Thirteenth Cataclysm

Blood & Lightning
The Legend Begins

This story begins with the group (consisting of Miri the Tiefling Fighter, “Sir” Gares Noleg the Aasimar Barbarian, Norn Steelfist the Dwarven Cleric, Kawil the Cloaked the Elven Rogue, and Wizholm Glyphweaver the Gnome Wizard) all signed onto a caravan which was delivering supplies to Boltstrike Pillar, one of the Dragon Empire’s most valuable magical research centers. Signed on for various reasons, ranging from mercenary to historical, the group banded together when a group of Goblin bandits, led by an infamous Goblin sorcerer, attempted to rob the caravan. The ensuing battle saw the goblins dead (and the King’s bounty hunter, Noleg, the richer for taking the head of said sorcerer), although some of the goblins rising as zombies indicated that maybe the bandits weren’t working on their own.

After the ambush, the group made it to Boltstrike Pillar, where they met Hyrum Chuckman, Captain of the Guard, and Brother Stonehammer, a priest of Steelfist, a great Dwarven Hero. While Gares made his way to the Pillar’s scrying chamber to call in the bounty, the rest of the group informed Captain Chuckman about the bandits they had faced. This caused the Captain pause, since he said that the tower’s magical defenses should have alerted the guard to the presence of a new bandit group in the area.

Two members of the group, Norn and Wizholm, were at the tower to retrieve Glaezentorg, the personal axe of Steelfist himself which had become corrupted by some unknown malignant magic. However, since the axe had been in the tower for so long, some of the cursed magic had become attuned to the Tower’s aura, and the wizards in the tower needed time to disentangle the cursed axe’s magic from the Pillar’s with a ritual. They, along with the Kawil, Miri, and Gares, agreed to Captain Chuckman’s request that they set off traps in the nearby ruin of Greenstand (the traps being set because Greenstand was so often used as a base by various bandit groups). Well, after negotiating a generous fee, of course.

The group followed a hidden undergound passage to Greenstand. The first thing wrong they sensed was the smell of burning flesh. The wizard sent his owl to scout ahead; it reported back that the traps had already been set off and that there was something odd about the site. The group headed up to find the goblin bandits massacred, along with several dead Lizardlings that didn’t look like they fit in with the bandit’s Lich King-inspired appearance. Several large gashes in the ruin indicated to the group that what they were facing was more than just mere bandits; a dragon was going to be their enemy.

The group raced back to Boltstrike Pillar, just in time to see a massive blue dragon blast the tower’s magic defenses down with its lightning breath. It also was carrying several lizardlings on its back, which leaped onto the top of the tower to begin a fell ritual, no doubt involving Glaezentorg. Before the dragon could do any more damage to the Pillar, Captain Chuckman threw a ruined piece of the tower at the dragon’s wing, crippling it and causing the dragon to crash onto the ground below.

The group now had a choice to make, and decided that stopping the ritual was more important since the dragon wasn’t going anywhere. They raced to the top of the tower, although during their ascent, they could see that the guards had turned on each other due to the bloodthirsty curse of Glaezentorg. When the reach the top, they found most of the tower’s wizards had been killed as part of the ritual. The lizardlings, however, were not the ones conducting the ritual; that fell upon the bloody hands of Brother Stonehammer!

Stonehammer, apparently disgusted with the declining dwarven culture, had made some kind of dark pact with the Three to magnify the axe’s curse. Before he could finish the ritual, however, Wizholm, enraged that one of his favorite professors had been one of the wizards killed, managed to call upon his most powerful magic and melted Stonehammer with a bolt of acid. The lizardlings began to fight with the group, although they were no match for them, several being hurled off the edge of the tower.

In the middle of the fight, however, out of the puddle of acid erupted a draconic-looking figure. Glaezentorg’s bloody curse had suffused the body of Stonehammer, bringing him back to life and mutating his body to match his new allegiance. The mutated Stonehammer fought with Norn, with Kawil helping to bring him down too. The battle ended when Norn summoned the spirits of his heroic ancestors, who hurt Stonehammer enough that he decided to flee rather than continue to fight a losing battle. He swore to the Steelfist heir that he would see him again, though.

