Ash & War: The Last Days of Vrakis

Interlude 3
Winterfeast

Snow lay thick around Cazgarth Keep, shining bright in the moonlight. Delicate flickers of light from candle-lit windows in the little houses near the keep add a glow of peace and prosperity to the little settlement. It was the first winter after the Defiler's Downfall, and it had not been an easy season for the refugees of Vrakis. Scorched farmland, late sowing, and so so many dead. The rich, fertile land did not withhold her bounty, and the elves of Tal'Nnar shared the wisdom of foraging from the forests.

Petty thugs tried to harass the refugees who returned to Allden and Stonebridge, but Lady Izkierka and Temeraire Narrows were tireless in their refusal to let the land fall back into chaos. The young leadership of the elf realm, too, had learned the danger of total isolation and spent the passing months establishing sacred groves around the northland. Even the dwarves of Mogur'Rok, encouraged by the valor of the Wanderers in their shared battle against the Defiler's minions, softened their isolationist stance.

When the snows came, though, everyone nestled in close in their new homes. The Winter Feast in the new village of Cazgarth even drew Rhian and Rorge out from the Wayward Wanderer to celebrate. Homemade decorations brighten the doors and windows, and each house had its own roast bird, compliments of the Lady. A wagon drawn by a cranky mule arrived with several odd-shaped crates, and rolled into the keep. Later that night, around a roaring fire, Temeraire and Izzy looked at the goodies that Old Darastrix had acquired, and began labeling them with festive tags.

A lovely brass sextant, polished to a high sheen and glistening with magic for our dearest Rolen, so he can always find his way home. An intricate carving of a hawk, in ivory with tiny ruby eyes and metallic inlays of her feathers – For Ellirian; We Will Always Remember.

Footfalls in the hall caught their attention, and the pair leapt to their feet. "Eloquin! Welcome home! You're just in time to open your present!" Pulling apart the wrappings, the wizard finds a many-pocketed leather satchel with the fierce visage of an owl worked across one side. Rhian and Rorge joined them and opened their own gifts: a new set of chef's knives for the dwarf, and a beautiful set of combs and ribbons for the sorceress' thick and lustrous locks. Over mulled wine and roast pheasant, the five discussed the future of their lives working together in the territory. 

"Rhian? Rorge? How long can you stay? Eloquin and I have a lead on another Bleaktreader. We might be gone a tenday…."

"When are you two going to settle down long enough to make a baby?" Rhian elbowed Izzy with a wink and a giggle, and Temeraire blushed as the rest of the group burst into laughter. Talk and celebration went on late into the night, with more than a few tears shed for empty chairs around the fire. Temeraire wanders away from the others, staring into the fire for a while, fingers caressing the strings of his lute. "Don't worry," Izkierka nods, gazing at him. "He's composing, and thinking about Nicodemus."

Finally, the tiefling rouses. "Every year, friends, as many of us as can must gather here at Cazgarth and remember. We few, we happy few." Then he begins to strum and pluck and sing.

Lay back, lay back, go to sleep my friends
Wipe the blood from you face and your hands
Forgive yourself if you think that you can
Go to sleep, go to sleep my friends

Twenty-one days lost and wild I fought
For twenty-two years non-stop I've talked
Through the desert, pissed drunk, and confused I walked
I spit a tooth in the palm of my hand

Lay back, lay back, go to sleep my friends
Wipe the blood from you face and your hands
Forgive yourself if you think that you can
Go to sleep, go to sleep my friends

Well the wind and the trees are ganging up on me
They sing my funeral song in harmony
Well I just want to walk home on the drunk I need
But they keep singing and singing and singing to me
La, La, La, La, La, La (I hear them singing)
La, La, La, La, La, La (Singing for me)
La, La, La, La, La, La (Oh!)

Well I wish things were different, true, and deep
But everything that's so shallow is everything about me
If only I could just take all my money and leave
I hope the people on the ground will understand
I hope the people out there will understand

Lay back, lay back, go to sleep my friends
Wipe the blood from you face and your hands
Forgive yourself if you think that you can
Go to sleep, go to sleep my friends
La, La
Go to sleep, go to sleep my friends
La, La
Go to sleep, go to sleep my friends

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Epilogue
As the Dust Settles

As darkness falls over the Scorched Sands the stars above seem more vibrant this night. As the surviving Wanderer's look up into the great beyond the stars of a certain constellation seem to burn brighter than all the rest. If this is a new cluster of stars or just one that has never been noticed is unknown. The stars form a circle with four pinpricks of light within the center that looks to you all like the shape of a button, reminding the companions of a certain halfing who once said that he was a demigod.

