Dear Diary…why you make friends with spellcasters

After successfully dragging Ezekiel out of the Temple, we decided we might as well take the treasure from the Water “Sanctuary” back to town.

Sir Rufus bought the ogre-sized bone armor just because it’s something you don’t see everyday, and Master Bern said he might have a use for the hydra heart.

I didn’t ask about what it might be.

Turns out it’s just as well we came back, because Raven disappeared to the tower for a few days to ask some questions of the monk master there. He says he’s been experimenting with his moves, and wanted guidance from someone more experienced.

Heiron and I drilled in the backyard (he’s getting really good at these things) and bought new arrows.

****

When we returned to the Temple, we took the red stairs down to the sloping passage…the one by the hydra and owlbear.

When we got there, the huge bronze sheet that blocks the magical corridor between temples was still winched up, just like Ezekiel and Wonillon left it. Also, the skeleton and other remains of the hydra were still lying as we’d left them.

This might have made us think the Temple was empty…but of course we’d be very wrong about that.

We followed the corridor past the hydra down, around, and back north — until we spotted a cold fireplace up ahead. Halfway along, we heard the big gong in the temple sound through the wall, which told us the place was occupied…but we just thought at the time it was an alert about us.

A haunch of moldy meat sat on the table — a table larger than humans would be comfortable with — and I can only assume this is where the bugbears we killed used to live.

Keeping as quiet as possible, and checking all the doors for traps, we went through a door to the south into a little airlock room (table, chair, desk, bed, and chest with clothes and money in it. The chest also had a bottle of what we think is poison, and Raven was going to smash it when Wonillon said he might find it useful. Have to keep an eye on him).

The next door opened into a large room — rugs and tapestries and other bright decorations, bright colors and shades of red.

Also pictures of lewd demons…reminder: burn tapestries if we get the chance.

Two other bedrooms opened off of this main room…and while Ezekiel, Raven, and Wonillon ransacked the place and filled the bag of holding with money, red ceremonial robes, rare herbs, and jewelry, Heiron and I stood watch.

(They also found a scroll for protection from devils, and a book about the plane of elemental fire. We’ll see if they come in handy.)

While we waited for the others, the gong sounded a couple more times…but even though Heiron and I stared at the door, nothing attacked us. Yet.

The bodies of the two humans and the half-orc we killed last time we were here were laid out in state in front of the fireplace in the big room. I was really concerned they were preparing to be ghouls or something, so Ezekiel touched them with his mace to “make me feel better.”

It’s not my feelings that need attention. Raven went so far as to raid the corpses’ pockets — something their comrades didn’t stoop to. They each wore a crimson robe with gold skulls embroidered on it, and a ring, and an amulet. That plus some coins…that’s what we got for disturbing the dead.

With all that done, we suited up for action. Raven gave me his Ring of Free Action (because he was carrying too many magic items). Wonillon, of course, had the ring of fire protection, and Mikael cast a similar kind of spell on Ezekiel. Ezekiel got all excited and important and chanted something over me about Endure Heat.

The next room was also pretty large, with cushions all over the floor and two doors visible. We noticed another, secret door behind a tapestry.

As we entered, the gong sounded twice in a row — and from the sound, we were pretty sure the Fire “Sanctuary” was just beyond the southern door.

Ezekiel threw the door open, and found himself staring at a tapestry.

He shoved the tapestry aside to enter the room, and it was like my birthday came early for the next few years.

There were bugbears as far as the eye could see (picking through the remains and talking it over, we figure there were probably twenty-five).

Heiron and I nailed two before I even noticed the ogre, and the hairy-wolfman-things at the far end of the room, and the priest from before, standing in front of the altar and fire pit…with a whole bunch of prisoners.

We charged in. Raven flicked the No Ordinary Rope-of-entangling, and snared some bugbears. Mikael cast faery fire. I shot another bugbear through the throat. And then…

Lydia threw something over our heads (Raven says it was mostly over my head) and the whole room exploded in fire.

When the flames cleared enough for us to see, one lone bugbear stood in the midst of smoldering carnage.

The fire didn’t quite reach to the end of the room. There were the hairy-wolfman-things (Lydia tells me the term is “werewolf”), and three pale ghouls that had been hidden behind a pillar.

Raven (now that his rope was holding nothing but cinders) ran forward and wrapped up the priest and one werewolf.

As the rest of us ran forward to engage…tongues of flame appeared over the coals in the fire pit. (The priest was hollering indignantly, since he couldn’t do anything else to us.)

Whatever you might say about Lydia, you have to admit she has guts. She charged the free werewolf with her silver dagger (even though hand-to-hand isn’t her thing) and stabbed it — despite getting mauled back.

I landed a hit that really should have taken off its head, you’d think, but it didn’t seem to even notice. That was disconcerting, but I decided there was enough going on I had to trust Lydia to take care of herself.

As I ran to get myself between the prisoners and the pit, two ghouls streaked past me, whimpering. (I think Ezekiel yelled something like, “And don’t forget it!”)

Mikael also ran down, and I caught a glimpse of him pulling Lydia out of harm’s way.

My sword did better against the werewolf – at least the one that was tied up.

Heiron called the prisoners to join him in the living quarters (he’s really making me proud) and Mikael told Cuddles and Corby to go help him protect them.

Just in time, too…the salamanders were just climbing out of the pit.

While Mikael, Lydia, and Simba battled the werewolf with a stinking cloud, Raven fired his spark shower from his ring–

A whole crowd of the salamanders disappeared…leaving only four, who still weren’t quite big enough to crawl out of the pit.

We didn’t have long to wait. No sooner had Wonillon finished off the werewolf that was tied up, one of the snaky things leaped clear and flung itself at Raven.

It threw its tail around him and stabbed him with its spear, making him cry, “Hot hot hot!”

I slashed it while it was occupied, and then Ezekiel joined — so that we were evenly matched, four to four.

This is Ezekiel we mean, of course, so he immediately got wrapped up in the snaky folds of a salamander’s tail. (He says that means that it couldn’t get away.)

I remember the smell: their very bodies smell like heat or fire or a really scorching day…and, of course, my friends’ clothes slowly scorching. The beasties couldn’t snare me because of my new magic ring, but they could still lash me with their burning-hot tails just the same.

We heard growls and barks and snarls from where the werewolf was fighting Mikael and Simba, but of course we couldn’t risk a moment to look their way.

Raven took so many hits with the spear that he gave a wailing cry and collapsed. That made the salamander let go of him, of course, but it was still a bad sign.

Mikael appeared at our sides, muttered a spell that made a salamander’s spear frost over.

The priest was still swearing at us — but he started a whole new list of exclamations when Raven popped back to his feet and dragged him back from the battle.

I was so busy fighting that I couldn’t really keep track of how many times I’d been stabbed. I know Ezekiel was bleeding from everywhere, and weaving on his feet.

