Everyone has completely lost their minds — except for Meowser. In the dark mirror of Triboar in the Shadowfell, Anvrik has become slow and apathetic; Kalesis is crippled by paranoia; and Thorik has gone absolutely insane, unable to determine what’s real and what’s not. Meowser, the only one who was able to stave off the Shadowfell Despair, was relegated to the position of babysitter as he single-handedly dug through the rubble of the destroyed homes to find the final platinum dragon coin.
After dragging (sometimes literally) the party out of the Shadowfell and back to the wagon, the party realized that they themselves have nine coins — the tenth was somewhere on Thorik’s person, and the mad dwarf was not willing to give it up so easily. After knocking him out (multiple times), Meowser finally found the final coin in Thorik’s boot.
When the ten coins were placed together, they melted and reformed into a map of the Sword Coast with a blue coin indicating the location of Soros’ lair: an island in between Luskan and Fireshear. Additionally, spectral coins clattered to the ground in the direction of the lair, providing a metaphorical trail of breadcrumbs to follow in the rough seas ahead. Not like anyone cared — Anvrik was outside hugging Horn Stomper, Kalesis was hiding on the bed along with every dagger she owned, and Thorik was drooling in his unconsciousness.
Eventually, after Dina Brandywood nearly received a concussion (courtesy of a headbutt from Thorik), Isaac was able to use his cattle-handling skills (i.e. the spell Calm Emotions) to cure Thorik of his madness. Thorik, in turn, used his divine gifts to restore Kalesis’ sanity — poor Anvrik would have to remain in apathy until the morning. As the party was recovering, Walter, the halfling weaver and father of the four girls who the Reverend sought to sacrifice, handed the party his family heirloom: a Cloak of Displacement made from the shells of the flail snails that the party had harvested. Finally, through some more careful negotiation, the party was able to coax Snake Eyes out of her Soros-scale bracers, and the party left town in search of the remaining two artifacts.
The Long Road
After much debate, the party decided to pass through Longsaddle on the way north. The Long Road provided a direct (and relatively safe) route to Longsaddle, and the road, though bustling with tradespeople and caravans, was mostly uneventful; finally, the party had a time to rest, pray, and prepare. Over the 100-mile journey, only the sight of a nobleman’s hunting party provided a distraction. Asher Keswick, head of the Keswick noble family of Waterdeep, had recently moved to Longsaddle to escape the bustle of city life; in an attempt to showcase his hunting prowess, he set off to fell two dire minks to make winter coats for his wife and daughter. When the minks escaped into a small nearby wood, his well-trained horses refused to enter; seeing no other recourse, he hired the party to hunt the minks for him. He promised gold and favors from his influential family, and the party accepted — as soon as he raised his price from the laughable 20 gold pieces.
Anvrik had no trouble tracking the giant weasels, and felling the pack of dire wolves that had spooked the nobleman’s horses was effortless. What the party did not expect to find was an infant manticore, his mother slain by a combination of disease and wolf bites. Remembering their previous encounter with a manticore, most of the party pragmatically suggested to put the small beast out of its misery, but Kalesis protected the cub with the ferocity of a mother and the compassion of a tiefling who had suffered a lifetime of undue discrimination. With the promise that the creature would be her responsibility and hers alone, the party set off with the recently-christened Mufasa in tow.
After a long while of careful deliberatoin and prayer, Thorik also took this opportunity to summon his Moradin-granted spiritual mount, a giant mountain goat named Oami Stonecrusher. She was able to communicate telepathically with Thorik and was capable of understanding dwarvish, and despite the fact that her intelligence was double that of Horn Stomper, she was still more than happy to assist the horse by helping pull the wagon.
At first glance, Longsaddle looked pretty normal — rather wealthy and high-class for a small town, in fact. The Long Road passes straight through a bustling town center reminiscent of Triboar, and acres upon acres of horse ranches surround the downtown area. At second glance, Longsaddle’s uniqueness became immediately apparent: everyone in the town was deformed, and no one seemed to care. The half-orc street sweeper had a donor arm from a dragonborn (and it was unclear whether it was a voluntary donation); various passers-by were emanating various bursts of elemental energy; still more were spasming in and out of phase, blinking to random locations; and then there was Emory.
Emory was the most interesting man in the Gambling Golem, a tavern for well-to-do residents and tourists.The young human teen was pockmarked in patches of etherealness — parts of his body, shifting at random, passed in and out of the ethereal plane, making his organs clearly and uncomfortably visible at times. In spite of this, Emory was quite the showman, regaling tales of his times at Verdigris (the prestigious bard college in the Lurkwood) to a politely interested crowd, including the mayor of Longsaddle. After finishing his story, Emory took immediate interest in the party, and joined them at their table after ordering a round of drinks for everyone. “You’re here because you’re interested in magic, aren’t you?” he asked confidently, all smiles and debonair.
