Dear Diary….piles of bodies

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

Ezekiel told Raven and me to chase the mysterious man, taking Lydia to unlock the iron door for us. Mikael tagged along, too (I guess having only one arm hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm).

Good thing he came, because when Lydia got the door open, the plants on either side of the path were lashing back and forth, practically snarling. Raven tried calming them down with talk, but I guess they weren’t impressed — they kept telling him they were upset, but plants aren’t big on details. Mikael still had an anti-plant shell active, though, so we advanced along the path, sticking close to him…until we reached the door north, that leads to the hall and the superstitious-orcs room.

That door was currently all blocked by trees, which looked as though they’d thrown their limbs across it like arms (I didn’t know they could move like that!). Here and there, glowing blotches stuck to the tree, sparkling in the morning light…and when Mikael pointed out the pulpy stains of man, we pieced together what happened to our quarry. I…I guess he forgot about the angry plants…or didn’t have a way to ward them off. They claim to “serve” Beori, after all – and I doubt this guy was very tight with her.

I gathered up the biggest pieces I could reach without leaving Mikael’s side, and we headed back to show Ezekiel.

While we were gone, he gathered up all the papers he could find in the desk (mostly boring ledger stuff) and searched the crates around the office. He found rations, chains, traveling supplies, a little bag of jewelry, and way more money than we could easily carry (bag of holding, you are missed).

When we got back, he sent Heiron, me, and Agnar up the ladder to “just take a peek” at what was there (“don’t open any doors or anything!” – the horse left that barn, Ezie). There’s a twisty little dirt tunnel that narrows so far, even Agnar couldn’t squeeze through…so unless it was for halflings, or that guy could shape-shift, I don’t know what the point of it was. At the very least, I made the assumption we wouldn’t meet any of those giant ant-men things, so I persuaded Agnar we wouldn’t find a good fight up there, and we should go check on Mikael (his best-buddy-forever).

Mikael, it turns out, was sitting on the table and having a “serious conversation” with Obed-Hai about his arm and possible methods for restoring arms. I don’t think he got much response, but I’m not exactly a cleric-type.

Ezekiel and Raven, meanwhile, had been talking about the money. We put it to a vote, and agreed that if the rescued slaves could carry it out, they could have it. It should help them get back on their feet and head home, and maybe they can meet up with the other group we rescued at the Grumpy Gargoyle.

We also decided that it was time to get them out – before Mikael’s plant shell wore off (assuming it hadn’t already), and since we hadn’t found any better exit anyway. So we went and fetched them from the storerooms, and loaded them up with gold coins (you should have seen their faces). We kept a fair share for ourselves, and divvied it up so that no one person had to carry all of it.

The three merchants are still in the cages, and we’ll really have to do something with them before long (probably send them off into Highport) but I guess we want to be sure they can’t raise the alarm about us to anybody before then. For all we’ve accomplished here, we still have the Slave Lords themselves to find and deal with…

Raven told the trees blocking the door we were about to make something powerful hot on the path, and they stood up. It was quite a sight! Of course, after they moved, Lydia didn’t have to make a fire after all, so is that like lying to them? Do trees count for that?

Anyway, we led the slaves along the tunnel, up the steps, and Mikael escorted them through the garden and out the north door. Well…not all of them.

The young lady who half-choked the aspis really impressed Raven and Mikael. They asked if she would like to join us in fighting back against the slavers, and Ezekiel said he could tell her about the God of gods that he (and Raven) serve. She said, well, all right – and she looks much nicer now that she’s dressed in the better clothes from the storerooms. Her name is Dree (which sounds kinda Oeridian, but her face seems kinda Flannish).

Ezekiel introduced us to her one by one (spilling all our abilities and secrets – it’s like he never learns!). She seemed concerned that he wasn’t telling her about this “God of gods” she was supposed to be working for, but I guess he’ll get around to that eventually (it’s like what he talks about all the time…does he need to warm up to it or something? Maybe he’s nervous because she’s a pretty girl…Mikael certainly keeps trying to tell her interesting things. He told her all about how he lost his arm as soon as she officially joined us).

**

After the talking break, we headed back to the huge room with all the trapdoors. Raven showed how he had figured out which levers controlled which trapdoors, so Ezekiel went first out onto them.

There were a couple aspis clinging to the central support pillars of the room, and they threw darts at Ezekiel…but Heiron and I dealt with them. I don’t like that they can climb on vertical surfaces…it makes them creepy. Raven pointed out that he can climb vertical surfaces, too, but at least he has the decency not to hang there like a spider. I still keep an eye on him, though.

We didn’t spot anything or anyone in the cages underneath the floor, so we kept moving on. I still don’t know what the point of that room is, since beyond it is yet another long, narrow corridor. Anything that would need that much space can’t get to it from the surface!

Beyond the corridor is a small room to prepare you for what lies ahead…it stinks. The floor is a mess of rags, dirt, and weapons rusted beyond any usefulness. The foulness is so thick in the air, you have to blink your eyes until they adjust (and they still continue to hurt).

Raven, Ezekiel, and Agnar led the way through the next door…and boy am I glad. We stepped out onto a five-foot-wide stone ledge, running alongside a moat of sewage water. Lydia theorized it’s linked to the sewers of Highport, and that makes sense…but I have no intention of exploring it in depth.

Not too far along the path, orcs came out from a side passage up ahead, and attacked the vanguard with spears over a short stone wall. At the same time, orcs appeared over a short wall on the other side of the moat, lobbed clay jars at us, and ducked back down.

I expected something burning in the clay jars, but in some ways it was worse. For Raven and Ezekiel, it was worse. They now know what foulness you get when you squeeze an orc…and they had to puke out that knowledge for several minutes while the orcs stabbed at them.

Agnar did better, shrugging off several of the pots, but Bornthene and I didn’t shoot them down quite fast enough, and he got a chamberpot all over his head. That’s going to take a job to wash out.

Mikael cast faery fire (he’s obviously figured out a way that works with one arm). An orc up ahead shouted something rude-sounding, and a mist or dimness wrapped around the vanguard…but we could still see everything thanks to the light on Heiron and Ezekiel’s shields.

Then I guess Lydia decided to fight fire with fire. She pulled her arm back and lobbed an old egg over our fighters and into the group ahead of us on the ledge. Green smoke exploded, and after that…well, it was just a matter of plinking the gagging and coughing orcs. They can be grateful I killed them before they staggered into the moat.

Once they were dead – and no more heads popped up above the wall on the other side – Lydia dispersed the cloud and we picked our way forward to see how the vanguard was doing.

Raven and Ezekiel were recovered, and healing Raven – but Agnar was not just recovered, he was angry. Or antsy, maybe. Before the rest of us could do anything, he leapt over the low wall and charged down the side passage where the orcs had come from, yelling threats.

Raven and Ezekiel followed him, and Lydia and Usin were next. Next thing I knew, I heard a muffled explosion, and screams…I think I now know the orc word for “fire.”

Down the narrow passage is a small room with a stone chest, and through another opening is a larger cave which is obviously an orc lair. When I followed Mikael in, I could see skins hanging on the walls, and furs and skins and human bones lining the floor.

For a minute or two, I guarded the exit (figured I could let Agnar have his fun) but then I heard the thunderous tread and deep gurgly voices of ogres, and stepped inside.

Lydia’s wall of fire still blazed across the southern end of the room, while plastered against the north wall of the cave huddled a group of miniature orcs – younglings of various sizes, all hugging each other and shaking. I’m kind of surprised Agnar left them alone…but then again, they wouldn’t put up an interesting fight – not like the ogres directly across the way, blocking yet another doorway.

Usin did all right for himself. Nice he was near the front for once…somehow, he keeps finding his way to the back where I am, and it’s not comfortable. Raven makes fun of me, but let’s be honest – if I jog his elbow, and he explodes, who’s Ezekiel going to yell at for blowing up his pet orc-half-orc?

After the ogre caught Agnar so hard it knocked him backward, I lined up my shot and took it down. I heard Mikael calling for insects to come and aide him, but maybe there aren’t any of the right kind nearby, or they didn’t hear him. Maybe they’re hibernating this time of year.

With the ogres down, Mikael prayed over Raven (he got the brunt of the counter-attacks, looks like), and Ezekiel explored the chieftain’s room…the second room of the suite, lined with furs and worn tapestries, with a chest that Raven was pretty sure had a glyph of warding.

After Raven unlocked it, we all backed up, and Ezekiel risked his luck and opened it. Lots of copper, a few gems, and three daggers that he didn’t want to touch for some reason. There’s some kind of rust on the blades, and though they don’t look that useful, Raven took them for curiosity’s sake.

Ezekiel and Usin tried talking to the orclings, and told them to run to the clan in Highport. I got out of the doorway to let them run past, rubbing their eyes and noses on their sleeves. A part of me hopes maybe Ezekiel is right…that there is a God over all the gods who can gather all creatures to Himself – waifs of all races who would otherwise be serving Grumpsh’s afterlife, if he has one.

The rest of me remembers Ertuli. The goblins shed no tears for the Thlan family…I carried little Gwen on my back that whole first day we were heading for Hochochl, after we couldn’t find any of her brothers. That elf on the ship was truthful, when he said their masters have no mercy.

We searched the bodies (about twice as many females as males) and came up with some gold. The stone chest in the outermost room, however, had the real loot – a big pile of gold pieces. We divvied it up right away, so no one of us would have to carry it all, and it still ended up about ten pounds per person.

There were also some long boards in this room that should reach across the moat, to let us get to the doorways where orcs were lobbing stuff at us…but Ezekiel didn’t seem excited about that yet. Instead, he voted to continue south along the stone walkway and see how far we got.

Before too long, we got to a place where the passage had largely collapsed. A thick beam supported a block that the roof sat on, while the river of sewage flowed under the crumbled stones and disappeared. The gaps on either side of the beam might have allowed Wonillon through, but not Agnar.

Mikael changed himself into a snake (no limbs to worry about) and crawled through. When he came back, he reported a branching passage that smells like orcs and ogres, but he couldn’t tell much more with his snake senses.

That’s when Bornthene piped up and volunteered to go in. He said he’s a Stout (though he doesn’t look it) which I guess means he can see very well in the dark. Ezekiel cast continual light on a coin for him, anyway, so he could take Mikael with him…so he squeezed through the gap alongside the beam, with snake-Mikael on his heels. I remember thinking at the time it was a nice step toward taking his own initiative, and breaking out of his shell, and…well, anyway, we’ll see.

They weren’t gone very long at all before they came back and reported the tunnel doubles-back to the orc lair…so that’s one mystery anti-climactically solved.

We went back north, through the caves, and found where Lydia’s wall of fire had finally burned out (some of the skins around the place were still smoldering, though). Behind where it had been, we could see a doorway tucked in a curve of the wall.

All together again, we followed the passage into a kind of intersection, where several tunnels led off – with alert gongs hanging by each passage from pegs in the wall. I wonder if there’s anybody left to be alerted…but Ezekiel didn’t try it out this time. I think Raven wanted to…

The passage we chose led to a landing – with steps heading down into the sewage. I suppose orcs might not mind getting filthy refuse on their filthy skins, but none of us were ready to walk down into that much (and Usin didn’t volunteer, either, so maybe it bothered him, too).

I suppose I should mention the ladder, even though it didn’t go anywhere. This same landing has a ladder leading to a trapdoor – that neither Ezekiel nor Raven could get open. But when Agnar borrowed the mace and smashed the trapdoor to bits, there was nothing on the other side but smooth earth. Why do bad guys feel the need to fill their lairs with confusing, pointless passages? It’s like the levers and cages, but even more confusing, and less elaborate. I suppose it’s possible the passage above collapsed, and that’s just the debris from above…but it still feels silly.

