In the sixtieth year since the end of the War of Shadow, the Celadian Empire — once the greatest among the lands resisting the evil Shadow King — was trembling on the brink of collapse, as former client states of the Empire waged a war to usurp its power and influence.

Among those drafted into this war were many individuals of varied backgrounds and extraordinary skills; talents that could best be used elsewhere than on the front lines. Recognising this, the Celadian commanders and officers trained special companies for arcane, investigative, counter-insurgency, and other unusual duties.

Even after the collapse of the Empire, some members of one of these companies held together and pursued adventure far beyond the bounds of fallen Celadia. Their destiny pit them against evil cults, secret powers, and fiends of hell; and ultimately, against a plot to undo the flow of time and resurrect the greatest darkness to ever threaten the world. If they failed, the world would fall to evil; but if they made one misstep, the foundations of time would collapse and the universe cease to be.

(No pressure, guys.)

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[5.05] Dark Thoughts
Holding the Shadowstaff has always seemed so natural. So right. Like riding on the back of a giant eagle that obeyed my every command and executed it perfectly. Today it certainly brought its share of surprises though.

We faced a dragon. A red dragon. A really, really big one. Thank Perha's mercy for the warning that Silver's magically enhanced eyesight gave us, but I doubt She liked what came next. I'm not sure I liked what came next either. Not now, at least.

I'm having second thoughts about whether the eagle had been obeying me, or just flying the same path by coincidence.

As the draconic monstrosity woke and surged towards us, I could see the faint glow of its mouth and nostrils before I could see the rest. That warning was only just enough, I think. The heat that spewed forth from its mouth a second later was incredible, and as I ducked down behind the rocky outcropping, I hoped none of my companions were feeling the full brunt of it. Nera's scream told me otherwise.

We'd seen a red dragon of this size before, in Enistels. We'd heard later about how it roasted hundreds of men and played a pivotal role in the fall of the castle and keep. We'd celebrated the defeat of its offspring - an immature bundle of scaly rage the size of a large dog. Somehow I didn't think the creature before me today was likely to be felled by a whack from my quarterstaff.

Her scream had echoed off the walls of the cavern, and she was doubled over in pain as she started to retreat. "Nera!", I called to her across the mental link, "The staff! Blast it with spells if you think it'll work, but if not, we'll need the staff!". Nera wasn't hanging around to do either. I snatched it out of the air as she threw it in my general direction, her main concern being to get the hell away from that dragon. "You do it then!" was all I got back.

I know it was only a second or two, but that moment seemed to stretch on for an age. Rifus was looking singed as he carried Silver away from the dragon, the burns on his face a testimony to the heat of the dragon's breath. Silver's dance had made her immune to the fire, but it would rip her to shreds if she tried to stand toe to toe with it, and good luck enchanting a dragon with spells. For that matter, it would probably have ripped Lester and me to shreds as well if we'd tried. Nera, our artillery, was in retreat. It was too big to fight. Too fast to run from. Too smart to outwit. It didn't seem like we had a choice.

The cavern was enormous, big enough for the dragon to spread its wings for short hops of flight, but the entrance-ways we'd just come through were much smaller, and it would probably have to squeeze through. Time seemed to slow down even more than usual as I activated my belt and retreated through the entranceway. Passing Lester as he rushed in the other direction, I told him to get out. He didn't listen, but that came as no surprise. Turning once I was through, I raised the Shadowstaff and remembered what Nera had taught me. Perha forgive me for what came next.

The dragon had turned its attention to Lester, and he surprised me by scoring a hit through its thick hide with his sword. He'd drawn it right to the mouth of the entranceway, such that it couldn't easily move any further towards without squeezing through carefully and slowly. As the magic flowing through the staff subtly changed, I pointed to the other side of the dragon.

It was bigger than I was expecting, and twice as horrific. As it reared up, it cleared the height of the dragon by several feet. It emanated evil and I didn't need my equipment to see it as undead. One of the Abarite books I’d read in Dandanagan had described a nightcrawler, and the author had clearly been scared of what he'd seen. But looking now, I wondered if that author's brain had purposefully forgotten some of the details, too disturbing to be remembered.

