the real jet fuel was the friends we betrayed along the way
With Casimir and Hobbes dissenting, the 5-2 vote goes forward as the heroes prepare to kill the defenseless Chagarat, the demon beneath Nistora. Sora decides to go and talk to the Duchess Serena and try to figure out her whole deal. Rho messages Abe to get the Admirable Effort ready to escape the collapsing island.
The heroes are OK with the potential blood to be spilled. Livius reassures everyone that the magic probably won’t just suddenly stop right away and that the effects may linger long enough to evacuate the island. KB-180 and Rho are adamant about killing the demon regardless of the consequences, and Sora and Nahk are convinced that this must happen, willing to bet on Livius’s calculations and accept the very real chance that he is wrong.
Sora flies out of the dungeon, hurrying during the eight hour rest to go and confront the Duchess, to understand her plans, but knows that there is no way to stop the inevitable. She escapes the catacombs and sneaks into the city during the night. Few people are out, humanoids sleeping in their haylofts and cots while giant masters slumber in luxurious beds. Sora flies up to the Admirable Effort, docked in the dizzying heights above Nistora.
The bugbear sailors, taking the night shift, have begun quiet preparations to depart on Abraham’s orders. They direct Sora belowdecks to the Alchemist as she gets an idea. Sora realizes that if the island indeed collapses more rapidly than they expect, or really if the island collapses at all, that the Duchess might pin the blame on the heroes. She decides she needs some insurance.
Sora visits the Alchemist and asks her for a recording device. The Alchemist reverse-engineers the loudspeaker gorget into a kenku-chatterbox. As an action, you can tap the gem and record 10 minutes of audio, which cannot be paused. Tapping it again plays the audio. Tapping it twice in quick succession (as an action) deletes the audio and begins a new recording. When Sora tells the Alchemist that she must get ready for what is about to happen, the Alchemist sadly nods and turns away and returns to her meditation.
Sora goes back down as the sun rises on Nistora one last time. In the streets she sees the humanoids, dragonborn captives from Osteros; humans and dwarves from Findalos, Quebra, Kinista, and Iskos; bugbear captives from Charatos; fishfolk from Morodos; and tibbits from Hama. They all begin their hard work days in the streets of Nistora and high above on the stone buildings. Some look miserable, but others converse in their many languages, laughing and joking, making the most of their plight.
Sora reaches the Duchess’s estate, a wide farmland with a long road leading to the manor, built completely of cloudstuff. Sora confronts the Duchess about the island’s potential doom, surreptitiously activating the kenku-chatterbox. The Duchess tells Sora that the demon must be lying, and Sora, exhausted from sneaking and flying around and chatting people up, sees the incredulity plain on her face. “Do you really think we used a demon to prop up our entire island? That is King Almsbrood’s creature. He is deceitful and has told that creature to lie. He is using that demon’s power for his own.”
“How does the island stay up?”
“We giants have our own magic.” She taps the side of a column as dust and mist comes off it. “Cloudstuff. We build so much from it.”
Sora asks the Duchess how she became the duchess.
Sora accepts her breakfast invitation. She can’t feel completely reassured by the Duchess, but she is curious about what else she might divulge.
“I’ll be eating small today.” The Duchess shrinks down to a humanoid form and the giants set out a novelty tiny table (which is Sora sized) and dishes and forks and food.
Chattin’ with Chagarat
Casimir goes down and talks to the wretched demon Chagarat and goes back up, refusing to attack him. Hobbes attacks and feels bad about it, returning to the surface, shaking his head. Nahk and Livius go down and decide to put Chagarat to rest. “It had to end one way,” the demon says, dejected. Livius’s sickening radiance and Nahk’s vicious attacks make the demon start bleeding out of its mouth and eyes. Livius drops the radiance once he realizes that it is dissolving the sphere they are in.
The membrane above bursts as the demon’s darkness is funneled into the Binder of the Dead. The black sphere surrounding Livius and Nahk dissolves and gravity returns. With the raging sea five miles below, the whipping winds begin to carry Livius and Nahk away. Dark magic continues to get sucked into the Binder of the Dead as the island began to fall away.
Meanwhile Sora and Serena continue their meal, the Duchess gorging herself on bacon, eggs three ways, ham, bread, and mimosas while Sora nervously checks her equipment beside her. It was never confiscated so she thinks to use the broom to fly away and escape before the island crashes. She waits for the feeling of freefall to begin. But nothing happens. The shaking stops and the giant guards relax. The Duchess never seems perturbed.
