The Astral Gale

Bargains with a Giant, a Mystery in Hest

The conflict with the Cloud Giant sorcerer Yakupinyage was brought to a pause when a surgically altered aaracokcra with a voicebox escorted by several apes appeared. The voicebox spoke with a tinny voice of what everyone supposed was the voice of Yakupinyage. van Rijn negotiated the return of the captive aaracokra three days hence and also indicated that more mechanical components might be available. Yakupinyage agreed and suggested that these components be sold three days hence.

Zell was put on the trail of the lizardfolk in Ambartzumian, who, it was later determined, had been recruited by Adrienne the Fire Witch, for some unknown purpose. The aaracokra scouts and Mhyrryn followed them as they scouted Ambartzumian for a new homeland for the aaracokra.

Everyone else returned to Hest, finding that Orixia, Clockwork van RIjn, and Borat the Bugbear were holding off an angry crowd who had insisted on voiding two humans. The ringleader of the crowd was the tiefling butcher Meerk. The two fellows proved to be the hapless but horribly destructive rogues Tkalec and Korban. They had followed Nicholas van Rijn, their onetime business partner, whom they’d stranded, looking for revenge on him. van Rijn, who was nowhere to be seen but was now selling art objects from a world called Balaton in Hest through a now-deceased agent named Sumegh.

When the crowd was dispersed, van Rijn noticed a figure wearing a moon amulet with the symbol of Selune. A search was mounted, and the group found that the figure had gone through the 8-sided gate. Inside they found an obviously Feebleminded half elf that van Rijn recognized, the famous courtesan Devin d’Ascoli, a half elf who ran Selune’s Kiss in the city of Lion’s Bridge in his homeworld.

After capturing Devin d’Ascoli, Andra used an Antimagic Shell to suppress the Feeblemind. This proved to have been likely cast by a Master of the Festrilan Mage Guild named Lupo de Lucarello, who is a Guild ambassador. He was one of her clients but “not one she enjoyed.” She remembered very little of her experience, just going to Lupo’s home. Andra realized that Feeblemind would likely block out memories so it was unclear if any were there to be investigated.. After some more discussion it was revealed that she was an agent for the Countess and had been an agent for the Count before that. It seemed that the Guild ambassador sold her to someone, with Tkalec and Korban—-now safely imprisoned in Borat’s special creation he called “gimp suits” and subject to ever-increasing but carefully nonlethal humiliation and “punishment” by the creepily sadistic bugbear. It was decided they should wait the judgment of the God Machine. Devin preferred to be restored and was rilling to risk the Rod of Law to avoid being Feebleminded. It worked but she seemed to age slightly after it. She stayed in the tower in Hest, feeling safe there for the moment, but was eager to return home as soon as she could. Around this time, Orixia was called to the scene of Meerk’s murder. He’d had his throat cut neatly with his own killing blade. No clear culprit was in the offing, however, even after thoroughly searching. Zell was called back from Ambartzumian and then searched for clues but none were to be found. van Rijn gave the description of his ne’er do well cousin Nicholas van Rijn.

More searching in Trobriand’s laboratory commenced, looking for parts to trade to Yakupinyage, without giving him anything of great importance.

Styg approached the party with an update on his research on restoring the Brain in a Jar. He noted that the torpedo fish he’d tried had revived it for a while but that magical electricity would be too damaging. He also had to soak it in a solution of void salts and palm sugar. Voy indicated she needed to take observations and decided to join Captain Yna Emet’s crew, now made up of former courtesans rescued from Sitirthra’s Pleasure Palace. Styg was reluctant but Andra felt that it was time for Voy to travel. Phantine had returned with a large crew of giff, and took over as city captain, freeing Orixia—-frustrated at dealing with squabbles among merchants—-to travel with Voy.

Andra, Ariel, Zell, van Rijn, and Wendeam returned to the aaracokra and briefly explored the giantish ruins on which the aaracokra dwelled. A strange electrical construct was found but left for later. Soon the group departed for the rendezvous with Yakupinyage to deal with gears and such. A distinguished appearing apeman with silvering hair and a robe, one Ape Romney, was waiting along with some apemen soldiers and an “expert” who proved to be a gnome working for Gnelam Skoradinssen… an unwelcome name, given that Skoradin, the gnomish priest of Talos was an old (though vanquished and deceased enemy) who had build many horrifying gadgets. However, the gnome identified the gears as being “Trobriand work”. Zell eavesdropped on his conversation with the distinguished apeman and realized that the gnome insisted on buying everything. The apeman’s bargaining position thereby undermined, van Rijn took him for nearly all the money he had, but left a bit back. Eventually this led to an invitation to visit “Prince Yakupinyage of Cloud Castle”, but only if a proper gift was proffered.

