Sanguinous Imperium

You Can't Keep a Good Barb Down
There WAS an Ogre sized Buttplug Out There Somewhere

Having finally returned home from their adventure into Anyon’s Volcanic Forge, most of the group relaxed in conversation with each other and their new demi-egg god companions. Andrew was still out doing a Wrestlemania tour with Gimli, and Ben and Elaina had retreated to Ben’s lab to work with their newfound materials and plan what to do with the new Volcano Forge once it’s fortress dome had been built back up.

((Many conversations were happening all at once. Rather than interject from one to the other, I will address one conversation at a time, in alphabetical order, because reasons))

Bryan’s conversation with his egg was short and in private. When he returned from his private conversation, the smokey shade of a small boy or a skinny hobbit (hard to tell) floated behind him. His egg, now a pitch black sphere with no reflection, rolled silently on the floor beside him. He introduced his shade and sat down. The party were very welcoming of the shade, but the shade spoke in a language like a scratched record, a voice only Bryan and one other, Shalm the kitten, could understand. Bryan conveyed the shade’s gratefulness for the welcome, and Shalm interpreted the shade’s mistrustful words to Stephanie in his deep manly whisper.

Ethan, knowing that though his egg did not absorb a consciousness, but the will of Retribution from Anyon’s forge, decided to send his egg out to find him something of use. Having most recently acquired the shape of a big black dildo with the head of Tia Mowry at it’s tip, the egg flopped it’s way out of the room on a quest for answers. Then he set out explaining his dream to the others, and the need to eliminate Orcus.

Lisa’s conversation with her sword Mystmorning was very informative. Mystmorning was originally the sword of Sarenrae, a neutral good deity, associated with Healing and the Sun. She teaches temperance and patience in all things, but swift and righteous justice when necessary. Unfortunately, Lisa learned that at some point many hundreds of years ago, Sarenrae was torn to shreds in a battle with other gods, and Mystmorning longed for someone to join with her on a quest to find the pieces. The sword could offer a starting point, the location of the wings of Sarenrae, but other than that, couldn’t offer a location for the rest of her limbs. Lisa, intrigued by the idea, agreed to help Mystmorning find the wings and possibly return Sarenrae to her full form.

Mike, unlike the others, seemed not to have absorbed the consciousness of a god into his egg, but instead the consciousness of an intelligent ale mug, who of course wished to be called Mug. Mug really only wanted two things: to get drunk, and to go adventuring whilst drunk. He encouraged drinking and violence, and he and Mike got along very well. They conversed about many trivial things, but in the end, when Mike was deep in his cups, Mug, having heard Shannon accuse Ethan of trying to become a god, mentioned he could help with that, but Mike and Mug would need to travel to a labyrinth just outside some big wall down south to do it, and once they reached the labyrinth, Mike and Mug would have to travel the rest of the way alone.

Shannon and her egg did not get along well at first, but warmed up to each other after coming to a mild understanding. Her egg had absorbed the soul of The Raven Queen, a strong willed goddess with a dark and stately voice. She informed Shannon that because of their circumstances they would both be acting as The Raven Queen, now, and that would require a degree of noble confidence from both of them to pull off. It was obvious she liked Shannon, but you could tell when she spoke she expected to be heard, and it was a little grating. When the egg, now a diadem atop Shannon’s head, heard Ethan’s discussion with the other’s about killing Orcus, The Raven Queen did not shy away, but instead offered a degree of help with the situation. Find Nerull, and she could convince him to aid them in destroying Orcus. All they really needed was a library of some sort, or at the very least an information repository in a temple to Nerull would do.

Stephanie had what could be described as the most animated discussion with her egg. She couldn’t be blamed, however, as it was hard not to speak animatedly with a kitten whose voice was very deep and wore an oak leaf upon his head like a hat. Obad-Hai, or Shalm, for short, spent a good deal of the conversation disappearing and returning with little acorns for Stephanie. He told her they were acorns from his sacred trees, and they were very good for eating. She ate one and felt refreshed, and some of her smaller scrapes healed themselves. It was shortly thereafter asked what would happen if the acorns were planted, and Shalm informed them they would grow into his sacred Oak trees. Seeing the opportunity, Stephanie took the rest of the acorns and gave them to a passing kobold to plant in the courtyard. Shalm then began to regale her with stories of his favorite places and things, walks in the woods, and rolling in leaf piles. He mentioned a particular leaf pile which they should go to sometime, which was the most fantastic leaf pile in the world in his opinion, and would be more than worth the trip. Then he remembered that on the last trip he took to his leaf pile, he sat his favorite walking stick against a tree, and had lost it, as that was the last time he was in corporeal form. The staff was very dear to him, and if Stephanie were to take him to find it, he would let her keep it for a while, at least until he regained his form, if ever that were to happen. At one point in their discussion, Shalm pointed out that he could speak any language, and did so by translating for Bryan’s shade, who seemed a mite more unpleasant than was expected.

As the group sat and conversed, their elven house master appeared, carrying the letters and job requests of the previous few weeks which had piled up. What appeared to be a form letter from a “prince” asking for money peaked Mike’s interest and ire, as spam mail seemed to have followed the group into a new dimension, and that soured his stomach. There were also letters from various townfolk, even Hershel, who told them of strange happenings around the castle and the town, a tinker reducing people to burned out husks as if by some kind of magic, and people disappearing from the surrounding villages. There was also a letter that appeared typed up, but was from a Warforged who lived in a derelict factory off the coast and would give them a magic ring if they would only return to him an item of sentimental value. Soon after Ethan sent his floppy sidekick out to find something for him, his egg returned with a note in tow. Pol would like to speak to Ethan, having heard his plans for Orcus and wanting to be of help.

The group, having reviewed their mail, decided to sort everything out in a logical manner, and address things in similar groups based on location. Pol and the mysterious disappearances were closest, so they would deal with those tonight. Meanwhile, others would see to the interesting request for help from the Warforged, and then they would seek out Shalm’s staff and possibly the large pile of leaves. Mike and Mug would also be seeking out their adventure.

Ethan’s meeting with Pol was short, but productive. Pol knew the location of a special sword which could be very helpful in the destruction of Orcus, one that would strike true at every opportunity to hit him. It was developed by Orcus’ greatest enemy, Demogorgon, but was stolen by another of Orcus’ enemies, Graz’zt, to use against both of them. Graz’zt, however, was imprisoned on the mortal plane after the great disaster, and though he escaped, his location has been unknown since. If he were found, he might be persuaded to give up the sword.

As twilight was approaching, Shannon and Ethan decided a joint effort to investigate the disappearances would be the best approach to that particular problem. Shannon dispatched a team of zombies to patrol the woods for prowlers, and Ethan sent his egg out to hide in shadows and observe. Though the egg saw nothing through the night, Shannon felt her ties to several of the zombies she sent out instantly severed, indicating their destruction by some unknown force. Unfortunately, that was all that happened for the rest of the night. Now that it was daylight again, however, the group decided to pursue some of the job requests and various tasks presented.

First, the group decided to pursue the issue of the Warforged and his sentimental token, a potato smasher, that had been stolen by an Ogre. Ogres in particular were pushovers for the group at this point, so they thought it would be an easy sell. The only issue was that the location of the Ogre burrow was near the dragon hatchery the group had ransacked some weeks before, and as a result, the group was attacked by a large red dragon on the way.

The battle, for what it was, was fairly quick. The group mobilized quickly and efficiently, and though the dragon was able to set the deck of the ship aflame, it could not do much more. Lisa was able to disguise the ship as a platinum dragon, and Stephanie and Ethan were able to take the opportunity of confusion to shoot and net the creature before it realized what was really happening. The ship, having taken on the weight of a dragon, lurched to the side, dislodging a stow away kobold and almost throwing him overboard. Then, in a rage after having his ship set ablaze, Ethan dove at the dragon, striking him multiple times on the way down. Shannon saved him just in the nick of time with fly, and Bryan was able to release a ray of shadow at the beast, doing some damage. Then, it was Mike’s turn. Mike, who had also had fly cast on him, and very hungry for battle, whipped himself into a fury and dove at the creature, who was more than helpless in his net. He struck the creature so strongly that the net broke, but it was too late for the beast because it’s chest had been caved in. The dragon fell from the net and 600 feet to the ground below, where it lay still and dead on the ground. Bryan, realizing that Mike would now turn on the rest of the crew, took it upon himself to knock Mike out, but forgot that in his fury and rage Mike could not be knocked unconscious. Bryan summoned all of his power for an ending blow, knowing that as long as Mike had Mug he would be protected from death, but because of the nature of his rage, nothing would stop him. Stephanie attempted to talk him down, but he was already too far gone. The only thing left available to them was to dispel Mike’s flight and drop him to the ground until he recovered.

