War of the Burning Sky

Session LXXII

22 Almsberth 459

Another trumpet sounded, two quick bursts to carry orders into the castle. The firestorm raged to either side, and Shalosha felt the heat sliding across her skin. The stink of human soldiers and sweat was near to overwhelming. With her soleil palancis bodyguard, the elven princess hovered several feet over the heads of her phalanx of archers. Ragesian soldiers flowed by to either side, forming up in ranks near the entrance to the Sindairi fortress. Her own forces purported themselves well, with a stoicism that only seasoned elves could muster. They were a long way from home, and no one trusted the Ragesians.

Another trumpet sounded from behind them, a half-mile or more along the causeway. General Magdus’s primary force was on the move. Shalosha’s pretty features screwed up in an almost human gesture of consternation; she and the general were allies for this particular mission, but Magdus had yet to accede to any further strategy of complicity. Shalosha knew the man was ambitious, and knew that he hated the empress nearly as much as any man could… but there were limits to ambition, and if war created an environment of opportunities, it also reminded men of their mortality. Shalosha shuddered… that was one of her father’s adages, but when he said it, there was always something sadistic about it.

A sudden shower of fire and stone exploded from a point several dozen meters above the castle entrance. As if propeled by an enormous catapult, some sort of flying vessel shot from the newly formed opening in the castle rock and flung itself along the top of the canyon. Ragesian soldiers had only moments to respond, and shouts erupted the length of the column. Raised fingers and blades followed the course progress of the flying palanquin, and more than a few arrows flew in pursuit. Shalosha was proud to note that her own men were better trained; bows were raised, but no one fired without an order from the princess.

The golden sled was carrying a half dozen or more souls away from the castle at speed, and Shalosha didn’t doubt for an instant that the Torch of the Burning Sky was with them.

Ordering her bodyguard to keep pace, Shalosha rose into the air on the wings of her magic and gave chase, quickly closing the distance with the flying sleigh. As she grew near, one of the vessel’s crew moved to the stern of the craft, the better to intervene should she grow too near. The man did not fit the description she had of the mysterious Stormborn, but he was tall and stately nonetheless, and the weapon he brandished was without doubt an artifact of fey origin.

“I would speak with the Stormborn!” she shouted, struggling to be heard above the wind of their passage. The man shook his head. “Please!” she continued, “I am not in league with these men, but for the need to keep the Coaltongue’s treasure from the hand of the empress!”

The man seemed to consider, raising his voice at last and signaling her to keep her distance.

“Then come to us in Seaquen,” he shouted, “and we shall see!”

Any further conversation was lost as a massive golden drake burst free from the castle behind them and immediately gave chase. Shalosha blinked, unable to comprehend how such a beast could come to be here in the accursed place. Her bodyguard drew near, insisting that they break pursuit. As she and her companion retreated toward the canyon below, the dragon set a steady course on the heels of the strange little airship. Shalosha prayed that they would reach Seaquen at all, should she have any opportunity to continue with her mission.

Eventually leaving their pursuer behind, the party left the area of Castle Korstull and the fiery maelstrom which surrounded it and flew southward until the magic of the palanquin was drained. In the hills of southern Sindaire, the heroes make camp, preparing to return to Seaquen on the morrow.

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Session LXXI

22 Almsberth 459

Jasmine…?

The swordswoman took a breath, held it in… It seemed loud in her ears, almost drowning out the commotion as everyone moved into position.

Jasmine… I don’t think is a good idea.

Jasmine smiled, deciding not to respond the disembodied voice floating in the back of her mind. Of course this wasn’t a good idea. They’d had few enough of those since leaving Gate Pass… and very little time to stop and think about them first. This was no exception.

Elessar signaled that the party was in place. Details of the room sprang into focus. Basil was quietly examining a new blade pilfered from Coaltongue’s treasury, while the diminutive figures of Clan Millorn scrambled about trying to decide the best way to carry a massive jeweled game board. Kiernan glanced her way, as if preparing to say something. Paradoxically, Jasmine relished in the moment, quite possibly her very last. So often she danced to death’s merry tune, so often spinning from its boney grasp at the last possible instant. These were the moments that she had come to live for, the rare moments when every precious second seemed an eternity.

