Chapter III: The Bandit Lord

Prag'tar Citadel                                                            Eye of Prag'tar
Prag'tar Citadel Eye of Prag'tar

The Eye of Pragtar: Ground Assault

     The sun sets upon the land, setting the world into a black realm. The Sunstone Forest lights up, casting shadows across Blackwing's airship. The shadows dance the further the sun sets, waking everyone up. The group all meet on deck, fully rested and geared up for their assault on Prag'tar.

     Blackwing exits out of his captain's quarters, which are far more extravagant than the rest of the ship's compartments. He walks out in black leather armor, a strong wool hood pulled over his eyes. He has a lot of gear equipped: a belt covered in lockpicks, tripwire, caltrops, a grappling hook wrapped around his torso, a large saphire knife resting in a scabbard around his thigh. He also keeps several smoke pellets safely secured inside a pouch on the side of his belt.

     Everyone eyes the captain, who looks like a very experienced rogue, however they each doubt his combat prowess.

     Stormdrake crackles with energy. "I'm curious as to your role in all of this. You're a foot short of Spider, you weigh barely over a hundred pounts, and you don't-"

     In a split second, faster than Stormdrake can see, a fist flies out from Blackwing and strikes him across the jaw, knocking him backwards onto the floor.

     "Wha-what just hit me!? Magic?"

     Blackwing offers him a hand up. "Insult me again, and I'll rip out yer tongue."

     The party splits into two groups to assault the fortress. Those who can't fly, such as Alethra, Tharyn, Spider, and Blackwing, sneak towards the tower, trying to make swift progress towards it. Great trust is placed into the air support team, however the ground team keeps moving forwards.

     Blackwing inches forward, using his mage hand to run over the ground and look for traps. However, even his hand could not pick up on the creatures which lie underneath their feet. As the party continues forward, eventually Blackwing feels a large rumble below him, like many large creatures are digging their way through the earth. Blackwing remains motionless, trying not to cause any disturbances, but Tharyn stumbles into him.

     "Why have we stopped?" She says, slapping him on the back. Before he can answer her question, the dirt near them bursts upwards, and several large crab-like creatures, much larger than a normal human, begin crawling out of the hole.

     "Ankheg!" screams Alethra. Although uncommon to the south-western region of Kalrosh, the Ankheg are a continental menace, who plague the tunnels of Dal'Krosh and other mining communities, popping out of walls and devouring workers. However, something must have happened to drag them above the surface, something much greater than the heroes walking across the open field.

     Blackwing pulls out and throws his saphire dagger into the first Ankheg, slicing through it's neck. The creature stumbles around for a bit, gasping for air. Alethra pulls out her gun, ready to fire, but Tharyn puts her hand on her arm. "It's too loud. Stay quiet!"

     Alethra looks over at the tower, noticing that the light has gone still. She raises up her dark hand, and channels anger from the battlefield into it. The hand glows with wisps of crackling red energy, and before Alethar can figure out what she's about to do, several tendrils of black energy pulse out from her hand into another Ankheg. Each tendril slips between the plates of the Ankheg's chitin, stabbing and expanding throughout the insect. A single black spike rises through it's head, through whatever brain the creature would have. It's arms fall limp, and the creature's body slumps to the ground as her tendrils retract.

     Tharyn opens up her satchel of bones and releases four skeletons, who crawl out with bows and arrows, ready to fire. Tharyn commands them like a legion.

     "Fire!" She shouts, pointing at an Ankheg. Each skeleton fires an arrow at the creature, but their arrows, despite being made out of magically reinforced bone, do little against the thick armor of the insects.

     Blackwing shoves a mage hand down an Ankheg's through. The Ankheg chokes on it, gagging as blood fills it's throat. Then, it's throat is torn from the inside and pulled out it's mouth, sick black blood pouring out. His dagger reappears back in his hand, and then he throws it into another Ankheg. His mage hand removes itself from the dead ankheg's throat and grabs onto the impaled dagger, ripping it across and through the creature's chitin. It grabs onto it's wounds, trying to keep it's blood in, but the damage is too deep.

     Spider dashes, faster than light, and before anyone's eyes can follow her, Spider kicks the head off one of the ankheg. The creature's body still twitches like it has some life inside of it, but then it falls over lifeless.

     Multiple Ankheg bring their claws down on Spider, tearing her apart limb from limb. However, as her body lies torn to shred, it breaks off into segments of light. The Ankheg look around in confusion, then each of them falls to random wounds. Shockwaves blast into each Ankheg, shattering their plates and crushing their internals. Those who don't fall try to retreat back into the hole, but Spider latches onto each of them with webbing. The Ankheg try to crawl away, but Spider flings them backwards. As the Ankheg land in the dirt, dazed by both their wounds and Spider's power, Spider takes a deep breath and charges herself with Ki. She pulls her fists back, then unleashes both of them forward along with all of the Ki that she had stored.

     "FIST OF UNBROKEN WINDS!" She screams. From her two fists, a large blast of wind blasts forward and cuts through each Ankheg like cheese. A larger blast of wind keeps flying forward, cutting through the open field towards Prag'tar's citadel. A loud ringing sound screams out from the citadel, and lights flare up all around the bunker. The light of the light house remains still: obviously, the air assault went off successfully. The ground assault team works their way towards the lighthouse, with Spider leading the way while everyone else stares at her back with anger.

The Eye of Prag'tar: Air Assault

     Selene, Warsch, Eranah, Crow Lord, and Stormdrake each take to the skies, flying with great speed towards the tower. They remain a strategic distance at first, trying to formulate a plan regarding the number of hostile orcs near the base of the tower, which is far less than they expected. They can't see inside the top of the tower, but can easily detect a single individual manning the light.

     Eranah speaks out, making sure to keep her voice low. "Two of us should take out that light, while the rest of us fly down and eliminate the orcs and ogres."

     Warsch nods. "Crow Lord and I will take out the light house and interior, while the rest of you take care of the grunts outside.

     Warsch and Crow Lord fly down to the light, landing on the balcony around it's glass walls. However, They look inside but see no one controlling the light anymore. They look around the light house, but see nothing. Crow Lord walks up to the light and tries to move it into a position that suits the team, but the light won't budge. Then, Warsch grabs the back of Crow Lord's collar, moving him out of the way just in time to avoid a robotic fist from bashing in the top of his head.

