FLAIL

Record of the Deeds of the Shadow Fox Squad


 

 

Let it be known that on the thritieth day of Daxdander’s Moon in the two-hundred and third year of the Sixth Age that the Council of the city of Dundarel did recognize the Shadow Fox Squad as the one-hundred and thirty-second legitimate body formally licensed to act under the authority of the Arcane Investigation League as established by the Council.

The roster of brave souls pledged to the service of Shadow Fox Squad are as follows:

  • Loy
  • Dirtwad
  • Nève
  • TaChong

  • Lixx
  • Ro
  • Girdran

 

 

Prologue

Sunday April 29, 2023 In the city of Dundarel, on the eve of a rare open call for recruitment from the organization known as FLAIL, five strangers unexpectedly became a team. They were an odd bunch that likely never would have interacted under any other circumstances, but they unknowingly shared a common goal that had brought them to this particular place at this particular time: the search for purpose.

As one of the smallest and seediest pubs in town, The Barrel’s Bottom was always on the lookout for some gimmick to drum up business. The angle on this night was a completely unsanctioned, hastily assembled, and poorly attended mixer for potential FLAIL recruits. Ro, a young Nechal with a bit of a troubled past, was drawn in by the potential to gather some information about what the next day might hold. The possibility of finding some trouble sweetened the deal. With him was Lixx, a Grulem he had recently befriended. Lixx had been having a rough go of adapting to their new life, and Ro had suggested that following him into FLAIL would perhaps provide some purpose, or at least kill some time. Also at the barrel was Loy, a Nizet trying her best not to look out of her depth in a new city, far from home for the first time. She found the nerve to start up a conversation when she encountered a being that was clearly even more out of place than she was. A very recently manifested Dodama, calling itself Dirtwad, had just requested a drink and subsequently poured it over its head. Nève, a shy Nechal Cyliphean priest, was also welcomed into the exchange.

The entire tenor of the small establishment changed when a brash young Idym-Ryla named Drekin entered the pub. His intent was clearly not to mingle with other potential recruits but to size up the competition, which he found utterly lacking. Drekin’s taunting unexpectedly brought the motley crew together in what may have been their first moment of becoming a team. Having quickly grown bored of the situation, Drekin left, feeling as sure of himself as ever, and the five strangers took some rest to prepare for the mysterious trial that lay before them the next morning.

Arriving at the stadium grounds the next morning, the team was met by Wyldrem, a brusque Nezet, the record-keeper, and one of FLAIL’s directors. After watching the first group of recruits be led into a tent by Wyldrem, Dirtwad made an attempt to spy on what was transpiring inside but was thwarted by magical concealment. After some time, the first group left, looking dejected. In the mean time, Drekin and his crew had arrived—late—but managed to jump the line and go in ahead of the party. They emerged sometime later, appearing somewhat humbled, but pleased, informing the party that they had been welcomed into FLAIL as the “Burning Bats”.

A short time later, Wyldrem emerged and brought the team in. There was no test, no combat, just an interview with the three directors. Serifeya, the de facto leader, explained that the very nature of FLAIL is to take on tasks that cannot be prepared for and that ultimately all they could hope to do is ensure that they were bringing on people with the right attitudes and motivations to give them the best possible chance of success. After each team member spoke their mind, the directors entered into a short deliberation before welcoming the team to FLAIL. The final order of business was to name their team. After much discussion and careful consideration, the Shadow Fox Squad was born.

Case One: The Tragedy of Elsbetta

Chapter 1:

Sunday May 7, 2023

Arriving early the next morning for the town meeting, the Shadow Fox Squad was met by Serifeya, as well as a mysterious new recruit by the name of Girdran who had been unable to attend the previous day’s recruitment but was given special dispensation and assigned to the Shadow Foxes. Also present were the Burning Bats and two of the other three existing FLAIL squads, Brave Lion Company and Sinister Rabbit Order. Currently the second most senior team, the Lions appeared confident and eager to take on whatever was thrown at them. Cref, their powerhouse Nechal fighter, did most of the talking for the group. Even though FLAIL teams don’t have official leaders, it is immediately evident that he fulfills that role. Overall, the Lions were welcoming but seemed mostly concerned with their own dealings. The Rabbits had very little to say, clearly preferring to cultivate an air of mystery.

Introductions out of the way, Serifeya ushered the new recruits in to witness the opening ceremony of the town meeting. The council engaged in a short formal exchange with the gathered citizens, wherein the council is granted authority to govern the town. Varying levels of reverence could be observed throughout the room, but it was clearly quite meaningful to Serifeya.

While the meeting moved on to cover various civic matters, the FLAIL members headed into a back room to wait until it was time to hear petitions. The recruits had the chance to learn a bit more about how the organization functions. The status of the one absent team, the Brilliant Oak Coterie, was discussed; they are currently dealing with a monster den that was discovered in a distant location. Cref couldn’t help but boast that the Lions would have already been done with the job. When it was finally time for FLAIL to join the meeting, the directors introduced the new teams, and then the citizens had their opportunity to petition for aid. Three requests came in: a missing person who had possibly been spotted wandering around late at night, a

 

 

series of nighttime disturbances in the hospital, and a baker who was quite certain that he had been hexed. With all the petitions heard, assignments were given out. The Lions were asked to handle a somewhat delicate request coming from outside Dundarel: the recovery of a missing noble’s son. The Rabbits quickly claimed the missing person case. The Foxes jumped in and asked to look into the hospital, leaving the Bats to aid the baker.

The team made one last stop before heading out on their own for the first time—a visit to Cayfus to get geared up. The opportunity to show off his craft finally brought the old artificer out of his shell a bit as he gave a few playful demos of tier one standard-issue gear. They left FLAIL headquarters each outfitted with a set of Spellbinders and a HUG, plus a couple of Dumbstrikers and a RAT NEST for the team.

The Foxes kicked off their first investigation by interviewing some hospital staff and settled on a stakeout. They didn’t have to wait long into the night before a pair of shadows showed up. The team easily dispatched one and managed to capture the other. After a round of interrogation proved fruitless, the team decided to head back to FLAIL headquarters seeking advice. They roused Wyldrem, who was less than thrilled to find a bound-up undead creature in his residence but offered the novice team some advice nonetheless. In the course of the conversation, Nève was inspired to just off the foul thing and be done with it—a burst of divine fire very nearly dissipated the dark form, but it managed to cling to its last strand of unlife. Opting to take another stab at gathering information from their quarry before fully dispatching it, the Foxes tagged the shadow with a RAT and prepared to release it, hoping to be led to its creator…

Chapter 2: Chasing shadows

Sunday May 28, 2023 The Foxes did their best to prepare for a pursuit, then set the shadow free. It took off immediately, outrunning the squad with unnatural speed. As it passed the hospital, it ducked inside the window where the earlier altercation had taken place, attempting to recover some sort of device. This gave the Foxes the opportunity to catch up and confront it. Loy nimbly ripped the device from the shadow’s grasp but chose an unfortunate part of the mechanism to grasp and felt a horrifying chill as it extracted a fraction of her life energy. This was followed by a strength-draining grasp from the shadow, leaving her in a fragile state. Lixx quickly responded with a blast of psychic energy, utterly destroying the dark minion.

While the pursuit didn’t end up leading them to the source of the malevolent servants, the team was presented with a new lead to follow—the mysterious device the shadow had been attempting to recover. Examining the room, they found a second one, presumably dropped by the other shadow in the earlier fray. Together, they made their way to Ro’s squat on the edge of the industrial park and spent the night theorizing and planning while Ro carefully disassembled one of the devices to attempt to understand its nature. As morning arrived, they made their way back to FLAIL HQ, hoping to consult with Cayfus on their discovery. They unsurprisingly found the old artificer attending to his gear in the armory. He was pleased to examine the piece, though seemingly a bit disappointed at its rudimentary construction. He confirmed, though, what the party had suspected—that this was built for the extraction of living energy. He suggested that they pursue the source of a rare metal, polonium, of which a trace amount could be found within the mechanism.

Knowing there is only one place in town that would have been able to supply such material, the Foxes made their way over to Brek’s Metals, a small shop south of the industrial park run by the eponymous Keldra. Brek was customarily curt but cooperative, willing to divulge the information the party was after on the condition that it was part of the course of official FLAIL business. Upon consulting the shop’s records and then examining the inventory, Brek was distressed to discover that a small amount of the metal was, in fact, missing. The Foxes inspected the shop for any clues as to how it might have gone missing but had no luck. As mid-afternoon approached, the fatigue from their previous sleepless night began to set in. The team retired once again to Ro’s residence to rest up before attempting a second stakeout at the hospital, hoping the shadowy minions might return and provide a new opportunity to locate their master.

The team arose refreshed just as the last of the day’s light was fading. They made their way to the hospital, strategically spreading around the expected route of their targets, ready to engage and pursue. Like the night before, in the late hours of the night, two animate shadows approached the hospital. This time, however, they were joined by an additional, more imposing spectral form. The specter emanated pale lavender light and struck a more coherent, almost skeletal, anthropoid form than the vague shapes the shadows suggested. The Foxes had some early success in the encounter, quickly sticking the specter with a RAT and scoring some solid hits against it, but their luck soon turned as their attacks whiffed and their spells fizzled. Ro found himself overcome as the two shadows engaged him, while the rest of the party took on the specter. He did manage to apply his Spellbinders to the two of them, awkwardly entangling them into a writhing penumbral mass. Having already taken a devastating hit in the course of binding his foes, Ro attempted to make a retreat but was caught by a desperate flailing arm. He suddenly felt his whole body grow cold—right to the core of his bones—as if the shadow had snatched the very desire to move from his muscles. As he limply

 

 

tumbled to the ground, barely clinging to life, Loy rushed over to shield him from further attacks, while Nève called upon her faith to keep him from slipping away. Meanwhile, the rest of the squad managed to fully bind the specter. After a few futile attempts to break its bonds, it accepted defeat and began to flee, levitating slightly off the ground and moving at an incredible pace.

And so, the Foxes found themselves right where they had left off the previous night but a bit worse for wear. As Loy tended to her fallen comrade, the rest of the team took off in pursuit of the hobbled minions.

Chapter 3: Code black!

Sunday June 11, 2023 Having scratched out a narrow victory over their ethereal foes, the bulk of the team set out in pursuit of the routed minions. They gave a good chase, but their mortal forms could only keep up with the massless specter for so long before they gave in to fatigue. Fortunately, the RAT did its job perfectly—following its signal, the team was led into the graveyard just outside the city walls. Cautiously making their way to an unkempt far corner of the cemetery, they discovered the discarded tracker, along with the Spellbinders that had been restraining the minions. Thinking better of continuing the pursuit while tired and divided, they left the tracker behind as a marker and returned to the hospital to check on their fallen teammate.