While watching Mike from above, the party set about putting out the flames, and Lisa was able to repair the damage by playing her magic lyre. Soon enough, Mike calmed, and by the time the group reached him, he was already half recovered. This went to prove that Mike was a BEAST.

To be continued….

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Volcano Lair

Bryan please add the events of this quest ASAP.

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Side Quest
Ethan, Mike, and Bryan

With the events of the Prima Bravura behind them, the group realized they would need to wait and prepare themselves up to 10 days until Shannon was able to reincarnate and inform them of the location of their eggs.

Ethan, who had retained his Egg and had it blessed by [redacted], had a different mission, however: He had to [redacted], Mt. Mensula. Luckily, Bryan and Mike were able to offer their assistance, as Bryan had been getting used to clandestine operations, and Mike was more than willing to take a job if it got him a good battle.

So, while our other heroes set to preparing for Shannon’s return, Ethan, Mike, and Bryan set out to prepare themselves to go to Mt. Mensula. First, however, Ethan wanted to make a stop by Sky Town.

The trip to Skytown took about half a day with the airship, and Ethan used the time to discuss something with the Goblin Cleric Clarence.

[Discussion redacted] He and Mike then [redacted].

After that, the group returned to the keep so that Bryan could retrieve himself a magic sword from the portal to the Mage’s College, and Mike sought out a club worthy of being a backup to his old one. Bryan was able to find a black short sword that leaked shadow, and decided to call it Disaster, mentioning it also cost about 65000 gold, but declined to mention what it did. Mike found an acceptable club of a similar price, and bought himself a special stick as well. Ethan outspent them a great deal. He had decided to [redacted].

Then, finally, the three made their journey to Mt. Mensula.

Mt. Mensula, far to the north, nestled in the plains before the mountains and above the forests where the bandit camp now sprawled, was essentially the Olympus of Sanguinous Imperium. At its top, at the end of a very long, very steep set of narrow stairs, lay the main temples to every above ground major god and goddess imaginable. One of the very largest of these, the great glass and marble temple to Pelor, god of the sun, lay at the opposite end of the courtyard where Ethan anchored the airship to a viewing platform.

Ethan, wanting to [redacted].

Ashes and rubble were all that remained of the temple to Pelor. Ethan’s egg skittered like a spider across the ground. The new twisted, stretched, pale version of Ethan placed a single gold coin into Mike’s hand, and Bryan smiled.

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The Impromptu Summit and the Uninvited Guests

The bard’s festival had just ended, and the Custodian of the Prima Bravura stood before the victors. He bowed politely, and asked if they would like to be escorted to the Grand Maestro’s private suite to celebrate the evening. They had a few guests in the audience who were eager to celebrate their victory and were waiting for them there. The party, tired from the day’s events, gladly accepted the chance for some revelry, rest, and relaxation.

Upon entering the large, open performance room of the suite, the group were greeted with several familiar faces. Sam Knightsbane, Princess Wilamena DePelorgras, Magnus Wolfschild, and Tessa the Tactless stood together in a small group. Then Malyk and his personal Illithid servant Patrick, along with Pol, Lah Rhee and Bah Rhee. Even the gigantic giff Heironomous H. Topot waited for them with their goblin friends Clarence and Gwinny. All had come to see the show, and most were very surprised to see team Skullfuck enter and win the competition. Having been completely exhausted from the events of the day, however, Andrew and Elaina excused themselves to rest in their rooms.

There was some diplomatic tension when Malyk, Pol, Wilamena, and Heironomous all stepped up to greet them at once, but the tension was released when Ethan scooped up Pol like a baby and almost crushed him, Bah Rhee, and Lah Rhee all at once in a bear hug. It was this that caused the group to begin mingling and speaking to the friends they hadn’t seen in a long time.

While the others were visiting with each other, Sam, Bryan’s original mentor, took him aside and the two exchanged some hushed words. After their exchange, Bryan shifted to the shadows and shadowstepped behind Magnus, grabbing him from behind and pressing his hand over the wizard’s mouth. Bryan renounced him for having sent assassins and bandits to kill them, and declared it was time to sort things out once and for all. A dispel magic, then a silence spell were requested, and Shannon granted them. Bryan released Magnus’ mouth and readjusted to hold both arms in one of his, and a knife against his neck with the other. Mike and Ethan set to disarming the wizard, and Ben offered his handy haversack for the disposal of the myriad magic items the wizard had, including a “ring of engorgement,” which Ethan may or may not have kept.

Magnus stated his case, which was that he felt it was selfish of Team Skullfuck to squander their eggs like they did, preventing Magnus and his wizards from examining them, even taking control of them. He had offered them a veritable fortune, and yet they denied him the chance to study what would have inevitable become a permanent pathway between dimensions, a gate which could allow even the nonmagically gifted to traverse great distances in an instant. A game changer for commerce and conquest alike. The team sensed that Magnus, like Hitler, would have used the eggs to further his own agendas and strike down any who stood in his way, dismissed his claims as the trash they were.

They had all but decided to kill him when Magnus pulled his trump card. If he was released, he could give them a map of the labyrinth they would encounter when they finally reached the Valley of Nox. The Outsiders, he said, would not let just anyone into the Library of All Knowledge. No, they would only allow those clever enough to be worthy of the knowledge to enter, and had surrounded the Library with a Labyrinth of traps and puzzles which would keep all but the most capable from reaching their goals.

The team deliberated, and agreed only to release him if he also released his contracts on them, and cancel any orders he had given against them in the process. They brought up a contract, to be signed in blood, and with a little negotiation, the terms were set. Magnus would draw the map before he left, and the team would not kill him this day.

To add insult to injury, however, Ethan decided it was time for Magnus to pay for his wrongdoings in some way, and had Mike secure his head while he pulled out his knife. He would remove the treacherous tongue from Magnus’ head, and then be done with it. At the last moment, however, Ethan relented, and allowed Magnus to go free. Magnus, unwilling to accept Ethan’s mercy, stuck out his tongue as far as he could, and bit it off, spitting it at him before turning and leaving to the drawing room.

Mike picked up the tongue, and thought about keeping it in case they needed to do some kind of blood magic, but Bah Rhee politely asked for the morsel, and Mike obliged. Bah Rhee gobbled it up, and asked if they could go ahead and cut just a little more off ‘for later,’ but the group declined. Clarence and Gwinny excused themselves from the group, and one crisis dealt with, the group decided it would be a good idea to take up the mantle of figuring out who would be made the next ruler of Sanguinous Imperium.

Before the meeting, Ethan went to provide Magnus with some clothing, and noticed Clarence and Gwinny leaving Magnus’ room. Magnus accepted the clothing, and made his way out to the table where the Summit was beginning. Heironomous went to go take a bath, as he didn’t really care who took the throne. He was an Outsider himself, and Skytown could always be moved if he didn’t like the looks of the local government.

Finally, all parties at a table together, the group began to speak of the benefits of having one ruler over the other, whether it would be better to leave people to their own devices by putting Malyk on the throne, to bring them to value good over all things, even the law, or even the possibility of ruling without a descendant of Wolfschild on the throne. The latter was dismissed because the throne required a DePelorgras to maintain the treaty with the dragons, and each in turn was ruled out as Wilamena’s tendency to ignore law would result in chaos, and Malyk’s likelihood of being influenced by the Illithids was high. It was determined, in the end, that each region, guild, race, and religion would need representation in a ruling council, and Malyk would be best suited to sit the throne as he would exert the least influence and act as a Neutral figurehead and tiebreaker for the council.

The group was getting into the grit of whom exactly would need representing, when a frightful presence fell over the room. Loud crashing was heard in the anteroom, and the doors to the hall burst open as Maximus the Dead and his honor guard arrived.