Well, we all voted that looking for the secret door outside the slave pens (where the mud on the stone floor was all smeared funny) sounded much better than wading through sewage…so we trooped back that way. (Sometimes it feels like we don’t accomplish much, but that’s just because we spend so much time walking back and forth.)

[map sketch]

Ezekiel told us all to look for a hidden catch or something, and then Agnar just shoved his short, heavily-armored body against the wall, and a door slid open. The orc fight seemed to have mollified him, but he was still champing at the bit for some more excitement.

This secret door led to – surprise! – another ledge alongside a moat of sewage! This is getting really old by now…not to mention, the smell was giving me a headache. Surely a proper architect shouldn’t need to combine spaces so much. Whatever you say about Explictika Defilas, at least she just used mud.

As we picked our way forward, an irregular drumming sound echoed from somewhere up ahead. Before long, the passage split – across a little bridge, one ledge hugged the wall west, while the “main” path continued south.

There wasn’t much to the western path. A rock-fall has blocked the entire passage, choking the flow of sewage to a trickle in that direction. (Doesn’t make it feel any safer to be down there!) A water leakage from somewhere above dripped steadily from the ceiling, drumming a huge inverted barrel that blocked the end of the walkway. Ezekiel checked underneath it, but there’s nothing but ledge…the barrel is empty. …Raven observed, And now anyone who’s still alive down here could have heard the interruption in the drumming!

Across yet another bridge, the passage Ts, heading either west or east. To the west, stairs lead down into the moat. To the east…

Ezekiel went first. Unexpectedly, the whole ledge rocked, and he tossed his shield and mace into the water to grab at the wall. Shadows jumped into being around us as his lit shield dropped into the sludge. While he didn’t fall, he let us grab his arm to help him back onto level path.

Raven came up to help light the way, as he’s rigged his lit pebble into a necklace with some string. (Heiron and I have lit shields, of course, but they’re facing the wrong way when we have our bows out.)

Agnar took a close look at the ledge, and borrowed an arrow to wedge into a crack. He says it’s “unstable,” but the arrow should hold it.

Ezekiel tested this theory, hugging the wall, and the floor seemed to behave itself. (I wonder if it really is “unstable,” or if it’s unstable on purpose!) One by one, we followed him (some of us holding our bows high, just in case).

As Bornthene brought up the rear, the stress of all that weight was just too much, and the arrow snapped (I heard it). But he’s a halfling, who as everyone knows are noted for their graceful feet, and he skipped forward onto the level walkway with a little gasp.

At long last, the ledge widened out to form a “floor” from wall to wall…I hesitate to call it a room, though, since the space seems crammed with refuse. Above the shriveled, drying garbage the damp air rises with nauseating fumes…one could almost imagine the streaks of slime on the walls are visible fingers of the stench.

We seemed to be out of ways forward…so Ezekiel (never one to back down from an honest challenge), tip-toed into the ankle-high water toward a door just to the side of the room. Halfway there, the “floor” sloped or something, and he staggered, but he kept his footing – and his grip on the club Mikael loaned him.

As the vanguard picked their way through the door, I heard them groan and make fake puking noises (it seems to be the day for that).

When I came up, I knew why. A five-foot walkway led between two ditches or trenches, filled with food-stuffs. Orc food-stuffs. Carcases and rotting vegetables, and grain that really shouldn’t have been stored so damp, and drink-skins pegged to the walls. Quite apart from all the other reasons we wouldn’t touch this stuff if we were starving – the corpses are human.

Mostly human.

As we picked our way along the path, Bornthene gave a strangled cry and pointed at one under-sized arm, with a ring on its finger.

Ezekiel leaned over to pick it up – and this huge maggot as big as his arm leapt out of the pile and started chewing on him. Lydia sprang to his side – zip! – fire licked up her finger – and the grub squealed as its skin split open in the heat.

Ezekiel shook off the rest of it, and turned to Bornthene. “You know that arm?” he asked.

The ring. He says the ring belonged to his wife. For a moment I thought he might cry, or throw up – but then I thought he might draw his sword and dice the whole pile into little pieces…and then he looked more like he was going to kill someone. He started marching up the path, his eyes not even seeming to see us – but Heiron grabbed his shoulder and seemed to bring him back to himself.

Ezekiel retrieved the arm…that’s all there is, and it looks pretty shriveled and dry. He pulled out the candle we found upstairs by the garden, handed it to Lydia, and handed the forearm to Dree “for a moment.”

Dree’s face didn’t look like the right color, but she stood there solemnly holding the little arm while Ezekiel borrowed Mikael’s staff and turned over the pile of dried, decaying body parts. Bornthene stood by him, to “identify”…and Lydia stood on his other side, to burn every spot a grub latched onto.

I heard a retching noise, and then another one. I was guarding our rear, so I didn’t see who did it.

Finally, Ezekiel said we were done. He found an extra length of silk in his backpack and wrapped up all the fragments he’d collected (including the forearm from Dree), and carried them balanced in his hand, like a relic or incense censor or something.

Mikael raised his one arm, and mumbled a prayer over the pile. I’m not sure what all of it meant – there was a bunch of Obed-Hai stuff in there – but I think I got the gist. Not that rats need a burial service, but maybe it brought the humans and demis some peace. The grubs can go to the Abyss for all I care.

Bornthene’s face is completely changed. He’s not standing around in the back with the archers anymore. He’s up near Ezekiel, and he’s clearly concentrating on something…hard to tell if it’s a lot of thoughts, or just one thought, repeated over and over.


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary….CHOICES and CONSEQUENCES

Well…we left the slaves barricaded in the storerooms, and the three merchants in cages, guarded by a fake wyvern. (Ezekiel insists it’s not “fake,” it’s “spiritual.”) So…they should be fine.

The door at the top of the stairs needed Heiron, Agnar, and Raven all working on it to get it open. Sure enough, on the other side stood an aspis guard – which Heiron and Agnar carved up with their swords.

Then the way branched once again. This all seems a bit incidental given later events, but I should record everything as fully as possible.

To the west, we found a small room with a row of levers along the wall, with a slit above each lever. Raven peeked through the slit and played with the levers, and through the doorway to the room beyond, we saw a huge piece of floor rise up into place. He hit the lever again, and it dropped – like a trapdoor.

The whole room beyond was a grid, with narrow beams running up-and-down and side-to-side. Apparently the beams support these huge trapdoor panels that serve as the floor – or would, if they were all levered into position.

Below each trapdoor is a cage…or in other words, the whole “room” below is divided with bars, and the ceiling of that room is hinged to flap down or lever up into place.

Personally, I don’t see the point of it at all. The slaves are already captured when they arrive here…there’s no need to trick them into a cage. There’s no real government out here to speak of…the orc clans aren’t going to “raid” the Slave Lords’ operation – unless they want a piece of the action! I suppose that is a mystery for another time.

Ezekiel told Heiron and me to head down the corridor to the east and see what was there. Yes – SPLITTING THE PARTY. As Master Otis says: if you don’t push yourself, you’ll never grow…but speaking of growing –

I’m getting ahead of myself. Heiron and I headed down the long corridor to the east, until we came to a door. (Why didn’t Mikael send Agnar with us? Physics puzzles are not what he’s interested it! I digress…)

I couldn’t hear anything behind the door, so we opened it. What a sight should greet us! A wide staircase led down into the room, which curved away to either hand. Opposite us, the circle met at a desk – where a man sat, surrounded by giant weasels. (Again – like the one that almost killed me in Explictika’s lair.)

A moat separated the central pathway and a walkway running around the outside of the circle, manned by orcs with crossbows.

I shot down one orc as soon as I saw him, and then…then the weasels leaped the moat, darted up the stairs, and snapped their huge teeth at us. I’ll just come out and say it — those buggers move fast!

The first one latched on to my arm, and another grabbed Heiron. I tried shooting it off him, but I declare those beasties are enormous…and the orcs raining crossbow bolts on us didn’t help. One bolt came within an inch of snapping my bow!

One of the weasels was worrying something behind me, but I really couldn’t see what it was. My arm was throbbing – and feeling weak – and I knew we couldn’t lose much more blood.

Heiron had two weasels chewing on him by this time, but he still managed to shoot the weasel latched on to me (being close must have helped).

As soon as it dropped off, I grabbed him and started dragging him back – out of crossbow range – and calling for back-up. (Raven says I was “yelping” for back-up, but for once I can’t be mad at him.) Just in time, too – one last bolt bounced off Heiron’s helmet, and he had to blink and shake his head for a minute to clear it.

Within moments, Raven was there – punching weasels. With my arms free, I drew my bow and killed one of the weasels sucking the life out of Heiron.

By that time, Ezekiel had run up, too (huffing and puffing), and I could hear Agnar at the other end of the corridor – clanging and banging and yelling, “Save some fer meeee!”

Raven smacked the weasels so hard they sat down to blink and shake their heads – which made them much easier to kill. With the shift in the fight, I could finally glance around and see what we had backed into…

Mikael stood there…but he seemed…different, somehow. All the blood running down him didn’t help. Ezekiel cast a healing spell, and that seemed to revive him – at least enough to step forward and cast faery fire.

And that’s when it hit me, like a heavy thing. Mikael only had one arm.

With faery fire glowing, we could see the orcs more clearly – and the figure of man, floating around in the air behind the desk. He must have turned himself invisible.

Raven took off after him while Heiron and I plinked orcs. Agnar had finally shown up – puffing and swearing and waving his sword wildly. He rushed past me, almost knocking me off my feet, and charged down the stairs – slipping and tripping and taking crossbow bolts to the breastplate, but never stopping his stream of threats.

I tried to leave him a couple orcs. I mean, he’s had a rough day. Not as rough as Mikael, but still – he’s been itching for a good fight, and somehow he keeps missing them.

Raven came back before long, and reported that the tunnels loop around and connect to one another, so he thinks the man fled up to the mausoleum in the “cemetery” (the iron door is locked now, so it seems someone went that way).

There’s also a ladder in front of the escape tunnel that will have to be explored some time…and Raven says he thinks he figured out to open and close the trapdoors we want, but we still don’t know what they’re for.

And on top of all that, Mikael lost his arm. He says when the weasel grabbed him, all he could think of was to turn into a bird and fly away…but unfortunately the weasel still had a grip on his bird-wing…and, well, the rest is history. Namely, his wing-slash-arm is now history.

I asked if we could cut it out of the weasel, and then Ezekiel could use his spiritual-magic-superglue to put it back on. Ezekiel got all tuttsy and huffy that “that’s not how it works!” which is why I said it.

Raven remembered the one-armed druid we met in the mountains, and theorized maybe he was just Mikael from the future, but about then Ezekiel clapped his hands and started laying out a plan, so we had to go back to work.

Dear Diary….the main “warehouse” of “merchandise”

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

This morning Mikael cast Detect Magic. The lady cleric’s mace is magical (Ezekiel snapped that up) and so is something inside the poor-box…but we’ve been a little busy, and haven’t bothered to look in there yet.

Ezekiel summoned this shimmery, translucent wyvern-shaped thing that he calls a specter, so we don’t have to worry about about some creature eating the dead slaves before we can raise them. Ez says it should scare off most things. Then we escorted the rest of the prisoners to the main gate and let them go their way into town.

We started our exploration of the stables by heading around the outside of the wall, so we came in through the door the horsemen would have used. There was nothing inside the stables except a dead man who must have taken care of the horses (based on his clothes). I’m not sure what killed him; something have chewed on him, but I couldn’t tell if the marks came before or after death. No horses – although Raven found plenty of fodder in the loft above.

