Sleeping Giants

Ana's Meeting

While walking through Skyhammer after your meeting with Lyle, you happen by Simon Range’s old house, which now belongs to Aaron Donaldsson. As you do, you hear whispers calling your name – “Athanatos. Athanatos.” They beckon you to get closer to the back of the house.

You approach the back of the house, and you hear the familiar voice of The Shadow.

“Athanatos. There is some rift in Skyhammer’s protective magic, permitting us to speak once more. However, we can do much more here. I believe it’s time we met face to face.” Suddenly, at the intersection of several shadows in front of you, a portal opens up. It is completely dark, like a pitch black shadow, but it feels warm and inviting.

You step into the portal, and as you emerge from the other side, you are met first with a wave of intense heat, the likes of which you have never felt before. As your eyes adjust, you take in an unexpected sight. There is no shadow as far as the eye can see, as you would have anticipated. The ground beneath you is white and dull, as if it were made from bone. The air around you is reddish brown, the color of copper. The landscape that extends infinitely in all directions is black stone, angled in many different ways but never flat. Amidst all this, you do see one familiar sight, however – far on the horizon, surrounding you completely, there are large white pillars of light that extend from the ground far into the sky. You cannot see where they end.

You stand in an elevated structure of some sort. Around you is a sprawling fortress with buildings and walls made of more black stone and reinforced with copper at key areas. You can make out some movement on the ground below, but you stand a good 300 feet in the air, making it impossible to determine exactly what or who is moving around.

And then you focus on the sight directly in front of you. Sitting atop a throne carved directly out of the white bone material that this structure is created from, is a woman. She is adorned in priceless jewelry, silks, and other finery, and is a vision of beauty, even by Tiefling standards. Her dark skin, wings, forked tail, and horns give her away as something other than human, and something not quite Tiefling either.

The woman stands from her throne and takes a few slow steps toward you. Trailing behind her, connecting the throne itself to both of her wrists, is a thick chain made entirely out of light – it must be related to those pillars in the distance. The two shackles around her wrists give her enough room to gesture with, but not as much freedom as she’d like.

“Welcome, Athanatos.” As she speaks to you, her voice echoes all around you, seeming to come from everywhere but her mouth. “It is so nice to finally meet you, face to face. Come, sit, let us chat for a while.” The woman steps back to return to her throne, and as she does the ground in front of her cracks and splinters, and a similar bone-white chair rises up from underneath, facing hers.

The two of you speak, and she informs you that you now stand in Malbolge, the sixth layer of Hell. She is Glasya, the ruler of this layer and one of the most powerful devils that exists. She is imprisoned here, however, because of Skyhammer on the Material Plane. She has been in contact with you because she believes you to be the key to freeing her and others like her. The recently captured James Madsen was doing work with a similar goal, but he is now out of the picture. Fortunately, there is one other that can assist you – an old friend of yours that goes by the name “Shield”.

With that, Glasya must send you back to the material plane, before Skyhammer notices the link between planes. The world around you grows dim, and almost instantly you find yourself back in the material plane. In front of you is the shadowy portal, which closes in on itself and disappears completely.

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Letter to Sulta Ixen
Nil Writes Home

In late January, 513 AO, Princess Elaina Nile sends a letter home to Sulta Ixen, in her native tongue of Draconic under the pseudonym, “Nil.” This marks the first time that Elaina has corresponded with her home and her father, High Sultan Enil Nile, since her abrupt departure in mid 512 AO. The letter details some events that recently occurred, as well as her sympathies to those she left behind.

To see a translation of the letter, see here

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Jordan's Impact

The cries of the boy whose hands you just smashed echo through the cavern, until your father closes the door behind you and silences them completely. On the journey back through the tunnels, you and your father walk in silence for what must be hours. As you near the surface once more, Jostan finally speaks to you.

“The decision that you made today will have a profound effect on that boy, but you mustn’t dwell on it. You cannot allow a lack of confidence to muddy future actions. No matter what you do, no matter the choice you make, you must make it with determination, with utmost belief that it is the correct choice. There is a place for mercy, and a place for retribution, Jordan. Remember that, and do all that you can to know which is appropriate.”

“How will I know which is appropriate, father?” you replied.

“You must follow your gut, Jordan.” The two of you continue your journey, until you are outside of the tunnels for good. While you enjoyed a nice warm meal that night, however, the boy whom you left crippled and in the dark would enjoy no such luxury.

