The Coalition's War

The Green Exarch
The heroes find the power behind Cachlain and break it.

Upon arrival in Cachlain’s court, the heroes were granted audience with the King, as each of his servant’s knew of their lord’s drive to reclaim the Seed of Winter, which Legion bore with him. Cyclopean guards escorted the four of them to Cachlain’s throne, a mighty seat of carved crystal laid before a glass platform that allowed the King to keep a constant eye on the slaves he sent into the gladiator’s ring far below. To his left, on a much smaller chair, sat Sovacles, a bald, conniving little man who served as adviser.

Sovacles bore his staff of office like it was the King’s own crown – demanding to know why the party had come to them with the Seed while Cachlain himself stared dumbly at the warring slaves beneath him. Thoradin offered the artifact in trade for ceasing his alliance with the githyanki, but Sovacles refused the deal. Legion threatened the Stone-skinned King with a dire warning: inaction on his part would surely lead to his destruction at the hands of Sangwyr, the rival who coveted the caverns he ruled. Sovacles sent them out of the room, enraged on behalf of his lord for the threats and insinuations of weakness.

Upon leaving, Jett let it be known that he was certain the King was under Sovacles’ mental control, and that any deal they made to disrupt Cachlain’s alliance with the invaders would have to be made after they found a way to take care of Sovacles’ interference. In the meantime, they agreed to explore the court, and they soon came upon Bram Ironfell.

Thoradin was shocked to see his uncle standing before him, even more so when he realized his bodyguards were githyanki. Bram easily admitted to them that he was under githyanki employ, and he had been sent to Cachlain as an ambassador for them.

Jett and Thoradin were outraged at this betrayal, but agreed to follow him to a banquet hall to hear out his story. Thoradin confessed that his defection was one of desperation – he saw no way for the Ironfell clan to survive the coming war, so on advice from Sarshan (who he’d had brief dealings with), he decided to become a mole for the enemy, in exchange for the safety of the Ironfells.

“Ah can’t explain t’ya how foolish ah truely feel, nephew,” he muttered, unable to meet the younger dwarf’s eyes in his shame. “The things you an’ your friends done… they’re outright inspirin’. If ah’d known you’d give us a shot at winnin’ this thing, ah never woulda done what ah did. But ya hafta unnerstand—ah was tryin’ to save us. Zithiruun said he’d leave our homes alone when he struck at Overlook.”

“Uncle,” Thoradin gasped, half in shock and half in anger, “they’re all our homes.” At this, Bram could only hang his head.

But as it hung, it began to droop into his food, and Thoradin saw Sokaris and Jett begin to drift off to sleep as well. The food was drugged! Thoradin’s mysterious lack of an appetite and Legion’s lack of a stomach had saved them from a similar fate. Bram’s guards shapeshifted back into rakshasas, leaping upon the two Champions still conscious. Legion and Thoradin sprang into action, joined by their two friends as they were struck by errant attacks.

After putting down the rakshasas, a rumbling was heard through the wall. Thoradin recognized the sounds of burrowing beasts, and leapt into the earthen wall to dig his own way to the new intruders. Jett used a portable hole he’d taken from the Coalition’s armory, and the two managed to gain the drop on what turned out to be Sangwyr’s latest raiding party: a handful of drow led by a drider, keeping a scarred bullette for a pet.

After the battle, the Champions regrouped, discussing what they had learned at different parts of the banquet. Jett and Sokaris had learned that Sovacles was a relatively new advisor, and his arrival nearly coincided with the allowance of githyanki troops to use the court’s portal network. That settled it then – Sovacles was the source of all the Coalition’s woes, and now he had to go.

Legion used the power of the Seed of Winter to trick the two guards standing out in front of the throne room into fighting each other. With them out of the way, Thoradin rode his new bullete mount into a burrowing charge, throwing the door off its hinges. Cachlain roared in anger at this new threat, and (spurred on by Sovacles) rose to attack the heroes. The Stone-skinned King’s legendary might was hardly exaggerated. His stony fists flung the Champions across the room in his fury, while Sovacles meekly lingered behind and peppered the party with spells.

Sokaris boldly disarmed himself in front of the king, and refused to fight him. His honest words convinced even the bloodthirsty Legion to stay his hand, and not once was Cachlain harmed during the fight. Jett used his sword to trap Sovacles in a demiplane temporarily, and in that time the four managed to break the enchantment. Sovacles reappeared, promising death to the heroes, and singing praises to his true patron – Tiamat.

Cachlain’s hideous eye flashed green, sending the Champions (and the evil advisor) tumbling into the arena below, where a blackroot treant was currently matching blows with a frenzied bugbear gladiator. Sovacles was quickly slain, but a foul mist rose from his corpse, taking a twisted, winged shape. “Fools! You have destroyed my human guise!” it hissed. “Know that I am Virizan, Exarch of Tiamat! I know that you are all responsible for the slaying of Chillreaver, but Her Majesty is wise to keep an exarch for each of her five heads. You are doomed! I have four more forms you must defeat if you wish to truly kill me, and if by some miracle you whelps should accomplish that, there will be three more servants hunting for your blood in the days to come!”

Undaunted by the monster’s terrifying revelation, the Champions fought on, sustaining brutal injuries, but slaying Virizan… first as a poisonous cloud, then as a swarm of vipers, then as a thunder-screaming naga, and finally as a scale-covered mirror of his original human form. Bugug the bugbear helped as well, though he barely acknowledged the group as he did so.

Soon after, the troublesome treant was felled as well, and the crowd surrounding the arena erupted in thunderous applause. With Virizan out of the way and Cachlain’s mind unclouded, perhaps true negotiations on behalf of the Coalition could finally begin.

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The Coldest Fey
Beset by foes on all sides, the Champions struggle to decide whom to aid.

Although the cyclops slavers were backed by a stone golem, the party managed to persevere, although Sokaris sustained a mortal wound that knocked him unconscious. His nightmare mount panicked without a rider to guide it, and began to flee from the fight using a series of small teleporting leaps, taking the KO’ed cleric with him. To save him, Jett broke away from the melee and made excellent use of a specialty spell he’d mastered, swapping positions with Sokaris.

