The Cabal of Eight II – Pt.26: Duel for the Cabal

The 2nd of Low Harvest – It was high noon at the White Prong and Excor and Fauna were sitting around a table enjoying a lunch of honey-drenched vittles, greasy squab with roasted onions, and plenty of cool, foaming ale. Both were solemnly awaiting the imminent wizard duel. They were halfway through their meal when Xanto the Wasp burst in through the door setting the spring-bell into a cacophonous fit of ear-battering ringing.

Xanto the Wasp (gliding over to Excor): “My friend! Oh, my friend! I have heard the dreadful news of your impending duel!”

He emphatically drew up his striped cape as a flourish.

Excor: “Here it comes.”

Xanto: “Oh! My dear friend! I will be your second, trust me! I have had plenty of experience in duels both as second and as duelist! And a fine duelist I am.”

Fauna: “How many duels have you been in!?”

Xanto: “A duel? A few in my time.”

He whipped his cape from his shoulder, “I have yet to lose an honest duel!”

Excor: “So where’s your apprentice Bumble?”

Fauna: “Oh yeah I was lookin’ for her.”

Xanto (waving away the question): “She’s off with her family somewhere, I don’t know family duties or whatnot. Anyway, I will be proud to back you as cabal leader and will stand by your side in the guild house! They cannot prevent me this …”

His words sort of fade into a mumbling mess.

Cris (Excor’s player): “I sense motive. … Nat-Twenty!”

Excor got the sense that Xanto was just using him to gain access to the Star Sapphire Confraternity’s guild house for whatever reason. Additionally, he probably also knows exactly where his apprentice is, he just isn’t saying.

Cris: “Screw it! I accept him as my second, might as well have this guy in my corner.”

Jenn (Fauna’s player): “Yeah you don’t want the Wasp in the other guy’s corner!”

Xanto (throwing his arm in the air to signal a waitress): “Ah, my friend it pays to have Xanto in your corner.”

Excor (his finger in the Wasp’s face): “No cheating.” With that, he drained his jack of the last swallow of ale.

            The odd trio sits and drinks on the Wasp’s tab (mostly grog) until evening. They conducted various conversations and fragments of just killing time until the common room of the Prong was noticeably darker, and the golden sky of approaching dusk shone through the windows, the great purple moon and its rings dominating the sky. The Wasp proposed a final cheer before the three got up from their table, quiet and sullen (save the Wasp). They started on their way through the dusky streets to the Star Sapphire Confraternity’s Guild House.

Later, in the Star Sapphire Confraternity Guild House basement – The entirety of the cabal was there in the large dark dirt-floored chamber. They were somewhere underneath the main guild house in one of its many cellars. The air was heavy with must and the candles and lanterns that lit it caused the moist air to become heavy and sweltering. Around the perimeter awkwardly stood Szoosha, Fauna, and Excor who occasionally tried to say something inspirational but failed each time. Across from them in a far corner were Bumble and Rhiam huddled around Belrae next to who stood a middle-aged guild wizard none of the others had yet seen. At the center of the chamber carefully scribing a circle in the dirt were three mages in silken blue robes overseen by the old wizard that had taken the unicorn wand from Excor. Jirek was there sweating bullets alone in another corner.

Cris: “Yup. There it is. Bumble’s in Belrae’s corner. … Hey wait a minute! Where’s the Wasp!?”

After the circle was complete the old wizard stepped into the center of the circle, “I am the honorable Xendo Zhaivo! I am a high-ranking member of the confraternity in high-standing and will serve as the official arbiter to this duel! If there are no objections or protestations from any present we will continue, and the dueling process shall commence! … No one? Good. Attention seconds! It is time to set the terms of this duel! We must confer with the participants’ seconds! To the circle, now!”

Xanto (appearing from nowhere eagerly stomped off from behind the trio towards the circle): “Ha! Time for me to shine!”

Minutes passed as the three mages and the seconds announced and negotiated terms running them back and forth. Finally, terms for the duel were reached, recorded, and signed. Excor had tried to include that the winner would take control of the cabal. However, he learned that the winner of a duel over the leadership was automatically the leader of the Cabal of Eight. It was already written in the charter.

Cris: “Aw man! I should’ve got a copy of that damn charter!”

The GM (me): “Or read it.”

The terms were these: no magic items, no physical binding of your opponent (Belrae’s stipulation which caused some contention), no weapons only spell magic, no total immobilization (Excor added in response to Belrae’s previous stipulation), and the duelists would enter the arena with 3 active spells to be prepared directly before the fight (as was traditional).

After this stage in the duel ritual, Xendo advised all witnesses to stand away from the circle. Then he and Xanto, as well as the three other mages in guild garb, began chanting casting a chain spell (led by Xendo) on the small circle of open ground within the scribed dirt circle. A crackling, mostly transparent dome of pure magical energy faded into existence and enclosed the area within the circle. Those who could see directly into the area of effect found that the ground contained within seemed to be a much larger area than what could possibly be contained within the circle’s circumference. The magic caused a strange lensing effect while looking through the field. Most observers had to turn away as the effect hurt their eyes. The actual diameter of the duel area was about 10 ft, within it was 50 ft.

Meanwhile, Excor cast the Mage Armor, Breath Without Air, and Shield spells on himself. Unbeknownst to team Excor, Belrae cast Death Armor, False Image II, and Invisibility II on himself. As soon as the dueling arena, as it was referred to, was up and functioning, both duelists were asked to enter from opposite but facing sides. With no further ceremony, the duel commenced.

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Belrae got the jump on Excor and began casting flamboyantly but the spell fizzled. Excor cast Slow on his opponent however the spell did not take effect for whatever reason. He watched carefully as Belrae tried to cast the same spell but again failed. Excor then took the time to size up his opponent and tried to guess what the spell was that he was trying to cast. A quick Spellcraft check revealed that Belrae was trying to get a Bolt of Stunning off. Belrae then cast Daggerfall instead on Excor destroying his shield. Excor hit Belrae with a cone of fire (Cone of Energy: Fire) visibly scorching his purple robes.

Excor moved away and cast See the Invisible. He rolled a Natural 1 on a general detection check of his surroundings which cost him a move equivalent action. Belrae immediately cast a fireball (Energy Ball: Fire) catching Excor in the blast reducing his mage armor by half. Excor shot a Lightning Bolt at Belrae but it fell short. Belrae appeared to flinch as if hit anyway. Visible scorch marks appeared on his robes. Then Belrae began a spell which quickly got out of his control and went wild. He twitched when a poisonous green bolt of energy blasted from his hands and struck Excor’s mage armor, destroying it. Excor charged forward and let loose a Force Ram spell, Belrae amazingly dodged with a natural 20.

The opponents circled each other like dogs in a fighting pit, each looking for an opening that would end this contest. Belrae seeing his chance, tried to cast a spell, but it fizzled out. Excor let loose a Bolt of Stunning striking Belrae but to no effect.

Excor: “What!? Hmm. Dammit!”

Belrae went to cast another spell and again it went wild in his clumsy hands. The skulls of both opponents flashed with a blast of purplish-white energy causing each of them to shudder with pain. Both had suffered temporary wisdom (WIS) damage from the wild magic. Fortunately, not enough to render either completely insane. Excor shot Belrae again with another Bolt of Stunning. Again, it was to no effect.

Excor: “Damn!”

Belrae began approaching and carefully sidestepping, motioning as if casting a spell. Excor fell for the ruse and prepared to take a hit, but nothing came. Excor then unleashed a Paralyze II spell trying to cripple one of his foe’s arms thereby preventing his spellcasting. However, nothing happened again.

Isis: “Aw man!”

Jenn: “Oh no!”

Cris: “Sh*t. What the hell? … I’m missing something.”

Suddenly, Excor was smashed from behind by a Force Ram spell strong enough to put him out of action. The dome of energy faded away and all wounds suffered during the match likewise disappeared. Excor got up dusting himself off. Xanto was already congratulating Belrae on his “flawless” victory.

Cris: “Shit! Good one.” (Directed at me) “Damn!”

Then he realized something and groaned loudly before face-palming.

Isis: “What? What’s going on?”

Cris: “The spells he used to get me in the duel. False Image II, Invisibility, and Force Ram?”

Me (the GM): “Hey, you guessed it!”

Isis: “Yeah.”

Cris: “He got those from my and Gornix’s grimoires! When we traded spells way back when! He learned that from us!” (I don’t think the actual moment is recorded dear reader, but they traded spells at the end of almost every cabal meeting while Gil (Gornix’s player) was still playing, so I probably truncated the actual occurrence in the blog).

With the match over and leadership of the cabal settled Excor limped back to his room in Fauna’s new rental and went to sleep. The others, however, had their own plans, and as all were shuffling from the guild house Szoo and Fauna decided to invite Bumble along for a drink at the Red Helm. They had intended to ply her for information over drinks. They were convinced the Wasp was planning something. However, Bumble collapsed after the first tip of the mug. Fauna had dosed her ale with yellow lotus.

Szoo: “Ugh! Why did you do that!”

Fauna: “I dunno, we were trying to get her f*&%ed up right?”

Szoo: “Not that messed up!”

Fauna then left Szoo there to take care of the Wasp’s apprentice. She went to see the grove tender in Central Park, Anishi, and after a brief discussion, while Anishi was busy leading a chant around the central tree with his pupils, she found he was a member of the Southern Order of Druids. After that brief and mostly fruitless adventure, the druidess shuffled back to the new rental and did some yellow lotus.

The following day, the 3rd of Low Harvest, the three adventurers plus Jirek and Bumble found themselves around the old round table in the club room. Belrae lorded over all of them and most of the time it was him making speeches and plans that would eventually require the assistance of the rest. They all pretty much just tuned him out. All save for Excor as Belrae couldn’t help but send a verbal jab his way every now and then. Szoo, as usual, was gazing out of the window most of the time but looked over at Belrae just after he had finished his last vainglorious speech and loudly uttered, “Ugh!” Before the meeting was dismissed it was declared that Xanto the Wasp would be donating his “consultation services’ to the cabal. Belrae prevented Excor from talking when he piped up with his objections.

Over the following eight days, Excor brewed mead and Fauna brewed several potions. She had gone to the bank to make a withdrawal realizing that the banker, Xander (see Cabal of Eight II pt.3: Blue Cloaks & Bankers), was a member of the cult she was leading. The next meeting was dominated by the superstar team of Belrae and the Wasp who ultimately decided, with the input of Fauna, to begin planning an expedition to find the Golden Bee. Apparently, the Wasp had “come upon some valuable information concerning” it.

12th of Low Harvest – Szoo had just put the finishing touches on his brand-new staff and had exited the “bone sculptor’s” hole in the wall into the narrow maze of narrow back alleys that hid him. The naga was strutting his way to the nearest main street with his new staff in hand. It was made of dragonbone with a starmetal inlay that wound up along the length of it to a single large moonstone embedded at its head. It was a staff of elemental blast (fire) and could deal +1D6 fire damage on a strike. Suddenly, Szoosha’s shield spell was triggered by a blast of concentrated water. He spun around and prepared for battle.

Before him stood a slight, fair-skinned human, a Fuglotian mage, wearing soft leather armor with a grey serpent sown on the breast, and a wolf skin mantle on his shoulders. It was the water elementalist who had accompanied the Grey Serpent Pirates (The Cabal of Eight II Pt.15: Something on the Table).

The Grey Serpent Mage (pointing accusingly at Szoo): “You’re too close to the sea fire tosser!”

Szoosha could feel his hatred. It was instinctive between the two of them. They were each harnessing opposing elements by instinct. So, it only followed logically that casters of opposing forces would instinctively hate each other. Apparently, the water elementalist had taken his lack of facing down Szoosha in battle as a personal insult.

Szoo (hissing angrily): “Alright! Let’s do this!”

To be Concluded…

The Cabal of Eight II – Pt.25: Calm in the Dragon’s Wake

It was late morning; some carpenters were measuring the warehouse. Vor Jetl was overseeing a crew with a winch and chain by the large hole in the dock floor. He was going to recover the dragon’s corpse; it was simply too much money to just leave it to rot. He promised each of the trio that they could claim a share at the safehouse sometime tomorrow evening. Jirek had taken his leave and Fauna and Szoo had left together to breakfast at the safehouse. Excor, still mourning the unicorn wand, decided to breakfast at the White Prong. From there, he would head to the Red Helm hoping to smooth over the situation with Draega.

