Showing Your Colors

Black Clash For Power

The gates unlock and they take a couple moments to wait, hoping to catch out anyone looking to ambush them. It isn’t long before they peek out to see someone has dropped a couple monster groups right by their start. Some helmed horrors are just outside the doors and skeleton warriors on the other side of the berm to their right. They quickly dispatch the horrors, keeping quiet to avoid the attention of the skeletons and hoping to use them as a buffer against the exemplars. Their intent proves correct as the Exemplars finish with the plantlings they had been fighting to find skeletons charging their way. Dissonant Whisperers use this as an opportune moment to ambush the Exemplars just after the Exemplars loose their spells. The fight sees a few blasts of flashy magic back and forth, but ultimately the Exemplars and the skeletons are defeated by the Dissonant Whisperers with only minor wounds. At the end of the battle, perhaps drawn by the noise or simply wandering, swarms of wasps take aim at the party, but are soundly routed by blasts of fire from multiple party members.

As the group rushes forth to secure the outer labyrinth gate, they see the Huntresses securing the nearby fortification in their quadrant. They choose not to use the cavern secret tunnels into the labyrinth, not wanting to run into other teams that might be attempting to use them. Arriving at the outer gate, it is still secured but the posted engraving indicates that they could sacrifice wealth, health, or power to open it early. After only a moment’s hesitation, they choose to give up some of their wealth for the headstart, dumping coinage and treasures into the hands of the statues flanking the doors. 


During this time they hear of two other teams thanks to the upbeat announcer and cheers of the crowd: Weave had reached their own outer gate and Order of the Broken Skull had been roundly defeated. Thrilling heroics spends one of their announcer focuses to show off their successful slaying of some monstrous creatures. Not waiting around for another team to get in first for an ambush, the heroes charge in.

Inside they are flanked by a pack of gibbering mouthers and flameskulls. Fire is the go-to for the group and with Leon’s recent practice in bypassing resistances, even manages to burn down the floating skulls. Rila’s fireball in the direction of the mouthers ignites a pool of invisible gas, detonating the monsters and reducing them to bits. None of the group was in the blast radius, and with only a few scorch marks from the heat rays of the flameskulls, the group continues on. Rila scouts ahead in spider form, noting the sounds for hints of nearby large beasts. Getting the drop on a large Tyrannosaurus Rex, she takes out meat from the pocket plane to soothe and bribe a tyrannosaurus in front of their gate control. With the beast distracted, she hits the gate control, opening their path to the inner labyrinth. All around, they are noticing crates and supply drops, but choose not to investigate without knowing what could be inside. No trinkets on the list of possible treasures would be worth the damage or delay of hitting a trap.


With the gate open, the announcer speaks of the Dissonant Whisperers and Catalyst being the first to the inner gates. Across the way they can see Catalyst but they also see all the fortifications, two massive elementals, and a swarm of black oozes. They try to avoid the oozes but fail when they try to pass the statues guarding the pass between the fortifications. The statues resemble a stylized cleric and witch, who turn to bar the way.They guess quickly that the cleric statue needs a cleric so Leon burns a divine boon on the statue, causing it to crumble, opening the way. Not quickly enough though, as the oozes are drawn to the sounds of Tormenoths armor. A few spells and some combat are enough to vanquish the slimes without them reaching anyone. Catalyst does something out of sight, causing an explosion that draws the attention of the two elementals. 


Not wanting to waste the opportunity, the heroes move in to secure the innermost ring when they hear the T. rex coming back. Leon blocks the gate with a magic barrier, confounding the beast until it leaves down the corridor it came from. At the same time, Catalyst finally finishes off the elementals then starts deploying traps before realizing whisperers are here too. As the dwarven team moves in to attack, the whisperers slam them with spells and attacks. Ariel and Leon move to the final circle to start its countdown, but Catalyst sends in some of their team to contest it. Oddly, the central circle continues the countdown despite Catalyst having entered the circle as well. Rila’s confusion spell doesn’t even get the opportunity to take effect as the second ranked team is taken down by summoned beasts and magic. Their amulets burst and they are whisked out of the arena. 


The announcer shouts of Catalyst’s defeat by the Dissonant Whisperers in a magical flurry. Weave is also announced as under attack at the hands of the coalition of low ranked teams. Hearing the sounds of battle in the outer labyrinth, Ariel sets off a circle of death, popping half of the coalition from the competition. Shortly after, the countdown goes into hyperdrive, dropping to a single round. The coalition members charge in with howling accusations of cheating, but they are too slow. The circle turns green, announcing Dissonant Whisperers as the winners just as the Huntresses bring along the T. rex with Great Apes to mop up the remaining coalition. Leon uses this moment of surprise to start the ritual to drain Tiamat’s Egg of its power. Before a fight can begin between Huntresses, Dissonant Whisperers, Style, and Royale Squad, the announcer shouts about technical difficulties before his amplified voice is cut off.


Kourmalessa’s magical avatar appears, “Power. It is the greatest thing sought by all, many times thought ot be the end of a journey, but is in reality only the start. In its truest form, it can have only one master. So I put to you, my winning team, that there can be only one true winner for my attentions. However you decide it, only one can be sitting in the central throne to claim victory.” The team agrees almost immediately to have Ariel win, and that is when Beithir bursts from beneath the floor. “You wouldn’t believe how many times she practiced that inane little prattling. Sometimes berating whoever took the throne, sometimes rewarding selfishness. And all that time, she never realized I was right here. Waiting for the real prize. No one expects the Planeswalker to simply be there waiting, all their wards made useless by raw patience,” he rambles as other areas of stone begin to collapse around the inner labyrinth. “My minions, perfected from our previous encounters, shall get me what I have been promised.” His minions take the form of a charging brute covered in milky-white eyes, a skeletal humanoid with four cricket arms rubbing against each other in a cacophony of sound, a serpent-headed beast with many slithering, oily tongues, a swarm of slimy tentacles flowing in a cohesive mass, and a spindly half-spider dripping green chemicals from sniffling pores.


The five sense based creatures rush in, to the surprise of Style, Royale, and the Huntresses. Some quick convincing by Ariel gets the other three teams to join their defense. Accusations of cheating die on the other teams’ tongues in the face of obvious interference and aggression by an outsider. Leon banishes three of the creatures and the other two minions take the brunt of the assault as Beithir spends his effort trying to disrupt the egg ritual and offensive spells targeting his minions. With a snap of his fingers, the amulets on all four remaining teams fall to the ground, “No need for those pesky things.”


The team tries some radiant damage as well as damage types that worked last time to realize the minions have gotten new abilities and lost their old weaknesses. With allied teams to fight Beithirs minions, the Dissonant Whisperers are able to focus their attacks on Beithir himself. The assault is enough to demand Beithir's attention as Rila and Ariel target him with powerful spells that he is forced to counter with magic and attacks of his own. It isn’t long before the combined might defeats the dragon and minions long before the banished ones are able to return. Beithir crumples to the ground, covered in debris as part of the labyrinth ceiling collapses on his eviscerated form.


With the dragon gone, the egg ritual seems safe until Beithir’s contingency spell makes itself known. Blaring to the senses of even the weakest magical senses, “Property of Beithir the Planeswalker, hands off or die.” as the wards around the arena collapse. He broadcasts a keep away message to all of dragonkind. Styx, on Klythmnora’s back swoop down to give the bad news. Greedy dragons worldwide were likely paying attention to the competition, but now they’ve seen Beithir try to claim something important enough to die over. They are coming, and fast. They’ll be fighting in the skies to keep the dragons clear, “Now or never, kiddos! By the way, I had hoped to tell you all at your victory party, but I said yes.” Dragons of all shapes, colors, and sizes begin to teleport or fly in. Utter chaos consumes the surroundings as dragons fight to get to the arena past Klythmnora and Styx, with many deciding to settle old grudges or keep rivals from claiming the prize. 


Greedy dragons aren’t the only ones to show up, however. A flight of metallic dragons appear in formation around the arena. Bahamut's promise comes through as metallic dragons show up to fend off draconic aggression as well. 


The egg starts to crack when the dragons running each of the five schools surround the group.  “Only I have the command to shield this child from outside influence, the educational caliber to help it tame whatever goddess gifts it might have,” declares Kourmalaessa the Black. In retort,  Aytherine Warfrost the White shouts, “What so you can spend another handful of centuries hiding our nature, playing dead to all the world? I would take this child in hand to rise, and raise up the world with it.” Brashka the Red turns to argue with Oshkimnet the Blue, “More schemes and plans. No, I see this child as a future paragon, who should be free to pursue what they desire.” Oshkimnet replies in a dry tone, “Another tinkering mad genius then? The world has enough oblivious inventors crushing those who happen to be in the way. What this child needs is someone who can fend off that old schemer Tiamat with schemes of their own.”  Meanwhile Lilly the Green mutters, “I had something planned for this. Maybe a sketch? Usually I prepare the ground more for these things.  Did the bird show up yet or did I get it out of order again? Sigh Even with foresight, I’m not really here for these big things. From where I’m standing, I should get the egg, as only I have the foresight to see where it should land.” 


The five begin to slam each other with spells and breath weapons, scaring the remaining dragons overhead away with their power. It is too late though, Tiamat chooses Beithir as her herald and his flesh knits back together, filling in rended gaps with a rainbow of colors, as he roars with fury. “I am the Herald of all Dragonkind, kneel before me!” he shouts as a motion of his claws paralyzes the five dragons. He dives into the fight, clawing and breathing on the Dissonant Whisperers. Style and Royale beat a hasty retreat to this new development but the huntresses stay to fight, not realizing that the five dragons aren’t enemies. They let loose arrows and spells on the paralyzed dragons. The ritual with the egg is winding down, but with Tiamat’s influence so close, the group has to take the fight to Biethir to hold him back.


In the midst of the fighting, Rila realizes the meaning behind Lilly s words and retreats with the egg to the fortification she was standing atop. Inside is a smaller ritual circle. When Rila puts the egg inside, the real Lilly pushes up from the floor, brushing off dirt from her elven form. “This is why I’ve been avoiding all my meetings, and I’m glad you all figured it out, but I had help with this plan.” Just as she says that, the egg starts to crack. A tiny golden canary flies in, pecking at the crack in the egg. The shell begins to collapse but not before the canary pulls out a five colored strand of ribbon and flies off. The egg hatches revealing a dragon whelp with a ribbon shaped scar on its head.

Biethir falls to the combined onslaught and Tiamat abandons him for his failure. Tiamat rages as winds whip up into a magical apocalypse but Bahamut chides her, as the hands of many other deities step in to cancel her wrath. With her stepping so hard into the mortal world, the other gods now had a free hand to put an end to her current scheme. 

When the dragons come to, Lilly’s illusory duplicate disappears and she takes dragon form to convince them to let the whelp grow up under the tutelage of the Dissonant Whisperers. The child will be powerful, but without the direct influence of Tiamat, the dragons will have a much more important task of managing public relations with their schools’ secret leadership being revealed.


Home Again

With everything settled, they take the fae offer of a free passage to return home via the flying ship, with an overjoyous captain, first mate, and crew, now permanently in the fey limbo status that they wanted. It is a journey that is spent enjoying summer wine, fresh fruits, and Rila’s hometown snacks of pine nuts, fermented seaweed, and elk jerky. They try enough to be polite, but mostly stick to the wine and fruit.


Getting back to their campuses, they’ve got time before the White is scored and want to use it wisely. Leon wants to read over the bundle of financial documents Hector left with him. Rila wants to get her polar bear Shawny armored up and equipped. Ariel gets a stone scroll in her mailbox, same lettering as the clue she got from the mockingjay. Also, her patron reaches out to her in her dreams for a request. She doesn’t owe anything and it sounds like her warlock contract was bought by this guy from the demon she originally bargained with. Wants her to look into the Choir of Razors, the same group that killed her mother and mother, so he thinks he has an in. She negotiates to look into it and if she decides to do it, she’ll get a favor from him. He doesn’t offer a name or identifying details.


With their spare time devoted to reading obscure and dry financial texts, the group uses this downtime to do some major buying and selling of magical items, upgrade their gear, and outfit their newest member. This cross-city tour of marketplaces also gives them an opportunity to try and dig up details on the two remaining dragons they haven’t met of the five major schools. Starting with the black dragon, they work their way into meeting with the Dean, Ariel chatting up his secretary and having to promise a date. The dean is happy to talk with the group about their prospective historical society and talks about the unique structure of Courvana, beholden to a theoretically equal-access and anonymous meeting behind masks known as the Black Sable for its eponymous sable blindfolds that all entering the meeting must wear. These obscure identities, voices, bodies, and other details so that members in the meeting are judged only by their ideas and reputation of past discussions. With a bit of convincing, they manage to get the Dean to offer them an invitation to the meeting happening the following evening. 


Tormenoth goes to get some practice in and finds his normal room reserved with a dummy set up with a black tally mask and a note inside. He finally decides to tell the group what has been up, and looks over the note with them. They demand a name by midnight. He agonizes over it but Ariel’s argument for picking someone falls flat with Tormenoth and no one agrees with Leon to try and put the black tally society itself as the target. The compromise position ends up being for them to put the name of the champion of Tiamat as his selection, as technically meeting their requirements but also thumbing his nose at them. He will have to see how they respond.


Leon’s financial documents prove to be quite the challenge to figure out. They spend a great deal of time cross-referencing everything trying to figure out just what about the Dawn’s Charge is setting off their intuition and Hector’s vague insinuations. Hector is tangentially involved with the ostensibly charitable organization, he is a mentioned donor and supporter, but the leader in charge of the group has founded a new chapter that seems to be the focal point of some financial shenanigans. Theoretically it is a non-denominational group aimed at helping settlers around Alara. Putting the pieces together, the group figures out a feeling behind the documents “check this chapter while getting the thieves. The cleric, careful-acting for its own works.” and a more hidden message between the lines “Fey creatures dungeons project”. 


They wake in the morning and hurry off to find out how well everyone scored on the White Quest for Prestige. The Dissonant Whisperers tied for first place, but ended with a moderate lead against the rest of the teams.  Camden’s Own, Jesters, and Merchants have given up and ducked out of the competition. Rumors are that the Untouchables and Exemplars have been teaming up on something big and Style supposedly retrieved a black dragon’s family heirloom from an Underdark Matron. Huntresses nabbed a juvenile kraken. Catalyst went after a volcano elemental infesting an ancient forge, but destroyed it in the process and a good part of the nearby village. Weave chose to infiltrate the Blood Elven isles to examine ruins and rituals but woke up a blood demon and contained it but had to flee the blood elf reprisal, ultimately causing a notable increase in Blood elf raids.


As the leading team for now, it is time for final alliances to form, but it will be tough to get anyone on their side. The group worries that everyone will be picking spells, skills, and items to counter them. No use in worrying, however, they still have things to do in the two weeks before the final challenge. They’ll even need to figure out social arrangements for the Prismatic Ball two nights before the Black Clash.


