:: Dungeons & Dragons - The Threshold Party - Journey to Alphatia ::

Journey to Alphatia

Teldon's mission ... a false departure

At Mirror Bay in the port of Specularum three wizards boarded a merchant ship bound for the west. Each of Karnus, Lana and the more senior Guildmaster Teldon, head of the Magicians' Guild of Karameikos, spent time waving to the crowd of assembled wellwishers before descending below the deck of the Eluna. The vessel had been stocked with a cargo of weapons and armour, all bound for the city of Athenos to support the continuing war effort in neighbouring Darokin.

The premise (as it had been reported to the people of Karameikos) was that the wizards were undertaking a goodwill mission to neighbouring Darokin on behalf of Duke Stefan. This was a ruse. Their true mission, as Teldon had finally revealed, was to journey to the Empire of Alphatia and seal a treaty which would hopefully encourage magic to prosper within the Grand Duchy. Duke Stefan held little hope that his erstwhile friend, Thincol Torion of Thyatis, would survive the war between Alphatia and Glantri, in which Thyatis had chosen to intervene. Stefan Karameikan saw this as an opportune moment to concretise Karameikos' autonomy... provided Empress Eriadna accepted that Karameikos was a separate entity to her age-old rival.

As soon as the wizards were out of sight they lost no time relocating to the ship which was to grant them passage on the first leg of their voyage to Alphatia – the Adriana, captained by Devon Hyraskos, the son of Admiral Hyraskos himself.

Karnus secured his elven cloak around Lana’s shoulders, granting her almost complete invisibility as only her indistinct outline remained. Her companions' forms then shrank to those of winged gulls which hopped out through a porthole. Lana tip-toed quietly back onto deck and flew back to the docks, unseen by the disbanding crowd.

The mages re-grouped aboard the Adriana which was docked at the far end of the port. The first stop-off on the journey ahead would be Minrothad across the sea to the south of the Grand Duchy. Lana's father Terlon Budanter was a thriving merchant who regularly traded out of the Minrothad Guilds however his daughter had never visited the place.

The three wizards stayed out of sight until the Adriana departed that night under the cover of darkness. Lana told the others about an incident which had spooked her back at the docks in Specularum. Whilst waving to the crowd, she had murmured a short incantation granting her the ability to see through shields of invisibility. To her alarm, an invisible stalker came into view. When it transpired the stalker was aboard the Adriana, presumably having trailed the wizards from the Eluna, the stalker was confronted. After a barrage of multiple magic missiles, it was despatched to its plane of origin. The companions were left with no clue as to who had summoned the creature, nor for what purpose.

Captain Condric Arcan

After a week's sailing the ship emerged through the dank mists surrounding Trader Island and arrived in the port of Harbourtown. There the companions made contact with one Captain Condric Arcan, a Minrothad merchant prince whom the representatives of Duke Stefan Karameikos had arranged would carry the emissaries to Alphatia. A deal had been struck, by all accounts involving a new trade agreement though Condric did not go into specific detail. He was a dashing and flamboyant figure, full of charm and wit, ably backed by his first mate, an experienced female sea elf named Faymir. The trio won Faymir's favour when they rescued her younger brother Gil from a skirmish one night on the harbour's shoreline.

Sailing off aboard the Sapphire Spirit, a speedy hundred-foot clipper, Captain Arcan suggested possible routes and stop-off points. After some debate, it was agreed the ship would dock briefly at Tel Akbir (in northern Thyatis) then at the independent city of Helskir on the northern tip of the Isle of Dawn before crossing the eastern Sea of Dawn toward mainland Alphatia.

While negotiating the waters between mainland Thyatis and the isle of Hattias, the ship drew attention from Thyatian war galleys patrolling Vanya's Girdle. Karnus took one of the Thyatian commanders aside and used his unique persuasion technique to assure him that the ship's mission involved nothing more than routine trade, and that the ship and its cargo posed no risk to Thyatian security. Lana watched, bemused, as the officer stared dully at Karnus before turning and walking away, murmuring to his colleagues that everything appeared to be in order.

