Silt Striders of Balic

The Fate of Berevin Tulnis

Though Horace escaped his estate in the struggle against his pets, his house was ripe for the inspecting. Rifling through his office, they found he was a rather inept conspirator. His letters betrayed an awful lot of information about the order he represented, called The True, hellbent on Kalak’s eventual return. He also had a letter addressed to a man named Arthur, signed from Berevin Tulnis, the former High Praetor of Balic. Further, they found the remains of Molael Gaft’s paintings, depicting one detail in common on each – The elaborate spear used to slay Kalak.

Setting out to discover what Tulnis was up to in Tyr, they used the clues present in the letter to track down the observatory it referenced, which was occupied by a clan of gypsies peddling wares and penning animals around it. Having to muscle past some pushy salespeople and display a bit of authority, they eventually pierced the walls of the observatory and found Arthur within, attended by his advisers. He sent them away to speak with the party, knowing the identity of Vorelixen but surprised she was present so quickly. They shared with him the contents of the letter, which alarmed Arthur. Together, they set out to secure The Haunt, while Arthur explained what Tulnis was doing in Tyr. The stress of his position in Balic was too much for him, and he was doing a lousy job. One doesn’t simply quit without drawing the ire of their sorcerer king, so instead he fled to pursue a job in Tyr doing what he did before the promotion – being an investigator.

They arrived at The Haunt, which was a warehouse said to be haunted by malicious spirits. Perhaps reacting to Tulnis’ current lack of a presence there, a rival gypsy clan took ownership of it and launched an ambush at the group. Arthur broke the wards on Tulnis’ office while the group dispatched the gypsies, claiming an orb of darkness off them for themselves.

Inside the office was a complicated network of strings depicting a timeline that Tulnis had been working on. Arthur was notably frustrated at not being able to decode it, nor could the rest of the party. One thing was clear though, and that was that almost all the strings passed through a skull labeled ‘Kalak’ in the center of the room. Clearly his death had far reaching consequences. Searching his papers for other clues, they discovered a meeting was scheduled in the Under-Tyr for that same evening, and decided to pursue it as their only lead.

Creeping through the Under-Tyr was somewhat challenging, but they arrived at the address in question to find a peculiar environment of hot, humid air and a strange chemical odor. Tulnis lay perched on a rooftop, observing something in the apparent darkness. When they approached the body, they found his face and brain had been ripped away from the rest of his skull, leaving a hollowed out bloody mess. They were then assaulted by the culprit, which was a mind flayer. Engaging it briefly, they decided to flee when it began calling its thralls to defend it and another joined the fray. They fled through the Under-Tyr, using every resource at their disposal to put distance between them and their pursuers. In a moment of desperation, Althaea used defiling magic to sap a halfling tribe living in the dark to assist in their escape, and they clambered out the hidden door back in to Tyr proper.

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Welcome to Tyr

After the fall of Maddock, our heroes went their separate ways. Rikard assembled a group of like minded folk who decided to set up a druid grove on the copse of plants harvested for the Pride of Balic. His offer to the city to ship their flower to them in exchange for being left alone was accepted. Samm, beginning the process of reaping those who were destined for death but it would not come naturally, would eventually find himself working in tandem with the druid as he had access to land that would provide a soil capable of burying the dead, and would benefit from the corpse as it broke down naturally. Vorelixen found herself pursuing leads on her father’s own unnatural extension of life, and though the details are not known to the public, it would seem she solved the issue with a permanence, possible with the aid of her new found infernal powers courtesy of a bargain with Titivilus. Lastly, Althaea found herself again in the library, working at times with both the Tich-yang and the Gimel. As her efforts for peace were subverted and deaths began to pile up, she left the library in disgust, as a changed eladrin.

Several months passed, and on the eve that Andropinis himself appointed Vorelixen as the high praetor of espionage, word came from Rikard of some changes in the city-state of Tyr. Written on a sheaf of papyrus inside a potted plant, he had spread the rumors that King Kalak of Tyr had been slain by a slave rebellion, and as his grove had developed the autonomy to survive without him he was moving to check it out and determine how this happened. Meeting up at the city gates, our heroes reconvened for the first time since the fall of Maddock, and found themselves able to push through the horde of folk waiting to be admitted to the so-called “free city” thanks to Rikard’s string pulling, possibly as a result of his admittance to Tyr’s branch of the Veiled Alliance.

