Codex VII-Chapter 1

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It was only a day’s travel before the could see Mount Elduin, the massive dormant volcano’s peak appearing just over the horizon. It was getting towards October now, and the night air was getting more and more chilly. There was snow on the mountain, a year-round occurrence, according to Greygook. Between the short daylight moments on the death side and the height of the mountain, there just wasn’t much chance for it to melt.

“So where am I taking the ship?” the gnome asked. “Do you know where this seer is?”

Khaska shook his head. “Just that the storm giant lives somewhere on the mountain.”

Eryx (DM)
Welcome to Codex VII!

Per our usual arrangement when we begin a new Codex, I would like to request a single piece of worldbuilding from each of you, at your leisure. As usual, I get to exercise final control as the DM. Musha, you’ve done quite a bit of worldbuilding with orc tribes and Darkcrest characters in your recently posted backstory, so if you’re not inclined that’s okay, but if you are inclined, basically feel free to fill in a portion of the map, create an NPC or an organization, make up some history, or something like that.

Also with the new campaign, we're going to suspend the rules about posting by a certain day count when it's your turn. Those rules were really just created for Sayyadina, and she's long since left the campaign. Just post when you can, but I think a good rule of thumb that I will try to stick to is to post within a week once it's my turn.

You are flying around the top of the wind-swept and blizzarding Mount Elduin. There doesn’t seem to be anything obvious pointing to where this Storm Giant might be, but there are places to set the ship down that seem safe enough if it’s anchored properly.

What do you all wish to do? How will you go about finding this Storm Giant seer?

Thev
To follow up on some character inflection points in the last chapter: Khaska's shocked by Farah's reaction to the time in (what Khaska will now call) Dusklight. He understands it, but it's not something he'd have anticipated. He saw his role as protector and is now seeing, in part what parents learn: children are their own people. For another part, though, he's realizing a major thing: the sort of companionship Farah seems to have expected or preferred is a type of companionship Khaska hasn't had since he left his home. Not Jevereshk, but the Mawkhavi tribe, where he at least was close with his father (whose sword he still bears). (Note: this is several years before the campaign began I'm talking about.) He's been close with members of the party, but perhaps out of necessity and loyalty (so far) instead of true friendship. The pain he's experiencing is enough for him to more firmly question his studies and, indeed, the social norms of Jevereshk. Maybe there are things he's been missing. Maybe the folks in Laishtek built something good in the wake of Tawru's liberation. And he's willing to try it with the party going forward, and hopes to have success, especially since Aestus joined the crew.

As for finding the Storm Giant… Khaska's best spell for this purpose would probably be Divination. He'd consult with the others about the question he should ask to avoid vague responses, but he'd propose something like: "Where on Mount Elduin will we find the storm giant seer whom the centaurs proposed we seek out?"

Depending on what the others think, and/or the response given to the question, he'd also propose that one of them (he doesn't want to exacerbate any wounds he's caused) whether Farah's familiar, with flying ability, might be able to help.

DeltaWolf
Does Sanjin have enough information on the Storm Giant seer to attampt a Scrying spell?

Sanjin’s Arcane Tradition is in Necromancy. As such he is concerned about how Farah might react (Many good beings take exception to necromancy). He will try to feel out her opinion on the subject, particularly how she would feel to his casting Animate Dead.

  • Insight: 18

Musha
I think I'll step aside on the world building this time, just so I can see what the others come up with and get a feel for it, if that's ok.

Knowing little of the geography of this world and hearing about this Storm Giant seer from the party, Aestus will yield the decision making on how to approach this search to the more educated and familiar. He will, however, suggest we find a place to touch down and maybe see if there's a town or village nearby we can use to orient ourselves and gather information. This suggestion will be eager as he is rather excited to see new places and meet people on his own terms.

Crosis
Orensland would likely have asked people at the port what they know about the mountain–– specifically, that we had heard there was a storm giant on the mountain, and if they know if that's true or not. If they know of people or guides that could help us in locating the giant, all the better. Would that be an Investigation check? If so, I got a 21 (rolled 10 + 11 mod).

Like Aestus, Orensland will also be looking for a town, village, or encampment around the mountain as we approach it. He would suggest we fly around the mountain once just to determine if there is any nearby civilization that can help.

Orensland is also supportive of whatever other ideas the party members have, including Khaska's Divination spell idea. Having Farah's familiar scout out the area is a good idea too–– though not actually close to her, Orensland wouldn't mind being the one to ask if Khaska feels iffy about it.

BlackWolf
At this point, Rynn isn't really focused on finding the Storm Giant. Instead, he's preoccupied with thoughts about his family and whether they're alive. He'll be often found on the deck of the ship, looking eastward in the direction of the marshes. When pulled back into the party discussion, he'd try to help as best he can with a Perception check or the like: 13 (rolled 7 + 6 bonus). Yet still he'd drift back away, anxious to get to his next step: using the voidgate system as a back door into the Citadel.

I don't suppose Rynn would really know much about the recent interactions between Khaska and Ferah. Given the ranger's preoccupation, he may not have noticed anything, and it seems like something Khaska might not mention. But if it were obvious enough, Rynn would speak up on his friend's behalf, telling Ferah something to the effect of:

"Khaska has treated you in the most respectful way he knows how, based on the culture of his people. Maybe you find that culture offensive. You don't have to like it. Maybe it's wrong-headed. It's fine to speak up for yourself. But you ought not act spiteful in return for that attempted respect.

"You've been in slavery your whole life, so you can't be blamed for that which you did not know. But now that you do know you're responsible for the way you behave."

“I assume that the locals would know about such a giant?” Aestus said. “Shall we look for a village as we approach?”

“Could work. I’ll also cast a Divination spell,” Khaska said. “See if Teresh has some insight he could send to me.”

“I could try to scry on him,” Sanjin said, “though he might resist, and even if he didn’t or if he failed to resist after trying, I won’t be able to see to much around him. But it’s worth a shot as we approach.”

Unfortunately, Sanjin’s spell did not work. The storm giant resisted his attempts to scry on him.

Khaska communed with his God, and got a single sentence. “The storm rages.”

As they approached, it was apparent that the storm did, indeed, rage. As soon as they were within range (Rynn using Captain Bronzebeard’s spyglass), the saw that the peak was in a perpetual blizzard, punctuated with lightning. The area around it seemed calm. It was a localized phenomenon.

Khaska was standing at the bow of the ship with Rynn at one point, both observing the looming, snow-shrouded peak. “I have an idea,” Khaska said, “since there don’t seem to be any settlements nearby.”

“You didn’t want to check in with the logging camp we saw yesterday?” Rynn inquired.

The cleric shook his head. “Such transient people would likely not know as much as actual local residents. If we have no other ideas, then perhaps we can backtrack.”

“Well, you said you had another idea. What is it?”

“Perhaps Farah’s familiar, with its flying, could be of assistance.”

The ranger shrugged. “Seems a good idea. Why not ask her?”

“I do not want to exacerbate the wounds I have caused?”

“Wounds? You rescued her from slavery?”

Khaska glanced at Rynn. Had the ranger really not noticed the tension on the ship this past week? He thought back, and then realized, in his personal shock to Farah’s revelations, he had not been paying much attention to Rynn … who he now realized had frequently been staring off to the east. Towards the marshes. Where his wife likely was.

The cleric put a hand on the ranger’s shoulder. “You have been distracted, thinking of your wife. Things between Farah and I are … tense.” He then described the conversations they had had near Ethir Port.

Rynn heard him out, thought for a moment, and then walked over to where Farah and Aestus were sitting, talking with Greygook near the steering wheel for the ship. He didn’t broker any small talk and just launched into what he had to say.

