zillah

D&D Chronicles: The Colossus

ZILLAH

Despite our so-called victory, it takes a few days for the revolution to build. The quadrant leaders are all reluctant to commit — wanting detailed plans and still more demonstrations of our strength. They are scared and self interested, demanding assurances of victory before lending aid.

But how can we plan a revolution — let alone assure victory — without knowing what our resources are? We are visitors to this accursed city, yet they provide no insights. It’s both frustrating and infuriating.

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Planning the revolution

In the end we decide we cannot depend on anyone other than ourselves. But as soon as we declare our intention to attack the gates, Orral says the tunnel people will lend aid. Well and so.

We will attack in two days time at midday during the Festival of Elloran.


The day of revolution comes at last. The Council has withdrawn all forces behind the walls of the Bastian. The town is holding its breath as we march towards the gates, people joining us as we move through the streets at the head of a growing throng. The tunnel people are carrying large nets and assorted weapons. Other townspeople are joining them.

The steel and coal quadrants hold back, still not committing. Cowards.

We arrive at the gates. All is quiet; the wall crawlers and guards on the wall watch and wait.

Our plan is simple. Attack, defend and await the Colossus. Fen has learnt a new protection spell and cast it upon each of us. Blaze has brewed more healing potions. We are as prepared as we can be. It feels sorely inadequate.

Blaze and I commence by warping some of the crawlers. Alix sets a blade barrier along the top of the wall. Then the gates open and the first wave of Council forces emerge.

It’s a phalanx of automata and elite guards. The guards peel off right and left — I lose sight of them quickly. The automata keep coming, surging towards us, three abreast. Nightshade stands on my right, Blaze on the other side of her. Together we meet the onslaught of these magicked machines.

The automata keep on coming and coming and coming. No sooner do we hack one into oblivion than it gets dragged back to make room for another. And another. These are the ‘guardian’ class automata Orral told us about. The toughest, meanest, hardest to defeat. I know not how many I’ve destroyed, only to face the next.

I cannot see what is happening elsewhere in the battle. Every so often I hear a loud cheer from back in the town and the air is filled with the ringing of steel, the scent of blood. Some of it’s my blood, and that of my companions. None of it belongs to these cursed automata.

They keep at us. I keep swinging until I’m not sure I can take much more. My vision is swimming and my arms feel about to drop off.

But we’ve achieved our first aim. Ahead, still within the Bastian, but lumbering ever closer, is the Colossus. The Eye of Varrien smoulders like an ember in its forehead, casting a reddish glow over the swarm of wooden machines in its path. It moves at ponderous speed, inexorably closer.

FEN

I’ve never seen anything like it. The bodies. The blood. And yes, the heroism.

Alix swept the wall clear of enemy troops with a wall of her own, one of flashing blades. Then the enemy flooded from the citadel, and my compatriots met them in the street, shoulder to shoulder. A constant stream of soldiers and automata came upon them, to be hacked down mercilessly.

I ran my magics down to empty, expended all my healing potions, keeping my colleagues in the fight. My chief offensive act was a fireball, to deter what I perceived to be a mage attempting to raise dead soldiers. I shudder to think of this unnatural act. Stopping it merited the destruction wrought by my spell.

At one point, our flank was threatened, and here I was able to lend support, in the form of a stinking cloud to slow the enemy advance, and then with swings of my club until reinforcements put the foe to flight.

How valiantly the city folk fought. One lane was so covered in dead and wounded, I could not see the flagstones. What an appalling waste.

NIGHTSHADE

I can feel the energy of my goddess running through me. After all the deceit and betrayal on the part of my former comrades – the ranger killed me; she shall regret her treachery – the cleric finally succumbed. Varrien is too powerful for the homely shield of Shadrath to ward against for long. The world shall soon know just how powerful she is. All shall soon know her wrath … and, if they are meek, her generosity.

It was a mighty battle. We marched straight up to the gate of the citadel quarter, full of half-hatched plans and bravado, and the elite guard came out to meet us, in league with the cursed automata as expected. But we held the line, drawing them in twos and threes down the narrow street and despatching them thus. From the bellowing and sounds of clashing iron around us, all of Tel Marrenor was up in arms. The tunnel people had birthed their ridiculous revolution at last, though I cared not for the outcome so long as it kept busy the extra swords and machines which might otherwise be troubling us.

Then the Colossus began to move.

We were still fighting automata and not yet ready to face such a foe and so, as soon as I caught glimpse of it I cast a sleet storm in its path. Thank Varrien for my newly acquired spells!

And thank Varrien too for her tightening grasp upon the cleric’s will. I had seen for days how troubled Alix had been, how carrying the Eye vexed her, and it must finally have proved too much. In the heat of battle, I heard her call my name. A desperate plea!

I turned and there she was, running toward me with arm outstretched and in her hand … the blessed gem. Freely, she gave it to me, pressed it into my palm and closed my fingers around it. It felt like a key slotting home after too long an absence. It felt like my heart could beat again.

I don’t remember too much of what happened next. The Colossus was upon us and we fought, maces clashing against stone. I don’t think I was hit; if I was, my goddess cast her benediction over me and I felt no pain. All I could think of was the second Eye, that bright red beacon in the monstrosity’s head. It filled my vision, and my soul.

Then the Colossus was slain, crashing to the cobbles with such weight the earth beneath us trembled, and I ran. Faster than I ever have. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw Zillah move as well, but my feet were swifter. Goddess-touched.

And now I have them both, the blessed Eyes of Varrien. I can scarcely believe it! At long last this ungrateful world will know its end.

ALIX

What the hell have I done?

I suspected for a while that carrying the Eye would have some effect – I had seen it when Cal carried it and couldn’t doubt it after seeing Nightshade altered – but I really thought that having it sheathed in silver would keep me safe.

I didn’t count on the subtle probing every single minute of the day, nor the more direct thrusts at my will as the golem came closer and closer. Shadrath, help me hold! I kept pleading in my head, but someone else was whispering and She was starting to entice.

We had to fight. We had to stop the automata and keep the citizens motivated. We had to back each other and stay up… and all the time, She was calling.

Tickle, probe, thrust. The golem arrived, bearing the other Eye. Another tickle, another probe and bam! My resistance was gone. I had to get to Nightshade. I knew with bone-deep certainty we would all die if she didn’t get the Eye I carried. Rise, Varrien!

I reached Nightshade, screaming “take it!” and holding out the glove. We were both still in battle, but for a second she had room to move. She reached out and scooped up the Eye, just as the golem fell.

As Zillah and Nightshade raced to tear the Eye out of the golem’s head, I couldn’t turn away. Couldn’t decide who I wanted to win. Zillah clambered atop the golem on hands and feet. Nightshade, on the other hand, tripped along its length as if she was skipping in a meadow. Zillah stumbled, slid back, leaving Nightshade to reach the Eye. She bent, prised it out, stood, an Eye held aloft in each hand.

I wanted to scream with glee. Then Shadrath himself smacked me on the side of the head and my mind cleared.

Now… Now Nightshade holds both Eyes. The battles have stopped. There is smoke in the air and blood on the streets and the sounds of people in pain and dying.
And Nightshade has both Eyes.

My God will have to come here now. One day soon, he and his brethren will have to call us to account. I should have let us die. Instead I gave her the Eye. And look at her now. Jubilant.

Oh, my God, what have I done?

FEN

Now the real battle begins. Both Eyes are in the hands of Nightshade, a servant of the dark goddess, and the flail is many weeks of travel away. If the goddess is summoned before we retrieve the holy weapon, what hope do we have of saving the world?

ZILLAH

The worst has happened: the two Eyes brought together. We strove to prevent it; yet somehow it seems as though it was always inevitable. I feel helpless, gripped in a relentless tide I cannot control. At least it is almost over.


One gets the sense this campaign is almost over.

What will Nightshade do with two Eyes of Varrien? Will we be able to stop her from resurrecting the evil goddess?

We are about to find out.

