Some Flare Out

Session 1
In which the players figure out how to roll dice.

A Chance Encounter in the Woods

The scene and our campaign open on a chance encounter in the woods northeast of Waterdeep. Petra, a druid guardian, watches from her vantage point in a spider’s web amongst the tree branches as Lawrence stumbles upon two gnolls arguing over who will feast on the “meat”. Petra spots an unconscious human lying on the ground next to the gnolls, and moves her faithful companion spider Sir Krawley closer for a better look. Lawrence, however, rouses the attention of the gnolls, and they advance towards him, to add to their midday meal. Petra, not knowing who was friend or foe, commands her spider to web Lawrence, and bring him up for questioning.

A rather interesting (and somewhat comical) battle ensues, and the gnolls are slain. Once the dust settles and Lawrence pulls three arrows out of his web-covered body, the druid begins to question him as to his involvement in this affair. Petra had been tracking the gnolls for weeks, and observed some rather unusual behavior in both their hunting patterns, and their ritual sacrifices.

Their discussion (peppered with slews of curses from the angry halfling) was cut short as they realized that the human on the ground yet lived – albeit with his left arm severed below the elbow – though he barely clung to life. Upon stabilizing him, they discover that he was a mercenary hired to guard a merchant caravan which was attacked, though despite having been a victim of the attack, he could not recall who or what it was that destroyed their vessel.

The three retire to Petra’s tree home for the night, to sort the problem in the morning, once she will be more able to heal the wounded human.

Awakening the next day, the three companions search the forest, and eventually find the scene of the attack. They make their way back there, where they discover a strong miasma which nearly knocks Petra and Sir Krawley unconscious. As the only one able to function inside the miasma due to a surprising exertion of will, Lawrence manages to locate the source of the heavy haze: a small hole in the ground. Plugging the hole, he searches the area and sees unusual tracks, more like large gouged-out portions of soil, littering the area, but no tracks leading in or out to follow.

Lawrence and Petra escort the human back to Petra’s tree encampment to regain their strength and renew their search the following day

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Session 2
Critical Acceleration of the Plot

A Necessary Tumble

After sleeping off the strange events of the previous day, Lawrence and Petra awaken to discover that Petra’s tree hideout has filled overnight with a dense layer of the same mist they discovered at the crashed caravan site. The fumes prove too strong for Petra and Sir Krawley yet again, rendering the former unconscious and the latter panicked and disoriented.

In order to assess the situation further, Lawrence attempts to climb a tree to get above the mist layer and determine the cause of the miasma. With catlike grace he glides up the exterior of Petra’s hideout, but drunk with his own success, manages to slip and fall to the forest floor, injuring himself to the brink of death.

Upon regaining consciousness, Lawrence and Petra find themselves alone inside an orc tent somewhere in the forest. The orcs guard them, but don’t seem particularly aggressive or evil. Exiting the tent, they find themselves on the outskirts of an enormous but temporary orc encampment which seems to be teeming with activity in anticipation of some manner of festival.

Simultaneously, Sim approaches the same orc encampment, eager to partake in the Festival of the Halfleaf, which is held once a year by the Halfleaf orc tribe. Unlike most other orc tribes, the Halfleaf are (somewhat) peaceful nomads, barbarians in the truest sense of wanderers with a rich culture but very little development as far as creating a civilization. He is welcomed warmly by the orc guards and escorted to the center of the camp, where he decides to pay his respects to the spirit healers.

Lawrence and Petra discover that it was in fact a scouting party that discovered them and brought them from the tree hideout to the camp, so they too go to the spirit healers and offer their thanks. After being greeted warmly, all of the non-orcs are invited to accompany Nolrim, a spirit healer, and a few of the orc guards on a final herb expedition for the festival.

Setting out later that day, Lawrence, Petra, and Sim accompany a few orc warriors and the spirit healer Nolrim into the woods. As they walk, Sim suddenly calls a halt just as the orc lieutenant with them was about to cross a network of wires into a trap. Using her magic, Petra discovers two sources of magic, one to the northeast and one to the northwest. The orc warriors split up to scout out towards the two locations, and the orc who heads northeast comes under attack. Lawrence, Petra, and Sim rush to his aid, but by the time they arrive they see only blood, broken branches, and some scales and chunks of scaly flesh lying on the ground. Lawrence recognizes markings on the ground similar to the ones he encountered at the caravan site, and there is a trail of broken tree branches leading diagonally upward from the forest floor to the sky.

Regrouping with the orcs, the party is told by one of the remaining orc warriors that the orc who headed northwest was attacked and carried away, but he cannot recall by who or what. Overhead, they all hear screeching and the sound of something flying at high speed above the trees, headed in the direction of the camp. Upon their hastened return they find the camp dwellers completely unconscious, but otherwise unharmed, and a large chunk of the roof of the spirit healers’ tent broken. Once the orcs regained consciousness the scouting party asked what had happened, but no orcs could recall who or what attacked their camp. However, it is immediately known that the orc warchief has been taken, and a cry of vengeance sounds out among the orc warriors.

With a determined orc warband following their lead, Lawrence, Sim, and Petra venture back to the northwestern magical site, where they find a large hole in the ground. Upon inspection, they can hear running water from the bottom of the hole. As the orcs continue on the warpath, the party descends down and finds an underwater river, with evidence of craftsmanship in the walls and riverbanks. The water itself is polluted and smells vile. Following it upstream they find an impassable grate from behind which the water is flowing and one large wooden door. They open the door and are presented with a branching path: light to the left and darkness to the right. Choosing the dark path they eventually come upon one locked door, on the other side of which they can hear sounds of bubbling water. Sim deftly and silently picks the lock, but the three make a clumsy entrance into the study of a wizard who was brewing chemicals until he was so rudely interrupted. A grueling battle ensues, leaving all three humanoid members of the team incapacitated. The day is saved by Sir Krawley, who manages to finish off the wounded wizard and pull the team from the room before they burned in the fire that had broken out during the fight. Before making their escape from the underground facility, the team manages to grab a few choice items from the wizard’s study, including an alchemical formula sheet written in shorthand.

