Sorrowstones and Shardstorms

Mindworms plus Ramsee and the Pain Tyrant

Ember’s continuing journal . . .

24

The desert is death. I know this. I have walked in death’s land for much of my life, and seen countless people consumed by the hungry sands. And yet, today I feel anger at this tragic world, and at myself. The halfling Ramsee has fallen, with his blood on my own blade no less. Oh, intellectually I know it was the psychic control of this Gaj Tyrant that guided my blade with my hands, but sans my will. That doesn’t change the fact that my own life still continues thanks to the little maniac’s magic, while his is ended with my blade in his flesh. What angers me most, is my inability to cry over yet another sad moment in a sad life.

Dassalius is more deeply moved. I knew those two were friends at a deep level. The elf is shaken to he core, both from his own experiences with horror, and with grief. He will take the small body, as well as this so called seed of “life” back to Altaruk. I will head on to Gulg, to meet up with Maximus as planned. I know of a primal guardian safe house there, we will base ourselves from that staging ground.

So much for the Shanthic orb and it’s secrets. It is an ordeal perhaps best left unrecorded, and maybe, hopefully, one day forgotten.

I feel I have successfully mastered my demonic blood. Even the stress of loss wasn’t enough to break my control, and the power did not surface. With control, perhaps I can move on to mastery. I have revisited some of my arcane teachings, and have, I think, successfully learned a basic invocation or two. Likewise, my martial studies have paid off, although I feel I should devote myself more fully to the arcane. And then, with progress on these areas separately made, I can once again study a fusion of the techniques, swordmagery, from a more intellectual rather than instinctual viewpoint.

I carry with me some of the items that Ramsee was holding close, while other items will return with Dassalius. Also, these shanthic blades are intriguing – I have sequestrated a pair, although I doubt I will use them myself – their magic might prove incompatible with my own. Other nick-nacs include some wood from the tree of life, and some arcane formula for rituals. I could probably make use of these, with study. I wonder if the time will present itself to allow such study – mastering my own powers already consumes my time.

Onward to Gulg.

View
The Seed of Life and the Shadow Lord

6

A little window into history would not be complete without at least mentioning the mythical Golden Age. At the height of civilization, mortal beings lived in amazing cities, forged from the power of the magic of the Gods, who had grown powerful on the souls of the faithful. Let me tell you a little more about magic. All magic, be it primal, divine, or arcane, has the same ultimate source, that same source as the energy of life itself. How it is used is what differs. Primal magic is nothing more than the whims of the spirits. It is the rawest, and least controlable of all the magics. Divine magic is the magic of faith and soul – when a life is pledged to an ideal, to a deity, the energy of that life aligns itself, and eventually passes to the god and in so doing, becomes a part of that gods power. Arcane magic is the manipulation of magical energy that is forcibly tapped from its source. Psionic power too, works like this, except no one knows where the energy for it comes from – it is a power of intelligence, not of life – the two are not as intertwined as you might think. Anyway – it was during the height of this Golden Age, that mortal kind, jealous of the powers of the gods, sought to master magic without the intervention of the divine. The technique of defiling was born, giving the power of magic directly into the hands of mortal wizards, and paving the way for the Red Age. But that is another story.

Ramsee directed the salvage of the wood of the now dead Tree of Life. I imagine his kind are used to working with wood, and he fashioned a small weapon, a Heartwood Dagger, as well as salvaging and preserving other wooden pieces. It is not a bad idea, as the wood of a Life Tree is certainly possessed of power, even beyond the tree’s lifespan. I have collected a few nice pieces, with which I may be able to assemble a new pommel and grip for my sword. I still prefer the obsidian for the blade however.

I asmed Maximus to teach me a little about martial fighting. While I wield a blade with some skill, truth is, when I fight, I mostly just use the weapon as a focus for my demon magic. But if I am to master my magic, one of the things I will need to do, is master the art of not using it. I also need to avoid the complications of primal magic interacting with my arcane magic. It will take some time to sort it all out.

Time that will have to come later – as on leaving the underground grotto, we discovered that agents of the Sorcerer King Hamanau had managed to locate and enter the caverns. Not too surprising, as with the tree gone, the spirits that once chose to protect the area had ceased to do so. Ramsee attempted a parlee, but we all knew that the templar was here for the seed, and not even a shonky attempt at deception would see him leave without the real deal. I know that the templar’s options are get the seed, or suffer unimaginably, so it was always going to come down to conflict.

