Time to Dice

32: Return to Talonvale
  • With the help of Colwyn, Keena and Rana defeat the orcs, and after taking a closer look at the bodies, they realize that it must have been a scouting group on the lookout for refugees. The rest of the journey to Peynol goes by without any further trouble. In the fisher town, Rana obtains a list with the names of refugees that made it to Peynol and is disappointed when her sister’s name is not on it.
    When Keena and Rana get ready to return to Talonvale, Colwyn decides to come along, hoping that it will be easier for him to find a new position in the capital.
  • Back at Talonvale, Lilli and Talareg accompany Tempest and the woodelf Kathra to take care of a job that was posted on the board outside the Old Guildhall. This is why, when the others come back (to her dismay, Keena finds two trophies mounted in the main hall, which, fortunately, turn out to be fake), they find the Guildhall empty. But a few hours later, Tempus Alea, now without Verrin, is reunited.
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31: Home
  • Keena and Rana wake up to find that Verrin had left for good. He wrote a letter to Keena, apologizing for his departure and explaining that he has to find out what is the right path for him.
  • Lilli and Talareg continue to take care of their day to day tasks. In an intimate talk with Pelor, Lilli receives the message that she will probably never see Verrin again – which, given her animosity towards the halfling, leaves her in a chipper mood.
  • From the refugee Meredith, Keena and Rana learn that a friend of hers managed to escape the ettins and that she was hoping he would be able to bring help. And indeed, a group of Talonian guards arrives a few hours later. With them is Meredith’s friend, a gnome named Colwyn.
  • Assisted by the guards and Colwyn, Keena and Rana take care of the wounds of Meredith’s father and the other woman once the cockatrices’ petrification wears off. The guards return to their post near Easthallow soon after. Colwyn, however, wishes to stay at Meredith’s side. The druid and the warlock offer the refugees to accompany them half-way on their journey to Peynol, and they gladly accept. After another night of rest the group sets out. At one point, they see a small group of orcs that fortunately do not notice them.
  • A good distance before Keena and Rana have to leave the road to get to the druid’s home, they split ways with the refugees, but not before agreeing to meet up with Meredith and the others again once Keena finished her private business.
  • Keena shows Rana around the cottage in which she used to live with her mother. A family of birds – wrens which Keena knows from Talonvale – informs the druid that the animals that used to spent a lot of time around the cottage no longer came by that often. Eventually, Keena leads Rana far into the forest that lies right next to the cottage. There, they meet one of Keena’s animal friends, which turns out to be a direwolf of awe-inspiring size. He promises Keena to continue to guard the land. Much to her surprise, the direwolf is able to speak Sylvan but shrouds itself in mystery when she inquires how that can be. Before leaving, the direwolf asks Rana to look out after Keena.
  • When the druid and the warlock return to where they had left the refugees, they watch a band of orcs closing in on the hidden campside…
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30: Here and there
  • Back in the Guild Hall, Lilli and Talareg find out that in there absence, Tempest has begun to use the building in accordance with its name. A blackboard has been installed outside where people looking for help with problems of the monstrous kind can post their requests. There now also seems to live an elvish woman, Kathra, along with her dog companion. Tempest is glad to see at least one half of the party return and even gladder when neither Talareg nor Lilli appear to be upset with his rearrangements.
  • Afterwards, the cleric and the ranger stop by at Anya’s shop to stock up on potions. Anya, who now has an assistant, a halfling named Edwin, stresses the importance of not touching the phylactery that is still in the bag of holding. She explains to them, just as Belendithas explained to the others, that the mage who turned into Orcus’ devil could resurrect through the device – but that he would be all the stronger after taking in the blood of each party member.
  • Since Anya does not sell thief tools and furthermore points out that selling those was illegal, Lilli ventures to the shadier parts of Talonvale and eventually finds a man who says he would have thief tools to sell and that they should meet again in the evening. Lilli agrees, but soon after she begins her negotiations at the second metting, she uncovers that the man intents to kill her in order to steal whatever might be of value – and he did not come alone. After Lilli and Talareg take out the man and his two companions, Lilli discovers that several people must have died in that dark alleyway, as she finds various belongings in the murderer’s crates.
  • Keena, Verrin, and Rana travel north, keeping as close as possible to the Dire Peaks to avoid getting anywhere near Easthallow. Halfway through their travel, they hear two low voices. Too far away to make out what they are saying, it is nonetheless clear that these two persons have a good time. When a high pitched cry rings out soon after, the three approach, believing that someone, a woman possibly, is in danger. Verrin arrives at the scene first and realizes that the voices belong to a two-headed ettin which is cooking something over a fire blazing in front of a hut. A fight ensues in which the paladin, the druid, and the warlock defeat two ettins and two cockatrices (which apparently were the source of the pitiful cry).
