Under Feet of Clay

Interlude 2: Cat and Mouse

Weeks of hurried travel by night and day were slowly soaking away in the large ceramic tub. The lone occupant of the cottage looked up through his open roof to the stars, squeezing a cloth saturated with warm water over his bald head. He reached over and pulled a few bottles from a small shelf near the hearth and poured them in.

As he relaxed, he pondered his choices over the last month. He had spent years helping Pelops. Long ago, he had wandered into the forest himself by accident, and glimpsed the powers of the monsters within. In his youth, he’d been so sure that the salvation of Calopius rested somewhere in the monstrous forms within. When he was afflicted with the Ereban Plague a few years ago, he wasn’t sure. Near the cot, his book of discoveries and formulae rested open. He’d been reviewing the list he jotted down from the nymph he’d met in the far north on his quest to cure himself.

Whenever he closed his eyes, though, he could see only Pelops. The fury in his eyes when he’d finally gathered the nerve to say he couldn’t hide the way to treat the symptoms of the plague. But Pelops was sure that he had to present a perfected plan to the Rangers. Anything less wouldn’t suffice. And so it was years of trying to create a dose that would restrain the lethal effects of the plague while leaving the power-augmenting elements of the curse intact. Still in the nights, the lonely alchemist could hear the soft singing from within his own mind that began just before he’d assembled his cure. He didn’t know how close to death he was precisely, but that song haunted him. The idea that Pelops was withholding the information from his new recruits, even after they’d proven themselves and completed the joining… no, he couldn’t abide this.

A kettle came to boiling, and he hoisted himself from the tub. He poured and gulped down the still hot brew, waiting for his magical sleep aide to kick in and he laid down. He’d have a chance to right these problems soon. And by now, he’d finally evaded Pelops’s hound long enough that he wasn’t worried about what the retribution might be…

- -

The smell of the fugitive was close. The last few days had proven that getting too close, too quickly, would cause the quarry to flee. So instead, the hunter stayed back. Let the target lull himself into a sense of security.

From the hilltop, the hunter watched the tiny village. Somewhere in this village, there were wolfmen that had been his quarry before, but now the matter was more personal. A half moon, waning, hung in the sky. The hunter reached down to his dinner, pulling the raw leg of goat to his teeth and ripping sinews from bone. With each bite, the hunger in his stomach seemed only to grow.

After his meal, he watched the firelight in the windows fade one by one, as the tiny village fell asleep. Another hour passed, and the hunter began creeping toward the huts. As he did so, he took a deep breath. His mind fell into the lattice of red crystal embedded somewhere within himself, and as he breathed in, he felt its power spike. The hunter’s eyes opened again, and the dark village was as clear as if the sun shone. Another breath, and the hunter’s arms and legs swelled, and the increasingly familiar claws reached from hands and feet. With silent, practice step, the hunter followed the scent to a roofless cottage, and leapt up onto the top of the wall. There, he saw the lump of blankets on a cot that must hold his prey. For his teacher, and his master, he would draw on more power than he had before to ensure this was a success. Another deep breath, another leap into the crystal, and suddenly the hunger was too much.

He sprang down from the wall, claws and teeth lashing into the cot and tearing it apart. When the rage cleared, he looked down to see strange fluids on his claws, not the familiar stain of blood. He cast aside the blankets to see a lamb slaughtered with pouches of magical objects hung from its neck. Enraged at the trickery, and still filled with the song of the red crystal, what Pelops called the Lady’s Dirge, he threw back his head.
Heliodorus let out a bestial cry of anguish and fury in equal measure, and readied his claws to leave the cottage. He made no effort to leap this time, instead clawing through the brick directly and leaving a collapsing wall in his wake. The hunt would continue.

And the song of a distant woman filled his ears.

Interlude 1: War Stories
Summer Interlude, Entry 1

The smell of roasting pork wafted through the salty air. Smoke mingled with laughter in the gathering dusk, as the village’s taverna was filled. Agatha, the matron of the establishment bustled from oven to oven, checking on skewers of meat and boiling cauldrons of herbs and onion. Tonight was no festival night, but the village was sure eating like one.

Most of the attention in town was focused on five strangers sitting and telling tales of the recent storm to the west and the battle that the Rangers had staged there with some great lizard from the darklands.

“It reared up its head, near eighty feet high, it did,” growled one of them, snarling for added effect at the children sitting closest. “Terrible creature with scales blacker than night, and great curved horns. Its breath smelled of spoiled vinegar and bile. Claws like scythes ripped through wood and stone.”

“Indeed, but the Rangers were already out on the rafts made from their wagons and stolen from the night-stalking orcs. Right about the time the beast breathed is foul blast of gas and bile, that’s when the fire struck some of the Rangers.”

“Fire? It wasn’t fire. It was the very lightning of Xiphios.”

“Lightning my hide, it was a death pall from the halls of the damned.”

