Erathday, Marantus 13, 1018 A.G. – approaching Hammerfast by air
Ungus is riding the lovely Dragon Bitterstrike but for now the rest of us are still in the howdah, atop Tantron, enjoying fine Elven wine, Stonevein Stout, delicious meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables – all served by scantily clad men and women of several races, soft music surrounding us. Within a few minutes though, Gabbe sounds a proximity alarm and we depart the howdah. Groa mounts a large albatross sent by Melora, Kuiperia mounts a big raven sent by the Raven Queen and our old buddy Rampart the Stag arrives, beckoning Morthwyl to mount him. I quickly jump down on Tantron’s powerful neck, whispering last minute instructions to him. Just as we finishing mounting, the sky flashes with a bright, beautiful pale lavender light and we all feel our gods have bestowed the highest level of powers upon us. Not only that, but they have granted us the ability to summon either one new magic item or upgrade something we already possess. Thank you gods!
As we start flying around in circles, acquainting ourselves with our mounts and preparing for battle, Ungus shudders in fear – something is very wrong he says. Suddenly Groa and I feel hot, sweaty and feverish while Ungus and Morthwyl are feeling cold with creaky bones. Kuiperia feels fine – maybe it’s that freaky red eye in her head. Anyway, Ungus says he feels a deep, dark foreboding as he shakes all over. Just then I hear a loud commotion coming from inside the howdah as Ressilmae Starlight opens the door. He yells out “something is wrong! Hurry up and get back in here!” Me being the closest, I sigh, saying “what now” but scramble back up Tantron’s neck and enter the howdah. I see Tress is having some kind of seizure, squirming and rolling around on the floor, doing unnatural back flips, etc. Ressilmae doesn’t know what to do and asks me to restrain her. Just as I start to do that, the others arrive and help me hold her down and tie her up for her own safety. The other “kid”, Ace is over in one corner banging his head against the wall, screaming “it’s all her fault! I need to remember! I was just about to remember my father’s real name, then she made me forget! It’s all her fault!” Groa wraps her branches around the young Cambion boy’s shoulders and shushes him, calming him down. Bastion, as the good Squire he is, goes over to first calm Tress, then Ace, giving them both some refreshing watermelon juice. As Groa thanks Bastion and returns to me, I see one of her smaller twigs burst into flame. She’s lets out a small shriek and quickly puts it out. I also feel more feverish, the sweat dripping of the end of my nose. Kuiperia senses there is a powerful magic aura spilling in from the outside, coming from the southeast in the direction we are headed, more specifically coming from Hammerfast. Not good! Ungus shudders again and says something horrific will be happening within minutes. With the “children” under control now, Ressilmae urges us to go back to our mounts as we are getting close to the town. As the Dwarves remount, they report their fingernails are starting to turn to stone.
Back on our airborne mounts, we can now view Hammerfast on the horizon, horrified to see the city in smoke and flames. Kuiperia estimates it has been burning for several hours. Then we notice three shapes emerging from the flames, rising up into the sky. As they turn in our direction, I identify them as Wyverns. I also tell the others that I spotted something else in Hammerfast. As some of the smoke blew away, I caught a glimpse of two gargantuan Dragons – one Red and one Gold. Ungus and Bitterstrike fly forward on high alert, the three Wyverns approaching quickly now. Kuiperia flies over the center one and quickly kills it. I bloody and immobilize another while Morthwyl bloodies the third. While we are engaging in battle, Groa, Kuiperia and I notice the ground below us is literally one massive battlefield – or was – strewn with dead Dragons, Beholders and lizard-like creatures called Yuan-Ti, stretching all the way back to Hammerfast. Not much is moving down there – just the death throes of those not fortunate enough to die quickly. After Morthwyl kills his Wyvern with a second attack, there is only one left which Groa and Ungus quickly dispatch. Ungus then yells out to move quickly – fly down lower and circle around Hammerfast to get a better sense of what is happening. One of the first things we see is a small group of people in the park, standing around a tall, hefty flagpole which is jammed into the community well. Then we recognize it is our beloved Sir Captain Etupio Markelhay! And a group of the Torrians. Suspended upside down on the pole are two enormous, ancient Dragons – their throats slit and the last of their blood draining down the pole into the well. We also notice Hammerfast is covered with up to 100 bodies of dead creatures, strewn everywhere. Ungus says he can’t recall any battle of this magnitude in over a millennia. Looking at the Dragons, we identify them as Gharwar the Red and Cantarell the Gold. Seeing our shadows on the ground, Etupio turns around, looks up and greets us with “My lords and ladies, thank you for coming but you are too late. With the Blue Cloaks assistance, we have killed them all!” He reports that the Metallics attacked the Chromatics and then they finished them off. I find Etupio’s manner of speech a little troubling and I scowl. Kuiperia and Ungus also detect a false sense of bravado from Etupio – as if he is acting a part. I call out to Etupio, asking him to tell me what his parents called him when he was little. He responds by saying his real name is Ernesto but he doesn’t tell me his childhood nickname. (They called him “their little purple Unicorn”, after his favorite stuffed animal.) I now know that either this is an imposter or he is under the influence of some heavy mind control. Groa telepathically tells us there is a diabolical ritual going on here – the Ritual of Racial Annihilation. As we circle around we see people hanging in the hedges, their throats slit wide open, other burned and mounted on stakes. There is one person left