The Shard of Astaroth V

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The Shard of Astaroth V

Postby Ian » Sun Nov 23, 2008 11:03 pm

Prologue: Meanwhile, Elsewhere...

Charissa materialized in the midst of the small clearing of the Silverwood, just outside the old church ruins where she was scheduled to meet her contact. In the absence of her traditional allies, she had been quite busy the past few months, addressing the newest crisis befalling Silverymoon: a quiet little trade war with the mysterious Blacksteel Mercantile Alliance, whose new Marches portal network was slowly strangling the city's economy.

Now, the sorceress felt she'd caught a break: one of her colleagues, a woman whose network of old-fashioned contacts rivaled anything magic could muster, claimed she'd found proof of just who was behind Blacksteel. And so the two had agreed to meet at this Harper safehouse, to review this evidence in utter privacy--

Just then, Charissa noticed that the forest was remarkably silent. Wind rustled the last of the autumn leaves in the nearby trees, but there was suddenly no other noise. On her guard now, she knocked on the door...

...and started as the door slid open beneath her touch, creaking softly as the fading daylight illuminated the scene within. For a moment, the only sound was a faint drip...drip...drip of fresh blood upon the ruined church's flagstone floor.

The meeting was off, then.

And then a dry, rasping laugh echoed through the clearing, followed by a voice that, albeit very different, was somehow familiar to Charissa.

It took you long enough...you have no idea how hard it was to find a way to get you beyond the wards without any suspicion or protection, just you and me and a quiet place to settle things. Your friend, of course, had served her purpose.

The reasoning part of Charissa's brain kicked in then, and the invocation for her arcane powers to carry her from this place flew to her tongue--but the source of the voice intervened. Not so fast there, little one...we're only just getting started. Khaza'dragh lantul!

Despair washed over Charissa immediately as she recognized both the tongue being spoken, and the feeling of solidity that formed within her body as the emerald-green field of force locked her firmly to the Prime. Her tongue shifted smoothly to another string of the Draconic tongue, as she suddenly split into a half-dozen identical forms, all of which launched beams of eldritch death into the trees, at the source of the voice. She heard a short wheeze...and then laughter as the voice continued.

You're going to have to do better than that...I am no longer so weak as I once was. The speaker emerged from the treeline then; a hellish ten-foot horror of bone held together by naught but ragged strips of sinew and grey, taut flesh, those horrid crimson eyes nearly froze her in place as it moved towards her sinuously, darting through the clearing in mere moments...

The coldly rational part of her mind took stock of the situation, even as it forced the words of one hastened spell to her tongue and put together the motions for another. The face was his, all right, that of a creature she and others had nearly put down two years prior. Everything else was all wrong, though: the rent and ruined body, the emaciated form, the marks of rack and draw, the extra arms crudely grafted onto the midsection (but, she noticed, fully functional), the tail stripped of all flesh, with grafted-on stinger...

Four melon-sized meteors, showering sparks and trailing fire, flew forth from her hands...and then all of them sailed right through the onrushing creature, as it faded from sight! The explosion as the meteors struck at the edge of the clearing was deafening, the night sky lit up briefly by a fireball visible for hundreds of yards.

Ah, yes, she thought. Illusions might not fool an arcanist for more than a moment--but sometimes that's all they need. Funny, I didn't quite expect it'd end like this...

As she turned around, two of her mirrored forms disintegrated instantly, the beast's wicked talons going snicker-snack through her hastily-crafted illusions. This time she responded with a trio of shimmering acidic beams, which lanced through her foe's flimsy skin with a spray of foul black ichor and elicited a terrible scream. She danced backwards quickly--another of her mirages sacrificed to do so, skewered by a twenty-foot, saw-toothed glaive out of thin air--and bought herself some time to think.

Charissa's opponent likewise paused, just for a moment, before beginning a chant of its own. For the sorceress now, space was life, and the beast's horrid invocation in the Dark Tongue sought to trim both as a magical dome of ice swept in an arc behind her. A moment's utterance gave Charissa the speed she needed to leap past the encroaching dome, and she and her remaining mirages followed with another volley of beams that punched through flesh and bone, nearly destroying the threat then and there!

The effort needed to keep beyond the wall of ice had distracted her, though, and the beast took advantage. Flying high over the wall, its massive glaive lanced down through Charissa's leg, hobbling her. Trying to take advantage of the beast's lack of balance, she shimmered and faded out of sight, taking one last shot at escape...

...only to watch, in unspeakable horror, as the beast recovered, turned around, and looked right at her supposedly-invisible form! With a devilish grin, it pulled forth a shining orb from a knapsack on its bony hip; the gem flared to life, and Charissa's horror grew ever greater as she watched a vaporous cloud, bearing a human face, fly forth from the gemstone with an anguished scream before being subsumed by her opponent. The grievous punishment she had dealt faded in moments, her foe healed by the energies gained from subsuming the trapped soul.

One claw, and then another, ripped apart Charissa's last two mirrors, and then the beast was on her, its foul, hot breath reeking of brimstone as it spoke to her once more.

I'd love to make you suffer, but my new employer has naught the time, and I have other visits to make. So consider this a gift...

As it spoke, Charissa calmly focused the last of her energy on one short, minor spell, breathing a few words into the evening sky. So focused she was on finishing that she didn't even feel the final stroke.

* * *

At that moment, in a small home elsewhere in the Silverwood, a candle flared at the bedside of a small child as his parents read him a bedtime story. The flare of the candle went nearly unnoticed...but when the words on the page started to shift, that was noticed. Even moreso were they noticed once Taeghen and Caly realized how the story now read...
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Re: Meanwhile, Elsewhere...