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The Stone Trolls

To stave off recruitment of trolls to Yakupinyage’s nascent army—-as well as to feed their insatiable desire for alchemical components—-the group decided to attack a group of trolls found on the road. The fight was pretty brutal as the trolls appeared to be elementally-touched and were very good at hiding in the rocks. They ambushed the group with thrown boulders. However, after a nasty fight they were finished off and harvested. Off in the distance, Yakupinyage’s castle could be seen, floating.

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Meeting Theodorus

The aaracockra scouts returned with Myhrynn, having been attacked by some apemen in the service of Yakupinyage. More of the aaracockra had fallen and Myhrynn was sorely wounded by the accurate shooting of the apemen, who were guarding a caravan of some sort.

Wendeam and Ariel went ahead to try to use the portal to summon van Rijn, Andra, and Zell, avoiding a long mountain journey. The caravan was moving down a switchback in the road where it went down a steep slope, which seemed like an ideal ambush location. The apemen were riding bird mounts and seemed alert. The caravan itself had a massive wagon drawn by a grunting and straining ettin. A wizard riding a chestnut stallion and another human rider on a bird completed it.

Wendeam summoned the dust devil, preparing to send it across the stream. Zell tried climbing down the ravine to cross it, hoping to ambush the outrider across the stream. Unfortunately the githezerai rogue fell when a rock broke, and the ambush was broken.

The apemen reacted with coordinated ferocity, using whirring mechanical crossbows to pepper any target they could see with bolts. Ariel and Wendeam warded off their bolts while van Rijn and Andra used destructive magics. The wizard and the other human disappeared from view while the ettin advanced, throwing boulders. Unfortunately at this point the wizard rallied, throwing a fireball—-warded off by Andra’s sagacious Minor Globe of Invulnerability—-but the apemen seemed to draw bead and peppered Ariel with bolts. She retreated behind a boulder to avoid t hem. The wizard was clearly using Improved Invisibility because while he appeared after the spell, he rapidly disappeared again.

The other human proved to be a polymorphed ogre of some sort, dressed in outlandish clothes carrying a massive iron-bound club. Having Andra, Ariel, and Zell packed up with Wendeam in the way was a big temptation. The ogre breathed forth a massive cloud of cold, which Zell managed to avoid, Ariel being just out of the range. However, Andra and Wendeam took it, leaving both quite hurt. van Rijn was simply not nearby, having engaged in a magic and missile duel with one of the apemen.

At this point, Ariel used the fractal blades to bisect the obviously incredibly deadly ogre, killing the erin in the process. Zell chased after the invisible wizard, realizing that he was a threat that needed to be dealt with. However, with the rest of his troops dead he struck his colors and surrendered to Andra.

Theorodus proved to be a wizard and claimed to be a peer of the slain Gurwulf. He expressed surprise at the fact that Andra was a man and not dressed in the garb of the swamp, which seemed odd. His story proved to be this. He had been hired by Yakupinyage at a tavern—-the story was a bit bizarre, though strangely compelling to Andra—-to escort a caravan of goods. He indicated that Yakupinyage was “a fell master” and that he was not sorry to have been defeated so he could return to the tavern.. As he had been defeated, he surrendered the caravan contents, which proved to be a large collection of various mechanical and clockwork parts, including a mysterious gold tube and a strange black rod with a glass sphere on the end. These latter seemed ominously reminiscent of the mechanical parts that had been found in Trobirand’s laboratory and later incorporated into the God-Machine of Hest. Ariel shrunk the entire wagon down and van Rijn stored it in his Bag of Holding, along with the crossbows, the club of the ogre, and other items. Ariel also harvested the ettin and ogre for alchemical components, using a large syringe. The corpses of the apemen were left for the scavengers.

Theodorus indicated that Yakupinyage was building some kind of magical device in his castle and that the parts were for it. The clockwork parts had been purchased from a merchant named Kubetonn who was from a city known as Karadur. Kubetonn proved to be a goblin of some sort. He drew a picture of it, which proved to vaguely resemble a Master Gate, one that would allow entrance to the Vale of Aqaa. However, it seemed oddly malformed and containing other protuberances. Andra and van Rijn argued about negotiating with Yakupinyage, with van Rijn seeming to favor negotiating, but the tentative word was to attack him.

Andra accepted Theodorus’ parole and Theodorus indicated that he wanted to return to the tavern, which he said was only a few days away. van Rijn pondered going there but Andra thought that that would be… very dangerous to him in particular. As a battlefield seemed a poor place to camp, some searching turned up a better spot where one of Blaise Radlock’s sphere spells was employed to provide shelter.