At the battle’s end, the group managed to find a severely injured by still alive Captain Chuckman, who reminded the group that the dragon was still at the base of the tower. Wizholm cast a feather fall spell on the group, and they all leapt off the tower to face off against their final foe. The dragon laughed at the group as they approached, telling them that no matter how the battle went, the Three had won the day now that the curse of Glaezentorg was under their control (albeit in an unexpected way).

As epic music began to play, the battle began. Norn, now wielding an un-cursed Glaezentorg, and Miri pressed the advantage, making sure the dragon had nowhere to turn to. Wizholm unleashed magical might while Gares hurled javelins with the force of thunderbolts. And Kawil managed to teleport onto the dragon’s back, stabbing the wounded beast in the eyes and leaving it vulnerable for Steelfist to once again summon the spirits of his heroic ancestors to finish it off.

Although the group had managed to kill the dragon and drive off Stonehammer, the Three had still wrought destruction upon Boltstrike Pillar, which was closed down due to most of the researchers there being killed. What the Three will do with the anthropomorphized curse of an ancient Dwarven weapon is anyone’s guess, but it surely cannot be good…

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And Your Prize is Demons!
When it comes to demons, everything is creepier.

The day after the Battle of Boltstrike Pillar took place, the group awoke to find that Kawil had disappeared. The spy had taken his share of the gold, and had only left a note that said “bye.” Apparently, he had just beaten out the large storm front that made it impossible to leave the spire for a week. During this time, Wizholm adjusted to using the magical powers which had become warped as a side-effect of Stonehammer’s ritual, Norn made sure that Glaezentorg’s curse was gone (it was), Noleg crafted 2 cloaks from the dragon the group had slain (one for him, one for the Emperor), and Miri sparred with Captain Chuckman so that he could get back in shape for his return to duty.

After a week had passed, the storm broke, mainly due to a contingent of magical investigators that the Empire had sent to determine what had gone on at the pillar. At their head was Sir Leon, one of the Empire’s Dragon Knights. In addition to escorting the investigators, Sir Leon had come to give “Sir” Noleg his next assignment: the capture or death of Ian Baker, a pastry chef-turned-demon summoner with ties to the Diabolist. Baker had apparently disappeared into the Northern frontier of the Empire, and events up there were concerning enough that a bounty had been placed on his head.

Noleg was ready to move of course, and the others decided to come along because demonologists are bad news. Sir Leon provided the four with horses, and so the four set off along the road carved by the migration of the Great Koru Behemoths. While on the way, the group passed the time by relating some incidents in their past to each other. Norn expressed his concern that he might be the last great hero that the Dwarves would ever produce, and that he felt it was his sworn duty to end the Orcish menace that had threatened his people once and for all. Noleg talked about his first ever assignment as an Imperial Hunter: namely, the takedown of a noble that had been sacrificing other nobles to a demon lord. Wizholm mentioned that he was not quite a living gnome, nor was he an undead gnome either. Maybe his soul was put back into his body wrong, or something along those lines, but whatever it was, it appeared that the Prince of Shadows and his organization were interested in just what he had become. Miri mentioned that she had been a part of a Holy Order dedicated to the Great Gold Wyrm.

The storytelling was put on hold as a group of bandits attempted to waylay the party. Before hostilities broke out, though, the bandit leader called off the attack and bowed to Miri. Apparently seeing her as a long-awaited chosen one, he became extraordinarily helpful, to a very creepy degree. He also appeared to know that the group had arrived in the area to eliminate Baker. The group theorized that this group might be a demon-worshipping cult that didn’t like Baker, but the aid that the bandits provided, in the form of Portal=Sealing Daggers (that probably should have belonged to a Holy Order) and info about where Baker was were reluctantly accepted by the group.

The bandit leader also mentioned what Baker was up to: apparently, he was attempting to open up a new Hellhole. Hellholes being, as much of the group knew from various experiences, areas in which a portal into Hell was opened up. Since more Hellholes meant more demons wandering the countryside, the group decided that speed was of the essence, and let the bandits slink off into the bushes, while all agreeing that they hoped they wouldn’t meet those creepers again.

