Serpent's Skull in Eberron

I Need to Step Up My Game

Far, the 6th of Vult

Remarkable that it has only been a little over five months since we were all shipwrecked on Smuggler’s Shiv. We were just novices back then, just a group of inexperienced castaways hoping to survive. Then this Serpentfolk conspiracy was dropped on our laps. Ileana/notIleana or Yarzoth, or whatever her damn name is, seems hell bent on finding her way into Saventh-Yhi. What nefarious reasons she has, I’m still not completely sure of. But for what she did to us, especially what she did to the Jenevere and her crew, has gained her us as her enemies. It seems like she wants to bring her kind back into Eberron to reconquer it. Their time has passed, this is our time!

More and more, I’ve become impressed with my group’s martial prowess. Pol’s competence in battle has improved remarkably. His enemies have great reason to fear him. He is becoming a great force for his cause. Even Dadak, with that huge great axe of his, seems to be able to handle himself well in battle. I am confident that we will find his father somewhere ahead of us and free him from the chains that Dadak’s nightmares have shown him in. With the addition of N’Ketchi and his magics, we make a good team. Ja’Redd has kept himself apart from us too much to be included and I’m beginning to wonder his motives. Joffa did recruit him, and where Joffa has run off to, no one knows.

We took more time dealing with those snakes than I wanted to. Kailia, who has until now been such a boon to the group, has let us down some. There was no way she was entering that room with its multitudes of snakes, not to mention, that one large one. I guess if I was worried that I could be eaten whole, I would have hesitated myself. Dadak took some time trying to corral that thing, but in the end, blades are what mattered. A few axes, and Pol’s glowing blades, were enough to dispatch it. Now, I just need to convince everyone that the next temple we visit in Tazion is the one to the north; the one whose passage underground was blocked by rubble. Where else are we to go in our quest to find the Pillars of Light that Yarzoth was searching for? We’ll have explored all the ruins Dadak saw on his flight above Tazion a couple of days ago.

I am eager to come against some flesh and blood foes, and let me prowess with a blade shine. That water elemental was tough to fight with just a sword. The snakes were a threat but also a nuisance. Undead are no fun either; not to mention that they are undead and frightening in their own right! I’d even welcome some serpentman opponents, Yarzoth can’t be the only one about.

—From the log of Kreshton Rel’Astra

Slip Sliding Away
Snakes.. why did it have to be snakes

Far, the 6th of Vult

After exploring all the tunnels underneath the city of Tazion, the group rests the rest of the day and prepares to climb up a shaft to a possible exit. Kreshton leads the way and discovers a small room filled with a mass of snakes, which leads into a larger chamber filled with even more snakes. Dadak determines that the snakes are harmless but warns other types may not be. Quickly the group discovers a single gigantic snake amongst the hissing horde. Dadak casts a spell to transform himself into a primal form of fire and moves forward to block the large snake from the rest of the party as they explore the building. The building has several windows that are obstructed by massive trees growing in the jungle. There are indeed several poisonous snakes but they are dealt with no problems. Pol finds a way to climb into a higher level, deftly avoiding the hazards around the opening to keep the large snake inside.

Pol and Ja’Redd explore the second level and find a way out into Tazion. Meanwhile, Dadak is successful in herding the large snake away from the party but they are in an impasse; Dadak’s companion, Kailia, does not want to enter the building because of her fear of snakes. Kreshton attempts to fascinate the snake with his bardic abilities but is unsuccessful. Kreshton, using the power of the Zenj Totem Tattoo, attempts to coax Kailia onto climbing onto his back so that he can take her out of there and is once again unsuccessful. A final attempt to fascinate Kailia to help her overcome her fear of the snake fails. Fed up, Kreshton begins to throw his axes at the large snake to kill it. The large snake takes advantage of the confusion of battle to slip away from the corner that Dadak held it in. Swiftly the snake slithers to the exit only to meet Pol and Ja’Redd who dispatch it easily.

A Conversation While Waiting

Kreshton: Dadak, my friend, I would like a moment of your time while we wait for midnight to arrive and we get to hear the answer from the monkey men’s master. I have an issue I would like to discuss.

Dadak: Yes Kreshton, a moment of my time I can give. But pardon me my full attention, as I am keeping watch into the darkness with Kailia for the sake of everyone in our band. (Kailia head butts Kreshton for some attention).

Kreshton: (Kreshton pets Kailia’s head as he continues weaving a spell to clean the blood off his clothing) Sitting here, waiting, I’ve had time to think over the events of earlier today. We finally entered Tazion and came across the net traps around the entrance. I was able to avoid them with a quick roll into the grass then we decided to safely set them off and see who came to investigate. A short time passed before those monkey men arrived and I stepped forward, blade drawn, to call them down from the trees. I see now that my actions could have seemed aggressive to them and I also see why they immediately attacked me; we had entered their domain, after all.

