Orreratics

To Hell & Back
The party find themselves in a hostile world and have to get back

Late summer, Chiron’s Hill, Trevain

At the behest of her newly-acquired patron, the Winter Queen, the Latz emissary in Chiron’s Hill, Anführer Orimine Leviathan der Infernal, gathered a group to head into Autumnhaven and attend to a disturbance in the Fey realm. She took with her Helenas Olara, the half-elf bard who witnessed the pact that brought her into the service of the Fey, and Brother Otto, a young human monk who in his uncertainty over his forced sojourn from the Monastery of the Moving Seasons had been causing some trouble in town. Helenas was moved to follow the tiefling by an encounter with Kaethel Lonair, an elf bard who had studied under her old master, Leif, and believed that the threads of fate were wound closely around the emissary. Brother Otto for his part, had recently been counselled by Athram the Mason, an old dwarf local, that the path to the humility he had been instructed to find may lie in service to others.

The band followed chill winds sent by the Winter Queen to guide them to a small hill in the forest which appeared to have had all life burnt off its top by some kind of infernal magic. Exploring around the hill, they were attacked by a bear that appeared to have been touched by the dark magics that the site contained and was driven by an unearthly rage. Despite its vicious assaults, the party managed to kill the beast and proceeded to explore into the cave it had emerged from.

Inside they found a room with some kind of pentagram-like design on the floor. Cautiously, they attempted to test the pattern and moved on to trying to break it. Nothing seemed to have any effect whatsoever until Brother Otto’s arm crossed the boundary. All of a sudden the whole room flared up and with a swirling of magic and a strong smell of brimstone they found themselves transported to a far more hostile place!

They were standing on a stone outcropping, hemmed in by great claws of rock on all sides but for a small exit. The sky above was a smoky red and the smell of sulphur and ozone was overwhelming. A small spiny figure backed slowly away from them until it bumped its head on the rocky claw behind it.

The group questioned this being, who gave the name Halitsu. They learnt that they were not far from the fortress of Bel, a name Orimine was vaguely familiar with as a devil lord in the service of Gaatesh. Halitsu, who appeared to be terrified of the “invaders”, had little other valuable information, but was able to direct them to see the Mad Witch in the mountains to the west. Helenas forced the devil to swear that he would not reveal their arrival to his lord and the party took their leave down a long winding path to the plains below.

As they descended, they looked out across endless barren plains, punctuated by large armies of fiendish creatures, often in pitched battle. Fireballs crashed to earth here and there and a river of a disturbing crimson colour snaked along in the west. Beyond that, they could see the mountains that were their destination.

Their travel across the plains was uncomfortable, but otherwise not too dangerous as by travelling carefully, they were able to avoid the large groups of fel beings that roamed about. They crossed the river, which upon close inspection was a river of blood with ghastly faces floating about in it, at a ford, managing to keep themselves largely away from the foul liquid and soon could see a plume of white smoke, a clear sign of the witch’s abode, as the abundant smoke elsewhere was thick and black, rising from the base of the mountains to the west.

Their reception was not as hospitable as they had hoped. A dwarf woman with wild white hair emerged from the cave where the smoke originated and accused them of being fiends before snaring Helenas in a web. The party managed to talk her down though, and after testing them with holy water, she allowed them into her cave.

Inside the cave, which was illuminated by magical means, they found a hut. The observant Helenas noted that the hut appeared to be the right shape and size to have fitted on the remnants of a structure she had found on the top of the hill earlier and after talking to the witch, who introduced herself as Eileena, the group learnt she and her whole residence had been transported here some 25 years ago by some kind of magical misfortune.

Eileena was not able to tell them how to leave the hell they’d landed in, but she did direct them to the Pillar of Skulls, which she said would give them the answers they needed. She fed them and allowed them to rest and asked them to do her one favour – to deliver a figurine of a female human warrior to her adoptive daughter in Chiron’s Hill, Jillup.

The party forged on the next morning to the Pillar of Skulls, which truthfully, was more of a pillar of decapitated heads in various states of decomposition. As they arrived and spoke with the pillar, several heads offered information in return for a service from the party. In the end, they took an elf head’s deal, to knock the ogre head that seemed to be the dominant head out of the pillar, and were given the location of the exit portal they needed and informed that the key was a coin from Bel’s personal treasury.

The party was disheartened by the notion of having to sneak in and out of an archfiend’s fortress. They discussed what was to be done until they settled on the gamble that they hadn’t needed a key to get in, so maybe they wouldn’t need one to leave. With that agreed upon, they headed off to the east to the portal.

Unfortunately, there was no crossing at the river this time, so the three had to wade waist deep through the blood. Helenas argued vigorously against it and was still on the west bank when to worm-like creatures attacked Orimine and Otto who were already halfway across. One sunk its teeth into Orimine, but Otto was able to stave them off. All of this did nothing for Helenas’s willingness to cross, but eventually she was convinced … just in time for the third worm creature to attack. Otto struck quickly and the group made haste to get out on the other side.

