For some backstory, see also Talathees#Original_Ur_Campaign_Notes
For additional session notes through about 2.14 see the discussion tab.
Saul, the barrel chested monk/bard, played by John.
Kojax, the humorless and disciplined swordmaster, by Jacob.
Academis, the wizened historian and dabbler in mysterious magics, played by Jess.
Fabian Maximillus the hanky-wielding aristocrat, played by Brant.
Treewalker the Pathfinder-Ranger elf, played by Brant.
Darnell Armand the oversized brawler from Zareph, played by John.
Angus the Highlander, played by Brant.
Selakir Strongbow, elven archer, played by Antony.
To the Caskets
The party trekked east, acquired certain caskets, toured Osiris, and then came back to pursue their quarry, the legions of Branok who had previous sacked Talathees and then turned their attention north.
With a group of dedicated sailors-turned-soldiers dubbed the Wolves, Kojax led the force on the trail of Branok's army after hearing that an ancient mountaintop alert system had been triggered for the first time in generations.
The Wolves passed through the Broken Lands en route to Druid Grove where they found hundreds of orc corpses stung by wasps, some also speared. There they met Faunus McClavie who told them of his master Rasha's successful attempt to repel Brokan's forces, and advised the party that the army now travels south, back towards Talathees to obtain passage by sea to Alathyth where Branok believes the Breastplate of Akhad resides.
Pursued by Branok
The Wolves traveled back through the Broken Lands (on a much smooth route advised by Faunus), had costly skirmishes with Branok's forces, and fled south towards Talathees.
After another costly skirmish and a week of travel across the cold brown hills, the party encountered the Cooper family, who had fled Talathees during the attack and were only now, some 7 weeks later, returning to the city.
Defense of Talathees
Upon arrival in Talathees, the party found General Veronus to have taken firm control of the city and was proceeding quickly with repairs, improvements, and fortifications.
As Branok's army approaches, Veronus is assassinated, Kojax skewers the half-orc known as Red with a crossbow bolt through the eye socket, and Colonel Flavius has a nervous breakdown, turning over his family treasure to Kojax.
Saul gives tells a powerful tale of heroism and vengeance from the city wall as a prelude to Brad's announcement of Veronus' death, Kojax's new role as commander of the city, and his own rank of executive officer (XO) to the Commander. The citizen soldiers accept the changes with renewed hope and pride, and preare for the onslaught.
A bloody battle follows, with the casketed warriors striking down orcs like so much cordwood, falling only to angry ogres. Andrew races from ballista to ballista offering guidance and repairs while Kojax and the Wolves hack through orcflesh and Academus causes disruptions, delays, and illusions to foil the enemies' operations.
In the end, Branok himself enters the blood-slick city, is injured badly by Brad's charging lance, unhelmeted by Academus' sorcery, and finally cut down by Commander Kojax. Branok's final words, though, are haunting:
He that deceiveth The Master, He that shall cause the blood of the Loyal to spill, This wretched soul shall perish in fire, The Master maketh great wonders, And maketh fire come down from the heavens in the sight of men, And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever, For the Master's power is complete, And they that deceiveth the Master shall perish in flames. Academus... shall... suffer...
Abduction of Saul
For 17 days, the party engaged in the rebuilding of Talathees:
- Academus studied and pondered the recent events (and Branok's final words).
- Andrew advised the defense forces on additional defense preparations.
- Kojax brooded, planned, and signed paperwork occasionally, growing restless.
- Saul tended to the dead, and the bereaved.
- Brad took over all operational details of running and rebuilding the city.
- Fabian Maximillus negotiated government support for rebuilding his shipyard.
Then one brisk January morning, as Academus and Fabian made their way towards Kojax's simple apartment, a mad priest, foaming at the mouth, clawing his own chest raw, and dragging a diseased dog along, ran up to Academus and said, in a trance:
THE END DAYS HATH COME WHEN THE MOON SHALL BE AS BLOOD AND WATER AS THE VENOM OF THE ASP AND THE SEA DOTH BOIL, AND DOGS BLEED INTO THE EARTH, WHILE THE NEW MASTER STALKS, OUT OF HIS MOUTH A SHARP SWORD GOETH, THAT WITH HE SHOULD SMITE DOWN THE UNFAITHFUL, AND HE SHOULD RULE THE NATIONS WITH A ROD OF IRON.....
The priest then spontaneously ignites from the inside out -- a sequence of events Academus recognizes as a sign of demons.
Simultaneously, an inn owner runs up to Academus from the other direction to announce that Saul was kidnapped in the night.
Pursuit of Saul's Captors
The party fans out to collect evidence, and is soon on the trail of Ace Braylee and his crew, whom they track to Camp Argent 30 miles outside the city. A violent altercation follows, but all combatants survive after Ace and others are gravely wounded throws in the towel.
Ace explains that his crew was hired by a woman named Katrina to kidnap Saul. Ace and his crew are carried back to Talathees to be imprisoned (but not before Fabian nearly burns the prisoners and the tavern down).
The party comes to learn that Katrina left (with a large wooden box) recently for the islands of the southwest aboard a trading vessel, and the party pursues aboard Fabian's pleasurecraft.
As they approach, the water seems to boil as they traverse a huge school of fish.
Academus summons himself a vision of Saul's whereabouts, and sees him crucified in a cave on an island.
At the first island encountered (Skirros), the party learns that the merchant vessel belongs to one Ovid Battista, a shrewd and obese merchant with a penchant for pretty girls, who travels with a 4 huge lizardman bodyguards. His crew unloaded the planned shipment of tools and grains, and left with just one passenger, a beautiful scarlet-haired woman, and her cargo.
The next day, the party spots Battista's anchored ship and goes ashore upon Lemnos to search for Saul. With no firm leads evident, the party is advised by the locals to consult the wise old hag Eminscu (accompanied by her troll servant Maleluca). After testing the party by telling her troll to slay them (and the troll being handily cut down), the hag informs Academus that he is both marked and warded ("some irony, yes?"), and provides directions to the Temple of the Cobra, where Saul is supposedly held.
The night, the party witnesses a group of 50-dark robed men standing in a 50-yard pentagram formation, black candles in hand, and chanting:
By those four animals that hold up the world itself, And by the light and the earth and all its creeping things, By the gates of Paradise, By the six golden candlesticks, Audi ergo et time ergo, Hear me now and be afraid, Oh noxious spirit, Oh destroyer of worlds, Oh grand dragon of the underworld, For it is I that summon and command thee....
In a short while, the chanting ends, and the acolytes progress in an orderly and silent fashion out of the clearing and the party moves in to investigate.
An Assassin Cometh
While scrounging, a fireball approaches, revealing itself to be a flaming demon of the Gortegag (assassin) variety. Both accompanying Wolves are seized with terror. Wielding a nine foot flaming scythe, it sets Kojax as its target, while four small gibbering 3-armed minor demons pursue Academus. Kojax defends with expert parries while Academus draws a magic circle to keep the beasts at bay.