     Above them, a metallic man swings from the ceiling. His entire body is encased in steel, and a black scarf wraps around his neck. The eyes of it's helmet shine with a bright yellow light, which shines through the open spots of his armor. Warsch and Crow Lord back up against the door, prepared to fight the steel warrior. They each wield their choice weapons: Warsch pulls out the Tonitrus and charges it with dark energy, while Crow Lord summons two flame blades, but the steel warrior just raises his fists.

     Warsch charges at the warrior, swinging his mace like a crescent in front of his body towards the warrior's right shoulder, but as his hit connects the warrior's entire body turns into a bucket.

     The bucket flies against the wall, severely dented by Warsch's blow. As he begins to recover his stance, a metallic fist flies out and connects with his right jaw, shattering a few of Warsch's teeth. Warsch, like the bucket, falls to the side of the light house, rolling to the far wall.

     Crow Lord cannot believe what he just saw. One minute, Warsch had swung at the warrior, but then that warrior had switched places with a bucket and punched Warsch in the jaw. Crow Lord slips on his ring, then communicates with Warsch.

     "Warsch! Be careful! I think he might have an ability to swap places with metallic objects!"

     Crow Lord charges forward, but stops and throws his flame blade at the warrior. Before he realizes what happened, Crow Lord's flameblade vanishes, and in it's place stands the warrior. Crow Lord goes to take a leap backwards, but finds himself standing in the middle of the room.

     Warsch shouts. "Behind you!"

     Crow Lord ducks, and barely dodging a spinning kick, which probably could've taken his head clean off.

     Crow Lord closes his fists, then conjures a tiny sliver of mana into them, summoning razor sharp black feathers between each finger. Crow Lord jumps forward, flipping through the air and throwing his Crow feathers at the warrior, but the feathers flie through the air and stab into Warsch, who falls to the ground and begins removing the kunai.

     Although the wounds he sustains are minor, both Warsch and Crow Lord can't help but feel overpowered, a rare feeling that hasn't occured within the pasat year. The Steel Warrior pulls out a steel katana, grasping it in two hands and lowers into an offensive stance. Crow Lord channels a great flame in his hands, then splits them into four blades, two of which flow in the air. Crow Lord charges at the warrior, his blades spread out and ready to taste their foe's blood. The warrior charges forward, the tip of his blade ready for whatever Crow Lord can throw at him.

     Crow Lord thrusts his left-handed blade at the warrior, but the warrior ends up swapping places with Warsch again... Which is exactly what Crow Lord wanted.

     The kunai that Warsch removed remained under his feet, ready to detonate. As the warrior swapped places with Warsch, Crow Lord converted his nature magic into explosive flame, detonating each feather like a small fireball spell. The warrior's legs are blown off from the force of the explosions, leaving it crawling on the ground and exposing a terrible sight: wires and robotics spilling out from the warrior's legs.

     Warsch shouts. "A synth?! But that's impossible! What is one doing here... all places?"

     The assassin war-bot teleports out of the room, gone from sight. Crow Lord and Warsch gasp for breath, almost as if they hadn't been breathing for the last minute.

     The two make their way into the interior of the lighthouse, where they see four orcs and an ogre geared up, ready to charge outside, completely oblivious to the fight above them. Warsch and Crow Lord look at eachother, a menacing smile stretching across their lips as they think of the same thing: surprise attack!

     The two raise their palms towards eachother, and then begin combining light and fire into a perfect sphere, which retains it's destructive capabilities as it is dropped several stories into the center of the room, exploding in a large radius and destroying most of the interior, with crates smashed, beds burned, and the five bandits incinerated and removed from this world.

     As they make their way down to the ground floor, a loud ringing alarm sounds throughout the area, and the duo feel that they may have triggered some sort of alarm. They look around, trying to find the source, but ultimately give up and leave through the front door of the lighthouse.

     As they open the door, they see Selene riding a Trex and throwing her darkstone handaxes into a nearby Orc. The Trex has solid white eyes, and is fighting an ogre that is trapped in it's jaws. It's teeth are stabbing into the Ogre's back and hands, who is trying to prevent the large reptile from closing it's jaws on him. With every second that passes, the teeth get closer and closer to the Ogre's chest, who is now screaming in futility and despair.

     Stormdrake flies down to the ground, cutting an ogre to ribbons and then releases a powerful blast of lightning, incinerating the remains to ash.

     As the teeth get past the Ogre's elbows, it bellows out. "Wait! Can get.. you inside!"

     The Trex spits out the ogre, blood dripping from it's maw. Selene hops down from the trex, which reverts it's form into Eranah, who spits ogre blood from her mouth. The five heroes surround the ogre, who is bleeding from his wounds. "Kovark knows of a cave, leads right into the heart of the citadel! If Kovark takes you there, you can slip past the gates and get in unknown!"

     Eranah pulls out her sword, positioning it below the creature's jaw. "And what do you get in return?"

     The ogre gulps, the sword poking into his neck. "Kovark wants to be a free ogre! Kovark will show you the way, and then Kovark lives!"

     Selene and Eranah essentially share the same mind, and know that sparring bandits usually does not lead to good things. However, the look to the other three, who are all recounting the goblin that they murdered. The pain and misery they brought upon that poor creature... the look on it's face as tears welled up and ran down it's face. They will never forget the

     Selene and Eranah sheath their weapons. "You will show us to that cave once our allies join up with us. Until then, heal your wounds.

     The ogre goes to a nearby corpse and grabs a potion of healing. As it drinks the red liquid inside, the ogre's wounds bubble closed.

     Warsch looks at Eranah, confused to that great beast she was morphed into.

     "Excuse me, Eranah. I'm curious as to what creature you were transformed into. That great beast, with the many teeth. What was it?"

     Eranah raises her brow. "Oh, you mean a Tyrannosaurus? It's a dinosaur *She looks at everyone's confused faces* You guys don't know what dinosaurs are?"

     Stormdrake shakes his head. "Do you mean the great dragons?"

     Selene shakes her head and hands. "No no no! Dinosaurs! Large lizards, who terrorized many villages back in our time.... which was several centuries ago. Do you mean to tell me that dinosaurs no longer walk this earth?"

     Warsch takes a deep breath. "There were giant lizards in your times? How bad could have things been with dragons, demons, angels, and other hideous monstrosities?"

