Shadows Rising

All roads lead to Axis
Perhaps we should keep a low profile

After making their way to Arena Town, the district that sits at the very heart of Axis, Alatir, Charlie, Branan, and Serine found a quiet corner at the Respite, a local tavern adjacent to the Bloodlust coliseum. As they began to debrief the events of the last few days, Branan revealed his desire to uncover the architect of the attempted destruction of the Silver Tankard, the mystical order of bards long persecuted by the Emperor. Serine, of course, had her own reasons and hesitations for coming to Axis, and Charlie retold them of her experience fighting the orcs in the northern war, and her disillusionment with the Imperial cause.

Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of the Imperial Procession, a daily event where the lesser nobility (or perhaps an up and coming Imperial Officer) rode through the various districts of Axis in order to remind the people of the great reach and depth of the Emperor’s power. It also afforded the Imperial Inquisitors an opportunity to discreetly see who was and who was not paying their Emperor the homage he deserves. They all politely bowed as the procession marched by, noting the general ambivalence of the local folk who seemed to perform the daily ritual more out of routine than anything else.

Heading back to the Respite, they heard a loud crash and screams coming from down an adjacent alley. Running to investigate, they noticed that several orcs had escaped from their imprisonment, fleeing hard to avoid certain death in one of the coliseums of Arena Town. As the orcs fled down the road, they took whatever shots they could at local citizens who just happened to be caught in their path. Rallying once again to defend the innocent, the group was successful in holding the attention of the orcs just long enough for the authorities to arrive. With the orc captain under lock and key once again, they heard her being dragged back to an Imperial prison to await her day in the coliseum.

Serine suggested that they leave Arena Town and head to Goldenring in order to resupply and seek healing at a temple. Keeping a low profile would be the key to their survival in Axis, Serine thought to herself.

Departures and New Beginnings
Arrival in Axis

After meeting up and discussing Nerryn’s situation with Pannan, they discerned that their only real path forward was to keep Nerryn as stable, secure, and hidden as possible. Zomi suggested that her ability to manipulate the fabric would provide her and Nerryn an additional layer of protection, and so it was decided that they would travel in secret and join the migration of the Koru Behemoths, ancient beasts who tolerated certain kinds of travelers upon their great backs.

Gortek, desiring to locate and protect his missing friend Nibil, set forth on his own into the wilderness — perhaps, he thought, their paths might meet again.

With that, Serine, Charlie, Alatir, and Branan set out to the great city of Axis, the Imperial capitol of the Dragon Empire. It has been said that all roads, in one way or another, lead to Axis — whether this is a good thing or not remained to be seen.

The Search for Nerryn -- Part III
Echoes in the Deep

With the sound of defeat echoing in Branan’s mind (he had once again failed to answer the riddle correctly), a fight commenced with the third demon chieftain of this hell hole. The battle could have gone poorly — Charlie had exhausted many of her healing spells, and Branan struggled with the singing of his songs. Alatir, stout as ever, maintained the interest of the demon captain, and Gortek, despite being knocked out briefly in battle, landed many a brutal blow until finally the last demon was slain.

After the last enemy had fallen, Serine explored the furthest reaches of the now vanquished hell hole and discovered Nerryn lying on the ground in a near catatonic state. Zomi observed that Nerryn seemed caught between two planes of existence, and Serine discerned (with the aid of Aliaga) that it was Nerryn’s amulet that had seemingly trapped her in this state of existence. The amulet, which draws on the life force of any nearby enemy or place of power in order to protect Nerryn’s life, had become entangled in the demonic energies of the hell hole.

As they discussed how to help Nerryn, Branan heard the approach of distant footsteps. From the deeps, the Dwarf King had dispatched a contingent of the Dwarven Guard to assess and tear down the newly formed hell hole. Branan and Gortek quickly intercepted them and pleaded with their leader, Nostrix, to give them more time to help their friend.

While Nostrix insisted that the hell hole be torn down at all costs, Serine, Zomi, and Charlie devised an enchantment that would allow them to protect Nerryn until they could discover a way to safely remove her. Surprisingly, their combined magical energies allowed them to move Nerryn from the hell hole itself, although she remained in a near catatonic state, only briefly moving in and out of consciousness. Emerging from the hell hole, Branan asked Nostrix if he would send a message to Pannan, which Nostrix did with great haste.