In the end though, one Wolf is pierced through and subsequently beheaded, Kojax is felled by a mighty chop across the chest, and Academus' attempt to banish the assassin is too costly for his mortal frame to withstand, and he falls unconscious. The beasts make off with the Helm but do not harm the old man.
Assault on the Black Ether
The party rests the night and uses some of Terreth's powerful elven herbs to heal their wounds enough to push forward towards the Temple. The entry tunnel, 200 yards deep, slithers serpentine into the mountain, lit by slowly pulsating, humming blue stones every 10 yards, allowing mosaics and carvings of snake worship and human sacrifice to be seen.
An inner chamber, similarly lit, contains four priests, four lizard men, two podiums, an altar, a pit, a kettle suspended over crimson coals, a weapons rack, and a crucified monk.
The priests begin a lecture and issue their demands to Academis, to give up his knowledge concerning the summoning of a certain demon. The party opens fire with crossbows and the priests send in the lizardmen to slay the warriors. Bloody combat ensues; the party emerges victorious, though barely so, and sails back to Talathees, taking Ovid Battista's ship along with them.
Saul begins rebuilding the monastery and giving public performances of "The Rise of the Swordmaster and Defense of Talathees". Andrew works on a pistola-style crossbow with some success and romance with none. Kojax trains, broods, signs paperwork for Brad. Fabian attends to his business interests and shacks up with Penelope, the 16-yr-old daughter of a laborer. Academus heads to the Library of Leng to research next steps. All is quiet for several months, and Talathees is stable, growing, rejuvenated, optimistic.
Call for Help
Academus summons the party to Zogby via his Swift Tern Frederick. On the way, they stop in Osiris, get directions from Jamar the dockmaster, some intelligence from Damus concerning the proclivities of Abdul Mezetlan, who is a wealthy merchant with whom Talathees has some financing deals in the works. They dine at the royal palace of King Abdullah as diplomatic guests. Fabian dances the night away with various noblewomen, and finally gets along well with a servant girl Akila. Andrew disappears that night to the mansion of a noblewoman Febi Ebonique and her husband Zahur Ebonique.
The next morning, the heads to Zogby and arrives a week later, locates Academus and bodyguard Vulso, to learn that Academus has been advised that the only appropriate help for the Katrina-Helm situation must be had from a Demon Master, and that one resides in Sri. The party presses on to that great and mysterious city.
Exploration of Sri
A week later, on approach to Sri, they are surrounded by six war brigs and boarded by Captain Aishani and her men. Swami Kashyap is brought aboard, carried on a small platform as he chants and waves incense sticks during the ship inspection. The Swami pauses silently and gazes into Academus' eyes, but then moves along. The ship passes inspection and Aishani welcomes them warmly on behalf of Emperor Krishnashandra to the great city.
After a misstep into the rough part of town, the party makes their way to the palace and its 20' walls and is directed to the administration office to set up an appointment. Fabian schmoozes his way in, describes the situation, and an appointment is set with the Minister of State Yafeu Wamukoto in a marble outbuilding within the palace walls.
The Minister allows Academus (accompanied by 3 palace guards) to go visit the Demon Master Arch-Mage Batzharikahn, deep within a horrific labyrinthine dungeon, despite the mage having been declared an enemy of the state six months previous. Batzharikahn says he'd consider helping the party if they were to bring him the melon-sized ruby possessed by the dragon Methusela in the Hammu Range.
Not so easily convinced, the party fans out to gather intelligence.
Academis devours knowledge at the Grand Library of Sri and sends a request for guidance back to the Mad Elders via Frederick. Kojax develops a concealed weapon and then visits the Black Lotus Inn to speak with Darpak, a footsoldier of the criminal underworld of Sri. There (after a few judiciously placed gold pieces), he learns that word on the street is that the Emperor had ambitions to raise an army and invade the Suijeng Basin and conquer the capital Vishnu. To that end, Arch-Mage Batzharikahn was developing potions that would allegedly create undying and perfectly loyal colonels for such an army and needed royal infant blood to do so.
Academis reports back the legend of Karunasindhu and an approximate location to begin searching for the dragon. Fabian spends some time at the Temple of the Eternal Flame and then meets with the Minister of State again, and then gathers corroborating information from Darmesh, a wealthy merchant.
Kojax and Fabian have a brief meeting with Captain Aishani. She reacts coldly to a question about operational plans of the army or any suggestion that Batzharikahn should be helped, and then with apparent bemusement to Fabian's whirlwind summary of the party's quest.
Meanwhile, Andrew studies at the Temple of Rati (goddess of pleasure).
Finally, Academis consults with Vanita in the deserted Temple of the Monkey and resolves that the trek north to go dragon-hunting is the best option. Kojax and company are skeptical but defer to Academis. Andrew is extracted from the Temple of Pleasure and the party rides north with haste.
Seven days on horseback into primeval rainforest on a well-traveled trade route along the banks of the great Nesratu River, the party is (incompetently) ambushed by Zemar Ajani and his crew of blowgun toting natives. A crossbow bolt from Kojax cripples the foolhardy bandit, and a perfect illusion of a giant cobra scatters the natives.
The party arrives in the village Jabalpur referenced both by Vanita and Darmesh and sure enough a statue to Karunasindhu is present. The local merchant/guide Debashish is quickly located, and hired to take the party across the river and into the Hammu Range to seek the dragon-worshiping tribes of the high country.
Five days ensue of close calls with forest creatures such as a bull elephant, a huge colony of 12" scorpions, an enraged tiger, and a 30' python, but the party eventually arrives at the primitive village in the cool mists of the cloud forest. From campaign notes:
Primitive village, dragon-headed totem pole, feathered headdresses, penis-gourds, eating grubs and leeches, topless native women, big nose-rings, toucans in twig cages, yummy dried iguanas hanging, naked children playing, spears and blowpipes.
Academis meets with the village elder, and, through Debashish as interpreter, convinces the elder that the party has come to worship. Two native guides are assigned, and late that afternoon, the party arrives on the pebbly banks of a cool and misty mountain lake. Rounding the bank, they discover a cliff wall with a cave entrance in the lake. Academis, Kojax, and a Wolf wade in, neck deep, and enter the cave.
Within, they discover a huge internal cavern; Academis creates light, and they find three 3' broken eggshells, and the massive skeleton of an ancient dragon, apparently coveting a moss-covered melon-sized ruby. The 25' baby dragons now make their presence known, slithering and splashing in the water menacingly, and there is some debate about how to escape the cavern unscathed.
Meanwhile, out on the bank, Andrew and Debashish try to quell the concerns of the two native guides who now are objecting strenuously to the foray into the cavern, while Fabian heroically wades part way into the water, crossbow in hand.
Academis then casts magics which allow the group to incredibly walk on the ceiling. Intrigued, the three serpents emerge to observe, three great toothy heads gazing up at the upside-down party. Kojax approaches, lies prone, and aims carefully at the great unblinking eye of one of the beasts. His expert shot appears to strike true, and all three disappear into the deep with a startled thrashing splash. The party makes haste and exits the cave with ruby in hand, defying gravity.
The native guides have run off, with Debasish following, and the party rides like the wind down off the mountain and back towards Sri.
