Curse of the Crimson Throne

Summary 25: Into the Mind of an Artist
Chapter Six: Crown of Fangs
 
Heroes are often called upon to destroy the greatest of threats that come upon the realm. The bards sing of these grand missions as the final battle arrives, and the heroes emerge triumphant. That however is where it ends, and so people who hear the songs know nothing of what happened after the mighty demon was slain and the damsel saved. They never hear of how Sir Isaac lost his fortunes and became a beggar. They don’t hear of roguish Slepniir who decided to buy a cottage and fish for his remainder years. And what of Sir Gwart? Why, he formed another adventure group, but died tragically after a troglodyte got a lucky club hit on the back of his head.

Thus we come to the Mercenaries of Korvosa. Their victory against the corrupt queen would be a grand song in cities far and wide. Yet no one would care of what would come of them in the future. They would only care of the deeds of their past. For what could MoK ever accomplish that would be greater than overthrowing a monarch that had been possessed by a dragon overlord? As it would turn out, there would be something that would make the story of Ileosa's defeat as nothing but an afterthought in MoK's history books. Before that time however, there was one last mission, one that tested MoK's sanity more than ever…

As Jansaadi was flying above Korvosa, as Panian was talking to his tribe about how he had acquired the alligator tooth on his trophy helm, as Rudolph was holding Sabina's hand to calm her nerves, they all heard a voice in their head. After many months away from their crazy friend, Duvafoodle's message rang like a bell that spurred their warrior instincts into action.

"Hello MoK, this is Duvafoodle. Miss you greatly. There are giants at the gates. Come join the fun."

It seemed that Korvosa was in jeopardy again, this time from an army of giants. Jansaadi, after consulting with Duvafoodle, flew to get Panian. Rudolph grabbed his sword from the mantle, donned his armor, and took in hand the Fangs of Kazavon before heading to the city on the horizon.

Within a few hours, MoK was united again in the throne room of Arkona, with Duvafoodle sitting in a chair behind him in his advisor place. No longer was the room barren of comfort. In fact it had been converted into the opposite; that of a harem. The air was filled with smoke that was oddly comforting to the mind, and they all knew that they were being constantly exposed to shiver. As Arkona spoke to his guests, it soon became clear that he was not himself. They shook themselves of the illusion in front of them and noticed that Duvafoodle and Arkona were playing the part of each other. It turned out; Arkona had given Duvafoodle rulership over all of Korvosa, while Arkona took on the role of advisor, thus freeing himself up for his other enterprises.

There were two others in the room. The first was a man thought to be dead. Scream the artist stood in front of a blank easel. He seemed to be shaking more and more as he felt his muse had returned to him with the close proximity of the Fangs of Kazavon. The other figure was as imposing a man as MoK had ever seen. This was Karzoug the Claimer. In large part to a group of now mostly dead adventurers, he had been awoken after ten thousand years of slumber. He had been one of the ruling Runelords of the time, but he and his kin had gone into hibernation to protect themselves from a great darkness that had come to the world; a darkness they had been powerless to stop.

He and his giants had come to Korvosa with a proposition for Duvafoodle. He knew of MoK's desire to destroy the Fangs and his own research had led him to a way of doing just that. In return, he wanted to leave a garrison of giants with Korvosa. The reason was that he had felt the stirring of the Runelord of Lust named Shorshen. Her resting place was deep beneath Korvosa. But after some mysterious event in the Sunken Queen, a place protected from his scrying and divinations, Shorshen's continued slumber was no longer a guaranteed. In Thassilonian times, the kingdom the Runelord's ruled over, all the rulers was warring constantly. Karzoug claimed he had no desire for such events to reoccur. He currently ruled the giant armies to the west around the ruins that had been the town of Sandpoint. And, for the moment, he was content.

The idea of sleeping above someone named the Runelord of Lust nearly erased all Duvafoodle's current memories of Mitzsy the dryad. The idea of having an army of giants as his new Korvosa guard was, in itself a bonus. Karzoug was not making a deal at all, he was gifting his kingdom. Keeping this to himself, he agreed to the deal.

Karzoug then explained what he had discovered. It seemed that the Fangs could only be destroyed in the mind of an artist, hence the presence of Scream. He said that he would trap the souls of each of the MoK members in a gem. This gem would then be ground up and mixed with Scream's pigments. As the artist painted, MoK would enter the places that were created upon the easels. Through this process, Karzoug believed that the artists mind would create a way to destroy the Fangs. It didn't take long before all the MoK members were on board with the plan, despite how odd it all sounded.

Duvafoodle was the first to volunteer. The initial spell seemed to go off without a hitch as Duvafoodle was simply sucked into a red gem. And then Karzoug brought out a small bowl with a grinding stone. He shattered the ruby and there was the sound of Duvafoodle screaming in pain. As the gem was grounded into smaller and smaller fragments, those screams multiplied tenfold. Karzoug had left out the fact that the pain would be greater than they had ever felt. Yet no one had thought to ask the question. Resolved to their fates, all the MoK members went through the same process, with each feeling more pain than they ever thought possible.

They soon found themselves together in a vast dessert. On the horizon was the town of Korvosa. And riding towards the town was an army of skeletal riders, their forms made completely of skulls. It seemed that MoK was in for a fight right away, and Jansaadi awaited her hippogriff mount that never appeared with Karzoug believing it to be a waste of a precious gem. Soon a skeletal rider road up to MoK. It spoke of its mission to help Korvosa against the horde of nightcrawlers and nightwalkers that were attacking it. MoK said they would help, and so the rider motioned to some of his friends to give them all a lift. He said that they would require something of importance. Reaching into his ribs, he pulled out an empty paint pallet and handed it to them. Bones, as was the name given to him by Duvafoodle, rode off to the battle.

It seemed as though the distance passed by within only a few seconds as suddenly they were within Korvosa's walls. All around, the riders broke off and began fighting the hundreds of dark undead that were terrorizing the town. MoK too, dismounted and saw three massive nightwalkers in their vicinity. Rudolph charged in, dodged a reaching dark claw, and plunged his holy sword into the black shadow stuff that was the nightwalkers form. Iomadae's hand drank deep the evil of the undead, creating a near fatal blow. Jansaadi fired off a volley of arrows that nearly destroyed the beast.

The nightwalker retaliated with an icy slash across Rudolph's ribs. It then sent its fearful gaze upon the crusader, but it was pushed aside. The other two cast spells to hasten their movements. Panian let his barbarian rage enfold him and charged the injured one, not even feeling the giant claw that opened his shoulder. He jumped fully forty feet in the air and brought his great axe cleaving through the nightwalker's skull. He rode the beast down as it collapsed to the cobles. Only then did he wrench the axe free.

Duvafoodle hoped that Olidammara would hear his prayer and attempted to turn the other two. His faith however simply wasn't strong enough to dispatch such powerful undead. Rudolph charged in, hamstringing one of them. Five arrows then pierced its chest, but still it stood its ground. Panian then moved in and cut more of the walker's undead lifeforce away. It slashed at Rudolph, drawing blood. Duvafoodle blasted a vitriolic blast, melting a hole in the beast’s chest. A final arrow from Jansaadi finally destroyed it.

She and Duvafoodle were then hit full on by a cone of cold cast by the remaining one. Rudolph avenged his friend with a divine surge blade slash, disemboweling the stalker. Jansaadi sank two arrows into it, but she was forced to open her defenses and the nightstalker slashed her four times, nearly killing her. Duvafoodle blasted it with more acid and Rudolph slashed it again with his holy sword. Panian flexed his muscles and missed with his strike, but Jansaadi avenged her own pain and sent a volley of arrows into the walker’s skull, destroying it.

Battle was still at hand however as a pair of nightcrawlers came burrowing towards them. Duvafoodle had just enough time to heal his gnome friend before they were on top of MoK. Jansaadi's arrows ricocheted off the nearest hide, but Panian was able to imbed his axe deep in worm ochre. It reared up and blasted the barbarian with a cone of cold. The other nightcrawler burrowed into the ground and emerged right in the midst of the gnomes. It brought its tail around and struck Jansaadi with its stinger. Rudolph used his battle leaders charge and seemed to teleport right next to a nightcrawler. His holy sword drunk deep the evil undead essence as the worm screamed in pain. Duvafoodle flew out of the way and blasted a vitriolic blast, melting away shadowy hide with acid.

Panian easily hit his nightcrawler, but these undead were made of meaty undead flesh, and it would take much more to bring it down. It retaliated by biting down upon the barbarian and swallowing him hole. Rudolph meanwhile dodged aside his opponents attacks and again let Iomadae's blade to all the work as it cut away the foul crawler. Jansaadi jumped away and hid in the shadows, waiting for a better shot with her bow. Panian used his might to rip through the nightcrawlers innards and escape its belly. Duvafoodle saw that his friend was greatly wounded and blasted him with healing energy.

Rudolph took a massive sting and then bite, but used his training to escape the maw of the beast and thus the fate of Panian. He then cut into the crawlers exposed throat, and sent a cascade of gore to the ground that was the undead's life blood. From the shadows, Jansaadi let fly five arrows with a single bow shot, but they sailed wide as the beast recoiled from Duvafoodle's acid that was still eating away. The acid had finally reached its brain, and it fell dead to the ground.

Panian was still fighting a solo fight, and soon he found himself swallowed again, but not before burying his axe all the way to end of the haft in the beast’s hide. That left it staggering for unlife. And when Panian finally emerged from the gut yet again, he saw the nightcrawler had finally fallen, thanks to a last volley of arrows by Jansaadi. It soon began dissolving, leaving behind a vial of black paint.

Soon Bones arrived, saying that his undead riders had saved the city from the rest of the nightwalkers. He then said that MoK needed to move onto the next world in order to gather the rest of the tools they would need for victory. Out of the blue, a painting appeared, depicting a tropical forest. One by one, MoK jumped into this shimmering gateway.

They appeared in a setting as was shown. Trees rose high in the sunny sky while insects and birds flew with joy in the air. They were in a small glade, before a sleeping tiger. A rabbit was curled up next to the creature. As MoK approached, the animals awoke with a stretch of their legs. Duvafoodle of coarse had to name them, and so Hippity Hopper and Tigress looked upon the strangers with inquisitive perplexity. Tigress looked to Hopper and asked in clear common whether he knew these guys? 

MoK addressed the animals, saying they were looking for paint. Hippity said they had some, but they would only hand it over if MoK did something for them. There was a new creature in the forest called Imno-tafriend. They wanted him to become a friend like all the other animals in the forest. Hippity said to be wary as only the power of friendship could affect the spider they were referring to. After some directions, MoK headed off.

They soon came into a small patch of ruins, with spider webs everywhere. In the middle was a huge spider. This was Imno-tafriend. Rudolph asked him to be his friend, but the spider refused and stared at the crusader with such hatred that it set a ripple of hurt to his very soul. Duvafoodle said he had purchased some antitoxin for him so that if he bit himself, then he wouldn't poison himself. That seemed to cheer the spider up, and it manifested in a physical form as one of the spiders knees changed to a rainbow hew. Panian then vowed he would catch the biggest of flies for Imno-tafriend to eat. This too seemed to bring color, as was Rudolph's offer to give over a silk rope to reinforce the webbing. Jansaadi said how wonderful the new colors looked, and it seemed to befriend the spider even more.

Yet Imno-tafriend could not deny his own nature. He looked to Duvafoodle and said that the old man would die soon. That seemed to send a shock of disappointment that manifested in the form of physical trauma. Duvafoodle attempted to counter the argument by putting on a light show, but that didn't interest the spider. Panian complimented its eyes, but that only depressed the arachnid. Rudolph however was the master diplomat, and expressed in a friendly voice how Imno-tafriend had a forest filled with friends. That seemed to add a large amount of color.

Back and forth went the standoff as MoK would let fly a compliment, while the spider would sometimes interject with an insult that would hurt one of them. Yet in the end, Imno-tafriend became a rainbow spider and he ran off to join his new friends in the forest. As he left his web, MoK noticed there was a hole with a ladder that had been hidden by its bulk. Rudolph, the intrepid leader, braved the uncertain depths of the hole. What he found was a blank canvas to paint on. After showing it to his friends, Panian remarked they didn't have a brush, one of the most insightful comments the barbarian would ever make. After arriving at the glade, Hippity handed over a vial of red paint, and Tigress a vial of yellow paint. They then pointed to a new painting, that of a forest in the grips of the fall season.

After MoK jumped through the painted portal, they found themselves surrounded by colorful leaves upon towering trees. They stood before a statue with a message that described the wanting of the seasons in various orders. Four paths led away from the statue, so they selected one and followed it. Soon the trees gave way to the winters chill and then another fork. Duvafoodle figured that each path led to a season, and that they had to follow the seasons as described in the poem. After doing do, they finally arrived at a clearing with a vial of orange paint. There was also a canvas with a blue dragon painted upon it, with its maw open wide as though about to unleash its breath weapon. This was Kazavon, and it appeared that MoK would get a chance to fight him after all.

Rudolph was the first to jump into the painting. As he did so, the others noticed that the painting had changed as Rudolph's image appeared, and the dragon's lightening breath hitting the crusader. They all jumped in to see their friend scorched from a blast of Kazavon's breath weapon. Duvafoodle moved out of range and sent a vitriolic blast at the beast, melting scales. Panian raged to the gods of battle and sliced his axe across the dragon's abdomen, sending intestines sploshing to the floor. Kazavon sent out a blast of lightening that hit all the MoK members with burning pain.