Jasmi- Crystin’s final plea devolved into an internal scream as Jasmine jerked open the door as the heat subsided and ran headlong toward the open maw of an angry wyrm…

Jasmine never felt more alive…

With a daring plan of attack designed to get the party past the dragon and into the Black Pyre chamber, the heroes flee the royal suite and throw themselves into battle. Meanwhile, a Ragesian army marches into the courtyard below and begins sending troops into the castle.

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Session LXX

22 Almsberth 459

Debris flowed through the air with little concern for antiquated concepts like gravity. Kiernan coughed, waving his gauntleted hand to clear away the dust. Fighting had erupted in the grand chamber at the end of the hall, and the gathering treasure-seekers of the diminutive Clan Millorn were huddling behind their leaders just outside the room. The priest could clearly see his own halfling comrades in the ruddy flames of the columned dance hall, one pulling rapidly at the string of his deadly bow, the other intercepting flying chunks of masonry before they could squash her brother. Sparks of wayward magic rattled against the walls, adding further choking hazzards to the surrounding atmosphere.

A blazing ring of flaming death surrounded much of the dance hall, and fire-weeping skeletons hurtled across the chamber. Some sort of large, unseen assailant kept Elessar pinned down near the entrance, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to locate his other companions. Kiernan could just make out the party’s undersized pyromancer sailing by in mid-air, firing a steady stream of smoking cinders from his fingertips with unerring accuracy.

With precious little fanfare, the enemy leader drifted into the chamber, an incorporeal inquisitor who crackled with dark energy. Kiernan felt the knot tighten in the pit of his stomach. No monster he had ever faced had struck him as so intrinsically unnatural. The profanity was enough to coat the young cleric’s skin in a fine sheen of dirty sweat. Even as he steeled himself to bathe the creature in holy fire, the inquisitor’s gaze settle upon him and seemed to turn his gut to ice. This being was far more than a simple undead monstrosity; he was evil in a way Kiernan scarcely believed in. And with a wave of his ghostly hand, he turned the world upside-down and Kiernan found himself falling toward him… and into the wall of spinning blades which now appeared between them.

All he knew then was searing pain and the blessed silence that preceded death.

A battle rages in the castle’s upper level, and Griiat‘s forces wreak havoc on the party’s morale. He is soon defeated, however, and the remaining foes explode in blackened flames and clouds of ash. Kiernan is saved at the brink of death, and all but a couple of wayward gnomes manage to survive the massive melee. A glance out the window of the undead inquisitor’s private sanctum reveals an approaching Ragesian army, and the heroes begin to seriously consider their options of escaping should the Torch of the Burning Sky fail to appear.

A deeper exploration of the royal chambers reveals yet another inquisitor in residence, this one corporeal and at the brink of death. Darius by name, the inquisitor is grateful for his timely rescue and reveals that he has languished at death’s door since Coaltongue’s assassination in that very chamber. The floor nearby bears silent testimony to his feverish meanderings with numerous seemingly prophetic verses scrawled in blood. Darius is also able to describe the assassins who stole his master away in the midst of the night and somehow caused the rift that buried Castle Korstull in a maelstrom of fire and created the Burning Sky effect which cloaks the realm.

A quick survey of the interior chambers reveals a treasure room, which both the party and Clan Millorn set to with a will. All except one, anyway; Ernest, the seemingly dim-witted halfling who occasionally became separated from his compatriots, lingers at the end of the long corridor leading to the dance hall. Smiling at Jasmine from the end of the hall, Ernest transforms suddenly into the seela dissident Vuhl, revealing himself as the trillith Deception, and intones the party’s doom as he animates a massive draconic skeleton hanging on the wall. As the golden-scaled behemoth revives and turns to face them, Jasmine throws the door shut just before the room can be bathed in a burst of dragonfire.

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Session LXIX

22 Almsberth 459

The sounds of merriment became steadily louder as Derek made his way further into the castle’s blockaded bandquet hall. The diminutive mage suppressed the urge to cough as he trudged through the fine layer of dust that coated the floor, most of it seeming to gravitate to the surface of his robe. His fingers twitched with the compulsion to cantrip it clean, perhaps summon little eddies of wind to keep the dust at bay… there were challenges to being eleven inches high that he had never previously considered.