Wounded, victorious, and still no wiser as to the meaning of the day’s events, the party returns to the orc encampment for a night of much-needed rest.

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Session 3
The Party (and the Players) Meet an Aboleth

Backed Into a Corner

The morning is anything but calm at the site of the (now cancelled) Festival of the Halfleaf. The party awakens to discover the orcs mulling over a note, written in very neat Elven script, that demands the dissolution of the orc gathering, threatening the life of their chieftain if this does not happen within 24 hours. In addition, none of the members of the orc warband that set out the previous day have returned. With a stern word of advice to the remaining orcs that this threat is hardly empty, the party makes ready to leave the camp.

Taking as an escort a few spirit healers, the party returns to the site of the first hole and descends once more. However when they attempt to reopen the first wooden door they find it locked. Sim, unfortunately, has the pleasure of reading a note written in runes on the door. The note reads: “Hi, I prepared exploding runes this morning.” Following the blast and a short chase from some guards, the party makes a hasty escape back up the hole.

Faced with the prospect of another source of magic or following the (very clear) tracks of the orc warband, the party elects to investigate the second magic source. They find another hole in the ground with more running water in a cavern beneath, but the river they find this time flows towards the grate rather than away, and is completely pure and free of the toxic smell from the previous day. They find another wooden door and once again have a choice of two paths, one lit and one dark.

In the same fashion as before, the party elects to take the dark path first. Again they find one wooden door at the end of a corridor, but this one is unlocked. Two elves can be heard arguing on the other side, though the topic of conversation escapes the party. Mention is made of an “Arturus” who seems to be a man of authority to the two men.

Bursting through the door with slightly more preparation than the previous day, the party engages and kills the two wizards. In examining the room they discover strange pools of water filled with squirming, stinking tentacles. They submerge one of the bodies in the water and, like the scaly flesh, it begins to turn gelatinous.

The party does not get more than a moment’s rest. The clamor of armored soldiers marching (quite hastily) down the hall sets them in defensive mode once more. Moving some heavy stone tables, they bar the door and prepare to fight off their assailants. As the soldiers begin to break in the door, Lawrence and Petra fire arrows into the crack. With the precision of a veteran hawk, Petra cleanly sinks an arrow into the eye of one of the guards, resulting in instantaneous brain hemorrhaging. Following his death rattle come the sounds of retreating soldiers.

Regrouped and with the advantage to them, the party begins exploring the dimly lit hallway. An room with no door opens out in front of them, with one door on their left and right each. Opening the right door they find a somewhat more expansive laboratory than the two they had already seen, and they meet a (very frightened) clerk. After a short interrogation and a small amount of slapping, the clerk begins to divulge information about the facility. His job is to perform a refining process on the essence extracted from an aboleth. He also explains that the formula sheet the party recovered from the previous day is the “master formula” for the refinement, and that the second door in the hallway leads to the “master’s chamber.” When pressed for information about what is further down the lit hallway, the man falls under the effects of a rune which begins to glow on his neck. In moments he has forgotten his purpose and his surroundings as well as what he had been doing. After coercing him to attempt to open the door to the master’s chamber, and watching him fail and be shocked by an electrical trap, the party confiscates the clerk’s robes and sends him to the orcs to be escorted to safety.

Using the robes as a disguise, Sim attempts to scout out the lit room, while Petra and Lawrence hide out in the large laboratory. Approaching the lit room, Sim is spotted by a wizard in ornately decorated robes as well as two archers who train their bows on him. He announces hesitantly that the intruders have been detained in the small lab at the end of the hall and requests soldiers to come and escort them. Before returning down the hall, he takes note of a strange aquatic creature, covered in tentacles, in a swirling pool of water on the left side of the room.

With two archers in tow he heads back towards the dark hall, but as he passes the laboratory door, Petra and Lawrence spring into action to close the trap. Caught in close quarters, the archers are set upon by a quick barrage of attacks. One falls, but one manages to frantically retreat back and alert his superior as to the trap (before continuing his retreat out of sight and mind).

The wizard himself begins to approach the party confidently, aiming to end their intrusion. However, he underestimates the potential of our young protagonists, and finds himself quickly falling. He, too, retreats to the open area and awaits the party’s entrance. Prepared and bolstered, they charge forward to finish him off, imploring their orc companions to pour acid cauldrons from the laboratory into the pool of water with the strange creature. Bereft of his guards and already weakened from the first scuffle in the hall, the wizard proves hardly a match for the party, and the acid causes the creature to cry out in pain.

As the dust settles, the party hears a voice in their minds. The creature in the pool, it seems, is not an enemy. It declares itself to be an aboleth, claims it is being held here against its will, and requests the party’s aid in escape. Upon closer inspection of the room, two portals can be seen on either end. To the far right end, away from the pool of water, is a blue glowing portal, and closer to the pool on the left end of the room is a red glowing portal. Both portals emit small tendrils of appropriately colored light which connect to the pool of water containing the aboleth.

Before aiding the aboleth, the party questions it further. It explains that the master has been using magic to probe its mind as well as extract its essence for some vile purpose. But the aboleth has also probed the mind of this master, and in exchange for release offers the party riches and knowledge. Wary but curious, the party frees the aboleth from the pool and helps it move near the blue portal. Slowly but visibly its strength begins to return, and soon it offers up two words of command; one opens a portal in the stone wall of the room and the other opens the doors to the masters’ chambers (of which there are more than one). With vows of vengeance on its (telepathic) lips, the aboleth teleports away.

With the current area of the facility cleared, the party gathers the remaining orcs and sets up a base camp in the room with the two portals. They each take to searching a room. Sim finds two useful books in the laboratory, one which outlines the method of refinement and the other which outlines their plans for the chemicals. Petra discovers that despite the effects of the red portal, which seems to drain energy from those who stand near it, spellcasting is no more difficult in the pool of water than anywhere else. And Lawrence, examining the master’s chamber, finds a spherical room with humming crystals encrusted in the wall. As he searches further, the crystals begin to hum louder and louder, and soon the image of a bald man in gray robes begins to rise from the base of the room into the center, in the air. After a moment the image vanishes and the humming subsides.

