The Age of Worms

Session Sixty-Nine
In Which We Enter the Gauntlet

Freeday, 19 Reaping, CY 601

A week has passed since the party returned to Magepoint. Dragotha’s phylactery has been destroyed, but not before Jane was nearly driven insane by visions of Kyuss (remember Kyuss?) when she attempted to scry the dracolich. They have shopped and rested and prepared themselves as best they could. Jane even took a daytrip to the Isle of Tilagos where she once spent fifteen hundred years, and might again, and again for all she knew. She sought peace with the words she had read upon the vault, a message passed down through the centuries from the Order of the Storm.

Once on Tilagos Jane lay down upon the earth and cast tectonic communion, and upon completion of the ritualistic spell let the island swallow her so she might absorb its wisdom. She asked the silent question: How may I best honor the sacrifice of the Order?

She was overwhelmed with a flood of memory and emotion. Too many to parse, at first. Anguish and pain and loss and terror and fear and regret and on and on and on. Focusing her mind, she sent out tendrils of herself into the soil, latching on to fossils, gripping bone fragments, and absorbed them into her system. The memories and emotions faded into the background of her consciousness as a set of images tried to make themselves known to her. She came to envision the history of this conflict as an endlessly repeating cycle: Evil rises. Evil is imprisoned. Evil rises. Evil is imprisoned. Every time the Evil rises, hundreds of thousands become undead, poisoning the True Cycle, the Cycle of Life and Death. Every time Evil rises, none rise up with the will and the power to destroy it. Lock it away. Shut it away. Forget about it. Pass on. The Evil rises again. The Elves had the power, but lacked the will. The Order found the will but lacked the power. Kyuss exists only to create undead. He is supremely skilled at it. His minions are supremely skilled at it. As long as he persists, he will continue his mission. And eventually he will win. Because his Age is Foretold… Fore… you… you… there is something in you… something outside of… YOU… if it is within your power, you must find the will to break the cycle. Kyuss must be faced. He must be ended. End him and you do honor to ALL who died fighting him. End him and you begin the process of healing for all souls that were twisted and destroyed by him.

Jane accepted this edict into her soul without hesitation: End Kyuss. End the cycle. Fight the Good fight.

But then a shadow of doubt overcame her. It was rooted in regret, the feeling that she had strove so long for Balance when Balance was not what was needed but overwhelming love and goodness to counter what Kyuss will and has wrought, but it was nurtured in fear: if she has been an integral piece of this cycle, and the cycle is ended, is there even a place in the world remaining to her? Or is her fate tied to Kyuss in some irrevocable way?

Without Kyuss, does Jane Fury even exist?

The earth answered her: _ Prophecy has been broken. Fate has been shattered. Time has been ruptured. There is no longer a Waiting Age — there is only the unknown. If there is to be a place in the world for the Daughter of the Storm, she will be the one that makes it. With her will. And her power. And her choice. Who does the Daughter wish to be? The last of a long siblinghood dedicated to living in the world while protecting it? Or not? A living, breathing, vital member of a new siblinghood formed in youth, tempered by darkness, and striving for the light? Or not? Will she be sacrificial warrior or shepherd? Will she be memorial or an example? Will she merely correct the evils of the past, or will she be instrumental in lighting the fires of tomorrow? Sometimes the storm passes — sound and fury, then naught but memory. Sometimes the storm sets ripples in motion that are felt for days and years to come. The Order wished to do more for this world than simply to destroy. The Order sought to gather knowledge, to forge connections, to arm the future against the evils of the past, to teach, to love, to live. One way to truly honor the sacrifice of the Order would be for Jane Fury to honor the Order’s way and carry on its ideals. But the Order as it was is now truly gone, and perhaps a new trail must be blazed. Only Jane Fury knows what her place in the world must be._

Jane closed her eyes and released the ritual magic back into the earth. As she drew her next breath, she was overcome with calm certainty in her purpose. She would ponder her place in the world if and when she survived the coming battles. But until then…

…the Storm is Coming.

Starday, 20 Reaping, CY 601

Armed with mostly new gear (and some old gear restored by Tenser), the party plans its next move. All agree that their only real option is to destroy the dracolich as soon as possible.

With a discern location spell, Riddle discovers that Dragotha is currently located in the writhing sanctum of the Tabernacle of Worms below the Wormcrawl Fissure, and he wastes no time teleporting the party there. They appear on the floor of a massive canyon with sheer walls rising up miles overhead. There are clouds two and a half miles above them. Ahead, they can just make out a tremendous stalagmite that is swarmed by hundreds of pale, undead chimeras. They note the small keep atop a cliff to the left where the lillend supposedly keeps its residence. Oh and there’s the squat plateau where the lich makes monsters. And hey! Earth Cancer Gorge where the ulgurstasa oracle of Kyuss eats people. It’s like Disneyland up in here. The walls are all raked with giant-sized claw marks and feces, as if hundreds of giant-sized dragons had nested here for a time.

Suddenly, Riddle collapses, images flooding his mind: a mist-shrouded gorge where the ground looks as though stone has been boiled and everything is covered with a foul undead fungus, then an enormous pale worm creature, its head a tangle of eyes, its body shrouded in a haze of writhing filaments, and just as this worm lunges to consume Riddle, the images shifts to an older-looking gentlemen. He feels his sanity begin to slip but he is strong enough to resist it. As he returns to consciousness he feels as if something is trying to burst out of his chest, pulling him towards in the same directions as the spire of chimeras, and he knows this is some kind of ghostly materialization, though not any kind of normal one. Could it be the ghost of Balakarde?

Riddle teleports the party to the edge of the Earth Cancer Gorge, trusting the pull will lead him where they need to go. He casts fly on Archie and then teleports both of them to scout the other side of the massive Gorge to figure out the next step. Both of them spot a forty-foot-wide gaping cave opening at the end of a little jut off the gorge, billowing out green mist and the sound of screaming. Riddle regroups the party, makes sure everyone can fly, and then teleports all of them inside that cave opening.

There is a schwumping, and the screams stop, and then the screams return, and there is schwamping. Then chittering. There are legs. And then six thirty-five-foot-long centipede explode out of the ground and the walls. Everyone is attacked. They have the party surrounded which makes it difficult for the party to focus fire. They are lightning fast and have terrific defenses but the party does manage to hurt it with fire and sneak attacks.

(But the outcome of the fight will have to wait until next time!)

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Session Sixty-Eight
In Which We Get What We Came For

Starday, 13 Reaping, CY 601

Using his favorite control winds spell, Riddle collects all of the marilith’s abandoned coin and gems together for easy retrieval by Tyrrell’s unseen servant.

Tyrrell listens at the big closed door, picking up on a low, male voice muttering to himself. Clearly the pitched battle outside his door was not interesting enough to rouse him, so the party surmises this is Vercinabex, the frost giant sorcerer, behind the door. As Tyrrell investigates the stairs down, Jane sends insect spies under the door into the frost giant’s room. According to them, Vercinabex is alone within the 60-foot-square room, holding an icy blue staff. Seeing no need to disturb him, she withdraws the insects spies and waits for the reconnaissance from Tyrrell.

At the bottom of the next set of stairs, Tyrrell is first struck by the giant keyhole in the room down there, and the desiccated giant corpses like giant liches. They don’t appear to be statues or animated dead, just some sort of fleshy construct. He flicks a coin behind one of them, but it elicits no response. He returns to the party so they can all go down the stairs together, under the slight protection of a mass owl’s wisdom from Jane, and with a wall of ectoplasm behind them in case Vercinabex decides to look into all the noise after all. Long Claw uses his ring of invisibility and Riddle casts blessings of fervor upon the group.

The moment Tyrrell crosses the threshold of the room below, the two giant corpses, known as “ raams”, animate and stare at the party. Riddle holds up one of the keys to the Vault and announces, “We have been given the keys to open the vault.”

The raams look at the doors, and Riddle continues, “Move aside.”

They do not. It seems to Riddle that they are saying, Do as you will.

Tyrrell takes the other key and the entire party moves towards the doors. They all feel their incredibly powerful auras of conjuration, abjuration, divination, and necromancy, beyond anything any of them have ever felt or imagined. On the left hand door, they see the image of hundreds of stone giants locked into combat with hundreds of worms. On the right hand door, there is an image of the Order of the Storm, standing on the edge of the sea facing a horde of oncoming monster. Jane experiences a dizzying moment as she recognizes herself illustrated upon the door. Written in Druidic, Jane reads:

“In requiem:

That which would corrupt
The natural order
Of life and death

Is Evil.

Evil must be fought
At any costs,
This is the wisdom of the Order,
Accepted too late.

Balance is a myth,
The great lie
Told to nourish
The forces of darkness
And pardon
Those who should stand,

And fight.

The Order fought,
Sometimes well,
Sometimes foolishly.
Twice, regrettably.
But the Order fought.

We lived.
And now we die
All creatures
In all of creation,
Great and small,
Deserve no less.

We sisters, three, pray this day.
We pray for the coming of our Daughter.
For her strength
And her sacrifice.

But we stand proud
Knowing that
Our souls were already saved
Before her sacrifice.
We saw the light of truth.
We hid not.

We lived.

And now we,
Like our Order,
Die.

Know, you that stand here,
This cradle was sealed
To save a world.

This cradle,
If opened,
Will unleash
The end of an Age.

There is no Treasure here,
This is only a Burden:
A Burden too great to carry.
Do what you must,
If you can,
While you can,
But know that
If you cross this threshold,

Darkness follows.

May you be strong enough to fight it.

To enter the cradle,
Do honor to the Order
And speak their names:
Four who gave their flesh;
Three who gave their minds;
Two who gave their hearts;
And one, the greatest of us all,
Who led the way
And showed us
The light.”

Jane proceeds to name the four, the three, the two, and the one, members of the Order all, and there is a sudden blast of energy coming from the door. They all feel as though a great weight has been lifted from their psyche…even as they hear the roar of dozens of dragons arage in the distance. When the keys are inserted, the raams attack.

Riddle blasts one of them with a heal spell as Tyrrell turns invisible to sneak attack the other, and with both of their fear auras exploding into full effect, the first slams Riddle right back, draining his strength and causing him to collapse. The other one swings at Tyrrell twice and misses. Jane summons an empowered fire snake through both of them and heals Riddle as Long Claw blasts them both with positive energy. Archie drops one of them and Scar-Eater the other.

With the raams dispatched, Riddle and Tyrrell hurry to open the vault doors and reveal a massive chamber carved out of the stone of a stalagmite. Before them stands a dragon statue bearing the ruby red phylactery within. The party enters the room, with Long Claw flying into the shadowy ceiling above, and the sounds of distant explosions are heard.

Scar-Eater tells the others that both the phylactery and the dragon’s rib cage are radiating magic, but he can only identify a weak aura of transmutation on the ribs. As the party approaches the statue and all reach out to embrace phylactery, Long Claw—the only one whose bare flesh (or in this case talons) is touching it—screams as it attacks his very psyche with visions of madness and rage. Riddle casts alter fortune, staggering himself to give Long Claw a second chance to resist the invasion, which he does, and then Riddle attempts to teleport the entire party away while they clutch the phylactery, but the spell fails.

Then Brazzemal the Burning transmutes rock to mud and tears away the wall to this now-defenseless chamber.

Jane summons an extra surge of power and hits Brazzemal with a finger of death spell, which he resists but first blood is still drawn. Archie’s dragonbane arrows all seem to ping off of something invisible, and the dragon retaliates by showering the entire party twice: first with his frightful presence (to which Jane succumbs, until Riddle alters fortune), and then with a blast of flame (which then knocks Jane prone). The party is now submerged in lava. Scar-Eater takes a fair bit of burning damage before he can get off the platform, but manages to dispel some of Brazzemal’s protections with a dispelling touch through his flail before turning invisible. Long Claw also takes lava damage and attempts to pull Riddle and Tyrrell to safety, but he draws an attack from the dragon which kills him—until Riddle again alters fortune and causes the dragon to have missed the griffon in the first place. Long Claw invokes his aura of justice again and all focus its granted ire on Brazzemal. Tyrrell buffs himself and draws his lightning sword and Riddle attempts to curse the dragon, but it is too powerful.

Jane shifts into her fire elemental form, moves, and designates Brazzemal as the target of her smite. Archie burns as he retreats from the lava, and he goes about methodically dispelling figment after figment of the mirror image, and the dragon targets Scar-Eater with some kind of spell meant to drive the duskblade permanently insane. Scar-Eater resists, and then goes about dispelling more images until they are gone, and then something else that he could not identify. Long Claw lays hands on both himself and Riddle, restoring Riddle from the effects of his time-warping spell. Tyrrell takes flight, hoping to catch the dragon by surprise, while simultaneously staying clear of its reach. Riddle casts a spell to protect himself, Long Claw and Archie from fire and then blast Brazzemal with a cold ice strike, but the dragon seems unfazed.

Safe from the flames, Jane reverts back to her human form and casts umbral strike on Brazzemal, getting at least a little bit of damage through its protections, and then Archie strikes it with arrow after arrow after arrow. They figure something must be getting through because Brazzemal uses his next turn to heal himself. It isn’t enough, though, to withstand Scar-Eater’s multiple enervated strikes, and from there it is only a matter of keeping the party alive until Archie can send another volley of arrows at it in its weakened state.

With Brazzemal defeated there is still the matter of the anti-teleportation effect to deal with, because retreating from this place with the phylactery is not an option. Archie manages to get some skin and two rings from Brazzemal’s body and Jane manages to dampen the effect with a greater dispel magic long enough for Riddle to teleport the party back to Magepoint.

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Session Sixty-Seven
In Which a Much Needed Rest is Rudely Interrupted, and Riddle Makes a Terrible Mess of a Wasp’s Nest

Waterday, 12 Reaping, CY 601

With the party severely hurt and depleted there is little option but to barricade themselves into Kagro Thundersmiter’s elevated room for a long rest. They aren’t more than a couple of hours into Long Claw’s first watch when he is surprised by the entire wooden trap door collapsing beneath him in a roar of flame. He finds himself sitting on the floor below, facing off against five fire giant grunts with their bows trained and drawn upon him, a twelve-headed pyrohydra, and what can only be Bram Cleftshank, denizen of the Citadel whom the party learned of via speak with dead: a “mighty warrior, dragon slayer, and dwarf crusher.”

Long Claw absorbs every arrow attack while the rest of the party stirs from rest. He pauses quickly to lay hands on himself before attacking the pyrohydra full force and ducking out from under the trap door. The pyrohydra retaliates upon him with equal ferocity until Riddle, jolted from sleep, summons a wall of ectoplasm between Long Claw and the beast, giving the golden griffon the chance to fly up with the others out of the way and to heal himself again. Meanwhile, the presence of the ectoplasm shakes the pyrohydra, who tears and tears at the wall until it disappears. Acting quickly despite just being woken, Jane releases her prepared sirocco spell in exchange for the darker umbral strike and unleashes it on the pyrohydra for a devastating amount of damage. All twelves heads the pyrohydra are blinded by the spell, leaving it vulnerable to a volley of arrows from Archie, a brutal enervation from Scar-Eater, and finally, a cold ice strike from Riddle that destroys it.

Long Claw, fresh off another use of lay on hands, attempts to fly down and attack Bram Cleftshank, but the giant is ready for him and delivers harsh blows. Long Claw manages to get a swing in, but Cleftshank barely seems to register the blow. Tyrrell vanishes and slips to the floor to try to take some of the archers out of commission, but they manage to drop Long Claw anyway. Jane casts an extended spider climb on Scar-Eater so he can turn invisible and move directly over Cleftshank’s head for a big hit with his imbued flail, but Cleftshank seems to shrug off most of the damage.

Riddle uses breath of life on Long Claw from a distance as Cleftshank summons the spear he threw at Long Claw into his hand, triggering a readied response from Archie, who just manages to disarm him again. Cleftshank draws both his battleaxe and a handaxe, both of which burst into flame, and he takes Long Claw down again in one hit. The fire giant archers, now harried by Tyrrell, find themselves with limited options, but they do manage to put an arrow each into Tyrrell and Archie. Tyrrell bloodies one of them in response as Jane heals Long Claw back to full strength. Archie takes out one of the archers and then turns his attention to Cleftshank, just as an invisible Scar-Eater executes a catastrophic series of blows on the big guy, all with touch of idiocy channeled into his flail. Riddle senses an opportunity and urges the others to seize it, calling out in Vaati (Abyssal), the only language he is capable of speaking during battle, “If anyone speaks Giant, tell the others to stand down!”

