The Evening of Tammard 2nd, 12 AY (Antediluvian Year)
In the dead of night, the Ismaldean ship Little Horn wrecked on the breakwater islands protecting Artinessa, the grand northern port of Fennelor. This was, however, no accident of navigation or complacency, as the beacon atop Sokol Keep, the lighthouse which helps guide ships to safe harbor, extinguished. Worse, in a matter of crucial minutes an unnatural fog rose up, impenetrable and impervious to wind.
Though the wreck cost many lives, this one held political ramifications threatening far more death. The Kingdom of Fennelor and the CIty-State of Ismaldus are on the shakiest of truces. Were foul play suspected in the wreck, it could inspire new hostilities.
But not all the crew perished, among the survivors an Argan woman of particular natural affinities and an airy gunslinger with a mind for a lizard. And deep within the cargo hold, something began to wake…
An initial rescue party was launched within the hour of the wreck, but the Sturgeon Guard were confounded by the darkness and more so the fog. The city leadership was effectively blind to the developing incident on their doorstep. Measures outside the normal authorities of the Marquis were required…
The Morning of Tammard 3rd, 12 AY
Readied for an extended mission, Vax’aris Deckard departed his home before dawn and made for the docks. He couldn’t help noting a thickening fog the closer to the water he came. Before the half-elf could make any significant headway, his mentor and fellow Wallflower, Tilda, intercepted. She explained the ship Vax meant to infiltrate had wrecked on the barriers. The status of the mage he was meant to liberate, Albermagnus, was entirely unknown. Wallflowers must be adaptable, thus a new mission was born: harness every bit of cunning and magic to penetrate the fog and seek out Albermagnus amidst the islands.
Vax rowed across Whiteflower Bay, named for the myriad crests that looked like white flowers, though he could see no whitecaps today, nor much of anything. Only through the keenest of senses and perhaps a little luck did he manage to ground the skiff quite suddenly on the shores of the largest breakwater island. Magic hung in the air here, unmistakable.
The fog shrouded all and it took long minutes before he heard the angered calls of a highborn. “Bedella! Bedella!” Following the voice, he encountered a horned, tailed, blood-red tiefling who eventually named himself Lord Nathest Tesentha of the Fourth House of Ismaldus. The suspicious and frankly panicked noble was hard-pressed to fall for Vax’s initial cover as a fellow crewmember, wanting off the island immediately and unwilling to treat with Vax in any capacity other than a lowborn underling. The difficulty compounded when Nathest’s mute witchblade, Bedella, appeared soundless and emotionless behind him. Tempers flared and firebolts were loosed.
Meanwhile, Persa Nassos had been scouting the island, hoping to find a clearer vantage by ascending to the highest point. In the fog’s upper reaches, she could just make out the shadow of a tower, but much closer she heard bickering and could see dark shapes in the mists. She recognized the shrill, impatient voice of Nathest even before she entered the conversation and interrupted the tiefling about to launch another flaming gout toward Vax. A brief and heated exchange between Nathest and the olive Argan revealed her services were neither paid for nor slavery. A favor? She was named a druid, a worthless one, as her skills did not seem to lend themselves to guiding ships safely to port as Nathest had originally hoped.
Vax retreated back into the fog, altering his appearance and returning a few moments later as a noble tiefling. If Nathest wouldn’t surrender information to a human, perhaps to his equal. To say both Nathest and Persa were suspicious was an understatement, the former thrusting still another firebolt when Vax openly mocked him. Given tiefling’s resistance to fire, fire cantrips between Ismaldeans are used as a kind of public challenge, not unlike the slap of a glove across the face to initiate a duel. However, when Vax’s chose the name Glory for his persona it immediately cowed Nathest. Through a stroke of truly Rillen-like luck, Glory was a powerful lord within the Second House of Ismaldus.
Nathest’s ensuing torrent of apologies attracted another survivor from the mists, Dexter Warwick, who’d been wandering the island unable to find the shoreline no matter how many straight lines he walked. He entered the scene with his twin pistols angled prominently on his belt. The pale man introduced himself with a rather charming nuance and enjoyed a playful verbal spar with the others if just to test their mental acuity. Nathest wasn’t amused. Bedella emoted nothing.
Glory pressed Nathest for information, though the sputtering noble was too busy dancing around the Fourth House’s true purposes to wonder why a high-ranking tiefling of a rival family had been on his charter in the first place. He divulged there was something of monumental importance to the Fourth House aboard, a source of knowledge and power, but would not exactly define _ what_.
