The Battle of Brindol

Awesome, awesome session today.

We begin by introducing Loven’s replacement, a changeling rogue/swordsage named 20 (though he prefers to be called “Free.”) His actual player wasn’t around, but a substitute player handles both Holden and Free.

Due to some miscommunication with the original player, Free made many choices that were not only suboptimal, but downright dangerous to the party (Charging Minotaur for a Swordsage who had 10 Strength, for one, 4 ranks only in UMD, and dumped Cha and Wis.) Lyka’s player had tried to help this guy make his new character, but unfortunately it seems this didn’t work.

In any case, everyone spent about an hour and a half fixing Free (with his original player’s permission). After gear was chosen, skill points reassigned, and martial maneuvers re-selected, we were finally able to begin.

Training the Lions

The party decides to go ahead and train the Lions of Brindol for their new and improved careers. Lyka successfully trains Teyani in her new career as a Fighter/Warblade.
Holden, with his short temper, is unable to keep his cool in transmitting his ideals to Wrogann, and fails to give him his Crusader levels.
Kikkeni, crippled by her level loss, is unable to make the DC and rolls low as well, so Narcy remains an ordinary fighter.
Finally, Free passes all his skill checks and successfully trains Jonz as a sniper (somehow).

After seven days’ training, the sentries on the wall call everyone’s attention to the horizon. The Red Hand has come into view.

The Red Hand troops set up just outside of bow range. Kikkeni, still a bit addled by her recent Raising, champs at the bit and tries to convince the others to ride out on their pet dire lion.

They convince her to hold back, and so they wait.

The Hammer Falls

The alarm goes up—two artillery teams have begun their bombardment. From the wall, the outlines of three hulking ogres and two enormous warforged titans are visible—the titans are heavily modified, and from the gates Linny can make out that each has one massive arm-mounted cannon powered by human-sized Eberron dragonshards. Each of the titans lets loose a shrieking, wailing projectile that pulverizes the walls extremely quickly.

From their HQ at Brindol Keep, the PCs decide to go after the southern strike team, since they can get there closer.

Before they go, Jaarmath, Ulverth, Immerstal, and Lady Kaal gather the PCs for one last word.

“We’re as ready as we’ll ever be. If we survive here, then good work, everyone. If we fall, gods help us.”

After setting up the Mindlink and Telepathic Bonds, the PCs march out and make a run for it.

The PCs start out 450 feet away from the ogre/titan battery. Lyka makes a run for it on foot, while Holden and Free, mounted on the dire lion (whom Lyka says reminds her of her grandfather), ride out as fast as they could.

Kikkeni and Linny remain behind. Immediately Kikkeni opens fire with her Energy balls, but since she could only hit one of them at a time she focuses on one of the three ogres. The first ogre saves well against the energy balls and is able to survive the first few blasts well, but soon is unable to weather the fire and starts chucking boulders at Kikkeni. The other two ogres and the titans keep up their fire.

By now they realize (and Linny also mentions) that the titans can only fire after three rounds of recharging their dragonshard resonators. It takes a bit of juice to get the dragonshards to reach critical, so they can only fire more or less every 20 seconds (or every fourth round). Linny tries taking potshots at the ogres with Ice Knife, but she’s unable to even make their AC.

Before long, the melee characters close the distance. The three ogres go down quickly once the frontliners get to them. The party then focuses its attention on the Titans. At this point, though, Kikkeni wants to conserve her PP and decides to refrain from launching any more projectiles.

Lyka attacks one of them all on her own and wails on it with everything she’s got, eventually accumulating enough damage for the titan to un-entrench itself and start trying to stomp her. With its cannon no longer trained on the wall, they party at this point has bought at least a one minute extension on the wall’s life span.

Holden, the lion, and Free don’t fare against the second titan so well. Their weapons deal miserable damage despite Holden full attacking and using Fight with mount to give his lion full attacks. Even when he did get Elder Mountain Hammer, Holden rolled a natural one and lost his first opportunity to deal significant damage to it. Unfazed, the titan continues recharging and firing. Seeing her companions in distress, Linny decides to use Divine Vigor and make a run for it to get close enough to drop an Earth Reaver on the Titan that continues to fire.

It takes her a couple more rounds to get close enough even with her enhanced run speed, but once Linny fires off the Earth Reaver, the titan fails its reflex save and topples. With their target disabled, Holden, the lion and Free continue their assault.

As the titan gets up, the three take their AOOs against the mechanical monster while Linny follows up reluctantly with a Sound Lance. Though the titan is resistant to sonic damage, the blast rips off a huge chunk of its armor.

Lyka, in the meantime, continues beating on the other titan while sustaining severe injuries from the titan’s stomps. With a final Soaring Raptor Strike, she sunders the titan’s dragonshard resonator and it goes down.

Holden’s lion manages the impossible—winning a grapple check against the titan. This ties up its cannon and prevents it from firing. Free attempts to use Devastating Throw on the titan twice (he wanted to be able to brag about it here), but fails completely—at one point he fails by 1.

Finally, Holden gets Mountain Hammer and bashes the titan’s chest cavity in. The titan goes down.

After picking up their loot (a whole bunch of dragonshards from the exploding resonators, some GP, a Minor Schema of Resist Energy and a Robe of Useful Items), they try to contact Jaarmath.

Jaarmath only replies “Oh gods, it’s coming! COME QUICKLY!”

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In Which We Cheer the Death of Warforged

I had hoped to cover more ground today, but unfortunately Linny’s and the Magroens’ players were sick and couldn’t make it. Kikkeni’s and Lyka’s players arrived late. Since Kikkeni was dead, her player took over Linny for now, while Lyka’s player took over Holden in addition to her character. Since Loven was charmed and had no way of ever passing the opposed charisma check versus the Greater Barghest, he just aimed and reloaded at Lyka every turn.