It was a quick, easy fight. We knew that others would come to investigate the sounds of our battle and we prepared a trap for them. Wisely, they kept their distance from us and parleyed from afar. Pol’s idea of asking permission from their leader was a good one. They promised to return with an answer at midnight if we would withdraw. Which we did.

Now we await their answer. Their answer will be “Yes” or “No”. Either answer can be a trap. A “Yes” answer will require us to re-enter their domain to treat with their leader for safe passage through it and perhaps some information. Hopefully, with some good diplomacy, we may be able to smooth any anger they may have at the loss of their tribesmen and get their aid in Tazion.

What really worries me, is a “No” answer. Will it be accompanied with an attack from them? If it does, then I have no qualms to have them meet my blade and I am sure in my abilities and the abilities of our group to overcome them. But, if the “No” answer is simply “No” then I believe we must accept it and find some other entrance to Tazion.

Would you like to hear my reasoning?

Dadak: Yeah, I would. But first, worry not, you bear no blame more than those who sought to entrap you. With righteous dignity and affronted honor you stood in plain sight for them to ponder. You bore them no malice but simply challenged, yet they choose to join battle. I did not see with my own eyes but I know our band does not look for trouble… glory, perhaps, but not trouble. And they bore down on you. Pity for them. So, be calm and rest at ease.

Now to the answers. In truth, they worry me both. A “yeah” answer is dubious as we are honor-bound to enter the city. Yet, a city perhaps filled with a thousand foes waiting to pounce. You are strong, it is true, and Pol is strong as well. But I am not so much, and KneeCatchy has only so much spell craft. I fear we are lured to our deaths. Does not prey wait to pounce at a watering hole. Does a spider not spin its web in a breeze. “Yeah” I fear most, no matter how given. And how and why would men with honor invite a new foe into their midst. Yeah, a “yeah” is troubling indeed.

And a “no” answer is bad too. For after naught, we must enter into a city with known enemies. Many enemies. Yet enter we must. I must see this quest on. I must see an end to the dream. No matter a “no”, at least a “no” is forthright and honorable. To spare lives perhaps we can steal in at night, I do not know. Perhaps we can prove ourselves to them on a quest of their direction, to atone for the misdeed. Perhaps Pol has an idea, I see him stir.

Kreshton: I feel that if the answer is “No” then we must live with that answer and find another way to enter into Tazion. I have lived my life on my own terms. I feel that all creatures must do the same. What kind of people make decisions for others? There is value in personal freedom, not only for oneself, but for others as well.

These monkey men have chosen this place to live, we are but interlopers into their territory. Back on Smuggler’s Shiv, I have to admit that I had qualms challenging the Thrunefang clan’s claim to the lighthouse, it was theirs by right. It did not matter to me that they were barbaric cannibals, it was their nature. If it were not for the fact that they had taken Sasha, I would have preferred to let them be. As you know, that was not what happened and I was happy to join battle with them and prove victorious.

I do not know what action I will choose if the answer is “No” but the rest of the group says “Yes”. Most likely, I will try to do the least harm and attempt to express that our presence will be a temporary one. You are right, our goal is to find the Pillars of Light and confront that vile snake priestess again. Her plans must not come to fruition.

Dadak: I understand your reluctance my friend. I too see no glory in slaying those living plain lives and defending their homes. We must find some means of sparing their lives, and ours for that matter. But if this simple endeavor turns evil, we must journey on. We must end this blight which is bigger than us all. We must save the world from the stain encroaching and allow nature to resume its normal course. If the city dwellers perish, in the grand design they simply perish a short while before us. Be assured, I too will be slow to anger and quick with restraint. As you, I feel guilt from the day behind. But they are at peace now.

Kreshton: Well, the moons above us show that is is closing on midnight. (Kreshton rises and loosens his sword in his scabbard) Let’s see what our answer is going to be.

Dadak: I am with you. (Kailia starts, looks about at the two men whose conversation seems ended, and meows roughly that the attention to her has ceased. She scans the city walls for something she hasn’t seen yet senses, and twitches her tail agitatedly.) Come Kailia, you can see better than us. Be our eyes.

Ladies, Beautiful Ladies
Racing To Ruin

Mol, the 23rd of Aryth

I could not believe my ears. Coming from the river bank ahead I could hear the splashing of water and the laughter of women. Were my ears deceiving me knowing that I had been longing for the sound of a female’s voice after so long of only hearing the gruff voices of my companions?

The time we had spent in Kalabuto was only a short blur and I only had the chance to observe a few women there. In fact, I’m not sure why I took that dwarf Chieton’s advice to hide out in his home. We were attacked there by assassins and I was gravely wounded. As I had done in Eleder and Stormreach, I should have been in the bed of some chambermaid or lounging in some high priced whorehouse instead where I could have spent the night enjoying the sins of the flesh and maybe had avoided the beating.

