The Ashen Crown, the Lords of Madness, and the Queen of Death

Clan of Heroes, House of Shadows

The elves escape out into the courtyard and the party pursues. Sindarin flings one elf around like a ragdoll with his telekinetic lasso, breaking her neck. Another elf is bowled over by a storm summoned by Arasinya, hits his head, and passes out. The last, attempting to flee, is slain by a pair of arrows from Dex’s bow. Dex discovers to her surprise that this elf has the crown, and discretely pockets it. The male elf seemed to have it earlier in the fight- there must have been a switch, she surmises.

Meanwhile, Tinker and Aurora are rather distracted by the the swarm of hornets creeping out from beneath one of the doors in the main hall. Retreating out into the courtyard, Aurora starts a fire in the hall and Tinker shuts the door behind them. The hornets stream out from an arrowslit but are soon driven back by a magical assault.

The hornets gather into three human shaped masses, transforming into a trio of orcs druids. Realizing that this was all just a misunderstanding, the party explains that they have slain the assassins and the party is invited back into the keep to discuss what happened.

Arasinya, sensing an opportunity, sneaks off. She drags the body of the unconscious elf behind the well and, thanks to her new magic hat, assumes the appearance of the comrade he hadn’t seen killed. Falling for her ploy, the two sneak out of the keep and escape down the road to the capitol on horseback.

Taking care not to reveal herself as an impostor, Arasinya makes conversation with the elf and learns that he is an assassin working for House Thuranni, a dragon marked house with ties to the Order of the Emerald Claw. The job was to recover the Ashen Crown from the chief of the Clan of Heroes and, though the assassin is reluctant to speculate on the identity of his employer, he seems to believe that it is an elf.

Arasinya manages to persuade the assassin to make camp for the night. Remarking that “Ikar will be wondering where we are” he reluctantly agrees. While he is sleeping, Arasinya steals the horses and makes her way back to the Kech Ghalraac fortress on horseback.

Back at the keep, the party learns that the Kech Ghalraac are definitely hiding something about the crown. Moreover, the Kech Ghalraac have salvaged symbiont weapons and armour, like Dex’s coat of eyes, from the vaults of Drynn and claim to have discovered a way to control aberrant creatures. A helpful orc guard offers to show Dex the “beholder pens” and mentions that they came to the surface on the advice of a particular kitten-sized beholder by the name of “Mufiargsilurglag”, a name the first two syllables of which are quite familiar to Dex.

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The Gathering Stone

As her price for Mukarook’s orb, from the Wordbearer vaults Arasinya claims a legendary hat that had once belonged to a hobgoblin spy. Yeraa agrees, relieved that the sorceress can be persuaded to part with it.

Later, at dinner, Yeraa confesses to the party her concerns about the Kech Ghalraac, the Clan of Heroes. She asks them to investigate this mysterious clan on her behalf. She wants proof that the so-called clan are fakes: lying about being the Kech Ghalraac, lying about having killed Drynn the Lord of Hearts, and lying about having the Ashen Crown.

Yeraa needs Arasinya’s help in particular. Arasinya’s airship, the Second Wind, would provide a fast means of getting the party to the Gathering Stone and the neighbouring fortress claimed by the Kech Ghalraac. Arasinya’s contract with Yeraa ended the moment that Yeraa was safely delivered to Rhukaan Draal, so Arasinya is under no obligation to agree. The sorceress demands payment, specifically (and eccentrically) a teleportation device. Yeraa, surprisingly, has one on hand, and agrees: half of the device before the mission, half after.

The next day, a pair of burly bugbears load an old and cracked statue of a winged hobgoblin onto the deck of the Second Wind. Supposedly, this statue is the first half of the teleportation device promised by Yeraa.

The airship departs for the Gathering Stone, reaching a blisteringly fast 20 miles per hour. In a mere four hours, the party reaches the massive, ominous obelisk of the Gathering Stone and the sprawling encampment that surrounds it.

Sindarin d’Lyrandar, the new first mate of the Second Wind, volunteers to join the party on this expedition. After the former first mate, Keyleth, asked to be reassigned, and in light of the Emerald Claw attack on the ship, crew, and passengers, House Lyrandar decided that Captain Arasinya needed someone better armed under her command. Sindarin, a half-elf belonging to the House but lacking the Mark of the Storm, was chosen as the perfect man for the job thanks to his combat experience.

The encampment around the Gathering Stone is home to the Kurmaac druids, a goblin druidic sect that began after the Gatekeepers defeated the Daelkyr, the Lords of Madness, 5000 years ago. While inspired by the traditions of the Gatekeepers, the Kurmaac are a brutal sect that practice blood sacrifice.

