Adventures of the Shining Force

Onto the Mainland

The following morning, in return for the gift Hench had given them, the village elders gifted him a Tengu Charm, a very princely gift for an outsider to receive. They sent Akihiko, one of their young hunters, to guide the group back to their ship and guide anyone back to their village who desired to visit and learn from them. A few members of the crew disembarked, mostly academics like cartographers and linguists, before the ship flew off to the mainland for the party to disembark and continue their exploration.

Across the narrow sea, the members of the Shining Force were dropped off by the Invincible to be left to their own devices for some time while the ship went back to the tengu village. Not wanting to leave them entirely stranded, Sir Astral gave them a small glass orb that they could shatter to communicate with him one time, enough to send a message for him to come pick them up or to send help if desperately needed.

The new land was much different than the tengu’s island chains, a vast beach as far as the eye could see in either direction with an ocean of tall prairie grass before them, the landscape largely flat except the occasional grassy knoll. They headed to one of the hills to try getting a better view, surveying the land while Sorrowsong send her familiar into the sky to scout the area. Through the birds eyes she saw a vast mountain range in the distance and a campfire not too far from them but her concentration was interrupted when the ground beneath their feet began to shake, not an earthquake but rather the hill itself was standing up. Jumping down, the group was greeted face to face with a giant turtle seemingly made of or covered in stone, the grassy hill actually its shell.

The turtle, his name not given because he said it would take too long to tell them, was a spirit of the land and had just finally gotten to sleep for the first time in ages. He was too tired to punish them though and instead told them to watch out for his followers, beings he said looked like the group but also like him. Satisfied they were now going to leave him alone, he laid back down, grumbling about how it would be another 100 years before he was able to fall asleep again.

Not wanting to disturb the spirits any more, the group avoided any other hills and continued towards the campfire they saw. As they drew near, they were ambushed by a group of small humanoids that bore a striking resemblance to various colored hares, long ears and all. Once each side had determined the other was peaceful, the leader of the group, Scabtha, led the party to his campsite. They were a group of Coinin, rabbit folk who were part of a greater group known as the Creimire that lived on the plains along with many other peoples. They were responsible for hunting and gathering food and supplies for their tribe and were on their way back to their dens. The party, having proven themselves to be diplomatic and generally of a pleasant disposition, and clearly all well-armed too, was invited to accompany the hunting band as they headed home. They would be able to meet many more of their clan there and find out more about the strange new land they found themselves in.

Into the Wild Blue Yonder

The Invincible was outfitted and ready to launch, the crew was packed and prepared, and the members of the Shining Force were given their mission. They, accompanied by Sir Astral and Oss Divinos, were to serve as the expedition’s primary away team, scouting for and dealing with threats while others aboard tended to the more mundane aspects of whatever exploration may await them such as finding food and cataloging what they find. Sir Astral and Oss’ long project was finally revealed to be several pearl earrings which when worn would allow the wearer to understand and be understood regardless of language, even if only for a few hours a day.

The ship took off with much fanfare from KingGran and the gathered nobles, its rotating blades pulling the enchanted ship aloft and out over the sea into the vest unknown. The ship’s speed quickly put the land of Gran Island behind them, laying out nothing but blue sea in all directions. Travelling continued like this for a couple of days, rather boring all things considered though the vastness of the sea itself was overwhelming.

It was only after several days did they notice an interesting feature – a massive storm that spanned the horizon as far as they could see, left and right and higher than they could possibly hope to climb over. Captain Neba Lod called for everyone else to go below deck where they would be protected by the enchantments on the hull while she tried to steer through the storm, the magic protecting the helm blocking out the worst of the storm from harming her.

The ship was battered and many of the crew discovered a new kind of sea sickness but eventually it made its way through though the storm must have been gigantic given how long it took. The captain called below deck that everyone had to come out and see this. Behind them, the storm raged as a giant wall of clouds and below it was the floating landmass of their home, apparently all contained, water included, upon a massive rock miles above the ocean below. They marveled at the site a bit longer, letting the realization sink in, before Sir Astral suggested they keep moving rather than try fighting back through the storm. There had to be more land out there somewhere.

A few more days flying over the new ocean did eventually lead to a landmass, first a chain of large islands with a larger continent visible beyond it on the horizon. Eager to see what may be in this new land, a group departed for the island while the ship waited nearby. The island had trees unlike any they had at home, spindly things with almost black bark and small, spares leaves. Growing on the trees were small fruits that resembled an orange tomato and were very tough though sweet and tasty. They also found an inhabitant of the island, a small creature with golden fur, a long tail, and dexterous hands as it grabbed and ate the fruit from the tree. Aya used her magic to talk to the creature who told them the fruits were called tasty berries and that there were people that looked like Sqawk that lived on the island in buildings made out of colored wood.

Continuing on, they also found small green and yellow bird that, when cooked, tasted like gamy, tough chicken. It wasn’t until their first night camping that they encountered something dangerous. Rampaging through the jungle but fortunately not noticing the group in their hiding spot was a version of the small golden animal only it was the size of a troll, covered in silver fur, and had an extra set of arms. According to the animals themselves, this was the avatar of their god Girallon come to gather his offerings. Sorrowsong had performed an augury prior to the voyage and saw spirits walking the land, not in the heavens and beyond like they were used to. Apparently this was one of them.

