Sunday, August 2, 2009

Interlude (Sessions 16-17)


The mysterious cult beneath Dourstone Mine had been defeated. The Faceless One's plan to create a powerful aspect of the Overgod had failed and the weaker monster born of the Black Pool destroyed. Most of the evidence linking Balabar Smeck to the cult was circumstantial at best, but those he had held captive, including Adros the Bard, helped support the evidence that had been gathered concerning his involvement in slave trading with creatures from the Night Below. The mine manager attempted to escape in the night, but was apprehended by a group known as the Shadow Guard, a religious military order devoted to Pelor and Heironious known for their zeal in going after those who have worked evil, and was brought back to the Diamond Lake garrison to answer for his crimes. A long sentence awaited him should the courts convict him. Ragnolin Dourstone, long known has an honorable and decent mine manager, had had his holdings seized pending an investigation into the depths of his involvement in the cult's plans, though it had been confirmed that the dwarf had been both threatened and magically compelled by the Faceless One.

The Ebon Aspect did a small amount of destruction when it crashed its way through the cave in and into Dourstone Mine, killing many of Ragnolin's guards and miners, and a few members of the Diamond Lake community on its rampage through the town. Some 20 people lost their lives, with several more injured. The townsfolk, however, had bore witness to the group's battle against the monster, and had become local heroes. The druid companion of the elf who died fighting the Aspect vanished that very night with his remains, and Jhero split the scene, not wishing to be noticed by anyone associated with the Feral Dog. Allustan had been quick to deny any aid in the actual battle, leaving all the glory for the four. The Lord-Mayor, with prodding by Captain Trask of the garrison, Valkus Dun, and his own brother, reluctantly recognized them you as heroes of the town in an official fashion in the form of a written ledger of their services, and threw a festival in their honor. They were also given a small land grant. The land was of their choosing, as long as it was not owned by anyone else, and the Governor-Mayer approved. Everyone recognized it as a hollow gesture-all the land worth having in Diamond Lake was owned by one of the mine managers, and anything lucrative the might find the Mayor Neff would be allowed to investigate first and deny their claim.

Auric's Band left town not long after the battle, slipping away early one morning with little word to anyone.

Filge had recovered from his physical wounds, but no progress had been made to bring him out of his insanity. Whatever had happened to him in the Black Pool had left his mind shattered. The Shining Light of Pelor, the sun god's organized church, recognized Filge as a ward of the church, honoring the agreement set down between Smeck, Bolero, and Filge and took him to the temple in the Free City of Greyhawk to be cared for.

As to the four young heroes, their original mission has been long since accomplished, and the new mission they had stumbled across had been set to rest, as well. It was time to get on with their lives. They made arrangements to divide and sell the massive amount of treasure and gear they had managed to pull from the depths. Adros the Bard offered to serve them by carrying the goods with him to the Free City of Greyhawk and sell them, sending back the spoils. he was bound to the city, anyway, in light of Balabar Smeck's pending trail, and he owed them a great deal for helping him not only uncover the slave ring, but from becoming a Kuo-Toan love slave.


Ardynn had many things on her mind. The young druid-wizard, having seen so much death recently, found herself wanting to make something.

After the battle with the Ebon Aspect, she had found a ledger on the ground, its binding torn and its parchment papers scattered and covered in blood. The ledger had belonged to the now deceased elf, Vadamar Lyrr, and had fallen from his pack during the battle with the monster. It described alternatives to the runoff from the refinery into the lake. That lake had once been as clear as a diamond, thus giving the town its name. Her grandfather had been a fisherman on those pristine waters, but that had been before Ardynn was born, the refinery's slag having killed the fish and turned the water decades ago. Despite this, Ardynn could almost see it when she closed her eyes; the shining blue of sky mirrored in the water, full of fish fowl, a center of activity for all the wildlife in the otherwise barren Cairn Hills. Lyrr's research brought her hope that it could become a reality again. Some of the papers had been lost or damaged, leaving it incomplete, but the she decided to do what she could to complete the research and present to the Governor-Mayor. The elf's companion, the druidess Zaadi, seemed pleased that Ardynn wanted to honor her fallen friend, and gave her blessing before vanishing from town.

To complete his research, Ardynn needed a laboratory of her own, of course.

She presented her land grant to the Governor-Mayor, requesting the unclaimed lands that once belonged to Ulgo Fant. The Mayor could not imagine why anyone would want that no man's land as their own, so Ardynn explained that she wanted to rebuild the deceased mine manager's office into a home. She kept the existence of the Whispering Cairn to herself. Mayor Neff could not sign the deed over fast enough. Having the strange girl settled so far outside of town suited him just fine.