Pressing through the raucous, sweat-drenched crowds of goblins that swarm the encampment, the party follows the skull-lined path to the Gathering Stone itself. Examining the obelisk they find that it is covered with centuries of graffiti. Most of it is names, insults, rude poems, all in goblin, but there are other, stranger things written there. One writer, a goblin presumably, writes of a teacher who re-introduced magic and the written word to the Wordbearer clan. This teacher is described as a “hobgoblin made of metal” and was known as Enoreth.

Aurora asks a Kurmaac druid for a “tour” of the writings on the stone and a druid elder eagerly obliges. Strangely, Aurora discovers a diagram that suggests that Gathering Stone is only one a number of ancient menhirs that together can be assembled into a larger magical artifact.

Aurora warns the Kurmaac druids to ward against aberrations and undead before the Clan-Meet. The elder is persuaded and plans to have the druids work together for the next several days to draw an immense magic circle around the Gathering Stone encampment.

Upon nightfall, the party enters the former House Deneith fortress now claimed by the Kech Ghalraac. Maltassar Bogs sneaks in through the sewers, then disguises himself as a hobgoblin he finds sleeping in the barracks. Dex climbs the wall with her grappling hook and, taking advantage of her own small size, slips in through an overly-wide arrowslit. Aurora turns into a spider and rides in on Dex’s shoulder. Arasinya just knocks on the door.

Arasinya manages to persuade the guards to let herself, Tinker, and Sindarin in to see the chief. They are ushered in through a series of gates through the outer wall, the inner wall, and finally into the keep itself where they are taken to the chieftain’s chambers. Within, Khaas, Chief of the Clan of Heroes, lies dead, murdered in his bed. His bodyguards too have been slain. In a panic, the guards escorting the party kick the party out of the chief’s chambers and into the main hall, then they spread out to search the keep for their chief’s assassins.

Sneaking into the keep’s main hall, Dex uses her ghost sound power to create an illusory noise lure the guards away, out of the main hall. Soon after, the party hears the door to the chief’s chamber creak open once again. No one emerges. Dex, hiding under a chair in hall, begins to suspect that someone is in the hall with them. Using the blindsight power of her coat of eyes, she sees three elves armed with knives and crossbows, making their way toward the door out of the keep. One of them has a crown tied to his belt.

Tinker telepathically warns the party of what Dex has seen so when the bar on the main door slowly, quietly lifts all are ready. Arasinya hurls lightning at the door and the battle begins…

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To Rhukaan Draal, the Goblin Capital

On the streets of Blackroot, Yeraa curses Arasinya’s escape. She turns to Dex and angrily demands to know what happened beneath Ashurta’s tomb. Defensive, Dex retorts that she did what they all had planned to do: destroy the crown to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Emerald Claw. But Yeraa and Aurora are not quick to forgive the gnome for working with Belashyrra in secret.

Yeraa tells the party that Ashurta’s blade alone is not enough to win the support she needs from the other clans. Mukarook’s orb must be returned to her, she insists. After some discussion, Tinker offers to have a replacement orb made for Arasinya and Yeraa agrees to fund it, assuming that Arasinya can be persuaded to hand over Mukarook’s orb.

Deciding it would be best to let Arasinya’s peers confront her, Yeraa heads back to House Jorasco to check on her last surviving companion, the goblin Govaan. Soon after, Arasinya doubles back, keeping a careful eye out for Yeraa. The party confronts her about the orb. Mulish, Arasinya refuses to part with it for anything less than a million gold pieces.

Tinker, Aurora, and Dex head back to House Jorasco to convey Arasinya’s “offer”. Yeraa, naturally, refuses. Dex and Yeraa talk about trust and Yeraa forgives the gnome and invites Dex, Aurora, and Tinker to accompany her on the final leg of her journey: the return to her home in Darguun.

Bogs and Arasinya hit the pubs. After a night of drinking, and then some sleeping it all off, they each visit their respective boss. Bogs is instructed by Bonekeeper to follow Yeraa and keep her from dying (again), then Bonekeeper proudly shows off the newest addition to her collection: Graeb Shank’s carefully reassembled and bleached white skeleton. Arasinya meets with her horrible boss in the dooryway of his horrible office, who informs her that the House Deneith fortress at the Gathering Stone has been lost to an unidentified force of goblins and orcs. He suggests that Arasinya, on her trip to Darguun to fulfill the House’s contract with Yeraa, take the opportunity to investigate the situation. He stresses that the matter is urgent.

Arasinya reluctantly pays Yeraa a visit at House Jorasco, though not until after a luxurious bath at Jorasco’s finest facilities and a brief mishap where Govaan tried to eat her familiar. Arasinya reluctantly agrees to exchange the orb for something in Yeraa’s clan treasure vaults, but insists on keeping the orb until the exchange is made.