“Farah, Khaska doesn’t want to ask this himself, but he thought that perhaps your familiar could scout the peak and help locate this seer. I know you two are a bit on the outs at the moment, but back in Darkcrest Khaska has treated you in the most respectful way he knows how, based on the culture of his people. Maybe you find that culture offensive. You don't have to like it. Maybe it's wrong-headed. It's fine to speak up for yourself. But you ought not act spiteful in return for that attempted respect.”

“You've been in slavery your whole life, so you can't be blamed for that which you did not know. But now that you do know you're responsible for the way you behave. And I think you ought to consider helping us locate this storm giant if your familiar can help, since it can fly. Can you help us?” Khaska had approached, slightly panicked that Rynn had been so brazen.

After a few moments of silence, the Maha’i woman stood, her cherub familiar floating near her, its wing beating slowly, magically keeping it aloft. “Of course I will send Artiya to seek this giant when we are closer to the mountain. We need to hurry so that you can all get to the voidgates and you can go rescue your wife. I don’t want her to be enslaved for one moment more than she has to be, and pray that she is safe.”

Khaska started. “Artiya?”

“It is what I have named him. Alarya suggested it, the Maha’i name for an angel that removes sorrow.”

Khaska nodded. “I am surprised that Alarya knows such intricate details of Maha’i theology, but the name is very fitting. And I thank you for your help.”


Greygook found a place for the ship to anchor down, despite the wind and blizzard. Everybody huddled in their clothes as the biting air whipped through their hair. Farah sent Artiya out into the storm, the small creature disappearing into the flying snow.

They took shifts throwing snow off the deck of the ship with some staying in the cramped storage area below decks to get out of the biting wind. It was quite miserable.

They landed in the morning, but Farah’s familiar actually returned in the early afternoon. The warlock spoke to it in hushed tones, and she turned to the others.

“He says that he met the storm, and that it’s coming here. I’m not quite sure what that …” she trailed off as the cherub pointed, and she actually gave a small scream. Everybody looked to where it was pointing.

A face, emerging from the storm, composed of the individual snowflakes blown about by the wind itself. Around the ship, the wind picked up faster, removing the snow from the air and creating a small pocket where the wind did not blow. The face approached and stopped about ten yards from the ship. It was massive, easily fifteen feet from chin to forehead.

“Farah, servant of Alarya,” came a booming voice, crackling with energy, as if the blizzard itself were speaking. “Why have you come to my mountain?”

Farah was completely flabbergasted. It took her a few moments to find her voice.

“Actually, it was my former teacher, Khaska, who is seeking you out. I merely sent my familiar to help locate you.” She stepped back, pointing to Khaska, clearly hoping he would take the conversation over. But the storm giant was not done with her.

“Former teacher? He’s standing right there. Does he have nothing left to teach you?”

She paused for a long while. “Not being an adept pupil, I removed myself from his tutelage.”

The blizzard face looked from one Maha’i to the other.

“The decision to cease being student and teacher is a decision you two must make together. You have both made it in solitude.” And then the face turned to Khaska, moving a few feet closer, as if inspecting the cleric. “Khaska, I see that you serve Pelor. What would you ask of me?”

Eryx (DM)
Unfortunately Rynn rolled a 1 on his Nature Check, per our discussion in the last Chapter on rolling for information on enemies. This isn’t a combat encounter, but I thought the same kinds of rules should apply here. This is the storm giant, but the storm giant has somehow mutated into an actual storm!

This is probably Khaska’s show mostly, but the giant is friendly enough and impressed that a warlock with a cherub familiar and a cleric of Pelor have journeyed to meet him. You are all on his good side.

Dialogue with Farah still written by me and Susan.

Crosis
Well, that's cool.

Orensland doesn't really know what to say by this point. He'd try to look respectful despite shivering in the cold.

Musha
Oh how fun!
This is something so new, unfamiliar, and different to anything Aestus has ever experienced or heard about before, so at first he looks on in shock, the cold not the only thing sending a chill down his spine. As Aestus senses the being's general friendliness, he grows more comfortable with his presence and even experiences some amusement with the rather familiar and presumptuous stance this being has taken with Tawru and his business.

As before, the decision to come see this guy was made by the group before Aestus joined up so he is more comfortable taking a backseat here. Though, his unrefined manner might cause him to interject a small disrespectful quip should Farah or Khaska take any insults or have their toes stepped on by Mr. Giant-Face. Conversely, Aestus will easily be won over by acts of assistance or information that Farah or Khaska wants or needs. He will be paying very close attention to anything shared between these folks that gives him any personal insights into his sister or his new mentor.

Thev
Well, that was a surprise! Khaska wasn't anticipating something quite so dramatic… or public. (Also, I don't think he's ever been in a snowstorm before, so that already makes this encounter surreal for him.) He's been pondering what question(s) he would ask, and for an instant quavers before saying things that he had considered personal before. But it doesn't look like there's really any place to retreat to for privacy — no fire-lit cave, as he'd imagined. So he starts with the obvious:

"O storm giant, thank you for honoring us with an audience. I have not counseled with a seer before, and am not sure of the etiquette nor how you do your work; therefore, I ask your forgiveness. My friends and I have come because Eranaois, the high priestess of a tribe of centaurs to the south, said in blessing each of us that her visions of my future were powerful, but impossible for her to interpret. She counseled that we — well, I — seek you out as a seer who might help me to understand and interpret these visions. I have also come to seek your wisdom with questions of my own, if that is acceptable, and would also ask whether you would counsel with any of my friends who desire to do so."

[That is, he hopes to imply a sort of order of operations: visions; his questions; others' consultations.]

If the storm giant elucidates the visions, Khaska's personal question will be: "As a servant of Teresh, I seek to do what is good, what will bring peace, harmony, and flourishing to the world and those around me. But it seems my desires often go awry, and I worry that I might do evil in my quest for good… as some have. So I ask: how might I act to help as many as I can overcome terror, division, and oppression, and thereby find peace, harmony, and liberation?"

Eryx (DM)
I forgot that Khaska also has proficiency in Nature checks, a Maha'i trait we hadn't quite switched over on D&D Beyond. Khaska rolled a 14 + 6 = 20, so he knows that this is a storm giant quintessent, a storm giant who uses their connection to the elements to transcend death by actually transforming into a storm, dispersing their consciousness into nature itself.

DeltaWolf
Sanjin is filled with awe. He is intrigued with the storm-giant and ultimately too transfixed to do much other then observe what it has to say.

BlackWolf
Well, I didn't think that Rynn would be so direct either! But it works and now we're meeting the seer. Being more of a man of action, Rynn doesn't have much to say or ask of this strange blizzard. But he's fascinated to watch it, and is immediately amused at its manner of addressing the two Maha'i. It's enough to keep his attention rather than looking out toward the marshes.

Crosis
If everyone forgets, Orensland would suggest we ask if the seer can help us locate the succubus too.

Khaska glanced at Farah, but that was a conversation for another time. This snowstorm (his first, and it was even sentient!) and the public discussion were a bit disconcerting to him, but he came for answers, so answers he would seek. He raised his head high, hoping the storm giant would see the gesture for what it represented—friendliness, or at least non-hostility.

“O storm giant, thank you for honoring us with an audience. I have not counseled with a seer before, and am not sure of the etiquette nor how you do your work; therefore, I ask your forgiveness. My friends and I have come because Eranaois, the high priestess of a tribe of centaurs to the south, said in blessing each of us that her visions of my future were powerful, but impossible for her to interpret. She counseled that we — well, I — seek you out as a seer who might help me to understand and interpret these visions. I have also come to seek your wisdom with questions of my own, if that is acceptable, and would also ask whether you would counsel with any of my friends who desire to do so.”

The storm continued to swirl around the ship, but the wind grew quieter as the giant’s face ceased to move for a moment, the individual snowflakes that made up his visage freezing in place before continuing on in their flurry.

