The Keystone Project

Session 17
Monika?

Upon returning to Dagna, the party sees that members of the Sleeping Bear Lodge are still perched on rooftops with their bows at the ready. Amaira suggests stopping for lunch before continuing to the Walled City to deliver the signed contract. To the tavern!

Annick greets the party and seats them at a table, and tells Shan about his progress on clapping while doing push-ups. The special of beef-and-corn stew gets served, and after they take the signed contract to the legal experts at the Walled City, followed by a visit to Mayor Dolorian to deliver an update. Momoko proposes having a festival to celebrate the joining of the new land, and the others tell her about the festivals in Dagna, the Walled City, and South Crystalmere. Zorran says he’ll stay at his place in the City.

Momoko, Amaira, and Shan round up the three main lodge leaders to meet at the tea house in an hour. Faustina Bystrom is displeased to be summoned away from the lodge, but grudgingly agrees. Ordan Freydisdottr is hanging laundry, incensing the carpets and tapestries to infuse them with ritual smokes. Bekan Hildesdottr is off studying Jörmungandr, so they speak to Liefen the deputy, an athletic, wiry fellow.

Momoka explains the situation at the castle and the town of Arven to the lodge leaders. Despite some misgivings from Faustina and Ordan, they all accept the terms of the agreement with Abarthrax. Momoko goes on to talk about her plans for a festival to celebrate the recent joining. Faustina agrees with Amaira about making this the rite of adulthood, and Ordan says it is up to her husband to determine when that is to occur. Everyone agrees on having the festival in two weeks.

Amaira volunteers to go relay the information about the new land and the festival to Elbert Grove. When Shan returns to her dojo, Annick admits that he can’t clap nine times during a push-up, and he meant he could do one clap with a push-up nine times in a row. He fears that Amaira will be disappointed if she finds out.

Momoko travels to Atamaishiyama and speaks with Okimoto about the festival and spends the weekend.

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Session 16

The party wakes up and finds things to be eerily quiet. When they descend to the main tavern room, vacant of all evidence of anyone ever having been present. Zorran inspects the kitchen and finds it in the same state of vacancy. After deciding that the town poses no threat and simply a confusing mystery, the squad makes for the keep.

Upon reaching the courtyard, the bones of the skeletons that were felled the other day have disappeared from the ground. Shan warns the group to not eat the food before they prepare themselves to peek through the doors into the grand hall. Upon entering the feast hall, there is a new robed creature inside repairing the skeletons. When he asks if the party are adventurers, Amaira explains that they defended themselves when attacked. After some conversation, the man in robes pauses the feast and invites the adventuring team to enter to discuss further. He claims that adventurers should attack the skeletons as per “the script”.

He introduces himself as the apprentice to Lord Aberthrax, and eventually reveals that he himself is undead (formerly an elf in life). Amaira presses about Arven, with “conjured entities” as a “vacation attraction” for other “entities” with whom the lordship has dealings. Shan decides to be our “champion”, and the apprentice speaks to “his lordship” in infernal, telling it to combat with Shan with intent to kill. After a few rounds, Shan takes out the skeleton’s “non-beating non-heart” and it falls apart.

The apprentice takes out a crystal ball and beings to communicate with his master. A tall figure with blue skin (not of Zorran’s people) appears! He appears to not be undead, i.e. fully alive. Zorran introduces the concept of joining the lands. Aberthrax says his only conditions to joining are not destroying the town of Arven (nor malign any of his guests) and that entering the castle will result in being attacked by the creatures.

Zorran and Amaira determine that he has no reason to lie to us, and has an air of confidence and lack of worry. Momoko points out that this would make a good defensive point should any future land masses arrive that are unfriendly.

