The Cabal of Eight II Pt.27: A Reunion Amidst the Winds of War

The 1st of Ranat (approx. 18 days since last we joined our heroes) – The grand city-state of Ezmer is at war with a pair of far Western townships rebelling against Ezmerian rule. There has yet to be an armed confrontation, but the townsfolk of the two large towns of Denelton and Fenumton have driven out and even murdered several Ezmerian officials. Fenumton is on the main trade road and the other, Denelton, is just north of that on the coast.

It is common knowledge that the Hyvalian Theocracy has been agitating the rebels from afar. The rebels are led by the descendants of a long-dead imperial colonial Regent named Xanjin Doulin, who still hold high positions in the coastal town of Denelton gaining assistance from a small group of Ivoran templars (the Knights of the Rose). The leader of this rebellion is known to be one self-anointed King Han-Morro of the Doulin Dynasty (Anoro to the Ezmerians) and is based in Denelton. Denelton was a failed Creschan colony later dominated by the Doulin family and Hyvalian crusaders but still boasts the highest Creschan ancestry in Ezmeria as does Fenumton due to refugees from that conquest though they mixed more easily with the native Westlander population but adopted the Hyvalian Theocracy as a bid to maintain peace.

This town is still the first stop by any Creschan vessels on this side of the world even before the Ezmerian port, a historical point of contention. Denelton has a small fleet of Creschan War Traders (this was also probably the destination of the Creschan Fire fiasco a while back; see Cabal of Eight II: Introduction). At Han-Morro’s side is Zavan the Red, the famous Westlander bandit.

In addition, a ramshackle group of peasant highwaymen has been attacking a large portion of the caravan traffic headed to Ezmer along the trade route and Ezmerian officials believe that the always rebellious peasant farmers of the Mezrin valley and Snaketeeth Mountains may be lending them aid. In Ezmer, political tensions are at an all-time high. Criers ring their bells and deliver the news every morning and evening, crowds were never so dense at the billboards every day.

Szoo slid down the creaky stairs to the ground floor aimlessly. He had won his duel some weeks ago very easily (see last episode). Szoo’s magic shields had taken care of the water mage’s spells while the naga cracked him repeatedly about the head with his new magic staff. The naga had left him purple-faced and unconscious in a pool of his own blood. The fire elementalist had not heard a peep from the water elementalist nor his allies, the Grey Serpent pirates, since.

The other two adventuring mages, Excor and Fauna, were still setting up their rooms in their new digs. Fauna had rented a four-story building owned by Vor Jetl. The ground floor had a split level, one side had a large, shuddered picture window having once been a shop of some kind. Fauna had paid her White Star Guild contact, Kosapio Belahgastro, to exorcise the place the previous day. Spirits had haunted it and none of the adventurer-mages were equipped to deal with anything of the kind. The place had operated as a mafia abattoir under the previous owner’s auspices. After that, all three spent the rest of the day cleaning and debating whether or not to open up a shop of some kind, they had plenty of loot.

In the following days, Szoo picked up his pouch belt and a coin purse made from the blue dragon’s hide. He also had a naga bed (a giant wood bowl with pillows) custom made for himself and another simpler one for his brand new protégé. The naga also purchased a bronze brazier, a desk, and an armoire for his room.  Excor developed the Iron Grip and Doomscythe (Acid) spells, recharged his copper spike, and spent 200gp purchasing furniture and “amenities” for his rooms. Fauna bought and stocked a full alchemy lab and a “comfy” silk pillowed bed.

Soon enough, a cabal meeting commenced. Again, Belrae dominated the meeting and again the details of the planned expedition for the golden lotus were hammered out. Later, night fell, the meeting adjourned, and the trio wearily plunked down the rear stairs of the newly repaired Red Helm with heavy footsteps determined to get their fill of ale and wine. As they drearily passed the bar making their way to the theater section Excor suddenly perked up and went right to the table under the (brand new) front window where two cloaked figures were sitting. One was in black, the other in white but Excor had recognized the image of the salt lotus on the back of the white cloak.

Excor: “Ah! My friend Gornix where have you been!”

Immediately Gornix threw back his hood and shook Excor’s extended hand vigorously. Gornix was trying to signal him with his eyes, but very badly.

Cris: “Yeah, I already know man.”

Gil: “You do?”

Cris: “Yeah! I rolled a nat-twenty on it!”

The other figure was the Black Knight sans his trademark white swan heraldry. He was in disguise. Consequently, he threw back his hood with a disgusted sigh to the utter shock of Fauna and Szoo.

Fauna: “Oh no!”

