Arulia

It Begins With Starfall

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A Priori Colleague of the Collegium Arcanum, named Chance, arrived in the trade town of Kechner, where there was a minor religious festival going on. Local to the crossroads town, the spring Festival of Nyan observes Nyan’s tears, which fall from the sky in a decorative display that typically lights up the night. This year, an especially bright display was forecast by Elverion, the tenured academic and astronomer of Lady Tuala, Lady of the manor and administrator of Kechner.

Chance came to observe the phenomenon, having a number of arcane theories about the nature of the tears. In town, the festival carried on all day. Chance met up with Kismet, a plucky barmaid, and her friends: Karl, a socially awkward, monstrous-appearing man who tends to keep to the shadows, but somehow trusts Kismet; Bella, a young elven lady, lately ward of the temple of Nyan; Priya, brassy paladin of the one-armed Sleadren, Goddess of Fate; and Jay, a young human man with a touch of fey blood, who sings for the entertainment of the whole Silver Stag tavern. Together, they savor the wonders of the festival and join up to enjoy the coming display of the Tears of Nyan after sunset.

Initially the lights in the sky drew oohs and ahhs, from the assembled onlookers. However, wonder turned to tragedy when the Tears fell explosively to the earth, disgorging beasts consisting of all mouths and tentacles. The falling pods destroyed buildings in the town, and fires started to burn anything that would catch. with the help of Brahn, a strange male half-orc priest of the goddess Nyan (whose clergy are always women), they managed to defeat a few of the beasts that approached the helpless townsfolk. Amidst the carnage, much of the trade town was destroyed. Lady Tuala took command, however. Leading the townsfolk to the wine cellar of her keep, she managed to prevent many casualties that might have occurred had the townsfolk been left exposed above.

Kismet, the plucky barmaid, managed to somehow loosen the lock leading deeper underground, that stone door at the back of the wine cellar, leading to the family crypt beneath the manor house. Before she had the opportunity to announce it to the crowd however, the Lady appeared at her shoulder. ‘Would we not be safe down here?’ Kismet asked. Tuala informed her that it would be a violation of her ancestors’ sanctity, and the presence of so many would defile the spirits of the dead. Kismet was about to argue, when a disturbance at the entrance to the cellars drew everyone’s attention.

One of the tentacled beasts had found its way to the cellar. Brahn, Priya, Chance, and Bella managed to hold the beast at bay. Deftly winding his way through the crowd, somehow spotting every gap between the many people crowded into the room, Karl slipped close and dealt the creature a staggering blow, after which, Bella, the young elven girl, released a bolt of magic from her fingertips and slew the beast.

Fascinated by the remains of the creature, Chance and Elverrion discussed its features, its possible origin, its nature … And Chance reasoned that it was from a far realm deep in the darkest depths of the universe. Above all, it was critical that they stop any more such creatures that might be out there. Priya agreed to lead a small group of people, including Jay, Kismet, Chance, Karl, and Bella; and Brahn would go to make sure they had healing magics available to them. Lady Tuala sent two of her armed guard to escort them.

Finding several unopened pods in craters nearby, they were repelled by the great heat. Unable to approach, they observed a pod opening, and two tentacled beasts emerged, which sensed nearby life and moved to attack. One was killed before landing a blow, but the other wrapped its tentacles around one of the guardsmen. The rest of the group managed to kill it before much damage was done, but the beast was sealed fast to the poor guardsman’s flesh. Its flesh had flowed around its victim’s protective clothing and grafted to the man’s skin. As the beast hovered on the brink of death, any harm inflicted upon it was felt by its victim. They brought the man back to the manor, where Chance and Elverrion dithered over the proper way to remove it. Suddenly Bella seized the creature’s rubbery flesh, commanded the half-orc priest, “Heal him,” and tore the monster from the helpless man. Although he screamed in agony as his flesh was rent open, the healing magic soon quieted him, and he lapsed mercifully into unconsciousness to recover, the danger past.

