Aldion is a world in upheaval. Everywhere, beings are wrestling with the aftermath of The Arrival - the event that just 77 years ago brought magic, monsters, and extraplanar visitors to roost in a realm that until then had been mundane. Portals to other planes of existence open and close seemingly at random, bringing curious and power-hungry denizens with them. Ancient societies rear their heads in retaliation, existing monarchies attempt (and often fail) to consolidate their power from threats they cannot possibly prepare themselves for, and a select few common folk have begun to show signs of inherent magical talent. Even items and locales that were once mundane are showing signs of magical activity. Aldion is a realm aflame, actively being colonized by outside forces while existing power structures struggle to keep order.

A few powerful individuals could guide this world back to relative peace, or tip it over the edge to damnation.

In Expanse, the adventurers of the F.I.A have been hired by a Janavian princess to locate and recover her brother - the crown prince of Janav - after he went missing while investigating strange behavior among the high Yalban clergy. The party will have to survive the Sea of Teeth, the Great Expanse, and the city of Yalba - a place of both great religious piety and political corruption alike. Meanwhile, from the desert itself, sandstorms begin to brew seemingly out of nowhere, bringing both chaos and destruction in their wake...

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Session 24: Baklava and Betrayal [Part 2]
As they grew closer to Pit Viper territory, Wykeera cast a locate creature spell to pinpoint Pakt's location. It was a clever decision on Wykeera's part to prepare that spell. Several buildings matched Ro-Zudof's description of the safe house that Pakt would be in. Using her divination, Wykeera sussed out that Pakt was located on the 3rd story of a tower near the western edge of the gang's territory. After some discussion, the party decided on a plan. Wykeera would beast shape into a beetle to cling to Thane's clothing. Then, Thane would use his changeling heritage to disguise himself as a Pit Viper and cast fly to make his way towards the building and enter through a window on the third floor. Finally, Thane would cast suggestionon Pakt, and they would stroll out of the front door with their willing hostage. At the same time, Midzaynov, Zari and Hagar would distract the Pit Vipers who were guarding the street.

With the fly spell cast, Thane and Wykeera glided into the air towards the tower where Pakt was located. When they arrived at the window to the third floor, it became evident that the windows on the second and third stories were boarded up. While weighing the pros and cons of using magic to break the boards, Thane noticed that the door on the first story of the building was accessible, and floated down to ground level. Meanwhile, Midzaynov, Hagar and Zari approached two Pit Vipers who were guarding the street below. Taking a cue from what they had seen inside the perimeter during their initial reconnaissance, they asked if they could enter to partake in drug use and general revelry. The Pit Vipers were wary at first, even going as far as to attract the attention of two more guards on the roofs of adjacent buildings. The turning point for their midnight subterfuge was when Zari, Kielel faithful and devotee to order, surprised even Zielyr by showing off her buttocks to entice them. Thrilled at the concept of being with a woman or experiencing sexual intimacy of any kind, the Pit Vipers allowed the entourage entry to their territory.

Around the same time, Thane and Wykeera infiltrated the first floor of the tower that Pakt was located in. The room that they entered took up the entirety of the first story and was empty save for a smattering of basic wooden furniture. Ever-suspicious of unseen dangers, Thane retrieved the spyglass of secrets from his bandolier to locate any traps or secret doors. Upon activating it, he detected a long slit in the wooden floor beneath him. The entire room, he discovered, was a cleverly-disguised pit trap. Utilizing the magic from his fly spell, Thane floated over the floorboards, unaware of the four Pit Vipers lurking in the opposite stairwell with short bows at the ready.

Before he could react, the hidden gang members shot Thane with several arrows tipped with deadly serpent venom. Losing consciousness almost immediately, Thane fell from the air and triggered the trap below. The trap door swung downward, plunging both the adventurers and several pieces of furniture into a large pit of water. As Thane's unconscious form began to sink below the water's surface, the hungry coils of a large constrictor snake began to wrap themselves around him. It was the cry of one of the Pit Vipers yelling “they're here!” that alerted Midzaynov, Hagar and Zari to their friends’ plight.

Zari's summoned spiritual weapon dispatched the guards on top of their towers, while Midzaynov and Hagar used their hammers to decimate the desperate Pit Vipers who led them into their territory. Inside, the situation was much more grim. Wykeera kept Thane alive through another round of arrows from the Pit Vipers above the pit and the giant constrictor snakes who planned to make meals of the two adventurers below. Before Wykeera had time to do anything else, the doors to the trap closed above them, leaving the two adventurers trapped in pitch darkness. Thinking on her feet, Wykeera cast water walk to take away the serpent's environmental advantage. She then used her balm of the summer court to bring Thane back to consciousness. Thane awoke in the pitch dark of the pit, and used misty step to teleport from the tightening coils of the viper to one of the adjacent walls. He cast a minor illusion to create a small source of light (even though that is not how that spell works. Even I am confused how Thane managed to pull that one off. I will have to question The Maker on that subject … ) and blasted the gear mechanism that held the door closed with an eldritch blast. This caused half of the trap door to drop back down, bringing some Pit Vipers down with it.

Hagar, ever-ready to figuratively dive into the fray, literally dove headfirst into the pit of water. Utilizing his new water-based storm powers, he made quick work of the Pit Vipers who had fallen into the pit along with one of the giant constrictor snakes. Once Thane and Wykeera had escaped from the trap, Thane electrocuted several enemies who were still in the water using his lighting magic and Wykeera dispatched a Pit Viper while using wild shape to borrow the form of a panther. Midzaynov used her bardic magics to inspire Hagar, and Zari pushed one of the remaining Pit Vipers into their own trap with her shield. Meanwhile, Hagar utilized his snake of climbing to wrangle and tame one of the giant vipers still within the pit. It was the most impressive thing that any of the Pit Vipers had ever seen, right up to their deaths. Hagar named the viper Seps, who accompanied the party as they hurried up the stairs, unsure of how much time they would have before more Pit Vipers discovered them.

The party ascended to the second floor, where they found an empty secondary staging area for an ambush. It appeared that the Pit Vipers did not get a chance to use their fallback location before their defeat. Thane devised a plan to ascend to the third floor wearing the guise of a Pit Viper and suggest that Pakt go with the them. When they used illusions to create the clamors of combat, however, the party heard many pairs of footsteps moving upstairs in response to the noise they created and thought against it. When the party arrived at the third floor, they found Pakt lounging at a table with her elite guards. She seemed to be expecting them. When Thane realized that she wasn't alone, he began the incantations necessary to cast shatter, but was unable to release the spell's energy before Pakt made her move.

Despite the numerical disadvantage that Pakt now faced, she charged ahead to face her would-be abductors. Raising the sleeve that concealed what was left of her amputated left arm, Pakt revealed a mechanical contraption embedded into the arm itself. From this implant, a small circular projectile made of metal shot into the center of the party and exploded into a cloud of deadly toxic fumes. Coughing and gasping, the party took a dangerous amount of damage from this gas. Pakt rotated the cylinder in her arm to load another round, drew the short sword from its scabbard and assumed a defensive position. It was clear that Pakt was confident with a blade, and had survived her share of battles. Hagar and Seps charged towards her, a monstrous combination of both strength and agility. Even with only one arm, the changeling gang leader kept pace with Hagar and Seps’ combined martial prowess. Throughout the battle, Seps’ loyalty shifted as both Pakt and Hagar vied to sway the animal. Ultimately, the serpent decided to stay loyal to Hagar up until the moment that Pakt decapitated it. The battle was bloody for both sides. Wykeera used a combination of her balm of the summer court and healing spirit to keep the party fighting through Pakt’s onslaught of toxic gas. Hagar utilized his arrow-catching shield to protect the party from errant arrows, and Thane destroyed Pakt’s elite guards with a casting of lightning bolt. The battle ended in favor of the F.I.A when Hagar knocked Pakt unconscious with the hilt of his warhammer.

