Ascension

5.0 - Unrest on the Trail
Subtitle Edition

More questions today. More trouble in our path.

After we camped at night as far from the zombie attack as we could get, we headed off on the trail again.
It was foggy and the trees were very unusual. The branches in the sky reminded me of hands reaching toward the sky in vain. Also of unusual note was the fact that it seemed like as we went that the entire grove of trees was dead. No leaves. It all seemed to be fairly recent as well. It would be most unnatural for such a large amount of trees to be simultaneously killed off in such a large area and so completely. A contaminated water supply? Possibly. Some other unusual force of nature I would assume. My inquiries of any such unusual behavior got replies of no known disturbances. So strange.
It was very foggy. We could hardly see the road. As it grew darker with the tree canopy and all the fog, we debated on wether we should stop or press on. Apparrently the correct answer would have been to stop sooner.
In the road a section of it had been dug away and our lead wagon got stuck in it and broke a wheel. The horse, now freed and frightened ran off into the woods. Now stranded in what by all means appeared to be a trap, we moved quickly to come up with a plan to continue out of the target zone.
We determined that if enough of us walked we could cram the luggage onto the still functioning cart, but only barely. Everything moved pretty quickly and I saw Milo, the caravan leader, talking with others about something and seemed upset, but I didn’t catch about what.
Finnian, one of the (half?)/orcs headed off into the woods to look for the horse that had run off because we could hear it out there somewhere. Tensions were high as we were pretty sure that we were about to be attacked by someone or something at any moment. With the orcs superior nightvision we were able to find the horse.
What we found was not pretty. It had been attacked by some thing or things and was lying in much pain. Finnian moved towards it, comforted it slightly, and then put it out of its misery with a stab to the heart. I was planning to do the same, but as usual Finnian took the initiative and did it quickly while I watched for what had attacked the horse to attack us. Fortunately it did not.
As we followed a trail Finnian had left back to the wagons, there seemed to be some trouble ahead as we came into view. Everyone was on edge and apparently seeing another pair of ghostly figures with glowing eyes.
One thing other thing that was unsettling at this point was that we also heard a horse whinny in the distance much like before. The horse we had found was most definitely finished off, so what did this mean? Was it another horse? Were we wrong and it wasn’t quite dead? Or was it revived in the same way as these people had been turned into zombies? If so who would do such a thing? what would be the point of reviving a horse? Does it just happen around here in this unusual forest? I would not mind getting to safety before finding out.
I think Finnian mentioned seeing them before and was likely what unsettled him after the zombie ordeal. I didn’t see them myself but everyone is extremely on edge.
After we got everything loaded up, we headed out as far as we were willing to go to get away from the past ordeal, and eventually made camp again.
While I tried to sleep for first watch I had a very unusual dream. Or was it a dream? I couldn’t fall asleep and thoughts were racing through my head. Then it felt like I could not move from my bed. I felt like I was dead. As I looked up past the fog and the trees as much as I could, I contemplated life and what it would mean to die. I determined I would very much not like to die, at least not until I have accomplished something great and beautiful. Old memories that I hadn’t thought of for a long time bubbled to the surface of my mind. I must continue this journey.
In the morning we determined that heading on foot the entire way would be a problem and decided that a few of us would head out faster to see if we could procure a second cart to get us back moving at full speed. Finnian, URSA and I moved out for this task.
Along the way we met an old man headed the opposite direction in a raggedy old cart. We asked if we could borrow the cart for our task and of course pay for his services, but he seemed to be somberly on his way. He wasn’t headed anywhere in particular it seemed, but just away from the town he left. From the conversation and a glance in his cart, it looked like he had lost his family and was taking them away to bury them. An unfortunate task, but one that we did not see fit to deprive him of and we continued on.

We finally approached the town sometime later. From a distance the town seemed very still and as some might say, dead and when we got farther into the silent town, we found that to be more true than we expected…

(ominous pause)

Then we found a pile of dead bodies burning as we had the zombies on the road.

What is this terrible place we’ve come to and why is it so damaged?

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4.0 - Dreams... and Nightmares
or How I Woke Up and Started Fearing the Party

Morning.

Or at least I think it is.

I wake up in a cargo hold. A ship? I’m unsure. It’s quiet here. I head out to the hallway. Long, empty, dark. Few torches line the walls. I take two as I’m wearing nothing but my night clothes.

I snake through the corridors. Pipes run along the walls. Dead elves scattered about. Who are they. How did I get here. Where is here. Questions race through my mind.

A door. I knock. A voice responds. Finnian. The human? He calls out, but not for me. I knock again. Silence. One more knock. I hear the door behind me creak open. Metal grinding on metal.

I awake. Again.

Back in the safe house. I hear wood clatter to the floor. The room is bright. Morning? I look out the window. Darkness. I sit up. On the floor sits two torches.

Impossible.

The rest of the night is sleepless. I sit and stare at the floor.

Dawn comes eventually.

Finnian was the first to come down. He snaps me out of my trance before going outside. I become aware enough to realize I may just be hallucinating the torches. Sleep deprivation. Who knows.

