enormous horned creature with shaggy fur. The wagon in the back also has a robed man with a chain around his neck walking behind. The drivers are round-faced, squat men with black hair wearing primitive cured leather armor, crossbows and spears at the ready.
At a distance of some 50 yards, the wagon train stops. After a moment, the covered wagon in the back lurches violently, and a deafening screech/roar is heard.
After a moment to ensure no beast is unleashed, introductions are made, and the hobbit and dwarf begin trotting alongside the wagon train, chatting with the lead driver. They are traders of the north country, who come down to the big city a couple times a year when they have collected sufficiently profitable cargo.
The chat is going well until the driver asks with a brown-toothed smirk, "As slaves, as defectives, how will you make your way in the city?"
The hobbit in particular takes offense, and the duo returns to the rest of the party hiding in the rocks to plan next moves. The elf, still suffering the effects of the serpent's poison, remains incapacitated, and has no input.
After some options are considered, Jotur hefts the hobbit onto his shoulders, and jogs to catch up with the wagon train. There, the hobbit dismounts to run up alongside the lead driver, while Jotur chats with Po, the scraggly monk chained to the back of the final wagon.
Dub-Dub challenges the lead driver to a duel to the death. If the driver wins, he gets the perverse pleasure of slaying a defective. If the hobbit wins, the cargo and vehicles become his.
The driver, grinning with his rotten teeth, agrees, stops the train, and dismounts.
Just then, Jotur breaks Po's chains and unbolts the beast's wagon. The noise distracts the driver for a moment, and when he turns back to face the little hobbit, Dub-Dub buries a sharp dagger in the driver's eye socket. He falls back, screaming.
Meanwhile, Verkan has finally caught up, and fires a crossbow bolt into the gut of a henchman approaching the rear of the train. The driver of the second wagon whips his horse and gallops away, heavy load creaking. Jotur knocks a final henchman down with his massive shoulder.
The beast emerges, a griffin, and Po begins soothing it while Jotur leads a discussion of next steps.
In gratitude for their emancipation, Po agrees to transport Talon and the ladies via air to a rendezvous spot visible a mile beyond the bridge.
A captured human henchman will pose as the boss and driver, with Verkan driving a second covered wagon, concealing the (monstrous) Jotur.
The team drives the pair of wagons down into the river canyon and approaches the bridge, on which there are a dozen black-armored warriors milling about and pointing at the approaching party.
After a brief negotiation, the bridge is extended to allow passage of the lead wagon, which is then thoroughly searched. The warriors discover Dib-Dub's hidden backpack and dump out its esoteric witchy contents. Wide-eyed, they are eager to receive the hobbit's instructions to go ahead, open that little pouch.
They do, and ONE BILLION HORSEFLIES emerge, a mass of insect matter so significant that several warriors are knocked down, one leaps off the bridge in a panic, and several swing weapons frantically, blindly. The lead wagon's horse is bitten countlessly and spooks, crashing into structures and breaking its harness. Dub-Dub maintains his cool as he collects his gear in the eye of the fly-storm, before scurrying away to a hiding spot nearby.
The second wagon horse freaks out a moment later as the wall of biting flies surrounds it, careening forward and dumping cargo. Verkan encourages the forward surge through the chaos, and Jotur snatches up the hobbit as the wagon blasts ahead.
Away from the insectoid mayhem, the party sees warriors emerging from the cloud, but they seem preoccupied with being bitten and do not give immediate chase.
Nevertheless, the party keeps moving quickly, picking up the elf the and ladies and carrying on late into the night. Eventually they encounter the wagon that ran away in the initial encounter. A campfire burns, a bedroll is nearby, but nobody visible. The party decides to keep moving until their horse runs out of steam, whereupon they too camp and rest for a few hours.
Mid-morning they spot the strange stationary cloud, 500' up and some 500' across, and leave the road to stand beneath it. After a time, a weird wet rope ladder descends, and the party makes their way up with some difficulty.
