Reign of Winter

Life from Death, Part 2: Dark Reflections
An excerpt from the journal of Nobel Black

I wonder what it’s like to die? With mayhem and butchery all around, it’s hard not to think of it. Koyo has been brought back from the brink once and Fenn has met oblivion twice. What is on the other side of mortality? The theologians say that Pharasma waits for us all, separates the good from the evil, just from unjust, and directs souls to their rightful end. The good souls are spirited to the positive energy plane where they are slowly recycled back to the universe through the gates at the hearts of stars. Thus life springs anew from death as we are all cleansed in the heart of our stars.

Or maybe we just go through an endless cycle of suffering from which there is no escape and reality is a prison. Fenn might know, but he sure isn’t telling. Maybe I didn’t do him any favors bringing him back.

Despair has taken hold of my insides like a parasite, gnawing away at me. Maybe it is this place, the things we have seen that cannot be unseen. This plane is sickening. Every breath tastes of decay and depravity. If this is the place that gave birth to Baba Yaga, no wonder she is what she is.

Fenn, freshly back from an early grave, teleported us back the compounds cathedral from which we would continue to look for Rasputin and Baba Yaga. Everyone got back in the magic bag and I stealthily approached some nearby buildings.

Peering in one of the windows of a long warehouse, I saw the entire interior covered from floor to ceiling in blood, entrails, and flesh. Muscles and sinew had been stretched taught on hooks and intestines were strung from the rafters. A single figure could be seen inside reveling in the carnage of countless bodies. I was going to move on when I saw something more: 2 children. There were 2 children huddled inside at the back, looking scared and confused. We couldn’t walk away from this.

I thought that perhaps I could use the robe of etherealness we had found earlier to slip in and grab them, but once I put it on I caught fire. Even worse I couldn’t remove it. I had been cursed for the second time that day!

I hastily barged through the door of the slaughterhouse to get out of plane sight in the yard and unceremoniously dumped my companions out of the bag, only Koyo landing on her feet. The vile being before us was clothed in chains and gore-soaked rags and when I looked closely, he seemed to grow extra arms that looked suspiciously like my own. Taryn must have had a similar reaction as we were both momentarily stunned.

Selene and Koyo went after it while Fenn shot beams of fire from his outstretched fingers. I conjured a stone wall between us and the children to protect them and Taryn jumped in to the melee with swords swinging. The creature seemed to regenerate to some degree, but was locked down pretty quickly by overwhelming numbers on our part.

Selene was able to both protect me from the burning of the cursed robe and remove it from me, Sarenrae’s glory!

The children – a boy and girl – remembered nothing of how they got to the camp, but they knew Rasputin. They knew him as some kind of healer, having healed their father, who despite that had apparently died later on. I inquired if the little girl was Anastasia. She confirmed that she was and that she and her brother, the boy, were both royalty. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that there mother was dead. For now it was just important that they were safe.

Oddly, the boy resembled one of the animated dreams that had attacked us earlier. What were these children doing here and what was being done to them?

As I pondered the boy’s incorporeal doppelgänger I couldn’t help but be reminded of something else I had seen earlier that day. Before retreating to the Hut to resurrect Fenn, I had stepped outside the cabin alone to see one more nearby structure. It was a spring of water surrounded by various statues of unrecognizable men and women. The spring flowed unnaturally as in the current wintery conditions it should have been frozen. I leaned over to look into the waters and save my own dark reflection looking back. I turned to return to my companions, but noticed that my reflection lingered momentarily in the waters, my face contorted and sinister, a monster from a nightmare. Hollow eyes had replaced my own and seemed to be gazing into me rather than back at me. Then it was gone and I expeditiously returned to my companions.

Witchcraft. Blood. Dark Reflections. Death from Life. Life from Death. All things repeating, endlessly repeating. Golarion, Triaxus, and Earth. Connected by ley lines and Baba Yaga’s bread crumbs. Are the Rider’s hunters or prey? What is the World Engine?

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Life From Death
An excerpt from the journal of Nobel Black

Everyone agreed that conspicuously walking around the compound was a bad idea, so we decided to have everyone but me climb inside our spacious magic bag while I invisibly navigated the area. I peered into several buildings containing various hazards such as war engines, skeletons, and a platoon of soldiers before finding what looked to be a cottage filled with books. It appeared empty and a safe refuge to regroup.

Surprisingly, or maybe not at that point, Rasputin was inside waiting for us. I tried to palaver with him, but he could not be convinced that his sister Elvanna would become his rival if they split Baba Yaga’s power. They had apparently agreed to split Baba Yaga’s domain. He would have Earth and she would have Golarion.