Upon return to Sri, the party is met by Captain Aishani at the gates, and escorted to the Security Ministry, past a civilian rabble-rouser calling for war upon Vishnu. Within the Ministry, Deputy Minister of Internal Security Bhanu Balachandra explains that the quest to seize the helm back from demonkind is shared by the government of Sri. He requests that the party turn over the ruby for transfer to the demon master.
The party refuses and dances on thin ice within the Ministry for over an hour, finally leaving with only a single spell and punch thrown -- combined with some tricky verbal convincing by Academis.
The party cogitates on the situation for a while, corroborates parts of the government story with Vanita, witnesses a woman being carried away by guards crying "My baby!", and finally resolves to continue the negotiations, this time with weapons bared. A tense standoff follows, with the government finally allowing Academis to personally deliver the ruby to the demon master.
After doing so, the government then proposes that the party go on a diplomatic mission to Vishnu on their behalf to quell rumors of war and ensure continued peaceful trade. The party agrees and leaves immediately.
The following dawn, the ship captain calls the passengers to the deck, where the 14-man crew now wield swords, and announces, "It gives me no great pleasure to do this, but I must insist that you disembark immediately." The ship is out of the sight of land, and the orange sky of dawn provides little warmth.
The party engages Captain Taranga in a brief conversation in which the Taranga claims that his assassination orders are directly from Emperor Krishnashandra. Finally, Kojax can tolerate the disrespect no longer, fastdraws a throwing axe, and cripples the captain's right arm in a flash. Butchery ensues, Academus is gravely injured, and Andrew is beheaded in the mêlée.
In the aftermath, as next steps are being discussed, Captain Aishani's ship is spotted, and the deck is cleared of carnage in preparation for being boarded. A half-truth is concocted and Taranga stumbles through his role in the ruse while Kojax prepares for any additional blade-work needed. Aishani expresses her skepticism about the stated mission and the results of its execution while Habib professes his love for her in the background.
Academis meets with Aishani and they review the recent goings-on, including:
- Emperor's multi-year history of growing ambition for power and conquest
- Massive build-up of Sri's military resources, including R&D into a Sataghni (huge cannon)
- Demonmaster Batzharikahn's royal-infant-sacrifice activities
- Aishani's own infant's death 8 years ago
- Academis' observance of the arch-mage's comfortable quarters
- Aishani's observance of the emperor's new helm
- Aishani's skepticism that a just emperor would assassinate a foreign head of state unprovoked
- The emperor's sudden interest in the Emerald Emir, which is dedicated to locating Akhad's armor, and the emperor's recent acquisition thereof
- The fact that demons love war, chaos, and suffering (and hence would favor a Sri-Vishnu war)
They resolve to ally and consult with Minister of State Yafeu Wamukoto at his retreat 2 miles outside the city. Craylock and Majesto are released and the other ship sent on to Vishnu with a message composed by Aishani.
Wamukoto, Craylock, Majesto, and the party secretly plot a coup, in which Craylock and Majesto will assassinate the Minister of Security and his Deputy, while Aishani and the party infiltrate the palace in search of the Emperor. With Wamukoto's assistance in disguises, intelligence, and protocols, and Aishani's familiarity and recognizability within the palace, the party gets all the way to the threshold of the Emperor's quarters, guarded by two massive ogres.
Aishani attempts to persuade the brutes without success. Academis dazes one with a spell, and Kojax instantly slays the other with multiple blinding brain-scrambling stabs.
Aishani quietly enters, and after Academis casts a spell, the party is able to observe through the closed doors.
She says a few quiet words to the two human guards within, who then allow her to approach the Emperor's bed. Two concubines are curled up at the foot of the oversized bed, and Aishani convinces one to leave the room, but the other resists and Aishani pummels her into unconsciousness, awakening the emperor and amusing the two guards.
The party enters at this point -- the guards advise they wait a moment for the "cat fight" to conclude. The emperor blinks sleepily, unaware of his fate. Academis dazes both guards and approaches the helm. Kojax approaches the emperor and says (something like):
On behalf of people of Talathees, it is time for you to pay for Andrew's death!
Aishani plunges a knife into the shocked emperor's jugular, Fabian buries a crossbow bolt in his vitals, and then Aishani straddles him and plunges the blade into his face three more times. The emperor dies quietly, without any fuss or struggle. Academis grabs the helm and an expensive necklace and Kojax requisitions a magical broadsword from the weapons rack before the new Prime Minister enters the room and advises the party as to the best exit route.
Execution of the tactical part of the coup is complete; the Prime Minister next addresses the political part with great apparent success. The party (including Craylock and Majesto) are afforded proper foreign dignitary status once again, and Aishani herself (now Commander Aishani) offers to provide transport for the group back to Zogby.
The Helm's Promise/Hrothgar's already dead...he just doesn't know it yet.
The party went and attained council from the Mad Elders. They spoke of a way to rid the helm of evil, and that to guide them the party should find "One of brute, and one of grace," back in Talathees. Captain Aishani accompanied the crew back to Talathees on a Sri - Man 'o War ship.
Back in Talathees, the crew came upon an elf and a human on the docks. The elf, Treewalker, (and his brute henchman Darnell Armand), was looking for a man named Hrothgar. As he was asking for Hrothgar's whereabouts, he went into a daze and spoke of the Helm of Akhad, and vaguely about how its evil may be banished.
After settling administrative matters with Brad, the party forged north in pursuit of Hrothgar, who held both another piece of Akhad's armor and perhaps the key to removing the evil from the Helm of Akhad.
After more than a week at sea and a brief encounter with a sea monster (the party wisely fled), they docked in Argyle to re-supply.
Shortly after arriving, Treewalker spotted a vessel of Icelund, and while the rest of the party proceeded to acquiring supplies and finding a hot meal, he and Darnell approached... and attacked. Darnell was grievously wounded in the encounter, but Treewalker dropped the three Icelundic warriors and subsequently slit their throats and carved a "DEATH TO HROTHGAR" message on a table top within the lower deck.
The overt bloodshed summoned the flying gnome police of Argyle, who deftly took the survivors into custody.
Hours later, with the rest of the party pondering Academis' stomach-troubles in the Green Bean tavern, the accused were questioned by a mysterious cat-eyed legless mage. Treewalker claimed that his acts were not murder, but rather the opening volley of a war between elven Glimmorwood and the barbarians of Icelund. The mage was convinced, and offered the aid of Argyle once the military campaign begins in earnest. (Whether he speaks for the whole of Durkin is unknown.)
Seeking out Icelunders without their throats slit, the party ended up in front of a popular brothel, just in time to have a chat with a swaggering drunken Norseman. The party persuaded him (violently) to accompany them to the docks, whereupon they requisitioned the Icelundic vessel and sent their Talathesian vessel home and continued north.
After a brief stop in Saint Germaine to acquire Icelundic blond wigs and furs, the party pressed on to Saint Vincent, where the locals had no ill will for the Icelundic raiders, leading some to suspect collusion with the barbarians. A guide was hired, and the party continued north.