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The Corrupted Goblins

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Lady Tuala generously offered rooms in the manor house as a refuge for the displaced townsfolk. The whole town was camped, army-style, in rooms throughout the house. In the morning, sweeps were made through the town to ensure it was safe, and the Lady gathered the heroes of the previous night, the only ones with experience in dealing with the creatures, to discuss plans.

Elverion suggested the goblins, nearby in the forest, might be responsible, as their shaman had recently collected a quantity of strange magical writings he would not share, despite the treaties in place. The new compatriots were asked to go and find out if the goblins had attempted to nullify the treaty. They should go under truce, but be prepared for a fight. On the way there, they encountered a horse, which had been infected by the tentacled creatures, and was changed, made into a wild ravenous beast, its skin coated in slime, its teeth turned to fangs. Killing the horse, they found a swollen outline of approximately the same size and shape as a tentacled creature, but no separate body. They reasoned that the creature had wholly merged with its victim to corrupt it completely.

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As they approached the goblin caves, they were met by two goblins, who claimed that Chief Kogar no longer talked to the wizard Khamad. That Khamad had been talking only to Gwardesh, lately. Gwardesh was a tall-one, like them, but wore a cloak that obscured his face always. Khamad had changed since learning new magic from Gwardesh. As if to demonstrate, the pets of the goblin wizard attacked. Once wolves, they were changed – covered with wrinkled, rubbery skin, eyes and mouths opening allover their bodies. Although they assumed the wolves had been corrupted as the horse had, the goblin warriors explained that the wolves had been like that since Gwardesh came to teach Khamad new ways of doing his magic.

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Into and Out of the Cave
These Goblins Don't Speak Goblin Very Well

They met up with the last warriors of Kogar, and Kogar himself, hiding within warrens of the cave system. Kogar led them to Khamad’s secret study. The party caught sight of a tall hooded figure, turning and walking away, back to Khamad’s study, as Khamad engaged the party. Kogar went after the hooded figure, shouting “Gwardesh! You will pay for what you did to my people!” Khamad prevented anyone else from going after him, by summoning more of the hideously deformed wolves to fight the party. Khamad backed into a corner, shouting “You bring monsters to steal my power! Now you die!” He fought to the death without saying another word. The adventurers ran down the hall to catch up with Kogar. They only found him dead in Khamad’s study, the back fo his head torn open and emptied, no sign of his brain. Throughout the room were scraps of papers and a few books, but it looked like most of the room had been hastily packed and removed. There was no sign of Gwardesh.

They brought what papers and treasure they could back to town, where Elverrion and Chance were able to peruse it, and found that it contained words of the Dark Speech, that unearthly language of unmaking and chaos. Elverrion agreed to keep it from the world, taking it back to his study to examine it and run some tests to determine its possible intent. In the mean time, the keep had other things to worry about, as Lord Dunnyck, the King’s Inquisitor, had arrived to conduct an investigation.

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What's a Little Treason Between Friends?

The butler stood behind her, and it took all her careful explanation for him not to cut her throat right there. She learned that the three people she found in the crypt were, in fact, the escaping heretics, who faced certain death if they remained in the Kingdom. Kismet resolved to help them, but was only freed on the condition that she not say a thing to her friends unless certain she could trust them. After an evening of things known but comically unsaid, she led Lord Dunnyck a merry chase east down the road, eventually giving up their mad flight and allowing themselves to be arrested and held. Dunnyck took each of them in turn for individual interrogation. Chance pretended to be deaf (so as to have a reason not to have heard the command to stop), but Dunnyck recognized his name as a relation to some powerful peers, including the king’s highest general. Jay gave his name and was surprised when Lord Dunnyck seemed to recognize it. Kismet and Bella endured thorough questioning, and Priya was called to task for not ceding to the authority of the king. However, when Brahn, the priest of Nyan, was brought to Dunnyck alone, Dunnyck immediately fell to his knees and begged the reverend for spiritual guidance. He was confused by the actions of these people to draw themselves into trouble, when they seemed to have no knowledge of the real criminal issue at hand. They prayed together. Shortly after Dunnyck was done questioning the lot of them, a rider came to the cabin they were in, they had a whispered discussion, and Dunnyck, disgusted, told them they could go, left the house and rode off back to Kechner, and thence back along the road toward the capital. Upon their return, Lady Tuala quietly and obliquely informed Kismet that the fugitive priests had escaped into Vurin.

