Skystorm

Gericscht's Final Flight

After Gericscht’s final heretical statement, I flew at him to cut him down. Unfortunately I only discovered that the Gericscht in the throne was yet another ruse when it exploded as I struck it. Erathis smiled upon me and I avoided taking the brunt of the blast despite the wreckage it made of the throne room. Fortunately my companions had not been so swift and avoided the explosion entirely. I spied a secret door beyond the throne and we found ourselves in crude passages. An even more cunningly disguised secret door at the bend of the passage led through to a hidden cache and heard the sounds of airship engines spinning up from a further passage. We leaped from the end of that passage down onto the deck of Gericscht’s yacht to confront him just before it took off.

Initially there was no sign of Gericscht on board. We were faced by a gigantic warforged Titan backed up by a more normal sized warforged that the others informed me was their old companion Javelin. As Javelin was known to be a formidable ranged combatant I introduced myself to him by flying across the ship and slashed him. Gericscht arose from concealment beneath a tarpaulin behind me and retaliated by striking me with his flail to control my mind. The battle proceeded somewhat chaotically from there after Noname confronted the titan and Gericscht, as goblins swarmed all over the deck after Kong Meng walled off the Titan using some terrible ice from the Shadowfell.

Once I was finally in control again, I called upon divine vengeance and mightily smote Gericscht twice, leaving him clattering up against Kong Meng’s wall of terrible cold. He wavered and appeared to be at the end of his life. Struggling against his inevitable death, he attempted to draw more lifeforce from his two warforged puppets, but his invocation of this vile magic did not have the effect he had intended. After a loud clang as if from the largest prison door slamming, a mighty angel of Torog appeared. I recognized it to be Azumel who we had met below Zhia after the breaking of the chain. Azumel recognized me and bid me stand aside for his lord had a stronger claim upon Gericscht. I accepted his priority and rested my blade out of respect for the Angel’s duty to reclaim one who has strayed.

Azumel extracted the protesting pallid and scarred hobgoblin form of Gericscht from within its warforged shell and imprisoned it in a fiery cage within Azumel’s chest. As Gericscht was separated from his shell, all his servants went berserk. Though Javelin simply collapsed, the Titan charged off the ship and rampaged on the lands at the edge of Zhia. Azumel warned us that this was a final result of Gericscht’s doing, not of Torog. We conducted a short discussion with Azumel over Gericscht’s screams. Azumel approved of our idea to pursue the Thrymspaker on the northern continent, but also recommended that we find the bright ones. They had escaped into the domain of their gods in the astral sea and could be found in a bright place that I would find most welcoming. I took this elliptical statement to mean that we should seek after them in the Bright City of Hestavar. He also wished me to pass friendly greetings from his god to the blessed Erathis, but did not expect her to accept them warmly. Finally he stated that his god extended a welcome to any remaining priests of Torog who would forswore their heretical ways with warforged accoutrement. Perhaps some survived in the fleet or in the Crag outside Gericscht’s compound.

Kong Meng reported our mission success to command who ordered us to return. They eventually notified us of the current state of armistice. We spent a few minutes recovering the non-goblin slaves and usable treasures from Gericscht’s lair, subdued the Titan, and journeyed to Vergeance with Gericscht’s yacht and the Stormcrow in formation. We flew over the battle scarred returning Craggen fleet en route, but there was no confrontation.

At Vergence, we beheld a battlefield strewn with the wrecked hulls of many Craggen vessels. Vergence had lost one tower and crews worked to seal a few holes in the dome, but it appeared that the Craggen had lost this confrontation rather decisively. Doubtless, things would have gone much harder for the Oathsworn if the Craggen’s slaves hadn’t all “mysteriously” gone mad at the height of the battle.

- Deacon Novius Carnifex Vergilius

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The lesser of two evils

Emperor Marcus’ fall was interrupted by Rote Stang and Flail flying down to catch him. We pursed them back to Rote Stang’s vessel and found that the Emperor and Rote Stang had arranged a duel. I consulted with the emperor telepathically and he confirmed his command that the duel proceed. The entire battlefield paused and maneuvered to observe their battle.