Thanks to Jason Nahrung (Fen), Kirstyn McDermott (nightshade) and Lita Kalimeris (Alix) for contributions.

D&D Chronicles: In which we start a revolution

ZILLAH

In the morning, we await the fallout of last night’s raid.

I still feel queasy at the memory of throats slit in the dead of night, guards cowering against walls in their sleeping garb. There was nothing noble or honourable about such activities, even if they achieved our objective.

Not long after midday, we’re summoned by Orral, leader of the tunnel people. With her, shouting and spitting, are two of the quadrant leaders from the city above. They inform us the council of mages has retaliated by rounding up 20 of the populace for execution. And not just random city-dwellers: the family and friends and allies of prominent people.

The quadrant leaders are furious… furious and afraid and even more antagonistic than before. I feel awful. Most of us feel awful — except Nightshade who is denouncing them for cowards and fools and asking them whether they want to be free of oppression or not?

Much as I resent it, she has a point. A bloodless insurrection is impossible. If we are to rouse the people against oppression in order to secure the Eye of Varrien, there will be casualties. Many of them. I just wish it wasn’t so.

Nonetheless, we resolve to rescue the captives. Over the course of the afternoon and evening, Orral’s people bring in news: where the captives are being held, how many guards, the suspicious movements of mages. We’re sure there’s a trap involved. Doesn’t matter. We come up with a plan of sorts.

Rescue attempt

Late that night, we go out into the city once more. The tunnel people guide us through the maze of tiny streets to the Old Castle wall. All is quiet, still, as we launch our plan.

Blaze and I cast spells on the castle’s wall defences — magical boxes of wood and steel on rails that hurl missiles at attackers. We warp the wood in an attempt to deactivate them. Meanwhile, Alix uses her magic to build walls across the road, aimed at slowing the ‘automata’ — fiendish machines on wheels that patrol the streets at the mages’ bidding. And Fen… Fen lumbers forth under the cover of invisibility and makes a hole in the castle wall.

It all happens quickly, going more or less to plan, and we’re inside the Old Castle.

The stone corridors of the castle are also silent and still. We’re either being remarkably silent, or there’s no-one here. I fear the latter, but there’s no time to stop and ponder. Every moment we delay gives the automata more time to arrive…

The stairs lead down to the basement. I see the ambush and am ready when they attack. There are only two guards and we defeat them easily enough. Behind a locked door with a grille is a corridor with cells. The captives huddle behind bars, calling for us to help them.

Still no guards have come.

Leaving Nightshade and Blaze, I run up to the first level, past Alix at the top of the steps, to find Fen. He comes when I call softly, and I send him down to use his magic to unlock the door and rescue the prisoners.

Unease makes me stop beside Alix and guard against attack. Why has no-one come? Where is the trap?

Down below, there’s a massive explosion, so huge that a wave of heat slams up the stairs, followed by tongues of flame.

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Oh blessed Emrys, no.

I hurtle down into the smoke and dust and heat and fire. My companions are picking themselves up off the floor, slapping at the flames on their clothes and swearing. A massive fireball. I’d recognise this aftermath anywhere.

Strewn about the cells are the charred corpses of the 20 people we were intending to rescue.

Fighting in the streets

For a moment, I’m too appalled to do anything other than stare, my gut churning. Appalled that we fell so easily into this trap. Appalled at what the mages have done. I don’t know how we’re going to face the quadrant leaders now. They’ll never support us.

But there’s nothing we can do about any of it. We need to get out of here.

Our hole in the wall is now guarded by four automata. Taking a chance these are the same automata previously guarding the two entrances, we run to the back exit. It’s clear and we dash out into the streets of Tel Marrenor.

Of course they’re waiting for us. Missile-hurling wall crawlers drive us into the waiting ambush of guards. Four of them, weapons drawn.

Well, this at least is an honest battle.

My focus narrows to the guards before me. Beside me is one of my companions. I’m dimly aware of fighting going on some way behind. But the guards keep coming. And coming. Alix’s impressive blade barrier carves through an entire unit at once.

The town nearby is on fire. I don’t know how this happened, but the people are pouring out into the streets, yelling and weeping. Children are screaming. Smoke is making the air hazy and hard to breathe.

Some of the wheeled automata glide out of the smoke, bouncing across the cobbles. They bear steel blades that sweep and slice. I switch to twin maces, all the better to hack at these contraptions of wood and steel.

daleks

Based on the DM’s description, we imagine the automata to be something like daleks… Except made largely of wood, with blades. And they don’t fly.

By the time the immediate threat is dispatched, I’m breathing hard. Then Fen rushes over saying some of Orral’s people are nearby, bringing word of a large contingent of automata nearly upon us. It’s time to flee. Looking back towards the castle, I see the mangled wreckage of several automata. Doubtless Blaze’s work.

Bring on the revolution

Orral’s bouncing off the walls when we return. Crowing with excitement, she rattles off the numbers of guards and automata we’ve apparently defeated this night. It seems such a victory has not been seen in many a long year. We’ve made our statement. Convinced the quadrant leaders that we mean business.

The revolution has finally begun, she states triumphantly.

Although she and everyone are horrified about the murder of all those innocents, they seem to apportion no blame to us.

We know better.

FENFAREN

I have seen cruelty. The animal being slowly sucked down by the bog, the crushing death in a constrictor’s coils, the frantic wait for the spider. Firbolg disembowelled in battle by rakshasa claws, burnt by their fireballs. But never have I seen such calculated cruelty as this. The trap, the explosion, the innocents burned to death in their cells. All for what? To send a message?

The message is one that says this reign of terror cannot be allowed to continue.

Unbelievably, the citizens of this place agree. Despite our sense of abject failure, clever politics has pulled a victory from the ashes.

But what cost!

The town alight (my own part in that kept hidden in a cloak of shame and silence), innocents dead. Their faces haunt me. My clumsy frame, my slow wit, unable to save anyone. It’s like I’m back in the swamp again, good for nothing against the forces we face. Not a true firbolg, not a true mage.

Nightshade is right when she says more people are going to die, caught up in this grand quest, a firestorm of destruction. Such is the price of saving the world.

The mages await with their colossus, and I’m consistently reminded that the mage whose place in this party I have taken would have been eminently better suited to the task. What to do? There is nothing else to do, but continue. To the death.


That was certainly an epic raid and battle. More to come from the streets of Tel Marrenor soon… (Thanks again to Jason Nahrung for Fen’s perspective.)

D&D Chronicles: Into Tel Marrenor

Oh, the excitement! This picks up a few minutes after the previous post left off. Nightshade has been a bad bad girl and Zillah is pissed…


ZILLAH

Nightshade’s corpse lies broken at my feet. Red eyes stare blankly out of her pale, leathered face that looks months dead rather than minutes. I try remember what she used to look like — before the zombie virus, before the mummy rot, before the Eye. Back when she was my ally, if not my friend; a fellow ranger of Emrys pledged to heal the forest. It’s almost impossible to recall.

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She was easier to kill than I expected. But I suppose with three of us laying into her… I shudder, rub at my face with the backs of my hands, not willing to sheath my weapons just yet. Blessed Emrys forgive me.

Alix does sheath her weapons and drops to her knees. I leave her to retrieve the Eye from the intimate place Nightshade has been keeping it. She has silver gloves for the operation.

Fen is cowering over by the wall, understandably horrified at what we’ve just been forced to do. But then he says something and I realise there’s a hole in the brickwork… and another brick is wobbling amid puffs of dust. A voice comes through the hole — words I don’t understand — and Fen is talking to it.

It’s not sounding hostile, but we can take no chances. Fen seems keen to stay and chat, but as soon as Alix is done I sling Nightshade over my shoulder. I have one last thing to try before I will give up on her completely.

We head back through the portal and close it behind us. Oddly enough, the unpopulated city of Reyim Baal has started to feel familiar, secure, safe. It’s somewhere I can pray to my god without being interrupted.

Kneeling beside Nightshade’s corpse, I pray to Emrys. I beg him for forgiveness at taking the life of a companion. I entreat him to forgive Nightshade, once his daughter, for turning from him. I ask him to save her soul, cleanse the darkness from it, to make her his daughter once again.