Though Long Claw and Tyrrell continue to attack the brutalized Cleftshank, and no one in the party speaks Giant, Archie drops to the ground, makes eye contact with one of the fire giants, and slowly lowers his bow. The fire giants seem to understand and accept this gesture of truce. And now that the combat has ended, Riddle has his full facilities back. He addresses the giant, letting them know that their leader would heal in time, and they express perfectly willingness to tell him whatever he wants to know before he even has to threaten them.

They reveal that they are not usually allowed in the vault, and that a frost giant named Vercinabex is down there. They urge Riddle to seek his counsel (rather than theirs). The party forms and executes a plan to send Cleftshank to the cavern floor as they did Thundersmiter, with one of these fire giants along to protect him. The party returns to their rest.

Starday, 13 Reaping, CY 601

Following the fire giants’ instructions, and after boosting themselves as needed, the party moves through the dining hall and down a long set of curving stairs, deep into the heart of the Citadel. They come to a a landing with a giant-sized door ahead, another set of stairs going down, and a large room to the left with an open door. In the room to the left wafts the scent of incense, and Scar-Eater and Long Claw catch glimpses of silken accoutrement within.

And then suddenly a 20-foot-long snake covered in spines and with six arms appears out of nowhere.

This creature, a demon called a marilith, summons a blade barrier where Long Claw is standing at the bottom of the stairs. Archie moves into position to put an arrow in her, but it seems to shrug off most of the damage. Long Claw summons his aura of justice and charges her for a brutal attack, eliciting a horrific scream from her. Then the great griffon does something that appears very strange to his companions: he folds his wings down, turns his back on the marilith, and tries to touch the blade barrier on purpose, just as Jane succeeds in dispelling it. Scar-Eater charges her invisibly with a scorching ray and deals what seems like an exorbitant amount of damage. She screams in agony, but remains in the fight. Tyrrell vanishes and moves to the far corner, looking around keenly. Riddle, thinking Long Claw has somehow been bewitched, attempts to dispel his ally, but only manages to rid Long Claw of his own haste.

Watching Archie pelt the marilith with seven powerful attacks that should take the marilith down but don’t, Jane casts glimpse of truth and understands what is really happening: the marilith is an illusion, but there is a tiny little wasp in the next room that is the true marilith. Jane points down the hall and calls to the others, “IT’S THE WASP!”

Scar-Eater attempts to dimension hop the illusory marilith into her own blade barrier but it doesn’t work. Tyrrell searches for this wasp Jane is talking about, but failing to spot it, he tumbles adjacent to the false marilith and prepares to defend himself against her six-armed attacks. Riddle steps up and attempts to use control winds to blow everything in the far room towards the blade barrier, but the wasp resists the spell. The illusory marilith waves her arms and, using telekinesis, blast Scar-Eater back into the blade barrier. Long Claw looks quizzically to Jane, then down the hall, then back at Jane, who furiously nods back at him that that is indeed where the true threat lies. Archie waits to see what Riddle will do before wasting any more arrows, and Jane takes the opportunity to sharpen his sense with a spell.

Riddle releases the winds and teleports the entire party into the wasp room. He then casts spiritual weapon, which affords Archie the opportunity to see the wasp as it tries to avoid Riddle’s spell. He fires arrow after arrow into the wasp until it disappears, right along with the illusion.

And that, as they say, is that.

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Session Sixty-Six
In Which Tyrrell Ventures Into the Mouth of Madness

Waterday, 12 Reaping, CY 601

After reviewing the party’s collective knowledge about carrion crawlers (none of it particularly awesome), Jane casts echolocation in an effort to suss out more about the cavern they are facing. Twenty feet above, on top of the cage, there is a another closed door, with hinges built into the bottom of the cliff face. The party surmises that this entire cage device is not an elevator to the depths below, but a trap.

Below, the undefinably huge, unnatural thing Jane sensed earlier lurks, along with the second key to open the Vault. Based on Jane’s description of the cavern, Riddle prepares to teleport the party down. Several magical buffs are cast, including nearly half an hour’s air walk on everyone. Riddle brings the entire party to a height of sixty feet above the cavern floor.

Everyone is immediately overwhelmed by… something that threatens their very physical being, but all of them manage to shrug it off without any apparent negative effect. Soon everyone realizes that although they are all hovering in mid-air there is something touching their faces—colors, smells—oh, hey wait that’s fungus. Wet, hallucinogenic fungus. It does seem as though this is going to be a terrible problem, with everyone holding their breath to avoid inhaling it, but a sudden windstorm blasts all the fungus away before these concerns can even register. No sooner has Riddle cleared the fungus than more starts to fall around the party.

And then there is a never-ending wall of pulsing purple flesh.

This thing is so huge that they can only see little pieces of it at a time. It’s like a literal tower of purple flesh. It is a colossal-plus-sized worm that is moving downward, out of their range of vision, easily fifty or sixty feet across. Talons peek out of its wormy flesh. It is wrapped all the way around this room, and the party has just teleported in here with it.

Long Claw gets the first attack, throwing everything he’s got it, and managing to not hurt it at all. Jane activates her winged boots and spectacularly fails to cast fire storm defensively. Tyrrell staves off the fungus effect and then turns invisible, leaving Riddle to wonder how we’ll ever know if he manages to continue resisting the fungus. Scar-Eater also turns invisible. Riddle tries to fails to both cast locate object and to redirect the spiritual weapon he fired up earlier to attack the Mother Worm. Jane tries yet another spell that fails to affect her, and the party begins to readjust its plan. She is twenty feet above the party, but there is nowhere her tentacles cannot reach them. They abandon the idea of killing her, and focus on just getting the key, staying alive, and getting back out.

Tyrrell tries to stab at one of its eyes, at the end of one of its tentacles, but misses. Scar-Eater manages to deal a little bit of damage with his doom scarabs and goes invisible again.

Riddle’s second attempt to cast locate object succeeds. Now we’re getting somewhere. The key is inside of the Mother Worm’s body, about fifty feet above the party’s current location. As a distraction, Jane begins casting call lightning storm. The Mother Worm seems tired of the party by now and begins attacking the only ones she can see, paralyzing Riddle and Archie, and pummeling Jane with damage.

By his third attempt to do anything to the Mother Worm, Tyrrell has figured out that he cannot possibly damage it, and if he’s going to be useful in this endeavor, he’s going to have to find another way to contribute. Scar-Eater manages to hit it with doom scarabs again and the paralyzed Riddle dimension hops next to Jane, trying to bring the party closer in together. Long Claw neutralizes the poison affecting Riddle and channels positive energy to heal everyone a bit. Jane finishes her previous spell, dealing a bit of lightning damage to the horrific creature and then casts freedom of movement on Archie, just in time for the Mother Worm to spit a disgusting line of digestive juices directly at him.

Then Tyrrell flies into the creature’s mouth.

The party keeps the Mother Worm occupied while Tyrrell retrieves the key and then shadow walks back outside. He appears about a hundred feet away from the party but that is considerably less far away than he could have appeared. He moves closer and becomes visible. “I have the key,” he announces. “How can we get out of here??” By then, however, Riddle is unconscious and bleeding out. Jane and Long Claw work together to restore him as the rest of the party gathers together, taking another devastating round of attacks from the Mother Worm. Then Tyrrell gets into range and Riddle teleports them back to Kagro’s chambers in the Citadel, mission accomplished.

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Session Sixty-Five
In Which We Mess With Giant Politics

Waterday, 12 Reaping, CY 601

The party distributes the fallen giants’ goodies amongst themselves, including a mantle of faith that will protect Tyrrell from damage that is not evilly aligned, a ring of resistance +3 for Scar-Eater, and a cape of the mountebank for Archie, granting him use of dimension door once per day. There is some potion distribution as well and then the party regroups. They have managed to take over the top two floors of the Citadel without anyone except those who were there knowing about it. Outside, the dragon/giant battle rages.

Since the party knows the second key is with Charlgar, Riddle casts divination for more information, while Jane skins Necrozyte’s finger for a potential treasure map.

In Kagro’s room, as Riddle attempts to cast his spell, a voice in his head chimes in: Isn’t this a terrible idea? Won’t that inadvertently result in the Vault being opened? Riddle manages to resist the compulsion to leave alone anything to do with the Vault. He asks, focusing primarily on Itifaar and a bit on Ahlissa “Do we need to get the second key or can we open the Vault with just one?”

Itifaar replies: Your quest has begun, now it continues.

Ahlissa says: Open the vault and the ward will end, all will know.

Itifaar: It continues with the Betrayer.

Taurah: Slay him and end his insurgency now.

Jane attempts a greater scrying on Charlgar, while Archie checks the stairs down to a 20-by-100-foot room. There are closed doors in every wall, and listening to the closest one, Archie hears nothing beyond. Across the room, however, kitchen-type sounds can be heard, reassuring him that the Citadel is not currently on alert. Behind a giant-sized door on the far wall to his left, Archie hears the unmistakable grunting, clawing and steaming of the pyrohydra the party has heard so much about. There is also another set of stairs going down from that room. Archie and Tyrrell rig up a sort of early warning system as this room seems to be a place where anyone would come from if they were headed the party’s way.

As they did with Riddle, the voices in Jane’s head make every effort to get her to not to do what it is she’s trying to do. She tells them, firmly, and with the full force of the Order of the Storm behind her, “It’s time.”

Meanwhile, Riddle attempts to speak with the fallen female giant, whose corpse tells him all of the giants are on lockdown until the dragon attack ends, that the Vault is three or four floors down from the party’s current location, that between here and there are slave facilities and entrance defenses, as well as Bram Cleftshank and his pets, including his cube. Riddle gently advises the corpse, “Your watch is ended,” and promptly casts the spell again on the other corpse, from whom he gets a little bit more information about Cleftshank and the cube.

Just as Jane feels her attempt to scry overcoming the resistance of the Vault itself, the spell fails anyway. Many ideas about next steps are discussed and discarded and then Jane goes outside using the ring of invisibility to commune with nature and perhaps get some more information. Again, she must overcome the voices in her head warning her away from tampering with the Vault in any way. A clearer picture of the layout of Kongen-Thulnir begins to form. Behind the Palace, there is a whole other massive interior cave complex, and another city back there where this King and his cohorts and armies have seasled themselves away. This undercity is roughly the same size as the common area of the upper city and there is lots of construction on it, except where there is just a massive cavern, somewhere several hundred feet below, with access through a fissure in the back wall. Nestled within that massive cavern is something so horribly wrong, so wildly unnatural that it offends Jane’s senses just to perceive it. As usual, Jane’s commune registers Riddle and Tyrrell as powerful, unnatural creatures, along with a presence lurking at the front of the bridge leading to the Citadel, and another on the cliff wall between the upper city and the undercity (probably the fang dragon). She can also sense Brazzemal around the fortress, and something else down in the basement of the Citadel itself.

Jane attempts to scry Charlgar again and succeeds this time. She peers into a once-organized living chamber that has been torn apart, all its furniture swept aside, huge piles of furs being used as bedding, even bones strewn about the room. Skulking in the corner, with a look of madness on his face, there is an enormously muscular hill giant who looks as though he has been on the bad end of a couple of terrible battles. He has wrapped a filthy bedsheet around the bottom half of his face. Chewing his fingers, fondling a greataxe, Charlgar sits, heavily armored in banded mail, wearing a massive belt, surrounded by a pile of carrion crawler heads, he looks nothing less than cagey.

The party develops a plan, trading gear and buffing each other as needed, and soon teleports to Charlgar’s chamber. Tyrrell manages to get the jump on the giant and holds up the key. “We’re here to help,” he says, revealing the small flaw in the party’s plan: Tyrrell does not speak Giant.

Riddle does, however, and a makeshift translation game of bluff, diplomacy and intimidation unfolds. “Here to help?” Charlgar asks. “How?”

“We want to protect the keys,” Riddle/Tyrrell says. “We want to take them far, far away. We want to prevent the dragons from getting into the Vault.”

Charlgar considers this. “Kagro allows this?”

Tyrrell shrugs. “Why else would I have the key?”

“Is Kagro dead?”

“Kagro,” the dynamic duo explains quite persuasively, “lives in shame. He is no longer in command. He has been cast out of the Citadel.”

Charlgar hums as he considers this news.

“But we must take the keys away or the dragons will destroy the Citadel.”

“The Citadel is mine,” Charlgar announces. He stands and juggles a carrion crawler head. “Take key and live. Citadel is mine.” He points to another door and the party assumes this is where the second key that will open the vault housing Dragotha’s phylactery.

“Citadel is yours,” Riddle/Tyrrell reply.

As soon as Charlgar is gone, Riddle casts locate object to find the key, but because the forces surrounding the vault have convinced him this is such a bad idea, the spell fails. He tries it again and manages to push the voices back this time. The key appears to be within the range of the spell, about one hundred feet below the party, sort of…over there. They open the door Charlgar pointed to, revealing a cage of iron grillwork beyond. Through the gaps in the cage, only darkness is visible. There is a five-foot-side opening in the wall above.

Outside the cage, thousands of carrion crawlers writhe.

View
Session Sixty-Four
In Which Archie Reminds Us What We’ve Been Missing All This Time

Waterday, 12 Reaping, CY 601

Necrozyte swoops in to shower the party with acid once more. Riddle’s wall is completely coated with acid but then begins to rebuild itself, which is very cool. The bit of bleed damage inflicted by Tyrrell a few moments earlier sets her up to plummet when Archie, back on solid ground again, pelts her with three more deadly dragonbane arrows. Long Claw dives after her corpse and manages to let gravity help him pluck the amulet of mighty fists +3 from around her neck as she falls.

Riddle opens the door and Scar-Eater enters, peering down a long hallway covered in swaths of dragonhide and other dragon trophies. There is a door to a parapet. It’s quiet in here. Scar-Eater waltzes around a corner and out of sight of the rest of the party, turning himself invisible. Jane shifts from Tempest to Fury and creeps after the duskblade. She spies two sixteen-foot-tall fire giants at the far end of the next hallway, both bearing carrior crawler heads, greatswords, and longbows. She pads back to the bulk of the party and pees a little to alert them to danger.

Tyrrell reactivates his invisibility with a Vanishing Trick and goes to the end of the corridor himself. He spies a giant-sized ladder in a short corridor, heading up. One of the fire giants at the end of the hall hurls a carrion crawler head where it last saw Scar-Eater while the other draws her longbow. Archie climbs up to the ceiling and moves into the corridor as Long Claw returns and lands beside Riddle, who wisely heals himself back to full and goes to the corner himself, drawing the readied arrow from the female fire giant like a moth to a flame. Scar-Eater sends his doom scarabs loose upon the fire giants as Jane shifts into her human form, moves to the end of the corridor and unleashes an ice storm upon them.

The male giant extracts himself from the now snowy terrain of the room at the far end of the corridor and draws his greatsword. He slashes Scar-Eater enough to seriously hurt him, and manages to dodge Archie’s arrow from the other end of the hall. Long Claw enters the Citadel and closes the doors behind him, hoping the party’s entrance has escaped the notice of the rest of the dragon army. Riddle heals Scar-Eater from afar as the female giant tumbles out of the icy room screaming, “ KAAAAAAGRO!” and Scar-Eater responds by attacking the crap out of the her with enervation channeled into his flail. Jane sends an empowered burst of nettles into both of the fire giants just as a third regal, badass fire giant comes sliding down the ladder. He doesn’t manage to do so without suffering a might sneak attack from the waiting (and invisible) Tyrrell, though. Riddle is charged, Archie continues to use the giants as pincushions, and Long Claw flaps his wings and snuffs all the torches in the hallway. Riddle sends several ¬_cold ice strikes_ at the enemies as Scar-Eater drains them with his vampiric touch. Tyrrell scores an AWESOME hit on Kagro, not only wounding him but draining him of strength as well. In a shocking move, Kagro grabs his cloak, twirls in a circle, disappears, and re-materializes behind the party!

The first fire giant attempts to escape by running down the stairs but he is thwarted by Scar-Eater, who trips and bashes him into unconsciousness. Archie disarms Kagro of his greatsword and then pelts him with more arrows on top of that. Long Claw charges Kagro and beyond bloodies him with a series of powerful blows, and just to add insult to injury, Riddle blinds him. Scar-Eater fells the remaining fire giant down the hall and Kagro growls, “Whaddaya want from me, dragonspawn?”