In fact, he had a difficult life from then on, the knowledge of which you were never made privy to. Little Jimmy Madsen would soon be released from his prison. Deemed unfit to serve in the mines of Skyhammer, he would be exiled from the city proper and left to fend for himself. Fortunately, a traveling merchant would stumble upon the handless boy and take pity on him. He would take Jimmy under his wing as he traveled all of Aurora, until a few years later when the merchant would grow tired of caring for the boy.

The merchant made arrangements for Jimmy to stay with a friend of his in Trabem, one of the capital cities of Aurora. This friend was a professor at the Arcane University of Trabem, and he lost his own son several years prior to a terrible accident. He was more than happy to raise Jimmy as his own, and teach him all the ways of Science, Math, and the Arcane.

What he didn’t plan on was Jimmy discovering his dark secret – a treasure trove of knowledge on the art of Necromancy. Quickly realizing that this could lead to him gaining the upper hand in life, he began experimenting. And reading. And researching.

And eventually, all of this work led him right back where he started: to the city of Skyhammer. He toiled secretly underground, making connections in and around the city to fuel not only his research but his revenge as well. Months had passed, followed by years, and he went undetected by the authorities the entire time. At a certain point, however, his operation grew a little too large and Skyhammer finally took notice…

And that brings us to now.

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Stratton's Journey

As the command word for the teleport circle is uttered, a bright flash of blue fills the room. You shield your eyes, and while the blue light does not seem to die down, you slowly adjust to it. When you’re able to see again, you remove your hand from your eyes and look around.

Your friends are gone. The room you were in is gone. The floor is no longer beneath your feet. You are simply floating now, in an endless sea of blue.

You look around slowly, but there’s nothing but blue. Blue as far as your little gnomish eyes can see. It begins to pulsate, slowly at first but getting more rapid. And that’s when you see, out of the corner of your eye, a small square of fabric. Like everything else, it too is blue, and the sheen of the material gives away its origin: it is the blue silken handkerchief you were given so long ago. It twists and turns in the air, slowly dancing around you until it is directly in front of you. It stops moving completely, and is close enough that you could just reach out and grab it.

And so you do.

The endless blue space around you immediately stops pulsating, and fades to gray. In the distance you can spot little pinpoints of light popping into existence, almost like stars in the night sky. As if someone just lit a torch, the grayness around you becomes brighter, and takes on more of a silvery color. Among the pinpoints of light, you can see wisps of white and gray streaking between them. You glance around, and can see erratic whirlpools of color flickering in midair, like spinning coins.

You take it all in for a moment, unsure of exactly what is even going on. Then, seemingly from nowhere, a small vessel passes by you. It is shaped like a ship, but much like everything else in this place it floats by in mid-air. Two people sit side-by-side in the front of the vessel.

One of the two is a creature the likes of which you have never seen before. He has yellowish skin and alien features, with his hands firmly on the steering controls of the vessel. He is focused intently on the path ahead, and doesn’t even seem to notice you.

The other is, surprisingly, a familiar face. The same height as you, she is wearing loose-fitting, almost robe-like clothing, with a deep blue silken scarf resting decoratively on her shoulders and a thin silver cord stretched across her upper back. She turns to you, and immediate surprise comes over her face. “Mr. Pipsquanchy?” she says, as the vessel ferries her past you.

“Misha?” you respond, just as stunned. The vessel then disappears into the distance, and as it does the silver surroundings quickly fade back to blue, flashing so brightly that you once again have to shield your eyes. And when you open them again, you find yourself in a large, dimly lit room standing next to Lyla, the blue handkerchief clutched in your hand.

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Penance Paid

They stood at the top of the central tower of Skyhammer Cathedral, between the stone parapets that ringed the entire structure. Jordan was growing taller in his adolescence, and he could finally see over the stone to the public courtyard below where the crowd was gathering.

His grandfather stood over him, his hands on each of Jordan’s shoulders, both of the figures craned over the parapet looking down.

Hundreds of people were already formed in a cluster in front of the cathedral, and more were coming from the streets and alleyways to join the spectacle. Before them stood two massive armored Paladins each emblazoned with the colors and markings of Skyhammer; the familiar blue, white and gold with the hammer engraving. Another man, tall and regal with robes that covered his arms and down to his feet, stood behind them with a booming voice. In front of those three knelt a sullen man on his knees, his head down gazing at the earth. His shoulders heaved a bit, and Jordan imagined he was sobbing.