And, after a time, Emrys speaks to me. I hear his voice in my head and heart, telling me gravely he cannot command Nightshade’s soul.

My head drops.

But, he says, he will bring Nightshade back to us, if we desire it, for he believes we will have need of her.

Now I am crushed.

This was not a circumstance I foresaw… That we would need her despite everything. She’ll be angry, antagonistic. It’ll be worse than before. Our terrible actions and her understandable rage, all for nothing.

But at least she won’t have the Eye any more.

Taking a deep and despairing breath, I nod and give him thanks, trusting my god to know what is best.

Beside me, Nightshade stirs, her red eyes flashing.

Tel Marrenor is not what we expected

[Several hours later…] We’ve returned through the portal to Tel Marrenor. For forty years, the city has been cut off from the rest of the world, lost in the midst of a magicked, impenetrable forest. No-one in. No-one out.

Until now.

To our astonishment, it is not an abandoned, overgrown city of undead, but a bustling city oppressed by a tyrannical council of Vhadrim mages. Far from being secreted in a dragon-guarded chest somewhere, the Right Eye of Varrien casts its fiery glow over the city from the forehead of a giant golem (known as the Colossus), which stands upon a tower known as the Bastian. The Eye’s power is controlled by the council.

We’ve allied ourselves with the “tunnel people”, who live beneath the city and seem to have formed some sort of resistance group. They have a few renegade mages among their number, along with established channels of communication with the leaders of the various quarters in the city. They are excited to see us — the first visitors from outside in decades. Naturally, they see us as a route of escape, so they’re being helpful, if cautious.

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They know why we’re here. Their oracle predicted our coming. In fact, according to the oracle, many of our assumptions (and dilemmas) have proven unfounded. It seems we’re going to need the Left Eye to obtain the Right, and it seems that Nightshade is probably the one who needs to wield it.

It figures.

Nightshade is now all smirking and smug, while I feel distinctly chagrined. She would have been more cooperative, I’m sure, had we not killed her and removed the Eye from her possession. Especially if we’re simply going to return it to her… eventually. (Since Emrys brought her back, she has been mouthy and obnoxious as expected, but so far the geas Alix placed on her is holding.)

Probably not the best plan

[Midnight…] We get our first good look at Tel Marrenor under the cover of darkness. Gil, a youth with the tunnel people, poles us down canals lined with close-packed buildings of three or four storeys, the whole bathed in the scarlet glow of the Eye. Creepy.

TelMarrenor_map

We’re headed for the city’s “old castle”, now a barracks for the human forces of the council. We’re going to creep in and kill as many as possible before reinforcements arrive. The aim is to send a message to the rest of the city that we are serious in our intent. We hope to win support from those living in the city and organise a rebellion.

I don’t know if this is a good plan. Certainly we need to start whittling away at enemies, but I’ve never been one for slitting throats of my fellow humans while they sleep.

It starts off well, if you could call it that.

Gritting my teeth, I remind myself I’m trying to save the world… but surely there’s another way than this? Too late, it’s done. My dagger drips with blood.

I’m actually relieved when they wake, alerted by a fumble or a clank of armour. I care not. A scream, and sounds start to come from the chamber across the corridor. Others arrive and there is fighting in the hallway as well.

In all, we kill at least ten of the guards, maybe more, before the gong sounds. We take that as a call for reinforcements. There’s a lot of yelling among us. Fen looks distraught as he stares at the corpse of a child sprawled in the corridor. Nightshade is yelling something about not wanting anyone to see us. In the end, we flee before reinforcements can arrive.

Gil is waiting at the place we specified and we escape without further incident. But my heart is heavy, and I can’t help but wonder whether we’ve done more harm than good this night.

FENFAREN

There is a bog in the swamp not far from our settlement that we know to give a wide berth. It’s deceptively placid. Dangerous. Occasionally, we would hear the cries of a trapped beast, and if wholesome, some of the hunters would lasso it and try to pull it clear. It wasn’t unusual for the flesh to yield before the morass would give up its prey.

I know how those trapped beasts must feel.

When the humans arrived in the forest, it was as if a season was changing. They put flight to the rakshasa, they slew the dragon. Lo, we were unchained! And I, barely a member of my own people, saw a chance to be something more than the “mumbler” of ineffectual magics. These humans were trying to save the world! Could there be any greater purpose? I was humbled to be counted worthy to join their number, even though I realised, for perhaps the first time in my life, that it was my magic that was valued.

But now…

They are a fractious lot. Two from the north with many deaths of friend and foe behind, and so many horrors weighing upon their shoulders. The paladin, trying to find his black-and-white way in a world of grey. And the undead, slain by its companions, then brought back, all because of a gem.

I feel the confusion dragging me down. How I long for the forest, where at least I knew my place, even if it was not much place at all. Better than this mire, surely.

Oh, this night, this midnight raid on unsuspecting soldiers as we try to find a way to recover the second gem from the face of the colossus. It will be bathed in blood. We will be bathed in blood. If we survive.

To do my part, I thought I should wield the knife. Creep into that darkened room filled with the unknowing breaths of the sleeping guards. And strike.

I shudder still.

Perhaps it was that voice of Emrys, god of forest, who sent my blow astray? Some zephyr of conscience.

And then … and then the child. The noise, the fear, the confinement and the darkness. So far from my world. A strange land, and now I feel I am a stranger, too. An instinctive reaction was all it took. I look at my hand in the moments when I am alone and recall the feeling of the power it unleashed. A word, a gesture, a concentrated thought. And the child running for the door, to raise alarm, I thought, as though alarm had not already been raised. My power, unrestrained, devastating on one so young, so innocent. And her blissfully unaware mother, still sleeping on the other side of that door as her child lay slaughtered…

I am aware we are fighting for the fate of the world. I understand this is war. But at what point do we become that which we are fighting? Or are we fated to take upon ourselves such soul blight, in order that the world can continue to sleep lightly? And not a one here in whom I can confide. Who I can ask to provide me with clarity. I am not the firbolg for this job, and yet, I am the firbolg that finds himself here. Emrys save me. Emrys save us all.


Poor Zillah — so conflicted. And poor Fen, so out of his depth! (Thanks to Jason Nahrung for Fen’s perspective.)

Things are starting to come to a head. I have no idea what’s going to happen next…

D&D Chronicles: The treachery of Nightshade

ZILLAH

I’m going to kill that red-eyed, zombie bitch, Nightshade.

My fury and frustration are like a hot wind. I want to scream and yell. I want to storm out of the temple and never return. I want to ram my sword through Nightshade’s throat.

We’re in the Temple of Death in Reyim Baal, staring at the portal Nightshade has just closed from the other side. She’s locked us all out of Tel Marrenor, the lost city where the other Eye of Varrien is believed to be hidden.

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All of us except Fen, that is. Maybe he can talk some sense into her on the other side. Alix and Blaze are wearing expressions similar to mine. Since Nightshade is carrying one of the Eyes already, this leaves her free to find the other without interference from us. Then she’ll have both of them. Fuck.

We’ve known her allegiance has shifted. The Eye of Varrien has corrupted her and the Goddess of Destruction has Nightshade in her clutches. I fucking knew she was going to do something like this, but we still couldn’t stop it. This is shit.

Hindsight

It’s not like we even wanted to go through the portal to Tel Marrenor yet. We’re not ready. Since losing Squirrel we’re lacking someone who can detect traps and unlock doors. We’re going to need a rogue to survive Tel Marrenor, which is the city in the broken forest no-one has been able to reach for over two decades.

The plan was not to tackle Tel Marrenor yet. The plan was to stop by Reyim Baal and check whether the portal to Tel Marrenor actually worked and then seek more information about Varrien at Terras Arnor — and a rogue.