Secure in their position for the time being, the party sets up an orc watch for the night and turns in.

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Session 4
She Cannot Watch Him Die

Wrath of the Orcs

The party awakens with their position still secure in the underground facility-turned-base camp. Using the word of command taught to them by the aboleth, they open the portal in the stone wall and proceed further into the facility, taking with them a contingent of 3 orc healers and 3 orc huntresses for protection.

The room they emerge into has not one but six portals, with a single rune circle in front of each one. They emerge through the third portal from the left and directly in front of them is a very intricate door, with a strange lock that seems at once to be mechanical and magical. After manipulating its interlocking gears to disable the magical component of the lock, Sim quietly picks the lock and peers through to the other side. The layout before him mimics a map that he had seen in the laboratory: a diamond-shaped hallway with rooms at every vertex. Leaving the orcs as a guard for the portal room, the party heads quietly down the left hall. Despite their efforts they are overheard by some humans in the room at the left vertex, and one steps out into the dark hallway to check.

With deadly precision, the party quickly dispatches the soldier with an arrow to the throat and another to the chest. He drops to the floor before he can scream, but the clamor raises the suspicion of the remaining guards in the room. They call out to him, and Sim successfully calls out (in the voice of the dead soldier) that there isn’t anything in the hall. Out of the corner of their eyes, however, they catch a glimpse of their fallen comrade, and they begin to step towards the hallway. Before they make it two steps, the party bursts through the door.

The room before them is a barracks, with many beds lining the walls and a wide array of weaponry. Most of the bunks are empty, but one in the far left corner has an unarmored soldier. Standing in the center of the room behind an overturned table are two armored humans; they call out to rouse their comrade, “Sound the alarm!” Seeing that the unarmored soldier is beginning to dash for something, the party rushes past the two armored soldiers and descends upon the unarmored man, attempting to trip, web, and otherwise incapacitate him. Despite the party’s efforts, he manages to slip past them and make a frantic leap for something on the wall, but falls just barely short on the ground, where he is promptly knocked unconscious by the party.

Seeing the situation before them, the two armored soldiers lay down their weapons and ask for their lives to be spared. They inform the party that they are members of a mercenary band led by a captain named Archibald, and that they were hired as guards for a group of Elven wizards. Their access to the facility is extremely limited, so they are unable to provide the party with information as to the goings-on of the wizards, but they do reveal (and subsequently are coerced to quickly use) that the 6th portal leads to a cavern that allows exit to the woods. They also implore the party to spare as many of the mercenaries as they can, mentioning that their captain is not evil and may listen to reason.

Leaving the barracks, the team escorts the prisoners to the portal room, but continues down the hall towards the vertex on the right side. They discover a locked door, on the other side of which can be heard orc voices, elf voices, and hissing reminiscent of the wind serpents that attacked the orc encampment. They pick the lock quietly, and then burst heroically through the door, shouting out in orc “We are here to rescue you!”

The scene before the party is of three wizards, two low-rank and one high-rank, as denoted by the ornate designs on one of their robes. The two lower ranked wizards are chanting, concentrating on wind serpents which hover calmly in the air above rune circles. Behind the higher-ranking wizard stretches dozens of cages, stacked two high, each containing an orc or a beast. With the huntresses and healers at their side, they engage the wizards.

Realizing quickly that the battle can be easily shifted in their favor should the orcs be freed, Sim uses a wand of magic missiles, which was recovered from one of the wizards the day before, to break the locks on a few of the cages. The huntresses throw axes towards their orc comrades, and the orcs begin to split up upon being freed: some continue breaking locks, others rush towards the high-ranking wizard.

While Sim and the orcs work to free the remaining orcs, the wizards complete their chants and free the wind serpents. One of the wizards so badly botched his chant that his wind serpent immediately turns on him, devouring him whole. The other serpent, at the behest of his wizard master, darts like an arrow at Sim. Lawrence and Petra kill the remaining low-rank wizard as the higher-ranked wizard is overrun by a dozen bloodthirsty orcs. He is summarily torn limb from limb, unable to cast even the most basic spells due to choking.

The huntresses, Petra, Sim, and Lawrence all begin to engage the serpent which is fixed on Sim, but their attacks seem to have little effect against the hardness of its scales. Lawrence, recalling how the water loosens the scales and allows for piercing, flings a bottle of water directly at the serpent’s torso, following it with a well-placed arrow that sinks deep into the flesh. Now vulnerable, the party manages to kill the serpent before it can make short work of Sim.

The second serpent, berserk after devouring its wizard master, is quickly set upon by a cascade of orcs, which beat and tear it until it too is torn limb from scaly limb.

Although the orcs freed are all seasoned warriors and lieutenants, the warchief is not among them. The party leads the orcs back to the barracks where the majority of them are able to arm themselves and find weapons. Eager to seek further revenge, the orc warriors make ready to charge into the final room at the last vertex, but the party insists on scouting the area before allowing a charge.

Despite the markings on the map, the party discovers not one but two rooms at the last vertex: one which opens into the center of the diamond and one which opens out. Listening at each door, they hear a faint humming from the door that opens out, and the very faint sound of metal-on-metal from the room that opens in. They take this to indicate that their presence is known and that someone or something awaits them on the other side of that door.

Heeding this warning as much as an orc warrior would, the lieutenants head a charge into the interior room. In the vast room, they see human mercenaries in formation guarding several elven mages of varying ranks. Behind all of the mages is a man in grey robes, who Lawrence immediately recognizes from his vision, who calls out “Deal with them” before stepping through a portal at the rear of the room and vanishing.

As the orcs begin to descend on the mercenaries and mages, Petra catches sight of three strange figures in the back of the room out of the corner of her eye. Their manner of dress is unfamiliar, more suited for the desert than the forest, and one of them she notices is lazily plucking a lute and singing a song without a noticeable care for the chaos unfolding before him. The other two descend into the melee and are lost to sight.