Raven and Ezekiel went first, Raven checking for traps as he went. Behind the stable is a long, twisty hallway. One of the rooms opening off it contained what Mikael called a “giant sundew”…he says they’re a kind of plant that sticks up insects and eats them. Heiron and Ezekiel killed it before it could try to eat us, but Ez had to peel his mace and armor off of it afterwards.

The corridor circled up and around until it ended with a door on either hand. Bornthene said he heard someone moving behind the north door, so we tried it – only to find it barred from the other side.

Raven figured out how to unhook the bar by messing with the doorknob or something, and we threw the door open – to discover six shaking orcs, pressed against the far wall and holding unsteady halberds toward our vanguard.

They were strung out enough, Ezekiel had no trouble getting them to stand down and talk (there is another door in the far wall, but I guess they were so nervous they were having trouble getting it unbarred. Once he convinced them we weren’t “spooks” from the cemetery, they told him what they knew…which wasn’t much. Apparently they were just hired to be on guard – when they’re relieved at the end of their shift, they go back into town, to their clan’s territory.

I didn’t see it until we moved up the hall, but the walls were plastered with all kinds of holy symbols – good and bad and neutral. Raven says they just collected them and nailed them there to keep back the “spooks”…which is kinda clever and kinda dumb at the same time.

Anyway, Ezekiel said they could leave if they wanted, and tell their Clan-leader this job is all wrapped up…so they wasted no time unbarring the door north and fleeing into town.

For our part – we went through the south door out of the hallway, into the cemetery to “deal with the spooks.”

Actually, we didn’t find any “spooks” – but we did find the “guard-plants” Raven came across while he was scouting. He tried asking them what was up, and they said they were tasked by Beori to “block” people coming into the courtyard. They didn’t like Mikael’s “anti-plant shell” at all…but they also seemed to relax when we stayed on the path. It seems this really did used to be a place for Beori, some time past.

We followed the path as it wound through the tangled, overgrown greenery to a little structure which could be a shed, or a mausoleum, or a crypt…but which now is a simple stone room protecting the top of a staircase. Raven opened the heavy iron door, and Ezekiel led the way down.

When we reached the bottom of the stairs, we found a soft dirt floor and wooden beams supporting a tunnel very like the one we found the ant-people in. The vanguard notices footprints, and called me to the front to learn what I could from them.

There were a whole bunch of tracks from many different people – both coming in and going out – but after some examination I could tell they were mostly orcs, mixed with humans…and even some paw-prints from giant weasels (like that one in Explicktika’s lair that almost killed me).

At the first fork we came to, the left track seemed to be where most of the weasels went…but most of the humans and humanoids went the other way. Ezekiel decided we would go where most of the people went, so we headed right until we came to another fork. The left choice had strange markings in the dirt, and I wished I had taken more time to examine the ant-people tracks under the sanctuary – before my party trampled them all out, that is. (Ez and Mikael say they called themselves “aspis”.)

Ezekiel had us take the other branch (most of the people seemed to go that way, too), and before too long the floor changed from dirt to stone flags. The ceiling was high enough that even Mikael was comfortable, and there’s a steady dripping of water from somewhere that’s formed stalactites on the ceiling (Ezekiel took some, but I don’t know why he wants them).

What with the general dampness, the muddy footprints tracked across the stones pretty well…that is, until they reached a spot where they smeared up against the wall somehow. In other words, it’s as though something came out of the wall and slid back and forth across the floor. Ez has added it to our list of things to investigate later on.

About this point, we came to a short flight of stairs going up again. I was in front, of course, since I was watching footprints…but I paused to set my arrow on the bowstring, and to give Ezekiel plenty of time to catch up with me (he don’t move so fast in full plate armor. Much as it pains me to say it, Raven might have a point…).

When I reached the top of the stairs, it just took a moment to scan the room. Two rows of cages – with bars from floor to ceiling – stretched away from me into the room. Every cell had one person – human man or woman – though they were plenty big.

Walking down between the two rows was a party in single file: a couple orcs, then three humans, and a couple more orcs.

I had an arrow ready, so I let fly. The lead orc ducked, and the arrow took off his companion’s ear. By the time Ezekiel reached the top of the stairs, I had another arrow ready – and let fly. This one nipped right through the lead orc’s throat and sank into the orc behind him, dropping them both.

As I arced some arrows to hit the orcs in the back, Ezekiel called out, “Hold!” – but he wasn’t talking to me. He was talking to the three humans, who froze, staring at him.

As I was busy drawing a new arrow, Mikael showed up and pointed out one last orc was running away. Raven saw him pointing, and took off after it. Meanwhile, Agnar threw his sword on the ground and stomped his feet because he didn’t get to fight anything.

While Mikael and Raven went after the runaway orc, Ezekiel frisked the three humans, took anything that looked like it could be weaponized, and had Lydia unlock some cages so he could lock them up. Then she went around unlocking the rest of the slaves, and pretty soon it was quite crowded.

Ezekiel summoned another fake wyvern to watch our prisoners, then went around curing the cuts and bruises of the rescued slaves (none of them were seriously injured, but they’ve obviously been mistreated).

After much back-and-forth, Raven and Mikael finally came back – with five more slaves in tow. They say one of the ladies did an amazing job attacking the aspis who was guarding them (so it seems the aspis are more than a convenient natural barrier…they actually have some kind of understanding with the Slave Lords).

Ezekiel tried a hard, “bad cop” tone with the three humans, but I’m not sure it did much. (That’s a phrase Lydia taught me.) Their names are Thuloy (man in robe and tall hat), Kaseeb (woman in chainmail), and Caerden (man in purple – seemed quite shaken by the events, but pulled himself together and answered questions as the leader of the group).

They don’t know anything about any halflings, and when Ezekiel assumed they were in charge here, they laughed at him. Apparently they’re customers, already paid the “Mr. Bluecolts” in charge, and were just selecting their “merchandise”…with the orcs as their guides through this twisty-turny place. They said the orc guides were interpreters for some other orcs, and confirmed the “ant-people” have some kind of understanding with the management here.

About that time one of the slaves started making a fuss, pointing at a second slave…who looked exactly identical to her.

Raven and Mikael said, “No, not Dree!” or something like that…but by this time, we have a system in place.

Ezekiel left his gripping discussion and cast protection from Evil on himself…then asked the “real Dree” to prove it by approaching him.

One girl did (nervously), the other “girl” fled down the stairs where we had come.

Raven was after her in a moment, and shortly he (and Mikael) came back to report another dead doppleganger. How many of those things can be hanging around one secret-temple-slaver-base?

Apparently Dree is the girl who clawed the eyes of the aspis guard, so Mikael seems quite relieved she isn’t a doppleganger. It would be cruel for his second potential girlfriend to also be a creature of magical Evil.

Ezekiel walked the rest of the room, getting in everybody’s personal space to make sure no one else was metaphysically repulsed by him. We seem to be good for now…

Raven investigated two side rooms that opened from the cell-block. They’re full of “supplies”…food, enormous wine barrels, clothes, manacles, branding irons…

Some people have…attitudes I don’t share. But as we pointed out to Ezekiel, to kill everyone who felt fine about buying and selling slaves, we’d have to wipe out the whole Pomarjch. And probably large patches of the Great Kingdom. And definitely the lands of Mr. Ewwy up north. Raven agreed that would take quite a while, so we should focus on the actual Slave Lords themselves for now…but it took a couple minutes to talk Ezekiel down. He really didn’t like talking to the merchants for some reason – and talking is like his thing!

All that said, the storerooms do make great places for the rescued-slaves to barricade themselves while we explore further into the basement. We could lead them back the twisty-turny way we came, up the stairs, through the “cemetery,” and out through the room with all the holy symbols…but some of those tunnels are really narrow, and we voted we might have a better chance defending them if we found an alternate route up ahead.

Raven told us the passage up ahead splits in two: one short passage to the room where they found Dree and her companions, and a short staircase that leads to a door (that had an aspis behind it not too long ago).

We split the slaves up by sex, so they could put on some of the nicer clothes…and then Ezekiel found a man who says he has fighting experience, and made him in charge of defending the others in the storeroom until we get back. I suppose Raven and Mikael probably made Dree in charge of the women, but I didn’t ask. That must have been some wallop she gave the aspis.


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary….we are sneaky for about 3 seconds

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

Well, the plan went about as well as could be expected…that is, the first part of it went off great.

Shortly after sunset, we gathered at the wall in the north-east corner of the complex, and waited while Raven quietly climbed up the wall. Once at the top, he stuffed cotton in his ears and threw down a rope to haul up the archers (and Mikael, who really wanted to be a bird, but Ezekiel told him to save his transformations just in case).

Heiron was still climbing the rope when a shrill, muffled sound came through our ear-plugs. When Mikael waved his hands, we could see four ugly winged shapes perched in various place in the small courtyard.

Bornthene and I drew our bows, and Mikael brought his cudgel down on one as it swooped close to claw at us. As soon as he had helped Heiron gain the top, Raven turned and punched a harpy right out of the air. Heiron seemed eager to join the battle — a bit too eager, since he fumbled his shot, and by the time he had himself together, the surviving harpies had fled into the darkness (we assume they were screaming, but we couldn’t hear much).

With that danger past, Raven started lowering us down into the garden courtyard, and pulling the rest of our party up. Last of all, he followed us down – leaving the rope hanging there in case we needed to beat a hasty retreat (since after all he’s the only one among us who’s any good at climbing walls).

From the map Mikael drew from his reconnaissance, we hoped that we could get into the main temple building from the door in this courtyard (we figured the main building was most likely to contain any prisoners). However, once we got the garden door open, it only led to a short passage (with a handy candle) that ended in a door to the main front courtyard.

We had not planned to take out the guards on the main gate (though coming from the back door, we didn’t have to worry about the portcullises). After some little discussion, we used my suggestion: split up. Ezekiel would take Agnar and Raven with him, and charge into the main temple building – hoping to find prisoners to rescue (oh, and he took Bornthene too because he thought it would be safer with him. Ha ha). Lydia would throw down a wall of fire to cover this movement, and Heiron and I would shoot the guards down from behind the fire (after all, they’re working for the Slave Lords…and this is how war works).

Meanwhile, Mikael would use the wall of fire to summon a fire elemental to help us with the assault on the main temple…since we had no idea what might be inside there.

This plan also went off about as well as could be expected. As soon as Heiron threw the door open, Lydia threw her hands out, and a wall of fire leapt up from the flagstones. As Ezekiel hustled his party toward the double doors of the main building, the gate guards (all orcs, by the way) took cover behind tables and a strange cart-thing with a torch on it.

They were quick on the uptake, I’ll give them that. They were also orcs.

I admit it. I miss Tressarian…and my brand new chainmail I just got…and I worry about how our friends in Homlette are doing, and I am stressed out by this whole business of detective work – and frankly most of the Wild Coast stresses me out. So mowing down those orcs really put me in my happy place.

It took a couple minutes, since they were hiding behind things – and they did fire back with their crossbows a couple times. The last orc standing fired a bolt, snatched up the crossbow of his fallen comrade, and hit me again. My arm hurt for the rest of the night, but luckily my fighting part was basically over.

With the guards down, Heiron took Lydia to follow Ezekiel – but I stayed with Mikael while he finished his spell. I dunno…it looked like he was just mumbling to himself and warming his hands at the fire, but it’s not like I can make insects obey my commands or anything (that would be super handy).

Ezekiel’s party had a little excitement, it sounds like. The hallway inside the main building is lined with statues – orc, gargoyle, orc, gargoyle – and they’re apparently really tippy. Ez stepped on a trigger on the floor, and two statues nose-planted on his head (Raven body-shielded Bornthene, otherwise they probably would have taken out his spine. As it is, they were both limping around until Ezekiel and Mikael healed them).

