Thursday, 26 March 2015

The Long Game: Return to Aes!

Last time...

Our three adventurers had defeated the Iron Dragon and were fighting their way out of the tower. Making it safely aboard the Shockrosia (or Thunderhead, in the Common tongue), along with some new allies, the crew had intercepted a message from Aes. Kalgar was being called back, on charges of high treason.
Dallas Kasaboski

Standing at the helm of the ship, Kalgar ordered his crew back to their posts and he turned the ship westward. Examining his map of Cyfandir, he examined the possible routes they could take.

At this point, Adamantina's forces had completely invaded Albus; that sovereign country no longer existed. Hiems, the northern waste, was also home to Rime, a beast, a cobalt dragon actually, who the players had met, nearly at the cost of their lives. Sailing due west or circling to the north were completely out of the question.

There was nothing for it, they would have to go south. So, Kalgar turned the ship and sailed down along Argentum's mountain range, along the border of Ferrum and Aurum. With any luck, they could stop off in Chalybs, the city-state, and perhaps replenish some supplies.

With his orders given, Kalgar went below-deck to find Alvyn. One of the many horrors of the tower included clones, copies, empty versions of Alvyn. Adding to that the fact that the fight with the iron dragon turned Alvyn into several kinds of creatures at once, Alvyn had taken the first opportunity to take a shower, a long shower. Of course, first he had to ask the dwarves to make a shower, but one step at a time.

When Kalgar arrived, Alvyn had moved on from his shower, to a sauna. When did that get here? Kalgar thought, he'd have to talk to the dwarves about that, they should really run new things by him first.

"Alvyn, where are you?" the dragonborn asked.
"I'm in here, it's warm." the gnome answered, not wanting to move a muscle.
"I'm out here." Kalgar answered, having little time for games.


"Fine." With a long sigh, Alvyn moved to the door. Opening the door, standing there in his towel, he looked up at Kalgar. "What!?"

Standing tall, Kalgar answered, "It's time. I've been called back to Aes."

Alvyn stared at him, unblinking. "Alright, who do we have to kill? I assume that we just have to kill some people so we can get back to the business at hand."

"The Angrimich Shivi, the military police, you know too well, they intercepted a signal of the news-cast and, well, they're out for blood. They're looking for me." 

"You couldn't have been a loan shark, with a debt to pay off, no no, you had to get the Angrimich Shivi after you." Alvyn's hands were on his hips.

Rubbing his chin, Kalgar raised an eyebrow and said, "I seem to recall that this was partly your idea."

"Well...yeah, but they weren't supposed to find out you weren't dead. Alright, well, we'll figure something out."

Kalgar called a meeting with Alvyn and Tong in his quarters. He wanted to brief them on some of what they might be getting into. Kalgar explained the rule of Aes, which publicly starts from the Grand Admiral and works its way down through military rank and file. Every citizen of Aes must serve in the military for a 15 year term, some do this more than once. It was Kalgar's abandonment of his second term which turned him into an enemy of the state. Publicly, the country is run by the Grand Admiral, a terse, fierce, elderly dragonborn who is said to have been the survivor of a powerful storm, through which he alone sailed his ship. However, privy to the information of The Long Game, Kalgar reminded Alvyn and Tong that the country was actually controlled by the Bronze dragon and that she had been responsible for Aes' turn toward superweapons. The location of the Capital, where presumably both the Grand Admiral and the dragon reside, is only known by official captains of Aes' military.

The three sorted out the details, working every scenario they could think of. Kalgar remembered an old law, which allowed the accused to challenge his accuser, and thought that could be used. He was no lawyer, but he believed he had the power of the people, and Kord, behind him, and thought it worth a try. If he could challenge the Grand Admiral, the very lawmaker who had turned his country away from the path of strength and honour, and if he was worthy of the fight, Kalgar might not only fight off his charges, but maybe turn the country back on the proper course. It was a gutsy move, but then again, the three adventurers were used to that.

Alvyn gave some thought as to the location of the Capital. He thought there must be a pattern in the trade routes of the ships moving through the archipelago of Aes. Perhaps by consulting paperwork of the trade manifests, they could narrow down the Captial's location. "Sure, there may be outliers for accidents such as storms and horrible monsters, but we should be able to figure it out." He also gave some thought to Kalgar's return. He remembered that not only did Kalgar leave Aes way back when, so too did the superweapon Alvyn was originally after, an earthquake machine. "So when you challenge the Grand Admiral, if something goes wrong, we'll just rig up a facsimile and broadcast the weapon to Aes."

"Plus," Kalgar added, "if anyone recognizes you, they'll be too worried anyway about what you could do." Since details of Alvyn's cured spellscar were not widespread and Aes' high brass had used his spellscar to craft the superweapons in the first place.

"We're going to need a smaller boat, a hundred feet of rope, two hundred pounds of explosives, some parachutes..." Alvyn was scheming, and that was both good and bad.

"Alchemist's fire?" Tong suggested.

"Yeah, some thunder stones, some..."