Making strides to explore how this slaying took place, they began to research the story and found themselves getting a real mixed bag of leads and supposed witness accounts. They eventually stumbled on the name Molael Gaft, who was an oil painter that apparently was driven mad by the experience of seeing Kalak defeated and committed to the city’s asylum. Vorelixen managed to get Eiber set up as a record keeper in the administration so he would be able to admit their party and speak with him. Exploring his room as they interrogated the man, it became evident after a short discussion things were not as they seemed. Revealed to be a doppleganger, he fought to the death trying to eliminate the investigators. They eventually determined someone in the room had been sending messages via carrier pigeon, and sent one of their own to try to arrange a meeting. They followed it to its destination as a backup plan, and wound up using it as their meeting was blown off.

They arrived at an estate owned by a man named Horace, well appointed but slightly off. A quasit arguing with some voices from around the hall was the first thing they saw as they explored the house, and they noted the peculiar interior that was so poor of design it utterly wasted the space inside of the walls. Rikard noted it was actually shaped like an enormous ritual circle, and the magical properties of the place were confirmed when Vorelixen attempted to interrogate some animated stone heads in a side foyer. As Samm collapsed through the roof with a giant brass Orrery, and Althaea helped people out of a guano-filled basement level, they determined the owner must live upstairs. He emerged from his bathroom just as they were reaching that level, and immediately locked himself back inside. Shouting out commands while he made his escape, the party had to fight his poorly assembled golem, his quasit familiar, and a massive otyugh creature.

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The Fall of Abernil Maddock

United under the banner of our heroes, the peoples of Balic gather and fashion makeshift weapons to defend their homeland from the approaching undead horde under the former High Praetor’s control. As night falls and the dots of torchlight appear (magnified by the corpse light thanks to Rikard’s ritual magic) the citizens start to feel fear.

With a tremendous amount of effort, pushing through the horde, rallying troops, flinging toxic spells, and stepping through the feywild in tandem with a hundred shining swords, our heroes manage to punch a hole deep enough to discover the Kamatur Monument and atop it Abernil Maddock. Along the way, allies of our heroes give their all to aid in the effort. Efforts from Argiovinias, Kik’Oda, Eiber the Scribe, Orzo the Fat’s trade caravan, House Tomblador, Boder of the Library, Oni Jigoku, and First Mate Leon Strassam in particular helped rush the most elite warriors of Balic to the monument, but it came with a price. Orzo the Fat and his caravan perished, having previously taken advantage of their buyers by watering down healing potions and making flimsy weapons. Boder of the Library used his mighty halberd to assist in the exceptional mobility of his Eladrin forces, but was overwhelmed and consumed by ghoulish enemies. The oni Jigoku, eager to get a potentially life altering favor from Rikard, was distracted by mention of Rikard’s mysterious father and was killed instantly by an intense bolt of defiling magic.

With the help of High Praetor Lucius, our heroes mounted the artifact and engaged Maddock directly. Hiding behind his shield through the gray, they were forced to engage the monument itself and its undead allies ferried up by curiously tentacle-like stone spires. As the spires were neutralized, Maddock returned to Athas to wage a magical and psionic war with his assailants. Over the course of a lengthy battle, Althaea was badly injured and tossed from the top of the platform. Samm was blown backwards, hanging on desperately to the rim of the monument as his glaive fell to the sands. Rikard watched on in horror, as Vorelixen took control of the artifact to flush Maddock out to the insane ghosts awaiting beyond his shield in the Gray.

As the scene in his dream came to reality, he exerted his force of will to telekinetically shove Vorelixen from the seat of the monument with the force of a cannon. Without a control, it lost control and literally tore itself apart, flinging the mul druid to the sands with enough force to kill a weaker creature.

With Maddock dead, and his spirit cut in twain by a ghostly image of Samm’s ally in the chapel before being devoured by mad ghosts, and the monument no longer a threat, the undead collapsed and the day was won.

