Our investigations had led us to the basement of Alomar's house. His lab held a portal similar to the one in the basement of the Inn we worked in. His was a different color, and appeared to be a key to our way out. We entered.
We exit in a dark and moody jungle. It is nighttime, with washed out colors and the ambient light of the Mournlands. We discovered that Alomar's Crystal Ball was pulling us along, and since we had no other clue as to where to go, we followed it.
The ambush should not have surprised us, since we were in hostile territory, but the Kenku still got the drop on us. Two of them seemed to blend into the blackness so completely that they often disappeared from view after their lightning quick strikes. A caster walked on a path made of inky black feathers 40 feet in the air. The five of them worked together to coordinate their hit and run attacks and split the party in two:
- Paulic, for the second week in a row, rolls to hit on an unarmed OA, and crits. This kills the Kenku. Those of us holding swords look at each other in horror. . .we are being outdone by the Elf's boot?
- Jasper uses the ancient Gnomish art of Hadoken, and blasts Kenku away. He is very effective, as usual.
As the Kenku die, they dissolve into blackness and are either drawn into the Crystal Ball, or away to the North.
As we travel North, we eventually stumble on our goal. It is a large black hemisphere. Thirty or so feet in diameter of, and swirling, menacing blackness. After some study and contemplation, it is determined that this is a veil of souls trapped within some kind of arcane net. In an attempt to destroy it, Phaedra Turns Undead. Then all hell breaks loose.
Another Skill Challenge, only this one had a strong combat component to it. Again, the concept with this Challenge was rock solid, and its execution was perfect. The layout was as a regular encounter. In addition to this, we had the option of making an Arcana, Diplomacy, Religion, or Endurance check. A failure not only counted towards one of the three total failures to loose the Challenge, but each skill had an individual effect as well.
The center of the challenge was the shade of Prince Amir. He was surrounded by spirits, and a few of those became corporeal enough to attack us. Successes and Failures of certain skills would increase this number, and more would appear on their own at certain points in the challenge. This mechanic worked well. Notably, Paulic and Hogorth did not have much skill in the Primary skills required for this challenge. It became a battle to keep the minions away, since their aura applied a negative penalty to the skill rolls.
We totally rocked it, too. We completed the skill portion in the first couple of rounds, getting our five successes, and only incurring one failure. This didn't end the combat, it just made the Shade of Prince Amir more manageable. We then went on to defeat him.
With his destruction, we had a short race to get out of the forest and through the portal before Something Bad Happened. We made it. We appeared in a changed Thrace, with our goal in hand and the bubble destroyed.
The final portion of that session was spent exploring the new Thrace, now exposed to the Mournland. It was devoid of the illusions that had lived here, but the houses and their contents all still stood. We discovered the graves of six people, and deduced that the party we were sent to rescue had died of old age in the time bubble and been buried. We also found Alomar's home, and learned a bit more about the final days of Thrace. Alomar had been close to the Prince, and so it fit that while his research about this mysterious Artifact uncovered more about it's planar properties, he would bend it to aid the prince somehow.
In the final days of Thrace's day to day life, Alomar had activated the cube, stranding Thrace in a bubble apart from the world, and stranding the souls of the Day of Mourning's catastrophe in the bubble as well. I am really not sure I am getting all of that right, and I'm sure there is more there. To be frank, as my *character* is not very interested in such things, I did not devote much brain space to piecing it together. Maybe someone will pipe up in the comments and clear things up.
Last session began with an Extended Rest. It had been awhile since we had been safe enough to do this. Unfortunately, since we were now in the Mournlands again, we were not able to get the full benefits of the rest. In particular, we recovered only 1d4+con mod in surges. During our meager rest in the former lab of Alomar, we began to hear disturbances up in the town. Some exploration revealed a winged female (harpy!) was directing some stone formed allies in the sacking of Thrace. As they were keeping well away from us, we finished our rest and prepared for the day. Paulic soon realized that their loud searching was getting closer, so we hustled up the ladder and into the house. Our quick plan was to hide, while Arashi tried parlay with the Harpy.