He navigated around a toppled piece of woodwork as he emerged from beneath the displaced cupboard, and then blinked a couple of times. There was no light in the room, but the sight that befell his magically enhanced vision was bizarre to say the least. There was clearly a dinner party in progress, complete with drinking, music, laughter and the clinking of goblets… but none of the diners appeared to be in any way alive. The ghoulish grins that surrounded the tables gave him chills, reminding him once again of the incident in the flaming wood where he was ambushed from above. An emaciated minstrel pranced upon the tables, bits of cutlery sticking out of his limbs, and the revelers raised their glasses as he passed and plucked out the forks, consuming the bits of flesh still attached to the tines.

And at the high table in the chamber’s far corner lurked the strangest – and quite possible most disturbing – creature Derek had ever seen. Its gelatinous mass seemed to undulate with the mirth of the room’s macabre revelers, sending numerous bones and bits of debris into rotation within its depths. Derek studied the abomination for several moments, and then came to a conclusion.

It appeared that he had located the elusive Lord Gorquith.

Breaking in on the macabre dinner party, the heroes manage to negotiate a parley with the undead ooze-creature that was once Lord Pietr Gorquith, master of Castle Korstull until it was sacked by Emperor Coaltongue. Less interested in the disruption of their revelry than in the destruction of the castle’s current overseer, the ghostly Inquisitor Griiat, Gorquith imparts upon the heroes the secret to the operation of the lift to the royal apartments in the uppermost level of the fortress. Withdrawing in due course and leaving the lifeless courtiers to their endless celebration, the heroes meet Clan Millorn at the lift and make their way to the third floor.

The halls of the upper floor become an instant battleground as the party is ambushed upon arrival. Skeletal archers line the halls behind narrow slits in the stone, and undead swordsman fall upon the first of the heroes to emerge from the entry corridor. The party’s diminutive magus flits about the hall and slides into the nearest arrow slit, using his magics to disrupt some of the archery as his companions work their way through the deadly assault. The halfling paladin Grellfin Flintflindercandle joins the initial charge, but most of Clan Millorn remains to the rear as the more capable heroes deal with the ambush. The battleground is further complicated by the tide from the Astral Sea which has somehow swallowed the upper story, making it possible to walk the walls or ceiling or “fall” down the hall.

After contending with the welcoming party and their initial wave of reinforcements, Arlyn creeps into the dance hall.

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Session LXVIII

22 Almsberth 459

... Schick…

Charmalina froze, the points of her ears quivering. There was a chill to the air, and she kept expecting to see her breath. She no longer heard Kiernan moving about, and could easily picture him lapsing into a meditative state, oblivious to anything going on around him. The narrow corridor was silent, but the for the occasional snore or similar expression from the rooms behind her, so the distant sound seemed loud to her pointy little ears.

... Schick… schick…

There it was again. Charm’s eyes grew wide as she realized what she was hearing. It was the scrape of bone against stone. Just beneath it, she now recognized the jingle of mail. They were moving quietly, like a predator closing in on its prey, but there was no doubt in her mind that it was one of this castle’s wayward skeletal patrols… and that they were drawing near.

“Someone’s coming!” she shouted, drawing her heavy blade. Its dull glimmer did little to disrupt her magically-enhanced vision. “Wake up!”

They turned the corner, pausing only long enough to note the lone halfling shouting in the empty passage. One of them immediately raised a heavy crossbow, loosing a wicked-looking bolt in her direction. It stung as it lodged in her armor, chipping into the stony flesh beneath, and Charmalina flinched, imagining another crack in the fine spiderweb of creases that had begun to form in her magical hide. She took a second to extract the quarrel. The tip was bloody, an ample reminder that she was more than just a moving statue. She casually tossed it aside.

It was a brief sprint for the nearest of the undead warriors. Charmalina had but moments to perform a head count as the skeleton’s narrow blades closed for the kill. There were six grinning undead soldiers, weeping tears of flame from their bony eye sockets… and there was something else. Some sort of shodowy, cloaked shape hovering in the air behind, huge and menacing. Charm took a casual swipe at her forehead to keep the sweat from her eyes and turned her attention to her assailant.