     Eranah rubs her forehead. "They were... trying times indeed, but the dinosaurs were the best part of it. Perfectly loyal once trained, docile when fed, and powerful allies that crushed the demons at our sides! And now... they're all dead!" Selene runs her hands through her hair, saddened as if she lost a good friend.

     The remaining trope of adventurers finally get to the lighthouse, surprised to see the place already cleared out. Despite the convenience, they still look at Spider angrily. Blackwing kaws, grunting at her.

     "Ye Spider here got a little carried away and blew our cover! Punched a hole in the sky, no doubt!"

     Spider crosses her arms and looks down in shame. "I got too zealous with my power. I am without honor and have brought shame to myself."

     Warsch laughs at them, and places a strong arm around Spider. "No harm done! Although the enemy now expects us, we may have found another way into the citadel!"

     The ogre, feeling that he is of use, speaks freely. "Yes! Kovark knows of a way that goes into the heart of Prag'tar's bandits! It is in the mountains, and will take several hours to reach! Kovark helps you, and then you let Kovark live!"

     Tharyn raises an eyebrow at the five of them, remembering the goblin that they murdered. Unlike the rest of the party, she has no regrets about what they did, but accepts their judgement. However, she can't help but feel like there might be a slight bit of lying. She waves her hand at a corpse, summoning it's spirit.

     "Spectre! Do you swear to tell me only truths and obey my will?"

     The ghost is that of an orc, who is very lacking in intelligence. "If master commands me to count to ten, I would try my best!"

     Tharyn raises her brow in annoyance. "I'm not asking that of you. Tell me: is there a cave which will lead us to the heart of the Prag'tar Citadel?"

     The orc shade nods his head. "The cave is long but straightforward, and it will take you where you need to go."

     Tharyn waves the ghost away, sending him back to the afterlife. "Very well then. Kovark, lead on!"

Prag'tar's Back Entrance

     The party walk into the hills and rocky terrain of the mountain region surrounding Prag'tar's Citadel. After a long walk, they come across a large boulder stuck between two large hills, and a large opening in the boulder that goes deep underground.

     Kovark turns around to bid them all farewell, but finds a swordspear pointed right at him.

     "Kovark made a deal! Let Kovark live, and Kovark take you cave!"

     Stormdrake puffs out a stream of smoke. "Kovark will live, but you are taking us THROUGH the cave. No offense, but I know your kind. Plotting, tricking people, doing what's best in your interests. Ogres can't be trusted." As he finishes talking, Stormdrake zaps Kovark with a small zap, causing him to gasp and turn around into the cave.

     Warsch walks close to Kovark, patting him on the back. "Don't worry about him, Kovark! He's been through a lot due to Prag'tar. However, we are sworn to an oath, and your freedom lies at the end of this cave!"

     Kovark smiles at Warsch, trusting the man with his life. "Kovark trusts blue man! Kovark feels that, if Kovark weren't evil, then Kovark and blue man could be good friends!"

     Stormdrake grunts. "What do you mean, 'weren't evil?' Are you saying that you can't be trusted?"

     Kovark lifts up his shoulders, as if in fear of the dragonborn. "Kovark is a bandit! Kovark has done bad things!"

     Warsch waves Stormdrake down. "Kovark, I'm confident that when this is all over and you choose where your path takes you, then you won't be evil Kovark any longer! As matter of fact, Kovark may one day become the best ogre to have ever been born! Imagine: Kovark the Paragon!"

     Kovark gasps, loving the prospect of his new name. "Kovark the Paragon! But, blue man! How does Kovark get there!"

     Warsch smiles like a priest basking in the light. "With devotion to Good and Protection, Kovark will be there before he knows it! As matter of fact, just the simple act of leading us has brought you closer to that goal!"

     Kovark smiles, feeling hopeful of his situation for the first time in his life.

     The party continues following Kovark until they come across a fork in the tunnel. Kovark walks the party into the center of the tunnel, trying to think.

     "Uh... Kovark does not remember well! Orcs would always lead Kovark! Orcs were wise!"

     Tharyn laughs. "Orcs cannot count to ten. However, I'm sure their instincts with traversing caves was adequate."

     Kovark turns back towards her, mesmerized by her vocabularly. He turns back towards the tunnels, and then begins chanting "Eenie Meanie Minie Moe-"

     Crow Lord brushes past the ogre, and observes the mouth of the leftmost cave. He channels a green magic to his hands, rubbing the ground and trying to find footsteps upon the rocky ground, which is oddly moist. He eventually finds a set of footprints which lead from this tunnel back towards where the party just entered from. Using his magic, he lights up the path for everyone to see. However, Crow Lord is very curious about the other cave as well. He uses the same magic, finding a set of footprints that are much smaller than a human's. However, the footprints are many, and go up the wall towards the ceiling, where they disappear.

     Spider has very quick senses and realizes what is happening in a split moment. However, she is still too slow to react, and a large net of spider webbing covers the entire party, trapping them and binding their limbs. Before anyone can react, a very large spider drops from the ceiling and makes it's way towards Kovark.

     Before the spider can stab it's poisoned fangs into him, a quick saphire knife removes one of the spider's legs. It wobbles around, trying to adjust to it's new life of having seven- *SLICE!*

     Six. The spider now has six legs, and is wobbling around, off-balance. Blackwing controls his dagger with a spectral hand, slashing the knife through the remaining legs of the spider until it has no limbs left. The spider tries to move, but it's movements are futile as a sick green and yellow fluid spills out from it's legs. Blackwing cuts himself out of the webbing, and then makes his way toward the spider. The spider begins biting at the air, trying to sing it's fangs into something. Blackwing stares into the creature's eyes, seeing an insatiable hunger that forces hatred deep within him.

     Blackwing throws his dagger into the air, which stops in midair and then flies straight into the large spider's head, killing it. The party all look at him in awe, curious to how he grapsed whatever power he has.

     While Blackwing cuts out Kovark, the rest of the party breaks out of their webbing. Stormdrake cuts himself out of the webbing, ignoring Kovark as the ogre talks to the party, thinking only about how close to vengeance he is. As he slips back to reality, he finds everyone looking at him.

     "What is it?" He grunts.

     Tharyn sighs. "Kovark was telling us the story about the Lost Legion, who traversed these caves several years ago to thwart Prag'tar, but met their end in these caves. We should find them for loot! I mean *Tharyn looks at Warsch* to put their souls to rest!"