“And who will represent the undead?” He asked the stunned room. Shannon began to answer with “me,” but as she looked into his eyes, Maximus exerted his influence, and Shannon became his puppet. “You,” she said, before lowering her head in disgust.

“Thats right,” Maximus preened. “Now, imagine my surprise when I am greeted by a loyal servant who tells me ON MY WAY to see the new Grand Maestro play, that the Grand Maestro herself and her companions are currently sitting in the hall of MY VERY OWN Grand Maestro’s suite in MY VERY OWN capital city with ALMOST ALL the enemies of the realm plotting my demise and discussing terms for a new government!? IMAGINE IT!”

Most of the group was stunned, but the Illithid Patrick was not amused. He looked to Lisa and asked if this thing was Maximus the Dead, and when she responded, turned and launched Maximus accross the room with a powerful Psionic blast. Then, as suddenly as he had attacked, he grasped Malyk in his arms and disappeared, leaving the group to fend for themselves.

Magnus ran around the table and grabbed hold of Wilamena, Sam, and Tessa, and then that group teleported away. Pol, Bah Rhee, and Lah Rhee, began to back away from the table, having no tricks to conceal themselves or retreat. Heironomous had retreated to his bath, Gwinny and Clarence had retreated to their rooms, as had Andrew and Elaina. The only ones left at the table were the remaining members of Team Skullfuck.

Before anyone could act, one of the members of Maximus the Dead’s entourage raised his hand, and stopped time. Within moments, he had erected multiple inescapable nasty barriers around the team, and revived Maximus. When time resumed, Maximus dusted off his coat and spoke again.

“I could kill you, but I’d rather you did the job you came here to do. But you have misused the tools I gave you, so I am taking those away.” He checked something on his wrist, and each and every Egg bearer felt their eggs regain their weight. Those with eggs in scabbards or attached to them felt themselves being dragged to the floor. Others lost the ability to retrieve them from their places. “I also need to teach you a lesson.”

Maximus and his entourage began to mutter. Spells of enervation, telekinesis, freezing touch, and polymorph raked over the group. More spells were prepared, but none of the group were left standing or defiant. Another of the entourage walked forward, tossing a bomb into the enclosure, which exploded with gas, choking them and obscuring their vision. “Do what I asked of you, and do it now, or there will be worse consequences than the loss of your weapons.”

What had started as a celebration ended… well it ended pretty much the same way the celebration would have, with almost everyone passed out on the floor, and feeling much the worse for wear.

Pol, Gwinny, Clarence, Heironomous, and the others, who had been trapped in their rooms by a locking spell, came to the aid of their friends after Maximus’ departure, healing wounds and reviving group members. Stephanie felt as if she’d had a brush with death itself, but with luck she had managed to remain whole. Bryan was just happy to have retained his limbs.

Ethan realized, suddenly, that though the eggs had been removed from everyone else’s possession, his was safely tucked away in his shadow, and though it now weighed several hundred pounds, his connection with it had not been tarnished, just dulled. Proximity was now key for the effects of the egg to emerge, but otherwise their connections were still untarnished. The weight problem, though, was a real problem. Ethan decided to cash in his influence.

Having not come from the realm of Sanguinous Imperium, Ethan and the others did not have the inherent knowledge of the deities of the realm and how they interacted, so when he began to prey to Asmodeus, the leader of the Arch Demon’s of Hell, having the demon’s favor for that of Muradin the god of the Dwarves, he did not notice his mistake until he disappeared in a puff of smoke and sulfur, and reappeared before a split hooved red horned devil looking creature. Asmodeus, ruler of the 9th ring of hell, seemed amused.

“I hear you need some weight taken off your shoulders?” He grinned. Ethan, having begun to realize his mistake, began to talk. And talk he did. And Asmodeus listened, but so did another. Of course, the other could only hear a few choice words, but they were enough. To him, the discussion taking place sounded a little bit like “Orcus, orcus orcus…. orcus orcus orcus. ORCUS! Orcus orcus orcus, orcus orcus?”

Finally, having heard his name enough to be sick of it, Orcus himself appeared before his lord Asmodeus. Before him stood a human who was claiming his rights as the grand lieutenant of Orcus’ armies on earth. Asmodeus looked on, amused, and the two began to have a psychic conversation over the human’s pleas and demands for help.

Whatever they decided together, it must have favored Ethan, because he was given the gift of a lighter egg in exchange for demolishing a building. A certain building, in a certain place, but a building nonetheless. An easy task, for certain. But the human wanted more. He wanted to be able to summon Orcus without consequence. The absolute BALLS on this one! It was hilarious to them, so Orcus agreed. One time, but not for the destruction of the temple. Only after it was done. Ethan agreed. The devils then left him standing in the darkest corner of the darkest pit of hell to see if he could figure his way out. Luckily, Ethan works pretty well with darkness, and made it out with pretty much no effort at all, now that he had his egg, which now glowed slightly red, like a roiling black surface of magma and shadow.

When he returned, the group was discussing what to do to get the eggs back. Shannon wanted to kill herself, to reincarnate at the eggs, so she could bring them back with her. Stephanie and a few of the others did not like the idea. Ethan made mention that whatever they were going to do, he had to go destroy a building really quick first, and Bryan and Mike offered their aid in the task. Shannon, who had decided it was time to make a decision, came to Ethan and told him her plans, and asked him to help her complete her plans. Bryan, who had been speaking with Shannon about the matter, nodded, and Ethan proceeded to crush her skull in with his demonic hammer. Rather than collapse to the ground, Shannon burst into ashes, and immediately began slowly traveling to the West. At that rate, it would be more than a week, maybe even 10 days before she would be able to reach the eggs, but it was a start.

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The Bard's Festival

A beautiful day had dawned, and the party was enjoying a late brunch celebrating the success of their previous mission. A hundred thousand souls raised was worth celebrating, too. Everyone was in attendance, and the music of Lisa’s new Lyre filled the keeps lounge with playful tunes as she contemplated what she would build with it. She had finally begun to test it by building better fortifications via several sets of heavy metal doors in the kobold tunnels which could be triggered to lockdown automatically when she noticed a small sheathe of paper wrapped around the lyre’s crossbar. It had been tied to the lyre, but it was so expertly done that it almost appeared it was part of the instrument at first. Unfolding the paper, she discovered a beautifully hand-illuminated invitation to compete at the Famous Bard’s Festival in the capital city of Oth Narod.

Though the prospect of going into the heart of Maximus’ capital city, at the very center of which stood the massive Granite Citadel and the seat of the lich’s power could have been a harrowing thought, the team enthusiastically jumped at the opportunity to compete. Tessa the Tactless, who happened to be staying with them after the ordeal the night before, was also enthusiastic about the opportunity to see the team’s mettle tested, and set to answering the various questions they had about the tournament.

Having heard the competition described as a combination of skill and performance acumen, the team set to planning every aspect of their journey from what they needed to bring to how they were going to enter the grand guildhouse of Prima Bravura even before registering to compete. Mike had the forethought to make sure that he expended every bit of his uncontrollable frenzy on their way to the Bard’s Guild, to make sure he did not accidentally injure others, and Ben also bent his mind towards the future, providing Shannon with a Bow of Disguise to hide her frightening lich-y countenance from the people of Oth Narod. With the competition only a week away, the team had some time to figure out the specifics, and figure they did.

On the way to the tournament, in order to fulfill his plans to protect the others from his furious uncontrollable fits of frenzy, Mike had Ethan set him down in a clearing, and from the safety of the airship Ben set to popping him in the back of the head with magic missiles to trigger his wrath. Unfortunately, the first shot did it’s work, and though Mike was unable to direct his wrath at the ship above, he did notice a deer curiously watching from a distance. Feeling a tad peckish, Mike charged the deer, diving through the air to slam into the beast at full speed, but the deer was very fast, and Mike ended up slamming into the ground where there was deer only milliseconds before. Luckily, he was able to use the opportunity to quiet his rage, and he signaled to the ship to hit him again.

