Dear Diary…the tilting tower

The giants had various gems and coins on them, plus a magic sword that was too big for any of us to use. Still, it might look impressive on someone’s mantle.

I felt better after sitting down for a moment, so we investigated their camp – just beyond the rise. They had their beds inside bonfires, and the number of beds seems to match the number of giants we killed (six) so I hope no one will return from a foraging mission and catch us here. Their backpacks lay in a pile, full of (giant) clothes and foodstuffs (I don’t trust what kind of meat they have), and it looks like they’ve been camped here about a week, sending out hunting or exploration parties into the surrounding mountains. Their tracks went straight up the cliff, though, so only Mikael could follow them – as a bird – and he didn’t see anything interesting in his scan of the surrounding hills. Maybe they had a castle somewhere around here, and maybe they were nomad or bandit fire giants (seems unlikely)…either way, there’s nothing here to point us to their home.

Ezekiel took the ring of regeneration from Lydia before he sent her party back (he says so she didn’t swallow or lose it) so he passed that around. After a few hours wearing it, Agnar looks much perkier.

****

We spent the night in the giant camp – and nothing attacked us. If Raven and Sirion avoid interacting with anyone on their way, our afternoon rest will have given them a boost.

No tracks of note.

****

We crossed a pass today. Ezekiel explained something about how the melting snow pours down the mountainsides, and carves new channels and formations…and also sometimes catches people when it all gives way.
I keep learning about new horrifying ways to die.

****

11 Planting

Found something promising today. We were walking along when Commodore Bearington dove into a snowdrift, and crawled out bearing a frozen horse leg. We burrowed into the drift, and found the rest of the horse easily enough…dressed in the livery of Geoff and Gellsblood.

One of its other legs was broken, and Ezekiel pointed out how a pile of snow, balanced on a ledge above, could have suddenly slipped down and carried the horse along with it. We found no sign of its rider, no matter how wet and frozen our hands got burrowing through the snow…so it’s possible he wasn’t riding at the time, and so escaped the avalanche. The only questions, then, are whether this is Sir Hoshure’s horse – and if so, whether he was traveling the same direction as we are, or was trying to return to the fort after his party was waylaid. There’s not much more this body can tell us…the saddlebag had a map similar to ours (except more smudged), with no extra marks on it to indicate what they encountered.

**

When we were ready to move on, Agnar asked if we should try a smaller, narrower path off to the side – but Ezekiel was already heading down the main trail, map in hand, and he usually knows where he’s going, so we followed him.

After following it for some time, I was pretty sure all marks of our horse party had disappeared, so it seemed reasonable that they took the hidden side path that wasn’t on the map.

Ezekiel agreed (once he knew it was there) but by then the sun was low enough we decided it’d be safer to find the path in the morning.

****

[on a scrap of parchment]

Dear Raven (and Sirion),

We aren’t in the fortress because we took the side path heading west behind the big boulder. Please bring the fortress with you – we didn’t want anyone messing up our note – and thank you.

**

Much to report this time.

Mikael flew up along the trail first off, in case of an ambush, and told us the trail led over a ridge and into a strangely round valley.

We followed the trail and were getting our bearings on the crest above the valley when Raven joined us with Sirion (so I guess he’s still entertained by our company).

Straight ahead, seemingly in the center of the valley, a tower stood…or rather, leaned to one side. At its base lay a lake, covered by mists. The mist made it hard to see anything else from our angle, so we started down the slope.

Before too long, we picked up our party of knights again – and Sirion pointed out how one horse was probably ridden double at this point. Which suggests the horse we found was already lost, and the knights were continuing without it.

But before we were far into the valley, we found signs of struggle – bothered by the elements, but there all the same…blood, metal scraped across rock, trampling hoofmarks. There’s no sign they even had time to set up camp before they were attacked…and whatever set on them took away all the bodies (alive or dead), and all the armor…all but these marks in the earth.

Perhaps they arrived later in the day – because nothing bothered us as we made our way down the valley and around the lake. On the south end (perhaps south-west), we found another path that led up the slope to some kind of tunnel…smooth, square walls of black stone. Ezekiel shivered when he touched them, and we all agreed we need to investigate…later. First, we wanted to check out the tower to make sure our backs were safe.

From the higher slope, we could see better into the lake, and noticed large shapes moving around. We couldn’t see distinctly what they were – only that they were at least as big as Bearington – so none of us was anxious to go swimming.

Fortunately, there was a bridge from the beach to the tower…although the tilt of the tower made everything more precarious. Mikael told us the water and the moss growing on the bridge were perfectly normal and natural…from the black sand, the warm air, and the circular shape of the valley, it seems likely this is the remains of a volcano (or something like – Ezekiel tried to explain the science of volcanos in between trying to cross the bridge).

With Raven’s agile feet, my crampons, and a rope, we all got safely across – although Bearington rocked the whole set-up, and almost got us wet.

Next came actually entering the tower…which was complicated by the end of the bridge connected to the tower being underwater. I don’t know if the building settled after it tipped, or if whatever destabilized it knocked it that far over. Anyway, we all felt up and down the wall for a number of minutes until Sirion pointed out a crack where two sides of a joint weren’t even – and Raven helped him open a secret window (I’m not sure, but I think he was having fun).

Inside, the floor tipped away from us. Broken crockery and bits of kitchen furniture littered the floor. I stood guard with my bow while Raven and Ezekiel poked around, and Mikael enlarged the stone opening of the window so Bearington could squeeze inside.

We found a pantry filled with rotting food, and a chimney too small even for me to squeeze into. The only other door was piled with rubble, and it took us a while to clear.

Beyond was a dining room – the table and chairs tumbled against the far wall. A circular staircase led us upward (Bearington puffing and snuffling), and we found another living space, with paintings of mages fighting devils or something (Ezekiel said he liked them; I don’t know much about art).

The other room of this floor must have been a laboratory or mage study of some kind, since when Ezekiel opened it he got a pile of books, broken bottles, and spell reagents all over him. Raven caught the one bottle that didn’t seem broken, and we are taking care of it until we know what it is.

I don’t believe anyone or anything has been in here for some time…but Sirion and I both noticed a strange lack of dust in the tower. No one disturbed the debris against the doors until we came, and yet the place was otherwise very tidy. Mothers the world over would love to know how that works.

We also found a bedroom on this floor (learned later it was the apprentice’s) and spent quite some time poking around for traps and unlocking a nice magic chest with a key from the bureau…only to find it empty.

The floor at the top of the stairs kept us busy for a minute. There are two doors – one with a magic symbol written on it (Ezekiel got all nerdy and anxious), and a secret one opposite it. When Ezekiel and Mikael dispelled the magic symbol, the room beyond was…absolutely empty. Shakka, Tressarian, and Sirion all said nothing was in there…or had ever been in there. Not even an invisible kidnapped prince. So it was a decoy door all along.

The secret door led to the main bedroom…but here, finally, someone had gotten there before we did. The furniture was all slid to the side once again – but all the drawers and chests were open and empty, and things were tossed about in a way that looked distinctly ransacked. Not entirely sure if the pillagers came through before or after the tower tipped – but if after, it’s guaranteed they didn’t come in the way we did. They came from above.

Sirion spotted the trapdoor, and Ezekiel opened it (and got a face full of ladder that unfolded down to him). Through the trapdoor we found the final room.

It used to be a library, but I doubt there’s a readable volume in the place now. Ezekiel picked through it, but everything is shredded, and tossed about, and eaten up by moss and mold. Here, at last, we found dust – and some leaves that filtered in the gaping hole in the roof – but no rats or even birds’ nests to show little creatures have been using the space. It’s kinda odd, and I doubt Mikael would approve.

Some shards of crystal lay on a velvet cloth in the center of the room, faintly radiating magic…and in the corner, a withered skeleton, mostly buried with fallen stones, also radiated faintly. Not sure if it was him, or his white robes, or the replica of the empty chest lying beside him.

When we saw the body, Ezekiel suddenly grabbed his head, and muttered something about “too much power,” and once Agnar cleared the stones, he touched the corpse and muttered something in his sheep symbol’s ear.