Petra begins to lead Sim and Lawrence around the battle towards the singing man. As they approach him, they fire arrows but are unable to strike true at such a distance. The man seems unaffected by the attack and continues playing, but the party does take note that one of the other strangely-dressed men begins cutting his way through the orcs, turning gracefully during his ritualistic movements heading directly towards the party. As he comes into closer view, they see that he is blindfolded and wielding kamas, which he swings with precision, grace, and such force that he might as well be dancing alone rather than cleaving orcs.

Using druidic magic, Petra warps both the lute and one of the warrior’s kamas so both are ineffective. As the lute strings snap in front of him, the singing man stops his song, stands calmly, and pulls punching daggers out of his robes. If the second warrior even notices the change in his kama, he chooses to not react in any visible way. Off in the distance, Petra recognizes the familiar clang of a spiked chain striking metal and stone.

Rather than wait for danger to find him, Sim tumbles artfully behind the kama-wielding warrior and strikes a clean blow through his side and under his ribs. Though bleeding profusely, the warrior’s force of will prevents his ritual kata from being affected, and he counterattacks with such force as to bring Sim to the brink of death. Between him and the party lies the deadly warrior, and he has only moments to live.

Seeing this unfold before her eyes, Petra sends Sir Krawley forward to feed Sim a potion and attempt to save his life, but the warrior’s quick strike knocks Sir Krawley unconscious. Wrestling the decision of whether to let Sim die or intervene and save his life, Petra opts to rush forward, risking life and limb at the mercy of the warrior, to make a desperate attempt to heal Sim before he bleeds out. Seeing her move to act without using her weapon, the singing man calls out one word in something resembling Common, and holds up his hand. The warrior’s already-striking hand stops in midair and he allows Petra to rush past him and heal Sim.

Placing his weapon back in his robes, the singing man calls out something else in the same language which resembles Common. The kama-wielding warrior takes off his blindfold, revealing two functional eyes, and in the distance the sound of the spiked chain ceases to be heard. Fixing his eyes on Petra, the singing man bows gracefully, tosses her the warped lute, and calls loudly in his accent-drenched Common: “The Order of Al-Rashid recognizes you.” He and the warrior begin to make their way, in no particular rush, towards the portal that the grey-robed man used to exit. Seeing this, one wizard launches a fireball at the singing man, but he misses and does not even garner the attention of the man. The three strangely-dressed men exit without another word.

Turning their attention back to the battle, the party notices heavy casualties on both sides, and they watch as the last of the wizards are overrun by the orcs. The flow of battle has clearly shifted in favor of the orcs, but a fair number of humans remain, and they rally behind one man who seems particularly well-armored. The party calls out to both sides, pleading that they stop the fighting since the battle is already more than decided. Resisting their warrior instincts, the mercenary humans and orcs both hold thier strikes back, and the humans begin to lay down their arms. One orc, unaware, uncaring, or consumed by battle lust, cleaves one more human in two with one stroke, but his counterattack comes from an orc lieutenant near him, who smashes his face with a gauntlet and holds out his arm to halt any further aggression.

With the fighting halted for the time being, the party begins to aid the fallen. Lawrence offers his help to the human mercenaries, while Sim and Petra take care to aid only the orcs. Once all the aid they can give has been given, they leave to examine the final room of the area.

Opening the door to the humming room they discover a chamber similar to the previous crystal chamber. This one, however, has much more craftsmanship involved in its construction. Rather than a rugged sphere of crystals, this chamber has a ring of perfectly smoothed stone running a circle along the middle, with a hemisphere of crystals above and below it. In the center of the room on a lowered stone platform, they find the orc chieftain unconscious but alive. Upon hearing that the chieftain has been found, several orc lieutenant burst past the party and carry their chieftain off.

Upon closer inspection of the room they find a hidden door opposite from the entrance, which opens into a vast study, far more expansive than the two that were already found. This room, too, was not marked on the map, and spellbooks line the walls from end to end.

The orcs take the remaining human mercenaries and put a guard on them, and the party retires for a while to the study.

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Session 4.5
A Brief Respite

No Talking in the Library

As the orcs tend to the aftermath of the battle, the party wastes no time in examining the study hidden behind the crystal room. On the expansive bookshelves they find hundreds of books ranging myriad topics, from the history of various regions of Faerun to the specific alchemical equations for the manipulation of materials they can barely pronounce.

Focusing their attention on the desktop, they see three books next to a still-warm but unlit lantern. The books are entitled Madness, Fiendish Codex, and The Alchemical Process of Chemical Concentration. They also find three locked drawers, which Sim cleanly unlocks. Inside the top two they find a wealth of documents written in very abbreviated shorthand, and in the bottom drawer they find a single leather-bound journal, sealed with a rune imprinted in wax. Her knowledge of spells allows Petra to identify the rune as a key component in the spell Melf’s Acid Arrow, and since the party has no way of reading the journal without breaking the wax seal, they pack it away for safekeeping.

Returning to the main chamber, the party seeks out the human prisoners. Lawrence explains the events that motivated their halting the battle between the humans and orcs to Archibald, questions him on the finer details of his mission, and presses him for information about the four unidentified portals. Though he remains somewhat hostile, Archibald tells the party that the portal from which they entered connects to the southern ruins, and that three of the other four portals connect to the northern, western, and eastern ruins, respectively. The first and final portal, however, even he was forbidden from entering, and so that location remains a mystery. Lawrence requests Archibald’s aid in fighting against the mages, pointing out that they were simply abandoned by Arturus and that they ought to harbor no loyalty, and suggests that Archibald and the remainder of the human prisoners be taken and guarded in the portal chamber so that when the patrols return from the other three ruins, no more fighting will ensue. The orcs and Archibald agree to the relocation.

The party then splits up for the remainder of the day. Sim and Lawrence return to the study, where Sim gathers a few of the documents and begins to work on deciphering the shorthand used therein. He makes some progress but is unable to completely decode them. Turning his attention to the three tomes that were on the desk, Lawrence opens the book entitled Madness and discovers that it is in fact a codex dealing with the three greater aberrant races: Illithid, Aboleth, and Beholder. Reading the section on Aboleths, Lawrence is surprised to discover that the party’s recent Aboleth encounter is quite far out of the ordinary: In addition to being able to psionically control creatures, Aboleths are known to be quite evil and, in addition, have access to considerable knowledge and power, both magic and psionic.

