Dear Diary…druid fight!

Mikael made his decision! He said that, if he is going to help and protect our party, he has to keep getting stronger – and that means challenging himself. And that meant fighting the Arch-Druid. (So glad Rangers don’t have such a rigid hierarchy.)

So, first thing this morning, the two of them said their prayers, stripped off their magic gear, and headed to the field between the lake and the forest. (Just about everyone else, of course, gathered a safe distance away to watch).

It began as so many things have ended – with Mikael’s magical insects. But this time, the Arch-Druid waved his handful of mistletoe, and the insects dropped off and fled from him. I guess it pays to know the tricks.

Searing light – brighter than our shields – shot across the battlefield, and Mikael staggered a moment. He waved his hands wildly, sending out a wave of fire. Insects swarmed. The druids grew magic circles around themselves with mistletoe. Huge blocks of interlocked thorns sprang up around the combatants – buckled – and then burst into flames. Lydia says she thinks Mikael managed to dispel some of the Arch-Druid’s protective spells…but it was hard to see anything once the thorns blocked our vision.

Sirion and the disciples circling above began cawing, and the fire on one side of the field winked out. As the Arch-Druid slowly and cautiously extracted himself from the thorns, the disciples flew lower and closer as all of us waited for Mikael to put out his fire and emerge.

I don’t know who called it, but someone made the decision the fight was over – and next thing you know, Lydia had dispelled the fire and we were hacking into the thorns to discover Mikael lying charred and bloody in the center. Ezekiel ran forward – but I think it took a full Raise Dead to get Mikael back on his feet. (And once again, we vow to never make a druid angry.)

I don’t know what he’ll do now. The Arch-Druid admitted he was within an inch of dying when the attacks stopped, so it’s hard to tell exactly where the line is. And Mikael admitted he’s not the best at organizing things, and it might be better for the Order for the Arch-Druid to stay in the position he has held so well for so long. But Mikael still wants to get stronger, and more able to fight bad monsters and bad people – and if he’s aiming for level beyond the Order, it might be time to leave the protection of the hierarchy and serve Obed-Hai without a Druid Circle.

That sounds a bit bizarre, but it’s not so very different from what Raven did…and Mikael can talk to Obed-Hai about it tonight and make more of a decision in the morning. The Arch-Druid may tell him that he needs to practice some more, and face him again before making a choice like this…or he may decide that an ally on a different path is still a valid ally. We’ll see.

Raven says he’ll have to fight another monk to test his skills soon, and asked Agnar to help him train. Keom and Ronhass have been helping, too…when they’re not babysitting the dragons. I introduced Chestnut and Madam Whinny to them last night, and they seemed very intrigued. Not sure they think it’s a good idea, though.


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Dear Diary…new construction

Lydia joined us by evening, with some workmen and the Honerable Raunnd Vol to help us organize things. A born preparer, she also brought rations to keep body and soul together while we wait for the Caravan.

The Grand Duke is sending a caravan of men-at-arms to transport, and guard, the treasure…so it can fill a better purpose than sitting in a heap under some mountain. Ezekiel and Raven are traveling with them, and apparently so is Aliana and her squad, who were waiting in Gorna for them. Lydia said she took longer than she intended to return because she was giving instructions to Ronhass and Usin for boxing up all her things in Gorna and bringing them in the mind-cart. She says Ezekiel has gotten word about his temple “Haven” – and they’re going to build it at the lake south of here, by Cloudcatcher Mountain.

Luckily Sirion and I had gone back to strategize how to get the dragon out of the tunnel, so we could help Lydia and her party climb over the corpse and down the ledge. Sirion says he and Mikael can help the workmen tomorrow at building a ledge so the Caravan has an easier time getting down here (and we have an easier time with the dragon).

The look on their faces was so worth it when they saw the hoard. Even Master Vol had to stand and stare for a full minute just absorbing the sight. The brazier is still lit, so it’s definitely magical – and it throws a warm, bright light on the gold and gems and precious wood and cloth all around.

We have a collection of magic items in the portable hole, but that can wait for tomorrow. Or the next day. Plenty of time, and plenty to do.

****

Got some good work done today. With all of us, we got Flame’s body out of the tunnel, and Sirion and I started our skinning work. It’s going to be glorious. Lydia already claimed the brain…everyone needs a hobby. I have to trust Heiron to intervene if she starts Marquessa-ing around.

