Regnum Umbra

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.

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.

The Mysterious Artifact, Part 3

After escaping from the shockwave, the group landed and took stock of the situation. Dawn checked for signs of active magic, and found none. He searched the area and found no sign of the vampire's bodies, save for the one who fell on the artifact.

Dawn investigated the vampire's body and found ten pieces of gold and a sheet of parchment. On it were instructions written in Vampiric: "Secure artifact; kill any interlopers; retrieve artifact or destroy if unable to move."

The group contacted the Baroness and told her of the events. She became deeply troubled, and explained to them that the destruction of the artifact was a very ill portent. She told them what she knew about the artifact:

Prior to the existence of the floating continents, the Regnum Umbra was ruled by ancient, powerful beings who were not of this world. The Baroness had been researching those beings — known as "the Old Ones" — for some time. She had learned that the Old Ones had ruled the world in ancient prehistory, in a time when only humans inhabited the Regnum.

The Old Ones created the other races by altering humans to their liking. They ruled over their subjects for millennia, until the races rose up against them. Their rebellion was successful, and the Old Ones were locked beneath the sea, trapped eternally by five magical seals. The artifact which the group had just witnessed the destruction of was one of these seals.

The Baroness told them she was uncertain why vampires from House Vasilii would be interested in the artifact, but she cautioned the group that their intentions could not be good. She told them that, according to legend, the five seals were separated, with at least two on the lower continent and one on each of the upper continents. The only other location she knew of was in Lycanea, where she intended to send them immediately.

She told the group that she would send them an airship to take them to Lycanea. She instructed them to meet the airship at the nearby river.

The group made their way to the river and met with the airship. The captain, a human named Elden Mortimor, greeted them and explained that the trip to Lycanea would take six days.

The airship set off for Lycanea. On the third night of the trip, the group was awakened by alarm bells coming from the crow's nest. Emerging from the crew quarters, the captain informed them that a ship was approaching from astern. The ship was flying no colors — a sure sign of pirates.

Athena picked up Ellanora, and Loache picked up Ventis and Dawn, and the five flew across the gap towards the pirate vessel, ready to attack.

The Mysterious Artifact, Part 2

The four surviving vampire attackers were grounded, stunned by the impact of the obelisk as it slammed into the hillside. The group took advantage of their confusion to press the attack.

Athena swung her warhammer at one of the vampires, smashing him in the leg. Dawn dug his shield into the ground and fired his crossbow at a second attacker, striking him in the side and pinning the vampire's equipment pouch to his side with the bolt. Loache struck out with his polearm, spearing a vampire through the heart, killing it.

Ellanora leaped into the fray to attack the vampire facing Athena. She struck him with her incorporeal hand, but merely caused him a minor injury. Ventis, still down the hillside after rolling out of the way of the falling artifact, readied his crossbow and fired at Dawn's attacker, his bolt also piercing the vampire's left side.

Not undaunted, Athena swung again at her attacker, striking him in the right arm this time. With a mighty heft, Loache pulled his weapon out of the chest of the vampire he had just slain and flew to the other side of the fight, striking out at the fourth vampire attacker. The vampire ducked away from his assault, but Loache left him with a narrow cut on his abdomen.

Loache's target struck back, slashing at the gargoyle with his scimitar and leaving him with a similar cut across the belly. Dawn ducked behind his shield to reload his crossbow. Ellanora turned to attack the vampire fighting Loache. This time, her attack was successful: she struck her hand through the vampire's chest and gripped his heart, freezing it with her incorporeal touch. The vampire crumpled to the ground, dead.

Down the hill, Ventis dropped to the ground and reloaded his crossbow. Athena swung again at her target, this time striking him in the torso, but failed to puncture through the vampire's armor. Loache turned to Athena's opponent and struck him in the side, grazing him. Ventis rushed up the hill wielding his falchion and attacked the vampire facing Dawn. He slashed at the vampire's left arm, leaving it limp and useless.

