Living Mystara: Red Arrow, Black Shield

Prelude to the Final Act
The actors assemble, the fated hour approaches...
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Smoke in the Cloisters
initially unrelated events and parties have crossed paths with each other.

As they prepare to leave the Trade Consortium, Lotho and “Lady Vega” are rocked by a series of tremors that run through the city. They get clear of the Circle and into the open city long enough to see a plume of dust and smoke begin to rise from the Western part of the city in the Godsway, originating at the West Works of the enormous Solar Temple. Only a moment later, another, thin ribbon of black smoke begins to rise in the East, coming from the affluent Darokinian “estates” district, also known as the Brick Way. Stopping one fleeing man, a former servant during the days of the Barony, Morella hears the words that will guide the fear of the rest of the mass- “it’s the Curse! It’s returned!”

No sooner does a collective pause and shock grip all the hundreds of bystanders, then slow-churning clouds of red ash begin to mix up in the smoke spilling from the West Works. Shock quickly turns to panic as Morella and Lotho, astride Ambrosia, sprint the 5 or so blocks between the Market district and Godsway Tenements, now a stampede of terrified hundreds surging away from what their frantic overtures now concur- the Red Curse.

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An Old Woman's Hands
Morella heals Tonerus' landlady, and learns a lesson...
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Death, Taxes, and Lady Vega
The city's new tax code comes out...
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Back into Town
Morella, Marcellus' "sister", tours Vega with a young escort...
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Do No Harm
The epilogue of the Habrok, Tonerus disappears...

Tonerus dispelled the overloading voidstone, casting a disjunction into the breach. The air tore open, snarling intertwined energies formed an umbilicus between the Glantrian’s outstretched hand and the pulsing stone. He was speaking, shouting into a gail that destroyed all sound, his voice lost in the screech. He was obviously in pain. The world went blinding white, then black…

Marcellus awoke in the master bedroom of the Hillock estate. The sleeping and intertwined bodies of the children- Audrey and Calen Jr., all of Azul’s children, piled on the bed, or the couches, or asleep in the overstuffed chairs. The remains of food and drinks, as if from a party, were on the bedside table and on the trestle tables around the edges of the room. Galenraug sat, legs extended protectively across the doorway, in a rocking chair in the corner. Harley, with her black boots crossed on a stool, was reading one of Tonerus’ books. Dominos sat, expressionless, with Rouge asleep under one arm.

The most immediate questions, “what happened on the Habrok”, “how did we get back to Hillock”, “where are the others”, were lost at Marcellus’ elation just to be home. Apparently, judging by the aftermath, they’d received a fond homecoming.

Harley spoke up first, expressing an amused confidence that she knew they would return, and glad that “grandma Marcellus” was beginning to really take her words to heart. Her direct foil, Dominos, only rolled his eyes at her, nursing a tea as Rouge dozed next to him in the high-backed leather chair.

Marcellus asked if Dominos was taking good care of his sister, who was inseparable from him, it seemed. Dominos remained adament that Rouge was doing well, and that their shared trauma had brought them closer, made them more kindred. Rouge remains vague about what exactly happened to her with Anju, and he has not attempted to pry in any… unconventional ways. Marcellus, sensing Dominos’ stonewalling, reiterated her responsibility in what happened. “If you need someone to blame, someone to be angry with, blame me.” As always, the uncomfortably logical 8 year-old responded that neither Marcellus nor Delan were to blame, and that the Cardinal would have gone to any lengths to get hold of him, irregardless. He knew who his disdain should be directed at.

Marcellus repeated her offer, only to draw Harley’s sharp denouncement to “stop taking all the blame, stop taking everything on by yourself!” This sent Dominos storming from the room. He left just as Flora and Fauna came in to check on the “aftermath”, as Flora described it. When asked by Marcellus which way Dominos went, Flora and Fauna both said they saw noone leave the room. Harley then climbed up to be with Marcellus in the bed, as Flora and Fauna offered to push back breakfast and let everyone sleep off the the previous night’s festivities.