I warned the others not to take Hamanau lightly back in Alturak. I suppose I get to say “I told you so”. The battle was murderously fierce – we were technically out matched, and once again I find myself owing my life to the halfling Ramsee. The enemy consisted of a Templar, a mighty defilier, a powerful animated salt golem, and several half giant mooks. The templar, golem, and defilier were all powerful and dangerous foes, any one of which would have been a challenge to us. Collectively however, their power threatened to utterly overwhelm us.

Two things conspired to pull us through. First, coincidentally, Ramsee’s cousin found and joined up with us moments before this titanic battle, and secondly, the Mul for what ever reason, was tarrying behind, and acted as an unplanned reserve force, bringing fresh fighting capability into the fight just as we were otherwise on the verge of collapse.

Oh, and one other thing. Something, and I dont really know what although I have my suspicions, offered it’s assistance in exchange for a bargain. Frozen in a moment of time, it spoke of offering to befuddle our foe with its power, in exchange for ‘riding our shadows, and collecting the souls of the slain’. It promised we would not be endangered by it’s presence. I do not know if any of the others agreed to this (I suspect they must have, as something halted that golem) – but I certainly could not. Each tiefling carries a blood debt already – to allow this thing to claim credit for my kills would fly against my own repayments on my curse. Besides, I have no intention of getting what is left of my soul into any further debt. I will free myself, not further enslave myself.

The tide of battle was narrowly turned, with the defiler fleeing through magic and riding beast. Although it took a moment to set up, Ramsee’s magic conjoured phantom steeds of great speed to pursue the fleeing sorcerer, and we trailed him back to a base camp. We set upon the camp with surprise, and focusing our attacks on the enemy caster, subdued and captured him for interrogation. His half giant allies fought hard, but without the murderously powerful magics of the defiler being levied against us, we prevailed.

We have gathered quite a bit of useful information from the doomed defiler, before we left him to water the sands with his blood – information that I think will see us travel to Gulg once we have found a safe location for the Seed of Life.

View
Red and the Tree of Life

18

Naturally, the tale must continue then to the Green Age, when the Gods came to power. Somehow, the Spark of Intelligence* came into the world, and everything changed, evolved. Gods came to be, filled with passions, desires, goals, and plans, while what was once known as the Primordials, now are the Primal Spirits.

The Gods made the mortal races, and shaped what would become Athas from the primordial waters. Under their guidance, life of all sorts bloomed and exploded across the world, and in so doing, grew their power. For the essence of Life and Magic are one and the same, and the Prime Material is the source of all magic, and thus of life. Gods learned to harness this power in ways the Primal Spirits could not, and eclipsed them utterly.

And from this age, came the Trees of Life. Their exact origin is still unclear, for while their nature is that of the Primal Spirits, their creation was surely influenced by the hand of the divine. Perhaps the earliest of the Gods, those that chose simply to personify nature, who sought to be gods to the Primal Spirits and not to some mortal creation, had a hand in these. No matter, for the Green Age is all but lost – the Trees of Life are the only thing that remain of that time, divine and primal in one living thing, and the only known bulwark against the destructive power of defilement.

And so, our band of mortal beings were on the trail of such a tree. And found one we did. Through unnatural storm we pushed, after reuniting with Maximus, Dassalius, and a ’kreen called Oriio, the representative of the Druid Daylius. This ’kreen was essential to our efforts, as it was in tune with the Primal Spirits, who would surely guard this last relic of a lost era.

Within the eye of the storm we were set on by two of these lionadillos, though these were trained attack ’dillos bearing the mark of the Lion King (no, not from the musical, from Urik) Hamanu. We are surely heading deeper into his rage. This was a savage battle, and their fury was too much for me. I owe Ramsee my life – a debt that I have not owed anyone before. It makes me uncomfortable.

Oriio proved his primal connection true, and gained us entry into the secret well of the lost tree. Therein, wraiths sworn to protect the tree from the Sorcerer-King of Nibenay stood to block us, though we parley’d well, and they stood aside without violence. Further in, we happened on a group of ’kreen who had somehow found and forced entry along a different path. Again negotiation saw us unite rather than fight.