"How about a suit of armour and a corpse?" Tong loved guessing, it was a playful way of gleaming knowledge, and as a monk of Ioun, he loved knowledge, in all its forms.

"No, that's not something you buy, that's something you make." Alvyn said, in between items on his list.

"Another thing to consider. The Order of Kord." Upon seeing the raised eyebrows from Tong and Alvyn, Kalgar continued. "The Order is a loose following of Kord's soldiers, those who believe and fight for Him. But, Kord Himself has told me have that members of the Order can share their strength, even give it to others, it has rarely been done, but it can be done, and maybe I will need it."

Suddenly Tong stood up and in the voice of his old master, Ting Tang Wong Gong, he uttered, "Scroll #8444: The world of appearances is like a sausage skin, the Reverie is the meat." And just when they thought he had finished, he continued, "Scroll #8445...No sausages!" Ting Tang's lessons burned strongly in Tong's mind, even after all this time.

Thinking they had at least the semblance of a plan, Kalgar led them back above deck. 

"All hands on deck!" He commanded, and the crew assembled.

"You've all heard the news-cast! I've been called back to Aes, the west of the world, marked as a fugitive and a traitor. But you probably don't know why. One thousand years ago, the dragons took over, or they tried to during The Great Betrayal, before all the nations of this world teamed up, and well, we all know what happened."

A look of worry came across Alvyn's face as he stepped forward to stop Kalgar. You can't tell them this, they don't know this! Alvyn's face was saying. He was worried about The Long Game, one of its rules being that if more than 5 non-dragons knew about the existence of dragons, those people would be killed. However, Kalgar was not speaking of the present, he was speaking of the past.

"...since then, Aes was built on the principles of strength and honour. We rounded up our allies, we cleared our country of weakness, and we faced our enemies head on, never afraid to show our true strength, we'd rather face our enemy in battle than cunningly sneak from afar."

Alvyn muttered to Tong, "Yeah, like idiots." But he said it with a smile.

"Back when I was in Aes, serving in the Imperial Navy, I noticed a change in my country, a change in weaponry which I believe to be less honourable. They started using weapons of mass destruction, thinking they were more efficient and a better way to wage war. But, I believe that the weapons removed the risk from the fight, and that if a battle costs nothing, its victory is worthless. Strength must be checked, and weakness is its own punishment. Superweapons cannot be checked and their strength cannot be merciful."

"I couldn't change the minds of my crew, the military is the law. So I faked my own death, and I left the country, and I have been traveling ever since, hoping to learn more, gain strength, so that I could one day go back and turn the tide of my country, back to a better way. That, is why I'm labeled a traitor because rather than simply giving my life to a service I didn't believe in, I choose to walk away."

"We are going back there now, and we are going to face, well, you've already faced some terrible dangers, but we are going to even greater threats. You have all served me well. Without hesitation, and with an obedience that I probably haven't earned because I haven't been the greatest captain. We will be making a stop in Chalybs, and if any of you choose to get off this ship, leave this life, I won't stop you, but, if you want to actually accomplish something, if you want to turn the tide of aggression, and make ours a better world, and if you want real adventure, then I suggest you come with us!"

With that, he looked at his crew, knowing this was a defining moment for him and for them. 

Dwight, one of Kalgar's disciples, stand up, looks around, then sits down and says, "I...I'm with you."

The dwarves look at Kalgar and scoff, "Hmph" as always. They're with him too. Everyone else is nodding.

Kalgar smiles, some of his teeth still broken from when he faked his death all those years ago, and he said, "I always knew you were a bunch of badasses, now get back to work!" And with a hearty cheer from the crew, everyone went back to their posts.

A single tear rolled down Tong's cheek but then evaporated into ethereal spirit mist. 

Kalgar, noticing Haymitch's silence, calls him over to speak privately.

"Speak plainly, Haymitch, what are your concerns?"

"This seems sudden." the young disciple says.

"Sudden? The fact that we're going back? You saw the transmission."

"You don't seem to have put a lot of thought into this." Haymitch frowns.

Keeping an eye on some dwarves loading the port-side cannons, Kalgar says, "I can assure you that I have had this on my mind for the past few years. I don't have everything worked out yet, but it will take some time to get back to Aes."

"So, you plan to, what? Take on an entire country but you don't have a plan."

Kalgar laughed at this, "I don't have a full plan yet, but I'm working on it. The last time I was in Aes, I noticed that the people were divided on the military's way of doing things. Some sided with efficiency, but others sided with the side of honour, on which they were raised. I believe that if someone were to challenge the lawmakers, to challenge the laws publicly, that this could turn the tide of favour toward a more honourable way of things. I know it's rash, I know it's dangerous, but I believe that a sudden storm can break through the wall of resistance and an example must be made to turn this country back. And while I am not one to quote law, there are some ancient laws on my side, as well as the spirit of that law."

"Well, I guess I have some time, let me think about it." Haymitch says.