The compound came alive late, but returned to its schedule as usual. Word of the group’s return quickly passed from the servants to the outside gardeners to the Hillock citizenry, and before late afternoon, word had reached the Constable of Vega and the the office of the Thane in Hillock. For the almost 2 weeks they had been gone, the two had fielded numerous questions, urges to investigate their disappearance, and to give any insight into the appearance of the “great bird of prey” that appeared in the mountains over the East wall of the city. Was it a great predator bird, was it natural, a product of some terrible magic or vindictive mage? When it then became circulated that the Heldannic Order used such bird-shaped airships, panicked citizens began a new string of questions, directed again at the Thane and the Chief Constable- Was it the Heldanns? Did they have Lady Vega and the others? Is the precursor to an act of aggression, a scouting party for an invasion? When tradesman from the Traladaran states mentioned that there existed a tacit pact between Hule and the Order over trade, many began to put things together, and so another, grand conspiratorial line of questioning now began to bombard the offices of Hillock and Vega- Is the Master and Heldann colluding? Have the two fanatical religious groups somehow seen eye-to-eye on combining forces, spreading the rule of Bozdagon and the Church of Vanya across all the Civilized South? Sindhian riders, Hulean mameluks, and Heldannic warbirds, together as an unstoppable force from land and air, could be waiting for the signal to attack. Perhaps this was only the beginning?! Where were the soldiers? Why had no one gone to the Defense League with this, or to Thyatis? Certainly only a coalition NOW could save Vega, the last bulwark against a joint-axis movement into the South, from being completely overrun by the Master’s agents already in Western Darokin! Where was the army??

…Chief Constable Stefen Maevik did not show it openly as he rode for Hillock, but he could have leaped for joy when he heard the news, and Thane Hintor Crownvetch, also on his way by carrier dog, certanly would have done the same. At least now, the more ludicrous fringes of the town would be silenced, and they could enjoy a moment’s peace.

Marcellus sat in the inner parlor of the compound with Galenraug and Morella, when both Thane Crownvetch and Chief Constable Maevik were shown in. Stefen entered first, giving his thanks for their safety, and reiterating the official statement that he, along with Marcellus’ representatives at the compound, had concocted- indisposed by health issues, the Lady Vega was not accessible, and as they are in no way indentured to her, the other members of her usual entourage come and go at their pleasure, being active and of the “adventurous persuasion”. But this had done little to dissuade people’s growing fears, or deepening imaginations, pertaining to the appearance of the warbird from the East. Now that he knew all was safe, the Constable, for reasons of public safety and his own wounded pride at being unable to provide any feeling of safety or answers to the public, requested a report. But in his usual professional manner, Maevik reiterated that anything redacted or withheld, as he knows from experience with Marcellus and the others, is likely just as much for the general safety, if only he can be assured there is no danger for Vega or its people.

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Habrok Flashback #2: the Traveller
The true identity of the Star

…Marcellus is finally reunited with her body, as the Star of the Order vies with the now purified White Star of Vanya, and the control of the Star over the Habrok is weakened. Verdigris, revealed in a vision to Marcellus to be (unknowingly) the son of the legendary Heldannic Hochmëister Wolf Von Klagendorf and an incarnation of Vanya herself, wields the mightiest form of the True Speech, Known as the Words of Creation, the defining meta-script of the multiverse. Using this power, Verdigris has been denying the Star access to the ship and its occupants’ wills and minds. He is slowly losing that battle.