She hired stonemasons and carpenters, and drew out plans to rebuild the ruined office into her home. it took nearly a month to complete, starting with the walls around the rooms that would serve as her alchemy and research lab. While the workers continued on the rest of the house, Allustan helped her set up her fully stocked lab, liberated from the Faceless One simulacrum.

With her lab ready and her home's construction coming along, the druid-wizard began research, splitting her time between crafting alchemical items (several of which she discovered recipes for within the Faceless One's tomes and librams), stitching together Lyrr's formula, and trying to solve the puzzle of the ritual circle the Fey Guardian at Diamond Lake's mehirs had given her. When construction was complete, she set to painting and furnishing the house. The outside had been neglected, as well, and with spring approaching, she set to preparing the land to grow. Within her fenced yard she planted gardens, one of them for herbs and plants with special properties.

Jhero came to visit on several occasions. Though his altercation with the Feral Dog had come to an end (thanks to his new connections), he could not seem to go back to his old way of life in Diamond Lake. He was full of restless energy, and the only times he seemed at ease were when he walked the lands with Arydnn. One night he waved goodbye to her as he headed back to town and the next day he had simply gone, slipping away from Diamond Lake before the sun had come up.


Ashbourn said his farewells to his companions and shouldered his pack, taking the north road towards Elmshire. After two hours of walking, he left the road, following a trail to the Twilight Monastery. He rang the bell for entrance in a code signaling him to be a friend. He wasn't sure how he would be received. Izenfen had told him the monastery was no longer his home, but had not implied he could not return. He still did not understand her reasons for casting him out, but Izenfen often saw things in the movement of the stars that others did not. If she had sent him away, she had her reasons. As he waited, he noticed the words carved into the arch over the entrance.

-Only through Balance can Perfection be achieved.-

The monk had never really considered it was written in Draconic instead of Baklunish. In light of recent discoveries, he wondered if it had significance.

The door opened to the monastery and he was welcomed in as he always had been, and told that his mistress was expecting him. Not questioning it, though his head was near bursting with them, he made his way through the inner courtyard, were novice monks could be seen polishing the giant Censer of Symmetry, and into the inner chambers. He found Izenfen meeting with three monks he did not recognize. The leader of the monks introduced himself as Iquoyan, Master of the Dark Moon Monastery in the City of Greyhawk.

"Thank you again, Master
Izenfen. Your guidance and discretion in this matter have been of great service to our cause."

After they had gone, she turned her attention to Ash.

"Welcome, little phoenix. What brings you back to us?"

He revealed recent events and his discoveries concerning his past.
Izenfen does not seem surprised.

"It is true I have the answers you desire, but there is danger in what you seek. I can see, however, that you have already made your choice. Follow me."

She leads him down into the chambers below the monastery, carved into the base of the hill itself, to where many of the ancient texts and tomes of the temple were kept. She spoke as they walked.

"Several centuries ago, a half-dragon by the name of Balimar settled in the area that would eventually become Diamond Lake. Balimar was a follower of Zoukan, trained in the Baklunish martial arts, and founded a place to train his followers. A monastery was erected on the tall crag known as Griffon's Roost, and named the Twilight Monastery in honor of Xan Yae."

"Balimar had long sought balance with his own heritage in order to find balance within himself. Known only to his most trusted students, Balimar had mastered abilities entirely different from those he taught, unique abilites that could only be learned by those with draconic blood. This method involved calling upon the spirits of deceased dragons in their bloodline and harnessing their power within the self. Knowing the dangers inherent in calling such powerful spirits into your own body, Balimar would not train the techniques to anyone he did not deem strong of will and resolve."

"When his death grew eminent, Balimar feared his techniques would be lost to future generations of worthy offspring, and laid out the details of these techniques in a series of scrolls, to be used to help train his progeny well into the future. He was laid to rest in the village he had helped found, and a copy of the scrolls were interred with him as well as within the monastery. A humble home was erected over the tomb to help keep it secret, which would serve his bloodline as a home in the days to come."

They entered a room with scrolls filling nooks along that back wall. Izenfen continues…

"It was the responsibility of the ranking monk to determine who was worthy to learn from the scrolls. For centuries it was so, until the time of Xryx. Xryx was strong in his bloodline and a skilled monk, but greater still was his ambition. He sought greater and greater power, not in pursuit of perfection, but in pursuit of his own hubris. Seeing his ambitions, his access to the scrolls was revoked. In retaliation, Xryx destroyed the scrolls, and he was ejected from the monastery. Desperate to continue with his training, Xryx fled to Diamond Lake and burned the Balimar home to the ground, taking the scrolls from the tomb of Balimar himself. He was pursued and defeated, but at the cost of many lives and the destruction of several of the more advanced scrolls.