Ben released another magic missile. Mike’s frenzy had begun again, but this time, there was nowhere to go but up. Mike reached back to grab his trusty driver, but realized he had laid it on the deck of the ship for safe keeping. No matter though. If he could not reach his driver, his driver COULD reach him. Mike extended his hand, pulling the driver off the edge of the ship through the bond between himself and the egg, and within moments was holding his powerful weapon once again. The driver exploded into flaming power in his hands. Mike took careful aim at the ship, and proceeded to Tee Up. Moments later, Ethan found himself covered in a spray of sawdust, which settled to show a golf club shaped hole in the bow of his ship, and Mike was getting ready to take another swing. Using the power of his egg, Ethan opened up a portal to the Shadow Realm, ready to leave. Luckily, rather than be abandoned in the field, Mike was able to control his frenzy once more. He signaled to the ship again.

Stephanie, alarmed and angered at Mike’s obvious intention to tear the helpless deer to pieces before her, placed her hand on Ben’s shoulder, asking him to put the magic missile down so she could take the final shot. She lifted her rifle, then put it down, and moved to the cannon. A scream of “You ASS!” could be heard just before the cannon fired. It’s roar was only just loud enough to cover the sound of Mike’s angry protest, as a cannonball burrowed its way into his breastplate. The damage was done, and Mike was left on his back, but he soon rose, frenzy in his eyes and a flaming golf club in his hands. Luckily, the blast must have done something to throw Mike’s aim, because the howling flame that would have otherwise torn another hole in the ship just managed to miss blowing off the prow. Ethan started the ship towards the massive portal before them, tired of having his ship endangered, but just before they passed through, Mike yelled a stop. He had overcome his frenzy for the day. Just to be sure, ben released his third magic missile, pelting Mike in the back of the head once again. The frenzy which had once distorted Mike’s gaze was gone, replaced by mild irritation. Ben nodded to himself, then set to repair the ship before their arrival at the city.

Oth Narod, the capital city of Sanguinous Imperium, was truly massive. Even as high as they were, once the ship had entered the airspace above the city, absolutely nothing else was visible on the horizon. The roving hordes of undead they had seen in the countryside avoided the large city, influenced by the spells of protection Maximus and his cohorts had placed around the capital, and were soon replaced by roving hordes of the living as the buildings grew taller and closer together. The Granite Citadel slowly grew larger and larger in the distance, but before they were half way there, Tessa pointed out a large Half dome ridged like a Clamshell laid out below. They had arrived at the famed Prima Bravura.

The ship circled around and came down the main road leading to the massive collection of buildings protected by the clamshell shape of the guild hall, keeping just above the highest rooftops. Guards, wary of impending attack began to flood the streets, barreling after them as they soared forward. The ship descended above the large promenade of the Prima Bravura, and the shwo began.

First, dancing lights, fireworks, and fanfare. Then, dancing dangling bungee jumping giants in flashy luchador costumes, followed by tandem paratrooping undead, who began to do the thriller dance as they landed, all in a row. Then, Mike shined up as much as they could get him in his gut-stained armor, lunged off the ship and crashed into the ground below. He held up his palm, and Lisa descended on a stage of expertly crafted wood, light, and magic. The stage set down gently on Mike’s upturned hand, and settled there. Ben cast his unseen servant spell, and the stage underneath Lisa split to pieces, forming into stairs and falling away as she confidently strode down them. The others descended as well, each adding their own flourishes to the already stunning display.

The people before them were taken aback. Everyone who was anyone had already heard of the adventurer’s guild called Team Skullfuck, their massively powerful airship, and their penchant for tearing things down with one hand whilst building them up with the other. Half the crowd gasped in awe and terror, the other half cheered in delight. The guards who had gathered en masse at the gates of Prima Bravura sighed in relief, and began to disperse into the crowds, crisis now averted. What was Team Skullfuck doing here, and how much were the tickets to see it?

Now that their grand entrance had been completed, Tessa the Tactless led them to the entrance to Prima Bravura, where a rather unimpressed older lady sat behind a desk, staring blankly forward over horn rimmed glasses, quill in hand. She cleared her throat, and in the most monotone, rehearsed, tired voice, began to speak to the group.

“Welcome to Bravura’s Famous Bard’s Festival. Please be advised that only experienced bards and their retainers are allowed to participate, as this contest will test your abilities to the utmost. It is not unusual for people to die during the competition, and though we do have clerics on retainer here who can reverse death, it is EXTREMELY expensive, and death does disqualify you if it occurs during the competition. The rules are as follows: Choose a pathway to begin your ascent up one of the towers. Brave the challenges your pathway presents, and arrive at the amphitheater atop the Bravura, having defeated all others along the path. Then, competed for first prize against the four or less remaining opponents. The winner of the performance will be determined by two things: The first, is who actually manages to make it to the amphitheater alive. The second, which troupe was the most entertaining. Your entire performance will be broadcast to these viewing crystals at the top of the Bravura, and the final performances will be in front of a live audience. We will test your intelligence, your stage performance, voice, endurance, tactical skills, and teamwork. It is up to you and your up to 9 retainers to convince the audience you have exactly what it takes. The prize, of course, is the title of Sanguinous Imperiums Grande Maestro, and as a symbol of your office, the Crystal Echoblade, Harmony.”

The party, having nearly fallen asleep due to the droning on of the older woman, barely noticed when she stopped. Shaking themselves out of their stupor, they proceeded down to the main hall of the Prima Bravura, where five tunnels protruded like the spokes of half a wagon wheel before them. They were directed to choose a path, and rather than wait for any other team to begin, Team Skullfuck went FIRST.

The five tunnels each had a large sign hanging above them. They had been warned that these signs were clues to the content of the challenges before them, so the team took note. One tunnel said “a capella,” another, “a piacere,” the third “fuoco,” forth was “volante,” and finally, “volti subito.” Having recognized these terms from their musical studies, Elaina and Lisa were able to guess their meanings: unaccompanied, without rhythm, with fire, fast as if flying, and turn the page. What could they mean? Lisa chose Volti Subito, and, well, I want to say the party bravely started down the tunnel, but they didn’t. They stood back, and sent their one zombie servant to test the waters.

The zombie lurched forward down the hallway, further, further, and further without incident. Almost at the end and nothing. Mike decided to run down to the zombie, but was tripped by a slightly raised brick about twenty feet from the end of the tunnel, but managed to recover himself nicely by examining the floor for traps. The party, now wary of tripwires, edged carefully down towards Mike and the zombie. When they arrived, also without incident, they noticed the room beyond was empty, aside from a book centered on a pedestal. They sent the zombie forward. One second, nothing, two, nothing, four, nothing, and at five seconds, the floor beneath the zombie turned, tossing the zombie down the length of 150 foot hallway and into the crowd that watched from behind. When the floor settled, the team stepped in, and thanks to their clue, turned the page.

On the other side of the page, there was a button. With mere seconds left before the floor flung them as well, the team began to argue. Should they press the button? Shannon decided that yes, they should, and immediately pressed it. The party stared at her in surprise, but said very little as the door shut behind them and the floor began to rise like a giant elevator. They had passed the first challenge.

At the door to the second floor was another sign. It read “segue,” which Lisa and Elaina understood without deliberation as they entered another dark hallway. Half way down the hallway, they could see another door with another sign, but they couldn’t read it at this distance. Ben began to check for traps, and found a grand mechanical device. They were standing on the long neck of a five stringed lute. Ethan realized the potential of the moment and began to assign chords: A minor, C, D, F, and E. It wasn’t long before the group was playing the first few notes of The House of the Rising Sun. But then, another group appeared. They had watched Team Skullfuck complete the trial, copied them, and come up to watch them and copy again. Lisa, who’d intended to use her shout ability to replace the missing sixth string, decided to direct it towards the other group, damaging and deafening them. As an unintended bonus, her final shout broke the strings on the massive lute, leaving it unplayable. After some fierce intimidation, the team opened up the ways and left the massive trashed electric lute behind them. Andrew came up to the second sign at the halfway mark, noted that it said “Ossia,” and tore it down to take with them. Lisa and Elaina, having interpreted Ossia to mean a simpler passage, opted to take that route. Bryan, Ethan, and Mike opted to take the other route, as the first sign Segue indicated to go straight on. A few seconds after most of the team proceeded onto the Ossia path, the door closed hard behind them. Mike, Ethan, Bryan, and the team now cowering behind them, would have to take Segue.