He once again proved only to be a projection and vanished, while the room filled with 4 animated dreams that looked like nobility. Fenn was quick on the draw as usual setting fire to the nearest one, but this drew their attention. Selene stepped in front of Fenn to shield him. Taryn found it difficult to damage the nightmare creatures who seemed to be largely incorporeal. I decided to fight ghosts with ghosts and manifested 2 hauntling constructs which seemed quite effective.

The animated dreams descended upon us rapidly with their mental attacks. Koyo was out of the fight immediately, gripped by madness and babbling incoherently. Taryn and I felt their withering touch drain our will and fatigue our bodies, but it was Fenn who got the worst of it. One second he was up and the next he fell to the ground and stopped breathing.

Nesteruk. Koyo. Fenn. I pushed out my breath toward Fenn with the fraction of Baba Yaga’s power that dwelled within me, the same trick that had brought Koyo back from the brink, but Fenn did not stir. The fight was over, but he was dead. I had failed again.

“There is another way. Life from death.” It was Seph. He told me that I had become very powerful and could probably restore Fenn even now, but I would need supplies and a lot of my inner reserve. I tucked Fenn’s body in the magic bag.

We finished exploring the house and found the ghost of a queen killed by Rasputin’s men. She told us to find her daughter, Anastasia, who still lived. We also found some kind of engineering schematics regarding a machine called the World Engine and devices called World Anchors locked in a drawer.

Gathering what we could, we teleported back to the Hut where we could arrange to get the diamond dust from Zill that would be needed to bring Fenn back. It took the last of my mythic energies but I was able to resurrect Fenn and restore Taryn and I of our affliction.

With Fenn back, we had access to his big brain again. He figured out both that Taryn and I were still cursed by the animated dreams, and that the schematics were for a device that could superimpose one plane on another. Selene lifted our curse with her divine touch (bless those healing hands). Fenn recognized the World Anchors as the 4 corner towers at Rasputin’s complex that held the purple lightning rods and thought it would be possible that we could disable them.

Selene has become an amazing healer. Not only does she seem to be an almost limitless supply of positive healing energies, but her touch can remove even potent curses and afflictions of the body and spirit. Perhaps in time she could even remove my haunting. However, the more I learn about magic the more I see that that which is affecting me is more than a curse or haunt. It may be neither. It may simply be what I am. Maybe I should no less remove it then I should remove my own heart.

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The Past Haunts
An excerpt from the journal of Nobel Black

After much deliberation we finally agreed to have Fenn teleport us into Rasputin’s compound. We targeted the ruined temple at the center of the compound with the intent of taking out the vampires Fenn had scryed. We were forced to leave Shatha behind due to his size.

The temple was largely ruined, the doors blown off and the domed ceiling collapsed. Much of the stained glass windows remained intact and portions of the walls still smoked. It was oppressively hot.

The alcove into which we teleported contained 2 statues wrapped in spiked wires like the thorns of a rose stem. The statues started bleeding when we looked at them, and strangely we began to bleed from our hands and feet as well, mirroring the statues’ wounds. At almost the same moment, before we could recover, the statues animated and looked directly at us.

Taryn drew swords and immediately swung away at the bleeding stones, which in turn pummeled her already wounded body. Fenn recognized the statues as golems and realized that our magic would be nearly useless against them. That didn’t stop Selene and Koyo from following Taryn’s lead into battle. Selene went head on with the second statue while Koyo moved to flank. Though she landed some savage blows with her bite, she was overexposed and after several slams of the golem’s stone fists, her bloody body was flung aside.

I could see Nesteruk in my mind. I could still remember his blood on my hands when I failed to save him. With a fire lit inside me, I moved as fast as I could to Koyo, infusing her body with magical energies that flowed from my mouth to hers. One moment she was not breathing and the next she was back.

Fenn found a way to magically disable one of the golems which was quickly destroyed by Taryn and Koyo whom were barely able to stand by that point. Selene continued to go stone to metal against the other golem. Knowing that my magic would be useless, I transmuted my flesh to that of an earth elemental to fight stone with stone alongside Selene. Fenn surprised everyone by using his magic in more creative ways the usual. Rather than exploding everything in sight, he used his power to boost our speed and disable our enemy.

We walked over the broken stone of the golems and collapsed roof to explore the temple while Selene and I healed our allies. Fenn was overcome with a vision of Baba Yaga entering the temple and being caught in an arcane explosion of purple lightning. The explosion ruined the building and left her helpless on the floor. A hundred or more images of Rasputin surrounded her as strange machines transferred her power to a series of wooden dolls. It was a glimpse of what had come before.

As I approached the alter of the temple, Rasputin again appeared, this time to all of us. He taunted us when Fenn sent a magic missile through yet another of his false images. How could we defeat him if we could never touch him?