Finally, they came to the door at the far end of the hall – and as they tried to open it, they realized everything was completely silent. When Agnar finally forced the door open and threw it against the wall, even that didn’t make a noise.

I’m not sure exactly what they found there, because Lydia threw up another wall of fire, and by the time I arrived with Mikael and “Burnie,” the enemies were pretty much bundles of charred remains. There was a woman in a cleric’s outfit, but aside from her most of them seemed to be orcs or half-orcs. Makes sense, since they were gathered around a dais with a statue of a one-eyed orc (Lydia says it’s their god Grumpsh. I hope this one doesn’t show up in person if you touch the relic).

There was also a crowd of slaves all chained together (I guess they bludgeoned one of the orcs who tried to run from the fire). We found a ring of keys on a guard and unchained them, but four of them were a little too close to Lydia’s fire and Ezekiel will have to give them something stronger than healing.

There’s a room beyond this little sanctuary that’s mostly destroyed – stone blocks fallen from the ceiling, and what-not – but there’s a crushed altar in there that Ezekiel says was dedicated to Beori…so it looks like his information was correct: this place has seen a transition of power some time in the past. (Also some stirges in there, but I’ve learned a lot since we faced those last. It’s like fish in a barrel.

Mikael discovered a trapdoor in the dais between the statue’s feet (the orc statue tried to slice off his head for that, but it only sliced off part of his shoulder). After a little more discussion, we decided to leave “Burnie” in charge of protecting the rescued slaves, while we all went down the ladder under the trapdoor and explored (looking for more prisoners to rescue).

This plan…did not go quite as well as the others. Ezekiel, Mikael, and Agnar went first…and I was in the very rear, so I basically saw nothing.

At the bottom of the wooden ladder, there’s a damp, dirt tunnel. It’s high enough for comfort, but rugged and twisty…not constructed like a normal human/demi-human/humanoid would do it.

Around a corner up ahead, the vanguard started fighting some giant ants…and eventually some other things that apparently look like ants, but walk on their hind legs and carry two shields and two broadswords apiece (six limbs, see…I myself only got a glimpse of a couple of these things).

These super-ants could talk – after a fashion. They kept scolding us for being there and yelling at us to get out, and neither Mikael nor Ezekiel could get them to respond to questions. Eventually, Ez decided he wasn’t really to slaughter all these creatures (yet), so pushed us back and up the ladder. I think we’ll have to go back eventually…these cultists or slavers or whatever they are didn’t have a trapdoor to an ant farm just for funsies.

The cleric-types passed around healing, and we decided to explore some more of the temple grounds before it got too late (and while “Burnie” was still on assignment…elementals only agree to come help you for so long, apparently. Fair’s fair).

When we returned to the main front courtyard, the cart with the torch was inexplicably gone…and the flagstones where it had been were all scorched. Lydia got this “Oh!” expression on her face, but she didn’t feel the need to explain I guess.

Two doors stood on either side of the closed portcullises. Opening the one on the left, we found a little guardroom with a big winch for raising the gate, a table with a candle, and three slaves in collars chained to the wall. They were surely at first, but loosened up when Lydia unlocked them. They seem to know precious little about the operations here, which is about what we could honestly expect.

I led them down the passage to the altar room and told Burnie that they were Mikael’s friends who needed to be protected (he – it? – gave me some funny looks, but seemed chill about the whole thing).

When I got back to the courtyard, I discovered just how much excitement I’d missed.

When Ezekiel and Raven opened the door on the right, they found a very similar room…except with two identical orcs standing there, one with his sword out. Rather – that’s what Raven thinks he saw…when he looked again, what he saw was a half-orc pointing a sword at a cowering female slave.

The slave whimpered and begged him to save her – while the half-orc trembled and begged him to get the slave away from him.

Ezekiel came up in his “What’s all this?” way, but couldn’t get much else out of the two. He says he “held” the slave and carried her out of the room – then applied protection from Evil to himself, and released her.

About the time I got back from the main building, she was huddling in the corner of the courtyard, trying to get away from Ezekiel. She said she was a “connoisseur”…then called herself a doppleganger…then suddenly she wasn’t there, but rather an exact look-alike of Ezekiel stood in her place.

I suppose she decided Ezekiel wasn’t going to let her go, and started shifting through forms, trying to get a reaction. Whether she really eats people, or was just trying to disgust us, we couldn’t let a creature that powerful out of our sight (sort of like Raven with the disguise hat).

Ezekiel asked her all the questions he could think of, but apparently she hadn’t been here long – just infiltrated the compound with a trade party, looking for victims – so she couldn’t (and/or wouldn’t) tell us much.

Lydia asked, “Where do your kind go when they die?”

The creature said, “You should ask your brother!”

Lydia assured me dopplegangers aren’t like werewolves, so her brother couldn’t have been turned into one…but I didn’t ask whether he was really dead. It didn’t seem polite.

Then the creature changed shape again, called me by name, and said, “What would Alpheus say?”

That’s when Ezekiel told Agnar to end it – which he did. With just two big swipes of his sword.

Lydia says dopplegangers have ESP, which just means they can read minds. It helps them take the shape of different people and pretend to be people…sort of like assassins. Makes me dislike them even more.

I didn’t get the chance to say, but I know where Alpheus would go when he dies. I assume it’s the same place I’ve been…I just never remember when I’m sent back here. Our gods take care of us…Ezekiel says the same. I wondered for a minute if Alpheus might be dead…I’m not a kid anymore, and he was always so enormous and old compared to me. But I think the creature was just trying to mess with us. Maybe one day I will be in one place long enough to get a letter from home…if they’re all not too busy protecting the Grand Duke from conspiracies and other such-not.

Back to the point. Ezekiel talked with the half-orc (his name is Usin), but he just guard the gate and the winch, so he doesn’t know much of what went on in the rest of the complex. Heiron and Agnar got to work raising the portcullises, and Ez told Usin he was free to go if he wanted, since our quarrel was with the Slave Lords, not him personally.

Then Raven asked if he would be interested in joining their church – he said they would need a gate-guard for their temple/monastery/wizard tower/water park (once it’s actually built, that is). I just about choked when Usin said Sure…but I guess Raven and Ezekiel do have a way about them…and he must have figured it was his best move for staying alive.

Well, we all know Ezekiel. He took Usin and hustled off to get him some of the platemail the orcs in the altar-room were wearing, and when they got back, we headed through the door in the west wall of the entrance yard.

On the other side is a huge, long courtyard stretching south. Ezekiel turned a wight with his little sheep he bought, so I guess it really does a job (he says he turned a second one earlier tonight…he sure comes in handy there).

This part of the complex seems basically ruined…the buildings have great gaping holes in them, and chunks of debris lie here and there. At the far south end is the yard where Mikael saw the statues during his reconnaissance – but it was blocked off by a newly-constructed wall about as high as Mikael could reach. I guess the temple people weren’t friends with the basilisk.

After a little brainstorming (none of us was anxious to meet a basilisk head-on), Mikael pulled out his bundle of sticks he carries for just such an occasion and turned them into snakes. We helped boost them to the top of the wall (well, everyone except me) – then Mikael made a bunch of them bigger, and ordered them to attack.

For a few minutes, hisses and snarls and cracks came from behind the wall. When things went quiet again, Ezekiel grabbed his destiny by the antlers and climbed up Mikael’s back to peek over the wall.

Seconds later, he called to Heiron that there was one basilisk left, and he was going to try and distract it. Hauling his shield up in front of his face, he swung himself over the wall and dropped to the other side.

With Mikael’s help, Heiron topped the wall and launched an arrow. There was a half-snarl, half-squeak…and we heard Ezekiel’s voice calling back all was well.

Raven took some rope and helped Ezekiel climb out again…clutching some basilisk eyeballs in his handkerchief. Must remember to not lend him handkerchiefs.

The last exciting event of the night came as we were walking the perimeter of the complex to the west (through the broken, collapsed buildings there). We spotted firelight up ahead, and parlayed with a group of armed men. Ezekiel did his best to ask clever questions, and we gleaned that they checked in with papers earlier today, here to buy slaves from the servants of the Slave Lords. They said they serve “Lord Malcolm”…we’ll see if that ends up being relevant.

Usin (our half-orc tag-along) bluffed quite well – he told them we were “out of slaves,” and they could feel free to leave if they wanted, since the gate was open.

I’m sure they were disgruntled that they didn’t get what they came for, but the party decided they’d be happier in town…and this way we didn’t have to kill them all, so that’s a plus. (We’ll see if it comes back to bite us or not.)

About that time, we decided we were all tired. As I mentioned, my arm was throbbing where the crossbow bolt went through it, and Ezekiel and Lydia had about used up their spells (I think Mikael could still take out an entire slave-ship by himself, but he didn’t say so).

We returned to the sanctuary room in the main temple building, where Buffy reported nothing unusual (except that giant burning thing that hung around for a while).

Ezekiel prayed and waved his sheep toy over one of the slaves that was too close to Lydia’s wall of fire, and the man started and panted and looked around him. So then Ezekiel and Mikael passed around all the healing they had left, and Ezekiel did his trick he likes doing and broke a ration in half in half in half until everyone had plenty.

I think most of the slaves still haven’t mentally processed what happened this evening, but one of the take-charge ones says they can head into Highport in the morning and find odd jobs to fund their trips home (they’re from all over: mostly Wild Coast, but also the Great Kingdom and even a handful from Keoland). They say when Ezekiel raises the other dead ones over the next few days that we can tell them to meet the others at the Grumpy Gargoyle (an inn in town). Ezekiel can load them up with a few extra rations, too, so they should be set (as well as we can get them).

Usin also looks pretty stunned (if I’m reading his half-orc body language right). Ezekiel talked with him a bit more, and he says there were sometimes really tough customers that needed an interpreter who spoke Orcish (not him, since he claims not to speak it that well). Slaves often came through the main gates, but sometimes through the stables (back where that party was camping, so I guess that’s where we’ll head in the morning).

Under the trapdoor, on a shelf opposite the ladder, we found the temple’s “cash on hand” – no meager sum – and a stack of papers, which Ezekiel is leafing through while Lydia reads her spell-book.

Agnar says he’s just happy he got to kill the doppleganger, and that today has been ridiculously dull. I want to know what Ezekiel and Mikael are going to do if he ever decides Mikael is not his bestest of the best friend anymore. Gotta keep an eye on that half-orc, too. He’s sharp, and I guess he’s decided his best chance at survival is with us…but you can’t trust these mercenary types. Good I have Heiron to watch my back.


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary….laying siege

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

[doodle of Ezekiel talking]

[doodle of Ezekiel looking annoyed]

[doodle of Ezekiel sitting and looking asleep]

Raven and Mikael finally back from recon. Mikael went as a bat, Raven as a monk with a pebble of silence (courtesy Ezekiel).

Mikael says there’s a garden on the east side where a harpy tried to sing at him, but his super bat-ears ignored her. The central building of the temple complex doesn’t seem to have any handy windows to sneak through, but we should be able to access it from the garden…which means we can by-pass the main courtyard area with two portcullises and a crowd of guards.

Apparently the courtyard with guards is the only place they had a torch this evening – but fortunately Luna was bright enough to let Raven climb the wall into a courtyard west of the main entrance. He says it smells rotten, and he’s pretty sure there’s a wight living there, but it seemed confused by his aura of silence, so he got away.

That courtyard also has a bunch of plants that said their job is to grab him, but Raven avoided them, too (because yeah he can talk to plants apparently…).

The last thing we’ll have to look out for is the southernmost courtyard. Mikael says there are a bunch of statues there – statues that look like people and creatures frozen in various poses. So we have one of those to deal with.