Temeraire and Izkierka sit at the top of the ruined tower at Cazgarth Keep, sharing a quiet moment of dinner and wine. The tiefling glances up into the sky and gasps at the constellation, and tears begin to run down his face. "Izzy, look. Can you believe it?"

Rolen sits in silent contemplation of the newly made friend that he has lost. Looking to the sky he sees the seemingly new constellation and laughs out loud as he is even more reminded of his halfling friend. Pulling the dagger that he had lent Bygarth and eventually got back Rolen proceeds to shave his head to honor his fallen companion.

As Eloquin sits out among the stars, trying to figure out where to go next to rid this world of all the ancient bleak stuff, Solis pulls him from his books, compelling the wizard to look to the stars. Seeing the new constellation, Eloquin chuckles, then casts Silence Bygarth one last time…

As the Wanderer's being to go their separate ways for the time being they always get the feeling that something is nearby, watching over them. Wolf tracks can always be found nearby after breaking camp in the mornings, during the nights the distant howl of wolves can be heard, and on occasion the yellow glow of eyes just outside of the firelight can be seen vigilantly keeping watch.

About a week has passed since the battle out on the Scorched Sands where Darron Kellington, the man known as the Defiler, was defeated. Life is beginning to return to normal for the people of Vrakis. For now most of the Wanderer’s are off pursing their own endeavors, but they are sure to reunite once again. One evening as each fellow Wanderer settles into rest…

Rolen, the swashbuckling sun-elf, finds a small piece of wrapped cloth and a letter sitting on the bedside table of the room he has rented for the night. The letter reads, “Friend, it was an honor fighting alongside of you. I hope this is what you’re looking for. -B” Unwrapping the cloth Rolen finds a tarnished golden ring with a sailing ship etched across the band. Inside of the ring the name Hirat has been carved.

Eloquin Spiritshadow finds a letter and a piece of folded parchment tucked within the pages of his book that reads, “Friend, may this help you in your journeys to come. -B” Unfolding the parchment Eloquin finds a map dating back to the days of the old Arakanian Empire depicting different sites where the Bleaktreader’s conducted arcane experiments.

El'Lirian, the stoic wood-elf, finds a small box with a letter that reads, “Friend, I hope you’re still not mad. May this bring a smile to your face. -B” Opening the box Eli’Lirian finds his mother’s necklace thought to have been lost in the destruction of his home.

As Temeraire, the tiefling bard, and Izkierka are getting settled in bed, Temeraire notices something sitting on the desk across the room. In a beautifully carved wooden frame is a sketch of Temeraire as a child with his father, Nicodemus Narrows, which is signed in his mother’s hand. Lying next to the framed sketch is a note that reads, “I always respected you. I hope your marriage is going well. -B”

Next to this Izkierka, the dragonborn princess, finds a letter and a large long envelope with her name on it. “<s>Ma’am</s>. My lady, I hope this letter finds you well. You put up with a lot from me. I can only hope this helps make up for it. I pulled a few strings to get this. -B” Inside of the large envelope Izzy pulls out a fancy document with her father’s seal upon it. It reads, “Henceforth Temeraire Narrows shall no longer be a wanted man in our kingdom. Izkierka and Temeraire have my blessing and are welcomed to return to Maekrix as they see fit. Their marriage shall be recognized by all and the kingdom will once again be united and complete.”

Back on the docks Nala’shk finds a letter in her room. “Not a day goes by without me thinking of you. Your smile was a bright as the sun, your bravery as bold as a mighty eagle, your spirit as strong as a great giant. I will always remember you and your encouragement for me to be the best I could be. May everyone honor and respect you as you continue to lead your people to greatness. I hope this book brings a smile to your face. -B” Next to it is a book that appears to be a family history book recording all those who have lived before. This book was thought to be lost in the destruction of Tal’Nnar.

That night, as the Wanderer’s look up into the night sky the button shaped constellation appears to be missing for just little while. But after a few moments it appears again shining as brightly as ever.

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Episode 19
Companions and Nightmares

Season 1 Finale.

Having just spewed caustic acid from its gullet the black dragon dives back into the bloody red waters of the lake. Rolen quickly slathers healing salve on the acid scarred flesh of El'Lirian as Matron Aenwyn, calling upon the  green touch, taps into the primeval powers of the Old Vale sealing the wounds of the Wanderer's. The charging centaurs trample and cut down the remaining orcs on the floating bridge as our brave heroes make haste towards the gates of Laketon to the next battle, against the mammoths with orcs riding them.

That's when the dragon popped back up out of the water, grabbed the Matron in its jaws, and dove into the lake again. Renwick the elvish guard captain dove in after it, but the rest of us rushed for the gates, where we started to hear elvish horns blowing. We climbed the wall and saw Ellirian's father leading a troop of elves riding giant elk. Between them and the archers on the walls, the mammoths were eliminated and the battle was over.

