Calica

A Samuri Lost....and Found
Parties, Auctions and Favors

The next day, Kao-Tsu Quan checked on the status of his friend, Nathan Bishop. Just as the monk had predicted, Nathan was in NO shape to attend a high society party. Disappointed, Talia Lancaster (Black) left the fighter to soak his throbbing head. At least it would be easier to try get a date to the auction without Nathan over her shoulder. The four friends stepped into the elderly Lady Crescent’s mansion, who inspected their invitation and creakily welcomed them to her abode. Taiass Atwari thanked the “great one”, kissed her hand and expressed his prior acquaintance with the Lady, to the surprise of the others. The lady also mentioned to Taiass that she may need his assistance with a delivery after the auction. Immediately upon entry, they split up and scoped the room for potential dates. Talia spent the night talking about her adventures and travels to the handsome yet foppish gentlemen, but eventually held the attention of a walrus-mustached older fellow. Her knowledge of fighting and arcana impressed the don, and he took her arm honorably and escorted her to the auction. Kao-Tsu, realizing most high society dames may reject him on sight due to his diminutive stature, caught the eye of an unlikely candidate-a half orc woman, who brightened on his approach. After getting into an arm wrestling contest and a foot race with the large lady, Kao-Tsu was able to secure his date without a hitch, as she planted a wet kiss on his forehead and threw him into her carriage. Taiaiss set his goals higher-a beautiful woman, holding her head high and proud as she rejected suitor after suitor. At first his flirtations were accepted and all seemed to be going swimmingly…until he went for a walk with the woman and plucked her a sunflower. “No, I’m allergic!!” the girl wailed, as her face exploded in hives. “Get this elf AWAY from me!!” Taiass was thrown out by the guards, simultaneously as a tiny pixie hit the dirt. “Apparently no one accepts shoulder pixies as the newest fashion here,” grumbled Vivian. “No accounting for taste! I’m the prettiest thing in there!”. Taiass helped her up. They would have to find their own way into the auction. As a nobleman blustered past Taiass, complaining mightily to his carriage driver, a swift knock on the head took care of the problem and a nobility badge was procured. Next stop: the auction of Vax Lamont!

As Kao-Tsu and Talia settled into their seats next to their dates and Vivian and Taiass slipped in to the back of the hall, they looked around them. Several people of note were attending the auction: Shinzu Honda, a Shogun of the Dragon Mist Isles, and also an underground mob boss; Parrel, a red robed mage from the Shifting Sands; and Lt. Azrael, a blackguard from the Nightmare Scape, rumored to halve a retinue of vampires attending him. Whatever the grand prize was, it was sure drawing a lot of attention from many well off people! As the bidding began, Talia noticed one of the items was General Tavor Kel‘s frost blade. “Perhaps it was true that the General fell in battle”, she thought to herself. Finally, after a few hours, the grand prize was revealed. Vax Lamont wheeled out a large cage with a red cloth covering it. “So now, we come to the heart of this auction, and all you have been waiting for!” the halfling declared with a dramatic flourish of his hand. “He fell from the sky only a few nights ago in a crash larger than the heavens! To the highest bidder, you shall receive the most loyal of followers. I give you….the legendary samurai, RYU KITARU!” Lamont unveiled the cage, and the samurai in red armor from Talia’s vision stood in the cell, breathing heavily, eyes darting from side to side. Talia and Kao-Tsu looked at each other. It would be VERY BAD if any of the others in the room were able to procure the warrior before they were. The bidding was fierce and fast, but eventually with a bid of 28,000 gold (practically wiping out their military stipend), they were able to win the auction.

As the room cleared, Taiass, Vivian, Kao-Tsu, and Talia marched up to the stage and Vax Lamont handed them to the key. They freed Ryu, who agreed to be bonded to the Calicans, but the samurai seemed disheartened and weak. In fact as they walked back to their carriage, Ryu collapsed and fainted. “Let’s get back to the hotel, if everyone wants Ryu so badly as long as we are in this town we have targets on our heads!” Talia exclaimed. Indeed, it didn’t take long before their carriage was attacked by none other than Parrel and his mage cronies. The adventurers were able to apprehend the mage lord in training, who confessed that Sh’rayas the Sylvan had ordered him to apprehend Ryu, no matter the cost. Kao-Tsu and Vivian escorted the mage prisoner back to General Lang to send him back to the camp to receive Calican justice, while Taiass and Talia went back to the hotel to let Ryu rest and call for a doctor or cleric.

Taiass mentioned to Talia that he had one more mission of the evening. Lady Crescent had asked of him to travel to her mansion after the auction for a favor. Upon their return, she greeted the elf happily and mentioned to Talia that she should use her noble birth name, “Lancaster”, instead of the false surname, “Black”. Taiass raised his eyebrows in surprise. Apparently there was more that he did not know about his traveling companions! Talia looked to the ground sheepishly, and explained to Lady Crescent that the name Lancaster had been abjured by her for a reason, and to please not use that name in her presence. Regardless, the tender old woman gave her instructions to Taiass. She needed 2 boxes delivered to a merchant and to a halfling, and the contents of the boxes were to remain a secret. They were to collect the funds the merchants owed the Lady, and for their work they would be rewarded. Taiass agreed to the work, and they regrouped with the others. Kao-Tsu was found drinking with the cleric of Avandra that was sent for Ryu, and Vivian…..was nowhere to be seen. As they left the hotel, the pixie whizzed past them, giggling happily. In her arms was a small bunny rabbit. “This is Princess Diamond Tiara!” the pixie exclaimed. “Isn’t he just perfect??!?” As Kao-Tsu reached down to pet the small animal, a pair of fangs glinted in the starlight and the rabbit chomped down on his finger. Apparently this vampire rabbit was going to be a bit of a handful.

Although not all went well on Lady Crescent’s deliveries (the halfling refused to pay them and they were forced to fight him in a sewer), regardless, they job was done to the best of their abilities. The cargo got where it needed to be, and Kao-Tsu didn’t even peek at the packages’ content. They returned back to the mansion and received their reward. As they tiredly headed back to the hotel very late into the night, a shining streak of red stretched across the sky. Yet ANOTHER meteor had landed in Mixed Bag! They turned about face and ran in the direction of the meteor’s blazing trail in the sky. If someone was the first to check out this new meteor, it was going to be the adventurers from Calica!