Rote Stang initially appeared to have the upper hand, for he was frequently capable of striking the Emperor with deeply cutting swipes from his spear. While the Emperor’s sword cuts did not cut so deeply or so often. Rote Stang used these opportunities to taunt Emperor Marcus, but he was not discomfited by such base taunting. The Emperor’s tactic was a longer term one in which he gradually wore Rote Stang down as he healed himself. This won the respect of the Craggen for no one had ever been seen to stand so long against Rote Stang. After the emperor struck a particularly telling blow while left Rote Stang’s blood staining his armor, a remarkable thing happened. Rote Stang’s own mount Flail shrieked in agony and attempted to bite him, but failed. Then all across the fleet many shrieks were heard and fighting erupted everywhere.

It soon became clear to us that the tech priests of Torog had engaged in some foul treachery, for all of their slaves and beasts had gone wild and rampaged against all. The emperor and Rote Stang agreed to pause their duel and work against the enraged slaves until this attack could be resolved. As I prepared to hurl goblin weapons teams off the ship, a strange catlike beast ran up over the side of the ship and tried to whip me down with its many tentacles, it was immediately followed by some even more peculiar rocklike creature with many eyes that sought to crush me in its claws. I blocked these attempts by reinforcing my reality over theirs, then I hurled the hulking rock thing at the tentacle creature with the power of my mind. It nearly fell off the ship, but hung on just long enough for Gareth to push it over the side.

With our might combined with the Craggen commandos we made swift work of the remaining beast and slaves. One of our newly secured Kodanian allies made alarmingly short work of Flail, but reluctantly battered it until unconsciousness at Rote Stang’s request.

Then we surveyed the rest of the fleet and found Rote Stang’s to still be in disarray while our’s was largely intact. The Emperor convinced Rote Stang to accept our aid against this tech priest insurrection in return for an armistice until those who sought to destroy the world could be stopped. This deal was sealed by our forces working against any of the Craggen vessels until they struck their colors, as that would signal that the ship had been restored to the warlord’s control.

We had put much of the insurrection down, except for a huge blue dragon while was devastating vessels with its lightning breath. Fortunately, Cryptic, the mirage dragon, chose that moment to come to our aid and struck the berserk dragon down. After we cleaned up the remaining mad creatures we met with the other warlords.

They too agreed that the tech priests sermons about the necessity of genocide had been soundly disproven. We had behaved honorably, while they had engaged in base treachery. Our fragile armistice had a few new supporters. We sent word to the Deacon that the brand suppression device was required and awaited his reply.

- Commander Keffin

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Clearing the Path

The shortest path to Gerichst brought us to a long passage guarded by artillery and at least one Angel of Torog. Balin walled it up to protect our flank and we moved to take the longer route around, but one which Ella’s map indicated was composed of fewer long passage. The Craggen forces maneuvered around to intercept our new path, but the long transit for the other half of their forces gave us an advantage in picking apart the forces they had sent against our rearguard.

These forces were composed of Angels of Torog, phalanxes of grenadiers and artillery, a few stray crossbowmen, and another tech priest. The Angels of Torog attempted to cow us with howls of agony, but their pain proved no match for our divine wrath and we soon put them out of their misery. Raiden had some odd reluctance to fully engage them, perhaps it was the professional courtesy of an exarch. I had no such compunctions and discorporated them with abandon. Their tech priest’s tricks provided the usual level of irritation, but were insufficient to do more than delay the inevitable.

We turned the final corner and beheld our quarry, Gerichst. He proved to be a large and hideous abomination of warforged components encasing and replacing the now almost unrecognizable form of his craven slave master body. Gerichst continued spouting his genocidal mania against humanity as we expressed our disdain for his methods. When we reminded him of historical precedent for his religion failing when going against the will of a coalition of others, he blasphemed against his own god by claiming to have exceeded him. The Jailer’s unconscionable religious practices aside, I expect him to be highly intolerant of blatant apostasy from his high priest, for the caged prisoners stopped crying out and clutching at us at those words. I do not welcome assisting Torog in any way, but as it matches the just wrath of Erathis, I will cut down this vile heretic.

