Arcanearth

Session 75: Dagda's Balance

AE-session75-Dagda_s_Balance_20221009.jpgThe frigate Dagda’s Balance embarks from Kaldoros in a race against similar missions dispatched by Calabim, Sheaim, Lanun and other empires seeking to intervene in the ascension of Auric Ulvin, avatar of Mulcarn and God-King to the Illians. The Rune Heroes recall the last advice of their mentor, Cassiel:

“Near the end of the Age of Ice, Kylorin returned. He gathered scattered tribes under the Amurite banner and taught them secrets lost in the cataclysm that ended the Age of Magic. Kylorin found and reforged the broken pieces of the Godslayer, instrument of the Compact, and carried it into battle against Mulcarn. The God of Winter was banished and Kylorin lost to the world. But the Godslayer was saved.”

“I myself received the Godslayer from Circia, the last daughter of Kylorin, and carried it back in time to a place of safekeeping: the city of New Patria. Here in the last centuries of his rule, Kylorin consolidated the 21 mana-spheres into today’s eight schools of magic. In this way Kylorin hoped to better regulate the practice of arcane magic wherever Patrian authority could still reach.”

“And so it was until the Age of Magic ended three centuries later. In the midst of disaster, the nine archmages of New Patria joined forces to perform one last earth-rending magic. They tore their guild-city Ythrin from the very foundations of New Patria and lofted it high into the upper airs. Our sages believe Ythryn finally crashed back to arcanearth somewhere in the far north of the world. If so, and the laws of time allow, the Godslayer may still exist in the ruins. In case you fail in your mission and Auric ascends to the Avatar of Winter, finding the Godslayer could be your last hope.”

“Paradera is your first goal, the gateway to arctic lands locked in eternal ice. The seas around this far-flung Lanun whaling port are likely already frozen solid. The frigate carries sled-teams to continue the journey when your ship can sail no further.”

Days 1-4

Dorn sails the heavy frigate east along the northern Lavrentine coast. In favorable conditions the ship can cover 50 leagues a day, 40 leagues in moderate conditions, and 10-20 leagues sailing close-hauled to the wind. Mesmer experiments with some success at summoning a gang of lesser air elementals to increase speed in critical situations. As they pass by the isolated Lanun Air Mana fortress jutting from the seaside cliffs, the illusionist reconsiders the value of certain ‘world rituals’ able to influence wind and waves over many miles and days. Perhaps such unwieldy spells could be valuable even to an adventurer such as himself.

Three days later the Dagda’s Balance approaches the strategic Lanun port of Bolans. Seven years ago these coastal waters hosted a three-way nautical encounter between the pirate Syzimondo, his erstwhile employer Azariel, and the Rune Heroes aboard their old schooner Witches Brew. All parties survived the encounter, but the Rune Heroes won the prized ‘Key of Zubakhan’ and went on to defeat the arch-lich Asmoday.

Mavriy appears over the coast riding a gryphon and joins the expedition. As usual, the dark paladin speaks little of her recent travels. Regardless, everyone is glad to have her aboard. She is still recovering from the battle with Acheron, but with Krag’s help should be back in fighting shape within a week.

Hoxton-small.jpgShortly after putting into port at Bolans, Hoxton relays disheartening news. “I’ve been called away by my Order to investigate the Broken Sepulcher in connection with recent developments regarding the Staff and the Eye of Barbatos. Within his old prison may be knowledge or artifacts we can use to combat the renascent archmage.” Should Hoxton later be able to rejoin the expedition, the Order will send a message through the spirit-realm with a sigil-sequence or other guidance for Mesmer, now familiar with the risky art of dimensional transfer. The kobold heads west into the swamps accompanied by his companion Serlatha. As a native of this region, she is quite familiar with the Candaba Peninsula and might even be able to locate Thogma the barbaric lizard-man guide. The Rune Heroes wish their old companion luck on his new mission.

Mesmer and Leelo spend the day in port investigating for word of expeditions from other empires. They soon learn of a likely Sheaim candidate: a large war-trireme crewed by undead that anchored in the harbor three days prior, the Star of Ceridwen. A priest who might or might not be the Sheaim cleric Zaugrum came ashore, likewise searching for news of other expeditions. Even more interesting, a fabulous ship of the air appeared only yesterday and lowered a party of Amurite wizards down to the city. Never before has such a marvel been seen in the Age of Rebirth! The wizards took on supplies and also inquired about any unusual expeditions afoot. The magical ship departed north into unfavorable winds within hours of arrival.