I bend down to take one, for the briefest moment I feel it in my hand before it fades and disappears.

Stunned.

Kestral joins me in the room. I asked him to call for the only person in our unwilling band of brothers that I think I can trust – Vodarr. When they both arrived downstairs I have been confirmed that what I’m seeing is actually there. The torch for meeting is real.

I tell the tale of my dream. The gnome takes the torch. It, too, disappears.

He makes a remark. Seems uneasy. Too eager to leave after this incident.

We’ve been here a few days. Finally setting out.

I’m thankful for this. No longer feels a safe house to me.

We’re to accompany a caravan south. Another city on the way to where we should have been already.

The human was very eager. Ready to go. Too ready. After last night, he makes me uneasy.

The leader of the caravan introduced himself. He also introduced the three half-orcs we’d be traveling with. They seemed near civilized.

He had little to say about our trip. Guard the caravan – it contains our pay. Don’t touch anything. Don’t trust anyone else – not even the other mercenaries.

We set off. The first few days were uneventful. Vodarr, making elixirs of sort. I, tinkering and adjusting my tools. Conversation was lacking, but more than nonexistent. I grow tired of Fnnian’s ignorance of the world.

On the third day – in a narrow path through a stand of trees – we saw a man in the distance. Standing in the road. Unmoving.

Our walking shield and the disoriented gnome took the mech and went up to investigate. Vodarr and I hung back… with the cargo. To watch the Orcs, Mostly.

Suddenly, an alarm. The robot. Charging at us. Incredible speed. Everyone distracted. The man had attacked. More were pouring from the woods as Vodarr and I made our way forward.

By the time we were not even halfway there, they lay in ruin. Slaughtered. Our men – nary a scratch.

The undead.

That’s what they encountered. Some dark necromancer is lurking around. Shambling corpses. Could be anywhere. We will need to keep more vigilant.

We set back out, making camp comfortably far from where we had our run in with the walking dead.

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3.0 - Square One
New era, same old shit

My first day back on Terra was pretty much a wash. This new body is strange—just similar enough to what I’m familiar with that all the tiny little differences are readily apparent. Even the most simple of reflexes require my direct attention—and skills that had become as natural to me as breathing are now frustratingly beyond my reach altogether. And as irksome as these physical issues are, perhaps worse is the social one. This body’s former owner had friends—so far only the three I rescued in the caves, but who knows what other friends and relatives could be out there. The three of them are having enough trouble understanding what happened, having witnessed it firsthand, I can’t possibly explain this to a family. My focus has to be on the mission—every day is more time for him to gather power and set plans into motion.

But, before I can do anything, I have to get my bearings. Figure out where I am, what this world has become. There’s something about this world—it’s restless in a way I’ve never seen anywhere else. Every time you leave, it sets out changing things. And, more immediately, I need money. Clearly if this gnome had anything on him, it was lost, either in the shipwreck or his subsequent capture. Without a copper to either of our names, I can hardly expect to accomplish much. Fortunately the local military appears to have been mobilized to help rescue us—granting me free passage to the nearby town of Shadowdale. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s a start.

And I have luck on my side, although I’ve yet to determine if it’s good or ill. One of the trio, the human, is a member of the military, and was granted private lodgings away from the other refugees, a privilege he chose to share with the others, myself included. I hadn’t planned on maintaining contact with these people—they seem ill-equipped to deal with what’s coming, and it seems cruel to continue exposing them to the living corpse of their ally—and yet they persist in their friendliness, offering not only seclusion, but the chance to learn a bit of what is new in the world. Perhaps sparing them from the coming conflict is not a choice that belongs to me, perhaps their fate was sealed when they witnessed a god renewed.


The second day was only marginally more productive than the first, but it was a solid step. The morning began with the disappointing realization that the military’s safehouse was as livable as the military itself. No food, no clothing, nothing beyond the most basic furniture. Such is my life, that even a single meal and a clean pair of clothes is too much to hope for. I had just set my mind toward procuring breakfast when a commotion broke out on the street—a robbery from the sounds of it. As if on cue, soldier boy, who had introduced himself as Finnian, leapt into action, bolting out into the street to pursue. The dwarf, Norrund, ran after him to watch. Why is always my lot in life to fall in with the petty hero types; what sin did I commit to deserve this? Of course, I know what it is—it’s the one I’ve yet to give up.

They returned in time, apparently victorious, and, surprisingly enough, with something to show for it—an invitation to dinner from the former victim. Over breakfast we discussed our plans. Norrund and Vodarr were independently bound for Waterdeep, and Finnian was going to accompany him while waiting for orders. It seemed as good a place as any for me to begin, so I agreed to accompany them as well. Once there I can hopefully find a lead, although I haven’t the slightest idea how to begin looking. In the time before evening we all attended business of our own. What the others did does not concern me, but, for myself, I made several gold doing odd jobs (following a generous loan from Vodarr), updated my wardrobe, and cleaned myself. I’ve done a lot of distasteful things in my time, but cleaning a strange body has to be among the most unpleasant. The less time I have to dwell on this predicament of mine, the better.

