Refuge

The Heroes of Caer Kahziel

The otherworldly entity, a vile Beholder, glared ferociously at the assembled crowd and began to descend upon it. Screams rang out as many ran in terror of the foreign horror, but the adventurers remained along with the stalwart Eladrin guards, readying their weapons for combat.

Ruin dashed over to Mist, shouting, “Trust me on this one!” He whispered a strange spell into her ear, polymorphing her into a mighty hellsworn. Only momentarily taken aback by this development, she charged headlong into battle.

The Beholder was unlike anything the seasoned combatants had seen or even read about before. Frost’s fingers lingered momentarily over his journal as he reached for his orb and began channeling his psychic energy to keep the abomination at bay. Even while defending itself from the party’s maneuvers, the monster unleashed rays of destruction from its eye stalks that caught several Eladrin warriors in their path and reduced them to piles of ash.

Despite these losses, the battle seemed to be going in the party’s favor as they pushed it back from the teleportation circle and The Lady’s sapling, which was growing at an uncanny rate. They tore its vile flesh from its skull, and the otherworldly monster bled gold and metal. However, the tide turned against them and quickly overwhelmed them. As the party looked into the Beholder’s hateful eyes, they felt waves of psychic energy probing their thoughts. With its hypnotic gaze, the Beholder took control of Mist and Ruin, stopping them dead in their tracks and turning them against their allies.

Mist and Ruin watched helplessly, trapped within their own minds, as they were forced to strike at their comrades to kill. Mist lunged at Reynard, who only barely managed to avoid her scimitar impaling his gut. Her enhanced demonic form slammed against his body, and he pushed her away as she regained her sense of self and returned to the battle. But by that point, they were all already in over their heads.

The Beholder had gained the upper hand, launching its rays of destruction in every direction. The remaining Eladrin guards ran away in terror, leaving the party alone in the desperate struggle. One of the creature’s rays struck Frost, who tried to resist its searing burns but could feel it rending his flesh even as he focused his mind to keep the Beholder — and his own allies — away.

In the end, it was too much. As much as he tried to ignore the pain and continue fighting, his mental fortitude reached its limits, and his fragile body collapsed. Still conscious, but barely aware, he watched the hopeless scene play out as the Beholder’s otherworldly power continued to dissolve the flesh from his bones. Moments later, he passed away in agony.

Mist saw Frost’s body fall still and the life fade from his eyes. Her ward was dead; she had failed her clan; and she was being controlled like a puppet by a hideous abomination. The infernal rage possessing her from Ruin’s spell brought her to hitherto unknown heights of primal rage, and she charged straight into the Beholder’s central eye, absorbing its blast and plunging her scimitar into it to the hilt. With her otherworldly strength, she lifted the creature over her head and hurled it across the room.

And then there was silence.

The creature’s flesh burned away, revealing a skull of gold and eyes made of precious gemstones. A quick scan of the surroundings showed the party that the battle was truly won; they had survived, save for Frost. They gathered around his maimed body, and not even Reynard’s healing technomancy could heal his grave wounds and recall his spirit from the beyond.

Ruin called out, “Lady! I request an audience!” She appeared from the trunk of her tree, which had grown up into the trunk of the tree above in the brief span of the battle. Solemnly, Ruin offered his own soul to The Lady’s service if she could bring Frost back from the beyond. She accepted his offer, and she disappeared along with Frost’s body.

He awoke not long after in a strange, fantastical place with colorful birds and animals and lush, vibrant foliage. As he reached for his journal, he saw a squat, homely creature standing above him that apparently looked like a cross between an elf-on-a-shelf and a Troll doll: It was The Lady. She told him that she had brought him back from death, and he recalled those last moments: “Yes, I remember… the pain was — excruciating.” “Yes,” she replied, “I don’t really care. Off you go.” “But I have so many ques—” Frost began to object, but in an instant he was already back among his comrades.

The party said farewell to Ruin, who had sworn himself to The Lady’s service eternally. His sacrifice was far greater than Frost and Mist knew how to express their gratitude, but Frost swore to him that, when Frost returned to his people, they would all know and celebrate the name of “Anjax” — Ruin’s true name — for generations to come.