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The Ghosts of Madmen and Murderers

As the creature known as Sloth caressed the group with tentacles laced with anesthetic venom, the party drew weapons and engaged it. Though it nearly killed Samm (a few times) it was eventually dispatched. The group moved on to find the Gray was every bit as oppressive as before, and when their wits and skill were not enough to survive the encroaching wailing ghosts and foreign entities, they had to rely on the aid of each other to push through the obstructions and find their bounty.

Passing through a set of aged wooden doors, the party finds what was once a chapel to some long forgotten god. Feeling the urge to get a closer look at the throne of glass in this temple, Samm finds himself drawn in to a momentous combat from the past. His ally, the last champion of a fallen god, was engaging in the final showdown with none other than Androponis, who claimed himself a god before setting in to the duo with blade and teeth. With Samm’s presence displaced, shrieking ghosts entered the ruined temple and assaulted the remaining party members.

In defeating these ghosts, Samm returned to the group, and they departed the chapel to find a traveling ‘gypsy’ carnival. The gypsies were merely demonic circus performers and their new attraction appeared to be an anomaly of the Gray – A very unhappy Ared who’d sold himself to the wrong gypsies. Putting on their best charms and making their best deals, they managed to arrange for Ared’s release, as well as bargain for some assistance. In the predicament with Maddock, one thing was unclear, and that was how they could assault him in both planes simultaneously. The troupe suggested that ghosts too mad even for the other ghosts are imprisoned here, and that most of them were imprisoned or slain in life by Maddock and his agents. They would be unruly and dangerous, but they would spot his essence right away and be unable to resist their murderous urges.

Confident their trap had been set, the group opened the sigils to return to Athas. Their relief was immediate but also short-lived as High Praetor Lucius informed them there was already a war council beginning, and that their presence was required. A few nearly dispatched and terrified merchants confirmed their story that Maddock’s army was approaching, and scant little time existed to prepare. One unexpected member of the war council was Boder, who’d brought a contingent of Eladrin warriors to defend the realm from Maddock’s evil.

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Piercing the Gray

Fully aware of how Abernil Maddock operates, a meeting is called to match Vorelixen with the high praetors of Balic. Here she meets praetors Lucius of the military, Madoon of trade, Ganus of city works, and Tovis of foreign affairs. Amidst a cacophony of angry, bickering voices, Vorelixen is repeatedly reminded of her lesser station as the four men discuss plans regarding Maddock. Though most agree he is a threat of sorts, there are wildly differing opinions on how great a threat, and how beneficial it is to engage him in various locations. It is eventually agreed upon that no additional assistance will be granted to Vorelixen (operating in the capacity of current head of Balic security), and that the armies will not be mobilized, instead focusing on defending what’s right here without any additional draftees.

Meanwhile, Samm, Rikard, and Althaea spy on suspicious characters within Balic, seeking to circumvent Maddock’s network of rival spies. Rikard makes the mistake of showing off his floating sandals at Samm, who then uses Rikard as a ladder to climb in to the inner courtyard of a noble’s estate in the Villa Precinct. The Nauripides estate appears to be hosting a party, though its attendees don’t fit the part. Rikard points out some baker’s flour on the back of an elegant robe, and a shoddy job being done of someone’s hair styling. Vorelixen catches up, and they begin to plan their infiltration to this party, when they notice the presence of the Thri Kreen Kik’Oda, and the half-orc Tarek.

Within, they find this is a meeting place of the Veiled Alliance, but further, the playwright Rumphio appears to be leading the proceedings. Snickering at his name for a spell, they pretend to enjoy some crappy hors d’oeurves while he delivers a speech on their ultimate goal and this new ally they’ve made outside the city limits. An attendee speaks up and out against an alliance with Maddock, and before it can get too heated Rumphio invites her to a more private quarter to discuss things without disturbing the party. Moments later, Rumphio and the woman return, though the woman is now in complete agreement and has a little trouble talking capably.

Tarek motions to follow from the room the deed was done in, and they find the flayed body of the woman who dissented, still slightly alive and twitching. Althaea ends its misery, and the party follows Rumphio’s followers to a ritual chamber beneath the house. Rikard and Althaea can both determine with some quickness that the ritual about to be performed is one of demonic summoning, and so weapons are drawn to terminate or arrest all the casters.

Having put Rumphio to the blade and slain his followers, the group is free to search the house. In so doing, they find notes to the effect of entering the Gray, which was one of the prerequisites for handling Maddock himself when his monument approaches the city. The decision is made to utilize this magic right now, and get prepared for the eventual attack.