In the meantime, Tyrrell has scampered up the ladder to investigate (i.e., loot) Kagro’s private quarters.

Riddle demands that Kagro tell the party what awaits them lower in the castle (as Tyrrell uncovers a longsword fashioned from a dragon’s tooth upstairs). Kagro mentions a pyrohydra, traps, trained soldiers, kobolds, and a dining hall, but when it comes to discussing the vault where they believe the phylactery of Dragotha to be held, he insists he not only will not let anyone into the vault, but that he cannot. And while he is adamant about this, he does not appear to know what’s in there or why he must protect it. He also claims that he only has one of the keys needed to gain access, and that the other is in the Undercity, where Charlgar, ruler of the Rift Crawlers, must have taken it. He claims the vault lock is unpickable.

Long Claw attempts to remove whatever curse is keeping Kagro blindly protective of the vault, but it is far too powerful to touch, a leftover gift from the Order of the Storm. The party strips him of all his possessions, including his vault key, except one suit of plate mail, a greatsword, bow, and arrows, and Long Claw flies him to the bottom of the canyon so he will not get in the party’s way as they move through the Citadel. After dropping him off, Long Claw claims the ring of invisibility from Necrozyte’s corpse before rejoining his companions.

View
Session Sixty-Three
In Which we Catch Up with Archie and Plan Our Next Move, Only to Find Ourselves Smack Dab in the Middle of an Enormous Giant/Dragon Battle. Yay.

Starday, 8 Reaping – Waterday, 12 Reaping, CY 601

The party returns to Magepoint to sell, shop and plan their next course of action.

Waterday, 12 Reaping, CY 601

Archie continues to fill the rest of the party in on all he has learned about Kongen-Thulnir during their five-year absence from the Material Plane. There is a palace, a fortress, a tower, and an undercity of slaves. There is a mass of wire cables in the air – in other words, anti-dragon measures. He tells them of the Citadel of Weeping Dragons, suspended on a giant promontory. This is the place where the Order of the Storm commissioned giants to protect the phylactery of Dragotha in their vault. It is four-hundred-and-fifty miles from Magepoint. The discussion raises many questions about the phylactery, how to recognize it, how to destroy it, and even whether to destroy it.

Riddle offers to use his divination magic to seek answers from the Seven, though apparently the last time he did, there was some anger from the Seven, and some new, clear differentiation between the voices in response. He directs his questions to Itifaar: ”Where is the best place for us to appear in Kongen-Thulnir for the greatest chance of success in locating Dragotha’s phylactery?”

The response comes not in its usual chorus, but in separate voices:

Itifaar: Begin where you know it to be held
Taurah: SLAY ALL THOSE WHO STAND IN YOUR WAY
Itifaar: Those with rank live higher in the keep
Faruq: Learn the means of passage before you proceed
Ahlissa: YOU WILL NOT CONTROL ME IN THIS MANNER

Riddle moves on to a more traditional commune with Itifaar:

  • Have we met Dragotha personally?
    No.
  • Does Dragotha know who we are?
    Yes.
  • Is Dragotha searching for us now?
    No.
  • Could Dragotha’s phylactery be found without utilizing our personal knowledge of its location gained when we went to the Library?
    Likely only by something with a personal connection to it and centuries with which to accumulate resources.
  • Is Dragotha the only something that could find the phylactery in that way?
    Likely so.
  • Is Darl looking for us?
    No.
  • Is it in our best interest to destroy the phylactery?
    That depends on your goals.
  • If our goal is to save the world, is it in our best interest to destroy the phylactery?
    …there is no response.
  • If we find it, do we possess the means to destroy the phylactery?
    Yes.
  • Is Dragotha’s phylactery in the Citadel of Weeping Dragons in Kongen-Thulnir?
    …there is no response.
  • Are you unable to answer because Dragotha’s phylactery is hidden from your powers?
    Yes.
  • Is it in the top half of the Citadel?
    No.
  • Is it in the bottom quarter?
    …there is no response.
  • Is it below ground of the Citadel?
    …there is no response.
  • Will Ahlissa the Mystery ever open herself to change or will she choose to die off from this world?
    No.

That last one was a tricky question, to be fair.

The party teleports to a spot about halfway up the Citadel of Weeping Dragons. They arrive in a city in the midst of one of the most massive sieges in history. Kongen-Thulnir is being attacked by an army of dragons. There are dragons draped across the cables strung above the canyon. A entire cliff wall has collapsed. There are piles of dead giants. There is a colossal red dragon, six large black dragons, and six large green dragons making strafing runs around the tower while the bulk of the dragon army is focused on a single objective. The giants are catapulting carrion crawler heads in an effort to paralyze dragons in mid-air.

Scar-Eater recognizes the colossal red dragon as Brazzemal the Burning, who was once allied with the giant armies of King Snyr to raise Stericj. Scar-Eater also recognizes Xyzanth from the Griff Mountains, a Fang dragon, and an unamed Umbral dragon from the Plane of Shadow.

Scar-Eater is wondering why nothing is ever from the Plane of Hugs when Jane senses, perched above the party atop a tower sixty feet overhead, something massive. And invisible. She warns as many of her comrades as possible.

Tyrrell turns invisible and creates a shadow clone of himself that Archie apparently calls Nigel. He draws his sword of subtlety just as the enormous red-and-green-runed dragon appears overhead and bathes them all in a roaring bath of acid. Riddle and Scar-Eater take the worst of it and the dragon flies up even higher. Archie pelts the dragon with four dragonbane arrows, pissing her off mightily. Long Claw bestows his aura of justice on the party and Riddle protects them all from further acid damage. Scar-Eater recognizes this dragon as Necrozyte, a fiendish green dragon who was once in service to Tiamat before being exiled to the Material Plane where she hooked up with Dragotha. Jane tries to use her prayer beads to holy smite the dragon but is unable to penetrate her resistance.

Tyrrell bounds to the top of the pillar, where he is able to get a good invisible whack in on Necrozyte as she dive bombs the party and grabs Archie. She is unable to frighten anyone with her presence. Although it is precisely the sort of act that will make her drop him, Archie launches a full melee assault on her with his dragonbane arrows, dealing another basket of damage. Long Claw and Jane, now transformed into Athena, fly out in pursuit of her, hoping one of them might catch Archie when she inevitably drops him. Everyone prepares for their next attack as Necrozyte soars another one hundred and fifty feet away from them before she lets go of the ranger. Long Claw deftly catches him as Riddle teleports most of the party right to the doors they mean to use to enter the Citadel and then sends up a wall of ectoplasm to delay Necrozyte’s pursuit. Both Scar-Eater and Tempest fail to bash in the doors before Tyrrell calmly picks the lock.

View
Session Sixty-Two
In Which We Drink From the Fountain (a.k.a., Story Time with Uncle Buttons)

Sunday, 15 Fireseek, CY 596 (WhatEVER)

After Sayren-Lei yields, there is an expectant pause amongst the Wild Watchers. Sayren-Lei looks defiantly at the other two. Tylanthros simply stares back without emotion. Some sort of non-verbal communication seems to pass between them, then Sayren-Lei’s shoulders slump. “To atone for my outburst, I wish to offer – "

Tylanthros interrupts, “They are entitled to…”

“My elemental banners: they are yours to claim, if any of you might desire one. They can only be gifted to a specific person, but they are yours for the remainder of your life.”

Four members of the party step up to claim Sayren-Lei’s banners: Scar-Eater claims Air, Jane Fire, Tyrrell Water, and Long Fist Earth.

The four Wild Watchers – Tylanthros, Beskawahn, Thadimar, and Sayren-Lei come together and link hands. The obsidian portal stone shimmers and transforms into a remarkable obsidian fountain, its waters cool and sparkling with a rainbow of scintillating light. You all feel an immediate rush of nostalgia – for what, you don’t even know. None of you had childhoods you much cared about. In the case of some of you, you don’t even remember your childhoods. Yet still that emotion is there: a longing for things once known, things nearly forgotten.

Tylanthros speaks. “You have earned the right to return the lore of the Fountain of Dreams to the world. The work of the Order of the Storm is truly done now. The Age of Worms is upon us, and what the powers of old began so long ago now falls to you to complete – if you wish to do so. Drink deep and REMEMBER.”

They do.

Instantly, they are overwhelmed by a sudden rush of alien yet strangely familiar memories. The world around them swirls away into a vortex of lightning and wind, fire and rain, ending in…utter darkness and nothingness.

For several moments, they drift in silence. Only moments, yet long enough to feel the cold perpetuity of the infinite expanse of Time weigh upon them.

And then…with a sudden wrench…

Their minds merge in the spaceless, timeless void of knowledge and nothingness. They lose all sense of self, forgetting that there even was such a thing as “self” and for an eternal frozen instant in time, they experience what it is to be each member of the party as that member of the party, and they experience from inside each other’s minds how the others perceive them, in a rush of indistinguishable thoughts and impressions.

They feel what it is to be Tyrrell: desperate to purge his memories of Hades, but staring down the reality that they’ll haunt him forever. Knowing that he is Tyrrell, but clearly not Tyrrell. To be not-quite-content with the changes…yet acknowledging that the memory of what he used to be is fading. Mourning – always mourning – something lost…but losing sight of what that even is. Was. As far as I know, Tyrrell the human is gone forever. And it’s starting to feel like that human was just a dream. And maybe that’s fine. Because while this quest, stopping this apocalypse, for lack of a better word, is the most important thing I could possibly be a part of…I’m starting to feel like it might just be better to destroy the world than let it fall under the sway of Kyuss. I remember once having aspirations in the world of Thieves, but that seems small and petty now. I hope there is another purpose for me should I survive the days to come, but I don’t know what that could be.

They feel what the others think of Tyrrell in an avalanche of voices and thoughts:

“He is the thorn.”

“He is brass.”

“He’s like a big brother. The one who picks on you and makes you cry. But it’s not like he meant to do that.”

“Though I do not believe he thinks of me as a friend, I care for him.”

“He is a mystery to me but one I instinctively trust. It’s easy to accept him for exactly who he is, even when we disagree.”

“He’s always looking for the angle. The way out. The thing that will totally screw our enemies. And he’s good at it.”

“When fights are headed south, I look to him to turn the tide.”

“I need him in the shadows conjuring the solution no one else saw.”

“He has the worst fucking luck. Whenever the world is gonna throw stuff at us it always seems to get him first. Always.”

“His constant state of transition concerns me, and I keep a vigilant eye on his progress. I would take no pleasure in destroying him.”

They feel what it is to be Scar-Eater: lost, alone, raging in hatred, a voyager without a path before he met his friends…and a path – THE path – opened up before him. Aching to be known as more than just a “local legend,” craving to be feared and admired by all for stopping the Age of Worms. I will meet my enemies head-on, raging in a Blaze of Glory (cue Bon-Jovi), and the last thing they will know is failure – surrounded, prone, useless, humiliated, with all of us looking down on them, pissing on their shattered dreams. And then, when the possibility of the Age of Worms is ended, I will bring on the great Age of Sleeping till Mid-day and seek a shard of what others call peace. Seriously, when do I get to take a fucking nap?

They feel what the others think of Scar-Eater in a blast of voices and thoughts:

“He is the fire of chaos.”

“Always explicit in his desires and actions.”

“He doesn’t take shit from anyone.”

“He always makes me laugh.”

“I love his devil-may-care attitude.”

“I wish I was brave like him.”

“Completely unambiguous, and all the more reliable for it.”

“His steadfast reliability is an endless source of comfort to me.”

“I don’t share his relish for destruction but I see his honesty as a kind of honor.”

“I hope that when he’s smashing things apart that he’s living the way he wants to, and filling whatever hole was torn in his life.”

Though he’s not present, his absence is a presence strongly felt, and they feel what everyone thinks of Archie, in a flood of thoughts and voices:

“He is the anchor.”

“He’s got our backs. I wish we could have his back. I wish he was here with us right now.”

“Capable, smart, brave, uncomplicated, willing to do what needs to be done.”

“That guy is like the only adult. The rest of us are running around doing whatever stupid shit we’re doing and he’s on a mission.”

“He’s responsible in a way the rest of us aren’t.”

“I need his eye when the situation gets hairy.”

“As an ally he is invaluable, but I fear him.”

“He unnerves me. An efficient killing machine distant from the impact of his deadly work.”

“I remember being jealous of him, feeling usurped by him, but those memories are fading.”

“The idea of never seeing him again, or of him being fundamentally changed upon our reunion, is intensely painful.”

“Holy crap, he’s gonna be so fucking old when we see him next.”

They feel what it is to be Long Fist: to KNOW so little, but to be sure of one thing: the evil and undead that wish to claim this world, these lives, must be stopped. Wishing to see to see the creatures of Oerth free from corruption, despair and darkness. Hoping and persevering…despite hopelessness and fear…in the face of all uncertainty. I have faith…in what, exactly? In hope. In honor. Every time I have witnessed the vanity and hubris that my comrades…no, my comrades and I…are susceptible to, I experience the pain brought on by division and detachment. My misguided desires to appease the few have lead me to capitulate to an ideal that isn’t true to my heart. I have failed myself. And by failing myself, I have failed my friends. BUT I also believe in forgiveness and redemption. So where does that leave me? Where does that lead me?

They feel what the others think of Long Fist in a cascading rush of voices and thoughts:

“He is the wall.”

“He is a giant, dangerous puppy that’s always there for you. No matter what.”

“He throws himself into the fire over and over again, sacrificing himself without ever thinking about it. And all out of real love and the biggest heart ever. He does that for all of us.”

“I admire how he’s faced death time and again, shaking it off and marching on.”

“I love how he takes all the punches till I can get there.”

“I fear I’ll never be able to thank him properly.”

“He is a source of comfort that the possibility of true goodness can exist. But I worry that he himself does not fully understand what it will take to get himself there.”

“I’ll NEVER understand all that striving for Paladin-like goody-two-shoes bullshit. I can’t see any possible justification for that worldview. ”

“I respect his conviction, but can never be comfortable around him as long as he is so uncomfortable in his own skin.”

“I wish that he could protect himself better from himself.”

“Fear drives his actions and I fear for that in him.”

They feel what it is to be Riddle: dreaming of safety, which he can never have. Dreaming of a family, robbed from him forever. Enslaved against his will to a bunch of old dead gods, like a fucking FREAK. Looking like a freak. Girls don’t like bald guys. I’ll be alone forever. I’m not even human anymore. And every time I make a fucking choice, this fucking prophecy makes me a joke. I don’t even deserve what I have. Everyone in the party had real skills and abilities before we met. I just fell into a vat of weird shit and got connected to these Vaati. If I wasn’t connected to them what use would I be? “Hey guys you go on and save the world and I’ll just hang out over here like a total fucking loser.” I thought having power would make me not be a loser anymore. Now I’m just a loser with powers. And no independence. This stupid fucking prophecy. These stupid fucking dead gods. Gods are so fucking stupid. Of the living gods, only the really shitty evil ones seem to be doing anything. The “good” ones have their heads in the fucking sand. Fuck them. Fuck this.

They feel what the others think of Riddle in a wash of thoughts and voices:

“He is the storm.”

“I admire his knowledge of, well, basically everything.”

“We need his chaos in battle”

“His emotions are an endless source of mystery and confusion, but I admire his ability to think abstractly and to act on instinct.”

“Riddle is as his name implies. He takes bold leadership yet derides alternate points of view, which speaks of weakness.”

“I’m utterly baffled by him.”

“He is consistent on the battlefield but his loyalty never seems selfless.”

“I can’t comprehend his relationship with whoever it is he communes with. But I’m always happy for the way he pulls us out of the fire.”

“He may be the most powerful of us all – for which I love…and fear him.”

They feel what it is to be Jane: striving to understand and ACCEPT each thing for what it is. Including her companions. Recognizing that any desire to change them is only a projected struggle to change something within herself, which is where her effort is better centered. They provide my sole attachment to the world of humans AS a human. I can’t think of what would happen to my budding humanity without them. Had these people never come into my life I would still be a wolf, cowering in the pits of Diamond Lake, losing whatever remained of my humanity bit by bit. I do not mourn the fate that could have been. I only wish to better understand my companions and why they do the things they do. I want to trust them but I cannot always do so. They are more complicated than beasts and their motives are obscured by emotions. It’s hard to recognize myself as one of them. Though I am certain now that I would continue to pursue my purpose even if I were alone. The Natural World must allowed to progress along its course without overwhelming influence from the tyranny that comes from men and monsters. Sacrifice is justified, even the sacrifice of self, physical and moral. Those who would usurp the power of the Natural World for their own ends must be removed from the equation one way or another.