These weren’t typical undead soldiers, clumsy and unthinking. There was an awareness or memory of some sort that guided their weapons. They fought like men, cautious at times, vicious at others, but never careless. Charmalina’s assessment of the creature as a warrior did little to shake her confidence as she deftly ducked the first swing of his sword, but she knew the bite of those blades. They did more than wound; they burned your body and seared your soul. It was best to avoid contact with them.

Most of the patrol were of the agile sword-wielding variety, but a couple of them were the larger orcish undead with the massive axes and spiked shields. One of them raised his hand and spoke, the hollow words indecipherable and heavy with arcane menace. One of the doors at the halfling’s back slammed open and Jasmine slipped into the corridor, Charmalina’s malformed brother on her heels. As they slid to a stop, the enemy commander’s invocation took hold and a sheet of magical flame billowed into the hallway, forcing the heroes to put their backs to the wall to avoid the conflagration. The corridor instantly became a furnace.

Which Charmalina quickly realized did little to hamper their opponents. A couple of the swordsmen moved past her, their blades wreathed in the flame they used as a magical halfling repellent. Before she could move to intercept, one of the orcish brutes was upon her, straddling the fire and swinging his waraxe in a level sweep. She quickly dropped into a crouch, her vision growing hazy around the edges as she summoned the bloodlust. Her blade seemed to hum in anticipation, and she smiled, tasting blood and sweat as she adjusted her grip.

Jasmine took note of the approaching undead who lurked in the magical flame. Ahead of her, Charmalina deftly dodged the stroke of a mighty axe and smashed the ribcage of one of her smaller assailants, her blade leaving bluish trails in the air. Jasmine could see that her diminutive companion was now foaming at the mouth and judged that there would be no further communication with the girl until the battle was done. Even as one of Charm’s opponents fell to pieces, the awewielder somehow reversed his momentum and cleaved into the halfling’s side. Charmalina grunted in pain, then started laughing.

Jasmine shook her head. Someone should’ve warned these walking stickmen about the berserker in their midst.

The assassin hadn’t the time to watch the girl work, however, as a pair of fiery blades swam from the nearby wall of flame. Jasmine easily batted the swords aside, opening a path for her magical mace. She smiled as it hid dead center, driving the warrior back a step with a shower of sparks. She could clearly hear the thwack of Arlyn’s bowstring as he fired one of his deadly projectiles past her as she fought. The arrow traveled the length of the corridor, slamming into the skull of a swordsman on approach to his sister and removing the head entirely. The rest of the creature hung comically for a fraction of a second, as if unaware of its condition, before finally crashing to the floor in bony pieces.

Charmalina spun to face the commander who had summoned the wall of fire and charged, not even slowing as Arlyn’s victim shattered in front of her. Bone dust and ash formed a cloud in the air as the skeletal brute met her charge head on, his axewielding companion stepping in behind her and tearing rents in her armor with each mighty stroke. Caught between the both of them, Charm was unable to meet them blow for blow and quickly fell beneath their blood-soaked axes.

Jasmine heard a vile curse emit from her goblinoid companion and looked up in time to see Charm’s broken body sliding to the floor. She felt a cold lump form in the pit of her stomach. It was unlikely that the halfling swordswoman would rise from that. Before she could react, however, Anyariel joined the fight. From the door nearest their fallen comrade, Elessar emerged, his eltritch oaken blade now wreathed in flame. Jasmine blinked, groaning as her nearest assailant managed to get through her defenses. She was unaccustomed to seeing the paladin wade into battle without his armor. Even as she was struck by the oddity of it, one of the skeletal axemen drew a line across his chest.

Behind Jasmine, Kiernan stepped into the corridor, a cool blue mist clinging to his body. Arlyn leaned past him, firing yet another arrow toward the undead soldiers, this time felling one of Jasmine’s own unholy foes. Free of any immediate threat, Jasmine launched herself along the length of the hall, ducking Elessar’s backswing as he drove his enchanted blade into the nearest axeman’s midsection, tearing him to pieces. The paladin shifted to his left, driving Anyariel up to meet the other warrior’s downswing, and Jasmine dropped to her knees, scrabbling for her pouch where a healing potion was kept. It didn’t seem possible given the depths of the girl’s wounds, but Charmalina continued to draw breath. Even as the assassin watched, an invocation from the priest somewhere behind her was closing the halfling’s wounds. Jasmine shook her head, glancing up at Elessar as the paladin finished the last of their foes.