“To the crows with you, I know I saw lightning.”

“I swear the fire didn’t come until the beast was wounded and they tasted its blood.”

“No, the fire came before the blood, stop interrupting.”

There was a general murmur of discontent as the five stopped to bicker about the details. Agatha set out another plate of kebabs with a scoop of warm yogurt. Hardly had she turned her back to fetch the wine before the first half were snatched away.

“So there were these five Rangers, didn’t know their names at the time, but found out who they were after from the rest of them. There was one that definitely looked the part, a beast of a woman with an axe and a bow to match, hair all wild and fiercer than any beast I’ve seen with my own eyes. She went by Rika, and from what we saw she’s cursed with the beastblood of the north, but turns it as a weapon against the beasts.”

“Then there was the half-orc, a dour fellow with speed and power surely surpassing even his night-stalker heritage. He must have a bone to pick with someone, because he fights as if every swing of his fist or axe will tear the very soul out of you. No one is quite sure where he came from, save that he calls himself Skuthropos, he’s been a gladiator, and he is apparently the son of a wolf and a battleaxe.”

“Don’t forget the sorcerer, that Koboros the Shifting. I heard tell he sought out the Rangers because he was a criminal somewhere near Pittacae. He’s a slippery one, not much known, but you’ll hear what we saw him do in the battle soon enough. One thing I do know is that he must have access to some dark magic based on what happened in the battle.”

“There was the noble one, the Pittacan woman Artesia. She bent a bow like Sylvae herself bends the arch of the moon, and her arrows could have held back an army. Some say she’s the exiled daughter or granddaughter of one of the kings, while others say she’s the descendant of Nicanor Agiadis, the Butcher of Eurysthenes. Whoever she is, there’s a lineage in that blood.”

“The last one you’ll not believe me even if I tell you. But the Rangers apparently keep talking animals as advisors and warriors. See there was an owl there, goes by Bubocrates. The creature casts magic with a glance, vanishes and reappears in midair, and twists its flesh into a mimicry of the Calopene form. He’s clever, too, if a bit naïve. See…”

“Battle!” came the shout from the crowd. “Tell us the battle!”

“Right, right, fine,” said the oldest of the five, draining a cup of wine. “So these five, the Beastwoman, the Wolfson, the Shifter, the Moonbow, and the Watcher, they all are aflame with something not of this world. They smelled like sulfur and blood, and they moved like they had never moved before.”

“The Beastwoman was the first to strike. She ran at the creature launching a few arrows before jumping at its still standing torso. She leapt up as a woman, and landed as a great golden lioness, jaws flashing and claws tearing. When the dragon got a hold of her, it threw her back toward the swamp, but the lion shifted again, keeping its head but regaining a human’s arms and legs, but all covered in golden fur.”

“That was when the Watcher took wing at the beast, locking eyes with it and hypnotizing it for long enough for the others to move. The dragon broke the gaze and swung its tail at the owl, but he became like a man falling through the air, slipping beneath the tail, and then transformed back into an owl.”

“It was that Artesia that struck next with her arrows, see. She moved from place to place so fast you’d swear she was just appearing, loosing two or three arrows at a time from some special quiver, and between the arrows, the big half-orc loosed one last tree trunk from his tree-thrower, and then ran at the beast over the surface of the water, kicking up mud and muck behind him.”

“All this while, that sorcerer was underwater, right? No one saw what he was doing, but he came up from below and shouted at the beast with icy breath that pushed it back long enough for the skin on his body to start shifting again. The owl drew the dragon’s attention while the sorcerer grew to a size that almost rivaled the beast, sprouting wings and claws of his own.”

“That’s when the tears opened in the sky, right? Or was that after?”

“That’s after this next bit.”

“See, the five of them Rangers were wounding the beast a little bit, but they weren’t bringing it down. The sorcerer-dragon locked claws with it, teeth gnashing and tails slashing, while Rika as a lion again leapt on the beast, clawing and biting at the gaps in the scales left by the arrows and tree trunks. Skuthropos was at the beast too. He had ripped out a pair of scales and was using them to stab into the creature’s flesh to climb its flanks and slash at its wings.”

“Then the great black dragon overpowered the sorcerer and threw him like a rag doll crashing into the swamp. The great scaly hide of the sorcerer-dragon crashed right next to our camp, and as he stood I saw some kind of gem on his neck let out a light, and as he flew back at the dragon, his wings left rips in the sky, and terrible, twisted forms fell out before the resealed themselves. I can’t really describe them, but they followed the charging dragon and struck at the black horror. But they didn’t just strike the foe, as the Rangers were now fighting these… things from places unknown.”

“It was in this chaos that the dragon killed Rika, she was thrown into the air somehow and swallowed whole. But Skuthropos, who had pried off one of the dragon’s horns, stabbed it in the gut and earned himself a thrashing from the beast’s tail that sent him flying into the woods. Artesia had been far off thus far, but a gout of breath from the beast caught a part of her and it fought its way closer and closer to where she was.”