Now, on the riverbank ahead, might finally be some female companionship. Pol saw that I was eager to talk to these women and motioned me to go ahead and be the group’s spokesman. I advanced towards them and raised my voice as I came nearer as to not alarm them. When I shouted my greeting, the four dark skinned beauties frolicking in the wide river ceased their play. As three of them rushed to their discarded clothing on the riverbank, their leader rose from the water with a broad smile on her face; I could not help but to admire the way the water rolled down her body. She slowly strutted up the bank and donned her robe over her still wet body. I stared entranced but finally, with my best bow (something I practiced for hours as a child to my tutor’s exacting standards), I introduced myself and my friends. I tried to allay their fear of us with the story of the Zenj village where we destroyed the Chomiset plaguing it. Finally their leader, a beautiful Drow woman, Zakayya gave her name and the name of her companions – Lahlalah, Masozi, and Osumare – along with an invitation to spend the night at their humble hut.

As we moved up the bank, Zakayya was a gracious hostess. She moved amongst us all, speaking one on one to Pol, Dadak, Ja’Redd, N’Ketchi and myself. Everywhere she went, we all had our eyes on her; she was an exquisite creature, full of grace and charm. Her and her friends were Spirit Dancers from a nearby Drow village, she said. Once a year, the four journeyed to these huts to practice their art away from prying eyes so that every year they would have a new dance to perform for the joy of the village. I mentioned that I was somewhat of a good dancer myself and that I would be honored to watch them and perhaps teach them a dance or two from the courts of Zilargo. Zakayya said, “Perhaps.” and the other three women just smiled placidly. I was tripping over myself trying to be of service.

Zakayya’s three companions followed behind us to their little camp and single hut. I hope that we weren’t rude; it seemed all our eyes were on their leader, but the three other women seemed less forward than Zakayya. They did flirt some but not with the gusto that Zakayya had. Once at camp, the four began their dances and we were all enthralled. I could not keep my eyes off of their bodies in movement. When their dance was over, they came forward with drink and the offer to show us our Spirit Totem. I was eager, along with Ja’Redd and N’Ketchi, but Pol and Dadak were reluctant. Pol was satisfied with his trip into the spirit world with N’Ketchi months ago and Dadak claimed he was still recovering from the effect of the poison he overcame four days ago.

To my disappointment, Zakayya took Ja’Redd by the hand and helped him drink. Then she rose with him and took him into the hut. In a surprising short time, they came back out. Ja’Redd had a distant look on his face; no doubt from what he and Zakayya shared. It was a look of not quite ecstasy and he seemed to sway on his feet. I hastily drank my portion of the drink and waited for my turn. Instead, Zakayya turned to Pol and bade him to drink with a little dance; to my surprise, knowing that he had earlier refused; Pol picked up a gourd and drank deeply. A brief wave of annoyance crossed my mind and I was determined to stand and confront them, but I felt a wave of sleepiness and peace pass through me and I stayed there where I was. Dreams of Zakayya filled my head.

I lay where I was for a time. I could hear muffled shouting but I had no desire to turn my head and seek out its source. The three women came in and out of my view briefly and once I felt Kylia rush past me. The heat of the campfire beat upon my side with unusual ferocity for a moment and then was gone. The shadow of wings crossed my eyes a time or two, but it must have been bats leaving their caves in the early evening.

Slowly, the world began to come into focus. I could hear Dadak casting spells in battle and the sweep of large leathery wings. I turned my head and watched Kylia savaging one of the women and Ja’Redd near her scanning the sky with his unfocused eyes, crossbow at the ready. The hot splash of blood falling onto my face woke me the rest of the way. I could see Dadak slowly descending from the sky battling a winged Zakayya with a tail – Zakayya was a monstrous succubus! One of the two spirit dancers was armed with a blowgun, aimed at Dadak and waiting for him to come into range; the other held a whip at the ready. I leapt to my feet and covered myself with invisibility while I rushed to my belongings to grab my trusty rapier.

Now, I was ready to do some “dancing”!

—From the log of Kreshton Rel’Astra

A Fork in the Road
Dadak's Tales

Days of travel bring us closer to our final destination, Tazion. Only with difficulty can I restrain my mounting anxiety. What will we find there? Darkness and danger like my dream foretold? Or perhaps some lost mighty magics? Hopefully some clues about the whereabouts of my father. Dare I hope perhaps even he himself. Time will tell. For now I plod one foot in front of the other, with my great cat and allies as my companions.

Our quest continues to bear us along the great Korir river, and amazingly, we encounter a group of solitary Drow priestesses. Perhaps I should say lonely as their affection soon displayed itself upon Kreshton, but especially upon Ja’Redd. After some bantering, of which I took no part (Drow females are of no interest to me), their leader, Zakayya, gave her name and the name of her companions – Lahlalah, Masozi, and Osumare – along with an invitation to spend the night at their humble hut. Kreshton was besides himself. Had he forgotten about Aashemourah?

Most interesting was the invitation to go on a dreamquest. N’ketchi readily agreed. I am interested as my tribe performs these rituals too, but I am still recovering from my ordeal with the owlbear’s poison, and decline. Wisely it turns out. Both Kreshton and Pol decide to join the dream world and imbibe the flask of brew. I am somewhat surprised Pol decided to partake. Despite my words of caution that something seems amis, he imbibes as well. Well, who can blame him. These are soft convincing females, and what kind of threat can they be. ‘Chortle’. Ja’Redd seems completely drained from his amorous antics.