And worst of all, it was in my head.

The book had never said it was telepathic, like me. I mean, it makes sense in hindsight, as the telepathy I've gained seems to be an extension of my attunement to the shadow plane, and this thing was clearly born of that realm. But as it appeared out of the darkness with an echoing 'bamf' noise, I was almost too stunned to order it to attack when it asked me for my command.

The dragon was roaring in defiance and slashing and clawing at it with all it had, with barely a scrape, but the nightcrawler did little in return. Raising the Shadowstaff again, I concentrated once more. Lester ran past me as I did, both angry and bewildered. "TANC! WHAT. HAVE. YOU. DONE?!" he shouted.

"Saved our lives", I thought back at him, hoping it was the right answer.

As I kept concentrating, shadows poured out of the darkness, reaching for the dragon, their chill touch draining the dragon of its fighting strength. I'd felt that before from a shadow, and it felt good to be able to use it against a creature of evil. As the dragon tried to escape, the nightcrawler slammed it back down to earth, the once mighty draconic strength now too weak to push past. I revelled in its collapse.

Rifus and Nera were blasting the dragon repeatedly. Rifus was leaving holes in its hide that quickly oozed blood, and Nera was turning chunks of it into dust. Still, it fought on desparately. As Rifus scored a particular powerful shot in the creature's gullet, it started to retch and vomit, and I knew we had it on the ropes.

More shadows poured forth, swarming over the dragon like flies, and it seemed unable or unwilling to fight back against them. I didn't know why it wasn't trying to blast them with spells or swat them out of the air, but either way, my army was winning this war. The dragon gave one last wheeze as it slumped to the ground, all of the fight gone from it. Not even a minute had passed, and this mighty creature lay dead at our feet. The job was done.

While dragons may be solitary creatures, I was taking no chances. I strode into the cavern, the nightcrawler ahead of me, the shadows to my side. Finding nothing remaining, I sent the shadows into the walls, searching for tunnels and hidden passageways. Disappointingly, there was nothing left to fight. Knowing my creatures were about to disappear anyway, I reluctantly released them from service. They had served me well.

As they faded back into wisps of darkness, I was still giddy from the fight. I hadn't just been controlling the nightcrawler and the shadows. I was the nightcrawler, and the shadows, and they were an extension of my mind. They spoke to me and welcomed me and allowed me to use them as a conduit for destruction, for power. I felt like I could take on the world at that point; I could hunt down other dragons, or reclaim Celadia for Prince Davan, or change the world in any number of ways for the better. Then Lester came over to ruin the moment.

I expected it from him. I'd always expected it from him if any of us used the staff in battle, and his reaction was something I'd always factored in when considering the battle plans I'd worked on for the "worse case scenarios" that might force us to employ such a tool of evil. Lester and I have similar ideals for the world, and similar values that we strive to uphold, but the principle difference between us comes down to our methods. I made a vow to myself to uphold honour and justice and fight for the greater good, but I never vowed to keep my hands clean doing it.

Lester wasn't pleasant in his rebuke, and I wasn't pleasant in my response. I'd just saved his life, and probably the lives of everyone in the group, and this petty little man had dared approach a colossus to spit on its shoes.

At least, that's how I'd felt at the time. And I'm a little embarrassed about that.

As I handed the Shadowstaff back to Nera, some of the tension I'd been carrying faded within moments, and I lost most of the anger I'd felt. And within a few minutes, I was back to normal. And worried about what had happened to me. I'd not noticed it at the time; it felt right and good and proper to use evil's own tools to combat its creatures on this plane, and I had swelled with righteous might and power, but looking back, it seems a hollow victory now. Like it wasn't me that orchestrated the takedown, but rather it was the Shadowstaff acting through me instead.