But the final guardian, deranged and defiled, would not be talked free. And a battle ensued. It was a large scale war. Once again, I found myself ‘hulking out’ in the presence of so much life and magic, confirming at least some of my suspicions. Ramsee was all but ready to declare me a defiler, for surely what else could a demon be, but even he had to admit none of my magic drew even the slightest hint of life energy away – not even the greatest of known preservers can perform magic without borrowing at least some energy. Yet my own blood overflows with power from some other source. Add to that an abundance of ambient life magic, and I can no longer fully control this blood power. And the result is this demon form. I must learn to control and conquer it.

We defeated the enemies, and just before the last fell, Ramsee plucked the seed from the Tree. There was just the one, for the Tree itself was old and sick, sustained in truth only by the new life it had spawned. With the seed now seperated, the Tree grew dark, the last of its power would fade over time, and it’s wood come to rest.

And Red set it on fire.

He was promptly murdered by our ally thri-kreen posse. I was personally never too attached to Red – as a pyromaniac, he had tried to destroy the ‘deliciously flamable’ parchments that held Yarnoth’s research after we spent great efforts to recover them. I suspect the fire at the orphanage was his doing too, though I know not for sure as I arrived to it already ablaze. Maximus quenched the tree, and in so doing, pacified the thri-kreen enough to be satisfied with their justice on the mad drey.

After that – discussions turned to what to do next. There is talk of using the wood of the tree to make weapons or talismans against the defilers. I wonder if the ’kreen will go for that – they must know the tree is dead, and while I accept that simply burning it for pleasure is going a bit too far – would they see using the remains for constructive purpose to be sacrilige? ’Kreen are a practical people though, and rumour has it that the Heartwood Spear that slew Kalak was made from the wood of a tree of life.

We also found informations and writings, although so far my analysis has not turned up too much new, I am hoping a more detailed examination along with some of my magical tricks will add more light to our quests. There are a few other nic-nacs, including a tiara like object. The girl in me is curious as to if it would look good on me. No – I am a being of practicality, and a mortal cursed to be a demon – what ornament could brighten that image.

The team rests and consolidates, having gained a fragment of the power of life itself. We prepare, for we all suspect Hamanu’s agents will soon involve themselves.

*The Spark of Intelligence. I know not what this truly is, only that when I turn my magics to know of it, I am filled with such dread terror as I can only begin to describe. Indeed, my hand shakes just to write this passage. It is something incomprehensible, and utterly alien that should never have existed in this cosmos. Its presence has twisted and changed everything, and I owe my own sentience to it. I have disavowed all research effort into the matter, for that way lies madness incarnate.

View
The Long Shadows

Thanks again to Ember.

31

Where to begin, Where to begin. I suppose at the start. The Blue age, when the world was ruled by the Primal Spirits (although it could be believed that there was an age before that, but moving on). Ul-Athra, Stone Brother was a being of such power, that even today, there are those that revere him. It is his crown we seek, and it should stand as a testament to his power that even a fragment of the crown he merely wore is one of the most powerful magical artifacts I have ever seen, and would motivate lich and sorceror-king alike to pursue it – pursue the one foolish enough to bond with it.

And yet, it is a key to power, and I would seek such power for myself that I might change my fate. Ramsee questioned the others about their motives, offering up his own motive – the elimination of all defiling magic. He was ultimately satisfied with the answers he got, and we agreed to intensify our search for the Tree of Life, armed as we now are with more knowledge gathered from disparate and jealously cloistered sources.

One such source, surprisingly, was in a missive possessed by the now deceased slaver leader in Alturak, connected it seems, to King Hamanau. We came across it when we freed the remaining slaves there (having decapitated the leadership of the organization previously) – I am of 2 minds about the freedom of the slaves. Most of them are ill equipped to be their own masters. But freedom is something they should have. Red merely thought of the exercise as a means to generate chaos to cover our own departure from the area. I don’t think it will work like that, but it should at least delay any organised response to our actions.