The next day the group found an actual trail that led to a small village matching the description the golden animal had given them – small buildings made of colored wood populated by people who resembled Sqwak only their arms had an extra joint that ended in actual wings. They were greeted by two of the villagers that resembled hawks rather than crows like Sqwak, or to be more accurate they were greeted by the tips of their spears. The two guards seemed as curious as they did hostile, especially when they could all understand each other, and decided to escort the group to their elders rather than to their jail.

The elders resided in the largest building in town, a squat, dark building with a curved roof. The guards took all of their weapons before escorting them inside, leaving their own outside as well. Inside were three of the birdmen, one resembling a hawk, one resembling a crow, and one resembling an owl, clearly the leader of the three as he dismissed the guards and was the only one to speak to the group.

They first demanded to know where the group came from and were clearly surprised when they heard they were from the floating island. Once the group had told their tale, the leaders seemed to be very intrigued and clearly more at ease, except whenever Sqwak tried to talk. They referred to him as a Sullied One, one who was cursed because his ancestors had stolen from their gods, and refused to acknowledge him directly. He told the group they were known as the tegnu and were the only people living on the island which was otherwise inhabited by animals and the occasional spirit. The mainland contained more people who were more like the group, though they were covered in more fur, and was home to many, many more spirits.

After many hours of talking, the group was given free right to explore the village so long as they didn’t cause trouble and kept their Sullied One in check. First contact had been made and thus far, it had gone well. Hopefully all future encounters went as well

Mushroom, Mushroom!

After hearing more news about the troubles in Mamwald with the invasive fungus that was destroying crops and killing or changing those who ate them, a few members of the force, primarily driven by Aya, decided it was time to investigate. They barely crossed the borders into the Republic of Mamwald before they encountered a farming community that was burning parts of their fields, destroying the crops and the mushrooms that had afflicted them.

The farm folk were nice but ultimately not the most helpful as they had no knowledge of what could cause such a plague, attributing it to a curse or dark magic set upon them. The village once knew a druid who could have helped them but he hadn’t been seen for some years so they were left to their own devices, which mainly boiled down to just burning the mushrooms and the affected crops then hoping the soil would become usable.

Ever one to suspect dark magic, Wil felt they should investigate this druid. A druid could equally be as responsible for such a plague as he could be able to stop it, after all. They got directions from the villagers to head east to the swamplands near a river delta where the druid lived and set out. The going was tough, the group having to leave their horses behind for the final end of the trek, but the two wilderness enthusiasts in the party were able to lead them safely through the mire to a lonely ramshackle hut sitting atop a small hill of dry land.

As they approached, they were greeted by an elderly halfling leaning heavily on a walking stick who introduced himself as Henwerdd. With a smile and a cheerful if somewhat weak voice, he invited them in to enjoy some food, a fine bounty of fruits and vegetables, dried meats and cheeses, and fresh baked bread despite the conspicuous lack of an oven or hearth in the hut. Hernwerdd was aware of the troubles the farmers were experiencing but unfortunately was unable to help them, his magic was far too diminished in his old age. Slightly wistful but still cheerful, he invited the group to stay the night rather than traverse the swamp again in the fading light. Glad for the food and relative dry warmth of the hut, they accepted.

The acceptance of the offer to stay was also to help solve a bit of a mystery as Ingen detected something unusual about Henwerdd – the fact that he was registering as a nature spirit. While it was possible an aged and powerful druid may have transformed, something didn’t seem quite right. During the night, Sorrowsong heard faint humming and caught the scent of pipeweed outside the hut and investigated. She saw what appeared to be Henwerdd though his skin was blue and glowing slightly under the moonlight. Startled by her approach, his appearance quickly went back to normal but it was plain that it wasn’t just a trick of the light, though she didn’t push the issue and let him be.

The following morning was a different story though as the rest of the group was curious as to what exactly he was. An honest fellow, Henwerdd revealed he was in fact a namazu, a river spirit that resembles a humanoid catfish in his natural state. He had lived in the swamp for ages, nurturing the farm folk and helping them responsibly grow their community without doing undue harm to nature. Unfortunately, his brother Lernwerdd didn’t share his views and felt that cultivating the land was nothing more than mortals exploiting it for their own gain. The two drifted apart over the years and Lernwerdd’s grudge against the farmers only festered in his isolation. He was responsible for the fungus plague, Henwerdd knew, for Lernwerdd had asked him to help it spread. Henwerdd of course refused but he couldn’t bring himself to raise a hand against his brother, so he simply remained in his hut and let things come to pass.

However, Henwerdd understood his brother must be stopped as he had gone too far. He provided the group with his location as well as a bushel of blue carrots that would allow them, or their horses, to walk across water as if it were solid ground. All he asked in return was that they not make his brother suffer.