Meanwhile, Tinker has returned to visit his creator, Sprot. Sprot confesses that both Tinker and his brother, Bearing, were created using parts from an old warforged he found at the bottom of a shell crater back during the war. Both Bearing and Tinker contain one of the shards that comprised the ancient warforged’s mind. Sprot still has another one in his workshop, which he gives to Tinker, along with some other leftover parts. There are four mind shards in total, and one, Sprot explains, is in the possession of Mock, a bugbear scrap dealer that helped Sport dig the ancient warforged out of the muck. Back during the war, Sprot and Mock travelled with a crew of scavengers lead by a Karrnathi man known as Ikar the Black. Sprot tells Tinker he’s going to leave for Graywall with the hope of finding Bearing’s body.

Tinker chooses to insert the new mind shard and learns that his progenitor is old, very old. The warforged were first created by House Cannith in 965 YK (33 years ago). The mind shard’s memories are difficult to access and incomplete, but Tinker learns that progenitor was created 2689 years ago, after the fall of goblin civilization and during the early period of human settlement on Khorvaire. It lived for a time on the mountain of Paluur on the border of the goblin kingdom of Darguun and the gnome nation of Zilargo, possibly in the ruins of the goblin city of Paluur Draal.

After an uneventful journey to Darguun by airship, the party arrives in the goblin capital of Rhukaan Draal. There they learn that the fortress near the Gathering Stone has been captured by goblins and orcs claiming to belong to the Kech Ghaalrac. The Kech Ghaalrac, the fabled “Clan of Heroes”, disappeared beneath the earth during the war with the Daelkyr Lords of Madness 5000 years ago and was never seen again. The supposed Kech Ghaalrac claim to have the Ashen Crown and claim to have slain Drynn, the Lord of Hearts, most powerful of all the Daelkyr. Whoever they are, they control the fortress right next to the Gather Stone, where all the clans will meet in a week’s time to determine who will lead as the new high king.

Drinking with hobgoblin druids of the Kurmaac sect in a pleasant grove of trees near the edge of the city, Aurora, Arasinya, and Bogs learn from them that the Kech Ghaalrac are dreadfully pale, unusually well disciplined, and belong to the Gatekeeper druidic sect.

And from somewhere to the Northwest, Dex can feel through her coat of eyes a low, dull thumping, like the beating of an immense and distant heart…

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Belashyrra and the Arcanic Chaneller Mark III

Ashurta revealed to the party that beneath his tomb there once again lurked aberrations in the service of the Lord of Eyes. Yeraa and the party had disgraced themselves in his opinion: only ones weak and craven would desire to destroy the crown out of fear that their enemy might take it. He proposed fighting these aberrations as a last chance for redemption: a battle to claim the crown from the hands of the enemy.

Yeraa was eager to regain Ashurta’s respect and Aurora was eager to rid the world of these aberrations, so the party agreed. Finding a few leftover eyeball amulets from the cult that was once here, the party held them over the altar, triggering it to open once again.

The party descended into the caverns beneath the tomb. In the crystal chamber they found Dex standing, unharmed, by a strange throne, in which the circlet and and cord had been set.

Aurora recognized the creepy looking man-thing as Belashyrra, but, given his imprisonment in the underworld, inferred that it must either be an avatar or an impostor. Dex tried to convince the party that she had everything under control, but Aurora was certain that no good could come from cooperating with Belashyrra.

Bogs, consulting Bonekeeper using his magical tattoo, was appraised of the possibility, given Ijavik’s presence, that the throne was an explosive device of unknown yield powered by the pieces of the crown. Tinker confirmed this suspicion, noting similarities between the design of the throne and previous bombs designed by Ijavik.

Arasinya attempted to push past Dex to remove the pieces of the crown from the throne, but Dex, a muscular little gnome, easily shoved Arasinya away. Transforming into a panther, Aurora knocked Dex aside and began clawing and biting at the throne’s wires, ripping them free.

With an imperious gesture, Belashyrra commanded the deathgaunts to put a stop to Aurora’s interference. Deathgaunt tentacles wrapped around the panther and gently removed her from the throne.

Yeraa demanded to know what Dex was doing conspiring with an ancient enemy of the goblins. Dex had not realized that Yeraa had followed the party down. Panic stricken, she yelled for Yeraa to get away, afraid of what might happen should Belashyrra obtain all pieces of the crown. Belashyrra came to the same realization and his grin grew improbably wide.

Yeraa refused to flee, too proud to retreat. Arasinya also tried to convince Yeraa to leave, but realizing that wasn’t going to work, snatched the orb from Yeraa, and dashed off down the tunnel. With a shout of rage, Yeraa ran after the sorceress, escaping beyond Belashyrra’s reach.

Taking control of Dex’s mind, Belashyrra forced her to place Zaarani’s Solitaire, the golden gem passed down for ages in the Frumpkin family, into its slot on the throne. Once it had clicked into place, with a gesture, he made his unfortunate puppet back away. Smiling, he commanded two of his deathgaunts to guard the throne to prevent further interference, and a third to activate it.