Once again, the party was careful to avoid the denizens of the war-torn plains as they travelled back to the east. After some hours walk, they spied the raised area that hosted the exit portal. As they started on the last leg of their journey, a large group of devils flew past their position. The party held their breath as the fiends went by and kept going for a moment, but then, as one they wheeled. Knowing the game was up, they broke into a sprint for the portal.

As they drew near, it looked like they were going to make it despite the onset of exhaustion, but then they saw a lone figure standing in their path. He was around nine feet tall and unmistakably fiendish, bat wings on his back, horns on his head and dark red skin. The party slowed their pace, preparing themselves for assault from both sides, but miraculously, the flying fiends too slowed their pace and came to halt, hovering to watch and see what would transpire.

The fiend that blocked their way introduced himself as Ar’kle-mens and informed the trio that he was willing to let them leave on one condition: that they deliver a letter to the very same Jillup that Eileena had asked them to take the figurine to. Helenas looked at the situation for a moment and concluding that it may be their only chance at survival took the letter, carefully avoiding verbally agreeing to any kind of deal in the process. As he had promised, Ar’kle-mens stepped aside and ushered them by.

As Brother Otto stepped across the line of the pentagram that marked the portal, once again, it sprung to life and with a swirl of magic, they were transported back and found themselves in the cave, face to face with Welford

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Souvenirs
The party deal with the items they brought back through the portal

Upon returning to the natural world, the party were confronted by a somewhat bewildered Welford. Welford was reluctant to answer any of their questions instantly, but had several of his own. Eventually satisfied with the groups answers and that the figurine and letter they had brought back posed no immediate threat, he asked them to join him at his home the following evening and promised them answers.

When they met, Welford provided them with a good meal and then proceeded to answer the questions they had. In doing so, he decided to show them the Orrery constructed in the secret cellar under his dwellings and reveal his organisation, the Order of the Unseen Seal, and role.

He explained to them that travel to and from the Eternal Battlefields should not yet be possible according to the laws of the Orrery and that their excursion was therefore very worrying. He expressed confusion over why it appeared that Brother Otto was able to activate the portal without a key, but suggested they speak to a colleague from his order, Chalo Gendrun, who resided in Oakreach.

There was lengthy debate over what to do with the letter they had been given by Ar’kle-mens. In the end, it was decided that the best course of action would be to read and then destroy it. The note said, in no uncertain terms, that Jillup was to report to one Tarid Gorn in Oakreach or her adoptive mother, Eileena would be killed. The party decided to destroy the letter and go in her stead.

The next day, the group went to visit Jillup, to deliver the figurine sent to her by Eileena. Finding her out of her herb store for the day, they returned in the evening and were invited in for some of the finest tea they had ever tasted. Jillup instantly recognised the figurine as Helenas handed it to her and became very emotional. She questioned hard about her mother’s situation, but the party carefully avoided revealing anything about her location.

As the group were leaving they were assailed by a small band of kobolds, two of whom were winged. Despite one landing a lucky blow to take down Orimine, the party were able to finish the creatures off easily enough. During the fight, Helenas picked out that the kobolds were searching for something and also the name, Thava. When they questioned a kobold before it succumbed to its injuries, the party were able to glean that Thava was “tall” and “spoke for the dragons”. Otto discovered a small amount of gold on them as well as a monocle. Orimine inspected the monocle and figured out that it was able to detect the residual aura of items and beings that had spent time on another disc.

The next day the group stopped by at Welford’s again. After clearing the air to make sure he had had nothing to do with the kobold attack, they set off for Oakreach.

The two-day trip was fairly uneventful, but soon after their arrival at the Turncoat’s Retreat things started to get interesting. First, Helenas caught a fleeting glance of none other than Kaethel Lonair leaving the inn. Chasing after him, she found only thin air outside of the inn.

Not much later, a small delegation of tieflings made their way to where Orimine was making friends with the local pretty faces. Their leader introduced himself as Terkenthül ir Baalzephon, the Latz emissary in Oakreach. He invited Orimine and her companions to his residence later in the night and took his leave.

The group finished up what they were doing and soon after were entering a celebration of sorts. Latz music, dance and food were on offer and a substantial gathering of influential Oakreach residents were already enjoying themselves there. Casting eyes around the crowd, there appeared to be an Orrathi majority amongst the humans present.

After some time ir Baalzephon approached and told them he had someone that was eager to meet them. With that, he presented Tarid Gorn himself. Gorn quickly suggested they take a private room, so that they might discuss business.

Without wasting time on pleasantries, Gorn explained that Ar’kle-mens would be willing to forgive their not having delivered the note if they carried out the task that had been assigned to her – to assassinate a visiting Orrathi baron, Larek Dereton. The negotiating did not last much longer. Helenas flatly refused in very blunt terms and left the building. Gorn was next to leave, declaring only that the following night would be the ideal time to perform the deed. A shocked and confused Brother Otto and a quietly scheming Orimine sat for a few minutes longer and then took their leave to ponder their next move …

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The Oakreach Job
The party help out a new friend and try to stop a murder

The morning after ir Baalzephon’s party, Anführer Orimine Leviathan der Infernal, Brother Otto and Helenas Olara reconvened at the Turncoat’s Retreat. The mood was heavy, the situation and its possible outcomes playing over and over in each of the trio’s thoughts. But the group had something else to do in Oakreach. And so, they headed into the centre of town to find Chalo’s Weapon Emporium.