Rag Doll

The round begins with Loven shooting at Lyka. The Greater Barghest (in dire wolf form) bites Holden and pulls him to the ground, while Lyka assails the tiger knights. Linny casts Sanctuary on herself to protect her from the Enlarged hobgoblin duskblade and tries to skirt around to get to the meat shields.

The three remaining hobgoblin tiger knights continue to pound on Lyka, but she executes a flawless Mithral Tornado and his every single one of them AND their mounts. This takes a huge chunk out of their HP. The warcaster, still hidden in the abandoned watchtower down the road, casts Manyjaws at Holden, chewing him up for a lot of damage for three rounds.

Lyka weathers the beating from the three tiger knights and eventually kills the second tiger. The two knights, now on the ground, issue fighting challenges against Lyka and renew their assault while the remaining mounted knight continues to fight with his mount. Lyka’s AC proves to be too high, however, and most of them roll badly.

Holden is dropped really close to death several times by the Manyjaws, while Linny, who was able to move up to him, continuously heals him. The Barghest gets tired of Loven missing and just tells him to sit down and “contemplate what passes for a life” and blasts the PCs (and the tiger knights) with Crushing Despair. Holden, Lyka and Loven each fail, while strangely enough, I roll high on the saves of all the knights and tigers.

Lyka uses Iron Heart Surge to shake off the Despair and soon drops the third tiger knight (the one still mounted), but his tiger keeps fighting. It manages to back up and gets enough clearance to pounce her. Most of its attacks miss, but it manages to grapple her as part of its pounce. Holden, however, turns to the tiger and cracks its spine in half.

Holden, despite drawing his best maneuvers, keeps missing the Barghest but eventually manages to lower its HP down to 31.

The remaining Hobgoblin Duskblade keeps trying to hit Lyka and Holden, but keeps missing. At one point it succeeded in Enfeebling Lyka one turn from the end of her Whirling Frenzy, but she was able to shake it off with Iron Heart Surge. As the duskblade began to run out of spells, Lyka ran up to it and split it clean down the middle with Soaring Raptor Strike.

Linny buffs Lyka with Bull’s Strength even as Linny’s Whirling Frenzy wears off.
The Greater Barghest changes shape, and on its next turn, turns to Loven and mauls him, taking off about 28 HP. The Rogue snaps out of the charm and moves to flank the Barghest, but fails to deal any damage on his first attack. The next time he tries, though, he crits and drops the Barghest to 1 HP. The Barghest tears Loven apart like a rag doll. Thankfully, before the Barghest has a chance to devour Loven’s soul, Lyka shanks him dead. The last knight goes down easily on Lyka’s blade. (That means Lyka killed all three tiger knights, two of the tigers, the Barghest, AND one of the duskblades. Do. Not. Piss. Her. Off.)

The party takes a breather to use the Staff of Life on Kikkeni (it was pretty unanimous that she was far more useful than Loven ever was), and makes a break for Brindol.

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Chapter 1

A hot southerly wind whistled through the twisting alleys of Flamekeep, the capital of Thrane. Five of Eberron’s twelve moons were already well on their way across the sky, and three more were on the rise. The Ring of Siberys spread its ghostly glow in a wide band straight across the sky.

The stiff, humid air inside the room made Ashiadae Jiourrn feel like she was pasted with librarian’s glue onto her bed. Tossing and turning didn’t help; the sheets clung viciously. She sighed and wished she had stayed at the House Orien station instead. Even least dragonmarked like her could avail of quarters that were at least more comfortable than the common inn her new companions had dragged her into.

She turned over to her left, where her companion Kikkeni lay, completely dead to the world and snoring softly. The light of three moons drew stark lines on the sharp angles of the kalashtar girl’s face.

“You sure sleep soundly for someone who can’t dream,” Ashie grumbled. She turned again on her bed to face her homunculus companion, a dog-shaped construct named Seiza.

“At least you don’t need to sleep,” Ashie grumbled once more.

A sharp rapping, urgent and jarring, rippled from the door one floor down. Seiza cocked its head in the direction of the sound, gears and pistons whirring and clicking.

“Wait for it. Wait for it–” Ashie said as she buried her head in her eiderdown pillow.

“Crooked Khyber’s loins!” roared a voice from the other room. “Can’t a dwarf sleep peacefully for a moment? Loven, get the thrice-damned door!”

Ashie waited a moment. She knew the angry dwarf would force her to open the door if he realized she was awake. For now, the dwarf would force his adopted “brother,” a warforged scout, to do it. Ashie then wondered what it would be like to live like a construct, requiring neither food nor sleep. Maybe she could finish the body-swapper device in record time.

The rapping came again.

“Stop staring out the window, Loven! Get the blood-clotting door!” came the dwarven roar.

“Alright already,” came the metallic reply.

Moments later, the diminutive warforged’s voice rang in the other room. “Brother, it’s for you.”
Ashie realized she hadn’t heard his footsteps at all, considering that Loven was made of metal and wood fiber.

“Khyber spit!” swore the unseen dwarf, his heavy feet landing on the floorboards. With a series of thumps, the dwarf stomped furiously down the stairs to the inn door.

The steps returned, tramping up the stairs with the same urgency the rapping had.

“Uh-oh,” whispered Ashie. The steps were coming her way.

“Oy, Ashie!”

The door to Ashie and Kikkeni’s room burst open, kicked so hard it swung right back at the frantic dwarf, who kicked at it again.

“Oy, Ashie! Wake up! We’re being summoned to the Cathedral!”

Ashie tried hard to feign slumber, until she smelled the oppressive scent of alcohol wafting up underneath her nose. Her nose twitched, and knew she couldn’t keep up the illusion of her being asleep anymore.

“…please, take that foul brew away from me. I can smell alcohol all over you.”

“‘Course it smells of alcohol! It’s a hundred twenty proof! Family recipe, this gravy is.”

Ashie groaned and turned on her bed away from the dwarf.

“Oy! Did ye hear me lass? The Keeper of the Flame’s summoning me!”

“Summoning you.”