Taking advantage of the distraction, Dawn, still ducked behind his shield, turned around and fired his crossbow at the vampire facing Loache and Athena. His bolt struck it in the stomach, and the vampire dropped to the ground, dying as it bled out.

Ellanora floated across the battle and struck at the final surviving vampire, wounding it with her ethereal touch. Loache suggested that they try to capture this vampire alive so that they could question him.

The surviving attacker tried to flee, taking to the sky to attempt to escape from the battle. Loache and Athena followed him, attempting to grapple with him and bring him back to the ground alive. Athena shot low, passing below the vampire, but Loache caught up to him and managed to grab hold. Ventis fired up at the struggling vampire, hitting him in the leg.

Dawn cast his numbing spell on the vampire, hoping to numb one of his wings so that he could not escape. The spell was successful, and the vampire's right wing drooped, useless. Unfortunately, the vampire immediately lost altitude, ripping out of Loache's arms and into a death spiral. He dropped like a stone directly onto the fallen artifact, landing with a sickening crunch.

Ventis noticed that the fallen vampire's blood was seeping into the artifact, running through a series of grooves that seemed designed to channel blood dripped onto the stone. He shouted to the group that something was amiss just as the artifact began to glow ominously.

Loache picked up Ventis and Athena carried Dawn, while Ellanora floated, all of them flying away from the artifact at top speed. Below them, the artifact cracked in half with a thunderous sound, and a shockwave emanated from it which struck the fleeing group, wounding several of them. Luckily, none of them were knocked out of the air, and the group flew away to safety.

The Mysterious Artifact, Part 1

While Athena convalesced, Dawn took the opportunity to search the nearby forest for herbs. He returned to town at the end of the day bearing six splayfoot seeds, four winclamit fruits, and one athelas leaf. While she was recovering, Athena examined the sword which Ellanora had stolen from the skeleton the group fought in the forest the previous week. To her surprise, she discovered that she recognized some of the runes on the blade from texts she had read about an ancient vampire war in the world's prehistory. While she recognized the runes, she was not able to translate them.

The group decided to skin the slain demons and ask the village's tanner to tan their hides into leather. The tanner agreed, and discovered that the demons' hide would make very serviceable leather armor. At Ventis and Dawn's behest, he agreed to make the two of them a leather breastplate apiece out of the demons' hide. Though he was willing to perform this service without reward, through his gratitude for the group having saved the town, Dawn and Ventis insisted and were able to convince him to take ten gold pieces for his efforts.

The city spent the next three days in celebration for the group's victory. The morning after the battle, the mayor invited the group to have breakfast at his house. When they arrived at the mayor's house, he greeted them warmly and offered them a veritable feast. Over their meal, the mayor told them that he would keep true to the promise he had made to them the day the group arrived in Ottelruck: since they had saved the village from the demon attackers, he would tell them everything he knew about the mysterious artifact in search of which they had arrived.

He told them that the artifact was located approximately two days' journey to the northeast. While none of the surviving townspeople had actually laid eyes on it, the forester who initially discovered the artifact had described it in great detail before his untimely death. He claimed that it was a large, circular black stone, approximately twelve feet in diameter, polished so smooth that it shone like a mirror. The artifact was partially buried in the ground, and the woodsman had been unable to estimate its exact size or shape beneath the earth — so it was possible that the artifact was actually much larger than what he had described.

Upon discovering it, the forester had attempted to dig the artifact up, but had been totally unsuccessful. Attempts to break off a piece of the artifact were equally useless. Finally, he set out to return to town and tell the villagers about what he had discovered. Unfortunately, on his way back to town he became very ill. The townspeople took it to be a fever, although the nearly translucent paleness of his skin was not something any of the villagers had ever seen associated with any fever. Though the woodman lived long enough to tell the townspeople what he had discovered, he tragically succumbed to the fever only a few days after his return to town.

After hearing this, the group decided that their best course of action was to attempt to excavate the artifact, hoping that their greater numbers and magical prowess would be enough to help them succeed where the woodsman had failed. Before they left, however, Loache used the magic mirror which Baroness Kalia had given them to contact her and update her on what they had learned. The Baroness found their report to be extremely disturbing. In particular, she strongly advised them not to touch the artifact with their bare hands, cautioning that they did not want to risk sharing the woodsman's fate.