The group moved in towards Baker’s location, the Ruined Fortress of Arn (Arn being a fortification constructed by the Dwarves in the 3rd Age). The rocky terrain meant that they had to leave their horses by the bottom of the hill and not engage in any mounted combat to the GM’s relief. Before moving into the Fortress, Noleg used his snazzy new Blue Dragon Cloak to fly over the Fortress and scout it out. Said reconnaissance revealed to the group that their best course of action was to charge into a horde of demons and beat the ever-loving crap out of them. Which they then proceeded to do.

The party initiated a bloody battle which revealed that dretches make terrible guards. After killing several of the demons, Noleg decided to finish one off by tearing off its head with his bare hands. This caused the remaining hellspawn to flee the battlefield. The group then made its way into the fortress, where they found Ian Baker and a summoned imp performing a ritual to open a hell portal. After expressing disbelief that his dretch army did nothing to stop the heroes, Ian left the ritual to autocomplete while commanding more dretches to act as meat shields between him and his foes. This went as well as could be expected.

The group quickly barged through the dretch wall, and made their way onto the dias where the portal ritual was being conducted. This, of course, caused Ian to freak out. Rightfully so, in fact, since he and his imp ended up being chunkified by Noleg’s axe, after said Imp was pummeled by Miri and Norn. The group then attempted to begin to close the portal, when a demon tore its way out of the portal and into the world.

This new demon was an inferno of hellfire and hate known as a Rage Demon, and it wanted to lash out at the nearest targets. Miri met the being’s charge, with the Rage Demon commenting that she was “his” descendent, a comment which will probably never become relevant. While Miri, Norn, and Noleg combated the thing, Wizholm began the sealing procedure. The fight ended quickly when Miri discovered that she could turn her arms into buzzsaws as well as swords, and eviscerated the Rage Demon. While the Demon proceeded to seriously injure Miri, it was left weak enough that the spirit of Gram Steelfist, conjured by Norn, was enough to banish it back into hell.

After the battle, the group proceeded to quickly seal up the portal, averting the creation of a new Hellhole. But before they could celebrate, a shadowy figure lept into the room, grabbed Wizholm, and leapt out of the room, shouting that it needed to “borrow” Wizholm. The figure then greeted Wizholm; it was Grimble Glyphweaver, Wizholm’s estranged brother and subordinate of the Prince of Shadows.

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His "Name" is Billy Blind
"I could tell you... but it would *cost* you."

After successfully preventing the opening of another Hell Hole, our heroes were blindsided by a shadowy figure kidnapping Wizholm before their very eyes. Naturally, this shit wasn’t going to stand, so the remaining three gave chase.

The chase abruptly ended when they found Wizholm and his kidnapper, Grimble Glyphweaver (who was also Wizholm’s brother) standing in front of a large boulder, acting all surly. Grimble proceeded to cause a door to open in the boulder, which lead to an office of some kind. The person inside the office invited the four to enter. They did so, with reservations.

The man inside his office introduced himself as Billy Blind, an information dealer. He mentioned that he found the four “interesting” and that he would be happy to offer his services to them. To make good on this arrangement, he even offered them some information for “free:” the new front in the Orcish Wars that they had heard about was about the get more bloody, since the Orcs planned to sneak behind enemy lines and assassinate the military leaders there.

Naturally, the group wondered where Billy Blind got his information. And, again naturally, Billy Blind gave them no clues to go on. Deciding that they couldn’t risk the information not being true, the group headed out to go and stop the assassination plot. Before they left, Grimble gave Wizholm a staff that he had found in the wreckage of their childhood home; some part of Grimble still cared about his older brother.

Fortunately, the horses that the group had used were rested up in the time it took for the group to battle demons and meet a shady information dealer, so they were off towards the front. They eventually came across a large expanse of land which the Imperial Army had marched through. They also heard the howl of a Warg, which they figured was a part of the group of assassins they were here to stop. They found a rocky outcropping which they figured was as good terrain as any to stop the plot.

The assassins, it turned out, were a small pack of gnolls accompanied by a trained warg. The battle was intense: an assault by the gnolls and the warg quickly overwhelmed Norn’s defenses, causing the dwarven hero to collapse near death’s door. Fortunately, the remaining heroes were able to clear out the enemies, with Wizholm unleashing necromantic frost, Noleg furiously bisecting anything that got in his way, and Miri displaying her new talent for turning her arms into chainsaws, a trick which cause the warg to die a little inside and a lot outside. Norn also rejoined the fight by calling upon the spirit of his heroic ancestor, the Champion, bane of orckind.

