Regnum Umbra

Battle for the Artifacts

After their arrival at Castle Vanda, the group were celebrated with a parade as the Baroness' guards stowed the second artifact away in the shed that was being built for it. Afterward, the Baroness called them to meet with her.

When the group arrived at the Baroness' conference room, she told them that her spy network had determined that the fourth artifact was located in the village of Braywic in Valgard. She told them that a group of vampires had been spotted in the village, and that she believed them to be agents of House Vasilii or House Ratimir in search of the artifact.

She was instructing the group to travel to Valgard to search for the artifact when Ellanora and Athena heard shouting from outside the room. Ellanora poked her head out through the wall and spotted a group of vampires descending on the castle in attack. She saw one of the defenders being killed by a vampiric attacker.

The group rushed down towards the artifacts, which were under attack by twenty agents of House Vasilii. They were being defended by a circle of guards, but the attackers were gaining the upper hand.

Athena flew towards one of the attackers, who swung at her and dealt a glancing blow. Athena struck back, wounding the vampire's left arm. Meanwhile, Ellanora attacked a second vampire, grabbing him by the face and freezing his eyes, nose and neck, blinding him.

Skoll ran to one of the ballista emplacements and fired on a trio of attacking vampires, killing all of them. One of the Baroness' guards helped him reload the ballista. Athena flew around her attacker, striking him in the back and driving him to the ground. Ellanora grabbed the vampire she had attacked by the leg, freezing it solid and breaking it off. The vampire fell, dying.

One of the attackers, this one wearing chain armor and wielding a two-handed battleaxe, attacked Athena. He struck her in the side, but his weapon glanced off of her armor and his blow was only minor.

Henry reached the ground, having rushed down the staircases in the castle to get to the battlefield. He attacked the nearest vampire, striking him in the ribs with a mighty two-handed swing and wounding him severely. Athena struck back against her attacker, but missed. Ellanora attacked the vampire who was approaching her, another heavily armored attacker wielding a spear. She grabbed his hands and froze them solid, breaking several of his fingers off. He screamed in pain and dropped his weapon, falling to the ground in anguish.

Skoll's assistant managed to reload the ballista. Skoll fired it, killing two vampires in flight. One of the attackers flew up to the parapet where Skoll's ballista was poised and attacked him, but was unable to hit him. Meanwhile, the battleaxe-wielding vampire struck Athena in the side again, wounding her badly.

Athena struck back against her attacker, breaking his left leg. On the ground, Henry swung at the nearest vampire, chopping his leg off. The vampire dropped to the ground, dying. Ellanora flew up to the parapet where Skoll was firing the ballista and go after the vampire who was attacking him. Unfortunately, she missed.

The vampire who was attacking Skoll landed a lucky hit, striking him across the face and blinding him. Skoll dropped away from the ballista chair and crawled under the siege weapon, trying to avoid being attacked again.

A second vampire attacked Athena, wounding her but not badly. The battleaxe-wielding attacker struck Athena another mighty blow. Sorely wounded, she dropped to the ground and passed out. Seeing her wounded, Henry rushed to Athena's side and tried unsuccessfully to awaken her with first aid.

Ellanora struck again at the vampire who had blinded Skoll. This time, she hit but was unable to deter him. The vampire turned and attacked her. Striking a lucky blow, he caused her to dissipate for a moment.

Henry attempted first aid on Athena again, but was once again unsuccessful. He decided to return to the battle and leave Athena where she would not be attacked. Ellanora re-materialized inside of the vampire who had attacked her. She froze his face and neck, drastically wounding him, and tossed him off of the parapet. Upon landing, his frozen face shattered.

Back in combat, Henry immediately disemboweled a vampire attacker. Ellanora turned to the vampire who was attacking Skoll's reloader and wounded him, causing him to fall prone. She floated off, allowing the reloader to finish him off.

Henry sought out the battleaxe-wielding vampire and engaged him. Before the vampire could attack, Henry slashed through his head with a mighty blow, chopping off the top of the vampire's head.

Ellanora attacked another vampire, freezing his belt. His belt shattered and his pants fell down, causing Ellanora to laugh. One of the vampire attackers produced a lightning grenade and threw it at Henry, wounding him but not killing him.

While Ellanora was laughing, a vampire tried to attack her from behind. Unfortunately for him, he missed even though she could not see him. She turned to attack him and froze his throat, cutting off his breathing. He fell to the ground, dying.