I’ve seen some things in my time. Now I can say I’ve seen skin flow over desiccated bones, and muscles puff out to fill the skin, and facial features (this was the creepiest) somehow gain color and “moisture” and finally the eyes blinked and focused and the man sat up, rubbing his newly-haired head.

He introduced himself as Uthien, scholar, and obviously did not expect his library to appear so neglected. Ezekiel introduced himself and Raven, and asked what date (in what calendar) he last remembered. Turns out he’s been dead over 120 years!

Uthien said his bodyguard should be around here, too, so we trouped down the ladder (greeted by Bearington at the bottom), then down the stairs to the kitchen, then down from there to a floor where water lapped against the stairs and covered part of the rooms. Fortunately, the room Uthien led us to was dry, and Ezekiel went forward, sheep in hand.

As soon as they opened the bedroom door, though, someone started screaming. I thought I knew what it was saying – but then I realized the voice used “justice” much looser than I would…although “help” and “rescue the innocent” kept coming up. I got a glimpse of a corpse with a head injury of some kind – and then Ezekiel disturbed the crime scene by lifting the body (piece by piece) onto the bed. I guess he thought it would be less disorienting for him to come back that way?

A touch of his hand, and within moments the bodyguard’s armor lit up, and he sat up, and picked up the sword that used to be lying beside him and told it to calm down. (Tressarian had some of the same troubles I had in understanding the sword – Mironis – but he says he can relate to its fears of abandonment. I can absolutely see that 120 years is a long time to lie there all alone.)

We returned to Uthien’s bedroom and passed around cheese sandwiches. He and Sir Fredrick seem to be taking the change pretty well – although seeing the work of your life in shambles must be a shock to the system. Ezekiel tried to find some things Uthien would know about to bring him up to speed – and he seemed relieved that the Grand Duchy and Keoland are still here. He used to adventure among the Coldtongue Barbarians, he says, and retired here because it was warm, out of the way, and had the lake to experiment with breeding aquatic animals (and there’s still there, or their descendants, so he can be comforted about that).

Ezekiel tried to explain about Haven (his temple fortress), and said when Lydia rejoins us, she can transport them to somewhere more comfortable so they can get back on their feet. He’s Ezekiel, so he took a long time about it, though, and somehow got talking about the Temple of Elemental Evil along the way, which had better not be involved, I hope (Uthien hadn’t even heard of it, so it wasn’t involved in his death).

The way I see it, they have three options:

  • Stay here. Ezekiel can give them rations.
  • Come with us. Safety in numbers, and at least their sword talks about protecting the innocent (whatever it means by that).
  • Head for either Fort Gellsblood or Deepholm on their own. After the bandits and the fire giants, I wouldn’t recommend a single knight and a spell-less mage head off alone…but it’s their choice.

As for us, we have a mission. And since nothing in the tower took out the knights, it seems the square, black-stone tunnel is our next goal. It is mysterious, though… What took out Uthien and Sir Fredrick? Uthien says he didn’t know of any enemies – but everyone who’s been around has enemies. It seems incredible that they’d still be around…but if they are, they must be scary indeed.

Anyway, I guess they also have a fourth option. Wait for Lydia. Ezekiel says she and Heiron should have gotten back to the fort by now – although he’s not positive anyone there would be able to help them. If not, they can head for Gorna (we wrote down some of this for Heiron), but it’s hard to say how long it would take them. Ezekiel suggests we wait here a day to see if Lydia shows up. Raven seems to agree…we do miss our escape-hatch.

Raven pulled out the paintings we found, to reassure Uthien that some things survived, and then they and Ezekiel started talking about art.

[sketch of a painting – a mage roasting a devil]


Find previous entry here.

Dear Diary…fire giants

The scouts named the mountain Mt Torch on their map; Ezekiel calls it Cloudcatcher Mountain. It rises at the far end of this lake, the face towards us lit up with sunlight. The trail rounds the lake to the east, and the marks of the bandits are pretty clear, entering the hills somewhere in that direction.

We found traces of a camp on the north shore – from the depth of hoofprints, probably our armored knights. They didn’t stay long, though, and didn’t leave any signs behind to guide us. I found no signs of battle or conflict, though, which suggests our answers are still further on.

****

We had another look around this morning. The ground shook a little some time in the night, but that could have been Cloudcatcher Mountain – Ezekiel says it’s a volcano. What that doesn’t explain is what made the wailing sound in the night. I heard it plainly, and so did Mikael…he’s trying to decide what bird could have made that sound. I’m not sure what it sounded like.

Mikael also spent some time this morning with his eyes closed, “feeling the aura of nature.” He says, yes, the volcano is active (might that be what keeps the north end of the lake open?) and there are no “above ground” dwellings nearby. There might be someplace underground where “two-legs” live, but he was very vague about it.

Agnar says there was an old dwarf city somewhere to the west (whereas Deepholm is to the east from here, if our bearings are right). He didn’t have many details, though, and I’m not sure he’d ever been there.

The local wildlife obviously come down to the lake for water, but they avoid going out onto it. That could just be because the heat from the mountain or the magnified sunlight or whatever it is keeps the ice thin enough to be dangerous, even on the south end where it’s thickest. We didn’t test it. I know we have a couple rings of warmth somewhere, but I don’t know if we have them with us…and besides, any entrance to a mysterious underground city isn’t going to be underwater.

Agnar thinks there’s an underground river draining the lake and keeping the water clean, which makes sense. He also clearly has enough memories of his last trip down an underground river he didn’t suggest we make sure. So I guess it’s onward and northward for us.

****

Well, things didn’t stay dull for long. Today as we followed the trail, and the marks of the knights’ passage, we approached a ridge where woodsmoke rose from the dell beyond.

I snuck forward to scout, with Mikael keeping an eye on me as a condor, but clearly I wasn’t as hidden as I thought. Maybe I was concentrating too hard on distributing my weight evenly so I didn’t leave prints in the snow. I had just barely peeked over the rise when I found a hellhound staring right at me, its nose twitching.

It also didn’t help that Tressarian started yelling at them in Fire Giant the moment he spotted them.

I tried to back up to where Ezekiel was, but four or five hellhounds surrounded us within moments, followed more slowly by five or six fire giants.

Tressarian yelled the whole time in words I couldn’t understand, and I think he was having a great time.

Maybe Heiron would have done better deflecting boulders off his shield. I had a terrible time. Good thing the giants weren’t always such great shots, and pegged their own hound at least once. (I hope Heiron’s doing all right.)

Ezekiel and Agnar ran up in time for the hellhounds to spew steam and sulphur at us. Mikael’s bear charged in, strangely twice as large as I remembered him.

I usually try to pay attention to what everyone is doing in a fight – not only so I don’t hit them, but so everyone’s acts of heroism can get recognized – but I admit my mind is so full of teeth and flying boulders and Tressarian getting heavier and heavier (and one period where I think I blacked out, even if my body didn’t) that I really can’t give a good account.

I know Ezekiel whacked his mace on the ground, and the shockwaves stunned the hellhounds senseless. Personally I was busy slipping in my own blood at the time.

I had to have Tressarian levitate us so I had enough time to dig out a healing potion from my backpack. Even then they didn’t leave us alone, and a couple fire giants lobbed boulders at me in the air. (I’m happy to say one of them missed, and pegged his companion in the head.)

Finally, it was over, and Agnar and Tressarian were yelling about how amazing a fight that was, and Ezekiel was going around finishing off the hellhounds.

I managed to sit down on a boulder, and just watched Ezekiel interrogate the enemy as usual…going through their pockets. Healing potions don’t go as far as they used to, I guess. Mikael scratched his bear under the chin, and told him to eat up a hellhound.

I hope Heiron and Lydia don’t run into anything like this on their way back to the fort. (Raven would be fine. He’d just run past like lightening. )

Dear Diary…internal conflict

No surprise, much has happened in a short amount of time.

