Athos: The Return

Session XXXI: Deliverance
Chapter 31: Deliverance

Excerpt from “Random: An Autobiography”

Now this is where it gets good. There they were, my own kin, following the strange rituals required to become an Archknight of The Church of Athos Dominus. After they told me what happened, really I think it was all just excessive. But I’ll leave the good part to the end, first let me explain what I was doing during their time in the Cathedral.

My brother Marik and I spent this time at the construction of our stronghold. Ensuring the proper use of materials and that everyone spent their time working. We received reports of strange storms brewing over the The Elysian Mountains and a complete stop of merchants travelling through them. Reports also included tales of a monstrous dragon flying over the land, resting in the mountain caves. Confident that we could deal with the dragon problem, Marik and I headed out to see what we could find. Any dragon we could find should be no problem for a powerful combination such as ourselves.

We spent several weeks exploring the local caves, with no luck. Locals in small towns told us tales of a monstrous beast flying across the ground leaving havoc in its wake, but we could find no trail of destruction nor learn of any specific deaths the dragon had caused. After over a month of a fruitless searching, we finally came upon charred cattle, killed from local livestock. A dragon’s fire had done this, no mistaking it. With this clue, we quickly located the only cave nearby that could house such a beast. We went during the day, blades in our hands and our eyes and ears alert for any sign of danger. Quite understandably, after a few moments of this I became bored and began to shout. “If there’s a dragon in here, come on out and let us get this over with!” Marik smacked me in the back of the head for the comment, but when we heard the footsteps of what could only be the dragon, it proved my tactics were quite good. We moved towards the sound, ready for battle. A sharp breath, and for a moment I felt my own mortality. Death for a demigod is not a rare instance as it once was, and I remembered my fallen brothers and those gone missing. To be slaughtered in their own home… An atrocity we would not allow Nox to get away with.

Before I could focus once more, I heard an voice that could only belong to a dragon’s tongue. “This could not be random.” It came from behind us, and we spun around to see a large creature, silhouetted in the cave. Two large dragon feet stepped forward, green scales covering the creature’s feet. He echoed his former comment, but this time there was unmistakable glee in his voice. “This could not be Random!” The dragon stepped forward into the light of our torches, and I calmed Marik. For the dragon before us was none other than Gorbash! He and I ran and embraced, much to Marik’s confusion until I filled him in. Together, the three of us left the cave and returned to the stronghold, with Gorbash explaining his story on the way.

You see, after our brother Vondal was captured by Vinsanthius, Gorbash flew off. My petrified body was left where Gorbash had last seen The Party, and he left to find his brothers and inform them of what had occurred. He spent many months trying to locate them, and eventually became disillusioned with his tracking abilities and settled in the mountain caves of The Frozen Coast. During his time, he did his best to learn the location of the demigods, as he had sworn a hundred years of servitude. However, since he lacked the ability to speak in the common tongue, he spent months flying above the cities of man and learning how to speak their language. He lived off of wild creatures of the land as well as rarely turning to cattle when hunting became too sparse. Finally after many months, Marik and I met him in his cave and we returned to the stronghold.

Now, I apologize for my lengthy explanation of my own adventures during this time. But to be fair, I think they were more exciting. That twist at the end? Masterful. Anyway, back to my brothers and sister in the Cathedral. Having just defeated the challenge of the spiders, they moved deeper down the cathedral’s chambers. Each set of stairs seemed longer than the last, bringing them far beneath the city above. As they descended onto the third trial, the party was filled with confidence. And on the third level, another puzzle faced them. Three specters stood in the room before them, A knight stood in one corner, his armor dented and rusted, but in his eyes his spirit still shined through. A beautiful maiden stood in a second corner, her long blonde hair flowing down past her lower back. Her green dress matched her eyes, filled with sorrow from deeds long past. And in the third corner stood a great bear, with blood sticking his hair in patches around his body and ferocity in his face. After some discussion with the knight and the maiden as well as Oberon using his instinctive Pixie nature to speak with the bear. It became clear that if left alone together, the knight would kill the bear, and the bear would do likewise to the maiden. The Padros appeared and told them that with seven moves, they needed to bring all three to the final door. With some quick thinking, the party was easily able to surpass the third challenge of the Padros. Onward they moved, down further into the Cathedral.

In the fourth room, a great golem stood. The creature’s stone body stood still, with a glowing key floating in the center of his chest in a great gap. The golem braced itself behind its great claymore, and spoke a riddle to the party. “You have but one word to solve. I have a riddle. Greater than Athos, Nox’s failure. This controls the luck of the dice and weakens slavers. A gnome’s love and fear, inside lies a ring. Do you know the answer to my riddle?” My brothers and sister stood stumped. They took a seat and began to discuss the possibilities. Freedom was mentioned as a possibility, as well as death. However, after quite some time, Simon Bloom’s eyes lit up. “Of course! It’s so obvious!” Standing before the golem, Simon spoke his answer. “Yes.” The golem clutched his claymore in one hand, and forced his other arm through his chest, removing the key and dropping it before Simon. With this last act, he collapsed and the party moved evermore forwards, descending deeper into the tasks of the Archknights.

Their fifth task was their most complex. I remember that this moment stuck out in my brother Anatolius’ mind. His fury lasted for weeks afterwards. In the fifth chamber stood an elderly man in the gear of an Archknight, a long white beard growing down from his face. A pile of nails and screws covered in rust sat in one pile, and a well with a small bucket a few steps away and a pile of sand sitting by its own end. The man approached the party, “You must be archknights like myself. I have been lost in this mad tunnel for so long, I can no longer keep track of time. Please help me. In order to pass, we must separate all the screws from the nails, drain the well of water using only this small bucket, and move the pile of sand grain by grain across the room. In this way, together we will pass on to the final two challenges.” With looks of disdain in their eyes, the party slowly set themselves to these menial tasks. Time ticked by, with barely any progress being made. After some time wasted, tempers flared. My brother Anatolius’ temper got the best of him, and he attacked the Archknight. Empowered by their attempts to triumph at his tasks, the Archknight took the form of a ferocious beast, and a great battle ensued. Fueled with fury and fervor, the once Archknight stood no chance, and was quickly eliminated. Two chambers remained, and each seemed to pose a greater challenge than the last.