As the heroes were beginning to win against the vampire attackers, a group of valkyries arrived and began fighting the Vasilii vampires. They quickly mopped up the attackers, though Henry was able to slice a vampire in half from groin to shoulder.

One of the valkyries was directed by Ellanora to go help Skoll. She cast a healing spell which caused his eyes to begin growing back. Meanwhile, other valkyries were aiding Athena, giving her aid and helping her to awaken. Their captain, a valkyrie named Brightstar, led some of her people up to the parapet where the Baroness was watching their arrival. The rest of the group joined them.

Brightstar said that her queen demanded that the Baroness allow them to take the artifacts back to Valgard, where they could be better guarded. The Baroness refused, saying that she wished to protect them herself. Henry and Valken spoke with the Baroness, trying to convince her that the Valkyries' army was much more capable of protecting the artifacts, and that the Baroness' warriors would be too wounded and scattered to defend it in any case. After Valken's speech, the Baroness relents and agrees to join with the Valkyries and allow them to take the artifacts back to Valgard.

The valkyries and the Baroness, along with the group, agree to work together to find the remaining artifacts and keep them safe. They come up with the idea to spread misinformation about a sixth artifact being discovered on the lower continent in the Empire of the Dragons. A new era of alliance begins.

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Chase to Castle Vanda

The next morning, Skoll arrived with the airship. Ellanora found a wekwek in the bag of herbs which she had taken from the pirate ship and used it to revive Valken. Working together, Valken, Ellanora, Ventis and Henry lifted the artifact and placed it within the cargo net (though it took multiple attempts). In the airship, Vindr attempted to raise the cargo net, but the winch stuck. He lowered the artifact back to the ground and tried again: this time it worked.

By the time the artifact was loaded it was early evening. Skoll took off at once, heading for Castle Vanda. Henry spent the trip casting more Bladerunes on his armor and weapons, as well as on the airship's ballista. Late that night, Athena was on watch, flying a patrol around the ship; while several of the others were watching her, trying to discover what she had been doing in secret. Ventis was the only one who was watching behind them, and he noticed something in the distance. As he looked closer, he realized that it was another airship, following them.

Ventis alerted the others, who jumped into action. Ellanora took a flint from someone's pack and floated off the deck towards the other airship. Skoll went to the ballista and fired on the pursuing ship. He struck the foremost balloon and burst it, but failed to burst the others. When the balloon burst, the airship careened forward, and eight figures appeared from belowdecks. They leaped off the deck and started flying towards the group's airship.

Skoll raced over to the other ballista and fired. This time the bolt passed through all the balloons and the enemy ship dropped toward the ground. Seeing this, Ellanora began to return to the ship. The eight vampires continued flying towards the group's ship. Skoll took over the helm from Vindr and began to ascend, making it more difficult for the attackers to reach the ship.

Ventis and Valken took up their crossbows and began firing at the pursuing vampires. Athena and Henry found extra crossbows in the ship's locker and began reloading for them. The pursuing vampires were unable to escape from their attacks, and the two continued firing as the vampires ascended. They managed to pick off six of the eight vampires without any trouble.

With only two vampires remaining, one of them pulled out a grenade-like magical object and flung it toward the airship. Ellanora heard it hit the deck and picked it up, intending to throw it back before it could harm them. Unfortunately, she was too slow, and it went off in her hand. The grenade exploded with electric power. Ellanora took the brunt of it, keeping the others from being seriously harmed. She was injured, but not badly.

The explosion brought a flash of bright light which temporarily blinded Henry. The others managed to shield their eyes, but when they looked again the vampires were gone. Ellanora floated away from the airship, searching for them. She spotted them flying down towards the forest below and returned to the airship, confident that they would be unable to pursue any further.

As the group recovered after the fight, Ellanora hid and watched Athena sneaking around on deck. She observed her doing something secretly.

The ship arrived at Castle Vanda and the group placed the artifact in the courtyard beside the other which they had retrieved. They received a message telling them that the Baroness wished to meet with them.

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The Third Artifact

After a few hours of travel into the forest, the group found their way to a small valley formed by the passage of a bubbling creek. At the center of the valley was a large earthen mound — one which the group realized covered the third artifact. The group set about digging out the artifact while Ellanora kept watch. They dug throughout the day and well into the night. In the early morning hours, the group finally had the artifact completely uncovered and set back to rest.