Mikael and Sirion found a robe that lets you camouflage…Mikael has to stand still for it to adjust, but it even works against a stack of gold, or the side of the pirate ship, or the stone wall. It doesn’t radiate magic, so Raven might even be interested…if that’s not giving him too much power.

Had a long discussion over dinner over the morality of eating dragons. They eat us, and eat other, but we don’t eat people…or orcs. Monks and druids can talk to animals, and we eat them (animals), but which category do dragons fall into? Anyway, it passed the time; I’m not sure the workmen had ever considered the question before.

****

Packed the knights’ remains in coffin-substitutes with their gear so they can go back to Fort Gellsblood more-or-less dignified. Master Vol has a whole list of potions and what he thinks they do, based on decorations on the bottle, their color and consistency, etc. I asked why potion makers don’t put clear labels on their bottles so people didn’t have to guess so much.

****

Ezekiel and the others arrived today. They came via Lake Mala, so their time in the mountains was shorter. Ez mentioned some huge statues he found very striking – there’re a man and a woman on either side of the path in one place, and a much smaller girl sitting down about a day’s journey away. All carved from the mountain, it seems, and Raven says the adults are at least 100 feet tall. This is the path that was only recently discovered, so the representatives from Lake Mala didn’t know anything about them – except that the scouts also noticed them. Ez much intrigued…wonder if he’ll want statues of his own at his temple.

Aliana and Sirion seemed to know each other, and Ezekiel wanted to hear about the magic items we found.

I think my favorite is a ring that Master Vol said had something to do with lies and truth. When I tried it out, anything I said came out as the absolute truth…and when someone tried to tell a lie, it sounded all squeaky and high-pitched to me. It’s going to be fascinating to discover how often we fudge the truth in the name of humor or politeness.

So relieved, the Caravan brought plenty of sacks and pack animals. I got a satisfying sample of the reactions to the dragon hide, and Master Vol got busy organizing lines of men to fill their sacks with gold and start hauling this mess out. (We packed the crown and scepter in their lockbox for safer transportation. Sirion thinks it’s from a noble house that doesn’t exist anymore, which I’m glad about because then nobody can get mad at the Grand Duchy for supposedly snitching their royal accessories or something.) I still hadn’t made any progress in repairing the carriage, but Commander Morandraj sounded hopeful. Maybe the roads to Lake Mala are good enough, it can help bear some of the load (after someone who knows what they’re doing looks at it). Mikael says he wants the pirate ship, but I have no idea how we would make that work.

Oh…so Aliana says she interrupted a ritual in the Shield Lands, and defeated some undead…as in, she didn’t kill them, she defeated them, and when they surrendered she commissioned them to gods of Good and sent them off as part of their church (the God over all gods’ church). Raven doesn’t seem convinced he likes this.

There’s enough bustle and people here now, we’re mostly in the way, so we’re heading down to Cloudcatcher Lake tomorrow.

****

When we arrived here, there was already a company of dwarves from Deepholm bustling around the valley, digging here, chipping stone there, surveying another place. Ezekiel got right to work, showing them the plans he and Raven have drawn up, taking their suggestions, and getting things started. Lydia and the druid types threw up some walls of stone to form a kind of stockade around the instant fortress and the work zone, so we can more easily control the passes into the valley and protect ourselves while the work is going on. One of the foreman said it would take “no time at all,” but he didn’t clarify if that was “no time” for a dwarf, or “no time” for a human.

Most of our forces are in the north of the valley, north of the lake near the big mountain, so we’ll need to keep an eye on the south trail (and all the unknown trails that fire giants can use, I suppose).

Agnar moody today.

**

I tried to cheer Agnar up by taking him on patrol, but I’m not sure it helped. I’m not a very good talker, and we didn’t find anything to fight.

We did meet an impressive party among the trees along the road – four humans, two centaurs, and a treant. The leader introduced himself as the Arch-Druid, and asked to see Mikael…so I convinced Agnar not to fight them and we told Mikael they were expecting him (the druids preferred to stay outside the stone walls, and I think at least for starting out everyone was more comfortable that way).

So Mikael took his disciples to greet the Arch-Druid formally, and Raven took Agnar off my hands by asking him for a training bout. Hope this depressive swing doesn’t lead him to drink an entire cask of ale again.