Tel Akbir

Upon arriving in Tel Akbir, Karnus asked for some time to run personal errands. Teldon and Lana spent several hours apart from their companion, taking in the sights of the city, and were concerned when there was no sign of Karnus at the agreed meeting place later that evening. They returned to the ship, and were relieved when Karnus appeared on the gangplank later that night bearing a small chest full of coins. A motley band of adventuring types waved him farewell from the docks before vanishing into the night. Karnus relayed the night's escapades to his companions – the party had come by a gold dragon egg which they had sought to sell to the Thyatian air fleet, however the egg was stolen from them before they could complete the deal. After raiding the villa of a prominent member of the local Thieves' Guild, who was allied with a wizard who had attempted to subject Karnus to a magical Geas, the egg was retrieved and sold for a considerable sum. Part of the proceeds were paid to Karnus, to thank him for his involvement in the rescue mission.

Lana recounted the events of her own day, involving a report of a local nobleman who had been arrested for inciting a riot in the local gladiatorial arena. With an audience of thousands the noble had taken to his feet and claimed to have met a desert prophet who encouraged the Ylari people of Tel Akbir to remember their heritage, to rise up against their thyatian oppressors and take back the land which was rightfully theirs. Needless to say, the noble was swiftly arrested by the local sheik and had been sentenced to be executed.

Captain Arcan too had gleaned rumours while ashore – the city of West Portage had fallen to the Alphatians who had summoned a horde of formidable creatures to guard the Bay of Wolves, which Captain Arcan wanted to avoid at all costs. Docking at West Portage and cutting across the Isle of Dawn to reach Alphatia was therefore no longer an option – the ship would sail to Helskir without any more stop-offs.

After setting sail Captain Arcan summoned the wizards to witness part of the special deal Duke Stefan's negotiators had brokered. As a merchant prince of Minrothad, the Captain possessed a degree of power over the forces of nature. Drawing forth a drawstring pouch he recited an incantation directed at the elements themselves, and a strong gale picked up from the south. The ship's sails filled instantly propelling the ship at incredible speed, all under perfect control. Arcan grinned from the aft castle of the ship as his silken shirt billowed wildly in the breeze, calling "behold the power of a merchant prince!"

The castaway

The ship tore north along the western Sea of Dawn, its speed never flagging by day or night. Only a few days into the second leg, a cry went up from the crow's nest. Gil had spied floating wreckage a short distance ahead. Lana and Karnus emerged onto deck as the ship closed the distance, both spying a lone figure clinging to part of the wreckage. Lana dashed to her quarters to fetch her flying carpet but by the time she returned she and the crew were obliged to duck as an enormous blue dragon soared overhead. In polymorphed form, Karnus plucked the semi-conscious figure from the water and deposited him on deck before reverting to human form and dropping nimbly to the deck himself. Murmurs of awe spread through the crew. Lana set her carpet aside and knelt at the castaway's side. His swarthy skin marked him as Ylari, though he was barely alive and suffering from exposure. Lana administered first aid as best she could, then the man was taken below deck to rest. He refused to do so however, a mad urgency raging in his eyes. He swallowed a few mouthfuls of drinkable water before relaying his tale. He introduced himself as Hosni bin-Amin, a humble fisherman from Tameronikas whose boat had been attacked by a sea creature known as the 'dendan'. Hosni's boat was broken apart and the creature dragged him to the bottom of the sea where he would have drowned, had he not been saved by merfolk. The sea-dwellers nursed him back to health beneath the waves, allowing him to spend time in their undersea city however it soon became clear that their home was under threat from some unknown peril. The peril could only be diverted, Hosni claimed, by the intervention of a trio of wizards who would arrive on a ship from a faraway land. The merfolk had bid Hosni return to the world of men to seek out the foretold wizards and guide them to the bottom of the sea.

Karnus, Teldon and Lana exchanged doubtful glances on hearing the fisherman's tale. Karnus and Teldon examined his thoughts via ESP and uncovered the same astonishing results – the man's mind had been tampered with, to include a set of fake memories. Part of Hosni's intellect knew the memories were false but could not exert dominance. As Karnus reported his findings to Lana she recalled the Erewan elves who had been accused of burning temples in Alphatia, and who under scrutiny were found to have fake memories implanted in their minds. It seemed Teldon's mission had attracted the attention of foes on a grand scale who were seeking to delay or entrap the Karameikan emissaries. As Hosni succumbed to Teldon's Sleep spell, the companions' resolve stiffened. They would not allow their attention to be diverted from the mission, which now seemed more significant than ever.