This artifact appeared different from the other two they had encountered; it bore a circle of colored gemstones set into the artifact's surface, which glowed faintly in the moonlight. Upon close inspection, Henry discovered that the gemstones all had runic symbols carved into them, but neither he nor any of the others could interpret them.

Exhausted from their day's work, the group set up camp and went to sleep. The next morning, Skoll and Vindr set out for the city to retrieve the airship. The rest of the group waited with the artifact, passing the time however they could. That night, they slept again, leaving Ellanora on watch at the top of a tree.

Henry awoke in the middle of the night to discover a vampire looming over him, his eyes glowing red and his fangs ready to sink into Henry's neck. Henry shouted "Mother!"

The vampire replied, "I'm not your mother," and bit into Henry's flesh. Athena, partially awake, heard Henry's screams and leaped to her feet. Grabbing her warhammer from beside her, she rushed to Henry's side and swung at the vampire who had him in his grasp. Not wanting to accidentally hit Henry, she struck the vampire only a glancing blow. Looking around the camp, she saw that there were eight vampires in all, one of them looming dangerously over Ventis.

A second vampire attacked Athena, wounding her slightly. Ventis awoke to find a vampire about to bite him. Thinking quickly, he grabbed his falchion from where it lay next to him and slashed the vampire's stomach, dealing him a powerful wound.

Ellanora, perched in her tree, had failed to notice the vampires enter the camp. She finally heard the sounds of battle and came down to aid her companions. She arrived just in time to be attacked by one of the vampires — unfortunately for him, he did not realize that she was incorporeal and his strike passed harmlessly through her.

A fifth vampire attacked Athena, striking her in the chest. His scimitar dug through her armor and gave her a nasty wound. The sixth vampire went after Ventis, but the wily revenant was able to dodge the blow. The seventh vampire attacked Henry, but his blow merely glanced off of the warrior's heavy plate armor (luckily Henry had slept in his armor, despite the discomfort).

The eighth and final vampire attacked Ventis. He slashed at the revenant's stomach, opening a wide cut which bled profusely. Joining the fray, Ellanora attacked the fourth vampire, wounding him with her icy incorporeal touch.

Suddenly, Valken Belfour arrives out of the forest, having heard the commotion of the battle as he passed by. As he leaped into the fray, he attempted to cast the Shield spell but failed. Athena, still fighting the vampire who had attacked Henry, struck it in the throat, caving in the vampire's windpipe. The fatally wounded vampire dropped to the ground, choking. Ellanora used her incorporeal touch to stick her hand through the fourth vampire's face, freezing his eyes solid. The stricken vampire clutched at his eyes and screamed as he wept blood. Ventis, still clutching his slashed belly, knelt on the ground and tried to recover his strength.

The second vampire attacked Athena, dealing her a minor wound. The third vampire, lying on the ground with a powerful wound to his abdomen, tried to get up but managed to fall, rolling down the hill into the creek. The fifth vampire attacked Athena, slashing her across the face. She was not wounded badly, but suffered a cut across her nose which would leave a scar.

The sixth vampire went after the wounded Ventis, dealing him a minor wound. The seventh vampire attacked Henry, but misjudged the power of his swing and missed. The eighth and final vampire unsuccesfully attempted to attack Valken.

Ellanora attacked the sixth vampire, driving her hand into his torso and freezing him with her touch. He fell to his knees, severely wounded. Valken struck back against the vampire who had just attacked him, breaking the vampire's left arm with his flail.

Suddenly, tragedy struck. The second vampire, seeing Valken as the greater threat, turned to attack him. He ran Valken through, striking him through the heart and killing him instantly. The others saw their compatriot slain and cried out in disbelief. The others managed to parry or avoid the attacks of the remaining vampires.

Henry stepped between the vampires and his companions, trying to protect the others. He struck at the fifth vampire but missed. Ellanora grabbed the second vampire by the right arm, freezing his weapon arm and rendering it useless. The seventh and eighth vampires attacked Henry, but he was able to parry their blows.

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A New Acquaintance

The next morning, the group awakened in the inn near Castle Marketa. Upon waking, they discovered that Dawn had left quickly during the night for unknown reasons, but had left his pouch of herbs for Skoll. During breakfast in the inn's common room, they met a human warrior wearing heavy plate armor which was covered with runic inscriptions. He introduced himself as Henry Silverthorn, and after some light banter the group decided to hire him on as a mercenary for their protection. Skoll told Henry that they were a group of tourists who were on vacation, which Henry found suspect but did not question.