- Deacon Novius Carnifex Vergilius

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Fog of War

Advance scouts warned us of the approach of the yellow smoke shrouded Craggen fleet. We had previously bargained with the twisted, but at least mostly human, Shadar Kai for advanced defensive technologies. These allowed us to enclose our own ships in obscuring fog while retaining the ability to do basic targeting as guided by their artificial minds which could perceive all objects out beyond the end of the obscuring fog. These, combined with new long range rocket enhanced ship killing missiles, allowed us to start the battle at a significant advantage of achieving a round of unanswered first strikes.

Many smaller attack craft were launched by the falling Craggen ships. For though they could not easily target in the fog, they chose to attempt battle rather than simply fall with their ships. Our ship soon came under attack by a team of jet boot and float harness equipped Craggen commandos and a rocket powered steam tank. These caused us some grief, largely due to their tendency to assault the lower ranking oathsworn who manned our ship weapons.

Sadly, at the end of the fight the steam tank slid off the ship, carrying Emperor Marcus off the ship. Fortunately he possessed enchantments which prevented him from falling to his death, but he was still lost to us when the next wave of attackers arrived.

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Implacable Advance

Our efforts to free a dwarven prisoner from the torture cage were interrupted by the arrival of a phalanx of Craggen and a tech priest. Battle was joined and we soon found them reinforced by hordes of screaming goblins. After a long bloody melee a few flaming goblins fled the field rather than be shocked, stabbed, bludgeoned, or burned by us.

Hearing a large warforged power up in the north, and an odd beast roaring in the east, we proceeded to the warforged. It was some sort of iron guardian that spewed toxic vapors which was soon joined by a Tech Priest. Balin, Terhali, Noname, and Raiden engaged it while I and Kong Meng held the hallway against the beast and a few Craggen snipers. The creature was a peculiar large tentacled catlike thing which the others referred to as a Displacer Beast. After Kong Meng halved the number of snipers I made fairly short work of the beast, its peculiar ability to not be where it seemed was insufficient against many swift cuts. The remaining snipers had been so ineffective against me that they simply fled after I cut down the beast. The others had already cut down the toxic iron guardian when I came to assist them in finally cutting down the tech priest. His chains and mind control powers were insufficient, though they had caused some grief, and in the end he chose to drop arms and surrender. We had not asked for his surrender and so I did not accept it. I executed him immediately.

Pondering our knowledge of the layout, and in consultation with Ella, we determined to head towards the throne complex in the south east to destroy our ultimate quarry, Gerichscht.

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Screaming Vengeance

We landed on a bridge which crossed over a section of the Craggen Caldera dedicated to massive forges. A few sentries engaged us, and we began taking fire from a ballista team on top of the tower. Then a dragon like creature made out of magma flew up onto the bridge and clawed ineffectively at Kong Meng. Kong Meng then signalled us all to strike it at once and it was immediately slain. Truly this team is rife with destructive power.

The tower defenses soon fell to our combined might and we proceeded inside. Therein we found prisoners trapped in some warped version of a crows cage which left them in constant torment. Each time we came upon one it screamed endlessly. We wrenched the cages open and knocked them out in turn, finding goblins, an elven woman, and a dwarf. None of them were coherent. As we worked to free the dwarf another phalanx of Craggen marched up, followed by one of their bizarrely warforged technology enhanced tech priests. At last we had a proper subject for the rage which had been building up in us as we recovered each of these poor creatures who had been tormented beyond all capacity for reason.

