Codex VII-Chapter 4

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They travelled onward from the outpost. Rynn and Khaska noticed that they were gradually descending down in elevation. The ground became muddier and they found themselves in water up to their thighs on occasion. Ranna had to swim sometimes, and finding a dry patch of land to sleep on became more and more difficult.

It wasn’t until four days from the outpost that something happened. Rynn was taking his shift during the night, keeping watch while the others slept. He and Ranna looked out into the darkness, but he was facing away from the place they had come from when Ranna began to growl. He turned to see two figures approaching through the trees, both somewhat shorter than the average human. He immediately stood up, Shatterheart in hand, ready to attack.

The taller figure held a hand up, and a woman’s voice rang out. “We just want to talk, Rynn. No need to get huffy.”

His eyes narrowed as the figures approached. He whistled, and in an instant Aestus was up, weapons in hand. Khaska heard the commotion and rose, and Orensland rolled out of his sleeping area, coming to his feet in one fluid motion, tense. Sanjin yawned and sat up. “Oh. Visitors.”

The gloom and mist made sight difficult, but as they approached the two of them came into sharper focus. One was a gnome, with short, black, unkempt hair, twigs sticking every which way from it. He had several days growth of beard on his chin and his eyes had dark circles under them.

“His clothes,” Orensland whispered. “They are not muddy.” It was true. His clothes were tattered—barely even clothes at all, just a smock and shorts and boots that looked like they had seen better days, but years ago.

The other was a skinny elf woman in black leather armor. Her brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail and she had tattoos on half of her face, intricate designs that wove in and out of their own patterns.

Everybody noticed that she had positioned her armor such that her cleavage showed. This was abjectly stupid for armor—exposing your skin served no purpose in combat. But, apparently, she didn’t feel she was here for combat. At least, not with Rynn.

“It’s been some time, Rynn. You look well. I’d hoped that I would see you again.” She licked her lips. “We were interrupted the last time we met. I see that Arandur isn’t with you now. Perhaps we can finish this time.”

“I can interrupt fine on my own, Inyel,” Rynn said. “Why are you here?”

“You know this elf?” Khaska asked, coming to stand by his friend.

“She’s a blood ranger; she hunts sentients,” Rynn said. “She’s a perversion of all that rangers stand for. Worshipping Erythnul.” He spat at the ground.

“Just because I like my prey a little more cunning than yours,” she said, slowly sidling up to their camp. “Though I must say I’m severely disappointed in you. Burying all those bodies? You couldn’t have made it more obvious what kind of group you are. Do-gooders.” She held her hands up, as if exasperated. “Are you here to fight my employers? That’s not going to end well. And now you’ve come in too far. Nobody gets in. Nobody gets out. We’ll have to kill you.” Then she looked at Rynn. “Well, most of you. I get to have some fun with Rynn first. Then I get to kill him. Then we’ll go hunt down that group of slaves you let go. I’ll be sure to send your regards.” She and her gnomish companion had stopped about thirty yards away by now, and she made a great show of looking approvingly up and down the half-elf ranger, raising her eyebrows in approval. “Then again, maybe I’ll kill Rynn in the middle of our fun, and not after. So many choices. How best to proceed?”

“I think you’ll find us worthy prey,” Aestus said, his weapons in hand at the ready. “I don’t think the two of you can take us all.”

Inyel laughed, and looked at her companion. “Grilrut is so fond of playing with his meals, and he’s not all that good of company. But now I get to play!” She shimmied a little bit, excited at the prospect.

Grilrut just stood there, looking bored. Orensland wondered if he was high. He did look a little spaced-out.

“You’ll not be ‘playing’ with me at all,” Rynn practically growled at Inyel. In their meetings before, despondent after having lost Juliet, Rynn had contemplated letting her have her way with him.

He was having none of that now. He raised Shatterheart slightly, an aggressive gesture.

Her broad smile disappeared. She almost began to pout. “You’ve changed, Rynn. I don’t like it.”

Eryx (DM)
So, a few things. First, BlackWolf and I came to a bit of an agreement, since we were taking so long to write Rynn out. Basically, I told him all the things that are going to happen for the next little bit in the campaign, and he will respond. Like, a mega-post, sort of. I’ve been authorized to roll for him in combat and whatnot, so while he’s still welcome to post here in the gray boxes, I think I have a handle on his character. Might ask him to write some dialogue up at some point as he leaves the party. We will not be waiting for him to respond in these gray boxes. I didn’t expect it would take us this long to get here. (Honestly, I just expected you all to just murder the slavers and be done with it, but no, you had to follow them and drag Chapter 3 out! Haha. This might be the one time in the campaign that I, the DM, wanted you to be more murder-hobo-y than you are!)

Per our conversation in texts (thanks for your input, those that responded), the group has been taking shifts in watch at night. I rolled for this, and Rynn was on duty when these two approached. I think that was the dice being serendipitous for dramatic reasons, since it’s nice to have Rynn be the one to first interact with Inyel, with whom he has history. However, it means that Aestus and Khaska are not wearing their armor.

You are confronted with Inyel, an elf blood ranger who hunts sentients for fun, and her companion, Grilrut. Everybody’s passive perception is such that you notice that Grilrut’s clothing, though tattered and threadbare, isn’t actually muddy. That’s … weird.

I’ve done some basic dialogue from Rynn to get things started, but what do you all want to ask/say/do with these two? They say they plan on killing you, but haven’t made any moves yet.

Also, you have taken Mernuth’s Cult of Skyrnyn ring. Who has it in their possession?

Crosis

Well! That's a fun turn of events.

Ok, I suspect we are in some deep trouble right now. We've noticed something is off about Grilrut–– he's clean despite being in a mucky marsh and apparently one who generally eats intruders. According to Eryx after a bit of back-and-forth texting (and a 15 insight check), he is also "putting on a show. He is playing dumb, but isn't."

Dangerous, intelligent humanoid that can eat people? Folks, we may be in the presence of a free chromatin dragon (and madwoman rider). Most likely a black dragon, given that we are in a swamp and he has black hair. If I recall correctly, only older dragons can shapeshift into a humanoid…? In other words, likely no pushover youngster. All of this is speculation, of course. But something tells me we shouldn't underestimate the short one.

However, they haven't attacked as of yet. My guess is that they are expecting us to demonstrate that we are on their side in some way. If we attack, they attack back. If we prove our loyalty… well, we continue on our merry way. Hopefully.

All of this running through Orensland's head during their conversation, Orensland would casually walk up to Rynn and put a hand on his shoulder, trying to display the Cult ring as prominently as he can to our spectators. Then he would say something cordial, like the following:

"If I have been told correctly, you do not intend to attack those loyal to the cause." Then, to alert the others to his suspicions, he would bow slightly to Grilrut, saying: "Though in humanoid form, we are honored to be in your presence, Grilrut."

A bit of a gambit if I'm wrong. But I suspect they are on orders to look out for Cult members at the very least. How we proceed from there would depend on how they react. Or how we react, if anyone is inclined to violence before Orensland can speak.

I don't know who has Mernuth's Cult ring–– Orensland has his own, and would likely have been wearing it to be ready for coming across anybody. My guess would be that Sanjin could pass as a cult member well enough. His thirst for knowledge could well come across as a form of devotion. However, that's just me. I suppose it depends on if the new ring fits anybody in particular.

Eryx (DM)
The ring could fit anybody well enough. There isn't a culture of wearing rings on a particular finger, so any of you could find a finger to make it work well enough on.

Give me a Deception Check, Crosis.

Crosis

Deception: 8 (rolled 1 + 7)

oh dear… oh dear… oh dear…

DeltaWolf
Sanjin will sigh, “Why do you maniacs insist on rushing towards death? I would think you’d want to put off its inevitable embrace as long as possible."

  • Intimidation: 11

Musha
I imagine Sanjin having the ring as well, but I suppose that's up to him. Aestus is fine not having a ring for now cause he can always just play the hired sword in any future ruses.

Aestus will follow Rynn's lead here, as he is the one with the most knowledge of this potential opponent. He is not bothered by her being a blood ranger since his life has been spent doing pretty much the same thing: killing for sport. He starts to feel pretty self-conscious about how Rynn and possibly the others view him upon hearing the disdain in Rynn’s voice toward this elf woman’s chosen profession. But loyalty to one’s kind is something he does feel passionate about and Rynn’s explanation that she represents a betrayal toward the cause of rangers definitely puts her at odds with Aestus, plus her threatening his friends makes her an enemy, so he is readying up for another fight.

However, seeing Orensland approach the 2 visitors in this manner, he realizes Orensland may see something he doesn’t. He watches cautiously as Orensland bows before Grilrut and realizes what he’s doing (I hope, anyway: I rolled insight on Orensland here and got 16 - rolled 9 + 7). Aestus then more closely scrutinizes the appearance of these 2, looking for any hints of cult membership – rings like the one Orensland wears, pendants, insignias or badges on their clothing, markings on their weapons, etc. (Perception = 24, rolled 17 + 7). If he can, indeed, mark them as part of, or under orders from, the cult, he’ll try to determine their motives here (rolled another insight of 17, rolled 10 + 7). According to these rolls, if Aestus believes they are part of the cult and testing them, he will do as Orensland has done and respectfully approach Grilrut, but fall to one knee several feet in front of him. Having only recently discovered that dragons are still a thing and that they can take human form, Aestus would be somewhat awed at (possibly) being in the presence of yet another dragon. So when he says, “Aestus Fellblade at your service,” there might be some sincerity to it. Nevertheless, deception = 13 (rolled 12 + 1). …what am I doing…?

If Aestus sees nothing to link them to the cult and/or does not feel like they are being tested, but simply aggressed, he will walk up to stand next to Rynn, weapons in hands and arms crossed in a “you shall not pass” gesture.

Thev
Khaska wonders if the two are the Night Hags, come back to taunt us (and possibly steal Kvanir). But given the actions of the other party members, he'll probably hold back and see if their gambit plays out. If he gets a chance to speak — or if the others are doing so badly that his intervention might help — he'd probably try to say something about having received orders from Hierophant Narvoth to close the Marshes — and that they were to honor those who died in the process of the closure with burial. They're currently proceeding to the next outpost.

Deception: 19 = 18 + 1

BlackWolf
Thanks for everything, everyone. I've enjoyed our campaign over the years, and look forward to seeing how things end up. But I can't in good conscience keep slowing things down. So as Eryx explained, he'll be playing Rynn as more of an NPC, with input from me on just the really major events, until the character is written out of the main storyline.

So then, as this is one of my final posts:

"Back then I was but a stray pup, beaten and broken," Rynn will respond to Inyel. "I no longer need Arandur to protect me. Your prey is turned hunter himself."

As the others of the party make their deception attempts, Rynn will go along with things if they show any confusion that we might be members of the cult. He won't try to explain anything to Inyel.

But should that ruse fail and they don't believe that any of us are cult members, then Rynn will try a different tactic. "Your employers and their payment are cut off at the root, Inyel. Though I'm sure you haven't yet heard the news, the cult leaders are already lying in their graves. We killed them. Yrthraz. Narvoth. Gulnith. Along with the vampires Maramos in Darkcrest. Leave now, unless you wish to join them in death."

That probably won't scare her off (she's the kind of person who makes crazed psychopath seem relatively tame, after all), but maybe it will unnerve the duo or otherwise cause them to be off their battle game.

Thev
Blackwolf, it's be fantastic playing alongside you all these years! Rynn's been a great character, and I hope we can bring him some peace!

By the way, I figured I should roll Insight for Khaska. I got 28 = 19 + 9.

It's not a combat situation, so we haven't rolled initiative; would that give Khaska any knowledge that the others are missing, thus prompting him to step forward and help the encounter along more actively?

Eryx (DM)
With a 28 Insight, Khaska is more able to read the nuances of Grilrut's body language. He's assessing all of them, evaluating the situation, and making plans. His ruse is likely to throw people off of paying attention to him and ignoring him, thus allowing him to study the situation. He's supremely confident in his ability to handle whatever happens in this situation.

Also, he's a black dragon.

I don't need any more posts. You've given me a great setup here with your various rolls and dialogue.

“Back then I was but a stray pup, beaten and broken,” Rynn shot back. “I no longer need Arandur to protect me. Your prey is turned hunter himself.”

She re-evaluated. “Well, I can appreciate confidence in man as well. But we may have to break you back down to properly serve me.”

Sanjin stood up and approached, sighing. “Why do you maniacs insist on rushing towards death? I would think you’d want to put off its inevitable embrace as long as possible.” He flexed his fingers, warming them up for spellcasting.

But Orensland, reading the entire situation very very differently, quickly tried to tamp that down. He approached Sanjin and put a hand on the wizard’s shoulder, prominently displaying his cult ring to these newcomers.

“Oh come now. These are allies of ours,” he said, slightly pulling the wizard back. He stood in front of Sanjin now, and addressed Inyel and Grilrut. “If I have been told correctly, you do not intend to attack those loyal to the cause.” Then he stared right at Grilrut. He wasn’t sure, but perhaps this was a dragon in human form? Gulnith had indicated that air superiority was part of the cult’s strategy, but had not confirmed the presence of dragons. Best to play it safe. Perhaps he could suss out the truth of this gnome. Had he changed form recently? Is that why his clothes were not muddy? “Though in humanoid form, we are honored to be in your presence, Grilrut.” He gave a slight bow.

Aestus, understanding the shadowdancer’s unspoken words, was astonished. A real-live dragon! Well, maybe? He took a step forward and knelt down. “Aestus Fellblade, at your service.”

But the lies fell flat, at least to Khaska, who was growing more concerned by the moment. Intimidation had not worked, nor had the shadowdancer’s lie, even bolstered by Aestus profession of loyalty. But Grilrut had not responded yet. So the cleric decided to take yet another, different route. “We have been tasked Hierophant Narvoth to begin closing off the marshes, and honored those who fell during the process of closure with burial. We are moving on to the next outpost.”

He sincerely hoped that they bought this ruse. He was almost certain that Grilrut was a dragon. The Maha’i had been watching him closely, and as the gnome’s seemingly bored eyes had swept over the group he had caught a glimmer of intelligence. Grilrut was assessing them, measuring their words, and evaluating the possibility of combat.

And he wasn’t at all concerned with them. Whatever happened, Grilrut was supremely confident in his ability to handle this situation.

“Oh such carrying on!” Inyel said. Now she was the one who looked bored. “Let’s just kill your friends …”

And then, for the first time, Grilrut spoke. “I agree,” Grilrut said. “Let’s kill them all except for the ranger. Take his hands and feet off, however.”

“He won’t be as good a lover without them!” Inyel said.

“Then you pick. Hands or feet.”

Rynn drew Shatterheart up, an ice arrow forming, but he didn’t strike yet. He didn’t much like being talked about as a piece of meat to be bartered and traded. He was cold and calculating here. His tone even worried Khaska a little—Inyel and Grilrut were just another bad animal pair to be put down for the good of all. Echoes of Adam. “Your employers and their payment are cut off at the root, Inyel. Though I'm sure you haven't yet heard the news, the cult leaders are already lying in their graves. We killed them. Yrthraz. Narvoth. Gulnith. Along with the vampires Maramos in Darkcrest. Leave now, unless you wish to join them in death.”