In the sixth chamber down, three statues of great devils stood. The Padros’ illusion appeared once more, telling my siblings that this room was designed to test an Archknight’s capabilities to battle devils should they ever arise on the Realm of Athos. With that he disappeared, and a devil stepped forth from each of the statues. As every minute passed, another devil would step forward from the statues. When their spawn was slain, the statues became vulnerable and eventually were destroyed. In this way the sixth challenge fell to my brethern. And only one more barrier stood between them and the power source below them, their hopes of finding the fourth of The Great Urns grew stronger every minute. They descended down the final flight of stairs, ready for anything.

The final descent was the longest. At least three stories worth of stairs if not more. By now, the party reckoned they were deep below the Realm of Athos. When they reached the final room at last, three doors faced them rather than one. The illusion of the Padros appeared once more and spoke to them. “Enter through the center door, and Athos awaits you,” And with that, he faded away. The three doors slowly opened themselves, with distinct rooms behind them. The door further to the left held a horde of treasure. Piles of gold coins laid amist gems and armor glowing with enchantment. The door to the far right was filled with men and women in a variety of seductive clothing, and quite a few without. Each with a body that would drive a mortal wild, they stood beckoning to the party. And within the center door, spinning blades. Five layers, each spread just over a foot away from one another. “What is this? What does the Padros want from us?” Anatolius was furious. How could they have come so far just to have the illusion of the leader of a false religion tell them to kill themselves? If it was going to happen, it would not be at the whim of such a lowly thing, Debate ensued. What could this be? Had they failed the past trick of the Archknight and were being punished with death? The Padros’ words of ‘Athos awaits’ were just as likely to mean in death as anything else. But as time wound onwards, my brother Oberon showed his faith in our father. “I will attempt to sneak beneath the blades, I am easily small enough to do so. When I return, I’ll let you know what lays behind this cursed door.” And with that, Oberon flew to the door and landed, and began his slow crawl beneath the blades. Hearts began to beat faster and faster, and a were met by a cry of anguish. Just a few inches within the door, great flames erupted, engulfing the small Pixie body of Oberon. The flames raged, and when they settled nothing but the spinning blades remained, the body of Oberon far out of sight.

Despair. Disbelief. Taken from them before their own eyes, Oberon’s light was extinguished. That Oberon could be lost so easily, unbearable. The party discussed what could have happened to him, that our brother has been lost. Simon Bloom took the next step. “Whatever happened to Oberon, I will seek to test these blades and flames. Powerful magic is all over this Cathedral, maybe this is nothing more.” And with that, my brother Simon reached his hand towards the blades, attempting to get a sense of them. Anatolius’ eyes flashed, for as Simon’s finger reached out for the serrated blade it caught, and his entire body was pulled in. Blood and flesh splattered across the room, chunks of body hitting Anatolius and Valenae. “That’s it! Athos be damned, I have no other choice.” And with that, Anatolius walked through the blades, and Valenae shortly after. As his eyes met the blades head on, Anatolius felt his body being pulled forwards, and stumbled for a moment, as he fell through the illusionary blades. On the other side sat Oberon and Simon, patiently having been waiting. “It seems this was an illusion. One last test of faith for the would-be Archknights.” Anatolius nodded, his eyes understanding. “And so this last door is what awaits us.” Past the hallway where they sat stood a final door. Engraved was the marking of The Great Urns, seen before on the floor of Golagoraraxx. The party gathered themselves and prepared, and pulled open the door to reveal the great secret of The Church of Athos Dominus.
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No one could have been prepared for what came next. With the door pulled open, the party moved forward into a large square room. The walls shined a solid white marble, gleaming. But more than anything was the center of the room. No really, I do mean more than anything. Because in the center of the room was our father, Athos. The Creator of All, the One God. And they felt his presence, raw power that hadn’t been sensed in over six millennia. If I had been there I could hope that I would’ve seen him for what he was, but truth be told not even our Athosian brother Oberon could tell, and he knew our father better than I could. Stunned silence filled the room, and behind them the door faded away into nothingness, and they were left with nothing but our Father before them. “Hello again my children.” Oberon spoke first, “Father, what are you doing here? I don’t understand.” Our Father then made his aspirations quite clear. It seemed that his choice of Nox was a test, for the true ‘chosen one’ to rise to the challenge. Athos made it seem like Nox’s Reckoning was supposed to be stopped by one of us! That we should’ve known what was going to happen and stopped him. Athos called us all failures for our inability to stop our brother Nox. In a fiery rage, Oberon lashed out. Six thousand years without our father hurt him, he was the most devoted of all of us. Athos’ words cut him deep, and he spoke in a manner that I have never heard of from him before. His words blasphemous, he accused our Father of causing everything. “If we were supposed to defeat him why didn’t you tell us? You chose him and granted him a power we couldn’t hope to challenge. You cannot possibly think this our fault!” My brother’s words raged against our Father, and before he could say more, an unlikely addition stepped on to the scene. Vinsanthius. Our traitorous brother who declared war on us and revoked his divinity in the eyes of The Church. He stepped forward with his head bowed, unaware he was not alone. “Father, I have done as you asked. What is it you require next?” He looked up, and clearly was shocked by who he saw before him. The Party ignored Athos for a moment and moved their interrogation to Vinsanthius. What was he doing here? Why did he not reveal this secret if he had known before? How dare he believe this to be our father! As the party spoke with our brother, Athos spoke several injections but was abruptly shouted at by Oberon at every turn. Between chokes of anger, Oberon found the reason in Vinsanthius’ heart. “This could not be our Father. He was so much greater than this.” And Vinsanthius nodded. Without missing a beat, the second best humored of us all Simon Bloom, The Not-As-Good-At-Jokes-As-Random burst forward. “So long then Father. Let’s see how you like this.” A blast of dagger hurled forward at our Father, who raised his hand in protest. The daggers passed through and Athos’ image shattered as if it were on a breaking mirror. And in his place, stood a large Urn. The fourth seen by us, the Urn of Deception.