After Sokaris miraculously recovered from his injury, victory became assured. The four of them freed a small group of humans and dwarves from their makeshift prison in the ruins of Rhest, where the slavers had set up shelter. From the bodies, they recovered a ritual scroll that allow them passage into the Feywild, just within the domain of an archfey known as the Skyshaper, a being with power over the weather in his lands.

As they arrived in a circle of standing stones, several foes lashed out in ambush. Two firbolgs and their shadow serpent pets pounced upon the flat-footed Champions, fighting fearlessly, as their wounds seemed to diminish easily no matter how hard they were struck.

A voice boomed from the heavens, appraising the fight and entreating the quarreling mortals for a good show. Jett realized it was the voice of the Sky Shaper, and he led his companions in an effort to win the favor of their spectator with feats of dexterity and flattering words. The archfey was pleased, and the clouds above their fight parted, lingering only over the firbolgs and their pets. This meant the heroes were no longer subjected to fighting in darkness, while their foes were cursed by darkness. The fight went much swifter from that point, and the final firbolg standing was forced to flee.

Frustrated at his attacks’ lack of potency, Legion asked Thoradin to give him the Seed of Winter, that he might use it to strike down their enemies. Just the day before, the two had much the same discussion, and the dwarf had voiced his opinion that the Seed would be staying with him, that it would be dangerous to hand something with such great potential for misuse to a power-hungry warlock like Legion. Today, however, the dwarf gave it up amicably. Legion stared dumbfounded at the artifact he now held in his hands, and questioned the dwarf’s sanity. Mercurial decision-making is unknown among warforged, after all, and Legion may very well be just as unable to understand it as Thoradin is.

Not far from their entry point was a wooden door leading into a cliffside cave, and the Champions entered, seeking a lead to Cachlain’s court. Instead, they found Pyradan, a mighty firbolg warrior of whom Thoradin had heard stories. Pyradan seemed almost courteous to his new opponents, even as he lunged at them with a hooked spear, praising them on their skill in battle and encouraging them to give him a good fight.

After Pyradan was convinced he could not possibly best them, he threw down his weapons and confessed his motives: he and his brothers were working for Inzira, Daughter of Frostwhite Forest, and they set an ambush because they sensed the Seed of Winter approaching. Inzira wanted the Seed back, and if she could not capture the Champions, she would surely wish to parley with them. Cautiously, the four agreed to be led to the camp where they would speak with Druemeth Goldtemple, Inzira’s lieutenant.

Inzira, through a ritual performed by Druemmeth, informed the party that the Seed was originally held by Cachlain, before it became owned by Chillreaver. The Stone-skinned King very much wanted the artifact back, though, and would surely listen to anything they had to say if they carried it with them. However, Inzira laid claim to original ownership of the artifact, and demanded that it be returned to her once the PCs were finished with it. In return, she would have her lieutenant guide them to Cachlain’s court, and introduce them as her messengers – they were to tell him that she wished to form an alliance against Sangwyr.

Thoradin gathered the group and began to discuss this new quandry they had found themselves in. A power struggle was raging between Cachlain and his fellow fomorian rival, Sangwyr. Neither seemed particularly friendly, but Cachlain’s actions were directly affecting the Coalition’s continued survival. They were now being asked to involve themselves in this feud on the behalf of a cruel feyliege of the Winter Court, and to convince Cachlain to ally himself with Inzira to fight off Sangwyr. How would any of this help them? Surely gaining Cachlain a new ally would only strengthen his rule – wouldn’t it be in the party’s best interest to weaken him, and make his resources useless to the githyanki?

It was obvious that to stand any chance of survival in the Feywild, they would have to forge an alliance with Sangwyr, Cachlain, or Inzira – they couldn’t afford to completely surround themselves with foes in this strange world, or they would have nowhere to rest and recover their strength. But at this point, it was impossible to determine which of the three was the least evil, or which would get them the closest to completing their mission. Thoradin and the others decided that they would go along with Inzira’s commands for now, at least until they had a chance to speak with King Cachlain.

Just as the discussion drew to a close, arrows zipped through the camp, downing several eladrin soldiers. Sokaris’ blade flashed in his hands as Rakshasa archers emerged from the trees, their backwards hands plucking bowstrings and filling the air with deadly projectiles. Sokaris leaped onto his fiery mount and made short work of laying his hated enemies low. Nightmare hags screamed into the clearing, wrapping the field of battle in darkness and sending Jett into a fitful, unnatural slumber.

As he fell, a cloud of insects swarmed past him, stinging and biting the monsters before they could lay a hand on the helpless Champion. Between the plague of locusts and Legion’s firey curses, not even the Troll Vinespeaker that led the skirmishers could survive. Sangwyr’s attempt on Druemmeth’s life was thwarted, and in the morning, the Champions would make their way to Cachlain’s throne.

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Chapter 10: Throne of the Stone-Skinned King
The Coalition suffers from its recent losses, but graced by new leadership, it pushes forward.

The Sacrifice returned to Sayre, bearing Amyria, Kome, Zan-kyri, Sokaris, and the grateful Bejam. The Champions were weary from their journey, and still they mourned the loss of Ea. They wished only to return with their news and to take comfort in the pleasures afforded by their new home.

But it was not to be so. As the flying vessel touched down in the usual hidden clearing outside the town, Legion was seen to be waiting for them. He was seated by a tree, hands on his knees; it looked as though the grass had grown around him in the week they’d been gone. When asked about this unusual behavior, he replied simply that there was nothing for him to do in Sayre.

Kome and the others filled the warforged in on the sad news, that Ea was now lost to them. Legion seemed not to understand this particular use of the word, and replied that the party should return to Nefelus and look for her. Sokaris rephrased the message in a more blunt manner: Ea was dead.

“Ah, you mean she is in Hell,” Legion surmised.

Zan gave a cry frustration and grief. He refused to waste his time dealing with the impossibly tactless and crude warlock and started up the road to civilization. Kome, Sokaris, and Amyria protested, saying that a virtuous servant of order like Ea would never wind up in Hell – but Legion countered that Ea was a tiefling, and her soul was forfeit from birth. It was now more apparent than ever that Legion’s worldview was tainted by soulless, unfeeling logic, and this made him seemingly incapable of putting himself in someone else’s shoes.