Postby Ian » Sat Jan 24, 2009 4:11 pm

Those with any connections in the North begin to hear some disturbing news.

Approximately two months ago, the suspected Harper Mage Charissa Morgan and one of her agents, Leah Severen, were savagely murdered in the Silverwood. The next morning, the body of respected baron Daravon Palfrey was found in his estate north of Red Larch. Daravon's servants and bodyguards were also killed, and his two daughters--twins Erzebet and Elspeth--are missing.

Disappearances and murders in the forests of the North--never that uncommon, given marauding gangs of orcs, goblins, and brigands--have increased in the rides since. Known and suspected Harpers across the North seem to be lying low at the moment, but the famed demon hunter Dominic of Tyr has been seen traveling about recently.

Strange creatures have likewise been seen recently in the forests of the North. Sightings are sporadic, however, and little information is widely had.

Rumor has it that some Harpers have even come to Waterdeep, seeking an audience with the Blackstaff.

During this past ride, a monastery of the Old Order was razed to the ground. None of the monks of that monastery are believed to have escaped the conflagration. (Even the novices with star-crossed destinies who might otherwise have escaped to dramatically seek their vengeance were killed.)

Other information may be available to those with the right connections and the urge to ask around.
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Re: Meanwhile, Elsewhere...

Postby Ian » Fri May 22, 2009 3:07 pm

The slim, androgynous, vaguely elven-featured humanoid strode quietly between the shadows of the trees of the High Forest. Its pace measured and quiet, it did not call attention to itself, but neither was it particularly worried about stealth--the creatures of this realm would not bother it, even if they'd been of a mind to, and its attention was on more important things.

Two full rides had passed with no sign of its quarry. The site where the quarry's journey had ended was easy enough to find, in the lands east of Everlund--all the vegetation in a hundred-foot radius was gone, stripped clean by fire and lightning, and all but the largest trees had been snapped off. (There was evidence that at least one, with a trunk the size of the humanoid's torso, had been uprooted off to use as a makeshift club.) But in the end its quarry had been beaten, as evidenced by the blood-like sprays of viscous black fluid that smelled vaguely of kerosene or alcohol, and taken elsewhere by something that left no tracks.

The only creature in the area capable of disabling a half-ton construct and removing it without a trace was well-known, and the shattered remains nearby of the strange planar beings that apparently accompanied that creature gave credence to the theory.

The other nearby tracks, made at the same time, the humanoid hoped did not mean quite as much.

Two full days were spent poring over the battleground, with neither food nor sleep, hoping to find something of value in the search for its quarry. Finally, beneath a pile of dirt apparently kicked up by a nearby explosion, the humanoid found the key to its search.

The first ritual that followed was simple. Within a circle of powdered glass, the humanoid's cupped hand held a single two-inch screw, the only visible remains of the construct called Number Eight. While it chanted an invocation in low, dulcet tones, the humanoid's other hand dripped a foul black fluid over the screw...

...and nothing happened. Inwardly cursing, the humanoid brought its immense will to bear, focusing ever-harder on the incantation. The screw in its hand grew hot, glowing red under the tremendous divinatory powers being channeled through it, but the invoker barely noticed its searing heat...

...and still nothing. Damn. The shell's body must be shielded from detection.

What followed was a much longer and more complex ritual. The humanoid's room was already nearly empty, at least, giving it plenty of space to work. Onto the floor went a ten-foot circle of power--the level of detail in the eldritch sigils would have rivaled that of any artist, but it was required, as even the smallest deviation in the angles of the diagram or most minor mis-spelling of the beings invoked would be disastrous. Candles from the invoker's private stash were placed at random points and lit, the eerie flames casting blue-white light about the room.

Settling into the center of the circle, legs folded beneath it, the invoker closed its eyes and cast out its will, reaching not for its quarry now, but for another realm entirely, where another who held the knowledge it sought resided...

Perhaps seconds later, perhaps hours, it was roused from its trance in a panicked fashion by its erstwhile companions, perhaps believing it to be dead. The interruption was unappreciated, but irrelevant--it had achieved a commune with the high father, and it had the information it needed now.

And so it found itself in the High Forest, now looking down at a vast, fetid swamp in the depths of the woods. The clouds of angry mosquitoes hovering over the brackish, stagnant water made a path for it as it balanced with supernatural grace across fallen limbs and lilypads. A couple hundred feet from shore, it sighed in resignation, and dove into the water...

Five days later, Aldwyn, the Tyrran high priest in Silverymoon, looked up with a start as the Holy Judge Dominic strode into the temple from the humid summer day outside. The small, thin-featured man's bag of holding hung heavily from one shoulder, and his boots squelched wetly on the stone floor. The Judge reeked of foul water and mud, short blond hair plastered to his head and clotted with reeds. He seemed as cool as ever, though, and strangely satisfied.

"Have Amalric fetch his tools, Aldwyn, then issue a sending to the girl in Waterdeep."

Aldwyn paused, and looked after the Judge with an arched eyebrow. "...and what should I tell her?"

Dominic sighed, his lilting voice tired. "I eventually found every piece. The heart appears to be intact, but I can't know for sure until we try to fire it up. Dismemberment was complete, though, and corrosion on most of the other parts is quite thorough. The housing on the power unit has likewise been utterly destroyed. Re-assembly will be...laborious. Tell her we have him, but it's too soon to tell if he'll yet be any good to us."

Aldwyn gaped at the Judge's inexplicable knowledge of such an exotic device, and Dominic shrugged dismissively. "Oh, and while Amalric is fetching his tools, tell his sister to stop by the armory and bring me four suits of field plate, then go to Everdusk Hall and ask the Loremaster what her people know about those new Ascalian devices everyone's talking about these days. We may need one."

