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Showing Your Colors: The Egg

You can read the second entry here or on the campaign site where you can see the wiki entries.

As the group finishes their rest, Ariel’s thoughts drift back to a time when things were simpler and when she had her future planned out. She was always meant to be the next in line for her father’s Baron title, and had  been given small responsibilities over the family estate since she was as young as 6. Her father saw her talent for organization and had been rotating her through various minor lordly management duties, along with a cadre of excellent tutors, throughout her childhood. Ariel’s aspirations and dreams for the future saw her turning a quiet profit in the family holdings until her father retired and left her in charge of a powerful estate that even a Duke might be jealous of. Perhaps she would even be granted additional lands for her excellence by the Queen. On the morning of her thirteenth birthday, when she was expecting to be given charge for the year of a trade deal with another estate or maybe even a temporary seat on the artisan council; but, what she woke to was her eyes having changed colors overnight. Ariel ran through the family estate, trying to find a doctor, priest, or mage that could figure out what was going on when she ran into her father. He ushered Ariel into a quiet room, telling the servants to send everyone back to work, and told her the truth in a quiet nook overlooking the estate’s gardens. Ariel’s mother had made him promise not to tell the details, but he whispers that Ariel is part divine, Aasimar, and that while he may not be her father by birth, he has never thought of Ariel any differently than if she were his flesh and blood. Ariel spends the rest of her birthday going through the motions, but she can’t get excited about getting to help write a new trade treaty. When she is supposed to blow out the honey-wicks on her birthday desserts, her frustration mounts, both at this new secret and at herself for doubting her deceased mother. When her father kindly prompts her a second time to blow out the honeywicks, a burst of anger and magical energy explodes from her, dousing the birthday celebrants in pastry. Amazed and appalled at her unrequested new power, Ariel mentally scraped the ink of previous goals from her internal parchment and scratched at the top, “Figure out what the hell that was.” then, almost as an afterthought, “And what an Aasimar is.” 

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With their bodies rested and stomachs full, the group meets at the teleportation room in SSM. A quick walk later and they find Einn Casterly in his office, wearing the same clothes as before, and they casually slip “LIGHT” and “SPIDERS” in their conversation with him. A smile spreads across his face as he beams, “So glad to hear that you five were able to crack the puzzle, what did you think?”. Some non-committal responses from the group causes him to pause, “Ah, of course, my end of the bargain for puzzle-testing. I can throw around some weight and dig through the rumor mill to figure out who the dungeon designer is this year, as well as, say, two questions you have about it. Provided you give me at least a day to get some answers together” . Having gotten their reward, the group mentions some of the difficulties lining up the pieces but decides to hold on to their two questions for a later time, exiting Professor Casterly’s office with a polite goodbye. 

When the group gathers together to escort the dragon skull to Styx’s cave, the quick trip proves pointless. Styx is gone from her cave, having left behind a note about attending an auction in Bogoreka. Klythmnora is still hibernating and the cave seems safe enough, so her skull is left behind at the back of Styx’s cave in her wine-drinking room as the group clambers back down the mountain to Page & Wisdom’s teleportation room. In the capitol city of Bogoreka, it doesn’t take much questioning of crowds around the auction district to figure out which one Styx went to, the one that has recently uncovered and unidentified loot from ancient Akshi tombs. The problem for the group though is that the auction is a bit higher class than most of them can pass for, but luckily, the auction house has outsourced its cheaper daytime auction security to a competitor team, Camden’s Own. Talking with their leader, a human paladin named Bedwyr, the Dissonant Whisperers find out that Camden’s Own is being paid for the image of having adventurers and to protect the clientele; so long as the group doesn’t start anything they are free to enter and bid if they want. Camden’s Own is a sponsored human group made from a local band from Camden, a growing city in Sun’s Dawn, former colony of the Triumvirate Imperium. A quick glance inside and the group easily spots Styx and her massive bodyguard with a high table to themselves. Four of the group go to talk to Styx while Rila uses them as cover to shift into a spider form, hoping to sneak in the back to get a first-look at the items up for auction. Ariel and Tormenoth press her for help with Klythmnora’s situation, but it doesn’t take much convincing to get Styx to agree to help the old bag of bones, flashing a predatory grin. Leon asks what Styx is here for and she relays that rumor has it there were some bones from famous Akshi generals and some of their war drakes, but also she is here for the free food and wine. “They make their real money at the invite only auctions at night, this daytime stuff is to offload the uncertain stuff they acquire trying to find the expensive items, and to entertain their buyers that like to gamble on hidden treasures or unusual goods”, she finishes saying as Rila drops onto Ariel’s shoulder, mentally shouting that thieves are behind the curtains. Not a few seconds later the announcer steps forth onto the stage to introduce himself and the auction house, along with their betting rules. He never gets to finish his spiel when a scream comes from behind the curtain that is quickly silenced. A massive woman only half covered by furs lunges from behind the curtains and threatens the announcer with a massive axe, “Nobody moves and nobody else gets hurt. We ain’t here for your fancy stuff, so back off.” 