Pleased, he gloated, “You know, I regret overlooking gnomes. They have potential. Dol… gnomes? Dol-noms? No. Dolzil? Maybe. Ah, I know, doldamoria. That is what I will call them when I remake your race, in your honour.”

“Now that Yeraa has left the room,” Belashyrra continued, “I feel the need to remind you all as to what happens when a resurrection goes wrong. I believe the one you knew as Tikulti, or Yog, or Baron Kessler, was the result of a failed resurrection. A patchwork soul with a fractured sense of self, constantly searching for a new, stronger personality to make it whole. Now called back into life, I think it has finally found that personality. A strong personality that it wants to keep forever.”

“You’re a liar,” Aurora retorted. “We’re not falling for your tricks.”

“I never lie,” Belashyrra replied with a grin.

“Was he talking about Yeraa or himself there?” Tinker wondered aloud.

The throne began to crackle and hum, electricity arcing around it.

“She’s going to kill us! She going to kill us all!” Ijavik wailed. “The Mark III, she’s so beautiful.”

“Shut up or I’ll eat your face,” Aurora growled at the bound madman. “In fact, I should probably do that anyway.”

Ijavik cowered and wept.

Yeraa caught up with Arasinya and tried to grab her, but her grip slipped when Arasinya turned her skin into smooth scales. Arasinya reached the top of the stairs and pressed the eye glyph on the bottom of the altar to open it.

Yeraa caught up again, and made to grab Arasinya once more, but tripped in her haste, and Arasinya fled into the altar room beyond, though not before sharing some choice words about Yeraa’s mother, family, people, and general appearance.

Aurora, Bogs, and Tinker, with spell and bow, succeeded in killing Belashyrra. A magic sphere thrown by Tinker strikes Belashyrra and shatters. Belashyrra fell and as his body hit the ground, his skin turned grey, his hair ashen, and his chitin armour and other features melted away. Aurora, standing close, saw that the corpse was none other than Tikulti.

Muttering words in an unfamiliar language, a deathgaunt that was standing close to the dead changeling gestured to the corpse. The corpse staggered to its feet, speaking as it re-assumed Belashyyra’s form.

“Ah, thank you Quazahrint, my ever faithful necromancer.” He nodded respectfully to the deathgaunt who raised him. The deathgaunt bowed slightly, its tentacles squirming with feigned modesty.

“This body and soul once were Vril the Deceiver, then Baron Wultram Kessler, then Yog of Sharn, then Tikulti of the Kech Volaar. Now, it has finally found its true purpose: to be me,” Belashyrra explained with pride. “With a weak sense of self and amazing telepathic receptivity, it was child’s play to overwrite its mind and personality with mine own.”

With a bit of lead, Arasinya summoned her shroud of darkness, and hid in the shadows. Failing to notice her, Yeraa passed Arasinya, racing up the stairs to the temple proper. Arasinya followed behind, quickly and quietly.

Free for the moment from Belashyrra’s control, Dex charged at the throne, slashing at its guards with her blades. The deathgaunts struck back with their tentacles. Lightning pulsed from the throne, singeing the deathgaunts standing before it. Dex struck again. Another, stronger pulse electrocuted Dex and killed one of the deathgaunts. Seeing her chance, Dex climbed over the smoking corpse and pulled her gem free of the throne. Before Belashyrra could do ought to stop her, Dex fled from the chamber, back down the tunnel.

His deathgaunt servants all but slain and the bearers of the last fragments of the crown fleeing beyond his reach, Belashyrra admitted defeat, returning to sit upon the deadly, flickering throne. His servant, Quazahrint, the last remaining, fled down the tunnel, along with rest of the party. Ijavik, managing to cut his bonds with the shattered fragments of the sphere Tinker had hurled, hurried after the others.

The moment Quazahrint emerged the crypt, it was struck down by a blast of lightning from Arasinya. Suddenly, Yeraa noticed the sorceress behind her, but it was too late. Arasinya swooped through the air and out into the open street.

Ijavik raced out the doors of the temple only to be pounced on by Aurora.

“How big will the explosion be?” Aurora growled.

“Five is enough to destroy the city. The circlet alone is enough to destroy a tower. Two? With the damage you did to it? I don’t know. Just keep running!” Ijavik exclaimed frantically.

“All right. But NEVER build something like this again,” Aurora roared. Ijavik nodded meekly and scrambled to his feet.

And so they ran. The ground shook terribly. Terrified goblins ran out into the streets as many of their rude tenements fell to pieces. Behind the fleeing party, Blackroot Temple collapsed into a heap of rubble.