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Intrigue in Epinoch
A Meteor Falls in Mixed Bag

Back in the Calican camp, the party split apart briefly to explore their next goals. Vivian was thrilled to find a stowaway in Talia’s bag of holding: Shozen, the stag spirit of the forest! He bowed in reverence to the tiny vampire, declaring his allegiance to the one who fought valiantly against the darkness that had plagued and eventually killed his home. Since he no longer had a forest, he would prefer to stay with the pixie. Vivian clapped her hands in happiness….after all, the white stag was so very pretty!

Meanwhile, Taiass Atwari and Talia Lancaster (Black) presented the notebook of Gull Sunelle (RIP) to Belcoot and General Lang, who poured over the notes, learning the powerful stances and tactics. Their mission to the island had not been a complete failure after all; in fact, the military had gained quite a bit of knowledge!

Kao-Tsu Quan took the unconscious body of Gwendolyn Grimthorne (RIP) to Arthur Kayin Macbeth, hoping that he could somehow save the poor wilden. Sadly, Arthur told the monk that her spirit had long left her flesh. What was left behind was only a splintered piece of the woman that he had once called friend. To bring her back permanently would be impossible, but it would be possible to see her again for a moment. Kao-Tsu agreed to the proposed ritual, and within a minute, Gwendolyn opened her eyes for a brief goodbye. She assured Kao-Tsu not to be sad or blame himself for her death, that she had died with pride and now her spirit could be with her goddess. From her body she picked a single blooming flower, asking Kao-Tsu to always remember her. Kao-Tsu accepted the gift, tears in his eyes, vowing to one day plant the bud in Calica.

Nathan had the difficult mission of telling his father the truth about Nella Sunelle. He broke the news down to Richard reasonably but gently, explaining that even if his father did not accept the girl into their family, he had regardless made a promise to a man on his deathbed that he would help raise her and care for her. Nella was not going to just disappear. Nthan explained, that despite what anger and resentment Richard may feel when he sees the child of his wife’s indiscretion, the girl deserves better respect and honor, as she still has his mother’s blood within her veins. Richard took a long moment, looked at Nella, and embraced the girl gently, kissing her forehead, in a tender familial moment. The Bishop family would sustain.

Later on that evening, the party gathered back together to discuss the events that had transpired. Just as they were discussing where their next steps would lead them, Talia received a vision from Wee Jas, indicating another hero displaced from their time and dimension! In the prophecy, she saw walking lost amongst the streets of Mixed Bag, a human samurai dressed in red armor. She snapped awake and knew their next location was destined to be the capitol of Mixed Bag: Epinoch!

  • * * * *

Thankfully, General Lang agreed to fly the adventurers to Epinoch (a 3 weeks roc flight away). November 14th, they arrived in the capitol of Nevermore’s quirkiest country. The town was dark and foggy, and as they entered the gates Kao-Tsu noticed a relaxed attitude of the guard, quite uncommon and different from Calica. In a matter of moments they discovered why the guard was so lax. As they witnessed a man thief a passerby’s wallet and attempt to knife his target, suddenly a low and empty voice uttered the phrase “Violence detected”. A huge clay golem flew from the sky downward in a whirl, smashing his fist into the thief’s skull. A clap and cheer rose up around the adventurers. “Hooray for the Mud Boys!” a woman cackled. “They never let ’em go!” Kao-Tsu and Talia exchanged a glance. This was not a sight they were used to for sure. By talking (and by bribing) a nearby merchant for information, they were quick to discover that the Mud Boys were the protectors of the city. Any violence they were able to detect within 100 meters radius, and their form of punishment was permanent. Despite this harshness, the people of Epinoch were very happy with their zero level tolerance of criminals. It kept the streets safe and the citizens happy. The golems were invented by the founder of the city, an eladrin named Orin Rainblade (the great great grandfather of Kyleen Rainblade (RIP)), and thier magic had sustained for thousands of years. The Mud Boys were forrmed from a magic well of clay, and despite the magical enchantment beginning to fade (the golems over time had gotten smaller), they were still quite powerful magical beings. The merchant also filled them in on the different sections of Mixed Bag.

Just as the mercant finished talking, a courier rushed up to greet them. He carried on his back a weighty treasure chest. He explained in a breathless voice that he had been traveling for weeks trying to catch up with them. Belcoot wished to give them their long overdue military stipend, and he had been charged with delivery as soon as possible. He handed over the chest, and the adventurers were thrilled with what was inside: 30,000 gold pieces! Kao-Tsu hugged the messenger in gratitude. Finally, something to celebrate!

Also the biggest news in Epinoch was that a meteor had landed near the shores of Lake Boke and supposedly it was made of immovable material. Upon investigation of the meteor, it was indeed impenetrable material and as Talia noticed, overwhelmingly magical in origin! Indeed, the meteor itself had been cracked open, and as Taiass looked closer, he formulated the idea that whatever was once inside this meteor had been taken out….or had escaped somehow. Unable to do anything about it, Vivian and Talia headed back to their hotel (a swanky establishment in the good part of town called “Hotel Rose Pierre” known for it’s 5 star restaurant and natural hot springs and indoor pool), while Kao-Tsu, Taiass, and Nathan scoped out the seedier parts of town…but with more of a reason to find a tavern there rumored to have the best ribs and ale in town. Dressed to the nines, Vivian and Talia settled down for a nice girl’s night in with fine wine and an elegant meal. While at the hotel, Vivian overheard the nobility speaking about a party being held the next day by a woman called Lady Crescent. Supposedly, after the shindig, a halfling noble named Vax Lamont would be holding an auction of magical items, at which the grand prize to be auctioned off was rumored to be whatever was salvaged from the meteor! Only those attending having an invite to Lady Crescent’s party would be able to attend the auction, and even those invited would only be able to attend the auction if they had a date with nobility or were nobility themselves! Digesting this crucial information, Talia was able to pilfer an invitation off of a soused noblewoman distracted by her fashionable “shoulder pixie” (aka Vivian). Step one was complete-now they would just have to work hard at the party to get dates! As Talia and Vivian walked back to their hotel room, Kao-Tsu and Taiass, both inebrieated, dragged in the unconscious form of Nathan. “Those six buckets of ribs were a little too much for him” chuckled Kao-Tus. “Plus he got into a drinking contest with a coal miner….he may not be in the best of shape tomorrow….I’ve had hangovers before, but never a RIB hangover!” Clearly a good time was had by all, but some may need more recovery than others.
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The House that Dagon Built
Search and Rescue