Curses, did she just put a spell on me?! She did! Zakayya cast a spell and now she is struggling to kill me. All of my friends are down. A trap! I have released my guard and fallen into a filthy trap! The shame. Another spell?! I feel the commands from Zakayya and from others. They try to capture or kill me. I must consume their attention and save my friends.

Dadak casts Master Air and flies above the women. No longer can they bring their main weapons to bear. But now Ja’Redd joins the fray, but on the side of the women!

Ja’Redd must be charmed, though I am not sure. He has been acting strangely lately. While flying I cast Spirit Jaws and Call Lighting. Spirit Jaws saves me from Zakayya. She is pinned. Kailia sees the fight and joins me. She listens to my command, and attacks and kills Osumare. I feel badly for Osumare, I suspect she is merely charmed. Meanwhile Zakayya teleports (!) next to me and attacks. Only now do I see she has a forked tail and bat wings. He deathly touch nearly kills me! And I fall away. Ja’Redd continues to fire his darts at me and the two remaining women keep firing blow guns. Again and again I feel spells attempt to overpower my will, but now I am mad, and no mere drow female can overcome an orc.

Finally, Kreshton is awakening! I pray and hope he is not charmed….!

That Could Have Gone Better
Race To Ruin

Zor, the 19th of Aryth

At first, the Eloko seemed quite formidable, but once I gripped my sword in my hand, I was able to spring and dance between them, dealing pain and wounds aplenty. The only thing that hampered my attack was this damn jungle underbrush and obstructions. Hopefully Tazion, somewhere ahead of us, is not an overgrown mess as well. But, that is high hopes, I think; after all, Kalabuto was a thriving city and it still was half overcome by the jungle surrounding it. Tazion, empty all these centuries, probably didn’t fare as well. Still, it is our mission to find it and deal with that Serpentfolk Priestess and whatever nefarious plans she has. There must be something powerful there for her to go to all this trouble, first getting herself stranded onto Smuggler’s Shiv and now to make her way deep into the jungles of Xen’Drik. I wonder how far ahead of us she is?

I am concentrating hard on the task ahead because I want to hold off thinking of what has happened to our expedition in the last few hours. I returned with the bell that the Eloko used to charm us into their clutches to find Dadak and N’Ketchi trading rough words with each other. I gathered that Dadak was angry that he wasn’t healed enough during the battle and N’Ketchi was angry at Dadak’s coarse treatment of him. Before Pol and I could intervene, N’Ketchi hurled a stone at Dadak’s head, grievously wounding him. N’Ketchi seemed stunned that he responded so violently (The Tempest, indeed) and was seriously contrite but Kalia would not let him approach the unconscious Dadak to heal him. Understandably! Pol and I calmed her down and directed N’Ketchi to step away. We had to find a way to diffuse this problem.

We tied Dadak to a tree with the best knots we knew and I used my wand of Cure Light Wounds to revive him. Dadak woke with a roar, upset at his state, and ignoring our pleas, unpredictably wildshaped into a hawk, totally bypassing the knots we so expertly used! He alighted to the ground and changed back and began a spell that I examined and detected as his summoning spell, and a few seconds later, a giant Dire Wolf appeared to savage N’Ketchi. N’Ketchi responded with a bolt of lightning directed at who he perceived as the greatest threat which flattened the irate orc. Pol and I rushed to N’Ketchi’s side and made short work of the Dire Wolf. As soon as its body lay at our feet I rushed back to Dadak, pulled on my brass knuckles and watched his wounds heal, the effect of an earlier spell he cast. I hoped to intimidate my friend and stop his retaliation but I am sure he saw my heart wasn’t in it. Pol and I tried the whole time to reason with him, I appealed, but he was irate. He called a “Blood Feud” on N’Ketchi and moved off into the jungle accompanied by his cat.

Pol and I hoped to let him cool off alone but still we made plans to protect N’Ketchi. He has been our guide for the last month as we’ve trekked through the jungles of Xen’Drik. He’s done a wonderful job keeping us safe from various mundane threats. Still, he does not know the bond that we made with Dadak surviving on Smuggler’s Shiv. If we have to, I would prefer to make N’Ketchi return to his cave as we continue on with Dadak to Tazion.