     Warsch smiles at her, then turns towards Stormdrake. "I know you are set on Prag'tar, but getting sidetracked this once shouldn't put us at a disadvantage. I think it's worth it, however we will let you decide."

     Stormdrake turns his long head towards the ground, then smiles. "For the Lost!"

The Lost Legion

     The party continues further into the caverns, eventually coming into a large circular chamber. The place has no source of light, but Crow Lord summons a large flame in his hand, which he lifts up towards the ceiling of the chamber, lighting it up similar to the way the sun would.

     In the center of the chamber lies an even larger spider, approximately six times the size of the previous. The spider is laying on it's topside, belly up. It's thorax seems to have burst from the inside. Kovark gasps in shock, while Spider looks at the body, analyzing it's cause of death.

     "This creature did not die of natural causes. Whatever was inside of it before bursting, it was not just one entity: Look at the scattered bits of it along the floor. Whatever came out of it clawed it's way out, taking out bits of the creature in the process."

     The rest of the party look around, but Crow Lord keeps his eyes up towards the ceiling, which is now moving and shifting. As the party each look up in horror, they realize that the ceiling is covered with hundreds of small sized spiders. They run back towards the mouth of the cave, where Warsch forms a wall using his shield and Animated Shield. Warsch says a quick prayer, summoning a third golden shield to increase his bulwark. Spiders begin to flow from the mouth of the cave: some crawl on the ground, others on the side of the walls, while a few more travel on the ceiling.

     Spider activates her Meditation of Eight Limbs, and runs onto the ceiling, punching down spiders, which die and fall around Warsch. Crow Lord conjures forth a large jet of flame from his hands, incinerating spiders and turning them to ash.

     Selene and Blackwing throw their weapons into the fray, cutting down the spiders on the walls. Alethra takes point, pulling out her demonic pistol and shooting into the mix of bodies.

     Stormdrake pulls out his swordspear and begins launching lightning bolts, which summon blasts of thunder that push back the spiders and shatters their exoskeletons.

     Tharyn focuses her attention on the dead bodies, detonating them and directing the shrapnel of bone into other spiders, which create more bodies for her necrotic magic.

     Eranah takes a second to configure her guitar, then begins strumming it, singing a song about spiders that is mostly just incoherent screaming.

     "I would like to call this piece: Eight Legged Bastards!" She then lowers her voice into a growl, which can barely be understood.Sour notes fly forth from her instrument, which begin to shatter every insect throughout the caverns, although not many are left.

     Her notes continue to flood inwards, and everyone's ears to begin bleeding. As the wave of spiders cease, Eranah stops playing her song of death, and begins one of healing, fixing everyone's eardrums.

     Tharyn opens up her satchel of bones, and the scattered exoskeletons of the spiders fly into the satchel. Spider looks into her bag, noticing that Tharyn has something much like it. "Tharyn, where did you get that bag?"

     Tharyn turns to look at Spider over her shoulder. "Made it myself. Remember that Necromancer and his undead army? Well, I collected his soul and sorted through his phylactery for any willing spirits, and then converted their energy into creating a reality marble, with this satchel being the only way in and out.

     Eranah picks up on this and looks back at Tharyn, very surprised. "You created a reality marble? At your age, that's quite impressive. To be able to control that amount of energy requires much skill. How did you learn to do this?"

     Tharyn lifts up her arms. "Soul Transpositioning? Took several years, but I got into it when I was young and foolish. But... it's quite a handy skill."

     Eranah nods her head in disbelief; there's a lot more to this girl than she lets on.

     The party searches around for the lost legion, eventually coming across a large cacoon. Spider channels her ki, and punches forward to create a blade of air that cuts open the sack, which spills out it's contents to reveal more cacooned victims.

     The party sorts through each body:

     Crow Lord sorts through one body and finds a small silver raven, which glows with a brilliant energy. The baby crow in his hat, somehow still sleeping through all of that trouble, peeks out. "Do you require a message to be delivered, Lord of Crows?"

     Crow Lord looks up curiously at the crow. "I do not require need of your services yet, nor did I ever request them."

     The baby crow looks into it's master's eye. "That relic you wield fills me with great power, my lord. If you were to request me to, these wings would carry me across the ocean if need be."

     Crow Lord looks at the silver raven with peaked curiousity. "I will call on you when I need you, my child. Until then, stay under my hat and rest. Grow stronger so that one day you may serve me. I will care for you in the meantime."

     The baby crow stuffs itself back under his hat, resting.

     Stormdrake pulls out a large brass shield, which has an ornamental eye in the center of it. As he turns the shield, Stormdrake swears the eye is following him, but surely that must be his imagination!

     Warsch finds a peculiar hat, shaped very similarly to an explorer's hat. He puts on the hat, but feels no surge of energy or magic. However, unknown to both him and his allies, the hat turned Warsch's skin golden-orange.

     Eranah sorts through several bodies, eventually coming across a great cistern, which she strums. Immediately upon strumming, her skin is covered in bark. "This instrument channels nature!" She thinks, looking over at Crow Lord with challenge.

     Tharyn hopes to find something relating to the dark arts or maybe some gold, but instead she finds a globe that fits into her palm. As she gazes into it, the globe begins to glow with a very bright light, which floats in the air and follows her around.

     The rest of the party, unable to find any cool items, return to regroup with several new coins in their pockets. Before they can leave, Tharyn mentions to Stormdrake.

     "Oh, great Thunder Dragon. These spirits require rest, unable to pass due to the horrors set upon them. I tire of Warsch's prayers. How about, for once, you offer them prayers from Talos?"

     Stormdrake hums with curiousity. "I don't know why you would ask such a thing, Tharyn. However, Talos does not have many prayers to offer the dead. Guidance at the ocean, however I might be able to work something out. If we all could, join hands in prayer."

     Everyone links hands, closing their eyes and repeating Stormdrake's prayer in their minds. "Talos! Heed my call! The spirits of the lost wander these tunnels, barred from their safe passage to the great waters of your divine realm! Answer these prayers, and guide these lost souls to peace!"

     Selene and Eranah are very unfaithful, thiking the gods are cruel and unworthy of mortal attention. However, they are surprised when a loud rumble fills the cavern, thunder shaking every body left on the ground. Selene's jaw drops.