When evening arrived, we met at the safehouse, then traveled together to meet our host, who turned out to be an especially odd old gnome who called himself Tungsten. It was an opportunity to learn a bit of my new companions, and of Terra itself. Finnian, it seems, has strong ties to his family, a strong sense of moral obligation, and is quite disciplined. I suppose he might remind me of myself in many ways, had things not all gone to Hell. In addition, I’ve noticed that people in general seem to regard Finnian somewhat usually. I wonder if there’s some stigma associated with his military organization. Norrin is a tradesman who gets quite passionate about his interests and seems to have an unusually vast degree of knowledge about the world. Vodar is a scholar of some sort and, while he didn’t tell us terribly much of him, he certainly had a lot of questions. Truth be told, I found him a bit nosy. For my part, I introduced myself as a bookish historian. It seemed like a decent enough cover, explaining both my esoteric knowledge of the past and complete lack of knowledge of the present.

Tungsten, meanwhile, was a mechanist, an inventor, who had built, among other things, an automaton. I’ve had some experience with such things before but what he showed us was not what I expected. His creation, who asked us to call him URSA, while still obviously manufactured, was much more humanlike in appearance than the constructs of 800 years ago. Apparently he functions much like humans as well, even to the point of requiring sleep at night, which to me, seems to defeat the purpose of creating such a thing to begin with. In any case, it was because of URSA that he invited us here. Apparently Vodarr mentioned his travel plans, and Tungsten would like us to take URSA with us, as a field test of his capabilities. The others seem quite willing and, while I’ll admit to having my doubts about such advanced and… untested technology, I am rather intrigued by him as well.

After eating and conversing long enough to be polite, I excused myself, wanting to visit some local shops before they closed. If we are to be traveling in the morning, I need to be prepared, and I would much prefer to have provisions than gold with me on the road anyhow. I do not know how long the others remained—after making my purchases I returned home to further pore my one and only lead—that accursed tome from the temple—but I fear I won’t find any answers tonight, as even now I find myself drifting off. I’d best rest up now while I can—things have just barely begun.

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2.0 - Following Orders

I had hoped for more from the outside world than this. I guess I had convinced myself that Reiley was wrong and most of what I heard of Lilinith’ri or the Tera beyond it was a fairy tale. My delusion was able to last through basic training but now, here, on blood stained sand after watching hundreds of people drowned or shot and seeing horrors I still can’t believe, I’m fully aware of how little I know.
The Lilinith’rin guard were here. I should have felt relieved, even welcomed, but I only felt like a child who wants to help carry something they could never hope to lift. A judge was here. A judge. Of all the bedtime stories I never thought would prove true, this one beats the rest. He wore the Lilinith’rin red, reflected by his majestic armor. The stories did him little justice. After speaking with him I couldn’t tell if I was a mere annoyance or a curiosity, and I was unsure which I would prefer. The guard started distributing food and medical care, to most. The four humans that survived the attack, including the boy I got off the ship, all were left alone. Ignored, would be the more proper statement. After getting my back flayed open by whatever we found down in the depths of this place, I knew I had an obvious need for some help. I gathered what provisions I could and gave them to my people. My people. Another thing I can hardly believe I needed to say. The captain of the guard informed me that the slaves aboard the ship had been owned by two half-orcs currently making their way northward. I quickly found out that was all the help he had to offer. I wanted to follow them. I wanted to track them down and make them talk. I knew they’d have a manifest, a list of their “cargo.” I didn’t see Reiley among the bodies but there were too many for me to check. I needed to be sure. One of the survivors said he would come. They were the only ones who would care. Before I left I informed Vodarr of my plan. I couldn’t ask any who I met aboard that boat to come. They’d been through enough and needed no more torture on my account.
I saw the guard draw their swords as I started to return to the cave. I saw the terrified look on the boy’s face. I saw a flash of steel and heard nothing: no cries of protest, no pleas for mercy. It was as if the guard had simply been ordered to put some crippled cattle out of their misery and the cattle had knowingly submitted. I had been told of other survivors they had encountered on route here. Now I knew their fate. There was nothing I could have done. Protest my country? Defy a judge? I’m not that stupid. That’s what I keep telling myself at any rate. That’s how I sleep at night.
When I asked the judge why he calmly said it was for the good of the country. Those people would have been a burden on society. They would have contributed nothing. Maybe he was right but that doesn’t mean they didn’t deserve the chance to prove him wrong. Before I was able to make my way, the judge ordered me into his private carriage. I was to go to Shadowdale with the others. I could be leaving Reiley behind, one of the only thoughts that almost had me screaming at the judge for being so impassive, but I knew there was no arguing my point. Until I had his level of power and influence, I would only be a pawn. I sat in furious silence the entire ride. Upon arriving I was told where I would be staying. Good thing I’m used to taking orders by now. It was a dusty, unused safe house. Nicer than what I was used to honestly. My thoughts went to the Vodarr, Norrund and Chadwick. I had past where the refugees would be staying on my way here and I figured they might appreciate some nicer accommodations. After a quick visit, they all found their way here. I offered up the only bed, as I have trouble sleeping in one anymore. We didn’t speak of much for which I was grateful but I was more thankful for being with a group who didn’t stare at me like an animal in an exhibit.
Tomorrow I make for Waterdeep. That was where I was called to upon seeing the vessel safely through. Now that that is moot point it seems the only option. I hope these few will join me. Few strangers would have stood by me and helped in such perilous circumstances as we’d seen today. I think that speaks for itself. Regardless of who they are or where they come from, they’ve earned my respect. We shall see what tomorrow brings. May the winds bring favor to Ma and the twins and shield them from harm.