Casimir casts featherfall on Livius and Nahk, knowing it won’t do much to help since the island is falling at a faster rate and might crush them. Rho then leaps, grabbing her friends, and plummets with them, and once she is within five feet of all of them, she casts word of recall back to the ship.
It was an inside job
Once on the ship, they see the destruction that they have caused. Various white clouds are above them, thick and solid, as smallfolk scream. Dirigibles are in various states of preparedness: some have already unmoored, some hastily begin departing, while others are inactive and fall along with the island. Admiral Barty banks away from the falling island. Within a minute, the island crashes into the ocean below, sending water splashing over them. Several dirigibles sail down as you see hundreds of giants flying around, like little ants below. The cries of the surviving humanoids who were not liquidated by the impact are drowned out by the wind as Barty steers away from the looming giant vessels. The water from Nistora’s landing falls upon the heroes like a gentle rain.
The once rolling hills and valleys are crumpled, jagged. The proud stone buildings toppled over. Water rushes into the empty spaces, dragging survivors and corpses away. From this distance, they all look small.
“Fuck,” everyone says, even Luigius.
The Duchess wipes her mouth and invites Sora to the stoop. Sora sees before her nothing but sky. Below, the same scene, a broken island with waves rolling out like a massive impact crater.
“See? I told you. Giant magic.” She taps the cloudstuff column of her manor. “Can’t be beat. Almsbrood relied on his ancestral pact, but my mother knew better. It was more costly, but she knew cloud giant engineering was worth the price.”
Sora begins to leave and the Duchess says, “I’ll hold up my end of the bargain. The Osterosi will have full autonomy under my regime. Now, my dear friend, go get us out of this demiplane!”
Sora heads back, feeling betrayed, duped. Though she knew this was a possibility, the fact that the Duchess knew exactly what would happen and used the heroes commitment to the kodama to her own ends, made it sting all the more.
The heroes all regroup, shocked at the inevitable consequences of their actions. Hobbes and Casimir cross their arms smugly.
The kodama appear on KB’s shoulders, clicking and spinning their heads. They present a new charm and the heroes have a lot of questions for them. Number one: How dare you? The island spirits deign to answer just three:
“Did you know the island was going to fall?” Nahk asks, his fur raised.
The kodama enter KB’s body and his eyes turn red as his voice rings out, “Why, of course we did! But a small price to pay for the cleansing of our realm!”
The others angrily clamor with questions, but Hobbes pushes his way forward and asks his, “What do you want from all of this?”
“To cleanse the islands of the fiendish and undead presence which so cursed them in the first place. It must be cleansed before it rejoins the material plane! And you did a rightly good job of it, even with your Livius friend fighting against those evil urges to raise the dead and such. Well done!”
The heroes argue, not knowing what else to ask, realizing they knew all along what was to happen, but not understanding to what lengths the kodama would have gone. It all kind of makes sense to you now. I mean, you don’t really know what the hag on Findalos was going to do with that hand, for instance. You’ll never know for sure. And for some reason the kodama seemed fine with the half-measure of sending the Bakasura and his minions to the hellish demiplane.
So they settled with the simple question of what the final charm did: It would transform the heroes into oarfish to swim down to where Aurochs Island once lay, where the demiplane engine is so they can deactivate it. Cool, useful.
The kodama lay down a final task before deactivating the engine: “You have destroyed all of the fiends and undead that resided here when the islands were severed from the material plane; however, you brought one with you. She must be destroyed. She is one of those from 600 years ago that doomed us all to the demiplane and must pay the ultimate price! Destroy her!”
The heroes protest, saying they would never kill the Alchemist, that she is their friend, she is repentant, and wants to help defeat the Deathless One, and has helped them every step of the way.
“That is a shame. Battalion, you have your orders. Destroy the undead abomination and all those who stand in your way!”
The kodama vanish and transform into three identical Kodama Battalion units. Rho looks on, an internal fight raging within her, as she realizes that this is what the islands want, that the interlopers have truly become too gray in their thinking.
he has no mouth but he can kiss
KB-180 tries to negotiate with his friends as Hobbes steps to him. “Please! We must destroy the abomination. I do not want to hurt you.”
“We can’t let you kill her,” Hobbes says, and strikes at his former ally. KB-180’s eyes glow red, along with the other battalion units KB-10000, KB-69 (nice), and KB-420, blaze it.