Chalo Gendrun greeted them warmly as they entered his shop and even after they convinced him to close the door to discuss less public business, he seemed to have some trouble lowering his voice. The party explained why they were here – the trip to the Eternal Battlefields, how they had done it without a key and what Brother Otto’s relationship to the whole affair was.

Though Chalo’s words expressed concern, he never seemed to drop his volume or tone as he told the group what he could. After ushering them into a similar hidden cellar to Welford’s, he mentioned the legendary disc jumper, Silvarion, an elf according to the stories, who could travel the discs as he pleased. Silvarion was the closest thing he had heard of to a living breathing portal key. The elf had apparently written a great tome, the Codex of the Orrery, which, if it truly existed, Chalo believed would be the most likely place to find answers. When questioned about the whereabouts of the tome, Chalo suggested that the Twisting Towers, the divine realm of Shalista, goddess of magic, would be a good place to start.

Before letting them go, Chalo asked that they help him check on a portal in the tunnels under Oakreach to ensure that it, like the one in Chiron’s Hill, wasn’t active. After he assured them that they would be back in time for their evening activities, they agreed to go. He led them to a small house in the north of the city and through a trapdoor within it down a great ladder and into the tunnels. The Oakreach Tunnels, he explained, had been used by the Orrathi army to make covert strikes against Trevish-occupied Oakreach many years ago, and one of the command bunkers had developed a portal to the Eternal Battlefields.

Chalo led them through a somewhat bewildering maze of tunnels until they reach the door to the bunker. Behind, Helenas recognised voices speaking goblin, two high-pitched, one lower. They seemed to be chanting. Quickly formulating a plan, Orimine went into the room in the guise of a devil, telling the hobgoblin and two goblins she found inside that they had succeeded in summoning her, while Helenas piped in some atmospheric music and Chalo and Otto stood out of view, but ready for action.

The goblins appeared to buy Orimine’s ruse, but the hobgoblin was unconvinced. After only a slight hesitation, it charged into combat. Otto was quick to get into the room and protect his friend and Helenas charmed one of the goblins before it realised what was going on. Chalo charged in and began chanting his counter-measures. Despite Chalo’s efforts the portal continued to fizz and crackle and as the party put down the unenchanted goblins, a small creature escaped. The imp cackled madly and launched into an assault on the party only to be put down immediately by a well placed eldritch blast from Orimine. The portal started to close and Chalo was able to tear himself away from his invocations just long enough to tell them they should go and to give them a very rapid set of instructions for how to get out.

Despite the difficulty of the directions, the group were able to find their way to the exit, taking only one wrong turn, which led them into the nest of a swarm of spiders. Soon they were back on the surface and, once again, facing the unpleasant choice they had to make for the evening.

Orimine revealed that she had been quietly contemplating going behind their back to fake the assassination, but had decided against doing so as a gesture of faith and loyalty to her companions. Instead, she suggested that they gamble on her being able to impersonate Ar’kle-mens to Tarid Gorn. Meanwhile, Helenas would warn Baron Dereton of the impending threat in case Gorn had backup assassins. The party agreed on this course of action.

Orimine, using the powers granted to her by the Winter Queen to appear like the devil lieutenant, and Otto, cloaked and posing as Ar’kle-mens’s servant, went to Gorn’s compound in the Diplomatic Quarter. The guards at the front door seemed somewhat taken aback by the devilish visage that presented itself at the door, but fetched their master and allowed the pair entry. Gorn, too, seemed to accept Orimine for who she claimed to be, taking her to his private study to discuss the matters with which “his devilish master” had come to him in person.

The Orrathi seemed to be swallowing most of what Orimine said, that she had killed the trio of adventurers after entering the world through a portal in the Oakreach Tunnels, but when she told him that he was to commit the assassination of Dereton himself, he began to see through the cracks in her ruse. Orimine, sensing the game was up, called Otto and soon after dropped her guise completely. The robed figures that had been lingering in the lobby followed Otto down the hall and the pair realised they were in an impossible situation. Orimine used her silver tongue to apologise and back down while Otto fought his urges to just punch Gorn in the face and they left with tails between legs.

Meanwhile, Helenas’s meeting with Baron Dereton had gone much better. After revealing the nature of the plot to him, he had immediately ordered his guards and servants to start preparing him to leave the city. When the trio met soon after, they decided their best course of action was to flee the city themselves.

After Orimine had shown her face at the residence of ir Baalzephon just enough to not be suspicious, the group reconvened at the Turncoat’s Retreat. Even as they set out the cries rang out over the city, “Murder!” Fearing their efforts had all been for naught, the group asked some passing guardsmen what was happening.

