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

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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The Death of Maltassar Boggs

Ahead you see a row of lights in the darkness. As you approach, you identify the lights as lanterns like your own, hanging from hooks in a wall of ice. Before you is a long, low block of ice that looks suspiciously like a bar table. There are stools of ice in front of it, extending off into the darkness in either direction. Cloaked figures rest on them, muttering darkly and sipping from ice tankards. It looks like there’s a free seat just ahead of you.

The bartender is Hesphera, a human woman you knew from a case that went bad long ago, back before you drank the way you do now. She’s pale as death, but as beautiful as you remember. “It’s been a long time Boggs,” Hesphera says. “Welcome to the River Styx. What can I get you?”

“I think I’m going to need something strong,” you say. “What do you have?”

“Our home-brews are oblivion and reality.”

“I’ll try reality.”

“One ice cold reality coming right up.”

Soon enough a tankard is placed on the bar-top in front of you. The liquid in the tankard is a muddy colour and frozen solid.

“Cheers!” cries the patron beside you and raises his glass. “To reality!” You recognize him as the changeling, Yog.

“You’re dead,” you ask in confusion.

“I’ve been dead a long time. Died in an Emerald Claw prison camp. Interrogated and tortured for months, then executed. Have I introduced you to my friend here?” He points to the warforged sitting next to him. “Killed by the Emerald Claw as well. I didn’t know that warforged have souls, did you?” The warforged, Bearing, nods at Bogs in silent recognition.

The old man sitting at your right speaks up, his voice weary and his Karrnathi accent thick. “Nature abhors a vacuum. Craft a vessel, a soul vill fill it. No further invocations are necessary.” He shakes his head and tips his tankard to his lips. A few pieces of ice slip down into his mouth and he crunches them noisily. “Bitter. I used to laugh ven dey called me a soulless monster. I stopped laughing ven I met one.”

“Met one?”

“A soulless monster. Regent Moranna had begun to suspect that I and the Order were verking for anudder, serving a different trone. She vas determined to get everything she could out of me. So she sent him. My interrogator. A changeling. He vould appear to me as friends, loved vuns, grandchildren. His impersonations ver perfect. But I vas never fooled. There vas alvays an emptiness in his eyes, a hunger, a void vaiting to be filled. In the end, it did not matter that I could see through his ruses. His hunger was greater than my cunning. He learned it all: my secrets, my life, every desire, every memory I had, all devoured by him. I have never before met a more pahverful telepat.”

“Soon after he disappeared. Vanished. Dey vondered vut I could have done to him to make him break. Moranna began to fear me even more and hastily ordered my execution. But I had done noting. He left because his hunger had finally been sated.”

Yog sips at his flagon of swirling black oblivion. “I knew he was a changeling,” he begins. “But he was so convincing, there were times when he made me believe he was Kessler. But I knew. I knew Kessler was long dead. But I suppose it didn’t matter. He was Kessler. His impersonations are so perfect, he can’t even tell that they are impersonations. He believed. And in the end, if you can’t tell the difference and no one else can tell the difference, who’s to say you aren’t the real thing?”

Kessler nods. “Nature abhors a vacuum. Just as a lost soul searches for a place to rest, an empty vessel hungers for souls to fill it.”

“Look,” begins Boggs, “as much fun as it is reminiscing with you two, I’ve got to get back…”

“You’re dead, Boggs,” says Yog. “What makes you think you can go back?”

Hesphera, behind the bar, clears her throat. “I might be able to get you back there Boggs. Among the living. But not for free. You’d owe one of the powers a favour.”

“Well,” considers Boggs, “what choice do I have?”

“If you want to live?” says Hesphera. “None at all.”

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The Blood of Emerald Claw

Dex collapses from the strain of contact with Belashyrra’s alien mind. While unconscious, she has a vision of Yeraa on the Shores of Death, at the Border between Death and Dream. Yeraa asks Dex to promise “not to leave me here” and hints that Ashurta might be able to help. When Dex regains consciousness, she finds that the Second Wind is under attack by a young blue dragon. The dragon claims to be of “the blood of Emerald Claw” and demands the pieces of the crown for his “queen”.

Over the course of the battle, Captain Arasinya makes several ultimately futile attempts at aerial manoeuvres to shake the dragon loose from her ship, then orders Keyleth, the first mate, to go below deck and get the goblins up to help. Keyleth quickly discovers that the hatches have been locked. As the battle dragons on (I’m sorry), the wyrm realizes he is outmatched and attempts to flee. Arasinya, grabbing the wheel from the pilot, steers the ship into the fleeing dragon. The dragon collides with the elemental ring, catches fire, and falls dead upon the ship’s deck.

Practically frantic by this point, Dex attempts to find a way to get below deck. The party helps Dex open the cargo hatch and they descend. There they find a grizzly sight: Yeraa and her warband, dead in the mess hall. It appears as if they had been sitting down for a meal when they were taken by surprise. The goblins have iron daggers stabbed into their bodies. The dagger from Akitani’s body is removed for inspection. On the blade are magic runes and the pommel is decorated with the roaring, fanged visage that is the symbol of the Blood of the Vol. In some cases, the wounds from the daggers are clearly lethal. In other cases, the wounds seem non-fatal, suggesting that the goblins died from other causes. In the air hangs a faint alchemical smell belonging to a rare catalyst, which is not in itself dangerous.

Tinker finds the body of several crew members, the manner of their self or mutually inflicted deaths suggesting the use of mind control.