“Ye’re coming with me!”

There wasn’t any point in resisting now. The girl sighed and pointed at the other bed while rubbing her eyes. “What about her? Wake her up too.”

The dwarf stomped over to the other bed and held up his flask of gravy underneath Kikkeni’s nose. The kalashtar girl turned away.

“I don’t want to get up.”

“Ye don’t have to!” roared Holden, grabbing Kikkeni by her ankle and pulling her clean off the bed with one tug. “I’ll drag ye! Me boss is callin’ me!”

“Is your boss more important than my beauty sleep?”

“I don’t give a Khyber-spitting lick about yer beauty sleep! Wer not even the same race ye crooked girl!”

Ashie shook her head as she wrung the sleep from her face and gathered her accoutrements about her. Looking over her shoulder, she saw that Kikkeni simply threw her day robes over her nightgown and picked up her pack and staff while Holden marched triumphantly to his room to gear up.

***

Ashie, Seiza by her side, reached the inn’s threshold with Loven and Holden already there. Kikkeni was last to exit, dragging her feet as she went.

Holden raised his fist to his chest, saluting the man who had summoned them.

The man was human, tall and balding, and likely in his fifties. His face seemed like partially melted wax to Ashie, made especially pale by the multiple moonlight.

“I apologize for the trouble,” said the man in a slightly scratchy baritone. “I am called Brother Silesi. Keeper Jaela Daran requests your presence immediately. Let us not tarry. Even in Flamekeep, the shadows grow darker.”

***
Brother Silesi said nothing else as he led the group down the streets leading to the city center. His footsteps were measured but quick, blending into Holden’s fierce cadence, Ashie’s own pace, and Kikkeni’s wretched trudging. Only Loven seemed to make no sound as he glided along the cobbles.

Alleys gave way to streets, streets gave way to main roads, which gave way to the massive boulevards that radiated out from the Cathedral. Soon, they passed Castle Thalingard—austere and dark compared to the gleaming Cathedral in the city center. As the royals had been all but eclipsed by the Church of the Silver Flame, so had the castle been overshadowed by the mighty temple in the city center. Ashie saw the church-fortress’s mighty gates across the street open, and her breath deserted her.

The Cathedral of the Silver Flame was beyond monolithic. Its soaring alabaster parapets glowed in the wash of moonlight, and the illumination of candles danced in the rows of tall, narrow stained glass windows down the structure’s sides.

Ashie had seen the great basilica many times, but never this late at night. The flood of light from the heavens gave the structure a truly ethereal appearance.

The guards at the gate motioned for the party to stop, but retracted their hands and bowed as soon as they recognized Brother Silesi.

“This way, please,” whispered Brother Silesi.

The acolyte led the sleep-heavy party down a passage that went off to the side of the great nave of the fortress-like church. Seiza’s metal claws clicked on the black marble floor. Ashie looked down and saw that it was shot through with gleaming veins—likely silver, or maybe even mithral, she thought. Even the pillars were made of the same material.

Numerous candelabras stood burning along the corridor. To Ashie, the individual tongues of fire looked like will-o-wisps dancing in the gloom. She had heard from Holden that when the Purified–the collective term for the Silver Flame’s faithful–would offer prayers, they would light candles that burned with flames of different colors: green for prosperity, blue for protection, red for healing, and purple for the dead. Occasionally, candles of expensive silverburn were lit–for festivals and crusades. Ashie then noticed that a disturbingly large number of the candles were burning silver–and there was no approaching festival.

“Why would they launch a crusade now?” she thought.

“We are here,” rasped Brother Silesi. He knocked on a door nearby, and immediately it opened. “Mistress Jaela has been expecting you.”

Ashie and the three others entered the room. Seated on an enormous black oak throne against the far wall was a thin, petite slip of a girl. Her skin was dusky and her short-cropped hair was completely black, and her black robes fell loose around her slender frame. Ashie’s gaze was drawn to the girl’s eyes, which were a mournful, pale gray. As soon as Holden met the girl’s gaze, he genuflected and bowed his head.

“Rise, Priest-captain,” said the girl in a voice that sounded far more formal than her appearance would betray.

“It is an honor to meet ye, Mistress Jaela.”

***

Akviradh was hungry.

Staying in the form of a human for a long time had made him susceptible to mortal sensations, and even though prolonged periods of eating did nothing to weaken him, the rakshasa craved the taste of human flesh and blood.

The master is to be obeyed, he thought to himself. His superior had instructed him to watch out for any emergency summons that the Silver Flame sent out. In the guise of a zealous churchgoer, he had paid the foolish guards enough platinum to convince them to notify him if ever an emergency summons was sent out—he wanted to offer prayers for the mission, he had said.

Those guards were dead now. After they had met with Akviradh in a tavern down at the docks to tell him that the Keeper of the Flame had ordered an acolyte to leave the cathedral late at night, the rakshasa called them outside to pay them further, stabbed both with a common dagger, then cut out their tongues, in the manner of common dockside killings. Beheading them would have been far more convenient–heads were enough for investigating clerics to cast divination spells–but it would look far too clean. It wasn’t often that ruffians would murder someone execution-style, and less often that one could afford a fine greatsword. For the same reason, he had avoided chewing on the bodies to sate his hunger. Half-eaten bodies washing up on the shore would provoke more in-depth investigations.

Akviradh’s brethren had taken the dead guards’ places for the night. By tomorrow morning they would be gone, and the party headed for Elsir Vale–whoever they were–would be dead.

In order to facilitate his journey to the target area, Akviradh assumed his natural form—that of a black-furred, orange striped humanoid tiger–and climbed to the nearest rooftop. The rakshasa assassin leapt from rooftop to rooftop, landing silently each time, until he had cut across the bulk of Flamekeep and arrived at the Lightning Rail station.

The master has not yet been wrong, the rakshasa reminded himself. It was not long before a small company of mercenaries passed by. Akviradh landed on his padded feet behind them, and changed his appearance once more.