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1.1 Breaking Through
...the hell!?

Shit.

Things are worse than I could ever have hoped. I had expected him to be waiting for me, but I didn’t think he would be so prepared. I should have suspected when I saw his servant, the osyluth, but I was thrown by the children. Once again, my weakness for others was my undoing. I should have known when we found his temple. That book of his taunted me with its promise of answers, but I didn’t dare touch it. I was afraid to get close to anything of his, and yet I barely hesitated from walking right into his final solution. I should have turned around right then and there. I should have left those kids to die.

Now the god of death is risen in full, in a world ill-equipped to handle him. The last god who awoke on Terra very nearly conquered it. I’m sure the final one believes there is no one who can stop him now. But if so, he is mistaken. Because he left me alive. And he has something that belongs to me. And I will see it burn before I allow him to claim it in full.

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1.0 - The Return
Return to the Tragedy

Year 2429 – Saranday, September 20 – The Ritual of Judges

A cliff side glows orange as the setting sun hits it, shining brightly on a colossal mark that appears to have been etched into the cliff wall. The mark appears to be a word written in ancient draconic tongue and has never been deciphered. At the edge of the cliff stands a human male with brown hair and a goatee, about 40 years of age, regal with his golden ceremonial robes.

Five soldiers clad in large, elaborate silver armor, Judges of Terra, march up to the man on the cliff, passing an old monument without care of it. Each step is in sync with one another, the armor making little noise as they approach the man. Behind them, the city seems empty. And once the five reach the man, they kneel before him.

“Osylith, do you believe in the afterlife?” His gruff voice speaks with understanding and confidence. The man clearly asks the question not looking for an answer.

One of the soldiers responds. “My Sovereign, over half a century ago a god appeared on our world and then vanished. He hasn’t been seen since. I most certainly believe in the afterlife.”

“I am not your Sovereign,” the man replies with regret, “but we will march together in heaven.” He takes out an old, rusted dagger presses it to the neck of the soldier who had spoke. “In heaven…” Blood spills out from the neck onto the dry rock below them.

One by one, he takes the dagger to their throats and cuts. Five bodies now lay before him, blood pooling underneath him and running off the cliff face down to the glyph. He closes his eyes to stop the tears from running down his cheek. “In heaven.”

Year 2440 – Winesday, April 27 – Norrund’s Dream

Norrund Isanæ wakes in a cold cabin. There isn’t much in here: an empty table, chairs, no fireplace or kitchen. There’s a ladder that leads to a walled-in loft with a door covered in old fabric. Outside is snow and lots of it. Fir trees line a path to the town that leads up a hill. It’s a quiet night with even more snow softly falling to the ground.

This certainly isn’t the ship the dwarf has been sailing on for the past two days.

“Hello there! Who might you—OH!! What have we here!?” delights a human peeking his head out from the fabric above. He grabs the ladder and slides down. His features are a sharp contrast to his tousled brown hair, and his face lights up with expressiveness when he approaches the bearded dwarf. “You’re unique, aren’t you?”

Norrund stares quizzically at the man, not responding. Before either can get a word in, Norrund blinks and finds himself lying in his hammock, warm with sweat dripping from his brow and into his beard. The tinge of saltwater hits his eyes as he blinks them awake. It all must have been a dream. A splash of water on the face and an early stretch should shake the feeling.

But that dream seemed very real…

Year Unknown – Running Out of Options

“You’re running out of options,” says the githzerai, Muu’var to Kestral. Muu’var has served as an advisor since Kestral abandoned the Material Plane upon it being locked away from Planar Travel. He would never take on communicating with a lowly human being, at least not normally, for those of the Astral Plane walk with the dead gods and are far superior to any other race. But his relationship with Kestral was built out of desperation, and now he needs to make sure that the remaining god does not awaken.

Kestral is the host to the remaining god, and with Muu’var’s help the two are looking for a way to prevent his return. But they’ve expended most options.

“There is one remaining lead, but you won’t like it.” Muu’var’s hesitation is clear; this isn’t a plan he wants to pursue. “Travel to the first level of Hell. By going to his home you may find something.”

Kestral had no argument. It was a place he never wanted to return to, but it had been a few years without any other leads. And with much hesitation, he prepared to journey back to hell.