Atop the weird whale-skin surface of the cloud in noon sunshine, they peer around at its misty emptiness until a youth appears, evidently Tamurello. Talon and Jotur explain the party's needs, and a brief negotiation ensues. The price:
- Talon will part with Vanalos' book in return for his blindness being cured
- The party will bring the severed head of Jaenor Valeris to Tamurello
- The party will bring back "an egg" from a different location to Tamurello
- Tamurello will transport the party back to Argyle
With terms agreed, the youth twitches his pinky, and the party instantly finds itself standing under starlight in a grand courtyard of intricate stonework. Huge urns sprout towering flowers. All is quiet.
As the team gets their bearings, light streams into the courtyard from a massive door on the far side. An ogre, nude but for a dimly magical iron collar, allows an elderly man, a young guard, and a slim consort to enter the courtyard, whereupon the three walk quietly towards a door a distance from the frozen-in-place party.
Dub Dub and Talon stealthily approach from two directions once it's assessed the guard has a large ring of keys. Once the old man and the girl are through the door, the guard returns to the ogre door, silently relieved of his keys by the hobbit.
The party streams in after the old man and the girl, infiltrating his private chambers over the young lady's objections. Somehow the team avoids murdering everyone, instead extracting a hastily scrawled map to the residence of Jaenor Valeris, who apparently now is lording over an execution parade and ceremony that evidently involves horns, drumming and wooly mammoths.
After tying up the old man and his companion and assigning Willow and Adonia to watch over them and rest on the luxurious pillow-strewn couches, the team departs.
The map is coherent if incomplete, and the team makes short work of a wandering guard-ogre and, while an alarm bell ding-ding-dings, five halberd-wielding bodyguards, sustaining some bloody wounds in the process.
After barging into the residence, the team realizes the alarm bells will probably summon a problematic reaction force, and changes plans. With some difficulty, they descend from the residence's balcony to the one below, horrifying the young residents and stealing a bottle of wine as they march through the apartment.
After collecting Adonia and Willow and costuming, the party begins making its way to the execution ceremony. The wide streets are moderately crowded still, and the thumping drums of the parade fill the night. The blood-spattered, inhuman, strangely dressed party, bristling with weapons, attracts a lot of stares and murmurs, and so, when a strangely dressed dwarf calls down from a balcony, "Brother, are you mad? Get inside!", the party accepts the advice.
The pleasure house evidently specializes in "defectives" (dwarves and hobbits) and pipe-smoking mustached clients are evaluating the possibilities while a weird stringed instrument drones.
The odd balcony dwarf comes downstairs, but not before hobbit twin sisters, Tabitha and Fiona, rush over to greet Dub Dub and the others.
Gambling and carousing commence while Talon and Jotur seek information and Willow and Adonia repel suitors.
The tiny sisters, upon hearing that the party intends to confront Jaenor Valeris at the execution ceremony, immediately intuit that they'll need a clandestine infiltration and exfiltration -- the sewers. They even offer to guide the party on their mission -- provided that the sisters can come along when the party escapes the walls of the grand city.
Tabitha and Fiona convey the party through a hidden trap door at the back of the brothel, down into the sewers, where hobbit-scale canoes await. Jotur is much too heavy and opts to wade through the filth.
The hobbit lasses quarrel endlessly about navigating the maze of tunnels and chambers while unseen eels slip past the giant's legs and hundreds of tiny bats cling to every inch of Verkan's body.
After a time, the flotilla reaches a landing lit by blue fungi, on which six monstrosities dine on giant eels. Verkan and Dub Dub take aim as the hobbit girls backpaddle in evident alarm. Two crossbow bolts pierce the largest of the beasts, and it falls over, hissing and squirming. The other five slip soundlessly into the murky waters.
