The Singing Mercenaries

Strangers in a Strange Land

The Singing Mercenaries were stunned. They had no clue where they were, but it was clearly a hostile situation. The leader of their antagonists was a strange creature, and he was backed by two battlemages and two swordmages. As the heroes made ready to defend themselves, Jett realized the swordmages employed his same swordmage style. Confused, he demanded to know how they learned the secret arts, but they were not forthcoming.

Before violence broke out, things were timely interrupted by a paladin and two knights, who menaced the mages. The paladin, who named herself as Firella, ordered the mages off. Before the mages left, one of the swordmages told their leader that Mindartis would want to know about Jett, but their leader waved them off.

At the mention of Mindartis, Jett flew into a rage and had to be restrained by his fellow warriors. Firella identified herself as a member of the Light’s Dawn, and the mages as members of the Kir’Sar. She realized they were new to Sigil and directed them to the Oak and Crosier Inn, then departed.

As the Mercenaries were discussing what to do, they were approached by a tiefling, who recognized they were mercenaries. She gave them 1000gp out of hand and directed them to the Dove & Raven Inn, where she stated they could find work. The Mercenaries pretended to accept her offer, took the gold, but made their way to the Oak & Crosier instead.

As they traveled, they marveled at their surroundings. This place known as “Sigil” was strange indeed: the city circled up and over their heads in a great ring, they could see the faint shapes of other passersby in the streets above them.

At the Oak & Crosier, the Singers sidled in, ordering refreshment from the barkeep Osterman, only to be shortly joined by none other than Thorn. Thorn explained he was on a final errand for Bahamut’s Temple, but that he also craved companionship for a time, and joined them.

They encountered more Light’s Dawn knights, as well as some of the regular patrons. Jett continued to ask everyone in sight about Mindartis, but was constantly shot down, with several of the bar’s patrons simply telling him that not asking questions was a good policy.

Eventually, one of the tavern wenches came screaming out of one of the Oak & Crosier’s private rooms, followed by two drunk orc mercenaries. Jett antagonized the two orcs, who both proceeded to hit him in the face, and a barfight ensued. Jett thought himself more than a match for the orcs until their leader, a hulking, 10-foot tall half-ogre emerged from the room.

Fortunately, the fight was halted by a mysterious cloaked figure and several Genasi, whom the orcs and their leader seemed afraid of. Undaunted by recent events, Jett questioned the orcs about Mindartis, but was again stone-walled. Frustrated and tired, the mercenaries retired, with Mark 9 opting to stand outside their doors, as the magical construct did not require sleep.

That night, Mark 9 was approached by a mysterious goblin, who approached wreathed in shadow. The goblin, who simply identified himself as a servant of a powerful entity in Sigil, told the construct that his employers were aware of the Singers’ presence in Sigil, and recognized they could be allies.

Mark 9 inquired as to the nature of the goblin’s employers, but the goblin was vague, simply stating they were those who could use the skills of the Singing Mercenaries. Mark 9, his mercenary inclinations rising, told the goblin that the Singers were always looking for work, and indicated the goblin should let his masters know they were open for employment. The goblin then faded again into the shadows.

The next morning, the Singers arose. Mark 9 made no mention of the midnight encounter, and they proceeded to the Oak & Crosier’s bar for breakfast, wondering what awaited them in the vast, new city.

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Voyage Across Nothing
A New Chapter Begins

Flyship

???, 332

Triumphant, The Singing Mercenaries took stock of their situation. They had removed the emerald heart of the mysterious Grove of Graves, but had yet to make contact with any living, friendly being. They not solved the mystery of the changing dimensions within the Grove, and Valmir was clearly becoming more agitated, as they had not completed the task set before by his master, the Prince of Frost.

Intrigued, Sasz continued to inspect the runes that now lay silent across the walls of the room. Suddenly, the room began to suddenly feel unnaturally cold: a bone-chilling grip the wrapped around the very souls of the mercenaries. Suddenly, a portal erupted around the now-broken machinery of the room, swallowing it entirely. Ice began to quickly seep from the portal, encasing the entire room in a matter of seconds. Out from the portal stepped a graceful, yet terrifying, male Fey. He made no hostile action, but several of the Singers sensed that if he wanted to, he could destroy them without much effort.

Looking at them disdainfully, the Fey addressed them. “Pathetic mortals, your bullheadedness can always be counted on. You’ve broken in here, ignoring the dangers, only looking for what was in front of you. Yet, it has served you, and in turn me, well. Unknowingly you have rendered service unto me, and helped along my ‘faithful’ servant, Valmir.”

Sasz and Hemerias had both suspected the terrible being before them was indeed the Archfey, but his claim to Valmir, and Valmir’s cowering in the corner, almost comatose, confirmed their suspicions.

Moving foward, the towering Fey pointed at Tattered Onion, who was still greedily clutching the emerald heart of the Grove of Graves. “You don’t know what that is, do you, simpleton?” The Prince reached toward the emerald, only to find Tattered’s huge arm stopping him. No sooner had the Goliath halted the Archfey than the ice that was now completely encasing the room erupted from the ground, locking Tattered into a coffin of cold crystal.

The Grove of Graves’ emerald heart clattered to the floor. “To think,” the Prince continued as he reached down for the emerald, “such a petty thing was keeping me from this place. But no more, thanks to you. As I said, you have rendered me a service, and for that, you shall not be preserved. However, it is time for you to begone from here.”

With a wave of his hand, the Archfey dismissed the Singers. As he did so, a rip in the planes opened behind them, a purplish-black wound enveloped them before they could react.

Confused and disoriented, the Singers soon found themselves hurtling across a great black void, buffeted by invisible storms. Sasz quickly informed the party that, despite his knowledge of planar travel, he had no clue where they were, surmising they had been banished to the Void between the planes. Helpless, and without direction in the great nothing, the Singers could do little to discern a direction, only swim amongst the cast-off astral winds that buffeted them in the darkness.

All seemed lost for the mercenaries, until Hemerias spotted a floating object, far off in the swirling energies of the void. His discovery was accompanied by wretched screams: swimming toward them with alarming speed were abominations that could only have originated from the Far Realm.

Grell

Turning their attention from the distant object to their attackers, the Singers unleashed their fury on the abominations. The creatures were clearly starving, and while ravenous, were weak and easily dispatched by the hardened warriors.

In the meantime, the object slowly made its way towards them. As it jumped and twirled through the void’s invisible storms, the adventurers eventually realized it was a spelljammer of some sort. Eventually, the craft came alongside them, revealing that none other than Mark 9 was piloting the craft. Overjoyed to see their metal-golem friend, Tattered, Sasz and Jett gathered around, asking what had happened to him.

Mark 9 briefly explained that he had wandered the plains, but had eventually become trapped in the void, and by chance had managed to come across the spelljammer they now stood on, which he had dubbed The Beta. He then inquired as to the presence of the elf, whom, the others explained, had taken Nyktas’s place.

The party was suddenly interrupted from the screams of a new pack of the horrid creatures, who were bearing down on them in the distance. Mark 9 quickly explained to the party that, while the ship could be marginally controlled, they would have to repair it if they were to escape the fast-moving creatures.

The Beta was obviously damaged: one of her sails had been ripped from the rigging, Mark 9 noted the rudder was mostly unresponsive, and the ship seemed to founder in the great void as it leapt and swerved amongst the great storm.

Rushing astern, Hemerias noted that there was a small, glinting object stuck in the rudder chain, which was clearly limiting its motion. Drawing his bow, the Ranger-Cleric let loose a shaft, perfectly hitting the glinting object. He could only wonder what it was as it was rushed off into the darkness. Taking over for the elf, Tattered began to strain against the newly-freed runner, but with the sails not in place, among other things, it took all the Goliath could to keep the ship on course.

