Silt Striders of Balic

The Death of Thorin Bloodstone

With Diana Lannister over her shoulder, Vorelixen hustled out of Thorin’s lair leaving Tan, Rikard, Samm, and Althaea to push on and find its owner. At the top, she wound up face to face with High Praetor Lucius, his guards, and his cohorts Losimaar Quine and Chento Verune. Their conversation was interrupted when a dark stormcloud erupted above them, spilling a fiery meteor down from the sky in to the path from Thorin’s to Lucius’ base.

They agreed to work together briefly, though Lucius was not entirely convinced of Vorelixen’s innocence in the death of a certain templar outside of Tyr. Needing to make a hasty retreat to avoid the Oba’s minions, they move to steal some riding beasts from a stable on the outskirts of the city.

Meanwhile, in Thorin’s lair, our heroes maneuver their demonic pursuers to a bottleneck in a bizarre underground cathedral littered with rickety wooden catwalks and hanging buckets of arcane components. After a brief skirmish, the heroes obliterated the Cambion guard captain of the demonic security and evaded the barrels of grease and plague goop being thrown by a gorilla-like Babau.

They continue their pursuit through the heavily trapped domain, including a swing through one room of Thorin Bloodstone’s ‘failures’ strung up by lengths of iron chain.

Above, Vorelixen and Lucius steal several dinosaur-like riding insects, and use them to evade the Oba’s minions as they push towards Lucius’ command tent and, incidentally, the meteor crash site. Upon arrival there, they find that the meteor was no stone, but a man who fell from the cloud in to the impact site, though curiously mostly unharmed. His amnesia frustrates Vorelixen, but she is more annoyed by the devilspawn of Beelzebub tearing through the fabric of Athas to claim this man and slay her. The fighting was fierce, but retreat was called for when the Oba and her minions arrived on the scene. In a heroic act to save their leaders, Quine and Verune remained behind engaging the Oba herself so Lucius and Vorelixen could escape.

Back below, our heroes found themselves in Thorin’s bizarre planetarium, literally an endless chasm with motes of earth and an elaborate crystal ball reflecting the light of an arcane mining laser. Descending in to the room, the four did battle with Thorin. It went quite poorly at first, and they contemplated fleeing as Thorin beat Rikard’s form to a bloodied pulp. Tan began destroying mirrors throughout the room, believing them to be part of some ritual powering Thorin, however eventually the decision was made to instead reposition mirrors to reflect the mining laser at Thorin himself. In a hard fought struggle, it was fittingly Rikard who struck the final blow, destroying one of the most powerful defilers in Athas’ long and bloody history.

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In Pursuit of Thorin Bloodstone

Erupting from beneath the gallows, the abomination of Elgo and Borato blended with necrotic magics tossed our heroes from where they stood to the ground, with scarcely enough time for Althaea to fey-step to Rikard’s side, force-feeding him the healing acorn infused with Druidic magics. They dueled the creature for a long time, giving it flashbacks as they knocked it repeatedly in to a pit and piled on as a group. After vanquishing the creature, they moved to inspect a strange brown tent that they hadn’t seen before the fight.

Within, a number of guard corpses lay on the forest floor, blood still training from wicked wounds inflicted by blunt force trauma and necrotic teeth or claws. They briefly interrogated a frightened guard who hid behind some furniture, and once they had received their information Vorelixen slew him ignoring Althaea’s demand to spare his life. Perhaps motivated to leave by her frustration, Althaea displayed some uncharacteristically exceptional tracking skill putting Rikard to shame. They pursued the killer and his abductee, Rikard’s mother, through a sickly pungent swampland. Using their various talents they managed to evade the web of arcane traps and arrived at a swampy plain so defiled even the necrotic trees of the Oba’s realm shied away from it.

They descended in to a deep cylindrical tunnel beneath the swampy terrain, taking a dangerously designed spiral staircase for a long while to reach the bottom. The stairs terminated abruptly at a mirror-sheen floor, making the descent disorienting and giving the entire complex a sort of bizarre ghost light of reddish tint.