When we saw the dragon fly away calmly, we knew the worst had happened. We hurried back to the docks to see Renwyck weeping, carrying the body of the Matron. Temeraire cried out to all the survivors, "Aenwyn Laeandal, Matron of the Elves of Tal'nNar, gave her life to drive off the dragon… to save your city! Honor her." He went to Renwyck and helped lift her up like an honor guard – several of the other Wanderers, along with Ellirian's father, did likewise. Then Nill'ashk was anointed the new Matron.

Ahanu Blackmane, one of the leaders of the centaurs, dragged forward the acid, scarred body of Khan Bloodhoof, ruler of the centaurs. Ahanu said, "Time and time again, the Khan threw himself at the walls of Laketon and could never enter. Now he will rest here within its walls forever."

Again, Temeraire cried out, "The Khan of the centaurs has fallen in defense of a city of men – let his sacrifice unite all the peoples of Vrakis against the darkness! Let his memorial in the center of Laketon be a symbol of the strength that comes when we fight together!"

Nill'ashk sent us almost immediately up to Fosston, the great city that gave entry to the Scorched Sands. We rode with her father on the giant elk. It took us two days to arrive, and the city was already under siege when we arrived. We spotted the tainted black griffon that the Defiler rides.

Even from there, we could already see a faint red beam of energy lashing out from the pinnacle of the great pyramid out in the Scorched Sands. Eloquin said, "We cannot wait for this battle. One city, or the entire world!?" So we went around the city, up the edge of the valley and out into the pyramid where we met Darren Kellington, the Defiler, once more.

Trenton screamed, "Stop this madness, Darren!" But I don't think the Defiler ever said anything. The fight began – the dilemma was whether to attack the Defiler or try to destroy the construct that was tearing a hole in the sky and allowing the Bleak (the Upside-Down) to pour into our world. The fighters started harassing the Defiler, while Eloquin and Temeraire and Izkierka started trying to use our magic to damage the construct – but it kept blasting our damage back at us. 

Eloquin used Magic Missile to knock the sword – the Claw of Tiamat – out of Darren's hand, but no one was ready to take it away and so he recovered it. You and I had an idea – I cast Heat Metal on it and it got so hot he was forced to drop it… you Mage Handed it into the beam of energy coming from the construct! That disrupted the beam and created a huge tremor that started shaking the pyramid apart. The debris was being sucked UP into the rift being opened, as were all the combatants. So we're riding chunks of temple, up into the sky, trying not to get sucked into the beam, trying to disrupt its effect before some ginormous clawed hideous thing came down out of it. Bleak Lightning is blasting out of it, catching people and just blasting them, The Defiler and his griffon dove INTO the beam and its magic melded them together into a hideous Griffiler monstrosity. Trentan and Rolen ended up diving into the beam to try and fight them inside it. Rolen made his CON save but Trentan was liquified. We casters started just blasting magic at the rift itself, trying to do enough damage to disrupt and overwhelm it before it became stable and permanent. Caszer leaps off of his chunk of temple and sinks his axe into the Griffiler. Ellirian is just pelting it with arrow after arrow, finding weak spots where the two forms had been monstrously joined. Bygarth gets blasted unconscious by a burst of bleak lightning after being attacked by the Griffiler. I'm blasting it with Thunder energy, you're hitting it with Lightning Orbs, Eloquin is popping off Fireballs. Finally, with your last Sorcery point, you Twin Fire Bolt and Eloquin pops off one more spell, and together your magic finally overwhelms the portal. Darren looks out at us, and the bleak blackness drops from his eyes and the mournful piercing blue appears again. "I'm sorry," he mouths, before being sucked upward and disintegrated attacking the great horror that was trying to come through the rift. A mighty beamquake ripples forth as the portal closes, and we all start to plummet downward. Caszer is nowhere to be seen – we assume he was destroyed by the beam. Bygarth's body is shattered by the impact and the debris. The impact nearly kills Rolen as well, but he survives. Temeraire, Izkierka, Ellirian, and Eloquin are able to leap from one chunk of rubble to another on the way down (quality Acrobatics checks with Bardic Inspiration) and survive with little damage from the fall.

We return to our keep and build memorials to Bygarth and Caszer. Rolen returns home – he hasn't seen his family in 30 years. the rest of the survivors continue putting things to rights in Vrakis… until Season 2 (TBD)

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Episode 18
Sound of Thunder
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Episode 17
Blood in the Water
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Episode 16
The One Armed Man
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Episode 15
Weapons of War
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Episode 14
Ghost in the Tower
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Episode 13
Daring Escape
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Episode 12
Bronze Imperium
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