Sardis attacked the dragon.
More accurately, he charged the dragon, grabbed Leboch’s foot just before it slipped beneath the surface, and pulled the hacholan warrior back up onto the pier. When the dragon retaliated, Sardis wrestled it up onto the pier too.
The fight proceeded more or less in that fashion, though it was hard won. The party was exhausted from their battle with Pony and the Howlers that morning, and from trudging around the side of Mount Aerulan. All the retainers but Mara were dropped by the dragon’s acid breath before it was over, and only quick thinking by Ink and quick action by Mara kept them from dying. Worse, the dragon healed itself with a prayer to Khalipanofax part way through the battle; the party could see a holy symbol of the Jade Queen hanging from one it’s great horns.
The highlight of the battle, from a spectator’s perspective, came when Sardis, standing on the remains of the Waypoint’s collapsed roof, looped a rope around the dragon’s head and hauled it up against the wall of the rickety shack. After which Ink forcibly teleported the monster inside the Waypoint shelter, and, moments later, Kalyx blasted the thing out through the far wall and back onto the pier.
It was shortly after that when the dragon flew away, retreating, it appeared, towards a small raised hillock about a mile off in the swamp.
The dragon was almost dead, and the party really didn’t want it to get away. They recalled all to well the days they spent harrying and being harried by the black dragon Argaxis in the ruins of Fort Pendred. Giving the dragon time to recuperate was out of the question.
Kalyx blasted it with lightning until it was beyond the reach of her magic. Sardis fired arrow after arrow from his greatbow, sloshing as quickly as he could through the mud and marsh. He even landed a shot or two, but eventually the dragon’s flight took it out of bowshot.
Then Sa-Ra Ink spoke.
It was not clear exactly what was happening, but it was clear that the once-mousy scribe was speaking from somewhere, or someTHING, beyond zeself. Ze’s face changed, pupils fading completely, and stylized makeup somehow…deepening. The face was no longer even vaguely human (or elven, or eladrin), and the voice reverberated across the marsh.
Sa-Ra Ink flung out a challenge. Not to the fleeing dragon before them, but to Khalipanofax herself, fallen goddess of secrets and magic, by name. The wizard called her name into the winter air three times, and called for her servant to return and face them. Kalyx, to everyone’s surprise, cast her own defiance in the face of the “Mother,” in a thunderous voice that echoed against the mountain peaks.
The already eerily still Greymire grew immediately and oppressively silent. The ice that rimed the salt-marsh-pools cracked under the silent weight of the wounded god’s attention. They all felt it, but and for several heartbeats not a living thing breathed. Then, with a roar that echoed in answer to the challenge, the black dragon wheeled in the distance, and sped back towards the party, it’s blood misting in a caustic trail behind it.
Sardis slew thing thing, distractedly, with a single well-placed arrow. Everyone stared at Ink. Even Kalyx, who still thrummed with the rumble of her own draconic power, eyed ze uncertainly. Ink, for ze’s part, stared back at them, unblinking, unfamiliar, and inhuman.
“We must make haste,” intoned Sa-Ra Ink somberly. “Evizinex’s hoard will be worth raiding, but Her eye remains fixed on us, all three of us,” he said, pointing at Kalyx and Eirlys, “and her servants will pursue us with the Jade Queen’s will driving them.”
Kalyx nodded. She too had heard the dragon’s name, Evizinex, whispered on the wind in response to their challenge. Taking a few moments to bind their wounds and rouse the wounded soldiers, the party headed out into the icy salt marsh to pick over a dragon and her worldly possessions.
They mounted their magical steeds and rode across the frozen, silent marshland under the gaze of a baleful god. When they reached the dragon’s lifeless form, Sa Ra Ink and Kalyx considered its jewelry for a time before Kalyx decided to take it. She held the Jade Queens symbol before her and gasped when she realized she’d felt it’s power before. It had been worn by Warden Bal, one of the eladrin sorcerers who had…raised her.
She wondered aloud at whether she might safely make use of it. The question was left unanswered as they proceeded towards’ Evizinex’s lair.
The lair was located within a small hill amidst a long-ruined dwarves watchpost, assuredly built by the long-gone denizens of Marak Dür. Access to the flooded, subterranean chamber was through a nondescript hole far too small for a dragon of Evizinex’s size, but enchanted to allow her passage nonetheless.