     "Impossible... a god that responds so quickly? That's an oddity indeed. Stormdrake! What are you to Talos?"

     "Stormdrake pulls out his swordspear and plants it firmly into the ground. "I am the last priest of his temple. After the Prag'tar bandits killed my kin, I carried his name across the lands and earned his favor."

     Spider nods. "This is true; he did carry the god's lightning though his body once. However, I thought you reopened his monastary? How you can still be the last honest cleric?"

     Stormdrake looks at Spider. "Faith and Service are two different things, my good monk. Faith requires prayer, but words mean little to the gods. Service requires action. As my deeds carry across the lands, so does his name, and his favor is granted upon me. I have carried out the most deeds in the past year compared to every priest who spends their life in a cloister."

     Warsch nods his head. "That viewpoint is very similar to the Paladins of the Silver Flame. Action, sacrifice, and honor!"

     Tharyn sighs after hearing more talk about the gods and religion. "Let's get out of here. There's nothing left here but webs! *she touches her hair, which is covered in webs* My hair is ruined! Gaaah!"

Prag'tar's Citadel

     Kovark leads the party out of the caverns, into the heart of the citadel, which is actually a very old coliseum. The great doors at both ends of the arena are barred shut, secured with steel beams. Behind every door lies a barricade, mounted with repeating crossbow turrets. In the center of the arena are about one hundred pitched tents, some lit with activity inside. Above the arena are several shops set up where spectators used to sit. The shops are mostly blacksmiths, however it looks like other services might be available. At the very top of the citadel are several canons and ballista, each manned by what looks like larger, stronger orcs.

     Stormdrake turns towards the party. "This isn't going to be easy like the spiders. We need to take out those turrets first: Spider has the easiest access, so she should be able to knock them out quickly. I'll levitate up and take one out, while the rest of you get into the stands and take out the people in the shops."

     As he is talking, an easily recognized robotic ninja leaps out of the shadows and thrusts his sword at Stormdrake's throat. Stormdrake goes to block the hit, but is too slow. As the blade nears his throat, Alethra blasts the robot away with a powerful Eldritch Blast, which breaks apart the robot's chest piece, revealing a singular yellow crystal. With that commotion, several bandits brandish swords and begin walking out of their tents. The bandits are many, and are of several different races and genders, cush as Goliaths, Human, Dwarf, Orc, Half-Ogre, Ogre, and even the occasional gnome. Spider speaks to the party.

     "I'll fight the ninja!"


     Spider channels ki, forming four arms as usual. As she channels ki, Spider feels a large amount of the energy flowing through the robot. Spider teleports into the stands, then shadowsteps to the top of the coliseum, standing on top of a long, thin slab of stone. The robot ninja does the same, accepting her challenge and meeting her on the same terms. The ninja sheaths it's sword, and stands on one foot, waving a single hand at her to tempt an attack.

     Spider rushes forward, pretending to throw a single punch, but instead releases a large blast of webbing into it's face.

     However, as she sees the web fall to the ground below, she realizes that her opponent teleported away. Spider flips off the pillar, standing on the side of the pillar and dodges a powerful kick, which releases a small blast of wind as it lifts upwards. Spider grabs onto it's ankle, and pulls it off the pillar. However, as she flings the robot away, she finds herself floating in the air, looking at the robot clinging to her pillar with unexpected dexterity. Spider raises up an arm, firing a thin web at a pillar and pulls on it, launching herself back onto the pillar. The two run towards each other from opposite ends of the pillar, each throwing a punch at the other.

     Unfortunately for the robot, Spider is much faster, and she has six arms. As she blocks the first punch, Spider grabs onto it's arm and pulls it closer, aiming a fist at it's face. Before she can see what happened, Spider's fist connects with a boulder, which she promptly breaks into many pieces. She leaps sideways into the shadows, reappearing ten feet away behind another pillar, seeing that the robot ninja had thrown six shuriken at her previous location.

     Spider walks out, meeting the ninja on solid ground on top of a shop. The ninja places both of it's hands together, chanelling ki. This causes the yellow crystal at the center of it's chest to glow brightly, almost glowing white. Spider lowers into a defensive stance, and takes a deep breath.

     The robot brings both of it's fists back, which Spider recognizes as the Fists of Unbroken Air. Spider brings her hands together and brings both back towards her hip, chanelling a powerful circulation of air. "Rush of Gale Spirits!" She shouts, releasing her energy at the same moment as her opponent. The Fist of Unbroken Air flies forwards at Spider, but is then carried upwards by her Gale Spirits, which create a massively powerful upward gust of air.

     The robot, who oddly seems angered, raises up it's palm and then closes it's fist. As Spider sees the fist close, She takes in a deep breath and forms a triangle with her hands against her chest. A great forceful grip of cold wind closes around her, but Spider encases herself in stone. "Eternal Mountain Defense!" She shouts, feeling the crushing grip of cold around her.

     No matter what technique the robot uses, Spider is well versed in Drow Jitsu and can cancel out any technique the robot throws at her.

     However, Spider is still trapped in the icy grip of winter, and cannot dodge the robot's fist into her face, which knocks her out of Eternal Mountain Defense and the Clench of the North Wind, causing her to fly back several feet into a pillar, which breaks against her body.

     Spider rolls into a nearby shadow and leaps out of the robot's shadow, punching it in the jaw and denting the bottom of it's mask, which bends the rest of the mask and destroying one of it's eyes. The robot warps behind her, trying to elbow her in the back of the head and sever her spine, however Spider expects this and kneels to the ground, reaching up with her six arms and grabbing around the robot's torso, picking it up and smashing it down onto the ground. The robot's hip breaks, weakening it's speed.

     It lifts up a foot to kick Spider, but is too slow. Spider grabs onto it's leg, snapping off one of it's metallic legs and then tosses it into a pillar. The robot teleports in behind her, trying to cut her down with it's katana, but Spider turns and punches the sword twelve times in a single second, breaking it.

     Then she kicks it back down to the ground, and channels a great lightning in her right hand. She shouts "Fist of Four Thunders!" and then punches forward a great shockwave into the robot's chest, shattering the crystal focus into many small fragments.

     Spider leaves her opponent's body on the ground, looking upwards to see a large stormcloud forming above the coliseum.

     As stormdrake spins his swordspear around his body, he can't help the feeling that he can see all around him. Then, a thought hits him: The shield! Stormdrake slapped the shield to his back, not thinking about what it could do!