"The home was rebuilt, but the ranking monks, after having witnessed the corrupting effect the red dragon bloodline could have, decided the surviving scions of Balimar would no longer be allowed to follow the path of their draconic heritage. The scrolls were taken from the tomb, lest they fall into the wrong hands once again, and hidden deep below the Twilight Monastery. The dragon blood that had once ran strong through your bloodline faded."

"Until now…"

"Through the power of the Censer, I foresaw an Age was coming to an end. Things of the past were soon to be lost forever, but at the same time, things thought long lost would return and rock the foundations of the world. When I was told the name of the boy at our very door, I could not dismiss it as simply happenstance. Once you showed your determination and potential, I decided we would train you. I could not know if you were one of the Sleepers the stars had spoke of, but if left to the undisciplined ways of Diamond Lake, any power that might awaken within you could very well consume you. Taught the ways of Balance and Perfection, you might be better prepared for what your future kept hidden. As you trained, I saw none of the signs of the dragonborn within you, but it was obvious to me that there was destiny around you. Once your training had been completed, I set you out on the road to find it. I admit I was eager to remove you from the proximity of the teaching scrolls of Balimar lest I force Fate's hand, but it seems I was simply the first step to unlocking your destiny.

She motioned to the shelves.

"Alas, there is not much that remains of his teachings, but perhaps within this chamber are the answers you seek. I cannot help you in this, for I possess not the power within my blood to understand it. You can make copies of the scrolls, but do not take them from the monastery. It is one of our sacred duties to protect them.

She turned to leave, but paused.

"Ashbourn, there is one more thing. You were motherless and nearly fatherless when you came to us. As we became your new family, I had hoped that you would not be shackled by your past. I meant what I said the day you left, hoping that you would indeed rise anew from the ashes and fly free, a bird of your own choosing. It seems you have risen from your old life into an even older one. Your brother will likely be tied to it, as well."

"I will leave you with a warning-one last prophecy whispered to me from the stars."

"'His name will be born from the wake of fire's destruction, and he will be bound to the sins of his forebearers, their great power the source of untold suffering. Kindred blood will be his true enemy.'"


Just a few days after the defeat of the cult, Bolero was called by Valkus Dun to a meeting, but instead of Dun, he was directed to two men her had never met before-Markus and Peadrin. This statement left Bolero confused. He had met a servant of the Shining One by the name of Paedrin, but he was clearly not the man sitting before him. They two exchanged confused glances, but then nodded to one another.

"I assure you I am the only Peadrin in the order," was all the man, years younger than the other Peadrin, offered as explanation.

Both were servants of Pelor, a cleric and paladin respectively, but they wore surcoats and cloaks of black, emblazoned with an odd symbol-a stylized sun, crossed by a bolt of lightning. It was a blending of the symbols of Pelor, the Shining One, and Heironious, the Invincible. The men introduced themselves as representatives of an order known as the Shadow Guard. The Shadow Guard, they explained, was a military order consisting of faithful followers of the two gods, that proactively sought out and destroyed evil. Though they were members of and followed orders from their respective churches, the order itself was not affiliated with those churches. This allowed the churches relative amnesty from the Shadow Guards activities, but, nonetheless, granted them a weapon to fight evil that existed outside of politics. Recent events had drawn their attention to the mining town, and they had arrived just in time to see Bolero and his friends put a stop to it.

They were impressed. Valkus Dun, his higher responsibilities requiring that he retire from the order, nonetheless maintained contact. He had told the order of the young paladin's actions in Diamond Lake, and they were impressed. They also told him that his father, Bernardo Truman, had been a member. The two offered him a place in the order, in the new cell they were forming in Diamond Lake. He accepted.

His first mission was to find them a base of operations. They were staying at the chapel for now, but, being inside the garrison, did not allow them the freedom they needed to achieve their goals. They were seeking something outside of town, but close enough to observe its comings and goings. It did not occur to the paladin right away, but Filge's former base of operations, standing on a high point on the outskirts of town, would make a perfect location. Furthermore, Bolero could aquire it with his land grant-the observatory had been impossible to keep clear of bandits or worse (Filge) in the two hundred years it had been abandoned, and the Mayor would likely be thrilled to put the responsibility into someone else's hands. Sir Markus suggested he keep the purpose of the request quiet for now. It was likely the power-hungry mayor would not be please knowing the Shadow Guard was perched on his doorstep. Neff agreed to Bolero's request, and the Shadow Guard moved in.