When Zorran tells Aberthrax that they agree to join, Aberthrax brings out a large scroll written in infernal, and Amaira reads it over to ensure it suits the agreement. After further discussion, Zorran hands Aberthrax the keystone to be placed. Following the signing, Amaira asks if the castle is named: it’s not, as it has no import. She asks about Arven, and then Bellamina, the latter of which definitely caught his attention, and other names…

On the way back to Dagna, Shan brings up her concerns about the “souls” living in Arven, and the eternal “Groundhog Day” in which they live. At least with the land attached, they can be helped some day.

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Session 15
Arven, town of mystery

Contingents from Dagna and South Crystalmere meet on the road and head to the Walled City, and descend upon the city hall to discuss the current landmass that has attached itself to the realm. Dolorian welcomes everyone and offers the members Official Response Squad to take the floor. Zorran reports on the haunted village and the castle full of undead, and Momoko and Amaira provide further details about the situation and the wealth of resources. Shan tells them about the “bread”, and Momoko provides a sample that Zorran passes around. Amaira says it is made from something called “wheat”.

The ORS proposes returning to the landmass with a larger force to subdue the undead and attempt to meet with the sorcerer of the castle. In talking about Porthos — the town guardsman — and his dog, Archer, Momoko suggests returning to the town at dusk to see if the people return. Ordan instructs Bekan to show them the dead headless bird, bleeding black like a tiefling. Elbert Grove and Faustina Bystrom (despite a slight from the former toward the latter) agree that the castle is too good an opportunity to pass up.

The troops meet in Dagna to prepare to venture toward the undead castle: six from the Reaving Falcon led by Estarus Gorfasson, four oracles from Dagna, and five samsarans join the squad before they depart, and decide to head to Arven first to see if Porthos and the other villagers have re-appeared.

Upon arrival at the gate, Porthos and Archer are there. Porthos doesn’t remember them, and starts telling them the same stories he spoke about two days ago. When Amaira pushes regarding disappearing during the day, and Porthos says he doesn’t remember going anywhere. Momoko wants to wait until dawn to see what happens to the town of about a thousand people. 20 years ago, something happened at the castle that turned the lord undead, but nobody knows for certain what kind of curse was inflicted. It appeared to not impact the village, according to Porthos.

The party enters the village and decide to check out the Ecstasy of Agony Tavern after a warning from Porthos about the mercenary company visiting the town. Shan notices they are wearing blue uniforms, and remarks on some of the other buildings, including a library and a temple. Amaira notes that the holy symbol belongs to Abraxis, the master of the final incatnation, the demon lord of forbidden lore and magic. This intrigues her, and the four squad members head over to the temple, and Amaira opens the door.

Inside the worship hall is a single room, made up of veined blood-red marble with different colours for each base tile. An altar takes up the back third of the room in the design of brass snakes. The walls are covered in runes written in the infernal language, the basic orisins of divine and sorcery. There are brass snakes on the ceiling as well, and Shan jumps up to grab one. When she points it at Zorran, the mouth opens, and when she lets go, it stays in the same place she left it. They decide to leave this place for future investigation, and resume their walk to the tavern.

About a half-dozen of mercenaries in blue halbards take up a table, and the troops sit down at three empty tables. Belamina introduces herself and takes drink orders. Shan gets her “least sexy thing on the menu”, that looks like a syrupy mess that smells like black liquorice; everyone else tries the local stout or an imported elven wine. When Amaira detects magic, everything appears to be conjured: Belamina, her serving tray, the beer… everything that wasn’t here during the day is a summoned object.

Zorran chats up a hunter in the bar, and eventually gets him to talk about the castle and “his lordship”. His lady wanted to make them more powerful, and sacrificed the people in the castle to gain this power by turing them into demons. The witch-hunter, favoured by the gods, was killed by the demons. The undead put the demons on spikes, and they are said to be still living in the dungeon.

They decide to spend the night at the inn… and Belamina never asks for payment for the drinks or the rooms.

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Session 14
Freeze that bone flute!