They met up with a thief named Tan in the complex, who explained he’d already been attacked by one of the guards and would be happy to join forces to avoid receiving a second infernal wound. Everybody was fairly amicable to stealing, aside from Rikard, though he didn’t prevent anybody from doing so. They defeated a small patrol of demons, and found themselves walking through a gallery of paintings and sculptures depicting bits and pieces of Rikard’s childhood. As the ages increased, they moved towards a part of the gallery that was ruined from some calamitous event, nearer to Rikard’s more adult years. They looted one of Thorin Bloodstone’s cabinets of ritual scrolls, and Rikard invoked the History Revealed ritual on the spot of the destruction.

The vision they saw included Thorin Bloodstone having a minor tantrum during a discussion with his minions: Jigoku the Oni, Templar Mara, and Titivilus, the Nuncio of Dis. When Mara mentioned Hamanu’s opinion, Thorin snapped and used some sort of hideous necromantic magics to force her token of Hamanu’s Grace through her windpipe, giving her the characteristic oozing open wound in the throat the party had seen before in their travels.

After seeing several of their loose ends tied by a madman, they decided to push forth and rescue Rikard’s mother. They located her in a prison chamber guarded by a massive golem made of literal treasure. Dispatching it along with several other guards, they managed to bust the Lannister woman from her cell and calm her down enough to be reasonable. Frustrated with the circumstances, Rikard called out taunts and threats to his father, and refused to leave until he got his answers. Vorelixen vacated the complex with Rikard’s mother, while Rikard, Althaea, Samm, and Tan moved on.

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The Lannister Estate

Our heroes travel through the dusty sands and steep mountains on their way to the Forest City of Gulg, the Oba’s domain, and Rikard’s birthplace. Their travels take them to the Witch Fens, which is full with dense jungle-like terrain forced through the sandy infertile earth by the Sorcerer Queen’s defiling magics. They set up came for the evening in the Witch Fens, and find themselves magically inclined to sleep as a result of some sickly sweet smelling mist washing over them. Combating the urge as hard as he can, Samm manages to stay awake long enough to view three wispy ethereal crones arriving at the camp, looking over them as though food, and rifling through their stuff. They they find Althaea, they react with surprise, and wind up producing a small yellow bag full of freshly yanked witch hair and a wooden doorknob. They push the bag in to Althaea’s hand, and wisp away on the wind.

They are immediately approached by an unhinged inventor named Kwalish, who explains with great excitement that his recipe for witch repellant works. He invites them back to his hut for tea, which excites Althaea. Vorelixen and Rikard tag along without complaint, while Samm is on edge and utterly uncomfortable with the whole idea.

Kwalish takes them on a tour of his various inventions, most of which are utterly unnecessary or have incredibly narrow purpose. He serves them tea and offers them the chance to invest in his business so he can attempt to build a flying ship. The group comes up with a suitable bargain, render him 2000 gold, and bid him farewell with several doses of witch repellant and some jars of magically silenced screaming ghosts in tow.

They arrive within Gulg and are approached by a messenger, who delivers a message to Rikard regarding his mother’s health and his presence being needed at the Lannister estate. The group heads in to the obvious trap in finery but with weapons and armor handy, and wind up defeating the would be ambushers with startling ease. They interrogate Blythe a bit, discovering the matriarch of the Lannister estate, Rikard’s mother, is being put to death for conspiracy against the crown. In truth, she was using her sway to keep prying eyes off Rikard, until it was discovered he was part of the Veiled Alliance and actively pursuing artifacts thought of to be capable of slaying a Sorcerer King.

They begin digging up leads to the location of this execution. Samm, avoiding some guards, climbs a damp wall but is unaccustomed to the moisture and slips over the other side. Althaea attempts to cover up for him, but the lady of the house doesn’t believe her. Althaea then claims she was forced at glaive-point to lie for him, and they invite her in for tea while Samm flees through their house. Rikard notices the guard schedules have changed, and he goes to the guard house to set off their various alarms to give them misleading clues. This backfires, and he winds up using his incredible perception (and tolerance for pain) setting off and avoiding the worst of the magical traps. Vorelixen brands an altar boy of the Oba worshipping religion with the mark of six fingers, and follows their claims to a large religious demonstration nearby. She slays the entire assembly and defiles the ritual, and then when escaping the guards comes across a home of man-eating halflings. She sells out the altar boys to the halflings, and is able to use the carnage to get free.