Days 5-8

Sailing north up the coast beyond the last Grigori city, Zbolub, lookouts sight a fast frigate flying the black and red Infernal flag. The Infernals are allied with the Sheaim, but they don’t necessarily have identical long-term goals. While the Sheaim seek armageddon and a remaking of the world, Hyborem and the Infernals work to incorporate arcanearth into the dominion of Arawn. Perhaps at the end of the world they will have a falling out. Lookouts aboard the Infernal ship quickly identify the Dagda’s Balance. Neither Rune Heroes nor opposing captain are eager to force a confrontation and both ships keep their distance.

Azariel.pngUsing magical invisibility and her Aifon Torc, Leelo investigates the ship and discovers an elite crew of half-demons, four horrible Vrock fiends, and a familiar captain: the black-armored she-devil Azariel, last seen fleeing through the sky off the coast of Bolans years ago. Hunched at the fore of the ship is a huge winged demon crowned by a nimbus of fire and lightning, a dread Balor of Hyborem. There is something oddly familiar about this demon, but Leelo never gets the chance to see it’s face.

At the stern a black iron plaque bears the ship’s name: Scythe of Hyborem. Leelo risks opening a casement to survey a sumptuous cabin strewn with furs, charts, jewelery and empty wine bottles. Something hidden is watching! The elf drops into the ocean to jet away beneath the waves like a silver-green torpedo.

Dorn succeeds in shadowing the Infernals throughout the day, but loses contact soon after dark. A tense night passes. The devil-ship is sighted again shortly after dawn, this time astern and slightly east. It appears flying devils from Azariel’s ship tracked their ship through the night and now seeks to shadow them in turn. Dorn has trouble shaking the fast Infernal ship. Mesmer declines to expend further spells to propel the ship faster, thinking a battle may be at hand.

Once again Leelo dives overboard, but this time sounds the Horn of Danalin beneath the waves to summon a water-elemental Myrmidon. She guides the formidable elemental to the ship’s rudder and departs. Soon after, the Infernals begin turning crazy circles as their rudder gains a mind of it’s own. Avoiding running aground is all the crew can manage! Dagda’s Balance speeds away and the struggling Scythe of Hyborem is soon lost astern.

AE-session75-Dagda_s_Balance-FirstHorseman_20221009.pngThe shores of the Hippus Horselords and the southernmost coastal city of Feiss Mabdon appear off the port bow. Dorn widens his distance from shore. The Hippus are now thralls of the First Horseman, Stephanos the Conquerer. What reception the Rune Heroes might receive in a Horselord port is unknown, though numerous ships of other nations are sighted coming into port. Stephanos apparently tolerates trade so as to better enrich his new empire. But ultimately the First Horseman is a harbinger of the End Times so can’t be dealt with on the same basis as other mortal kings.

Days 9-18

The days grow shorter and noticeably cooler as Dorn sails the Dagda’s Balance northeast up the vast coast of the Hippus Steppes. Sailing past Conrond Mor at the mouth of the great Radonnor river, the Rune Heroes sight a massive three-tiered war galley of black wood and iron flying the Sheaim purple dragon. It is none other than the rumored Star of Ceridwen! The two-masted galley is sailing close ashore almost lost in the haze of amber dust blown from the steppes. Dorn is able to track them for some time before they react. Leelo hesitates to risk a submarine inspection given the Sheaim skill with magic. Who knows what terrors guard the sorcerer-king’s ship.

Suddenly the massive galley turns across Dorn’s bow and speeds away into the open ocean propelled by 300 tireless oars. Dorn attempts to follow, but the galley is soon lost in a bank of mist. Six hours later the galley appears astern, their captain having completed a full circle to pull in behind Dagda’s Balance. The Rune Heroes see no benefit to an encounter with foes of unknown strength and try their best to shake the tail. Towards evening the wind freshens from the northwest, allowing Dorn to outpace the galley on a speedy beam reach. The Sheaim captain gives up and turns back up the coast.

The Dagda’s Balance sails close-hauled into a north wind, reaching the easternmost Hippus port of Clair Marrachir on the eleventh day. Now Dorn must break away from the coast and head out across the open ocean. The period of daylight grows shorter still. A chilly wind blows variously from the northwest or north. Just off the port bow flies the new constellation of seven stars that is the Rune Heroes ultimate goal. But first the arctic whaling port of Paradera lies five hundred leagues east by northeast across the northern reaches of the Earthsea.