We probably made things more complicated than we needed to. I strapped on the sword of Lyons and Lydia gave me a potion of flying so I wouldn’t leave footprints in the snow – but of course she couldn’t tell me exactly how long it would last. (I left Tressarion, too, because he’s been glowing ever since we’ve been in the snow, and he whined.)

The camp certainly seemed sketchy. The sentries by the main road each wore a different uniform, so it seemed reasonable that they were deserters. Someone in the camp was telling a rude story, and an officer yelled at a man to be more alert while on duty. Then a fellow officer mocked the first one for being all “law and order”.

Very clear that they weren’t our type, but there didn’t seem to be any pressing need to fight them – except for the possible threat they posed to Fort Gellsblood (though some of us thought we couldn’t get past them without a fight).

I returned and reported to the others, and with the stealth option used up, Ezekiel took Raven with him to outright ask them what they were up to. If there was trouble, Lydia would throw up the fortress and we’d stand there, while Ez and Raven came back to us in gaseous form.

They must have done their job better than I did mine, since before too long we saw the two of them rushing back towards us, the whole camp on their heels with arrows and swords. Heiron, Lydia, and I climbed to the roof of the fortress for a better angle, and the battle began.

Mikael summoned an earth elemental, and used his magic elephant statue to summon a magic elephant (I admit it looked impressive)!

Ezekiel and Raven floated up to join us on the battlements, and Mikael summoned a magic insect swarm to control one of the flanks (obviously they were magic insects, since any real ones are sleeping in temperatures like this).

We peppered the enemy with arrows as they charged up the hill towards us. A robed man stepped forward and threw a lightening bolt into us, but Lydia and Raven threw bolts back, and when he dropped, the survivors started to retreat.

I guess he got off one last spell, though, because as we headed downstairs to pursue them, Ezekiel was fussing over Lydia – which he doesn’t normally do in the heat of battle.

Sirion and Mikael flew off as hawks, and Agnar and Heiron dashed away like madmen (Agnar laughing the whole way), leaving me to rejoin the battle at my own speed.

When Mikael’s animals and I caught up with the others, the druids had a group of men floundering in a mud pit and Raven was stunning people. As the animals wrecked havoc and we rescued Raven from being surrounded, most of the survivors on the edges of the battlefield started to flee.

Three men near us threw down their weapons and dropped to their knees, offering their surrender. I’ll be the first to admit, I hate when people do that – it makes things complicated and confusing. But it should mean something.

Heiron shot them down, and grunted when he saw no one else was in range.

I don’t know how to explain anything well…but some things should mean something.

I sent him to get Ezekiel, and searched the tents (the battle led us down into the camp itself) for papers or anything that might be important. I only saw the one magic-user, and on the slim chance he didn’t have any fire spells, we’d know for sure these men weren’t responsible for the missing patrol.

Sirion looked around the camp, and said they’d only been there since that morning. He also found a log of raids and moves, and thinks the band came down the trail from somewhere behind Deepholm (closer to the lake by the mountain on our map).

We found lots of horses, and assorted other coins and gear, but my mind really isn’t on that. Ezekiel finally arrived with Heiron and Lydia – except we could tell at once she wasn’t herself. I mean, she was – that is to say, she wasn’t using the hat.

I told Ezekiel he should raise the men who surrendered. Like he raised the punk druids who wanted to turn people into plants. Like he gave the black dragon babies a chance to make good choices. Even Mikael agreed with me that we should slap them on the wrist and tell them not to be bad anymore, and that would fix it. (I kinda can’t believe I supported that argument.)

I don’t know why Ezekiel was arguing my side and making me argue his side. I’m supposed to be the one always worried someone’s going to stab us in the back, and he’s supposed to be the one who thinks Grumpsh is just misguided or something. It’s not fair.

Anyway, we finally reached a compromise of sorts. Someone had to take Lydia back to Fort Gellsblood – possibly to get her healed, at least to keep her safe. Ezekiel doesn’t know exactly what happened to her, but he says her mind is hurt somehow. The return party could take the three bodies back and have them raised there…and maybe Father Joseph can find useful jobs for them, like the bandits outside Homlette found with Sir Rufus.

They’re probably filthy lowlifes…but they threw themselves on mercy. That should mean something. Why am I the one saying it?

We loaded the threesome and the armor onto the horses, and then I piled the rest of the bodies into the druids’ quagmire since everyone else was in a mood. – That’s not fair…Mikael helped me, and Sirion threw a blanket of thorns over the top when we were done. That’s a better burial than they’d get from anyone else, I’m sure. Raven was helping Ezekiel write letters of explanation to Fr. Joseph, and Heiron of course was very distracted. I’ve never seen him so shaken…not even when he was literally tied to a rack.

Lydia seems…happy enough. She was humming and sucking her finger when Heiron lifted her onto his horse. Raven and Sirion are going with them, at least until they reach the main causeway, and they’re taking the treasure back to the fort, too. I found a bundle of papers in the camp that I can’t read – the letters kinda swim around on the page – so we sent that back, too, for someone who can make better use of it.

We saw them off with the caravan of horses, and then Ezekiel, Mikael, Agnar, and I (and Commadore Bearington) continued up the trail with what was left of the daylight. The sun sets sooner in the midst of the mountains, but at least we’ve turned the corner of the year.

And we all have plenty to think about.

Why couldn’t we be fighting orcs?

Dear Diary…our new friend

Our new friend calls himself Sirion Tidewater, and says he follows “the Dweller on the Horizon” – Ezekiel seemed to recognize who that was. He says he’s been all over the Flaneas at one time or another, and he looks mature enough even for an elf he could have done it.

Ezekiel mentioned Aliana, and he seemed to recognize her, too – sounded like a proud uncle or something, glad the little thing turned out well (though I don’t think they’re actually related; funny to think how elves think about each other).

He complimented the food – so that put him on Raven’s good side. He said he was in these mountains when he was young, traveling with his father, and there was a white dragon in these parts back then. He says he came to see how it turned out when it grew up, basically, and see if it still lived here. I don’t think it could have taken out our party of knights, but Ezekiel invited Sirion to help us investigate our problem anyway. If we’re poking our noses in places they shouldn’t be up here, we just might run into a dragon…

****

Spotted smoke from campfires about noon today. Sirion invited me to scout with him, but Mikael kept an eye on us from the air (oh, Sirion can turn into a hawk, too. I guess when you have the time of an elf, you can learn just about everything).

Just over the next ridge is a camp of about seventy men. Some of them are wearing uniforms, but from all different kingdoms – mostly Bissel, Ket, that kind of thing. And no banners in front of any of their patchwork tents.

If Father Joseph was worried about an invasion, this force might give the fort some trouble.

Now we have to vote how to deal with them. Ezekiel wants to try diplomacy, but I think it would be safer to spy on them first. The deep snow is going to make that harder, though.

Dear Diary…into the mountains

Lydia helped Ezekiel get word to Aliana about where he’s going to be, and we headed out. Between Ezekiel and some good directions, we made good time along the quickest route to Fort Gellsblood. Agnar took turns riding double with us, since he insists this “horse-foolery” isn’t something he’ll do long-term, so there’s no point having his own pony.

First impressions are this place is pretty military, with tending the church to Heironeous and guarding the pass to the Deepholm dwarves being the only “industries” to speak of.

After they let us in, we stabled our horses and looked for a Father Joseph, who Ezekiel said would be in charge. We found him alone in the temple, and Raven gave him our letters of introduction from the Grand Duke.

The Father seemed very business-like, made no small talk with Ezekiel, and explained the situation as far as he knew it. Apparently the garrison had discovered a trail of some kind off to the side of the main route used to visit the dwarves. An initial scouting (going as quickly as possible, and still taking two weeks to complete) showed the trail looped around through the mountains and came out at Lake Mala, which is another settlement to the north of Fort Gellsblood. (He gave us a copy of the scouts’ map.)

[sketch]

Since this was clearly a made path, but with no sign of who made it or who might use or have used it, His Grace ordered a regular patrol of the trail. The first patrol was Sir Hoshur’s squad…and after missing their expected rendezvous at Lake Mala, only Sir Hoshur was returned – dead.