When they got into the chambers at the end of the hallway, the team of Ethan, Mike, and Bryan failed to notice the sign that said Sopra above the chambers and simply looked around. The walls were made of metal, and seamless. The door lie a hundred feet above them. The ceiling was covered in sharp spikes. Bryan started to get out his grappling hook, but Mike was prepared. He pulled out his immovable rods, reached up, and began to climb the air before them. Ethan took the rope from Bryan’s grappling hook and secured it to Mike, and the two of them held on as Mike drew them up towards the exit. When they arrived at the top, they noticed that every few minutes, a single nearly invisible blade swiped across the bottom of the doorway, and the three realized how lucky they had been NOT to have used Bryan’s grappling hook.

Given that the other team had not yet entered the tower, the rope-cutting knife gave Bryan an idea. He pulled out a wooden dowsing rod, secured it just beyond the reach of the blade, and then sacrificed his grappling hook and another length of rope to set a trap for the following party. The rope would remain out of cutting distance of the blade until someone put a little weight on it, and thereby broke the dowsing rod. then, it was just a matter of waiting the few minutes for the blade to swipe, and whatever happened to be climbing the rope would fall nearly a hundred feet down. Bryan thought it a fitting end for cheaters. The groups converged, and moved on.

The final floor was not so easy as the others. the sign above the door read Estinto Marziale Crescendo, which Lisa and Elaina correctly established to mean March as soft as possible slowly getting louder. Unfortunately for the group, they forgot that marching softly was out of the range of skill for several members in heavy plate, and soon the floor, a giant stretched drum, began to roll like an angry sea, bouncing all but the most sure footed of the party into the air. The louder the group marched, the bigger the rolling bounces got, and the harder the party members slammed into the walls and ceiling. Finally, a flight spell or two was cast, and the more surefooted members corrected their march, and the door at the end finally opened. They had made it to the Amphitheater.

As they stepped onto the massive stage, the party noticed four other doors leading to it. Three of them were still shut, and before the fourth, another group of 10 adventurers waited patiently. Almost immediately, the trash talk began, two members of the group disappeared. Andrew reciprocated, seemlessly blending with his environment and secretly moving forward, whilst leaving an illusionary clone of himself behind. Lisa activated her glyph of regeneration, and cast an illusion of attacking dragons and a large crevasse opening up at the other team’s feet. One of the other team’s rangers leapt the chasm and cast a spell. Thanks to the defensive aura, Team Skullfuck was unimpeded by the vines that the ranger summoned at their feet. Stephanie then stepped forward, giving the other group the tit for their tat, as vines sprung up around their feet.

Bryan jumped out into the center of the room, seemingly grasping shafts of light from the air to wield as blades. He turned, and the sleepy wizard Shannon shot him with a ray of frost, making his knives glow that much brighter. Their ranger stood by, stunned at the fact that Shannon had fired on her own teammate, and watched, confused, as Shannon sleepily knelt down to pet a fat fuzzy little orange ball of fur, and sent it slowly plodding towards the man. Why was the sleepy girl sending a fat lazy eyed cat to him? Why didn’t it run? Why did she shoot her own teammate? Why was the cat trying to boop his… WHY COULDN’T HE MOVE? The ranger toppled into the audience, paralyzed by Shannon’s sleepy cat stealth attack.

Elaina summoned FIRE. A massive beast of flame erupted before the other adventurers and crouched, ready for the attack. A thought began to creep into the other bard’s mind. Could all this be an illusion? The other bard stepped forward and raised his hand. The dragons fizzled to nothing, and the crevasse disappeared. Unfortunately, the giant beast of flame did not. The two fighters cursed, loudly, and dove in to fight the great beast. Mike reciprocated, diving through the flaming creature and thoroughly intimidating one of the men. He crushed downwards with his golf club, but the fighter was strong despite being scared. His armor was broken, and he was pissing himself and blubbering, but he was alive. The other fighter, who had dealt with a different set of fiery blows, was looking less good. Also, he was looking less good whilst laying, twitching, on the floor, fifteen feet away from his first position. Ben had decided to show them the meaning of the word LASER. Also, the word shotgun.

Without saying a word, the other party’s cleric stepped forward. He began to mumble into his hands, then thrust them into the air before his chest. A holy force drove forwards, passing through most of the group as if it were nothing, until it reached Andrew’s Vrok. The Vrok fell to pieces before Andrew’s eyes, and his countenance grew dark.

Then the other party’s only standing wizard took to the fray. He reached down towards the earth, and the ground beneath most of Team Skullfuck began to glow blue. Those protected by Lisa’s aura were fine, but Bryan was unfortunately too far away, and something happened that prevented Elaina from taking advantage as well, sending her up towards the ceiling. Luckily, Bryan had a ring of featherfall, and Elaina was a wizard. What should have been a deadly 70 foot fall became an inconvenience. They were trapped, but fortunately, unharmed. The spell had the added effect of revealing an assassin from the other team that had fallen into the wizards trap. Bryan dealt with him with extreme prejudice.

Lisa, seeing an opportunity, used mass suggestion and told the other bard he had a chance to surrender. Though the other bard just laughed, and his cleric and the standing wizard stood firm, the other visible members of his party capitulated, laying down arms. Ethan stepped out of the shadows just as the standing wizard began to cast. He didn’t try to convince the wizard to lay down his arms. Instead, Ethan simply grappled the wizard and suplexed him into the audience, instantly disqualifying the wizard from competing at the cost of disqualifying himself.

Andrew, incenced at the death of his beloved Vrok, appeared to point at the other cleric from across the stage, and shook his head. Then his imaged shimmered, and Andrew reappeared a moment later, a charging bull, 15 feet tall, directly in front of the oppositions Cleric, shoulder slamming him directly into the ground. The man burst in his armor like a tube of toothpaste. Andrew ground what was left of his head into a stain on the stage. The other bard stopped laughing. He called to Jimmy.

Jimmy, the other rogue, dove out of his hiding place behind the party, knife pointed straight at Lisa’s back. His foot caught on something… VINES!? And then he started to fall straight upwards. Jimmy fell, unceremoniously to the ceiling, where he landed neck first. His last words were a garbled combination of “what in the hells” and “dear gods help me.”

This time Ben stepped forward, asking the bard if he surrendered. The bard, angry at the sight of his dead comrades, refused. Ben blasted him in the chest with his laser pistol, leaving a visible hole through his shoulder. Ben asked again. The bard fell to his knees, but refused to yield. Ben fired his pistol again, blowing a hole through the bard’s other shoulder. Ben asked again. The bard fell to the ground, sobbing. He was finished. The fight was won. Ben discharged his final shot at the ground next to the Bard’s head. It was over.

Music erupted as an older gentleman in a patchwork cloak brilliantly floated down to the stage, a glittering longsword in his grip. He placed the blade into Lisa’s outstretched hand, and over the roar of the crowd, declared Lisa the Grand Maestro of Sanguinous Imperium… until next year, at least. The roar of the crowd became deafening.

Team Skullfuck took a bow, and after taking Jimmy the rogue as a new undead minion, Andrew began discussing with the team whether or not they would be able to salvage the other cleric to use as an undead meat gelatin, or something. The other bard couldn’t afford the resurrection fee, so his remains were technically free for the taking. Where in the hells would you put the rubies though? Just… in the paste?

The world may never know.

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The Dark Pact of WeeJas

Shannon, to the surprise of everyone, had been spending the last several weeks preparing to become a lich. She learned of the opportunity, of course, in the process of studying her egg. She could use it, she realized, as a nearly indestructible phylactery, a vessel for her soul that would ensure she lived forever. What did it matter if her heart wasn’t beating? She would be alive forever, and she would be powerful. With Bryan having retreated more and more into himself the longer they remained in Sanguinous Imperium, with his odd disappearances and the wispy blur that seemed to wash him into the background of every scene, Shannon didn’t really think he would mind that much, and when she brought it up to him, he didn’t seem to react at all, other than to nod his agreement. He was really a shadow of his former self, so he didn’t really have any leg to stand on when it came to objecting to potentially life-altering changes anyway. The others, well, they would come around.

When the Brotherhood of Weejas had contacted the group about helping them with the spell to resurrect a whole city full of people, Shannon saw her chance to seek out advice and aid in the process of becoming a lich. The brotherhood happily offered their services, and the sacrifices, necessary to clear the way, and in exchange, Shannon would join the Brotherhood in their worship of Weejas and the balance of good and evil. Shannon agreed. She and Andrew would help with the ceremony, and Tessa the Tactless would ensure the people of the town had somewhere to go when they were resurrected.

