Dear Diary…visiting relatives

It wasn’t all good news. Ronhass says Mikael’s animals just got more and more restless over the week we were gone, until some of them just disappeared. He says one of the local druids took the canines toward the wilderness so they could live nice, quiet lives like normal canines…but no one has heard about Lulu. I guess that is a good thing. If stories trickle in of missing toddlers and house pets, we’ll have do mount an investigation.

Lydia has been spending a lot of time in the libraries since we got back, though she avoids the Arcane Academy. Raven goes with her sometimes; he says he wants to learn all he can about dragons, though he also says most of the books in the library about dragons are trash. About the Astral Plane, too. A lot of misinformation out there…

Ezekiel has been doing some more shopping. Tomorrow morning Aliana wants to get back to the front, and get Fetifencer to where he was made to be – killing demons. If he can be happy about anything, I’m sure he’s happy to be out of some alien’s dresser drawer and back into the fight.

Heiron took Usin down to one of the training yards to practice stances and stuff.

Frankly, there’s not much for me to do here. I tried going with Mikael when he went to meditate in the Grove, but the other druids kinda gave off that “what do you want, you metal-wearing person” vibe, so I left.

Realized the windows in the Temple of Rao are telling a story of some kind. I’ll have to spend more time looking at them before I figure it out though. Suppose I could ask one of the acolytes, but I always hate to say anything there.

[sketches]

****

Mikael found a carter crazy enough to add wheel to our “mind-boat,” so now we have a wagon to drive home. Raven asked the war horses if they preferred pulling the wagon to carrying us, then laughed. I’m afraid to ask him what they said…but at any rate, I expect they’re glad to be moving and doing after months of inaction.

We thanked Lord Erasmus for the palace’s hospitality, and set out this morning.

****

Took our time the first day, since the dragons don’t move very fast (Mitrik is probably happy to have them out of the way).

We had just set up camp when a whole caravan of bright Tzigani wagons came up the road. I got kinda nervous when they pinned us against the river with their wagons, but they acted pretty friendly. The kids went wild when they saw the dragons, and Dree and the boys had a busy time supervising as they slid down their backs. They managed to keep anyone from being melted (the dragons handled it pretty well, all things considered, since they can be skittish sometimes).

Some of the adults looked familiar, and sure enough they’re the same Tzigani group we met so long ago on our way to Homlette. Raven gave the special dagger he’s been carrying around to the boy, and Ezekiel swapped stories with the older folks. The old fortune-teller lady winked at Raven once, and he kept circulating in the group all evening. I think we still have all our stuff…

They told some tales of a giant turtle eating boats on the river, and rumors of a dragon haunting the mountains to the west, but otherwise things seem to be quiet along the road.

Ezekiel gave them a proper Ezekiel send-off this morning, and after they left Raven looked different somehow…maybe something about the eyes, or his forehead.

**

Saw some horses with wings flying overhead today! Fang didn’t like them, or got scared, or something, and took out a gooseberry bush beside the road. And suddenly the monks’ habit of wearing nothing but robes makes more sense…

****

Arrived today in Thornward, the capital of Bissel and a fortress city on the border with Ket. Everything seems nice and quiet, and we found someone to direct us to Alpheus’ post — a fort a few days further west. We didn’t come this far north on our way east…but the weather has been lovely.

****

4 Fireseek

Alpheus (and Ezekiel’s brother Peter) are stationed at a fort and village along the border. If Alpheus was surprised to see us, he didn’t show it.

It was nice to actually meet his wife. I mean, I kinda remember when they got married…but I certainly wasn’t involved much. Their boy says he wants to be a knight when he grows up. He talks…like a lot.

I think Ez is having fun getting more time to talk to his brother, too.

Alpheus says Ket has been quiet and polite lately, which is nice. After all the drama we seem to have been in the past few months, a little “nothing to report” feels good. There are even rumors that the kingship of Ket is suffering a power struggle, which I hope means they’ll ignore their neighbors for a bit.

Alpheus has kept in touch with Tomlin (I have a letter to deliver when we go to present ourselves to the Grand Duke), but not too many of the others. He says Reginald actually got married at long last, and seems to have settled down, so I guess that’s good. There are worse. A bandit or assassin would be worse.

Someone mentioned that my birthday is just a few days from now, so Ezekiel said we could stay until then. I think Alpheus’ boys are having too much fun teasing the dragons.

****

I can’t remember when I had such a nice birthday. I mean, Mama always used to bake me a strudel or something, but then Bartholomew and Reginald would pitch me into the pond so Archie could pull me out, and on the whole it wasn’t fun.

Raven got me a mirror so I could “watch behind and everywhere all the time.” Am I supposed to mount it on my shield? Is it a veiled threat? It won’t work when I’m invisible, will it?

Ezekiel, on the other hand, got a beautiful darkwood bow with nice tension. He must have gotten help with it, since I don’t think he’s personally interested.

Mikael made a miniature bow for his peg-leg lizard. I’m not sure if he wanted me to teach his lizard to shoot…I was a bit busy “trying out” my new bow for Alpheus’ boys…which was probably the better use of time anyway.

So now all we have to do is pay our respects to the Grand Duke, and hopefully get a lead on an unused piece of land where Ezekiel can set up his temple, and Raven his monastery. Oh, also Mikael needs to find the Great Druid of Obed-Hai and present himself. He says it’s time he tested himself against…and then he starts mumbling, and I’m not sure if it’s “the law of the jungle” or “natural selection” that he says next. Or “the natural order.” Or “the Order of the Bugle.” Seriously, I have no idea what he said.

Alpheus kinda asked me what my plans were for my “next stage in life,” meaning marriage…but I kinda have a lot going on in my life to worry about that. What with demi-demons and slavers and wars, there’s just a lot. Besides, I think Ehlonna…not that she’s one of these jealous ones…but who am I to go stepping on her plans? She kept me alive all this time, or sent me back when the circumstances required it, and if all of that was so I can get married…well I guess it must be quite a girl.

Dear Diary…fighting green aliens

Traveling in the boat felt much faster (maybe because we didn’t have to constantly make sure we weren’t leaving anyone behind). Lydia told us what she knew about the skinny greenskins – which wasn’t much. Apparently they live here in the Astral Plain…but it’s hard for me to imagine any creature really belonging in this “which direction is up?” place.

Before long, a structure came into view. From a distance, it looked like a jack – with a central spherical hub and four towers coming off it like spokes. As we got closer, we could see each tower had a clear pyramid on top, looking in each direction…and one tower had a figure inside the pyramid. There was also a knobby thing like a chunk of rock connected to the hub.

We circled the place from a safe distance, sizing it up. Aliana said she definitely felt that the sword was inside, but couldn’t be sure of more than that. So we started the age-old debate about whether we could do this sneakily, or whether we would end up slaughtering another fortress full of enemies. Aliana seemed a bit shocked by that, but you’d think a paladin would understand the need to slaughter things – like demons.

We decided to try sneaky…not because it’s worked in the past, of course, but for the sake of it. Also just in case the long-haired greenies weren’t quite so squishy as they first appeared (they must have something to them, to survive in this treacherous place).

We parked the boat a safe distance away, and left Ezekiel’s portable hole tied to it. Continuing on “mind-feet,” we snuck up to the huge doors we’d noticed and – Ezekiel went and knocked before opening them and going in. (Like, either knock – then wait for your hosts – or don’t knock, and maintain your cover. Whatever. This is how we roll. It all worked out, anyway, because their look-out was deaf, I guess.)

Inside the hub, the room was spherical – with doors to the four towers spaced around in the cardinal directions (as close as makes no difference, anyway). One of the big bat-winged boats floated motionless on one side, with room for probably three more beside it…so the space was plenty big. Another pair of huge doors stood just opposite the entrance.

I’d been worried about how we would see in this place, but light doesn’t seem to be an issue. Outside, you can’t really tell where the light is coming from – the whole grey fog is just “visible” – and in the fortress, there aren’t really shadows or lamps or anything you’d expect in a “real” place. It’s not even like we’ve all been granted dark vision – we just can see, that’s all. I won’t begin to theorize how invisibility works here…I guess I should be glad I didn’t behave like Ezekiel’s bag, and turn into a blinding creature of light (though that would be kinda cool, too).

Anyway, Raven and I scouted out the towers (since you move by thinking, I didn’t even jingle my chainmail, unless I moved my arms or something…I felt like an unstoppable ghost. Good thing you don’t get gear like this while you’re a kid). The one figure we’d noticed was another green alien – but he was staring out into the surrounding space, and didn’t think to check for enemies behind him. I don’t know if there should have been sentries in the other towers or not – maybe they were on break or something. They certainly didn’t do their job.

Still pretending to be sneaky, we checked out the next door. Lydia said a wizard had locked it, but it didn’t affect her somehow because her mind was stronger or something. However, there was a bar across the door on the other side, and after Raven couldn’t get it unhooked, Lydia cast something off a scroll to send a ghost through to unlock it (no, that’s not how she explained it, but I like it my way. It makes Ezekiel twitch).

The doors opened into a tunnel with a couple doors, and a room on the far end. Raven opened one door – and suddenly we were in battle again. Three green aliens attacked us from that room – their long hair streaming and twisting in the weightless space. They wore splint mail and spun two-handed swords that sparkled whitely.

Once Raven, Aliana, and Ezekiel were engaged there, the opposite door opened, and an alien with a helmet stepped out – right into Tressarian, I’m pleased to say! Two guards from the end of the hall charged in the join the fray, and Heiron kicked off from the floor to intercept them (crashing into the ceiling, I’m afraid, but he was getting better).

The ones we fought on the boat must have been grunts, and these were officers. They knew how to handle their big swords, even in the more confined space, and they could take a lot of punishment. I don’t think they could see invisible things, though, so all I had to worry about was connecting with Tressarian.

Then all at once – there was a clang, and all the aliens snarled and grimaced and blinked like they were momentarily blinded. Heiron arrived to help me finish off the officer, and Lydia fired blast after shining blast from her staff. Finally, everything grew quiet, and all the enemies seemed dead…except for one, who floated quietly in the corner, watching Mikael’s every move.

The creatures apparently speak Common, since Mikael’s “friend” asked him who we were and what we wanted. When he said we wanted a special sword, she freaked out and said we must leave at once, for it is forbidden.

We started checking out the rooms…quarters, apparently, since they had chairs and chests bolted to the surfaces. The only interesting things were the arms and armor of the dead aliens.

Mikael’s friend seemed very anxious…and when he said, “But we need the sword to destroy -” she lost it and slashed at him. I guess it’s just as well…he hasn’t had great luck with girls in the past…

The captain’s quarters had a treasure room with a longsword in a scabbard. It glowed brightly when Raven drew it, but the decoration on the scabbard didn’t look like the work of Furiundy. Still, Aliana didn’t think it was Evil, so we took it along.

At the end of the hallway, another spherical room opened up – this one four other doors, and a tunnel leading “down” (from our perspective).

While Shakka was checking for traps, and Aliana was trying to get a better sense for where Fetafencer was, an alien stuck his head up from the tunnel – then fled. Ezekiel ordered a pursuit, charging into the “pit” himself. Raven and I followed him – all of us instinctively rotating so we were traveling along a hallway, rather than “falling” without gravity. (I like the structure, and having solid walls around us somehow helped to orient us…but at the same time it emphasizes the aimless nature of the place simply by its existence.)

We reached the far entrance of the hallway and found ourselves in a crowd of aliens. Raven raised his hand, his ring flashed, and fire exploded around me and a large portion of the enemy. I declare, I think Tressarian gave a little snicker… Most of the aliens shriveled to a crisp, and hung motionless and blackened in mid-air.

There were still plenty of things to fight, though. Aliana and I hammered away at a guy with sharp teeth and a helmet. Mikael hurled his handful of sticks into the room, and they started writhing as they turned into snakes and bumped into the aliens.

Ezekiel was chanting. Usin was waving his flaming sword around. All of us were buzzing around like so many hummingbirds, trying to concentrate as we used our minds to move in space and battle our enemies.

Just as the first group stopped moving, reinforcements came from passages to the side (below?) and we had to circle support pillars to fight back. Mikael tossed a pillar of fire into the middle of them, and one of the aliens seemed to have spells of his own that he hurled at Ezekiel.