"The details are still being worked out, but I left the coutnry because I didn't think I was storng enough to make any kind of change. Even after the transmission, I would only go back if I believed that something had changed. I have changed. I am stronger and I am surrounded by allies who believe in the same idea as myself, including you. I think we can go back and make a difference. Most of the problems of Aes come from on high. If I can change the Grand Admiral's mind, then I think that I can make things better."

After some thought, Haymitch says, "I'll have to think on this, I'll let you know when we're at Chalybs."

During this conversation, Tong si Gong focused his mind into the Reverie to contact his fellow followers of Ioun. There he summoned his three most devout disciples Hassim, Kashatriya, and Lenny.

"I am going on a pilgrimage, but it is not for me. I am helping a close ally. You three will be my lord regents in my stead, it is your job to maintain the spiritual equanimity while I am away and you will be the bearers of my knowledge. There will be no temples, the age of temples is ending. This physical world will be the temple of our deity, and its halls will stretch out throughout all of Cyfandir. You will soon know the meaning of the Mindfulness Scroll 4182. Do not weep over this stone, look for the temples inside of you. Reverie over!"

And, just for a fraction of a second, just as the Reverie closes, Tong si Gong felt the same, brief but intense feeling of hatred and focus he had felt in the iron tower. Like someone was watching him, with malicious intent.

"Troubling. Meditate on the pupil who gazes at all things, but to itself is blind."

Staying on the eastern side of the Argentum mountains, the Shockrosia makes good time. Along the way, they spot some of Argentum's wyvern knights, an elite military group who make quick work of scouting the mountain range with their winged beasts. It becomes suddenly clear to Tong that the knights see them, even though the ship is surrounded by a cloud-based cloaking system. To anyone else, they appear as a quick moving cloud, but the knights seem to be able to see through that.

Alvyn watches them, and finally hails one, "Hey! How did you see us?"

The knight and wyvern circle the ship. "No, no, you can land, we want to talk with you." Alvyn clears the deck.

The wyvern gently, but solidly landed on the deck, and the wyvern grabbed the rail as the knight dismounted. The beast was large, but its muscles were very compact, leaner than a wild wyvern, and its scales and spikes were larger. Strange, but formidable.

The knight has two lances strapped to the wyvern, and he himself was carrying a long sword. Taking off his helmet, they could see that he was a middle-aged human, nothing extraordinary about his personal appearance. After greeting them, he says, "So, you wanted to know how we saw you?"

"Yes", Alvyn said, stealth being very important to him.

"Excellent vision is a mandatory part of being an Argentum knight, or military wyvern. We have massively long borders, with many people trying to cross often. Plus, we have help." And with that, he shows Alvyn his helmet, which seemed to have magical enhancements which aided perception.

Alvyn whistled over one of the dwarves, who were always tinkering with something, "Hey, look at this, learn!"

"These helmets allow you to see all things, but do they see the spiritual realities that inter-penetrate this world-"

"No!" Kalgar and Alvyn say simultaneously.

"But, the mys-".

"No." Alvyn says.


"It's a hat."

Tong shrugged this off and went to another part of the ship to think.

"How fare your borders, with the push of Adamantina?" Kalgar asks, always coming to the point.

"We have noticed some scout groups from Aurum and Adamantina pushing through gaps, trying to scout out information on each other but while there hasn't been open hostility yet, we are staying vigilant."

"As we've been travelling south, we noticed a ragged group of mutated creatures moving west through Ferrum. It is something you might want to warn your northern patrols."

"Hmm, we have also noticed some movement within the depths, from underground, some creatures we have not seen in some time. Nothing dangerous, but the fact that they are emerging is, in itself, quite strange."

As this was said, Kalgar looked over at the dwarves, all performing various duties on deck. They hadn't been paying attention before, but they were now, and they looked horrified.

"Alvyn, is there any way to send a signal, maybe through the news-cast, to communicate with people in other lands?" Kalgar asked.

"Well, there's the Sending ritual." Alvyn answered, nodding.

"I could send one of my neophytes through the Reverie to contact people all over Cyfandir." Tong si Gong saw an exciting opportunity for sharing knowledge.

"Well, I just thought there could be a way for different groups to post information, as it developed, which could be useful to us later." the dragonborn said.

"Hmm, well, at least for now, perhaps our Argentum knight here could give us the coordinates of this incident and we could investigate it later. And yeah Tong, you could look into it."

"Seems sort of heretical, but I guess, given the context, I could do so."

"Heretical? I remind you that knowledge is the most important thing about your worship to Ioun, is that not right, Tong?" Kalgar took religion just as seriously as Tong, however differently he practiced it.

"I never thought someone who bowed to the god of war would trump me in ecumenical knowledge. Very well, it shall be done."

Kalgar quoted lessons learned long ago, "...accumulate, distribute, and attain knowledge in all forms, pursue education, build libraries, and pursue ancient legion and all lore. That is the way of Ioun. Yes, I paid attention in my religious studies."

"Yes, but can you break a stone with your head?"