Back in camp, General Lang was quick to request the aid of the party. He had earlier informed Nathan Bishop of a mission to help locate a Zartinian tactician, and the need of that mission was growing more dire as time elapsed. Lang had discovered that the Zartinian, Gull Sunelle (RIP), had traveled to an island off of the Shifting Sands in order to find his daughter, a thirteen year old girl named Nella Sunelle, who had been captured by the manlins. Lang feared the worst for his friend, and as the time passed, the likelihood of his death was greater. The death of Gull Sunelle would be a hardship for the Calicans, as he was a brilliant tactician who was sure to help in the manlin war. Belcoot agreed with Lang, and agreed to release Nathan Bishop, Talia Lancaster (Black), Kao-Tsu Quan, Vivian, and Taiass Atwari for their next mission: the search and rescue of Gull Sunelle!

After 3 days of traveling on General Lang’s pet roc Duncan, the party reached the island offshore of the Shifting Sands. However, the isle was not exactly a welcome sight. A strange misty storm covered the island with foreboding clouds. As Lang moored his magical beast, it fluttered its wings in nervousness, sensing an evil presence on the island. Regardless, the adventurers took heart and ventured into the woods. It was not before long they found an encampment of Zartianians, who lead them to their target: Gull Sunelle. The Gull and his men had been severely injured. Indeed, Gull explained, he had lost nearly half of his men while exploring the isle; an invisible creature had ripped through their camp in the dark of night, crushing the men and roasting their flesh with acid. Nearly all of them were injured, and most of them dead. He handed them a symbol of Dagon, explaining that he found it on the bodies of the enemies his men were able to kill. The wilden and manlin were responsible for taking his daughter. As Nathan explained to him Calica’s need for his assistance in the war, the Zartinian looked on the party leader with a great deal of respect….and reminiscence. Gull promised his assistance and allegiance to the war effort if they were able to find and rescue his daughter. Nathan shook his hand, agreed, and moved along into the woods. Time was short for words, and action was necessary.

As everyone huddled together, the woods got darker and thicker. Soon the trees loomed overhead and blocked out the moonlight. The ravens squawked and scrambled in the bushes eerily, and Kao-Tsu nervously looked over his shoulder, jumping, only to see Vivian baring her fangs at the impending darkness in front of him. As they reached a hill, they were surprised to see a ghostly white stag, feeding quietly and peacefully in the forest. Vivian asked him (speaking in deer) his name and purpose, and as he explained politely he was Shozen, protector of the forest, a slimy, multi-eyed abberation of a bear roared furiously out of the nightfall and savaged the mercurial deer! A battle followed, with the bear being joined by a flock of evil raven and fishy worshipers of Dagon. Shozen was able to escape mid-battle, the bear was killed, and the adventurers persisted in their exploration of the woods, shaken but now expecting horrors to await them.

It wasn’t long before the heroes reached a clearing, and what stood before them was the darkest, creepiest, most broken down house they had ever seen. The very floorboards creaked of evil as Taiass bore his weight down upon them. Wet footprints lead into the house….although there was no trace of mud outside. In the first room, the mood was set by a huge painting, labeled “The Hall Eternal”. It depicted a underwater temple to Dagon with tentacles surrounding the painting, almost jutting though the canvas as if to strangle the viewer. It was signed by “R.U.P”…a name vaguely familiar to some as a famous artist. Glancing at the painting, Nathan shuddered. If this was a sign of what was to come, this night could not pass quickly enough. Passing though, they were quickly attacked by more Dagon worshippers, as well as wildens, and although the battles were horrific, the blood spilled did not compare to the barbarity and monstrosities of the paintings and the rooms in the house. “The Inner Self”, a painting of a human with their guts ripped open and revealed, perched directly over a dinner table set with rotting food in a dining room with barrels of pickled dead women…….“Peril of the Opposing Night”, a painting of pure blackness with only one eye peeking out of a crack that followed the viewer, sat alone in a room with hidden laughter written all over the walls…..“He Awakens Renewed” pictured Dagon in all his glory as it was presented as a showcase piece in a broken down bedroom next to a huge metal statue of Dagon. “Whoever R.U.P. is, he sure loved his Dagon,” thought Kao-Tsu as Vivian bent the statue of Dagon in half, putting the menacing god in an unseemly pose in order to calm her nerves.

The night persisted in its danger as the heroes fought off an abberation who surprised them, attacking them while invisible and spewing acid! Although they were able to spill some of R.U.P’s spare paint on the creature, making it visible, it still posed a mighty challenge, even taking them with it to the astral plane and disturbing their minds with the possibilities of time and space ripping apart at the seams! Through magic and sheer willpower, they were able to escape the plane and slay the beast, although it was a very difficult fight that took much out of everyone, especially taxing Talia’s skills. However, they knew time was pressing…..they must continue to explore the house if they expected Nella to be alive.

On the second floor, they came upon the final painting, “Kannot End Yet…” The painting had a nameplate, “Richard Upton Pickman”, and as Kao-Tsu uncovered the easel, they saw perhaps the most disturbing painting yet….a middle aged man, screaming in raw horror, trapped in the art of his own creation by the dark forces he worshiped. “If this was his house, he got what he deserved” thought Nathan as he destroyed the painting. “This art should never see the light of day again.”

Finally the the last room was before them. As they burst open the door, Taiass was quick to spot Nella in a tank, filling slowly with water. Wilden and the children of Isorn’t blocked their way, and as the heroes spilled into the room, a cloaked figure slowly turned around, revealing to Kao-Tsu’s horror the half manlin, half wilden figure of Gwendolyn Grimthorne (RIP)! Nathan and Talia worked on rescuing the girl as the others focused on disposing of their enemies. Kao-Tsu, in a frenzy, ordered his friends to subdue Gwendolyn, not to kill her, and although Talia and Nathan tried to reason with him, he would not be undone. Eventually the enemies were killed, but as Talia and Kao-Tsu angrily and tearfully fought with each other as of how to dispose of what was once Gwendolyn, the house shook to its foundations. Their argument would have to wait, as the house that Dagon built was crashing to the ground.