Jotur grabs two canoes and pushes them up out of the water onto the landing, and then returns to collect Tabitha and Fiona. He is almost too late, but bashes a creature to smithereens before it's able to pull Tabitha overboard. The remaining creatures set upon the corpse and a frothy feeding frenzy commences.
Eventually the sisters guide the party to what they say is the spot just below the platform on which Jaenor Valeris is addressing a huge crowd and executing innumerable traitors.
Dub Dub is stealthfully deployed to check out the scene. He silently ascends the scaffolding to a concealed alcove only a hobbit could fit within. There, he observes a dramatic night scene.
Jaenor Valeris, his voice magically amplified, is bellowing a speech that provokes periodic cheers, chants, and moans from a crowd of tens of thousands of citizens who surround an enormous iron "bird cage", hundreds of yards across. Within the cage, three griffons pace about, the scraps of a dozen humans scattered around.
Jaenor is flanked by four hulking halberdsmen, and thick-limbed jailers are hurling emaciated prisoners off the platform to the hungry griffons. The raised platform is connected to a third-floor balcony of an enormous granite building across the broad boulevard.
Dubs scampers back to the party in the sewers to report.
Thence, a plan is hatched and put into motion. Dubs returns to his high alcove, this time with poison coating a crossbow bolt. As another prisoner is hurled to his doom, Dubs fires the bolt into the back of Jaenor's leg. It sticks, and drops of blood appear.
Enraged, Jaenor turns, curses his bodyguards, and begins making his way across the scaffold, aware that something is wrong, as the poison courses into his bloodstream. Once they pass, Dubs throws one of Verkan's alchemist grenades beyond the group, creating a white hot conflagration that is impassable.
Meanwhile, Jotur pushes out the heavy sewer grate, and he, Verkan, and Talon rush out to begin hacking and smashing at weak points in the scaffold identified by Verkan after careful study. The crowd scatters, screaming.
In a few seconds, the structure collapses on the street, causing minor injuries to everyone involved. Two halberdsmen arise and are quickly dispatched by Verkan and Talon.
With a dancing flourish, Talon then leaps over to Jaenor and beheads the prone, poisoned minister in a single stroke. Meanwhile, Jotur intones a spell and fog descends on the street.
The gates of the Security Ministry open, and a column of a hundred halberdsmen march forth. The party slips back into the sewers and begins paddling away, guided by the agitated chatter of Tabitha and Fiona.
After a time, the group arrives at a large chamber where the flow of sewage is evidently churning against a wall, and Fiona declares that there is "supposed to be a drain here."
Talon intones a brief spell, causing a bubble of air to fill the drain, making the exit to the outside visible for a moment. Jotur takes the opportunity to push the canoes through, where upon they slide and tumble down a sewage-slick slope into the broad, lazy river. Minutes later, canoes swamped, drenched, battered and bruised, the group gathers among some high grasses on the riverbank a few hundred yards downstream.
After a too-brief rest, the tiny sisters state that their plan is to march overland until they see a familiar hillock known to be the dwelling of a "Wolfrider" - a solitary hobbit ranger who patrols the far perimeters of the shire. The party accompanies, and Wolfrider Kella MinnowSwimmer proves an an ample host for the evening. Verkan gets surprisingly wasted on a brown-bottled hobbit concoction as the ladies roll their eyes at him.
Before dawn the party arises and treks north across the volcanic mesa, leaving their hobbit friends behind. By midday, they cut east and drop down the slope to the treed bank of the great river. Options are considered, and then Jotur drags a dry log out of the brush and the party attempts to float across. Dub Dub nearly stays dry, dancing on the rolling log, while ladies fall off repeatedly and Jotur, with a sewer-sickened Talon over his shoulder, saves Verkan from drowning more than once.
Eventually Jotur pulls everyone up on the east bank, and, after a brief rest, the party slinks across the road and into the late-summer cropland en route to Tamurello's cloud castle.