***

“Nay, it is my honor to meet a hero of the Last War,” replied the girl. “With all my lessons here, it is rare that I get to meet true heroes.”

The dwarf bowed his head once more–partly out of humility and partly to hide a blush, Ashie thought–and spoke.

“Mistress, though it is an honor to be in yer presence, I’m rather confused as to why we were called at this unholy hour.”

Ashie spotted a pair of red eyes staring out of the gloom beside Jaela’s throne, after Holden had spoken, a deep, throaty growl accompanied the piercing gaze.

“Ah, Flame bless thee for coming here at all!” replied the girl as she reached out her hand towards the beast in the darkness. “Easy, Skaravojen,” she said, turning to the growling monster.

Skaravojen slipped out of the shadows and lay its massive horned head on the throne’s armrest, where Jaela stroked it idly as she turned back to Holden and the others.

“Pardon us,” she continued. “Everyone here has been uneasy as of late. The Flame has sent—rather disturbing visions.”

“Visions?” asked Kikkeni, still half-yawning.

“Aye.” Jaela inhaled for a moment, and shut her eyes, calling back to mind the nightmares that had plagued her.

“I see another war on the horizon. Legions of warriors, with scaly folk with them. Dragons, and darker forces, marching out of Elsir Vale in eastern Breland. A vast, clawed red hand sweeps all across Khorvaire, slaying and plundering, leaving blood in its wake. Finally, a whispered phrase in the darkness at the end: ‘Five sorrows’.” Ashie noticed a tear roll down the girl’s cheek as she opened her eyes once more.

“‘Five sorrows,'” repeated Kikkeni, growing more interested in the Keeper’s story. “‘Five sorrows’ in Draconic is–”

“Tiamat,” replied Holden. “A daughter—nay—the Daughter of Khyber.”

“It is as you say,” Jaela said softly. “Among the most powerful of the ancient demon overlords, even worshipped as a goddess by some of the twisted dragons, Tiamat could turn the dragons against each other with a thought. Her form was that of a vast, five-headed dragon, and her wings would easily overshadow a city as large as Flamekeep.”

A shiver crawled up Ashie’s spine.

“The dragon paladins of the Light of Siberys were able to imprison her, but at great cost,” continued the girl. “Her prison–the Pit of Five Sorrows in central Argonnessen–is said to be the most difficult defense to penetrate in all of Eberron. However, it seems now that she strains at her bonds.”

“What’s the Light of Siberys?” asked Ashie.

“Argonnessen’s army, named after the Father of Dragons,” replied Kikkeni. “If civilizations like ours can put together organized martial forces, what more the dragons? Almost everything our nations have learned came from the dragons somehow.”

“Aye,” grunted Holden. “And only one dragon crusader could level an entire city if it wanted to.”

“So—you’re sending us to Argonnessen?” said Loven. Ashie noticed it was the first time he had spoken since they had left the inn. “I don’t think the four of us have enough firepower between us to engage legions of rampaging dragons.”

Jaela cocked her head slightly and gave a small giggle. “Of course not, my metal guest.” The flash of levity evaporated, and Jaela’s mood grew somber once more.

“The dreams clearly said that the epicenter of activity would be in Elsir Vale. However, if you fail to stop whatever is brewing there–”

The girl leaned forward, her voice dwindling to a whisper.

“–I fear that the dragons themselves may act. If this cult–or whatever it is– weakens Tiamat’s prison, the Light of Siberys may take wing–”

“–and launch an apocalyptic invasion of Khorvaire,” finished Kikkeni.

Everyone’s eyes turned to Kikkeni.

“It will be Xen’Drik all over again,” Kikkeni said. “The last time a direct threat to the dragons of Argonnessen had come to Eberron, they put an end to the giants’ empire and laid an entire continent to waste. If they attack Khorvaire, the dragons will torch and level Breland, Thrane, Karrnath, Aundair, Droamm, Darguun, the Eldeen Reaches—everything. Even the combined military of the human nations put together cannot stand up to the Light of Siberys. Not even the Dragonmarked Houses can muster the strength needed to defeat legions upon legions of dragons.”

“Exactly how many are we looking at?” asked Loven.

“Over fifty thousand,” Jaela whispered, her words slowed for emphasis. “A full-scale invasion would blacken the skies over Khorvaire.”

Ashie’s eyes fell. The body-swapper device would have to wait. Again.

***

Akviradh sneered as he dragged the woman’s body behind a stack of crates. What kind of guards were these? They couldn’t detect threats to save their lives, much less fight. Whatever the case, the woman’s appearance would serve its purpose.

A tall, blonde, broad-shouldered female human Akviradh jogged quickly to the waiting lightning rail train.

***

“You have an hour to prepare,” Jaela said. “We have chartered a Lightning Rail train to bring you to Vathirond in Eastern Breland. There you will meet Vicar Larrister, the leader of our chapter there. He will explain the rest of the journey.”

“If I may be so bold, me Lady,” grunted Holden. “May I visit me wife before I depart?”

“You may do so within the hour allotted.”

“Aye. Thank ye, me Lady.” The dwarf stomped toward the door, bowed once more, and ran as fast as his legs could carry him.

Jaela turned to the other three. “If there is nothing else the rest of you need to do, then please go to the Lightning Rail station at once. Your travel papers have been taken care of, and we have done our best to ensure your utmost comfort. After all, we did wake you in the middle of the night.”

***

Ashie led Seiza down to the Lightning Rail carriage. Kikkeni was walking behind her, now fully awake. Just as they were about to board the train, Holden and Loven came running up to them. Holden had shouldered his favored weapon, an enormous maul, and was covered in sweat. Loven effortlessly came up by his side, his rapier tapping against his metal leg.

“I hope we’re not too late,” said Loven. “Brother here was way too slow.”

“SLOW?” roared Holden. “You never even tire! Of course I seem slow compared to you!”

The warforged only shrugged in response.