Here we split up, Dassalius and Maximus trailblazing to find Dalius, a druid and apparent sibling to Dassalius, who may be key to finding the Tree. Red, Ramsee and I headed towards a likely site for the Tree itself. Ramsee promised he could use magic to keep the two groups in touch. He seems legit at least in so far as his skill with ritual magics is concerned. It is a field that I am unschooled in, although I know the theory well enough.

Alas we got sidetracked, as some Ul-Athra cultist earth spirits decided to nick the crown fragment while we rested. We had to dig them out, then battle into a small cave in the earth to recover the fragment. I have marked the site on our map as best I can, as it is potentially a valuable secret bolt hole, complete with a source of fresh water and fungus garden. Its fertility speaks volumes about how we may be on the right track to find the Tree.

Another minor event has me thinking that this sight may have had a bleed through of power. Within the heart of the lair, where the primitive sigils were thickest and the enemy’s powers the greatest, I – changed. I believe the term is ‘Hulked out’. The power within my blood rose sharply. The effect faded eventually, and the change was considerably beneficial to the matter at hand – that being extreme violence. Still – it is a worry to me – I need to learn to control and master this power. At the moment it is still that of my curse, the curse of demonkind. I will break this curse, even if it means molding it to serve me.

More worrying – both Red and Ramsee happily jumped down a hole into a lower cavern. As athletic as Red is, I doubt he could have managed an inverted climb across said cavern’s roof to get back to the entry shaft and exit again. Fortunately my altered state did not alter my intelect, and I set up a rope before joining them in a cavern with no other exits. Full marks for enthusiasm to the others though.

We recovered a few items of potential interest, and I am using my knowledge and magic to learn more. These cultists of Ul-Athra have maintained different records, and their perspective will undoubtably shine new light on our quest.

View
Found missive

Templar Sarhan

Thank you for your assistance in this matter. We have now discovered two weathered copies of an ancient scroll. It is clear that our seers have put us on the right track but I am sure the spirits of this place know our purpose and hide the entrance from us.

If you come across someone with a significant primal sensitivity then they should be brought to our camp so we can make use of them.

Between the two partial scrolls, we have been able to translate the message as follows:

I, Avor Firesworn, do make a record of the end of my days. Nibenay’s foul defilers even now besiege our refuge; we shall not last the day. They are driven by hatred we do not understand to eradicate our people from the land. I do not know if other non-humans live still. After the battles in the Fields of Moriaton, I led my band here, where we have lived as beasts, hiding in the ground. We have prayed to Taraskir for guidance and protection but He has not answered our prayers. I no longer believe that He watches over us.

Instead, I have chosen to fight evil with evil – I have entered into the blood oath with the Dark One from the Gray beyond. It shall have my eternal soul and those of my brethren but it will grant us the power to protect our sacred Seed even after our deaths against any who try to possess it. Furthermore, I shall literally hide it within my own body and even when I fall in battle it will be protected; indeed my body will serve in death to nourish it.

I will hide this record according to the ways of my people in hopes to speak forth to the future as with the voice of dust from the earth. If you find the Seed or the Tree of Life that springs from it and I am not there to protect it, I exhort you to meditate upon the great cycle of Life. I exhort you to ask whether it be wisdom to protect the sources of Life. If you ponder these things in your own heart, with sincere intent, then you will know the truth of them and you will know what to do with the Seed. I, Avor Firesworn, do thus end my record and seal it up.

Yours in honour of Hamanu

Templar Durok

View
Return to Altaruk

Thanks to Ember for these notes.

69

The session began with the team making tracks away from Slither, with 3 rescued dwarves, some precious informations, and the Blood Jewel now in our possession.

With the crown fragment now bonded to the pyromaniac Red, and the blood jewel now affixing itself to the space above Ramsee’s head, it is pretty clear that whatever dark plans Yarnath had for these artifacts couldn’t possibly be as bad as what is going to happen.

We spotted a few potential ambushers, then a probable ambush site, and in the words of a great Jedi faced with a trap, “we spring the trap.” Ahh, some bird men, blasted from existence with a bug area burst, a villainous tiefling, stabbed from existence by a crystal spider fang dagger, and a few wraiths, who’s existence was tied to a sorrowstone which Maximus got all pushy about, causing the wraiths all sorts of trouble.

