Sunday, July 30, 2017

[Pathfinder] Wrath of the Righteous, part 21: Keeper's Canyon

In the aftermath of the battle at Vilareth Ford, the queen's paladins refused to bury the remains of the dead tieflings, declaring them unworthy of burial. Jiro objected, saying that if the bodies were left unburied they might rise as evil spirits. Runa offered to say a prayer over them to set their souls to rest, to which the paladins grudgingly agreed and gathered all the corpses in one place to make that possible. Searching the bodies and the fortified camp at the ford garnered the Crusader army very little, only a few rations, a small amount o gold, and a few healing potions.

The Crusaders set up their own encampment by the ford and remained overnight so that everyone could recuperate from their injuries and Aron and Sosiel could recover from their plunge into the river. Sosiel reported that he had heard a voice in his head telling him to jump in the water.

On the previous night Asami had been unable to concentrate enough to scribe any spells in her spellbook or write any new scrolls, but this night she was able to copy the scroll she had purchased into her book. She also talked to Aravashnial about what spells he might have access to that he was willing to share with her.

The journey to the canyon was expected to take another day. As the Crusaders proceeded west the land they passed through grew ever more barren and desolate, which took a toll on the army's morale. The army camped again the following evening a half day's travel from the entrance to Keeper's Canyon. While walking through the camp that evening Zosta and Asami happened to observe that the paladins were grumbling about something, though neither of the women could discern what precisely they were complaining about. They mentioned this to Runa and Irabeth. Irabeth then called on the leaders of the five squadrons to come to the command tent so they could be questioned about the state of the men. Only one of the squad leaders, Loughlin, mentioned having noticed any discontent among his men, though he dismissed it as the ordinary complaints of soldiers on the march. When Irabeth dismissed the other leaders, she asked Loughlin and another man named Tomas to remain behind. Jiro and Asami had been present up to this point, but when the other squad leaders were dismissed they departed. Runa and Zosta remained to find out what Irabeth wanted to discuss with Loughlin and Tomas.

Irabeth gave Tomas a brief, peremptory recommendation and then let him leave, which led Runa to realize that Irabeth had only asked him to stay so Loughlin wouldn't feel singled out. Irabeth, Runa, and Zosta then questioned him. Before reporting the grumbling to Irabeth, Zosta had taken a closer look at the paladins and thought that she had identified the man who was responsible, a man named Arles Jhestander who served in Loughlin's squadron. Loughlin admitted that he had heard most of the complaints coming from Arles, who seemed always to be predicting failure and telling the other men that they could never win. Once this was revealed, Irabeth sent him to bring Arles back to the command tent. While Loughlin was gone, Runa quickly donned her priestly vestments so she could act in the role of the small army's chaplain.

Arles proved to be a seasoned Crusader, one who had served in many battles. The group in the command tent met him seated so that he wouldn't feel he was being interrogated or punished. When first questioned about his complaints he tried to pass them off as nothing of concern, but as the others chatted  with him further, Loughlin suddenly asked him, "When did you lose your faith?"

Arles initially refused to admit that he had lost faith in Iomedae, but Runa was able to gently draw him out until he confessed that Loughlin was correct. Runa and Zosta both gave him encouragement, Zosta telling him that he could still follow his calling to fight the demons even without his special relationship to Iomedae, and Runa offering whatever help she could give as a priestess to finding his way back to his faith. When he left the command tent his mood seemed improved.

Early the next morning Anevia and the other scouts went ahead to see what awaited the army in Keeper's Canyon. Runa put on her vestments and performed a service in the name of Iomedae to encourage the paladins, and both she and Zosta thought that Arles Jhestander received it well.

Jiro, meanwhile, had awakened to discover that his trousers had been shortened during the night, and someone or something had left a bowl of soured milk in place of his usual offering to the kami. Before Runa's service, he sat down to adjust the hem of his pants.

When the scouts returned to report, Anevia told her companions that they had seen a number of familiar lesser demons ahead, though she couldn't recall what sort of demons they were. After she described them as vaguely porcine, the others realized that she referred to dretches, which they had encountered together while making their way through the caverns beneath Kenabres. There was also another force of tieflings. It was decided that the paladins would deal with the tieflings while the army's leaders went forward to face the dretches.

After separating from the paladins, the six companions, along with Aron, Sosiel, and Nurah, approached the ruins of the town that had once stood in the canyon and observed half a dozen dretches partially hidden among the remains. Asami recalled that dretches could create clouds of poisonous gas, which she and her friends had found very difficult to overcome during their previous encounter with such lesser demons. Fortunately dretches could only do this once each day. She also knew that they were resistance to harm from acid, cold, or fire, and they were not especially vulnerable to any kind of harm. Prepared to combat the gas, she began to summon a small air elemental to aid her friends.