Once he returned at sunset the next day, Dadak’s vengeance was quick. We had stayed in the same camp from which the Eloko charmed us to wait for Dadak to cool off. His tactics were sound and pulled both Pol and I away from N’Ketchi’s side for just the right amount of time to overcome Gozrah’s priest. It all seemed to move in slow motion: I was busy dealing with the Owlbear that was summoned into our camp, Pol was out of position coming to my aid, Dadak appeared right in front of N’Ketchi to confront him, N’Ketchi crumbled to the jungle floor after healing a wounded Kalia, and, after raising his hands in victory, Dadak stayed his hand from killing N’Ketchi. Pol eyed Dadak for a moment and nodded perceiving Dadak’s retribution was full-filled and the battle against N’Ketchi was over. Moments after that, Pol and Dadak, who wildshaped into a bear, rushed to give me much needed assistance against the owlbear that was quickly overcoming me. Only Pol made it to my side and together we put down the fearsome beast. Somehow, Dadak lay on the ground, a horrible blackness surrounding his shoulder, from what, I have no idea. The only chance he has is the man he just beat into unconsciousness. I must get to N’Ketchi and heal him with my wand to examine Dadak and hope that N’Ketchi is also aware that the orc’s vengance is sated with his defeat. I wonder where Ja’Redd is? He’s nowhere to be seen.

—From the log of Kreshton Rel’Astra

An Angry Orc
Dadak's Tales

Rain begins again. Big, fat heavy drops sprinkle earthward bound, splattering on the soft soil with a light thudding sound. Darkness’ shadow moves across the land as an orange sun begins melting into the distant horizon. Rain-heavy clouds ponderously roll northwards across the sky. A light breeze gusts from the South, and the air is thick with humidity.

Not far from a recent melee an orc sits cross-legged staring blankly into nothingness. Before him a small smoldering fire hisses malevolently at each raindrop careless enough to plummet into its maw. His weapons, armor, and other belongings lie discarded in a heap some yards away. An anxious leopard paces the grounds, with twitching tail and alert ears. It senses something is wrong and occasionally head-butts the orc for affection. When none is forthcoming it meows loudly and irritably, continuing its animated pacing around the area.

After some time the orc grabs a smoldering stick from the embers. The leopard stops and stares intently. The orc begins burning his face, drawing lines of ash and blood with the glowing stick. Wincing at the pain he continues his craft, and little by little ancient patterns begin to emerge. After some time at his grim task he grunts completion. Few on Khorvaire recognize the symbols on his face, and none on Xen’Drik. But those from the Crushed Bone Clan know this face well, and they know it as ‘Blood Feud’.

The orc finally stands. He inflates his great lungs and yells a great challenge to those who wronged him. Only, they don’t hear. Something else does…

Again the leopard head-butts the orc, and this time the orc crouches and hugs his female friend, Kailia. He tells the cat to stay and wait, be patient, he will come soon. He stands then and wild-shapes into an animal she has not seen before. He stares at her intently and commands again with his eyes, and then with deathly silence he vanishes into the jungles’ blackness. Each second an eternity for the cat, she paces nervously on the grounds. Abandoned and alone, exactly as when she was a kitten, enduring the solitude which she fears most. After some time the anxiety is too much. She meows loudly and springs after her best friend and master, prancing through the jungle with uncharacteristic abandon and fear…

Ja’Redd watches the adventurers’ heated discussion with mirth.

‘Fools, they have really done it now. Split the party they have. And now they doubt if they have the battle strength to continue. Wretched fools, this was an idiotic errand anyway, we should never have come, and we should return immediately before this journey becomes even more dangerous. See them debate, haha, ‘continue on, go back home, or stay and fight to possibly kill a long-time ally’. Haha. The fools. I see they are clearing the underbrush. All the good that will do them… we’re in a jungle, and Dadak won’t pick the one spot they have burned to start a fight. Even so, this mess can be made to my advantage. If Dadak should fall in battle, and die, their hand will surely be forced, and we must then return to Kalibuto. So, the time for my special deadly poison has come…’

Unobserved, Ja’Redd coats a single dart of his hand-crossbow with venom most deadly. None he knows of has survived its embrace.

It’s agreed then, we expect Dadak in the darkest hour of the night, during 2nd watch. At that time can we assume he will take full advantage of his darkvision. N’ketchi will cast daylight and we will attack to subdue. Pol can engage and destroy any summoned beast with deadly force, and N’ketchi and Kreshton attack Dadak, and quick. We have burned the ground such that little to no growth can entangle us, and N’ketchi will have his spells to heal us and placate our foe. Remember, do not attack to kill, we need Dadak to finish this quest. Perhaps this madness will end this night…. Kreshton, you agreed to take first watch, don’t forget your torch. We will light the oil for as much light as possible.

I am the Earth. Battle hardened, I endured deadly blows meant for others, without complaint. I am the Air. Barely surviving I explain, again, how our healer has failed in his task. If I fall, melee support will fail, and they may fall as well. I am Water. Betrayal. Weakened, I endure yet another attack, almost to death, from behind, from a friend and ally…. when words should have sufficed. I am Fire. Weakened, once more I fall, nearly breathing my last, after vowing vengeance.

Now I gather my strength for retribution, to undo my humiliation and shame. The Elements have reformed. They guide me, they bind me, they give me strength for this task. I go alone, but allied with nature’s wrath and fury.