“The centaur seeress was correct. There are powerful portents in your future Khaska. I see two moments of destiny in front of you. One when you will receive everything your heart desires, but a moment of false hope that comes before. Look to defend your queen in that moment, when evil devours evil. All will be laid bare then, and you will discover the remaining path before you. A great darkness threatens to engulf our world in the coming years. In order to save it, you and your companions will need to unite the remaining metallics. Without them, the darkness can only be staved, not destroyed.”

Khaska pondered on that. He supposed it was not in the nature of seers to be clear in their messages. But he did know that there would be two moments of destiny, the first a moment of false hope, the second consummation of all of his goals. He would have to be wary and look for that moment of false hope. But he had yet another question.

“As a servant of Teresh, I seek to do what is good, what will bring peace, harmony, and flourishing to the world and those around me. But it seems my desires often go awry, and I worry that I might do evil in my quest for good… as some have. So I ask: how might I act to help as many as I can overcome terror, division, and oppression, and thereby find peace, harmony, and liberation?”

The face smiled and laughter boomed through the air, echoing atop the desolate mountainside. “You are too hard on yourself. But I can tell you this, there are many in who seem to be good, yet serve darkness. There are many who look like they serve darkness, but yet would be great allies. You must learn to overcome old prejudices, and dare I say some new ones. There are many who think your race stupid because you look like animals. I would counsel you not to think evil of others based on their looks, nor think good of them based on past experience. You will find allies in the future in places you do not expect, and they will help you save our world if you can overcome your prejudices towards them.”

“I will think on your words, great seer. Thank you for speaking with me.” He glanced at his friends. “Is there anything else?”

“Uh,” Orensland said, “could you help us find Urziana, a succubus? She’s somewhere on our moon, but we don’t know where.”

The face raised an eyebrow, and then the snow grew still again for a moment.

“I cannot see her, though I do not know her well enough to really try. She may have resisted my attempt, but she may also have means of shielding herself from such magic.” The face peered at Orensland, and the snow once again stopped for a moment. The shadowdancer shyed away at it moved a few feet closer.

Then the snow began to move again, and swirled and coalesced into a humanoid form, eventually flesh appearing in the place of the spinning vortex of ice and snowflakes. The giant took corporeal form, towering over the group. He raised his hand out and held in his fingers a small ball of ice, a perfect sphere.

“This may be of use to you, I know that you desire one, Orensland.” The shadow-dancer sucked his breath in. A crystal ball! “But I ask a favor of you first.”

“Of course!”

“Many centuries ago, my mate left this mountain to go speak with the ghost of Hyrmaphridion, the dragon mount of Markus the Great himself, at the Dragon’s Graveyard. She had seen portents surrounding the dragons here on our moon, and wished to consult with the greatest of the metallic dragons. She never returned. I would ask that you go to the Dragon’s Graveyard and seek the ghost of Hyrmaphridion, and bring me word of what he says of her visit, or even if she visited.” The giant closed his fist and the globe of ice vanished.

Orensland pondered, wondering if just going and buying one might be faster, but he wasn’t going to turn down the freaky storm giant blizzard to his … face. “There are many quests we have undertaken for ourselves and others. But if we can get there, we will seek this ghost of whom you speak.”

“I thank you, in advance.”

Sanjin wondered if the seer knew something about whether they would fulfill the quest or not. In advance. He snickered to himself quietly at the pun. The storm giant winked at him, and then walked over to Rynn. The ranger was kind of dumbstruck.

“I have interest in a bow you carry of great import,” he said. He knelt down and reached his hand out. Rynn was slightly confused, and handed over Bonestrike. The giant smiled. “That is not the one I speak of.” He handed it back. “The one that means something to you.” Rynn thought about it, then took off his haversack and withdrew his bow, the one he had carefully crafted over the past year or so. “That’s it.”

The giant held the bow in his hand gently, and closed his eyes for a moment. Ice formed across the bow, completely encasing it as it crackled together. Then the ice shattered.

The bow was now white, with blue trim. The giant handed it back. The ranger took it, amazed at how it felt. He had specifically crafted the bow for him, working diligently to put the grip in the correct place and making it fit his hand perfectly. But now the bow felt that it was even more tailored for him. As if it were meant for him.

“Draw the string back, as if you were aiming it, but with no arrow,” the seer said.

Puzzled by this request, Rynn did so.

An arrow of ice appeared, nocked and ready to fire as he drew it back.

“You will find that this bow only works for you or your family. Its magic will not transfer to others. I think that will be more to your liking to help you find your wife and join her,” he said. “I wish you well. You will find her soon.” The giant stood and turned to the others. “You have many quests, I know, but you must ask yourselves which takes priority. May I suggest the ones to do with the living are the most important.”

With that, the giant stood and burst into snow. The blizzard picked up naturally, then, and the snowflakes from the seer vanished into the blowing snow. It was obvious their time with the seer had come to an end, the wind howling around the ship as a normal storm.

“That. Was. Amazing!” Aestus said.

“Certainly not what I expected,” Khaska said. “But there are some things about my future that I now know, though I must ponder on their meanings.”

“And you got a sweet new bow? Well, not new? But … well, you got a sweet bow now! A sweeter bow! What are you going to name it? Are you? I mean, I would.” Orensland was very excited, and slightly incoherent in looking over at Rynn, who was still examining the newly white and blue bow in his hands.

Eryx (DM)
The seer has spoken. Now what do you all wish to do?

Specifically, where do you want to fly?
1. Laishtek first. You’re going to drop Farah off there, per her request. She still wants to go there, but the seer’s words have made her re-evaluate her recent actions towards Khaska. Also Rynn’s directness. (I had conceived of the ranger getting slightly frustrated as the time dragged on and you all flew literally away from his wife. Even though he knows the plan is to go after her, it’ll be many weeks of travel in the wrong direction.)
2. Hammerdine? Orensland wants a crystal ball. You could probably get one made or buy one there, though it might take a while to craft. Also would be easy to deposit all your money in a bank there, instead of carrying around literal bags of cash.
3. Cyriest? To return Lady Moretti’s armor.
4. The ruins north of the Niktean Wastes. Why waste time? Rynn wants to find his wife. Quickest way to do so, you think, is through the voidgates. The ranger is slightly frustrated at the other side-tracks and has, as the giant pointed out, the most critical quest at the moment.

Rynn’s bow is now magically enchanted. You get +1 +3 to attacks and damage rolls, and it now generates its own arrows made of ice, which add an extra d4 of cold damage. (There is no cold damage bonus, however. That part is just cool flavor.) (It requires attunement … and you are already attuned to it. You will find that you are no longer attuned to your ring of feather falling. You can shuffle which items you are attuned to, of course, but right this moment that’s what’s going on. The seer also said that the attunement may be transferred to family members, but nobody else.)

What next?

Musha
Aestus sympathizes with his new friend, Rynn. He’s never really been in love before and so doesn’t understand the pain of being separated from a wife for so long with the ambiguity of whether she’s alive or dead only intensifying the anxiety, but he does know what it’s like to lose family and the joy of being reunited with those once believed lost forever. Up until now, Aestus would have heard Rynn’s story and desire to find his lost wife pityingly, believing him foolish for hoping to find his wife in any state other than dead and forgotten cause that’s just what slavery does. However, upon hearing the snow seer confirm that she’s alive and validate Rynn’s entire quest, Aestus is VERY excited for him and is determined to get his wife back. Whatever it takes, we’re doing this! Besides all that, Aestus does not want to part with Farah, so he will prioritize anything that delays her leaving.

DeltaWolf
Sanjin is inclined to go to the Niktean Wastes next.

Thev
Well, that was intense! Khaska will have a good amount to think on. In terms of next steps, though, Khaska figures that we'd go by Laishtek first, per Farah's request; would it be possible to place our funds in a bank there? If not, perhaps we could drop by Hammerdine briefly (en route to the Niktean Waste voidgate) to place our funds in a bank and pay a visit to Sir Reitman, our friend with the Knights, whom we could introduce to Aestus and Sanjin. That said, he'd be more than willing to go directly from Laishtek to the Niktean Wastes voidgate to help Rynn in his quest to find his family.

