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Showing Your Colors: Home Again

With everything settled, they take the fae offer of a free passage to return home via the flying ship, with an overjoyous captain, first mate, and crew, now permanently in the fey limbo status that they wanted. It is a journey that is spent enjoying summer wine, fresh fruits, and Rila’s hometown snacks of pine nuts, fermented seaweed, and elk jerky. They try enough to be polite, but mostly stick to the wine and fruit.

Getting back to their campuses, they’ve got time before the White is scored and want to use it wisely. Leon wants to read over the bundle of financial documents Hector left with him. Rila wants to get her polar bear Shawny armored up and equipped. Ariel gets a stone scroll in her mailbox, same lettering as the clue she got from the mockingjay. Also, her patron reaches out to her in her dreams for a request. She doesn’t owe anything and it sounds like her warlock contract was bought by this guy from the demon she originally bargained with. Wants her to look into the Choir of Razors, the same group that killed her mother and mother, so he thinks he has an in. She negotiates to look into it and if she decides to do it, she’ll get a favor from him. He doesn’t offer a name or identifying details.

With their spare time devoted to reading obscure and dry financial texts, the group uses this downtime to do some major buying and selling of magical items, upgrade their gear, and outfit their newest member. This cross-city tour of marketplaces also gives them an opportunity to try and dig up details on the two remaining dragons they haven’t met of the five major schools. Starting with the black dragon, they work their way into meeting with the Dean, Ariel chatting up his secretary and having to promise a date. The dean is happy to talk with the group about their prospective historical society and talks about the unique structure of Courvana, beholden to a theoretically equal-access and anonymous meeting behind masks known as the Black Sable for its eponymous sable blindfolds that all entering the meeting must wear. These obscure identities, voices, bodies, and other details so that members in the meeting are judged only by their ideas and reputation of past discussions. With a bit of convincing, they manage to get the Dean to offer them an invitation to the meeting happening the following evening. 

Tormenoth goes to get some practice in and finds his normal room reserved with a dummy set up with a black tally mask and a note inside. He finally decides to tell the group what has been up, and looks over the note with them. They demand a name by midnight. He agonizes over it but Ariel’s argument for picking someone falls flat with Tormenoth and no one agrees with Leon to try and put the black tally society itself as the target. The compromise position ends up being for them to put the name of the champion of Tiamat as his selection, as technically meeting their requirements but also thumbing his nose at them. He will have to see how they respond.

Leon’s financial documents prove to be quite the challenge to figure out. They spend a great deal of time cross-referencing everything trying to figure out just what about the Dawn’s Charge is setting off their intuition and Hector’s vague insinuations. Hector is tangentially involved with the ostensibly charitable organization, he is a mentioned donor and supporter, but the leader in charge of the group has founded a new chapter that seems to be the focal point of some financial shenanigans. Theoretically it is a non-denominational group aimed at helping settlers around Alara. Putting the pieces together, the group figures out a feeling behind the documents “check this chapter while getting the thieves. The cleric, careful-acting for its own works.” and a more hidden message between the lines “Fey creatures dungeons project”. 

They wake in the morning and hurry off to find out how well everyone scored on the White Quest for Prestige. The Dissonant Whisperers tied for first place, but ended with a moderate lead against the rest of the teams.  Camden’s Own, Jesters, and Merchants have given up and ducked out of the competition. Rumors are that the Untouchables and Exemplars have been teaming up on something big and Style supposedly retrieved a black dragon’s family heirloom from an Underdark Matron. Huntresses nabbed a juvenile kraken. Catalyst went after a volcano elemental infesting an ancient forge, but destroyed it in the process and a good part of the nearby village. Weave chose to infiltrate the Blood Elven isles to examine ruins and rituals but woke up a blood demon and contained it but had to flee the blood elf reprisal, ultimately causing a notable increase in Blood elf raids.

As the leading team for now, it is time for final alliances to form, but it will be tough to get anyone on their side. The group worries that everyone will be picking spells, skills, and items to counter them. No use in worrying, however, they still have things to do in the two weeks before the final challenge. They’ll even need to figure out social arrangements for the Prismatic Ball two nights before the Black Clash.

First stop on their cleaning up of loose ends is Dawn’s Charge.

