The Singing Mercenaries

Jailbreak
Escape in Dramatic Fashion

Cavern

Branca 8th, 331

The Singing Mercenaries awoke to find themselves in dank, dark cells, the floors covered with sludge. They had been dragged through the swamps for what felt like an eternity, and they were all battered, bruised and bloodied, and were very wary of what they had been lying in. They were unable to glean much from their surroundings, but the size of their cells indicated they were made by the strange creatures that had captured them.

Not long after, after they had all come to, they could hear a low, majestic sounding voice coming from the far end of the hallway. Striding past each of their cells came a majestic-looking werewolf, clearly a captain of some sort, who inspected them one-by-one. “So,” he said, “you are the ones who gave my trackers the slip? I don’t know whether to be impressed by you or to go kill my trackers for their incompetence! Regardless, my cohorts will doubtless have some interest in you, especially you, gnome.” The captain seemed to have some grudging respect for them, but was not about to let them go free. He also recognized the bloodcraze that had affected Shikou. “This one is rabid…he doesn’t know how to control himself, his rage. Were he not a prisoner of the masters I would put him down myself.” Turning on his his, the werewolf commander strode off, back down the hall. “Guard them well,” was all they could hear as he left the dungeon.

The Singers languished for several hours after their inspection by the werewolf commander, only to be surprised by the splintering sound of wood being crushed into balsa sticks. It seemed that Tattered Onion had been captured by the creatures as well, and he had finally built up enough rage to free himself from his restraints and burst through the wooden bars. The other Singers quickly got free, although it appeared that the rough journey had made Shikou’s condition no better, in fact he seemed more feral than before…he had been gnawing at the wooden bars with is teeth in an attempt to escape before the others freed him.

On getting out of their cells, the adventurers were immediately spotted by their jailors: three of the strange creatures who had captured them. Although they had no weapons, the adventurers were able to quickly overpower their captors, as the diminutive creatures were no match for the physical prowess of Tattered and Shikou, nor the psychic assaults of Winward. After crushing the small creatures, the Singers inquired as to Tattered’s whereabouts in their absence. The Goliath explained that he had taken off after them into the forest as soon as he had recovered from his illness and injuries, but he had been captured by the little green chatterers, and had fortuitously been able to escape after their arrival.

Confused, and not completely satisfied with the explanation, the heroes pressed on. They were also disturbed by Shalazar’s absence, but vowed to look for him. The dungeon area was small, the only exit a spiral staircase cut into solid rock that took them an hour to travel to the top off. Once they reached the next level, they found themselves in a much more earthen contruction, with a few small tunnels branching off into several directions. Scouting ahead, Shikou was able to find a room full of the strange creatures, sleeping around a guttering fire. The group found nothing of interest, but took the opportunity to slaughter the creatures with their bear hands in their sleep to avoid surprise attacks from behind later.

Continuing through the underground warren, they came upon more of the creatures, this time eating. These too were quickly silenced: Shikou’s mastery of unarmed combat and Tattered’s cumbersome fists made short, bloody work of the creatures. In the midst of the dining hall the Singers were able to find their weapons and armor, all stashed in large chest at the far end of the hall. Glad to have their gear returned, they continued to trek through the maze. Eventually they came to a strange looking fork: one of the walls was clearly more rubble than walls, and a small tunnel had been ill-disguised. Taking the initiative, Winward used his small size to investigate it. Although it took him some time to return, he reported he had found nothing but a dead end to the party, and they continued on.

The party eventually reached what appeared to be the main room of the warren. After mercilessly dispatching more of the unsavory creatures, the adventurers found themselves faced with yet another long climb through a spiral stairwell. As they climbed, the geology changed again, this time from dirt and earth to soft stone.

Reaching the next level, they found themselves within a vast cavern, the roof of which stretched hundreds of feet into the ceiling. In the middle of the cavern was a great stone structure, and perched atop of it were many of the small creatures that inhabited the cave network, although they appeared intent on something going on where the Singers couldn’t see. Although Shikou’s bloodcraze nearly gave them away, the party was able to subdue him long enough to sneak around the stone in order to see what was taking place.

They were horrified to see the leader of the strange creatures standing in a rockpool at the foot of a giant-sized throne. Seated down in the water was none other than Shalazar. The leader was gesturing frantically at the dragonborn, while the others were seated on an amphitheatre-looking stone, apparently carved from the stone floor of the cave itself. Not wanting to waste any time figuring out what was taking place, the Singers charged in amidst the diminuitives in order to save their cohort.

In that moment, as the sounds of fighting began to echo amongst the rocks of the cave, the bloodcraze Shikou felt took its final hold. He lost all sanity, lashing out at the closest living being, whether friend or foe. Elrias and Jett, not realizing their friend’s condition, charged headlong onto the seating stone. Elrias’s force waves sent many of the tiny creatures flying off of the stone only to break their necks on the ground below, while Jett managed to free the soaked Shalazar from his crude rope bonds. Roaring about messing with a Dragonborn when death is on the line, Shalazar charged straight for the leader, lopping his head off in one clean sweep.

Meanwhile, Winward had invoked his melodious playing to confuse the raging Shikou, causing him to fall into the pool. The enraged monk, separated from his friends, took the opportunity to rip several of the small creatures apart.

40 or 50 of the creatures eventually lay slaughtered, their blood slicking the amphitheatre with gore. Glad to have their Avenger returned to them, the Singers inquired what the creatures had wanted with him. Shalazar was unsure, saying he could barely make out their babble, only that they had called dragons their greatest enemy. Confused, but with nothing to go on, they searched the rest of the cavern.

Despite its size and beauty, there was nothing of note about the cavern itself. The great throne, however, had its own secrets. Set on a pile of humanoid skulls, it was clearly the seat of a great creature, perhaps the one that controlled the Singers former captors. Underneath the throne, they found a trapdoor the led to another spiral staircase, cut into solid rock.

After several hours of climbing the stairs, they eventually emerged back into the dank, fetid swamps of northeastern Narlasil.

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Captured

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Branca 5th, 331

Having arrived at the borders of the swamps, the Singing Mercenaries and Elrias spent their time resting. They had been running from their lycanthrope pursuers for two days straight, and their apparent escape gave them a much needed respite. The smell of the fetid swamps was, frankly, disgusting. The corruption in the forest was obvious…the stench of decaying matter, along with a whiff of undeath, marked the corruption’s hold. The silence was broken only by the slow-moving water, which bubbled and shifted its way underneath their feet. A fetid pool stood before them, with several dry paths branching into the deeper reaches of the swamp. The Singers had a hard time choosing a direction, but just as soon as they had made their choice, the pool’s surface began to churn.

Rising from the pool was a horrible reanimated drake. Even worse, it seemed that the creature was not one creature, but a bone construct pieces together from many different creatures, and the soul of each creature used was roaring in agony at its capitivity. As the Singer prepared to defend themselves, the very forest itself seemed to come alive: dark creatures of vine and bark assaulted them on all sides. A desperate battle ensued, with the tortured dragon spirits’ fetid breath continually assaulting the defenses of the Singers, while the living vines sought to ensnare them in the fetid pool nearby. After a pitched battle standing knee-deep in muck, the Singer emerged victorious, but not without cost. It seemed that the battle had awakened the werewolf’s disease within Shikou, and he could immediately feel a bloodcraze rushing through his veins. Although he was under control for the moment, he warned his comrades that he did not feel he would be able to control himself if he was wounded.