I killed one of the salamanders, but my eyes were crossing from blood loss. Next thing I knew, Mikael had his hand on Ezekiel, who had his hand on me, and both of us had wounds closing before our eyes.

And then the salamanders stabbed us again.

Lydia somehow ran all the way around behind the salamanders (she is wearing the boots of speed, I guess) and dumped a waterskin over one of them. Even if it didn’t hurt it, the water did make it angry enough to leave Wonillon alone for a moment.

It’s a funny feeling…having your guts ripped out, and then magically sucked back into place, and then stabbed back out, and then spooled back into place. I’m still not totally convinced Ex and Mikael have all my organs where they were originally…but they got enough blood into my system that my slashing arm still worked.

We ganged up on the remaining salamanders. Wonillon got the final dagger-blow on one of them, and Mikael “poked” the final one into a crumbled, twitching heap on the floor.

Then we could learn that Raven had bludgeoned the priest into a daze, and roped the surviving werewolf with Simba’s help.

With the excitement over, we could tie up the priest properly, finish off the werewolf, and make sure the rescued prisoners were safe.

My innards feel knit together enough to let my body function, but I think it’s safe to say we’ve had enough excitement for today.

And that is why you always bring spell-casters.

Dear Diary…our greatest nemesis

When Ezekiel and Wonillon finally got back to us, they said they’d had a scuffle with some bugbears. They claim that Ezekiel took two of them out with a single whack each, while Wonillon lay on the floor bleeding, and then Ezekiel chanted a healing spell over Wonillon that seemed to actually work!

Gonna have to keep an eye on Ezekiel. Maybe we didn’t pick out all the shards of potion bottles that the giant spherical rolling pin crushed into him.

We discussed our strategy for facing the Fire Temple, while satisfying ourselves about the secret doors we found in the Air Temple. The one to the south-west leads to a stair down (possibly it goes to the safe retreat Cleric Kelno was trying to reach when we killed him?). The hidden door to the south-east opens onto an empty room, maybe ten by ten.

Is it a place to retreat, while the owners of the temple work on their strategy? A place to keep prisoners temporarily? Perhaps it’s where the air creature that we fought the first time was staying?

At any rate, there was nothing for us there, so we left through the east double doors.

Directly across the hall from those doors, another corridor slants south to the Fire Temple.

Our strategy mostly involved Ezekiel holding the attention of whatever we encountered, while the rest of us tried to kill it. We gave Wonillon the ring from the fire-resistant troll, and Mikael cast “Protection from Fire” on Ezekiel (also making sure he was as healed as we could get him).

Then Ezekiel pushed open the double bronze doors…and we saw that this was, indeed, the Fire “Sanctuary.”

The huge room blazed with light – from flambeaux on the walls, and flecks of something glowing in the red granite walls, and even motes of something red floating in the air.

Ezekiel checked behind the tapestries that hung at our backs on either side of the entrance – but he must not have looked very thoroughly. The tapestries weren’t covered with ugly creatures torturing people, for a change…just images of fire. But there’s something not right about the fire…something Evil.

Several yards into the room, a huge brass tube hung vertically by chains from the ceiling. The ceiling soared above us, so the tube must have been twenty feet if it was a foot – and so wide in diameter that Raven said he could shove me up there no problem. I think he would have run into difficulties with that…

I stayed at the threshold, hugging the wall, while Ezekiel and Wonillon tip-toed forward into the room.

Two stands near the tube held rows and rows of little charcoal bricks, and in front of it was a fire pit in the floor, full of glowing coals.

Beyond the tube, about the same distance from us to it, two cauldrons stood on either side – with a table of some kind in front of each of them.

At the far end of the room, something glowed golden. I never really got close enough to see it, but Ezekiel says there’s a golden altar, with a sizable pit in the floor filled with tongues of fire.

Mikael told us that the brass tube, the altar, and the cauldrons were all magical in some way…although the whole room “radiated” magic energy. (Probably the floating light specks or something.)

Ezekiel made complicated signals to us, and then Mikael came over to explain that he was going to pick something to mess with, and see if it called out the “elemental guardians.”

Heiron and I got our bows ready (as we always are). Ezekiel wound up, and slammed his mace into the brass tube.

It gave a booming “gong” that reverberated in the air…and we all agreed it was ironic that Ezekiel chose to hit something that was apparently meant to be hit.

In one of my routine checks of the hallway, I spotted two ogres lumbering toward us. I shot one through the throat before the second one could finish saying, “There him is!” (I’ll probably never find out what they mean by that, if I keep killing them on sight, but that’s the way it goes.)

Heiron and I finished off the other one, and turned our attention back to the main room…in time to see a crowd burst from a door behind the eastern tapestry.

Ezekiel was standing on the far side of the tube-gong from us, waiting for it to do something. Mikael was standing near him (those “cleric types” sticking together), and they both stood and stared while Heiron and I loosed our prepared arrows.

I took out a half-orc wearing some kind of cleric dress, and Heiron felled a man carrying all kinds of weapons, who looked kind of important.

With those two dead, there was a human commander of some kind, and a group of bugbears. Our melee fighters charged, Lydia tossed her smelly egg, and I shot the head off a bugbear in the front line.

And that’s where the cakewalk ended.

Heiron and I were both digging out fresh quivers of arrows when the commander stepped out of the stinking cloud (Ezekiel says he wasn’t even gagging or anything!) and flicked a rope like a lasso.

This was no ordinary rope! I couldn’t even track its movement, as it looped itself around Heiron, Corby, Lydia, me, Cuddles, and Mikael – and pulled tight.

Holding the rope taught with one hand, the commander flourished his sword – and flames licked up the blade.

Talk about an entrance. (And what kind of rope is this, anyway? What won’t they think of next?!)

Raven was still free. He palm-smacked a bugbear in the face so hard that it stood staring and shaking its head stupidly.

Ezekiel charged around from behind the gong and swung at the commander, who swung back with his flaming sword.

While they kept each other busy, Mikael called to Raven to come cut the rope. But I mentioned how this was no ordinary rope…He sawed at it with a dagger, but it didn’t even seem to fray it.

Seeing that was no good – and that not all of the bugbears were choking on the stinking cloud, Raven took his magic ring of stars and lit up the commander with faery fire (assuming it might possibly help Ezekiel maybe), and then shot sparks at the bugbears.

Raven and Wonillon were getting pummeled by the bugbears as they tried to cut the rope — when Ezekiel whipped out a scroll, read something off of it, and then fire erupted a few feet in front of him – scorching the commander and frying one of the bugbears.

Mikael suddenly shrank to the size of a frog – in fact he was a frog, and hopped out of the loop of rope.

This was no ordinary rope, though, as the pressure on our arms was no less. We couldn’t get our hands in our pockets or to our weapons…Lydia couldn’t even gesture to cast any spells.