     He slams the spear behind his head, cutting through the steel sword of an orc and chopping her arm off. Stormdrake kicks backwards with his foot, chanelling thunder into the kick and blasts the orc away into the far wall. He cuts down three more bandits similarly, all while focusing on a great storm above the arena. As Crow Lord, Warsch, Selene, and Ernah take out the ballista, Alethra and Tharyn take out the shops while he and Blackwing kill the bandits in the arena, with ruthless precision.

     Blackwing stands in one spot, not moving the slightest inch. As several arrows fly at him, the arrows are knocked away to the ground. Bandits run at him, but are immediately disarmed and find their blades lodged in their gullets. Stormdrake stares at him, trying to figure him out, but the only thing he knows is that Blackwing managed to punch him in a blink of a second, but Stormdrake couldn't even see what hit him. It's highly unlikely that a pirate managed to pick up on some supernatural power, so what could have given him these powers?

     Unknown to Blackwing, a single arrow flies past his head and knocks off his hat, which reveals a pure amethyst stuck to his temple. "The stone!" Thinks Stormdrake. That has to be what is giving him these powers!

     Stormdrake focuses on the battle before him, being surrounded by several bandits who each brandish halberds against him. A great bolt of lightning strikes before him, hitting the bandits. Stormdrake raises up his Swordspear to the sky, charging it with lightning, and then brings it down onto a secion of the tents, which releases forward a blast of thunder that carries to the wall twelve tents, along with several bandits caught within.

     As the battle reaches an end, The heroes group up in the center of the arena and hear a loud screeching sound.

     From the top of the coliseum is a very large bat, and a dark-cloaked figure riding on it. The rider lands into the center of the arena with a great force that sends forth a strong wind, which snuffs out every torch the area.

     "You fools have come seeking nothing but the most cruel of deaths: my pet will drink your blood and feast on your flesh as I riddle your helpless corpses with bullets!"

     Warsch can't help but feel an overwhelming evil coming from the rider. "Everyone, be careful of this guy! I feel something dark coming from him; he's not a normal bandit!"

     The large bat flies into the sky, dodging the bolts of lightning that Stormdrake throws at it. "Impossible! Those bolts are impossible to dodge! How can he-"

     As Stormdrake is distracted, several bullets hit him in the shoulders and chest, causing him to fall backwards on the ground.

     "Heehehehehhaha! You are a fool to come here seeking my head!"

     Stormdrake grunts with anger, and calls forth several bolts of lightning to fill him with energy. As lightning courses through his every fiber, Stormdrake flies up into the air with great speed towards the flying bat, dodging a large spread of bullets.

     "Die, die, DIE!" screams the rider.

     Stormdrake tackles into the great bat, which tries to claw into him, but Stormdrake twirls his swordspear and cuts off the creature's arms and legs. The bat screeches, and begins falling towards the ground. As it lands with a sudden slam, the rider is flung off the creature towards the far gate. Stormdrake plants his spear into the creature's head, and removes it with a quick slash. He lifts it up and tosses it over towards the rider, who hisses at Stormdrake.

     "Wrrrryyy! You... have marked your doom!"

     Stormdrake laughs at the man, and then feels a weird feeling wash over him. He looks over at the rider, whose red eyes peer through his hood at him. Stormdrake feels his blood chill, freezing in his veins.

     All of a sudden, the wounds on Stormdrake's chest tear open even further, turning his robes crimson with fresh blood. Stormdrake falls to the ground, spending a great deal of his mana to heal the wounds on his chest, however his wounds are not closing!

     "I'll repeat myself: You have sought nothing but the most cruel of deaths. You killed my pet, and now I will kill you!"

     The shadow rider flies over towards Stormdrake, ready to sip his draconic blood, but before he can get too close, Warsch blasts the fiend with his power. The rest of the party groups up around Stormdrake, laying him on his backside while Warsch does what he does best: Fighting darkness with the powers of light.

     Warsch immediately triggers his Angelic Wrath to combat the shadow rider. The two begin flying up into the air, bashing each other with their weapons, but the two are equally matched in terms of martial prowess. The rider casts asides his weapon, and begins channeling ice powers at Warsch, who melts the ice before it even comes close to him.

     "Darkness nor cold affect me, fiend! Cast aside your shade, and reveal yourself to me!" Warsch pushes forward a strong wave of light, which tears through the rider's shadow cloak. However, the form of the rider is mostly grotesque: An orc vampire, with his fangs stretching out of his mouth and bloodshot eyes that constantly hunger for the sight of blood. It's skin is gray and flayed, like a corpse's. Warsch smiles at the vampire. "You say we have come here, seeking out doom, but it is you who will be destroyed."

     The vampire laughs at Warsch. "You foolish paladin! You are out of your element! The sun is nowhere to be seen, and your powers are limited! But here, in the darkness... I am immortal!"

     The two charge at each other, and Warsch casts aside his weaon for some good 'ol fashioned fisticuffs. The vampire lunges forward, trying to dig it's claws into Warsch, but then turns into a swarm of bats and manifests behind him. Despite the radiance of his form burning each bat, the vampire's wounds quickly close. Warsch swings back with a closed fist, but the vampire grabs his arm and throws him into the dirt. Warsch feels a sudden pain in his left arm, which is encased in ice. The ice quickly melts, but Warsch feels a sickening pain in his veins.

     "Ahhh... what is this?!"

     The vampire glares his fangs at him. "To be a vampire is to take in the warmth of a victim's life; I removed that warmth from your arm, freezing it faster than a single second could pass!"

     "Oh that's bullshit!" grunts Warsch. Warsch tries to channel light through his arm, but nothing get's past his elbow.

     "What?! I can't channel light!"

     "Yes... if your blood does not flow, then you cannot use your power!" screams the vampire, who walks forward and grabs Warsch by the neck, lifing him up with one hand. Despite Warsch's radiance burning him, the vampire's ability to heal overcomes his ambience.

     "A shame it is, that I cannot drink your blood. You're memories and power could have made me a god!" says the vampire through it's large fangs.

     "Too bad... this isnt my only... form!" screams Warsch. Tharyn's eyes open wide.

     "NO! Warsch... You're not ready! Your body can't handle it!"

     Warsch smiles, and then explodes with a fierce blast of light. The vampire is cast back, his eyes burning at the sight of Warsch's holy form.