Szoo: “What!? It’s him again!?”

Jenn: “I guess we’re gonna have to kill this guy huh?”

Isis: “What Jenn!? Why do you want to kill everybody!? He’s a cop we can’t kill him… in the city.”

Cris: *Shhhh* “Let’s just let this play out right now.”

Gil: “Oh boy. Let’s just calm down.”

Jenn (to Gil): “Really?”

Excor (formally addressing the Black Knight): “So, do we surrender to you, Marshal?”

Sir Illin (standing up, he was in a chainmail suit with a blank steel carapace): “Well, all of you are under arrest for the assault against my brother. I have filed the warrant for each of you with the city.”

Gornix: “Oh yeah. I forgot about that…”

Szoo: “Really!? You’re the one who almost killed him!”

Gornix: “I thought it was for the rat fighting thing…”

Excor (interrupting Gornix): “Shut up!”

Sir Illin: *clears his throat* “Anyway,” He eyeballed Gornix, “All four of you are officially under arrest. However, as Marshal, I do have certain privileges.”

Fauna: “Oh yeah! Well, what privileges?”

Excor: “Let the man talk!”

Fauna: “I’m not going back to court dammit.”

Szoo: “Woah there, Fauna, c’mon let the swan talk.”

Sir Illin (a little exasperated): “As I was saying, I have an offer for you guys. As you know there’s a small rebellion to the West.”

Szoo: “There is?”

Fauna: “I didn’t know this.”

The GM (me): “Didn’t you listen to the info dump at the beginning of the game?”

Jenn (Fauna’s player): “No. I think I was busy.”

Isis: “Sis! You were sitting right there when he told us this!”

Jenn shrugged.

Excor: “Yeah, I know about it.”

Sir Illin (giving Fauna a thousand-yard stare): “Well, there is a rebellion to the West…”

Szoo: “Wait! Are we going to war!?”

Sir Illin (through his teeth this time): “No. Now, as I was saying, because there is a rebellion over there, there have been raids on all the eastbound caravan and trade traffic going through the Mezrin Valley portion of the trade road. I know the value of mages and know what you bunch have accomplished against the blue dragon queen.”

Jenn: “He knows about that?”

Excor (rolling his eyes): “Of course he does.”

Sir Illin: *sigh* “I’ll deputize you under my authority and you will come with me to investigate it. Otherwise, I’ll take you to your cells.”

The adventurers exchanged glances then shrugged with a communal, “Meh, okay.”

As they walked back to Fauna’s new rental, Sir Illin spelled it all out for them. The true mission was to clear a path or at least get some valuable intel about the enemy forces in the Mezrin Valley so that the city could move forward with its plan to send a sizable force along the Trade Road to take up a strong position in the Serpent’s Back Ridge presumably after a battle to take it from the rebels.

However, several scouting parties and a small military unit had been nearly wiped out by what survivors had described as a group of warriors and maybe a mage possibly led by a knight on the back of a black unicorn with a blood-red alicorn. Their commanders had also been turned to stone. Consequently, this tidbit seemed to turn a light on in Fauna’s and Szoo’s minds for a brief second. So, Sir Illin volunteered himself and some “specialists” to go and deal with this enemy-occupied ambush point. As a result, the mages only shrugged, the sole thing that had sunk in was the full pardon for all past crimes that the marshal was holding over their heads.

Meanwhile, Excor was quietly chatting with Gornix about his absence. To sum up, Gornix had the heads-up on the warrant for his arrest and the personal vendetta that the Black Knight had against him. So, he went on the run splitting time between random rented rooms in the worst of the city dives and the rooms of his Ratter’s Guild contact, Doubab. He had occasionally been back to feed the fighting rats and had hired someone to tend them in his absence.

He was doing fine until a messenger from the Salt Lotus Guild came to town to collect guild dues and information from him. The White Swan had finally caught up to Gornix by accompanying the guild messenger shortly after he had disembarked. Consequently, the guildsman already had an appointment set up with the Salt Lotus Mage. The only reason the other three had not been arrested first was that the White Swan wanted to get Gornix into custody first.

Eventually, the ragtag group reached the house. Immediately after entering the place, Szoo and Fauna went right to the detailed satyr statue at the foot of the stairs. This statue, which was out of place for the general décor of the place, had fascinated the pair from the start. The Black Knight set up a sleeping bag by the door determined to watch the wily mages though he hoped that a looming pardon would keep them honest.

Sir Illin: “Where’s the wine!”

Excor: “Well, there’s plenty of mead.”