When the battle turned against them, the gnolls attempted to flee. The pack leader almost escaped, but an excellent javelin throw by Noleg left him pinned to a tree with a spear through his brain. The group decided that their best move would be to join up with the main army to plan their next move, and so they quickly followed the army’s tracks after catching their breaths.

In the Imperial Army camp, the group found themselves greeted by Captain Chuckman, who quickly brought them to the leaders of the Imperial Regiment; Captain Adrian, High Wizard Rowan, and Lord Shalefire. The leadership was mostly surprised by the fact that the Orcs were employing more subtle tactics like this (though Shalefire did point out that the Orcs had used a similar tactic in the Dwarven Front of the Orcish Wars). The group then left to earn a much-needed rest, getting their wounds patched up by clerics, good food, and a little shut-eye.

A war council was held after said rest, in which the party suggested that they give the Orcs a taste of their own medicine and kill of their leaders. Rowan mentioned that the War Wizards under his command did know a ritual that would unleash meteoric magic upon a designated target, but they would need someone to designate the target. Naturally, the group volunteered to do this (more or less, anyway). The group was given suits of magic armor in preparation for this most important mission. If they could pull it off, then the Orcish Legion on this front might fold entirely…

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The Assault on Orc Mountain
The magic word is "F**k You!"

The team was all rested up and ready to go. Their mission, given to them by the Leaders of the Fourth Imperial Legion, was to take a magical beacon into the middle of enemy territory, plant it in the enemy HQ (dubbed “Orc Mountain” by various soldiers), and teleport out while the army’s War Wizards would rain fire from the skies on it using the beacon as a target.

Fortunately, the group had a headstart, due to an old teleportation circle that the mages had created but never used due to the Orcs taking that land during one of the many back-and-forths on the front. The group were transported into the middle of the Orcish Horde, which was surging forth to meet the Legion, whose job it was to grab said Horde’s attention so that the group wouldn’t meet too much opposition.

Said opposition first took the form of a squad of goblins lead by two Orc Berserkers. The goblins and orcs were not too difficult for the group to take down, with a flurry of spells and steel bringing the group’s foes down. They then pressed on, using the melee to cover their movements.

The group was not able to escape notice of another squad of goblins, this time headed by a hobgoblin captain. The hobgoblin would prove to be a formidable foe, taking several attacks and severely hurting Miri and Norn. Nonetheless, the group was able to separate him from his flunkies and thus take him down.

The final obstacle the group faced was an Orc Shaman, accompanied by yet more goblins (one wonders why they all stayed around) and an ogre. The team was able to launch an ambush, with Miri using the ogre as a climbing wall and a pincushion at the same time. Gares and Norn moved into the enemy too, while Wizholm used his magic to harry his foes.

In the middle of the battle, though, Wizholm felt a surge of magical power. After he unleashed one of his most powerful spells, the Breath of the Grave, the deadly mist summoned by him assumed the shape of a cloaked figure, with one baleful shining eye. This avatar of the Lich King used its power to kill the Shaman by tearing its skeleton out its body and rot the ogre’s arm clean off before disappearing. This gave Miri the opening she needed to get onto the ogre’s head and end its life with a stab to the brain.

With no time to lose after the loud battle, the group planted the beacon, recited the magic code phrase (“F**k you!”), and then use a teleportation scroll that Wizholm had been given to get the hell out of dodge as a contingent of orcish warriors rushed into the encampment where they had been fighting. The group appeared on top of a tower in the Imperial Camp, which had a particularly nice view of Orc Mountain as it was pummeled by a meteor swarm summoned by the combined ritual of a group of War Wizards.

The team had successfully completed another mission, although the way that Wizholm’s magic acted was particularly troubling. Just why had an image of the Lich King appeared when it did? Only time will tell…

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The Fleetwood Conspiracy
More exciting than a Box'O'Raptors.

Following their success in crippling the leadership of an Orcish legion, our heroes were invited to the Imperial Capitol of Axis to participate in the Founder’s Day Parade, where their contribution of the war effort would be formally acknowledged. But, of course, there is always more to be done.