A new man stepped out from behind the tapestry, wearing cleric robes, and waved his hands at us. Suddenly, the clangs and grunts of battle disappeared as silence blanketed the room.

Raven stepped back from the bugbear he was dealing with to gulp a healing potion. Ezekiel was apparently so frustrated that he hit the floor, instead of the commander. The commander wasn’t landing a blow, either, and tried to swear at him or something…but of course we couldn’t hear him.

Ezekiel said, “You can’t talk in a silence spell, you know.”

The new priest guy ran behind the bugbears and down to the end of the room, and started chanting in front of the altar.

Mikael suddenly grew back into his own shape, and cracked a bugbear over the head with his staff.

Raven was doing a good job of keeping the bugbears focused on him, instead of the ones who couldn’t use their arms…but about this time, something made him change his mind, and he quaffed a potion and suddenly disappeared.

While Mikael and Ezekiel killed bugbears (which is like the single thing I am best at) I looked around for what Raven had seen, and noticed – the snake-things.

They were like a cross between a snake and a lizard, and glowing like fire. They swarmed out of the fire pit in front of the altar, and although I couldn’t see them very well at that distance, I figured I didn’t want to meet them.

Something tugged at the rope – and although it didn’t fray or loosen, it did finally give me an idea.

Mikael had chewed through the bugbears, and was attacking the commander from behind. The priest was shouting something (that we couldn’t hear) and jabbing his finger at Ezekiel…but of course, if he was trying to cast a spell on Ezekiel, that wouldn’t work, either.

Wonillon stabbed a bugbear in the ribs, but it seemed like too little, too late. Ezekiel was bleeding from several places, and weaving slightly on his feet. And those fire-lizard-things were getting closer and closer.

I couldn’t say anything that would be heard, so I kicked Lydia’s ankle and lunged for the door. The rope wasn’t wrapping my legs, after all.

Lydia and Heiron quickly got the idea and surged after me. As Heiron shoved against the floor, the rope jerked out of the commander’s hand…and the loops digging into our arms abruptly went slack.

We staggered backward through the door. Cuddles and Corby, apparently disconcerted by all this, bolted past us up the corridor.

Wonillon had also figured out the discretion thing, and dashed after the animals. Past the threshold, I was far enough away from the battle to speak, and told Heiron to stand by to help me with the doors.

I expected Lydia to put distance behind her, too, but she stood in the doorway with us, pulled out her gold lion statue, and said, “Simba.”

Her magic lion leaped into existence and charged the commander.

That left Mikael, Raven, and Ezekiel.

As we watched, a bugbear swung at Ezekiel and bashed him so hard he… Lydia tells me he “turned into a gaseous form.” It was basically a see-through, billowy version of Ezekiel.

He started cackling wildly, and bellowing, “Fly, you fools!” or something like that (so, why don’t silence spells affect him?!), and charged the fire-lizard-things, swinging his foggy mace left and right.

Raven popped into view in the middle of the room, snapping the no-ordinary-rope like a lasso…but nothing special happened, so he and Mikael finally backed out of the room while Simba mauled the commander.

I figured Ezekiel was a big boy and could take care of himself – or we’d just have to raise him again or something – so Heiron and I pulled the doors shut and tied the handles with rope.

Mikael pounded on the doors, hollering at Ezekiel that he was a gas, for goodness’ sake, and needed to come float through the door!

Raven tapped Mikael on the shoulder with the hand that wasn’t holding his arm on, and asked for some healing.

Simba gave a roar from beyond the door. I guess it must have been a victory roar, since Lydia gave a little smile (you can tell by the way her eyes crinkle) and dismissed him by twisting the statue in her hands.

Well, with that worry out of the way, I could worry more about the fire-lizard-things, and I ushered Heiron and Lydia up the corridor, preparing another arrow on my bow (now that I could hold it again).

Shortly after, Raven joined us. He said Mikael was still worried about Ezekiel, so he gave him the potion of invisibility so he’d have more options.

I’ve learned long ago…arguing with Ezekiel is one of those things that never goes anywhere. So I had to trust Mikael to take care of himself, and assembled the party at the north end of the corridor (where it happened to connect with the “great hall,” as I call it).

Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait too long before Mikael joined us – dragging a now-solid Ezekiel along with him. He said, “I asked Obed-Hai to get some sense into him, and I guess it worked.”

Ezekiel says he received new instructions from a weather-beaten man leaning on a staff. He says that when he saw the man shaking his head in disbelief, he decided he wasn’t supposed to die in a blaze of glory, disintegrating salamanders from a ghostly form.

(Oh, yes…Michael says the creatures were salamanders, which are only harmed by magical weapons. Good to know.)

Ezekiel touched Raven’s remaining wounds, and they closed and stopped bleeding.

I thought we were finally going to get out of that area, and into some place where we could control the approaches…but, no, you have to keep a sharp eye on Ezekiel.

He abruptly stared off into the distance, through a solid wall, and announced that there was something very, very important that we had to check out right that second.

Raven apparently decided that compromising would be more efficient than arguing with EzEkIeL, and stationed us on watch while he checked out this room that was so very important (it’s a solid door a little south of the junction where we stood…yes, back towards the salamanders just a bit).

The floor of the room is white marble, with an alabaster ceiling. Raven says it feels very “safe” there, though he didn’t specify if the approaches are defensible, or if there are arrow slits in the walls, or extra weapons, or what exactly makes it so safe.

There’s a second door across from the entrance, and (apparently) a sheet of crystal that seemed cloudy until Raven opened the other door – when it started glowing.

If I had been there, I would instantly have suspected that it was some kind of alarm to tell when people open the door…but of course I wasn’t there. I was guarding the hall with Heiron.

The crystal started glowing, and when Ezekiel and Mikael joined Raven, they spotted two figures (like men with white wings) walking toward the crystal, as though they were on the other side of a mirror or window.

The figures asked them what “such fair folk of good” were doing in such a “vile place” – which should have been their first warning. I mean, what would make them think we were all Good, after all?

Ezekiel asked the two who they were, and they answered that this “sanctuary of good” had been “placed here” to give aid to any righteous adventurers…and if they left all their magic gear, holy symbols, and silver items in front of the crystal mirror – and left the room for a few hours – the winged types would restore their charges and increase their efficiency.

Raven says he was getting flashes of déja vue about that point…and then apparently the figures told them all to hurry, because the “window of opportunity” was short, and that “Euz,” in his goodness, had put this room/mirror-thing there to help good people –

And at that point Ezekiel started laughing so loudly we could hear him outside through the walls.

We could also hear something else – a rope snapping some ways away.

I opened the door to tell them to hurry up, and by that time, the figures had retreated in embarrassment or something, so the others rejoined us.