It felt like a long time while we were in it, but finally our enemies were dead and we could collect ourselves. Raven was bleeding heavily – the blood drifted aimlessly as it leaked from his skin, making him look like a leafy tentacle monster. Ezekiel patched him up, and we went around yanking Aliana’s swords out of the walls (I guess she had trouble getting used to no gravity…she did figure it out eventually, though). The alien with the spells had spell components, and all the aliens had magic armor – and most had magic swords…but we still hadn’t found the particular sword we wanted.

So Lydia closed her eyes, and whispered something, and told us she thought Fettafenser was back the way we came. So we snicked the magic armor and dragged it after us to be handy when we were ready to leave.

Back in the spherical room, Lydia pointed out one of the other doors, and we went through…to discover a throneroom of sorts, with a gem-studded throne on a platform. Nobody was home, so we ignored the throne, and opened a locked door –

Somebody was waiting behind that one. A gout of flame spit out at us, and a tall alien wielding a huge, glowing, two-handed sword attacked us, his sword flashing silvery in…whatever light seems to grant vision in the Astral Plane.

This was truly a worthy opponent. He survived Raven’s fireball, shrugged off Mikael’s rope of tangling, ate a blow from Ezekiel’s mace and actually made Ezekiel freeze. Mikael took him down in the end. His one mistake was being outnumbered, I guess.

Inside his room, the shelves were burning, but that just revealed a secret compartment where Aliana spotted a longsword in a runed sheath. I’m not sure how she could tell, but she declared this was Fettafencer – mission accomplished (maybe because it’s a paladin sword or something). The alien commander also had some gems and jewelry in his stash that obviously he wouldn’t be needing anymore.

Raven discovered a strange glass window – you couldn’t see through it, but if you stood next to it long enough, it turned red. Ezekiel had everyone move to a safe distance except Aliana, and the two of them checked it out. Apparently it’s a magic window that reacts to living things, and once every pane is red, you can walk through it. Ez and Aliana found prison cells behind there – some ugly, shriveled arms tried to grab Ezekiel, but with his wife standing right beside him they didn’t succeed. Aliana says the creature in there was Evil, since Fettafenser glowed red.

They also discovered a bipedal creature with tentacles for a face that tried to scare them, but Aliana killed it (she also said the “way of the righteous warrior is not for the weak-minded” or something like that).

After that, all we had to do was get the loot out. Lydia and Aliana whispered together a moment, and then told us that some legends say these green aliens are very touchy about their silver swords…almost cult-like. That certainly explained the behavior of Mikael’s “friend” – she reassessed her loyalties (and lost any fear of our numbers) when we started talking about swords.

So we agreed the safest option was to leave the silver ones here. After all, we only came here for Fetafencer…and there’s no need to go making enemies when we have plenty and to spare already. Plus, we hate to be rude house-guests.

We did take the armor, and the regular-looking magic swords, and loaded the whole pile into the docked boat (since our bags of holding didn’t work at all). Then we piloted the boat out of the fortress, collected the portable hole, and headed out to find the pool that looked into Mitrik (because Mikael really, really wanted to bring his new boat back with us…and there’s no way it would fit through Lydia’s mirror. People have asked him what he’s going to do with it, and he never has a coherent answer).

(I like to imagine the sentry in the tower getting off his shift, going back to the barracks, and then saying, “No way! I guess I’m commander now!” I personally would not react that way…but I like to think it.)

Eventually, Lydia found a pool the same color as the one we saw first…but I’m not sure it really was the same. When she stared at it, all we could see were mountains, and here and there some scrubby trees clinging to the rocks. No fields, no road, and certainly no Mitrik.

Mikael was a bit disappointed – but Ezekiel went ahead and used his spell stored on his ring to take him and Lydia (and his portable hole-tent) back to Orth.

Strange thing happened when they left. A new pool appeared where they had been floating – shimmering silver in the strange grey light of the plane. Mikael went over and stared at it, and when the surface cleared, we could see the stretch of road outside Mitrik – just like before. He figured out how to control it, just like Lydia had, and lowered it down to just above a field beside the road.

We still had a problem, though. The boat was larger than the pool – even without counting the bat-wings. While we were discussing unloading the boat and shoving all the armor and loot through the pool, Usin and Mikael decided to just try driving the boat into the pool.

As the rest of us watched (from a safe distance), Mikael steered the boat. It hit the portal, and the prow kept going – looking like Raven’s candle, like it was stretching through clear goo or something. It drifted forward, closer, closer, until the hull filled the pool completely…and then – pop – we saw the boat (and Mikael, and everything on it) on the other side, flopped in the field.

Well, with that resolved, we decided there was no reason for us to be separated…and since the pool didn’t seem to hurt Mikael, we all slipped through. It felt cold for an instant – and I staggered, while it felt as though all my insides suddenly realized “down” ought to be toward the ground.

I realize we should probably have someone adjust the pool into the air, again, so no hapless child or minstrel wanders into the Astral Plane by accident. Lydia and someone else can probably handle that. I’m sure the appearance of the second pool will give her lots to theorize about, but I’m just happy we’re home.

Ezekiel and Lydia joined us not too long afterwards, and we started moving the loot up to our rooms (Ez says we’ve been gone about a week. In some ways, it feels like it; but in other ways, it doesn’t). We were a bit delayed because we had to let Heiron lie flat on his face and kiss the grass for a good long while, but he feels better now.

Ezekiel has already asked Agnar if he would like one of the big, non-silver swords we found. Aliana says they aren’t quite her party’s “style” – and I agree two-handed weapons are a class all their own (though I might be able to handle a two-handed axe if it was the right size).

Mikael simply refuses to get down off the boat yet. He keeps walking back and forth, wearing a hat he got from who-knows-where, and saying, “Arr!” He says he wants to put wheels on it to turn it into a cart, so we can take it all the way back to Geoffe. We might need to remove the bat-wings if we were to do that.

After all of this, I still can’t think of a good wedding present for Prince Thrommel. Obviously we could give him an alien sword…but he has lots of swords, and he wouldn’t really have a use for another sword, and it feels like a lame, token gift if it’s not actually special or useful to him. Lydia will probably know just what to get him, since girls are better at that sort of thing. All of this assuming, of course, that we haven’t left already before they get married – since I think we’ve done just about everything we needed to do up here. Unless of course Ezekiel takes us on a second honeymoon.

Better see how Keom and Dree and Ronhass are doing.


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary….astral shenanigans

Alert: Contains spoilers for the Astral Plain

Ezekiel and Aliana hunted through the magic shops of Mitrik, and dug up a ring of spells that Ezekiel can cast into. (I helped pay for it, since I didn’t get him anything else for his wedding. Lydia popped me and Heiron over to Verbobanc to withdraw the money from the vault.)

So now the plan is: ask (and pay) one of the high clerics of Rao to shift a scouting party to the Astral Plain, have Lydia scry them and send the others through (and bring the cleric back), then have Ezekiel shift her and himself to join us (with our return ticket on his ring).

Look, I don’t think people usually take friends on their honeymoon…but when has Ezekiel ever behaved like other people?

****

It’s been…a time. It’s hard to know where to start, so I suppose I should go back to the beginning.

Heiron and the happy couple took Agnar through first, and when Lydia lined up on them, I followed Raven and Mikael through.

We had no idea what we might be facing, so I had the sword of Lyons at my belt. At first, I thought I was still waiting to travel…everything was grey emptiness, and I felt as though I was both upside-down and rightside-up at the same time. You might think you’re falling, but there’s no movement…just endless nothing.

Heiron spun gently not far from me, looking a little green. Ezekiel floated a short distance further, seemingly tied to a huge square bag taller even than Mikael. He peeked inside, and we saw the stuff we keep in the portable hole – apparently undamaged. We scrounged up some rope to make it a leash, and Ez gave the end to Aliana while he went through Lydia’s portal (an oval glinting like polished metal) to bring her through. This place obviously does weird things to extra-spacial baggage…I couldn’t get my hand into either of my bags of holding, and I don’t think it’s just because we were all invisible.

Once we more-or-less got our bearings, we could notice something else suspended in the grey that surrounded us. A large pool shimmered not too far away (though distance is a pain to figure in this place), looking like a huge drop of liquid silver. Lydia was with us by this time, so she zipped over to it – like an eagle on ice.

Movement in this plain is unlike anything I’ve experienced before, except perhaps in dreams. To move, you just have to think about where you want to go…or maybe more accurately, you have to think about moving…which is more erudite than first suggests itself. Agnar kept flapping his arms, trying to swim or something. Usin did better, somehow; he stayed on one flank, floating backward and forward as we moved in loose formation.

I told Heiron to just imagine himself moving, but I guess imagination isn’t his strong suit (which might be a reason they couldn’t recruit him in the Temple of Elemental Evil…he was too honest to join them just to get free, and too uncomplicated to fancy he could benefit from their schemes. Of course, I’m not sure they tried to recruit him at all…we try not to talk about what happened to him before we showed up).

Anyway – the pool. When Lydia concentrated on it, the surface turned into a window of some kind, and we could see the road heading to the Mitrik gates…just several dozen yards in the air. We could see the tops of people’s heads below, moving up and down the road, and sometimes carts and horses. She could even move the window with her mind! – and when Raven tossed a candle into the pool, it hit the surface, sank slowly (as though being sucked into goo or quicksand, and dropped away from us, disappearing into a field far below. Lydia moved the window down almost to the ground of Oerth – then pulled it back into the sky so no poor child stumbled through it by accident. At any rate, we decided we might be able to use it to get home if the worst should happen and Ezekiel abandoned us (by dying).

This opened up so many questions…like how many of these pools are there? Does every world have one? How many worlds are there? Are there portals to different places in Oerth?

We weren’t there as scientists, though, and as Mikael pointed out, the whole place felt…like a place life wasn’t supposed to be. Like we’d slid into a crack between realities, and it was only a bureaucratic oversight that let us stay alive at all (now I feel I’m talking like Ezekiel). Aliana concentrated on the sword we were looking for – Faith’s Defender – and we followed after her…though Heiron and Agnar seemed easily disoriented, and we had to concentrate to stay with them.

As I said before, judging speed and direction offers countless problems in this place. There’s no air, so no wind…no sun or stars, so no orientation. Well…there are the floating pools – but those are only visible from the front, or possibly from the sides as a glimmering line. We came across another one, like a solid plate of bronze, and when Lydia examined it, we could see the towers of a strange city. I’ve never seen anyone build like that before; so maybe it’s the Great Kingdom, or the Bakluni remnant. Or some completely different world – the people had blue skin and orange hair. They also seemed to notice the giant floating disk in the sky when it got too close, so Lydia backed away from the window and we kept moving.

I lost track of how many pools we passed. We didn’t get hungry or thirsty…we just floated in the infinite mist, while every so often the pools glinted or sparkled or glowed past us. Mikael said we really needed a floating boat to help us stay together and go faster.

With all that empty space, you’d think the chance of running into other beings would be all but nonexistent. And yet we did.

First, a couple tiger-men flew up to us – much faster than we could hope to go, especially staying together. They seemed more curious about us than hostile, and chatted politely for a moment…but Ezekiel and Aliana never took their eyes off them, and Mr. Ezekiel Make-Friends-with-Black-Dragons-Why’don’t’ya Sentinel spoke through gritted teeth and a strained smile. After the two tiger-men flitted off into the distance, he said he suspected they were shape-shifting demons, and it was just as well for everyone that we had an errand to run.

The next people we met didn’t even stay that long to chit-chat. Our left flank noticed movement from a distance – but they were less shapes and more indistinct patches of light. Ezekiel figured they were invisible, and tried out his gem of seeing – then almost dropped the gem and had to spin in place for a moment, coughing and rubbing his head. He seemed to feel better after Aliana rubbed his head, but he couldn’t tell us if he learned anything useful from the gem.

By that time, the translucent shapes were basically on top of us – and then were past us, and rushing away as though they didn’t realize we were there. Lydia said it’s quite possible they didn’t realize we were there, since they might interact with light in a totally different way than we do…but I’m just glad we didn’t have to fight something that fast and that hard to see.

We got plenty of fighting later.

Heiron tried to draw his bow earlier, but had trouble in this weightless place – so Ezkeiel loaned him the gauntlets of strength so he could use his sword (his special sword he got from the prince, and which we recovered from the chest). I wasn’t ready to use my bow, either, since I haven’t had much practice shooting in weightless space, nor shooting while invisible. Besides, I wasn’t sure if the creatures we faced might need magic weapons to hurt them.

We finally got our chance when something big rushed out of the mist toward us. It was a ship – with a mast, but no sails, and big bat-wings thrust out on either side, held like fans, or like the wings of a gliding swan.