Attempting to ignore the figment, I moved past only to be overcome by a wave of uncontrollable grief and regret that brought me to my knees. Rasputin held my mind. I remembered Nesteruk again. The smell of his lifeblood filled my nose. I could taste it in my mouth and feel it on my hands. My fault. All my fault. I saw my companions’ looks of disappointment, felt the shame all over again. What was I doing here? I wasn’t strong enough to save them. Selene, Taryn, Koyo, and I would all die here, because of me.

I don’t know if anyone else felt what I felt in that moment. I didn’t dare to ask. I wouldn’t let them see how broken I was after all of this. The weight of the mission was becoming more than I could bear. I was a as a child again, unsure of myself, and the fear was taking over.

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Koyo's Tale
An excerpt from the journal of Nobel Black

After Fenn had scouted the compound with arcane eyes, he relayed to us what he saw. The mention of vampires seemed to make Koyo uneasy. Though usually in a state of persistent motion, her kinetics seemed more aggressive than fluid, so I inquired. This was the first time she divulged how she had come to Triaxus.

Her village was set on the side of a mountain in Jalmaray. It had sprung up alongside a monastery of Irori as a means to support the monastery and tend to the pilgrims that came to be near the First Sutra. It was alleged that this ancient parchment contained the first writings of Irori after he has ascended from human to deity. It was told that the writings were almost too divine to be fully understand for a mortal and that Irori had to subsequently change the tone and nature of his writing to reflect more mortal conceptions. Some even said that each person viewing the writing saw something unique that none had read before as if the text itself was alive. Koyo had no idea if any of it was true as the monks kept the parchment hidden away deeming it not fit to be read by any but the true masters whose minds could fully understand the grand designs.

Near dusk when she was 16, the villagers were alerted to the arrival of a strange ship at the base of the mountain as it met the ocean. The masts were tall with pitch black sails. The flag overhead resembled a sun setting on the ocean horizon with 2 beams of crimson light reaching up to pierce the sky overhead. It was eerie and was anchored in a very unusual spot as there was really no way to the town from that location other than 1500 feet of nearly vertical rock. Pilgrims and traders tended to port at one of Jalmaray’s harbors and work there way to town through the mountain passes on the opposite side of town for this reason.

As night fell, a bell rang out from the monastery. The monastery was under attack! Koyo’s parents closed the doors and shudders tightly, but Koyo could still here screams and the sound of battle coming from the monastery at the towns center. Suddenly the door to her home was smashed in by 2 very ghoulish looking creatures that grabbed her parents as they pushed Koyo out a window.

Koyo made her way in the shadows after her parents and their captors. What looked to be nearly the entire village was being pushed toward the monastery by ghoulish creatures. Outside the monastery’s front doors by a very large bonfire stood a figure cloaked in black with a bald head and a large red scarf that hung around his neck. A saber hung at his side and fangs could be seen in his mouth by the light of the flames. The monks of Irori had taken up defensive positions on the roof of the monastery and were armed with long bows and shuriken. The courtyard outside the monastery was littered with bodies from both the invading force and the monks.

The black clad man introduced himself as Cort Sang, captain of the Crimson Corsairs, and informed them that he had come for the artifact within the temple as he felt that it could alleviate an affliction. He demonstrated this affliction by using his teeth to tear open the throat of one of the villagers and feast on their blood. He claimed that unless the monks opened the gates and invited him in, he would allow his crew to eat the flesh from the villagers limbs and then toss the bodies into the pyre while they still lived. Faced with such horror, the monks conceded and opened the gates. True to his word, Sang did not harm the villagers, though they remained captive as he went inside.

Koyo, ever the skilled climber, went over the compound wall to follow. She knew she couldn’t free her family from the ghouls as she would be severely outnumbered and had no combat experience, but the relic may be able to help if the legends about it were true and she could get it before Sang.

Once inside, she found Sang single handedly decimating the monks both young and old. One of the older masters pulled forth a symbol of Irori from which emitted an intense burst of light that seemed to wound Sang. Before he could attempt it again, Sang had leapt across the yard and cut him down with his saber. Seeing Sang temporarily slowed from his wound, Koyo made a dash along the roof tops for the center of the compound where she knew the First Sutra would be found.

Koyo reached it just seconds before Sang, her effort aided by the last of the monks who had given their lives trying to stop Sang at the door, allowing her to slip into the door behind them. She gripped what seemed to be an old piece of paper and felt no divine surge of power. She turned to lock eyes with Sang who simply stared at her and said calmly, “Bring it here, little fox.” Koyo could feel her mind start to tip out of her control and into his. She gripped the parchment tighter and felt her senses return to her, but she wasn’t sure if she could withstand his mesmerizing voice and eyes again. She screamed, “Away!”, and then white light filled the entire room.