As the squad enters the hall, they get swarmed by the skeleton horde of diners and nobles (dressed in the fashions of South Crystalmere) , warriors (dressed like tiefling warriors), “exotics” (dressed like people of the mountain), and bards (singing in infernal), not to mention the lord and lady of the fortress. Despite their best efforts, Zorran falls to the assault, and Amaira rescues him from the floor. Momoko closes the doors while the other three begin their retreat. Shan makes an excellent showing, and also falls just as she reaches the doors. Amaira (fused with Enamund), with Zorran over her shoulder, she picks up Shan [after spending a hero point] and gets behind the doors just as Momoko shuts the doors.

To keep the doors shut, Amaira drops the two unconscious compatriots to hold the doors fast against the might of the skeletons while Momoko closes the bolts. Back out in the courtyard, the headless birds are watching with their chest-eyes as they place Zorran and Shan on the back of the skeleton horse. As they make their way out, Amaira and Momoko see the town devoid of inhabitants in the valley below, and make way for Dagna. The travel goes safely, yet half an hour into the trip, six birds are still circling. Momoko attempts to shoot them down, and they fly higher to avoid attack. The birds follow all the way to Dagna. Amaira takes the injured back to the headquarters and seeks out a medic while Momoko goes to speak with Faustina Bystrom about taking care of the headless birds.

One of the elders from the Raven’s Eye Mystic Lodge accompanies Amaira to help with the healing. Zorran and Shan awaken and all decide a long rest would do everyone some good. Amaira decides to take the skeleton horse to a stables, and gets a concerned reaction from the stablemaster, who reluctantly agrees to keep the undead creature for her.

Momoko asks Faustina for a bow-master, and she offers to find someone who is a distinguished hunter to take care of the flying fiends.

When they discuss the next moves, Amaira suggests collecting up more attackers, and Zorran produces a small branch of a bonsai tree, calling it a keystone. Shan feels unwell to the stomach and excuses herself. With five days remaining until the land disappears, they decide to consult the leaders of each of the settlements to determine the decision on whether to keep the land. Momoko has authority for Atamaishiyama, Zorran returns to the Walled City to deliver the news, Amaira will talk to the elders in Danga, and then in the morning all will have an emergency meeting in the Walled City. Some of the team will go to South Crystalmere to talk to Albert Grove and explain it to him on the way to the meeting.

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Session 13

Momoko theorizes that the magical glow from the well may be this land mass’s keystone. Zorran discretely checks the shard of his people’s keystone (and didn’t tell anybody he has it) and it is indicating another keystone in the direction of the grand hall.

At the entrance, Shan opens one of the 10-foot-wide double doors that presumably lead to the grand hall. Upon opening the doors, all of the other doors start to close on that side as it opens. Inside the grand hall, a feast akin to that of Amaira’s people is happening, with all of the seats inhabited by skeletons dressed in finery. They eat and drink as the food items fall through their bodies, and the master of the hall sits at a throne.

Zorran points out what he thinks is the keystone behind the throne, so Shan sneaks up toward it. Zorran finally discloses that he has the capacity to link the keystone to Momoko and Amaira, so that they can ensure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands if he happens to die. When Shan approaches the throne, the nobleman and his lady wife pay her no attention, and it appears that the skeletons are on a roughly 30-second loop of eating and drinking. The zombies take a different path to keep the plates stocked.

Amaira decides to swipe an ale, and the zombie butler lowers the platter so that she can take it. When she does, three skeletons fix their gaze upon her and begin to draw their weapons. She steps back to Zorran and Momoko, chugs the beer, and asks her compatriots are ready for a fight. Zorran decides to close the door, and once it is bolted in place, the skeletons sit back down when the three had left. Shan emerges through another exit and sulks about being locked in. They decide to check out the other room, and Shan leads the charge into the passageway that leads to barracks, complete with skeleton soldiers laying in beds and sharpening swords. Another room shows a skeleton putting on armour with zombies attending in a smithing area.

The team decides to attack this skeleton, which takes up a shoddy sword and charges at Shan. The zombies ignore the melee and continue their work. The party then proceeds into an armoury and more doors, one leading to the feast hall. Momoko suggests returning to the entrance hall to speak to the zombie butler. She asks to be taken to the sorcerer of the castle, and the zombie leads them into the great hall and goes to the door behind the lord.