His efforts appeared to be going somewhere initially. She was looking for more statues to complement her collection. She had with her a minotaur, a one armed soldier with a spear, and an arbalest. When Arashi did not have any knowledge of statues in Thrace, she said she could also work with bones. Arashi laughingly told her that he did not have any bones.
Combat started when she used some of her innate control over bone to jerk Arashi around. Paulic, crouching across the street and looking through the crack, let loose a shot, and with that everyone jumped into action.
- Everyone on our side gets a Surprise Round except Arashi (obviously in plain sight) and Jasper (cruddy Stealth roll). Paulic uses his to fire the Twin Strike above.
- Hogorth tries to run out from the second floor and across the ruined wall to engage the minotaur, but slips and falls.
- Phaedra is unsure of what to do. She can't hit anything right now, and if she moves she will be exposed. She hides.
- When combat begins in earnest, it immediately gets dangerous. The Minotaur charges the building and rocks it to the foundation. Hogorth and Jasper both try forced movement to keep him away, and he ends up even further inside.
- The harpy, in a pattern repeated many, many times, will fly upward and attempt to use her sorcery in battle. Arashi and Paulic focus fire on the harpy, and she is soon bloodied.
- The animated ballista has a twist that is revealed when it finally fires. It's bolts are blunted and not really deadly. The electric shock that accompanies them, however, is quite deadly. Arashi resists lightning, so it only wastes one shot on him before switching to other, more vulnerable targets.
- The combat on the first floor of the house is brutal and deadly. When the second melee statue joins in, things begin to look grim. Hogorth's last surge is expended, and the only surgeless healing the party has available. Eventually the minotaur goes down, only to be followed by Hogorth.
- We are all saddened when the minotaur rises again.
- We are all angered when the harpy falls to her death, and rises again.
- Hogorth is stabilized, but effectively out of the fight. Phaedra can now focus her healing on the newly bloodied Arashi.
- The harpy is killed again. Breathing a sigh of relief, the party focuses on her cronies.
- We are incredulous when the harpy rises from the dead yet again. Around now, Senzimay (played as a DMPC) grabs the Planar Artifact from Jasper (also played as a DMPC) and starts fiddling with it.
- In a moment of awesome, Arashi triggers his aegis to teleport *above* the harpy in an attempt to grapple her to the ground. He fails, and falls 40 feet to his death. Not dead-dead, just negative HP's. Still, no fun.
- Hogorth and Arashi are both resigned to their deaths, and our poor healer is probably left feeling a bit unwanted. Regardless, she keeps Arashi from death, and despite ourselves the harpy goes down yet again.
- We poop in our pants a little when she rises for the thousandth time, cackling.
- As we put away our swords and prepare our last wills, making sure to cross of Senzimae as she has spent the last two round fiddling with the cube (and, as was suggested, summoning Hellraiser) instead of fighting.
- She opens a portal over Hogorth's body. Everyone runs for it.
- In a last bitch effort, the harpy starts immobilizing folk. Working together, everyone is rolled/tugged/shoved through the portal and to safety in a strange Eladrin city.
Jesse did give us two very good handouts that explained both the Cube and the research behind it. I did not study these, and don't have copies to reference. In a nutshell, the cube we found is attuned to portals and planar travel. It allows the use of rituals related to such travel even if the user does not know the ritual. It works as a focus if they do. It has other, more combat oriented functions. It also has functions that were not enumerated, but must be discovered.
Our flight from Thrace was something I thought about on our downtime. We ended the session and Hogorth had 11 HP's and no surges. I did not imagine him surviving a trip of a few days, unless they were encounter free. He recovered two surges at the beginning of the session, and used one to bring himself up to near full HP's. He dropped in the first third of the fight. I don't know what possessed Jesse to have Senzimae use the cube to port us out. According to him, the harpy was using a finite resource to resurrect. Each opponent could do it a number of times, or she could *steal* one of theirs to do it, too. We did not know that of course, so we felt absolutely screwed.
Okay, this we stuff should be clarified. *I* felt a TPK coming, and I imagine the others felt pretty grim about it too. When Jerome and I were both talking about our back-up characters. . .you get the feeling you are gonna be using them soon.
So the session ended with the portal closed, and we have a week or two of in-game downtime to level to 6th, and do some training or magic item creation. Should be interesting to see what the next session holds.