As the F.I.A planned their retreat, a somewhat familiar voice called up the staircase to the third floor asking if everything was alright. The party prepared an ambush, and set upon the unsuspecting figure as soon as they crossed the threshold into the room. Before he could share the astonishing tale of how he had become a Pit Viper after a fateful day in which he decided that his true destiny would be found outside Yalba’s city walls, Kriv was knocked unconscious by Hagar and Midzaynov. Another time, Kriv.

With another casting of the fly spell, Midzaynov and Thane fled the safe house through the hole that Thane’s lightning bolt had created. They took fire from some Pit Vipers on the ground, but managed to escape to the Ashborne Quarter. Thinking on his feet, Hagar attached one end of his snake of climbing to the splinters left in the hole that Thane had created. Hagar, Zari and Wykeera used the rope to sneak out of Pit Viper territory before they were discovered and killed. Minutes later, Midzaynov and Thane landed in front of the Leviathan’s Pit with the unconscious form of Pakt. Suspecting some kind of deception from Ro’Zudof, Midzaynov cast a message spell to Bana-Kye to inquire as to his whereabouts. He responded thusly, in a strained whisper:

“Traitor. Ro-Zudof … traitor. Stay away. Stay! Away! Tomorrow. They’re executing me tomorrow at sunset. Don’t come. DON'T COME!
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Session 24: Baklava and Betrayal [Part 1]
Spirits of The Maker, I thank you for once again joining me at the shores of the Endless Sea. As you are aware, it brings me such joy to recount the various exploits of mortals; so short are their lives, and so great is their ambition! The events that I am about to retell occurred on the 4th and 5th of Iazon in the year 77 PA. We will follow the adventurers of the F.I.A. as they help a young sorceress evolve her powers, discover further details about what threatens Yalba's high clergy, and attempt to kidnap the leader of one of Janav’s most fearsome gangs. Let us begin.

The derelict shack that the F.I.A found themselves in the night of the 4th of Iazon was equal parts cramped and dimly-lit. The only sources of light, in fact, was the moonlight streaming through the poorly-constructed slats of the structure's roof and the jade-colored glow emanating from the tattoos of two of the most dangerous men in Janav's capital: Bana-Kye and Ro-Zudof. Surrounding the two bald humans were several masked figures wearing cloaks designed for Yalba's harsh desert climate. These individuals were elite members of the Jade Dragons. For many years, the Jade Dragons had represented Yalba’s strongest criminal organization due to the ferocity of their leader, Bana-Kye. However, ever since an act of mercy from Bana-Kye that saved the life of Hagar several years ago, the Jade Dragons have been losing both territory and influence to other criminal organizations within the city. Bana-Kye saw the return of Hagar as a sign to reclaim what he perceived as being his by right. To that end, he had devised a plan with his lieutenant Ro-Zudof and summoned the F.I.A to complete for him one simple task …

“I need you to kidnap Pakt, the leader of the Pit Vipers,” Bana-Kye uttered to the adventurers before him in a tone scarcely above a whisper. Then there was silence. Tension. A few of the Jade Dragons tightened their grip on the blades hidden beneath their cloaks. They knew that the one-armed changeling was almost as ruthless as their leader, for she had survived through great hardships growing up outside the city walls. Bana-Kye explained to the adventurers that to keep Hagar safe from the threat of the Pit Vipers and the Bloodbroods, the Jade Dragons would need to provide proper incentive. To that end, while the F.I.A was kidnapping Pakt, a subset of the Jade Dragons’ forces led by Ro-Zudof would abduct Thyrias, the tiefling leader of the Bloodbroods. Once the F.I.A and Jade Dragons brought both gang leaders to the Leviathan's Pit, Bana-Kye would impress upon them the new power structure of criminal organizations in Yalba. By Bana-Kye's logic, this operation would prove that it was by his will alone that they still drew breath.

The party accepted the mission before them, and Ro-Zudof took over to explain further. According to a Jade Dragon spy, Pakt would be inspecting one of her safe houses in Pit Viper territory tomorrow night. Here, she would have less personal security than she would at her headquarters and be closer to the outer edge of her territory. In other words, the timing would be ideal for a kidnapping. Given the fact that both gangs knew of Hagar's whereabouts and wanted him dead, there was little time to wait for another opportunity. A storm was fast approaching, and a preemptive strike would allow the Jade Dragons to draw first blood. But indeed, a bloodbath was not what Bana-Kye and Ro-Zudof envisioned. The Jade Dragon leaders warned the F.I.A not to kill Pakt. Too much bloodshed would trigger a war that the Jade Dragons would not be able to win with brute strength alone. “Her personal guard, though...”, Ro-Zudof added with a smirk, “... they're fair game.”

As both parties were about to take their leave, Hagar turned to Bana-Kye and asked for his jade stone back. Bana-Kye frowned and shook his head, but offered to return it once the dust on their operation had settled. Hagar then asked why. Before Bana-Kye could respond, Ro-Zudof cut in. He told Hagar that some of the Jade Dragons still blamed Hagar for their organization's decline in power since he left. Returning the stone before they rectified the situation might cause unnecessary tension. Hagar was disappointed, but agreed to the terms nonetheless.

When the F.I.A awoke the next morning in the House of Champions, Atka served them a hearty breakfast of fried snake and scrambled eggs. While partaking in her meal, Midzaynov asked Atka about Lidda's whereabouts. Atka informed her that two days ago, a loud aasimar took Lidda to the Wyvern’s Rest Inn in the Victory District. While the party discussed their plans for the day, Thane asked Atka to hold his new archalium-based spellcasting focus for a moment. Cupping the dice in her hands, Atka asked the party if she could have their attention. The party agreed, and Atka launched into a speech about her dread around the recent abnormal activity among the Yalban clergy. She (and the majority of the common folk of Yalba) looked to the clergy for moral guidance. With the recent revelations that Farouk al-Fahai had murdered his own son and that Barakas al-Bay had cheated on his wife before his death, it felt as though the corrupt factions of Yalba would soon overtake the balance of power and all hope for the fair and equal treatment for Yalba's citizens would disappear. Atka’s voice began to tremble, and the dice in her hands began to glow a bright crimson hue. As her monologue grew in intensity, the glow in her hands grew ever brighter. Through tears, she spoke: “if the clergy are in trouble. And if something were to happen to them ... I would lose my fucking mind. A lot of people would. The clergy are the only hope that people like me have for a better life. And without them, our hope dies.” It was at that moment that Zari with the best of intentions said “don’t worry, Atka - Abdul is back.”

Zari had forgotten for a moment that Abdul's disappearance was a secret. It was not known to the general populace of Yalba that Abdul had returned for the simple reason that they did not know that he had been missing in the first place. Atka did not take this revelation well. Feeling trapped and overwhelmed, an inherent magical force erupted within her. Atka’s hair and eyes began to glow a deep shade of scarlet and an arcane flame surrounded her as her feet left the floor. As the flames settled in a protective mantle around her, Midzaynov was able to determine Atka’s sorcerous bloodline: that of the legendary phoenix. A moment later, Atka's uncontrollable arcane outburst ended, the glow from her eyes faded, and she began to fall towards the floor. Midzaynov caught her in her arms, Atka dried her tears, and many celebratory hugs were had.

