Following the showdown with the mad Celestian priest Aramis Stargazer at the Feast Day of Cortox, the party deemed themselves far too exhausted to retire to their separate homes and instead decided to rest together at Pimpleton Manor (all except Drayden, who returned to the home he and his lover Vortis shared.) In the morning, they rose to the scent of another of George Pimpleton’s decadent breakfasts. The group indulged in white pancakes, fresh berries, and smoked & salted meats.
Silhouette was the first to depart the manor, returning to her businesses The Dripping Blade and Friendly Strangers, both of which were continuing to flourish in her absence. Ix took his leave after, the Oracle’s premonition of battle still fresh on his mind. Armed with this information, Ix made haste to visit Mayor Gasgal. At City Hall, Ix met with both Mayor Gasgal and the representative from Furyondy, Duke Trelis, who chose to stay in Greyhawk to help coordinate efforts to keep Arachnia’s forces from penetrating the Shield Lands. The Mayor divulged to Ix that a sinkhole had just swallowed the entire village of Stahzer, leaving behind no trace of the town or its residents. Reports had indicated only 4 tunnels were left in its wake, carved out by the approximately 12,000 underlings from Arachnia, led by of one of Lolth’s fiercest warriors: a Drider named Skizz’x! Ix learned that he and his party would not be asked to go alone to beat back the Drow, however. The Duke promised Ix that he had charged 100 Knights from Furyondy with the task of helping to defend the Shield Lands at Stahzer with 500 Freemen from Greyhawk and 970 of Countess Katarina’s most dedicated soliders. The Mayor also informed Ix that he had arranged for mystical transport for the party to Stahzer, courtesy of the Mages Guild. Before departing, the Mayor pulled Ix aside to apologize for constantly leaning on him and his companions to defend not only Greyhawk but the surrounding lands as well, and vowed that this battle would be the last request he would ever make of Ix.
Dablova followed breakfast with another visit to the warehouse, where she tended to the hounds and gathered her supplies for another meditation in the woods. While meditating, she attempted to reach out to the spirits but was unanswered… at first. Meanwhile, with his head heavy with thoughts of battles past and the battle to come, Lyks returned to the Church of Beory to clear his mind. While being ushered in, he asked to be taken directly to the Temple of the Great Tree — something the clerics there had not heard Lyks request in ages! At the altar of the Oerth Goddess, Lyks quietly plead for guidance. Lyks could feel Beory’s presence, gliding in on a sweet gust of wind and pulsing beneath him through the earth. Her message to him was clear: “something powerful moves through me, a mighty force comes!” Lyks, reassured of his connection to Oerth, began to galvanize members of the church in attendance. So moved were they by his show of vulnerability and renewed faith, 9 Druids and 7 more clerics eagerly pledged themselves to battle.
After an hour or so of divination, Dablova heard a voice from the void delivered another cryptic message: “Crimson, traitor, hidden, savior!” She quickly gathered her things and teleported back into the city to reconvene with her companions back at Pimpleton Manor later that afternoon. At the manor, she joined Ix, Silhouette, Lyks, Tic-Toc, and Madryk in what might be their final evening together. Drayden arrived soon after, his eyes red and puffy from tears. Dablova was quick to console him, though he reassured her that the tears shed were shed for the companionship of the company.Jor-Mak and Isrygrad rounded out the group, and together they spent the evening trading stories and indulging in Pimpleton’s finest wine, Ix’s minotaur tobacco, and Dablova’s custom calmative Serenity. Isrygrad bore the flushed complexion of a satisfied man, having spent his afternoon with his lover, the tiger wrestler Teela Surefoot. Jor-Mak was visibly much more at ease now that the Widow Rohl was once again feeling safe. Tic-Toc, however, was distant and not his usual jovial self. A symptom of having recently been reassembled no doubt.