The party headed south along the river to where it widened and eventually split. In the middle of the branch was a small, rocky island with a familiar-looking old hut. They called out to Lernwerdd who emerged spear in hand, shouting angrily in a language none in the group understood. They managed to communicate briefly in Mamwalish but words quickly failed as Lernwerdd shot a blast of water at the group before raising the riverbank to flood around their legs. The party replied eating the blue carrots to stand on the water and launching their spells and arrows, landing several strong hits before Lernwerdd could properly retaliate and keeping their word to make sure he didn’t suffer.

As he passed, Lernwerdd’s body turned to a viscous water before running down the side of the island into the lake, leaving behind his magical spear. In the hut they found one of the plague mushrooms in a small box of soil which they carefully wrapped up before returning to Henwerdd. He studied the mushroom and found it to be the magical focus sustaining the plague and that destroying it would kill the rest of the mushrooms. He let the party keep the spear as reward for helping save the farmers and because he couldn’t bear to keep it.

Returning past the farmlands on their way home, they saw the farmers clearing out withered mushrooms, their crops seeming to have regrown on their own. The party told the villagers what happened and suggested they visit Henwerdd more often, the old druid could use the company if nothing else.

Now back in Granseal, King Gran was nearly ready to launch the maiden voyage of the Invincible. What adventures would await our heroes beyond the unknown horizon?

The Odd Eye

The party searched the rest of the room, hoping for a clue as to why the dolls had been taken. Inside the altar they found a prayer book to the Odd Eye which was unfortunately mostly written in a language they could not understand, only being able to make out the few prayers and exaltations that were in Gransian. The altar itself proved to be more interesting as a hidden switch in one of the eyes revealed a secret passage beneath it.

After a brief rest, the force headed down the passage into a long tunnel underneath the brickwork of the city sewers and into the bedrock itself. The tunnel was completely dark so those able to see served as the forward scouts, eventually reaching an opening in the passageway into a lit room where they heard several voices. two normal ones speaking Gransian and one impossibly deep voice with an otherworldly vibration speaking in an unknown tongue. The voice seemed displeased with the other two and eventually left through a door in the room while one of the individuals started to come down the tunnel. The scouts hurried back to the rest of the group who decided to press on as a whole unit.

When they encountered the voice headed their way, it turned out to be a gangly teenaged human wearing ill-fitting black robes and a wooden pendant carved like an eye. Aya cast a spell to entangle him in grasping vines while Wil cast a spell to command loyalty from him and to answer their questions. He didn’t seem to know much, only he was never told any of the plans by the higher-ups but he was trying to work his way into their good graces. Rather than dispatch this poor kid from the country who seemed to fall in with a bad crowd, they gave him some coins and told him to go have a fun time. He gladly obliged.

Now at the entrance of the chamber, the party contemplated their options. The unnatural voice was still present, armor and coins rattling loudly as it walked around the room counting treasure. Feeling bold, they hatched a plan to send a doll into the room first using Sorrow’s magic as a hopeful distraction to launch an attack. The plan worked surprisingly well, the voice seeming bemused by the moving doll, though not entirely unprepared for the attack. Try as they might, the huge humanoid’s armor and pitch black skin couldn’t be pierced by their weapons and their spells didn’t fare much better. As it became quickly clear that they were outmatched, Sorrow sent her raven to try clawing at the monster’s uncovered eye while the rest made their mistake. The distraction worked, though the poor familiar surely met its demise as the group heard the hissing of energy from the room behind them as they fled.

Harron decided to stay behind to observe the monster to ensure it didn’t pursue and to study it while the rest of the party retreated back into the city. The party split up from there, some reporting back to Sir Astral and Oss while others visited their new friend Professor Garnagel at the institute. The former two were busy still crafting whatever it was they were crafting but did recognize the monster they found as likely being the Odd Eye himself, a demon prince of hell that was cast away for trying to usurp power from his father. Professor Garnagel corroborated as much but with more detail that the Odd Eye, not his real name of course, was indeed one of the sons of the Lord of Hell and was the demon prince of greed and lust, cast out by his father for attempting to steal one of his relics. If the tales the Church of the Sacred Radiance tells are true then the Odd Eye’s presence in the mortal realm is the source of the darkness in men’s souls relating to his sins. Whether or not they believed those stories wasn’t relevant as the fact stood that he was still an incredibly power demon and was present in the city though seemed to be doing little other than amassing wealth and dolls.

Back at headquarters, the group had Fée help translate the prayer book. Inside were all sorts of unseemly rituals for summoning demons or placing hexes or how to use emotional energy stored in objects to animate them into a monstrosity, such as using the favored dolls of children to construct a horrific golem.

One mystery solved, the party now had to decide their next move. The Odd Eye was clearly beyond their scope of power to defeat at the moment but, as long as he stayed content to merely steal, he didn’t seem to be that big of a threat.

The Great Doll Caper

The fiend defeated and a cryptic clue in hand, the heroes now had some investigating to do. Unfortunately, none of them were particularly well versed in demon binding or who could be capable of it, but they did know a couple power wizards – Sir Astral and Oss. The two were busy working on… something, creating what looked like earrings out of small, irregular pearls and gold links while chanting and sprinkling various powders over them, but that didn’t mean they didn’t have time to help.