     Contrary to his Angelic Wrath state, Warsch's entire body glows white, and over his head floats a halo of pure white light. His eyes are still white, but liquid silver streak down from his eyes. "Ah... gods this hurts! I can only use it for a minute at this moment, but it's all I need in order to beat you!"

     Warsch's frozen arm thaws completely, and with everystep the vampire's fear increases.

     "That's impossible! I-I'll kill you!"

     The vampire calls the darkness around him once more, his red eyes piercing through like daggers. Warsch channels a great light into his right arm, then punches forward and sends the vampire against the far wall, which begins to crack along with several pillars at the top of the coliseum. The vampires flesh begins to melt away, down to the bone. It still lives, snarling like a beast at Warsch, who walks right up to the fiend.

     "I'm going to set you free." He whispers, the vampire's eyes wide with fear.

     "Wait! I'll tell you everything! I'll-"

     Warsch touches the vampire, and scatters it like dust. Then, he falls to the ground, multiple wounds opening up around his body. His blood bursts forth forth, and despite his angelic healing, the wounds continue to open.

     Tharyn rushes to his side, and pours a potion of healing into his mouth.

     "Warsch! Dammit Warsch, I told you to never use that power! It'll kill you!"

     Everyone walks up to them, and Warsch falls unconscious. Eranah senses two graces inside of Warsch, and gives him a little bit of her light to heal him. "Where did Warsch attain this power?"

     Tharyn gulps. "Long after the Forks of Skoraeus were used to trap an angel, we dug up the angel's body to see if she had decomposed like a normal creature would. However, when we realized that she hadn't, we tried to summon her spirit, however we accidentally returned the angel to her broken body. She wasn't in pain, she said, but she asked to learn of our memories. After she did, she looked at Warsch and gave him what was left of her Grace before dying. I'm not sure why, or how, but after that day Warsch was able to channel light like never before. However, using her Grace causes tremendous damage to Warsch. It almost killed him the first time we expiramented with it."

     Eranah nods her head. "You two should have told me about that. Why would you keep it hidden?"

     Tharyn sighs. "We feared that you and Selene would be enraged at Warsch, for having another Angel's Grace. Isn't that a crime?"

     Selene nods her head. "Only when stolen. However, an angel giving it's grace to another is not unheard of. In retrospect, this divine sacrifice is what created several of Solars."

     Stormdrake rises from the ground, his wounds beginning to close. "Gah... I didn't even stand a chance against that vampire then!"

     Crow Lord puts a hand on Stormdrake's shoulder. "Kaw Kaw!" He says. Although no one understands him, the meaning is clear: none of us were.

     Eranah puts a hand on Tharyn's shoulder. "You should all go up to his cabin, see if he had any notes as to Prag'tar's location. I thought he was supposed to be here, but I detect no further signs of life: we are alone here."

Prag'tar's Right Hand

     The party goes up to the vampire's cabin. Spider sorts through his books, eventually finding a journal. As she read through his notes, Tharyn inspects objects around the room. The weapons on the wall are nothing special, but inside a chest by his bed lie several powerful artifacts.

     Crow Lord opens the chest and pulls out a rustic colored bag, which he opens up. Inside are several fuzzy balls, which he pulls out. He turns one of them over, and sets it on the ground. With his attention focused on the bag, the fuzzy ball beside him begins to grow. Alethra grabs onto him with her right arm, trying to pull him away from whatever creature that thing is.

     After several seconds pass, the fuzzy ball turns into a lion, which walks over to Crow Lord and licks his hand. The lion leaps up on top of a bookshelf, and says to him "If I fits, I sits!" The lion then pretends to sleep, keeping an ear focused on the party. Tharyn pulls out a large pearl, which glows with power and raises her hair with static electricity.

     "Shocking, huh? Hey Stormdrake, catch!" Stormdrake catches the large pearl, which fills his drained body with energy. "My power... it has returned!" He says, staring at the now dull pearl. Tharyn continues to sift through the chest, finding a potion of greater healing and a potion labeled 'Stone Giant Strength.' She nods approvingly, and tucks both potions onto her belt.

     Spider speaks up regardings the vampire's notes. "We should regroup. I've got some ideas as to where Prag'tar went!"

     The party regroups, and Spider summarizes the journal.

     "So Prag'tar isn't just an intelligent Ogre: He's been magically altered. He wears an artifact called the Diadem of the Hell Hound, which increases his intelligence to the level of a genius. Furthermore, not only is he in charge of a bandit group, but he's also the government in a large town called Hruggek. There, he serves under an alias: Judge Qwor'jar. Basically, he's used his influence to free prisoners to join his bandits. That's how he came across the vampire and the ninja robot. The vampire was feasting on innocent lives, and Prag'tar offered him a way out of civilization and a constant flow of blood, while the robot was reprogrammed. There's not very many notes on it, but apparently it travelled with several monks before they were killed in Hruggek."

     Stormdrake rises from the ground, from where he was sitting. "So, we need to sneak into Hruggek, find Prag'tar - Qwor'jar, and murder a Judge? I thought they were personally assigned by King Thalumend?"

     Blackwing nods his head. "Yar, thought so too, I did. I sense foul play here, laddies."

     Eranah speaks up. "We should speak with King Thalumend. Maybe he will issue a bounty and get the-"

     Blackwing interrupts her. "Terrible plan! The enemy doesn't know that we know who he is. He won't suspect us, but he might recognize ye *he points at Stormdrake* A legendary dragon who wields the spear of a storm god? Didn't he seek that rumor not too long ago?"

     Stormdrake nods his head. "Yeah, he did. I'll have to be disguised then."

     Warsch wakes up, barely conscious. "Oh heyy... a kitty!" Warsch reaches forward, trying to pet Crow Lord's magical lion.

     Everyone looks at Warsch, seeing that something is quite off...

     Tharyn notices it first. "Warsch... your skin is orange! Are you feeling okay?"

     Warsch nods his tired head. "Oh yeah! I found this magic hat, and it must've changed my looks because I feel funny!"

     Tharyn pulls off his hat, and his skin color returns to normal. "Yeah... it's a magic hat. Stormdrake, put this on and thingk about the color blue!"

     Stormdrake does as she says, and looks at his scales as they turn metallic blue. "Woah! Hey, look at that. Who could recognize me if I don't recognize myself! But what about my swordspear?"