First stop on their cleaning up of loose ends is Dawn's Charge.


They head into the wilderness around Alara to find it, finding a lodge but no people. They wait, but accidentally set off a trap. Someone armored and riding a horse shows up but doesn’t see them. They wander in a spiral around the lodge, using clues gathered to try and find the real hideout. Instead, they meet a Dawn’s Charge member who politely tells them to leave and avoid the dangerous creature he has been sent to hunt. His words are immediately disregarded as they follow him while he chases off after the fae creature. Their tracking is better so they are able to confront the creature first to paralyze it just as he arrives. When he forcefully objects, the Whisperers subdue him peacefully to figure out what is going on. They go their separate ways when he explains the nasty ‘prank’ this fae has been pulling by collapsing bridges as people cross them, confirmed by the faerie as a necessary and just war against those despoiling nature. The fae is surprised when they are banished back to the fae realm and the fae hunter released. The group apologizes to the hunter and both go their separate ways.


They find the Dawn’s charge hidden entrance after not too much more searching, and explore the place stealthily. A library of monster hunting is investigated and a few choice books kept. An infirmary and research lab holds monster parts in various stages of dissection and preservation. They encounter captured fey in a set of enchanted jail cells, but decide against releasing any. Their stories are not very trustworthy and their experience with the bridge collapsing fae has them uncertain the fae don’t deserve to be locked up. A storage room around the bend has a secret staircase down. All goes well until they find Korbin Armaster experimenting on a Hag. He is inscribing into its bones while it is alive, restrained and unconscious. They fight, but his prayer is answered and he tries to escape as the rest of the compound wakes up to his alarm. His prayer sees him whisked away to his trump card, an angel token he uses to call in the extraplanar being to fight while he shouts to raise the alarm. Now facing the other end of the same choke point they used to corner Armaster, they hold off summoned divine beasts, the angel, and Dawn’s Charge Hunters. They use the staircase well with barriers and banishment effects to hold the celestial beasts at bay while the angel is targeted down. They barely get a second barrier up in time as the large celestial boar smashes through one with an anti-magic charge. 


Armaster’s escape isn’t fast enough and they fight through the henchmen, summons, an angel, and lieutenants to catch him. Leon takes particular pleasure in using invisibility from his undead sorceress to secretly turn the earthen passage to mud with his Mudstaff and watch the abbot try fruitlessly to get the oxen to pull the heavy wagon out. The group takes their time to loot the rest of the place, grabbing Korbin’s experimental notes about enchanting the fey with peaceful enchantments. The henchmen are secured and stabilized as they note how hypocritical it would be to spare Korbin but leave his underlings to bleed out. They fall for one trap at the end of the bedroom hallway, set up to capture an escaping fey creatures, but avoid serious harm. Loot in tow, Korbin  is brought back to Alara to the authorities with his own diary and notes evidence of his crimes. As the news breaks, and Lathander’s temple frantically trying to mitigate the public relations harm, Hector is mad that Leon didn’t come to him first so they could get out ahead of the controversy. Captured fey are remanded to Alaran and fey authority, to be dealt with for their crimes and have any magical enchantments removed. 


The group sells treasures they found there and previously. Time is spent researching the Black Clash as well as more about the Choir of Razors and the Egg. Klythmnora requests an audience to share her own findings. Tormenoth checks in with Zap at his office, and Zap leans on his desk armchair to reassure Tormenoth about their upcoming plans, that he will be notified soon about what he needs to do.


The group starts to search for the Choir, examining killings in the city for clues. Magical dealers and killed summoners point to an organized group. Rila finds and identifies the loamy soil tracked into the buildings, and that narrows it down to graveyards, likely outside the city. The first one they go to has been recently maintained. They go in. 


Finding it full of magical traps and blockages, they fight their way through defensive gargoyles empowered with the divine, ghosts giving cryptic warnings, and finally past an illusory collapsed hallway. Thinking they are past the worst of it, they explore a crypt of entombed abbots and heroes only to trip a final trap when approaching the large metal door, an invisible, 3D maze of force walls. As they try to scramble through and find a way to shut it off, their activity alerts the group beyond the door. This group of clerics and paladins stand behind a Diva, who they make a tense diplomatic ceasefire with, owing to their providing of details on how they stopped Dawn’s Charge capture of extraplanars and a shared desire to stop Abrasax.


They avoid mention of Ariel's connection to the Choir of Razors, but weigh that this group’s portal and knowledge of Abrasax can be exploited before they try taking down the group. The human acolytes of the angel are wary and a bit jealous of the attention the Dissonant Whisperers get, but agree to their infallible leader’s acceptance of the adventurers. 


The group has a decision to make about when to try Abrasax’s stronghold demi-plane, but for now decide to rest up and do a bit of shopping and other in-town preparations for the Black Clash. Part of this is Tormenoth going to see Zap’s office, hoping to find secret information. Searching under the armrest of his chair, he finds a key that slots perfectly into his desk drawer, revealing a hidden compartment. It has notes about the Black Tally’s upcoming attack on the Triumvirate, aiming to take out the three leaders in one fell swoop along with their intended candidates to replace them. It details the corruption, criminality, and evils of the current rules along with the ideal cadet family members qualifications. Zap details his starting of arrangements to assassinate the one attending the Prismatic ball, and his defense of Tormenoth as a member of the society over concerns he needs to be removed. 


They discuss, in their downtime, how they want to spend their points for the Black Clash and seem to come up with a tentative plan.  They’ll spring for full knowledge of the map and its secrets, holding their remaining points for mid-clash resurrections. 


They set up and raid Abrasax’s plane. The demon sleeps and his servant notices the group but pointedly jostles a thing thread tying him to Abrasax and motions for them to remain silent. They fight hellhounds, banishing them to keep from making noise, using the time to explore. Ariel finds Penemue, but he is reluctant to leave. She finally convinces him to at least not work for Abrasax anymore but walking back towards the portal, a sand worm tries to swallow the group. The time spent fighting it provides enough time for the hellhounds to return. Abrasax begins to wake, and the group frantically tries to plan, divided between leaving to try again and fighting. Leon casts a spell to protect Ariel, with the backup plan that they will escape through the portal or his Return spell if it goes wrong. Combat noise wakes up Abrasax who gloats about his superior intellect and abilities. They figure out to try and have Ariel call Penny her father to disrupt the demi-plane, but Abrasax laughs that those in his service give up their claims of parentage, he is no fool! He yanks on the gossamer thread to demonstrate, and only Rila is able to get through the portal before he closes it with a wave. When he tries to dominate Ariel through her warlock contract, Leon’s spell shatters but deflects the control, causing Abrasax to flinch and allowing Leon to sever Penemue’s binding with a temporary dispel. Binding gone, Ariel repeats, Thou Art My Father, instantly exploding the large demon. In the chaos of the plane collapsing, Leon tries to rush the group around him to Recall when Penemue notes the he has inherited her warlock pact. A confused temple priest is stunned by the arrival of an archon, but is convinced to keep it quiet as Penny says his goodbyes, needing to go into hiding to keep the choir of razors from targeting Ariel.


Final shopping and turning in of points. They get to see the map, and the rules are elaborated, teams can shift up to 5 of their spent points and any unspent points as they wish if they turn in the changes before midnight after the prismatic ball. They get to see what gates each team is starting from and plan alliances appropriately. 


Leon meets with Bahamut, securing the deities' involvement, although the aid is left nebulous and open-ended.


The group hits the town (Bogoreka) and the library to try and learn about what types of people these Black Tally targets are. They are all terrible people with plenty of evil to their names, although not provable or prosecutable. The one attending the prismatic is a known spy-master bordering on war criminal with untold numbers of kidnappings and assassinations to his organizations’ ruthless name. 


Tormenoth gets official word from Zap that he has been chosen to carry out an assassination on Spater. Zap suggests some points of weakness in the hall security (centralized magical lighting controls, alleyway balcony access, and less than professional bodyguard behaviors) but leaves it up to Tormenoth. The Black Tally wants a body found but not a culprit caught so they can claim credit publicly and push forward their chosen replacement candidates for the Triumvirate.


Tormenoth and Ariel try to hire the doppelganger from earlier, but they do a terrible job, leaning too heavily on the suspicious and murdery parts of the job before awkwardly trying to switch to the challenge and compensation parts. Uninterested, Mal offers to do the job for no less than 20,000, a price they are unwilling to pay so they part ways, leaving him to his overstaffed, under quality performing troupe. 


Scouting out the hall, they are noticed by the private security detail and get to see the setup, including on display the massive automata spider from the Red Daring. One guard is familiar to Tormenoth, a man from his days in training Jeskin. He takes the catching up with dual purposes, to learn what Jeskin knows while also giving Rila a chance to sneak into the upstairs room in mouse form. No guards or dignitaries are present yet, but she gets a feel for the room and attached balcony for later, unable to investigate further without risking tripping a magical spell she sees. Tormenoth’s discussion goes well, as he shows off some of his new magical abilites, and getting to see Jeskin’s magical artifacts at work (an instant tower shield and short range teleportation). They even touch on reasons for their current jobs, with Jeskin surprised at Tormenoth taking up adventuring while commenting about his own job being one for building up wealth to retire. The conversation begins to peter out, but with Rila coming back out, he needs a distraction so he brings up his plans in a roundabout way, pushing on old philosophical discussions they had back in the day about what it means to be a good person and by extension a good guard. Can a good guard defend a bad person? It might be the nostalgia or dissatisfaction behind the scenes on Jeskin’s part, but he pushes back on Tormenoth about what he means. Tormenoth takes the chance to be more blunt, Spater Ojeai is a bad person and needs to be stopped. Jeskin can’t agree to help, but for an old friend and to stop a bastard like this, he could look the other way. So long as no one sees or can accuse him of dereliction, he won’t lift a finger to protect Spater. The group is concerned when they come out, as the guard at the front stops them, but he seems only interested in getting a paw print from Rila’s companion Shawny the polar bear. Concerned about being tied here, the group makes the snap decision to play along, hoping to just be seen as curious students rather than the nefarious plotters.


Leon and Rila spend the last day before the ball scribing scrolls for the Black Clash, while Tormenoth arranges a mundane murder weapon and Ariel picks up the ritual information from Klythmnora. Klythmnora and Styx propose to use the femur from the Eterna Rey to dump elemental damage into as a magical energy sink in the ritual to disarm the EGG. She’ll have it retrieved and ready for the group the afternoon before the Black Clash. 


At the prismatic ball, Rila uses Shawny as a distraction (thanks to Ariel teaching him a few basic dance steps) to shift into mouse form and move to the central lighting control room. Leon chats up a few of the other parties, discovering some alliances while making deals of his own to lessen the number of monsters put into their quadrant. He stands ready to spill a platter of food and drink as a distraction with a remote spell and outline Spater in faerie fire so Tormenoth can strike unimpeded. Tormenoth keeps up idle chatter to stay as close to the stairs as he can without being suspicious. Ariel talks to a few people, ready to cover the light shut-off with her own magical darkness to confound those who can see in the dark.

When Spater Ojeai finally deigns to come out of the private suite for a quick word to the gathered students, he gets only a couple words out before Ariel sends the magical Message to Rila and Leon to kick things off. The lights go out to the surprised amusement of the crowd when a huge platter of plates and empty glasses smashes to the ground. Private guards begin to look around the room, not noticing Spater is now covered in glowing fire that is almost instantly smothered by a bubble magical darkness. Without his armor, Tormenoth slinks up the stairs two at a time to reach the twisted spymaster. Noticing the man fumbling for a ring, brutal swings of the dagger nearly sever the man’s other hand before Spater stumbles and the surging Tormenoth puts a few holes in his back. Spater gets out a panicked shout for aid as his guards spring to action, but his fearful mind only thinks up his next tactic too late to use it. He starts to bring the ring bearing finger up to his mouth to activate whatever contingency spell is upon it. One guard shoves into the room and turns the lights back on as Rila flees through narrow gaps into the coat room. With the commotion, the front door guard has moved into the ballroom as is easy to sneak behind, shifting back to halfling form behind Shawny. Ariel contests control of her magical darkness with a staff-wielding guard, but manages to hold, preparing a minor spell to rinse Tormenoth of any blood or stains. Leon holds at the ready for another distraction when Tormenoth needs to leave, and Tormenoth faces down a Spater trying to stumble backwards up the stairs. With a flurry of slashes with the dagger, Spater’s face is marked with three tallies and an artery is struck, dousing the area around him with blood. He has just enough time to misty step on top of the giant mechanical spider, leaving behind the murder weapon. Ariel cleans him as Leon tips a buffet table, giving Tormenoth the time to slip down onto the floor, pretending to have been blown back by the attacker just in time for the darkness spell to be ripped apart by Spater’s guard. A gasp comes over the crowd as they all can see Spater’s corpse slump to the floor, blood sprayed and three red gashes across his face. 


The guards begin to secure the entrances, as panicking students remember their training to reach for weapons they didn’t bring or had stowed in the coat room. Some took up cutlery, but by then the mage guard burst onto the balcony to shout in dismay and call for aid of the two slain guards on the balcony. One stabbed clean through and pinned with a long-knife to the stone parapet. Before long, Triumvirate security forces make their way to the hall, gathering witness statements despite being clearly shaken. Some of them let slip that this has been a hell of a night, the other two Triumvirate rulers were also assassinated and some group called the Black Tally Society have claimed responsibility. Out of their depth and not suspecting students to be part of this shadowy cabal, the guards take perfunctory witness statements and hold the students only long enough for Spater’s guard to secure his corpse in an armored hearse that races away.

Later that night, Tormenoth is approached by Zap, one of the scabbards at his side empty. Zap congratulates him on a job well done and a reassurance that all three corpses will be destroyed by trusted agents. Those monsters will not be getting revived.


With adrenaline running down, the group makes their final selections for the Black Clash. They opt to put plant monsters in front of Exemplars, Catalyst, and Styles gates as well as the outer labyrinth of Weave. In the morning they wake to find a note that Tormenoth’s bank account balance has increased by 20,000. They choose to spend this upgrading some equipment and buying a stash of potions and scrolls.


Tormenoth Interlude July 2022
Shifting Shadows

As Tormenoth paced briskly between classes and shops, trying valiantly to keep up with his studies despite long absences in the field, he could not stop seeing dark shapes in the corners of his vision. He was finding lately that every obscured face reminded him momentarily of the black mask, and every new passerby seemed to pause a little longer than usual and be about to say something to him. It was surely his imagination, but the layers of complexity and intrigue were getting to him.

How could it be right for the Black Tally Society to take the law into their own hands, and circumvent the justice system? That cut against everything he had stood for over many decades, where laws and policies were the only thing carving sense into a world of shades of gray. Without a legal structure, each local leader would easily be able to see themselves as virtuous and their opponents as immoral, without even realizing the bias they fell naturally into. Uniting the judge, jury, and executioner into a single person had been a recipe for corruption throughout history. The codification of laws and rules in the empires and their houses were the underpinning of society and some semblance of fairness.