  • Inside the hut, they find a dead body, two persons who were turned to stone by the cockatrices, and a live woman in shock. The woman’s name is Meredith and after calming down a little, she tells the others that she was a refugee of Easthallow and that one of the petrified persons was her father. Her sister was “still out there”. Rana inspects the kettle that hangs over the fire and finds two humanoid bodies inside, one female and showing a striking resemblance to Meredith.
  • After burying Meredith’s sister and the body from the hut, the three decide to stay around until the cockatrices’ petrification wears off since both stone statues show injuries sustained before the persons were turned to stone. But the question remains what should happen with Meredith and the others then. Should the three leave them in the hut until they return, or take them along on the trip to Keena’s cottage?
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29: Harbingers of bad news
  • A sideboat comes ashore, and the members of Tempus Alea are happy to see Lady Emberbreeze and the newly introduced Captain Nathaniel who are ready to take them home. Once on board of the Siren’s Call, however, the head arcanist and the captain have bad news to deliver.
    Around a month ago, the most northern city of Talonia, East Hallow, was overrun by orcs. Their hordes were able to raid and steal Talonian ships and use them to successfully conquer East Hallow. More and more soldiers are sent north to retake the city, but Lady Emberbreeze suspects that the siege might be a distraction and that the orcs’ true goal could be an attack on the capital, Talonvale. The party wonders if something or someone is leading the orcs who are usually not known for being this well-organized.
  • In a private talk with Talareg, Lilli admits that she wished East Hallow had burned to the ground. She calls it a place where bad things happen and wonders if her wish will send her to hell.
  • Rana remembers that the last time she spoke to her mother, she was told that her sister was in the process of moving to East Hallow in order to start her own business. While the warlock had already planned to check in on her mother once they had returned, the matter now becomes more pressing. She asks Lady Emberbreeze for assistance, and the elf informs her that she could send one person or more to Dendros in an instant.
  • Rana brings the party together to discuss her wish to go to Dendros right away. Keena, whose homestead is not too far away from Dendros, decides to come along, as she also longs to visit her home. A decision is made that Talareg and Lilli will return to Talonvale, while Verrin wants to accompany Keena.
  • After the others have left, Lilli and Talareg speak to Lady Emberbreeze once more as they hope to better understand the consequences of the party’s trip to the Astral Sea and the encounter with the mage and Orcus. Since the purple crystal was first shattered in Verrin’s vision, but turned up whole later on, Lilli wonders if the party still can see through the destruction of Kel’rorn’s artifacts. Unfortunately, Lady Emberbreeze is at a loss and has no answers to offer this time.
  • In Dendros, some time is spent at the arcanium’s library, before Rana, Keena, and Verrin visit Rana’s mother – who has not yet heard of the attack on East Hallow. In fact, it seems that the news has been largely kept from the citizens of Dendros. In a private conversation with her mother, Rana learns that her grandfather (presumably) is still alive, and that he is indeed a warlock as Rana suspected.
  • The next day, the three briefly meet with high priest Belendithas to give him a quick update on what happened on the Astral Plane. He is horrified when Rana tells him that the mage’s phylactery, the pyramid-shaped box she took from the black castle’s torture chamber, is still in the party’s bag of holding. Belendithas sends a note to Talareg, ordering him not to touch the item, as it holds part of the mage’s life essence and might enable him to resurrect.
  • Afterwards, they buy the last two mounts of Dendros, a horse and a donkey, and head out towards Keena’s home. This journey will lead them past East Hallow, but with enough distance in between so as to not raise the attention of any orc. Or so they hope.
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28: Once more with rage
  • Once more, the party finds the mage in the catacombs underneath the throne room – with the difference, that he has been turned into a devilish figure by Orcus, swinging a tentacle rod and equipped with the power to force others to fall asleep on the spot.
    After carefully laying out a plan which included entering the ritual chamber using the Dust of Disappearance, Tempus Alea quickly realizes that the devil cannot be fooled by their strategy. But together as a team, the party eventually defeats their opponent. The hellish makeup vaporizes to leave behind the body of the mage.
    Orcus, Prince of Undeath, who had been watching the fight, bids his farewell to the group, expressing his frustration: “I will remember this…”
  • The party barely has the time to search the mage’s body for valuable objects before the cavern, and in fact the whole castle, begins to collapse. Everyone makes it out, some by the skin of their teeth. Once outside, Tempus Alea gets to relax for only a moment. Then, the psychic wind casts them in darkness and wrecks their minds once more. Afterwards, they find themselves somewhere in the black forest, and after another long walk, the party exits the forest right by the magic mirror.