The Gray is overpowering. It overwhelms the senses and dulls the potency of all who come within. Dense mists obscure everything there, and finding one’s way through the twisted mirror universe is both difficult and dangerous. Facing some of their fears, and some of the twisted beasts and warping effects of the Gray, the group finds itself exhausted before the trip even really begins. Freeing Althaea from a sort of glassy entrapment below, they come face to face with an immense demon, resting its bulk on the cool desert sands. It invites them to rest, and introduces itself as Sloth.

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Ul-Athra Sleeps

It takes nearly a full day of travel, but the group finds its way to a nearby Oasis to group up with a caravan headed on a route to Balic. There they meet its caravan leader Orzo the Fat, and his supporting cast of former Balic opera pit player Cantius, and Deacon, the group’s head guard.

The group makes good on its promise to get to Balic quickly. The soldiers aren’t plentiful, but they are well trained, and capably handle any threat without too much trouble. The party does notice they become agitated along the way, possibly from the heat of the sun and the shortage of supplies as they travel further and further. It is a relief when the band finally appears at the gates, getting an opportunity to spend some time apart, and the party finds itself corralled away from them to an interviewing station with a pair of Balic investigators. The human, Verune, seems to hear Vorelixen’s story and understand that she’s more heroic than the press would have him believe. The dwarf, a bitter woman named Quine, accuses Vorelixen of making up tales to return to the city and cause more mischief. Eventually the evidence proves Vorelixen’s point, and with much grumbling Quine acquiesces to Verune’s insistence they be let in.

They call for a meeting of their colleagues, and shortly their allies convene. Notably absent are Captain Husk, fleeing from the law again, and Ared, who’s sold himself to the gypsies as part of a plot that backfired to assist the party. It is quickly determined that the surplus of Raamite pirates recently is far from a good thing, and they move quickly to investigate. They beat the hell out of some pirates and loot their stuff, and hidden away behind a portrait they find a map indicating the location that Gisella’s ship is meant to sail. They quickly charter a vessel to sail out and meet her there, interrupting the ritual with a little boost from a slightly subverting Anguish method acting as a cultist.

While battling pirates, Ul-Athra flails and rises, partially summoned and yet partially unbound. Tentacles crash down around them, smashing the ships and sending them sinking slowly to the bottom of the silt sea and to Ul-Athra’s maw. From out of the blue, a lunatic on a rapidly moving pontoon boat rescues them amidst Ul-Athra’s final flailings, and Rikard seamlessly cuts the ritual short with enough time for them to escape. The Tragic Hero docks at Balic to release our heroes, before Husk once again sets off in to the sunset to flee the law, but save the day.

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The Pursuit of Mara

Uniting to pursue Mara, our heroes liaison with Urik’s Lieutenant Obe, a weathered military man with a small pair of spectacles. He and his staff are sent by Hamanu to accompany the group to the Forest Crescent to ensure they traverse safely. It is discussed in secret that these soldiers are likely also being sent as spies.

A few days deep in to the travels, the filthy sea shanties Samm has been teaching the soldiery are cut off by the bad news that they are traveling head first in to an alkaline swamp. The terrain proves to be rather treacherous, and even the air is difficult to breathe there. They soon find themselves ambushed, to the front by a great black drake and to the rear by several Otyughs. Obe’s men put down the plant creatures while our heroes lay the drake to rest.

Emerging from the other side of the swamp, they continue their journey up towards the Forest Crescent. Its terrain is extremely strange for that of Athas, and a little disorienting for everyone involved. Rikard at this time spots a wyvern off in the distance, dashing a Noh against the rocks to slay its dinner. Shortly thereafter, the Nohs begin to stampede, and our heroes are forced to find creative ways to elude the impending Noh hooves.

They become separated from Obe’s men in the confusion, and wind up arriving just in time to be ambushed by a xenophobic cannibalistic halfling tribe. Struck with darts laced with sleeping poison, they wake up in the halflings’ camp. Though they are bound and being prepared as dinner, a shaman intervenes and calls for their release due to some persuasive chatting and the culture friendly “magic” of Samm and Rikard. They discuss their mutual enemies in Mara and her halfling allies, and learn that the two tribes of halflings despise each other. Mara, meanwhile, has been spotted going to a diamond mine that she has some ownership of here.