And yet… hadn't that same justice system failed so many, and disappointed him at so many turns? He had seen so many times that those in power could use their wealth and station to pervert and twist the law with sickening ease, to the detriment of the vulnerable. The difference between direct and backdoor exploitation was wearing thin on him as he saw it play out time and again. It was that very lack of faith that caused him to strike out on a new career after his tour of guard service ended.

Zap's explanation of a certain kind of morality in the Society was a system that seemed, if not clearly good, at least a new possibility for societal advancement. Maybe there was space for judgments by peers, to be reviewed on the strength of appeals to history and logic. This would require Tormenoth to take on more personal responsibility for his actions, something which both frightened and excited him.

Thus, he was constantly turning over in his head how he would respond the next time he ran into one of those dark shadows and needed to make a quick decision to mete out or deny 'justice'. He jumped anxiously and played out the conversations in his head over and over throughout the day. The upcoming contest his team faced in the Colors was not the only thing Black looming in his worries…

Ice Queen

Tormenoth, attending Bingham Warfrost, is the first to get back to his dormitory, only to find a note from Professor Zap. “Campus security has checked out the necklace, swing by my office to pick it up.” With some time left in the evening, Tormenoth decides to get it over with. He just catches the tail end of Zap’s office hours, stepping into the small office. “You know, even some of the alumni they asked to look at this thing couldn’t figure out any curses or malingering magics,” Zap says, pulling a box from a locked drawer. Making some idle pleasantries about security procedures, he makes eye contact, glances down, and shows the small notch in the necklace. He continues without missing a beat, leaning forward on his armchair, “That should satisfy higher-ups, freeing you to get this back. You should know that Camden’s Own was given a stern talking to about their libelous activities. All parties thought it best that they withdraw from the competition. On a side note, have you considered choosing someone“ Zap is interrupted by a knock at the door. He gets up, pokes his head out to confer with an exasperated teaching assistant. “Let me finish that thought. For the Prismatic Ball? Sorry, but I have to split up a practice duel that is about to become quite real.” Tormenoth waits patiently, turning over the amulet in his hands for any sign of tampering until Zap returns after a short while. With not much more to talk about and no questions Tormenoth can think to ask, Tormenoth says his goodnites. 


Next to return to her campus is Rila, but she finds a bunch of fresh flowers with a note outside of her door from Lucillo. The card reads, in flawless cursive on fine, thin paper, “Perhaps a night together by candlelight?”. Between the thin paper, the lack of any suggested time or place from the usually scrupulous Lucillo, and the mention of candlelight, Rila immediately ducks into her room to hold the note up to a flame. She conjures magical fire in a small stone mortar to reveal the words shining through the note, “Word around is for other Fey not to get involved with you and your family, be wary.” Without much to go on except a renewed worry for her family, Rila turns in for a night of fitful slumber. That slumber is broken when her breakfast routine is interrupted by a pair of half-elves flanking her oldest brother coming with a request for her to come home. They have an enchanted junk to expedite the trip and her brother presses the case with his, unusual for him, scowl. She tries to press her brother, but his gruff response is, “You left us all to fend for ourselves, running away to your fancy schools of magic. Well now we need you.” Rila agrees to go with but will need some time to gather her things and allies, trying not to let on how unlike him that statement was. He was her biggest supporter in the family, and even if it was a long-shot, Rila’s job was to try and find a magical way to save their village. Following breakfast, she tries to meet with Lucillo about the note he sent, but he brushes her off, “Somebody has you in their sights and enough pull to tell anyone with Fey anything to back off, so I think we both should play things cool for now.” Rila cannot wait to meet with the group for their pre-arranged lunch, she needs their help.


Ariel and Leon get back to their campus and rooms without incident. Both, however, wake to early knocks at their doors. In Ariel’s case, the single, quiet knock precedes a folded note flying under her door. Wary, she groggily unfolds it to read, “Burn me in a private place.” With her dorm being as private as she can reasonably get without having to beg Styx, she burns it with a quick spark of eldritch magic. The smoke and fire forms the shape of an exotic, extraplanar, but indistinct face. The Mockingjay introduces themself, apologizing for the delay. They have decided that Ariel and her team have useful information, so a trade is proposed. In return for information about what Tiamat is currently up to, the Mockingjay will tell Ariel about her angelic heritage. She thinks on her feet, offering vague theories of a certain goddess’ plans, citing a wariness of being too specific and avoiding specifically mentioning the Egg. Ariel mentions some treasure Tiamat placed on the mortal plane for dragons to fight over, but doesn’t know what her endgame is. Satisfied, the Mockingjay offers the tale of what happened to her lost parents. Her father, Penemue, was an angel in self-exile that fell for a mortal woman. He was hunted by the Choir of Razors, an angelic group that is overzealous in its aims to purge heretics and apostates of the heavens. They were the ones who killed both her birth mother during the initial hunt and her mother when she went looking for what happened to her sister. Mockingjay then states a desire to continue the deal if she should come upon clarifying information about Tiamat’s plans, more information could be dug up or searched out about Penemue and the Choir of Razors.


Dawn’s early light pokes through Leon’s curtains, shining right on his face in a rising sun shape, waking him just before he hears someone murmuring to themselves outside his door. Leon doesn’t hesitate and jumps out of bed to confront this person who turns out to be Hector. Giving Leon a moment to make himself respectable, as Hector points out a man of faith should always strive to be, Hector strides into his room with a thick folder of papers under his arm. “Leon, you’ve generally had a better head for this bookish, behind the scenes number stuff. I would greatly appreciate… that is to say, I need your… help. I am tracking down what exactly is happening in this chivalric order, Dawn’s Charge. I am certain something shady is going on but I can’t pin my finger on exactly what.” Leon considers rubbing it in, but decides to hold his tongue since it seems Lathander took an interest in this, “I can take a look at it Hector, if it is this important.” Hector hands over the bundle and slaps Leon on the back a bit too hard, “I knew I could count on you, little buddy.”  


After meeting up following their busy mornings, the Dissonant Whisperers almost talk over each other trying to describe the events of the night and morning. With a quick lunch from a street vendor and hushed debate, they decide Rila’s family has the most pressing need. While buying and selling a few more items, now with departure in mind, Rila does some research on the Winter Court. Her research doesn’t uncover much novel information, but the court supposedly fell apart from internal intrigue hundreds of years ago. Without a solid presence in the mortal plane, no winter fey have the right royal claim to reform the court and the other courts have been unwilling to let any from the Feywilds cross over to restart it either. Having geared up for a possible fey fight, the group heads over to Page and Wisdom to board this mysterious magical ship. 


Rila and the group went off the edge of campus to find her brother and the floating ship waiting. Its reds and yellows splash vibrantly across its sleek hull and many folded sails. It is crewed by relatively quiet elven sailors that make little eye contact with the group. Rila tries to get more information from her brother, but he is uncooperative and retires to his bunk to sleep. Confirming her plan with some mental messages to the others, the Dissonant Whisperers play at being boring passengers to wait until nightfall to prowl the ship for answers. Shortly after take-off, the ship begins to rapidly accelerate as the captain mentions their ship’s ability to skip between the boundaries of planes for extra air speed. After dark, when they hear the patrols of sailors has been reduced to a skeleton crew, they sneak out to explore. The hold has berths for the sleeping crew and her brother as well as storage rooms full of unusual goods. Foodstuffs and decor that is riotously summer: juicy blueberries, wines, and flowers. In the back, hidden is a small empty fireplace that hasn’t seen a fire in a long time. Without anywhere else to look, they take a peek into the Captain’s room when he and his first mate make their rounds. The lavish room has one major point of interest, the chest covered in frost. Unusually, it is unlocked and no traps are detected. Reading the rolled document within, they discover it is a contract worded such that the exiled summer court faeries shall serve a Princess Chione in reforming the Winter Court. On completion they shall be granted new titles in the court. They shall go from Cimoth, Baron of Warm Gales, and Lithre, Countess of Endless Blooms, to the Duke of Rime Winds and Duchess of Frozen Petals. It is at that moment Captain Cimoth and First Mat Lithre step back into the room, nonchalant and not alarmed. Cimoth speaks first, “Oh no, you have discovered our true nature as summer court fey, exiled and forced to seek another court. If you used that knowledge against us and the Winter Court never came to be, we would be stuck on the mortal plane without being tied to either Summer or Winter.” Unsure what to say, the group hesitates until Lithre cocks her head, “If that were to happen, why we’d just be free agents with a magical ship and no responsibilities who slipped the punishments of the Summer Court intrigues that banished us here.” The group picks up on what the two are saying, but a guard from outside the cabin raises the alarm. Ghost pirates are closing in rapidly on the ship.  


The green glow of the sea poltergeists rises from all sides around the ship. The elven crew takes up positions to protect their hold while the captain races for the wheel of the ship. The battle is swift with Tormenoth, Ariel, and Leon blasting the ghosts with magic. Cimoth and Lithre fight for the wheel with a strong ghost, rocking the ship back and forth. A few of the ghosts are blasted apart but the group aren’t quick enough to stop what appears to be the ghost of Altreyo from diving into the floorboards and pilfering some goods from the hold before spotting the magical contract in the cabin. He swings wide around the ship, evading blasts of magic to leap through the cabin. He almost manages to escape the ship with contract in hand, but Leon’s use of Banishment disperses their teammate’s ghost leaving behind the contract. Rila dives to catch it as Lithre disperses the ghost at the wheel. The ghosts are gone and they continue their rapid flight to the south, leaving Blackrun’s airspace. They begin to wonder what struck down their former teammate, knowing that he won’t be at rest until they can put his bones to rest.

With the excitement and espionage over, the group finally heads to sleep. In the morning the ship completes the last few dozen miles to arrive in Rila’s frigid home town. While closing in, they could see from above a bubble of healthy winter surrounded by warmer, unhealthy thawing permafrost. Stepping off the ship, she is greeted by a town that has gone through significant changes while she was away. Everything appears to be colder and healthier than they have been in a while. Green pines, healthy elk herds, populous fish, and snow. At the same time, the town has been surrounded by walls of snow, something untenable for a very long time, now necessary to ward off hungry polar bears and wolves from the surrounding area. New construction has picked up and there are many new people in town, tallfolk with more or less obvious fae heritage. As she takes all this in with a big nostalgic whiff of drying fish, Rila is approached by a half-elven man named Kiren Galesnow. “Hello, yes, Rila? I am here to escort you to your family manor on a matter of the, uh, um, utmost, well you see, that is to say, important matter.” As the man babbles on about new fae arrivals given sanctuary and the most recent changes her family has brought in with Chionne, Rila blusters right past his continued attempts to get them to go to her family manor. From a distance she can see what used to be the ancestral longhouse has been expanded and upgraded into a large manor of ice, snow, wood, and earth. She stops to talk with townsfolk who seem happy with the changes, although a bit nervous. They are excited that she has finally come home. A few even take the opportunity to ask that she use her newfound druid skills and adventurer team to the task of scaring off some of the more aggressive wildlife. The Dissonant Whisperers are non-commital but do finally decide to follow Kiren to the Carlis manor. 


They head into the manor. When Kiren can finally get the group into the manor, it is a beautiful place, with an entry hall highlighting her tribe's artifacts and history, but the details are slightly off putting. They focus on ties to winter, with achievements and history of her clan almost secondary. “In the great winter storm, three nights of great snowfall coated the pines and frosted the rivers making for a stark, beautiful, if dangerous terrain. It was on this coldest and darkest night of the year, rime coating his spear and ice filling his beard, smell of pines all around that Evereth slew the great bear, returning a hero.” reads a plaque below an heirloom spearhead. “These hides remain from extended travel in our clan's past from the south where unbroken ice, beasts, and permafrost originate from, according to myth, some hidden source of frigid wind keeps Frystoraefin cold from the south.”  The entrance hall itself is long, with old artifacts and stories giving way to a T-intersection with the facing wall depicting an unfinished mural which Rila recognizes as her elder sister’s style. The painting shows winter fey clasping arms with her father, the lead half-fey holding a broken crown, teary-eyed, and behind her father, half-dead pines and starving elk. Kiren takes the opportunity in the hallway to congratulate the group for being here with Rila for this important junction. He continues, “If you will please, sorry, Rila only, follow me to the right.” As the group gets distracted by the heirlooms and Rila debates wandering off to look for her family, Kiren grows more and more exasperated. “Please, Rila, this is really quite important, sorry. Everyone is waiting.” When Rila finally agrees, he holds the door open for her to the throne room.


Chione sits in a large throne room having animated discussions with the many halflings seated in wooden benches around the large stone chair. When they notice her arrival, Princess Chione introduces herself and explains her need for Rila’s agreement to fulfill the magical ritual she wants to use to bring Winter back. Everyone gets what they want, she gets a fey title and her town gets access to the power they need to bring back the winter cold the animals and plants need. She has been exceedingly fair, even allowing the town an exit from her deal by having the town physically leave before the first moon, which they tried and when the magic pulled back, they realized how bad the warming had gotten. Now, all that is needed is Rila’s ascent to have unanimous agreement to kickstart the ritual. Sensing hesitation from Rila, she elaborates on the cruel treatment of half-fey across the world, especially those of winter court descent due to lack of any Winter presence to protect them. Her own village is the ideal place to bring it back, and they all gain, her village having suffered due to weakening of the winter here. When Rila asks to talk with her family about it and think it over, Chione chides her that time is of the essence but agrees, she needs buy-in from everyone for this grand spell to work. Fae magic is old like that. With a word, she sends Kiren to find her father then her brother. Her family is constantly busy, and only able to meet with her one at a time. This compounded with their lack of telepathic messaging leads Rila to suspect a shapeshifter of some sort. Using the excuse of needing to clear her head, she goes out to explore the surrounding area for information about the aggressive bears. They all bring along her “brother” but decide against showing their hand and confronting him in the woods. She even heads to an old meditation spot she used to hide in amongst fallen pines to discuss with Ariel, Leon, and Tormenoth away from the earshot of her false brother. A short but quick debate ensues as they realize the winter court is not a viable solution and hatch a plan of attack. The first step is finding and freeing her family. They don’t trust that the Winter Court won’t screw them on some technicality even if this ritual itself doesn’t cause a catastrophe.


On the way back, the group stops around town to ask some questions. Asking for more details about the agreement and her family specifically. One breaks from their cheery disposition to beg Rila to finish the agreement by kneeling. They debated backing out, and tried it once, but when fey aid was withdrawn things snapped back hard. Some of the elves about town hear the chatter and join in stating that many of them have been searching for a home, without a place to call theirs. It comes out from hearing a few of their stories that they were recently approached with the idea of a community, rather than scattered outcasts or pariahs by elves on a great red ship and Princess Chione. Having been around Rila can see the bubble around town of colder climates where things are good, with the warmer areas with spindly elks, sicky trees, and too-warm permafrost. Fish weren’t getting the cold they needed to lay eggs, winter foliage being outcompeted by northern weeds, and increasingly aggressive, hungry predators moved in. This seems like a long term change finally coming to a head rather than any sort of magical interference or curse.