Two days after losing sight of land, Leelo spots a magnificent flying ship drifting far above in the calm night air. The violet flag of the Amurite magocracy flies from the stern. The Zephyr hails the Rune Heroes with signal lights. Though the Grigorians are not members of the Overcouncil, they are on good terms with the Amurites. Mesmer, Leelo, Mavriy and Krag accept an invitation to come aboard. Dorn remains with the ship in case of trouble from any quarter. A large wicker basket is lowered to lift the visitors up to the mysterious airship.

AE-session75-Dagda_s_Balance-Zephyr_20221009.jpg

Archmage_Govannon.pngMesmer instantly recognizes the world-renowned archmage of Amuria, Govannon, but through his mastery of illusion divines the green-robed wizard is merely a projected image. Regardless, the archmage must still be aboard ship as the range of such a spell is unlikely to reach from any landmass, let alone the Amurite islands far to the south. Govannon reveals he is creating a teleportation circle within the airship, but the daunting task won’t be complete any time soon. Handy for avoiding the need to use a powerful seventh level teleportation spell!

Mesmer marvels at the engine powering the floating ship. The center-deck is dominated by a silvery contrivance of whirling spindles and hissing steam not unlike the fusion of magic and technology achieved by the Simic scientists of Tanelorn. Various tell-tales confirm parts of this engine were indeed manufactured in that fabulous world city at the center of the universe.

Dain_the_Caswallawn.pngWhile Mesmer and Govannon exchange arcane knowledge, Leelo, Krag and Mavriy speak with another notable personage aboard, Dain the Casswallawn, viceroy and confidant of Valledia the Even, Queen of the Amurites. Two very important individuals dedicated to the same mission! Mavriy inquires as to Queen Valledia’s disposition. Dain assures Mavriy the Queen would never be risked on such an expedition as this. “That would be one egg too many in the basket!”

Over a lengthy dinner under a canopy of stars high above the sparking sea, Leelo and Dain exchange various intelligence about competing missions. Leelo learns of a Lanun expedition aboard one of their fastest ships, the Myrmidon, captained by none other than High Priestess Miria Goldpetal and crewed by Lanun Evokers. Both agree the Myrmidon has likely far outpaced the competition by this point. The Amurites know of a fourth ship, this one dispatched by the Calabim, though they haven’t caught site of it yet.

In exchange, Leelo relates her recent encounters with Sheaim and Infernal ships. Leelo and Dain agree to a cautious alliance, at least until Paradera. The Zephyr will sail the skies above the Rune Heroes, alerting them to danger whenever possible. Dain lets on that his ship, while a marvel of the Age, is highly vulnerable to damage. Leelo offers refuge to Dain’s crew in case the airship suffers a catastrophic malfunction. Despite this alliance, the alfar spy isn’t above taking careful note of the Zephyr’s deck-plan and defenses. A flying ship might be a nice trade up from the Dagda’s Balance

The two ships sail onward into the polar ocean. The Zephyr proves slower than the Rune Heroes fast frigate when sailing close-hauled, the typical condition over the next week, and somewhat faster on a broad reach or running downwind. The Zephyr has nothing to fear from icebergs and fog-banks, which appear ever more often, but is bedeviled by ice accumulation, turbulence and any threat of gale force winds.

Days 19-21

Sheaim_Zaugrum.pngSheaim_Daganth.pngThe Zephyr signals down to the Rune Heroes on the nineteenth day at sea. The Sheaim frigate Star of Ceridwen has been sighted! The huge galley appears out of a morning fog-bank close off the port bow. Leelo identifies familiar figures on the stern deck: Zaugrum, Priest of the Veil of Ashes, and his sorcerous companion Daganth. This time neither bears the Red Rune of Agares. The Rune Heroes are able to attack with devastating surprise.

Mesmer somewhat rashly transports himself by magic to the water alongside the enemy hull and casts a spell of disintegration. The hull begins to take on water, but many such spells would be needed to put a large ship in real danger. Now the lone wizard bobs in the waves alongside the great black hull.

Krag quickly anoints Dorn, Mavriy and Leelo with the blessing of his fire goddess. Mavriy calls forth her gryphon steed and takes to the air. Leelo dives overboard and streaks beneath the waves alongside her summoned myrmidon. Dorn shouts FIRE!” and two heavy ballistae launch ten-gallon crocks of oil bound in tarred ropes. Four light ballistae fire iron shot wrapped with pitch-soaked cordage. Flaming projectiles impact the Star of Ceridwen, cracking timbers and splashing fire across deck and rigging. The few human sailors on board have their hands full with damage control.