Unbeknownst to his companions, Karnus spent time with Hosni and managed to quieten the tormenting voices. An account of that experience can be read here.

As the ship sped onward from Tel Akbir, Hosni's disposition appeared more mellow. Thoughts of his family filled his mind as he wondered how they would be faring without him. It was decided that Hosni should be teleported to as close a point to his home as possible – which would be Tel Akbir. Lana cast a Teleport and moments later, to everyone's relief, Hosni was observed via crystal ball ambling through the streets of the city, having arrived safely.

The ship of the damned

Next day another shout went up from the crow's nest as Gil sighted a ship on the western horizon. Accordingly to Gil it was a longship, propelled by rowers, in the style of the Northmen raiders. Karnus and Lana strained to make out the speck which was fast approaching on a direct intercept course. Karnus brought out his own crystal ball which would allow him to take a closer look at the ship and its crew. Before he could even raise the ball to his eyes, he experienced a blinding vision. A vision of all the crew of the Spirit lying slain... The crystal ball subsequently confirmed his fears. Colour drained from wizard's face as he motioned for Lana to view the ship through the crystal. The crew was almost entirely composed of the undead. Skeletons, zombies, ghouls and wights maintained perfect rhythm as their oars dipped in and out of the sea in perfect unity. At the boat's prow stood a tall and imposing figure, unmistakably a Northman by his long braided beard however his face was one huge mass of scar tissue. In one hand he clenched an enormous axe.

Karnus and Lana urgently reported their findings to Teldon and Captain Arcan and discussed their plan of action. While Lana wished to annihilate the threat from far away, Karnus was in favour of putting as much distance between them and the longship as possible. Both realised that if the ship was pursuing them, it would catch up with them at some point. Fast though the Spirit was, the undead needed no rest and would pursue them relentlessly. Captain Arcan boosted the flow of wind to the ship's sails and the longship soon disappeared from view.

Confrontation

The next day weather conditions seemed to have worsened, as a huge patch of fog loomed on the horizon. Its sudden appearance worried the crew who suspected it was 'Shipsbane' – Teldon informed his companions that such fog was often conjured by cruel and dangerous beings from the elemental Plane of Air. As the Spirit made its way into the fog, both Lana and Karnus summoned magical defences, expecting an attack at any moment. The attack came, though not in the way they expected. Upon reaching a clear point in the fog, where the sky overhead was swirling an ominous grey, not one but three longships advanced noiselessly into view. Three ships, each filled with the legions of the damned. As the skeletons and zombies heaved at the oars of each ship, dozens of ghouls and wights strained to get close to the Spirit's crew, sensing their warm blood and pulsing lifeforce...

Karnus loosed a fireball at the closest ship, while Lana hastened the movements of the nearest crewmembers before sending a water elemental to attack the same vessel Karnus had targeted. It soon transpired that the elemental was too slow for effective combat therefore it was dismissed. At the prow of the nearest longship stood a tall gaunt figure, grey-bearded with his arms folded in grim determination. He raised one hand and a black ray shot forth to hit the Spirit's resident healer, a burly individual named Judd Effervatch, squarely in the chest. Judd dropped dead by Lana's side, without a mark on his body. To Lana's horror the enemy cleric next pointed at Teldon, standing further back on the ship's aft castle. As Lana hastily barked the words to a spell of her own she prayed the same fate as had befallen Judd was not in store for Teldon. Thankfully at that moment a trio of sapphire missiles sizzled through the air to interrupt the cleric's prayer and thwart the attack. A barrage of crackling amber shards followed whereupon the cleric appeared to weaken, however as both Karnus and Lana prepared follow-up assaults, the cleric vanished, fleeing magically from the fight. Feeling cheated, the wizards had no option but to try and even the odds elsewhere within the melee.

Karnus invoked a polymorph effect and sailed through the air as a blue dragon, his talons raking one of the longship's sails and toppling its mast. He seized the aft of the boat and attempted to drag it toward one of the others, disrupting the actions of the creatures on board. Lana meantime was blasting the remaining boat with icy cold, while beside her Faymir shot fiery blasts from the Wand of Fire which Lana had loaned her. Even so, the longships could not be fully repelled and began boarding. Within little time, the ghouls' grappling hooks caught the side of the Spirit and undead spilled onboard. The ship's crew and marines closed to do battle however both sides were evenly matched and the fight was tough. The liege of one of the boats, a spectre with glowing red eyes, closed the distance between itself and Teldon only to find itself caught in a lightning bolt which tore its insubstantial form apart.