Longsaddle, Emory explained, was founded by the powerful Harpell family about 400 years ago. Each member of the predominantly human family was a remarkably powerful wizard, and they set up a homestead where they could practice magical experiments far enough away from major cities — just in case an experiment went haywire. The Harpells were trying to create new spells, which always carries a modicum of risk. Despite their immense power (or perhaps because of it), the family maintained a policy of strict neutrality; they would not intervene in any political, religious, or familial affair, and were loyal only to themselves and to the pursuit of arcane knowledge. They only rarely left the Ivy Mansion, a sprawling brick complex half a mile from downtown, and instead took in volunteers (or “apprentices”) for their experiments. All apprentices applied voluntarily, and most applied out of sheer need — the half-orc from earlier, for example, had lost his arm in an accident, and knew that the Harpells would certainly be able to help. Others, like Emory, volunteered in the hopes of gaining even a tiny sliver of the family’s arcane abilities. The rest applied because the pay was excellent.
Emory gained his ghostly patches from his time as an apprentice to the Harpells — an occupation he quickly left after the accident, he explained. During his time there, he did manage to sneak some arcane knowledge out with him. There was an artifact hidden in a cave outside of town called the Seal of Eternity, a relic so powerful that even the Harpells willingly forgot their own creation. But Emory knew exactly where it was, and was more than happy to show the party its location – for a slight fee. Emory and his kid sister weren’t powerful enough to approach it, but he knew that this band of adventurers was. To his dismay, they decided to consult the Harpells about it first.
And despite how intriguing this artifact was for the party, the promise of the Bridle of the North was more enticing. Mayor Faramond was in the Gambling Golem with them, and the quiet, thoughtful old elf was happy to tell them about his racehorse Mooncalled, who beat the pegasus a few decades ago in a race. He was even happier that the party believed him — no one else took the old elf seriously when he said that a celestial horse descended from the sky to challenge his very mortal thoroughbred to a race. (Moonshadow was the regional champion, he explained.) Unfortunately, Moonshadow’s descendents, though nearly as fast, lost a race to Firefly, an intimidating bay Arabian owned by Leaner, a black dragonborn who ran Steelshod Constructs, a high-tech blacksmithy down the road.
Leaner was not a genial man. The overweight, surly dragonborn snapped at his young hirelings and Thorik noticed had remarkably average-quality products for an apparently master-level smith. He was indeed crafting golems, which requires a mastery of both arcane and smithing skills, but but his poor artistry seemed to contradict that. And on top of that, he was kind of a jerk, especially to Anvrik.
Through some angry posturing back and forth, Anvrik and Leander first decided on a one-on-one battle between Horn Stomper and his prize-winning Firefly. However, after a brief discussion in horse-speak between Anvrik and Firefly, it was revealed that Firefly was in fact a sentient being held against her will by Leander, though she would not explain exactly what she was, and this made Anvrik hesitant — did he really want to put Horn Stomper though a fight with a mystery beast? Still itching for a fight, Leander suggested instead that he and Anvrik could find in their horses’ stead, and weapons would be allowed. No help from the peanut gallery though — the rest of the party had to stay away.
The fight took place in the horse ring, with Firefly and the rest of the party (and the mildly bemused mayor, to ensure neutrality) standing off to the side. As it turns out, the pudgy Leander was more formidable than expected — the immensely powerful Finger of Death spell nearly one-shotted Anvrik. The situation was looking dire until, on a whim of malice, Leander cast Flame Strike in a radius that hit the entire party, including Faramond, and all bets were off — Kalesis, Thorik, and Meowser immediately jumped into action, with Emory and Faramond taking care of baby Mufasa from the sidelines. Leander called upon his contract with Firefly, and the normal-looking horse abruptly burst into flame, revealing herself to be a Nightmare. After a painful battle, both Leander and the Nightmare were felled, and immediately upon the last breath leaving his body, a spined devil appeared to quickly gather the departing soul; with a polite “don’t mind me,” and fiend disappeared again. Faramond decreed that the party may do with the dishonest man’s remains and home as they wished.
The few scared apprentices were unsure what to do with their lives now that their master had been slain; with a gift of gold from Meowser and the promise of work in Rusthaven, they happily skittered off. The party quickly scoured the place for anything interesting (and Anvrik put up a “FOR SALE” outside sign for good measure). The first thing they found was that the horse-golems had fallen apart, leaving only a faint scent of sulfurous fiendish magic residue — looks like that’s how the sub-par smith was creating such powerful magic items. And while the party didn’t find much gold, they did find Leander’s odd bedroom. The entire place was very sparsely furnished or decorated. Above a “bed” (a pool of acid, the black dragonborn’s chosen element), there hung a large painting of a massive black dragon. A bookshelf and a hidden compartment revealed a book on contacting the Nine Hells and a portrait of a beautiful but harsh-looking human woman, likely a caster of some kind. Those were the only hints to Leander’s life; the rest would be sold off soon enough.
Though the corpse of Firefly turned to ash as soon as she was defeated (save for the spine that Meowser ripped out as a death blow), the Bridle of the North remained. Though intended for equines, Anvrik wasted no time in attuning to it. Turns out that it grants the wearer an ability to fly for a minute at a time, though his legs must be moving at all times in the process. Anvrik may have looked ridiculous, but he would certainly be a formidable force as a flying archer.
Now that the fiendish scourge was cleared, the party made their way to the Ivy Mansion. Emory insisted that they turn back and not ask the Harpells about the Seal of Eternity, but Meowser snapped at him to back off, and the kid ran off, clearly hurt. Once inside the mansion, the party found themselves assaulted by kitchenware, stalked by a roomba-esque creature, and near trapped in a dining room. Hopefully they’ll be granted an audience by the Harpells soon, before the house itself gets too bored of them…