Back at the manor, they wait until that evening to sneak around looking for her family. A peek into the throne room by Rila in shapeshifted spider form finds Chione keeping court at all hours, with packed halfling seating. Rila backs out from that side of the manor and explores elsewhere to find her family frozen in a small library. Gathering the Dissonant Whisperers, they move the family through their magical cabinet to thaw her father and eldest brother. The others will have to wait until they have spell slots to spare. Her brother and father explain the deal with Chionne, how badly their attempted exiting when, and then their return. Chione lashed out with harsh punishments on her family, freezing them on the spot to avoid further “agitation” of the town. Rila’s brother explains some of the digging he had done into Chione’s past. “She grew up as Carenyphe Deepgrove, daughter to a witch executed in Gi and thought dead. Dad tried confronting her about her past when we came back but that really sent her over the edge. The deal itself however is pretty simple in its wording: I give unending fealty to the Winter Court, to save our clan from ruin and restore our lands.” Her father goes on to add that they want out of the deal, but don’t see a way to keep everyone safe. Backing out of the deal just puts them right back against the wall of a warming Fristoraefin. Rila says her goodbyes and leaves her family in their rented bank vault to confront Chione.


When they enter the throne, Rila refuses the deal, Chione smirks imperiously, “You will kneel. You could have benefitted from this power and more! With you here and kneeling I could have broken through to immortality in the Winter Court. You would have had an immortal ally! Well, the power I’ve already gathered from the rest of your clan should be more than enough to make you kneel or remove you entirely. Either way, I still get what I want.” As she finishes her speech, she pulls her hands apart in a wave of ice magic. Shimmering portals from around the room open up as knights of pure ice march forth. The same wave of power breaks the glamor on the halflings seated around the room, revealing exhausted halflings held here, blinking in confusion and realizing how long they had been trapped here. The group moves to protect the halfings with Tormenoth taking point while blasts of magic from the rest keep smashing the endless waves of ice-knights. As waves are thinned out, the group tries targeting Chione herself, but something has linked her to a number of statues around the room such that they are shattered by magic trying to ensare her. The numbers of knights continue to ramp up to the point where some knights are able to capture some of the halflings despite the adventurers’ attempts to escort them from the throne room. Spells continue to wash over Chione, until the last is shattered, taking the magic in her stead. In desperation she pulls her cloak around herself, hiding within a block of ice. Eventually both sides begin to wear down, but the adventurers batter through her final icy defenses while getting the halflings away. In the moment the ice breaks, Rila dives forth to snatch the crown off Chione’s head. To Chione’s horror, this pauses the ritual and with no new knights to distract or shields to hide behind, Chione is laid low.. A ghostly Queen Mab appears with the visage of a wizened old fey woman, explaining her desire to restore her court to the mortal plane, offering to make whole the town and protect it as her own domain. The ghostly figure waves to the ice mirrors where visions of the future play. The mirror to her left shows a happy future after accepting or while behind her plays the increasingly dire future awaiting their refusal. Riila also sees to Mab’s right a vague/changing vision of something else, a third path? That is enough to spur her creativity and she declines Mab’s offer. Mab offers a sad shaking of her head before disappearing. Chione is stabilized and secured, her magical equipment taken. 


Fight over and a ticking clock before the winter climate around the town snaps back to normal, the group heads back through the cabinets to thaw the rest of her family and get advice about a permanent solution. Rila talks to Thirtyclaw about magical and physical solutions but he is hesitant about how much power something like that would take. There might be enough gathered in that winter ritual but how to control it with the Winter Fey influencing it? The right spell could certainly keep a microclimate around the town going for a while. Leon asks Klythmnora but she doesn’t trust the Winter Court, and neither does Styx who was alive when they were still here. She explains how they fell to constant internal divisions, backstabbing, and treachery. Even amongst fey known for tricky dealings, the Winter Court was particularly cruel and malicious. Tormenoth and Ariel find a solid lawyer for the group to aid them in wording their dealings with the Fey, Hassan Miranda. They find a lawyer that fits their budget and is known for tough cases, if he is a bit direct. With a lawyer in tow, they return to question Chione. She cajoles and threatens, but finally tries to cut a deal. She knows that a fragment of Mab is in that crown, and she believes she is the only one that can lead a ritual to bring the cold back to the area. Her end of the bargain is to use that power to catapult herself to the fey-wilds with a title she can use to cement herself over there. It won’t be pretty though, Mab will fight to preserve that shard of herself from being consumed this way, and starting the ritual will crack the planar barrier enough, act as an invitation for Fey to step through. Their lawyer offers to hammer out the exact wording of the agreement with Chionne both for her cooperation and for the ritual itself. As they leave, he gives them a grinning thumbs up, turning back to Chione, “I see some of the weasel words and obfuscations you laid out in the opening agreement here, here, and here…”. Chione’s words of warning during the discussion have them preparing. If it goes wrong and Mab is able to come through, they’d have to get everyone out of the town to break the ritual, but they all have to be in town for the sympathetic magic of the ritual to have the strength needed until it is over.

It is a rush to prepare the town. The halfling and elven townsfolk are fortified into the manor, instructed to be ready to bolt for the town edge if things go sideways. Chione marks out her ritual circle and five reservoirs around the town as Leon sets up a circle of protection around where she will be casting. Their lawyer even pulls out a small club to defend himself or help adjust Chione’s wording on the fly as needed. With nothing to be helped by waiting, they instruct Chione to begin.


As soon as the first Arcadian word leaves her mouth, winter whips up around the town and a great rift appears. Crackling snow and ice split into a nebulous portal at the entrance to the town. Fey levies in Winter Court grays, blues, and purples pour out, leveling their spears to charge in. They make beelines for the magical reservoirs, disrupting them with a few stabs before the group spreads out to protect the magical anchors. Winds pick up, blasting the town with icy chill and winter horrors reminiscent of twisted beasts charging into the fray. Even as Chione slowly gathers power, the suicidal charges of the fey are draining it faster than she can build it up. The endless ranks come through with no worry about death as they dissipate back to the Fey Wilds. Just as they begin to stabilize with the aid of Rila’s summoned apes screening the anchors, Ariel has the breakthrough to capture those dissipating energies and shove them into the ritual. 


The wind howls and the crack in reality grows wider and the Queen appears partially, as if obscured by a blizzard. “Secure them all until the Solstice, then do as you will with them, Lords and Ladies.” Leon takes the opportunity to fill the front gate with a Wall of Fire that cooks any lesser fey but a lordling steps through, introducing themself as Baroness of Sudden Flurries, drawing her long blade and diving into battle with Tormenoth. It isn’t long before the wind picks up again, but this time the portal fractures and the shockwave causes huge rents in the snow wall around the town that a new mass of levies and horrors charge through. Rila keeps her wits and tracks the movements of these new troops, but simply doesn’t have enough bodies to block them all as they come from every side. Leon falls back to assist Ariel and Rila while Tormenoth finishes off the Baroness with a Green Flame Blade flourish. The next fey to step through the fire is the Baron of Hungry Wolves. His arrival is joined by flanking winter horrors at the gaps in the wall. The beasts rush around the defenders to rip huge chunks of magic from the reservoirs. Tormenoth is forced to fall back to keep the Baron from having free access to an anchor so when a fell wind sweeps through town, there is no one at the gate to stop the fresh wave of levies when the wall of fire flickers out of existence. The protection circle around Chione holds back the winter horrors long enough for Rila and Leon to come to her defense before it too flickers out under the fell wind. 


Out of position, the Baron seeks to move to an unguarded anchor but is struck down by Ariel’s eldritch magics. None of the group are close enough to retrieve the powerful fey spirit before it evaporates. They have more chances however, as two more lords emerge.  Baroness of Ice Floes announces herself with a shout and a thrown boulder of ice. The Baron of Hidden Frostbite winds in between the defenders around Chione to take a stab at the self-styled Princess. The blows go wide as Tormenoth turns to face another foe, Rila calls in more summoned beasts, Leon moves to drop a new fire wall at the gate, and Ariel continues blasting minions away from the magical anchors. It is during this scramble that Chione calls out a completing ritual as one-by-one the reservoirs get pulled into the center circle. Both sides now scramble to protect or disrupt the remaining rituals, with the Baroness hucking huge boulders into one while the Baron makes one final attempt on Chione’s life. The Baron falls to an eldritch blast, pushing him into the central ritual as Tormenoth pushes the Baroness into the fire wall with his attacks. Overwhelmed, she falls to the flames, but Tormenoth wouldn’t be able to move fast enough to get her corpse in the central ritual or the remaining anchor. Thinking quickly, he drags her corpse as far as he can, tossing her to Leon. The cleric pulls on all the magic of his Boots of Speed to reach the Baroness’ body and puts it just in reach of the ritual circle, which Rila finishes pushing into the circle. In the small break as the winds pick up again, Leon spreads some healing around. 


Howls sound around the town as fey creatures of all shapes and sizes push in through the gaps in the walls. Everyone regroups around Chione as the last words of magic leave her mouth. Everything goes still as she takes the crown out of the circle and with a single motion snaps it in half. As she does, she sees the bleed appearing on her cloak, those missed attacks by the Baron were faked, but luckily the healing from Leon kept her alive. The Princess is pulled into the ritual as a new crown appears atop her head. She whispers, her voice carried by a soft wind, “3 score and 6 years of true winter, as promised.” 


Losing their invitation, the remaining fey fade into mist and the fey beasts make a hasty retreat back to the icy wilds. A few magical items were left behind by the fey as the group moved about town with their lawyer to survey the damages. Their magic is joined with the townsfolk’s concerted efforts to repair. Not forgetting about their concerns about a shapeshifter, they screen through all the halflings and elves during the repairs, but fail to find one until they find a second copy of their lawyer. Realizing the jig is up, the one they thought to be their lawyer, who had fought in the battle, reverts to his gray-skinned self with a handful of business cards. “I am Helix Mel, AKA Endymion the charming, method actor extraordinaire! Seeing as my previous employer is no longer on this plane of existence, I am sadly unlikely to be paid for this endeavor. However, one must keep apprised of new business opportunities, and I am sure an up and coming adventuring team may have need of the illustrious talents of one such as myself. I keep office in Bogoreka, third floor of the Grinning Cat Theatre.” The group gives this some serious thought, ideas of how to use a hired shapeshifter already coming to mind. They decide to hold off, but do agree to let him ride back with them. Rila disappears to go befriend a fey-touched polar bear that had appeared in the battle. When she returns, it is with an Awakened companion, Shawny, fey-touched polar bear. Without much else to do in town, they go to collect their lawyer to leave, but he decides to stay for a bit, he’s got a bunch of new clients that want wills, contracts, and the like drawn up.


The Trouble with Tiamat is

Footsteps grow increasingly loud and shouts more distinct until eventually, all four of them, plus the hostage, can hear them marching down the stairs. Hearing incoming soldiers start to spread out and search, they release their captive, the recruiter, magically disguised to confuse the search teams. Seeing no straightforward way out, they call on a favor from their favorite devil, who reveals a secret passage behind the bath fountain as well as creates a magical distraction to cover their tracks through it. Taking the long walk down the narrow, unlit hewn path, they emerge from another secret door into a fancy manor. Hearing others moving about in the house and the distant but still audible alarms of the town, they take the first exterior door they find to flee. This large manor near the edge of town has plenty of foliage to hide in on its grounds and the proximity with the town wall lets them easily flee the kicked anthill that Moontown is quickly becoming.


They return to Bogoreka to make a bunch of sales of loot from Moontown and purchase new equipment, while learning new spells and techniques. With some downtime, Ariel and Rila focus on doing research on the next task until the group gets the results of the Blue Mystery. Dissonant Whispers and Weave both scored full points. Great news, except that this pushes them to the top spot in the overall rankings and paints a large target on their back. On returning to their rooms, each of them finds a threatening letter waiting for them, “You’ll meet us in the alleyway where you stole it, or we’ll reveal what we know and get you kicked out of the Showing of Colors.”


Deciding to ignore the letter, which is clearly a trap and a threat without teeth, the adventurers instead hash out their plan to attack a Tiamat temple. Their plan is to use a combination of dimensional magic items in quick succession to loot and despoil the ritual of tribute occurring in a week’s time. A pair of linked magical cabinets will have one end in a secure location and the other will ride in their pocket plane. Once the second cabinet is in place, they can steal all the loot then reclaim the cabinet and teleport out by magical scroll. Their research on the nearest Tiamat temple locations takes them to libraries across the five campuses and finally to Bogoreka, where they follow a rumor of an old, abandoned dragon lair thought to be a staging point for Tiamat’s flunkies. 


Failing to show up at the threatened time and place, next morning posters appear around campus blaming the Dissonant Whisperers for putting the campus at risk as well as implying impropriety as the source of their high Showing of Colors ranking. As they finish breakfast and are discussing how to respond, they are each called in to talk with their advisors about the issue. Most of their schools do not care, but a Warfrost alum is pressing the issue with their influence on the advisory board. Warfrost is taking things the most seriously, so Tormenoth must produce a lie to Professor Zap and the campus lawyer sitting in on their meeting. Tormenoth mentions a possible curse on an iron-bones amulet they found on a recent adventure, not sure if Zap will buy it, but his advisor does not press the issue. The advisory board is unsure why the Dissonant Whisperers are inscrutable to scrying as a group, but the lawyer is mollified by the amulet and will have it investigated. The rumors by themselves would have been ignored, it is revealed, but with their risk mitigation staff unable to perform even basic Weal/Woe divination spells on the group, it was decided to open a preliminary investigation. Zap winks and scratches the amulet when the lawyer steps out of the room to respond to a wandering colleague’s question. He leans heavily on the arm of his desk chair to lean close and whisper to Tormenoth, deliberately creaking the cushioned support to obscure the words, “I’m worried about a mysterious alumnus I’ve never heard of coming out of the woodwork over this, so let’s ensure that the amulet you get back is the same one we send.” Tormenoth leaves the office, one magic item poorer but glad to have dodged more serious interrogation. Rila is nearly congratulated by a busy Thirty-Claw, happy to see her pissing off people enough to try and take her out of the Showing of Colors with red tape, but he relates that P&W does not sense any dangerous magic on the group. Ariel and Leon’s advisors barely talk to them, waving off the accusation with rolled eyes and a single page of paperwork each stating that the rumors are untrue and spurious. “There isn’t anything to this accusation, whoever’s behind it has enough pull to get it looked at, but that’s it and the Dean isn’t happy about being pushed.” is all their two harried advisors have to say about the situation.