- Deacon Novius Carnifex Vergilius

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Into the fire

Emperor Marcus and the others planned to intercept Red Spear’s force and defend Vergence. The Oathsworn acceded to my request to join the mission to destroy Gerichsht. I journeyed to Vergence and met up with what remains of Alpha team. I say what remains, for Kong Meng, a bizarrely transmogrified Kodanian, appears to be its only consistent member. We were joined by dwarven priest of Moradin {name missing from my notes -E}, which rounded our group out to Kong Meng, Noname (an immense warforged), Raiden the exarch of Kord, Thaiel Two Swords, and myself. An unusual, but I think effective team for the infiltration of the Crag.

Our partnership had a somewhat rocky start as Thaiel challenged me to a duel before uttering her second sentence. We agreed to settle things after the mission.

We discussed entry possibilities with Ella over a map that she had prepared. Our best possibility turned out to be an air drop onto a back entrance to the Torog compound. We engaged in some training while we waited. Then I took a few days break to visit with my family in Castica and to visit with the Baroness to help make sure everything was in good shape there after the end of the Vastian hostilities.

The signal of fleet movement at the Crag finally came, so we mobilized on the Stormcrow (a very unusual ship) and dropped into the heart of the Crag from several miles up.

- Deacon Novius Carnifex Vergilius

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Terhali's Journal: The Red Scales or the Silver Eyes?

I have pondered the notion of reviving the Red Scales. My old guild stood for a removal of excess power of any kind. It was a noble goal, for a different time. I have realized that that time is over. The path of the Red Scales is no more, and the vision of the Fire-Eyed Man has passed with him when the knives of betrayal cut deep, and he died in a pool of his own blood. Instead, it seems time to do what I intended when I returned to the World from Gloomwraught: Rededicate myself to the path of the Goddess. This priesthood of Torog is an abomination on the World, and the Goddess has always fought for freedom from slavery. The ultimate consequence is a denial of the natural order of things.

I must pray on the consequences of this…. 

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A Momentary Respite

Emperor Marcus took over the baronial palace as a temporary headquarters while overseeing the reintegration of Vastia into the Avernian Empire. The Vastian nobles portrayed themselves as having been forced to go along with Smyrgway the Third’s schemes. As far as they knew, Argus seemed like the real Imperial heir and the capitulation to the Craggen was difficult to resist with both Argus and Smyrgway supporting it. Given the generally opportunistic and craven nature of Vastian nobility they were eventually allowed to swear fealty and resume their rank in the empire.

Commander Keffin was seen all over the city in the week after its fall. In his wake, disagreements swiftly vanished and chaos was restored to order with rather unusual precision and alacrity.

Baroness Frangelica Castica and her son Esteban arrived by ship from Neveria bearing the prisoner Smyrgway IV, and the sad news that Baroness Homily Neveria had passed away shortly after learning of Marcus’ victory.

There were a few notable exceptions to that Vastian’s “just following orders” narrative.

Smyrgway the 3rd’s second son, something of a blacksheep of the family, name TBD1 (not in my notes) had been banished for not going along with the typical Smyrgway dishonorable behavior. Novius advised that he be recalled to the city of Vastia and evaluated as a candidate for taking over the barony.

The lesser noble TBD2 had bought into Smyrgway’s schemes hook line and sinker. He didn’t even attempt to deny anything is is awaiting trial for high treason.

Smyrgway the 3rd’s first son, Smyrgway the 4th, had been previously captured while operating against Castica along the Castican/Vastian border. He too played up the story that he had simply been going along with this father’s orders. Novius was having none of it having recalled his role in the near capture of Marcus and Baroness Castica in Bella Locale, as well as Smyrgway the 4th’s surly and viperous words which falsely prophesied that they would all beg for his father’s mercy when Marcus’ false imperial regime was at last cast down. Smyrgway the 4th will be held over for trial. Terhali kindly offered to kill him for us, but the emperor wisely refused as that is not how things are done in the empire. As neutralizing troublesome southern nobility had been a large part of his career, Novius subtly indicated that Smyrgway IV was doomed regardless.