Upon docking in Icelund as their guide advised, and approaching a small village of primitive mud huts, the party was called upon to halt by the village leader and his burly guards. Niceties degenerated rapidly after one of the guards was inadvertently kicked unconscious by a party member's horse.
A brief argument ended when the village leader drew his 6' sword and threatened Treewalker's life. Darnell quickly attacked from behind with his closed fists, knocking the leader unconscious. This act provoked the guards into a berserker rage, and immediately committed them to slaughtering the party. Grievous bloodshed followed. Treewalker lost his left leg at the knee, and one of the Wolves was nearly killed. All the village guards were killed or incapacitated, and as Darnell looked up from the blood-spattered mud in which he sat, and a now-recovered Academis rode up to help, a village elder began applauding the slaughter. ...
An Elf Repaired, The Fall of the King
The village elder explains that Hrothgar, once a benevolent and wise leader, had become the 'Ice King', and the brutes with which the party tangled were a group of his enforcers who had claimed control of the village. With Darnell raging and moping in the background about Treewalker's severed leg, Kojax and Academis learn that druids in the forest may be able to help.
Across thawed and barren tundra, and then into the hills, the party journeys for half a day to the edge of a great conifer forest, peacefully blanketed by powdery white snow. Within, the 50 druids are met, including their powerful leader, Hundarwurt, and assistance to the injured is offered without obligation.
Hundarwurt and the druids completely regenerated Treewalker's severed leg, then begin the process of regrowing a left hand for Kojax.
The party also learns that this is where pregnant women are taken to give birth, and they are allowed to visit the womb-like cradle of soft fir boughs where 5 such women recline peacefully. One is recognized by Kojax from a prophetic dream he'd earlier experienced, and the party resolves to stay and await the child's birth.
During this respite, Treewalker attempts to teach Darnell the virtues of physical fitness, Darnell snarls impetuously at Kojax on several occasions, and Academis maintains magical wards to protect the child. When the babe is born (and its mother dies), Academis and Kojax place the Helm of Akhad upon its soft little head, causing both the helm and the child's eyes to become white. The child is blinded, and the evil is extinguished from the helm. The party offers to take this magical child into their care, and the druids agree.
As the party makes its way to the edge of the forest, Hrothgar and a force of 150 barbarians stand in a line outside the trees. The party (on horseback) debates their next move, and Treewalker insists that this is his chance to kill Hrothgar. He dons the ring of invisibility given to him by the mysterious mage of Argyle, approaches quietly, and begins a volley of arrows that causes the horde to rush forward roaring.
Academis summons an illusory great bear, which scatters half the horde, while Treewalker simply walks forward, out of sight. Several more arrows deal grievous injuries to Hrothgar and his bodyguards, until finally Treewalker is able to grab hold of his blond mane and hack his head from his body. Darnell races in pick up the triumphant elven warrior as the rest of the party moves back further into the forest on the druids' advice.
The druids' claim that the forest would prevent the barbarians from entering proves true, and as Darnell and Treewalker return to the rest of the party back in the forest, they witness barbarians torn limb from limb by the great trees themselves.
Trek Back to Talathees
While re-supplying the vessel in Argyle, Treewalker catches a buzz in a tavern and then visits the cat-eyed mage at the Argyle Port Authority Justice Department (?) to deliver the head of Hrothgar. The transfer of the bloody trophy becomes contentious after Treewalker calls the mage a "dog", but the encounter ends before tensions boil over.
Sailing onwards, Darnell is a pugnacious jerk, as usual.
The ship docks again some days later in Zareph, the great mining city and Darnell's home town. The party realizes they have neither the supplies to make the long journey to Talathees, nor the funds available to purchase them, and so their primary mission in Zareph is to sell unneeded equipment.
Being familiar with the city but also wanted wanted by law enforcement, Darnell dons a blond wig and directs the party to the pawn shop of Row Jimmy and his wife Beulah, and begins negotiations on behalf of Academis, who intends to part with a fine short sword. Treewalker is unamused by Jimmy's affect, tone, and words, and eventually buries a war arrow to the fletching in the shopkeeper's shoulder.
Beulah goes ballistic, Academis dazes the elf, Jimmy howls and falls to the ground, and Darnell steps between Beulah and Treewalker to prevent her fork-wielding assault. Gradually, the crisis is defused, and the transaction is completed, raising most of the funds needed to re-supply.
Darnell then leads the party to a different part of town, and his old Contact Luther Feingold, a government tax collector. There, an errand and associated payment are arranged, though Luther is perceived by all as being suspiciously slippery and nervous.
Supplies for the remaining leg of the journey are acquired, and during the loading process, a face familiar to Darnell appears on the docks -- Cliff, a henchman of the Bloody Knuckles organization, of which Darnell was once a part. Cliff explains the leadership of the Knuckles has been decimated since Darnell left 18+ months ago, and that Luther aided and abetted the slaughter. Cliff implores Darnell to re-settle in Zareph and lead the currently headless organization.
Darnell has a heart-to-heart with Treewalker and explains his torn loyalties. Treewalker, in spare yet moving terms, requests that Darnell carry on with the party rather than return to his sordid roots. While the party has a last hot and spicy meal at the Cherry Tomato, and Treewalker surveils Darnell, Darnell breaks the news to Cliff with a rough attempt at uplifting inspiration and then provides specific tactical advice on how to help the Knuckles regain their former infamy.
Days later at sea, the party is alerted to a mysterious fog approaching. They avoid it, but not long after, winged demons begin landing on the ship. One throws the Norse crows-nest lad to his death on the hard wooden deck; all are dispatched by arrows, Darnell's axe, and Academis' seemingly impenetrable magic barrier. The child, guarded by Academis' magic, is untouched below deck.
Arrival in Talathees is joyous. The town seems to be thriving, Kojax's military and public works improvements (and associated taxes) are being implemented smoothly, the crops are flourishing, and business booming. Brad and Aishani announce their engagement. Academis sends word of the babe to be known as Gideon, the newly pacified helm and the gauntlet to the Mad Elders via his familiar, Fredrick. All seems well....
From Branok's Ashes...
Shortly after arrival, Kojax meets with Brad and a newcomer named Angus. The remnants of Branok's army is active in the sparsely populated farms and ranches north of Talathees, burning homes and carrying inhabitants away to fates unknown.
Treewalker and Darnell Armand exchange terse good-byes with Kojax and begin the trek back to Glimmorwood, intending to check on the mountain-top alert system (Ur#Pursuing_Branok) along the way, leaving Talathees' leadership to formulate strategy.
Angus has specific knowledge of what appears to be the base of operations for this new malevolence, and a plan is developed to send two forces, a small tactical assault force led by Kojax and assigned to decapitate the enemy, and a larger force of infantry, cavalry, and archers to mop up the bulk of the enemy army.
Brother Saul rides into town to receive a briefing on recent goings-on, and pledges to accompany the assault force.
Two long days' ride brings the assault force to the edge of the The Fangs and the boulder-strewn canyons near the enemy base. A vantage point allows the party to examine the army: some 200 orcs, a dozen or more ogres, and one mixed-breed humanoid who appears to command them.