Jansaadi recovered from the shock, and sent two arrows right below the dragon's eye. Rudolph then used a battle leader's charge, and planted Iomadae's Hand into a melted part of flesh from where Duvafoodle's last blast was still eating it away. Duvafoodle sent another warlock bolt into that same spot, and the dragon howled in pain. Another two axe swipes from Panian staggered the beast, but it again breathed forth its deadly breath. Yet still MoK stood, though all were now burned to near death. Jansaadi sent three hours flying, with one piercing the dragon eye and lodging in its brain. That brought it crashing down, with only a hairs breath of life remaining. Rudolph cut that last cord, and Kazavon was dead. The body disintegrated, leaving behind a paint brush, and another canvas depicting the harem that was the throne room of Korvosa.

There was much indecision as to what to do next. Being in an unknown world, the laws of realism did not exist. Rudolph thus decided to touch the Fangs of Kazavon onto the blank canvas they had found under the spider. The fangs disappeared and reappeared in the canvas. Hoping this was part of the puzzle to destroy the fangs forever, they used the paint brush and painted black upon the canvas. The paint seemed to fill in an image of a volcano, with the fangs at its center. Using the red, orange, and red in the same manner, these three colors formed the lava of the volcano. And as MoK looked on, the Fangs of Kazavon melted away.

Finally after so many thousands of years, the artifact was completely destroyed.

One after another, the Mercenaries jumped into the painting of the throne room of Korvosa. They found themselves back in their own world. All around them, there were as many as fifty paintings, each one painted by Scream, and each depicting a part of their recent ordeals. Whether it was he who was guiding their fates or their own battle-hardened skills was a debate that would never be answered. The only casualty was Scream's muse as it had left him again with the destruction of the Fangs. Karzoug the Claimer then simply teleported away, leaving his giants in the care of Duvafoodle. With nothing else to do, everyone departed to the lives they had left behind.

The Mercenaries of Korvosa had finally finished their last adventure together. They had brought peace to a nation, and now they could live in peace in their own lives.
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Summary 24: The Final Stand
Chapter Six: Crown of Fangs
 
MoK appeared within the glade of Ehlonna after using the unicorn horn to leave Kleestad behind. Above, a unicorn landed and transformed into the goddess that they all knew. She was quick to heal all three of the Mercenaries up. The fourth, Duvafoodle, had already fled to a nearby tree where there Mitszy the dryad awaited him. After a few hours, he returned with memories that would last him a lifetime.

It was about then that Rudolph felt something in his pocket. He reached in and pulled out the Harrow deck that he had left with the Fire Chief. Zellara then suddenly appeared and said after so much time, the pull of the afterlife beckoned. She thus used her last vestige of magic to infuse the cards with all her emotions, both good and bad. This created the Harrow Deck of Many Things. Each card would produce some sort of magical effect that might be beneficial or detrimentary.

Rudolph was the first to draw a card. The magic of the cards gave to him a wish to be used within an hour's time. It also gave to him a powerful angel ally that could be called upon once per day as well as allow him to scry upon anyone in the world. This he used right away to scry upon the queen and see the defenses around her. She immediately became aware of the intrusion, but could do nothing.

Jansaadi was also very fortunate in her picks, with the most powerful granting her an increased ability in battle, as well as a strange formorian-like companion.

Panian decided upon three cards. One of them gave an insight to the future, with one image being true and the other being false, but with no knowledge of the validity of either. He saw the Queen being destroyed and collapsing in a pool of blood, with the realization that something was wrong and that the queen they had just slain was a false one. The other image he saw was Rudolph suddenly turning on Panian and slashing him with the Hand of Iomadae. As for the other cards, he had his size increased permanently. He also saw his view upon the world become less chaotic and more along the path of law. And he gained an immunity of acid while becoming vulnerable to cold.

Duvafoodle, his Fatemaster’s Claw giving him some insight into his picks, was by far the least fortunate. There was little good that came from his choices. Through his choices he felt a constant vulnerability in his defenses, and worst of all was a sudden alliance he discovered he had always fostered for an arch enemy. One good thing he did receive was a holy avenger sword which he could use to call upon a paladin with a holy avenger of his own, before the sword would lose most of its magical properties.

Thanks to the deck, MoK seemed to be in better shape than at any time to face the queen. Rudolph used the wish to teleport them all right into Queen's Ileosa’s throne room and the final battle begun. Jansaadi reacted faster than anyone, firing her bow at the queen right away. Those arrows pierced her heart, at the mighty ruler of Korvosa fell dead to the ground. This surprised everyone as they all expected a much stronger fight out Ileosa. Not hesitating, Jansaadi sent two arrows into Togomor the mage advisor, foiling any attempt for a spell from his part. In rage at seeing his love dead, he charged at Rudolph and attempt to punch him but the crusader just allowed the punch to bounce off his armor.

To the right of the fallen queen were a group of thugs in front of none other than the arisen Black Jack. In short order, two of the thugs were lying dead upon the tile floor from Panian's axe. The other looked at Rudolph and wished the fires of hell would strike him. As if by magic, some force must have been listening as Rudolph was struck by a meteor swarm. Fires burned all the MoK members, save for Panian who was protected by the ring of immolation. Duvafoodle then took out his holy avenger and plunged the blade into the ground, summoning a paladin to the fight.

From the shadows, a red mantis assassin emerged and plunged her blade right into Duvafoodle's blind spot, sending a part of an intestine upon the floor. Black Jack then dropped his own disguise and became a djini, its falchion slashing at Panian. Rudolph cut down Togomor with a vicious slash. Duvafoodle backed up and used his rod to attempt to slow the assassin, but the magic failed to settle on her mind. The paladin however was there to help his ally and he plunged his holy avenger three times into the assassin chest, causing massive internal bleeding.

Panian, still in his enlarged state, towered over the djini and brought down his great axe to inflict an even greater wound. Two arrows whistled over his shoulder to kill the remaining thug, just before he uttered his own wish like his friend had. Near Duvafoodle, the assassin finally dropped as two of the rangers arrows finished her off. With only one remaining foe, Rudolph and Panian were quick to flank the djini and cut it down.

The battle was finally over. Yet it didn't at all seem like a victory. They walked over to the queen and noticed her body melting in a pool of blood. There seemed to be no bone, no muscle, nor was there even a crown. They had slain a simulacrum; a copy of the queen.

A search of the bodies turned up a diary entry by Togomor to his "love" Ileosa. In it he spoke of how the Queen had used the ancient notes left by Shorshen, a runelord from Thassalon to become immortal. According to the notes, Ileosa had gone to a temple called the Sunken Queen, where there she was using the Everdawn Pool to becoming the immortal being she wanted to become. It was known that the entrance to the temple was underwater, and it was a relief they still have some of the water breathing potions they had purchased from their wererat ally.

They exited the castle where there they met Sabina, her sword impaled through the head of a dragon. She apologized for all that had happened, but said that when she discovered what the queen had planned for Korvosa, there was nothing she could do. She had scarred her face so that she would be like the other grey maidens, and had used her influence to save as many people as she could. All the executions she had been commanded to do, she never carried out, and instead simply imprisoned those who would go against the queen. Now however, she could command the grey maidens and free the prisoners to rise up against the many demons that had been summoned to garrison the city.

A quick stop at the Pantheon of Many brought much needed healing. Keppira also cast a windwalk spell upon all four in order to speed their trip to the Sunken Queen. Within only an hour's time, the four arrived at their destination. They plunged into the water and swam to the main entrance.

Upon entering, they faced their first resistance, a huge devilfish that had been charmed by the queen. Jansaadi fired her bow and, despite the impeding water, was able to hit the beast with two of her arrows. In rage, the devilfish reached out a long tentacle and dragged her into its maw, where there it crushed down on her tiny form. Rudolph swam in and cut at one of the tentacles, while Panian got in closer and slashed it just above its eye. Duvafoodle blasted Jansaadi with a healing blast to save her life.

The devilfish Beirawash dropped the gnome and embraced the half-orc, biting through layers of muscle. Duvafoodle blasted the beast with magic, bringing a roar of pain. Rudolph and Panian continued swinging their blades, sending fountains of blood in the water and sending sharks in a furry a hundred miles away. A last slash from Panian finally silenced the devilfish, opening the way for MoK to continue onwards.

They soon came to a room with a crystal globe at its center. The globe was filled with thousands upon thousands of gold coins, each with the mark of Korvosa. They had found where Ileosa had stolen all of the castles treachery, although this fact was impossible to know. With nothing else to see, they proceeded to a hole in the ceiling that brought them to a second level.

Throughout the halls were small tubes that led upwards. These tubes actually filtered blood to the Everdawn Pool in the upper level. Upon the third level they came to a large pool with more tubes leading from it. Within they found a body which proved to be a simulacrum in the process of being created.

There remained only one level and so Rudolph jumped upon the flying carpet to investigate. There he saw a massive globe of blood. As he looked on, the blood took on the image of Korvosa, before dropping to the floor. It left in its wake, four demons, three dread wraiths and seven queen Ileosas, of which the one with the crown was the true one. Ileosa sang a pleasant song that caused Rudolph to dance uncontrollably. He thus flew down to his friends so warn them, and to allow for the spell to wear off.

After a few moments, Rudolph again led the charge as he activated the flight ability of his armor. He took four trident hits from the erinyes demons, a hit from a dread wraith, and had to pass through a green cloud that suddenly appeared. It threatened to deaden his senses but he resisted the magic. Panian levitated up, using a pair of boots, and pulled Jansaadi with him. They both passed through the fog, but Jansaadi's mind could not push aside the magic and she be became a lot more susceptible to magics that could control her actions. Duvafoodle flew up on the carpet. But as he neared the hole, he heard the voice of the queen saying it was time; and the magic of the harrow card of many things took hold.

He rose up through the fog, and cast a blade barrier directly on MoK's. Not only did it slash them repeatedly, but it also cut them off from the queen. The demons flanked Rudolph, and began stabbing repeatedly, their strikes inspired by one of the singing simulacrums. Needing aid, Rudolph summoned for his angel to help in the battle. Jansaadi meanwhile was targeted by a confusion spell from another simulacrum, and with that her actions became sporadic. Ileosa cast a simple spell that caused seven images of herself to surround her.

Panian and Rudolph began fighting off the demons, but they were fighting against extremely skilled warriors. The wounds inflicted were very minor, but so to were the demons tridents upon the seasoned warriors as both sides deflected strike after strike. Then suddenly a wall of fire appeared cast by Duvafoodle, and it was clear that MoK had been truly betrayed by one of their own. The flames scorched them all, and with their warlock out of the picture, there would be no healing coming their way. Jansaadi, being attacked by Duvafoodle, was compelled to fire her arrows back at her brethren.

With a last effort, Rudolph and Panian were able to bring death to one of the erinyes. The others retreated to help defend Duvafoodle as he was Ileosa's favorite acolyte. The queen sang a song of discord Rudolph's way, causing him to attack friend and foe alike. He turned his blade upon Panian, and it seemed then that in fact both visions Panian had received from the card had come true and the barbarian felt the sting of Iomadae's Hand. Jansaadi found her mind clear for a second and she send a volley of arrows at Duvafoodle again. He was forced to flee the scene to heal up. After doing so, he returned and blasted Rudolph with eldritch energy.

Panian, wanting nothing to do with Rudolph, ran through the blade barrier, with the angel following. Together they hacked into the three remaining demons. Rudolph too ran through the blade barrier as his mind was able to focus on the enemy. That enemy was not the queen, but rather the sneaky Duvafoodle. The bastard sword flashed once and cut through robes with ease. It was too great a system shock for the gnome, and he died of a heart attack.

The angel saw that Rudolph was having trouble with his mind and cast protection from evil which suppressed the enchantment. Left and right, the simulacrums cast their charms, but they all failed to take hold. Soon, another demon fell to the barbarian's blade, making an opening for Rudolph to charge at the true queen. The angel healed some of Panian's wounds and he charged into the ring of simulacrums, cleaving them down one after another. Jansaadi's arrows destroyed mirror image after mirror image on the queen, as did Rudolph and Panian. And then blood began spilling, as Ileosa finally started feeling pain.

Fighting left and right, the queen eventually left an opening in her defenses that Rudolph capitalized on. He shoved his sword through Ileosa's lungs, and she finally fell dead to the ground. The demons were a simple matter to destroy once their mistress was slain. The battle was not over however as, from Ileosa's body sprouted spiked chains. These pulled with them bones and muscles, and began creating a colossal blue dragon.

Kazavon was coming to life before MoK's eyes.

Thinking quickly, Rudolph plunged Iomadae's Hand into the forming mass. There was a furious scream as the regeneration process was halted. And then it all began reverting on itself, leaving only the fangs of Kazavon after the tumult had subsided.

The battle was finally over.

They grabbed the queen's body as well as their friend Duvafoodle and retreated back to Korvosa. There they true resurrected Duvafoodle who explained he had been enthralled. They then spoke to the Queen's soul. Rudolph secretly hoped that he and she might rule Korvosa together, now that Kazavon was removed from her soul. Yet it was soon revealed that she was evil even before the dragon merged with her conscience. They thus left her to rot in whatever afterlife hell would have her soul.

Korvosa was saved, truly saved. Yet for the first time, it was without a ruler. Given the curse, there was no one who wanted the position, save two people: Rudolph and Lord Glorio Arkona. The vote happened the next day, and in a landslide victory, it was Arkona who inherited the throne. His first act was to appoint Duvafoodle as his personal advisor.