Samm eventually gets caught, though some very strange divine intervention triggers a hidden guillotine buying enough of a distraction for him to free himself and beat the crap out of his captors. Other members of the group wind up in the same room with more guards in pursuit, though they are given a little hesitation when it’s pointed out they’re in the same room as two maniacs covered head to toe in the blood of their friends.

Nearing the end of the carnage, Samm steps out in to the street to find significantly more guards and warriors than he can realistically deal with. He manifests a bit of divine power, and a few moments later walks away from the growing pool of blood in the streets.

Decidedly unnerving for the peoples of Gulg, their town has turned in to some sort of divine battleground. Infernal magics courtesy of Vorelixen, Druidic wizardry from Rikard, the influence of the Raven Queen from Samm, and the Oba’s twisted self worship do battle with each other across the streets. Eventually it leads them all to the execution site, where it is revealed to no one’s surprise a trap has been set. Erupting from beneath the guillotine is a stitched and cobbled together abomination, made from magically reconstituted flesh of Elgo and Borato.

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The Grove

Having escaped the Under-Tyr and eluded their Illithid pursuers, our heroes pause to catch their breaths still within the basement that conceals the Under-Tyr entrance. Samm begins to feel woozy as he experiences a vision of himself wandering through a grassy field, following a unicorn foal to the Decanter of Endless Water. A short old man with spectacles has a strange conversation with him, which is interrupted by a molten eruption from one side and an abrupt and violent winter storm from the other. He sputters some prophetic nonsense in the final moments of the vision, most notably the importance of “the man with two minds” and “the creature that death follows.”

When he awakes, Arthur is urging everybody upstairs, where he is psionically battling warrior monks from Gulg. Overwhelmed, the party comes to his aid and defeats the monks in a violent struggle on Tyr’s dusty streets. Overcome with curiosity, Rikard opts to use a ritual he has learned to question the leader of the group. The rest of the group semi-willingly (or in Vorelixen’s case, hyper-willingly) assist in Rikard’s use of the ritual, of which the power level is too high for him to use without defiling. Though he completes the spell, his lack of arcane knowledge results in only enough time to answer one question from the corpse. He asks who sent them to Tyr, and the corpse answers “Lalali-Puy”, the sorcerer queen of Gulg itself.

Heading to Tulnis’ office, they take another look at his network of strings, now able to decode a bit more. Rikard spots a string with a single pumpkin seed hanging from it, which reacts with the Sargessa causing him to psionically project a vision the others can see on the smooth white walls of the office. In it, a circle of druids are ritualistically blessing the elaborate spear illustrated by Molael Gaft, and passing it to a muscled scarred man who practices with it blindfolded before wandering off. The Sargessa swoons at this man, and begins guiding Rikard to this grove’s location.

The group heads out to the grove, only a few days away, and they meet a druid there named Dorean. Dorean explains that the spear was a gift from a relative of one of their dwarven druids, and came as part of a set they still owned some of. They kept it in a vault nearby, which had been the recipient of a particularly odd phenomenon that flash-froze the area and evidently triggered the return of a small tribe of kobolds. The party arrives to claim these items, and finds the kobolds have trapped the area to high hell making it particularly dangerous to traverse. Althaea gets fed up and fey steps to the small cave, engaging the tribe’s shaman while recovering the items left behind. They escape the buttered stairs to the world above and return to the grove.

A templar of Balic lies in wait for them, having seriously injured Dorean. He demands the items be handed over to him, citing Andropinis’ pleasure they were recovered. Rikard resists, insisting they are his birthright as they were smithed by his father. Vorelixen mostly tries to give them up, but wavers seeing her party’s trepidation. The templar scoffs at the delay and urges his men to kill them, and they quickly subdue Vorelixen who was already seriously injured. Rikard tries to flee, but changes his mind to save Vorelixen, while Samm engages the templar, his guards, his minions, and their stolen circus Owlbear with some assistance from Althaea. The guards set the grove aflame, and Rikard takes the opportunity to attune to nature and try to force these invaders out. Against all odds, his psionic power manifests (augmented by the Sargessa perhaps) and the trees themselves obliterate the grove’s destroyers. The group applies some medical attention to Dorean, and decide the next step is to pursue their leads in Gulg, which would certainly help solve some of the riddle of these artifacts as well as shed some light on why the Oba wishes the group dead.

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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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