Sir Astral determined that, given the power of the demon and how long it has been active, whoever bound it must themselves be quite powerful. The obvious suspect was a member of the Cult of the Divine Penumbra, what with their penchant for shadows, but it could just as easily be a follower of any of the dozens of religious sects known to be in the area or even a stray wizard.

Splitting up, one group went to look into the cult while another visited the arcane college and another went to try finding the potential lair mentioned by the shadow demon.

Pursuing the cult proved to be difficult, not because they were hard to find but because those who were easy to find were the kind that bristles at the idea that their religion inherently makes them demon worshipers and baby snatchers. Rather than crash a religious service, Sorrowsong and Wil visited a cafe frequented by members of the cult called The Vagabond Pike, just in time for a poetry reading. It was full of soul pain and well received by the audience, if you’re into that sort of thing. Unfortunately, despite his charm and charisma, Wil came on a little too strong and was seen as somewhere between a poseur and a narc. Little information was gained other than where to get a good cup of coffee.

Ingen and Harron went to Haerinn’s Institute of Magics, the city’s arcane college, and spoke with Professor Garnagel, one of the senior professors on the subject of conjuration and a specialist at summoning and binding planar creatures. Affable and always willing to talk about his specialization, Gagasior told them everything they could ever hope to know about how the shadow demon was likely summoned and what sort of person would have the power to do so as well as the potential uses for the dolls in such a practice. A child’s favored doll is something that has a lot of emotional energy and could be used in all sorts of dark arts rituals, including but not limited to summoning fiends. Unfortunately, though this helped build a profile and a motive, it didn’t really point in a direction, though the professor did know of a group called the Lumencore that seemed to fit the profile though they were more rumor than reality, as far as he knew. Happy to be of help for something beyond students passing their exams, the professor extended an invitation that his doors are always open should the members of the force have further questions.

Sqawk and Aya took a more direct approach and went to the city’s administrative center to find a map of the sewers around the area where the demon was active. They found several older maps, they hadn’t been updated since before the war, but they did find a promising location that appeared as a large room on one map but was missing on another of the area.

Grouping back together and compiling their leads, the party headed down into the sewers to investigate the only solid lead they had. The lead proved to be a good one as there was a section of wall that had clearly been bricked off more recently than the surrounding walls. With a little ingenuity and a lot of time matching up maps, they found an entrance that from the surface that led to a side tunnel that eventually hooked up into the chamber and found its use was probably not something sanctioned by the city.

The chamber was large with two rows of pews facing towards an altar carved in the shape of a large eye. Between the altar and the pews was a large pentagram carved into the stone floor, the etchings lined with copper and what looked like dried blood. Searching the area, Sqawk found a hidden panel in the center of the pentagram in which was stashed dozens of dolls. They were definitely in the right place but didn’t have time to ponder much beyond that as the dolls started moving, stacking together and forming one giant doll which proceeded to bash the party with its makeshift appendages.

Normal weapons glanced off the monstrosity but spells tore pieces of it off while a well-aimed thunderwave from Aya blasted it back against the wall where it split into smaller and significantly less resilient versions of itself. Now susceptible to normal weapons, the dolls proved to be little threat and were broken apart into their normal sizes where they ceased to move.

The dolls had been found, but the question as to who did it and why still remained a mystery.

Marriage Counselling and Bedtime Stories

After King Wilhelm Gran XVI‘s rousing speech, the Invincible was landed in the castle courtyard and the members of the force present along with several nobles were brought aboard for a grand tour. The interior of the ship was grand, matching even the most well-appointed of the royal navy’s dreadnoughts from the war and was even about the same size. More impressive than its fine appearance and massive size was the ship’s engines, the huge devices taking the place of the bilge in the bottom of the flat-bottomed ship. The engines, powered by elemental fire, turn the propellers while the ship itself was enchanted with elemental air to help life its bulk off the ground, the king explained. Throughout the tour, the king maintained his air of nobility but was clearly excited, describing the ship almost as a child might describe his favorite toy.

Harron perked up and asked if, once the ship sets off on its expedition beyond the island, the Shining Force would be a part of it. The king wouldn’t have it any other way, extending an invitation to any and every member that wanted to be a part of it, though it would still be a couple months before the expedition was properly outfitted enough to depart.

After the tour and the following banquet to close out the week of festivities, the members of the force went back to business. First, Gantry organized a group to head back to Beckendour and investigate the business of the giant with the wandering bladder. Upon arrival, they met with her friend Amelia to find that the village had lost another building, unusual given it broke the pattern of how frequent they are by being within a week of another building. At this point, the villagers had left most of the outlying farm buildings abandoned rather than risk people anyone accidentally being crushed.

The group easily followed the trail back to the lair that Gantry had found before and sent Sqawk and Harron in to investigate. The inside of the cave was small, relatively speaking, containing only three chambers with connecting tunnels. The first one they investigated was mostly empty except for the exceptionally large, exceptionally crude crib in which slept the ugliest, biggest baby he had ever seen – a hill giant baby. The main chamber was dominated by the sound of snoring coming from the baby’s parents, one of which was indeed a peg-legged hill giant. The final room appeared to be a larder of sorts though it was mostly filled with bones and raw meat in various stages of rotting. At the back of the chamber was a very poorly hidden tunnel that led to a room containing giant barrels fermenting various types of alcohol as well as a scattering of liquor bottles presumably looted given the standard size of the bottles.