I had barely taken that in, when the ship drove right into our formation. I instinctively slid to the side – and then our attackers leapt out of the boat towards us.

They had green skin, but they weren’t orcs. Their bodies are skinny, with tough, dry skin, long, stringy hair, big ears, and ugly fangs. They fell on us with two-handed longswords, and they seemed to be perfectly at home in the void, as they slid up or down as easily as to the side to attack.

They, uh, also went down like punks. Raven tussled with one above our heads, Mikael lit them up with faery fire, and Usin lit his sword on fire (Heiron is letting him use his old flametongue, since then Agnar could have one, too, but I have not decided how I feel about this). Lydia threw a bolt of searing light from her staff (I know it’s called Magic Missile, but my way sounds cooler), and Aliana ducked forward with her sword. I admit it was nice to finally see her in action. The relatives are always gonna be awkward, but it looks like Ezekiel got a quality lady.

Tressarian and I weren’t useless, either, but it took us a moment to get the hang of fighting in frictionless space. And I admit…it was gratifying to cut down our enemies without them even seeing me.

Their gear wasn’t impressive enough to bother ourselves with (even with the portable hole floating there, large as life with plenty of room), but we were excited to see the boat. Mikael helped Aliana look it over while Ezekiel patched up the people who got run over, and then we tied the portable hole to the deck and all climbed aboard.

You’d think that, with no gravity, it’d be hard to keep your feet on the deck…but maybe having something that big and solid to focus your mind on helps with the whole “imagining” thing. However it works, Aliana sat in the chair at the rear of the boat, sort of where the rudder might be, and steered us toward her mental image of the sword…while the rest of us relaxed and enjoyed the ride and watched the pools of metal and mercury float by.

Mikael seems happy…although he still grumbles that there’s no trees around, and he can’t feel a connection to anything natural anywhere. But he likes the bat-wings on the boat.


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary….revels

We are celebrating Needfest – Lydia, Heiron, and I. The palace has lots of spare bread, and a bunch of the palace people have been taking it out to the poor sections of town every day. Ezekiel’s father is also visiting (waiting for the wedding), so he’s come with us a few times, each of us carrying a basket.

It reminds me of when Mama would take us out – just Wolfgang, Tomlin, Clarence, and me (and sometimes Dexter) – to pass out bread and share Ehlonna’s blessings. Clarence used to eat his bread…meaning he did it at least once… Anyway, I wasn’t always paying close attention at the time, but I guess the principles latched on to me without me realizing. I think Mama would be glad of that. I suppose it’s even possible some of the other boys matured as they got older…

Tomorrow, Heiron and I babysit the dragons so Raven can take his disciples out. He says helping others less fortunate is an important part of developing character.

Mikael is having fun with his new arm.

****

7 Needfest

Noble weddings much different from Heiron and Lydia’s. Much bustling around, with Dree and Lydia heading off extra early. Ezekiel’s helmet-hair finally calmed down, though – and he did not pass out, though he swore he was going to.

We were kinda waiting at the entrance of the Temple of Rao when who should come up but Sir Holmer, Earl of Wallworth, Knight-Commander of the Knights of Holy Shielding (not like I know him by sight or anything, but Aliana introduced him to all of us).

Aliana herself was dressed all in white satin, from her chin to the floor, with just a diamond pin in her hair. You’d think a little slip of a thing like her couldn’t cut such a figure, but somehow the perfectness of it all made her almost seem to glow.

Ezekiel wouldn’t stop gawking, so we hustled him into his place, and Aliana entered the temple on the arm of the Commander. Dree and Lydia were waiting at the front with a couple paladins in full armor (and I gotta say, that dress they bought for Dree was just right).

Of course – nothing involving Ezekiel could ever be simple, could it? Aliana didn’t even get all the way down the aisle before the windows darkened and a chill spread through the sanctuary. I was just regretting that Ezekiel didn’t bring his anti-undead mace when a raven swooped in the door, circled Aliana, and transformed into an elf. (I thought it was an elf thing – but I realize now he’s probably a druid.)

The elf seemed very angry – he called himself an emissary from the Fae Court, so I guess he wasn’t an old boyfriend – and fussed about how Aliana, a princess of elf-kind, could marry this short-lived little nobody (if he only knew).

Then the High Priest Hazen said, “Peace,” and now I know what Rao is all about.

Aliana told the emissary that she and Ezekiel both served the same God, and His Excellency pointed out that it seemed appropriate two former servants of Heironeous be married on Heironeous’ holy day…besides the fact it was the Feast of Fools, so why not crown Ezekiel as Aliana’s king?

The emissary didn’t seem to have an answer for His Excellency, and especially when it seemed plain Ez and Aliana were treating the thing with all the solemnity and sacredness they could, he seemed mollified and got out of the way.

The service wasn’t quite like what Canon Turjon did in Homlette, but I declare I could listen to His Excellency Hazen talk for hours, and it wouldn’t even matter what he was talking about.

After that came the party! I don’t think the cooks let Raven interfere too much – but he did approve of the food, so that shows they did their best work.

My favorite part, though, was when the two paladins came out to mingle and took off their helmets. Who should it be but Alpheus?! Incredible, but true! He seems so much shorter than what I remember – but I suppose for me to only reach his belt he’d have to be like ten feet tall. He ruffled my hair and couldn’t get over how many scars I have – though the worst ones are under my shirt, and besides a paladin should have seen much worse scars. He’s been fighting on the lines, and has an actual squire, too. (His squire turns out to be Ezekiel’s older brother Peter – I saw Ezekiel tackle-hugging him.)

Tressarian’s new sheath isn’t finished yet, so Alpheus got a bit nervous when I first introduced them. But then he was suitably impressed, and had to pat my head again – but somehow I didn’t mind.

Ever since we convinced Tressarian he’s a Ranger sword, he acts nonchalant about Paladins – like they aren’t just coolest people ever – and that led to a discussion of the differences between rangers and paladins, and I realized I’d never heard Alpheus laugh at something I said before. Actually, I’m not sure how much we spoke before…he was always doing important things with Father, and I took a while to crack my shell. Kinda amazing he even recognized me after all these years, but perhaps the older we get the more we all look like each other and Father. Mama always said, “You look just like your Father!” to whoever she was talking to at the time.

I kinda wanted to hear all about how many armies he vanquished and how many undead fled before his virtuous presence, but what with introducing everybody, and eating cake, and all the nobles coming through to congratulate Aliana and Ezekiel, it wasn’t a good place for a long talk.

Oh! His Majesty King Belvor of Furiundy came through once and accepted our bows and smiled at everyone. I see where Prince Thromel gets his shoulders, and posture. He was quite gracious to all of us, and I can hardly believe I am one of his knights, and might go to war with him one day if things get bad (which naturally I hope they don’t, but at least we would have great men leading us).

Alpheus acted suitably impressed, and I think he was proud of me, though he didn’t say it out-right. We took him and Ezekiel’s family down to visit the dragons (Ezekiel and Raven insisted on it), and Keom gave them full introductions, giving way too many details about diet and habits. (He explained which one is Fang and which one is Belch, but I don’t think I can tell the difference.) Ezekiel’s father especially seemed suspicious that we were hanging out with the wrong crowd…but as I told Alpheus, there’s not much reason to doubt the existence of the High God by now, and even though Ezekiel has some sketchy ideas from time to time, I trust his God is on the side of Good, and so I’ll keep following along…and keeping my eyes open.

Finally, Alpheus and Peter had to return to their station, and Ezekiel’s father went with them so Lydia could send them all home (Alpheus agreed her mirror is supremely useful). About that time, Aliana’s paladin attendants came and escorted Ezekiel off (they were a bit theatrical about it, but I suppose that’s an elf thing. Also, if he was really being kidnapped, I couldn’t take them all by myself, and Raven didn’t look likely to interfere).

Raven, Mikael, and I hung out with the dragons so Keom and Ronhass could go enjoy the festival a bit. Bornthene and Miffly went out, too, and I think I heard them say something about “dancing” as they left.

Keom is right; there’s one dragon who really likes belly-rubs, and he’s kinda cute the way he snorts – it’s almost like a giggle, almost like a purr, but not quite. Also – don’t stand in his breath if you don’t want to choke.

****

Had the weirdest dream last night. I don’t usually pay attention to my dreams, but this one was so off the wall… I might have thought it was Ehlonna’s Grove, but they were not wearing anything I would imagine Ehlonna wearing. There were lots of dancers, all flitting in and out of the moonlight. I’ve already forgotten most of it.

Tressarian says he didn’t notice anything last night. I had him check me for Evil just on principle.

**

Unbelievable! Ronhass got a black eye in some tavern fight last night, and Raven dragged me down to the same tavern to find out what happened. Has he still not learned I do “subtle probing” the way Belch does carrot sticks? (That’s not a sight I’ll soon forget.) To top it off, he brought Agnar along, which is like carrying a tavern brawl in a bottle.

Well, all told, it could have been worse. Apparently every chair and table in the place got smashed, but at least Keom and Ronhass paid for the furniture. The bartender also said it was “one guy” running circles around the rest of the fighters, while the second guy just ran around the room so fast no one could hit him. So Raven is satisfied that at least they didn’t start the fight, and he said something about he needs to let his disciples have the day off more often. Agnar said they should bring him next time, and grumbled a little that we didn’t start anything…but we bought him a good ale, so he quieted down mostly. Tressarian says I should have let him do the talking.

****

I asked Lord Erasmus how long we were expected to stay in the palace (since we were technically guests for the skull thing, but that’s over now) and he said as far as he knew there was no shortage of rooms, and not to worry about it. I do keep forgetting we are technically knights and elders of the land, and Princess Aliana is a long-standing personage of importance. Anyway – just another expense of governing, I suppose. So many details a lord has to consider!

**

Picked up the new sheath this morning. It looks flimsier than it really is, and the smith explained all the features, how it still protects Tressarian’s edges and point. Tressarian says it feels a bit breezy, but secure enough…and he likes talking so people can hear him. Now I don’t have to panic all the bystanders if I need to ask him a question. He says being point-down messes with his senses, though – or maybe it’s the metal interfering – and he isn’t sure he would know Evil if he looked at it through the sheath. Time enough for experimentation later.

When I got back to the palace, Ezekiel and Aliana had also been shopping (apparently it’s what married people do; Heiron got Lydia a flower clip to put in her hair). Ezekiel is all full up of this idea of going to the Astral Plain, and they’re going to comb the temple libraries this afternoon for info on how to get there safely – and back! (Mikael says he wants to go to, since travel sounds interesting, and I think he’s excited to put his new arm to good use.)

Frankly, I feel like we have bigger fish to fry right now. Ezekiel and Raven have been planning this temple/monastery/druid grove/fortress, and they promised Usin the job of gate-keeper. What’s he supposed to do while they dance around the Astral Plain? What about Agnar? Is he supposed to help babysit the dragons and comb his beard while we chase a sword we just heard about?

Anyway. I know a warrior’s path is always duty. In some ways, Father was lucky – raising his family in a time of peace, and in a secure place like the Grand Duchy – so he was able to spend as much time with us as he did. (The slices of pie got smaller and smaller farther down the line.) Peter and Alpheus have to divide their time with their kids and their fighting. All that said…I would like to visit home again. That’s why we’re out here fighting…killing Evil, freeing slaves, holding back the monsters and humanoids that want to wreck civilization. So other people can have a “normal” life…because family and work and children and quiet should be normal.


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary….seven funerals and two weddings

So much going on I really can’t sleep! We searched the bodies of the Slave Lords…magic armor, magic rings, magic weapons – standard stuff, in a lot of ways. Probably the most exciting things came from Ajakstu the mage… I think we’re all glad he didn’t get crushed by the instant fortress.

First, he had a crystal ball among his robes. Maybe he couldn’t go scrying everyone in the Pomarj all by himself, but it explains some of the paranoia of the Outer Council. We still have to do some investigating to make sure it doesn’t turn you Evil or something, but it should come in handy.

The other thing was a little chest no bigger than your hand. Lydia said that, while our magic chest just gets bigger and smaller, sometimes a magic chest is bound to a facsimile like this, so the real storage is in another place entirely – like the ethereal plain. Ajakstu being a tidy and conscientious wizard, he left a scrap of paper in the chest with the command word. When Lydia cast the word, a big chest appeared before her…quietly dripping water onto the floor. I suddenly got much more excited and interested in what she was doing.