Jansaadi was asked to reform the Sable Company, to which she accepted.

Panian decided to go back to his former orc tribe, where there his legend had already reached the ears of everyone. Mother Volen granted him rulership of the entire tribe.

As for Rudolph, he was granted a large piece of land just outside of Korvosa; land big enough to perhaps one day become a small town. He left with Sabina Merrin's hand in his, and they started a life together in a small wooden cabin.

For several months, all the MoK members began their new lives in peace. They had saved a kingdom, and their story would be sung in bard's tales forever more. Truly all was right in the world.

And then suddenly, Duvafoodle's voice echoed in each of their minds with an important message…
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DM Comments 23: It's the Final Countdown
Chapter Five: Skeletons of Scarwall
 
Here I sit in my living room, reflecting on Curse of the Crimson Throne. All the adventurers. All the players. All the highlights. All the fantastic roleplaying. The great victories. And the possible victory or defeat in the end session. I think upon all these things and more.

And I am sad.

I am sad because the chapters seemed to fly by. I am sad that we may never hear the battle cry of Panian, the mountain hammer of Rudolph, the hit, hit, hit, hit, hit of Jansaadi, or the FIREBALL! of Duvafoodle.

I am sad because the plague doctors are gone. Sad that Arkona, whom I had not planned on being anything and ended up being the most notable NPC, will have his voice silenced. I am sad that we may never know about why Nadine betrayed Rudolph so many years ago, or why Jansaadi's father is adventuring elsewhere in the world. I am sad that I can't go back in time and relive every session again as each seemed to be better than the last.

Most of all, I am simply sad to see the end of MoK.

It is now the countdown to, what will likely be the last session of Curse of the Crimson Throne. Chapter 6, the Crown of Fangs, Session 24: ??? The title will be determined by the players. It's amazing to think that we missed so very few sessions throughout the campaign. With a near constant once every two weeks, that meant that the story stayed in our minds longer.

To get to the end of a campaign is something to be proud of, both as DM's and players. The latter, means that you have made the right decisions to get that far. The former, means that all the work you put into preparation and planned, has paid off. Thinking back, regardless of what side I was on, I've probably experienced more TPK’s or simple campaign abandons than actual completions. Thus I am very satisfied with reaching the point we are all at.

So now, even though there remains one session left, CotCT is in the past. That is not to say however that I believe it will be a dull session. Quite the opposite in fact. I am looking forward to the final encounters coming up as they risk being truly colossal fights. Victory is by far not a guarantee, considering the last challenge rating, but if it happens, then an important part of the story can come to pass.

And by that, I mean an Epilogue for all the MoK members.
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Summary 23: Kicking the Skull...Again
Chapter Five: Skeletons of Scarwall
 
It had been a long few days, made longer with Duvafoodle continuing his complaints about being tired all the time. His friends dismissed his words, with Panian always on the verge of smacking the small man. Duvafoodle had seen many years. His age was the equivalent of the three others around him combined. One day, they too would be complaining about how tired they were. One day, they too would no longer be able to lift a blade or string a bow. One day they too would sleep for twelve hours a day, with a four hour nap in the afternoon. One day, they too would have their friends complain about their everyday words.

To the casual ear, the small exchange of words would not be considered as anything important. Yet had Panian been able to foresee the future, he might have held his mocking tongue. For little did he know that Duvafoodle's final breath floated so very near in the future.

The four continued exploring the upper levels, still looking for the final two spirit anchors. Jansaadi listened at each door, and heard the flapping of wings in four of them. These were the familiar sounds of gargoyles, foes they had faced in the Fire Shoanti camp. It was a simple matter to cut them down, leaving only two doors to explore.

Opting for the regular door, they came into a barren room with a hole in the ceiling. As MoK entered, two demonic heads poked their heads through the opening, then retracted and began speaking in an unknown language. Using his own demonic mind, Duvafoodle flew up on the carpet, cast a spell, and stone shaped the hole to make it wide enough for a table, two chairs, and two befuddled devils tumbled to the floor. Rudolph charged in right away and brought his sword smashing down into the devil’s ribs with the force of a hammer. He was rewarded with the fountain of gore that emerged from the swing, but recoiled as one of the barbs lodged in his own arm. Flying high, Duvafoodle blasted the same foe with his eldritch blast.

Shoving the pain in the back of its mind, it jumped to its feet, taking a quick slash from Rudolph in that momentary lack of defense. It attempted to claw at its attacker, but Rudolph deflected the reaching talons. The other devil had also gotten to its feet and clawed at the crusaders back. It then attempted to pull the warrior into its own barbs, but Rudolph had trained himself to avoid being grappled by enemies and avoided the attempt. Jandsaadi continued the onslaught by hitting the devil with two arrows. Panian brought down the pain, taking two barb jabs for his efforts. Still the devil stood its ground somehow. Rudolph couldn't find an opening for a follow-up attack, but couldn't help sighing in relief as Duvafoodle blasted him and Panian with a healing blast.

Barely standing, the injured devil made a rectangular motion with his fingers and opened a gate to Hell, hoping that another of its kind would see the door and come rushing through. Sadly for him, no help arrived. He sighed in relief as five arrows streaked towards him and bounced off his barbs. He sighed in even greater relief as he deflected three mighty axe swings. And he cringed in disappointment as the killing blade of Rudolph erupted through his chest.

Duvafoodle aimed his rod at Panian and screamed "Enlarge." Soon Panian felt his muscles begin expanding outward and his point of view flying higher. Unlike the last time, he accepted the change as he had seen Rudolph go through the same magic, and had seen the devastation he had wrought. Seeing this, the last barbed devil attempted to summon one of his friends from his home plane, but no one answered the call. Two arrows caused it some minor harm, but it was the great, great axe of Panian that simply sheared through its barbs, wounding it greatly.

Rudolph, having been hurt by a barb from his killing strike, slashed the remaining one, and drained away some of its life energy into him. Duvafoodle meanwhile was able to channel his favorite fireball spell, turning MoK into a scorched force. Given how many times he had intentionally burned his friends, it was a wonder he had yet to gift them all with rings to resist fire.

The barbed devil decided that it was time to use one of its more potent abilities. It said a single infernal word, and suddenly a blazing purple light seared across the room. The Order's Wrath brought pain to everyone, and Panian found himself simply too dazed to do anything. Jansaadi fired more arrows into the beast, while Rudolph used a vanguard strike to cut away more of the devil's life force. Duvafoodle, high upon his carpet blasted it with his warlock energy. Left and right the devil was hit as MoK threw all their might against it. Finally, Panian saw a clear cut for its spine, and he swung his axe with no mercy, ending the devil's existence.

After a few healing blasts, the four moved on to the only other door on the upper level. As they approached, Panian saw the image of a scythe slashing him in two, and he knew that a great battle was only inches away. The door was made of metal, but Rudolph had a crusader strike for just such things as he used his mountain hammer technique to cleave through part of it like a knife through butter. A second mountain hammer bashed in the doors, and they readied themselves for what was on the other side.

They saw an emaciated demon that looked very much like a bat, but with long legs. One of its arms ended, not in a hand, but rather a scythe made of bone. He said his name was Nihil and that he would destroy them. Panian declared his own name "Panian Eats-What-He-Sees, and at the moment he was looking upon Nihil. " With that, the barbarian charged in, declaring the devil would soon join its relatives. And Nihil almost did. So surprised at the ferocity of the charging half-orc, he could not get his arm up to deflect the mighty axe as it sheared through skin and bone, making a Y cut that would make a pathologist jealous. Seeing the devil barely standing, Rudolph called to Iomadae for holy energy and destroyed Nihil with a divine surge. As the bat-like thing fell, a chain suddenly appeared on its leg and then broke apart.

There remained only one set of double doors to explore on the second level, and it was there that MoK went, hoping to find the fourth spirit anchor. Upon entering, Rudolph could not help but feel the hand of Zon-Kuthon in all the surrounding as they had just entered into an unholy church to the god of darkness. After searching a few rooms, they came to one where a mummy was on one knee in prayer. He said his name was Prelate Aruth, and asked if MoK were worshippers of Zon-Kuthon? When Duvafoodle said they venerated Olidishiver, the Aruth said that they would be destroyed for invading his unholy sanctuary.

Aruth mumbled as few words and send a flamestrike MoK's way, burning then all with fire and the divine wrath of Zon-Kuthon. The five specters, who had been surrounding the prelate, all took up positions to defend their liege, while only two moved in to attack Rudolph. Both missed touching the crusaders soul. Panian spit on his axe head and slew one of the specters. He then attempted to do the same to a second one, but the axe simply passed through its transparent form. Rudolph's blade did find solid ectoplasm as his blade sliced home. Jansaadi, her hatred for undead burning bright, fired her arrows into the same one and downed it.

Duvafoodle meanwhile had been calling to Olidammara for aid. He shone his holy symbol in the direction of the remaining three specters and they screamed as the holy light consumed them entirely. Seeing his allies gone, Aruth again sent a flamestrike at MoK, searing their flesh. Luckily Jansaadi was able to jump aside from the magic, escaping any harm. Panian charged in, but the flames were still flickering before his eyes, and he missed the target. Rudolph however was more fortunate as he too charged in and hit the mummy, taking away some of its existence and sending it into Panian to heal his wounds. Jansaadi peppered the mummy with arrow after arrow, making it impossible for Aruth to counter with any spell. He thus tried to punch Rudolph, but Iomadae's celestial armor deflected the blow. A last axe hit, four arrows, and divine surge were enough to truly destroy it. With no chain materializing, that meant their foe was further in the chapel.

Soon they entered an enormous room with a statue of Zon-Kuthon himself on the other side of an alter littered with bones. Upon the walls were hundreds, upon hundreds of spiked chains. Behind the statue, the wall shimmered, almost as though it was not a wall at all, but a field of force. From afar, Duvafoodle cast a detect magic, and noted that one of the bones on the alter radiated necromantic magic. He decided to cast a spell from his rod of wonder, causing the room to erupt in a torrent of rain. As the water droplets struck a certain magical skull on the alter, it stirred to unlife. The single skull that was Zev Revenka rose and he gazed upon the intruders with his demilich eyes.

There was a famous story known to all adventurers of how many year ago, a band of heroes had been walking in a dungeon. Upon the ground they came across a simple skull with teeth make of gems. The group could have simply walked by the skull without incident, yet for reasons lost to time, one of the adventurers decided to kick the skull. That seemingly innocent act awoke the entity that was the demilich. And it had destroyed the entire group.

That story suddenly resurfaced to the minds of those whom had heard the tale, and thus MoK became truly frightened at the small skull leering at them from above the alter. It sent a keening wail throughout the room, making everyone's ears bleed. And then there was a thump, as Jansaadi's mind simply exploded and she fell dead to the ground.

Panian moved in, and hit the skull with all his might, but was shocked as his arms rang. The demilich's unholy energy gave it almost impenetrable resistance to any weapons, and it escaped with barely a nick in its bones. Duvafoodle quickly rushed to Jansaadi's dead body and cast a revivify spell, causing her spirit to stay within the body to bring life back to her. Rudolph, seeing Panian's trouble at piercing the demilich's defense, decided to channel his mountain hammer. This allowed his sword to pass through the innate barriers blocking blades and he cut the skull nearly in two.

Zev looked upon Rudolph and said his soul would be his. For a moment, the crusader felt his soul being drawn from his body towards one of the demilich's teeth. He fought with all his will, and managed to resist the trap the soul spell. Panian meanwhile called to the gods of strength to guide his strike. He brought his axe blade down, and the magic of his Hilt of Dismemberment kicked in as he obliterated the demilich with one swing. From there, a chain suddenly appeared over one of the bone fragments and then shattered. It was time to face off against the one who truly haunted Scarwall.

MoK went to the second level where they had seen the blue outline of four chains on a door. The light of each had been extinguished and so they burst in. There they saw a large room with a pit of fire in the center. And on the other side was a phantom like being with five chains daggling from it. He said his name was Mithrodar, and that as MoK had destroyed all of his spirit anchors, he would create new ones with their souls.

Jansaadi quickly fired off a volley of arrows, but was surprised as only one barb actually pierced the spirit's defenses. To the shock of all, that ghastly wound regenerated of its own accord. Mithrodar then lashed out with all five chains. Rudolph dodged two of them, but the others hit home and hit hard. They also drained away some of Rudolph beauty. The crusader moved in, jumping left and right to avoid the reaching chains and hacked hard at the spirit. Panian followed his leader's example but his own axe passed through the transparent being. Duvafoodle blasted away with his warlock might, and frowned as he hit the wall behind.

Jansaadi again fired her arrows, but again only one arrow hit home, with the others passing harmlessly through Mithrodar. Chains flew at Rudolph again, inflicting major wounds. This time however, he was ready for the draining affect and used his willpower to resist the pull. Both Panian and Rudolph moved in to flank the spirit but it did little good as Rudolph's blade passed through, while Panian only got in a small hit. Duvafoodle then threw a moonbolt but it passed through harmlessly. Yet it seemed second by second there was always at least one MoK member who shined and in this case Jansaadi's next arrow barrage found solid matter to hit, greatly wounding Mithrodar.

The spirit continued its focus on Rudolph, siphoning away more beauty and inflicting more wounds. All the MoK members missed in their subsequent attacks, opening the door for Mithrodar to finish off Rudolph. Three chains wrapped around the crusader, draining away the last remnant of beauty he had, and the warrior fell unconscious to the ground. Mithrodar also sent a chain reaching Duvafoodle's way, causing the gnome to yelp in pain.

