After the crushing defeat of Castraticus at the hands of any angry mob of priests and paladins, the party was quite ready to take a long rest from the road. Almost as soon as they returned home, they were greeted with a letter, requesting the presence of “whatever representatives The Mercies wish to send to discuss matters of great urgency and discretion” in the somewhat distant land of Falgo. The summons was from the court of “Her Royal Fearfulness, Supreme Sorceress Tiraza,” and that was intriguing enough to get people back onto their horses, wagon and all.
They were greeted by a group of guards near the border of the country, at which point they were grossly disrespected for their lack of panache, and not believed to have really been invited. For elves, this was a mortal insult, but it somehow didn’t come to bloodshed. Much of that was due to the soldiers having no interest in fighting; they were more into helping newcomers find doom on their own time than bringing it themselves. Case in point: Assassins were to be given the exact location on the capital and Tiraza’s schedule.
One the escort was complete, Silverclaw bid the group an annoyed farewell, leaving them with Barbosa the monkey, who was suddenly much more involved.
When they arrived at the capital, it was night, and nobody was being admitted to the castle. Lodgings were arranged, and certain parties were quite furious that they were not allowed to stay at the super-fancy inn (having much to do with the people who had the money not saying anything). In the morning, they came to the castle again, to find three large mouth-shaped doors, and a sign telling them that they must choose the correct one to enter, and they could ask each door a question. One always told the truth, one always lied, and one ate anybody who asked tricky questions. The guards on the parapets were placing bets, and somebody had the good sense to wave the invitation at them. It was just as well, because all three doors led to certain doom.
After being led to the actual entrance, they were greeted by Tiraza, the classic porny sorceress who wore way too little and had no outfits that did not include high heels. She was teaching her death hawk to hunt gnomes, and was not afraid to smack it on the beak and call it lazy when it used its optical disintegration beams instead of its talons.
After introductions, she explained that there were four very important stones that needed to be kept in their proper place and a mechanism that needed to be disabled. She invited them to use her finest ship, the TRN Umbridge (named after a very dear and tall friend of hers), to get to the first one. It needed to be buried beneath the Three Kings to be safe. She needed their help to do this because the stone was being held by Starwater, a land populated by fiercely territorial elves who killed any non-elves on sight. Only highborn elves would be allowed in, and she knew for a fact that some members of the group had visited. She didn’t know exactly where it was, but knew they’d have given it some fruity name and tucked it away in a very safe (but somehow not safe enough) place. Once the stone was secure, she intended to have a lock on where the other misplaced one was.
After a long and very luxurious boat ride, the group managed to get safely to the area of Starwater. To actually locate the city itself would require somebody who knew exactly where to find it, and Sapphire tripped right over such a person. I mean, he ran out in front of her and pounced her. She didn’t trip. Anyway, it turned out to be a very sick guard, who had been struck with the dreaded disease of Tuberculupus. He was conscious enough to give them directions, and they made it safely there.
What they found was that a large majority of the elves were already dead, having been infected with the disease some time ago. They were accused of having brought the disease with them, and rightly so. Apparently, they last time they had visited, they had also taken with them the person who was intended to become their grand marshal and High Defender, Jade. However, Starwater was in no shape to engage in bloody warfare, so the party pretty much had their run of the place. They were soon approached by Qualivarmishika, the assistant assistant Keeper of the Ways, who gladly informed them that they would never get the “Soul of the Mountain” they sought, not ever ever ever. Not if they tore the city down, not if they set the woods on fire, they would never find it.
Never one to miss a chance to exert leverage, Sapphire went right to work making a side deal with one of the guards, who knew how to retrieve it. She said she could provide the cure for the city as long as “Rick” would be there with the stone when they returned. This was something of a guess, because although Amy was familiar with the cure, the components were slightly more difficult to come by…the last time, it required an egg of the Viper King, who, last we checked, had been dead since two end-of-worlds ago.
Fortunately, she had a lead. On one of her maps was a mark indicating something about the disease, but not much else. The group journeyed to it, and found the remains of the Cordelia gate, which was still functioning. After a very long and very frustrating series of attempts to remember the password, they opened it, and found a desolate realm of dead trees, scorched ground, and shrieking wind. The Viper King was still fresh as a daisy, as though killed minutes ago, blood still oozing from the lance in his chest.
The building in the distance, laden with chopped-up half-serpentine people, seemed much less fresh than the bodies. The group found the hole-blasted remains of Unit 63, a naked guy who had been in that room for long enough to have forgotten everything except how to speak, and one metric heckton of notes, written first in regular handwriting, then smaller between those lines, then smaller between those lines and up the side, and so on until it was impossible to read without a microscope. There were also some eggs, looking (and smelling) like they were very recently smashed open. They grabbed everything they could (naked guy included) and headed out.