The unusual gnomes who brought in his body gave no details, except that the knight promised them a reward if they returned him (or his body) to the fort. The burns must have been from whatever attacked him – and removed his gear, as the gnomes implied he suffered from the elements while they were bringing him back. Apparently, his last words were warnings about “fire” or “flames.”

Father Joseph seems to think the Grand Duke’s primary concern is the medallion, and whether or not he could finally find answers about his son. The Father obviously thinks the danger of an invasion is a more pressing concern for his own responsibilities, but sending us out could cover both interests. I’m not sure he thinks we (or perhaps Ezekiel) are the best suited for this mission, but I don’t suppose he has plenty of extra men to throw into harm’s way for this.

Ezekiel seems indecently hopeful we cross swords with the Underdark through this – but he went off to visit his father and his mother’s grave, so perhaps that will steady him a bit.

Raven went off to secure what supplies we need, while Mikael has been asking everyone he can about (live) bears and mountain lions. I tried to drum up some more intel about these mercenary gnomes, but it wasn’t very promising. It’s been like a month since this happened, and a lot of details are supposed to be privileged information anyway. One of the guards said he thinks a wizard killed Sir Hoshur…there’s an old rumor about a wizard setting up a tower somewhere in the mountains – but like most rumors, it’s unhelpfully vague.

****

3rd Planting

Got an early start this morning, and reached the entrance to this mysterious pass by the time the light was failing.
This is where the route to Deepholm and the dwarves splits off, and I can really tell that more traffic goes that way. There’s virtually nothing in the trail to the side, although morning light might change that. Ezekiel asked if I could see where the grey gnomes came from, but I don’t think he really comprehends what time and weather do to the traces of living creatures. If they were here yesterday, or this past week, then maybe.

Mikael tried calling animals out of the mountains, but no luck.

****

We made our first acquaintance with the inhabitants today. Our first indication was when the ground turned to mud beneath us.

Thankfully, my ring let me run free and into the shelter of a fallen tree, as boulders crashed down on us from either side of the ravine.

Turns out it was not giants, but rock people – stubby, bipedal boulders with faces, kicking rocks down on us. Fortunately, they were vulnerable to arrows – though I must have been at a bad angle, and Heiron did way better than I did. Ezekiel floated himself and Agnar up the cliff to attack the enemy on our other side, and Mikael used his magic ebony fly to pull himself out of the mud.

The last two boulder-men tried to hide under a shell of stone or something, but Mikael dispelled it. We didn’t leave much to answer questions, though everybody except me and Lydia was bleeding pretty badly, so I don’t think interrogating them was at the top of our minds.

Ezekiel called them Galeb Duhr (children of the mountain), and thought they were usually more chill and easy-going than this…but I pointed out anyone could be testy when strangers barge into your territory without warning. Mikael flew around on his fly and found a stash of gems and magic things. At this point, there’s nothing for Tressarian to scan to see if the Galeb Duhr were charmed or something, but Ezekiel is still floating that theory. He really, really wants a conspiracy theory that leads us to fight dark elves. I say what would Aliana think.

We’re far enough into the mountains now, we set up the fortress for the night. The fire burns just as well inside, and it keeps out the wind – and prying claws.

****

Well Ezekiel has gone and been Ezekiel again. When Raven woke me for my watch, we had a visitor in the fortress – an elf all bundled up sleeping against the wall.

The short version (which Raven gave me) of the long version (which Ezekiel gave him) is Ez and Mikael spotted this elf (with help from the ring of infravision, so I’m glad we have that) out in the snow watching the fortress. Ezekiel naturally invited him in (allegedly after some cautious questions on both sides) and fed him, and Raven says he’s been well-behaved since.

Tressarian says he’s not Magically Evil (so no Lower Plains or charm involved), and he seems to be properly geared for traveling in the wilds alone…though he’s got enough magic gear, I can’t help wondering if he had a party before, and if so what happened to them. Equipment like that isn’t cheap, and even the best of us need someone at our backs.

Dear Diary…my daddy called me a chosen one

11 Coldeven

It’s been such a nice day. We came toward Dersyth some time in the morning, but of course coming from the south, I saw the turn-off toward home before we got into town.

As we rode along, I thought I saw movement in the trees that was too big to be just squirrels, although I didn’t actually see any people. Ezekiel asked if we had bandit problems, and I had to find a way to say that five or seven years, a fifteen-year-old boy did not notice a bandit problem.

So Ezekiel put on his armor (because clerics don’t wear it all the time, remember) and we rode on with our eyes open.

We came out of the trees, and I saw home across the fields and the stream, and I honestly didn’t expect the well of emotion that hit me. Being older now, I can tell it’s bigger than Sir Rufus’ fort in Homlette…but somehow more rambling. You can almost tell that several generations of people had their own ideas that they applied here and there, be it towers or another wall or something. No one has bothered with a moat, though, and the village – which somehow looks smaller than I remembered – comes up pretty close to the walls.

About this time, I was realizing it might have been polite to write ahead that we were coming, since there are so many of us, after all, so I decided to ride up first with Heiron and make sure they could handle all of us (and make sure the castle hadn’t been seized by bandits or Gherkins or something). After all, there’s an inn in Dersyth and stuff.

Well, when we got close, I could see Archie yelling at the men-at-armes, and stomping back and forth – which I recognize now was him having the time of his life – and when Heiron and I appeared at the gate, he gave a short speech to welcome me and had the men cheer for me (in a regulation way). My big brother.

(He explained they knew we were coming because of the scouts, and I was torn between being creeped out that we got spied on, and the coolness that we have Real Scouts and stuff.)

With that squared away, we called the rest of the gang into the courtyard, and parked the dragons behind the mind-cart. Retainers took our horses, and then my mother came out to welcome us.

I really did not expect my mother to cry that much. But she said she was happy. So that’s good. She says they got my letter, so they know some of what we’ve been up to, and she found scars that I didn’t even know about, so I guess it’s good I had my chainmail on so she couldn’t feel where the salamanders ripped my guts out and the cleric-types shoved them back in.

We settled everybody in rooms. My room feels different when I’m not sharing it, and I can’t fit in the cupboard beside the door anymore…so that’s nice. Out the window, you can still see the trees rising in swells into the hills behind the walls, and it was very pretty.

I wandered around a bit, to see if I could still find my way. Someone’s been dusting the hall of portraits, and the armory is still well-stocked. Clarence’s room is full of crates, and Mama says the little tin knights I used to play with got mailed to Alpheus’ boys, so that’s nice.

I must have been distracted, because I didn’t notice Uncle Beren until he actually touched me, which is really embarrassing after all the times he talked about Situational Awareness…but then he hugged me and bowed to me and called me complimentary things until I’m kinda surprised I didn’t pass out. He says the scouts in the woods were his, which makes sense, and he also says they haven’t had much trouble with bandits, which is good.

Father was shut up in his study, so I didn’t see him until dinner, when we all stood as he came in. I still don’t know how to talk to him, but he said it was good to see me – and he looks just like Alpheus, except old. Mother put me at the head of the table with them…who would have ever seen that coming.
Raven liked the pastries enough to ask for the recipe.

Had a bit of time after supper to show Uncle the diary I found. I tried to explain what Lord Otis said about being one with the woods until your very will shapes reality, but I must have done a bad job explaining it.

****

I sat in the chapel this morning. A lot has changed…for me, not for the building. Looking back, though, growing up with Pelor’s statue standing next to Ehlonna’s branch probably prepared me for hanging out with Ezekiel.

Mother came and sat with me a bit (I wasn’t paying attention, and she found more scars on my arms). She also pointed how much my muscles have changed, and said I had grown strong with Ehlonna’s blessing. She thinks if Ehlonna had a problem with Ezekiel and what he’s doing, She would have made that clear before now…and She certainly wouldn’t have kept bringing me back and sending me into the fight faster and stronger than before. So we must be doing something important. It just felt good to have my mother say it.

While we were talking, a trumpet blew outside, and Mother led me out, and we saw a group of horsemen in the courtyard, setting up tents. She took my hand and took me in to Father’s study, where a man stood talking to him, holding a helmet with a long plume (I suppose it was the color of the Baron? But I’m really not sure).