Shaken, but spurred on by Elrias, the party made it’s way on a barely visible path deeper into the muddy darkness, guided only by Shalazar and Elrias’s intimate knowledge of woodcraft. The narrow path eventually led them onto carefully disguised boardwalks, crossing deep water that hid horrors the adventurers could only guess at. Eventually, they came to a log bridge. As they crossed it, they noticed several small creatures hiding within the bubbling muck of the swamp, just under some large roots. The creatures seemed to realize they had been spotted, so the leader boldly jumped up and issued them a challenge in broken, babbling Common. It was particularly surprised to see Winward out roaming around and not serving “the masters.”

Puzzled, but realizing their vulnerable position, Winward attempted to reason with the strange creature, only for the party to find themselves surrounded shortly after. Dozens of the strange creatures appeared on each side of the fallen log, and over a hundred surfaced from the oozing swamp to surround them. Knowing they would be unable to overcome so many, the Singers could do little as they were bound hand and foot with dirty burlap sacks slapped over their heads. Helpless, the Singers found themselves being dragged through the swamp by the tiny chattering creatures, wondering what lay in store for them at the tiny hands of their captors…

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Revelations
The Council Reveals Itself

Sombra 15th, 331

Eager to return to the Court of Four Leaves with their captive in tow, the Singing Mercenaries pressed on through the night, with Sapheera as their guide. Several hours later, they found themselves within the elven city in the heart of Narlasil, approaching the great Rowan tree in its center. Upon entering, they were immediately put on edge. They could hear crackling energy coming from the the room, and a faint, green glow creeping out from the far end of the hall. Volunteering to scout ahead, Shikou made his way into the great hall, to be greeted by a ghastly sight. The glow was emanating from a giant arcane circle inscribed into the middle of the great hall, and suspended above it was Kaleera, and at the other end of the hall, the three Council members could be seen, bathed in a fell, red light. Sensing foul magic was at play, but lacking the training to ascertain its particulars, Shikou quietly made his way back to his companions, explaining what he had seen. In true Singer fashion, they abruptly rushed into the great hall of the Court without any forethought or consideration.

Upon their entrance, Kaleera seemed to snap out from the ritual as if waking from dream. Screaming at the “intruders,” she demanded they leave immediately, and that she would not be denied what she was finally owed. Confused, the Singers were unable to decide if she was possessed or if she was a willing participant. Inspecting the arcane cricle, Jett ascertained that the circle was creating a rift in space-time linking to the Feywild, while Valmir’s religious studies enabled him to identify what was taking place as a ritual that seperated body and soul. Concluding that Kaleera was an unwilling partipant, Jett, Valmir and Winward attempted to use their arcane knowledge to disrupt it and save her from whatever the Council was casting upon her. Sapheera also tried to help, but was cowed by her half-sister, who raged that Sapheera was merely trying to deny her power, which her half-elven, half-Eladric heritage had always caused. The Singers concluded that Kaleera was simply suffering from “half-breed syndrome” and an inferiority complex that had caused her to undergo such a fiendish rite, and redoubled their efforts to stop it. Winward attempted to talk Kaleera out of her willingness to transform, his silvered words almost convincing her to fight the ritual, while Valmir however they were unnsuccessful.

With a howling shriek, Kaleera’s soul was ripped from her body and sealed within the Feywild, her mortal body remaining in the form of a vampire. Turning on the ones who had attempted to deny her, Kaleera immediately possessed the mind of Jett, forcing him to turn on his own allies. In the far reaches of the great hall, the Council also revealed themselves to be vampires. Ysriel was especially happy to dispatch the Singers, as her contempt for them had been ill-hidden already, and now that she could reveal herself it overflowed. Despite only having recently undergone the dark ritual, Kaleera exhibited tremendous dark powers, summoning a clawing, evil blackness from the Shadowfell itself, which gripped the mercenaries in order to hold them in place while ripping at their flesh with icy talons. It was a desperate battle for the Singers, perhaps even more so than their battle deep beneath the earth with Kalarel. All of the vampires possessed the ability to twist the minds of their opponents, forcing them to remain in the summoned blackness, all the while attacking their friends. Selvin proved particularly deadly, his greatsword flashing in the dim light left over from the ritual, drinking blood as it stung the Singers. Despite heavy injury, the mercenaries were able to shake off the mental onslaught of the vampires and destroy the Council. As each vampire was felled, their bodies seemed to crack into small slivers, and a silent, black shadow flew off into the night.

Although they had no qualms in slaying (or at least they hoped they had vanquished) the Council, they were conflicted about what to do with the newly transformed Kaleera. Finally deciding to subdue her and perhaps “cure” her later, the Singers took stock of the situation. The Eladrin castle had betrayed both the Fey and the Elves, they would possibly be accused of destroying the forest’s leaders, and they had no knowledge of how to prevent the further decay of the forest. Moments later, Elrias appeared, with Sapheera in tow. Sapheera had gone to get the elven champion in order to show him what had transpired. Upon seeing the remnants of the arcane ritual, and Kaleera’s altered state, Elrias grew furious. He explained to the Singers that the Council had ordered him to the far northwest of the forest, where orc activity had been heavy. He had not been pleased, thinking the threats lied to the east and northeast, but had no choice but to comply. Elrias imagined they had been planning on getting rid of him once and for all, and their apparent betrayal only proved this to him. Elrias further explained that without Eladrin to maintain a connection to the Feywild, the forest would slowly die out, destroying the Elves’ ancient homeland. Elrias resolved to travel to the ancient swamps in the northeast of the forest, and asked the Singers for their help in stopping the evil that was slowly spreading throughout the forest.

Out of some sense of moral obligation (and a burning desire to destroy anything else that might threaten them), the Singers, with the exception of Valmir, agreed to the task. Valmir was reluctant to help the elves, knowing that helping them would aid their Eladrin kin, and by extension their Fey masters. He was adamantly opposed to Sapheera’s request to help her in opening an elven-controlled portal to the Feywild. Only the timely intervention of Winward managed to resolve the situation. Taking the warlock aside for a gnome-to-man talk, Winward explained that he needed the warlock’s help, and that neither of them would profit in the long run from letting events unfold as they were. Convinced, for the time being, Valmir agreed to aid the elven mage while his companions left with Elrias for the northeastern swamp.

That night, after Valmir’s confrontation, the party felt it best to get their motivations and goals out in the open. Remaining the Court of Four Leaves, the party explained there reasons for being trekking across Lyria. Shikou, Jett, Winward and Shalazar had simple reasons: all of them were trekking across the continent in search of something, either knowledge of vengeance. Winward explained he had been wandering since the destruction of the last Gnomish village, and that he sought to find the monsters responsible for the decimation of his Some reasons were more complex: Valmir’s complicated relationship with his Fey patron was something the party didn’t really comprehend, although they gathered he was paired up with Winward more out of obligation to the Fey than any real loyalty to Winward. At dawn, the party split up, Valmir into the forests with Sapheera, the rest of the party headed north with Elrias.