The path forward remained unclear — Nerryn needed help beyond their skill, but the places with power to potentially heal her carried their own great risks.

The Imperial Inquisitors -- Part IV
Truth is a matter of perspective

Lucien surveyed the scene — I can probably take them, he thought to himself, but it would be close. Putting his keen mind to work, he broke the silence by offering a truce, and took leave of them to consider his next steps.

Better check these bodies, George said to himself — maybe there is a clue that will help us find Idon. Searching the corpses, George found a small parchment written in a language that none of them understood — the only discernable feature was the signature, which was a single letter “L”. Lilith went over and stabilized General Ollk, and Vetos persuaded the group to let him take Ollk to a trusted friend who could heal her injuries. Reluctantly, the group agreed and made their way back to Axis.

After arriving at the safe house, Ollk began to stir — although still weak, she thanked the group for assisting her. Vetos remained behind to help heal and protect her — with the general secure for now, the group decided to head to Ollk’s garrison in an effort to find more information and to persuade her forces to help unravel the mystery of the missing wizard once and for all.

On the way to her garrison, however, they were intercepted by a familiar face — Lucien stepped from the shadows, followed by Hendorn who, in a shocking turn, placed them under arrest for the attempted murder of General Ollk and with the undermining of the truce between the Emperor and the Crusader. They were bound and taken before an Arbiter’s Court.

At trial, the Arbiter allowed each of them to give opening statements. As the person bringing the charges, Lucien was allowed to go first and painted a truly tragic story, implicating the five Inquisitors in the murder of General Ollk, the murder of his lover who was also a member of The Five, and in an ongoing conspiracy to undermine the critical truce between the Emperor and the Crusader.

On their turn, the four present Inquisitors denied the charges, and in their defense, repeatedly claimed that General Ollk was not dead and that Lucien had twisted the facts in order to avenge the death of his lover. They claimed that it was Hendorn who had sent them on their mission to find the missing wizard Idon and that Lucien was obfuscating the facts in order to prevent them from completing their assignment.

The Arbiter then called Hendorn to the stand who denied ever sending the five on any mission — he told the court that such an assignment was unnecessary, as Idon had never gone missing. At that moment, Idon appeared in the court, stunning the four InquisitorsIdon proceeded to tell the court that he has been working secretly for the Emperor in an effort to uncover a nefarious plot to undermine peace with the Crusader, and that he suspected these five Inquisitors as the primary agents sowing discord throughout Axis and the Dragon Empire.

Having heard enough, the Arbiter passed judgment, sentencing the five, one in absentia, to an immediate death. After the sentence, Lucien offered some final thoughts on how it was good to see justice being done, and George offered a powerful reflection on the obvious lack of justice that the Inquisitors had received.

With that they were surrounded and bound by the guards — as they were about to be led out of court, a voice called out from the back of the room. Gingerly leaning on Vetos, the quiet but determined voice of General Ollk cut across the room.

“If it please the court,” she said, “I’d like to offer additional evidence.”



The Imperial Inquisitors -- Part III
Up in smoke

The group decided to head over to General Ollk’s garrison as quickly as possible — no sense in delaying their search for Idon. After receiving some flak at the entry gate, they were eventually let into the barracks, although they received a cold reception all the way to the main hall. As they entered they noticed General Ollk sitting alone at the dining table, preparing for her evening meal. Off to the side was a servant, tendering to her every need.

General Ollk bade them to take a seat and offered them food and drink — her assistant seemed annoyed by this, but General Ollk brushed him aside. She offered a toast to good health, and each of them drank the wine, except for Clayton — as the meal was being served, the assistant began lighting candles placed on the table.

The Inquisitors began to pepper General Ollk with questions regarding the disappearance of Idon, although she offered them little by way of answers. As the meal progressed, George noticed that General Ollk seemed to be a bit foggy in her recollection of her memories in general — in fact, he began to feel a sense of confusion as well. Looking around the room, each of his comrades, with the exception of Vetos grew increasingly agitated and confused and nearly unable to string basic sentences together.

Suddenly, General Ollk’s head slumped down onto the table — she was still alive, but completely unconscious. As the Inquisitors began to fade away from reality themselves, Vetos noticed how the smoke from the candles seemed heavy — he got up and opened the windows, breaking the enchantment that was dulling their senses and putting them to sleep.