A deep hum began building up in the train’s engine car, and Ashie realized the pilot was powering up the dragonshard in the engine’s core. The others began to climb on board, Ashie stood on the platform for one last moment. She wouldn’t miss this for the world.

A flash of light and a peal of thunder ripped through the silence of the night as the air elemental housed in the engine awoke. Arcs of lightning weaved about over the train’s engine car, and the sizzle of electricity rippled down the length of the train.
Ashie’s eyes followed the veins of blue-white to the rearmost car, and it was then that she noticed the train had been downsized.

House Orien’s trains were usually at least seven cars long. This one only had three, including the engine. The Church of the Silver Flame must have paid an enormous premium for this jaunt. Ashie shook her head and hopped aboard with Seiza.

The train lurched forward into the darkness in the south.

Ashie walked to the cabin she shared with Kikkeni, and had discovered that the kalashtar girl was already sleeping. Exhausted, she lowered her pack and dropped onto her bed as well. A heavy feeling settled over her, and soon she was fast asleep.

***

It was already late morning when Ashie awoke. Kikkeni was still sleeping, and Ashie realized she had barely moved. She stretched and opened the door of the cabin, looking up and down the aisle.

“Oy! G’mornin!” said Holden from the lounge directly across the aisle. He was sitting at the table, ladling enormous blobs of gravy onto a mountain of mashed potatoes. “Want some?” he offered.

“Please keep that away from me.”

“Oh come on! It’s good for ye!”

Ashie retreated back to her quarters and locked the door.

“The gravy again.” It was Kikkeni’s voice. She was still lying down, but she had turned to Ashie and her eyes were open.

“Yeah.”

“Have you ever tried it?”

“Not really.”

Kikkeni sat up and smoothed out the kinks in her robes and looked out the window. Ashie sat beside her and peered out into the sunlight as well. The fierce Lharvion sun was beating down on the plains of Southern Thrane, turning them a golden yellow. These plains would soon yield to Breland’s savannahs–hotter, fiercer, and more remote than any prairie in Thrane.

“Kikkeni.”

The kalashtar turned to Ashie, her eyebrows raised in curiosity. Ashie noticed that the kalashtar had been picking up human mannerisms the more they journeyed together.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you. Why do you sleep so much? I’ve heard physicians say that humans and other mortal races find sleep restful because of dreams. But kalashtar–”

Kikkeni’s gaze defocused, and she turned her head slightly to look out the window again.

“We don’t dream, yes. Our quori ancestors were locked out of the Realm of Dreams by the tyrants there. When they journeyed to Eberron, they needed to dwell within human minds to survive, and that gave birth to our race. A race of dreamless beings.”

“So why do you sleep so much?”

“It helps me escape. Dal Quor’s minions infiltrate every civilization, worming their way through your ranks. They can reach anyone who dreams. As such, when I sleep–”

“You’re out of their reach.”

“Correct.”

“If only it were so easy to escape from the cares of this world.”

“Well, there’s the rub. To escape and not to fight is to lose. We would never win any battles if all we did was run away.”

“That’s true, I guess.”

Kikkeni rested her pointed chin on folded hands. To Ashie, it seemed as if her face had been sculpted with a knife–high cheekbones, angled jaws, and slanting, narrow eyes. Even Kikkeni’s black hair fell blade-straight.

Kikkeni spoke once more. “I wonder what we are up against, exactly.”

“Who knows? Even after the Last War, every strange group has been stirring up trouble. And the Dragonmarked Houses seem to make a profit from every single conflict that arises.”

Ashie laid a hand on her shoulder, where her Mark of Passage had manifested in her early teens. The bright blue-green lines and whorls of the Mark traced a rough, winged shape, akin to a hawk or dragon taking flight. As the mark grew in power, it spread across the skin, tracing an ever more intricate pattern. Sometimes the mark appeared suddenly and inexplicably on people, spreading over most of the dragonmarked’s body. In these rare cases the mark was called a Siberys mark, and the powers that Siberys heirs possessed were incredible indeed—beyond those of the most learned wizards.

House Orien, like the other Dragonmarked Houses, had grown from the mercantile use of the magical abilities the dragonmarks granted. In Orien’s case, the Mark of Passage gave the ability to travel vast distances in the blink of an eye. Ashie’s could travel no further than fifty feet, but this had saved her lives countless times.

“They say the presence of the Houses in Elsir Vale is almost nonexistent, though,” Ashie continued.

Kikkeni nodded. “Vathirond isn’t our final destination, but Jaela was rather silent about where our final destination was. That means the Lightning Rail doesn’t even reach that far.”

“I wonder if we’ll end up journeying to Argonnessen eventually.”

“Il-Yannah light our path if we do,” Kikkeni replied. “I’ve never faced a dragon in battle.”

“If the Keeper is right, we probably will soon.”

***

Akviradh stood on the walkway at the rear of the party’s first class carriage, apparently at the post his victim had been assigned to. It was perfect. He could easily tap into his race’s innate ability to skim surface thoughts of people nearby. He had spent the last half-hour psychically eavesdropping on the train’s passengers, drinking in their plans. Apparently the fools didn’t even know where they were headed.

He looked up at the sky. He still had hours to go before his shift ended, and he had to wait for the cover of darkness to act. The rakshasa gripped his weapon tightly, and stood still.

***

It was twilight when Ashie began looking over the scrolls she had scribed, studying the twisting lines and runes and diagrams. Through the open door, she saw that Holden was busy stuffing himself once more, again pouring his noxious gravy over a rack of lamb.

“What a waste,” Ashie murmured as she went back to her studies.

Seiza leapt onto Ashie’s bed and lay on its paws as a dog would, its heavy iron body leaving a deep depression on the feather-stuffed quilt. Ashie’s magical scrollcase–a convenient, easy storage and retrieval device she had proudly built herself–rolled into the hole, clicking as it hit Seiza’s side. Ashie stroked the construct’s polished armor. She had built Seiza as well, transfusing it with a full pint of her blood. It was practically a part of her body.