Szoo carefully inspected the statue oblivious to all other goings on. His imagination peeked by the Black Knight’s unrelated exposition.

Szoo (after a Nat 20 detection): “It’s a person! The statue, it’s a person! They’re petrified!”

Fauna sent a servant, the mages had already surrounded themselves with a handful of hirelings, to go fetch a potion of Stone to Flesh. She was determined to “de-petrify” the statue, but the servant returned empty-handed, no alchemist shops were open at this time of evening. The petrified faun would have to wait.

The following Dawn – The mages were alighting the mounts already packed and requisitioned by Sir Illin from the city stables, a teamster driving a two-buffalo wagon packed with camping supplies followed them. The morning was cloudy and grey, at least it would be cool for their trip south. Soon they were trotting in line out of the city gates past the burning pits and the wayman’s and nomad camps outside of the city walls. After a few hours, the city was far behind. The afternoon sun was beating down on their heads and shoulders, the horses were spread out loosely across the road, and the Black Knight was leading somewhat further ahead than the rest of the party, clouds of yellow road dust puffing up around his mount’s haunches.

Excor (riding up next to Gornix): “Y’know we can take this guy really easy now.”

Gornix: “I don’t know about that.”

They both stared at the Black Knight’s back as he continued to lead unaware of their scheming.

Excor: “Well, we can.” He implicated himself, Fauna, and Szoo.

Cris (turning to me, the GM): “You know that right? He’s no problem now. We can kill Sir Illin just like that.”

The GM (me, with a wry smile): “Yup.”

Gornix: “What about the pardon?”

Excor: “Yeah, I know that’s why I’m thinking about it.”

Cris (suddenly): “Damn! Damn! Dammit!” He stared at his character sheet for a few seconds. “My guy wouldn’t do it. Hey,” pointing at Jenn, “can you guys take him, and would your characters kill him?”

Jenn: “Nope, I like him. He’s Sir Illin! He’s jes chillin’!”

There was a collective groan around the dining room table.

Isis: “Yeah, I wouldn’t stab this guy in the back, plus he’s the marshal so my guy would be too paranoid if we did.”

Cris: “Hey, you’re not paranoid if everyone’s out to get you!”

Isis: “Yes! Exactly!”

Cris: *sigh* “Dammit. Okay, I guess we’ll just follow him then.”

Soon, the sun was sinking fast under the Western horizon painting a sliver of sky blazing gold while dark storm clouds moved in from the blackened East. They had taken the road spur that went East into the Necropolis. The Black Knight reasoned that it was the “safest” place to camp to preserve the secrecy of the mission. Excor spent several minutes mocking him.

Excor: “I hate this f#$*ing graveyard… necropolis. Especially coming off a Dragon Summer! Sheesh, we’re getting attacked. No! We’re getting attacked. I already know it. I just know it.”

The Black Knight found a place just inside the boundaries of the Necropolis, a sunken portion of open dirt between several large mausoleums and fringed with tall standing stones. The teamster was not too far away, he and the wagon were tucked behind a half-fallen mausoleum camouflaged under a painted tarpaulin.

Sir Illin: “We should be safe enough camping here…”

This elicited an exasperated gasp from Excor.

Excor (in a mocking tone): “Yeah, right, okay, sure!”

Cris (pointing at me, the GM): “I know, I already know!”

Well, on second-watch he was proven right (it was a random encounter I swear!). Szoo and Fauna were on watch when the creature thundered into camp both heads roaring waking up those sleeping with a shock. It killed a horse.

Fauna: “Oh no! The horses again! They always go for our horses!”

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Sir Illin leaped up with his sword in one hand and his mace in the other but then turned and fled behind a mausoleum (a Natural 1 versus Horror Factor). The beast was a Dagorro, a blue-scaled wingless dragon with two whip-like tails and two heads each at the end of a long neck. The battle was brief, a few tombstones were shattered by the dragon’s fiery breath. The mages, on the other hand, were unharmed. The dragon lay dead and before the dawn came, Szoo had taken an eye, and Gornix a claw. By morning they were already on their way with a slightly less proud White Swan still in the lead.

It was night by the time they had finally arrived at their destination, the horses were exhausted, and the expected fresh mounts and a hot meal promised by the Black Knight were nowhere to be seen. They moved east off the road into a grassy depression dismounting and leading the horses into the tall grass to both let them eat and at least partially conceal themselves, leaving the wagon on the road with a very nervous teamster. All could see the foothills of the southernmost tip of the Snaketeeth Mountains rising a few miles away. Sir Illin tried to figure something out while noticeably disturbed. The group noticed several small ribbons of smoke rising in the distance all around them some as close as within a mile.