Later that morning, after the group had packed their belongings, they left the town and set out towards the forest. Before they could get past the town gates, however, Henry noticed a man in plate armor exiting an airship docked nearby. Walking up to the man, Henry challenged him to a duel on the spot. After some confusion, the mysterious stranger accepted. Henry asked Athena to act as referee, and the two began dueling.

They attacked one another — Henry with his bastard sword, the other man with a heavy mace — but their first blows glanced off the men's heavy armor. Their second strikes were equally unsuccessful, only managing to scratch and dent one another's breastplates. Henry's third attack, however, punctured through the other man's greave and bloodied his leg. The attacker responded by striking Henry a powerful blow to the armpit which punched through his breastplate and drove his ribs into his vital organs, dealing him a lethal blow.

As Henry dropped to his knees, the other man — a vampire, as it turned out — attempted to bite him on the neck and finish him off. Athena flew between the two, keeping the vampire from reaching the dying warrior. Henry, still conscious, submitted that he had lost the duel. The vampire, apparently satisfied, threw a handkerchief down onto the fallen Henry which pictured a rose with three thorns, each of them dripping blood.

Skoll rushed to the scene with Dawn's bag of herbs in tow. He managed to find a dose of wekwek — organ repair herbs — and one of edram (bone repair), and gave them to Henry quickly before the warrior could expire. Henry was healed, but left severely weakened. The group decided to postpone their departure by a day so that Henry could coalesce in the inn that night.

The next morning, the group set out into the forest. At first they were in danger of becoming lost, before Vindr found the way and was able to lead them in the direction which Baroness Kalia's information had indicated. When they stopped to rest, Henry spent the time casting bladerunes spells, imbuing powered runes on his armor which would provide him with great advantages in his next combat.

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Search for the Next Artifact

The group, accompanied by Captain Warburton's cargo vessel, arrived at Castle Vanda. After they assisted in unloading the artifact and storing it safely within the castle's walls, they made their way to the Baroness' chambers, where they conferred with her about what they had learned.

The group introduced Skoll to the Baroness, who greeted him openly (if not warmly). She told them to make themselves comfortable in their rooms, and instructed them to meet with her again in two hours.

The group made their way to the village, where they bought drinks and food at the inn. Athena took a room at the inn, as she was not comfortable staying in the castle. While they were eating, Dawn returned to the castle to search for the secret room which Ellanora had told him about. Though he searched the castle quite thoroughly, he was unsuccessful.

Two hours later, the group returned and met with the Baroness. Skoll asked her what she intended to do with the artifacts, and she replied that she meant to keep them safe against the other parties who were trying to find them. In particular, she told them, House Ratimir had joined forces with House Vasilii to search for the artifacts — apparently with the intention of destroying them so that they could release the Old Ones upon the world.

She told them that her sources had informed her that a third artifact had been located — this time in Vampyria. She instructed them to find it and retrieve it before the other vampire houses could claim or destroy it. The Baroness told them that the artifact had been located in the Spiestyrna Forest, near the center of power for House Marketa. She said that she believed that there were two artifacts on the upper continents — one on Valgard, one on Vampyria — and three artifacts on the lower continent, of which one had been destroyed and one they had recovered.

The group decided to leave the following morning. They planned to land the airship at Castle Marketa and then head out into the forest on foot. Once they had located the artifact, they could send for the airship to retrieve the artifact.

After a short airship ride, the group arrived at Castle Marketa. As they approached the castle, Ellanora had a strange feeling, as if she had been there before. The group landed at the castle dock around midday. Athena rented a room at the inn while Dawn went outside the city to search for herbs.

Dawn found several herbs and stayed out until past dark. As he was returning to the city, he felt an hand on his shoulder. He instantly cast a teleport spell which he had prepared earlier, teleporting whoever was behind him away without even looking to see who it was. He sent the person fifty miles into the air, leaving whoever it was to fall an incredible distance. Dawn walked away without even looking back at the falling would-be assailant.

Ellanora, who had followed Dawn outside the city, approached the site where the person had fallen after Dawn's spell. She found a body, unidentifiable from the damage it had suffered, lying in a crater several feet across. From the treeline, she saw a vampire approach. He told her that his name was Gruber, and that the man whom Dawn had just killed was his brother, a vampire named Skellen. He informed Ellanora that he had memorized Dawn's scent, and would be tracking him down to take revenge for the death of his brother. Gruber seemed familiar to Ellanora, but she could not quite place how she knew him.