At the same time, Jiro initiated an aura surrounding himself that would give his companions the ability to ignore the poisonous cloud, but only if they remained very close to him. While Asami continued casting her spell, Runa summoned the power of Iomedae to blind one of the dretches and wound two others. Another dretch surrounded the group with its cloud of gas, but it didn't affect them due to Jiro's aura. It did, however, mean that the dretches couldn't see the group of people within the cloud, nor could the Crusaders see their enemies.

When Asami's air elemental appeared, it arrived in between where the dretches stood and where the Crusaders were hidden within the cloud. It immediately attacked one of the dretches, but failed to harm it. With the cloud in the way, no one could see that this elemental strangely appeared to be made of wood.

Jiro told his companions, "Stay close to me," and everyone stepped forward, moving slowly so that Nurah and the heavily-armored members of the group would not be left behind. Nurah had begun to sing an inspiring song that made them all feel more courageous. Jiro heard the sound of someone speaking the words of a spell, and spied another creature beyond the dretches. Asami's summoned elemental suddenly fled farther into the canyon. Asami then paused for a moment to cast another spell, this time creating a whirling sphere of wind that she thrust at the spellcaster. She was unable to tell if the enemy mage was harmed by the sphere's attack.At the same moment, Zosta suddenly abandoned the fight and ran back toward where the paladins faced the tieflings.

Nurah began to flicker from place to place, having cast a spell on herself that would make her difficult to attack. Runa then sent out another blinding light, depriving two more dretches temporarily of sight. Jiro's tetsubo of force appeared to attack the enemy spellcaster, which Jiro identified as an incubus. Sosiel moved beside Aron to cast a spell of protection against evil creatures on him.

The incubus backed away from Asami's sphere of wind and began making spellcasting gestures. Two of the dretches charged Asami, one managing to bite her though not seriously. Asami had begin to call the sphere toward her to combat the dretches, but then she noticed that several dretches were standing in a line between her and the incubus. She summoned a bolt of lightning from her wooden sword and sent it through the demons toward the incubus. All three of the dretches in its path exploded when struck by the bolt but the incubus appeared unharmed.

One of the dretches that Runa had blinded lost its footing and fell on its back, flailing its legs in the air like an overturned tortoise. Aron and Runa each slew a dretch, Runa lending Aron one of Iomedae's blessings that gave him strength. Jiro directed his floating tetsubo to strike at the incubus again.

The incubus flew toward the group, slashing at Runa with his sword as it passed. Jiro granted Runa another attack so that she could strike back at the creature. It then landed beside Asami. He stabbed at her three times, inflicting two vicious wounds on her left arm and opening up the big vein in her right leg. She fainted immediately from blood loss. One of the dretches that was close by moved forward to bite at her prone form but despite her state the bite didn't connect. Sosiel and Runa attacked the dretches and Runa slew the one that was trying to bite Asami. Jiro's tetsubo hit the incubus twice.

Sosiel moved to Asami's side and cast a spell to heal some of her injuries. A dretch attacked her again, directed by the incubus. Runa also summoned healing magic to treat Asami. Jiro swung his morningstar into the incubus' chest leaving a noticeable wound. The incubus glared at him, hen looked at Asami, who had recovered consciousness. "I'll see you again," he said, just before teleporting away.

Three dretches remained, still attacking the Crusaders as they had been commanded by the incubus. Asami moved her sphere to send the nearest one tumbling a short distance away. Zosta suddenly returned and charged the dretch, slaying it with a single well-placed kick. When the spell that compelled her to leave wore off, she had turned around and headed immediately back to join her friends.

Aron and Runa killed the last two dretches, one of them the dretch that had been blinded and fallen over. It had recovered in time to die on a blade. When all the foes were dispatched or gone, the Crusaders turned away from the ruins and went to rejoin the paladins.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

[Pathfinder] Wrath of the Righteous, part 20: Crusaders of Kenabres

With the party of Crusaders ready to retrieve the Sword of Valor, they set out for Drezen with their company of 100 of the Queen's loyal paladins, their comrades from their adventure beneath Kenabres, and the three experts Queen Galfrey had assigned to assist them. They had been told to expect the journey to take a minimum of four and a half days. The Queen sent a runner to them before they left with a message advising them of the best route to follow: first to Vala's Gift, once the source of much of Kenabres' produce; then to Vilareth Ford and follow the West Sellen River to Drezen.

The Crusaders were soon reminded just how close Drezen lay to the Worldwound. The land grew barren and desolate as they headed away from Kenabres on their first day of travel. Asami and Jiro keenly felt the lack of green growing things. The fields and orchards that had once supplied Kenabres with food were scorched. Anevia and the other scouts returned to report that Vala's Gift had been destroyed by the fleeing demon army. The Crusaders of Kenabres found the small town a smoldering ruin. Despite its state, Horgus Gwerm recommended that they search the town for any supplies they could use, a suggestions some of the paladins found objectionable as they opposed taking anything from the dead. But they were persuaded to find the bodies of the dead and dig a mass grave to bury them. Burying the dead and searching the ruins took up much of the following day, and left Asami so weary that she had no strength to copy a new spell she had purchased before the departure from Kenabres.