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A Plan to Destroy the Ashen Crown

After the battle, House Jorasco treated the party’s wounds. Once everyone’s injuries had been take care of, the party paid Yeraa a visit. The healers working on Yeraa had encountered an unexpected complication. There were two souls vying to return to her body. One likely belonged to Yeraa and the other likely belonged something fell, but it was not clear which was which.

The party resolved to let the healers pick one of the two souls at random, then planned to interrogate that soul to determine if it was really Yeraa. Ever careful, the halflings chained Yeraa’s body into place before performing the steps in the ritual necessary to call one of the souls into the waiting body.

Awoken, Yeraa immediately began yelling for vengeance against Tikulti and straining against her chains. Once the hobgoblin was calmed down some, Arasinya devised a method of determining whether this was the real Yeraa or not.

“Yeraa, what did you say about me in your private journal?” Arasinya asked.

“You read my journal?” Yeraa growled. The party nodded. Yeraa frowned. “Nothing I’d care to say to you in person. No, who am I kidding? You’ve already read it and I relish the chance of saying it again: You’re either a fool or a liar pretending to be a fool.”

“She’s the fake,” Arasinya said immediately. “Kill her.”

Having determined that Yeraa was in fact, Yeraa, the party’s next step was to persuade her that destroying the Ashen Crown (or at least part of it) was the most sensible course of action. Yeraa resisted the idea at first. Destroying an ancient relic of immense cultural value to her people, one that could help unify them and bring them peace, seemed a grievous sin, especially given Yeraa’s position of leadership in the Wordbearer clan, a clan that has sworn to preserve ancient goblin culture.

Yeraa, however, trusted Dex and held the party in respect (er, with one exception). Her own death, the death of her companions, and how easily her band was compromised and destroyed, served as ample evidence of the danger posed by the Emerald Claw. Reluctantly, Yeraa agreed to the destruction of part of the crown rather than risk letting it fall into elvish hands.

Dex gave Yeraa both Ashurta’s blade and Murkoorak’s orb, which had formerly been in Arasinya’s possession. Apologizing, Dex revealed that she had managed to steal all the fragments of the Ashen Crown from the rest of the party while they were distracted.

Dex gave Karruuk’s Circlet to Tinker, who attempted to destroy it using the disenchant ritual. The circlet glowed hot, but did not dissolve.

The party resolved to take the crown to Ashurta’s tomb, believing that Ashurta’s ghost might know of some way of destroying it. When Ashurta learned of the party’s desire to destroy the Ashen Crown, the very thing that he had been guarding a fragment of for thousands of years to ensure that it might one day be restored, he, quite predictably, flew into a rage.

As Ashurta thundered with fury, Dex quietly snuck away, back to the altar room.

“Speak to me, you filth,” she demanded with her thoughts.

“You have succeeded. Excellent,” Belashyrra enthused. “The device is below the altar in the crystal chamber. Its instillation is now finished.”

“What do you mean ‘is now finished’? We have cleared this place of any defilers several times now.”

“My servants have worked quickly.”

Dex approached the altar and commanded it to open. The altar split down the centre and with a grinding, the halves moved aside, revealing a set of spiral steps leading below. Dex descended quickly, commanding the altar to close behind her. Upon reaching the bottom, Dex discovered that the cavern has been cleared of kruthik corpses. There was a faint smell of strong, poisonous chemicals. The King’s Citadel had probably fumigated the kruthik hive before boarding up the temple and leaving.

Continuing along the winding passage, Dex reached the crystal chamber. Within, at the centre of the chamber, sat a throne a throne of metal and wires and jewels. Upon the throne sat a man, vaguely human in appearance. His body was of chitin and sinew and his face, though almost handsome, seems like it was stretched over something else, like a mask. Dex instantly felt that the thing before her was Belashyrra, the Lord of Eyes.

Supplicant before him in two rows were the deathgaunts, the undead dolgaunts brought back from the tomb in Greywall. In one corner of the room was a corpse of an unfortunate bounty hunter: a half-orc, half-eaten. In another corner was Ijavik, tied and gagged, sobbing.

Dex glared at the deathgaunts. “I had left them on the ship, secured. I do not like their presence here.”

“They helped with the instillation,” Belashyrra explained with a wave toward the deathgaunts. “Thank you for bringing them! And the crown. Now we can finally destroy it.”

“I will destroy it. You will show me.”

Belashyrra smiled beatifically. “Yes. Of course.” He rose from the throne and stepped down off the dais. He pointed, with his long fingers, to a set of recesses in the throne, which looked to have been designed for each piece of the crown. “Insert the pieces as indicated. It is very intuitive.”

“We won’t be destroying the whole crown, but the circlet for certain.”

“As you wish.”

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An Interlude with Graeb Shanks

A muffled voice came from within Bog’s pack. Reluctantly, he rummaged around and fished out the sending stone. From the smooth, rune-inscribed stone he could hear the all-to-familiar voice of Graeb Shanks.