Meanwhile, Mark 9 and Sasz had rushed below deck. The howling of the void storms almost defeaned them as they discovered the ship’s hull was damaged, and that ship’s power source, a magical sphere, was cracked and leaking its enchantments. With Sasz providing raw energy, Mark 9 was able to re-shape Sasz’s powers in order to reform the sphere. When they had finished, the ship immediately seemed to speed up, but its motion was now much more fluid, but they could tell the damaged hull was still hampering the ship.

While this was going on, Jett was gamely climbing into the rigging, and had clambered out onto the high yardarm, armed with only his strength and a length of rope that he had run from the bottom of the sail, hoping to secure the wildly flapping sail of the leaping spelljammer. His balance and poise proved not enough, however, as he lost his grip and was sent hurtling into the void, the only thing saving him was the rope he had secured to the mast.

Hemerias was dismayed to see his friend cast from the yardarm, but even more to his chagrin, he spotted yet another group of the horrid creatures approaching the ship from the starboard side, these appearing to be faster and even more ravenous than the original flock that was still giving chase. Nocking two arrows at once, the elf displayed his skill by piercing two of the creatures with one shot, but it didn’t seem to faze their fellows.

Desperate to seal the damaged hull, Mark 9 and Sasz search the fore of the hold, finding extra materiel. Remembering his studies, Sasz managed to recall the design and structure of such spelljammers, and, with the help of Mark 9’s mechanical limbs, was able to create a serviceable patch for the hull. Tattered could immediately feel the ship respond, having to use much less strength to keep the Beta on course, and the abominations were gaining much less rapidly.

Unable to do anything further, Hemerias inspected the captain’s cabin of the vessel. It was finely furnished, with a handmade desk on one side, a large bookshelf, and huge chart dominating the aft wall. Upon closer inspection, Hemerias realized it was a map of the great void, and in one corner was a ship, slowly moving across the mapped expanse. Curious, the elf placed a hand upon the moving ship. The Singers were suddenly thrown to the deck as the ship suddenly stopped, then lurched off with the void’s currents.

Those on board heard the terrible screams of the abominations, horrible sounds of delight as their prey now buffeted around with no propulsion. Pulling himself to his feet, and realizing his error, the elf tried touching the ship’s marker on the map again, but to no avail, the Beta continued to founder.

Desperate, the elf tried to touching the closest other marker on the map, a swirling portal. The instant the elf’s figner touched the portal, the Beta leapt foward, and the elf could see the ship’s marker on the map heading straight for the portal marker. Hemerias wasn’t surprised to see Tattered and Sasz burst into the cabin to see what was going on.

Realizing the ship was bringing them ever closer to to the portal, the mercenaries desperately searched for a way to control the ship. Tattered rifled through the captain’s desk, but, unable to find anything useful (due to his inability to read), the Goliath ended up slicing the desk in half with his blade.

The bookshelf was of no help to Sasz, as it simply contained charts of the astral sea. From the deck, Jett began to shout that he could see the portal, and that everyone needed to brace themselves.

The Singers awoke in a strange alley, with several warriors standing over them, led by a one-winged blue creature. The creature stood over Mark 9. Inspecting the construct, he leaned over it and simply said “More intruders in Sigil. You will have to die.”

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Gates of the Dragon God

Flama 23rd, 332

Having taken their leave of the dwarves, the Singing Mercenaries emerged from the high mountain cave several days later, continuing their journey over the high ridges on the very spine of the Dawnforge Mountains. Variel, their guide, seemed to become more irritable as the journey continued, but none could tell whether he was simply tired of their company, whether the journey was taking its toll, or if their was something else bothering him.

They spent many nights sheltering under small overhangs, shivering against the encroaching cold. Eventually, after what seemed months, they came across a stone door, cut into the face of the tallest peak itself. Unfortunately for them, the entrance was surrounded by a horde of undead, lead by a necromancer who was attempting to break the Temple’s magic seal.

The Singers lead a surprise attack on the undead, only to be confounded by the weather. Snow swirled around them, blocking their view of the evil creatures. Despite this, they managed to defeat the monsters and their necromancer master. The Singers easily entered the Temple, its doors opened wide on their own once the evil undead had been cleansed.

Upon entering, the Singers moved cautiously. Surmising that any intruders would be treated as hostile, both Variel and Nyktas scouted ahead through the Temple’s halls. The party could hear the movement of soldiers, but did not encounter any.

The two shadowy mercenaries continued to stalk the halls until they came to the back of a great statue of the dragon god. Peering from behind it, they could see a cloaked figure praying in front of the statue. Unfortunately, although Nyktas remained hidden, Variel could not escape the notice of the kneeling figure. Leaping into action, the figure shouted a warning aloud as he bounded behind the statue before the two mercenaries could react, pinning Variel with his sword.

Hearing the commotion from the next room, Mark 9, Winward, and Tattered rushed through a side door into the large room that contained the statue. Seeing more intruders enter, the worshipper raised his arm. In a flash, angels descended into the Temple, pinning all of the Mercenaries but Variel, whom the warrior still had at swordpoint. “Intruders!” he cried. “You will pay for your blasphemy in blood!”

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The Mountain Pass
A Song of the Singing Mercenaries

Ice Oh sing then, ye gods, of the Chosen ones, called forth to great destiny, of the Temple of Bahamut, which they had yet to see. Hear, ye mortals, of their triumph, and heed their follies, too, for in all we learn about ourselves, these lessons are for you. Let the world not soon forget the journey calling them, from hidden Elven lands unto the mountain’s ends. Listen to my story, all ye lovers of a tale, of glory everlasting, of challenges like a gale. This is the story of those we call the Singing Mercenaries, but I’ll not linger on their name, for we’ve no time to tarry.

From the lips of beloved Elrias, he of ancient forest born, words of wisdom, words of thanks and words of warning came. To the east, ever distant, lay that which then was sought, an altar of Bahamut, in Temple by mortals wrought. But to this place, far from these lands, the company must go, through ice, through rock, and even more, through silent, deadly snow. The mountain’s pass they must climb, to reach the distant east, or so they said to one another, bid farewell in hero’s feast. But Elrias, ever friend, to those who loved him dear, sent with them now a guide, to lead them without fear. Variel, his name, and stalwart soul as well, led them far into the mountains—a frozen, icy hell.

The paths were dim, the travel fierce, but ever up they climbed, yet with challenges they were met, of skill, and soul, and mind. Then to a place they came at last, were no more they could go, and so they took in the sights around, a mountain now their foe. For before them was a winding snake, their road a deadly trap, which itself was neatly split into a deadly gap. Beyond their gaze, unto their left, a deep and treacherous pit, and north of that, upon a ridge, there did danger sit. Although at first they did not see, believe, oh friends, believe, strange were the sights of journeys past, and this day was no reprieve.

To cross the dangerous chasm spread, a trick did they devise, and Nyktas, ever agile, climbed with anxious eyes. And soon as rope was tossed, secured, and grounded fast; upon the ridge did evil lurk, from not too distant past. And lo, upon the mountain, plain for them to see, perched Foulspawn looking downwards, our heroes not yet free. And quicker then they moved, but could not chance foretell, as Winward, bard immortal, missed rope and nearly fell. As the creatures clambered down, Variel, and Nyktas too, saw treachery abounding, as it is want to do. For from the north, more Foulspawn came, their weapons they brought forth, and with them now a mouthed-eyed orb, pure evil, just the same.