They feel what the others think of Jane, in a furious rush of thoughts and voices:

“She is the beast.”

“Her power and wisdom far extend beyond the experience of us all.”

“She is my best friend. She calls me out on my shit and makes me think about things in a different way.”

“I admire her ability to adapt. I need her to continue strategizing clearly during the coming trials.”

“She is the unquestioned leader of the party, waiting in the wings to assume the mantle we all hope she’ll take up.”

“She’s clearly the leader of this party, even though she’s the only one that doesn’t seem to see that.”

“She’s our leader and the most rational moral compass of the group, which I…mostly respect. But not always.”

“I just wish she wouldn’t worry so much.”

“I loved her friendship and camaraderie during what feels like another life, and I understand that that past – and that person — are gone now.”

“There is a kindness in her which I appreciate, and yet there is also a growing sense of detachment from the world and its cares which fills me with sorrow.”

“How do you mourn for a friend who’s still alive?”

Their overlapping, communal mind-mass steps back from its dip into the waters of personality, identity, and self and expands into the realm of Desire and Direction. Though it’s hard – so hard – to concentrate, they can feel each other wrestling your shared consciousness onto the task of directing the Fountain of Dreams to a particular piece of information. Like steady heartbeat, something throbs immediately to the foreground: a shared question, “Where is the phylactery of Dragotha?” They feel a lurch in the timeless void for a moment…and then a wrenching halt as another question races forward – not quite past the initial question, but urged almost as universally strongly: “What is the source of my power?” They feel the Fountain absorb that question into the first question and begin racing their shared consciousness off into one distant direction of the void outside of time and space.

As they travel, they each slowly start to regain a sense of what it is to be THEM. As you travel, they hear the drumbeat of the two questions – “Where is the phylactery of Dragotha?” and “What is the source of my power?” – moving them ever onward, seasoned occasionally by faint, distant outbursts of random mind-noise, questions like “How’d my finger get there…?” and “Father, did you ever love me?”

As they travel, they begin to gain some understanding of how the Fountain of Dreams works. In order to collect and hold all information that has passed out of knowledge for all time…the Fountain must exist not outside of Time but somehow in ALL Times. Once the magic that created the Fountain brought the Fountain into existence…the Fountain had ALWAYS existed. WILL always exist. Until its waters are drunk. And then it will cease to exist. Cease to have EVER existed. But in order to hold all secrets that pass outside of Time and knowledge, the Fountain exists in all times. And it doesn’t function like a library – cataloguing and imparting information from a distance – it imparts knowledge by bringing the drinker TO the moment in history when their question can be answered. They will actually VISIT the answer to their question…

Or, in this case, questions. “Where is the phylactery of Dragotha?” and “What is the source of my power…?” “How’d my finger get there…?” and “Father, did you ever love me?”

So, here they go. They are now traveling back in time to the answer of their Questions. Starting at the beginning, then moving forward through time back to the present.

Back and back they go, drifting through time and space and understanding. Days turn into weeks into months into years into centuries as time and space fly past their perception in a mind-numbing blur of sensory input. They sense the cacophony of their companions’ questions to the Fountain of Dreams, murmuring and babbling in the background, with one idea pulsing and pounding above all others “What is the source of my power?”

And finally, they settle in one place, one time.

They see a dark alley late at night. They are not there yet, but soon they will be. The power of the Fountain is slowly bringing them into being here, now. Then, there.

It is nearly 3,000 years ago. It is a small town. There is a festival. There is noise. There is light. But not here. Not in this alley. A young woman returns from a dance where she just kissed Devin for the first time. She is Lara. Her father calls her Lara-belle. Her sister calls her Belle. This is her town, her street. She feels safe. She doesn’t notice the darkness. She doesn’t notice the lack of people around her. She doesn’t notice the figure lurking in the shadows of the alleyway.

They are not yet materialized, but they see it happen. The figure grabs the girl. The girl cries out. She knows what is about to happen. She screams.

They are not yet there yet, but they see it happen. A man stumbles past the alley. He hears the cry, or he thinks he does. A hand has clamped so tight over Lara’s mouth that she cannot make another sound.

The attacker’s strength is terrifying.

The man at the mouth of the alley stops. Did he hear something? Did it sound like a girl in pain? The man is tired. He lost at dice tonight. He has a family of his own. He would hate to get into trouble and leave them high and dry with the crops failing so miserably this year.

The man shrugs and moves on.

The figure in the alley turns its attentions fully to the girl.

They are starting to materialize now, and through the power of the Fountain they know what happens next. The man in the alley is no man. The man is a dragon. One of the worst of the reds. Still a juvenile, but powerful. Still a juvenile, but hungry in its appetites. Craving domination. Curious about what it might be like to have a BROOD. It took human form and now it will take the girl. Lara will survive the rape, but she will not survive the birth of Dragotha’s child as it claws its way out of her. She will not survive to see her offspring become a terror in its own right (with Dragotha having moved on, never bothering to even see if his seed survived). She will not survive to see her offspring father more, and more and more on down the line, monsters of rage and destruction and flame, till the line thins and becomes (more or less human – sort of) and finally, thousands of years later, leads to the birth of Scar-Eater, the only one in generations to feel the burning rage of a thousand suns that it took to awaken the dormant powers.

They are taking solid form in the world now, and as they become REAL in this place and time, the Fountain gives them the gift of comprehension. This is The Choice that was made: one man chose to ignore the call of compassion for another human’s suffering and by inaction allowed an unspeakable act to occur. This is the source of Scar-Eater’s power: power was born in blood, flame, and pain – his power hails from the Dread Tyrant Dragotha, first consort of Tiamat, then for centuries upon centuries the devoted lich servant and highest in command of Kyuss’s armies. Kyuss’s most powerful weapon. The lynchpin for all of Kyuss’s plans. Scar-Eater has been tied to Kyuss’s story since before he was born.

They materialize with an understanding of their choices. They will only be here for a moment. The Fountain brought them here to witness the source of Scar-Eater’s power. Accept that knowledge, do nothing, and move on.

OR.

They are here now. They could intervene, save this one girl, save Lara…

And erase Scar-Eater’s entire existence from the pages of history – never to live, never to play his part in stopping Kyuss’s plans in the future, never to use his powers against Kyuss, never to play his part in saving the world.

The Fountain seems to ask: What do you do?

Scar-Eater does nothing.

The multiverse holds together. The party vanishes from this place and time races on, carrying them all with it.

Time slides forward, days and weeks and months and years. They sense their companions’ questions, pulsing in the background, two questions pushing forward now: “What is the source of my power?” and “Father, did you ever love me?”

Finally, they settle in one place, one time.

They are on a small moon floating in the vast emptiness of the Astral night. Above you is a monastery, smooth, angled, white, and perfectly ordered. They are not there yet, but soon they will be. The power of the Fountain is slowly bringing them into being here, now. Then, there.

It is roughly 2,500 years ago. The War against the Queen of Chaos is long over. The Empire of the Vaati is long over. The Age Before Ages is about to turn, and with its passing countless races and civilizations will die out as the multiverse makes way for new stories, new times. Here, at one end of the universe, the last bastion of the Wind Dukes clings to relevancy. 212 souls live here, worshipping Itifaar, the Beginning; Isme, the End; Elistaa, the Order; Taurah, the Blade; K’atiir, the Storm; Faruq, the Light; and Ahlissa, the Mystery. The last souls in all of creation – except one – to worship these dying gods at the dying end of a dying Age.

211 of these souls live in peace with their lot, with their kin, with their station in life. One, however, does not. Senna.

Senna, who was passed over for promotion in a society where station is everything. Senna, who spoke a truth the others did not want to hear, and was punished for it. Punished! In a society where truth and fact are supposed to be paramount. Cast aside. Seething. An outsider with literally nowhere else to turn in the entire universe.

They are not yet materialized, but they see it happening. Senna has a device. They don’t recognize it specifically, but they understand a bomb when they see one. Senna kneels beneath the Pillar of Illitar, one of the seven pillars holding the monastery aloft, and sets the device. He will have to trigger it manually. But what does his death matter in the face of revenge against those who cast him out? It matters naught. Senna is prepared to die.

They are not there yet, but they see it happen. Senna whispers a prayer to Isme and kneels. He prepares to set off the device.

They are starting to materialize now, and through the power of the Fountain they know what happens next. Senna presses the button. The device ignites and over two hundred Wind Dukes die.

This act will leave a single half-vaati demihuman on the Material Plane – named Tanner Land – as the last worshipper of the Seven in the entire multiverse.

The Seven, at their height, were active gods, present gods, from a time when modern strictures and rules regarding the pantheons were different. They lived among their worshippers. And they were not tyrants, trying to micromanage every detail of their mortal realms to suit their desires. They were leaders. Some were good, some were evil, but as a whole they respected order and balance. And above all, they treated their clergy with respect, acknowledging the most powerful as equals, and giving them reign to challenge their decisions and to exercise their own free will. As long as their free will respected the inherent Order of the universe.

But that was long ago.

The Seven are now only clinging to life by a thread. They lost the power to take physical form centuries ago. They lost the power to individually grant spells decades ago – now they can only do so acting in concert. Like they must do everything.

So when this bomb ignites and all their worshippers but one perish from existence, in an act of desperation they will fully surrender their individual godhoods for all time and touch their last worshipper with their remaining power…that some shred of their names, deeds, and power might linger through the ages, and perhaps be born again.

They give their power to Tanner Land. Tanner never knows it, never feels it. He was never strong enough to call forth the power, you see. And even if he had been, he had not the will to control it, to stand toe to toe with the wishes of dead gods and claim their power for his own.

Tanner died, slain before his time by the great Cyclops king, but not before fathering a daughter, who bore a daughter, who bore a son, who fathered many, on and on down the line, leading eventually to Riddle’s grandfather Anders Land.

Anders Land, the nobleman’s son in Alhaster, never satisfied with his station, always chafing, always discontent. Anders Land, who fell in love far above his station, who impregnated his adolescent love with the child that would grow to be Riddle’s uncle, Prince Zeech. Prince Zeech, the tyrant of Alhaster, who took control of the Bandit Kingdoms, who fell under the sway of Kyuss’s second-most powerful ally, gathered a small army of “fallen angels” and in the five years you have been absent from the Material Plane, has prepared his city to be the seat of Kyuss’s return and the birthplace of the Waiting Age: the Age of Worms.

Anders Land, the nobleman’s son who was banished from Alhaster and settled outside Diamond Lake to become a simple farmer. Who hated being a farmer. Who hated the simple life. Anders Land, who married Bemissa Darlan and fathered Colderan, Gertia, and the child that would grow to be Riddle’s uncle, Alistor Land. Alistor Land, who ran away from his father’s drinking at age 13 and died as a child in the Whispering Cairn. Alistor Land who lingered as a ghost, waiting for eternal release. Who found it at the hands of his nephew, never known in life. Who reached an ethereal hand from beyond the grave to open a door for his nephew when he needed help the most.

Anders Land, the simple farmer who was never satisfied. Who snuck behind his wife’s back for nights in the local whorehouse. Anders Land, who impregnated “Lefty” Traise with the girl that would grow to be Riddle’s mother, Seela Traise. Seela Traise, a genentic mutant, but so sweet, so lonely, so in need of protection. Seela, who caught the eye of Allustan Neff, the wizard who acted as protector and mentor in her rough teenage years. Seela, who caught the eye of Allustan’s brother Lanod during a visit from Greyhawk. Lanod, who would fuck up his life in the Free City and be banished to the pity-posting of Mayor of Diamond Lake. Governor-Mayor Lanod Neff, Riddle’s father, who would remember that tormented little girl and have his way with her as his first act as Diamond Lake’s mayor, leading to the birth of Riddle. Riddle, one of his eight sons and three daughters, none of whom he knew about, none of whom he cared about. Seela would try to get access to the mayor, but Seela would fail.

But in the end it didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter that Riddle’s grandfather was basically a weak-willed shitheel (despite being the bearer of an ancient bloodline of significant power) who only did a half-assed job of looking after his illegitimate child. One of several. It didn’t matter that Riddle’s father was a privileged, disgusting shitheel who didn’t even know about his illegitimate child (one of many) and wouldn’t have lifted a hand to help him if he did.

It didn’t matter because when Riddle was born, Seela’s life changed forever. Before Riddle, there was only solitude and despair. After Riddle, there was a reason to live. After Riddle, there was a reason to make the best of things. After Riddle, there was a reason for HOPE. And she did hope. Her life was hard, but it had value. And it brought a small piece of light to a dying world at the end of a dying Age in one of the shittiest little shit towns ever to be covered in shit.

Riddle, who always wanted a family, who always sought for more, never content with what he had. Never noticing, acknowledging, or accepting the blessing of having had a mother at all, ignoring her and dreaming of some family ideal that was never his to have. But even if it had been, he would never have been satisfied with his horrible father, his uninspiring grandfather, his tyrant uncle.

Riddle, who always wanted a family, failing to notice the new family that sprung up around him and which needs him more than any of his actual relatives do.

Riddle, always searching for exactly what he already has.

Riddle, blessed with the strength of will to shape his own destiny, forever railing at the universe for robbing him of choices.

Riddle, the only soul in the long Land bloodline to carry the power of the Seven that had the strength of will, the mental discipline, and the courage of Purpose to actually use that power. Even more: with the strength to own the power and make it his.

Riddle, the quintessential teenager.

But, of course…Senna knows none of this. (Remember him?) Senna is thinking only of revenge.

They are taking solid form in the world now, and as they become REAL in this place and time, the Fountain gives them the gift of comprehension. This is The Choice that was made: one man chose vengeance over the lives of his fellows and used his power to slaughter the last of his race. This is the source of Riddle’s power: his power was born in vengeance, destruction, and pain – his power is tied to the forces that stopped one apocalypse in the Age Before Ages, and his bloodline is tied directly to Kyuss’s return through his uncle Zeech, though Zeech certainly never knew about Riddle. Or cared. But Riddle has been tied to Kyuss’s story and to the fight against Chaos since before he was born.

They materialize with an understanding of their choices. They will only be here for a moment. The Fountain brought them here to witness the source of Riddle’s power. Accept that knowledge, fold it into their worldview and understanding, and move on.

OR.

They are here now. They could intervene, stop Senna, save the hundreds of lives hanging in the balance above you, prevent the Seven from passing into Tanner Land, thinning his bloodline, forever altering it, leading to different choices, different lives, different couplings, different kin…

And by doing so, erase Riddle’s existence and the existences of his entire bloodline from the pages of history – never to live, never to bring peace and joy to his mother’s life, never to play his part in stopping Kyuss’s plans, never to use his powers against Kyuss, never to play his part in saving the world when it needs him the most.

The Fountain asks: What do you do?

Riddle does nothing.

They vanish from this place and time races on, carrying them all with it.

Days turn into weeks into months into years into centuries as time and space fly past their perception. They sense the chaos of their companions’ questions to the Fountain of Dreams, throbbing in the background like a deep ache, one idea rising above the others “What is the source of my power?”

Finally, they settle in one place, one time.

They see a well-kept living room in a wealthy-looking, sharp-angled house made of smooth stone. They are not there yet, but soon they will be. The power of the Fountain is slowly bringing them into being here, now. Then, there.

It is 2,000 years ago. It is the great and powerful city of Kuluth-Mar at the height of its mortal power. It is vast. It is teeming. The followers of Emperor Kyuss are multitude. Their love and fear is palpable.

There is a festival. There is noise. There is light.

But not here. Not in this house.

A human woman, noticeably and hugely pregnant, sits alone. This is Xera.

She is afraid.

She should be.

Her husband returns home and takes off his helmet. His armor is very familiar to you – it is the armor worn by the Kyuss Knights of Kuluth-Mar when you fought there…will fight there thousands of years in the future. But the armor is bright and clean not, not tarnished by the ages. This is Thrazdan. Not Thrazdan the Deceiver, the name he will take for himself in his afterlife, but simply Thrazdan. He has a position of great honor – personal bodyguard to the Emperor. This position has afforded them many luxuries. For years, Xera could turn a blind eye to the source of her husband’s great wealth because she loved great wealth and all that it brought them. But with the child on the way, Xera has started to reevaluate her choices.