The mood turned more somber as the Drow became a topic of discussion. Ix recounted their past encounters facing an armies of Drow to Dablova (who had never faced them in battle before) and what they could be potentially facing in the sinkhole that now occupied Stahzer. Drayden was quick to revive better spirits in the manor, first expressing his love for his chosen brothers Ix and Lyks. Drayden then rolled up his sleeve and revealed to his friends an assortment of symbols inked onto his forearm, each representing a member of the party (an arrow for Ix, a leaf for Lyks, a star for Reizhodd, a gear for Tic-Toc …) When probed by Dablova about the black spindle among the symbols, Drayden was mum, only telling her it served to remind him that “there is good in everyone, at least once.” Dablova replied that she “hoped to be worthy of adorning his arm one day”, which ignited something impulsive in Ix. He proposed a visit to the local parlor, Tattoos by Gor, where everyone would decorate themselves with a sigil unifying them before battle. Silhouette was quick to follow up with a design: a leafless tree, its branches extending to 9 stars representing each member of the party (and a solitary black star buried at the tree’s roots, signifying those who were now departed.) All were on board except for Lyks, who politely turned down the offer. With further probing from Ix and Drayden, Lyks revealed to them the reason for his hesitation. He showed them that underneath his vestments, his body was already heavily adorned with ink, root-like patterns that represented his eternal connection to Oerth — there was no room for such an intricate pattern! Lyks also revealed to his companions his true, Elven name: Zemilay Lyks, kept secret due to his bastard lineage. It was settled that he would forgo ink in favor of a custom silver cuff from Grek Steelstrike, to be completed upon his return from the Shield Lands (should he make it back alive.) In the spirit of disclosure, Jor-Mak made a revelation of his own. He shed the psychic illusion of a hulking half-ogre the party had come to know to reveal his true form. For a moment, he stood before them a gorgeous vision of a man with flowing hair, perfect alabaster skin, and soft yet piercing eyes. The moment passed and soon Jor-Mak returned to his grizzled self, though the image would be forever held dear in the party’s collective mind. The tattooing and decorating went well into the late evening; Dablova was first to take her leave to rest at the warehouse but not before Drayden expressed his appreciation for her presence. Citing their early hiccups, he told her that he was fond of her openness and thankful she was a part of the company.
The next morning, the party prepared to head to The Mages Guild for quick passage to The Shield Lands. Before joining the party, Dablova sent her Familiar, Moloko, to the home of Enoch Greyspeth with a letter in tow:
My companions and I leave for the Shield Lands at dusk. I do not know if you have found anything of use in your studies that would aid in my cause since last we spoke. Should I not return from battle alive, please see to it that Drayden and his wishes are tended to.
Outside the gates of the Mages Guild, Dablova met with her party plus Lyks’ followers from the Church of Beory and his Pegasus, Snowflake. A lone Mage wandered out to greet the party, but his expression soon twisted to bewilderment at the volume of men in his charge. He retreated back into the academy and returned several minutes later with 2 more Mages in tow. The trio intoned their teleportation spells and Greyhawk dissolved right before the company’s eyes, shifting into the desolate plains of The Shield Lands in a matter of seconds. They turned around to see, at the site of the sinkhole, Countess Katarina and her men already set up in encampments. She greeted the party in her stoic way, gracious of their swift arrival, and they were quickly introduced to her general, Qualen Metryk. Katarina filled the party in on the plans to keep the Drow at bay via the four tunnels previously drilled, as well as the status of her imbecilic cousin Jemman) who had since been institutionalized after suffering injuries from a Hill Giant. With 995 armed men and women geared up for battle — and an additional 600 men from Greyhawk and Furyondy, plus 9 Brownies summoned by Lyks — Katarina remaked to the heroes of Greyhawk one last declaration: “I intend to see tomorrow.”
In their preparations, Ix armed himself by burning scrolls of Tongues and Comprehend Languages in order to understand and speak to the Drow in their own language. Dablova took the initiative to try out her recently acquired Wand of Earth and Stone, and was escorted down into a tunnel separate from her companions. There, she spent the better part of 4 hours casting a Move Earth spell to seal the tunnel shut. After successful completion of the spell, the warriors rejoiced and ushered her to another tunnel, where she took the time to cast the same spell again. Upon closing off the second tunnel, the sinkhole was filled with the howls of spirited warriors. Humbled by their accolades, Dablova readied herself to seal a third. The cheers, however, were cut short by the horns of war: the Drow were near!
As the battle horns blew, the two open tunnels rumbled with the sounds of incoming Drow. Dark elves, Driders, and corrupted gnomes spilled out of the earth with weapons flailing. Ix, Lyks, and Drayden were first to drop down into the open tunnel and were greeted almost immediately by the Drow’s grotesque leader, Skizz’x! Katarina and Qualen cried out to their men above “Archers, loose!” and soon the tunnels were flooded with the rain of arrows from dozens of archers, piercing through the onslaught of Drow. Lyks was first of the party to act, tearing open the ground beneath them to create an earthmaw, whose rocky tendrils crushed 3 enemies upon opening. Ix followed using Modius’ Staff of Power to shoot forth a ray of paralyzing energy, petrifying 6 more enemies who were left at the mercy (or lack thereof) of the archers above. Silhouette rappelled down a rope ladder and was next to join the fray in the tunnel. Mindlinked with the rest of the party thanks to the psionic Jor-Mak, she cried out to her teammates to shield their eyes as she commanded the cursed orb circling around her to unleash a blinding radius of light. The Drow were momentarily dazed by the orb’s brilliance, all except Skizz’x, who charged ahead to attack. As Skizz’x cut down more of Katarina’s men, Ix heard him boast that the tunnels Dablova had sealed would not be enough to contain his soldiers. Elsewhere, Dablova called out to the men above to pull her up from the tunnel, but the battle raging above drowned out her cries. She attempted to climb the unsteady rope ladder, only to fall halfway up, injuring herself in the process. Storm clouds began to gather and thunder rumbled above Stahzer as more and more of Katarina’s men met their end.