Ashie turned to her right. Kikkeni had since gone to sleep again, although since their little exchange of stories she had changed into her fine silk robes, in the usual kalashtar style of loose, open drapes, that left much bare skin along her arms, back, and midriff. It was only then that Ashie had noticed several tattoos scribed onto Kikkeni’s skin, which she hadn’t seen before. Psionic tattoos, she guessed: diagrams that contained the stored power of the mind, to be released with a touch. As laid back as Kikkeni was, she was well-prepared for whatever they were about to face.

A knock on the already open door startled Ashie. It was a tall, blond, broad-shouldered woman—one of the guards assigned to the express chartered train.

“Good evening, madam,” the guard said. “We’re about two hours from our destination. It might please you to get some sleep, as we shall be arriving at night.”

“Thanks, but I’m alright.”

The guard seemed to be startled at her answer, but nodded.

“As it pleases you, madam.”

Ashie watched as the guard closed the door and moved to the dining room.

“Oh, really?” she heard Holden’s voice. “Better get some sleep then.” The stomp of heavy dwarven feet followed, along with the slam of a door. In less than five minutes, snoring rippled through the wall.

***

Night had already fallen as Akviradh walked to the front of the first class car. He knocked on the door of the engine car, and when a crewman answered him, his response was yanking the fool out of the door and off the train, dropping him into the sizzling electric field below. The man’s life was over in a flash of blue lightning.

“Hey, close the damn door! That’s dangerous!” yelled someone from inside.

Akviradh obliged, stepping over the gap and closing the door.

The crewman who had yelled at him came in for a closer look. “Hey, who’re you? The engine’s for House Orien personnel only.”

Akviradh morphed into the shape of the man whom he had just killed.

“Is that better?”

The crewman’s jaw dropped open. “Wha–changeling?”

His words were cut short as Akviradh changed back into his natural form and tore the man’s throat out with his bite.

“Wrong. Better.”
***

Ashie was in the middle of re-reading her last scroll when the lights in the cabin went out. That was weird, she thought. House Orien trains were always illuminated brightly until the last person had gone to sleep. Something was amiss.

She stumbled out of the room, groping about. “Holden? Loven?”

“I’m here, Ashie.” It was Loven’s metallic voice.

“Could you wake Holden? He’s the only one who can see in this darkness.”

“If I can actually get–what?”

Ashie had suddenly held her finger to her lips.

“Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“Someone’s on the roof.”

“You go and wake up Kikkeni,” said the warforged. “I’ll get Holden.”

Ashie stumbled back to her cabin and shook Kikkeni until she answered with a “What?”

“Lights went out. Something’s wrong.”

The kalashtar girl sat up immediately and grabbed her staff and pack, seeing only by the moonlight from the windows. Ashie did the same. From the other room, she could hear the fuss and clank of Holden pulling on his armor.

***
Akviradh cursed as the tingle of psychic activity registered in his mind. Everybody had awoken. His stealth advantage was gone. Swinging his sword to clean it of the helmsman’s blood, he changed shape once more.

The train’s lightning reins lay sputtering on the floor of the cabin. Uncontrolled, the Khyber shard the air elemental was housed in pulsed with unthinking malice.

***

Ashie looked at Kikkeni.

“Do you feel that?”

“The train’s accelerating.”

The hum of the train’s movement became a whine, then became a roar.

Khyberit gentis. I have to find out what’s going on in the engine.”

Ashie braced herself against the walls of the aisle as she stumbled toward the small square of navy blue moonlight that was the porthole in the front door. Kikkeni followed close behind her. As she was about to open it, she heard Holden stomp into the aisle. She assumed Loven wasn’t far–she never heard his footsteps anyway.

Just as Ashie reached for the door handle, the porthole darkened.

The female guard’s face filled the window.

Ashie turned the handle and opened the door.

“Is anything wrong?” asked the guard.

“I was about to ask the same thing,” Ashie answered. “The lights in the cabin went out. The train’s accelerating too—” she trailed off as she noticed the guard’s seemingly unconcerned expression and icy stare, and resumed speaking with caution. “I, uh, need to check the engine.”

“I’m afraid I can’t allow you to check the engine,” snarled the guard. “It’s off-limits.”

“Watch out!” bellowed Holden as the guard drew a black, curved greatsword from the sheath on her back. Holden raised his hammer and tried to push to the front of the crowded aisle. “Crooked Khyber’s loins, get the hell outta me way!”

Loven pivoted low and rolled across the floor, trying to pass between the guard’s legs and stand behind her, but the guard responded with a swift kick, sending the warforged’s slight frame sprawling back.

Khyberit gentis!” swore Ashie. “We need light!” Stumbling back through the gloom, she felt around for a solid object to infuse her magic into. She grasped and felt a round, metallic object, and exhaled, feeling the warmth of energy travel through her fingers.

She turned back toward the door just in time to see the guard’s form distort and melt in the dim moonlight, reforming into a black-skinned, eel-like thing that stood like a man, but evidently was not of any race that she had ever seen. Even changelings she had met before did not alter their appearances like this. Ashie noticed a chilling detail out of the corner of her eye. “Its hands are twisted the wrong way!”

“Backwards twisted hands—It’s a rakshasa!” Kikkeni screamed as she tore back through the aisle through her companions. “A fiend of Khyber!”

The rakshasa snarled and swung its blade at Kikkeni as she ran, cleaving through soft silk and drawing a long, bloody gash in her back.

“Kikkeni!” yelled Ashie as the kalashtar girl stumbled behind her. “Are you alright?”

“I–I think so,” she answered. Kikkeni held her fingers to her temple and closed her eyes. “I’ll burn you alive for that!” Ashie saw that when Kikkeni’s eyes opened again, they were glowing like a furnace.

A bolt of searing fire shot through the air at the rakshasa, nearly signing Holden’s hair. It struck the rakshasa square in the chest, singing the creature’s slick skin.