Meeting up again, with Tormenoth relaying his loss and the mention of some Warfrost alum, they get back to their plan. They note in passing that based on the description of the alum, their number one suspect is Beithir taking another shot at them or someone powerful trying to help a competitor. There is plenty of time to bandy theories about as they book a ship for passage across the inland seas from Bogoreka to a small, dying village named Oldport. Rumors here swirl about what few travelers, prospectors, and merchants come here being accosted by kobolds in the nearby hills and mountains. Heading right into the rumored area of danger, the group is wary, using stealth and Druidic magic to disguise their passing. When they discover kobold tracks into the mountains, leading right to an old draconian cave entrance. Setting up to scope the place out, a few locals are psyching themselves up to open the carved stone doors in the shape of a snarling dragon's jaws. Seeing these yokels, the group decided in whispered tones to not let these idiots spoil their element of surprise by getting themselves killed on whatever is inside. Illusory magic cantrips and some creativity makes the dragon's jaws appear to threaten the young men, getting them to flee. Inside the first door, Rila, sneaking and in spider form finds a distressed donkey still tied to an empty cart and a second set of doors. She frees the poor beast by chewing the rope apart.


Peeking beyond by cracking open the doorway, she finds a central hallway filled with traps, doorways branching off to the left and right both nearby and at the other end of the hallway. A Dragonborn champion guards the central chamber beyond the open archway at the end of the hall. She returns to give the reconnaissance to the group. All of them were hoping it would be a simple matter of sneaking past a handful of guards, not traps: these traps are a killing floor of spikes, statues swinging scythes, poison darts, necromantic gouts of energy, and more cycling through an interlocking sequence along the entire hallway. The offshoot hallways are starting to look attractive compared to trying to disarm or evade the multitude of mechanical menaces.


When they enter, the champion in the shrine room calls them out as worshippers to offer tribute. Ariel plays into this notion, claiming to have a great deal of offerings to present but he challenges them to prove their worthiness to do so. “The weak must suffer what they must and the strong shall do as they wish.” He calls up a five-color barrier of shimmering magic to block the doorway to the large shrine room, stating he won’t lower it until they defeat five challenges in this old lair. If they die, he will get to take their stuff and tribute it himself to their eternal mistress. If they flee, Tiamat does not look kindly upon cowardly servants. Ariel retorts that they might do the same to him to get a better name for themselves with Tiamat, but he laughs off the challenge to return to his prayers. 


They decide the traps are not worth trying to disarm or dodge when there are other options, choosing to head right instead. A smoldering room with a floor of coals and some scattered charred wood boards is surrounded by glowing glyphs that immediately slam into the minds of the group. Leon and Tormenoth have their minds spun around by the confusion effects but Ariel and Rila can keep them safe from the coals as they mostly stand around dazed from its magic, avoiding the worst of the madness a confusion spell can bring. Not eager to let the glyphs retry their fell magic, the group blasts the glyphs on the walls to destabilize the spells. They try setting up the boards to cross the coals safely, but they keep getting knocked around by magic forces, luckily the confusion effects wear off on the two and they all cross safely to the next room. 


Beyond the slightly charred door is a room with a chess puzzle, barred door, and a dead corpse leaning on the white rook. Trying the pieces, their skin scores and abrades itself when they move a piece. By pooling their intellect and spreading around who makes each move, they manage to trap the opposite king for checkmate without wounding anyone too badly. As the black king falls, so too does the black crossbar.


A short marble lined hallway seems undisturbed with the thick layer of dust coating everything, but when Rila moves to open the opposite doors, blocks from the ceiling fall. Badly hurt, the group decides to drink down potions before pressing on, moving quickly as the blocks begin to disintegrate and reform above. In the large room beyond is a dance hall. Music begins to play as soon as Leon steps into the room and a chandelier glows with eerie light. Along with furniture along the edges of the room are clay statues shaped like dragonborn in fancy outfits. The clay statues begin to dance to the music on the dancefloor. Looking around the room, the group sees the dancefloor, a door leading back towards the main trap hallway, and a dark stone door covered in green runes and symbols. Quick thinking by Tormenoth and Ariel has them instruct the group on formal dance steps, which the statues take in stride as they all move across the hall to the tune. While dancing they postulate on the large stone door’s riddle. After completing a few dances, Rila risks it by stepping away from the dance floor to thoroughly inspect the door, which the statues ignore. With a closer look at the door, it describes a changing moon and lunar cycles that leads them to unlock the center dial with various shapes around a central circle. They decode the symbols below the dial to interpret the riddle about a shifting king and his desired gifts. Understanding the riddle, they turn the dial to the phases of the moon, lighting up more portions of the door and opening the final part of the riddle as arcane symbols at the bottom glow. Rotating the dial further allows them to correlate the dial symbols with the arcane ones, using the riddle to figure out what dial combinations they need to put in and in what order. It takes a few tries but the door finally unlocks.

When the door opens, the music stops, and a small congratulatory blast of trumpets accompanies an old banner dropping from the ceiling. “Happy 500th Nostra!“. On a buffet lie mostly rotten gift baskets, old instruments sit on a cluster of chairs, and decayed party decor linger in this small room. The group loots everything valuable including a rug that changes with the phases of the moon. They return to the dance hall to move on.


A short hallway stained with oil shows significant wear and reeks of metal. The group ignores these signs and charges through, leaving Tormenoth and Leon to be struck by a swinging spike wall that snaps out from behind the wood paneled walls. Exiting back into the main hallway of traps, they can see the shrine room more closely as Rila uses her spider form again to climb across the ceiling and avoid danger. The others time their jumps across to the west side of the dragon lair. They can see the shrine to Tiamat inside stacked with treasures as they move past, with the group reconsidering how quickly they can move treasure through their dimensional cabinet. The next room mirrors the throne room in number of treasures, except that everything in here is poorly maintained, rotten, and ruined. Magical spotlights still move around the room to highlight these once beautiful holdings, leaving other parts in darkness. Tormenoth takes the lead on scouting the room as the whole group is unfortunately lined up in the doorway to take the full brunt of a Behir’s lighting breath when it scurries down from the darkness of the vaulted ceiling. Not wanting a repeat of the attack, and none of them remembering the monster trivia of how often a Behir can make that attack, Leon conjures a force wall adjacent but parallel to the doorway. He keeps it too narrow for the monster to get in while allowing their smaller frames to step in and out to attack. The strategy pays off, preventing the snake-like monster from getting off another painful blow. Darkness and bright lights flicker around the room, but the careful whisperers are unfazed by the changing light levels or the Behir crawling up the columns for high ground. Their ranged spells seem like clockwork as they rotate in time to each land their magical blows. They put down the beast just as more crackling electricity starts to build up in the back of its throat. As it slams the floor, lifeless, they scan the room and confirm the worthlessness of what this creature was hoarding. 


Having dealt with five challenges, they all decide to prepare for their heist as they had schemed nights ago. Using their paired magical cabinets, all of them hide inside except for Rila and Ariel, the two who had been spotted by the dragonborn champion earlier. Leon and Tormenoth are to wait at the other end, inside a bank vault they had rented for this purpose in Bogoreka. The two women approach the champion to demand entry to pay tribute. With a congratulatory laugh he acknowledges their triumph, lowers the barrier, and invites them to hand over the tribute. Not fooled by the change in attitude, they refuse and want to do it themselves. A decidedly more cunning chuckle precedes him pointing to the pile of treasures around the shrine, “Of course, tributes are being stored here in preparation.” When they present only a cabinet from their pocket plane, they tell him they offer everything inside as their tribute to answer his raised brow ridge. Not wasting time, they leave without giving or receiving a goodbye. 


With that done, they head out the way they came in, winding around to avoid the main hallway of death traps. Once outside the lair, Leon and Tormenoth step back through and join Ariel and Rila booking a ship back to Bogoreka. As they prepare to launch their heist, they find a note in the middle of their rented vault “Clever, but you better follow through on your plan to tribute.” The group is concerned with what sort of magic he has access to, utilizing their linked cabinets without being given the command phrase. It is not enough to deter them, but they decide to rest up. 


Heading back to their campuses for the night, they arrive in Bingham Warfrost to see smoke rising from the main hall and students running to get their gear to join the fight. Most students are blindly rushing in, but the group recognizes the sounds and smells from before. Beithir the Planeswalker is here with his summoned abominations. As they make their way into the building, they can hear sounds above of fighting and decide that Professor Zap can fend for himself if he is still in his first-floor office. Students are struggling in the chaos on the upper floors, but the Dissonant Whisperers rally them, helping fend off the monsters and organizing to get the wounded out. Not willing to split up, they arm their fellow students with knowledge of the abominations’ weaknesses before heading back into the fray. Fighting through they find the source of the incursion and a pair of the monsters preparing a portal to send the ironbones amulet through to Beithir. Acting quickly, the group focuses fire on the monsters to break their concentration using blinding light and sounds to attack the monsters’ weak points. Beithir taunts them again before the portal starts to collapse, then he begins cursing them and sneering at their undeserved artifact. He promises further retribution but unfortunately some students overhear. Many at the attack are boosted in their opinions of the group but rumor spreads outside who witnessed their aid first-hand, as blame starts to spread of their stolen artifact having provoked the attack. As school authorities debrief them, they overhear that Courvana was the only campus to be spared attacks by similar creatures. They do not have time to worry about this right now though, they have a heist to perform.


Waiting until it sounds quiet, Rila and Ariel close themselves into the vault cabinet then appear in the matching cabinet in a corrupted dragon lair to begin stealing all the treasures in reach. The champion wakes up from his bunk as Rila steps out, but they move quickly to toss everything in the cabinet while disguising their theft with magic. The illusion they leave behind appears as the pile of treasures, but the champion charges them as they finish the spell. He can intercept the thrown spell-bomb Klythmnora had made them, catching it, and recorking it before it goes off. Having already unfurled their teleportation scroll, the two vanish. Reappearing in the bank vault, they let the guys know the unwelcome news. They will have to make a second attack if they want to finish what they started. 


The new plan is a hastily hatched one made the next morning, they will make a full-frontal assault but call in some favors. Leon reaches out to Myrkul for his favor, he offers to lock out the high priestess and champion from calling on Tiamat during the heist. At the same time, he makes an offhand comment that Leon should try raising the priestess’ corpse if he can, she might prove useful. Ariel stops at Klythmnora to confirm that the spellbomb will still function if they can uncork it. Tormenoth moves to guard the bank vault cabinet while Rila spends some time looking around for an animal companion she might be able to Awaken but does not have any luck. With everyone ready, they gather back at the port for a return boat ride to Oldport. The town is in a state of chaos, pillaged. Kobolds attacked early this morning using the aid of a pair of powerful individuals obscured by cloaks. They did a smash and grab, killing a few guards in the night and making off with what few goods were in the old warehouses and shops by the docks. 


A short journey gets them back to the old dragon cave, where they delve to find the old shrine room deserted, an open doorway to hidden stairs heading down. They can hear some ritual rites being performed and head down. They find the champion and the high priestess in front of a large shrine stacked up with treasures as well as the loot taken from the town. With no time to lose Leon calls in Myrkul and the group begins the fight. Before the champion can raise the same prismatic barrier, Rila summons four apes to distract the priestess from starting the tribute ritual in earnest with their fists. Tormenoth and Ariel fight the champion as he lashes out with divine spells, but he swears as his first spell disintegrates in his hands. Kobold reinforcements are called in from small side tunnels, but they cannot offer much in the face of so much adventurer firepower. Following the champions, the priestess’ first spell crumbles too, so she switches to trying to consume treasures. This attempt at the ritual does not get far, with Rila’s summoned minions striking her, and in a desperate bid, the priestess pushes past grievous wounds to try and destroy the decanter with the spellbomb. They push to the last, but the champion and priestess fall, ripped apart by spells as they refuse to back down from the fight.

Wanting to try Myrkul's suggestion, Leon moves her body to the pocket plane for raising later along with all the gathered treasure and loot. Wasting no time, the group uncorks the decanter as they flee its rapidly increasing magical energies. A great roar of magic rips through the lair, audible even from outside the double doors and all of them can feel a wave of divine energy in which a draconic roar can be heard. 


Back in town, a mysterious individual with seven canaries stepped in to cover the town’s losses. The Dissonant Whisperers decide to return the stolen goods anyway to raucous celebrations from a town that has seen its losses instead doubled thanks to two generous do-gooders. Musing over the identity of this mysterious old man, they connect him with another similar individual with canaries: the owner of a food cart back in the Kingdom of Gaea. Some further thinking, and Leon is certain the man is either traveling through time with the aid of the gods or a god themself, likely Bahamut. A ship ride home lets them recuperate their wounds and plan their next moves as they tuck this new information of godly meddling away for later. Back in the city of Bogoreka they sell their influx of new treasures to buy some equipment as some personal history and connections come back to haunt them.


Tormenoth Interlude - September 2021
A Crack in the Armor

Tormenoth fingered his shield straps idly as the group made their trudge back from Moontown, starting to relax again after the danger of the death cult's catacombs and having watched Myrkul fade from view. His head and shoulders still felt phantom pressure from being in the belly of the kraken, a harrowing experience where either he or the beast was bound to die. Even the smallest of the cramped barracks and bunks he'd slept in hadn't prepared him for such primal fear from being squeezed and swallowed.

He felt around the edges of the plate mail and found what he was looking for on his left pauldron: stress fractures from being compressed beyond its breaking point. It wasn't natural to have such shear force on them and that would compromise its integrity. It would need closer inspection and repair once back in town. The kite shield's flex seemed to be off too, he mused as he checked its balance. It was brittle on top, not ringing properly when banged with gauntleted hand.

It was fortunate, he thought, that he could now afford magic items of superior strength with his newfound adventuring wealth. Freedom from the need to use standard-issue equipment was proving to be a cornucopia of possibility for a warrior with a budding curiosity about fighting styles and battle tactics. The slimmer, quicker blade he was still getting used to had already proved its worth in battle and blood. Similarly, his plate mail's uncanny resistance to damage provided both physical and psychological comfort that continued to surprise him. He was even learning new ways to use the equipment, with his mind on meeting up again with Urza Stoutforge to explore the possibility of throwing his katana accurately.

As the group headed into the market, Tormenoth made a beeline for his new favorite smith's shop, and eagerly dove into the discussion of how to apply magical enchantments while refitting new plates and bindings to repair the damage. He had a growing sense that these hard-won improvements would be sorely needed in the battles to come.