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That Boy's a Monster!

Along the way back to town, they had stopped at a farm house where a distraught father grieved over his son, whom he had had to tie to the bed. The boy had been overwhelmed by a tentacled horror the night of the meteor shower, and his entire body was transformed into something hideously wrong. As the priest examined the boy’s skin, the boy’s mouth opened and a thick black worm extented out to latch pincers to the priest’s arm. The priest was able to extract himself as Bella grabbed the worm and pulled … Only to find it was the boy’s tongue. They brought the boy, still tied to the bed, back to the manor to examine. Over the next day, Chance and Elverrion studied the boy, and Elverrion knew he would need more learned help. He also suggested that if the party could find a living specimen of a creature that had been dominated by the beasts, it would be useful for testing.

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Oh God! Not the Bees!

He sent the group to retrieve his old friend, Maldred, an expert on aberrations, who had a cottage about a day’s ride from the town. Along the way, the party was attacked by wolves, who had similarly been taken over by the horrors, but the party was forced to kill them without saving any as living specimens. They arrived at the cottage, to find it had been taken over by giant, horrific, magically-deformed wasps. A fight ensued, during which the party was forced to flee, and spent the night recovering before returning the next day.

At around sunset, they saw a squadron of about 20-25 orcs running along the far river bank, about 300 feet away. One half-heartedly fired an arrow in their direction, but it fell far short of them. The orcs ran on into the night.

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The Very Interesting House of Maldred
I've Got This Ring!

The party returned to the cottage in the morning. Somehow the wasps were already agitated when the party arrived, and they were flying around the cottage-nest in great numbers … However, as the party watched, they dropped one by one to the ground. A few veered off the nest and attacked the party, which handled them easily. Approaching the fallen wasps, they found that the bodies were simply sleeping, and riddled with tiny arrows. They killed what sleeping wasps they found, and attempted to enter the cottage. They had to cut their way through the papery nest material, but eventually entered the cottage. A few wasps remained inside, including a queen and attendant workers, which the party killed. They called out to Maldred, and were answered by a voice coming from under the floor warning them to watch out for the wasps. They cleared away more of the nesting materials and found a trapdoor in the floor leading downstairs, to where Maldred was hiding.

He explained that the wasps were drawn to his magical work, and that he had simply tired of trying to get rid of them, so he let them have the upstairs, and he worked beneath them. He had, in a force cage, a tentacled horror, which he demonstrated to the group, by showing how it attempted to graft to flesh. He let it graft to his finger, then shook it off by means unknown. He told them that if the graft were allowed to become complete, who knows what it would do to him. Worried that the creature would be free when the force cage expired, Maldred explained, "No, I’ve got this ring, it makes a spell I choose permanent, but it can only maintain one spell at a time. Useful. I’ve had this creature for a week now. "

They convinced him to go back to Kechner with them. He said he would, for a time, but the last time he did any real work in there, they asked him to leave town. They helped him pack up his books and the creature within the cage, and rode back to town. He was greeted with enthusiasm by his old friends Elverrion and Tuala. Upon seeing the creature within the cage, each of them fretted that it would get free, to which Maldred said, each time, “No, see, I’ve got this ring, it makes a spell I choose permanent, one spell at a time!”

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Everything's Coming Up Tentacles
I've Got This Ring (Part 2)

In the mean time, a package had come for Chance. It contained a heal scroll, and a note saying to have a priest cure his deafness, love, Dad.