It pleaded with them for a few moments, called itself an Urn of Truth, but its ploy had already been defeated. They began to test it, to see what knowledge could be drawn. It pleaded with them, but when our brother Simon summoned Spirit Fuel before him, the Urn lashed out at it. The spark from Simon’s hands collided violently with the Urn, and the power of the Urn began to teeter on detonation. Our brother Simon spoke with haste, “Look. I can guess the answer already but Big Stormy can stop this. If I can promise your compliance in saving his two brothers, he will stop the Urn’s explosion and save the lives of all those in this city. I don’t know if we have another choice.” Anatolius spoke up next, “There is always a choice. Tell that damned storm that we can solve this on our own.” Quickly, a plan was forged to contain the power the Urn was about to unleash. Surrounding the Urn on all sides, my siblings held their hands against the Urn, bracing for its explosion. Vinsanthius stood with them as well, although he had no Spirit Fuel with which to enhance himself. And with one burst of energy, the Urn erupted and the party fell unconscious.

When they awoke, several things had changed. First, the once glorious marble room they stood in before was now pitch black stone. Once Oberon’s light illuminated the room, it was clear that Vinsanthius was no longer the same man he had been. The pulse of Spirit Fuel now pumped through his veins, and although his power did not equate ours, it was equal to how we began after the Urn of Power. Once reoriented, they began to leave from the depths of the Cathedral. Yet after one flight of stairs, they emerged to the basement. A second set of stairs brought them to what was once the Cathedral Proper,
yet now was much more bleak. Rather than lavish tapestries and works of art, the Cathedral was now an empty stone carcass, like a giant cave. As they walked outside, it became clear that the Urn had projected an illusion above the Cathedral for thousands of years, and was responsible for all of its lavishes. Yet the city outside remained unchanged, except for the myriad of Wanted posters with our faces on them. Each promised the huge reward the Padros had mentioned. And there they were, in the center of a city seeking them to no end. At first a few looks, then many. It seemed clear that the city was ready to overtake them and claim the reward.

But thankfully, this is where I come in. On the back of Gorbash I rode, with deliverance in my stride. We landed in the town square. “Come on then. What are you waiting for?” I shouted to my brothers and sister who gracefully thanked me and joined Gorbash and I. As we flew off into the sunset, they shared their stories with me and I did so with mine. Uncertainty lingered however, if Vinsanthius stands with us now, then what will happen on the 9th of Pix? Could Golagoraraxx have been mistaken? Or had we misinterpreted his words? Regardless we rode, and they set their eyes for the first time upon our new home, Titan’s Hold.

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Session XXX: Bordering on Paranoid
Chapter 30: Bordering on Paranoid

Excerpt from the ramblings of a once mentally healthy Simon Bloom

I hate this city. How many bad things can happen before we end up leaving it a smoldering pile of ashes? That would probably be easier, and considering the circumstances may be inevitable. What with Vinsanthius converting above us and there being a pretty good chance an Urn is below us, it’s difficult to imagine any other outcomes. But we came all the way here and there’s no way I’m turning back now. There’s only one other gate leading down, and for some reason the key is right there staring me down. No magic, no traps; just a door and a key. It took us ten minutes to open that gate. We lead pretty strange lives so excuse our suspicions when things are too easy.

Fun Fact #1: Arch-Knights are given their position by completing 7 trials of strength and wit and then absorbing the nigh incomprehensible power of a piece of pottery quite likely as old as our plane itself.

Fun Fact #2: This all takes place under a church with one door.

Fun Fact #3: Fun Fact #2 may not be true if we have to blast our way out of here.

Oh right, I should mention that our source is an illusion of the Padros that appears in the room under that suspicious gate. Our suspicions were still not vanquished though; by our usual standards this still appears too easy. We have a quantifiable amount of challenges that are designed to be difficult for mortals, and the reward is something we’re all already half way to mastering. Is Nox laughing in a closet at the end? Will he jump out and say, “I can’t believe you guys fell for that!” Big Stormy would never let me live that one down, would you? Well that was rude. Sorry this mental connection thing is really difficult to deal with.

Anyway, the first trial was the silly, old riddle of the doors behind the honest man and the liar. One can only tell the truth, the other can only tell lies and each have a door behind them, of which one is the correct door. Literally so silly and so old that I could not for the life of me, which is immortal, remember. Lucky Anatolius was able to figure it out. You ask which door the other would point to and go into the opposite. I’m not going to bother explain why because it’s silly and old.

So that was one trial over and it was relatively easy. We didn’t have to kill anything so I’m going to chalk that up to the best experience I have had in the last 14 or so days. Of course the next trial wasn’t so peaceful. Thankfully we had to fight giant spiders; I doubt anyone would hate us for that “crime.”

That went as expected. Violence, poison, some great show of power by yours truly. We came, we saw, we moved on rather quickly. If the rest of the trials to the Urn are this easy, then we will begin to border on paranoid.

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Session XXIX: Facilis Descensus
Chapter 29: Facilis Descensus

Anatolius awoke. Dust danced in the light that stretched across the wall against the bed floating from shadow to shadow. They sparkled and flew like comets, constructing vast nebulae out of dust and skin and decay. The room smelled of sweat and metal. Anatolius wet his cracked lips and closed his eyes. One more moment.

Anatolius, his feet sticking with each step against the floor, strode stiffly to the small black sack heaped against the corner of the room and reached inward. He felt around and gripped his hand tightly around soft fabric and thrust it from the bag. With an almost cursory wave it emanated smells of baking bread, frying bacon, and a citrus so pungent Anatolius wondered whether the mechanism had birthed an entire lemon grove. Rather, a pot of lemon tea graced the centre of the table, the water clashing like spears against the iron kettle. A feast.

The party descended upon the food, ate, and debated. The meal was tasteless, the company unpleasant, and the talk heated. Anatolius stared out the window. Below a woman sang the Fall of Prythi, “Bones and Bones breed flowers at dawn, though all of the keepers are gone are gone.” Anatolius recalled Trexterios’ account of Prythi. When the pixies fell from the sky, it was ‘as if the sky cried blood.’ Trexterios, supposedly the last seer to leave Sysitar, said that he stepped through crunching fields of bodies that had be eroded against the ground by the feet of frightened giants.