The Official Response Squad decides to go inspect the lord’s door, closing the main door behind them. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion, next time on The Keystone Project!

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Session 12

The Official Response Squad continues to explore the castle, and come across a stables with three horse skeletons that appear to be animated. Shan wants to punch them and gets dissuaded by Amaira, explaining that the horses could be used as mounts. Zorran inspects the sturdiness of one of them, and Amaira mounts another to give it a test drive. It responds readily and moves at a steady pace.

Shan pushes in some double-doors to expose a large hallway about 20’ across, sunlight spilling inside now. Momoko pursues Shan in the belief that the latter needs supervision… and having found a zombie in fancy clothing (“butler café”?) confirms Momoko’s concerns. Skeletons in armour attack! After taking out the four skeletons, two more guard the door. Amaira greets the zombie butler, who bows. Shan asks for cake, and it heads off, and then she charges the guarding skeletons. After Momoko shoots a scorching ray at Shan (by accident), they decide to follow the zombie.

The team is led to a kitchen, crewed (not crude) by five skeletons in chef outfits in the process of preparing food. Momoko deducts that they are going through the process of preparing food, without actually cooking it or otherwise preparing for a final product – and the ingredients are all fresh. They decide to step into the kitchen, and the skeletons keep at work. The team then follows a skeleton carrying raw pork slices into a room lined with tables, containing piles of pork, vegetables, and loaves of bread: it appears to be a pantry as though getting ready to serve to guests. About a third of the food is rotten. Shan picks up the freshest basket of pork and some bread. Another zombie inside takes the oldest pork and takes it to another room in the castle, putting it along with pile of rotted food.

Zorran notices boot prints and char marks on the ground, as well as a headless bird flying about that Amaira saw fly from the tower earlier (and the birds had been spying on them the night before). They decide to follow the footprints, and it goes into the keep (hard to follow) as well as to the front, where they go to and from a well.

Amaira draws up some water from the well, and Momoko detects poison and magic on the water and the well: she only detects some magic somewhere down in the well. After further exploration, handholds in the side of the well are revealed, and Zorran decides to descend into the water. He encounters a magical barrier (likely what Momoko discovered), and before he could pull out of the well, Shan fires chi blast into the water, inadvertently hitting Zorran.

They decide to return to the keep’s grand hall.

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Session 11
Surrounded by the dead

In the courtyard, the ORS find themselves surrounded by the dead. Shan gets rushed first by a pair of skeletons and ends up with an arm stuck in one’s rib cage, while Momoko inspires the team with her singing skills. Zorran shows off his scimitar skills, while Amaira synthesized with Enamund uses tail slaps, bites, and claws to decimate the undead.

After a strenuous battle, the party is victorious and defeats the swarm of skeleton soldiers. Huzzah!

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Session 10
The Blue Bastard

The Official Response Team approaches the gate and encounter Porthos and his dog. Porthos welcomes the visitors, who inform him that he is in fact the newcomer. Amaira asks him about the castle, which Porthos declares to be haunted, eventually revealing that the dead walk the halls.

Momoko asks about the leader, who apparently is still the undead “lordship”. Porthos directs them to the tavern called “The Ecstasy of Agony”. Amaira gets the name of the baron from Porthos, and Shan extracts from him that the undead are known to wander at night. Zorran wants to consult the relics to see how long this landmass will remain in the realm.

They track down Sheriff Hemlock, a human who resides in Dagna, to inform him about the new village and the castle full of undead. At the Walled City, the team encounters Mayor Dolorian and explain to him the situation. Zorran slinks off to meet with contacts, while the three women return to Dagna to set up an overnight watch.

While Zorran wants to go charging off into the night, the others argue that a good night’s rest is needed before proceeding into unknown territory. When Zorran offers to take first watch, he sneaks away and heads back to the new landmass to scope out the castle. He sees creatures roaming around, walking the walls in the moonlight.

