Codex VI-Chapter 8

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Orensland tailed the Glittersail Brothers for a few days, learning their patterns of movement. He mostly saw the “drunk” brother and the one with the pet weasel, but he did see the third brother once head out with one of the vampires from the House of Lancel. They went to a high-class gambling establishment where the brother played pan pipes and a guitar-sort of thing. He was, apparently, a bard, and a fairly good one (though not at all even approaching the skill level of the Ravenstones).

Eventually, he felt that he could approach them, but decided it would be best to do it with just one, so as not to be outnumbered. One day the “drunk” one, Greygook, left the compound by himself, and Orensland followed. Khaska had lent him the Hat of Disguise, and Orensland used it to alter his appearance in various ways. He appeared as a half-elf, but his hair was a different color and his face was altered in subtle ways, including a few days growth of beard on his chin. He glanced at his face in a window as he trailed Greygook and the disguise seemed pretty good to him.

Eventually Greygook found his way into an apothecary shop, one he had visited before. Orensland suspected this gnome was a connoiseur of various pipe weeds. The store was empty except for the half-orc proprietor, who seemed lost in a haze of his own smoke. He watched Greygook, but not closely. This seemed an opportune time.

Orensland came in, nodded to the half-orc, and then wound his way over to Greygook.

“So, friend, what’s good here?” he asked.

The gnome looked at him, a bit surprised. “I’ve tried several different of their mixes, but I enjoy the soothing river blend myself. Takes the edge off, but still keeps you sharp. I think you’ll find it over in the first aisle.”

“Well, I thank you kindly. I must find some way to repay you.”

The gnome smiled. “Try it out, and if you like it, why don’t you buy my stash this round?”

“Depends entirely on how much ‘stash’ you want?”

Greygook laughed. “Just for a few days. No more than a few silver pieces. It’s better fresh, I think.”

“Indeed. And I can afford even some more expensive items here. The House of Maramos pays me well, as I imagine the House of Lancel does for you.” There it was, out in the open. Greygook’s smile vanished and his face became near unreadable. Orensland continued. “I hope you don’t mind I took the liberty of following you around for a few days after our meeting was supposed to occur, but I think we might be able to come to an arrangement. Perhaps we could go somewhere and discuss it over a glass of wine or something?”

Greygook glanced him over. “I think that might be a good idea, but I don’t drink during the day. Have you tried pipe smoking?”

“I have not.”

“Then let me buy you some of the soothing river blend and you pick out a pipe and I’ll introduce you to the glories of good pipe hash.”

“Fair enough.”

They found a relatively isolated stoop a few blocks away where they could talk more privately, and began their negotiations. Orensland made it clear that money was not the object, and they discussed different ways that the gnomish brothers may be able to offer other kinds of incentives. Enchancing the prowess of the various party members was one possibility. The gnomes, he was able to coax out of Greygook (even though he already knew this information), studied magic artifacts and ruins. He mentioned that one of their party, an elf wizard, had similar interests. This was after a few coughing fits as he tried the pipe smoke.

“I’m not sure if we can come to a mutually beneficial arrangement if money and magic items aren’t the kinds of things you’re interested in. We have little else to offer you and your friends, except for the elf, of course, with whom my brother could perhaps share some notes. I would have to ask him first, of course, and I don’t know that it could be a perfect exchange. Greydale would not want to give away all his research.”

Orensland knew that Sanjin was uncovering hints that there were more of these archways, and that his suspicions were confirmed they were somehow linked to each other, gateways for ease of travel over vast distances. But they had to be ancient. More ancient than even any of the oldest texts in the Maramos library, or even a few he had borrowed from other covens.

“I understand,” Orensland replied. “The House of Maramos has been more than generous with us. They are a hard act to follow.”

Greygook pursed his lips for a bit, then Orensland saw his face harden. He had made a decision.

“You may not want to stick around with them too much longer,” he said. Then he turned and looked Orensland right in the eye. “If you aren’t interested in money or items, perhaps information will be of use to you.” He took a deep breath from his pipe and exhaled slowly, the smoke curling around his face. “I guarantee that it will,” and then he shrugged and hopped down. “But perhaps you should check with your compatriots before you agree to anything. I’ve given you a small taste, in good faith, of how we might be of use to you. I hope that good faith will be returned.” He tipped his hat. “I need to go check with my brother on exchanging information with your wizard friend. I assume you know how to find me, but I don’t know that I’d wait too long to talk to my friends. Good day! ” With that, he wandered off.

Orensland stayed on the stoop for a while, lost in thought, but then he got up and made his way back to the lands of the Maramos Coven.

But it was on his way that he saw a crowd gathering in one of the squares, hearing some murmuring and chatter, and made his way over.

The crowd was standing around a cross, upon which was … the man Orensland had stolen from. The shadowdancer was nearly sick. It took him a moment to compose himself and take a closer look. He realized the man was already dead, so at least that mercy had already been extended. It seemed like he had been drained of blood first—there were deep puncture marks on his neck and dried blood ran all the way down his naked body.

He asked what was going on to one of the passers-by, someone who looked like a local. “Excuse me, I’m a traveler here in your town and was wondering if you knew what happened to this man? Why was he …” he almost choked on the word “crucified,” but finished his sentence, “killed.”

“Word is he lost some money for his masters. So they drained him dry and put him up here as a warning.”

“So, he didn’t die up there?”

The man snorted. “You think the Chosen are going to let good blood go to waste?”

Eryx (DM)
Orensland has discovered the horrifying results of his stealing. The man was killed for his incompetence. If you’d like to learn more, I’ll need a Gather Info check from you. (And anybody else who might want to ask around about this or anything else that’s come up.)

By now it’s been long enough that you can assume you all have your new weapons and armor.

Sanjin thinks that the black archways are gateways of some kind. Possibly connected? Or able to connect? His research is uncovering the barest hints of an ancient network of these things, but only in the most ancient history books, and even then the information is incredibly sparse.

It doesn’t seem that the Glittersail brothers have much in the way of incentives for you. They will share some of their research with Sanjin, but as far as the rest of you don’t really have much to offer that you don’t already have access to by way of the House of Maramos. Greygook has said he has information that may be of use, and hinted that it is related to the House of Maramos and why they might not be good allies for the party.

Everything else continues apace as per the last gray box. Teaching Feral, etc.

How would you all like to proceed?

Edit: Also, Thevarou has met a friend who expressed an interest in joining our campaign. We've had some players come and go before, but I wanted to get the lay of the land from you all. It is our game, after all, not my game. Would you all be interested in/okay with adding another player?

DeltaWolf
I would be happy to have more players join us.

Crosis
As would I. More players are always more fun. :)

Well, that stinks. Orensland would stop lifting purses after that little spectacle. While not overcome with horrible guilt (he doesn't know the man/is in a shady business), he would hate for a possibly innocent bystander to get killed because he was bored. In that way, Orensland would probably not try to gather information on the man ––– the more he knows about the man, the more guilt he would likely feel.

Orensland is all about getting more information about what the gnome means about not associating with the Maramos clan. Obviously this is something the party will have to discuss, and Orensland will not try to make the decision in their behalf. It would also depend on what information the gnomes are looking for, so Orensland would want to ask the brother(s) that.

Thev
Khaska knows that a transportation network across the moon would be a fantastic asset for whoever controls it— and thus would make any enemies particularly formidable. He's gotten the information he'd like most about Urziana, so he would like to see if other vampire libraries would have information on these artifacts and their builders (or other artifacts, for that matter). After all, we needn't depend only on the Glittersail Brothers for our information, now that we have an idea of what they're looking for. Perhaps Khaska could even see if he could access the House Lancel's library again, going for some of the Glittersail Brothers' possible sources (though he'd be hesitant to return there, and only would if the others deemed it a good idea).

Other than that, Khaska thinks concurs that it would be good to get some more information from the Glittersail Brothers about the Maramos clan. While we can withhold such information from House Maramos if needed (at least temporarily), it would be good to have it for our own protection.

OOC Addendum:
Needless to say, I think my friend would be a good addition. I met him in a writing group, and he's very good at creating characters and their stories. :)

BlackWolf
I'm fine with adding more players. Given my lackadaisical posting, I worry whether I even count as a player sometimes. :/

As for what we do with the Glittersail gnomes Rynn will continue to defer to Orensland's expertise in information and deception as well as Khaska's morals. Here in a city full of vampires the ranger is definitely out of his element. Unlike in the wild, nothing seems clear here. In fact, he feels a bit trapped by indecision and almost wants something to just happen that will force him to action.

His companions (and probably our hosts, honestly) would easily pick up on his discomfort. He's like a trapped animal. When asked, he'd say he's fine, but clearly he isn't. He doesn't know what they should be doing and his moral compass feels askew.

Orensland was horrified. He muttered something to the man, “Of course not,” before turning to leave.

He managed to make it a stoop several blocks away before vomiting. As he wiped his mouth off, he vowed that he wouldn’t steal anything else while in Darkcrest. Nobody else needed to die because he was bored!


Orensland went back and told the others in the party about the initial contact with Greygook. Together, the group decided that would be worthwhile to try and obtain more information from these gnomes. Khaska did caution the shadowdancer, though.

“Do not reveal everything that we know of the Maramos coven at once.”

Orensland held a hand up. “I know how to work a situation like this.” He pointed at himself. “Reformed criminal, remember?” Then he gave one of his jaunty smiles.

“Fair enough,” said Khaska. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I was going to go back to my quarters to visit some more with Feral before I went on another trip to yet another house that may be of use in our research.”

“The Dagmeisters, right?” asked Sanjin.

“Indeed. Lady Isabelle thought they might have the best library on ancient and arcane items.”

“She said the same to me. Might I accompany you?”

“I was assured that any guests of the House of Maramos would be welcome,” the cleric replied.

“Just make sure to be careful,” Rynn said. “We don’t know if there are other houses that claim to be allies of our benefactors, but are secretly allied against them.”


Khaska entered into his private chambers to find Feral sitting at one of the couches. She was staring off into space, and didn’t even notice him coming in.

“Feral?” he asked, softly.

She blinked and glanced over, seeing him for the first time. “Khaska. It is good to see you.”

“I am sorry my studies take me from you so much. Have you been reading like I asked you to?”

“I have, though not as much as you might want.” This seemed an odd confession. Feral had been absorbing the knowledge Khaska gave her like water in dry soil.

“What preoccupies your mind?”

She turned and looked at him. “Are there any legends of beings like us, but with one horn? Like a … a horse with a single antler?”

“I believe such a being would be called a unicorn.”

“Tell me of them.”


Rynn was eating at the table with Sanjin, whose face was buried in a book. They were waited on by one of Greymantle’s servants, a young man today. The ranger was bored, unable to do anything he really wanted to. It was interesting to see Master Erilidar at work, and Orensland had even invited the ranger to watch some of his sparring matches with Captain Gendry and others, but there was little else for the ranger to do. He felt out of his element and mostly deferred to Khaska’s wisdom and Orensland’s experience here. He almost wanted some event to occur, good or ill, that would force him to have to act, instead of sitting around being waited on hand and foot all the time.

Another servant came in, walking up hurriedly to him and bowing.

“Master Rynn,” she said. “Lord Maramos has requested an audience with you. Would you please come with me?” She glanced at Sanjin. “Master Sanjin would be welcome also. I was told to bring whomever was around.”

“Unfortunately,” Rynn said, “our friends are out and about the city right now.” He glanced at the serving man, who patiently waited at the end of the table, white towel draped over his hand. “I suppose,” he said.

Sanjin had already put the book down and was preparing to go—never one to miss a chance to observe vampire lords up close.

The young lady escorted them to the mansion and brought them upstairs, somewhere neither had been before—the actual quarters of the various vampires. She brought them to a large oak door and knocked softly.

“Enter,” came Lady Maramos’ voice. The young servant opened the door and entered, keeping her head down (as all the servants seemed to do upon coming into the presence of Lord and Lady Maramos).

“Master Rynn and Master Sanjin, as requested, my lord and lady.”

Lady Maramos was sitting on a couch, intently focused on a piece of crystal hoving in the air in front of her. She didn’t even acknowledge them, her eyes unblinkingly staring at the clear piece of crystal before her.

Lord Maramos was sitting atop a desk, pulling a huge longbow together and stringing it. He walked over to Rynn and held it out.

“What do you think of this bow, Rynn?”

The ranger was a bit surprised and shifted his own weapon aside for a moment to reach out and grab it. The bow was heavy, and larger than any he had seen for a normal-sized creature. It seemed clearly crafted for one, however—it was not a giantkin bow or anything like that. The wood it was made of was white, a bleached kind that Rynn had never seen before.

“It looks like a fine bow, my lord. It would take someone stronger than me to wield it, I fear.”

Lord Maramos smiled. “It is my personal bow, Bonestrike, crafted from a tree of the Putari forest.” He took it back from Rynn. “I use it to hunt sometimes, and wanted to ask you if you would join me on an expedition to hunt rocs in the Abghat peaks.”

“How long would you be gone?” Lady Maramos piped up. The jewel before her dropped and she caught it in her hand.

“No more than a few days,” he said. “I wanted to get one last hunt in before our guests arrived. We have plenty of time, and all the preparations have been made. Besides,” he looked at Rynn, “I can tell wanderlust when I see it. Rynn suffers from the same malady I do … he hates cities.”

“Too bad you are the lord of the most powerful vampire house of Darkcrest,” Lady Maramos said. Her face was serious, but there was a lightness in her voice. Rynn noticed the side of her lips twich upward in ever so small a smile.

“Anybody else who would like to come is invited,” Lord Maramos said. “But if I am correct, the others aren’t as bored in the city as you are. Master Greymantle noted your discomfort. He says you frequently sit on the wall of our compound, wishing to be left alone. Since I share that same discomfort to some degree, I thought a hunting trip might be worthwhile for both of us.”

Sanjin spoke up. “Would you be bringing a roc back?”

“Some of the meat, yes,” Lord Maramos said. “I have never quite relinquished my habits from my mortal days, and killing my own food brings a satisfaction that the best cooks in the world cannot match.

“What do you say, Rynn?”


Greygook found Orensland at the agreed upon place.

“Have you given any thought to our proposals?” the gnome asked.

“My friends and I believe an exchange of information could be mutually beneficial,” Orensland said.

“We had hoped that would be the case,” Greygook said. He produced a piece of paper with writing on both sides. “Our first offering of information. Years ago we discovered an ancient ruin at the mouth of the Lyrcus river. Our research there was unfruitful, but we discovered a tomb of ancient sorcerors, the Caicellian Order. It was guarded by the undead … not just random undead but ones clearly placed as sentries. It didn’t seem worth our while, but the information on that sheet could be used to find the tomb.”

“I know this small scrap of information on a dungeon thousands of miles away is perhaps not worth much to all of you, just to your wizard friend perhaps, but it represents just a first step. We hope there may be other steps.

“Now, we wish to know of the House of Maramos. We suspect that they have guests coming from a dragon cult of some kind, but are not sure when, or even if our information on the cult is accurate. Can you help us with some small scrap of information, just as we have given you one.”

Eryx (DM)
So.

1. Feral has asked Khaska if there are any stories or lore from the Maha’i about unicorns. Are there any? (You could write one up, if there are, of just give a general idea.)

2. Lord Maramos has invited Rynn (and anybody else who wants to come) roc hunting with him in the Abghat peaks. The trip would only be about four or five days. As is my purview, I rolled a Sense Motive check for both of you. Lord and Lady Maramos seem sincere in this offer. He really does just want to go hunting, and has invited you along.

3. The Glittersail brothers have offered their first piece of information—the location of the Tomb of the Caicellian Order. They have asked, in return, to confirm some rumors they have heard about the House of Maramos and a dragon cult. (The Cult of Skyrnyn, it seems, but that is not completely certain.) I know it’s just Orensland with the gnome right now, but the others can weigh in with exactly how much information you wish to trade.
I will say that the gnomes are interested in a tit-for-tat arrangement. The more you give them, the more they will give you. It is up to you how much you wish to tell the secrets of the Maramos Coven.

DeltaWolf
Sanjin is not particular interested in joining Lord Maramos' hunt. However he wouldn't want Rynn (should he except) going alone with him. If Rynn does want to go, and none of the other party members wanted to, then he would want to go and make sure nothing nefarious befalls Rynn.

BlackWolf
At this point, though the dangers of such a trip with a powerful vampire cross briefly though his mind, Rynn decides to jump at this opportunity to get out of Darkcrest for a little while.

"You have seen through me, sir. I will gladly accept your offer and join your hunt."

The ranger will thank Sanjin for his offer to come along, but he is pretty sure that none of the others in the party will have a real desire to go. Though he won't try to stop anyone else from coming, he'll ask them not to risk themselves on his account. "If Lord Maramos intends to turn on me, I'm not sure that even all of us together could stop him. I'd rather take the risk alone. The rest of you can continue your investigations unhindered without me anyway. And maybe I'll learn something useful from our host."

Besides all that, Rynn feels conflicted about what the party has done to help Lady Maramos. There's part of him that respects what they have done here. He is disgusted by the slavery and other evils going on… but on the other hand, his experiences in other cities hasn't exactly given him a shining beacon of hope. He's starting to wonder if maybe an alliance with these vampires might make some sense, in an "enemy of my enemy" sort of way. So he hopes to use this time with Lord Maramos to see what he can learn.

Thev
Khaska is curious what may have brought this subject to Feral's mind, and why it seems unicorns have preoccupied her to such a great extent, and will ask her about it: "I will gladly share what I know, but I hope you will permit me a question from curiosity: What is it that causes you to ponder unicorns, when you did not know their name?"