When he turned as we entered, I saw it was Wolfgang (hasn’t he grown up?!) and it only took him two tries to recognize me. We hugged, and he said he patrols the roads with his men for the Baron, which would help explain why bandits don’t bother in this part of the country, but he must have been pretty busy, ’cause then he left.

Mother asked me about my companions – makes sense, since she only visited Ertulli while Ezekiel was there, didn’t live there, and Raven of course is from Hochoch and Orlane, so she wouldn’t know him at all…Then suddenly she said she was going to go talk to Raven in the kitchen, and left me in Father’s study – so I suspect the whole thing to be a scheme of hers.

I was just wondering if I still fit I the cabinet under the bookcase when Father looked up from his papers. He said I never knew how to talk to him because I was always afraid – afraid he was busy, afraid he was angry, something like that. (In my defense, he spent a lot of my life busy with or angry at my brothers…eleven boys take some handling.) But he said he’s happy with what I’ve been up to, and that I’ve been chosen for something special.

Then he talked about bit about Wolfgang, and how he apparently decided that, if he couldn’t be Alpheus, then he wouldn’t even try to see what he could be. I mean, he is a sergeant, and he keeps the roads safe…but he’s satisfied with that. I guess Father thinks he could have done so much more, if he wasn’t worried about the armor and the spurs and living up to a paladin’s reputation. (He didn’t seem to feel the same about Tomlin; I guess we both noticed Tomlin is better at something very quiet and predictable…and he has that already.)

Father said he was proud of me…but that my destiny didn’t stop here. Wolfgang wasn’t following Ezekiel around – I was. And still am. I haven’t found a good enough reason to bail yet.

Anyway, it was nice to be able to talk, and have him all to myself for maybe the first time in my life. He said Ehlonna had chosen me…and I may have wanted to cry, even though I didn’t. But when I think of what he said about Wolfgang, I can’t help thinking the choosing wasn’t all on one side…

**

Father suggested we could go hunting while we’re here, since we don’t exactly have a schedule.

So I went to go find my party, and boy it was about time. Bornthene, Dree, and Lisa were helping Uncle Beren get to know the dragons, but apparently Ezekiel and Raven made spectacles of themselves or something on the walls, when they thought Wolfgang was attacking us (and I have three different versions of what happened that are all plausible).

Agnar we found fast asleep in the beer cellar, with Usin babysitting him. I guess some men-at-arms didn’t know why he was there, and were “anxious” about it, but when Ezekiel and I showed up, they listened to reason and wandered away. We rounded up some people to drag Agnar out, and took Usin to look for Mikael.

Mikael was checking out the trees outside the village, with his disciples. He was trying to explain how we can care able the plants, but also care about people. I hope they are getting good influences from the church of Obed-Hai (apparently I have a brother at the temple in Gorna, but Mikael isn’t likely to have recognized him).

The problem their old master had, though, was getting the order flipped. Just because Raven can talk to plants doesn’t make them more important than people. People are special.

One of the things that makes orcs just the worst is that they eat people, which is not something I’d do to orcs even if they’d deserve it. Humans and human-like-things are distinct, and you gotta treat they as such. Like deer. Raven can talk to deer, but we still eat them. Because they’re deer. And dragons eat other dragons, as well as people – but if people tried that, it’d be gross, and we’d punish them.

Another thing about orcs is they love hurting people for no reason…just because they can. It’s rude, and it makes me see red. And somehow…somehow…I don’t see Usin doing that. I don’t know why. I must observe him very closely to see where this idea is coming from. Agnar would totally fight people just because he wanted a fight…but he’d also want it to be a good fight. It’s complicated.

Ezekiel says his flock is all flocks. Me, I don’t see what you can do with someone like Grumpsh, who’s all blood and battle and might-makes-right. How do you “shepherd” someone like that? (With arrows.)

(Usin says he’s never eaten humanoid that he knows of, and it sounds gross and creepy. He says.)

****

Yesterday we went hunting. Ezekiel stayed with the dragons so Raven could bring his disciples, and the two of them came on foot – I think just to show off. Raven tried out a cross-bow, though he hasn’t had much practice, and Heiron and Bornthene showed Usin some techniques for his bow.

Mikael’s disciples came as wolves, and I think they mostly ran through the underbrush, but they seem to have had fun. I never have any clue what No-Buckle is feeling.

I had fun being much more involved than I was at a younger age. Father says Archie does a good job “organizing” things, though he could stand to be more personable once in a while.

Wolfgang had to get back to his duties, so his group was gone by the time we got back.

Last night, the druids went out to pick mistletoe in the light of Luna, and I think first thing in the morning we leave for Mithrond and Mikael’s clan. Ezekiel said something about pouring out water at Ertulli…but there are going to be some painful memories if we go there.

I think Lydia has been enjoying our time with real walls and real beds. Heiron said she’s been sleeping late, and he took her some hot tea. The girls really are troopers.

****

Quiet week of travel. We didn’t get into any trouble with the dragons, although Agnar says we should have gotten jumped by bandits or something, and this part of the world is really disappointing him.

We arrived at the county seat, where a wooden palisade surrounds the village, and as soon as we came in sight, people swarmed out toward us. I think most of them were young, and crowing, “Tame dragons!”

So Keom got to exhibit them to the crowd, and Ronhass got to supervise small children who wanted to climb on their backs. Fang and Belch have had some practice by now, with Alpheus’ boys and such, so they behaved quite well.

Mikael’s oldest sister came out to hug him and welcome us to town and arrange lodging. It’s possible I had met her before, but she’s too changed now for me to be sure. She ordered children around with practiced ease, and Mikael stayed busy hugging everyone and trying to introduce all of us. We had a bit of trouble finding host families for Lydia and Usin, but Ezekiel sorted it out.

One reason they were so excited to see us is they apparently got word from the Shalm Grove, so they know about Mikael’s promotion in the order of Obed-Hai. Mikael’s grandfather or uncle or something said no one in their family has ever reached one if the Nine before, so naturally they had to throw a party.

Mikael’s baby sister has gotten all tall and adult since we saw her last, and she says she’s all excited to take her vows and become an Obed-Hai initiate just like him. Mikael has had a great time showing off his peg-leg lizard. Regina said something about he still has all his parts attached, and I decided it was Mikael’s responsibility to tell her about his arm.

****

On the road again already.

We were enjoying a bonfire last night, with Mikael’s whole family gathered around him. I tried to keep an eye on Agnar, and at one point I saw him drink all the older men under the table. Usin and Lydia sat on either side of Heiron.

Then, just as things were winding down, a messenger arrived from the Grand Duke, summoning us back to Gorna as soon as possible. We fed the messenger until he passed out, and someone took care of his horse…then we set out with him as soon as it was light.

Mikael stayed behind with his three disciples – he said he had to visit his sister’s grave. Goblins wounded her in Ertulli, and she didn’t pull through.

(Mikael’s brother, I think it was, said someone animated a bunch of the bodies in Ertulli. Sounds like most of them are dealt with now, but it’s another reason most people wouldn’t go back. Another mess to clean up…)

Anyway, Mikael and friends should be able to catch up with us as birds. We’re sticking to the road with the cart, and going as fast as they dragons can waddle. Keom thinks they haven’t realized they have wings yet, and he says he’s okay with that.

****

3 Growfest

As soon as we got to Gorna, we headed for the castle, sending the disciples to wait somewhere that they wouldn’t cause a scene.

His Grace let us in at once, and had his councilors leave temporarily. Here’s the situation:

Fifteen years ago, his young son took a ship from Keoland, heading for the Iron League – but he never arrived. His ship was never found.

But now – someone brought His Grace a silver medallion bearing a crown and his griffin crest…a medallion that belonged to his son.

They found it with a knight who went missing with his squad in the mountains, and his body returned to Fort Gellsblood at the hands of some grey gnomes. Fort Gellsblood is apparently not used to that type of gnome in their area. The knight’s body was both burned and frozen, and missing his armor and gear. Apparently except for the medallion.