The Judge quickly wheeled and turned to head down to his quarters, leaving the dumbfounded cleric to ponder what just happened...
"Nothing will ever change. That cycle of mediocrity isn't due to some obstacle. It's who you are. The thing standing in the way of your dreams is that the person having them is you."
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Re: Meanwhile, Elsewhere...

Postby Ian » Mon Jun 01, 2009 10:29 pm

The hulk of steel and more exotic metals towered higher than it had in its initial form, a necessity of the new design...not only had the ancient device been rebuilt, but it was better, stronger, faster than before.

Questions on how that was achieved were very pointedly ignored, mind, as the androgynous Judge took up his stepladder to place the final two parts into the cavernous chamber behind the new adamant breastplate. Into the lower socket went the Ascalians' newest gift, a reconstructed power source--not nearly as efficient as the last, unfortunately, as they had yet to figure out the original Netherese/Seldruin design, and as such necessitating the massive fluted vents that now ran along both shoulders to radiate excess heat. This, however, likewise went nicely with the new armaments...

Into the second slot, meanwhile, went the original fist-sized gemstone, inscribed with its intricate network of glyphs--by now far more detailed than it was when its creators first scribed it. That surprised Dominic when the stone had first been fished out of the swamp, though since then the Judge was pretty sure he'd figured out what was going on, and decided to place it exactly as it was. Some turning of winches and locking of latches later, the elfin figure clambered down, settled into one corner of the room, and waited.

A few moments passed in silence. Nearby, several curious Tyrian onlookers watched in wonder...and then started as a pair of crimson beams peeked out from behind the heavy iron visor on the metal hulk, and the beast began growling in a gravelly, oddly reverberating tone. The metal monstrosity spoke no tongue that the Tyrians could understand, but the voice in the corner chimed in lightly alongside as it pondered the recitations from the construct.

"Cold startup...Persona Gem found...verifying format for Mark Three Dorian Guard control protocol...so far, so good. True Name, check, Command Gear subroutines--interesting choice, gentlemen...moral and ethical subroutines...excellent, the gemstone's still working just fine. Structural diagnostic...okay, detected the new hardware, analyzing..."

There was a pause, and the smile was nearly audible in the next statement. "Welcome back to the land of the living, Number Eight. I'm Dominic. We should talk."
"Nothing will ever change. That cycle of mediocrity isn't due to some obstacle. It's who you are. The thing standing in the way of your dreams is that the person having them is you."
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The Shard of Astaroth V

Postby Ian » Mon Jun 06, 2011 10:04 am

The Shard of Astaroth, Part V

Things had been quiet in the North.

The Harpers, their numbers reduced by the curious rampage of the devil Galamoth, were regrouping and re-establishing their presence in the North. They likewise sought revenge for the murder of their brethren, but of their quarry no trace had been found for some time, and they had bigger problems to deal with. Daravon Palfrey had been revealed in death as one of the cornerstones of Harper intelligence-gathering in the North, and his death and the disappearance of his daughters had wounded them gravely in this regard, harming their ability to deal with issues far beyond the hunt for a single devil.

The Holy Judge and Sapphire Lord Dominic had made limited forays into the desert Anauroch, but with equally limited success given his dearth of solid leads--and the Judge's attention was split, both by a cat-and-mouse game being played from afar with another of his old foes and by engaging in the reconstruction of the sentient construct Number Eight.

The elf Jiriki had been hard at work, but the trail had run cold, and without a trip to cover the devil Galamoth's last steps directly, there was naught to do in moving forward.

Now, however, things were back in motion once more.

Number Eight, armed with newly-enhanced technology from the sages at New Ascalhorn, surveys the site where the monastery of the Old Order once stood in the High Forest. Night and day he works, as his kind needs no sleep, looking for clues as to what might have drawn the devil here, and awaiting the coming of his friends. The historian Narsingel, first met on the trip to the island of Xapur last year, has likewise joined Number Eight, cataloging and studying the robot's finds.

Jiriki has gathered a group to finally act upon their knowledge of Galamoth's last activities. There is no telling what the devil has accomplished since his disappearance, or even if he still dwells in Anauroch, but the best information they have (both for Galamoth's travels and for what they believe his objective to be) leads there, so it is there she intends to go.

They would go, unfortunately, without the Sapphire Lord--whose old enemy, the fiendish noble known as the Praetorian, had been uncovered masquerading as a bloody death god among the tribes of the Chultish jungles. Dominic had left a sending stone with Number Eight to maintain contact should developments arise in the hunt for Galamoth, but his ability to respond to said contact would be uncertain. Upon his departure, however, Dominic left a word of caution: as the Praetorian had gathered a group of loyal followers from the realm in which he decided to dwell, so too did many fiends upon the Prime...and so too might Galamoth, had he in fact decided to remain in Anauroch.

Meanwhile, the half-drow Rhyl began experiencing erratic dreams--dreams and nightmares both, dreams of times he never saw with his own eyes, but the times and journeys of the sage in his sword, Astaroth. It's hard telling what they mean, but surely their appearance on the eve of travel is no coincidence?

Jiriki has gathered an intimidating group, but they head into a sea of unknowns in a hostile and forbidding land...
"Nothing will ever change. That cycle of mediocrity isn't due to some obstacle. It's who you are. The thing standing in the way of your dreams is that the person having them is you."
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Re: The Shard of Astaroth V

Postby Jiriki » Mon Jun 06, 2011 10:59 am

With her 'crew' organised, Jiriki begins to start trying to organise the order of events. To pick up Eight, first? Who knows. First she needs to collect everyone in the same room and talk things through.......
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Re: The Shard of Astaroth V

Postby Ian » Sat Jul 02, 2011 11:57 am

The initial agenda was set, and the expedition is now under way.