A nasally voice from behind the curtain states, “Shalara, no one cares about the auctioneer, get back here and keep moving boxes,” as a wizard in carefully pleated robes pulls back the curtains. Three others can be seen shifting items and searching the stacks of goods behind the curtain. The two members of Camden’s Own in the room draw their weapons but make no move to intervene, except to move closer to the largest groups of bidders as they call for their compatriots at the entrance to the auction hall. The Dissonant Whisperers however jump into action immediately. Tormenoth engages the barbarian, trying to talk her into letting the auctioneer go while he and the rest of the group move closer. When they get too close, she howls with rage and draws her ax to the auctioneers neck, but in doing so, she fails to notice the spider on the ceiling above before it drops down on her head. The momentary distraction being what Tormenoth was waiting for, he quickly pulls the auctioneer from the barbarian’s grip while interposing himself and his shield. At the same time, Ariel unleashes a blast of magic that knocks the barbarian back and out of reach. Leon and Altreyo take the opportunity to rush backstage, confronting the wizard and his companions. Seeing the five, Altreyo puts things together and realizes that this group is the Exemplars, a new group competing this year in the Show of Five Colors, rumored to be strong individuals who were grating or antisocial enough that no other team wanted them.

Attacks fly between both groups, as the thieves to drop the goods they were taking, including a mysterious egg that a half-orc armored cleric calls upon to summon a small shadowy minion. It isn’t enough to turn the tides though and he is forced to make a fighting retreat under attack from Leon and Altreyo, whose lucky blows greatly damage the wizard and force him to flee. The unexpected resistance has the five thieves cut and run, as Shalara the barbarian reluctantly disengages from the fight with Tormenoth. Luckily, their retreat is made easier by the sudden emergence of another group from the kitchens, who rip off their waitstaff disguises. This group is immediately recognized by the Dissonant Whisperers though, the Untouchables. The Untouchables are a highly skilled group with a chip on their shoulder, being made up of maligned or mistreated races and classes. As they storm out of the kitchen, they shout, “Your money and valuables, so nobody gets hurt”, as they moved to threaten the nearest and richest looking individuals without personal bodyguards. Now Camden’s Own finally steps in, but having been willing to let the Dissonant Whisperers deal with the auction thieves, they had let their guard down. Seeing their inability to protect the innocent, Tormenoth and Ariel hang back from chasing the fleeing barbarian to deal with the new threat. This gives some time for Camden’s Own to regroup and seeing more resistance than they expected, the Untouchables take what they can grab and retreat through the kitchens. Ariel and Tormenoth follow while the other three follow the thieves directly to the alley from the auction storeroom.