“Someone’s been murdered in the diplomatic quarter … was it Garm? Gron?”
“No, it’s Gorn.”

With the implications of this turn of events filling their heads, the party made haste, getting through the gates mere minutes before the town was locked down …

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Gutripper Hollow
The party clear out a goblin den for the Winter Queen

The party made haste along the road leading south from Oakreach. They had been on the road for no longer than about an hour when they heard hoofbeats approaching rapidly from behind. Orimine moved off to the side of the road, but Helenas and Brother Otto decided to make no efforts to clear the way. As the riders came into view, Orimine and Otto recognised the robes of the cultists from Tarid Gorn’s residence. As one rider beat a path in front of them and the other two moved into position behind, it was clear that they were in no mood for talk.

Otto charged the rider in front as he dismounted, landing a solid blow. The cultists made an effort to strike back, but Orimine’s eldritch blast made short work of the one coming from behind. Their leader called on the power of his dark masters, locking Otto in place at the mercy of the cultist he had struck. Fortunately, Helenas’s vicious mockery was enough to break his will and he succumbed to the wounds Otto had inflicted on him. The party turned their attention to the leader and soon after Orimine’s finished him off with a mighty blast of lightning that picked him up and flung him to the ground, electricity still coursing over his body. AS the party moved toward him, he used his dying breath to promise them retribution for their “betrayal” of Ar’kle-mens.

The party pressed on for a bit longer before setting up camp for some much-needed rest. As Orimine slept, the Winter Queen reached out to her in person for the first time, telling her in her dreams that she was to be granted new powers and in return, a task would be presented to her before the morning. Sure enough, when her watch came around, a sprite flew into the campsite and approached her.

The sprite introduced himself as Lukin and told Orimine he had come to offer her his services in return for her aid. A local band of goblins calling themselves the Gutrippers had gone from being a mild nuisance to being a dangerous threat to the forests of the region recently. Lukin believed they had unearthed some kind of dark power that had twisted them and their bat companions and was being unleashed on the forest in their nighttime excursions above ground.

When the party awoke, Orimine put the proposal to the group. Helenas was initially reluctant and more than a little mistrustful of the fey creature who had placed this quest before them, but Orimine reasoned with her that this was a blight that demanded their attention. Lukin had also added that there may be something here worth looking into in light of their recent adventures.

Eventually, the party headed off for Gutripper Hollow, Lukin leading the way to a sickly looking tree. At its foot was a burrow. Brother Otto, always keen to find adventure, led the way in with little hesitation. The tunnel led down for a few hundred yards before the group detected the draft of a more open cave ahead of them. Sending Lukin ahead to scout, they learnt that there appeared to be two goblins standing guard and a swarm of bats in the back of the room. They attempted a stealthy entrance, but Helenas was unable to control her compulsive humming and Otto was a little overzealous in his efforts to quiet her. The goblins called out to each other in their own language and readied themselves for the intruders.

As battle was joined the goblins did their best to spread out and make use of the space to hamper their enemies. The bats swarmed forward, revealing a third goblin with a strangely glowing staff who called down what seemed like a twisted kind of divine magic on the party. One of the goblins produced and then swallowed a strange rock-like object, appearing to heal itself, but causing some kind of temporary incapacitation. Despite the third goblin’s curses, the party emerged triumphant. They inspected the staff and a few more of the glowing stones, which at a closer look were actually formed of a strange, slick metal. Deciding to hold on to a couple in Orimine’s small chest, they patched themselves up and prepared to move on into the den.

Marching further down into the tunnels, the group came to a crossroads. Once again, Lukin did some scouting for them, Orimine watching through his eyes. Though he could not go all the way for fear of breaking his link with the tiefling, he was able to get far enough to report some details about each tunnel. The tunnel to the stank of goblin cooking and garbage and appeared to have a fire burning just out of eyeshot. The tunnel to the right was pitch black, but if one listened carefully, they could hear the flapping of many wings. The central tunnel was illuminated by a dim glow that seemed to come from the same kind of metallic stones the goblins in the first room were carrying. The party suspected the room to the right must contain more bats, which they were not eager to fight, but, thinking that cutting off reinforcements would be a good idea, they decided to at least clear the left tunnel before proceeding to the central tunnel, where they suspected the source of the corruption lurked.

This time, the group was more successful in making a quiet approach. They managed to move into a cavern with a cooking fire and a large table in it unnoticed by the lone goblin that was chopping at meat on the table, his back to the entrance. Taking advantage of his lack of awareness, the group launched their attack. As they did so, the goblin turned, revealing a massively oversized lower jaw with what could almost be described as mandibles protruding from it. He barked out something in goblin and the trash pile to the left of the entrance reared up with a life of its own!

Otto kept the goblin busy in a duel of shortsword, fist, cleaver and horrible gaping maw while Orimine and Helenas turned their attention on the trash creature. Orimine unleashed a mighty witch bolt on it, but to her dismay, the lightning did not damage the creature at all, instead splitting it into two smaller but equally deadly creatures. Despite this setback, the party were able to finish off the foul creatures and retreated back to the less unpleasant first cavern to once again patch up their wounds.