Dex, hunting for the assassin, invokes the “blind sight” power of her coat of eyes, allowing her to see through walls and illusions. She soon finds him lurking in a locked cabin, working on creating a pentacle on its floor. Hearing them outside the cabin, the assassin makes an arcane gesture and in the mess hall the goblins rise.

Tinker picks the lock and Dex bursts into the cabin. She threatens the assassin, who remains carefully mute. The assassin as it so happens is invisible, and wary of giving away his location to Tinker.

Tinker, uncertain of the assassin’s location or distance, instead devotes his attention to the pentacle that Dex is standing on. The pentacle is part of a linked portal ritual in progress. Tinker carefully rubs out part of the pentacle, preventing the ritual from being easily completed. Then seized with a sudden and illogical fear for Dex’s safety, he pushes her off the disabled pentacle.

At that same moment, the assassin become visible. Now that Tinker is no longer between him and the door, the assassin makes his escape down the hall, directing one the zombie hobgoblins to block pursuit. As he flees, Dex lands a couple of blows on him, but the assassin downs another vial of the invisibility potion and makes good his escape. Dex forces her way past the goblin in the door, but loses the trail of the assassin.

During the battle, Bogs receives word from Bonekeeper that “Yog’s tattoo has disappeared” from her body leading her to believe that Yog is dead. Each bone tattoo on Bonekeeper’s body is a link to another field agent. When an agent dies, their tattoo vanishes. Bogs suggests another possibility: that Yog/Tikulti has turned traitor. Bonekeeper admits this is a “disturbing possibility”.

Pounding and shouts from the hatch down to the cargo hold indicate to Arasinya that some of her crew is still alive and has been trapped below. She frees them and they ascend to help fight the zombie goblins, or rather, they try. The two deckhands are quickly struck down, the chaplan, Valna, is knocked unconscious by zombie-Yeraa. By the time the fight is over, of the four crew who joined the fight, only Higgs, the ship’s bowson, is left standing.

The party notes that Akitani, the goblin they removed the dagger from, did not rise to join the fight. Realizing that the daggers contain the spell that animates the zombies, the party manages to remove the dagger from Yeraa’s body. Once she is still, Tinker ascertains that Yeraa is indeed dead. Dex is sad, then angry.

Just as the battle with the goblins ends, the ship’s crew appears at the top of the cargo hatch and Keyleth, the first mate, throws lightning at Dex. The deck crew seems to be convinced that Dex is the necromancer attacking the ship and responsible for reanimating the goblins. Their evidence: the fact that she is one scary looking gnome and she commands a group of zombies (deathgaunts, stored in the hold).

A fight almost breaks out, but Dex and the rest of the party manage to persuade the crew to give the gnome the benefit of the doubt. The party climbs back up to the deck with the hope of finding the assassin. As soon as they do, the dragon corpse stirs and rises. An iron ritual dagger has been embedded in its chest.

Just as Bogs finishes climbing up on deck he receives a mental command from the unseen assassin. The assassin bids him to kill Higgs, the hapless bowson climbing up after him. Bogs resists and the psychic force of the compulsion crushes Bogs’s mind and he slumps forward on the deck, slipping into oblivion.

As the dragon attempts to devour Arasinya with typical zombie clumsiness, Dex climbs up onto a cabin and leaps onto the dragon’s back. She stuffs Tinker’s resonance crystal into the dragon’s ear. Arasinya strikes the dragon with a blast of thunder so loud that Dex’s ears are left ringing, the crystal shatters explosively, and the dragon’s head is taken clean off.

Aurora notices that one of the crew on deck is Valna, the ship’s chaplan, the very same Valna left unconscious in the mess hall. Realizing suddenly that the assassin must be a shapeshifter, Aurora roars out a warning to the rest of the party…

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Ship's Manifest

Manifest of the Second Wind

Crew (12)

Captain, Arasinya d’Lyrandar. (on deck)
First officer, Keyleth d’Lyrandar. (on deck)
Cook/Purser, Irann d’Ghallanda. (found dead in the mess: seems to have slit her own throat with a carving knife)
Pilot, Delan d’Lyrandar. (on deck)
Navigator, Pressly d’Lyrandar. (on deck)
Signalmaster, Frug d’Sivis. (on deck)
Engineer, Galen d’Lyrandar. (on deck)
Chaplan, Valna d’Lyrandar. (last seen securing the hold)
Bowson, Higgs d’Lyrandar. (last seen securing the hold)
Deckhand, Mialee. (last seen securing the hold)
Deckhand, Faral. (beaten to death with a club, found with club in hand on gangway below deck)
Deckhand, Chaedi. (beaten to death with a club, found with club in hand on gangway below deck)
Deckhand, Erdan. (last seen securing the hold)

Passengers (13)

Aurora (in the mess)
Tinker (in a cabin)
Dexdamoria Eldora Frumpkin (in a cabin)
Maltassar Bogs (in the mess)

Yeraa (found dead in the mess: stabbed with iron dagger carved with the symbol of the Blood of the Vol, but wound looks non-lethal, strange alchemical smell noticed in the air)
Tikulti (last seen heading below deck to find Yeraa)
Govaan (dead in the mess: iron dagger in left eye; alchemical smell)
Akitani (dead in the mess: iron dagger in right shoulder; alchemical smell)
Jezirpa (dead in the mess: iron dagger between left ribs; alchemical smell)
Murdaak (dead in the mess: iron dagger in back; alchemical smell)
Ulkuuz (dead in the mess: iron dagger through the heart; alchemical smell)

Sprot (last seen in Greywall)
Bearing (last seen in Greywall)

Cargo (10)

Blue dragon, name unknown. (dead on the deck)
Deathgaunts (last seen being secured in the hold)

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