"Yes." Kalgar said, flexing his huge muscles.

"Oh, hmm, yes."

Meanwhile, the wyvern is sniffing and checking out members of the crew, especially Dwight, who are all trying to avoid it, but finding it difficult to do that and maintain their post. The knight seemed to want to ask something, but kept thinking better of it.

"What's on your mind, soldier?" Alvyn asked, polishing his goggles of Aura sight, an innocent looking manuever, but he was actually scanning Dwight for any abnormalities. He didn't find anything.

The knight looked down at Alvyn and says, "What manner of vessel is this? I've never seen its like before."

"It's a sailing ship. It sails" Alvyn was being a little circumspect.

"It also flies." Tong contributes.

Alvyn reaches into his satchel and hands the knight a flask of something delicious. "Thanks for everything, good luck with your country."

Sensing some hesitation from the knight, Alvyn adds, "Oh, it's non-alcoholic, it's fruity!"

"Oh, well, thank you!" The knight tried a sip, smiled, and then jumped off the ship. The crew of the Shockrosia watched the knight and wyvern fly away.

"That was to share!" Alvyn called after him, laughing.

In a moment of curiousity, Tong tried to use his psionic magic to erase the memory of the Mark of Mercury from his mind. But nothing happened. Its magic exceeded his own. Tong spit out a curse at this crude mark sullying the temple of his body.

The travel along the border of Aurum yielded much activity, as the country seemed to be increasing its presence in the area. Towns, cities, camps, all were growing in military presence, gearing for something. Due to their cloud-cloak, no one noticed the Thunderhead.

"The open palm of this verdant land is slowly becoming a closed fist." Tong si Gong muttered, psionic power emanating from him.

"Yeah, war will do that." Alvyn quipped.

That is when they remembered.

When last they had seen Chalybs, the self-designated country, which had branched off from Aurum, had just suffered a city-wide strike from its civil workers, and most importantly, the city was under siege, from Aurum!

Rounding the valley which held the city, they saw that this was still in effect. Aurum's military had encircled the city, their troops, which included dinosaur armies, were patrolling the walls, keeping the city locked down. Chalybs, fully able to defend itself, had trebuchets and other weapons lining the walls of their once-fair city.

Studying this, Alvyn said, "We need helium."

"What!?" Tong shouted, eyebrows raised as high as they could go.



"...or its magical equivalent." Alvyn finished.

"Ah, you mean breath of the heavens!"

"No, I mean helium."

"Breath of the heavens was given by Ioun." Tong was always willing to ignore the knowledge of anything that wasn't his god.

"We can't land here, but we do need a way to get supplies."

"The wealthy third brother will always pick sides. Scroll # 7869." Tong said, considering their situation.

Our three adventurers thought over their situation. Alvyn wanted to steal supplies from Aurum, his eyes twinkling at the sight of dinosaurs. Tong was willing to do whatever it took to make the mission succeed, but Kalgar wasn't convinced that stealing would be the right thing to do.

"Your strength comes at the expense of your enemies." Alvyn said.

Kalgar thought this over, and came to the conclusion that their supplies would not make much of a dent in what Aurum had in its camps. Knowing that he was the least stealthy person, he wondered if it was time for Dwight and Haymich to go on a mission. But, there was still the question of Haymich's loyalty; with Chalybs under siege, he didn't even have the choice of getting off the ship.

"Tell you what, I'll go talk to Haymich since you may be intimidating him and causing him to not speak freely." Alvyn said. "I'll be right back."

As the gnome walked off, Kalgar called after him, "Make sure it is talk, I've heard you whispering."
To which Alvyn replied, "Hey, it's me!"

Alvyn found Haymich leaning against a rail on the far end of the ship. "Jeez, Haymich, tie your shoes! No, wait, I'll do it for you." As Alvyn began tying his shoes, he asked, "Are you staying with us or not?"

Looking down uncertainly, Haymich answered, "I presume if my answer is no, you're just going to throw me off the ship?"

"Oh probably. We have met."


"So, you're going to do the right thing?" the gnome asked.

"If that's what you call it."

Alvyn laughed, a dark laugh, "Shades of grey, buddy, shades of grey. Alright, well then. Good choice." Alvyn then untied the rope he had surreptitiously tied to Haymich's ankles.

Walking back to Tong and Kalgar, carrying a sloop of rope, Alvyn said, "It's fine, he's staying with us."

"Excellent!" Tong replied, "I'm proud of the fact that you've grown so much, Alvyn, learned to use your words to change someone's mind."

"Hmm." Alvyn answered.

" takes a lot to use your words, your heart, to convince people to do the right thing, you don't have to resort to actions-"

"Or physical threats." the gnome warlord smiled.

"Or otherwise, yes, you've matured!" the human monk looked pleased.

"So, how are we going to get these supplies?" Kalgar asked.

"I have a plan. We're going to go down, put all the supplies we need into a pile, and then we're going to teleport them onto the ship!" Alvyn was looking through his supplies, trying to sort our his arcane accoutrement, in order to make teleportation circles.