The voice of the man in the robes echoed across the gated town, “and so we are gathered here to witness the hand of Thalos dealing justice to the unjust, paying the spiritual penance for worldly crime.”

Jordan recognized the voice of his father, speaking with a rhythm and cadence he had so rarely heard before in his young life. Criminals would normally disappear into the cathedral to be judged away from the eyes of the world. This spectacle was different, and Jordan could not look away.

“The crime is treason against the church of Thalos, whose doors are open to justice but closed to evil, so that the world may know comfort and peace. The sentence for treason is death.” As Jordan’s father said this, one of the Paladins produced a polished short sword from beneath his brilliant blue cloak, and the blade glinted in the noontime sun. The Paladin lifted his arm smoothly, ceremoniously, above the kneeling man’s neck and held it there. The crying man’s gaze never lifted.

In that moment Jordan’s father turned and looked up the cathedral tower, following its polished marble to meet the eyes of Marcus.

For a moment the crowd slowed its boos, the wind softened and the world grew calm. Jordan lifted his gaze from the crowd below and turned his head to look at his grandfather, whose eyes never left the scene below.

Marcus locked eyes with Jostan and shook his head in disapproval. Jordan turned back to the scene below, and could see a scowl spread across his father’s face before turning back to the crowd.

Jostan bellowed, “Stay your blade, Paladin. The Justice shall be meted out to this criminal through penance in the depths of Skyhammer. His life remains of this world, his spirit shackled to his mortal coil.” Jostan spoke directly to the kneeling man, whose head lifted now in what appeared to be unimaginable relief. “Your soul will be judged by Thalos and Thalos alone. Rise, sinner, and pay your price in this world to Skyhammer.”

The crowd let out jeers and boos, but no one dared make their disapproval physical, as the Paladins, Jostan, and the sinner turned and disappeared into the main doors of Skyhammer Cathedral.

As the crowd dispersed back to their lives, Jordan turned to his grandfather once more and met his eyes. “Why did you do that? Why did you let him go, Grandfather?”

Marcus responded softly, “That man had lost his mind to madness, not to sin. The people needed to see that our eyes are everywhere, but death need not claim him for what he can not control.”

As Jordan pondered his grandfather’s words and tried to understand, Marcus spoke again, “There is a place for retribution, and a place for mercy, Jordan. Can we really call ourselves protectors of the people if we do not show them mercy when they need it most?"

“I suppose not,” Jordan said.

At that moment, in the blink of an eye and without warning, the flames of the underworld burned through the walls, with heat as hot as the sun overtaking Jordan’s body and wracking him with unimaginable pain…

……

Jordan comes to, strapped in a wooden chair, his wrist burning with searing agony where his hand used to be.

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Jordan's Severance

Jordan.

You come to in a room so large that its edges and ceiling disappear into darkness. A faint light emits from behind you, and a short distance in front of you you can see several glints of metal on a wooden table. You hear some scuffling coming from behind you as the light moves. You turn to see what it is, and that’s when you realize you are strapped securely to the chair on which you are sitting. It holds your feet, arms, and chest in place, with one strap covering your mouth to prevent you from speaking.

The scuffling makes its way around to your left, until you can finally see the source of the light. A bald, human man walks past you slowly. His simple, gray robes have patches of dirt in various spots. From underneath the robe, a gloved hand clutches a lantern. He makes his way to the table in front of you, seeming to savor the tension in the air.

He places the lantern on the table without it making a sound, and watching him from behind you can see him remove his gloves. “The Garden of Strength must be watered with the blood of warriors.” The man turns around to face you, and where his gloved hand once clutched the lantern, there are now fleshless, bony digits gripping a cleaver. He moves toward you slowly, intensely.

“And the weeds of Pity must be pulled… by the root!” And with that, the man winds up the cleaver and slams it down where your right wrist is… or rather, where you right wrist was.

The man grabs your severed hand and holds it up to inspect it, as blood oozes from your stump. “Yes, this will do brilliantly. Now before your friends get here, I have some preparing to do.”