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Transporting the Artifact

Once the dust had settled from the battle, Dawn contacted the Baroness using the enchanted mirror she had given the group for that purpose. After listening to his description of the battle and of the vampires who the group had fought, she confirmed that the vampires which they had just ambushed were agents of House Ratimir, a vampire house known for its treachery and deception.

The Baroness told them that she could have a ship meet them which was equipped to move the artifact to Cinova, but it would have to meet them at the coastline because the vessel was too large to take into the winter storms over the tundra. She told the group that they would have to find a way to transport the artifact to the coastline, where her vessel could pick it up and carry it the rest of the way to Castle Vanda.

Dawn came up with a plan to teleport himself and the artifact to the shoreline in 50 mile increments, since the flat tundra provided no hindrance to visibility. The rest of the group could follow in the airship, catching up to Dawn after a few hours of travel. Dawn began the series of teleports. The first attempt was successful, but upon the second installment he arrived to find the artifact teetering on the edge of a precipice.

He quickly attempted to teleport the artifact away from the edge, but in his haste he failed to cast his spell properly. Luckily, Skoll arrived with the airship and was able to pick Dawn up, flying the ship as close to the artifact as possible and providing Dawn with the best opportunity to cast his spell.

Dawn began casting the spell just as the artifact began to fall onto the deck of the ship, where it would crush him and likely cause the airship to crash. At the last moment, just before the heavy stone artifact made contact, Dawn was successful, and teleported the artifact another 50 miles away.

The group arrived at the shoreline, where the artifact had been teleported to a safe location very close to where the other ship landed, ready to transport it. As the group arrived, a signalman on the waiting vessel gave an encoded lantern signal which the Baroness had told them to expect, showing that they were in fact the ship she had sent and not impostors. Unfortunately, Dawn misread the signal and believed the ship to be interlopers trying to hijack the artifact. He tried to convince the rest of the group to attack the ship and its crew before they got their hands on the artifact.

Luckily, Skoll (who had understood the signal correctly) was able to convince Dawn not to attack the ship. After that, Captain Warburton, the captain of the other ship, came on board the group's vessel to arrange to pick up the artifact. The crew of the transport ship carefully placed the artifact in their magically-enhanced cargo netting and took off for Cinova.

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A Perfect Ambush

The group prepared their ambush for the vampires, setting up a camp on the southern side of the artifact's location. They built a fire and left Ellanora nearby to act as a decoy. Meanwhile, the rest of the group hid in the snowbanks near the artifact and waited for the vampires to approach the campsite.

Not long after, the group spotted six vampires flying toward their location. As soon as Ellanora saw the vampires approaching, she brightened her glow to it's maximum effect in order to blind and disorient them. Two of the attackers, totally blinded by her brilliance, lost control and crashed into the snowy ground. They did not stir.

Athena leaped into flight and met one of the attackers in the air, striking a resounding blow with her warhammer. The vampire parried her assault, causing a glancing blow to his shoulder rather than the crushing strike to his vitals which she had intended.

From his hiding place on the ground, Ventis fired his crossbow at one of the flying attackers and wounded him severely. His bolt staggered the vampire but did not cause him to fall. Dawn, meanwhile, cast an explosive spell on the next assailant, which knocked him out of the sky. The vampire fell to the ground, still smoking from the blast.

As the remaining attackers reached the ground, Skoll surprised the others by revealing himself to be a werewolf. He transformed into his wolf shape and charged at the nearest vampire. Skoll pounced on the attacker and ripped off the vampire's leg with his razor-sharp claws. Behind him, Valken emerged from hiding and struck a powerful blow to another vampire with his flail, crushing the creature's head. The third vampire, shocked at the carnage, flew away from the battle with abandon.

Three attackers remained. Athena swung at her opponent, this time missing entirely as the vampire dodged through the air. Unfortunately, her opponent dodged directly into the path of Dawn's crossbow bolt. Dawn shot the vampire in the chest, and he fell to the ground dead.

Skoll, still rampaging in his wolf form, attacked another of the vampires, this time severing the unfortunate creature's right arm. He left the vampire to feebly bleed out in the snow as he searched for more prey.

