Keepers of the Cerulean Sign

We meet again

some clues Ferthen and I had picked up about some nasty business going on in town. We found our way to an unlicensed gambling den and wouldn’t you know it, but old Zark happened to be there. That and a half dozen worm necks. Man, I hate those things. They ride along, guiding their hosts to do what they want to do anyway. Then when they can’t stand the wait, they puree the brain and take full control. The host eventually dies, but then they just have to get another host before it’s too late.

They fought hard and their minions knew no better than to follow them. But in the end, we called their bluff and won the game. The worms are salted and burned. The evidence of their perfidy has been removed to prevent reinfestation. And Zark? Let’s just say he got his measure of justice.

Yeah, this is out of order. I’ll have to check with everyone to piece this back together.

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Reunion
With friends like that,...

Words are funny things. They have a way of coming back to haunt you. But there is a sequence to all things. No need to rush a bad ending.

Returning to Loudwater, Ferthen and I waited for the others to return. Zark was laying low, so we couldn’t deal with the issue directly. Fine. The longer I have to wait for justice, the more prejudice I am able to muster up for the delivery. And after the way he tried to turn Ferthen and I over to the bandits, let’s just say he has a lot of justice coming.

When Alon, Bodin and Verilesh came back they had no good news to report. The merchant hadn’t been what he appeared to be. Another skin job, working a mad plan to corrupt the wise with dark knowledge and an Illithid larvae shooter to the brain. In desperation, he popped a powerful artifact to send his trackers into a maze, losing them a weeks time or so. By the time they checked back into this reality, the cart had been burned, the body decomposing and a faint slug trail led down to the river. That’s one worm we’ll have to put back on the hook later.

Back together again, we decided to follow up on the lead we had in the swamp. The Corrupt Messenger was trying to gather up a load of hostages to sell to something in the swamp. Maybe not the strongest lead, but we had a pretty good set of directions to follow. Not knowing what to expect is pretty common in our line of work, so we decided to use our favorite strategy—go to where the bad things are and kill them.

Arriving at the rendez-vous point, we found an encampment of lizard folk. And with our usual stealthy approach, they found us, too. While Fighting across the river, Alon, Bodin and Verilesh rushed the bridge while Ferthen and I provided fire suppression. Despite the advantageous position held by the Lizard Folk, we prevailed.

A precursory search revealed a rough map and indications that the Lizard Folk were just acting as middle-men. So, using the rough map, we made our way deeper into the swamp, seeking the source of evil. Despite the rigors of travel in the swamp, we managed to make good time in heading to the destination, stopping only to deal with a clever ambush set by a pod of Giant Toads.

Finally making our way out of the weeping waste, we found the ground at our destination had been corrupted. A strange green resin (a sign of the presence of Kaorte) had killed the plants in the area and no insects were to be found in the area. A single cave entrance in the monolith before us, suggested a simple course of action. Which was a good thing, since our normally tepid group intelligence had been cooled by our long trip through the swamp.

Ferthen and I moved stealthily around to the cave entrance while the others stood back. Or at least, that was as close to a plan as we had. As Ferthen and I drew near, a familiar presence emerged from the green resin near the cave entrance. It was xxx. The last time I’d seen him, he’d invested heavily in agrarian real estate. On the streets of Luskan, he was as close as I had to a friend. In fact, when we teamed up to do jobs, I rarely cheated him out of his share.

Only he’d grown older and greener than I remembered him. Always a fan of talking with pretty words, he called out to my comrades asking where I was. Then he called down the ambush we were expecting. Several elven warriors stepped out of hiding, their green sheens giving away the taint that controlled them. A large Drake bore down upon my comrades. The fight was joined. And had left xxx for dead back in Luskan. And he was here, now, calling for me to join him.

The battle progressed in earnest, my companions hard pressed and held down by the ambushers. And I had to choose between an old promise and a sacred vow. Xxx was still in there. He had xxx’s memories. He remembered me. But it wasn’t just him. Like the skin job Sage in Zelbross, he was just a meatsuit for some foul creature from beyond. Affection vs duty? Tough choice. But giving up my mind to be consumed by Amber monstrosities from the far realms vs a chance to set free an old friend? Easy choice.