They descend in to the mine to find her discussing Maddock with the shaman of the rival tribe, the Bone Pickers. Interrupting the discussion, our heroes confront Mara and her shaman, at the same time the Skull Goblet tribe do, and Obe’s men, and even a host of ninja from Nibenay. Samm takes the opportunity to slay Obe, whom he viewed as a spy for Hamanu, and the party pursues Mara out the rapidly collapsing mine tunnel. With their lives on the line, Vorelixen makes a case entirely too convincing of switching sides, and Althaea finds herself distracted by the possibility of being stabbed in the back. Using the most of his strength and an errant mine cart, he’s able to haul Althaea to safety with the blunt end of his glaive, and the group escapes the mountain tunnel just in time to avoid a messy and dusty death.

The case they pleaded was enough, however, for Mara to leave behind a gift of sorts. Several notes, proving the innocence of Vorelixen and her cadre. Plans are hatched to return to Balic.

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The Siege of Urik

Returning from Samm’s psyche, the group takes the opportunity to loot the library for any information they get gleam about their various leads, targeting info about Mara, Maddock, and the Monument. Once they had what they could get, they blew open the doors to the main foyer in a blast of crackling energy and surprised the half giant guards with ferocity. With an opportunity for vengeance, Samm slew seven of them on his way out the door, advising them to make sure the next man they kill stays dead.

Further research was still necessary, and so the group targeted new means of learning about their enemies. Through various methods including directly spying on people, assisting Del at the information broker, and setting up an ambush using Vita Tourna, they manage to learn several key facts. About Mara, they find she’s no longer in Urik’s service though she wears her uniform to make intimidation easier, that she appears to be unaware Maddock is lying to her, that her brother was once a templar who was forsaken and destroyed by Hamanu for showing weakness in the field, and that she has left her home in the Urikets to survey her holdings in the Crescent Mountains. About Maddock, they find he’s been spinning stories that Vorelixen is responsible for the plague, that he needs Gisella for her ship and not her personal services, and that he’s been buying up spell components for a ritual of immense scope. In regards to the monument, they discover that it acts as a large defiling battery, propels its wielder in to the Gray protecting it from those not similarly attuned, and that its use requires delicate experimentation as recklessness could cause a defiling backlash that would kill the user.

After the trap is sprung and one of Mara’s goons is interrogated, the group sees a familiar face in the empty tavern – Argiovinias. He explains he’s about to become very busy, as a massive army is about to bear down on Balic and likely slay the weakened city without much resistance. When he mentions there won’t be much of Balic left to save if the army isn’t stopped, the party is visited by another evil ally in Jigoku, the Oni from the Sandstone Caverns. He acknowledges that his freedom at Rikard’s hands demands a repayment, and suggests turning the army around is worthy. Rikard gives the nod after some contemplation, and Jigoku disappears to sew havoc and fear amongst the troops so they’ll return.

Trying to get the attention of the Urikite higher ups, they contact Inquisitor Randall Sapesh and his macaw familiar, the latter of which is beligerent and down-putting to the former. Presenting what evidence they have to him about Mara’s going rogue, and knowing full-well that failing to defend Urik means Maddock advances his goals, the group are brought in as consultants to hold the walls.

They gather to await the army, and when it arrives they slay the advance party of a Thrax and ghouls. They split up to accomplish a few goals. Samm finds himself having to hold the line against skeletal swordsman, leaping ghouls, and immense zombie hulks. He leads his men with a spirited speech and a manifestation of the divinity he’s touched. Rikard uses his keen eyes to hone in on the most dangerous targets as they approach the walls, so the archers and arcane casters can focus in on them. Though his unit successfully eliminates the thread of undead vultures carrying clay bombs and zombies-made-siege-engines throwing massive boulders, he is unable to stop the Lich before he causes significant damage to the walls which injures him greatly. Althaea holds back to heal the wounded and assist in the interior of the city, making difficult decisions about soldiers infected with a zombie illness, evacuating people from burning buildings, and eventually leading a team of desperate non-combatants to restrain and eliminate a massive undead war beetle flung over the wall by catapult. Unfortunately, in the mess she’s laid low, and the team of medical staff she’s working with are forced to spend time helping her stay alive. Lastly, Vorelixen leads a guerrilla assault on the catapults and trebuchets of the undead, using bloodied robes to blend in with the undead and sew confusion amongst their ranks. She instills greater fear in her elite soldiers than the undead instill in them, and she leverages it to make a clean getaway after setting the engines of war aflame.