Upon returning to Sayre, Tokk’it, asked Sokaris to finally end the misery of his wife, Gallia. Sokaris agreed, and while Bressal searched fruitlessly through libraries to find a cure for her, the dragonborn performed her last rites and then executed her as painlessly as possible. Crestfallen, Bressal left the city after announcing his displeasure to some of the other Champions.

Lord Divian Torrance called forth Legion, Sokaris, Jett, and Thoradin to assign them a new mission: seek out Cachlain in the Feywild and stop him from further aiding the githyanki invasion of the world. Before he could deliver the specifics of the quest, however, Chillreaver descended from the cloudy sky and devoured him.

Chillreavers twin heads took turns berating Jett for bringing the Coalition against him, blaming him for the loss of Icehome and vowing revenge against him and all his new friends. Ruin Silme Megil flashed with fury as it remembered its old foe, and between Jett’s blade and Thoradin’s hammer the beast was finally defeated.

An emergency meeting of the Coalition was called, and the remaining members decided that an election would be held to replace Torrance, as well as Haloc, who had become too enfeebled by age to continue attending meetings. The heroes decided to nominate Amyria for the position of leadership, and dedicated the next two weeks to campaigning on her behalf. Even if they were unsuccessful, they would at least have something to do while they waited for Caliandra to find a way into Cachlain’s court.

With Amyria as the new Coalition leader (thanks to the vigilance of the Champions unearthing her rival’s political foul plays), the four who defeated Chillreaver set out to intercept a party of slavers sent by Cachlain to collect fresh recruits in the wake of githyanki strikes. With luck, they would possess some kind of key that would allow them magical access to Cachlain’s domain in the Feywild…

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The White Exarch
I pray thee, stay inside tonight / and let the dragon reign / thou true heart cannot slay the beast / 'tis every heroe's bane. - The Teller of Tales

The three gargoyles knelt at the instruction of the writing on the wall. As it slid aside, Sokaris slipped away. He was loath to leave his companions, but he knew that someone had to make sure Uarion made it out alive.

The rest of them continued on to meet the master of Icehome – Chillreaver. They were shocked to discover he possessed two heads – neither Jett nor Bressal had ever mentioned this crucial detail, though the company dismissed it due to the fact that neither of them had engaged the dragon directly.

Their disguises held under the wyrm’s initial scrutiny, and Zan sowed mistrust between the dragon and his servants. Eventually, Chillreaver could bear it no longer and wove a spell to unmake the servants he had created, exposing the imposters. The Champions invoked the names of their absent allies, but their foe claimed to have no knowledge of either gladiator. Chillreaver, at least in comparison to mortals, made himself out to be old beyond reckoning, and he had put down many a rebellious humanoid in his endless lust for power and dominance.

Filled with righteous indignation at the dragon’s callous disregard for life, Kome lead the attack, attempting to nullify its destructive power with his healing magic and words of power. But even with his prayers of protection in place, the blizzard-like breath and the two tearing jaws began to wear on the party’s vitality.

Too late, the three began to regret not bringing one of the stouter members among them. Without a strong, tireless hero like Jett, Bressal, or Lucas to hold the dragon’s attention, it was free to claw its way through whomever it deemed weakest. And today, that person was Ea. Twice she fell to the unfeeling fury of Chillreaver’s attacks, and twice she begged Kome and Zan to run and leave her to her fate. Kome refused to give into despair, swearing never to leave a comrade behind. Ea reminded them of the mission – even if Chillreaver could not be defeated, the Seed must not be allowed to claim Nefelus.

Ten mirrors of Nefelese origin stood on the edges of the chamber, shining blue-white light onto the Seed high above, perched unreachably high on a pillar of ice. Seeing them as potential foci for the ritual, Zan summoned a mighty bolt of lightning, melting nearly all of them in an instant. The last of them proved more resilient, and while Kome and Zan tried their hardest to destroy them, Ea fell unconscious from her wounds.

Chillreaver let out a roar of triumph from one mouth, as his second stooped to finish her off by feasting on her remains. There was nothing either of the remaining Champions could do, save to use the time Ea had given them. Zan slung spell after spell against the remaining mirrors, but Kome stood powerless – his abilities were peaceful in nature – even his harshest prayer could not shatter simple glass, and his neglected body would not summon the strength to topple the great frame.

As the white wyrm’s shadow fell over Ioun’s kalashtar, he used the last of his power to magically whisk himself away from an attack, tricking Chillreaver into sundering his own mirror. Before he could even draw breath to curse this loathsome act, Zan finally blasted the last mirror, and the Seed fell from its place of power. Vengeance-laden shrieks and the darkest of draconic profanities echoed off the smooth walls as Chillreaver flew after Zan with all his speed, only to lose him in a small tunnel.

Nefelus was saved, but the magic that had created Icehome had been undone, and so the pillars and floors began to crack asunder. Zan dashed through crumbling halls, while Kome slid down the mountainside on a shield stolen from the dragon’s hoard. The two of them barely made it out alive, and were it not for Kome’s cloak, he would have surely drowned. Their nemesis was gone, the Seed of Winter remained in the hands of the enemy, and Ea’s remains were now buried under a mountain of debris heaped upon the ocean’s floor, there to rest for all time.

Bejam would surely praise their efforts and happily join the Platinum Shield Coalition, but could the day truly be called a victory?

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Touched by the Cold
Icehome is inhabited by monsters of every form, each one changed to reflect their wintry home.

After their second encounter, the heroes began to realize that the creatures they were fighting weren’t naturally suited to arctic environs. Instead, they’d all been changed by the Seed. Anything with the ability to change these creatures on such a fundamental level must be powerful indeed, so the heroes tread cautiously into the next room.

Komè, being the quiet soul that he was, ventured a short distance ahead, attempting to identify any threat before it was upon them. But even his silent demeanor couldn’t hide from the many eyes of an icetouched beholder – another battle was at hand. As the aberration turned to pelt the party with its eye rays, a bellow from a hidden ledge was heard, heralding a nine-foot-tall sahuagin with four arms that could only be Xurglemek.