The three adventurers nervously go about their business at camp. The sun is recently set and darkness surrounds them. The campfire, though low, causes shadows to dance and flicker across the nearby trees and bushes. The jungle is not quiet either. More than once the three startle at noises from its depths. No one notices an owl quietly landing on a branch some short distance away. It stares at its prey intently, and after some time begins to hoot… Camouflage. Kreshton, on watch, thinks he hears some vague different noise from the jungle depths, coming closer. Hoot… Call Lightning. Kreshton continues to listen and draws his sword from its scabbard. Pol resides within a camouflaged Leomud’s Tiny Hut and waits for N’ketchi to join him, focusing his psi energy. Ja’Redd has decided to remain uninvolved and stays at the periphery of the camp absently chewing on salted meat. Kreshton watches the jungle, every sinew straining to see and hear what he thinks is approaching. Hoot… Lessor Vigor.

Suddenly Kailia jumps from the trees and leaps for joy into Kreshton, who stays his blade an instant before it is too late. She leaps to Kreshton and head-butts him affectionately, but he knows something is wrong. Something is out of place.. she is happy but nervous, playful yet skittish, and he sees all this in an instant. He regains his wits and utters his fear. “He has come.” N’ketchi looks up and sees the cat… “It’s too early…”

Before Kreshton has time to repeat the warning, something steps from the trees. Something beastly but unworldly, something powerful and grotesque, something tinged with madness and rage unspent. Both Kreshton and Kailia look upwards in fear and despair. A true monster stands before them. A creature 8 feet tall, with a thick coat of shaggy feathers and fur. It’s body is like a bear’s, but it has an avian head with big, round eyes and a hooked beak. It’s eyes are bloodshot red and filled with wrath and madness. It begins a riveting shriek of anger when N’ketchi finishes his spell and bathes Kreshton in silence. At least now that fool Dadak can’t cast any spells, he thinks. Kreshton is both amazed and horrified and resigns himself to fighting this horror alone until Pol arrives. Ja’Redd is nowhere to be seen.

N’ketchi begins to advance to Kreshton’s aid. Suddenly and then quickly a roar begins to come from the trees around him. Bats are coming, first a few, then dozens, finally thousands. Within seconds N’ketchi is surrounded by a whirlwind of vicious, biting bats. Pol hears something is amiss and exits his camouflaged hut. He sees the terrible threat Kreshton is facing and begins making his way to help. N’ketchi is in trouble, but not very, so he decides to go to the source, which must be the creature. Pol notices N’ketchi off balance when suddenly the ground begins to move. “No,” he thinks, “we cleared this area.” Roots come up from below and begin to entwine both Pol and N’ketchi. Nonetheless, Pol continues his slow advance towards Kreshton. Will he be there in time? And where is Dadak..?!

Kreshton skillfully dances with the monster, rolling about and stabbing with skill. Kailia is no help. She is afraid and confused, and becomes an easy target for the creature’s rage. She is battered again and again. Dadak hears none of this, and releases his anger upon the cleric. A lightning bolt flashes through the bats and the cleric is stunned. Pol continues his slow advance, ever looking for the orc. N’ketchi heals his wounds, but is struck again and again. Pol is finally nearing the melee and sees Kreshton looking haggard. He turns to see an owl land in front of N’ketchi and shape change into Dadak. The roots do not seem to hinder the druid. He yells to Kreshton reflexively and decides to turn back. Seeing Kreshton fight single-handedly against a fiend so mighty is inspiring, but there can be only one outcome. Yet he must save N’ketchi first.

Vengeance is mine. Justice comes quickly in the wilds.

Finally, N’ketchi and Dadak stand facing each other, no word is spoken. Dadak’s grim resolve wavers as he hesitates to finish his crippled foe. N’ketchi wavers as well, still standing though bleeding profusely from hundreds of tiny wounds. Dadak thought he could kill this man, but now that he stands before him doubts his resolve. This man has saved his life many times, perhaps he made a mistake. His notes his actions, which speak volumes… N’ketchi does not defend himself. Is he too tired? Is he waiting for judgement? Perhaps he is wavering as well. Both men stand contemplating the other for mere seconds, though it seems an eternity. Pol is coming, no mind blade is visible.

Just then a bruised and battered Kailia, upon seeing her friend and master, forgets herself. The owlbear wastes no time and swipes its powerful claws in a deadly stroke, sending the cat sailing through the air. As N’ketchi and Dadak stand facing each other, Kailia lands between them in a lifeless heap.

Despite wretching from the bats, a healer instinct moves N’ketchi to quickly heal the cat. A moment later he falls into oblivion.

Dadak stands motionless, his concentration fails. Pol finds he is free of the roots and runs to the orc. The bats begin to disperse.

“Dadak, stay your hand!” Pol yells. The orc bends down and breathes a sigh of relief, the cat is alive still. Then he casts a healing spell to revert the catastrophy towards N’ketchi.

When Pol arrives he sees Dadak’s affliction is lifted. No time for discussion, pragmatism prevails – he points towards Kreshton, who is nearly spent. Without a word Dadak turns and looses the last lightning bolts on the monster. Pol moves to attack and Dadak wildshapes into a bear.