There are buildings along the west border of the complex, but they have gaping holes in the walls here and there, and our spies report they don’t seem to have floors inside to speak of. The whole place was burned and trashed some time back, and I guess the current residents have focused on rehabilitating the main building on the south-east side (there’s a new roof, but they didn’t build it as high up as the old external walls). So that’s probably where any prisoners (ahem) are going to be.

While we were waiting, Ezekiel did his whole “sink into a trance and try to contact higher powers” thing, and he says the info he got is: the Earth Dragon doesn’t really “do” temples, so this isn’t really a temple to him. He thinks it used to be Beori, but there’s been some…confusion lately. Most importantly, the temple is largely a cover for the business of the Slave Lords, which is enough motivation for us.

Lastly, Ezekiel says he “received information” that our enemies “filed a request” that their spells work on him, and “the request has been granted” for an unspecified length of time. Whatever that means. He says he won’t be able to talk in silence spells anymore…so there’s that.

Sunset comes early enough that we had time to find an inn and settle down before it got too late. Quite apart from the time of year, I think this is not the kind of town where we should sleep out of doors. Ezekiel talked a big game about camping in the alley, but he should know better after being kidnapped.

He’s going to buy Bornthene a bow and quiver tomorrow, and we enact our Grand Plan tomorrow night. Should be exciting, to say the least…


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary….lying in wait for blood

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

Well, the morning was quite interesting, too.

I don’t remember who was on watch last, but when we all got up, Targl had untied himself. Must keep an eye on that one.

He seemed very nervous, but he hadn’t run off…and when Ezekiel went over to talk to him, he slunk away toward Mikael and asked him to get his “scary priest buddy” to cool it.

Mikael started asking questions, and Targil started unburdening his heart.

He and Agnar work for the Slave Lords, while Bornthene comes along as their cover because the Slave Lords have his family hostage (he says he used to live north of Fax, so the family might be anywhere by now).

The Broken Rudder, that Elred inn they encouraged us to go to, is run by Agnar’s brother Ragnar…T and A get tips and information from someone called the “Mad One,” to funnel troublemakers or people asking too many questions down to Elred, where Ragnar takes over.

T says he’s not sure if the Mad One really is mad, but that he’s very good at gathering information. Maybe he can scry things — T says the Slave Lords can scry, and use that to check in on their teams from time to time (hence Bo’s fear).

As for those big bosses – he doesn’t know where they are…but his best guess is at a temple in Highport dedicated to “the Earth Dragon” (even Ezekiel wasn’t sure who that was).

He also went on a long tangent about “undermining the rule of law” so the corrupt leaders like Skulljack are thrown down, and then…um, things will be better under the Slave Lords because they aren’t corrupt? I didn’t really follow it all. Anyway, it seems Targl thinks he’s using the Slave Lords to an end, just as they’re using him for their own ends.

He admitted they’ll be pretty mad when they learn he told us all of this, but consoled himself that if he turns us in, they’ll call it even. Apparently he’s more afraid of them than of us…which, I guess there are more of them, and they have more stuff.

After Mikael sang to Buffy a bit and ate mistletoe for breakfast, Agnar piped up with his advice: he said, yeah, we wouldn’t get to Highport in time to surprise anybody (it’s a good week’s journey still) since if he went missing, his brother would notice and raise the alarm.

Bottom line, sounds like there’s no way we can avoid dealing with their base at the Broken Rudder first – so our new “friends” gave us some tips about who we’d have to deal with there.

First, there’s the mighty dwarf Ragar (Targl says he got all the brains of the family). His accountant is Hazard, who also seems to be a magic user of some kind. Finally, the bartender, Karn, used to be a good fighter.

We should enter Elred before the end of the day, so Ezekiel is hashing out a battle plan. I’m not entirely comfortable, but as they say, there’s no real governor in Elred…and if the tables were turned, the servants of the Slave Lords would jump us in a heart-beat (and have).

One other thing. Ezekiel asked Heiron if he wanted to be a full party-member, not just a man-at-arms. (Seems only fair, I guess, since he got kidnapped for our sake.)

I’m not sure he understood the question until Lydia whispered something in his ear. Mikael asked her if she was all right, and I think she said yes, but it was hard to tell since she suddenly bundled her veil in front of her face.

Mikael gathered up some snake-sized sticks, and Ezekiel prayed over our bows. I guess we’ve done all we can.

****

Well, it all went about as well as could be expected.

Elred has gate-guards…but they seem barely interested in what goes on. Someone could be mugged and murdered in an alley right behind them, and I’m not sure they would care.

Most of the residents know that, though…and all the openly-carried weapons seem to keep most people civil. Even the half-orcs wandering all over the place show as good manners as the humans. Such is the Wild Coast, I guess.

When we got to the Broken Rudder, Mikael tried to quietly ask which were our targets. Agnar pointed out the accountant – a bit loudly – and he, Targil, and Ezekiel wove their way through the drinkers and gamblers to talk to a dwarf in the corner with a big longsword.

I lingered on the far end of the bar, near Hazard – my assigned target. I’d be happier waiting in a tree for a deer, but I’m not a kid anymore; I have other duties.

I didn’t catch all the conversation…but apparently Ezekiel and Targl were pretending that we wanted to sign up for jobs, but Agnar “didn’t get it” and tried to “allay suspicion” by assuring Ragnar that we were absolutely NOT here to kill him! (Feels fairer that way, actually.)

Ragnar drew his sword. Ezekiel gestured over his shoulder, and suddenly Hazard was completely silent. I started filling him with arrows as Bornthene disappeared under a bench.

The bartender (Carn) leaped over the bar with a sword, and Hazard bolted out the door. I followed him, and winged him again as he made for an alley…just as Heiron and Lydia (who were coming along later to catch our enemies from the flank) reached the corner of the street.

Heiron helped me take him down, and Raven came running out to collect the body (maybe the guards would care about some things…).

When we got back inside, Carn was frozen in place (not with ice, though), and Mikael was talking to a customer who wasn’t hiding behind a table. He pointed out where Ezekiel and the “friends” had gone to chase the dwarf-boss, so I followed.

Through the first door is a kitchen, and through the next door (past Ezekiel’s bulky platemail self) I could see our target…and I fired.

Ragnar took the arrow in the shoulder – staggered – dropped the glass bottle he was holding – and shot through the air for the open window. Instead of making it through, though, he rammed into the frame and bounced and hovered in the air, kind of shaking his head.

Mikael threw down his sticks, and they started twisting and hissing as they changed into snakes (that’s just creepy. Glad they don’t let the immature, novice druids learn how to do that). Heiron caught up with us, and launched an arrow.

And then it was all over. We gathered the two bodies into the office, and set to searching for clues and other important things.

Apparently Carn’s story is that he lost the Broken Rudder to Ragnar as payment for a debt…but since Ragnar and Hazard are both dead (and no one can say he didn’t do his part to protect them), he’d be just as happy to go back to running the inn. So we convinced him to ignore us, as we have no interest in his business if he wasn’t with the Slave Lords. With that sorted out, the customers mostly went back to their drinks, and we focused on learning what we could from our enemies.

Ragnar had a hidey-hole in the floor full of papers, not to mention a thick ledger of accounts and such. The most interesting of these papers was a fine linen letter, edged with gold, from someone called Edralve or something (fancy writing, too). Sounds like this person is Ragnar’s girlfriend, and she wants his help out-smarting the “other” Masters…trouble among the Slave Lords??

We also found the base’s cash-on-hand – coins and gems. Ezekiel sent Targil out to buy incense, while Lydia looked over some scrolls she found in Hazard’s quarters. They seem to be some kind of diary! – but even though the pictures are quite fancy, he uses some kind of private lingo that I can’t understand. Lydia says she recognizes references to some of the things she’s read, so maybe she can figure them out.

Not sure what Targl and Agnar will do next, but one hurdle at a time, I guess.

****

15 Patchwall

I knew someone should have been watching Targl! He’s disappeared during the night! Now he’s either making himself scarce – or heading to turn us in to his bosses like he promised.

Agnar said “Drak and Than” could be doing, that, too…and when we asked who that was, he said, oh they were more agents of the Slave Lords who saw our fight in the bar yesterday. We pointed out he could have mentioned them earlier…and he agreed that, yeah, maybe he could have – but you can’t really blame him. Not really.

We’ve bought a cart, so Lydia and/or Ezekiel can ride along and focus on reading the journals and ledger, respectively – and we’ll set out as soon as we have everything set. We don’t know if the other agents have horses, but there’s no sense turning this into a race at this point. Especially if the Slave Lords have a habit of scrying Agnar, they won’t be surprised by much we have to offer.

Ezekiel convinced Bornthene to come out from under the china cabinet and come with us, although he’s very worried about his family. Ezekiel tried to console him with his sheep toy he bought (though it looks more silly and juvenile than the last one did)…I think Bo will have to spend more time with us before he quite knows what to make of Ezekiel.

Hazard and Ragnar had some useful gear…but we are not using Ragnar’s sword. I picked it up after the fight, and it started whispering mean and violent things inside my head. So I put it down, and this morning we laid it to rest in the harbor. It doesn’t have a best friend to hunt it down and rescue it like Tressarian does. One day… (Lydia says I chose rightly, but I’m not sure how she would know. It’s not like there were skulls carved all over the hilt or anything…)

Agnar is still with us so far…though he’s kinda disturbed about killing his brother – helping, at least. It does feel like a dirty trick, and I know if someone made me do something like that, I’d be seething mad.

Unless maybe it was Bartholomew…?? Gotta think about that one……

****

21 Patchwall

Reached Highport last night and camped in a knot of trees just outside the city. It was obviously a great city once – the wall is still quite high…and reasonably strong in some place. But here and there the wall seems broken down – then repaired with rubble. Inside the city, some houses are perfectly fine…and others have been damaged, then repaired in a hap-hazard way…and others are plain boarded-up and not lived in. Ezekiel explained that when the humanoids got driven out of Celene and the Keolands, they took over the settlements here in the Pomargj.

Orcs and half-orcs and humans mingle everywhere…as Targl (or somebody) told us, this is a major port for trading the gems they mine in the Pomargj. I guess the whole place is like Fax – only more so.

After a vigorous discussion, we decided to bury our chest from Ragnar’s office somewhere outside the city, and let the horses wander in the area. After all, Raven can communicate with them…and hopefully they won’t get stolen so easily that way.

We did take enough money for an inn (we hope), and for the entry fee. The orc manning the gate told us each zone is run by a different tribe, so we’ll have to pay every time we want to go into someone else’s territory. As long as there’s some kind of sense to it.

We hung out on street corners and listened in shops and to passers-by, and after a bit, the others headed inland – and I followed. They must have heard something, as pretty soon we saw “THE Temple.”

It doesn’t look like much at first glance – but on inspection, someone has been taking care of it. The wall is solid, and wide enough to allow patrols to walk its top at regular intervals. The gate is guarded, and there seems a lot of traffic in and out — some merchant caravans, and other groups that look more like, well, “adventurers.” There also a second, smaller gate that only fits horsemen.

All the ruined buildings have been pulled down for a few hundred yards all around…this won’t be some tavern scrap.

Mikael did a pass as a bird, and says the place looks like it was burned once…long ago, and it’s since been repaired and added to. There’s one main building, and several outbuildings.

He volunteered to go back again tonight – as a bat – and do some more reconnaissance. Raven says the wall should be easy-peasy for him to climb – and if Ezekiel puts his shushing spell on him, he should be able to scout around a bit, too. We have to trust them to take care of themselves, since there’s no way the rest of us could bust in to rescue them. But Mikael took out an entire slave ship basically by himself, so what are we worrying about?