We don’t know much else. Ezekiel, nerd that he is, started talking about the creatures from under the world of men, and mentioned this splinter faction of the dark elves (who worship some Elder Elemental something). His Grace was visibly disturbed – either because he knows what that is, or because he understands how bad that could be for us.

Our mission now is to find answers. Which will probably mean us barging around into walls until we trip over undead, and then killing things. We’ll leave most of the disciples here, though, since the mind-cart especially won’t do well in the mountains. Lydia and Ezekiel are trying to figure out a place where she can leave the mirror, so we could have an emergency escape hatch if need be…but it’s complicated.

For myself, I have a few questions for the garrison of the fort.

  • Were either the burns or the frostbite on Sir Hoshure’s body applied after death? If he fought something fiery, then his body lay a while in the snow before being found, that would be one scenario.
  • Who are these unusual gnomes? If they aren’t accustomed to dealing with the fort, why did they bring the body in? Was it a threat, or a gesture of goodwill? Did they give any account of where and how they found the body?
  • What about the others in Sir Hoshure’s squad?
  • Who took the knight’s gear? His killers? The gnomes? Was it removed before death, for instance if he had been captured? Or wanted to give it to someone more in need (seems unlikely)?

And maybe, just maybe, we’ll find the prince alive??

Dear Diary…surprises in shadows

Ezekiel and Raven decided to head out right away, while the day was still young, and ask if the Nehe family wanted what was left of Abilar, for proper burial. Lydia decided to go with them (I guess she thought they might need her help or supervision) – and of course if she was going, Heiron wanted to go to protect her. When Mikael said he was going, too, that left me…

I don’t know why, but I wasn’t excited to get arrested for breaking and entering in the one city where we’re supposed to be on our best behavior…and besides, if they got kidnapped by that cult, someone had to be around to raise the alarm and get help.

So I decided to stay and work on some stances (Tressarian says he’s been bored lately anyway)…and next thing I know, Usin said he wanted to join me, and then Agnar said it sounded like fun, and before I could say anything the three of us were headed out to the yard behind the inn, without even Ronhass to help me, since he was watching the dragons – and Mikael’s “disciples” – and Keom was off to the Hall of Records on some mission for Raven.

It…went about as well as you could expect. I told Usin to stop copying me and holding his hands like that, ’cause it was creeping me out, but he said that’s how Master Heiron holds his hands, and before I could come up with an answer to that, Agnar said the only proper way to hold a sword was his way.

We somehow ended up with a two v. one, that had Agnar laughing way more than I was comfortable with and somehow also kicking our butts…that is until he stomped on his own bootlace. Pretty sure I heard Ronhass laughing from the stables, although he won’t admit it.

When the others got back, they didn’t have much more news. The butler at the Nehe estate seemed dismissive about Abalar’s remains – said he was something of a black sheep – and gave the impression that the less said about how he met his end the better.

So they all went on to the city hall to talk to the councilors about proper procedure (like actually letting the responsible parties know they have a ghoul problem, that kind of thing) but everyone was at lunch – so they went and had lunch, too…at a place Raven called a bit on the “foofey” end.

When they got back to the offices, they couldn’t see the right people for a few days anyway, so they made an appointment and headed back to the “haunted mansion” to try to get a head-count, since one of the people they talked to seemed suspicious that they’d only seen “signs” of ghouls…

Once they got there, though, the front gate was locked – and not even Lydia could get it open. Raven hadn’t been to the mansion before – but he didn’t feel like facing ghouls all by himself, do instead of climbing the wall he scouted around the fence quick and then came back with the others. He says there’s some kind of cart entrance at the back, but it seems to have been abandoned for even longer than the main gate.

Someone who can stump even Lydia sounds very serious…and like we might be over our heads again. I hate that this keeps happening.

****

3 Coldeven

Bizarre is a good word. Early in the morning, someone knocked on the bunkroom door, and after whispering at the door, Ezekiel gathered up his relics, Raven, and Mikael, and left. Raven told me some girl from the haunted estate had summoned Ez to meet their “Mistress” – but he didn’t tell me how long to wait before assuming they’d been kidnapped or killed, and coming after them. Usin suggested an hour or two without anybody asking him, and Agnar complained that they didn’t invite him to the big bust-up.

Before things could get too out of hand – the others came back with an emo young lady Ezekiel introduced as his sister, Leah. She’s got his hair, and his basic facial features like nose and eyebrows, so it checks out as far as that goes. The story I get is they were pretty close before he left to chase his God that nobody else believed in, and after she heard Ertulli was destroyed, she went there looking for word of him. One thing and another, she met Abilar Nehe – who claimed the dead of Ertulli should have the chance to fight back, even though they were dead, but who obviously wasn’t as good at it as he thought… And she met another lady who made her mission in life destroying evil wizards…though L didn’t define “evil” for us…and who taught Leah everything she could (after the Temple of Wee’Jas called L an untalented failure), and now Leah is studying the lady’s books and trying to carry on her memory by fighting the ghouls (I missed how the lady died or disappeared?).

Ah, yes, the ghouls. Leah went on about that – everyone was eating breakfast at that point, and she seemed more comfortable with talking by then – and talked about how she believes the ghoul tunnels go all the way down to the Veil of P’nath, some “ghoul realm” below the Underdark, and she keeps busy dispelling the waves that come up through the tunnels. She said some more things about Negative Energy and this and that (it looked like Lydia was keeping mental notes), and Ezekiel said she’d really grown up. I was about to deck him if he tried patting her head or something, so she didn’t incinerate him with her mind, but he restrained himself. He did say he was super impressed with the way she melted ghouls (apparently she did a round before they left), and said that was in line with the will of his God. And then he started talking about his fortress temple (that he calls “Haven”) that he’s always talking about, and we seemed safe from cheek-pinching from then on.

Anyway, bottom line: Leah and her cult seem to have a system for keeping the ghouls returning to that one place, so they don’t cause havoc in any other part of town (it’s obvious I don’t understand ghoul mentality), although she kinda implied they were special “negative plain” ghouls or something (all of this assuming that she knows what she’s talking about, of course…ghouls aren’t my specialty, that’s for sure).

One other interesting thing she said. We talked about fighting the Temple of Elemental Evil, and brushing with the followers of the Spider Queen, and Leah said there’s a splinter group of Drow trying to worship an “elder elemental god” or something. She described a symbol of an eye inside a triangle, which definitely sounds like some of the symbology we saw in there (feels like an age ago; I gotta dig out my old journal). Anyway, sounds like things are stirring in the dark places…they can just keep their squabbles to themselves and stay out of Gorna, that’s all I say.

About the time Leah left to go back to her post, Keom came back from the Hall of Records (he didn’t stay there all night – he just got an early start). He said the [Lawful Good] house of the ghouls was registered to the Brennan family…as in, His Grand Grace Brennan. All the more reason to step carefully. Either this is a conspiracy-theorist’s dream, or it’s way above our heads.

[Common] Anyway, Raven and Ezekiel went to cancel their appointment with the magistrates, since obviously there’s a lot more going on here – and then they took their disciples to the “haunted mansion” so Dree could practice on some ghouls – and Sister Sue could watch her at work, and start dismantling the automatic psychological paralyzation that ghouls create in healthy, normal humans (I declare, sometimes Ezekiel just makes up these words…).

Mikael took his disciples to the Grove of Obed-Hai up the road while Bornthene entertained the dragons so they didn’t get anxious about Ro and Keom.

And me – with a day to spare (a messenger came and told us to meet with His Grace tomorrow morning), I copied out my sketches from the Temple of Rao in Mitrik so Tomlin could have a copy. I finally found a plaque in a corner of the temple that explained what the windows were talking about, so I figured that would be a good thing for him to study. Might give him a fresh, calming perspective on life. Keep him from getting tangled up with those provocative priestesses. He seemed to appreciate the thought.