Later on, the group came across a group of odd looking goblins wearing identical blue robes and bearing small blunderbusses. After some bizarre discussion they proved amenable to joining Andra. More travel ensued, and a war band of obviously chaotic gnolls was avoided. However, after more journeying and nearing the location of Yakupinyage’s castle a band of war trolls seemed to be wandering. Not sure whether they were working for the cloud giant, the group decided to ambush them.

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Honoring the Pact

After departing the vault that contained a part of the Rod, the group—-somewhat beat up—-returned to the Lizardfolk town to rest. Andra needed a long time to recover. Wendeam and van Rijn spoke with Myhrryn, the Ee’ar survivor of the Vault. She seemed… off. Once she was outside she seemed better, but refused to go into any building with enclosed walls and to fear even roofs.

More scouting revealed a Beast of Chaos—-their trails not being subtle it was easy to follow—-and Wendeam, van Rijn, and Myhrryn killed it using arrows and crossbow bolts from the sky. The beast proved to be tough and hard to hit but did not require magical ammunition. Upon approaching it with the Rod it appeared to change back to a mundane animal.

As Andra recovered, he worked on many cosmological calculations of the location of Ambartzumian. He also spoke with the lizardfolk but felt alienated from them. Ariel studied their herb lore.

Wendeam continued scouting and, strangely, heard a voice in his mind: “We call on a Lawgiver. Honor the pact! We need aid!” He ignored it but over time the voice grew louder. Eventually he asked what to do and felt a strong pull, and knew how to get there to the askers, though he knew it was not in this plane. He answered the call and appeared, floating above a strange temple of massive proportions with a flock of birdmen—-the aaracokra—-doing an elaborate dance in the sky. An older one, the shaman who led the dance, approached, and invoked the old pacts. Wendeam realized that these pacts were true and saw that the aaracokra were pressed by massive winged apes, who were approaching in the distance. The shaman, Thanu, spoke in Auran about how the grahluks were in the service of a cloud giant sorcerer named Yakupiniyage, who enslaved the aaracokra in his cloud fortress a day’s flight away.

At van Rijn’s behest, Ariel determined the location that Wendeam had traveled to and began opening the portal. Andra and van Rijn chose to go, and Myhrryn, somewhat savagely, picked up her bow to go with. Both were prepared with flight.

Wendeam began a crossbow duel with the grahluks, who proved to be able shots themselves. The aaracokra began flying around wildly and two with bows returned fire themselves. At this point van Rijn, Andra, and Myhrryn appeared. van Rijn moved up to interpose to prevent the grahluks from entering melee, calling one out to duel. Andra used Chromatic Orb to paralyze one, which fell to the ground. Archery fire brought down a third, which continued its cruel barrage of crossbow bolts. The battle went on for a bit. van Rijn began a duel with the one remaining grahluk but nobody seemed to accept it, most notably the aaracokra, who began to barrage it with javelins and arrows. Eventually all the grahluk were killed.

After more cosmological calculation, Andra determined that this plane was yet distinct from any other place he had been but determined its location. He used Sending to have Ariel open the gate again, but assured Thanu that, after the chimera in Ambartzumian was defeated, the group would return to deal with the cloud giant.

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A Fight with Corrupted Followers of Zerthimon

Ariel miniaturized the incapacitated Andra and put him in her pocket. When the Rod of Law approached the githzerai wizard, he disintegrated, seemingly undone by the Disjunction he had been casting.

Not knowing what to do, Zell proceeded back through the doors, hoping to scout out the passage out and wondering what had happened. Unfortunately she was attacked by her former compatriots. The ee’ar captain, an elf lightly armored but well-muscled to support her wings, had a mad look in her eye and turned on Zell, joined by the two githzerai warriors, who appeared to be even worse, possibly drained of life by whatever had held them in stasis for so long. Meanwhile, van Rijn began skirmishing with the two elven warriors, who also betrayed signs of madness. They shot at him with arrows through the bars.

Zell was distraught and attempted to reason with them. The four warriors, two githzerai and two elves, proved to have become some sort of wraith but the captain managed to maintain a tenuous hold on sanity. However, the warriors were more than challenge enough, managing to knock Zell out of the fight. When that happened the ee’ar captain, who had been quelled and only parrying, turned on her former soldiers, who were tough opponents whose attacks drained strength.

Ariel’s fractal blades, however, proved to be their undoing, along with Wendeam’s dancing spear and summoned Dust Devil and van Rijn’s use of everybody’s favorite Magic Missile.

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The Rod of Law

The hidden vault of the vaati was opened.