Ezekiel told us it was another scheme like the pool of wish-granting, and Lydia asked why he hadn’t left his mace for them to pick up.

Well, he got a good laugh out of the whole thing…but I still don’t know why it was so very vital that we drop everything and investigate it right then. Of course, Ezekiel has been having trouble all day…as I write, he’s vibrating in his seat, and every time he speaks, he garbles it so quickly we can’t understand a word.

Lydia asked all the rest of us to pray that he wouldn’t explode or anything. Shame that she doesn’t feel comfortable doing that herself…but maybe one day.

Anyway, the majority ruled that we wanted some distance between us and the fire-salamander-lizard things. We’re doing much better than we were, but Ezekiel still looks like death warmed over…and Wonillon and Raven didn’t get off without a scratch, either.

I have a nick that looks like the scratch of a spear, but it only itches.

We still have to decide whether we need to restock in town before returning…but I for one am happy to have a retreat at my back, as well as a controlled approach in front.

Now, if Ezekiel doesn’t explode, or turn purple, or something, we should be fine.

Maybe the God of gods is paying attention and rooting for us…but it’s nice to know Obed-Hai and Ehlonna and Merikka approve of our mission and are listening, too.


Find the previous entry here.

Short Fiction: The Prayer of a Paladin

In the absence of a D&D summery this week, please enjoy this short story I wrote, inspired by the world of Greyhawk!

My brother is clamoring for it to continue to a better resolution…What do you think?


Marcius woke, shivering the whole length of his body. The back of his tattered tunic stuck to the stone wall, and his legs and arms had long passed the point where he noticed their throbbing.

By all rights, he should have been surprised at being able to sleep at all…but he couldn’t ignore the pressure of sheer exhaustion.

The clanks of armor and the flap of feet snapped his attention back to what had woken him.

Marcius peered through the bars of the cell, fighting the surge of panic that shot up through his heart.

He recognized the figure that led the small party — though Gorm, as he called himself, shared the ruddy skin and dark robes of a human cleric, the fangs sticking up from his lower jaw betrayed his orc parentage.

The green-skinned grunts behind him were dragging another prisoner — human, and dressed in something brown, though that’s all that Marcius could see underneath the mud and dried blood.

The orcs in chainmail dragged their prisoner to the wall opposite Marcius and began shackling him in the same way – locking his wrists in manacles just above the head…at just the right angle to prevent him from hanging his body in a comfortable resting position.

Gorm, the so-called cleric, approached Marcius.

At his smug smile and squint, Marcius felt the bile rise in his mouth.

“Good morning, holy warrior,” Gorm croaked past his fangs, giving a smile that revealed all their jagged glory.

Marcius tried to lick the roof of his mouth, and failed.

“I could tell you that Pelor has brought the sun back to the skies outside,” said Gorm. “And that in the peaceful lands of your home, the green fields wave back a welcome to the light.”

Marcius said nothing. There was no answer.

He knew as well as Gorm did that he was not out there, raising his sword against the invading hordes to protect his master and his people.

No, he was here, buried deep in a dungeon where the only light were the torches of his enemies…or their sickly green orbs placed at the foot of the stairs.

“You must long for it,” said Gorm, with another smile. “The holy warrior misses his brothers-in-arms – misses his polished armor and his sharpened sword. Perhaps we should have let you watch as we melted it down.”

Melting Marcius’ blade would negate the enchantment on it. It was just the sort of thing they’d do, though, as Quintus had been outspoken about his loathing for foul humanoids.

Thinking about it would do no good…but at the memory of his enthusiastic sentient sword, Marcius choked.

The two foot-soldiers, finished with their work, glanced at Gorm. At a nod from him, they passed through the cell-gate to head for the stairs.

“Have you spoken with your god, holy warrior?” asked Gorm. “Surely his light could do something for you here. Surely he would send aid to you…if he knew you were here, of course. The mighty master of light is strong enough to reach these halls, is he not?”

When Marcius didn’t answer, Gorm reached into his cloak.

“No,” he said. “Surely he would not abandon his child like this – would he, paladin?”

With the final sneer, he pulled something out of his cloak and shoved it into Marcius’ face.

It was a mask – worked to resemble a bear, or a wolf — it was impossible to tell which, exactly.

A red teardrop painted on the forehead was almost obscured by the crusty stains of real blood.

Marcius screamed, lunging to the side. The chains snapped metallically, bringing him to a halt; the manacles bit into his wrists and the fleshy base of his thumb.

The sores in those places broke open – warm blood trickled down his arms in well-worn patterns.

But he noticed none of that. Darkness clouded his vision, as the cleric’s taunting laugh echoed in his ears.

Pelor should hear him. Pelor was his Master, the Lord of Light. Pelor was the name he carried when he defended the widows of homesteads, and the orphans of besieged towns.

Yet here he was.

Marcius slumped, hanging in the chains. They were placed so high that he couldn’t kneel on the ground…either his swollen and aching legs must support him, or his shredded arms and wrists would.

How long had this gone on? How many days had this fiend with the shape of a man, who worshiped an obscene and vile god, come down here to taunt him?

How often had he been forced to face that thing – that symbol of all that was twisted and murderous in this castle?

That reminder – in physical form – that he had failed…that the patrol had been slaughtered…that he, Marcius Farin, had been dragged from his company and his duty, and locked up here…perhaps to die, perhaps worse –

Worse? To renounce his oath. He was no ignorant blade-for-hire…He served a higher authority, and dedicated himself to the cause of his master.

From his sword to his speech to the manner in which he passed his free time, everything was a reflection of that greater light – the great Pelor, whose sun shone on the just and the unjust, and whose will was the protection of the helpless and oppressed.

And now…where had that brought him?

Marcius realized he was sobbing. A fiery pain stabbed through his limbs, raising them above the constant ache that racked his whole body – and making them worthy of his mind’s notice.

But there was nothing he could do. He could no more protect the innocent than he could keep himself alive. No more than he could make the sun rise.

He was nothing.

Gorm laughed again — for as human as his face was, his voice sounded like a pig fused in an unholy union with a bear.

“We’ll talk again tomorrow, holy warrior,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll find something more to talk about. You must tell me all about the wonders of Pelor, and how he takes care of his faithful servants.”

Gorm turned and strutted out – locking the cell with the keys at his belt before climbing the stairs.

In the sickly green light of the orbs by the staircase, Marcius huddled against the wall at his back.

Sweat coated his face and ran into his eyes. With a shaking arm, he drew his hand far enough over to wipe the hair out of his eyes.

Across the way, the new prisoner was watching him. He twisted his hands in the manacles, as though testing their tightness…but Marcius knew there was no way to slip out of them.

How often had he tried? Even with shredded skin and blood-slicked arms, the metal was sized just right to keep his bones pinned.

How often…? How often had this happened? How long had he spent in this hell-hole?