In the order, Markus was in charge, with Paedrin the second-in-command. Bolero was joined by Olis, a former brigand now dedicated to Pelor; (x), a cleric of Heironeous hailing originally from Greyhawk; and Melinde, the female paladin that fought beside Bolero before and was friends with his companions. The group had little in the way of funding, just a small concession given by the temples in Greyhawk, so they did what work they could themselves to repair the building. Their first priority of business was would have been the Black Cathedral, but the garrison had collapsed all passages into and out of the evil place, so they let the matter rest for now. Eventually, the place would need to be purified, but for now it was secure, so they moved on to their second agenda-bandits.

Over the next two months, the Shadow Guard, armed with a map marking bases of operation, put the bandits to the sword, sometimes with the garrison behind them, and at others just themselves. Without Smeck's help coordinating the groups, the order had them running scared, too afraid to attack a wagon lest it be a group of fanatical warriors disguised as merchant guards. The roads between the mining towns was safer than it had been in decades. As a secondary benefit, the goods and gold taken from the bandits went to support the order's further endeavors, and carpenters and stonemasons carried the name of Pelor and Heironeous on their lips from the generous pay the order offered for work on their watchtower.

There were other operations, as well, but Bolero was unaware of them, usually in town just long enough to re-provision before heading out again.

In his small amount of time he had free, he read the copy of Theldrick's journal Valkus Dun had had made for him. The book gave him insight into the motivations of those following an evil god, and the book could contain clues leading to more members of the Ebon Triad. He found something he had not expected within the pages of the journal, which he brought to Valkus' attention immediately upon its discovery.

Two year previous, not long after Theldrick had arrived, the husband of mine manager Luzane Parrin, had discovered the activities of the cult, and brought it to the attention of the former high Priest of the Chapel of Hieroneous. Together, the two men had sought to uncover what was going on, and were captured by the cult. The Faceless One had Parrin's through slit and his body dumped on the muddy lakeside outside of town. The high priest, however, bore a much more severe fate. His heart had been cut from his body and his blood fed to the black pool. It was that sacrifice that had begun the ritual.

Valkus Dun took the news gravely, telling the young paladin that the armor, circlet, and shield he wore had once belonged to the missing cleric, so he had surmised his fate. He was grateful for the confirmation. and told Bolero to keep the armor and carry it with honor.


Due to a combination of limited funds, lack of availability, and a simple desire to know how, Snuffy had developed a single-minded goal-he wanted to learn to craft a curing wand. He first sought the Chapel of Hieronous, the only local temple he had really had any dealings with, but Father Velius, in charge of such things, regrettably informed him it was against church doctrine to teach such things to those outside of the faithful. Snuffy did not care for his answer, and told the old man so. Velius, in turn, became stern, delivering a firm but polite reprimand for the dwarf's continued criticism of the chapel. He did advise that Snuffy travel to the closest temple of Fharlanghn and request to learn the arts of wand crafting. It seemed that the elderly priest and the dwarf were simply destined to not get along.

Adros had offered a place in the wagon beside him on his trip to Greyhawk. The bard was pleased when Snuffy accepted.

It only takes a few days to reach the Free City of Greyhawk. Adros set out at once to begin selling the items they had brought, dropping Sunffy off in the temple district at the Chapel of Fharlanghn. Snuffy presented his land grant to the church. Though most of Fharlanghn's shrines were built on the backs of wagons so that they could travel, it was also a common practice to set up roadside spots between towns to give travelers a place to rest. It was Snuffy's hope the land grant could be used for the latter on the roads somewhere outside Diamond Lake. His offer to the temple is warmly received. The High Priest, Father Adari Farwander (a bright, weathered gnome that walked on a cain) considered the gift a proper tithe, and granted him the new rank of Vagabond.

Snuffy's request for access to the secrets of wand creation was met with a smile byAdari. The gnome warned you that the crafting of magic was considered a sacred responsibility not to be taken lightly, but Snuffy would not be deterred, so the gnome had his vow that he would not share the process with any outsiders (though he laughed as he did so, saying that every temple knew how to make the lesser wands anyway, but it was, nonetheless, protocol), and gave him access to the temple's lore. Snuffy accepted the additional title of
Crafter, earning a special rank and responsibility gladly. He was now charged with being at the call of his superiors to craft items when the need arose. In exchange, he was allowed access to even more recipes and techniques as well as the temple's creation facilities.