The normally dour people of Caer Kahziel were overwhelmed with joy, as the growth of The Lady’s tree reconnected them with the mystical Feywild. They honored the party as heroes — although they assured the party that Caer Kahziel was never in any real danger from one creature — and regaled them with feasts and celebrations that would continue for weeks.

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Bridging the Divides
There is more in this world and the next...

The meeting with Armos was awkward, to say the least. Frost remained largely silent, and Armos invited the party to meet with him at his estate, but was evasive when asked for any details along the way. Unable to put up with the simmering tension, Meryn, who had returned from fishing, charged at Armos and Frost. A battle broke out, and Armos put his shadow magic on display once again. Frost demanded his friends to stop, but the battle continued until he revealed that he had a magical timebomb implanted in his chest, waiting for Armos’s word to set it off. Armos eventually turned into a dragon and flew away.

Frost revealed to his party what had happened at Armos’s tower, and the party remembered Olaran the Grim, the powerful Nevydian wizard they had helped in King’s Crossing. They asked for his help with a Sending ritual, and he invited them. The party made haste to Spire, which they found in turmoil. A prison break had occurred just before their arrival, and Arianne the necromancer escaped. The party teleported to Olaran’s tower and, due to the gravity of the situation, explained the whole situation with Armos. Examining the runes and plate on Frost’s chest, Olaran explained that, while Armos could track their location with it, he was unable to actually kill Frost or turn him into an undead minion with it. With the help of Meryn and Ruin, he was able to extract the chestplate and deactivate it (Frost pocketed it for later examination).

Olaran also told the party that Jayce Penderghast turned out to have been conspiring with someone to acquire Olaran’s spire — and an inscription found on one of his personal effects turned out to be similar to one linked to Armos.

Unfortunately, Olaran knew even less about the relationship between the spires, amulet, and anything else than the party did. However, the discussion reminded him of several fringe theories about different planes of existence in which the gods, devils, and other otherworldly beings are said to reside, but he had little else to offer. When told of the Ancient Amulet’s power and origins, he offered to keep the amulet for safekeeping, but was talked out of it when the party reminded him that a five-headed dragon was after it. Meryn insisted that the party hole up in the spire and wait for Armos to appear so that they could confront him, but the others, particularly Ruin, wanted to take the amulet to Caer Kahziel. They decided on the latter course of action after much argument, deciding that Armos was too powerful and that they needed to stay on the move.

Before teleporting to the fey city, the party took a detour back to Spire on an idea of Frost’s. He asked Olaran to teach him the Speak With Dead ritual so that they could try to get an answer out of the Tiefling corpse underneath the farm in Spire. They returned to the farm and waited for Frost to master the ritual, at which point they immediately set to work performing it. The corpse’s skeletal mouth slowly opened, and the party waited in great anxiety as its raspy whisper croaked out answers… It told them that the amulet was a gift for her coronation by the archdevil Baalzenefarath-Ra, who was her adviser and consort, and the amulet was meant to protect her. However, she knew nothing of the stone spires across the land.

The party then quickly made their way to Caer Kahziel, sans Meryn, who insisted on staying behind. The party gave their respects and said good-bye, just in case they did not return from whatever happened there, but vowed to return soon.

During teleportation, the bearer of the amulet had noticed that it caused a most turbulent reaction. Before going to Caer Kahziel, Frost gave the amulet to Friedrich to hold. Upon their arrival, the displacer beast immediately began inscribing new runes around the circle. Frost tried to stop it, but it lashed out at him, and Ruin told him to wait and see what happened… Suddenly, The Lady cried out, “At last! The Ritual is complete! And now the final ingredient… Your blood!” Friedrich lashed out at Ruin, whose blood splattered on the circle and instantly caused a flash of bright red, fiery light, from which emerged a most hideous devil — one that Frost immediately recognized as the creator of the Ancient Amulet. The archdevil roared in laughter, but was suddenly caught up in a white light and vanished.