Sokaris moved to engage the beholder in melee, but found himself at a loss when the thing floated up to the ceiling, able to pin Zan with its central eye’s gaze. As the party scrambled to harass it with ranged fire, Sokaris moved to challenge Xurgelmek. The mighty Sahuagin threw every bit of his might into each strike, but not one could pierce the dragonborn’s formidable defenses. As he was whittled down, Komé banished the beholder with a lesser word of exiling, and was surprised to see that it never returned.

At this point, the party used a ritual to escape the numbing cold of Icehome, traveling to a fey haven where they could rest in comfort. Time was short for Nefelus, but the evening they had spent replenishing their strength was matched by only a single hour in the material world.

The only way left to go on that level was up a sheer vertical ice shaft, which proved impossible for any of the heroes to scale. They managed to make a great deal of noise, however, drawing the attention of four hungry umber hulks. The part-ape, part-beetle monstrosities seemed ravenous for blood, and one of them even tried to drag away poor Ea to make a meal of her. But even without some of the more stalwart members of the Platinum champions present, the party proved resilient. Not one of them fell to the hulk’s grasping claws, and only a few times did any of them falter under their baffling compound eyes. The dumb beasts moved on after it became clear there was no easy meal to be had.

Komé noticed a shadowy figure peering down the hole during the fight, and bade the heroes move on to find this new opponent. Emerging from one of the hulks’ burrows, the four found themselves in a grand hall, the icy floors and pillars polished mirror-smooth. Only the special ice shoes of Nefelus prevented them from losing their footing. At the end of the hall stood another blue-skinned creature, obviously affected by the Seed of Winter’s power; but this was a githzerai!

The gith introduced himself as Uarion, and it demanded the intruding Champions to leave, or else face the agony of the ‘change.’ Komé reached out to Uarion with his mind, appealing to his sense of duty and loyalty to the rest of the githzerai, and identifying himself and his companions as unwavering allies of the their cause. This moving act of diplomacy seemed to re-ignite a long-running inner conflict in the zerth, who begged Komé to bind him. It seemed he was a victim of the Seed’s malign influence, in addition to being augmented by its power. The only way to free him would be to wrest the artifact from Chillreaver’s control.

The room in which Uarion stood held three ice statues shaped like demonic gargoyles, but the party knew them to be alive. As they debated the best way to deal with them, a parchment was noticed, clenched in the claws of the gargoyle against the southern wall. Ea used Seeming to create illusory disguises for each of them, and using Zan as his mouthpiece (for only he spoke the Primordial tongue), Komé and Ea began to parlay with the wretches in their native tongue.

After much trial and error, the rather stupid gargoyles lost interest in these “smaller gargoyles” and began to torment the bound Uarion, one going so far as to throw him down an ice slide to a lower level. While they were distracted, the scroll was recovered – it was a piece of a letter mentioning a member of the Ironfell family as part of a vague but sinister-sounding plot. There was no time to consider the validity of the document, as the gargoyles turned to reveal a message hidden on an icy wall…

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Into Icehome
The four Champions break through the blockade, then infiltrate the heart of Nefelus' ills.

A shadow passed over the moon, and the roar of a dragon shook the hearts of all who stood on the deck. There was a flash of bluish-white light, and the Sacrifice found itself lodged at the apex of a giant arch made of ice. As the crew attempted to come to terms with what just happened, a small strike force of frost giants lumbered up the arch, some boarding the ship with their huge axes in hand, the others holding back and peppering the champions with arm-length arrows.

Amyria and Sokaris held the front line against the three burliest frost giants, while the others took defensive positions at the aft of the ship and returned fire to the scouts. The fight started to go poorly until Komé and Sokaris worked together to patch up the wounded, and Ea summoned a wall of radiant blades, trapping the giants in front in a deadly barrier.

With their defenders broken, the scouts fled hastily. Zan-kyri was loath to let them go, but contented himself with expending his stormy retribution on the ice that still held the ship.

And so the Champions sailed the rest of the way to Nefelus uneventfully. Docking the ship in the warm bay, they made an arduous climb up switchback paths to the top of the city, and entered the Great Library, where Amyria introduced them to Bejam.

Bejam was less of an isolationist than the other members of the Thraxinium, and showered the heroes with gifts that he hoped would aid them in their attempt to remove the curse of ice from their beautiful homeland. To Sokaris, he gave a magic ring. To Zan, an elemental prism. To the group, he bestowed ice shoes and two submersible craft; all items which would come in handy, considering their destination.

The dragon Chillreaver was revealed by divinations to be the source of their troubles, empowered by an artifact known as The Seed of Winter. With this magical relic, he had in one night brought Nefelus to its knees by encircling the entire island with a ring of ice. The mighty navy of Nefelus was rendered useless, and its once tropical shores were now tinged with frost. A last ditch effort was put into getting three ships through the blockade, but they never returned.

The Thraxus devoted all remaining resources to keeping the winter from reaching the island’s interior, but their reserves of arcane components were running dry. Thankfully, the party had arrived just in time. They would use the submersible craft to enter Icehome, the white wyrm’s floating iceberg of a lair, undetected.

After a minimal amount of time spent adjusting to the ten control levers, Ea and Zan became adequate pilots and soon managed to locate a hidden underwater entrance to Icehome. Unfortunately, the entrance led into a sahuagin lair, but they stood little chance against the Champions’ combined might. They managed to subdue and interrogate the reptiles’ priest, and pumped him for information, revealing that they followed a sahuagin baron by the name of Xurgelmek, who had sworn allegiance to Chillreaver after being bestowed with the frozen power of the Seed.

They also learned that a mighty Behir lurked in the next room, and empowered by their foreknowledge, they bound and gagged their prisoner and forged ahead with caution. The initial strikes of Sokaris and Zan all fell short as they were met by the gruesome sight of the beast feasting on defiled deva corpses. Ea managed to stun the beast long enough for the others to finish it off, its lightning-resistant hide proving no match for the pure electric might of Zan’s spells. As it reared for one last attack, Sokaris’ fullblade lopped the head from its shoulders.

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Chapter 9: Alliance at Nefelus
The Champions head to Nefelus, finding the tropical island surrounded by ice floes.