Year 2440 – Winesday, April 27 – A Party’s Party

Vodarr Tallus’s sea sickness finally abated. Could the five day oceanic journey finally be looking up for the elf? He hoped so. Anything would be better than being holed away in the cabin patiently trying to ignore the rocking of the waves. He gingerly gathered his things and took to the main deck to feel the breeze on his face. This was the first time he really got to take a look at any of the crew and passengers on this ship aside from boarding, and then he was too worried about the possibility of getting seasick.

The ship was a large cargo vessel sailing from Torin to Lilinith’ri. Vodarr found his way on to pursue his studies in a land he had not yet visited. It helped that he didn’t have much tying him to a specific place, which seemed to be the case for many of the other passengers and crew members. Up on deck, Vodarr caught the attention of a gnome scientist who introduced himself as Chadwick Songbreeze with an iguana companion Lazlo. The two seemed to make quick friends after the two realized a shared passion, and thus they planned to have drinks in the evening below deck.

Vodarr and Chadwick enjoyed each other’s company at dinner rather well. Both were so used to the lonely journey filled with solitary meals in their cabins. After their meal, Chadwick requested that they find a couple more people for their drink-filled party. Chadwick would seek out the company of the only human on-board, a young guard that had been stationed on deck throughout the trip. Vodarr would ask a dwarf who isolated himself from others to focus on his trinkets. Niether Chadwick or Vodarr were very persuasive in their invitations, but both of their guests accepted and met the two at their table.

The dwarf, Norrund Isanæ, slammed a coin pouch on the table. “First round is on me,” he insisted. The human guard, Finnian Alastar, let on that he would drink but not too excess. He still had a job to do the next morning and a hungover state would not suit him, though his reservations to alcohol seemed to be much more than just work-related. The four swapped stories over drinks, with Chadwick convincing everyone to keep the conversation away from work.

“I’ve been lost in my work all my life, and it’s kept me away from making any friends,” spoke Chadwick as the group departed for the night. “I just want you all to know, even if we don’t see each other after reaching Lilinith’ri, that I’ll remember this evening. Today has been one of the best days I can remember because of all of you.”

Year 2440 – Firesday, April 29 – Sinking Ships

Two mornings after the great evening, the ship is expecting to arrive in Lilinith’ri by the evening. Finnian takes his post early in the morning to the greeting of a thick fog over the ocean water with very little wind. He waits patiently, watching as the crew rises to take their posts. Soon, his new friends arrive on deck. The gnome, Chadwick, seems particularly tired; something about hearing women screaming in his dreams.

Finnian and Vodarr both notice the Captain and a crew member pensively looking out behind the ship. Finnian heads over to the railing to look, Vodarr follows, and the elf hears a hum off in the distance. It isn’t long after he hears this that the Captain announces to everyone on deck that passengers must return to their cabins. Confused, Vodarr, Norrund, and Chadwick head down as Finnian prepares for trouble.

Pirates are coming.

Two ships outfitted with Osylith-created steam engines race to the cargo ship, weapons at the ready. Finnian raises his shield and gets behind it when a few bullets from a rifle pass right by his head. The warrior quickly retreats to an entry way to protect the passengers and to stop the pirates from making their way to the cargo deck.

Meanwhile, Norrund accompanies Vodarr and Chadwick as they go to their rooms to fetch their things. Chadwick has some supplies down in the cargo deck though that he desperately wants to procure. The three hurry through the passenger deck and down to the cargo hold. Amidst all of the rumbling from cannon fire hitting their ship, and a few tumbles, they find their way to Chadwick’s locked storage room. While he gathers his supplies, Vodarr and Norrund hear crying at the end of the hall. Upon checking the door, Vodarr finds out there are 200 people locked in the cargo hold and water is starting to rush in. Vodarr reaches into his Heward’s Handy Haversack of Life and pulls out a saw and a crowbar and attempts to break down the locks or break through the door. Norrund and Chadwick do not want to stay below deck in case the ship begins to sink, but Vodarr won’t leave without saving the people. They finally decide to leave Vodarr for now, hoping that he’ll come to his senses before it is too late.

The pirate ships continue to circle around the cargo ship, not making any effort to board. Finnian is confused by this, but has to get back even further as an airship flies in and fires on the cargo ship. Norrund, running up and being presented with the issue, has a sudden realization. The people locked in the cargo hold are human slaves, and these pirates are anti-human activists looking to kill them all. Finnian curses loudly and runs down below deck to attempt to save them before the humans don’t have any chance of survival by being pulled under with the sinking ship.

Finnian yells at Vodarr to move and he chops at the door with his halberd. The ship turns over onto its port-side just as Finnian breaks through the door, water rushing out of the cargo hold and into the hallway. Human bodies rush forth, forcing their way through the doors into other rooms. Wanting to save at least one human, Finnian grabs a child that surges forth from the doorway and into his arms. Chadwick and Norrund jump off the ship into the water, Vodarr and Finnian carrying the child right behind them.

The airship makes one run by the cargo ship, blasting it with its cannons, sending the ship up in flames and knocking out the survivors.

Year 2440 – Calistriaday, April 30 – Return to the Tragedy

Map – Offshore Cave

Painful screams rang across the coast. It’s as if you fell asleep into a nightmare.