The knight turned to inspect Charmalina’s wounds. Jasmine froze, wide-eyed, as a massive wraith swept up behind him and reached its chilling hand into the paladin’s body as if questing for his heart. Elessar never saw it coming. An ashen look fell across his features as he stumbled from the spirit’s grasp. Jasmine leapt to a crouch and rolled forward, attempting to get behind the beast and divide its attention. She felt its touch, but slid past it with little more than a chill. Gaining her feet, she spun to ward off the monster’s next attack.

That’s when Kiernan raised the icon of his faith and invoked the names of his chosen dieties. Unable to bear the presence of such divine strength, the wraith fled, ascending into the ceiling and disappearing from sight. With a solemn nod and a quiet prayer, the cleric reached for the fiery wall and extiguished it, plunging the corridor back into darkness.

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Session LXVII

21 Almsberth 459

Elessar froze. It wasn’t any particular sound that gave it away… at least, nothing that the paladin could make out. The group had paused at an intersection deep in the castle’s lower halls. Kiernan was muttering a quick prayer nearby, sealing the cuts Basil had earned opening a door down the hall. Elessar felt the slightest pang of guilt after suggesting that the swashbuckler proceed through the door first, following his expert pronouncement that there weren’t any traps. He or Charmalina could have handled it better; the swordsman just wasn’t as hardy or nearly as well-armored.

The paladin focused his attention away from the priest, however, and watched the darkness at the far end of the hall. Narrow doors lined the corridor, suggesting that it must have served as some sort of servants’ quarters. But the far end of the hall was lost in darkness, beyond the reach of their magically-enhanced vision. And something… something waited in the darkness. He couldn’t see it, couldn’t really sense it… his mystic gift from the goblin’s artifact back in Eresh was virtually useless in this place, as very few of their opponents radiated any sort of life energy. Quite the contrary… Elessar was finding it increasingly difficult to see the living dead, even the one’s who had solid bodies and swung real steel.

There it was again… just at the edge of his vision. And it was big.

Elessar blinked. It was charging.

An undead bulette guards the inner halls. After it is vanquished, the heroes settle in for the night in the servants’ quarters, waiting for the following day when the pump will have built up enough pressure to operate the lift to the uppermost floor.

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Session LXVI

21 Almsberth 459

“Give me strength to fell my enemies… bathe my soul in fire and pain… Cleanse from my eyes the light of day, that all may know the glory and the passion of thy dark caress…”

Griiat muttered the invocation without thought, without expectation. Though the flames of the Dark Pyre were several chambers away, he could feel their heat like a bosom companion, a patient lover… a piece of his blackened soul. The former inquisitor had no illusions about the wickedness which resided in his heart. Since his rebirth in the flames of the Dark Pyre, the weight of his failure had settled within his incorporeal breast and clenched its icy grip around his lifeless heart. There would be no end to his wretched existence, now that the fires had cleansed him of all else…

“My master…”

Griiat turned. Reddengot’s hollow voice was unmistakable. The dread wraith hovered just beyond the edge of the doorway, a loose chunk of masonry drifting slowly through his head. Griiat considered his servant thoughtfully, the litany of the Pyre continuing to tumble from his undead lips.

“My master… the barracks is lost, master.”

Griiat nodded, returning his gaze to the mirrors around him. He had seen them emerge, knew that they were now in the temple. The place was full of fiends, but beyond his gaze. Nevertheless, these interlopers might very well be powerful enough to send the devils whence they came and cleanse him of an eternal irritant. He would wait… Then, when they were least expecting it, his servants would descend upon them and cut them down.

”... give me strength to fell my enemies…”

In the lower levels of Castle Korstull, the heroes complete their exploration of the chapel, vanquishing numerous fiends in the process.

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Session LXV

21 Almsberth 459

“Bah!” Kazyk thrust the cauldron from the table, his beard tendrils twitching with annoyance. “Useless!”

His companion snorted and shrugged, sniffing at the pot as he picked it up. Much to Kazyk’s disgust, the other devil then dipped a pointed digit into the concoction and put it to his lips, moving his blackened tongue around a bit. He nodded approvingly.