Inside the chest was – all our stolen stuff! Heiron and I got our knight badges back, so we don’t have to worry anymore about going to the prince’s wedding under-dressed…or having to awkwardly explain that we lost our badges almost as soon as we got them.

Aaand – Tressarian was there, too! He seems none the worse for having nobody except Shaka to talk to for several months…although when I introduced him to the invisible sword, he refused to act impressed. I think he might be a bit jealous. (Oh, yes; when Lydia was using magic vision, she told me the invisible sword had a name on it: Lyons…probably the name of whoever made it or commissioned it.)

The chest also had some other things I don’t remember us owning before, like a fancy jeweled dagger, and a parchment with labeled demon drawings (I can only assume it’s for teaching identifications and vulnerabilities).

More disturbing, one of the Slave Lords had a note ordering the assassination of our families. Lydia agreed that, since it was still in his pocket, and not even signed, that it hadn’t been issued yet…but Ezekiel says that, since we can check on our families so easily, it won’t hurt to make sure they’re all right. (I think the mission was still in the composition phase…”so-and-so’s parents and sibling or siblings (if any)”…real specific there. I’m not sure Lydia even has any family they could threaten. Besides, it took us a good month to travel from Geoff, so these assassins might have more of a job than they thought. Still – what’s with all these assassins?! Evil people have no imagination?!)

Lydia tried to check Sudderheim once more, and says the city is basically gone. So glad she got the slaves out when she did. It’s possible some people got away on boats, too (there was a warf). Some of the guards and merchants probably got away…but it seems there are natural consequences for evil deeds.

If nothing else, if we hadn’t found and killed the Slave Lords, we wouldn’t have gotten our stuff back.

Wanted to ask Mikael what he thought of the volcano, but he went up to his room with the pink lizard in a jar.

Only saw Elmo briefly. He’s probably busy dealing with the dead assassins, and besides the dining room is a bit crowded tonight for real conversation. We have an appointment to go fishing tomorrow…even if we don’t catch much, with the river being half frozen. I just have so many questions…about orcs, about tracking, about the world – about what a Ranger even is! The world has gotten so much bigger since I was a runty kid who just wanted to climb trees and keep everyone at a distance.

****

Canon Turjon came down to the inn this morning with some big news!

First, the fourth gem has been found, and we are invited to the grand smashing ceremony of the key-stone. In a few weeks, so we should have plenty of time to get there. Glad we got our insignia back just in time.

Second, he and Heiron spoke for a moment, and then invited us all to the wedding of Lydia and Heiron!

Raven says the writing was all over the wall. Maybe having Lydia captured pushed Heiron over the edge, and he decided he always wants to be there to guard her. He told me Master Ezekiel thought it would be a good opportunity, before we left Homlette – since Canon Turjon is a servant of St. Cuthbert, too. It’s true we got Heiron’s little amulet-sized cudgel-necklace back from the chest, too.

And even if Lydia likes to tease all of us, the way she looks at Heiron is different. He went and held her hand after talking with the canon, and she just turned into butter. It’s…It’s kinda sweet, after all they’ve been through with us and for us, to see them enjoy part of a normal life.

****

Beautiful day for a wedding! Lydia even borrowed Dree from the dragon-sitters, and we all went up to the chapel of St. Cuthbert.

Heiron wore his fancy blue suit and his insignia and his special sword from the prince, and we even shined his boots. He couldn’t stop smiling, and I don’t think his face changed from red the whole day – but it doesn’t matter, since I don’t think anybody (except Lydia) looked at him more than once.

Lydia made her magic hat work overtime for her. When she came in on Ezekiel’s arm, everyone in the chapel just went dead silent for a moment. She had a little cap and a veil of some see-through gauzy stuff, and lace and embroidery all over her sleeves and layered skirts. I assume she left her hair alone – it shone like flaxen cream. Dree said it was worth coming just to see that dress, and even Agnar told me Lydia had been “holding out on us.” Indeed she had.

I think I saw an old man in a felt hat watching the ceremony from a distance and dabbing his eyes. I’m sure Ezekiel would have tried to greet him if he noticed, but fortunately he was a bit busy balling his eyes out and then thanking Canon Turjon when it was all over.

Raven helped out Master Osler in the kitchen, and I’m not totally sure all that happened back there, but I know I heard plenty of laughing. My only regret is I never had a chance to practice on the mandolin…to say nothing of figuring out how to tune it. Well, Raven had a ballad composed for the couple, and I think music would only have marred the effect.

Mikael showed up briefly. Couldn’t see the stump of his arm among his robes, but Ezekiel says he cleaned off the covering of skin, so Mikael’s fire-lizard form should be doing the trick. He’s got a bowl of that special “living water” the other druid talked about, and he’s got to stay in there whenever he’s transformed. I made sure he said “hi” to all his animals before he went back upstairs, since some of them are getting a bit antsy, and some of them (especially Lulu) don’t seem to like staying in the stable (Lulu especially has been trying to get in the second-story windows of the inn, and Raven almost had to wrestle her back down. We’re going to have trouble with that one…).

****

It is nice to have down-time after all the danger and drama. Despite being newly wed, Lydia helped Ezekiel visit one of his brothers this morning (said he was a paladin near the contested lands somewhere) and this afternoon he and Raven are scheduled to meet with the dragon-sitters and help them make their way back to us, so we can all return to Geoff together (though I guess not all of us are “returning,” technically).

I hope they at least take Agnar with them. Usin seems to get along better with the animals, and Heiron and Lydia ought to have some quiet time after just getting married. And I have – things I need to do. Fishing. In the woods.

****

I wanted to bring Elmo back an axe from our adventures, but the only big axe we found was the minotaur’s, and Heiron has been trying that out. I don’t think it’s magical, anyway.

Elmo says he doesn’t really need a new axe right now, but I thought it would be nice if he had a memento of us and our adventures, since it looks like we’re going to be moving on soon.

He says it’s the thought that counts, and things sure have changed since we first arrived here. He’s still playing the dumb drunk in town, though…Lord Otis says that as long as there are people, there will be evil people who want to mess with Elemental Evil, and he and his team have to stay vigilant. He also says that not all of us are supposed to play subtle roles…that sometimes good is best served by open tactics.

That’s just as well, since I could never play a role like Elmo’s. For one thing, I’d be asleep long before I learned anything useful…and for another, I’m not gifted at being crafty and subtle. Maybe I’m more like Ezekiel than I ever thought; he can’t keep his mouth shut, but I can’t force myself to say things that aren’t so.

Lord Otis says that’s a sign of character, and that even spies have to have a firm grasp on reality. After all, if someone with weak character tried to infiltrate an Evil cult to bring it down, they might be sucked in by the role they were playing and become part of who they started out to oppose. More thought required…

On a brighter note, I showed them the diary we found. We tried out the bird-call trick, and it seems to work better with practice. Lord Otis looked at the camouflage page, and said it’s not about the green paint. He said it’s about becoming one with your surroundings while also enforcing your will on the natural world at the same time…which…I think I get where he’s going with that, but…I might have to discuss it with Ehlonna…(I don’t discuss things with Her the way Ezekiel discusses things…)

[sketch of snowflake]

[sketch of bird]

**

Lord Otis was right. All this time I have spent serving Ehlonna, and exploring the world, and seeing new things – it must have opened my mind in ways I didn’t realize. When I stare into this crystal ball we found (oh – Tressarian and I checked it out…it doesn’t turn you Evil), I can see people and places far away. I can even hear what they’re saying! but they can’t hear or see me. Which is good, because that’d be kinda creepy.

Since Ezekiel said we might as well check on our families, I focused on thinking about my parents, and the orb listened to my thoughts and then I could see my parents. Father looks old…and he was sifting through a mountain of paperwork that looked like it was giving him a headache.

My mother doesn’t seem like she’s changed that much. She was down at the orphanage next to the temple, and touching away bruises and skinned knees from all the little boys. They all had wooden swords, so maybe they were all practicing how to be strong and helpful warriors. Today’s lesson: bring a healer. I think Mama was having fun.

Ezekiel and Raven arrived this evening. The dragons are hiding in the woods out back – although they are getting much harder to hide! I hope Ezekiel has some kind of long-term plan for them.

Anyway, we’ll be packing up the rest of our belongings (what Sir Rufus didn’t already take to Veluna in the caravan), and heading for Mitrik. Change is always bittersweet, I suppose.

Agnar says he “might as well” come with us. I think he’s secretly having fun with his new flame-tongue sword. Dree and Keom joined us for one last dinner from Master Osler, but apparently the dragons can’t go to sleep unless Ronhass is there to tell them stories (according to Raven).

Elmo challenged Agnar to a drinking game. It was memorable, to say the least.

****

[written in Lawful Good]

At long last, the Gold Skull is dealt with.
When we arrived in Mitrik, they put us up in the palace (though not the dragons – they stayed outside the wall), and this morning squires came to escort us to the right room.

The High Priest of Rao was there, and so was the ranking Canon of St. Cuthbert, and a bunch of paladins and experienced clerics, and the prince. Even the princess came to watch from a safe distance.

First they put the gold skull on a pedestal and socketed all the gems. I don’t know if it struck me before, but the thing was intensely ugly somehow.

Then four clerics faced it from the four directions, and struck it in sequence: with a gust of wind, a stone maul, a burst of flame, and a blast of cold. The orb shattered, and started to smoke before our eyes until it vanished completely. I can only hope the Old One felt that in his hidey-hole.

[Common]

It was a relief to see it go off without a hitch.

Afterward, Ezekiel went over to someone in the crowd of paladins, who turned out to be Princess Aliana. Says she’s been fighting demons in the Shield Lands, and has picked up some friends who were fighting with her…so that’s nice. She painted a rose encircled by thorns on her shield, and apparently it’s even working like a holy symbol for her. I don’t really see the connection between dead lambs and a thorny rose, but it doesn’t really pertain to me, either.

Ezekiel and Raven headed off to talk to Aliana and her party for a moment, and Heiron and I were approached by someone working for Prince Thromell (I honestly didn’t catch his name, and didn’t quite like to ask him to repeat it).

He had some…sort of bad news. They took our description of the older wizard who kidnapped us and tried to track him down – especially since he was heavily hinting that he helped get the prince out of the way, when he disappeared. Well, they found someone who matched the description – but he has several witnesses for exactly were he was all the time we were having dinner with the criminal. So either he disguised someone else as him, or someone else disguised themselves as him. Either way, we don’t seem to be any closer to catching the traitors who tried to remove the prince. At least his people are on it…and His Highness is intelligent enough to take precautions after what happened.

(The poor Lord Whoever-he-was seemed to think I was more important than I am, and kept apologizing for taking up my time – don’t have much to do while we’re hanging out in the city – and kept leaning in conspiratorially while he talked. He said the prince wanted to be sure we were updated, which is very nice of him.)

At dinner, Ezekiel told us about their meeting with Aliana and her paladins. He had this long, elaborate story about this special sword for smiting Evil, and when its paladon-wielder and the fortress where they fought fell to the demons, the Abbot who was responsible for it fled, and later his body was found without the sword – but it didn’t end up in enemy hands. So the theory of those who know is that it’s somewhere in the Astral Plain, which is apparently another whole world that acts on different rules somehow. (Tressarian interrupted him a couple times until we reassured him this was more of a Paladin sword than a Ranger sword.)

Anyway, Ezekiel thinks traveling there would be more than we can handle at this time, though it sounds like Aliana wanted our help (I don’t think paladins get teleport, it’s true). Raven asked him if there was anything else he needed help with, and Ezekiel got kinda red.

Raven says they also received a messenger from their “Boss,” who congratulated them for the success with the skull, and promoted Raven (still not above Ezekiel, though – aledgedly).

Tomorrow, we have some things to identify at the sages’ shops.

****

Lydia took Dree and Milfy around to some shops this morning.

I helped babysit the dragons. It did not end up being such a bad idea as I thought at first. Keom has been keeping a diary about the dragons’ growth, and he has lots of helpful pictures.

The city watch seems a bit nervous about two baby dragons camping in their nearby woods, but I think it reassures the officers that they’re never unsupervised. They (dragons) actually listen to Keom pretty well, although he says they listen to Ronhass better.

**

Well, I guess we’re staying here a bit longer…

Ezekiel is getting married to Aliana. He came in today with his face as red as that lady paladin’s hair. Raven says the writing was all over the wall.

So we have to wait until the High Priest of Rao has some room in his schedule. It’s only proper that a princess and an elder of Furiundy should do everything as official as possible.