Once in a Blue Moon

With time to think and get back into some of their coursework, the group levels up and learns some new spells. They put a bit of focus on information gathering spells to help finish out their espionage on the Mystery in Blue. Using that new magical knowledge and some sleuthing, they either scry the other teams to figure out their tasks or get enough clues to guess most of the remaining teams. Another bribed teleportation network student employee costs them but nets some useful clues to cross-reference. When digging about the Black Tally, they find scrying hints about missing ships and confirm it in Bogoreka amid mysterious deaths of suspected criminals in the docks. The Huntresses are protected from scrying but background details they pick up hint at drama and rumor. Also in Bogoreka, rumors swirl about a scandal in the nobility of the Triumvirate, someone had tracked down a hideout of a noble family trafficking illicit goods and bribes. The Dissonant Whispers found Weave and Catalysts tasks, despite their elaborate magical protections, when digging around for rumors in Rhydyr, where their bribed student had alerted them was a frequent destination of those two teams. News of Steinreich alumni at a secretive tradeshow and new adventuring gear similar to the items used by Catalyst tipped the group off that they were looking for a famous signature. Weave was trickier but being the only remaining team to pin the rediscovered river gate chain, it wasn’t a hard deduction but they aren’t sure Weave didn’t complete the task a little too conspicuously. 


They snag a small meeting room in a lesser-used academic building to compare notes, confirming some of their guesses for the Blue. While they are discussing, a ceiling tile falls on Leon as he talks about not being sure what their next steps should be after turning in the answers. On the tile itself is an intricately folded note with a handful of dried lily petals. 

At the important juncture, go left first. What you want is there. Roses Brick Camel Treant, promptly but without nervousness, they’re complacent and won’t look too close. For insight in the blackest, look under the right armrest cushion. Sorry for the Shock. Evil is a deed as I live. The folly of a δαίμων is its own pride, utter it aloud to ruin them. Bet on green, even if they’re dead last.

 Bad drawing of two white dragons, one peeking over mountains, the other over buildings

Unsure of the meaning of the collection of phrases, the group only manages to decode “Daimon” from archaic lettering, but not the meaning of any of the sentences. The bad drawing at the bottom and flower petals hints at only one possible sender. What her intent was, they are unsure. Perhaps Styx and Klythmnora can give them some insight into what to do next? Regardless, they’ve got a few prior engagements to deal with first.


Rila heads off to her coffee date with Lucillo the half fey. She has a good date, where they compare backgrounds, and relate over being relative outsiders to the human world. As they finish their drinks, he tries to recruit her team for help with the chivalric order that he and Hector are investigating: Dawn’s Charge. Rila is skeptical about his relation to the winter court, unsure if she can trust him, but he was open about his fae upbringing. She is definitely open to meeting with him again, maybe trying to get more information about the winter court out of him. While she is busy, the rest of the group takes time to buy and sell in Bogoreka. When they are about to break off for food, they detect a failed scrying attempt on them. Even more suspicious, a street urchin begs them for help down a secluded alleyway. To none of their surprise, the urchin pulls claws from its rags to attack as two thugs appear from around the corner to attack. The tall junkie’s limbs lengthen and sprout spikes like a cricket’s legs while the thicker thug’s arms split many times over, turning into cat-o-nine-tails fleshy noodles. Behind them, a portal opens and Beithir introduces himself to request their immediate surrender of the egg to their betters. Thug and junkie cultist fight to the last, charging forward and ignoring their injuries. It is only as Tormenoth finally decapitates one and Rila blasts the other to pieces that they finally stop. Before they can reach the portal where Beithir watches on, he scoffs, “Even other plans are not far enough to hide from the Planeswalker. Remember that I offered you a peaceful way out of this” as he closes the portal with a gesture. 


Tormenoth, on the way back to his dorm, goes to meet with Zap and catch up but has a cryptic encounter with a classmate that he recognizes as under the influence of the Black Tally Society. Dazed, she asks, “Have you picked yet?” and a glowing red numeral ‘II’ glows in her eyes for a moment. When the daze fails and he asks her what she meant, she is confused but mentions she must have been asking if he picked anyone for a date to the Prismatic Ball, the homecoming event prior to the final competition of the Showing of Colors. He says no and she leaves, a little confused how she got here but pretending nothing is amiss. Leon spends some time praying to get some information by talking to the Death god about what he needs done, and gets the location of the cult he wants attacked. Myrkul describes the Moonlit Phalanx hunkered down in Moontown to the north of Alara and he wants Leon to shake them up. 


In the morning, the Dissonant Whisperers gather together to go up and talk to Styx. They figure they can turn in their Blue Mystery answers to her, get some advice on what to do next, and some background information on death cults. She brings them to a newly finished meeting room with Klythmnora to answer their questions. It will be tough to fight them head on but luring them out of their lair is going to be the ticket to fighting smarter not harder. Alternatively, coming at them from unprepared angles will yield better results compared to attacking them from where they are heavily prepared. 


Ariel heads out to read in the library about the difficulties of finding a hard enough quest for the next challenge, the Quest for White Prestige, that will score enough points with anonymous judges from all five schools. Rila meets with the Huntresses and exchanges information about Catalyst’s task for details about Weave’s task. With that information, a final round of scrying and communing lets them nail down their last guesses of tasks. Leon considers that they could do that quest the death god had asked him about as their possible White task.  Instead, the group decides to use Myrkul’s task as a way to get a favor from a deity and treasure for a run at a Tiamat temple for their white task. With things taken care of and their guesses for the Blue Mystery turned in to Styx, they head off to Moontown. 


A day’s travel brings them to this fairly new town built mostly of wood from cleared forests in this bustling town. It is a mercenary town and base for the Moonlit Phalanx, with traders, merchants, and artisans mostly supporting the military efforts of the town or its off-duty soldiers. Curiously, there is a lack of the usual poor or downtrodden, with the unpleasant maintenance of the town being handled by masked and robed people. Getting closer to one, they discover it is undead but when they point this out, the townsfolk not only aren’t bothered but prideful of the ingenuity of their town. As they continue to investigate, trying to learn what has set Myrkul against his own adherents, they hit up a local tavern filled with off duty soldiers. Tormenoth and Ariel find the crowd easy to work with. They trade battle stories with these scarred veterans who tell their own tales of narrow survival against long odds then finding the Moonlit Phalanx offering them good pay. None of them started their career with this mercenary group, but the numbers they talk about going on duty with don’t line up with the off-duty soldiers here. There should be multiple times more off-duty soldiers if roughly a third are off duty at a time and most of their third are in the tavern. A well-muscled and scarred halfling recognizes them from the Showing of Colors and attempts to recruit them. Tormenoth plays along to keep her talking, but he runs into a dead end after an aggressive sales pitch that he defers. The graveyard on the outside of town piques their curiosity, and under the cover of night Rila transforms into a giant badger to dig a tunnel down, finding tunnels connecting up to the graves and mausoleums from below and skeletal laborers trudging about the web of narrow tunnels. They raid the tunnels, connected to an underground temple complex that they fight their way through swiftly, keeping anyone from raising the alarm.


Summoned apes pop into being on the other side of the lookout slot let them knock out the guard, open the secured door, and then murder sleeping cultists in the next room. These bloody bodies are hidden in their pocket plane and the group loot what they find of the small lockers and storage closets. A couple cultists and their guards are in the mess hall, but suspicion is thrown off with a well timed use of the mysterious code phrasing given by their note from Lilly in response to one of the cultists growling, “Elemental Orange Poltergeist Glory”. The group leaves the cultists to go back to the mess hall while they raid a messy workroom holding training corpses for raising. After that room of mostly trash, they enter into a small library with texts about undead. Only once they reach a small temple area beyond are they confronted by a priest that recognizes them as outsiders rather than new recruits. A fight ensues in which he calls in mummies, but the group avoids their debilitating curse, using the summoned apes for a front line while killing the undead and priest with fire from a distance.


Looking around the room, they find the large skull statue askew and move it aside to find stairs down. The next level below is higher quality but also under construction, with crews of skeletons digging and removing debris. A turn to the left takes them to a small room lined with shelves and a round table in the center. Lockboxes chained to the wall, a sealed sarcophagus, and glass cases fill the storage space. An orb starts to roll off the table from next to an open book and velvet-lined case, but Ariel catches it with a quick Mage Hand when Leon stumbles trying to launch himself over to catch it. Held in a magical grip, she deposits it back in the case as Tormenoth explores the room with Leon. They find books describing and cataloging cursed items, to which Ariel responds gladly that she did not touch the sphere herself, identifying an entry in the open book that mentions it is a cursed object. “Cursed Objects: Strange but True Tales” & “Don’t Touch Anything: A Curse-Crafter’s Tell-All” From around the room, they note a number of cursed objects in unlocked or unsecured containers that they deposit without touching into their bag of holding.


Further down the hall, choosing to ignore one corridor with closely spaced doors, they head into a greenhouse of sorts. Large stone basins with fish support plant and fungal growth above them. Every so often, a bony tentacle a dozen feet long flicks out of the pools to snatch a decayed leaf, adjust a stem, or flick a bug into the waiting jaws of the fish. Rila takes care not to disturb whatever creature is in the basins but readily identifies the mushrooms, plants, and fish as all being rare or expensive sources for spell components and rituals. 


In the next room, they enter into an elaborate cathedral after listening at the door to a man complaining. He recognizes them as intruders immediately and summons empowered skeletal champions to fight. The Whisperers quickly realize these are no normal undead, with each one unleashing stored magic from their armaments as the fight burns through their resources, but eventually, the high priest, Reuben, is killed. They stop to loot his Bone Robes and Adamantine Chainshirt, then press on around the corner to a room filled with muddy water and a single black boat moored to the stone walkway. A single tree with green leaves twists out of one of the larger moors and a small stone platform rises out of the water at the other end of the room with a great stone sepulcher and elaborate tome. 


Not wanting to go in, they use spells to cross over to the stone island without disturbing the water. When they try to read the book through, it closes and a huge undead kraken stirs from the muddy water to attack. They make a fighting retreat but not quickly enough as Tormenoth is swallowed. They blast it from the corridor as its long tentacles and poisonous breath fill the area while the fighter fights to cut his way out. Their sheltered position and Rila’s Moon Beam eventually reduce the creature back to regular death as Tormenoth cuts himself free to join the assault. Exploring the room, they find a vault door as Myrkul appears. “As payment for services rendered, I will remove my curses guarding this door. I’m sure adventurers like yourselves can solve the material difficulties of the door. This should shake them from their complacency, make them remember why I am a god of fear and ambition. Death isn’t something you can make comfortable.” He thanks the group for stirring up the hornet’s nest of his followers, takes the holy book (those aren’t secrets he is willing to share), and offers to reward them by stripping his divine protections from the vault door. The mundane lock will be theirs to puzzle out though. It is a dial of letters, eight letters long. It takes a bit but they realize why the High Priest was complaining about the thing’s breath and take a look in the kraken’s rotting mouth. Scribed on the inside of its segmented beak are eight faintly glowing letters, ACMOIERPN. With the code in hand they unlock the door and begin looting. Stolen goods and magic items fill the small vault. Unfortunately, they can also hear the heavy footsteps and muffled shouting of numerous people organizing on the floor above.


Styx Manor’s Troubling Past

Tormenoth hurries to meet the group and catches up with them at the board with the posted scores, still a little pale from his earlier surprise. He dodges a question from Rila by claiming he ran here and asks how they fared. They came in fifth. This puts them tied for second place with Catalyst, and they can already feel the attention growing as they remain in the top 3. Students around the board and other teams give them wider berth, harder stares, or friendlier smiles. Not wanting the spotlight, they duck out quickly, hoping to avoid too much attention that would make it difficult to investigate other teams for the Blue Mystery.

After getting their results, they split off for a bit. Leon gets the last of his teleportation network info from the bribed student worker. Ariel checks in with her dad over a brunch where he tells her the true story of her parentage. Angels dropped Ariel off to him and his wife one night, warning that her father had lost his wings and the fall had gotten Persephone killed. Persephone was her mother’s twin sister who had been somewhat estranged from the family. The angels and their human counterparts had to hunt her father down to stop his grief induced madness. Her father even thinks the accident that killed his wife only happened because she started looking into the details of her sister’s death. Not sure what to do with the information besides following a promise to be careful, she heads to meet back with the group.

They go to Rhydyr about the whole ‘wanted for questioning’ thing. Walking into the head guard office, they are directed to an office where they wait for a bit. The investigator handling their case walks in with a thick stack of parchments, staring down at them over his thick facial and scowling expression. He slams the door behind him, grunting about all the problems they’ve been causing in his city, adjusting his lopsided red cap and tailor armor as he sits behind his desk. He lays out the charges they’ve been wanted for relating to piracy, extortion, and grand theft. They argue over definitions and try to get details of their supposed crimes. Careful words from Ariel, “Captain” to her team, are able to get them out of the piracy charge, due to their intention to betray Captain Tricorn for her hat and bounty, plus a lack of actually stealing anything. The extortion charge was filed by a drow that Leon argues was clearly a criminal mastermind whose testimony cannot be trusted. Investigator Richard Dour considers this for a moment but then turns his head as if someone was whispering in his ear then gets up and leaves his office. “Stay where you are and don’t touch anything”, he growls as he slams his door behind him. 

While he is gone, the group reassures themselves that the charges are nonsense, but are actively wondering what could possibly be the grand theft charge. They hadn’t stolen anything in the city or done much questing in the area at all. Dour returns with a guest, a lazily strolling man in a blue, pinstriped suit. He immediately introduces himself as K. C. Ninoi, leaning on his gilded cane as he reaches in to shake hands with each of the four adventurers. Richard clears his throat and requests that Mr. Ninoi explain further the charges filed in more detail so he can get the group to admit their crimes to make things easier on all of them and get Ninoi his property back more quickly. Ninoi goes on to explain, with longwinded descriptions and details, of a particularly rare family heirloom that had been recovered and accidentally sent to an auction house. Perhaps the adventurers know what he is speaking of? The looks on the group’s face says it all as the investigator tries to cut in and offer up blank parchments for a signed confession from them all. “By chance could I call upon a favor, Richard, to speak to these young folk alone and dig further into why they might have stolen such a valuable thing?”, K. C. Ninoi drawls.

Investigator Richard Dour gives him a look then stomps out of the room, grumbling, “I’ll give you a few minutes, and if they give you the smallest amount of trouble, yell”. As soon as he is out of the room, the man in the suit twists a ring on his finger and the ruckus of the rest of the building is instantly muted. “I wanted to see for myself what band of adventurers had taken that Egg, but it seems my worries were for naught, you all seem like fairly upstanding sorts.” he says with crisp enunciation and sharp eyes. When the group tries to ask about his identity of how he knew about the egg, he winks and points to the door. It opens as if on cue and Dour steps back in. “I have reasoned, Investigator, that these are not the ones that stole my family heirloom, it seems to be a case of mistaken identity that I greatly apologize for. We must go back to the drawing board and make sure my heirloom doesn’t show up in the wrong hands, I believe it has powerful magics. If anything, these four have been quite helpful and I would be remiss if those other spurious-seeming charges caused them any troubles. Certainly you’ve heard of the Mystery in Blue Cunning? Those academy students are always trying crazy stunts for their teams,” K. C. Ninoi says. Dour takes a stack of bundled notes and testimonies, drops them in a bin on the side of his desk and glowers, “Fine. But don’t think you’re not in my scrying circle now, kids.” With that, he escorts them out and when he turns to show K. C. Ninoi out a more discrete exit, the man is already gone.