They defended cautiously, Sardis going first, but found no threats or opposition. Whether that was because the dragon kept no guards, or because all the swamp’s inhabitants were hiding from the gaze of the Queen of Secrets, they could not be certain.
Rather than searching through the murky water in the cave, Sa Ra Ink, who still had not reverted to ze’s normal appearance and bearing, used a now-familiar ritual to lower the water level for an hour. It took most of that hour to find and investigate the extent of the dragon’s hoard. In the end, in addition to the powerful holy symbol they’d found on the dragon herself, they turned up an old and powerful dwarves sword, and substantial monetary wealth, though much of the latter consisted of eleven ancient dwarven ancestor stones and a thousand-year dwarven whiskey preserved in a mithril flask.
Throughout their exploration and looting of the dragon’s knoll, the oppressive attention of Khalipanofax weighed on them, and thr sense of foes appreaching tickled them between the shoulderblades. Sardis assured them that the nearest dangers had hours to travel to reach them, but nobody wished to linger in the Greymire to find out if the ranger was right.
But where to go to escape the envious gaze of the Mistress of Hidden Knowledge? Sa Ra Ink suggested the Feywild, where all gods had difficulty seeing. It would, ze said, be possible to bring the entire group across the get veil if Swamp continued to reach for them.
Which they could all sense. Something difficult to articulate. A distinct feeling of the swamp itself, something primordial…under…the Mire, had, since Sa Ra Ink had issued their challenge to the god, been growing slowly closer in a way that made everyone eager to be away. Eirlys described it as the Feywild growing closer, pressed in towards them by something powerful. Sa Ra Ink’s plan was, apparently, to take them towards that in order to escape the minions of Khalipanofax.
It didn’t sound like a great idea to anyone, but they weren’t exactly spoiled for choice.
So they waited another hour for Swamp to grow close enough to allow the crossing. They waited largely in silence, not wanting the Dragon Queen to be privy to their counsels. They waited, each alone with their thoughts, trapped between the mind-crushing weight of a god’s attention and the stomach churning immenence of a primordial’s approach.
They began the ritual of crossing just as Sardis began hearing the distant cries of wyverns caried on a wind made preturnaturally cold by the approach of something even worse. A dragon, they guessed.
The group sat in a circle, hands clasped, beneath the evergreens that hid the dwarven ruins. Sa Ra Ink asked that Eirlys, as a native to the Feywild, help guide them all across the worlds to avoid the temporal shift that so often resulted from such travels. Soon the scenery began to blur around them as they were all gripped by a profound sense of rushing, at unimaginable speeds, backwards away from each other, though their hands remained clasped and their bodies maintained their relative distances from each other.
The sensation went on for a seemingly interminable several minutes. Suddenly, Sa Ra Ink let out a startled grunt as grasping vines and tendrils reached out from “behind” ze and, before anyone could do more than register what was happening, ze was torn from their circle, vanishing into the blur around then.
And then they all stopped, flattened briefly by perceived momentum, and lay panting on the ground in the Feywild Greymire.
The party sat up inside some sort of sacred grove. The twilight of the Feywild prevailed beneath the boughs of a perfect circle of large cedar trees. A light snow was falling, peppered with flakes that glowed and pulsed like icy fireflies.
Ink was nowhere to be seen. While discussing whether to go search for the wizard, both Eirlys and Kalyx pointed out that finding ze might be a matter of figuring out when, rather than where, ze had gone. All agreed that what they needed most was rest.
But none of them felt safe laying down to rest in the center of what was almost certainly some sort of sacred Feywild grove. They looked to Eirlys for knowledge of what dangers might lie in wait nearby. Eirlys told them that the Feywild Greymire was home to a powerful fey spirit called Mathulial in the elven tongue, or Mother Mire in the Western tongue. Eirlys had never met this being, but the stories of her varied. In some she was dangerous and malevolent, in others, dangerous and helpful.
The party was hesitant to explore outside the grove, for fear of being discovered by Mother Mire. Eirlys suggested that she almost certainly already knew they’d come, and that it would be much ruder to “hide in her parlor,” as it were, “than to seek her out to introduce themselves.” That said, they decided to set out in search of the Lady of Greymire.
They walked out of the grove and, perhaps because of Mother Mire’s influence, or perhaps for some other reason, the Greymire was cloaked in the dark of night. The stars shone above, and occasional glowing snowflakes (or will-o-the-whisps?) flashed around them, but the ubiquitous twilight of the Feywild was gone. In the distance, roughly where the Waypoint had been in Mana’era, were warm-looking lights as of a cabin or hut. Before they could decide how best to cross the night swamp, a massive form resolved from the shadows around them, cloaked and looming.