Once the F.I.A finished breakfast, they escorted Atka to Moroden’s Domain. By their logic, this move would keep her safe from any would-be collateral damage from the Pit Vipers or Bloodbroods. Travelling through the secret portal in Paha's Garden, the party re-emerged in the ruined cathedral in the Plane of Elemental Air. They met with Jeralf, one of Moroden's more “experienced” servants. He told them that Moroden was out on business and reminded them where the guest bedroom was located. They left Atka in her temporary safe house and Thane bestowed upon her his old spellcasting focus as a parting gift. The young phoenix sorcerer clutched the loaded dice in her hand and waved as the F.I.A closed the door behind them.

Next, the party paid a visit to the The Hellraisers. Located in the Victory District, the large wooden building that housed them seemed to have been a tavern at some point in the past. The abolitionist headquarters possessed a rough-and-tumble attitude and several armed tieflings who were discussing how best to free the Yalban slaves as the party entered. Midzaynov intended to use the visit to determine if the headquarters would be a suitable place to leave Quespa, the 4-year-old dragonborn she had rescued from the Palace of Pleasure who now found herself without a home. Between the high count of unsheathed weapons lying about, tankards of spilled ale and blaring noise level, it did not take long for her to make her decision. This did not deter Hagar, however, as it took little time for him to ask the leader of The Hellraisers, the white-skinned tiefling Makaria, if he could fit in a quick sparring match during their visit.

It took only a moment for the Hellraisers to clear the space enough to reveal a small fighting pit made of sand. Hagar found himself face-to-face with a Hellraiser known as Samash, a lithe tiefling with short, white hair. The sparring match took less time than Hagar had anticipated. Although Samash could hold her own in a fight, Hagar's electrically-imbued punches soon overpowered her. The match ended with the tiefling embedded in one of the nearby walls. Samash received divine healing from Makaria while Hagar received a raucous applause from the surrounding crowd. As the F.I.A was leaving, Midzaynov promised Makaria that they would discuss the state of slavery in Yalba at some point in the future. Makaria gave her a thumbs-up, and returned her attention to fixing the damaged wall from the sparring match. The party then decided to eat some baklava and baklalava for lunch while Midzaynov ran an errand in the Duneshadow District.

With Quespa on her mind, Midzaynov took the trek across the city to visit the Temple of Gavriel. The ramshackle structure in the slums of Yalba housed those who were faithful to the dragon goddess, and was run by a bronze dragonborn priest named Heskan. When Midzaynov arrived, the two dragonborn exchanged pleasantries as they cleaned the central worship space from the feast that occurred there the previous night. Reaching into her bag, Midzaynov then gifted 500 gold pieces - a small fortune - to the temple as an act of charity. She then asked Heskan if he would be willing to watch over Quespa for the time being. The shocked dragonborn replied in the affirmative, and Midzaynov handed him a pouch containing an additional 200 gold pieces. She intended for this provide Quespa with the best education at my Anatheum, clothing that was not threadbare, and a full stomach each night. Midzaynov was not able to gauge Heskan's exact reaction to the gold, but he accepted it nonetheless. During their conversation, Midzaynov noticed Heskan yawning. When Midzaynov asked, Heskan admitted that he had not been sleeping well lately due to an insomnia that has gripped him for most of his life. This revelation disturbed Midzaynov. After all, Farouk al-Fahai reported a lack of restful sleep and even nightmares in the days leading up to the murder of his son, and the party believed that there may be a connection between the two.

Midzaynov left the clergyman and asked Quespa if she would like to stay in the temple for the foreseeable future. Quespa agreed with a smile, and told Midzaynov that she would serve Gavriel in whatever way she could. Midzaynov then turned her back to the young dragonborn, removed the old cockatrice beak from her flute, and then spun around to present Quespa with her newest gift. The dragonborn was not what some might call “gifted” at the instrument, but Midzaynov spent a few hours showing her the fundamentals alongside her songhammer nonetheless. Before their lesson ended, Midzaynov asked Quespa to keep an eye on Heskan and report back to her if she noticed anything strange. Quespa agreed to what she thought was an odd request, and then proceeded to play a note on the flute that would make even Zaziel wince in pain.

Meanwhile, Zari and Wykeera paid a visit to Zari's family. When they arrived at the front doors of the Temple of Kielel in The Spires, Zari's little brother Hamza bounced up to greet them. Seeing his sister appear at the temple's doorstep, Hamza exclaimed Zari's name aloud. He was happy to see her, but his furrowed brow betrayed his deeper feelings of fear. As Zari's name echoed through the spacious halls of the ebony-hued temple, the reason for his concern became evident. Ringing out from the upper floors was a familiar voice that shrieked “Zari Misza, where have you been?”. Stomping down the staircase was Tulsi Misza, High Drema of the Yalban Temple of Kielel and Zari's mother. Enraged, Tulsi began screaming at her daughter. Zari, after all, had not checked in with her family since she left with the F.I.A for the Palace of Pleasure, which was over a month ago.

Tulsi unleashed a hysterical verbal onslaught onto her daughter, the likes of which Zari had never seen before. The young cleric knew her mother's temperament well, and it typically resembled that of the ocean at calm. This sudden hurricane was something completely new to Zari and Hamza, who found themselves dwarfed by their mother’s anger. Zari's father Palor, still injured from the attack on their temple by Xeridal's forces about a month ago, tiptoed into the conversation. Palor made a valiant attempt to calm Tulsi down by reminding her that the most important aspect of Zari's albeit late return was that she returned in one piece. Inconsolable, Tulsi accused Zari of misplacing her allegiances and not dedicating herself enough to the church. Zari defended herself, asserting that she was away on a mission that affected the church and her allegiances were where they needed to be. Zari managed to make her mother take pause for a brief moment before she stormed out of the temple, leaving a heavy silence in her wake.

As they collected themselves from the aftermath of Tulsi's outburst, Palor sent Hamza away in to speak to the two adventurers in private. He told them that the situation was dire. Through tear-filled eyes, he confided in Zari and Wykeera that the forbiddancespell that Tulsi had been casting every day to protect the temple had not been aiding her sleep. Sitting at the family dinner table, Palor clutched his daughter’s hand and begged her to work faster to figure out what was happening to the clergy in Yalba. Palor was unsure how much time remained before Tulsi fell apart completely, and how devastating the damage would be when she did.

Meanwhile - and the divine waters that make up my domain may have been somehow altered because this makes very little sense - Thane and Hagar smoked a large amount of oousad, imbibed a large amount of alcohol and wandered into the desert while both high and drunk. I believe that the protection that they gave Xeridal’s ring from divination magic may be interfering with my divine connection to all events that occur on the material plane, but it would appear that they *squints* … found a rattlesnake den and were so out of their wits that they thought that the snakes were Zari's family. They began to hallucinate that it was in fact them who were having the argument at the Temple of Kilel. The rattlesnakes then bit them, which caused them to hallucinate even more … I need to test the waters of my domain for any intrusion. As outlandish as the F.I.A can be at times, even this seems to be a stretch. Send for an agent to check on the health of the Endless Sea and assure that our enemies have not found a way to tamper with my sight.

Once the party had completed their various well-intentioned charity work, stressful family reunions and alleged drug-induced wanderings through the desert, they reunited in the Diamond Bazaar and recounted to each other what they had discovered about Heskan and Tulsi. In preparation for their mission that night, the party purchased dark cloaks from a nearby vendor, applied makeup to Zari to change her skin color (seeing the retainer of a princess associating with gangs would create more problems for the party than they needed) and made their way to the southern gate of the city. When they arrived, they found Ro-Zudof waiting for them. Unfortunately, party had outdone themselves with their disguises, for Ro-Zudof did not recognize them and began to leave. Once the party revealed themselves, Ro-Zudof wished them luck and vanished off into the shadows to begin his part of the operation.