Atop the strange cloud, Tamurello is displeased at the condition of the severed head Verkan tosses to him, but after a brief spell and a touch to its forehead, appears satisfied, and announces that the party has succeeded in holding up their side of the bargain.
Now, if they want to go home, the party must agree to another provide another service to the mysterious mage -- the collection of an egg from the "pet" of the sorcerer Grexon the Annihilator. Once nodding their assent, the party is suddenly aloft, and flying to the north at a breakneck pace. Adonia stays behind with the mage.
They fly through the dark night for many hours, roughly following the river and road below, and finally approach a dramatic mountain range in the gray light of early dawn. After an awkward landing, the party stares out at a great dusty bowl, miles across, littered with debris from a keep evidently demolished at the center of the wasteland. A very tall, emaciated giant patrols around the ruins.
Straightaway, the party urges Dub Dub to scamper down and evaluate two small mounds, one of which has a pole sticking up out of it. It turns out to be the long-dead remains of a hobbit and donkey mount. Dub Dub scavenges the saddlebags and leaves the desiccated hobbit corpse undisturbed.
Jotur soon discovers that merely stepping foot on the downslope of the great dusty bowl causes a chill in his heart, and backs off. Verkan and Dub Dub suffer no ill effects and proceed, while Jotur meditates on the problem, Talon retches, and Willow shivers.
Shortly, Dubs launches a poisoned dart at the towering giant. It bounces off the leathery hide and attracts the attention of the creature. It lumbers towards the little hobbit, hiding in a crevasse.
Verkan rushes up and shouts at the behemoth, and fired a crossbow bolt through it's head poking through the face and exploding saucer-sized bone fragments out the back, redirecting its watch-dog rage. Verkan then takes flight, but is not fast enough to avoid a glancing blow from the giant's limestone club. The dwarf's right arm is shattered, nearly detached, as he lunges for cover at the base of a big rock.
At this, Jotur decides to tolerate the anti-magic chills in his gut, and sprints down the hill after urging Talon to get on his feet and help. Jotur ran past the dwarf and hobbit to lead the giant on a zig-zagging path into the ruins, where he quickly popped out an enormous iron manhole cover to slip below ground.
Sensing opportunity, the hobbit and crippled dwarf dash towards the ruined keep. Talon and Willow begin running into the fray as well.
Jotur engages the leathery giant's groping hand as it reaches inside, and Jotur knocks his brittle thumb off with a crowbar.
Talon finally shows up and sprints directly at the behemoth, ascending a section of wall and leaping through the air to deliver a deep slice in beast's leg. He then begins running between the creature's legs, causing it to twist and turn, all the while slicing at the leg with his razor shar sword. A third blow is sufficient, and the tall giant keels over into the ruins, thrashing in frustration.
Talon then collects Willow and the group convenes at the round portal to the underground.
Therein, Jotur has summoned a vaporous air elemental, and is instructing it to collect the glowing ghost-spirits that are approaching and hurl them out of the chamber. Unfortunately, the elemental encounters an invisible wall of some kind, and cannot proceed. The spirits, too, reach the same wall from the other side, evidently prevented from proceeding.
Verkan drops in to assess the situation, his right arm dangling uselessly, 6" longer than the left.
Upon landing, the spirits begin howling, in grating, horrific, otherworldly voices, "VEEERRRRRKKAAAAAAAAAN!"
Some experimentation reveals that the ghostly creeps are quickly dispatched by physical contact, and that their glowing soul energy plunges through Verkan's chest, causing mere vertigo for a moment before swooping up into the sky.
Except that one of the spirits dislodges Verkan's soul, and takes up residence in his body. There, it begins exploring the novelty of the hairy dwarf body, disrobing completely to do so.
Meanwhile, the emaciated giant continues to thrash about in the rubble outside in the morning sun.
Talon and Dubs have the novel idea of dragging Verkan through the invisible barrier, and sure enough, that causes the spirit enough discomfort to vacate, allowing Verkan's soul to return.