Wendeam and Zell scouted ahead, revealing a fork in the road. van Rijn and Andra checked the door behind but realized the door was not openable… ominous. Each way revealed a substantial room with figures in it that appeared to be… frozen in time? It was hard to say. The northerly route had two githzerai and an ee’ar. The southerly route had two elves. Zell recognized all of the figures as having been on her expedition.

Each ended in a portcullis blocking the way forward. The northerly route also proved to have an open door that led to some constructs that Wendeam identified as being of the bledrudeam caste, the abjurers. However, what they did was unknown.

After much deliberation and careful exploration, Wendeam summoned the dust devil, which scouted past the portcullises, though it lacked the intelligence to provide much information. It did identify a large room further in. It failed to identify any mechanism to open the portcullises, though.

Zell decided, perhaps impulsively, to teleport through the grating and Wendeam used his tracking power to follow her. Ariel decided to do so as well. Andra and van Rijn readied to Dimension Door if things got hot, though they didn’t.

Zell searched for a mechanism but didn’t find one. Wendeam called her over to the remaining room, which contained yet another figure, frozen in time, this time a githzerai casting a spell. Zell knew him as well. He was an archmage and one of the leaders of Zerthimon expedition. Ariel, however, did find a mechanism and the portcullis was opened.

van Rijn noticed that the spell the gilhzerai was casting was the mighty Disjunction… however, he appeared to be caught in the ultimate moment of the spell. In the same room as the githzerai wizard was another bledrudeam construct, clearly very powerful. It appeared to be a vault.

Once again, after some deliberation Wendeam decided to enter the vault. He went in disappeared, being trapped in a bizarre maze he needed to find his way through.

Outside, however, two bizarre entities emerged, hostile to those in the room, perhaps explaining why the githzerai was casting a potent spell.

The entities seemed to be strange distortions in space.

The fight was dire without Wendeam. Everyone but Zell was surprised. She interposed herself to protect Ariel. The other entity attacked Andra, damaging him. The entities proved to be extremely damaging and difficult to attack, given that they were only in the sync of time part of the time. Coordination was clearly needed. It turned out the entities were also able to resist Ariel’s non-magical attacks. However, they did take damage from mundane weapons and were slowly whittled down. However, at some point when they appeared to be nearer to dissipation, there was a… gap in reality and both Zell and Andra ended up sorely wounded. Once again Andra was knocked down by damage. However, when van Rijn killed one, his time appeared to be shifted into a higher speed. This helped him, and he whittled the other down, though Zell killed it and was similarly affected.

Once Wendeam found his way to the center of the maze he saw an artifact covered with runes of law. He took hold of it and was deposited outside the vault, holding a fragment of the Rod of Law.

With deep certainty, Wendeam felt that he’d done the right thing… and yet Lord Steiner was pleased with the outcome.

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Ascend to the Temple and Fight with Spyder Fiends

The group returned to the first village by way of Dimensional Folding.

van Rijn (assisted by Zell) and Joliffe negotiated before Joliffe found a hidden jeweled bracelet which she used to open a portal much like the one the Mercane

The negotiation was over the group staying in Ambartzumian to deal with leftover problems. Zell pointed out that it is unlikely the Mercane will consider this too favorably given that they would expect the group to clean out the yuan ti for their own reasons.

Dimensional Folding was used to return to the lizard folk village. More elven villagers had escaped from the lightly guarded temple the yuan ti dwelled in. They thought there might be more captives but didn’t know.

Phantom Steeds used to climb the stairs with a shrunken Ariel carried by Wendeam. Along the way there was broken terrain with the signs of a legendary monster, the chimera, along with some other bizarre beats. One was found dead—-signs it once was a histachii—-surrounded by dead vultures and no insects. Its flesh appeared poisonous.

Eventually the ruins of the temple were entered. There were many, and clearly the complex had been built on many times by many different people. Near the main temple there was a penned-up Beast of Chaos, which Wendeam identified as being created from ordinary creatures mutated when the Queen of Chaos’ attention focused on a world. However, it seemed to be staked out like a domestic animal. When approached it charged and attacked, and was put down, though it appeared to be quite dangerous and likely to pass its instability onto those attacked.

There appeared to be no sign of the yuan ti.

Inside the temple there was a statue showing a vaati of the haikjadeam caste, the paladins. Other statues were copies in the style. As Wendeam advanced, several horrible wolf-headed and spider-bodies demons, the dreaded spyder-fiends that are the degenerated offspring of the Queen of Chaos and Miska the Wolf Spider, dropped down from hiding in the ceiling. There were several smaller ones—-kaaku and spithraku—-led by a larger one, the dreaded phirasazu, which was festooned with weapons, including a mechanical crossbow and some double sized scimitars.