Finally, the group headed on down the central tunnel to the seeming seat of the corruption. When they reached the last room, they were greeted by the sight of a foul formerly-goblin creature seated on a throne of sorts, its armour melted into its body and corpulent flesh hanging off it. To the right of the cavern a pool exuding a sort of dark light lay and at its edge five goblins stared blankly into the depths.

The “goblin” on the throne noticed the group’s entrance despite their efforts to stay silent and screamed something that could have been goblin or maybe just the sounds of her mutated anguish and as she did so the five goblins fell face first into the pool. The goblin queen waddled forward towards them and was met by Helenas’s mockery, Otto’s charge and Orimine’s eldritch blast, downed before she had a chance to fight back, but then something monstrous emerged from the pool. A hideous amalgamation of the goblins who had fallen into the pool it was all mouths and eyes on a horrible mass of green flesh. The constant mindless gibbering of the mouths planted the seeds of madness in the heads of those around it and the very ground blow it was instantly putrified into a sort of sludge.

The goblin mass moved on Otto, but his defences were strong and he was able to avoid its attacks. However, the group were not so lucky when it spat out a gobble that exploded in blinding light. Only Lukin, flying above at the top of the cave was able to shield his eyes in time. Orimine took advantage of her new companion’s sight to get him to shoot the creature, poisoning it with his fey arrows. Otto kept it engaged and Helenas called forth an illusory version of the goblin queen that assaulted the aberration, fooling it sufficiently that it actually tried to attack the illusion instead of Otto. Eventually shaking the blindness, the party gathered their strength and were able to put the beast down.

Gazing into the pool with the kobold’s monocle, Orimine was able to view a tiny pinprick glow with dark purple tendrils of light reaching out of it in the depths. It appeared they had discovered another portal, though, it appeared, not an active one. The group decided to seal the tunnels, bringing their powers to bare on collapsing the tunnel with the stones and staff left inside.

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A Celestial Shortcut
The party follows Kaethel into the Shining Fortress

An evening at the Boar and Horn

Following the purging of Gutripper Hollow, the party continued their journey south towards the capital. As the second day of travel came to a close, they saw an inn. Surrounded by what appeared to be a very old stone wall in a state of disrepair, the inn itself looked to be in good condition.

As they passed through the gate, they were met by a grumpy haflling and a couple of stable boys. The halfling fixed them with a suspicious glare and questioned them a little before a much cheerier dwarf emerged and scolded him for being so unwelcoming to their guests. The stable boys took their horses and the dwarf ushered them into the inn’s common room.

For an inn in the middle of nowhere, it was doing a decent trade – largely hunters working in the area, but with a couple of other groups. The dwarf introduced himself as Garek, the inn as the Boar and Horn and his halfling partner as Nevit Meadowbright, and set them up at the bar. Orimine indulged Garek in some light conversation, while Helenas struck up a few tunes to entertain the patrons with accompaniment from Lukin on his panpipes and Brother Otto set into the inn’s food supplies.

In Orimine’s conversation with Garek, she was able to gather that a strange group of cloaked figures had passed through earlier in the day, inspecting the inn and grounds but then moving on. She also learnt that two of the groups of patrons were down from Oakreach. Surveying the groups, she saw that the first appeared to be a merchant and his entourage and the other looked to be a couple of Trevish officials and their guards. She approached the merchant and chatted with him. He told her they had left Oakreach because of violence in the streets following the murder two nights ago.

She was stopped by the guards as she approached the officials. After presenting her diplomatic papers, the guards allowed her to take a seat at the officials tables. The officials were concerned that the violence in Oakreach was a threat to regional stability and that Tarid Gorn’s murder may insight Orrathi rebellion. They were making haste to the capital to report these concerns.

As the night wore on, Helenas heard a familiar tune floating across the room, The Stars are Brightest O’er the Sea. Looking up she saw the source was, once again, Kaethel Lonair and once again, he was drawing her attention exactly as he left the room. Quickly passing the lead to Lukin, she hastened toward the door, sending a message spell asking Kaethel to wait for her. He did not pause, instead answering, “Time is of the essence”. Helenas rushed for the door, attracting the attention of her companions who pursued. Lukin, sensing that if he lingered, he may be left behind, abandoned the entertainment duties.

Outside, Kaethel had made seemingly impossibly quick progress toward a dilapidated tower on the northeast corner of the old wall. The party gave chase, reaching the bottom of the tower as a flash lit up its top. They entered the tower cautiously and followed the staircase around its edge to the top. Once there, Orimine pulled out her monocle and was rewarded with the sight of a glowing silver portcullis a step beyond the edge of the tower. She passed the monocle to Helenas for a look and eventually Otto, too. Looking at it, the group surmised they may have been led to a portal to the Shining Fortress, the legendary home of Varun, the Winged Guardian.