Something about the gathering tomorrow doesn’t feel right. She fears for her life, her husband’s life, her child’s life. She has decided not to go. She has decided to flee, to seek a better life. To somehow atone for the horrors that brought her a life of such decadent comfort.

They are not yet materialized, but they see it happen. Thrazdan senses Xera’s doubts. He is powerful. He is charming. He is persuasive. He holds his wife in his arms and convinces her that everything will be okay, that there is no danger tomorrow, that their position of power will spare them from the pain and suffering visited upon all the sacrifices that have come and all that will come to pass.

They are not there yet, but they see it happen. They see a silver-tongued liar, already craving the rewards of eternal undeath and power beyond reckoning, they see this liar use nothing but his words to talk his wife into walking willingly to her own death and the death of their child.

Xera is reassured. She promises to attend the ceremony tomorrow. Thrazdan smiles. He kisses her forehead. He lays a hand on her belly. When the baby kicks, they share a laugh. Thrazdan puts his helmet back on, walks out the front door and into his future (as a foul abomination) with an easy heart and a spring in his step.

They are starting to materialize now, and through the power of the Fountain they know what happens next. Tomorrow, Xera joins the tens of thousands of others in the square before the Great Ziggurat. When Kyuss ascends to godhood, the shadowy wave of necromantic energy will strike her down like it strikes down the tens of thousands of others, forever desecrating this place. Among the sea of corpses, some already rising and vomiting worms, a baby with no name, touched by shadow and death, but protected by its mother’s flesh, touched and changed, doomed to Hades, but alive…after a fashion – among this endless sea of death and horror, a baby will emerge from the womb.

A Wormcaller will discover it squalling and find it humorous. It will debate between crushing its helpless little skull or turning it into the world to wreak some delightful havoc. It will choose the latter.

This nameless baby will survive on the fringes of society and beget offspring. Descendants drawn to the shadows and the night, with an affinity for darkness, the strength to kill, but cursed with sickly bodies and weak, fragile wills. Over time, the line will adapt and transform and grow to appear more or less human and finally, thousands of years later, it will lead to the birth of Tyrell: the only one in generations to pass in and out of death, set foot in the flames of Hades and return to tell the tale, cross the planar boundaries and visit a realm both in time and outside of time, bound in mystery and truth, carrying pieces of his own true nature – a single finger – left there by himself as a guidepost, so that his soul became untethered from the pretense of humanity under which it had always operated.

His ancestors knew what it was to be hunted. His ancestors knew what it was to be feared. His ancestors, to a certain degree, lacked some of the brazen boldness of Tyrell, and all of the purpose. They learned to hide who they were. They self-selected mutations that kept them from public knowledge. But this body is who he always REALLY was, who he was meant to be. And the truth is that his soul is owned by Hades so he’d better be careful about crossing that boundary between life and death – who knows how easily he’ll be able to return next time, or at what cost? Better just live forever, eh…?

They are taking solid form in the world now, and as they become REAL in this place and time, the Fountain gives them the gift of comprehension. This is The Choice that was made: one man chose a lifetime of wealth over the lives of countless others and used his silver tongue to choose dark powers over the life of his own family. This is the source of Tyrrell’s power: his power was born in lies, shadow, and pain – and his power hails directly from Kyuss himself, though he certainly never knew it. Or cared. He has been tied to Kyuss’s story since before he was born.

They materialize with an understanding of your choices. They will only be here for a moment. The Fountain brought them here to witness the source of Tyrrell’s power. Accept that knowledge, do nothing, and move on.

OR.

They are here now. They could intervene, talk to Xera, convince her to leave the city tonight, now, while her husband is out, save her life and ensure that her child is born human, healthy, and will never follow the path it followed in this timeline…

And erase Tyrrell’s entire existence from the pages of history – never to live, never to play his part in stopping Kyuss’s plans in the future, never to use his powers against Kyuss, never to play his part in saving the world.

The Fountain asks, What do you do?

Tyrrell does nothing.

They vanish from this place and time races on, carrying them all with it.

Days turn to weeks, to months, to years as centuries of time and space fly past their perception. They sense their companions’ questions to the Fountain of Dreams, two pushing forward now: “What is the source of my power?” and “How’d my finger get there…?”

Finally, they settle in one place, one time.

They see an island. Tilagos Island. Tilagos Island before the Nyr Dyv was covered in perpetual storms. The day those storms began, in fact. Tilagos Island before it was both a location on the Material Plane and its own demi-plane. The very day its split nature was born, in fact. Tilagos is small, unremarkable. Well, mostly unremarkable. But the scene on it and around it is an overwhelming assault on your senses.

It is 1,500 years ago. The sky is filled with smoke, screams, and horror. The din of battle fills their ears. The waters of the unbelievably vast Nyr Dyv have been literally parted to make a path from the north shore of the lake to Tilagos Island. In the distance, great cities – once mighty, forgotten entirely by the party’s time – lie in smoke and ruin. The cacophonous moans of the undead ride on the wind. Though the immediate area is clear of destruction, as far as your eyes can see stand the forces of mankind, a great army of men and women standing against the return of the Wormlord, who recently began to break free of his prison. Who will break all the way free if this assault claims enough lives. The army of mankind is vast. Yet for all their numbers it is immediately obvious that they fight a losing battle.

Beyond them come the armies of the dead, an endless wave of undead, swarming over the earth, unstoppable. They see familiar creatures: Spawn of Kyuss, Wormcallers, Eviscerator Beetles, Overworms, Ulgurstasas, and more. And there are other, stranger creatures: enormous worm-dripping centipedes who cause the ground they walk on to boil, immense black scorpions whose mere presence turns the living on their allies, and horrific worm-like dragons who breathe out vast swarms of writhing green Kyuss worms. And wheeling in the distant skies, attended by hundreds of smaller dragons, is a terrifying shape: a skeletal red dragon of impossible size. Dragotha.

Dragotha’s forces are remarkably focused. It first seemed like their goal was simply the human army before them. That army, however, is merely the obstacle. The actual goal is the Order of the Storm, gathered near you on Tilagos Island. The forerunners of Dragotha’s forces swarm over and PAST the human army racing on with all speed to the place where you are currently materializing.

They will be here shortly. And they will overwhelm the Order of the Storm.

The Order were the only ones prepared to lead this fight. They have been ready since the previous battle against Kyuss’s forces 500 years previously, when the elves worked their magic to bind the newly-ascended god into the writhing monolith and sealed the site of his blasphemous ascension for all time. The elves moved on, but the Order survived. And remembered. And knew that the Waiting Age – the Age of Worms – is always a possibility.

When the signs became clear, they rallied the forces of mankind to stand and fight. This would be of vital importance. But, sadly, it would also speed along Kyuss’s aim, for each soul that died defending the mortal world would add to Kyuss’s power. It was a fight that in the long run could only lead to defeat, but in the short term was necessary for victory.

Victory could only be brought about in one way: Dragotha must be stopped.

Few creatures in existence have the power to crack a hole in the Wormlord’s cell. Dragotha is currently the only one. He created the rupture. His active concentration holds it open. But soon, the unholy power unleashed by the rising tide of undeath will overwhelm the need for Dragotha’s participation.

Soon, like, minutes from now.

The Tyrant Dracolich must be sent into hiding.

It is unclear whether any now living have the power to destroy him, even temporarily. His power may be far beyond that.

But he might not know that.

And what the Order does have the power to do is to hide away the phylactery they so cleverly stole. And when the location of the phylactery disappears from all knowledge, Dragotha – they hope, they pray – will falter and will flee. The tear in the prison wall will snap shut and the tide against Kyuss’s return will turn for good.

(For now, at least.)

The Order of the Storm is now only thirteen strong. Well, twelve, because the party arrives in time to witness the expiration of Zadia’s life. Her wounds were too great. She was the lynchpin of the Order’s hopes for she would be the power source for the Great Magic, yet with her expiration, you see no pall of hopeless pass over the remaining members of the ancient druid order. No such pall falls over them because prophecy has made it clear that a savior is about to appear. The Daughter of the Storm herself. She will take Zadia’s place and all will be well.

They hope.

They must hope.

The leader of the Order speaks with their greatest ally. The party recognizes the leader at once. It is Tylanthros – but Tylanthros before he became a Wild Watcher. Tylanthros as a mortal man. They recognize the other three watchers among the gathering as well. They are alive, human, in a way in total contrast to the soulless, memoryless automatons of service they just left at the Fountain of Dreams far, far in the future.

Tylanthros speaks with a beautiful, young, vivacious elven woman with silver hair and gleaming silver armor. “ Lashonna,” he says, “you must engage Dragotha yourself. We must begin the ritual and have faith in the prophecy. The Banished Storm will be born. She will hold off the approaching forces. She will take Zadia’s place. But none of this will happen if Dragotha reaches us first.”

“I understand,” the elf says. She embraces Tylanthros. “I will never forget you. I will never forget your sacrifice. I’ll see you in another life.”

She turns and leaps into the air. As she does, she transforms into one of the most beautiful creatures they’ve ever seen in your lives: a radiant silver dragon. The dragon takes to the air and soars overhead, over Kyuss’s army, and into the swarm of dragons guarding Dragotha and his fell approach.

They are not yet materialized, but they see it happen. Horthomon and Arbelia and Sigaddad set down their burden of the crystal sarcophagus, the sarcophagus that would have held Zadia’s body throughout all time. They join hands and begin chanting. Beskawahn, Thadimar, and Sayren-Lei – the other Wild Watchers – join them. So do two others.

Tylanthros turns to a woman, Saellas. Saellas and her sisters hold a giant crate seemingly fashioned of lead. They cannot see within, yet they know it contains Dragotha’s phylactery. Tylanthros says, “Go now, Saellas. Take the phylactery to its cradle in Kongen-Thulnir. Work the magic we have agreed upon.”

Saellas says, “My sisters and I will never forget your sacrifice.”

Tylanthros says, “Nor will we forget yours.”

“Yes, you will,” she says. “You’d better. Or this is all for nothing.”

They smile. They embrace. Saellas touches her sisters and they vanish.

Tylanthros joins the chanting of his companions. Amidst the strange words of power, the Fountain grants the party understanding of several key lines.

“Four to give their flesh to stand our vigil.” Tylanthros and his three Wild Watcher companions begin to burn.

“Three to give their minds to contain the memories.” The three that carried the crystal sarcophagus are buffeted by winds that begin stripping the flesh from their heads.

“Two to give their hearts to seal the path.” The last two members of the Order of the Storm, Anwyn and Mellethon, gasp as their hearts turn into solid obsidian inside their chests.

“One to give her soul…to save our souls.”

It begins to rain. Instantly.

“One to give her soul…one to give her soul…”

Tylanthros continues the chant even as his flesh burns from his body. The others continue their gestures of power as they sacrifice everything they are, were, and ever will be to save the world.

And they wait, against hope, for the Daughter of the Storm to appear.

They are starting to materialize now, and through the power of the Fountain they know what happens next. Jane appears with her companions. They have one minute to hold off the ground assault of Kyuss’s forces while Lashonna the Silver holds off Dragotha. Somehow – at least, the last time this cycle completed – Jane succeeds. She helps her party as long as she can, and then before the expiration of a minute, she makes her way into the crystal sarcophagus. The ritual completes.

The spell takes hold.

Jane’s companions will vanish. All knowledge of Dragotha’s phylactery will pass out of existence. Dragotha retreats. Kyuss is pulled fully back into his prison. For now. The magic parting the Nyr Dyv ceases and the vast armies of the dead are torn to pieces in the resulting chaos. The Storm over the Nyr Dyv takes on its legendary power as its waters become infused with vast magnitude of Jane’s purpose-driven soul. Tilagos the demiplane springs into existence and the Library of Last Resort is born.

For Jane, then, a near-eternity begins as an elemental force – a formless, boundless, memory-less, humanity-less existence as a flowing source of power and energy with only the barest thread of what one would call sentience or intellect or choice.

She is – always was – the legendary storm at the heart of the Nyr Dyv.

She is – always was – infused within the waters of the inland lake-sea. She is – always was – the force of strength and power drawn on by all the nearby druids of the area – the Bronzewood Lodge, the Duskbreakers, the Pinehearts.

Time will pass. Meaningless to her. She’ll be nothing but a force of nature. She’ll exist to provide energy for magic spell and to protect the Library. That’s all. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Yet in time, things will begin to stir.

The worm-ridden dead will rise to terrifying strength in the chasms to her north. The worm-ridden dead will begin to rise in the hills to her south.

She will feel their wrongness and the part of her that was once human will ache to fight them.

But she’ll understand, somehow, that her duty is to simply exist apart from the world – that by doing so, she is fighting against them.

But she won’t remember why.

Or how.

There won’t be enough of her soul or intellect left to process such complicated thoughts.

And she’ll begin to grow worried. The locals will begin to notice that the Storm at the heart of the lake grows angrier and darker over time. They’ll come to call it “The Tempest” rather than the Storm.

The waters of the lake will become so tumultuous that only the bravest (or most reckless) of captains will dare to cross her.

And then her subtly growing awareness will be drawn to a family living in the south of her. A father and mother, both Druids, both of whom call upon her power daily. A father and mother with two little girls, Athena (the eldest) and little baby Jane, the sweetest little girls in existence.

Their life together is an unremarkable one, but it is a gloriously precious one. Each day watching them brings Jane’s awareness to a finer and finer point of appreciation for the miracle of a normal life. As the mother draws on her power to shape the willow tree in the front yard of their cottage into a fort for Athena to play in, Jane feels the opposite of what she feels as the hordes of undead to her north rake great holes of foulness and rot through the heart of the earth.

And then it will happen. Did happen. Has happened. They die. All of them. The whole family.

A Spawn of Kyuss ranging north from the swamps stumbles upon their cottage. And within moments, four beautiful, perfect, simple, normal, everyday, REMARKABLE lives will be snuffed out. The baby is ripped from the mother’s arms and hurled against the wall. Mother, father, and sister are turned into unnatural abominations and lurch out into the night.

While the baby lies crumpled in the corner, teetering between life and death, her consciousness winking out, Jane The Elemental Power Source will find herself filled with fury. Fury with this impossibly small (in the vast scheme of her awareness) yet impossibly profound act of wrongness. And she will find herself willing the child to live. To rise up. To fight. To LIVE.

Fury will pulse within her like the beating of a drum… and soon like the beating of a heart… and soon – as a sliver of her non-existent consciousness breaks from her whole and slides into the body of the baby human – she will find herself experiencing a sensation she had entirely forgotten for fifteen centuries… the cocoon of flesh. Her awareness of the lake, the storm, the rift, the swamp, OH NO the Island and the Seal! will begin to fade. Who will watch them now?… All that will began to fade.

She will somehow still be the power source, be the Storm, the Tempest, but she will also somehow partially be THERE. Inside the baby.

No, she will BE the baby…

And then the real confusion will set in… She’ll be found by wolves and the rest will proceed as it has, as it did, as it will, as it was always meant to proceed.

But that’s not now. Now is now. Now is the moment of the spell. And now the cycle will begin again, leading… who knows where…

They are taking solid form in the world now, and as they become REAL in this place and time, the Fountain gives them the gift of comprehension. This is The Choice that was made: one woman chose to sacrifice everything that made her human to become a force of power fighting a great imbalance in the world. She gave up everything that made her her to do the thing that needed doing. This spell and their choice are the source of Jane’s power: her power was born in war and pain and self-sacrifice – and her power hails directly from those who fought against Kyuss himself for centuries. She has been tied to Kyuss’s story since before she was “born.” Whatever that actually means in her context.

But, wait…

All this time travel causality has started a new question pulsing in their still-partially-shared mindspace: before this time traveling happened, how was it possible for Jane to be here?

And before all this time travelling, who exactly – what exactly – was Jane?

Yet no sooner is the thought born than the power of the Fountain makes it clear: once the time travel happened, the time travel had ALWAYS happened.

Events during the time travel… caused the events that led to the time travel… which in turn led to the events of the time travel… on and on in an infinity spiral, the snake eating itself, the griffon and its egg (which came first?).

The time travel happened, has always happened, always would have happened, that’s all the Fountain knows. And all the Fountain can do is bring Jane to witness AND take part in the moment where she herself appeared centuries before her birth to cause the events that would lead to her birth. The hows and whys are now irrelevant. Whether Jane was originally a woman, was always a woman… was originally an elemental power source infatuated with human kindness and suffering, was always an elemental power source… it doesn’t matter. Between the events of the day the Order of the Storm sacrificed itself to save the world and the day Jane left the Material Plane for the Library of the Last Resort, Jane is and was and always will have been both of those things. All of those things.