A giant swath of several miles was cleared from the forest, and lines of dead were piled upon each other in the shape of a giant pentagram. At the center of the star, the townful of dead villagers were placed, carefully and in rows.

The party met for a final tactical meeting, wherein each point of the star would be defended by a member of the party and backed up by the airship. They would send up flares if they encountered any trouble. Lisa, who had received a Lyre of Building as a gift from the Illithid, would sure up the keep and protect Shannon during her ceremony at the southernmost point of the star. Andrew would take the South Eastern Point, and each member of the Brotherhood would take their own point with a selection of warriors to protect them. Mike and Stephanie would remain on the ship until battle was joined, protecting Andrew and the Red Lich, and Ethan would take the Southwestern point with the White Lich, shrouded by fog. Bryan would take the Northwestern point with Wyrmwood.

It wasn’t long before undead started to emerge from the edges of the woods, and Andrew was the first to crash into the thick of things as zombies poured themselves into his circle, clawing and trying to drag him from the ring. Ethan was assaulted by hulking beasts of flesh, intent on destroying him and anything else in their way. Mike and Stephanie chose to defend Ethan, and then the Red Lich, traveling back and forth, until Ethan took control of the ship to help him with his dilemma.

Shannon was brought two peasants, a young boy and an old man. The younger boy, she had been told, had attempted to raise a demon by murdering his family and molesting their corpses, then setting the house aflame. He failed at summoning a demon, but succeeded in summoning the authorities, though by then it was too late. The man was a serial killer, who liked to flay people’s skin and sell the leather to nobles as coin purses and hats. She had no trouble ending their lives, and pouring their heart’s blood into the cistern of her altar. And then, she completed the ceremony by spilling her own. Shannon had become a lich.

Bryan thought that he would be able to hide in the shadows, invisible to whatever danger would come to deal with Wyrmwood until it was too late for retaliation, but he didn’t bank on the fact that the creature that crept up behind him had blindsense, and could feel him there as easily as others could see him in the light. He was ambushed outside of Wyrmwood’s sight, and before he could utter any kind of alarm, the thing was on top of him. It buzzed and burred in a flurry of gears and metal, and Bryan was without recourse. The thing tore at his flesh like it had razorwire armor and spinning saws for hands. Anything Bryan did to the creature only managed to hurt himself. He couldn’t even scream as he felt his limbs being removed, one by one. He had one course of action left. Shadowy bonds surrounded the creature, wrapping him in blackness, and then, it was gone. Bryan had banished the hellish metal creature to the Shadow Realm. Using his last remaining shadowstep, Bryan plopped himself at Wyrmwood’s feet, where the surprised lich set to stabilizing his wounds.

Mike and Stephanie, in the airship, set down to help the Red Lich first, Mike’s blows felling zombies in a flowing chorus of swings, Stephanie’s rifle bursts tearing through paper flesh and reducing corpses to piles of offal. A Vampire knight emerged from the shadows, ready to strike, but was gunned down before he could utter a single phrase. The Red Lich decimated numbers with fireballs, and all was silent. Their job done, Mike and Stephanie moved back onto the ship and headed for Andrew.

Andrew was unmoved, literally, as the grasping dead simply could not best his grapple, and their feeble swings batted at his armor like a kitten attacking a relatively unperturbed Great Dane. Their numbers, unfortunately, did provide a greater threat, as if they did not cease coming, he would eventually be carried out of the ring on a sea of unwitting bodies. Andrew crushed the first few, grew to a massive size, and then multiplied before the zombie’s eyes. If they could not tell which Andrew was the real one, they could not swarm him and carry him off. Especially if he weighed as much as he did, now. It was only a matter of time before Mike and Stephanie came to help, but it was unnecessary, as with a single word, Andrew was able to burst the unholy horde before him to ashes.

Ethan, while concealed, had a slightly more difficult time with his assailants. The hulking monsters made the White Lich their primary target, so he had to dispatch them as quickly and efficiently as possible, lest they simply destroyed the Lich by sheer weight of numbers. Ethan called his ship to him, and the two began to fight in tandem. Cannons fired, ropes hung down and grappled forms, lifting them high into the air and slamming them down hard, lifeless once again. The White Lich seemed less concerned with keeping himself alive, and so Ethan had to deal with the monsters without much in the way of help. In the end, though, he was successful, and the last hulking form ceased to move on the field.

In order to deal with the shambling horde pushing at the portcullis of the keep, Lisa, whilst playing her new Lyre to reinforce the armaments, summoned three hippogryphs to do her bidding. Two of them were swift and efficient, clearing zombies as quickly as the ballistas on the castle walls. The third, well, he seemed a little preoccupied with grooming himself, and his lazy eye got in the way of him being able to differentiate distances, but damn was he intimidating! The zombies above never had a chance. Below, however, where Shannon waited within her circle, something was beginning to happen. Tunnels were being breached, and creatures surpassed traps by scittering and pulling themselves across the ceiling in numbers too high to count. Fireballs leapt from Shannon’s fingers, destroying creatures in the tunnels and collapsing them, over and over they came, and fireball after fireball laid them to waste. Finally, one creature made it through, but Shannon erected a barrier between herself and the creature. The unholy beast, frustrated with being unable to stop the ritual, decided to do away with the armaments instead. It took no effort for the creature to reach the yard, and climb up the battlements behind Lisa, but Lisa was prepared. She pulled out her sword and struck the creature true. One mighty blow, and the creature flew backwards off the parapet and was dashed to pieces on the ground below.

The battle was won. The ritual was complete. The choir of voices, amazed at their resurrection could be heard echoing from the center of the vast pentagram. Tessa began her work, directing people towards wagons waiting at the edge of the field. The party came together to celebrate, and Wyrmwood brought forward what was left of Bryan.

Fortunately, Andrew was available. He reached forward, and with a short prayer to his egg, emitted a holy light that bathed Bryan in it’s glow. Limbs regenerated, health restored. Everyone had made it through the fight.

Back in the castle, Pol came in to congratulate the team on a job well done. The dragon eye the team had stolen from the Red dragon was proffered, and Pol quickly took it, promising to show them a really neat trick. Pol reached up and with his nimble claws, pulled his own eye out, then popped the Red Dragon’s eye into the empty socket. Immediately, life returned to the eye, and Pol began to grow. He took on a reddish sheen, became more muscled, and rose now to 5 feet tall, a full two feet higher than he was before. He winked his new red eye at the group, and said if they thought that was impressive, they should bring him a green dragon’s wings next time.

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The Three Emissaries and the Drunken Naval Rescue

When the party finally returned to their castle home, Herschel and a group of three emissaries were there to meet them. While their kobold servants unpacked their wealth, the group elected to meet with the emissaries and see what they needed.

The first emissary, obviously a Vampire by the sight of him, came to warn them that their deal for safety with Maximus the Dead was wearing thin, and he expected them to begin their journey to the Valley of Nox within the month, or there would be dire consequences. With much cajoling, the group was able to assuage his distrust of their motives somewhat, and Ethan’s promise to meet him later that evening for a potential turning persuaded him to leave for now.

The second, Tessa the Tactless, member of the resistance group which had first rescued the party and set them on their way to the Valley of Nox to find a way to defeat Maximus, was nonplussed by the discovery that they had also made a deal with Maximus, but encouraged them to backstab Maximus at their earliest opportunity. She mentioned that she, too, had been sent to check on their progress, as though words of their misdeeds had traveled across the land, it didn’t seem to be leading them anywhere closer to the valley. Tessa decided she would stay with the group until such a time as they decided to actually begin their quest, and left to go make herself at home.

The third emissary, a scared man who came down with Herschel from Burden, came to relay an urgent request to the group. The Brotherhood of Weejas, whose mission was to preserve balance between good and evil in the world, had noticed that far too many evil undead had been raised, and far too many good people killed. They endeavored, therefore, to bring a sacked down of 100,000 people back to true life, but they needed the skill of two necromancers and the protection of Team Skullfuck to succeed in their task. The team agreed to meet two days henceforth, and the man hurriedly left to bring his information back to the brotherhood.