Amaira wakes up about two hours after her watch was to begin. Seeing no sign of Zorran, Amaira asks around about him: nobody has seen him. She wakes up Momoko and Shan to inform them and they head off to the new area to seek him out. On their way, Momoko notices headless birds flying overhead with red eyes on their chests. Amaira and Momoko hear a rustling in the bushes, and then the sound of a sword unsheathing… and Zorran appears, from a different spot where the rustling came.

After some discussion, Zorran and Amaira set up to watch the castle for the rest of the night, while Momoko convinces Shan to return to Dagna after the latter tries to zap one of the watcher birds (and fails miserably). Zorran falls asleep after about an half-hour and Amaira takes on the watching.

The next morning, the bird has moved on, yet the undead continue their patrol at the castle. Shan and Momoko return to the hillside to rejoin Zorran and Amaira. While the undead have maintained their activity on the wall, Amaira notices that the town of Arven is quiet with nobody milling about. When they get to the gate, nobody is on duty, and nobody is found inside the walls. Magic is detected all around in the town, as if “bathing” in energy.

The houses are devoid of personal possessions, yet all of the buildings appear in good order and working condition. When they reach the bar, it is also devoid of people. The only furniture found is at the inn, fully operational, yet appears to not have been used recently. Zorran, Momoko, and Amaira all attempt to detect the sources of the magic: conjuration in a strong magic aura, meaning a spell is active and likely to summon.

The team heads to the castle, finding the gates wide open. The guards are wearing a uniform, and walking into the courtyard gets their attention. The skeleton warriors advance with menace!

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Session 9

The party returns to Dagna as dusk begins to fall, and they head to the tavern to sup. Roasted garlic chickens are on offer: Shan takes three for herself, while the others take one each. The waiter — Annick — ends up being the fellow whom Shan recruited as a student. Zorran begins telling the story of their adventure to the gem cavern in epic fashion, with the “return of spoils” and the “defeat of the bakemono”. Amaira rolls her eyes at some of the more exaggerated aspects, before waiter-dude asks about the tengu “bird men” that were spotted during the rescue, to which she says they were simply in costume. Momoko also relays information to Amic and near-by listeners about the guard captain that the team encountered before entering the cavern, who was also dressed in a feathered cape and bird mask.

Farmers in South Crystalmere have mostly recovered from their injuries, and folks aren’t quite sure what to make of the “half-height people” that were rescued from the manor. Amaira professes that they are called “halflings”, but Zorran claims there is no such thing as a “ling”. Shan declares the tengu would be halflings: half human, half starling.

Momoko decides to interrupt the inanity and tell the tavern clientele a story from her village about a foolish adventurer who strays from the path and runs into goblins who steal all of his possessions, even his clothing. Returning to his home, he gets ridiculed for his fate. When Zorran says, “This reminds me of another story about foolish adventures, who ran off toward a field that they knew nothing about…” and Amaira slaps him on the back of the head.

The next day, Momoko makes a beautiful lunch for her apprentices. Shan approaches Faustina about a battle exhibition. Zorran hangs out at Generations and drinks. Amaira consults with one of the Raven’s Eye lodge elders about her vision quest, confirming that the ants likely represent ants, and trees are symbolic of the world and divinity: in this case, the tree may be the creator. The timing nearly lines up with the arrival of the hobgoblin land mass.

On day two of downtime, Shan decides to work on a gi for the Shotokai Dojo. Amaira heads south to do a second vision quest with Enamund at her side, experiencing some cleansing but no further visions. Momoko has her students recite stories again, with Aki improving and Haruno doing about the same, and teaches some more etiquette. Zorran has little success in his dealings.

As Amaira is contemplating her empty vision, the ground quakes, and a new island has arrived in the east. In a series of hills, there appears to be a castle in one of the upper peaks. She heads back to Dagna. Everyone else senses the collision as well. Momoko starts a fresh pot of tea as she is “expecting company”. Shan gets on the roof of the dojo to see what happened. Zorran heads toward Dagna to meet the others in the “ORS”.