Jiriki, Fios Khelek-Heru, Devdan Timolan, Val Fleetfoot, and Rhyl Illaer gathered on a warm, sunny morning in Virgin's Square. Through the crowded streets about them, the city went about its business--though many passers-by waved curiously at the heroes, whose reputations now precede them, and wondered just what sort of adventure they were gallivanting off to this time.

They would have no chance to find out, however, as the group decided the cleric Berenind could catch up later on, and Fios whisked them away through fifth-dimensional space! The world shifted into a swirl of color and silken ether, before the group suddenly found themselves deposited back on the Prime in a forest clearing, next to a small menhir Fios had prepared years ago for just this purpose. In the Moonwood just south of Silverymoon, the party decided time was of the essence, and visits to their old home could wait--so Fios again worked his magic, conjuring a flock of spectral steeds that would enable the party to cover the remaining sixty leagues of their trip in the length of just a normal day's ride!

The crisp, cool, salt-free air of the Silver Marches came as a small surprise to those who had been cooped up so long in the walled metropolis of Waterdeep, but the thick cloud cover and occasional drizzle was somewhat less welcome. And though the party made good time, travel was nearly derailed when Jiriki--still recovering her bearings after a long absence, unfamiliar with seeing the terrain from an angle so far above, and not knowing Fios had an excellent map of the region--led the party to an entirely different landmark. Identified on the map as the "maze of mist and thorns," it seemed apparent that people on the ground would see exactly that. From above, however, it was a fascinating sight: a trio of high, obelisk-shaped towers, wreathed in a column of roiling mist and surrounded by an incredibly dense thicket of the High Forest!

Noting the towers' presence for later investigation, and after some sheepishness on Jiriki's part for geting the party lost, they turned around and headed towards their true destination. Thankfully, their detour wasn't too terribly long, and just as night began to fall, the party's mounts cleared a cloudbank--and found their second awe-inspiring landscape of the day, as where the demon-infested hole that was Hellgate Keep once stood, now stood the gleaming elven citadel of New Ascalhorn!

The elves have been busy out here the last few years. Two graceful minarets of green-grey marble and smoky glass-steel have already been erected, as well as a high wall of the same material with battlements, all of them partially overgrown with the beautiful phsphorescent plant known as teuruile (moon ivy), and even at dusk the elves were making progress on a massive silver-and-stone rotunda in the center of the courtyard. As it turns out, the elves are also extremely cautious of their new jewel, as the party was being confronted by an armed recon party almost before they landed.

Rhyl's heroic reputation apparently has a home in New Ascalhorn as well, however, as he was immediately recognized (as a "Champion of the Battle for the Keep," no less!) and greeted most warmly by a group that turned out to be veterans of the Dlardrageth War, and the party was soon escorted within the city walls.

Jiriki was ecstatic, and eager to see all there was to see, and the party was offered an opportunity to rest. They instead decided to get right to business, though, and were escorted into the east tower. The tower seemed almost larger within than without, the layout twisting and labyrinthine, full of gleaming marble halls and obviously-magical lighting sources that shone upon everything with a cold, soft luster. After a few false starts, the party wound up in an oddly-lit library with vaulted walls and a maze of bookshelves, where they met someone familiar to a few of them...

Narsingel the historian is an elf's elf: ears longer and more pointed than even his kin; fine, long white hair barely brighter than his pale skin; striking, hypnotic eyes of gold; smile a strange, out-of-time mixture of genuine warmth, aged weariness, and more than a bit of smugness. Slender of build but broad-shouldered, his attire is out-of-date, similar in fashion to Rhyl's serpent-coat, with longcoat and breeches of bottle-green trimmed in gold. Even for an elf of Evermeet, he seems out of an older time.

Meanwhile, as Narsingel and the rest of the party caught up on recent events, Jiriki slipped away to do some exploring deeper in the library. Before long, she ran into another odd charcter shuffling around in the stacks--and while the two had never met in person, she recognized the sentient construct called Number Eight immediately.

The body of the Dorian Guard Number 8 is a metal sphere as tall and wide as a man, with broad, stout legs and arms of sturdy, functional construction. Across its shoulders is a strange new device with fluted structures that seems to radiate heat. Its "eyes" are bright red lenses gleaming behind a steel visor, and its mechanical speech, when not the strangest bits of indecipherable anachronism, are in an ancient elven dialect. Clearly a priceless artifact from another age, it is also a sentient being, curious about the world.

More reunion resumed, but eventually some business was done, as Narsingel relayed the information he'd recovered at the site of the Monastery of the Old Order blasted two years ago by Galamoth.

A Condensed Version Of What Followed... wrote:Sliding out a map of Anauroch--poorly detailed, as would be expected for such a wasteland--Narsingel circled an area to the east.

"At'ar's Looking Glass. Lirinet Vacia's log from Xapur indicated that Astaroth had interest in this place as the potential spot of a historical battle between characters he named as Altixun and the Red Dawn. So with Eight's help, I searched Itharil's journal from the monastery site for references to any of those terms.

"Itharil's notes indicate that Astaroth did go to Anauroch after he returned from Xapur. The elves of the Ascalian Guard project had a testing lab somewhere else in the desert, but we believe Astaroth's purpose was specific and unconnected to that lab. Itharil indicated that Astaroth established some sort of research lab of his own at or beneath the Looking Glass, but that to do so he was forced to negotiate safe passage from some sort of native creatures for which he 'paid dearly.'

"I gathered some further information on At'ar and the Looking Glass itself, but of Astaroth's travels and dealings there I have little more. Again, Itharil was a terrible excuse for a historian, and I wish he were still alive today that I might decry him a disgrace to the profession."