“No one’s quite sure if it was the owl or the sorcerer that finished the dragon, though. See, the owl caught its eye again with some magical energy, and right about then the sorcerer-dragon dug its claws into their foe’s flanks and lifted it into the sky, flying east as they clawed and bit at each other. We only heard the crashing of trees in the distance.”

“So… what happened to the four that survived?”

“They were still in some kind of frenzy. The half-orc was so taken with some kind of rage that he started fighting the swamp itself, and left a cleft in the earth that started draining the waters. Artesia rained fury on any orcs still standing, then took off running toward the city. Skuthropos turned farther north. The sorcerer returned to the battle field as a Vishkanya and cast some kind of spell over the area, as the waters turned bloody and the bones of the dead floated to the surface without flesh, then he also ran off somewhere to the north. All of them left fire in their wake.”

There was a moment of silence among the listeners as Agatha picked up a plate of cleaned spits.

“You didn’t say anything about the blood.”

“What now?”

“One of you said something about them all tasting its blood.”

“Well there’s no doubt Rika and Koboros did. Skuthropos surely got a mouthful of it while he was climbing. I heard that Artesia, when the beast got near, took two arrows and struck it under a leg, and drank the fresh stream as it poured over her. Bubocrates was weaving around it as it was bleeding every which way. So sure, I think they all drank its blood.”

“Dragon blood will make you crazy though, won’t it?”

“I heard it makes you super strong, like Aedikles.”

“No, the gods hate the dragons right? It would mean they’ve joined the forest!”

The argument continued as the night drew on, each piece of the story quested and retold, details slightly different every time. Agatha only cared that she was making a month’s income in one night at this rate.

She stepped into the far corner of the tavern where her only guest who wasn’t eating and drinking with joy at the story and set down a plate of food. The hooded figure nodded and handed her the coins. The elf picked up his bread and honeyed his wine, listening closely without seeming to pay attention to the account of the battle. After all, there are few who could best a dragon in battle. Such persons are worthy of keeping a close eye on.

A Breath of Fresh Air
Generation 3, Session 9 (Level 5)

From the slave pits, the party began their upward ascent, unsure which path to take and the timing to follow. When a filth-ridden helmet rolled down from above, signaling the survival of the orc who attempted to surrender earlier, the party quickly decided on haste. Through the grand intersection, Skuthropos heard that the assault from the clan known as the Bristlebacks was at the lower gates. Rika’s arrow joined a battle that would fight room to room, hallway to hallway, as the Rangers fought to the gate out. Artesia kept behind the column of fighting slaves, holding back messengers and runners from the western wing of the castle with arrow barrages, while Koboros helped keep the others thriving with magic coursing through their burning veins.

Passed a guard outpost in a supply room, passed a smithy with defiant orcs who were clearly not warriors, they barred down on the last remnant guards between them and the door to freedom, toward the mines where the last slaves were being kept and the sweet embrace of open air, missed dearly by Bubocrates. During the fighting a tremor cracked through the castle, knocking down Koboros. Rika, still exhausted from earlier, mustered her rage in a way more controlled than she had managed before, and was rewarded with a half-shifted form for her focus and effort. Yet when the last warrior was being chased down by Skuthropos, a new enemy walked out. He carried a greataxe with a wicked edge and flowing azure cloak. Despite an initial conversation with Skuthropos, the orc in piecemeal halfplate had to chase the warrior down the hall toward the doors that held freedom beyond. The slaves pushed the gate opened, but one fell to the hand axe thrown by the armored juggernaut.

Recognizing the danger, the party convened on the last orc that posed a threat to their safe escape. Toward the woman that the orcs called “God-bearer,” the orc hurled another axe, but Rika and Koboros both stepped in the way of its path, Rika gritting her teeth as the bitter iron slashed into her stomach. The mighty orc would land a devastating blow on Skuthropos before being himself falling. With moments to spare, the party swiped his cloak, two throwing hammers, and the grim axe, the first and last of which Koboros would quickly learn crackled with a magic aura. Standing in the open air, wrought metal door to Ironblood castle shut fast behind them, the Rangers took a moment to breathe in the late evening air. To the east, the Forest of Chaos stretched nearly as far as they could see. Halfway to the edge of the forest, the telltale smoke of the mine where the last slaves were being kept was stained red by the setting sun. Their underground odyssey was at an end, and somewhere in the direction of rosy fingered dawn, their comrade Rangers awaited their return.