Hindsight is brilliant, right? In hindsight, we should have:

1. Told the cleric of Elloran and his cronies who came for the Eye in Kham Jhara exactly where Nightshade was carrying the cursed stone and let them retrieve it. We were supposed to hand it over to them anyway. In one of the great ironies, they resurrected Nightshade months ago as downpayment. We should have just let them have it and trusted the Elloran/Kaltan/Phanator/Testerris posse to defeat the group from Varrien, who somehow managed to track down Nightshade and declare themselves her protectors. Besides, I never wanted to take the Left Eye anywhere near the Right Eye.

2. Enlisted the services of a rogue in Kham Jhara. So what if we’d ended up paying them for a whole bunch of extra weeks? It was naive of me not to realise the prospect of Tel Marrenor being right there would prove too much. I can sense some of the others want to go through now and get Tel Marrenor and the Right Eye over and done with — despite the fact ‘we’ are still carrying the Left Eye and have no idea what will happen when they’re brought into proximity. Oh yeah, and we have no rogue.

3. Not let Nightshade anywhere near that portal. In fact, we probably should have brought things to a head in Kham Jhara when it became clear she’d corrupted by Varrien (see point 1). But I thought between us we’d be able to… manage the situation. It is, after all, four against one. Until Nightshade actively acted against us, I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Blessed gods, I am so stupid.

This is it

I’m staring so hard at the dull, not-glowing portal, I’ll probably give myself a headache. If Nightshade doesn’t open it, we’ll have lost Fen as well. We’ll have to leave here, go to Tel Marrenor the long way, hack through the forest, most likely die…

The portal changes, glows like it’s been activated again from the Tel Marrenor side. I’m not sure whether Blaze or me reacts first — we’re both through that portal quicker than a sneeze, Alix close behind.

The underground room is unchanged — dim, brick walls, no doors or windows. Musty with moisture and moss.

Nightshade waits, sword drawn.


Sigh — not sure what’s going to happen next, but it’s likely to be exciting!

D&D Chronicles: The Stars

We pick up the tale mid-battle with a treacherous black dragon, who is kicking our collective butts…

Zillah, Alix and Nightshade are cowering inside a building. They have no idea what has become of Blaze and Squirrel. (The story started here.)


BLAZE

We’re fighting the dragon – well, four of us, anyway: Squirrel, that cowardly snake, having slunk off to hide. Things are going well. I can feel it in my muscles, my bones. I’m wreathing myself in glory, all for my god, through whose grace I draw power.

And suddenly I’m not.

The dragon’s teeth snap around me. Burning. A wrench jolts me from middle to shoulders, and I’m dangling, airborne.

My fault. How could I lose concentration like that? Thinking of glory — fool!

The dragon’s wings push through the air, all strength, power. Thump, thump, thump. We rise. The ground jerks with each wing-beat, and nausea spills through me.

The tightness around my chest releases, and I’m plummeting, down, down. There’s water below. Rushing up. My armour – I’ll be dead weight.

But then I’m floating, still aloft. What? How? Of course! Feather fall. Squirrel’s spell.

I cast around. There. Squirrel! I do a double take. Surely not. But it is. This is no coward’s act.

He’s flying, cloak billowing around him, and he has never looked more magnificent, more brave or noble.

A screech pierces me. The dragon. Air gusts as she flies at me, talons outstretched. I still have my sword and swing at her, and we tussle, but Squirrel keeps coming as if to intercept me.

I’d never have guessed at such courage. Then the dragon seizes him, and there’s a spray of blood.

My back hits the water and I’m sinking, fast. I flail but go down. Nearby, something splashes into the water.

No air. Can’t breathe. Have to get this armour off. Can’t. Sunlight glimmers through the water’s surface, the last thing I’ll ever see.

No. Wait. I have an idea. Tree shape. I summon enough calm to perform the spell, and I am bobbing up and floating, a giant log. All I can see is blue sky above. Harsh sunlight.

No sign of Squirrel, but I know he’s dead. That spray of blood. There were limbs too.

It hits me hard. He died for me. He gave his life for me. The world is backwards.

The dragon blots out the sun, and I see a shape, limned against the sky, falling, walking. Squirrel – is he…? No, that’s Alix. Mercy, that dragon-bitch will have us all by the end of the day. The dragon screeches again, but I’m bobbing about with no control. If only I could stay still and see what’s happened to Alix.

Then I hit something. Solid. The bank. Only it’s the wrong one. I release the spell and haul myself ashore. Everything is in ruins. How can I get back? There. A lump of wood. I transform it to a small and not very stable raft, and carefully, quietly, launch myself back onto the water and propel myself to the other side.

In the middle of the square, her back to me, the dragon is focused on something; I sneak ashore…

tree-shape


ZILLAH

After a quick discussion, we down healing potions and get back outside to confront the dragon again. It’s all we can do. I want the Stars.

I take a few deep breaths then step outside, where the dragon waits. I get in some great blows! The dragon roars, spews acid (which I dodge)… then flies away.

All we can do is stare as it soars then descends into the middle of round building a couple hundred yards away. We’ve chased it off! We actually made it flee!

Now we have to finish the job before it recovers.

Blaze arrives as we’re scooping up the contents of the treasure chest left abandoned in the middle of the square. (So many coins and gems!) I’m enormously relieved to see him, but then he tells us what has happened to Squirrel.

My chest tightens with shock and grief — but I can’t let that overcome me now. Not until this is over. Not until that dragon is dead and we have the Stars in hand.

I’m still wrestling with the swirl of emotions when a stranger appears in the square. I stare at this decrepit little old man. Fenfaren he is called. I don’t have time or energy for him now. I don’t know where he’s come from, or why. I don’t care.

All I care about right now is killing that dragon.


ZILLAH

Nightshade and I stand side by side in the stands of an ancient stadium, magic, fire-spelled arrows nocked. Waiting.

Below, the arena is flooded and (we suspect) concealing the entrance to the dragon’s lair. Our plan — suggested and implemented by Fenfaren, who is full of surprises — is to drain the stadium to drive the dragon out.

The water starts moving, swirling, a sign Fen has begun the drain. Then, with a roar, the dragon bursts out of the water.

Nightshade and I take aim, launch the magic arrows.

They work beautifully against the dragon, which hovers nicely in range while it attacks Alix and Blaze, who fight back with gusto. We have no defence against this dragon. We can only hope to wear it down first.

Each arrow explodes into flame as it hits. I’ve never enjoyed my longbow so much.

flaming arrow2

Still, the dragon is fearsome and vicious. It munches on Blaze and tries to carry Alix away again. My heart jolts at the thought of losing another companion, especially Alix. But, just as I start to fear the dragon was not as injured as we’d assumed, it finally falls.

It crashes onto the lower stands, broken. Defeated. Dead.

I suppress the euphoria trying to sweep through me. First we must locate the Stars. Then we can celebrate. Then we can mourn.


ZILLAH

Fen is not a decrepit little old man, it turns out. Once his illusion died, he was revealed as a furbolg. Taller than an average human (nearly two feet taller than me). Bright red hair with some grey streaks. Strong. He says he’s been camped out on the hill, watching the dragon and the Rakshasa for a while.

He assists Nightshade and me to wade into the dragon’s underwater lair. Our attempt to drain the depths of the area succeeded in rousing the dragon, but the water has levelled. We’re going to need to swim.

We use the water breathing potion I’ve been carrying for a while. Two doses. Just enough for me and Nightshade, who is the strongest swimmer of all of us. Fen uses his mage senses to confirm the location of the dragon’s treasure.

The chest is made of stone, and heavy. There are six water-logged sacks as well. We grab those first, take them back to Fen and the others. Then we carefully carry the chest out of the water.

The chest has a complicated lock on it. A grid of stone buttons. Somehow we know that if we press them in the wrong order we will die.

Alix arrives at the solution. Alix, who often seems to come up with the right spell at the right time. She casts ‘stone tell’ and talks to the stone, asks the stone for the right combination to press. And it works.

We open the chest. No-one dies. And there they are… the Stars. The Stars of the Flail of Wind and Rain. (And treasure…)

The hour is late, but it is done.


ALIX

Poor Squirrel.