So I joined the battle. Between the sarcasm and talk of betrayal, there was a strange pleading around the edges of his eyes. You couldn’t see it if you looked right at him, but I couldn’t look right at him anyway. Xxx. This was nobodies fault. OK, this was half my fault. Maybe all my fault.

But in the end, I said goodbye to him properly, cleaving his head from his shoulders. And as my blade came around for the final stroke, his eyes, cleared for a moment and I saw a moment of gratitude. Yeah, might as well drive a stake through what remains of my heart. But it was finished. And my prophecy had come true. I had to cut the far realms infested head off of my best friend. Hey, it’s a living.

Now it was a simple matter of breaking in to the cave and destroying whatever was at the heart of this. Something I’d enjoy killing. But I just couldn’t get my heart into it. I stood back with Ferthen providing fire support while the others dealt up close and personal with the teleporting, minion spawning Amber freak in the center of the room. And trudging back through the swamp to Loudwater.

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Meanwhile....

As Ferthen and Zamzammir Adai are pitting their abilities against gargoyles and slavers, the rest of the keepers; Alon Canus, Bodin Kekwor and Verilesh chase after The Trader, who had sold a neolithid larva to a sage in Secomber. After tracking his movements through a few nearby villages and hamlets, they finally caught up with the merchant and his wagon. In an attempt to gain information from the merchant they stopped him on the road and began questions him. Before the Keepers were able to react, however, the Trader produced an artifact of some sort from beneath his robes, and as he burst into a terrible laughter, they were swept away into a dimensional maze. Although they were unsure of exactly how long it had taken to escape the maze, upon returning the trader’s wagon was found burnt to ash and the trader himself a rotting corpse with the obvious appearance of something having exited him before slithering down the embankment and into the nearby river. This enemy, it seems, may prove difficult to catch…

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Triple Trouble

When facing creatures from the far beyond the edges of your own world, any leg up you can get is a good one. With all the things that they can do to you, I have decided that the best strategy in a fight is to keep them as far away from me as possible to limit the pain they can inflict. I have spent years learning techniques to make this easier on myself. I have always found this to be effective for myself but until now I have never realized that my techniques could be used to wreak such havoc upon our dreadful foes. Zamzammir has shown me his ingenuity in taking advantage of any weakness he can find, his own chosen style of combat. The disabilities I impose upon my foes allows him more time to position himself to his best advantage and strike with devastating accuracy. Where I take my time and whittle foes down from relative safety, Zamzammir darts in and finishes them off brutally and efficiently.

— While in our own ways we have both been effective in striking out at that which invades our world, its when we work together that we become more than the sum of our parts. Teamwork allows us to gain benefit from our companions strengths, we can rely on each other to support us in areas we lack and focus on what we do well. Working together Zamzammir and I have proven that we are not just twice as effective as when we are alone, but rather three or four times the threat. I have confidence now that the forces of beyond will never succeed for while they are numerous and deadly, they will never be as dangerous as a well oiled team.

Let them cower in the night knowing that the Keepers may be coming for them next.

Coming together is a beginning.
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success.

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Guilt by Association
Sometimes you are judged by the company you keep.

When you devote your life to battling abominations from the far realms, you learn that you can’t tell friend from foe by the skin they wear. There are creatures that consume the minds of men and wear their skin as a sort of disguise. The knowledge collected through a lifetime of study didn’t help the sage from Zelbross keep an Illithid larvae out of his skull. You can’t trust anyone in this business. You never know when you’ll have to cut the far realms infested head off your best friend’s neck.

You get to do a lot of thinking in this business. Sometimes you have to think fast. Sometimes it’s OK to think slow. Watching Ferthen fighting bandits got me to thinking that there must be some way to take advantage of his unusual technique. Since he was heading back to Loudwater ahead of the others to check for clues on the merchants of tentacled death, I decided to tag along. Besides, I’ve got a better way with people than Ferthen. Or so I thought.