The party ran though the woods in a panic. Not only was the house crashing, the whole island was rumbling! They would have to make an expeditious retreat if they were to live another day. As they ran to the Zartinian encampment, more sorrows were in store for them. Apparently the Zartinians had been attacked yet again by the abberations, and Gull Sunell had suffered a grievous wound. The injured leader in thanks gave Talia his notebook, which he promised would have useful information to their military. Gull spoke quietly as he said goodbye to his young daughter. As Talia and Vivian pulled the teary and terrified girl away, Gull requested a final last word with Nathan. Taiass and Kao-Tsu gathered what was left of the soldiers and gave the two a moment of peace.

Gull had a difficult secret to tell Nathan. He told the soldier that he had known him and his family, back when he was stationed in Calica, as a diplomat during the original Calican/Zartinian war. Back then he was working toward a peaceful resolution between their nations. He told Nathan that he knew his mother, and she had been one of the few Calicans that showed him respect and courtesy in the foreign land. During the war they had become intimately close. Indeed he had fallen in love with her, although she had been married at the time. Their indiscretion had resulted in a child….Nella. Nathan never knew about his half sister; during a six month period his mother had claimed to be sick, and during that time period he had been sent to the Calican monastary to stay. It was during that time she had the child. Gull immediately took Nella with him back to Zartinia, knowing that the Calicans would never be able to tolerate a half-Zartinian child during a time of war. Now on his deathbed, he pleaded with Nathan to take care of his half sister. Nathan, awash with conflicting emotions, promised to the Zartinian. She would not be abandoned.

As Nathan stood up next to the dead strategist, the ground twisted below his feet. He could no longer delay. He ran to the roc posthaste, and he gripped the feathers as the beast took flight; his mind was racing with a million thoughts. Kao-Tsu coldly strapped Gwendolyn’s mutilated body to the bird, and Talia gasped as her wounds stung. Taiass and Vivian tried to comfort the panicking Nella, who reached out to her dead father’s hands. As the bird reached the sky, giant tentacles reached out and swarmed the misty island. The land itself was swallowed and sucked into the ocean. As the adventurers flew away, the darkness may have left the island, but it had not yet left their minds.

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Assault on Osh'ra-Part Three
The Machinations of Sh'rayas

As Sh’rayas the Sylvan prepared his ritual to attack the brain in the central chamber of Osh’ra, the five adventurers could feel the psionic pulse of the creature. It sent wave after wave of pain to their temples, and it took the strongest amount of will power the party could summon to resist the evil of the monster in front of them. Gripping his head, Sh’rayas was able to stun the brain with magic, but footsteps were heard rushing the door. “Occupy their forces, and I will have enough time to neutralize their psychics! Go now!” the drow ordered the heroes and he pointed to the gates ahead of them.

Indeed, the party met with fierce opposition as they rushed up the stairs and into the next room. Two defilers pulled on the essence of the land and life force around them to damage them, and a bloodthirsty mind blade warrior went toe to toe with Kao-Tsu Quan and Nathan Bishop. Luckily Talia Lancaster (Black) was able to mage hand hot coals into some nearby explosives and nearly take out their halfling assassin while Taiass Atwari and Vivian tagged up on the defilers. The battle was won, but as the heroes finished off their last adversary, a terrible wave of pain overcame their mental capacities and they fell to the ground, unconscious.

About ten minutes later, Nathan awoke and attempted to stir the other party members. The sound of mournful wailing was faintly heard, and Kao-Tsu, still woozy, found a window high above them. From what he could see, Gaul’s forces had halted their attack, but the wailing was coming from the city itself. Nathan narrowed his eyes as he helped Talia back onto her feet. It was time to check on their drow friend’s progress. Everyone gathered together and walked back down the stairs to the throne room to confront Sh’rayas on his progress.

The brain lay a dead and bloodied mess on the floor, and Sh’rayas stood triumphantly before them as the remaining mage lords filtered into the room, now freed of their psionic oppressors. The drow congratulated them on their success, and as they asked him what had happened to the psions, Sh’rayas coolly explained that they had been all killed by the elder’s brain’s passing. Aghast and angry at his cold demeanor, Nathan demanded further explanation. Sh’rayas explained that he told the Calicans that his ritual would neutralize the psions, and by neutralize, he had always meant kill….just no one had ever asked him to go into more detail. Kao-Tsu lashed out in anger as Taiass held back the monk. “Does this mean that we just helped you kill 7500 people????” The drow smiled and looked down at the human. “I suppose it does. However as Head Mage Lord of the Shifting Sands, I will now fulfill my promise to you. Half of the food and weapons will go to the Gaul Who Grasps. And the Calican Military now has use of the largest land army in Nevermore. Does this really seem to be the time or place to be crossing me?” He folded his arms across his chest, and the twelve other mage lords took knee in allegiance to their new ruler. “I think I’m going to be sick,” Talia muttered under her breath as she and her friends left the room to regroup with the military. The Assault on Osh’ra was finished, but at a great cost of life.

Back in camp, the party took a few days to recover and reflect on what had occurred. Nathan took the liberties of filling in Commander Belcoot on Sh’rayas’ actions, but it was agreed that nothing could be done. The drow had put himself into such a position of power that he could not be knocked down without major consequences for their current military operations. For the time being, they would have to tolerate and work with the Sands for the greater good of Calica.

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Assault on Osh'ra-Part Two
Lost in The Maze of Rajesh

The four warriors bravely fought the fearsome minotaurs as the walls of the maze seemingly pressed in against them. After taking many a magic missile from Talia Lancaster (Black) and a weakening mental attack from Taiass, the beasts were slain and the heroes victorious. As the group continued on through the harrowing maze, Vivian fluttered to the ground in front of them! Arrows pierced her tiny body, but luckily as Taiass and Kao-Tsu Quan examined her wounds, they discovered the bolts had missed her vital organs. Nathan Bishop volunteered his arm, and in no time the voracious vampire was back up, wiping the blood from her delicate mouth. Although she was happy to find her friends again, the pixie clammed up at their mention of muffins and their questions about her about her sudden disappearance. Regardless, the party was united again and as they looked forward, they saw several doors ahead of them…

As they entered the room, Taiass and Nathan were thrilled to see an armory amidst the labyrinth! However when the room magically twisted and landed them on the ceiling, with spikes and sure death below them, their happiness abated. Fortunately the party was able to spin themselves the right away around and correct themselves with little trouble, and they fighters were able to re-arm and re-armor themselves after their fight with the rust monsters had destroyed their equipment.