A melee erupts around the cart loaded with stolen goods when a group of thugs emerges to block the alley’s only exit. “We’re, ah, cutting out the middle of this deal, ain’t that right boys?”, the leader of the group shouts to her underlings as the group of toughs laughs. Fighting between the Exemplars and Altreyo, Leon, and Rila quickly ends as Shalara proposes a deal, “Listen, we’re wounded and apparently no longer being paid for this job, so how about we team up to take on this scum and split the take in the cart 50-50?” Leon turns to her, glancing down at the jeweled egg he recovered from the half-orc earlier and says, “How about you fight those thugs and we promise not to turn you in?” Shalara silences the grumbles from other wounded members of her team and replies, “Fine”. Just as the group lines up to meet the thugs in battle, the Untouchables burst from the kitchen’s back door and slam through a door on the other wall of the alley, escaping to the sound of a door bar dropping into place behind them. Ariel and Tormenoth follow not far behind and turn to face the thugs as well, who are starting to reconsider their choice. 

Blasts of magic and flashes of steel make short work of the low-level thugs. A few minutes later, the alarm is finally raised and guards show up. By this time the group has coordinated their stories about the defeated thugs being the thieves. The guard lieutenant that shows up to question everyone pointedly ignores what the delay in the alarm was about, and takes their concocted story at face value. Interestingly, none of the bidders nor the auction house or Camden’s Own decide to report the muggings by the Untouchables. Once the auctioneer finishes tallying the goods on the cart against the register of items he has, the group is released. No one ever asks them about the egg and it isn’t listed on the items that the auction house possesses. The auctioneer thanks them for the help and requests that they keep this incident quiet, as no one died and nothing was reported stolen, no need to scare away their clientele.

Banged up yet again, the group settles back in their dorms for a deserved rest, dragging themselves out only to attend a few classes while recuperating. Having seen some of their competition, the group is eager to take on some risky work for the chance of a big payout. With all the hustle and bustle of a fae kingdom joining a human one, Alara and Courvana are their destination where they hope to strike it rich. A hop over to Courvana’s campus puts them in Alara where the quest boards mention work in outlying towns and they hear rumors of an old lizardfolk temple full of danger and treasure.

A couple day trip north on the roads takes them to a town on the border of wilder lands still being settled and incorporated into the Kingdom of Alara, Wodden. Some monsters out here are taking well to the opening of trade to claim their lairs under the authority of the kingdom while others remain recalcitrant or simply reclusive by their natures. Merchants line the main street of this small burgeoning frontier town, with many fey and humans peddling their wares to the five adventurers walking through. A gnomish looking fellow with fairy wings catches their eye and before long, he drops a hint about knowing a thing or two of the Lizardfolk temple that he’d be willing to let slip for a moderate purchase of his hair dyes. In exchange for their coin, the group gets matching streaks of crimson put in their hair and the tidbit that the temple is hidden in the swamplands and was the place they would drop off raiding treasures. One building stands out even among the fey-inspired and border-town structures, a great acacia tree grown into the shape of a store with the sign out front reading Dryad Aromatics. The store owner greets them as they enter, a dryad who specializes in growing plants whose flower buds function similar to more common alchemical potions or poisons. Acacia mentions that she had overheard their talk with the gnome, but not to trust fey rumors about that temple. “It is a game they’ve got going right now, you see, they hope to ensnare mortals with their greed and put one over on each other by trying to create the most misleading rumors without being strictly false. I happen to know the truth of the place, but I would ask something in return” she elegantly bows, “You see I have a fey witch I keep in contact with through letters, but she hasn’t written and I worry she has gone missing. We write each other every day and it is dangerous for me to leave my tree for long. Her house is hidden in the hill just north of town. If you can make sure she is alright, I will tell you where to find the temple.” Leon quickly agrees and the group sets off to investigate the witch’s hut. 

The hillside the fae witch lives in is heavily gardened and only recently untended but no-one answers the door. A faint scratching and skittering can be heard inside, but the group decides to wait it out, not wanting to break into or rudely intrude in a fae witch’s cabin. No telling what an offended faerie witch might do. After waiting for the rest of the day without any sign, they camp out just outside of the tended garden areas, but by morning they get restless. A faint trail can be seen and Rila luckily picks out the attempted covering up of damage through the tended gardens, into the underbrush, and guides the group for a couple miles north where the covering of tracks becomes less careful through the undergrowth. Following the increasing pace of the trail becomes easier as whoever left the trail eventually stops covering their tracks at all and after following the tracks for hours, the group spots a small wooden palisade. Inside are a pair of log cabins with a pair of bandits patrolling atop earthwork hills on the inside of the small palisade. The bandits are odd though, weirdly professional in their bearing and ill-fitting in their hide armor. After a brief huddle out of sight, the group decides to ambush the guards and break in.