It was nearing afternoon by the time he reached the Red Helm tavern. Draega was out front overseeing some workers. They were constructing a new framework and facade over the gaping hole in the front of the place.

Draega (taking time from setting up a sandwich board with a red helmet next to a frothing mug of ale painted on it): “oh… it’s you.”

Excor (handing Draega a large sapphire and emerald): “This should cover everything.”

Draega: “Ha! I knew you wouldn’t leave our friendship in the dirt to die! I suppose you and your friends might still come around for your meetings and whatnot. But this does not cover the clubroom rent. And no more complementary drinks!”

His aims met, Excor was about to walk away and head to his apartment far to the south. However, as he turned, Belrae and his right-hand man Riahm were in his face—the de facto leaders of the Cabal. Belrae was a fresh-faced young Ezmerian, his purple robes fluttering in the breeze with a prominent green frog on his chest. Riahm was a young Ivoran man with a sun-kissed face his half brown half green cloak testified to the fact that he was a graduate of the Ezermian Bardic College.

Belrae: “There you are! You interfered with a very important deal we had with the dragon queen! You screwed up a prime bit of cabal business!”

Excor: “Whoa! Whoa! That dragon business was going to go bad no matter what! Even Draega warned you.”

Belrae: “Shut up!”

Cris: “Oh? Well, that’s it I’m through with this guy!”

Belrae: “Now I hear you’re telling everyone that you’re the leader of the cabal!”

Excor: “What!?”

Cris: “Sh*t! It’s that damned Wasp, he’s been workin’ Belrae while we were dealing with that dragon sh#t.”

He was not wrong although he had no real reason for believing so other than being familiar with Xanto the Wasp’s modus operandi.

Belrae: “Y’know what! Y’know what!?”

Excor: “Well…”

Belrae: “I challenge you to a duel for leadership of the cabal, a wizard’s duel! Anytime you want it!”

Excor: “Fine. Let’s duel. You pick the time.”

Belrae (after consulting with Riahm): “In two days’ time at dusk in the Star Sapphire guild house.”

The pair stomped off. Excor just shrugged.

Isis: “Oh! It’s those two connected to the Sapphire guild!” (see The Cabal of Eight II Pt.24 – Wrath of the Dragon Queen)

Morning of the 28th of Monsoon – The trio of Excor, Fauna, and Szoo sit around a table in a bustling and already smoke-fogged common room of the White Prong the board brimming with steaming meat, fresh fruit, and foaming tankards of dark ale, morning conversations sizzled through the greasy air.

Fauna (lifting an overfilled tankard to her mouth): “Aaah! Breakfast ale!”

Szoo and Fauna had slept at the safehouse and Excor had taken a room for the night at the Shield & Helm Inn. They discussed the battle with the Ocean of the Desert, mentioned how none of them wanted to deal with the Wasp (Szoo still had his key) for a while and ran through the list of loot. Excor had spent an hour before sunrise identifying all four pieces of the dragon queen’s jewelry.

There was the silver and diamond necklace with five silver acorn charms, a silver bracelet, a gold bracelet, and a diamond-encrusted silver diadem/tiara. All were insanely valuable and somewhat magically powerful. The gold bracelet had the constant ability of Death Armor (1D4 + 5), and the silver bracelet had Heal Self (10D4) three times a day. The silver diadem on the other hand, had the abilities of Track Enemy (98%) once per day, Scry twice a day, Soul Armor at will once per day, and the central sapphire held the ability to cast Negate Magic I at will three times per day. However, the necklace was something else altogether.

The necklace was a legacy item, and each acorn charm was able to control the mind of a slave. Clairvoyance had revealed to Excor earlier that it was an item of legacy and only fire intense enough to shatter the diamonds can destroy it. Unanimously they decided to destroy the necklace as legacy items are not only useless but also can be dangerous to those who are not part of that legacy. For that they would reconvene at Fauna’s rental, or in what was left of it anyway.

A little more than an hour later the group was back in the old rental in the north quarter. The trio voted three to one that the fire elementalist would be charged with the necklace’s destruction. After all, if the fire elementalist couldn’t create flames hot enough to destroy it, who could? Szoo lit the hearth with his fire magic and the other two backed off, trying to find cover as Szoo prepared to throw the necklace into the roaring flames.

Szoo (the necklace dangling off the end of his naginata): “Oh boy! Okay! I’m doing it!”

The other two ducked behind what cover they found and the naga tossed the diamond necklace into the flames. A blinding flash of magical light caused him to jump backward and shield his eyes in the crook of his arm. When he looked again the flames of the roaring fire had been frozen and turned to solid ice. Szoo used his fire touch ability to recover the necklace from the ice and then took it into the alley to try to use his Encase in Element (fire) spell.

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Eventually, after building what amounted to a bonfire in the alleyway, Szoo, through superior concentration (N20), encased the necklace the flames shattering the gems and melting the rest. The trio sighed in relief Szoo had successfully destroyed the necklace without much incident. They finally settled down to split the loot; Szoo kept the tiara, Excor took the gold bracelet, and Fauna the silver bracelet. A few moments later, they went their separate ways.

Szoo hoofed it down to the seafront looking for Paej (see The Cabal of Eight Pt.20: Rats, Rowdies, and Imps) as a favor to Excor. He was to inquire about “any important info about the brewers and distillers in the city”. Whatever that meant. The naga eventually found Paej at the bar in a scuzzy pirate-infested dive. She had a crew and a boat and was just looking for a job. As it turned out, there was only a single brewer within the city, the Red Scorpion Barrel. Otherwise, there was no other information.

Szoo: “Oh hey, you know a bone carver that can enchant stuff?”

Paej: “Yeah, yeah I know a guy, but he can be a little paranoid.”

Paej gave Szoo the location of the bone-carver, it was a rickety staircase deep in an alley in the West Quarter just off the Shop District. Szoo shrugged and thanked Paej then went off to check to see if the dragonhide and bone was ready at the safehouse. A few hours later, and to his delight, he found that his share was ready and waiting. After packing up his wealth of dragon bone & hide, he went to find the bone-carver.

Another couple of hours later, Szoo easily found the rickety staircase on the alley side of a low-end apartment building. After he took a few minutes to remember the specific knock that would get the door opened, he was face-to-face with a wild-eyed, skinny, pale, man with a heavy Hyvalian accent and a bush of wild, gray hair dressed in a dirty, tattered robe. After convincing the twitchy nervous guy that he wasn’t any kind of authority, Szoo revealed his purpose to the “bone-sculptor” as the guy insisted that he was though he was likely some sort of bone-specialized necromancer.

Szoo wanted help in creating a magic staff with a star metal inlay and a large moonstone at its top out of the dragonbone with the Elemental Blast (fire) spell on it. After showing the bone-sculptor he had the means to pay, they embarked on creating the magic staff that would take 13 days to complete.

Meanwhile, Fauna was heading out unsure as to what to do as a messenger reached her while departing the old rental with two messages for her, Draega wanted them out of the rental as did Vor Jetl from the safehouse. So, she went apartment-hunting. She was talking to barkeeps and paying criers 1 bit to read board posts for her. Eventually, she found herself somewhere in the South Market District near the Main City Gate chasing down a lead when she ran into a familiar face. A longtime contact, Kosapio Belahgastro (see The Cabal of Eight Pt.24: Plate of Scorpions), the Creschan woman was wearing a white robe and blue apron with a white star on the chest. They talked for a few minutes and Fauna lamented that she did not keep in contact like she should. Then they parted ways again.

Cris: “Wait!”

Jenn: “What?”

Cris: “You had a contact in the White Star guild this whole TIME!?”

Isis: “What!? Really!?”

Cris: “Yeah! She was wearing the White Star, they’re the biggest healers’ guild in the city!”

Jenn: “So what?”

Cris: “So what!?” He went into fits of incomprehensible sputtering.

Isis: “JENNY!”

Cris (his outrage finally subsided after several minutes): “Ya know, having a contact in the world’s largest healers’ guild could’ve been helpful.”

Jenn just shrugged.

Fauna finally found a place she liked and put down a deposit.

At the same time, Excor had walked to Baba’s Apothecary to “smoke and chill” with the naga apothecary. They were calmly discussing various herbs, especially lotus. She mentioned she had a new supplier for lotus. He wears a gold mask with a gold bee and flower blossom on it. She did have a backup supplier, a smaller-time guy in the city. Excor knew who that was (Anishi the Grove Tender, Fauna’s friend and co-cultist). After a few hours of smoking, Excor decided to go to the safehouse to collect his share of the spoils. From there, he went back to his room at the Shield & Helm. The duel with Belrae was ever-present in his mind.

Morning of the 1st of Low Harvest – Excor sent a whisper to Jirek and Fauna inviting them to breakfast at the White Prong. There he asked Jirek to be his second in the duel at morrow’s dusk. He would also need access to Jirek’s warehouse. The scribe also agreed to this. Excor then departed to a tailor. He wanted a purse, cowl, gloves, and potion bandolier made from the blue dragon hide. With a 10gp deposit, it would take 10 days to be ready for pickup.

Then he went to a cooper near the docks purchasing two empty hogsheads. He had them delivered to Jirek’s warehouse where he had hoped to fill them with his magic goblet. (Cabal of Eight Pt.38: The Black Tombs Pt.2 for the chalice, Cabal of Eight II Pt.2: A Letter and a Map for the birth of his scheme). However, he realized too late that it would take forever to fill them that way. Seriously, we ran through the (approximate) math for about half an hour.

Later, as the sky darkened and the sun was nearing dusk, Fauna went to find Vor Jetl. However, she couldn’t find the Dragonfly anywhere. In his stead, she sought out Anishi. But he was busy directing initiates of the Southern Order in maintaining and landscaping Central Park. Both with druidic magic and standard gardening tools. So, as she wanted a magic cloak made from her share of the dragonhide, Anishi suggested a member in the Old Market District. She got there close to dusk and put in an order for a Cloak of Many Pockets. It would take 10 days for the seamster to complete. He guaranteed his work would be of high quality and gave her a great price with a wink (he was a member of the cult she was head priestess of as well).

Cris: “Geesh, must be nice to have a cult! Y’know, we need to think about how to use them in the future.”

Isis: “Yes! We really need to.”

Jenn: “Hey, that’s my cult!”

Cris: “Well! You need to start using ‘em!”

Jenn: “That’s what I just did!”

Both Cris and Isis sighed with disgust.

Fauna eventually found her way back to the safehouse where the servant still let her in. The first thing she did was plop down on the sofa and dose herself with some yellow lotus powder. She passed out immediately and was tormented by a disturbing dream about Vor Jetl. She dreamed that he was nude laying on grey silk pillows with the general feeling of undefined dread.

Elsewhere, Excor spent 5 hours filling the hogsheads in the warehouse then quit and retired to the Shield & Helm. When in his room, he laid back onto the feather pillow and bed after a hot meal and bottle of wine. The duel was now only a matter of hours away.

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight II – Pt.24: Wrath of the Dragon Queen

It had taken an entire day and night to talk Vor Jetl out of “confiscating” the wand. He wanted to cash it in with the blue dragon. Fauna had even pulled rank on him. His soldiers were apparently cult members themselves, they relented to her before he did. So, he spent an entire day and night “conversing” with them about possession of the wand. Eventually, however, the trio finally talked him into letting them keep the wand. They could keep it safe. Then they formulated a plan which they needed Vor Jetl’s resources for. He cheerfully endorsed the idea since now, they would “owe” him “two” now.

Excor: “What?”, turning to Fauna, “What did he say?”

Fauna: “Oh, don’t worry about that right now.”

Excor (pointing at Fauna): “You and me, we really need to have a long talk when this is all over.”

Fauna waved his concerns away, of course, they would tell each other everything afterward. Note dear reader, Jenn (Fauna’s player) winked at me.

Meanwhile, Excor had formulated a plan. Vor Jetl would lend them the use of an empty warehouse on the docks, and he would send a messenger who would deliver the trio’s location to the dragon: the warehouse tomorrow at sunup. The trio would use what remains of the day to hire members of the dragonslayers’ guild to assist them in “ending this”. All adventurers were nervous and taking deep breaths (as were their players).