Grilrut’s eyes actually went wide with shock. Then they narrowed, and his voice changed, deepening, echoes of his true nature being revealed to everybody, confirming what Orensland and Aestus had suspected, and what Khaska had been sure of. He sounded like Khalisara, a disturbing sound to come from such an inauspicious figure.

Grilrut was a black dragon in disguise.

“Kill the others. You can have what’s left of your friend once Smithsrana is done with him.”

Inyel didn’t hesitate once he gave a direct order. Her playful nature dropped as she grabbed an arrow from her quiver.

Eryx (DM)
Your various approaches to the situation, intimidation, deception, faking orders from Narvoth, and then just laying it all out, actually dovetailed very nicely into an escalation that I’d like to think worked well.

However, you have played all your cards and, well, now that you’ve been revealed as double agents working against the cult AND the ones who killed the last generation of leadership, Grilrut is very interested in talking to one of you. It’ll be Rynn, after this Smithsrana is done with him. Sounds like torture.

Please roll initiative and give me two rounds of combat. This is because the first round Grilrut will be casting a spell, Sending, reporting in to … someone, that the assassins of the cult leadership have had the temerity to come to the marshes.

“Grilrut. Found a group claiming to have killed Yrthraz and the others in Darkcrest. Have situation in hand. Will bring one for questioning.”

He will then turn into his full dragon form and enter combat.

Also, I’ve gone and retconned a little back in Chapter 2 of this Codex. Orensland went to Dusklight and did his investigation, Khaska finished Hallow-ing both platforms, and Rynn decided to name his bow “Shatterheart.”

Musha
Can I please ask for a couple details to facilitate my visualization of this battle and better make my decisions?
1. How long does it take for Grilrut to turn into full dragon form?
2. How big is his full dragon form?
3. How far away is Inyel from Grilrut before and after his change in size?
4. How far away are Aestus and Orensland from Inyel as well as from Grilrut before and after his change in size?

Thank you!

Thev
Well, oops. Let's see if we can't dispatch them without the help of feuding vampire houses, shall we? Khaska will crouch down and get to casting, as if he plays things right he might significantly help his companions take on their adversaries. Khaska's first spell is intended, primarily, to stop Grilrut from sending his message and, second, from moving — if that's possible! In fact, if Hold Person against Grilrut fails the first time, and Khaska thinks it's a good idea, he might cast it again.

Initiative: 20

Round 1: Hold Person (at 3rd level, targeting both Grilrut and Inyel)

Round 2: Harm (directed at Grilrut)

  • Damage (14d6): 2+2+3+5+3+4+4+5+2+1+4+1+3+4 = 46

Round 3: Flame Strike (aimed as close to both Grilrut and Inyel as possible; Grilrut if Inyel moves away; each is is the sum of 4d6)

  • Grilrut Fire Damage: 10
  • Grilrut Radiant Damage: 19
  • Inyel Fire Damage: 13
  • Inyel Radiant Damage: 15

Eryx (DM)
I've created this map on Roll20 to show you the situation. I hope the tokens are obvious as to who is who. The party is on the west, Inyel and Grilrut to the east.

To your questions, Musha:

1. It will be an action for Grilrut to change.
2. 15 x 15 (3x3 on the grid).
3. They are next to each other at the moment. She's probably going to duck behind the tree to the north and take her shots. (On that note, please tell me, folks, not just your actions, but movements as well. Like, will you be ducking for cover and casting spells, or moving a bit each round towards them, or rushing them, or what? THis is mostly for the ranged players. For Aestus and Orensland, obviously, they will likely move into melee to attack.)
4. If there are any further questions, let me know. I think the maps makes the answer to this question obvious, but I'm happy to clarify further.

Musha
Oh crap, we’re fighting a dragon… So I’m pretty nervous about this fight and wondering if we should/could run away, but I picture Aestus being quite thrilled about fighting a dragon.

Initiative: 20 (Rolled 18 + 2)

Round 1: Aestus will move up right behind Grilrut so that he might be able to flank with Orensland and be in attack range of Inyel.
Bonus action to ignite axe.
For attacks, I will roll twice for flanking advantage, in case it is applicable.

Attack 1 on Grilrut
Hit: 21 [(roll 1 = 12, roll 2 = 2) + 9]
Damage: 19 (rolled 2 + 5 + 2 fire + 10 superiority)
Trip attack (before he is bigger than Large): if attack hits, DC 17 STR save or he falls prone.

Attack 2 on Grilrut
Hit: 29 and CRIT!! [(roll 1 = 20, roll 2 = 18) + 9]
Damage: 48 (rolled 4 + rolled 7 + 5 + (5+4+6+6=)21 fire + 4 superiority + 7 superiority
Trip attack (pretty sure he’ll be beating my DC) so let’s try again. Plus extra crit dmg!

Attack 3 on Grilrut
Hit: 26 [(roll 1 = 17, roll 2 = 16) + 9]
Damage: 26 (rolled 8 + 5 + 7 fire + 6 superiority)
Trip attack (gonna try again)

@Eryx – Plz note the crit damage rolls and the superiority damage rolls. I rolled 4d6 fire damage on the crit per the critical hit wording, “If the Attack involves other damage dice, you roll those dice twice as well.” If this is incorrect, please adjust the damage accordingly. Also, to eliminate metagaming, I most likely wouldn’t have continued to roll trip attacks if any of the attacks succeeded at tripping him (really hope this doesn’t affect my crit damage..). But please let me know how many trip attacks I ended up using so I can track how many superiority dice I actually used and how many remain. And please adjust the damage accordingly.

Reaction
In order of priority, Aestus will use Sentinel Attack on Inyel (if the conditions are met); else he will opportunity attack her if she tries to flee (again, if the conditions are met) and with his Sentinel feat, she provokes AoO even if she disengages, and if the attack hits, she cannot move; else he will AoO Grilrut; else he will use Riposte (if conditions are met).

Sentinel/Opportunity/Riposte attack
Hit: 29 and another crit :D (rolled 20 + 9)
Damage Sentinel/Opportunity: 23 (rolled 2 + rolled 7 + 5 + (6+3+1+4=)14 fire)
Damage Riposte: 38 (rolled 2 + rolled 7 + 5 + (6+3+1+4=)14 fire + 8 superiority + 7 superiority)

Round 2: Aestus will move, if necessary, to remain in flanking position, but will hopefully still be able to reach Inyel.

Attack 1 on Grilrut
Hit: 13 or 15 [(roll 1 = 4, roll 2 = 6) + 9]
Damage: 23 (rolled 6 + 5 + 12 fire)

Attack 2 on Grilrut
Hit: 21 [(roll 1 = 12, roll 2 = 9) + 9]
Damage: 13 (rolled 3 + 5 + 5 fire)

Attack 3 on Grilrut
Hit: 16 [(roll 1 = 7, roll 2 = 3) + 9]
Damage: 13 (rolled 4 + 5 + 4 fire)

Bonus action attack on Grilrut
Hit: 28 [(roll 1 = 17, roll 2 = 12) +11]
Damage: 12 (rolled 5 + 7)

Maneuvering attack
During round 2, if any of the attacks hit and Aestus notices that one of his companions is in trouble or simply needs to reposition without provoking AoO, he will use this and it will add 3 superiority to the damage of that attack. He will also do this if he needs to move to stay in range of Inyel to keep her from running for cover to allow Orensland to reposition to stay flanking. FYI, maneuvering attack allows a person to move up to half their speed without provoking AoO, but it uses their reaction.

Reaction
Same as Round 1 please.

DeltaWolf

  • Initiative: 3

Round 1:

  • Move 30 feet NE -in an attempt to avoid the whole party eating a dragon breath attack
  • Cast False Life Level 3
    • 15 Temp HP

Round 2

  • Cast Ray of Sickness Level 4
    • DC 17 (Con save)
    • Damage: 26 Poison

Thev
Actually, on second thought, if Khaska is unable to paralyze Grilrut after two tries, he'll run for cover behind the tree to the NE. Then he'll continue his attack with Harm, if possible.

Crosis
Hey guys! Sorry I'm behind, I started a new job on Monday and am still adjusting.

Orensland would go for the dragon. Because if we're going down in a blaze/acid blast of glory, might as well look cool while we do it! He'd move on the opposite side of where Aestus is going (assuming left-right orientation) so the dragon will have to be flanked depending on who he goes for. But he'd try to not have his back to Inyel if that is a possibility.

Orensland would also activate the flaming sword on his way over.

Initiative: 20 (10+10)

  • Hit:16 (9 + 7)
  • Hit: 12 (5 + 7)
  • Hit: 10 (3 + 7)

I'm in a rush, and assume that none of those hit, so won't roll for damage.

Orensland and Aestus exchanged a quick glance before both charging in—both targeting Grilrut. However, the gnomish figure dodged and weaved and even landed some punches … punches that knocked the wind from Aestus and sent Orensland a few feet back before he recovered. Aestus managed to land several blows, including one that smashed right into the dragon’s humanoid face, sending blood spattering everywhere and knocking the gnome down.

Khaska moved back and behind cover, casting Hold Person on both Grilrut and on Inyel. The dragon was unaffected, but the blood ranger froze in place, her arms locking as she had begun sighting down her bow. The paralysis only lasted for a moment before she and Rynn began exchanging shots, both landing arrows.

“Nice bow!” she said. “I look forward to claiming it.”

“You’ll never be able …” then Rynn froze, angry gurgling sounds coming from his mouth. She giggled.

“Poison got your tongue?” Fear raced through Rynn’s mind as his body didn’t respond to his commands. Was this to be how it ended? Frozen by poison as his friends died around him, to be taken and tortured before used as a plaything by this sadistic farce of a ranger?

In the meantime, between parrying blows and hitting back, Grilrut managed to make some somatic motions and cast a spell. He spoke. “Grilrut. Found a group claiming to have killed Yrthraz and the others in Darkcrest. Have situation in hand. Will bring one for questioning.”

Khaska landed another spell, and his Harm did some serious damage, Grilrut’s gnomish face suddenly bursting with boils and blackened veins.

“Enough of that!” He yelled, his voice mutating further as he finally invoked his true form. A wave of supernatural fear washed over everybody, blunting their attacks and causing their minds to cloud as Grilrut’s gnomish figure grew, his skin blackening and hardening as the scales appeared, his arms and legs elongating as huge wings sprouted from his back. In just a moment a full-sized black dragon stood before them, acid dripping from its mouth through its sharp teeth as his head swiveled back and forth, eyes sweeping over the situation. Inyel tried to move away, but Aestus caught her leg with his axe and yanked it back. She didn’t move, but kept firing at Rynn. The ranger had shaken off the paralysis, but was still a step slower from the lingering poison in his system.

Sanjin moved away, wanting to avoid the possibility of getting hit by the dragon’s breath weapon, and as he did so he sent out a crackling greenish beam of sickly light that lanced into the dragon, draining life from the creature with Ray of Sickness. Grilrut pumped his wings twice, sending Aestus down to the ground, and took off. “Now you face my full might!” Orensland took a chunk out of one of his legs as he lifted off, but then the dragon moved off above the trees to the north.

Eryx (DM)
Here’s the hitpoint situation.

Aestus 62/116. Currently prone. Used 2 superiority die (1 trip, 1 sentinel attack on Inyel.) Frightened of the dragon.
Sanjin full.
Khaska full. Frightened of the dragon.
Orensland 86/102.
Rynn 64/72. Poisoned.

Rynn has landed one shot on Inyel.
Grilrut took quite a bit of damage before he transformed into a dragon, but as a dragon he seems quite healthy. The damage taken in his gnome form doesn’t seem to have translated. He has taken off and flown a little north.

Here’s an updated picture of the situation.

Give me just 1 more round of actions. (Those of you who gave me 3 last time, I only used the first 2.)

Musha
Clarification request:
Your post states, "A wave of supernatural fear washed over everybody, blunting their attacks." I infer that we have the Frightened condition and thus get disadvantage on our attack rolls and can't move closer to the dragon, is that correct?

Also, my Sentinel Attack is not a combat maneuver, but a feat. Thus it would not have used a superiority die or added extra damage.

Eryx (DM)
I apologize for not putting that in the above post, but you are correct. I did roll saves for you all against Grilrut's fear, and Khaska and Aestus are frightened of him. I took the disadvantage into account on the one attack it affected (the attack of opportunity against Inyel, which Aestus still hit with).

The rest of you made your saves. You're welcome.

You have only used one superiority die, then, Musha. (Man, keeping track of all your die rolls, especially on a crit, is … a lot of bookkeeping! I'm sure we'll make errors as we go, but that's the nature of the game. We don't get everything 100% right, but have fun anyway.)

Crosis
Orensland would recognize that the best thing to do in this situation would be to spread out to diffuse the effectiveness of his breath weapon. So, using the picture provided us as a guide, Orensland would run to the tree in the bottom right and aim his crossbow at the dragon. Unless it's out of crossbow range, then he would pick another obstacle. Let me know if that happens.

  • Hit:12 (2 + 10)
  • Damage:8 (2+6)

Orensland isn't doing so hot today, sorry guys.

Thev
First, Khaska ducks mostly behind the dead tree. Then, as a bonus action, Khaska will cast Spiritual Weapon (4th Level), which will last for the next 9 rounds. It will attack Grilrut:

  • Damage: 4 + 6 + 5 = 15

(It also says that as a bonus action I can move it and attack another target within 20ft; if that's alright, here are rolls for attacking Inyel: Damage = 2 + 3 + 5 = 10.)

As the main action, Khaska will cast Fireball (5th Level) at Grilrut (but farther away on Grilrut's body from Rynn, so he's not caught in the blast).

Damage: 10d6 = 6 + 6 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 1 + 6 + 4 + 6 +4 = 41

Note, too, that this will likely cause all the trees in the northeast corner of the map — including Rynn and Inyel's — to catch fire. Oops!

DeltaWolf
* Cast Ray of Sickness Level 4 at Inyel
* DC 17 (Con save)
* Damage: 20 Poison

Musha
Aestus will stand from prone and will not approach the scary dragon cause he is Frightened.

He will focus on the adjacent Inyel while he is intimidated by Grilrut and he will use his bonus action for Second Wind and heal 15 HP (rolled 4 + 11).

Being Frightened, he has disadvantage on his attack rolls, so I will roll twice and use the lower.

Attack 1

  • Hit: 25 [(roll 1 = nat 20, roll 2 = 16) + 9]
  • Damage: 21 (rolled 1 + 5 + 10 fire + 5 superiority)

Maneuvering Attack: To allow one of my allies to move up to half speed to get a better position if needed. Most likely Sanjin as he is awfully close to that dragon for my comfort. If not Sanjin, then in order of possible priority, Orensland, then Khaska, then Rynn.

Attack 2

  • Hit: 12 [(roll 1 = 12, roll 2 = 3) + 9]
  • Damage: 17 (rolled 3 + 5 + 9 fire)

Attack 3

  • Hit: 20 [(roll 1 = 11, roll 2 = 19)] + 9]
  • Damage: 23 (rolled 8 + 5 + 10 fire)

Once he's finished attacking Inyel, he will try to shake off the Frightened.