Their attempted surprise is ruined when one of the bandits spots their approach, but they quickly shoot down the two on the wall with magic as a trio of others open up the wooden gates to charge out, weapons drawn. A pair of the bandits are significantly tougher, and begin to retreat with a bound woman in robes while one peppers the group with crossbow bolts as the larger one with the axe shoulder carries a limp form. When it looks like they won’t be able to outrun the adventurers, they turn to fight in a forest clearing, as the larger one lunges in a fury swinging his weapon in wide arcs. The furious fighting sees the group team up, each taking a turn at the front lines as Altreyo and Tormenoth are badly wounded by the axeman’s fury, even Ariel tries to put herself on the front lines before the barbarian is finally stopped. At the same time, Leon and Rila are able to corner the man with the crossbow and finish him off when he refuses to surrender. As their hearts slow and they catch their breath, they flip over the dropped and bound form to discover she is fey. Finding the bound fae witch unconscious, they retreat to heal their wounds in the small bandit camp.

The group splits up inside the camp to search it for loot while Rila takes a look at tending to the witch.  A spot treatment helps rouse her, but her groggy answers and speech reveals that she is still worsening. A lucky guess in Rila’s follow-up investigation reveals trace pinpricks of needles on her arms and identifies that the toxin is damaging her mind and will soon result in the witch’s coma and death. Some careful bleeding of the witch while tending to her keeps the toxin from doing any further damage while she slowly starts to recover. At the same time, the rest of the group finds the naked corpses of bandits in a shallow, fresh grave as they order the remaining living bandits to dig graves for their fallen compatriots. They realize that whoever these people are, they killed and disguised themselves as the bandits that were here. When the group tells them to dig a grave for five instead of three, the two survivors make a last stand with rocks and fists that sees them join their comrades as bodies in the fresh grave. With the stolen equipment and armor gathered up, the group reassembles to rest.

Regaining consciousness, Rosalind asks the group’s identity, wary of an interrogation trick, but calms after the group mentions being sent by the witch’s dryad friend. She then passes them a crumpled note she had palmed from the fireplace when her captors were distracted. Its contents tell this group of mercenaries, the Barkstead Raiders, to capture the witch for information on her recent prophetic visions. The mercenaries are to keep her alive and deliver her along with any information gathered to the pre-arranged drop point in Blackrun. It also mentions using a diluted powdered silver to keep her from using her fey magic. Naturally, the group is curious about this prophecy but she remains hesitant as she casts spells to check herself over for any lingering magic when her detect magic spell catches their mysterious egg in its view. Its potency causes her eyes to widen in surprise and she is too groggy to disguise her emotions. Noticing what the group holds, she takes a moment and then in a darker voice booms out her most recent prophecy. 

“A five-colored seed, jewel of power, and abeyance of the high mighty, five-fold is her power, and in her shadow all cower.

But oh, shall the world tremble with her laughter and cower before Her servants. With Her boon, placed in obscurity by her Dark Lady, the Queen calls her children to action, that the strongest might increase her foothold in the world.

A calamity of fire, conquered by hands of ire; 

A ruination of venom, bound by hands of indolence;

A tribulation of storms, tallied by the craving hands of avarice;

A disaster of ice, imitated by hands of envy;

A tragedy of corrosion, created by the reaching hands of pride;

Beware the searching hands and claws, for none of them can be allowed this treasure. A serpentine scheme of one god can only be truly answered by the circuitous intervention of another. Time is something even mortals can grant the gods.”