I feel much better after two weeks of actual meals, but still not confident about storming an entire fortress of evil soldiers.

Heiron suggested “Miss Lydia” could just melt the whole fortress down, and she batted her eyelashes at him and said that wouldn’t help Bornthene’s family if they happened to be inside. I think she’s collected a bottle of Buffy’s droppings just in case, but apparently she doesn’t remember how Fireball goes off the top of her head, and neither Hazard nor the ship captain had it written down. Maybe it’s on a later page she just hasn’t gotten to yet. Either way, that’s not something you want to mess up — she says you can accidentally blown your lips off, and Heiron asked if that’s what happened to her face.


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary….chaotic evening

While in Fax, we found a blacksmith that would file off our shackles, no questions asked. So…the first one we came to.

There’s still a little burn mark on the top of our wrists, but it doesn’t hurt by this time. Anyway, the shackle won’t impede our movement anymore…or attract spark-shower anymore. That helps Raven, at least.

****

Well, it’s been an…”eventful” night.

I’m not quite sure how it started. Raven and I were getting ready to stand watch, while everybody else was laying out their bedrolls (the three-some all together, as has been their preference).

Mikael was singing to his pet bat, and then Ezekiel decided to make a move. He asked Bornthene the halfling to come over and chat with him – but the other two were kinda nervous and angry about that. Ez asked about the turnip business, and B admitted out loud that was just a cover story – so they could travel around and ask questions about the Slave Lords, of course.

Well, something must have happened to make Ezekiel nervous. Next thing I knew, I couldn’t hear the fire crackling – and when I looked over, only Ezekiel could be heard speaking. He asked Agnar the dwarf to go talk with Mikael privately, and only got glares and inaudible curses. Then he asked Targil the human for help — only to have Targl bolt for the trees.

Then things got really chaotic. Bornthene bolted into the woods – followed or pursued by Buffy the bat. Raven was suddenly making air-punches at Agnar, who was swatting at insects. I saw that Ezekiel wouldn’t be able to question the three-some if they ran away, so I asked the plants to help us out…and what do you know, THEY DID. Chilly and browned as they were, the grass and weeds beneath our feet rose up and grabbed at the feet of our enemies (and also Raven, but he’s so fast he just danced around them). Targl was so caught, he stood frozen from head to foot, making it easy for Ezekiel to tie him up (after I told the weeds to let go of Ezekiel, that is).

Bornthene finally came back with Buffy, but didn’t look too happy. He begged us to tie him up because “they” (the Slave Lords) might be watching!

I gotta find out what he means when we have the chance…animal spies? Magic – like scrying? Do they have another team on this team??

Anyway, the three-some are tied up and tucked into their bedrolls, and everyone is pretending to try to sleep.

As for me, I could do with some bugbears or goblins right about now. I’m homesick.


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary….the Slave Lords

[May contain spoilers for the Adventure Module “Scourge of the Slavelords” –ed ]

The slaves weren’t in the best position for knowing all about the operations of the ship (the Ghoul), but they heard some stuff.

  • the Ghoul apparently works (worked) for people called the Slave Lords; despite the name, the Ghoul didn’t usually trade in slaves, just used them to haul their cargo around.
  • sometimes, the ship would load and unload from a city at night, and the purple sail would be changed for a white one. Signals of some kind…
  • one guy said the Slave Lords are super rich, and even built themselves a city of gold somewhere.
  • another said the Slave Lords must have their headquarters inland, because the cargo always arrived packed for land travel. I guess that’s the kind of thing an expert would know.
  • the Ghoul mostly sailed between Highport and Elred…but it also traded as far away as Crimp in the Great Kingdom, and Blu in the Pamarj. And I used to think Veluna was a far-off, mysterious place…
  • one of the guys said he believed the Slave Lords were controlled by an Evil demi-god or something – like maybe even the Old One himself. Another guy shushed him, and insisted that was just a rumor. It would explain some things, though.

Mikael dug around on the ship, and discovered an armory on one end of the hold – with leather armor, plenty of crossbows and quarrels, and more short swords. I told Heiron that, since he’s so big and strong, he should wear the chainmail and use the long sword we found (Lydia says they’re both magical), and I’ll use a crossbow for now.

The hold is full of silk and other fabrics, with a few barrels of hard drink and some little boxes of spices. According to the log book, they sometimes trade raw gems, too, but we haven’t found any of those.

We did find their cash-on-hand, though…almost four hundred pounds of gold, which Ezekiel says should come in very handy for buying better equipment. We just have to make some bags out of this fabric, which Ezekiel is not so good at (Raven is surprisingly good with a needle and thread, though).

We told the slaves they can have any of the cargo they can carry — they might need something to sell to get them on the path to home. Although, some of them say they’re from around here, so it won’t be quite so long a walk as for the others.

Mikael left not long ago, in bird form, to scout out the nearest village. It will have (some) shelter, and let us know where we are. Ezekiel and I have looked at the sea charts, but I’m not really used to that notation. We all agreed that, while we could theoretically row the ship, it’ll be better if we travel on land (though Mikael was excited to summon a couple whales to pull us. Is that power going to his head??).

One other thing Ezekiel found in the ship’s log — the Ghoul received a “message” about a week ago to go take on a cargo somewhere north of Fax. Mikael says that matches when he noticed them turn around and head north. It’s not much, but it’s more than we found in the rest of the log.

Ezekiel thinks we were sent here to take down the Slave Lords (though he didn’t say it in so many words).

We’ll see if it’s that simple. I’ve been forced to a realization lately. I’m used to orcs and goblins and their kind attacking people for no reason, and enjoying cruelty for cruelty’s sake. But now I see humans and even elves can be just the same.

Clearing out the Temple of Elemental Evil, it was somehow easy to call it “those” people – the ones deluded enough to worship a squishy slime being…to trade their humanity and decency for power, or money. Now I see they aren’t just gathered in a Temple for easy classification.

They walk the roads with us. They sit at dinner with us. Even advise our rulers and hold power over us.

I have no one to talk to about this, since Ezekiel would go into a long diatribe about the nature of legality and the theory of authority, and Lydia was helping the women tie rations into bundles last I saw, unless she’s flipping through the captain’s spell-book again.

Guess I’ll help Heiron row rescued prisoners to shore.

****

Once we had everything off the ship that we wanted, Lydia helped Mikael set it on fire. As Lydia said, we can’t do anything with it, and as Ezekiel said, this way our enemies won’t benefit from it, either. (L says she feels useless without her reagents, but she sure knew exactly where to pour the lamp oil to send the whole thing up in a blaze. This is not disturbing at all…)

Ezekiel and Mikael tried to use the rod on the captain (so they could ask him questions), but it didn’t work somehow. Maybe because he’s an elf. Just as well, since we don’t really have anything to do with him after questioning him.

The village Mikael led us to is small, but they were able to tell us where we are in relation to the big towns. Most of the rescued slaves are forming groups to travel in various directions, and Ezekiel is passing out extra rations. I’m not sure where he’s getting them…he says it’s a “cleric” thing.

The rest of them will be heading with us toward Fax. Sounds like it’s a major port, and they hope they can scrounge passage on a ship to take them closer to home. Tafosi says he has great experience rowing, and maybe that will be a point in his favor.

We also hope to get some better gear in Fax. There are a couple longbows in the village, but their owners don’t really want to part with them. Once I have a real bow in my hands, I will feel much more equal to facing the rendezvous north of Fax…assuming the people haven’t given up waiting on the Ghoul by the time we get there.

[sketched map]

****

So apparently Fax is run by an old pirate named Captain Skulljack. The guy we were talking to as we came in said the captain’s favorite expression is, “Wear a sword, ’cause anything goes!”

In some ways, it reminds me of Greyhawk – although it’s much dirtier overall. The main wall seems like it would do its job…but there are houses and shops piled up on both sides of it, and Raven says anyone with “hand-foot coordination” could climb it easily.

I think there are guards at the gate, but it’s kinda hard to tell…they didn’t ask us for tolls or anything – just kinda glanced at us as we came through. Everyone is armed with something, which might be why everyone is so polite. We found an inn that seems well run, and a fletcher and blacksmith’s shop where we could upgrade our gear a bit. Ezekiel even found a shop with children’s games, and bought a stuffed sheep. Guess he was lonely?

He and Mikael have gone to the temple of Xerbo, who’s apparently a god of the sea and commerce worshiped by the Suluese. They hope that will be a “friendly-ish” place to ask questions about the Slave Lords.

The rest of us tried to keep our ears open in a couple inns. Most of the barmaids seem more comfortable talking to Heiron than to me, but he keeps looking at me to tell him what to say, so our progress is pretty slow. Lydia turned a piece of the silk into a new veil, so she’s playing the old “hard to get” game…maybe she will have better luck that way.

**

Here’s what we have learned:

  • rumor has it the Slave Lords are based in Highport (way to the south)
  • there are actually twenty “Slave Lords” who meet together as a council, but only they know who each other are.
  • another rumor: the Slave Lords have a temple in Highport where they base their operations. Lines up, if they serve some kind of demon-deity. Still just a rumor, though.

A long time ago, somebody else went all over the place asking about the Slave Lords – and last the people of Fax saw him, he was heading toward Highport.

Ezekiel finds all this very suspicious. In any case, we’re heading north first, to try to intercept the Ghoul‘s rendezvous (a meeting it will never make, now).

North of us, the Welkwood runs down close to the shore, with the road running between. We heard all kinds of rumors about the Welkwood – humanoids live there, defensive elves live there, there’s even supposedly an ancient Suluese city of treasure in there, next to the Jewel River – but that’s not our concern right now.

Mikael says he heard rumor of a druid circle of Obed-Hai, far north, beyond the Welkwood, near some town called Cantona…but I don’t think we have time to go that far for their help. Not if we want to catch the Ghoul‘s accomplices.

Ezekiel was kinda stressed about this, but I pointed out that I am great at following foot-prints – and I’m much better than I was since Elmo and Master Otis have been testing and challenging me. And if the accomplices are looking for the ship to pick up their cargo, they’ll be somewhere along the shore. How hard can that be?

****

[sketch of coastline]

Had enough gold left over to buy some horses, so travel should be a breeze. Of course, I’m mostly walking anyway, so I can see the ground better. We also haven’t been able to stick to the road entirely, since it veers away from the coast from time to time.

Still no unmistakeable signs of a loading zone for cargo, nor of regular traffic to the shore. I suppose this close to Fax, most ships prefer the convenience of the docks to load their boxes.

****

A few days out from Fax, we picked up a few tag-alongs.

I was having the time of my life, reading the story of the dirt, when we came upon a dwarf, a human, and a halfling lunching by the side of the road. The dwarf wore platemail and a broadsword, while the human wore robes and carried a wand.

When we exchanged pleasantries, they said they used to be adventurers, but now they “farm.” I kept my laughing on the inside – since, after all, the philosophy of Fax and its surrounding area seems to be “wear all the weapons.”

Mikael came right out and asked them what exactly they farmed — the human (Targl, who did most of the talking) said, turnips and sheep.

Ezekiel probed a little farther, and they said they didn’t have a cart because they were negotiating contracts. When we asked them about the Slave Lords, they said the SL paid well enough – if you were the “type” to work for them.

Ezekiel blurted out, we’re Good adventurers “on the hunt” for the Slave Lords, and were they for them or against them?

Targl said, their village was destroyed by the SLs, so now he, the dwarf Agnar, and the halfling Bornthene were traveling around trying to get clues about the SLs. Apparently they “know” (or know about?) the ship with the purple sail where we spent a miserable week.