The next room was dark and cold, and as the adventurers entered, they soon realized why. It was yet another illusion room-this one displayed their darkest fears, laid bare in front of everyone. However because of this link, the party was able to support each other in resisting the fear of the illusions. Still, it was difficult for everyone to cope. Talia had to witness the murder of her brother at the hands of her parents, and endure the mockery of Zula and Lloth herself, who claimed domination over the swordmage’s life. Nathan had to relive the killing of his dog, Indy at the hands of the manlin assassin as well as deal with the visual torment of seeing his dead family members, set aflame and horrifically lumbering towards him. Taiass was forced to observe the trial and death of his friend Lysander, for which he carried the blame. Vivian attested to a similar story…she had a pixie friend for whom she carried the blame of his death, as well the seeing several terrifying vampiric figures of her darkest memories. Kao-Tsu carried with him the burden of abandoning his father to an unknown fate in the Dragon Mist Isles and the worry of loosing his new wife in the war to dark manlin magic. Through the support of each other, they were able to endure the horrifying elements of the room, although Taiass and Kao-Tsu were the most shaken up and severely weakened from the experience. However, after escaping the room of fears, the exit out of the maze was dead ahead!

The party pulled themselves together as they reached the center of the city, goal in sight. Sh’rayas lead them to the final chamber, only to find it blocked! Their foes and guardians of the city of Osh’ra: two Sisters of the Sand, two Chain Fighters, and weirdly enough a giant living cactus. Sh’rayas took on one sand witch by himself, and as the rest of the heroes fought off the guardians, they knew this could be one fight they could not bear to loose! The sand, spikes, and chains flew furiously, but eventually the guardians succumbed to the power of the fighters who outmatched them in combined spirit and guts. Determinedly, the group pressed forward yet again, knowing that despite their best efforts, they were beginning to grow weary and time was growing short for their agenda. Perhaps this was a suicide mission the Calican army had sent them on!

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The Assault on Osh'ra
Deeper and Deeper into the Psionic Sand City

October 14th 1081: a day that will live in infamy! This was the day the Calicans brought the fight to their enemy by launching a full assault on the Shifting Sands capitol city, Osh’ra. Sh’rayas the Sylvan was able to sneak the adventurers past the battle and into the garbage system below Osh’ra. After navigating below the city, they could access his lab from a lower passage. The garbage tunnels belched fire and singed their skins as the sweltering but brave companions clambered over the hot mess. With his monkey like agility, Kao-Tsu Quan was able to deftly jump across the steaming piles…but the others weren’t so lucky. Too focused on keeping pace with everyone, the group was surprised by some nefarious rust monsters just as they were about to reach the exit of the flaming garbage furnaces! Also, just as battle was commencing, Vivian looked up, quite disturbed, and sniffing the air. “Muffins!” she exclaimed, and as a horrified expression crossed her face, she rapidly flew away from combat and out of the tunnels! The creatures were eventually defeated, but Taiass‘s armor and sword were badly damaged in the fight, as well as Nathan Bishop’s sword (little used by the shield-bashing warrior, but a loss nevertheless). The bigger loss on everyone’s mind was the sudden disappearance of their friend Vivian….and what did she mean by “muffins?”

Regardless, the heroes moved onward and came upon Sh’rayas’ lab. Together with the arcane assistance of Talia Lancaster (Black), who helped him find the components for his ritual to follow, and with the help of Nathan, Taiass, and Kao-Tsu, who barred the door from the psionic guards outside, they succeeded in getting Sh’rayas what he needed and were even able to get out the back door of his lab without pursuit. The dark elf then lead them to a staircase. Down and down it lead, until finally it ended at a small river with a pontoon next to it. The dark water of the river glimmered eerily against their torchlight, and the adventurers piled into the dusty boat. It seemed no one had been down that way in quite some time. Sh’rayas explained as Nathan rowed them across the river, their next destination would possibly be the most dangerous, for they were heading to the Maze of Rajesh. Navigating the maze, which was full of arcane traps and monsters set up by the mage lords over the centuries to protect their capitol city, was supposed to be an impossible task and was considered suicide by most of the people of the Shifting Sands. Nathan snorted as he shook his head. Impossible? Certain death? A suicide mission? Nothing new for Team Tempest.

As the party stood at the gate of the maze, Kao-Tsu eyeballed the walls. Twenty feet high slabs of unforgiving stone loomed coldly in front of them. A distant roar was heard. Talia shuddered, and tentatively stepped into the maze, turning left as she raised her sword that crackled with magical energy. Taiass pulled out a quill and paper and attempted to scribble a map as they traveled down the twisting and turning passageways, but it wasn’t before long that they were lost. Deeper within the maze, a door opened before the wanderers, who warily ventured through. The doorway lead to a room with 3 illythid statues, but as Taiass attempted to cross the room, arcane energy crackled from gems embedded in the statues’ headpieces and struck the eladrin, greatly weakening him. By working together, they were able to redirect the beams and destroy the statues. However, this room lead directly to ANOTHER arcane trap, an illusion of a forest that was quickly dropping in temperature….teeth chattering and shivering, the weary party was able to convince each other that it was indeed an illusion just in the nick of time. The spell was broken and they were able to move on.

Outside the rooms, Kao-Tsu was able to scale the great stone wall of the maze and gauge their distance traveled. They were approaching the center, or so he thought…but it was difficult walking on the maze walls (without the reassurance of a fairy-dust save) so they continued along the bending walkway. It wasn’t before long that Talia and Taiass were bickering about which way to turn next when the roar they had heard earlier sounded directly behind them. Talia slowly turned, and she came face to face with the protectors of the Maze of Rajesh-a pack of angry minotaurs! And unlike the beasts from Minotaur Isle, these monsters were NOT willing to negotiate.