AE-session-75_eyetyrant.pngMesmer swims around the back and begins climbing up to the stern deck. A familiar globular shape rises from the trireme’s hold: an eye tyrant with a single great eye and ten more on the ends of waving tentacles. Is this yet another aspect of the unseen extra-dimensional entity boasted of by Belchorzh in the Tomb of the Nine? In any case, the Sheaim seem to have spared no expense in equipping their expedition.

AE-session75.jpgLeelo-aifon comes to the surface and begins firing arrows as she swims, a feat no normal form could accomplish. Mavriy alters course to intercept the hovering eye tyrant. As she descends, a gray-faced shape of horror materializes out of the air nearby. It is a mobius witch like those encountered at the battle for Dragonspire Fortress. The strands of time begin to part, one strand for Mavriy and her mount, another for the rest of the world. Both the half-demon and her eagle-lion mount escape the strand intended for them. Mavriy retaliates with a spell of banishment and the other-worldly witch disappears from arcanearth. But can Mavriy concentrate on holding the witch at bay while fighting the eye tyrant?

Dorn’s crew unleashes another volley of flaming missiles. Most strike home. Zaugrum shouts commands and must waste his effort casting spells to drench the fires. Daganth casts unknown spells, probably various protections and summons.

Now catapults from the Sheaim galley reply. Several large stones and firepots strike the deck. Men must run to and fro putting out flames as best they can. Fortunately for the Dagda’s Balance this will be the one and only time the enemy can manage a return volley.

The Zephyr risks descending within attack range. Bolts, balls and arrows of fire rain down from the Amurite flying ship to strike the galley from bow to stern. The doomed Star of Ceridwen is defenseless against this barrage from the air.

AE-session75-Dagda_s_Balance-2_20221009.pngKrag runs to the port bow and gauges the range. Just close enough! The cleric summons a mighty wave that rolls across the gap between Dagda’s Balance and the Star of Ceridwen. The galley takes the wave broadsides and pitches over 60 degrees! Crew and weaponry are tossed overboard. Both Daganth and Zuagrum disappear over the port side. The massive square sails and rigging become hopelessly tangled while a hundred oars are broken or lost. The trireme is dead in the water. Dorn’s crew hammers this easy target with another volley of stones and firepots.

Zuagrum, Dagath and Mesmer are sent tumbling head-over-heels beneath the frothy waves. Mesmer manages the difficult task of burbling forth a spell of waterbreathing while still submerged. When he surfaces the Sheaim cleric and sorcerer are nowhere to be found. It must be assumed both escaped by means of some spell of far travel or spirit-realm transference. The waterlogged wizard struggles back to the foundered galley and climbs up the stern.

The eye-tyrant has escaped the wave and now pelts Mavriy and her mount with multi-colored rays. The doughty paladin suffers a grievous necrotic wound and loses her concentration on the spell of banishment, but the mobius witch doesn’t immediately reappear. Mavriy lands devastating blows with her new battleaxe of thunderbolts and Leelo’s arrows strike home with telling effect. Krag summons a fire guardian and cast a spell of water walking. The fire-priest strides and springs effortlessly across the waves by means of his new magic boots.

Mesmer peeks over the gunwales to observe the vengeful eye tyrant about to destroy Mavriy and her gryphon. A quick spell transforms the monstrous creature into a weird nine-eyed turtle. After Leelo and Krag arrive, all hammer the turtle with everything they have. The flattened reptile mutates into a deflated wreck of tangled eye-stalks and one great staring eyeball. Another of Belchorzh’s alien protuberances dealt with!

AE-session75-Dagda_s_Balance-3-1_20221009.jpgA round of heroic speeches and back-slapping is interrupted by moans and slimy squelching. Hundreds of undead galley slaves are squirming from every orifice of the ship. As everyone else vacates the premises, Mesmer casts a mighty spell of gravity reversal: scores of undead fly up through the burning rigging. Mesmer dives overboard and snaps his fingers. All the undead land in the sea or splatter upon the deck. Among them are a dozen incendiary ‘pyre zombies’. These explode in a chain reaction that turns the galley into a flaming torch. A tower of stinking black smoke rises as the massive trireme burns to the waterline.

Leaving the Star of Ceridwen behind, Dorn takes a sighting of the stars and sets a course for Paradera. At least 500 miles of freezing ocean lie ahead. Sailors must work daily to remove ice from the deck, rigging and sails of Dagda’s Balance. A growing collection of icebergs appear out of the mists, necessitating vigilant lookouts and slower sailing. How long until the ocean itself surrenders to Mulcarn’s winter?

Route of the Rune Heroes: Kaldoros to Clar Marrachir

AE-session75-Dagda_s_Balance-4_20221009.jpg

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