While they were encamped at Vala's Gift, the young cleric Sosiel revealed an interest in landscape painting, though there was little enough of interest to paint in the desolate waste surrounding the destroyed village. Though Jiro sensed that Sosiel was as disheartened by the absence of plant life as Jiro himself, the young priest remained upbeat.

On the third day the small army set forth again toward Vilareth Ford. While they rode, Nurah told them tales of the hero for whom the ford was named. When Anevia returned from scouting the ford, she reported that the Crusader force that had guarded the ford had been overtaken by demonic forces and the fortified camp was now held by approximately 200 tieflings. The leadership of the Crusader army quickly gathered to plan an assault on the ford. It was decided that the paladins would split into two groups led by Irabeth to draw out the defenders, and while they fought the heroes would enter the fortified encampment to face whatever defenders remained.

Their plan worked and most of the tiefling defenders moved across the river to attack the paladins. With the population of the camp depleted, Asami and her comrades headed to the bridge over the river. But before they could approach it, two balls of fire hurtled out of he camp to engulf them in flames. Kirara managed to avoid the flames, but Asami was burned. She felt some of the burns heal almost immediately as Jiro's link to everyone absorbed some of the hurt they had suffered. Then they were peppered by crossbow bolts. Zosta charged across the bridge and disappeared beyond the rude fortification walls to attack an unseen tiefling. Sosiel strode across the bridge, and a moment later Aron jogged past him to take up a position in front of him, perhaps validating Jiro's belief that the two men were in a relationship. Runa and Jiro also went forward to the bridge, but Asami and Aegronius remained on the opposite bank along with Nurah.

Asami cast a spell to create a wall of wind in front of the camp, hoping to block the defenders' crossbow bolts, but a few moments after she cast it someone or something from inside the camp dispelled her magic. Runa crossed over the bridge and called on the blessings of Iomedae to grant those closest to her a sudden burst of speed, though this did not reach to where Asami stood.  All of her comrades but Aegronius had entered the camp by this point and she could no longer see them. She had few spells in her arsenal that she could cast from such a distance, and none that would harm her enemies without being able to see them. She murmured to Kirara, "We must get closer," and sprinted across the bridge past Sosiel and Aron, who had stopped at the midpoint of the river. On reaching the other side she took cover behind a corner of the low wall around the camp and peered around the corner to see Runa and Jiro battling several tieflings and a small being that resembled a bipedal goat with flaming hooves. The occupants of the ford were not only tieflings.

From behind her Asami heard a splash and Aron cried out, "Sosiel!" She turned to look over her shoulder and saw that Sosiel had jumped or fallen into the river. A clearly panicked Aron threw down his sword and dove into the water fully armored. At that point Asami turned her attention back to what was happening to her friends. Jiro had summoned a weapon of force in the form of a katana to attack one of his opponents. Zosta had been burned by one of the goat-demons, which had boiling blood. Jiro shouted at the small demon, "The Fifth Crusade has come to reclaim this place!" The demon slashed at him with its fiery sword, then kicked him with a flaming hoof. His katana vanished as Asami's wall of wind had done.

Zosta struck down two tieflings, but two more took up flanking positions around her. Then Runa slew one of the tieflings facing her, causing the goat-demon to take a step back and vomit forth a quantity of burning hot blood! Asami drew out one of her wands and sent three missiles of force at the goat-creature.

Zosta ran across to another section of the camp nearby where several more tieflings and another of the small demons stood. All of them had set aside their crossbows for short swords. Zosta raced past three tieflings and vaulted over the wall to knock one of the demons to the ground and stamp on it. Two tieflings moved to surround Asami. Another of the goat-like demons spat blood on Asami, burning her again, though it was less harmful to her than it would have been had Sosiel not channeled Shelyn's healing power before he fell into the river.

Jiro had been sorely wounded by this point. Recognizing this, Runa granted him the ability to move more quickly than normal so that he could get away from his foes. Asami ignored the two tieflings threatening her while she cast a spell. One of her opponents struck her, but the injury did not prevent her from completing the spell. Thorns blossomed from her flesh. She punched the tiefling facing her and the thorns grew into into long vine tendrils that wrapped themselves around him. The entangled tieflings stepped back and Asami saw the telltale sign of magic behind him, which caused him to lose his footing and topple to the ground. She struck the second tiefling as well but the vines failed to entangle him.

While this was taking place, Aegronius had moved onto the bridge to go to the aid of Aron and Sosiel. Bohgong had also appeared and was somehow able to walk across the surface of the water to Aron. Aron had managed to catch hold of Sosiel before the current could carry him away, but as soon as he did so he began to clutch at his throat as though choking and lost his grip on Sosiel. With help from both Aegronius and Bohgong, Aron and an unconscious Sosiel were brought safely to shore on the far side of the river.