And could Hell itself possibly be any worse?

A part of him rebelled at that thought. Ever since he was a child in his father’s house, he had trained his body and disciplined his mind for service to Pelor…and, by extension, as a symbol of Good and comfort to all innocent people who depended on him.

And that had brought him – what?

Was this, then, to be his end? This dim, stinking dungeon would be his grave?

Or would one day…one black-as-night morning…would his resolve break? Would the torture of his body and mind become too much, and would his mouth speak words that he himself would never dream of?

At the horror of that thought, Marcius sank into a revery that eventually led him to sleep…or rather, the shifting consciousness that served him as sleep in that place.

Once or twice, he started awake, straining his ears for an unfamiliar sound…

A soft crunching – like the chewing of flesh and bone…accompanied by stifled gasps of pain.

But his blurred eyes could see nothing in the dimness – and even if there were undead in the shadows beyond the cell, preying on some helpless victim, it wasn’t like he could do anything to help them.

Finally, he heard the familiar alarm of morning – the thump of the cleric’s boots, and the jingle of his chainmail and keys.

Gorm reappeared – this time alone – and placed a torch in a bracket along the wall before unlocking the cell door.

Marcius already felt the tears coursing down his face. His heart pounded. He had no more blood to bleed, no more strength to stand –

“Morning has dawned yet again,” said Gorm, with another of his hateful smiles. “Or do I need to tell you that, holy warrior? A devoted acolyte of the sun-god surely knows when the sun rises and sets. Who am I to tell you differently, my righteous friend?”

Marcius could think of nothing to say. Instead, he squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his cheek against the wall, steeling himself.

“I hope you have enough light to see, you little human weakling, you,” said Gorm. “I have something to show you. Open up and look, now. I think you’ll find it very interesting–”

Something clanked and gurgled.

Surprise overpowered Marcius, and he instinctively looked.

First, he noticed Gorm’s starting eyes and pale complexion.

Next, he noticed the other prisoner, pinning a metal bar from the prison floor against the cleric’s neck with his elbows – and hauling back for all he was worth.

A moment later, the prisoner raised his knee to Gorm’s back, and convulsed backward with a jerk.

Gorm gave an explosive cough, and crumpled to the ground, a little trickle of blood darkening his mouth.

The stranger exhaled, and straightened up, letting the bar drop.

As he straightened his arms, Marcius saw that his hands were entirely red. Now that they were closer together, he could see the pulpy stubs were both his thumbs had been.

From the blood around his mouth, the stranger had chewed them off.

Marcius felt oddly sick – but as he hadn’t eaten anything in several days, nothing happened.

“Oy,” said the stranger, and stepped forward, holding out his hands. “Do me a solid, man?”

Marcius continued to stare.

“Snap out of it, greater-goody,” said the prisoner. “You’re a paladin of Pelor, right? Can’t be all bad, right? So lay it on me before we blow this.”

After all this time…how long had it been, again?…surely the power of Pelor had left him.

Surely, in this vile place –

Marcius reached out — he couldn’t lower his hands below his head, so the stranger stepped forward and raised his arms. Marcius cradled the strangers’ hands in his own, closed his eyes, and started mouthing a prayer.

If Pelor heard him…if Pelor regarded him…then surely it was Pelor’s will that he help someone else…

At the long sigh of relief, Marcius opened his eyes.

The stranger examined his hands, turning them over as he opened and shut his new fists – complete with new thumbs.

“Feels good enough to function,” he said. “Now—”

He bent over Gorm, and within seconds was unlocking Marcius’ manacles with the keys.

As soon as his arms were free, Marcius sank to the ground. At the sudden relief, every nerve in his body seemed to fire, and every tense muscle collapsed.

The stranger busied himself rooting through Gorm’s body.

Yes, the cleric that had tormented him for time without measure was well and truly dead. And so easily. It made him wonder– But he was too tired to wonder. Besides, there was no time for it.

Marcius forced himself to crawl forward and join the hunt.

While his new companion stripped off the chainmail and pulled it on, Marcius detached the cleric’s small hammer — Gorm’s main weapon, a mace, was hanging from a loop on his other side.

Good thing he’d done some practicing with maces. They couldn’t compare to his old sword, of course, but at least he’d have an idea what he was doing.

He looked up at the stranger.

His new companion was standing again, and muttering something.

“Well, been worse,” he said at last, and looked down at Marcius. “Can you stand, paladin?” He held out a hand.

Marcius honestly didn’t think he could…but he said nothing. Instead, he took the offered arm and scrambled upright – letting the stranger pull him to his feet.

“Marcius Farin,” he panted. “Do you have a name, my generous friend?”

“Generous is new,” said the stranger. “Call me Benj.”

He picked up his length of metal and hefted it a moment. “Nope. I’ll trouble you for the hammer. Hope we meet some grunts soon. I don’t do much with blunt trauma. Needlessly delays things, if you ask me.”

Dark spots washed before Marcius’ eyes. “You realize we have no real chance –” he began.

“Stuff it, city boy,” said Benj. “Is that any talk for a paladin of Pelor?”

He headed for the door of the cell.

Marcius said nothing and followed.

Benj took the torch from the bracket and held it in his off-hand. He glanced up the stairs, then along the wall that led farther into the dungeon.

When he looked back at Marcius, he smiled. “Guess you can’t do another number on yourself, eh?”

Marcius shook his head.

“Ever been down that way?” He pointed into the darkness. “Is there another stair you could find for us?”

“Sorry,” said Marcius.

Benj glanced up the stairway again. “Known impossibility,” he grunted, and turned toward the darkness, “Or unknown possibilities.”

He shrugged. “Come on, man. We’ll stick together, that’s all.”

He headed off along the wall.

Who knew what they would find over there? On the other hand, could it be more threatening than the full guardhouse at the top of the prison stairs?

Marcius followed close behind.


Kimia Wood lives somewhere in the American Midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing…and other excuses for not gardening.

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Dear Diary….steamrolling (whatever that means)

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “The Temple of Elemental Evil”

After questioning the prisoner, we had a quick consultation in Lawful Good (if he’s an assassin, I’m going to be very mad).

The problem was what to do with the prisoners, while we went after the Head Cleric of the Water Temple before he was alerted. Ezekiel decided to put Heiron, Raven, and the animals in charge of keeping the prisoners (one rescued and one captured) safe, while the rest of us tried dealing with the cleric (to leave the Water Temple leaderless, you see).

That worked out, because Cuddles will be digesting for quite some time, and moves much slower at the moment…and also I don’t want Heiron on the front lines for a bit. We’ll be fighting some dangerous people, and I just can’t risk someone else’s life like that.

While we were having our discussion, someone discovered a door behind a tapestry on the wall – a door with no handle and an iron shutter. That was no problem for Lydia, who still made it open by snapping her fingers or something.