  • On the other side, back in the material world, Keena damages the frame of the mirror so that the portal may not be activated again. Rana casts a ritual to detect any magic around her. Relieved, she informs the others that this time, there is no illusion magic present. When Tempus Alea is about to leave the tunnel system, they are greeted by a heavy snow storm and terrible cold. They decide to rest underground until the storm has quieted down. It is still freezing, but the group yearns to see the real sky again, and so they step outside. Their spirit is a dampened a little when Rana examines the snake’s body: around three months have passed since they came to the island.
  • Back at the beach, the group finds the dingy, but not a single ship can be found on the horizon. Another letter goes out to Lady Emberbreeze (this time for real). The head arcanist of Talonvale is glad to hear that the party is alive and reports that everyone back in the capital had been worried sick. Due to a storm front between the Talonian continent and the island, it will take several days for a ship to arrive (Captain Tamlin never returned).
    Thus, everyone makes themselves as comfortable as possible, waiting to be picked up. Talareg and Keena look for game and herbs. Lilli begrudgingly removes a curse from the armor Verrin had borrowed from the guards quarter in the castle. Rana continues to decipher the mysterious letter that, she believes, will lead her to the headquarter of the Twilight Sentinels, (information about) her grandfather, or both.
  • On the third day, a ship appears. Rana sends off a green magical flare, which is answered with a red one. The ship sets course for the beach…
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27: Not what it seems
  • The party awakes in the ritual cavern, supremely weakened but otherwise healed up. Confused, everyone furthermore shares the same dull pain on the inner side of their wrists. As they leave the castle, the party notices that the room to the torture chamber is no longer there.
    Once back in the material realm, Keena and Rana come to the conclusion that about a month and a half has passed since they entered the secret passage at the temple ruins.
  • At the beach, Tempus Alea finds the dingey that brought them to the island. A note is sent to Lady Emberbreeze in request for a ship to pick them up and to inform the council of Talonvale that the party was unable to secure the soul stone. Afterwards, several of the party members get drunk to forget about the defeat in the ritual chamber.
  • The next morning, the party realizes that nothing around them is real, and that they are, in fact, caught in a powerful illusion. Ideas and theories how to break free are exchanged, with the result that Verrin offers to be killed: “This started because of me. It might as well end this way”. Rana puts the suggestion to the test, stabbing the halfling square in the chest, much to the dismay and anger of Keena.
    But only when Lilli silently focuses on waking up – and vanishes – the others bit by bit understands that the solution to their predicament was frustratingly simple. They just had to imagine themselves waking up.
  • The party awakes once more, this time hanging upside-down from the ceiling of a well-known room. It is the torture room. They never left the castle. The pain everyone had felt was caused by a pair of manacles that slowly but surely would have bled them out. Krinen Doushan, the rogue they fought earlier, is also with them in the room. Once he is set down on the floor, Talareg cuts his throat. Surprised by the act, Rana inquires as to how exactly Krinen betrayed him, aside from leaving him to die. The ranger replies that Krinen murdered the love of his life.
  • Once everyone has their armor and equipment back, Tempus Alea leaves the torture room (Lilli burns their blood that had been pooling on the floor), to search for the mage who is now imbued with Orcus’ power…
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26: Best laid plans
  • Shortly after the temperature begins to fall in the throne room, a spectral like entity materializes in between the party members which is taken down quickly. After some more trial and error, the party finds out that the floor of the throne room lowers when the levers on the wall panel are brought into the right position.
  • Passing a few more rooms and a tunnel, Tempus Alea eventually stands in front of a cavernous chamber, and a peek inside reveals that a mage is preparing a ritual in front of a statue of the demon lord Orcus. On an altar lies a purple crystal – the soul stone from Verrin’s vision.
    Although the group takes the time to lay out plans on how to proceed, they do so without taking the precaution of stepping back from the door. When they enter, the mage is gone, and after a brief exchange with a disembodied voice, the party is attacked not only by the now invisible mage, but also by a very stealthy rogue. The rogue turns out to be former friend, now enemy of Talareg, Krinen Doushan.
    A brief battle ensues, but Tempus Alea is unable to stop the mage from shattering the soul stone on the ground, which releases a bone-chilling scream as it bursts into many pieces. This completes the ritual. Through a rift in space, Orcus grants the mage dark power, the eruption of which causes every member of Tempus Alea to be taken in by darkness.