The party descends the staircase, candles in hand. The stairs spiral hundreds of feet, eventually becoming a corkscrew ramp of a ribbon of stone, hanging in space above a vast black abyss, the contours of which are unknown.
The twisting ribbon of stone terminates as a jagged break, and here Dub Dub is nominated to go below and sniff around. The spider-silk rope is unfurled, and Dub's candle grows dimmer and dimmer as he descends more than 300' before reaching a landing.
Talon joins him, and the two walk across room-sized plates of irregularly shaped, rough dark metal. Eventually, they reach a cache of huge stone eggs, and tie the rope around it carefully.
Concerned about excessive weight, Talon stays behind as Dub gives the signal to ascend with the egg.
Unfortunately, the knot unravels 100' up, and the stone egg plummets to land heavily a few yards from Talon. The interlocking metal plates undulate in unison, and a hollow howl of wind is heard but not felt.
With haste, knots are retied and elf, hobbit, and egg are on the ascent again, with Jotur and Verkan, now approaching exhaustion, walking the rope up the spiral of rock.
The party climbs out of the dungeon, avoids the rebuilding giant, and clambers up out of the great dusty bowl to the pass upon which they landed hours earlier. There, they rest. For 10 minutes.
Three figures appear on a rocky hill nearby. A witchy-woman with wings, a handsome nobleman, and a grimacing half-ogre and a huge warhammer. The woman demands the Medallion of Wondrous Excellence from Jotur, who declines. Combat, of course, ensues.
The roaring ogre is dispatched by Talon's (critical hit) explosive fireball. After sustaining a grievous sword wound from 30', Jotur smashes the gentleman. But the woman twists an iron ring on her finger and disappears, wounded by Jotur's hail of stones.
Corpses are looted and the party staggers down to the treeline to rest.
Once the stars come out, the party operates the door knob and a portal-within-a-portal appears, through which they are suddenly drawn, landing on the smooth surface of Tamurello's cloud. Shortly, he invites them into a colorful tent, where he and Adonia are sampling delicacies.
The grand sorcerer convinces Talon to give up the demonstaff, and then transports the party in a transparent sphere high above the planet, in a great arc that eventually decelerates and lands in a pond near the Gaian Coven.
With difficulty, they break out of the weird sphere and wade to shore, where they are greeted by one of the Coven's young members. In no time, Glinda is expressing gratitude and revelries begin.
Talon, the loner, wanders off into the dark forest, and spots the horned witch Zlara of the Iron Circle, this time with two warriors. The warriors break away towards the Coven, while Zlara and her faceless demonkin observe.
Talon steps upon a rise and lobs an arrow back into camp, startling-but-informing Verkan of a nearby threat.
In no time, Jotur and Verkan dispatch the warriors, Dubs and Talon swat down the demonkin, and Talon buries a war arrow in the witch's skull. She stumbles forward, touches her hand, and disappears.
The combat of course terrifies the coven, with women and girls scattering everywhere.
Once calm returns, Glinda invites the party to make haste away from the area, thank you very much.
Returning to Callista in Argyle, the party learns the back story:
My colleagues on the mages council of Argyle have diverse goals. One wishes to enrich himself beyond all reason and spend the next century dallying with his various perversions. With the medallion, he will succeed. Another colleague truly wishes a war with the north. Some old personal debt. He wields considerable influence, and with the medallion, he will succeed. Years ago, the Minister of Tranquility herself approached me. This was not long after the terrible plague that beset the city of Serenton. Catherine told me that malign forces were seeking to use such plagues as a weapon of war. Something to annihilate whole populations without a battle. She asked me to work on preventing that future. It has taken a long time, but now I know what I must do. And now, because you have succeeded, I will succeed.
In payment, the party requests:
- Verkan -- a long week of debauchery
- Dubs -- a CASINO in Argyle
- Talon -- ?
- Jotur -- none thanks, I want to help