At this time, Maddock approaches the city himself riding atop the stony platform seen in the visions and a long time ago north of Balic. With a mighty roar, Hamanu himself leaps over the walls in lion form, and an earth-rending battle begins while the group tries to hold the city against impossible odds.

Bloodied, battered, gasping for breath amid the horde of restless dead, the red sun of Athas crests the horizon, framing an army of Urikite warriors so massive its ends are not visible. Unwilling to believe he’s defeated, Maddock drops his jaw and with it his guard. Hamanu strikes a blow through his magical protections, causing a deep wound on his thigh, and he flees the battle, bringing a retreating undead army with him.

In exchange for their services during the battle, Urik recognizes the group as the heroes they are, and provides them with numerous treasures looted from the fallen combatants or wielded by now-dead Urikite soldiery. For his particularly successful work leading the militia phalanx, Samm is awarded a mighty War Crodlu, trained by the finest trainers Urik has to offer.

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A Glaive and a Prayer

Our heroes perform Hariharan’s decidedly bizarre ritual, and those who were closest to Samm appear on the decks of a silt vessel in excellent condition. A younger, more handsome Samm appears to be daydreaming, until the the lookout of the ship confirms they’ve reached Giant territory. Shrugging their shoulders, they join forces with this younger Samm to negotiate a trade of slave labor to the Giant warlord in exchange for free passage of Balican military vessels. With some clever finger-pointing by Rikard and Althaea, the Giant eventually backs down from Samm and Vorelixen and agrees to the terms of their bargain.

Finding themselves back on board the ship, they realize they are now in another part of Samm’s memory in which they are locked up under guard as slaves of the Thri-Kreen, known largely for staging fights between their prisoners and eating the healthiest ones. Samm takes the opportunity to kill his guard when he is being freed for gladiator combat, and suddenly a slave rebellion has begun. Inciting the prisoners and escaping to the deck of the ship, our heroes encounter the Thri-Kreen captain and his aides. They are quickly dispatched by a wave of somewhat cannibalistic scarabs, and the vision changes once again.

The group finds themselves flying for a brief time, before plummeting in to a busy docks district street. A young boy named Saul is trying to convince the group as adolescents to go steal an idol from a guarded warehouse. Samm, a ne’er-do-well in his youth, leads the charge and soon they have breached the walls of the warehouse. Saul loses his nerve and drops his lantern, resulting in the warehouse catching ablaze with them in it. Samm finds the box he’s searching for and opens it, finding a clock without a face, a raven’s feather sharpened to a quill with blood encrusted on the point, and two copper coins from a kingdom long since dissolved. They rest in a bowl of rust-colored glass, riddled with impurities. As Samm touches the feather, the scene changes to that of a scorched out noble’s court, but freezing cold and lightly dusted with snow. A massive throne of obsidian is here, as well as a familiar obsidian oval built in to the structure of the flagstone ground. It reads:

Blessed be a vengeance justified. Corruption falters when rage is pure.
Blessed be they who stand in harm’s way. Silence does not mean you are alone.
Blessed be the final guardian. As one story ends another must begin.

After contemplating briefly, Rikard peers in to the darkness and spots a few twisted figures. A sickly Eladrin, much like the Gimel they encountered in the library, with two faces of differing emotion. A defiling psychopath, her body alternately decaying or regenerating as she walks. A mouthless horror, gaunt and unnatural. And Samm himself, beaten, tortured, and chained dancing like a puppet on invisible strings. As the group slays these versions of themselves Samm’s mind has conjured, Samm has an epiphany, and the most recent parts of his life become visible.

The group watches a Templar and Borato conversing over the body of Samm, mere seconds after a half-giant katar pierces his lung and sprays his blood over a shelf of priceless literature. The templar is operating counter to the interests of Urik and its king, and appears to have some sort of burn mark on her neck that is constantly oozing her blood through her fingers as she massages it. She argues with Borato briefly, before eventually being convinced by him of the plan. As he says, “Balic will fall, and Urik will die,” necessitating the need of a new leader of the Balic nation.