Amaira spots Shan on the roof of the dojo in her new bright-orange gi, and then enters the tea house to alert Momoko and Zorran about what she saw. They decide to gear up and head out on horse-back. As they get through the first ridge of hills, the valley reveals a town built at the side of the hill with a wooden palasad around it. Watchmen guard the walls. The castle atop the hill appears to be about a half-hour walk from the town.

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Session 8

The party continues into the caves, and comes into an area containing a statue atop a fountain, filled with a lime-green liquid. Amaira notices scoring on the bowl from the liquid, and Zorran recalls that he has seen the fluid in an alchemist’s shop. Momoko determines that it is, in essence, a “bird bath of acid”. The path splits in two, and Shan declares heading left.

The next room has a series of columns with a low ceiling of fine spiderwebs. Suspended in the webs are numerous gemstones, which Amaira determines are topaz. Shan jams the torch into the spiderwebs and they burn rather quickly, causing the gemstones to fall, and Momoko and Amaira each catch one as they fall, while the other two fell to the ground and shattered on the inside.

Past the spider room, the next area is a larger room with a series of transparent white gemstones in knee-high piles and a giant door at the other end of the room, complete with its own collection of levers. Amaira and Momoko determine that the crystals are salt, completely clear. Zorran starts to investigate the door while Shan starts loading up salt crystals into a sack. Zorran determines that discs on the ceiling are written in Samsaran, and the group determines that the person who wrote these don’t have them as their native language: Samsaran, Cat-Folk, and Elven.

After some failed attempts, the party returns to the room with the cauldron fountain, which itself is extremely smooth: Amaira determines that this has been carved out of stone that is fully integrated with the floor. Shan lends her clay cup to Momoko to use it to scoop up any possible gems at the bottom of the bowl; unfortunately, the mage hand spell is not sufficient to stand up against the resistance of the liquid.

The party takes the right tunnel this time, and it appears to be veering off in two directions. Shan runs into something solid and sharp, which cuts her face! She appears to have run into the “knife edge” of a mirror. They decide to continue down on the left, with Shan swooping the torch in front of her. After about ten minutes, the party finds themselves back at the cauldron. Amaira gives it a try, sticking the the right, and after fifteen minutes return to the acid bath again. Momoko decides to attempt navigating on the third trip, and Shan notices this time around that the ceilings occasionally have eyes peeking through. Shan waves and greets the eyes, which gets a greeting in reply. She then asks which way we should be going, and some fingers poke out to help navigate. Amaira feels they are going in circles and proposes leaving a trail of bread crumbs.

A spider falls from the ceiling on top of Shan! She blasts it with electricity before it lands on her face. Amaira laughs at the spectacle, and Momoko throws a ray of frost in Shan’s direction and knocks her on her rear end. Zorran attempts to swat the spider away and instead it climbs onto his hand, giving Shan the opportunity to squish it between her hands, followed by wiping them off on Momoko’s robes.

“Better run!” comes some broken Common from above, before some clear, viscous fluid hits Amaira’s hair. She decides they should head back to the acid bath. Amaira and Momoko both get rather drenched by the fluid, while Zorran and Shan avoid it. Back at the acid bath, Shan determines that it is some kind of cooking oil. Flicking some into the acid produces no reaction. While they are discussing the next move, little flaming sticks begin to fall from the ceiling. Amaira manages to avoid them, while Momoko is protected by Shan’s kung fu and Zorran’s scimitar. They decide to leave, but not before another round of flaming sticks fall from the ceiling. Again, Shan plucks the flaming stick from Momoko’s threat, yet Zorran can not protect Amaira who catches fire (9 – 5 = 4 dmg).

Outside of the room with the acid bath, the viewing ports stop. Once they reach the open air, those who need to wash up in the river and got healed up. After a short rest, they decide to head back to Dagna.

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