When her vision returned, she realized the whiteness was snow. Snow all around her sparkling blindingly in the daylight. The parchment was gone, Cort Sang was gone, the monastery was gone, and her village was gone. All that remained was the white snows of Triaxus.

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Anxiety
An excerpt from the journal of Nobel Black

After stopping the large wheeled cannon, I flew to the top of a building at the center of town. The scene was gruesome. The village had been mostly destroyed, it’s 10 or so buildings in various states of ruin. The center of town held a burning pile of corpses not wearing soldiers uniforms. What had happened here?

As I provided an overview of the situation, my colleagues went door to door but found nothing but empty buildings. As Selene and Fenn neared the pyre, a dark robed bearded man came out from behind the fire where I could not previously see him. To our surprise he addressed us in heavily accented Taldan, and we immediately knew it was Grigori Rasputin.

The Mad Monk suggested that Baba Yaga was almost drained of power and offered to let us leave. Fenn disrespected him and was magically silenced. I attempted to magically bind him from my hiding place on the roof, but he seemed to shrug it off completely before vanishing. It was evident to Fenn that he had been a projection the entire time. The real Rasputin was elsewhere waiting.

At his leave, he was able to both animate the flaming corpse pile into a monstrosity familiar to me from stories I had heard on Golarion (a flaming corpse orgy) and to freeze Taryn, Fenn, and Shatha in place. With much of our party incapacitated, Selene and I had to carry the day. I unleashed a volley of various energies and discovered that it was susceptible to cold. Shatha let loose his icy breath and I summoned a spray of ice shards that destroyed the abomination. As always Koyo found herself in the line of fire, but was able to avoid injury. However, she was quite displeased by being under friendly fire yet again and in almost disbelief that it was me targeting her this time.

After looting the village of supplies, Taryn noted that the Dancing Hut was restlessly pacing and suddenly took off into the surrounding woods. We gave chase with Taryn in the lead. The hut brought us to the edge of the woods where we could see an open expanse of pockmarked snow surrounding a fortified complex. Using a spyglass I was able to see wire fences and towers surrounding a damaged temple of some kind. Above was a maelstrom of unnatural roiling and swirling clouds with various colored discharges of energy. This entire plane seemed to be an anathema to nature. The people of Earth seemed to have destroyed the land with their war machines.

Fenn used arcane scrying eyes to survey the complex. Outside he saw 2 metal carts on treads patrolling the perimeter. The perimeter was defended by rows of wire fences and trenches between 11 towers containing spotlights and mounted projectile barrels larger than those the soldiers had carried. Inside he found military barracks and a ruined temple. Within the temple were zombified soldiers and 3 vampires. Fenn figured that the vampires were probably controlling the populace of the site through mind control.

I tried to divine if Rasputin was inside the complex using the dragon bones and discovered only that I needed to expand my mind beyond the camps dimensions. This may imply that there may be a demiplane inside the temple much like what is inside the Dancing Hut, but I truly do not understand the true meaning of Magdh’s wisdom. I also learned that Rasputin was draining Baba Yaga’s power using blood, magic, and words. The presumption is that this is witchcraft as these are the essential components of most witchcraft.

Fenn figured out that the hut had been drawn here when it felt the imminent threat of Baba Yaga’s demise. With that knowledge we knew we had to go inside and we set about making a plan. We could attempt to teleport into the cathedral or we could try and infiltrate the complex aerially by cover of night risking the maelstrom of energy overhead. As we watched, night fell and the spotlights turned on, sweeping the complex inside and out. Within the ruins of the complex, the beams shone upon ghosts in their sweep.

A haunted fortress? I felt the darklings stir within me. I would need to maintain control once we were inside or risk the entire operation. I couldn’t have predicted what would happen next.

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Ambush on Earth
An excerpt from the journal of Nobel Black

Once we had worked things out with Fenn and resigned ourselves to the fact that for the time being Selene would need to hold on to the Doomblade, we set out to finally find Baba Yaga amidst whatever Earth had to offer. Unfortunately for us, the people of Earth were prepared with an offering of projectile weapons fire and explosives.

The village outside the hut was about 500 feet down a hill separated from us by an open field of snow. Nestled next to a few burned out brick buildings, we could spy a large metal construction on two large wheels that served an indeterminate function. As Fenn, Koyo, and I made our way cautiously across the field, Selene and Taryn flew ahead to scout, Selene upon Shatha and Taryn for the first time riding a griffon she had summoned using a magical figurine. About 60 feet from the hut all hell broke loose.

Seph heard a click when Fenn stepped into an area of snow. Before we could react the ground itself rose up underneath Fenn and exploded, injuring myself and Fenn. Koyo as always seemed to miraculously evade injury with the speed of the wind. Without even a moment to dust ourselves off, a volley of projectile weapons arced through the air from the village and exploded around us. Selene and Taryn used their greater mounted speed to reach the village first where they engaged a swarm of Earth soldiers inside the buildings. The soldiers each used a long metallic tube to fire explosive propelled projectiles at us over and over again. Selene drew their fire as best she could by literally falling through the ceiling of one of the buildings and battling an entire room of them.