While the rest of the party is studying, Petra returns to the chamber where the orcs and beasts were held. Her attempts to communicate with the beasts reveal that most of their minds have been clouded by madness. Some of them have completely blank minds, and some simply scream endlessly in their brains. Physically, some of the beasts have been altered by the addition of tentacles similar to the ones found on the aboleth and in the laboratory jars. In the name of her god Kossuth, Petra gives the gift of cleansing death to all the caged beasts.

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Session 5
From Fear Through the Eyes of a Psion

The Journal Laid (mostly) Bare

The newly-freed orcs, including the chieftain, Kag’gar, quickly return to old habits and insist that the Festival of the Half-Leaf begin at once. Unable to convince any of the spirit healers or the chieftain that there are more important matters to tend to than a celebration, the party quickly resigns itself to enjoying the festival and its contests. Kag’gar pulls the party aside as they begin to leave the underground facility, and assures them that he knows more than he has let on about the nature of this threat, and that the festival must continue, for reasons he will explain later. The party reluctantly accepts this and continues on to the festival.

Through an astounding display of super-half-elven skill, Petra manages to place in all three of the contests held: archery, stone toss, and wrestling, going so far as to become the reigning wrestling champion. Amidst other prizes, the party is admitted (or, more appropriately, summoned) to appear before Kag’gar.

Inside his tent, the chieftain shares his experiences while captive. He introduces the party to the concept of psionics, explaining that both he and Arturus are psions, and that this allowed him to tap into a great network of minds while he was kept sedated. He describes this network as a great howling void, filled with screams and white noise blurring in and out of each other. He knows neither where nor why it exists, if it even physically exists at all, but he knows that Arturus is involved with and can tap into it as well, if not command it. While the orcs regroup and prepare to fight Arturus again, the chieftain suggests that the party join them or seek out safety elsewhere. He also provides them with several more command words, one of which melts the wax seal on Cassandra’s Journal, enabling the party to read her logs. Arturus’s logs that follow Cassandra’s are written in a strange text that none of the three nor the orc chieftain have ever seen, but from the information in Cassandra’s portion they are able to find three potential leads amidst a somewhat vast pocket of knowledge of both her personal life and the laboratory records for one month. The three leads they find are a man formerly known as Marcus, who was replaced with a lab experiment “clone” some time ago, in Haverhood, Ovren in Luskan, and Lenara in the Skullport region of Waterdeep. Eager to see the results of her experiments firsthand, they set out to meet Marcus in Haverhood.

Setting out the next morning, the party encounters little trouble and makes good time towards Haverhood, expecting to reach the town on the following day. As they set up camp for the night, they are approached very cautiously by a young gray wolf. Using their divine magics, Lawrence and Petra are able to speak with this wolf, who was told by his “masters” to “explore everywhere and report back.” However since he is lost, he elects to travel with the party for a while and seek out his masters when he finds his way. Before they go to sleep, the party spots a small tattoo on the wolf’s paw which says “P3-3,” which they recognize as one of the experiments from Cassandra’s Journal.

Arriving in Haverhood, they quickly set about on the task of finding Marcus. Though the town is small it gives the impression of being quite a tightly-knit community, and it is only through some clever banter on the part of Sim that they are able to discern where Marcus lives. He allows them in upon hearing the mention of Cassandra, at which point the party finds his house to be quite fastidiously kept. “Marcus,” or P1-12-3(d) himself, appears to be nothing more than an average human, though he is quite skittish and wary.

Following some veiled threats and mentions of Cassandra and Morgan, “Marcus” admits them down into the basement where his catalysts are kept. Though he is unwilling to budge on the price (and in fact seems mentally incapable of discussing matters not pertaining to the catalysts), Sim is able to quickly swipe and pocket one bottle for later experimentation. After extracting promises of loyalty from “Marcus” and debating whether or not to kill him, they decide to feed him false information about their travel plans to see if he is still being used as an informant. They tell him that they are planning to stay at an inn in town that night and set out for Waterdeep on the morrow, but amongst themselves decide to spend the night in the woods outside of Haverhood and travel towards Luskan thereafter.

Sometime around midnight, the party sees a man in a gray cloak dismount from a horse, and enter the town. Following him from the rooftops, Sir Krawley relays that the man first traveled to the inn the party had previously named, then to Marcus’s house, then left the town shortly thereafter. They ambush him in the woods and witness him using strange powers against them that are neither magical nor alchemical. He wields no weapon, but weapons materialize out of his wrists, glowing blades that seem to be made of light and cut hotter than fire and just as easily as steel. Though they fight a grueling battle, they are able to dispatch him. The notes on his person seem to suggest that he is in Arturus’s employ, but they are unable to find out more than that simple fact.

They set up camp immediately thereafter to recover their strength. During the night, Petra is visited by a strange dream. She awakens, or thinks she awakens, in a vast field of flowers with the sun shining more strongly than she can ever recall above her. The air is dry about her, and as she begins to run, the flowers burst into flames in her wake. Soon she comes face-to-face with an avatar of flame, who demands to know what it is that she serves: her god, Kossuth, and the balance of the forest that he gives her power to protect, or her ever-present and gripping need to find the truth of whether her parents. She pauses, but admits frankly that she wishes to find her parents, and this seems to amuse the avatar. He tells her that they will meet again, and she awakes from the dream to find that she has a small tattoo burned painlessly into her forearm in the symbol of a tongue of flame. With the memory of the previous night fresh in their minds, the party departs hastily towards Luksan.

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Session 6
An Unseen Hand

Those Unnoticed as of Yet

After their exhausting combat with the strange psionic fighter from the night before, the party finds itself in dire need of some quality rest, and decides to spend one night in the comfort of a small-town inn. In the common area of the inn they see the usual riff-raff, as well as a single bard who seems either new to the bardic profession, or simply the best that a small town would have to offer. However, unlike the other residents of the town, this man appears several shades more tan.