Vor Jetl: “Um…”

Szoo: “Aw crap, what!?”

Vor Jetl: “The Roaring Skull – dragonslayers’ guild? Um…”

Fauna: “Spit it out!”

Vor Jetl: “During that nasty storm a few nights ago…”

Fauna shrugged her shoulders; she had been the guest of the Wasp the night that summer storm struck. Szoo and Excor had passed out completely exhausted (and drunk) before it had even started to thunder (see The Cabal of Eight II Pt.19 – The Dragon & the Wasp).

Vor Jetl: “…lightning struck the guild house and most of the slayers were killed when it burned down… to the ground.”

Szoo: “In the rain!”

Vor Jetl (he shrugged): “Well…”

Excor: *sigh* “We all know what happened, that damned dragon queen – Ocean of the Desert or whatever her name is.”

So, they decided to find any survivors and hire them, they should be raring for some vengeance. All went about their roles for the rest of the day.

Morning of the 27th of Monsoon – the first bleeding rays of sun were starting to pierce the slit windows of the massive barn-like warehouse. The floor was the moist wood of the pier onto which the place was built. Above on a central heavy support post and along the ceiling supports was a hook and tackle. The mages spread out at the far end and the three survivors of the dragonslayers’ guild massacre, for that’s what it had been, were hiding in the rafters. Jirek was to wait by the huge pair of sliding doors; when the dragon entered, he was to slam the doors shut trapping her inside with them. At least that was the hope.

They had figured at just past dawn that their message had reached the dragon queen – the Ocean of the Desert. It read:

The Cabal of Eight awaits the presence of the oh-so-powerful Puddle of the Pisspot if she does not fear the true power of the mages of the Cabal of Eight. We have your wand here in the red warehouse between the first and second piers on the waterfront. Come alone or we will disintegrate the wand before your very eyes.

Signed,

The Cabal of Eight.

The sun had just fully peeked over the dark blue horizon of the Silverset Sea, and the mages were stretching tired of waiting. The dragonslayers were silent and waiting like eager cats in their perches.

Jenn: “So. We’re going to destroy the wand if she doesn’t show?”

Cris: “Hell no! I mean, we don’t have the magic to destroy it, it was a bluff but she don’t know that.”

Dark clouds moved over the horizon causing the warehouse to become shrouded in a muggy, grey gloom.

Szoo: “Well maybe she won’t show.”

Excor: “Oh, she’ll…”

The warehouse doors crashed as they were thrown open, standing between them was the silhouetted human form clad all in blue and silver of the Ocean of the Desert, the dragon queen. She seemed angry.

Excor: “Well, here we go! Jirek! Jirek?”

Szoo: “Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy.”

Fauna: “Alright! Let’s kill this b*#@h!”

The queenly form of the Ocean of the Desert instantly swelled into that of a giant blue dragon as she strode angrily toward the young mages. Her true dragon form still wearing the silver diadem on her head, a silver and diamond necklace with five silver acorn charms dangling on her neck, and the gold and silver bracelets on her left and right wrists. Still very much a dragon queen. The trio of adventurers sucked in air but held their ground, as did the dragonslayers in the rafters, Jirek, however, shrieked in terror and backed into a corner failing to shut the doors.

Fauna immediately moved to the side towards Excor while throwing fire at the dragon. Her flames hit a shield spell, but she maintained them as they jetted from her hand. The dragon queen’s throat swelled and the mages and dragonslayers braced themselves as the entire place vibrated with the dragon’s inhalation. Then with a deafening roar, she let loose a blast of lightning from her mouth catching Excor and a dragonslayer. Fortunately, a shield spell protected both from the thundering energy. Some rafters blasted through the hole made in the roof of the warehouse and flaming splinters rained down on the mages sizzling out on the damp planks as they fell. Excor summoned a giant earth-elemental that erupted into existence from thin air. The planks under its feet creaked.

Szoo activated his ring of Fearsome Form II and flew up into the rafters, a hideous insect-like version of himself with leathery dragonfly wings. The head dragonslayer leaped from the splintered rafters and landed a tremendous leaping blow with his sword but the blade hit another shield spell. The second dragonslayer also dropped from the rafters with a single tremendous axe blow, her axe hitting a third shield spell.

Excor: “It’s okay! It’s okay! Her shields are down! Her shields are down!”

The third dragonslayer shot his bow launching a dragonbone arrow right at the heart of the beast, however, she instantly knocked the fragile projectile to the side with a claw. It hit the wall shattering. Jirek tried to flee but was too afraid to run past the dragon and just dove behind a heavy wood stud. Fauna ran across the warehouse floor to the side opposite Excor as she maintained her flames dealing very little damage. The great blue dragon queen clawed the elemental tearing a significant chunk out of its solid stone chest.

Excor cast Mage Armor on himself as he drew his Wand of Spell Penetration. Szoo flew to the apex of the warehouse ceiling, near the hole should he need to escape, and shot a ray of fire at the dragon dealing no damage. The head dragonslayer slashed the dragon with his sword dealing some damage followed by his fellow who landed a blow with her axe, but it bounced off the steel-hard scales. The slayer in the rafters took aim with his bow and hit with a magic arrow but it shattered harmlessly against the monster’s scales. Fauna continued to blast fire at the dragon dealing very little damage. The dragon snapped her massive jaws at the axe-wielding dragonslayer who dodged instant death by a hair’s breadth. Excor channeled the Slow spell through his wand at the blue dragon and penetrated the dragon queen’s impressive magic resistance.

Szoo & Fauna (both at once): “Yeah!”

Emboldened, Szoo flew down using his naginata to strike at one of the dragon’s eyes, but the blow glanced harmlessly off the beast’s cheek. The lead dragonslayer lashed out with his sword again but the dragon easily parried with a claw. The archer in the rafter drew his bow again and this time hit, nailing the dragon with a magic arrow which did a little damage. The blue dragon’s massive tail whipped at Fauna, fortunately, hitting a shield spell. Excor cast Verminous Might on himself gaining a pair of insect wings, he buzzed up to the apex of the roof. The dragonslayer leader slashed again but his blade bounced harmlessly off the monster’s hide. The axe-wielding dragonslayer swung as well but her axe also bounced harmlessly off the dragon. The archer shot and hit but did very little damage this time.

Szoo, still hovering about the dragon’s face, tried to shoot a ray of fire into the dragon’s eye but missed and dealt no damage. The axe-wielding slayer put all her might behind her next blow in a power attack and dealt some damage. The archer used his last magic arrow, he dealt a little damage. Fauna maintained her throw fire spell dealing some damage as her flames continued to increase in intensity. The dragon touched a claw to the central sapphire set in her diamond-encrusted silver diadem. A flash of magic light and Excor instantly knew that his slow spell had ended. The lead dragonslayer attacked with his sword and not only missed but dropped it. The earth elemental stomped forward and slammed both its fists against the dragon queen’s ribs but did no damage while Excor cast slow again but the dragon successfully resisted this time.

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Szoo tried to grab and pull off the dragon’s diadem but failed to even touch it. The axe-wielding slayer swung again in a power-attack hacking at the dragon, dealing minimal damage. The archer shot a highest-quality arrow at the dragon, but the projectile shattered on a deflecting wing. Fauna maintained her flames the intensity of which all in the warehouse could now feel but the dragon took no damage. The dragon belched another bolt of lightning right at Excor, but it hit his mage armor instead, sparing the structure of the warehouse. The lead dragonslayer backed off and retrieved his sword. Excor cast shadow ribbons on the dragon, but the black straps of shadow stuff melted away as soon as they touched the creature. Jirek was juking left and right as he ran about aimlessly panic-stricken trying to escape the massive dragon.

Szoo again tried to pull the tiara-like diadem off the dragon queen but again failed. The archer loosed another highest-quality arrow that splintered on the dragon’s deep blue scales. Fauna maintained her flames dealing a decent amount of damage this time. The dragon surged forward and tried to stomp on the axe-wielding slayer knocking her prone and wounding her badly. The archer shot his last highest-quality arrow, and again it broke on the dragon’s scales. Excor cast shadow ribbons again but again his magic failed to penetrate the dragon’s defenses.

The dragon twisted its body and swept one side of the warehouse with its massive tree-trunk tail. All the axe-wielding slayer could do was scream until her fearless leader leaped in its way and miraculously parried the blow with his sword. One of the heavy wood supports was smashed and as a result, a small part of the roof caved in. However, the archer was able to stay on his perch as the rafters quaked from the blow. The lead slayer again struck the dragon with his sword dealing some damage. Excor moved to the corner farthest from the dragon queen.

The battle raged on for another round where Szoo was able to snatch away the dragon’s diadem and was surprised when it shrank in his hands to a wearable size. The archer tried for the dragon queen’s eyes but repeatedly failed, and Fauna maintained her fire dealing increasing amounts of damage. The dragonslayer leader continued to slash away, Excor began using his force ram spell as his chosen weapon, and the dragon unleashed its breath on the archer nearly killing him and blasting away a portion of the roof. Jirek was barely able to dodge a portion of the falling roof.

They continued to fight on. Excor shot a storm of force ram and shadow ribbon spells at the dragon queen including a quickened slow spell, all ineffectual. He had to renew his mage armor as the first instance was almost gone by the end of the round. Fauna was dealing the most damage with her long-running throw fire spell. Szoo hacked away at the dragon’s face with his naginata while wearing the dragon’s diadem.

Jirek found a space under some debris to hide and cower. The three dragonslayers were barely able to hang on using recovery checks and dodging along with power attacks and attempted eye shots as their main strategies. The dragon snapped repeatedly at Fauna and Szoo fortunately hitting their shields. However, it blasted the two dragonslayers that were on the ground horribly wounding them. Fauna, caught in the blast, lost her last shield but mage armor activated from one of her items.

The fight ground on. All three dragonslayers were dead by the first minute thirty seconds of battle. Jirek finally overcame his horror and began using a magic dagger that flew at the dragon on command, however, it never landed a blow. The dragon eventually smashed Fauna with a tail swipe causing her to lose her carefully maintained flames and she could not overcome the dragon’s spell resistance with subsequent instances of the spell. Szoo resorted to hand-to-hand combat and the elemental remained unable to damage the dragon queen with anything but a lucky blow though it was devastating.

The battle continued for another grueling thirty seconds.  Fauna nearly died save for a very lucky recovery check and a healing potion. Szoo nearly died, save for a decent recovery check before performing a suicidal power attack driving his naginata blade into the dragon’s neck. The dragon queen continued to blast the mages and the warehouse with her lightning bolt breath and snapping her steel-trap jaws at them eventually putting a sizeable hole in the floor planks exposing the seawater below. Jirek was unconscious and bleeding on the ground. Excor exhausted his repertoire of force ram spells, dealing severe damage to the warehouse but ultimately scoring the death blow on the dragon with the last spell possible for him to cast (he had 1 KO pt. left).

The dragon queen was finally dead, her massive corpse slid through the gigantic hole in the dock planks into the ocean. The last three standing began to giggle. They had won and survived by the skin of their teeth. Then they heard the grinding of wheels and the clopping of the horses of a coach pulling up to the doors. Excor and Szoo went and looked through the ruined opening. There was a black coach with a large seal painted on its door. The mark of the Ezmer branch of the Star-Sapphire Confraternity. A man of advanced age in black and blue silk robes opened the door and slowly disembarked the coach.

The Old Wizard (at Excor): “Ah-hem. I think you have something that belongs to me.”

Excor: “Oh, of course, of course, sir!”

Excor immediately fetched the wand from his robes.

Fauna: “What!? You’re just handing it over! After all that!?”

 Cris: “Hell yes! That guy could probably take us at our best, right now we’re done. I don’t have spells left, do you?”

Jenn: “Damn. Okay, you’re right.”

The Old Wizard: “Yes. I remember you all.” He gingerly took the wand from Excor’s hands. “We’ve been tracking this baby since it arrived in the bay aboard ship.” His eyes washed over it hungrily.

Excor introduced himself with his full noble name (sorry dear reader, I lost the notes though only the old wizard heard it anyway) finishing with a flourish of his still-smoking hat.