And tempting fate, yet ever brave, his magic window placed, the Tattered Onion took his leap, and almost planted face. For as through artifact he fell, he missed his placement then, and tumbled down, and further, but hit his landing well. He was unharmed, yet far beneath, in land of freezing snow, and far above the battle raged, but soon would collect teeth. Variel and Nyktas, advanced towards the foe, they chargéd in, and for their rush, recievéd grievous blows. Adventurers behind caught up, and held the line sure fast, while Tattered moved up quickly, up cliff with iron grasp. The evil behind circling, closed on the heroes’ rope, save for one Beserker, his rolls gave him no hope.

And soon was battle joined, Mark 9 crossed at last, and using magicks aiding, struck with thunderous blasts. Although he missed, on some attempts, his efforts staved the flow, for though his body weighed a ton, his mind was never slow. And Nyktas sly, with much aplomb, used skill and guile too, and off the cliff a Foulspawn went, from that one’s strike he flew. Then things a little uglier, a little less refined, as many injurious wounds were struck, our heroes had naught much time. So, in a desperate act to save, himself from death’s embrace, around his body with dark clouds Nyktas was encased. This cut off sight, from good and bad, and caused a little scare, but could Winward see at all, ye gods, for that crazy mop of hair?

Though Nyktas flew from these dread strikes, so close to death was he, Tattered emerged upon the ledge, his weapons now all free. And to the Mockery of life he gave, with giant’s strength and all, a punishment so rich deserved, that caused the monster’s fall. And rolling to the bottom’s pit, it lie among the rock, and Tattered a victory did earn, having cleaned the critter’s clock. And Winward’s aid in magic heals did Variel preserve, with wisdom and great foresight, his teammate he preserved. And skillfully advancing his enemies repaid, upon the creatures round him, the gnomish bard pain laid. But, to the Singing Mercenaries more trouble came at last, upon silent wings appeared a thing, and brother, it was scary. A lieutenant of the Chaos, a mad angel hovered there, and through the sky its lances flew, and thus the creatures pared.

Yet for the madness therein slipped, that valiant warforged soul, designated as Mark 9 continued with his goal. And holding back the Mangling beast, he perceived in obscured skies, the nature of the beast above, its being undisguised. His counsel warned with some alarm, full terror now laid bare, the creature gliding on its wings could cause the greatest harm. Unmatched were they, the Singing ones, to its full fury loosed, and Winward called to mind as well, that they might be undone. The Chaos manifested in the heavens let its powers flash, upon the Mockery, near dead, its might did fully crash. Then as Variel was nearly hurled headlong into the deep, the Mangler which grabbed his arm collapsed in broken heap. Skewered as it was, and now quite dead, no others it would harm, and that dear friends, ended its life, indeed, it bought the farm. Yet all of them, proud warriors, stood shocked and gazed on high, and wondered with some dread, was it death they spied?

The creature of the Chaos threw bolts upon the rocks, and sure as night gives way and breaks at the crowing of the cocks, he killed the monsters which threatened there to end the lives below, of Singers naught, but Mercenaries, cutting short the row. His disgust made plain for Foulspawned beasts, and the weakness of the group, now whisked away to stellar plane, unfamiliar to the troupe. Here they heard, with infinite dread a strange prophecy proclaimed, that they could be the chosen ones, and the angel ere their bane. Returning them unto the mount, it disappeared that day, and for their lives aghast, amazed, they made great haste away.

Into the mountain straight away, for days and days they went, until four days inside the dark the Mercenaries spent. Yet Variel, with keen-eyed sight perceived in gloom and haze, a guardhouse near to them it seemed, yet no fires were ablaze. But in the shadows, there outstretched a group of wounded dwarves, whose lives were in some peril, the ship of life un-wharfed. But with tender care, and loving skill, the compatriots outstretched, and brought the leader back to health, the poor abuséd wretch. His name Galatin, called Granitehands, and Morvin Stoutstone too, and a nameless dwarf with reddish shirt, who did not have a clue.

The Duergar and their masters, those elemental lords, were rising from the depths below to take Hallath by storm. Upon a bit of conversation, his brother Galorvin now in mind, Galatin realized then and there, that these were they had need to find. And so he asked if they would aid, with spell, and sword, and all, the city well named Hallath, to preserve it from its fall. But the party split, and could not choose, which way to take, of course, some wanted to press on, and leave, yet others had remorse. To aid the dwarves was a deed of good, and being creatures of the right, the Mercenaries ought stay and help, if able then they should.

Though Variel’s claims to move ever on were met with angry words, it was the honest slip of thoughts foregone that caused more strife, itself not undeserved. The aberrant taint which lingered still upon our heroes there was dangerous to dwarvish homes, no lingering threats they’d dare. And so, sent from the dwarves, whose lives they’d deigned to save, the heroes left the guards behind, with not so much a wave. This ends the tale for here and now, but tune in soon my friends, who knows what journey’s are ahead, or where the story ends?

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Drums of War
Warriors Arise!

Flama 11 332

Deep within the bowels of the Dawnforge Mountains, Galatin Granitehands was leading his company of dwarves through ancient passages, dug millenia ago by the dwarves’ forbears. The paladin’s mind was troubled: communication from many cities of the Kardath Confederacy had gone silent in recent weeks, and there were rumors of enemies from the depths of the mountain rising up to assault the dwarves. Worse, there was dark talk about the dwarves of Lorn, especially the Ambershard clan. Never one to wait around, Galatin had invoked his status as a paladin of Moradin to leave his city and set out towards the other dwarven citadels within the mountains. He had asked two fellow soldiers, the Morvin and Draelin Stoutstone, and a couple of his nephews to accompany him through the mountain passage, who had all heartily agreed to the task.

Galatin was especially concerned for the city of Hallath, one of the first cities that had seemingly dropped all contact. He and his small band were making their way to Hallath, hoping for some news of what was happening in other parts of the mountains. Their path had lead them through small tunnels and abandoned paths for weeks, until they came to a rock span across an endless abyss. Everburning torches, ancient magic gifted to the dwarves by the Eladrin, lit the cave.

Galatin was apprehensive, he could almost smell danger in the air, but the great cave was empty, the great abyss precluding any surprise attacks.

Making their way across the span, the dwarves were surprised to hear the sound of heavy boots rising from the far passage. The paladin immediately ordered his fellows to ready for battle, halting just at the far end of the span to avoid any unpleasant falls.

The dwarves were shocked to see their ancient cousins, the Duergar, trooping out of the passage. “Fiends!” the paladin cried as he leapt towards the leader, his warhammer in hand. “Servants of the Elemental Princes! Back! Begone to the fires and your masters below!”

The fighting began in earnest as several more Duergar filed out behind their leader. Sneering at the paladin, their leader met Galatin headon, shouting that their masters had returned, and they would see the mountains burn from the inside out.

The axes of the younger Granitehands, and the hammers of the older dwarves, soon proved too great for the beleaguered Duergar, and many of them lay smashed and shattered on the stone ledge. Even in the dim light of the cave, Galatin shone brightly, his hammer alive with the power of Moradin.

“Pathetic dwarves!” bellowed the leader. “Your Great Father cannot save you here! Behold the return of the princes!” Marching out from the passage, a great fire elemental appeared, shrouded in melted steel armor and wielding a sword of pure flame. With a hiss, it unleashed a wave of fire, forcing the dwarves to leap to the ground.