The group spent the rest of the day acquiring supplies for the excavation, planning to set out at first light the next morning. That night, during his short hours of sleep, Loache awakened to find himself standing on a precipice high over the lower continent. All around him was impenetrable darkness, and all that he could see was the land far below him. Suddenly, he heard a loud, thunderous crack and a deep, reverberating bell sound in the air. A voice cried out in a language which he did not understand. Beneath him, he saw the ocean roiling and heard the sounds of a great battle.

Loache awoke, disturbed by the dream. He immediately contacted Baroness Kalia via the magic mirror and informed her of what he had dreamed. The Baroness seemed truly shaken by the images Loache described, and once again strongly advised him not to touch the artifact.

After two days of travel, the group arrived at the site of the artifact. Arriving in the evening, they decided to set up camp roughly 100 feet away from the site, nervous to set up their campsite any closer to the artifact than that. As they set up their camp, Dawn cast a spell to detect active magic in the area. He sensed great magic emanating from the artifact.

In his sleep, Dawn awakened to a similar dream to what Loache had experienced two nights earlier. He found himself on a beach, unable to move. In the distance, he saw a light. The light became brighter as the source of the light seemed to approach his position. It grew to become a blinding flash. As the light passed by him, Dawn saw a massive shockwave of water coursing over him. Unmoving and immaterial, he observed the wave pass over and through him, an enormous tidal force taller than mountains. As the water passed, he heard a voice speaking in a language he didn't understand.

Dawn awoke as dawn approached. He told the group about his dream, and noted the similarities to the dream Loache had experienced. Before they could discuss the matter at length, however, they heard wings in the distance. Fearing an attack by more of the demon-creatures which had plagued the village, the group armed themselves.

The group saw eight winged creatures approach their campsite — vampires, all of them wearing the colors of House Vasilii, a rival house of the Baroness. The vampires approached with weapons drawn, seemingly ready to attack the group.

Thinking quickly, Dawn cast a teleport spell on the half-buried artifact. He teleported it to a position in the air above the vampires' heads. The object, even more massive than it had appeared when it was buried, fell quickly, taking four of the vampires down as it hit the ground. The remaining four managed to fly or dive out of the way of the falling obelisk.

As surprised by this turn of events as the vampires were, Loache and Athena nevertheless managed to fly out of the way of the falling object as it crashed upon their campsite. Dawn, already on the edge of camp, barely managed to dive out of its path. Ellanora chose a more inventive solution: she passed through the ground, sinking through the earth several hundred feet until she was certain that she was safe from the falling artifact.

Ventis, however, was not as quick as his companions. Taken by surprise, he sprung into action but was clearly too close to the center of the falling artifact to avoid being crushed. Valken sprung heroically into action, tackling Ventis down a small embankment and saving both of them from becoming jelly.

The surviving vampires — stunned and grounded — turned to the others and readied themselves for the fight.

Defense of Ottelruck, Part 3

The battle with the flying demon-creatures raged on. On the roof of the town hall, Loache moved in between the wounded Athena and the creature attacking her. Ellanora, floating upwards out of the cage, headed for the roof to help Loache defend Athena. Wounded but still fighting, Athena swung weakly at her attacker, but missed.

Ellanora picked up her missed initiative, striking quickly at the demon. She merely laid a hand on the creature's chest, but her ethereal touch stunned the  monster, giving Loache and Athena an opportunity to catch their breath. On the street below them, Dawn cast a leaping spell to propel himself up onto the roof. Thinking quickly, he took the harfy herb out of his pouch and gave it to Loache to administer to Athena.

The monster which had just wounded Athena turned it's attention to Ellanora. Pulsing with magic, it's claws struck her ethereal form and drove her back, stunning her.