“Oy! Watch where ye aim yer mind, ye stupid girl!” yelled Holden as he barreled forward, raising his maul. Ashie saw a brief green flash surround the sledgehammer’s head as the dwarf swung it across the rakshasa’s jaw. Bone crunched sickeningly, and the creature snarled in pain.

Ashie felt her magic ignite, filling the room with golden light. Just as her spirits rose, they fell.

“Way to go, miss greasemonkey.” Loven’s head shone like an everbright lantern under the magical infusion. “How do I stab it in the back when I glow like a lighthouse?”

“Stay here so Kikkeni can see,” Ashie replied. “I’m going into the engine.”

“But how-” Loven’s protest was cut short as Ashie put her palm onto the dragonmark onto her shoulder and inhaled. The dragonmark’s blue-green light flared, and Ashie felt its warmth envelop her. The train, the scuffle, and everything else blurred, melted, shifted, and coalesced once more as she reappeared in the engine.

“Khyber spit!” yelled Holden, drawing Ashie’s attention back to the rakshasa. Holden’s solid blow had barely slowed it–in Ashie’s eyes, the fiend swung its blade so quickly that it seemed to come from two directions at once. The blade sliced through the plates of Holden’s armor, drawing blood. “Eh, that smarts! I’m gonna send ye back to Khyber, demon!”

“Keep it busy!” called Ashie. “I need to make sure this train doesn’t kill us all!”

“With pleasure!” answered Kikkeni. Ashie saw the rakshasa begin to clutch at its leathers—the straps seemed to be tightening of their own accord.

“I’m going to gut you, witch!” snarled the rakshasa.

Ashie stepped forward into the shadows of the engine. Horror gripped her as she saw great puddles of blood on the floor, and the sounds of the scuffle seemed to fade away.

“Onatar’s forge…what happened?”

Ashie took a tentative step toward the control room. Two steps. Three. The door to the control room swung on its hinges, and the crackling glow of the lightning reins inside peeked out from the gap.

The train groaned again as the berserk elemental in its core poured more power into the system.
“The train’s nearing its limit,” Ashie whispered to herself. “If we hit a sharp curve—or worse, the terminal–” Ashie pushed the grim prospect from her mind and reached out for the door.

The train roared again, violently accelerating once more. The door snapped open, and Ashie saw why the device was going berserk.

She could make out the arm, head and shoulders of a man in House Orien livery lying on the ground. On the man’s forearm, the Mark of Passage’s lines were clearly visible in the stark blue-white light, but their lines were dark and brown instead of blue-green. Ashie bent over to check for a pulse—and noticed that it really was only the man’s head, shoulders and arm that were left. He had been torn in half at the waist.

“Not a good way to go,” she whispered. Ashie closed her eyes, stood up, and grasped the train’s lightning reins. “Alright, elemental. You’ve had your fun. You’re stopping NOW!”

The train continued to accelerate.

***

Akviradh swore. He knew the kalashtar would continue causing his uniform to grip about his body. It was becoming increasingly frustrating to move. The idiot dwarf had continued to pound him with the hammer too, but with little effect.

“Ashie!” yelled the kalashtar girl. “Blessed arrows! Spears! Anything like that!”

“The scum know how to hurt me,” Akviradh cursed between clenched teeth.

Akviradh’s form shifted and distorted again. Solid muscular arms whipped into flexible tentacles, still maintaining their grip on the sword. Slick skin sprouted fur. The eel-like head morphed into that of an emaciated feline. He leapt across the gap and into the engine.

“Oy!” yelled the dwarf. “He’s going after Ashie!”

Akviradh turned to see one of the most ridiculous sights he’d ever seen—a dwarf in full armor running down a train aisle, carrying a glowing warforged scout under his arm.

“Take ’em down, brother!” roared the dwarf as he dropped the warforged into the engine’s narrow corridor.

“Aye!” yelled the ridiculous glowing construct as it landed on its feet and began to tumble down the corridor toward Akviradh–who kicked the warforged away with a snarl.

“Maybe I should just reduce you to firewood!” roared the rakshasa.

“That can’t be good.”

The sinuous tentacles whirled the greatsword rapidly, striking twice at the warforged, from opposite directions. Akviradh felt the construct’s mithral chestplates give way. Pivoting low, he lunged at the warforged’s arm, biting into its wooden fiber.

***
“It bit me! Agh!” a metallic voice screamed.

Ashie turned to see the rakshasa much closer, thrashing Loven repeatedly and backing him into a corner.

“Blessed arrows, huh?”

She reached for the scrollcase at her belt and pulled out a page. The scrollcase always magically supplied the page its wielder was looking for, so Ashie got what she wanted. As she read the incantation aloud, the scroll stiffened in her hands, and magic flared across the letters of the spell, burning them off the page. As the sheet floated in the air in front of her, aether lines traced themselves in space, and flowed down to Ashie’s hands, filling them with warmth. She drew her crossbow from her pack, and the aether lines embedded themselves into the wood of the weapon, as if they were iron filings drawn by a magnet.

“I guess bolts will have to do,” Ashie said to herself as she saw Kikkeni jump into the corridor.

“Back to Khyber, you fiend!” Kikkeni yelled as she stretched out her hand, palm down, towards the rakshasa. Roaring in agony, the demon lost control of its limbs and flew straight into the ceiling of the engine as the kalashtar girl flipped her hand upward. Kikkeni then made a throwing gesture, and the fiend fell back to the engine car’s floor, face planted in the boards.

“I’ll bash yer face in!” Holden howled as he brought the maul above his head, and crashing down into the floorboards. However, the fiend’s head was no longer there. The rakshasa grinned at the dwarf, and whipped its tentacle arms about, trying to regain its balance.