With General Ollk still out, Lucien revealed his true motives. He claimed to be one of The Five, specifically, The Eye, one of the members of the elite squad of spies that serve the Crusader. The reason he had tried to prevent their admittance into the dining hall and then had allowed them to come under the effect of the enchanted candles was so that he could quietly take General Ollk to a discrete location to interrogate her about the disappearance of Idon. Lucien claimed that he saw Ollk’s troops binding and taking Idon away, and he figured that taking Ollk to a discrete location in order to question her — along with the other members of The Five — would be the best way to retrieve Idon as quickly and as safely as possible.

Pressed as to where he was taking the general, Lucien said that he was planning on meeting up with the other members of The Five at Mandrake Grove, an area just outside of Axis that was beyond prying eyes. Figuring this was the next best option to getting information out of General Ollk, the group went with Lucien carrying the heavy body of the general along with them.

Along the way Lucien asked them about a certain junior officer that had, at the time, been serving with Lt. Dea. He told them that he was really a member of The Five, and also his lover and that he had just recently discovered that Lt. Dea was a secret necromancer. Lucien suspected that Lt. Dea might kill his lover if she knew that her secret had been revealed, and figuring it might turn Lucien against them, they lied and said that Lt. Dea had indeed killed him in the fight (they recalled a junior officer they had slain in their first and second battle). Saddened by the news of the death of his lover, he quietly led them outside of Axis to Mandrake Grove.

As the entered Mandrake Grove, from a distance they could see four figures waiting in a clearing — strange, Lilith thought to herself, why are there four? Shouldn’t there only be three since Lucien’s lover, the fifth member of The Five, is dead? Before she could pursue the question further, though, a fight ensued. It began because the four hooded figures demanded that they turn General Ollk over to them, which they refused to do until they learned something regarding the whereabouts of Idon. Lucien, unable to to smooth over the misunderstanding, initially aided the Inquisitors in the battle, but surreptitiously — by placing his hand on Lilith and peering into her soul — discovered that his lover had in fact been killed by Lilith and not Lt. Dea at all.

To prevent Lucien from causing too much trouble for the group, Vis attempted to control his mind, and was seemingly successful at doing this — perhaps too successful, as Lucien turned his wrath towards General Ollk. Eventually three of the four hooded figures were destroyed, while the fourth escaped into the darkness. Lucien, after briefly disappearing, now stood before the group alone, looking for an opportunity to avenge the death of his friend and lover…

The Imperial Inquisitors -- Part II
I'm not dead yet...

They tied Lt. Dea to a chair and placed her against the wall. Although this wasn’t the first time she’d found herself in the crosshairs of the Imperial Inquisitors, this felt pretty serious. She braced herself for whatever would come next — after all, she thought to herself, I really don’t know anything about this missing wizard.

It had been some time since Clayton had engaged the art of “truth extraction” — as he prepared to question Lt. Dea the rest of the group seemed more than happy to let him do the work. Why bloody their own hands too?

Unfortunately for Clayton, Lt. Dea seemed unfazed by his attempts to gain any information from her. As the tension in the room began to escalate, Vis went over and looked into her eyes — into Lt. Dea’s soul. After a brief moment had passed, Vis told the group that Lt. Dea truly did not have any information to give them regarding the disappearnce of Idon.

As the five Imperial Inquisitors pondered their next steps, they noticed that Lt. Dea’s eyes had rolled into the back of her head, and her head was slumped against the wall — she was chanting something in a language that none of them recognized, at least not at first. Suddenly they could hear the sound of banging on the door to the safehouse — Clayton, standing closest to the door, opened it slightly and thrust his sword out — but he didn’t hit anything at all. Then, to their dismay, several ghosts began to materialize through the wall.

They recognized the ghosts as the spirits of Lt. Dea’s recently fallen comrades — great, Lilith thought to herself — a necromancer.

In death these soldiers, especially Lt. Dea’s direct subordinate, packed a powerful punch — or at least Clayton came to learn this lesson in a painful way. Eventually the ghosts were overcome and dispensed from this realm — as the ghosts vanished, Lt. Dea began uttering the name of Atsu Ollk, the Crusader’s top general in Garrison — then she died.