In the meantime, the party decided to celebrate their recent fortune with a good round of getting completely shit-faced.

During the proceeding shots, shots, and more shots, Ethan proceeded to slink out of the castle and to his clandestine meeting with the Vampire Emissary of Maximus the Dead. The Vampire was more than happy to discuss the process of becoming a Vampire, especially the part where he would be draining Ethan of blood, but Ethan interrupted the Vampire with a request that he accompany him to the Shadow Realm, where it was dark all the time, and no sun shone to hamper a Vampire’s good fun. The Vampire thought it was a great idea, and upon arrival on the Shadow Plane, Ethan promptly waved goodbye to the Vampire and abandoned him there on the spot, never to be seen again.

That dealt with, Ethan returned to relay the good news, and mentioned that he felt good enough to go rescue his ship, which was only a short three hour boat ride from their home. The rest of the party happily agreed… to go wake up Ben, and drag him down to the boatyard where they proceeded to happily and drunkenly lay waste to anything and everything that stood between them and their precious airship. Many men lost their lives that day, and not a one of them really understood why a group of angry drunks was beating the hell out of them and trashing their workplace in the process of doing it. But, they did manage to rescue their ship and its crew of kobolds in the process.

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Journey to the Shadow Plane

Upon exiting the portal to the Shadow Realm, the party found themselves thrust into a perpetual twilight, a dark and twisted version of the world back home. The same forest stood in front of them, but gray and dead and uninviting. The mountainside cave lay behind them as well, but something black and scaly replaced the red dragons that lay within.

Having seen them exit their portal carrying eggs of stone, the old Shadow Dragon recognized in the party the fulfillment of an old prophecy, and beckoned them to him. He told them he would not hurt them if they followed him, that he had foreseen their coming, and that they would be welcome inside where the winds of smoke and the denizens of the shadows would not follow.

When the party re-entered the cave, what they found was similar in size and shape, but wholly and completely different otherwise. The once smoke blackened stone of the interior was now shiny and sharp volcanic glass, and the interior of the cavern was lit with colorful magical auras. The air smelled of sulfur and hot metal, and the tall creatures which almost slithered with silent purpose across the floor in dark flowing robes were not kobolds, but Illithids, also known as Mind Flayers. Mind Flayers, unlike any creature the party had encountered before, were creatures of unparalleled intelligence, tall and bipedal, with slimy green and purple skin, Cthulu-esque beards of tentacles hanging from their squidlike beaks, some tied together with strips of leather. A group of them stood casting magic into a cauldron filled with magma, and only a few of them took more notice of them than one would a stray cat. By comparison in both size and intelligence, the party may as well have been just that, a small herd of cats.

Soon, a retainer appeared. An Illithid in slightly more human lookign clothing introduced himself and said that the Shadow Dragon had instructed him to bring you further into the cavern, to the dragon’s grotto. Waiting in the grotto were several more opulently dressed Illithids, who seemed to teem with excitement at the sight of them, unlike the others in the outer caverns. They were soon approached by a group of these, who turned out to be priests of the great intelligence, and who related the prophecy that had been given to them so long ago. A group of men and women, bearing eggs, would appear to lead the Illithids back to their rightful home, and help them place the rightful king, whom they had raised themselves, back onto his throne.

A grand feast ensued, with music and games of intellectual (and telekinetic) skill, and introductions to the young Prince Volfkinder, a quiet and intelligent lad with a neutral demeanor and a wild head of black hair. The party was given leave to explore the temple home of the Illithids at their leisure, though they were warned not to go lower than the highest level, as the lower levels were much more dangerous due to their lack of influence over the normalcy of the realm beyond the reach of their magical auras. Even Illithids who ventured into the lower levels came back… different, changed, and not in a good way. Surprisingly, the group acquiesced, and kept to the upper levels, choosing to explore, converse, and shop, rather than explore the dungeon below.

Lisa, in an effort to gain some leeway with the Illithids, introduced them to some of the greatest composers and sheet music of our time, and the Illithids, in exchange, promised her discounts, and a very special gift later on. Ethan and Andrew took part in games of chance, in turn gaming the Illithid running the games by preventing him from reading their minds and actually making the rigged game a true game of chance, which they lucked out and won. Others took the time to converse with Prince Volfkinder, finding out that he was the illegitimate son of the now-lich lord Maximus DePelorgras, and therefore, one of the true heirs to the Kingdom of Sanguinous Imperium.

After spending some weeks preparing, Ethan brokered a deal with the Illithids to bring them back to their home, and when the Illithids were safely through, parted ways with them to return to the party’s keep. Prince Volfkinder elected to remain with the party, which was accepted, and the group made their way back to the keep where they would prepare to rescue Ethan’s captured Airship.

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Finally Fighting a Dragon

Despite waking up refreshed thanks to the secure shelter spell, the party was soon to learn that the dungeon would only become more treacherous from here on out. Several party members had disappeared in the night, split off from the others.

The kobolds had made their lair well, as both parties soon learned. At every wrong turn lay a trap, and every room held kobolds ready to attack and then disappear down their traveling wells, but the cave-like dungeon held just as many treasures and wonders as it did traps and pitfalls, and now that there were two traveling parties, they were bound to find twice the treasure… and twice the trouble.

Each party eventually found themselves in large rooms of swirling water adorned with three large sapphires on the wall. One party chose to sack their room and steal the sapphires, and the other chose to experiment. The latter party soon found they could use temperature to activate the sapphires and travel through the swirling vortexes to other locations in the cave. By and large they decided this was too useful a mechanic for the kobolds, and proceded to remove the gems. Both parties ran into some nearly impassable traps, but thanks to a little musical intervention one party was able to circumvent theirs with a little fiery fluting. The other, well, left pinned to a wall but otherwise unharmed.

The party, battered and bruised after a hard second day of dungeoneering, for some reason decided it would be an excellent idea to take refuge in a secure shelter on top of a slippery landing in front of a long staircase which ended in a long drop into a spike pit, and decided to do a bit of light reading before going to sleep.

What they found in the book they had recovered was more than just rituals of dragon raising, it was the history of the kobolds, dragons, and humans in Sanguinous Imperium. Within the pages, they discovered that long ago, an object of great power had been fought over by all the races of the realm, above and below ground. The fighting became so bad that the Outsiders, aliens to the realm and with no stake in the outcome, retreated to the Valley of Nox where they walled themselves up in magic to avoid fallout. In their rabid quest to take control of the object, the drow had summoned the wrath of an ancient evil to wipe all life off of the surface of the earth. They thought that with all of the upper races dealt with, it would be easier to fight their meager opposition in the underdark and take the object for themselves. The dragons, having sensed the oncoming storm, took the kobolds who served them and retreated deep underground, but all other sentient life above ground was lost. All that was left of humanity, elves, and any other sentient above ground species, lay hidden in cellars or entrapped in dungeons. A young wizard by the name of Wolfschild survived the onslaught by chance, and worked together with the dragons to reunite the savage remnants of his country under his banner. Together, they constructed a throne of power which would grant unrivaled power to the man who sat in it, and used it along with a blessing from the deity Pelor to destroy the object of power, returning a semblance of order to the world. Wolfschild became DePelorgras, and cogs that worked to wheel together the events of today fell into place and were set in motion.

Luckily for them, large boulders are very loud objects, because as soon as the group left the shelter to investigate the sound which had woken them, the large boulder originally designed to chase them down the hallway, onto the slippery landing, and into the spike pit smashed into their shelter, and crushed it down into the spike pit under it’s massive weight. Having succeeded at surviving their flattening fate, the party investigated the top of the staircase and found two ravens in gilded cages atop a hill of gold and gems. The Ravens, a speaking duo of telepathically connected trash talking cowards, swore themselves to Mike and Andrew for a year and a day should they release them, and so they did.

The party moved onward to fight through several more obstacles, labyrinths of murder holes, trapped boxes, crushing columns, and even the ghost of a once powerful kobold paladin, when they finally appeared in a large, well lit cave where Andrew’s Vrok waited, traumatizing a score of kobold younglings while their keepers endeavored to fight the beast back. The reunited parties were able to retake control of the Vrok and allow the younglings to escape, whereafter they disposed of their caretakers quickly and moved on into the charred black sanctum of the dragon.