All that matters, should she step into the future that lies beyond the time travel is which identity she wants to claim: Nature Itself Fighting to Save Itself or Humanity Risking Everything to Save Nature.

But that’s a question for another day.

They materialize with an understanding of their choices. They will only be here for one minute. The Fountain brought them here to witness the source of Jane’s power. She can accept that knowledge, save the Order of the Storm from the approaching forces, and take her place in the crystal sarcophagus as she did before, complete the ritual, and create the conditions that lead to her existence as a boundless font of elemental power.

OR.

They are here now. They could conceivably do nothing. Stand back, watch the Order of the Storm go down, and watch Kyuss break into the world 1,500 years before she was ever born, will be born, will have been born…

The Fountain asks, What do you do?

They fight.

Long Fist summons Hyaeliotope as Riddle casts blessings of fervor on his companions. Scar-Eater points at an undead brute racing towards the group, and they all recognize it as Thrazdan the Destroyer, Knight of Kyuss, Tyrrell’s progenitor. Tyrrell chops off his own finger and Jane races to retrieve it and put her own ring of sustenance on it.

The party takes on the approaching horde in full force, sparing nothing. Heal spells from Riddle and Jane take down Thrazdan. Above, Lashonna the silver dragon paralyzes several chromatic dragons, sending them crashing to the ground. Riddle binds a sixty-foot-long serpent made of bones with binding winds and Jane sees a window in which to reach the sarcophagus and shut herself inside.

Jane lies down in the crystal sarcophagus and it seals around her. She immediately goes dormant, frozen in the identical position they saw her in when they discovered her on Tilagos Island before crossing through the obsidian portal.

The druids’ spell completes.

The two who gave their hearts die as the pieces of obsidian lodged within their chest expand into large flat portal stones and come to rest on the ground.

The three who gave their minds die as their skulls are torn full open by howling winds, their brains torn to infinitesimally small pieces and scattered into a cloud of mist all around the party.

The four who gave their flesh finally burn to death and from out of the purifying fires step the creatures they knew as Wild Watchers, halos of insects already starting to form around them.

Tylanthros cries out, “All terrors that might conceivably stand in Dragotha’s stead, all terrors out of time, all threats to the brief breath of peace I hope may fall, come with us!”

A maelstrom of blazing white and red light bursts forth from the obsidian portal stones and from all corners of the Material Plane, enormous creatures are pulled through space and into the demi-plane being born before their eyes. A titan. A primordial dragon. Mutant dinosaurs. Impossible gorillas. On and on and on.

And as the party’s link to this time and place winks out, they see it happen: Jane’s actual soul leaves her flesh and sinks into the earth, filling the water, filling the lake, filling the rain-lodged sky…

And then they vanish from this place and time races on, carrying them all with it.

All of them but Jane.

Days turn into weeks into months into years as time and space fly past their perception. They sense the chaos of their companions’ questions to the Fountain of Dreams, throbbing in the background like a deep ache, one idea rising above the others “What is the source of my power?”

Finally, you settle in one place, one time.

They are in a small farm house. Comfy. Cozy. It is dusk. A human woman sits alone on a chair, her eyes red and vacant, her brow furrowed, her hands clenched into fists, tears rolling down her cheeks. This is Sasha.

Through the open door to the next room, you see a young girl lying asleep in her own bed, unaware of the grief her mother is experiencing…has been experiencing since her husband took the fall that took his mind. The blow to his skull was horrific enough to crush through and puncture a part of his brain, but even more horribly – it was not quite not bad enough to give him the release of death. The husband sleeps in the other room, the one behind the closed door. He has not left the bed for eight months. He never will leave the bed again, because Sasha cannot afford to travel to a city and pay for the type of healing he would require. But still he lives because she cannot bring herself to end his life.

It is around twenty years ago. Sasha is spending her night as she spends all of her days and nights. Going through the motions, keeping the tears at bay when her daughter is awake, letting them flow when she sleeps. Maintaining the farm. Maintaining her husband. Maintaining. Persisting. But not really living.

And then the front door opens. In steps Sasha’s husband.

Standing

Walking.

ALIVE

Sasha gasps. “Erik?” she whispers.

Erik closes the front door and removes his traveling cloak. He crosses to the daughter’s door and closes it. He peeks into the bedroom where he lies living and dying, smiles, and shuts the door again. He crosses to Sasha.

“Erik?”

They are not yet there, but they see it happen. He kisses her. She submits, weeping.

Erik’s eyes were blue, but this Erik’s eyes are sickly neon green. They see this, but whether Sasha sees it is unknown. Irrelevant, in fact.

His eyes are green because he is not Erik. He is not even a man. He is not even a human. For a brief instant, through the power of the Fountain, they glimpse the true form of Mahuudril, the high priestess of the Tabernacle of Worms. A twelve foot long, pale, maggot-like monstrosity, coated in foul slime. Its head splits in three flaps to reveal a lamprey-toothed maw ringed with glowing green eyes like those of a fly. Six of its eight arms end in longsword-length scythe-like appendages, the other two end in sickly hands, mockeries of humanoid digits. Along its twelve-foot, pulsating, stinking, foul length are a dozen tentacles dripping with slime, ending with even more sickly fly-eyes. It is an avolakia. It can take any humanoid form and almost none can detect its true nature.

Mahuudril has been busy this past year. She knew the Red Death was coming and has been busy preparing.

After all, the work of the Wormlord is never done.

And the way must be paved for his return.

Thus it was that she created the Cult of the Ebon Triad all those years ago at Lashonna’s request. Humans are so easy to manipulate, especially fanatics like the followers of Hextor, Erythnul, and Vecna. And the cult – the fake cult, the useless cult, the perfect front – would be needed to engineer the destruction of the city of Cauldron, perched on that volcano’s edge. It would be the fulfillment of the third prophecy. The first, of course, is the arrival of the Red Death, and that’s what would get the work of centuries seriously launched.

Next year, plague will kill hundreds of thousands in the region.

Hundreds of thousands of corpses.

The beginning of the Wormlord’s army.

Lashonna sent the dragon Illthain to seed the worms throughout the region, ready to begin their march. The worms are the perfect transmitter of undeath, and the ultimate expression of Kyuss’s power, beauty, and majesty. Unlike zombification or other lesser – yet highly communicable forms of undeath – the worms keep their hosts’ natural talents intact. Strength, speed, cunning, patience, intelligence – all intact.

So, while Illthain is seeding worms, Mahuudril is seeding powerful host bodies throughout the region.

Her plan is simple. Has been simple the many hundreds of times she’s done it. She takes human form – male form – and impregnates women with the right bloodlines, hoping to create perfect specimens of powerful humanity to act as uberspawn when the Red Death comes and the worms rise.

Her half-human/half-aberration spawn will be human for all intents and purposes but will inherent (those that survive to term) Mahuudril’s strength, speed, agility, perception, and powers of stealth – making for perfect hosts for Kyuss’s worms. They will be able to camouflage themselves in most environments. Their endurance and speed and strength of Will will be far above those of the average human. They will be drawn to learn about aberrations and stalking and hunting and they’ll never know why. They will thrive in swamps and caves and never know why. Some will be drawn to melee weapons – those will favor multiple blades, never knowing that they’re aping their mother-father’s many raking claws. Some will be drawn to missile weapons, firing faster than the eye can follow, firing arrows at a rate it would seem would require six – or eight – hands to manage.

But all of that is beside the point. The point is what is happening now.

Through the power of the Fountain they know what happens next. Sasha embraces “Erik.” Sasha falls into his arms. He is here, that’s all that matters. This is what they do. This is what she wants. Why question it? Why deny it? Sasha turns off that piece of her brain that might give her pause and follows the path laid before her.

In 20 minutes, a child will be conceived. A boy. Strong, fast, stealthy, all-seeing, driven, drawn to the darkness and swamps and Underdark, a great hunter of powerful focus. His name will be Erik Korbin (called Junior by Sasha before she dies), though he’ll never know it. He’ll only know the name he took for himself: Archie Forrest.

In roughly a year, while he lies squalling in his crib, his mother and sister will die from the Red Death. And so, at long last, will the man his mother married – Erik Korbin – so will he finally move beyond the veil, claimed by the Red Death as well.

Since Archie is not here, the party understands that they will not materialize here and now. They are only here to witness. And as they witness, the Fountain gives them the gift of comprehension. This is The Choice that was made: one woman followed the path laid before her, however wrong it may have felt in the back of her mind, however much she might have – could have – questioned it, and chose to slip into a customary role in a time of terrible pressure and need, leading to the fulfillment of one of Kyuss’s high priestess’s plans for the world. This is the source of Archie’s power: his power was born in cunning, self-deception, and pain – and his power hails directly from the strategizing of one of Kyuss’s leading fulfillers of prophecy in the world. He has been tied to Kyuss’s story since before he was born.

They vanish from this place and time races on, carrying them all with it.

Time passes in a blur of speed this time. The time difference between their last destination and this one is small – miniscule in the scheme of millennia that they’ve been traveling. As they travel through time and space, they sense the chaos of their companions’ questions to the Fountain of Dreams, throbbing in the background like a deep ache, one idea rising above the others “What is the source of my power?”

Finally, they settle in one place, one time.

They see an open courtyard in a building built for literal giants. Doors are nearly 20 feet high. Steps are almost three feet high. Everything towers at a scale that makes them feel like insects. The city clings to the side of a gargantuan gorge, that monstrous tear in the flesh of the world known as the Great Rift Canyon. That miles-wide, miles-deep tear in the world created when the Rod of Law was sundered, all those thousands of years ago. They are not there yet, but soon they will be. The power of the Fountain is bringing them into being here, now. Then, there.

It is 20 years ago. It is the once-great city giant city of Kongen-Thulnir in the crumbling, waning days long past its glory. It is vast, but nearly empty. The society of Stone Giants – allies of the Order of the Storm in days of old – that lived and ruled here for centuries, guarding the phylactery of Dragotha, keeping it safe from the agents of Kyuss, those giants have long since died out. As generations and centuries passed, their mission of guarding the phylactery vault went from duty to order to tradition, and from tradition to faith and superstition. Then other giants came to Kongen-Thulnir, some on errands of peace, some to make war. Control of the city changed hands countless times. Wars and squabbling reduced the city to ruins, a shadow of its once-mighty glory. Yet through it all, the wards and mystical auras left behind by Saellas and her sisters persisted. Each new tribe of giants to claim Kongen-Thulnir quickly came to view the Citadel of Weeping Dragons as their responsibility. They knew not why. They knew not what rested within the inner vault of the citadel, yet they knew it was their duty to protect it.

But again: the glory that was Kongen-Thulnir is a thing of the past. Now it is a horror show of foul lesser giants, ogres, and ogre-kin. It is a place of savagery and physical power – not the beacon of knowledge and goodness and order it once was.

The giants of Kongen-Thulnir, specifically in the Kharhakhan tribe (the Riftlords), are at a turning point. Their king, the cloud giant Achaime Silvereye, is ill. Has been ill for decades. With Silvereye on his deathbed, the Riftlords are breaking down into subtribes, each with their own petty lord, each with their own agenda.

The Khargak-dwergun tribe (the Rift Crawlers) is in disarray. Charlgar’s attempted coup nearly cost him his life and he and his followers are nursing their wounds, fading in prominence as fast as they rose.

The Tiamikal Nul-Shada tribe has remained apart from the power struggles in the city. Their duty is to guard the Citadel of Weeping Dragons, and to their duty they remain constant. In their own way. Constant but apart.

Back to the courtyard. One of the Riftlord subtribes is gathered en masse: giants of all shapes and sizes, and many, many ogres. An upstart hill giant/ogre crossbreed named Turrok has challenged “ Kroth the Learned” for chieftainship. Before today, the ways of the Stone Giants were still strong in the tribe – thanks to the teachings of Kroth the Learned – and so murder was not a part of the transfer of power. Duels, yes. Displays of power, yes. Savage mutilations, sometimes yes. But never murder. The Stone Giants taught that murder was an abomination against the natural order. But the Stone Giants are long gone now. The dwindling numbers of the tribe had made murder seem ill-advised… but such logic requires higher brain function… and the giants of this subtribe are losing such function.

They are not yet materialized, but they see it happen. Turrok battles Kroth the Learned for control of the tribe. The fight is brutal. The rage of the watching crowd is awe-inspiring. Kroth has the upper hand for much of the fight, then a turned ankle on a crumbling flagstone leads to a sudden sea change.

Kroth goes down.

Turrok rises above him. This is the moment when victory would be claimed. If the ways of the Stone Giants held, Turrok would take an ear or a finger and Kroth the Learned would acknowledge defeat before the entire tribe.

But the bloodlust of the crowd is palpable.

And the hunger for power and might and cruelty is strong in Turrok.

They are not there yet, but they see it happen. Turrok raises his axe. He is going to behead the helpless Kroth. They see a literal monster, a mountain of towering muscle and physical strength set aside the teachings he once knew in his heart to be true, craving the easy answer, craving the rush of power…they see this grotesque horror make the decision to set his entire tribe, his family, his party, down one path, a dark path… when he could have chosen differently.

They are starting to materialize now, and through the power of the Fountain they know what happens next. The axe falls. Kroth the Learned’s head rolls. The crowd goes wild. And all of Kroth’s choices for two decades will come to an end.

Tomorrow, the hunting parties that normally tackled the more deadly but less sentient prey of the Great Rift, would take a different path…they would turn for the first time to hunting the far easier prey of the human villages to the south. Hunting for flesh. Flesh to ravage and flesh to consume. One particular raid will lead to Long Fist’s inception – for he is, after all, the son of Turrok – and to the death and rape and torture of dozens of innocents. Hundreds, over time.

They are taking solid form in the world now, and as they become REAL in this place and time, the Fountain gives them the gift of comprehension. This is The Choice that was made: one man chose the easy display of strength and might over the life of another soul lying helpless and defeated at his feet. Had he chosen otherwise, Kroth would have lived and the raid that gave birth to Long Fist would not have happened, for Kroth’s teachings were powerful…but only as long as he lived to espouse them. This is the source of Long Fist’s power: his power was born in murder, brutality, and pain – and his power hails directly from those who guarded the secret power of Kyuss’s greatest general, although they never knew it. Long Fist has been tied to Kyuss’s story since before he was born.

They materialize with an understanding of their choices. They will only be here for a moment. The Fountain brought them here to witness the source of Long Fist’s power. Accept that knowledge, do nothing, and move on.

Or.

They are here now. They could intervene, step forward and stop the swing of the axe blade. Save Kroth the Learned’s life and break the cycle of savagery and violence threatening to consume the Riftlords. Kroth is no saint, but at the moment Kroth is helpless and about to beg for mercy. They could save his life, and save the lives of all who would go on to die in this village and elsewhere…

And erase Long Fist’s entire existence from the pages of history – never to live, never to play his part in stopping Kyuss’s plans in the future, never to use his powers against Kyuss, never to play his part in saving the world.

The Fountain asks, What do you do?

Long Fist turns to the group and say, “I can’t join you anymore. I don’t know how to say this, but…I remember the time at the Bronzewood Lodge, and after – the world felt so small, just focused on staying alive.

“Four months ago, I joined you all, hoping to be a champion for Good. Make a difference. But too long in this campaign have I chosen the small evil over the greater good. Sometimes the greater evil.

“That has never felt right to me.

“I blamed you, all of you, as an influence on who I was becoming. You and the harshness of the world.

“But it was my choice. And now, my responsibility.

“With you I have succeeded as a force of strength and power in the fight against evil. But I have failed utterly in life as a source of inspiration in the fight for goodness.

“A world that survives filled with suffering and indifference is not a world for me.Goodness means saving the world by small acts of mercy and salvation – not just big acts of destruction. Given the option to protect the innocent souls in Brier Town, and all those who have suffered and died because of me, at the cost of my own existence, well, I see the opportunity to do something right.

“I asked you all on my birthday what you fight for. Maybe it’s arrogant of me to believe this, but, I hope you will remember me, though I don’t know if that’s even possible. Mostly, I hope that you will come to believe that you are fighting for actual people, actual lives, actual moments and relationships instead of an abstract world.

“I wish to spare these lives. And. I wish to save your souls.