Branca 3rd, 331

Despite the heavy winter snows, and Winward’s short legs, the Singers and Elrias had made good time through the forest, the Elf’s intimate knowledge of Narlasil’s hidden paths aiding them in traversing the forest’s expanse. Their trek had been akin to traveling through a mausoleum: the corrupted, dead trees of the forest wore winter’s snow like a funeral shroud, barely covering the deadened features of the forest. The eerie silence of winter was punctuated by the strange rustlings of creatures which should have been hibernating. About a week into their journey, during midday, Shalazar’s keen draconic eyes were able to discern to wolf-like figures following them. Unfortunately, the party was not able to disguise the fact that they now knew they were being followed, and the wolves took off into the forest.

Realizing they were being hunted, the party immediately set out, hoping to avoid whatever was on their trail. Winward chanced by a squirrel whose hibernation had been disturbed by the evil in the forest. Asking it to help them, he learned that two packs of werewolves, one to the west and one to the south, were only a day away from the party’s location. Using this knowledge, they were able to take the safest direction possible: directly towards the swamp. Shalazar’s knowledge of the overland travel helped them to navigate away from the elven paths that Elrias had been leading them on, in hopes of throwing off the werewolves tracking. Shikou contributed by placing several traps along their route, hoping to ensare and slow their pursuers. Jett aid the party by hastily explaining some of the ancient breathing techniques imparted to him by his Eladrin swordmage master, allowing the party to continue on for longer than they thought would be possible. After two days of running the party felt they had thrown off their pursuers, and at the same time they had arrived at their goal: the fetid, bubbling borders of the ancient swamplands of Narlasil.

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Sundering
The Cross is Broken

????, 331

Fresh from their victory in the Rite of Ghaz’zul, the warriors of the Iron Sigil were enjoying their freedom, but were bewildered as to how they would return home. Fortunately for them, Dorn had tracked their exit to the stadium, and approached them. He told the warriors he had a way for them to get home, but before he would tell them, he made the warriors promise (again) to free his family from the dungeons of King’s Reach. Rathma was annoyed at this, both because he had no intention of following through, and because they had already promised the dwarf to do so once already. Dorn seemed satisfied with this, and directed them to another town three days southeast of them: Lotherin. Dorn explained they should go to the Styx Oarsman Inn and seek out Gale Willowleaf, who could take them back to Nerath on her boat, the Drunken Gnome.

Rathma and the others had an uneventful journey on the way to Lotherin, passing a large number of merchant caravans and halfling travellers on their way. Word of their victory in the Rite of Ghaz’zul had spread quickly throughout the hills, and they were given no trouble on their way. Upon arriving in Lotherin, they quickly discovered that the city had its own distinctive…flavor. Dwarves everywhere were drunk in the streets, pickpocketing and carousing. Making their way throuth the town, the warriors eventually found the Styx Oarsman. Upon entering they were greeted by a saucy-looking wench, who greeted them warmly. When they explained they were looking for Gale Willowleaf, the woman identified herself as the very person they were looking for. Dropping Dorn’s name did little for the party however. Gale explained that she could take them across the ocean, but that it would cost them 2000 gold. Rathma found this to be quite exorbitant, explaining the warriors could pay 200 up front, and then 1500 when they arrived in Nerath. The woman seemed to consider this, but instead blasted the party with a ray of magic.

Incensed, the warriors chased after her into the second floor of the Inn, only to be confronted by several other ruffians. A close-quarters battle ensued, wherein the ruffians showed considerable prowess, one of them displayed exceptional swordsmanship in disarming Rathma twice, while the imposter Gale Willowleaf continually used her magic to thwart the warriors. Despite their best efforts, however, the ruffians did not prove strong enough, even after calling in reinforcements. After defeating them, the Iron Cross warriors discovered that the true Gale Willowleaf, and the rest of her crew, were locked up in a room in the Inn. Gale was mistrusting of them at first, and was very rude to them as well, suspecting them to be more marauders out to kidnap them and commandeer their ship. After some stern words from Rathma, however, and dropping Dorn’s name, Gale became much more agreeable, and immediately set out, as the kidnapping had put the Drunken Gnome behind her shipping schedule.

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Two weeks later, the warriors awoke in the hold of the ship to find it was not moving, and the ship itself was deathly still. Sensing something was awry, they slowly made their way through the ship, checking each room to make sure there were no surprises lurking in the nooks of the hold. Most peculiar was that they could not find any of the crew. Emerging into the pale moonlight on the deck, the warriors were greeted with a chilling sight: several of the gnomes were lying in pools of their own blood, slumped on the deck. Further inspection revealed holes in the back of their heads. Recognizing the wounds from the train, the warriors moved to dispose of the bodies, hauling them overboard to avoid them coming back to life. Moving to the fore of the craft, the Iron Sigil warriors looked aft to discover the cause of the gnomes’ death.

Standing on the aft of the desk over the captain’s cabin, a huge, shadowy figure standing over the body of a dead Gale Willowleaf. The warriors instantly recognized it as the illithid they had slain on the Ambershard train, now in its monstrous, flame-wreathed form, still holding the black sword it had claimed on the Ambershard train. Its voice whispered in their heads, thanking them for giving form to its long-imprisoned essence. Leaping into action, the Iron Cross laid waste to the shadowy avatar. It’s powers of flame and shadow did little to Rathma, and both Delq and Razvahn proved their combat precision by attacking the creature’s sword, hoping to shatter whatever enchantments lay in the blade. Cathain, summoning the powers of the Raven Queen, extended his mistress’s wrath for abberations upon the creature, blasting it with terrible force and sending it through a cabin wall. Despite its fearsome presence and obvious power, it was eventually subdued. As the final blow was landed, the creature passed away into nothingness, while its sword clattered to the deck.

Victory was shortlived for the Nerathian warriors, however, as the flames from the dying creature ignited the Drunken Gnome. They had few options, and, after securing the dark blade, they leapt overboard, using whatever small pieces of wood they could find to stay afloat. They drifted for what seemed for an eternity, but were eventually washed up, along with the charred carcass of the Drunken Gnome, on a reef, with land in sight to the east. Pulling themselves onto the rocks, the warriors took stock of their situation…although they were close to the shore, they were exhausted simply from the effort of staying afloat.

Just as they were recovering from their exhaustion, a great shadow crossed over the water. From above, a great green dragon, descended upon the warriors. Screaming in draconic fury, she informed them that she was the mistress of the nearby woods, Calunxin, and demanded the power that they held within their grasp. The party realized the evil blade they now had must have called out to the dragon. Even as Rathma and Cathain both mentally resolved to die before handing over such a powerful artifact to a chromatic dragon, the blade’s evil voice slithered in the minds of the Nerathian warriors, promising the power to defeat the dragon and save the warriors. Rathma attempted to negotiate with Calunxin, trying to convince her that they had no such power with them, and that they were simple travelers shipwrecked. The green dragon was unconvinced by their lies, and, flashing rows of razorsharp teeth, explained that if they did not immediately give her the power she desired, she would destroy them utterly, and even if they did do as she asked, she might kill them for sheer pleasure.

