As a quick recap, we’d been tasked with getting to the Midnight Isles and gaining enough notoriety that Nocticula, Demonlord of this Abyssal realm, would want to speak to us. So far, we’d managed to reach her capital city and Alexei had won some significant renown within the arena there.
His hands raised above his head, bushy beard moving in the wind, Alexei addressed the cheering crowd as the blood from the previous champion sank into the dirt at his feet. He spoke eloquently of his power and the choices he supported – the ways people could live like him and the benefits that gave. Keiran looked shocked that he was attempting to recruit followers even here, but I’ve known him and his ego longer. He invited everyone back to the place we were staying for a party, renaming it Alexei’s Arms and offering the owner an unspecified recompense.
I quickly grew bored of this gathering and eventually convinced Aaron to join me (see? I am learning not to rush off into danger unattended). For something to do, we sought out some bounties. The name of “Shifty Neil” caught Aaron’s eye. He’d stolen a book from some demon called Valexia and she wanted his head. Aaron spotted certain aspects of the crowd giving me unwanted attention so we spent a bit of time perfecting a generically demon disguise for me – something to keep me blended into the crowd. We found a couple of demons in a pub who’d heard of him and were similarly unimpressed: he’d stolen a purse from one and necklace from the other and they wanted his guts. They had an idea where we may be able to get some more info, though: ‘The Blushing Mermaid’.
There, it became clear that the clientele was predominantly human or at least humanoid and our demonic appearances were going to get us nowhere. We returned a bit later, me back as me and Aaron taking even more steps than before to hide his Tiefling heritage. Sure enough, they were far more forthcoming and gave us an address.
To access his hidey-hole, we had to climb the side of the building and open a sky-light. Inside, he could be heard sleeping so I made as careful a search of the dusty attic as I could before determining the book was gone – probably sold on already. A purse and necklace matching the descriptions given, however, were easy enough to locate. Aaron, meanwhile, woke him by sitting on his chest with blade to his throat. Neil was surprisingly calm, but confirmed the book had been sold to “some bloke” – no idea whom. Aaron cut off his head.
I probably should have told him sooner my plan was a bit more of a double-cross: Neil might be a thief, but this is the Abyss and he didn’t seem to be a bad guy. This guilty feeling was only exacerbated when I found an amulet of hide alignment round his neck, and a few Iomedae trinkets.
Aaron removed his guts and placed them in the purse. The demon was suitably amused and provided a couple of cheap gems as thanks – just as well, because Valexia refused to see us or pay us or anything (which is kinda stupid, cos why the hell would anyone else do one of her bounties? Although I suppose she can always trust there will be some new sap to take the risk. I think we maybe should have done something a bit more dangerous to make her think twice in future, but probably best we just left it, tossing the head over the wall back at her guards as we left).
By this point, Kieran was pretty desperate to take his turn in the ring, suggesting to Yanielle that they go in together and take on 5 opponents. Eventually, though, he went in alone. A dwarf was pushed in, fearsome colour falling away as the door closed behind him, and a large battle-axe thrown after. Kieran, shiny armour at its shiniest, quickly established that the dwarf was good and offered him a way out: the dwarf was himself a paladin who’d been captured to fight. Kieran gave him the emergency escape talisman Alexei had produced for us: the dwarf – amazed to hear Drezen was free – snapped it in delight and vanished from the arena.
The crowd, predictably, were unimpressed by this development, but Kieran had a plan. Teleporting himself (with his less-than-shiny helmet) to the first jeerer to catch his eye. “You got a problem?” He menaced. Sure enough, the demon had a problem – which Kieran dealt with by teleporting back into the ring with the demon.
The bout turned out to be rather tougher than Kieran anticipated – the demon grabbed the axe that had been thrown in after the dwarf and contemptuously kicked off the head to wield the haft as a quarterstaff. He may not have hit as hard as Kieran, but his aim was better and the fight fierce enough that Ivan, watching in the stands, nearly called the whole thing off – but Kieran demanded to complete the fight and managed to win.
Not to be outdone, Aaron took his turn. Possibly cautious following Kieran’s decision to free one of their better fighters, they pitted Aaron up against a foe I think even I could have dealt with. Aaron danced around him, nimbly avoiding all blows before taking him out. He then asked for a greater challenge, and a great beast was brought forward: a young dragon (not out of place here, so I can say the name). He notched his lucky arrow and let fly to pierce the creature’s eye. It breathed fire on him, but couldn’t do enough to stop him and Aaron came from beneath, slicing through its neck to fly up through the spurting blood as the victor.
It was clear we were a group and there were a few shouts of “what about the half-elf?”, but instead Mr Tiddles looked at the organiser and said “all of them”. We backed off, to the very edges of the stands as the little cat sat there in the centre of the arena. The combatants didn’t seem too sure of what they were doing, faced with a purring cat, and quite a lot of the audience were pushing their way closer as we fought our way back. Once we were clearly safe, he unleashed his power, summoning a spirally giant comet that took out the arena, leaving just himself and the announcer stood on little pillars of clear ground in the decimated pit. The first few rows of the audience were missing.
I took out my awesome little rod of weird and wibble (a rod of wonder) and fiddled with it, managing to shrink myself down as a fireball shot over the carnage like a celebratory firework.
Being little is fun.