A week before the parade was set to start, “Sir” Gares Noleg was called in to the Hunter’s Office, accompanied by the other three because they had nothing better to do. He was met by the head of Imperial Hunter’s Bureau, Sir Bjorn Banehammer, a tough old dwarf. Banehammer had called in Noleg specifically because the brother of a noble he had killed, Mackenzie Fleetwood, looked like he was up to no good. He was, among other things, smuggling dinosaurs into his private estate.

Considering that his brother had been killed on demon-summoning charges, the group decided to resolve this as quickly as possible. Noleg visited his various sources in the city, and a worker at Axis’s Airship Dock, who owed him a few favors, mentioned that Fleetwood’s house guard came to the docks to oversee mysterious shipments every few weeks. And one of those shipments was arriving tonight (fortunately enough).

Deciding to be slightly more stealthy than they usually were, the group laid an ambush for the guards. Noleg disguised himself as a dock worker (after advising all the other workers to turn in early for the night), Miri pretended to be a hobo (not that difficult for a self-proclaimed vagabond), and Norn and Wizholm found conveniently-sized boxes to hide behind.

That night, an airship brought a shipment of raptors in a box, just as expected. The house guards went to pick it up, and group intervened. The battle was short and brutal, with one of the guards getting most of his teeth knocked out before being killed and another getting tossed around like a throwing weapon. The head guard himself, one Jack Lewis, got beaten unconscious by Noleg.

The last guard, a new recruit named Hank Hapless, tried fighting Norn before giving up. The dwarf gave him some gold pieces to start his life over. Grateful for a second chance, Hank gave the team the location of the secret passage that Fleetwood used to smuggle dinosaurs into his estate. Noleg then decided that the group’s best bet was to impersonate the guards, and so the group entered Fleetwood’s mansion carrying the box’o’raptors.

Leaving the box behind, the group ascended to the foyer, where they were trapped by a magical barrier. Fleetwood revealed himself, having guessed that Noleg was going to be coming after him soon. He then revealed that his goal for luring Noleg into the mansion was revenge; the other three heroes were collateral in his personal fued. Finally, Fleetwood summoned the means by which he would get his revenge.

The good news was that he wasn’t summoning demons. The bad was that Fleetwood had apparently entered some kind of agreement with the Lich King. He summoned several phantoms made out of soulfire, including one that was clad in black armor and wielding a burning glaive. The group fought off the assault, although their first triumph over the Black Knight was short-lived after it revealed that it could possess any of the phantoms nearby if its original body was destroyed.

Finally, the phantoms were killed and the magical barrier that Fleetwood was hiding behind was about to break. However, Fleetwood was the killed, stabbed from behind by a cloaked figure that introduced himself as Baron Augustus Abbao. Noleg, still angry, tried to hurt Abbao but was pushed aside. The Baron thanked the group for helping him test the phantoms in combat, mentioned off-hand that his project was going well while looking at Wizholm, and faded away into mist, carrying with him the body of Mackenzie Fleetwood.

What any of this means is still unclear, but it probably isn’t good.

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The Shield of Steelfist
Stonehammer's at it again.

A few days after the incident with Mackenzie Fleetwood, the group found themselves smack-dab in the middle of a parade, being hailed as heroes of the Dragon Empire for their role in the Battle of Orc Mountain. While they expected trouble, it turned out that the guards the Emperor hired to protect the parade were entirely up to the task of keeping the parade safe. Weird, I know.

The parade ended with the group being given medals, and soon they found themselves at a great feast. In the middle of the feast, Norn was pulled aside by some members of the Church of Steelfist. He learned from them that at the end of the banquet, he was supposed to be presented with Steelfist’s Shield, which had been released from the Dwarf King’s vault after much deliberation on his part (and whining from his subjects). Unfortunately, they’d just received a magical distress call from one of the dwarves who had been tasked with seeing the shield to Axis. The caravan had been attacked, and the shield likely stolen.

Norn asked his comrades to join him, and they left the capitol with the Steelfist clergydwarves post-haste. Coming upon the caravan, Noleg took charge of the investigation, using his experience in investigating and tracking to learn what had happened. Apparently, the caravan guards had been attacked from behind, suggesting that whoever had done so had been traveling with the caravan before striking. The wounds on the guards backs had also been done with claws, leading Noleg to suspect Stonehammer, the heretical cleric that the group had fought back at Boltstrike Pillar to be the culprit.