The other thing that happened involved me much more. The two centaurs walked into camp and straight over to me, and asked for me by name. They said they wanted my “help” – but I am still not really sure what kind of help they’re looking for. They say Sirion sent them a message suggesting they would like to meet me – which is very complimentary of him, after all we haven’t known each other that long – so they traveled with the Arch-Druid’s group. (The Arch-Druid noticed Mikael was growing stronger in Obed-Hai, and so he came to test Mikael so that the best man possible would hold the position.)

The centaurs say Sirion joined them on a hunt a while ago (they didn’t say if centaur “a while” and human “a while” is more similar or different), who maybe they want me to help them hunt?? I explained I have to stay here – at least for the time being – while Ezekiel sets up his Haven, and so we set out to get them some “mountain gear” (for their feet).

Their names are Chestnut Who Paces the Bounds, and Whinny Mother of Ten (she told Raven she used to be Whinny Who Dances in Moonlight; and I’m sure her outfit is perfectly normal for centaurs…but they look more like slave clothes than anything I’m used to seeing). I wonder if they will need armor? They are both very tall, even without the horse part, but when I asked what they’ve hunted in the past, they mentioned goblins, deer, and boars. Mikael might know more, but he’s in no condition to ask – he’s pacing outside pulling his hair out. Still, they seem very nice, and have taken to kneeling down when we have a long, involved conversation, so we are closer to eye-to-eye.

They also don’t seem as comfortable in Common as they’d like, so maybe I can help them with that, too. Madam Whinny was trying to explain centaur culture to me, and kept asking Master Chestnut for words.


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Dear Diary…the stuff legends are made of

Alert: Contains spoilers for the adventure “Into the Fire”

The dragon wore magic necklaces on his claws like rings. Around his neck he wore a platinum chain with some kind of amulet attached, and something invisible yet magical circled his head constantly. Ezekiel told me to catch it – and fortunately it didn’t turn me Evil when I grabbed it out of the air. Once it was in my hand, it just sat there, feeling like a slick stone of some kind…so we’ll have to see what it ends up doing. Add it to the list.

The list. I have such a list now.

While Lydia dispelled her wall of stone, and helped Mikael get Commodore Bearington out of the pit (probably grateful he didn’t have to fight, if he’s a smart bear), the rest of us climbed the dead dragon and squeezed our way into the room beyond.

The room is more of a cavern – although roughly spherical, with a patch of daylight overhead. Hard to believe this all happened in the same morning. It seems some long-dead volcano carved out this chamber – though the tunnel was obviously constructed by gnomes or somebody. A ledge runs around the circumference of the large cavern, but all things considered, it might be just as well we didn’t fight the dragon here. True, we could spread out and make multiple targets for him, but our footing would be more precarious.

Raven dropped the thirty feet down, and found a side passage covered with dragon claw-marks (and a lever that he was smart enough not to pull, but we suspect it controls the portcullis and trapdoor). Most of us climbed a rope to join him, although Lydia floated down with her staff (how many times a day can it do that?) and Sirion coasted down on his cloak (glad he’s feeling better enough to show off again). Ezekiel shoved a pile of bottles full of dragon blood into his backpack and finally joined us (he didn’t mention if he wanted the eyeballs, too).

We crept down the passage on the alert – just in case the dragon had a little friend or something – and found another cavern, a bit smaller than the first, with a towering stone that from the gouges on the floor was dragged back and forth to block the door.

Most of the room is covered with furs, clothes, and other soft stuffs for a bed (and dragons apparently aren’t very sanitary). Against the wall leans what looks like the ripped-off side of a wooden house, with symbols burning into it. Lydia cast a spell to read it, and she thinks it’s his name: “Flame.” Schakka and Tressarian told us there were no gems and no magic items in the pile.

We spent a little time picking through the pile, finding a few furs that might be worth something, while Lydia found a robe and Sirion a cloak that weren’t too badly dirtied. But the real surprise came when we stepped through the next doorway.

We should have known what was coming. It’s in all the songs, after all. As we approached the next doorway, it seemed like the whole floor was yellow, but my mind at least didn’t register what that meant.

Then we got close enough that our shields’ light threw out across the new cavern, and we all stopped. We all stopped.