Reacting to the dragon’s threats, Rathma magically pulled the dragon into the water, hoping to catch her off guard, but to no avail: Calunxin rose from the water like a wraith, soaring above them and striking at their heads. The dragon breathed clouds of poison upon them, slowing their movements and eating away at their insides. The evil blade’s voice grew insistent in the minds of the warriors: “Use me to slay this impertinent beast! I will grant you power!” were its whispers to the warriors. In the confusion of fending off an adult dragon, none of the others noticed as Razvahn silently removed the sword from Cathain’s possession. Unsheathing the blade, Razvahn cried out in triumph as he saw his arrows fire true and unnaturally powerful. He felt powerful energy welling up inside of him, even as the evil blade began tear apart his mind.

Realizing the dragon was no longer the true threat, Rathma and Cathain mentally agreed that their comrade must die, both for the betrayal of the Iron Sigil and for the evil he was quickly becoming. Turning from the dragon, they ruthlessly attacked their comrade. Razvahn expressed shock at his comrade’s reaction, claiming he was only using the evil blade to defeat their enemies, unable to see how quickly the evil presence within the sword was warping his mind and body. Only seconds after his comrades turned on him, Razvahn was completely transformed. Sprouting great wings of shadow, he rose about the fight, flying off into the night sky, cackling as he became a mere mote in the distance.

Feeling the sting of failure, the remaining warriors of the Iron Cross turned to face their other opponent. Weary from their exertions, Rathma attempted to make peace with the dragon, telling Calunxin that the power she sought would destroy them all if they did not band together immediately to put an end to the evil blade’s magicks, but the chromatic would have nothing of it. Bellowing about the deaths of all, the green dragon let forth one last blast of poison before being felled under Delq’s insidious powers, her thunderous voice dying within her breast.

Exhausted, the remaining Nerathian warriors took shelter among the rocks, marveling over their defeat of a dragon, and dreading the consequences of their failure to stop the evil sword from posession their comrade. Their dread was realized a few moments later. Calunxin’s body began to stir, it’s flesh began to rot away, and the skeleton of the great dragon rose up to meet its new master. Razvahn descended from the night sky on his wings to mount the dragon, and, balefully glancing down on his former comrades, soared off into the night to the east, to the forest…

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A Strange Game

Branca 8, 331

Continuing through the train, the Iron Cross came to the third and final car of the train. They opened the car’s door only to find an Illithid, triumphantly claiming a gleaming black sword amidst some assorted chests. Spotting the warriors, the Illithid summoned two zombies to attack them. Despite the feared abilities of the Illithids, and the constant regenerating of its zombie servitors, the servants of the Iron Crown easily overpowered the abberations, slaying them with little trouble. The Illithid fell to Rathma’s sword, clutching it into his body as he fell. As Rathma retreived the blade, however, the black sword, still strapped to the monster’s waist, began to crackle with dark energy. The energy surrounded the creature, enveloping it. The Illithid grew to monstrous size, and sprouted wings. Just before crashing through the train’s side, it thanked the warriors for awakening it, and vanished. The creature’s blasting through the traincar’s side caused a horrible shudder throughout the entire structure. The party realized the train was speeding up at an uncomfortable rate, and began to shake violently. Realizing that without slowing it down the train would careen of its tracks, the party sought for a way to control the contraption, but could not reach the controls. The warriors felt a sickening lurch as the train careened off its tracks, descending with a horrible crunch into a valley.

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The Iron Cross awoke to find themselves in a small, dark cell, most likely somewhere underground. They were surprised to find themselves alive, and found that their wounds had been magically healed. They had no way to tell how long they had been in their cell. As they came to, a dwarf, clearly their jailor, called out to them through the gloom, cheekily asking how their heads were. Rathma responded in anger, goading the dwarf into coming close enough for them to grab the jailer and obtain the cell key, but the jailer resisted, simply telling them that they would soon be judged by the Underthane of Anvildawn.

The Nerathian warriors were confused, knowing that their fate most likely lay in placating this Underthane. As they discussed amongst themselves the predicament they were in, and how they might escape, another dwarf approached their cell. He seemed different from the dwarf, his eyes darting around as if he weren’t supposed to be there. He addressed the party with a hills-dwarf accent, identifying himself as Dorn. Dorn explained to the party that he was aware of the Iron Sigil, knew they were members of that organization, and that he could help them escape if they would do him a favor once they were given freedom. The warriors were surprised at his knowledge of them, but could detect no deceit in what he said, and agreed to his proposal. Dorn explained that his family was being held captive by agents of Alraisa, the Queen of Nerath, and that he expected the Iron Cross to try to liberate them after they had returned to their homeland. Seeing no other options, the warriors agreed. Dorn explained to them that the Underthane of Anvildawn, the village they were captives in, had discovered them amidst the train wreckage and would surely have them summarily executed after he had learned anything he could from them. Dorn instructed them to invoke the Rite of Ghaz’zul as an alternative to quick judgment by the Underthane. Dorn dissapeared after relating this, as he could hear the footsteps of armed guards headed towards the Iron Cross’s cell.

Soon after Dorn’s disappearance, the stately, proud-looking dwarf decended the stairs close to their cell, with a full complement of twenty heavily armed guards. The elder dwarf introduced himself as head of the Underthane clan, and demnaded to know why such a motley assortment of warriors had sabotaged his train. The Iron Cross was unwilling to divulge their mission, Rathma instead questioning the dwarf why non-Ambershard dwarves would be using an Ambershard train. THe elder was taken aback at the insolence of the Kalashtar, and pronounced summary execution for the outlanders. As the elder turned to leave, Rathma grasped the bars, yelling that since they were not being given a trial, he invoked the Rite of Ghaz’zul. The dwarves were all very surprised at this pronouncement, expressing shock. The Underthane demanded to know how outsiders knew of such a thing, but the Iron Cross were smug, simply stating that if the dwarves could not honor their own traditions then they would simply have to die. The Underthane was furious, but was not about to let an outsider show the dwarves to not honor their own tradition, and aquiesced to them undergoing the rite. As the company of dwarves turned to go, Rathma noticed a female dwarf looking especially intent at them, as if giving them some thought. Using his telepathic powers, he asked the dwarf woman what she wanted. Her reply was simple: “You ruined my greatest possession. I want you to die.”

????, 331

The following morning, the Iron Cross was escorted out of their into a large, grassy arena. Their weapons, armor and equipment was returned to them. Dorn appeared, as if by magic, by their side, to explain what exactly they had gotten themselves into: The Rite involved two squads facing off against each other, with each team trying to bring a flag, planted into the middle of the field, back to their own side. Anything was allowed, magic, violence, a team could even win by slaughtering their opponents as opposed to claiming the flag. Dorn again reminded them of their deal, which the warriors brushed off: they had more important things to worry about. Dorn further explained that the team they would be facing were the reigning champions of the rite, and that they were a team supported by the Ambershard dwarves, more specifically Citrine Ambershard. Rathma called the others together to form a plan before the rite: he would hold their enemies in position, while the swift assassin and ranger would take the flag without having to shed any blood, ending the match quickly.