That foolhardy, light-fingered, ‘turn sideways and where-did-he-go’ young man who always seemed to be right next to me. Except for one time. The last time, when maybe it would have made a difference. And now he is gone.

He reminded me so much of Cal that I trusted him without thinking about it. I would even welcome the fights we will now never have. He backed us all up as much as he could and took some stupid risks. Oh, and he liked to throw fireballs and then ask questions. If there was anyone left alive.

Damn it, Squirrel, this whole thing has cost so many lives. Why did it have to cost me another mage who was my friend?

Oh, and don’t be throwing balls at the Gods, Squirrel. They probably won’t like it. And the shiny-shiny? Don’t be picking that up either.

BLAZE

Squirrel’s death sits heavily on me. I misjudged the man: thought him a sly, conniving and cowardly thief, not to be trusted, someone I could never call friend. And yet, in the end, he was the noblest and most selfless man I have ever met, and he not even a paladin.

How can this be? I thought I knew the world and its workings, but I know nothing. Now, I must atone for Squirrel’s death, but how to make amends? A donation to his church? Reparations to his family? Raise a statue in his honour? Offer my services to fight in his name?

Right now, prayer and solitude are what I need: I trust Nievor to give me guidance.

NIGHTSHADE

Damn everything, Squirrel is dead. Not just dead but EATEN by the traitorous Dragon’s water-dwelling pets, if Blaze saw it right.

At least the Dragon is dead as well now, which I’m sure would make Squirrel very happy were he here to know it. Imagine the magical ingredients he could have harvested from the corpse! He would have kept us here for days, stripping and preserving dragon parts.

I need to convince the others to retrieve Squirrel’s body from the water, even if it means catching and cutting open the belly of whichever beast ate him. Surely the Cleric will be able to resurrect him, if he is not too badly chewed? And his gear! The magic books, the maps and notes he was always scribbling down – we will be lost without them, our strength as a party severely diminished. I don’t see we have any choice but to look for him.

One other thing is certain: I will miss Squirrel sorely if he cannot be returned to us, not least because he was the last remaining member of the party I could count on to have my back. The other three – Zillah and Alix, and the oh-so-shiny Blaze – are such squeamish do-gooders they refuse to do what’s needed even when it’s pointed out to them at the tip of a sword. Squirrel, along with dear fallen Blizzard, understood that sometimes you need to get your hands dirty. The do-gooders bleat about the end of the world but think they can prevent such a thing without having to wring too much blood from their clothes afterwards.

Sometimes, I wonder whether I even belong in this party anymore…

ZILLAH

We will miss Squirrel sorely. He was smart. Crafty. Braver than he knew. His skills, forethought and fast thinking helped us navigate many a challenge and got us out of many a scrape. Yes, we will miss him.

I counted him a friend, even though I often felt I never really knew him. Not all his faces. But he was a true companion, as he showed at the end.

Farewell, Squirrel (or whatever your true name was). May your spirit dwell peacefully in the afterlife.

Vale Squirrel


ZILLAH

The master smith, Astra Khara, greets us with wild, bright eyes on our return to Kham Jhara. His fingers twitch as he reaches for the Stars, desperate to join them with the Haft we brought him weeks ago.

He says it will take several weeks to re-forge the Flail of Wind and Rain.

Astra Khara manages to mostly hide his surprise that we prevailed over the Rakshasa and the dragon, but it is there. The round trip has taken over a month. I think we’ll be recounting the tale in taverns for many months to come.

After slaying the dragon and obtaining the Stars, our return trip was uneventful. We managed to retrieve Squirrel’s pack from the depths of the lake the following morning, thanks to Nightshade’s swimming and magic from both Alix and Fen. The maps and documents he carried are vital for the success of our quest.

But Squirrel’s corpse was lost to us. I have no doubt those water monsters tore him to pieces and feasted. A sad end for our companion and friend.

Fen has accompanied us back to Kham Jhara. It will take some time for us to rely on him as we did Squirrel, but he has already proven a worthy companion.

Now we turn our attention to the final piece of the puzzle: the Right Eye of Varrien.


The DM says we’re ‘nearly’ finished… Considering we began in May 2012, it feels a long time coming! Let’s see what happens next.

Thanks to Tracey Rolfe (Blaze), Lita Kalimeris (Alix) and Kirstyn McDermott (Nightshade) for their contributions to this post.

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D&D Chronicles: One enemy down, a dragon to go

ZILLAH

The Rakshasa get what they deserve

I fucking hate Rakshasa.

They are lying, smarmy, evil, murdering bastards who have to die. You are the key, their leader told me. You are the point of the sword. I knew at the time he was full of shit, and I was right.

We are not your true enemy. Well, maybe they are not the enemy, but they sure as hell are one of them.

Despite our best efforts, they had little difficulty finding our campsite the evening after our battle. We’d crept as close to their village as we dared, and I guess we should be thankful they sought us out to negotiate, rather than simply attack us again. They offered us a counter-offer against the deal we’d previously made with the dragon.

Our deal with the dragon: kill or drive out the Rakshasa and return the treasure they stole, in return for the Stars of the Flail of Wind and Rain.

The Rakshasa counter-offer: kill the dragon with the aid of a dozen Rakshasa, in return for half the dragon’s treasure and free passage out of here. (With the return of my stolen longsword as a gesture of good faith.)

Basically, we’ve never trusted either party. So we agreed to the Rakshasa’s deal, since maybe there was a chance they’d actually help us defeat the dragon. We figured they would use us to get rid of the dragon, after which they’d probably turn on us.

It seems they’re not that smart.

We’d barely joined forces, when the Rakshasa were hurling fireballs and other spells at us. Twelve of them. Five of us. It was touch and go for poor Blaze, who isn’t so great at dodging fireballs, but in the end we prevailed.

We’ve taken two of them captive for interrogation. Nightshade is scarily good at this — and I’m glad it’s her and not me. At her command, Squirrel dispatches one to demonstrate our intent, and the final remaining one squeals all their secrets.

It seems the Rakshasa are clearing out of their village. This is excellent news — except we need to retrieve the treasure they stole from the dragon. No way are we going anywhere near that dragon without the treasure. Not to mention the rest of the stuff the Rakshasa stole from Alix and me when they killed us a few days ago. I am cursed well getting that back.

Fucking Rakshasa.


The dragon gets the upper hand

Outside, the dragon rampages.

We could honestly do with some Rakshasa allies right about now. But maybe they knew how utterly futile it is to take on a dragon. Maybe we ought to have known — or at least heeded our own misgivings.

But we need the Stars to remake the Flail to take down the goddess Varrien. We never really had an option. We must get the Stars from the dragon — or die trying.

The drowned city of Jhardhemeth shudders beneath the dragon’s onslaught.

She’s a black dragon. Huge. Spewing acid, slapping us with wings and tail. She’s already carried Blaze off and dropped his fully armoured form in the water. I have no idea what’s become of Squirrel, who fled into the bowels of another building.

Nightshade and Alix are, I believe, seeking shelter in the building across the square. It took me a few tries to get the door of this building open, but for a few moments Fleet and I are safe.

Once I’ve caught my breath, I peer outside into the square.

It would have been beautiful once, all marble paving stones and columned archways. The treasure chest we reclaimed from the Rakshasa (so much treasure!) stands where we left it in the centre of the square, right before the bitch dragon decided to betray us. Of course, we expected it. Dragons are not known for fair dealing. But the reality is so much worse than we could have imagined.

I can’t see any of my companions, but the dragon is attacking something over by the next building. I hear Alix and Nightshade shouting, so I run in their direction, just in time to see the dragon rise into the air with Alix clasped in her claws.

Nightshade is sprinting towards me as the dragon takes Alix up high, so high over the water, where there are beasts with long necks and sharp teeth waiting.

Oh, blessed Emrys. Is that how Blaze met his fate?

Where the hell is Squirrel?

With a triumphant roar, the dragon releases Alix. She drops, and my heart almost stops, but then her airwalking boots kick in and she’s sprinting through the air towards Nightshade and me.