The party awakes and departs the inn without incident, making good time on the way to Luskan, and encountering neither resistance nor trouble on their way. They come upon a forest towards the end of the day, and choose to set up camp in a web amidst the tree branches.

During Lawrence’s watch, the party is set upon by a mysterious assailant who pushes the halfling out of the trees. Before he hits the ground he is able to call out and alert Petra and Sim, who quickly arm themselves and prepare to fight this new enemy. Though the light of the moon shines only dimly through the tree cover, the two half-elves are able to make out the shape of a man dressed all in white, with wrapped forearms, wielding a large white scythe.

Marking his white cloak as Al’Rashid, and eager to avoid a fight, Petra calls out “Al-Rashidi, stop!” The man seems to acknowledge this, but does not stop his assault. He displays combat skills superior to the party, but together the three of them are able to subdue him. During the fight, the wolf who had been traveling with them sees them in danger, and chooses to aid them, calling Lawrence as his new master. Seeing that he has lost, he throws down his weapon and submits. He invites them to sit and talk, as he prepares a fire and takes off his armor and cloak. Taken aback by their attacker’s odd behavior, particularly his willingness to leave himself open for attack, the party initially refuses. After some coaxing on the attacker’s part (and Sim removing the scythe from his possession), the party warily sits down around a fire with the Al-Rashid agent, who introduces himself as Khaber Al-Rashid.

Though they do not immediately trust him, the party listens to his explanation. He was sent to aid the three new adventurers in their struggle against Arturus, and to train them in the ways of combat and tactics. He had ambushed them to test their strength, and when it would have become a fight to the death, he ended it. He admitted that the party was stronger than he had thought, and was impressed with their fighting skills, fragmented and disorganized though they were. When pressed as to why his organization seems to be taking both sides in this struggle, he tells them that Arturus simply employed them first and that before the three of them, there were none to stand against him. Furthermore, even now, Arturus himself would not call the party a threat. He is somewhat tight-lipped on the nature of the Al’Rashid, stating only that they seek to preserve balance in the world, and will do so at any cost, even aiding those others call “evil”.

Khaber himself does not attempt to engage the party further in combat, but neither does he force on them the training that he had mentioned. After several days of him following them to Luskan, the party very dubiously agrees to his training. Over the next few days, he briefs them on a few strategies that they might find effective, and then suggests that the four of them stalk a gnoll raiding party together, and suppress them. While they are camped one night, Kheber and Sim wake the party at the sign of a new danger, a small and almost invisible muted flash of light in the distance. Using their new knowledge of ambush tactics, the party sets a trap for their next set of assailants: two displacer beasts. Though their tactic renders Khaber nothing more than a diversion, he seems pleased to act as such, and they deftly dispatch the displacer beasts. Searching the area, they find a single, shallow set of humanoid footprints roughly at the area where they first spotted the beasts. Although they search the area thoroughly and use all the resources of tracking available to them, they are unable to find any signs of life or danger.

Intent on resuming their gnoll suppression, the party sets watches and returns to sleep.

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Session 7
From Song Through the Eyes of an Aberration

So You Want to Attend the Gala?

Eager to practice their newly-trained tactics, and to rid the forest of some of its more questionable inhabitants, the party sets out to track down the encampment of the gnolls they have been trailing. Lawrence and Khaber locate their camp during the day while the gnolls are away and take note of its location. Under cover of night, they plan an ambush from four sides, with the cue to strike coming from the use of Petra’s magic.

Though they manage to sneak up to the camp entirely unseen, the party is separated to the four corners, and they find the gnolls already dead when they arrive. Huge spikes pin the gnolls’ fresh corpses to the ground, and none of them know what to make of the situation. They all await word from another party member eagerly, until Petra is pierced through the chest by one of the huge spikes. Slowly she is pulled up into the tree cover above the gnoll camp clearing.

Glaring at her through ten arachnid eyes, and smiling at her with a humanoid face, is a spider the likes of which Petra has never seen. It whispers a soft Elven lullaby to her as it begins to tear into her flesh.

In a panic, the entire party charges into the treetops and engages the unknown foe. Sir Krawley leaps to defend his companion, Lawrence attempts to fire on the monstrosity, and both Sim and Khaber nimbly swing up the tree branches to strike the spider on its body. Unable to focus on any one foe for long, the spider eventually falls under the party’s heavy assault.

Soon after, the party arrives finally at Luskan, where they immediately rendezvous with Khaber’s contact in the city, a man named Halib. He informs them that the man they seek is Markham Ovren, a nobleman who lives in a large mansion outside of the city walls. He is well-known to the residents of Luskan, particularly as being a solitary sort of man who keeps a front of honest business to hide his shadier dealings. Whatever they may think of him, the people do seem to fear him, and although he reportedly has not a single guard for his mansion, no one dares threaten him in any way. Furthermore, as a supplement to his business endeavors, Ovren hosts a gala every few weeks, sparing no expense for his noble guests; the next such gala will be held in two days’ time. With a means to meet with Ovren available, if not fully accessible, the party decides to split up and search for more information on Ovren himself, as well as a way to gain access to the gala.

Through careful inquisition around town, Sim finds out that a certain Elven noble family, the Solarians, have been invited to the gala. He loiters near their estate until he sees a servant leave, and offers to take the man out for a drink. After serving him half a dozen progressively stronger drinks, and ending with a toast over a glass of Dwarven Gutrot, Sim is able to get the man drunk enough to loosen his grip on his house keys. Using one of the party’s necklaces of sending, he calls Petra and entreats her assistance in making a copy of the keys to the Solarian estate. With a strong Dwarven hangover cure in his belly, the servant is escorted back to the Solarian estate, and the two half-elves plan together to infiltrate the estate the next day to steal invitations to the gala.