The large metal structure turned out to be a war machine of some kind capable of shooting fire and explosives. Taryn was shot from her griffon and fell to the field below. Without missing a beat, she was up on her feet and followed Selene into close quarters combat among the ruined buildings. Selene needed the support as she was essentially buried in soldiers all attacking her at once. The fighting was so thick that she even threw the Doomblade at a soldier hoping she could lose it in the fray.

Fenn, Koyo, and I made our way via flight but didn’t quite have the speed of our companions so we took heavy fire from the soldiers and the cannon as we made our way to the enemy. I did my best to defend us. Hello darkness my old friend. I was able to surround us in the safe embrace of shadow to limit enemy targeting and the shots that did get through often were deflected by my magical bad luck. Much of the fight was spent using my healing magic to maintain my allies and myself who were being decimated by the strange Earth weapons. I was for the first time able to use the things I had learned from Fenn and Seph to produce magical fire and blast a squad of soldiers hiding inside another building. I can see why Fenn likes fire so much; it gets the job done and it feels so good to let loose like that.

Fenn tried to temporarily take the cannon out of the fight with a wall of fire, but he was knocked unconscious by a large explosion which tore through a nearby building as the cannon attempted to target us. I pulled him behind the building to mend his wounds while Selene and Taryn – just having finished clearing out the adjacent buildings of dozens of soldiers – met us at the same spot. I still felt guilty about having let Fenn die previously, a mistake which led to his making a bargain with a powerful entity to live, and I wasn’t about to let any of my friends slip away again.

All that remained was the cannon which was now peppering us with rapid fire projectiles from small metal tubes on its sides and underbelly. Koyo climbed it and noted that she could see a few Earth soldiers inside but couldn’t find a way in. Selene crashed down on it from above but the machine was incredibly durable and seemed to barely be scratched. Taryn worked the wheels with her blades and Fenn tried a fireball aimed at the belly. I tried to avoid further projectiles by hiding in a nearby building, and I used magic to specifically shatter the projectile tubes that harassed us. With the machine functionally disarmed, Shatha breathed dragon breath into the machine’s cabin through a viewing slit. Shatha’s breath is as magnificent as any dragon’s and I am glad we call her ally.

Battered and bleeding, we each lay against the scrapped machine exhausted. The Doomblade found its way back to Selene to her despair. There were probably close to a hundred bodies to mark our first moments on Earth. I turned to Fenn. “So, can you operate the hut or not? I think we are going to need it.”

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The Truth
An excerpt from the journal of Nobel Black

With all eyes on him, Fenn continued to lie. He admitted that he made not one but two deals with some entity. He admitted that he did die momentarily when we thought he had nearly been killed. In order to live he agreed to draw blood with the Gloomblade and trade it to the mysterious entity. However, in order to get the Gloomblade used, he found he needed to manipulate it into one that Taryn would use in Selene’s light. While Selene and I were flying back from Ivoryglass, he crafted the sword with the help of another in identified humanoid female. This sword became the “Doomblade”, as I have taken to calling it, and was eventually awakened by Selene’s celestial blood revealing if to be intelligent and bloodthirsty.

In addition he had made an early agreement with the same entity in order to cure his insanity from the Aeon Pit. He tried to be evasive about this despite the fact that the jig was up, but I had known him for so long that I could read him like a book. I called him out on every lie and ultimately discovered that he had learned things about the hut that we didn’t know after all of his time in the library. He had learned that the hut could be controlled and had invited the same female humanoid who had helped him craft the “Doomblade” to enter the hut and investigate the cauldron room which operates it. Fenn didn’t know what this creature was or why it was so interested in the hut, so the ramifications of this act could not be known.

I understood why Fenn did what he did; he was facing death and insanity. What I couldn’t understand was why he wouldn’t have told us and why he continued to try and hide information from us even as we had found him out.

I’ve known Fenn for a long time and it seems at times that, despite his vast knowledge, he doesn’t understand himself. I figured I would remind him.

I plane shifted us back to Golarion where I asked Fenn to teleport us to the wizard’s tower where he was trained. He reluctantly agreed to go back to a place which still carried painful memories. As we walked through the wreckage of the once great structure, I reminded him of the two great losses in his life: the death of his parents and the death of his master. Both were times when he found himself helpless and powerless against the world. I believe this is the reason he strives for personal power above all else, so that he never finds himself weak again.