Unnerved, but unwilling to flee, the dwarves fought gamely on. Galatin, summoning the gifts of Moradin, fought with the the fiery warrior as his cohorts held back the tide of Duergar charging up the narrow passage. The Stoutstone brothers proved vicious combatants, their long years of fighting together lending their attacks a particularly vehemence in defense of each other.

Despite their superior skills, the number of Duergar began to tell. The dwarves found themselves pushed to the edges of the ledge, with no way to escape back across the stone span to the passage from whence they came.

Calling up his reserves, Galatin raised his warhammer, and with a silent prayer to Moradin, brought it down with all the force he could muster. Moradin seemed to answer his prayers, as Galatin found his hammer had extinguished his elemental foe, and the resulting shockwave had cleared a path for he and his friends to retreat. Resolved to save his friends lives, no matter the cost, Galatin leapt into the middle of his remaining foes.

The remaining Duergar seemed to cower before the paladin, and Galatin felt as though they would be able to emerge from the battle unscathed, but he quickly realized he was not what caused his infernal brethren to quail.

Emerging from the lower passage, a towering elemental prince was striding towards the paladin. The creature stood twelve feet tall, it’s skin dark red, it’s black armor crafted from the pits of Elemental Chaos itself. “Pitiful mortals!” it called. “I am here to take back the kingdom of fire! These stone halls will once again be awash with the power of flame. Yours will be the first flesh to feed the fires!”

With a sweep of his blade, the fire lord sent a jet of flame across the ledge, sending both dwarves and duergar flying. One of Galatin’s nephews caught the blast full force, and the paladin could only scream in dismay as the young dwarf hurtled down into the inky depths below.

“Flee!” Galatin cried. “Back, the Confederacy must know of this! I shall hold them here as long as I am able!”

“You seek to challenge me?” the firelord bellowed, his voice echoing like thunder in the ancient cave, “Very well!” Bringing his flaming sword down, the elemental lord found his mark: Galatin’s shield was shorn in half, and he could feel the ancient flame burning deep into his arm. Knowing he was facing death, Galatin was glad to see the remaining dwarves had managed to rush back to the stone span and escape.

Just as he was resigning himself to fate, Galatin felt a tug on his battered armor. He was thrown bodily towards his compatriots. Galatin had only a glimpse of Draelin Stoutstone before he was hauled up by the other Stoutstone brother, Morvin. “We couldna let ya die, sir. Garvin knows what he’s doing. Come on!”

Fleeing down the pass, Galatin noticed Morvin wipe a tear away, and he said a silent prayer to Moradin, asking him to watch over the brave dwarf, and to protect the dwarven nations from the ancient, reawakened threat of the elementals.

Sombra 21 331

Queen Alraisa Valorfast, the Iron Monarch, ruler of the Kingdom of Nerath, master of King’s Reach, sat upon her ancient throne, awaiting the arrival of her Lord Marshalls.

The young queen mused upon the last few months as she waited. Her nephew, Janus, was dead, supposedly at the hands of rogue warriors from the elven or dwarven nation, there were rumors of the Drow mounting an assault on the eastern border, and there was more hushed talk of a great evil rising across the sea on the isle of Lorn. Silently she said a prayer to Kord, asking the great god of war to lead her nation to glory.

Alraisa glanced around her throne room. Adorning the walls were the weapons of each of the previous Iron Monarchs: the great mace and shield of Alror the Great, the spear of Pellinus, the great battleaxes of the Al-Karr monarchs, the runed sword of Dannic the Mad. Unsheathing her own blade, the Queen pondered the fate of the Kingdom. Long had it been since its mettle was tested. “No doubt these recent troubles are merely Kord’s displeasure.” she thought.

The Queen had her lords off guard, and she knew it. Neither her aunt nor her father had called for a meeting of lords during their reign. Alraisa smiled as they entered her throneroom, wondering what each of them thought as they proceeded down the long hall. First, of course, her cousin, Kal Talonwatch, Lord Rhine. Alraisa hid a smile as she pictured the giant Kal sweeping past the other lords, with nothing to say to them. “The man’s mind is obsessed with battle. He will never rest until he has proven himself unto the gods themselves.” Without a word, the Lord Rhine kneeled before his Queen, waiting to be acknowledged. Alraisa nodded at him to rise, and awaited the others.

A few minutes later, Lord Ilan, Lord Cloudwatch and Lord Fenrir approached the throne. Alraisa took no notice of Lord Ilan, his reputation for loyalty, and his actions proving it, put to rest any problems Alraisa might have had with the old man. Like his forbears, Ilan hefted a large axe as his weapon, although she wondered if he could use it anymore.

Lord Fenrir was, perhaps, her biggest dissapointment. His province had little military, and Carthan had done little to quell the comings and goings of the traitorous Lord Warden Faren Markelhay. “I will deal with that in my own way,” Alraisa told herself.

Lord Cloudwatch appeared quite nervous. The young man had never been to King’s Reach, his duties demanded all of his time, but he could not ignore a summons to a Lords Council. Only having recently succeeded his father, Darion was obviously unsure how to act. He stayed close to Lord Fenrir.

In Alraisa’s mind, Fenrir’s support of Cloudwatch was the Lord Marhsall’s, and the province’s, only saving grace. The lack of military power was a disgrace to Nerath’s proud heritage, but no one could deny that Fenrir’s support made their eastern border strong against their ancient enemy, the Drow.

These three were followed by Elric Resz, Lord Kyras, and her cousin Sirius Valorfast, Lord Lannister. The two men were eyeing each other warily as they made their way down the chamber. There was no love lost between the scion of Alror the Great and the Valorfast family. With the death of Sirius’s son, Kyras been publicly, albeit not overtly, gloating at the loss.

Although he acted in poor taste, Kyras was loyal to the Kingdom. Alror’s blood had not distilled over time: Kyras was as fearsome a warrior as any in Nerath, and while he had not the brute strength of Lord Rhine, the experience of Ilan, or the ruthless cunning of Sirius, Kyras was an exceptional practioner of battlemagic.

With her Lord Marshalls assembled before her, Alraisa rose from the ancient throne of the Iron Monarchs.

“My Lords, you have been summoned here because Nerath’s fate now lies squarely with us. Too long has this proud nation languished. For too long the Drow have mouldered in their desert strongholds, for too long we have allowed the elves and dwarves to come freely in our northern lands. This is a nation of warriors, and to us it is given to go to war! Our god, the great and terrible Kord, does not smile upon inaction. No longer shall we stand by idle, we must grasp our fate by its very throat, and crush those who would stand in our way. Only by the sword shall this kingdom live!”

The Lord Marshalls stirred at Alraisa’s speech. “And now, my lords,” the Queen continued, “I will hear from you where our future lies. Our enemies our numerous and and borders are long. Let us hear what the greatest warriors in the land have to say.”

Alraisa was surprised to see Sirius speak up first. “My Queen, we must strike to the north, the elves have long treated our borders with disdain, they believe our land is theirs to traverse as they please. They have already corrupted the Markelhay Lord Warden. Their forest is wide open for attack, they would be easy prey.”

“Since when do the warriors of Nerath seek weak opponents!?” Lord Rhine retorted. “The elves are not worth mentioning. We could simply burn their pathetic trees to the ground and they would die of heartache. Kord has no interest in us challenging them. The dwarves of Lorn, now there is a worthy foe. We are at a disadvantage against them, and unfamiliar with their land. Surely to conquer them would demonstrate our true strength!”

A sibilant voice whispered from behind Alraisa’s throne. “Your words ring true, of course, Lord Rhine, but you fail to see the larger picture.” Materializing from shadows, Terok stepped foward to greet the Lord Marshalls.