Ventis, lurking in the doorway to the blacksmith's shop, took the opportunity to reload his crossbow. Meanwhile, one of the creatures Ellanora had trapped in the cage managed to grab ahold of the hinge on the cage door. With a roar of fury and effort, it tore the hinge apart, bending the door downward and leaving an opening large enough for it to climb out.

Seeing the demon trying to escape, Ventis aimed his crossbow and fired. The bolt struck the creature but did not hinder it. Seeing the opportunity, Dawn cast a fire spell at the demons in the cage. Two of them caught fire, but unfortunately so did the cage.

On the roof, Loache applied the harfy herb to Athena's wound. With her second wind, Athena cast a containment circle to trap the demons on the roof. One of the trapped demons attacked Dawn, wounding him.

Athena struck at one of the demons, but it dodged her attack. The demon which was climbing out of the cage was wounded by Dawn's fire, trapping it in the opening and preventing the other two demons from emerging.

Loache struck at one of the demons on the roof, skewering it's leg with his polearm. On the ground, Ventis dropped his spent crossbow and began preparing a spell. The demon on the roof swung at Ellanora once again, but she managed to duck out of the way of it's attack.

Athena swung again at the demon facing her. It dodged her attack, but ducked straight into Loache's. The gargoyle's polearm speared the demon through the chest, killing it instantly. The second demon managed to escape from Athena's circle of protection and pursued Ellanora. The ghost girl struck back, injuring it's arm with her ethereal attack. The creature clawed at Ellanora's arm, wounding the girl.

Ellanora attacked again, missing the demon by a hair. The creature turned to Athena, striking her in the neck. The valkyrie fell, her neck broken but still alive.

The demon climbing out of the cage managed to escape, and attacked Dawn, slashing his side and spilling the herbs out of his pouch. Meanwhile, outside the village, a human traveler named Valken Balfour approached the town. Seeing the fire from outside the walls, he entered the town and quickly made his way to the town square. There he saw a grisly scene: two demons trapped in the cage; the third demon, flying above it, having just escaped; and the fourth demon fighting Loache, Athena, Ellanora and Dawn on the roof of the town hall.

Seeing this, the brave Valken — a paladin in the service of Sieglinde, the goddess of the valkyries — immediately attacked one of the demons trapped in the cage. Drawing his flail, he struck one of the demons, crushing it's spine.

While Loache parried the attack of the demon on the roof and Athena lay helpless, Ellanora struck her fist through the creature's body, her ethereal attack killing it. Dawn, still under attack from the demon in the air, tried and failed to cast a spell against it.

Valken struck the second demon in the cage, wounding it. Ventis drew his falchion and charged at the demon in the cage, slashing it in the arm. On the roof, Ellanora sneak attacked the demon which had wounded Dawn, wounding it. The demon struck at Dawn again, causing another minor wound.

Seeing that it was outnumbered, the demon on the roof tried to flee, flying away from it's attackers. Floating, Ellanora chased after it but was unable to harm it. Dawn slashed at it with his sword as it flew past, wounding its wing.

Ventis attacked the demon in the cage, barely missing it. Valken, seeing the demon trying to escape the roof, flung his boomerang at it, badly wounding it. The demon in the cage was consumed by the fire, while the other demon fell to the ground, dying from the fall.

Realizing that their terror was over, the townspeople emerged from the town hall and began working to put out the fire. Loache and Dawn took Athena to the town doctor. The doctor revealed to them that he possessed a wifurwif, an herb which healed nerve damage. After he administered it to Athena, her broken neck was able to heal naturally, preventing her from becoming paralyzed. The next day, Dawn foraged in the woods for a gursamel to heal Athena's broken bones.


Defense of Ottelruck, Part 2

After asking the doctor to see to Dawn's wounds, the group returned to the mayor's house and told him of what they had discovered. Though saddened by the news of the warlock's death, the mayor was not surprised. He told the group that the attacks by the flying creatures had been coming every six to eight weeks on average, and that from their description of the scene at the warlock's hut it was likely that he had been killed in the most recent attack — nearly eight weeks prior.