The first thing I really saw, lit by a magically burning brazier, was an ornate, gilded coach – its door open to reveal a strongbox overflowing with coins and gems and even a royal scepter. Along one wall sat a sailing ship – the hull burst open as a flood of coins, fabrics, and other things trailed down to the floor. Closer to us, a chess-set with platinum pieces sat, the pieces scattered across the board. Looks like the white pieces were winning.

More to the point, we found a pile of bones and armor in familiar colors. Sure enough, we found the insignia of our missing knights, along with a logbook that confirms most of the guesses we made while following their trail (turns out a freak storm took out one of the horses). I’m not sure what to feel, after reading a knight’s journal that literally documents the moment he saw a dragon and his doom was sealed…while writing here in my journal. I guess it’s a reminder that those who come after might like an explanation.

Lydia took Heiron with her to explore the ship, while some of the rest of us went to investigate a pile of boulders against a far wall. We still didn’t want any disturbing surprises. Sirion melted the stones into mud, and beyond we could see what Ezekiel called an extinct volcanic vent…a smooth chamber that rose a couple score feet to a dark ceiling. Sirion determined some kind of nest was blocking the outlet, so we shouldn’t have any problems from it.

We came out to find Agnar on his back in the floor of gold, waving his arms and legs and laughing. Bearington doesn’t seem to like how the coins slide around every time he steps on them, but Mikael gave him a horse bone to keep him away from the knights’ remains.

When we joined the others at the ship, we saw the name on the side was “Scorpion,” and a poster in the captain’s cabin suggest the captain was called “Jelusa the Merciless.” There’s also a logbook (useful journals again) with the last entry being ten years ago.

Flipping through the logbook, we found something even more interesting. Fifteen years ago (if the dates are right) the ship captured a “young man of quality” near the Pomarchj, and sold him in the Densack Gulf – although it doesn’t name the town. When we found some child-size clothes with the colors and insignia of the Grand Duke, all the pieces seem to fit. Sir Hoshur and the others must have found this evidence, and decided they had the best chance to get the medallion out.

Sir Hoshur deserves to have this story carved on his gravestone. Or, perhaps more meaningful, to have it sung in every inn across Geoff. I don’t know how he escaped from this gold prison – and the diary doesn’t mention it at all – but even apart from bringing His Grace the news about his son, Sir Hoshur got the warning out about the dragon before “Flame” got bored and decided to visit Fort Gellsblood. Ezekiel mumbled something about getting here soon enough to save the rest of them, but we can’t undo the past.

Ezekiel has taken Raven and left with Lydia to take the clothes, insignia, and the documents back to His Grace. (We’ll also need help clearing out this hoard…after hours of sorting and listing and digging, I’m still only starting to wrap my mind around it.)

Some bolts of silk fabric from the ship make decent enough shrouds for the knights’ bones, and I asked Agnar to help me find something we can use as coffins, so they can go back with their gear…but he keeps getting distracted swimming through hills of coins and precious things.

Mikael found an aquarium filled with silver pieces, instead of water, with some golden fish “swimming” inside. Definitely will need a couple people to lift it, and I don’t think the glass is real glass. He’s pretty unimpressed at the unnaturalness of it all, but he’s doing his part to sort through stuff. Heiron asked me if I thought Lydia would like the silver and ivory writing set he found.

**

We keep finding unpleasant surprises, too. Near the burning brazier we uncovered the bones of some fire giants – the bare side-chamber works as a burial dump. Besides other humanoid bones, though, we also found a “shrine” full of holy symbols and bones. Sirion thinks Flame sorted the pieces of each cleric with his holy relics – he pointed out an elf who worshiped Aerdrie Faenya (Ezekiel would probably know more). We’re wrapping the ones we can in shrouds, for a more decent burial. The sheer number of remains tells me Flames’s been at this for a long time.

**

Went to see if the carriage would actually roll. I think it’ll take more fixing than I know how to do, but we found a crown inside the coach – just sitting in a lockbox, not even locked, with a scepter beside it. I asked Sirion if the coat of arms meant anything to him, since he’s been around so much, but he’s still thinking.

**

Master Uthien will be excited! I found something with his name on it, so it seems almost certain the dragon is the one who tipped over his tower and killed him and Sir Frederick. I mean, it’s just a decorated drinking mug, but it’s something. And we can give him the satisfaction that the dragon is dead now.