What the warriors did not count on, however, is that their opponents would be a five-man squad consisting of the undead and drow. What the Iron Cross thought would be a simple exercise in atheletic superiority quickly turned into a bloody brawl the likes of which the dwarves had never seen before. At first, things went well, Rathma was able to put up a solid defense while Razvahn, using his exceptional mobility, was able to claim the flag and race toward the Cross’s end of the arena. The Iron Cross quickly abandoned their original “gameplan,” however, after one of the opposing team quickly transformed into a shadowy form and attacked all of them. Sensing that their opponents were warriors in their own right, the Nerathian warriors quickly turned to violence. Razvahn and Delq proved especially deadly against the less mobile members of the Ambershard team, while Rathma appealed to Erathis to call down a chilling frost, slowing the swifter members of the Ambershard team. Although the Iron Cross were clearly the superior warriors, the Ambershard team seemed immortal, as if kept alive by some unnatural force.

Fortunately for the Nerathians, Razvahn and Rathma noticed Citrine Ambershard, who was seated in a lavish seat close to the arena, clearly concentrating on a spell. Convinced that the Ambershard dwarf was keeping the profane creatures alive, Rathma raced across the field to just below the dwarf’s seat. Exhorting the crowd to recognize that Citrine was clearly casting a spell, Rathma’s pleas at first fell on deaf ears, but his showmanship in the match eventually won the crowd over, until a drunk dwarven fan also noticed that Lady Ambershard was casting a spell. Drunkily calling out to his fellows, the dwarf and his friends began to pelt Citrine with beer mugs, resulting in her being unable to continue her spell.

With the sustaining spell no more, the Iron Cross easily dispatched their opponents, and were hailed by the dwarves as champions. This was especially momentous as the Ambershard’s team had not been defeated in several years. Although the Underthane was clearly displeased at seeing his prisoners go free, he met them after the contest and acknowledged their innocence from the Rite, and allowed them go. The Iron Cross had escaped certain death, but they were still in a foreign country across the sea, with no way to get home…

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Shadow Warriors
The Hand of Iron

Sombra 15, 331

On the outskirts of Fallcrest, the Iron Cross cell of the Iron Sigil arrived from province of Lannister in the far south of after a successful mission for the Iron Monarch. They found themselves in unfamiliar territory: until now, their work had taken them into the southern provinces into the great western flats, but none had ever even seen the great lake of Kyras or the lands beyond it until now. They were especially restless knowing their enemies, the Elves and Dwarves, were not but a few days travel from their present location.

Outside the gates of Fallcrest, they were met by another of the Iron Sigil, who presented them with their orders: they were to determine whether or not Lord Warden Faren Markelhay had been following his own orders and attempting to make war with the Elves and Dwarves. The letter also mentioned that a young noble had died at the court, and they were to find out, if possible, the circumstances surrounding that. Their informant provided them with a second letter, sealed and addressed to the Lord Warden. The Cross wondered at its contents, but knew none of them had the skill to open it without it being

Fallcrest was not the small backwater they had expected. Sure, its walls were rundown, and the population wasn’t large, but trade was apparently flourishing: boats from Kyras traveled up and dwon stream taking their goods with them, and farmers from the countryside were streaming into the South gate. The members of the Cross were puzzled, but accepted the circumstances and made their way in.

Showing one of his rare moments of non-combat aptitude, Razvahn suggested they open the letter addressed to the Lord Warden in order to get a better handle on the situation. Rathma agreed, but was uncomfortable with the idea of them being discovered, and set out to find an inn, knowing that, if shady characters were to be found in a backwater like Fallcrest, that’s where they would be. Getting directions from a passing local, they found themselves at the Ebon Griffon Inn, being gruffly addressed by its owner. The Iron Cross, scrutinizing their shabby surroundings, decided that in a small town like Fallcrest, the Ebon Griffin would be more than likely their best bet to find an under-the-table type. They inquired with the owner, who directed them to a gruff-looking dwarf named Oster.

Rathma attempted to intimidate the dwarf using his telepathic powers, but the dwarf was unfazed, revealing he had enountered Kalashtar before. Despite Rathma’s unfriendly overtures, the dwarf revealed he was able to perform tasks others might not necessarily be comfortable with, and after being persuaded with a sizable amount of coin, managed to produce an exact replica of the seal the Cross had been given to present to Lord Markelhay. The Cross inquired about the goings on in town, and of Fallcrest’s ruler. Oster told them that Fallcrest had begun to prosper recently, as the trade roads had been made safe again and the Lord Warden seemed to be back to his old self. Oster proudly asserted the Lord Warden was honest and cared for his people as much as possible.

Stepping out of the Ebon Griffin, the Cross eagerly opened Markelhay’s letter. It was from Queen Alraisa herself. The letter presented the Iron Sigil warriors as those of the Queen’s personal guard, that she understood the Lord Warden had had some difficulties recently, and that the warriors she was sending would be able to aid the Lord Warden in his most difficult tasks. The Cross took the letter to mean that the Queen was displeased with the Lord Warden, as it was clear he wasn’t carrying out her orders under his own power.

Making their way to Moonstone Keep, the Iron Sigil warriors easily passed through the gates of the keep, until they came into the antechamber of the Lord Warden’s throneroom. Although they were not seen immediately, their presentation of the letter addressed to Markelhay, and a few coins slipped into the hands of the guards, insured they were seen after not too much time.

Upon entering the throne room, it became clear that the Lord Warden, despite the letter’s introduction of the Iron Sigil members as mere elite warriors, was well aware of who they truly were, and what their mission mostly likely was in Fallcrest. He addressed them directly, telling them that he knew who they were, and if they were there to simply execute him, he would not resist, only asking that they consider the instability and suffering his death would cause Fallcrest. Despite the Iron Cross’s bloodthirsty nature, Rathma cautioned them against rash action, his devotion to Erathis calling for order above all else. Rathma sensed that the Lord Warden was very invested in his town, and that he regretted not being able to carry out his Queen’s wishes. Markelhay went on to explain that he had no ability to make war: that his military resources could not even keep the roads safe, that it was only due to a group of mercenaries that Fallcrest hadn’t fallen under the sway of a death cult of Orcus. Rathma inquired about this group (which they had heard so much about already), only to find out they had within the past day, traveled north to the elven forest of Narlasil.

The Lord Warden went on to propose a way in which both his interests and the Iron Sigil warriors’ might be served: across the ocean, on the continent of Lorn, the Ambershard dwarves had developed a magical contraption known as a “train.” Markelhay explained that long ago, the Ambershards had plundered a magic sword from his family, and he would desperately like to retrieve it from them. When quesitoned as to how this would fulfill the Iron Sigil’s mission, he further went on to explain how the Iron Cross could disrupt the train, which the Ambershard’s power in the region relied on, disrupting their politics and potentially weakening Kardath’s confederacy. Rathma felt that the Lord Warden’s intentions were honorable, or at the very least he was not deceiving them about this “train,” and agreed that the Iron Sigil would investigate.

Branca 7, 331

Two weeks later, the Iron Sigil warriors found themselves on the Continent of Lorn in a dwarven town. Posing as mercenaries in the employment of one of the many dwarven merchants in the town, which thankfully were common, the mercenaries found it easy to discover the creation known as the train. Despite Delq’s attempts at using his power of disguise to glean information about the train, he was unsuccessful, and, since they saw no obvious means of sneaking onto the train before it departed for its destination, decided to leave that very day in order to lie in wait for it that next morning.