Realizing that they couldn’t leave Lt. Dea’s body laying around, Lilith, Vis, and Vetos consecrated her body in order to prevent any further necromancer activity. Debating their next steps, they decided to bring in a clean up crew to dispose of Lt. Dea’s body, and to have around as reinforcements just in case it was needed. They also agreed that they would leave out the necromancy part in their report to headquarters — that would be helpful information for the second part of their plan, which was to convince Atsu Ollk that it was in her best interest to cooperate in their search for Idon less it be discovered that one of her closest officers was dabbling in the dark arts, a development likely to displease the Crusader.

Collecting their strength, they left the safehouse and headed towards Atsu’s garrison, confident in their plan and in their ability to find the missing wizard…

The Imperial Inquisitors -- Part 1
We're off to find the wizard!

George stared at the mission notice on the wall — I wonder who they’ve teamed me up with this time, he thought to himself. He noticed one of the names on the parchment — Vis Niller, one of the Emperor’s fateweavers — must be an important job, he mused.

Various Imperial Inquisitors wandered over to check out the list, but eventually George could make out the rest of the team. There was Vetos Dracofilius, the wizard with an exceptional passion for colorful robes, whose attraction to high fashion was equally matched by his magical prowess. Clayton Garavini, a fighter with some skill in extracting information from people and Lilith Fotha, a quiet yet foreboding paladin who rounded out the team. Should be an easy mission, George thought to himself.

After all of the various pleasantries were exchanged, the group headed over to Hendorn to receive their mission. Hendorn assured them it was an easy missing person’s case — a powerful member of the Emperor’s Imperial wizarding circle had gone missing, Idon Mernotva, and it was up to them to find him and return him to the Emperor’s court as quickly as possible. Hendorn told them that Idon had last been seen in Garrison, somewhere likely in the southern section — rumors had been received that the Crusader’s agents had been involved. Although the Crusader was permitted to keep forces in Garrison it was not unusual that from time to time tensions boiled over into the occasional kidnapping or skirmish.

Heading out they made their way to the dividing line between the northern and southern sections of Garrison — the boundary wasn’t official — in fact, it moved from time to time. The only real way it could be identified was by the presence of Imperial and Crusader forces in close proximity to one another. They interviewed both of the guards — the Imperial guard knew nothing, and they suspected he was telling the truth. The Crusader representative was typically evasive and abrupt.

Walking away from the guards and into the southern section, they were approached by a hooded figure who told them that he had overheard a conversation regarding the disappearance of an Imperial wizard, and that he would be more than happy to assist them in their endeavor for a small fee. After paying the man five pieces of gold, he told them that a Lt. Dea, a loyal officer of General Atsu Ollk, was possibly involved in Idon’s disappearance. He gave them her patrol location and disappeared back into the shadows.

After tracking her down, they attempted to persuade her to come with them for questioning — she declined their offer, at which point an intense yet quick fight ensued. After seeing the destruction of her comrades, she relented, and the group took her to one of their safehouses in Garrison. She adamantly denied having any knowledge of the disappearance of Idon, but they didn’t really believe her. Perhaps Clayton would be able to get some information out of her…

The Search for Nerryn -- Part II
Riddle me this!

They moved deeper into the hellhole, recognizing the various dwarven elements of its former owners — Branan wondered to himself if any of the dwarves had escaped it before its conversion into this abomination.

After awhile, they found themselves standing before a second demon chief — this one too had a riddle prepared, but it went unanswered. Probably didn’t matter anyway, as the demons seemed spoiling for a fight.

This battle was much more taxing on the group — Alatir struggled to land any crippling blows, Branan was knocked out a couple of times, and Charlie exhausted many of her healing charms.

After defeating the demon chief and her allies, the group suspected that additional challenges lay ahead…and wondered if they’d have the strength to overcome them…

The Search for Nerryn -- Part I
Or, Highway to Hell

Ricven sat up, straining to remember where he was at or what had just happened. As the room came into focus, the memories returned, of Nerryn being attacked, the locket responding to save her life by draining his, and him teleporting her away in a last ditch effort to preserve what little life force he had left — and the sense that, due to his weakened stated, his teleportation of Nerryn was not quite successful — that she had been intercepted in the process.