Questions abound from the group, but she is only able to tiredly answer a few before needing to rest. When asked why she would tell them the prophecy she says she trusts them because they have the egg and yet are willing to help her, so they must not be the evil mentioned in the prophecy. After finishing up their rest, the group escorts her back to her hut, where her ferret familiar, Regus, is overjoyed to see her. She notes that any of them are welcome guests in her home and if they need answers, she would be willing to ask questions of her fey connections to find out more of what the prophecy might mean. Not wanting to overstay their welcome or burden a recently poisoned witch, they say their goodbyes and return to town. When the group stops by the dryad’s shop to turn in their quest, she is thankful and more than happy to mark the exact location of the known lizardfolk ruins, saying, “You can’t miss it with that dilapidated old fort built right on top of it.”

A day’s march later, the group sees the tilting, crumbling keep the dryad mentioned, although only a partial second floor still remains. Most of the keeps former walls and floors have since tumbled into the murky water and swampy ground it is built in. Moving in to explore the ruins, they are ambushed by an alligator that nabs Ariel from the shoreline, pulling her under into the muddy waters. A short fight ensues as the group is wary of a second alligator possibly hiding nearby while they desperately search for their captain being held somewhere at the bottom of the murky pond. Just before drowning, Ariel taps into her patron’s dark gift and lets loose with a burst of hellfire that frees her. Popping above the waterline clues the rest of the team to where the alligator is, killing it and sending a second opportunistic gator fleeing. The threats cleared, Tormenoth spots a partially concealed stone doorway used as part of the tower’s foundation that is of an older, exotic style. With its intricately carved threshold just above the waterline, only a thin stream of silt and water run down the overgrown stairs into the darkness below. The dark stone carvings depict scaley humanoids, lush vegetation, and elaborate skulls. 

Stepping carefully down the vegetation and mud choked stairs, the group heads down twenty or thirty feet into the darkness. The light from the sun above illuminates this entry chamber and its set of wooden double doors with dim light. The stone carving motif continues over the ceiling and walls, with matching details on the doors, but the floor is covered in thick mud, puddles of water, and vibrant plants. Pushing open the thick, rotting doors reveals a dark, larger chamber with ankle deep, algae choked water. As the group peers around the room, they see an open archway to a room beyond to the west and a tall set of double doors leading north, flanked by two stone totems. They briefly consider searching the room when suddenly the room is illuminated bright as day for a brief second then returns to darkness. When Rila is finished blinking the spots from her eyes, a search of the ceiling with Leon’s provided light spell shows a grid of crystals set in the ceiling with a modified, if crude, light spell anchored to them. At the same time, Altreyo and Ariel find no mundane or magical triggers for the light spell, respectively, at the entrance to this room while Rila points out the obvious. Plants this vibrant would need to be getting regular light.

Slopping through the mud and the archway, Tormenoth is the first to notice the larger bush in the corner of the room on a slightly drier mound of earth conceals a large snake as well as the faded panoramic mosaics on the two parallel wall segments in the center of the room. Unwilling to tangle with such a large predator on its own preferred terrain, the group send Rila forth to try to talk with the snake. Her understanding of snakes a little rusty, being from a continent with no snakes, but she finds it easy enough to identify the signs of a hungry creature and makes motions to signify that the group is willing to bribe the snake. Tormenoth loses the quick game of “not it” and gets to be the one to backtrack for the fresh corpse of the alligator. Sated with a huge meal, the snake coils around its chosen bush to digest. Leon berates the group to continue his “always left” strategy and gets to be the one to open the old stone door in the corner of the room. Inside is a small, dry bunk chamber that still has a tattered pile of blankets on one bunk and a sewage hole. When Ariel searches the room to double-check, an angry viper lashes out from its nest in the blankets. Luckily, she jumps back in surprise, avoiding the creature’s fangs. Tormenoth and Leon step in, covered in armor while the rest of the group blasts it with magic within the span of a few seconds.