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Nil's Gift

While you stand pondering the door, you notice a glint off to the side of the cavern, just at the edge of the torchlight. You move to investigate, and among the rubble of the wooden ramp you find a necklace. It has a silver chain with a pendant made out of deep red spinel cut into the shape of a dragon in flight.

You reach down to pick up the necklace, and as you come in contact with it the pendant glows purple. The light around you fades away such that even your magical vision cannot see through it. Then the voice speaks directly to your mind once again.

“We meet again, Young One. I hope you do not think I have forgotten you, and I hope you have not forgotten me. Those of the Stone make it difficult to exert influence within their domain. Tell me, how is it you have unlocked the secrets of the Divine?”

You inform him that you’ve been paying attention to Jordan, and taken a few pages out of his book. You also make your annoyance at the Old One’s persistence known, though it seems to pay no mind to that fact.

“Before I leave you with this gift, I wish to issue you a warning, Young One. The man who you seek, the mastermind behind this whole operation – though he may be of unsavory character, the work he does is important. The knowledge he seeks could be used to topple the most powerful organizations in the world, whether they be religions or governments. It is the latter that may be of interest to you. So good luck, Young One, and it may behoove you to tread carefully.”

With that, the purple light emitting from the necklace fades, and you turn around once more to face your comrades.

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Hall of Heroes

The white marble walls of the Hall of Heroes are rimmed with gold and silver. A mixture of torchlight and divine glow cause the colors to dance across the expanse between walls, across the faces and bodies of the massive marble statues of men and women. They stand tall and imposing, each over a dozen feet tall lining the walls as far as the little boy can see.

“What is this place?” The boy asks the old bishop hunched beside him.

The bishop answers without looking down, “this is the Hall of Heroes, Jordan. Each of these statues was once a great warrior who led the armies of Thalos into the bowels of Hell itself.”

The two began walking slowly down the hall, the mystical light swimming across their skin and clothing. Jordan felt a warmth that he had never felt before, a warmth that would stay with him for the rest of his life.

Jordan’s eyes move from one statue to the next, his gaze lost in the marvel as it comes to rest on the huge shoulders and face of a woman. Her stone eyes tower high above Jordan’s own and look skyward toward the arch of the ceiling. One of her arms is outstretched above her head as though making an offering to heaven, the other resting on the pommel of an upside-down warhammer that rises from the ground to half her height.

Jordan stops at the base of her feet and lets the image sink into his mind. “Who is this one?” he asks.

The bishop follows the boy’s gaze. “This is Nadir the Third. She was an orphan raised by the church and inducted into the ranks of the Paladin caste. That was long ago, nearly three centuries.”

“What did she do? Why does she have a statue, Bishop?”

“Well, all of these warriors have a story to tell and their deeds run long and deep into the church’s history. They have earned the immortality of stone. Nadir led a group of Skyhammer’s best Paladins into Hell and closed the second gate after Asmodeus had discovered a weakness in its divine bond, one of the bonds that Thalos himself placed during the Descent.”

Jordan looked away from the statue of Nadir and up at the Bishop. “There was a weakness in Thalos’ divine providence?”

“Remember, Jordan, that Thalos and Erathis are unerring, but the fate of the world is always in flux. Asmodeus and his demons spend eternal nights prodding at the Gates, discovering openings where we thought there were none. It is the work of Skyhammer that returns to Hell and closes the Gates after Thalos’ First Descent. Thus is the suffering of Man.”

Jordan looks again at Nadir, “so the Paladins return to Hell?”

“Yes. Since the first stone of Skyhammer was laid, every generation of Paladins has seen a need to return to Hell to hold the line of an opened Gate. The demons are relentless, under the rule of Asmodeus who commands them to take the world from below.”

“Bishop,” Jordan’s young voice echoes down the chamber, “why did you bring me here?”

“To show you who has come before you, Jordan, in the hopes that you may follow their path. To many, this is the Hall of Heroes, and these are Skyhammer’s greatest warriors. But to a select few, we know them by another name.”

“What do you call them?”

“We call them Hellraiders.”

“Because they-…”

“Raid Hell, yes. But beyond that, these warriors have carried within them the fires of Hell itself. The parchment upon which the monks have passed down their legends tell of their bodies burning so hot that their fellow Paladins could see the air smoldering around them. The fires within them could match the heat of Abaddon, and the burning flesh of the demons themselves.”