After sorting through some odds and ends, Alvyn remembered that making a teleportation circle would take way too long. "Hmm, any other ideas?"

"We could taunt them, we could fly overhead saying, 'Haha! I bet you cannot even hit us with your thunderstones, and then wait, as they toss their thunderstones onto your ship." Tong leans back, looking pleased with this plan.

Alvyn and Kalgar looked at him. "No. That is one of the worst plans I have ever heard." Kalgar said.

"But, Tong, that will destroy our ship." Alvyn pointed out.

"It will will. Never mind!" Tong resigned the point.

"Look, I used to do this for a living. I'm sure we can do this." Alvyn said.

"What do you need for this? I am not made for this type of mission." the 300 lb, fully-armoured dragonborn was not made for stealth, and he knew it.

"Hmm, maybe if I put all the supplies in one spot. You could send a rope down from the ship with your harpoon and haul us and the supplies back up."

"Maybe we could use Dwight and Haymich to help."

"Sure, in fact, they can lead this mission." Alvyn said, nodding.

Breaking apart the meeting, Kalgar went to his quarters, where he called Dwight and Haymich. Haymich was the first to arrive. As he walked in, he saw the dragonborn, sitting at his desk, which appeared to be bolted into the floor. The rest of the quarters were quite spartan, hosting a hammock, some weapon and armour racks, and some extra chairs. Taking one of these, Haymich sat down.

"So, you've decided to stay with us." Kalgar said.

"Sort of."

"What does that mean?" Kalgar looks up from his desk, straight into Haymich's eyes.

"I can't exactly get off the ship, now can I?"

"Do you want to leave? What are your concerns?"

"The same things I mentioned earlier."

Right now the captain of the Shockrosia thought to himself that he could really use a drink.

"Alright, look, I have very little patience, and what little I have, I'm trying to use to answer your questions. But I don't have all the answers, I'm not an ideas man. I go where the wind blows, and right now it's calling me back to Aes. That is why I have told everyone that if they want to join me on my crusade they can, but if they want to leave, then I need to know now. If you're so unhappy with the plan, then help make it, talk to Alvyn, talk to some of our dwarven crew. I don't have every detail laid out, I trust in Kord. Kord and Melora will see me through. I have been twice-blessed by these gods, especially for this quest to turn the waters of Aes. If you have issues or problems with that, you need to voice that so we can work through them."

"Fine. As long as you're not going to do something stupid like, I don't know, raid that camp down there for supplies."

Sitting up straight, Kalgar said, "Well, what would you suggest? We need these supplies, and we cannot get them in Chalybs."

"Can't you get them in Aes?"


A short time later, the Shockrosia entered Aes.


Rounding south of Hyacintho, Kalgar, at the helm of the Thunderhead, noticed a large storm off in the horizon. Examining it, he couldn't get a sense of what it was, but now that he had noticed it, it started moving toward them, quickly.

Reaching into his inner self, Kalgar examined it from a religious perspective, his patron god is the lord of storms, after all. He got no sense from it.

Alvyn and Tong looked at it, neither could figure out what it was. Alvyn put on his parachute. Unsure if they could outrun it, Kalgar slowed the ship and told everyone to brace for impact.

As the storm moved toward them, it enveloped them. The air became dark, with flashes of lightning, causing hair to stand on end. The winds were rushing in all directions. They were being rained on from all sides. It was becoming hard to hear anything; Alvyn was yelling to Kalgar, this is what he heard.

"Alright, Kalgar, I think you got this! I'm going to go below deck and make a sandwich!"

To which Kalgar responded, "We may need...some kind...of yelling ritual!"

Kalgar began praying to his gods, hoping Melora, the patron goddess of Aes, could help settle this storm. He couldn't feel her influence. "Well, you only live once", Kalgar said, grabbing a lever and guiding the Shockrosia into the eye of the storm. Silhouetted by clouds and lightning strikes, Alvyn, Tong, and Kalgar knew they had encountered a dragon. Which dragon, they weren't sure, but it was likely the one which had disguised itself as a sky god in Hyacintho.

Tong si Gong focused his psionic powers through his Mark of Mercury in order to try to communicate with the dragon. They were arbitors of The Long Game, they should not be attacked like this. Reaching out off the bow of the ship, Tong had a difficult time keeping his focus. For his efforts, he was rewarded with a lightning strike. The shock was massive, blasting him back, past the crew, almost flying off the ship but Kalgar reached out and caught him just in time.

The winds increased, the lightning began to strike the ship more rapidly.

"Bring out the long nines! Dwarves! Open lightning receptors to full capacity!" Kalgar was fighting to keep the ship in the air, but while he had been dodging lightning before, or trying to, now he was trying to aim the strikes so as to absorb the lightning's power.

A sudden double strike of lightning and one of Kalgar's crew, Lenny from Chalybs, flew off the ship, into the clouds, gone. "Kord's blood!" Kalgar swore.