On the other side, just as my map had indicated, there was an angular room – basically a pass-through to the smallest barracks (the first one we cleared, with a zig-zag shape). There’s a stool for a sentry, and a line of twine running through eyebolts into the barracks wall. I think it’s obviously some kind of trap (or alarm), but we haven’t investigated what it does yet.

It also fits into my theory about what the guards were doing – they were fleeing up this way to get help from the barracks…not knowing that we had already killed them all.

[quick sketch]

Ezekiel led us back around to the minotaur room and into the passage that opens to the south. This corridor is very long, which he hoped meant it was leading us around the main body of the temple to bring us to the cleric’s quarters.

After 150 or 160 feet, we reached a door at the end of the corridor. When Ezekiel threw the door open, I could see bugbears – for once in our lives, we surprised them.

They wore grey kilts and cloaks with a big black square emblazoned on them, and carried spears and battleaxes. That’s all I saw before I shot one through the throat.

Wonillon charged into the room, and Lydia tossed an egg – then swore, because she couldn’t create the cloud with our team in there.

Ezekiel and Mikael followed his lead (Mikael getting in some good smacks with his staff) and I took out another bugbear before they had time to react.

We’d killed a couple more when the last one standing started howling. Of course that meant reinforcements, so I slid along the wall just inside the door to cover the door across the room.

The reinforcements were some gnolls (chainmail) and a few more bugbears (scale mail) – all in those same grey uniforms. I shot down a couple of them, and they tried to return fire – but the arrows went over my head. Raven says they expected me to be taller, but I don’t see his point.

Ezekiel shouted for Lydia, and she raced into the room…but she couldn’t do Stinking Cloud with such a cluttered battleground. She did stand in front of me, though, so I missed two shots.

Mikael and Ezekiel both bashed their opponents to the ground, though, so that’s good.

I think I counted twelve bodies when we were done. They had some decent money on them, but I haven’t bothered to pile the bodies somewhere. They’re just bugbears and gnolls, after all…and smell pretty bad.

Their room was stuffed with odds-and-ends of furniture – couches, cushions on the floor, tables, a barrel and a cask –and the wall-hangings were plain solid colors – grey, ivroy, white.

In between the hangings were plaster paintings, and these were also different than in other parts of the Temple: scenes of tornadoes and such ripping homes apart (so the violence thing was still a motif).

It makes sense in retrospect.

The door across the room led into a hallway, and we advanced carefully – with the prisoners in back, so they could be protected. Yeti volunteered to help with that job, which freed Raven up to come to the front lines if needed.

While I stood in the hall to watch for enemies, Ezekiel opened the very next door – it led south.

This room had a grey carpet, and a cabinet with a number of things…including some wax candles, some old clothes, and some honey.

Raven helped himself to the honey, so I helped myself to the candles (he says he already has candles, but you never know what you might need)

There were also piles of tapestries, rugs, and such on the floor as bedding, so I guess the bugbears and gnolls also slept in here sometimes.

Ezekiel called me into the room before he opened yet another door to the east…so when he did, I could clearly see a man in heavy armor beyond.

The man said, “How many times, Garosh?” – and then my arrow glanced off his armor. (Good thing I restocked from the gnoll archers.)

Wonillon, Raven, and Ezekiel charged in to confront him – but Ezekiel’s mace bounced off the man’s armor and whacked Raven.

I shot again, and somehow speared Wonillon through the arm. Raven told me, “The bad guy was taller than that, Elwyn,” but I feel no need to take archery lessons from a monk (even if he can catch arrows from the air).

Mikael must have been surprised to see me do this, because he ran forward and swung at the enemy, then dropped his staff altogether.

By the time we were done with all that slap-stick routine, the man in armor was fleeing behind a curtain at the back of his bedroom. Raven and Mikael dashed after him, followed quickly by Wonillon.

I’m not as fast as they are…and the last thing I wanted was to be surprised by a flanking enemy in the hallway behind…so I stayed where I could hear any cries for help from our rear forces, and could hopefully hear if anyone was coming down the hallway at us.

Ezekiel said something like, “Wait for me!” (or was it, “It’s pointless to flee”?) and disappeared through the curtain.

I called to the rear forces to move into the room with me, and with them less “in the open” (couldn’t be flanked so easily) I moved into the armored man’s bedroom.

I had no idea  how far the chase had gone, or whether they could catch him at all – but before I had too long to wonder, Wonillon showed up…carrying Raven, who seemed frozen with his arms in that weird stiff-fingered position he calls a “stance.”

Shortly after, Ezekiel showed up, lugging the armored cleric with him – dead.

While he searched the cleric’s bedroom (they tell me the deceased was a cleric because he cast some spells on Raven…they didn’t work on Mikael somehow), Lydia detected that the cleric’s chainmail, mace, dagger, and cloak were all magical.

We gave her the dagger, since she didn’t have a magic one yet, and once Raven de-stiffened and could move again, we gave him the cloak.

The bedroom wasn’t super fancy – a few pewter dishes, some books and scrolls on a shelf, plus some human and demi-human skulls on display (wouldn’t you like to not know where those came from!). Ezekiel also found a cassock of silver cloth with that same black rectangle beaded with jet…apparently the official vestments.

Lydia asked our prisoner about the dead man, and he told us it’s “Kelno,” the Cleric of the Air Temple (thus it makes sense that the motifs all changed).

He explained that Air, Fire, and Water are all on this level – but the Water Temple is the “Lesser Temple”…and they’re all fighting over that position.

Makes sense…the Greater Temple is on the level below (I think?) and the Lesser Temple is the favored spot right after them. The elemental temples have something to fight over, and the Greater Temple has a reward to offer those who are most loyal.

The prisoner (he has a name, right?) also laughed at us for not knowing any of this…but it’s pretty hard to learn things when we keep killing anyone who could talk to us (and also when we’re so bad at questioning people).

Mikael had been investigating the hallway Cleric Kelno fled down. It had a stockpile of weapons and armor, a chest, and a fountain with a gargoyle head spitting milky water into the basin (I won’t be drinking any of that!).

There’s a secret door off an alcove here, and the passage curves around to a staircase leading further down. That will have to wait until later!

Lydia got the chest unlocked (that is really coming in handy!), and we took a bunch of money for the bag of holding.

Ezekiel says he wants to return to the hallway by where we killed the gnolls, and follow it around north.

After a little bite to eat, though. The prisoner at least can’t march all day on an empty stomach, and killing bugbears is hungry work.

[sketch of involved area]


Find the previous entry here.

Start at the beginning of the Water Temple here.

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Dear Diary….killing people and taking their stuff

While Mikael cast healing on Ezekiel, and Ezekiel sawed off the horns of the minotaur, the rest of us searched the fallen guards and the bunk-room where they died.