Yes, the Sorrowstone. Here there was a ‘philosophical’ disagreement. Maximus wanted such an icon of evil utterly destroyed. Ramsee wanted an icon of evil. Slice it how you like, one has to wonder about that halfling. At the moment his heart is in the right place, but I am pretty sure his long term goal is to put said heart into a phylactery and seal it away in order to achieve immortality.

Anyway, a shardstorm threatened to crush us, and caught one of our rescue dwarves fair and square. Here we learned that the crown and the blood jewel both have a habit of protecting their owners from said falling chunks of wealth – err – obsidian. Ember protected the kanks that pulled our chariot.

We got back to town, and there Ramsee tried to drive a hard bargain, but completely blew the negotiation, and decided to ruin the Shom dwarves in spite. He was going to do something horrible to the orphanage and pin it on Shom, but instead found there were already people there trying to do horrible things. Not to be outdone, Red upped the horrible stakes and burned the place to the ground. The freaks do not negotiate with terrorists, or anyone really.

A battle ensued, and victory was had, at the expense of some agents of Hamanu – Sarhan and Gorbrak the Scarred. That is bad news, although the Freaks couldn’t comprehend how anything could be bad, least of all if that anything involved eating people.

Madness to the point of Sparta.

The team is now at a crossroads as to what to do next. Ember is taking some time to review the informations recovered from Yarnath, and is definitely keen to get out of the local area – She suspects that both Yarnath and Hamanu will take further action centered on here, and while the two sides are likely at loggerheads, Ember has no wish to be caught in between these two powerful factions.

Ember wishes to travel to Gulg for a number of reasons. Firstly, she needs to finish her mission, and report to her veiled alliance contacts. Ember is not the sort to trust others, so she will only give the Alliance the information they asked for, nothing more. Secondly, Ember wishes to rescue Silver Wind, and the information from Yarnath should serve as a tool to get the Alliance motivated to do the same. Thirdly, Ember wishes to cross-reference information Yarnath had on the Tree of Life with the information that the Alliance may hold, and possibly further information gleaned from Gulg’s own sorcerer-queen’s libraries. Ember has also let Maximus know that Maximus’ wife may be alive in Gulg.

View
Slither

10

A group of six bedraggled Dragonborn arrived at the small oasis – their black scales shining in the sun. Two adult brothers, one married with three children, Red introduced himself to their leader, Klade, and learned the following.

At dusk the previous night Klade’s youngest child was taken and sacrificed in order to summon and bind the Imawgri. Yarnath the Skull has temporarily abandoned his research of the Blood Jewel and, after summoning the Imawgri, Yarnath started a long ritual to repair Slither and may be busy doing that for a couple of days.

Many raiders were also sent out in search of the Freaks. The Dray took this opportunity to escape Slither under the cover of darkness.

The Dray showed Red the best places to climb up Slither and onto its towers. The Freaks used this information to climb onto the Lich’s Ritual Tower and clear out the inhabitants in order to grab the Blood Jewel.

Meanwhile, Dassalius crept forward to rescue the three remaining dwarf prisoners. The fourth had already been used to fuel Yarnath’s ritual to repair Slither.

In addition to recovering the Blood Jewel, the Freaks took several small items of gold and silver plus a strange Obsidian Orb, with a mark reminiscent of the Shanthic Blade used by Dassalius.

From the tower, the Freaks now have complete rituals for Fruit of Healing (as Brew Potion), Create Primal Element and Silt Walk. There are also 2,000gp worth of ritual components.

In his research notes Yarnath speculates that, as the primordials Ul-Athra and Silver Wind were once lovers, Silver Wind may also have a connection to the Crown of Dust. Silver Wind is currently enslaved by Lalali-puy, the sorceror-queen of Gulg – the Forest City.

Yarnath has also researched the possible location of a Tree of Life, without success.

View
Finders Keepers

63

ThK!as the Thri-kreen Barbarian lay down in the pit that, up until recently, had housed the Crown of Dust. He refused to move, or even acknowledge the presence of others. All he said was “Sand. Sand? Sand!” over and over again.

Meanwhile, Aramil the Eladrin Wizard stepped into the Lands Within the Wild.

As the remaining Freaks marvelled at the approaching Slither, the Face in the Stone began to crumble behind them, with Kaz still inside and Aramil nowhere to be seen.