He'll probably adapt his answer to her response, but he'll have to admit that while he knows of unicorns' existence, he knows little about them. Jevereshk Maha'i, and even the Mawkhavi on the eastern edge of the Niktean Wastes, know almost nothing of forests. As unicorns, even in forests, are said to be elusive and rare, the knowledge that filters into the Maha'i deserts is fragmentary, full of rumors and legends. He'll point out that though they are also cloven-hooved and speaking creatures, tthey walk on four legs; they're also said to be friends of good people, but fierce and perilous, not to be trifled with; and they have remarkable healthful virtue, with the ability to detect and negate poisons - certainly in nonliving matter, but it's also said that they can do so with hearts.

Crosis
As far as I was aware, the relationship the Maramos household had with the Cult was generally known and frowned upon by members of the city. At least, it was known that there was a relationship between the Maramos household and the Cult. So Orensland would confirm that there is a relationship, and provide the name of the Cult. He would express interest in knowing why they care for this information–– specifically if the gnomes themselves care, or if it's the House of Lancel that cares. The gnome may react badly to that, or he might say why, so Orensland might as well try.

The more I'm thinking this out, the more I feel like a dialogue might be necessary with the DM. As for a question to everyone in general, any hard feelings about confirming that Cult representatives should be arriving some time in the coming months, though the exact date is unknown to party members (I forget, do we know the exact date?)? It may be a bargaining chip for understanding why the gnomes care in the first place. Details that would be expressly avoided would be matters pertaining directly to party members (why we are here etc.), the ledger, Lady Maramos's dealings on the Living side, or Orensland's own theories as to the exact nature of the relationship between the Maramos house and the Cult.

EDIT
You know, I've been thinking about it. While grateful for this new information, Orensland would make clear that they were walking a fine line–– the tomb info may be handy in the future, but the gnome is hoping for information that would likely result in our deaths should the Maramos household discover they have a mole. Before discussing any details, Orensland would ask the gnome whether or not the information regarding dragon cults pertains to his brother's research, with the implication that Orensland may share information depending on the answer. Then see if the gnome appears to be lying, which may indicate that the House of Lancel is the true seeker of this information.

…see the potential need for dialogue? And I figure I shouldn't be the one to roll a "sense motive" check, as it would make more obvious whether or not Orensland gets his facts right.

The thing is, I could very much see the gnomes asking about the Cult for their own research. They were researching an archway on the Living side, and the House of Maramos happens to have the same archway in their library. It could be that the archway is connected to the Cult somehow. Perhaps as part of their grand secret scheme for surviving the Dark Times. If this that were the case, Orensland would be more inclined to help them find the information they seek, though obviously would not divulge too much in this meeting.

Orensland realized, and had discussed with the others, that the gnomes were interested in a tit for tat sort of setup. If he wanted to know more—and information on this tomb wasn’t exactly what they wanted—he would have to give up more.

“How do I know,” he asked, “that this information won’t go straight back to Lady Drakh?”

“I supposed you don’t,” Greygook said. “But I can tell you that we are allies of temporary convenience with Lady Drakh and her house. When our research here is complete, we will move on. Our allegience is not set in stone, and our interests lie in an artifact that we believe is in the hands of the Maramos coven. But this one question does come from Lady Drakh. She wishes to know more about this dragon cult.”

“I can conform that there is a relationship between the Maramos’s and the Cult of Skyrnyn.”

He nodded. “Lady Drakh suspected as much, and is making plans to sever that relationship. More information may be of use to us in planning around whatever machinations she has.”

“They are coming soon. When we arrived in Darkcrest with Lady Maramos, they sent a message to the cult. Some of their leadership will be coming here. The timeline is unclear.”

The gnome nodded. “For your own safety, I wouldn’t be around when the leadership comes to town. It could be hazardous to your health.”

“Why?” Orensland asked. “The cult has no reason to harm us. Nor does the house of Maramos.”

“I never said the cult or that the Maramos’s were a danger to you.”

Lady Drakh, then? Intriguing. But perhaps it was best to change the subject. Orensland was grateful for the information he had received, but worried about giving away too much information of his own. “Tell me of this artifact you seek.”

“We think it may be in the library. One of Lady Maramos’s predecessors collected a number of unique items before she was slain. We have been unable to enter the library on our own. The Maramos coven is stingy with access to those they do not know well.”

Interesting, Orensland thought, that Sanjin and Khaska had been given such access. They had indeed earned the trust of Lord and Lady Maramos. He almost absentmindedly rubbed his neck where she had fed on him. They had all earned the trust of Lord and Lady Maramos. At great cost.

“I have been in the library.”

“Could you tell me what you’ve seen there?”

At this point Orensland was almost certain they were speaking of the black archway. What else could it be?

“There are a great many things there. They even have a skull of a copper dragon hanging on the wall! At least, our wizard says it’s a copper dragon.” Orensland leaned closer. “You want to confirm that this artifact is there, don’t you?”

Greygook nodded. “We do.”

Orensland smiled. “Then I will need a little more information about Lady Drakh’s plans.”

Greygook got very serious. “We have been prepared to leave at a moment’s notice should Lady Drakh turn on us. I suppose we’re in little more danger, and the knowledge of the location of this artifact may be worth it.” He took a deep breath. “She plans on staging a coup against the Maramos coven if the cult ever comes to Darkcrest. I imagine she will strike when these leaders are in town. When the Maramos’s are destroyed, we would be allowed access to the artifact to continue our studies. Hence our temporary alliance.”

So that was the game then. A strike at both the cult and the Maramos Coven at the same time. That information was very very valuable. And Orensland felt to respond in kind.

“Describe this artifact to me.”

“An archway, made of magic obsidian, about 10 feet high and 6 feet wide at the most. Kind of oval shaped.”

Orensland nodded. “It’s in the library, I have seen it.”

Greygook tipped his hat. “Then this has been a most productive conversation for both of us. Here’s hoping that we both get what we need out of these next few months.”

“I hope your research is a success,” Orensland said. He was completely serious. Sanjin was convinced the archway was some kind of transport mechanism, but was completely baffled at how it might be activated. Perhaps these gnomes could figure it out.

Perhaps they could together. Orensland had a thought. “Would you be interested in meeting our wizard? He’s spent quite a bit of time in the library and would be of more help in studying the archway than I am.”

“I think my brother might be interested in comparing some notes. I assume your wizard will now go study it. But we are confident we have more information and that he will be unable to duplicate our years of research.”

“Then I will try to bring him. I hope none of us die soon. There apparently is much for us all still to do.”

Greygook snorted. “I’ll drink to that!”


“I remember seeing an image of a unicorn,” Feral said. “It has been on my mind of late. I was wondering if such a creature figured in the stories and histories of our people.”

Khaska moved to sit by her, thinking through what he knew, both about actual unicorns, and about how the Maha’i in general thought of them.

“I must admit I know very little about them. They are creatures of wonder and beauty, who come from other planes of existence as messengers or champions of goodness. Here, on our plane, on a world like ours, they are said to dwell in enchanted forests, acting as guardians and protectors of them. They can heal poisonous wounds, it is said.”

“Do they ever visit our people?”

“I come from a land where there are no forests, so I have never even encountered more than rumor or legend of one here. There are some tribes that do not even believe they exist. But it is said that they are friends to good people, yet fierce and perilous. A unicorn here on this plane would not be something to trifle with.” He leaned forward a bit. “Do you remember where you saw the image?”

“I do not, but I feel drawn to the memory this last little while.”

“A glorious creature, hoofed and horned, like us, that can speak for itself and defends good. I would hope all Maha’i are drawn to them.”

Feral glanced up, one of the few times she actually looked Khaska in the face. (He was still troubled by the fact that she would not as often as he would like.) “Your words are wise. I hope someday I can meet others of our kind.”

“I am trying to arrange for your freedom, as you know. That is my desire as well.”

“You puzzle me, Khaska. You clearly seek the good for me, yet are allied with these vampires.”

“I seek to undo their evil by understanding them more completely first. The foolish rush in where they do not understand. The wise wait until the opportune moment.”

“I suppose I can see the wisdom in that. But I still wish they were all gone, and I to from this horrible place.” She looked away, almost wistfully. “Perhaps someday I can journey to the living side.” She smiled, sadly. “Maybe I will someday even see a forest.”

“If it is in my power, this will happen to you,” Khaska promised.


The journey to the foothills of the Abghat peaks took only three days. They moved during the “day” on the living side when Pressen reflected the sunlight and hence Lord Maramos was free to move about. The entourage was small. A cart to hold his coffin (not nearly as elaborate or eye-catching as Lady Maramos’ carriage), an empty cart for the meat, three servants to man them and otherwise set up camp and tend to the equipment, a “personal servant” to Lord Maramos, a young woman who rarely spoke and who shared his tent at night, and then finally Captain Gendry, who insisted on coming, and of course Rynn and Lord Maramos. Rynn was offered the use of a horse, and the ranger found that he would probably much prefer to walk, but had to keep up. Ranna loped alongside the caravan, happy to no longer be cooped up. Rynn sympathized with the feeling, and, oddly enough, so did Lord Maramos.

“I was once a wanderer, much like I suspect you have been,” he confided one day. “Before I was captured and turned the House of Maramos I wandered over the length and breadth of the Deadlands, selling my services as a tracker and a fighter as needed, surviving on my own when not.”

“How does that work?” Rynn asked. “Sebastien and Master Greymantle both spoke of earning the right to be turned. Were you not willing at the time?”

“I was not,” Lord Maramos said. “I was foolish and resisted. Until the day Lady Maramos slew my sire and I hers I resented having been changed. Now that I am free of that influence, I find there are more advantages than I had realized to being Chosen. I do not even remember the specifics of much of my old life, though obviously I still feel the same wanderlust I did as a mortal.”

“So your personality remains even after you are turned?”

“Much of it, yes.”

“How were you able to rebel against your sires?”

“Vampires cannot directly rebel against their sires. But our sires, then the leaders of the Maramos Coven, had had a falling out, which allowed us to take advantage and kill each other’s sire.”

“The painting in the dining hall depicts that?”

“The coup where we took control of this house hundreds of years ago. We purged it of other vampires and now all that remain are either daughters of Lady Maramos or sons of mine.”

“And so they cannot rebel against you?”

“It’s not mind control over them. There is a … bond. It is difficult to explain. A bond that limits the freedom a child has from its sire.”

“And if the sire dies?”

“The child is free in every way. Lady Maramos and I have used volunteers ever since the coup, the method of finding children Sebastien and Danforth both spoke of. We do not wish to repeat the mistakes of our predecessors. Our children are loyal. Not all houses use the same methods, though many have adopted them.”

After making camp in the foothills, they waited one night until just after sunrise twilight and then Rynn, Captain Gendry, and Lord Maramos advanced on foot. Lord Maramos was a canny tracker, but Rynn was able to hold his own. They located a goat herd with little difficulty, and managed to separate one of the animals from the others. Lord Maramos knocked the animal out and used his supernatural strength to drag it up the mountainside to a clear pool of water atop a granite mesa—a site where rocs frequently came to bathe, he said. The climb was difficult, but all of them, even Ranna, made it, though sometimes Rynn was grateful he had the Ring of Feather Falling in case he slipped.

Lord Maramos deposited the goat near the lakeshore and slit its throat, the blood spilling over the ground. The vampire lord spread some of the blood around, and then vanished to his hiding spot.

Captain Gendry had distributed some poison to both Rynn and to Lord Maramos before they separated to flank the dead goat’s location. It dried quickly when exposed to the air, so the contained would have to be opened at the last minute to dip an arrowhead in it. The poison would act fast to cripple a roc, grounding it. Then they would have to kill it.

They waited for hours. The middle of the day came and went. Rynn was worried that Lord Maramos would have to go back to his coffin when the sun rose. Ranna was bored, but Rynn made sure that she stayed hidden and still. Rocs had incredibly good eyesight, so exposure would make the hunting party vulnerable. Best to stay hidden in the nooks and crannies surrounding the lake.

About an hour before sunrise twilight, however, their patience was rewarded. Rynn was stunned by the size of the bird. He had heard his mentor, Arandur, speak of them, but the size of the creature … well, it nearly rivaled that of Keldarian the Red. The creature’s shriek grated on his nerves as it circled, slowly and cautiously. It called out several times, swooping across the area, trying to scare out any other prey. Rynn had been warned of this tactic, and kept his calm, slowly unscrewing the poison container while making sure Ranna remained still. He dipped his arrowhead in it, and then prepared to draw.

The roc eventually landed and began to pick at the goat’s carcass. That was the moment. Rynn drew back, breathed out, and released. He beat Lord Maramos’ arrow by mere seconds, the vampire lord rising from his hiding place with an arrow nocked into Bonestrike and pulled back before loosing it. Both arrows landed well into the roc’s chest, close to the beating heart, where the poison would quickly spread. Two arrows worth of poison would likely be enough, Lord Maramos had said, but three or four would be even better. Unfortunately Rynn’s second shot went wide, deflected by the roc’s flailing wings. Lord Maramos, however, managed to hit the second time. Captain Gendry had drawn his sword, prepared to defend his lord should the roc attack them.

However, the roc decided to attack Rynn instead.

The ranger whispered the elven word that activated the magic on his bow and the arrow he had nocked burst into flame. He got several shots off, all of which hit before the roc swooped in. The ranger had picked a spot he though would give him some defense against the creature’s attempts to pick him up, but the creature’s talons managed to reach into the crevice he had hidden and snatched him. Its claws grabbed and pinned him before the roc beat its great wings and began to take off. Rynn couldn’t move his arms. Ranna tried to grab one of its wings but missed as the twangs from Lord Maramos’ huge bow still sounded. The roc flew away, but already blood was pouring from its wounds and its wings flapped slower and slower. As it climbed higher and higher Rynn could tell it was tiring, until, just as they reached several hundred feet above the ground, it could no longer even beat its wings. The roc dropped him.

After one moment of his heart skipping a beat as he dropped, the ring of Feather Falling activated and Rynn began to drift down. He could tell he was still over the mesa, actually just over the lake now, which was unfortunate, but his hands were free and he still had arrows to fire. So fire he did.

The roc was trying to glide, but the arrows coming now from both below and from above were too much. It succumbed to its wounds and fell, plummeting facefirst into the rocks near where Rynn had hidden, dead. The ranger took a deep breath as he slowly descended into the lake, the shock of the cold water taking his breath away. But he was able to swim to shore quickly enough that he didn’t begin to cramp or become hypothermic. But now he was soaked through.

Lord Maramos was laughing and cheering as Rynn trudged out of the water, blood running down his arms and legs from where the talons had gripped him.

“If we had more time in our lands, I’d commission a painting of that moment, Rynn! You descending, calm as a spring morning, shooting the roc while I shoot at it from the bottom. Amazing!”

“We should get him to a fire and with some new clothes, before he freezes,” Captain Gendry said. “And tend to his wounds.”

“Oh, let us relish in the moment of success!” Lord Maramos. “Fantastic!”

Captain Gendry allowed them that moment, but then went to go find some wood and start a fire. Rynn was grateful for the heat while the vampire lord began to butcher the carcass of the animal. A potion of healing took the edge off of his wounds as well. Luckily the sun came up while he was drying off, providing at least some light. Lord Maramos hid under one of the roc’s wings while it passed. Given the height of the surrounding mountains, it was not around for long.

Laden down with as much meat as the three of them could carry (Lord Maramos wanted to make a few more trips later on by himself), they slowly descended back to the camp, arriving just before sunset twilight. The servants tended to Rynn’s wounds in a more thorough manner, and the ranger fell asleep quickly.

When he woke many hours later, the servants were loading up the remaining of the roc meat into the carriage, camp having been struck.

“Come Rynn,” Lord Maramos said. He had just finished drinking from the young servant girl’s neck. “We must get back to Darkcrest before the meat spoils!”

On the journey back, Rynn decided to ask a question, something that had been bothering him from when they had slain the Roc. Something Lord Maramos had said.

“My lord,” he broached the subject, riding next to the vampire lord in front of the entourage, “I was curious about something you said during the hunt.”

“Oh?”

“I must admit I was intrigued by the possibility of seeing a painting of the two of us on the hunt.” This was not a lie. Rynn was not a boastful man or prone to self-aggrandizement, but he had really enjoyed the hunt, and the thought of memorializing it in such a permanent manner did hold some sway in his mind. “But you said that would not be possible because you won’t be long in your lands?”

Lord Maramos sighed. “You are an astute listener, Rynn Fowler, as you are a tracker and hunter.” He glanced over at the ranger. “You have earned my trust once again, and I feel I can tell you that when the cult leaders come, my coven will be joining them, journeying to their base in the Marshes to await the Dark Times aboard their skyship. Lorraine and I felt that afforded us the best opportunity to survive. That is the price we asked for assisting them in their endeavors on the living side.”

Rynn pondered on this. “So my offer of fighting services during the Dark Times, that I gave you when we first arrived?”

“I do not think that we would need such help. Perhaos the cult would be interested, but I do fear only a true believer, such as Orensland, would be accepted. They have been preparing for centuries. I do not know if your offer would be of much use to them, I’m afraid.” He grimaced. “I like you, Rynn. You remind me much of a younger version of myself.” Then he snorted, a small laugh. “A much younger version. I hope you survive the Dark Times. If you do, perhaps come visit us back in Darkcrest when we return. There may yet be more roc hunts in our future together. I would like that.”

“I enjoyed the hunt as well, my Lord. And obviously I hope I survive the Dark Times as well.”

Lord Maramos laughed at that. “Only a fool would wish otherwise.”