As the group considered whether or not to go through the portal, the sound of hoofbeats came to them. Soon, they saw more of the cultists they had seen at Tarid Gorn’s abode and battled on the road approaching the tower on horseback. Deciding the portal to be their best option, they approached and as Otto drew closer, the portcullis rose. Testing their faith, they stepped out into the air beside the tower and through the portal, Helenas humming Steel and Silver as they went. Once again the swirling sensation they had experienced under the hill in Autumnhaven took hold and they found themselves stepping out of the other side of the portcullis into a small fortified area.

Delays at the Woodsman’s Gate

Six guards stood in front of them and called for them to halt. The party started to explain that they were chasing Kaethel as the captain of the guards stepped up behind his men. He asked for their names and called down his bookkeeper, an elf by the name of Fierolin. The bookkeeper recorded their names and their origins as the captain, a human by the name of Ramus, questioned them further. Soon, he told them he would request permission to send them across the Great Moat and commanded Fierolin to send word to the landing on the far side. The bookkeeper released a perfectly white dove which flew out over the water. As he did, the party took stock of the sight before them for the first time.

The fortifications they stood within appeared to be on a small island. Beyond the fortifications, lay an immense body of perfectly still water, black under the bright stars and full moon of the night sky. Beyond the Great Moat, was a fortress, larger than they could possibly have imagined, its white walls, shining even in the dim light, stretching out of sight in either direction. The fortress was built in five levels, rising like a great mountain and was well lit throughout, its reflection shimmering brilliantly on the still water below.

Looking around at her companions through her monocle, Orimine noted that here, they bore a glow of natural world colours – the brown of the earth, green of grass and leaf and blue of water.

After some time, the dove returned and the captain announced that they had been granted permission to take the ferry to the Shining Fortress, but warned them that the ferryman would demand a toll of each of them. When asked what the toll was, he said that it was different for every passenger. The party waited for the ferry to return, discovering from the captain that they had arrived at the Woodsman’s Gate, so named for a heroic woodsman who had defended the folk of the forest in the natural world from marauding gnolls at the sight of the Boar and Horn long ago. He was unable to shed any light on Kaethel other than that the elf had indeed passed through here and that he was known to the realm. He had been ferried across the moat not long before the party arrived, which was why they now had to wait for the ferry to return.

The Ferryman

After twenty minutes or so, the party watched as the ferry returned to the landing on the island. It was a simple affair, little more than a large wooden raft or barge. The Ferryman appeared to propel the vessel by heaving it along a thick rope tied off at either end. As it pulled up to the landing, the group gazed upon the Ferryman himself. He was a tall humanoid figure, skin of silvery grey and hairless. His eyes were deep pupil-less pools of blue and he had an expression that belied neither hostility nor kindness. He was clad in a simple kilt and sturdy boots. The party embarked and silently, the Ferryman began his labour, pulling the barge out across the moat.

As they reached the mid-point of the moat, the Ferryman stopped and turned to face them. In a deep, resounding voice, he spoke:

“The time has come to pay your toll. I will speak to each of you individually. Do not interrupt. Consider your answers carefully, for the Great Moat is as deep as it is wide.”

He turned first to Brother Otto, who felt a gentle probing of his thoughts, but did not resist.

“Brother Otto, your heart is righteous, yet you overvalue yourself. Your masters have told you to find humility, show me what you have learnt. If you desire passage, you must answer me this question: What is the greatest strength a being can have?”

Otto was a little taken aback by this seeming riddle, but cast his mind back through his experience over the past couple of weeks. Thinking of Athram the Mason, he spoke about the willingness to serve and protect others and finally came to the conclusion that understanding one’s own weaknesses was the greatest strength.

The Ferryman paused a moment and declared, “Your answer is … satisfactory.”

Next he turned to Helenas. Helenas was less receptive to his probing, trying to hold him out. He impassively stated, “Your unwillingness to cooperate is noted,” and then continued:

“Helenas Olara, your heart is pure, but you refuse to open it. If you cannot trust those around you, then you leave little reason for them to trust you. If you desire passage, you must tell me the story of one of the figurines you carry.”

Helenas thought for a moment, reluctant as always to share her own stories, but realising the gravity of the situation reached into her belongings and produced the smallest of her figurines.

“This is my child, whose father perished in the sea and whose first breath was also his last.”

Her companions stared wide-eyed at the revelation for a moment by catching themselves before the Ferryman spoke again.

“Your answer is … satisfactory.”

He turned halfway towards Orimine and then caught himself, looking ever so slightly up and to her side.

“Lukin, your heart is also pure, but you are conflicted. If you desire passage, you must tell me why your service to Orimine Leviathan der Infernal pains you so.”

Lukin looked at Orimine with guilt in his eyes.

“My lady Orimine serves the Winter Queen as do I and I believe her to be a worthy master, but I feel she is still loyal to her people, who have done my kin great harm in the past and will surely do so again. I dread that the day will come when she must make a choice between my people and hers and what her decision will be.”

His gaze fell to his shoes as the Ferryman gave his response, “Your answer is … satisfactory.”