One of the goat-demons teleported away from Zosta, and a tiefling fled from her. Another tiefling joined the one attacking Asami. Jiro summoned another weapon, this time a tetsubo, and killed one of them. The tiefling who had been wrapped in vines and had fallen pulled the vines off and got to his feet, at which point Asami struck him again, this time hard enough to take his life. His comrade fled upon witnessing this, but as he began to run he suddenly burst into uncontrollable laughter and was unable to continue moving. Asami punched him and he joined his mate in death.

When Asami looked around for another enemy to attack, she saw that all of the tieflings and demons had fallen but for the demon that had teleported away. Runa had recognized that these were brimorak demons. One of the brimoraks had vanished after being slain, indicating that it had been summoned magically, perhaps by another brimorak. But it had left behind its small longsword. They found 100 gold pieces and several healing potions among the tieflings.

Irabeth soon arrived to report that he paladins had done well against the rest of the tieflings. She and Nurah then went in search of survivors of the demonic attack on the ford, finding a dozen wounded soldiers and their captain, Kamilo Dann. Because all of the soldiers were wounded, Captain Dann deemed it better for them to head for Kenabres rather than accompany the Crusaders to Drezen. She also reported that she and he other soldiers had overheard their captors talking about a larger force at Keeper's Canyon, which lay between the ford and Drezen. This led the Crusaders of Kenabres to realize that the brimorak who had teleported away would likely report them to its masters at the canyon. They would have to be prepared for a more difficult fight once they reached Keeper's Canyon. But at least everyone had survived this fight, and Sosiel would recover once one of his own restorative scrolls was used to heal him.

Next: part 21, Keeper's Canyon

Monday, July 3, 2017

[Pathfinder] Wrath of the Righteous, part 19: A Royal Request

As Queen Galfrey’s arrival in Kenabres neared, the group of heroes who had destroyed the Wardstone fragment did what they could to prepare for an audience with royalty. This was something with which none of them were familiar. Jiro had been in the presence of people of high social status before, but that had been in his native land, and he realized that social customs were different in Mendev. To learn more about how one should behave on meeting a Queen, he sought out Horgus Gwerm, the nobleman he and his friends had escorted out of the underground realm after the demonic assault on Kenabres.

He found that the nobleman, who had abandoned his manor after the armsman Garvin transformed into a demon and attacked him, had taken up residence in a local inn and was in the process of hiring servants. To Jiro it seemed that most of the people present waiting to be interviewed weren’t well suited to be servants and were only there because they were seeking any kind of employment. When Jiro explained to Gwerm’s secretary who he was, he was immediately invited to meet personally with the nobleman and Gwerm cancelled the interviews for the rest of the day. Gwerm told Jiro that Queen Galfrey was a warrior Queen who preferred to lead her troops into battle rather than wait for her generals to send reports to her. As such she would not be impressed by elaborate courtly apparel or manners. Jiro understood that the traditional methods of showing respect to superiors that he knew, such as kneeling and bowing deeply, would probably be offensive to the Queen. He thanked Gwerm for his advice and for the much-needed supplies he had sent to Defender’s Heart a few days earlier, and then made his way back to Defender’s Heart.

Zosta had meanwhile spent the day with her family, celebrating the memories of those who had fallen in battle. In their culture this type of celebration led to drinking and brawling. But to her surprise, when she woke the next day her bruises had vanished. She was then called to meet with her parents and Cennami. Cennami informed her that she believed Zosta had more to accomplish with her comrades and that it was all part of her destiny. Zosta had been eager to go back home when the mission to destroy the Wardstone fragment was completed, but now she accepted that she had more to do and that she would likely be away for some time. After talking with her parents and the priestess, it occurred to Zosta that perhaps the reason her parents and Cennami were so effective in battle was that they had acquired divine blessings similar to the ones she had received from Iomedae. As she was about to leave their tent, she heard a chuckle from outside and the sound of heavy footsteps departing and she realized that Rhino had probably been eavesdropping on their conversation.

Asami learned that her familiar Kirara had also experienced the same vision of the Ancient of the World Tree that Asami had seen, but the little white cat lacked the intellect to do more than be awed and a little frightened by what she had witnessed. After their talk, Asami spent some time learning new spells from the spellbook that had mysteriously appeared on her bed two days earlier. She also discovered that the wand she had been missing had reappeared, depleted of a few charges.

Later Quednys informed the group that the Queen had given them the choice of where to meet with her as a courtesy. Jiro initially suggested his garden, but after some discussion it was decided that the best place to meet a Queen would be to take Runa’s recommendation and see her in the chapel of Iomedae’s temple.

Queen Galfrey arrived the following day with an army of seasoned veterans of the Crusades. They camped just outside the northern wall of the city, but groups of soldiers began to enter the city to assist with rebuilding from the rubble. The five companions were told they would be given an audience with the Queen in the afternoon, after she met with the remaining city leaders and with Cennami and Zosta’s parents.