The lightning strikes were increasing, the receptors were about to overload.

Pulling back one lever, pushing another, Kalgar wanted to see what his ship could do. He aimed to fly above the storm. The ship's power was increasing thanks to the lightning capacitors, but it was still difficult to maintain the angle of ascent. The rest of the crew had gone below deck, Tong was using his Idolayn Stride, becoming incorporeal, and standing on the deck as if he were attached to it. Kalgar's muscles were straining to keep the levers in place as the wind, rain, and static were rushing all around him. He never felt so alive!

The lightning strikes were hitting constantly, and just as the ship's core sounded as if it were about to explode, the Shockrosia broke above the storm. Looking down, Kalgar could see that the cloud was completely black. Then a deep rumble was heard, whether it was a storm or a roar, he couldn't tell.

Below deck, Alvyn flipped the switch and dumped the entirety of the ship's power out below the ship. He reversed the polarity on the lightning receptors, running the power through the bottom, metallic keel of the ship, then used the gravitic inverters to aim the dispersal pattern below the ship.

The bolts of lightning focused and struck into the storm cloud, but Kalgar could not see if it hit anything.

Alvyn ran above deck, and said to Kalgar, "Okay, some FYIs. One: we're out of mayonnaise, two: I vented all of our power from the ship so it should functioning"

"Now?" Kalgar said as the ship began to fall.

"Kord, Melora, this cannot be the end, help me see my way through this!"

They began to fall, faster and faster. In a moment of clarity, Tong si Gong remembered that he had earned an ability to redirect lightning in his training. In order to do this, he needed to move quickly. He ran up to the deck, his movement summoned bolts of lightning, then he teleported to the ship's core unloading the energy into the ship. He kept this up, repeating it over and over, faster and faster, blinking in and out of reality.

However, some of the lightning wasn't being directed through him, it was striking him. Kalgar laid his hand upon the banister of his ship and, for a brief moment, he could feel the presence and strength of everyone onboard. He then channeled some of his strength through the ship, into Tong, healing him.

The ship plunges, continuing to be struck by lightning on the way down. Suddenly, Alvyn, holding onto the rail was struck by lightning. Among shouts of pain, he yelled, "This sucks! Pilot better!"

The ship's core filled quickly with energy from the storm, reaching the overload point again. The Shockrosia cleared the storm cloud and was now only a few hundred feet above the water, and falling fast.

The ocean. It has been Kalgar's home for most of his life. Piloting the Shockrosia wasn't exactly like sailing a ship on the water, and Kalgar missed the ocean. Its swells, its moods, its temper. Kalgar recalled the calm nights and the brutal storms he had to sail through while serving in the Imperial Navy. Sailors long ago noticed that the waters below a storm tended to become mixed and agitated as well. These sailors joked that Melora and Kord, gods of sea and storm, were talking, or fighting. With the Shockrosia falling fast, Kalgar closed his eyes, and trusted his instincts. Turning the ship into the low pressure system, the water and air rising to meet the storm, Kalgar let go of the wheel and allowed it to find the safest course.

The ship skipped several times off the water before finally coming to rest. The storm above moved off.

Before they even had a moment to catch their breath, Kalgar spotted another ship approaching. He almost missed it, only someone with keen eyes or his experience would have known what to look for. The ship was extremely low to the water, with almost transparent sails. He recognized that style of ship, those sails, as an Angrivich Shivi ship, Aes' military police.

"Agghh" Kalgar said.

"Alright, who are our best fighters?" Alvyn asked, looking around.

Tong placed palm into fist and nodded, shouts from spiritual warriors from the Reverie shouting behind him.

"Okay, how about the crew?" the gnome asked.

"I dunno," Tong replied.

"Dwight, Haymich, Alea, BallistApe, to name a few", Kalgar said.

Going below deck, Alvyn grabbed BallistApe, Alea, and some random things, include a few short pipes. "Okay, they're going to come and do some stuff, probably bad stuff. Their entire way of doing things is with stealth and the element of surprise. So, here's what I want you to do: you're going to go underwater, use these tubes to breathe, and when you get the signal to mess things up, come up and fight!" The gorilla did not look pleased when Alvyn mentioned the water.

"Alea could use her exploding palm technique to sink the ship." Tong said, still on awkward terms with Alea.

"Yeah, she could, but I want it!" Alvyn's eyes twinkled with yet another opportunity for gain.

"Your greed will sink the moral ship!" Tong never looked so dogmatic as when he was reprimanding Alvyn.

Kalgar did not look too happy with this plan. "The Angrimich Shivi are just doing their job, duties given from higher up. I don't like the idea of fighting them."

"Do you want to be able to move around Aes stealthily?" the gnome asked.

"No. But I see your point." the dragonborn conceded.

"That plan will cause a lot of investigation. It may be really hard to cover up. What if I go quietly?"

"Well, then we'd miss you." Alvyn quipped.

"That would be your choice, Kalgar." Tong added.

"Think about this! I am agreeing with the monk!" Alvyn was getting flustered, but still making jokes.