“Rol,” it said. And again. Eirlys supposed that the great brute, whatever it was, had come from Mother Mire. It gestured them to follow. They did.
As “Rol” walked through the swamp, he dropped small stones behind him. The stones became an even, gravel path that eased the party’s passage to the home of Mother Mire.
Mother Mire’s home was, on the outside, the size of the Waypoint. On the inside it was, surprising no-one, bigger. They were greeted outside by a tall, slender, beautiful ashai woman who introduced herself as Estrid. She sourly, but formally, made them welcome as guests and bade them enter and meet her mother. Rol thumped off to attend to other matters and the party went inside.
Sitting by the fire, knitting, was a very old human woman with a dark, knowing glint in her eye. She introduced herself as Mother Mire, and the young, golden-haired ashai woman tending the fire and food as her other daughter, Alara. The beautiful young lady glanced up shyly in greeting ss Estrid went grumpily into the next room, from which the sounds of a quietly fussing baby emanated. They party exchanged nervous glances as Mother Mire made them welcome, and bade them sit and have tea.
As they sipped their tea, Mother Mire spoke of many things with varying degrees of intelligibility. She spoke of the honor in welcoming The Coldheart, meaning, apparently, Eirlys, to her home. The old fey spirit clearly knew of Eirlys from during the redemption wars.
She also seemed to know of Kalyx, and spoke of the young human’s grandsire, though she never named him aloud.
Mother Mire went on, in a roundabout manner, to describe her gratitude for their slaying of Evizanex, her amusement at their pissing off Khalipanofax, and her apparent certainty that Ink, “their friends,” would be along in due time, though it eas unclear what exactly that meant in a place with no day and night cycle.
As she went on, Alara (who cast shy smiles at Tomas Brighteyes throughout the conversation) brought out a tray of biscuits, offering one to each of them. When the group hesitated, Mother Mire cackled and hailed them as wise in their caution. She reassured them that the biscuits would do them no harm, but that to partake was to seal an agreement between them. If they would pledge to oppose Khalipanofax, Mother Mire would bestow gifts upon them beyond simple hospitality and solace.
Everyone but Leboch and Sergeant Thiele ate a biscuit. The food was simple, but delicious and filling. Once they had all eaten to her satisfaction, Mother Mire spoke with them about getting out of the Feywild, describing a path that involved one of the lost Wintergates of Setheris Om, that, to Eirlys’ surprise, was apparently still active some 50 miles northwest of the Greymire. She then bestowed her gifts.
The gifts were many, varied, and surprisingly, perhaps concerningly, lavish. Some were ephemeral, as with the grant of a mystical sense of direction for each of them (“so you can always fond your way back to Mother Mire’s, my poppet”); some were practical like the suit of drow-weave armor ahe gave to Sardis (“for the warrior who would always go first!”); and some were just plain peculiar, like the pair of ornate brass doorknobs she gave them (“two of them, my dears, one for coming and one for going”). Finally, she offered to improve Kalyx’s enchanted staff, saying that she’d have to keep it “overnight,” and that she would pull power from Kalyx’s dreams to do so.
By the end of the gifting, most of the party was quite drowsy, and Mother Mire ushered them off to bed in another adjoining room. As they headed off to their clean, surprisingly soft pallets, Mother Mire warned them that they might hear odd things in the night, and that, no matter what, they mustn’t interfere with Estrid and her baby. With that, the old woman laughed and the door to the sleeping room shut behind them, leaving them to sleep, exhausted, in the soft, eerie darkness of Mother Mire’s home.
The party slept the sleep of exhaustion. All but Eirlys, who sat, as the elastin do, in silent contemplation, watchful but resting. Outside the room the Sur’Maga could hear occasional movement and the cry of an infant, though the latter seemed, now and again, to emanate from inside the sleeping room.
Some hours after they’d all turned in, Kalyx began to stir in her sleep, as though suffering some disturbing dream. Pulled from her meditation, Eirlys noticed that, across the room, a bulky, groaning shadow hunched and lurched in darkness where Tomas Brighteyes lay. The moaning sounds escalated in time with Kalyx growing more restless on her dreams.