Branca 8, 331

The Iron Cross found an excellent spot for their boarding: a low cliff that rose above the train’s tracks, which would enable them to jump on from above. Dawn saw the train come hurtling toward them. Delq and Razvahn exhibited the grace of an assassin and a ranger in boarding, and even Cathain had no problems making the jump, however Rathma, in his armor, had no such luck, and his jump was clumsily made, resulting in a bruising fall. Nevertheless, they all made it into one of the sections of the train, only to be greeted by undead and assassins. The undead were particularly fearsome foes, able to continually curse and ignite the Iron Cross, but eventually they were able to overcome their foes.

They found nothing aboard that was useful, although they did notice that the assassins bore strange holes in their heads, and they had noticed that, although their movements were quick and lifelike, the eladrin assassins had shown no emotion, almost as if they were being controlled. The train was also strangely empty: no bodies were to be found, save the ones they had just created. Puzzled, but focused on their mission, the party continued onward, only to be met by more resistance in the next part of the train. A genasi, accompanied by strange, ratlike undead contructs, barred their way. The battle was fierce, and the ratlike undead seemed ot be endless, at one point even crawling through the windows to surround the Iron Cross warriors. Nerath’s executioners prevailed after a long struggle, only to find the Genasi had the same, strange hole in the back of his head. Unsure what lay in store for them, the warriors prepared themselves for whatever was ahead.

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Chance Meetings

Sombra 15th, 331

Having passed the Elves’ Rite, the Singing Mercenaries emerged from the grove, to be met by a very surprised, but pleased, Sapheera. She had clearly not expected them to survive (although that had been obvious to them from Elrias’s reaction to the Council’s prescribing of the Rite in the first place.) Sapheera explained that typically the Rite simply struck out at non-Elves, so the fact that they were given the opportunity to, much less profited from, passing the Rite was nothing short of miraculous. Despite it being late in the evening, Sapheera was eager to hurry back to the court, and ushered them along the path. As they turned to trudge through the snow, however, a loud crashing from the northern woods gave them pause.

Seconds later, a Dragonborn came hurtling from the forest, moments later to be followed by the a huge Ettin and several twisted, humanoid-looking creatures. The Dragonborn called out for aid, claiming that if they were any sort of decent they would aid them against his foes. The ensuing battle was, for lakc of a better term, a slugfest. The Ettin and the larger humanoid creatures were all very strong warriros, and even the Dragonborn’s mightiest blows, and Jett’s most skilled attacks, could barely scratch them. The Ettin’s large size allowed him to keep the Singers at bay, and his lackeys, especially the smallest one, proved no mean opponents either. Upon spotting Winward, the Ettin seemed to brighten up (as much as giants can), shouting that his masters would love to have one of their long-lost slaves back. At this, the gnome became enraged, unleashing his bardic fury upon the giant. After a protracted battle, the creatures were finally felled.

The Dragonborn thanked the Singers, and introduced himself as Shalazar, an Avenger of Tempus. Shalazar explained he had wandered from the northern reaches of the continent in search of other Dragonborn or Dragonborn relics, as he had been raised among humans and had long wondered where others of his race might reside. Feeling he owed them a debt of gratitude, and thinking that being with other adventurers might further his own goals, Shalazar offered his services to the Mercenaries, which they greatly accepted. Sapheera, in the meantime, had been in the sacred grove, and emerged once the fighting had stopped. She explained she had left the fight to protect the grove, only to find that the great tree had been tainted by an evil. Upon inspecting the fell creatures that had been with the Ettin, she pronounced them originally to be either elf or human, saying that they had been warped by some unknown energy. Disturbed, she began hurrying towards the Court of Four Leaves, but before the party had gone very far, they heard voices to their east in the thick woods.

Shikou decided to scout ahead and determine whether the voices were friend or foe while the others hid behind some large rocks in the clearing. What emerged was a pale, beautiful looking Eladrin, a werewolf, a displacer beast, and several undead archers. The Eladrin and the werewolf talked as if they were expecting to meet another group, however, before the group oculd learn anything else, Winward stumbled over a rock, revealing their presence. Another fight ensued, although it was not the desperate battle fought before. The werewolf taunted Shikou, recognizing the Monk’s Shifter heritage, claiming that Shifters were merely weak, unrealized, creatures who deserved only to die. The Monk quickly proved the Werewolf wrong, unleashed a flurry of attacks that quickly downed the arrogant lycanthrope. The other enemies were subdued quickly, until only the Eladrin was left standing. The Eladrin revealed herself to be a vampire with a haunting voice, able to freeze the Singers in place and literally force them away. When she realized that she would surely lose, the vampire seemed to give up, claiming that the Singers would never be able to destroy her. Taking her at her word, the party simply subdued her.

Exhausted, they rested, wondering what the potential meetings of their foes could mean, and what awaited them back at the Court of Four Leaves. Sapheera seemed more troubled than ever, relating to the group that the lycanthropes in the forest had always been on peaceable terms with the elves. She also gleaned that their captive was originally from the Feywild, and for the Feywild to have released such an evil creature into Rantalia was surely an ill omen.

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Encroaching Shadows
Moving Closer Towards Darkness

Sombra 11, 331

The Singers met Sapheera and her escort the following morning, and began the trek north into Narlasil. They passed several uneventful days on the journey, but were greatful for their guide. The elven forest had no visible trails, and the Singer knew that without a guide, they would surely be lost. Eventually, however, they came upon a clearly used trail, marking that they were close to the heart of the forest

Sombra 15, 331

With the party only a half day’s journey from the center of the forest, Sapheera called for a halt, claiming the magical energies in the place were disturbed, and that she wanted to check on a magical pool nearby. Leaving the road, the party approached the pool, only to be assaulted from above. Two winged demons swooped down on Sapheera’s guardian knights, lifting them into the air and releasing them to fall to their deaths. Sapheera herself was knocked unconscious by a tainted water spirit that rose from the pool. The Singers battled the demons, slaying one winged demon easily, and destroying the second as well after Shikou gave it chase, despite its best attempts to fly away. The water witch, sensing she would lose if she continued to battle the determined warriors, escaped back into the pool. Despite Sapheera’s best efforts to draw the witch out of the pool, she was unnsuccessful, even with Winward adding his own considerable arcane knowledge to her efforts. Sapheera was visibly shaken by these events, not only because of her head injury, claiming that this was the most visible evidence of corruption in the forests, that even the water was tainted, and that the Council would have to accept her evidence.