I hope Raven remembers he has most of our rations before too long. Also, we’ll probably need his help dragging the dragon out of the tunnel, so I can skin it more easily… I think this skin will need a huge castle wall for proper displaying!


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Dear Diary…fire storm

Alert: Contains spoilers for the adventure “Into the Fire”

We set out…just like old times. Everyone armed and ringed and prayed up. Except nothing could have fully prepared us for this.

The tunnel headed basically due west – straight and square and eerily smooth. Mikael had Schakka out to check the walls, while Agnar checked the floor out in front – but the portcullis didn’t come from the walls or the floor. It dropped down from the ceiling, right on top of Ezekiel and Sirion – trapping all of us behind it except Agnar, who rolled forward out of the way.

With one magic gauntlet gripping the portcullis, keeping it from crushing his shoulder, Ezekiel paused to splash holy water around. Mikael and Raven were just grabbing the portcullis to help lift it off of Sirion when the second mechanism moved.

I was watching our rear, in case anything snuck up behind us. The floor beneath us levered down, dropping us into a pit about ten feet deep.

Raven was caught hanging from the portcullis, but he dropped down and ran across the pit to help lift people out. We had barely started that when a jet of flame washed over the top of the pit – I thought for a moment even my hair was catching fire – and when we looked up Ezekiel and Sirion were curled-up piles of charred flesh.

But Mikael has learned to never say die. He leapt up and slapped Ezekiel’s arm with a Cure spell, and Ezekiel started coughing and moving.

Lydia was already standing on Raven’s hand, ready to climb out of the pit. With a wave of her staff, she levitated to the east edge of the pit, and threw her hand out toward the west with some commanding words. As Ezekiel and Agnar shoved the portcullis back into the ceiling, something just beyond them started glowing. I tossed a rope of climbing onto the bottom edge of the grate, and climbed up beside Ezekiel, who was busy casting protection from fire spells (better late than never??).

Beyond where they stood – beyond Lydia’s glowing wall of force – stood a dragon. Not like those skinny white ones that went down like punks. Not like the caustic black ones that melted Heiron before we figured out how to get behind them. No, this was a huge, glowing, red dragon, snarling at us through the gleaming magic barrier and nearly filling the entire tunnel (which was forty feet across if it was an inch).

I did what preparing I could. I hid behind Ezekiel and belted on the sword of Lyons – knowing the dragon was super intelligent, yes, and knowing it probably saw me turning invisible, yes, but it’s what I could do.

About this time, we found Sirion wasn’t completely dead – so we helped him up and Ezekiel lent him a ring of fire resistance before he shifted through an animal form to heal up. I’m sure the rest of his hair will come back eventually.

Lydia built a wall of stone behind us while Ezekiel and Mikael passed around protection spells. Raven and Heiron hid in the pit, Raven holding a potion bottle. And then –

Bellow! Someone big and unhappy thumped at the other side of the stone wall – but it held. While the dragon was distracted trying to flank us, I thought it might be a good time to move forward into his room, so we weren’t like so many flies in a bottle. Lydia took down the wall of force, and we felt our way forward again, Agnar checking for traps. I followed him, Tressarian in my hand. The rope of climbing twitched as Raven and Heiron climbed up it, invisible. Mikael threw his elephant statuette, and it swelled to full size, flapping its trunk a little as it found its footing.

Ezekiel raised the gem of seeing to his eye (he says he was kicking himself for not using it earlier) and yelped, “It’s right in front of us!”

Almost at the same moment he cried out, the huge head of the dragon materialized before us, biting into Mikael’s elephant.

As the elephant’s bellow shook the tunnel, Heiron, Sirion, Agnar, and I pounced with our swords – almost in synchronized timing. The dragon roared, and sucked in a breath, but Lydia flipped open a scroll and read some words I’ve never heard before.

The dragon gave a croak, and flopped on the floor, its eyes turning glassy. Yes, just like monsters can kill us in one moment – sometimes heroes can kill monsters in one moment. Just like when we were brand new kids, fighting goblins. Oh well at least it’s fair.

That left us all panting and staring at the hulking body of the dragon, which even in death almost scraped the ceiling with his wings. The clamor had barely died down when everyone was poking me to – you guessed it – ask Tressarian what magic stuff the dragon had.