Listening intently, Zomi and Serine suggested searching the lines to see if they could determine the place where Nerryn had been pulled out — to do this, they would have to obtain at least two obsidian mirrors. Leaving Cosbane, they stopped over in Glitterhaegen and purchased one and borrowed a second — finding a secluded space in the Bitterwood, they were able to get a fix on her location — through the veil Zomi could see what appeared to be a dwarven encampment, although she could sense that not all was right.

Arriving at the dwarven encampment, Zomi instantly recognized that it had been turned into a fresh hellhole. Approaching the entrance, a demon excitedly beckoned them in where they were told that yes, Nerryn had in fact passed through here — but that their chances of passing through were quite slim. The demon offered to help them if they could answer his riddle — unable to provide an answer, a fight ensued — strangely, perhaps because of the hellhole itself, they were unable to recharge magical spells. They attempted to leave but the way was shut — they’d have to move deeper into the hellhole in order to find any clues as to Nerryn’s whereabouts…

This Dwarf is on Fire!
An old friend returns

They thought it would be best to head to Shadow Port directly, but finding a crew that would sail them there proved difficult. Serine recalled a captain who used to shuttle hard to find magical supplies from Shadow Port to Horizon, and after some discussion, they were able to agree on a price. The only hitch was that they would have to stop momentarily in Glitterhaegen, and Branan wasn’t sure if Alex would welcome him or order him arrested.

Although there wasn’t any particular reason they had to leave the boat once they arrived in Glitterhaegen, Branan felt honor bound to check in on his old friend. After some gentle banter, Alex relayed a message that had been left to him by Vance (he thought it very strange that Vance would expect Branan and his friends to even know he’d passed through there.) As a gesture of his deep affection for Branan, Alex cancelled the debt that they owed him, so long as the group committed to keeping Branan alive.

With the news that Vance and his two companions were in Shadow Port, they initially set off back to the docks, but Zomi surmised that it would be unlikely that Nerryn would be in Shadow Port proper. Many of the more prominent Guildes kept their operations on the smaller islands that lay off the coast of Shadow Port, and Zomi knew that one of her “children”, Black Corbin, was a member of the Thieve’s Guilde, whose main base of operations was on the small island of Cosbane. Booking passage on small boat, the group made it’s way over to Cosbane, the sun setting before them.

As they arrived at the small dock no one was there to greet them — very few people seemed to be milling about anywhere at all — Gortek told them that entrance to a Guilde had to be given — no one could just walk inside and expect a warm welcome (or any welcome at all.) Gortek took them to a small, secluded beach where they could camp for the night — they set a watch and debated their next course of action.

Late in the evening, as Branan was on watch, he noticed a set of footprints coming out of the water just beyond where they were camping. Waking Gortek and Serine, they tracked the footsteps through some brush that they noticed had been strangely singed — just ahead, they caught sight of smoke moving through the brush. As they approached the main village of Cosbane, they saw a hooded figure enter a building. Turning back to camp, they woke the others to discuss what to do. As they debated whether to enter the building now or wait for morning, Black Corbane approached from the shadows.

He told them that he had just returned to Cosbane and was surprised to discover no one inside the Thieve’s Guilde except for some people in the back who were gravely wounded — he had spied Branan from where he had been hiding, and had also sensed Zomi’s presence, not realizing that they were all traveling together. Worried about the injured people inside, the group ran to the building and went inside — Black Corbane disappeared down the path.

In the back room they discovered Ricven slumped against the wall, alive, but wounded. Vance was kneeling by his side, but it was the person standing above them both that immediately drew Branan, Alatir, and Serine’s attention. There, as if a ghost from the past, stood Bellamin, the dwarf who had nearly killed them in the depths of Forge if it hadn’t been for Ricven’s timely intervention.

As Bellamin cursed them, the flaming dwarf beside him entered a terrible trance, opening a deep tunnel that started in the room and headed towards the bottom of the earth — from the deep many shouts and battle cries could be heard. Azures, Alatir thought to himself — mad dwarves of the deep, loathers of the Elf Queen, students of the Diabolist, and lovers of fire.

A wicked battle unfurled where Bellamin and his Azure companions were finally defeated. After knocking the tunnel in on itself, their attention quickly turned to Ricven, who’s wounds were beyond the earnest healing power of Charlie or even Marduke’s ancestors.

Ricven needed help — and he needed help fast.