Serpent's Skull in Eberron

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…

Ding!

.

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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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What is the Fascination with Evil Statues?

This is twice that I have come into contact with evil imbued statues. I dont understand the penchant for evil people to take either the evil from themselves or to harness it from some nether-region or their god and then transfer it into some stone idol. It is bad enough that evil resides in the living, but to manifest it in an object that can be found by an innocent victim is totally, well, evil! I think its time to start destroying every figurine I come across!

We were successful in killing a couple of giant monkeys that were possessed by the evil idol. It was a shame to have to destroy what were innocent creatures. But if evil is defeated, then it is a good day! Well I need to go check on Kreshton, he took a nasty wound and managed to lose a lot of blood. Despite Nketchi’s healing I want to make sure he is healing well and still lucid. He really should invest in some better armor because his light feet are not sufficient in keeping him from being flayed in battle. But he does have heart and courage, and those are worthy traits to me.

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Dodge, Dodge, Awww

Zol, the 10th of Aryth

This needs to stop happening.

Once again I find myself coming to after the battle is won. Once again, my defenses have been overcome and I slip into darkness with only the strength of my companions to save the day. I feel like I am not playing to my full potential and I am not the man I want to be. Sure, my raiment can be made whole quickly with my Mending spell, and N’ketchi is always willing with a spell of healing to patch my wounds, but my pride is left wanting.

The pummeling I received from the monkey king Chakura feels humiliating even though, in my heart, he was a worthy foe. While Pol single-handedly took care of Chakura’s dire ape companion, Dadak and I challenged the monkey king. He stumbled out of the darkness of the pyramid’s carved maw and came upon me, both massive arms raised. We traded blows. In an effort to maneuver on the small platform and not fall off the edge, it was able to get an extra strike on me, no matter how much dodging I did. Dadak’s summoned dire wolf helped keep the pressure off me as Pol, having slain the dire ape, began to hammer blows onto the fiendish altar on the top step of the pyramid. Another swing of Chakura’s arms drove me to the stone floor, unconscious.

My spirit is still high. Just half a year ago, when I first slunk out of the Ambassador Wing in Breland’s Zilargo embassy, and I started this adventure, I know I would not have stood one short moment against such a mighty foe. My career as a swashbuckler has just begun. There will be highs. There will be lows. As long as I live another day to meet the new challenge, I am content.

—From the log of Kreshton Rel’Astra

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Mighty Company I Keep
Dadak's Tales

Mighty Company I keep

By the gods I have only dreamt of evil such as this. A creature of shadow and darkness spilled out from last night’s dream; and it came to kill. It nearly finished me off. Could Pol be right? Could my dream actually have been a vision? Is father seeking to kill me? Did I alert the evil that killed him by having the dream? It could be. After all, the demon was in the guise of an ape, an animal he knows well. Curses. This must not be true. Perhaps the dark one will send another.

These are dark thoughts indeed, but a wise one must heed them. My magic was next to useless against the demon. If not for Kreshton and Pol I would be dead. Finished. And possibly possessed by a demon myself. If I don’t find a way to become useful again, Pol and Kreshton may be overcome and may not be able to protect me. Listen to this. Me. An Orc. A mighty orc even. Looking for protection. Not so mighty it seems. I suppose I have discovered some limits. And I suppose this is why I travel in such mighty company.

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Intense Mien

Sul the 8th or Aryth

The look of grim determination on Pol’s face was intense. When that dark cloud erupted from the still shape of the dire ape that had just attacked us and coalesced into the even darker shape of a demon, there was a shocked moment of recognition, a moment of seeing one’s life purpose being made manifest, a moment where all the pieces of a puzzle show their final shape. The grim look on Pol’s face was a look like that. It seemed that his training and his mission was made to deal with threats such as these and he was eager to confront it.