"Here's how I see it: either I hide, or I go with them willingly. Maybe then they'd leave you alone." Kalgar knew that fighting was not sure to result in victory, in this case.

"No, you should go with them. They'll take you to the Grand Admiral, right? That's where we want to go anyway." Alvyn said.

"Tong and I will sneak our way onto their ship. Then, they'll take us where we need to go."

Kalgar took Dwight aside. He explained that Dwight would be acting captain until Kalgar's return, still a lieutenant but responsible for the ship and her crew. He told Dwight that, in his cabin, there was a notebook with some loose notes on Aes, her ports, customs, things that should help for the time being. He also told Dwight to make special effort to include Haymich in his plans and dealings. "There is strength there, but he has yet to make use of it."

Slowing the ship, Kalgar stood proudly near the bow. The wind was blowing, a gentle breeze which brushed his scales, and fluttered his coat in the breeze. Kalgar looked down at his jacket. Black, standard Aesian naval wear, with his old insignia torn off. It was time for a new one. Now that he had a moment, Kalgar looked out across the water; it was all coming back to him. The smell of salt in the air, the feeling of the Sun blazing on his scales, and no land to be seen. Freedom. Kalgar was home.

Meanwhile, Tong and Alvyn were sneaking along the side of the Shockrosia. Kalgar saw the nameplate on the ship as it approached, the Dauntless. Kalgar was very familiar with it, by reputation. It was connected to Admiral Draxsha, bronze dragonborn, known for her old-fashioned approach to matters, in her command structure. As the ship moved alongside, Kalgar heard a familiar voice.

"Kalgar!" It was Sora. Kalgar's close friend from his old days, it was her understanding that had led to him claiming and retrofitting the Shockrosia without too much trouble.

Now what could she be doing here, now? Kalgar thought. "Sora! Pleasure seeing you here."

Kalgar ordered the lowering of the gangplank and crew members from the Dauntless tossed over some lines to hold the ships in place. Sora, another dragonborn, was visible, along with 4 hooded soldiers. Tong and Alvyn had moved over to Sora's ship.

"Alvyn, have I ever told you about the 4th Scroll of Mindfulness? This legend begins over two-" Tong began, Alvyn quickly silenced him.

Sora crossed the plank, a neutral look on her face.

"So, I hear you're a wanted man now?" A hint of a smile on her lips.

"So they say, but some want me more than others?" Kalgar returns the smile, looking smug.

She leans forward and hugs him, "You don't have to worry about anything with us!"

Alvyn poked his head over the side of the Dauntless. Tong, whose head had been pushed under the water by Alvyn to shush him, resurfaced and said, "The monk would ring the bell thrice, at meal time" Alvyn pushed some cloth into Tong's mouth, "Ughmmghhahhoog". Suddenly, Alvyn could hear a voice inside his head, "That's okay, I'll just communicate with you psychically. He was a great scholar, and a master of many games. The first game he played, he actually invented, it was called Shunooguita!" Alvyn was wincing in aggravation.

Kalgar held Sora after the hug, "Well met! What are you doing here?"

"We were checking out that storm, but you seemed to get a closer look than we could."

"Yeah, you could say that." Kalgar waved over to the ship, which was pretty torn up. "The storm was massive, and we just barely made our escape."

"Well", Sora continued, "I hope it's not too rude to get straight down to business, but I've been asking around, as you suggested, since the last time we met. Looks like there may be quite a few who are interested in what you have to say."

Alvyn leaned down toward Tong, whispering, "They' one's asking about the gorilla with a crossbow for a hand; these people are really focused."

Meanwhile, one of the soldiers on the Dauntless, said, "Hmm, we may need to get rid of some weight if that big guy is going to come over here." And he picked up a cannonball and dropped it overboard. Tong immediately shot out his hand and caught it. Alvyn quickly said, "Sploosh!"

"How many people are we talking about?" Kalgar asked.

"Not as many as you would like, but a few rather influential people, such as Admiral Draxsha." Sora responded, surveying Kalgar's crew.

"How best do you think we should handle this situation? You know the current waters of Aes better than I do."

"Your ship looks pretty beat up. We are currently based along the South Wall, and with Admiral Draxsha's influence, we could maybe get your ship repaired and even get you an audience with her."

Kalgar frowned, "The Admiral is willing to fix my ship and meet with me?"

"Well, you know the South Wall, it's a pretty foggy area, it's pretty easy to miss a couple of small ships sailing in and out." Sora looked at Kalgar, her eyes full of mischief.

Alvyn climbed over the railing on the far side of the Dauntless, pulling Tong up. Alvyn rooted through the nearest supplies, found a sandwich and began handing them out to the crew. He was so natural, so stealthy, that the crew didn't seem to notice the intruder, when one did, he gladly accepted the sandwich.

"You know, Alvyn, if you had the same attainment as me, you wouldn't have to eat that sandwich," Tong said, his arms crossed, his hands holding his forearms.