Drayden charged into battle, his blade focused squarely on Skizz’x! He swung his sword three times, cutting into the Drider twice. Skizz’x hissed as blue-black blood poured from his wounds. Little time was given to react before Jor-Mak released a wave of psychic energy, igniting the Drider’s brain. Skizz’x’s hiss grew into a full on battlecry as he charged at Drayden with even more violent intensity. While the paladin and Drider squared off, Lyks used Tharun Darkwood’s staff to cast a blessing over those warriors in his vicinity, reinvigorating them as the Drow army continued to hack away at Katarina’s army. Entrenched in the thick of the Drow, Silhouette cast Forget on her attackers, resulting in a pack of perplexed Dark Elves wondering where there were and why they were brandishing blades. Isrygrad took a pinch of sleep dust in his fist and dusted another crowd of attackers, only to find out that Drow were not so susceptible to Sleep Magic (a lesson hard learned!) Appalled by the death around him and eager to show his new companions his mettle, Burbis drew his blowgun and spat darts into two Drow which induced bizarre giggling fits in both of them. Disturbed, the hysterical Drow retreated from the unassuming Gnome. Their retreat was short lived however, as Tic-Toc leapt into battle with a bloodlust and gored into the two Drow, their laughter continuing as he drove his blade deep into their bellies. Attempting to even the odds, Ix called out to Katarina and her men, “beware the smoke!” The warrioress and her men spread out as Ix burned yet another scroll: Cloudkill, the very spell that had taken his life once before underneath Skorane. A putrid, yellow-green cloud of thick fog materialized, enveloping (and instantly slaying) a pack of 8 Drow. The fog spread out, its caustic fumes suffocating 6 more to death. The Drow struck back with brute force: Lyks and Silhouette endured minor slashes while Ix, Tic-Toc, and Isrygrad were attacked more fiercely. Drayden, however, received a devastating blow from Skizz’x, whose poisoned blade cut deep into the paladin.
Over the next hour, 69 more of Katarina’s men were slain as one of the sealed tunnels burst open, spilling even more Drow into the already riotous battlefield. Faintly hearing Dablova’s cries for assistance, Lyks called out to Snowflake to retrieve her. The Pegasus quickly swooped down into the hole and carried the Witch away almost as quickly as it arrived. Dablova and Snowflake circled above the battlefield as storm clouds gave way to heavy rains. Dablova focused her wand yet again, this time transmuting the rock of one of the tunnels to mud in hopes of slowing down more of the Drow from entering the fray.
Continuing to fend off Skizz’x and his immediate forces, Silhouette cast Burning Hands, sending jets of magical flame and setting a trio of Drow ablaze. Meanwhile, Isrygrad learned yet another lesson in battling the Drow when his second dust (a Hold powder) failed to bind all but one of his attackers, whom he dispatched with a crushing blow to the head using his mace, the Fist of Lyks. Ix quickly turned his anger to Skizz’x; his hands enchanted, Ix rushed the Drider, grabbing at him and siphoning off his lifeforce with Vampiric Touch.
As thunder crashed above, the sound of battle horns were heard just outside the encampments amidst the chaos of the battle. Katarina’s men cried out, “Furyondy gives aid!”, as 100 Knights from Furyondy rode to aid of the Shield Lands. Drayden turned his attention towards the men above him cheering and raised his sword in solidarity. Suddenly, his cheers were gargled by the blood filling his throat as a crimson blade burst through his chest plate. Drayden’s eyes welled up as he looked down upon the blade piercing him. Its color and shape were all too familiar to him: it belonged to Tic-Toc! “Tic-Toc…how could you?”, asked the wounded holy warrior. The familiar and repulsive laughter of their nemesis Kr’zzt suddenly rang hollow in the back of Tic Toc’s mechanical throat. “No,no, no…He was never back! It was you the whole time, you fiend!”, cried Drayden. The crimson sword was quickly ripped from Drayden’s torso, and he buckled to the ground, turning around to see the mechanical man he rebuilt wielding the bloodied blade. “Yes, this shell is mine now Paladin. Strike me down if you dare! Even if you destroy your friend, it will not stop me. I’ll haunt you ‘til the end. Your children and your children’s children will learn to fear my name!” Tic-Toc taunted, his voice cold with spite. “Damn you to hell, elf!” Drayden cried, one hand clenching his heart while the other reached for his mystical sword, enchanted by the will of Cortox himself. As Tic-Toc readied himself to finish Drayden off, Drayden drew the legendary blade and as he swung, 17 swords of cosmic energy followed, felling the mechanical man and cutting him back down to scrap.
