Dear Diary….seven funerals and two weddings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

[sketch of snowflake]

[sketch of bird]

**

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

[written in Lawful Good]

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

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

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

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

[Common]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

**

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

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

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

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

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

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

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