Sir Illin (trying to assuage the mages’ concerns, although badly): “Just the hovels of farmers and petty ranchers.” He was about to say something else, but the words caught in his throat and his eyes widened.

Naked steel sang as the Black Knight yanked his sword from its scabbard just in time for the horses to panic and gallop back towards the road. The group gathered back-to-back at the center of the clearing made in the tall grasses by the fleeing horses. They could take no real action until they could see their enemy. However, they could hear them from all around running towards them through the grass. They were surrounded. Dirty, unarmored wild-eyed men armed with pitchforks, iron spades, and scythes emerged first.

Excor: “Farmers.”

Sir Illin: *sigh* “Farmers.”

Another man emerged clad in studded leather armor a longsword in his hand.

The stranger in studded leather: “Get in there! Get them! The mages first!”

The Black Knight immediately disarmed one then shield bashed the other of the two farmers closest to him. Fauna stepped up with a sneer on her dirty face and began to cast a spell. There was a loud pop, some sparks, and a puff of acrid grey smoke. The spell had failed. Gornix then wasted no time casting a spell. He cast Fear and as soon as he finished, the farmers dropped their implements and fled back and away from the tightly formed core of adventurers. Alone stood the man in studded leather.

 As a result, he immediately surrendered.

It only took a few minutes for the Black Knight to scare the information from the rebel thug. There was a farmhouse and barn not far from here to the West of the road tucked in between some low foothills that served as a hideout as the family there were true believers in the cause. There were no crests or marks to look out for, they were just simple farmers.

The Black Knight satisfied that the rebel had been telling the truth pronounced, “With the powers of law and order as marshal invested in me by the Ezmerian High Council, I condemn you to death for treason!”

The White Swan struck his head from his shoulders before he could even turn to look over in shock.

Szoo: “Whoa!”

The other mages just shrugged.

Sir Illin wiped off the blade of his sword before slipping it back into the scabbard. He dismissed the teamster who was ready to bolt judging by the expression on his face. They left the body of the executed man still with his wrists bound behind his back.

They were breaking through the high grass onto the jagged uneven but open ground when Gornix said, “Wait! Did anybody check that guy, I forgot to loot him!”

The marshal had already frisked the man when he had tied him up. There was nothing on him of note but a dagger, a longsword, and the studded leather armor, and a red waist sash.

After about an hour they found a narrow bright yellow dirt road headed behind a hill and followed it to an isolated farmhouse and barn. It was a dark moonless night by this time and the place seemed deserted. At first, the mages worried that somehow one of the fleeing farmers had made it back here before them, but their worries disappeared when they saw firelight shining through the small square windows of the squat adobe farmhouse.

All they find there is the farmer’s wife and her three small children. She immediately answered all the Black Knight’s questions. After a quick search of the place, the mages found a small hidden basement filled with weaponry, though of low and poor quality. So, Fauna torched the barn.

Szoo: “No! What’re you doing!?”

Isis: “Jenn, c’mon, No! I won’t put up with this!”

Fauna: “Oh yeah! Watch this!”

Consequently, she pointed her finger of fire at the squat farmhouse setting its thatch roofing alight. The farmhouse burned to the ground very quickly and the farmer’s wife and her children hung their heads and wept into their hands.

Szoo: “Aw man.”

Fauna: “Now what cha gonna do?”

Szoo just shrugs and lets out a disappointed sigh.

Fauna: “Well, that’s what those traitors get!” She stumbled off after the rest of the group, obviously under the influence. Szoo stood there for a few moments and watched the buildings burn. He sighed, and shaking his head, turned and followed the group. The farmer’s wife and her three children watched them go.

Sir Illin: “We have em now! The woman tells me that the highwaymen have gathered with their leader. They’re camping out in a small canyon a few minutes to the southeast amongst some ruined adobes and an old temple. The fane is what she called it. Let’s double-time it!”

He turned and scowled at the druidess.

Fauna: “What?”

Excor: “They know we’re coming now.”

Szoo (rather flatly): “They can see the fires.”

Fauna (with more than a little attitude): “Oh well.”

So, the intrepid mages were led to the mouth of the box canyon. There was an obvious trail through the high grass that into the tumbleweeds that choked the narrow rocky entrance. Cliff faces rose high and sheer on either side. They could see nothing. The Black Knight took point and crept between the towering cliffs; the others followed trying to stay low as they moved. Szoo simply crashed through the grasses into the canyon and three arrows zipped from the cliffs above at him.