Meanwhile, through grit and determination, the slight Loy dragged an unconscious Ro to the hospital doors, shouting for help. A team of doctors quickly took them in and began attending to the only slightly dead patient. The flurry of activity—placing an assortment of crystals on Ro’s body, activating various devices—was brought to a shocking halt when an attending doctor shouted “Code black!” After a brief silence, the entire hospital came alive, instituting containment protocols for necromantic magic. Loy was sitting, nervously waiting to be cleared of the quarantine zone when her friends arrived to find themselves barred from entering the hospital. After a brief but thorough investigation by a representative of the Magic Authority, the code was cleared, and the team reunited.

After a mercifully uneventful night of rest in the hospital, Ro awakened and was filled in on the state of the team’s investigation. Thinking it wise to check in with their leaders, the team made their way to FLAIL HQ, where they found Serifeya patiently listening to Drekin rant about the unworthiness of his assignment. Choosing to save face in front of the now-present Foxes, Drekin cut off his complaints, and Serifeya sent him on his way. On his way out the door, the young sorcerer couldn’t help trading a few barbs with the squad he had clearly decided are his rivals. After listening to the teams update, the director commended them on their efforts and urged caution in proceeding, supplying a few healing potions for good measure.

Rested and regrouped, the team headed back to the graveyard with the aid of daylight to continue their search. They stopped first at the enormous crypt in the center, the resting place of the Dundarel family who founded the town. The crypt was empty and undisturbed, showing no evidence of a connection to their case. Making their way through the dense overgrowth toward the location of the tracker, they had several disturbing encounters with not entirely dead body parts—a horrifying sign that they were on the right track. A bit of searching revealed an entrance to a crude underground tunnel inside a small, barely standing mausoleum. Approaching the entrance, Girdran nearly takes a nasty fall as the unstable ground gives way beneath him, but his training pays off as he is able to grab hold of the edge before dropping.

The tunnel proved to be mostly empty, save for a few skeletons that were easily smashed to bits, with no harm coming to the squad. Investigating the fractured remains of the freshly dispatched monsters, Lixx noticed some unfamiliar arcane engravings. Though the exact meaning was inscrutable, they conjured a fleeting glimpse at a lost memory somewhere deep in Lixx’s psyche. They could not explain why, but they were quite certain the glyphs related to “passage” or “traversal”.

Exploring further, it became evident that the purpose of the subterranean network has been the stealthy access graves. Whoever is doing this seems wholly uninterested in any valuables that a typical grave robber would be after but rather in harvesting the bodies themselves. Deeper still, the party came across a lone tunnel that very purposefully diverged far from the main site of harvesting to three more empty graves. Unlike the others, these were not hastily ransacked, leaving behind debris, but carefully extracted intact. Sensing that these departed souls must be of significance, the team dug their way to the surface. The missing trio were a family: Frenik, Laili, and Seben—the latter two only children.

With this promising lead, the Foxes head into town to ask around about the family’s unfortunate fate. Asking at the hospital first, the staff relay the story of the terrible accident: a cart transporting volatile chemicals collided with the family when the horse drawing it was spooked. The mother, Elsbetta, was the sole survivor, having been distracted for a moment before stepping into the road with the rest of her family. She had been a very promising student in the field of medical research but has scarcely been seen since the accident.

This sad tale finally breaks the case, giving the team a clear suspect. They head out to the widow’s home to check out the situation. With no sign of anyone present, they cautiously make their way inside, finding it in disuse and disarray. The house is filled with piles of evidence of necromantic research and little else. The squad is now left with just one task—confronting whatever lies at the end of that tunnel.

 

 

Chapter 4: Up against a wall

Sunday July 16, 2023 Faced with a potentially powerful foe that they still knew little about, the Foxes took some extra time to

search the Elsbetta’s house for anything that might provide an edge in the coming conflict. Lixx and Ro set to sifting through the manic piles of notes and records and were able to piece together the course of her early research. It began with desperation, drawing from her experience in medical research, but attempting to incorporate any and every field of magic, science, and superstition. It hadn’t taken long though for her to start finding moderate success in the field of Necromancy, despite a lack of available information on the subject. The most recent dates were several months old, suggesting she had moved her base of operation to a new location. This unfortunately left the team uncertain of how far she might have progressed in the intervening time, but before giving up on the piles of papers, they found one last clue, a name scribbled down and underlined: Xelfar Grevik.

Meanwhile, the rest of the team scavenged for anything that might aid them in battle. The abandoned house had little offer, but the team grabbed a few odd tools she had left behind, figuring they could serve in a pinch. They did find one interesting artifact however, a small jar of viscous oil with a curiously shifting appearance that seemed to be somehow both transparent glimmering. Nève thought to grab an item belonging to one of the children to potentially use as a way to connect with Elsbetta when they met her. She opted for a well loved stuffed bear she found in Seben’s crib. Satisfied that they had uncovered every secret the house was harboring, the team set out to the library in hope of furthering their research. As they gathered to leave, however, they realized that their little Dodama companion Dirtwad had unexpectedly slipped into the unresponsive state that serves as their version of sleep. It was an inopportune time for one of the Fox’s strongest fighters to check out, but the Dodama wont to engage in inscrutable behavior from time to time. Feeling a sense of urgency to confront Elsbetta before she could grow any more powerful, the team decided to press on, leaving him to rest in Ro’s squat and then heading to the library.

On entering the library, Lixx immediately sought out information about Xelfar Grevik—the mysterious name they had seen in Elsbetta’s notes—but found only a reference card stamped “FORBIDDEN”. While the others futilely searched for any information to further their understanding of Necromancy, Loy chatted up the sole attendant on a duty, a preoccupied young student. Despite being mostly uninterested and unhelpful, he did explain to the team that the head librarian is the only person with access to the forbidden section, and that he would likely not be around until sometime in the early morning. Frustrated, the team delved deeper into the library, using their badges to access the “restricted” section. Despite the grandeur of the library and its immense store of knowledge, the squad found a frustrating dearth of information on their subject of inquiry. All material relating to necromancy was inaccessible to the public, and even material in the “restricted” section was sparse and any description of specific process or technique was heavily redacted. Every substantial work on the topic resided in the heavily fortified “forbidden” section. The dead end in their research spurred Lixx and Ro into a brief debate about the ethics of censorship before they decided to move on.

The next order of business was to check in with FLAIL HQ one last time before delving back into the forboding tunnel. They found Cayfus on duty that night, tending to his equipment. He was happy to hear about their progress, and particularly excited to check out the strange substance they had taken from Elsbetta’s house. After performing a few quick tests, he informed the squad that it was a transplanar material that interacts with both material and ethereal matter. He was also able to provide a small amount of information about the enigmatic Xelfar Grevik: he was the reason for the strict ban on necromancy. A few hundred years back he had unleashed some unspeakable horror upon the city that shook the populous so deeply they buried all records of the event and the research that had led to it. At this point nobody alive—save for the head librarian—even knew what had transpired, but the fear passed through the generations and the strict restrictions remained in place. Satisfied that they had all the information they were going to be able to get, the Foxes asked for one last thing: some weapons. Cayfus sent them to the city guard for that, reminding them as they left that FLAIL was above all an instrument of law and order and that while they were authorized to use any force necessary, their aim should be an arrest rather than a kill.

The Foxes found the city guard happy to offer armory access to a FLAIL team. The store of arms proved to be less than impressive, however. Being a relatively peaceful city that has never engaged in an armed conflict, the city guard is not exactly a formidable force. Even still, the team equipped themselves with the few standard issue weapons that were available. Outside, they took the opportunity to apply the ethereal oil to as many of their weapons as they could, with the hopes that it would improve their effectiveness against any further spectral opponents they faced. They checked their equipment, huddled up and Nève offered up a blessing.

Feeling as prepared as they were ever going to be, the squad cautiously made their way through the graveyard. Unlike their last trek through this territory, they had no creepy encounters with animate remains. They descended into the tunnel, finding it unsettlingly quiet and still. An uncomfortably long journey through total darkness eventually revealed a light in the distance. The

 

 

squad continued their slow approach, encountering nothing but what appeared to be a small stonework entryway. Conspicuously lacking from this apparent entrance though was any sort of door or passage. Loy made her way to the front wall that seemed like it should lead somewhere. As she pressed her hand against the stone to begin her search for a secret opening, she made a gruesome discovery. The “mortar” in this wall was actually living flesh! Six hands sprung out of the horrifying construct grasping and pulling her inward. Her teammates sprang into action; Ro and Girdran helped Loy pull free of the disembodied limbs just as the wall was beginning to engulf her, while the rest of the team attempted to do some damage to the grotesque fixture.

With Loy free of the living wall’s grasp the Foxes took a step back to regroup. Feeling that the minor damage they were inflicting was not worth the risk of getting grabbed again, the team discussed how they might make it through. After a short time, their answer came when they saw the mass of flesh and stone split apart to allow a lone skeleton to exit. The boney minion was no match for the squad and they quickly subdued it, planning to use it to hold the passage open while they entered. When managing the still active skeleton in the tight entrance proved to be a logistical challenge, Lixx recalled the arcane writing they had noticed on the bones of the skeletons they had previously encountered. Figuring that those were in fact the key to parting the wall, the team opted to finish off their foe, easily turning it into a lifeless pile of bones. Each member of the party grabbed a piece from the pile and made the unsettling journey through the wall and into Elsbetta’s lair.

Inside, they found a large room that was clearly being used to process the raw materials the undead minions had been harvesting. The entrance was flanked by two piles of corpses that reached the ceiling. Further back was an acid bath in the floor, a pit full of bones and sme sort of machine making a horrible grinding sound. In the center of the room were four slabs, occupied by bodies and attended to by more skeletal minions. The busy underlings noticed the Foxes enter, but paid them little regard as they went about their gruesome business. The team began carefully making their way toward a nearby door, when a terrifying figure stormed into the room. It was clearly Elsbetta, looking pale, gaunt, and unkempt. Grafted to her hands were menacing gauntlets that connected to an intricate mantle perched on her shoulders. The bulky mechanism sported a glass globe on each shoulder, one full of crackling white energy, the other black. “What are you doing here?!”, she demanded, followed by an insistent “You can’t have them!”. Not waiting for an answer, she ordered her entourage to stop the intruders. Ro hit her with a Dumbstriker, putting her into a daze, unfortunately catching Girdran in the blast as well. Elsbetta responded by raising her left hand to her head, seemingly curing herself of the ill effects of the Dumbstriker with a flash of white light. She then directed her right arm at the party, engulfing Loy and Nève in a cloud wispy dark energy, leaving them feeling weak and exhausted. Loy answered by calling on her elemental affinity to spew forth a dense cloud of dust, forcing Elsbetta to hold her breath and quickly seek breathable air.

Despite being outnumbered, the Foxes soon began to gain the upper hand, dispatching minions and gravely wounding Elsbetta. Sensing her impending defeat Elsbetta raised a fist, separating herself from her assailants with a dense wall of bones. Thinking fast, Lixx reached out to her telepathically, making and incredibly convincing case that the team could actually help her. On the promise of access to the library’s forbidden collection, Elsbetta and her underlings stood down.