  • Will save: 24 (rolled nat 20 + 4)

Same Reaction priority as before.
In order of priority, Aestus will use Sentinel Attack on Inyel (if the conditions are met); else he will opportunity attack her if she tries to flee (again, if the conditions are met) and with his Sentinel feat, she provokes AoO even if she disengages, and if the attack hits, she cannot move.

AoO

  • Hit 21 (rolled 13 + 9)
  • Damage: 13 (rolled 1 + 5 + 7 fire)

Orensland and Khaska both scattered, attempting to gain some cover and attack the dragon as it glided near to Sanjin. Orensland’s crossbow shot merely bounced off of the dragon’s hide.

Confused by the supernatural fear that engulfed his mind and prevented him from chasing the dragon, Aestus turned his attention to Inyel, smashing her twice with his weapons. She drew her sword and muttered some words as she lunged, managed to pierce Aestus’ leg with a thrust. The ground around him sprouted vines and thorns, the plants wrapping themselves around him. He also felt poison enter his system from her sword, but he steeled himself and it seemed to have no effect. Even tangled as he was, he managed to hit her as she moved away. She did not go down, but he was confident she would not survive another round with him. Rynn’s attacks at her went wide, the ranger still fighting the effects of her poison.

Khaska’s hurried prayers summoned a floating magic scimitar near Grilrut as well as a small bead of light that arced towards the flying dragon. Grilrut managed to twist in mid-flight and dodge the fireball that blossomed, catching trees on fire and lighting the night up for a brief, shining moment.

But then Grilrut positioned himself just above Sanjin and spewed forth a line of caustic acid, coating both the wizard and Aestus with his breath weapon. Sanjin barely held on, hoping to help Aestus with Inyel, but as the wizard made the arcane motions to cast Ray of Sickness he found his magic stymied and the spell petered out and simply vanished.

Grilrut laughed as his tail his Sanjin full on. As the darkness took the wizard, he realized the dragon has Counterspelled his attack on the blood ranger.

“Oh dear,” Orensland muttered to himself as Grilrut landed near Khaska. The shadowdancer looked at Aestus, who was trying to throw off large goey flecks of acid, the burns on his skin evident even in this light, his thrashing eventually also freeing him from the vines threatening to bring him down. “This isn’t going well.”

“Looks like you’ll soon be my plaything, Rynn!” Inyel called out to the ranger.

“Never!” he shouted towards her. “You’ll have to kill me.”

Grilrut chuckled, his deep voice echoing through the swamp as he landed just on the other side of a dead tree Khaska was using for cover. “It’s amusing you think you have some choice in the matter.”

Eryx (DM)
Here’s the hitpoint situation.

Aestus 8/116. Edit: Musha asked if he could use his Indomitable ability to re-roll the failed STR save, and I allowed it. I've adjusted the post accordingly.
Sanjin is down. Please begin rolling Death Saving Throws. (Sorry man, breath weapons will do that to you. You took 60 damage from the acid. Both Aestus and Sanjin failed their DEX saves against the acid breath.)
Khaska full.
Orensland 86/102.
Rynn 64/72. Poisoned.

Inyel took quite a beating from Aestus, but has escaped his grasp. She seems quite thrashed, but still up and running.

Grilrut seems fine. He’s eyeing Khaska hungrily.

Here’s the updated tactical situation. Note the scimitar for Khaska's casting of Spiritual Weapon. (Also, Aestus is no longer down.)

Please give me one more round of actions or a death saving throw, as appropriate.

Also, give me three random d20 rolls. I’ll use them as needed for future saves in this combat. I should have asked for some at the beginning of combat. It’s not a big deal, I think, statistically, but I do like the idea of your rolls being your rolls.

Crosis
Orensland will fire a shot at Inyel.

  • Hit:19 (9 + 10)
  • Damage:13 (7+6)

Hopefully that hits. Depending on how wounded Inyel will be, Orensland may begin shadowdancing.

Random d20 rolls: 4, 20, 14

Khaska
First, Khaska will pray for a Divine Intervention. He'd ask for aid in slaying Grilrut or in the party's escape from this battle. The more specific idea flicking through his head is a portal of sorts, perhaps into the void: either in a place that all party members could reach in a turn's run, or between Grilrut's neck and body.

Roll… 63. I needed 11 or below, so… welp.

Second, he'll cast Mass Healing Word (4th level). I think Orensland's out of range, but the other three party members heal 2d4 + 5 HP: 9.

Random rolls: 19 13 6

Musha
Nothing is keeping Aestus away now. He goes to the dragon and gives it everything he's got. He will use his Action Surge to perform a 2nd attack action and the rest of his superiority dice (3) and his bonus action to attack. He will lock eyes with Inyel (if she's still standing) and make like he's charging her to put the fear in her, but will pass her by and bash the dragon.

Attack 1

  • Hit: 29 and crit (rolled nat 20 + 9)
  • Damage: 40 (rolled 1 + rolled 2 + 5 + (5+5+3+5=)18 fire + 5 superiority + 9 superiority)

Menacing Attack: if attack hits, DC 17 WIS save or he fears The Fellblade! and is Frightened of me.

Attack 2

  • Hit: 21 (rolled 12 + 9)
  • Damage: 20 (rolled 3 + 5 + 9 fire + 3 superiority)

Menacing Attack again.

Attack 3

  • Hit: 20 (rolled 11 + 9)
  • Damage: 32 (rolled 8 + 5 + 10 fire + 9 superiority)

Menacing Attack again.

No more superiority dice.

Bonus action to off-hand attack.

  • Hit: 28 (rolled 17 + 11)
  • Damage: 13 (rolled 6 + 7)

Attack 4 (action surge)

  • Hit: 21 (rolled 12 + 9)
  • Damage: 19 (rolled 7 + 5 + 7 fire)

Attack 5 (action surge)

  • Hit: 28 (rolled 19 + 9)
  • Damage: 22 (rolled 7 + 5 + 10 fire)

Attack 6 (action surge)

  • Hit: 29 and crit! (another nat 20! + 9)
  • Damage: 21 (rolled 2 + rolled 1 + 5 + (6+2+2+3=)13 fire

Reaction
Aestus will smack up Inyel if she attacks anybody but him with his Sentinel attack or will opportunity attack her if she moves away.

  • Hit 12 (rolled 3 + 9)
  • Damage: 16 (rolled 7 + 5 + 4 fire)

3 random rolls:
13, 8, 16

Musha
DM allowed me to roll an Intimidation check as I charged towards Inyel but passed her.

  • Intimidation: 24 (rolled 19 + 5)

DM says the result is, "Inyel is now Frightened of me and has disadvantage on her attacks." -HUZZAH!

DeltaWolf (via text)
3 random rolls: 1, 20, 19.

Orensland was too far away to be in melee combat. He had tried to spread out to avoid the breath weapon, but now felt that he was almost a spectator to his friend’s deaths. He fired a crossbow bolt at Inyel and it struck true. The elf looked very very haggard. She was limping.

And then the shadowdancer watched a thing of absolute wonder.

Aestus, shaking off the dragon’s magic fear, charged right into the fray. His iron muscles flexing, sweat pouring down his face in rivulets, he ran straight at Inyel, screaming like a madman. She actually shouted and backed away, and then he veered into the dragon and began hewing at the creature’s side. Using every second of his training, using his years of combat, using all the tricks he had learned, all the strength he had gained, all of the techniques he had mastered, all of the combat prowess he had obtained, all his experience in the gladiatorial arena, with the fate of his newfound friends seemingly in his hands alone, and not wanting to disappoint master Tawru, Aestus Fellblade got to work on Grilrut.

It wasn’t combat so much as it was like watching someone chopping down a tree. Breaking down a wall. Blasting through a door. Shattering a window.

The former gladiator simply smashed and chopped and slashed and carved into the dragon’s side. Grilrut roared in pain, shying away, yet Aestus continued attacking relentlessly, managing to carve a literal hole in the dragon’s side, blood flying everywhere, coating him, Inyel, and even spraying Sanjin a bit, and the wizard was lying prone nearly ten feet away!

Orensland was grateful that Aestus was on his side. He was almost afraid of the Fellblade.

But the dragon hissed and turned on Aestus as the fighter began to lose steam, and one blow from Grilrut’s tail smashed the human flat. Aestus did not move from where he fell.

Khaska hurriedly said a prayer to Teresh, calling for aid. He knew that sometimes the Gods answered cries for help in unique ways. He then cast another spell, sending a wave of healing energy out. He saw Aestus’ eyes blink open and also noted that the healing energy touched Sanjin and Rynn.

“Uh uh,” Grilrut said. “Stay down.” Another blow from his tail smashed Aestus into the ground, pushing his body into the mud.

Apparently, Teresh would not be intervening. Khaska’s heart sank.

Inyel gingerly limped past Aestus, then ran once it was clear the fighter was down. She moved to Sanjin, pushed her sword into his throat as he struggled to rise, dropping the wizard again, and then fled to safety behind the dragon, hurriedly drinking a potion as she went.

Grilrut turned his full attention to Khaska, and the cleric’s heart sank even more as he settled into a defensive crouch. Without his armor and with his friends falling like leaves around him, how could he possibly withstand the full wrath of an adult dragon?

Grilrut’s mouth snapped forward, snake-like, his teeth sinking into Khaska’s shoulder. The Maha’i felt the burns from acid eating into his flesh. Both hands reached out to savage him as he was pinned by the bite attack, tearing through flesh and bone. When Grilrut had finished, the cleric was barely standing, his clothes and flesh in tatters, barely able to stand.

Watching this unfold, Rynn was completely demoralized. He had been certain that coming to the marshes would bring him closer to his Juliet. Was this how it was to end? His friends dead at the teeth and fangs of Grilrut? His fate in the hands of one of his worst enemies? He fired with Shatterheart, the name seeming even more apropos as his hoped faded. Once ice arrow met its mark in the mess of flesh left by Aestus, but the other skittered off of the dragon’s hide as it attacked Khaska.

Aestus and Sanjin were down. Inyel and Khaska were both near death, but even so wounded, blood pouring from the raw mass of flesh in his side, Grilrut seemed quite capable.

If he could get another shot at Inyel, at least he could take her down. He could find some comfort in that. He had watched her limp away. It wouldn’t take much to remove her from the equation.

He pulled the string back on his bow, an ice arrow appearing. He saw Orensland ready another crossbow bolt, moving closer. At least they would go down fighting.

Eryx (DM)
Well, gee whillickers. When Aestus wants to go to town. He can GO TO TOWN!!

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to get Grilrut completely down. The dragon is severely wounded. Inyel is baaaaarely standing.

Here’s the hitpoint situation.

Aestus is down. I’ll use your rolls for death saves as appropriate, but it looks like you’ll make your first one.
Sanjin is down. Same with your rolls. You have failed your first one (since you are last in initiative order, your first death save roll was in this round of combat).
Khaska is at 14/80.
Rynn is at full health. Poisoned.
Orensland is at 86/102.

And here’s the updated combat situation. I moved Orensland a little closer in case he wanted to try some melee combat/get around to see Inyel, but that’s easily retconned to him staying where he was.

Thev
Khaska's bonus action (which should come first), once again, will be Mass Healing Word, this time just at Level 4. Khaska, Orensland, Sanjin, and Aestus will all regain 8 HP. (3 + 5)

Then, noticing Orensland's approach and Rynn's location, he'll move clockwise around Grilrut while casting Scorching Ray at Level 5 (six rays, each ray doing 2d6 damage).

4 + 9 = 13 — Damage: 7
12 + 9 = 21 — Damage: 6
17 + 9 = 26 — Damage: 8
12 + 9 = 21 — Damage: 8
17 + 9 = 26 — Damage: 7
7 + 9 = 16 — Damage: 8

Random rolls: 15 19 20

Musha
Aestus is unconscious, but is dreaming of his friends' glorious victory over an evil dragon and cheering them on from the darkness! And it seems like he'll regain consciousness just in time to see Master Tawru's signature beautiful pillar of fire again!

Crosis
Orensland is going to go invisible, run over to Inyel, and give her a good ol' fashioned sneak-attack stab.

  • Hit:26 (19 + 7)
  • Damage:45 (rolled 5 +5 DEX + 11 fire damage + 24 sneak attack damage)

Hopefully that will put her out for the count. On to slaying the dragon!!

And by the way, Musha? Aestus is awesome. So very, very awesome. I'm very glad he's a member of this party! :)

“You better be worth all this, Rynn,” Inyel shouted. “Been some time since I had a lover that fully satisfied me.”

Thinking he might be more effective in close-quarters, Orensland actually put his crossbow away, drawing his sword again. But just as he crouched down to sprint at Inyel, his form slowly fading away as shadows converged on him to wrap him in their darkness, he felt a blast of wind move past him, a vague shape headed towards the dragon and the blood ranger, and he was nearly knocked over by the rush. What was that?

At the same time, the crackling of wood caught Khaska’s attention, but he dared not turn around until Grilrut himself moved his head to look at a spot just behind the cleric. The Maha’i turned to see a humanoid emerging from the tree to his right, a tall figure wielding a long and twisted staff, covered in white fur underneath his leather armor, with a face not unlike Khaska’s own, though this new arrival was not a Maha’i,. Just beyond the newcomer, to the east, another figure emerged from a tree, a short dwarf with green plate armor, his beard braided with vines and twigs, giving him an earthy kind of look. He carried a large white Warhammer in front of him.

Grilrut hissed.

“We didn’t dare attack the dragon on our own, but you and your friends have done a wonderful job against such a vicious foe” the furry newcomer said calmly to Khaska, as if they were meeting pleasantly at the market on a spring afternoon, not as if a giagantic acid-spewing death creature stood not fifteen feet from them. “Please leave Grilrut to us now. See to your companions.”

But just then the air around Inyel coalesced into a raging tornado, kicking up dirt and grass. The blood ranger’s startled shriek echoed through the trees as she was bodily picked up into the torrent of air and thrown away from the dragon, landing with a thud. The air elemental followed quickly, attacking again, slamming her into the ground with its firsts.

“You’re supposed to focus on the dragon!” The dwarf bellowed at it. “Tarnation. What is she thinking?”

He sighed, and then stepped forward and touched Aestus. Magic moved from his hand into the fallen warrior, nature energy mending wounds and healing the Fellblade. Aestus coughed and looked up at the dwarf.

“Want to help me finish this beastie off?” He asked.

Aestus rose to his feet, assessing the situation. Grilrut was actually backing away, and Inyel’s limp body was being slammed over and over into the ground by the air creature. She had long since stopped wailing.

“Nothing would make me happier,” Aestus said, dropping into an attack position. “Welcome to the fight!”

Orensland’s voice came from just to the side of them, though he could not be seen. “Mind if I join?” Rynn was looking at them from behind his tree, and Khaska had taken a step towards them as well. They all felt bolstered by magic radiating from the dwarf, and their fears dropped away. Khaska, in particular, felt Grilrut’s magical presence dwindle away in his mind.