What he never understood is that he was weak because he was alone. Now he had friends and the power that comes with companionship. To push those people away for personal gain was the weaker path, and it was this mentality – to go it alone – that put him in the positions that led to him having to make deals with dangerous entities. Though I don’t begrudge him for making the decisions he made in the position he was in, I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t ask for the help of his friends.

He also needed to know that there was more at stake than just him. If we failed, the same thing that happened to his parents and his master would happen again, but this time to so many more. The reign of winter would spread from Irresen to all of Golarion. Maybe even to worlds beyond.

I also had to admit a secret of my own. Seph had felt a strange connection to Fenn since we had first encountered him in Artrosa, but it took him sometime to understand why. Fenn cast magic in a similar way to Seph’s master and her husband, but with a little more forcefulness. Through discussion, Seph and I came to realize that Fenn had been trained by the husband of his former master. This was after Seph’s master went mad with grief at the loss of her child and had eventually died in Atrosa, leaving Seph stranded until we freed him. This loss of his child and wife was probably why Fenn’s master was reluctant to take him in in the first place.

Fenn used a divination to determine the truth in Seph’s story. Seph and I left Fenn alone to consider our words in that heavy place. Eventually he returned, and agreed to a new pact with me, a vow of friendship and trust renewed. He would take my most precious thing – the first world acorn – and agree to return it to me once we freed Baba Yaga. This would be made in blood, a symbol of our bond tied in the ways of fey magic. If he failed to do so by bartering it or giving it away to another, then there would be nothing left between us and he would become my enemy.

With the deal made and our hidden truths disclosed, we shifted back to the hut to face the trials of Earth together with friends at our side.

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The Sword
An excerpt from the journal of Nobel Black

Dear Fenn,

Fuck you! You made a sword that wants to kill me. What were you thinking?

Your former friend,
Nobel

Now that that’s off my chest I can lay the events down as they happened.

After having cleared the hut of all its unpleasantness we set about preparing for Earth and its world of war. First, we summoned the hut’s library to learn what we could of Earth and where we might find Rasputin. While there were apparently many languages spoken there, we chose to attune my translator to Russian as that was what Coffin Man spoke and we couldn’t figure out a more appropriate choice. We couldn’t make any headway on how to find a single man, Rasputin, out of the millions that probably inhabited the planet, so we set about on other endeavors.

Selene consecrated the candy room to the best of her abilities and then took stock of our inventory to barter with Zill. Fenn and I stayed in the library to research new forms in to which we could magically transmogrify ourselves if needed.

Taryn eagerly practiced with her new sword, the short sword created by Fenn while he and Taryn had waited for Selene and I return from Ivoryglass. It had been made as an inversion to the Gloomblade carried by Koyo, so that it could be enhanced by Selene’s ever bright aura. Taryn soon became bored with solo swordplay so she began to spar with Koyo. During the exercise, Koyo was cut slightly and noted that the sword shaft glowed with runes briefly and seemed to soak up the blood. Koyo questioned Taryn about the blade and Taryn admitted that the new sword seemed to emanate a drive to battle that she could empathically sense. Koyo suggested they take the sword to Selene for investigation.

Selene didn’t detect evil on the blade so she cut herself with it to see the effect Koyo had noted. The result was that the sword spoke telepathically to Selene, communicating that it was an ancient artifact that sought victory and light. Her blood had awakened it.

This of course raised many questions. Fenn had supposedly crafted the sword over 3 days when he was alone with Koyo and Taryn, yet neither of them were actually there for the entire process. Why would Fenn say he crafted it if he clearly didn’t? Did he know what the sword was? Did the sword have good intentions?

Seph’s interest was peaked in the artifact and his emotions pulled me from the library to investigate as well, leaving Fenn alone to continue researching. Once we were caught up to speed, Seph suggested we experiment to see what the sword would do. Taryn refused to turn the sword over to me for safe keeping so she held it during the testing.

I shrouded one room in magical darkness and Sekene lit another with her aura. Taryn could feel the swords anxiety at my darkness and its thrill in the light. After I hilariously pulled a rhinoceros from the bag of tricks and turned myself into one, Seph suggested I try further polymorphing to see how the sword would react. This proved fruitless. Taryn then used a dagger to drop some of her blood on the sword, and the sword indicated it wanted the bloodletting of battle rather than blood offerings. Seph tried to commune with it telepathically failed. Water evoked no response. At that point, Taryn suggested I cut myself with the blade, and I became increasingly suspicious that this thing was influencing her mind.

We decided we would finally confront Fenn about this. Selene wanted to bind him first but I advocated that it would only make him defensive. I couldn’t believe that my friend Fenn would knowingly deceive us and suggested that maybe he didn’t know or that possibly it was another trap from Elvanna.