The scouts returned to the party and it was ultimately decided they should try talking to the giant as it seemed like he was likely just getting drunk and may not be doing anything malicious. Unfortunately, no one knew how to speak the Giant tongue and presumably the hill giants wouldn’t know how to speak any of their languages. Returning to Beckendour, Aya cast a spell and sent a raven to find Elda Akkaja, the force’s huntmaster and resident ranger. It would take a couple days though so, in the meantime, they stayed in the village to see if she would show up.

While waiting, as luck would have it, the giant again came to the village. The party’s suspicions were confirmed as they saw the giant sit on a building and start drinking from one of his wooden kegs. Based on the giant’s gesturing, it seemed he was deliberately leaving home to get drunk away from the wife and kid, and based on the sample of his drink he gave to any takers, he was consistently getting very drunk. That was about as far as the talks went though as the party didn’t want to just attack the giant and he eventually left. After relieving himself, of course.

The following morning, Elda arrived into Beckendour, her expression immediately incredulous at the party’s proposition. Her stance on hill giants was to kill them, not talk to them, but they were able to convince her to translate, though her enchanted bow seemed displeased by this.

At the giant’s den, through Elda, the group discovered the giant was heading to the village because humans make the best chairs, these chairs being their houses. To the giant, houses are made of stone and dirt while chairs are made of wood, the difference apparently a little too subtle for him. Tharivol came up with a compromise – if they built him a better chair, far from his wife and kid, would he stop destroying the village? He agreed, though he refused to help them since humans are the best builders and he doesn’t know how to work with wood. They spent the rest of the day cutting down trees and lashing the logs together to form a crude chair on the banks of the river. The giant, after adjusting a bit, seemed satisfied with the chair and agreed to leave the village alone. Elda seemed skeptical but allowed it for now, leaving no room for doubt that if the giant broke his word, she would see to it that he never bothered the village again.

Back in Granseal, Wil and Sorrowsong grew interested in the disappearing dolls, assuming it couldn’t possibly be simple thievery. To attempt to draw out the doll-nappers, they dressed Wil up as a noble child with Aya playing his mother, Ingen his father, and Sorrowsong as their maid. They rented a villa then paraded around town, making a big show of buying fancy dolls. Sqwak and Harron trailed the “family,” keeping an eye out for anyone suspicious who may be eyeing them, but no one stood out.

After a couple days of this and nights of staying in the villa, they finally had a taker. The scouts spotted a shadowy figure on the rooftop that climbed the side of the building like a spider, opening the window Wil was sleeping in and silently slinking inside. Wil was awoken by the window opening followed by the creature’s heavy, ragged breathing. It crept closer to him and reached out, it’s inhumanly long fingers wrapping around his shoulder as its face drew nearer to his.

Before the creature could go any further, Wil lashed out with a spell, illuminating the room and blinding the apparently light-sensitive creature. The scouts took this as a single and leaped into the room, joining the fray before the rest of the fake family arrived. The creature, identified as a shadow demon, was resistant to almost all of the party’s attacks. It was only when a combined magical onslaught, particularly from the holy radiance of Ingen’s spell, that forced the creature to flee out the window, unfurling long wings and taking to the sky. It wasn’t quite quick enough though and was brought down, crashing to the street in a heap.

Sorrowsong channeled the Raven Queen’s power into her book and ask the creature where it’s master had its lair, the demon clearly having been bound by someone since its body remained. The bloody writing appeared in her book and simply said, “below you.”

Now the real mystery was afoot.

Celebration Week

With some time to spare back in Granseal City, the members of the Shining Force set about investigating various matters. Sir Astral and Oss Divinos spent almost the entirety of every day in the magical laboratory, their actions appearing as the fantastical gibberish of two masters practicing their craft. What they were up to wasn’t entirely clear but it seemed to have something to do with Oss’ origin and the ruins found near the Seal Tower.

Outside the city, Gantry went to the village of Beckendour to investigate the buildings that were being destroyed then urinated on. She found several buildings had been burned by the townsfolk to destroy the remnants of what they considered to be now unusable wood. An old friend of hers lived in the village who informed her that this has been happening for several weeks now and is presumed to be the work of a giant, though if that’s the case, it’s a giant with a peg leg based on its tracks. Gantry confirmed as much herself when she found the recent tracks and followed them into the nearby hills. Though the tracks faded as the fields and hills gave way to more rocky ground towards the mountains, Gantry was still able to follow the logical path of the trail towards a partially covered but still noticeable cave mouth leading under the hills. Concurring with the opinion of the townsfolk that, if it is a giant, it’s best to have some company when you face it, she returned back to the city to recruit some of her fellows to investigate the menace.

Feeling the call of the hunt and wanting to let his bird stretch its legs, Tharivol rode out into the fields at the behest of a local lord who wanted a fabled golden peacock caught, alive if possible but dead would be good so long as it was intact. There was little information to go off of other than the occasional sighting from a shepherd or tale from a rural innkeep, but the hunt itself was as much the allure as the nobleman’s rewards. That, and Tharivol’s hair looked fantastic when he didn’t need his helmet while riding.