The Lady appeared in her own form and planted a seed in the circle. She commanded Ruin to make sure that the seed grew, and then vanished. The Eladrin and Reynard suddenly felt an intense wave of emotion, and some began crying that they could feel the Feywild…

The bright light vanished, and briefly, one could see a deep, starry blackness, which in turn vanished. However, before the portal closed for good, an outsider from a very far realm appeared, hovering over the party with its eye stalks glaring at them…

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INTERMEZZO: Into The Wastes
Fragile alliances and ancient enemies

In the far reaches of the Wastes, tensions were rising over a recent massive increase in the amount of lost livestock. The local tribes agreed to send one representative each to investigate the mysterious disappearances: A tiefling elementalist, a goliath berserker, a pixie battlemind, and a kenku assassin. From the site of a recent disappearance, they tracked down a nest of drakes, but drake attacks on livestock are not so uncommon in the Wastes. The drakes attacked the party, but the pixie was able to communicate with the mother drake and learn that something else was taking off with the livestock.

The party endured the harsh elements to reach a stone spire in the middle of the desert, and in the distance they could vaguely detect activity around the base of the tower. The kenku summoned phantom steeds of the Wild Hunt, and the party rode them into battle against the band of Nevydian humans camped at the spire’s base. During the battle, a mage attempted to break through the stone wall in order to channel the marauding Wastelanders inside to their deaths, but the party slaughtered the Nevydian interlopers and took their leader captive. After resting, the tiefling and kenku attempted to finish the work of opening the tower, but they inadvertently caused the stone wall to erupt into punishing shrapnel. Nevertheless, the way was open, and they were immediately beset by three wraiths, whose Stygian chanting clouded their minds and nearly brought them to their knees in sorrow and rage.

The party banished the wraiths and proceeded to investigate the interior. Inside, the magic users examined a warded teleportation circle, and the others noticed that, along the far wall, the dessicated corpse of a dragonborn opened its eyes and watched them…

The corpse began to hiss out words and rose to engage the party. It did not attack, but told the intruders that they would never be allowed to leave. The party attempted to show due respect to the ancient one, vowing to leave and never return. The dragonborn offered to let them live if they would stay and protect him for the rest of their lives and beyond, but this first offer, naturally, was declined. After more bargaining, the ancient one revealed that the crystalline dagger stuck into its chest was an extraordinarily powerful artifact, through which all the souls of the dead believe that they can reach heaven. “But there is no way to heaven from this world,” he told the Wastelanders. The dagger, he said, must be protected at all costs and never taken from the Wastes. Since the despised Nevydians apparently knew something of the ancient power, the party agreed to serve as the object’s guardians, signing a pact in blood.

After the corpse handed the dagger to the pixie, who would become the new bearer of the dagger, it crumbled into dust. They returned to their tribes victorious, but in uneasy spirits…

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Intrigue & Shadows
Wherein Armos turns into a five-headed dragon

The party attempted to squeeze information out of Arianne, but she was unwilling to cooperate unless she would be freed afterwards. The party flatly refused, unwilling to let a necromancer in search of ancient, dark power loose in the countryside. After much resistance from her, they decided to take her back to Spire and create a public outcry against Armos and his involvement with the necromancer.

On the road back, they were beset by gnoll slavers from Nevydia. On the leader’s corpse, the party found a decree by the Overking himself that Mist, Frost, Meryn, Matis, and Valek were to be brought to trial for crimes against Nevydia…

However, the party was worn down from the battle against the gnolls, and they decided to wait until nightfall to enter Spire so that they would not draw attention until they were ready. They left the uncooperative necromancer in a room of the manor that Meryn had arranged to be warded against magic. They then realized that their dinner with Armos was that night, and they quickly decided to attend and act casual.

The dinner party itself was much like any dinner party, but Armos grew increasingly anxious as the evening went on and Arianna did not show up. Much food was eaten, small talk was made, and little of incident occured until the guests were leaving. Ruin, thanking their host for the feast, hugged him, and in that moment unwittingly blurted out that they had Arianna captive in the manor! Ruin quickly chalked it up to too much wine and old grudges coming to the fore, and Armos let it slide.

The party decided to spend the night at the manor and stay extra vigilant, certain that they would be set upon in the night. Frost stayed awake, using a divine ritual to rest his mind and body while staying completely alert. In the wee hours of the morning, he just barely caught sight of an intruder lurking in the shadows and gave a cry of alarm before giving pursuit. The rest of the party awoke just in time to find Frost dropping the Ancient Amulet in front of the front door that was open to the dark night. They fought against a shadowy opponent who was capable of reaching from the shadow into people’s bodies with a tenebrous limb, dominating their minds.