The F.I.A left the relative safety of Yalba's walls from the south gate and made their way into The Crescent, the shanty town that took up the southwestern part of Yalba's outer wall. They kept an eye open for taller structures, knowing that the Pit Vipers had the funding to build two and even three story buildings that would dwarf the sea of huts and lean-tos that made up the majority of the district. With the moon high above them, the party crept through the shadows towards their target.
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Session 23 recap
So much is happening, it’s hard to keep track of it all. Still, I guess it’s time to try.

We made it back from the Palace of Pleasure. Abdul is fucked up, but at least he’s home. I don’t want to say he’s “safe”, since Batu got away and we still don’t know what is happening, but we’ve got him back to Yalba. Of course, Yalba is kind of the center of whatever nefarious plot is happening, so maybe that’s not safe at all. At least he’s not being actively tortured. All the refugees from the Palace are also in Yalba, and Raha and The Hellraisers are very kindly helping them figure out what to do. I hope they’ll all be alright. Also, Raha told us there’s a transportation circle in Yalba now, so that’s neat.

We finally found some weapons for Dak’s crew! The cockatrices are growing up so well. I’m so proud of them. Their names are Axe, Arrow, and Money. <3

I’m very worried about Prin. I wish I knew what happened to her. I believe she’ll be alright, I just don’t know where to even begin figuring out how to help or if she even needs or would want help. And Lyndra always kind of seems mad at me? I’m very grateful for the help she and Prin were able to give in the Palace! Galene didn’t give me a very good understanding of fae politics and customs and I really just hope I’m not accidentally stewing discord between courts. It’s hard to find time to even think about what I can do there with everything else happening.

Also, Xeridal’s ring hasn’t stopped being an issue. The attack on the Palace was definitely related to her. Saadia gave us a box to stash it and keep it from being tracked. The last place Xeridal’s crew will be able to track her is somewhere is the desert outside Yalba. There’s still so much darkness and uncertainty around whatever she was and what plan she was a part of, but maybe we’ll have a little room to breathe and focus on whatever horrendously powerful evil planar force Batu’s in line with and how it’s related to the clergy.

The Cobalt Company was a great help. Dorkuul wasn’t there, but the rest of them came with Raha to bring Abdul home. I don’t get the feeling they’ve been operating as a full crew a whole lot since Deliverance.

Atka’s magic is coming along well! It’s hard not to feel like we’re putting her in danger simply because she ended up with us and we’re the center of so much danger and strife, but it’s nice to see her skills developing.

I say it’s hard not to feel like we’re putting her in danger because she was literally in danger while we were away. The gangs have, apparently, caught on to Hagar’s presence and the house of champions was assailed. We’re going to go meet with someone named Ro-Zodolf from the Jade Dragons to, hopefully, sort out this whole mess. Again, I’d like to be able to focus on the main clergy mess.

Did I get everything? I think so? Well, regardless, I'm out of time. We’re off to the auction, and then to meet with Ro-Zodolf. Here’s hoping that things in Yalba don’t get even more complicated from here on out. I know we have the skills to get to the heart of the problem and turn things around. I just hope we don't leave too much mess behind us along the way.

-Wykeera
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Epic!
Recap Session 22
[From Zari’s New and More Secure Journal]

We’ve finally done it! The precious prince is safe.

After fighting off the undead in the palace’s zoo, we realized that we needed to make our move. We decided to break Siaval’s scrying mirror so he could no longer track us and use Wykeera’s pixie friends to stealthily move through the palace. But Siaval and Batu had other plans for us. We were called to the throne room where Siaval told us more undead were on their way to the palace to find us and collect the ring. He used us as bait. He seemed to think he could gain something out of a deal with the undead.

Midi convinced him to let us have most of our weapons back in the evening to defend ourselves despite Batu’s objections. He didn’t seem to keen on the whole plan or Xeridal’s ring.

They released us back to the slave pen where we decided to send Prin to inspect the area in the throne room to see what trap had been laid, and Lyndra to look for Siaval’s scrying mirror.

Prin found an illusion hiding 60 gallons of holy water that was hanging from the ceiling in the throne room above the entrance. Lyndra found Siaval’s mirror in his bath next to his bedroom on the top floor. Thane and Wykeera snuck up to the 3rd floor to snoop and remove the mirror. Thane misty stepped his way around and Wykeera wild shaped as a beetle.

They discovered Abdul making holy water inside Siaval's bath tub with a few other clerics. They made a plan with him to escape during the fight with the undead. One of the pixies would transform Abdul into a flying creature and meet us in the slave pens once the fight was over.

When we returned to the throne room that night, our belongings were returned. Everyone got their weapons, armor, and magic items back except for Hagar's sword. Midi received a weapon called the Instrument of Kar'duuth. It’s a magic drum that can transform into a great hammer. It’s made of dragon bone. She clearly doesn’t like it as much as the hammer thane wrote about in his book, but I hope she can keep it.

Before the undead arrived, Hagar got Batu to open up about his father. His dad is a Demon Lord!!! TYelpech. Batu revealed that his goal is to rule the Abyss with an iron fist. He wanted to kill his father to become a Demon Lord himself.

Thane showed me a journal that he had nabbed from the 2nd floor library since he can’t read Abyssal. He’s finally starting to ask for help with things. It contained a series of entries relating to a demonic cult that praised Yelpech. The entries got awkwardly sensual, and each was signed “Siaval.” I’ve heard of a cult dedicated to Yelpech in the early days of The Arrival in Yalba, but don’t know much else about it. We should look into it more when we are back to the city.

Thane mentioned to Siaval’s that Batu was acting sneaky. Which was probably what allowed us to survive this fight.

We waited. And waited. And eventually, the undead arrived. Pouring through the door to the cistern was a mass of black smoke. As it entered the throne room and grew to towering heights, Siaval began talking to it. He said that the ring belonged to it, and then he placed the ring in the palm of his hand as an offering. The shadow condensed its form into that of a pale elf woman with scars covering her face and a bandana covering one eye from behind her long white hair. She asked Siaval if, being the ringbearer, he had been the one to kill Xeridal. He told her that the we had killed her.

While that was mostly true, He either doesn’t understand my involvement with this group or chose to leave my innocence out. I’m sure it’s the latter, but believing the former makes me much happier. I don’t like to believe anyone other than Kielel can know my every action.

She was enraged though by the idea of us killing her. Black smoke began to flow from her mouth and her eyes as she took on the form of 20 foot tall shadow being with a deer skull for a head, glowing green eyes, and dozens of scythe blades swirling around in its shadowy form. I’ve never seen anything so purely evil in my life.

She said, “Xeridal’s talents were in alchemy. Let's see how you fare against one made to destroy. Let's see how you face against Orthordis.” I’ve never heard the name. But I’ve also never heard of Xeridal. I was sure that whatever their connection, the ring could not be given up. Undead are never good. But the direct interference of undead this powerful will lead to more death. We I couldn’t let Xeridal’s soul be restored.

A moment before Siaval could spring his holy water trap, Thane cast a suggestion on Batu saying, “Siaval is going to lose the ring. You have to take it from him, now.” Batu flew up and shoved Hagar's longsword a foot into Siaval's chest. I had no clue why he reacted so violently to the suggestion.