Then it happened. The sword, under its own power, vanished from Taryn’s scabbard and appeared on Selene’s back. It spoke directly to her mind stating she was a more suitable wielder for the sword’s desire to fight the darkness. The sword was intent on fighting me! It’s goal was to vanquish creatures just like me, and Fenn had introduced it to us.

I insisted that Selene, Taryn, and their sinister, intelligent sword remain with Koyo and Shatha to guard the sword, while I returned to the library to confront Fenn. I knew that something had removed his insanity after the Aeon Pit, but he had been evasive. He had been dangerously reckless in subsequent battles. Now he had lied about the origin of a potentially powerful and dangerous weapon. It was time for old friends to put all the cards on the table.

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Blood, Sugar, Shadow, Magic
An excerpt from the journal of Nobel Black

The hut had once again jumped across planes and us with it. Each jump filled me with trepidation as we seemed to be moving farther and farther from home, and each jump seemed to cause the hut to descend further into madness. When we first entered the hut in Irresen it appeared as a pretty standard domicile, but with each new orientation it adopted as we jumped, it seemed to become increasingly dark and twisted.

We found ourselves in a room filled with mummified brownies in bird cages. Fenn was able to magically interpret there continuous chanting as a warning that we had arrived on the plane of Baba Yaga’s origin, her native plane, and that this was the source of her legend.

A short climb up a chimney revealed a room overgrown with vegetation, a wardrobe, and a very large, hungry mandragora. I tried to demand it recognize our authority as the Riders of Baba Yaga, but by that time it had already had Fenn half swallowed. Recognizing what it was I blanketed the area on magical silence to block its scream but it was still able to stupify Taryn (who took to slugging herself in the head with her sword pommel) and Shatha (who babbled like an idiot while battle raged around him). Fenn was nearly killed by the time we destroyed the mandragora, but as usual he refused any healing magic. This has become increasingly curious. Is this some kind of compulsion after so many near death experiences? I may have to explore this with him more.

While Fenn and Taryn cleared the way into an adjacent chamber, I opened the wardrobe to find it held a passageway. I found myself in a dark room lot only by a single candle. A metal door barred exit from the room. The candle flickered as I entered and I realized that my shadow had become untethered from my figure and was dancing about on the walls without me. Selene, Shatha, and Koyo followed to alert me that something had happened to Fenn and Taryn, when their shadows also seemed to take on independent life. The shadows spoke and expressed interest in, even a kinship with, Koyo and I. Shatha they felt did not belong and Selene was warned to be gone for she did not belong in this realm. They referenced some “master” and then abruptly faded from the walls to return to their normal state associated with our bodies. Not for the last time that day, I noticed Selene scanning me for evil.

Leaving the room to find what had befallen Fenn and Taryn, Selene indicated that they had cleared the foliage and entered the adjoining room to suddenly disappear leaving all of their gear including clothes and armor on the floor. I detected some form of magic from a 4 panel mirror in the corner of the room. Selene and I debated whom should enter the room first as neither of us wanted to be the next to vanish. I told her I would go and then promptly turned myself invisible, dropped my sickle, and hid. Thinking I too had disappeared, Selene was forced to enter the room. When she didn’t disappear as well, I revealed myself and entered the room as well.

Selene got close enough to notice that images of our missing companions could be seen in the mirror along with a spider creature. She smashed the mirror and Taryn, Fenn, and the spider were ejected from the mirror back into the room. Taryn didn’t seem to even be bothered by her nudity and simply grabbed her swords and got to work on the spider. I alone was overcome by the horror of the creature’s visage and found my mind broken for a time and unable to use my magic or other special talents. The rest fought on viciously, with Koyo in fix firm even stepping up to climb the creature and blind it with her tails. The others pressed the advantage and the battle was won.

After a short rest, we climbed yet another chimney into a room composed entirely of candy: licorice curtains, chocolate mantles, and tables full of cupcakes and cookies. Fenn was the first one up and began gorging immediately. Only Selene, this and any world’s biggest buzzkill, chose not to enjoy the sugary feast. Maybe frosting is hard to get out of her metallic skin folds. Taryn, finally clothed but half drunk after celebrating our two previous victories, got fully drunk while shoveling mouthfuls of ale and dark chocolate into her mouth beside Shatha. Several hours of confectionary and scornful looks from Selene later, we had finally had our fill. Selene grabbed the magical cauldron, the only object seemingly not made out of delicious sweets, I awoke Taryn with gallons of magically generated water to the face, and we climbed yet another chimney ladder.