“Do you smell smoke?” Shanks asked.

“No?” Bogs replied.

“Well, that’s interesting. I smell smoke.”

“Look Shanks, I know you’re trying to imply that you’ve set fire to something important to me, or the building that I’m in. Why don’t you just come right out and tell me what you’re up to?” Bogs grumbled.

Shanks laughed. “There’s nothing that warms my heart like a good fire. Did you know that bodies that have burned to ash cannot be brought back from death? That could spell trouble for some very dead friends of yours.”

Fearing that Shanks may have attacked House Jorasco, the party took a sky coach back from the Borough of Blackroot. They arrived in the good part of Sharn to find that something had indeed been set fire to- a great pillar of black smoke was rising from a casino in the neighbourhood. They had barely dismounted from the sky coach when they were ambushed by Graeb Shanks, his cockatrice Scheherazade, and four gnolls thugs.

Arasinya cleverly distracted the cockatrice by having her pet raven fly circles around the dim-witted chicken-dragon thing’s head. Scheherazade spent the battle hopping up and down, trying to nip at the raven, which was careful to keep out of reach of the cockatrice’s petrifying bite.

Tinker managed to briefly disarm the gnolls of their spears with his spike wire, but the gnolls’ tolerance for pain meant that they soon had them in gripped in their paws once again.

But in spite of their ingenuity, the party took a beating. Maltassar Bogs was felled by Graeb Shank’s blade and Arasinya and Tinker were knocked out by the gnolls. But just as things were looking quite dire, the halflings of House Jorasco rushed out to assist the party and, miraculously, Maltassar Bogs regained consciousness on his own.

Realizing that the battle has turned against him, Graeb Shanks hurled himself over the street railing and activated his “feather fall” talisman, slowing his descent to a safe speed. Rushing to the rail, Bogs caught Shanks in the eye with a crossbow bolt and the minotaur died. The talisman failed and the mob boss plummeted into the clouds below. Not eager to meet the same fate, the gnolls fled, towing the cockatrice on it leash along behind them.

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In the Mind of Dex

A familiar chill runs down your spine and your armour shivers and squirms as something reaches through the aether and makes a connection.

You hear a sound like a voice, but it seems to come from everywhere at once. " an y h m ?" A question. “C ou ear e?” The voice asks again. Then the words seem to snap into focus. “Can you hear me?” Belshyrra’s voice, with its chilly false friendliness, echoes strangely in your mind.

He takes some mental twitch on your part as answer. “Good. Now that you have all the pieces of the crown, you must destroy them. I know you will not want to do this, but I will tell you why you must, as I suspect you may not have grasped the implications.”

“The artifact has a singularly powerful ability to bring the dead back to life. Erandis Vol, known as the ‘Queen of Death’ by her followers among the Skullborn and the Order of the Emerald Claw, is long dead. No ordinary raise dead ritual has any hope of bringing her back to life. Only the Ashen Crown or similar artifact could bring her back.”

“Erandis Vol was born into this world for one purpose: to become an avatar of death. She possesses a dragonmark of unparalleled power over death. Those who watch the prophecy saw this and worked to have her killed before she and her power could mature.”

“The artifact you possess is the only artifact on this plane that I have seen to be capable of resurrecting Erandis Vol. It originated in what you call the feywild or Thelanis. As travel to Thelanis has been disrupted since what you call the Mourning, I estimate that it will be difficult for another similar artifact to be found or forged.”

“I realize you feel a bond of some kind towards the deceased hobgoblin who contracted you to help her recover the crown. I assure you that you will not need the crown to resurrect her. She will be successfully resurrected by House Jorasco. I further assure you that she will not need the crown to become Empress of Darguun. Her bid to do so is doomed to fail with or without the crown.”

“I realize that you probably believe that the crown will be safe in her possession. Need I remind you how easily she died? How easily one of Vol’s agents gained and betrayed her trust? Erandis Vol has servants at her disposal far more powerful and dangerous than the changeling you encountered. The crown will fall into Erandis Vol’s hands in the chaos of the Darguun civil war.”

“But if you act, you can ‘save the world’. All you need to do is destroy the crown before the hobgoblin returns to life. Once alive, she will try to stop you, and thus ensure Erandis Vol’s ascendence to what you might call ‘godhood’.”

“In the chamber beneath the altar, there is a device capable of destroying the crown. Use it once you have all the pieces or the reassembled crown.”

“How am I going to tell them I know about Erandis Vol?” you ask with trepidation at the choices ahead of you.

“Be creative,” is his less than helpful reply. You roll your eyes. “Tell them it was divine revelation.” He chuckles. “Or that you are an agent of the Trust.”