A few stealthy assassinations of orc lookouts are required to get the party up to the entrance of the cave, which they approach after dark.
Kojax lights a torch and rushes in to spear an ogre sentry through the eye, instantly ending him, while Wolves dispatch the second sentry with crossbow bolts. Angus moves ahead, blade bared, past a boulder that nearly blocks the tunnel. Beyond, the half-breed leader stands beside a fur-blanket strewn slab of rock, grinning, naked, wielding a massive axe. Kojax and Saul nearby, Angus moves in to engage, and a few seconds later, incapacitates the brute.
Saul then notices there's an unconscious young women under the blankets who has been horribly mistreated. Wailing with misery as to her condition and the general state of savagery in the world, Saul tends to the girl's injuries. Kojax sends the attack signal to the larger force and Angus butchers the leader's fallen body in disgust.
From the ledge outside the cave, the party (minus Saul) watches the Talathesian force overrun and destroy the enemy with textbook precision and overwhelming force.
All captives are rescued, and the Talathesians sustain no serious casualties, aside from Brad, who was stabbed, thrown from his horse, and knocked unconscious. Despite his grave injuries, with a circle of Wolves and infantry looking on, Saul gives a short inspirational talk about Brad's former glorious deeds, and then miraculously awakens him, provoking hearty cheers and back-slapping throughout the force.
The proud and glorious victors march back to their home city, this particularly threat seemingly extinguished.
A Quiet Respite
The month of September is relatively quiet for the party.
Saul uses profits from the monastery brewery and volunteer labor to build a modest amphitheater in the streets of Talathese, and a thriving culture of debate and arts is burgeoning.
Kojax watches over the rebuilding of the armed forces and beginnings of political activities associated with the formation of a civilian leadership council.
Meanwhile, Academis performs research in the Library of Leng and collaborates with the Mad Elders to reveal an alliance between the Black Ether, demon master Batzharikahn, and Katrina and her ilk. The child Gideon, capable of inoculating the evil from Akhad's armor is now their target, second only to the armor itself and those who seek it.
A Threat Renewed
Two weeks in southern seas is uneventful, and after dropping Kojax, Saul, and two Wolves at the mouth of the Shining River, the ship moves on to pursue economic interests in Zareph.
A week's travel inland through primeval old-growth forest produces an encounter with elven scout Nienna and her crew of archers, who guide the party back to Alatyth. Greetings and formalities are exchanged with Lord Camthalion, High Councilor to the Queen. When the Queen floats in, Kojax tells of the last year's events, of sieges and demons and murder and artifacts, finally arriving at the specific reason for his visit: the Breastplate of Akhad
The Queen explains that just a few weeks ago, she had a dream that the artifact would bring harm to the Elves, and hence sent it away to be hurled into the Sea of Death by her three most experienced rangers, Orophir, Seregon, and Erendir. They were headed first to Llellywn, the distant Elven enclave in the high country near Heidelberg.
Also present in Alatyth is a hulking half-orc called Khazka. After some conviviality between Khazka and Saul, the pieces are put together. The wizard Marckall Coplonra, who Khazka is hunting for his own purposes, probably possesses both the Left Boot of Akhad and the Right Boot of Akhad and is currently tracking the Breastplate of Akhad. Hence, some common destinations and goals are discovered, and the group resolves to join forces as long as it is beneficial.
The next morning, as Lord Camthalion bids farewell and provides winter gear, miruvor, and lemas bread, Selakir Strongbow asks to join the group. Having learned of the dark forces aligned to reclaim the accursed armor, he has vowed to find his brother Orophir and ensure his safe return.
The group leaves immediately and a few days later is above the treeline and navigating a glacial ice-field in a blizzard when the ice worm attacks. One Wolf is knocked down, but the party otherwise makes short work of the beast.
Several days later, Academis sends Kojax a warning message: an attack is imminent.
Sure enough, the next night in the high western reaches of the Twisted Forest, two assassin demons plunge from the heavens and wreak havoc in the camp. Khazka is thrown to the ground and nearly stomped to death while Kojax engages the other demon with a flurry of flashing blades. In the end, injuries are minimal, and the huge flaming demons are dispatched, and the fact that the party is the target of the demons' wrath is confirmed.
Across the Twisted Forest
Under a steel-gray November sky in gusty snowflake-peppered winds, the party forges east across the Twisted Forest. A day later, a firepit is discovered, with signs of a giant and a booted man. The party begins tracking, and the next day overlooks a decimated goblin village in a remote valley. Coyotes and large dogs are in a stand-off over the scores of corpses, and Kojax spurs his horse straight down the loose 50-degree slope, through the stream bed, and directly into the midst of the gathering. The 15 coyotes scatter like roaches, and the 6 huge dogs perk up curiously in response.
Through Selakir's interpretive skills, the party learns from the sole survivor Grrsh, son of chief Mrrgn, that the wizard and his giant were here two weeks previously demanding footsoldiers for his global domination campaign. Mrrgn refused, and the giant ripped his head off, causing a fight to break out and the giant to smash and break many goblins, using only one of his four weapons, a wooden club. The wizard stood still and observed; no warriors dared or were capable of attacking him.
The party forges on and soon learns that young Grrsh and his huge silvery-haired dog Krth is following. After some debate, the goblin is allowed to join the camp.
A day later, the party is ambushed by a troop of a dozen bloodthirsty bugbears. Their volley of spears disable Saul and Grrsh, but Khazka and Kojax have decapitated most of them seconds later. The leader dissolves into greay smoking slime upon falling, indicating demonic involvement in the attack. Khazka acquires a bronze bracer with magical shielding properties from the fallen demon (after nearly being disassembled himself). Media:Bugbear-ambush.gif
Several more days of trudging through cold drizzle finally brings the party to the edge of warmer climes; Sempredium Jungle, wherein machete-work is required, and the party dines on sloth, peccary, and spots an occasional jaguar. Krth entertains himself by hunting giant 2' dragonflies.
Several days of jungle travel bring the party to the edge of a vast lake, and Selakir advises a southern route around it. Fires are spotted on the far side of the lake, across the 3-mile breadth of a vast logjam. Early the next morning in the cool jungle mists, Kojax and Selakir scamper across the dangerous logjam; some logs are dry, some wet, some slime-covered, some waterlogged, some buoyant, some stationary, some spin easily. With considerable difficulty and hazard, they make it across in 3 hours and emerge in knee-deep water in 6' high grasses near the shore.
The rest of the group take the horses further south to find a safe crossing. Despite 16' crocodiles lounging lethargically nearby, the group crosses the 150' wide, 4' deep river without event, though the horses are caused some consternation.
Pushing through the high grasses, Kojax and Selakir emerge in a clearing beneath a mango tree and encounter a woman, Kia, and her husband Kuo, picking mangoes. They are friendly, seemingly excited to meet with outsiders, and lead the two adventures back to the village, which the natives call the Kingdom of Kundi. The rest of the party catch up shortly thereafter. All are offered coconut milk, a warm bath (which Selakir accepts), and flowery leis.