And so the Foxes find themselves in an uneasy truce with the mad necromancer, preparing to lead her out of her lair to the center of town, where the ruse will inevitably become apparent…

Chapter 5:

Sunday, July 23, 2023 Having negotiated an uneasy peace with Elsbetta, the foxes stalled for time while they worked out the details of a plan to take her into custody. Lixx coordinated with the team telepathically while they received a tour of the horrifying facility. As they all proceeded deeper, the squad encountered the birthing chambers of ethereal minions they had faced at the hospital, as well as a chamber that could only be described as something between a garden and a graveyard that seemed to have yielded only shapeless masses of flesh. In the heart of the complex, Elsbetta was excited to have her new “friends” meet her family—or rather their sad remains. Her daughter’s body lay on slab, well preserved by the myriad devices she was connected to, but inanimate save for occasional twitches and an arrhythmically beating heart visible in her open chest. The remains of her husband were a mostly spectral form, tethered to some sort of arcane box that seemed to be facilitating is presence as well as quite possibly restraining it. When asked about her son, she only mentioned that “he wasn’t ready yet.”

Despite the heavy toll her research had taken on her mind, talking about her work seemed to bring about a sort of manic clarity in Elsbetta. Ro in particular seemed able to engage with her wild theories, perhaps a little too well for some of his team mates’ comfort. The Foxes continued to keep the necromancer busy, gently suggesting that she may have been hurting other people in the pursuit of her goal, but she was utterly unreceptive. As the macabre tour came to a close, their was a disturbance at the entrance to the lair…

Meanwhile in Ro’s squat, the enigmatic Dirtwad had awakened from his unfortunately timed nap. Figuring

 

 

that the team had returned to the tunnel to finish their job, the little Dodama rolled his way their, encountering the living wall that guarded the entrance without the benefit of the his teammates’ experience. Grasped by the wall and finding himself being slowly engulfed, he shed a part of his body in desperation to escape. On the other side, Elsbetta was alerted to a possible intruder and demanded an explanation from her guests. The party was able to calm her down and explain that Dirtwad meant no harm. Convinced, she repaired the damage to the wall had done with a bolt of life energy from her shoulder mounted mechanism. With the morning looming, the team finally decided it was time to bring their target into town. Loy convinced her to don a set of inactive spellbinders to act as a cover story should they encounter anyone on the way to the library. Unbeknownst to Elsbetta though, the crafty rogue had deftly engaged them. Nève departed ahead of the rest of the team on the pretense of needing to attend to some sort of morning ritual associated with her faith. As soon as she was free from the chamber of horrors they had spent the night exploring, she sprinted to FLAIL HQ to brief whoever was available on impending action. She found Wyldrem engaged in a hushed conversation with one of the Sinister Rabbits and brought him up to speed. He sent her to the Magic Authority, who got straight to work setting up a trap in the library.

A short time later, the Foxes arrived with an eager, but uneasy Elsbetta in tow. As she began to step through the doors to the library, Ro decided to take control of the situation and tackled her the rest of the way in. Immediately, the four totems the Magic Authority had placed inside the entry snapped to life with a deafening crack and dazzling light show, creating a powerful anti-magic field. The rest of the foxes leapt into action as well, thoroughly subduing Elsbetta who was little more than a frail, exhausted waif without the benefit of her necromancy. Amid a tempest of mixed feelings, the Foxes watched as the resigned and powerless Elsbetta was taken into custody to face trial and undergo treatment to attempt to recover some sense of sanity.

With their first case settled, the Foxes took a well deserved rest before returning to FLAIL for a formal debriefing. Without another case waiting to jump into, the team spent their downtime honing their skills and bonding. Some spent time helping to catalog and dismantle the necromancer’s laboratory. When Elsbetta was sentenced to spend the rest of her days in custody of the city, her estate went to auction and the team pooled their resources to claim the house, providing them with a slightly more homey base of operations than Ro’s industrial hovel.

Now, as Spring has passed into Summer and a new year begins, the Foxes prepare for the next council meeting and a new challenge.

Case Two: The Artist’s muse was an elder god

Chapter 6: The eye of the beholder

Sunday, August 6 The dawning of Elinalore’s Brilliant Day meant the start of a new year and with that a meeting of the town council. After some deliberation, The Shadow Fox Squad found their way to Dundarel Hall precisely at the ninth hour start time. Letting themselves directly into FLAIL HQ through the back entrance, they found nearly the full compliment of active FLAIL agents present. The Burning Bats arrived shortly after. The Rabbits, Lions, and Bats were familiar faces, but this time the team had their first opportunity to meet the longest serving and highly respected Brilliant Oak Coterie. The veteran team consisted of the Brugnesh paladin of justice Kristepha, Keldra ranger Ronden, Nechal conjurer Sylfet, and Idym-Ryla Bard of Eloquence Jarlef.

With hours to kill before FLAIL was called to take part in the meeting, the teams spent some time socializing and sharing updates on their various missions. The Oaks had just returned from a long campaign of fighting their way through a parade of monstrosities to reach a rift deep in the world and seal it. Having spent so much time on such a harrowing journey, the FLAIL directors firmly suggested they take some time off to recover on this cycle. Cref, the Lion’s battle master lamented that upon locating their supposedly kidnapped noble heir they learned that he had actually eloped with a forbidden love, meaning that the Lions were now embroiled in a far less action packed diplomatic mission. Ever cultivating their air of mystery, the Rabbits offered up the terse summary that they at located the missing person and dispatched of him when he proved to be not exactly a person any longer. The Foxes shared the story of their impressive first outing to a generally favorable response, though of course Drekin was unimpressed. Abrak, the Lion’s enigmatic warlock, was quite pleased to congratulate Ro on taking a trip to the other side and returning. He boasted that he had done the same thirty-seven times now and offered Ro one of the commemorative pins he uses to keep track of this feat.

Having concluded all official business and with the meeting still plodding along in the front room, the team looked for other ways to occupy themselves. Ro took an interest in the official records and charters of FLAIL, much to Wyldrem’s delight. Lixx made a pleasant introduction to Jarlef the bard, who expressed interest in learning more details of their mission, suggesting it could be an excellent new tale for his repertoire. Nève and Dirtwad broke into dance. Loy, hoping to show off her fast hands, took the opportunity to antagonize

 

 

Drekin. She deftly lifted her rival’s wallet from his person, finding little of interest other than a wholesome (and therefore most likely embarrassing) family photo, complete with matching outfits. She was unfortunately far less adroit in her attempt to replace it and was caught in the act. With quick thinking and a generous application of charm, she appealed to his ego and passed it off as an uncouth flirtation. Before she could fully appreciate the relief of averting an incident with Drekin, Loy suddenly found Xiv standing in front of her, impishly smiling and holding in her hands what had previously been the contents of Loy’s pockets. Having recognized a fellow practitioner of the subtle arts, Xiv appeared to make small talk with Loy, but was in fact playfully suggesting that she was in need of practice and should pay a visit to the local Valet chapter. Finally, it was time to join the meeting. The agents found their way into the main hall just in time to witness an aggressively pompous citizen rise to address the room, to the immediate and audible irritation of many people in the crowd. Identifying himself as Gregorick Emerlet Dundar VII, he proceeded to calmly assert that the council was illegitimate as the last living heir of the family that had ruled this town many centuries ago he must immediately be recognized as king. The council did not acknowledge his petition.

The first plea for the aid of FLAIL came again from the man who had previously reported his friend missing. Despite the Rabbits eliminating whatever it was that had previously take his form, the missing person had been sighted again, but behaving even stranger than previously reported. Two other people chimed in to say that had also witnessed similar disturbing behavior in their own neighbors.

The next request came from the blacksmith, Fylia, who was newly sporting patch over her right eye. She regretfully expressed how she had previously dismissed the baker’s claim he had been cursed as nonsense, but now was finding herself similarly afflicted. The nature of the contents of her shop was making for a far more dangerous situation than the dry goods and pastries of the bakery.

Finally, a third citizen stood and timidly asked that someone look into the “bad produce” she had purchased. This request produced some scoffs and snickering before she further clarified that the vegetables had in fact blasted the door off of her pantry.

When nobody else rose to make a plea, the directors took their leave to meet with the FLAIL teams in their back room headquarters. Serifeya opened by informing the group that in addition to the three citizen requests, the council had requested aid in dealing with some unusually potent bandits that had been menacing the southern pass. Though this wasn’t FLAIL’s typical fare, the threat was elevated beyond the limited capabilities of the city guard,so she had agreed to provide support. Xiv informed the group that the Rabbits would be sitting this round out, as they had other business to attend to. With the Lions still managing their political affair and the Oaks on leave, that left only two teams to address four requests. Drekin jumped at the opportunity to volunteer to go against the bandits, feeling that this assignment would prove more exciting than investigating the bakery had. After some deliberation, the Foxes decided that the oddly afflicted citizens was he most pressing case and volunteered to take it on. The team was able to catch a brief word with the Rabbits before they headed off to their mysterious affairs. The rabbits had little to offer, only that the being they encountered had appeared totally normal on the surface save for the odd behavior. When confronted, the behavior turned violent and the rabbits were able to easily dispatch of the oddity with a few well placed cuts. Inside, the creature was very clearly not composed of any form of life familiar to this world.

The last stop before heading out was a visit to Cayfus for equipment. Among a number of new items, he was especially proud to show off the SPIDER (Super Portable Instantly Deploying Emergency Revitalizer). Though a bit unsettling to look at due to it being aptly named, the contraption served the noble purpose of being able to instantly pull a companion back from the brink of death. He had taken inspiration from some of Elsbetta’s research, replacing the problematic elements with alternative technologies. After the demonstrations and some strategic consideration, the team selected their gear and set out on their second case.

The investigation began at a familiar location: the hospital. Recognizing them and remembering what tended to follow, the desk attendant flinched for a moment before greeting them. The team informed him that they were just hoping to inspect the remains of the strange being the rabbits had taken down. Relieved, the he directed them to one of the hospital’s laboratories, where one of the university’s medical professors was currently studying it.

Though a bit preoccupied with his own research, the professor welcomed the team in, though he had little useful information. The decidedly alien remains were decaying rapidly into nothing. Ro had a look at a few samples under a microscope and learned that it lacked the normal cellular structure of living things in Telaros, and also that it seemed to exhibit some sort of deliberate, if erratic, behavior even at this tiny scale. Lixx reached out telepathically, but found no mind to connect to, only a faint buzz of scattered psychic energy.

Armed with as much information as they were likely to learn, the Foxes decided to continue their investigation at the nearest residence where and incident had been reported. They first interviewed the neighbor who had made the report. She said that while she didn’t know her neighbor Tannek very well, he seemed to be even more reclusive than usual lately. The thing that had really alarmed her however was awaking in the middle of the night to heard him clumsily leaving the building and wandering down the street in barely a

 

 

stitch of clothing. This had now happened a number of times, at unusual intervals. The agents thanked her for her assistance and prepared to enter the afflicted citizen’s apartment.