Panian continued harassing the spirit, hoping that his magical hilt would kick in again and end the fight. He got in another small wound but it healed up before his eyes. Duvafoodle sent a spiritual dagger to help in the battle and Jansaadi continued her brilliance by wounding it with more arrows. That last barrage seemed to stagger the chained spirit, but there was nowhere for him to flee as he was trapped in the room by the magic of Zon-Kuthon. He lashed out at Panian who dodged all but one chain, then countered with an axe hit of his own. A last flurry of arrows finally destroyed the spirit, ending the battle. As Mithrodar fell, there was the sound of ten thousand screams as the souls trapped in Scarwall, were finally free to go onto the afterlife.

After healing up, the four decided to scout out the shimmering wall. Much to their relief it was now open, as there was no other place to search out. As they entered they came to a room with a hole in the floor, blue mist rising from it. Above, a huge eyeball with bat wings hovered. It looked to them and asked which of the four would become the new curate of the temple. Curious, they asked what it would entail. The nightwing responded by saying it would involve many years of training with Zon-Kuthon himself. What went unsaid was the years of torture that would entail as well.

There was no dealing with such undead menaces however. Jansaadi peppered three arrows into the bulbous nightwing, while Panian jumped upon the flying carpet and slashed at one of its wings. Pushing the pain aside, it sent a cone of cold to blanket MoK in icy burns. Duvafoodle sent a hail of gems up at the nightwing's and Panian's way, injuring them both. Jansaadi again fired off her arrows, with only one connecting. Panian connected again, then flew down to give Rudolph the chance fly up and divine surge the beast. The power of Iomadae nearly destroyed the nightwing with that single sword hit. A follow-up mountain hammer finally downed the flying menace.

There was still no sign of the Hand of Iomadae, so that meant the hole in the floor was the only option. Rudolph was the first to jump into the hole, and his friends listened for his all clear signal; an all clear that never came. Everyone jumped in after another and each found the themselves falling for miles and miles before coming to a near deadly stop. Somehow surviving the fall, Duvafoodle blasted everyone with healing. They looked up to see something strange. The hole they had fallen through was only thirty feet up.

They currently found themselves in a massive chamber filled with an underground lake. In the middle of the water was a shining beacon in the dark: the Hand of Iomadae. The light illuminated a large ripple that started getting closer and closer. From the depths emerged a hideous creature with a manlike upper body and crablike lower body. This was the abomination that was Kleestad; the man who had been cursed by Zon-Kuthon for his betrayal of Kazavon in leading Mandraivus and his band through the secret passage and onto the dragon’s doorstep. Wracked with constant pain, and bound to defend the Hand of Iomadae, he moved upon those who would free the sword from its resting place.

Jansaadi let arrows fly, but saw little effect as the beast was simply to enormous to down with a single volley. Panian let fly three javelins, but all of them bounced off its armored hide. Duvafoodle too missed with his eldritch blast and Rudolph was simply out of range for any attack. Kleestad finally emerged from the water completely and lunged at Panian. The big man dodged under one of the beast legs, but did get clipped by a reaching claw that tore some muscle completely off of the barbarian.

Jansaadi sent another two arrows into Kleestad's hide, and Panian plunged a longspear right into its gut. Duvafoodle blasted the beast with a moonbolt draining away a little bit of its strength. Rudolph meanwhile jumped upon the flying carpet and flew over to grab the Hand of Iomadae. Kleestad screamed in rage and spewed forth a wave of acid upon the crusader's fellow MoK members.

With sword in hand, Rudolph charged in and cut at Kleestad's back with the holy bastard sword. Despite the damage, it was clear that Kleestad was a creature with a lot more fight in itself. As MoK had a greater mission at hand, they all agreed that it was time to leave. And so, after giving a nod to Duvafoodle, he used the unicorn horn to teleport everyone to the grove of Ehlonna, goddess of the woodlands and mother to Jansaadi.
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Summary 22: Castle of a Thousand Corpses
Chapter Five: Skeletons of Scarwall
 
From either side of the gate entrance, a dozen large crossbow bolts came flying from the darkness. On instinct, Rudolph and Panian put up their forearms, blocking almost all of them. Concealed behind the wall, there was nothing MOQ could do against the undead minotaurs. They thus looked to the gate barring the way in. Rudolph gave it a might bash with his sword and his teeth vibrated from the immense swing, but the bars held. Panian just smirked and gave the bars a headbutt, and the bars tumbled inwards. Duvafoodle, suffering from withdrawal at not using his rod in so long, pointed at the wall and activated his favored weapon. Suddenly the world seemed to fly away from him, as his form began shrinking, and shrinking, until he was the size of a mouse. Jansaadi fired a few arrows through the holes in the walls, hitting one unseen skeleton, but doing little damage. They in turn returned fire on her, hitting her several times.

After the gate, there remained a large door to be bashed down, which Panian did with ease. On the other side was a room full of corpses, most of which were orc, and all of which seemed fresh, but which had been magically preserved for over 10,000 years. As Rudolph and Panian moved, a few of the orc heads turned and screamed a terrifying scream that could wake the dead. And that seemed to do just that as a pile of corpses "walked" on broken legs and elbows and punched Rudolph's ribs. Another skeleton rose up from behind and lunged at the him, but he gave a quick backhand punch that sent it crumpling before plunging his sword into the corpse orgy that had sent his insides shaking. Panian chopped down, and sent body parts flying. Nearby, a zombie shambled forward, and so he sent a glob to spittle its way that sent the undead smashing into a nearby wall.

The corpse orgy kicked out with five feet, nearly crushing Rudolph's knee. Jansaadi battered the abomination with five arrows, while baby Duvafoodle screamed out "Fireball." The rooms was engulfed in flames, and Panian had to turn away from his friends to hide the drool dripping from his jowl as the smell of cooked meat permeated the room. He and Rudolph both became burned in the blast, but there would be time for vengeance later. He looked to the barely moving wall of corpses in front of him and gave it one last slash, ending the orgy.

After a few quick healing blasts from Duvafoodle, the four continued into the next room. There they came upon many skeletons, all orc, and all surrounding a human skeleton, still wearing the armor it had died in. There was something very special about the platemail, and Duvafoodle realized that it was a suit that only a holy acolyte of Iomadae would wear. His proximity to the armor seemed to trigger a response as several shadowy forms emerged from the walls and let loose a piercing scream, while an even greater malevolent shadow rose up from the human skeleton. This was Mandraivus, or what he had become. He looked at Rudolph and demanded he return his sacred sword. It was clear the castle had corrupted his spirit, only a second death could silence the former hero.

The three shadows, sensing a quick kill in Duvafoodle and Jansaadi, lunged at them. It was only because he was harder to hit that Duvafoodle was able to dodge two of the reaching arms, while Jansaadi too easily jumped away from harm. The wraith that was Mandraivus plunged its hand into Rudolph's chest and dragged away a part of his being, bringing immense pain. Duvafoodle called to Olidammara and sent a light the shadows way, causing them to turn away from the battle. Rudolph too, called to his patron and imbued his sword with divine energy that scorched the wraiths undead essence. Panian chopped his axe down, sending more dark wisps off of Mandraivus. Jansaadi fired off a volley of arrows, but they seemed to pass through the creature, dealing no harm. There was no defense as the wraith simply reached through parrying sword, and blocking armor, draining away life and healing itself. Duvafoodle aimed one of his eldritch healing blasts at the former druid and blasted it to oblivion. Duvafoodle then used his magic to heal his friends, including Rudolph's spirit. After the warlock told Rudolph of the holy nature of the armor, the crusader decided to don it as truly there existed no other such holy armor in all the realms.

After going into another room, they came upon a laboratory with jars containing, what could only be described as tiny souls. Upon a wall, they saw a halfling imprisoned in a net. Seeing MoK, she asked them for help, as her capturer had left the lab. Thinking the situation strange for a living person to be in a dead castle, they questioned her further. She said her name was Alima and that she had been captured by the night hag Malatrophe when she snuck into the castle in search of the dragons hoard. As they freed the girl, Panian suddenly reflected back upon his harrow reading, in which he saw an evil halfling placing beakers on shelves. He grabbed the Alma by the throat and demanded she reveal herself for what she was. Smiling, the halfling transformed into Malatrophe. Seeing she was overmatched she offered information for her life and her prized soul jars. She also wanted to capture the soul of the dragon Belshallam.

According to her, the castle was linked to a chained spirit named Mithrodar. He had four chains, all of which were bound to four spirits within the castle. By slaying the spirits, one could slay Mithrodar and exorcise the castle. She knew only of three sprits anchors. One was the dragon. Another was General Castothrane on the second level while a third was the demon Nihil who dwelt in central tower. Low on spells and strength, MoK decided to spend a few hours outside castle Scarwall to rest up; leaving Maltrophe in her laboratory.

MoK returned soon after to go over the plan. Malatrophe would call down her friend dragon into the courtyard. Once dissertated, MoK would surprise attack it, and try to bring it down in a few seconds. As planned, Maltrophe moved into the open air and called to Belshallam in draconic tongue. On cue, Panian charged past the night hag and swung his mighty, raging axe. Through the dragon the axehead went, not bringing blood or pain, only frustration as Panian had just slain an illusion. The real Belshallam in turn emerged from the shadows where he had been hiding in plain sight, and breathed forth a blast of negative energy and blackened his soul. Luckily, the Shoanti war paint protected the barbarian from some of the effects.

Jansaadi fired a few arrows, with two finding seems in scales. Panian tried to retaliate, but his blade bounced off the wyrm’s armored hide. Those strikes did however break off a few scales and Rudolph stabbed his blade into the exposed flesh. In a rage of its own, Belshallam bit and clawed at the crusader, even slamming its wings down and whipping its deadly tail to crush bones. Everyone was shocked at the massive onslaught, with Rudolph beaten but still standing, despite the many wounds he had just sustained.

Duvafoodle prepared to fire is rod, when suddenly he was struck from behind by five magic missiles fired by Malatrophe. The night hag had no intention of siding with the adventurers who would have ended her soul harvest and likely her own infernal life. Duvafoodle turned on the betrayer and fireballed her, watching angrily as she used the flames to wash her own skin. Jansaadi, turned her bow on the night hag, but her arrows barely pierced the black skin.

Panian swung his axe again, finally drawing blood. Rudolph too swung his blade, but by then the dragon had turned its exposed plating aside. Smiling, Belshallam clamped its jaws upon the crusader and shoot him back and forth, before throwing him back to the ground. Only a slight breath remained in the warrior. Malatrophe again fired more missiles into Duvafoodle, foiling any spell attempts. The gnome thus blasted lightening from the rob, but again the hag simply laughed as the bolt past over it, doing little harm. Knowing that the dragon was the main threat, she turned her bow on the dragon, wounding it with three arrows.

The dragon bit down upon Panian, but he was expecting it, and jumped back while uppercutting with the axe blade. Belshallam reeled back in pain at the surprise strike, and was simply to stunned to bring its other attacks around. Malatrophe looked on in shock at the dragons reaction, and it was in that moment that Duvafoodle blasted her in the face with more lightening, this time truly hurting her. Swearing an oath in her infernal language, Malatrophe charged at the old gnome and bit him on the cheek. He tried to push past the pain to heal himself, but couldn't do so. He was able to jump out of the way as she tried to bite him again.

Jansaadi fired arrow after arrow into the dragon, and watching as the combined wounds were making it weaker and weaker. She watched as Panian was clawed and tailslapped, but how he stood his ground and retaliated with axe strikes that seemed to be inflicting even more garish wounds. Barely standing, Belshallam again lashed out in desperation, hitting Panian with a bite, claw, wing, and tail. Now both he and the dragon were teetering on the edge of death. A last arrow from Jansaadi finally brought the dark wyrm of the sky down to the ground. From the dragon's leg, a now visible purple chain suddenly shattered, and it was clear that one of the spirit anchors was gone. With one more menace standing, Panian charged at the night hag and decapitated her in one swing of his great axe. Seeing his friend on the brink of death, Jansaadi used her wand to heal her big friend. They then looked upon their fallen commander and noticed with relief that he still breathed, although barely. A few quick healing blasts brought him to his feet. And a few hours of resting outside the castle, brought everyone to full health.

After returning to the castle, they continued exploring and came across Belshallam's treasure horde. This they gathering up before moving on. After a quick foray with a group of undead minotaurs, they came to a hallway. There two ghosts approached them, while three wraiths materialized from the back wall. The ghosts seemed to be miming a play that Jansaadi couldn't help but sit down as the magic seized her mind and she was compelled to watch their show.

The ghosts lunged forward, their touches grabbing pieces of Rudolph’s soul away while one of the wraiths also did the same. Duvafoodle used Olidammara's aid and turned three of the five wraiths away. Rudolph destroyed one of the remaining ones, while Panian charged at a ghost and wounded it with a perfect swing. Again the undead all targeted Rudolph, draining more and more life away. Duvafoodle sent a blast of energy that healing his friend and hurt the undead. That was enough as Rudolph dispatched one of the ghosts. Panian injured the second ghost. Yet still it floated in its undead state, and it reached into Rudolph's chest again, this time smiling as it plucked the last vestige of soul that Rudolph had remaining. The crusader simply dropped dead.