Verdigris confides in Marcellus that the utterly Alien mind of the Star is not of this world, or even of this universe- it is a Traveller, one of an unknown number of ancient entities that fell to Mystara in its legendary past. As revealed to Marcellus by the Man in Red, another of them, a malevolent incarnation of hubris and science, was known as the Egg of Coot. It’s machinations corrupted the historical empires of Old Thonia, Blackmoor, and the region of Skothar known as the North. Vast in mind and not confined to the same strictures of form as the rest of this universe, the Travellers can only be contained, or forgotten to lose their power. The Star seemingly registered a threat amongst the many factions of the ship, but for whatever reason (DM’s note: it was unknown to Verdigris that he is the son of Vanya, and Marcellus never reveals her vision to him.) it has initiated a powerful alignment surge, turning each of the factions onboard into axiomatic and militant versions of themselves. As fanatical battle breaks out amongst the SS, the Red Knights, the Nordur and the Order of Gylgarid, even the True Speech has little power to directly control the Star- it can only quarantine it behind a labyrinth of bindings and power words. Verdigris’ purges of the Order in the 11th century were to eliminate the corruption of the Rot, and completely unrelated to the red-clad Servitors of the Star, the true heart of the Heldannic Order. Verdegris unwittingly stumbled upon the truth of the Star in the Floating City of Serraine during his many information-seeking quests, discovering ancient reference to a star-like rock that pervasively altered the minds of, and subjugated to its will, those who came within the range of its influence. The correlation to the description of the Star resting on the breast of Vanya deep within Vanya’s Rest, not to mention the positively inhuman axiomatic behavior of the Red Knights surrounding the Star, unnerved Verdegris. But the final lynchpin was the power of the ships themselves- they worshipped the Star, and NOT Vanya. After so many attacks on the corrupted members of the Order, Verdegris had seen it plainly in the innermost sanctums of the cathedrals aboard each vessel. He had seen behind the curtain, seen something he was never meant to see. it became clear to Verdegris now that the TRUE enemy of the Order was not the Rot, or even the Storm Soldiery, but the heart of the Order itself, and their blasphemous idol, the so-called “Star of Vanya”. Through it all, seeking to combat the Star, Verdegris turned to ever deeper and darker powers, trying to find a way of blocking or stopping the Star’s influence, to somehow unmake its control over the Order. But after being literally chased to the future, after 150 years, for all his efforts the Star had seemingly “found” him. But how and why was a copy of the Star onboard the ship? It was as if it had followed him (DM’s note: again, unbeknownst to Verdigris but known to Marcellus, the Star is attuned to Vanya, who first discovered it. With her “dead”, the Star has discovered her familiar energies in Verdigris, and followed the __Habrok__’s connection to Vanya and the purified Star Heart all the way back to him.)

The battle of wills raged, the alien dissonance, the utterly regimented binary speech of the Star attempting to override the ship and everyone onboard. The Star called to Verdigris, telling him to wield it, the rightful recipient and master of the Star and the Order, to forge the will of perfect order. Verdigris denied this, denouncing the Star’s version of order as that of stagnation, a perfection achievable only “through the grave”. Now armed with the Star Heart, the purified Star of Vanya given to Marcellus (presumably by the Grey Lady herself), Verdigris began to amplify his own power through it, with the Star Heart translating his own True Speech to a devastating incantation. The Star attempted to flee, but the Speech stymied it at every turn. Sealed within itself, cut off from its progenitor, the Star was finally without its governing intelligence, and began to lose power, to lose consciousness. The intense fighting, the most self-destructive melees onboard the Habrok began to give way to panic and obliviousness as the influence of the Star began to leave the belligerents. Verdegris’ next move was to destroy the Star before it could recover, but Marcellus opted to instead put the now “disconnected” Star in a place for safe-keeping, until its practical uses, perhaps against the central Star in the Altar of Vanya, could be discovered. Along with the Star Heart, she took this disconnected piece to a place where the Star of Vanya could not find it- using her red dragon tooth from Galenraug, she transported both Stars to the Roulette.