Zosta had bathed and put on some new clothes her parents had given her, but found it a challenge to make sure she kept herself clean and presentable while waiting to be summoned into the Queen’s presence. Asami and Jiro had both been fortunate to find a shop that carried some imported items from Tian-Xia and had acquired some new clothing of the style they were accustomed to wearing. Runa’s original gilded armor had been repaired and she wore it because it had the symbol of Iomedae on the breastplate. Darra had even managed to persuade a reluctant Aegronius to bathe and tidy himself up for the royal audience.

When at last they were summoned to the temple, they saw a crowd departing, including Horgus Gwerm and Aravashnial. The Queen had brought a scroll that had been used to restore the elven wizard’s sight, much to Asami’s relief. As they entered the chapel, they saw that Irabeth was with the Queen and that she appeared less fatigued than on the day before.

Asami had heard various rumors about Galfrey on the previous day: that she had ruled Mendev for over a century, that she was immortal, that she had met Iomedae personally, that she received prophetic visions from Iomedae, and even that she was keeping the Worldwound open to prolong the Crusades. Asami assumed that all of the rumors were the sort of gossip that humans were especially prone to repeating and gave them little credence. She did note that the Queen appeared youthful and attractive by human standards, but her hair was silvery gray, which usually indicated advanced age among humans.

A row of chairs had been set up in front of the altar, and Queen Galfrey invited them to sit while she spoke to them. She began by mentioning that there were some people who blamed the group for destroying the Wardstones, an opinion she clearly thought foolish, and she then added that the five companions would be their replacement, a statement that took them all by surprise! While they pondered what she meant, the Queen went on to ask them to tell her their story from the time that the demons attacked the city through the destruction of the Wardstone, as she wanted to hear the tale from them personally.

When they had finished telling the tale of their adventures, the Queen informed them her scouts had reported that Aponavicius, the fiend who held the captured city of Drezen, had taken most of her forces away from that city, leaving an opening for a force of Crusaders to enter Drezen and reclaim the enchanted banner known as the Sword of Valor. As Quednys had predicted, Queen Galfrey wanted them to lead that force. The goal was not to retake the city, as she couldn’t spare enough troops to do that. Demons were massing all along the Worldwound and she expected most of her army would be required to defend against them in the South. She wanted the five young heroes to recover the banner and replace it in the location it had originally occupied, which would restore its magical protections to the city and the Queen hoped that would make it easier for her army to reclaim the city later on.

The five friends were prepared to enter Drezen and seek the Sword of Valor, but they all felt uncomfortable being asked to lead soldiers. None of them had any experience in leadership. They admitted this to the Queen. She reassured them by telling them that the force they would be leading would be made up of 100 seasoned warriors capable of commanding themselves, all of them devoted to Iomedae, and along with the soldiers she would send three specialists who would provide them with details about Drezen, maps, and other forms of assistance.

When this conversation was concluded, the Queen asked them to stand. She then approached them and one by one touched them on the shoulders with her sword blade, dubbing them Knights of the Fifth Crusade. When the knighting ceremony was over she presented them each with a circular medallion featuring two gray eyes on a blue background encircled by a lightning bolt. These medallions were magical and would grant them special abilities once each day, as well as continuous protection against effects designed to cause confusion or madness. 

Kirara had become bored and wandered off to explore the nooks of the chapel while the Queen spoke, but Asami had observed that Bohgong remained with Jiro and even stood erect beside him during the knighting. For a moment she thought the Queen might knight the monkey as well, but she only looked at him for a moment.

The royal audience then concluded, and the comrades followed Queen Galfrey to the army camp outside the city to meet the three specialists who would accompany them to Drezen. These three were introduced as Sosiel Vaenic, a human priest of Shelyn; Aron Kir, a human expert in battlefield tactics and finding and disabling traps; and Nurah Dendiwhar, a halfling bard expert in the region and very knowledgeable about Drezen. They also met the group of warriors who would be sent with them, all of them well armed and armored humans equipped with divine magic. The Queen then left them. Just then Jiro noticed that Bohgong was missing. Runa caught a glimpse of Queen Galfrey bending over and appearing to shake hands with something that looked like a white monkey, but when she blinked the monkey disappeared.

When they were on their own again, the companions engaged in a deep discussion of who should be designated the commander of the soldiers. In the end it was decided that as a warrior priestess Runa was best suited to that role, though she was uncomfortable with taking that part and doubted her ability. The others encouraged her to remember what Iomedae had told her in her vision: she needed to trust herself more. She then decided to seek out Irabeth and ask if the paladin would be willing to accompany them and give her advice, as reports held that Staunton Vhane was last seen in Drezen and Runa knew that Irabeth would be eager to confront the betrayer.