Ruin managed to land a great blow on the intruder, revealing its face in a flash of light to be that of Armos! It was a brutal battle that drained the still-exhausted adventurers of their fighting spirit as they pursued Armos into the dark night, but they seemed to be gaining the upper hand until he, beginning to waver in endurance, suddenly erupted in a shadowy blast and transformed into a great, five-headed dragon. The party was blinded, and when the shadowy veil dissipated, they saw that not only was the dragon gone, but so was Frost, who had been incapacitated during the struggle…

The adventurers attempted to get answers from Arianne one more time after seeing of what dark magic Armos himself was capable, but she remained intransigent. Ruin, fed up with the situation, led the party to Armos’s manor, dragging the necromancer with them. Armos was absent, and the guards were bewildered by the party’s story, unwilling or unable to believe it… The city guard was summoned, and the party and Arianne subsequently imprisoned as they refused to leave otherwise. Later that morning, Thormund Kane, the town steward, came to weigh in on the matter. Ruin, Reynard, and Mist managed to convince him to free them to search for Frost while priests from other towns were brought in to weigh in on the charges of necromancy. They searched intensely, but the odds were stacked against them. Until…

Meanwhile, Frost awoke in an unknown location before Armos. Armos interrogated him for everything that he knew about Meyvn’s Sacrifice and the Ancient Amulet. Armos even offered him freedom if Frost were willing to work for him, but Frost balked at the idea of helping the power-hungry man in his pursuit for ancient, destructive power. Frost was characteristically noncompliant, but the old merchant had ways of getting what he wanted. He tied up Frost and incapacitated him with necrotic magic, and Frost woke up several times amid excruciating pain as Armos worked at carving mysterious symbols into the shifter’s chest… When the work was done, Armos told Frost that Frost would do as he said, or else, with a word, Armos would kill him and turn him into an undead servant; if Armos were to die, the same would happen. He took Frost out of the tower, and…

Ruin, Reynard, and Mist, with the help of serious investigation and friendly spirits, discovered Armos and Frost on the road…

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Ambush-ception

The party quarrelled for a long time over how best to get the jump on Armos and the necromancer. The first night, Ruin ran off to the slums of Spire to find thugs willing to create a distraction outside of Armos’s mansion. He found a tiefling mercenary, but the mercenary ran away upon discovering that Ruin was working for the Heroes of the Adventurer’s Guild. Ruin knocked him out and rowed him over to the manor, whereupon he was questioned and roped into the plot in a lesser role.

The ruse seemed to be of little consequence, and the rifts continued to form in the party as argued over whether to take a more or less direct approach. Eventually, they decided to send Ruin outside of the city and approach Armos with an offer to help them track him down. He would not go personally, and his lover, he said, was out of town and would return by their scheduled feast.

Meryn insisted that they take the road to Lowland Bluff to possibly catch the necromancer on her return, but there were as many suggested courses of action as there were party members. Ultimately, the party decided to seek external arbitration: Frost studied the Hand of Fate ritual, which the party performed following a night of study and anticipation outside of the city…

When presented with the options of returning to the city to attack Armos, returning to the city and staying at home, and taking the road to Lowland Bluff, the ephemereal hand of fate pointed south. The party moved stealthily through the forest and came upon a trio of ogres. Though the party got the jump on them, they soon discovered that there was another party involved as several corpses began getting up and moving.

After a brush with death, the party knocked the necromancer unconscious, instantly ending her control over the undead. They prepared to interrogate her…

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Blood Harvest
Down on the farm.

Past the portcullis, the party crept into a dark chamber and fought a female necromancer who commanded a legion of skeletal warriors and a monstrous undead construct formed from human and oxen corpses. While the party fought the undead, the wounded necromancer fled the battlefield; Frost grabbed for her, but was only able to tear off a bit of her cloak.

After the battle, the party discovered that the necromancer had been digging up a grave, which contained several jewels and a nondescript amulet. Upon closer inspection, it was discovered that the amulet had possessed immense power long ago, but had been cut off from its power source. The chamber in which they had fought was some sort of burial chamber, lined with bas reliefs of tiefling burial rites.

The party returned to the manor and performed an Object Reading ritual on the amulet. The images conjured up were disturbing: A giant, scaly, bat-winged creature forging the amulet with flaming hands; a city and its environs set ablaze and reduced to a wasteland; and its owner, a beautiful tiefling sovereign, murdered by an assassin’s dagger. Shortly afterwards, the merchant Armos appeared, and seemed to take interest in the party’s most recent adventure.