In the aftermath of Telicanthus’ death, Amyria came up with an urgent new mission for the heroes. Although the Coalition was scarcely a week old, she knew it needed to grow quickly to survive. She had hoped that her contact from Nefelus, the deva mage named Bejam, would have been present at the first meeting, but there were no messages from him, not even one to decline her offer.

Fearing the worst, she asked the help of a new party from among the ranks of the Champions, one that she hoped would be more diplomatically-minded than the last group. Ea, Zan-kyri, and Komé stepped up to the challenge, and the three of them left with Amyria and Tokk’it to prep their airship, the Sacrifice.

As they left the stained-glass windows of Sayre behind them, they encountered a dark figure on the road before they could reach their vessel’s hiding place. A mottled snout emerged from beneath a shadowy hood, coughing lightly as it fought to breathe through a shroud of smoke. The armored rider sat atop an inky-black steed with eyes like glowing coals and a mane like a brush fire. His violet liveries bore the familiar mark of the Raven Queen, and a mighty blade was strapped on his back.

The group balked at the dragonborn’s sinister appearance, but he begged their understanding. He claimed his Nightmare mount was being redeemed, and his own somber apparel was merely a mark of his willing service to the Dark Lady. Though incredibly suspicious, the good faith of the four members allowed them to see past their prejudices. The stranger introduced himself as Sokaris, a cleric looking to make good on a favor he promised his temple’s leader, Jayne. He was told to meet with friends of his master, and to help in whatever way he could.

Overjoyed from the word one of her former saviors, Amyria invited Sokaris to join the Champions on their journey to Nefelus.

Even by way of a psychically-maintained airship, the trip was by no means simple. It would require least two days of steady piloting, as well as careful navigation over a featureless ocean. Fortunately, Tokk’it had developed a surprising amount of skill with the githyanki craft, and his monastic training made the otherwise-arduous task of maintaining the ship’s course for two straight days without sleep a relatively simple matter.

Thus, the five passengers were free to wander the decks at their leisure. At twilight on the second day, they gathered to watch the sun set. As Avandra would have it, they did not sail into their ambush asleep…

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Chapter 4: The Lost Mines of Karak
And so begins the tale of the true heroes...

For a few months, Overlook knew relative peace. But of course, dear reader, you did not come expecting the tale’s end, did you?

The story continued when a motley trio of adventurers came to the city seeking employment. Among their number were Erdanen, a bard committed to Avandra’s values; Jett the Intimidator, a fearsome genasi swordmage with a skull mask; and a deva invoker of the Raven Queen called Jayne. The three hadn’t worked together for very long, though the bard and the genasi had a bit of shared history before they set out to adventure together. Due to Jett’s mask, Jayne’s beliefs, and Erdanen’s tendency to make merriment in the face of peril, the three agreed to name their group the Death Mockers.

Due to Erdanen’s habit of spreading his companion’s reputations around town through boastful storytelling in bars, it didn’t take too long for their identities to become known to a wealthy dwarf who called on them for their discreet assistance in a private matter.

He introduced himself as Bram Ironfell, a successful merchant whose family had been prominent in Overlook since its founding. He told the adventurers about a weapons merchant named Sarshan who’d recently disappeared, following suspicion of illegal practices and the disappearance of a group of heroes who’d distinguished themselves in the recent siege at Bordin’s Watch. The city had seized some of his warehouses, recovering documents that mentioned Clan Ironfell. After claiming the parchments and doing some research of his own, Bram discovered that they revealed the location of an old mine his family had owned, the Karak Lode. The mine was said to be rich with mithril and other precious metals, but the secret of its whereabouts had been kept so well that when the last bearers of it had died, it became lost to dwarvenkind.

After receiving a thousand gold as up-front payment, the three set out into the desert to find it. It was not easy making their way through the sands and the Thornwaste, and eventually they stopped to rest at a small town named Dunesend… imagine their surprise to find the people being threatened by a gnoll calling himself The Warden, along with his pet behir!

They soundly beat the oppressor, learning from the townsfolk that he served a mysterious queen named Shephatiah, who ruled from within the very heart of the Karak Lode itself! Erdanen reasoned that Bram wouldn’t be pleased to learn that his family’s mine had been claimed by some desert queen, and so they resolved to remove her from the tunnels themselves. Besides, if she and her servants were as monstrous as the Warden, who was to say they couldn’t find a rewards among any enemies they defeated?

They were dismayed to find that a large keep had been built over the mine’s location, and the entrance of the keep was heavily barred. Its defenses were manned by a group of troglodytes, but a well-used teleportation spell by Jett gained them entry. One of the foes even surrendered under the sudden onslaught, and though Jayne maintained that the Raven Queen demanded his death, Erdanen and Jett outvoted him, sending the poor coward out into the desert with a healing potion.

After defeating a few rooms of bandits (aided by Erdanen impersonating one of them), they found the great hall, where a beautiful eladrin woman sat upon a throne, guarded by a pair of overgrown hyenas and several human lackeys. She idenified herself as Shephatiah, commanding the Death Mockers to leave her home or face death… but Jayne was not fooled. She was a decoy, placed so that even the guards would believe she was the real queen. In reality, she was merely a twisted dryad, meant to mislead intruders. The trio dispatched them with sword and spell.

In the basement, they found a row of cells, guarded by a berbalang, a winged humanoid with the limited ability to duplicate itself when threatened. Keeping track of which was the real one was no easy task, and eventually it proved simpler for the heroes to simply power through every last one of the creatures, though they expended much of their strength in doing so. While resting, they discovered a prisoner – an old man with a long white beard, seven yellow canaries flitting about his feet and shoulders.

All attempts to strike up a conversation with the man failed. He merely smiled at anyone who’d talk to him, then go back to whistling and playing with his feathered companions. The Birdman, as Erdanen dubbed him, was strange, but harmless – so the companions let him stay with them while they spent the night in the fortress.

They’d been all through the basement, and couldn’t find the entrance to the mine! The Death Mockers hoped they’d have better luck in the morning, but were rudely awakened by another damned troglodyte leading a group of cavern chokers, horrible humanoids with rubbery arms like tentacles and wide hands filled with spikes, perfect for strangling the life out of victims.