Finally, the Ferryman turned to Orimine, who was experiencing a peculiar sensation, sympathy, for her new companion, but quickly refocused knowing that her toll was due. She did not resist as the Ferryman touched her mind.

“Orimine Leviathan der Infernal, your heart is whimsical, your loyalties divided and many of your kind number among the enemies of my lord. If you desire passage, I require from you a resolution formed of your own free will, but meeting with my approval and bound by your word and the power of my lord.”

The tiefling stammered a little over her answer, uncomfortable with the concept of making promises, but thinking of Lukin, her father and her new friends, she came to a decision.

“I will temper my actions against my people’s natural instinct towards evil and corruption, instead aiming for the greater good and the prosperity of the many so long as it is within my power to do so.”

After a slightly longer pause, the Ferryman gave his now familiar response:

“Your answer is … satisfactory.”

Turning back to his work, he resumed heaving on the rope and before long, the ferry pulled up to a small landing at the foot of the Shining Fortress.

What the angels don’t see

Upon landing, the party were met by a small welcoming committee – a human in simple robes, an elvish knight protector and a human paladin. The paladin stepped forward and introduced herself as Bethra Longbraid and her companions as Guardman Viala and Steward Arno. Bethra offered them lodgings to recuperate from their journey, frustrating Helenas with further delays in their pursuit of Kaethel. She apologised profusely, seeming almost embarrassed to not be more helpful, but explained that there was a way of doing things here and that she would do her best to plead their case to the planetar, an angelic commander, of the district. Reluctantly, the group agreed to wait until the morning. Guardsman Viala and Steward Arno showed the group to their simple, but comfortable accommodations.

When the morning came around, Bethra arrived bright and early with her husband, Harian, a somewhat dishevelled looking human wizard. She told them that she would be going to see the planetar and that Harian would be able to show them around in the meantime. Helenas observed that Bethra and Harian appeared somewhat different from the other people they had encountered here thus far, which Harian confirmed, explaining that most of the people on the disc were petitioners, the souls of the dead from the natural world that had found their way to the deity that befitted their life. Here in the Shining Fortress, he continued, they were in most ways similar to how they had been in life, but with a stronger influence of Varun and his realm.

Harian and Bethra, on the other hand, had both been born in the natural world. Bethra had been rescued by an angel after her village was destroyed by savage humanoids. She was only five at the time and had spent the remaining 21 years of her life so far here in the Shining Fortress, training to be part of the forces of her saviour. Harian proclaimed that he had been drawn here by love. He explained that after some years of disc jumping, he had dreamt of Bethra and had come here to find her. Bethra blushed at his comments, but regaining her composure, she told them she needed to be off to plead their case and took her leave.

Harian was a happy and willing guide, explaining that though he was content here, it could sometimes be a bit dull spending his days among Varun’s faithful. He did, however, have one favour to ask. He explained that Varun and those who served him here in the Shining Fortress were blind to the actions of the Winged Guardian’s brother, Valax the Jailer, not just figuratively, but quite literally. He told them that Bethra’s long stay here had blinded her too and that even he, who had only been here about five years was starting to lose the ability to perceive Valax’s servants, but that he believed they were stealing from his personal library. He asked them to help him to locate the thieves if they could.

As he talked, he walked them to his library. As he reached the library, he found the door forced and the interior ransacked and he cursed under his breath. Though Helenas was still frustrated about not being able to follow Kaethel, the group agreed to help Harian and started by examining this latest crime scene. Their search turned up two things. First, Otto found a scrunched up piece of paper. Unfolding it he found a note addressed to Helenas. He handed it to her and she read:

Dear Helenas,

My apologies for my coy behaviour in our last couple of encounters. I wish I could explain to you why it had to be that way, but the time will come when we have the chance to discuss what has passed and will come.

As a gesture of apology and friendship, I leave for you my viol. It is a truly special instrument into which I have poured my heart and soul. I believe you are the player to truly bring out its potential.

It also responds well to the discs. I recommend you try playing Silver and Steel while you are here in the Shining Fortress.

Yours in song and truth,
Kaethel Lonair

The viol was nowhere to be found, but the second piece of evidence was a piece of darkcloth caught on the door, a material used by the denizens of the Underdark, the underground realm of the natural world. It had an iron grey glow to it. Asking Harian about this, he suggested that from what he knew of Valax and his faithful, they may well be looking for duergar – dark dwarves that dwelt in the deepest places in the world and were infamous as slavers.

Thinking about where duergar might dwell were they here in the Shining Fortress, the party decided to head into the nearest crafting district and from there to look for a tavern. Sure enough, their investigations proved fruitful instantly. A trio of dwarves sitting around a table bore the same iron grey glow through Orimine’s monocle as the piece of cloth.

Deciding not to engage the dwarves in such a public place, the party waited for them to leave and then Orimine asked Lukin to follow them as quietly as possible. They headed from the tavern to a small residence not far from the crafting district, but it seemed they may have noticed their tiny pursuer, because Lukin reported that within the house, they were preparing themselves for combat.