The trip back was uneventful, and they managed to get the meat back to the Maramos lands before it spoiled. Lord Maramos wanted to host a feast that evening, and the servants curried about to cook roc meat and preserve that which wouldn’t be immediately consumed. Khaska was on hand to finish healing Rynn’s wounds, and Lord Maramos regaled everybody with the tale of the hunt. It was obvious that Lady Maramos was indulging him.

Rynn, still exhausted from the fight and the travel (he felt he would have been more rested if he had walked instead of riding a horse—using different muscles than he was accustomed to), went to sleep in his private quarters.

Only an hour or two into his rest, he heard a voice.

“Rynn! Hsst!”

He bolted upright, his hand moving to where he left a dagger by his bedside, but glancing around, he saw nobody.

“You can’t see me, but I can see you. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Darrell Titanius, the commander of the Bringers of Light, and we are communicating through a Greater Scrying spell.”

“I assume that means Jared Evans has returned to you unharmed.”

“He has, and is standing here next to me. The spell allows me to see you and your surroundings, but only I can speak through it on my end. He is glad to see you safe. We have been watching you for several days, and this seemed the first time we could catch you alone to communicate with you. What news have you of Darkcrest for us?”

“As you know, I just returned from a hunt and am exhausted. Perhaps we could speak tomorrow when I’ve talked to my friends about what they have learned in my absence?”

“A fair request. Shall I cast the spell at the same time?”

“I think during sunrise twilight would be best. The house seems the quietest then, everybody having gone to sleep. The vampires are not allowed in this building, but their servants are here in great numbers.”

“Then I will contact you then. Be safe, Rynn. You walk a dangerous path.”

The ranger smiled ruefully. “Don’t I know it.”

Eryx (DM)
To sum up major points:

1. The Glittersail brothers do not work directly for Lady Drakh. They are in a temporary alliance (in some ways like you are with the House of Maramos), and only wish to study the archway. They think that Lady Drakh is their best means of obtaining access to do so. They will tell her about the arrival of the cult.
2. Lady Drakh is planning a coup against the House of Maramos. This will take place when the leaders from the Cult of Skyrnyn arrive.
3. The Maramos Coven plans on leaving with the cult leaders when they arrive, to journey to their citadel in the Zyrbryxion Marshes via skyship.
4. Also of importance is the fact that Sanjin is unable to determine how these magical archways are activated.
5. You will learn from Lord Titanius that there are a number of whitecloaks in the city, all disguised. Spies to keep tabs on the vampire houses, who normally don’t involve themselves much with the outside world. They are available to help if needed.

What do you all want to do with this information? I’m going to need some pretty strong consensus from the party—how the rest of this Codex plays out is now entirely in your hands.

Also, can I have Khaska and Sanjin roll Knowledge (History) checks, to know what your characters might have heard about the Caecellian order.

Crosis
Well, that makes things much more interesting. Who should we backstab, then? :)

I'm just going to write out my thoughts. From what I can tell, we have the potential of making four different decisions. One, betray the Maramos household/the Cult by aiding Lady Drakh. Two, warn the Maramos household about Lady Drakh's plans. Three, get out of Darkcrest while we still can. And four, we find some way to leave both sides burning. There may be more, but those are what I came up with.

I can't really think of a way we can ultimately hurt Lady Drakh AND the Maramos household AND the Cult. That would be ideal– We don't like any of them, and would love to see Darkcrest essentially fall. Perhaps if Jared makes contact with us we can recruit the Lightbringers in some grand blaze of glory (that would be awesome), but that idea hangs on a lot of "if's." Any awesome ideas?

If it turns out option four is not feasible, I am more inclined to betraying the Maramos household/the Cult, for several reasons. There's practicality, first of all. If Amara shows up with the Cult, none of us really has a chance of making it out alive. Plus if we magically DO find our way into the Citadel, we have reason to believe that there may be some evil dragons still afoot (the burned temple of the death god we came across earlier). If we were to find any, it would be at the Citadel, and while it would be good to confirm they exist none of our characters are probably good enough to bluff our way past an evil version of Captain Bronzebeard. So there's just a lot of sudden death possibilities that arise with continuing to cozy up to the Cult and their allies.

…Though if we could get Lady Drakh to target and kill Amara if she shows up, that could open some doors. Maintain our cover as a double-agent and get access to more Cult information. That would still involve betrayal of the Maramos household, but… yeah.

Also, I had another thought, which would also only be possible with betraying the Maramos clan. It appears the gnomes are fairly close to opening a portal mechanism between the Living and Death sides of Jenoa. Way back when we first met them, they offered to hire us as security in their travels. We turned them down, but perhaps we could make a working arrangement with them. We don't know what the gnomes are planning to do with the archways once their study is complete. If they are hoping to keep it relatively secret (telling everyone in Darkcrest they can open a portal to the Living Side would likely result in their loss of the archway) we could offer an alternative. Provided we have free access to the archways and their teleportation capabilities, we would be willing to serve as a kind of security detail for them if they pursue research in more dangerous areas. Like tombs guarded by undead sentinels. We would benefit greatly from being able to hop continents in any of our pursuits, and doing some dungeoning on the side would likely be more beneficial than detrimental to our skills, quests and general adventuring. We'd keep it relatively secret, of course. We aren't the only ones who would be interested in exploiting such a gateway, and most anyone would try to take control of the archways if they knew about them, good and evil alike.

…In that sense, is there a nice way to take the archway out of the library, provided we gained permission (from Lady Drakh or even the Maramos's themselves?). Like, is there a large-scale handy haversack or somesuch we could use to transport it? Having the archway would be great, but I think Lady Drakh would notice if we randomly showed up in her new accomodations every once in a while, or vanished without a trace. Moving it to a secure location would be absolutely required should we ever strike such a deal with the gnomes.

Anywho, those are my inclinations and ideas. Thoughts?

… I swear your fifth point did not exist when you first posted. So my immediate inclination would be to inform the Whitecloaks of the upcoming coup, through reliable spies and/or through their scrying us, however we come across that information about Whitecloak spies. The city will be in chaos then, especially if we play major double agent and get both sides armed to the teeth in time for the Cult to arrive. They may enjoy the idea of taking advantage of that chaos and attacking Darkcrest themselves. everyone was kung-fu fight-iiing… :D Once the dust settles, we would still be able to make a work arrangement with the gnomes, and might not even need to move the archway. If we REALLY play our cards right, all three sides will believe we're on their side, so whoever wins that madhouse will still see us as helpful allies. :D

DeltaWolf

  • Knowledge: 9 (6 rolled + 3 Mod)

BlackWolf
Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.

Rynn finds himself tricked by the lies of his own making. Lord and Lady Maramos seem like the best possible vampires there could be. He actually finds himself feeling hesitant to betray them. The ranger has to remind himself that they are selling out the entire world for their own safety. He could use a reminder of the evils they have perpetrated.

And there's one other issue preoccupying Rynn's mind: Juliet. As far as we know, the Cult of Skyrnyn has gathered many slaves and taken them to the deadly marshes. If she lives, chances are great that she is there.

Despite the obvious dangers, Rynn can't help but wonder if there is some remote chance of visiting the Citadel as part of the Maramos coven, and from there, find his wife. This is a very dangerous situation for Rynn, because he is willing to put himself in great jeopardy to find his wife and child.

Unfortunately, the ranger is known by name to the cult. Amara knows him, obviously, and there's the risk of how much Gulnith knows/remembers. So at this point, Rynn realizes that the chances of going peacefully to the Citadel are low. It sounds like skyship is the next best option, and that makes him wonder if we could capture the cult's. Perhaps even take our deception to the next level with "Captain Orensland" being "sent back to the Citadel on orders before the Maramos coven arrives."

Should we try to cause havoc in Darkcrest? Let the coup attempt proceed, amplified by the Bringers? Use it as an opportunity to strike at the cult and seize their skyship? I admit there's a certain appeal to avenging ourselves via taking their vessel. And maybe the chaos could provide opportunity to off the insane Lady Drakh and free some slaves as well.

As for the gnomes and the archways, Rynn is indifferent at this point. He acknowledges Orensland's arguments, but only in a distracted way. He just nods his head and isn't really focused on them. It is a dangerous time for him to be preoccupied and not thinking straight…

Eryx (DM)
From BlackWolf: He could use a reminder of the evils they have perpetrated.

I'd like to point out that you just went on a long camping trip with Lord Maramos in which you would have watched him repeatedly eat from the young (willing, you assume) servant girl, with whom he was also sharing his bed/cheating on his wife (though likely with Lady Maramos' permission), all while transporting his coffin for ease of sleep. You've had a fair number of reminders of exactly what Lord Maramos is of late.

BlackWolf
Yes, clearly Lord Maramos has questionable morals. But those things were apparently consensual, which is a huge step up from most vampires in Rynn's estimation. The areas that I feel that Rynn could use a reminder (in-game, obviously) are for things like the Maramos coven being involved with Veleria enthralling Judge Stoneheart and all the mess that happened there with the Sendylus guild. That kind of stuff.

Crosis
After mulling the whole thing over further, I realized I didn't write down very concrete "next-action" type stuff. So here's what Orensland would probably do:

Best chance of sewing strife and wiping out evil would be to let the coup happen. Sneaking into the Citadel would be crazy awesome, but also crazy suicidal. So Orensland would daydream of doing something like that, but it seems the possible gains would not outweigh the very likely death scenario he sees in his mind.

As for getting the most out of the coup, Orensland would spend the next week or two re-evaluating the various houses of Darkcrest. Who is Lady Drakh plotting with? Who would rush to the aid of the Maramos household? He'd try to scout out the situation at hand and see which side seems strongest, keeping to the shadows where possible. Depending on the information he gathers, he may try to level the playing field behind the scenes for when the battle commences. The Bringers in the town may be able to help with this info gathering, but here's my role:

  • Gather Info: 8 ( rolled 5 + 3 Mod)

Bummer. Hopefully the Bringers have better luck.

One problem he forsees is the Maramos household falling and the party being targeted as their allies. We may want to cozy up to both sides so that whoever wins doesn't try to kill us. Thoughts?

Orensland would also float the idea of kidnapping a cult member or two when they arrive. While the leaders themselves are likely quite powerful, I suspect that their lackies are more easily dealt with and perhaps more prone to speaking. What was that weapon Orensland used to knock out Jason/Jared/whatever that guys name was? Orensland would likely have a much nicer one commissioned and practice using it should such a tactic prove useful. Whether or not we actually do depends on party input and Bringer input.

To ensure that the Cult members are in the thick of things when the coup happens, Orensland will plan on stealing their skyship crystals. That may or may not happen, depending on how things play out, but this seems as good a chance as any to damage the Cult leadership as well as the Maramos household. Keeping them from escaping could prove quite… beneficial. Perhaps this could be our bargaining chip for earning the trust of Lady Drakh.

Thev
[Sorry for the delay; it's been a very busy and exhausting week on my end. And I have to admit that the large amount of information to factor into my deliberations and the very open-ended nature of the decisions here are stressful and have contributed to my delay. I'll get something as soon as I can.]

For the time being: Knowledge (History): 20 = 11 + 9

[Addition] Eryx just clarified to me that he's only looking for a strong consensus on the broad outline of the party's next moves, which is much more manageable. Khaska wants the party to leave the city as soon as it can, hopefully leaving the vampire clans in disarray as it does so. To that end, he'd want to ensure that when the Drakh go against the Maramos, the Maramos are a roughly even match — meaning that it'd probably be best for us to make sure the assault happens after the Cult has arrived at the Maramos's residence. This we'd probably want to engineer beforehand and be out of the city — or at least far away from the conflict and the Cult — when the action happens.

One thing that we might consider is helping out the Glittersail Brothers somewhat (perhaps in an effort to secure their aid in escaping the city): one of us could copy down the details of the gateway in the Maramos library, or even (perhaps) smuggle one of the brothers in, whether in disguise or as a friend/acquaintance from Gallidus, so that he could take his own notes. That way they don't have to stick around, either.

I suppose what Khaska could contribute to the deliberations would be an idea for destination: he's inclined to make for Garth Calad, especially if the party can get a skyship. He feels that they should know what the party knows, as it would probably help them significantly with their efforts. If one of us is still around the house during the chaos (Orensland?), we might even be able to pilfer a few key books that could help out. Khaska would also be interested in speaking with Darrell Titanius, if possible, and offer his help.

I'd also like for Khaska to find a book with Maha'i legends in it, but that's probably something he'd just ask the Maramos for outright, given their generosity.

Regarding Feral: while Khaska would like, in the intended chaos, to free as many of Darkcrest's slaves as possible, he feels a particular responsibility for Feral and her safety, and would invite her to join the party at least until they reach somewhere safe or where she'd like to stay — perhaps Rhun, perhaps Garth Calad (does she have magical abilities? Khaska could administer some tests to find out), perhaps Laishtek (if the party heads back to Gallidus).

It had been a week since Lord Titanius had first contacted Rynn. Since then Rynn had spoken with him twice more through the spell (once with Khaska present) and the party had agreed upon a general plan—allow the coup to proceed, but make sure the two sides were as equally matched as possible. Having the two vampire houses destroy each other was the ideal. If the envoys from the cult could be caught in such a disaster, all the better. Orensland was easily able to make contact with the Bringer spies in the city—spread throughout the city posing as merchants, shopkeepers, and vampire worshippers.

There were several ideas of how to escape the city. Orensland, Khaska, and Rynn favored stealing the skyship in the chaos. Sanjin pointed out if they could get the gnomes research, perhaps they could use the transport device. A quick inquiry with Master Greymantle confirmed that outsiders would not be permitted to visit the library. Sanjin did meet with the gnome brothers briefly, but it was painfully obvious that a back and forth between the two scholars would not give the answers needed in a timely fashion.

However, Sanjin was able to ascertain a piece of the puzzle from hints and comments made by Greydale as well as his own study of the archway. There was some kind of key needed—the gateway device could not be activated on its own.

Khaska had spent his time either with Feral, continuing teaching her (in the weeks they had spent together, she had learned to read quite well, to the cleric’s delight), or in the library. It occurred to him that it may be advantageous to pilfer a few of the volumes from the Maramos library in the chaos, and he spent his time attempting to determine which were the most valuable books. He had wondered to Lady Isabelle if there were any Maha’i legends in any of the books, but unfortunately there appeared not to be any. But it was after their fruitless search that she wanted to show him their printing devices. “Perhaps,” she said, “you could write down the legends you know of, and we could produce a volume of them here for you.”

“You would do that?”

She shrugged. “I care not for the stories of your people. Myths and legends have little use to us wizards. But my mother has made it clear that we are to accommodate you and your friends. And so I follow her wishes.”

She took Khaska to a specific room in one of the adjoining buildings, where she showed him the printing device she spoke of. It was an unusual contraption, set up to create identical copies of text. Stacks of papers sat to the side, and Khaska glanced at some of them. It turned out they were the exact pamphlet Jenika had discovered all those months ago in Hammerdine, for the Peaceful Children.

We welcome you, brothers and sisters! The Gods be with you as you undertake this journey. Keep your decision to yourself, above all else. We do not wish to overtly persuade others to join us merely because their friends are doing so. The Gods speak to whom they will.

Together we will journey to our chosen land, where the Gods themselves will protect us from Arkenos. Do not bring any weapons with you, for such an action would show a lack of faith. War begets war. Violence begets violence. Strife begets strife. Only by renouncing war, violence, and strife, can we be assured of the protection of the Gods!

The Maha’i remembered this pamphlet. Therylassa had signed a more specific note to the bottom of the one Jenika had found, making it more personal and relevant to the activities of the Peaceful Children in Hammerdine. There were many stacks.

“You have many of these,” he said.

“Propoganda pieces for another branch of the Cult’s underlings. A defunct one, now.”

“Yes, Lady Maramos said they had betrayed the cult and been massacred.”

“Thus a waste of resources and time on this printing device. I lost months of research time. Now I fear I won’t complete my project before the Dark Times.”

“May I inquire to the nature of the project?” Khaska was getting very excited. The ability to reproduce texts so rapidly was absolutely pregnant with possibilities! The great works of the world could be reproduced at a small cost and distributed! Libraries would no longer be merely for the rich or the well-connected!

“I had hoped to reproduce spellbooks,” Lady Isabelle said. “The creation of scrolls, for instance, would be a fantastic boon, a way of empowering our coven and our allies with magic capabilities beyond … anybody else in the world!” She sighed. “Alas, no matter how particular and refined I make the magical notations, the magic itself is not transferred. It seems for now we wizards are still reduced to copying spells and creating scrolls by hand.

“I am sorry your work has not come to fruition,” Khaska said. “Could I perhaps try with a divine spell?”

She shook her head. “Divine spells do not transfer either. We have tried with a vampire cleric brother of mine to create scrolls.”


Fynn Obsdeer was always a sight to behold. The dwarf was never clean and always reeked of the filth of the streets, his beard matted with old wine and gutter water, his eyes bloodshot, and his gray clothes stained with things Orensland didn’t care to examine more closely.

All the better to hide in plain sight, the Bringer of Light had said.

One of the Bringer spies in the city, he relied on his magic to keep himself alive and provide himself food and water. He lived as an itinerant bum, never staying in the same place twice. He was the hardest to track down, but Orensland had managed to do so. The two of them sat on a broken bridge overlooking one of the small aqueducts that served as the sewers of the city.

“Lady Drakh and your patrons are likely the most powerful vampires in the city,” the cleric was saying, drinking from a wine pouch (actually filled with water). “Frankly, I’m a little surprised that Lady Drakh is going to challenge them directly. She must have some advantage we don’t know about. If she is going to go after the Maramos’s, man, that would leave a huge power vacuum if even one of those two great houses is destroyed.”