Aside from hitting the markets to sell and buy treasure and gear, the group leaves Rhydyr having cleared their names. Styx’s manor is where they head to next, eager to plumb the depths of her sealed off labs in the hopes of a good haul of loot. When they arrive, Prince happily shows them to the hidden and locked door leading to the labs. He even speaks a few words to the party, asking them to look for something to help with the arm he lost fighting in the mountains outside Klythmnora’s lair, which at this point is only slowly regenerating. Ariel is the first down into the dusty, stale sewers that connect the handful of laboratory spaces together. Searching around, she finds and has Rila investigate a dead rat. Its blood was completely drained and then its organs devoured. Picking a direction to go, they head north through a double door into a small area. Skeletons are inside the cells lining the northern walls with chains and ropes tied around the bars. As the group starts to hear distant singing, Tormenoth opens a cell to find it unlocked, held closed only by the chains and ropes tied from the inside. Fog starts to creep in to the corner of everyone’s vision, so Tormenoth puts wax in his ears to block the sound, keeping the fog at bay. The others take the lead opening the door east to a supply room that they being looting of items. Tormenoth can see the dangerous, rickety gear piled up but they seem to move in carefree, bringing down weapon racks and heavy furniture down on themselves. Using Rila’s message cantrip, they communicate with the voluntarily deaf Tormenoth to find that they are seeing different things than him. Even though the fog is obscuring their vision up to their ankles, the supplies looked safely stacked to them but dangerous to Tormenoth. 

In the next room they find desks and shelves of books which focus on incorporeal undead and aquatic creatures, especially sirens and poltergeists. A list of trials is found with a number of attempted monster combinations crossed off. Moving to the next room they find a few cells with old bones in them and boxes of alchemical ingredients. The singing is louder and the floor is covered in knee-high fog to all except Tormenoth, who helps guide the other three around weak and cracked sections of the floor. Those spots, when tested, give way like pit traps. Rila, worried about the provenance of the alchemical ingredients, identifying some of the bones on an examination table as a siren, asks Leon to cleanse the bones and ingredients before she takes them. She worries an incorporeal undead could follow them around, reforming near its bones when they defeat it, and she would be the one carrying said ghostly bones. When they head further in to the south, cracking open the door to a room of giant green vats with suspended mer-corpses, they back out when they spot a ghostly, floating siren crying to herself in the laboratory. The fog lurches upwards in the eyes of the three un-deafened adventurers before they pull the door shut to explore elsewhere first. 

As they backtrack to a different hallway in this section, Ariel opens a door to a larger room that connects with a differently styled area and is attacked by a trio of monsters. The centipede-snakes, bug-ape, and tentacle-dogs don’t hesitate to launch themselves at the group, but are held back by Tormenoth in a moon-beam called forth by Rila. When they perish, their corpses start to rapidly decay, so the group leaves the disgusting mess to blast open a salt-encrusted and rusty iron door. This opens to a landing looking down at an arcing, electrically charged room containing controls and a giant metal tube. Currently closed, occasional jolts of electricity crackle to random points in the room. Dodging the arcs, Rila and Leon decipher the controls to safely shut down the system, opening the tube to reveal the bones of both a sire and human within. A death-shriek can be heard through the thick stone walls coming towards them as soon as Leon picks up the bones to put in their bag of holding. They try to prepare but it is only seconds before the floating, mer-tailed ghost appears through the walls to attack. She lashes out with bursts of ear-splitting shrieks and explosions of magic that turn the stone itself into dangerous deadfall traps. Under the onslaught of adventurer magic and blades, she tries to split into illusory copies to hide in the rising fog, but it merely delays her inevitable defeat. With a final blow, her ghost dissipates and the group takes a  moment to catch their breath, bracing in case it is a fakeout. When no counter-attack comes, they head out. 

The corpses of the amalgamations have been dragged away, with a few, tiny beetles marching away to the west with bits and pieces of the necrotizing goo in the mandibles. Leaving that for another time, the group heads over to the room with green tanks to investigate now that the siren is gone. In the room there are three large tanks, two still containing mostly intact mer skeletons while the open one has loose bones bubbling at the open top. Some laboratory tools litter the work tables and when the group carefully pulls out the skull from the vat using mage hand, they find a hidden amulet in the skull. They make sure to also take these bones just in case. The door to the south opens into a room barricaded, runed-walls, and smeared with long-dried blood. The armor and clothes of dead corpses are looted, as Leon finds Smoky Armor amongst what used to be human guards. An adjacent room is a bedroom turned into some sort of nest, the bed torn apart, black and white feathers everywhere, and the shelves filled with all manner of shiny trinkets and junk. When Leon opened the door, some humanoid creature turned to black mist and disappeared. After removing some of the barricades, they find a main room with a huge, stagnant blood pool. To the east of the main room, they find a collection of cages, humanoid bones still inside, again monitored by a stone eye that directs a beam of energy towards them that they avoid, leaving the room.

To the south of the main blood pool, they find an old kitchen with a dead rat very recently drained of with a few red footprints abruptly ending. It is a three-toed foot, bird-like but human sized. An unlocked pantry holds a desiccated corpse that turns out to be a ghoul when instigated. Rila and Ariel are both paralyzed before Tormenoth puts the creature down with a Green Flame Blade. Unusually, the foodstuffs appear to be mostly untouched except for a few mouthfuls gagged up around the room. They notice that this is the only runemarked door that matches the walls’ runework. The dining hall portion of the room still has half-finished meals, long rotted, on the wood tables. Broken polearm mancatchers still have a few runemarked heads and a hidden diary talks about having to constantly replace the doors until a new system was put in place. 

Their investigation of the room is interrupted as a shadowy, birdlike humanoid appears behind Ariel for a brutal attack of talons and beak before vanishing as the adventurers turn their attacks its way. Paranoia starts to rise as their investigations continue to get interrupted and whoever is alone gets attacked. They stop to have Rila take off the pantry door, preserving its runes, while Leon checks out the mancatchers. Abjuration magic still fills the polearms and Rila gets the door but when the thing attacks she is the only one quick enough to try and snag it with a mancatcher. Unfortunately, her size isn’t enough to weigh it down so it just carries her along until it tries to teleport through a door and fails, bouncing off. It shakes her and the mancatcher's head off its back before fleeing again. When they head west from the main blood pool, they hear slurping then a caw of pain to the north. The room north of the main room has active fountains of blood, still bubbling. Rila tries to investigate what magic powers them when the stone eye at the end of the room opens, turning its blue-white beam towards her. She ducks out of the room before it reaches her and the eye closes shortly after she leaves. They get spooked since it kills their shadow-kobold summons instantly as their test. With the new Shadow Armor’s burst of shadows and some sacrificial summoned kobolds they reach a valve to shut off the blood fountains. It does nothing to stop the beam of energy, with Rila pinned behind the fountains, the only one small enough to hide behind their small size. Sick of the convoluted distractions and running, Rila tests the beam with her pinky to find it harmless. 

Then they explore the cells, no longer wary of the eye-beam guarding them, and set a trap for the chupacabra with a baited trail of blood from the fountains. It falls for the trap, but not without a fight and a few surprises of intelligence where it tries to outflank the group to escape. Once they trap it inside the runed cells and leave the room, the eye beam shuts off and the creature paces back and forth in its cell. Any time it tries to leave the cell, the beam re-engages and it has to flee the beam's light back to the cell. With the creature secured, they decide to head west out of the main room back into the connecting sewers. 

In the south end of the sewers they find old corpses with bone-saw swords and then make their way down a sewer staircase to find a room filled floor to ceiling with packaged crates of bones. Each box is labeled with the grade and type of bones, but cracking one open they find that the bones are enormous humanoid bones. A door to the west opens into a cavern of bone meal piles hosting tons of micromyconids that attack when they send in Trixi, Leon’s cherubic trickster statue, to explore. Her explorations knock over one of the giant mushrooms sprouting from the bone piles when she climbs up one of them. The swarm miniature mushroom-folk tosses volleys of tiny mushroom stalk javelins that poison Ariel and Leon, leaving Ariel almost unable to see as her vision swirls with psychedelic effects. Tormenoth catches some of the poison too as he blocks the doorway, but Rila’s Moonbeam and the group's attacks quickly cause the myconids to flee. They abandon their attempt to parade forth a set of shovels and a wheelbarrow covered in small engravings. With the mushroom people hiding in small crevices in the cave walls, they are free to search the room. Investigating the mushroom stalk, they find crude murals carved in about giant (to them) people delivering wheelbarrows of bone meal with ‘holy’ shovels. The group feels a little bad, but moves on anyway. In the next room they find a disassembly chamber where giant bones are salvaged for inks, dyes, metals, and components inscribed on the inside and outside of them before grinding up the bones in a magical circle. The next room holds an archive of bone related reference books of all kinds plus folders of failed experimental results, return orders, cancellations, and complaints about the bone shipments turning to dust. Frantic theories are hypothesized and disproven in other folders, discussing anecdotes of what types of damage or combinations seemed most effective at carving up the “Eterna Rey”. A door from here opens to a ransacked storage room, with a few bonesaw-style weapons. To the north, they open to a large ritual room in disrepair featuring an array of magical source fountains, control panel, and a floating sphere of bone in the center. 

The group delves into the magical machinery to figure out what it does and just how broken it is. Reading lab notes strewn about, fixing the wires, the battery runes, the startup panel, and then the broken parts under the pools of elemental energy, they set it up and continually test its abilities. It is a device that puts out controlled beams of elemental energy, fire, cold, electricity, acid, thunder, and/or radiant at the bone suspended in the center. The group that built it was trying to find the right combination of elements that would open up a vulnerability in the bone that makes up the “Eterna Rey” (Eternal King). Each part of the machine they fix improves the damage of the beams, restores more abilities to the control panel, or eliminates the fluctuations. A weak barrier keeps the energy from backsplashes the room, but it is old and failing. They try testing different strengths and combinations of elements, damaging it but only if they do enough to overcome its inherent regeneration. The group finds just the right balance of power to slowly whittle down the bone sphere while keeping the barrier just barely up, despite the time it takes to slowly chip away at the chunk of bone. When the last spec is destroyed, it stops regenerating. They aren’t sure they’ve found any particular weaknesses, and leave disappointed.

The room to the west has old magical weapons, smocks, and another list of employee anecdotes about “Eterna Rey”. Contradictory accounts fill the notepad and the only thing agreed upon is that necromantic, psychic, and force damage are useless. When they head north from the magical array, they walk into a huge cathedral with a massive skeleton seated at the far end, hunched over to fit under the 60 ft. ceiling. It notices their arrival and slowly pulls back a fist to take a swing at them, easily dodged by the group stepping back into the previous room. They bait out the slow titanous skeleton’s attacks, letting it smash its regenerating fists against the stone walls while they try magic but realize it has too much regeneration for them to fight through. Curiously it doesn't seem willing or able to leave, content to sit curled up in the giant room, crowned head touching the ceiling. A baited punch gives them an opening to head further north where they run into more bug-snake things then find a defensive tentacle dog. It is not aggressive and when they bring it a snake-bug corpse, it runs off with it. This north-western laboratory area seems grimy and dingy, with small puddles of oily detritus in the corners.

Looping around the dank corridors, they find the connection point to the Siren laboratory where they had fought amalgamations earlier. The beetles are gone but as they continue moving they find an acrid purple liquid staining a few areas and some old, metal, rusting casks of the stuff. In a room to the south, they find a long dead skeleton in a surgical study room, lying against the corner of the wall, scalpel nearby, surrounded by long-dried bloodstains. A conspiracy board of ramblings and endless notes pile high on a desk and a dried corpse of a crude tentacle dog looking creature is carved open on a surgical table. Next to the skeleton is a small magical cloth that opens to a small pocket plan, Paxton’s Pocket Plan, an Oasis Waterskin that replenishes itself, and an Endless Ration bento box. Reading the notes they find that it starts out as a scientist trying to figure out a way to escape or stop the Hive, but the notes grow more crazed and end in “Can't EScape. The kNives work less eacH time and I'm out of embalming fluid. no WAY OUT.” With little left to do, they continue onwards past a newer section of wall, less grimy than the rest. Leon stops the group and decides to give the wall a tap with his magic, and it recoils. It curls open to reveal beetle-apes ready to ambush the party. Leon’s quick thinking turns the ambush back on the ambushers, as they quickly stomp the beetle-apes in combat. Almost before the bodies stop twitching, the tiny beetles are here again, quickly dismembering the beetle-apes to carry off their meat. Not wanting to give whatever it is more sustenance, the Dissonant Whisperers follow to find a massive chimera creature chained to and growing out of a stone wall at the back of a cavernous room. It disgorges more amalgamation creatures like they have fought, but each generation of these creatures seem to be more resistant to their attacks than the last. The suicidal charges of the creatures keeps the group on their toes as they desperately fight against the increasing numbers, Rila using summoned wolves to help block choke points. They do notice that every creature spawned here seems to take mass out of the chimeric hive. The downside being that every corpse its beetles pull back in gives it more mass to use as well. Not wanting to fight a war of attrition with something that keeps gorging itself back up, Leon cordons off the hive with a wall of fire, trying to cook it while keeping it from taking any corpses back in. This works for a while, but its minions continue to fight as it slowly gains resistance to the heat. A second wall of fire is put down after the first, but a beetle-ape fist knocks Leon around enough to break his concentration. Out of spells to block off its beetles, the group switches tactics to back off and kill minions at a distance, baiting them away from the hive while pulling defeated foes into their new pocket plane. Bleeding and exhausted, they almost decide to retreat and regroup, but Leon pushes them forward, certain the hive is weakening faster than they are. Ariel grudgingly agrees, worried that retreat will give this thing time to build back its strength and fortify its resistances.

With a hopeful charge, they pour the last of their spell slots into a fresh pair of summoned wolves, barrages of fire, and finally a thrown katana from Tormenoth that catches it right after it spits out another pair of beetle-apes. A dying gurgle bubbles up from the creature’s many mouths as it begins to rapidly decay into necrotic goo, detaching from the wall it had grown into. All the remaining minions still alive suddenly become docile, so Leon and Rila shepherd them into the pocket plan for later investigation. From here they head north where they were going before the ambush to find a surgical theater with a magical spotlight chandelier, a skeleton in a lead-smith’s workshop, and a boiler room with dozens of oxen stacked up in suspended animation. The lead-smith’s workshop was sealed with leather gaskets and untouched by the amalgamations. The oxen room, covered in acrid soot was likewise untouched save for a few explorative footprints. When they go to leave this laboratory area, they notice that the fake wall starts to close up behind, indicating that the hive maybe isn’t as dead as they thought, as the wall should be mindless like everything else.