The three of us flee inside the building.

dragon


Yep. We obviously called it a night in the middle of a somewhat tricky situation… Will we prevail against the dragon and retrieve the Stars of the Flail of Wind and Rain? (And the rest of the treasure hoard?)

That, my friends, remains to be seen.

But it does unfortunately appear that our party will not escape unscathed. 😦

D&D Chronicles: In which Rakshasa prove masters of the common ambush

ZILLAH

By the time I come around, I know I’ve fucked up. Badly.

Voices first… some familiar, others not. Someone sharpening a blade. The rustle of cloth. They’re all everyday sounds, as though we’re in some form of settlement. Beside me, Fleet is purring and nuzzling my face with her nose.

I blink up at Alix as she sits back, withdraws her hand from my brow. She looks weary but relieved. The expression is familiar and she doesn’t need to tell me what’s just happened. What she’s just done for me.

Blessed Emrys, how many more times must I die for the sake of this cursed quest? I think this makes three. Or is it four?

I have no idea where we are, although we appear to be in some form of hut. I hear the others asking how I feel, but I can’t bear to look at them. I’m too mortified. It was all my fault. Alix and me, two of us alone, facing six Rakshasa. Hopelessly outmatched and outnumbered. What the fuck was I thinking?


18 hours earlier

It’s early afternoon when I see a lone Rakshasa creeping through the forest. She’s only 100 feet away from our camp, and my blood freezes. Behind me, Blaze is hovering over his potion, while the others are recovering after an eventful morning dealing with six crawlers. We’re camped in the forest above the drowned city, preparing and planning how to defeat the Rakshasa. Surprise is going to be key. I have to do something about that spy I just saw.

I activate my airwalking and follow silently.

tiger

image from pixabay

The Rakshasa is moving stealthily, but I can’t figure out whether she’s detected our camp or not. To be on the safe side, I decide to take her out.

My entangle spell has no effect and she lets out a yell. But I’m committed now, and my swords are out. She gets off a fireball then flees. I give chase until she meets up with five more of her kind. More fireballs and other spells. Fuck.

I turn on my heel and flee, cursing myself. That did not go to plan at all.

There doesn’t seem to be any immediate pursuit, which both relieves and troubles me. What are they doing? I really don’t want them to get away with news of our presence in the forest. (Although maybe the fireballs have put paid to that already.)

Meanwhile, my companions have of course been roused by all the fireball action and three of them show up in one of the smouldering glades. I quickly update them and tell them I want to track the Rakshasa to see where they go. Alix comes with me, while Squirrel and Nightshade return to watch over Blaze who is still brewing his potion.

I have no trouble following their trail through the undergrowth, but when six sets of tracks become four, we stop. Oh no no no… I can’t see the missing two in any of the trees, but they can definitely see us… hence the fireball that explodes right in our faces.

Once more I’m fleeing Rakshasa through the forest, but this time they are pursuing with intent, flinging fireballs with abandon. All six of them are right on our heels, playing with Alix and me like cats with two pathetic mice. They’re faster than us. Stronger than us. Basically Alix and me against six Rakshasa have no hope at all…


It turns out we’re in a furbolg village, of all things. Apparently some furbolgs turned up in the forest yesterday afternoon to see what all the fireballs were about, and invited us here to regroup.

Both Alix and I were dead when the others found us, but Blaze was able to resurrect Alix with a potion… The Rakshasa took our best weapons and our belt pouches and I can’t help but wonder why my companions would bother resurrecting me, given my series of supreme fuckups. Especially as I no longer even have any decent weapons with which to make myself useful.

I spend the rest of the day feeling guilty and sorry for myself.


After a full day and two nights (during one of which I was dead) in the furbolg village, we set off to take on the Rakshasa. A few of the furbolgs are coming with us to help.

We still haven’t finalised a good plan, but we do know the only way we’ll have any chance is to a) dose up on protection spells and b) ambush them in small groups somehow. They seem most vulnerable in melee, impervious to most of our magic and heavily reliant on magic themselves. Added to that, they can move much faster than we can and they have the home ground advantage.

We’re camped for the night on an old overgrown road, when a fireball lights up the night. There are just two Rakshasa attacking us, but they create enough havoc, especially once they succeed in their slow spell. We chase them off and relocate camps to pass the rest of the night uneventfully.

In the morning, we proceed along the road, intending to diverge off it around midday. But those cursed Rakshasa get the drop on us again. And this time it’s a major ambush.

Blaze sets it off by falling into a pit trap. Nightshade and I are off the path, skulking through the forest either side of the party. We’re all too far away from Alix, our source of protection spells, and already our plans are completely unravelled.

There seem to be Rakshasa everywhere in the forest. Fireballs bombard our party on the path. Nightshade is surrounded. The slow spell is crippling us. Soon one of the furbolgs is seeking shelter in the pit after helping Blaze escape it.

Knowing it’s the only chance we have, I run back to Alix to get the protection spell. Then, wielding my borrowed short sword, I enter the fray. These fucking Rakshasa have to die and I will get all my stuff back if it kills me.

Dosed up on magic and rage, I feel invincible. Even if all I have is a short sword belonging to Nightshade.

But I’m only just getting started when the Rakshasa start to retreat, slinking away into the forest like cowards. Hollering in fury I would chase after them and kill all the fuckers, but they are too fast for us. Down on all fours, they scamper away like the cats they are, leaving us frustrated and fuming.

Now we must regroup fast and go after them while they’ve exhausted their magic for the day. No doubt there are more of them in their stronghold, but we cursed well have to try.

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D&D Chronicles: The lost city of Jhardhemeth

ZILLAH

We’re high up on the forested hillside, looking over the lost city of Jhardhemeth. It lies deep in a valley, drowned and half reclaimed by the surrounding swamp.

Crumbling buildings cluster at the edges of a lake. Stone gleams white in the sunlight, backed by the serene blue of water and the variegated greens of lush vegetation. The air is filled with birdsong and the whir of insects.

DnD_jhardhemeth

It looks to be a tranquil resting place for the Stars of the Flail of Wind and Rain.

But we know better. Jhardhemeth is not deserted, much as we might wish it were. Down in the submerged city lives a black dragon and its pet giant lizard. Above on the ridge line, several miles around from our camp, is the stronghold of the fearsome Rakshasa tiger people.

Now we have to figure out how to get the Stars and escape without dying.

Skulking in the forest

We arrived here yesterday afternoon, extremely happy that the Rakshasa so far appear to have no idea where we are. After our encounter with them a few days ago in the swamp, we have seen little sign of them.

This is probably thanks to Alix and Squirrel, who successfully located a break in the ancient anti-magic ward that extends along the escarpment on the other side of the ridge. We ascended undetected (we believe) and circled through forest to approach Jhardhemeth’s valley from the side opposite to the Rakshasa stronghold.

In this we were aided by a couple of local furbolgs we met in the forest. It was they who called the city Jhardhemeth (which is neither of the names we had previously heard) and told us of the dragon and its pet. It’s a young adult black dragon, who defeated an older dragon who had been here for thousands of years. Or so the furbolgs told us.

The results of today’s stakeout suggest the Rakshasa do not make a daily habit of descending to the city. We’ve seen glimpses of the dragon’s pet a few times. The dragon itself rose out of the city early this afternoon and we’re currently keeping watch for its return. On the whole, it’s been a rather uneventful day.

Sneaking through the swamp

The dragon returns early in the evening and descends into a round building, shaped like a colosseum. We’ve decided to confront it first, before the Rakshasa. Nightshade is confident she’ll be able to sneak into its lair if we can get close enough. It sounds like a mad plan to me, but we have to do something. Perhaps we can refine this plan as we travel…

Over the next two days we take a circuitous route down into the valley. Eventually the forest gives way to the bog. It’s muddy and wet and hot. Humid. There are giant snakes and other creatures. Not to mention insects. It’s unrelentingly dire. Poor Blaze has ditchd his armour.