Loy prepared to demonstrate her breaching skills, only to find the door unlocked. Inside the small apartment was quiet, dark and mostly unremarkable. An unusual abstract painting hanging near the entrance though did catch Ro’s eye. Dirtwad’s unusual senses immediately registered a flurry of strange energy emanating from the painting, but his warning came too late. At a glance, Ro had been utterly transfixed by the painting, which appeared to dance wildly on the edge of his vision, but clearly remain still and lifeless wherever his eyes focussed. Lixx caught sight of it as well, but managed to retain their faculties and quickly looked away, suffering only a minor headache. Stepping between Ro and the painting, they were able to break Ro’s trance. He came away from the ordeal seemingly unharmed apart from a brutal hangover. The team quickly packed up the offending art to keep it out of site until they could give it a proper analysis. Dirtwad, who had not been afflicted by the painting, scanned the room for any similar pieces. Finding nothing the team went about searching the rest of the aparment. It showed some signs of neglect, but was otherwise unremarkable—until they reached the bedroom closet.

Tucked inside the closet was a roughly person sized amorphous sac with a shimmering iridescent surface. Suspecting that there may be someone inside, Lixx reached out telepathically only to be struck by a torrent of chaotic psychic energy unlike anything they had felt before. Dirtwad set to work at the glistening pod with his trusty morningstar, tearing a large hole in the strange skin. Inside they found Tannek, the resident that they had been tasked with looking in on. After a moment, he started awake. After making some preliminary checks and finding him to show no signs of him being anything other than a very confused Nechal, the Foxes gathered what little information he could offer of his memories prior to becoming entranced with the painting. He wearily agreed that accompanying them back to the hospital was probably in his best interest.

The Foxes now had some idea of what they were up against but still no idea of who, or what, was behind it, nor how wide spread this might be. Fortunately they still had several leads to pursue—the homes of two more afflicted citizens and the mysterious source of the accursed painting. After delivering poor Tannek to the hospital and checking in with Dr. Profter, they deliberated on their next move.

Chapter 7

Sunday, August 20 Before leaving the hospital, Ro insisted on being thoroughly examined and running some more tests on himself. The absence of any indication that he had been infected in some way by his encounter with the painting provided scant reassurance, but there was work to be done so the team pressed on. Before reaching their destination, Girdran took his leave of the team to spend some time in meditation. Perhaps due to his exposure to the powerful psychic energy in that first house, the recently awakened aspects of his consciousness were feeling tempestuous and unbalanced and he did not feel he would be able to contribute to the team until his inner harmony was restored.

The nearest house they had not yet investigated was that of Kelvid, the original subject of the missing person report. Wasting no time, the Foxes checked the door and found it unlocked. Because he had seemed to suffer no ill effects from the mesmerizing painting, Dirtwad charged in ahead of the party to scan the room with his unusual senses. He found no sinister works of art, but did encounter a very confused occupant. As the rest of the team filed into the home, Kelvid graciously introduced himself and listened to the FLAIL agents explain why they had all come barging into his home. Despite the intrusion, he politely agreed to let them have a look around, while he returned to going about his business and exchanged questions with guests.

Everything seemed quite normal, until Dirtwad made an unsettling discovery in a pile of detritus in the basement. It had proven difficult to discern the contents of the densely cluttered masses, even with his Dodama senses. So, making use of his malleable form, he wormed his way into the heart of one of the junk piles and there discovered a lifeless anthropoid body. Just as he began make his way out and warn the others, the body (and four others like it) lit up with the same psychic energy he had sensed from the cocoon that had been holding Tannek at the previous house. Upstairs, the being that had appeared to be Kelvid broke into a chant in an otherworldly voice and whipped a cloth off of the table revealing… nothing. But not really nothing—there was some object there, not visible but still somehow perceivable. It wasn’t a darkness or a hole or a void—even those are more “something” than this object.

Remembering the effects of the painting in the prior house, the Foxes present in the room attempted to avert their eyes from what was being revealed but Lixx, Ro, and Nève were all caught by surprise and glimpsed the non-object. Witnessing this most perfect embodiment of absence struck each of them with an overwhelming existential despair so gripping that it required drawing upon their deepest reserves of will to take even the most basic action. In the chaos that followed, Ro managed to muster the conviction to cover the un-thing back up, instantly relieving himself and his companions from fixating on the futility that would be the ultimate summation of their time in this world. The Kelvid clone that had initially welcomed them into the house proved to be no match for morningstar and broadsword, and was quickly reduced an unsettling pile of alien goo. As the five creatures freed themselves from the tangled debris downstairs, most of the Foxes readied themselves at the top of the stairs. Nève focussed her righteous fury on absence bundled under the cloth, but found it frustratingly impossible to affect.

The first thing to emerge from the basement was another Kelvid, identical to the one tha had just been pulverized upstairs. As it gained sight of the team, it pointed a finger at Ro and accused him of a horrifyingly vulgar act. For a moment, it almost felt true in his mind, but he was able to shake it off before it took root. Another fixed its gaze on Nève, who felt it scratching around in her head for her darkest secret, but her

 

 

resolve prevailed. Lixx retaliated with an invocation of dark energy that snaked out from their body and tore at several of the creatures. With a few more skillfulattacks, the Foxes felled every last clone. No longer under threat, they searched the house for anything else of interest, but found nothing—not even the pod that they suspected would be present.

Wanting to waste as little time as possible, for fear of how rapidly this phenomenon may be spreading, the Foxes hastily surrendered the accursed nothing to FLAIL headquarters. They offered Wyldrem a brief explanation and a plethora of warnings and then made their way to Devnor’s home, the final entry on their list of reported incidents.

Like the others, they found the door unlocked. Taking what caution they could, Dirtwad entered first, looking for any anomalies. Finding nothing and nobody in the house, the rest of the team followed and commenced a thorough search. A few minutes into their search, a few of the Foxes heard a faint melodic “plink”. After some time, it was followed by another, and then another, and another in decreasing intervals, eventually revealing itself to be a melody. The team covered there ears to attempt to avoid whatever ill effects this music might carry with it. Unexpectedly, this time Dirtwad was the first to succumb to the psychic assault. Where he had been utterly incapable of perceiving the mystery object in the prior house and the volumetric perception possessed by Dodamas had perhaps rendered the two dimensional presentation of the painting inert, the sinister music violently danced around his sphere of awareness, inducing terror like he had never known before and sending him fleeing from the house.

Lixx felt the effects as well, which was surprising to them as this was a sensation they had not felt since incarnating in this new life. Rather than succumbing to panic though, their scarred mind allowed them to engage in the unexpected emotion with a sort of detached curiosity. Taking advantage of this, the rest of the team waited outside while Lixx searched for the source. Implausibly, while they made their way through the house, the melody seemed to continue to increase in pitch and tempo and never repeat any sequence of notes. After a full sweep of the house turned up nothing, the best that Lixx could offer was that it seemed to be coming from somewhere in the ceiling. Ro volunteered to enter and attempt to pinpoint the source with his EFFECTool. Braving the malevolent music, he was able to retain his composure long enough to locate the spot on the ceiling with the strongest reading before succumbing to the panic that had been building in his body with the pace of the melody. Using a broom handle, Lixx calmly bashed a hole in the spot on the ceiling that Ro had pointed out prior to sprinting out of the room screaming.

A small music box dropped to the floor. Finding no apparent way to put a stop to its operation, Nève deployed a scramble egg in an attempt to disrupt the mechanism. As the egg emitted a brilliant flash of colors, the music ceased. The Foxes took the opportunity to make a more thorough sweep of the house, finding nothing of interest. Unfortunately though, during this time the effects of the scramble egg wore off and the plodding first notes of the music boxes manic tune began to play. Finding no way to sufficiently muffle its output while they transported it back to FLAIL HQ, they opted to for brute force, smashing it to bits with the pommel of a dagger.

With the last of the known disturbances accounted for, the team was faced with one big question: who had been making these horrific artifacts?

Chapter 8

Sunday August 27, 2023 Though the sun was still high in the sky, the Foxes realized that night was approaching and the events of the day we weighing heavily on their minds. As much as they desired to press on and uncover the source of these corrupting artworks, they wanted to be in top form should a strange new threat reveal itself. Before retiring to their home, they delivered the remnants of the music box to FLAIL HQ and explained what they understood of it to Wyldrem. Content that at the very least all of the known dangers had been accounted for, the Foxes settled in for an uneasy night of sleep under the light of Elinalore’s First Dawn.

Afraid that they may have been infected in some way by their encounters, the team felt it would be safest to all sleep together in the upstairs studio where they could keep watch on one another through the night. Apart from a lot of fitful sleep brought on by troubled dreams, the night passed uneventfully.

Once they all felt as rested as they weer likely to get, the team made their way to The Oubliette, an underground art gallery run by Kifta, whom they hoped might be able to provide some clue as to the artist responsible for the troublesome pieces. Surprisingly, Kifta was expecting their visit and had an interesting tale to share. Kifta pulled out a portfolio and began flipping through a series of unimpressive paintings that had been submitted to the gallery by an anonymous artist over the span of the the last few years. The disparity between the elaborate pains take to remain anonymous versus the lack of talent in the work had given Kifta the impression of someone with a lot more resources than sense. Had it not been for two recent submissions that showed a sudden flare for provoking emotion, Kifta likely would have disposed of the whole collection. The first piece was a slightly impressionistic painting of the cityscape, which triggered in a Ro a faint echo of the abstract painting that had mesmerized him the day before. Studying the painting closely, he was struck by a sense that the unreal aspects of the painting were perhaps more the ernest depiction of the artist’s perspective rather than aesthetic choice. The second piece was a poem of sorts, abstract verse in no

 

 

recognizable language. When phonetically recited though, it invoked a strong emotion in every listener.

Kifta included the two pieces in a show, which predictably lead to demand for the artists work among the show’s attendees. The show also provoked a message from the artist, asking to help facilitate the sale of their work, promising a generous fee. Kifta gladly took the offer, being someone likely to pass on neither coin nor intrigue. Three sales were executed in this manor, with Kifta never taking possession of the work and never making direct contact with buyer or seller. Despite being quite clever, resourceful, and well connected with the Honorable Society of Valets, Kifta was unable to uncover any clue as to the artists identity.

With all the new information, the Foxes decided to split up and follow two potential leads. Loy would take advantage of the card she had received from Xiv and pay a visit to the Valets in search of additional information, while the rest of the team attempted to locate the vista implied by the cityscape painting.