Traveling into the evening, the party finally came upon the wondrous heart forest: a giant tree stretching up into the very canopy. Sapheera led them into the trunk, where they entered the Eladrin Court of Narlasil. Despite their wondrous surroundings, the Singers could not help but be put on guard. The room was full of hulking, murderous-looking elves which somehow felt unnatural to the mercenaries. The assorted elven nobles were clustered in groups in the great hall, including a party of warlike elves off to one side. On the far side of the hall, a column of soldiers stood. As the Sapheera guided the Singers to the far end of the great hall, they caught snippets of the conversation taking place: one Elf in particular did not seem to be happy with the actions of the Council as of late, claiming that the forest was dying, and with other Eladrin leaving them, action had to be taken immediately to scour the forest and locate the evil gnawing at the heart of the forest. The Council was unconvinced, however, stating that although the Elf, whom they identified as Elrias, Narlasil’s Eternal Defender, had authority to protect elvish lands, they saw no point in calling for the dark guards, which the Council named “Shadowborn”, nor did they see any evidence of Narlasil’s decline. Elrias was clearly enraged with the Council, but their argument was cut short by the Coucil noticing the arrival of Sapheera and the Singers.

The Singers quickly realized they had been again involved in a political game. The Council had no knowledge of them, it was Elrias who had tasked Sapheera with bringing them to Narlasil or else aiding the Dwarves. The Council was outraged that Elrias would bring “outsiders” into the forest, claiming they must be put to death immediately. Elrias protested, but in the end, knew their order would be final. Fortunately for the group, Sapheera stepped in, telling how they had saved her from the demons at the tainted pool, and that if such a thing had happened then surely the Council could see that the situation was possibly dire. The Council seemed disturbed by the news, and withdrew to a side chamber to deliberate. Winward took the opportunity to find out what he could from the Elves in the court. He met with Arlisien, Elrias’s second-in-command, Aorthrin, Narlasil’s head Battlemage, and Kaleera, who was revealed to be Sapheera’s half-sister. Kaleera also revealed she was half Eladrin and half Elf, a rarity among the two races. Winward questioned them on the goings on in the Court of Four Leaves, but the soldiers could not tell him much, only that they believed in the Nayar’s cause and were loyal to him, seeing as how the Council and other Eladrin had seemingly abadoned the Elves and their forest as of late.

Shortly afer, the Council returned to render judgement: they relented, but only halfway. They pronounced that if the “outsiders” were to remain in the forest, they would have to undergo the “Rite.” Elrias seemed upset, but did not protest. The Singers were led by Sapheera to a small grove, who warned them the Rite would be potentially deadly, but could not say more. The Singers felt as if they were doomed, despite not having an outright execution order placed on their heads.

Within the grove, the Singers were revealed a message in the bark of a magical tree. The tree presented them this message:

Four are mortals, doomed to die. Yet these four are of destiny. Four are the gates before, Here, set before thee.

Trickster of the forest, Bearer of the key. Yet ‘twil not give it up, knowingly.

Creature of the forest, Hunter of blood, In order to proceed, You must pay his fee.

Keeper of the forest, Silent watcher, To her test be true, And rest, quietly.

Defender of the forest, Knight, made of bark, From on high lies the truth, Hidden in the leaves.

Four pieces all, Presented to thee, Defender, Creature, Trickster, Keeper, In this way, Proceed.

Shortly after this discovery, a bear, a Satyr, a treant and a dryad emerged from the woods, but made no move to attack, they simply stood round the mercenaries, as if waiting for something. The Singers puzzled over the clues, knowing that one wrong move would likely end in their deaths. Eventually, they solved the problem: scaling the sleeping treant, Shikou discovered a glowing, purple leaf among the branches of the treant’s head. Jett solved the riddle of the creature by offering his own blood to the bear, which was accepted. The bear trundled off into the woods, revealing a bright green leaf in the place where it had sat. The Satyr proved more challenging for the group, as it continually made advances towards the Genasi swordmage. Eventually, through the Satyr’s own hints, the party realized they would have to distract the Satyr and take the leaf. Shikou utilized his stealth skills while the Satyr was admiring the Genasi to steal the Satyr’s pouch, in which they found a golden leaf. The final challenge lay in the dryad, who summoned thorns to entrap Jett as he approached. Remembering the riddle, Jett remained calm and did not fight his captivity, only to be released after a few agonizing seconds. The dryad relinquished her leaf as well, a glowing red one. When all four leaves were pressed to the tree, the party found themselves embraced in a warm light from the tree, and a voiced whispered to them: “Heroes, the forest has found you worthy. Go forth, and remember the gifts bestowed upon you here. Beware the darkness growing in the heart of the forest!”

Finding themselves to be more powerful for the embrace of the tree’s spirit, and the vines no longer blocking their exit, the party left the grove, thankful for its gifts.

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Dark Portents
The World Expands

Somba 10, 331

The Singing Mercenaries had been enjoying the patronage of Lord Warden Faren Markelhay, but work had been slim. On this day, however, the Mercenaries received a summons to the Lord Warden’s chamber. The Lord Warden greeted them warmly, and thanked them again for their help in rescuing Fallcrest, and himself. Markelhay went on to say that there were great things afoot in the the Kingdom of Nerath, that due to Janus Valorfast’s death, his father, Sirius Valorfast was holding the Singers responsible for the death of his son, in fact claiming they had murdered him, and that the Lord Warden may have even had a hand in it. The Lord Warden went on to speculate that he believed this information had been brought to the Lord Marshall by none other than Serim Saluzar, who made a quick exit from Fallcrest once the Singers emerged victorious over Orcus’s cult. Markelhay explained that, although the party was now an enemy of a powerful Lord Marshall, they had also caught the attention of his rival, Lord Kyras. Markelhay explained that the provinces, and lords, of Kyras and Lannister had been rivals since the decline of Alror the Great’s line. Lord Kyras had made it known he would be very interested in employing the Singing Mercenaries. While Jett and Shikou thought it would be a challenge to take on a naval power such as Valorfast, Winward cautioned them against it, saying that to work for Kyras would only cement their guilt as murderers. Lord Markelhay then went on to tell the mercenaries that this was not the only option before them: an envoy of dwarves and an envoy of elves would both be arriving in Fallcrest the following day. The two races had been in contact with Markelhay, and apparently had been having their own problems, which the dwarves and elves felt the Singers could help with. Markelhay requested that the Singers return the next day in order to meet with them. The party agreed, and took their leave of Moonstone Keep.

On their return, the party encountered a large group of armed men, led by a large and raucous knight, menacing a young maiden in a side alley. Jett sensed something was amiss, and pointed this out to the armed group. The group’s leader, who quickly took a dislike to Jett, identified himself as a Knight of Lannister, the province which the Valorfast’s rule. Jett’s lack of social skills only escalated the situation, which resulted in an all-out brawl in the streets. The knight insulted the Singers throughout the affair, eventually realizing who they were and identifying himself as Castor Valorfast, Janus’s cousin. Despite his boasts and insults, Castor was eventually killed in the street, while the maiden the Lannister men had been menacing fled the scene.

Upon returning to the Ebon Griffin (where the Singers had moved into decent rooms, at the patronage of Lord Markelhay), the Singers were approached by a young swordsman, who left them a note, claiming knowledge of the dwarf and elf envoys. The note carried the same symbol as the warriors that the Singers encountered in Political Maneuvers led by Talanar. The note requested the singers journey east into the Drow lands, claiming that the enemy of all lay in the desert wastes. The party, having had enough of cryptic messages and shadowy sources, decided they would not make contact with the young warrior.