“How do you think such an attack would work?”

“That’s the complicated thing. Vampires cannot enter places they have not been invited, and the great houses are meticulous about not inviting each other over. Only peers or close allies would be. So in order to enter the Maramos mansion, Lady Drakh would have to be invited.”

“Lady Maramos was invited to hers,” the shadowdancer said.

“Then I would not be surprised if that had been reciprocated, but it would not be the case with all of the other vampires of the Lancel coven. Maybe only Lady Drakh.”

“So it seems a safe bet is that Lady Drakh intends to take on both Lord and Lady Maramos just by herself.”

“Probably one at a time. Going up against both at once? That would be suicide.”

“Would she have to kill both of them in order to allow other vampires into the mansion?”

“I believe so.”


Khaska stayed and looked the device over, studying it meticulously. He was no engineer, but perhaps it could be reproduced elsewhere? He was very excited, but tried to hide his interest. Lady Isabelle seemed to be unable to look past the fact it could not create magic text, disappointed that her creation was not fulfilling the original function she had envisioned for it. Eventually she grew bored and, not wanting to overstay his welcome, he left with her. As they walked back to the main mansion, Rynn emerged, a wine flask in his hand. Khaska could see the form of Lord Maramos in the doorway, and the two were laughing. Rynn came down the stairs, drinking from the flask and biting off chunks of roc jerky—a new favorite of the ranger. The cleric’s eyes narrowed.

Lady Isabelle disappeared inside the mansion and the two of them were alone in the courtyard for a moment.

“Headed back to our quarters?” asked the cleric.

“Yes,” Rynn said. His speech was slightly slurred. Khaska came along with him, making sure the ranger made it back with so much wine in him. As they entered the ranger’s quarters, the cleric helped Rynn take his boots off as the half-elf lounged on one of the chairs.

“Rynn,” Khaska said, sternly. “We need to talk.”

The ranger took a swig of the flask. It was nearly empty. “What about?”

“I fear your …” Khaska paused, looking for the right word, “… affinity with Lord Maramos has clouded your vision of what we are up against here.”

Rynn squinted at him. “How so?”

“You know what Lord Maramos is. What he does to these worshippers of his. Sleeping with the women. Draining the blood of his victims.”

“Not victims,” Rynn said. “Everybody here is willing. That makes it okay.” He stopped for a moment, brow furrowed. “Well, more okay.”

Khaska stood. “Do you not remember what happened in Hammerdine? The vampire Veleria and Judge Stoneheart. How she addicted him to her blood? How she used her influence to change court cases, letting the guilty go unpunished. Letting the Sendylus guild smuggle items and things for the Cult and other interested parties? You hated all of that. Have you so easily forgotten the ills these vampires have inflicted the world over?”

Rynn paused. “Oh yeah.”

“The Maramos’s may be ‘civilized’ vampires, but they are still vampires and are working with our enemies. The people who may very well have enslaved your wife and child.”

Rynn nodded. “You are right, as usual, my friend,” he said. “Oh, on that note, Lord Maramos received a note by messenger pigeon or something from the cult. They’ll be arriving in two days.”

Just then there was a knock at the door. “Come in,” Rynn called out. Orensland entered.

“Hey guys, just got word from Lady Maramos. The cult representatives will be here in two days. I’m to join them for their meeting in the morning the day after they arrive.”

Eryx (DM)
In the last post the biggest thing I needed to know was if you were going to betray one group to the other. You all basically agreed to try to burn the entire city down, the Maramos Coven, the Lancel Coven, and the cult. So nobody said nothin’ to nobody, and I could move the story forward to the imminent arrival of the cult representatives.

Orensland has not really been able to determine the size of the forces allied with Lady Drakh, and the Bringers are not much help. However, the Bringers, experts on vampires that they are, have a good sense of which individual vampires are the most powerful in the city based on level of respect, longevity, relative strength of the individual houses, and number of vampire “children” each coven has. Basically, the Maramos coven and the Lancel coven are the two most powerful in the city. Lady Drakh and Lord and Lady Maramos are among the most powerful vampires, but the Bringers express surprise that Lady Drakh would directly challenge them.

Also, Lady Isabelle has developed a printing press. She cannot get it to create scrolls of magic or spellbooks, however, but it is otherwise a basic printing press. I drop this in because I think it an interesting technological advancement that Khaska would be interested in knowing about. And maybe doing something about? Feral showed no magical aptitude, but was nervous about the tests Khaska administered, and slightly disappointed when she showed no magical aptitude for either divine or arcane magic (though the test for arcane magic is not as easy for Khaska to administer, he’s aware that result might be incorrect).

The Bringers of Light in the City are:
3 clerics. One (human) runs a butcher shop, one (human) helping procure relics and magic items for an enchanter shop, and the third (dwarf) is completely itinerant, relying on his magic to create food and water and seemingly just a homeless bum.
1 sorcerer. This elf works as a bookkeeper for one of the merchant guilds associated with a lower vampire coven. Has a stone of sending he uses to report important information to Garth Calad at regular intervals. (It allows him to use the Sending spell once a day.) He's the unofficial leader of the group in Darkcrest.
1 fighter. A human who works security at an apothecary shop.

All are relatively generic level 7 characters and are basically at your disposal.

Khaska has heard of the Caecellian Order. They were an order of magic users, one from each of the major spellcasting classes—bard, cleric, druid, paladin, sorcerer, wizard, the most powerful magic users of their time. Rumor has it that they jointly created a series of Codices, powerful spellbooks that granted their wielders extraordinary powers, which Codices have since been lost to time. That knowledge would prompt Sanjin to remember the Codices were akin to powerful spellbooks, magic woven into the very pages and texts themselves, allowing those who carried them access to both “regular” spells (like a staff or a wand) as well as powerful magical abilities that could be used only sparingly. Sometimes only once, in times of great need, a use of the book that might prove fatal to its carrier.

Rynn is drunk on some pretty good wine. BlackWolf, can I get a DC 15 CON check from you, per the personalized rules for Rynn's drunkenness. This will only affect the beginning of the next post.

The cult’s skyship is two days out. They will arrive in the evening, the meeting is set for the next morning. Only Orensland is invited. Please prepare your spells and everything for whatever it is you plan to do. By now all your “wish lists” from the Maramos coven have been fulfilled and you have your fully upgraded armor, weapons, etc.

What’s the plan?

Crosis

So… here's a tentative idea. By the way, I have a lot of those. If that is annoying in any way, let me know, I'll try to be less… complicated in my idea formulations.

We're hoping to make sure that neither side catches the other by surprise –– both sides being ready to fight = bigger fight = more vampire casualties = huge blow to the forces of evil on this side of Jenoa. This idea is a possible way to facilitate that.

From what we gather, Drakh has some kind of ace hidden up her sleeve that will enable her to take out both Lord and Lady Maramos. Possible ways that might happen are 1) some other previously invited "allies" of the Maramos household are planning on invading the house with Drakh, 2) Drakh can summon demons in their household to bypass the invitation rules, and 3) Drakh is planning on inviting one of them over to her place, ambushing and killing that one, then going to the Maramos house to finish off the remaining Maramos.

So first, we tell Lady Drakh that the Cult is arriving in the next three days, specific time unknown. That will likely get some activity going at the Drakh mansion, and more activity = more opportunities to deduce her plan. For example, messengers will likely be dispatched to communicate to other houses that will be involved in the coup. We can follow those messengers and get a clearer picture of how this fight is going to play out. The Bringers could probably help with following messengers and gathering info in that way.

It's also possible servants will be dispatched to be watching for skyships, especially if the specific time and date of their arrival are unknown (hence we tell Drakh "sometime in the next three days"). This provides an opportunity to tell the Maramos household that they may need to be weary. Orensland can say that he has been scouting out the area which the Cult skyship would be arriving at (as well as good vantage points to be watching for the skyship), and saw the same servant(s) similarly oriented to look for a skyship coming from that general direction. Orensland determined (through recognition or following) that these servants report to the Drakh household.

Orensland can say this makes him uneasy. Has Lady Drakh been invited into the house before? Could she pose a threat to the Cult leaders? Say, can she summon demons in the Maramos house? Orensland would recommend that they tighten security and stay near the Cult leaders, just in case. This conversation would happen before the cult arrives, though after scouting out Lady Drakh's forces.

Everything else we've talked about previously. Orensland would report that he plans on scouting out the Drakh household, as he's feeling uneasy about them. Thus he won't be around for the arrival of the Cult, just in case Amara is there. He'll be actually watching from a safe distance in the shadows to know whether or not he should be worried. If she is there… well, Orensland would probably not go back to the Maramos household and seek refuge with one of the Bringers. He'd recommend the others do the same until we know about Amara.

As for the skyship idea, Orensland is probably the most confident about being able to sneak into and out of the city unnoticed. Thus, he would like to stick around for the action, striking or helping from the shadows, should he prove useful in some way. Plus plunging the city into madness sounds like something Orensland would like to see. :D If the others want to commandeer a skyship, Orensland would be willing to help, but he would like to stay in Darkcrest. He would make sure a meeting place is agreed upon for a future rendevous, of course. You'd need someone who can fly that skyship, however. If none of the Bringers can, that limits our options considerably. If the others decide they do not want to steal the skyship, Orensland would probably concoct a plan for stealing the crystals to keep the Maramos household/Cult leaders from fleeing. Furthermore, the butcher shop might be a good place to lay low until escape becomes possible. There's enough blood around there that it may be more difficult for vampires to track the party.

Also… pilfering volumes might be a bad idea if the books have trap spells on them. It's what I would do in a library of rare books, at least.

Orensland would also wait until Rynn had sobered up a bit before telling him these ideas. We're kind of on the sword's edge for the next few days.

BlackWolf
It appears that Khaska's words were very sobering for the ranger, because Rynn scored a 17 on the check. I also took the liberty of rolling a Fortitude check to see how he'll recover from a hangover: scored 20. So I think that his headache will be minor, caused perhaps as much by his own self-criticism as the alcohol.

Rynn is unsure whether we should tip off the Maramos clan, even in the subtle ways Orensland is suggesting. It seems that they are more powerful, and they've got allies on the way. (Unless the Cult is planning to betray the Maramos clan? That would be a major shift.) But on the other hand, would Lady Drakh fight if she didn't think she would win?

So aside from those musings, Rynn is fine with Orensland's plans for hinting toward the Maramos that something might be up. But I wonder if he should cast doubt on the Cult of Skyrnyn as much as Lady Drakh? We've seen how the Cult has turned on each other after a failure, and there is likely some level of in-fighting. Maybe Orensland could say that although he hopes to advance in the Cult, he worries for their safety — after all, the vampires have treated him better than his own, right? They should be careful that they don't end up betrayed. If he (Orensland) were in charge, they'd do things differently. (*snicker*)

As for his own actions, Rynn will scout out the likely ports for the skyships to dock at. Stealing one would be fantastic, but Crosis has a good point that we'd need to be able to sail it. But clearly the skyships are important to the cult… so if nothing else, the ranger would readily take an opportunity to sabotage or burn down the cult's vessel. He'll look into procuring some gunpowder and alcohol — maybe it's time for him to make better use of it as fuel rather than drink.

Eryx (DM)
Upon reflection, Rynn hasn't seen or heard of a skyship port for Darkcrest.

Give me a Gather Info roll for your attempts to "scout out the likely ports for the skyships to dock at." I'd also like to point out that Lord Maramos is pretty friendly with you at this point. Your hunt with him seems to have put you in his good graces in a way that even allowing Lady Maramos to feed on Orensland did not accomplish.

Thev
Khaska's preference would be for a plan with fewer steps, if possible; the more our plan depends on a sequence of subtle events going just right (people, say, noticing Lady Drakh's messengers within the day's length of time before the Cult arrives), the more likely the whole venture will collapse. He does, however, think that misinforming Lady Drakh about the time of arrival of the skyship would be reasonable (as well as reasonably excused!), and that sowing potential mistrust about the Cult in the Maramos' eyes.

We should, however, have a cover story just in case the Maramos catch us amidst our preparations to leave. Would it be reasonable for Orensland to express wariness about these Cult leaders since "learning" "just now" of the Peaceful Children's extermination — and thus planning to hang back, and his friends to depart?

Regarding departure: would there be any way the Glittersail Brothers could provide a "getaway vehicle"? They know a conflict is coming, but we could warn them that the houses might be better-matched than Lady Drakh expects, and they might want to leave. Perhaps if we managed to pilfer the Cult's skyship and depart alongside the Glittersail Brothers, they could train the party in skyship sailing — at least somewhat. Barring that —and this might be the best idea— would there be any possibility that, leaving the city on foot, the party (and the Bringers stationed in the city?) could rendezvous with a Bringer ship to take them back to Garth Calad?

Khaska, meanwhile, will try to lay low from the intrigue; he's not the best at it, after all. In the meantime, he is very interested in the printing press. If he hasn't shown Feral the library yet, he'll do so, and introduce her to the printing press as well. This might be a silly notion, but: could the press fit in a bag of holding? If it would, Khaska would be inclined to grab that instead of books — perhaps even just ask for it, given that Lady Isabelle seems so disappointed in its failure to transfer magic. If neither of those is an option, perhaps he and Feral can examine the mechanism and take extensive notes about its construction that could help them reproduce it later on.

He'll also make sure that a legal document for his "ownership" of Feral is drawn up. As long as they're in Darkcrest, he's going to make sure they have legal evidence for her protection. Once they leave the city, he'll burn it.

Any suggestions on spells Khaska should prepare? "Silence" was shockingly effective last time, so he might prepare at least one of those.

BlackWolf

  • Gather Info: 21 (rolled 11 + 10 bonus)

If Rynn gets a chance, he'll try to casually mention to Lord Maramos that he hasn't seen any skyship ports in Darkcrest. Do the vampire covens not make use of them? "I hope that does not inconvenience the Cult."

I don't have any spell suggestions, but I can definitely see how Silence could sow additional confusion. :)

“That gives you cover to not be there exactly when they arrive,” Rynn said. “Making sure Amara is not part of the delegation should be top priority.”

“I had the same concern,” Orensland said. “If she’s part of the group, we may have to get out while the getting is good.”

“I agree,” Khaska said. Just then there was another knock at the door. Sanjin entered without waiting to be invited in.

“Lady Isabelle just got a note from one of the Maramos’s and made a hasty exit from the library. I assume something is afoot?” They rest of the group filled him in. The wizard became giddy at the thought of violence and the possibilities it might create. He, apparently, had been making a list of the important books he might want to loot from the library. Just in case the House of Maramos were to fall, of course.

“Then we have some last-minute preparations to make,” Rynn said. “Wait.” He paused. “Lord Maramos didn’t mention where their skyship was going to be landing. Did he mention that to you?”

“He did not. Come to think of it, I don’t know that in any of my wanderings I’ve seen a skyship port. Knowing where they are coming from would be a great boon in spying on them.”

“And possibly sabotaging their ship,” Rynn said.

“Whoa!” Khaska blurted out. “What?”

The ranger glanced at the cleric. “We had already discussed doing our best to make sure the vampires and cult all fight and destroy each other. I can think of no better way of forcing a confrontation, if it becomes necessary.”

“We will burn that bridge when we come to it,” Khaska said.

“Cross that bridge,” Orensland replied. “But the mixed metaphor may be apropos in this case. In the meantime, I will inform the Glittersail brothers of this development.”

“Perhaps we should give them some slightly false information. Off by a day or two.” Khaska looked from one companion to the other. “Give us a slight advantage.”

“A sensible precaution,” Sanjin said. “In the meantime, I suggest that we prepare for battle. We will probably have some fights in the next few days!”

“Did we not want to leave?” asked Khaska. He was concerned for Feral’s safety.

“How are we going to make sure they destroy each other if we leave!” Sanjin blurted out. “I figured we would get into the fight and turn traitor on each side as needed—be the equalizer, so to speak.” He turned to Rynn. “Can’t burn their ship down if you’re not in town!”

“I know where you can get some alchemist’s fire,” Orensland spoke up. “Worked pretty well on the Sendylus guild’s house. I imagine it would work fine on the cult’s skyship.”

“I think it would be best if I lay low,” Khaska said. “All of this intrigue and spying are not to my tastes, and I have a new project Feral and I will work on in the meantime. But one that might interest you, Sanjin.”

“Oh, do tell!”

Khaska began to explain Lady Isabelle’s printing device, but after a few minutes Orensland and Rynn took their leave to go do more “intrigue and spying.”

After weeks upon weeks of boredom, suddenly there was an air of excitement to the group. Their ruse, playing bodyguards for Lady Maramos, now months in the making, was about to pay off. The only question was, “how?”


Orensland was able to meet with Greygook out and about the city, and informed the gnome that the cult would be here in three days, instead of the actual two. The gnome was grateful for the information, and left to go inform his brothers and Lady Drakh.

After using Khaska’s Hat of Disguise again, Orensland followed.

Though he had no desire to go into the House of Lancel’s lands, he did try to scout around them, blending into the shadows as needed, disguising himself as needed. He watched as Greygook disappeared into the main house, and came out a few minutes later, with both his brothers in tow. They disappeared behind the house—that seemed odd. As far as he could tell there wasn’t anything behind the house. Orensland snuck around the other side of the compound, hoping to get a glimpse in or something. He’d actually never been to that side before …

… And he immediately berated himself for not having done so. The mast of the gnome’s skyship stuck out above the stone wall. The wall itself was an impressive fifteen feet high, but the mast, even for a smaller ship like theirs, still poked out above it. He guessed, based on his memories of the ship, that it was resting on the ground.