At the same time, Midi triggered the trap behind Siaval's throne, dropping the 50 gallons of holy water straight onto Orthordis’ undead form. Orthordis screamed and writhed and retreated southward to the cistern room as her undead servants flooded the throne room from the open skylight.

Siaval ran out of the throne room with a few of his servants while Batu took the ring from Siaval and flew towards the cistern chasing Orthordis. It was clear he wanted to give her the ring. He knew how dangerous and stupid Siaval’s plan to make a bargain was.

They all wanted to let him do it too. I tried to explain that we couldn’t let her get the ring. That we would be dooming the world by giving her the ring.

They wouldn’t back me up. They wouldn’t listen. So I did it myself.

I understand why they would be afraid but it’s no excuse. Yes, she was dangerous. But they would only get stronger if Orthordis walked away with the ring now. There is no benefit in simply postponing our death. I had to risk it.

I followed Batu and cast a suggestion of my own on him. I think I said, “You need to go take care of Siaval. Leave the ring with me, I’ll keep it safe.” It worked. He hated Siaval in this moment more than he distrusted me. Or I thought at the time. I later realized he actually wanted to take care of Siaval. Make amends with his brother. Batu gave me the ring and flew through the throne room to follow Siaval. I didn’t bother to follow Orthordis myself. She was retreating.

Her hordes stayed to fight. As we fought them off, a pink pixie and a raven descended from a 3rd floor room. Things were working out fine.

We made our way to the slave pens after clearing out the cistern. There were some skulks attacking the slaves but Midi located them and we were able to some everyone. Aym thought the slaves would be safe for a bit, and we went to clear out the rest of the palace.

We asked Peter to help us fight the skulks and shadows. We were able to get him out of his cage and kill the few undead that were attacking him. He cast a scrying spell on the throne room to find Siaval, who he saw running through a window on the 3rd floor to his bedroom.

Raam, who I think is another one of Hagar’s sex friends, escorted us through the palace into Siaval’s bedroom, where he and Batu were screaming at each other.

We tricked Siaval into thinking we were on his side and fought Batu. When he was almost dead, as we went for the finishing blow, Batu plane shifted away. We couldn’t kill them both. Yalba is still not safe.

Siaval met a gory end with Thane dropping his last iron door on his head while an air elemental Midi created whirlwinded him into oblivion. As a final revenge filled flair, Thane shocking grasped the iron door and Midi used her new hammer to slam the iron door down turning Siaval’s head to mush. It may have been a bit much.

When he plane shifted, Batu left behind Hagar’s sword. Peter cleansed it for him transferring the enchantment to Hagar’s Warhammer. Peter told Hagar that he’d wander the wastes, and see what other destiny he could find.

Prin returned Abdul to his human form. I had been searching for him for so long. Even when I did find him, he was a wreck. Mind controlled and demeaned. Now he is free and my heart is filled with hope. I think we can still save Yalba. And I know he will make a great emperor. We hugged. I cried. I wasn’t even embarrassed.

In the past couple of weeks as we’ve waited for aid, we explored the rest of the palace. We found a staircase down to the basement. Inside was a tomb for Zeharian pharaohs. It looked like a few sarcophagi had been completely removed from their resting place. Looted maybe.




Finally, today we saw banners approaching from the north. This rescue party solidified all of the hopes I have held during our captivity. To see the prince, but not be able to help him was torture. Those banners were a signal to me that we had really done it.

Everything is going to be okay.
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Epic!
Book 2, Chapter 9: Crypt Walking and Slick Talking
Note to the Editor: I understand you prefer it when I number the chapters according to the last book, but for the last time I am not interested in releasing a version of my adventure novels where they are condensed into one book. I am aware that this could be Chapter 21 if we did that, and that it would be more affordable for the masses, but I simply don't like the aesthetic of it. If they were released at one time, the readers wouldn't feel invested in the adventures.

Much love, T
P.S. This one gets a little more saucy than previous issues, but I tried to leave it to subtext. And trust me, after meeting some of my fans, a lot of people want to see this finally happen, Hagar is a fan favorite.


As Midzaynov’s desperate speech rang out in the silent, but crowded slave pens, my party began to feel something between both inspiration and dread. The slaves appeared only to feel the dread. She carefully removed the head of the half-elf from her body, and as the face turned towards us I made note of two things. Almost all half-elves are beautiful, their carefully crafted features are at once both sharp and welcoming, their human blood softening the aloof serenity of an elven parent. Half-elves know their lives will end one day, and one day soon, as their sanguine inheritance is too strong to not be fleeting. But this face, Ejool’s face, was not stricken with the fear of death that freezes so many in their final moments of combat, elf and human alike. Instead his face had become completely calm, aloof and serene in his last moments, so much so that had I not seen him in life, his heritage would have been entirely lost in death.

My eyes roved the room surrounding us, the two-hundred slaves embattled in the corner in fear of these five strong-hearted adventurers who had hideously marred their status quo. It was then I understood the depth of our situation, my dear readers. For fear did not exist in this place from the swinging pendulum of death, ever rotating nearer, that was becalming, it was a release. Instead, fear came from the unfamiliar. The biting question of what will come to us next, shall our current routine be destroyed. The slaves we had come to save had been so devastated by Siaval’s magics and mind-numbing labor, that I began to wonder if there was anything left to save, or if they, like Ejool, would prefer the certainty of death.

Knowing that we could not find success in this crypt without honesty, I made the decision to reveal to the party my knowledge of Phanalan, his past treacheries to my family and I, and my deep distaste for the kind of sorcerers who abuse their divinely bestowed gifts to reap wealth and power from the sowings of others. I’ve spent many a passage detailing him to you, dear readers, and so I will spare you from that again, but to suffice my party was rather fearful when realizing that someone who could escape even my pursuits, may turn out to be a foe. I believe it was this act, baring my heart so readily for this audience, that inspired one of the slaves to approach us.

Her face was hardened, nothing new in the crypt, but where others had been hardened by woe and horror, grounded down until they felt nothing but hardship, she had been steeled with resolve. It was clear from her gait and her posture that this Tiefling woman was a leader among the slaves, and our fears for the strength of this group began to be assuaged. However, she was also noticeably unmarked. Although her horns did not gleam with the polished and careful smoothness of Yalban Tieflings, they weren’t chipped or scuffed like many of the other slaves. Nor did she bare marks of torture or punishment, which adorned so many that cowered behind her assured step. She may be ally or spy, but given my missing focus, I had only the choice to wait and see which she would reveal herself to be.

She began to lay down a series of warning for us, no guff, no pride, just simple direct statements of fact. These were the rules she lived her life by, and it appeared to keep her relatively safe, though her code allowed for zero progress in our goals. We were to do the labor given to us, and when we were expected to work, we would need to work. Rebellion of any kind on our parts would not lead to our torture or execution, but instead the slaves would be punished as surrogates. Siaval understood the passionate selflessness that burned in all of our hearts, and new that would keep us wary of crossing any lines. However, the woman, whose name was Aym, did give us some information she had gleaned as to the nature of the crypt’s keepers.

These were not regular humans, but instead fiendish jackalweirs, who would immortally serve Siaval, and had unnatural durability. She had some idea of the different rooms of the crypt, and its general build, but nothing substantial beyond the fact that slaves were free to roam the first floor, thought he second and third were off-limits. She also revealed that the guard of Siaval Zari had slain, was in fact a slave conscripted to duty, and now Zari was at odds and feared by many of the slaves. Zari was initially shocked by the news, and I’m sure the memories of her abolitionist past formed a cruel reflection of her bleak present.