“It is decided.” Oberon said gruffly, his eyes only staring at his crumb. And so it was. Their failure- my failure- would cost us the riskier path. Through the enemy. Into the heart of the Holy Ward and a den of the five-fingered lions. The only hope was luck. Disguise was futile, but our ending choice. We donned minor covers and took to the paved streets of Old Vulturnus and towards the Cathedral. Dufflmyer no more.

Time Passes.

And Passes.

Time means nothing to the immortal, but Anatolius felt mortal. And it terrified him. Once, perhaps, Anatolius envied the fleeting. He valued death. The short life.

This life. Watching people die. Making people die. That wasn’t death. No, Anatolius thought, it is only elongated suicide.

At the Cathedral, we concealed our repertoire of mythos that hung from each of us like jewels from a whore. Each was a tale and each had been told to death. Perhaps the two were not so unlike.

Within, we took our seats and watched with bated eyes towards the ends of the sepulchre where marbled stairs led into darkness, obscured by the holiest blackness of Athos. From it, as if breeding taint, rose Vinsanthius, The Defiled Blade. Chosen to fall, he never quite hit the ground.

In haste, as the hall lay full, Anatolius and Valynae had followed Simon Bloom and Oberon who had pushed ahead to a closer row. Anatolius saw each mark on his worn face. Anatolius wondered if Vinsantius too felt the weight of age and war. Perhaps the Earth made raw was not what he desired. His eyes looked out onto the audience and, with the assurance he was always graced to have, lifted his hands over the crowd and gave himself to the lions of his own will. Each word he spoke was like shedding meat. Behind him, the Padros smiled with the teeth of a glutton. The Athori too licked from the blood that dribbled through the air. They lions gobbled down and choked up the tender speech in wanton voracious feasting.

In his speech he had conceded our power to them. By decree we were made Enemies of Athos, the Conclave was dissolved, and in a moment the Demigods were no more. A once powerful title, rendered sullied by its own feet. Anatolius stared blankly into Vinsanthius’ eyes. He would not break them. When he finished, he, the Padros, and the Athori filed out of the room into the right wing of the Cathedral. And down. Down

The demigods looked at each other in the pew. Descend it was. They peered into the darkness and in the general egress made their way across the marble floors textured with open hands ready to clench. The demigod was many things in the stories and tales of mortals. One of Anatolius’ favourites was when they were “like spectres,” appearing and disappearing into the lives of heroes and heroines at a word. Hard to live up to, but not impossible. A stair case would be nothing. And they descended.

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Session XXVIII: The Tale of the Rat Tail's Inn
Chapter 28: The Tale of the Rat Tail's Inn

A tale, a tale of the Rat Tail Inn,
whence our Comedy from arose.
Our tricky tongues,
our lengthy prose,
abandoned for this tune,
of blazing fists and hearty laughs
what bellowed from our soul.
The slapstick night,
blaze of inferno’s blight,
that comedy of flight.

Aye, tis true, that there are gods among you,
cloaked in light, or bound in leather
could even be your great-aunt Heather!
But these true children,
though they be,
the heroes greatest sprung from you and me,
err hard too, and god or men,
not everything is left to end.
For time may take and reap and sew
but it cannot erase what we’ll always know,
that the tongues of fools and heroes alike,
are equally immortal.

It began, to tell you,
on one hazy night when tired,
ill, and storm-stricken,
our heroes wandered in.
Along the streets,
Vulternian heat,
the summer drifted by.
Doofelmyer they call me.
Dingus, Dulfus, Drexel, and Claude.
Papers printed, notes well forged
the Doofelmyer’s fortune in gold.
It let them pass through plague-rotted pastures,
and through the marshes to the Sovereign’s hill
the gate then opened to their thrill.

Beyond the castle, into the Quarter,
And there he sat, that mad blue
god and pondered to himself.
His brother lost,
the battle strained,
nothing in this world was gained
from the flash of lighting,
roaring thunder,
Simon Bloom’s electric wonder.
And so he sat quite close to bursting
when suddenly a drifting spark
struck Oberon right in the butt,
and laughing now just by the window,
Valenae slammed her face into a pillow.

If I could relate to you,
The dreaded stare,
the beams of light from Anatolius’ flaming hair,
radiating burning passion
oh Athos was he ready t’ levy a thrashin’.
And like a drunken tavern wench
who sees her man a huntin’,
reins him in and twists his balls,
sends all her patrons groanin’.
Bootstraps flutter,
not a mutter,
the fire god stood up,
grabbed his kin and tossed them out,
“We’re going to the inn.”

What inn you say?
That famous inn,
the one that scurried away.
The one, it’s said,
down by the harbour,
that moves from place to place.
Never here and seldom there,
it’s known to all who go.
The fighting games!
The golden ale!
The infamous Rat Tail Inn!

They’d heard the story,
had no worry,
and traced the cobbled streets.
At the portal,
over one hurdle,
a burly Vulturnian said:
“Who is here, at the Rat Tail’s Inn,
garbed in such fine metals? Here
for the fights? If bets are right,
you could lose more than just
your steel.”
A steady laugh by fair Valenae,
and then they knew it true.
The story the old barkeep told,
seemed surly then that it would hold.
“A fight,” he said, “to test your metal.
Bare fists, and feet, and breasts are
level.” He sputtered with drunken
slur, eyes levelled. “And then,”
he said, “you’ll get your way,
and meet the Spider. You’ll
get your way.”

And so within the demi’s sat,
with beer and meat and feet laid back.
As Sister Valenae stepped on stage,
and with her golden arms undrapped.
Her flowing breasts,
my Athos, yes,
such sights as drive men mad.
But say no more and speak no evil,
lest there be some greater upheaval.
And then her opponent, large with hair,
some say his mother was a bear.
But so it goes, as heaven knows,
one swing was all it took.
And down he went, silent as death,
Simon Bloom had made a mint.

So down then went into the lair
of the Spider woman, Proud
and rare. And when Valenae crossed her
eye, her vision drifted rather far.
A blush of rouge, oh if he knew,
Anatolius might have ceased to rush,
but so it was and he had had it,
the day was over before it was through.