The Bristleback attack left the Ironbloods devastated. As Lugrin walked the halls finding the corpses of his slain tribesmen. His armor still stank of the filth pit that the half-blood and his entourage had hurled him into. The boarmen took most everything of value from the castle. The Everflame Anvils. The weapon stocks. Most of the women took the children to the Bristlebacks rather than be taken as slaves. The ten he could save were there. Chief Grnuk, if he ever cared to return from the dragon’s lair, would rule an empty castle. Lugrin turned the corner, near the door to the mines. There, he fell to his knees. Who could have slain Tyguk? He was one of the mightiest orcish warriors the tribe had ever known, a veteran of dozens of battles. Lugrin walked up to the fallen hero, heart heavy at the prospect of rebuilding the tribe after this devastation. He reached a hand out to press to Tyguk’s forehead, a final act of remembrance.

Tyguk jolted upright at the touch, screaming in a combination of pain and rage. Somehow, despite devastating wounds, the Hero of the Ironbloods yet drew breath. “Surfacers!” He shouted with rage untold. Lugrin, taken aback for a moment, drew up the wand that could begin closing the greivious wounds across Tyguk’s body. “We will have our vengeance,” the warpriest promised. “Our chief has left for the company of a dragon. But Ironblood still lives with us.”

Tyguk laid back on the cold stone, the faces of the half-breed, the serpentine sorcerer, the two warriors with great curved bows, and the owl that darted with magic in its eyes and talons. “They will pay for their deed. By our dead gods, I swear it.”

Tyguk stood, and collected his blood on his fingertips. An oath of vengeance was painted in blood, and with a word, the blood boiled and burned. “We sought a god unborn,” the orcish hero said to his last ally. “Let us turn to the gods long dead. I’ve seen beyond the grave now; dead gods still whisper. Dead gods still dream.”

Gods Unborn and Hidden Worlds
Generation 3, Sessions 6-8 (Level 4, level up to 5)

Passed the yawning entrance to the mighty highways below, the Rangers made their departure, trekking hours through the dark and cold. When finally a distant light illuminated passage, the sound of speaking orcs met their ears, and Skuthropos alone could make out the words. In the grand intersection, four orcs in varying regalia spoke of alliance under the dragon, yet when the half-orc pressed in to fell one of the envoys, they dispersed to their various holds. Resting for a time, interrupted by a strange desiccated creature weaving psychic command over spiders aiming to block off the tunnel, the Rangers regained some stamina and pressed deeper into the dark, toward Castle Ironblood as the orcs had named it. Pressing after the spider-riding messenger, the Rangers learned just what lay ahead of them: a hold with over seventy armed orcs, allies of the black dragon they sought to cripple, in a castle that pierced the surface to emerge somewhere above.

While returning from their interrogation of the forward scout, Koboros and Skuthropos teamed up to implicate the Ironblood Castle in the murder of the diplomat of another tribe, hurling the body painted with insults outside the gates. Their rush ensured the massing army of angered warriors was behind them a ways, but the blaring of brass horns echoed far into the caverns. While the two were busy engaging in the finer points of orcish diplomacy, Rika, Artesia, and Bubocrates heard the approach of a creature the likes of which they had never seen. With reddish, discolored skin, warped arms, and stunted legs, this creature was vaguely human, dragging the chain attached to its collar. Though its thoughts were disjointed, the patience of Artesia prevailed as some semblance of a coherent story emerged from it. Once human, or something like human, this Log-Carrier had been warped by the magic and alchemy of one of the orc tribes, made to serve a single purpose; carrying logs. With one stout arm of incredible strength and a longer, thinner arm that could wrap over a hoisted bundle to secure them, and legs that moved surely but not quickly, the mutated creature considered itself a living tool, yet described itself as a bad tool, because it sought to escape.

It bore even more dire news; the orcish castle held a prisoner of great importance, a woman described only as the God-Bearer. Hoping to use her to create a god of their own, the orcs of the castle held her as a slave, a woman of great enough interest to draw the attention of the dragon, the other orc tribes, and even a contingent of Zorwans bringing offerings to purchase her. Yet she remained in the castle, where other slaves were being used to sire half-orc children that the castle’s ruler called his “Day-Walker Army” and that he hoped would elevate his clan above all other orcs. Barely containing his rage, it was Skuthropos who had no patience for delays as he heard the tale, and the group made all haste to the castle.

Breaking in through the main tunnels, the Rangers engaged with an initial contingent of guards with several giant spiders. Though they fell quickly, their inborn ferocity made the orcs difficult foes, as wounds grievous enough to fell most others enraged them to a bestial fury. In their second skirmish deeper in the castle, the Rangers would use this unthinking rage to their advantage, tricking many orcs into attempting to leap a refuse pit, only to let them fall short, dying of their wounds while struggling to swim in decaying waste. But this fight at the castle’s great intersection would prove the toughest yet for the group, as Bubocrates was quickly targeted at the command of one of the leading orcs, and several more deadly warriors joined the javelin-hurling grunt soldiers they were now accustomed to slaying. It took nearly everything within their power just to stay alive. Exhausted, bleeding, but unbowed before their enemies, the Rangers stood triumphant over one surviving foe clad in plate armor.