While in Laishtek, he would like to speak again with Simtor besides introducing him to Farah, to fill him in on what's been happening lately and get his counsel.

Crosis
Orensland dearly wants to get a crystal ball–– and visiting the dragon's graveyard certainly sounds intriguing. However, Rynn's family takes top priority in his mind at this time. Back when Orensland essentially commandeered the party into saving Lady Maramos, he swore to Rynn he would help him find his family. It's time to make good on that promise. Orensland votes the Niktean Wastes.

And technically we don't have those bags of money on us at the moment, correct? I seem to recall most of the loot was thrown into the voidgate.

BlackWolf
At this point, Rynn is feeling a bit dumbfounded. Working on creating a custom bow has been a long journey for him, and moving it from masterwork quality (the best he could do himself) to being "enchanted" with magic was something he had been searching for. Now it's finally happened. (And similarly, as a player, I've been working toward this for years now.)

I spent a while trying to think of an appropriate name, but nothing has quite clicked for me yet. I was thinking that maybe Rynn would "know" or "realize" it's name… but perhaps not since I've not yet figured it out!

I've thought about word combinations around obvious things like ice, cold, frost, and weapon-like words such as strike, shot, etc. But there's also an element of determination or the realization of a long-worked-for ideal. I've also considered names that include reference to his grief or longing for his family.

Of the various names I've considered, these are my current top 3, but none of them are screaming "this is the one" to me:

  • Shatterheart
  • Coldsnap
  • Icefall

So if the rest of you have any ideas, I'd be glad to hear them. Or if you like any of the above, that's also helpful feedback.

In the meantime, Rynn will gratefully handle his new bow and practice with it. It may even help distract him during their journey. The ranger knows that the indirect path has the best chance of succeeding, so he'll wait as they travel by airship, moving further away to get closer (via voidgates).

Rynn will be patient enough to drop off Farah at Laishtek. But he will also be anxious, especially if the party decides they need to run errands there.

Should the party decide there are other things to take care of first, the ranger would seriously consider going ahead to the ruins himself.

Musha
@BlackWolf - naming such an epic weapon is indeed important! Personally, I think Shatterheart is pretty cool. But I thought up a couple names that I think fit the theme of a bow with such magical abilities as well as the meaning you are wanting to attach:

  • Wintersbite
  • Embers of Rime
  • Hellebore (a flower that can bloom despite being surrounded by frost)
  • Feathers of Verglas

Eryx (DM)
I also like Shatterheart, of the 3 you presented. Some additional thoughts:

Related words to possibly use: winter, glacier, frost, ice, icicle, cold, chill, freeze, frozen, rime is good.

I actually was trying to come up with a name for a frost-based sword in my live campaign, and still have my notes. Here is what I had (minus the obvious sword-specific ones). Winterthorn, Stormbringer, Iceshard, Wintershard, Icefury, Coldbringer, Icebringer, Frostguard, Winterguard, Iceguard, Winterspark, Icespark, Coldspark, Winter’s Light, Coldfire, Frostfire, Winter’s Wail, Icewind, Frostwind, Stormfury, Iceheart, Frostheart, Winter’s Heart, Winter’s Gale, Icebreath, Frostbreath, Winter’s Breath, Icicle, Chillblade, Chillfire, Chillshard, Chillfury, Chillbringer, Chillguard, Glaciershard, Glacier’s Bite, Winter’s Bite, Blizzard, Snowfury, Snowbringer, Snow’s Bite, Snowfall. In that campaign, I settled on Winterthorn. I offer all of these as inspiration, not specific suggestions.

I think I like Shatterheart because of the "heart" portion. Also really really like the idea behind Hellebore, that also ties in with Rynn's knowledge of the natural world. Maybe related sorts of names? Icebloom, winter's rose, winter's bloom. I like some of those because of a possible double meaning. Like Icebloom— both the hope that Rynn has for finding his family amidst this winter of his life, but also because the bow now literally "blooms" with ice when he draws it back. Maybe Winter's Heart? Anyway … my muddled thoughts here, for your perusal or complete rejection.

Thev
Eryx reminded me that I hadn't explained how Khaska would react to the seer's words about his relationship with Farah — and filled me in on what Farah would say. I've included below what she would say in italics and Khaska's responses (need not be point-by-point in narration) in regular test.

1. I have not thanked you for teaching me the history of our people. As I know it, but I am learning that there is much I do not know and do not understand.

2. Willing to talk about the warlock thing, but the relationship with Alarya is very personal. There is only so much she will share. That is reasonable, and I would be interested in learning anything you are willing to share. I extend the same offer if there is anything you wish to know of me.

3. You don’t need to send an intermediary. Just talk to me. It’s not a large ship. I ask your pardon for that, and for my… distance. I need practice reconciliation. And you are the first woman of our kind with whom I'm had a mutual conversation. I thought that I had become used to such things in my travels, but I fear I slipped back into old habits almost instantly.

Her objections were a combination of Khaska’s pigeon-holing her into a particular culture without asking her if she wanted to, and then when she clearly broke the mores of that culture, only then did she feel that he wanted something from her. So does he want her to conform to his view of Maha’i women, or not?

Life is short and the world is large… and I have learned that I would rather have friends in them, of whatever shape, men and women. I shall see Laishtek with new eyes when we return — thanks to your teaching, Farah.

Musha
Aestus, having such a major emotional investment in Farah, is dying to know more about her warlockiness and this Alarya who reunited them. With his gross lack of refinement, he would not be as tactful as Khaska when inquiring about it, but having love for his sister, he will respect whatever boundaries she sets regarding this topic.

“Well, you can contemplate your shiny new bow when we’re on our way. Let’s get off this mountain and out of this snowstorm!” Greygook said, and then he got everybody onto the skyship and began giving orders to take off. Flying through the blizzard was a little terrifying for a few moments, whiteout conditions making it nearly impossible to see, but after a few minutes they emerged from the storm. Khaska glanced behind him to see the mountain emerging from the clouds and the snowflakes whirling around.

Laishtek?” Greygook asked. “For the lady, right?”

Farah nodded, and Aestus noticed that her hands were shaking. He took them in his. “Are you alright?”

“I did not expect the storm giant to address me. It was unnerving.”

“You handled it with great bravery,” he said. They sat down to hunker against the cold. Even at a little lower altitude the air was still biting as October was fast approaching. In some ways, Rynn mused, they had timed their visit to Darkcrest perfectly wrong—staying in the city during the warmest months (not that the Deadlands ever warmed that much, frankly) and traveling during the colder months.

The Marshes were going to be even worse.

It was the next day before Farah beckoned Khaska over, catching the cleric after his morning prayers. He came and sat next to her. Aestus was a bit away, but clearly watching, concerned for his adopted sister.

Khaska sat next to Farah, his hands relaxed, trying to come across as serene. He did not feel so. The quintessent had very specifically called them both out, and he did not know how to proceed. From her body language, Farah was similarly apprehensive. But she did speak first, having invited this moment.

“I have not thanked you for teaching me the history of our people. I am glad to know more of them.”

This was a little easier to respond to. “As I know it, but I am learning that there is much I do not know and do not understand.”

“Still, I am grateful for what you have shared.” Then there was a wry smile from the Maha’i woman. “Also, you don’t need to send an intermediary. Just talk to me. It’s not a large ship.”

“I ask your pardon for that, and for my… distance. I need to practice reconciliation. And you are the first woman of our kind with whom I'm had a mutual conversation. I thought that I had become used to such things in my travels, but I fear I slipped back into old habits almost instantly.”

“Those habits were very confusing for me.”

“Please tell me why, so that I may correct my actions in the future, even as I apologize for those in the past.”