The dart flies straight and true, penetrating the bear in the shoulder. Such a small wound is barely noticed. The fight is brief and the owlbear soon lies dead. However, before a word of redemption can be spoken Dadak falls groaning, then wailing, into silence. Pol and Kreshton are incredulous. Dadak lies motionless and resumes his true form, causing the dart to fall away; never to be seen. A hideous blackness surrounds his shoulder, and his breathing soon stops.

Dysfunctional Friends

I have a headache and want to throw up. I have to write with one eye on the page and another on the night as I sit guard over Nkechi. I don’t really know how this night came to be, but somehow Dadak has claimed a blood feud with Nkechi, whatever that means. All I know is that Dadak has tried seriously to kill him.

There is no reasoning with the Orc, he is acting out of his mind. Come to think of it we cannot rule out some sort of possession. This makes all the more sense since he wishes our only cleric dead. If so, then what? I have already shown myself to be a poor leader, lacking that Insubstantial quality that leaders have which makes them stand above. It’s not learned or picked up, it just is-part of who you are. You have it or not, I don’t.

They look to me to step into Jaffa’s steps but I cannot. I am inadequate. I don’t know if or how this group will make it through to Tazion, much less back again. I do not know what to do; I feel responsible for where this has gone and what may happen to us. How do I cope with the outcome of a friend slaying a friend on my watch? I hear thunder in the distance and smell a storm on the air, we will have to push through it; push and look for warmth and solace on the other side.

Fireside Conversation
Race To Ruin

Evening: the 18th of Wir, the month of Aryth, deep in the jungles of Xen’Drik

After a long and uneventful first shift watching over the camp, Pol taps Dadak to wake him for his turn. Dadak begins to don his armor as Pol sheds his in preparation for sleep. The jungle sounds, usually a cacophony of monkey shrieks and wind in the trees, is lower with the rising moons and the darkness of night. Three dark mounds stir lightly with the rise and fall of its sleeping occupant’s breathing – then Kreshton rolls over and opens his eyes. He struggles into his boots, gets up and approaches Pol.

Kreshton: Follower of Il-Yanneth, Pol, I think it is once again time for words with you. I would like the chance to ease your fears for my conduct several days back when I took the life of that grave robber outside of Amghawe’s Tomb. Since we are on this same adventure we must rely on each other to survive. I’ve come to respect you so I offer this explanation of my actions. Will you hear me?

Pol: Speak freely, Kreshton. But know this, I had come to the conclusion that he needed to die. We could not take him with us, we could not leave him to hamper or kill those that follow nor could we trust that he would leave things unmolested in our absence. It pains me that it came to this but I understand that sometimes these things must be done. My fear for you
was that I saw little to no remorse in your eyes once you had committed the deed.

Kreshton: First, I will agree that my actions were suspect. I did purposely wait until you were well into your meditations before I slit the man’s throat. My timing was an action worthy of the catfolk, Joffa – as a matter of fact, I do not believe he would have waited to act in the first place. I understand your fears that I may be emulating him. Do you see
that I am contrite?

Dada: Zzzzzzzz. Zzzzzzzzzzzzz. Zzzzzzzzz. Grumble grumble….. Lip smack. Zzzzzzz.

Pol: Only you know how killing the man in cold blood affected you. I am only concerned from the standpoint that you come to enjoy such things; we have both known people who do. I think that our having this conversation proves that you are not callous in what you did. I will share with you that I am grateful for you doing what you did, I was not looking forward to having to kill him. It is the manner which disturbed me. Also, I am grateful that Joffa went his own way, that was my hope. He and I were heading toward a conflict because of his rash and chaotic actions. I will not tolerate a blatant disregard for life or lack of some moral discipline. He displayed both.

Kreshton: Just a moment… It seems our watchman has fallen asleep half way through putting on his armor! Wake, Princess! (smacks Dadak on the head). Pol, that lack of remorse you saw was… me putting a brave front. I must tell you that I was born to a life of luxury. But that life weighed heavily on me because I was all but ignored. Only my Uncle showed any interest in me. I grew up listening to his tales of his career as a military man and I grew to want to emulate him. He had told me of many orders he was given that he disagreed on but had to do. Duty. I saw the threat that the grave robber could become. My duty to our band is to protect all of us. Killing him would do that better than just driving him off to possibly return again. Still, from the first moment we had him bound and gagged, I stated my wish to end his threat. In fact, I had my blade still drawn, ready to pierce his side as he lay unconscious from our fight. I held my action at your request. Your intent to interrogate his was wise and now, looking back, I do not begrudge the time we spent.

Pol: You are a good man, Kreshton, one that will make your uncle proud. However, think about stepping out of his shadow and becoming your own man rather than what you think he wants you to be. We are here in wild Xen’drik, away from the controls placed on us prior. Do we have duties? Yes. But are we free to stretch and grow to become more than what our controllers want? Definitely! I am only just beginning to recognize this freedom, perhaps you will too.