While Koboros ensured the most valuable items were taken from the bodies, Skuthropos pressed the lieutenant for information in the language only the two of them spoke. When the interrogation was complete, the prisoner was tossed into the pit with the rest of the waste. Pressing on, with the former pit-fighter telling the group the path to the God-Bearer was clear, they descended into the pit where forty slaves stood in wretched conditions. Armed with javelins from their captors and roused by the promise of fighting for freedom or death, the slaves stood and prepared themselves.

Among them, as mentioned by the Log-Carrier, was a pregnant human woman, the one the orcs called God-Bearer. Words were not spared here, but Artesia went to help support her as the group made their plans. Slaves who had been higher up in the castle reported that there were two ways out; to the west there were fewer guards, but only forest as far as the eye could see. To the east were more guards, and the mines where the slaves were worked in shifts, but on a clear day, the edge of the forest could be seen. Despite Koboros’s misgivings, Skuthropos and Rika were eager for the chance to liberate the mine workers as well, and the promise of the edge of the forest held the chance to return to Calopius. They were, as far as they could tell, off the map.

In the distant tunnels, the clatter of hooves echoed down the great highway. A massive orc with gray skin and wearing a crested helm taken from a Pittacan king long ago, straddled a boar at least twelve feet tall at the shoulder. In his hand, he carried the standard of his clan. Before him was a column of fifty armed warriors, led by a dozen armored cavalry. Behind him, on two smaller boars, were his two sons, each with a brass trumpet. The orc smelled the air, that sickly, sweet smell of air with no ceiling was growing closer now. The Spider-Clan had helpfully disposed of a weak warrior, but insulted the whole clan by his failure. Such a challenge could not go unpunished. He looked down to the side of his boar, where the three priests of the Wild Mother stood ready to empower him and his steed. But it was the small trinket hanging from his belt he was most excited to use. The Zorwans had, long ago, learned the trick to binding elementals in vessels. They knew not the power of the creature in the lamp he took from them, only that it burned with intense heat when rubbed. If there was ever a time to test the power he had stolen from the horned merchants…

Unexpected Command
Generation 3, Session 5 (Level 4)

The trek was long. Dreams were peppered with images of great flying beasts, the smell of acid, and eyes beneath swampy waters. But the Rangers returned to Last Beacon Outpost to report to Commander Pelops the details of their recent foray south. Perhaps he was less concerned than they expected, but Pelops made the impending draconic attack a test for the new recruits. They would take up command in the face of the danger, and the lives of the villagers would rest in their decisions.

It was quickly decided that answers were needed. Rika and Bubocrates, both concerned by recent transformations, approached the Alchemist for information. Though he had little to offer by means of explanation for their transfigurations, he offered to add several acid resistance potions to his task list, as well as research other potential methods he could use to produce potions that may be of assistance. Skuthropos and Koboros turned to Labrax, the outpost’s monster lore specialist, and began to assemble what knowledge they could of the great and terrible creatures. It was Labrax’s insight that there was no hoard in the cockatrice den that sparked the realization that the true lair of the dragon was likely elsewhere. Harmanjohd’s discussion with Artesia proved illuminating, if a bit disturbing. The small lizard-rat beings, which he called “Kobolds” were, in fact, a mutinous slave crew that attempted to sell him to the dragon by his account. His cargo, some of which was lost in a shipwreck, was largely taken by the dragon’s minions, and either were an orc tribe of some kind, or a trained pod of killer whales; orcas and orcs are difficult sounds for Harmanjohd to separate. Skuthropos, in hopes of putting together a further plan of attack, convinced Grippus to take apart a crossbow he had taken and attempt to rebuild it on a larger scale.

Waiting for others to return, the new Rangers made plans for protecting their home while also marching out. Sending messages to three near-by outposts, known as Opal Roost, Sunflight, and Serpent’s Fall, a half dozen additional rangers were secured to augment their forces. Ennia, now well enough to travel though still slightly weakened from the joining, would further come at least as auxiliary and aide for the others. Pelops and Charmido would remain behind with the still recovering Hieron and the Alchemist to protect the post. Artesia also sent a desperate letter in hopes of reaching her archery instructor Thessalus Haemonos, and the Order of the Dragon more broadly. While the notion of locating a Zorwan dragon-fighting specialist was tempting, ultimately it was rejected as a process that would take too much time.