I had seen this look once before. Deep under Red Mountain on Smuggler’s Shiv was the hidden Azlanti temple that Ieana/Y’sidrious had sought out. She had caused the wreck of the brave ship Jenivere and the death of all of her crew for her own hideous purposes. Once we had cornered her there, Pol’s face was set thus. A known evil, she was, and Pol was determined to stomp it out. Our battle expelled her from her lair and with her went the cloud of evil covering the island.

The sudden fear effect from the shadow demon was unbearable and I had to flee. I did not get far before I noticed that neither Dadak nor Pol had succumbed. That helped me to recover and I returned to the battle only to come up against two shadow crocodiles summoned by the demon. The demon moved away and flung a ball of dark fire at Pol and me which detonated in a silent explosion, though its heat was enough to injure us. Dadak stepped forward to confront the swift moving shadow. Even though Pol and I were threatened by the two crocodiles, I could tell that Pol’s eyes were only on the demon; he longed to fight it. I decided that I had to let him chase it and that I would have to combat the crocodiles alone. I stepped back a moment and cast a spell on Pol and he vanished in a puff of smoke. Then I yelled loudly to draw the crocodile’s attention to me so that I could deal with them while Pol and Dadak dealt with the demon. I dodged their attacks as well as I could. Suddenly, at the same moment the shadow crocodiles disappeared, the shadow demon teleported away defeated!

We regrouped and checked our status. Pol and I were wounded but mostly fine; Dadak seemed to have succumbed to a spell or two from the shadow demon and was sapped of his great strength. At once, a magical darkness surrounded us but I was able to quickly reach into my new haversack and withdraw my one Daylight Pellet to banish it; that was 150 gold well spent. The demon struck at us again. This time, it stayed within melee range and didn’t move away; Pol and I were able to fight it together. It struck both of us several times until Pol was able to defeat it with a mighty double-handed swing of his mind blade.

I remember the tale Pol told us on our short sea voyage from Smuggler’s Shiv to the mighty city of Stormreach on Xen’Drik’s shores. Though he had banished this dark threat, his mission was still ahead of him. He will meet many more of these threats, but with the banishment of this one, he knows that he is on the right track and truly well up for the task.

—From the log of Kreshton Rel’Astra

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A Child's Fancy
Sar the 8th

This land is truly wondrous! The sights to see and experiences to have are one-of-a-kind. In a matter of minutes I was able to discover a flower that while beautiful, smelled of death and rot, and was attacked by a living, animated shade.

I vaguely remember stories when I was very young of the Dreaming Dark and it brought such fantastic visions to mind, those of flowing smoky shapes, insubstantial, malevolently evil; seeking to steal your soul. This is what we fought, a childhood fright made real. I do not know what it was but it flowed like shadow, stepping above the ground rather than on it, vanishing like smoke in front of you only to coalesce behind you an instant later. It was a master of the dark, manipulating it like Joffa handled his eldritch energies. It was fascinating to behold.

I must thank my teachers at some point for their training in mastering my mind and emotions for it was that which kept me alive this day. Besides wielding magic and darkness, the shade evoked a fear that was beyond rationality. I do not fault Kreshton for running in the moment because I was at the brink myself, then my mental training came to my aide. Dadak , to his credit, appeared unphased by the creature, even after it sapped him of his strength and vigor. I wonder if he has faced such a creature before?

I am proud and impressed with our little band.
What we overcame today was truly a heroic deed. I will suggest we partake in some sort of celebration. I am excited and now feel that we can accomplish this quest despite Idarthius being our nemesis. Quori, beware!

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Dark Visions
Sar the 7th

Disturbing news indeed, I will need to communicate with Gilahd soon. Dadak had a nightmare tonight that I believe was a vision. Somehow he was able to see the future or some semblance of it. It was enough to wake him from sleep and put all of us on edge. In his vision he saw his father shackled to an altar with possibly Idarthius standing above him with some weapon that has the ability to possess and control another, a very evil blade. The description was eerily similar to a mind blade but with a greater potency than I have ever heard about or experienced.