The naga fire elementalist was unperturbed as he expected his shield from his magic necklace would neutralize the surprise attack. However, the large gleaming ruby flashed red, and the arrows struck the naga wounding him, the shield spell popped into existence immediately after then disappeared just as instantly.

Isis: “Awww man! It’s cursed!”

Cris: “Of course it is! We all knew it! But you had to put it on!”

Isis: “Well, yeah it was shiny! Really shiny! My guy couldn’t resist! He likes big shiny things!”

To be honest dear reader, I, the GM, had completely forgotten about the cursed gold necklace with the large ruby (see the Cabal of Eight II Pt 9: Fungus Force Five). So, I guess the fungus curse begins here.

Cris: “Damn! You gonna be okay?”

Isis: “Yeah, I’m hurt but not that bad.”

Gil: “Well, let’s do this.”

The interior of the small box canyon was completely clear of all overgrowth and there was a visible path winding up the canyon walls connecting a series of ever-higher ledges. Flattened tents and a few extinguished fire pits dotted the canyon floor. It appeared that the rebels had been breaking camp. A large temple-like adobe structure stood at the far end of the box and several smaller buildings, many completely collapsed into simple piles of disintegrating adobe brick, dotted the upper ledges.

Six shortbow-wielding scouts were running around on those ledges sighting the invading adventurers while trying to find some kind of cover led by a gorgon wearing a red turban and silver mask with polished sapphire eyes. All had red waist sashes. Directly in front of the old temple was a fully armored knight bearing no heraldry mounted on a black unicorn with a blood-red alicorn sprouting from its head. In between the adventurers and the unicorn were six spear-wielding men-at-arms in horsetail-tasseled helmets, red waist sashes, chain mail armor, and steel longshields with maces at their sides. Taken aback were the mages when they could see the unicorn shout orders to the spears and archers.

The gorgon unleashed three poison-tipped arrows at Szoo, whose shield spell worked this time. The spearmen quickly surrounded the mages. Szoo cast Fearsome Form I and prepared to fly at the scouts and the gorgon. Excor cast Mass Paralyze I freezing all six of the spear-bearing men-at-arms in place. Gornix cast Cone of Fire mercilessly immolating them. The rebel knight leaped from his saddle to the ground and charged Sir Illin with his battle axe. A ratling swerved from behind the unicorn and drew paired superior-quality magic bowie knives, his image immediately split into six and each blurred as he charged towards Szoo. The black unicorn charged Excor hitting his shield. Fauna stepped up and sprayed the cliffs with her Throw Fire spell, immolating the scouts and horribly wounding the gorgon archer as she took them unawares (they rolled natural 1 saves).

After the first round of battle, the mages were unharmed, and the rebels were already on the ropes. By the second round, all the rebels were down, the gorgon falling first to Szoo’s Cone of Fire, the ratling paralyzed by Excor then coup de graced by Szoo, the Knight was eventually cut down by Sir Illin, and it took three lighting bolts from Fauna, an Alchemist’s Fire from Szoo, and two Force Ram spells from Gornix to kill the black unicorn. None of our heroes were even scratched in the fight.

The battle won, far too easily, the White Swan spoke up rather dourly: “When we get back to the city, I’ll file your pardons.”

Excor (jumping onto the body of the black unicorn with his knife in hand): “Mine! The alicorn is mine! I don’t want anything else; this is mine!”

Gornix: “What about the rest of the loot? There might be some good stuff on the Knight and that unicorn?”

Excor: “I don’t want anything else! This is mine!”

Isis: “Geeze!”

The rest of the mages loot the corpses but find very little other than a small horde of coins stamped with the Hyvalian character from the heraldry of Denelton and a chalice; possibly illegally recoined from proper legal tender. They also had taken the superior quality paired magic bowie knives, and a gold necklace with a large sapphire (shield spell 3 x day). Everything else was cinders. After an hour, the bodies were all searched and Excor was cradling the red alicorn in his arms. The group left the burning canyon behind them.

Excor (gazing madly at the still-bleeding horn): “Man, the things I can do with this!”

Upon their return to the city of Ezmer, Excor locked himself in his rooms, the White Swan filed their pardons, and Gornix set up a room for himself in Fauna’s new rental. Fauna noticed one day that Szoo’s scales looked strange, some appeared loose and covered in a whitish powder, but Szoo was more interested in the Faun statue near the stairs to care.

Szoo (to Fauna): “So, when were we going to de-petrify this guy?”

The End

Campaign Played 6/1/18-1/26/19, 6/22/19.

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.


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…