Heiron asked me if Lydia was going to lend the princess her amazing dress, but I said a princess probably has that sort of thing figured out…but if Lydia wanted to make the gesture, that was completely up to her.

Dree said she didn’t realize Ezekiel’s lady was an elven princess. I just wonder what this will mean for the party…will Ezekiel have to meet her family or something? At least he seems happy about it… He hasn’t talked all evening…just sat there with this thoughtful look on his face.

Raven says it’s about time. I suppose he’s probably right. Will Ezekiel be mad if I wear something Nice again? I don’t care – Tressarian and chainmail are the nicest I got…

Dear Diary….last stand of the Slave Lords

Talk about dramatic! I’ll try to do it justice.

Using Mikael’s idea, we headed back to the metal door that shocked Ezekiel, and tried opening it again with protection. There wasn’t exactly a handle on this side, though, so in the end Ezekiel hammered it with his rod of smiting. Only took about five blows to bend it back from the hinges.

By that time, we figured anyone along this passage knew we were coming, so there wasn’t much sense in sneaking around. Advancing down the passage, we found another door – that opened into a tall throneroom.

We couldn’t pass the threshold at first…Ezekiel tried, and knocked his hand against an invisible wall of energy. Beyond, we could see nine people – armed warriors, men in wide-sleeved, embroidered robes, and one woman with ebony skin and stunning white hair…nine people staring and pointing and laughing at us. They all sat on thrones, but they had to twist and lean over the backs of their chairs to look at us, since – once again – we came in the back way.

We couldn’t hear them through the wall of force, but we could see the spell casters waving their hands and chanting while the warrior-types tightened their armor or gulped potions. Mikael took the opportunity to heal Ezekiel’s burns, Raven to close his eyes and center himself, and me…well, I’ve always got an arrow on the string.

Ezekiel still wanted to try the “talking” method…you know, where we use the papers we had to try and turn them against each other. I never had much confidence in that plan (partly because we do subterfuge like an ahnkeg does opera), but as it happens I didn’t need an opportunity to talk him out of it. And I certainly didn’t get one.

First, we noticed we couldn’t hear each other. Next, a flurry of daggers flew past, glancing past Mikael’s face with flashes of red blood.

Raven, as usual, reacted first. He whipped past us in a blur, the ring on his finger flashed…and he vanished, reappearing a couple feet to the side – in a perfect position to palm-punch a man in a red cloak. (This man didn’t wear armor, just robes; and I think from our notes he was probably Brother Millerjoi…but he didn’t do much. He pretty much stood there and blinked his eyes and shook his head for the rest of the fight.)

They’d done something else strange to us, too. I drew my bow and sent a couple arrows into the closest ones, and Usin ran past me to join Ezekiel at the front lines…but quicker than I would have thought possible, the enemy recovered themselves and struck again. The leader – a tall, broad-shouldered man; Eanwulf, according to intel – flung an ax past Usin (I briefly worried about Lydia, then remembered she was still missing). Another hail of daggers flew past Mikael (missing him this time). I couldn’t seem to draw my bow fast enough to keep up with their movements. (Raven, of course, didn’t seem to notice, and flitted about among them like a giant hornet of death.)

Then – one of the best things we did that day. Ezekiel lobbed the instant fortress. It expanded – almost comical in its incongruity – and squashed two of the Slave Lords right away. One of them – a mage – managed to roll free, with his robe and staff clutched to his chest. If I had been farther into the room and able to hear anything, I’m sure I would have heard him cursing.

He did raise his hands (I checked in the notes afterward, and I think it was Ajakstu) and move his mouth in something a bit stronger than a curse. Fire exploded just inside the room, just ahead of me. Usin dropped to the ground, tunic burning…and Marie Ant-oinette, who had just pinching an enemy in her big insect jaws, shriveled up like string in a blaze. At least she died valiantly defending her “queen”…I didn’t see the rest of the animals at all.

A primal scream seemed to rip through the room – though I’m not sure how that could work, when all of us in the corridor were in silence. Maybe that’s why I ignored it. While Ezekiel put his hand on Usin and made his wounds vanish, Mikael waved his one hand, and a bunch of the chairs suddenly flew across the room, smashing against the wall. Ajakstu’s wizard staff flew from his hand, and Raven materialized beside him and punched him off his feet.

A couple of my arrows seemed to be getting side-tracked before they could reach Eanwulf. I thought maybe Mikael’s spell had interfered with them…until an invisible person suddenly became visible, waving a sword and showing off a big black cloak, complete with a sinister hood to cover his face. This brooding figure swung at one of us (probably Raven – he gets around) and drove his sword into one of the wooden chairs that Mikael didn’t throw across the room.

I wish I could have kept track of everything that happened. Some creepy stalker melted out of the stone wall (Ezekiel says it was the priest, Stalman Klim). Rocks fell from the ceiling, fire erupted from the floor, and that rude barbarian Eanwulf kept dodging away from my arrows with little boogey steps.

At least it wasn’t just me – he was giving Ezekiel and Usin trouble, too. In fact, Ezekiel was bleeding from a lot of places, and kind of weaving on his feet.

Then came another of the best things we did. Usin raised his hand, a ring on his finger flashed – and blinding stars shot Eanwulf right in the face.

That was all the distraction I needed to do the best thing I did today. I charged forward through the frenetic enemies, grabbed Ezekiel with my free hand, and dragged him into the fortress.

When we got there, I had a gash on my arm I didn’t remember from before – but that was immaterial at the moment. Usin was on the ground again, and Mikael wasn’t looking much better. A fence of dancing, slashing knives suddenly appeared in front of the fortress door, and Raven dove and rolled, trying to get free.

As for me, there’s one thing I do. Throw pointed sticks at high speed. I kept doing that, and Eanwulf finally stopped moving around so much (Ezekiel says, “You’re welcome”).

The black-cloaked man was still trading blows with Raven (when he wasn’t wrestling his sword out of the chair), while the priest stood back and healed him. But we outnumbered them now (we outnumbered them before, if you counted the animals…but they didn’t do much), and between me and Raven, and Ezekiel singing encouragement to us, we took down the angst-cloak fighter…and the priest Klim fled somewhere.

Finally, it seemed quiet, and Ezekiel and I climbed down the side of the fortress while Raven put the stunned enemies out of their misery. Ezekiel got Mikael and Usin back on their feet, while Raven and I checked the entrances – a spiral staircase going up, and a second door leading to another corridor. Heiron came in about that time – he was herding the pets or something – and we counted up bodies. Seven. We got seven of the nine.

Ezekiel was just saying that we did pretty good, all things considered, and Heiron checked that Usin was all right, when things – started – getting – really – weird.

First, the floor was shaking. Then stones started falling from the ceiling. Mikael had a funny, faraway look, and he kept muttering, “He’s not happy…someone’s not happy…” to himself.

Ezekiel retrieved the instant fortress, and went to loot the bodies…but we decided he didn’t have enough time. Usin said the passageway behind us (where Heiron and the animals just came from) looked collapsed, and when Raven opened the other door, and cloud of dust and debris blew over him. So Ezekiel unfolded the portable hole and dumped the bodies in there.

The northwest corner of the room gave way – and even though I’m pretty sure we were underground, the walls seemed to crumble outward, into a space that glowed red. Dark, bitter smoke leaked into the room, curling along the ceiling, and heat seemed to radiate from that corner across the room.

Just when we thought things couldn’t get crazier – a man stepped out of the gap in the wall (I think he was wearing a brown robe, but I was a bit distracted) and strolled over to Mikael.

To Ezekiel’s questions, he said his name was Elhanan, and he’d been looking for Mikael. He handed him a large crystal vial (Mikael had to break out of his revery to grip it with his one arm) – with a bright-glowing, pink lizard floating and twitching inside it. Elhanan told Mikael to study the lizard, then shape-shift into its form. Then one of us would have to trim off the tip of his stump-arm, and he’d have to stay in that form for a month. He said the water was special, living water from the Plane of Fire.

Then Elhanan glanced around a bit, apologized for leaving us in such an awkward situation, and walked back into the oozing lava, sinking down to return to the Plane of Fire. Druids are nice and all, but sometimes they’re just plain weird, too.

All that took maybe two minutes – but I think it could’ve been two seconds, and it wouldn’t make that much difference. Stones and dust were rolling down the staircase toward me, and not even the rope of climbing could get us through a blocked staircase. I remember thinking it was just like the Slave Lords to leave some kind of petty trap to destroy their stronghold once they died, while Raven and Ezekiel scratched their heads and talked over each other with brainstorming solutions.

Then as if things couldn’t get any more weird, Lydia stepped out of the air and made a tsking sound with her tongue. The next couple minutes are a blur, as Ezekiel 1) assumed it was the real Lydia, 2) assumed she had a portal open just behind her, and 3) bundled us all through said portal with minimal bent noses and squashed toes.

We more-or-less charged into the hidden room in the cellar of the Welcome Wench, with the more dexterous of us stepping over and around Ezekiel, who had slipped onto his butt in a pool of blood. Not his blood (though he had plenty of bruises and barely-closed cuts) – but we didn’t get an explanation until Lydia joined us through the portal and made some adjustments to her mirror (I guess so lava didn’t leak through it, maybe?).

She explained that, no, it wasn’t her blood, either. And it wasn’t Agnar’s, either – though he was sitting in the corner with his arms crossed, glaring, and mysteriously missing his armor and sword.

Several hours ago, Lydia began her tale, she was focused on watching things through the mirror – when suddenly the room went silent, and a couple dark-masked characters grabbed her and tied her up. They gagged her and shoved her against the wall…but they didn’t seem interested in any of her stuff. She wasn’t clear if they were guarding her, waiting for a signal from outside, or what… They couldn’t use the mirror, it seems – and she couldn’t overhear them discussing their plans because the room was silenced.

She thinks it must have been an object, like a ring of spell storage, that gave the effect – since the two characters were all got up in black leather and daggers – not wizard dress at all. Never one to take defeat lying down, as soon as Lydia felt her ears pop, and heard her captors’ breathing, she peeled a couple war dogs off her magic robe and sicced them on her attackers.

The dogs surged forward, yapping and howling. The strangers reacted quickly, whipping out their blades. They killed the dogs – but then they seemed to sit around and wait again…and that was their fatal mistake.

Master Osler heard the barking of the war dogs, and before a half hour passed, Master Elmo and Lord Otis appeared in the secret room…and the assassins’ blood coated the floor.

I don’t like how those two were able to find Lydia so easily – and how easily they could open the secret door. Master Osler brought more bad news – someone (maybe these two?) killed Wimple Frump in the fort prison. I am getting fed up with these assassins. We’re just lucky they didn’t finish Lydia off, nor put Master Osler on their threats list. It’s bad enough that Frump was under the protection of the fort, and they got to him…I’d be absolutely sick if anything happened to Master Osler and his family.

Anyway, Lydia got right back to her job, and found us in the mirror. That must be about the time we were wandering through the sewers and trying to draw an accurate map. She noticed Agnar wasn’t with us, and located him – a prisoner, in the slave barracks! We’re still not entirely sure how he got there (he’s not talking about it), but together they were able to take out the guards. Then Lydia nipped over to Verbobanc and visited the druid who helped us before, and together they evacuated all the slaves in the dungeon to a safe place.

Then she checked in with us again…just in time to be the dea in the machina and rescue us from the volcano. So she might be disappointed that she missed the big battle, but I think we’re all glad she got the slaves out of there before things started blowing up (she checked in the mirror again, and says the island isn’t visible anymore!). Also, she gets to look all smug for arriving in the nick of time and saving us from crispy crushing.

Since Agnar lost his stuff when he got captured, Heiron gave him a flame-tongue sword. Agnar still looks kinda grumpy, but I hope the gesture mollifies him…he’s got to choose to be our friend now, and we sure don’t need any more enemies.

While the rest of us swapped stories and let the adrenaline wear off, Ezekiel opened up the portable hole and had Raven hand him bodies. Time to dishonor the dead by despoiling their remains.


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary….winding lead-up

Alert: Contains spoilers for the adventure “Scourge of the Slave Lords”

We found the next maze area. It all started when Mikael and I went down the sewer grate in our seized house.

First off, we noticed the passage looked suspiciously new…like it hadn’t been used for sewage at all, in fact. I had the ten-foot pole out, and balanced it on my off-hand to let me prod the walls and floor as we went. Our light came from my shield, but Mikael made sure he had his light-marble in a close pocket just in case I plunged abruptly into a pit or something (can’t be too careful, we’ve learned).