Rhyl nodded slowly, eyes shifting toward the book, then back to the elf. "At least he wrote something down, because that's a good bit of information--something to work with. What else is there of At'ar and the Looking Glass? Any idea who or what the Altixun and Red Dawn were?"

"Of At'ar, I have learned mostly rumors and beliefs," Narsingel replied as he consulted his notes. "Supposedly, the local Bedine tribes revere him as their god. Some in civilized lands believe he was Netherese, a mage in the mold of Karsus who wielded reckless magics against the Phaerimm. Others believe he was an ancient archmage predating the Netherese. Astaroth--"

The sword suddenly spoke up from Rhyl's hip, its clipped, precise voice apparently materializing out of thin air. "--believed that At'ar was himself one of the Red Dawn's number."

"And what of the Red Dawn?" Rhyl asked, as Jiriki reacted to the sword's voice with visible shock.

"I recall that finding more information on them was extremely important to me in life," the sword responded. "They were an order of knights, from the earliest, most tumultuous days of the Elven Court, who had long since passed into myth."

"Indeed," added Narsingel. "If the Red Dawn existed, to know them would be to know much of the earliest days of the elven people."

Further conversation ensued as Jiriki, still surprised by the sword's sudden manifestation of speech, demanded to know why it didn't impart this information earlier. One key piece of information soon became apparent to those that didn't know it before: the sword is sentient, and contains much of the personality and knowledge of the elven high mage Astaroth. That knowledge has been shattered, though, much as the sword once was, and it only recovers in fits and spurts as it's exposed to the research Astaroth did in life. That much established, conversation continued:

More Words wrote:"As for the Looking Glass," Narsingel spoke, "for those that believe At'ar was a Netherese wizard, they likewise believe he had a fortress in or beneath the nearby mountains that held vast treasures. Some suggest the fortress is the hub of a massive portal network, a veritable Hall of Mirrors on the Prime. Some suggest the place was once a lake. Now, at least, it's a flat, stony wasteland of unknown purpose, where magic is supposedly in a high degree of flux."

"Mountains to the north, or the south?" Jiriki murmured while eyeing her map.

"To the north are the mountains of Azirrhat. To the south runs the Black Road, a merchant route largely controlled by the Zhentarim. Frankly, I believe we need to see the Looking Glass first-hand...and hope we run into neither the Zhent, the shadovar, nor whatever native creatures Astaroth's writings discussed."

With much to consider, and with the party still waiting for the last of their number before moving on, they decided to break for a meal and some rest. Jiriki, Rhyl, and Fios brought Devdan up to speed on the history of Hellgate Keep and how things had come to be so far, where Galamoth came into the tale and why there was a talking sword involved, and where this course of action might be taking them. And that's where things left off: with a plan to venture out towards the Looking Glass of At'ar, and begin the search from there...
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Re: The Shard of Astaroth V

Postby Ian » Sat Jul 02, 2011 12:17 pm

Later that night, Rhyl slept uneasily, his knuckles white around the handle of the blade clutched reflexively in his sleep. He dreamed of nonsense, disorienting images, swirls of memory and shape that make as much sense as looking upon the universe through a keyhole.

The apprentice appeared again, vignettes set here and there throughout their lives, that same unspoken
something existing between the two, some topic neither of them is willing to broach. She mostly looks older now, no longer the young girl of the earlier dreams but a striking elven woman, as if these mostly take place later. She's working with Rhyl--in Astaroth's body--on some vast project, and though she is clearly excited abut her task, she also seems somehow bitter about it...

Glimpses of other things appear as well, interspersed with the images of Lirinet. These feel different, somehow, but only a few linger long enough for Rhyl to commit them to memory for more than a split-second: strange creatures of flesh and stone; a dark, spiraling corridor full of nothing but mirrors; a mountain flying, upside-down, like in the stories of Great Netheril before the Folly of Karsus--flying not through air like those, however, but instead amidst a sea of stars!

The images continue on: a whole room-sized plate of symbols similar to the one dedicated to Jhebbal Sag on Xapur, connected in some vast and intricate tree, lit by Lirinet's floodlight; a plain but beautiful elven girl, strawberry-blond hair cascading against the clear night sky; demons and devils on the march, warring in the streets of a vast city in flames, mindless slaughter about...

...and then Rhyl spots them: two red stars, looming ever-larger until they're drowning out the battle, the city, and everything else around, turning into hateful, insanely-large eyes of liquid fire! Then comes the smell, choking him on brimstone and smoke, and waves of overwhelming heat, and a powerful, thunderous growl that rumbles through his very bones, speaking some language Rhyl doesn't know, but understands all the same:

Your time is past, Starmage, you and all your kind. The Age of Fiends is nigh, and you've no part in it.

A wave of searing hellfire hotter than the sun envelops him, blasting him into bits of bone and ash--

--and then Rhyl awoke.
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Re: The Shard of Astaroth V

Postby J.C. » Thu Jul 07, 2011 12:56 pm

As the third day passes, Val has an itching being couped up within the walls.
Walking out among elf folk the itching grows as he shrugs, slightly stretching his wings.
Glancing around at all the eyes upon him, opens his wings wide, taking a hard flap, lifts off. Within a few flaps he is above the wall height and looking out among the trees the wind across his being, invigorating him.
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Re: The Shard of Astaroth V

Postby J.C. » Sun Jul 10, 2011 1:16 pm

After being out of the protection of the walls, Val comes back across the walls high, watching as those on watch try to gauge his height and distance, only to drop down behind the walls behind those watching him.