Ember, a Tiefling Swordmage, has been spying on Yarnath the Lich on behalf of the Veiled Alliance. She was the original source of the information provided by Birk Suntouched to Dassalius and Aramil in Altaruk – that the Lich Yarnath, a leader of the Chaln Khodre cult, is also looking for the Crown of Dust and its Blood Jewel centrepiece.

Hyunyah, the Gnoll Matriacrh was using Ember as her bodyguard, partially to protect herself from her feral underlings.

Maximus Sanazar the Mul Warlord was in charge of the House Shom expedition. A week ago his caravan was attacked by a creature using a psionic wave of fear. Some of the dwarves ended up in the Face in the Stone and became desiccated Salt Zombies. Others were captured by the crystal spiders and used as bait at the abandoned wagons.

Maximus and five others were captured by desert raiders and poked and prodded while taken to Slither. When the Gnoll force disembarked Slither, Hyunyah chopped up one of the dwarves on the block in the chariot, and threw chunks to her troops. They used their meathooks as utensils and powerful jaws to crack bones, then headed out to take on the Freaks – running on all fours with weapons on their back and a meathook on their belt.

Maximus was there as the reward for success (with some dotted lines marked for easier cutting), but Ember gave him a knife to free himself. Hyunyah’s rallying speech:

“Did you like that, well bring me the Crown and you can feast on this tasty Mul! We must be done before sunset or our lord will let loose the Imawgri.”

The Freaks defeated the pack of gnolls and fled on Hyuunyah’s kank chariot

Prior to leaving, Ember set up an explosion where Slither’s foreleg meets its body. This caused Slither to collapse and mad it impossible to do more than walk around in a circle. Ember has one explosive Silver Wind Obsidian statue remaining.

At the end of the fight Ember uses a Veiled Alliance hand signal to communicate with the Freaks.

View
Marauders of the Dune Sea

54

The adventurers known throughout Altaruk as the Freaks have taken on a new job.

It started with dreams of the massive Face in the Stone, the rumoured resting place of the Crown of Dust, an artifact connected to the lost primordial Ul-Athra.

The dreams showed some frightened dwarves running into the mouth of the Face.

It turned out that these dwarves are from House Shom, merchants specializing in digging up and working with stone and more exotic materials.

Master Shank has promised to pay the Freaks a bounty for any healthy members of the expedition that are returned to him in Altaruk. So far, the Freaks have only found dead dwarves – used by Crystal Spiders as bait and turned into salt zombies by the Face in the Stone

The Freaks discovered that they had been followed on their trek by the Red Chord mercenaries, who had been hired by parties unknown. Darok the Mul Gladiator, J’narr the Gith Drone and Kalla the Goliath Enforcer were shown no mercy.

The Freaks also encountered Blazing Skeletons and a massive Dust Wyrm, but their only reward was one third of the Crown. The Crown fragment remembers things from before it was sundered but does not know where the other parts can be found.

The dust devil that was moving and concealing the Face in the Stone is no more. After a long rest, the Freaks emerge to see the massive skeletal fortress Slither slowly approaching. It seems that Yarnath the Lich has discovered the Crown’s resting place. Is he too late or just in time?

View
Flyer
Advertising for Altaruk's Gladiatorial Arena

2

This Sunday in Altaruk’s very own Bloodsand Arena . . .

Guard Captain Tellemon Presents a Battle for the Ages.

THE FREAKS VERSUS THE GITH IN . . .

THE MATINEE OF WEBS

Like to see people dragged by their hair through the dirt by a giant insect? Come see Kaz the Thri-Kreen brute!

Point and stare at those vicious and vindictive “twin” feral Halflings Ahriman and Ramsee!

Be ordered about by the Mul everyone knows only as Sir!

And Ladies, if you like your gladiators lithe and mysterious then we’ve got something for you. That shadowy acrobat of the macabre . . .
Dassalius Nimblefoot.

And, all the way from the desolate Barrier Wastes, five of those wacky primitive acrobatic psychic teleporting Gith!

Who will prevail?

Last week Ramsee asked the discerning patrons “Are You Not Entertained?”. The lucky attendees replied with a resounding “Yes!”

Don’t miss this once in a lifetime event.

THE FREAKS VERSUS THE GITH

Proudly supported by Governor Aristos of Altaruk

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.