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Future Preparations
Of Family, Of Weddings, and Of Battle

After their parley with Gaul Who Grasps, the adventurers headed back to rendezvous with the Calican military forces to tell of their success. However, after a week of traveling, they were not greeted with the happiest of news. Lun excitedly met with Kao-Tsu Quan, embracing him on his arrival…however she immediately brought to his attention a disturbing event. Apparently on Richard Bishop‘s commands, a manlin soldier had been captured and tortured inhumanely for information. Lun further explained, Kao-Tsu’s monks had since refused to follow orders and were awaiting his arrival and his further orders. Kao-Tsu’s eyes darkened as he rushed to the tent where the prisoner was held and immediately dragged him out, rushing the bloodied prisoner to the monk pavilion and claiming refuge on the man. These atrocious acts would not continue if Kao-Tsu were to remain in the Calican military!

Meanwhile, Nathan Bishop strode over to his father’s tent to confront him about this incident. As he attempted to challenge Richard, his father thrust some papers at his son: new orders. These new military orders for Nathan were strictly civilian in nature and distinctly far away from combat. Nathan shook his head in sardonic anger and disbelief. As he leaned closer to speak to his father, he noticed the distinct whiff of alcohol on his breath, and as he further noticed the disarray of his father’s living quarters, he was able to piece together some reasoning behind Richard’s actions. He angrily left his father, deciding to bring his case directly to the men who counted most: the troops.

Kao-Tsu and Nathan met together and confronted Belcoot in front of the army. Together, they pleaded their case: Calica was not to turn to the depths of evil that their opponent would use. If they were to win the war, they would do so with honor and dignity, and treat their prisoners of war with that same dignity. Calica would prove themselves better than the enemy and always the bigger man. Their response was a mixed reaction from the crowd, even as Vivian’s intimidating glare struck out against the gathered troops. The men separated, a divided crew. As the night wore on, Taiass attempted to get as many troops on their side as possible, expecting a possible division of their forces. Talia Lancaster (Black) satisfied her anger by ripping into Belcoot, and warning him that in order to lead the military, he had to be fully aware of all that was occurring on his watch. People were counting on him to make decisions…and his leadership was all that was holding the Calicans together during this fragile time in their history.

That night, a silent tension filled the Calican camp as the desert breeze whisked hot sand around the tents. The only noise was a tiny pixie, singing happily to herself, for she had been tasked with a very important mission from Kao-Tsu. Shop after shop she visited, until Vivian found what she had been searching for. Her eyes sparkled with excitement as she admiringly picked up the precious item. She buzzed back to Kao-Tsu’s tent, prize in hand. Kao-Tsu thanked the fairly gratefully as he eagerly called for Lun and presented her with the biggest, sparkliest, most beautiful diamond engagement ring the girl had ever seen! Lun clasped her arms around Kao-Tsu and screeched in happiness, of course accepting his proposal. She blathered on to Kao-Tsu in a tizzy, exclaiming that they should get married right away in the camp, before it was too late and they were separated again. Kao-Tsu, in a whirlwind of happiness, agreed, and as Lun rushed off to tell her family, he searched for his closest friends to share the news!

Word of the engagement spread like wildfire. Of course, Nathan, Kao-Tsu, Taiass, and Vivian were the first to congratulate the monk. But before Kao-Tsu knew it, Belcoot came to visit the Calican monastary’s pavilion. He offered words of peace and felicitations as he brokered a deal with Kao-Tsu. Per Kao-Tsu’s wishes, Belcoot would agree to hand over all prisoners of war to the monks for their care and watch, if Kao-Tsu and Lun would agree to have their marriage be a public event. Such a spectacle would surely unite the troops and raise the morale of the Calicans. Kao-Tsu tentatively agreed, barring Lun’s approval of course. Belcoot smiled and shook Kao-Tsu’s hand, hoping for better times between them.

With that, the wedding preparations happened in a flash! Arthur Kayin Macbeth was requested to preside, and Kao-Tsu asked Nathan, Belcoot, and Taiass to be in the wedding party, while Lun called upon her mother and Talia. Vivian took over the duties of flower girl. The entire Calican camp buzzed with excitement over the event, seemingly forgetting their problems and tensions of the days before and uniting together in harmony. The day of, everything went off without a hitch (that is, after Kao-Tsu, in a panic, realized he needed actual wedding rings and relied on the donations of Talia and Nathan’s father). Lun looked stunning in an ocean blue wedding gown, and Kao-Tsu felt inches taller as he stood proudly beside his bride on the alter. Not a dry eye remained in the house as the two promised their eternal love and devotion to one another. And after the ceremony, the feast and celebration that followed became legendary in Calican history! Kao-Tsu Quan and Lun Quan danced the night away and could not be separated. Richard took the time of celebration and good will to apologize for his prior actions to his son, who gratefully accepted his father’s heartfelt apology. Vivian flitted in between the tables, nibbling on sweets and catching glimpses of Lun’s shiny, shiny rings. Taiass quietly enjoyed the party, even adding to the entertainment by performing alongside the bards with a moving violin solo. Nathan and Talia spent most of the night celebrating but also had some much needed quiet time to discuss the state of their relationship….only of course to be interrupted by matters of war. Indeed, the next day, after the hangovers had cleared and the party cleaned up, the adventurers began to think of their future preparations: planning the attack on Osh’ra.

After giving Kao-Tsu some time for a honeymoon, Belcoot gathered together the generals of the military to propose a stratagem. Belcoot thought it would be best if he lead their forces, along with Gaul’s orcs, in a full frontal attack on Osh’ra. The attack would really be a diversion. The true attack would be in the form of a small strike team (consisting of Sh’rayas the Sylvan, Nathan, Talia, Kao-Tsu, Vivian, and Taiass) who would sneak under the city through a tunnel. There they could make their way to Sh’rayas’ lab, where he can pick up the magical components he would need for the next step. Finally, they would make their way through a maze to the capitol building in the middle of Osh’ra. Sh’rayas would be able to release a magical weapon that would take out the psychics and psions and give the mage lords a chance to rise up and take the city back into their control! It was a dangerous plan, but really the only choice of action if they were to continue to weaken the enemy. The party nodded as they gazed solemnly at one another. It was do or die…..and they had no intentions of burning out before their time!

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The Diplomacy of Orcs
Gaul, Tembo, and a Traitor...