Simultaneously, Lawrence decides to seek out Ovren’s contacts in the Tower of the Arcane. Through some quick talking he manages to convince the guards to let him inside to discuss the details of his employment with Ovren. Once inside he seeks out Ovren’s contact, a wizard named Chandra Nalaar, and manages to convince her that he intends to offer his services to Ovren as a replacement for Marcus, who had become a liability. Chandra seems very intrigued by Lawrence’s uses of the names Ovren and Marcus, and even more intrigued by the fact that Lawrence knows about Marcus’s replacement with the lab experiment P1-12-3(d). She nevertheless agrees to arrange for an invitation to be sent for Lawrence, under the name Fletch. Before leaving the tower, Lawrence wanders into the alchemy laboratory and coerces the clerks therein to show him how to craft a few potions.

In the evening, the party returns to the inn to which Sim brought the servant, and there they rendezvous with Khaber. Through his contacts in the city, Khaber was able to arrange for entry into the Ovren estate’s second level, which is normally restricted whenever he allows people into his home, and provides the party with a map of the first floor where the gala will be taking place. With the party two days away, the party decides to get some rest for their busy day of planning and infiltration.

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Session 8
A Halfling and His Plus Five

An Unlikely Ally

The party spends most of the day eagerly preparing for the events of the evening. Leaving before the infiltrators, Lawrence dresses in his best attire and approaches the Ovren estate. He is greeted at the door by a young halfling woman by the name of Imogene, who has served for some time as one of Markham’s clerks. She welcomes him to the party and promises to inform Ovren of his presence as soon as she is able. In the grand foyer, immediately after entering, there is a very prominent statue displayed between the entrance and the door to the ballroom. It is a sculpture of a very stringy hand holding a chisel, carving away at a shapeless mass of stone. The pedestal on which it stands has a poem which reads:

This is a sculpture of a hammer and chisel chipping broken marble.

The marble has grayed in between the monochrome splatter,

And holds the hammer chiseling itself sickly, as if loath to be chipped.

Absurd. That the canvas should resist.

Some time after Lawrence arrives, Imogene notices several strange musicians entering; their skin seems to be somewhat more tan than most people in the area, and she catches a quick glimpse of what might be steel flashing under one of their robes.

As their companion waits, the remaining party members sneak to the west side of the mansion and enter the second floor through an open window. The room they enter is dimly lit and no light seems to penetrate the windows from the outside. Carved into the wooden floor are several runic circles, and close to the southwestern corner of the room, where there is an exit, is a significantly darker patch of wood that seems to at first glance be cherry wood. However upon closer inspection the party realizes that this wood is identical to the rest of the floor, but has been stained with blood and cleaned many times over, leaving a reddish hue to the grains.

The dancing continues, and soon Imogene brings Markham Ovren himself to meet with Lawrence. They exchange pleasantries and make a few jokes at the expense of “Marcus.” Ovren seems to be slightly on guard regarding Lawrence’s presence at the party as well as his somewhat patchy knowledge of the organization, but they part on good terms. As he leaves, Markham commands Imogene to keep a close watch on Lawrence. With his business concluded, Lawrence begins to make his way to the second floor’s west wing to rendezvous with the rest of the party. As he exits the grand ballroom, Imogene corners him and demands to know his business, admitting that she too is not really who she appears to be. Putting off further explanation, they both head up the stairs to the second floor. At the top of the stairs, they are faced with a massive and intricately locked door.

In the room with the rest of the party, Woolf catches the scent of his master and draws the party’s attention to the north end of the room, where there is a massive locked door. With quick and skillful lockpicking on both the parts of Imogene and Sim, the door clicks open and the party is reunited. Together, they travel along the second floor hallway towards the grand library and Ovren’s private chambers, both of which are areas that Imogene identified as off-limits to all guests, residents, and servants. At the threshold of the library, the party splinters off once more: Sim, Petra, Khaber, and the animals will explore the library and private chambers, while Lawrence and Imogene, who are supposed to be at the party anyway, will more closely examine the first floor.

Traveling back downstairs, the halflings begin to wander through the southern portion of the west wing, towards the rooms that Markham had set out as a public Arcane Research Chamber. In the central room, Lawrence discovers and quickly pockets several crystals and wands, and together they uncover a secret passage leading underground behind a bookcase. They push it aside and descend.

Sim unlocks the door to the library for the remainder of the party, and goes into the dark room to scout. Seated at a table in the north end of the room, barely visible in the darkness, is a man seated reading a book. Sim notes that this is quite odd since there is no light in the room, but quickly and quietly makes his way back to the hallway to inform the party. They wait for the man who they assume to be Markham to finish reading, and once they see him enter the private chambers, they sneak into the library, sending a message to Lawrence that they have found Ovren and require his aid.

Lawrence and Imogene travel through the short underground passageway and return to ground level in a room that Imogene has never seen before, at the southeastern corner of the west wing of the house. The passageway ends in a trap door and the only thing in the small, square room is a spiral staircase, which they ascend. Another trap door greets them at the top of the stairs, and the small room beyond it has only one door leading north. Imogene picks the lock and they open the door; inside the room they see a multitude of caged animals similar to the ones that the party had found in the southern ruins in the forest, as well as the man named Markham Ovren who Lawrence had met downstairs. Despite their efforts to be quiet, Markham hears the door open, and they quickly slam it shut. Receiving the message from the rest of the party, Lawrence responds back that he has found Ovren in the west wing in an animal experimentation room.

Confused, the remainder of the party decides to continue their infiltration without engaging the man they believe is Ovren in any way. They head north to the far end of the library from Ovren’s chambers. There they find that the book that the man was reading was a tedious, dry history of the noble families of Luskan. In the northwest corner of the library, they find a locked door, which Sim picks, but they are presented with another lock of a magical nature. A grid of letters is presented to them, from which they can spell out 5-letter words. Puzzling over it for a while, they first try “Ovren,” which makes a rune that says “error” appear. Their next attempt is “Demon,” which opens the door.

Faced with Markham Ovren soon discovering their plot, Imogene signals to Lawrence to hide himself. When Markham opens the door, Imogene tells him that “the halfling” has escaped the party and infiltrated the mansion, and that he has eluded her. Ovren commands Imogene to track him down and bring him back for questioning; Imogene assures him that she will return soon and regroups with Lawrence in the underground tunnel. Intending to investigate the eastern wing of the first floor, where Markham keeps some of his ledgers, they begin to make their way back out from the Arcane Research Chambers. However they come face-to-face with the musicians, who introduce themselves as agents of Al-Rashid when Imogene demands to know why they are armed. Identifying herself as a member of the Shadow Thieves of Amn, she diffuses the tense situation. Using the Al-Tashid agents as makeshift guards and Lawrence as her prisoner, Imogene begins to head back towards the animal experimentation room.