That night, the Singers awoke to a strange vision. Unsure if they were in a dream or in merely an illusion, the Singers found themselves in some sort of ice temple on a cliff. Trapped within the floor was a large dragon, and the pillars supporting the roof had strange sconces surrounded by arcane runes. They were confronted by a hulking, shadowy knight who called himself Azrael. Azrael challenged them to battle, claiming that if heroes of destiny could not defeat him, they had no chance of defeating his master. The party was confused, but, sensing they were not having an ordinary dream, fought with the monstrous knight. Azrael was a terrible opponent. Despite his size, he could move through shadow to teleport amidst the Singer, then teleport away before they could react. He could also summon alternate realms of frost and shadow to freeze the Singers in place while he struck from beyond the reality he created. The Singers fought gamely, but were unable to overcome the dread knight until Shikou noticed a strange blue flame at the altar of the temple. Racing towards it, the flame united with him, empowering his strikes against Azrael. The power of the flame allowed the Singers to subdue Azrael. Their vision ended with Azrael’s parting words: “Good! I am glad to see the chosen heroes of destiny are not so weak. Perhaps, in time, you will be a suitable challenge. We will meet again, heroes!”

Sombra 11, 331

The party awoke the next day, unsure what their group dream was, or if it had been much more than a dream. Puzzled, but unable to make anything of it, they kept their appointment with the Lord Warden and the envoys from the North. Sapheera, an elven mage, and Galorvin Granitehands, a dwarven captain, both explained they had heard of the Singers’ exploits, and that their aid was needed in the north. Markelhay went on to explain that he had close ties to both the elves and dwarves, despite the official problems between Nerath and their respective nations. The elves explained that the forests were dying, the Eladrin were leaving the forests to return to the Feywild, and the elves were losing their connection to the Fey. They did not know the cause, only that scout patrols on the slopes of the mountains were being ambushed, and the entire forest of Narlasil was beginning to decay. Galorvin explained that the dwarves were under attack from an ancient evil from under the mountain, and that the once connected dwarven cities were now islands of defense in the chaos under the peaks. Galorvin questioned Shikou of his knowledge about the ancient evils, claiming the mountain monk should have been taught such things, but Shikou professed no knowledge of the evils. Galorvin scoffed, claiming the monk’s temple would most likely be destroyed, although Shikou seemed unconcerned. Sapheera went on to explain that the elves and dwarves had been at war with the orcs in the north for centuries, and that with these new threats they would be overrun without aid. Winward leapt at the chance to aid the elves, having his own suspicions of what might be responsible for the destruction, as his former village was located in northern forests just beyond the borderlands of the elves. Winward appealed to Valmir, stating his Fey patron would surely want Valmir to aid the elves and Eladrin. Valmir was unimpressed, his hatred for being controlled weighed against his connection to the Feywild, and professed no opinion. Although Galorvin warned against it, the party decided to travel with the Elves in order to aid them against the evil gnawing at the heart of Narlasil’s forests.

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Cultfall
Orcus's priests are foiled again!

Dark temple by stevethebunny

Agua 16 331

The Singers were sent hurtling through an inky, cold blackness through the Shadowfell portal, only to be slammed onto hard stone moments later. Looking around in the misty dark of the Shadowfell, they found they had been deposited at the base of an altar, at which they found yet another ritual they needed to halt. They surmised this was the true danger, the ritual the risen spirit had mentioned, that which could bring ruin upon the entire region of the Nentir Valley.

The leader of the ritual, an animated skeleton known as Raz’lar the Vile, called for the intruders immediate destruction. The battle was long and hard: the cultists were empowered by the fel energies in the dark plane, and their undead minions were powerful indeed, especially the two huge skeletons that stood guard over the ritual. Raz’lar wielded evil powers that enhanced his undead minions, and his magics could toss his enemies left and right. Several times the heroes found themselves just grasping a ledge, under which the void opened beneath their feet to envelope them should they fall.

Despite the heroes prowess and the aid of Janus Valorfast, Omin Drumm and Captain Farringway, the battle did not go well for the heroes. Sensing they were in a desperate fight, Valmir invoked the holy orb given to him by Omin, and in a flash of lightning that shot from the Glorious Plane to the depths of the Shadowfell, an Angel of Valor appeared to aid them. The angel was a powerful ally, his wrath manifesting with the power of lightning and holy fire, and his arrival marked the turning of the tide.

Even with the angel’s help, the battle still proved difficult for the heroes. Raz’lar’s power held Jett immobile and away from his allies for much of the fight, and his fiery skeleton servants wreaked havoc sent pulses of searing heat towards all in their path. Janus was caught off guard by one such blast, and the young noble was sent flying off the floating platform into the dark below. Nathan Farringway narrowly escaped death, only his veteran’s experience allowed him to dodge blows that otherwise would have proved fatal. Finally, Raz’lar’s power was broken, and he began to erupt in a cold, blue flame. As his lifeforced ebbed out, he cackled at his enemies, telling them that the cult was not restricted to Fallcrest, and that the Kingdom of Nerath had been infected to its rotten core, just before fading away into the blackness.

With the undead and their masters finally felled, the party took stock of its situation. They felt stranded, as they had no idea whether the portal would return them to Fallcrest, Janus was dead, and Farringway was close to dying as well. Avandra’s angel encouraged them, saying they had aided the side of good, and that Avandra thanked them for their service. It then bid Omin approach, and telling the renewed paladin that his service had been rewarded, and that he would ascend to the status of Avandra’s angel. Once again, light shot down from the Glorious Planes to envelope the Angel and the newly ascended Omin. Omin thanked the group, and told them he would aid them again someday, and until that time Avandra would smile upon them. The angel seemed please with his new charge, and as they turned to ascend, left the Singers with a cryptic message: “A war is brewing in the heavens. You have done a great thing here for the forces of Good, but you have yet a part to play. Seek out the warrior temple of Bahamut, it is there that your path will be laid before you.” With that, the two holy warriors ascended to their rightful places.

The heroes discovered the Lady Allande Markelhay at the base of the altar and managed to rouse her. Despite her trepidation at their situation, she acknowledged her own magical prowess and stabilized the rift in space, allowing the party to return to Fallcrest’s throneroom. The Lady thanked her rescuers and asked that they return the following day so that they might be justly rewarded.

Agua 17, 331

The Singing Mercenaries returned to Moonstone Keep for their audience with the Lord and Lady of Fallcrest. The Markelhays thanked them and acknowledged the region would be in ruins were it not for their actions. Markelhay apologized for his behavior under the sway of the succubus, and gave them singers a bounty each of 720GP. Lady Allande also bestowed rewards upon the mercenaries, giving each of them a magical item from the Markelhay’s family vault.

Agua 18 – Sombra 3, 331

Over the next couple weeks, news slowly drifted into Fallcrest about the events in the wider world. There was talk around the town that a Lord Marshall had attempted to have Faren Markelhay removed from his position as Lord Warden, a highly untraditional thing among the Kingdom, but Markelhay was exonerated of whatever charges had been brought before him, and he managed to keep his position. This has, for the time being, stabilized the political tension that had arisen from the dead dwarven patrols and bandit activity region of the Nentir Valley. In the wake of the news that Markelhay would retain his seat, Serim Saluzar chartered a boat to the southern parts of the Kingdom.

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