Landing softly, moves toward the door they originally went through on his way to the library.
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Re: The Shard of Astaroth V

Postby Ian » Sun Jul 31, 2011 6:10 pm

Actually departing from New Ascalhorn proved to be a bit harder than it looked. As it turns out, transporting a one-ton giant robot isn't exactly a trivial task. As the party set to discussing exactly how to transport Number Eight, or even whether they should just leave him behind and teleport back to retrieve him once they’ve studied their destination, the badly-rattled Rhyl began discussing his recent dreams with Jiriki--while she and Devdan discussed the results of their conversation with Eight regarding his first battle with Astaroth.

Jiri in particular was highly focused on ferreting out the ally of Galamoth's that had assisted in dismembering Number Eight a year ago, and had worked with Devdan to elicit as much information from Eight's combat logs as they could. They discovered/hypothesized that whenever he teleports, Galamoth is accompanied by varying groups of strange creatures that (according to studies done by the wizards in Silverymoon) are thought to be proto-form Chaos Beasts--but that such creatures are little more than distractions, strange in form and powers but weak compared to the war machine that is Eight.

Of his mysterious attacker, though, Eight never caught visual sight of it--struck from behind, he could only detect that his attacker struck him with some sort of acid bolt that interfered in a nearly-even fight by turning his armor into slag.

As that conversation concluded, Berenind finally solved the problem of how to transport Number Eight, revealing his ability to convert everyone in the party save Fios to a gaseous form capable of flying as fast as Fios's mount could lead them! That course of action was quickly chosen, and soon after the party was off.

Being turned into barely-coherent clouds of wispy vapor was a very alien feeling for the party, and many of them were relieved when they finally touched down around sunset, coming across some sort of strange, ancient ruin that would shield them from the freezing temperatures of the evening desert. Exploration soon revealed two fascinating pieces of insight: first, that this was actually a Netherese ruin dating back to the days of that great empire, even including the shattered remains of a mythallar; and two, that a group of explorers had recently been here from the City of Shade, only to leave everything behind but a sign indicating that this place was verboten from further investigation by the rulers of Shade.

At about the same time, within an ancient structure that the historians of the party were unable to divine the purpose of, Jiriki discovered a gaping hole in the ground next to a massive stone disc of slightly smaller size, leading to some subterranean chamber shrouded in darkness. Brief testing revealed that the hole was full of magical darkness, impenetrable to the ranger's mundane light sources--but that the floor was only about twenty feet below the surface.

Should stories of this adventure surface in the taverns and festhalls of Waterdeep, any bard who includes this next part of the tale might scarce be believed...as incredibly, perhaps learning from previous experience, the party decided that whatever lurked within the hole (if anything) was none of their concern--and that dealing with it would only distract them from the task at hand. They set up their camp on the opposite side of the ruins, and aside from setting up a watch over their own campsite, left the chamber to its own devices. The next morning, the party resumed their journey, without so much as a glance back at the mysterious chamber.

~o~o~o~

Another day passed in cloud form. Rhyl, for his part, basked in the pleasure of travel without getting shot at or stabbed as the party flew past mountains and over the broad, rocky desert known as the Plain of Standing Stones. Signs of life actually appeared, as even in this barren wasteland, several strange species of creature had found a way to survive. Grunt soon shifted the party's course southward and began following the Black Road, the first man-made landmark they'd seen since leaving New Ascalhorn that hadn't fallen into canturies of disrepair.

As the day advanced to late afternoon, the historian Narsingel descended, followed by the rest of the group, and the party soon realized that they were near their destination. To the south laid what appeared to be the Scimitar Spires, jagged peaks of stone curling around beneath the stormcloud-shrouded Empire of Shade to meet the Black Road, and to the north lay a flat, broad plateau of sandstone and hardscrabble earth covered with obviously man-made formations of stone and other bizarre rock formations. Unfortunately, the sun was still hot enough to make further travel--or even coherent thought--difficult at best, so the party paused long enough to fortify themselves with magic to aid in enduring the heat (which was still nearly ineffective).

The party then left the road, moving northward a ways into the famed Looking Glass, before breaking in the shadow of a well-weathered hand of obsidian perhaps forty feet across and of equal height, reaching forever into the sky. After some discussion and a strange flitter of movement off to the party's right, Val flew up into the palm of the 'hand' to scout the surroundings, while the party consulted with Astaroth on where to go from here. Though Jiriki hoped the sword would know how to direct the group to their destination, the best Astaroth could offer was questing by night and attempting to match his memories of the constellations to the location the group might be seeking. The party then tried to conceal itself, and made plans to travel again by night.

Meanwhile wrote:Away fom the party, Val had a strange encounter. Never having heard an approach, the tiefling suddenly had a feminine voice whispering into his ear from not six inches away! Making no sudden moves, he answered her question as to their purpose (since, she outwardly mused, the group could not possibly be with the "sawad al-prachi," as she called them): "We come seeking knowledge."

"A good answer, for there is much of that to be found in this place...but you must be wary about it, and your friends are too loud as it is."

Val turned to reveal a humanoid woman kneeling right behind him. Wearing a sand-colored hood, mantle, and caftan, she appeared to be elf-sized, with bronze skin and an empty sleeve where her left arm would be. Introducing herself in a soft whisper as "Avarisa Izredal, of the Ra'ah al-Sedah," she seemed non-threatening enough--but before she and Val could discuss further, the pair noticed two strange sights: in the air, streaking across the sky, was a white plume of smoke Avarisa dubbed "the Juravis." Shortly after, streaking forms approached beneath the earth from the northeast, like moles burrowing along as fast as a man could walk!