With preparations underway, the five rangers decided to abdicate local command back to Pelops while they took to the road to locate Harmanjohd’s shipwreck in hopes of finding traces of the orcs (or orcas) under the dragon’s command. Three days of rushed travel got them there, and traces of the band were obvious. Bubocrates was able to follow from the air the nearly mile long trail that ended in a cavern, much to the owl’s ongoing chagrin. Descending an uncertain number of spirals led the Rangers to something they had never thought they would see: orcish architecture. This cavern, perhaps a mile underground, was a great highway, flat and easy to travel, carved into the stone. Skuthropos was able to translate the glyphs on the wall, indicating they were at the eastern end of the road, and somewhere before them in the darkness rested the “Grand Crossroads.” No longer certain what they had found or the scale of this orcish force, the rangers steeled themselves and pressed on into the dark.

A lone bat, high in the ceiling, watched as the orange light of the torch disappeared down the corridor. As it hung there, it warmed itself against the red crystal flush with the wall, unseen from below. The bat would not awaken from its slumber, as a white spider with those same crystalline eyes made the creature a meal in the hidden alcove.

Victory in Flight
Generation 3, Session 4 (Level 3, level up to 4)

Pressing on into the den of the little creatures seen in the dark, the Rangers found themselves in an odd, worked cavern filled with trapped plates and rigged treasures. Koboros was the first to find this when his boot landed on a pressure plate, and a quartet of arrows slashed across his torso. With no means of communication due to their language barrier, Rika, Skuthropos, and Artesia left no quarter or hesitation in cutting down the creatures, which responded with spear and sling in kind. Room after room, the party advanced. Bubocrates scouted enough to find a room filled to the brim with piles of scrap wood: planks from boats, fence posts, even large branches. Still the Rangers pressed on, axe, fist, and arrow felling the small scaled ones in single blows.

Yet, there was an intelligence behind the incomprehensible eyes; one attempted to speak unsuccessfully with Artesia, another was seen by Skuthropos to be scrawling a note in a scrap of leather, and they had adorned the walls with maps of places known and unknown. Eventually, some barricaded themselves behind a door with cages, and a group heard only distantly by Koboros to be rhythmically stomping and drumming could have potentially survived. One mercy was afforded the lair’s denizens; the note-taker was struck with restraint, likely to awaken in a few minutes time.

Coming to an ornate door, the plain stone girded with metal and a brazen disc with spiral emblem, Rika forced her way in with the others not far behind. Within, another of the small lizard-people with rat-like, or perhaps dog-like faces stepped out, this one dressed in a patchwork robe and hood carrying a staff of elm-wood. Hanging from the branching staff were four bird skulls; a hawk, an owl, a hoopoe, and a nightingale. After attempting to infiltrate the Rika’s mind with dreadful magic, the Ranger’s attention swiftly shifted as another figure emerged from the dark.

Black_dragon.jpgWhile smaller than the bears in the giant’s cave met under a fortnight ago, the black-scaled dragon was a more threatening visage to behold. It was young, no scars on its scales and yellow-gold horns unnotched by battle, as their later investigation would reveal. Yet it fought with ferocity. Its appearance was followed by a volley of acid that drenched Rika and Skuthropos, though when the acid touched the half-orc, the red veins around his plague-scar softly glowed and supernatural resilience let him emerge the better of the two hit by the gout. The creature bellowed a warning; “Leave now with only scars, and you may keep your lives!” In moments, Skuthropos had been bitten around the shoulder, and his left flank and right thigh shredded by talons. Rika, the magic around her mind driving her to rage, found within herself fury that could not be contained in a human body, and was suddenly, magically, and violently changed into the form of a fierce lioness, who swiftly separated the lizard-mage’s heart from his chest.

With joined fury of the death-defying half-orc, untamed lionness, and the rain of arrows from Artesia finding what purchase they could in the scaly hide, all guided by Bubocrates’s guiding eyes as Koboros kept a secret and skulking rear-guard, the dragon was wounded severely. As it was nearly collapsing to a knee, the creature hissed a simple warning, “Strike me down, and my father’s wrath will avenge me.” Another arrow found its chest, forcing its neck to rear up in pain and it summoned acid to its throat. Rika’s teeth clamped on that throat, blocking the acid and snapping the dragon’s neck.

Yet their triumph was short lived — you see, Skuthropos would be the first to see the oversize tunnel worn smooth by liquid, a liquid that had the bitter smell of acid, large enough to carry a creature many times the size of the dragon they had just fought. Guided by her scent as Skuthropos saw this and was healed by Bubocrates, Rika found a door that held a stranger to the lands of Calopius. His name, they would learn, was Harmanjohd, a traveler from a land east even of Zorwa seeking to trade and discover if there was civilization beyond his maps. Let free by Artesia, the simian explorer was eager to find escape, though a room of cowering lizard-rat creatures was given a withering stare of several moments.

When Koboros felt the tremors of earth that could be the return of the promised avenging father, he hurried his companions out of the cave, some still wounded and wearied. In the flooded valley that stretched between the cavern once thought merely to be home to cockatrice and the farm of their hosts, the earth itself seemed to shake as a pealing roar echoed from below. In their hearts, the Rangers knew they slaying of the dragon had been discovered, the head of the young beast on Skuthropos’s back as a trophy.