Dawn advised the mayor that he should have the citizens of the village gather in the town hall at dusk, where they could more easily be protected. The group then set about devising a plan for the defense of the town. They asked the town blacksmith to build a massive iron cage, large enough to fit between buildings in the town square. They decided that the fliers would be keeping watch from rooftops, while Dawn and Ventis would be waiting inside buildings flanking the square so that they could emerge when someone sounded the alarm. They also engaged several of the townspeople in the defense, both as archers and manning the ropes, waiting for the signal to drop the cage.

Ellanora volunteered to play the role of bait. Each night, she waited inside the cage, shining brightly so as to attract attention. The group hoped that she would be able to draw all of the creatures into the cage so that the townspeople could drop the lid, trapping the creatures.

Each night, they sent the villagers into the town hall for protection and set their plans into place. Once he had recovered enough, Dawn went outside the town walls during the daylight hours to search for healing herbs, knowing that they would likely need them.

Finally, on the fourth night after the group's return from the warlock's hut, Athena was keeping watch from the bell tower on the roof of the town hall. Hearing the sound of leathery wings approaching the town, she rang the bell, alerting her friends and the townspeople to the imminent attack.

The town's defenders sprung into action. The first of the flying creatures headed straight for Athena, drawn by the ringing of the bell. Dropping the bell rope, she swung at the nearest with her warhammer, but it managed to dodge out of the way. Loache, who had been keeping watch from a nearby rooftop, flew across and skewered another of the creatures with his polearm. As he shook the monster's limp body off of his weapon, he threw the carcass at the beast attacking Athena, knocking it off balance.

Alerted by the bell ringing, Ventis emerged from his hiding spot and fired his crossbow at one of the attacking creatures. The bolt struck true, but failed to drop the beast. Meanwhile, another of the creatures attacking the rooftop turned its attention towards Loache. It struck him a glancing blow: not serious, but enough to cause the gargoyle warrior to drop his weapon.

Another of the creatures, attacking from behind, clawed at Athena's back and left a deep, jagged gash, drenching the valkyrie with blood. Though she managed to remain on her feet, Athena was forced to the rooftop, bleeding heavily.

The remaining creatures sped towards the cage, distracted by Ellanora's glowing form. Seeing them approach, Ellanora flew upwards toward the top of the cage, drawing her attackers further inside, in the hopes that the villagers would be able to close the cage and trap the beasts.

The villagers dropped the cage door, and the beasts were caught! Dawn, emerging from behind his shield, cast Ablaze at one of the creatures, setting it and the two beside it on fire. The first creature managed to survive the incineration, but the two next to it were not so lucky. They burst into flames, roasting almost instantly.

Defense of Ottelruck, Part 1

Outside the warlock's hut, Ventis and Athena were startled by the flash of blinding light emitting from the house's windows. They shouted for Loache, keeping watch in the trees, and rushed into the hut to check on Ellanora and Dawn.

Down in the warlock's cellar, Dawn shook off the effects of the flash to see Ellanora floating motionless in the air, her head lolled to the side and her eyes blank. She seemed to have been affected more strongly by the trap than he had been, and Dawn could find no obvious way of awakening her from her trance-like state. Turning to the shelves which lined the tiny cellar's walls, his eyes lit on a vellum scroll which had been haphazardly stuck partially beneath a pair of heavy tomes. As if on instinct, he took the scroll and pocketed it as he continued to examine the contents of the shelves.

Something else caught his eye: a small wooden box a few inches long, which seemed to glimmer of magic. Dawn reached out his hand to pick up the box, his fingers almost brushing the lid, when a voice behind him cried out, "Stop!"

It was Athena, who had descended into the cellar looking for her companions. She warned Dawn that the box might be trapped — as the floor of the cellar clearly had been. Realizing what he had just risked, Dawn quickly snatched his hand away.

At this point, Ellanora slowly regained consciousness as the effects of the trap spell finally began to fade. The reunited group devised a plan to clear the house and have Dawn teleport the box to an outside location several yards away from the hut. While the others evacuated themselves from the hut, Dawn knelt on the floor above the trapdoor, getting as far as he could away from the box while still retaining sight of it. He dropped onto his belly in order to present a lower profile.