She cocked her head at him. “When we first met it seemed you tried to pigeon-hole me into a particular kind of … life. Quiet. Alone in your quarters. Covered. Seen, but not heard. You never asked what I wanted. And then, suddenly, when you find out that I actually am not what you sought to make me, and that I break the mores of your culture, only then did you seek to address me as a person and want something from me. So, I had to ask, do you want me to conform to your view of Maha’i women, or not?”

Khaska pondered on his actions with the new light from her point of view. In reality, she was speaking to matters that weighed heavily on him. He had always sought to be a good example of his people to the outside world. But now he wondered if that might hinder his very ability to be an ambassador to that outside world. Rynn, Orensland, Sanjin, and even Jenika, were all friends, but there was still some distance there. Perhaps of his own making. That was an error on his part. He would have to do better. Having come to this conclusion in the moments of silence between himself and the celestial warlock, he spoke slowly, measuring his words with care.

“Life is short and the world is large … and I have learned that I would rather have friends in them, of whatever shape, men and women. I shall see Laishtek with new eyes when we return — thanks to your teaching, Farah.”

She smiled.

The journey to Laishtek was uneventful. They headed south to make their way around Ghostmire (Greygook said it would be dangerous to fly over it due to the toxic fumes that sometimes bubbled up) and then east over the South Gallidan ocean. Pressen dropped further and further down the horizon, and the days grew longer and longer, an experience with sunlight that neither Farah nor Aestus had every encountered. The fighter found that the light was too bright for his taste, and it took him a few days to adjust to it, while Farah reveled in the heat and the light.

The ocean was another awe-inspiring sight, as were the Mountains of Fire when they came upon them. The endless blue water, broken only by small flecks of foam occasionally and then by the towering peaks, some with active plumes of fire and lava, left the warlock speechless for several hours, overawed by the beauty of nature.

“There is much beauty in the world,” Khaska said to her as she stood at the side of the ship, still gaping at it all a few days into their flight over the ocean. “I’m sure your patron would approve.” The little cherub was flitting about the ship, the body language of the little familiar displaying for all to see how thrilled Farah was at the sights before her eyes.

“She had told me of such things, but I almost didn’t believe her. I couldn’t conceive of it, having lived in Darkcrest my whole life.”

“Does she speak to you often?”

“Not since Darkcrest, actually. Not since she invited me to share in her power.”

“Would you like to speak more on that? I am very curious to know how a warlock’s relationship with their patron works, and compare it to, say, a cleric’s relationship with their God.”

She drew into herself a little. “My relationship with Alarya is a very personal matter, so there is only so much I am willing to share.”

“That is reasonable, and I would be interested in learning anything you are willing to share. I extend the same offer if there is anything you wish to know of me.”

Aestus heard this conversation and joined them. He was not as tactful in Khaska in asking questions, but when he pushed too far, Farah told him in no uncertain terms that the conversation was moving into areas she was uncomfortable with. He was quiet after that, not pushing as hard.

Farah spoke in general terms about how her patronage worked—after making contact and earning some trust, Alarya granted a small boon of power to see if Farah wished to continue with such a relationship, and Farah had gingerly accepted. After hearing of the violence attending the party’s leaving the city, she consented to receive more power. As part of this conversation, acting more as a peer, Khaska shared how he received power from Teresh. There were, of course, many similarities and many differences in the relationships, but it was almost something that Aestus didn’t quite get—from either side.

“All this talk of powerful beings and magic and power. I had to fight many magic-users in the pits, and I always watched how magic could fail them at inopportune moments, moments I learned to watch for. Weaknesses I could exploit to kill them.”

“You learned your craft well,” Khaska said. “Your help with the hags was brutal and invaluable.”

Aestus seemed more happy with the description of “brutal” than “invaluable.”

“It just always seemed to me that it was best to rely on oneself,” he said, flexing his considerable bicep. The former gladiator was so well-muscled that when he didn’t have his armor on, which was all the time on the ship, that he practically looked like a regular human with armor on! Then he seemed to realize that he may have insulted his inspiration, Tawru, as well as his sister, and he ducked a little. “Maybe that’s not right, though.”

Khaska shrugged. “You rely on your allies in the ring sometimes, as you have described it. My work with Teresh and, I assume, your relationship with Alarya, is similar. None of us walks through life alone.”

“It is good to make friends along the way,” Farah said. “I am glad to have met you and your allies, Khaska. I hope this Simtor you speak of will be a friend as well.”

“I think he will. He was a good friend to me in a dark time.”

“What happened?” Aestus asked. The man was a little brash, but Khaska didn’t mind. He shared the story of Fan and the betrayal of Amara, their first real meeting with the Cult of Skyrnyn.

“And the green-haired woman we killed near Darkcrest, that was the woman who killed Fan?” Farah asked, when he was done.

Khaska nodded.

“Then she got what she deserved,” Aestus said.

“I should probably write a letter to her family, informing them of the developments when we arrive in Laishtek,” Khaska said, reminded of his promise to Orthan.

When they arrived in Laishtek about a week later everybody was ready to disembark. The ship was cramped and traveling over the water meant there was no time to land and even stretch their legs. The moment they landed Rynn and Ranna were the first off the ship, the ranger leaping off to ostensibly help tie the ship down, but he took a good long stretch and the wolf was practically beside herself, running around the ranger and nipping at him in excitement. The mid-day sun offered much light, but little warmth now that they were well into October.

“Well,” Greygook said, “I’ll get started on restocking and the repairs we talked about. Should be ready to go by tomorrow morning.”

“I’m happy to help,” said Rynn.

“Same here,” said Orensland.

“I believe I know where Farah and I are headed,” said Khaska as he put his backpack on. “Aestus, I assume you would like to meet Simtor.”

“Yes. I want to meet the man we’re giving my sister to.” The fighter was in his full plate armor and had his weapons at his side. He was an intimidating sight.

“You’re not giving me to anybody,” Farah said, climbing down from the ship. “This seems the best place for me to be right now.”

Chagrined, Aestus also clambered down the rope. “Of course.”

Khaska took them through the city, Farah practically overcome at seeing so many Maha’i. Aestus was amazed at how open the city was, bustling with laughter and trade and many different races, a far cry from the dour mood of Darkcrest. Khaska took them to the shrine to Tawru near the docks, letting them see the murals and the statue of Tawru. The shrine was quiet as worshippers came and went in prayer, and even Aestus, brash and uncouth as he was sometimes, felt to whisper.

“A shrine to you?”

Khaska shot him a glance. “You know that I do not think that is true.” His words sounded more sure than he felt about that, a possibility that had not entirely left his mind since it has first been suggested—that he was Tawru reincarnated. The fighter shrugged, unconvinced.

Farah was carefully studying all of the mosaics. Khaska and Aestus were content to let her revel in the shrine to a member of her own race, filled with others like her. When she was done, she came to where they were sitting towards the back.

“I think that, with just this visit so far, I could continue on for years knowing there are so many of our people at peace in our world.” She almost had tears in her eyes. Khaska smiled at her. “There is much of our people to celebrate in this city. Are you prepared now to meet Simtor?” She nodded.

Khaska left to go find one of the acolytes, and this time deliberately approached one of the women acolytes attending the shrine. He spoke to her, and she assured him that Simtor was available. They all had to physically leave the shrine to head to one of the nearby buildings where there were smaller offices and quarters for the clerics and acolytes that lived here.

“Khaska, my friend, do come in and sit,” Simtor said as the group was announced at his personal office. The intervening time had not been entirely kind to the elderly Maha’i. His hair was more gray than before, and he stood slowly to greet them, with a cane this time. Khaska was a little heartbroken to see old age catching him faster than the young cleric had expected. He came around the desk slowly, reaching out to touch a small shrine to Pelor before reaching out to greet the three of them. The acolyte bowed and left the room, quietly closing the door. Khaska helped Simtor to his seat. “Thank you,” the elder cleric said. “You have brought new friends, I see.”