We push on into the evening on the second day, driven by the need to find a patch of solid ground for the night. I can sense there’s solid ground on the opposite side of yet another water course, this one 60 feet wide. We’re contemplating how to cross it, when a large multi-legged creature reveals itself on the far bank. It’s purple and has reptilian features. I don’t think this is the dragon’s pet. I think this is something else.

I’m staring at the creature, hoping it will ignore us, since we’re not an immediate threat… when it screeches in fury and breathes out a blast of lightning.

Squirrel curses loudly and flees, gliding atop the swamp with his water-walking ability. Cursing at Squirrel (because I suspect he had something to do with the attack), I’m wading frantically in the opposite direction as well, trying to get out of range. Another lightning blast comes, and then we’re either clear or the creature loses interest.

By the time we find a patch of dry land to camp, it’s late and we’re all exhausted. When a furious Nightshade throws a very nice punch at Squirrel’s face, I’m secretly cheering.

It’s my watch first as usual, and I’m somewhat chilled to observe the distinctive silhouette of the dragon against the bright face of the moon. It looks very much like it’s searching for the source of the disturbance. Oops.

Hiding, watching, waiting

In the morning, we cautiously make our way through the forest to the edge of the river. We’re getting close to the dragon’s lair now and its pet must also be lurking nearby… so we stay put and keep watch all morning.

It’s still fairly early when the dragon appears, dives into the water and surfaces only 100 feet from our position. It’s about 30 feet long. Thankfully it’s oblivious to our presence and launches into the air almost immediately. After a few overhead circles, it flies off.

We breathe out.

We’re still waiting and watching, when we get our first glimpse of the dragon’s pet up close. Without warning, a huge head emerges from the forest to drink in the river about 500 feet away. Its jaw could tear us in two. It’s not a giant lizard at all. It’s a tyrannosaurus. On the same side of the river us us. Just 500 feet away. Oh, god.

Suddenly, I have a great desire to cross the river. But for now we wait, extra quiet, extra vigilant.

Dealing with the dragon

The dragon finally returns not long after midday. It’s carrying something in its talons, and descends not too far away. We think it’s feeding its pet. That’s surely a good thing, right?

Once it’s disappeared into its lair, we decide to brave the river crossing, still hoping to sneak up on the dragon unawares. Utilising our various air and water-walking abilities, we ferry everyone across easily… but almost immediately we’re attacked by not one, but two of the purple multi-legged creatures of last evening. Still, at close range and solid ground, we have a much better chance of defeating them. And we do.

But… gone are our chances of sneaking up on the dragon. The roar of the tyrannosaur rents the air, and the dragon is winging overhead, about to spew acid. Somehow I don’t think hiding among the trees is going to be much help. I have just enough time to cast protection from energy/acid on myself and Fleet.

dragon

The dragon breathes out two spumes of acid. Myself and Fleet manage to evade all damage. I don’t know how the others fair. They look mostly okay.

After the second acid bath, the dragon addresses us. What do we want, it demands. (Oh, god. I don’t think this is going to end well.)

But then Nightshade steps forward and greets the dragon. There’s something… some kind of connection between them. A rapport. She tells the dragon that we want to bargain, that we seek an artefact. (Blessed Emrys!)

The dragon guesses that we seek the Stars, and I fear all is lost. But — shockingly, amazingly — the dragon doesn’t immediately smite us down. Instead, Nightshade and the dragon reach an agreement.

The dragon doesn’t like the Stars, it says. In fact, the dragon will give us the Stars if we drive out — or kill — the Rakshasa and return the treasure they have stolen.

Bargain struck, the dragon flies away. It hasn’t killed us. This is a good thing. But, if we kill the Rakshasa, will the dragon honour this bargain? I think we have no other option than to find out.

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D&D Chronicles: Quest for the Stars

ZILLAH

Every so often I look at my life and wonder how I got here. It’s been not quite a year since I met Alix and joined her crazy quest; around 10 months since we first found the Left Eye of Varrien and came south. Sometimes it feels as though we will never see our homes in the north again.

Our other northern companions are long gone now: Calwyn, Ammonite and my cousin, Schill. Instead we find ourselves travelling with a disparate (and sometimes, it seems, revolving) mix of southerners. Squirrel has been with us a while now. He’s proven himself true to the party, even though he keeps secrets and I’m not entirely sure of his agenda.

Nightshade, on the other hand, has changed in the months I’ve known her: first she suffered from the zombie virus, and now I fear her encounter with the mummy has made things worse. She’s become secretive, almost furtive, and pragmatic to the point of callousness. Once, her mission was to restore the broken forest, but I’m not sure her goals align with ours anymore.

And now we have Blaze, a wealthy young paladin sworn to Nievor, god of the vine. Despite being temporarily killed on his first outing with us, Blaze has agreed to accompany us back to Kham Jhara. Although it is early days, he seems true of heart, although is doubtless motivated by reporting on our activities back to his church.

Sometimes I’m left questioning my own agenda. How did it fall upon me and Alix to save the world?

Onwards…

On the whole, this expedition to Reyim Baal and the Dust Plains has been successful — not counting the body and resurrection toll. We have found the Haft of the Flail of Wind & Rain. We have retrieved the Left Eye of Varrien from Elliana, who stole it from the Church of Elloran.

By rights we should return the Eye to the Church of Elloran, which gave us a down payment for its retrieval. However, on this I am outvoted. Instead, Alix is casting a Sequester spell on it daily. Nightshade, who snatched up the Eye and refuses to let anyone else carry it, is complying, but her reluctance is only too apparent. I sense this is going to become a problem…

The priests of Bahal lend us a barge propelled by a water elemental to take us upriver to Kham Jhara. Astra Khara, Master Smith, is frothing at the mouth when we present the Haft to him. It’s clear he yearns to be the one to re-forge the Flail, once the twin Stars have been found. And that is our next mission — undoubtedly our most challenging yet.

Tales of the Stars of the Flail of Wind and Rain

So where are the Stars? We’ve heard various stories and songs on our travels. In the tale of the mighty giant Horvath Goldenhair, the dragon Ovinha Blackscale took the stars to her lair.

But according to Jialara kar Tethem, the Flail of Wind and Rain lay in the depths of the Khor Sahar mountains until the dragon Yrujik took it to her lair. The haft was rent from the flail when Yrujik’s son tried to steal it — he took the haft, while Yrujik returned to her cave with the spiked flails (stars?).

Jialara also found evidence to suggest the haft was seen in the ruined city Toreth Jhand beyond the swamps bordering the Dharian Hills… and that a young dragon was there, blue or green, with sluggish minions and baleful guardians.

Abhorran (the Vahdrim mage  we met on the island of Mycross) called the ruined city Darham Abras. He also said the haft was there — and that the stars were in an abandoned Vahdrim stronghold in the Dust Plains… (Sounds familiar!)

It seems information about the stars and the haft is confused and conflated at best. But at least we now know where the haft is. Our latest information says the Stars currently lie in a lost city beyond the swamps, guarded by a dragon, protected by a vanguard of vicious Rakshasa (tiger creatures).

Whichever way it goes, it seems there will be a dragon.

dragon

Directions and warnings

To get to the stars, we must travel through the Dharian Hills to an old stone bridge across a river, cross a dangerous swamp, to a great hill (or temple or ridge?) shaped like a horse’s head.

The directions are vague, more rumour than anything. Except for the warnings about certain death. On that, everyone we speak to seems to agree. People claim the Rakshasa cannot be hurt, that a single one could kill eight men. (Which leaves me wondering about the dragon…)

But that is our road.

Thanks to the wizened creature, Oramoot, Astra Khara agrees to re-provision us. And fix all our weapons. And arrange for enchantments to be laid on our primary weapons. I’m sure there’s something — many things — we haven’t thought of. But, after over a week in Kham Jhara, we finally set off on our quest for the Stars.

Into the swamp

A local youth guides us as far as his village, which lies on the river that divides the Dharian Hills from the swamp. The villagers direct us towards the ruins of an old stone bridge; it’s not sufficiently intact for us to cross, but it does point to an overgrown road leading through the swamp.