He listened to the conversation of the gnomes, but unfortunately didn’t understand a word of it. Stupid gnomes speaking in gnomish. They were having an argument, that much was clear from the tone of their voices, and he could tell it was the other two against Greygook. Eventually Greygook stormed off. Perhaps this was a weakness among the brothers he could exploit? However, he decided to continue his spying on the Lancel compound. After a few hours, though, he noticed no increase in activity or suspicious movements by anybody, and decided to go home.


Sanjin examined the mechanisms of the printing device with Khaska and Feral. After some examination, it was clear that the device could not be disassembled and transported, even with the bags of holding and haversacks they had. However, with Sanjin’s help, they were able to make detailed diagrams of the device, a project Lady Isabelle did not object to. Sanjin did eventually ask if he could take a mold for making the individual draconic characters, and Lady Isabelle consented letting them take that much.

Khaska also introduced Feral to the library, and the former slave was gobsmacked at the room and the books contained therein. They were there when Orensland returned with the report of finally having found the gnomes’ skyship. Rynn joined them shortly after, having just spoken with Lord Maramos.

“The cult’s skyship, the Adder Invictus, will be landing here,” the ranger pointed down at the ground, “within the Maramos coven’s walls. It will hover and be anchored so it can’t damage the buildings. Lord and Lady Maramos and their coven intend to simply leave and abandon the city at the conclusion of the negotiations.”

“Well, that will make things more convenient for you to burn their ship!” Orensland snickered. “Nice of them to park it literally right outside your front door.”

“Easier to be seen, though. And harder for you to sneak around without the cult leadership seeing you,” replied Rynn.

“Fair enough, but I had an idea for why I might be able to feign not wanting to be around. After all, we just found out the cult massacred some of their allies. If I were in charge of the cult, we wouldn’t do that sort of thing, and it makes me wary of wanting to ‘move up the ranks.’ I planned to tell this to Captain Gendry. I’m sure that would make its way to Lord and Lady Maramos.”

“That would also sow distrust further between them and their allies in the cult,” Khaska said. “A wise rumor to spread, then. But I fear our plan is becoming too complex. Too many variables in motion.”

“Until people start showing up and making their moves, all we can do is try to position them and ourselves in the right places,” Sanjin said. “All our plans will go up in smoke at the first time a fight breaks out. Who knows how it will play out then?”

“I hope,” Khaska said in response, “that we can achieve our objectives of making the three major players all but destroy themselves. The cult leadership. The House of Maramos. The House of Lancel. Our intelligence from the Bringers indicates that even the destruction of one house would prove destabilizing to the internal politics of Darkcrest. To knock out two in a single blow would create much chaos.”

“Set the town on fire,” Orensland said. “Hopefully both politically and literally.” He grinned.


“It seems awfully inconvenient for you to be making this announcement here and now,” Lady Maramos said. Her eyes bored into Orensland, who swallowed.

“I’m just saying that I’m glad I’ll be introduced not immediately upon their arrival. Your assurance my work was satisfactory may be enough, but then again, we did lose you for several months and almost got you killed by Manson. Given the knowledge that they just basically annihiliated some of their so-called allies for misstepping, you can understand my wariness. I’m not sure the leadership of the cult will be as forgiving as you have.”

“That may be true, but I assure you, Orensland, I have no intention of selling you short. You let me feed off of you for weeks. If that doesn’t show dedication to your cause, I’m not sure what would.”

“You have been very good to me,” Orensland said. “I hope the cult is as generous to you as you have been to us. Where I in charge, they would be.”

“Given our ongoing deal with them, it would be foolish for them to betray us.”

“Then I’m sure you have nothing to worry about.”


As he left with Rynn later that afternoon, he reported back his conversation with Lady Maramos. “I’m sure I laid some seeds of doubt.”

“I trust you did your best. It’s a plausible story, and in the end, I fear Sanjin is right. We can only do so much before all the pieces come on the board and begin to interact. It’s going to be a wild few days.” Even after the roc hunt, the ranger was itching for some action.

“Now, let’s go get you some alchemical fire in case we want to get really wild!”

They were nearly back to the House of Maramos when they both spotted Greygook lurching down a side street. The gnome was holding his hand to his side, blood seeping down his shirt.

“Oh dear,” Orensland said. He immediately glanced around, but didn’t see anybody who looked like they were following the gnome. It seemed safe to approach as the gnome slumped down by some stairs leading up into a tavern.

“Greygook!” he hissed under his breath. “What happened?”

“I told my brothers this would happen. Lady Drakh betrayed us. The moment we told her when the cult was coming, she decided our usefulness was up and attacked us to prevent us from double crossing her or interfering.” He began to weep. “I think my brothers are both dead.”

“You’re not doing so well yourself,” Rynn said.

“I know you have no great love for your vampire house, but I wish to have your help. My brother’s research on the voidgates, as well as the key to opening the one in the Maramos library, we think, are back on our skyship. We have spent the better part of a decade searching for answers to these questions, and I can’t let his research go to waste. We can’t let his life’s work just end!”

He clutched Orensland’s shirt. “Help me get the research back. Help me kill Lady Drakh during her attempted coup! I swear I will give you access to all Greydale’s notes and information if you help hide me until then and aid me in stealing back the key and my brother’s book!”

Eryx (DM)
So … gunpowder isn’t a thing in this world. Yet. But alchemical fire is! How much would Rynn have purchased? (20 gold per vial.)

Lady Drakh has decided the usefulness of the Glittersail brothers has come to an end. You aren’t sure of the fate of the other two, but Greygook managed to get away, though he is severely wounded.

The skyship is arriving tonight, probably during sunrise twilight. It is currently mid-day.

It seems to me that I know what you all want to have happen, ideally (everybody from these three factions dies and you don’t), but you don’t have any concrete plans for letting that play out. I don’t want to play your characters, but may I make a few suggestions:

1. Let Feral leave the city with one of the Bringers. They would be more than happy to let a slave free upon sufficient distance from the city.

On that note: What do you want the rest of the Bringers to do when the fighting breaks out? Nothing? Wait it out? Target one of the houses or the cult? They represent a formidable, hitherto unknown force in the city. They are quite confident nobody in the city knows of their presence and would make a big surprise if they acted in concert with each other.

2. When the fighting does break out, interfere yourselves, allowing you to keep the sides “even.” You represent a variable that can change the course of a battle, even among such powerful factions.

On that note: Where do you want to position yourselves? Just in Master Greymantle’s residence? Orensland want to sneak around to do some spying on the cult leaders—make sure Amara isn’t there? If Amara is present, are you all just going to leave the city and hope for the best?

The “itinerary” is that the cult will arrive this evening, but the meeting between them and Lord and Lady Maramos won’t happen until the next morning. Orensland has been invited to that meeting. If fighting hasn’t broke out by then, will he attend (if Amara is not present)?

The notes and “key” whatever that is, to Greydale’s research on the “voidgates” are on the skyship in the House of Lancel lands. Do you want to try to retrieve them? If so, when? Before the fighting? During the fighting?

Lots of questions. Let me try to sum up:

What to do immediately with Greygook?

Where are you all going to be when the cult leadership arrives?

What are your objectives?

What do you want to do with the Bringers at your disposal?

Crosis
1. What to do immediately with Greygook - first of all, patch the boy up. Perhaps one of us could run grab Khaska while the other one tries to get Greygook somewhere private (as opposed to bleeding out on the tavern steps). Once he's stable, he could hide out with a Bringer/run away with us, depending on how things play out. Secondly, I vote we take him up on his request to go grab the key and book. We've talked before about how handy jumping continents could be, and that option seems to have fallen into our laps. That being said, we'd need some more information. What does it look like? Where on the ship is it? Would Lady Drakh know anything about their research –– is it possible she's also interested in getting her hands on the book or key? Regardless, with the Glittersail brothers out of the picture, she may send servants to loot what they can from the ship before throwing everything out. The ship itself will likely remain intact, since it would be a true waste to throw away a skyship even by wealthy vampire standards. I suspect thievery would need to happen before the fighting occurs in order to get the key or book in time. Orensland volunteers!

And speaking of the skyship, stealing the whole thing itself during the fighting might not be such a bad escape plan. We have a pilot now, after all. Right? Can Greygook fly the thing?

Also, Greygook may be able to fill us in on some final details we've been missing. While Lady Drakh probably didn't spill the whole plan to him or his brothers, they likely have a better idea of how Lady Drakh intends to take on the House of Maramos (since the concept is surprising to those who are familiar with the strengths of both houses). Are there any details he'd be willing to share now that she backstabbed them?

2. Where are you all going to be when the cult leadership arrives - Orensland will be hiding in the shadows and watching for the arrival of the cult. When the cult arrives, Orensland would immediately inform everyone else –– including details like whether or not Amara is present. If she is, we make ourselves scarce around the house of Maramos. If not, Orensland may as well join the meeting in the morning. An attack appears eminent for later that day, so might as well get whatever additional info we can before chaos descends. A few hours after the meeting, we should set fire to the skyship. That'll serve a two-fold purpose. One, cut off their escape route. Two, put them on guard, as somebody clearly is attacking them. After the skyship is taken out, we put ourselves into a defensive position and wait for the fighting to start, where we do our best to even the odds without dying in the process.

3. Objectives- Get Feral out (Orensland likes the idea of sending her out with a Bringer). Get the book and key. Make sure as many people die on all sides as possible. Be ready to flee if need be.

4. How to use the Bringers - Position them close to the House of Maramos to further even the odds. If they have some kind of relay system, perhaps one Bringer could hang around the House of Lancel and warn us when the coup starts.

DeltaWolf
Sanjin would agree with Orensland that the books and key should be retrieved ASAP -if he asked for advice before acting. Sanjin also thinks it is best to get Feral out, as she could prove to be a liability.

Thev
Khaska thinks Orensland's right on target with most of his planning. He agrees that 1) we should heal Greygook, and ask him for any insight about House Lancel's plans (promising him safety for cooperation); 2) Feral should get out of the city, preferably with a Bringer escort, before the fighting; 2) one of our primary goals should be to retrieve the plans and key from the gnomes' skyship as soon as we can; 3) we should leave the Maramos residence if Amara is with the Cult.

A couple more points, however:

  • He'll recommend that Feral take the copy of the printing press designs with her, so that they remain safe.
  • Khaska will encourage the party to set a rendezvous point outside of the city where the party and the Bringers can meet after a certain amount of time if they get separated from each other.
  • Have we determined whether we can… steal the voidgate from the library? That would be ideal: take that along with us. After all, we don't know where it even goes.
  • The earlier we get the key and the gnomes' studies, the earlier we might be able to test the gate, to make sure it would be safe as an escape route in case that's needed… including to make sure we know where it comes out. Of course, we might want to do so when any onlookers might be otherwise distracted.
  • Is there any way we could steal the key and research materials from the gnomes' skyship… and then steal the Cult's skyship in the middle of the tumult, potentially with the voidgate on board (loaded up with the help of crystals stolen from the gnomes' ship)?

I hope this is helpful!

BlackWolf
Rynn generally agrees with the planning thus far. He has no real personal interest in the stuff in the Maramos' library, so he'll leave any of that up to Sanjin and Khaska.

The ranger thinks we need to get a skyship in all the madness, so he'll position himself to that end. I'm now wondering if we should try to liberate the Glittersail skyship. That way we aren't acting against the Maramos coven directly at first (keep the cover a bit longer; "we're helping you against Lady Drakh!") and we can get the research at the same time.

Rynn also wants to either steal the cult's skyship or set it on fire (as previously mentioned). Rynn will have purchased 3 flasks of alchemist's fire (60 gp). He also wants some alcohol, oil, or something else really flammable so the ship will catch and be hard to put out. If we manage to get the Glittersail skyship, then we could firebomb the cult's vessel from above. Or even try to board it that way, if there's an opportunity to steal it (though I expect they'll leave guards).

So Rynn wants to plot toward nabbing the Glittersail skyship as soon as Lady Drakh takes action. That also keeps him away from being spotted if Gulnith or Amara are on the cult's ship. He'll watch them arrive from a distance because he thinks that their arrival will trigger Lady Drakh into action (hopefully she will be off-guard because it should happen earlier than she was expecting) and once she starts to move then her focus should be on the Maramos and the Glittersail skyship will not be as hard to commandeer.

If Orensland wants to try to sneak onboard the Glittersail ship early to steal the plans, Rynn would support that. If we can acquire that before the fighting starts then that's one less thing to do later. Plus the shadowdancer can see how they're guarding it or if they are planning to use it.

“First things first,” Rynn said. “Let’s get you off the street. Orensland, go get Khaska for some healing. We’ll be in this tavern here.”

“Make sure it’s a private booth!” Orensland said, running off.

Khaska came immediately, though he had the foresight to take his hat back from Orensland and disguise himself. They left the Maramos compound a bit apart so as not to arouse suspicion. The cleric was able to use some basic healing to patch Greygook up. He probably wasn’t in danger of bleeding to death, but the cleric mused, having his blood leaving a nice trail for a vampire to follow probably wasn’t in their best interests anyway.

“We have some allies in the city,” Khaska said. “Perhaps it would be best if you went to stay with one of them. In the meantime,” he leaned forward, “is there anything else you can tell us about Lady Drakh’s plans? We mean to get the two houses to destroy each other as much as possible. Maybe these dragon cultists as well.”

“Is your ship still flyable?” Rynn asked. “Perhaps that could be our way out of the city in all the fighting.”

“Lady Drakh mentioned she didn’t want us interfering with her plans for ‘the meeting,’” Greygook said. “And unless they’ve damaged the ship, it’s still flyable. We’d have to get to it, however. It wouldn’t take long to get it flying, but without a skilled crew, it’d be up and out of the city. Flying so close to buildings is tricky business.”

As soon as Orensland knew that Greygook was in good hands, he stood up.

“I’m going to go get the research and the key. What does it look like? Where is it?”

“It’ll all be in a small box that has an Arcane Lock spell on it. Don’t try to open it there. It will be hidden with the journal in that box under the skyship’s steering wheel. The wheel leans back if properly set. I’m sure a rogue like you can figure out the mechanism. ”

Orensland nodded, then turned and vanished outside the curtain marking off their private booth.


From what he could tell, the Lancel house guards had been doubled at the front gate, but his clambering up the side of some nearby buildings to get a better view into the compound revealed no other changes. There was one guard on the ship. Orensland wasn’t all that worried. He then snuck up to the front gate to try and listen to the guards. There was enough light to create shadows, and he was able to blend in and get quite close.

The guards seemed tense, on edge. They spoke to each other in whispers, and he was able to make out snippets. They were gearing up for something, and worried it might have already started now that “that gnome” had gotten away. The leader of this small squad was excited, hoping to prove himself in combat. Perhaps he could be made one of the Chosen! Orensland thought he sounded a little self-confident for a guard. But there was the matter of the chest from the gnomes’ skyship. He ghosted away from the front gate.

He managed to snag his grappling hook on the first try, and it barely made a sound. The shadowdancer was over the wall and onto the ship in a flash, landing with barely a thunk. He whipped out his new sap and clubbed the guard over the head, grabbing the limp body and depositing it on the deck.

The wheel mechanism was relatively complicated, but with Greygook’s instructions he got it on the first try, finding the small box. Wary of the gnome’s warning about the lock, he simply grabbed it and was up the mast and over the wall a few seconds later, nobody (except the unconscious guard) the wiser in the Lancel compound.


Sanjin was helping review the drawings they had made of the printing device with Feral one last time when Orensland burst into the room. He held up the chest.

“This has all the gnome’s research into these gate things, as well as the key, but it’s got an Arcane Lock on it. Can you get it open?”

Sanjin was immediately interested, tossing aside the paper he had been examining. Feral scooped it up without a word.

“Not today, but eventually, yes. But … wait, if there isn’t anybody in the library, then ooh! I can!”

“Let’s go!”

“Where did you get this?” Orensland quickly explained the situation. Rynn and Khaska were taking Greygook to be with one of the Bringers, after Lady Drakh had killed his brothers.

“Feral,” Orensland said, “probably best to go back to Khaska’s quarters.”

“Wasn’t Khaska going to send you out of the city anyway?” Sanjin asked.

“He had mentioned as much to me, but I had not been made aware of any specific plans,” she whispered.

“Well, go to his quarters.” The two of them left to head to the library.


Luckily, there was nobody there. Lady Isabelle didn’t spend much time there, and aside from one visit from Lady Maramos herself about a month ago, the group basically had free reign in the library.

After cursorily saluting the two valet skeletons, Sanjin took the chest and placed it on the table with the antimagic field on it. With the Arcane Lock spell suppressed, Orensland opened the chest easily.

Inside was a book and an obsidian rod. Sanjin picked the rod up, glancing across the room to the gate device. “Made of the same material.”

“I bet that was the ‘sacred stick,’ the goblins were after,” Orensland breathed.

Sanjin opened the book.

“Stupid gnomes writing in gnomish!” he cursed. “He’s got plenty of research in here. I just have to be able to cast Comprehend Languages on myself to read it. But I think we’re on the verge of something amazing here! I can try to discern his charts and graphs without the words, I guess.” He sat down and began to study the book.

Rynn and Khaska came in.

“Greygook safe?” asked Orensland.

“As safe as he can be if Lady Drakh is hunting for him. You get the box?”

“And Sanjin was able to open it. Unfortunately, the journal of research is in gnomish.” He held the rod up. “But we think this is the key!”

Khaska’s ears flattened. “Is this what they sought all those months ago, in the Wastes? That they sent the goblins after?”

“I believe so.”