“I have the honor of introducing Farah Najjar Mkentek and Aestus Fellblade. I met them both in our journeys on the Death Side, in the city of Darkcrest.”

“Dusklight,” Aestus corrected. "And among friends, I wish to be called Hajir al-Shams, a name given me by my adopted Maha'i parents."

“Yes, I believe the city has been re-christened due to recent events,” Khaska demurred.

“You mean because you helped several vampire houses turn on each other and wipe themselves out.” Aestus did not demur.

“Is this true?” asked Simtor.

Khaska’s ears flattened on his head. “In broad details, yes. But I think Aestus makes us sound more heroic than we actually were.”

“Did you have a hand in vanquishing evil?” There was a twinkle in Simtor’s eye as he looked to his fellow cleric.

“We did.”

“Then I’m sure Pelor is content. But come, how did you meet these two, and why have you brought them to me?”

Khaska had asked many questions of Farah to make sure he would not overstep, and they had decided that, after a brief introduction, she would take over the conversation about her future here in Laishtek.

“Farah here has, unfortunately, lived a life of slavery. Her mother was captured and sold into slavery, and her father was also born a slave.”

Aestus spoke up. “I knew both her mother and father. They were good people. Surrogate parents to me.”

“I take it you were also a slave?” the elderly cleric inquired.

“Of a different sort. I was a gladiator, fighting to the death for the entertainment of my vampire masters. Her father trained me.”

“During my time in Laishtek,” Khaska continued, “I was able to procure her freedom, and she has requested to come here to Laishtek, to be among more of our people. But I will let her speak for herself.”

Simtor turned his gaze to the Maha’i woman seated across from him, flanked by Khaska and Aestus. “I am sorry that your life has been one of such sorrow. You are welcome here at the shrine as long as you would like to stay. I can arrange quarters for you immediately.”

“Thank you, sir,” she said. “But I don’t wish to be a burden. I have …” she hesitated, “powers that may be of use. I hope I can earn my keep.”

“Do you serve the Gods, like Khaska and I? Or do you have powers of a more arcane nature?”

“I am what our wizard friend calls a warlock. My patron is Alarya, a unicorn of great power. Though I believe that is usually more like wizards or sorceresses, in this case, I have some divine magic as well from Alarya. I can heal, for example.”

Simtor smiled. “One of our sister orders maintains a surgery a few blocks from here. I am sure they would welcome your magical healing, whatever its source. Your story must be a fascinating one, and I look forward to getting to know you better.”

“I am grateful for your hospitality. I fear a life with Khaska and Aestus and our other friends would not be to my tastes.” She smiled wanly. “I don’t think the life of an adventurer would suit me.”

“Well, until you decide otherwise, you are welcome here. I will speak with the abbess of the Sisterhood of Consolation. Even if they have no place for you at the moment in their abbey, I know we have a bed here among our acolytes that you would be welcome to.”

Farah had very few supplies, but she had brought them with her. Simtor arranged for one of the priestesses of the Sisterhood to come for Farah and take her to the surgery and their convent. Khaska offered to help with healing just for today as well, and his offer was graciously accepted. Aestus, of course, came with them after Simtor explained the situation to the priestess and thanking them for the visit. Just before they left, though, Simtor asked Khaska to come back into his office personally to pray over him. Khaska was honored to offer a prayer for this fellow cleric. They embraced when the prayer was completed.

“May your legs never tire from the journey, Simtor,” Khaska intoned.

The old cleric wheezed with laughter. “It may be that you will need to find a new blessing to bid farewell with, Khaska. But may your feet never know splitting from the road.”

The surgery was, thankfully, sparsely filled today. The nuns of the order were more than capable of tending to the days wounded, but the extra help was welcome nonetheless. The abbess was a gentle Maha’i woman who went by Sister Talin, old enough that she was pushed on a wheelchair by one of the lower-ranked priestesses. She brought them into a room with new arrivals. A runaway horse had injured a young dwarf female, and it appeared that a Maha’i man had eaten some bad food.

“Master Khaska, could you attend to the dwarf. I wish to see Farah help with our vomiting friend here.” Sister Talin was no-nonsense, describing their injuries with matter-of-fact clinical precision.

“I would be happy to,” he said. He walked over to the dwarf woman, in pain from a clearly broken leg, and pulled out his symbol of Teresh to pray.

Farah approached the Maha’i man, a bucket filled with vomit next to him. Even with his dark fur, he looked a little green.

“I believe I can help,” she said.

“Anything to get rid of that bad fish!” he said. “I should have known better than to eat from one of those vendors by the docks. Bad …” he cut himself off as he turned back to the bucket, once again relieving himself of the contents of his stomach, dry heaving with little now to come back up.

Farah lightly touched him, and concentrated, drawing a sigil on his arm with her fingers. As in the combat with the hags, her two horns began to light softly, and the sigil materialized with white light before vanishing into the man’s arm. The light spread gently across his body and he sighed and sat back in the bed.

“Thank you,” he said. “I feel much better now.”

“You are welcome,” she said. She turned back to the abbess, whose eyes had grown wide with astonishment.

“And you came into your magic recently?” she asked.

“A few weeks ago, really. I have not had much practice with the healing magic granted by my patron.”

“Well, you have accurately diagnosed the problem and correctly ministered your magic to this man,” Sister Talin said. “It may be that you don’t need much more practice, but you are welcome to stay with our order while you determine your next steps in life. I am glad my old friend Simtor thought of us. You can indeed find a place here with us.”

Aestus was very sad to see Farah depart, but he understood her reasoning. She had perhaps found a place. It was something that he still wished to find for himself. Khaska gave them a few moments alone, prudently stepping aside to converse with the abbess for a few moments.

“There is one last thing I wanted to ask,” Aestus said as the two of them embraced arms, “but didn’t want to in front of the others. When she brought you to me, Alarya said that I might be able to help save our world from a forthcoming darkness, but that darkness had already enveloped my sister. What was she talking about? Do you know?”

“I do not know. If anything, freed from slavery, given new divine powers, and now on the living side of our moon, my life is full of light now.”

“I think you may have misunderstood. Alarya spoke of an elder sister of mine. I think she meant my human family.”

Farah’s eyes grew wide. “Oh Hajir! That’s wonderful!” Then her eyes narrowed. “And terrifying. What darkness will come? And how could it consume your sister already? The Dark Times will be soon, but they have not begun.”

Aestus was disappointed. “Your patron is kind of a jerk. If she knows who my sister is, why not just tell me?”

“I don’t know. This is all new to me as well. She does not speak to me often.”

“Can you reach out to her?”

“She does not respond when I try to. Perhaps I am doing it wrong.”

He softened. “I don’t mean to blame you, of course.” He took her hand in his. “Alarya has brought you to a good place where it seems you can be happy. Perhaps she will help me as well, eventually. But I beg you, next time you speak with her, ask her what further information she has on my sister. Beg her, if you have to!”

“I will ask. I hope you find her, Hajir. I know how much that would mean to you.”

They embraced for a long time, but then she pulled away.

Aestus found Khaska outside the surgery, waiting patiently. “Where to now, Master Khaska?”

“I am slightly uncomfortable with you calling me ‘master,’” the cleric said. “Khaska will do, please.” In a whisper. “And certainly not Tawru, especially here, in this city.” He beckoned and began to walk. “We should check in with the Knights of the Silver Dragons in their chapterhouse here and inform them of our successes in Dusklight.”

Aestus’ face hardened a bit. “The Knights.”

“You do not have much respect for them?”

“Could they have freed Darkcrest from the vampires? What good are holy warriors of they don’t, you know, fight holy wars?”

“I think they are very busy preparing for the Dark Times. I do not fault them for being mortal. There are only so many things they can accomplish.”

The look on the fighter’s face made it clear he was unpersuaded.