Throwing caution to the wind, Duvafoodle used a new spell called revivify to bring life back to his dead comrade. Now within the wraiths range, Duva felt the undead hand reach in and pluck one of the few vestiges of life the old man had remaining. Panian's weapon strikes passed through the undead, meaning it was now or never for the old man. He prayed to Olidammara for all the aid he could give. The prayer was answered through the haunted halls, and Duvafoodle turned both the ghost and the wraith. From there, it was a simply matter to dispatch them.

After healing up again, MoK decided to continue onwards, coming to a room with a simple statue of a man in middle of the room, an old cloth covering its heads. Not trusting anything, Panian smashed the stone rubble. They were then free to continue onto the next room, where they could hear music, as though from a dance.

As they entered, it seemed as though they were in a ball room as phantoms danced among each other. The music seemed to be coming from all around and there was a sudden urge to join the dancers as several put out their hands in an offering of a waltz. It was from the ceiling that the expected menace flew, its scythe making a single downward to slice that nearly severed Panian's shoulder blades from his back. That blade drained away some of his life force as had most of the other undead in the castle.

The dance macabre was the dance of death in its purity, and it again sliced at Panian, drawing a line of red, with the wound bleeding soul energy. Duvafoodle sent a rare divine spell his opponents way, and it became clear why, as he missed with his searing light ray. Jansaadi, her hatred for undead burning as much as ever, hit the macabre three time with arrows. Rudolph summoned divine wrath to bring godly pain to the undead thing. Panian meanwhile raged to his own gods and was able to hit the thing with a mighty cleave. Still the macabre floated, and it again slashed its scythe twice, draining away even more of Panian's life. Duvafoodle knew that once his friend's rage wore off, the shock to his system from the undead would kill him. He thus used a restoration spell to bring back some of his friends life. Rudolph meanwhile used the power of his helm to bring more divine wrath onto the dance macabre, ending its life.

With the first floor explored, they went up one of the many steps to the second floor. After only a few rooms, they came to a blank room with a simple throne. Sitting there was General Castothrane, one of the last three remaining spirit anchors. Panian charged it right away, but the skeletal warrior deflected the strike. After analyzing that simple parry, Rudolph too charged in, avoiding the simple blocking sword and cutting Castothrane's ribs completely off.

From behind, a pair of shadows emerged from the wall, but one was impaled to death by arrows fired from Jansaadi's bow. Duvafoodle blasted the room with a fireball spell, burning everyone. Panian, adding another notch to his axe for the number of time he would get even with Duvafoodle eventually, slashed at Castothrane, nearly downing him. The undead got in one small strike on Rudolph before the crusader finished off the General. He fell, and a phantom chain materialized, before breaking off.

Now there remained only two more spirit anchors, before Mithrodar could be finally confronted. Once done, the star tower could be entered, and the Hand of Iomadae could finally be claimed.
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The Story of Kazavon
Chapter Five: Skeletons of Scarwall
 
More than 800 years ago, as the nation of Ustalav was recovering from the rule of the Whispering Tyrant, the threat of an invasion of orcs from the neighbouring Hold of Belkzen was very real. For generations, the county of Tamrivena—known as Canterwall in modern Ustalav—held strong against the orcs, its standing army of rangers and the tactical genius of its leaders more than a match for the orc hordes. When command of Tamrivena fell to Count Andachi, it quickly became apparent that he had not inherited his father's and grandfather's gifts of tactics and eloquence. Mile by mile, the orcs pressed into Ustalav through Tamrivena, and Count Andachi grew desperate. Nothing he tried stemmed the orc aggression. His desperate requests to the government of Ustalav for reinforcements seemed mired in bureaucracy. Even his prayers to Desna seemed to fall upon deaf ears. And so it was with a desperation born of fear that he fell back upon his ancestors' one-time patron—Zon-Kuthon, god of pain and darkness. And in short order, his prayers were answered in the form a powerful and gifted mercenary named Kazavon.

The charismatic general took control of Tamrivena's army and whipped it into shape with his brutal discipline and knowledge of tactics and warfare, honing it into a military killing machine. When they marched into Belkzen, the undisciplined savages fell in waves. Tales of Kazavon himself riding in the vanguard and hewing his way through the orc lines while the arrows and blades of his foes bounced harmlessly off of him filled Count Andachi with relief. By the spring of 4043 ar, the orcs had been driven from their lands into the inhospitable foothills of the Kodar Mountains, bloodied and defeated. His task complete, Kazavon did not return to Ustalav. Instead, he set his forces to the construction of Castle Scarwall, from which he could remain vigilant over the surrounding lowlands. Yet in short time, Kazavon's true goals became horrifically clear. Diplomats from southern Lastwall traveled to Scarwall, bearing gifts of triumph and promises of eternal friendship. Their overtures of peace were met with violence as General Kazavon captured the diplomats, flayed them alive and had their skins stretched over frames; he painted these skins with his new coatof-arms, the fanged skull. The skinless dead were then animated and sent back south into Lastwall beneath these grisly banners with a counter offer—fall under Kazavon's heel or be butchered.

Some among Kazavon's own troops found his actions repellent, but Kazavon's army had grown over the years as his number of victories mounted. His ranks swelled with mercenaries—half of his force bore no allegiance to anything but their general's gold. Those soldiers who rose in rebellion were immediately quelled and executed, and those who attempted more diplomatic protest were tortured and fed to wild beasts.

Aghast at this turn of events, Count Andachi at last found his courage. He raised a new army, ragged and inexperienced, from the last remnants of his people and marched west to face his former general. In a bold offensive he laid siege to Castle Scarwall. Yet, with the next dawn, he was defeated by Kazavon's forces. Hapless Andachi was captured, publicly tortured and degraded, and ultimately executed. These grisly deeds completed, Kazavon turned his attention east toward Ustalav. For well over a decade, Kazavon ruled a nation of slaves, victims, and horror. Tales of fields of men impaled for the general's amusement, of mass executions, of Shoanti tribesmen hunted like wild animals and then forced to slay their own women and children in carnivals of torture and terror spread throughout the neighbouring regions.

Whispers of cannibal feasts and vampiric orgies trickled out of Castle Scarwall. More than once, the forces of goodly nations marched on Scarwall, yet such was Kazavon's strength that no army could face him for long. To a man, every warrior sent against Scarwall suffered the same fate as Count Andachi. Yet where armies failed, a small and secret cabal of heroes did not. Led by a heroic soldier named Mandraivus, this group of Lastwall mercenaries, Shoanti mystics, and Ustalavi arcanists discovered that one among Kazavon's minions was willing to betray the warlord. This was Kazavon's chamberlain, a man named Kleestad. The chamberlain gave Mandraivus the information he needed to strike at Scarwall when its defences were lowest (just before one of Kazavon's monthly debauches in his great hall), and directed the cabal to a secret entrance to the castle that Kazavon's guards didn't know about. As the cabal tore through Scarwall, laying waste to the warlord's minions and pursuing him to the castle heights, Kleestad returned swiftly to his room to gather his most valuable possessions and make ready his escape, but Mandraivus's band moved faster than he anticipated. By the time he had his gear, the castle alarm had sounded and he was called to Kazavon's side as the warlord prepared to defend his home. Kleestad feared that Kazavon knew of his betrayal and had called him to his side to execute him, yet before Kazavon could do much more than break both of Kleestad's ankles, Mandraivus arrived. The battle was furious, and in the end Kazavon fled to the Star Tower, giving Kleestad a chance to crawl into hiding.

When Mandraivus and his remaining companions cornered Kazavon in the Star Tower, they discovered his great secret—Kazavon was no mere man, but rather a powerful blue dragon that had taken human shape with the blessing of his dark god. Assuming his true form, Kazavon attacked the cabal, and a long and bloody battle ensued His scales deflected most of their attacks, just as the weapons of the orcs had bounced off of his armor during the initial campaign in Belkzen, and his claws and lightning breath made short work of many of their best and bravest. It was Mandraivus, wielding the sacred sword, who was able to slip through the dragon's guard and deliver the fatal blow. With Kazavon's death, his forces abandoned the castle and the dragon's dark empire crumbled.

Even in death, Kazavon's corpse seethed with dark energy, beginning to knit back together toward life once again. Mandraivus left his sword impaled in the dragon's skull while his companions disassembled the body and burned the remains. After the smoke cleared, seven fragments of the dragon's skeleton proved impossible to destroy. They continued to rattle and shake of their own malignant will. Mandraivus ordered seven of his remaining followers to each take one of the relics and scatter to the corners of the world to keep the fragments forever separate. Mandraivus remained behind at Scarwall with only a few loyal retainers in order to watch over the castle itself and prevent it from being reclaimed by the minions of Zon-Kuthon. Unfortunately, the victory was short-lived. The orcs confined to the nearby mountains by Kazavon's armies took note of the death of their enemy and rampaged forth across Belkzen once again. A portion of the horde attacked Castle Scarwall, which was defended only by Mandraivus's small and inadequate force. The defenders were quickly overwhelmed, but as Mandraivus was slain, the curse of Scarwall took hold. The wholesale slaughter of first Kazavon's armies and then Mandraivus and his soldiers had suffused the fortress. In an instant, the orc invaders found themselves facing a host of vengeful spirits and slavering undead. It is said that only one of the orcs survived to make it across the causeway from the castle, the flesh of his face blanched completely white from the horror he had barely escaped. He brought word to his people of the haunting of Castle Scarwall, and the tribal warlords declared the site forever taboo, leaving it to the bloodthirsty spirits who now claimed it as their own. Yet one of Kazavon's thralls had survived—Kleestad, both ankles broken, managed to stay in hiding during Mandraivus's short reign. Barely subsisting on rainwater and bugs, Kleestad felt the curse of Scarwall engulf the place, and knew by the silence that followed that Zon-Kuthon had finally smote the intruders. He emerged from hiding to find Scarwall empty and silent, and as he crawled from chamber to chamber, was met only with further evidence of slaughter. He eventually found his way into the first floor of the keep, where he discovered Mandraivus's body slumped against a wall. In his hand, Mandraivus still held the blade he'd used to slay Kazavon. Kleestad, half mad and deluded, took up the blade in his hand, and heedlessof the pain as the holy weapon burned his evil flesh, called out to Zon-Kuthon to witness his triumph—Kleestad had claimed the blade as his own.

Yet Zon-Kuthon was not pleased. Instead of rewarding Kleestad, he cursed him. He had betrayed Kazavon, and as he had spent the last several hours crawling through the slaughter like a worm, Zon-Kuthon transformed the chamberlain into a monstrous wormlike beast and hurled him into a lightless vault deep below Scarwall. Also to this prison went the sacred blade Iomadae's Hand, still clutched in Kleestad's hands. Today, the last thrall of Kazavon lives on in this underground prison, and in a final ironic twist of fate, has become the guardian of the very blade that laid his master low.
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Summary 21: Upon the Bridge of Death
Chapter Four: A History of Ashes
 
The test was complete, with Rudolph and Panian both now members of the Sun Clan. The shaman said he would go upon a vision quest to find the information that the Mercenaries sought. Before leaving however, he insisted the two men choose a new family name for themselves, as their past families no longer existed in the tribe's eyes. After thinking it over, they both gave their answers. And so, Irontongs the Legend Scribbler, entered into the history books the names of Flame Rudolph Stonehaven, and Flame Panian Kills-What-He-Sees. This last name brought a bow of respect from Krojun Eats-What-He-Kills. 

Both men were shown their own tents, while Jansaadi and Duvafoodle were all but ignored as they were still considered outsiders. Throughout rest of the day the new flamebrothers trained with their new tribe. For the most part they showed off their skill with the bastard sword and great axe. Most of the men seemed interested in Panian's bladesmanship as his skill matched closer to their own with their mauls. However some of the younger men, whose arms were still many years away from being able to lift such a weapon, trained with Rudolph and his much lighter sword. All the while, several women looked on, often times pointed to either one or the other of the two Mercenaries, with a particular interest in Rudolph and how great he was with the young ones; almost like a father.

That night, Jansaadi asked Panian if she could sleep in his tent. No sooner had she settled in then another shadow appeared outside the tent. As the woman revealed herself, Panian's eyes lit up as this was a woman whose beauty outshined all orcish wenches. Jansaadi was kicked out. And the night was spent in bliss by Panian, and Tuli Sleeps-With-What-She-Sees. The ranger contented herself with sleeping in the sand, while Duvafoodle slept in the air on his personal carpet of flying. On the other side of the tribe, Rudolph had a pleasant night, though one which found him no sleep. Ashanti Flowerpetal, Mertania Gentle-Oasis, and Lisalia Goddess-Eyes were the crusaders guests for the eve. And he accepted with open arms.

The next morning, screams erupted all over the tribe.

Almost all the Mercenaries erupted from their slumber to see what the trouble was. The tribe was being attached by strange winged beast that looked as though they were living stone: gargoyles. With no movement from Rudolph's tent, Panian screamed at his flamebrother to rise as blood would soon flow. The booming voice echoed in the crusaders sleep-deprived brain and finally emerged from his tent, sword in hand, to see the carnage all around him. Arrows flew left and right as gargoyles and flamebrothers exchanged fire. At times, one of the winged menaces would swoop down, pick up a writhing tribesman and then send him plummeting to smash into the unforgiving sand.