“The more the merrier!” The dwarf said. Then he charged at Grilrut, calling down a blast of moonlight from the sky as he did so.

Eryx (DM)
Reinforcements have arrived in the form of a firbolg and a dwarf, who appear to have traveled here by tree (?) and an air elemental who has it in something fierce for Inyel.

Hitpoint situation:

Aestus is at 55/116. That dwarf’s heals pack a punch (but in a good way).
Sanjin is still down. If Khaska heals him (which I expect he will), he’ll get a turn and not have to roll any more death saves.
Khaska is at 14/80.
Rynn is at full health. Poisoned.
Orensland is at 86/102.

If you would like to disregard your last post, Thev and Crosis, you may do so. But we can use those same rolls and attacks if you would like (though for the dragon, in Orensland’s case, since that air elemental seems to have Inyel well in hand). What would you all like to do? Give me one round of actions.

And could I get a Religion check for Khaska?

Musha
Aestus is feeling much healthier and emboldened as he stands up and takes a quick look around. He takes it all in in an instant and he sees the destruction he brought to the dragon’s body before being pummeled unconscious, almost all of his friends still standing (but he’s confident Sanjin will be quickly seen to), the loud-mouthed elf is certainly getting her comeuppance in a literal whirlwind of marvelous power, and a couple of entirely unexpected new friends have come to join in the battle! And yes, they are friends. In the arena, anybody who fights at your side, even temporarily, is a friend; and your survival very often comes down to what friends you have. With a smile, maybe even a playful chuckle, he will shout, “Make way for me, merry dwarf!” as he charges in at the dragon, behind his new buddy, maybe even a little faster than the short-legged dwarf.

Attack 1

  • Hit: 22 (rolled 13 + 9)
  • Damage: 19 (rolled 8 + 5 + 6 fire)

Attack 2

  • Hit: 13 (rolled 4 + 9) – a miss..
  • Damage: 17 (rolled 3 + 5 + 9 fire)

Attack 3

  • Hit: 19 (rolled 10 + 9)
  • Damage: 15 (rolled 4 + 5 + 6 fire)

Bonus Action Attack

  • Hit: 19 (rolled 8 + 11)
  • Damage: 12 (rolled 5 + 7)

Thanks, Crosis! Aestus sure is happy to be partied with you all, too.

Thev
Khaska just had his life flash before his eyes (also, Khaska's life just flashed before MY eyes) and is momentarily shocked to not be looking down a dragon's gullet. But he's happy for it, and will jump back into the battle.

As Aestus is back up and we have some more fighters to support us, Khaska will forgo the Scorching Ray and instead cast Mass Cure Wounds. Everyone who's injured (Orensland, Khaska, Aestus, and Sanjin) will regain 16 HP.

As a bonus action, he'll recast Spiritual Weapon at Level 2, (to hit: 28 = 19 + 9) dealing 10 damage to Grilrut. It's not much, but every little bit helps!

Religion Check: 4 + 6 = 10

Khaska is still a little baffled that he's still alive, and doesn't quite have the best book-memory recall at the moment… Haha.

Crosis
Woot! We're gonna make it out alive!! :D

I would love to carry my attack from last post towards the dragon instead. It should make for a solid strike. However, with everyone in one group converging on the dragon, Orensland would move towards the dragon in a circular motion to avoid potential breath weapon problems.

With Orensland already invisible, I believe I can expend my bonus action on dashing? If so, despite taking the longer route, Orensland should reach the dragon relatively quickly.

Eryx (DM)
With that Religion check, you have a vague sense that something about this plate wearing, nature spell-casting dwarf is very unusual, but you can’t put your finger on it.

DeltaWolf
Well, a lot has happened in the 4 days since I posted last… I guess Sanjin will cast Ray of Sickness again in the hopes that either he won’t counter-spell it or lose it’s reaction doing so.

  • Cast Ray of Sickness Level 4 at Inyel
      • DC 17 (Con save)
      • Damage: 31 Poison

If there are any dead bodies after the fight -Sanjin will want to cast Animate Dead.

“Make way for me, merry dwarf!” Aestus said as he charged forward.

Khaska’s next prayer to Teresh was one of thankfulness, and he cast a healing spell, bolstering his allies.

Sanjin bolted upright, looking around. “Again?” he asked. “Dumb dragon can’t even kill someone properly!”

“You dare insult me?” Grilrut roared. Sanjin shrugged as he stood, out and palms up.

“I’m still here. You …” He unleashed a Ray of Sickness spell at Grilrut, who was now the unfortunate brunt of everybody’s attention. (Well, except for the air elemental, who was still viciously smashing and tossing Inyel’s body like a rag doll.) The energy lanced into the dragon, burning away some of his flesh and infecting the area around it. “ … not so much!”

Moonlight blasted Grilrut from above as the dwarf’s divinely-bolstered and glowing Warhammer sang through the air, striking Grilrut’s back leg twice. Aestus just clambered forward and continued wailing at the pulpy mass of flesh where he had previously savaged the dragon, basically picking up where he had left off. Orensland appeared beside the dragon, stabbing upward into its neck, drawing forth a fountain of black blood that sprayed across the ground. The furry rebel druid cast a similar mass healing spell to Khaska before targeting the dragon. Overcome by all the attacks, Grilrut could not resist the druid’s Blight spell. He began to shrivel and shrink, looking sick and dehydrated as ice arrows from Shatterheart landed near Aestus, splintering painfully in the damaged flesh of his side.

Not one to go down without a fight, Grilrut tried to smash Aestus, but the fighter nimbly dodged out of the way this time, avoiding the tail strike that surely would have put him down again. He bit at Khaska again, but the Maha’i prepared, and positioned his head such that his horns punctured the soft roof of the dragon’s mouth, causing him to rear back and only barely scrape Khaska with his teeth. The dragon chanted some words and insects erupted from the ground, attacking everybody who was in melee with him.

At that, the dwarf cried out louder, and struck out with his hammer one more time. The weapon glowed bright with divine energy and he brought it up into the dragon’s chest, where the sound of ribs snapping could clearly be heard. As he began to collapse, Grilrut cast one final spell. Another Sending. “The wizard has Gulnith’s wand. Rebel druids attacked. Send reinforcements.”

Then Aestus swung his axe one more time, striking hard and biting into what he assumed was near the dragon’s heart. He struck true, and with that, Grilrut collapsed, the impact spraying mud and dirt over everybody. The insects under his control stopped attacking, the swarm slowly dissipating and beginning to act more naturally.

The dwarf began shouting to nobody in particular in a language none of the party recognized. Orensland was pretty sure that he was swearing up a storm.

“I agree,” the other druid said, “it is unfortunate that he managed to cast so many spells. They will be coming. But please speak common for the sake of our new friends.”

“Thank you for coming,” Rynn said, stepping forward now that the danger was over. “I didn’t think we were going to survive.”

“And you,” the dwarf turned to the air elemental, completely ignoring everybody else, but now at least speaking in common. “Get a grip. You were supposed to try and keep the dragon from escaping. If he’d taken off he might have gotten away. You had your orders! What in the world were you thinking …”

The air elemental glanced around, seemingly surprised that the combat had ended. Inyel’s broken and shattered body dropped to the ground. With a rush that Orensland was hard-pressed to follow the elemental flew over the ground, moving quickly towards the group. As it moved, it began to shift and change, changing from a whirling mass of air into a smaller human, a woman with pale skin, her long blonde silver-streaked hair done in intricate small braids, her leather armor well-used, with several motifs of Pressen and its moons adorning it. She completed her transformation a few feet from Rynn and rushed right at him.

“Rynn!” she cried, grabbing him. The ranger had to take a step back from the force of the hit (she was still moving very fast from her elemental form) but managed to catch her. After squeezing him for a moment, she backed up slightly, still in his arms. Her hands moved to his face.

“Is it really you? After all these years?”

It was Juliet. He hadn’t seen her in almost a decade. Her face had aged a little, the teenage girl he had married gone now, replaced with a thinner, more hardened and more mature woman. Her hair was dirty and probably needed a serious washing, her face covered with a fine sheen of dirt and sweat, she had lost weight, becoming more athletic, and her arms were strong and well-defined, her hands were worn and calloused. But he had never seen such a beautiful sight. Tears came to his eyes. He was utterly speechless.

“Why are you here in the marshes?” she asked, as he brought his hands to hers to hold them. His tears of joy turned to tears of laughter.

“Well,” he finally started, a little lamely, “we, uh, we came to rescue you.”

Eryx (DM)
Seems as good a place as any to stop, I suppose. :)

What are all your reactions to finding Juliet as a level 10 Circle of the Moon Rebel Druid? No wonder she had it out for Inyel, who is now a bloody pulp. (By the time your turn rolled around, DeltaWolf, Inyel was so obviously very very dead that I had Sanjin attack the dragon instead.)

Crosis
Woot! I'm going to assume my Handy Haversack isn't handy enough to pull this off, but any chance we can take the dragon's head with us? I assume the rebel druids will fill in a lot of details for us about whether or not that's a good idea, but if we ever wanted proof that free dragons were around, a semi-fresh head should do the job nicely.

Going from what seemed an inevitable death to suddenly accomplishing a major part of our mission in the marshes will have Orensland grinning from ear to ear. the excitement of killing a dragon is just a cherry on top of all that. Not wanting to interrupt the joyful reunion, but very much wanting to remain alive, Orensland would suggest to all present that we move somewhere safer to catch up. Apparently reinforcements are on the way, and Orensland would say one dragon is enough for today. He hopes the rebel druids know a place or two we could go to.

…Though as quickly as he can, he'd run to Inyel's corpse and see if she has any goods. Orensland trained a bit in poisons, after all, and would like to see if she has any more on her person (in addition to any other goodies).

Thev
What with Farah and now Juliet, Khaska is starting to suspect that every woman the party tries to rescue has secret powers! Not that he's complaining — it's a relief to discover that the party isn't alone in its capacity to fight evil. And he's truly happy to see his friend reunited with his love, a sort of reunion he has seldom witnessed.

Khaska would sincerely thank the druids for their help, but he also agrees with Orensland that we need to seek for cover as soon as possible, but there are the few things that need to be taken care of on the spot. It doesn't look like Orensland's haversack can fit Grilrut's head, but might one of Khaska's two Bags of Holding? (In 3.5, he had a Type I and a Type III; 5e appears to collapse them into one type.) Either can fit up to 500 pounds and 64 cubic feet. If we can't fit his entire head, let's lop off some horns and teeth as evidence. After that, and after Orensland grabs anything of value from Inyel, Khaska would ask whether it would be permissible to set them aflame. After all, even Khaska knows we can't bury a dragon (which wouldn't hide the grave, anyway).

After finding shelter, he'd help with any healing that needs to be done, as well as take care of introductions. He's curious about the firbolg, as he hasn't met any of his race before. Following up on his hunch, he'd also attempt to strike up a conversation with the dwarf, mentioning that he's only met a few dwarves before — including a skyship captain named Bronzebeard; might they know each other? He'll be observant to pick up anything else that might substantiate the sense of difference about him.

In terms of next steps, though, he's uncertain whether it would be wise to pursue the course farther into the Marshes without more intelligence and camouflage. He'd want to learn what the druids know about their forces and the Citadel's defenses — whether we'd have any hope of an assault or some sort of subterfuge. If that seems untenable, there might be another option: we could contact the Lightbringers in Garth Calad and coordinate a multipronged attack, potentially using the voidgate network.

Also, yeah, Khaska definitely has dragonbite scars on his shoulder now.

Crosis
I forgot to do an Investigation Check for looting:

Investigation: 27 (rolled 16+11)

Niiice :) What'd Orensland find?

DeltaWolf
Q1: What would my HP be at now?
Q2: Did anyone other then Inyel and the dragon die?
Q3: Can I animate Inyel's corpse?

BlackWolf
At this point, Rynn is certainly overwhelmed with emotion. The dragon nearly killed the party, and then suddenly the ranger is reunited with his wife — the one desire that had shaped his life for years. It seems almost too good to be true, and at first, he'll not know what to say or what to ask.

While the others concern themselves with the dragon and speaking with these druids, Rynn can only just stare at and then embrace his long-lost wife. "I searched for you so long, and feared that I'd never lay eyes on you again," he'll say eventually. He'll want to know how she's come to this point, though he almost fears to learn of her hardships. And there is the matter of their child, given what he learned from Jared.

The ranger will be somewhat oblivious to the situation at hand, until he realizes that the dragon's call for reinforcements would put everyone in danger. So he'll wait to get fully caught up with Juliet until after we can get to a safe place.

Beyond that, Rynn's will shall be set to stay beside his wife. From a metagaming perspective, we know that I will no longer be playing in the campaign and thus Rynn must be written out of the party. Still, he'll be sad to see his friends depart, and has not forgotten his promises to help them. He will miss his companions dearly, both old and new. And as a player, I also will miss throwing my dice in with your lot. I'll have to find times to catch up on the narrative to see how you all fight the good fight.

(And if he weren't so distracted by finding Juliet, he'd be repulsed at the notion of Sanjin animating Inyel's corpse.)

Thev
Khaska would also disapprove of the notion of animating Inyel's corpse.

Eryx (DM)
To answer your questions, DeltaWolf:

1. Sanjin has 30 hitpoints.
2. No. Everybody survived.
3. Yes. Animate Dead is the spell you'll be using?

DeltaWolf
Thank you. Yes Sanjin will cast Animate Dead (Level 3) to create a zombie (I have the stats). As of right now he intends to recast the spell to maintain control of the Zombie 24 hours from now.

Musha
"I can't believe we actually killed a dragon.." Aestus remarks, almost sullenly. "They're supposed to all be dead. This is so…" He drops off as he takes in the rest of the scene before him. The first thing he notices is the air elemental rushing Rynn and changing form into an elf woman who embraces him and calls him by name. Once he sees his friend hold her in his arms, he realizes, This must be Juliet. He laughs heartily at Rynn's response to her inquiry about him coming to the Marshes, bolstered by such a happy reunion, and slaps the dwarf on the back, "Hah! Came to rescue her indeed! You folks have no idea how well timed your entrance was!" And he'll try to make introductions with the dwarf and furry guy while Rynn and Juliet are catching up. "Very well met, my friends! I am called Aestus Fellblade, but my friends know me as Hajir al-Shams." He shakes both by the hand, using two hands in his warmest way possible.

After hearing Orensland's suggestion to move to somewhere safe, Aestus will request of the dwarf and firbolg, in his blunt and assuming manner, "May we follow you to somewhere other than here? Will you guide us to someplace safe?"

Then he sees Sanjin playing with Inyel's corpse which starts to move again, and he shouts, "No! Sanjin! What are you doing?!"

Out of character, neither Aestus nor myself have any problems with raising a zombie. Aestus just has no idea what Sanjin is doing and he only knows what he sees: that Sanjin cast a spell and now a horrible enemy is coming back to life.

Thev
Khaska, spinning off Aestus's comment about killing a dragon, and when they've got time, he'll offer a knowing smile and a hand on the shoulder and say, "Hajir al-Shams… Khatil Tineen." Aestus will almost certainly know that that means "Dragon's Bane" in Maha'i.