Wil felt a certain sense of nostalgia after hearing of the missing teens, not the missing part but of being a teen in the park at night, and looked into the matter. Unfortunately, all he could find from the younger members of his company were far-fetched rumors one would expect from young actors, simple reasons such as the teens running off and eloping to more interesting ones such as a vampire coven abducting young lovers so they may be so forever. How romantic. A stakeout was the next logical course of action, but given that the disappearances haven’t been happening every night and the city has multiple parks, Wil found his efforts fruitless. Well, at least he got to relive part of his youth, maybe he’d hear something more later.

A sailor at heart, Brick asked around the docks about the dragon stealing the catches from whaling ships. Always ones to tell tall tales, the fishermen’s stories were surprisingly consistent. Once or twice a month for half a year, a young dragon has been following whaling ships out of the harbor. It comes from somewhere overland, always avoiding the city, and circles the ships until they have harpooned a whale. It then dives down, snatches it, and flies back to shore. The only inconsistent part of the story was the color of the dragon – some say it was as blue as the sea itself, others claimed it gleamed like silver in the sky, still others say its white scaled blended in with the clouds which is why it wasn’t seen til it claimed its catch. Still, it seemed to lair somewhere inland, and how far could it really fly while carrying a whale?

Harron spent some time searching through the Force’s library for any information on his staff or the language imprinted on it. Over the last few nights, he had been trying to figure out the item, having felt a magical presence inside it, but had so far been fruitless in his endeavor. His research eventually paid off as he found an old book on warfare on knightly conduct which was useless in and of itself. The real discovery was that it was written in the same language as the staff and had notes in the margins partially translating some lines. With a starting point in hand, he set at translating more of the book and learning the archaic language.

While on the docks, Brick and Hjalmar both paid a visit to Jonas’ Fishery to see this supposed mermaid. To their surprise, it indeed looked to be everything they knew to be a mermaid – the body of a beautiful human female from the navel up and the tail of a blue-scaled fish in place of legs. She seemed defiant in her metal tank, deliberately remaining still and keeping her back to any looky loos, though the occasional glimpse of her face revealed she was sad about her situation as much as she was indignant.

Back at headquarters, the two dwarfs were set on freeing the mermaid. Though Harron required a little convincing, perhaps the mermaid was stealing the fisherman’s catch and was serving her punishment for it, he along with Aya, Ingen, and Sqawk agreed to help free her. First, they visited the shop again to case the building. Fortunately for them, it was one large room with seemingly poor, if any, security. The fisherman, Jonas himself, was unwilling to sell the mermaid, seeing the long-term income potential as a greater investment than a one-time payment from this lot.

While formulating a plan, the group spent the day in a dockside tavern. Beating the shop owner and simply taking her was considered an option, as was inciting brawls all across the docks to create a distraction, but in the end, Aya suggested that she simply cast a spell to camouflage them all and they just sneak in. Cooler heads prevailed and they went with this option, though bar brawls were pretty common on the docks and one started anyway.

Outside the fishery, Sqwak opened a window that wasn’t even fully closed anyway and snuck inside, slinking through the shadows. The shop was silent other than the gentle splashing of water inside the mermaids tank and the less gentle snoring of Jonas in his bed up in the loft’s shop. Luckily for them, Jonas had been spending a lot of his newfound fortune on rum and was passed out drunk. Brick and Hjalmar went in the shop while the rest stood guard and watch outside. The dwarfs helped the mermaid out of the tank and draped her in a cloak, passing her off as a drunk friend as they dragged her out of the shop towards the ocean. While everyone was distracted, Sqwak somehow mysteriously acquired the shop’s lockbox. Weird how that happened.

At the docks, the mermaid shed the cloak and set on the edge of a pier. She nodded a thanks to Hjalmar and handed him her earrings, two large pearls on golden hooks. With a gentle push, she hoisted herself from the pier and dove into the water, quickly going under the waves to head back home.

The day after the brouhaha at the docks, the King’s Celebration began. Anya, Hjalmar, Harron participated Peppervil’s Pie Eating Contest sponsored by Peppervil’s Pastries and Pie. The proprietor of Peppvervil’s Pastries and Pies, the Paramount Prestidigitator Peppervil, presented himself in a puff and purveyed pies through paranormal means, the pastries presenting to the participants in preposterous fashion.

The pies themselves were a variety of fruit pies and would automatically be replaced on the participants plate once one was consumed to the satisfaction of the contest’s rules. The contestants stuffed their faces until pot-bellied and covered in berries, but in the end, Hjalmar proved himself champion. His prize was a small pouch made from purple velvet that, three times per day, would produce a random fruit pie of spectacular design and perfect flavor. If not consumed by the end of the day, the pie would wither into nothingness. A kingly prize indeed.