  • After an unknown amount of time, only Keena awakes. She finds her companions on the ground, seemingly unconscious. They are alone in the ritual chamber…
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25: Don't blink
  • During her watch, Rana hears a terrifying scream in the distance, but cannot determine its origin. Soon after, she feels the ground shiver slightly and hears the grinding of stone. She wakes up Verrin, and they hear the sound of stone running along stone once more. Since nothing happens afterwards, Rana goes to sleep. Only noticed by Verrin, the temperature in the grand hall drops to the point where he can see his own breath. As the halfling decides to explore the room adjacent to the guards quarter, he promptly stirs a group of five shadows which have taken the likeness of each party member. It only takes a brief struggle to vanquish them.
  • After finishing their rest, the party continues to inspect the remaining rooms. Beyond the room the shadows came from, they find a library. Books randomly pulled from the shelves are filled with the scribbling of someone gone mad, talking about “eyes of fire”. Behind the library lies a rather peculiar room with only the statue of a maiden that holds a small bowl. The statue’s eyes are blindfolded and a light brown liquid flows from underneath straight into the bowl. Rana examines it and comes to the result that it is not a poison or disease-ridden, and that it tastes sweet. This prompts Verrin to drink from the liquid. As a result, he grows a second head. But after going for a second round hoping this would make the new head vanish – he falls to the ground lifeless and, in fact, dead. It appears that all the bones in his body have turned gelatinous. After some hesitation, Lilli casts a resurrection spell, and with the support of the party, the halfling can be brought back to life.
  • Further explorations reveal a room full of life-like wax statues that only begin to move once the party turns its back towards them to leave. Everyone agrees to retreat, and they barricade the door of the kitchen, hoping this will hold off the eerie statues.
  • On the upper floor, the party finds a row of empty bedrooms, but eventually also comes upon a torture chamber, where a group of elves seemingly starved to death in tiny metal cages, and skeletons is all that remains. One person, however, is in a less decayed state and the area around its eye sockets has been scratched at heavily. The fact that all of the victims died of starvation and/or dehydration strikes the party as odd due to the altered state of time on the Astral Plane – the party members themselves have not yet felt hungry, thirsty or truly tired.
  • The last room on the upper floor turns out to be a throne room, the grandeur of which has been defiled by stacks of skulls positioned around the throne itself and the hall’s pillars. Seeing how there is a small gap between the pillars and the stone floor and thinking back to the sound of shifting stone, the party concludes that either the floor or the pillars can be moved. On the ceiling, there is a circular pattern carved into the stone, about seven feet in diameter, and there are indentations right underneath on the floor. In the far corner of the throne room lies the body of a men who is dressed similar to Talareg and who apparently was poisoned. On the wall behind the throne is a panel with three small levers.
    Wishing to uncover the secret of this room, the party encourages Verrin to pull one of the levers. A moment later, some of the skulls become alive as they sprout a set of legs and immediately begin to attack Tempus Alea. These creatures are quite fast and continuously attempt and succeed in latching onto the face of some of the party members. The group fends off the skull spiders, and a group of large frogs summoned by Keena proves to be especially helpful in this encounter.
  • After the fight, another lever is pulled. At first, nothing happens, but then the temperature begins to fall…
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24: Through the looking glass
  • By chance, Tempus Alea opens a passageway that leads from the ritual stone circle down a spiral staircase into the dark. Once again, the party discovers an ancient, abandoned underground city, but this time the architecture has a distinct elvish character. Eventually, they come upon a metal archway which, as they step closer, forms a pool of water that reflects their image, and Rana reminds the others of the mirror from Verrin’s vision. At first, it sends everything going in straight back out. But when Keena speaks the Sylvan scripture engraved on the archway – “Open passage to the endless sea of time” – the pool ripples and turns into a solid, silver surface. Hesitant at first, the members of Tempus Alea step through one by one – and onto the Astral Plane.
  • Confused by the change in gravity and the way they now float along the ground, the party makes its way towards a forest consisting of trees the kind none of them has ever seen before, obsidian in color and twisted into gnarly, uncanny shapes. Talareg wants to make sure they could still go back if they wanted to, and steps back into the underground ruin once more, only to return after what to him appears to be just a moment. Upon reentering the Astral Plane, he can no longer see the rest of the party. He finds a piece of parchment hovering in midair, informing him that, since he was gone for quite some time, they decided to inspect the forest.