As she flirted, knowing much,
Anatolius continued in a rush,
demanding knowledge asking such
that finally, she’d had enough,
and spider woman though she be
angered a god and shot one off
just by the face of Anatolius.
And just like that her goon
was ash and fire blew the
passion up.
And in a flash of blackened smoke,
the prideful demigod sat dumbfounded,
left alone he was confounded. The
Rat Tail’s Inn, went up in smoke,
and dismal was how all things looked.

And running back after the crook,
whom angry Anatolius never took
the party livid, morale below,
oh Anatolius, sinking ever low.
And in his wrath and utter failure,
of course the tale turns into murder,
when cornered in an abject ally
more men were added to the tally.

A note, it said, left in the morning,
told the Doofelmyer’s to get packing.
And in his wrath, at the Spider’s words,
Anatolius marched them out again.
A futile band they made.
And when Deus Doofelmyer found his mark,
oh my was it a sight.
A legless man, an armless man,
a tiny, rolling stump.
Tortured high and tortured low,
a Doofelmyer day.

Simon sick, Oberon wept,
and Valenae didn’t say.
It just kept going, never stopping,
Anatolius cut away.
When it ended,
left in the trash,
their dignity and fame.
A tiny man, made tinier now,
the Doofelmyers reign.

A tale, a tale, of the Rat Tail’s Inn.
The Doofelmyer’s reign.
Drenched in blood or wet with gold,
they’ll always rue the day.
Never forget, sing of the day,
of Doofelmyer’s birth and decay.
The moral high road,
always low,
the Rat Tail’s Inn will show,
that never from the tongues
of gods will ring their lowest
moments. But from your
faithful bard, do trust,
that never shall it die in us.
The tale, the tale of
the Rat Tail’s Inn.
Never shall it die.

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Session XXVII: Bystanders Beware
Chapter 27:Bystanders Beware

“I’m putting my faith in you.” Simon Bloom looked at his brothers and sister, and took up the crackling ring that lay on the floor. “No!” A cry of despair raged out from Anatolius, but it was too late. The ring had been placed on Simon’s finger. A crackle of lightning shot up his body, and he twisted and contorted, the lightning travelling up and through his body. The ring became a burn on his finger, and the image traveled up his arm leaving a scar of a great storm across his arm. Pressure pushed against the inside of Simon’s eyes, and after what seemed like ages it stopped. New power flowed through him, and the position of Herald of the Storm was filled once again.

“Take your gold and leave now. I will return Thunder to you in three days’ time.” The Oncoming Storm remained above the party, now with Simon by his side. With disgust, Anatolius turned and left immediately, while Oberon and Valenae took the treasure of the room and left, leaving Simon with his new master.

The next three days of travel were painfully silent. Simon Bloom’s new position had many possible aspects, and the loss of his pure freedom worried the party. Anatolius in particular had difficulty with his brother’s choice. After all, if we sacrifice our freedom, then what do we have left? The three remaining party members faced a journey simple in travel, but with thoughts heavy on their minds. While they passed several Ice Giants and creatures of lightning, the minions of the Storm let them pass by without a second glance as was promised. After a long three days passed, the party had nearly reached the edge of the mountains. Determined to push through the night to camp outside of the mountains, they pushed onward. As the moon began to rise high into the sky, a cloud formed above the party, high in the sky. A great bolt of lightning crashed down from the sky, striking the ground next to the party. Momentarily blinded, they blinked their eyes to eventually see their brother Simon returned to them. A few short words were exchanged, with Simon telling little about what he had experienced and only that he had gained new power. Still upset over what had occurred, Anatolius urged them to push on to the edge of the mountains. Late into the night they arrived, and there they made camp.

“By my estimates, we should be able to reach Sovereign’s Port by the twenty fourth, one day before the Day of Flowers. Let us press on.” Oberon’s words encouraged the party, since they had not expected to have the holiday on their side. The next several days of travel through The Arrows were relatively simple, until they encountered a small town where a man came running to them. “Please,” he cried, “I need help! My sister and her husband are trapped in the town of Ridge to the north, you must help them!” After a few questions, the party learned that a quarantine had been laid down onto the town by The Church of Athos Dominus due to a rise of undead. “We have no time for this, we must leave.” Anatolius had the party’s approval, and they left the man to seek another hero to save his family.

During their travel through The Arrows, they encountered several towns that seemed to be under quarantine like Ridge. While this concerned them, time was of the essence, and on the third Valean of Athostus, they arrived at Sovereign’s Port.

“State your names and your business!” A guard shouted down to the demigods, and for a moment they were dumbstuck. But quickly, they weaved an excellent tale and fooled the guards with their well spun words. “We are the Dufflemeyer family, merchants travelling from Meridem. We are here to celebrate the Day of Flowers!” Anatolius’ words stuck true on the guard, who responded to them, “Very well. Just show us your merchant papers and you’ll be on your way.” A momentary stop, simple for the demigods to overcome with their wit. “They’ve been stolen, unfortunately. Bandits!” The guard fell straight for the Dufflemeyer plot. “Don’t worry. If we see another person enter with your papers, they’ll be arrested on the spot.” And with that, the party entered the city.

The Red Dragon Inn took the party in, but informed them that they were full. The innkeep asked for their name, to check for a reservation. Lo and behold, the Dufflemeyer family had a room for five reserved for a week, paid in advance. The party retreated to the Dufflemeyer’s room, and planned to seek out the priest Laiko, a close friend of the Padros, and interrogate him to learn what they could. With their plan set, they headed off towards Laiko’s church.

During their walk to the chapel, they passed by the front gate where they could hear a man shouting. “I’m Dufflemeyer I tell you! Dufflemeyer!” The guards’ voice shouted back, “Sure you are! We already have the real Dufflemeyers in here. To the prison with you, bandit!” The party quickly moved away from this occurrence.

Arriving at the small chapel, the party entered and saw only three different persons praying silently. A young Human boy, a teenage Half-Elf girl, and an older High-Elf. The party split to ask the patrons to leave. “Please miss, we are clearing the chapel to prepare for a special service tonight.” Oberon’s words were easily accepted by the young Half-Elf, and she thanked him for his kind words, finished her prayer and left. Anatolius went to the young boy, telling him a similar story and asking him to return home. “But sir, I have no home. My parents are dead.” Without dropping a beat, Anatolius responded by handing him a single coin. “Too bad.” And with that the boy left, leaving only the High-Elf man.