Runa found Irabeth with Anevia, who also volunteered to come along as neither of them wanted to be parted from the other. Runa remained with them overnight. Zosta returned to spend a last night with her family, and to her surprise Darra asked to accompany her and at one point while sparring so impressed Rhino with an attack that the demon couldn’t stop laughing for a long while. Asami went to see Aravashnial again and learned that he intended to go along to Drezen whether he was invited or not. Asami couldn’t deny that she was pleased by this. She was glad to be able to spend more time with him now that he was able to see again, and his knowledge as a spellbreaker would no doubt be invaluable to their cause.

In the middle of the night Runa was awakened by something sitting on her chest. She opened her eyes to find Bohgong looming over her. Earlier she had asked Jiro if he could help her speak to the monkey, but every time she had tried to approach the monkey during the past two days he had run away. Runa presented Bohgong with a packet of tobacco blend from Tian-Xia that she had purchased in the same shop where Asami and Jiro had acquired their new clothes. She then thanked him for all the help he had provided. The white monkey inhaled deeply of the tobacco, looked surprised, said, “You’re a good kid,” and ran off leaving a startled Runa with confirmation that as she had suspected, he could speak.

Jiro spent the night in the army encampment, where he asked the soldiers’ assistance in learning to set up his newly-acquired tent. He also volunteered to assist with cooking the evening meal, which proved to be very pleasing to the men. The next morning he encountered the arrival of Aravashnial astride a magically-summoned mount, and told him that the plan was for them to leave on the following day once they had all acquired some additional supplies that Kimroth had suggested they might need.

That morning Runa asked the head priest of the temple of Iomedae to permit her to perform the service that day, and he agreed. Irabeth and Anevia arrived at the camp, Irabeth looking much healthier. The newly-knighted companions went out to purchase horses for the journey to Drezen. Aravashnial went back inside the city for more supplies, and reappeared accompanied by Horgus Gwerm, who had decided that he wanted to lend his skills to the effort to reclaim Drezen. It seemed that all of the group that had found their way out of the subterranean caverns beneath Kenabres would be joining forces again in the quest to retake Drezen.

Next: part 20, Crusaders of Kenabres

Sunday, July 2, 2017

[Star Wars] Guardians of Peace, Episode 1: Ten Years Later

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...

The galactic civil war is over. Despite continuing tensions, a tenuous peace exists between the EMPIRE and the NEW REPUBLIC.

A band of non-aligned sectors provides a buffer zone between the two galactic powers. Gangs of pirates, slavers, warlords, and other criminal organizations have taken to this neutral area to avoid Imperial and Republic attention.

The Jedi Order and the Antarian Rangers watch the neutral zone. Small in number, they have an outsized role in providing justice and security. Patrol squadrons and teams of Jedi maintain order and serve as the guardians of peace….

As the freighter Fortune of Greepo approached the icy planet Ilum, it passed a derelict Imperial cargo transfer station. The Fortune's comm system picked up an automated message repeating from the station, its words distorted with age and lack of maintenance. Co-pilot Denpoji Secura became a little excited by the message and started to check into it further, until his twin brother Renpoji reminded him that their mission wasn't to investigate the station. As Ren piloted the Fortune into Ilum's atmosphere, the ship began to experience some turbulence. The two Jedi passengers, Taanar Ryl and her padawan Nema Secura, held on tightly against the bouncing and shaking of the freighter. 

As Taanar clung to the arms of her seat, her thoughts went back to her meeting a few weeks earlier with her master, Niranye Repp, head of the New Jedi Order. That had been the day that Master Neri asked Taanar to take Nema as her first padawan, as well as to take on Nema's two cousins as her Antarian Ranger escort. Though the family relationship between the three young Twi'leks was cause for caution, Taanar agreed to try the twins out and see how they worked with their cousin. 

Then Neri handed her a data disk, explaining that it contained information about the location of the planet Ilum, which had been lost after the purge of the Jedi during the Clone Wars. Ilum was the source of the crystals that powered lightsabers, but the Empire had taken control of it and mined it for crystals to power the Death Star's planet-killer weapon. Neri asked Taanar to take the three Twi'leks and seek out Ilum to find out if there were any crystals left. The Jedi Order now numbered nearly 200 souls, and they would need more crystals for all the padawans to construct their own lightsabers soon.

While Taanar was thinking about this, Nema recalled being told by Jedi Master Kanan Jarrus that she would become Master Taanar Ryl's padawan, and that her cousins would be assigned as their Antarian Rangers. Master Kanan reminded her not to let her attachments blind her to the Force, and to let the Force guide her in her actions. Her twin cousins remembered standing before the leaders of the Ranger, Dash Creel and Lowarra, where they were told of their new assignment with Taanar and Nema, and introduced to R2-EF, the astromech droid nicknamed 'Effie' issued to them to take care of their ship, the Fortune of Greepo. As they left their audience with Dash and Lowarra, they thought they heard the mighty Wookiee warrior chuckling.