“Feel anything?” Kazyk asked, throwing up his arms. The mixture wasn’t intended to be palatable. The primary ingredient was the toxin from the bone devils, which Kazyk hoped to make use of as a coating for his glaive. After a moment, his quiet companion shook his head and opened his mouth to comment on the taste. Kazyk cocked his head to one side and held out a hand to keep him silent. He heard something.

The bearded devil crossed the tiny kitchen to the door, grabbing his glaive in case there was a fight waiting on the other side. He’d become jumpy in recent months, even more so since they’re incidental incarceration in this gods-forsaken castle. The stench of the place reminded him of that fiery woodland to the east, and he hated it. Pulling the heavy door open, he blinked at the sight of the narrow figure lurking in front of it with lockpicks in hand. The man seemed just as surprised as he.

His companions slightly less so.

As wicked blades materialized in her hands, a fiery-haired woman pushed the thin man aside and tumbled into the room. Kazyk’s eyes were wide as he tried to get a grasp on the intrusion, but his glaive was already spinning. Yet another female was in the doorway, this one only three feet tall but armed with a sizable blade. Kazyk frowned, pointing a bony finger at the diminutive swordswoman.

“Don’t I know you…?”

They were his final words.

The heroes begin their investigation of the chapel, which is occupied by fiends.

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Session LXIV

21 Almsberth 459

Oller Pennyteller blinked as he lurked in the entrance to the armory, taking in the crowded room and its wealth of weaponry. He had been noticed, by the halfling archer and the lady Jasmine, both of whom were staring openly. Oller suppressed a smile, a little embarrassed suddenly that he had so easily bypassed their defenses. It wouldn’t do to antagonize these people, particularly when he was here to plead for help. Jasmine touched her knightly companion’s arm, drawing his attention toward their new arrival, then approached him warily. What little conversation had been present trailed off suddenly as everyone realized that he was there.

Unaccustomed to the attention, the gnomish treasure-hunter shuffled his feet slightly and cleared his throat. Jasmine had arched one delicate brow, and it suddenly occurred to him that the woman probably had elvish blood in her veins. It was the eyes, very slightly elongated. He couldn’t see her ears; she wore a cap on her head that kept them covered.

Oller shook his head, realizing that he had been silent for too long. He had a tendency to get distracted, particularly when he was nervous.

“I need…” he started, pausing to take a breath, “your help.”

As the party prepares to break camp, Clan Millorn’s representative, unbeknownst to his companions, begs the heroes to deal with the threat in the pump room. He expresses that Jorrina intends to make it their next target, since repairing the pump would allow them to activate the lift to the castle’s uppermost level. He explains that they would definitely have the ability to effect the appropriate repairs, which the heroes likely do not, but believes that Clan Millorn is in over their head in regards to the castle’s defenders. And their mistress, of course, has no intention of asking the party for help.

Agreeing to investigate the pump room, the heroes make their way into the heart of the castle and approach the chamber with caution. A group of undead gnolls occupy the room. The battle is brief but vicious, the last of the monsters foretelling their doom as it leaps to its own destruction in the underground river at its back, rather than be taken or destroyed by the heroes. Shrugging, the party withdraws from the vicinity of the broken machinery.

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Session LXIII

21 Almsberth 459

Charmalina wrinkled her nose. Even the armory, secluded as it was above the barracks, smelled of charcoal and ash. She suspected that she might never be free of the stink of this place.

She stretched a little, standing on her toes, and glanced around the room. Weapons and armor of every sort glinted in the lantern light, providing an almost pleasant glow to the chamber. Elessar, Kiernan, Basil and Jasmine were sifting through the contents, pulling out weapons that might prove more useful against the undead. This castle was obviously crawling with them, and their blades didn’t seem to bother them overly much.

Charm blinked as her stretching motions added a small cloud of dust to the air. Some of those monsters had a very strong swing, which seemed suprising given their lack of muscle tissue, and another crack had appeared in her marble exterior, crawling from her left shoulder partway down her arm. As invincible as the stone skin made her feel, she was beginning to worry about the permanence of the cracks. Magical healing just didn’t seem to do anything about them, though it otherwise made her feel better.

Arlyn laid a hand on her shoulder, offering her an encouraging smile. She couldn’t help but grin.

After all… they still had an entire castle to explore.

After a small amount of exploration of their immediate environs, the heroes settle into the armory for a short rest.

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