I asked why, if they wanted the Slave Lords, they weren’t heading to Highport, since all the rumors we’d heard indicated they were based there. I didn’t really hear their answer, because Ezekiel piped up and declared his opinion that Highport is a honeypot to throw people off the scent, and invited the threesome to join us.

The halfling rode Ezekiel’s horse with him, while Targl rode with Mikael. Agnar the dwarf seemed a little heavy to double-up, so Raven let him ride his horse (Raven is just as fast on his own feet, anyway).

Later that afternoon, I found tracks that led to a cave close down near the shore. It’s plain from the marks in the sand that crates have been set there – although Mikael thinks the tide would come in, and make it too wet to store them permanently.

I believe what he says about the tides, but it’s been too long to tell how recently someone had crates there (hours? days? weeks?)…or whether they moved them toward the road, or toward the shore. Depending on how they sent messages to the Ghoul, it’s even possibly they know something happened to them (like with magic, or animal friends, or something).

Since Highport is the only real lead we have left (unless we continue combing the coast northward), even Ezekiel agreed we should check it out. He thinks it’s very likely a trap, though.

The threesome say they will travel with us as far as Elred…they say there’s an inn where we might get some more information, although they’re afraid they overstayed their welcome last time by asking too many questions.

****

[written in Lawful Good]

Raven said he wanted to correct the spelling of some of the names on my map, but actually he wanted to write in Lawful Good. Apparently Buffy the bat told him Mikael said that Ezekiel said that Bornthene the halfling said that the other two can’t be trusted. Also Bornthene spoke in Lawful Good, so we can trust him.

Unless he’s an assassin, but as Raven says, I think everyone is an assassin. I think Raven is an assassin, so this is absolutely true.

[Common]

We had some quibbling about the riding arrangements. Now I am riding all the time, too, there’s not so much free space, and Agnar the dwarf thought Bornthene should ride with him because he has the right “leg-room” or something.

By the time we got to Fax, though, Raven had been talking with the horses, and said they were nervous when the strangers rode them alone. Maybe Wild-Coast-ians never learned how to properly guide a horse. (Thank you, Alpheus!) Anyway, each of them is riding with one of us, now, and Raven is riding, too, so the horses don’t feel so nervous.

I am teaching Heiron a song to pass the time:

“Heiron! I’m your best friend!
That’s what I am to you.

“And we’ll be together
‘Til the part where it’s o-ver!

“Because we are brothers,
“And not Bad!”


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary….Mikael’s Gambit

‘Twas dark of the moon,
And cloudy, too —

Mikael the God-botherer,
Mikael the God-botherer!

The bats swirled around him
Like a darkling glow –

Mikael the God-botherer!
Oh, Mikael, ho!


Lydia says this is getting everything out of order. Raven points out it has terrible meter. Mikael can’t decide on the rhyme-scheme he wants, and I pointed out that we are none of us bards, and we should just put down what happened, plain and simple, and leave the legend-spinning to those who are good at it. And Ezekiel is too busy talking with the slaves to pay attention to our bickering, for once (also busy celebrating that whenever he’s sea-sick he doesn’t have to eat it again).

So here is Mikael’s story, as he told it to us this morning – and frankly I think the awesomeness of it speaks for itself without needing to rhyme. (Heiron suggested we use the tune of “Only Pretty Maids Get Free Drinks,” but I somehow don’t think that fits.)


When Mikael woke up, bound and gagged and locked in a narrow wooden box, he decided to try his luck as a beaver. So he transformed – which made the ropes and iron gag fall off – then set to work to chew his way up out of the coffin.

However, the guards noticed him as soon as he broke through the top, and they quickly popped him into a chicken cage. So that explains the beaver making angry beaver noises the whole long week they dragged us through the woods.

The transport force fed him dry scraps of porridge and things they could shove through the cage, but once we got to the ship, the crew there tied the cage to the middle of the deck and ignored him. Mikael says he transformed into a parrot so he could ask for crackers (or swear at them, as the occasion demanded) but they all ignored him. I suppose sailors get used to listening to angry parrots.

That same evening, Ezekiel decided to push the crew’s buttons, and all the guards started rushing down into the hold.

Mikael didn’t know what was happening, of course, but he could hear the bangs and screams and pounding of running feet, and see the ship’s officers charging down the ladders into the hold.

After a few attempts at biting through the wires of the cage (even parrots have their limits), he decided to try a different approach – transforming into a bear.

The cage shredded, and as he shook himself free of the bits of wood and wire – and the sailors stared at him, dumbfounded – Heiron swarmed up the ladder from the hold and pitched over the railing into the water.

Mikael decided Heiron probably didn’t know how to swim, and leaped over the side to help him – which turned out to be the right call, apparently, because Heiron was thrashing and floundering, just keeping his head above water. Black bears, as everyone knows, are fine swimmers, and Mikael kept Heiron afloat until he stopped thrashing so randomly, and then brought him close enough to the ship that he could grab an oar.

The sailors reached down and dragged Heiron back on board – beating him pretty badly afterwards – but as they were lining up their crossbows on Mikael, he turned into an albatross and flew off, and of course they couldn’t shoot an albatross (apparently it’s a sailor thing).

Mikael circled the ship, watching as the guards tied our bodies flat to the deck. By night, when the ship was stationary, he hid on shore – scrounging for food, and hunting for mistletoe he could carry in his loincloth…stealing snatches of sleep in the dead of night, when the clouds made it so dark even he couldn’t move about. By day, he joined the flock of sea-birds that followed the ship, keeping an eye on us…and making his plans.

He says we spent almost a week “laying about and sun-bathing,” so it was the second of Patchwall when he made his move…

Mikael began on shore, summoning a swarm of bats to help him out. It was full dark, when the crew would be below-decks, and the guards sleepy… After growing half the bats to twice their normal size, he turned himself into one, also, and led them out to the ship.

Sneaking to a position behind a stack of crates, he smoothly switched from bat to human (none of us could see how smooth it was, but it’s true he practiced a lot with the dolphin body).

The first sign the guards had of something wrong was when a cloud of enormous bats descended on them, squeaking and tearing with their tiny teeth. Mikael says he “befriended” one of the guards at the prow, while the other two were torn to pieces within minutes. Their blood-curdling screams alerted the watchman at the stern of the ship, who lit a torch and tried to raise the alarm.

With the element of surprise used up, Mikael rolled some mistletoe between his fingers…and the plank of wood that Lydia, Raven, and Heiron were tied to creaked shrilly as it shrank and warped.

If anyone was still asleep at that point, I’m not sure how. Raven and Heiron started struggling to snap their bonds the rest of the way off the deck-board – but of course, Raven was tied by his elbows as well as his wrists, and we mustn’t think too badly of him for not getting it.

Mikael scattered some seeds around the top of the ladder to the hold (finding any seeds this time of year must have been a story all by itself) and came to try and untie the others of us, but it didn’t go very well in the dark.

Then – a snapping crack as Heiron broke the board the rest of the way, and sprang to his feet.

Mikael asked his “friend” to get the swords from the dead men, but before he had a chance, Heiron had overheard him, jumped up, and dashed away to grab one. Lydia sat up, ripped the leather thing off her face, and waved her hand at the mast…bright light coated it, and we all had to squint for a moment.

In the better light, Mikael got my wrists and ankles free, and when I got the straps off my mouth I could ask him and his “friend” where another sword was. The “friend” looked a little confused and worried, but he handed over his short sword. I’m not sure what happened to him after that…maybe he jumped over the side later on when the sailors were doing that.

I paid no attention to him, since it seemed Mikael had that covered. When I gained my feet (stiff and shaky), I saw Raven at the stern of the ship, fighting the watchman with a torch and a new guard who showed up with a crossbow.

I moved forward to help him, but Heiron charged the length of the deck and killed the guy with the crossbow, and Raven took care of the guy with the torch.

He told me the door there at the stern was probably to the captain’s quarters, so I helped him hold it closed while Lydia put out her light on the mast and led Heiron around to where the ship’s longboat was (apparently big ships carry around smaller boats so people can paddle to shore and such). The hinges were on the outside of the door, so we jammed it closed with a crossbow quarrel and a short sword (in lieu of those crampons Wonillon always had).

About that time, I realized I couldn’t hear either of us breathing, and I turned around to find Mikael and Ezekiel – both unmuzzled, dressed in the minimum, and armed with belaying pins (that’s another ship thing, apparently).

That was all of us accounted for, and Raven was ready to jump in the longboat with Heiron and Lydia and row away – but Ezekiel told us to wait (he can talk in silence spells, remember) because he might not get a better chance to kill the captain.

Killing the captain sounded like a great way to reduce some of my stress…and besides, as I wrote above, I’d had a lot of time to consider my life purpose over the last several days. Ehlonna brought us all this distance, and put us in this place, for a reason…and I couldn’t really imagine that reason being “cut and run.”

So Raven and I waited around for Ezekiel to get himself together (Heiron and Lydia had the boat practically in the water, but I guess he told them to stick close and see what happened).

Meanwhile, Mikael was occupying the rest of the boat.

As we learned to our loss last time, there were a lot more people on the boat than you might initially think. As we messed around with blocking the captain’s door, a bunch of overseers and maybe the first mate or something swarmed up the ladder from their quarters. But Mikael had prepared for this, and ordered his seeds to “sicc’em.”

I don’t know how you make grass seeds sprout on a ship’s deck in Patchwall. I guess that’s a super secret druid thing that they don’t teach to outsiders. But sprout they did – and grew – and wrapped around the ankles of the guards at the prow…like the fingers of an angry Obed-Hai saying, “Don’t mess with my druid.”

Ezekiel can shush people, and make it stick – so he silenced the entire group…and then Mikael called down insects to torment them.

I did not have a crossbow (Heiron took the only one at the stern), and it seemed Mikael had the prow of the ship covered, anyway, so I didn’t see much of the ordeal. What I saw will haunt my nightmares, however…a half-dozen dark figures, visible only by the eery out-lining of faery fire, writhing and swatting and tugging at their feet, lunging desperately to get over the side – or anywhere – away from the hungry swarm of tiny creatures.

One of them had his wits together enough to fight back. He waved his javelin at Mikael and shot lightening across the deck – but after the second bolt, Mikael moved out of range and joined us around the door.

Meanwhile, Raven and I undid all the blocking we did to the door – only to find it locked from the other side. Smart men. It took a minute or two for Raven to pry the hinges off with a dagger he’d found, and then we threw open the door—

To find ourselves facing a half-dozen armed men. Apparently the room was more “superiors’ quarters” than “captain’s suite.”

Within moments, Mikael had lit them up with faery fire, and Raven and I planted ourselves in the doorway. I admit, I’m kind of proud of how well I used the iron shackle around my wrist to deflect blows, though I haven’t practiced with short sword very recently and my starving, dehydrated hand kept losing its grip on it.

Raven seemed to do just fine. He’s always turned up his nose at armor (and apparently clothes don’t matter to him, either), and naturally he’s much better at unarmed fighting, since he’s practiced so much more.

I glimpsed a couple men in the back spinning around and slapping at insects – that was Mikael’s doing. Frankly, I felt like little more than a sun-browned blade-magnet, but Raven says I killed about as many as he did, so I wasn’t totally useless. He’s nice like that (!).

Through the blood thrumming through my ears, I heard Ezekiel tell me to fall back – and right about then, somebody laid open my arm with a cutlass, so I decided that sounded like a nice idea.

I switched places with Ezekiel, and backed up to where Mikael was watching — he prayed over my wounds so that I wasn’t actively bleeding all over the place, and we could watch Raven and Ezekiel mop up the few overseers that were left.

I didn’t have a ranged weapon, but I didn’t feel like just sitting on the sidelines when there was something to do. And, well, I admit it…I was a bit salty about being tied to the deck in my under-things for a solid week.