Winding through the alleys of the sub-industrial district, Loy located an unremarkable and unmarked door at the address indicated on the card. Stepping inside, she found herself in a claustrophobic room overstocked with a wild assortment of objects that could plausibly be a pawn broker or repair shop, but not really committed to anything. The sole occupant greeted her with pleasant disinterest. Encoded in that greeting though was a customary challenge, which Loy recognized and responded to appropriately. Once it was established that both parties shared a certain understanding, the mysterious clerk assured Loy that the room was quite private and they could dispense with pretenses. As a newcomer, Loy wasn’t invited any further into the sanctum, but the nod from Xiv did seem to carry some clout. The clerk was happy to share a bit of information The Society had come by about the objects the Foxes had collected: before being locked away in the library vault, they had made a brief stop in the universities material sciences lab for analysis by Rainbow, the Dodama professor. It was also intimated that Loy might have future opportunities to take advantage of her FLAIL credentials to gain favor with The Society. Satisfied with her new lead, Loy headed out to meet back up with the rest of the team.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Foxes made their way to the gated community on the northwestern hill of Dundarel. After a less than welcoming reception from the guard at the front gate, the team identified the approximate vantage point of the painting Kifta had showed them. The nearest house was the Kelmer Estate, so they decided to try to get some interviews the residents. Nève approached the servant entrance in the back, but had little luck getting any useful answers to her questions. Lixx confidently approached the front door to try and make contact with the lady of the house. After some back and forth with a butler and much assurance that there was no trouble brewing, they eventually got a brief audience with lady Dresda. She assured Lixx that someone painting in the common area was quite normal, as the community was deeply involved in the arts and that nobody who lived there would be involved in any sort of unsavory activity. Probing her mind, Lixx saw that she was telling the truth, or at least that she believed what she was saying. As the squad was coming to the conclusion that the neighborhood was a dead end, Loy approached excited to share her new lead. Having nothing else to go on at the moment, the Foxes headed over to the University to meet Rainbow.

Entering the lab, the team was greeted by a short angular figure tha looked like an end table that had somehow been bent into a roughly anthropoid form. Dirtwad was quite excited to make contact with another one of his kind, giving the rest of the team the rare opportunity to witness a conversation in native Dodaman. Unsurprisingly, the professor was pleased that people were interested in his work and shared what he had learned about the three pieces in his brief time with them. He launched into the technical details of how he was able to analyze the strange objects before pointing out that they all shared one key element—a mineral with a particular crystalline structure that had only ever been observed in recovered meteorites. Such a rare thing would normally be extremely difficult to come by, but the Astrology department had recorded an impact several months back, though to Rainbow’s knowledge they had failed in several attempts to retrieve the object. Not knowing anything else about it himself, he suggested that the team speak with Listhel Estinya in the observatory for more information.

And so the Foxes find themselves on the trail of a mysterious space rock, while the enigmatic artist remains at large…

Chapter 9

Sunday September 3, 2023

As promised, the team found Listhel, the prodigal astrology student, at work in the observatory. She confirmed that they had observed a falling object a few months back and that she was quite certain she had worked out the point of impact, but that several expeditions to retrieve it had all failed. Listhel had chalked it up to students with insufficient wilderness experience simply getting lost, but the Foxes were concerned something more sinister might be to blame. She provided the names of the students involved in the most recent attempt to recover the object so that the squad could follow up with them. She also sketched out a map of the area showing the point of impact and the various routes the search parties had taken. With a final expression of hope that the team might recover the object for her research, she returned to musing about the cosmos and the Foxes took their leave.

Without much effort, they were able to track down one of the students who had been sent out to locate the space rock. Her name was Emilyn, she was in a study

 

 

hall, and she was in an unpleasant mood. She was willing to answer the team’s questions, despite being clearly irritated by each one. Most of what she had to offer wer complaints about what a terrible experienceexperience the expedition had been. They were all inexperienced in the wilderness. Hestren, the navigator seemed to be particularly incompetent, constantly losing track of things and forgetting what he was doing. She said that he had found the outing so upsetting that he had left campus and returned home. The other two had panicked for no apparent reason and constantly insisted that they return. During this exchange, Lixx probed her mind and Ro scanned her for signs of otherworldly influence. Finding nothing outstanding, they left the grumpy student to her work. They made one last stop by Hestren’s former room to confirm that he was in fact gone, and not incubating in a cocoon in his closet. Finding nothing but an empty dorm, the Foxes ventured into the wild.

The first day passed uneventfully, but the team did get a vague feeling of unease as they approached their target. On their second day of travel, they encountered a trio of wolves that flickered and jittered in a thoroughly unnatural way. Loy immediately loosed an arrow at one, striking it solidly in the side. The wolves responded by duplicating themselves, leaving the party suddenly out numbered. The Foxes prevailed though, with minimal injury. Post battle, Ro examined the carcases and found unnatural tissue interlacing the wolves’ musculature. Pressing on, at varying degrees the team began to feel the effects of the alien presence on their psyche. After some squabbling, they finally set down to camp, despite Dirtwad’s insistence that they press on.

Chapter 10

Sunday September 10, 2023

Having spent a long day trekking through thick forest, the Foxes (at least most of them) intended to stop and set up camp for the night. This plan was soon scrapped due to Dirtwad’s persistent insistence that they continue on, which was now being echoed by Loy. With Lixx succumbing to ennui and Ro’s mind feeling cloudy, there was little hope of getting a handle on the situation. Begrudgingly, everyone continued onward as they began to feel the effects of exhaustion set in.

Just as the outskirts of the blast radius from the meteor impact came into sight, the team encountered something unexpected—a seemingly normal person going about some mysterious business. Calling out to the out of place stranger quickly revealed that they were yet another aberrant clone. The Foxes charged into battle as several other copies of their opponent emerged from amongst the trees. The heroes lashed out with steel and fire, while the alien beings attempted to violate their minds. Despite their fatigue, the team made short work of several of their alien foes, but new ones kept approaching in seemingly endless number.

As if being hopelessly outnumbered weren’t enough, the army of doppelgangers introduced a new tactic when several of them stopped advancing and began to sing in one unified otherworldly voice. To the Foxes surprise, they found that it required an iron will not to join in the chorus themselves, somehow knowing the words and melody of this perplexing chant. With their combat efficiency diminished by various team members succumbing to the chanting and the horde of clones ever growing, the situation was looking quite dire. The tides were turned however when Dirtwad noticed a pod nestled behind a tree. They turned their focus toward breaking through the shimmering walls of the cocoon. As the sac tore open, the many creatures surrounding them instantly lost cohesion and melted into puddles of goo. Inside they found a very confused Nechal woman named Devnor, one of the missing citizens and the prototype of the army of clones.

Still in shock from her ordeal and having no better options, Devnor agreed to stick with the party while they completed their mission. Trudging ahead, the group soon found themselves at the edge of a large crater. At the center sat a large disembodied brain with tendrils stretching out in a dense network. As they approached the presumed source of all this psychic disturbance, the world seemed to suddenly melt away around them, leaving the party standing in a vast black void. From somewhere in this darkness, a silvery featureless anthropoid form approached. It addressed them in a strange nightmarish voice that seemed to emanate from all around them.

This manifestation seemed genuinely confused as to why the group was putting up such resistance to its actions. In fact, it barely seemed to understand (or perhaps care) that they were even independent entities. After a fruitless conversation with this cosmic force, the Foxes attempted to attack. This proved ineffective and the entity began banishing the team one by one from the shared psychic construct.

As the team snapped back to reality, they found that their cosmic tormentor had taken the opportunity to entangle each of them in some of the many tendrils that sprawled out from the brain. Working their way free through nimbleness or brute force, the Foxes unleashed their full fury on the brain, destroying it and seemingly putting an end to its corrupting influence on the area. As it faded away, it reached out to make one final assurance—that it would persist.

Feeling a sense of relief they had not known for days, the party prudently searched the area before setting up camp. They found no further threats, but also no traces of meteorite. Satisfied that they were no longer in any immediate danger, they took a well earned rest. In the morning, they set off back to town with Devnor in tow. With trail markers to follow home and free of psychic affliction, the return journey was comparatively easy and uneventful. Soon they were back in town, reporting to Wyldrem in the comfort of FLAIL headquarters. Despite their success vanquishing the unnamed manifestation, however, the case didn’t feel fully

 

 

Chapter 11

Sunday October 1, 2023

resolved. With the meteorite unaccounted for and the artist’s identity still a mystery, would it just be a matter of time before new anomalies were menacing Dundarel? Determined to put this troubling case behind them, the Foxes deliberated on how to locate the mysterious artist but were lacking in a clear lead to follow. Finding confidence in her faith Nève put for a visit to the Pantheorium, where she hoped to reach out to the deities of Telaros for aid.

Sensing that this nameless entity posed an existential threat to all things Nève attempted to make contact not just with her patron Cylipha, but several of the deities that lurked in the cosmic vicinity of this world. She began with Elinalore, posing a call to action to defend her creation. Next she reached out to Sindrefen. By the offering of a confession and a miraculous feat of will, Nève was able to make contact. The secretive Sindrefen was willing to help, in exchange for the promise of an unspecified favor, which Nève boldly agreed to. At that, the name “Luquoi Mesteferen” was whispered into her ear and Sindrefen’s presence faded.

Emboldened by this success, she next entered the chaotic alcove of Daxdander. She was unable to attain as strong of a communion with the trickster, but none the less offered up a warning that his current place of refuge was under threat. She made a similar plea in Idyliana’s verdant apse and received a hopeful sign of support as a butterfly alit on her shoulder. Next approached the ominous and desolate alter to Skrept to ask for the devourer’s aid, though it was unclear if if her words reached the sinister presence.

Finally she sought an audience with Cylipha. Once alone, she revealed the curtained mirror above the alter and spoke a prayer. Cylipha’s avatar manifested and offered up an ominous vision of the future followed by a suggestion that the team’s unity might be an asset in the conflict, then faded away.

In the meantime, Ro had quietly crept away and awkwardly attempted his own rite in honor of Elsbetta and her family, asking to bring them all some peace. Girdran killed some time indulging in drink at the alter of Bronhank.

Feeling like they were back on track, with a name to pursue, the Foxes headed over to city hall records office. Unfortunately, the name didn’t appear to belong to anyone residing in the city, living or dead… but of course any clue from the the enigmatic whisperer wouldn’t be straight forward and direct. Unable to correlate the name to a person in any meaningful way, the team decided the library would be the next stop, hoping to learn something about the name in a historical context.

With some convincing, they were able to convince the student clerk on duty to summon the head librarian. He brought the team into a secure room deep in the restricted section to hear the tale of the Foxes’ encounter with the unnamed god. When asked about the name “Luquoi Mesteferen”, the librarian had some somewhat disappointing news—this was the name of a character from some a series of old fairy tales that had mostly fallen out modern culture. He lead the team to a small collection of books mentioning the character, but the fairly generic stories didn’t seem to hold any clues.

Still hoping to extract some meaning from Sindrefen’s clue, the team next ventured into the university in search of additional expertise. They began with a visit to Ishella, head of the linguistic department. She was friendly and eager to help, but couldn’t offer any special significance behind the moniker. She did suggest that her colleague Tizt, who taught folklore might be able to provide additional insight. This proved to be a bit of a dead end yet again though, as the professor was unable to help the team make any new connection.