     Tharyn pulls out her wand. "Give me a few seconds, and I'll coat it in a layer of dye that'll make it look like steel. Just don't scratch at it, alright?"

     Tharyn does as she says, and the blue stormdrake wields his steel spear. "I feel... underwhelming. Sadness..."

     Crow Lord pats him on the back. "Kaw Kaw!" he shouts, bolstering his ally with confidence.

     Blackwing dusts his hat off and puts it back onto his head, and begins walking back towards his ship. Stormdrake and the party follow close to him. Kovark says his goodbyes, and heads off towards Hruggek.

     "I'll make sure that the guard knows I have friends coming!"

     Spider shouts at him. "Make sure NOT to do that, alright? We need to be completely inconspicuous, and no offense, but you aren't at your post. That'll look suspicious to Prag'tar. So just keep your mouth closed!"

     The ogre runs off, and the party continues their long walk back to the ship.

     "Oh, Blackwing? I got a question about that gem attached to your head!" says Stormdrake.

     Blackwing's shoulders raise in reluctance to answer. "Look mate, this gem here is supposed to be a secret of mine. If any of you found out it's true power, then I'd be-"

     Tharyn steps forward and removes his hat, looking at the gem with an analyzing eye. "A soulgem! So that's how you got your magical dagger powers! You've bound a spirit, haven't you?"

     Blackwing sighs. "This gem is actually treasure that I stole from a death wizard over in Zaworldo. I heard a rumor that this gem would bring back my dead crew 'n' captain, so I worked a heist and hired a bunch of thieves to steal it with me. I got me gem, yeah, but the only thing about it that cheats death is the fact that an abjurer trapped his soul inside. Any of the magic I use is actually all his. He gave me his memories so that I'd be able to use the power effectively. And the dagger? Not bound by any means. 'Tis magic, yeah." He throws the dagger as hard as he can, and the party sees where it landed.

     "And then it just comes back into my hand in a second." Everyone looks at him, the saphire dagger back in his hand.

     Tharyn crosses her arms. "So, your wizard friend tried to store his soul and attain immortality, but instead trapped himself inside the stone. For how long?"

     Blackwing looks straight ahead, avoiding the moon elf. "He said he lost count. Several decades, no doubt."

     Tharyn nods her head and purses her lips. "Very curious! Well, if you ever want to learn more about magic, feel free to ask me for help!"

     Blackwing turns his head towards her. "The only help I need is killing that damned turtle. That journal mentioned nothing about turtles!"

     Stormdrake joins the conversation. "I doubt a vampire would know anything about dragon turtles. We're going to have to talk to Prag'tar himself regarding that."

     Blackwing mutters under his breath about damned ogres and vengeance yada yada.

A Night of Rest

     The party steps onto the ship, and begin recuperating from their wounds. They each get several hours of sleep, but Alethra and Crow Lord stay up to read further on their books.

     Alethra learns more about the magic she is possessing in her left hand, which is pure destructive power, capable of killing anything it touches or turning it into ashes. Alethra tests this by placing a copper coin in her hand, which quickly turns to dust. She keeps reading, trying to figure out how to control it, but can't find any knowledge regarding it. She tries to put on a cloth glove over it, but the cloth instantly turns to dust. She tests the hand further by touching her right pinky, but nothing happens. "So... the hand is a part of me and won't hurt me."

     She tries to call Graz'zt in her mind, but has no response. Alethra continues reading further into her book, eventually learning about Eldritch Incantations, which are runes that are carved into a Warlock's flesh that use their soul's energy to grant abilities and powers beyond comprehension. She reads up on a few basic symbols, such as Armor of Shadows and Thirsting Blade.

     Alethra pulls out a knive, and holds it over a candle to brand herself with the runes. As she finishes the rune for Armor of Shadows, Alethra feels the candle light flicker and the shadows mold onto her skin. Several seconds pass, and Alethra grabs at her arms, feeling the presence of an invisible shield over her skin. She nods her head approvingly, then begins working on the Thirsting Blade rune.

     She touches her gun, which grows red hot in her grasp, as if more power is being stored inside it's chamber. She feels woozy from the slight energy drain, and goes to sleep. Not thinking, she uses her left hand to pull up the blanket, but ends up passing through it's fabric and turning part of it into dust. "Great..." She thinks. "I am cursed!"

     Crow Lord begins to pour over his book, reading up on Badger's backstory and how to attune himself with nature. Even though he has gotten better with his control over fire, the flames still quiver at his commands, as if questioning his authority. He reads up on fire meditations, which should help Crow Lord become further attuned to nature. As he reads, Crow Lord finds a few notes regarding the Passage of Flames, which involves building a large flame and feeding it water, but only small amounts at a time. For many druids, the only way to appease nature is to offer it time and effort, keeping it safe, but this ritual finds a way around that by sacrificing water to the great fire, which will appease the flames but make water hate you. Crow Lord has never exactly felt any trouble from water, so this ritual should help him out with his current problems.

     Crow Lord exits the protection of the ship, and sets up camp near the edge of the woods. The light from the trees cast many shadows around him, but he doesn't need much. Crow Lord creats several small jars out of stone, and fills three up with water. Then, Crow Lord lays down some dried moss and summons a flame, which he causes to grow to a greater size. Crow Lord then begins splashing small amounts of water into the flame, which are eaten by the powerful flames. After he works his way through the three jars, Crow Lord finds the flame more willing to show him favor. Crow Lord sticks his hand into the fire, but the flames cause him no pain, and his flesh remains as it was. The heat keeps him warm, but the flames refuse to bite him, like a loyal dog. With the ritual feeling completed, Crow Lord commands the flame to diminish, casting it away into the wind.

     Tharyn has trouble sleeping, Warsch's conflict with the vampire still running through her mind. The power that a lone vampire wields is enough to counter it's weaknesses. If Warsch or the two angel twins hadn't been there, that vampire would have been difficult to beat and the party would have suffered further casualties.

     "Vampirism..." Tharyn thinks, recalling the vision she had a year ago at Onatar's Gate. Perhaps vampirism is the answer she had been seeking...

     The party awakens a few hours after the sun rises, and decides to set sail for Hruggek, where they will Prag'tar and end his miserable and corrupted existence. Qwor'jar will suffer for his transgressions.

Proceed to Chapter IV: The Judge