Concerned, Eirlys rose to investigate. When she drew closer, she realized that the shadowy shape was Alara Miresdaughter, straddling Tomas, quietly, and perhaps somewhat literally, fucking his brains out.
Despairing of the yoing man’s judgment, Eirlys had nonetheless decided not to interrupt when, abruptly, a lot happened all at once.
Kalyx sat bolt upright, muttering something about what must be done, and began gathering lightning on her hand. At the same time, Sardis, who had been weakened by the lovers next to him, leaped from his bedroom and tackled Kalyx, shakomg her from her somnulant sorcery with a surprised about.
A flash like lightning and a roll of thunder filled the room along with the sounds of orgasm as everyone released their built up energy. Luckily, nothing lit on fire, though Alara fled the room, naked and cheeks ablaze with embarrassment in the moments that followed.
Everyone woke then, but nobody spoke. They all just stared at Tomas, who seemed to have aged decades in the past few hours.
Soon enough, they returned to their sleep, except Eirlys, who they left to guard them in the cold watches of the strange night.
They woke to morning sunlight shining in through the fogged windows and slatted walls of Mother Mire’s home, broken by the lurching shadow of Rol moving around outside.
When the came out of the sleeping room, they found Rol standing in the doorway, framed by the Feywild night sky behind him. In the main living area, Mother Mire was again in her rocking chair, while Alara cooked. Estrid, now clearly hugely pregnant, cast a sour look at the party as she took an armload of wood from Rol, deposited it in a box by the fireplace, then retreated again to the adjacent room.
Alara avoided everyone’s eyes, and Tomas avoided Alara.
They broke their bread with the old swamp spirit and her daughters. Mother mire returned Kalyx’s now-improved staff, with a sly comment about the young sorcerer’s dreams.
After breakfast, Mother Mire told them that their friends, by which they thought she meant Ink, or Sa Ra Ink, or whatever, would be arriving soon. Allowing that Mother Mire’s sense of “soon” might be quite different from theirs, the party nonetheless took that as a cue to take their leave.
As they said their goodbyes, heading back out into the swamp, back towards the sacred grove per Mother Mire’s direction, the party thought, for a moment, that they could hear the sounds of a woman going into labor behind them.
Sa Ra Ink awoke on the ground in the middle of a circle of standing stones, within a grove of Feywild trees. A thunderstorm was descending on them, and the surrounding marshlands were undulating, almost bubbling, with the approach of primordial Swamp.
Their companions, fresh from Mother Mire’s, were trudging towards the grove, trying to find Sa Ra Ink, when the storm hit. As the lightning strikes fell, their touch awoke great, shambling mounds of muck and vegetation that moved to block their path.
Meanwhile, a four-headed, primordial hydra burst from the ground and attacked Sa Ra Ink, whose selves had so offended Swamp, betraying the ancient peace as the others had so very long ago.
A fight ensued. The party pressing forward, past the shambling mounds to help Sa Ra Ink, and Sa Ra Ink evading the hydra, praying to themselves for help to come.
As was always the case, the party prevailed, destroying the hydra and sending Swamp, temporarily as always, into retreat.
The party reunited, but uncomfortably. Sa Ra Ink was unsatisfied with the others’ accounts of what had happened in the home of Mathulial, and the others unsatisfied with Sa Ra Ink’s general inability to describe or even, apparently, perceive, the great differences that they had undergone in the past day or two.
Uneasily, they set about deciding a way out.
The Wintergates were tempting. Both the one to the northwest that Mother Mire had told them of, and the one nearer to the Ruby Vale that Eirlys suspected might still be active.
In the end though, they decided to revisit the inner sanctum of Khalipanofax’s Feywild temple instead. Well, re-visit for all but Sardis, who had never been there. In fact, though Sa Ra Ink, Kalyx, and Eirlys had all been there before, they hadn’t been there together, or at the same time.
Nonetheless, they knew it was a way out of the Feywild (albeit through a portal to random destinations), and Ink knew the proper sigils to get into the Sanctum from elsewhere in the Feywild.
So, through some consternation, it was decided, and the wizard set about opening a portal to the Jade Queen’s high Feywild temple.
The primordial forces of earth and fire had been at work over the last year-and-a-half. When the portal opened, virtually all of the room was collapsed into magma. Only a small island of solid stone still remained, with a large portal floating above, flickering rapidly through many seven or eight colors.
With their collective knowledge and experience, they determined the color that would lead them to D’kath, and, putting Sardis in charge, leaped through the portal.