And that it was one of the appellations Tawru acquired.

Musha
That's so cool. And it's quite an honor for both me and Aestus. Thank you, Thev. :)
Aestus will look Khaska directly in the eyes in reverence and respect for the honor just given to him by the focus of his admirations. But he won't be able to entirely conceal his excitement; he will be grinning ear to ear and Khaska will be able to see the twinkle of pride in his eye.

DeltaWolf
Sanjin has a morbid curiosity with necromancy and dark magic (which is what led him to the death side). He will have a hard time understanding why raising a zombie is offensive.

Sanjin will explain the zombie is under his control and so the others need not worry. Then if anyone disapproves he will be a little confused -it’s just a dead body, what’s the big deal. Anyhow we spent several days with evil vampires, surely this isn’t any worse.

More importantly the group should be on its way -before anymore enemies come.

Everybody laughed. Aestus slapped the dwarf on the back. “Hah! Came to rescue her indeed! You folks have no idea how well timed your entrance was!” Not wanting to interrupt the happy couple, who were staring at each other, he introduced himself, sheathing his weapons to allow himself to hold out both of his hands. “Very well met, my friends! I am called Aestus Fellblade, but my friends know me as Hajir al-Shams.” He took the dwarf’s proffered handshake with both hands, warmly greeting the dwarf. He approached the other rebel druid, but the tall furry humanoid made no attempt to shake hands, merely inclining his head respectfully. “And allow me to introduce my allies, Orensland and Sanjin of the elves” both elves were standing near Inyel, and both waved, “Tawr—”

“Khaska,” Khaska corrected. “Of the Mawkhavi tribe.”

“Quite right,” Aestus said. “And I think by now you have deduced that this is Rynn Fowler, husband to your ally.”

“Yes,” the furry newcomer said. “That much is obvious. It is a day to be long remembered in our circle. The separation from her husband has affected her greatly lo these many years.”

“This reunion would not have been possible without your intervention,” Khaska said. “The dragon almost proved too much for us. Thank you for your help.”

“We didn’t think to fight them ourselves,” the dwarf said. “Grilrut and Inyel are known for their fighting prowess.” He turned to Aestus, eyeing the human up and down. “But when we saw how hurt the dragon was after your go at it, we thought perhaps together we could do so.”

“And then Inyel began ranting about Rynn, and before we knew it, Juliet was off, forcing our hand,” said the other. “Forgive my manners. I am Yortavan Moonwatcher, and this is Alasdair Icebrand.”

“We really did it,” Aestus said. “We slew a dragon. I can’t believe it. They’re supposed to all be dead!”

At that, Alasdair laughed heartily. Yortavan allowed himself a smile. “There are a great many free dragons in the marshes.”

“I suspected as much,” Khaska said. “Grilrut did call for reinforcements before he died.”

“And since he cast several spells, they will know exactly where to find us,” Alasdair said.

“Come, Hajir al-Shams and friends,” Yortavan spoke quietly. “Yes, you too, Rynn and Juliet. We had best be going.”

“Hajir al-Shams Khatil Tineen,” Khaska whispered to Aestus. At that, the warrior smiled broadly. That was one of the appelations Tarwu himself had earned, for slaying a dragon near Jevereshk.

Orensland was approaching with a few items in hand. “Took some of Inyel’s things. I don’t think she’ll be using them anymore. Do we think we can take the dragon’s head?”

Alasdair walked over and reached into the creature’s mouth, yanking hard and sawing for a moment at one of the teeth before extracting it. He pulled a necklace from his undershirt, displaying prominently several similar teeth. “Why would you need the head?”

“To prove they exist to the outside world,” Orensland said. “I would think.” Looking at the size of the head and the size of their bags of holding, it became obvious that wouldn’t work. “Looks like I’ll have to settle for some teeth and claws as well.” He moved over and got to work, noting that Sanjin was hovering near Inyel, making some arcane motions, various runes and arcane sigils emerging and disappearing into the air near the wizard. “I already searched her pretty thoroughly,” he said. Sanjin made no acknowledgement, continuing his spell. “And then I think we best be going. I don’t want to be around when any reinforcements show up.”

Yortavan approached the Fowlers, clearing his throat. He was interrupting Rynn.

“I searched for you so long, and feared that I'd never lay eyes on you again,” the ranger was saying. They embraced again, but both looked to Yortavan.

“I hate to interrupt what is obviously such a joyous occasion,” he said, “but we must be going. Juliet, I believe your ring still has a charge left?”

“Quite right,” she said. “Did we want to …” she abruptly cut off, moving quickly in front of Rynn as if to defend him. The ranger was actually caught off guard and stumbled a bit at her force. Aestus followed her gaze, to see Inyel rising from the ground. He whipped his weapons back out, practically shouting the command to sheathe his axe in fire since he was so startled to see their foe rise again.

“Everybody calm down,” Sanjin said. He beckoned, and Inyel’s broken and bloody body began lurching forward. “She is under my control?”

Juliet wrinkled her nose. “Necromancy?” She turned to Rynn. “You approve?”

“I do not,” the ranger said, picking himself up from the ground. “Sanjin what are you doing?”

“You remember the skeletons back in Darkcrest? The ones in the library? I thought perhaps I could make a similar servant of my own.” The wizard shrugged. “Seems a good idea.”

Yortavan actually seemed a little relieved. “Ah. For a moment I was worried the death curse had spread this far, an ill omen indeed.”

“Death curse?” Sanjin said. Yortavan sighed. “I am sure we have much to discuss, but could you please relinquish your control of Inyel’s body. You will not be able to take her with us the way we intend to travel, and we have a kind of ritual we wish to perform to hide the bodies as best we can.”

Khaska was shocked. The Maha’i cleric hadn’t even known that Sanjin was harboring these goals. “Such disrespect, even to a foe, is not becoming you, Sanjin.” He turned to Yortavan. “I had thought to try to burn the bodies, but if you have another idea, I defer to you.”

Sanjin was a little incredulous. “It’s just a body, you guys. What’s the big deal? We spent months with an entire vampire coven. Surely this isn’t any worse?” He looked at the others. Aestus and Orensland seemed more neutral, as did Yortavan, although perhaps this furry druid was just being politic about the situation. He seemed relatively unflappable. But Rynn, Juliet, Alasdair, and Khaska were all glaring at him like he had just sprouted a second head. He rolled his eyes a little. “Fine.” He waved his hand and the arcane magic around Inyel dissipated. The body collapsed into a heap on the ground.

“Come, Juliet and Alasdair. Let us return these foes to the land,” Yortavan said. “Does anybody else wish a trophy from Grilrut?”

Eryx (DM)
If you do wish a trophy of some kind, speak up here. No, you can’t fit a dragon head in a bag of holding.

Musha
Oh Aestus will look upon Alasdair's dragon tooth necklace rather covetously. He wants to make a necklace just like his. But after hearing Khaska's remark to Sanjin about respecting the bodies of the dead, even enemies, he will look to Khaska first. If his facial expressions show no sign of disapproval, he will take a tooth for himself.

The three of them approached the dragon and all began to chant, their arms outstretched over the creature’s body. It took a moment, but then, slowly, almost imperceptibly, the dragon’s body began to change. Flowers and fungi sprouted from beneath his scales. The body itself began to slowly collapse, the flesh nourishing a wellspring of new flora, all seemingly native to the area. The process was slow at first, but sped up as their ritual continued. In a few minutes, the dragon’s corpse was gone and a vaguely dragon-shaped mound of earth remained, covered in plants.

They repeated the ritual with Inyel’s body, though it took but seconds for her body to fully decompose.

“Come on,” Juliet said, reaching out her hand to Rynn, who took it. “Everybody join hands.” Following Yortavan and Alasdair’s leads in doing so, the group all joined hands. Juliet held up her left hand, and spoke a command word. A ring on her finger flashed green, the emerald magic enveloping her, then spreading down the line person by person until they were all embraced by the spell. She then walked straight into a tree, pulling Rynn along … and vanished right into it. Rynn followed, then Yortavan, and then the group, and then finally Alasdair.

Each of them felt a pull as they entered the tree, as if they were yanked forward. This didn’t cause them to let go or actually stretch them, it was more a sensation. They emerged from another tree in a different place, and when they had all gathered Juliet would lead them into another tree. This lasted for a number of minutes until eventually the ring’s power faded. They were, near as anybody could tell, very far from where they had started. The found shelter for the remainder of the night in a small cave where fire would not attract outside attention. The druids used their magic to grow plants over the entrance anyway, and they all sat down to rest and converse.

“I am glad that you have magic means of transport,” Khaska said as he watched Yortavan begin to light a small fire for warmth. “I was worried about the possibility of their reinforcements coming upon us, even after you returned the bodies to a more natural form.”

“A nifty trick,” Sanjin said.

“Yes, well,” Yortavan said, “unfortunately if a dragon manages to cast a spell, the others can pinpoint their near exact location. It is uncanny, and a source of much trouble for us. Since Grilrut cast so many, it stands to reason they will be back at the site relatively soon. Perhaps as soon as an hour. Maybe more. The marshes are large, but dragons can fly fast.”

“I’m sorry,” Orensland said, “dragons? Plural?” He and Aestus exchanged glances. That was worrisome.

“Oh yes,” Alasdair said. “Plenty of the damn beasts around. It’s why we always keep moving. No base of operations or anything to attack. We simply live off the land and strike as we can at them.”

“So there are a lot of you?” Khaska inquired.

Juliet shook her head from where she was perched next to Rynn. “Less than a hundred now, I would think. They’ve stepped up their patrols and attempts to stamp us out the last year or two. Only the more powerful of us have managed to survive their ramped up attention.”

“And how did you come to join them?” Rynn asked her. “Some months ago I ran into Jared Evans. He was a member of the Bringers of Light. He told me some of what had happened to you all.” He paused. “He told me you were with child.”

Juliet began to cry softly. When she had recovered, she told her story.

After the incident with the Bringers attacking their slave caravan, the bugbear slavers had made haste, eventually selling them off to a larger group who brought them to the marshes, where they were brought to the Cult of Tiamat. As a pregnant woman, she had been particularly valuable, and paid special attention to and cared for. The slaves were eventually brought to the near center of the marshes, where the Tiamat worshippers, with a sizable drow army, were building a massive temple complex in the ruins of an ancient city. It was there that Juliet had given birth, a healthy son. The child was almost immediately taken from her, and she was returned to the other slaves to work on the temple complex. After years of slavery, she was eventually placed on a group of slaves out cutting lumber and the rebel druids attacked, freeing them. She had joined them, and learned druid magic.

Yortavan smiled at this. “She was a natural, taking to it quickly and intuitively. I have had few students in my many years as gifted as she.”

Rynn was very concerned. “Do we know what happened to our son?”

Juliet’s eyes welled up with tears. Nobody spoke for a moment, but Alasdair broke the silence.

“These Tiamat worshippers take children and …” he grimaced “change them. They become abominations, half-human, half-dragon.”

Rynn frowned. “We have seen these before. When we encountered the leadership of the Cult of Skyrnyn … I assume we are speaking of the same group …”

Alasdair nodded. “That’s the term they use outside the marshes.”

Rynn sucked in his breath quickly. The thought horrified him. They had fought and killed those dragon-men. Might he have slain his own son?

Khaska immediately intuited the ranger’s reaction. He asked quietly. “We fought and killed some of these dragon-men. An honor guard for the cult’s leadership. Might one of them have been Rynn and Juliet’s son?”

Everybody grew quiet.

“It is possible,” Yortavan said, “although the dragonborn, as we call them, live for many years. Rynn and Juliet’s child would very likely not be in such a high position so quickly.”

“All of the ones in Darkcrest looked like they were descended from black dragons,” Sanjin said. “Are all of these dragonborn like that?”

“There are dragonborn of each chromatic type,” Yortavan said. “The Tiamat worshippers seem to generally favor the black ones for reasons we do not understand.”

“I refuse to slay them,” Juliet said. “Even though there are many of them, and they are our enemies. I hold out hope that our son may be found and turned back to us. If we can even tell who he is. There are many dragonborn.”

A thought occurred to Rynn, and the ranger held up his bow. “This is Shatterheart, a bow I crafted myself and enchanted by a Storm Giant Seer on Mount Elduin. He said that only family members of mine could use it.”

Juliet looked astonished. He held it out to her, and she drew the string back. An ice arrow appeared nocked and ready to fire.

Khaska nodded solemnly. “The giant knew what was in your future, and prepared your bow accordingly. The dragonborn for whom this bow works is your son. The way is prepared that you may find him someday.”

“Storm Giants. Vampires.” Yortavan spoke. “You have journeyed and seen much of the world, Rynn. Perhaps you could tell us of your adventures, and how you came to be reunited with your Juliet.”

With that, Rynn told his story, and that of the party, as best he could. The others chimed in here or there, but he told of their meeting in the Niktean Wastes, their journeys to Hammerdine and Laishtek, of their time in Twilight and then Darkcrest. He surreptitiously omitted various details, as had become a pattern in their travels. Kvanir was not mentioned, nor were the voidgates or the metallic dragons they thought they had encountered. He brought the narrative to their encounter with the guards and the slavers, and then ended by saying, “After we buried the bodies, we pushed further into the marshes. That was four days ago.”

Sanjin was amused. “It seems that burying the bodies helped Grilrut and Inyel track us down. They basically said as much.”

“More respect for the dead than you have, Sanjin the necromancer,” Alasdair said. “Raising the dead.” He spit into the ground.

It was at that moment that Sanjin realized that all of the druids, as well as Rynn, had deliberately situated themselves on the opposite side of the fire from him. The physical spacing could not be more obvious.

“Rather than get into a philosophical debate about the proper use or disposal of dead bodies,” he continued, “perhaps you could detail the complex that these Tiamat-worshippers are building. We came for two reasons. Now that Juliet has been found, I am still curious to pursue our other objective and continue to gather information on this cult and its activities. If you’ll deign to converse with a necromancer like myself.”

Being more politic, Khaska smoothed over Sanjin’s rough words. “Indeed, it would be folly to explore on our own what you might simply tell us in person. These cultists are our mutual enemy, and any knowledge you might impart would be of great benefit to us, of course.”

Alasdair took over, drawing a map in the dirt. “The complex itself dominates the city in the near-middle of the marshes. It’s an old Yuan-Ti city partially repurposed by the cultists. There’s a giant five-sided pyramid in the center, they call it the Citadel, and it’s surrounded by five different ziggurats all equidistant from each other. I’ve come from the living side, and I’ve never seen buildings as big as the pyramid, even in the dwarven lands carved into the volcanic mountains.”

“Have you ever seen the Fortress of Eternal Vigilance?” asked Orensland.

He shook his head. “I have not, but I’ve seen pictures of it in old history texts. The pyramid isn’t nearly that tall, but it’s a lot more massive. The fortress is tall and lean, the pyramid short and squat. Anyway, the five ziggurats are all topped by an enormous statue of a dragon, one for each of the five chromatic species except for black. There’s one for a white dragon, red, green, blue, but the black one doesn’t have a statue yet. They haven’t even started constructing one.”