Helenas decided to try and trick them into letting her in. While Harian drew the attention of the locals away, she went to the door and called out a name. After a pause, one of the dwarves replied to her, attempting to play along with whatever was going on. The conversation continued in this manner for some time. Helenas went to the window and saw that inside, the dwarves appeared to believe she couldn’t see them. Finally, she tried the door and finding it unlocked, went inside.

The dwarves sprung their “ambush”, calling out that “The bugs will be pleased!” but not quickly enough as Otto charged to the aid of his half-elf friend. Lukin meanwhile smashed a window to give Orimine a clear shot from outside.

One of the dwarves used his inborn ability to enlarge himself to near the size of an ogre, but the room was too small for the other to do the same. Another turned invisible, while the third desperately fumbled to strike back after Otto’s flurry of blows. As Orimine sniped from the window, Helenas discovered that the dwarves were resistant to her psychic assaults and switched to some good old-fashioned swordplay, her rapier proving true to its target. Without too much trouble, the group had the three duergar down, their bodies seeming to explode into iron grey motes of light as they were slain.

In a chest at the back of the room, they discovered a trove of misappropriated weapons, tomes from Harian’s collection and amongst all of that, a beautiful viol, undoubtedly the one Kaethel had left for Helenas. At the bottom of the chest was a note with orders for the dwarves to steal what they could and take any mortals they could find prisoner. Their master said they would be taken back once they had enough of a haul. With the viol and tomes recovered, the party retreated to their accommodations to rest up a bit.

After a couple of hours, Bethra returned with word that she had managed to secure an audience for them in the morning. They agreed to dine at a nearby tavern with Bethra and Harian. Helenas found that even Varun’s petitioner’s found her music extremely pleasing, particularly when played on her new viol and the group learned a little more of the couple.

Not so safe in the realm of protection

Retiring after a pleasant enough evening, the party rested up before its meeting with the planetar. Before they had slept long, however, Orimine was roused through her telepathic link with Lukin. Sharing his view, she beheld three suspicious looking figures approaching their accommodations. One was clearly an elf, but wore a fanciful, mismatched set of clothing and a bandana on his head. The second was a human with a thin, drawn face, his nose and ears somewhat pointed and his front teeth somewhat oversized. Behind them was the most sinister of the three, a strange blue, chitinous insect-like creature. It instructed the human and elf to capture the party and turned back.

Orimine woke her companions and they readied themselves for their uninvited guests. As they picked the locks and made their way in, the group attacked, surprising the elf, though the human readied himself just in time. As the party moved to attack, his shape changed before their eyes into a hybrid rat-human form. Disgusted, Helenas cast a spell on it forcing it into fits of laughter that knocked it to the ground. The hideous laugh seemed to upset the elf, whose blows would not seem to land, but fortunately for him, his adversary, Otto, seemed to be just as off-put. The wererat managed to shake off the laughs, but Helenas continued to keep it off balance whispering maddening thoughts to it which caused it to crawl away in horror. Orimine, meanwhile had armoured herself with ice and was flinging eldritch blasts at the elf, while Otto kept him pinned down in hand to hand combat.

Suddenly, though, the elf, bloodied but still determined, seemed to find his rhythm. Swinging skillfully, he parried Otto’s blow and then swung in with three solid hits to the monk that dropped him to the floor, unconscious. The wererat, too, had regained control and charged in at Helenas, but her mockery was still enough to keep him swinging wide. Without their frontline warrior, things were looking a lot more deadly for Helenas and Orimine!

Helenas used a few bars of Steel and Silver to call forth high elf knight protector spirits to ward off the attacks on herself and Orimine, who had moved into combat with the elf. After being rewarded for his attack on Orimine with an icy blast, the elf elected to avoid a repeat of that, and moved to confront Helenas with his wererat companion. Helenas got Otto back on his feet with a healing word and put everything into defence as she backed away from the attackers, herself teetering on the brink of loss of consciousness. Finally, Orimine was able to put down the elf with a well placed eldritch blast and then it was one of Helenas’s knight protectors that struck the last blow against the wererat. Badly shaken, the party checked to make sure that the bite Orimine had received had not infected her with lycanthropy and collapsed back into bed to sleep through the rest of the night as best they could.

In the morning, Bethra and Harian escorted the not-so-well-rested party to a great hall where they were introduced to the planetar Gedrion, Commander of the 15th Battalion of the Shining Fortress. Gedrion was somewhat cold in his manner, but told them that Kaethel had exited by the portal to Trevalior and that he would allow them to exit by the same route. He also questioned them about their activities and hearing about the threat from the Eternal Battlefields said he would send his forces to assist the party and their allies in fighting the devils if they passage could be arranged.

With that, the party decided to move directly on to Trevalior. Bethra and Harian accompanied them to the portal and before they left, at Harian’s encouragement, Bethra handed Helenas a token, the wings of Varun wrapped around a rose, crafted in silver, which she requested be left at the site of her old village if they should ever find themselves there. With that, the party turned and marched through another portcullis, on their way to the capital …

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