So, while Alon, Bodin and Verilesh followed the merchant’s trail out of Zelbross, Ferthen and I went the other way back to Loudwater. Just as we were leaving the outskirts of town, we came across a group of workers digging a well. Ferthen noted that screaming and throwing their tools down was not typical behavior amongst rural peasants. Shortly thereafter, we discovered the source of their concern when 2 emaciated gargoyles flew up out of the pit. Although not directly the focus of our work, gargoyles can be found in underground chambers that could well be our business. After a hard fight where Ferthen’s techniques kept the creatures slowed, I finally figured out how to use their discomfiture to my advantage. As Ferthen’s entangling spirits slowed the creatures, I found the weakness in their defenses. Several well aimed shots from Ferthen and a few cuts from my blade and the gargoyles were done. No easy fight, but we even managed to save all the workers.

Since the workers had uncovered guardians, we had to discover what they were guarding. Imagine my surprise to find a long buried shrine to none other than Kelemvor! I could not help but see it as a sign that perhaps Ferthen and I, opposites that we might be, could well balance one another out. His nature skills and my skills in urban environments suggested complementary rather than opposing skills. Now his ability to distract opponents from a range promised more advantages yet.

We made it back to Loudwater without further incidence. No additional clues were found in Loudwater. Without further sources of information, we did what adventurers always do, we stopped for a drink at the Fisher’s Friend. Listening for information as is my wont, I overheard the brawler Karzon Kul and his cronies talking about a couple of strangers claiming to be bandits. This didn’t get much attention from us, but when they mentioned a disturbing man who came asking about them later, that got our attention. In this business you pay attention when someone describes a stranger as being “wrong”. Creatures from the far realms don’t understand our ways much better than we understand theirs. Causes them to come across as somehow different or wrong. So when you hear someone didn’t seem right, you learn to pay attention.

Unfortunately, Karzon Kul determined to pick a fight with me. His subtle method of throwing out a vague accusation then suddenly swinging at my jaw did not catch me off guard. I quickly slipped between him and his cronies and took out one of his allies with a swift kick to the nether regions. And despite a solid hit to chops, Karzon was unfazed. My darkness globe wasn’t enough to protect me from the stocky dwarf’s right hook. None the less, I managed to give as well as I’d gotten for a few rounds, while the place emptied out. Even Kyos decided to get some fresh air. The brawler was good and fighting his fight, I had no chance. He finally caught me with a powerful hammer fist and slammed the back of my favorite head down hard through a table and down against the barroom floor. I thought I was bound for a chat at the foot of Kelemvor’s judgment seat, but Ferthen managed to get a quick potion down my gullet. Wiping the blood from my eyes, I decided it was time to change the game. Drawing my blade, I made short work of him, thanks to Ferthen’s bow. I’m not proud of the fight, but I have newfound respect for the stumpy’s fists.

Clearing out of the bar, we tracked down Zark at the Docks. We’d heard he had a run-in with the two self professed bandits. Oddly, he was doing some labor, lifting heavy barrels onto a wagon from the docks. As we expressed our desire to track the bandits, he declared that he would show us the way, for a fair cut of the inherent rewards of taking down the bandits.

An Ankheg burst through the ground on our way through the forest. This was more our style. A no holds fight against a powerful monster. We dispatched it with little effort and loss. Its young joined in the fight, but made little difference to the outcome. Finally, Zark led us to the bandit camp.

As we slowly and laboriously made our way around the perimeter, noting the positions and movements of the bandits, we determined we’d have a chance if we could get the drop on them. Then the Corrupt Messenger arrived at the encampment. This was the odd stranger that we’d heard about. Zark identified him and we knew we could not walk away, even though this threw the outcome into greater question. A bandit leader, 2 bandits, 2 archers, and a Corrupt Messenger (most likely a tainted sorcerer). Against Ferthen, myself and an untested dwarf who might break in fear for his life. Maybe Kelemvor wanted to see me after all.

It was a hard fight, with Ferthen and I pulling out all the stops after Zark ran screaming a warning to his bandit friends. I used my darkness globe, my blessed blade, I even pulled out the frosts of Letherna. If it weren’t for Ferthen’s steady, reliable hand and some quick thinking on his part, I could have been choked out by the Corrupt Messengers tentacle. Yeah, that’s something that’s not quite right! But people never mention those subtle clues.