In the confusion of the battle, the party lost track of the Birdman. It was thought that he’d fleed into the wastes through the open portcullis, but upon further investigation, Jayne found a trail of feathers leading back into the basement… and right to a secret door. Could this have been where the mysterious attackers had emerged from?

Troglodytes were the least of their worries once they found the mines. Poisoned dart traps and swarms of bloodweb spiders were no better, but the true threat were the demons wandering about… What was going on!?

The truth came when they reached the deepest chamber, finding the reason why the mine had been lost in the first place, so many years ago. The dwarves had delved straight down to a vein of strange red stone, tainted with energy from the Elemental Chaos. Unearthing too much of it caused a rift to open in the floor, from which the demons had first emerged. But the true Queen Shephatiah (a powerful Naga) had somehow struck an accord with them, and their alliance made her powerful indeed.

It was no easy battle, the Death Mockers trapped on one side of the evil chasm while Shephatiah languished magical thunderstrikes and fell words of wain upon them from a distance, two trident-wielding insectoid creatures called mezzodemons guarding her. Between Jett’s fire, Jayne’s prayers, and Erdanen’s bewitching words, they were able to divide and conquer their foes. The Queen wore a Primordial Ring on her tail, which Erdanen claimed for himself as a prize – it could fool any magic into beleiving that its wearer was an elemental.

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Chapter 3: The Shadow Rift of Umbraforge
Our heroic trio discover the source of Overlook's troubles.

Fed up with Fluffy’s constant disobediance, Bressal Steelhoof decided to sell him to an eccentric stablemaster in Overlook. After he and his companions chained the rage drake to a post outdoors in preparation of showing him to his new owner, the group was beset by the local thieves’ guild – the Lost Ones. After soundly thrashing them, Radir Vazulam asked them why they’d been singled out – as three well-armed mercenaries, they couldn’t possibly have seemed like easy marks. The one they’d left conscious quickly answered that they were hired to retrieve a brass key in the group’s possession. However, the man could give them little more than the employer’s name: Modra.

Bahrash Warsteel suggested asking around about Modra, and soon they were able to uncover some valuable intel: Modra was a dark creeper, working as the front man for an illegal arms dealing operation. Word had it that he’d met with a shadar-kai woman in the past, who seemed to fit the description of Myrissa. If this was true, then it made Modra an individual of great interest.

However, he had covered his tracks well. For all the people the Triage had quizzed, none of them seemed to know where to find him. As luck would have it, the answer sought them. A woman named Reniss caught up to them after overhearing them asking about Modra. She revealed that the Farstriders’ warlock, Jen, was her sister – and that the last thing she’d heard from her was that name, whispered through their set of sending stones.

Though it pained him to do so, Bahrash informed the woman that Jen had perished in the Nexus, her body lost in the boiling water that now sealed it. She was shaken at the news, but it was plain to see that she had expected it, and she took comfort in the fact that at least her remains were safe from the degradation of orcs. In gratitude, she told them about another dark creeper who’d been able to point her towards the Happy Beggar almshouse, Modra’s last known location. He also said that someone else was hunting him, and likely looking to kill him.

The Triage set to work, swiftly locating the Happy Beggar. There, they met the acquaintance of an old man who claimed to have heard of Modra – he was a retired adventurer with experience hunting dark creepers. He cautioned them against making any bargains with him; Modra was just a backstabbing thug who needed to be put down.

Aside from this helpful patron, no one in the joint seemed to know this Modra, so the Triage took matters into their own hands and searched the building top to bottom, finding an underground passage in the cellar. After muscling their way through a swarm of shadowhunter bats and a shadar-kai witch with talents not unlike Myrissa’s (bearing a copy of their brass key), they came upon a room lined with white marble, bearing an arch in its center with swirling darkness within. Modra stood before it, as through trying to activate it.

For Kord! screamed Bressal, but his axe swung too late as the dark creeper seemed to vanish into thin air. He spoke a soft incantation, and in response, the chamber filled with a half-dozen wraiths. The Triage had difficulty splitting their attention between so many combatants, especially since Modra seemed to prefer skirting the edges of the room and letting the shades do his work for him.

The draining touch of the wraiths passed easily through armor and shield, and soon the warriors found themselves in dire straights. Modra offered them an easy out: hand him the key and he would call off the undead. With little other choice, they disregarded the old man’s warning and forked it over, only to watch the smug bastard escape through the arch after using the key to activate it. Luckily, they still had the second key dropped by the witch, so they followed, wrath blurring their vision.

On the other side, they found themselves in an obsidian reflection of the marble shrine, which led out onto a dark hillside. The landscape that greeted them was foreboding indeed: gloom-choked skies, blighted valleys, and a fiery volcano standing astride a mighty keep. Between them and the crimson mountain lay a vast camp swarming with activity, and a smoke-spewing foundry nestled beside it.

As they slowly hiked down a switchback trail, they quickly ascertained that it was a camp of mercenaries, populated with ogres, shadar-kai, dark creepers, and several mortal races. Radir observed that this meant they could easily blend in with the crowd, pretending to just be three more sellswords. The plan worked better than expected, and they easily made their way through the camp, picking up useful tidbits of intelligence from those they spoke with. It seemed that the one they sought worked for a man named Sarshan, at least until he betrayed his employer to make some quick gold by selling weapons to Tusk against his master’s wishes. In the Vale, he often went by the moniker “The Emissary.”

Their first target was the foundry, which they infiltrated through a neglected hole in the eastern wall. As their eyes adjusted to the overwhelming crimson light from the river of magma set in the floor, they beheld a group of shadowgoblins led by Modra himself. The enemies shouted in surprise, quickly turning their attention to the Triage as Modra opened a strange vat on the far wall, freeing a monstrously-sized two-headed boar (as they would later discover, the foundry was devoted to creating creatures, not weapons).

The monster gave Bressal a rough time, but soon enough the heroes learned to use the terrain to their advantage by shoving the beast into the lava. With the toughest of the combatants out of the way, the diminutive Modra was easily dealt with.