The Old Wizard: “Indeed. Well, I am grateful. You and your companions speak well of your little cabal just as your other two friends have proven themselves. This cabal of yours has been noticed. Though this does not mean you four have earned an audience with the guild as the other two have.”

The four young and rather haggard mages were puzzled.

The Old Wizard: “Well, I might entertain a favor from any of you, maybe. I am Xendo Zhaivo, arbiter for the confraternity.” With that, he turned and leaped back into the carriage. It almost immediately trotted off.

Szoo: “What did he mean by that?”

Excor: “I have no idea. … Oh well, we’ll probably find out soon. We have a cabal meeting in two days.”

The remains of the warehouse creaked dangerously. The splintered floor with its gaping hole was now treacherous. Small dusty bits of wood and roof tiles were occasionally falling down from above the survivors’ heads. Excor walked over to Jirek and poured a healing potion down his throat. After that, he looted the dragonslayers’ corpses. He kept the bearded axe, the two-handed longsword, and the bowie knife. Not long after, the trio and Jirek limped to the road where they collectively collapsed to their duffs. Suddenly, a carriage clomped up to them. None other than Vor Jetl leaped out of it roaring with anger at the three victors. His warehouse was “ruined”! Fauna gave him three large sapphires. He went back to smiling immediately and told his footman to arrange for carpenters as soon as possible.

Cris: “Hey! That old bastard didn’t give me his name!”

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight II – Pt.23: Home Sweet Safehouse

The group was rushing through the streets with Fauna in the lead. They wound south taking alleys and turning whenever there was a corner trying to keep from making too straight a line through the city. They soon passed beneath the shadow of the great southwestern guard tower, a castle in and of itself, as they ran deeper into the Southwest District. Fauna came to a halt before a tall three-story apartment building with three small shuttered slit windows per floor. The street was narrow, and the only traffic was street beggars and a leper ringing a bell as they limped past. Fauna walked up to the mildewed wooden double doors and fitted a key, given to her by one of Vor Jetl’s servants before she met up with her fellows at the White Prong. Excor observed the terra cotta tile roof, it appeared in ill repair. She opened the doors, and they went inside.

They found themselves in a small rundown foyer with an open roof and a shallow rain-catching pool of murky green water in the center of the floor. Everything was water damaged and the plaster was falling off in great patches on the walls exposing bricks. Fauna walked to the bronze double door. They could see patches of corrosion all over it. She reached up to the bell pull and rang the bell.

Excor: “Yup, just like I thought it would be.”

A small square hatch in the upper portion of the right-side door opened and they could see a rheumy eye look them over and without a word the doors swung open on unexpectedly oiled hinges. An old man welcomed them in. He was completely bald with a brass hoop earring in one drooping earlobe, a pair of brass bracelets on his wrists, leather sandals on his feet, and wrapped in an off-white toga fastened with a dull bronze brooch at the shoulder bearing the insignia of a dragonfly.

The Servant: “Ah! My mistress I’ve prepared for your return. There is food and drink on the table, I will return shortly with the meats.”

Excor & Szoo (together): “Whoa! What. The. Hell!”

They had wandered into a large room of white marble pillars and floors and smooth, white-washed walls. Censors hung from the ceiling of the square mezzanine that bounded the room opening into both floors above allowing the light from the skylight in the roof to bathe the room in bright warm light. Other censors stood around the perimeter by the walls, all smoking with a sweet mild scent. The center of the room was depressed and lined with embroidered silk pillows and three couches bounded the dropped floor. At the center of the dropped floor and mess of pillows was a glass top table set with trays of fresh fruit, three loaves of bread, a pot of butter, and two clay decanters of strong brown ale. They could see the top of a fully loaded hookah next to the table and the grand staircase beyond. Fauna’s three companions stood agape while she rushed over to the table and plopped down.

Excor: “Hey! Wait a minute! You need to answer some questions!”

Szoo: “Yeah, I think you need to explain some stuff.”

Fauna: “Like what?”

Szoo & Excor (together, both motioning to their surroundings): “Well. All of THIS!”

Fauna remained cheeky, so Excor and Szoo began to grill her about how she had these kinds of resources. Eventually, the druidess came clean as she realized trust was wearing thin within the group. She confessed to them that she was the head priestess of a secretive druidic cult that meets within the subterranean labyrinths under the city. They’re called the Brotherhood of the Rope. The groundskeeper of the Grove, Anishi (see The Cabal of Eight Pt.2: Wagon Ho!), was a high-ranking member and had brought her in, Virtra Wefa, the woman who had hired them in a failed scheme was at the time, the high priestess of the cult (see The Cabal of Eight Pt.24: Plate of Scorpions). This “safehouse” was owned by the merchant, Vor Jetl, “The Dragonfly”, another high-ranking cult member. Excor asked how long this had been going on.

Fauna: “I dunno, I became high priestess a few days ago…”

Both Szoo and Excor nodded in acceptance.

Fauna: “…but I guess I’ve been a member for like, uh, a month I think.”

Excor: “WHAT!? We could’ve used your cult to our advantage this whole TIME!

Cris, went ballistic going on a diatribe at the table that lasted for about 10 minutes. When he finished Fauna replied with a snide, “Well, we’ve got this place for now. Vor Jetl said we got it for as long as we need it. Wow, I’m really stressed.”

Fauna rolled out a line of yellow lotus on the glass table.

Szoo & Excor (together): “NO.”

Fauna: “Aww.” She put it away, pouted for a bit, then poured herself an ale in one of the gold-leafed red-clay wine cups as a salve.

After eating and drinking the group was settled in and Szoo and Fauna took turns pulling on the hookah. Excor kept the wrapped wand next to him, Jirek stayed close by babysitting a cup of dark wine that the old servant had brought out after supper. Excor reached into a pocket and pulled out the letter and sheet of aged sheepskin that had accompanied the wand’s case (see The Cabal of Eight II – Pt.20: Hideaway). He took it upon himself to cast clairvoyance on the letter, twice, to try to glean some answers.

Excor sat on a pillow in a meditative pose aside from the lounging group save for Jirek who remained his constant companion. After a few minutes…

Excor: “Sh*t!”

Szoo: “Wha? What’d you, see?”

Excor: “The ‘distinguished blue steward’ from the note.”

Fauna: “Yeah?”

Excor: “He was the arbiter at our trial.” (see The Cabal of Eight Pt.23: Trial of the Cabal).

Szoo: “Crap.”

Fauna just shrugged. She got up from the pillows and dropped herself onto a couch. Then as she stretched herself out, she realized something. She had spilled the beans about her cult to not only her dear companions Szoo and Excor but also to Jirek.

Jenn: “Guys, Jirek knows about the cult, I think I’m going to have to kill him.”

Isis: “What!? Nooo, why are you obsessed with killing Jirek!?”

For the past several sessions Jenn had been suggesting that they needed to kill Jirek for some reason.

Cris: “Naw, don’t kill a member of the cabal. We’ll figure it out later.”

They went back and forth between the three of them about what to do about the wand. Excor was vague but everyone figured out he wanted to keep it which caused Szoo to give him the side eye. Fauna talked about possibly destroying it, Excor agreed, but only if the Ocean of the Desert was about to get it. Szoo seconded that motion. Otherwise, they could not really figure out what to do with it as everyone after it wanted to cash-it-in to the dragon and they were loath to deal with a higher-up in the Sapphire guild. So, delivering the wand to him was out. Essentially, they did not reach a solid decision other than the Ocean of the Desert could not get her blue claws on it.

As night approached and the old servant went around lighting candles as well as the chandelier which hung from the ceiling two floors up from the center of the skylight as well as those in sconces in each of the bed chambers. They decided they needed to have two watches. Jirek and Fauna would be on the first watch, Szoo and Excor would be on the second. The reason was that they could not trust Jirek and though they didn’t say it out loud, they didn’t really trust each other at this point either.

The first watch commenced as the other two lay down amongst the pillows in the main room rather than the bedrooms prepared for them on the upper floors. An hour or so passed as the vast place became dead quiet then the servant passed the pair of watchers apparently on his way outside. He explained to Fauna that he had to run some errands for his master and would be right back. He asked her if there was anything he could get her, and when she said no, he left.

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Fauna: “Sooo, Jirek… What’s up?”

Jirek: “Um, not, nothing really. Hey, you got some lotus on you?”

Fauna: “Hell yea…wait. So, you wanna do some?”

Jirek: “Well, ladies first…”

Fauna (suspicious but successfully playing it off): “You go ahead we’re on watch, it’s alright, I got this.”

She passed a small leather pouch to him. He denied it with an upturned hand, “That’s okay, it’s no fun alone.”

Jenn: “Yup, I really don’t trust this guy!”

Isis: “Oh, Jirek, man…”

Cris (mockingly): “Pfft! Oh yeah, I don’t trust him – No sh*t! He wants the wand, we all want the wand, it’s bad*ss!”

The first watch passed quietly, “too quietly” for Fauna, and the second began as Jirek and Fauna took their places amongst the silk pillows. After about an hour, Fauna was snoring, but Jirek was laying as if waiting for something pretending to be asleep as noted by Excor. He managed to whisper this info to Szoo without Jirek catching it. Another hour passed and the black night as observed through the skylight above had lightened to a deep star-specked purple.

Both Szoo and Excor were drowsing their heavy-lidded eyes rhythmically shutting and then opening when suddenly the lights dimmed throughout the room. Both mages shot to their feet.

Szoo: “Oh boy, here we go!”

Excor: “EVERYBODY UP! WAKE UP!”

A mass of black shadows coalesced into a large black cloud opposite the two watchers and on the other side of the sleepers. The cloud hardened into a blob that split into three human-like silhouettes with long wormy tentacles in place of arms.

Jirek leaped up and jumped behind Excor. Szoo charged forward and struck with his naginata, a rubbery whip-like tentacle parried the blade. Excor cast a shield spell on himself in time for a tentacle to stretch from the second shadow as it moved forward trying to entangle him. Fauna was still snoring as the third shadow’s tentacles oozed toward her sleeping form. Szoo’s shriek finally caused her to shoot up from a dead sleep. Jirek appeared to ready himself but did nothing. Szoo struck again but again was parried. The first shadow struck at Szoo, he dodged, and the tentacle cracked like a bullwhip. Excor backed away but tried to keep within reach of the wrapped wand. The second shadow advanced on him. Fauna dodged a tentacle and ran up the grand staircase. Jirek again readied himself, however, he did nothing save stepping closer to the wand. Excor cast a stun bolt at the creature on him, but it had no effect. Jirek looked around and seemed to root himself to the spot.

Excor: “Wait a minute. I think my spell hit a higher level of magic. Hm.”

Excor turned and cast paralyze II on Jirek who froze in place next to the wand. Szoo, in turn, struck home with his polearm, but it passed harmlessly through the monster.

Excor: “They’re shadow creatures! Watch out!”

Szoo: “I think these guys are illusions!”

Szoo reached out with confidence and his hand passed right through it as the illusion faded. Excor kicked Jirek and told him to dispel them. They disappeared.

Szoo: “Is Jirek even that powerful?”

Jirek (after the paralysis was lifted): “It was a scroll.”

Fauna: “WHO’RE WORKING FOR!?”

Jirek: “Myself! Myself! I just wanted the wand.”

Fauna: “Oh yeah! WHY!?”

Jirek & Excor (both at once): “Because it’s awesome!”

They decided not to kill Jirek after a two-to-one vote, but he was now on outs with the trio although they made it clear that he was now to consider himself a prisoner, at least until this wand debacle was over. If he gained the wand, he would then easily lose it to the Ocean of the Desert or the pirates and thus the dragon would get it anyway. That was not even taking Xanto the Wasp into account.

Excor (under his breath): “Gawd-dammit.”

Szoo: “what?”

Excor: “We need to finish this! We need a plan.”

Fauna: “Seconded!”

The three adventurer-mages were just about to huddle when the bronze double door burst open. Several armed guards poured into the room. Behind them followed the corpulent Vor Jetl, the old servant who stood just behind him.

Vor Jetl: “Ah, my dear priestess,” he bowed, “I see you found a great prize for the brotherhood. Our coffers will be overflowing!”