The passage turned and opened up into a larger room, and here at last we could see moisture dripping down the walls and mineral deposits coating grates in the floor…but it still didn’t smell as bad as you’d think a sewer should.

As we moved into the doorway, a creepy metal-looking statue in the center of the room started waving its arms and yelling at us: “Flee, or I shall breathe poisoned death on you!”

We did some experimenting with whether it noticed me when I had my invisible sword belted on…but either it could smell me or something, or the blazing light on my magic shield was enough to give me away, since it turned its head to follow me when I tried to creep around it. It didn’t seem riled enough to attack until Mikael stepped into the room – and when he retreated, it went back to its post – but we decided we’d have to get rid of it sooner or later. It didn’t seem eager to actually blow poison at us, so I gave Mikael the shield, and we tried what the statue thought of arrows.

Not much. It didn’t think much of arrows. They made it shout and run into the corner and finally come to fight me…but it didn’t hit hard enough or fast enough to stop me from dropping it.

On closer inspection, it looked less like a statue and more like human body parts riveted together with metal plates. If the thing ever was alive, it’s good we put it out of its misery. Either Marquessa did some work here once upon a time…or someone around here takes similar inspiration.

After the guard was dead, we decided it had sounded any alarm there was to sound, and it’d be faster to bring the others down than to clear the tunnels in our own first. So Mikael and I went back up the steps to our base camp. (Oh, yes…steps into the sewer, not a ladder…not suspicious at all.)

I put my invisible sword in my pack and put my chainmail back on, since we were done being all sneaky, and then Ezekiel was able to patch up the nicks the living statue gave me that were dripping unstealthily onto the floor.

Raven was still invisible from earlier in the day, so he went first with the ten-foot pole, and the rest of us followed…even Mikael’s enormous animal posse.

Out the far end of the larger room was another passage, very similar to passage where we entered: newly carved out, no whiff of refuse, and a set of stairs leading up.
We try to avoid the obvious, though… Ezekiel rubbed some balm on his eyes, and then pointed to a door covered with crusty mineral deposits. It opened without much difficulty, and we followed the new passage (still no rivers of sludge like we’ve encountered in sewers before…which is nice).

At a turn of the corridor, Raven thought he detected some kind of mechanical device behind the wall, but he couldn’t figure out how it might work. The rest of us hung back while he and Ezekiel stuck their noses around the corner.

Prodding the floor with his pole, Raven found a trapdoor leading to a shallow sand pit. While he was trying to figure out how that was dangerous, the wall at the corner started wheezing and creaking, and fire shot out of a nozzle that folded out of the wall. Ezekiel ducked back to where we were, and Raven leapt over the pit just ahead of the flames.

Raven tripped the trapdoor once more, just to test how the trap worked…and sure enough, the mechanism worked itself up, the wall slid out of the way of the nozzle, and fire shot halfway down the hall.

Ezekiel thought the fuel for the fire probably came out of the nozzle – that it wasn’t magical – so he borrowed some of Mikael’s clay that he keeps for Shape Stone and told Raven to trigger the trap one more time. Raven tripped the trap door. The mechanism wheezed and rattled, and the wall slid aside to reveal the nozzle –

Deceptively quickly, Ezekiel nipped over and jammed a lump of mud into the end of the nozzle. The mechanism made grinding noises, a muffled explosion sounded behind the wall…but no fire shot out.

Raven played with the trapdoor one more time, just to be sure it was safe…but no fire shot out anymore. I think we broke it. So, after that it was just a matter of wedging the trapdoor open so we could ferry the animals across (wolves and giant hyenas not so skilled at balancing on ropes). (The pit had nothing but sand. No chutes, no poison…just sand.)

Our next obstacle came in the form of a chest…or rather, a monster that looked like a chest. Raven opened a door and advanced into the room, when – about the middle of the floor – his feet stuck to the ground! We could see faint footprints on the stone, and he called out to Ezekiel for help.

That’s when the chest along the far wall opened its lid and started groping for Raven with a huge, dark, hideous tongue.

Fortunately, whatever it was, it was vulnerable to arrows and blunt objects, and went down pretty quickly. It thrashed about as it died, and most of the floor rippled, revealing it to be a much larger creature than we thought at first…then it finally flopped and died, like a true drama queen.

Once it was well and truly dead, Raven’s feet unstuck from the floor, and we were able to cut the beast open (man, it was huge) and see what it had previously swallowed. Money and gems are what didn’t digest, apparently, although we also got a plain gold ring to add to the “check for magic” pile.

**

Continuing on from that room, the corridor grew almost unbearably hot. Marie Ant-oinette climbed onto Mikael’s back to avoid the floor, and I guess it’s good we were all wearing shoes or boots, since the floor, ceiling, and walls all radiated heat. None of us got hurt, but the dog-types looked uncomfortable.

Scanning the walls, Raven discovered something that he thought was a remote-activated mechanical device…like the trap part of a trap that had a trigger somewhere else. In fact, there were two spots – one on each wall – and he moneyed with them for a minute, trying to damage the mechanism so it wouldn’t trigger. Turns out he was half successful…

We had just passed that spot, with Heiron and me bringing up the rear, when a clang sounded behind us, and a blast of fiery air scalded us. Heiron and I whipped around and loosed our arrows into a huge, black dog-thing with glowing red eyes, blackened teeth, and honest-to-goodness flames licking its coat.

Thankfully, it apparently didn’t need magic weapons to die, and we took it down. It dropped to the ground, smoke boiling off the blood that seeped from its wounds. Some creature scratched and snarled behind the wall on the opposite side of the passage, and I think if Raven hadn’t done his tricks, we’d have faced two of those things.

We checked the door where the hell-hound emerged, but only a closet lay behind… Do they really keep these magical beasts locked up on the off-chance adventurers come through here? What do hell-hounds eat? Did they put them here special because they suspected we were on our way? If so, they should have stuffed the closets with three or four more. It did have a fancy collar, covered with jewels and spikes…I wrapped it in a blanket before putting it in the bag, just in case.

At the next turn of the passage, the tunnel returned to a standard underground temperature, so I guess the heat is tied to the hell-hounds – either caused by them, or for their benefit.

Raven had barely stuck his head around the corner than a giant cross-bow bolt pierced the wall, and we heard footsteps clomping away from us at high speed. We followed cautiously, and came to a T. Ezekiel went right with Mikael, while Heiron and I followed Raven’s footsteps to the left.

We came to a door, which opened in front of us, and another cross-bow bolt flew narrowly past us. Raven gave chase – we saw him pull out his light marble as he outstripped us, and he disappeared around a corner like a will’o’wisp as Heiron and I tried to catch up with him and the large, heavy person with the cross-bow.

We finally rounded a corner to see Raven shadow-boxing a minotaur wearing scale-mail and swinging a huge ax. They kept each other busy until I could get my shots off…Minotaurs also vulnerable to arrows.

We seem to have pursued the minotaur to its lair, since the walls were painted with murals of war, slavery, and human suffering, and there was a nest of bones and meat scraps in the corner. The minotaur had a bag of money on him, and Heiron is carrying around its ax – although I’m not sure he knows how to use it. He said the men at the fort gave him some pointers, and he needs to challenge himself to be a good example to Usin.

We finally met up with Ezekiel and his group. They found a damp metal room (still not sewage, though…no surprise by now) with a couple false doors, and a metal door with writing Ezekiel couldn’t read. That door shot him with lightening when he tried to open it…but he eventually found a passage that led around to where we were. Ezekiel seemed happy when we showed him the minotaur, because he said that made this maze of tunnels and passages make sense. I guess minotaurs like them.

There are several routes to the north, but Ezekiel thinks the best way forward is the mysterious lightening door…he says it feels important…

Mikael suggested wrapping a cloak around your arm before touching the door to muffle the impact.


Find the previous entry here.

Dear diary….two steps back

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure: “Scourge of the Slave Lords”

Never a dull moment, it seems. We arrived back in Homlette to a bustle in the tower. Men seemed to be moving Sir Rufus’ things out, and he himself asked to speak with us at the inn.

(Handed over Wimple Frump, and now he’s someone else’s problem.)

It’s mostly good news. Sir Rufus has been recognized for his efforts in building the fort, and he’s being promoted to a post – I think in Veluna.

The rest of the news is more of an inconvenience for us. His replacement officer is bringing a mage who wants to use Lydia’s room…which means we have to find a new place for all our stuff – principally the mirror. We’ve had a pretty sweet set-up, being able to pop all over the world at will…but life is made of adapting to new circumstances. Besides, Master Osler has been more than gracious keeping our stuff locked indefinitely in one of his rooms. A less personable inn-keeper might have dumped it while we were off kidnapped for a month.

So…we need a secure place as a new base of operations. Ezekiel is busy convincing Agnar and Usin to go look after the pets for the night, and to give us news if any slavers discover their back door has been breached. Part of me thinks they must know we’re coming…but then why leave the way so open? I mean, it was guarded by gnolls of all things!

Lydia will portal the rest of us to Veluna, since that’s the most likely place to have a temple or vault where we can store our Vast Wealth (until we decide what we’re actually going to do with it. Been kind of busy. Does Elmo need a new axe?). Heiron will stay here to “protect Miss Lydia”.

****

I think Ezekiel was hiding behind the corner watching us. He said he was going to the Temple of Rau with Mikael to find a place to keep the mirror…while Raven and I went to the city keep to ask about using the vault. He said.

The guards at the fortress were very suspicious of a monk (foreswear earthly wealth) and a ranger (only own what you can carry on your horse) asking about storing treasure in the city vault. So…I’ve been stretching the spirit of the law lately…but they really couldn’t seem to understand that we might be asking on behalf of a super introverted friend of ours. And to be fair, Ezekiel is the one still hoarding harpy feathers.

Just when I was ready to give up, they told is which door to go to and who to ask for, and let us through the gate. We found the place with no trouble, and found out there are actually standard fee rates for this sort of thing. When we said we were adventurers, the clerk asked if we were the “Northern Four”…apparently some group making a name for themselves. I couldn’t tell exactly if it was a good name or bad.

He gave us the run-down (pay ten percent to reserve your space, but after that you don’t have to pay again unless you withdraw everything, and then want to place stuff in the vault again).

We thanked him and went to find Ezekiel…except Raven got stuck talking with the guards out front again. I’m sure there’s a rule against distracting the guards on duty, but there are also rules against discussing demonic rituals, and Raven was ignoring them all. Ezekiel finally showed up before things got really out of hand.

Mikael and Ezekiel didn’t have much luck at the Temple. The head priest was understandably unenthusiastic about storing an artifact that wasn’t actually a holy relic to Rao…besides the fact that the Temple is warded against teleportation (handy, if contrary to our current needs).

Ezekiel then checked out the Arcane Academy, AKA the Library, but our one contact Mr. Prettypebbles was out at the moment. Sounds like Lydia is just as happy they didn’t do business with those “misers”…

Someone thought Princess Aliana had been staying in Veluna, so Lydia tried to contact her for references…all I heard about the result was, “No she’s not in Veluna.”

We met Lydia in a quiet alley, and she led us through the air back to her room in the tower. Heiron was standing guard over a disheveled young man who seemed just returning to consciousness. He says the young man made the mistake of trying to mug Miss Lydia, and unceremoniously returned him to Veluna before Lydia closed the portal.

We gave report to each other, and the consensus seems to be that we arrange with the fortress vault to store most of our treasure there until this whole business is dealt with. Whatever we don’t take via portal, Sir Rufus has offered to supervise in the caravan he’s taking to Veluna tomorrow.

Which means the only thing we haven’t settled is the mirror. It is super useful, but it must be locked in a secure place that we can still access…if we’re going to continue using it as an escape hatch, of course.

[written in Lawful Good]

Master Osler said he might have a solution to our problem, but we had to wait until the tavern cleared of all the other customers.

Finally, he led us to the cellar and a secret door in one corner. It’s left over from the times of trouble, when the town elders needed secure places to meet and prepare their defenses. We could still come and go from the Pomarjch, but we’d have to be discrete about when we emerged from the cellar.

Ezekiel says he can put a glyph of warding on the area in front of the mirror – or on the mirror itself, maybe? – so that anyone who doesn’t know the password or the technique or something won’t be able to move it. He told Master Osler the trick, so he’ll be safe around it…but I’m also relieved it’s in a secret room within the inn. Not like someone’s going to trip over it by accident while trying to fetch beer or something.