“Things might begin to move quite rapidly,” the cleric said. “I think I need to get Feral out of the city as soon as possible. I’ve already made arrangements with one of the Bringers to escort her out. I’ll see to that now while you all investigate this ‘voidgate.’”

Eryx (DM)
You now have the key and Greygook’s research. Unfortunately you can’t read the research since none of you know gnomish (and I assume neither Khaska nor Sanjin has Comprehend Languages prepared, but if you genuinely would due to continuing research in the library, then I’ll allow it and post results here in the gray box). But, that doesn’t mean you can’t experiment and try on your own to use the key on the gate. Think of it as a puzzle. You all indicated that you wanted to “test” it all out. Here's your chance.

Can I get an Knowledge (Arcana) check from Sanjin to try to discern some diagrams and things from the research journal, even though you can’t read gnomish at the moment?

Edit: I'm the DM, so I can do this. I've moved the clock back. The skyship will be here TOMORROW, not TONIGHT. You have a day to prepare spells you think might be of use in experimenting with the gate and the key and reading his research. Detect Magic. Comprehend Languages. Identify. Whatever. I realized in thinking about this that I had set you up for a harder task than I had intended by having Lady Drakh attack the gnomes at the last minute. So now she attacked them the moment she found out about the cult's arrival and didn't wait a day.

Your idea of moving the gate out of the library is a clever one, Thev, but the library is so far underground and the gate so heavy that you’d basically have to wipe out the House of Maramos entirely and have a good amount of uninterrupted time to get it up out of the house and onto a skyship or cart or whatever.

For the sake of narration, you’ve told Feral your plans and she’s ready to go. You’ve made arrangements to give her to one of the Bringers (you get to pick which one) and he’ll escort her to your rendezvous place. You’ve discussed setting one up before for everybody to meet up after the hullabaloo if you’re all separated. Where would you like it to be?

Greygook said that Lady Drakh has plans for “the meeting.” The guards around her place seemed to be gearing up for a battle.

In short, you have the key and the gate and some uninterrupted time. What experiments would you like to try to see if you can get the gate to function as anticipated? I’ll post responses pretty quickly here in the gray box.

Thev
Thanks for moving the clock back! That really helps. As far as Khaska's spell preparations have gone, I do think he'd probably have prepared Comprehend Languages this day. After all, one of his primary preoccupations while in the Maramos house has been research in the library, and it's not like he'd prepare combat, food, or other spells while in relative (if wary) safety. Of course, for the next day he'll prepare the spells he'll need for battle. Does that seem reasonable?

Further, with Comprehend Languages (if the above seems reasonable), what can Khaska and Sanjin figure out about the gate and its key together?

Regarding a rendezvous location: how about the southernmost point in the bend of the East Gnarzaan River? Perhaps the best Bringer to accompany Feral out of the city would be the sorceror — s/he seems to have the most beneficial position when it comes to oversight and embeddedness, and if the Bringers wish to keep a presence in the city, s/he shouldn't reveal his/herself in the fight. S/he can return to the city after the rendezvous.

Another reason to start out eastwards: Khaska figures the Bringers would want to return to Garth Calad (unless they wish to remain to continue covert operations and observation), and Khaska himself wishes to go there. With a skyship, moreover, it could be possible to do surveillance of the Zybryxion Marshes on the way, which could be beneficial. (Given that we could continue our conversations with the Bringers, we could even help them with their research.)

DeltaWolf

  • Knowledge Arcana: 22 (11 rolled + 11 Mod)

I'd also like to try my Decipher Script skill (I have a +3 mod) but I believe that should be done in secret.

Eryx (DM)
Although this kind of thing seems the purview of Khaska and Sanjin, there's no need for BlackWolf and Crosis to sit this out. If you were all sitting around the table in a normal D&D game, you'd all be contributing to the effort to figure out these gateways.

Khaska takes a while to read through the working notes from Greydale. He learns many things.

1. These "voidgates" date back to the Pressen Empire. Everybody please give me a straight Intelligence check.
2. They are stationed around particular magic points—Ley Lines, where magic forces are most potent across Jenoa.
3. The gnomes blew most of their cash having Discern Location cast for the key. That's how they discovered its location at the northern end of the Niktean Wastes. As far as they know, this is the only key to one of the voidgates still in existence. Greydale speculates trips might be only one way through the gates—still useful, but not as useful as two-way trips.
3. The gnomes have cast Detect Magic and Identify on the rod. Both spell shad no effect. As if they magic energy just … vanished. Don’t know where it went. Greydale was puzzled by this.
4. Casting those same spells on the voidgate itself (the one near the wastes) had different results. Detect Magic worked–a strong Conjuration school spell was revealed. Identify did not. It must be the magical equivalent of an artifact.
5. Tried touching the key to the gate. No reaction. In fact, gate doesn’t react at all. Used it like a wand. Passed it through the gate. Did everything the gnomes could think of. Nothing worked. It must be attuned to a different gate.
6. Based on Greydale's study of the Ley Lines on Jenoa, there are likely other gates at: the Fortress of Vigilance; the Zyrbryxion Marshes; the one north of the Niktean Wastes (confirmed existence); the Lonely Sisters (Greydale note: fire giants); at the river convergence in the Elven lands (0-13 on the world map); Darkcrest (Greydale note: confirmed); Tjavan (Greydale note: undead); at D5-ish on the world map.

Based on 2 above, Sanjin is able to tell that the voidgate would not work if moved too far from the ley line nexus point. He is also skeptical that they key would be attuned to only one of the gates.

What, if any, other steps would you like to take with this new information?

BlackWolf
Interesting. As for Rynn, the ranger just shrugs and doesn't have much to add. If the key works on the gate here in the library, it could be a potential escape route. Of course, who knows where it would lead us… and if it's a one-way trip then we might not have a good way to test it. Some of the gate locations sound fairly inhospitable.

If it did lead to the Zybryxion Marshes, that could possibly be a good way to surprise the Cult of Skyrnyn, since apparently they are based somewhere there. If we could traverse the gates at will then Orensland could sneak through and check it out.

In any case, it might be prudent to at least try putting the key near this gate. Touch them together, wave it around, imagine one of the other possible gate locations, etc. Because if this key doesn't work with this gate (or we cannot figure it out) then the key becomes something to mess with later.

INT check: 15 (rolled 14 + 1 modifier)

Since the rod seems to suck up magical energy, maybe that's related to how it is used? Maybe you have to use it on the gate and "pour" magic into it (by casting a spell or otherwise channeling energy via the wand)? Maybe something to do with teleportation magic (which does fall under the school of Conjuration)?

Thev

INT Check: 22 = 20 + 2

Khaska's been doing his studying, haha! :D

First, is there any information about the ley lines in the notes or the library? Any information would help us with our further research.

Second, we should probably test out the same actions the gnomes did with the key and the voidgate. (Is there a way for us to block the door while we're doing so?) Rynn's suggestions also sound good. As we don't know what will happen with the gate when it's activated, we should probably tie the person conducting the tests to a bookcase or piece of heavy furniture. On a similar note, we could tie something to another length of rope to test whether the gate is one-way. (If we can pull it back, great! Maybe someone can try going through while tied off.)

(What does "magical equivalent of an artifact" mean?)

Eryx (DM)
That comment about an artifact comes from the obscure rule (that I am invoking here) that the Identify spell cannot be used on artifacts—which are basically super high-level weapons or magic items. The kinds of things legends are made of.

Both Khaska and Rynn note the term "Pressen Empire" is a bit weird. Neither has heard of it before, but Pressen is the gas giant around which the moon you are on orbits, not one of the moons itself. Anybody who gets a 15 or higher on their Intelligence Check would also realize this information.

To find out more information about the ley lines, can I get a Knowledge (History) or Knowledge (Arcana) (your choice) check from Khaska and Sanjin? You may have advantage, the 5E rule where you can roll twice and take the higher roll, since you have spent many hours familiarizing yourself with the library and its contents.

How do you suggest blocking the door? Tie a rope around the doorknobs? Move a bookcase or table or something in front of it (it opens outward, following our USA fire codes, heh). May I suggest posting a lookout instead?

Can I get specific actions you wish to take? Like "I cast a conjuration spell at the gate" or "I touch the wand to the gate." You've hinted at some things, but I'd like the concrete steps your characters would perform.

Crosis
Sorry I haven't been participating, this week has been pretty nuts. The next couple of weeks will be too, I'm getting ready to come back to the States. But I'll try to participate as best as I can.

So, I have a theory. "Pressen Empire" sounds weird to all present. It almost seems to imply that, once upon a time, there was an empire that ruled over BOTH Jenoa and Arkenos. Maybe more moons? We won't go there yet. But if there was an empire that ruled over both, that would imply there would need to be some form of transportation between the two worlds beyond the 1000-year atmosphere mixture phenomenon. Like… a portal of some kind…

We've always assumed that these voidgates connect to each other. But what if they have a twin on the other moon? It would make sense, really– the key appears to be attuned to at least one voidgate, while it is not attuned to another. Perhaps there is one key to two voidgates– allowing for two-way travel between two specific gates with one specific key. With all this hypothesizing, a one-way gate sounds silly, especially if you need to take the key with you. If it only works on that voidgate, then you'd need to travel all the way back to use it again.

As for how to use the key, Orensland would suggest they try every method outlined in the journal, in the order they are presented. Touch it to the gate. Use it like a wand. Try to pass through the gate with it in hand. In further ideas, see if the gate has a hole or symbol that seems to match the key, like a functioning keyhole. Cast a spell of some kind, though that's out of my wheelhouse. If we're really desperate, perhaps Orensland could try to shadowdance through the gate while holding the key. That's all I'm coming up with right now.

Orensland could stand guard. He'd shadowdance to avoid detection.

Knowledge 12 (9+3)
Hide: 29 (5 + 24)
Move Silent: 39 (15 + 24)

Thev (via IM)
Knowledge (History) = 26 = 17 + 9

Well, hopefully that's enough to get us some information about ley lines!

Khaska thinks that Orensland's theory about the Pressen Empire sounds plausible and, indeed, was the first thing that came to Khaska's mind when he heard the name. (He'd wonder where the gnomes got the information in the first place.) If that's true, and if the gates might work both ways… we should be very careful. If the gate leads to Arkenos, we could unwittingly open a portal that would allow evil creatures to come pouring in. Sure, they'd come out in Darkcrest, which Khaska would not mourn, but it still wouldn't be good to be the ones who inaugurated the Dark Times ahead of schedule. And if we do need to make an escape… yes, let's post a sentry instead of blocking the doors.

Khaska would ask whether, with this hypothesis, the party would still want to conduct experiments that could end very badly, or whether we should just effect our escape from Darkcrest and seek out another of the voidgates, perhaps one that's unattended.

If the party thinks we should press on with the experiment, Khaska would suggest, as did Orensland, following the same actions the gnomes tried:

  • Touching the gate in various places with the key
  • Waving the key in front of the gate in various patterns: straight across, from top to bottom, around clockwise and counterclockwise (starting in different positions along the circumference and traveling different distances: quarter-turn, half-turn, full circle)
  • Drawing basic shapes in the air in front of the gate: squares (upright and 45-degree-tilted), triangles, stars
  • Passing the key through the gate (but with the key tightly attached to the person using it, so it can't be wrenched or pulled out of his grasp)

BlackWolf (via text)
Like when I said “channeling energy via the wand” that meant several things. Cast a spell at the rod? At the gate while holding it? Cast a spell at the rod and then the gate, or both simultaneously? E. All of the above? Things like that.

“Well, do you have Comprehend Languages prepared?” asked Sanjin. “At least flip through the journal, to give us an idea of what the gnomes’ research already covered.”

Khaska nodded. He spent a few moments praying, and felt his mind open as Teresh’s divine magic flowed through it. He took the book and began to read. The notes were extensive—Greydale was a good scholar, and after about half an hour he had a good hold on what the gnomes thought they were dealing with.

“He calls these ‘voidgates,’” Khaska said, pointing to the archway. “They date back to something called the ‘Pressen Empire,’ which I have never heard of.”

“Pressen Empire?” Orensland said. “Not Jenoan or Arkenosian?”

“Pressen.”

The shadowdancer stared at the archway. “It is possible this transportation system can lead to Arkenos? Perhaps there was once an empire that spanned both moons?”

“That would have been over 50,000 years ago,” Khaska breathed. “We are coming up on the 53rd Dark Times.”

“What else?” the wizard inquired. He was getting very excited. Khaska spoke to calm him.

“If indeed this could connect to Arkenos, we should be extra careful. I would not want to be responsible for inaugurating the Dark Times ahead of scheduel, even if I would think Darkcrest would be a fine city for their forces to destroy!” He turned back to the notes. “These gates are placed at specific locations, ley lines, where magic forces are most potent. He has a list of potential places. The Fortress of Vigilance. The Zyrbryxion Marshes. North of the Niktean Wastes—we know that one exists. He has a note here to that effect. The Lonely Sisters—he notes there are fire giants there. One in the Elven Lands at a convergence of major rivers.”

“I’ve been there, but I don’t remember an archway like this,” Orensland said.

“Did you explore the entire area? The city that’s grown up around that convergence is quite large,” Sanjin said.

“No, I can’t say for certain that it’s there or not there.”

Khaska nodded, and continued. “Tjavan—Greydale notes there are undead there. And finally, in the middle of the ocean, the Upper Jaw of Thanor.”

“Could be a ley line convergence that isn’t conducive to actually having a voidgate there,” Sanjin said. “Is that all?”

Khaska thought for a moment, and then moved over to an area of the library that contained many maps and scrolls. After some time he found one, rolling it out on one of the tables. “I remembered this map from looking around here,” he said. “It details ley lines from some wizards from the elven university.” He glanced at the map and the journal back and forth. “If Greydale’s suppositions are correct, there are many other points that might have similar magical properties than the one’s he’s laid out here. Most of the ley lines come from near the Fortress of Vigilance, extending out and around the globe, so I suspect he is right about that one, but there could be …” he did some quick calculations, “potentially ten to twenty of these voidgate locations. He may have just scratched the surface of what was possible.”

Sanjin was similarly now looking at the map. “Just because there is a ley line convergence doesn’t mean there will be a gate there, but you may be right. Perhaps his understanding of ley lines was rudimentary compared to these elven scholars. What I don’t understand is where they were getting their original information. The journal doesn’t say?”

“It does not. It just starts with some notes about these voidgates and a key to unlocking them. It mentions Discern Location was cast—they spent a great deal of money on that, trying to find a key. That led them to the Niktean Wastes where we intersected them.”

“So there’s only one of them?” asked Rynn. “Makes for a good getaway if nobody can follow you.”

“Yes, but if the rod is only attuned to one gate, the trips might be one-way, he speculated,” Khaska said. “I mean, that might still be worth something, but less useful than being able to connect any gate to any gate.”

“How will we know which gate it’s attuned to?” Sanjin asked.

“They tried a number of experiments on the one near the Wastes,” Khaska said, now rolling up the map (having made some notes of his own in the book now). “None of them worked. I suggest we try the same things here. It’s why they were in Darkcrest—to see if this rod is attuned to this gate.”

“Sounds good to me,” Sanjin said, practically snatching the rod from where it lay on the table in front of them. “What did they try? Though, wait, did they cast Identify on it?”

Khaska flipped through the book. “They did.” He paused, a little unclear on what had happened. “It appears that the spell … just vanished. Both Identify and Detect Magic had no effect.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. Detect Magic is a sustained spell. It lasts for a while.”

“Well, he says once he turned towards the rod with it, the spell seemed to just vanish.” Khaska shrugged. “That’s his term here, as near as I can translate it. ‘Vanished.’”

“Well, let’s get started duplicating their experiments,” Rynn said. “The longer we sit her, the more chance we have of being discovered. And this seems to be the kind of thing we should not let fall in the hands of vampires.”

“Quite right,” Khaska said.

“I think I should go stand watch, in case someone comes,” Orensland said. “If someone’s coming, I’ll come and warn the group. This kind of thing isn’t really my area of expertise. Good luck, gentlemen!” He opened the door and the others saw him meld into the shadows as he closed it.

Khaska read the individual experiments to Sanjin, who tried each of them.

Touched the gate with the rod. In several places. No effect.

Use the rod like a wand, point it at the gate. No effect.

Point the rod at the gate, think of another location, like the one near the Niktean Wastes. No effect.

Pass the rod through the gate. (After removing the dragon skull from where it was hanging—a feat that took some doing, given its weight.) (Also after tying a rope to the rod in case it was pulled from Sanjin’s grasp.) No effect.

Then they started trying things that the gnomes had not attempted, or at least had not written down.

Wave the rod at the gate in various patterns. Straight across, from top to bottom, around clockwise and counterclockwise (starting in different positions along the circumference and traveling different distances: quarter-turn, half-turn, full circle). No effect.

Drawing basic shapes in the air in front of the gate with the rod, squares (upright and 45-degree-tilted), triangles, stars, etc. No effect.

Sanjin hrumphed. “If there are twenty possible gates, and this key-rod-thingy is attuned to only one, and we don’t know where they all are, it could take a long time to get this to work. But I really can’t imagine it’s only attuned to one gate. That makes so very little sense to me.”

“Magic isn’t my specialty,” Rynn said, “but perhaps that’s a limitation of creating magic devices like this?”

“Maybe.” Sanjin’s tone indicated he still wasn’t convined.

“Maybe the devices need to be powered by magic?” Rynn speculated.

“An interesting thought,” Sanjin said. “We know that at least two spells were cast at it. Did the notes indicate anything else like that was done as part of their experimentation?”

Khaska shook his head. “Just Identify and Detect Magic.”

Sanjin held the rod up. “Perhaps we should cast some spells at it. Maybe from the conjuration school—that’s the school for other spells like Teleport.”