Left wrestling with the guilt of our actions, and the exhaustion of the day, we decided that any more investigation would only merit more destruction, and that we should instead play along in Siaval’s game. As our heads cleared from the different charms and curses we had been bestowed with, Midzaynov had a sudden revelation. She knew the nature of the beast we were fighting, and knew it well. Whether from her research before our trip, or ghost stories told to her as a child by mischievous adults, Midzaynov recalled the name of Siaval’s form. Lamia.

I recalled to the others that a lamia was a form of cambion, a half-human, half-demon breed or monster, one created by an especially powerful demon out of one of their dedicated followers. She recited that lamias could weaken a person’s resistance to charms and mind-controlling effects with physical touch, which explained why all of our party members, even the stolid Wykeera, had fallen to the weaker enemies. She also told us of the great scrying powers of a lamia, honed through a magical mirror they could use to view almost anyone of interest.

Keeping secrets would then be hard, as it would be very difficult to know if Siaval was ever watching us. The next day we were awoken by crude bangings at the door, though not the crudest bangings that occurred at this palace, as you’ll know soon. The guards entered our domicile, and proceeded to hand out assignments to each of the slaves. Jafar asked for one volunteer to conduct a special cleaning task on the second floor. I knew immediately that as risky as it may be, this was my best chance at subterfuge. Siaval would likely be occupied, and expect us to be well supervised by guards. If I could somehow delude or evade being guarded, I had an excellent chance to perform some much needed reconnaissance of the second floor.

My party and I were then separated, and I’ll give you a brief detailing of each of their activities, as many of them will become important later in our tale. Hagar was luckiest of the four, he was first assigned to the library, and then was moved into the zoo for cleaning. It was their he had an emotional reunion with Deductible, and in that indescribably gregarious way of Hagar, he managed to make a new friend. Although visually unassuming, his new friend’s circumstances were rather severe.

The young man to whom Hagar acquainted himself appeared to be a young black human, no more than twelve years of age, but he was in a cage many sizes larger than him, embedded with interior spikes as if to prevent forceful collision between himself and the prison bars. His voice was of an incredible depth, and appeared mature beyond all conceivable years. He said to Hagar that he had been in this cage for fifty years. He had been there so long his name had become a distant memory, so Hagar named him Peter, and promised his salvation.

Wykeera and Zari were shipped off to perform similarly mundane and regular cleaning duties, though Zari’s were of nominally higher interest. She was taken to a gallery where many of our prized, magical possessions, and perhaps countless other aids to long past adventurers, were on display in thick glass cases. There lay her holy symbol, and the monocle gifted to her by Raha, tantalizingly close, only separated by an inch of fragile glass. And, of course, two hundred armed guards and a magical lion. Midi was directed to the workshop, where she studiously and carefully selected material components that she would need for her spellcasting, absconding with them when the backs of the guards were turned.

My situation at first turned out to be even greater than I had expected, for what did I find when Jafar was finished leading me to my assignment? That I was in the same familiar bedroom as we had spent our first night. Not only that, but Jafar had turned away and left me to prepare the bedroom for the next guest all alone, not feeling the need to supervise me. I felt a momentary pang of guilt that Jafar would hold my responsible character so highly, only for me to take advantage of his naivete. However, I simply had to take advantage of this chance at valuable information. Little did I know, that Jafar’s confidence was not in me, but in the disciplinary skills of the arriving guest, whose wrath I would face if I were to fail in this task.

But as we cannot know a mistake till it has been made, I set off about the second floor, searching for any clues as to how we could regain our power and make our escape, no longer simply with Abdul in tow, but with as many of the slaves as possible. I knew that this graciousness might mean the downfall of my party, but I simply could not go on allowing such injustice to fester in this defiled crypt. I delved into the unknown, through a second exit in the bedroom.

For safety, I checked the window of the guest bedroom’s bathroom, which looked out over the main room of the ruin, which I imagine was once a temple. It was alive with activity, guards and slaves hurrying about, loading crates of vials onto scaffolding, all at the behest of Siaval. I suspected he was too busy for any scrying and left the room quickly, hoping I would have a window for clandestine action. Each door I encountered was locked, but I knew I could easily teleport into the adjacent rooms without the aid of Tritus’ gift. I spoke a command, and my body morphed temporarily into a bolt of lightning, which shot through the locks of each opposing door as I crept further and further in.

I found myself outside of the door of an articulately robed figure, who slouched over a set of tomes, his sweaty fingers leafing through the already stained pages. He appeared important, and human, so I felt there was a likelihood that I could convince him to help us, or at the very least, pry some information from him through conversation. I cast a spell on myself that would disguise me as one of the guards, thus avoiding the endangerment of myself, my party members, and any slaves. I knocked at his door and entered, and began to play the ignorant guard. He was easily convinced by my performance, for if people are cut from a cloth, the jackalweirs were cut from a blacksmith’s rag, dull and greasy.

The man introduced himself as Skamos, a former slave who had backstabbed, schemed, and threatened his way into the position of a guard lieutenant. He gave me some information on the politics of the crypt, but for the most part appeared to be the result of a dishonest life. Fattened by luxuries earned through greed and cruelty, I was disgusted, but unsurprised to know that these were the caliber of men leading the slaves I had grown to care so much for. As I made my way out of the chamber I heard shouts and cries, muffled by many walls, coming from the direction of the bedroom that I had been assigned to clean. My heart fell at the possibility that my ruse had been discovered, knowing that although I could steel myself against punishment, some other person would be harmed for my reckless action.

I bolted back, literally and figuratively, as quickly as I could, expecting Jafar and some armed guards to be waiting in the room, standing right next to my punishment. Instead, I was presented with a grimmer sight. I now understood why Jafar, had left me to my own devices, for before me was a being that could almost certainly exact any punishment he chose upon me in my weakened state.

He was tall and broad, the build of a warrior whose technique outstrips his need for bulk. He had the sinewy muscles and lithe stance of a tiger, though he currently stood relaxed, and unperturbed by the body lying across the room from him, it’s chest opened up into a still and dark diorama of the human diaphragm. There was a black lance strapped to his back, the body of the weapon completely smooth yet nonreflective, and the tip swirled into a hideous concoction of points, still wet with blood almost as dark as the fiendish material it was wrought from. The tip of his spear was accompanied by a rack of sharp, stark white antlers that spread from his elvish head. He was coldly and aloofly beautiful, and Ejool’s face flashed through my thoughts, the body in the room was yet another reminder of our first failure.

His eyes drifted from the body he had been contemplating, and slowly swept up my body until he focused on my eyes. At first he regarded me with the same empty look he had been giving the body, before he spoke, his voice in measured dulcet tones as deceptively beautiful as his face. He asked me if I would mind cleaning the body out of his room, and explained that it was the body of a slave he had found right outside of the bedroom. He had asked the slave why his room wasn’t clean, and upon hearing the slave’s unsure answer, had killed him out of dissatisfaction.

I was shaken, but if my time as a sailor in Vallsa had taught me anything it was a poker face. I focused on two things, the possibility that the slave may not be dead yet, and that I knew what kind of creature this man was. He was another cambion, though of a different nature than Siaval. In fact, what stood before me did not appear some sick manifestation of a human’s darkest desires, granted to them by a powerful demon, this cambion was of an even more elite breed. This was one born to a demon through a non-demon partner, someone trained and refined in their demonic strength and heritage from birth. The only gap in my knowledge was that the being standing before me had a pale grey skin tone, whereas my knowledge of cambions dictated that they would have crimson skin.