At a feast that night, Matriarch Mahuru confirms that the elven rangers passed through en route to Llellywn over a month ago. The wizard and his giant and 10 goblin warriors visited about 10 days ago; they were rude and obnoxious, and demanded porters and guides to scale Landdrop. Naturally the peaceful people of Kundi supplied whatever assistance they were able.
The night proceeds thusly (from campaign notes):
The party will be offered garlands of flowers and peach liqueur and apple cider and smoked fish and tangerines and raspberries and asked to tell stories of their homeland; the people are curious about outsiders since years pass between visits. With alcohol and bonfires and torches on poles by the lake, there is music, drumming, dancing, and the exotically-scented women will offer themselves to the mysterious warriors in thatched feathery huts.
Trolls and Elves of Heidelberg Forest
The people of Sempredium Jungle provide two guides and a dozen porters to help the party and their horses up the 6,000' cliff called Landdrop, a trek that lasts from dawn to dusk and results in modest injuries to all the horses, despite Selakir's soothing placations. A massive winged beast, ostensibly the sky god worshiped by the natives, passes over once but does not molest the climbers. By sunset, the party is atop the huge cliff gazing out across a sea of clouds at a majestic sunset.
Before dark, Selakir discovers the mutilated corpse of a native guide, and it is determined the poor lad probably had his neck broken and was subsequently dined upon by wolves. The remains are taken by the guides back down to his jungkle origins the folowign morning.
Heidelberg Forest makes for pleasant riding after the strenuous climb the day before; massive old growth conifers, firs and spruces draped with hanging mosses with soft duff below.
That night, the trolls attack. Saul and Selakir are gravely wounded and the outcome is not entirely clear for the warriors of the group when Whitebuck Verenidir arrives with his scouting group and two grizzly bears. The bears set upon the remaining trolls, sending them scattering into the darkness. The writhing and quivering troll bodies left behind are piled onto the fire and burned.
After some terse pleasantries, Whitebuck confirms that Marckall Coplonra and his giant visited the elves of Llellywn for several days, but eventually the elders decided he was evil, and ordered him killed. A traitor, Vinneroth Swiftfoot, informed the wizard of the plan, and violence ensued which allowed the evildoers to escape.
The next day, Whitebuck and his scouts lead the party to the One Tree, Llellywn.
Initial greetings in Elvish between Selakir and Dosoroth almost turn awkward as Kojax wonders aloud whether it is customary to ignore visitors so. Dosoroth smooths things out and invites the party in for an Elven feast. Baths are provided while the feast is prepared, and Khazka enjoys the ministrations of Lena Swiftfoot throughout. Selakir and Saul are tended to by healers and are on their feet shortly thereafter, a circumstance which Saul celebrates with great quantities of mead, storytelling, singing, and dancing.
Meanwhile, Khazka quizzes Lena, Selakir consults Dosoroth, and Kojax avoids all frivolity, choosing to brood upon next steps in the quiet forest, only returning near the end of the night to gather tactical information from Dosoroth.
Before dawn, Kojax wanders out into the frosty ricegrass with his steed Nightmane, who he introduces, in a fashion, to Jeardra. The meeting is fleeting but positive.
As the party is packing up to follow Marckall's trail east, Dosoroth offers useful gifts to the group: magical "goodberries" to Kojax, an herbal spell concoction to Selakir, and a giant-slaying corkscrew spear to Khazka. Additionally, Lena announces that she 's consulted her mother and Dosoroth and intends to join the party for one overt and one private purpose. The former is to retrieve her brother Vinneroth to face justice, and the latter is to see more of the world beyond Llellywn. Some efforts are made to dissuade her, but once it established that she is a competent cook, she is allowed to join Khazka in the saddle.
The party says their farewells to the kindly elves and heads east into the dark forest. A few minutes later, Kojax receives a telepathic message from Academis:
A few days ago, a warlock wearing the Boots of Ahkad enjoyed the audience of the entire Noble Council of Heidelberg. Emerald Emir ally Lady Katerina Kaiser was there, and has additional information.
Mead, Taxes, Nobles, and Snowfall
Two days later, on approach to Heidelberg, the party comes upon a wooden hut and sawmill alongside a river. As snowflakes drift down through the massive trees, Kojax approaches and hails the inhabitants. They turn out to be Bazerl and Nurzak Thest, dwarven brothers who run the mill, which is mostly shut down for the winter, leaving them to consume mass quantities of mead.
The party covers some business first, learning that Marckall and his cohorts, which now also includes several trolls, passed by 5 days previously. They inquired of the defenses and leadership of Heidelberg and then left promptly. As tactical talk turns to merriment, with Saul and Lena leading songs, the dwarves warn that Heidelberg is a pompous and wearisome human settlement.
Pressing onwards to the gates of Heidelberg before dusk, the party traverses a stump-dotted snowfield, Krth chases off some mangy scavenger wolves, and, after a painfully long wait for any response, the party is interviewed as to their race, religion, possessions, and much more. Upon paying the exorbitant entry taxes, tithes, fees, and duties, they make their way into the crowded and cacophonous streets of muddy Heidelberg.
Khazka accosts one purple-turbaned noble being carried in a float by four manservants and attempts to extract information about the Kaiser household; Lena smooths out the interaction and obtains the information just before the encounter devolves into violence.
At the door of the white-painted Kaiser residence, a lone guard stands stoically, snow encrusting his black beard. This is Jarod Goldschmidt, and he admits the party upon obtaining permission from his boss, the Lady Katerina Kaiser. Within, the house is luxuriously bedecked with hunting trophies and crystal chandeliers and portraits of outlandish dignitaries. Over cocktails, Lady Kaiser tells of Marckall's recent visit.
Marckall magically appeared in the center of the high council chambers, causing some nobles to collapse from shock. She immediately recognized that he possessed parts of Akhad's armor. He then made his case for the rising eminence of Heidelberg, and the steps necessary to evolve from a secluded island of civilization to a powerful regional economic force. The first step, the argument went, was to control the Spice Road, the single passable East-West overland trade route. The nobles were convinced and sent a platoon of 30 mounted fighting men led by Colonel Leopold Redmond with Marckall to build a permanent outpost to collect funds from passing caravans.
After Saul, Lena, and Selakir engage in polite pleasantries a while, a feast is served, which is also attended by Katerina's daughter Caroline. At dinner, Caroline makes her case(s) for joining the party, but is rebuffed by all.
Both Khazka and Kojax consult Jarod, who has supposedly trained the scrawny young Kaiser girl in the ways of war, and he confirms that she's not bad with a sword and bow, and is an excellent rider, but in the end is skinny and weak.
After resupplying, and despite Lena and Saul's suggestion that a warm bed indoors sure would be nice, the party presses on after midnight, only to discover that Jarod and Caroline are at the forest's edge awaiting them. Jarod had consulted Katerina and both had concluded that keeping Caroline caged up awaiting marriage was problematic to the point of impossibility. Though politically difficult for the Kaiser family, Lady Katerina decided to allow her daughter to go, accompanied by Jarod. And hence the party grew by two.
During the next 10 days of travel through the snow-blanketed Heidelberg Forest, Caroline receives some rough combat training from Kojax and Khazka, causing Saul and Lena some concern, but with Jarod's tacit approval. Caroline is impetuous but weak at first, gradually improving her resilience as training progresses.