Alraisa noted the bristling of several of her Lord Marshalls. Terok and his Iron Sigil were not followers of Kord, nor were they even Nerathians. Many of them weren’t evne human. The true value of the Iron Sigil was known only to the Iron Monarch: they would never admit it, but even the Lord Marshalls of Nerath feared the shadow warriors.

Seeing the black-armored warrior, Rhine immediately unsheathed his blade: “Take care what you say, Terok. You have no standing here. Step away from the Iron Throne, I won’t tolerate your presence so close to her!”

Alraisa rose slightly from her chair “Peace, cousin. He is here at my request, just as you.”

Ignoring his Queen, Rhine continued “I’ll not have a black-clad snake so close to our Queen. Kord looks disfavorably on such men.”

Hoping to deflect attention away from the Iron Sigil’s commander, old Lord Ilan stepped foward. “It is true that the elves have been let to go as they please, and that the dwarves of Lorn would certainly prove a challenge for us, but I must question your judgments, my Lords. Lord Lannister, we here are all aware of your loss, and while no one can question your bravery or your skills as a warrior, the fact remains that you just lost your son. And you, Lord Rhine, it is true that the dwarves of Lorn would prove a challenge to us, but we must think of the kingdom. Such a faraway land would prove of little use to us, while our closer neighbors would bring us more profit and greater safety. I must suggest we eliminate the Drow, and finish what Alror began long ago.”

Unsurprisingly, Cloudwatch was in complete agreement. “My Queen, long has my family guarded our borders. The Drow have become less and less agressive. I fear they something stirs deep within the deserts, and Terok’s information…”

“Nerath does not act on the words of cowards!” Lord Rhine bellowed. “If this is truly what we have come to, then war is indeed necessary, if only to cull this proud nation of those that have grown fat and lazy.” He turned to eye Lord Renfir “You especially, your tolerance of the elves is pathetic.”

“And what have you done, Rhine, that you stand here boasting?” Sirius interjected, “For all of your yelling, you have accomplished nothing but drilling your soldiers on the great plains.”

The mighty Lord Rhine’s sword suddently arced overhead at Sirius Valorfast. “No man calls me a coward!” Swords were drawn, Lord Ilan rushed to interpose between the massive warrior and his smaller opponent, but it was clear that none were close or quick enough to stop the fatal blow.

All except one. Seeing what was happening, Alraisa launched herself from her throne, drawing her fabled blade in one fluid motion. Moving faster than the eye could follow, Alraisa stood squarely between her cousins. Despite her small stature, her blade effortlessly blocked the much larger Lord Rhine’s, releasing a wave of force that sent both Rhine and Lannister flying across the room.

“Now, perhaps, you remember why I am Queen! My most experienced warriors are acting like young boys challenging each other with wooden swords on a parade ground. Never disrespect this hall again, or I shall not be so lenient.”

The Lord Marshalls were stunned (some physically) at their Queen’s inhuman feat. Seizing the moment, she turned those not sprawled on the ground. “I have made my decision. You will return to your lands, my lords, and assemble your armies. Return here within two months time. Nerath goes to war!”

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Mark of the Far Realm

Branca 15 331
Tired and weary, the Singing Mercenaries wondered what possible challenges lay before them after their harrowing battle. The ghost approaching them made no hostile actions, however, and instead opened its arms wide to show it meant no harm.

The ghost was of an old man, stooped with age, wearing flowing robes inscribed with runes none of the Singers recognized. Despite his ragged appearance, his eyes glinted with wisdom. “Heroes, truly you have saved this plane from the horrors we have long sought to ward off.”

Curious, Mark 9 greeted the ghost warmly, and asked him who he was.

Ghost wizard

“I am one of the ”/campaign/the-singing-mercenaries/wikis/jinrai" class=“wiki-page-link”> Jinrai, the builders of this tower. Long have we sought to protect your world from the terrors hidden behind the magical barriers that surround this plane and others. Our own plane was corrupted and devoured by the creatures of Chaos, one of which you destroyed here. We fled our home to this world. We knew we could not retake our own realm, but hoped we might spare this one the same fate. Alas, events have not turned out as we planned, I must speak with you for a moment, before we finally pass on."

“That is most unfortunate, friend,” Mark 9 responded sadly, “What have you to tell us?”

“We labored here in our tower for many centuries. Our first work was to place protective barriers in this place. This forest is where the barriers between worlds are weakest, and we sought to strengthen it. Alas, those you know as Eladrin made their way here as well, and their constant travel weakened our wards.”

“Dirty, point-eared fairies” Jett muttered under his breath.

“We soon turned our focus to fighting these monstrosities. We attempted to observe them and learn their weaknesses, but it soon became apparent that we could not simply look across the planes. Something was…” the old wizard shuddered “looking back at us.” Madness began to overtake those who gazed across the void. We decided to build magical machines to view our old home for us, that we might not be subject to the madness. This was your original purpose, Mark 9."

Not letting the construct time to process, the wizard continued. “This method also failed us, those who continued to delve into glimpses of the Far Realm, as we now call it, even when recorded magically, lost their sanity as well. We soon found ourselves dying out. Our final act was here in this room, myself and others magically bound our souls to a ritual designed to seal this weak point. When these cultists came, however, they brought with them powerful magics, pored over our tomes, and significantly weakened our barrier. That they have aligned with Chaos itself only strengethened their abilities. I fear for your world, heroes, with this barrier broken, the denizens of the Far Realm will slowly appear to devour this plane.”

The Singers, even Tattered, who normally could not comprehend the ideas of planar magic, felt a sinking sense of dread. “You are especially in danger, my friends,” the ancient ghost continued, “While you were victorious against that…thing…it has left the mark of the Far Realm upon you. The vile creatures will be drawn to you from across the void, hoping to devour your essence while you bear the taint.”

“Tell me old man, how do we remove this?” Winward asked.

“No craft we possess can shield against this mark. One of this realm’s deities would possess the power to stand against this chaos: the great dragon, Bahamut. His strength lies in justice and order, only his powers can counteract the growing threat of chaos. Unfortunately, his power is diminished of late.”

“What do you mean, diminished?”

The ancient ghost sighed. “Bahamut is no longer in the heavens. He is a prisoner of ”/campaign/the-singing-mercenaries/wikis/orcus" class=“wiki-page-link”> Orcus in the Abyss."

“How is this possible!?” Elrias cried. “The Demon Prince is formidable, yes, but to capture the Platinum Dragon? This is ridiculous. Your time here has addled your brain.”

“Peace, elf. Orcus is no longer his own master. Just as his priest told you here in this room, he now serves Chaos, a far more terrifying and powerful entity. We Jinrai have long peered far into the planes, and have studied the Astral Sea. Our sight is now limited, but a being as strong as Bahamut cannot hide from our view.”

“Your path lies amongst the the divine. You must seek out a temple of Bahamut, only his priests can remove the taint of the Far Realm which clings to you.”

“As for you, Mark 9,” the ghost continued, “I unlock all of the magical recordings and memories from your past. The knowledge of the Jinrai is know yours. You are no longer custodian of this place, and are free to go as you will.”

“You are truly heroes, and I hope you fare well. We Jinrai have failed, and will now fade away as we were meant to do so long ago. Seek out the aid of the worshipper’s of Bahamut, and be wary of the chaos which claws at your world!”