At the cry of alarm from Val, and Jiriki's eagle-eyes seeking out the same threats, the party drew arms and prepared. The streaking thing in the sky, far too high for the party to make out, crossed fro north to south, then quickly came back around, and passed off over the northern horizon--just in time for the burrowing creatures to approach! The party had some warning, and prepared itself with basic magical protections, but the burrowers were clearly intelligent as well, and they burrowed deeper to throw the party off their positions, then held fast to play a waiting game.

What followed was a series of surprise probing actions. A single limb-like shape popped out of the sand long enough to draw some fire, but conjured a storm of vengeance that immediately deafened Rhyl, Berenind, and Fios with its thunder! Rhyl attempted to move to higher ground, but the earth suddenly collapsed beneath him, crumbling into a morass of boiling mud that held him fast and threatened to fry him. He managed to clamber out of the mess, still covered with the scalding sludge, and suddenly one of the burrowing creatures revealed itself by exploding up from underground: a gargantuan scorpion, shrouded in animate sand, its claws wreathed in fire, its carapace covered in hundreds of gleaming eldritch runes, and its movements indicative of a foul, murderous purpose that should be alien to a mere animal!

Narsingel flew to cover, while Fios attempted to change forms to deal with the threat, but his deafness prevented him from achieving the right cadence in his invocation, and he flubbed the spell! Devdan, Jiriki, and Rhyl moved in to deal with the threat, combining to totally dismember the scorpion in mere moments...but it seems the attacker sacrificed himself to give away the party's position, as beneath the three who moved, the ground suddenly changed forms again--this time into a roiling river of white-hot molten glass!

Devdan managed to dance away, but Jiri, Rhyl, and Number Eight found themselves hip-deep in the boiling soup of glass. Dev pulled Rhyl free of the mess, while Jiri and Eight pulled themselves loose, but then things got worse: above, the storm raged on, and though Val had conjured up a horizontal wall of wind to whip away the worst of the ongoing acid rain, he had no answer for the bolts of lightning that suddenly lanced down from the sky, seeking out and mostly finding every member of the party! Things looked bad, as Berenind tried to heal the party and likewise was foiled by his newfound deafness, and it seemed the very desert was attempting to slaughter them all...

Tactical Update wrote:Round 4
Initiative Order ???, 3-Fios, 2-Dev, 4-Jiri, 6-Val, 5-Rhyl, 1-Berenind, Narsingel, Eight
Party Status
- Berenind: 110/133 hp. Active spells haste, fly, mass aid (0 THP left). Conditions deaf.
- Devdan: 128/128 hp. Active spells haste, fly (via armor), mass aid (9 THP left).
- Fios: 78/115 hp. Active spells haste, fly, mass aid (0 THP left). Conditions deaf.
- Jiriki: 44/75 hp. Active spells haste, protection from evil, mass aid (0 THP left).
- Rhyl: 3/93 hp. Active spells fist of stone, haste, mass aid (0 THP left). Conditions deaf.
- Val: 66/98 hp.
- Number Eight: Minor damage. Conditions slow.
- Narsingel: Full health. Active spells fly, others unknown.
Notable Environmental Effects Full area coverage by storm of vengeance (round 3), partial coverage by vitrify (round 2) and scalding mud (round 4)
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Re: The Shard of Astaroth V

Postby Ian » Mon Aug 08, 2011 10:38 pm

The storm raged on, and the party's battle against their subterranean adversaries quickly turned from bad to worse. The historian Narsingel had the right idea, it seemed, when he found cover and hid out of everyon's sight for the remainder.

Fios attempted to drown one of the strange scorpions in a pool of boiling mud, giving it a taste of its own medicine, but his magic apparently had no effect. Rhyl merely tried to keep himself alive, downing potion after potion as he half-clambered, half-crawled to high ground, peeling bits of rapidly cooling glass out of his legs as he went. The attacks ceased for a moment, even as Jiriki jumped at shadows and fired all around into the darkness, and Berenind managed to avoid fumbling with his invocation of Sehanine's blessing long enough to restore some of the party's vitality.

Just in time, it turned out, as the winds of the magical storm shifted again, and began dropping basket-sized balls of flaming stone onto the party! Bones shattered and men cried out, and as Rhyl continued desperately knitting his own body back together and Eight tried to cool himself from the heat of immersion in molten glass, the party continued its desparate search for the source of the magic.

Finally--as the storm shifted yet again and began blasting the party about with hurricane-force winds, clouds of rain, dust, and grit--Val, the mysterious woman Avarisa, and Fios seemed to find a strategy that worked, repeatedly hammering the ground beneath them with explosive bolts of sound. This both readily transited force to one of the creatures beneath, and scrambled its tremorsense, holding it in place in sheer confusion! The other took advantage of its senses--now the best of anyone on the field--to locate and lash out at Rhyl on the rocks, draining him of his life energy in the process! Crippled and nearly-dead, Rhyl continued climbing higher, further out of reach, as Devdan came into the fray and began trying to attract the now-submerged scorpion back out of hiding.

Luck nearly turned against the party completely at this point--while Devdan managed to break the concentration of the scorpion beneath him enough to keep it from maintaining the storm of vengeance, the other creature picked that moment to emerge from the sand and try to turn Jiriki into a meal. Berenind called upon the power of Alasiel's sacrifice to interpose himself at just the right moment--only to find himself impaled clean through by the creature's claw, and nearly all his blood drained to feed the scorpion's recuperative powers! It then trod right over the cleric's near-corpse to move in on Jiriki, grappling her and continuing to bite and sting, as its now-unoccupied comrade did the same to Devdan...