One gargoyle was coughing after Duvafoodle had poisoned it with a stinking cloud. The gnome however was clutching at a pair of arrows in his arm, as it seemed he posed a nice target for the flying enemies. Another gargoyle was wounded after receiving three javelins in its chest from Panian. As Rudolph looked on, he saw Jansaadi kill the one her barbarian friend had wounded, and then send another three arrows into a second flying menace, bringing it onto the brink of death. Rudolph charged into the fray, charging his sword with energy and bringing death to a gargoyle. Duvafoodle sent a lightening bolt through his rod of wonder, destroying another one. The last threat was then quickly neutralized by four arrows from Jansaadi.

The battle was not over, far from it in fact. From the shadows, red mantis assassins emerged, ending the lives of half a dozen men in the first few seconds. Krojun, himself with four gargoyle corpses around him, found himself being assaulted by three of the red menaces. The Mercenaries found themselves faced with two of them, as well as another four gargoyles. Now it was time for vengeance as the last meeting with the assassins had seen Panian decapitated. With the memory gone, but the insult still present, Panian charged in. The mantis put his sword up to deflect the blow, but the down-swinging axe was simply to powerful and it cut the sabre in two, and then continued down, slicing the assassin from head through groin. The body fell apart in two pieces; a morbid warning for all the enemies around.

Duvafoodle, wanting to help his friends against any incoming arrows, created a cloud of darkness, similar to the one hovering over the town of Riddleport. Despite the haze, arrows still managed to find Panian’s flesh. So much time in battle had hardened his skin to the point where such bards only barely pierced the surface. As an added bonus, there was not a mosquito in the world that would drain his blood.

Jansaadi fired off a volley, downing a gargoyle. Rudolph meanwhile summoned a divine surge and with a single slice, dropped the other mantis dead to the sand. Duvafoodle then fired off a fireball to wound one gargoyle. With such magic, it seemed the enemy believed the true threat was the warlock, and the survivors peppered poor Duvafoodle with nine arrows. It hurt, but it was not quite enough to drop the gnome. Seeing her friend in pain, Jansaadi aimed true and dropped two of the gargoyles. There remained only one, and after a lightening bolt from Duvafoodle, it decided it had had enough and flew back to its roost.

As the dust began to settle, the Mercenaries spotted a human with a repeating crossbow picking off people left and right. This was the Cinnderlander, slayer of the shoanti for generations. In his youth, he had seen his family brutally murdered by a tribe of the shoanti after they had started a farm on land that they had not known to be sacred. The Cinnderlander's family had been given no quarter, only death. From that day on, the boy had sworn we would get even, and his revenge had taken a life time. Now as a hired mercenary for the red mantis, he continued his life's work. And suddenly paid for it as four arrows from Jansaadi's bow planted themselves in his back, right through his chest. Turning, he saw first Rudolph, a human shoanti by all appearances and shot the crusader with three bolts, each one bringing sting pain as though, upon striking, the barbs twisted themselves further into flesh. From afar, Duvafoodle sent a minor hold person spell the Cinnderlander's way, and was quite satisfied to see the man's body go rigid in the thralls of the magic. That made him an easy target as Jansaadi sent three arrows flying. One plunging into the humans head, while the other two each pierced the Cinderlander's eye balls, ensuring that his soul would never go onto the afterlife like the rest of his victims.

From not too far off, a female voice called out to the Mercenaries of Korvosa. The four looked on at the face of Cinnabar, one of the generals of the Red Mantis. She had several of her followers around her, while at the end of her sabre, knelt Neolandus. She commanded MoK to drop their weapons, while the former advisor also pleaded for the same as he did not want to die again. There would be no surrendering today however. Both Rudolph and Panian began walking forward, much to the fearful gaze of Neolandus. He shut his eyes for the inevitable blade thrust that would follow; and follow it did.

One mantis member would never need to worry about an appendicitis as Rudolph’s blade cut it and a piece of his liver out with a single slice. Panian meanwhile slashed at the same one, sending more blood to blanket the sand. Cinnabar cloaked herself in invisibility and moved to a more strategic position. With his warlock sight, Duvafoodle followed all of her movements, warning his friends of her exact position.

A mantis member attempted to tumble into a flanking position, but Rudolph's defensive stance blocked the assassin's progress and opened up a great opening for a quick strike that both crusader and barbarian capitalized on. Still standing, he and his ally aimed at Rudolph's vital organs, bringing a lot of pain to the man. Jansaadi, her hatred for humans burning inside, sent four arrows flying, and killing two of the mantis’. From afar, Duvafoodle blasted Rudolph with soothing healing energy. Another mantis took a hit from Rudolph, and Panian cleaved the same ones head in, and followed it up with a second strike on the fourth mantis, killing him too.

All that remained was Cinnabar, who couldn’t believe that, in the time it took her to move only a few feet, her entire entourage had been slain. Yet she had confidence in her skill. That was until she was hit by a fireball spell from behind that she had not at all been prepared for. With her burning leathers falling in tatters around her, she simply could not defend against a charging Rudolph, whose bastard sword easily slid through her own defence and into her heart.

The battle was finally over.

Of the seventy clan members, fourteen had met their end. It would have been much more had the Mercenaries not been there. Had the Mercenaries not been there however, then no assault at all would have even taken place. This fact however did not occur to anyone in the tribe. The Fire Clan had been attacked as a family, and so they sung their victory as a family. Krojun began setting a fire to cook the seven he had slain.

Soon the Fire Shaman returned. He was surprised of the chaos that had arisen in his absence, but was pleased at how his tribe had fended off the invaders. He then looked to the Mercenaries, and recounted what the spirits had told him

After the story, Rudolph summoned Zellara to recount all that had happened. After performing a harrow reading for everyone, she sang a strange song: 

Fate of steel-Iomedae's Hand

Her cage for years sustained

Four enthralled in lost Scarwall;

Undead to keep her chained.

A spirit first, red war his thirst

Still stands at post of old;

A second foe, infernal soul

Waits high in tower cold.

In kennel's grime third bides his time

Then vents his killing breath.

And on a stone 'mid ash and bone,

The final dreams of death.

The spirits worn and battletorn

And locked in their damnation,

The chained one's hold at last grows old

And ushers in salvation.

Yet hope remains amid the chains

When blade's stone cage has crumbled,

Friends to dread and the death of the dead,

Keys to Kazavon humbled

After the song, the Sun Shaman gave the Mercenaries war paint that would protect against the draining effects of undead, as such creatures would likely be encountered in the unholy castle. Rudolph feared for Zellara's safety and so handed over the magical harrow deck to his new chief.

After a few days of marching, the four arrived at the haunted castle of Scarwall. Their first impression was that they had already seen the place; it had been painted by Salvatore Scream. How he had seen the place was a mystery for later. The place was surrounded by a fog that seemed to mask unseen menaces that they knew were there. Jansaadi swore she saw several gargoyles flying around, and even a great dragon. That fact took off the table of any aerial assault. They thus approached an old guard post that was the way to the open drawbridge.

Their approach went noticed as, exiting the barbican came the Deathwatchers, a clan of seven orcs that were the eternal guardians of Scarwalls entrance. Their leader Ury Sevenskulls cried out a challenge to those who would invade their sacred place, and the Mercenaries were more than happy to answer in kind.

As they approached, they were assailed with a volley of arrows as the orcs let fly their soaring death. Both Panian and Rudolph took several glancing hits. Two more of their number charged in and slashed their axes, with each getting in another glancing blow. Duvafoodle, who had decided to badmouth the clan before the initial assault, was faced off against Ury himself. The greatsword easily cut through robes and there was an aftershock of frigid frost. To wounded to cast a spell, not that he would have dreamed of doing so anyway, he blasted the chief with his rod of wonder, using the fatemasters claw to coax something special. And something special did happen as he successfully blinded Ury, effectively taking him out of the fight. That came true a moment later when Panian invoked the berserker rage and cut off Ury's legs, waist, and then head with three brutal chops. Then with a last backhand chop, he severed a second orcs spine.

Jansaadi shot down another orc with ease, while Rudolph called to his god and sent divine wrath into the one he was facing. It stood its ground and swung its axe. Somehow it found an unprotected seem in the crusaders armor as the axe blade bit in hard and very deep. In retribution, Panian killed the one who nearly brought down his best friend.

There remained only three, and they took a fireball from Duvafoodle's wand. Jansaadi sent two arrows into one of them, but still it stood its ground as all three peppered the Mercenaries with stinging arrows. Rudolph, in his weakened state, wasn't able to get his sword up to deflect and he took two barbs in the collarbone. Barely standing, he summoned strength from his inner warrior soul and charged in, impaling one of the orcs. Panian then charged in, and with a pair of unforgiving axe slashes, brought death to the remaining threats. As the dust cleared, the Mercenaries visibly saw the souls of the Deathwatchers rise, and then become sucked into nearby walls of Castle Scarwall. It was truly a good thing that Zellara was not present.

After a few healing blasting, the four marched upon the bridge. As they did so, the gate of the castle opened, and out stepped over a dozen skeletons, led by Sergeant Lashton, a skeletal warrior riding upon a skeletal nightmare. Despite the numbers, they were all but strands of wheat come to be cut down. The fight was a trivial one as soon enough, bones littered the drawbridge. Barely scathed, MoK entered through the huge gates into the castle itself, where they were immediately assaulted by huge crossbow bolts fired from unseen murder holes…
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Summary 20: Into the Belly of the Beast
Chapter Four: A History of Ashes
 
The Mercenaries had faced some truly great foes in the past. Some had pushed them to the limit of resolve. Others had been as easy as tearing the legs off of a spider. There had been a few that had scampered away in the wind. And others that awaited to be MoKed. One such foe was in their crosshairs. The Cindermaw. A beast of legendary proportions, whose tale stretched longer than its own. Whispered both in heroics and nightmares, the worm that was known as the Clan Eater would soon meet its own nightmare.

After exiting the Acropolis of the Thrallkeepers, Krojun and the burnriders led the march towards the clan of the Moon. A few hours into the journey, they came across a grizzly scene in the middle of the dessert. Several sand blasted corpses littered the ground, their eyes each pierced by a crossbow bolt. Krojun made a sign to his god. He said that it was the work of man called the Cinnderlander; an assassin of the Shoanti. For years he had hunted all those he found. He would then imbed the eyes with his implement of death, blinding the soul from ever finding the afterlife. Despite the dead being Moonclan members as evidenced by their garb, Krojun insisted upon a proper burial and removal of the bolts from the skulls.

After another two days of marching, they saw a mountain range off in the distance. This was the Wyvern range, and their destination. Off on the horizon, a small dust cloud could be seen approaching the party. Krojun and the Burnriders took up a defensive position, their bows drawn taught. Of everyone assembled, it was Panian who first recognized their old friend Imp riding upon a flying carpet. Soon he was all smiles and greeting his best clients. He said he had been commissioned by Glorio Arkona to gift each MoK member with a special item for saving his life.

First was the Fatemasters Claw for Duvafoodle. It was a gauntlet that would allow the befuddled gnome to better control his rod of wonder and would also grant better selection if ever he came across a legendary Deck of Many Things. Next was the Precision String for Jansaadi. A bowstring that would channel her own dextrous skill into the damage of each and every arrow. Rudolph received the Helm of the Master Crusader. It would allow him to quickly use sword manoeuvres he had already used. Last was the Hilt of Dismemberment. It was a handle that could be attached to any axe, making the blade sharper and allowing for the blade to mortally wound any creature.

There was one final gift, and that was the magic carpet that Imp had arrived on. Duvafoodle was overjoyed as this would allow him to sleep while he traveled. When asked how he himself would return, Imp said that he had other means, and that he had only used the carpet because he had never ridden on one. He then said that, with the market in Korvosa closed, that he planned on setting up shop where business would always be coming in, Riddleport. He wished his friends all the best and then walked into a magical doorway that appeared before him, disappearing on the waves of magic. Duvafoodle nearly cried in joy at the realization that Arkona truly was a friend, particularly given the flying carpet he had gifted to him (not considering at all that the others might benefit from the valuable item of course). He thus decided to send a sending spell every day to the rakshasa, letting him know in twenty five words or less about how things were going in the gnome’s life.

After another day of walking, they finally arrived at the Temple of the Moon. Strangely, it seemed all the tribe members were camped around the large stone structure, when they should all be within the protective stone walls of their sacred place. Two of the Moonmaidens came out to greet MoK, and upon hearing their tale and seeing the mark of Desna, were brought before the priestess Tekra’kai.

She explained that their Truthspeaker Akram was sacred to the tribe, and there was simply no way she would part with the venerable one. Upon being asked if there was anything that could be done to show how honourable the Mercenaries were, Tekra said that indeed there as one thing they could do to show their worth. She explained that their temple had been taken over by a great beast called a Red Reaver. If had slain many clan members so far, and thus she did not want to risk sending anyone else to their deaths. If the Mercenaries could slay the beast, then she would lend the Truthspeaker.

Upon entering the temple, the Harrow card of Panian’s that had depicted him being crushed by a large foot, began to glow. They looked upon a beast three times the size of a man, with small wings on its back and skin a greyish red. Its arms were seemed to long for its own body, while muscles rippled under its skin. This was the Red Reaver.

Rudolph charged in, his sword drawing a bloody line across the beast leg. Jansaadi somersaulted off the flying carpet and send three arrows flying, each one find a place in the beast flesh, and causing it to growl in pain. Duvafoodle meanwhile used his wondrous rod to enlarge Panian. The big man felt the foreign magic attempting to change his form and used his willpower to resist it, staying the same size. He had once changed into a rat, there was no way he would allow any other physical change to come upon him. Just the thought of becoming someone he was not enraged the barbarian and he charged in and planted his axe in the reaver’s abdomen. Snarling, the reaver punched out at both warriors in front of it, sending Rudolph and Panian flying back several feet.