The always sharp-eyed Zell was the only one not surprised. The spyder-fiends attempted to use their webs to trap the group, but were foiled by good dodging or by Rings of Free Action. Zell, not being able to make use of sneak attack, threw adamantine spheres at one of the lesser fiends, injuring it. The sypder-fiends also began changing blasphemous statements which shifted odds in their favor. In addition, some of them began summoning others of their kind and the greater fiend used Mirror Image on itself and took shots with the crossbow.

Recognizing how great a threat fiend summons were, Andra used fireball, though not to nearly as strong an effect as he’d hoped, as the spyder-fiends proved to be resistant. However, they were not resistant to Wendeam’s spear or Ariel’s fractal blades, and many of the lesser ones were dispatched before they could summon more. Zell picked off some, and van Rijn, using Oil of Impact, enchanted some bullets to attack the greater one. He later used Magic Missile to strip the phirasazu of its images to help his companions attack it. Andra used a Chromatic Orb to attempt to paralyze it, but it resisted.

The phirasazu proved to be a mighty combatant, however, and managed to knock Wendeam down, nearly slaying the vaati. However, Ariel’s fractal blade once again bisected it, sending it back to whence it came.

Rest was in order and the Dimensional Folding was once again employed to return to the elven village, but not before Zell found several more villagers who had been hiding and ascertained that the vaati statue in the temple hid a secret door. After receiving some healing from the grateful villagers and Ariel’s spells, Dimensional Folding was used to return to the temple, making haste in the event that someone else—-Lord Steiner being a prime suspect—-arrived first.

Zell puzzled out the lock and opened the door. All felt that something momentous was about to occur.

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Deja Vu All Over Again

After a nice rest in the lizard man village, Andra was questioned by the lizard men. They expected that he would be better at their ways. Andra pondered what he’d lost. They also said that they’d heard Adrienne the Fire Witch of Tatalia was nearby. Andra remembered her from his time in Vorion, when she’d aided him, van Rijn, and Ariel when they were fighting with Lords Quick and Steiner. Setting out on the mission, the group was led by one eerily named Korbac to the site of an ambush. There they found a discarded and partially disassembled ballista along with mostly eaten human remains… and a pennon of the hapless Gerwulf… what happened here with the rakshasa was anyone’s guess. Andra suggested that Korbac should attempt to tame the serpent flies.

At this point at the crossroads there waited an armored figure on the back of a great black-coated destrier. The figure had the eightfold arrows of Chaos emblazoned on his chest, but a flag of truce flying. He indicated that his master, a Lord Steiner, desired to parlay. He demanded oaths “in the name of The Gray Lords, in the old fashion” but nobody knew who they were. Ariel wondered if The Reiga—-the mysterious artist that was on Hest, who had reappeared more than once—-was one.

After some deliberation, the Warrior led the group towards a camp containing a massive pavilion. There were two hill giants tending an ogre roasting over a firepit. In addition there were several uncomfortable looking yuan ti waiting outside.

Waiting inside were yet more yuan ti, including the hapless yuan ti sorceress who had escaped from several fights, and the corpulent Lord Steiner, unwelcome and seemingly none the worse for wear despite last being seen torn apart by the Adamantine Golem of Law in Vorion, a world away. Steiner was accompanied by a pale looking woman he introduced as Nostalia. In addition, the hapless Joliffe, agent of the Mercane, was chained up to his chair. Lord Steiner happily greeted the group, offering food and drink, which were refused. He also inquired whether “the lovely Ariel” would have sex with him and Nostalia, but that too was refused. He mused about having met Andra in a different incarnation as Kong Ming. He wanted them to swear by “the Dead God Darnizhaan”… who was possibly the Gargantuan Gorilla. Steiner was, whatever else, consistent as a source of information, albeit often unwelcome information. Steiner also indicated that van Rijn would come to a “greater understanding” and come to join him in his acknowledgment of Gaurak the Glutton, the Lord of Chaos that Steiner served.

He seemed to want the group to take Joliffe and promise to depart this world. Knowing that no deal of Steiner’s was a particularly good one, this was refused. Haggling went back and forth about the exact meaning of it, until Andra, tiring of the discussion, decided to cut the Gordian knot and take Joliffe, hoping that he’d found a loophole in the truce, although he realized he’d need to move mundanely as the entire pavilion was under a Teleportation Ward.

Alas, the yuan ti, ever treacherous, attacked first, an invisible assassin stabbing van Rijn, poisoning the Freiporter. She then leapt over to be adjacent to Ariel, hoping to damage her and preventing spellcasting. The battle was joined, with the quick-witted Zell aggressively attacking the assassin, cutting her and getting into a flanking position with Ariel.