Somewhat defeated, the team concluded that the name was just a pseudonym with no secret meaning and decided to reach out to some of their other contacts. Loy paid a visit to the shop that served as a facade for the Society hall, while the rest of the squad decided to speak with Kifta. Independently they both learned that the alias belonged to someone that had recently been skulking about the art scene and seemed to have a particular interest in the same works that they were investigating. Kifta was even able to provide a description that Lixx rendered as a sketch. With a bit of convincing, Kifta also agreed to quickly put together a new exhibition of the artists work with the hope that it would lure the target out of hiding.

With a plan in motion and a clearer than ever idea of who they were looking for, the Foxes set out to canvas the gated hill community, confident that they would soon be meeting the artist face to face…

Chapter 12

Sunday October 29, 2023

The Foxes once again approached the gate house at the entrance to the gated hill community. The downtrodden guard was a bit dismayed to see the pack of FLAIL agents again, informing them that he had suffered through hours of complaints from the residents the last time they had visited. Resigned to the knowledge that the situation was out of his control, he ushered the team in with a plea for discretion.

Lixx and Loy were selected to represent the team and knock on the door while the rest of the group fanned out around the building to watch for signs of trouble or attempted flights. Naturally, the pair were greeted at the door by a butler who was reluctant to trouble his employers with a matter as unsavory as an occult manhunt, but he eventually relented. After an uncomfortably long wait, the lady of the house finally appeared at the door. She had no desire to offer up details about any of the upstanding members of her community nor encourage any further disruptions. Undeterred, Lixx pursued of every avenue of persuasion, enhanced by a bit psychic manipulation.

 

 

Soon enough, they had a target: Wiklam Perleft, owner of an estate just up the street.

On initial inspection, the Perleft manor appeared quite normal, if a tiny bit unkempt by neighborhood standards. Closer inspection though revealed that the house had been sealed up and fortified. The team spread out around the building, searching for an alternate entrance that might gain them some tactical advantage. But before a plan could fully coalesce, Dirtwad was struck by the impulse to ooze down a chimney and see what was inside. Left with little choice, Girdran and Ro hurried after him. Inside they found themselves in large empty room. There was some faint evidence of where normal accommodations used to reside, but anything and everything non-structural had been stripped away. The room was not unoccupied, though. The trio were met with the horrifying sight of several naked knife wielding Nechal which wasted no time engaging the intruders.

As a melee broke out inside, the remainder of the team was attempting to make their entrance at the back of the house. After several attempts to breach a rather sturdy window, Lixx, Loy and Nève joined the battle in progress. Their assailants attacked with a fanatic zeal, showing little concern for their bodies and not reacting in any noticeable way to wounds they received. They had clearly been engaged in some sort of ritual modification, as their bare bodies showed signs of attempts to remove features such as their eyes and mouths. They were clean shaven, and their skin had been altered by something that looked like harsh chemical process, some bleached to an unnaturally pale white, others stained a pitch black.

After a frightening, but well executed fight the Foxes had finally brought down the last of their unsettling foes. Exploring the rest of the floor revealed nothing but more barren rooms. With seemingly nothing left to do, they made their way to the stairs and ventured up to the second floor. Instead of a typical residential layout the second floor had been crafted into a maze-like series of corridors. The walls were sturdy, but definitely appeared to be recent construction which showed little care for aesthetic value. After journeying down the twisting halls, and Loy expertly unlocking two heavy ornate doors (with a little bit of divine aid), the made the unwelcome discovery of yet another alien pod. This one was substantially bigger than the others though and a network of sprawling tendrils extended out from it, some of which supported other smaller pods. It pulsed with an unsettling energy.

Wasting no time, the squad attacked and the massive glob responded by hatching some all to familiar at this point slimy persons out of the scattered pods. Though they seemed not quite fully formed, they did clearly resemble the mysterious artist they had been hunting for. The team was making easy work of the gooey alien spawn, while also hacking away at the large central mass, when everyone suddenly felt a shockwave of malevolent psychic energy burst across the room, filling their head with a sharp disorienting pain. This prompted everyone to focus their efforts on the central pod, hoping to not experience another on those bursts—or even something worse. In no time the abomination was breached and among the copious amounts of viscera that spilled forth they found not a helpless and disoriented victim, but just a skeleton.

Just beyond the monstrosity lay another of the fortified doors. Feeling weary from their ordeal thus far, they decided it would be prudent to take a rest and regroup before facing whatever it was that lay at the heart of this nightmarish house.

Chapter 13

Sunday November 19, 2023

After some debate, the Foxes decided it would be best get some rest and face whatever lay beyond the final door fully refreshed. It was decided that they would take a rest in the house—it was well fortified and they didn’t want to give anything that remained an opportunity to escape. Prudently, they made a careful inspection of the first floor before settling in. Ro quickly spotted a trapdoor in the room that showed evidence of having previously been an art studio. Venturing below, the team discovered where the contents of the house had most likely ended up. Apart from some scattered debris, the basement was empty save for a large, silver, perfect sphere. Dirtwad attempted to use his Dodamic senses to peer inside of it, but was barely able to penetrate the surface due to its incredible density. Ever curious and impulsive, he tossed a handful of dirt (not his own, of course) onto the sphere, which promptly absorbed it. Ro’s inspection with the E-FECT revealed an immense amount of chaotic energy at a very close range, but not beyond—it seemed to be trapped within the sphere’s influence and only trace amounts were able to emit. The bottom of the sphere seemed barely contact the floor at a perfect tangent, suggesting that it was not in fact resting on the ground but somehow suspended in space. Concluding that there was nothing else to be done with it at the moment, the team made their way back up stairs.

Loy, not feeling particularly fatigued, volunteered to keep watch while her friends rested up. The hours passed uneventfully save for Nève and Dirtwad thrashing about as the malevolent aura of the house tormented their dreams. As ready as they were ever going to be, the Foxes returned to the still sealed set of doors on the upper floor and readied themselves. Though abstract the patterns inset in this door felt unsettling and sinister. Peering through, Dirtwad sensed only a vast emptiness far too expansive to match the geometry of the room as they could see it. A close examination revealed a faint aura of chaotic magic permeating the doors. Loy to set to work with her tools, but found that the locking mechanism seemed to be putting up an active resistance. Its defiance was so vigorous that on the her first attempt it managed to eject

 

 

the pick from her hand. Even with Nève’s divine guidance and Dirtwad’s assistance examining the interior structure proved ineffective in overcoming the complex and shifting contrivance. After a moment of dejected uncertainty, the team remembered they had a device build intended for just this situation! Girdran produced the Pass Musterer, affixed it to the door, and activated it. Just moments after whirring into action, the lock clicked open.

Ro and Dirtwad took point entering the room. Like the rest of the house, it was mostly empty. An anthropic being that looked like their target, Wiklam Perleft—but surely couldn’t be—sat calmly in the middle of the room, surrounded by concentric circles of an unrecognizable script drawn on the floor. “Took you long enough”, he tauntingly greeted them. Like the fanatic cultists they had encountered below his body had been harrowed by some terrible ritual leaving him blanched and eyeless. The team cautiously approached, explaining that they needed to take him into custody. He took no action other than to calmly speak with his would be captors until Ro attempted to snap the first ring of a Spellbinder around his wrist. He quickly, but gently turned his hand around to grasp Ro’s wrist. The world seemed to instantly melt away in all directions, leaving Ro standing (somehow) in a black void with the being occupying Wiklam’s form suddenly standing in front of him, unbound.

The rest of the Foxes saw nothing but Ro suddenly stop and rigidly hold his pose. Dirtwad attacked with his flail, but found it to have little effect as sitting figure’s body. Girdran hit him squarely in the forehead with one of his ethereally treated darts which stuck, but had little other effect than provoke a wry comment from its recipient. It seemed to composed not of flesh but some viscous substance that just reformed around the weapon as it passed through. Girdran moved in to secure the second ring of the Spellbinder, meeting a similar fate as Ro. A short time later, as the rest of the team deliberated on how to proceed they found themselves abruptly pulled into the same unreality where Ro and Girdran were already engaged in combat. Their opponent was wielding two long, shining blades that he had produced out of the nothingness. The Foxes unleashed their full might on their strange opponent, gravely wounding him in short order. In a last desperate act, the sinister avatar shoved Ro away with an overwhelming burst of telekinetic force. Despite his best efforts to hold his position, Ro suddenly found a hundred feet of void between himself and the violent melee. A shadowy doppelgangers coalesced out of the void in front of each FLAIL agent, but they kept their attacks focussed on the main target, bringing him down before the penumbral duplicates could take action.

The moment Wiklam was struck down in psychic space the nothingness receded and the team found themselves back in the room. Everything was exactly as it had been at the moment they were pulled into the void. The demeanor of Wiklam, or whatever it was that adopted his guise, had changed to confusion and panic. He seemed unsure of where he was, why he couldn’t see or what the last thing he could even remember was. He put up no fight as the team clasped the last ring of the Spellbinders around his neck, draped Loy’s cloak over him and led him down stairs. Just for kicks, Dirtwad decided to smash their way out of the barricaded front door rather than exit through the already broken window in back.

With every thread of this vexing mystery seemingly accounted for, the Shadow Fox Squad led their prisoner back to FLAIL headquarters to check in with the directors and debrief. On duty was Cayfus, who was quite pleased to seem them and hear that the case was resolved. He told the team to take a short hiatus to recover while he activated the various town agencies to handle containment and clean up of the tainted mansion, but to report back for duty as soon as they were able. In the time since they had last talked, the two other cases FLAIL had been monitoring had escalated and needed immediate attention, he explained. And so the team took their leave to prepare for their next endeavor, feeling justifiably accomplished and eager to put this terrifying matter behind them. The influence of the nameless being that loomed over Telaros seemed to be severed, at least for now. But would it return, and if so, how? And what exactly was that Wiklam shaped being they had delivered to the hospital for quarantine? Questions for another time, as duty hastily beckoned them back into the field…

Case Three

Chapter 14

Sunday, November 26, 2023 Wyldrem told the team to take a rest, but report back as soon as they were ready. They took one night and showed up early the next morning. Dreken and Lyriel of the Bats were there, they will be joining with the Foxes since the rest of their team is recovering from serious injuries. The team is offered the mutant farm case or the cursed shops, which have both grown escalated in severity. FLAIL will coordinate city resources to contain the other case. The team opts to check out the farms. The first farm has a large cornfield, which had been fashioned into a maze for the festival. The corn has grown unusually tall and robust. The farmer is terrified, saying he was chased off by something large and aggressive when he went to harvest the corn. Not sure what it was. The team venture into the maze, with Lyriel in the form of a bird keeping watch from the air. It soon became apparent that the walls of the maze were shifting and changing as the team tried to reach the center. Taking care not to anger whatever lurked in the maze, the team made their way toward the edge and found the path clear for them. They next visited a Keldra farm with a meticulously constructed grid of

 

 

crops. The farmer informed them that crops had all gone wrong and the field was infested by living tangles of brambles that charged at anything that came near. Exploring the edges of the field, Ro ventured in slightly and found himself in a cloud of toxic gas. An in between farm, known for producing psychoactive crops, is thus far unaffected. Also unaffected is a nearby farm run by a druid. She had little insight into what was happening. The magic definitely has druidic elements, but has other things going on. Most druids in the local order are not every powerful or experienced, but one who was made enemies and was exiled.