The party dined that night with Armos, who also brought his “paramour” along. The two seemed intensely interested in the burial chamber and whether anything was retrieved, especially the amulet that Armos had spotted during his previous visit. An air of suspicion pervaded the dinner party. Armos and his lover invited the party to dinner in two days’ time, and as they were leaving, Frost caught a glimpse of a fresh wound on the lady’s leg. Meryn followed the two stealthily, but was detected lurking outside the lady’s chambers. The party performed another Object Reading ritual on the tattered necromancer’s cloak, and discovered that the necromancer was, in fact, Armos’s lover.

During the night, Ruin attempted to sneak into Frost’s room. Ruin told Frost that, through a combination of magical divination and intuition, he had concluded that the amulet was related in some way to his tiefling heritage, and that it had to be taken to the fey city of Caer Kahziel, preferably immediately and without informing the others. Frost believed him, but was unwilling to hand the amulet over to Ruin to do this himself; nor was he willing to accompany Ruin without Mist. And so, they waited until morning…

The following morning was ripe with strife. Meryn insisted that going to Caer Kahziel was a fool’s notion and attempted to convince Ruin that they will kill non-fey on sight. Mist did not trust Ruin or Frost’s “scholarly whims,” but Frost insisted that discovering more about such a powerful magical item was precisely in line with the aim of their journey. Amid the discord, Ruin retreated to his room, followed closely by Meryn, who discovered him being berated by an otherworldly visage that appeared in the face of his displacer beast, Friedrich. Ruin pleaded with the party to forgive his deceit and revealed the true story behind the source of his arcane powers. The otherworldly being held his soul and would deprive him of his powers if he failed to bring the amulet to Caerkahziel…

After further argument, the party decided to get what answers they could from Armos and his lover before anything else. Knowing the necromancer’s secret, the adventurers knew that they had the chance to lure her into an ambush of their own by spreading a rumor that would draw her out. Turning to the shifter nomads, Meryn said, “Perhaps it is time you returned to your people.”

Frost nodded in understanding. “And so they shall think…”

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Zombies A(r)e My Neighbors

After returning from Raven Rock, the adventurers learned that a nearby farmer and his entire family had gone missing. The farmer had been distraught over the recent appearance of a sinkhole in the middle of his field, ruining his yield. Later, he reported seeing mysterious lights around the pit at night, and the next day he and his wife had disappeared without a trace.

Suspecting strange forces at work, the party visited the farm. There were no signs of struggle within the house, and nothing indicating that anyone had come from outside the property; the only tracks lead further into the sinkhole.

At the bottom, they found a carved stone door with ancient inscriptions of unknown origin. Detecting danger within, the adventurers used their wits to stealthily enter and vanquish the abominable undead that lurked in the shadows.

The party evaded very magical and very lethal traps as well as more undead as they explored further into the structure. They found the farmer and his wife transformed into violent undead creatures of ice and poison and were forced to destroy them. After this, they discovered the symbol of Zehir, the evil god of poison and snakes. Beyond that, an iron portcullis. They gathered their courage and stood before it…

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(Eagle) Riders in the Sky
A powerful enemy shows its hand

The adventurers had a period of respite following their return to Spire. As promised, the locals built the “Heroes of Spire” a manor on the nearby island, and the slaves rescued outside of the Winter King’s fortress offered their services as servants. Matis and Valek decided to go their own way.

Mist, Meryn, and Frost reluctantly settled into their new home and spent much time shooing away well-wishers and sycophants requesting their attention, including Armos the merchant. The peace did not last long, however. A week following the return of the party, two adventurers looking for glory, Reynard the elf and Ruin the tiefling, arrived and said that they had witnessed Matis and Valek being attacked by giant eagles on the road. Not long after, the steward, Tormund, summoned the party and asked for their assistance investigating attacks by giant eagles against Fey travelers in the Free Commons. The party knew that Nevydians often used trained eagles to hunt for new slaves, so they decided to investigate the matter.

The adventurers arrived at Raven Rock to find the city virtually abandoned, and moments later they were attacked by a rider on a giant eagle that attempted to carry them off. After a brutal battle, the party managed to turn the tide, killing most of the raiding party and just barely capturing one of the attackers—a pixie—before he could flee.