Steiner was unsurprised and backed away with Nostalia, fingering his cane, carved with many devouring insects with the head of a gaping maw. He indicated that the yuan ti were fools and seemed to indicate that he would not participate in the fight. Nobody wanted to attack him lest he join the fight, unleashing his deadly Creeping Doom. He held off for now.

The yuan ti were nearly enough, however. There were two large yuan ti abominations there, the sorceress, and the ones outside, along with the assassin.

The assassin tried to kill Ariel, thinking she was vulnerable, but not reckoning with displacement. The abominations meleed Andra, who had the freed Joliffe and Wendeam, trying to block their escape. The sorceress tried to attack Andra with Magic Missiles but was foiled by his Minor Globe of Invulnerability which protected him and Joliffe. Ariel’s fractal blade sliced into them, and killed several of the lesser histachii along with damaging the abomination and halfbreed. Andra fireballed the north half of the pavilion. Steiner winced but did nothing. van Rijn used some of the herbal remedies given by the villagers to stave off the poison and leapt over towards the assassin.

The battle continued, with Ariel continuing to cut them down with the fractal blade after the pureblood assassin and sorceress were both killed, using it to block out the halfbreed and remaining histachii. However, the abomination meleeing Andra hit hard, and in a series of blows, felled Andra, who was near death. Some timely elixir from Wendeam saved him. Eventually the last yuan ti were dispatched, though the fight was up close and desperately bloody.

The group parted from Steiner, who, true to his word, allowed them to depart….

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A Monkey on His Back and "Heroes" of Might and Magic

A Monkey on His Back

The group set out towards the territory of the yuan ti temple. Journey on the road continued, following the road, with Wendeam and a miniaturized Ariel scouting by invisible flight and the rest riding phantom steeds. The whole plateau is covered with heavy jungle canopy and frequent clouds, though Wendeam, being an elemental of air, could see through it, and saw the gargantuan gorilla sitting atop a rock promontory off in the distance. He seemed to be looking for something. He suddenly moved in the direction of the group, which seemed bad… but then veered off. About this time, a group of carnivorous apes attacked! Deciding that fighting them seemed pointless, the riders used the speed of the phantom steeds to escape them, though the apes did pelt them with rocks… and other things.

More scouting around and everyone saw the gargantuan gorilla, who seemed to have a smaller gorilla on his shoulder, which looked ominous and incredibly sad at the same time.

Discretion suggested that camp be set up somewhere that the gargantuan gorilla couldn’t easily get, so a small valley was chosen and Rope Trick employed to make a safe (if uncomfortable and cramped) camp.

Exercising an abundance of caution, Wendeam was rendered invisible and went out. He saw a few strange looking gray-furred apes hiding in the trees, in an obvious ambush position. There were four small ones and one large, four armed one. He went back into the Rope Trick, seemingly unobserved. Zell knew what they were, the dreaded su monsters, who were threatening both physically and psionically. She recommended an aggressive attack, proceeding out to slip up rapidly to the four armed one, taking it by surprise, though to no avail, as she missed. Everyone else followed hoping that Zell’s plan of aggressive assault would kill them before they were able to do more damage. They still packed plenty of punch, both physical and mental, but were cut down, with Wendeam meleeing the large one. The fight was a tough one, but eventually they were dispatched and the group set out again.

van Rijn suspected that the su monsters were controlling the gargantuan gorilla and vowed to return to free him when the business with the yuan ti was done.

“Heroes” of Might and Magic

Proceeding onwards, Wendeam’s ability to control temperature maintained a state of comfort. After some travel they arrived at a sequence of very old snake statues. Some examination by van Rijn showed that they appeared to show now signs of Chaos and seemed to have been casually vandalized recently, or ignored. They certainly didn’t seem as malevolent, and Ariel felt they appeared rather sad.

As van Rijn was studying it, Andra heard a tell-tale buzz of some large flying insects and Wendeam, who could see through the mists, spotted large serpent flies heading in for the attack. Three quick moving giant dragonflies attacked Andra, Zell, and van Rijn, ignoring Ariel (who is not attacked by beasts or plants) and Wendeam (who is not edible). Picking anyone up was beyond the flies, but only Zell was hit. Wendeam engaged the serpent fly who had not attacked yet in melee and Andra used the electric arc, after using the Ruinous Glove to ward off snapping mandibles. It chose to leave and flew away to the south, towards a hive off in the distance. The others were undeterred, and their incredible swiftness meant they could escape nearly any attack, though some shots went their way. Eventually Andra used a Wall of Fire to drive them off. The flies abandoned the group as being too dangerous to eat. Andra realized that his old comrade Korbac had been raising dragonflies in the hopes of turning them into warbeasts, and wondered if this is what he would have obtained.