Simon Bloom gave him the same speech that had been given, asking him kindly to leave. “But sir, isn’t there supposed to be mass soon? If you need any assistance preparing, I would be glad to help!” The High-Elf offered his assistance, but Simon turned him down. “Have I met you before? I am Elian.” Simon introduced himself as a Dufflemeyer, which instantly drew Anatolius’ attention. The Azure Inferno came up the man, and began asking him things. What does he do here? His profession? “Well sir, my name is Elian and I am but a simple tailor in these parts. I learned from my father in Elandir. I sell clothing to the middle class man or woman, clothes fancy for the less fortunate, but common place for the wealthy. I enjoy this chapel in particular because Father Laiko is such a great man. He helps me connect to Athos in a way I never have before.” And now learning his story, Anatolius summoned shadows from the ground, climbing up Elians body and down his throat, suffocating him and dropping his body, once full of life, to the ground. Anatolius then took his body to the confessional, and looked at Simon. “You can’t use the name Dufflemeyer, we can’t have anyone looking for us after this interrogation.”

Father Laiko stepped out from behind the alter a moment after, and immediately sensed something was wrong. “May I help you?” Anatolius teleported next to the priest in a burst of flame, “Yes. Yes you can.” A bout of interrogation began, with the priest being stabbed on several occasions. From their questions they learned that the Padros has spoken on a few occasions of a great connection to Athos, deep beneath the Great Cathedral of Vulturnus. The Padros had mentioned that a second swearing in of the Archknights occurred there too. With a few more questions about the quarantine ending with no solid leads, Laiko’s throat was cut. His body was hung over the alter in such a manner to make it appear that it had been done by Nox cultists. And with that, a plan began to be formulated.

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Session XXVI: The Calm Before
Chapter 26: The Calm Before

The stairs to the top floor of the Gate were hard, the weight of the battles weighed heavy on The Party. After three solid fights, a short rest was in order followed by the ascension to the top floor. While Anatolius has sensed the presence of gold on the floor above them, none of them expected what they saw.

A monstrous storm rested over the Gate, and had cleared the entire roof off. A smaller, more condense version of the storm rested above a throne of bones. Clearly, this was a sentient being of great power. And before him stood a giant, with a hammer and shield of solid ice, crackling with the power of lightning and the storm. A crackle of lightning bolted down from the sky, and as if in response the giant slammed his hammer onto the floor.

Addressing The Party, the Storm spoke. “Children of Athos, you stand before a power much greater than your own. I am he, the embodiment of storms and the sky. Created when Athos’ universe was born and finally free to flex my powers once again. I am ancient and undeniable, I shall retake what was once mine. I am the The Oncoming Storm, and I am above all mortals. My Champion Joritah will destroy you.”

A great battle ensure next, with the Champion Joritah standing strongly against a group of four demigods. But eventually, he could not hold up. “Please master, slay these creatures!” He begged his master on his knees, and before the killing blow could be delivered a bolt of lightning came down from the storm and turned Joritah into a pile of dust. A rumble of thunder mixed with laughter came from the Storm. “A show of power unseen since the battle of Nox and Athos! I should have known based on your clear lineage to the Creator. Very well then, having defeated my champion I offer you two options. You face me in battle, ending with your bodies turned to ash and left to scatter across the winds. Or, considering you have killed my past two Heralds, one of you takes his place as Thunder, my Champion and the Herald of the Storm.”

This left the party with a difficult choice. To sacrifice freedom and gain power? Or to face destruction at the hands of this creature. Perhaps had they been better rested a fight would be more viable, but as the circumstances were it would have been quite difficult. After much debate, the Storm blew a gust of wind over the dust remains of his past Champion. In the remains laid a crackling blue ring. “Place the ring on your finger to accept my offer.” The party continued to debate, and a worried Simon Bloom stepped forward and looked down, picking up the ring.

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Session XXV: Battles Never Come in Threes
Chapter 25: Battles Never Come in Threes

Excerpt from the last page in Simon Bloom’s journal that doesn’t give the reader a static shock

Athos, this has been our third battle of the day. An ooze and several lighting elementals, stand between us and our escape from these mountains, though if I’m being realistic this day won’t end with just three battles. None of us even hesitate by this point; we just walk out into the open. Stealth and strategy require more effort than I am willing to give.

Bigby’s Icy Grasp is a spell I haven’t used in a while and it’s appropriate enough for the situation. Grabbing the ooze wasn’t much of a problem, keeping it grabbed is where things fall apart. The ooze worms its way out of Bigby’s hand, jumps into the air, spins and lands without the slightest effort; a most graceful escape, for a giant gelatinous blob. Things just keep getting weirder and weirder, but it’s nice to see something new after living for 6000 plus years.

Anatolius takes a beating; both him and Valenae get consumed by the ooze. They escape, not nearly as gracefully as the ooze though. In general the battle carries on like all others. We get hurt, lots, then Oberon saves us, like clockwork. Anatolious though, seems shaken. He has spoken of his mortality in our last few battles. We came close to death against the Ice Witch, closer than ever before. It’s not surprising that our confidence wavers, but Anatolius needs to sack up! His strength hasn’t wavered any, but hearing him get so easily depressed bugs me.

Alas, my patience is wearing thin, I must be tired. I probably fell asleep while fighting the ooze because I can’t remember much about it. We walk up to the next floor, where the treasure and a massive, terrifying, talking cloud deity await. Lightning strikes and suddenly there’s another monster facing us. I knew that this day wouldn’t end with just three battles.