The dragon they found in the poorly lit chamber was larger than they’d hoped for, bright red with intelligent eyes, and very angry. The small gouts of flame that escaped its maw as it breathed flickered light across the room behind, and hinted at piles and piles of gold, gems, and other precious items, but the team just didn’t have the time to focus on anything but the dragon. Ben’s quick thinking may have saved everyone, because as the dragon was able to fire off a massive cone of flame, Ben was able to blast the dragon with an extra powerful dose of magically produced liquid nitrogen that effectively prevented it from moving or doing much more than its cursory attacks. Once that took effect, the team was able to wail on the dragon with little fear of reproach, and the dragon which had possibly been the greatest enemy they faced so far was laid low in a matter of minutes by the careful precision of the group.

Having gathered a hoard of gold and a plethora of magical items, the group searched around and found a secret door leading out of the base, but were dismayed to find that some kobolds had escaped, and the local constabulary were more than displeased to find they had broken the peace between men and dragons in the area. As the group stepped up to fight this army of new foes, an even larger dragon stepped out from the shadows of the forest, demanding to know who had destroyed her lair.

Rather than risk an all out firefight on open ground with a dragon, Ethan used his newfound powers to summon a Portal to the Shadow Realm, and the party, yes, they turned about, and gallantly, they chickened out. Swiftly taking to their feet, they beat a very brave retreat. Brave, brave, brave, brave team skullFUUUUUUCK. But seriously, it was probably for the best because they would have likely died or have been captured had they stayed.

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Finally, Dungeons AND Dragons

Having arrived home with a new ship, the party deliberated on their next move. Should they finally proceed to the valley of nox, or should they seek to prepare themselves more? Mike and Steph, unfortunately, had been injured during the Vrok fight, and would need some time for recuperation. The rest of the party would have to go without them for a while.

After some discussion, Ben leaned forward and presented an idea. What was one thing every party needed? Healing. Abundant healing. And for that, he said, he had an amazing little device in mind. However, there was no way around it, he needed a fresh Red Dragon’s heart. But the party HAD just defeated some very powerful denizens of HELL. What problem would a dragon be? He didn’t even need a fully adult dragon’s heart. He just needed an adolescent heart, and Pol had mentioned he might know where to find an hatchery.

The team deliberated again. Could they just BUY one? No, the mage’s college didn’t have any fresh, and the things they suggested were going to cost upwards of 75,000 gold, and they didn’t really know where else they could find something like that. Then Pol stepped forward.

Pol had aged somewhat, or at least looked more mature now that he had a wispy beard and wore robes gathered around him like some ancient priest. He counseled the group, telling them about a red dragon hatchery at the edge of the desert to the west, close enough now that they had their ship. It was in an out of the way place, sparsely guarded by a group of heretic dragon worshiping kobolds who did not know or refused to speak common, but despite what the party had experienced before, these kobolds were ruthless. If the party ventured into their lair, they would be set upon by devilish traps and mechanisms, all designed to kill. It wouldn’t be a walk in the park, but Pol knew that they could make it, and offered them a wonder to behold if they brought him the eye of a dragon.

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The party spent some time figuring out what supplies they needed, then headed out. It wasn’t hard to find the place Pol had marked on the map. Dragons didn’t tend to hide themselves much anymore, and the charred slopes and gaping cavern trailing smoke were a good indication of what lay within, not to mention the plumes of flame that burst from the mouth of the cavern when the ship flew too close. The group set down a ways off, and Ethan ordered the ship to make continuous passes looking for them to exit. He didn’t want the party getting stuck without a quick getaway if need be.

The entrance to the cave was more guarded than the previous kobold sanctuary the group had seen. This entrance boasted a portcullis, and a murder hole through which the kobolds could watch the party approach. Fearing what might be inside, Andrew instructed his undead Vrok to enter first, shortly after blocking the murder hole with a large rock.

As suspected, the Vrok was accosted from various murder holes inside the entrance, and quickly backed out having noticed nothing but a narrow door some farther distance inside. Bryan and Ethan elected to enter next, since they were both nearly invisible in shadow. Bryan headed for the door to see if the lock could be picked, and Ethan decided to see if he could make one of the murder holes slightly larger with his egg-hammer. Both failed their first attempt. Ethan’s knockback reverberated off the walls and sent him flying into the rock behind him, and Bryan lost track of his tools in the commotion. The rest of the party then entered, invisible, to see if they could help, but not long after the group entered, the trap was triggered.

Without warning, the portcullis slammed down behind the party, and the wall opposite the murder holes erupted in flame, igniting the oil slicks on the floor beneath them. The party was engulfed in fire, and Bryan failed another lock picking attempt. They were trapped in a burning room.

Luckily, Elaina had exactly what was needed for the situation. She quickly cast grease on the area under her feet, and again to catch most of the rest of the party. Bryan succeeded his next lockpick, which resulted in his and Ethan’s bursting into the following room and rolling on the floor to puth themselves out. The group behind had to struggle to stay on their feet, but at least they weren’t on fire anymore. Ethan then stormed the door leading to the room where the kobolds hid on the other side of their murder holes, and the kobolds quickly escaped down a well. Not wanting them to resurface behind them, Ethan used some spears to block off the entrance, and the party went on their way. Lisa smartly marked the wall with chalk as they went, making sure they could make a quick escape if need be, and cast detect secret doors, which led her to believe there were more than a few secret places around the area. Shannon cast detect magic to help the effort, and took notice of some distant magical remnants as well.

The next room the party approached had some waiting kobolds in it. They sneak attacked the party, then fled, leaving behind what looked like a break room for the guards, and a book which after some reintegration seemed to be about the rites and rituals associated with dragon hatching.

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Bryan took the opportunity to explore further on ahead, since he didn’t need any light. He passed one hallway on his right, and after some time, took his second right. He quickly realized it was wise to check for traps before rounding corners, and spent the next several minutes picking what looked like porcupine quills out of his skin while waiting for the rest of his party to arrive. Ben met with similar misadventure. Having taken the right which Bryan had ignored, Ben had the pleasure of meeting a small kobold barrel bomb, more known for blowing off eyebrows and leaving nasty splinters and a singed smell than for killing, but painful nonetheless.

Lisa marked both trapped corners while Andrew surged forward, reaching yet another room containing kobolds who were preparing some traps. He managed to grapple one of the kobolds before it made it’s way into the well, and Andrew and Ethan attempted to interrogate it. Despite a successful intimidation check, neither Andrew nor Ethan actually spoke draconic, so most of what was said went to waste until comprehend languages was cast. Even then, the two decided that the kobold’s information was worthless, and decided to do some experimentation with Andrew’s chest piece. Ethan swung the kobold around like a bat, struck Andrew’s chestplate, and promptly exploded the creature’s innards across the both of them. Somehow, this would actually prove fortunate for them later on.

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Unable to properly block off the well, Ethan asked Shannon to freeze the water for him, after dropping a disembodied kobold head down it in an attempt to strike fear into the kobolds. The group moved forward.

Bryan, aided by his darkvision, was able to relay to the group that something looked wrong in the floor ahead, and successfully triggered a floor trap that lead to a spiked pit below, before disappearing again down the hallway. Ben successfully disarmed a crossbow trap, and Andrew slipped on some charnel dripping from his armor, resulting in his falling into the open spike trap. Luckily for him, however, Andrew was able to notice that the spike trap continued on for some way, and that jumping over it would have just resulted in even more damage to the next person to attempt it. He called out his finding to Ethan, who proceeded down the hallway to the right and avoiding the spike trap altogether. However, he and the party came to an abrupt end, where a message spread itself across the wall as either Ethan or Andrew approached. When examined closely, it was found to read “speak, blood of the dragon, and pass.” It was determined to be both a secret door and magical in origin, but nothing was opening it.

It took a short while for Bryan to come back from his further exploration of the cave system, and when he did, the group was stuck against the secret door, attempting to open it. Someone made mention of speaking draconic, to which Bryan replied “Draconic? I speak draconic!” in draconic, immediately revealing the path before them. The combination of someone with kobold blood and the speech of the dragons had allowed them to pass, but the group was feeling tired and had endured a great deal of punishment, so they decided to hole themselves up in the previous room. Shannon cast Leomund’s Secure Shelter, and the party rested, their first night in the caverns completed.

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