The path forked three ways, one continuing up the mountain following the snake statues, one going south towards the serpent fly hive, the third went north, in the direction of some horse tracks and signs of a cart with some humanoids with clawed feet. After some deliberation, north was chosen. A bit more traveling revealed a strange scene: A man wearing a breastplate and a green cloak on a horse. The cart proved to be a ballista, crewed by two men wearing blue and white tabards. The troops were four gnolls. He was studying heavy forest ahead. There was a hydra statue on the path and Wendeam spotted the head of a massive hydra popping up above the canopy.

After a careful an open approach (with Zell and Ariel hiding), the strange man said his name was Gerwulf. Andra felt s strange kinship and Gerwulf claimed that he’d been hired by “Lord Player” at “the tavern” and that he knew Andra’s old flame Adrienne the Fire Witch, last seen in Vorion. He proposed an alliance. He said he needed to defeat the hydra that lay beyond that was blocking his access to gnolls and lizard men. Recruiting them was his job. He said Lord Player would be willing to ally, though he was puzzled at Andra’s “army”, containing a djinn and a swordsman. He didn’t know what to make of either Zell and Ariel when they appeared. He also said he knew that there was an enemy city in the direction of what the group supposed was the Yuan Ti temple.

So the group went forward, Zell sneaking and Wendeam flying and using his crossbow to shoot one of the hydra’s heads. Unfortunately more sprouted where those were, revealing the dreaded Lernean hydra! Gerwulf ordered his gnolls forward while Wendeam and Zell stood back. The gnolls were annihilated by the angered hydra. Ariel enlarged Wendeam and van Rijn slowed the ponderous beast. Andra fireballed it, but the spell seemed to have no effect, as the heads had already regenerated. Some more heads were dispatched and flame used to kill them, but the hydra still had nine and was very dangerous. Realizing that timing was of the essence, van Rijn ordered everyone to ready to attack the heads just before Andra was to drop fire on the creature.

At this point Gerwulf and his compatriots, revealed to be rakshasa, treacherously struck!

One wounded Ariel badly but once again, Andra’s Ruinous Glove warded off his attacker. Zell, figuring that the hydra needed to die anyway, struck it, and her scimitar of sharpness lopped a huge chunk off the hydra, killing several heads, van Rijn finished the other. Andra once again used the Wand of Fire to dispatch the hydra. The rakshasa carried on witty banter as they fought with the party, proving to be amazingly tough, though Zell and van Rijn finished one off after Ariel used the Fractal Blades on it. They weren’t great combatants, but one used a lightning bolt to fry Zell, van Rijn, and Ariel, who was knocked down by it. Eventually the other two were dispatched, the final one having its arm cleaved off at the shoulder by Zell’s keen scimitar. One thing disturbing about the rakshasa was the fact that they were creatures of Law. They proudly bragged about how they engaged in “austerities to honor the universe” only to commit atrocities later. This was something Wendeam was left to ponder, not with quiet thoughts.

After the fight, Andra and Ariel extraced alchemical reagents from the hydra and rakshasa using the Intellect Syringe recovered from the crazy Dr. Joost. The freed lizard men and gnolls offered to join Andra’s army, and agreed to provide a place to rest.

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Fighting the Snake Men

Quote of the session: “There are many different kinds of snakemen but they’re all fuckers.”

The battle in the unknown elven village in the land of Ambartzumian ended. Ariel went to tend to the surviving villagers while Andra used medicine to tend to Chernoff, the dying guard, saving his life. He then patched up everyone else who was wounded.

Wendeam attempted to track the fleeing snake sorceress, but to no avail. Her tracks simply ended.

van Rijn talked to Chernoff, the guard who survived the fight in the pile of bodies. Chernoff said that the snakemen hadn’t been seen. He didn’t think that Joliffe was trading with the snake men, but wasn’t sure.

The village was amazing in only the kind of way that elves who devoted themselves to gardening could manage. Andra wandered around in it, seeing many rare plants and herbs, far too many sadly destroyed by the snakemen and the ensuing combat.

Having been calmed by Ariel, the villagers told their tale. Their lives were very peaceful though they would trade occasionally. There were no cities, just some villages. No real violence had happened in their land for centuries but the snake men, long since thought gone, had recently reappeared in their abandoned temple in the mountains and attacked.