Heiron, Raven, and Ezekiel carried it over tonight, so there’d be less chance of anyone observing us. I helped – I “supervised.” It’s mostly framed in with wood at the moment (Sir Rufus’ men let us use some boards, which was very nice of them) so it’s more set to travel on a moment’s notice. Taking it back to Geoff will still be a headache, I imagine.

[written in Common]

I suppose Lydia would come with us if we go back to Geoff? Doesn’t sound like she has any family to speak of, and nobody in Greyhawk she wants to see ever again… Ezekiel and Raven keep talking about this temple-fortress they want to build, and discussing where a good site might be (not a lot of unclaimed land around). Last we heard, someone was killing the goblins in Ertulli…but it still might be nice to see it again… And I haven’t been home home since Reapfest when I was fifteen or sixteen… Not that I miss the old place particularly, but Father must be getting tremendously old by this time, and I would like to see how Mama’s doing. And Alpheus has been married so long… Merciful heavens, a lot can happen in five years.

****

Sudderheim – city of the Slave Lords.

[expansive map sketch, with scribbled labels]

Agnar and Usin reported nothing unusual when we rejoined them in the caves – though I think they were both glad to see us, for different reasons. I think Agnar’s chaffing at the lack of a battle.

The stairs from Frump’s throneroom lead up to an earthen tunnel, and finally out a hole to what seems to be an island.

[sketch]

It’s almost like a lump of pudding in a bowl…cliffs rise, surrounding us, across the waters of a blue lake, while a mountain rises in the middle, obstructing our view in that direction. The tunnel entrance is unobtrusive, but not exactly concealed…the immediate surroundings are huts and gardens, such as you might find in any human village, while to the south lie fenced fields. People were working the fields, but I wasn’t close enough to see chains or any other obvious signs that they were slaves at all.

After much discussion, three of us set out as scouts – Raven, Mikael, and me. Lydia made Raven invisible, then slipped back to the mirror so she could keep an eye on everything. I belted on the sword that makes me invisible, and put my chainmail in my bag so I wouldn’t be quite so noisy. Mikael turned into a snake and hid in Raven’s pocket.

Raven led the way, tugging on my hand, and we headed toward the largest landmark – the huge, square city up on the hill (I don’t think it’s quite the top of the island’s mountain, but it’s close). As we came closer, we could see piers off on the north-west coast of the island, where merchants could dock their ships. Just as Wimple Frump told us, litters traveled from the pier to the gate of the city, with (presumably) the merchants hidden behind the curtains. The porters carrying the litters all wore scimitars, and I can only assume they work for the Slave Lords.

As we approached the city gate, three litters were just arriving, too. The guards on the gate inspected their warrants and permits (such bureaucratic slavers!) and issued them all passes to enter the city, then waved them through. Raven steered me between two of the litters, and we tip-toed past the guards without anyone being the wiser.

Inside the gatehouse there’s a beggar sitting to the side, which I thought quite odd – but he didn’t seem to notice us, so I guess he’s not there for magical detection…and then we followed the merchants through another set of guarded doors into the city proper (there’s another gate on that end of the gatehouse, but they didn’t open it at that time. Possibly operated by winch inside the wall? So far, guards mostly in pairs – with four armed porters on each litter).

Inside the city itself, a colorful crowd mingles. Orcs and ogres wander freely, while humans from all over – Bakluni, Sea Princes, whatever – walk around in their ostentatious best. I can only assume these are the customers of the Slave Lords, and that whoever’s in the business of buying and selling kidnapped and traumatized villagers is both very wealthy, and likes to strut that wealth.

Raven led us down the main street for a distance, until somebody next to us went sprawling on the ground (it wasn’t me; I didn’t feel anyone trip over me). After that, Raven had us duck into a side-street and we wound up in a more residential area…quiet, well-tended, with an occasional errand-boy carrying notes to butlers and such.

Once, Raven told Mikael to explore a door tucked into an alleyway, and a snake appeared on the ground. He slipped through a crack in the door – and a moment later, whipped out again, pursued by a young man with a broom. He says it smelled like an inn, though he didn’t get to explore very much. (We managed to evade the young man, and he lost interest and went back to his business.)

There seem to be a number of inns around, plus a money changer (might come in handy, since the Slave Lords have their own currency), a blacksmith, and a couple mysterious buildings that will require more investigation. The city itself has watchtowers on each corner of the wall, and sentries at regular intervals. Also patrols that circle the city, though I haven’t figured out the pattern yet.

Finally, Raven found us a back alley that led to a single door – with plenty of dust on the threshold. It seemed to line up with a door I’d noticed on the other side of the row of houses, where a door seemed neglected.

Raven got the door unlocked, and we took a quick look around…no one around, no food in the cupboards, and plenty of dust on all the floors and furniture. If I had to guess, I’d say no one’s been here for a couple months – though they’re likely just on vacation a business trip or something, since they left plenty of personal belongings here (not to mention the beds and furnishings). Still, it seemed like the best temporary base of operations, so I drew my short sword to become visible, and we sat around to wait for Lydia to notice us…so she could then bring the rest of the party to us.

(The house also has a trapdoor in the master bedroom that seems to lead to the sewers. Potentially useful for our purposes, but what did the owners want it for? Isn’t a guarderobe usually tucked away from the living spaces?)

***

Well, great, great, great. First day isn’t even over yet and we’re already –

So Lydia brought the rest of the party through to our empty house – including all the animals, which Mikael insisted on bringing for some reason. Then we headed out to make a circuit of the city, investigating the places of interest Raven and I had noticed.

I guess it was while we were checking out this circular building at some cross-roads near the center of the city… Raven (still invisible) climbed the outer walls and discovered an amphitheater of some kind, with a couple guards milling through the stair-step seats around the central platform. (Why guard an empty amphitheater with “Do Not Enter” signs posted on all the doors??)

Anyway, I don’t even remember how it started. We were saying something about being sneaky, and Mikael told Agnar that he wasn’t. Sneaky, that is. So Agnar threw his cloak over his face and worked his eyebrows…and while “sneaky” isn’t what I’d call it, he did look dark and intimidating…but Mikael said he looked stupid.

Then Ezekiel dragged us off to check out a big marble building labeled “Temple of the Earth Dragon,” and some square, stone buildings like vaults with iron-bound doors and guarded portcullises leading to walled courtyards. We figured out the guards circling the city travel in squads of ten plus a commander, and only move clockwise (they must have set routes – bureaucratic slavers!).

We found an armory and some kind of arcane building, and several taverns, and finally returned to the hideout.

And that’s when Usin asked where Agnar was.

It’s true he’s not exactly the subtle type…but now he’s gone and none of us can remember seeing him leave. Raven thought if he decided to ditch us and grab a drink, he might go to “The Fighting Man’s Haven” (right by the central cross-roads), but he didn’t see him there.

If he decided to betray us to the Slave Lords…he knows this hideout. Then again, he never came this far while he was working with them, he didn’t seem particularly sold to their ideology, and he shouldn’t have any personal contacts that he can go to. Back on the first hand, it’s possible all the paranoia about them scrying their minions is true, so they would know him… On the other hand again, it’s been some time, and no one has showed up to arrest us (we couldn’t even bluff our way out of that, because none of us have the right papers to be here).

I know no one cares when they call me short and high-strung…but none of them is my best friend. If my best friend called me names, what would I do? More to the point, what would Agnar do? What has he done?

Raven drew the circle to attract Lydia’s attention quite some time ago. Likely, she just got tired of sitting in the cellar of the Welcome Wench, and we’ll have to wait until she finds an opportune time to slip down there again.

But on the other hand…

[more detailed sketch of Sudderheim, with labels on the buildings]

Well I don’t intend to sit making horse faces at the others any longer. We act as though nothing can happen without Lydia, or Agnar, but the day is still young and we still have some Slave Lords to kill.

If worst comes to worst, there’s a building just south of here with a “Closed by order of the city” notice on it, which could probably serve as a headquarters if necessary. I don’t remember discussing it in front of Agnar, and he’s not exactly the sharpest scalpel in a doctor’s kit. I might suggest moving our camp there, since Lydia will be scrying us when she gets back, not our hideout…although I don’t know what we’re supposed to do with a wolf, a worg, a giant hyena, a carnivorous ape, and a giant ant (Buffy is small, and easier to smuggle around…also she could be a useful scout, and doesn’t eat nearly as many dead gnolls).

Cross that bridge later. There’s an opening to the sewers here, and I think I can convince Mikael to help me explore it. Good to know what our options are – and it’d be really disappointing to find the exit all blocked up by grates just as we’re trying to escape through there. The others are all worried about the smell or something, but fresh-air people like Mikael and me know you just tuck a sprig of pine behind your ear, and it goes away…or at least it helps. Surprised the Monk doesn’t know about that… True he doesn’t know how to sit on dust without disturbing it, either…odd…


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Dear diary….one step forward

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “Scourge of the Slave Lords”

Took a step in the right direction today. We left the wood-paneled spike room, went down the long corridor, and ended up in a huge, pillared room.

At the far end of the room, about a dozen gnolls – half of which seemed to be undead – clustered around a throne. On the throne sat a most remarkable gnoll…big but kinda lich-looking, with black fur, glowing red eyes, and a three-headed flail.

Ezekiel started muttering, “No, no, no!” but he does that a lot…and it wasn’t clear if he was talking about the gnoll-lich or the giant armored lizard-thing in the middle of the room.

I went for the leader. My arrow flew true until a few feet in front of the throne, where it hit some kind of barrier and dropped to the ground.

Heiron went for the terrible lizard…and when his arrow whistled harmlessly through it, it seemed to evaporate before our eyes. An illusion.

There was still plenty to fight, though. Agnar and Raven charged a slimy, blob-looking beasty hiding where the lizard had been. Mikael was trying to cast spells, but his non-arm didn’t seem to be cooperating.

I stayed close to Ezekiel and his Protection from Evil, and as we advanced more and more gnolls appeared from behind the pillars. When we got far enough into the room, Ez waved his holy symbol, and the undead gnolls near the throne cowered back. Strangely enough, the gnoll-lich – and the rest of his entourage – hadn’t engaged in the battle at all.

The rest of our party spread out into the room, while I dropped gnolls as they showed themselves behind the pillars. And still the huge black gnoll with glowing eyes just sat there with the rest of his honor guard. I figured the wall of force that kept my arrow from reaching him also kept them from reaching us (as much as I thought about it at all in the heat of the moment). Until Ezekiel pulled out a scroll and read something.

The huge gnoll-lich vanished…and the whole squad of his entourage vanished, undead and all. Instead, a little, inoffensive-looking man sat on the throne.

We didn’t get a good look at him before his outline and features blurred, and he darted for a door to the side of the room. Most of our party was finishing off the real gnolls behind us, and Ezekiel and I just about ran into a glass wall trying to reach the throne. I thought we’d lost another lead when a wall of fire sprang up blocking the door. The little man skidded to a halt and threw down his weapon (all he had was a dagger, really) and began sniveling.

Ezekiel and Raven started questioning him, and I caught sight of Lydia standing off to the side, her eyes looking smug.

Our side wasn’t completely without losses. I found Agnar bashing dead gnolls into putty with the crumbly hilt of a sword. Turns out it was his broadsword – only the reddish, blobby monster ate it or something, and turned it to rust with just a lick! We’ve warned Heiron and Usin to look out for anything like that, and Heiron said it’s a good thing Master Raven only hit it with his hands. Agnar was pretty grumpy about it…he told us some kind of story about how that was his father’s sword. I’m not totally sure how much of his stories to believe, but it sounds like his family is much crazier than mine. Anyway, I offered him the magic sword I’d been using, and scrounged up one from the gnolls that looks good enough I can use it. That way, he still has a magic weapon, and I can use the invisible sword if I need to (I’m glad he went for it, since I don’t like the idea of him running around invisible). He actually seemed touched…can evil people be emotionally touched?

[hasty sketch of rust-monster]

Got back with Ezekiel and Raven, and this is what we’ve learned from our captive. His name is Wimple Frump (talk about a rough start in life!) and he’s part of the Outer Council (says there’s a score or more of them; Bluecolts was only recently promoted). Sounds like Frump is quite down on the totem pole, and they had him guarding this out-of-the-way “escape hatch.” (Makes sense why most of the traps seemed pointed in one direction. Doesn’t explain how anyone expected to get up the salt slide, but I’m sure if we needed to we’d find a way.)