Then, one night, a warning from Academis wakes Kojax up, and a triangle of fiery comets above is quickly spied...
Demons and Tigers and Lions
In that dark and quiet night amid the snow-blanketed pines of Heidelberg Forest, three assassin demons, 12 gibbering mouthers, and the demon-mage Baralaia plummeted into the camp with murder in mind. When all was said and done, Selakir and Benedict were slain, and nearly all others were unconscious, near death. Until after dawn, Kojax brooded upon the blood-striped snow, surrounded by the dead and injured, his own sword arm hanging uselessly, pierced through by the demon's blade.
After some sleep and healing, Kojax and Khazka interrogate the captured mage, and learn that:
- Baralaia is a student of Batzharikahn, sent to ensure the assassins' victory
- The elves carrying the Breastplate of Akhad have fallen, and the artifact is now possessed by another
- The possessor of the Gauntlets of Akhad is to the north, en route to cross paths with Marckall
- The dark alliance of the Black Ether and Batzharikahn and demonkind cares only that the armor will be brought together, for then, a new age of war and pestilence and chaos and slaying shall begin, and the air will be thick with blood and flames, aggrandizing the glory of the Masters, and the strong shall dominate and the weak shall be subjugated as animals...
Trekking onwards a week brings the party into drier, hilly lands. The snow-covered Ozgarns are now visible to the north, and the party encounters a massive tiger in a copse of trees.
Cresting a rocky hill a few days later, the party comes upon the Spice Road, and a scene of slaughter and destruction. Six wagons have been raided, and dozens of bodies are strewn about, bandits, and bodyguards, and slaves, and nobles. Holed up in one of the wagons, huddled beneath stacks of fine silks is the grievously injured, drunk and dehydrated Xerxes Karzai, who reports that heavy cavalry forces attacked while his bandits were raiding the caravan. After being lanced and speared and pierced by a crossbow bolt, he fell, waking up hours or possibly days later, freezing, to drag himself into a wagon for shelter. There he found the cask of orange liqueur to keep him warm.
Remembering Xerxes' name as being the possible slayer of Caroline's father, Khazka and Kojax introduce the bandit leader by his nickname, "Lion" (of the Desert). His forces decimated, a partially-healed Xerxes collects his glaive from the battlefield and offers to guide the party through his claimed territory in pursuit of the wizard.
After collecting some exotic spices and a mysterious rune-covered giant egg from the other wagons, the party crosses the road and continues the trek up a valley to the north, tracking their quarry. Xerxes notes a shortcut to the northeast, but warns it is a valley watched over by a great firedrake.
Valley of the Fire Drake
Further up the trail, a bandit called G'nar steps out from behind a boulder and claims kinship with Xerxes Karzai. The situation grows tense as Khazka hefts a spear, Jarod recognizes the name Xerxes as he who supposedly killed Rudolph Kaiser, and the bandit is impulsively disrespectful. Xerxes confirms G'nar as kin, Saul deflates the rising move to slay both bandits by the Kaiser-clan, and G'nar joins the group as a guide.
Late that afternoon, the trail of Marckall's group diverges; Six mounted men rode up the steep slope to the ridge overlooking Dragon Valley. The party follows, and spies some sort of rock formation out in the midst of the broad dusty valley. Descending, they come upon a bowl-shaped depression in the rocky slope containing the charred remains of six horses and six armored men.
They also find booted tracks leaving the scene, and follow them out into the moonscape of the valley. A couple miles out, they come to the rocks; it is a grave, containing the head and torso of a slain elf, probably dead a month. The conclusion is that this is one of the elven rangers sent by Queen Wendella.
Then, after Krth begins whimpering and growling, and the horses begin to seem nervous, the drake is spotted. It alights, and makes for the party. The staunchest warriors convene on a large boulder nearby, while the rest of the group gallops back for cover along the slope.
The beast sails over once, assessing its quarry, and Kojax pierces its eye with a crossbow bolt at 60 yards. It lets forth an unearthly screech of rage and circles back to engage the warriors. Somehow, no one is slain by the great beast, but Xerxes, G'nar, and Jarod succumb to their injuries and lose consciousness. Khazka and Kojax engage opposite ends of the dragon and eventually tear it wide open. Caroline participates as well, wetting her blade with dragonblood.
The battle: Media:Dragon-combat.gif
The party harvests dragon scales, teeth, and horns, and then seeks the beast's lair, where they find a small treasure trove of previous adventurers' magic items.
The party treks on, intermittently following signs of the elven rangers, until two humanoids are spotted at a distance. They are Namosis and Alga, yellow-tusked half-orcs from a village a week's trudge to the south, carrying toddler grandson Pidgin, who is covered in oozing sores. They are on the way to the temple of the priests of Nekhebet who convene at the end of each year.
Ragged pilgrims have set up camp on the windy mountain top, and the party observes the vulture-headed (though armless) statue next to the small, square sandstone temple. High priest Hamadi greets the party with a smattering of proverbs which seem of little use or pertinence.
The priest gazes into Kojax's eyes and refers to him as a 'swordmaster', and then brings a goat forth to be slain, bidding Kojax to do the honors. Kojax removes the witless beast's head with a power blow that leaves it standing, pumping steaming blood out in twin bursts. The priest upends the creature and asks that Kojax proceed to eviscerate it. As the pilgrims gather round, Hamadi grabs the steaming entrails and hurls them out onto the rocky ground, studying their formation.
With a handful of greasy gut raised to the sky, he provides some details of the vision that fills his mind:
As the prophecy states, a dark slayer will come from afar...a fabled castle to the north, inhabited by warriors of another world, is marched upon by 2 armies.. and the slayer will not prevail without Makmud's help, Makmud the Slayer, Makmud the Conqueror, Makmud the god-king.
After a meal of goat meat and fermented camel's milk and a rousing song by Saul and Lena, the party rests briefly before heading out at dawn towards Sphinx Mountain, the location of Makmud's Tomb. G'nar knows the way, and leads the party for a week to the unholy mountain.
Kojax, Khazka, Xerxes, Caroline, and Jarod hunt for the entrance to the tomb, and within a couple hours, Caroline discovers it barely concealed behind a twisted juniper tree. They light a torch and enter the narrow passageway, eventually arriving at a door which Khazka violently smashes open.
Makmud arises, and the party moves in to engage him as giant scorpions drop from vents in the ceiling. Both Kojax and Khazka are crippled by the god-king early on, and Caroline is dealt sword-wounds to her slender torso that nearly slay her. In the end, the foes are too much, and all are felled by Makmud or his paralyzing scorpions. There they lay, in the dark, as the remaining scorpion slowly and methodically disassembles and devours the paralyzed Xerxes.
The battle: Media:Makmud-tomb-combat.gif
Hours later, a search party comprised of Saul and Gabriel arrive, dispatch the remaining foes and help the survivors to escape with Makmud's heavy corselet, crown, and sword, as well as Xerxes' luckstone. The remains of Xerxes himself are left sitting in the throne of the dispatched god-king, magical glaive at his side.