“Because I have such a strong connection with Sehanine,” you think at him with sarcasm. You’re not sure he understands sarcasm, but that’s his problem. For better or for worse, your caravan’s patron goddess, Sehanine, speaks to mortals a lot less often than the creature you’re dealing with now. “And I would never stoop as low as those Trust lowlives.” You don’t tend to talk about it, but you and your family have reasons for living outside of Zilargo. Best not to think about it, Belashyrra can read your thoughts. You decide to change topics,

“If you have such knowledge about the crown, why didn’t you try and do something about it when you were in control of that damnable cult of yours?” you snap at him. “Before we took it out that is,” you can’t help but add with some satisfaction. There is a pause.

“My plans were interrupted,” he replies after a moment.

“I find that hard to believe.”

“It is the truth. I regret the loss of my followers here and most of all my eye-to-the-future which you took from me. These… were not according to my Plan. Though do not fear- I bear you no animosity. I have no need for the crude behavioural heuristics you call emotions.”

“… right. I think you bear a general animosity to all living beings on this plane simply by existing.” You can’t let yourself forget who and what you’re dealing with here.

“That is a misunderstanding,” he tries to assure you. You feel an unnatural calm flowing over your mind like a wool blanket. You quickly shrug it off,

“And how do you even propose we would go about destroying the thing? That’s assuming I even begin to believe that this is the right course of action. There are a number of parties other than the ones you named who would not want it destroyed, and I happen to be close to some of them.”

“There is a device that will allow you to destroy the crown. And I believe I have already explained the necessity of this action.”

He’s holding too much back. You suspect that he’s up to something. “I need more details as to the nature of this device. I don’t think simply crushing it with a boot will be sufficient.”

“It will work,” he insists. “I could explain the technical details, but you are not… an expert… in such matters. You would not be able to understand.”

“So you’re not even going to try to point me in the right direction. Since being forthcoming doesn’t seem to be in your nature, I’m going to assume that destroying one piece will be sufficient. Can’t reassemble the crown if there’s a piece missing. And I don’t think Ashurta would take kindly to the destruction of his sword. He is known for taking his vengeance, even so long after his death.”

“I would prefer the entire crown destroyed. I admit, the blade is not much use to Erandis Vol. The circlet, however, must be destroyed.”

You curse aloud. “Why?”

“It is the heart of the crown and contains most of its dormant power.”

“I might have a plan. Are you done buzzing around my head, or are you going to give me some sort of useful information?”

“I am finished,” he says. No such luck.

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Demise

An ominous clattering heralds the arrival of a heap of skulls and shattered bones shaped crudely into the form of a man. An ancient, rusted sword is clutched in a haphazard assemblage of too many finger bones. In goblin, the apparition calls out for vengeance against the defilers of his tomb. The wrathful ghost of Ashurta joins the party!

With a burst of wind and a clap of thunder, Arasinya drives back the ghouls and engages Demise in a duel of magic- Arasinya’s storm against Demise’s clouds of poison. Maltassar Bogs is struck down by Demise’s dark magic, and his still living body becomes a puppet under her control, joining the fight on the enemy’s side.

Meanwhile, at the far end of the tomb, Professor Gydd Nephret successfully struggles free from her bonds. The other captive, Sprott, is, however, too well tied. Without a blade to cut him free, Gydd makes for the exit of the tomb without him, but apparently comes under Demise’s spell before she can escape, and like Bogs, begins to attack the party.

After a lengthy battle, Demise’s ghouls are slain and Demise herself is badly wounded. Cornered by a vengeful ghost and an equally terrifying gnome, Demise decides to flee. Using the pentacle she prepared beforehand, Demise attempts to call forth a portal to escape. Thinking quickly, Dex dumps the contents of her water skin onto the pentacle, causing the ink to run and disrupting the spell. Demise attempts to run for the doors, but is felled by Ashurta.

Tinker frees Sprot form his bonds. Sprot, overcome, breaks into tears. He informs Tinker that his brother, Bearing was killed by the Emerald Claw in Greywall and Sprot was captured because they hoped he would have the knowledge to aid Demise in reassembling the crown. Gydd was being held for similar reasons, as the university’s expert on the ancient goblin empire of Dhakaan. Free of the magic that was compelling her to attack the party, Gydd quietly slips out the door of the tomb.

Ashurta reveals that he knows how to perform the Rite of Arkantaash, but would prefer to share it only with Yeraa. When he hears of Yeraa’s death, he suggests that the crown could be used to revive her. He thanks the party for helping him exact vengeance against Demise, who defiled his tomb, defeated his guardians, broke every bone in his skeletal body, and left him in a heap atop the pile he keeps of his defeated enemies’ skulls. As a last request before returning to slumber in his coffin, Ashurta asks that Dex place the head of Demise out in the antechamber, on what’s left of the pile.

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The Rite of Arkantaash

Bogs regains consciousness in the bar and manages to bribe the bartender into letting him leave before the cops show up. Bogs makes his getaway just in time too, as Graeb Shanks arrives looking for him with a retinue of gnoll bodyguards, one of whom is walking the Shank’s prize pet cockatrice.