On the outskirts of the city, a carnival had set up, simply known as The Carnival. It wasn’t a typical carnival with mummers and tomfoolery, rather it specialized in the bizarre with freaks and inhuman menageries such as a man covered completely in softly glowing tattoos, a woman wearing nothing besides writhing snakes, and a man having wooden stakes driven into his head much to his apparent delight. Despite these attractions, the carnival did still have all the assortments of carnival foods and games. A man named The Brute worked a strength testing game, presumably earning his name from his massive stature and almost disfigured-appearing musculature. Ingen and Harron took him up on his game, the former winning a prize, an owlbear ragdoll stuffed with goose down, while the latter received what sounded like derisive laughs and insults but came across as little more than grunts. All in all, good fun for the whole family.

The week was capped off with a noble masquerade gala at the palace with the entire Force invited, even Oss attending in disguise and Wil generously providing his teammates with costumes “loaned” from his troops wardrobe. The following morning, the king made his grand presentation, a rousing speech about the difficulties of the last 50 years and the peace and prosperity Granseal has enjoyed since the war. During the speech, a strange sound was heard, quiet at first but growing in volume, a sound like a large sword being swung through the air by giant duelist. Slowly rising from the palace courtyard was a ship, not unlike one you would find moored in the bay were it not for the spinning blades pulling it upwards into the air.

The king spoke with patriotic fervor, ensuring that his nation’s future would be bright and glorious, that it would reach beyond the borders of their island and find their ancestral home and even more lands beyond, that their future would be unstoppable and that it would be Invincible.

The Ancient Ruins

The party ventured deeper into the ruins, finding many of the halls and rooms largely barren or strewn with rubble and trash. The first room that showed any signs of life was a large, open room with a fire pit made of broken pottery and furniture surrounded by several rough sleeping mats made of matter hair and soft fungus. The room contained a small altar atop of which was several small draconic statues and a pot of green paint. The use of the paint was clear as the rest of the room was painted in runes in the tongue of dragons, praise and exultation to something called “Black Wing.”

The owners of the sleeping mats were soon discovered in a side chamber where they attacked after Brick set off the trap on the door, a crude clay pot filled with rubble shards and bits of offal. A group of dwarf-sized, black-scaled draconic humanoids descended upon Brick, attacking with razor-sharp fangs dripping with infectious saliva. The creatures fought with surprising coordination despite their ferocity though, as their numbers dwindled, their rage blinded their attacks and they soon fell with ease, though the party would certainly bear the scars of the fight.

After a brief rest, the exploration resumed. Another door led to a small chamber swarming with rats, a small barrier of rubble preventing them from charging out the door. The rats, presumably a food source for the denizens of the ruin, had apparently claimed an unfortunate victim some time before as a robed skeleton lay in their midst. Using her magic, Sorrowsong pulled a handful of coins and a broken staff from the swarm. Intrigued by the writing on the staff, the same writing that resembled Gransian printed upon the coins, Harron claimed the staff so he might study it once they left the ruins.

A door off a hallway lead to a small, damp chamber with a large, metal keg taking up an entire corner of the room. The keg had two spigots on the front and several pipes coming from the sides and back going into the walls and floor. The metal appeared to be both frosted and sweating with humidity, a clean division separating the two sides. Ingen banged his staff against the keg and heard the sloshing of water inside followed immediately by high-pitched yelling in the Primordial tongue, the language of elemental creatures from beyond this world. Unfortunately, none of the party spoke the language to know what was being yelled at them, but it was clear that it wasn’t nice. Leaving the keg’s residents to themselves, the party took some of the icy cold, very refreshing water, and went on their way.

Several more rubble-filled rooms were passed before the group reached a long, wide hallway lined with marble columns. At the end of the hall was an archway that was blocked by a heavy purple curtain. As they approached it, the two columns at the end animated, breaking apart their pristine shape to form crude limbs and slowly march forward. Tumbling past the creatures, Harron retreated into a side room, a deserted prison. The rest of the party fired spells and arrows, only the pristine arrows Sqawk found earlier in the ruins seeming to do any definitive harm. As the monsters approached, Harron again tumbled past into another room which appeared to be some sort of macabre larder with large arts and insects impaled upon meat hooks, some still twitching. Meanwhile, Brick made a dash for the chamber beyond the curtain. Once they were close, the animated columns ripped two other columns out of the ground and lobbed them at the group, the marble breaking apart as it crashed down on them.

Battered, the party retreated back into the last room, hoping the monsters pursuing would have a hard time fitting through. Meanwhile, Harron continued his acrobatics through the purple curtain, joining Brick in the room beyond. The chamber was a small room containing a dragon-shaped throne with a flat top on its back. On the back of the throne sat a small pile of scrolls, a neat stack of coins, an octagonal token with a relief of a tree, and three small vials with gold stoppers filled with a ruby red liquid. Inside the dragon mouth carved into the statue was a key and seated upon the throne was a skeletal figure dressed in finery and holding a cane. Eyeing the varied treasure in the room, Harron took the hat off the skeleton which immediately sprang to its feet and began berating him in an unknown language, gesturing for its hat to be returned, which Harron obliged.