Maldred, Chance, and Elverrion continued to study the boy, and the creature, throughout the next day. They realize that they need more answers to the nature of the creatures, and they need a more powerful priest than they currently have access to. The highest level priest had been killed in the original rain of fire. So they resolved that Maldred would go check out the goblin cave, and the party would go to the seat of the religion, Therea, the city that housed the highest temples in the land.

Before dawn, however, the town came under attack. The newly rebuilt docks were smashed to pieces by a giant wading across the river. It was being herded by those 20-25 orcs, using long reed staves, over 20 feet long each. They were driving the giant toward the town. The giant was hideously deformed and raging with the taint of the corroption of the tentacled horrors. The leader of the orc band shouted a challenge as the adventurers ran out to meet them. “You bring monsters down on us.. now you feel our pain!” Lady Tuala suited up in her armor and rode to the attack, Commanding the party, “Keep the orcs off of me!” The rest of the party attacked the orcs, and beat them soundly, including a raging barbarian of an orc weilding an enchanted weapon. Priya, Tuala, and Maldred attacked the giant, although Priya was nearly unable to hit it, and Maldred’s spells all failed. After all the orcs were at last defeated, Maldred was at last able to get a spell through the creature’s resistances. He charmed it. It stopped fighting, and Maldred was overjoyed to have such a pet.

“I have a giant!” He exclaimed. The rest of the group was wary. “When will that wear off?” asked Chance. “Oh, it won’t! See, I’ve got this ring!” he explained. “Wait … What?” said Chance. “I’ve got this … OH!” Said Maldred, who then said “I have to go check on something,” and ran back to the keep.

The rest of the party also ran back with him, to find that, in fact, the force cage had disappaered, as had the tentacled beast. They went to check on the boy, and found that he was untied, and sitting up in bed. As they came into the room, he laughed, and they could see the tentacles of the horror as it moved across his back like a slimy pet, not bonding with him. “You’re too late,” the boy said in a hollow voice. “She’s coming.” “Who is coming?” demanded Priya. “The mother … The mother of all true life.” Priya then skewered the boy on the end of her sword, killing him with his smile frozen in place, and then dispatched the escaped tentacled creature.

The Lady Tuala decided she needed to head into the mountains where the orcs came from, to investigate what the creatures might have done to the giants, and with her went Elverrion and the butler, whose name was Berren. Maldred went northeast to the goblin cave to investigate. And the party hit the road to go to Therea to bring back a priest. They reasoned, if it was too late to save the boy, they might try to cure the giant instead, as a test of the effectiveness of priestly magic to cure the infection.

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Ogre <3 Badger

The party made good time the first day, and although attacked by a forest troll, they defeated it and rode on to the next town, where the innkeeper knew Kismet. “Chicken Chaser,” they called her. There were many refugees and pilgrims on the road to Therea, and Priya and Brahn ministered to them as they gathered outside. Priya managed to get of them a free room for the most needy of families, but the innkeeper was reluctant to let out the room saved for “Old Jigs,” who gave quite a sum of money to have a room ready for him always whenever he wanted to come by, although he hadn’t used it in a decade. Jay Wyvern, the party’s fey touched bard, noticed a small Wyvern sigil on the door to Old Jigs’s room, resembling the Wyvern on the dagger left by his absentee father, whom he had never met. He asked a few oblique questions of the innkeeper about Old Jigs, but didn’t get much information other than that he could be back any day, or not for another 10 years. Chance toured the refugee camps to see if anyone was selling anything worthwhile, and he bought a sack of chocolate-covered Goodberries, made by a passing druid just the other day, and good for another week or so. Heals damage and keeps you regular, just like magic.

The next day, the road was more crowded. The closer they got to the main city, the more people there were on the road. From the other direction came a party of elves, clad in brightly shining armor, and bearing the standard of Queen Lilliarill of Eldoras, the Elven kingdom. They said they were part of a search party, looking for the princess, who had disappeared years ago. Through scrying and divination, they knew that she was reasonably safe, but that she had to be found and brought back to marry her intended, a knight she had been engaged to since they were both children together, and who happened to be the leader of this particular search party. They gave the party a portrait of the elven princess, and told them that like all mighty warriors, they were invited to present themselves to the queen personally to be commissioned in the search. The elves then moved on.