The guard room, past the spiked beam trap, kind of zig-zagged north and south. Bunks lined the walls, with boxes of personal effects, but nothing really interesting.

The guards were all dressed in black under their chainmail, and I’m assuming this is the color of the Water Temple.

There was a “main” door leading out to the east, but Raven discovered that a torch on the south wall activated a secret door. We packed into the cramped space and prepared to sally out.

When the front men opened the door, I could see a medium-to-large room, with a blazing fire in the fireplace across the way.

As Ezekiel charged in and beaned a man-at-arms with his mace, I quickly examined the lay-out: bunks and chests along the walls, table in the middle, and two doors along the west wall.

Wonillon did very well for himself before the enemy could recover from their surprise. He charged in, stabbed a guard, and rolled under the table to slash at another one. Unfortunately, I think he must have been over-excited, because he didn’t take that one down.

Raven threw a javelin into the fray, Mikael cast faery fire, and Cuddles was apparently so excited that he charged a guy and ended up striking his nose against the wall.

Heiron did pretty well for himself, although he kept fumbling his follow-through. Not like I can talk about that, of course.

As our front-liners advanced, the two doors to the side of the room flew open, and men in fancier armor jumped into the battle. I use “men” loosely, as one of them had the bad teeth and greenish complexion you only get if one of your parents was an orc.

I think it was that one who started throwing darts, and Raven was still slumping to the ground when a dart clanged against Yeti’s shield.

That was the end of that – as Ezekiel vaulted over the table (yelling something about a holy sheep) and smacked the half-orc soundly with his mace.

Even Mikael got in on the action, dealing a guard a cracking blow with his cudgel.

Meanwhile I was checking for a crack in my bow because it made a weird creaking noise…but it seems all right.

Mikael bent over Raven to neutralize the poison (handy skill, no?) and I glimpsed Heiron shoot one of the officers between the armor so that he staggered backward.

Ezekiel had disappeared through one of the doors by that point – turns out it led through a tiny bedroom into yet more living quarters – and while the rest of us were mopping up in the first room, we heard the heavy clang of his mace connecting with something.

Yeti ran up to the door to get a better angle for his magic flying hammer.

I spotted more green skin, and aimed for major blood vessels.

By that point, Cuddles was feeling better, and swarmed (can snakes swarm?) through Ezekiel’s legs to bite the enemy.

I swung myself up onto the table to get a clearer shot, and speared the guard’s throat. From there, I also had a good view of Raven punching a guy so hard I think he broke his neck or something.

With all the enemies dead, we could breathe and examine our surroundings.

I turned around to catch Corby with an eyeball in her mouth. It makes me feel a little ooky to let her do that, but I guess she is just a bird, and doesn’t have the same rules of living. Like Cuddles using poison when he bites. I wouldn’t go around without clothes on, either, but animals think nothing of it.

I must be more tired than I realize.

Anyway, the room with the fireplace had rush mats on the floor. The fighters wore a mix of leather, chain, and scale armor, but all with the same black underneath.

A sheep was still cooking over the hearth, so after helping us search the bodies, Raven busied himself taking care of it (since he’s so fussy about food).

The two leaders had little bedrooms behind the two doors, and the southern room led into yet another suite that was probably fancy at one time. It has plastered walls, paintings, wall-hangings, and braziers for light and warmth.

Ezekiel found a door behind a tapestry, with a peep-hole in it so the inhabitants can keep an eye on the corridor outside. It’s only evening, not night yet, but this will be a good place to hunker down – if anyone comes looking for us, we’ll have a door between us and them.

Wonillon and Raven investigated a chest in the northern bedroom – the one with only one exit – and apparently set off a gas trap. Raven was standing in the doorway, since the room is so small, so he wasn’t affected…and once Mikael came and cast his second Neutralize Poison, Wonillon was able to crawl out of the room – coughing.

After all of that, the chest had some clothing, a big sack of money, some jewels and jewelry, two potions, and a scroll in a scroll case. Lydia says it’s illusionist, so none of us can use it…but it’ll be worth something, anyway.

When we searched the two leaders who had private rooms, Lydia told us that the man’s cloak, broadsword, and leather armor were all magical…and so was a pouch on his belt.

The cloak is…really a fashion statement, since it’s black – with red horned skulls embroidered all over it. The leather armor is worked in the same way.

Not the kind of thing we want to walk around town in…but as Lydia pointed out, we don’t need to worry about fashion down here, so we’re having her wear the cloak – we assume it’s got some kind of protection magic – and Mikael has changed into the leather armor (he’s also wearing a magic ring from the half-orc leader…we figured it was about time he got some goodies).

Speaking of being fair, Ezekiel pointed out Wonillon hadn’t gotten anything yet, so we offered him the magical pouch (we assume it’s like a bag of holding, although I don’t think we’ve tested it out yet).

A magic broadsword is nice, but none of us really needs it right now. Maybe if Heiron keeps practicing and ages out of what he’s using now.

As for the half-orc leader…besides a ring, he had a magic dagger (Raven got it), a gold earring (no one offered to wear it), and a special shield – with the same horned skull in red emblazoned on it, and a compartment to store his poisoned darts.

I don’t think we’ll be using that.

With the secret door to the north closed, our position looks pretty defensible. We dished out our healing spells on hand, and prepared for a quiet evening.

Raven has certainly done wonders with that lamb.


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary….the drama of Ezekiel (and Lydia)

Lydia and Yeti worked together to sell our magic items. She brought me a huge pile of gold and gems for everybody’s shares, then disappeared, saying something about a “question” for Master Bern.

She did admit to selling the wand of paralyzation and the stockpile of reagents we found in the Temple – she says the pile she gave me is the shares for the rest of us – but she wanted enough liquid cash for some reagents and parchments Master Bern has.

Anyway, she’s off, and so are Ezekiel (to the chapel) and Raven (to the tower…there’s a monk master there).

Mikael is teaching Corby and Cuddles some new tricks, but he won’t let us see until they really have them down.

Which works out, because Heiron asked me to show him how I do “that thing with my sword,” so he can “be even more help for you, Master” (which I’ve never been called before – it’s new and different) and Yeti and I are showing him drills until we find the right “thing” he’s thinking of. We’re also doing push-ups and laps and practicing forms because Father always said that built character (although it didn’t work on Reginald for some reason). If Heiron gets good enough, he could use my spare sword I’ve been storing at the inn, now that I have my magic one. We’ll see what the others think.

****

We all had dinner together again. Lydia came in with her eyes all smug and smiling, and said she now knows “Fireball.” Will have to be extra careful not to annoy her.

Ezekiel announced he wants to hit undead with his mace, since he thinks it’ll help his mace do something-something-or-other – he still can’t speak a whole sentence without catching his breath.