With its hat back, the skeleton stepped through the curtain and waved its cane in the air, halting the movement of golems. After a few failed attempts at communication, the skeleton cast a spell and began to speak with the group, all understanding each other. His name was Oss Divinos and though he was clearly well-spoken and articulate, he seemed somewhat out of it, a fact he was aware of and attributed to his long time without a brain. What he did remember was that he served the same king Max Gran III that the skeletal soldiers mentioned earlier and he was here because he and they were guarding someone he called The Betrayer. What betrayal they committed, he couldn’t quite remember, but he assumed it was related to the Dark Dragon, the beast he had once helped battle and seal in the Seal Tower.

Remembering the battle, Oss checked part of the Gran Seal that was built on the wall of the throne room and found it was thankfully intact, though it looked as if it had been added to since he had last seen it. Gathering his effects, Oss attempted to blow into a small black whistle but found another disadvantage to being undead – no lungs. He handed the whistle to Aya, Night Caller, he said it was named, and instructed her to play any note, which she did – it sounded okay. It was in the next room where they found the effect of the whistle as one of the dead dragon-men had animated and quietly shuffled to stand by Aya’s side, following her and any command she issued. Leading the group through the rest of the ruins, pointing out traps along the way, Oss showed them the sealed tomb of the betrayer where a demon had been summoned to keep him trapped. Only there was no demon and the tomb, though sealed, contained no betrayer. Preturbed, Oss set to joining the group, at least back to their base, so that he may find some answers to the mysteries now plaguing them, and maybe giving some answers to the questions they uncovered in the ruins.

Tremors in the Night

The peaceful slumber of the residents of Granseal City, specifically the brave heroes of the Shining Force, was shattered by the rumbling in the ground, shaking loose items off the shelves and some of the less secure paintings off the wall.

Sir Astral met several members of force in the hallway, all seeming confused about what was happening. His fears were confirmed when Aya attuned to and Ingen communed with nature, both coming to the same conclusion that this earthquake was most certainly not natural.

In the basement, Sir Astral viewed the surrounding landscape in his scrying bowl, discovering a fissure in the land not far away. The unnerving part of it is that the fissure opened up right next to the Seal Tower, the spire of rock where the Dark Dragon was sealed, and that it revealed a door. Mumbling to himself, Sir Astral left the manor, informing the group to get some rest as they would likely have work to do in the morning.

Sure enough, the morning brought the ultimate paying customer in all of his glory – King Wilhelm Gran XVI, his trumpeters and entourage in tow. The king made small greetings to those he passed but really only talked with Sir Astral, the two sequestering themselves in the smoking room. The king was only there for an hour or so before leaving, his entourage leaving behind a small chest which Sir Astral had Harron deposit in the vault, advance payment for the task he was about to give them. The six of them were to investigate the door and see what lay beyond it but to be careful not to disturb anything that looks like it may be part of the Gran Seal or anything else that could possibly be part of the enchantments keeping the Dark Dragon locked away. Other than that, they had free reign to defend themselves against any threats they may find and to recover anything valuable, whether for the gold value or historical value.

The six headed out on mounts down the Tower Road, a well-traveled path watched over by the King’s Knights. The knights themselves had been patrolling the area near where the fissure appeared but did not notice anything otherwise unusual. Inside the fissure itself was a different story.

The door on the far end was enormous, appearing to be one continuous square slab, 20 feet on each side with only the faintest seam between it and the surrounding wall, what was visible through the rough natural rock being impossibly smooth. Those able to detect magic did so and noticed a symbol on the door, a seven-pointed star surrounding by magical sigils, the enchantment itself radiating abjuration and transmutation magic.

After much inspection with magic from a distance, Brick seized the initiative and touched the door, the stone glowing a soft blue around his hand. With a gentle push, he was easily able to move the stone slab, a formerly invisible seam appearing to reveal the slab to be double doors. Inside, what must have once been a well-appointed entryway was now in ruins, rubble and moldering bits of banners and furniture strewn across the cracked marble floors.

More notable, the room contained four dead bodies, more mummified than decayed. Their armor was largely destroyed by the passing of time, any sort of seal on it long since legible. The room contained two doors out but, upon closer inspection, a secret door was found, the trap it its opening mechanism cleverly hidden enough that it was missed upon close inspection. Inside the room were three more bodies, their armor and bows also long since destroyed except for a handful of arrows which were in remarkably good condition. The room itself appeared to be an externally facing guard tower, a small hole in the wall making for a good arrow slit were it not solid stone on the other side.

Scattered across the floor were a dozen or so gold and silver coins. The coins were still in mostly good condition and, once cleaned up, revealed the face of an unknown monarch and writing that resembled Gransian but was otherwise complete gibberish. They didn’t have much time to ponder it though as the empty eye sockets of the dead bodies began to glow red as their bones rattled and they rose to their feet. Fortunately, their dead bodies were slow and fairly weak if not tough and difficult to keep down, but eventually they were put to their final rest.

Acting quickly, Sorrowsong put one of their dead hands on her book, connecting its spirit to her queen to have it answer one question: “who do you serve?” The writing appeared in her book, answering the question King Maxwell Gran III. The more learned members of the group scoured their collective memories but could not come up with any information on a King Gran other than the current Wilhelm line. Would they find an answer to this mystery further in the dungeon? Well, there were still two more doors to check…


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