The demoralized yet unwavering party treks onwards, and it is several days before Caroline awakes from her coma.
That night, while sitting around the sputtering campfire gnawing on the last of the rabbits collected by Gabriel in the vicinity of Makmud's Tomb, a disturbance in the rocks above sends Kojax and Khazka scampering up the slope. From the ridge, they look down upon the cooking fires of an army of a thousand men.
The army is that of Kublai Khan, a warlord of the Zitijan Steppe. He arrives at the party's camp with a contingent of 25 mounted archers who quickly surround the group. Kublai ascertains that the party bodes no harm to his forces, and invites them in to his war camp for conversation.
Kublai Khan claims to be a descendant of Hashir, the emperor who lorded over the vast interior basin now known as the Endless Waste prior to the Cataclysm. He marches on the Keep of Hashir to purge it of an other-worldly army. He believes the Waste will eventually succumb to what he calls the Greening, and that the Keep is his to inhabit as heir to Hashir.
With a shared destination and not-incongruous goals, the party resolves to travel with Kublai Khan's army, and the cold clear night progresses with merriment. Saul and Lena provide entertainment while Khazka wrestles the nomadic warriors and spurns the advances of the camp's concubines.
At dawn, the army heads out onto the barren flats of the Endless Waste laden with foraged food and water from the hills. A few days later, the army's falconer reports that a second army, that of Kublai's distant cousin Rakka Khan, has arrived at the keep and surrounds but does not lay siege to it. In fact, food and water are being brought out of the keep to supply them.
One night, Academis mind-sends to Kojax a warning that the boots, breastplate, and now gauntlets of Akhad are in immediate proximity to one another, and that if one individual wears the entire ensemble, he or she would be imbued with the spirit and powers of Akhad himself, and would proceed to raise an unstoppable unholy army of destruction.
Upon arriving near the Keep, Kublai attempts to negotiate with his distant cousin, to no avail. The battle begins, and rages for three days, during which both sides suffer significant losses. Kojax and Khazka and Jarod each lead a regiment of Kublai Khan's forces, and each is showered with glory. During the course of the battles, Saul's right arm is grievously wounded and Caroline, despite heroic fighting the previous day, is speared through and thrown from her horse.
On the night of the 3rd day of fighting, the party sits with Kublai Khan and discusses the painful losses, diminishing supplies, and prospects for victory. There is little merriment that night.
A Keep Expunged
Another day of battle commences. Both sides sustain yet more painful losses, though the day goes in favor of Kublai Khan and the party, with scores of defenders slain.
The next morning, with his wounded army within the keep, Rakka Khan rides out with four warriors to parlay. He proposes a contest of champions, which Kublai says will be considered. Back in the war camp, Khazka spreads the idea that the enemy forces are largely cousins and brothers, and should be subsumed by Kublai's group. Kojax makes the case to Saul that assassinating/disabling Rakka at the next meeting is the best path towards resolution of the conflict, despite its apparent dishonor.
Saul is convinced, and takes the pitch to Kublai, who objects at first but finally sees the light as Saul expresses it. At the next meeting on the snow-covered battlefield, Kojax buries a crossbow bolt in Rakka's face, and the bodyguards are quickly disabled or surrender. The rest of Rakka's forces slowly stream out, in some disarray, clearly conflicted. Hundreds switch sides.
Kublai sees this as the chance to finish the battle and take the keep. The attack is launched, with Marckall Coplonra's forces and the githzerai aiding the defense. However, Kublai's forces (with the party's help) are too much, and the keep is overrun by late afternoon.
Jarod, Khazka, and Kojax find themselves in an interior courtyard overseen by Marckall, the giant Krung, and Vinneroth Swiftfoot. Khazka charges up the stairs and hurls the spear given to him by the elves of Llellwyn into the giant's heart, nearly killing him outright. Jarod mops up defenders in the courtyard before following Khazka's lead, while Kojax dismembers githzerai attackers.
Meanwhile, Marckall floats into the air and begins hurling fireballs as Khazka and Jarod successfully bring down the giant. Jarod then hacks Vinneroth in the back, felling him. Marckall drops his wand of explosive fireballs, and makes a grave miscalculation in attempting to retrieve it. Kojax decapitates the mage in a single blow.
After removing the wizard's Boots, the group tracks down the githzerai portal-room, where the last of the otherworldly warriors seems to be escaping. The party fells the leader and one other, thus saving the Breastplate, and acquiring two silver swords in the process.
The Journey Home
In the aftermath of the siege, the elven rangers Orophir and Seregon are rescued and some provisions discovered. Lena is emotionally shattered by her brother's capture, for she knows what must be done. She prepares an elaborate elven ceremony, and Khazka participates in the poisoning and burial at sea.
Riders approach the war camp, and prove to be Craylock, Majesto, and Rudolph Kaiser. Recently purged of magic-induced amnesia, Rudolph suffers PTSD and can scarcely speak when reunited with his now grown-up daughter Caroline.
Kublai Khan is very concerned about the amount of supplies available and the distance to be traversed, and so preparations begin for immediate departure. After a day of battle, it is assumed marching through the night will not be greeted with cheers, and so Saul gives a rousing speech to invigorate and inspire the men and women of the now-combined forces.
Colonel Leopold Redmond of Heidelberg is sent with his five remaining soldiers with Rudolph and Caroline back towards their forest city. Lena, destined for nearby Llellywn, accompanies them. Jarod and Khazka impress upon the colonel the importance of protecting the two young women.
Kojax, Khazka, Jarod, Saul, Craylock, and Majesto ride forth after getting some guidance from Kublai Khan, and just over a week later reach the Forgotten Hills, where clean water and decent forage are available.
Two githzerai approach the party's camp in the wee hours of the morning, and request their swords be returned. The party begrudgingly complies. Soon thereafter, the assassin demons cometh, and the rocks are soon covered in man-blood and demon slime. Kojax loses his sword arm, and Majesto loses both feet, but in the end, the foes are defeated.
Upon reaching the jungle of the northern Nesratu Basin, a riverboat is hired to deliver the group all the way to Sri, where they are greeted as respected heads of state, and draped with tiger-skin robes. Prime Minister Yafeu Wamukoto greets them politely but is in a rush to preside over the wedding of Commander Aishani and Brad, which the party rushes down to the docks to attend. Aishani is gorgeous in her form-fitting armor, and Brad looks proud and distinguished throughout the ceremony.
After a few polite words, the party boards a man-o-war outfitted with two dozen archers for the trip to Zogby. On approach, Fredrick sails overhead, and Academis is there to meet the group on the docks, whereupon they are rushed to the compound of the Mad Elders.
A solemn ceremony commences, with the Elders placing each piece of Akhad's armor on the delicate body of Gideon, peacefully cooing in his cradle. As each piece is attached, it fades from black-red to dull gray, and the corresponding limb falls limp. As the breastplate covers the tiny child's body, his breathing stops and skin tone fades to a dead white.
Kojax and Saul find their home city welcoming and thriving in every way, and a period of peace and prosperity seems to be commencing.