The exhausted party took refuge in the scorpion cave for a time, resting and healing. A quick exploration of the area discovered that their cave was located above a high hill and cliff face that overlooked what they had been hoping to find: Gaul’s orc encampment! At dusk, Vivian burst out of her coffin and everyone was ready to try their hand at diplomacy with the orcs. They entered the camp and were held at spear tip by the wary orc barbarians, who immediately took them to the Gaul Who Grasps. Gaul sat on a large boney throne, his red eyes glaring menacingly at the ragtag group in front of him. He stroked his bushy black beard as he weighed the pleas and the bargaining of Talia, Kao-Tsu, and Taiass, and his eyes widened to see Vivian’s display of power and strength despite her diminutive posture. He whispered to the second in command, Grayek, as he considered. Finally, he had heard enough as he silenced the outsiders with a broad wave of his hand. Calica would have his people as an ally, if they would promise him half of the weapons and food of Osh’ra, the Shifting Sands capitol city. Talia, as acting leader in Nathan’s absence, agreed to the steep price of allegiance, and with her blade opened a wound in her hand and clasped hands with Gaul, forging their alliance with a blood pact. However, Gaul explained, as a final act of faith, to prove their countries’ strength to his people, the adventurers must agree to fight the Tembo in the arena. Kao-Tsu quickly agreed, proclaiming they could fight anything the orcs could muster up, but as the cries of “Tembo…..Tembo….Tembo” were rhythmically chanted by the orcs and the adventurers were pushed into the waiting area of the coliseum, he began to question the hastiness of his response.

As the party regrouped to prepare for battle, the orcs dragged in a half beaten, naked man…revealed to be Nathan! As Kao-Tsu gave him some clothing to preserve his dignity, Nathan explained that while traveling back, he realized that although his father might need him, his desertion would be at the expense of abandoning those who might have needed him more-and they were as close to his family as they could get. Nathan explained that he had barely made it through crossing the Ocean of Worms, and just as he had made it across, he got caught in the maw of a purple beast. Crawling out of its mouth as its raking jaws clamped tight on his armor, he escaped narrowly, but sacrificed the armor to the belly of the beast. Shortly after that, the desert suns beat down on him, and the orcs caught him as he tried to make his way across the heat of the sands and into their encampment. They roughed him up a bit, but Nathan knew it was only a matter of time before the orcs would surrender their prisoner to the visiting Calicans.
The party all welcomed their friend back into the fold, and Vivian dove into Talia’s bag of holding and presented Nathan with Mohsen’s armor. He happily accepted the gift from his friends, thanking them for their foresight to take it. The sound of orc chanting hit their ears with increasing volume and tempo, and the party knew it was time…to face the Tembo.

The orcs surrounded them in the primitive amphitheater, and as the adventurers entered, the door slammed shut behind them. There would be no escape from this battle-it would be to the death. Suddenly, from the ground itself, the Tembo burrowed upwards from the sandy terrain and roared angrily at the five opponents before him. Kao-Tsu fearlessly charged forward, hitting it with multiple strikes faster than anyone could see, as Talia and Taiass tactically wagered themselves against the beast first at a distance. Vivian flew like a dart and jumped lightly on the monk’s shoulders, delicately balancing yet savagely biting and clawing at the monster. The Bishop family shield flew through the air as it bounced off of the thick creature’s hide, ricocheting back into Nathan’s grasp as the fighter leapt into the furious fray of battle. The party worked together, dragging the colossus back and forth through a wall of acid, while protecting themselves from its devastating attacks. Taiass psionically struck at the creature, exploiting its weakness and giving Nathan and Vivian the chance to take out their enemy. Vivian got the final blow, pulling out Tembo’s sharp incisors and with superhuman strength, stabbed it through the brain. The orcs screamed in approval in a blood frenzy as Gaul called for the fight to be over and the champions to be presented with honors before the orc tribe. As Gaul submitted the adventurers to the cheering orcs, out of nowhere a poison chakram flew through the air and hit the orc leader square in the chest. Assassins!

The assailants scrambled up the cliff, and the party made chase. Talia first hastily gave her magical ointment to Grayek, ordering him to heal Gaul while they caught the enemy. Grayek refused, accusing her of sending the assassins and killing their orc leader. Talia barked orders at the orc, but not having time to argue with the him, left him to make his own decisions. Quickly, up the cliff to the cave, they caught up with the mysterious assassins, who pulled off their bandaged faces and revealed themselves: they were the Children of Isorn’t, manlins who were considered to be Isorn’t’s elite soldiers, born of magical residue and filled with evil power. The party were barely able to finish them off when behind them came an unfortunate laugh. Grayek and a pack of orcs stood behind them. It was all going according to his plan….first kill Gaul, then blame it on the outsiders, then gain ascension as tribe leader for himself! All while making allies with the Manlin Nation. Nathan gripped his shield tightly and Kao-Tsu cracked his knuckles. This traitor was about to understand the definition of real pain.

The party swarmed the orcs, first focusing on taking out the orc beast master, then his pet hyena with a bloodthirsty bite. Grayek proved a dangerous foe, his axe doing massive damage to the entire party and dropping both Taiass and Vivian. The fiery fists of Kao-Tsu and Nathan’s steadfastness and inability to drop proved too much for his mettle however, and Talia dipped into her own life essence to deal blood magic to her enemy. Grayek fell, and the injured party gathered together whatever evidence was left behind of their attackers, hoping that Gaul had made it out alive….

As they gathered together back at the orc encampment, the party expected themselves for the bad news, when Gaul himself surprisingly stumbled out of his tent, gripping his side and gritting his teeth. He had realized Grayek’s betrayal when in his injured state, he saw Talia’s magical ointment, buring in the fire, discarded by Grayek instead of applied to his leader. It was only through his anger and force of will (along with the healing hands of his orc maidens) that he was able to stand before them, alive and still a willing ally. Gaul declared the Manlin Army an enemy to the orcs, and again pledged his blood oath to the Calicans. The tired adventurers nodded happily to each other. For once, all was going according to plan. Let the feasting commence!