The marines' weapons proved useless against the wights. Captain Arcan found himself holding off several of the creatures with his enchanted scimitar. He found himself exposed to the creatures' chill touch on no fewer than three occasions. Staggering from the drastic loss of lifeforce he remained standing, and managed to continue the attack while Karnus in dragon form finished manoeuvring two of the longships together. Teldon saw his chance and outstretched his hands, invoking powerful magic. Upon his command, the water surrounding the two ships dropped drastically, lowering by hundreds of feet and bearing the longships down into a watery abyss. The remaining wights and ghouls and the scar-faced individual Lana and Karnus had viewed the day before remained onboard the affected longships. As the last of the undead aboard the Spirit were finished off, Karnus and Lana jumped aboard the flying carpet and descended into the geometric expanse of empty water. Lana summoned a whirlwind to pick off the last of the undead, while Karnus attacked their leader's mind using phantasm magic. The man's inanimate (though still living) form was returned to the Spirit where upon waking he refused to divulge any information. Captain Arcan announced that he would be executed by being dragged behind the ship, and the order was carried out promptly. Lana and Karnus regretted that they had not gleaned any clue as to the identity of their pursuer. Scrying magically upon the cleric who had fled from the fight, he was observed kneeling before an altar bearing the symbol of a skull, though no other markings or colouring could be discerned.

Helskir

Once Karnus had incinerated the bodies of all those who had fallen to the undead, save for Judd whose corpse was lain in the ship's hold, the ship sailed onward. The fog cleared and three days later the Spirit moored in the city of Helskir. It had been planned to stay in Helskir only for as long as was necessary to restock supplies. Given the recent undead attack and drop in morale, Captain Arcan announced that the crew would be allowed a night of shore leave. Arcan himself would stay onboard, as his encounter with the wights had left him only a shadow of his former flamboyant self. Given his indisposal, it seemed Faymir would assume control of the ship.

After bypassing a band of bored Thyatian legionnaires looking to pick a fight, Karnus and Lana lost no time seeking out the local temples. Calling first to the Shrine of Proteus, the Old Man of the Sea, which was located in the docks they enquired with the patriarch, Father Gelgarrion, whether he would be able to raise Judd or restore Arcan's stolen lifeforce. Gelgarrion indicated that while he could indeed raise the dead (so long as they wished to return to life) he was incapable of restoring lifeforce. He recommended that the companions seek out the shrine of Drrynden instead. Karnus' and Lana's foreheads furrowed on hearing the name of this unknown Immortal. They were told Drrynden was a legendary local hero who disappeared one foggy night centuries ago and was believed to have risen to Immortality, having appeared to a local philosopher around five years ago and bid him found a church in his memory, dedicated to the independence and welfare of the people of Helskir.

Karnus, Lana and Teldon with Arcan and Faymir in tow mounted the craggy hill which bore the city's stone lighthouse and a number of other buildings, finding themselves before an impressive looking structure which had been built relatively recently. Inside they spoke with the would-be matriarch of the shrine, a young blonde woman by the name of Azula, who indicated that the only person capable of channelling high-level magic would be the founder of the Church, Jerval Scrim, who was currently engaged in meditation. At this point Lana announced that she would return to the ship to continue her dagger training. Her fellow mages decided to investigate the nearby Merchants' Guild (in hopes of obtaining some information regarding potential landing points in Alphatia) while Arcan and Faymir indicated that they would wait at the temple until Jerval had completed his meditations.

Teldon abducted

Karnus and Teldon carried out what research they could within the Guild before returning to the docks. As they walked along the wooden jetty however a sudden breeze picked up and a figure composed of rolling fog descended to sweep up Teldon in its powerful arms. The servant turned toward the hill and set off at speed bearing Teldon's struggling form with it. Karnus gave a cry toward the Spirit before transforming into a roc and giving chase on swift wings. Hearing the commotion, Lana emerged above deck and seeing Karnus' departing form she grabbed her carpet and gave chase.