At Koboros’s urging, the Ranger company gathered what they needed and turned their attention toward returning to Last Beacon Outpost. The awakened wrath of this dragon was beyond their skills, they feared, and the best they could do was to evacuate farmers along the way. Forcing themselves to march ten, even twelve hours a day, driving themselves to exhaustion, the group would see the familiar smoketrails rising from the Outpost. There would need to be explanation, and almost certainly they would need to prepare to depart again almost immediately, but for at least a few of those present, the sight of the Outpost was a momentary comfort of seeing the only home they had known in years.

Swamped with Cockatrice
Generation 3, Session 3 (Level 3)

The Rangers returned from their battle with the Ettin and goblins with their gathered animals to disperse among the farmers near Gorgos’s pasture. After significant debate about whether their remaining potion rations would permit them to scale the mountain on the far side of Cleobonomos, they determined that perhaps it would be best to merely engage the reports of the cockatrice nest on their northward return to the Last Beacon Outpost.

The road north was largely uneventful. The trail grew muddier and muddier as they moved north, and two days from their target they met a stuck dwarven merchant. Despite his attitude seeming to anger most of the party, they happily took his coin to change a wagon wheel. For reasons unknown, the merchant mentioned to the group that his merchant’s council may be in the business to hire some adventurers about some business in the caves and connecting the major cities with more reliable roads. With seemingly no interest in the offer, the party left with a false libation offered, and a glob of Vishkanya spit seeping into the already saturated ground, mixed with at least as much disdain as venom.

Arriving at Elijah ben-Kochbah’s farm, the party found the surrounding land nearly completely underwater. barley soaked and the farmers attempting to cut ruts into the earth to draw away the standing water. With some direction and a provided meal, the party took to move after a night’s rest. Each of the Rangers was touched by a dream; Artesia awoke in tears, while Bubocrates sought guidance from an elated Rika about what dreams were. The stress of the road, or perhaps the intervention of divine powers, had ensured their minds were adrift in places unfamiliar.

North they marched, through a flooded valley setting into a new swamp, until they reached a cave entrance in the forest’s arm. Within, they found several cockatrices. Rika took several bites, but none suffered the fate of the halfling boy who was transformed to stone by the beasts. The nests within, along with the beasts, were destroyed in a series of events that left the avian Bubocrates uneasy; he was, after all, hatched from an egg himself.

Just when the party was nearly done in the cave, Rika located a small lever in bronze hidden in a worked stone crevasse. Unable to read the runes, even with the aid of Koboros and Bubocrates, Rika pulled the lever, which caused a minor tremor through the cavern. Skuthropos watched as just in front of him, part of the cavern opened up, revealing a hidden entrance into a worked stone cave. He saw two, perhaps three, small humanoid figures dart back in to the darkness, glinting eyes glancing back at the party. As it turns out, there was something more than the cockatrices within…

Gathering Storms
Generation 3, Session 2 (Level 2, Level up to 3)

Arriving at the farm in question after over a week on the road, the party received a report from the enslaved sharecropper working the land on behalf of a wealthy man named Philippos, who allegedly owned all the land along the road ending on the farm in question. Amid their investigations, the party discovered several clues that informed them a giant or giant-like creature was indeed behind the assault, including Skuthropos’s confirmation of the strength of the creature based on the fence debris, Koboros noting the seemingly purposeful destruction of olive trees, Rika tending to the animals with Bubocrates, and Artesia finding the trailhead that could lead back to the beast’s lair.

Under the pounding rain of a surprise summer storm, Koboros saw a group of creatures approaching, only to knock back potions and vanish. Alerting the rest of his companions, the Vishkanya was able to alert the group as five invisible goblins began raiding through the crops, only making themselves known when the first of them took its moment of surprise to slaughter the sheepdog. Utilizing the best help they could, whether watching the waves of barley or following the direction of Bubocrates as he magically detected the auras of the magical invisibility, they struck down the small raiding party. With those dispatched, the party quickly took to the trail to follow them back, locating a cavern amid the bare rock. The goblins, with faces painted yellow and decorated with blue thunderbolts, were just a sign of things to come.

Within the cavern, the walls were decorated with the same yellow with blue paint, and not far into the cavern the group was confronted by a bear sporting the same pattern, and an Ettin. Finding the source of the reports of giants standing before them, the party moved to engage the two-headed horror, and with a javelin and heavy flail strike, Skuthropos was nearly leveled, only holding on through sheer force of grit and will. Tripped by Koboros’s magical trickery, the Ettin was quickly dispatched as the owl’s entracing gaze calmed the bear. Luckily, in case of goblin intervention, Koboros had disguised himself as a goblin, and moving forward to investigate chanting in the foul tongue known as Aklo, the sorcerer found a goblin scout who mistook the Vishkanya for one of his own kind. Soon however, the goblin scouts and warriors were overrun, leaving only the magic-slinging oracle with blackened limbs, demonic claws, and glowing violet eyes. When cornered and held in a chokehold by Skuthropos, Rike and Koboros nearby with weapons in hand, it let out a flurry of destructive energy, nearly rending the weapons they held. However, a few quick twists of the neck ensured the magic never had the chance to do any lasting damage.