I don't want to use it again. I mean, I will if we have to. And I'll gladly do it to save one of my friends from having to go through what I just went through. But... I don't want to. That thing needs to be destroyed. In the right hands, it's a powerful tool that carries the danger of corruption under a false veil of subservience. In the wrong hands, I shudder to think what damnable deeds will be committed in the name of conquest.

We're camped now in the dragon's lair, a mountain of treasure before us that we're sifting through and collecting. This will go a long way towards buying better enhancements for our equipment for the battles ahead, and I'm a lot more confident of our chances of success. But I'm still wondering if it was worth the price. I don't yet know if there's anything still lingering within me that I have to be worried about.

My neck got itchy, so I took the battered old choker off that Ianis had found for me many months ago, and re-read the inscription he'd written on it in Celestial. I felt like I'd let him down.

I apologised to Lester. It wasn't very well worded, and I've never been good at saying things in a nice way. But I hope he understands now that I feel the same way about that thing as he does. Never before have I been more determined to finish this mission before us. If the Shadowstaff needs to be destroyed, then so too does a God who had the arrogance and evil to create it in the first place.
Session: Game 5.05 - Sunday, Apr 29 2012 from 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM
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Time Paradox
I'm already dead. I sort of feel a bit stupid for try so hard to stay alive now.
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I hate trees!
I hate trees!
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Underground
Here we go. Underground again.
Why do people insist on building their lairs/dungeons underground? Just once I would like to go somewhere and venture in a nice place out in the sun.
When I build my dungeon or castle, its going to be big and tall and not even have a wine celler/basement. I will prove you can have a big scary place and not be all dark and gloomy. I hear the ladies appreciate seeing the sun too. So bonus!

Tell you what, the gravity in this place is really starting to do my head in. And my back. Think i might need to go and find a nice massage parlor (better keep that on the low down from the girls. They would just hit me and tell me I am a pig) when we hit the next big town. My back is killing me from not being able to land when the gravity changes or having my flight cut out from underneath me. Seriously, the guy who built this place is really starting to give me the. Well, lets just say I am not a happy warlock. I think Silver would say I am never happy. But thats not true. I am happy when she isnt hitting me.

One of these days I am sure I will be appreciated. Wont hold my breath. Will die and then Silver will probably just hit me and say, 'serves you right'. Dont really want to give her the satisfaction.

Gah! Women!

On a different note, almost forgot. Set some Koblods on fire!. Guess they are useful for something after all.

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Hanging On
“Don’t get hit by the coin,” Rifus spoke with a customary malicious glee that had both Nera and I indulging in our customary clip on the head – coordinated and entirely unintentional. As usual, Tanc managed to ignore him with customary dignity and stepped out onto the rickety bridge – though I couldn’t help but be amused to notice that he was casting his gaze around for the small copper coin that was teleporting madly around this fog-filled cavern.

As I watched Tanc make his cautious way across the kobold-constructed bridge, I marvelled again at how such a big man could be so graceful. And it wasn’t easy to be graceful while negotiating a wildly swaying bridge built by kobolds and presumably not designed to carry the weight of a man as big as Tanc. Still, there was a reason he always went first and this was it. If it held his weight, it would hold ours. That didn’t stop the three of us from holding tightly to the rope at our end, despite it being firmly anchored by a grappling hook.

Tanc stepped off the bridge at the other side and waved his free hand over his head – he was fine and anchoring the rope at the other end. I turned to the other two still on this side, but didn’t get a chance to ask the question before Nera was answering it,

“I’ll go next,” she said, “I want to see what type of dispelling affects this place has.” I gave her a blank look before remembering that her fly spell was still in affect. Technically, as long as I stayed close to her, which I had, it would affect me too. On the other hand...

“Have fun then,” I said with a wry smile. “No way am I tempting fate by having two of us out there at the same time.” She grinned at me with typical Nera over-confidence and, grasping the rope firmly in her hands, she floated out into the cavern. Not even Nera’s disregard for little things like personal safety could convince her it was a good idea to fly any higher than the barest degree above the swaying bridge. And it was just as well, because as soon as she moved forwards, the spell vanished and she landed with all the nimbleness of the cat she was on the bridge which wobbled horribly under her.