Chapter 15

Sunday, January 14, 2024 Realizing that the cottage in the woods they had been advised to steer clear of on their previous expedition seemed like an ideal candidate for the home of Rafalia, their top suspect. Initially, their journey into the forest progressed without incident—a welcome change from their previous trip into these woods. As they neared their target though, their attempts at navigation began to fail. Suspecting that this was Rafalia’s interference, the team began to examine the are for signs of druidic magic. Unsurprisingly, the entirety of the woods around them radiated primal energies, mixed with traces of chaos. They now had confirmation that they were on the right track, but were unsure of how make further progress. As they debated on what the best course of action would be, Nève took decisive action and began issuing challenges into the evening sky, hoping to provoke the rogue druid out of hiding. Soon enough, Rafalia emerged from the woods seeming to almost materialize into view among the flora. It didn’t take long before he tacitly took responsibility for the troubles in Dundarel, suggesting that the people were only getting a taste of what they deserved for their treatment of nature.

As it became clear that the hybrid FLAIL team intended to try can capture him, Rafalia opted to take his leave, sinking into the dirt floor as if it had suddenly turned to liquid beneath him. Nève did her best to draw him back out, but the only reply she received came in the form of two massive beasts unlike anything anyone in the party had seen before. The monstrosities were like oversized bears, covered in feathers and an owl-like head sporting a menacing beak. Facing what seemed to be a rather serious threat, the Bats and Foxes banded together and managed to bring their mysterious opponents down without suffering any injuries themselves.

Now, the group is left with a clear target, but a less clear course of action. How will they capture someone hiding out in a region offering him so many advantages? And even if he is apprehended, will that put an end to the mutant crops?

Chapter 16

Sunday, February 4, 2024 Taking down the corn maze monster.

Chapter 17

Sunday, February 11, 2024 Having discovered that the apparent source of corrupting magic that had afflicted the corn maze was the water feeding the farms irrigation, the team traced the pipes magical emissions back toward the city walls, where it grew faint. Along the way, Drekin sheepishly thanked Nève for reviving him, quite sincerely, but doing his best to make sure nobody else noticed.

Presuming that the source of the sabotage must be somewhere beneath the city, the Foxes paid a visit to the city’s records office to learn what they could about what lay beneath Dundarel, while Lyriel took Drekin home to recover from his brush with death. In the archives, a clerk named Ogvard assisted the team in locating the official schematics for the major water, sewage and power conduits maintained by the city. While the team had of course been hoping for a map, he explained that this was their best bet for navigating the labyrinth of tunnels under their feet. The complex network of passages had evolved over hundreds of years, under various levels of scrutiny and planning and included a substantial amount of unsanctioned work. Coupled with their ever changing nature, as workers cleared out blocked passages or sealed off areas that had become obsolete or dangerous, nobody had ever successfully taken on the task of maintaining a proper map.

Thinking better than to drag the original schematics along with them to their dank, and likely dangerous destination, Nève offered to transcribe the diagrams and return the originals before setting forth. The rest of the team took the time to prepare in other ways. Lixx and Loy hit up the Barrel’s Bottom, hoping to find some workers familiar with the underground. Without much effort, they spotted a boisterous middle aged Nechal woman wearing a set of work clothes bearing the municipal services logo. Lixx charmed their way right into the conversation by feigning interest in an upcoming intramural tournament. Esramende, they water distribution tech that had initially caught their attention was familiar with the Fox’s exploits and was eager be of assistance. She relayed a story she had heard from one of the tunnel maintenance workers on her crew of some ordinary looking moss that had sprung to life and started trying to bite him when it was disturbed, and promised to provide a guide the following day when the team planned to venture underground.

Meanwhile, Ro had made off to the town guard armory to replenish the team’s ammunition. He also used this as an excuse to pay a visit to Elsbetta. The former medical researcher turned necromancer was much more her old self these days, after having now spent some time free of the dark magic’s corrupting

 

 

influence and undergoing extensive psychic therapy. She was happy to have some company, especiallysomeone with whom she could discuss scientific theory. She expressed remorse for the trouble she had caused, but admitted that she couldn’t imagine things playing out any other way. Given the opportunity to bring back her family, she couldn’t pass it up.

The following day, the Foxes and their two bat companions met up at the water distribution facility to meet with their new friend, Es. Their arrival caused quite a stir, as everyone on duty at the plant had heard about what was going on and taken to speculation (and a bit of wagering) on what was going to happen. Es introduced them to Zodaria, an imposing but somewhat sheepish young Brugnesh woman. She had drawn the lot of being the party’s escort. Wasting no time, the FLAIL agents and their reluctant guide climbed down an access hatch and found themselves in a chaotic maze of passages, pipes, crawl spaces and conduits. Doing their best to follow the main water lines that Nève had mapped out for them, they wandered through the darkness without incident for some time. Eventually they had their first encounter— the path ahead was draped with mysterious bright red vines beyond which a slimy yellow mass bulged out of a crevice. Taking no chances, the party loosed a volley of arrows and fire at the mysterious substance. It responded by laboriously tumbling towards them, occasionally duplicating itself as it approached. Fortunately, it succumbed to the onslaught of attacks and lost coherence before it was able to cause any substantial harm. Nève cleanly sliced the vines off of their purchase without event.

Confident in their victory, the group pressed on, but were soon met with another unexpected encounter. Ro found himself face to eyeless face with a disturbingly large frog like creature, lounging in a sewer trough. As the party set into combat once more with the amphibious monstrosity, Ro was made aware of something he had missed. A mass of brilliant blue goo dropped from the ceiling directly onto Ro, coating him with a thick layer of incredibly sticky slime as it crept down his body to the floor. With their toughest fighter nearly incapacitated, a brutal, protracted battle played out. Lixx helped to keep the tempo in their favor by assaulting the frog creatures simple mind, repeatedly sending it fleeing from the melee. As Ro began to eventually work himself free of the viscous substance that was restricting his movement, the group finally began to gain the upper hand—but not before the blue blob lashed out and landed a solid blow right in Drekin’s face, rendering him unconscious and barely clinging to life. Nève once again provided him divine aid, and the two mutant foes finally fell.

Battered and strained, the team is left with nothing to do put press on, hoping that they are close to their target, and that it won’t put up too much of a fight when they find it, whatever it may be…

Chapter 18

Sunday, February 18, 2024 Pressing on, the next encounter seemed innocuous at first glance, the party knew better than to proceed without caution. A long stretch of the walls, floor and ceiling of the tunnel they were following was covered with a patchwork of leafy red lichen. It shimmered with an almost metallic lustre when examined closely. A bountiful bed of brilliant yellow flowers blanketed the ground as well. While the team proposed a variety of ways to safely traverse the potential hazard, Lixx felt out the situation with their magic. They were able to ascertain that the lichen had some affinity for fire, but felt nothing from the flowers. Drawing on the cursed energy that lingered around all Grulems, Lixx easily withered away a patch of flowers, but had no effect on the lichen.

After a lengthy deliberation, it was finally decided that the party would just make their best effort to carefully walk through the suspicious flora with Lixx leading the way and clearing away the visual obstruction of the flowers. The plan kicked off successfully, with Lixx nimbly making their way several feet into the infested region. Things immediately took a turn however as Nève and Lyriel both tripped taking their first steps in to the field, landing hard amid the coppery foliage they had been trying so hard to avoid. The lichen immediately began to crackle and emit several loud pops, giving Lixx and their unfortunate followers just enough warning to leap clear of inferno that erupted into the tunnel.

With confirmation that this was indeed dangerous, Ro set to examining the scene. As expected, the lichen was completely unburnt, but it did seem to have lost most of its color and shine. It did still register traces of chaos magic though, which seemed to be rapidly growing as lichen regained its color. For their second attempt, Lixx triggered the flames once again by tossing a pebble and then the team quickly ran through before it could recharge. Beyond the torrid growth the maze like quality of the tunnels began to diminish, narrowing to a single passage following a single large pipe. This suggested that they were headed in the direction of the farms, and Ro’s readings indicated that they were definitely approaching the source of the chaos magic. Before reaching their goal, the team encountered an acrid black blob along with a crimson colored ooze that seemed intent on mimicking the form of its attacker, but they were dispatched with minimal issue.

Not far from the end of the tunnel, the party found what they were looking for—the pipe was somehow split and twisted into an intricate geometric form before reforming back into a mundane tube. This strange knot coursed with off the chart levels of chaotic energy. Lixx recognized it as a pattern meant to draw in chaos magic. Clearly, this was the cause of the tainted farmland. In an attempt to disable the effect, Nève deployed a Scramble Egg. Despite the eggs producing very little physical force when detonated, the tangle of

 

 

pipework looked as though it had been struck with a large hammer. Ro’s scan indicated that the presence of chaos magic was greatly diminished, but not eliminated entirely. Satisfied that they had done what they could for the moment, the squad found their way out of a nearby access hatch and returned to FLAIL headquarters to report their findings and start coordinating the cleanup.

Upon hearing the details, Wildrem was prepared to mobilize a joint effort between the Municipal Utility Corps and the Magic Authority, but the agents suggested holding off for a bit first. If Rafalia returned to the site to repair the damage they had done, it would present an opportunity to ambush the slippery druid. With the director’s approval, the team returned to the tunnels to hide out and wait. After many uneventful hours crouching in the dark (save for a few oozy encounters) it was finally time for action. Rafalia stepped out of the earthen wall of the tunnel and set to work examining the distorted pipework. Wasting no time, the bats and foxes attacked, hoping to subdue their target before he could slip away. The six of them piled onto their foe, hoping to wrestle him into a set of Spellbinders. They were nearly successful, clasping one wrist and his neck, but before they could complete the binding he replied with a dazzling ball of fire that shimmered with unnatural colors and ushered Dreken into yet another brush with death. Fearing that Rafalia would slip away if they failed to get the last ring of the Spellbinders on, Ro slapped it on himself, activating them and tethering them together.

Unfortunately, while the Spellbinders are quite effective at preventing the casting of spells, they can’t prevent a druid from wildshaping. Rafalia easily slipped the bonds as he began to transform. His foes watched in horror as he took the form a huge, lanky wolf-like creature, but misshapen and retaining an uncomfortable degree of anthropoid features. He fought fiercely, but soon felt the tide beginning to turn against him. He fled the tunnel at a shocking pace, thanks to the enhancement of his aberrant animal form. Realizing that he was the only one who could hope to keep up with monstrous creature, Lyriel quickly took the form of a hawk and soared into pursuit. Though difficult to track, Lyriel did manage to catch sight of Rafalia en route to his sanctuary. Noticing the forest subtly shift in a way he recognized from watching the corn maze redirect its inhabitants a few days prior, he reported the location to his companions, feeling confident they would be able to make their way to the hiding place of their quarry this time. But what would they find there? And would they be ready?