Jansaadi sent another barrage of arrows, with two of them ripping through the beast's wings, preventing it from becoming airborne. Rudolph shook off the hit he took last and moved in, dodging a reaching claw before again slicing through flesh. Panian too tried to get past the beast defences, but the things massive fist caught the barbarian in a vicious uppercut. That seemed to spur Panian on even further as he slashed his axe high. The blade made a sickening crack as it opened up the reaver’s sternum, and showing broken ribs and a lung labouring in its functionality. Duvafoodle channelled the power of the fates to send a massive fireball at the reaver, bringing burning pain to it and the blade wielding warriors around it.

Now in great pain, the reaver wanted nothing more than to end the fight. He looked upon Rudolph, grabbed the crusader with its two claws and rended flesh from bone. It was not enough to stop the crusader however. With the lung laid bare, Rudolph plunged his bastard sword to the hilt into the fleshy mass, and the reaver collapsed dead to the ground. A few soothing healing spells from Duvafoodle took away everyone's wounds, and MoK walked out of the temple victorious, with Panian and Rudolph dragging the red reaver corpse behind them.

Tekra’kai showed no emotion at the feat that the four had accomplished. She simply presented ninety year old Akram the Truthspeaker to them and asked that they bring him back safe and sound. Akram himself then went on to describe what must be done. He said that to shed their outsider status in order to be considered worthy for the Fire clan, that one of their numbers had to be swallowed by the Cindermaw and cut their way out. Thus they would be considered reborn.

The following day, Akram led the four to the land of the Cindermaw. In order to ensure his safety, they lent the Truthspeaker the flying carpet so that he could observe safely from on high. It was not long before they saw signs of the Cindermaw. A massive coil of scales shot up from the sand and before again burrowing into the dust. Several more times, the Cindermaw displayed its own magnitude as the giant worm approached closer and closer. Upon one of its last passes, it looked at all four MoK members and uttered a single word “Die!”

Suddenly a tremor shook the ground and Jansaadi’s ears caught the sound of the approached worm right nearby. It then breached the ground to the left of everyone, belching forth a cone of fire in the process. Too hurt to cast any spells, Duvafoodle used his rod to attempt to enlarge Rudolph. There was no attempt to resist the growth hormones pumping through crusader blood. Rudolph charged in, his enlarged arms and enlarged blade giving greater momentum to his swing. He cut a large gash in Cindermaw, the wound bleeding red with fire rather than blood. Jansaadi touched Panian’s shoulder and cast a spell that made him immune to fire. He gave her a grunt of thanks before charging in an slashing hard, sending a cascade of fire rolling down the worms body as another wound opened up.

This was a beast of titanic proportions however and it would take a lot more than two small cuts to bring it down. Cindermaw swung its tail around, its stinger impaling Rudolph right through the stomach, and injecting poison into veins. The worm then lifted him in the air and bit him, the force of the blow send Rudolph crashing down on one knee, clutching at a nearly separated arm. From afar, Duvafoodle blasted his friend with soothing healing, likely saving Rudolph from death.

Jansaadi moved to Rudolph and cast the same resistance to fire spell. Rudolph thanked the gnome and ran back into the fray, taking a massive bite in the process. His bastard sword sank deep into flesh and drained away a part of the worm's body makeup, sending it into himself to heal some wounds. Panian in the meantime swung his axe twice in the blink of an eye, and brought a howl of pain from the Cindermaw as more blood fire pooled in the sand. Its anger was still directed at the Crusader as it again stung and bit at the warrior. Again Duvafoodle’s fingers twiddled and he sent a beam of healing energy into Rudolph.

That last blast finally caught the attention of the Cindermaw as it looked at the warlock in a way that spoke a soon to be fiery death for the gnome. Then speaking in a voice that caused the mountains to shudder, the Cindermaw said it would enjoy eating the bearded gnome. Another stinging arrow barrage stopped the giant worms rambling and it finally realized just how injured it was. Rudolph still felt the poison moving ever closer to his brain and ate an anti-toxin to fend off the intrusion. He then looked up as the Cindermaw bit down and swallowed the crusader whole.

Inside the stomach, the Cindermaw’s muscles began crushing the remaining life out of the warrior, while the acids chewed away at his skin. He heard his friend Panian raging in anger and felt the whoosh even from inside the beast as Panian’s axe missed its mark twice. The Cindermaw seemed to be having trouble focusing in its weakened state as it too missed Panian with its sting and bite. Rudolph took out a hand axe and began cutting away, trying to rebirth himself. He was able to open up a large hole, but not enough to get his enlarged frame through. He saw Panian swing his axe again and he feared they had failed, for if the Cindermaw fell before Rudolph could be reborn, then their quest was over. Yet again however, the worm showed incredible agility as it dodged aside both Panian’s attacks. It then retaliated by stinging the barbarian and flipping him in the air before swallowing Panian.

With bones crushed and acid burned skin, there was only a hairs worth of strength left in Rudolph’s body. He swung his hand axe once more, and was rewarded as the Cindermaw’s skin parted, sending the crusader tumbling onto the sand. Now with the ritual complete, Jansaadi fired a trio of arrows into the worms head, ensuring that no more Shoanti would ever fall to the Clan Eater.

After many minutes of healing, the Mercenaries were once again whole. Both Panian and Rudolph were able to fend off the worm poison in their bodies, meaning they were all okay to travel to the Fire Clan. Upon arriving, they were greeted by the Sun Shaman. The Truth Speaker told him of how both Rudolph and Panian had been reborn. Now there remained the final test; becoming a fire clan member. For only those who were of the clan could be imparted with their wisdom. The task was simple, hold aloft a five hundred pound totem for two days straight.

The Mercenaries dragged their totems up the hill and placed them in an indentation set for the totem. The Fire Clan then departed, with several of their number watching from afar. There was no question that Duvafoodle would exert himself for the test, and so he let fall his charge right away and sent a sending to Arkona. To his surprise, he received a return message. Jansaadi meanwhile tried her best to pass the test, but her arms tired out after only a few hours. She thus contented herself with casting spells to ensure her friends didn't die of heat exhaustion, while Duvafoodle too contributed by creating water.

It was on the second day that trouble found the Mercenaries. Six land sharks, or bulletes as they were commonly known as, approached the site of the totem test. Duvafoodle sent a blinding spell at one of them that sent it scurrying away in panic. Jansaadi fired three arrows at another that hobbled a second one greatly. As the bulletes approached, Duvafoodle confused one while Jansaadi continued wounded her foe.

Three of the huge beasts jumped towards the warriors, claws slashing the air to bring pain to both of them. A fourth clawed at Duvafoodle, greatly hurting the old man. The last one, in its confused state, ran away from the scene. Panian slashed at the throat of the one that had been pin cushioned by the ranger. He spun with the momentum of the killing stroke to bring pain to its friend, and then a third strike nearly crippled his new target. Rudolph cut his sword to the left, stealing his friend kill as the bullete fell dead to the ground.

Duvafoodle had already had enough of the battle and withdrew. Jansaadi sent more of her arrows whistling home into the armored plating of the nearest foe. Again, Rudolph and Panian were clawed on both sides as the bulletes jumped up and clawed. Rudolph was lucky to get in a quick strike on the belly of one of them, while Panian too struck the one that had been impaled by Jansaadi. A last axe strike by Panian killed the weaker one, and with an expert throw, he launched a javelin through the eye of the last threat.

Twenty-four hours later, the test was finally over. Rudolph and Panian were welcomed into the tribe as official Fire Clan members. Now it was time to finally receive the whole story of Kazavon…
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DM Comments 19: The Next Campaign
Chapter Four: A History of Ashes
It was the 13th of December, 2010 that I wrote the first session summary "The Bodyguards" for Curse of the Crimson Throne. Soon enough, a year will have gone by since that pre-session that started off what I hope to be a Golden Age for our Dungeons and Dragons group. It has been a wonderful campaign so far, and it is quickly culminating into the conclusion that will either make the Mercenaries of Korvosa one of the most memorable parties, or a party that simply ran into too many bumps in the road before the end. I will risk jinxing the situation by saying that I believe in the former.

Nineteen sessions in ten months doesn't seem like much, but it can be a campaign life time. In fact, there’s likely only about five sessions left. Five sessions before Panian, Rudolph, Jansaadi, and Duvafoodle find themselves retired. Will they ever come back to bring glory to our world? If they survive through the final battle then there will undoubtedly be tales and cameos in the future.

And the future is what it is time we all must begin thinking of (D&D wise of course).

This is the time that can be both sad and exciting. Watching the last Star Trek the Next Generation season, you know that your favorite characters will be taking their last mission. True Star Trek Voyager is just around the corner, but that means new stories, new enemies, and new characters. Goodbye captain Picard, and hello…. Janeway.

It is time to begin thinking of the next characters, while still keeping the love for the current ones. This can be difficult when jumping to a new DM, and thus new ideas, particularly if they are hinted at in great detail. This time I think will be quite different however because, for the first time in, ever? I will be DMing a second campaign in a row. As such, I have control over what I want you all to know for the future. And I have given all the hints I want to, without giving away anything truly important.

Despite that, I have to start your minds thinking about your next characters with a little bit more information. More precisely, here are some specifics. The next campaign will start in the town of Riddleport. It is a town renowned for banditry, sailors, and where you will not find any Korvosan guard, or Sable Company member to bail you out of trouble.

One of the things that makes the town truly remarkable is a huge arch like that of the top half of a stargate that ships pass through when entering the town. In fact this arch is called the Cyphergate, and attracts many historians as they try to decipher the runes inscribed upon it.

Duvafoodle's hometown is Riddleport, and when he left, a strange black cloud appeared in the sky over the town.

That's as much background as I think is needed at this point. Character ideas can be anything, as can races. However explorers, rogues, adventurers, scholars, and treasure hunters would all be great initial fits. As for a fourth character, I would suggest there be one. I would also suggest however that this character be controlled by an alternating player each session.

If all goes as planned, then 2012 will be the start of yet another grand D&D adventure, one which I can't wait to embark on. My goal is to end the current campaign before the likely long break around the holidays. During that time, I will commence map making, secondary plans for small side quest possibilities, and encouraging you all to flesh out your new character ideas. I have learned a lot from CotCT, mostly in that the rules I abandoned are the ones that added a great degree to the fun factor. Thus there will be no changes to the current formula, meaning no action points, no flaws, and no fate points. 

So what are some class ideas? Well, barbarian and druid? I've got nothing at the moment. Warrior? Perhaps a guardsmen fleeing his squad after committing (falsely?) a crime. Bard? The strange cloud in the sky is all motivation one would need. Mage? Both the cyphergate or the cloud could be motivation, or perhaps one might be hired as a ships mage. Rogue? You might work for a guild in town, or you can practice your trade without fear of reprisal except from other rogues. Cleric? Your church might think the cloud is a sign of doom and wants you to investigate. Ranger? That would be a secret email. Monk and Paladin? The title of the campaign is The Second Darkness, so you can bet that it is one geared towards characters seeking justice in the world. Psion? Um, your character gets hit by a runaway horse carriage and dies. There are no ideal alignments per say, although evil is probably not a good idea.

Those were just a few basic ideas to get your character creation gears turning. The Mercenaries of Korvosa should still be number one in your minds. At the same time, you should begin thinking about a background story for your next character. And keep in mind that his or her legacy may well expand outwards beyond mere city walls. Now is the time to let your imaginations soar to the next adventure. And after reading these words, tonight you will dream of just that.
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Summary 19: The Touch of Desna
Chapter Four: A History of Ashes
 
The journey began through the desert wastes, with Krojun Eats-What-He-Kills as a guide. With this new quest, that meant a friendly visit from Zellara and her magical Harrow deck. She was truly perplexed as to why MoK had fled the city as she felt that Korvosa was in greater peril than ever. It needed heroes in such dark times. Yet after the recent events were recounted, she understood, and thus performed a harrow reading. It seemed great strength would be required for the next events, and Panian was lucky enough to select most of the cards related to that attribute. Everyone however saw at least one vision.

Jansaadi saw all the MoK members facing the castle gates, and then turning their backs and walking away.

Duvafoodle saw himself and his friends among a tribe of Shoanti. From outside the circle, hundreds of malevolent eyes looked upon the group.

Rudolph saw the blades that descended to bring death to Vencarlo. He then saw several red mantis assassins weaving their blades in an attempt to fascinate him and his friends.

Panian saw several visions. The first was that of a huge foot attempting to squish him like an ant. He then saw a vision of a rope over his ear. It was the last however that brought great fear to Panian.

He saw himself looking down in the caldera of a volcano. Somehow he knew he was looking back to an event that had taken place about ten thousand years in the past. Below he saw a mage begin weaving a spell and then spread his hands, opening a gargantuan portal. The robed man laughed hysterically as a huge bloated beast with a thousand eyes and tentacles emerged from a realm whose named few knew. The mage seemed as though he was trying to control the thing, but it was clear that he had summoned a creature whose Will was indomitable. The creature, or Havero as was its true name, simply reached down and clawed the man in three with a single tentacle swipe. Once the mage was dead, hundreds of other mages teleported around the abomination. A fantastic battle took place as the Havero pummeled, dissected, and obliterated mage after mage. Yet it could not withstand the shear onslaught of spells hurled at it and eventually it went rigid in a binding spell. Then with ropes of magic, the survivors dragged the beast away to a place unknown.