Abraham, Sora, and Casimir rush downstairs to protect to the Alchemist as KB-69 uses a magical effect to slow down the battle master Nahk. Honestly, picked these creatures right before the battle started to give KB better odds and couldn’t have been a better choice. Livius, Luigius, and Hobbes help Nahk fight off the upstairs goons. Luigius’s shatter attack batters the enemy units, but KB-180 is able to reflect that damage with the island spirits within and destroys Luigius into his component parts. The sailors scream in horror since they really liked Luigius and they were really getting to know him since you guys are never around.
KB-180 rushes belowdecks to hunt the Alchemist. Livius tries valiantly with Goremond to stop him, but his spectral grip is unable to hold the former ally down, but he does get hit with necrotic damage and he just hates it! When Casimir reaches her, the Alchemist is shaking like a xylophone. He casts cloud fog to protect her and the other passengers and officers.
Rho, finally coming to grips with what she must do, unleashes a firestorm on the ship, charring Hobbes and Nahk and Livius. Admiral Barty is like what the heck! as he commands Salty Sabrina and the sailors to start putting out the flames.
“You’re harshing my mellow!” KB-420 cries out, sparring with a slowed down Nahk. His hits are still powerful, but the battalion unit is able to hold its own. Nahk turns and swings the Binder of the Dead into KB-10000, knocking it over the railing to the choppy seas miles below.
Livius summons Kevin, his demon pal, and Rho is like, “Oh yeah this guy’s summoning demons, I made the right call.” The demon spars one on one with Rho, but she is able to absorb all of the hits on her thick exoskeleton.
If it meets, it skeets; if it hits, it shits
Hobbes goes in hot pursuit after KB leaving Nahk holding the bag. He does a flip over the bannister as the sailors chant, “Rule of cool! Rule of cool!”
KB-180 and Hobbes spar until KB decides to smash through the floor. Casimir keeps getting the run-around, coming to the second floor, only to see KB and Hobbes drop into the third floor. The fog cloud obscures KB-180’s vision as he tries to detect the Alchemist’s presence. Hobbes lands beside him, and using his superior blindsense, is able to skewer KB viciously. Sora tries as best she can to cast spells to fend off her former ally, but to no avail. She instead uses the broom’s command word to send to the Alchemist, who whooshes from her hiding place out the porthole, opening the window to the outside, and dissipating the fog cloud with the powerful breeze coming in.
As the fog parts, Abraham emerges, seeing KB-180 attacking his friends, hunting the Alchemist who he is pretty cool with, and threatening the peace aboard the ship. Abraham action sergio knocks KB’s head clean off. “I’m the best wizard!” it’s a weird feeling being a DM using a player character to attack another player character that is basically acting as your monster.
KB-180 picks up his head and says, “Friends, we can work this out–DESTROY!”
Hobbes stabs KB-180 in the stomach, a massive gash cutting straight through, and KB-180 says, “Tis but a scratch!” and clobbers Sora. Sora ducks, remembers she has a sword, and non-lethally kicks KB-180’s head off and guts him once (the key was you had to decapitate him and stab him at the same time). KB-180’s head goes flying to the window, his eyes turning back to blue as he contemplates the beauty of the clear blue sky. The eyes turn dark.
Meanwhile, as Nahk and Casimir (oh Casimir ran back upstairs to help Nahk) battle valiantly against the Kodama Battalion units remaining, Livius lets out a sigh as Rho continues to lash out at him. Livius points a finger at Rho and mutters, “Disintegrate.” As Rho’s body starts turning to ashes, she says, “Y’all kept siding with the bad guys.” Livius nods and realizes that nobody on the ship saw him defeat Rho with a really well-placed spell by the fourth-best wizard around (after Abraham, Mallory, and Luigius, RIP).
Honestly one of the most dynamic and well-fought encounters you’ve done and it’s all because you were fighting each other and had mutually exclusive competing objectives. Nice work!
Underneath the ship, the Alchemist brings the broom to a halt. The commotion had interrupted her work and she at last realized, in the stress of the melee, in a moment of clarity, the answer to the puzzle.
How long as it been? You cannot say. Centuries, they tell you, but you never tire, your mind sharp as always with knowledge and cleverness but empty of memories. You have been at this puzzle for days, or weeks, or maybe it’s also been centuries. This puzzle is much like the others: a black box, unknown, but it has a simple solution. It must.
But over the past few weeks, a different puzzle has tugged at you, one without a simple solution. And your heart, a pile of blackened ash, you feel it forming anew: not literally or materially but maybe somehow in the ether. Maybe. You were never much for metaphysics. You really only trusted the things you could touch and see. But you can touch and see them. Their furry and scaly and fleshy faces smiling at you, laughing with you. It seems to do something.