“Definitely an homage to Tiamat,” Khaska said. “She is said to be a five-headed dragon, one head of each chromatic type.” He didn’t say it, but he was thinking of the Fane of Tiamat.

“And there was a ‘death curse’ around their lands?” Sanjin asked.

“Indeed,” Yortavan spoke up. “For several miles from the Citadel, any sentient being who dies is automatically raised as a zombie, instantly loyal to the cult. They do not act as other mindless undead, randomly roaming and seeking to harm others, but can be immediately put to work by clerics of sufficient power, though they are still otherwise as,” he sighed, “normal as such abominations can be.” He was glaring at Sanjin. “We have been unable to ascertain what magic effect causes this death curse.”

“And what is the city itself like?” Orensland said. “Could it be snuck into?”

Juliet shrugged. “Easily enough for a druid to change into an animal and sneak around. I’ve been there myself. They have a sizable army of drow aside from their own forces and the remnants of the Yuan-Ti civilization. They all live in the same city, but they live in different districts, so to speak.”

“And there are dragons everywhere,” Alasdair said. “They mostly stick to the city, but some are tasked with patrolling the marshes, like Grilrut was.”

“Everywhere?” Sanjin perked up. “Of all types?”

“In the city near the Citadel, yes,” Alasdair continued. “I’d say there are more black than any other kind, remnants of Zyrbryxion and his brood, I’d imagine, but there are chromatics of every type.”

This reminded Khaska of something. He had a small inkling, during the fight, that there was something unique about Alasdair. Something unusual. Might he, too, be a metallic dragon? He dared not ask openly.

“And how did you come to be here, then?” he asked. “You said you had grown up on the living side? I’ve not met many dwarves myself. A sailing captain, Ryx Bronzebeard. Do you perhaps know him?”

Alasdair snorted. “I don’t know every dwarf in the world, my friend. I used to be a member of the Knights of the Silver Dragons, but when the dragonriders wouldn’t focus on the slave trade on the death side I left the order and came to fight them myself. Eventually came to the marshes, was found by these druids, and joined them myself. They’ve … shown me a different path than the Knights walk. I’m still a paladin, but I serve all of creation now, not the gods. I am a Green Knight.”

“I would like to talk more about this path you walk,” Khaska said. “I am intrigued by the knowledge that paladins may serve different paths than that of the Knights.” He glanced at Aestus, and their exchanged look showed that both were thinking of the legend of Tawru.

“And how did you druids come to be here?” asked Rynn.

“Our circle has operated in the marshes for nearly a century,” Yortavan said. “My father, may his soul rest in peace, had a vision of a great darkness consuming our fair moon that emanated from them. He and others came here, and discovered the worshippers of Tiamat. They have been here ever since, fighting.”

“Forgive me,” Khaska said. “I have never met one of your kind before.”

“I am a firbolg,” he said. “Our people are few and far between, mostly choosing to live on the edges of what you might call civilization. Our connection with the land is strong, and over the generations we have chosen to keep that connection vibrant and living.”

“So now you wage war against this cult of Tiamat,” Rynn said. “Where do I sign up?”

Khaska had been expecting this from the moment it was clear that Juliet was alive, was with powerful allies, and that those allies objectives were largely aligned, if parallel, to that of the party. That, coupled with the fact that Rynn’s son was likely a dragonborn under the thrall of the cult, meant that the ranger was going to stay. He would continue the fight in his own way.

Yortavan smiled, a rare occurrence from the seemingly implacable firbolg. “A ranger of your skill would be most welcome in our ranks, Rynn. You could find a place here among us.” Then the firbolg turned to the others. “Which leaves the question of what to do with your companions. There was something that Grilrut said just before he died, in his last Sending. ‘The wizard has Gulnith’s wand.’ Mister Necromancer,” he couldn’t even say the title without the revulsion seeping through, “I assume he was speaking of you.”

Sanjin pulled out his Wand of the War Mage. “I took this from one of the cult’s leadership, a draconic sorceress named Gulnith.” He held it up. “I guess Grilrut recognized it. That’s probably not good for us.”

“I imagine that they will try to scry on you,” Yortavan said. “While you are here in the marshes, easy enough to not be pinpointed, since one area of the marshes looks much the same as any other, but if you leave for the wider world, you must be careful.” The druid turned to the others. “We can take you out of the marshes if you wish, beyond their patrols and leave you to your own devices. I don’t recommend moving further in. It would take an army to make any kind of dent in their forces, and such help will not be forthcoming.” He sighed. “We have done what we can these many decades of conflict, but I fear it is not enough. The Dark Times are upon us, and who knows what will happen.” A whisper. “I fear my father’s vision will come to pass.” There was a long pause before Yortavan spoke again. “So we are back with our initial problem. What should we do with you four, if Rynn will be remaining with us?”

Eryx (DM)
Whew. Lots of information! I tried to make the infodump as interesting as possible. I hope it was. But … to sum up.

1. There are not a lot of rebel druids, but they strike as they can to disrupt the work of the cult. Their founder, Yortavan’s late father, had a vision of a terrible darkness spreading from the marshes to engulf the entire moon. He journeyed here, and he and his followers began the guerilla war that has now raged on for nearly a century.

2. The cult is building a massive set of temples to Tiamat. Each temple is dedicated to a particular chromatic dragon color, and atop a ziggurat there is a statue of an ancient red/white/blue/green dragon. There is not a statue atop the fifth ziggurat, one the druids have surmised (and the well-educated Khaska and Sanjin would agree) would be for a black dragon.

3. There are many dragons in the marshes. Any kind of frontal attack would be suicide. A plurality are black dragons, the remnants of the brood of Zyrbryxion, but all the chromatics are represented.

4. Children of the slaves are turned into dragon-like humanoids through some fell magic. These would be the dragon-men you encountered in Darkcrest, the honor guard for the cult leadership. These are dragonborn, the 5E race. (The ones in Darkcrest were all of black dragon ancestry, but there are others of ancestry from the other chromatic types.)

5. Around that complex of temples, stretching for several miles, is an area that is affected by what they call the “death curse.” Any intelligent creature who dies there is somehow automatically raised as a zombie. Nature magic also doesn’t quite function as it should in the area. The druids have no idea what causes these effects.

6. Alasdair is not a metallic dragon. He’s an Oath of the Ancients Paladin, which is not something that Khaska would likely be familiar with. (One of the fun things about switching to 5E is my having to explain how certain elements are now in the world that were not in 3.5E play, so I like little moments like this, to bring in both Dragonborn and this new style of Paladin. All paladins in 3.5E were basically Oath of Devotion paladins.)

7. As a point of flavor, I liked the idea of these druids hiding their kills by quickly returning them to the earth. Sort of like this cantrip from the Critical Role D&D podcast.

8. If a dragon casts a spell, for some reason they are uncannily able to zero in on the exact area it was cast. Hence the need to leave quickly and use the rings of tree stride to put some distance between the dead bodies (even magically mulched dead bodies) and the party.

9. Sanjin’s Wand of the War mage was noticed and communicated back to the cultists. The cult knows that the killers of the cult leadership in Darkcrest are in the marshes.
What do you all want to do? The druids utilize rings of Tree Stride to get around quickly in the marshes, and would be willing to use them to aid the group once. They do not recommend going further in.

Also, any last words for the group and Rynn to each other? After the next post he will be leaving the group to join these rebel druids. And I need a better name for them than "the rebel druids." Probably "the Circle of __" to keep with druid naming conventions in D&D.

Thev
Well, to start, Khaska would take one of Grilrut's teeth. There's not much time to get anything else.

Then: Khaska's farewell to Rynn. Laying his hands on Rynn's shoulders, he'll say, "Rynn Fowler, first friend when I left my homeland, be well and do well. May you find your son. Wherever we are, we will do our best to fight what we can of your battles. May Teresh shine upon you even in this darkness." He'll further ask for a lock of hair or other item that might help as a focus for future scrying or sending, so as to coordinate any attack efforts against the Cult of Tiamat.

(Allen, it was a pleasure playing alongside you! Rynn is a great character, and I learned a good deal from observing you play him — how to remember details from earlier in the campaign for one's advantage, how to do combat, how to think about gear, and more. Rynn was a great part of the campaign, and I wish him all the success in his new missions!)

For other matters: that's a lot of very useful information! Whew.

Khaska has a couple suggestions for what the party should do:

1. We nearly died in the Marshes already. After hearing about what's at their center, Khaska moves for the party to leave the Marshes. With the druids' help, we can get closer to the boundaries more quickly. After that, we should head back to the voidgate near the North Hagarit Bridge. We can go back to the Niktean Wastes voidgate or, perhaps, see if Greygook is docked at the mysterious, apparently floating voidgate location. We could go inspect that.

2. Khaska would suggest, given the risk of Scrying, disposing of Gulnith's wand. It might be great, but it's too much of a liability. One option would be to leave it in the Void; since no one Scrying it would be on the same plane of existence, they'd fail to find it. Otherwise, perhaps we could leave it in the Marshes, or even toss it into the Unhallow of Tiamat with a threatening note that could deflect the Cult's attention away from us to some other (preferably evil) group that we're aware of. Any candidates for that?

3. Khaska would mention to the druids that we have contacts in Garth Calad who would be interested to learn what they know about the Cult and the Marshes. Would the Circle of (Fenwalkers? Fenstriders?) be interested in our making contact with the Bringers of Light — either to establish direct communication between the Circle and the Bringers, or to convey the information they've provided to the Bringers?

4. Khaska wonders if it might be possible to explode the Cult's Unhallow from the inside (i.e., through the voidgates): is there any explosive "weapon of mass destruction" in this universe that could accomplish something like that?

5. This is more of a longer-term thing, but might it be possible to move a voidgate to a more convenient location? That might come in handy, especially as we've got a bunch of gates that are distant from anywhere notable. (Eryx told me we'd need an Arcana roll from Sanjin to know that.) Depending on whether we decide to trust the Bringers when we plan on an assault on the Cult, it could be nice to bring them a gate.

6. Also long term: we might want to think about ways to divert any Arkenosian invasion to the Marshes.

7. More immediately: we need a new quest for the party. Khaska still has to find the demon Urziana in his quest to heal Kvanir; Tawru's horn is also still out there. As for the group, these quests are still outstanding:

  • Journey to the Dragon's Graveyard to see if the ghost of Hyrmaphridion can speak about the missing wife of the Storm Giant Quintessent the party met in Codex VII-Chapter 1.
  • Return the armor of Knight Vitoria Moretti of the Order of the Silver Dragons, Baronessa of Cyriest, to Cyriest.

The floating voidgate would be a great staging ground for a visit to the Dragon's Graveyard; should we do that first? After that, we could sail to Pemmadhaghra (to inform Fan's family of Gulnith's demise) and thence to Cyriest. We've never been to the Tlerian Empire yet!

We could also investigate the locations of the voidgates in northern Gallidus and on the island just east of there. Approaching the gnolls' island by air would be less suspicious than appearing out of nowhere.

EDIT: In my anxiety while Grilrut was hungrily eyeing Khaska, I decided to brainstorm a "backup character." Eryx approved my idea, and you can read all about Nkadu nem Shajer here! She'll be an NPC, doing her thing in the world, unless she's needed otherwise.

DeltaWolf
Arcana roll to see if it might be possible to move a voidgate to a more convenient location:

  • Arcana: 11

Fortunately Sanjin already has the spell nondetection, which will prevent him (or another target) from being scryed on, in his spellbook -he only needs to prepare it.

Eryx (DM)
With a roll of 11 for his Arcana check, Sanjin has no idea. He'd have to go research it at a wizard's university or major library to more intelligently hypothesize on what would happen if you were to move a voidgate.

This is also a friendly reminder that I'd like some worldbuilding from each player (Musha is excused this Codex as he's getting his feet under him, though if you're feeling more acquainted with the world now you'd be welcome to make something, and I'll count Nkadu nem Shajer as Thev's worldbuilding for this Codex). This Codex may well be coming to an end soon (if you head out of the marshes on another quest, I think we'd just switch to a new Codex) depending on what you all decide to do. I'll similarly ask for worldbuilding at the beginning of the next Codex as well.

Crosis
That's a lot of information! The world makes a bit more sense now. :D Though not all the holes in our understanding are filled by a longshot, that was a relieving dump of info.

Ok, so I thought of several things over the past couple of days that Orensland would want to ask, do etc. and wrote them down as they came. So I'm just going to address them as they came to me.

1. Alasdair's Knight chapter. He says he was originally a Knight of the Silver Dragons— Orensland would want to know where he was trained/brought up and how long ago he left. We're passing that way again soon (most likely) and thought it would be good for them to know their comrade is doing a good work over here.

2. Can we get a rough estimate of the number of dragons? Are we talking less than a thousand, ballparking it? Or are we talking "scourge of the earth waiting to be unleashed by a sea of countless dragons" bad?

3. It seems that, with Rynn staying to fight the good fight, the druids could find aid in the form of the Bringers of Light. The Rebel Druids know a lot about the marshes, the comings and goings of what is the heart of the slave trade on the death side. The current leader of the Bringers of Light is trying to focus efforts on the slave trade. Sounds like a match made in heaven to me, especially since Rynn has an in with both parties. Exposing the secrets of the marshes to the world is just a cherry on top.

4. Dragon souvenirs. While Orensland likes the idea of collecting long-term dragon tooth souvenirs like our new furry friend, he would also want tangible flesh to prove the dragon kill actually happened (teeth can be extracted from long-dead skeletons). Thus, Orensland would like some of the scales, a tooth, the tail end of the tail, and a clawed dragon hand. If anyone suggests another part of the dragon that would perhaps not decompose as quickly while still proving that the dragon was alive recently, he would likely be all for taking that as well.

5. What did Orensland find off Inyel? He found something, but the specifics seem to have been lost in the outpouring of info.

6. It hasn't come up, but Orensland would vote that Rynn NOT keep a control rod and not know where we plan on stashing more of them–– he's living a dangerous life of attacking Cult members that are aggressively attacking back, and it appears the Cult has access to one of the voidgates. It just seems like a bad combo. Any chance we could do the usual stone of sending communication with Rynn? Or is that trackable?

7. Do the druids have any concerns with broadcasting the secrets of the marshes? Because Orensland kind of wants to tell everybody what's been going on. If they have a good reason, he will consider refraining from making the Cult's doings public knowledge.

8. Orensland would suggest we ask a metallic dragon for possible ways to reverse the dragonborn process for Rynn and Julet's child. They may have an inkling how that magic was brought about. They may have some ideas on the death curse, too. He'd make sure Rynn was aware we would pursue those avenues.

9. Totally random, but do the druids know anything about what happened to that super famous explorer guy that disappeared over the marshes? It seems like he'd have been captured by the Cult, but thought the world may want to know that tidbit as well.

*Phew* that was a lot! Sorry about the rush of info. As for where to go next, Orensland would want to go to the dragon graveyard to ascertain what happened to the storm giant's mate. Though he would see wisdom in perhaps dropping by some old Knight of the Silver Dragon friends and informing them about… everything. As well as dropping off the armor, while we're in the neighborhood. Regardless, if the druids could drop us off as close as possible to our bridge voidgate, that would likely be our best bet.