With disaster averted, Marcellus and Verdegris turned to the next threat to the ship (and possibly all of Mystara)- the Priesthood of Gylgarid and the mysterious woman named Tasha, claiming to be a priestess of the Taymoraz. It was these ancient ruins, on the “hidden” floor of the Habrok, that were powering most of the magical defenses of the ship, tied to the ancient necromantic nation of Taymor. Verdegris explained to Marcellus that in the ancient library of the Hollow World known as the Lighthouse, he learned of the Taymoraz and their ruins, that the “tower civilization” empowered itself by building its nation along one of the great lay-lines of magic that gird the planet. But unlike the Nithians, another “geometer” nation who used geometric structures to harness the energy in sequences, the Taymoraz built single towers all along the entire length of the lay-line, then bound them all together using a shared lineage- necromancy and the undead blood of the vampiric elite that ruled the highest offices of Taymor. All of Taymor was secretly run by two ancient factions, those in service to the Night Mother Nyx, the other to the Reaper Thanatos. It was these two factions whose strife ultimately destroyed the great “tower civilization”.

Now apparently this priestess, either a true survivor of the ancient end of her people, or at the least a carrier of their necromantic legacy, was safeguarding the ruins and their power, and had entered into some kind of unholy alliance with Gylgarid, the demonic minotaur whose order was led by Axemines the Dark Nithian. Marcellus mentioned she already had the dubious pleasure of crossing paths with Axemines and his priesthood while on the “other side”, and it now seemed obvious that they were making a bid to tap into the ancient power once wielded by the vampires of Taymoraz. Even at the bottom of the ocean, the undeath of Taymor still consumed the ruins, as Marcellus described to Verdegris the vast necropolis beneath Minrothad, and the death knight referred to as the Rudder King.

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Habrok Flashback #1: Legacy of Taymor

As Marcellus prepares to depart to the Dragoneye estate and implement Duke Osser in a conspiracy against New Thonia, her mind returns to Calen, and the last adventure they shared, the airship Habrok:

DM’s note: we finally resolved what exactly transpired on the ship, after a lengthy hiatus and no word about this “lost session”‘s conclusion- most of it is largely narration and RP’ing, but exquisite character building follows!

…The party of Marcellus, Calen, Tonerus, Tephis, and the remaining members of Dandy Troll Company are separated following an attack by the Ur’Enduk, the demon-possessed corpses of the deceased Gylgarid priests. Marcellus’ body, like that of the Company’s leader, Adelard Mohrgsbane, is being held on the sealed layer of the ship where the party is now trapped and fighting for their lives. Forced to use her ghost-walk training from the cleric Briandhol, Marcellus occupies Galenraug’s body. Adelard, with Marcellus’ astral Panther, Lady, departed to the opposite wing of the ship to reconnoiter the location of both their bodies and the enemies feeding off their energy while they lie in stasis.

As was previously revealed, the captain of the Habrok, going by the name Verdrigis, has unknown objectives as to the Heldannic Order. It was believed that he took his name from the legendary air pirate, who was infamous for destroying several Heldannic warbirds in his last appearance, over 150 years ago. While the priest Tephis has been travelling with him since his first appearance, the old priest of Vanya and the Dragon is hesitant to reveal much of the true identity or motives of the captain, if he indeed knows anything.

Now, leaving the relative safety of the cathedral on the top deck, even as the Ur’Enduk swarm the Habrok and the Storm Soldiers of Hattias have arrived on skyships of their own to apprehend the “implacable enemy” of the Church of Vanya, Galenraug (with Marcellus’ spirit in tow) finally discovers what became of Maribonne, the pointman of the Dandy Trolls. Their meeting is not cordial- Maribonne immediately attacks Calen as he descends back to the “hidden” level of the ship, where the mysterious ancient ruins of a temple have been rebuilt, running in collinade after collinade down each hallway.

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722 A.R., Part 12: The Lion's Share
The Gold Lord of Mercy visits Marcellus
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722 A.R., Part 11: What's Your Pleasure?
The party encounters an old peddler in the plains
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