Wizholm backed up Noleg’s suspicion by noting that the ambient magic in the air had been tainted by the same hate-curse that had fueled Stonehammer’s resurrection after he had been killed at the Pillar. Noleg began to track Stonehammer, finding that the trade goods that the caravan had been carrying had been unceremoniously dumped away from the ambush site; clearly, the attack had not been motivated by profit.

Unfortunately, Stonehammer’s trail lead through lands controlled by the Crusader, and Stonehammer’s curse had driven a cavalry patrol from the Infernal Crusade mad. The patrol promptly lashed out at the first group it came across; three guesses as to who that was, and the first two don’t count.

The battle was over quickly, with each of the cavalrymen slain rather quickly. One was skewered by Miri’s blades, while the other two were on impaled each other’s armor spikes due to a well-timed throw from Noleg. All their horses died, save one which rode off into the distance. Norn decided to interrogate the spirit of one of the cavalrymen, and used his ability to call upon the spirits of his ancestors to briefly manifest one of the fallen warriors. While the warrior was surly, he did indicate that the group had been deliberately targeted by the hate-curse.

The team quickly picked up the trail again, and followed it to a defunct lighthouse on the edge of the Midland Sea. The group headed inside, and found Stonehammer in the middle of some kind of ritual which involved Steelfist’s Shield. The former cleric them displayed a new talent; he summoned several demons, a small squad of dretches and the Rage Demon which the team had fought at Ruined Fortress of Arn.

The battle quickly devolved into Norn dueling Stonehammer (who quickly assumed his cursed draconic form to fight) while the rest took on the demons. Noleg and Wizholm handily destroyed the dretches, while Miri fought with the Rage Demon. Said demon managed to thoroughly destroy the summoning circle due to its bloodlust, meaning that no demonic reinforcements could be summoned. Miri then managed to get it to lodge its fist into the ground, leaving it open to a bisecting attack from Noleg.

The group then united to help put down Stonehammer for a second time. After being killed again, Stonehammer’s body melted into goo and sunk into the cracks of the lighthouse. His disembodied voice congratulated Norn on a battle well-fought before going silent. He might be dead for good after the fight, but the group isn’t holding its breath.

After the battle, Norn retrieved Steelfist’s shield. He was not a step closer to wielding the full Regalia of the Champion, the shield recognized him as its master. But still, questions remained. Namely, what is Stonehammer trying to accomplish, and how does one kill an enemy that refuses to die?

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Lords (and Lady) of the Arena
Those poor owlbears...

The aftermath of the battle with Stonehammer provided the group a way to get back to the capitol, after an Imperial patrol boat noticed the sounds of said battle and went to investigate. Their trip back by sea was rather uneventful, but their dreams were rather ominous.

Norn’s dream was from the perspective of Takarung, right after it was seized by Stonehammer in the aftermath of his ambush against the caravan. The dream revealed that the heretical dwarf had received information about the caravan from Billy Blind, the information dealer. Blind also wanted the shield to be handed to Norn, for some unknown reason. Stonehammer himself was evasive as to why he needed to hold on to the shield for no more than a few hours, throwing Blind’s catchphrase back at him. The mystery surrounding Stonehammer only grew deeper.

Wizholm, meanwhile, dreamed he was in a dungeon. In it, Baron Abbao the Vampire and a whispery voice which presumably belonged to the Lich King conversed about the gnome. They mentioned his appearing to be alive specifically, and it was decided that they would move into “phase 2” of their plan; this involved Wizholm getting his free will back. When questioned whether he could reassert control over Wizholm if he needed to, Abbao candidly replied that he had no idea, and mentioned that figuring that out would have to be tested. The dream ended on that ominous note.

Gares dreamed about a cult meeting around a bonfire. The cult leader was announcing to the others that the promised day would soon arrive, and that they would soon bask in the glory of their god while the “nonbelievers” would be reduced to smoke and ash. The things that struck Gares as most important were the rings that the cultists all bore, which had the Diabolist’s hand-in-eye symbol within a stylized flame, and the name Zolumaq, which was the name of the god the cult worshipped.