With that final warning, the ghost passed from existence. The Singers looked about to find that the other ghosts had already faded. They turned to leave the broken tower, pondering the information just given them. The Platinum Dragon chained in the Abyss, an entity powerful enough to control Orcus himself. They shuddered as they walked, still remembering the terror of what they had just fought, each of them imagining an apocalypse of fear just waiting to spill into their home of Rantalia…

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Terror From Beyond

Branca 15th, 331

Pointing his skull-tipped staff, the priest of Orcus hurled a blast of power ripped from the Abyss itself at the Singing Mercenaries A withering cloud enveloped them all, blinding their sight with a cloying darkness. Cackling madly, the priest directed his servants to attack the bewildered mercenaries. Just as in their battle with her before, the vampire fixed her gaze on Jett, enthralling him with honeyed words and enticing looks.

Tattered Onion, on the other hand, had only one thing on his mind: slaying his foe. With a shout, he charged foward, blind with battle lust, towards what he felt to be the most worthy opponent, the hulking werewolf that had been summoned by the Orcus Priest, leaving the others to fend for themselves. Elrias, realizing that the Priest was the true source of his forest’s predicament, launched himself towards the Orcus worshipper, bellowing that he would have the cultist’s head.

“Foolish elf!” the priest retorted. “Your power wanes as the forests life is sapped into the Far Realm. Orcus himself will soon walk these lands again, and your precious forest will be his first conquest!”

Maddened with rage, Elrias returned the insult by sending a shockwave from his sword towards the taunting priest, but to no avail…the blast swirled about the priest, but fell shades summoned from the Shadowfell protected him from the magical assault.

Unfortunately for the maddened cultist, his summoned help was no good to him. Jett managed to fend off the feminine wiles of the Feywild vampire, and Tattered quickly discovered that the werewolf was a failed experiment, and while it appeared intimidating, it was a slow, cumbersome beast.

During the battle, the hovering spirits around the room exhorted the Singers to greater efforts, calling out especially to Mark 9. The evil cultist tried to silence the ghosts with threats and blasts of shadow, but to no avail.

Soon, Tattered’s fury and Jett’s sword had felled the cultist’s summoned aid, and he found himself surrounded. Despite his sorcerous powers, the cultist was no match for the combined might of the Singers. As he finally fell to Tattered’s blade, the evil priest cackled with his dying breath, crying that the world was already doomed, just before his body faded away into the Shadowfell.

Exhausted, the Singers collapsed as the cultist’s body faded away, glad to be rid of the menace to the forest (and their own lives). They were concerned about the spirits hovering around the room, but the spectres made no hostile actions, but simply watched them.

Moments later, the two portals the evil priest had summoned ripped back open, but they appeared to be extremely unstable. Crackling and wavering, they slowly drew towards each other, warping and finally flowing into each other. With a great explosion, the two portals fell away to reveal a glimpse of a terrible, alien realm.

The Singers watched, horrified, as a great monstrosity pulled itself from the void. With a soul-rending howl, fixed its gaze upon them. The creature before them was unlike anything the Singers had ever encountered. Although it floated in the air, it had a mass of tentacles that writhed and lashed about it’s body. The creature’s gaping mouth gnashed it’s uneven teeth, it let out an eerie scream which clawed at the Singers’ minds.

At its appearance, the ghosts in the great chamber let out a collective wail of dismay. “We’ve failed!” they cried. “Heroes!” the closest one to the Singers called out, “You must slay this…this…abomination! It is a gatekeeper, that portal will only close with it’s demise! If it remains open this world is doomed!”

Weary, exhausted and terrified, the Singers readied themselves for the horror they were about to face. The monster seemed to size them up before surging forward, snapping its tentacles, attempting to crush the mortals that stood before it.

Elrias and Tattered stood ready, but before they could reach the monster, it unleashed a terrible scream that sent the Singers into visions of an alien realm, filled with wriggling, writhing entities beyond comprehension. Overcome by what they were facing, the Singers were unable to react as the beast moved among them flaying Elrias with it’s wicked tentacles.

Although they were unprepared for the shock, the Singers, battle-hardened as they were, managed to fight off the terrible visions and fought gamely on with the beast. Tattered, especially, found his footing in the battle, unleashing a mighty Avalanche Strike that cleaved several tentacles from the beast. Much to the other Mercenaries shock, however, the beast seemed unaffected. Instead, it dipped its tentacles back into the gaping rip in the planes, pulling the planar wound wider.

The assorted ghosts again groaned, and at this, the monster seemed to notice the apparitions for the first time. Ignoring its opponents, the monster surged across the room, and devoured one of the ghosts.

The Singers were unsure of the purpose of the creature’s actions, but realized they needed to prevent it from doing whatever it intended to do. The battle was arduous: no matter what they did to the beast, it’s resilience never seemed to fade, its screams invaded their psyche, and its tentacles continued to batter them.

Eventually, whatever purpose and sanity was guiding the creature’s actions seemed to fade. Rushing from one side of the great room to another, and then widening the portal yet further, the beast seemed to lose all direction, and even that it realized the Singers were there.

Taking advantage of this, the Singers, summoning up what reserves of strength and courage they had left, unleashed everything they could against it. Invoking the power of the Shadowfell, Nyktas ripped at the creatures very soul, while Winward and Mark 9 called upon their magical prowess to assault the beast. Elrias and Jett attacked in tandem, and, in the end, it was Tattered’s sword, Acris, that delivered the final blow.

As the beast writhed in its death throes, it seemed to be lifted by some unseen forced and dragged back through the portal through when it came. The great yawning wound in the planes snapped shut, and the Singers stood triumphant, albeit wounded and horrified.

Seeing it was no longer in danger, one of the ghosts in the room approached them…

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The Source of Suffering

Priest of Orcus

Branca 12th, 331

Bursting through the door in an effort to escape the maze of mirrors, the Singers were stopped short by a horrifying sight in front of them. No stranger to undeath now, after what felt like a lifetime of campaigning, the adventurers were nonetheless disturbed by the hulking figures of two zombies, apparently stitched together from several corpses. Seated on a throne between the two stood a hooded cultists, who had been looking over a large tome prior to the interruption.

“Announcement: Intruders!” a strange voice said, and the Singers were suprised to see a statue move, a statue very similar in construction to Mark 9. This warforged guardian reacted quicker than the zombies did, and marked Elrias with a beam of magic.

“Fascinating!” Mark 9 responded, his attention drawn to the subject of whatever experiment was going on in this room: a gaunt man strapped to a table, “I wonder what kind of ritual they were performing!”

“Stow it, rustbucket,” growled Winward, who was growing more and more frustrated with the lack of urgency present in their new warforged companion. “Go into combat mode, or whatever it is you do, and stop hitting me with your spells!”

Mark 9 seemed like he was about to reply, but before he could say anything Tattered let out a horrible yell and charged into the fray, almost knocking Elrias over. His fullblade whirled and took chunk after chunk out of the fleshy abominations, and he seemed unconcerned as their meaty fists missed him by inches.

“Stop them! Stop them!” shrilled the cultist, shooting off a pair of spells that fell short of their mark. Winward responded in kind to the assault, and using his songblade to enhance the properties of his voice he let out an inspiring call to arms, invigorating Elrias and Tattered to press their advantage. Meanwhile, Mark 9 lanced out with both flame and ice to pin down the guardian and another zombie.

The stranger strapped to the table took advantage of the confusion to vanish, reappearing a few moments later free of his bonds. Drawing power from the Shadowfell, he assisted the Singers with blade and magic and soon the battle was over.

Introductions were made, and Nyktas the Shadowalker introduced himself. “I am a revenant, recently come back to this coil. None of you would happen to have a stiff drink on you, eh?”

Winward offered his assistance in leading Nyktas to safety, and an agreement was soon reached. The Singers plus one continued up the tower, navigating a strange watery trap with the aid of a pair of cantrips and a well placed climbing rope.