Finnian is foced awake to see the captain’s leg amputated by one of his subordinates. A large chunk of wood had impaled the leg and there was no hope of it being removed. The captain’s cries were both of incredible pain and immense relief that he may continue living. Finnian himself appears fine though, tightly gripping the child he saved. One of the crewmen takes watch of the boy as Finnian goes to assist other survivors.

Norrund comes up onshore and sees that Vodarr is resting by a large cave entrance. When Vodarr wakes, all he remembers is that Chadwick had pulled him up here. Other crewmen warn Finnian that the gnome had entered the cave, so Finnian takes the human child to take him up to a safe place at the cave and joins Norrund and Vodarr., who both worry for the gnome since there isn’t any sign of him.

Together, the three of them, Finnian carrying the child, venture into the dark cave. A trail of blood with small footprints imprinted sends them into worry, so they quicken their pace. The cave is narrow and goes deep. A quick battle with a set of cave fishers warns them of the dangers in here. The group slows their pace, but is nervous at the lack of any sign of Chadwick.

After a short hallway, they approach an empty room. Finnian plans to march on when he’s immediately intercepted by an Osyluth (bone devil) which appears before him. The osyluth lashes at Finnian only to disappear, nearly finishing the young warrior off, when a shadow appears and strikes the bone devil dead. “Kestral,” responds the shadow when asked his identity by Finnian. Kestral’s skill was immense compared to any of them, and on the chance they ran into another osyluth, the three thought it better to partner with this man to more quickly find their friend.

They continued through the cave with Kestral vanishing before them, but assuring he was there. The next room they came across was a man-made chapel; a few rows of pews sat before the pedestal holding a book. The room sends a shiver down their spines. Religion had been abolished for hundreds of years. What was a chapel like this doing so far down in a cave? Each adventurer approaches the pedestal to look at the book on display to see skull with a scythe adorn the front cover, and only one of them knew what it meant. Kestral warn the group not to touch it, and as they leave the room he stabs the book through with a dagger.

A long, winding hall takes them to a final room. An etching on the floor looks to be the same as the book, and a pile of twenty-to-thirty human bodies from the wreckage lay in a pile to the far left. Finnian sprints into the room, ignoring everything else to save Chadwick who is chained up to the wall. A form appears before him halfway, forcing him to come to a halt. Expecting to see another osyluth, he’s surprised when he sees Kestral come into view.

Kestral trips Finnian to the floor and looks to Chadwick. The rune on the floor begins to radiate a green light and a green aura comes forth from the gnome. The gnome falls limp. Lifeless.

“And now, I shall awaken!” Kestral yells out, emitting a similar green aura from his body that surges forth into Chadwick. Kestral’s dark cloak becomes a shadow that envelops the room in complete darkness, and when the light returns he is nowhere to be seen. Finnian chops Chadwick down only to be met with a very sour, out-of-character gnome.

The party having now rescued Chadwick leaves the cave as quickly as possible. Upon arrival to the entrance, they are met with congratulations as all of the survivors have met up at the cave mouth to avoid being seen by any pirates. They are happy that the gnome is safe, and it isn’t too long till a caravan bearing the sigils of Lilinith’ri ride forth to the party.

And out of the caravan steps forth a Judge.

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Interlude - Year 11
Growing Deadlier

I look in the mirror and I no longer see myself. This isn’t metaphor—my face is truly no longer my own. He is trying to claim my body for himself. I do not know how he can do this—I had hoped that the binding of Terra would have severed, or at least blocked, our connection, but somehow it persists. If sealing his world cannot break this bond, I fear there is nothing that will allow me escape. My only option is to persist in my original mission. I must kill the final god. I do not know how I can do this now—we are on opposite sides of an unbreakable wall, but somehow I must find a way. I have seen so much of the worlds that are out there—I cannot allow Him to ruin them all. I need to find a way to return home, to return to His hell. Either He will die at my hand or we will languish in His prison together for all eternity.

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Interlude - Year 7
Moonfall

Following the leads I found led me to the plane known as Minor where I met a group of adventurers known as The Savior’s Hand. The end result of that encounter has become known across the planes as the Moonfall Incident. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. What you’ve heard is very far from the truth.

It is not a story I ever intend to tell.

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Interlude - Year Three
Survival Mode

The next world I landed on was uninhabited. At least what I saw of it was. The portal opened to the middle of a damn forest. At least I figured out what Soni’s bracelet did pretty quick—it seemed to be some sort of traveler’s aid, reducing the need for food and rest, and protecting from all but the most extreme weather conditions. Figures—all those times she needled me for shivering when we were stuck in the mountains with no supplies—she was cheating.

The bracelet wasn’t perfect, however, at least not on this world. I still needed to eat, which meant I got plenty of chances to practice a skill I’d never really bothered to work on—hunting. Stealthily killing things, seems like I’d be a natural, right? Well, it turns out stalking animals is different from stalking people, and I’m only really talented at one of those. Still I managed to get good enough to survive, and managed to cobble together a halfway decent shelter as well. But I couldn’t stay in one place too long. I had no intention on spending the rest of my days stranded in a forest. Sonitri was certain that the portal wasn’t random. It led here specifically, and there had to be a reason.