Back on the Shockrosia, "Well, you know me, Sora, that's more of a plan than I had."

"Yeah, that sounds like you." The two laugh, even out here, not much has changed.

Gesturing to his ship and crew, Kalgar said, "She ain't much to look at now, but she has served us well, the Shockrosia, and you remember my comrades, especially," and here Kalgar gestured to Sora's ship, "Alvyn Sehanine and Tong si Gong".

Tong was barely paying attention, "In the 80th realm, there is the spirit creature known as Shockraba, he is the god of nausea and slivers. In the 89th realm, the god of locked doors, and keys that break..."

The two ships sailed back to port. Along the way, Kalgar and Sora caught up. "...and returning without a ship would have stopped most people, but I was quickly made captain of the Dauntless and told to investigate that storm front as it seemed to be moving along our borders."

Alvyn spoke up at this point, "It's probably a good idea that you didn't catch up to it, there was a colossal asshole inside."

"Also a dragon!" Tong said.

"Uh, what my friend means to say is that the 89th level of reality is called the dragon." Alvyn spoke up, trying to remind Tong of the rules of The Long Game.

"No it's...oh!"

"As a reference to, uh, the power inside all of us."

"Oh, I see, a ruse!" Tong looked happy, Alvyn shook his head.

Kalgar spoke up. "Yes, my friends seem afraid to tell you, that Hyacintho seems to pray to some pretty strange gods."

"We heard rumours of that." Sora looked almost coy.

"Yeah, we may have accidentally stirred up some trouble there."

"Accidentally? I heard what you did there." Sora knew Kalgar, she knew how to tease him.

If it was possible for a dragonborn to blush, Kalgar was doing that. He just smiled, like a satisfied cat.

"Look," the gnome interjected, "let me just lay something out for you. There are precisely 4 things we have done on purpose in this last year! Everything else, has been entirely coincidental. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to take a shower."

Following him, Tong continued, "Have I ever told you about the shower dimension?"

As the two ships sailed along the South Wall, the fog grew thicker and thicker. This area was always consumed with fog and that, plus the scattering wall of islands, made it a perfect place to hide military complexes to keep watch on Hyacintho ships, but also a prime spot for smuggling and some of the shadier dealings of Aes. But the waters weren't smooth; sharp rocks, narrow waterways, it took good sailors to make their way through, whatever their intentions.

On one small island, they docked their ships. There was a guard tower, but no one was around.

"The Admiral isn't here now, but we can send out word for her to meet you here, or some other location." Sora said.

"Well, we need to make repairs, so it would likely be better if we just wait here." Kalgar, Tong, and Alvyn nodded at this.

Looking around at the husk of what was left of the Shockrosia, Sora added, "I'm not sure how much you'll get repaired by the time she gets here, and I'm not sure what type of modifications you've made..."

"Do you have galvanic field inverters?" Alvyn asked.

"No..." Sora looked confused.

"Ah, I'm sure our dwarves will figure it out, right?" Kalgar looked back at them.

One dwarf said, "Pfft...but it'll take some time." Kalgar couldn't remember when he last heard them say anything.

"Um, this may be a bit of an inconvenience, but not everyone here serves Admiral Draxsha or agrees with everything she says, so while you're here, you may need some sort of disguise, or something." Sora looked Kalgar up and down, he still didn't care too much for stealth and disguise.

"Sora, is there a place we can go to talk?"

"Yeah, there are some private quarters in the barracks." she said.

Pulling an old parka old from his bag, Kalgar wrapped it around him. Walking along the shore toward the barracks, the air damp, and moss-covered rocks strewn the path. "Look, I'm not very good at thanking people, but I really appreciate what you have done for me."

"Don't worry about it, I'm sure you'll find a way to pay me back." Sora smiled.

"Quite a lot has changed in the last few years. As strange as it may sound, well, I found Kord." Kalgar told her, briefly, the story of how his life changed since leaving Aes. His connection with Kord and Melora, his renewed sense of purpose. "I can feel His presence guiding me back here. I am very fortunate to have allies like you," he laughs, "to make sure I don't charge straight into the storms."

Inside the barracks, it was a lot nicer, fires were lit in several places. Sora found a room and they both entered.

"Really? Because it seems that's exactly what you did."

"I know it sounds crazy, wait, first of all, that storm chased us! I mean, I didn't run from it, but you know. It sounds crazy, but Kord's strength has become my own. You've seen this country, it's starting to turn, to change from the old ways, and I'm glad there are people like me who sees that as a problem."

As Kalgar continues, he pulls off his cloak and drops it to the floor. Underneath, she sees that he appears to have another cloak on, a sleeker one, seemingly shiny but dull bronze in colour. Kalgar flexes his shoulders and the cloak opens, revealing that it is not a cloak, but rather his wings. "I told you, I have changed, but my feelings haven't."

And we'll just fade that scene to black and wrap up today's adventure.

Thanks for reading, we here at D4sign hope you had a great time! Stay tuned for our next adventure when things start getting serious in Aes!

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