The hall the oracle had stood in held at least two ruined statues of Calopene goddesses, Parthaenae and Cytherea, while the other four were unrecognizable. The central mural was a distrubing image of a spider-like being with a feminine torso holding aloft another humanoid, female figure in a blue circle. From that circle, the band of blue spread along the ceiling of the cave to be the source of the lightning motif. Koboros translated the oracle’s words, spoken and written, at least in part, letting the party know that he had spoken of drivel including a “Bridge-Keeper,” a “Bride,” and and oracle. The meaning was a mystery to the new Rangers, but for now, the danger of the giant was past, and a goblin nest routed.

The adventurers left only the bears alive behind them as they herded the livestock kept in the crude pen with them, Koboros reading the stacks of parchment taken from the oracle’s chest, and a new batch of four unidentified potions being toted as well. At least for the return trek, the rain was a bit lighter.


Joinings and Beginnings
Generation 3, Session 1 (Level 2)

After the shock of awakening from the painful Joining ritual, the party spent a day recovering at the Last Beacon Outpost. The Alchemist explained that the Joining ritual was a means to take into themselves some essence of the beasts of the Forest of Chaos and the caverns below. Taking that essence into themselves, the Rangers gain the benefit of confusing the senses of Gaia’s beasts, which are supernaturally keened toward finding and ending civilized life. The weight of what they had given up weighed heavily upon the initiates, and not all recovered as quickly as they might otherwise. Ennia remained bed-bound, but gave Artesia a silver necklace as a token of her presence and well-wishes for the group. Hieron, still unconscious from the ritual, could offer no encouragement, and Heliodorus was taken by Pelops to another location after his abnormally fast recovery.

Amplesta gave the group four scrolls over their next breakfast, and informed them that as new Rangers, information about possible monster sightings and deeds they could undertake to prove themselves would be provided. After much deliberation about the size of targets and the relative value of taking on multiple assignments at once, the group at Rika’s insistence agreed to head south of Dikethaleos to investigate rumors that a giant or cyclops was stealing livestock. Agreeing that the task was an appropriate one, Pelops introduced the new Rangers to Bubocrates, an intelligent owl who would watch over them as the Ranger-Commander’s eyes and ears in the field. After the initial shock, and equipped with magical Shield Cloaks by Grippus, the party made haste toward Dikethaleos and the rumors of great foes.

What met them on the road north of the Unburned City were not the promised giants, but a group of bandits with skulls and downward pointed skeletal hands painted on their shields. Refusing to pay their toll, the new Rangers made quick work of the half-dozen brigands, offering no mercy to the men. Koboros, Artesia, and Skuthropos then pawned what gear they didn’t care to keep for themselves, and pocketed a tidy sum for the minor effort of ridding the world of common brigands. Artesia then turned her attention toward what rumors the tavern keeper of “The Beaten Horse” could offer. Uninterested in the gossip of the University, he told of a Periandropolene ship that came to extract a single man, reports of small tremors that spooked the horses, and farmers claiming to see some great flying beast over the Dark Forest to the west. A night outside the city to rest and heal after the few arrows they managed to land would be sufficient before promises of glorious battle with some kind of giant spurred the hunters on their way with the dawn.

Welcome to your campaign!
A blog for your campaign

Wondering how to get started? Here are a few tips:

1. Invite your players

Invite them with either their email address or their Obsidian Portal username.

2. Edit your home page

Make a few changes to the home page and give people an idea of what your campaign is about. That will let people know you’re serious and not just playing with the system.

3. Choose a theme

If you want to set a specific mood for your campaign, we have several backgrounds to choose from. Accentuate it by creating a top banner image.

4. Create some NPCs

Characters form the core of every campaign, so take a few minutes to list out the major NPCs in your campaign.

A quick tip: The “+” icon in the top right of every section is how to add a new item, whether it’s a new character or adventure log post, or anything else.

5. Write your first Adventure Log post

The adventure log is where you list the sessions and adventures your party has been on, but for now, we suggest doing a very light “story so far” post. Just give a brief overview of what the party has done up to this point. After each future session, create a new post detailing that night’s adventures.

One final tip: Don’t stress about making your Obsidian Portal campaign look perfect. Instead, just make it work for you and your group. If everyone is having fun, then you’re using Obsidian Portal exactly as it was designed, even if your adventure log isn’t always up to date or your characters don’t all have portrait pictures.

That’s it! The rest is up to your and your players.


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