As if on cue, a thunderous crash of timbers heralded a steady beat of heavy footfalls until a claw-scarred warforged appeared. The pale white marble humanoid stood over seven feet tall, accented by deep woods and polished stone. It seemed disoriented, but Nathest seemed truly stunned. Before the Lord of the Fourth House could gain control of the moment, the others were engaging the warforged, asking it questions, and coming to realize this was the ship’s precious cargo.
A glorious standoff ensued, as, pressing his luck, Glory stepped up to Nathest and closed a hand around the noble’s wrist in efforts to intimidate him into spilling where he’d gotten the entity. In that moment, the Nathest recognized the illusion. “You shouldn’t have come so close… impostor.” He lit Vax’s wrist up, or tried, before the Wallflower agent leaped back.
Nathest drew his wand, intent on immolating Vax. The warforged grew distraught over the conflict and froze, while Dexter, still uncertain which side to take, drew pistols on both tieflings. Persa gauged both sides, even as Nathest appealed to his former crew in the most belittling fashion possible. He offered the warforged information on his origins in exchange for his aid. The warforged considered the prospect. Meanwhile, Dexter wanted something called the Salaza, which Nathest assured him would be his, and yet the airy gunslinger was slow to lower his gun.
Vexed, the highborn sent Bedella against them, the witchblade proving quick and exacting with her sabre. She interjected herself between her master and Glory’s blade with arcane speed, though was not able to protect the fleeing Nathest from Dexter’s shot in the calf. Persa swooped in to comfort Nathest when he fell, assuring the man that she would do what she could to spare his life.
When Glory magically charmed Nathest into calling off Bedella, the winners of the conflict were becoming clear. Still, the warforged seemed hesitant. Nathest again offered him answers, at which point the construct rose an arm-cannon. The deep, resounding utterance “No kill.” inspired Glory to halt his next attack. Unhappy with the turning events, Dexter pressed a pistol against Nathest’s head and crooked an arm under his throat. The druid remained a neutral party, especially since she was first to hear the approach of others. The idea of just transforming into a bird and flying away from this whole fiasco was looking better and better…
Nathest defiantly sent Bedella into the mists, perhaps to find allies or mount a rescue at some later point, or maybe just exact his revenge by assassinating the party in their sleep, but when the hammer clicked backward he nervously divulged Dexter’s Salaza had been in his cabin aboard the ship. That was enough for the pale man, though he was loathe to remove the barrel from the nobleman’s temple with an unstable warforge cannon and the growing sounds of others about to join their little party. Given the fact Albermagnus was still missing, the disguised Vax also had a reason to seek out the wreck.
The shadows solidified into other survivors of the Little Horn, predominantly tieflings with a few human pirates mixed in. Among them stood three Ismaldean nobles of the Fourth House. A long-fingered tiefling lacking a tail, Kithyss, seemed to half-glide and half-levitate a few feet closer to Dexter and Nathest. He plainly stated his goal was to see his elder cousin survive the ordeal, leading to a brief parlay. Glory attempted to cow them with his station, but Kithyss, in the most polite way possible, dismissed his standing when it came to personal matters of their family.
It was eventually decided that both groups should cooperate in order to escape the island. Swearing upon the seal of their house, Kithyss promised to aid them as best he could in meeting their goals upon the beach. Moreover, his forces would not attack should they relinquish Nathest, which Dexter eventually did.
The furious Lord Nathest stormed off into the mists shouting for his witchblade just like before, a cadre of tieflings and pirates following after him. He did turn and let his gaze linger on the warforged, though, an angry, covetous glare. And the party would have been remiss not recognizing the looks of surprise, wonder, and simmering ambition that painted the faces of the other tiefling noblemen at first sight of the marbled warforged.
The construct lowered his weapon and agreed to lead the party to the wreck, though it took time to find the relatively close site within the harrowing fog. Glory was able to treat with the entity, if briefly, thanking him for his help and recognizing him as a powerful ally.
The Little Horn lay dead and ravaged against the rocky beach. Its contents, as well as many of its crew, bobbed and sprawled in the prodding tide. Dexter, Glory, and Persa immediately scoured the stretch of ruin for very, very specific and very, very different quarries.
Glory searched for Albermagnus within the remnants of the hold, half-flooded and choked with corpses. He sensed the afterglow of a mage, if quite faint beneath the water. The disguised half-elf plunged his hand beneath the water and pulled out the old, brown hand of Albermagnus still shackled to the wall! It looked as if it’d been severed by something white hot, a spell, in fact. From there he was able to backtrack onto the beach, where a bloody trail led northeast.