I spent several months looking for that reason. There’s not much to tell about it, really. Eventually the forest gave way to plains, which gave way to a desert, which led to an ocean. It was an at-times beautiful and wildly diverse world, it just had nothing going on. There were monsters, at night, sometimes, but nothing I wasn’t capable of defending myself against. In all likelihood, I’d still be there if it weren’t for more dumb luck, the one-and-only sign of intelligent life I discovered there. Or rather, death. The corpse of some explorer. I was certain he or she was from off-world, as the few intact rations in her pack contained several magical scrolls, most of them depleted, but one still intact, with the spell for planar travel. It took me weeks to decipher the scroll—drawing on ancient memories and deciphering runes from context in the would-be explorer’s spellbook. But somehow I managed to pull it off. And with no outside interference from horrible gods, I successfully transported myself to the one world I knew with any certainty—the closest thing I have now to a home. The Astral plane.

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Interlude - Year Two
In Case of Trouble

This world is, in many ways, unlike anything I have ever seen before. Blue men and women who bleed water and claim to be reborn upon death, in an endless cycle. Rivers of thick molten silver that slowly poison any who dare enter. Creatures that turn to stone when startled or threatened. And yet, for all that is different, there is so much that remains the same. People with power lording over those without. Good men and women punished for the actions of bad. Senseless violence, carried out for the pettiest of reasons. Injustice of all sorts, both natural and man-made, carried out against those who cannot resist it. And that’s where I come in. I am a stranger to your world, yet I care for it as though it were my own. I am a refugee, a survivor, the only human known to this realm. My name is Kestral, and I am here to help.


I resumed my old practice as the Man Who Solves Problems. If I’m going to be stuck here for a while, I might as well find something to do. It took a while for business to pick up, of course—who’s going to seek out a strange-looking man who knows impossibly little about the world for help?—but I was sure a little freelance work would go a long way. My first case was simple, at least on paper. Bunch of kobolds, or their local counterpart, at any rate, been raiding a nearby city and the king’s guard refuses to do anything about it without some special compensation. Enter the hero. I’ve fought automatons, vampires, even helped defeat a god. Surely some overgrown lizards won’t be a problem. And all for a little free room and board at the local inn. Win-win.
Except, turns out there’s a law against vigilantism in this country. King doesn’t want his citizens getting hurt doing something outside their station. Or more likely is worried that if his subjects get too autonomous they’ll question what exactly all their taxes are funding, since it sure isn’t public works or national defense. And all those people who suddenly found their kobold problem neatly resolved sure were quiet when the guards decided it was suddenly time to start doing their job.

But I’ve wasted enough time in jail and if the kobolds’ witch-queen and her twin barbtongues weren’t a problem for me, some overpaid and underworked watchmen sure as hell wouldn’t be. So, strike one on the grand heroics then. But I did fix the problem, and I didn’t kill any of the guards, so when the story of a dangerous insurgent spread throughout the kingdom, it was followed by another story, quieter, yet somehow easier to hear. A story of roguish intrigue and swift action, with just a hint of rebellion. It was a popular story. And when a man turned up in a nearby city pub two weeks later with a fresh spin on the story a strong resemblance to the recently circulated wanted posters, no one left to find the night watch. But just about everyone volunteered their own stories when the man had finished, each one carrying a common theme—problems the king’s guard just didn’t seem to be concerned about.

A number of those stories were, more or less, the same story. Entire families, killed. No, not just killed, slaughtered. Used to be this sort of thing would happen from time to time. Isolated incidents going back years. Everyone typically just blamed it on wild dogs or something. But lately it had been happening more frequently. And with a common twist—in every family, one of the kids would be missing.

I got as much information about the killings as I could—locations, family backgrounds, parents’ occupations, anything that might connect them, but it all seemed to be random. So I tried following up on the missing children, but again, I turned up nothing. I might have had to give up were it not for one thing, sheer dumb luck. One thing I’ve noticed in my travels is that magic from my homeworld doesn’t always behave the same on other planes. On some they’re so weak they’re almost mundane. On others they simply behave differently. On this world, the Skin of the Vampire, the sheer cloaklike material given to me by the vampire lord, seemed to enhance my senses in addition to my physical capabilities—but only at night. So when I was skulking around a back alley one night, just wandering somewhat aimlessly, I was able to hear a faint struggle from several blocks away. Screams and an animal-like snarling.