Returning to the chimeric hive’s corpse, they find it is being pulled apart by beetles that scurry away from the group when they move in to investigate. When Ariel blasts the wall it was chained to, they find it to be another fake, organic wall. Behind it is a spherical ‘heart’, a pulsing organ appearing like a ball of overlapping honeycomb chitin anchored to the stone around it with dozens of roots that the beetles scurry up and down. They sever enough to pull it free and deposit it unceremoniously in the pocket plane after taking the corpses out. Dirty, wounded, and out of spells, the group decides to call it a day. When they return above, they find Prince waiting and he gives them a questioning look as he escorts them to a meeting room to wait for Styx. Tormenoth picks up on what he is asking about and gives Prince a nod, putting some pep into Prince’s undead step.

In debriefing room #3, they explain what they found below and answer the tough questions of Styx, Prince, and Klythmnora about the laboratory experiments below. They are quite happy with the answers about the Magpie Chupacabra, Breeder Hive, Sirengeist, and Eterna Rey, which nets them bonus pay from Styx. The team sweeps back down to gather up the oxen left behind before heading out, having given Styx the bones and captured hive while telling her how the Eterna Rey and Magpie Chupacabra are contained. It is time for a long bath, greasy food, and good rest.


Green Meditation on Wisdom

“I am Dean Iyrandrar Farstring, and I welcome you to the Green Meditation on Wisdom. I assure you that even with this surprise relocation, your full gear and equipment have made the journey with you. It is said that enlightenment does not move on mortal schedules, and as adventurers you must always be prepared for your challenges. 

I shall now explain the guidelines of the challenge you have been brought here to face. From these crossroads, there are a number of situations occurring around us that you all may take particular interest in. When you have investigated as you see fit, thought about them, answered in your own ways, or overturned them as you wish, return here and meditate to end the challenge. If you are unable to continue, the judges watching may, with a vote, halt your challenge for your protection. 

Each solution will be graded by judges on a scale of 0-5 points. They are looking for those that exhibit great wisdom and forethought in their actions here, but this is not to be a game of playing to the guessed morality of the judges, as each entrant shall be judged in how their actions line up with their own cultures, beliefs, and moralities. For our purposes, how you come to your answers is just as important as the answer itself. Wisdom gained too late is worth as much as wisdom never found, any ties will be resolved in favor of faster teams. You are hereby released to attempt the Green Meditation on Wisdom now.” The robed elf finishes his monologue and with a bow, vanishes. 

            With the elf gone, the group takes a moment to look around them. The gentle rolling hills and trees of the crossroads conceals most of their surroundings except for what they can see down each of the roads. Down the north-south dirt road there is angry shouting in both elven and common at a stopped caravan to the north. To the south, along the same road, is a small forested grove with a small farmstead and a single curl of smoke trailing up from the squat chimney. The east-west road is a sturdier one of old stone. To the east a stately tavern stands next to the road, a few construction supplies and the last bits of scaffolding still being cleaned up. The western direction along the stone road heads over the hills where a stuck cart can be seen mired in some mud filled spots. From what they can see standing here, the group takes a quick vote on which to check out first.

            The shouting at the caravan draws their attention as something that might change rapidly if they don’t act, so the group heads north. They find it is elves and humans in a caravan bickering over their flight from more dangerous lands. There are elves and humans on both sides of the argument as the groups trade insults and rhetorical flourishes. More insults fly as some of the roudier members of the crowd on both sides think the adventurers might side with their opponents, but Tormenoth and Ariel use stern voices and implied strength to keep the hotheads in line. Not sensing an immediate solution, Rila and Tormenoth then split off to investigate the stuck cart to the west of the crossroads while Ariel and Leon stay to figure out a solution. Leon offers to take a look at the slowest wagons, hoping a repair might help, but they mention they have menders to magically repair the wheels, but the structure and loads on the wagons keep causing breakages on the rough dirt road so they have to stop and repair regularly. 

What Tormenoth and Rila find is a group of clergy trying to free a heavily laden, secure wagon from the mud. The trio of priests around it, trying to bribe and cajole their oxen to pull harder, are surprised at the adventurers and sheepishly ask for help. They confide that this is the church’s already late shipment of money to the personal coffers of a local noble, Lord Vunram, and his help could mean legal favors. If they can influence the lord just right, they can restore or even increase their alchemical and scribing privileges that bring them significant funding for their monasteries. They decide to return to Leon and promise to give aid when they return, knowing that Leon will likely have better insight into religious matters as these priests bear the markings of Lathander, his patron.

When they return to the caravan group in the north, Leon and Ariel suss out the root of the problem. The leaders of both groups sense the opportunity to press their case to a neutral third party to win support. It all comes down to danger vs speed. The caravan has a range of speeds among their wagons and everyone is worried about monster attacks or bandit ambushes. The danger group wants to keep everyone together to minimize the harm that an attack could do while the other group wants to let the fastest wagons speed ahead to make sure as much of the group gets there as fast as possible to minimize the amount of time on the road vulnerable to attacks. The caravan seeks an already prepared homestead for their new town, where their scouts have already set up. An elven elder on the side of speed proclaims the wisdom of not having all their eggs in one basket if a bandit or monster attack happens. A wealthy elderly human on the safety side retorts that splitting the group is basically inviting an attack but staying together has a chance of warding away any aggression. Identifying the route they want to take, the adventurers confer and come up with a plan to compromise with the two groups. They plan to have the fastest wagons go ahead to unload their goods and people at the homesteads then return to ferry more goods and people ahead, lightening the load on the worst wagons to help reduce their stoppages. Overall, it will put the group at less risk than totally splitting up while speeding it up some as well. Leon also offers to invoke his patron and when his ritual turns up a Weal result for this plan, it helps convince most of the hotheads and holdouts on either side. There is grumbling, but the plan is set about as the caravan packs up to get moving again. With the private thanks of some of the wiser people on either side, the Dissonant Whispers see the caravan set off, the fastest wagon drivers whooping and hollering as they speed ahead into the distance. Both groups exchange joking bets of how many or how few round trips the fastest wagons can make before they all make it to the homestead. 


With the caravan issue solved, the group turns to Leon as Tormenoth and Rila explain what they found to the east. The group arrives to the loud approval of the now-muddy clergymen. It takes time to help dig the wheel out from the deep mud, while Rila tends to the tired oxen. Leon listens to their story of corruption of the local nobility and their hope that this bribe, while technically illegal and immoral, will help set things back to a more balanced place, restoring the monastery’s rights to produce beer, potions, and scrivening. Between Rila’s restorative effect on the draft animals and some muscle from Tormenoth, the wheel comes free of the mud. With such a valuable cargo of coinage, Leon offers the group’s services as an escort when they hear how close to their destination the clergy got stuck. They arrive at the Lord’s estate to find it expensive and well-maintained, if a bit gaudy.  Lord Vunram himself steps out the front of his small manor to welcome the clergy and noting that their timely payment of taxes and fees frees up some of his time that would have been spent poring over accounting tomes to spend on taking a second look at their legal plight.. Without anything else to go on, Leon decides that while he is conflicted about bribery and immoral dealings like this, that the clergy do have a good goal in mind and that Lathander would likely be accepting of things. They choose not to intervene and say their goodbyes to the clergymen.

Returning to the crossroads, their next choice takes them to the southern farmstead on Rila’s suggestion. Coincidentally, the farm is occupied by a family of halflings. When they introduce themselves, the resemblance can definitely be seen: they’re distant cousins of Rila’s, albeit ones she only knew of but hasn’t ever met. After introductions, they wring their hands and ask for help. Having adventurers around until they get their feet under them would be a great help, otherwise they might have to make a deal with the nearby fey for protection. Animals and natural hazards will keep showing up. Everything from mole infestation in their fields or explosive weed growth to foxes and wolves making off with livestock. They have caught sight of a tiny fairy that when they talked to her offered protection in exchange for steep costs. She wanted as much as she could carry off each yearly harvest.

The group sticks around for a while, knowing it won’t be long until some other bit of terrible luck hits the family, while they watch for the fairy to show herself. Not half an hour later, they see the telltale glowing, fluttering form of a fairy. Rila takes the time to cast a Pass Without Trace, boosting her already strong sneaking skills. The rest of the group stays back as they follow Rila. What the druid finds is the smaller fairy stopping and complaining to a human sized fairy deep in the woods, moaning that the halflings still won’t pay up. Taking a guess that the larger fae is the one in charge, she waits until the tiny fairy leaves to approach. The slender fae woman with great green wings sits nestled in a throne of tree roots with a tiny green dragon on her lap, surrounded by lilies in her natural throne room. At Rila’s approach, the fairy queen states, ““Oh you’re from the fae-cursed tribe, I’m glad we could finally meet”. Rila and the fairy queen talk about the halfling family’s situation and what the queen is looking for. She explains that she wants to ensure her sovereignty in this forest isn’t upset by mortals moving in, but she isn’t so concerned about halflings as she might have been about humans or dwarves and their axes. Rila suggests perhaps they could recognize her as queen of these lands, which is countered by the queen suggesting a tax on their harvests, which seems reasonable to the druid. Before she leaves though, Rila makes the connection and asks the fairy queen if she is the green dragon they tried to meet at Page & Wisdom, but receives only a knowing smile and a wink from the fairy queen. 

Returning to the family, Rila explains what has been going on, suspecting that the misfortune of the family has really been the extortionate efforts of the tiny fairy. They want to take the little fae’s head off, proposing a bounty to the adventurers, but she calms them with talk of the inexpensive deal the fae queen offers. The family gets to thinking on the deal and propose their own concerns, which Rila allays by saying she made sure the queen’s deal wouldn’t take effect until the homestead was complete and ready. The halflings start talking about the obvious loophole, that they could leave a portion of the house unfinished so they never have to pay. A loud, high-pitched shriek of, “unscrupulous fraudsters!” moments before the loud buzzing of a great swarm of bees is heard. The Dissonant Whisperers move to fight off the swarm and gather the halflings inside to protect them from the insects. At the same time, Ariel and Rila try to convince the family to bargain with the fae in good faith. It takes some doing while they are getting stung and swarmed, but desperation makes for a powerful argument. They agree to the deal and to work with the fae in good faith. The tiny fairy can be heard shouting, “Liars, Cheats, Scoundrels!” until a soft voice as big as the wind whispers, “Lysolda, you already pushed my patience with your schemes on this family, if I have to step in further…”. The fairy emits an embarrassed squeak as she flees, taking the bees with her. 

Having secured a deal with the fae that leaves both sides satisfied, Rila rebuffs the halflings requests for her to stay longer, chiding them that they’ll have to stand on their own two feet at some point. Goodbyes are exchanged as the group returns to the crossroads to take the last path they have not yet traveled.


            The newly-built tavern to the south has the owner and her husband standing outside struggling with paintbrush in hand on what to name the place. The red-haired dwarven woman and the tall, dark-haired man both turn to the adventurers with a sigh of relief, jokingly betting with one another that the adventurers can solve their problem. They lay out the crux of the issue, he wants to name it something after his family that helped them build it, Firman, but she has just as strong reasons to name it after her noble, if distant, parentage ,Stormforge, for prestige and name recognition. Scott Firman and Lisolda Stormforge introduce themselves. The group listens to the reasons to name it after either side of the odd pair, but Tormenoth suggests holding to an older tradition of tavern naming: the adjective-noun arrangement, famous in the adventuring world. Ariel adds in her own twist that they should use her first name because her husband loves her while she gets a dwarven name to honor her side: Fiery Lisolda’s. It is a compromise that gets the couple laughing again instead of arguing, and they agree to the idea, happy to get down to serving drinks instead of arguing over paint brushes. The group declines the invitation to drink, and heads back down the road.

            When they return to the crossroads this time, it is to meditate to end the challenge. The elven man clears his throat. They open their eyes to see him standing amongst them again. He offers some platitudes about the wisdom they have found and turns more serious. He asks them about the true lesson of the Green Meditation on Wisdom, "What problem are all of these events facing? What common thread do they share?" All four of them talk amongst themselves but eventually converge on the idea that all of these events needed an outside influence to jolt them or shake them up, but ultimately they were problems that each could have solved on their own. With a nodding head, the elf considers their answer but gives no indication whether it was a good or bad one. Instead, he begins to explain that this whole exercise has been one done purely in an astral, dream-construct. They will awake back in their own beds, having been prepared and monitored remotely to astral project to this challenge. Before they go, he relates that the teams’ scores will be posted on a Page and Wisdom bulletin board the following morning. Finally, he wishes them a good night's sleep. Unlike a normal dream, they will remember all the events of the projection as clearly as if they had experienced them awake.


When they open their eyes in the morning, Tormenoth finds an envelope in the middle of his dorm room floor. He grabs it to read as he walks out of his room to go meet with the others, but freezes for a moment with his hand on the door handle. He reaches into the folded letter to pull out an obsidian numeral “1”. 


 You have passed your initiation. Your next tally must be one you choose on your own. 


Tormenoth Interlude - June 2021
The Color of Betrayal

As the group walked hurriedly away from the gathering hall, frequently casting furtive glances over their shoulders for more of the shadowed ‘actors’, they began to slowly relax and let down their guard. Fingering the crumpled event ticket in his shaking fingers, Tormenoth couldn’t help but replay the scene again and again in his head. He felt Huron’s actions as a gut punch of betrayal, leaving him in confusion and embarrassment.

How had he misunderstood the old general’s mental state so badly? Had the scheming been going on for a while now, the absentminded affect nothing but a pretense to throw off suspicion? When had the old man found the time to recruit so many students for his secret project? Tormenoth was humbled by his overconfidence. It had turned out that minding a legendary war criminal was beyond him after all.

Compounding his feeling of failure at not noticing the signs was the Black Tally’s assertion about Tazoa’s own writings… a perspective obvious in hindsight but outside of Tormenoth’s vision at the time. The general’s desire to teach and show off his prowess certainly implied that he would also write, and his influence within the Akshi empire made it more likely that some of those texts might even survive centuries of ruin.

Every time Tormenoth’s thoughts wandered to Altreyo’s bloody dagger, it was difficult for him to not feel a bit sick. Somehow his years of military brutality didn’t prepare him for the complicated intermixture of fondness and rage for someone that he had felt charged to protect. The amount of blood and stabbing required to ensure the old man couldn’t harm any others didn’t help. It was some small consolation that the necessary act could prevent harm to others, now that his true colors had been shown.

Tormenoth wasn't yet sure how he could face his companions while shouldering such a burden of shame. That was a problem for the morning, but his best hope was that they would understand and still be able to trust that he had learned from the situation. Explaining this to his mother, if she ever found out, would be another matter entirely…

[This is Tormenoth’s perspective prior to gaining some deeper understanding of the Black Tally Society’s goals. What he learns later on will shake his resolve even further.]