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We cross and follow this road for a few days — it’s hard going and wet for much of the time, and we’re forced to fend off attacks from a variety of creatures. On the fourth day in the swamp we see something that sort of resembles a horse’s head rising up in the distance. It’s still over a day’s slog away, but at least it seems we’re heading in the right direction.

On the fifth day, we encounter our first Rakshasa.

There are six of them, probably a border guard, waiting on the far side of a body of water submerging the road. They utter some threats (which we ignore) and then lob a fireball at us. We retreat a few hundred feet in order to strategise, then creep back towards them under the cover of the dense swamp foliage. They’ve crossed the river and are sauntering after us, looking overly confident to my mind.

We’ve decided our best strategy is to engage them in close combat, so I charge out of cover and attack. The battle is now on. They’re tossing more spells and no doubt Squirrel is too. All I’m aware of are the three in my immediate vicinity. Blaze is with me, and Alix. I can hear Nightshade swearing somewhere to my left.

Three of the Rakshasa have hit the ground and I’m about to enjoy taking out the other three — arrogant bastards — when darkness smothers us and not even my darkvision can penetrate. It’s lifted a few moments later, but the three surviving Rakshasa are retreating under its cover. We follow the blackness to the edge of the water and watch them go. I guess it’s a victory… of sorts.

Horse head mountain

We cross the water and track the rapidly moving Rakshasa along the road. They’re leading us directly towards the rocky peak, which we can now see is indeed carved into the figure of a horse’s head. The land is rising and, a couple of miles away, the road heads straight up the side of the hill.

Before we get too close and walk into an ambush, we leave the road with the view to circling around the side of the hill. I cast “pass without trace” on the entire party to conceal our movements, should the Rakshasa attempt to track us.

After a while, we reach a river. From this vantage, it’s evident that what looked like a hill from front-on is actually the tip of a ridge line with a cliff face that extends along the river. There’s a bridge back at the road, with at least one guard.

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We head in the opposite direction along the river, seeking to stay out of sight of the guard on the bridge, and begin entertaining ideas of scaling the cliff face using magical means. We want to get onto the ridge without taking the main road.

The next day, however, Squirrel discovers there’s an ancient magical barrier along the cliff face. As far as he can make out, the barrier appears to cancel out magic that passes through it — so there goes our idea of using magic to ascend.

Or maybe not.

Alix talks to the stone in the ancient cliff and discovers there are weaknesses in the ward, caused by an ancient earthquake. If we can find one of those weaknesses… That could be exactly what we need.


Pleased to report no deaths this session; let’s see how we fair next time when we (presumably) go up against more Rakshasa and maybe even a dragon. Yikes!

See The D&D Chronicles Page.

D&D Chronicles: Temple of Death yields death (and bounty)

ZILLAH

D&D CHRONICLESAnother day, another attempt to clear out the Temple of Death… and hopefully find trace of Elliana and the Eye of Varrien.

It’s a daunting thought, given yesterday’s experiences. We don’t know how many undead priests are left, but the most powerful are undoubtedly yet to come. This could be our hardest task yet.

We have a new plan for today, though, and that’s to make use of a “hide from undead” spell the priests of Bahaal can cast on us. It will allow us to sneak into the temple without them detecting us. Hopefully the element of surprise will give us the edge.

Our first foray into the temple confirms that the first building, the one we cleared out yesterday, remains clear — except for an undead janitor who’s mopping the floor. The “hide from undead” spell appears successful, as he doesn’t detect us until Blaze storms over and tries to kill him. (All he succeeds in doing is alerting the fleeing janitor of the threat.)

temple_death

After replenishing our “hide from undead” spells with the priests outside the gates, we sneak across the bridge to the courtyard where we fought the golem yesterday. We split up and sneak into the rooms on either side, where enemies wait to cast spells through the murder holes, and we take them out swiftly.

Magic and mayhem…

We retreat and replenish the “hide” spells again… then move deeper into the temple precinct, this time entering the second building. It’s magnificent, what we can see in the darkness. I take point, sneaking forward under concealment of the spell and scope out the ambush they have prepared.

There are six of them waiting in the shadows, set up for attack. It’s uncanny to walk up close to our enemy and remain undetected, to describe to my companions what I see and have our enemy not hear or see or smell anything.

We position ourselves within striking distance, nose to nose, and engage.

Those of us who attack lose the protection of the hide spell immediately, and we get the sense this fight will make or break us. Their magic is powerful. Relentless. The hall is rent with crackling energy and pain and screams. I’m fighting creatures in front of me, but I know the real threats are behind. I can’t reach them.

I’m in the middle of melee when I feel Fleet fall. My mind freezes, but fortunately my limbs do not. Somehow I disentangle myself, and Fleet is in my arms and I’m running, running to the gates so I can use my healing spells on her.

I make it in time. She’s not dead. She’s not dead. I bid her wait for me outside the gates.

… and death

By the time I return, everyone is retreating. Hell. Alix is down. And Blaze. Squirrel is trying to haul Alix away, and Nightshade is trying vainly to budge the heavily armoured figure of Blaze. The energy spells keep on coming. I grab Alix from Squirrel and carry her out, but my breath catches because I know she is dead.

A moment later, Nightshade appears alone, breathless and bleeding. It’s just her and me left on our feet. Squirrel fell trying to help Blaze. They’re probably both dead by now and our party is in a shambles.

I pull out the resurrection stone Oramoot gave us before we came down the river. I’ve been saving it for Alix. I don’t know how fast it will work… turns out it works rapidly. She’s back almost immediately, bewildered and bemused as this is the first time she has crossed the veil.

The three of us confer desperately. We need to go back in and finish this, but we’re too injured and weak, Alix barely able to stand. If we wait until tomorrow, when Alix will be able to heal us, we’ll be facing all those enemies again at full strength — and likely our own undead companions to-boot.

We can’t let that happen.

The priests of Bahal can heal us using their terrible death magic. Nightshade accepts without hesitation… and Alix and I reluctantly do as well. The only other choice is to let our companions become undead and fail in our quest to retrieve the Eye from Elliana. It’s a bitter choice, but we need to finish this.

Three versus three

Concealed by yet another hide spell each, Nightshade, Alix and I enter the temple once again. We have no idea how many enemies are left to fight, or what we’ll find. We pass through the ornate hall of the second building, which has been cleared of all bodies, and emerge to find a second bridge leading to a third building.

Three figures await us. I think they are the magic users from before, so perhaps this is the last of them. In the light, we now see that one of them is Elliana. She is clearly dead. (It makes me wonder what happened to Tob. Did we kill him already and not notice?) One of the others has a red glowing stone around his neck, which is likely the Eye of Varrien.

They are clearly waiting for us, although the spell is doing its job and they do not know we’ve arrived. Nightshade suggests we bullrush them, and it seems as good a plan as any.

We knock one of them over and the battle is on. More energy spells crackle the air, sapping our strength with frightening speed and ease. I’m certain I’m going to die, and switch to a defensive fighting mode. One of the enemy drops, but Elliana and the guy with the Eye are still wielding their magic.

Then, without warning, Elliana breaks out of combat and charges the guy with the Eye. It happens so fast. She pushes him to the ground, screaming, and we keep attacking both of them, not having a clue what’s going on. The main guy stops moving and Elliana is shrieking at us to kill her. A moment later, she stops moving too.

Bounty

It’s over. Blessed Emrys, it’s actually over.

I can hardly believe we’ve tracked down Elliana and successfully recovered the left Eye of Varrien (again). Nightshade grabs the Eye from the corpse of the undead priest, who appears to have been controlling Elliana. In the next room, we find the corpses of our companions.

The priests of Bahal are beside themselves with gratitude for restoring their temple to them and freeing the souls of their priests. They resurrect Squirrel and Blaze and bestow us with riches in gold and gems.

There’s a portal here too, and instructions for using it. Perhaps we’ll get to that in time, but right now I’m feeling lucky to be alive.