In a meeting with Bonekeeper, Tinker and Aurora discover that House Lyrandar will be sponsoring and arranging for the attempted resurrection of Yeraa and her band because the King’s Citadel cannot appear to be involved in any way. As neither Bonekeeper nor the party trust House Lyrandar, Tinker and Aurora resolve to see the bodies safely taken into House Jorasco’s custody.

Meanwhile, Dex and Arasinya meet with a hobgoblin priest of the Sovereign Host, in charge of the closest still active temple to the borough of Blackroot. The priest is surprised by their interest in ancient Dhakaani rituals, remarking that he had another visitor earlier, an elf woman, with similar interests. Unfortunately, the book she had been reading is now missing. The priest finds a book with some useful information on the Rite of Arkantaash and lets Dex and Arasinya transcribe its contents. The rite allows the crown to be reunified or sundered. Of particular note, the passage claims that the ritual may be learned by possessing all five Crown fragments and meditating upon them for five days in a holy site of lost Dhakaan.

Upon returning to the airship, Tinker and Aurora discover that the deathgaunts have left the airship wearing travelling cloaks, taking with them the corpse of “Tikulti”, the changeling impostor who posed as Yog, the citadel agent, and Baron Kessler, the leader of the Emerald Claw.

Bogs meets with the Bonekeeper and after careful questioning, Bonekeeper provides him with a new tattoo. Bogs returns to the airship to find that Tinker and Aurora have already left for House Jorasco.

Dex and Arasinya return to Blackroot temple to find that the boards over the doors have been removed and the doors have been flung upon. Sneaking into the crypt, they discover that Ashurta’s tomb has been desecrated. Demise is there, in the midst of performing some ritual. With her are two prisoners, one of which is Professor Gydd Nephret and the other of which is Sprot. Demise is also well armed, with three zombies and four skeletons under her command. Arasinya sends her familiar, the raven, into the tomb to taunt and claw at Demise whilst Dex quietly searches for a way to deal with the situation.

At House Jorasco, the ritual to resurrect the dead is underway. Aurora resolves to stay by Yeraa’s side, while Bogs and Tinker head off to Blackroot temple in search of Dex and Arasinya.

Tinker and Bogs arrive at the tomb as Dex and Arasinya launch a surprise attack on Demise.

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Kessler's Defeat and The Return to Sharn

“I am very impressed,” begins the assassin. “You have killed our friend Jaenus tvice now. I did not know him vell, but he did gift me those lovely daggers, crafted by artisans in her majesty’s court.”

“I am Baron Kessler, former high commander of the Emerald Claw. I see you are veary. I see it in your eyes. And vhile you may have bested a dragon, you have not yet bested me.”

“You desire to live. I desire the crown. I believe a compromise can be reached.”

As it turned out, the party was not willing to compromise and Kessler’s threats were mostly bluster. Boggs (miraculously) regains consciousness during the fight and Kessler is soon slain. When killed, Kessler turns grey and his features change. He was the changeling the party knew as Tikulti or Yog. There is a shallow wound on his body where he carved off his skin and his King’s Shadows tattoo.

After the battle, the bodies of the crew and goblins are gathered up and the chaplan cats gentle repose on the bodies to preserve them until they can either be revived or buried.

The party finds Yeraa’s journal. They discover that Yeraa had a great deal of respect for Dex, but did not trust Arasinya, who she believed to be either a fool or a liar (or both). From Yeraa’s notes, the party learns that to reassemble the crown it is necessary to perform the “Rite of Arkantaash” in a place holy to ancient Dhakaan. Yeraa intended to perform the rite in Ashurta’s Tomb. Sprot’s role was to aid with the assembly of the crown, or if all pieces of the crown could not be recovered, to create forgeries of the pieces that would work sufficiently well to convince the goblins that Yeraa had the original intact crown. As much as Yeraa professed to believe the Gods and the Ancestors were guiding her, she worried that she was not chosen and was merely headstrong, ruthless, and lucky enough to make her way this far. At any moment, she fears that her luck may run out, or the gods or ancestors might find her unworthy.

The airship returns to Sharn and the party splits up. Boggs heads off on his own. Tinker and Aurora go to meet Bonekeeper. Dex and Arasinya head to goblin slums in the depths of Sharn. But are all followed! Tinker and Aurora shake off their tails by reporting those following them to the Sharn Watch. Those following Dex and Arasinya disappear mysteriously in the dangerous streets of the slums. Boggs tries to shake pursuit by slipping into a bar. The half-orc following him enters the bar and confronts Boggs. Boggs realizes that the half-orc is working for Graeb Shanks. A fight breaks out between the two and Boggs is knocked unconscious.

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