In Miri’s dream, she relived all of the great battles she had been through. Her triumph at Orc Mountain, her takedown of the soulfire phantoms, and her victory over Stonehammer’s demons were all there. However, the dream also depicted a shadowy beast chained to her soul; every time she persevered, one of the chains broke. The beast taunted her as the dream ended, mentioning that she was denying what she truly was.

The group met in the morning to discuss the dreams. The vision that seemed most relevant was the one experienced by Gares, and putting their heads together, the group realized that Zolumaq was the name of an Archdemon, an unbelievably powerful fiend that had been summoned by the First Diabolist in the 10th Age. Before long, an agent from the Hunter’s Bureau found the group, and asked them to go to the Bureau.

At the Bureau, the group found Banehammer along with Octavia Draco, the Emperor’s heir. The two informed the group that they suspected there was a demonic cult operating among the nobles in Axis. The cultists were very good at abusing the political system to cover their tracks, and the fact that the Bureau had learned of their plans at all had been because of the group’s takedown of Mackenzie Fleetwood a week ago, which had revealed new evidence connected to his deceased older brother Markus. Markus had apparently been a part of the cult, and his involvement in it covered up until now.

The information suggested that the cult would be attacking during the gladiatorial games set to happen at the end of the Founder’s Festival. Octavia asked the group to enter the games as gladiators themselves, so that they could monitor any suspicious activity within the arena. Without hesitation, the group agreed to do so. They investigated the Arena in the days leading up to the area, but other than noting the arena’s perfectly circular structure, they found nothing of note. Gares was approached by one of the reigning champions, Hogan, who made a wager with the bureaucratic barbarian; if Gares lost the fight, he’d forfeit his cloak, but if he won, he’d get Hogan’s shapeshifting magic sword Adaraptus.

Finally, the big day arrived. The group’s first battle of the day was against a pair of owlbears, and it was basically a bloodbath. The only time one of the bears managed to hit the team was a powerful blow against Gares that the barbarian managed to heal off with his heavenly killing talents. Miri was the star of the show though, dismembering one owlbear with her chainsword trick and impaling the other one through its forehead.

The other battles were mostly snoozefests, not worthy of screentime. But the persevered through the boredom, and made it to the final, where they faced off against the Wild World Enforcers (WWE). The WWE was made up of Hogan, who had introduced himself to Gares; a dwarven devotee of the Berserker King named Rock; Ecks, a tiefling swordsman; and Gravedigger, an officially licensed necromancer. The battle began with each member of the group squaring off with their respective foes: Gares vs. Hogan, Norn vs. Rock, Miri vs. Ecks, and Wizholm vs. Gravedigger. Gravedigger also raised one of the owlbear skeletons to fight for his team.

Wizholm’s battle against Gravedigger started off badly, though, when he was cursed by the necromancer. The gnome then thought that he saw Baron Abbao in the stands, which threw off his aim and left him open to a devastating Spectral Shot attack by his adversary. Fortunately, Miri noticed her ally’s plight and broke off her attack on Ecks to strike at Gravedigger. Angry at being ignored, Ecks followed to attack her. He then, due to some truly unfortunate luck, managed to impale Gravedigger instead of his actual enemy. With a shout of “You team killing fucktard!” Gravedigger was out of the battle, the lone skeleton he raised blasted to dust by Wizholm moments later.

Meanwhile, the melee between Gares and Hogan went on to be a crowd favorite. Both of them were familiar with Northern Barbarian fighting styles, and both knew the secret of rage. However, Gares possessed greater ability to shrug hits off than Hogan did, and he ended the battle buy cutting off Hogan’s hand, throwing his foe into a wall, and claiming Adaraptus as his own.

Norn and Rock’s fight mainly consisted of two heavily-armored dwarves trying to smack each other physically and mentally. Norn proved to be better than Rock in both respects. Wizholm then reentered the fight by shrugging off the curse and unleashing a devastating round of lightning which singed both Ecks and Rock. Ecks was then beaten by Miri when she stabbed vertically through his body, while Norn took down Rock by summoning the Spirits of the Righteous which opened up a vent into the lava pool under Axis which cooked Rock into submission.