It's been a pleasure playing with you, BlackWolf! I hope you consider getting back on and playing again whenever we encounter Rynn in the future. I wish him the best of luck in his new adventures, and you as well!

Thev
Khaska agrees with Orensland that Rynn should not keep a control rod. He wouldn't have use for it in the Marshes and it would be a liability.

And wow, I'd totally forgotten the connection between the Marshes and Tebbins Ferrick! (That's the "super famous explorer guy"!) And I was the one who wrote that bit of worldbuilding! Thank you very much for the reminder!

Musha
Copy/paste from above:
"Oh Aestus will look upon Alasdair's dragon tooth necklace rather covetously. He wants to make a necklace just like his. But after hearing Khaska's remark to Sanjin about respecting the bodies of the dead, even enemies, he will look to Khaska first. If his facial expressions show no sign of disapproval, he will take a tooth for himself."

  • If Khaska is taking a tooth, Aestus will revel in doing so, excited to make his own necklace.

While they are safe in the cave, sitting around a warm fire, Aestus will want to celebrate, as was customary for all survivors of a gladiatorial match. And this victory is well worth celebrating! Do they have any ale? Wine? Mead? Mudder's Milk? Aestus' lack of refinement will definitely come through. He will engage in story-telling and joking with loud, boisterous laughter (he may even have to be reminded to stay quiet to not give away their position), lots of back-slapping on his friends, both familiar and new. We survived a great, glorious battle, so let's enjoy the life we've won!

During all the introductions, conversations, and info-sharing, Aestus will have several questions out of ignorance and curiosity.

  • What sort of reinforcements are likely to have been sent to Grilrut's aid? An army? A few soldiers? Scouts? Dragons? What is the cult's usual response to such calls? And how are they likely to respond upon not finding Grilrut?
  • Other than scrying purposes, what does our possession of Gulnith's wand mean to the cult?
  • If black dragons seem to be more prominent within the cult, do the rebels know why the black dragon statue construction is delayed or saved for last?
  • Do we or the druids have any means, magical or otherwise, to maintain communication with each other? Should we gain any further information about the cult, it sure would be nice to be able to immediately inform our new allies, not to mention keep in touch with our friend, Rynn. Likewise, should the rebels ever need assistance, they could call on us.
  • Does being turned into a dragonborn also change the mind? Or are the changes entirely physical? Do the victims maintain any sense of free will or do they become thralls to the cult?
  • Does Juliet know which color of dragonborn her son was changed to?
  • Do the victims keep any of their original physical characteristics that we could possibly use to identify their son should we ever happen to run into him? Then perhaps we could bring any captured suspects back to Rynn to test the bow.

When the merriment dies down (if there is any), Aestus will sit by the fire and mentally relive the fight with the dragon. He will try to make note of any mistakes he made so that he can endeavor to not repeat them, but also recall what he did well to reinforce those skills and maneuvers. This was part of Spikes' training. A good fighter must be very self aware in order to survive and an introspective review of any fight you come out of was key to this. With his wooden toy rhinoceros in hand, he looks back on every swing of his weapons and every step taken. He had almost died. Where was the mistake that allowed this? The flaw in his defenses? He was on the ground, his life ebbing away. This had never happened before. He'd been in tough fights before, but never had a foe been able to outmatch him. On one hand, he felt a certain pride welling up inside that it took a dragon to take him down; on the other, he thought about how empty his life has been - every piece of family or friendship always stripped away.

Then, looking up at his new friends, he knows that he only survived because of them. How many times had Master Tawru brought him back from the brink of death during that fight? He couldn't be sure. He could only recall hazy images of dragon tails whipping, arrows flying, acid spraying, pillars of fire coming from the sky - though some of that could have merely been images conjured up by his unconscious. He had set out to enter into his service, but Master Tawru had aided and protected him. He didn't feel much like a servant, but more like a… comrade. Looking at his toy again, he remembered the same sense of belonging he felt within the home of Spikes and Farah.

Aestus sees the joy and unending relief shared between Rynn and Juliet as they hold each other and sit together, refusing to leave each others' side for a moment. Such a happy reunion. He starts to realize that fulfillment doesn't come from victory or mere survival, but from having people who matter to you and feeling like you matter to somebody else. Having a connection with other people. He remembers Farah's unicorn mentioning that he has a sister. Aestus remembers nothing of his biological family or where he came from. He only remembers Spikes and the place he had in that family. He remembers Farah and the bond he had with her, the only sister he's known. He couldn't explain it, but he extrapolated this bond to his unknown sister. The unicorn called him to find her and save her from darkness. Until now, this was just a curiosity - something to wonder about. Did she actually exist? What had happened to her? Would she remember him? But now, with these new developing thoughts, he resolves to stop wondering and start searching. If he truly had family out there, just like Rynn, he must recover it.

  • Alasdair said he's been focused on fighting the slave trade on the death side. Aestus will ask if he has ever encountered a group of orcs known as the Fell Clan, run by Apaugh Fellsoul? He will hold his wooden toy rhinoceros rather fondly while he shares his own tale of slavery with Alasdair. After sharing his story, a thought will occur to him. He hasn't seen rhinoceroses, like his toy, for a very long time. He will ask Alasdair and Yortavan, and even his party members, if any of them have ever seen a rhinoceros, like his toy, and where? Or if they know where in the world rhinoceroses might be quite prominent?

As for what we do next, perhaps because of his connection to Darkcrest, Aestus feels drawn to return the armor to Cyriest, which was found in Darkcrest. And if part of this journey means delivering closure to the family of an old friend of his new friends, so much the better.

When departing from Rynn, Aestus will lock hands with Rynn, gripping him by the wrist, and place his other hand on Rynn's shoulder. With deep respect, he will look him in the eyes and say, "It was an honor to journey with you in the company of Master Tawru. I would fight at your side in any arena at any time. Farewell, my friend. May we again cross paths as we fight for our causes."

Eryx (DM)
Could I get a Nature roll from Khaska and a general Intelligence roll from Sanjin regarding rhinoceroses and their probable locations (due to his having traveled the Deadlands so much)? I will roll for Rynn and the druids.

DeltaWolf

  • General Int roll: 25

Thev

  • Knowledge (Nature): 13 + 6 = 19

“I trust your report on the size of their forces further into the marshes,” Khaska demurred. “I think it best if we continued our various quests elsewhere.”

“How many dragons did you say they have?” Aestus asked. “Are we talking a few? A couple dozen?”

“Hundreds,” Juliet whispered. A pall fell over the cave.

Alasdair cleared his throat. “There are ancient dragons from every chromatic type, though they number about a dozen or so. Twenty at most. Adult dragons, like Grilrut, probably near a hundred or so at most. As far as younger dragons, there are hundreds. Too many to get an accurate count.”

“All chromatic?” Alasdair nodded. “There is only one pair of ancient whites, and again a plurality are black, but there are some of every different type of every different age. They’ve been there for centuries.”

“Most of them do not leave the area near the Citadel,” Yortavan said. “Only a few, like Grilrut, are part of the cult’s defenses in the swamp. We do not know the criteria for who gets to be on patrol and who does not.”

“How many then would have been sent to Grilrut’s location when he summoned help?”

“Given that he was overwhelmed and indicated that the group who had killed the cult’s leadership was here, likely several. I would strongly suggest not returning to the site of the battle.”

“And now they track us,” Sanjin said, holding up Gulnith’s wand. He smiled.

“If there are so many black dragons among their number, why are they saving the black dragon statue for last? You said they had completed all of the others,” Aestus inquired.

Yortavan shrugged. “We do not know, and what information we have gleaned from captured cult members indicates that they do not either. That ziggurat has been completed for decades. It is well past the time I would have thought to begin construction on the black dragon statue, but they have not.”

“You’ve interrogated cult members?” asked Sanjin.

Yortavan smiled, just a slight upturning of the corners of his mouth. “You are probably aware that there are spells to help facilitate such conversations, to help enemies be more friendly one with another. For the last few decades they have been preparing for the Dark Times more than completing their temple complex to Tiamat. They intend to survive the war, and with that many dragons and the forces at their command, I don’t doubt that they will.”

“Have you interrogated dragonborn?” Rynn asked. “Does the transformation affect their mind as well?”

“We have no way of measuring that,” Yortavan said, “but the dragonborn that we have interacted with seems like any other sentient life, free to choose their own path, but taught from a young age to think that they are a superior race, just below that of the dragons themselves, higher in the natural order of things than elves and humans and firbolgs and whatnot. It is an upbringing that will be hard to overcome.”

“And do we even know what type of dragonborn our son is?” Rynn asked Juliet.

She shook her head. “They took him from me almost immediately after his birth. I haven’t seen him since. It’s been almost ten years. I try to remember his face as best I can, but we had so little time together and it was so long ago. I doubt I would remember enough to identify him through the transformation. Your bow will have to suffice, if we ever get the chance.”

“Your lives have not been easy,” Yortavan spoke up. “Yet I dare say there are beings who are acting with your interests in mind. You have both grown in power and skill and now have been reunited and also have the means of finding your son. I do not hold that worshipping the gods to be entirely appropriate, but I do believe they exist, and in your case, I do believe someone is looking out for you. Time will tell if my assessment is correct.”

Nobody spoke for a moment. But then Khaska looked over at Sanjin.

“To more pressing issues. If you have the wand, will they try to scry on you?”

The elf wizard shrugged. “They can try. They don’t know much about me other than that I’m a wizard. I have magical means of shielding myself, and not all scrying spells work perfectly in the first place.”

“So what does that mean?” Aestus asked. “Will they succeed?”

“Eventually, they will,” Yortavan spoke up, “if they are dedicated enough to finding you. But they know you slew their leadership and have now made a direct incursion into their lands. I suspect they will be most interested in seeking out this group of powerful individuals who has so clearly sought to thwart them. They have gone to great lengths to keep themselves hidden, and despite that, you know where they are, and are canny enough to have discovered their plans and powerful enough murder their leadership. I suspect you represent a threat they will not ignore.”

“They will probably further investigate the goings-on in Darkcrest,” Rynn said.

“The spells you want to use are pretty expensive,” Alasdair said. “We have some knowledge of how to avoid detection, but only those like Juliet have true skills to become unfindable almost permanently.”

“How is that?” Rynn asked her.

She smiled. “Finding a single human in the swamps is hard enough. But finding a single bird? Or lizard? Or insect? If I spend my time as an animal, they can scry on me, but it’s not very helpful. Aside from that, I’d always stay ten feet away from anybody else, because a scrying sensor only extends so far. And in general try not to use names.”

Orensland immediately scooted away from Sanjin, prompting a few chuckles from everybody.

“Well,” Aestus said, “I say bring it on! We just slew a dragon! It’s too bad we don’t have any ale. We celebrate a victory today!”

“Alas,” Yortavan said. “Such creature comforts are not a regular part of our lives here. But the death of Grilrut is an occasion to be celebrated. You acquitted yourself well, Aestus Fellblade.” The archdruid reached into a pocket to pull out a single gold coin. “When you return to civilization, please use this to buy yourself a round of drinks.”

“Oh, speaking of which,” Orensland said, reaching behind him. “I grabbed Inyel’s backpack. I wonder what she had.” He began to empty its contents out, reaching his hand in to make sure there wasn’t anything left. “Feels like there’s something here. If I can just …” he tore a piece of cloth inside and a series of bright jewels came falling out.

Rynn whistled. “I dare say that will pay for some very good drinks.”

“We can split the spoils with you, if you like,” Orensland said.

Yortavan held his hand up, palm outward. “No, thank you. We have sufficient for our needs and there is no place to spend such extravagance in the marshes in any event. What little Yuan-Ti who remain are as hostile to us as the cult.” With that, he stood, unfolding himself to his full height even in the cramped cave. “I will take first watch. You should all recover from your wounds and the exhaustion of such a difficult combat. We can speak more when you have rested. We should be safe enough here for now.”

“I thank you for the coin,” Aestus said as Yortavan moved to leave the cave. “I will drink to our success when I can, and will miss your company when I do.”

The firbolg inclined his head slightly before concentrating for a moment and turning into a snake, then slithering out of the cave.

Needing no further encouragement, everybody fell asleep very quickly. Even Rynn and Juliet, who stayed up quietly whispering to each other, eventually succumbed to sleep. Aestus stayed up for a while, reviewing the fight in his head as Spikes had taught him, the better to prepare for the next battle, but he too, after some minutes, drifted off.


It was well into afternoon when everybody finally awoke, having fallen asleep just an hour or two before dawn.

Alasdair cast Prepare Food and Water and, while not the feast that Aestus wished to have in celebration, the food was welcome. Rynn and Juliet were on watch by the time Aestus finally woke up, and when Alasdair whistled for them to come eat they returned from their patrol, Rynn entering, followed by Ranna, followed by another wolf who quickly shapechanged into Juliet.

As they ate, the party began to discuss what to do. Rynn was hesitant to speak up, he and Juliet exchanging several glances before she reached out to touch his arm. He took a deep breath.

“My friends, I have something to tell you. I … will not be continuing my journey with you. Juliet and I have decided to stay here with the Fenstriders Circle and help continue their war against the cult. Perhaps someday we will be able to find our son.”

“We wondered if we might come with you, together,” Juliet said. “Rynn speaks highly of you all, and still wishes you success in all your endeavors.”

“I feel as though I am abandoning you in your quests, when you have helped me succeed in mine,” the ranger said.

“Nonsense!” Aestus blurted out. “You have found your wife. We will carry on our work, while you must carry on with yours. We will miss you, Master Ranger.”

“I know you sometimes pay homage to Fharlanghn,” Khaska said. “The god of roads has led you here, and here our roads fork. I am happy that you have found what you seek, and you have spent time helping us seek our own goals. Do not feel that we think slighted because your happiness has come to you first.”

“Gonna miss you, man,” Orensland said.

Sanjin also spoke up. “At least one of us gets a happy ending. I am glad for you, Rynn.”

It was a question of where the others were now going.

“We have no reason to doubt your knowledge of the cult,” Khaska said. “Perhaps it would be best if you could take us to the southeastern edges of the marshes and we can proceed from there.”

“Where are we going to go,” asked Orensland. “Garth Calad? We know the Bringers are interested in helping stop the slave trade. Could bring word to them. If you can magically communicate, and their leader already knows Rynn, perhaps you could coordinate in some manner.”

“Paugh,” Alasdair said. “Bringers of Light. Bringers of self-righteous meddling more like it. I don’t know that we want to deal with them at all. They’d just call us darkfriends and be done with the lot of us.”

“It does appear that they’re trying to turn over a new leaf,” Khaska said. “Their current leader seems more … enlightened than previous ones.”

“I hope he lasts,” the paladin said.

“I see no reason why you could not pass along our desire to work together,” Yortavan decided. “Perhaps nothing will come of it. Perhaps something will. Although we have no clerics or wizards among our numbers, so they would have to contact us.”

“Why not even contact the Knights?” Aestus spoke up, still somewhat disillusioned with them for not even attempting to liberate Darkcrest.

“We have, over the years, sent several emissaries to them. None have ever returned. We do not know their fate, and so stopped sending them,” was Yortavan’s soft reply.