I found the source of the commotion, too late to help. A large, vaguely wolfish creature was standing over the eviscerated corpses of the family that had, until moments earlier, lived there. Hearing me approach, the creature turned and fled the scene. I gave chase, endeavoring to stay out of sight. Eventually it led me to the entrance of an underground tunnel in an abandoned part of the city. Inside was rows of cages containing beastial-looking humanoids—some ferociously raging against their prisons, others laying listlessly, looking somewhat emaciated. The beast I had been chasing ran to the back of the room, too dark for even my heightened vision to see. I crept after it, hoping the other creatures’ reactions wouldn’t give my presence away. As I got closer, I realized the beast was no longer there, instead two humanoid figures were standing there—a man and a child. The child was naked and as my vision focused, I realized he was covered in blood, but not wounded in any way. The man was speaking to him, softly in a language I didn’t understand. After a moment he reached out to the child, who flinched in fear, not unlike a cornered dog, and ushered him into a cage like those of the beastoids.

Then it clicked. The children hadn’t simply been kidnapped. The children were the killers. Something was causing children in this town to turn into beasts and slaughter their families. And this man was responsible. He didn’t see me coming. He couldn’t have. In the darkness I am but a shadow myself. I could have simply stabbed him then and been done with it. But that would be sloppy. Unprofessional. I’m not here to avenge, I’m here to resolve the problem. I need to know what he’s doing, why. So instead I confronted him.

He laughed, told me I had no right to stop his experiments. They were sanctioned. I told him I didn’t care. Then I cut off his left hand. Which I was hoping would be intimidating, but he didn’t terribly bothered by it. It did convince him, though, that wasn’t willing to leave quietly, so we skipped right to the fighting. He almost gained the upper hand when he opened the cages and set the starving beast-children on me. But then he blew it by boasting that his serums were irreversible, which removed any compunctions I had about killing them. He also revealed that he was working alone, on a grant from the palace itself, on a way to increase the strength of their soldiers. Which removed any compunctions I had about killing him. Losing a hand may not have bothered him, but losing a head was a different matter.

Looking through his supplies, I found detailed notes of his experiments. So detailed, I was pretty sure anyone in the city, regardless of their loyalties, would take issue with them. I also found a number of concoctions, most of which I destroyed, but two, labeled “tissue regeneration” that I decided to hang onto. I also dealt with the final child, the one I had followed. He looked fully human, but moved and reacted like a sick animal. I did what I could for him.

After delivering the alchemist’s notes to the city guard, I moved on, not wanting to gamble on their continued goodwill. As I visited other cities, I started to notice a trend of particularly awful behavior, all allegedly sanctioned by the palace itself. As I journeyed, I worked my way closer to the capital city. The closer I got, the more heavily guarded the cities became, but the word of my exploits traveled faster than I did, so as the cities became less accessible, the citizens became more helpful.

Eventually, I made it to the capital. There was a big confrontation with the king, in his own palace. His traitorous advisers were exposed and their complex villainous plots defeated, and the king swore to abandon his plans for war and instead spend his money to improve his kingdom, and he gave me his blessing to travel freely within his kingdom as a friend of the court. It was all very boring and not at all worth expanding on in any way.

With unrestricted travel and no more need for anonymity, I finally set up shop like I had planned to, at least in a sense. At this point, my reputation was already taking on the shape of a local legend, so it made more sense for me to play to that and take a more nomadic approach. I seem to be drawn to trouble these days.

At one point, I even thought I might have had a lead on my own quest. A samsarin cleric named Sonitri, who claimed to have been bestowed great power by her god Ramna. Her lead seemed promising—as she had access to powerful magic she had no way of learning, and claimed knowledge of events long forgotten, much of which we were able to verify in time. But typically, it led nowhere useful. Ramna was no god, merely an extraordinarily powerful sorcerer with absolute control over the writers of his day. He was also a past life of Sonitri, whose magic and memories had persisted across nearly a dozen rebirths with an unprecedented degree of strength. Were it not for my experiences, and the existence of the astral plane, my travels among the planes of reality would do much to convince me that the gods themselves never even existed. I am the closest a god has come to these parts in untold lifetimes.

Despite our findings, Sonitri remained an ally—she valued the truth above the fulfillment of her desires, and for that she will always have my respect. Together, we leveraged everything we had discovered together to become semi-official fact-finders, or debunkers, as she liked to call us. Our work wasn’t always appreciated—the truth so often unappealing and undervalued—but I like to believe that our efforts made this world a better place.

So when we discovered the portal, I actually considered staying. I don’t think I would ever feel at home on that plane, but I had found a purpose in it all the same. Was that something to so casually abandon for the complete unknown? Sonitri didn’t want me to go. She enjoyed being seen with the strange pale man, the local hero for hire in case of trouble. Telling people about all the incredible alien things I’d shared with her about my world (many of them even true). She’d never admit, but she’d miss me—I could see it in her face, as she urged me to leave. She knew little about my true quest, but she knew I had one, and she knew no answers to it lay on her world. The only way for me was forward.

I left her my Boots of Escape as a parting gift. Their range on this world was significantly farther than usual, and I was sure she’d be able to use them better than I. She wrinkled her nose at that—deriding either the apparent sign of affection or smell of my feet—but I noticed she wasted no time in donning them. In return, she gave me her bracelet—a relic of Ramna, from our first adventure together. She’d always refused to tell me what it did. We said our heartfelt goodbyes—a combined total of nine words—and without further hesitation, she activated the portal and I stepped forward, toward my fate.

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