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When Worms Attack

As the sun rose the next day, the party prepared to cross the Ocean of Worms. They were gathering their equipment together and Talia was practicing the magical song that would protect them, when a harried looking messenger raced up to them with an urgent letter from Sternberg. Nathan scanned the letter. It was from his father, Richard Bishop, requesting that Nathan and ONLY Nathan immediately return to Sternberg. Nathan grilled the messenger carefully, but saw no sign of deception. Kao-Tsu and Talia exchanged a glance. Perhaps if it was something of a personal emergency, Nathan should return home. They reluctantly parted ways as Nathan, upset and disjointed, left his friends again.

The messenger explained further, the Calican military did not want to leave the party with a weak link, so they sent a provisional soldier so they could continue their operation. Taiass made his acquaintance to the party. Talia gave him a brusque welcome as she sized him up for battle. The eladrin returned her gaze coolly and remained aloof. Wasting no more time, they began their trek across the sandy ocean.

At first, the journey was easy as their caravan trotted along to Talia’s arcane tune. The song kept the purple worms at bay, although at an uncomfortable closeness. They might have even made it all the way across… had it not been for the orc raiders! Throwing their spears from their sand chariots, orcs spilled across the desert, tracking their prey and attempting to thwart their crossing. Somehow the party was able to defeat the orcs, and although Taiass almost ended up in the maw of a purple worm, Kao-Tsu was dextrously able to snatch him out of the snapping jaws of the beast. Vivian, with a burst of vampiric strength, pulled their wagon into a nearby cave to escape the creature, who angrily roared as he chomped at the mouth of the subterranean shelter, unable to enter. After a few moments of rest, they tentatively explored the cavern…only to meet with the natural inhabitants of the grotto: scorpions! A furious bloody fight later left the adventurers alive but exhausted. Still, they must press forward, to find Gaul…or to their doom!

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Shifting Across the Sands

A day after the devastating attack on Sternberg, Belcoot arranged for a war council to decide their next moves. Their next strike would surely need to be the Shifting Sands, it was agreed, but how could the Calicans possibly gather together enough of a force to challenge the largest land army in Nevermore? Sh’rayas the Sylvan had an answer. They had to find a way to dislodge the psions who had overthrown the mage lords. If Sh’rayas was able to get into Osh’ra, the Capitol of the Shifting Sands, he could gain access to a powerful magic that could potentially stop the psychics from using their power momentarily, giving the mages and their army the opportunity to seize control of the capitol. But to cause that much panic in the city, they would need a larger army, one that would cause fear and drop the morale of the army of the S.S. They would need the help of the Gaul who Grasps. With the allegiance of his bloodthirsty barbarian tribes, they could rip through their forces and give Sh’rayas the distraction that he would need.

The main problem was to find the Gaul. Kao-Tsu suggested sending out caravans of the Calican military throughout the desert, disguised as merchants. Surely Gaul or his men would take the bait and perhaps agree to parlay with their army? At the very least they might be able to lead them to Gaul’s secret hideout. Belcoot agreed and Talia, Kao-Tsu, Vivian, and a stoic Nathan gathered up thier belongings for the upcoming trip.

Two sweltering weeks went by in September as the party marched throughout the barren and uncultivated deserts. Nathan continued most of the way in a brooding silence, and although Kao-Tsu and Talia gave their friend a respectful distance, they warily watched over him, worried about his emotional state. Finally, a group of Gaul’s raiders fell for their ploy and attacked the caravan. Kao-Tsu attempted to consul with their leader, but as combat commenced, Nathan brutally lashed out at the bandits, killing any who opposed him. Vivian licked her lips at the bloodshed, wishing she could engage them further, while staying safe in the darkness of her covered wagon. Many fell, but the leader Kao-Tsu knocked out. After he was awakened, Nathan agreed to engage him in honorable one on one combat, with the terms if Nathan defeated him, he would tell the party where the Gaul’s lair was located. The fighter was victorious, but the words of the leader were of no comfort to the party. For Gaul’s hideout was past the Ruins of Gadash, across the Ocean of Purple Worms. The half orc strode away from the adventurers, laughing and certain that his words had scared off his enemy. For who would have the guts to dare venture into the most dangerous part of the Shifting Sands?

The party pressed on, trailing the orc without his knowing even through a dust storm, until they reached the Ruins of Gadash. Strangely enough, in the Ruins they had a chance encounter with a person they had not seen in a very long time: Mohsen! The merchant was still peddling his wares and had been caught up in the Shifting Sands, a bit lost in the desert. They adventurers helped the seller gain his bearings, and sent him in the direction of Sternberg. However, in a generous mood, Mohsen decided to bequeath a set of fine dwarven plate mail to Nathan, in memory of the Tournament of Nevermore and Team Tempest, who helped drum up business for Mohsen. Nathan refused his offer shortly, and the others gave each other a sideways glance. As the fighter again retreated to solitude, Vivian shrunk the armour and tossed it into Talia’s bag of holding, just in case.

That night, Kao-Tsu approached Nathan. He expressed concern for his friend, who was obviously in a great deal of pain over the loss of his family. Nathan at first got angry at Kao-Tsu, telling him how much his hatred burned at the people of the Shifting Sands for taking the lives of his family. How could he possibly get over something like that? This feeling, this pain, would never go away. Kao-Tsu empathized with him, telling him of his loss of Master Fong and relating how he dealt with his emotions. The key was to feel the anger, not to suppress it, and to not let it control you or dictate who you are or what your actions were. The pain and anger cannot become you. Nathan hung his head, unsure of his next move and drained of emotions, and Kao-Tsu stood by and consoled his best friend in a quiet moment.

Meanwhile, Talia and Vivian sat by the campfire when suddenly a large raven flew and landed next to Talia. The voice of Zeric Lancaster crackled out of the bird and Talia jumped in shock. Zeric claimed through his animal messenger that he regretted his actions of the past, although her mother did not, and he knew not of how to escape from Lania Lancaster. He spoke of reconciliation and a desire to be family again with his daughter. As the spell wore off and the crow returned to cawing, Talia silenced the bird with a magic missile to the head and stared darkly into the fire. Reconciliation? Did she even desire to reconcile with the man she once called father?…..

As the night wore on, they watched the man they had tracked across the desert cross the sand, playing a magical tune on a pipe. It seemed to keep the purple worms at bay, and Talia committed the Song of the Purple Worm to memory, hoping she could replicate it with her arcana skills. Right now it was their only hope for crossing the ocean of death before them.

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