“Riddle, I know that by dying in the mines when I did, I robbed you of the only chance to return your mother to life. I suspect you’ve long wondered why I should live while she had to die – whether it was worth it or not. Believe me, I have wondered the same thing. But the fact is: her life was no more or less valuable than mine. I see that now, somehow. So, freely and with love, I can now return the gift of life to you that you so bravely gave to me.

“And, all of you, I implore you – let Jane LEAD you.

And with that, Long Fist steps forward and into the path of the axe. His mere presence and the outlandish impossibility of it is enough to bring the bloodrage of the proceedings to a halt. Everyone in the courtyard simply stares for a moment. And when that moment passes, and Kroth wasn’t killed, time is instantly rewritten. Long Fist ceases to exist. He ceases to ever have existed. The world begins rewriting itself around his absence and the power of the Fountain drags the rest of you forward in time. The party will remember Long Fist, but only because they visited, for a brief 19 or 20 years, the dimension in which he had existed. But that dimension, that universe is no more.

With a lurching sense of disorientation, they find themselves standing back on Tilagos Island. The normal Tilagos Island, not the demi-plane. The demi-plane is no more. The obsidian disc is gone. But the crystal sarcophagus is there. Inside, Jane’s body lays just as they last saw it. Then suddenly it breathes. And as it does they can tell that Time is not quite back in phase for them. It’s running super-slow. Starting to speed up, they sense. But still super-slow. Jane’s soulless body takes its first breath in 1,500 years and as it does, the storm surrounding Tilagos Island instantly ceases to be. Like a switch thrown, one instant it’s on and the next it’s off.

With the storm gone, they see the sky. It is day, yet the sky is black, roiling with green clouds centered to the north, where the city of Alhaster lies. The clouds roil in slow motion, though, adding to the eeriness of the sight.

As they slide back into reality, into their own separate bodies, and as the power of the Fountain leaves them, they have one last lingering sensation of awareness brought on by the power of the Fountain. As its power is fading from them…its power is actually fading, period. The magic that created the Fountain is dying out and the secrets and threats it contained are slipping out. Inside dusty, forgotten tomes in massive libraries, pieces of lore are materializing where they never had been before. Buried in chests, amongst wreckage at the bottom of the sea, in sealed corner stones at the foundations of old houses…inside log books, diaries, ledgers, notes, scrawlings…information is materializing. Nowhere obvious. Nowhere immediately noticeable. And no one knows it’s happening. (Well, a few know it’s happening.) But it is happening. All the knowledge that had disappeared from existence is slowly returning and can now be found again. Perhaps. With the right motivation and a great deal of luck. But it’s all coming back here. And over the next centuries, well into whatever Age next follows, it will start to reemerge. Unless, of course, all of the prophecies are right and the next Age is the Age of Worms. In which case, everyone’s fucked anyways.

And thanks to the power of the Fountain, they understand that while they are the only holders of the information they were just given…for now…that their advantage will be short-lived. Some of their foes, foes such as Dragotha himself, are among the longest-lived (or unlived) beings in all existence, and easily among the most powerful beings on the Material Plane. Dragotha has bent his entire formidable powers to finding his phylactery for centuries. He will sense a change and he will learn quickly. And he will act quickly.

THE RACE IS ON.

Despite what seemed would be happening, Time is not speeding up yet. But something is going on. They themselves are speeding up, but the world around them seems to be slowing to a near halt. The clouds almost freeze in their angry roil overhead. The massive waves crashing down on the shoreline are suspended in mid-air, cascading flashes of spray glinting green in the still, frozen air.

They barely have time to process that this has happened before a perfect circle nearly 30ft. in diameter opens in the air a hundred feet overhead. Beyond, in stark contrast to the horrific black and green sky, through the portal they see an endless expanse of sun-dappled grassland – the Blessed Fields of Elysium. And with a nearly eye-destroying intensity of light, the honest-to-fucking-goodness sun in humanoid form comes flying through the portal.

They see an old human man in robes of white, with gleaming golden hair and beard. He rides a breaktakingly beautiful creature like a hooved lion with a unicorn’s horn. Its mane seems to be made of living flame. Its eyes burn with fierce intelligence and a sense of driving kindness.

Pelor lands. He dismounts Star Thought, his ki-rin companion. He speaks. His voice vibrates within them to the frequency of the universe and they are driven face down. They cannot help it.

“HOW AM I HERE?” he asks. They can tell it is a rhetorical question because they feel no compulsion to speak. They know that if he did expect an answer to his question, they would fall over themselves and each other to answer him. Love him, hate him, acknowledge him, or not…He is before them and they now know what it means to stand (or lie prostrate) before a god. While their bodies obey, their brains catalogue this experience as something they’ll never forget. The power of gods is beyond anything their adolescent minds could ever have comprehended. And for certain of them…the more imaginative…they grasp hold of a faint truth: there is a reason the gods (well, especially Greater Gods like Pelor) rarely appear in person outside of their Realms, why they have aspects and avatars to send among the mortals… the fact is, the world itself can barely contain the power of one Greater God simply standing on the earth in a state of relative placidity. The thought of Gods of this magnitude duking it out over some slight or disagreement… well, the thought leads to the certainty of the end of the world.

But that’s a tangent. The Sun God just spoke to them. Attention must be paid. Their minds snap back.

“HOW AM I HERE? THERE ARE FEW BEINGS THAT EXIST OUTSIDE OF TIME AS THE UNIVERSE KNOWS IT AND I AM ONE.

“WHY AM I HERE? THERE IS SOMETHING THAT MUST BE ACKNOWLEDGED…

“THOUGH IT CAN NEVER BE ACKNOWLEDGED.

_“YOUR FRIEND CAUGHT MY ATTENTION WITH HIS SACRIFICE. LIKE SAINT JALNIR THE GENTLE BEFORE HIM (A HALF-ORC FAMED FOR HIS BRAVERY IN THE FACE OF PREJUDICE AND THE WRONGS TOO SMALL FOR MOST TO BOTHER FIGHTING… ESPECIALLY THOSE OF GREAT POWER AND LITTLE HUMILITY), YOUR FRIEND CAST OFF A TROUBLED YOUTH AND EMBRACED LIFE OVER SELF, COMMUNITY OVER POWER, GOODNESS OVER NECESSITY. _

_“BECAUSE NO ONE EVER WILL, BUT SOMEONE MUST, YOU SHOULD KNOW WHAT HE HAS DONE. _

_“THERE IS A REASON BOCCOB ALLOWS SO LITTLE MORTAL MAGIC TO TAMPER WITH TIME. IN MANY WAYS, TIME IS THE MOST POWERFUL FORCE IN EXISTENCE. IT CAN ERASE, UNDO, CREATE, AND DESTROY IN WAYS THAT FEWEVEN WE GODSUNDERSTAND. THE MAGIC OF THE LIBRARY WAS ALLOWED, I BELIEVE, BECAUSE IT WAS NEVER IMAGINED IT WOULD BE USED IN THIS WAY. _

“BUT IT WAS.

_“HERE IS WHAT YOUR FRIEND HAS DONE. LIKE A PURIFYING RAY OF SUNLIGHT TEARING THROUGH A DARKENED CAVERN, LIKE A HOLY WIND ROARING THROUGH A SEALED TOMB, HE HAS BROUGHT SMALLBUT PROFOUNDCHANGE. BY CEASING TO EXIST, LONG FIST HAS BROKEN ONE OF THE OTHER MOST POWERFUL FORCES IN ALL CREATION: PROPHECY. _

_“PROPHECY IS AN ELEMENT OF TIME: A RECORD OF PAST AND FUTURE, POTENTIAL AND POSSIBILITY, MIGHT BE AND WILL BE AND MUST BE, IN WRITTEN FORM. IT IS INESCAPABLE, FROM THE MORTAL PERSPECTIVE. IT IS INESCAPABLE EVEN FROM THE DIVINE PERSPECTIVE. UNLESS COUNTERED BY A FORCE MORE POWERFULAND THAT FORCE IS TIME. _

“LONG FIST HAS SHATTERED YOUR PARTY’S TIES TO PROPHECY. AS ONE OF THE MAJOR PLAYERS IN SEVERAL POWERFUL PROPHECIES CEASES TO EVER HAVE EXISTED… SO DOES THE PROPHECY ITSELF CEASE TO EXIST. THERE IS NO LONGER A ROADMAP FOR THE COMING DAYS. THE AGE OF WORMS IS NO LONGER A FOREGONE CONCLUSION. FOR ONCE, IN ALL OF TIME, THE COMING AGE IS NOT FORETOLD. WE STAND AT A CROSSROADS UNLIKE THE WORLD HAS EVER KNOWN. THE PATH AHEAD IS YOURS TO FORGE AND LITERALLY ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN. FIGHT THE WORMLORD. WALK AWAY. TAKE UP FARMING. THE CHOICE IS YOURS. YOU ARE BOUND TO NOTHING BUT YOUR OWN SENSE OF DUTY AND PURPOSE.

“SADLY – FROM MY PERSPECTIVE, WHICH YOU MAY NOT SHAREALL OF THE FORCES AND PROPHECIES AT PLAY THAT HAVE BOUND THE GODS AND MORTALS WHO WOULD OTHERWISE PLAY A HAND IN THIS CONFLICT AGAINST THE FORCES OF THE WORMLORDFORCING THEIR ATTENTIONS IN OTHER PLACES, IN SEEMINGLY MORE PRESSING CONFLICTSLEAVING YOU ALONE AGAINST A MIGHTY FOETHOSE PROPHECIES AND FORCES ARE STILL IN PLAY BECAUSE THEY DID NOT DIRECTLY INVOLVE LONG FIST.

“IN FACT, WITH THE SHATTERING OF YOUR PARTY’S PROPHECIES COMES THE SHATTERING OF THE SEVEN’S TIES BEYOND THE GRAVE TO PURPOSE. THEY LIVE ONLY IN YOU NOW, RIDDLE. AND YOU NOW HAVE THE CHOICE: TAKE THEIR POWER AND LET THEM DIE (AND WITH YOU WILL DIE THEIR POWER), OR CONTINUE TO USE THEIR POWER AND RETURN KNOWLEDGE OF THEM TO THE WORLD AND TRY TO REVIVE THEM AFTER ALL THESE MILLENNIA. THE CHOICE IS YOURS. AT LAST.

“I MYSELF CAN ONLY SPEAK TO YOU HERE BECAUSE THIS MOMENT IS NOT REALLY HAPPENING. ONLY YOU AND I WILL REMEMBER IT. OR PERHAPS BOCCOB WILL, SINCE I INVOKED HIS NAME. TWICE NOW. (HELLO, UNCARING ONE.) AND THERE ARE CERTAINLY OVERGODS WHOSE EXISTENCES AND PURPOSES AND POWER ARE BEYOND EVEN MY UNDERSTANDING, AND THEY MUST KNOW OF THIS MOMENT. PERHAPS THEY ORCHESTRATED IT. I CANNOT SAY. BUT THE FORCES THAT HAVE PREVENTED MY DIRECT INTERVENTION WILL RETURN THE INSTANT WE STEP BACK INTO THE FLOW OF TIME.

_“SO BEFORE I GO, I WANTED YOU TO KNOW THE IMPACT OF YOUR FRIEND’S SACRIFICE. HE NEVER EXISTED, BUT WILL ALWAYS EXIST INSIDE YOUR HEARTS AND MINDS. THE WORLD WILL BE DIFFERENT NOW THAT HE WAS NEVER HERE. IN MOST WAYS, DARKER. IN SOME, LIGHTER. LIGHTER BECAUSE OF THE SHATTERING OF PROPHECY, OF COURSE. BUT LIGHTER IN OTHER WAYS. RIDDLE, YOUR MOTHER LIVES. _

_“WHEN LONG FIST WAS NOT THERE TO DIE BELOW DIAMOND LAKE, THE ASPECT OF THE EBON TRIAD’S ABOMINATION MADE IT TO THE SURFACE TO SLAY DOZENS AND DOZENS MORE BEFORE YOU COULD TAKE IT DOWN. BUT SINCE HE WAS NOT THERE TO DIEYOU WERE ABLE TO RAISE YOUR MOTHER. YOU RELOCATED HER TO RAVENDALE, WHERE SHE REMAINS, THRIVING FROM THE GOLD YOU’D SENT HER. SHE’S EVEN FOUND WHAT MIGHT BE LOVE, IN THE FORM OF A WOMAN HER AGE FROM A NOT DISSIMILAR BACKGROUND. _

_“AND I WANTED YOU TO KNOW THAT WHILE LONG FIST HAS NEVER EXISTED, THE SOUL THAT BECAME HIM IN THE LIFE YOU KNEWTHAT SOUL HAS FOUND A HOME. LIKE I SAID, HIS SACRIFICE CAUGHT MY EYE. HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH HEIRONEOUS HAD ALWAYS BEEN A TROUBLED ONE. UPON HIS DEATH, HEIRONEOUS RELEASED HIM. AND I CLAIMED HIM. NOW, TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, THE RESULT IS THE SAME: WHEN IT CAME TIME FOR THE SOUL THAT YOU KNEW AS LONG FIST TO ENTER THE WORLD, THERE WAS NO BODY FOR IT. _

_“I CLAIMED THE SOUL. _

_“AND I FOUND A BODY FOR IT. _

“KNOW THAT WHILE THERE NEVER WAS AND NEVER WILL BE THE INDIVIDUAL YOU KNEW AS LONG FIST, HIS GENTLE SOUL LIVES TODAY, IN A DIFFERENT BODY, WITH NO KNOWLEDGE OF THE GREAT ACTS HE PERFORMED, BUT ALIVE. AND, PERHAPS, AT GREATER PEACE THAN HE EVER WAS IN THE LIFE YOU KNEW. SO, MOURN THE LOSS OF YOUR FRIEND IN YOUR OWN WAYS. BUT DO SO KNOWING THAT HIS DEEDS WERE REWARDED, IN A FASHION.”

Pelor mounts Star Thought and flies through the portal to Elysium. The portal closes and the unbelievable weight of the godly presence is lifted from the party. And at the same instant, Time kicks back in and they are in the raging hellscape of Tilagos Island.

Jane emerges from her sarcophagus.

The handy haversack is no longer in Long Fists’s possession because Long Fist never existed. Riddle carries it. He both knows that he never had, but also that he always had carried it.

They’re just standing there for a moment trying to wrap their minds around everything that they’ve just learned and experienced when someone else comes swooping out of the sky. It’s Archie – looking significantly older – and he’s riding on the back of a mother-fuckin’ golden GRIFFON companion! “Tenser thought it would be today,” he says. “I guess he was right.”

There is much to catch up on, which they do so over the course of a long day and night. In brief, here’s what they learn:

Archie has absolutely no knowledge that Long Fist ever existed and that all has to be explained to him. Over the course of the night of storytelling and swapping, they are able to pinpoint what’s different in their memories of the campaign.

First of all, Long Fist was not there to take down the Ebon Aspect in the Dourstone Mine at the moment he did. The enlarged, enraged Aspect broke free from the maze and made it to the surface, where many dozen more people died before the party could drop the thing. Sad, but not irrecoverable.

Second: more sad – tragic, in fact – is what happened at the end of the Champions Games. Without Long Fist to nearly singlehandedly drop the Ulgurstasa with the speed with which he did so, the creature was able to fulfill its purpose. Though the creature is, of course, powerful as a combatant, its true danger lies as an undead manufacturing engine. Without Long Fist’s smiting powers, and given the distraction of Loris Raknian and his goon squad, the Ulgurstasa made it to Auric and consumed him. A blast of negative energy exploded through the arena. The party survived, and some selected others did, but 10,000 commoners were instantly killed and turned into ravenous flesh-eating wights. The Ulgurstasa vomited up its cargo of dragon skeletons and other horrors and soon all was chaos. The wights began killing and each person they took down rose instantly as a wight as well. The party was forced to flee the arena, flee the city entirely. What followed was a disaster unlike any the world has seen before, one which the Circle of Eight is still trying to deal withto this day.

Many other encounters went differently – including the clash with the Marquis of the River, who escaped and still exists having sworn to end your party – but those were the largest and darkest of the tales to relate.

On the lighter side, it is true that Riddle’s mother still lives. Archie checks in on her from time to time, knowing that Riddle would wish him to do so, and he makes sure that she and her partner are alive and well.

After catching up on those things, Archie shares what happened to him:

First of all, the current date: it is Starday, the 8th of Reaping (high summer, though they’d never be able to tell from the perpetually overcast sky), Common Year 601. Almost five-and-a-half years since you went to Tilagos.