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Chapter XXIV: Izh greesh vo'lieyev
Chapter 24: Izh greesh vo'lieyev

His hands ached, raw from the battle that had transpired. The frost clung to Anatolius’ hair and he reclined on the thigh of the ice giant, burying his tired eyes in the palms of his hands and chasing the snow from his brow. A stream of inky blue shot from the deep wound under the giant’s jaw across the field. He remembered fighting had never been so exasperating, not for many ages. Not since youth, real youth, not the agelessness but youth itself. Anatolius grasped for it but could not fully remember. A broken glass. Blue eyes. Moonless sky. An onyx knife. Images of a warped memory, verifiable no longer. Strong memories inevitably devolve into a chimera of imaginative fabrication and facts too definitive to character to leave uncensored.

Oberon patched himself quickly, merely a scratch on his body but his eyes were bloodshot and his wings beat with wide intervals. Simon Bloom wrenched his feet through the snow, thick up to his knees. His robe soaked through from the waist. Valenae wiped the blood from her sword and looked back to the road. The mountains danced at the horizon as the Sun traced the sky. It would soon join the ritual and then burn out from Athos Terrarum.

Night. A quiet campfire. Sound of snow. Wind on bone. Watch One. Watch Two. Watch Three. Watch Four.

Above the mountains swirled a vortex. Clearer now than it had been leagues back. It crackled lighting through the nimbi that flew around it like the tiny moons to a great planet and roared thunder. The road led to a bend. At the turn, the small forest we had been passing through broke into a wide field of crystalline blankness. It was as if Athos himself had come to this small place and reached down with his hard hands to push the mountains aside that guided our way to the Gates of Frost. Sharp peaks stretched into the sky like rows of teeth where only cheek to cheek would allow passage from the gaping maw. At the other cheek, the vortex raged, as if just behind the doors of the far off towers now looming like ants against the pass leading from the valley.

The Mouth of God passed by quickly but at the gate there was silence. Anatolius considered his options as did the others. As the destroyed village behind, circumvented in an agreed skepticism, signaled, this gate was like to be abandoned. Or not.

From the gate poured forth more drones from the some unknown hell. The beasts proved lasting and patience was worn thin by failed strategies and the unrelenting assault from the unforeseen, monstrous enemies. The battled took far more resources than expected.

When it was over, Anatolius looked out over the carnage in the field, already half buried in the white snow that whipped off the towering stone walls and caught in the blood pooling before his feet. He remembered the cold day at the shore when a messenger of the six millennia late first councilman of Cachaca. The sand surrounded the soft skin of his feet. The first wave reached his toes as the messenger collapsed before him and announced himself. The wave cleansed his feet and travelled through the tingling spaces of his toes. It drifted without direction in front of him shaping the dome of wet sand marrying him to the earth. The sand was up to his ankle by the time he heard the messenger’s voice again. Anatolius saw him mouth the words but the sound was deafening. The messenger dismissed himself quickly and sprinted across the beach. Serpentine motions. Anatolius looked out to the moon and let the waves wash over him a few more moments.

As he looked out now, on blood and bone and ash strewn across a blackened field, and watched the snow blanket over it, covering the scene like a plague sheet. Anatolius felt the pooling warmth of his most recent victim wash over him like soft aimless waves and a chill flooded his spine down into his nerves.

Anatolius looked to his brothers and sister and struggled to make out their obscured bodies in the heavy gusts of snow that had begun to pick up as if upon the moment of relief.

As the snow picked up denser and denser the party entered the gate, tied up the horses, and ascended the stairs. Though the demigods resisted taxing the lands around their fortress, the costs of biblical war were far more dire than they had anticipated. Anatolius looked once more at his family and wondered how far they would have to go to win.

Above all, Anatolius’ head ached with the burden of thoughts and memories. Complacency had damned him. These were the demons of his youth, lost in its ultimately infinitesimal span. The weight of failure pressed down on Anatolius’ mind. In his last moment before they reached the top of the stairs, Anatolius recalled what the Rakshasa Majinn told him the last time he looked into his mirror, “Izh greesh vo’lieyev.” ‘Your debt is not yet paid.’

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Session XXIII: On the Road Again
Chapter 23: On the Road Again

Excerpt from “Random: An Autobiography”

I could just skip ahead to the battle at the stronghold, you know. I wasn’t even invited on this part of the adventure. To be fair, being turned to stone for what amounts to several months really puts things in perspective and I needed the time off. I’m sure Simon felt the same way, even if this time it was much shorter. I needed the time off, and I’m thankful for it. After all, if I hadn’t stayed at the stronghold I would’ve missed everything that happened while they were gone. Marik and I had quite an interesting adventure on our own. But back to the point.

I slowly began to feel my body loosen, the rock turning back into skin. This was my only chance, and I had to strike swiftly and true. As soon as I felt I could move, I let off my most powerful blow, attempting to give me a fair shot at taking out whoever it was who had taken my body. Unfortunately, I struck true on my brother Simon. With him were Harker, Anatolius, Oberon, and Valenae. I hadn’t seen Valenae, the Siren in quite some time. It must’ve been at least fifteen years, more like eighteen judging on the way these Urns have been distorting time. She looked different. Stronger and like less of a loner. Happier too.

“Oh shit. Sorry about that!” Realizing my mistake, I apologized quickly to my brother. Seeing that no serious damage had been done, we rejoiced. It had been quite a long while since I had been able to move, or seen my brothers. The last time I saw them I was falling into the mud, watching our valiant group fall to monsters long believed to be lost to time. We quickly exchanged laughs and hugs, then I filled them in on everything I knew. I could only remember a few moments where I was removed from stone form in a room that seemed to be pure blackness. I assumed that I was merely blinded from being turned to stone, and that I was being saved. Instead, a strange High-Elf voice commanded me to pose, as if I were some doll a young girl would play with. (Side note : You can find a licensed Random-The Wanderer figurine at any reputable toymaker in the Realm of Athos. Not for children under the ages of 12) He forced me to move into a position he deemed “heroic.” At the last moment before I was blasted into stone form once again, I puffed out my cheeks and crossed my eyes. No one tells Random what to do.

After filling in The Party on what I knew, they began to resuscitate our brothers Marik and Zaebos who has also fallen under a condition similar to mine. It seemed that we all had been used to show on display by some unknown man known as The Collector. The party had stolen us back in the night, and after much time they were able to bring us back to the world of the moving. They then filled me in on everything I had missed since I had been gone. Vinsanthius accusing us of destroying The Conclave? A stronghold under our names in the works? The death of several, if not nearly all of the demigods? Another Urn? Things were not looking good. And when awoken, our brother Marik had only more negatives to add.