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Dear Diary…the calm before

Alert: Contains spoilers for the adventure “Into the Fire”

Everyone voted to wait at least a day for Lydia to find us, since it’s been about a week since she and Heiron have been traveling. Ezekiel has been talking recent history with Uthien, while Uthien and Sir Fredrick sift through their home and try to find anything salvagable.

I’ve been on guard with the sword of Lyons (and Tressarian, of course, because he doesn’t like to be left out). We sit in the windowsill by the bridge and watch the valley. It’s very strange. This lake is a perfect place for deer and birds to come to drink, but I haven’t seen any all day. The giant creatures in the lake seem to mind their own business, and Uthien assures me they weren’t aggressive 120 years ago when he was studying them…Something is strange.

****

14th Planting – Still no Lydia. I’ve not been feeling well. Something came over me while I was watching the valley… I thought maybe it was the shadow of a cloud, but that wasn’t quite right, and I don’t know why a cloud would make me feel like we’re all going to die.

Raven thinks it’s the sinking feeling I get regularly every hour or so, but this felt different. It made my skin crawl…not like the sinking dread of inevitable horror that just comes from living in a world where so many things are unfathomably deadly.

Sir Fredrick’s sword Mironis says he feels that way whenever it’s night.

****

The others wanted to scry Ldyia and Heiron, since we still haven’t heard from them – and since Ezekiel doesn’t have a sacred font here, I pulled out my crystal ball and concentrated. They were still on horseback (their own horses, so they got to Fort Gellsblood all right) but it didn’t sound like Lydia was her old self yet. She was yelling at Heiron for something, and I don’t even know what, and using language I’ve never heard before. Heiron was riding very fast, and I hope he finds a priest soon.

Then Raven asked me to spy on the end of the tunnel we found – but I couldn’t make it appear in the orb. It could be it’s because I don’t have a clear enough picture in my mind…only I’ve spent a lot of time staring at this valley, and when I try to move the picture from the valley, up the slope, and into the tunnel, it’s like a cloud floats into the image, and everything grows dark. Raven and Mikael pointed out that might mean the tunnel is protected from scrying, which would mean Lydia can’t find us if we go in there.

We talked over our options for some time, but Ezekiel decided he really doesn’t want to face whatever is in there before we have Lydia (and Heiron of course) back, so we need to sit tight some more. I suggested we try to lay a trap for whatever jumped the knights – using someone small and vulnerable as bait, while the others wait within striking distance to catch the attackers. But Sirion pointed out we don’t really know what came after them, and six knights is a very different target from one insignificant-looking person. He said a lion would not react to peanut butter on a mousetrap the way a mouse would…and while I don’t know all the words he used, he makes a point.

So, more guard duty and checkers it is. Still no wildlife sightings, though.

****

Mikael spent some time meditating, and says the wildlife population increases slowly as you get farther away from here. So this valley, and mountains near it, are a dead zone. It’s very disturbing, and he agrees. Sir Fredrick wonders if whatever tilted their tower had long-lasting effects. Uthien says he always saw birds, at least, while he was watching his water creatures and making notes, so the stillness is uncanny…and I can’t help feeling like something is hanging over us…something so deadly the mind can barely grapple with it.

And then the feeling passed, and I came inside, but I haven’t forgotten it. And even Ezekiel talking about how we cleared out the Temple of Elemental Evil doesn’t make me feel completely better. Maybe it’s sitting on my hands doing nothing that puts me on-edge. I’ve been flipping through Tain’s journal for inspiration. He really talks like he could turn things invisible…or almost…he uses some words differently than I’m used to…Raven would be interested in a science experiment with me, I’m sure.

****

18 Planting

Lydia and Heiron caught up with us this evening! She’s basically her same chill, collected self, but Heiron seems much happier now that she’s not yelling at him. They say they found a priest in Thornward who could help them – and by then they decided to just ride the rest of the way to Gorna, rather than teleport.

So Lydia escorted Uthien and Sir Fredrick through the portal so they could be safe, and start to put together a new life, and she took me through so I could show our map to someone responsible and we could leave messages about where we are – in case we are never heard from again, so someone can carry on the mission. Left some notes for Dree and Ronhass, and tomorrow we’ll head for the tunnel.


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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

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “Into the Fire”

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.