This vision chills me to the bone in a way that makes no sense. After some time meditating I believe that this chill has more to do with guidance from il-Yannah in preparing me for what is to come. Therefore, that Dadak’s vision is a warning that needs to be heeded.

Is it serendipity, fate or gods that direct our footsteps so that as uncommon friends as we are in this party are meant to meet and bound together in ways we cannot fully fathom? It is interesting that Dadak and his family’s heritage is linked to mine and my Kalashtar lineage through Idarthius. I am sure that Gilahd will pass this information on to one of the elder psions for further study. Perhaps I will be questioned for days over this…patience will be warranted.

As I can see, my mind is beginning to wander, not surprising given our fight with the lizardmen and water beast. Plus being wakened and spending extra time in thought, I should get some rest before morning. We will have a full day ahead of us no doubt. I still tremble at the thought of facing Idarthius but this adventure is becoming more intellectually stimulating by the day. I cant wait to see what the next sunrise brings.

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River Battle

Sar, the 7th of Aryth

The rumble of the nearby waterfall and rapids must have hit a nerve deep down in Dadak’s psyche. I woke from a deep slumber to the sound of Dadak jumping up and roaring at the four visible moons. Instantly, I was standing next to him, sword drawn, and searching the dark Xen’Drik jungle for threats. The light of Pol’s huge mind-blade helped the dying fire to push back the darkness, but still nothing came to challenge us. Joffa’s dark shape hidden in one of the trees was only betrayed by the twitching of the end of his tail hanging down. Chydak, in a drug induced stupor, as usual, only lay there with unblinking eyes.

It took Dadak several minutes to calm down enough to tell us his tale about his father, hideous serpents, a dark priest and darkness and despair. I sensed that he had not told us all that he knew, from the long pauses in his speech. He seems unsure that it was a true dream, and I agree, but once I caught a troubled glint in Pol’s eye and he wandered off to meditate alone for a while even though he had already meditated once tonight; unusual.

Mayhap the excitement of our encounter with the hippo and a trio of lizardmen earlier in the day had helped to trigger this “memory”. It was a straightforward fight. The docile herds of hippos we passed all morning, contentedly munching on the grasses along the banks of the Korir River, had lulled us into a false sense of security until that lone hippo charged at us. It was only then that we noticed the three lizardmen prodding at it with spears and banging loudly upon their hide shields were the cause of the attack. The hippo came at the lead canoe, the one holding Dadak and me, in a huge wave that overturned us as we prepared ourselves to respond. Somehow Dadak was able to finish his spell, even underwater, and summoned two croco-gators to menace it. I expertly dove off the bow towards two of the onrushing lizardmen. In the second canoe, Joffa, unable to get a clear shot because of the overturned canoe ahead of them, paddled furiously to get him and his new friend closer to the action. Ja’Redd stood in the bow with a hand crossbow launching bolts at the large creature. The detonation of a couple of Chydak’s grenades from the third canoe scarred the back of the hippo as Nkechi and Pol paddled around Joffa’s canoe. Chydak managed to keep Pol within range of the hippo by paddling for all he was worth so Pol could bring his strength and glowing mind blade down upon the beast. Frustrated with paddling, Joffa slipped overboard and swam forward and helped me overcome the two lizardmen accosting me. We turned to menace the hippo and the last lizardman. They were quickly overcome.

Later in the day, and several miles upriver, we could hear the roar of the waterfall ahead and we made camp for the night. The hippo meat Pol saved made a great meal.

—From the log of Kreshton Rel’Astra

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A Dagger in the Dark
Dadak's Tales

A Dagger in the Dark.

Boom… Boom… Boom…. Thunderous echoes roar forth through the black shadows of this dark hall. Boom… Boom. Boom… Deep, slow, rhythmic blasts of despair and anger vibrate through the darkness surrounding my helpless soul. I am terrified. Me, Dadak. I have not felt fear like this since that time long, long ago….