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight II – Pt.22: The Wasp’s Nest

They easily made it through the mirror into the Wasp’s strange extra-dimensional hideout guided back to the mirror in the library closet by Fauna.

Szoo (mesmerized by the vaulted ceilings more than 20 ft. above him): “Whoa.”

The trio had the previous instant just been in a tiny closet and walked through an out-of-place mirror as if it were a thin veil of shimmering mercury and found themselves here. The walls were nearly featureless vast swaths of smooth cold beige. The magic sconces, large dragonflies of colored glass mosaic far up the walls lit by flickering golden magic flames. They lit the hall before them well enough though they were all made nervous by the fact the magic light also seemed to deepen the numerous shadows.

The trio looked down each side of the cross-hall, it seemed to continue both left and right into unlit sections which prevented them from seeing how far the cross-hall went. Jirek, the cabal scribe, was close but apart from the group.

Cris (Excor’s Player): “Crap, that’s right. Jirek’s still with us.”

Before them was a set of winding ivory stairs that rose to a spacious mezzanine, all the floors were a polished marble tile mosaic. In a niche under the stairs were stacked books and piles of scrolls, several of which were strewn about the floor along with several open books next to an oblong case.

Excor (to Fauna): “That it?” He pointed to the case.

Fauna: “I dunno, probably is.”

Excor looked at the green lacquered double door under the mezzanine ledge.

Fauna: “That leads to a library… I think.”

They turned around. Behind them was a large built-in mirror rimmed in gold with a sapphire and emerald dragonfly at the top edge. This main hall area was of considerable size.

Excor, not wanting to appear over-eager to get the case in his hands, starts questioning Fauna about what’s here – bedrooms up there and a bath, a kitchen somewhere (she had no idea), the library there beyond those doors, and that’s all she knew.

Szoo: “Should we start exploring this place?”

Excor: “Yeah, yeah… pick a hallway, there’s three ways to go. We kind of know what’s up there.” He pointed at the mezzanine and the main hall. He turned around to face one of the side hallways.

Szoo: “Um, the right one?”

Then as a group with Excor in the lead, they started to go down the dim hallway, the lights began to light up as they moved down. They continued for several minutes only noticing after they had made a long distance that the lights were progressively dimmer than the previous. They pushed on eventually stopping about a dozen feet or so from a virtual wall of darkness.

Excor: “Holdup.”

The trio each in turn tried to penetrate the impenetrable shadows with their eyes. Neither the druidess nor the naga could see a thing. Excor, however, thought he saw “something moving in there”. It was shapeless.

As a result, They began lighting torches and lamps, casting light spells, and trying to penetrate the supernatural darkness. It was as if they had come face to face with a brick wall but of solidified shadow instead of masonry. Fauna was prodded to “poke” her torch into it. When the flame submerged into its depths, its light was completely obscured. It came back out extinguished.

Excor: “Great. It probably has energy drain on it or some sh*t like that.”

Fauna: “What do you think it is?”

Excor: “A wall of shadows or something…”

The four mages, the trio of adventurers with Jirek following far behind, went in the opposite direction to the same result.

Excor: “Man! There’s gotta be something good back there. Ah! Do we wanna die trying to get it?”

Cris looked over at me with an accusing glare. I could only shrug and signal a “who me!?”, then wave my hands helplessly in the air.

Cris: “Yeah, yeah, I thought so.”

Excor (aiming his question at his companions): “So, do we try to get through this thing?”

Szoo & Fauna (in unison): “Screw that!”

Excor: “Cool, cool. We’re getting sidetracked, let’s get that f@*#’in wand!”

 They retreated to the box.

Cris: “Yeah, I don’t want to mess up my royal clothes!”

Excor was still in his royal duds; an embroidered silk robe with a black silk sash at the waist over a buttoned undershirt, black silk shoes on his feet, a black felt pork-pie hat with a peacock feather on his head, and the magic blue cape on his back.

Cris (to me, the GM): “Yeah, I need to get back into my adventuring gear, I need to keep my noble clothes clean.”

Isis (Szoo’s Player): “What!?”

Jenn (Fauna’s Player): “Oh! He’s a fancy lad!”

That’s when they noticed that Jirek, who was with them when they entered the Wasp’s strange extra-dimensional hideout, was already on the case trying to suss out how to open it.

Excor: “Hey! You get back from there!”

Szoo: “Don’t make me burn you, man!”

Fauna: “Yeah!”

Jirek backed off with his hands up, “Just curious, this is it though!”

Excor: “No kidding!”

Then Excor sidled up next to the case and began carefully inspecting it. Shortly after a concerted effort, they spotted a white outline of a keyhole under a seal. Excor had the other three stand back while he used his magic platinum key (see Cabal of Eight – Pt.17: Fight for Sleep) to temporarily open the magically sealed case. They were all stunned for a moment standing transfixed as he gazed upon the treasure within.

There, sitting within the small but long black case, was the wand that every power player in Ezmer was desperate to get their hands on. The scepter was almost as long as a short spear with a shining pearlescent twisted alicorn consisting most of its length.  The horn was set in a polished platinum horse-head guard with a polished jet grip and large polished azurite pommel stone.

Both Jirek and Excor grabbed the wand. They stared each other down for a moment, then Jirek reluctantly let go after Szoo threatened him.

Excor: “Okay. We need something to wrap this in.”

The case snapped back closed. They could all hear the locking mechanism reengage.

Fauna: “Got it!” She darted up the stairs and then after a few brief minutes ran back down the flight of stairs with a delicate silk blanket pilfered from an upper bedroom bunched in her arms. Then as they wrapped the glorious object in silk, they noticed that Jirek followed every movement of the wand with his eyes.

Isis: “Aw man, the wand’s got Jirek!”

Jenn: “Oh no, do we have to kill him?”

Cris: “Naw, we just have to keep an eye on him, don’t let him be alone with it… Damn.”

Jenn: “What?”

Cris: “We’re all wizards.”

Isis: “So.”

Cris: “None of us can really outrun him, if we were faster, we could lose Jirek on the way.”

Szoo: “Wait. Where are we going?”

Fauna: “Duh, the safehouse man!”

Isis (to Cris): “Wait. Why did you invite Jirek anyway?”

Cris: “…”

Jenn: “Well.”

Cris: “I forgot.”

Without analyzing anything further they fled back through the mirror leaving the empty case behind. They were going to run all the way to the safehouse set up for Fauna by Vor Jetl hoping that they could avoid the Blue Dragon’s servants, the two pirate crews, and the Wasp.

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight II Pt.20: Hideaway

Dragonfly & Unicorn Wand

Fauna (played by Jenn) woke up in a large round silk bed. She luxuriated in the smooth, cool sheets. The druid had taken a long hot bath in the tiled bathing room a few rooms over and enjoyed a hot meal and tea before bed. She sighed. Her mind drifted to the previous night. After following the Wasp and his apprentice Bumble, she had found herself standing in a vast strange hall. The vaulted ceiling was at least 20 ft. high and the walls smooth beige lined with magic sconces whose light instead of banishing them seemed to multiply and deepen the dull shadows that populated the blank walls. The brightly colored sconces were of blue, green, and orange stained glass in the shape of dragonflies.

Isis (Szoo’s player): “Uh oh is that the merchant guy’s hideout?”

Jenn: *roll*roll* “Um…”

The GM (me): “The sconces don’t ring a bell, as far as you’re concerned they’re just part of the scenery.”

Fauna was shook from her reverie by the rattling of the silver tray that Bumble clumsily carried into the room. Ilna dropped onto the side of the large circular bed and lavender sheets setting the silver tray on the bed next to her. It was Fauna’s breakfast, fresh fruit, steaming meat, fresh baked bread, a bowl of broth, and a silver teapot filled with herbal tea at perfect temperature.

Fauna (“just trying to make conversation”): “Wow! Where did this come from?”

Bumble: “Oh just the larder in the kitchen. You just reach in and it gives you food.”

Cris (Excor’s player): “Yup, of course, magic, damn mages.”

Isis (Szoo’s player): “You’re a MAGE!”

Cris: “Yeah! Well it doesn’t mean I like OTHER mages!”

Bumble seemed thrilled that Fauna was there but was not very forthcoming with where they were. Consequently, Fauna was suspicious as to their actual location. There were no windows anywhere in the place and the main hall seemed endless. Apparently, Bumble had learned to deflect.

Cris: “Pocket dimension possibly?”

Isis: “That’s what I was thinkin’.”

Jenn: “Yeah, I think so too.”

Fauna: “So, where is the… your master?”

Bumble: “Oh he’s downstairs trying to open that box.”

With that, Fauna leapt to her feet, snatched up her robe, and donned her clothes as she ran down the sweeping ivory grand staircase into the main hall.

Cris: “You sleep naked!?”

Isis: “Really sis?”

Jenn: “Well, yeah my girl sleeps naked! Duh.”

She rushed across the polished marble mosaic floor towards a large niche under the ivory stairs. However, it was crowded with book stacks and piles of scrolls. There was a green lacquered double-door in the rear wall of the niche. This certainly led to a library.

Cris (to Jenn): “Aw man, you CAN’T read!”

In the niche amongst the clutter, was the Wasp frantically unrolling and scanning various scrolls before tossing them carelessly away, the long case on the floor not far from him. Fauna again initiated some small talk and maneuvered her way to the case.

Fauna: “So, hi there… Xanto!”

Xanto: “Oh Hi! Hope you slept well, Bumble says you enjoyed the bath!”

Fauna (pointing to some scorch and blast marks on the walls and floor): “Um, the damage?”

Xanto: “Oh. Ha, ha. The case cannot be broken open apparently. Very powerful magic sealing it up!”

Fauna (unsure of what to say next): “Well, that… shouldn’t be a problem for, um… the Great and Powerful Xanto! Now would it?”

He looked at her with narrowed eyes and his cocked to one side. Then he snapped back to his cheery self.

Xanto: “Well, I guess since you’re Draega’s friends, I’m, uh, I just want to make sure the goods are in there y’know?”

Fauna: “Um. Yes. Yes we are Draega’s associates… friends. We do business all the time.”

Xanto: “Yeah. Tell him he still owes me for delivery of the chest, well, I guess I didn’t deliver that, but it’s this that counts. He owes me a lot of money. That guy! He has his fingers in every Ezmerian pie!”

Fauna (blurting out her sudden realization): “So he’s selling it to the dragon!”

Xanto: “Uh, oh well yeah. I am cut in for a small percentage upon delivery. Boy that went up in smoke didn’t it! Ha, ha! He had you guys keeping tabs on me; you’re not very good at it. Now where’s Bumble? Oh, hey! Help me with this!”

She waited until the Wasp and Bumble were distracted by pulling out a heavy volume from an unstable stack of books then began running her hands over the case carefully and thoroughly inspecting it. The slight sound of a click, the other pair seemed not to notice, and the druidess opened a small hidden compartment out of sheer luck (Nat 20). She withdrew a tiny scroll of paper sealed with a wax seal and stuffed that in her robes before closing the compartment.

Xanto: “Did you find anything?”

Fauna: “Uh, what? No, nope nothing.”

This lasted about an hour or so Fauna reckoned before the Wasp stopped and stood perplexed rubbing his pointed beard between his thumb and forefinger. It seemed he had run out of ideas.

Xanto (his finger jutting into the air like a proclamation): “I need to pick up some… ahem… supplies! You!”, pointing at Fauna, “We will part ways after leaving here. Bumble!”

Bumble: “Yes?”

Xanto: “Don’t forget to blindfold your friend, oh, and, um, carry this, and this, this one, aaannd, this and that one.” He had stacked several books in her outstretched arms. “Okay! Let’s get on the move no time to waste! Come, come, come!”

            The trio walked a fair distance down the main hall until they came to a large mirror built into the wall. It was rimmed in gold with a sapphire and emerald dragonfly at the top edge. The Wasp reached into his robes and from what Fauna could see; he pulled out a gold key with the emblem of a dragonfly at one end. He stepped through the mirror as if the silvered glass were still water rippling and reflecting like quicksilver. Bumble quickly followed carrying the stack of books and Fauna jumped through last.