The harrow cards usually were an indication of what threats were to come. And if the Havero was something that MoK would meet soon, then they stood absolutely no chance.

After several days, they finally arrived at the Acropolis of the Thrallkeepers. The entrance was that of a giant sphinx, with a huge staircase leading into its dark depths. There were no guards, yet there was something strange near the entrance; a small tower made of bone. There seemed no entrance into this structure and Krojun said that it was not a structure known to the area as he had never seen it. Krojun said he would await MoK outside. His burnrider comrades were intrigued by the Acropolis and wanted to explore. Thus, after MoK entered, they and Krojun followed far behind so as not to distract the Mercenaries from their course.

As MoK descended the stairs, the card that had given Panian the Havero image began to glow. This brought great fear to the otherwise fearless man, and he said a silent prayer for his soul that would likely flee his body in the next few moments.

Jansaadi's ears caught the sound of voices further down that were obviously not familiar. They were talking in a strange dialect, and one of the speakers was a human voice. Rudolph spoke to Krojun who said that everything within the Acropolis was part of the test of Desna and that he could not interfere, but did say that caution might be the optimal course.

MoK continued down, a sunrod leading the way. They entered a massive chamber whose center was dominated by dark water covered with centuries of debris. Yet there was something even stranger about the water that Rudolph simply couldn't figure out what, only that he felt an ominous wave coming from it. As though that wasn't bad enough, the harrow card of Panian's continued glowing a malevolent purple. It seemed death was all around them.

Advancing to the closed door where the voices were coming from, Rudolph pushed it open, his sword drawn. Inside the small room was a mermaid statue with writing from another time covering the entire stone sculpture. Standing before it was a man with a long flowing red robe and the symbol of Zon-Kuthon proudly displayed, hanging from his neck. Next to him was a female demoness with bone-like wings and a body covered in chains. He introduced himself as Count Sial, and his lover as the chain devil Asyral. He said he would not harm them, although the same could not be said for Sial. The priest said that his divinations had led him to the holy site of Desna as he was hoping to meet the Mercenaries. He had heard many great stories of their exploits and was hoping to observe the four mighty warriors in action as they and Ileosa were embroiled in something historic.

There was no wanting for the two strangers to follow in their footsteps, so the Zon-Kuthonites decided to stay where they were and the Mercenaries continued their exploration. After exiting the door, Jansaadi picked up the sounds of the burnriders talking amongst themselves, with small splashing sounds intermingled with their speech. Worried, MoK returned and found the Shoanti attempting to skip rocks on the water and watching curiously as they simply stopped at the water's surface. Rudolph bellowed out a command at them to stop. The four looked back at Krojun who, with a simple nod, acknowledged the order.

And then the tentacle with an eyeball on the end emerged from the water.

It scanned all the warriors like a dog coming to investigate a disturbance before it returned to the depths it had come. That was enough for the Fire Clan members as all five exited the Acropolis.

With no threats, the Mercenaries continued exploring, and came to a room with six statues of mages. In one hand they held an open book, while in another they held a glaive. There was strange writing covering all six statues, but after a quick observation, it was clear that there might be some sense to the markings. Even Panian, who always thought reading was for pansies, saw that he was able to piece together certain elements of what was written. Each MoK member began reading a statue, thinking it would only take a few moments. Yet soon it became evident that it would take longer than expected.

Duvafoodle and Rudolph understood that it would likely take a lifetime to read all the writing and prepared to move on. Panian and Jansaadi however didn't want to leave the room. It seemed as though the secrets of the world were opening up before them. Panian, who had never read a word in his life, began to weep in wonder at the revelations before him. It was clear something was wrong, especially after Rudolph took away the barbarian's axe without any reaction. The crusader put the axe blade in front of his friend's eyes, blocking his friend's frantic reading. And in that moment, all understanding of the world was broken. Panian's mind cleared, to his great detriment, and he was the illiterate barbarian again.

They tried the same with Jansaadi, but she simply started reading another part of the statue. Panian had no choice but to grab her and thrust her outside the room. Even after doing so, she still continued reading the walls as though seeing words no one else could. Fearing she had fallen under a curse of some kind, and looking at Duvafoodle's shaking head at not having a solution memorized, they went to talk with Sial. He confirmed that the ranger was vexed, and removed the spell from her mind. Like Panian, she felt an unbelievable sense of loss, but at least she was no longer enthralled.

After more exploration, they came to a set of double doors that were barred. It took several moments, but the two warriors were able to bash them in. This brought them to the far edge of the central chamber. Looking at them were three tentacles that had sprung up from the water. Duvafoodle immediately sprouted a rain storm from his rod of wonder. Jansaadi wounded one of the tentacles with a volley of arrows. Panian screamed to the gods of battle as he let the barbarian rage encompass him. He then let his axe loose upon the closest tentacle, slashing the eyeball on the end in two.

The appendage was more than meets the eye however, and it smashed Panian's ribs with the force of a warhammer. A second tentacle missed Rudolph. The third tentacle did something truly terrifying as it dipped into the water and then fazed through the floor to strike Duvafoodle and wrap the gnome in a crushing embrace. Rudolph came to the rescue with a slice that nearly severed the tentacle on Duvafoodle. Panian in turn finished off his tentacle, and then threw a javelin at the one around his small friend, dropping the writhing thing. Rudolph took a slashing swipe from the remaining one, before a retaliatory slash of his own. Jansaadi's arrows flew through the air, lodging themselves in the writhing mass.

And then, five more tentacles suddenly appeared.

Duvafoodle had fled to the scripture room, where there he began meditating for a more powerful healing spell. He heard the cry from Rudolph, followed by the crunch of bone as a tentacle wrapped itself around the crusader and squeezed. The crusader struggled to get his arm free and slashed down, cutting it in two. More arrows soared, hitting one of the fresh havero tentacles. A cry of triumph came from Panian as the big axe sliced one of the claw tentacles right down the middle. An eye then lurched at him and tried to envelope his torso, but Panian was too strong and shoved the thing aside.

Jansaadi however was not as lucky as her bowstring was suddenly silenced by a tentacle wrapping itself around her and crushing her life. Two other tentacles moved in and smashed her frail form but Duvafoodle had been able to mend his own grievous wound. This allowed him to move into the fray and blast his kinsman with healing energy that saved her life. Still the ranger was being harassed by three tentacles and it was only a matter of time before she fell. Panian threw his remaining two javelins into one of the ones threatening Jansaadi, but it wasn't enough.

Rudolph cut his tentacle to ribbons, and finally arrived at his small friend's side, but it was too late as she slumped into merciful unconsciousness. That seemed to see evoke an even greater rage in Panian. He moved next to his fallen friend and chopped a tentacle down, then nearly dropped a second one. Rudolph drained some of the life from a tentacle and gave it to Jansaadi, bringing her eyes open painfully. Panian, despite his rage, found himself tied up with the injured tentacles, and he simply could not break free.

Duvafoodle again went into a meditative state in the hopes of Shiverdamara would grant him a healing touch to save his friends. He emerged from his state to see the whites of Panian's ribs piercing outwards through the skin as the tentacle continued crushing. He thus sent his healing energy at Panian, keeping him conscious. Rudolph was finally able to cut the tentacle off of the half-orc, but a second tentacle slashed the barbarian. Yet still he maintained his hold on life, and managed a final cut that dropped the tentacle, before he himself fell face down to the ground.

And suddenly, three more tentacles appeared.

From across the way, Sial appeared. He said that according to his readings, it was the noise that was attracting more havero tentacles. With a fight that would never end, Rudolph grabbed his fallen green friend and ran to an unoccupied room with his fellow MoK members. There they waited for the noise to calm down. Sure enough, after a few minutes, and with no targets, the tentacles went back down to the black depths.

Rudolph used a potion to bring more life to Panian, while Duvafoodle used his remaining magic to heal up as many wounds as possible. They found themselves in a small room with a hole in the floor where from light poured upwards from it. A quick search of a neighboring room turned up a single bronze statue of a serpent-like woman with the head of a seven pointed star. This was the deity Lissala, a once sacred patron to a long lost civilization. In her hand was a real whip which glowed with magic. Using a harrow guard revealed it to be a powerful weapon against those of chaotic nature. Given this, Panian decided to take it.

Going back to the room with the light, Rudolph passed his hand through it and felt as though his hand had lost all weight. He decided to grab a rock and throw it into the light. Sure enough, it fell into the hole in floor with the softness of a feather. Not wanting to miss anything else, the Mercenaries decided to search the entire place for any secret entrances before going down to a place unknown.

Then another unexpected thing happened, Panian began drawing invisible runes in the air and seeing many others. The runes seemed to be similar to the writing of earlier, with the exception that he truly saw something. He whispered the name Thassalon, and he read of some great disaster that befell the civilization over ten thousand years ago. And then he read something that chilled his blood more than the havero image; the end of the world was coming soon.

Despite the obvious curse he had gotten from somewhere, the half-orc was sane enough to continue on. He was the first to jump into the light and float ever so gently to a chamber only thirty feet below. After landing, he saw four figures emerge from the shadows. These were more of the red mantis assassins, although how they knew to wait at that precise place was anyone's guess. Panian called a warning to his friends, before taking out his axe. He couldn't wait to add a little more color to the mantis's uniforms. 

Rudolph jumped down and guarded his friends back. One of the assassins attempted a dance of death that failed to grab the crusaders attention. A second one slashed four times but each strike was deflected by a parrying bastard sword. A third assassin sent cast a hold person on Panian, and perhaps it was all the recent battle, but the spell succeeded in taking hold on his mind. Panian could do nothing but see the runes surrounding him, including one that appeared before his eyes; the rune of death.

There was the flash of steel as the fourth assassin swung his saber. Rudolph felt the patter of rain upon his head and thought for a second Duvafoodle had cast rain again from his rod. He looked back and realized the truth, as he saw the fountain of blood spurting in the air from the stump of Panian's neck where once a head had been attached.

Rudolph and a red mantis began taunting each other, with the later saying he would add a second MoK members head to his wall. Rudolph in turn said that the Queen had obviously sent the four to kill them, to which the assassin confirmed. For Rudolph, that was the final proof the he needed to condemn Ileosa to death next time they met.

From above, Duvafoodle dropped down and cast a levitation to stay out of blade range. Jansaadi then floated down, guarding Rudolph's back. The crusader showed no mercy as he cut the closest assassin down with two quick cuts, before confronting the one who had slain his friend. Smiling behind his insect mask, the assassin slashed left, right, followed by a double strike low that surprise the warrior as he came away bloodied but still standing. Jansaadi fired two arrows into the assassin's eye, and as he screamed in pain, Rudolph cut him down. Duvafoodle meanwhile uncorked his magic bottle, allowing for magic smoke to fill the air and secretly wondering what would happen if he put some shiver in the bottle.

The remaining assassins took up flanking positions on Rudolph, but the crusader was quick to deflect all but one grazing saber hit. As the smoke filled the room, Jansaadi sent an audible curse Duvafoodle's way as she simply couldn't get a bead on any foes with her bow. Rudolph too was having trouble seeing through the smoke, and missed his next strikes. It seemed however, that everyone was being impeded by the smoke as the assassins simply couldn't find their foe through the wisps of grey.

Duvafoodle sent a blinding spell through his rod of wonder, but nothing happened to the mantises. Jansaadi finally saw an opening in the haze and fired three arrows into the back of one assassin. He in turn had his throat slashed open by Rudolph. The remaining one knew that Cinnabar would do much worse to him if he fled with his life. He stabbed four times to the left, but only caught Rudolph with a minor jab in the kidney. He then felt his movements slowed thanks to the rod of wonder. Rudolph thrust his blade through those leather mandibles and dropped the assassin.

All of the Mercenaries stood there in silence.

Panian was dead.

The mountain had been dropped, but there remained a chance to bring him back to life. They all stepped into the light and its magic levitated them back to the first level. There they went in search of Sial. He responded to their question of the possibility of bringing back Panian by saying that it might be possible, yet to do so, he would have to speak with Rudolph in private.

It was a long conversation between the two. The worshipper of Zon-Kuthon, and worshipper to Iomedae spoke in hushed tones, their own religions the complete opposite of each other. Had they both been part of the order of the paladine, they would have had their own holy war. There was a war between the two, but it was one of Will, not of religion. Sial made two offers to Rudolph. The first went against the Mercenaries very mission. The second spat in the face of Rudolph's principle. Sial thus settled for the standard monetary engagement, and thus Rudolph handed over his personal cloak that acted as a protection against all things hostile. Soon Panian was again amongst the living. Sial said that the whip from the statue he had in his possession had taken hold in barbarian mind with a powerful curse, endangering his mind from outside influences.

United again, the Mercenaries jumped into the light that brought them down to the second level. There they were able to continue down a long corridor that led into a large room. The walls and ceiling were decorated with butterflies, the insect that was the sign of Desna. The room itself was lit with small lights that made it seem as though the butterflies were flying among the stars. At the center of the room, resting on three pegs that seemed to float in the air, was a model of the world as it looked like when the gods had come to be. Rudolph was the first to touch the globe, and he suddenly disappeared. His companions waited in confusion, until their friend reappeared, with a small tattoo of a butterfly on his hand.

He had received the touch of Desna.

In turn, all the Mercenaries of Korvosa touched the orb, and each emerged with the same mark. They were now ready to meet the tribe of the Moon.
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