One vampire attacker survived, and Skoll charged him, his hatred of vampires driving him into a berserker frenzy. The others shouted for him to spare the last so that they could question him, but in his rage Skoll did not hear them. He mauled the vampire savagely, cutting him to ribbons with his claws and fangs. After he was satisfied that the vampire was dead, Skoll wandered off into the darkness to transform back into his human form.

As the group celebrated their victory, Dawn began searching the bodies for anything of value.

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New Alliances

After Loache's departure, the remaining group continued on in their captured pirate vessel to the port city of Sorin. Upon arriving in the city, they visited the local merchants to buy cold-weather supplies, including climbing gear, heavy coats, and extra provisions. Dawn noticed that the shopkeeper had a humble supply of healing herbs, and bartered with him for five jojojopo herbs.

When they had finished buying supplies, the group entered the local inn, intending to spend the night in Sorin and depart at first light. The inn's common room was empty save for two humans drinking quietly at a table in the corner. Ellanora, ever curious, introduced herself to the two men, who were unsurprisingly startled by the appearance of a specter in their midst. After some hesitation, the larger man introduced himself as Skoll and his companion as Vindr.

Skoll claimed to be an airship captain, with Vindr as his first mate, though he admitted that the two had no airship to crew at present. Upon overhearing this, the others agreed to hire the two on as crew in exchange for their expertise in reaching their destination. Though he was curious, they refrained from telling Skoll the exact details of their mission or why they so desperately needed to get to such a remote location in such a hurry. Skoll was suspicious of their secrecy, but agreed to pilot their airship.

Dawn spoke with the innkeeper and learned that a group of vampires had passed through the town a week earlier, and had told him that they were heading north. Knowing that their competition had a week's lead on them, the group agreed that they must leave as soon as possible, and Skoll and Vindr left to prepare the airship for launch at first light.

The airship took off as soon as dawn broke, and Skoll used every trick he could manage to get as much speed out of the craft as possible. Despite his efforts, he told the group that due to the severity of the weather north of Sorin, it would take them most of three days to reach the vicinity where the seal was supposedly located.

The first two days of travel were fairly uneventful, but by the third day the wind had picked up very dramatically. The ground beneath them was endless tundra, and the arctic gales battered the ship with snow, reducing the visibility to near-zero. Most of the group huddled belowdecks, while Skoll and Vindr attempted to keep the ship from crashing. Dawn attempted to cross the deck to reach the captain's cabin, but was nearly swept off the ship by the wind. Vindr managed to catch him just before he went over the railing, saving him from a wintry death.

Meanwhile, belowdecks, Valken was preparing some salted fish for the evening meal. Upon cutting open a fish, he discovered a silver ring inside it's stomach. The others spent the remainder of the trip inside the ship's hull, trying to avoid the below-freezing wind.

As the ship passes over the landscape, Skoll noticed a pair of snow-covered tents and what appeared to be the remains of a fire on the ground below. There was no sign of activity at the the campsite, but as it was still daylight, he presumed that the vampires were hiding in their tents from the sun.

Three hours after passing the vampires' campsite, Skoll spotted the artifact below them. He informed the others of this discovery, and they instructed him to put the ship down nearby. Knowing that the vampires would be approaching as soon as the sun went down, the group conferred and decided to land the airship out of sight of the artifact and set up an ambush for the vampires' arrival.

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The Pirate Assault, Part 2

The battle with the pirates still raged.

Loache, wounded but capable of action, struggled to his feet and flew towards the prone Athena, intending to pick her up and carry her back to group's airship. Meanwhile, Ventis slashed a pirate's forearm with his falchion, opening the man's arm to the bone. The pirate dropped, bleeding out.

Ellanora took advantage of the pirates' momentary distraction to pass through the floor of the deck, falling into the pirate ship's hold. Looking around the room, she spotted several barrels of oil, as well as a still-lit lantern. In a corner of the hold, she spotted a shelf filled with strangely-marked bottles. She grabbed several and placed them in her bag, including a jewel-encrusted bottle with a gold band and lead stopper which caught her eye. As she loaded the bottles into her bag, two pirates dropped down from the upper deck, drawn to her brightness.

She noticed that the two pirates were standing on what appeared to be a wooden panel. On the far wall, she saw an iron lever. Ellanora rushed to the lever and instinctively pulled it. A cargo loading ramp opened underneath the two pirates, dropping them into the open sky below the airship.