During the searching, Dexter noticed Glory had a special talent for sensing magic, which clearly intrigued the pistoleer. After Glory remarked there was something elemental in Dexter’s nature, guessing he was probably part genie, the gunslinger was impressed. Dexter affirmed Glory’s skill could be useful to him in the future…
More useful in the present, however, was the contents in a cage three-quarters buried he noticed then in the sand. Dexter leaped onto the heap and dug out a cage containing a small, electric-blue lizard with large, yellow eyes. The genasi’s eyes widened similarly. He’d found it. The others watched as he gingerly removed the creature from the cage and produced from his person an ugly, dried beetle. The lizard immediately began to salivate, at which point Dexter deftly moved his fingers in a way to both hold the animal, collect the droplets of saliva, and eventually feed the beastie. Instant friends, the lizard scurried up Dexter’s arm, to his shoulder, up his neck, and looped its tail around his ear. Dexter, then, experimented with the saliva, lighting it with a minute spark and reveling when it produced a fiery burst. Its saliva was indeed combustible… and quite potent, at that. A single lizard could produce, he postulated, enough saliva for personal use. If properly bred, they could revolutionize the Corsan weapons industry!
During this flashy distraction, Kithyss slipped beside the warforged. He asked what connection the construct had with the party, which, to the tiefling, seemed tenuous at best and far too one-sided. He warned the warforged not to be used as merely a weapon or a shield, not when the Ismaldeans were offering to fulfill his real desire and unlock his potential and purpose. Vax noticed the whispering too late and wandered over in mock-search at the tail end of the conversation. “Decide for yourself if you are used as weapon and armor, or if they have your true purpose at heart…”
Kithyss then moved to Persa, where a rather intense negotiation was had, one that looked to have ended poorly for the tiefling. Half of it revolved around the black book the druid found whilst rummaging for a ship’s log. It was an Ismaldean Book of Shadows that once belonged to a mage who perished in the wreck, a proprietary tome of magic that held familial arcane secrets. When Persa refused to relinquish it, Kithyss’s body language suggested he might actually attack her, but outnumbered he simply withdrew with a cold, shrewd expression.
Glory sat with the warforged, assuring he was not using the construct merely for its combat potential. He genuinely wanted to see its best interests fulfilled, to which the construct was even-toned, if unconvinced. Vax lowered his tiefling guise, knowing the fog would still hide him from the rest, allowing the construct to see his true person and learn his true name. Vax pressed that in order to escape the island, feats of strength or power may be required. The party as a whole may need to call on each other’s resources to escape. That seemed a fair and logical appeal to the warforged. They were all of them allies. Of course, then Persa slipped into the fog and shifted into a giant eagle. From there she took to the sky and escaped all on her own.
The Afternoon of Tammard 3rd, 12 AY
Once in the air, the Argan noticed other shadows in the fog, quite a lot of shambling forms, actually, all of them heading for the city proper. They seemed unperturbed walking inexorable into the water, even when the waves rushed over their heads. While she valued life as much as the next person, there were Nassos investments that could not be easily recuperated in Artinessa. In fact, her family’s fate and the city’s were intimately linked for the time being. She made for the nearest guard outpost, landing in a spectacular flourish and transforming back into her human form.
She met with the commander of the Sturgeon Guard, city soldiery concerned with all common and maritime issues, as opposed to the Heron Guard, meant for nobler purposes. He was a traditional dwarf, by that he still held to the old notions of honor, dressing accordingly in classic dwarven garb and wielding an axe. Since the Deluge, many of his people clung to the last of the surviving dwarven gods, Tiberio, and took to the seas as merchants of the God of Coin. Dwarven goods were a prized commodity and many of his kin were very wealthy guildmasters and merchant lords the globe over.
Persa informed Sergeant General Haburd, chiefest of Sturgeons, of the threat of zombies or worse approaching the city, and that there were Ismaldean survivors. She agreed to lead a rescue party through the fog in order to retrieve the tieflings and with any luck avoid an international incident. To do so, she transformed again into the form of a majestic giant eagle, but also summoned forth spectral flames to make herself an obvious beacon. Within the hour, the guard were ready, and she lit the way across.
Glory (Vax resumed his glamour), Dexter, little Salaza, Kithyss, and the warforged followed the mage’s trail, coming to the towering, fog-choked Sokol Keep atop a rocky spur. A slick, winding staircase cut upward the cliff to a proper castle gate. At the base of the spur stood several cottages, likely the homes of the caretakers and castle personnel. Glory and Kithyss both tasted something foul in the air, a growing hint of necromancy.