As was expected, the aerial servant headed directly to the Shrine of Drrynden. Karnus and Lana burst into the church to the surprise of the assembled clergy and townsfolk within. Many of the adepts appeared to be in their early teens – the Church was young indeed. As the mages demanded to know where their companion had been taken to, many of the townsfolk backed out of the hall hastily. Scrying on Teldon indicated that he was slumped within Jerval's meditation chamber. Lana put her persuasion skills to use in underlining that she and Karnus meant the Church no harm and simply wished to ensure their companion's safety. Karnus backed up with a mass charm and soon the pair were escorted to Jerval's quarters. Karnus' Polymorph spell remained in effect; he attempted to force the door in ogre form though to no avail. Instead he transformed into a tiny lizard, scuttled beneath the door and turned the key in the lock on the other side to allow his companion to enter.

Lana burst into the round chamber to find Teldon struggling to get to his feet, clearly shaken by the ordeal he had just endured. Towering over him stood a tall and well-built man, resplendent in gleaming plate armour with a mace hefted in one hand. As he stepped forward into the light the man's amber-flecked eyes gleamed angrily, his tousled golden locks spilling over his shoulders. Lana's heart caught in her throat – the cleric was devastatingly handsome. However matters needed to be addressed, as the man clearly resented the wizards' presence inside his church. At least he spoke the Thyatian tongue, that was one mercy. It transpired that his Immortal patron, the legendary warrior Drrynden, had appeared to the man in a vision two nights before and bid him beware the coming of three wizards who threatened the Church's founding tenet – the independence of Helskir. Drrynden had claimed the three wizards were 'evil' and were transporting a dark gift to Alphatia which would spell disaster for the people of Helskir. Lana and Karnus reasoned with Jerval at length and at last it seemed he was prepared to permit them to depart in peace. He was left confused however, unsure how to reconcile the different versions of events within his own mind. On the one hand, his Immortal patron had sent him a clear vision. On the other hand, the wizards' claims of innocence seemed genuine. Lana and Karnus asked him to consider the possibility that his patron was not entirely as he appeared, and that he might have some hidden motive for having sent the vision.

Feeling the need to unwind after their confrontation, Karnus, Lana and Teldon stopped by a local tavern where they made the acquaintance of a party of adventurers comprising an Alphatian warrior and three other individuals from the Pearl Islands – another fighter, a 'rake' (a law-abiding version of a thief, a class commonly found within the Pearl Islands and greater Thyatis) and a cleric of the Immortal Korotiku by the name of Rubacosa.

Returning to the ship Lana and Karnus found the entry to Condric Arcan's quarters barred, by order of Faymir. The companions initially suspected a coup on the sea-elf's part however they soon realised events were outside all of their control. Faymir revealed that Condric had needed to be subdued as he had ordered the crew to set sail back to Minrothad, whether or not the wizards were on board. It seemed the captain was acting with unnatural urgency. When Faymir stepped in to question the captain's mental state, he went berserk and needed to be subdued. Confined to his quarters, Arcan now lay incapacitated, one half of his body affected by a hideous wasting illness.

Lana deduced that when Arcan met with Jerval the cleric must have placed him under a Quest spell, compelling him to return home or suffer the effects of a curse. Karnus drew forth his crystal ball to scry upon the cleric and reported that the cleric lay slain, in a pool of his own blood inside his meditation room. Going by the ball's clairaudience ability, cries of 'Murder!' were already sounding within the church.

Murder most horrid... the rival faith

It seemed inevitable that the three foreign mages would be framed for the cleric's murder. Karnus and Lana decided they needed to put together a plan, and quickly. If Jerval could be raised before the townsfolk found out, then potential disaster could be averted. They lost no time in calling once more to the temple of Proteus, hammering on the main doors until a bleary-eyed Patriarch Gelgarrion appeared to greet them. Karnus fixed the cleric with a stern look and put forward his perspective on the events which had transpired that night. The lead cleric of the faith that rivalled Gelgarrion's own had been slain. The cleric asked why he should be expected to assist one whose demise, he believed, could only benefit the church of Proteus. Karnus revealed how the cult of Drrynden had been exposed as a sham, and that its followers who were already experienced in the ways of faith might soon seek another path to follow. Karnus reasoned that if the Church of Proteus could be seen to assist a fellow faith in its time of need, that could only bode well for all involved. Had Helskir not always depended on the sea for its sustenance and support? Without needing to avail of magical charm, Karnus swayed Gelgarrion into lending a hand.