The being introduced himself as Batu, and explained he was the brother of Siaval. He winced slightly as he admitted this, and I wondered if even Batu found Siaval to be an abomination. We began to have a conversation, my intention to distract him from the body, hoping that I would be able to get a chance to leave with it before he could inspect it and insure its demise. He was well-spoken, and even had some lofty ideals, but they were all perversely guided so that he had become a philosopher of destruction. He tried to ply my mind with his evil fascinations, going so far as to compare our actions. He felt a kinship with me, a claim that chilled my bones deeper than anything insofar.

I understood his need to cling to someone like myself, as I believe he found my power and his to be of a similar degree. To that he could not help but pay respect, and a part of me even understood that our goals and character were somehow intertwined. Reflections across the spectrum of light and dark, two forces that would grow together, forever opposed. I told him how I felt, and I saw the first emotion I had seen yet pass his face, as a smile grew from ear to ear. And I make no figurative statement, my dear reader. What was once a stoic and chiseled face stretched farther and farther from a semblance of normalcy, rows of sharpened teeth revealing themselves to make for a macabre vision of satisfaction. In it I saw the cruelty of every smile wrought by every evil man in my life. I saw Skamos, I saw Siaval, I saw Phanalan, and more than I could possibly count. All paled in the glinting face of the purest evil I had ever seen wrought into shape.

Batu’s satisfaction was a result of contentment. My party had long been one that he had watched from afar, along with his brother, and the thought of our imprisonment left him giddy with victorious pride. He told me his only regret of our defeat and enslavement is that I would not be in Yalba to see the streets run red with the blood of its citizens. From the spreading dye of the man on the ground near me, I knew this was not hyperbole. I had successfully put myself near the door, and between Batu and the slave, so I decided to end our dreadful conversation and leave with the body.

But as I picked the body up, he stopped me. He did not mean the body was the mess to be cleaned, he meant the bloodstain on his lance. He unstrapped the the foreboding instrument, and handed it to me, the weight of it astoundingly heavy, imbued with the weight of his total horrors inflicted. He cleared up the confusion by telling me he would prefer the body be left in his room, as it would provide a good meal for him before he had to get back to business. He smiled that otherworldly smile yet again, and I summoned a grimace back at him, utterly defeated in our encounter, unable to save the slave who had paid my punishment, serving the beast who did it.

I was led away back to the slave pen, and spent the rest of the day exploring the first level, doing any work I could find to keep my mind off the horrors of before, knowing that unless we strove forward, things would only get worse. Over the slopped gruel of our nightly slave meal, my party began to discuss future plans. Midzaynov used her powers to message the Artificer and the Crown Princess, notifying them of our dire straits, and asking Saadia to send back up. However, we all knew it was a futile effort, as the loss of Xeridal’s ring, Siaval’s power, and Batu’s cruelty would likely coalesce in unimaginable sorrow by then, and we would likely be dead or mentally imprisoned like Abdul.

Hagar kept things light among the party though, by engaging one of the nearby guards in conversation. The guard must have been relaxed, and of course who can say no to Hagar, as he quickly opened up to Hagar. Do you recall, dear reader, the aforementioned crude bangings? Well, I’ll save you the displeasure of hearing any exact details, but the guard entertained Hagar for the remainder of dinner, regaling him with tales of mixed doubles, furry friends, and something they referred to as “yiffing”. Our slaver may have been an actual demon, but some of those stories qualified as more evil than any of Siaval’s plans could have been.

Left in a light and confident mood by Hagar’s good cheer. I decided to visit the barracks I had located on the first floor, as Aym had mentioned some of our equipment may have been relocated there. I approached the door, only to be met by Jafar, who’s eternally nettled demeanor only became more enthusiastically annoyed when he saw that I wasn’t as miserable as expected. I spoke to him, asking him some innocent questions about the crypt, when one of my jokes went too far astray. I believe I was in the middle of an admittedly raucous line about the nature of his furry hindquarters when I was promptly put to sleep by him and two other guards. As my vision faded to black, I realized that his only goal would be for me to wake up as miserable as he had dreamed I would be.

I was surprised to awake unharmed, only bound to a roughly hewn table, my arms and legs spread and tightly chained against the sandstone. The roughness of the stone on my back contrasted sharply with the feeling of fur along my abdomen from the hulking beast straddling my chest. Siaval had put his legs alongside the edge of the table, giving his torso the illusion of sitting upon my stomach. He leaned forward, the crushing weight of his massive body pushing against me, and began to detail the terrible things he could do to me to make me conform. He warned that although I had only defied him minorily, that he would only be crueler with future infractions, holding a blade to my fingers and tongue in turn as he spoke about his plans for my party and I.

We had no idea that since the Tournament of Champions Siaval had been lying in wait for our delivery, hoping to make us into his playthings, watching us battle in his coliseum until we dropped dead from injury or exhaustion. The rebellious streaks in our blood was nothing knew to him, and my fiery resolve only seemed to provoke his enjoyment of the situation even more, as he felt that he dominated me spiritually as much as he was physically. I kept my bravado, not allowing a glint of fear as he inspected me for weaknesses, holding with him, bantering calmly as if he were an old friend.

His capacity for wit was impressive, and if I had not been currently crushed by the weight of his form, it would have been easy to forget his true intentions. That is, until he revealed one of the reasons for his expertise on my life. Whereas he had been a fan of mine since the tournament, he had been getting information from a longtime viewer. For on his hand was the gleaming band of silver I had taken from Xeridal.

We had feared that losing the ring could lead to trouble, but Siaval obtaining the ring, and communing with Xeridal, was far worse. She had been whispering secrets to him, promises, undoubtedly belying her intentions for freedom. But of course, there was the possibility that their evil kinship could lead to their union, two forces combined to create an age of Darkness beyond what Hell could even imagine. My façade fell through, I could no longer play along with his game. I urged Siaval of Xeridal’s cunning and treachery, but he ignored me, believing himself to be in control, much like Ostan Gerrickstan in the Garden of Deliverance. The only problem being that Siaval was a lot more dangerous, misguided or not.

Feeling as though he had broken through my confidence, he released me, and as I walked back to the slave pen I spied shadows darting outside of the crypt’s exit, shadows with no bodies, and a glimpse of green bulbs like eyes with no sockets. The situation was growing worse by each second, though I knew then that at the very least, Xeridal was not going to be working with Siaval.

The next day I spent with Wykeera, sneaking through the networks of the crypt, charting out the layout of the building to the best of our ability, using her in her beetle form, and my teleportation. The party managed to create some ash from burned leaves to help Wykeera cast a shifting shadow that masked our movement, and we evaded any untoward eyes. Nothing of note was found in our ventures, besides a desecrated chapel to the Demon Lord Yalpak, which we easily deduced as a feature for the fearsome fiends’ father. I was also able to dart through the barracks, and found that the items they had stored were simple weapons and items of clothing, none of our magical tools or foci.

On the edge of the barracks was a door leading to a kennel of monsters, growling many-headed dogs, legged, lurching snakes, and shimmering wind creatures prowled and railed against their cages, almost leading to my discovery by the adjacent guards, before I managed to escape through the door’s keyholes again. By this time we had returned to our starting point of exploration, and my arcane energy felt completely depleted. I had teleported nine times in the previous hour, a feat of excessive magical performance, and had I a weaker constitution, I may have collapsed.

We decided to end our efforts of exploration for the day, and I returned to the slave pen to meditate upon my powers bestowed by Moroden, in the hope that the great Djinn would renew my strength for the trials ahead. As you know dear reader, I grow wary of power given for free, but I knew that Moroden was a truly kind being, whose intentions were clear, and that he would not hesitate if it meant saving the lives of the innocents around me. Many paladins and clerics have done far worse with the powers given to them by their gods, whether through the negligence of the god, or their hidden spite, but Moroden would never falter in his vigilance and care for our plane.