Khaska was recognized by several of the Knights when he entered the chapter house. He was informed that Rider Lystria was still here, thankfully, still overseeing the training of aerial combat ships in preparation for the Dark Times. The head of their chapter would be joining them as well, a young human Knight, newly appointed to his leadership role. While they waited, Aestus was able to see their sparring circle through a window, and watch a session in progress. He looked amused, watching the paladins duel with their wooden weapons, and with no armor.

A few minutes later they were summoned to Rider Lystria’s personal quarters. Rider Lystria was in the robes of a simple acolyte, which seemed to be her preferred garb when not in armor. Standing at attention in gleaming plate was another paladin, a younger human with short-cut blonde hair and a slightly red beard that went well with the red cape he had on. His green eyes were piercing, but friendly. Khalisara himself was there, this time dressed in a purple silk shirt with black trim, his trousers well cut and his boots immaculately shined, his long human form still handsome and sharp. He was sitting on a couch, swirling a goblet of wine.

“Well met, Khaska,” Rider Lystria said when he entered. “It has been, what, a year? May I introduce Jameson Williams, our chapter head here in Laishtek.”

“Well met,” the other paladin said, shaking both of their hands.

“My friends and I have journeyed much since we last parted. I hope your work here continues well, also.” He was also reminded of the incident with Captain Ashbringer and his handsy crewmember. Prowess in aerial combat was, of course, no indication of manners. “This is Aestus Fellblade who has joined our adventuring band in these past few weeks.”

“Ah yes,” Khalisara spoke from where he was sitting, a glass of wine in his hand, a book in front of him. “You were the ones whose friend died. Killed by that cult that hoped to free me.” Aestus took a few steps closer, sizing this dragon up. Khalisara stroked his goatee. “Well, aren’t you a brave one?” He also stood and took a step forward until they were practically nose to nose. Neither flinched, but Khaska’s hand went involuntarily to the hilt of his scimitar. Khalisara took a long drink from his wine glass. “Your friend is either brave or foolhardy.”

“I fear no man or beast,” Aestus said.

“Foolhardy then,” the dragon smiled, turning to go sit down.

Khaska cleared his throat. “We returned Fan’s body to her family, but have news of the cult.”

“Oh,” Rider Lystria said, sitting back in her chair. “What report have you?”

“I read the reports on the incidents when last you were in town,” Jameson said. “I am glad you have done honor to Fan and her sacrifice.”

“Thank you, Sir Wiliams,” Khaska said, briefly inclining his head before turning back to the Dragonrider. “In brief, the leadership of the Cult of Skyrnyn as well as those who oversaw the Peaceful Children migrations seem to have fallen, as well as many of the major vampire houses of Darkcrest. The city is now in disarray. Last we saw it, portions of it were still burning.”

Eryx (DM)
At this point I asked for an Insight Check from Khaska.

Insight: 17 (roll) + 9 (modifiers) = 26 total.

“The Cult leadership has fallen?” she asked. She seemed taken aback, a small crack in her otherwise serene demeanor. It was gone in a flash.

“At least those who were in Darkcrest with us.”

“Actually,” Aestus said, “I think the city’s inhabitants now prefer it be called ‘Dusklight.’”

Khaska shot him a glance. “That remains to be seen. With such a power vacuum, I suspect at the very least the remaining vampire houses are warring to fill that vacuum. At best anti-vampire elements in the city, perhaps with assistance of the Bringers of Light, are retaking the city. When last we saw it, flying away on a skyship, portions of it were still burning. And that was a week after the fighting began.”

She pressed for more, and Khaska was mindful of revealing too much while also being mindful of her time. He gave some generalities about their having intercepted the missive and posing as Lady Maramos’ bodyguards, finding Aestus after the fighting began. Rider Lystria mostly listened, but occasionally asked clarifying questions, trying to keep all of the various parties straight.

“Well,” she said. “It certainly seems that you have been busy since we last met. With such adventures under your feet, where will you go next?”

“Westward,” Khaska replied, “to help a friend with some personal affairs.” It was not exactly a lie. They were going west to help Greygook fulfill his brothers’ work and to (hopefully) find Rynn’s wife. “And with that, I beg your leave. We have more preparations to make before we depart tomorrow morning.”

“Unless, of course,” Aestus spoke up. He was staring intently at the female paladin before him. “You would be up for a sparring match.”

She had been reaching up to shake Khaska’s hand, but then withdrew her hands down to her side. “You wish to spar? With me?”

“I have heard tales of the mighty Knights, though you never came to Darkcrest. I saw your sparring circle, and thought I could use the exercise.” Khaska was mortified.

Rider Lystria chuckled. “I’ll be down in ten minutes.” Aestus smiled and clanged his hand to his chest. “Though, we don’t spar in full armor most of the time.”

“Without is acceptable,” Aestus said. “I will honor your traditions.”

Khaska was still completely speechless.

“Come,” Aestus. “You can help me get my armor off while she finishes up here.” With that, the fighter left the room.

“Yes,” Khalisara said. “Go assist the lad like a good squire.” There was mirth in the dragon’s voice. It prompted Khaska to regain some of his composure, closing his mouth and rushing out to follow Aestus.

By the time caught up to Aestus, the fighter was already down by the sparring circle, trying to remove his plate armor. One of the low-ranking Knights was assisting. Khaska didn’t feel inclined to help.

“What are you doing?” he asked, quietly. He was mortified at the entire situation, glancing at the young paladin assisting Aestus. Further mortified that he had to have this conversation in front of one of the Knights. “This is completely inappropriate!”

“Why? She’s a fighter. I’m a fighter. The order has done you some wrong in the past. Perhaps I can teach them a lesson.” The knight smiled as he turned away to put Aestus’ breastplate on the ground. “Perhaps I can learn from them.” The knight nodded.

A crowd was gathering, many off-duty Knights and even some in their armor arrived. There would be quite an audience. Aestus didn’t mind. Sometimes his audience in Darkcrest had been just Lord Araric, but he preferred the public bouts. Feeding off of the crowd was part of what made gladiatorial combat so invigorating. Though, he glanced around, maybe nobody here would be rooting for him at all. Khaska certainly seemed out of sorts, and everybody else here would probably be on the side of their commanding officer. No matter.

There was a cheer as Rider Lystria entered the combat arena. She had changed out of her acolyte robes into a pair of slacks and a leather shirt, probably a little less thick than leather armor. Her arms were bare, thinner than Khaska might have expected, but her muscles were well-defined. Around her neck hung both her dragon orb and a wooden symbol of Rao that had seen better days, the heart shape chipped and the white paint faded. Khaska was a bit surprised to see that she worshipped a God not traditionally thought of as being militant, like Heironeous or Pelor, but he supposed he had not really thought through it. There were probably worshippers of many good gods among the Knights. He also noted Khalisara nearby. He sat one of the many benches around the sparring ring, and was virtually alone, everybody else giving him a wide berth. He sat up straight, his body language much more interested and involved than he had been louhging back in the office area.

Rider Lystria grabbed a wooden longsword and shield from the practice weapons rack. Aestus had already selected a maul and waraxe, mirroring his personal weapons. They were lighter than his real weapons, of course, but after a minute of swinging he felt confident in his use of them.

She stepped into the arena. “Are you prepared?”

“Always,” was the quick reply. He stepped forward.

“This is sparring,” she said, “not training. The first person to five hits wins a bout. The first person to win three bouts wins a set. First one to win three sets is the winner. Magic attacks are not allowed, but other magic is.”

Aestus raised his arms, making sure his sleeves fell down a bit to show off his biceps. “All I have are my two arms and my training. I accept your honorable terms.” Then, lightning-quick, he crouched into a defensive position. “Let’s get to it.”

She smiled. “Very well.” Then she turned to Khalisara. “Would you like to begin our match?”

The dragon was amused. “Very well. I believe you are allowed to cast spells in preparation.” Rider Lystria held her holy symbol for a moment, then nodded. He waved a hand amusedly. “Begin.”