After dropping off the sketches, I found my way to the Temple of Ehlonna. Someone in the inn mentioned there was one, and I figured it’d be a good place to spend the rest of my time. Usin came with me for some reason. Heiron has assured me he’s not as scary as I seem to think…though that is exactly what Clarence used to say about his box that he kept spiders in. And, I guess, what Alpheus said about horses. And Mother said about the Temple back home.

It was a bit crowded today, but very clean and well-maintained and everyone was polite. They did “Thousand Leaves of Gratitude” – which of course I knew, since Mama sang it to us all the time, but I was a bit rusty on the middle parts, so Usin and I waited until the crowd thinned a little and then Sister Moria went through it again with us. I never would have thought Usin could sing…instead of, y’know, growl or something. He says his mother used to sing a lot.

****

We saw His Grace again today, and I guess it went as well as could be expected. He said he and his court are happy we want to build a fortress to protect the realm, but they can’t settle on a place that needs a fortress and doesn’t have one already. Ezekiel said he was waiting on word from his Master, and said he was confident things would come together when he got the signal. So we are “at ease” until we get this signal, and His Grace says if he does need us, he’ll know how to find us (which I do not doubt at all).

Ezekiel also brought up the ghouls – and not only is His Grace aware, but he says they’ve cast protections to keep them within the grounds of the estate – and encouraged the “haunted house” vibe that keeps good-for-nothings from getting up to no good in there. And warned the patrols in that area of the city to be alert. He even knows about Leah, and seems to appreciate that she’s keeping the waves bottled up where it can’t hurt the rest of the city. He doesn’t view the tunnels so much as an “invasion point” as a “drain” from the plain of darkness far below…a small, insignificant, but relentless bleeding of the negative energy from that place. I’m just happy it’s now nothing to do with us, since our options weren’t looking good. Still a little frustrated that we can’t protect the city once and for all, but I suppose sometimes the world is broken so that there is no way to fix it completely.

Anyway, if we’re not really needed here, we decided we have enough time to swing north. Mikael’s family should still be in Rhwng ye Dwyr…and, well, it would be nice to tell Mother and Father what I’ve been doing in person…


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary…the big city

Well, I’m not sure I like where we’re heading with this…

We searched the dead – assorted rings and cloaks and magic leather armor. One of the young punk apprentice druids looked like his burns were scabbing over…and sure enough, on closer inspection all the seared skin from Lydia’s lightening bolt was slowly regrowing, bit by bit. It didn’t help him overall – he still wasn’t breathing – but it was impressive nevertheless, and we gave his magic ring to Mikael to try out (since that seemed the more likely cause than some weird racial post-mortem regeneration).

While Tressarian, Lydia, and I were trying out another magic ring, Ezekiel raised one of the initiates – the female one, specifically. Tressarian had told us they weren’t magically Evil…but that didn’t solve all our problems.

Her name is Leamus, and she said the Druid of the grove was just teaching them to feed the plants and stuff. She said people are always trampling plants, so it was only fair the plants get their turn – which sounds all well and good, except people are more important than plants. Even if Raven can talk to them.

Bottom line, she sounds more confused and warped in her life priorities than outright malicious…but in some ways I’d prefer a maniacal plot to take over the world. How do you talk with someone who doesn’t understand basic things?

Well, Mikael and Ezekiel were the ones doing the talking, and they decided to give the girl a chance, since she seemed to be misled by her mentor. And Lydia said that since we beat them, that means we’re stronger, so by the law of the jungle they’re not a threat to us (or something).

The girl acted very laid-back, even about her own death (past and potential future), and when Ezekiel told her to seek instruction from someone who actually understood Beori, she batted her eyes at Mikael and asked, “Like you?”

The end of which is that she’s his disciple now. Again, really not comfortable with all this.

Still, she asked Mikael’s permission before shifting shape to heal some of her wounds, and she seems to have slipped right in to calling him Master, even though his friends literally just killed her (so, are neutral balance people just cool with everything? Apparently not, since Lea asked why Mikael traveled with “arcane” and “violent metal-wearing” people – not in those words, maybe – and Mikael said we were his friends, and actually pretty handy to have around).

We shoved the two male initiates into the portable hole so Ezekiel can work on them tomorrow. I told Heiron we should keep aneyeon Leamus, and he said “Lydia Dear” was already doing that.

****

We’re not sure exactly how Mikael’s report went, since we weren’t allowed in, but he says the Head Druid congratulated him on being stronger than his opponent, and gave him a run-down of the responsibilities of his office (and reminded him that the Circle will remove him if he doesn’t do his job). Fortunately, it sounds like Mikael doesn’t have to set up his camp in the same spot, and if he wants to settle in a Grove near Ezekiel’s temple for mutual support, that’s fine by the Circle.

Oh, and the Head Druid seemed unconcerned that Mikael had appropriated his predecessor’s disciples…almost congratulatory, maybe. My impressions from not being there. (Ez raised the men – No-Buckle and Hansi – while we were traveling back. Mikael says they can’t have their gear back – just mistletoe – until we’re convinced they’re not dangerous to us, but I think they could do plenty of damage with mistletoe. On the other hand, they’d have to be determined enough to want to…)

Agnar finally seems convinced that Lea isn’t a driad, and seems much disappointed.

****

Arrived Hochoch this evening. Keom met us at the pier and helped us with the ferry across the river (he had quite an involved story about getting the dragons across the river). Ezekiel dashed off to the Temple of Pelor to make an appointment for tomorrow, so we can get Raven’s brain restored (part of the time, you wouldn’t know anything’s wrong – but then he says something weird, and we all remember he had his brain half-eaten).

While they were waiting for us, Dree met a girl (well, just on the cusp of womanhood) who’s always been interested in books and theology, but her family didn’t have money to send her to a temple with a bigger library. Apparently she’s been doing lay-work in one of the temples, but then she met Dree and they really hit it off, and her family agreed to let her accompany us so Dree could teach her about her new God (bold family, I gotta say). She’s kinda shy, but she seemed to relax when she saw the “Father” of the church wasn’t some grey-bearded old man.

Lydia made Heiron and me help her unpack the mirror far enough that she could send Ezekiel to “check on” his wife…though those weren’t the exact words she used.

****

Raven went to check on his family’s creamery, and Ezekiel went with him. I found out the by-the-forest-gate people from Ertuli own one of the inns here, now! Llynn finally got her place to sing for people, and Lloyd says she attracts good people. Their brother (the older one, I didn’t know him as well) still wants to go back to Ertuli if it’s ever safe enough, but it sounds like they’ve really made a life for themselves here.

Raven said his sister liked visiting the taverns to hear and sing songs, so I bet Llynn knew her – although she couldn’t remember her right away. Lots of people come through an inn.

Raven also says his brothers have had to sell their building and relocate to a smaller place, but they’re still making cheese. His sister, though, decided she wanted to hear more stories of great adventures, and followed a caravan…I think to the east, though he wasn’t sure. He was uncharacteristically quiet about his visit…but maybe some of that is having his brain regrown this morning, and he’s still adjusting…

****

After a week on the road, we have reached Gorna! Seat of His Grace the Grand Duke, in his castle Eagle Peak! I feel like I must have been here before at some time, but I have no memory of it at all. Father said it was built on the ruins of over-sized stone buildings, and it’s so wild that, here and there, you can still see the outlines of those ruins.

We found an inn outside the wall that, with enough precious-metal persuasion, allowed us to stash the dragons in their stables (way at the end away from everything else, of course). Keom and Ronhass stayed to babysit while the rest of us went to officially present ourselves at the castle!

Ezekiel and I had already figured out the math, and Lydia had sent us to Veluna to collect an appropriate tithe from the vault. We squeezed it into a bag of holding so we’d be all set.

We introduced ourselves to the guards at the gate – Ezekiel using all our full titles – and then a page led us right in to the throneroom (I was kinda surprised His Grace was able to see us right away, but maybe he decided to shuffle things since there were so many of us…and so many of us were knights or elders of Furiundy and Veluna…).

Ezekiel gave him the abridged version of our actions, and talked about his temple he wants to make as a fortress against the Old One.

His Grace listened very politely, and seemed impressed by our loyalty offering. He also knew my father, and I’m sure I turned red even through my Flan. He said something to each of us, and told us the guards would notify us once he’d had time to consider Ezekiel’s proposal.