Without the shelter of either the ground or a massive magical storm to protect them, however, the scorpions found themselves quickly outmatched. Devdan managed to phase out of his scorpion's grasp, providing the opening for Rhyl and Eight to open fire on it with bolts of magical energy, and for Avarisa to leap in with her blade. Fios, meanwhile, had changed forms--shifting and growing into a multi-headed cryohydra covered with dragon scales, he took advantage of the other arachnid's attentions being focused on Jiriki to rip into its unprotected flank, quickly dismembering it. Val then ended the battle by following Rhyl and Eight's magical salvo with one of his own, flash-freezing the last scorpion solid.

Even as the party paused to lick its wounds and ask about Val's new friend, the robed woman introduced herself--"Avarisa Izredal, of the tribe Ra'ah al-Sedah"--and then immediately urged the party to start moving, in case any more of the creatures ("Sabat al-Jadu," as she called them) came along. Already breathless and weary, the group nevertheless girded itself and followed, keeping to the shadows until after sunset, and meanwhile asking what questions they could between breaths. Apparently used to doing everything else while in motion, Avarisa managed to fill the party in somewhat:

Exposition from Avarisa Izredal, With Some Adaptation For Narrative wrote:"So Val Fleetfoot said you are all here in pursuit of knowledge. May I ask what kind?"

"A song lyric from an ancient elf wizard," replied Fios. He continued, "And we hope to stop an evil that has been growing in power."

Avarisa kept an eye on the starry sky as she led, responding after a moment. "To what evil do you refer? There is much to go around these days."

"A creature of the hells who has been growing in strength, it has killed many across the continent to the north and west." Dev added, "Evidence seems to suggest it was headed this way."

At this, the one-armed woman stopped up short a moment, her expression odd, and then continues moving, clambering over a ridge as she speaks again. "At'ar smiles strangely upon us, perhaps. I will tell you a tale now--let me know if it strikes your fancy.

"My tribe has roamed these lands for generations. Our stories suggest we have wandered since the day great At'ar first came to us and set us free. We live in both war and peace with the other tribes of this land, much as I've been led to believe happens elsewhere. Over the last few decades, however, we have had increasing run-ins with a new and persistent tribe.

"We call them the aswad al-prachi--'black men of the east,' I think, is as close as your tongue gets. They came with merchantmen, but also with warriors, magicians, and great sky-lions. We've skirmished with them along their great road more than once in my lifetime. They do not hew to our customs, nor war in our ways, and we had begun taking pains to simply give them a wide berth--which usually prevented conflict.

"About three summers ago, though, they...changed. A new ruler from the east came. He pulled back their skirmishers for a time, took many of his men, and began building a fortress far from the great road--up in Azirrhat, overlooking Kanche Rasatala. Once their stronghold was built, they set forth on a war of sheer conquest. They did not just rob and burn caravans, but enslaved the survivors, and took them to the fortress on the mountain. Then they began taking other tribes, enslaving as many of them as possible as well. What few of our scouts returned suggest they have tasked all of their slaves to hollowing out the mountain, building a great shaft into the earth. The only caravans they leave are those bearing their own symbol--a black serpent on a disc of gold."

Devdan's jaw clenched, and Berenind asked, "Do they wear a symbol, perhaps of a clenched fist?"

The look Avarisa gave him was outright vile. "They do, actually, the leaders of their tribe. As does...He. Their master, the Palankasha."

Fios translated the term with a frown. "Desert Mage-Lord...the opposite of myself, then."

"And the holy symbol of Bane," Berenind added with a nod.

Avarisa shrugged. "Desert Mage-Lord? As good a translation as any, I suppose. The Palankasha is a wizard, one of great power, and he is not human. He has taken many from my tribe, and killed more. And it is in battle with the him that I earned these." She paused then, enough to wave the stump of her missing arm, and to use her good hand to flip back her hood--revealing a handsome bronze-skinned woman in her thirties, bearing an eyepatch and deep acid scarring around it. "But he bleeds, which means he can be killed. As for who he follows, I care not--he fears my blade now, though he hunts us relentlessly for it."

Jiriki sighed. "This just keeps getting worse. I don't suppose you happen to know of any legends about that mountain? Old legends from times and ages past?"

"We believe a great treasure of At'ar lies beneath Kanche Rasatala. Our elders, before they died anyway, believed the shaft being built beneath the stronghold was an attempt to reach that treasure without going through the deathtrap beyond the mountain."

At that point, the party generally agreed to assist Avarisa in dealing with the mysterious Palankasha and his apparently Banite followers, in hopes that it would lead them closer to their own goal. She guided them into the caves where the remains of her tribe had set themselves up, where the group could recover their strength with food and sleep, and begin planning their new endeavor with her...

[We're in a period of downtime until the next scene. Feel free to play amongst yourselves--it'd probably be helpful at this point--and if any of you want to discuss matters with Avarisa herself, just let me know.]
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Re: The Shard of Astaroth V

Postby J.C. » Tue Aug 16, 2011 1:44 am

:::clearing his throat, glancing at the others, Val speaks up:::

I was invited along on this journey because I am the unpredictable destroyer. I do not always know what I am going to do in a given situation, I do not understand what you would need of me besides what I already do. I am not a "team" member in the sense that what I do always aids others, except to destroy whatever attacks the others.

The situation is what dictates what I do and what I use to do it. :::shrugs::: How would you have me change that?

Would you have me wait until one of you directs me?

The best I can think of is for someone to take the lead and trigger whatever traps or disturbances that cause an attack on those behind them.

I am still not sure exactly where we are even going, or even if there will be height enough for me to stay airborne to scout ahead, and will my being airborne cause traps to trigger, I doubt it.

How would you have me be more part of the "group'? I do not have spells that heal, I do not have spells that cuddle the weary, I have spells that destroy, very loudly and very messily.
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