While I was meditating, Hagar apparently had run into the same guard from the previous night, who was sitting by the cistern outside the barracks. The guard was cagey at first with Hagar, feigning anger and coldness in the attempt to lure Hagar away from him, but truly, the guards heart had begun to call out for Hagar in a completely unfamiliar way. Hagar had begun to show this being kindness, this jackalweirs born from a festering broth of evil in some far away Abyssal plane, and yet Hagar had found beauty in him, and perhaps had the first interested conversation the guard had ever experienced. He pushed him away, but Hagar was persistent and gentle.

The cool emptiness of the cistern suddenly felt intimate as Hagar sat next to the guard. He spoke his name breathily, Raam. He admitted that he had pangs of unhappiness in this ancient place, that he felt a calling for a different life. But he had been born from darkness with his only purpose being service to his Lord Siaval. All he had known was evil, and yet Hagar inspired light from him. The still water of the cistern’s pool made the guard only thing of how dry his lips were as Hagar embraced and kissed him for the first time.

That night Hagar was contentedly asleep when he experienced a dream. And not a dream of Raam’s rippling muscles, but of the young boy, Peter from the zoo. And no, not his rippling muscles either, thank Moroden. In it, Peter communicated with him telepathically about the growing dark forces outside of the crypt, confirming our fears of Xeridal’s imminent attempt at resurrection. He also informed Hagar that Siaval’s scrying implements, and likely many of our magical items that weren’t on display were contained somewhere on the third floor. Before he could say anything else, his face contorted with pain and he screamed as the dream cut off and Hagar awoke, the echo of the scream still ringing in his ears.

He awoke the rest of the party, and we dashed towards the zoo, carefully avoiding any guards with Wykeera’s shadows and our fleet feet. To say we arrived just in time would be incorrect, in fact to say we were late might have been too kind. Two of the jackalweirs were dead on the ground before us, savagely torn open by something that we could not see. The animals thrashed in their cages, the lions slashing at empty air as strips of their pelts peeled themselves off and fluttered to the ground, ribbons in celebration of bloodshed.

Deductible cowered in the back of his cage, safe, but clearly in danger of the savage invisible attackers. I became confused initially as we looked over the carnage and chaos, as none of the roiling cages appeared to contain a boy of Hagar’s description, and the cage Hagar pointed out as Peter’s contained only a massive, spiraling serpent with scales splashed with every color on the spectrum, rippling down its muscular back, past its folded wings. The majestic beast was trapped in its medieval cage, and I immediately moved towards it to begin opening it up.

Hagar split off from me, making a rapid approach to Deductibles cage, prying the bars open with his bare hands and taking the squirrel into his rags, folding his body around the small animal to protect him from the enemies’ vicious blows. Midzaynov conjured a cloud of faerie fire, billowing will-o-the-wisps that settled on any enemies in the area, revealing their form to us in glittering blue silhouettes. Wykeera summoned her column of moonlight and eviscerated some of the enemies, while I decimated a few others with the humming eldritch blast from Moroden’s mark.

I turned a few of those blasts towards Peter’s cage, busting the corner of it open wide enough for him to fly through, unfurling his wings, and pouncing on the remaining enemies in the room, even locating and reducing some of the still invisible husks to shreds. While Zari was analyzing the situation, trying to figure out the nature of these enemies, she was struck by two of them simultaneously, their coordinated and vicious attacks critically wounding her, and almost taking her down. Hagar leapt forward and ripped them apart, Zari’s retaliative spiritual weapon attacks clearing out what he left behind.

On one side of the room were a pair of small hanging cages, which at first appeared empty, only to begin shaking and convulsing wildly as the battle continued. Soon a set of magical vines crept through the floor of the room and wrapped around two invisible forms, one clearly the body of an attacker, and the other left a much smaller, indiscernible gap. Midzaynov rushed over to the now active cages and drew her breath to blast the cage with lightning. Fortunately for her and her conscience, she misfired, and instead only breathed her crackling bolts into the space right below, killing the invisible attacker, and sparing the occupant of the cage, who sprang into existence right afterward out of fright.

The cage was now inhabited by a pixie with short pink hair. The contents of the other cage became quickly apparent, and I cracked them both open with the force of my eldritch blast, revealing another small pixie, palette-swapped for black. The action subsided for a second, a lion unwittingly rending the last enemy. Zari, as she recovered from her wounds, informed us of the beings we just fought, our only hope of knowledge, given that even after death they did not reveal their forms.

These beings were called skulks, the undead remainder of souls lost in the Shadowfell, travelers who had been subsumed by the esoteric powers of the plane, and turned into wandering invisible monsters. They usually would attack anything around them, but could also be controlled by a powerful enough figure, and were likely the vanguard of a more serious infiltration. She knew that there were only three ways to see a skulks form, reflective surfaces, the candlelight made by a human’s fat, and by any child aged ten or younger.

So I warn you, dear reader, you may have felt that you weren’t faint of heart when you picked up a book like mine, but if you were to see one of these aberrations true forms, you would certainly feel differently. The next time a child of yours tells you of the monster under their bed, listen. And don’t look, take your child, and ask Moroden for deliverance. Who knows, I may be the one to save you.

Once we had insured the security of our room, we knew it was a necessity that we retreat quickly back to the quarters, as we were the only visible evidence for the dead guards and ruined room before us. Before we left, the rainbow serpent before us shapeshifted back into the form of Peter Hagar had described, and explained that he was a coutl. A Celestial being that possessed the ability to heal, despite the impressive show of damage with which he had waylaid the enemy.

Hagar suddenly became distressed as we all knew that Deductible would need to be placed back in his cage to avoid suspicion on our party. Instead, Peter graciously took the responsibility upon himself, and morphed into a form identical to Deductible, save for some small details only close friends of the squirrel could pick up on. He climbed into the cage, and Hagar bent the bars back in place. Imprisoning our friend for what we hoped was only a short duration.

We made our way back to the pens carefully and hastily, evading any suspicion, and collaping onto our beds in exhaustion, virtually devoid of all magical or physical ability. As my consciousness faded into that deep pool of our sleeping mind, I felt one last feeling race through my body. We had been beaten down, tortured, cornered, and made to feel trapped by Siaval. Every part of our plan had been dismantled by the sheer magnitude of his operation. And yet, here was a gap. A chink in his armor.

The days that were to come undoubtedly had more chaos and violence in store than we had seen so far, but these gathering forces, the beings from the Shadowfell? Well, they were at least familiar territory. And although Siaval had read my book on our previous adventure, he was completely unprepared for what was to come. The last feeling I felt, the one that jolted me out of my semi-conscious state, if only to lull me back, was excitement. Even good men feel excitement the night before battle. Because they know that this challenge will be one step closer to a better world.

Of course, if I had known that the guards were going to burst into the room, panicked at the previous nights’ elusive assault only three hours later, interrupting a particularly splendid dream about the lights in Felsira’s port, I would’ve likely felt annoyance instead. I couldn’t have known as I was sleeping that the assault had been more brutal than we had known, and not contained to the zoo, but also the kennel, and the other defenses of the temple. I couldn’t have suspected that as we rose out of bed and walked towards the door, we would see the shadows and green orbs flittering past the door, even in the harsh Janavian sun, disregarding the natural rules, as the power of the Shadowfell seethed and boiled around us.


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