Beyond the magically locked door, the party finds a small passageway which follows the curve of the roof; this passageway was impossible to see from the ballroom level, but is directly above that part of the house. They bypass a pressure plate trap with little trouble, and the passageway takes one turn north and one turn east. At the end of the passage they find a similarly locked magical door, with the same input options as before. However, the input “Demon” does not open the door, but rather causes the same blue rune to appear.

Face to face with Ovren, Lawrence demands to know what his connection to Arturus’s organization is. He is able to determine that Ovren knows about Cassandra’s death and Arturus’s takeover, but he does not seem to care one way or the other about the shift of power. Markham commands Imogene to kill Lawrence, but Imogene signals to the Al-Rashid to capture Markham. After a grueling battle which almost claims the lives of both Al-Rashid operatives and Lawrence, the four of them together are able to subdue Ovren.

As they attempt to puzzle out the new password, Petra slips and hits Sim’s hand, causing him to input the code “Dance.” Miraculously, this opens the door, and they step into a room that looks somewhat like a bedroom and somewhat like an office: there is a single bed, an armoire, and a desk with papers on it. The room is very dimly lit, and as soon as the door closes behind them, they see a shadow at the far end of the room shift. The lights go out, and the party is stranded in total darkness.

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Session 9
The Innocent and the Accused

Minds, Faiths, and Loyalties

Immediately following the battle with Markham Ovren, Lawrence leaves the cleanup in the hands of Imogene and rushes to the east wing to help his companions. He passes through the animal chambers, a room filled with rune circles on the floor, and the hall before reaching the library. He manages to slip through the first magical door before it shuts, and rushes to the second, inputting “Loren” as the code. The door slides open.

The entire party is faced with a dire battle: the man who snuffed out the light from the room seems to be able to see clearly in the dark, and is striking them periodically with psionic weapons before fleeing back into the shadows. They begin to light all the torches again, and Sim sets fire to the bed to give them a central light source. In the clear light they see that this man is younger than Markham Ovren, but has similar features; when asked for his identity, he says “They call me Markham.”

As the battle drags on, the party begins to take attrition. The shadow-man focuses many of his blows on Sim and Khaber, Lawrence finds himself unable to strike the man even when he is clearly visible, and Petra, after hearing the voice of Kossuth, flings herself onto the burning mattress and is consumed by the fire. This act, at least, seems to startle the shadow-man long enough to give them a moment’s rest, but no more than that. As Sim glares incredulously into the flames, he is stabbed in the sides by the shadow-man’s mindblades. This gives them both a perfect vantage point to witness Petra’s rebirth: she rises from the crackling fire as a creature made of lava, wielding a massive, flaming spiked chain.

As the shadow-man strikes Sim once more with the mindblades, he is shocked to witness the blade become corporeal while impaled through the half-elf. Despite his best efforts, the shadow-man is unable to recall the blades to his own body before taking a savage blow from Sim. Sim begins to hear the man’s voice resonate inside his own mind: it sounds confused and unsure.

The battle quickly begins to turn in the party’s favor, and they bring the shadow-man to his knees. He clutches his head with one hand and fixes his blade on Sim with the other, before he is knocked unconscious by the final blow. Tired, the party makes a quick recovery and binds the man, beginning his interrogation.

At first, they are all put off by this shadow-man. He is afflicted by the condition echophasia, and repeats anything directed at him before actually responding to it. Despite the cocky tone he adopted in the battle, the man seems quite childlike, and is clearly afflicted with some form of mental deficiency. As a guess, they address him as Loren, and he responds to that name. He is unaware of the current date, but does know that he was trying to kill the party. He is also aware of the fact that there is a second consciousness in his body, that of Markham Ovren, and that that consciousness wants to fight the party; through sheer force of will, he is able to maintain his own personality through the interrogation. The party quickly pockets some of the documents from the desk and heads into the room Loren identifies as his bedroom.

Inside, they find a single cot, a small desk with several children’s fiction books on it, and a poem scrawled in blood on the wall. The poem is written across the entire room, and reads:

For I am this body,

As I am the whole-stitched cloth.

And blood runs through this needle,

As threads across the folds.

As Lawrence begins to explain to the rest of the party his meeting with Markham Ovren in the west wing, Khaber becomes immediately uneasy at the mention of the Al-Rashid. He says that he was not informed of their presence here, and tells the party that there is little time to waste. They hurry back to the animal cages, but find only Ovren lying in a pool of his own blood, and several blood trails leading to the room with the runic circles. The trails end at a single circle in the southwest corner.

With little time to waste before they are found out, the party quickly heads to Ovren’s private chambers. They find no one there, but continuing deeper past his bedroom they discover an alchemy lab with vivisected animals sprawled on the countertops, as well as strange blood-holding needles made of metal. They take some of the tools for closer inspection before setting fire to the lab. Returning to Loren’s rooms once more, they find that all the remaining documents from the desk are missing. Hoping to catch the culprit they rush back to the west wing again, but find no one there. With nothing left to do, they euthanize the animals and set fire to the west wing of the second floor. On their way out, they inform some of the servants that there is a fire and advise them to escape; bringing Loren with them, they return to Luskan, weary from their exhausting heist.

As they ponder their next move, they consider the threat that Loren poses. They suspect that at any time he could snap, reverting to his Markham personality. Should this happen at an inopportune time, it could mean their deaths. Sim, still trying to sort out the events of the battle in his own mind, is unsure of what action to take. Petra, viewing him as a flawed existence and a burden, suggests that he be freed from his suffering. Lawrence, however, adamantly refuses to allow this. With no agreement reached, but Markham’s personality in check for the time being, the party sets up a watch on Loren, and sleeps through the night.

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