Also Ehlonna doesn’t like slavery – she thinks people should be as free as the trees and the birds – and when I pointed at the pilot (that’s the guy who flogged Ezekiel’s head the last time we made trouble), Ehlonna’s power leapt across the air between us and burned up his brains. It sounds gross, but I am not sympathetic. I’ve seen the marks on the slaves.

Ezekiel was carrying a muzzle, and Mikael had some rope — they wanted to secure the captain for later questioning, but I think by the time they got to him, Raven had choked him to death or something. Raven swears it was an accident, and Ezekiel says, after all, we can try the rod of resurrection at the very least.

Raven killed the pace-setter (the guy on the drums), and the confrontation was over. I turned to check on the group at the prow, but all I could see was faintly glowing corpses strewn all over the deck.

Raven hailed Lydia and Heiron that the battle was over. Turns out all the sailors heard the ruckus from their quarters, and abandoned ship – but it’s not worth worrying about…and certainly not worth hunting them down.

I explored the “captain’s/officers’ quarters” for anything that looked useful (and clothes that fit, of course), and by the time Lydia came back on deck, I had something that fit her (Ezekiel patched her up a bit, but she says her skin is still tender).

Heiron went below and unchained all the slaves – though we all still have the manacles riveted around our wrists. Most of them seem to be in shock. They heard the start of the battle, of course – but for the second part of that half-hour, it was mostly silent…only Ezekiel could make any noise. Heiron and Ezekiel dug through the personal belongings in the bunkhouse and found clothes for everyone, and then Ezekiel prayed over some of the officers’ rations and handed around plenty for everyone.

Mikael thanked the remaining bats and sent them off – after “befriending” one of them so she would stick around.

Tafosi talked to me in Flannish for a minute, and commented how nice the weather was for the time of year, but I really don’t think he knows what to make of all this. The slaves are of all types and from all over, but there’s four or five speaking Flannish together, and maybe if they stay as a group they can help each other home.

Lydia, Ezekiel, and Mikael took over the officers’ bunkhouse to rest, study, and plan…but I didn’t feel at ease last night. After eating something, Heiron helped me pile all the bodies together, and then stand watch.

The elf captain was wearing some bracers that are probably magical – and had a nice longsword. He also had a spell-book (that Lydia flipped through), and one of his men had a potion bottle and some above-average chainmail.

It’s not the level we’re used to, but for borrowed/acquired gear, it’s not too bad. I would dearly like a longbow, though.

At dawn, we could see that, in the longboat, it would just be a short row to shore. Ezekiel organized a thorough search of the ship, looking for “clues.” He also read through the captain’s logbook while Heiron helped me interview every one of the slaves (that took quite a while).

Will compile some notes on that when I have more time. Bottom line: never get a druid angry. We briefly examined the bodies in the light of day…and the ones devoured alive by insects look more horrifying to me. Raven asked, was it worse than casting a spell and spearing an enemy’s brain with energy? I said, first, Rangers don’t cast spells, and second, at least that was quick.

Seriously, though, I’m very glad Mikael can do all the things he can do. Turns out changing into an animal isn’t just a party trick, but a seriously handy skill…and I had no idea he could make grass seeds shoot out long, grasping fibers and grab people’s legs from the deck of a ship (we had to clear away some of the vegetation to get to the prow hatch). Mikael says Obed-Hai was feeling generous.

Still have to figure out where we are, and our next move. Ezekiel is poring over the charts in the officers’ room with Lydia.

Beaver and bear and al-batross,
Bat and sea-gull and man.

The ways of the forest are never strange
To Mikael, who counts them his friends.


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary….ship’s log

So this is called a ship’s log I guess. The earlier pages should prove interesting when there’s better light…and more headspace.

Physically, I am…fine. After a fashion. The ship goes up and down, and the moons are obscured by clouds, but the breeze is refreshing for once, not bone-chilling. Clothes help, I’m sure.

Heiron is patrolling the far end of the deck. I see him as he passes in and out of the light of the torch, avoiding the hastily thrown up pile of dead bodies.

The light isn’t the greatest, but I need to clear my head. And for that, I need to start at the beginning:

We had dinner with that wizard type in the back room of the Welcome Wench. I think his name us Bondril Lastindin, but Lydia says that’s not quite right.

Keom and Ronhass couldn’t come, since the dragons were being fussy or something and wouldn’t take their naps, but all things considered I think we’re all very glad they weren’t there.

I can barely remember the food, though Raven remarked how amazing it was. I do remember the man smoked a pipe…and the room was covered with these horrible, smelly candles…like my subconscious needling me with the weight of my failures until it’s all I can remember.

This Lastindin or whatever his name was said he was very interested in our exploration of the Temple…specifically our discovery of the prince of Furiundy. He kept asking about that, coming back to how such a great warrior could be kidnapped from his very palace…

And now, in hindsight — I hope Lydia got a good look at him, because I think we’ll want to find him when this is all over. If he’s in the business of drugging and kidnapping powerful and important or otherwise interesting people, that’s a business I want to close.

Suffice to say, when I woke up, it was dark…and I couldn’t move my arms – or legs. The wooden walls were so close even I couldn’t roll over, and it sounds like the others fared worse.

When they finally opened the coffin and pulled me out (I thought I was buried alive for a bit), I and all the others (even poor Heiron) were shackled hand and foot, while Ezekiel and Lydia had gags in. The only one missing was Mikael, but our captors were lugging along a beaver in a cage – a beaver that kept chattering at us and making rude gestures at the guards.

Eventually, we were chained up with a bunch of other slaves, and fed some gruel (once I saw it didn’t turn Ezekiel into anything, I decided to try it. Had worse).

I needn’t record that we were all seething mad. They had taken our stuff, too – my armor, my clothes, even my Tressarian! Lydia says, well, they left the clothes that mattered, and I suppose it would be worse for a girl. Especially since people (especially Heiron) couldn’t stop staring at the burns all over her shoulders and down her body. Raven and I told him it was probably just the same burns that were on her face, but you could tell he wasn’t happy about it.

The elf in charge talked with Ezekiel a bit, but he didn’t let him out of the gag…and there were too many armed guards and too many bows to do anything. I’ve been dreaming of that road, the past few nights…a line of jingling, silent prisoners…a throng of guards with whips and scowls…and lines of trees, going on and on, but not in a comforting way. When we left the treeline and headed across bare grass to a ship off the shore, it was as though I had left Ehlonna’s green earth. That’s not true, of course, but it felt that way.

The band that transported us left us at the shore (I think it’s east of Homlette, but I’m not certain of specifics). On board the ship, the captain was an elf in a long fancy robe and no armor, and his men made us kneel down with their feet on our necks (very rude).

This guy loved to talk – almost as much as Ezekiel does. He said we had been annoying to his “masters,” so he was supposed to make us suffer for a while. (Nice to know we actually accomplished something, I guess, since we weren’t sure what we killed in the dark thone-room.) He said we would be slaves for a while, and if we died they would resurrect us so they could kill us again. Shiny.

Then he brought out all our stuff, waved it in front of us, and dumped it in a chest over the side…Ezekiel’s sheep symbol, his mace (all wrapped up), Mikael’s mistletoe, even Tressarian! To the squeaking of the beaver in the cage, they dragged us down below-deck.

The rowers were on upper benches and lower benches. The guards chained us to the oars with manacles that went on with glowing hot bolts (my wrists still smart, but I think it’s a phantom pain – from the weight of the manacle).

My partner on my oar was “Tafosi,” and after we started rowing we could talk in Flannish under the creak of the oars. He seemed nice enough…though I’m not sure…he’s all there. Though that might be unfair. Staying cheerful in the face of adversity is not mutually exclusive with a deep understanding of your situation. On the other hand – Ezekiel?

Ah, Ezekiel. He started it all, of course.

The day passed in a blur, but it did end at last – the drummer stopped drumming, and they told everybody to stop rowing. A couple overseers came down the other bank of rowers, doing something with the chains.

Ezekiel was just ahead of and across from me. As soon as the one guy got the chain unblocked from the oar, Ezekiel frowned at him and snapped something through that leather thing he had on his face.

The overseer dropped to his knees, whimpering and wringing his hands.

I – …Hindsight will tell us many things. One thing I trust I have always been is a team player.

And, well – also, I was kind of angry.

I mentioned to Ehlonna how upset I was, and how useful it would be to smite the other two overseers. I guess she agreed, because beams of light shot across the hold and exploded into their backs with sparkles. They yelped in a satisfying way, and smacked Ezekiel in the face.

And then hindsight comes along. Apparently there were guards standing behind me, that I couldn’t see – besides a couple guards with crossbows standing with the drummer at the far end of the hold. Next thing I knew, someone was stabbing me in the back – and I heard Lydia crying out across the way.

Footsteps pounded, men shouted, and crossbow bolts flew hither and thither. All the slaves were hiding under the oars the entire time, and frankly, I didn’t see much else with the crowd that gathered around the hammer on my head. I still had my wrists chained to the oar, so I couldn’t do much else besides kick at their shins.

I did see one thing — Heiron ripped his chain free with a roar, and charged across the center walkway. He tackled a guy so hard they rolled down into the storage hold and wrestled there until he “decided to try escaping overboard,” as he put it.

That might be about the time I heard a banshee scream. I – don’t know that there was a banshee there, but all I could think about was that dead elf lady who killed Wonillon in an instant, and for some reason that reminded me of the fat, hideous mushroom monster we killed – who stomped all over Raven – and I vaguely remember hurting all over, and blood running into my eyes, but after that I have nothing.

Ezekiel and Raven say I missed a whole lot – like the captain throwing a stinking cloud at Ezekiel (which just let him escape the guards) and how Raven dislocated his thumbs to get out of the manacles and grapple the captain until he almost choked him to death – but I was a little busy.

When I came out of the darkness and opened my eyes, I was flat on my back. My ankles and wrists were attached to the deck with straps of some kind, and there was leather strapping around my mouth that kept me from opening my jaw.

The elf captain waved our rod of resurrection around in the air and made some pompous, threatening speeches…but really, who cares about that?

They still hadn’t dressed us in more than the essentials, and with the year turning, it was cold. Lydia was tied beside me, but I tried not to look at her. It’s not like we could talk to each other anyway. I never thought about what a pasty Suluese she is, but as the days went by, the sun just ate her up. I haven’t been this brown since I was a little kid and spent all summer running from the trees to the pond behind the Ertuli house and back.

Still, I think the worst part of all was no water. Once, after days of this, they moved the muzzle far enough to drop some potion into my mouth – but that was barely enough to wet my throat. I tried chewing on the muzzle, and that kept me busy for a day or two, but it wasn’t satisfying at all.

One thing kept me holding on. With a sliver in my back and no way to scratch my nose, stretched out in a state that would embarrass my mother, while the rays of the sun – the only warmth there was – slowly sapped the moisture and strength from my body…one thing held my mind together.

Ehlonna is not a fickle goddess of mayhem, who abandons her followers. And she is no weakling, to lose those who trust her to the darkness. Even if she were, I have come to believe there’s Someone higher – a God even gods must acknowledge – and that He is good. And that Ezekiel is His cleric. It explains quite a lot, actually, and it also reinforces that Good never does something for no reason. I suppose that’s easy to say, here on the other side of the night, with the dawn blowing in across the water…but that doesn’t take away the fact it’s good to have a purpose.

As Master Elmo would say, if you get strong just so that you’re strong – then you’re thinking of yourself. But if you get strong so you can do things for others – well then you have a purpose. I’ve been given so much…so much that I can use, that I can work with. I know it can’t end here. That would be…anti-climactic.

When I have time, I have to record how Mikael got us free.


Find the previous entry here.