They head into the wilderness around Alara to find it, finding a lodge but no people. They wait, but accidentally set off a trap. Someone armored and riding a horse shows up but doesn’t see them. They wander in a spiral around the lodge, using clues gathered to try and find the real hideout. Instead, they meet a Dawn’s Charge member who politely tells them to leave and avoid the dangerous creature he has been sent to hunt. His words are immediately disregarded as they follow him while he chases off after the fae creature. Their tracking is better so they are able to confront the creature first to paralyze it just as he arrives. When he forcefully objects, the Whisperers subdue him peacefully to figure out what is going on. They go their separate ways when he explains the nasty ‘prank’ this fae has been pulling by collapsing bridges as people cross them, confirmed by the faerie as a necessary and just war against those despoiling nature. The fae is surprised when they are banished back to the fae realm and the fae hunter released. The group apologizes to the hunter and both go their separate ways.

They find the Dawn’s charge hidden entrance after not too much more searching, and explore the place stealthily. A library of monster hunting is investigated and a few choice books kept. An infirmary and research lab holds monster parts in various stages of dissection and preservation. They encounter captured fey in a set of enchanted jail cells, but decide against releasing any. Their stories are not very trustworthy and their experience with the bridge collapsing fae has them uncertain the fae don’t deserve to be locked up. A storage room around the bend has a secret staircase down. All goes well until they find Korbin Armaster experimenting on a Hag. He is inscribing into its bones while it is alive, restrained and unconscious. They fight, but his prayer is answered and he tries to escape as the rest of the compound wakes up to his alarm. His prayer sees him whisked away to his trump card, an angel token he uses to call in the extraplanar being to fight while he shouts to raise the alarm. Now facing the other end of the same choke point they used to corner Armaster, they hold off summoned divine beasts, the angel, and Dawn’s Charge Hunters. They use the staircase well with barriers and banishment effects to hold the celestial beasts at bay while the angel is targeted down. They barely get a second barrier up in time as the large celestial boar smashes through one with an anti-magic charge. 

Armaster’s escape isn’t fast enough and they fight through the henchmen, summons, an angel, and lieutenants to catch him. Leon takes particular pleasure in using invisibility from his undead sorceress to secretly turn the earthen passage to mud with his Mudstaff and watch the abbot try fruitlessly to get the oxen to pull the heavy wagon out. The group takes their time to loot the rest of the place, grabbing Korbin’s experimental notes about enchanting the fey with peaceful enchantments. The henchmen are secured and stabilized as they note how hypocritical it would be to spare Korbin but leave his underlings to bleed out. They fall for one trap at the end of the bedroom hallway, set up to capture an escaping fey creatures, but avoid serious harm. Loot in tow, Korbin  is brought back to Alara to the authorities with his own diary and notes evidence of his crimes. As the news breaks, and Lathander’s temple frantically trying to mitigate the public relations harm, Hector is mad that Leon didn’t come to him first so they could get out ahead of the controversy. Captured fey are remanded to Alaran and fey authority, to be dealt with for their crimes and have any magical enchantments removed. 

The group sells treasures they found there and previously. Time is spent researching the Black Clash as well as more about the Choir of Razors and the Egg. Klythmnora requests an audience to share her own findings. Tormenoth checks in with Zap at his office, and Zap leans on his desk armchair to reassure Tormenoth about their upcoming plans, that he will be notified soon about what he needs to do.

The group starts to search for the Choir, examining killings in the city for clues. Magical dealers and killed summoners point to an organized group. Rila finds and identifies the loamy soil tracked into the buildings, and that narrows it down to graveyards, likely outside the city. The first one they go to has been recently maintained. They go in. 

Finding it full of magical traps and blockages, they fight their way through defensive gargoyles empowered with the divine, ghosts giving cryptic warnings, and finally past an illusory collapsed hallway. Thinking they are past the worst of it, they explore a crypt of entombed abbots and heroes only to trip a final trap when approaching the large metal door, an invisible, 3D maze of force walls. As they try to scramble through and find a way to shut it off, their activity alerts the group beyond the door. This group of clerics and paladins stand behind a Diva, who they make a tense diplomatic ceasefire with, owing to their providing of details on how they stopped Dawn’s Charge capture of extraplanars and a shared desire to stop Abrasax.

They avoid mention of Ariel’s connection to the Choir of Razors, but weigh that this group’s portal and knowledge of Abrasax can be exploited before they try taking down the group. The human acolytes of the angel are wary and a bit jealous of the attention the Dissonant Whisperers get, but agree to their infallible leader’s acceptance of the adventurers. 

The group has a decision to make about when to try Abrasax’s stronghold demi-plane, but for now decide to rest up and do a bit of shopping and other in-town preparations for the Black Clash. Part of this is Tormenoth going to see Zap’s office, hoping to find secret information. Searching under the armrest of his chair, he finds a key that slots perfectly into his desk drawer, revealing a hidden compartment. It has notes about the Black Tally’s upcoming attack on the Triumvirate, aiming to take out the three leaders in one fell swoop along with their intended candidates to replace them. It details the corruption, criminality, and evils of the current rules along with the ideal cadet family members qualifications. Zap details his starting of arrangements to assassinate the one attending the Prismatic ball, and his defense of Tormenoth as a member of the society over concerns he needs to be removed. 