The added drag from the opened ramp caused the airship to shudder and shake. On deck, one of the pirates stumbled and lost his footing; another pirate, too close to the railing, was pitched over the side of the ship and fell with a scream.

This left two surviving pirates. Quickly assessing the situation, they called out their surrender. Dawn ignored their request and fired his crossbow at one of the pirates, hitting him in the throat and paralyzing him instantly. The other pirate, realizing that he would not be taken alive, charged Dawn with his weapon drawn. Dawn drew his sword and killed the pirate with one blow.

Ellanora returned to the group and attempted to aid Athena. She discovered that the jewel-encrusted bottle she had picked up was filled with a healing potion capable of reattaching Athena's severed hand and saving her life.

As the group recovered from the battle, they discovered the the pirate who Dawn had paralyzed was actually the pirate captain. Several of the group set about questioning him. Meanwhile, the rest of the group searched the remainder of the pirate ship for any sign of something which could help Athena or Loache. Ellanora searched the captain's cabin and found a map of the region. Dawn and Ellanora explored the area astern of the cargo bay. They discovered a small room where a woman was chained to the wall. Ellanora freed her by freezing the manacles which bound her.

After freeing the woman, the group returned to the captain's cabin to search it more thoroughly. Ellanora found a small box near the captain's bed and opened it before the group. Inside was a gold ring with a red jewel set in it. Dawn tried the ring on to see if it was magical, but it had no immediate effect. He cast a spell to sense active magical effects in the area, but detected nothing around the ring.

He asked the captain about the ring, but the man insisted he knew nothing about it. Ellanora believed him to be lying. She tried on the ring and felt a strange emotional attachment to it, though she did not understand why. Meanwhile, Loache found the captain's logbook in the quarters. He discovered that the captain had a bounty on his head in Lycanea and Muritoria.

Loache, still recovering from his injury, agreed to escort the woman they had discovered on the ship and take the captain to Muritoria, where they could collect the pirate captain's highest bounty and could later return to rendezvous with the rest of the group. The rest of the group would continue on in the newly-captured pirate ship to complete their mission.

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The Pirate Assault, Part 1

The group headed across the gap to the pirate ship, ready to do battle. Several pirates were waiting on the deck, weapons drawn. Ellanora landed by the nearest of them, glowing brightly. Startled by the appearance of such an apparition, the pirate swung at her, his cutlass passing harmlessly through her incorporeal body. Ellanora struck at the pirate with her hands, freezing his back and causing his clothing to shatter.

Athena, with Dawn clutching to her back, flew over the deck, and Dawn dropped safely to the wooden planks. He attempted to cast his Agony spell on the nearest pirate, but the spell failed. Loache landed near the stern of the vessel, attacking the furthest pirate. He struck a glancing blow at the pirate's head, knocking him back.

Athena flew to the starboard side, striking a pirate in the chest with her warhammer, stunning him. Ventis fired his crossbow at a pirate, piercing through his arm and into his chest, dealing him a fatal wound.

One of the pirates struck Athena, severing her right hand. The stricken valkyrie fell, mortally wounded but still conscious. Another pirate swung at Dawn, but missed.

Loache's opponent struck the gargoyle in the lower leg, a minor wound which Loache shrugged off easily. A pirate at the stern moved toward Ellanora, drawn to the bright glow she was emitting. The young ghost struck at her opponent, but he managed to dodge out of her reach.

Loache and Dawn struck at their opponents, but missed. Ellanora grasped at her opponent's chest, giving him frostbite and sending him to his knees, stunned. The pirates pressed their attack, but were rebuffed by the defenses of the group.

Loache struck his opponent in the leg, nearly tripping him. Ventis stepped in to defend Dawn, parrying the strike from his opponent and dealing the pirate a nasty wound to the upper arm. Dawn struck the same pirate, wounding him as well.

Ellanora thrust her hand through her opponent's chest, freezing his heart and killing him. Loache attempted to throw his opponent over the railing, but was unable to get a solid grasp on him. Ventis struck a serious blow to the pirate facing him.

One of the pirates hit Loache in the knee, shattering his kneecap. Loache stumbled and fell, trying to stay upright with the help of his wings.

Dawn's opponent struck at him but missed; one of the pirates who had been fighting Loache turned toward Dawn, assuming that the gargoyle would be easily finished. Dawn and Ellanora gathered around the wounded Loache, trying to protect him from the encroaching pirates.

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