The two of them closed quickly and Khaska was astonished at the display of weaponry. He had seen Aestus in battle before, but Rider Lystria, slightly shorter, seemed to moved like a woman possessed of unnatural speed.

The first few bouts went quickly. Hits came easily to the two combatants. Aestus tried a few tricks, but the dragon rider was strong and canny and they did not work. It became a contest of attrition … and she won the first set handily, three bouts to one.

They took a break momentarily, both catching their breath.

“If you’re done taking your naps,” Khalisara said, “I’d like to see this over so I can get back to my meal. Begin.”

Rider Lystria pointed at Aestus and muttered something under her breath as the combat began anew. She did not move as fast this round—ah, Khaska realized. She had been under the effects of a Haste spell last set. But this set her strikes were precise and well executed. However, with her Haste gone, she and Aestus were quite evenly matched. He won this set, but it took him all five bouts to do so.

He stepped back. “Are you going easy on me? Don’t. Come on!”

“You are holding back, Winter,” Khalisara’s silky voice came. “Teach the young upstart a lesson about the prowess of a Dragonrider. Let go. Begin!”

Rider Lystria began the next set both under the effects of a newly cast Haste spell and magically able to make her precision strikes. Aestus was forced to defend himself much more this time. He used every moment of his training, his years of daily combat, his instincts, his speed, his strength, to try and counter the attacks of the paladin, but in the end he fell short. She won the next set in five bouts, but the crowd had grown silent, the only sound the ragged breath of the two sparring partners and the clack of their wooden weapons.

He was tiring out, unfortunately. She won the next three bouts in a row handily, making it one set to three. She had won.

Eryx (DM)
I rolled all this combat, with Musha’s permission. Rules were that I’d roll initiative each round. Both Rider Lystria and Aestus have a +2 to their Initiative. A critical hit counted as two hits.

They are pretty evenly matched. She had a shield, meaning her AC was 14, and Aestus’ AC was 12. Aestus has a +9 to hit, and she has a +10. When she was using her Vow of Enmity Aestus was slightly better, but when she was using Haste, she was clearly better.

I have all the data saved (the results, not the individual rolls), if you want to look at it, but the 3rd set when she was using BOTH Haste and her Vow, it still took her 5 bouts to win. You can ask my wife. I was constantly amazed that she kept loosing initiative even with advantage on the rolls. That makes a huge difference.

The 4th set went more like I suspected things would over a long period of time with both the Vow and Haste active. She smoked Aestus.

I do wonder how a real fight, with armor and magic, would go. Mechanically she was a level 15 Paladin, Oath of Vengeance, but I only let her use those two magic abilities.

She held up her holy symbol and muttered a prayer. Healing light washed over both her and Aestus, patching up their various bruises and abrasions from the fight. She walked over and extended her hand. He took it.

“Well met, Aestus Fellblade. Your skill is considerable. Should the chance present itself, I would be honored to fight by your side.”

“You do your order proud,” he said. Several of the Knights came up to him to congratulate him and shake his hand. Sir Williams collected their practice weapons and returned them to their proper places at the edge of the sparring circle.

“Well,” Khalisara said, coming closer. The paladins all parted before him, some obviously unaware he had crept up from behind them and uncomfortable, moving quickly away from him. “That was certainly a fun display. I don’t supposed you’d be interested in going a few rounds?”

With that, his body mutated, his face elongating, twin horns emerging from his temples, his limbs stretching and wings sprouting from his back, black scales rippling across his skin. In just a moment he towered over most everybody there, having changed into his hybrid form. He was wearing a leather loincloth, a far cry from the elegant fare he wore in his human form. Several of the armored Knights nearby reached for their weapons.

Rider Lystria touched her dragon orb. “No, Khalisara.”

He sighed, and returned to his human form. “Pity. I don’t get to exercise much except in my natural form.”

Khaska was immediately wary of the situation, but he was forcefully reminded of something when he saw Khalisara’s hybrid form. It looked almost like the dragon-men they had seen in Darkcrest. They had been shorter and more human-looking, his hybrid more obviously draconic, but the black scales and the forward pointing horns were eerily similar. They seemed different, though. They had not been dragons in disguise. And Supreme Wyrmhead Yrthraz had been a draconic sorcerer, also with black scales, a more advanced and powerful version of Gulnith, who had green dragon ancestry. It was still a mystery what those dragon-men had been. It seemed there were three categories he had encountered: the dragon-men, draconic sorcerors like Yrthraz, Gulnith, and even Amara, and then dragons in hybrid form. Perhaps he should ask Sanjin or go to the library of Tebbins Ferrick to look at some tomes on dragons. But that aside, now was the time to make a graceful exit, something he had wanted to do back in Rider Lystria’s quarters until Aestus has challenged her.

“We have taken enough of your time,” he said to Rider Lystria. “Thank you for indulging us.”

Aestus saluted with the waterskin he had been given by an acolyte. “Rider Lystria.”

“It was my pleasure. You have a good fighter in your friend here. It’s sad that the world we live in requires such violence so often.”

Her phrase reminded him of the philosophy of Rao, the God she worshipped.

“You sound like you have learned the teachings of Rao well.”

“Following them has brought me great comfort. Violence is a last resort. But I fear the coming war will broker no negotiations.” She held the symbol to her lips and gently kissed it, then recited quietly. “There is a time to think, and more rarely to act; but in that time, action is wisdom.” Khaska was familiar with the tenet, but only passingly so.

“Many of your order seem to have more, ornate symbols of their gods.” He hoped he was not being offensive. “Yours seems more …”

She smiled. “Homemade. When I left my family to pursue knighthood, my mother was very worried. Later, when I returned after some years and finally having been inducted into the Knights, I had also taken up with the priesthood of Rao. She is a bit of a woodcarver and made this for me. I carry it as a reminder of home.”

He placed his hand on the hilt of his scimitar. “As I carry my father’s weapon as a reminder of him.”

“I hope you make your father proud.”

“I am sure your mother is of you.”

“You are very kind. Thank you for your report,” she finished. “I and Sir Williams will make sure it is relayed to others of our order as needed.”

He raised his head, and, despite the fact that she had no horns, she did the same, obviously familiar with the Maha’i custom.

“May your legs never tire from the journey, Rider Lystria,” Khaska intoned.

“Safe travels,” she replied.

Khaska berated Aestus for his upstartness when they were sufficiently far from the chapterhouse, and the fighter was cowed a bit by the vehemence in Khaska’s voice, but the cleric found he could not keep his righteous anger up sufficiently to intimidate the former gladiator for more than a moment or two. After a bit, though, as they approached the edge of the city, Aestus took his leave, wanting to wander a bit on his own. Khaska reminded him that they planned on sailing off the next morning.

The supplies were almost loaded, and Khaska reported his day’s activities to Greygook and the others. Sanjin arrived a bit later. They had dinner together, cooked food over an open fire with some other gnomes from a different set of skyships. The company was good, and the food was filling. Aestus returned later that evening after the sun had set, his face bruised.

“What happened?” Khaska asked.

Aestus smiled. “Got into a bar fight.” The cleric was, once again, slightly mortified.

“Why? With who?”

The figher shrugged. “Some guys who had had too much to drink and were causing a ruckus. I took it upon myself to act as bouncer. Got a free meal from the tavernkeeper for my trouble. Just an honest brawl between folk.” He clapped his hand on Khaska’s shoulder. “It’s fine.”

Khaska was discovering that Aestus’ desire for combat was higher than perhaps he was comfortable with. But he had still held his own against a Dragonrider (though the cleric wondered how the fight would have gone in full armor and with magic allowed). He would be a valuable ally and, perhaps, over time, he could help Aestus not need to fight as much. Some of his rough edges could be smoothed off. Maybe.

Eryx (DM)
That will end this chapter.

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