By the time the party got to the next town, the roads were backed up with people. Inquiring at the bar, they found out that the proprietress, Murda, was overworked for the last two days because her good-for-nothing son Burgo had locked himself in the basement, probably has a girl down there, and he wouldn’t answer or bring up the next cask of ale they needed. And people wouldn’t leave town because there were reports of an ogre blocking the road. Some people went out and were never heard from again, so it must be eating them. Kismet opened the door to the basement, with that natural knack she has of finding just the right way to move the latch. Investigating, they found a tunnel dug into the wall of the basement, leading out, up under the building, to where one could easily slip out behind the inn.

The party went down the road to investigate, and saw an ogre, which saw them, flung a rock, and ran off into the misty moors. The party pursued and the bard caused it to fall asleep in its tracks. Because it had a key on a leather thong around its neck that couldn’t possibly have fit over its head, they reasoned that the ogre was the boy. They allowed it to wake and soothed its mood by talking, then freed it. It was unable to communicate. It could only growl and grunt. The priest cast a spell to comprehend its language, and found that it had none. “Did the BOY speak?” wondered Chance.

Through stick drawings, the ogre was able to convey that he was sad, that he liked a girl but her mother took her away. When a giant badger appeared over the hill, the ogre jumped up and down excitedly, and pointed to the stick figure of the girl, and back at the badger. The party reasoned that the badger was the girl and that they had both been transformed by the girl’s mother. They asked the ogre to lead them to the woman, and he took them into the moors a distance, before refusing to go any further, and just pointing out into the fog.

Kismet and Karl stealthily ventured into the mist. They saw the figure of a woman in the distance, and approached it. It was Murda, who had come to the swamp with a bottle of a glowing blue liquid. Kismet showed herself, which startled Murda, who then said that she had been looking for them, for the town wise woman had come to her and said that her son was under a curse and she could lift it if she gave him this potion. Kismet was suspicious, and asked Murda a question that Murda answered immediately and correctly, but Kismet noticed that her eye twitched when she answered, so she asked her more specific questions, which caused Murda to get frustrated, to throw the bottle at Kismet and shout “JUST GIVE HIM THIS!” before she turned around suddenly and disappaered right from plain sight.

Kismet brought the bottle back to the group and told them what had happened. They held onto the bottle anyway, and continued into the mist, until they saw a cottage. As they approached it stealthily, Karl was significantly away from the rest of the group when a withered old woman appeared from nowhere, and slashed across his chest with two great claw-like hands, mauling him severely. As other party members rushed to his aid, she disappeared again. A great fight ensued, in which Chance, who can see the unseen, was able to poinpoint the hag’s position as she moved around the marsh, sending illusory sounds of footsteps in the other direction. Finally, the adventurers wore her down until she had to flee, but a last blast of Chance’s eldritch power felled her at the door of her own cottage.

Investigating, the party found a number of alchemical items, and two clay figures, one of a badger, one of an ogre. The outer clay crumbled revealing girl and boy figurines, respectively. Karl had gone back to get the ogre and badger after the hag was killed, and found the boy and girl embracing. “UhghuhhhhHUUUHH” said the boy. “Oh, isn’t he DARLING?” said the girl. The girl was the adopted protege of the hag, and had been her student and prisoner since, years ago, the girl and her older brother found the hag’s hut in the woods, having run away from a wicked stepmother. Forced to begin her training by cooking and eating her brother, the girl had moved to this new region with the witch recently, fleeing a band of adventurers snooping too close to the old swamp.

The party let the girl keep the witch’s gold, and with that, she bought the inn, where she and the boy will live happily ever after, assuming no one makes the connection between the girl’s green-tinted hair, and hags. But the road, at last, was clear. Oh, and those people who dared to leave town and were never seen again? They probably got where they were going, that’s why they didn’t come back.