“Could we deliver any messages to friends or family for any of you?” Aestus said. “If there are any?”

Yortavan and Juliet had nobody on the outside they wished to contact, but Alasdair wished to contact his clan leader and former chapter head of the Knights to inform her of his whereabouts. “This woman is both clan leader and chapter head?” asked Khaska.

Alasdair shrugged. “It’s how we in the Iceshaper clan have arranged things. She’s not even a paladin, but hold the honorary title of chapter head. There’s an actual paladin who actually runs things. I know other clans and chapters keep things more separate. I wouldn’t want you to vanish the way the other Fenstriders have, but I’m sure sending a letter to my family to pass along to her would pose little danger.”

“And how long ago did you leave?” asked Orensland. “I know the Knights have abandoned the death side for a long time now. How did you come to be here?”

“Not all the Knights follow the orders of their leaders perfectly. I and a few others left not exactly with the blessing of our superiors, but they knew where we were headed. That was thirty years ago. Over the decades here the rest of them fell in battle until I remained. I tracked some slave caravans to the marshes, and when that caravan was freed by Yortavan here, I offered my services. Came to understand a new way of honoring creation with paladin magic. I’ve served here ever since.”

“I did have a question for you, Sir Alasdair,” Aestus said. “You fought the slavers and the slave trade here in the Deadlands for many years. Have you ever had any encounters with the Fell Clan of orcs. Their leader was Apaugh Fellsoul.”

Alasdair nodded. “I know of them. He’s a beast of an orc, more feral than many. He delights in slaughtering parents and stealing their young children. I’ve never had the chance to encounter them myself, but we occasionally freed slaves that had been taken by them and transferred to others. Terrible moments. Damaged children, hurt and sometimes tortured, with no living family. No real way to track the clan since they move around so much.” His hands gripped his maul tighter. “Why do you ask?”

Almost a whisper. “I was once one of those children.” Aestus reached into his backpack and pulled out the little wooden rhinocerous toy. “This is the one piece of my home that I have managed to hold onto all of these years. I don’t even remember who gave it to me. I have no memory of my family.” He looked up at Rynn and Juliet and suddenly his face lit up. “But perhaps there is hope for me yet, like you two.” He held it up. “Alarya, a unicorn, helped me find these good folks here, but told me there was a coming darkness that had already engulfed my sister. She was not speaking of my adopted sister, she was speaking of a real sister of mine.” He passed the wooden toy over to Yortavan. “I have never seen a rhinocerous in person that I can remember, having lived in Darkcrest the last few decades after being sold by the orcs. But perhaps I came from a land where there were many of these, such that they would make an appropriate toy. Do you know where such lands might be found, Master Druid?”

Yortavan looked over the small wooden rhino, turning it over in his hands. “I do indeed, though I have never journeyed there myself. I know the lands to the south of the marshes are large and flat and house many animals not found elsewhere on our fair moon. Lions, giraffes, tigers, and rhinocerouses. Animals like that.”

Sanjin spoke up. “I bet some of their habitat is related to latitude. I don’t think there are really any on the living side. Are they just confined to the death side, then?”

Juliet spoke up. “When I was very young my parents took me on a long trip south to visit my great-grandmother before she passed. She lived near the southern edge of the Chasm of Endless Night, and I remember seeing many different kinds of animals there, including these.” She grimaced and shook her head. “I don’t know how helpful our information will be, to give you hundreds of square miles to search, but it’s at least something.”

“I am grateful for the knowledge you have given me,” Aestus said. “I’m sure it will be of use.”

There was a lull in the conversation. Yortavan spoke up, clearing his throat.

“Then, if nobody has anything else to discuss, I believe the time has come for us to part ways. Alasdair will use his ring to get you to the edge of the marshes. The Fowlers and I will meet up with some of the other Fenstriders to report on our success with Grilrut and Inyel. I’m sure between that news and having a new recruit in Rynn, and him being Juliet’s husband besides, there will be much merriment.”

They all stood and left the cave. Yortavan stood a bit apart with Alasdair while the party said their goodbyes to Rynn and Juliet.

Khaska placed his hands on Rynn’s shoulders. “Rynn Fowler, first friend when I left my homeland, be well and do well. May you find your son. Wherever we are, we will do our best to fight what we can of your battles. May Teresh shine upon you even in this darkness.” Then, a little sheepishly, “If we ever had need to scry on you, could I have a lock of hair or something to aid us?”

Rynn smiled, drew his dagger (not his orcish dagger), and cut off a bit of his ponytail to hand over to the cleric.

Orensland just hugged Rynn. “I think you’re supposed to say ‘stay out of trouble’ in moments like this,” the shadowdancer began, “but given that you’re fighting an endless war against a dragon cult, I want you to get into as much trouble as you possibly can without dying!”

Rynn laughed. “I wish I had an endless supply of that red leaf so that we could use it on them.”

Orensland smiled. “If I ever find more, I’ll let you know and bring it to you.”

They embraced again.

Sanjin was much more taciturn, and the relationship between Rynn and the wizard was a bit strained now that everybody knew of the elf’s necromantic desires. But they were friendly enough, clasping hands. “Good luck finding your son,” the wizard said.

“Do well,” Rynn replied.

Aestus looked Rynn in the eyes as he drew to his full height a few inches taller than the ranger. “It was an honor to journey with you in the company of Master Tawru. I would fight at your side in any arena at any time. Farewell, my friend. May we again cross paths as we fight for our causes.”

“I hope you find your sister as I have found my wife,” Rynn replied.

Aestus shrugged. “Someone seems to be looking out for us, anyway.” Then he flexed and touched his bicep. “But we work with all our skill and strength until they intervene.”

Alasdair reached out to Orensland, who took the paladin’s hand. “All right, where to?”

Khaska was the last of the line, and saw Rynn and Juliet holding hands with Yortavan as the archdruid activated his ring. Then the bark of the tree he was magically entering closed over him, and when he emerged, he could no longer see his friend.

They journeyed for two days using all of the daily charges of Alasdair’s ring until they got to basically the edge of the marshes. Sanjin noted several times what a nifty ring it was, and Alasdair finally snapped at him. “Well, you’ll have to get one of your own, because this one’s mine!”

Once they got to the edge of the marshes, they bid farewell to their paladin friend and then moved on, following the path they thought would best lead them to the North Hagarit Bridge.

Along their way, Khaska used his magic to communicate with Greygook. It was the first time he had attempted a Sending spell. He knew he only had twenty-five words, so he had to be brief.

“Found Rynn’s wife. Rynn staying with her in Marshes. Party will meet you at platform voidgate north of Thanor in about ten days.”

He waited for a few minutes. Had it worked? Then he heard Greygook’s voice come into his head.

“Seven weeks away from that voidgate, but headed there. One week from voidgate just east of Thanor. Currently over North Gallidan sea.”

Khaska spoke with the others and decided they would rather all meet up sooner rather than in many weeks time. He cast another Sending at Greygook.

“Understood. We will see you at the East Thanor voidgate in ten days.”

And Greygook responded. “See you soon, then. Congratulations on your successes! I have a pair of sending stones for us to use in the future.”

The group took nine days to reach the voidgate, slightly faster than Khaska had anticipated. Once there, and sure that there was nobody around, they opened it and went through. It was getting close to evening at this voidgate location.

The skyship was anchored to a few trees a little ways off, and a gnome female was sitting near a campfire nearby. As they emerged she looked at them, unsurprised. She turned to a hammock stretched between two trees.

“Greygook, your friends are here,” she said. His head popped out, hair sticking every which way from having fallen asleep.

“And you are?” Aestus inquired.

Xaci Knotwise. Greygook hired me on near Hammerdine to help him fly the ship now that you all left him alone. My family and his are old friends. When he explained some of the vague details, I was intrigued and signed up. It was only afterwards that he finally told me more of the story,” and at that she looked at him. “I suspect there’s more to be told, though.”

“Not for me to tell,” he said, approaching the group. “You’re a day early. I haven’t prepared supper, but I’m sure we can whip something up. Fishing here is good.” Then he rubbed his hands. “After a nice meal and some rest, where to next?”

Eryx (DM)
Where to next indeed? Where do you all want to head? We’ll end this chapter, and this Codex, and pick up at your next major location. You’re at the voidgate in grid F11 on the world map.

A few items.
1. In Inyel’s backpack you found: Potion of invisibility. Oil of sharpness. Potion of Speed. Scroll of Mass Suggestion. The gems totaled 39,000 gold, even though we don't care about money anymore. You suspect she was more holding them for Grilrut than something she was interested in for herself, given what Rynn knew about her.
2. Sanjin would know enough about scrying to know that the cult isn’t really familiar with him enough to even attempt to scry at the moment. You can bet your bottom dollar, though, they’re going to be trying very hard to figure out what happened back in Darkcrest and who has the wand though. It’s entirely possible they could find out his name from someone who remembers him there, and that would allow them to begin attempts. You currently do not have the material components to cast the anti-detection spell, and if you want to keep it up all of the time it will cost you 75 gold per day. The druids gave you a few pointers (stay 10 feet away from everybody so others can’t be seen, try not to use names) to help avoid detection through scrying. Will you try to follow these suggestions as best you can? Do you want to do something else with the wand (hide it, sell it, discard it) or will you keep it on your person?
3. Per the druid’s nature checks and Sanjin’s intuition, rhinoceroses are generally found in the plains to the south of the Zyrbryxion marshes, more close to the sea than the marshes, as well as around cities 23 and 24 on the world map. It’s not much to go on, but it’s a start.
4. Ms. Knotwise is now also a follower of yours. Greygook had to hire somebody to help him fly the ship on a more permanent basis, as he had mentioned before. She basically knows that you are wealthy adventurers, and Greygook has explained the basics of the voidgate system to her, but anything else you wish her to know is on you. He’s taken most of the credit for discovering it, per his previous request about who will be known for the discovery. With Rynn and Ranna gone, there’s still room on the ship, even a smaller ship. It’s certainly not as crowded as when you were flying away from Darkcrest with all of the prisoners from House Lancel!

DeltaWolf
So I'm clear, is having the wand what is putting me in danger? Or does Sanjin belive they will try to scry him even if he gets rid of it? If hiding the wand will lower the danger that is what he'd do. Later when he has the dimond dust to cast his spell he will consider what to do next. If they will try to find him, even without having the wand on his person, then he will sugest trying to obtain the dimond dust to be able to hide. Other then that he will take the precautions suggest to him by the druids.

Crosis
All right! Looks like we should have some fun! Some of the things I thought of that we could do next:

1. Return the paladin armor
2. Go to the Dragon's graveyard (to ultimately get a crystal ball from the storm giant and perhaps some more wisdom)
3a. Tell the Knights of the Silver Dragons about the Cult (best chances of speaking to someone we know would be in Hammerdine)
3b. Tell any metallic dragons we know of/suspect about the Cult (Bronzebeard etc.)
4. Visit the Tomb of the The Caecellian Order (a location provided by the gnomes in codex vi chapter 8, though as players we have no idea where this is)
5. Take a peek at Arkenos.

Am I missing anything huge? Orensland would personally like to do 1 and 2— we have the funds to buy a crystal ball now, but a crystal ball with telepathy traits would suit our purposes best, and he seems to be our best bet at getting one of those. In case anyone has forgotten why I keep pushing for a crystal ball, it'll make travel in the voidgate system much safer— now that we know each voidgate location, we can peek at any entrance before going in. And the telepathy aspect would enhance additional exploration opportunities, including exploring Arkenos.

3 seems to be an on-the-way kind of objective, 4 perhaps a good way to bolster Sanjin/Khaska's abilities (giving us power to do more things, like maaaaybe hunt down Urziana?) and 5 is just me dying of curiosity. And seeing as I'm playing a mischievous rogue, I don't think it's a stretch to say he's super curious as well. :)

Of course, no path we choose will be as straightforward as checking boxes off the list of possible things to do. More quests with great urgency will likely appear. I look forward to seeing Eryx throw some supernatural curveball at us, which I suspect will be soon. But those are my thoughts on where to get started.

Musha
I am 100% on board with everything Crosis has suggested, and the order, too. Aestus would request stopping in one of the rhinoceros-inhabited regions along the way if/when able, to ask around. He's most interested in cities 23 and 24 as they are on the light side.

Thev
The wand: Khaska would agree with hiding Gulnith's wand, if not disposing of it entirely. Khaska could easily do Stone Shape to secret it away in some unassuming rock formation. Perhaps we could even leave it back in Darkcrest; Orensland could sneak in (via the Maramos voidgate) and plant it in the property of some remaining vampire house. (Is there any benefit to keeping the wand? EDIT: Eryx specified that it gives Sanjin +2. The question then becomes whether that's worth giving a cult with hundreds of dragons a target to find us!)

Informing our networks: Khaska could cast Sending several times to notify our trusted contacts (Sir Reitman of the Knights in Hammerdine, where we first discovered the Cult of Skyrnyn's slaver operation; Akle the silver dragon; the female dragon whose name I'm forgetting; and Bronzebeard… perhaps the Bringers of Light in Garth Calad) that we have news about what's going on in the Marshes. Depending on their responses, we could arrange a way to share the information we have (find a time where each of them could Scry on us as we explained the situation)? Organize a clandestine summit somewhere? (Though we wouldn't want to "out" the dragons.) Even a ton of Sendings while we're traveling, with a ton of downtime and no pressing dangers, could work: just think 140-character limit texts by which teenagers in Japan wrote novels!

What next: without the pressing need to pursue Rynn's family, we could take some time to explore the voidgate network's outlets more, scoping out the territory more fully and, perhaps in some cases, spying on and/or contacting the local folks (gnoll island?).

Other than that, Khaska would be good with the objectives that Crosis outlined, though he would probably reverse the Dragon's Graveyard and returning the armor in priority; the former is something that someone requested of us, while the latter is a favor for who-knows-who. A crystal ball would be immensely helpful, and knowing that one voidgate leads directly into the Unhallow of Tiamat makes Khaska wonder if there wouldn't be a way to direct the brunt of Arkenos's attacks there. (He'd definitely like a peek at Arkenos. So many stories turning out to be different in reality from their telling makes him wonder what Arkenos might actually be like.)

And he's definitely down for anything that could help him track down and do away with Urziana or Bathalm. His primary personal quest at the moment is to heal Kvanir and, if possible, find Tawru's lost horn — things that he could bring back to his people.

The group had discussed this on their travels back to the voidgate, and had a ready answer.

“I hope you brought your winter clothes,” Orensland piped up. “We’re headed north. To the Dragon’s Graveyard!”

Xaci whistled. “Why there?”

“A quest given us by a storm giant,” he said. “For a reward, we will get a crystal ball, very useful for exploring and spying on our friends.”

“You want to spy on your friends?” Greygook asked.

Khaska held a hand up. “Keep tags on them.”

There was a beat, everybody waiting for something. “Keep tabs,” Sanjin corrected, quietly. He sighed. “I think it was usually Rynn’s job to point out your idiomatic errors. The ranger will be missed, but I think I can at least step up in this department.”

Eryx (DM)

That will end this Codex.

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