One threat was ended, but Sarshan was still a clear and present danger to the Vale, as it was by his authority that Modra had stirred up Sinruth and the Red Hand. After taking a breather, Radir found a secret door in the back of the facility which no doubt led to Sarshan’s keep. The Triage rushed boldly into the fortress, emerging in a library guarded by a small group of elite shadar-kai warriors, completely bewildered at the sudden, unexplained appearance of a minotaur, eladrin, and dragonborn.

One of them activated a trap, and the walls began firing shadowy darts into the room that seemed to pass through the guards harmlessly. Unable to deactivate it, the three decided instead to press onward to the next room, though they had far from eliminated the current group of foes. This proved to be a fatal mistake, as the door they chose led them to a huge dining hall where another handful of guards were eating their supper. Now they had twice as many enemies to deal with! Bressal roared in fury, but even with the Invulnerable Coat, he simply didn’t have the power to oppose so many.

Miraculously, the guards didn’t finish them off. Rather, the heroes were brought to the top of the tallest tower, where Sarshan himself would decide their fate. As they were roused from unconsciousness, they found themselves free from ropes or shackles, and still in possession of all their weapons and gear. However, they were in no shape to fight – it was all they could do to stay awake.

To their amazement, the old man from the tavern walked up, and the shadar-kai guards saluted him. The Triage watched, dumbfounded, as his scarred skin dulled to gray and his eyes became shrouded in shadow. “I am Sarshan,” he said. “I assume someone has an explanation for this?”

One of the guards rattled off a military-style report, listing the areas the Triage had infiltrated, along with the number of dead and wounded. Sarshan’s scowl deepened as he considered the casualties, until Modra was listed among them. He looked upon the three with sudden recognition and wonder.

“You are, quite literally, the last people I ever expected to see here. The charges leveled by my captain warrant torture and death. However, I am told that an episode of sabotage in my foundry appears to have been thwarted, and that the traitorous Modra has been executed by persons unknown. It was you, wasn’t it?”

Sarshan continued, his tone remaining businesslike in spite of his captives’ peril. “As far as you’ve managed to infiltrate my operations, I can only assume you know a little of who I am. My wealth and reputation turn largely on honor, obligation, and secrecy. When I spoke to you of Modra, I hoped you would kill him and save me the risk of more exposure than he had already caused by consorting with those careless orcs. The fact that you journeyed here to do the job is a surprise, but for your part in ending his threat to me and whatever he meant to do in the foundry, I am in your debt. However, for your role in the death of my personal guards, you are more greatly in mine. Here is a bargain that balances the obligation for all of us: join me.”

Even wounded and cornered, Bahrash balked at the offer, wondering why an arms dealer would be so interested in hiring a paladin and his companions.

“Your skill at arms is clearly first rate. I offer you a place to use and advance that skill. Moreover, I offer you a place where you might live long enough to enjoy the fruits of your bravery. In a month, or six, or a year, your world will be a place you will not want to live. Join me here instead.”

Radir furrowed his brow, his emerald eyes betraying the fear in him upon hearing Sarshan’s words. “I know of no troubles that extend beyond Elsir Vale. What is this ill fate that you portend for the entire world?”

The villain placed his hands behind his back, pacing as he deflected the warlord’s question. “Though I am nicely positioned to take advantage of these things, I know relatively little yet. What I do know, I cannot share for professional reasons, but trust me when I say that you do not want to know. Name your choice, friends.”

Bressal spoke for everyone when he spat at the arms dealer’s feet.

Sashan’s dark eyes blazed, but he smiled as he shook his head. “Your conviction is to be commended. A pity it failed you in the end.” Then suddenly, an ear-splitting explosion shook the tower. Near the eastern side of the chamber, one of Sarshan’s guards shouted that the foundry was in flames! In the end, Modra’s attempt at sabotage was successful, though slow to act.

The guards began running about, Sarshan all but ignoring the Triage as he barked orders. One group was sent to the foundry, and another received orders to keep the mercenary camps under control. Sarshan ordered a last squad of chainfighters with him as he moved for the lift. In the confusion, the trio summoned the last of their strength and struggled to their feet, drawing their weapons.

Before leaving, Sarshan caught a glimpse of the Triage. He knew by the look in their eyes they would end his schemes or perish in the attempt. With a sigh of frustration, he interposed his lieutenant, Thannu (and his two pet panthers), between himself and his would-be executioners. With a voice as cold as midnight, he called out, “If I was as cruel as my reputation implies, I would send you back to watch your world die. Be thankful that I am merciful. Thannu: kill them.”

Elsewhere, an elderly man washed a set of dishes. Pelor preserve me, he thought, I never would’ve thought it’d be so hard to look after the poor before I came here. He thought of his adventuring days (now long behind him), and how serving the cause of goodness and mercy seemed so much simpler with a sword than it did with a ladle. Still, he and his wife were far too old these days to be much good as paladins. Running the Happy Beggar in their retirement was far from relaxing in a city so choked with poverty, but it was the right thing to do.

The man’s wife appeared in the doorway of the kitchen. “Prashant?” she called.

“Yes, Ausma?”

“Our guests tell me that three armed men came in here earlier?”

Prashant thought for a moment. “Ah, that’s right. I saw them earlier. Nice folk, however scary they looked. They just talked with one of the old vets, that’s all.”

Ausma put her hands on her hips. “Well they’re saying they went into the basement!”

“Rubbish! Why would they go down there? We put a sign up…”

“Just go down there and make sure they didn’t steal anything! You know as well as I do that you can’t trust everyone who comes in here!”

Prashant threw down the dishcloth in exasperation and hurried to check the cellar, if only to appease his wife. As he brought his old, flickering lantern down the stairs, he glanced around, quickly deciding that everything was still in its proper place. But just as he turned to leave, he saw the door that used to lead to the sub-basement hanging open.

“Odd. Should be locked up,” he muttered to himself. When Prashant and Ausma first bought the building from its previous owners, they’d been told that an earthquake long ago had sealed up that passage, and indeed the door seemed to hide nothing more than a short hallway ending in a great pile of rocks when first they’d opened it. Prashant chuckled to himself as he tried to imagine why three mercenaries would possibly want to sneak into his basement just to have a look at the dead-end under his establishment. “Probably thought they’d found themselves a dungeon!” he laughed, thinking of his younger days when no call to adventure needed to make sense. To satisfy his curiosity, he shined the light one more time into the disused tunnel, only to be confronted with the impassable pile of rubble. Same as always, he thought, closing the door and locking it.