“Well, that answers that question,” Nera said cheerfully, grinning over her should at us as she clung tightly to the rope and made her way across the bridge. At the far side, Tanc reached out and grabbed her forearm, tugging her the last step off the bridge onto the ledge. With a sigh I turned to Rifus

“You go first,” he said – had today been deemed ‘Anticipate Silver Day’ and no one had thought to tell me? “I’m stronger than you, I’ll keep it anchored at this side. Besides, this way I can be on hand to save your ass.” He gave me a lecherous leer and I slapped him. Didn’t need a special day for that.

I stepped forwards and took up the rope in my hands, Nera waved cheerfully at me from the far side, clearly she didn’t consider this to be that tricky. And she had a point – if she could do it, then it should be easier for me – being shorter and lighter – more like one of the kobolds who had undoubtedly built this bridge in the first place. Sighing, I moved out on to the bridge.

Immediately I felt like I was riding a wild horse trying its best to throw me off. The bridge swung crazily about me. I inched forwards, clinging to the rope with a desperate strength. If only that was enough. I kept my eyes locked on Tanc and Nera and struggled forwards a couple more steps. My movements were jerky as I struggled to maintain my balance. I felt like I was balancing on a ball that wouldn’t stop bouncing and trying to walk it forwards with feet encased in lead. I stumbled over a broken wooden plank and felt the world spin around me. The bridge lurched up and down and up and down and I completely lost my balance. I felt the rope burn the palms of my hands and rip itself free from my grip as I plunged downwards towards the thickly swirling fog.

“Ahhhhhhh!” I screamed even as I made a desperate grab at the bridge itself and somehow managed to grab hold. It jerked me to a halt and I hung there, while Nera screamed somewhere to my left. Why was Nera screa- oh hell.

“Rifus get out there!” Tanc yelled across the cavern, staring upwards at my feet. I closed my eyes against vertigo and looked down – sure enough, I had fallen with my feet in the fog up to my ankles. And now they weren’t there any more. I swallowed hard.

“Hang on Silver! I’m coming!”

Instantly the bridge tried to rip itself out of my hands and I could hear nothing save a roaring in my ears. I was inside a whirlwind, that was the only possible explanation. Something, someone whipped past my head and I caught a brief glimpse of black cloak, it whipped up around my head and then was gone and the wind went with it. Somewhere over my head Nera was yelling at Rifus

“What the hell were you thinking?! You could have gotten yourself killed! You could have gotten Silver killed!” I couldn’t hear what Rifus said in response, the bridge was starting to wobble again and I was struggling to maintain my grip.

“Silver! Silver, let go!” I forced my eyes open and stared up at Tanc’s dark face underneath that silly hat of his. He had the rope tied around him and was balancing easily on the bridge. “Let go,” he repeated, “I’m right here, I’ll catch you.”

I don’t think he realises just how hard that is for me. To trust him. Screw it.

I let go.

There wasn’t time to think, not even time to scream, though the gods know I wanted to. I would have aimed for Tanc if I’d been able to see him, but the damn teleporting fog moved me so fast all I saw was a grey blur, then a dark blur, then I slammed into something solid that drove all the air from my lungs. I felt the bridge sway horribly as Tanc dropped to his knees, trusting in the rope to hold us both and keep us out of the fog, while he tightened his grip and held me close to him. He didn’t bother asking if I wanted to be put down, he didn’t bother waiting for the bridge stop swaying, he got right back to his feet and headed for safety as fast as the bridge could carry us.

Looks like I was wrong about how much weight it could hold.

I felt my feet touch solid ground and forced my eyes open. Funnily enough, having one’s feet teleported away from one’s body wasn’t a pleasant experience. Tanc was still behind me, but Nera and Rifus both stared anxiously at my face.

“I’m fine. I’m fine, let’s- let’s just go.”
Session: Game 4.15 - Sunday, Aug 21 2011 from 8:00 AM to 12:00 PM
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