Though the team should have been celebrating being the Champions of the tournament, their victory was cut short when the cultists made their move. However, they did so in a way that the Hunter’s Bureau had not anticipated; they began a ritual by taking their own lives with firey blades. Ecks also revealed that he was a member of the cult by finishing himself off in the exact center of the arena. An ominous rumbling filled the air, as whatever plan the cultists had began.

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The Battle of Axis
Holy crap that's a lot of icons!

The final bout in the Tournament had concluded, and the city was in chaos. Right near the heroes opened a portal, which they went inside after a little hesitation. The portal, it turned out, went straight into the headmaster’s office at the Imperial College of Mages, and the one who had summoned them there was Zurin Silver, better known as the Archmage. The Archmage told the group that the Demon Lord that the cult had been trying to unseal was actually dead, not just returned to the Abyss; Gram Steelfist had earned his status as an Icon for a reason. However, Zolumaq’s power still remained, and having it fall into the wrong hands was not a good idea. So the Archmage handed Wizholm a bottle in which to seal the dead demon’s power.

In the room also was a member of the Order of the Radiant Wing, one of the knightly orders dedicated to the Gold Wyrm and a former comrade of Miri’s. He convinced Miri to come with him to help his team stem the tide of demons that were threatening the populace. Meanwhile, the three others were teleported near an entrance to the sewers; the seal was in the heart of the volcano, and the only way to it was to get past the sewers. However, before they could enter, their way was blocked by a blue dragon who told them this: “Hello. My name is Scarizax. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

The dragon then summoned several lightning elementals to kill the team while taking to the air to scorch his foes with lightning. Gares, nonplussed, used his dragonscale cloak (made from this dragon’s dead father) to pursue the dragon into the air. Adaraptus proved its worth in the battle, the magic weapon assuming a variety of forms. Meanwhile, Norn and Wizholm were able to take down the lightning elementals with relatively little trouble, with Wizholm’s lightning resistance spell making the elemental’s attacks all but useless. Though Gares took a tumble through a building at one point as his cloak tried to sabotage his efforts, he was able to get back into the fight and slayed the dragon by cutting off its wing and then its head.

After slaying the dragon, the group made their ways into the sewers, the team came across a large hole in a pipe. Gares remembered hearing rumors that there was a secret prison around here where prisoners of war from the Orcish Wars were kept for interrogation. Wary now, the group advanced further in until they came across Dolphus and Rolphus, an ettin which looked rather tough. Wizholm stepped forward, however, and threatened the ettin with death. Both heads were freaked out, saying that Wizholm smelled like “the Vampire” and deciding to let him past lest they invoke his wrath. Ominous, to be sure, but the team had bigger fish to fry.

Finally, the group made it through the sewers and into the heart of the volcano, where they encountered the demon cult performing a ritual over a lava pit. The Cult Leader stepped forward, and faced the group himself. Though the weapons that he created out of fire hurt the team with many burn marks, they made it through intact. Wizholm scourged him with lightning and deathly cold, Gares wounded him with Adaraptus, and Norn finished the battle by summoning the spirit of his ancestor, the Avenger, to decapitate the Cult Leader and the cultists as well. Wizholm then sealed the Inferno’s power into the bottle by saying the magic incantation (“Work you sunovabitch!”).

After the fight, the group left the sewers only to be confronted by a woman. Before they could do much, the Archmage teleported next to them, telling her that she had lost the fight. The woman, revealed to be the Diabolist, agreed to leave. Before she was gone, though, Norn was able to see that she was in possession of the Cloak of Steelfist, which instantaneously put her on his shit list. Wizholm was also contacted by his brother, Grimble, who warned the gnome that the cult had apparently purchased information from Billy Blind, and that Blind had designs on the demon’s power. For what, he could not say (literally, since Grimble had a geas put on him). Wizholm also received an amulet from the Archmage which would hopefully protect him from whatever form of control that the Lich King had over him.

However, after that ominousness, the group was rejoined by Miri, who had distinguished herself for punching several hundred demons in the neck with knives. The four were then met by the Emperor himself, who said that they had gone above and beyond the call of duty. He pronounced them the Champions of Axis for their role in ending the battle and saving the day.

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