  • Inside the forest, Keena, Verrin, Lilli, and Rana come into unwantedly close contact with one of the flesh eating plants that cover large parts of the forest ground. Later on, they find two bodies of humanoids whose race none of them can identify. A closer examination reveals that they were killed by blades and bolts or arrows, yet their bodies also show signs of ice and scorch marks, making this the same wound pattern the guardian naga suffered in the overground ruins. Furthermore, they find tracks that match the ones they had been following on the island.
    They press on and are hit with a psychic wind that covers them in darkness and assaults their minds with a storm of memories and images. As they come to, they realize that they are no longer at the same spot in the forest.
  • Eventually, Talareg catches up to the rest of the group, and they decide to move forward. No longer can they say for sure which is the way back anyway, and Naga spots a dark castle in the distance – a sight which, too, matches up with Verrin’s vision. Reaching the castle takes a long time as the party is hit by the psychic wind a few more times. Finally, Tempus Alea reaches an enters the obsidian castle. Inside, gravity has returned to its normal state, but every other law of nature seems to be completely out of order.
  • The party solves a row of mind-boggling riddles (doors that don’t do what they are supposed to do, up is down and vice versa etc.) and gets into a part of the castle where everything looks like it has been left to its own devices for decades. In one room, they find rotten beds but also armor that is still in decent shape. In another room, Rana discovers, much to her surprise and suspicion, a ready dinner table loaded with the most scrumptious feast. Unable to withstand, she begins to eat. Soon after, Lilli, Talareg, and Keena give in to the delicious fumes of the food as well, and Verrin has to witness his companions’ voracious appetite. He drags Lilli outside the room, but the addictive effect only wears off when the other three have finished all the food. Only then do they come to their senses and realize that the “feast” had been rotting for a long, long time. Purging their stomachs, they know they have been poisoned, thus the party decides to take a long rest.
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23: Hidden evil
  • The party’s stay on the Lady Serenity goes by without any trouble for the first twenty-four hours, but then the ship’s bell awakes them very early in the morning. A few moments later, they find that a few pirates including a wyvern are attacking the crew. Even though Tempus Alea, together with the help of Captain Tamlin and his men, are able to take down the hostile group, the ship’s first mate is lost in the ocean.
  • Later on that day, the ship arrives at the island that every member of Tempus Alea recognizes from Verrin’s vision: two peaks standing opposite each other with a vast, forest-covered valley in between; in the far distance, there are building-like structures in the center portion of the island. In groups, they are brought to the shore by seaman Connor, who, as both Ta’lareg and Rana notice, wears a rune burned onto the skin underneath his clavicle. It seems familiar to the warlock, but she is unable to identify it.
  • On the island, the party follows a set of three tracks that are about a week old. They lead straight into the forest, partially up one of the peaks, and then down towards the center of the island. Before they can get there, they come upon a deserted camp and decide to rest. During the night, Rana and Verrin sense a force of evil coming from the center of the island, but nothing happens on their shifts.
    However, when it is Ta’lareg’s turn to keep watch, he suddenly realizes that Connor appeared out of nowhere, breaching the alarm spells unnoticed to now stand right in between Ta’lareg and the sleeping rest of the party. The ranger calls out, the others wake up. Rana suggests to keep Connor alive to find out what is happening. The man turns out to be a warlock and informs Rana telepathically that his master would not be happy if he allowed the party to go any further. The rune on his chest is now glowing. A fight ensues after all, and Connor is brought down. His body is laid to rest away from the camp.
  • After a few more hours of sleep – it is Ta’lareg’s watch again – Connor rises from the dead and begins to walk towards the center of the island. Once awake, the party follows. As Connor has a decent headstart on them, they have to watch from a distance how the undead enters what seems to be a ceremonial site: a double row of pillars leads towards a slightly raised circular structure, and on one of the pillars, a large snake – a guardian naga, as Keena points out later – is impaled, its body already in an advanced state of decay; the circular area in the middle is surrounded by black obelisks. The undead form of Connor steps onto the circle and begins to smash its head onto the stone floor repeatedly. Keena rushes forward but by the time she reaches the site, Connor’s body has collapsed. Wishing to set right this display of unnatural forces, the druid incinerates the body.
  • As soon as the rest of the party arrives, Rana begins to circle the platform, searching for magical residue, but only finds a decreasing trace of conjuration magic when she walks onto the platform, at the spot where the undead smashed its head. She also realizes that the same rune that was burned onto Connor’s chest marks the ground of the platform. The warlock and the ranger then find a passage on the nearest of the black obelisk, written in Abyssal: “My lord of undeath, give me access to your unholy sanctum.” And underneath stands the word “Kothalef”, which Ta’lareg knows to be the Infernal name for the demon Orcus, Prince of Undead, who resides on one of the infinite layers of the Abyss…
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