After making sure that everyone else was clear, Dawn cast his spell and teleported the box a few hundred feet away from the house. Instantly, an explosion erupted from the cellar which blew Dawn into the air, narrowly missing the wall of the hut in the process. Athena had been correct: there clearly had been a trap on the box.

After the explosion, the group was taking no chances. Everyone gathered around the box for several minutes while they tried to think of a way to ensure that it had no more trap spells around it. Finally, Loache landed on the ground near the box, picked it up, and opened it.

Inside, he found a single ring, densely packed into the box with straw. The ring was silver, set with a red gemstone and inlaid with strange runes which none of the group were able to translate. Ellanora volunteered to put the ring on, thinking that, as she was already dead, the consequences to her from any curse or hex laid on the ring would be minimal.

To her surprise, as soon as she touched the ring she became corporeal. She tested the ring's ability, putting it on and taking it off, and discovered that, once she had placed it on her finger, it would keep her corporeal unless she took it off and dropped it. The ring pulsed with magical energy, and after examining it Loache told her that he believed it to be an artifact which enhanced magical ability. Dawn looked at the ring and found that the runes seemed familiar to him, but could not remember where he might have seen them before.

Once the excitement of finding the ring had died down, Dawn took out the scroll and looked at it. It appeared to be the warlock's journal, dating back to several years earlier, with continuous entries up until a few months ago. After a cursory read, Dawn found a passage from two years before which described the warlock's attempts to create a magical ring which would triple his power. The group assumed that Ellanora's ring was likely the one which the journal described.

Dawn determined to bring the scroll back to the village, so that they would know what had happened in the last few years of the warlock's life. With this in mind, the group started back, as it was beginning to get dark.

As the group neared the village, Loache and Athena, flying point, discovered a group of creatures approaching the group in a pincer formation. They counted ten of the creatures — large skeletons, like the ones which had attacked their camp a few nights before.

Shouting a warning to the others, Athena and Loache struck out at the opponents approaching on either side of the road. While Athena, attacking one of the attackers to the north, was unsuccessful in her initial attack, Loache's first strike was a devastating leg sweep, knocking his opponent off its feet. On the road, Dawn dug his shield into the ground and readied his crossbow, aiming at one of the approaching skeletons. Ventis, meanwhile, drew his falchion and swung at the skeleton which Loache had wounded, damaging its shield arm.

The skeletons returned the attack with fury, though they were unable to land a hit on either of the fliers. Several creatures attacked Dawn, and though his shield helped to protect him he was struck twice: one with an axe blow to the chest, which was lessened by his armor but left him with a nasty gash; and a club to the armpit, smashing several ribs and crushing his left lung. Dawn dropped to the ground, dying. The rest attacked Ellanora, who had taken off her ring before the combat began and thus was impervious to their attacks.

Seeing Dawn's distress, Ellanora put the ring on again and searched her pouch for a rare trophy: a potion made from an herb which she had possessed when she was alive, a wek-wek, capable of repairing severe organ damage. She took out the potion and force-fed it to Dawn.

Thinking quickly, Loache picked up the still severely injured Dawn and carried him towards the village. Athena likewise picked up Ventis and carried him back. While the others escaped, Ellanora distracted the remaining creatures by letting them attack her. Finally, the remaining skeletons fled. As it was running away, Ellanora saw a sword hanging from the belt of one of the skeletons, and took it from him.

The party returned to the village and brought Dawn to the town doctor, who set about healing him. While he was coalescing, Athena examined the bundle of twigs which Dawn had found on the skeletons from the earlier attack. She learned that it was part of a binding spell.

The Ottelruck Artifact, Part 3

While Dawn and Ellanora were speaking with the town's mayor, Laoch and Ventis went to the village's inn to secure rooms for the evening. Athena, meanwhile, was training her new familiar, a cougar which she had picked up during their journey through the forest.