The Singers soon found themselves in an even stranger place. Upon walking through one door, they found themselves outside! Sky, trees, grass, and even the movements and sounds of animals greeted them, as though they were standing in the middle of Elrias’s woods.

Stunned by the change in scenery, the adventurers were caught off guard by the presence of a strange woman dressed in green. The woman demanded their names, and when she noticed Mark 9 instantly recognized them. “The Observer! I see. So you are trying to reach the top of the tower then?”

“We are, fair one,” Winward replied. “We are seeking a great power that will help us restore the forest.” He did not add that he was also hoping it would aid him in his revenge.

“There is no great power here,” the strange woman explained, “The Jinrai, our ancient masters, built this tower as a place of learning. Called the Esoteric Order by some, they crafted defenders of stone and wood and delved into research of the planes. Unfortunately, they perished soon after his creation,” at this she gestured to Mark 9, “and the seals they placed have grown weak.”

“Is there any way we can continue on? We must reach the top of the tower,” Jett asked, his injury much improved.

“There is, I will send guides with you. This wood contains a portal to the top of the tower, although the journey will take you two days. I wish you good luck, adventurers,” and with that she stepped into the woods and vanished.

The Singers traveled quickly through the woods, guided by green flames during the day and watching peculiar stars in the unfamiliar sky at night.

Branca 15th, 331

Soon they found another stone door, overgrown with plants. After spending an hour clearing it, the door opened into a study. Nyktas scouted forward, and reported that the room at the far end held within it a single figure busy in a ritual of some kind.

Winward issued orders, and soon the party broke into this new chamber. They were drawn up short by what was inside: a cloaked cultist who was smiling patiently at them, while shivering spirits hovered around the edge of the room.

“It took you long enough to find this place,” the cultist intoned slowly, “You have bested some minor minions of ours, but soon the Tower of the ”/campaign/the-singing-mercenaries/wikis/jinrai" class=“wiki-page-link”> Jinrai will be ours! With the secrets of this place, we shall pave the road for our masters return!"

A pair of portals snapped open behind him at this, one leading to a hellish place and one to a silvery glade. Out of the Feywild stepped a vampire, familiar to some of them, who sneared in contempt, “I told you! You cannot kill me!”

From the other stepped a werewolf, wild with rage and fury. Yet something was different about this beast, for his arms were transformed into a kind of blue crystal that pulsed with energy.

The cultist laughed as he readied spells at his fingertips, “And now, intruders…DIE!”

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Ruins of Magic

Branca 12, 331

The Singing Mercenaries, guided by their new addition, Mark 9, picked their way down the ancient stone stairecase that had been revealed to them. Unlike the earthen tunnels they had traversed during their captivity, this was a grand staircase, made of otherworldly stone and dimly lit by glowing, magical crystals. After an hour of descending the grand staircase, they arrived at an open hall, dimly lit by the same crystals, with multiple passages leading to other parts of the ruins. “This place is well-maintained for a ruin,” remarked Shalazar, noting the marble flooring and the still-working magic illuminating the hall. On the far end of the open room was a broken statute, and from it’s wings, a soft, blue glow.

As the adventurers stepped into the room, they heard an awful “SKRREEEEE” coming from both wings of the hall…and barreling towards them were two giant rats! Both were larger than even Mark 9, who cried out in alarm as they came speeding towards them. Jett and Tattered Onion quickly unsheathed their weapons, and put the raging beasts down without a second thought. “I was hoping we would have worthier opponents,” Tattered remarked. “Acris thirsts for blood.” Peering down the halls, the Singers noticed glowing arcane circles on the floor. “Fascinating!” exclaimed Mark 9, “These creatures were clearly arcane experiments. I hope we see more such things in this tower!” The others ignored the construct, more worried about what else lay in store for them.

They were quick to discover. Striding from the darkness at the far end of the entrance hall, a pale figure, dressed in black armor, emerged. The vampire noticed the Singers at once, he shouted “Intruders!” and took off from whence he came. “I really hate vampires,” Winward muttered under his breath as the mercenaries readied their weapons.

They were soon greeted by a more sinister vampire wielding a wicked-looking curved sword that glowed red in the pale light, and two monstrous werewolves, backed by several more vampire guards. Jett and Shalazar rushed foward, shouting battle cries as they crashed into the lead vampire. Mark 9 and Winward were caught unawares as the two werewolves, who had been on the far end of the entrance hall, emerged next to them seconds later from a side passage.

Mark 9’s chilling blasts managed to keep the werewolves at bay while Jett and Shalazar dueled against the vampire swordsman. They were dismayed to see even more vampire guards rushing up from one of the halls, but Mark 9 was able to halt their advance using a magical spider web blasted from his orb, which entagled the vampires in vexing strands of sticky, goo-like rope.

The vampire leader was a strong opponent, lithe and agile, but eventually the brute force of Shalazar’s axe, coupled with the magical assaults of Jett, overcame him. As the final blow was delivered, the vampire’s physical form shattered, while a black shade winged its way down one of the many dark corridors leading away from the main hall. The werewolves had no such luck: the psychic assault’s of the bard coupled with the physical assaults of the left them dead on the stone floor.

The Singers searched through the floor, clearing out more guards that had been unaware of the disturbance. Eventually the Singers found a teleportation device, which, after they had located and activated its power generator using an arcane ritual known to Mark 9, whisked them off to another part of the ruins.

After a brief journey through a pocket dimension of the ruins, the singers emerged into another room. This one was lit by glowing crystals suspended from the ceiling, and rubble was strewn about the room. Seeing no other option but to press foward, the party picked their way into a long corridor, with doors at both sides, and the end. In true Singing Mercenary fashion, they elected to barge into the first door, killing first and asking questions later.

Tattered booted open the door and rushed in, only to be stopped abruptly: the room was a small cell, and it was occupied! Huddled in the corner a once-proud looking werewolf crouched, beaten and bruised, although his eyes still shone with the primal anger of his race. Peeking around Tattered’s leg, Winward immediately recognized this werewolf as the purported commander that had inspected them when they were held in captivity.

Seeing the werewolf was injured, and relishing the role-reversal, Jett kicked out at the werewolf, wondering out loud how such a proud beast might have ended up so poorly?

The werewolf was surprised, but ignored Jett’s question. Coiling himself for a strike, he poised, awaiting the Singers’ next move. Wanting to avoid unnecessary fighting within the halls of the ruins, Winward quickly stepped foward. “You are clearly at a disadvantage here, wolf. Stand down, and you may let live.”

The werewolf remained poised, but relaxed slightly. “I don’t know how you escaped the dungeons of those creatures, or how you found your way here. I am, once again, impressed. How you’ve managed to make it past the cultists is beyond me.”

“Cultists?”

“Priests of Orcus” the werewolf continued. “My people are a warrior race, and too long have we gone without war. The Demon Prince and his machinations are well known to us, but the temptations for war were to great to my kin. Our chieftans declared an alliance with them, and I was honor-bound to follow my pack. But they have betrayed us! They plan to enslave us all, and use us for their twisted experiments. They are breeding an army, slaughtering my people only to raise them back from the dead as mindless warriors.”

Sensing an opportunity, Winward seized them moment. “Look,” he said, “we’re not here to kill helpless prisoners. If we let you escape, what will you do?”

Baring his fangs, the werewolf growled “I will marshall my people and drive this evil from the forest. Our chieftans were the first to be turned here, they no longer hold power. This…betrayal will not go unpunished. The honor of my pack demands it!”