Stopping briefly at the home of Eruul Zaar, the founder and ruler of Helskir, the mages with Gelgarrion in tow presented their case and begged Zaar to accompany them to the Temple of Drrynden, hoping his presence would lend credibility to their claims of innocence. At hearing the prospect of adventure, Zaar leapt into action grabbing an immense broadsword from above his home’s fireplace and ordering aides to fetch his gleaming plate armour.

The party of four made their way to the Temple of Drrynden where the tone was one of shock, as news of Jerval’s demise began to spread. One of the acolytes whom Karnus had not been able to charm earlier that day stepped forward, loudly accusing the travellers of having murdered their leader. Zaar bellowed an order for silence, which none present dared disobey. Once again Lana and Karnus peaceably protested their innocence, highlighting how they had spoken with Jerval only hours ago and had parted ways on good terms. After earnestly professing the truth to the adepts present, including the second-in-command Azula, Lana and Karnus were permitted to return to Jerval’s meditation chamber where they found the cleric's body bearing a long slit across his throat. A window in the chamber had been left wide open letting in the night breeze.

Jerval's body was brought outside to the church entrance where in the presence of many townsfolk Father Gelgarrion summoned the soul of the slain cleric back into his body. Jerval lurched upright, gasping and hacking for breath as blood poured from his mouth. Lana stepped forward to bandage the open cut on the man's neck though no further healing of any kind was possible. The man would require weeks of complete rest before his strength returned.

The assassin confronted

With their primary task accomplished, Lana asked Teldon whether he might summon an invisible stalker to track the cleric's assassin. Teldon did so, and the stalker led the wizards along with Eruul Zaar to a camp several miles to the south. By the light of the full moon seven black-swathed figures could be seen cleaning blades, several of which glistened with some ominous substance. Headsmen. Within no time, largely due to a Hasted Eruul Zaar, the assassins were all apprehended or slain, and the leader’s corpse brought back to the city. Upon examining the man's body, Lana uncovered a tattoo in the shape of a skull, half-black and half-white.

The next morning Lana and Karnus returned to the Temple of Drrynden where Azula advised that she had been meditating through the night and was preparing to speak with the departed soul of the head assassin. Annoyingly, she was still not convinced of the wizards' innocence. Black soul rose from the assassin’s open mouth, hissing with malevolence as Azula fought to derive what information she could. Three questions she was able to ask – revealing that her faith was not directly linked to Drrynden but to a dark Queen. With its final breath the spirit hissed the following ominous words:-

"Your Queen before mine,
Queen of us all, since the beginning of time,
The Ruler of the Dark Throne."

Unwilling to speak beyond riddles, the black smoke dissipated into nothingness. All the flesh on one side of the man’s body dissolved into black ash drawing gasps of horror from the onlooking townfolk. Lana and Karnus too exchanged alarmed glances – the effect was disturbingly similar to the curse which had afflicted Condric Arcan.

Sensing they were beginning to piece together the identity of the female Immortal whose minions were hell-bent on pursuing them across the sea, Karnus and Lana returned to the Sapphire Spirit with renewed vigour. They departed that same day, borne once again on favourable winds though this time not enhanced by Condric Arcan's magic. The captain remained incapacitated, the unwilling victim of a clerical Quest which could not be obeyed. The ship's new passengers included the party from the Pearl Islands; their cleric Rubacosa attempted to lift Jerval's Quest but could not. Eager to ease the captain's suffering, Lana polymorphed him into a tomcat in hopes that stronger clerical magic might be available in the Alphatian port of Goltar.

Return to sea

A few nights into the sea journey cries went up as the ship came under attack by a ten-headed sea hydra. Lana roused from sleep at once and emerged onto deck to witness several of the ship's marines being torn apart by the monster's snapping jaws. Lana aimed a lightning bolt into their midst, blackening several of the heads, before summoning an Ice Storm to freeze the beast in its tracks. In the same instant a jet of flame shot past her, detonating against the hydra’s flank and creating a cloud of super-heated steam which seared through the beast with killing force. Karnus yawned and returned to his quarters.

The ship sailed on...

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