They indicated that when Wendeam returned they would try to help him with his Chaos infection. They also kept a sample of Elixir to study. Finally they knew of the legendary chronolily but didn’t know where one was found, as it only grew wild. van Rijn offered to garrison the town but this was not resolved.

The surviving elven villagers stayed there. In the event they were attacked they would retreat to the forest. Before the group left, the grateful villagers provided healing and some pots of a sovereign healing salve.

The snakemen went up the river with their captives. The snakemen appeared to have vandalized the village’s boats so flight was employed to speed travel. Eventually the remnants of an old road that paralleled the river were found, with signs of recent travel by large figures, captives, and massive carts.

The snakemen appeared to be camping further up in elevation but were too far away to be reached. The night sky in Ambartzumian was amazing. Andra studied them and was convinced that this land was not part of the planes from which he, Ariel, and van Rijn hailed from. It lacked many of the impurities and poisons that affected those lands as well as lacking an Etherial plane.

Phantom Steeds were used to speed passage. Eventually it became obvious the river was near a waterfall continuing up the elevation. The road peeled off to the side to go up the slope. A bit of scouting by an invisible Wendeam revealed that the snakemen were camped across a bridge on the other side of the river. The land continued to elevate, heading towards a cloud-covered peak in the distance.

The plan was for Wendeam to cross and summon a minor air elemental, with Zell following across the river to attack, while Andra, a miniaturized Ariel, and van Rijn using the massive speed of the phantom steeds to move up the slope to the bridge.

Unfortunately, all good plans sometimes go awry and Zell was spotted by a hidden snakeman archer, who shot her once, though the lightning-fast githzerai parried the second arrow. She disappeared and reappeared in cover across the bridge, near the captives. Andra moved up speedily and fireballed, slaying four of the histachi, and baking three of the large snakemen warriors, two of whom were confounded by the dust devil emerging among them. He also hit the large draft lizard that had been pulling the cart, which began bellowing and hissing angrily. van Rijn moved up and shot one of the other snakemen right in the head. The pistol ball spalled off its helmet, leaving a massive dent and addling it, though it recovered its wits. He then moved up to melee range.

The snakemen attempted to rally: The sorceress, hidden in the camp, turned herself invisible again and moved off to a better vantage. She and Zell started stalking each other, with Zell trying to hit her with an adamantine sphere and the sorceress attempting to magic missile, but to no avail against the gifhzerai’s magic resistance. The melee on the bridge between van Rijn and the snakeman got ugly, while Wendeam moved up and dispatched the remaining histachi, to interpose between the snakemen and the restrained captives. Andra used lightning on the snakeman fighting van Rijn. Wendeam released his spear and settled into a fight with the snakeman who stumbled out of the dust devil while one hapless snakeman attempted to finish the dust devil off.

The bridge settled down to a battle, with the snakeman archer proving to be incredibly adept at launching javelin-sized arrows, which it first tried to use to kill van Rijn’s steed and then at Andra, who was sorely pressed by it. van Rijn finished the snakeman he was in melee with and then Andra pressed forward into hard cover to avoid the arrows, though he took the time to use his Wand of Fire to ring the archer, hoping to bake it or at least block its arrows. van Rijn moved up and drank a healing potion to try to recover from the wounds inflicted by the snakeman warrior.

The archer moved through the Wall of Fire, though its magic resistance saved it from the real burn. Wendeam moved over to melee with it, sending his spear after the hapless snakeman still in the dust devil. The archer proved to be a stern melee combatant, with deadly coils and a poisonous bite. Wendeam was bitten by it, though he avoided the coils, and began to feel a burning sensation from the potent venom, which he used some of the ointment from the villagers to cure. van Rijn broke cover and shot at the archer, but missed. Ariel—-still small and riding on Andra’s shoulder—-summoned the Fractal Blade to attack the archer. Zell, meanwhile threw an adamantine sphere at the archer, successfully sneak attacking it, but then dropped down to protect the captives in the even there were additional threats lurking. At this point, the fight degenerated into a vicious melee, but the archer and the remaining snakeman warrior were put down.

The cart proved to be full of various looted items and corpses from the elven village, along with the magical bow of the archer and some magical leather armor found on the corpse of one of the Mercane guards in the wagon. The snakeman archer had the eightfold star of Chaos on its helmet.

The four elven villagers told their rescuers about the presence of a gargantuan gorilla up ahead. They hoped that he would be avoided, not killed, though they suspected he might be charmed by the snakemen. The villagers stayed with the group, who set up a counter-ambush overnight. They proved to be highly skilled healers. No snake men counterattacked, so the villagers, draft lizard in tow, went back to the lowlands, and the group moving to the highlands into the territory of the gargantuan gorilla.

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