After he was banished, Archie appeared on an entirely different continent, high up in the mountains over a city populated by the yuan-ti snake people. He did not speak the language, and was very much unwelcome there, and had to begin what was a year-long trek to return back to Nyr Dyv. Cross-country rangery treks, stowing aboard some ships, buying passage on others. It was epic beyond belief and someday he’ll catch you up on the details of all that transpired.

He made his way back to Tenser, who was still wrapped up in the aftermath of the Champion’s Games, but was able to do some communing with extraplanar entities and learned that it was likely that the party would return, but the when of that was distant and unknown.

For a couple of years or so, Archie kept a vigil at Tilagos Island, hoping to be there when the party returned, or to stop Darl from returning if he could. During those years, he encountered his new griffon companion. The creature was circling overhead during one particular week, and caught his eye. He lured it down, learned to ride it, learned to fire effectively from his back, and established a bond with it. They’re good buds now. Not that it speaks, of course. But it seems almost as though it understands him and with all the time they’ve spent alone together, Archie’s grown accustomed to talking to it.

From time to time, they would head for the mainland to hunt for food and stock up on provisions. As he visited nearby communities, he discovered that the golden griffon was well known in the area. For over a decade, it had been fighting off rampaging giants and ogres, taking down smaller dragons, and fighting off the surging parties of undead that had been wandering the area in greater and greater frequency. Simply riding in on the griffon’s back made Archie an instant celebrity. And he’d marvel at how all the children of the region would be allowed to walk right up to it, pet it, tug on his feathers and fur, all without any consequence from the powerful, dangerous creature. There were all sorts of legends about the beast – how it had been touched by holy power, that it was smarter than other griffons, and it seemed driven by some purpose. In time, he came to learn that the people of the area had given it a name: “Longclaw, the Golden Griffon of Pelor.”

Time marched on. Eventually, Tenser was able to determine that the party’s return was still several years distant, so Archie decided to take Longclaw and start scouting and preparing for their return. Here’s what he knows:

The city of Alhaster is the most cheerfully, pleasantly, smiles-plastered-to-its-citizens’-faces-ly terrifying bleak place. The borders have been closed for a year or so, but Archie and his pal have been able to sneak in and out from time to time. Smiling Prince Zeech began pressing slaves into labor to build a giant structure next to his palace atop his hill overlooking the city. At first it seemed innocuous (despite the slaves dying by the dozens every week) but eventually it became clear – to Archie at least, thanks to his visions of the past – that Zeech was building a near-exact replica of the giant ziggurat of Kuluth-Mar, the structure that helped power Kyuss’s ascension to godhood. All that’s missing is the giant monolith that topped it – but there’s even a place for that.

Zeech’s “Blessed Angels” as they’re called – his army of lady angels – are not holy creatures. Archie has determined that they are actually Erinyes devils, bound to Zeech’s service by means unknown.

Archie and Longclaw scouted the area of the Great Rift Canyon rumored to be where Dragotha makes his lair – a place called the Wormcrawl Fissure. He’s been able to thoroughly map out the area and knows its major power figures: an ancient ulgurstasa sorcerer known as some sort of prophet of Kyuss, a fallen Lillend bard hiding out and making freaky art, and a disturbing lich wizard fabled for the creation of all sorts of monsters like the owlbear, mimic, rust monster, and more. But he has not dared to descend into the stinking pit called Kyuss’s Maw, where something called the Tabernacle of Worms is supposed to exist, and where Dragotha is supposed to lair.

On his first visit to the Wormcrawl Fissure, Archie was struck with intense, unexplained visions of a stately-looking man that (after talking with Tenser) he was able to identify as the long-missing Balakarde, Tenser’s friend who became obsessed with Kyuss nearly eight years ago, who visited the ruins of Kuluth-Mar and then disappeared into the Great Rift Canyon shortly thereafter. Archie suspects that Balakarde’s ghost may haunt the Wormcrawl Fissure, and may even be a source of aid to the party if a more reliable means of communing with his spirit is discovered. Every time Archie felt that presence in his mind, he began feeling PULLS towards the Apostle Caves, the Lillend’s home, and the Lich’s laboratory.

When the topic of Kongen-Thulnir is broached, Archie is able to identify exactly where that is and an overview of the ruined city crawling with a dying civilization of giants.

Then finally Tenser indicated this would be the day the party would return and here he came.

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Session Sixty-One
In Which We Do That Thing We Are Never, Ever, Ever, EVER Supposed to Do, Suffer Literally No Consequences For it, and STILL Get Jacked by a Technicality

Sunday, 15 Fireseek, CY 596 (WhatEVER)

After healing and discussing how scant their resources are, the party identifies the likeliest site of the death of the Roc King: a mountain peak under constant assault by lightning bolts. Because, of course.

Due to severely limited time and resources, the party decides it’s best if Jane and Riddle fly to the peak to complete the last trial while Tyrrell, Long Fist, and Scar-Eater go retrieve Krathanos’ Belt from its hiding place. So you know, the party is going to…divide. Separate. Fragment. Rive. Tear asunder. Or, as they say: split.

First they load Jane up with every personality booster they have and she uses her Pearl of Power to recall the failed dominate animal from earlier. Riddle takes Tyrrell’s scroll of raise dead, casts protection from electricity, communal on himself and Jane, and the party goes their separate ways.

Jane, as Athena, flies Riddle to the top of an insanely high peak. They are struck by lightning no less than four times. At around ten thousand feet up they spot the corpse of the enormous bird beast and they fly down to inspect it. They see massive areas of bludgeoning damage as if it had been repeatedly crushed by boulders. “_Clashing of rocks_,” Riddle says, shaking his head.

But there isn’t time to mourn as lightning continues striking them. Jane shifts to her air elemental Tempest form while Riddle uses the scroll to raise the Roc King. There is an deep rumble as its enormous body trembles and shakes, reviving in the midst of the scream of the death throw agony that Darl and company wrought upon it. Riddle heals it and she attempts to communicate with it, but she’s…well, not great at this. Riddle attempts to help her with alter fortune but the best she can manage is to keep it in a state of non-aggression. It obviously wants to fly away immediately and they cannot allow that, so she uses dominate animal, using the connection between them to project an image of it remaining still while she pulls a feather from its body. It crouches, awkwardly, but without rebellion, and allows her to take the feather. She needs two attempts, but gets it. The final trial is complete.

It is late in the evening on Tilagos when the party reunites, but at least they are able to gather without any further incidents or encounters. It is about an hour from midnight when they return through the flat vale where the obsidian portal originally deposited them. Standing under the incredibly intense and vibrant light of the star, the four haloed humanoids who greeted them await their return. All bear banners of flame, clouds, parched earth, and oceans.

Tylanthros steps forward again. “The Fountain of Dreams is linked to all things in Last Resort. Earth, trees, clouds, my life, and my brothers’ lives. If the waters are consumed, the Order’s rights shall be revoked and the creatures imprisoned here will be freed to the Material Plane. Is this what you want?”

The party – these five kids, wielders of god-like powers burdened with the emotional maturity of the teenagers that they are – all look to each other, uncertain. Time and again have they chosen the path that seemed the most righteous only to find they have unwittingly unleashed terror and bloodshed upon the world. Time and again have they followed their hearts only to learn that all roads lead to destruction, the question is, whose?

In the silence Tylanthros reviews the trials these children have completed and asks again if they wish to drink from the Fountain of Dreams.

And Tyrrell buys them some time.

He asks about Kyuss, startling the brothers. “He almost broke fully free from his prison in our time, and in order to help lock him back away we stole…what did we steal? There was a general. There was a dragon, we took something important to distract it from the war at hand but what happened after we…what happened after we…we do not know.”

Tyrrell asks how his finger got on this island for centuries, but they cannot say. “Our vigil has lasted fifteen years. Nineteen years ago…something changes. There was an active force at work in the water beneath…and it stopped paying attention. It stopped paying attention.”

These guys are not entirely…there, as it were. Tyrrell asks, “Have we met before?” but the brothers cannot answer and seem troubled by the questions.

Jane asks what happened to the rest of the Order of the Storm. Tylanthros reports that there were ten involved in the binding, but not all survived the spell. “Our bodies survived,” he notes, cryptically.

“When Kyuss was first imprisoned,” he says, “it was the elves. When he almost broke free again we worked with…others…others we cannot remember.”

Tyrrell asks, “If we don’t drink the waters, and we just go home, what happens to you guys?” Tylanthros explains that he and his brothers must remain until the death of this plane. He presumes they would die, but when Jane asks if that is what they want, he claims they don’t remember.

“What is in the Library?” Riddle asks.

“Everything secret that no one still living knows,” Tylanthros replies. One of the brothers states that he hopes we would use the knowledge gained there against Kyuss. Another, called Sayren-Lei, disagrees. He does not believe the party deserves to drink for allowing the Roc King to die at the hands of Darl and friends.

Tired and frustrated, Jane snaps back, “The Roc King lives.”

Sayren-Lei is not satisfied. He formally contests the party’s accomplishments and demands trial by blood to prove their worthiness. The others are clearly surprised, but confirm that it is his right to do so. Riddle proceeds to commune with his dieties to ask if the party should drink the waters or try to find another way to preserve the secrets of the Library. His chorus answers, in no uncertain terms: _”The Servant of Vecna is not gone forever. He will return. The secrets will be his, unless they are prevents. Drinks the waters if you would have them for yourself.”

Trial by blood it is.

But before that happens, Tyrrell suggests to the others that Sayren-Lei might be stalling so the servant of Vecna can return and claim the Library for himself. Tylanthros seems saddened by the suggestion by not swayed. “We do not exist in the way that you think. We exist only as the agenda we had when we gave our flesh to the spell. We believe anyone with a different agenda would surely have died in the trying to sacrifice themselves.

Riddle steps up to try to reason with Sayren-Lei that by denying himself and his friends he is serving Vecna. Jane, still spent and desperate to avoid another fight, pleads with the others to convince Sayren-Lei to help them end their service, but they do not seem to understand how to process that and without further ado, Jane shifts into her fire elemental form and prepares for battle.

Tyrrell gives bargaining one last shot and at least gets the other three discussing their options, but ultimately, it will be trial by blood.

Of course.

Riddle steps up and shakes all of their hands, gaining at least six pieces of information about their strengths and weaknesses through touching them. He hands the Rod of Thunder and Lightning to Tyrrell and says, “You’ll need this,” then turns to the others. “Long Fist and Scar-Eater, you’re the strongest, you need to hold him.

With that, he draws a scroll and begins to read.

Tyrrell vanishes in a swarm of shadowy duplicates but Sayren-Lei still appears able to see him. And speaking of swarms, suddenly hundreds of thousands of insects manifest all around him, and then, after a causal stoneskinning of himself, hundreds of thousands of more centipedes manifest around the party.

Long Fist is immediately poisoned by the horrible things but he attempts to do as Riddle instructed anyway, but he just can’t seem to get a hold of Sayren-Lei. Riddle is nauseated by the creatures and all he can manage to do is move out of the swarm. Scar-Eater becomes nauseated and can only move about ten feet. Jane, immune to poison but not to hundreds of thousands of tiny bites sends a fire snake through the insects but can’t penetrate Sayren-Lei’s magical resistance.

Tyrrell is forced to clear the swarm as well, leaving only Long Fist as a target for Sayren-Lei’s spear. The half-ogre absorbs three attacks and takes a lot of electrical damage. Riddle manages to complete the reading of his anti-magic field scroll and moves adjacent to Sayren-Lei. And now everyone can move in and attack, except Jane, who fires a pathetic volley of sling shots before remembering that she can transform into something scary outside the field and then move in. Sayren-Lei is not totally useless without his swarms and stony skin, but he is much more vulnerable and terrifically outnumbered. Once Scar-Eater is able to get him prone and Tyrrell is able to start bleeding him, it’s only a matter of time before Sayren-Lei yields to the superior force, and the trial is answered in the party’s favor.

“So then,” Tylanthros asks. “Will you drink from the fountain now?”

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Session Sixty
In Which There is a Jurassic Park Interlude Before the Real Terror Begins

Sunday, 15 Fireseek, CY 596 (AFAIFK, seriously, still.)

With the party at least somewhat restored after the last bit of chaos, Riddle performs some divinations and sendings to Archie in order to gain some information and guidance on their next steps. It is not long before they piece together that every time someone travels to and from this place to the Material Plane, time accelerates on Tilagos. Which means Archie will age exponentially the longer the party remains.

It is currently morning, and once it is determined that the party will continue to try to complete the trials, they need to act fast. Jane casts find the path to the Thorn Vale and they rush off in that direction, knowing they will arrive fatigued, but unwilling to spend one more second longer in this place than necessary.

The island, of course, has other plans.

They are still about two hours from the Vale when they stumbled into a tyrannosaurus hunting ground. They spot the eighty-foot-long dinosaur slightly before it spots them. Jane acts quickly, beginning to cast dominate animal, but it does also, biting Long Fist and snatching him up in its giant maw. Long Fist desperately attempts to heal himself and then punch the tyrannosaur in the face. Tyrrell turns himself invisible and uses his lightning sword to fly up sixty feet in the air. Scar-Eater moves closer, channels scorching ray into his flail and trips the great beast, dodging its attacks and walloping it with acres of damage before turning invisible himself. Riddle does his best to aid Long Fist in escaping the tyrannosaur’s mouth, but with no luck.

Jane completes casting but the spell fizzles worthlessly and she shifts to her Bast tiger form, and misses with her bite as well. Meanwhile the dinosaur swallows Long Fist.

Tyrrell attacks from the sky and the animal begins bleeding profusely. Scar-Eater unloads everything he has, pounding it for hit after hit and scorching ray after ray until it does. They hastily cut Long Fist from the tyrannosaur’s stomach and revive him.

Two hours later they have made their way through the high rugged hills to a horrifyingly steep valley filled with an underbrush of thorns like iron swords. Across the valley, they see a gigantic cave mouth spilling huge plumes of thick black smoke. “More like steam than smoke,” Jane says grimly. “Probably more like an underground body of water heated by…magma. It’s like…ashy steam.” Mmmm!

There is lots of healing and Riddle casts fly on himself, Long Fist, and Scar-Eater, then shunts all of the steam away from them for eighty feet as they approach the lop of the cave. There is a giant gaping pit in the middle of the cave. Tyrrell stealthily scouts ahead and reports back a second pit deeper into the cave. They move ahead very slowly and carefully and aren’t more than sixty feet in when it becomes clear to Jane that there is something enormous moving on the far side of steam. She is about to shift from her Athena eagle form to her Tempest Fire form when an enormous roar from within the cave accompanies a humongous jetting plume of liquid magma, but she and Scar-Eater can’t avoid the brunt of it. Long Fist manages to avoid some but all of them watch in horror as the lava dissolves and warps the stone around them.

The Thorn Vale Terror moves through the air with eerie silence considering it is about one-hundred-and-twenty feet long and has earth and stone tumbling from its hide. It is all talons and trident tails and, well…terror. It bites at Scar-Eater but Jane sacrifices one of her prepared spell to change the fate of the previous moment. Riddle casts a communal protection from fire on everyone, followed by a quickened cold strike, making it very, very angry. Long Fist smites it, missing with one blow but solidly landing a second. Tyrrell turns invisible and tries to move but it becomes painfully obvious it can still see him when it swipes at him and infects him with a hideous flame poison.

Jane reverts to human form, gets out of the way and uses her prayer beads to boost her spellcasting power. Scar-Eater pelts it with a ray of exhaustion, seriously draining its battle prowess. It lashes out at Long Fist and Tyrrell but is too exhausted to aim well. Until of course Riddle flies overhead and tries to attack it with the Blade of Bitter Winds, when it aims perfectly and infects Riddle with the flame poison as well. Riddle hits, but it resists being dazed, which is really just too bad.

Long Fist heals himself and Tyrrell but draws an attack and becomes infected. Tyrrell’s blood fights off more damage, for now, feints and tumbles closer. Jane hits it with an ice storm, and Scar-Eater follows that with an enervation.

It seems to heal itself some before biting Riddle and missing Long First and Tyrrell with other attacks. Riddle responds by shrugging off the effects of the poison entirely and bloodying the Terror with the Blade of Bitter Winds. Long Fist follows suit and pummels it with his fists, and Tyrrell finishes it off with one devastating blow.

The party focusing on helping Tyrrell fight off the poison before looting the dead bodies in the cave and formulating a plan to finish the trials – today.

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