Unlike myself, Marik was more hesitant to attack the second he awoke. He too exchanged hugs and the like with our siblings and was filled in on what had occurred, but he had also seen many things we had not. By this point, I had already pulled out my pipe but I still remember the details of his story. It seemed that Vinsanthius had called yet another emergency meeting of The Conclave, this one to discuss the return of our father, Athos. When arriving at our home, the sons and daughters of Athos gathered to discuss this incredible message. But according to Marik, before anything could happen a single boom echoed from outside the chamber’s walls. A frightened [[Deva] ran into the chamber, shouting to all those gathered, “The first wall has been bypassed and the second is under attack!” Ul-Nagor stood and left to activate the defenses of The Conclave. Several other demigods also stood, and Elander commanded everyone to prepare themselves for battle. During the fight, Marik turned to stone when shot from behind by a Beholder.

Zaebos was risen next, and gave a story identical to the one given by Marik. However, unlike Marik he had no direct ties to any of us more than those under Vinsanthius who were out to kill us. After much deliberation, he decided to seek out Vinsanthius, hopefully to convince him that his decision to kill us was a poor one. He left, and we had no choice but to hope he would be safe and maybe even convince Vinsanthius of our innocence. We could only hope for the best.

With Uruhua off with Vondal fighting in the gladiatorial battles and Marik not powered by Spirit Fuel, it fell to me to defend our rising home. The rest of the party headed north, to Sovereign’s Port to see what they could learn of the goings about in the world as well as see if the Spirit Fuel source that Simon sensed there was indeed another Urn. They left through the mountain pass hoping to make it to the city before the Day of Flowers festival. Little did they know that they would be missing the better story. But I’ll share their experience first.

They rode out into the mountains, a well-traveled road that occasionally has disturbances due to the mountain path. As they met the start of the mountain path, they noticed it seemed to be less traveled than usual. The first day’s travel was luckily met without any disturbance, but the second day was less than simple. A usually simple stop at a pitstop along the road turned quite sour for the party. What was expected was a nice cup of mead and a warm meal, but what was found instead… Death and destruction. The inn laid in ruins, and while attempting to pass by unseen a trap caught the party unawares and they were attacked by creatures more powerful than even things they had seen on Sysitar. An ancient Winter Witch and her five minions emerged from the snowbanks, two wizards, two slashers and a giant. A vicious battle ensued, with the party covered in blood by the end and nearing the finish of their resources. As the final slasher fell, he looked at Anatolius in pure confusion. His Elven tongue’s last words, “What are you? We’ve waited for millennia to emerge after the death of the demigods. We are ancient and we are powerful! What could you possibly be?” Walking in stride with his blade in his hand, his fury tangible, Anatolius grabbed the slasher by the throat. “Shut up and die.”

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Session XXII: Buttery Fingers for 5 Weeks
Chapter 22: Buttery Fingers for 5 Weeks

Excerpt from the symbolic buttery pages of Simon Bloom’s journal

Our problems seem to be increasing exponentially. In our main tent we have 3 petrified Demi-Gods that we stole from a mysterious and powerful man named The Collector. I have no way of releasing them from their petrification, so they’re pretty much just some stolen statues. Anatolius has a jar of time dust, which in reality could prove to be incredibly useful right now; Oberon would ruin me if I touched the stuff, though. And not to forget that both Anatolius’ armor and MY STAFF have been rusted into dust! Casting spells is a wizard’s bread and butter, and my staff is the butter knife. Performing my normal spells is now as effective as spreading the butter with my fingers. Oh and no change on the whole our siblings want to kill us while Nox continues his masterful plan of evil misdoings. By Athos, we’re fucked.

Immediately we went to work: arguing till we gave the job to Harker. He was sent to Seol, where he could pick up the cure ailment spell book, the supplies required, and get my staff and Anatolius’ armor restored. Anatolius sent Miok, the scout that told us of the statues, with Harker. Said it was for his redemption; I let it go, he probably had just as many buttery fingers as I did without his armor. I keep expecting to turn a corner and find a pile of ashes of some worker who looked Anatolius in the eyes for too long.

Demi-God to-do list #2: Get more info on the Collector. We found a worthy scout, a Half-Orc named Martin. Over the course of the 5 weeks it took Harker to return, Martin got word that the Collector is hiring people to find the thieves who took his statues. If he wanted us, he should have found us before my staff returned.

The 5 weeks dragged on, watching workers build day in and day out was making me antsy. That and the close proximity of the time dust. I’ve been aware of that jar the entire time; always in the back of my mind. Oh and if that wasn’t enough I had to look at that stupid face Random made before being petrified, every damn day! Fucking Random.

Anatolius and I decided to alleviate the boredom by testing the time dust. First things first though, we put it in a magic wall to stop it from randomly attacking us. Or maybe they were more afraid of me taking it all for myself right there. Either way, a shield seemed like a good idea till I removed it and the dust nearly burst from the jar. Demi-God tip: don’t put a magic shield around a brutal, psychotropic pile of arcana hating dust. That is unless your power is near god-like and you are into that sort of thing, you know like me.

Finally Harker returned, it took longer for our magic items to be rebuilt than we thought. My staff buzzed in my hand. It cleaned the butter off my fingers. The Collector’a window had closed. I didn’t waste time though, as soon as Harker gave me the cure ailment spell book I disappeared for 8 hours studying it. There was no outside world, Anatolius could have taken all the time dust and stuffed it up his nose. Nothing matched doing something useful again. Random was the first one we brought back. I saw that ridiculous stone face one last time before he smacked me away. Insult and injury, fucking Random. Marik and Zaebon were next. They told us that our siblings had been called back to the Conclave because Athos was said to return; that’s when Nox attacked. Zaebon left to try and talk Vinsanthius down. I do not expect to see him this side of the picket again.

We lost a lot of time, but we’re all together again. And I realized something as I watched Anatolius yell at Random for something stupid. I’m happy Random’s back. He’s our first real win in a while and it gives me confidence. Fucking Random.

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