Even though you can’t feel the box or the key in your skinless hands, your mind sharpens and you understand. You follow the pattern from the diagram: the seven keys with different numbered teeth, turning in the lock one after the other, until at last the box comes apart, the puzzle reveals itself in a blinding white light.
The box falls to the waves miles below. Natalya, you awaken under a ship that is familiar to you, yet strange. You look at your hands, tightly gripping the broom, and they are skin once more, and you touch your face and you are back.
The memories all rush back and you feel a pain in your head, a stabbing headache, as you think about the puzzle, the one without the simple solution: What to do about Aramestes?
As Natalya flies over the railing, the others stare at her and realize that it’s the Alchemist! Wow. Wild stuff. She doles out healing and enchantments and tells the heroes how happy she is to be able to speak to them. At least some of your characters probably cry (it’s been an emotional day, thousands of people died and you were forced to kill two of your friends, and suddenly the Alchemist has her body and memories back?), and the sailors all let out a cheer. Hungry Hamboy Hugo breaks out the kegs.
Hugo says they are low on rations! Time to forage!
Boatboy Bucephalus grumpily fixes the floor where KB-180 smashed through.
I had a note that Luigius and the Alchemist fell in love? That can’t be right
Kevin the demon says bye to the gang and Livius is pleased that he can go back to his studies without fear of punishment from the kodama. Sora pretends to sweep Rho away into KB-180’s decapitated head, but gives it a second thought, realizing that they should go and lay them to rest. They weren’t bad; they were just programmed that way.
Livius decides to start training his flip-wizardry using Goremond. His many fighting pals spar with him. Probably Casimir mostly since they have known each other the longest. Nahk, after defeating the KB units and navigating the many dungeons they have visited, is able to hone his skills in tracking.
Natalya feels a sharp pain in her head, but she ignores it as she converses with her friends, finally able to speak again after 600 years. The heroes determine they must return to the material plane, unlock the demiplane and deal with the Duchess problem later, knowing she will likely use the cataclysm of Nistora to bolster her efforts to seize power–even though she was the one who did the 9/11.
They have to get back home, fend off the Mineosi invasion, defeat the Deathless One, deal with Hespero, deal with Zulon, save their city, and free the people of the 13 Islands, like:
- Bellamy, Constance, and their baby Amelie, who you saved from The Smiler Woman, and the other folks on Kinista
- Alice, the loggers who enhanced your ship, and the villagers on Quebra
- Glub, Fin, and the friendly fishfolk of Morodos
- of the Shack, Penelope, Winston, and the folk on Findalos
- Chester, Melody, and the rest of Auntie Stitchmouth’s wards, who still blame you for killing their guardian, captive on Lemba
- High Priest Kalak, , and the Nemmonis clan on Osteros
- Ikaro, Mokaro, Yana, and the people of Jolos
- Jimbony the Whaler; Whaler Ron, who spreads your tales; Bill and his dogs, Minder, Finder, Grinder, and Hinder; Saralee, the perpetually cold sweater sales rep; the blubbermonger; Tim Timothy Timtimchiree (have a timful); and the fisher folk of Iskos
- Mayor Wistopher, Kittle the barkeep, and Quark, the people of that midsomar village in Iskos Valley
- Pouncival, Rickytickytiger, Timtailtom, Jigjaguar, Bumberbuster, Purrice, , and the tibbit clans (who came together with your help!) of Hama
- Krump and the bugbears of Charatos
- Bulotros and the humans of Charatos, freed from their enslavement under the Bakasura
- The merrows who have made various cameos during the campaign
- And the Skyswimmer, still swimming those skies
Nahk holds the kodama charm in his hand as it turns to black ash, spilling between his fingers.
It is day 38 since the Battle of Aurochs Island, the first engagement in the Argoti-Mineosi War.
The Argotnauts are flying over the cataclysm of Nistora.
All islands completed.
All three keys have been retrieved.
Natalya joins the party.
You have three solid cubes with keyholes and a ring of seven keys:
- One of the pine wood cubes is on the floor of the ship
- Livius has the cube made of bone found in Iskos Valley Village’s elders’ hut
- The Alchemist has one of the pine wood cubes and the ring of seven keys; she dropped the obsidian cube containing her heart into the ocean
You are on a demiplane, and Zulon has been on the material plane for seven full days.