Turns out the Corrupt Messenger was bringing word from his master that the captives (turns out the bandits had been trading in live humans – by the barrel) were to be brought to the edge of the swamp and payment would be made. Yeah, I always trust a guy with a ten foot long tentacle to pay his debts.

Only the Messenger had one more message for us. Fell monstrosities erupted out of his chest. One large and two smaller. We had the drop on them and took full advantage. They were tough but fell swiftly to our vicious assault.

So now we have another clue to follow up on. The swamp. Well, better than the Fisher’s Friend, but not high on my list of favorite places to camp. I have a feeling we will need the full team for this one.

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What's in the Box?
And you thought the cat was tough to put back into the bag?

Loudwater. Hmph. Backwater would be a better name for the place. Sure, it’s got its own oddball characters and a certain dull ambiance, but you don’t come to Loudwater for excitement. Any place who’s most marketable feature is the sound that nearby water makes is not likely to draw a crowd. Or attention for that matter. So it suits me just fine.

I’m still not sure whose cake I peed on in the command structure, but after 3 months in Loudwater, I’m about ready to bake a new cake for every last Seeker in the organization for a chance to get out of here. I was beginning to think they put me here to forget about me. But I wait. I watch. And I listen.

People say funny things when they think no-one’s listening in. You can gather a lot of information just by not being noticed. And my two greatest skills are not being noticed and being very noticed. So noticed, that people tell me the things I’m not able to overhear. So noticed, that they don’t stick around to risk seeing me again. Drow have that effect on people. I’m ready to have that effect on some people.

Takes people like me to protect folks from what they really don’t want to see. Things that most folks can’t look at with their minds turned on. Things that crawl out of nightmares or more accurately stated, things so real and so horrid that they spill over into our nightmares. Things from beyond. And the Keepers hold em back – or die trying.

So when the Guardian and the Forest call a meeting saying they’ve seen a sign, well, let’s just say no one suggested we call in sick. We went to the sign site and picked up our drop. Not much to work from. A town name, and a picture of a box. A box which held something – maybe it held something back or maybe it held a secret. But whatever was in the box meant trouble for whoever had it – cause we meant to come get it.

We looked at a river run to get there, but it became clear that we might miss out on key information along the way. A small caravan had made it’s way to the town in question overland, so we were going to go overland as well. A few bandits got in our way – incidental casualties. Someone ought to do something about the bandits in the area – someone not busy saving the world from tentacled horrors bent on eating our brains for breakfast.

Once in town, we started looking for clues in our own ways. I hit the local poor excuse for a pub – more like a busted ditch with beer nuts. I settled for being not noticed to start things off. The Face found someone to talk about the traders – just passing through, apparently. Lead got us a cold trail. But it was the Outsider who managed to catch a break for us. He found the local sage and spent some time chatting him up. Something about animal attacks. Didn’t seem like much at the time, but any lead was worth checking out.

We came together to review what we had and decided to look into the wild animal attacks. The Forest and the Guardian found some odd tracks. At a crossroads, 8 wild dogs came for us. But these weren’t normal dogs. Something drove them to attack, to kill. And they’d waited in ambush for us. After we dispatched them, it was a matter of figuring out who had sent them after us. The sage seemed a good place to start.

But the abominations weren’t finished with us that night. Hordes of rats came pouring out of a small house trying to overcome us. After a brutal fight, we finished them. Unfortunately, they’d already finished the residents of the house. Not a pretty site, to see a man eaten by rats. Even uglier to see signs he was still alive when they started.

Once we made our way back to the Sage’s tower, we knew we had to dig deeper here. The sage didn’t answer so I used an old key that maybe he’d loaned me or maybe the door was just left open – I don’t rightly recall. But we went in and found him in the basement. Or at least something that was wearing him. The box was there, as were summonings circles filled with abominations from beyond. After a hard fight, we put him down. The Illithid larvae had already eaten his brain so there wasn’t anything to save. We took what clues we could find and slipped out into the night.

Now we have to track down the seller of curiosities to make sure he doesn’t have anymore presents for sages unable to control their curiosity. Maybe a mark on the box or a receipt will help us track him. Maybe some of the papers we’ve gathered his journal and notes will help. Maybe we’ll have to let this one go. But we won’t let him go easy. We never do.

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