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The Long Day in Therea

Although the road was open, it was still clogged with traffic, and the adventurers were unable to make it all the way to the city. However, everyone on the road was in the same boat, and people pulled off the road in groups and made camps. Music could be heard coming down the lane, and looking, the party saw an elf bard coming up the road toward them. Wherever he passed, some people laughed, and some people glared, both at the bard and at the people laughing. As he approached, they heard his song, wherein he told a story about how he was tired and hungry, and a man let him stay the night in his house, but he saw a shrine to the Avheret, and after he spent the night and had a good meal, it gave him the strength to call the king’s guard in and arrest the man for heresy, and thank the gods we have the king to protect us. Another verse: he was drowning and a man pulled him into a boat, which was carved with an image of the Avheretine that sailors pray to, so when the boat docked, he had the harbormaster arrest the man for heresy, and thank god we have the king to protect us from his lot. A third verse, he met a maiden, and dallied with her, but when he got her undressed he saw an amulet in the shape of a symbol of one of the avheret, and so afterward, he had her thrown in prison, because she was no citizen, and she was no maiden, either, so thank the god for the king.

At this point, four armed guards were coming down the line of travelers, glaring at the bard. He was smiling as he was playing and walking down the line of campers. Priya decided to intervene, and convinced the thugs to take her back to their boss instead of the bard, whose name was Teb. As Jay struck up a more traditional song, Teb joined in, and they played together to the delight of the rest of the travelers. Priya went back up the road with the guards. They took her to a camp where a covered wagon was surrounded by other guards. She met a merchant, a halfling named Hoddick, who complained that some people didn’t like the song. Priya said he’s singing something different now, and he’s far down the road, so can he just let it go. He reluctantly agreed.

Meanwhile, Kismet had traveled along the road parallel to Priya, telling people, “Do you see that? That’s Priya, the Ogre Slayer!” She did the same as Priya guided her horse back to her own camp, where they had Teb as a guest. He and the only elf in the party, Bella, shared a few laughs about the humans’ perception of them. He stayed the night and traveled toward the city with them the next day.

Around midmorning, there was a noise from behind, back down the road, and the party turned to see the elven search party rushing toward them. “MAKE WAY” they called, “SHE HAS BEEN FOUND!” As the pilgrims and caravans made way for the elves, the party mounted up and rushed along in their wake, which carried them all the way to the city. They were let in the gate, and in the crowd lost the momentum of the elves, though they could see them traveling toward the city’s temple district. In the crush of people, it was hard to get through, but a man sidled up to Kismet and took her hand, pressing something into it. She looked into the cloaked face of a sweaty, balding, middle-aged man, who winked and said “Come to the side door tonight. I’ll be alone.” He then melted back into the crowd and disappeared. She found he had given her a key. She was momentarily confused, and lapsed into quiet thought, which was broken by the sound of yelling.

Two boys were beating up another boy, calling him a liar. The victim was shouting “IT IS! IT IS!” Kismet intervened here, and broke up the fight, asking what was the matter. The older boys said “He’s a liar! He keeps saying that’s Priya the Ogre Slayer, but everyone knows, Priya is nine feet tall! And commands armies of LIGHT!” Kismet assured them, that it was; indeed, Priya, and they should apologize to the little guy. They were sorry, and Kismet rejoined her friends.

They came into the temple square and left the horses with Karl in the street, and went into the temple of Anrahd, where the elves went. They were met by an attendant priest, who took their letter of introduction (written by Lady Tuala), and told them Father Wodaine was with some visitors now, but could be with them shortly. The party waited in an antechamber until the elves stormed out, angrily, shouting, “Another impostor! I told you I would know her in an instant! You dare put forth another fraud and pretend it is my true love!” They left, mounting up and riding out of town. A nervous priest came out of the room they left, leading a young elf girl and sending her away with another priest. As he turned to the party, Kismet recognized the man who had handed her the key, and upon seeing her, he froze and his face turned white, and he stammered through a greeting, before begging for a moment to collect his thoughts. He disappeared into the meeting room, closing the door behind him.

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