We went back to our lodgings to celebrate and heard Nocticula’s voice whispering through our minds. We’d impressed her enough she wanted to meet us, and gave us the location as well as the warning that we would need to deal with the guards as a final test. Alexei again knew roughly which way to go, so we set off. The island was far enough from the shore we’d need to teleport if we wanted to avoid risking a boat journey over the cursed waters, but fortunately between Ivan and Mr Tiddles that wasn’t a problem.
We crept through the jungle (tinged with purple like everything else in this midnight realm) until we arrived at a domed building. Entering, 4 shadow demons hovered before us. The last time we saw one of these bastards it was deep beneath Fort Drezen, and it nearly killed us by possessing Alexei.
Kieran, thinking the challenge from Nocticula may not require violence, walked towards them and tried to continue through. Predictably, they attacked him: he fell to the floor, spasming. As we prepared for battle, they summoned 4 more and cast the room into darkness. In a bit of a panic, I threw off my rod of wonder again – shrinking even smaller as a wind blew through the room before Ivan countered the shadow demons’ spell. My one hope – that being so tiny ((fine, in fact – about 6”)) meant they wouldn’t notice me – soon proved false as they swooped towards me. At least being little made me hard to hit, because when they did connect it hurt and I was grateful for my ability to suddenly be elsewhere as a blow falls. Alexei was less impressed to find me on his shoulder.
Anyway, between them Aaron, Ivan and Evander dealt with the damn demons. Keiran still lay there, and I was anxious, remembering Alexei. As I moved towards him, he sat up suddenly and flung from him the amulet of pure good that he’d acquired when we chased after Jeska, before vanishing. A noise from behind caused me to turn – Alexei and Ivan, who should have been there, had vanished and Kieran was walking towards me with his sword drawn… This didn’t feel good so I started to move towards Aaron, fast as my iddy-biddy legs would take me, which was not fast enough as he tried to step on me. I used my mirror dodge again, to get onto Aaron’s shoulder whilst leaving him thinking I was still on the floor. Being little is great, but being stepped on would suck.
It was about now Alexei reappeared with Ivan to warn us Kieran was possessed – Alexei’s staff had triggered one of its contingency powers and whisked him away when Kieran hit him (the noise I’d heard). Between them, they threw the demon out and it dissipated. Kieran fell to his knees in prayer and Ivan and Mr Tiddles, fed up with my new littleness, dispelled that also until I was my own size again.
And because I didn’t write this up in time (I wanted to illustrate but failed at drawing), we go straight into the next session. It’s much shorter, I promise ;-)
We walked through the doors at the other side of the hall and found ourselves in a corridor lined with tomes and tablets. Closer inspection revealed these to detail the lives and eventual deaths of the heroes, solars and demons Nocticula had killed and whose bodies made up the Midnight Isles. *Shudder.*
Two fly-headed scribe demons met us at the end and led us into the next room – a cathedral-sized room across two levels. The upper level had a shimmering pool, towering bookshelves and, reclining on a throne, the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. Large red wings shimmered with runes and her two tails flicked and waved seductively. She wasn’t wearing much, but her lava-boots caught my eye and when she spoke it was as though no other sound would ever satisfy.
She knew we were there to stop Baphomet’s mining operation. She was pleased – she wanted to stop them but wasn’t ready to openly move against her rival so our arrival gave her the opportunity to deal with the problem whilst retaining deniability. She told us the mining operation was being overseen by Baphomet’s daughter. She advised us that if we could destroy the mining operations, she’d be able to keep them from coming back. She told us we could reach the location of the mining by stepping through the pool. She slowly walked out as we basked in her glorious presence. She smiled slyly as the left the room – a beat of her wings, and she was gone leaving an after-image of runes shimmering in the air.
Kieran was first to move to the pool – her presence didn’t seem to have affected him. It took the rest of us a moment to collect ourselves. I thought of Noleski with a homesick pang and that helped get me back to myself.
We stepped through and arrived on an outcrop under a waterfall. As Nocticula’s callous, tinkling laugh echoed in our ears, I recalled how dangerous all water was here.
And this was the point I left to meet family for a meal whilst Ivan and Alexei reverse-gravity’ed the water away from us and stone-shaped a bridge to safety. Climbing the cliff, they spotted an enormous undead solar, which Aaron attempted to pull to the ground with a grappling hook. Instead, it flew off with him dangling behind… Between them, though, they rescued him and defeated the beast.
The party then headed off into the jungleyness, moving upstream towards the mining operation. They came across a trio of colossal fiendish dire crocodiles, which the paladin used his immense handle animal skill on and… well… they ended up taking the party upstream by towing them as they sat on floating discs. This ended as they reached massive gates barring the river as it entered (or rather, exited) the cliff. These were guarded by two towers, each manned by two tieflings. And this was when I got home and re-joined the game.
Kieran used his helmet to teleport to the top of one tower; Evander threw Aaron after him (to Aaron’s surprise) whilst I spider’s climbed my way up the other. Between us, it didn’t take long to clear them out and we followed the steps down and into the gorge.
As we followed the path, we heard a voice calling us… A bit of exploration revealed a faecal succubus who complained about the miners. To get to them, we would have to go through the territory that she stated was hers but had been taken from her by a dragon. The dragon had some form of truce going with the miners so wasn’t about to clear them out. We took the opportunity of the dragon’s absence (out hunting) to start exploring its share of the caverns, but it returned before we were done so we epically and dramatically slayed it.