“Healing spells are that school—conjuration,” Khaska said. He held his hand out. “May I?” Sanjin handed it over. Khaska looked at it, and at the archway. “I will cast Cure Mass Wounds to target them both.

Along the sides of the rod a series of runes began to glow, five of them, two at the bottom, two above that, and one on just one side above those that. The archway remained inert.

“Wow,” Sanjin breathed.

“Well, that’s something at least,” Rynn said. “It ever do that to the gnomes?”

“Not that he wrote down in his notes,” Khaska said.

“Well, what now?” Sanjin asked. Then he reached his hand out. “May I examine it?”
Khaska held it over. The wizard inspected the runes. “It’s a very ancient form of draconic,” he said. “But it’s just numbers. 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.”

Eryx (DM)
What now, indeed. Casting a spell at the rod has made these five runes begin to glow. I was speaking with Thev over IM. He said he would try the Cure Mass Wounds to target both the archway and the rod.

Sanjin would recognize that the runes are an ancient form of draconic, and they stand for 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, respectively, in order starting from the tip down. It looks like there could be 10 runes on the rod, as each takes up about the same amount of space.

Crosis
Best guess is that the rod absorbs spells of a certain caliber (apparently conjuration, though perhaps other kinds as well). Numbers 1-5 lit up on the rod, and Cure Mass Wounds is a level 5 spell, so perhaps each spell "fills up" the rod a little further? Like, to fill the rod up to 10, you could cast two 5-level spells at it, or five 2-level spells, etc.? I asked Eryx, and apparently "the runes remained glowing," so they didn't fade away soon after the spell was cast, suggesting that more could be done. We'd definitely need to cast another spell at the rod to see what happens- if more runes glow but in a different order, we might be looking at more of a lock combination kind of use. As is, it looks like the runes just start glowing at "1" and go up from there.

I would assume we could somehow direct the rod's newly filled power into the voidgate. So the rod serves more of a key-battery capacity, being the instrument through which one powers the voidgate (in fact, maybe that's why it's called a voidgate- it absorbs the powers from the rod). Perhaps each time a person goes through the gate, a rune deactivates. Or we need to power up the rod to 10, and all power is discharged for a single person. But I would assume the limitation lies in how juiced the rod is.

As for how to transfer energy to the gate, we should retry our previous non-magical actions in the same order as before but with the 5 runes lit up. Touch the gate with the rod, etc. If it still doesn't work, tinker with some new conjuration spells to fill up the remaining runes, then try them again. We may also want to say the name of locations just in case – I'm not sure if the book Khaska has contains ancient names for Ley Line locations, but if it does, try to say the one in the Niktean Wastes. Or say "the Niktean Wastes." Or at least think of the gate in the Niktean Wastes. You get the idea. If we can somehow choose the gate we go to, we may as well choose the one that doesn't drop us off in the swamp filled with Cult activists.

My guess is that all 10 runes must be lit up for the rod to work, and that the rod must be refilled after each teleportation. After all, the power of gate jumping isn't exactly of the level-1 variety, so it would likely take more than just one rune to be fully activated. Unless a different level of runes teleports you to a different gate, closer gates to your current location requiring fewer ruins? Food for thought to look for in experimentation. Anways, the magic of the voidgate is of the conjuration variety, so it makes sense that only conjuration spells can "power" it.

But cast another spell at it to see if my "charging rod" idea is right, perhaps a level 2 or 3 conjuration spell. If it works, we should experiment on the gate before reaching 10 filled runes first, just in case we don't need that many to power it.

Thev
Orensland's guesses and suggestions seem reasonable, so let's: try "filling" the rod with one more spell; if that works, try operating the voidgate, including by naming or imagining other places. Of course, we should only envision ones where we might actually want to go (like the Niktean Wastes; though would could test others, to see if they work without us having been there); this could prove an effective means of escape (though if we don't know how long the gate stays open and how to close it, we could just invite half of Darkcrest to the other side of the planet).

DeltaWolf
Sanjin is excited that we got it to do something. One idea he has is to try to cast a Divination spell on the gate intself -unfortunitly Sanjin does not have any prepared. I'm also a little concerned that the gates would need to be "opened" from both sides.

BlackWolf
I feel bad for slowing down the story, but I don't have anything to add at this time.

“We speculated that it might only work with conjuration spells,” Khaska said. “Let us try another school.”

“Or an arcane spell,” Sanjin said.

“Let me try an Abjuration spell first,” Khaska replied. He took the rod back, held out his holy symbol of Teresh, and said a quick prayer, casting Shield of Faith into the rod.

The sixth symbol lit up. “Yup. 6,” said Sanjin, who was barely containing his excitement.

“There’s still room on the rod,” Rynn noted. “It looks like there’s room for about four more runes. If 7 through 10 are the same size.”

“No reason they shouldn’t be,” the wizard replied. “I don’t know if it needs to be full, though. I mean, at least we should try it on the gate with what power it currently holds. If nothing works, then try to fill it with more spells. I worry it might have to be opened from both sides, though. But start with just the magic power we have in the rod now.”

“A sensible thought,” Khaska replied. “I will follow the same procedures we just tried in order. I will endeavor to keep the gate near the Niktean Wastes in mind. We know that to be a relatively safe location.”

“Also a sensible thought,” Sanjin said.

Khaska touched the gate with the rod. In several places. Again, there was no effect.

He used the rod like a wand, pointing it at the gate.

A bolt of blue-ish white energy lanced from the tip (where the 1 and 2 runes were) to the center of the archway, where the energy swirled like water, rippling back and forth in waves from the edge of the “pool” in the center. Along the archway itself runes began to glow—identical to the ones that had been on the rod, which faded. 1 was on top in the center, then two 2s appeared on each side, then below those, 2 3s, and so on. The rippling light in the center grew brighter for a moment, the entire center lighting up brightly as the 2 6 runes lit up, and then the light abruptly vanished.

In the archway itself there was blackness for a moment as their eyes adjusted from the afterimage of the bright light, but then they could see that a portal of sorts had opened. In the archway was now a dark area, but a stone walkway moved from the base of the archway back into the darkness, with sides a few feet high. Sanjin crept forward, fascinated.

“The walkway continues for some length,” he said. “It opens up a bit past the gateway here, but can’t see the end of it. There does seem to be some low light, but I can’t find its source. It’s just kind of there.” He glanced down. “I don’t see anything below the walkway. Maybe this is a pocket dimension?”

The archway made a sound, like a small bell, and Sanjin hurriedly backed up, a little startled. The 6 runes both blinked twice, and then vanished.

“I think they are counting down,” Rynn said. “We have five more minutes, or whatever, until the gate closes.”

Eryx (DM)
You have successfully opened the voidgate! The gate, once open, creates a portal and there is a walkway extending into the darkness (low-light conditions, but not with any obvious source of light) beyond the threshold. The walkway, which starts about five feet wide before expanding to about ten feet wide appears to be hanging in space. There are sides to the walkway about three and a half feet tall.

What do you all want to do now?

FYI, to make the narration flow better, I did add just a little to the last post before the gray box.

Crosis
Looks like we're in business!

So I had to reread it a few times to get what exactly happened, but I think I get it now. So the space inside the voidgate does NOT lead directly to another gate as we have assumed, but rather to a pocket dimension (unless one of the other voidgates opens up to a magically lit walkway over empty space, but it seems less likely). Each rune lit up on the rod can charge the gate for approximately one minute each, meaning that we initially had 6 minutes, but after a minute of inspecting the gate only have 5 left before it closes.

How noisy was this whole spectacle? Should we worry about servants or vampires overhearing some loud explosion-like noises coming from the library? The "small bell" sound doesn't sound terribly compromising, but you never know.

As for theories, I wouldn't be surprised if the walkway leads to a central location from which one could walk up to other voidgate entrances. In that sense, one could theoretically get from any voidgate to any other voidgate, resolving our earlier fears that we'd pop out in the middle of the marshes or on Arkenos by using this gate specifically.

Naturally, the only way to test this is to walk into the gate and check it out! It sounds like something Orensland would do, but he is sadly not present. There are several dangers to this – there may be creatures/other beings inside the pocket dimension, and we don't know what happens if someone is in the pocket dimension when the gate closes (though I suspect nothing). We also don't know if the rod can open a gateway from inside the pocket dimension, though that would be a silly design flaw if you can't.

If I'm right and other voidgate entrances are inside, there are a couple ways this can play out. It could be that the entrances are oriented in such a way that it's clear where they lead to. Perhaps there's ancient draconic labelling over the gateways (would Khaska's comprehend languages spell make it so he can read them?). Maybe they're situated in a way that suggests they belong to particular ley line intersections. Or there are just a bunch of arches inside, and we have no indication as to which gates lead to where.

What Orensland would do if he were there would rush in (while shadowdancing, just in case), take a look at everything, then rush back and report before the gate closes. Heck, he'd probably be fine just running in and staying in there after the gate closes just so he can explore everything while being able to hide if need be (then they reopen the gate at some predetermined time so he can get back). However, he is not there, though if you guys want to run grab him, he'd be down. If I recall correctly, elves can see in low-light areas pretty well, so perhaps Sanjin would like to check it out? Or Khaska with a light source, since he has comprehend languages already cast, plus has some familiarity with the ley lines?

I feel like there's been a lot of back-and-forth, slow movement with figuring out these voidgates. I think one of the reasons I'm inclined to letting Orensland just run in for a while then come back out later is because he'd be the safest (detect traps, shadowdancing to avoid other creatures, etc.). Plus we'd have more information to work with so we can move it along a bit faster.

Thev
Per the email, Khaska would be fine with Orensland going into the voidgate and exploring, though he would like to 1) try tying a rope to him (in case such a simple measure would help) and 2) get a bit of hair so that it might be possible to scry if something goes wrong. If this ends up working, we may have found a better escape route than we could've imagined, though it would mean we wouldn't make it to the rendezvous outside of Darkcrest. It would almost certainly be safer than stealing a skyship from the House Lancel.

A second experiment we might want to do if Orensland comes back and reports other gates: just attempt to use the rod, charged, on another gate while our gate is open. We wouldn't want to get stuck in the void, but if we know we can get out easily, we'd have some more assurance.

BlackWolf
I'm also fine with Orensland going in to explore. Rynn would volunteer to stand watch for a while so the shadowdancer can go in.

However, Rynn will frown at the suggestions of using the voidgate as an escape route. He admits that it would be a great trick in case things go sideways, but he doesn't want to just skip out and wonder what happened between the vampires and the cult. In his mind, stealing/destroying skyships from the cult or House Lancel is less about escaping and more about hurting our enemies while advancing our own mobility.

This voidgate is certainly important. But to the ranger, it's a distraction from what needs to be done.

Thev

Khaska thinks Rynn's point is about escape vs. leaving Darkcrest in disarray is a fair one, so he'd be alright with relegating the voidgate to a backup evacuation plan. Either way, we're definitely bringing the rod with us.

“Well, we can’t see very far into this ‘void’ area,” Khaska said. “Perhaps we should send someone in to scout it out?”

“Are we sure the gate opens to the same place every time?” asked Rynn.

“I don’t see why it wouldn’t,” Sanjin said. “But I have an idea.” He grabbed a sheet of paper from the notes on his desk, wrote on it quickly, and then walked forward and put it on the ground just inside the voidgate.

“If it opens to the same place, the paper will be there. And this time, I’ll try a spell.”

A few minutes later, after counting down, the gate shut, flaring brightly for just a moment, and then the portal vanishing. Through the voidgate they could now just see the back of the library, a foot or so behind the archway.

Sanjin took the rod, and muttered some arcane words, pointing at it. A single rune lit up.

“That answers that question,” he said. “Do you want to scout it out, Rynn?”

“I was actually thinking I could go trade with Orensland and take up watch. I think he would be the better scout, in this instance.”

Orensland was ecstatic that they had gotten the device to work. Sanjin pointed the rod at the gate, and the same sequence of events repeated themselves. The portal opened.

“That’s so neat!” the elf exclaimed. Sanjin reached into the portal and retrieved his piece of paper. “So, I’ll head in and look around. You’ll re-open it in, like, half an hour. An hour?”

“Let’s say an hour,” Sanjin said, once again peering through. “I don’t see anything except this path.”

“Sounds good to me,” the shadowdancer said, striding through the portal. He vanished into the low-light conditions of the pocket dimension using his shadowdancing, and a moment later the portal closed.

“Let us hope that was not a mistake,” Rynn said.


Orensland began to jog along the path. He glanced over the side once, but saw no floor or surface to land on. If one jumped over the side, it would be a very long fall. He wondered if the fall would even end.

He moved towards the center of the path, as far away from either side as he could get.

It gradually sloped up and curved around, and after about ten minutes of jogging he saw two other pathsways, also sloping and curving nearly in tandem, to either side of him. Up ahead, it looked like they would meet. After a few more minutes of jogging, he indeed saw them all converging on a platform similarly suspended seemingly in mid-air.

The platform itself was about 100 yards in diameter. There was a similar four-foot wall to prevent falling off, and the shadowdancer counted fifteen different paths that led up to it, including the one he had come up. He dropped a dagger on his path so he could remember which one he had used. In the center, curving more steeply up, another pathway went up from the center of the platform. Orensland glanced up and could see, way off above him, another platform, with what looked like another fifteen pathways arcing away from it, but those pathways seemed to arc up from the higher platform, while the paths down here arced down away from this platform. He figure he didn’t have time to go up to that platform, but he did have time to explore one of these alternate pathways from the one he was on. He picked the one just to the left of his and began jogging down it—noticing some writing on the wall just to the right of it. It looked like each path had a different word next to it. The names of the locations? It looked like draconic to him, so he couldn’t read any of them.

He managed to get about what he figured was halfway down this new path before he could see its end—another voidgate, sitting suspended in space.

So, two platforms, fifteen voidgates (he assumed—he hadn’t seen the other 13 from his platform) connected to each of them. Intriguing. But, he had about half an hour left. He jogged back, retrieved his dagger, and then sprinted down his original pathway, dropping his blending into the shadows. After all, he didn’t want to get trapped here, and he had seen no sign of anybody else in this “pocket dimension.”

He reached the gate, and it hadn’t opened. Not wanting to panic yet, he did want to try something. He walked forward and reached his hand out, as if to put it through the gate. Could you, theoretically (he had no desire to do this) jump through and “fall off” this series of pathways.

It looked like you could. His hand went through where he assumed the portal would open with no problem. He backed away. He didn’t have a problem with heights, but if this was literally an infinite height, he didn’t want to even contemplate getting too close. Just then, however, he was shoved backward from the voidgate by a firm force. He reached forward and, try as he might, it seemed there was something preventing him from getting closer to the gate. This time, panic did set it. Was he barred from re-entering the gate from this side?!?

But then the “1” rune lit up. Then the “2” rune. The force must be a safety mechanism to prevent ones getting a limb chopped off when the portal opened, the shadowdancer mused. The light from the voidgate swirled in the center and coalesced brightly, flashing for a moment and … then revealing the library in the Maramos mansion.

Sanjin was holding the rod, which still had a two runes atop it lit.

“So either of us can fill it up,” he said to Khaska, “and you don’t have to unload the entire set of charges into the voidgate at once. And now to our last experiments.”

Sanjin pointed the rod at the gate, and energy arced from it to the archway. The third set of runes lit up.

“And you can power it up further while it’s activated.” Sanjin then stepped through the gate into the pocket dimension and pointed at the archway from that side.

The last rune on the rod flared and the fourth set of runes on the gate, on both sides, lit up.

“And it works from inside the pocket dimension,” the wizard said.

He stepped out and pointed the rod one final time. Nothing happened.

“But you cannot draw power back into the rod from the voidgates themselves. Good to know.”

Khaska, this whole time, had been near Orensland. Near as the shadowdancer could read him, was relieved. Orensland gave his report.

“If, as we’re suspecting, this might be a transportation system that spans both moons, I bet the lower platform is for Jenoa, and the upper for Arkenos,” Orensland said, concluding his findings.

“A reasonable assumption,” Khaska said, “but I feel to be cautious here. Like Rynn said, we would not want to inadvertently start the Dark Times early!”

“While this is a great backup plan,” Rynn said, “I still favor stealing the gnome’s skyship in the chaos and getting out that way.”

“Can we fly it?” asked Sanjin.

“Greygook said he could do so with our help, even inexperienced as we are. It’s a small ship. Not as complicated as something like the Adder Invictus.”

“Well,” Khaska said, “I’m glad we have multiple ways out of the city if need be. The next few days will be harrowing.”

Orensland and Sanjin grinned and looked at each other. Khaska almost sighed. Weren’t elves supposed to be serious and contemplative?


Khaska took Feral from his quarters and escorted her out into the city to meet with one of the bringers, a human named Amber Lackman, who had been working for an enchanter’s shop as a merchant.

“Feral, this is Miss Lackman, and she’ll be taking you to our rendezvous point near the East Gnaarzaan river.”

“And that’s where you will meet me?” the former slave asked? Khaska could tell she was deeply troubled. He nodded affirmatively.

“I wish the circumstances were such that I could accompany you, but we press forward with our plans to to intervene in the meeting two days hence. I know you are not very familiar with our gods as of yet,” (the cleric had told her of many of them, but had not formally introduced her to many of their religious rites and prayers) “but if you wish to say a prayer for us, I hope the Gods would listen to you.” He pointed to her backpack, where she had the plans for the printing press. “Keep those safe, too. The vampires know not what they have there. I have high hopes for the future of this device.” Then he straightened. “May your feet never know splitting from the road, Feral.” He turned to the Bringer. “Keep her safe, Miss Lackman.”