Chapter 19:

Sunday, March 2, 2024 Fighting through injury and fatigue the FLAIL agents pursued Rafalia with haste, hoping to engage before he could recover. After a few hours of a grueling pace though, several members of the party began to succumb to exhaustion. Clearly, they would need to take a rest themselves before they would be ready for action. Once regrouped, they carefully made their way through the woods. Armed with Lyriel’s aerial observations of the region the group only got a little bit lost before encountering an unusual sight—a wall of trees growing close together in a perfect line. Thick brush and thorny vines filled in every gap among the tangle of trees, forming a perfect wall. Presuming this must be Rafalia’s domicile, the team went right to work hacking their way in. It was tedious and difficult but with some effort everyone made it inside.

Beyond the wall was a large open area surrounded on all sides by the same vegetative barrier and covered in dense canopy. Though the area was all natural, it still gave the impression of a laboratory. Patches of plants in various degrees of unnatural mutation grew in clearly purposeful arrangements. Scars of destructive magic were scattered all over. Two features stood out among the odd location. The first was a small pond in the far corner with an opaque surface and an opalescent shimmer. The other was circle of seven trees, each a different species, though difficult to identify as their foliage grew in the full spectrum of brilliant colors and oddly angular shapes. A heptagram flickered on the ground within the circle. It was unclear what was forming the lines, they seemed to dance around like colorful threads caught in the wind.

When Rafalia didn’t respond to the would be arrestors calls for surrender, they began to investigate the scene. Lixx felt out the trees, detecting a variety of elemental affinities, but no indication of intelligence. Ro set about carefully taking readings from the mysterious pond. Growing impatient, or perhaps just overwhelmed with curiosity, Nève plunged a hand right into the water, making contact with something thick and slimy. A familiar crimson colored ooze emerged and started to coalesce into some sort of humanoid form like its predecessors, but the full might of the party brought it down before it could take any meaningful action. In the fracas, Loy made the discovery that the unusual trees didn’t take kindly to being disturbed. As she took cover behind one, a dense cloud of ashes billowed out of the foliage forcing her to quickly grab a deep breath and find her way out of the cloud before being smothered.

At this point Rafalia finally made his presence known, taunting the interlopers with a booming voice that seemed to emanate from every living thing surrounding them. Ro replied with a confident boast of his own, which was met with four new squishy masses slinking out of the pond—two ochre jellies and two more crimson oozes. This initiated a protracted confrontation as the remarkably resilient orangish blobs soaked up attack after attack, escalating the pressure by replicating themselves. In the drawn out melee, the team finally had the opportunity to see what the mimicking red blobs had been attempting to do as one achieved a remarkable likeness of Ro—and then began

 

 

to fight with his same skill. Predictably, Drekin had yet another brush with death.

Satisfied that his antagonists were sufficiently softened up, Rafalia made a surprise appearance. He opened up with dazzling arc of electricity that seemed to weave in an out of this plane in the same way lightning normally dances through space. As before the FLAIL team attempted to subdue the druid with a set of spellbinders. Rafalia put up a stubborn resistance, bringing down Drekin and Nève with a prismatic burst of flame in the process. Loy administered healing to Drekin and Lixx snapped Nève back into action with a SPIDER. Once again, before he could be fully restrained, Rafalia transformed into a horrifying lanky wolf creature. In response, Lyriel took a chance morphing into something new that he wasn’t entirely sure he could even mimic—an owlbear like they had faced a few days prior. It taxed his body like no wildshape ever had before, but he manged to hold himself together and charged at his enemy with an uncharacteristic savage fury.

Despite his fearsome transformation, the righteous anger fueling the attacks of the Bats and Foxes soon overwhelmed Rafalia, reverting him to nechal form. Seeing the battle turn against him, he attempted to slip through the same wall of foliage he had emerged from. In his hasty retreat though, Ro got ahold of him and wrestled him to the ground while Lyriel continued to tear into him with his massive claws and beak. As the rest of the squad piled on, the fanatic druid was soon disabled by spellbinders, and then rendered unconscious for good measure.

Using their prisoner’s limp form as a pass, the team easily made their way through the forest wall to another chamber. Here, they saw a ring of enormous mutant flowers with an altar at the head. Upon the altar was a mysterious and dynamic polyhedral shape of indescribable substance. Carefully avoiding conflict with the monstrous plants, they approached the altar. Hearing sounds of struggling within, they pried the top of the altar off and found a bound and gagged Idym inside, doubtlessly slated for some sort of abominable experimentation. Cautiously releasing him, the FLAIL team made their acquaintance with TaChong, a naturalistic spiritual practitioner who had been taken prisoner by Rafalia while innocently wandering the woods. Noticing that his rescuers were in pretty rough shape, he quickly ingratiated himself by offering up some herbal relief.

Having done what they came to do, the crew of Foxes, Bats and newcomer TaChong gathered what they felt they could safely return. Nève bundled up the strange shape, which she found deeply compelling. With TaChong’s help, they discovered another similar object at the bottom of the pond. They decided the heptagram and its trees were best left to the Magic Authority’s clean up detail. After an uneventful trek back to the city, the group transferred Rafalia into the gaolor’s custody and debriefed Cayfus. He was particularly fascinated with the two chaos configurations in the agents’ possession, lamenting that he would likely have little time to study them before the librarian locked them away in the vault. Overcome with fascination, Nève plunged her hand in to the depths of one before handing it over, feeling something strange and new awaken deep in her mind…

With another tough case wrapped up the Foxes and Bats went their separate ways, perhaps with some new bonds (or grudges). Despite Cayfus’s insistence that they really should get checked out at the hospital, the weary agents opted to return to their home for a much needed rest, offering their easy going new companion a place to stay. With the mischievous shopping district disturbances seemingly under control and no other pending cases, what will the team do with their downtime? Will the peace last?

Interlude

Chapter 20: An invitation

Sunday, March 10, 2024 The next two months passed uneventfully. The containment effort of the Magic Authority continued to hold the mysterious shopping district disturbances at bay. The other FLAIL teams found their ways back into Dundarel and the infirmed Bats all made full recoveries, though they bore various forms of battle scars. The massive tasks of cleaning up Rafalia’s chaos mutations and Wiklam’s cult dealings waned, as did the populations memories of alien imposters and violent produce.

Time passed and TaChong, the Foxes’ unexpected house guest, showed no intention of moving on. He got on well with the team though and seeing as their roster had grown a little thin as of late, they inquired with Wyldrem about officially bringing him on to the team. With the simple act of binding himself to the team charter, it was done. With nothing to do until the next town meeting, the team took the time to hone their skills and get some well earned rest. Life was simple, until the letter arrived.

Ro woke one morning to find an elegantly appointed envelope sitting on the kitchen table, addressed to the team. Inside was a cryptic invitation, praising the teams skills and offering the opportunity to join an unnamed elite organization which the anonymous sender assured was at a higher tier even than FLAIL. The audition was set to take place at some coordinates outside of the town, two days before the next town meeting. As the rest of the team awoke and learned what was happening a spirited debate erupted. Everyone was both suspicious and curious. With about two weeks before the appointed meeting time, the Foxes put their investigative skills to work to see what they could learn about their unnamed potential benefactor. Even the head librarian and Valet Society had very little to offer in the way of clarity—in

 

 

fact they seemed to deepen the mystery. Lixx’s time in the library turned up a single missing page in an ancient history. The Valets indicated that a number of their associates who had taken part in the delivery of the letter had turned up dead. Faced with such a compelling mystery that was now showing some sinister undertones, there was nothing for the Foxes to do but follow through with the meeting and see where it lead.

The team opted to keep the whole ordeal under wraps until they could better ascertain who was involved, for fear of tipping off the enigmatic organization of their investigative efforts. Ever cautious, the arrived at the meeting place two days early in order to scope out the area and prepare themselves for whatever showed up. They found the meeting place to quiet and undisturbed however, with no signs of a pending ambush or sabotage. Having nothing else to do, they quietly and vigilantly waited out the long hours until the specified time. Its arrival brought little fanfare, just a mechanical carriage driven by an impressively crafted automaton. The group slowly made their way inside and took their seats. The carriage obediently resumed its journey. As time passed, the nervous passengers eventually realized that the windows had slowly been turning to and opaque black. They were also overcome with a powerful sleepiness, which all but Ro succumbed to. Hoping to not draw attention, Ro feigned sleep for the unknowably long journey.

When the carriage finally stopped the door opened and the sleeping team awoke. They found themselves in a moderately sized room of elegant stonework with no obvious indication of where the carriage might have entered. Except for one door bearing the same ornate skull logo as the seal on the invitation that had lead them here. Beyond that door was a small chamber with five beds and a pedestal holding a finely crafted wooden tablet of some complex artifacy. Upon being lifted from the pedestal it sprung to life with dials on its indicating 96:00, which a short time later transitioned to 95:59, suggesting a countdown had begun.

Beyond the chamber with the tablet lay a grand arcade stretching at least a hundred feet or so. On each side of the gallery were three regularly spaced alcoves housing various mysterious arrangements. Furthest down the hall on the left, a circlet of some arcane design sat atop a wooden box that it was wired into. To the right was a space that included a glass chamber, wooden table and stone slab. The middle left alcove was walled off and protected by a locked door. Opposite that was a winding path formed by a series of low walls. The nearest two were more straightforward in their purpose—to the left a rack of ranged weapons sat next to a low wooden counter that partitioned off the alcove and to the right was a rack of melee armaments and six intricately crafted sparring dummies.

After some trial and error, the Foxes surmised that the tablet was a sort of key to activate the trials in each chamber. A set of large buttons on the tablet were the activation triggers and indicated the level of difficulty, ranging from bronze star, to silver moon, to gold sun and finally onyx skull. Somewhat by chance, TaChong found himself the first contestant and easily pounded his way through the flailing automata with a quarter staff. Nève, Loy and Ro followed, facing opponents of escalating skill and lethality. Apart from Loy letting her guard slip and taking a solid whack in the side of the head, the team made it through otherwise unscathed. The tablet seemed to indicate that they accumulated 25 points in the process.

Next up was the trial in the opposite chamber, which unsurprisingly proved to be a shooting gallery. Lixx, Nève, Loy and Ro took on the respective levels of difficulty, earning another 20 points after a tense series of rounds, culminating in the targets shooting back at the player.

And so the Foxes find themselves cut off from the world in an unknown location, playing a series of dangerous games, with unknown challenges lying ahead and 94:25 remaining on their countdown…

Chapter 21: Trying times

Sunday March 24, 2024

29 Bro, 204/6