The pixie revealed that they had been sent by their Nevydian commanders, including Greagoir, the eagle rider, to hunt down those responsible for freeing thousands of gold worth of slaves in the mountains. Being unable to locate the adventurers, the Nevydians decided to send raiding parties deep within the Free Commons in order to lure the adventurers into a trap so that they could be captured and taken to Greystone.

The pixie pleaded to be left alive to face a trial, but the party was divided. Frost and Mist wanted to bring wasteland justice to the slaver with an unceremonious execution. Ruin was hesitant to simply let the pixie go. Meryn, however, insisted that the pixie’s ignorance of certain matters entitled him to mercy, and told him that he would be allowed to live and return home if he vowed to tell everyone that the Nevydians have, in fact, been enslaving Fey. The rest of the party silently acquiesced to Meryn’s judgment on the matter, and the pixie went free.

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A Legend Begins, Part III
Wrong turn.

After defeating the Winter King, the adventurers arranged to head home. As they argued over whether to take the longboat, Frostwing, whose magical enchantments were dissolving, or the teleportation circle, which they assumed might lead to Spire, they heard the sound of horns in the distance. They realized that it was the tell-tale sound of a band of Nevydian slave-hunting gnolls, some scrambled for the boat, but Meryn charged into battle to save the slaves. The Vryloka, Matis, pretending to be the Winter King with his crown atop his head, commanded Frostwing to fly them into battle. Faithfully, it did so, crumbling into splinters as it struck the gnolls and the ground beneath it.

The gnolls were defeated, and most of the slaves rescued, but one slave-catcher – a pixie – darted away before anyone could catch him.

With no solution other than hoofing it the long way to Spire, the party, with slaves in tow, decided to take the teleportation circle.

They ended up in a spire, but not the one in Spire. Instead, they were in the private residence of Olaran the Grim in King’s Crossing, located in the heart of Nevydia. The party attempted to negotiate to be sent to Spire, but the old wizard saw through their ruse and attempted to extort a favor out of them first – to have them kill a local slave merchant, Jayce Penderghast. Matis inquired to the old wizard as to whether his ass was jealous of all the shit that came out of his mouth, and combat ensued. The party’s arcanists, the scholarly shifter, Frost, and Valek, attempted to break the wards on the teleportation circle so that the party could return to Nevydia, and nearly succeeded, but the wizard insisted that he wished them no harm and that they should be happy to have the opportunity to kill a slaver if they hated Nevydia so much. Frost used the opportunity to press for a larger reward, and the wizard consented.

The party located Jayce Penderghast in the basement of his tavern with a very depressed owlbear. They killed him and escaped through a sewer grate with a dozen of his slaves as, from upstairs, the sound of the town guard arriving reached their ears.

In the sewer, the party was ambushed by a gelatinous cube. Frost and the cube played tug-of-war with Matis for a while before the party achieved victory and escaped outside.

In the fresh air, the slaves ran off into the countryside, and the party returned to Olaran the Grim, who, as good as his word, sent them back to Spire.

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Cairn of the Winter King, Part II
The king is dead.

The adventurers were greeted a man claiming to be the Winter King with the promise of rest and a great feast in thanks for returning the Scepter. However, the adventurers immediately detected deception both verbal and magical, and the man admitted that he was only a servant of the Winter King. When the adventurers refused to give him the Scepter, he lured them into a trap and attacked.

The illusions melted away after the battle was won, and the bounteous feast was revealed to be heaps of bloody flesh and gnawed bones. Also, Meryn ate some. Ew.

After resting from the brutal journey and combat, they became aware that one of their party, the thri-kreen mercenary, had wandered off in the night and vanished. Fortunately, they discovered a thawed-out vryloka who joined them. The adventurers explored the rest of the fortress, defeating other minions of the Winter King and finding sanctuary in the temple of the dwarven god Moradin, who hated the Winter King for his enslavement of the dwarves that had constructed the citadel.

They made their way to the Winter King’s throne room, whereupon he offered to make them his vassals as he returned to conquer the rest of the continent. They refused in no uncertain terms.

The Winter King fought them ferociously, but in the end he was defeated, his icy armor melting away and his wizened body crumbling to dust – all that remained was his icy crown.

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