Before she could orientate her senses, everything was spinning, the Wasp and Bumble had left and the druidess found herself in a small dusty closet alone. It appeared to have not been used for quite some time. There was a small rectangular window high on the wall providing the only light. She turned and saw a large standing mirror behind her, the only thing in the large closet that was free of dust. She peeked out of the only door and found that she was somewhere near the back of the Bardic College’s library. All she could see were whitewashed walls lined with an unending reading table and case after case of books and scrolls dangling with so many chains and locks that she could barely see any of the actual reading material. Immediately, she thought to use the cabal medallion around her neck.

Elsewhere, Excor and Szoo met up outside of the Shield & Helm Inn. In contrast to Szoo, Excor was dressed in his “noble gear”. His outfit was a richly embroidered silk robe with a black silk sash at the waist and a buttoned undershirt. Additionally, he had on hard-soled black silk shoes with buttons up the side and pointed toes. On his head was a black felt pork-pie type hat rimmed with purple and a peacock feather. Finally, a new gold ring, a signet ring, was shining on his right hand. He still wore the magic blue cape.

Szoo: “Whaaat is this?”

Excor (feigning a regal attitude): “I am of noble blood.”

Szoo: “Okaay.”

Cris: “No. Seriously, I’m from a noble family check my background.”

Szoo: “Well, what good does that do us?”

Excor: “I don’t know about you but it’ll help me a whole lot! You just can’t kill a nobleman in the city! I have rights!”

            They went on their way to the White Prong to meet up with Fauna after receiving her Whisper message. Soon enough all three of the adventurers were sitting at a table discussing things over a pitcher of strong ale. It was not long before Fauna passed Excor the small scroll she had nicked from the long case.

He unrolled it after breaking the blank wax seal and found two sheets of paper, a letter and an ancient sheet of sheepskin documenting an item. After casting Comprehend Languages, Excor began reading the letter so the other two could hear.

Dear distinguished blue steward,

I hope the object has found its way to you with this letter with little difficulty. We had a slight complication with the hirelings who found it and some information may have passed from one of their number to persons unknown. There are others whom desire its power but we do not currently know who they may be. However, there is at least one based out of your city or thereabouts. We have hired a group of freebooters; they should be of sufficient strength and honesty to make this delivery. I am glad to hear my first letter has reached you and will follow a month after the cargo to make sure all is in order.

P.S. – The case is proof against dragons, one cannot be too careful, and not just magic will open it.

The letter bore no signatures. Excor set down the letter and picked up the documentation for the contents of the case. It described the item in the case as the Unicorn Scepter; it is a wand with a polished jet grip and a rounded azurite pommel stone. There is an alicorn mounted to it by a polished platinum horse head acting as a guard when the “battle-wand” is used as a weapon. Consequently, the wand was first found in an ancient tomb in Granfor and was created by an ancient Southlander Mage-lord. Further, the alicorn cut from a heroic unicorn warrior. Consequently, it possesses all of the powers of the alicorn and can cast the Control Weather, Summon Locust Storm, Chain Lightning, Summon & Control Rain, and Wind Step spells. There was a color illustration of the Unicorn Scepter alongside the text.

Excor: “Aw man, this thing is powerful. No wonder the dragon wants this thing.”

Szoo: “Yeah, we can’t let her get her hands on that.”

Fauna then told her companions about what the Wasp had said about Draega the publican of the Red Helm tavern, their favorite haunt.

Cris (throwing his pencil down): “Whoop! There it is! Aw, man! I knew it, I knew it! Never trust a f@#$*&g Tanglenite! Everyone from Poisonwood are damn crooks! You can’t trust ‘em! Just…I knew that guy was untrustworthy. Can’t trust ‘em!”

As a result, the trio decided they needed to split up and make preparations. They would use the medallions to meet up at evening when everything was ready.

Excor (leaning in): “We are gonna need some real fire power for this one.”

To Be Continued…

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The Cabal of Eight II Pt.19: The Dragon & the Wasp

blue dragon that faces the wasp

Excor (played by Cris) under the influence of the Ghost Form and Invisibility I spells trailed just behind the blue dragon-shaman as he in turn followed the blue lady into the caves from the dusty tunnel. The blue-lady was sniffing the air, apparently tracking the others via scent quite accurately.

Meanwhile, Fauna (played by Jenn), Szoo (played by Isis), Bumble, and Xanto the Wasp were picking themselves up from the wet gravel beach they had landed on after sliding through a slimy chute and over the edge of a 10 ft. cliff.

Szoo: “Hey! At least she can’t follow us through that chute!”

Jenn: “Yeah,” looking over to the GM (me), “right?”

The GM (me): “Um, you guys know she can transform back and forth from human form so…”

Isis: “Aww crap.”

The Wasp chanted a spell and giant wasps appeared under him and Bumble his apprentice. The pair rose above the heads of their former two companions and began flying over the reeking green body of water before them. It was at this moment that Szoo realized that the Wasp was cradling the case. Szoo had forgotten to pick it back up after sliding down the chute distracted by his concern over the dragon.

Cris: *disgusted sigh* “Damned Wasp.”

Suddenly a deafening roar shattered the quiet atmosphere of the cavern. The four mages could see the glowing eyes of the blue dragon in her full draconic form just 20 ft. southwest of them on another bank of gravel & sand.

Excor moved in range of the Dragon Shaman, both still in the passage coming out of the previous cavern (R5 on the map) into the water chamber (R8 on the map). He began to cast Force Ram but fumbled the casting. His invisibility spell dispersed. Fauna rushed to the water’s edge and shouted for Szoo. The Wasp and his apprentice flew their steeds further north turning just in time to avoid hitting the cavern wall.

The blue dragon’s throat swelled and glowed intensely blue before she unleashed a massive blast of lightning at the two wasp-riders. Bumble easily dodged but the bolt hit the Wasp and his mount blasting it to smithereens causing him to drop splashing into the water below. Szoo transformed into a large black sea turtle and began to slide into the water. The Dragon-Shaman spat a lightning bolt at the ghostly form of Excor but it passed harmlessly through.

Excor cast Slow on the Dragon-Shaman but the shaman resisted the spell. Fauna leaped onto the back of the turtle as it slid under the water. The Wasp meanwhile was swimming to the beach immediately to his west his white knuckles still clutching the case. The Blue Dragon jumped into the water plowing through it like a giant shark heading straight for Xanto. She snapped her jaws at the turtle and his unfortunate passenger but the turtle dodged by the slightest margin (by 1 point). The Dragon-Shaman charged Excor and swung his quarterstaff at the adventurer, the blow passing straight through. The Dragon-Shaman looked up possibly re-thinking his combat strategy.

Excor backed up and cast Force Ram again targeting the Dragon-Shaman. The Dragon-Shaman dodged to the side taking a glancing blow. Fauna jumped off the turtle and clawed her way onto the beach near the Wasp (R7 on the map). The Wasp checked the case; it was intact and still sealed. The dragon swam up near the beach on which the Wasp and Fauna were standing rising like a titan from the water. The Dragon-Shaman began casting a spell but a stitch in his bruised side caused him to falter and the spell fizzled.

Excor cast paralyze II on the shaman paralyzing him.

The Wasp took a stance meant to increase agility and focused his light-starved eyes on the dragon before him. The Blue Dragon surged forward to stomp on him but he easily evaded the blow. Szoo as he was right next to the Wasp forced to dodge as well wound up on the opposite side of the monster from that of the Wasp. Bumble flew her giant-wasp-mount over the dragon’s head in an effort to get near her master. Grinning maliciously, Excor canceled Ghost Form and pulled out a magic dagger (+5) and stabbed the paralyzed Dragon-Shaman in the throat but failed to kill him in a single blow. Fauna moved around next to the Wasp.

The Wasp took the same stance and readied. The Blue Dragon blew its breath at both the Wasp and Fauna. Both managed to avoid the lightning bolt completely. Szoo transformed back into his true form and withdrew his Fire Fang (see The Cabal of Eight II Pt.1: The Checkered Eye). Excor again buried his dagger in the Shaman’s throat this time mercifully finishing the job with that final blow. Fauna dissipated into a cloud of mist as she cast Gaseous Form on herself.

The Wasp again took a defensive stance but was also able to quickdraw a scroll from his sleeve. The Dragon snapped her razor-studded jaws at the Wasp missing by a hair. Szoo moved further around to the opposite side of the dragon from his companions and blasted the dragon with a cone of fire from the tooth, to no effect. Bumble flew down next to her master.

Cris: “Man! They’re gonna run! Somebody get on ‘em!”

Jenn: “I’m on it! I’m going to stick to them no matter what!”

Excor looted the still-warm corpse of the dragon shaman. Fauna, in gaseous form, floated up to the dragon’s face, flew up her nostrils, and immediately canceled her spell.

The Wasp leaped onto Bumble’s wasp-mount and read the scroll. A golden glow surrounded him and his apprentice as they began to fade away. Reflexively the dragon sneezed shooting the druidess from one of her nostrils directly into the area of the teleportation spell. In a flash, the Wasp, Bumble, and Fauna were gone.

Immediately, the Dragon swiveled around and grabbed at Szoo who was barely able to avoid the massive claw. Meanwhile, Excor after packing away the loot in his portable hole twisted his silver ring activating the ghost form spell as he rushed towards the commotion. Szoo activated the Temporal Jump ability on his phoenix feather cloak and took a step into nothing completely disappearing. The dragon sniffed around then as she turned to leave, she spotted the faintly glowing ghost form of Excor standing on the opposite shore.

The dragon charged him and stomped around snarling and proclaiming herself “the ocean of the desert” and “the great queen of the mountains, pale yellow forests, and desert sands”. After a few minutes, she lowered her face to his ghostly visage and growled, “I’ll track down that lowly wasp and crush him slowly beneath my feet and then when I reclaim my property, I’ll find all of you!” Excor just shrugged and waved goodbye. The dragon stomped off.

Isis (to Cris): “Wow, dude.”

Cris: “Pfft! She can’t do anything! The Ghost Form on my silver ring lasts for over an hour!”

After waiting a few minutes, Excor started on his way back up unexpectedly joined by Szoo. Together they decided to rent a room for the night in a place called the Shield & Helm Inn near the new amphitheater on the corner of Arena Circle and Tourney Way. They paid the 10 gp for the night and an additional 20 gp for a security detail. Not soon enough did they both collapse exhausted, bellies full of wine and food, onto their soft feather beds.

*And yes dear reader, Fauna the Druid did transform into mist and then went up the dragon’s nose in the game. It worked to stall out one of the dragon’s turns although she did have a chance of falling back into the throat and getting swallowed. I did roll for that.😁 *

To Be Continued…

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The Cabal of Eight II Pt.18: Be Water

The Grey Serpent Captain stood in the entranceway to the Red Helm Tavern’s barroom. Next to him were Jirek the cabal’s scribe and just behind him, the Grey Serpents’ mage who was scowling at Szoo. Gathered against the wall near the bar and the Grey Serpents were the blue lady (aka the Blue Dragon) and her four sword-bearing mercs.

Just past the bar was the publican Draega. Leaning against the bar Fauna (played by Jenn) was staring at the disguised Bumble. Before the bar at a table was Xanto the Wasp and his apprentice and member of the cabal, Bumble, both under the influence of a disguise spell. At a second table in front of the window opposite the bar was Excor (played by Cris) his lit pipe drooping from his lips. Szoo (played by Isis) was just behind him next to the window. Between the Wasp’s table and the bar were Direnda and the Black Eagle Pirates.

The very air itself was still, all the dust and smoke in the room seemed suspended in air as if time had stopped. Even the normal racket from the rest of the place had stopped and those not gazing wide-eyed with anticipation from the other room were filtering out the back way.

Isis: “Aw man, this is TENSE!”

Cris: “Just stay calm, be ready.”

Jenn: “Ready to do what? What’s the plan?”

Cris: “I dunno whatever, just be ready to do something.”

The grey captain began to pull his blade but as soon as the slightest shimmer of blade shone, the room filled with the sound of singing steel as both the Black Eagles and the Mercs pulled their weapons in unison. With a click, the captain pushed his sword back into the scabbard.

Direnda (pointing her magic blade at the Wasp): “THAT is our client’s property thief!”