alive and we know him. It’s Kendred, a Gnome High Priest at the Temple of Ioun – a member of the Council of Sages. A Torrian is just about to slit his throat as Groa teleports him away to her side. Etupio, angry that Groa did that, yells to us that it’s OK – everything is under control, they just need to finish off the last of the traitors. Looking at their tortured faces, we identify them as the Council of Sages. Morthwyl asks me to ask Gabbe where Etupio is but before I can do that, the imposter disappears. But Kuiperia uses her Gem of Seeing to locate him. She says he just slid down the pole into the well. Morthwyl, enraged, jumps off Rampart and charges the pole, cracking it. The Torrians, looking all shook up and confused, tell us they have been obeying their Captain Etupio but his orders have been strange. They report that Etupio claimed the Council were all traitors and made a deal with the Dragons. Morthwyl charges the pole again, knocking it down, the dead Dragons crashing into the hedges. Then he says he is going to jump down into the well after Etupio. But Kendred, in a weak whisper, tells Groa to tell him not to go down there – “he will fall right into deadly Dragon blood and die! Tell him I know a safer route.” So Groa quickly persuades him to stay put and asks Kendred about this safe route. He tells her he knows of an underground tunnel that can lead us there. Kuiperia tells us he is desperately sincere. He needs a minute to catch his breath and take a drink of water. While we wait, still circling on our mounts, the Dwarves report their fingers are now turning to stone and Groa and I are fighting our fevers almost to the point of passing out. We can also smell the foulest of odors coming out of the well, with a sense of dark, chaotic evil like nothing we have ever encountered before – and we have been to some pretty foul places! Kendred now says to trust him and directs us to fly across the town to a temple. We all land and dismount, then follow him into the temple, down some stairs and thru a tunnel.
Coming into a large chamber, we see blood dripping from the “well” in the ceiling, down into a massive pool of blood. Standing in front of us are two Snake Beasts which spot us immediately. On one side of the chamber is a huge Balor (Fire Demon) wielding a flame whip and on the other side is our old freaky, cigar-smoking nemesis – Tick Tock who is chanting, along with the Balor who we instinctively feel is Tarnhem. Kuiperia moves first, quickly strolling down the center between the Snake Beasts and attacks the Balor and then goes invisible. The Balor, stopping his chanting, focuses his glowing red eyes on the spot where she disappeared and calls out: “Daughter, why are you doing this? Of all my three children, I am most proud of you. Join me and together we can rule the world!” He then says he is the reason the Dwarves are turning to stone and the Fey creatures will burn up from the inside out. Kuiperia tells us he is speaking truthfully. Well I am burning up, so I know he is right. But what’s this daughter shit?? Groa tells us the ritual has been completed and the only way to now stop it from its fulfillment is to kill these creatures and then ask for Gabbe’s intervention. So we proceed to do that!
We all work together, battling these things as Etupio the Doppelganger appears and joins in attacking us. During the battle we are all bloodied at some point and various conditions placed upon us. But Ungus keeps healing us – even as he dies twice and resurrects himself. Groa also dies once but pops back up, stronger than ever. At one point Tarnhem, sensing his imminent doom, again calls out to Kuiperia to help him, join him and rule the world. Kuiperia tells him “no thank you!” but realizes that yes, in fact, Tarnhem is her sire. After killing the Snake Beasts, we focus on Tick Tock and Tarnhem. Morthwyl charges Tick Tock killing him after which we take his cigars. Now we gang up on Tarnhem, throwing him into the pool of blood, knocking him prone and kicking his ass! Morthwyl gets in the massive killing blow which splatters his remains all over the chamber and us, causing us more pain and suffering. It kills Groa but she resurrects herself again. As we are wiping the Balor’s rotting flesh from our faces, we hear a hollow, echoing voice growl out: “You can never kill a Demon, you just send them back to the Abyss!” Now Groa and I start burning up, our skin and bark glowing red as we howl in pain. The Dwarves are turning to stone, not able to move or speak, they look pleadingly at Groa who quickly calls for Gabbe’s assistance. Gabbe’s voice in our minds asks if we trust her. What kind of question is that after all we have been thru??!! Of course we trust you! She tells us we must channel all our powers thru her. As we watch in amazement a surge of power emanates from each of us, joining into one brilliant blue beam which rises up thru the ceiling and continues on to Gabbe. She absorbs all our powers, combines it with hers and sends a massive 500 feet burst in all directions, snuffing out the ritual, neutralizing the necrotic pool of blood and killing all enemies left alive in the vicinity including the Doppelganger. But the price we paid was being stripped of every single one of our powers and all our magic. We feel like newly arrived adventurers with no skills or talent. But look at what we have accomplished! As we make our way back above ground, however, we find the real Etupio and the Blue Cloaks all dead. I rush over to Etupio’s body, cradling his head, careful of his wounds. Our brave and dedicated Etupio. You were the wind beneath our wings. We will do everything we can in our now limited power to bring you back. For now, the Torrians place him in an ice house for safekeeping. Looking at Tress, we see she has come out of her seizure and has been restored to the complete and whole living goddess Avandra. She smiles upon us and restores basic powers to us. Ace looks at his sibling Kuiperia with a knowing smirk as Gabbe invites us to travel with her to the Plane of Dreams. With hugs all around, knowing we are going on our separate ways, we vow to reunite from time to time . . .