They discuss, in their downtime, how they want to spend their points for the Black Clash and seem to come up with a tentative plan.  They’ll spring for full knowledge of the map and its secrets, holding their remaining points for mid-clash resurrections. 

They set up and raid Abrasax’s plane. The demon sleeps and his servant notices the group but pointedly jostles a thing thread tying him to Abrasax and motions for them to remain silent. They fight hellhounds, banishing them to keep from making noise, using the time to explore. Ariel finds Penemue, but he is reluctant to leave. She finally convinces him to at least not work for Abrasax anymore but walking back towards the portal, a sand worm tries to swallow the group. The time spent fighting it provides enough time for the hellhounds to return. Abrasax begins to wake, and the group frantically tries to plan, divided between leaving to try again and fighting. Leon casts a spell to protect Ariel, with the backup plan that they will escape through the portal or his Return spell if it goes wrong. Combat noise wakes up Abrasax who gloats about his superior intellect and abilities. They figure out to try and have Ariel call Penny her father to disrupt the demi-plane, but Abrasax laughs that those in his service give up their claims of parentage, he is no fool! He yanks on the gossamer thread to demonstrate, and only Rila is able to get through the portal before he closes it with a wave. When he tries to dominate Ariel through her warlock contract, Leon’s spell shatters but deflects the control, causing Abrasax to flinch and allowing Leon to sever Penemue’s binding with a temporary dispel. Binding gone, Ariel repeats, Thou Art My Father, instantly exploding the large demon. In the chaos of the plane collapsing, Leon tries to rush the group around him to Recall when Penemue notes the he has inherited her warlock pact. A confused temple priest is stunned by the arrival of an archon, but is convinced to keep it quiet as Penny says his goodbyes, needing to go into hiding to keep the choir of razors from targeting Ariel.

Final shopping and turning in of points. They get to see the map, and the rules are elaborated, teams can shift up to 5 of their spent points and any unspent points as they wish if they turn in the changes before midnight after the prismatic ball. They get to see what gates each team is starting from and plan alliances appropriately. 

Leon meets with Bahamut, securing the deities’ involvement, although the aid is left nebulous and open-ended.

The group hits the town (Bogoreka) and the library to try and learn about what types of people these Black Tally targets are. They are all terrible people with plenty of evil to their names, although not provable or prosecutable. The one attending the prismatic is a known spy-master bordering on war criminal with untold numbers of kidnappings and assassinations to his organizations’ ruthless name. 

Tormenoth gets official word from Zap that he has been chosen to carry out an assassination on Spater. Zap suggests some points of weakness in the hall security (centralized magical lighting controls, alleyway balcony access, and less than professional bodyguard behaviors) but leaves it up to Tormenoth. The Black Tally wants a body found but not a culprit caught so they can claim credit publicly and push forward their chosen replacement candidates for the Triumvirate.

Tormenoth and Ariel try to hire the doppelganger from earlier, but they do a terrible job, leaning too heavily on the suspicious and murdery parts of the job before awkwardly trying to switch to the challenge and compensation parts. Uninterested, Mal offers to do the job for no less than 20,000, a price they are unwilling to pay so they part ways, leaving him to his overstaffed, under quality performing troupe. 

Scouting out the hall, they are noticed by the private security detail and get to see the setup, including on display the massive automata spider from the Red Daring. One guard is familiar to Tormenoth, a man from his days in training Jeskin. He takes the catching up with dual purposes, to learn what Jeskin knows while also giving Rila a chance to sneak into the upstairs room in mouse form. No guards or dignitaries are present yet, but she gets a feel for the room and attached balcony for later, unable to investigate further without risking tripping a magical spell she sees. Tormenoth’s discussion goes well, as he shows off some of his new magical abilites, and getting to see Jeskin’s magical artifacts at work (an instant tower shield and short range teleportation). They even touch on reasons for their current jobs, with Jeskin surprised at Tormenoth taking up adventuring while commenting about his own job being one for building up wealth to retire. The conversation begins to peter out, but with Rila coming back out, he needs a distraction so he brings up his plans in a roundabout way, pushing on old philosophical discussions they had back in the day about what it means to be a good person and by extension a good guard. Can a good guard defend a bad person? It might be the nostalgia or dissatisfaction behind the scenes on Jeskin’s part, but he pushes back on Tormenoth about what he means. Tormenoth takes the chance to be more blunt, Spater Ojeai is a bad person and needs to be stopped. Jeskin can’t agree to help, but for an old friend and to stop a bastard like this, he could look the other way. So long as no one sees or can accuse him of dereliction, he won’t lift a finger to protect Spater. The group is concerned when they come out, as the guard at the front stops them, but he seems only interested in getting a paw print from Rila’s companion Shawny the polar bear. Concerned about being tied here, the group makes the snap decision to play along, hoping to just be seen as curious students rather than the nefarious plotters.