After waiting for a few minutes, the mayor finally came downstairs to speak with Ellanora and Dawn. Though initially surprised that a ghost had come to his house to speak with him, the mayor took it in stride and asked the pair why they had come to see him. Dawn explained that the group had come to Ottelruck seeking an artifact which they believed had been discovered near the town recently. He also tells the mayor that the guard at the gate had mentioned the town having some sort of problem of late.

The mayor informs them that, if the group would be willing to do something to help solve the village's current crisis, he would be willing to give them whatever information they needed about the artifact. Dawn and Ellanora agreed, certain that the others would be willing to go along with it.

The mayor explained that Ottelruck had become the target of undead creatures which had attacked the village at night several times over the past few months. Unlike most of the undead in the Forest of the Dead, these creatures flew on massive wings, rendering the town's wall useless to protect them. He tells them that the creatures which had been attacking matched no known type of undead, and the townspeople believed them to be some kind of demons. Several townspeople had been carried away by these creatures, and others had been killed where they stood.

The creatures were roughly six feet tall, with scaly, leathery skin and glowing red eyes. They had massive, batlike wings and sharp claws and teeth. Elanora guessed that they might be vampires, but the mayor insisted that they were definitely not vampires, but something completely different.

He tells them that the town had tried searching the surrounding forest for a nest or hiding place of some kind, but had never found any evidence of one, or any sign of the people whom the creatures had carried off. Dawn asks if any of the townspeople lived outside the city walls, and the mayor told them that only one man was known to live outside the walls: a warlock named Quentin, who lived a few hours' walk from the town and was something of a hermit, only coming to town once every few months.

Meanwhile, Athena and Laoch entered the tavern and ordered drinks after arranging for rooms for the night. The young barmaid, who appeared to be in her teens, nervously brought them their drinks, excited to meet a gargoyle and a valkyrie, both of them unusual sights in Ottelruck. Laoch asked the girl, Eloise, if she knew anything of an artifact being found near the town, but she was unfamiliar. The barmaid recommended that they speak with her mother, however, the proprietress of the inn, as she tended to know everything that went on in the town.

After giving the girl two silver pieces, they asked her to send over her mother, Margaret. The proprietress approached their table, and proved to be coy about revealing information unless the pair were willing to part with more coin. Eventually, they gave her a gold piece, which seemed to be enough to satisfy her. Margaret told them what she knew: that a woodsman from the town discovered a strange artifact in the forest a few weeks earlier. He returned to the village and described it to the villagers, saying that it was "glowing" and "reeked of magic." She also tells them that the woodsman fell ill and died within a week, and that the townspeople believe that his illness was related to the artifact. For this reason, they believe that the artifact must be cursed.

After leaving the mayor's house, Dawn and Ellanora meet up with the others in the tavern, who tell them what they have learned from the proprietress. The pair agree to go see the village doctor and ask him what he might have learned from examining the bodies of the people killed by the flying creatures. The doctor, a younger man named Thomas, proved to have very little to tell them, other than the obvious: that the victims were killed by claw or bite attacks, and that the creatures were quite deadly. Dawn asked him about the mysterious bundle of twigs which he found on the skeleton that attacked the group at their campsite, but the doctor was unfamiliar with what it might mean.

After another visit to the blacksmith to purchase shovels, the group set out for the warlock's house outside the village. Upon arrival, they found that the house appeared to be empty, and seemed to have been abandoned some time ago. As the group approached the small hovel, Ellanora accidentally discovered that one of the cobblestones in the path leading up to the front door was actually an illusion hiding a bear trap. The group agreed to proceed with caution.

Athena approached the house and peered in the windows, but was unable to see anything. Ellanora chose to simply enter the house by passing through the wall, and found it to be cold, dark and mostly empty. In one corner she saw a small bed, with a bundle of blankets lying on the floor next to it. Upon closer inspection, however, she discovered that the pile of blankets was actually the body of the warlock covered in a heavy cloak. He appeared to have been dead for some time.