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>><<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

“Tell them they must send another”, she pleaded. “Tell them. I can not bear it.”
“I must go, dearest. They have made their decision, and you know, they will not change it. It is done,” was his graven answer.
My mother started a slow, deep, and sorrowful weeping. It came from deep within. I had never seen this before and it terrified me. Until now I had never known fear.
“Where must you go, father?” I asked.
They both had a start. I saw his shadow stiffen in the flickering firelight. He paused for a long moment and beckoned me to join him. My proud mother feebly attempted to stop her weeping for my sake, to no avail.
“Son,” he said, “I am tasked with an errand.” The muscles in his huge arms rippled as he reached down to me and brushed my hair. “Grave tidings come from Xendrik my son, and the Council has ordered me to investigate.”
“But why father?” I asked, “Why you?”
He paused again. His enormous brows furrowed in concentration and thought. Never before had I seen the concern on his face. I suddenly understood I would never see him again and slowly started to cry.
He slowly began to explain and I only half listened, “Our family carries an ancient and secret burden son; one which some day I hope will pass to you. I can not explain it to you, you are too young. But know that I would not leave you here… I will not leave you alone and without strong reasons. Know and be proud that your father is strongest of our order in this part of Khorvaire, and that he must go.”
A dark shadow began creeping across my soul.

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Boom… Booommmm… Booommmmmm…… Again the black shock waves of thunderous agony wash across me. I can not move my limbs and can only watch what is happening here. Snake like creatures sway to the rhythms of the sounds echoing through the halls. There is an altar. And there is a priest standing upon the dais surrounding it. He is holding a dagger above a bound helpless creature tied to the altar. The dagger is blackest black. It drips venom. It is evil and it is alive. It knows I am here and it hates me. But it wants me here. It wants to torture and torment me. I am helpless in the darkness and can not move. It is then I see the creature bound to the altar more clearly. It is a powerful orc. He is deeply wounded and too weak to resist. I see him, and then I realize he sees me as well.

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He stooped down low and patted my head, my father did. He smiled a broad smile and showed his glorious tusks to me again. I smiled too, a little. My mother stood behind me, her weeping was done, and placed her hands upon my shoulders. This was farewell. I would never see my father again.
“Son”, he began, “I give to you this token, given to me by my father, for safe keeping. Guard it well, as it has powers you will unlock when the time is right. You are young, but when you are come of age, you must come for me. I will know when you are near, the birds, the animals, and the trees themselves will speak of you to me. I will be waiting for you.”

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Booom…. Boooom….. Booooommm….. The hideous snakes continued their malevolent swaying. Ever faster and faster the blasts continued. The priest, dancing and swaying as well, menacingly waves the dagger above my father’s breast. The despair and blackness consumes this place. My father’s broken body lays there immobile, struggle is useless against such evil. I call to him, I reach for him, but I am too terrified to move. Just as I can no longer endure the pain, the priests plunges the dagger into my father’s breast. His body lurches. He breaks his bonds. I cry out in fear. I know he can not perform such a feat, he was too weak. He quickly stands tall and strong. He quickly flexes his new dark power. He then looks at me with his blackest of eyes and hisses “Come, my son. I am still waiting for you.”

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“Arrrggggghhhhhh” I scream out into the quiet night. I gasp for air and flail my arms wildly. Kreshton stands above me, his hair wild with his sword in hand. He is looking for trouble but finds none. Pol looks deadly with his fiercely glowing blade. He has sprung into combat but finds no assailants. Something is amiss and he is waiting for it to reveal itself. Joffa looks down at me from a tree above, his tail twitching expectantly. There is a sly smile on his face and he is ready as well. Even Kailia is awry, growling lowly and looking for trouble. I relax and slowly tell the dream-story.

Pol is very deeply troubled, and he is quiet.

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