“We will let you go, but if you are being false with us…there will be consequences.” Waving his companions out of the way, Winward motioned to the soldier that he was free to go. Glancing from side to side for a brief second, the werewolf leapt from the small bed he had been huddled on and took off back from where the Singers had came.

The Singers found nothing in the other cells, but when they entered the hall, they found two cultists studying a strange-looking tome. “Intruders!” they cried, and quickly fired off bolts of crackling necrotic energy at the singers, and directed their zombie servants to attack. The Singers gave as well as they got, but quickly realized the cultists were not their only opponent. Streaming out from the solid wall, a ghostly form appeared behind the Singers, reaching out at Mark 9 and Winward with a cold, deadly touch. Becoming desperate, the Singers worked to slay the cultists quickly, knowing the ghost was a far greater threat. Although the cultists were finally dispatched, after being pinned against the wall by Jett, Tattered and Shalazar and being hacked to death, the ghost trailed off through a door on the far side of the study.

Chasing after it, the Singers emerged into what could only be described as a maze of mirrors. They searched throughout it, oftentimes getting separated, but could only catch fleeting glimpses of the ghost. Although the ghost swiped at them from the shadows, often passing right in front of them, only to move through solid walls, it seemed keen on intimidating them more than actually fighting them. Eventually the Singers retreated back into the study to examine what the cultists had been poring over. Most of the books laid out were written in an ancient language that none of them, not even Mark 9, recognized. Most curiously, however, was a strange scroll, written in Draconic.

Excited at the prospect of possibly finding a relic of his people, Shalazar pushed his way foward and grabbed hold of the scroll. As soon as the Dragonborn’s scaly hand clutched the ancient parchment, there was a blinding light, a voice like thunder boomed in the small room, intoning in Draconic, and in a flash Shalazar dissapeared. “Fascinating!” was Mark 9’s response to the event, although the other Singers were visibly shaken. “Whatever these cultists were studying, it clearly has to do with the dragonborn race, or even the great dragons themselves!” Mark 9 began to sort through the other scrolls laid out by the cultists, but could make nothing of them.

Annoyed with the construct’s apparently lack of concern over Shalazar’s fate, and his scholarly nature in general, Winward ordered that they press on, hoping to get some other answers. They elected to proceed through the door they had discovered earlier the mirror hall. Bracing themselves for whatever lay ahead, the Singers wondered what they would find…

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Trials

Ruins of the Jinrai Tower

Branca 9th, 331

Having emerged from the stone bowels of the earth, the Singing Mercenaries took stock of their situation. They were much closer to the slopes of the Dawnforge Mountains, meaning they had been dragged from southern tip of the swamps to the eastern borders, but other than that they were completely lost. Elrias admitted that without any sort of bearings he could not guide them through the treacherous domain.

The other problem was Shikou’s condition: although he had remained calm during their trek up through the ground, he had become increasingly agitated, and as they finally reached the sunlight, they realized his condition would not improve: he lashed out at his allies, blind with rage. Tattered’s solution was simple. “We should put him out of his misery,” was his gruff response to the situation, and Winward agreed. Elrias didn’t seem interested either way, he only wanted to continue his trek through the swamp. Only the optimistic words of Jett stayed the weapons of the others.

Jett’s optimism was rewarded shortly afterward. Dropping from the trees, a lithe, wild-looking elf spring amidst them. Sidling up quickly to Elrias, she addressed them with piercing, hunter’s eyes. “Trespassers! You can do no good here!” Gesturing towards Elrias, she continued “You have no power here, warrior of the high tribe. The corruption is too strong even for the spirits to control. And you have brought this…untamed…creature with you? Your pollution here is unacceptable! The evil here gives me much work, or you would have been cast out long ago!”

Forest elf thumb

The Singers were cautious, but she made no overt attempts to attack them, and they were wary that if she snuck up on them unseen, then there might be others of her kind (it wouldn’t have been the first time). The elf simply shook her head. She laid a hand on Shikou, who seemed to calm down. “There is no time for me to waste on you interlopers. I shall take this one, he is…perhaps…not beyond saving. As for you, if you truly wish to help this forest, go where your powers are appreciated. The ruins to the north is your destination. Follow the ancient road and you shall not be lost. Stray from this task and the swamp itself will consume you!”

Puzzled, but seemingly with no other options, the Singers began the trek on an ancient, barely exposed cobblestone road.

Branca 12th, 331

After a few days of traveling, the adventurers approached a crumbling ruin. It was located on higher ground than the rest of the swamp, and the corruption in the swamp did not seem to fully affect it. The decrepit, fallen walls of four towers surrounded the central structure, which had one corner still standing. Standing in what used to be the courtyard were several mechanical, humanoid constructs. One was much bigger than the rest. They all stood on a dais of stone, and in the center was a large tablet. As they approached, they were warmly greeted by one of the construct. “Greetins!” it said, “How fare you this fine day?”

Winward and the others were puzzled, but the construct did not seem hostile. “What is this place? And who are you?” Jett inquired.

“I am Mark 9” was the response. “It is my duty to aid passing travelers that wish to seek the aid of my masters within these ruins. Might I, perhaps, aid you? I have limited knowledge of this place but would be happy to render what assistance I can. If you seek to proceed, you must solve the test on the stone tablet.”

The Singers examined the tablet, only to discover a riddle:

Forged from arcane fire & steel,
The guardians here, strong and true.
Three to serve the greater, three to serve the rest.
Five elements here, one to serve the crest.
Four offered in towers strong,
Amidst the silent, stony throng.
One the colour of demon’s blood,
One the colour of driven snow,
One the colour of untamed land,
On these your path expand.
Two the colours of arcane fire.
Two the colours of ice.
Two the colours of midnight’s eye,
Two the colours of life.
Only the purest must remain,
The rest removed, and sent away.

Resting within the tablet were five orbs: red, black, white, green and blue. After several hours of pondering, the Singers were able to solve the riddle by placing the corresponding magical orbs in the ruins of the four different towers. Upon solving the riddle, the ruins were bathed in magic, arcane circles igniting on the ground. When the magic dissipated, the other constructs in the courtyard lurched to life!

“Greetings my brethren! I am glad the ritual has returned you to function!” Mark 9 said. Upon seeing the others in the ruins, the other constructs became hostile, and moved to attack the Singing Mercenaries. Confused, Mark 9 attempted to reason with them. “These travelers have passed the test! You have no right to attack them!” The other constructs brushed him off, saying that they had to be destroyed, and that if Mark 9 got in their way he would be destroyed as well.

Saddened by his comraders bloodlust, Mark 9 used his magical orb to fire off blasts of frost at his compatriots, rooting them in place. The large construct, a metal hulk wielding a huge chain, bellowed at his fellows that they would destroy Mark 9 as well as the other intruders.

The fight was a brutal one. Mark 9’s powers over frost and flame were a welcome addition, as even the weaker constructs proved to be resilient opponents. Shalazar and Winward had an especially tough time, as the larger construct pinned them against one of the courtyard’s crumbling walls and was a ferocious opponent. Despite their foes’ robust constitution’s, the party eventually managed to overcome them.

As the last construct fell, magic again swept through the ruins, arcane circles pulsing again as the great stone dais cracked open, revealing a stone staircase cut deep into the earth. Winward, concerned over the dangers that lay within, voiced that the party were better off to leave and find another way to aid the forest. Mark 9 pleaded with them to stay, relating he could not leave the ruins, and asked for their help in solving the mysteries of the ruins. Feeling indebted, the party made the descent into the ancient ruins, wondering what awaited them.

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