Ella the shapechanger continued to try to press her case with Emperor Marcus. The Emperor asked Novius to handle the situation. A long and somewhat rambling interview followed. It rambled because Terhali insisted on advancing her own agenda to reestablish the guild of the Red Leaves and desired Ella’s expertise in several matters. Terhali relented on her recruitment effort and kindly offered to help Ella find peace of mind regarding her past crimes.

Ella expressed her desired to have no further part in violence and to never see another Craggen again. She also expressed regret, without specifically saying so, for having murdered the original Ella to take her form. She preferred to keep looking like Ella (an attractive northern farm girl) due to positive emotional resonance with it. Ella had been born in Craggen captivity and had known no others of her kind other than her mother. The Craggen had killed her mother for disobedience, so Ella had no people left. The Craggen had identified her people as being one of a race constructed by one of the warring factions during the arcana wars. Having no people, and not really known any life other than slavery, Ella was rather directionless. Novius offered to grant her limited freedom within the Empire as long as she followed its laws and provided information about the Craggen, and agreed not to call upon Marcus. Ella accepted, then went off with Terhali to a shrine of the Raven Queen where she received some welcome counseling from its priest.

The Vastian nobles arranged a feast to celebrate Emperor Marcus’ victory. Esteban’s gift of a lovely blue dress to Oli arrived while she was being visited by Gareth and Terhali. Terhali’s dressing assistance did not go over particularly well and ultimately Oli decided to forgo the dress in favor of her usual armor. Terhali and Gareth also explained that Esteban was in fact playing court to her. Based on the fact that Esteban had been widowed within the week, Oli took offense to his not observing a proper mourning period. Oli made no allowances for the rather political and arranged nature of the marriage.

At the ball itself, the Vastian nobles made their oaths of fealty to Marcus. The companions of the Emperor were each honored for their contributions to his victory. Commander Keffin was thanked for his invaluable service in this matter, but no details regarding those services were made public. Esteban sought a dance from Oli and she confronted him with his improper behavior as a widower. Esteban made several reasonable counter pleas, but was unable to significantly defrost Oli’s icy dwarven sense of propriety. Terhali danced the Tarantella with Esteban, but made sure that he was aware of her quite serious threat to take vengeance upon him if he hurt Oli through his romantic overtures.

Terhali’s refreshing brusqueness also broke through Commander Keffin’s customary diffidence and he was actually seen to be enjoying himself at the party, in her company. They had shown up to the ball together wearing matching tuxedos in the very latest style, but Terhali later changed into a more appropriate gown for dancing. Keffin was actually seen happily at ease for the first time in anyone’s memory. He seemed greatly satisfied with himself, but never revealed why.

Deacon Novius and Baroness Frangelica shared several dances, after she persuaded him to forgo his wary guardianship over the proceedings. Their years long custom of flirtation took a more serious turn as the night progressed.

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The Pride of Vastia

Crixus’ years of battle in the coliseum had honed his skills to a remarkable degree. He withstood our concerted efforts for quite some time before finally falling with Terhali’s dagger in his eye. We had initially feared that she had slain him, thereby consigning him to an eternity of torture in Torog’s demense. Fortunately his innate toughness allowed him to survive even that apparently fatal blow.

The battle above the city proceeded throughout, and long after, our conflict with Crixus. We strove to communicate the end of Vastian rebel leadership through various means, but some of Smerdway’s forces gave their all in his cause. Most notably, the rebel capital ship, it was only after The Pride of Vastia, was destroyed by one of the Dwarven flying mountains, over our heads, that the lesser ships of the fleet struck their colors.

Other battles in the city went more smoothly. Apparently a large warehouse fire on the docks had drawn most of the rebel Vastian forces out of position. Miraculously the fire had only destroyed some empty unoccupied structures, but the distraction was sufficient to render our taking of the city fairly swift. Other Vastian forces had somehow been suborned or rendered useless by methods which were not disclosed to us, but which we attributed to the enigmatic Commander Keffin.

Ultimately, Vastia II, now a doddering old man, was located in the castle to formally sign over unconditional surrender to Emperor Marcus.

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