Kreshton: Our first adventures, on Smuggler’s Shiv, began barely six months ago. I left Zilargo barely two months before that. I have still much to learn – and unlearn – as do we all. Hell, Dadak has mostly learned to speak common in all that time, we can understand every fifth word now! (Over his shoulder) Isn’t that right my friend? Pol, let me pledge to you now, although I feel closer to Joffa’s alignment in seeing the world, evil will never be a part of me. I feel that all men must do what their conscious directs them to do. I will not stand in their way. But, when it affects me, I will not stand for it when it turns to evil.

Dadak: (while releaving himself on the edge of camp) Yaaawnn. I only heard half the conversation, perhaps less, but let me say this. Though I could not kill that man, I am still glad it is done. He very nearly finished us and leaving him, even to wander the jungle in exil, may have brought about our ultimate end, and possibly an end to the party following us. No, I don’t like killing in cold blood, but he was a threat, and I don’t blame Kreshton for following through what should have been done in battle. In my village we chain our enemies to a pole and watch the wild animals eat them.. Har har. Yes, his end was merciful. And yes, I will sleep more easily with him gone. I don’t worry Kreshton is developing bad habits and will sleep with both eyes shutt (though Kailia will keep one open on him ora while. har har). Is that water Luke warm? I am thirsty.

Pol: That is good to hear. All we can do is be true to our nature. Kreshton, I appreciate this conversation and pledge to stand by you, and the rest of the group as well, through all of this. Let’s get some sleep, morning will be here before we know it.

Kreshton: A moment, first please, on a different subject, I wanted to talk to you about that ancient city we explored earlier. I have never seen the like. Nor have I heard anything about it from the traveling minstrels and bards that often came to perform at my parent’s residence. I guess that is not to be unexpected we are in the middle of Xen’Drik after all and few stories seem to …

somewhere… out in the darkness…



Jungle Passage

Zol, the 10th of Aryth continued

This jungle terrain is really messing with my style. During a fight, I prefer to move around, to duck under swings, or to hop onto a table and attack from there. I like to spring into action, attack and move away before my enemy can repost. The battlefield must be fluid, each participant dancing their own steps. Vines, tall grasses and jungle undergrowth impede my movements with their treacherous footing. It seems that this will be my battlefield for the near future as I don’t expect Tazion to be any less overgrown than the jungles between it and Eleder. It is a lost city after all. We’ve moved from jungle island, Smuggler’s Shiv, to jungle continent, Xen’Drik.

So, I must plan ahead. During the long hours of the nightly watch, as we sit around the fire in the new magical encampment that Pol so wisely purchased in Kalabuto, I have been working on a possible new spell. I got the idea a while back when we were fetching the stormbird’s feather for N’ketchi; wow, has it been a month already? If I were able to make my steps as light as a feather, I would be able to ignore most, if not all, the adverse movement effects of difficult terrain. I’m sure I could make it work not in just jungle, but also sand or snow. I may have also gotten the idea from Gelik. He would tell stories during those long hot nights we spent shipwrecked on Smuggler’ Shiv about the life of a bard and all the different situations they find themselves in.

That Troll really gave me a fright. Not only because it was undead but because of its reach and my limited mobility. Fortunately, Dadak was able to snare it with his entangle spell and it had to spend some time extracting itself. I was ready with my whip to try and trip it, but Pol was able to kill it before I could try. N’ketchi added to the fight by calling down lightning onto the undead Troll. Kailia, Dadak’s leopard companion, took the brunt of the Troll’s attacks and barely escaped with her life. Ja’Redd somehow was able to run off the flying spellcaster with a couple of hits from his hand-crossbow. The bolts seemed to paralyze him, and I know the feeling after that fight in Chieton’s home in Kalabuto versus those assassins. Hmm… that bares some thinking on. It wasn’t long after we defeated the troll that the spellcaster returned. He easily spotted a poorly hidden Pol but the ray directed at Pol missed by quite a bit. My thrown axe and connected as N’ketchi stepped forward to cast a spell. Pol threw his mind-blade and missed the weaving spellcaster. Catching us in a tight group, the spellcaster, most likely an evil cleric, was able to hit most of us as he channeled a wave of negative energy that stunned us all. Finally he was close enough for us to surround him and we were able to get a few good hits on him. Dadak’s spell of Mass Snake’s Swiftness gave us all a second chance but, unfortunately, we all missed. Another wave of negative energy caught us all again, but most of us shrugged off the effect with little damage. I thrust my blade at the spellcaster and missed. The battle ended when Dadak, wildshaped into the form of a dire hawk, pecked the spellcaster’s eyes out with his sharp beak.

All that was left was to search the camp and move on. Captain Lewin and the expedition behind us do not have to worry about this threat when they pass through here a few days behind us. Or at least, they should be a few days behind us. In our rush to get through the Fzumi Mines, I don’t think we dealt with the threat of that evil egg/cyst we found there. Oh, well, they didn’t pay us to hand-hold them all the way to Tazion.

—From the log of Kreshton Rel’Astra


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