“Good luck,” the human said. “I’ll see you at the rendezvous. If not there, then on to Garth Calad.”

“May the gods guide your steps,” he intoned. With that, the two women left on their way out of the city. He felt a pang of regret. Such little time, he felt, he had spent with Feral. The Maha’i woman had never, he felt, fully warmed up to him. Always stand-offish and demure. He hoped her future allowed her to overcome the years of trauma from her slavery, but he suspected it would be a long road.

But, his priority right now was clear. The cult would be arriving soon, and the opportunity to strike a blow against many of their enemies was too good to pass up. He hoped the next day would bring justice to many who had wrought such evil in the world—to Feral, and to many others.


Every member of the party slept uneasy that night, and spent the day resting and preparing as best they could. Rynn, having worn clothes provided by the Maramos for now many weeks, put on his regular clothes, long since washed, the boots replaced (and broken in), and thought of being once again on the open road. However, he mused, “the open road” might be a skyship journey once again, or a trip through the pocket dimension. Sanjin looked over his list one more time. If they did decide to go through the voidgate, he was prepared to hurriedly loot the Maramos library. The possibility of taking many of their magic texts was—enticing. Khaska spent the day in his chambers, praying and meditating, drawing strength from the communion with Teresh. Orensland made sure he was completely packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice, and then spent the day once again out in the city.

That evening, the group retired to their beds after taking an early supper. They wanted to remain hidden in case Amara was part of the entourage of the cult’s leadership. Orensland snuck out and went to his pre-selected spot, a place on the roof of the stables which gave him plenty of shade to blend in with the shadows and gave him a good view of most of the Maramos compound.

He only waited for a few hours when he saw the ship descending slowly in the distance. It was sunrise twilight, and so the Maramos couple couldn’t greet their allies in person, but Master Greymantle and Captain Gendry both were on hand. The skyship descended and dropped an anchor and several ropes, ropes that allowed those on the ground to more easily guide it down. It finally rested, tied off in several places to the various buildings so it could not drift into one of them, hovering about fifteen feet above the ground. A rope ladder dropped down and Orensland was able to get a good look at the cult members leadership as they all came down.

First was the honor guard. There were ten dragon-men dressed in plate, all with shields and with longswords at their side. Each shield held the same draconic symbol for the cult that the party had seen several times since first encountering it in Laishtek. But after these ten, standing at rigid attention, came the leadership. Orensland perked up.

The first to descend was a humanoid-looking dragon person—not like the dragon men. He seemed to be slight of build, and his clothing and the slender sword at his side were definitely of elven design—he looked somewhat like an elf to the shadowdancer’s eyes, albeit one with black scales and horns jutting forward. He didn’t actually use the rope ladder—the black cloak he was wearing turned out to be wings.

Next came a human woman with green hair, and green scales going up and down her arms. Her eyes seemed slightly yellowish. He assumed this was Gulnith, and the shadowdancer’s knuckles turned white on his sword hilt. He hadn’t known Fan personally, but he was incensed about what had happened to her.

The third and final member of the cult’s leadership was dressed to the nines in plate armor, a wicked looking mace strapped to his? her? back. This figure wore a mask split into five colors at different points, and emblazoned on the chestplate—and on the cloak, Orensland could see as this figure turned—was the symbol of a five-headed dragon, Tiamat.

The arrivals were greeted by Lord and Lady Maramos at the door to the main mansion, and they were all brought inside, except for four of the dragon-men guard who took up positions around the skyship. Orensland was relieved that the cult leadership were not put up in Master Greymantle’s “house,” where the chance of running into them would obviously be greater. He was further relieved, after watching the Adder Invictus for about half an hour, that Amara was not among the cult’s entourage. He returned to give his report to the others, sneaking back into their accomodations with ease.

Eryx (DM)
You now know basically everything about the voidgate system you can know without further, more detailed exploration of the pocket dimension, which it seemed none of you wanted to do under the gun in Darkcrest.

The cult’s leadership has arrived. From Orensland’s descriptions, it appears the first two are dragon disciples—the prestige class (people like Amara who, over time, take on the traits of a draconic ancestor). The third is likely, according to Khaska, a cleric of Tiamat, the evil dragon goddess. Sanjin is very confused by Orensland’s description of the honor guard. They seem to be a different race entirely—something different from dragon disciples.

The formal meeting will be tomorrow morning. Aside from Gulnith, nobody else here should recognize you, and even she doesn’t know Sanjin or Orensland, through the meta-gaming luck of missions and switching characters.

What’s the plan? From what you all posted before, there were several options discussed:
1. Burn down the Adder Invictus.
2. Steal the gnomes' ship.
3. Orensland would attend the meeting.
4. Steal the skyship crystals from the Adder Invictus.

I'd like to know which of them you're still interested in, and in what conditions. (BlackWolf, for example, wanted to go get the gnomes' ship during the fighting. Crosis suggested setting fire to the Adder Invictus some time after the meeting, if no fighting broke out during it.)

Also, here's what you now know about the voidgate system.

Thev
(OOC: This is very exciting! Ahh!) Hearing that the pathways were labeled makes Khaska want to take a look himself in the pocket dimension with Comprehend Languages cast on himself. He doesn't know the next time he'll be able to do research, so he'd want to go inside and make observations, writing down a guide to the paths on both the Jenoa and Arkenos platforms (that is, any labels on the paths and other text he finds). (He'd probably write the notes down in Maha'i in case they're seen by someone else, copying them in Common once the party is safe.) He'd just open the gate one minute, enter, make his observations, and then open it again from the inside when he's done. Or, since we don't want Khaska opening the voidgate when a vampire's hanging out in the library, have Sanjin stand guard in the library and open the gate after a particular interval, so that Khaska exits during a safe period when no one's around. Either way, Khaska will bring along his Hat of Disguise in case he needs to hide or otherwise occlude himself in the void or upon exiting.

Here's an idea, too: if the notes about the voidgates are correct, we could literally travel to the Fortress of Vigilance in 30 minutes, say hi to the Knights of the Silver Dragons, and inform them of the impending chaos in Darkcrest, perhaps recruiting a few Knights to our aid (and perhaps offering them a chance to get at the leadership of the Cult of Skyrnyn and several vampires as well). We haven't had any direct dealings with the Fortress, but IIRC, the Knights in Hammerdine may have made a good report about us. What do folks think of that?

To present matters: does Khaska know anything about this mysterious new reptilian race?

Would we prefer setting fire to the Adder Invictus or stealing the crystals? Stealing the crystals could be more stealthy, depending on how well-guarded the ship is, and would incapacitate it just as well, leaving it open to fire (or restoration of the crystals) later. It would be interesting for Orensland to attend the meeting, too, and it's likely he'd learn things there we'd be hard-pressed to learn otherwise (and which we could then report to the Bringers).

Addendum: is there anything we'd want to stash in the voidgate system for (likely) safekeeping? Could we make, for instance, copies of the printing press plans and put them there, or other documents?

Eryx (DM)
I forgot to mention that Orensland's time in the pocket dimension was something he and I did over Skype. We just talked it through.

Khaska does have enough time to explore the pocket dimension, and is able to do so with no interference. Lady Isabelle is the only vampire you've ever seen in the library, and she's busy preparing for the arrival of the cult leadership. Unfortunately, all of the "labels" appear to be proper names. Probably cities or sites of interest that are long since irrelevant. You have no idea what any of them mean or where they lead to. One label on the upper platform does correspond to a label on the lower platform. Think of a draconic equivalent of yin and yang—two words that obviously pair together, but put into proper names. Like The City of Yin paired with Yangville.

You could stash anything you wanted to in the pocket dimension. (I actually assumed Sanjin would want to do so with the wizard spellbooks from the library.) When Khaska mentions that possibility, Orensland realizes it's basically the best way to steal anything in Darkcrest! The cleric admonishes the shadowdancer. (I really like all your characters.)

Nobody knows anything about this mysterious new draconic race.

The skyship is literally hovering in the air in the Maramos courtyard. None of you know a great deal about skyship mechanics, but you obviously know that if you remove the skyship crystals, it would crash to the ground bit by bit as you removed the crystals (or just crash all at once if you managed to grab them all simultaneously).

Thev
THAT old, eh? Of course, Khaska marks down which of the walkways is present-day Darkcrest, and looks forward to the opportunity to explore the void once more. If it does link Jenoa and Arkenos… perhaps there was a time before Dark Times, and perhaps there could be healing beyond unifying Gtarrei and Jevereshk.

BlackWolf
Rynn thinks the idea of pulling reinforcements through the Voidgate is a fantastic idea… but probably not one we have time for. There are so many questions:

  • Can we find the right voidgate for the Fortress of Vigilance?
  • Is the voidgate there still or has it been destroyed?
  • Do we have enough spell slots for this?
  • Will the Knights listen to somebody who showed up magically circumventing their defenses?
  • Will the Knights believe us and be willing to fight?
  • Could they get ready in time?
  • How would we manage the logistics of getting very many Knights through the gates?
  • How long would they need to prepare?
  • Could they make it in time to make a difference in the current scenario?

If somebody (Khaska, maybe?) wants to take the chance, Rynn is open to supporting it. But personally, the ranger wants to stay in Darkcrest to see how things turn out and be in position to turn things the way he sees fit.

He also really likes the idea of stealing the skyship crystals from the Adder Invictus. That would be great payback, since it was the crystals that drew things in in the first place. It could start stealthy, but then the ship crashing down would give it away. Even if we could only grab a couple crystals, that might be a major blow.

Plus fire. I seriously want to burn that ship down.

So, what will Rynn do? He will try to take up a position where he can see the Adder Invictus and be ready to assist in stealing crystals and lighting the ship on fire. What good positions are there for this type of thing? Is there a building or wall where Rynn would be a little above the ship?

Rynn wants to wait for Lady Drakh to act first. We didn't give her perfect intel, but hopefully the arrival of the skyship has put her into motion. When she attacks, we can cause mayhem without drawing as much attention. But if she doesn't act soon enough, he wants to be ready to firebomb the ship.

Once the battle is going on and we've hurt the cult via the Adder Invictus, then Rynn thinks we should head to Lady Drakh's place to try to liberate the Glittersail gnomes' ship.'

As for Orensland attending the cult meeting, that's up to him, I think. I could see that be really beneficial (knowledge about what's going on in their meeting and whatnot) but it's also risky. Plus without him, we might not get a chance to steal any crystals.

Crosis

I'm. So. Pumped.

Ok, so first things first: Orensland would like to attend the meeting. We can learn much, and while it was technically an invitation, he's not sure how he could stay in character while declining the opportunity to meet cult leaders in the flesh. Also, some members of our party have technically met Gulnith – so while Amara is not present, we still have a dangerous enemy that could recognize a Rynn or Khaska. Sanjin and Orensland are the only two she hasn't met, but Khaska is a definite red flag. He kinda stands out. They should lay low while the Cult leaders are up and about.

As for sabotaging ships and the like, Orensland agrees that we should wait for Lady Drakh to make her move first. When that happens, Orensland would do the following in order of importance:

1. Sabotage the Cult's transportation system. While stealing the crystals seemed like a great idea at first, it occurs to me that Orensland's ability to shadowdance is not really a secret. If they mystically vanish, and no intruder can be discovered, the number of suspects is… pretty low. So fire seems the better option. Orensland is still happy to do the burning, but perhaps Rynn should be on hand to act should the attack occur during the meeting.
2. Get the Glittersail gnomes' ship. It seems that's the chosen Plan A for escaping.
3. Set a couple well-placed fires in the House of Lancel too. Why not, right? I doubt many heavy hitters will be standing guard there.

This will likely require Alchemist's fire, so Orensland would purchase several of those vials in advance. He likely already has, given that fire has been discussed at length several times, but I just thought I'd clarify that it's on the shopping list.

Also, a proposal. Khaska and Rynn seem fine leaving the voidgate and finding another elsewhere, but Orensland would admit he'd prefer to escape via the voidgates himself. We'd need to explore their exit points at some point, and now seems as good a time as any. Plus we could wind up fairly close to Garth Calad if there's a voidgate near there, who knows. Also, it's the perfect escape route for plundering the library. We literally just need to set the books on the other side of the gate, and voila! Stolen. We could steal… many, many things that way. Oh my gosh, Orensland is excited. Perhaps, if we don't mind splitting up the party, Rynn and Khaska escape through conventional means while Sanjin and Orensland escape through the voidgate? Then we agree to meet up somewhere? (or, since we could technically have made these plans in advance, we try to explore possible exit points in advance (like, the night before the cult arrives) so we have a better idea on where we want to meet up? Orensland is very, very down for exploring the Jenoa gates. The possibilities are endless.)

And lastly, I think there's something we all need to agree on before it becomes an issue. How much of a secret are we keeping the voidgates? Obviously we don't want them to be public knowledge, and we DEFINITELY don't want our enemies to know about them, but telling high-ranking officials that we trust has come up a time or two. The question is… who do we trust with something this significant?

We have a couple options so far as that goes. We could essentially hand the key over to the Sir Reitman, a good man we trust, so he can use it to infiltrate… anything anywhere. Sending troops or spies directly into the swamp, that kind of thing. That would certainly be interesting. However, something about that option feels off to me. It has become clear that there is much on this moon that is not as straightforward as all our characters were raised to believe. For example, it appears there are still metallic dragons about, and it wouldn't surprise me that (free) colored dragons are as well (remember that shrine that was destroyed?). Then there's Khaska's childhood hero actually having been a blackguard, some secret Cult plan we still know nothing about… you get the idea. Who is truly trustworthy when we've come across so many curveballs that make the "simple" option much more complicated? Sir Reitman and even the Knights in general are just so very unaware of the reality of the moon they live on. And if that's true, how much is true about our knowledge of Arkenos? Is it really as horrible of a place as we have thought of it? Are the races on that moon as bloodthirsty as legend depicts? 1000 years is a long time for truth to be twisted so far out of context that the legends have nothing to do with reality. Would Reitman want to use the information to preemptively strike Arkenos without fully understanding the condition of those he is attacking? Can we trust him to be open to the possibility that the condition on either or both moons are not as straightforward as he has been lead to believe? So, those are risks carried with the first option.

Or we could be a secret band of heroes teleporting across both moons saving the world. …Yeah, that sounds like way more fun to me. Perhaps we could drop enough hints with someone like Reitman for them to know we can complete missions nobody else can complete, but never fully disclosing the voidgate system. That way we'd get information and tasks that could be completed, but not actually give up the gates to somebody else.

Thev
Orensland's point about how little we might know is well taken. While Khaska would love to burst into the Fortress of Vigilance with the use of long-forgotten magic —that would be a legendary appearance!— it would be very easy for an unscrupulous, powerhungry, or otherwise untrustworthy Knight to wrench the keyrod from him and use it for his or her own ends. Further, it would potentially reveal knowledge of the voidgates to more people than have known about them in millennia, triggering a rush for knowledge and control of the remaining voidgates and making the party a target. It's best they remain a secret for now — we should be reluctant to reveal even to the remaining Glittersail brother that we figured out how to operate the voidgate in House Maramos.

That said, Khaska feels few compunctions about hiding desired volumes from the Maramos library in the voidgate. Doing so could, after all, save them from destruction, preserving unique knowledge — including some that might provide a strategic benefit in conflicts to come. He'd advise against pilfering things from anyone else, though, given what happened to Orensland's first mark.

He'd also be alright with exploring the Jenoa voidgates, but a 30-minute roundtrip to each gate from the central platform would mean that it would take 7 hours to explore all 14 — and that's if everything goes right, and there's no people or monsters or collapsed rocks or ocean waiting on the other sides of the gates.

An escape through the voidgates could be great. We could even hide out in the void if the battle outside gets too intense, emerging after a day or two; Khaska could create food and water, if needed (assuming magic works normally in the void!). But Khaska also feels he has a duty to Feral, who by now is outside the city. If we do plot an escape through the voidgate, he'd want to return at least a while to make sure she's alright. Again, it's best if she escapes with the Bringers; a Gtarrish-looking Maha'i woman appearing in the middle of the Niktean Wastes, for instance, would arouse suspicions, and who knows what she would do with the knowledge of the voidgates?

As far as the meeting, Khaska thinks it could be worth it for Orensland to attend, but we should also consider that the Maramos might mention the other members of our party, or refer to them to Orensland. In any case, we should be ready to make a quick escape. Is there an instantaneous signal that Orensland could send the moment matters go south?

DeltaWolf
Sanjin is of course going to smuggle any intresing things from the library into the portal. He is opposed to letting anyone but us have the key to the gates.

Sanjin was most intrigued with his description of the honor guard. “It sounds like an entirely new species!” he nearly squealed. “How fascinating! I’ll have to go take a look.”

“Is that wise?” asked Khaska.

“If I’m headed into the city for some reason or other, no reason not to take a look as I go.”

“Are you headed into the city?”

“Yes! So I can get a better look at these draconic humanoids!”

Khaska sighed. “Be careful!”

“Of course.” Then the wizard’s face lit up some more. “If one of them dies in the fighting, can I dissect it?”

“We’ll cover that bridge when we come to it,” Khaska said.

“Cross that bridge,” Orensland corrected. “So, I’ll attend the meeting tomorrow morning, and you’ll all be prepared to act when Lady Drakh makes her move?”

“That seems about it,” Rynn said. “We’ve done our planning, our recon, sown some bad information, smuggled Feral out, and now we just need to let events unfold and adjust on the fly.”

“I will say many prayers to Teresh tonight,” Khaska said. “Tomorrow will be a momentous day.”

Eryx (DM)
That will end this chapter.

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