The next room held scattered skulls chattering away. Fenn was able to make out that they were saying a name. I believe it was Vasalisa. On a nearby table was a wooden doll that appeared to be nailed to the table’s surface. As my companions investigated the doll, which seemed to somehow be attempting to free itself, I noted the skulls becoming restless. I called out for them to step away and leave the room, but Taryn still hadn’t sobered up completely and began pulling nails from the doll’s limbs. This triggered a trap that exploded the skulls and bathed the room with flame. As usual Koyo seemed to make it out unscathed, but the rest of us were badly burned including Fenn and Shatha who were nearly killed outright. Fenn was even lit on fire and had to roll to douse the flames. I joined Selene in a scornful glare at Taryn. I sobered Taryn up with a dozen more gallons of water to the face, and she insisted that Selene hold her tankard lest she be tempted to drink from it again that day.

The final room at the top of the final chimney was filled to the ceiling with coffins. It reeked of various stages of decomposing flesh. In the middle of the room sitting in a coffin and using the lid to play cards say a skeleton. Having adopted the language of haunts, I found a common tongue and I was able to learn many things from the creature called Coffin Man.

We had come to the planet Earth, birthplace to Baba Yaga and home to her only son, a man who had been killed before but somehow was able to avoid death via some means of “soul stitching”. Referred to as the Mad Monk, he had apparently allied himself with the White Queen, Elvanna, to draw Baba Yaga back to Earth where they were able to trap her using magic and technology with the intent of draining her power for themselves. Coffin Man indicated she was likely somewhere on Earth still. After beating him in a game of cards, he provided us with additional resources including magic scrolls, swords, and some form of gold currency. Earth was apparently a plane where magic had long since left, so I had to wonder if Fenn and I might be defenseless outside of the pocket dimension of the hut. However I conjectured that if Elvanna and the Mad Monk could use magic to trap Baba Yaga there then we could probably do the same to free her.

We looked out the window to see the hut was surrounded by a burning village and soldiers were readying a massive weapon against the hut.

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Exodus Triaxus
An excerpt from the Journal of Nobel Black

Yrax’s horde took some time to organize and divide. We couldn’t move it all, but after taking full stock of the bounty, we were able to bring quite a haul back with us in Selene’s magic bag of holding, including a meteorite of adamantine. Where do dragons get these things?

Among the items was a shawl which Fenn put on. While we were sorting the cache, a Nereid (water nymph) entered the room and began addressing Fenn as her master. When I realized that the shawl must be her bound object, it appeared that she had been enslaved by Yrax and now Fenn who was the current possessor of the shawl. Fenn was basking in his new power and position when I attempted to telekinetically pull it to me so I could free her. Fenn responded in kind and we ended in a magical tug of war over the shawl. Fenn eventually wrested control of the shawl from me, but he did agree to return it to the Nereid in the end. With that she vanished.

While Fenn, Selene, and Taryn decided how best to get back to the hut, I shrouded myself in darkness and investigated a few nearby rooms. I found no additional life forms in the dojo, jail cells, or golem works after scanning through the doors with the new ring of X-Ray vision. (I wonder if it would work on Selene’s armor?) At that Selene and I were satisfied that there were no other slaves and took flight back to the hut. Taryn, Koyo, and Fenn teleported back to the hut as they couldn’t fly and we couldn’t all the ported.

Selene and I had a two day trip flying over the quite majestic mountains and glaciers of Triaxus. Despite the bloodshed there were these periodic moments of beauty on our quest that made it seem worthwhile. Freeing a slave, watching the sun rise on an alien world, being celebrated as heroes, giving hope to the hopeless, looting a dragon’s horde.

In those 2 days Selene and I were able to converse at length via Seph’endrell’s telepathy, and I expressed to her both my disappointment in her constant suspicion of me and my concern that our lack of stealth may lead us into trouble in the future. In turn I learned more about her perspective. She shone her light brightly wherever we went not as an act of poor tactical judgement but as an act of worship for Sarenrae. We both agreed to think more on the other’s position.

After finally regrouping at the hut, we found that out companions had safely arrived. Knowing not where we might be taken next when the hut shifted planes, we decided to spend 10 days in training and re-equipping. Fenn worked with Koyo and Taryn on translating the power of the Gloomblade such that Taryn could do a similar trick with his blades in the light of Selene rather than having to stand in the shadows. We bartered much of Yrax’s horde with Zill, and I used most of my share to get Koyo prepared. She was quite pleased to be treated as a member of the company and not as a refugee.

The training was intense. First I worked with Selene on the merits of leadership so that we could fully learn how to lead Shatha and Koyo if they were going to be leaving Triaxus with us. In some ways it was telling her things she already knew as Selene had a natural gift for leadership, and she and Shatha had already demonstrated they could work together as a unit against Yrax.

Fenn and Seph worked with me to make my magic penetrate a creatures magical resistance. Well, mostly Fenn showed me how to do it while putting up with Seph’s occasional interjections.

With training and bonding complete, Fenn put the bear skin and eagle into the hut’s cauldron and we plane shifted again.

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