Nine people sit on the Inner Council…he gave us names and descriptions. Edralve is a dark elf lady, and sounds like as nasty a femme fatale as you could wish to meet. Sounds like over half of them are spell-casters, although the leader is a warrior type who prefers to fight with a scimitar. Raven said he sounds like a swashbuckler. Frump gave us a little info on some potential in-fighting among the leaders, but I don’t think we can rely on that. Apparently they all stay in their private city, Sudderheim, which means they can’t be off plotting against each other. They have to at least play-act getting along, because they’re all in close proximity…like a family. Like Reginald and Archy when Mother was watching them.

It’s also very true Frump is terrified of all of them. With that many magical people, it makes sense at least some of them are scryers, and at least some of those keep up-to-date with their underlings…although I think Ezekiel’s right, and keeping that many scryers busy watching the every movement of every minion just isn’t feasible. But as long as they’ve convinced their underlings they do that, it doesn’t matter. Frump says Marquessa came back to explain how she lost the stockade, and they publically executed her for negligence or failure. Doesn’t even matter if they executed the real Marquessa, or if Frump saw it in person. He saw the head, and he firmly believes the Inner Council would absolutely send him to his final judgement if he stepped out of line.

Which brings me to another point…he wasn’t at all this forthcoming for nothing. At first, we weren’t sure what to do with him, or what we could offer him – since he has been quite willingly working for the slavers, and Ezekiel gets strangely frothy at the mouth about that. I could have pointed out that he let that half-orc assassin go that literally assassinated him, and was working for the Temple of Elemental Evil on top of that, and was a half-orc on top of that…but Lydia pointed out we are kinda sorta under the authority of Furiundy (being knights and elders of the land and so on) and we could be within our rights to surrender him to the justices of Veluna or Mitrik for them to pass judgement.

Frump seemed to brighten up at that thought, and I definitely like the idea of letting an actual judge be the judge. Killing prisoners is bad mojo (though Agnar says he doesn’t see the problem), and I also don’t like the idea of letting actual Slave Lords get away with their deeds. The other hand of that, though, is that Frump gives the impression of being a pathetic pile of goo of a man, who would be led around by anyone and anything who happens to present itself. He’s certainly been led around by his greed, it seems…though his post wasn’t too glamorous. A quick ransack of his quarters didn’t turn up any interesting papers, or even anything particularly worth taking along.

We did find a compartment in the throne that held a key – turns out it’s the spare key to the door Frump was trying to escape through. He says the door leads to some stairs, which lead to the Secret Private Island of the Slave Lords, AKA Aery Island. On the island, there’s a fortress that we’ll have to get into – and they even use their own currency (he showed us a coin – it has three hands encircling a pair of manacled hands. Like, they’re not very subtle at all).

We took Frump’s belongings (his bracers were the most interesting thing; he also had gobs of wool on him for some reason), and prepared to return to base. Ezekiel and Raven were having a heated discussion about whether burning Sudderheim to the ground with everyone in it would be ethical. I have some concerns about Ezekiel.

Also had some discussion about the animals. Frankly, there’s a lot of them now…and some of them are large and unwieldy and not best suited to a town visit. (Lulu currently chewing on a dead gnoll leg.) We finally convinced Mikael (and he convinced them) that they should stay here and guard this area. There are plenty of bodies for them munch on, and they won’t get into trouble in town. Tried to get Agnar and Usin to babysit them, but that got nixed pretty quickly. They don’t have the best rapport with the animals, or with each other… Frankly, this party can’t keep growing unconditionally. More thought required.

Now to just keep Ezekiel from committing genocide, and we’ll be all good.


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Dear diary…delighting the scientist in us

Alert: Contains spoilers for the adventure “Scourge of the Slave Lords”

Sentient stalactites that drop from the ceiling.

Sentient stalactites that drop from the ceiling!

SENTIENT STALACTITES THAT DROP FROM THE CEILING.

Sentient stalactites that happen to be vulnerable to arrows and fireball. Crisis averted.

**

Well, we found the giant hyenas. The next place where the tunnel opened up into a room, we found a squad of gnolls with huge, dog-like pets. They tried to douse us in meat to goad the hyenas to attack.

While Mikael fed his new hyena pet (because he had to add one to his collection), we searched the dead gnolls and found an interesting ring. Added it to the “check for magic” pile.

**

[Huge, sprawling map]

Ugh. Found a cavern blocked by some kind of white goo, so we tried to go around…but all the passages lead back to the same place! In fact, it looks like the gnoll company that met us at the bottom of the slide might camp out there…there’s no other sign of habitation down here.

I guess we have to beat the goo somehow. The gnolls must have had a way…but they’re super dead.

**

The white goo room is beyond weird. Wide stone steps lead down into the bubbling pool on each side, while a narrow bridge spans the distance above it. But – across the center of the room, cutting off the bridge, some kind of blue fire keeps jumping back and forth between the walls, crackling as it goes. The whole room smells like a thunderstorm (only without the rain smell).

When I shot an arrow through the fire, the arrow wasn’t instantly consumed, and we heard it hit the far wall…but none of us suggested the fire might not actually be there. Ezekiel’s Dispell Magic did nothing to it.

Mikael started dipping a stick in the goo, while Raven ran back to the other room to fetch a hunk of meat (amazing Lulu and the doggy pack left him anything to find). While he was gone, Ezekiel and Usin tried sticking a torch into the goo…with the result that the torch went out, and the stick got covered with goo. The goo didn’t seem to harm the wood – nor Raven’s chunk of meat, nor the iron-tipped arrow he used as a skewer. Finally, Raven walked along the bridge to do a side-by-side comparison of meat in the blue fire. Goo-ified meat came out of the fire a bit singed…while the plain meat looked and smelled almost cooked.

Well, Raven has never been known to send others where he wouldn’t go himself. He dipped his arm in the goo, and tried it out in the fire. While the goo felt cool (despite the bubbles), the fire made his skin tingle and his hairs prickle, and his arm reflexively jerked out of it. He thought the goo protected him some, but obviously it wasn’t complete protection – and getting the animals through there would be a chore, at the very least.

So he decided to try walking through the goo. Lydia produced a ten-foot pole from her magic robe, and Raven headed out – trying to use the pole to feel out the slope of the floor before him. He decided the floor was probably ten feet below the surface, which meant even Mikael would be under if he tried to cross through the goo. It’s also very thick, so even Raven had to fight his way through, and he was less swimming more pushing through.

He crawled out – all white and sticky – and borrowed two of our shields for one more experiment. He coated the shields with goo, also, and tried to walk through the pulsing fire, blocking both sides with the shields. It worked about as well as our other experiments – he didn’t die, or lose his footing, but the fire still prickled at him…and his daggers slid out of their sheaths and stuck to the shields.

Raven decided to try once more, to see if he could swim across the room – under the fire, since it crackled pretty close to the surface of the goo. I wasn’t sure about everyone’s abilities to swim through the goo – especially if Raven of all people struggled with it – but we didn’t have many other options. Raven gave Lydia back her pole and started out.

For a while, we could see the lump of his head bobbing up, then under, then back to the surface a bit farther on…then it felt like quite a while since we had seen him, and I considered that if he drowned in there, none of us was well suited to rescuing him.

Then, we saw him coming back – looking weird and monstrous, with his face all covered in white goo. He announced that we could breathe in the goo (maybe that’s what the bubbles are about??) so after that, it was just a matter of forming up – and everyone keeping hold of a rope so Raven could lead us across. I think Mikael carried Buffy under his jacket, since the fire occasionally licked the ceiling with its blue tendrils, so he didn’t want her to fly.

It’s weird trudging through goo, unable to see anything, feeling your lungs satisfied by something that isn’t really air… I’m glad Raven has practiced moving and navigating while blind-folded…I’m sure I could have wandered in circles down there if I wasn’t careful – and if there was nothing to hold on to.
Speaking of which…

I felt something brush my hand in the goo, and grabbed it automatically (I thought it might be one of Mikael’s animal posse, or one of our many belongings, fallen off our persons). I finally pulled free of the goo and struggled up the steps on the far side, to find all my companions staring at me. But no – they weren’t staring at me… Raven said something about, “Elwyn went and got lost!” and I think Lydia and Heiron started tugging the rope to see if I was still holding it. I was – it was in my other hand…so I tugged it back, so they could see I just hadn’t climbed all the way out of the goo yet.

Well, Raven still couldn’t see me, so he came down a couple steps and stared into the goo – with me standing there the whole time, with goo drying on my skin and clothes. I couldn’t take it anymore, and laughed.

Turns out, I was invisible. I thought for an instant that maybe it was something the goo did, but when I put down the thing I grabbed (it felt like a scabbard), everyone could see me again.

Ezekiel picked it up – and vanished! He buckled it on (took him a while, being unable to see himself) and we heard the sound of a sword drawn – and suddenly Ezekiel was there again, holding what seemed to be an empty hilt (it did have a blade – he nicked his thumb on it).

Just when it seemed our excitement had peaked, Ez had Usin buckle it on, then draw his flame-tongue. A blade of fire appeared in the air, but the rest of him stayed invisible. Then Ezekiel had him knock his sword against Ezekiel’s shield. Usin stayed invisible. I don’t have to be a magic user to understand the implications of this…and to want this sword in only the right hands!

We talked for a moment about who was best suited to use it, and in the end, I put it in my backpack. It doesn’t seem to make anyone invisible unless they’re actually wearing it or holding it sheathed, so it might end up awkward to carry around…

**

The goo hardened as we walked, and finally peeled off in chunks like an exoskeleton. Lydia theorized it was an effect of the lights we carried, since the goo in our lungs just absorbed harmlessly – which suggests that the blue fire had a counter-active property, since we stood in there for some time, waving our lights around, and the surface of the goo never hardened. Or perhaps it has something to do with the bubbles constantly rising through it…or the huge quantity of goo piled together.

Anyway, the next room we found also had a trick to it. It seemed to be completely empty, except for a rope hanging from the center of the ceiling. Ezekiel and Agnar made a circuit of the room, but they didn’t find anything – not even dust or pebbles or anything.

We tied a rope to the one hanging from the ceiling, and then stood in the hallway to pull the rope. Sure enough – the floor dropped away on hinges…while at the same time, a secret door opened up exactly opposite where we were. Down below, we could see a clear liquid…with absolutely nothing in it. Not a fish, not floating debris – nothing.

After a short discussion, Ezekiel held the rope braced, while Raven crossed the room using his monk-ish skills. He was able to jam the secret door open with a crampon, and then signaled Ezekiel to release the rope. Luckily, the floor folded back up when he let go of the rope – so the rest of us were able to cross and get through the secret door with minimal trepidation.

After another unnecessarily complicated long, twisty corridor, we found a larger room that felt more like a natural cave…complete with a huge stalagmite in one corner. We’ve learned better by now, of course – it looked suspiciously like the last “stalactite” we fought (Agnar calls those things that try to drop on you “piercers”). So we approached cautiously – and what a surprise! it shot out two tentacles and tried to hit Ezekiel. He warded it off with his shield, and we killed it without much trouble. (Agnar called that one a “storoper,” and said they try to mind-control you with their tentacles. That would have been entertaining, but we’re sort of on a schedule.)

While Agnar was cutting it open for treasure (quite a lot of coins and gems – I guess they don’t digest that stuff), he discovered a hole underneath it leading to another tunnel. I was glad we could just climb into this one, and didn’t have to drop down with no way back. Raven thinks this passage is meant to be traveled the other direction (something about a mechanism on the far side of the drop-floor?) but that still leaves unanswered questions.

Now, the latest room – all covered in wood paneling, with plenty of knots to be secret spy-holes. Ezekiel is busy searching every single panel, in case one of the knots is a button or something. Could take a while.

**

Well, Ezekiel found the knots that were different – one corner of the room had a door hidden among the panels, with the knots removed. Squinting through one, he saw they were removed to allow spikes through! We weren’t sure what would trigger the spikes, but we all agreed better to be far away when it went off.

So we all cleared out of the room while Mikael stood in the doorway – and cast Turn Wood. The paneling secured to the walls didn’t budge, but the wooden door cracked and popped open. Something behind it (I think a second door?) shoved the spikes forward…but of course there was no one standing there for them to pierce. Once the spring was sprung, Raven was able to open the door properly, and lead us into – yep – yet another long stone corridor.

(Mikael’s just excited he finally got to use his spell.)


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