With that, the dream ends, and our heroes find themselves once again in the library. Rising groggily, they see that Samm is once again among them, and they immediately set out to loot their surroundings for everything they’re worth.

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The Masked Surgeon

Althaea emerges from the line of bookshelves finding herself face to face with a turbaned half-giant guard, who raises his obsidian scimitar with a smirk. Squeezing her eyes shut, she braces for a strike that never comes. With a lowered shoulder, Samm bull rushes the half-giant with such force that its spine audibly cracks, a limp torso toppling backwards in to the wall of books breaking shelves and sinking in to an awkward heap of pages and dead muscle. Shouted urgings to leave snap Althaea from her haze, and without time to think she sprints out the door. Overhead, a blast of eldritch energy topples a man headlong in to a patch of grasping thorny vines. As Rikard stumbles over the screaming guard, a firm shove is issued from behind. Samm pulls his hand back and backpedals to cover Rikard, his glaive defensively lashing out to buy more time. Through gritted teeth reddened by flowing blood, Samm issues the demand for Rikard to grab Vorelixen and get out of the library. His voice is more nasal now, his nose a broken bleeding mess as he wheezes hard to suck fresh breath in to his lungs. Steadying herself, Vorelixen places a hand on the doors as they swing shut, Samm trapped inside. As they flee, the guards break pursuit to acknowledge an ill omen – The mark of six fingers upon the library doors.

Our remaining heroes and Hariharan take cover in the darkened alleyways of Urik to evade pursuing Templar, who promptly miss the hiding spot Hariharan urges them in to. Hariharan, a stressed eladrin, begins smoking to take the edge off while the group grills him for information. He explains he was trying to uncover a conspiracy involving a Balic official named M, and was a player in the threads against Balic to try to oust this man. In so doing, he was utterly unaware he was helping Maddock, and took the news poorly. Eager to undo the wrong he’d done, he made two important contributions. First, he introduced the party to an operative who specialized in stealth missions named Tarek. Second, he performed a sort of scrying ritual using Samm’s glaive as the focus to determine the circumstances of their friend.

The scene they saw was chilling, as an insane surgeon wearing an ivory mask performed unspeakable acts upon Samm’s body. Though it seemed to voice some dissent of its own, its struggles were promptly forgotten or ignored by the surgeon. It appeared as though what was done to Eiber was being done to Samm.

Seeking an alternate method in to the library, the party and Tarek track down some leads and figure out a Templar named Kratik has been accessing the inner areas without going through the main doors. They catch him, clobber him, and remove his magical amulet that acts as a sort of key for the portalway that enters in to the library. They fight their way past some twisted Eladrin guards and traps, and come across a skirmish between warring Eladrin factions. Aligning themselves with faction that didn’t appear diseased, they met with the only survivor whose name was Boder. Boder reveals that the rest of the Tich-Yang Eladrin were actually responsible for Althaea’s removal from the library, to protect her from the impeding war on their home. They are doing battle with a sickly looking form of Eladrin called the Gimel, of whom Maddock has used as his agents in the past. In addition, here they also find books being written with the stories of their lives. They notice Samm’s has no author, Vorelixen’s is authored by Titivilus of Dis, and Rikard’s has several pages filled in of things that haven’t happened yet. Tarek is distraught, having read an account of his past that clearly shows he’s been used by every group or friend he’s ever had.

Moving onward, they eventually uncover the surgeon’s study, and with it clues about the greater schemes of the Gimel Eladrin. Specifically, plans to awaken Ul-Athra for unspeakable destruction, and references to blood sacrifice and “ultimate power.” Eventually they come across the surgeon himself, who they confirm is actually Borato. They are able to finally slay him.

Hariharan and Boder come to Samm’s resting place to meet up with the group, and Hariharan reveals he has one more trick up his sleeve but requires a psionic ritual caster to use it. Rikard volunteers to lead a ritual, and using the power left in Borato’s scattered ashes, he casts it. Disoriented, the group finds themselves face to face with a younger form of Samm, riding a silt ship in the midst of a sea of constantly changing colors and no landmarks in sight.

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