Drayden dropped his blade and huddled over the remains of Tic-Toc, muttering a soft prayer to Cortox to not forsake his fallen friend. Lyks called out to his Druids, ordering them to rush in tend to Drayden. As they intoned their healing prayers over the wounded paladin, Lyks tossed Drayden an Elixir of Healing. The Beoryian prayers managed to seal the wound; Drayden drank the smallest sip of elixir and tossed the flask back at Lyks. “Save it. for someone who needs it” As Lyks returned his attention to the Drow around him, he noticed something rub against his leg. Lyks takes a moment to consider this cat, so out of place in the din of battle. Upon closer inspection, its body was revealed to be composed of small star-like particles of light. This was no ordinary beast, but the familiar of the Herald of Cortox and Lyks’ former companion, Reizhood. This was Smog! Smog purred softly and looked up at Lyks before charging off into the fray, its form growing to the size of a rhino as it charged. At this cue, Ix’s own miniature companion, the Homunculus Jackdaw, looked sweetly into his master’s eyes, a cheshire grin crawling across its face. “It’s tiiiime” Jackdaw whispered to his keeper, and Modius’ creation began to grow and transform to terrifying size. Jackdaw, now a large, gargoyle-like creature, leapt into the conflict, both celestial beings used their imposing new shapes and powers to tear into the surrounding Drow with savage efficiency.
As the beasts cleared the surrounding area, Drayden felt an intense energy from within the remains of Tic-Toc. All of a sudden, a bright white light engulfed the area, blowing back Drayden and the Drow alike. As the light dimmed, a completely restored Tic-Toc stood, examining his animated body. “Tic?” Drayden whispered, “Cortox be praised!” “Drayden, old friend! I haven’t seen you since we were taken at the Druids’ Grove. Where are we?” Tic-Toc questioned. Drayden took Tic-Toc’s crimson blade and tossed it to him. “No time, friend! We have a war to win!” With that, Drayden and Tic-Toc were back on their feet, hacking and slashing Drow back-to-back in perfect rhythm.
As the battle reached its crux, the storms above began to turn the earth below into mud. Bodies of Drow, warriors, clerics, Knights, and even Brownies littered the field, their blood swirling in the sludge. The Freemen of Greyhawk marched upon the confrontation soon afterwards and jumped into battle, cutting down Drow and Driders with all their might. Turning his attention back to their leader, Lyks eyes burned with fury as he conjured a colossal lightning bolt and sent it barreling through Skizz’x. The bolt incinerated the Drider from the inside out. As his charred corpse fell to the mud, his two generals were flooded with panic. They called out to their troops in their native tongue “Fall back! Fall back! We cannot win here!” As the Drow retreated, Ix hurled fireballs down the through their tunnels adding insult to injury.
In the wake of the Drow’s retreat, the heavy rains began to subside and the thick clouds scattered. Though many had fallen, those that still remained stood exhausted but victorious. Lyks called out to Snowflake to bring Dablova back to the party and Jackdaw and Smog returned to their normal sizes, Jackdaw’s roaring and disturbing laughter in the throes of victory transforming to a delightful giggle as his form reduced itself. Jackdaw rushed back to Ix while Smog leapt into Lyks hands to be pet. “Thank you friend”, the druid/ranger whispered to the heavens. Smog purred deeply in the champion’s arms, its body dissipating with every stroke until nothing remained. Katarina and Qualen ordered men to assist the champions of Greyhawk out from the tunnel they were contained in. As Katarina helped the heroes return to the encampments, a Seer rushed to Katarina whispering something in her ear. Katarina stopped and turned her attention towards the battered, muck-covered men and women: _"The lives lost this night were not lost in vain. We have subdued the forces of Arachnia against impossible odds and I now have word that the rangers of the Vesve Forest, the united forces of Furyondy and the Wolf Nomads of Eru-Tovar have shared our blessings on the field of battle." “Together, we have accomplished the unimaginable, and in doing so, we have secured our lands from the threat of Arachnia for a generation to come!” “The Drow sue for peace!”
With that, the battlefield erupted in an explosion of triumph.