The rest of the group entered the house and examined the body of the warlock. His cause of death was clear: a massive claw slash to the belly, which virtually disemboweled him. The group concluded that he must have been attacked outside the house, but had lived long enough to run inside and collapse next to the bed.

While examining a rug on the floor, Dawn accidentally knocked over a pitcher of water, only to discover that it was running down into the floor. Moving the rug aside, the group discovered that it was hiding a trap door which led to a small cellar. Ellanora agreed to descend first, since she was incorporeal and would likely not be harmed by any traps which the warlock might have set.

She discovered that the cellar walls consisted of a series of shelves which contained books, scrolls and various magical implements and ingredients. One shelf contained a skull, which briefly appeared to be coming to life, only for Ellanora to discover that a pair of fireflies had lit inside the skull's eye-holes. Searching the room, Ellanora found a scroll which interested her, and reached to take it. As she became temporarily corporeal and reached for it, however, Dawn dropped down into the cellar at the exact same moment. As soon as his feet hit the floor, a blinding flash went off, stunning them both.

The Ottelruck Artifact, Part 2

Before leaving Rokova for Ottelruck, the group purchased three horses and a small cart for their trip. They proceeded along the road to Ottelruck, with Dawn stopping along the way to forage for useful herbs. He discovered some aloe — useful for treating burn injuries — and cusamar, an herb which aids in healing. After finding what he was seeking, Dawn teleported ahead to catch up to the others, who proceeded along the road.

On the second night of the journey, the group set up camp near the edge of the forest. Midway through the night, Laoch was on watch and heard the unmistakable sound of something large moving through the underbrush near the campsite. He found Ventis still awake, and told him of what he had heard. Ventis crept into the forest in the direction of what Laoch had heard, but was unable to find anything.

Before Ventis could return to camp, Laoch noticed movement in the woods on the other side of the campsite. Upon realizing that the group was surrounded, he shouted for the others to awaken. Unfortunately, Athena and Vojtech could not be awakened. Dawn, however, woke up and readied his crossbow.

Laoch flew across the campsite and landed in a tree near where he had seen the second encroacher. The creature which approached the camp revealed itself at this point, appearing like a skeleton but significantly larger than a typical human skeleton, standing over ten feet tall. On the other side of camp, Ventis fired upon the other creature (identical to the one which Laoch faced) with his crossbow, striking it in the knee and causing it to stumble.

Laoch dove upon the other creature with his polearm and struck it in the head, dealing it a mortal blow. The other creature took a swipe at Ventis, but the human was able to dodge out of the way of the monster's attack. At the same time, Dawn fired on the skeleton with his crossbow and wounded it.

Satisfied that he had slain the other creature, Laoch flew back across the camp and swung at the skeleton facing Ventis and Dawn, severing its leg. The creature fell to the ground and died.

While Laoch and Ventis woke the others to inform them of the attack, Dawn searched the bodies of the creatures which they had just slain. Both were wearing rusted scraps of armor, but none of it was salvageable. On one of the bodies, however, he found a small pouch containing four gold pieces, as well as a strange bundle of twigs which had been tied into an unusual shape.

The next morning, the group continued on their way, and in a few days' time they arrived at the village of Ottelruck. The village was surrounded by a short wooden wall with a gate and a short wooden tower.

"Who goes there?" asked the elderly guard on the tower. He explained to the party that the village received very few visitors throughout the year, and that their appearance was quite unusual. Dawn introduced the group to the guard, and asked him if anything unusual had happened in the village recently. The guard told him that it had been largely quiet, but that there had been an incident of some kind. He stopped short of telling Dawn about it, however, claiming that it was not for him to tell the group, and that if Dawn wished to know more about it, he would have to ask the town's mayor.

The guard permitted the group to enter the village, and after a short trip to the local blacksmith for Dawn to purchase more crossbow bolts, the party headed to the mayor's house (except for Vojtech, who waited in the cart).

Knocking on the mayor's door, the group were greeted by a tall, elderly man who proved to be the mayor's servant. He asked the group to state their business, and Dawn said that they had come to ask the mayor about the problem the town had been experiencing.


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