With the rakshasa unable to reach him, Loven scrambled up and leapt for the first class cart once more, sheathing his rapier and drawing his bow. Ashie saw him nock an arrow and take aim at the fiend. Seeing her own chance, she raised her crossbow and pulled the trigger. The demon rolled to the other side of the corridor, leaving Ashie’s bolt quivering in the boards, and leapt to its feet, ducking as Holden swung his maul across, bashing a deep dent into the wall. The rakshasa then leapt over Holden, its feet touching the wall, and landed between the dwarf and Kikkeni.

Ashie saw it attempt a second vault over Kikkeni, but the kalashtar girl brought up her staff, knocking the rakshasa out of the air. It still landed on its feet, its slavering jaws inches from Kikkeni’s face. Ashie saw her close her eyes once more, and a shimmering field of force snapped into existence around Kikkeni’s limbs and torso.

“EYAAAH!” Holden turned on his heel in an attempt to crush the back of the rakshasa’s head, but it ducked low and leapt over Kikkeni, scrambling onto the first class carriage. “Khyber spit! It’s trying to kill Holden!” Instead of lunging at Loven, however, the fiend scrambled up the ladder and climbed onto the roof.

***

This was it, Akviradh thought. He had failed, and Indravan-Yagna would have his head. Either way, he would still have to report to his superior. If he could not afford a show of competence, perhaps a show of loyalty would still prevent his lord from sending him screaming back to Khyber.

A flurry of thoughts coming from below filled his brain.

“What? They’re going to–”

***

“Holden, you’re going to have to decouple the train!” Ashie yelled as she struggled to impose her will on the raging elemental. “We’ve got everything on us anyway, right?”

“Aye,” said the dwarf as Loven leapt back over the rail.

“No,” Loven said. You’re forgetting something.

“Oh. Right.” Ashie remembered. “Seiza!”

The homunculus, which she had compeltely forgotten about, came bounding up the aisle and into the engine.

I’m going to have to get used to summoning it, Ashie thought.

“There’s one other thing,” Kikkeni said as she pointed to the rear. “There’s a third car on this train. It was the galley cart; guards were on it too.”

“But we haven’t heard from them all this time,” Loven said. “They might be already dead.”

“Best we make sure,” Kikkeni said. “Start decoupling the train. I’ll search the last car.”

***
Akviradh couldn’t believe how foolish this kalashtar was as her thoughts bubbled with heroism and urgency. He sensed her running at full tilt down the center aisle. He waited at the rear end of the first class carriage’s roof as the girl opened the door and stepped toward the railing.

“Hello?” He heard her call out. “Is anyone still there?”

The door to the galley carriage was swinging open. Of course, Akviradh had already slaughtered the guards and servants before he even cut off the train’s lightning. The kalashtar leaned closer to the caboose.

Akviradh leapt from the roof, bringing his greatsword down onto the girl. He relished her scream as the blade tore into her flesh—then he felt the carriage shudder.

“You think you can still make the jump back into the engine with your friends?” he gloated as the girl clutched at the deep gash in her shoulder.

Keep your wits about, Akviradh, he said to himself. This girl can destroy things with her mind.

For a tense moment, Akviradh stared at the girl, who stared back up at her. He half expected her next move to be to blast him off the train. Instead, she pushed herself off her haunches and into the train, running at full speed.

“I’ll feast on your brain!” roared Akviradh, chasing the girl through the length of the train.

***

Ashie grit her teeth and clenched her fists, turning her knuckles white. “Come on, work already!”

“Ashie!” It was Holden. “Kikkeni’s coming! She’s making a run for it!”

“Will she make it across?”

“Can’t say!”

“Make sure you catch her!”

“I’ll try!”

Ashie turned around just in time to see Kikkeni leap through the void, launching herself from the carriage’s railing and straight into Holden’s arms. Behind her, still in the doorway, was the snarling rakshasa.

Kikkeni pushed the dwarf away and picked herself up off the floor.

“Ashiadae Jiourrn, if we end up crashing because you haven’t been practicing your piloting skills for the last three years, I will fully blame it on you.”

“Blame what?”

“Us crashing, and not being able to slay the obviously-evil rakshasa that just tried to kill us.”

“But I had practically nothing to do with that battle!”

“Whatever. Where do I shoot this thing to derail it?”

“You’re not derailing a House Orien train.”

“I so am.”

Ashie rolled her eyes. Human expressions again.

“Aim for the base. Destroy the mounting of the conductor stones and you’ll send it flying off the tracks.”

“Done.”

Kikkeni turned to face the carriage once more, and pointed a finger at its base. Air rippled, ripped, and strained as she sent a shockwave with the mere force of her will hurtling into the train’s undercarriage. With a thunderous crash, the metal bindings came undone, spilling the glowing conductor stones onto their counterparts on the rail, sending everything flying like shrapnel. The whole mass twisted onto its side, and skidded across the ground in a great cloud of dust and flying metal.

“He couldn’t have survived that,” Loven said as he nursed his damaged plates.

“Great,” Kikkeni deadpanned. “That’s a nice foreshadowing of what might happen if Ashie doesn’t gain control of her elemental.”

“Shut up! You’re not helping”

~END OF CHAPTER 1~

Introduction

Hello and welcome to my campaign journal. In this blog I shall chronicle the adventures of my players as their intrepid characters as they go through Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 superadventure, The Red Hand of Doom.

We will be using the Eberron campaign setting, Keith Baker’s D&D world famous (or infamous) for its pulp action, lightning trains and living constructs.

Setting

Due to Eberron‘s unique style, I had to make adjustments to adapt the campaign to fit the world.

Here is my edited overworld map of Elsir Vale, the primary setting for most of the events in the campaign.

elsirvaleoverworld

Spoiler areas have been edited out, and the lightning rail (red dotted line) has been added. The bordering areas are also indicated on the edges of the map.

Party

We have six characters, but unfortunately, not all actually have names yet. The party is made up of:

Dwarf Crusader

Human Druid

Human Warblade/Bard

Human Artificer

Warforged Scout Rogue

Kalashtar Psion

As you can see, things are still rough. We’ll get around to the roleplaying stuff soon.


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