The Blue Lady (motioning as if the case would just be handed over): “Hmm, Looks like you’ve lost your commission Draega. THAT is mine.”

The Grey Serpent Captain put his hand on Jirek’s chest and began backing out of the tavern with his two companions.

Szoo (almost hyperventilating): “Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!”

Cris: “Crap! I was hoping they’d do each other in. C’mon, fight!”

Draega, with a dumb grin pasted on his face, backed slowly out of the room before disappearing completely.

Suddenly, the Wasp stood up, his disguise spell shedding from his bright yellow and black striped form, and a black cloud of stinging-wasps poured from his sleeves flooding the room. The place was in chaos; the mercenaries and the pirates were screaming and flailing their swords wildly. Excor leapt up towards the window followed by Fauna. The shields of the druid and Excor shimmered as a charge was spent. Szoo suffered a few stings. The Blue Lady’s chest swelled immensely as her eyes began to crackle with electricity.

Cris (referring to the black cloud of wasps): “A death cloud huh? Damned Wasp!”

Jenn: “What? Death Cloud?”

Cris: “Yeah, he summoned a Death Cloud, it’s a wasp swarm gestalt.”

Jenn: “Oh yeah, I remember those.”

*I used the creature a few times in another campaign a long time ago.*

Excor (trying to signal to his companions): “Get by the window, cut him off!”

The Wasp and Bumble ran right into the three mages. Without warning, a thundering blast of blue-white electricity filled the room destroying the black cloud of wasps and shattering the lattice window. The three mages could see the blue lady right behind the Wasp and his apprentice. Xanto had just enough time to smile once at the trio and then unleashed a spell in desperation. However, the magic got out of his control and the last thing the Wasp, Bumble, and the three adventurers could remember was a flash of crimson light and the sensation of falling in complete silence for an interminable amount of time before they came crashing down.

As the dust settled the trio of mages, Xanto the Wasp, Bumble, and the Blue Lady gathered their senses. The Wasp had cast a teleportation spell that got out of his control the magic going wild. The Wasp had teleported away all those near him and the front part of the tavern including the floor, the lower part of the façade and the front door. They had landed wedged into the alleyway just in front of Fauna’s rented house.

Fauna and Szoo ran to the brand new front door of their home. Excor cast Invisible to Sight on himself. Bumble twisted a ring on her chubby fingers without hesitation teleporting away in an instant. The Blue Lady charged the druid and punched her hitting her shield with a powerful thud. Xanto spotted the lost case. It was almost 10 feet from where he was.

Fauna drew her dagger and stabbed the Blue Lady, a violet filed of energy emanated from her gold bracelet and zapped the druidess with negative energy. Fauna moved away from the house. Szoo opened the door and moved in. Excor cast Shadow Ribbons on the Blue Lady but she easily resisted its shadowy energies. The Blue Lady charged Fauna again, her small pale fist whistling by the druid’s head, missing the target by a hair. Xanto charged to the case and bent to pick it up.

Fauna grabbed a dose of yellow lotus from her cloak and readied to toss it into the eyes of the dragon. Szoo used his Ring of Fearsome Form to transform into a hideous winged shape and shot towards the case. Excor used his Silver Ring of Ghost Form. The Blue Lady moved swiftly next to Xanto. In a panic, Xanto cast a teleportation spell and disappeared leaving the case and its invaluable contents behind.

The Blue Lady blew a blast of her electrical dragon breath at Fauna dispelling her last shield for the day. The druid responded by deftly tossing the yellow lotus dust into the monster-lady’s eyes temporarily blinding her. It did not have any of the poisonous effects that Fauna had hoped for, however. Suddenly, a distant roar sounded.

Fauna cast Gaseous Form on herself and drifted towards the house. Excor hovered through the walls into the house and Szoo snatched up the case and then flew into the open doorway. They had the intention of hiding out in the secret tunnels below.

As they fled inside, Fauna saw the blue dragon retreat away around the corner still in her human form. Szoo the last in line to get into the house saw a gigantic shadow lift off from the top of the slavers’ castle and fly in their direction. They barred the door behind them and then stood there for a second listening. After a few minutes, they could hear a loud sniffing sound, as if two large nostrils were investigating the teleported tavern wreckage in the alley. Then they heard a loud blast, the air from the wings of a dragon taking off. It had been the resident dragon, Gristle-Talon. The mages let out a collective sigh and then Fauna and Szoo ran down into the cellar.

Excor canceled his ghost form spell and ran to his room to gather his stuff. He shut the door to his room and began gathering some “essential” items and spell components. After several minutes, he hears something like footsteps just on the other side of his bedroom door. He carefully moved to the door and cast Scry: Simple. The spell allowed him to see through the door. He saw the Blue Lady and her shaman walking away from his door and to the cellar door. A gem on her tiara was glowing stronger as she neared it. Suddenly, she reached down, wrenched the heavy wood trapdoor from it hinges, and tossed it across the room.

Meanwhile, Fauna and Szoo were moving as fast and quietly as they could down the long hallway and into the caves to try and “find a way out”. They both hear a pair of feet following them. Szoo turns and looks down the hall behind them, with his heat vision he could see the Wasp and Bumble following them. Fauna calls them out.

Xanto the Wasp: “Heh, heh. So, um, we find ourselves in a mutual rock-and-a-hard-place situation, eh, friends?”

The pair of adventurers debated only briefly about what to do about them. Szoo wanted to kill the Wasp but Fauna was dead against it.

Cris: “Pfft! Kill the Wasp!? Good luck. That guy is probably pretty powerful plus he’s higher level than all of us!”

Jenn: “Then why doesn’t he just fight the dragon?”

Cris: “Because she’s a DRAGON, she has high spell resistance. She shook off my spell like nothing.”

The companions in the mushroom caves moved into a chamber in the north (R6 on the map). The cavern was covered in mushrooms and there are uneven clumps of giant mushrooms that were glowing faintly blue and leaking a clear, slippery slime all over the cave floor. Foothold was precarious over the slimy uneven floor.  Fauna inspected a pit that she found at the far north of the chamber. The other three as they moved past her slipped almost in unison and slid as they fell into a smooth chute like passage (the slime chute on the map). Fauna maneuvered her way to the mouth of the chute and yelled to make sure everyone was okay. They were fine so she jumped down to them.

Meanwhile above in the cellar, Excor watched as the Blue Lady and her mage descended. He quickly cast Invisibility I on himself and followed as quietly as he could as the pair found the secret door that had been left open, and they moved into the tunnel.

To Be Continued…

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The Cabal of Eight II Pt.17: Finding the MacGuffin

Excor (played by Cris) and Szoosha (played by Isis) found themselves escorted by the Grey Serpent pirate crew to the Western Cliffs District. The pair had surprisingly talked the pirates out of murdering Jirek right there, by selling out the Wasp. As they neared the gates to the northern half of that section of the city, they both could see Fauna (played by Jenn) waiting in a rickshaw across from the gate under the shade of an aqueduct arch. Excor had managed a Whisper spell to her during the long walk.

Essentially, the plan was to get the pirate captain to meet with Bumble who would hopefully turn on her master. It was a longshot but the mages had nothing else. Jirek and the captain walked to the gate while Excor, Szoo, and the other five pirates including the half-giant, waited a short distance away.

The two mages and the ill-tempered pirates waited in awkward silence. Fauna kept her eyes locked on the group. Suddenly, the Ferenoi cleric turned her head and locked eyes with the druid.

Ferenoi Cleric (pointing at Fauna): “YOU!

Isis: “Aw, crap.”

Jenn: “C’mon! We can take ‘em!”

Immediately, and as she approached, Fauna cast Wizard’s Trick on the Ferenoi Cleric. The cleric shrunk into a snail. Szoosha tossed an Alchemist’s Fire at the second Ferenoi, the swashbuckler, singeing her armor. The swashbuckler replied by throwing her javelin at Szoo whom parried the projectile. Excor cast Invisibility I on himself. The half-giant surged forward swinging his heavy claymore at Fauna barely missing her. The mage with the wolf-skin mantle cast Elemental Blast (water) at Szoo but the Naga’s shield protected him. The Feren pirate unslung his steel shield and ran up next to the Ferenoi swashbuckler.

Fauna stomped on the snail.

Jenn (addressing the shocked look on her sister’s face and Cris’ laughter): “Hey I was gonna let her go but she just had to keep it going!”

Szoo tossed another alchemist’s fire at the swashbuckler but the Feren pirate immediately blocked the flask with his shield. The swashbuckler pulled her falcata and slashed at the Naga but the blade was stopped by the Naga’s shield. Excor twisted his Ring of Verminous Might and grew large insect-like wings. The half-giant swung again at Fauna striking her shield. The mage waved his hands and a small ball of ice formed before him that suddenly shot at Szoo who dodged it. The shieldman readied to defend the swashbuckler with his steel shield.

Fauna cast Wind Rush forcing the Half-Giant to dodge as well as knocking down, and blowing away the mage. The swashbuckler drew her dirk, slashed with her sword, and stabbed at the same time with her dirk. Szoo parried both weapons with his flaming naginata that instantly appeared in his scaly hands. Excor cast Amber Husk on the Half-Giant instantly trapping him in a large iceberg of solid glistening amber. The shieldman continued to ready to defend the swashbuckler.

Fauna tried to cast a spell but it fizzled. Szoo used his magic bracers to use Armor Bane via touch on the shieldman’s shield. The shield immediately crumbled to dust. Excor activated his Jet Amulet of Shielding. The swashbuckler again took a double strike with dirk and sword against the Naga striking and dispelling his shield. The mage, on the ground almost 100 ft. away, melted into a flow of water that quickly disappeared down a gutter. The shieldman got a javelin from his back.

Fauna cast Wizard’s Trick on the swashbuckler transforming her into a snail. Szoo touched the swashbuckler’s leather armor, which rotted away and fell off.

Isis: “I LOVE THESE BRACERS!”

Excor used his Copper Spike and shot a bolt of electricity at the shieldless shieldman wounding him slightly. The shieldman in turn, tossed his javelin at Fauna missing badly. Fauna stomped on the snail and the shieldman cried out in grief. Szoo swung at the shieldman with his naginata but tripped over his own tail. Excor caught the grieving shieldman in an amber husk ending the skirmish.

The three mages were unable to savor their easy victory however as the alarm bell began ringing above the gates. Guards began streaming from the guardhouse surrounding the great monoliths of amber. The mages quickly realized that the guards were focused on carrying away the two large pieces of semi-precious amber. Excor, still invisible, flew over the gate and headed towards Bumble’s house. Fauna and Szoo slunk away and through the gates while the guards were distracted.

Excor made it to Bumble’s family property and dropped himself in front of the Wasp’s hovel. It was wide open and he could see both Jirek and the pirate captain tossing the place. Suddenly, Jirek shouted, “I found it!” The captain immediately ran over to him and they both pulled the iron sea chest into Excor’s view. The captain yelled, “No, no, no!” He flipped open the chest lid. “Someone opened it!?” It appeared to Excor that the chest had contained a case according to the lining, one that was narrow and long.

Excor (mumbling to disappointedly himself): “Of course the Wasp already opened it.”

Excor flew back to the front of the property in time to intercept his companions. He canceled his spells and filled them in on the news. They decided to go back to the White Prong for some food and ale and wait to see if Thorn the beggar would make an appearance.

Later that afternoon around a table in the bustling White Prong, the trio of mages sat around a table after finishing their meal and ordering a second round of dark ale.

Excor (to Fauna): “You did find Thorn right?”

Fauna: “Well, I was asking around for him.”

Excor: “Good enough. He’ll hear us.”

As if on cue, a young street urchin wandered into the tavern and walked up to the mages’ table. He introduced himself as Xete and told the mages that Thorn’s coin has been bought but he could help them granted they could buy his coin for the day. Excor promised him a platinum piece if he could locate Xanto the Wasp who was probably in disguise and traveling with his protégé Ilna of Nezorik aka “Bumble”. It was test to see if his coin was worth purchasing of course. The boy bowed and jaunted off.

For a few hours the mages sat and drank, Excor smoked his pipe. It was nearing evening when the street urchin seemingly appeared at their table. The Wasp and his apprentice were sitting in the barroom of the Red Helm. Excor flipped the boy the promised platinum piece with the promise to buy his coin tomorrow morning.