Leon and Rila spend the last day before the ball scribing scrolls for the Black Clash, while Tormenoth arranges a mundane murder weapon and Ariel picks up the ritual information from Klythmnora. Klythmnora and Styx propose to use the femur from the Eterna Rey to dump elemental damage into as a magical energy sink in the ritual to disarm the EGG. She’ll have it retrieved and ready for the group the afternoon before the Black Clash. 

At the prismatic ball, Rila uses Shawny as a distraction (thanks to Ariel teaching him a few basic dance steps) to shift into mouse form and move to the central lighting control room. Leon chats up a few of the other parties, discovering some alliances while making deals of his own to lessen the number of monsters put into their quadrant. He stands ready to spill a platter of food and drink as a distraction with a remote spell and outline Spater in faerie fire so Tormenoth can strike unimpeded. Tormenoth keeps up idle chatter to stay as close to the stairs as he can without being suspicious. Ariel talks to a few people, ready to cover the light shut-off with her own magical darkness to confound those who can see in the dark.

When Spater Ojeai finally deigns to come out of the private suite for a quick word to the gathered students, he gets only a couple words out before Ariel sends the magical Message to Rila and Leon to kick things off. The lights go out to the surprised amusement of the crowd when a huge platter of plates and empty glasses smashes to the ground. Private guards begin to look around the room, not noticing Spater is now covered in glowing fire that is almost instantly smothered by a bubble magical darkness. Without his armor, Tormenoth slinks up the stairs two at a time to reach the twisted spymaster. Noticing the man fumbling for a ring, brutal swings of the dagger nearly sever the man’s other hand before Spater stumbles and the surging Tormenoth puts a few holes in his back. Spater gets out a panicked shout for aid as his guards spring to action, but his fearful mind only thinks up his next tactic too late to use it. He starts to bring the ring bearing finger up to his mouth to activate whatever contingency spell is upon it. One guard shoves into the room and turns the lights back on as Rila flees through narrow gaps into the coat room. With the commotion, the front door guard has moved into the ballroom as is easy to sneak behind, shifting back to halfling form behind Shawny. Ariel contests control of her magical darkness with a staff-wielding guard, but manages to hold, preparing a minor spell to rinse Tormenoth of any blood or stains. Leon holds at the ready for another distraction when Tormenoth needs to leave, and Tormenoth faces down a Spater trying to stumble backwards up the stairs. With a flurry of slashes with the dagger, Spater’s face is marked with three tallies and an artery is struck, dousing the area around him with blood. He has just enough time to misty step on top of the giant mechanical spider, leaving behind the murder weapon. Ariel cleans him as Leon tips a buffet table, giving Tormenoth the time to slip down onto the floor, pretending to have been blown back by the attacker just in time for the darkness spell to be ripped apart by Spater’s guard. A gasp comes over the crowd as they all can see Spater’s corpse slump to the floor, blood sprayed and three red gashes across his face. 

The guards begin to secure the entrances, as panicking students remember their training to reach for weapons they didn’t bring or had stowed in the coat room. Some took up cutlery, but by then the mage guard burst onto the balcony to shout in dismay and call for aid of the two slain guards on the balcony. One stabbed clean through and pinned with a long-knife to the stone parapet. Before long, Triumvirate security forces make their way to the hall, gathering witness statements despite being clearly shaken. Some of them let slip that this has been a hell of a night, the other two Triumvirate rulers were also assassinated and some group called the Black Tally Society have claimed responsibility. Out of their depth and not suspecting students to be part of this shadowy cabal, the guards take perfunctory witness statements and hold the students only long enough for Spater’s guard to secure his corpse in an armored hearse that races away.

Later that night, Tormenoth is approached by Zap, one of the scabbards at his side empty. Zap congratulates him on a job well done and a reassurance that all three corpses will be destroyed by trusted agents. Those monsters will not be getting revived.
With adrenaline running down, the group makes their final selections for the Black Clash. They opt to put plant monsters in front of Exemplars, Catalyst, and Styles gates as well as the outer labyrinth of Weave. In the morning they wake to find a note that Tormenoth’s bank account balance has increased by 20,000. They choose to spend this upgrading some equipment and buying a stash of potions and scrolls.

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