While signs of Albermagnus faded, the shadows of a panicked family materialized in the shroud. A child and two adults ran full speed toward the group, arms wide. Hesitant, suspicious, fearful, knowing, Glory could not bring himself to attack the charging individuals until he knew for certain they weren’t panicked. The child leaped into his arms and bit down hard on his neck, a ghoul! His glamour flickered out and his half-elf form was revealed washed in arterial blood.
The party had little time to react, really, as ghoulish parents scrambled in and a very difficult, bloody battle ensued. The ghouls were horrendously quick and their claws and teeth wet with a paralyzing enzyme. It took the full force of Glory, Dexter, and Al-I to overcome the creatures. At the height of danger, Kithyss slunk away.
When the ghouls were again inanimate corpses on the sand, including a creepy severed hand, Dexter hurried to provide aid to the little, protective lizard that was crushed in the jaws of a mommy ghoul. It was dying. This entire ordeal would be wasted should that happen! Vax provided the last droplets of his healing potions in order to stabilize the creature, which then hid in Dexter’s pocket. The shootist was indebted.
They decided to hunker down in the caretaker cottage, after checking that it was clear, of course, taking turns at watch and mending wounds. The warforged, whose arm had nearly been chewed through by the ghouls, ripped and repurposed materials from the house to heal itself. Strange, swirling formulae glowed around its marble form, like it had whenever the construct fired its cannon. During the down time, the trio had time to share a little more of themselves and their purposes on the island. The construct, inspired, decided upon a name: Al-I.
They noticed, then, a fiery bird crossing through the fog and landing on the beach. The Sturgeon Guard and Persa had arrived, but the light and noise drew the attention of the island’s undead: a mixture of Little Horn victims, Sokol vassals, and some very old looking corpses, skeletons, really, infested with barnacles. A large-scale battle commenced.
Luckily, the trio of Vax, Dexter, and Al-I had eschewed meeting the guard to follow the steps up to the castle gates. The portcullis was heavy, but the three of them managed to struggle their way into the narrow hall of the gatehouse, complete with murder holes. Skeletal archers appeared above, aiming and firing at the penned crew.
A great eagle appeared then, eventually landing in the courtyard and pulling the chains in order to open the second portcullis. Realizing it was a friendly bird, the trip rushed forward and out of the archers’ lines of sight. Persa transformed back and updated them on the situation within the city. There was more on the line than just a political incident. Artinessa herself was in imminent danger.
Vax sensed a powerful necromantic emanation beneath the lighthouse, across the courtyard, beyond the old Sokol Manor. The pressed through the fog, along the way drawing the ire of no less than nine ghouls upon the walls. Their light jog became a full sprint as the hungry noises and scratch of nails against stone spurred them on. The lighthouse door was locked, but Al-I rammed a heavy foot against the timber and knocked it off its hinges.
In moments the ghouls threw themselves toward the opening, but Al-I threw the door back up and held it fast. The party barricaded the door with spare beams, only to find there was no means of passing under the lighthouse to the necromantic emanation. Effectively trapped, there was no way to go but up. Vax in the lead, they passed a floor level with access to the battlements, then up a third and finally the height of the beacon.
The party discovered a large, dull quartz in the center of a huge bronze basin, once the conduit of some sort of illuminating magic. Apparently a mundane fire wasn’t enough for the waters around Artinessa. Still unable to locate a trigger or lever to access the chambers beneath the lighthouse, the party was at least afforded a fog-choked lay of the land.
The slavering ghouls surged over the ledge, having chased the party up to the beacon with their eerie spider-climbing. Dexter speculated the passage beneath the lighthouse may in fact be accessed through the manor. Assessing the jump in a split-second, the handsome cloud and Al-I crossed the open span to the sloped roof of the central manor, the former landing gracefully with a tuft of wind and the latter scattering abundant shingles and snapping the whale-shaped weather vane.
Cornered and out of time, the fishwife shuffled through her known forms and settled on the black, bristly shape of a giant spider! The half-elf scrambled onto her back (with a slight revulsion) before she leaped across the chasm between the curtain wall and the manor roof. Descending far too quickly, Persa shot a web in a desperate attempt to swing to the other side. She came up short, careening to the ground on top of Vax. At least the ghouls were still upon the lighthouse, but Vax had lost consciousness twenty feet before the manor doors.
- The Book of Shadows, Vol. 4 (Persa) – Proprietary spellbook of the Fourth House of Ismaldus, containing several hereditary spells not found outside the infernal island or the Fourth House itself
- 2 Vials of Concentrated Ghoul Drool (Dexter) – When applied to ammunition, successful hits force Con save DC 14 or target speed is reduced to 0.
- Salaza (Dexter)- A lizard’s combustible saliva promises to revolutionize modern weaponry