The three mages virtually ran to the Red Helm and as soon as they were inside of the door, Szoo spotted an old man sitting at a table nearest the bar and a young girl pacing back and forth next to a black leather case that leaned against the table. The pair looked nothing like the Wasp or his apprentice but the three mages surmised they were under a Disguise spell. Excor took up a position at table exactly opposite them. Szoo slithered up to a position next to the front window in case they made for the door. Fauna sauntered up to the bar; she caught the young girl eyeballing her from the corner of her eye.

The three mages were just starting to decide a plan of action when the Black Eagle pirates with Direnda in the lead filtered into the place. They crowded the space just in front of the bar their hands on their weapons.

Isis: “Oh no.”

Three warriors in blue followed by the blue dragon in her noblewoman form strode in. The warriors immediately took fighting stances at the sight of the pirates.

Jenn: “aw man.”

A few seconds later, Jirek, the Grey Serpent Captain and his Mage jogged in through the door and spotted Excor but as the captain’s hand met his weapon, he noticed the crowded room as did his companions.

Cris: “Sheesh!”

At that moment, Draega fluttered in from behind the bar on his way towards the blue lady but then noticed the full and very tense room.

Draega: “Aw crap.”

To Be Continued…

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The Cabal of Eight II Pt.16: Dragon Chase

The wheels of the rickshaw were clattering on the wet cobblestones as it zoomed through the dark streets. Intermittent drizzles had glazed the city deepening the shadows and causing even the smallest candlelight to glare off the wet stone and plaster. Great clouds of steam rose all around from sewer grates helping the mages’ rickshaw to stay hidden in their pursuit of the dragon’s coach. Szoo (played by Isis) slithered at top speed next to his companions ridding in said rickshaw. The rickshaw-puller was pumping his legs furiously and panting heavily.

Eventually, the carriage slowed after arriving at the far northeast sector of the city. The rickshaw in turn kept at a two-block distance. The coach turned onto Slavers’ Circle and into the Slavers’ Quarter. It stopped in front of a slave mart flying the flag of the Golden Devil Company the gravel of the auction yard crunching under the iron-shod wheels as it pulled alongside a colonnade.

The rickshaw stopped around the corner from the coach on North Avenue, a drift of sewer-fog helped to hide the three mages from the coachman’s view. As Fauna (played by Jenn) and Excor (played by Cris) leaped from the rickshaw, Excor dropped another 2 silver pieces into the puller’s sweaty palm who then immediately took off in the opposite direction.

Excor and Fauna cast Invisible to Sight on themselves and Szoo with little trouble. They waited and watched. The carriage departed shortly after a footman from the mart appeared and guided the lady dragon inside the yard. As far as the mages could tell the mercenaries in blue left with the carriage.

Isis: “What’s she doing here!? Looking for slaves?”

Cris: “Maybe, we did put her guys on ice er, in amber. Ha, ha, ha!”

Jenn: “She’s in league with the slavers?”

Cris: “Naw! Yes she is! We know who made those collars!”

                The mages hurried, invisible, to the iron gates. The lock was built into the gate and very solid. The gates themselves were set in a whitewashed adobe wall, twelve feet high, behind a gallery its roof supported by a colonnade. The gallery roof was tiled in copper rather than the typical red terracotta or blue slate so common in the city. Szoo easily slithered over the wall next to the gallery and helped Fauna over. They kept hold of each other’s hands in order to stay together. Excor used his gold Ring of Verminous Might (The Cabal of Eight Pt.44: Betrayed At Last!) growing insect wings and flying over the fence.

They were now in the gravel yard within the bleach-white walls of the slave mart. The yard, bounded by the 12 ft. tall adobe wall, was large and of packed gravel. To their immediate right was the locked iron-gate and to the left was a longhouse, with whitewashed plaster walls and terracotta roof. It had small barred square windows and a large barn door on the front and back. From it oozed the hideous stench of rotting corpses. Further away at the center of the yard, was a large round stone-lined pit surrounded by a collapsed wooden structure, probably a fighting pit and collapsed bleachers.

Immediately to the right of the pit sat another longhouse that boasted three smokestacks, a kitchen the mages surmised. Further north of that was a smaller longhouse, yellow firelight shone from the two square windows that the mages could see. The footman and the blue lady were just entering this building. Fauna and Szoo hustled towards it. At around 100 ft. above them, hovered Excor.

He saw that a larger building took up the rear of the yard built right up against the rear wall. Its tiny windows were barred and the arched front entrance appeared as the caged face of a prison. From this building, the reek of human misery drifted. This was the slave barracks. Excor sneered and realized that the rear wall abutted against the crenulated wall of the Slavers’ Castle. He gazed up at the massive stone structure only a few windows lit in the pitch black of night. Then he saw the thing that froze his blood solid in his veins.

Resting atop the large keep was the shadowy outline of a full-grown dragon. It was the resident brown-fang dragon paid by the slavers to guard their castle and service the city when required. This dragon’s name was Gristle-Talon. Its great shadow limned head swung, the eyes gleamed white for a second reflecting the scant light of the city. Excor froze in mid-air and waited to make sure that that great beast had not detected him. The pair of white pinpoints passed over him without reaction. When he was satisfied that he was indeed safe, he floated gently down to the gravel.

Meanwhile, Szoo and Fauna were peeking through one of the small square windows of the only lit longhouse in the yard. The pair realized that this building housed the guards, footmen, and a few servants. The footman who had guided the dragon into the house pointed to a guard sitting at a table, his dice game apparently cut short. Szoo could overhear the dragon demanding her “dinner” as she was “hungry”. The guard looked reticent as he rose and fumbled with a key ring on his belt. He gestured her to follow as he led her from that building. They were heading southeast at a rapid pace.

Szoo and Fauna maneuvered around taking shelter behind the corners of the few buildings trying to follow their quarry at a distance. In their excitement, they had let go of each other’s hands and thus had no idea where the other was. Excor immediately flew back up into the air trying to keep out of the dragon’s sensory range.

Jenn: “Okay, so she’s headed to the kitchen right?”

Isis (looking at the crude ad-hoc map): “I don’t think so, that would be here, so…”

Cris: “Kitchen yeah, pfft, that kitchen doesn’t have enough food for that dragon!”

The blue lady slowed her pace and in the blink of an eye, her humanoid form rolled out and elongated into that of a very large adult blue dragon. The tiara, necklace, and rings all still adorned her true form; they had changed as well to fit the creature. All three mages felt a twinge of fear but were able to maintain their wits. Meanwhile, the guard had jaunted to the building that sat at the far southern corner and left of the gate. He unlocked and threw open the barn door and ran away back to the guardhouse at full speed not once looking in the blue dragon’s direction.

The dragon stuck its head into the open door and began pulling out the corpses of dozens of humanoids, most were Meren frog and lizard men but others were human. The mages were meanwhile trying to maneuver as close as they dared. Then bones began to crunch. Fauna could barely contain herself.

Jenn: “Ugh! That’s DISGUSTING! I wanna kill this b!#%h right now!”

Isis: “YES! Let’s do THIS!”

Cris: “Whoa! What about that other dragon, the brown-fang!”

Jenn: “Damn.”

Isis: “Oh yeah, I forgot about him.”

                The mages maneuvered themselves to the iron-gate and decided against attacking the dragon outright, especially since the current circumstances were against them. They did argue for a little about if they should just “get her now” but ultimately they decided to flee and look for a better chance to face her down.

                Fauna cast Gaseous Form on Szoo and herself and they floated away towards the street. Excor flew to the copper roof of the gallery, carefully looked around for any watchers, and then flew straight home.

By the time they had arrived home, the door and the floor were fixed. The first to arrive was Excor, one of the carpenter’s apprentices was there waiting to hand him the key. He sat down after taking the key and dismissing the boy then lit his pipe. The other two walked in a short time later. A few minutes after that, they had formulated their plans for the next day. Fauna would scour the streets for and hire Thorn. Excor and Szoo would show up at Jirek’s warehouse to “check up on the rats”. Actually, they were using that as an excuse to see what he was up to and if that had anything to do with the dragon.

The next day – the 25th of Monsoon, the shouts and ringing bell of a town crier woke the three mages at the crack of dawn.

The Crier: “Marshaling in the South Market District Plaza! Rebels must be quelled in the far west at Serpent’s Back Ridge! All healers, men-at-arms, warriors, and mercenaries welcome, good pay!”

After breakfast, the trio split up to carry out their plans and investigate some leads. Excor and Szoo headed towards the harbor and Fauna decided to head back to the Slave Mart. After paying for a rickshaw ride, she soon found herself standing before the gallery of the mart she had burglarized the previous night. The slavers were hanging up colorful strings of pennants and installing chains to iron loops between the columns. She approached a fancy looking gentleman who seemed to be in charge. He immediately swung around and yelled, “get lost wh@!e, I’m not interested!”

She balled her fists and started walking away but spotted Vor Jetl in a trademark green silk jacket with gold dragonfly clasps. He was filing towards the gravel auction yard with a small group of other merchants. The chubby merchant was there to purchase some more servants. He would speak to her later, over lunch at the White Prong.

Vor Jetl (to Fauna): “Frankly, I cannot be seen with you little sister, er, priestess.”

He whispered the last word so only she could hear. With that, he wandered away from her and she similarly began to walk away. She had no idea how she was going to find Thorn.

Meanwhile, Szoo and Excor had spotted the pair of ratlings trailing them. Szoo spotted some sort of insignia on them but did not recognize it. It was a pair of black daggers crossing over a red scorpion. Excor cast spook and frightened one away. His companion followed, unwilling to confront the pair of mages alone. Not long after that mild inconvenience, the pair arrived at the warehouse. It was locked tight. Szoo used his cabal medallion to Whisper to Jirek. They consigned themselves to waiting.

Meanwhile, Fauna was at the bank depositing 5 emeralds and 5 sapphires. She also cashed out 3 emeralds (with a 10% surcharge). She figured she would use that to pay Thorn if she could find him. However, she was still unsure of how she would find him or where.

At the warehouse, after about an hour of waiting, the cabal scribe finally arrived. Jirek apologized to Excor and Szoo but as he had a working warehouse now it had to be secured when he was not there. The pair shrugged and followed him inside after he unlocked the door. The place was only about a quarter full stacked with several crates and barrels in one corner. A large sea trunk made of iron sat by the stairs to the basement.

The place was well lit the light beaming in from the small glazed windows above. When they were last here, the windows had been filthy and muddied the scant light they did let in. The crates and barrels had several different marks on them including a few with a big black eagle painted on them. What really caught their eyes though was the trunk by the stairs. It not only had a large black eagle painted on it but also had several runes on it, it was magically sealed.

Isis: “Aw man! He’s got Direnda’s stuff!”

Cris: “Relax, play it cool. I’ll talk to him while we’re checking the rats.”

                The two adventurers began checking their rats in their cages they were in great shape. There was also a makeshift bed in the corner that had been slept in recently. Excor surmised that Gornix might have been hiding out here. Excor then turned to Jirek and began to ask him about his pirate friends when the crash of breaking glass from the floor above interrupted. The three dashed upstairs in time to see the large iron trunk whisked out of a broken window by four giant wasps.

Excor: “The WASP! Dammit! I knew it! I knew he was gonna show up!”

Isis: “Oh gawd, the Wasp! Of course he would show up!”

                The warehouse door flew open. Standing there were Jirek’s pirate friends, the Grey Serpents. Their captain in the lead they shuffled into the warehouse. Following the captain were the Ferenoi swashbuckler, the mage in soft leather, and a man in full scale-mail and horsetail-tasseled helmet. Following him was another tall amazon Ferenoi. She appeared to be a priestess or maybe cleric of some type her grey cape adorned with a large white lightning bolt billowing behind her. Outside was yet another member of their crew, a Hill-Lander Half-Giant in scale-mail and leather gauntlets armed with a heavy claymore.

Grey Serpent Captain: “A-Ha! Jirek my friend! We have found our buyer and we are here to pick up the *ahem* cargo. We have your coin! Congratulations! We are out of your hair ha ha!”

Cris & Isis (simultaneously): “Aw crap.”

Jirek was at a loss for words.

To Be Continued…

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