It was too bad that Prashant’s lantern was too dim, and his eyes too old to see the secret door standing slightly ajar not fifteen feet from his nose. If he had, perhaps the people of the Vale would know of the Triage’s story, and how they made the ultimate sacrifice to keep the Elsir Vale safe. Thanks to them, Modra was slain, the foundry was destroyed, and the mercenary camp scuttled.

Sarshan’s goals were shattered, but his campaign against the Vale was not over.

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Chapter 2: Siege of Bordin's Watch
An orcish horde approaches from the west.

With six of the seven hostages rescued from the Rivenroar crypts, the Triage were content to stay in Brindol for a time and bask in the gratitude of its villagers. The call of battle, however, proved too hard for them to resist. It seemed that the ugly rumors of orc armies gathering west of the Stonehome Mountains proved terribly real, and the dwarves of Overlook were putting out a call for militias and mercenaries to assemble at Bordin’s Watch, an ancient stronghold that blocks the only pass through the mountains.

Upon arriving in Overlook, the three were summoned to speak with High Ancestor Cadrick, along with several other similar groups of adventurers. Among them were such illustrious groups as the Freeriders, the Farstriders, the Green Hand, the Company of Wolves, the Slayers, and others. Much to the surprise of Bahrash, Shiv was present, having been recruited to the Farstriders. He and Bressal were all to eager to pay him back for his betrayal, but Radir stayed their axes, explaining in his droning voice that all of them would need to act united to keep the orc hordes from crossing the Stonehome and reaching the Elsir Vale.

Cadrick explained that most of them were to be led to the fortress to bolster its defenses, but the two most experienced groups would be assigned special tasks. According to dwarven scouts, many orc advance parties had already crossed the mountains, bypassing Bordin’s Watch through a series of underground tunnels (both natural and of dwarven make) called the Vents that had fallen into disuse. Cadrick surmised that the enemy had discovered an entrance to the tunnels on the far side of the mountains, and if the army was led through it, Overlook would surely be crushed, followed by the rest of the Vale.

To eliminate this threat, the elder explained that the entrances on the Vale’s side of the mountains had to be sealed. One was located in the deepest levels of the chambers under the Monastery of the Sundered Chain, a place of prayer and martial discipline erected after the dwarves won their freedom from the giants long ago. Another was below Bordin’s Watch itself, and was soon to be sealed. Many other smaller entrances existed, though, and the only way to be sure the tunnels were secure was to activate a fail-safe the dwarves had built generations ago: the Nexus. A complicated device designed to flood the tunnels with perpetually-boiling water, it would ensure the Vents would never fall into the hands of the orcs.

For their numerous exploits, including the slaying of a young black dragon, the task of sealing the Nexus was given to the Farstriders. For their work in Brindol, the Triage were ordered to warn the Monastery of the coming horde, and order the tunnel below it sealed. Megan Swiftblade of the Freeriders seethed that her group was not to be given a chance for glory, and marched to Bordin’s Watch with envy in her heart.

The Triage expected little trouble in what the expected would amount to an errand run. All they had to do was warn the Monastery, while the real fighting raged without them in the mountain pass. Upon arriving, however, they saw the monastery’s courtyard occupied by orcs, cooking limb-shaped haunches of dwarf meat over open bonfires. Radir gave a war cry, and the three battled their way through the surprised defenders and into the Hall of Moradin. There, an orcish witch doctor had desecrated the altar, but soon paid for it with a fatal blow from Bressal’s axe.

After many skirmishes with scattered savages, they at last reached the lowest chamber, where a mighty fire blazed among the ruined forgeworks. A still-living dwarf was being throttled by an orog – the unusually clever offspring of an orc and an ogre. The Triage slew it and all the orcs that remained, but the dwarf’s injuries were beyond Radir’s ability to repair. With his dying breaths, Kalad made the Triage swear to make certain that the Nexus was activated.

Following the trail of the Farstriders, the Triage navigated the labyrinthine passages of the Vents until they discovered a long-abandoned complex of dwarven make. The place was crawling with orcs, and as they made their way to the central room, they encountered the conniving Shiv standing over the body of Jen, one of the Farstriders.

When questioned as to the motives of his new betrayal, Shiv would only say that he was looking for a way home, and his new employer was the easiest way to get there. Bressal swore that this battle would be Shiv’s last, and pursued the cowardly rogue throughout the room, to the exclusion of all other foes. He left the business of slaying the orcish minions and their fire beetle pets to his compatriots. After a bloody brawl, Shiv seemed to succumb to his wounds and collapse, vanishing into a dark mist. Aside from the bloodstains, all he left behind was a strange brass key.

After camping out inside a room resembling a shrine to Moradin, the Triage pressed on to the final room to gaze the Nexus in its entirety: a huge column of sturdy pipes and valves funneling magma from deep below the mountain to heat a huge supply of water. A ten-foot-wide catwalk wound the circumference of the chamber housing it, bigger than any building in Overlook. As they ascended, yet another party of orc raiders spilled from various side entrances, ladders, and hatches scattered throughout the room and moved to block the catwalk. Among them was Tusk, leader of the orc hordes, and his consort, a shadar-kai witch by the name of Myrissa.

Bahrash and Bressal held off the orcs, allowing Radir to make a run for the control panel that would activate the Nexus. Halfway there, Radir turned to see the mighty Tusk fell both of his comrades with a single blow, laughing heartily as his servants stepped over their dying bodies to murder the lone eladrin. With a clear route to the control panel, Radir hesitated. He knew the importance of his mission, but could not bear the thought of living if it meant leaving his new friends to die. With a howl that few could match, he charged down the catwalk and into the vastly superior orog warrior, shattering his defenses and inspiring unrealized vitality in his nearly-dead compatriots. That single act turned the tide of the fight, and the three managed to slay Tusk and all of his followers.

As the last orc lay bleeding, the three activated the Nexus and flooded the tunnels, leaving through a long-forgotten escape hatch. The vents were sealed forever, and the Vale was safe – for the time being.

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