Young Jordan turns back to the statue of Nadir and lets his gaze rove around her form, as the image of her committing her soul to battle in the blackness of Hell plays out in his mind. “Wow…”

“Mm-hmm,” the Bishop hums in reply. “They were strategic masterminds, Jordan, and could be said to match the bodies of the gods themselves.”

He looks down at Jordan whose sight is now lost upon the uncounted statues that disappear down the corridor before them. “Continue your studies, and continue excelling at the agoge, and who knows… perhaps one day you will be here, immortalized in stone.”

Jordan hears him but he does not respond. His mind is too busy frolicking in violent wonderment.

“Come, young Steingard. I shall tell you the stories of them all.”

The two begin walking down the Hall of Heroes, Jordan’s mind racing, lost in thought.

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Ford's Misstep

As you exit the meeting area, you realize that the trash pile that Nouzrog called home reminded you of somewhere. The smell, it triggers a memory of one of your jobs…

You are back in the desert city of Shahz Inem, once again. This time, you are a few days from finishing your task for General Hector. You collected plenty of info from surrounding towns, and even went as far as Sulta Ixen to get what you needed. All that remained was crossing some T’s and dotting some I’s.

Unfortunately, in the process of crossing some of those T’s, you ran afoul of the local authorities. You were able to narrowly escape being captured outright, but now they are giving chase. You are running from 3 guards, and soon a fourth joins in to nip at you with his spear. You keep your distance from them, so skillfully that you even have time to stop and toss a coin to a beggar along the way.

After about 30 seconds of running, you spot a hidden entrance to a back alley up ahead. It is somewhat concealed by a large stack of boxes. It could be the perfect hiding spot to lose your pursuers for good.

You duck into the alley and disappear into the shadows. A few moments later the three guards can be seen rushing past you, and you wait a while longer until they are completely gone. Finally, you have some time to catch your breath.

And that’s when the stench hits you. You’ve crept through a lot of back alleys in the past, but they never quite smelled like this. Someone, or rather, some thing must have recently defiled the ground on which you stand. That’s not the mystery you were hired to solve, however, so you didn’t pay much mind to it at the time.

If you had, you may have realized that you stepped directly in The Butterfly Poop. And over the next 48 hours, it would solidify and fall off, leaving the perfect bootprint inside General Hector’s office. This in turn tipped him off that you were snooping where you didn’t belong, leading him to attempt to “dispose” of you in a follow-up mission. When that failed and instead the princess of Sulta Ixen went missing, Hector was forced to pin it on the one piece of evidence that he had. Thus the Fecal Bandit was born, identifiable only by the tread of his boot. The tread of your boot.

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Simon's Destination

We see a canopy of trees underneath us, stretching off in all directions as far as our vision permits. Directly in front of us, miles off, is a gargantuan tree that stands much taller than any of the others.

We look downward, as we begin sinking through the canopy. A lush forest resides below us, and nestled cozily inside of it are a few small stone huts, with tall roofs seemingly made of dirt and grass. A few animals graze and play on the outskirts of this village, and smoke rising from several chimneys indicates some kind of higher life form as well.

The calm that rests over the village is suddenly disturbed, however, as a rumble can be heard, slowly getting louder. The grazing animals disappear into the surrounding forest in an instant, and a semi-transparent, clearly magical horse bursts through the brush in a full gallop toward the village. On its back is a human figure, wearing a hooded cloak with the unmistakable symbol of Skyhammer embroidered on it.

As the rider approaches the village, the horse below it begins to fade from existence. It disappears completely as it reaches the door of one of the huts, and the cloaked man readjusts his weight to land on his feet before knocking loudly on the door.

Inside of the hut, we see someone already approaching the door. He is a tall man, probably in his mid-30s, and looking a bit worse for wear. On the wall next to him are a warhammer and shield, both exquisitely crafted and laced with gold. The shield proudly bears the symbol of Skyhammer and emanates a dim blue light.

He reaches the door as the knocking subsides, and pulls it open. The hooded man enters immediately, his blue cape flowing around him. Confused, the tall man closes the door and turns. “I thought we weren’t meeting for another 3 weeks,” he says.

“Max, we have a problem.” the hooded figure reaches up and pulls down his hood, turning to the man. And it is then that we finally recognize the friendly, yet currently very tired, face of Simon Range, Bishop of Skyhammer.

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