So we left our address, and came back to the inn.

I understand why Father always said a liege needs to pay attention to the little things – there are so many people who want his attention, and so much that he’s responsible for, and a good liege can’t get it mixed up.

It’s still early enough in the day, I can go looking for Tomlin and deliver his letter from Alpheus. I wonder how he will have changed?

****

I am over it Ezekiel!

I guess I should get things in chronological order. There isn’t actually a temple to Bacaab here (Ezekiel gets teased for worshiping a shy God, but I guess Bacaab is famous for not getting involved), but one of the sentries suggested his followers/students might hang out in the Temple to Wee’Jas, since she has an interest in magic and law, too (as well as other things, which I didn’t know before going there).

Anyway, we found the place easily enough, and one of the attendants showed me the library, and sure enough, Tomlin was there. He didn’t recognize me at first, but he seems to be happy enough…

So Tomlin is a mouse. Who knew?! (Doubtless Mother and Father and Alpheus knew.) He has a quiet job that lets him spend as much time as possible in the library…and that seems to be all he wants out of life. And that’s fine… I will say this in his favor, too – he seems much more interested in the architecture and engineering texts than the books with provocative pictures…I suppose this library has its share of those, since the statue of Wee’Jas in the main hall is pushing the bounds. I don’t suppose he’ll get in much trouble here.

Which brings me to Ezekiel. When I was done talking to Tomlin (and Mikael was with us, I think to meet T and see what books they had, and so was Lydia – I think she even got a catalog of their collection from one of the attendants, but I’m not sure), we met back up with Ezekiel and learned what trouble he had been getting into.

So…first, he was asking around about his sister (did I know Ez had a sister?? I feel like I did. That’s the one that was hard to scry, right? Or was that Raven’s sister?) because he thought this was the kind of place where she might have liked to study. He heard that she used to hang out with a guy named Nehe, and as soon as we met up with him, he dragged us off to find this guy.

The family didn’t live too far away – a comfortable estate in town with a gate. The fellow who opened the door eventually figured out what Ezekiel wanted, and said “Abalog Nehe” was “in the mausoleum,” and gave us directions. Ezekiel charged off, all red-faced, (totally ignoring what a mausoleum is??) and we rushed after him to keep him out of too much trouble.

The place indicated by our directions was an apparently abandoned mansion with walled grounds and an iron gate – rusted with age, and (strangely) scratched with silver (Lydia said it was real silver).

I tried to remind Ezekiel that we aren’t in the lawless wilds anymore, and we can’t just go around busting down people’s gates and ransacking random houses – but apparently Lydia was afraid he was about to climb over the gate, and unlocked it for him.

Inside, someone’s feet had worn a path among the tangled weeds and waist-high grasses – and some of the prints must have been made within the last day. We followed the prints to the front door of the house…and although dust coated the porch and the windows, there were no cobwebs across the door.

Lydia let us in, and Ezekiel entered first – sheep symbol and mace in hand. Just as he lit up his mace, a girl appeared down the hallway ahead of us, with a will’o’wisp or something floating just by her shoulder.

She was understandably shocked to see us, but Ezekiel explained that he wanted to see this Nehe guy, and the girl said she’d have to get permission to take us to him. So she ran off, and Ez tried to follow her, but eventually they both came back, and she led us out into the grounds to – shocker – a marble mausoleum.

She unlocked it for us, but said she wasn’t allowed inside. She seemed to know Nehe was dead, but didn’t question why we wanted to see him – and she didn’t seem particularly worried about him, either.

As soon as Ezekiel shone light inside, we could see the story. The body of a young man, still wearing the clothes of the upper class, and in the same colors as the banners I noticed at the Nehe estate. It’s hard to say how recently he died, but the attendant at the estate didn’t seem too grief-stricken over him…nor did he seem curious that we would want to see him, if everyone knows he’s dead. Something doesn’t smell right.

Speaking of the smell…I’ve been in enough forsaken places and gross holes in the ground to recognize it. Ghouls. The marks on the body were obvious to an experienced undead-hunter, and the tracks vanished into raw holes of dirt, burrowing down from gaps in the stones of the floor. Pursuing them on their own turf would be a nightmare…but maybe Lydia can roll fire down the holes or something? Probably not smart in a crowded city…

Ezekiel came out and let the girl lock the door again, and asked to see her “Mistress.” So she took us back into the house, along many corridors and up a few flights of stairs, until we came to a room where a half-dozen girls sat around watching candles. The oldest couldn’t be much more than my age.

What are a group of nice little girls doing sitting around an abandoned mansion in the cobwebs and candlelight? Well, according to the Mistress, Ruth, they are all acolytes of “Mistress Leah,” who I gather is some kind of magic user (though Ez says the Matron of Wee’Jas said Leah didn’t have much talent for that), and is “resting” in the Astral Plane at the moment, and they are guarding her access point or something.

I’m thinking the Astral Plane is no place to hang out for long – and it doesn’t make much sense to try to recover yourself there, since we spent what felt like an afternoon there, but for Keom and Ronhass and Dree it was more like a week. Anyway, I really feel like these girls don’t exactly understand what’s going on…they just follow the ritual, because that’s what this “Leah” whom they all respect so much has told them.

We still have no proof, but Ezekiel seems to think it plausible that this is his Leah, his sister, and he’s determined to get to the bottom of this somehow. The girls said she uses potions to “increase her powers” somehow, and Lydia hasn’t said whether or not that makes sense to her. They didn’t say exactly what Grand Mistress Leah wanted to accomplish with all this, but by then Ezekiel was looking kinda overwhelmed, so we left.

We’ll see what he thinks after talking this over with Raven. Mikael took his disciples to procure a wooden box so we can return Ab Nehe’s remains to his family, in case they care. Ez also said he could holy-water the snot out of that mausoleum, so the ghouls can’t return there or something (not his exact words). Would that force them to dig new entrances somewhere else? That could get messy. Maybe we should tell someone there’s an undead infestation…??


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary…trouble in the deep forest

Quiet two weeks traveling from Thornward. We reached Orlane yesterday afternoon, and spent the evening in the Slumbering Serpent.

Apparently most of the villagers who were affected by Explicktika have moved on, including Father Abramo. The Golden Grain is under new owners now (Master Olwin says they’ve redone the secret passages to have obvious doors, and allow people to book multiple rooms. He says it’s been popular with children…but nothing can steal too much business away from his special vintage).

Lancell came by this morning when he heard that we were here. Sounds like he’s really enjoying himself, though of course Ezekiel invited him to the Temple complex we’re totally going to build soon. Crime and bandit attacks are almost unheard of hereabouts, and the Temple of Merikka seems to be faithful and flourishing. He mentioned a couple names, but Raven didn’t recognize any of the new clergy.

I didn’t see Jill, though I hear she’s still studying under Master Ramne. Sounds like she prefers theoretical studies to hands-on application. We also hear that Kelsier drops in from time to time, although he usually doesn’t stay long.

Glad to feel like we actually accomplished something! Normal people, quietly living their lives without goblins and lizardlings and such to bother them…that’s what this is all about.

****

We sent the disciples and Dree on to Hochoch with the mind-cart, while Mikael takes us into the forest. He says there’s a gathering place for his order deeper in the Dim Forest, and there’s no way we’d get the dragons through there neatly, to say nothing of the cart. I worry a bit about sending them off to a town without us, but I guess they’re all grown and able to take care of themselves. The biggest danger is the city watch freaking out about the dragons.

Meanwhile, we’ll be accompanying Mikael to speak to his superiors. After all this time traveling together, he actually seems nervous…

**

Well I’m not quite sure what we’re getting into.

It took us a couple days crawling up the ridge of the Dim Forest, following what was more a trail than a path. Finally, we spotted sunlight filtering from a clearing up ahead – and an elf druid appeared to tell us only Mikael could go on.

So we sat against the trees and tried not to let Mikael’s unusual anxiety rub off on us. Continue reading

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 wheels 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. Continue reading