Below the Fortune, the four travelers could see signs of massive destruction left by the Imperial mining project. They headed for an island that appeared to have been left relatively intact. As the ship approached an area large enough to permit a landing, they observed that the planet's surface appeared cold and stormy. Ren brought them in for a rough landing that did some minor damage to their freighter, but Taanar told him, "Any landing that you and your ship survive is a good landing."

The four of them bundled up in all-weather cloaks and exited the ship, living it in the care of Effie, who had already gone to make repairs to the damage caused by the landing. It was windy and raining outside. They could hear the metallic pings of rapid cooling coming from the ship's outer hull. Taanar warned them to take care in the cold environment. She searched her feelings for a moment, then said, "This way," and set off for the location where they hoped to find crystals.

It took the small group about two hours of climbing to approach the destination Taanar had sensed. On the way, she noticed that Den's blue skin was becoming more and more gray. Ren realized that his twin had accidentally donned his unfamiliar cloak inside-out and helped him quickly turn it around so that it would provide more warmth. 

At last Taanar told her young companions, "We're here." They stood before a cave opening. When they stepped inside they could see numerous crystals glittering on the walls, ceiling, and floor. Taanar advised them to be cautious, as the presence of the crystals could cause them to experience things that no one else could perceive, and she didn't know if this would affect the twins, who were not Force-sensitive. Taanar and Nema immediately settled down to meditate and seek out crystals, but Taanar quickly realized that the twins were too excited and their emotions were preventing her from achieving a Force trance. Den also looked very chilled. She decided to send them both back to the ship so Den could warm up and his brother could look after him. 

When the twins arrived back at the Fortune, Den had a cup of hot sib and quickly felt better. The brothers thought they would return to the cave, but just as they were about to leave they noticed a message indicator on the ship's console. There was no message, only a carrier signal playing intermittently. Ren began trying to tune in to the signal, but Den called on Effie's help as the droid was much better at that type of activity. Effie was able to locate the source of the signal along the coast of the island about three kilometers from where the Fortune had landed. During their approach to the island Ren had seen that there was no place along that part of the coastline that could accommodate the ship, so the brothers decided to walk to the source of the signal to investigate.Den had Effie record a message for the Jedi in case they returned while the brothers were gone.

As Den and Ren approached the location from which the signal emanated, they heard sounds that resembled some sort of animal growling and gnawing on something. The noises reminded them of the sounds of the ubiquitous wamp rats. A moment later they saw that they were correct; they found a wamp rat gnawing on what appeared to be a humanoid corpse. The rat spotted them and attacked. The twins drew their blasters and Den put a smoking hole through the rat's body, but not before it bit both of them. They also shot a second wamp rat that appeared, and it fled after being injured. 

With the rats gone, the twins could examine the body the first rat had been chewing on. The remains appeared to being wearing some sort of uniform. The signal the ship had picked up was coming from a damaged comm unit on the body. 

After the twins left, Taanar was able to achieve a Force trance. In a little while she felt a crystal calling to her, and she rose to seek it, telling Nema to continue meditating. Finding the crystal took her deeper into the cave, where she located it high up on a wall. She was able to climb up and remove the crystal easily. As she reached out for it, the crystal leaped into her hand. Then she climbed down and headed back to the entrance to rejoin Nema. 

Nema was less successful at achieving a trance. She could faintly hear a crystal, but she couldn't tell where its call came from. Suddenly she heard the sound of a lightsaber being ignited. She opened her eyes to see a young man about her own age, wearing a uniform and wielding a lightsaber with a white blade. He said, "You're here to kill me! You killed my master!" and swung his blade at her but his swing went wide. Nema attempted to use the Force to disarm him but her effort was unsuccessful. She tried talking to him, telling him that she had only just arrived and had no reason to harm him or his master, but he wouldn't listen. He slashed at her again and this time connected with her arm.

As Taanar headed back to the cave entrance, she discovered what appeared to be a recently-occupied campsite. She hurried her steps, arriving just in time to see Nema trying to hold off the young man, whose uniform Taanar recognized as belonging to the Imperial Knights, the Force-user organization established by Imperial Crown Prince Luke Skywalker.
"Lower your sabers," she commanded. Both of them complied immediately. "I knew it!" the youth cried, "You're here to kill me!" He raised his saber again. Taanar reached out with the Force and snatched his lightsaber out of his hand before he could attack again. "We haven't killed anyone. The Jedi are peacekeepers," she replied. "What are you doing here, cadet?" 