Exiting back out into the constrictor snake’s room, the group continues left, forcing open a door to the north against the backpressure of a knee-high water. A step down into the stone corridor sees a rightward passage and a chamber to the north. Sloshing through water, the group peers into the room and spots the large gator swimming towards them through the duckweed and around the fallen pillars. Wary of being pulled under again, Ariel moves atop the pillar while blasting with magic as the rest of the group fells the alligator quickly. However, seconds after the alligator is fatally wounded, the sounds of thrashing water can be heard. A swarm of piranha enter from the corridor to devour the corpse of the alligator. Quick thinking by Leon with a cantrip he manages to mimic the smell of blood in the water, leading the piranha around long enough for the others to kill enough of the swarm that they scattered. Continuing on, the hallway to the northeast rises up out of the water and holds three statues. Ariel brushes away the moss to find the statues are of a Warrior, a Healer, and a Mystic, but has no context to their names or what this trinity of statues means. 

The next room helps provide more clues to the mystery, as it is bisected by a metal bars and a gate with a large stone contraption on their side of the gate. The contraption reads that only true lizardfolk, righteous in blood and strong in scale can pass the gate. It is made up of three circular plates on a dais with an imprint of a spear, a leaf, and a staff respectively. Hoping that the contraption will accept a literal offering and send Altreyo to retrieve the dead viper. They sprinkle scales and some viper blood on each of the three plates while offering some arrows, some healer’s kit ingredients, and a book on the three plates. Each of the three depresses with their offerings and the gate unlocks, swinging open. The tilt of this room means that the other side of the gate is filled with thigh-high water and choked with plants. A short hallway and a collapsed metal door lead to a ruined chapel with the backs of stone pews and a faintly glowing basin visible over the water.

Just as the group is debating who will search where, the vegation stirs, forming into humanoid shapes that fling barrages of sharp thorns. Drawing weapons, the group engages, but finds that these creatures keep their distance and more continue to show up. The vinelings gather together in clumps, pouring their algae and duckweed together, weaving into larger forms. The first of these vine elementals charges forward to attack but by this point the group has fallen back to the hall just outside the chapel, using the two doorways as choke points. Their defensive posture is backed up by Altreyo’s cloud of summoned daggers, a mobile flaming sphere under the direction of Leon, and a bed of thorns conjured by Rila. Tormenoth holds the line against the charging vine elemental until it breaks under their combined assault, only to see a greater vine elemental charging in. Blocking its massive swings of coiled greenery, he gives Ariel enough time to knock it back with successive blasts of eldritch fury, pushing it back through the chokepoint’s defenses. Before long, the damage causes it to unwind into its constituent vine elementals and then vinelings. The vinelings score some minor wounds but fall quickly and are kept from joining together again. 

With the chapel open to exploration, Ariel takes notice of the still functional magic basin at the fore, but is unable to decipher anything important before the whole group is investigating a false cave-in blocking one of the doors off the chapel. The rocks are a hinged door held closed from the otherside by a flimsy dead-bolt that they pry open to reveal a clear stone corridor that is well lit. Following the revealed corridor that is spotlessly clean and clear of plants, the group ascends slowly to a larger open stone room with a large double door. As they cross this room, armed and armored lizardfolk begin pouring out of secret alcoves to surround them. Weirdly, the group is able to understand the spoken draconic of the guard captain. Decked out in feathered and brightly dyed liveries, the captain barks, “You outsiders will never be allowed to leave, so throw down your weapons. But we’ve been itching for a fight if you don’t want to surrender”. Before he can enact any threats, the doors creaks open and an old lizardfolk pops in. In surprise he drops a small cloth bundle and an apple rolls out, as he says, “Why are you all in my favorite lunch spot, no-one goes here!” Then, having a second to look over the situation, a smile comes over his face as he croons, “You know captain, if I remember the laws wording, outsiders are only forbidden leaving the Kingdom of Gaeia, there is nothing stating they cannot come in, armed or otherwise. At least, so long as they don’t break any other laws…” The lizardfolk hesitate as the captain stands frozen with his mouth agape before he composes himself, shouting “Get moving you louts, I expect faster response times next time and I will find out who didn’t check for intruders before powering the lights or else you all will be doing a canyon run”. The old man turns to leave, beckoning the party to follow.

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