Den and Ren realized that the uniform worn by the corpse they had found was that of an Imperial Knight. They decided that they should take the body back to their ship. Ren picked it up and carried it. While they were making their way back to the Fortune, Taanar and Nema learned that the young man's name was Teemo Phalan. He had come to Ilum with his fellow cadet Vima Montari and their master, Commander Drason, but they had been attacked by pirates. Commander Drason had gone out to deal with the pirates while telling Teemo and Vima to remain in hiding in the cave, but after he failed to return Vima had gone to search for him. Teemo had followed her and had seen her captured by the pirates, who had also stolen the Imperial shuttle that had brought them to Ilum. Taanar assured him that she and her companions would do what they could to rescue Vima and led him to their ship.

They arrived at the ship at the same time that the brothers returned with the body, which Teemo identified as that of Commander Drason. It seemed that his lightsaber had been taken by either the pirates or the wamp rats. Once the commander's body had been placed in the ship's cold storage and everyone's injuries had been treated, Taanar recommended they leave their current location in case the pirates returned. Teemo had already explained that he had seen more than a dozen of them and some of them had possessed heavy weapons. The little group of Jedi and Antarian Rangers wouldn't be enough to take on such a force. The Fortune took off from the island and they decided to check the derelict space station in case the pirates were using it as a base of operations.

Effie was able to use the Imperial shuttle's locator beacon to find it on the station. It appeared that the pirates' own ship wasn't present and most of the pirates were away, leaving only a skeleton crew on the station. The party decided that they should try to land secretly in one of the other bays and Ren would sneak into the bay where the shuttle was stored to do some reconnaissance. Den was able to land the Fortune without drawing anyone's attention. Ren then crept into the landing bay that held the Imperial shuttle. He was able to activate some of the station's security cameras and overheard two of the pirates arguing. One of them had apparently fallen asleep on watch, which was what had allowed his twin to land the freighter unnoticed. 

On the Fortune, Nema asked Teemo if he could use the Force to contact Vima, but he told her that he wasn't able to do that. While Ren continued searching the landing bay area, he opened a door that made enough noise to attract the attention of the pirates. The rest of the group hurried into the landing bay, but Teemo stumbled on his way down the ramp, causing more noise. Several pirates rushed out of the shuttle, including two human men and a Klaatoonian. The two humans stayed near the shuttle hatch, while the Klaatoonian ran toward the prow of the ship. One of the pirates fired at Den but missed. The twins returned fire, but the men had taken cover behind a piece of equipment.

Two more pirates ran out of the shuttle. One of them, a female Weequay, leaped on top of the shuttle and Den shot her with his heavy blaster. Ren followed up with a shot and the Weequay fell bonelessly from the top of the shuttle, clearly dead. Den and Nema took cover in a side chamber, where Ren joined them. Teemo ran toward the shuttle, shouting, "Where is she?"

Taanar ran toward the two human men, using the Force to send the first man flying back into his comrade and both of them hit the wall behind them. One of the men fired his blaster at her while he lay on the floor but failed to hit her. Teemo tried unsuccesfully to attack the Klaatoonian. Ren's blaster failed and he had to take a moment to insert a new battery pack. Nema took a chance and ran out of the small side room, firing her blaster at one of the men Taanar had knocked down. Taanar meanwhile used her control of the Force to lift a heavy cargo container that one of the men had taken cover behind, robbing him of his hiding place. She meant to hit the other man with the container, but missed her aim. The man she had tried to target shot her. The man who had been crouching by the container ran to the other side of the shuttle.

Teemo had been fighting the Klatoonian in front of the shuttle, but he collapsed. Nema ran to pull him to safety. Den also dropped after being shot, but his brother shot the man who had shot Den. Taanar ran around to the shuttle hatch, pausing to stun the man who had run to the other side of the ship. Taanar activated her lightsaber and prepared to enter the shuttle to search for Vima, while Nema treated Den's wounds and Ren shot the Klatoonian. 

Sadly, the shuttle proved to be empty. There was no sign of Vima. Taanar revived the man she had stunned to question him. He proved to the one who had piloted the shuttle back to the station from Ilum. He told her that Min, the leader of the pirate gang, had been given a contract to kidnap Force users who came to Ilum and sell them into slavery, though he didn't know who had paid for this. He also said that the pirates' ship, the Wind Shadow, had gone somewhere but he didn't know where, though he expected it to return soon. The ship had taken Vima. Taanar realized that the pirates were part of the Shadow Wing organization, and the Wind Shadow was their flagship. Her group didn't have the resources to combat them, or to rescue Vima from them. 

Though Teemo was disappointed, he accepted that he wouldn't be able to rescue his fellow cadet. He planned to take the shuttle back to Coruscant to report what had happened. The others helped him transfer Commander Drason's remains to the shuttle, and Effie programmed the hyperspace jump coordinates for him. Taanar assured him that they would be investigating the slavery ring further and would share any information they learned with the Imperial Knights. 

As the Fortune of Greepo prepared to jump away from the cargo station, they witnessed the return of the Wind Shadow. The Fortune set course for Ord Mantel to hand over their prisoner, the pilot who had been the only survivor of their encounter with the Shadow Wing. 

Next: Episode 2, "From the Shadows"