He also says that the “heavens won’t let” him be cured except by some paladin lady named Aliana Glimmersky. Mikael said something about star-crossed lovers, and Lydia and Raven started humming a song I didn’t think a monk would know.

Anyway, he says this is the same elf lady we met passing through Homlette earlier, which means Mikael knows her (or at least has seen her), so he should be able to cast Reflecting Pool to try to figure out where she is.

(They tried to explain how it all works, but…you know…)

Mikael will pray to Obed-Hai for that in the morning.

****

Well, it wasn’t nearly as exciting as I was hoping. We couldn’t even see anything – only Mikael could. Though Master Geru did allow us into the grove so we could watch Mikael use one of the pools of water there…

Mikael said the words, and waved his hands, and stared down into the water.

He said he saw a lady in plate-mail – with towers behind her – and trees, like she was in a garden. (He also said, “So says the pool” – maybe that’s part of the druid stuff?)

He waved his hands and started describing all the trees and plants – but we realized it’d be more meaningful to describe the actual buildings, so then he talked about the walls he could see in the background and the angle of the towers.

Lydia gasped and said it’s the terrace of the Temple of Heironius in Greyhawk…so I guess that’s where we’re going. (So says the pool.)

Master Osler says he’ll keep our trunk safe in his storeroom, which is nice of him. Wonillon says he has no pressing desire to see Greyhawk, and he’ll wait in Hommlet to see if there’s any action here.

The money-changer also heard that we’re making a trip, and asked us to deliver a strongbox to somebody in Greyhawk. That means we’re responsible, so I really hope the journey is quiet. Master Osler has found a caravan heading that way, so we should be able to travel with them.

****

Reached Verbobanc with no trouble. We left as many horses as we could, so a bunch of us are riding in the cart. It’s a bit awkward trying to not sit on Cuddles, though I guess his spine is strong enough to take it.

Even with the collar Mikael got for him, most people aren’t used to seeing a giant snake riding through town. We have to take a boat up the river, and although the boat master didn’t give us trouble, I think his crew will be nervous to have Cuddles aboard. We’ll have to discuss whether they’ll let him into the city…and what to do about that.

****

Fireseek 26.

My birthday! Can’t believe I’m twenty now.

Raven baked me a cheese cake, and no one tossed me in the river. Sure is nice to be a grown up sometimes.

****

Crazy long day.

We talked about leaving Cuddles at one of the druid groves we passed coming up-river, but in the end decided to see how the sentries took it at the gate of Greyhawk.

The city is definitely very big. As we approached the gate, Lydia told us there would be beggars just inside, and that we had to pay them the right amount – too little, and they would tell the Thieves’ Guild to rob us…too much, and they’d think we were rich, and they’d tell the Thieves’ Guild to rob us.

She says she used to be part of the Beggar’s Guild, after her parents died, until the “Trash Master” burned her face and she left.

We just better not meet him, that’s all.

She wrapped her face up tight as we came to the gate, but most of the guards and people hanging around were busy with another party.

I guess they were adventurers or something? They were five ladies, and only one of them looked like she was really ready to face dangers. The others looked more like they were ready to…dance for money or something. Their weapons were all covered with embellishments and decorative spikes that would be a pain to clean guts from. Oh, and one of them kept saying, “I’m a barbarian!” to everyone, even if they weren’t listening.

I don’t know if they intended to draw everybody’s attention like that, but it worked out for us.

We still had to pay to get our weapons into the city, though. They wouldn’t let Raven have his spear at all, but said they would hold it for him here until we come back. So we decided to let Cuddles stay with the spear – I guess Mikael just fed him a goblin or wild boar or something, and he won’t need to eat any more for a while.

The guards handed out licenses for our long-swords, and for Yeti and Ezekiel’s blunt weapons, and they ordered us not to scry or fight in the city or there would be severe consequences.

I’ve never heard of this kind of thing before…although I guess it’s good that they’ve outlawed Evil temples. Still, I don’t like things that are unusual.

Lydia told us where to go and what to do — she helped us find the address we needed to drop off the strongbox, and then took us to another gate that led to the Temple of Heironius.

The guards seemed very suspicious, and asked us wouldn’t we like to visit the temple of Rau instead, but no, we needed the temple of Heironius.

So they looked at our licenses and let us through (without making us pay again thank goodness!) and we made it to the temple of Heironius.

Well, I’d been developing a bad feeling, since we’d been on the road for almost two weeks since Mikael first looked for the lady in the pool.

A couple soldiers with battle-axes (did they have to pay for those, eh?!) came down the steps to talk to us, so we dragged Ezekiel out of the back of the cart and he asked them about the princess Aliana Glimmersky.

And they said she wasn’t there, and they didn’t expect her to return.

So I did call it…but we couldn’t just give up after all that.

Ezekiel bowed and waved and told them to “be glorious” (they seemed to like that) and we asked Lydia where the princess was likely to be.

She suggested an inn, and we headed there…but when we came back out the gate, she told Raven to go up to a guy loitering and pay him five gold pieces to find out where our lady was.

He did, and the guy left, and we went on through another gate (Raven says he asked the guy to recommend a good inn or something, but the guy didn’t want to say).

The Green Dragon Inn is near the wall between the “Garden District” and the “River District.” Lydia said they wouldn’t rob us, and I guess that’s technically true, though I was getting really low on cash after supper. Raven says it was worth it.

Night was falling by the time a ragged man swung over the railing of the patio and came up to Raven. He said, “White Horse Inn,” and left after Raven paid him, too.

Well, we decided we’d better get there before she left again, so we headed out – even though traveling at night made me really nervous.

We hadn’t gone far before a squad in leather armor blocked the way and argued with Mikael about carrying a bird around. So he told Corby to fly off, and she left.

Then the leader guy started yelling at us about loitering (yes, he had a badge, but I wouldn’t think it was real if Lydia didn’t tell me it was) until somebody threw some silver coins at him, and Ezekiel told him we could stop loitering if he got out of the way, so they finally did so we could move along.

The White Horse seems decent enough, and we recognized some of the people from our caravan in the common room. (Raven said the food looked simple, though plentiful…but of course we had just eaten.)

I made Ezekiel ask the barmaid about the lady, and she pointed out a blonde elf lady in the corner – though she looked different than the little I remembered, and was wearing just plain steel armor.

She also looked like she didn’t want company at her table, so I let Ezekiel go over to her alone and the rest of us found a table somewhere else.

They talked for a little bit, and she seemed to be the right lady (thank goodness, after coming all the way here).

Then came the next wrinkle.

Ezekiel called Mikael over, and asked him if he had a healing spell he could use on Lady Glimmersky. She had a big bruise and a semi-circular cut on her cheek.

Between what I picked up from her, and the bits Ezekiel said to fill in the gaps, I gather that she was questioning a brigand (about the kidnapping of the Prince of Furiundy, I believe) and lost her temper…and killed the entire band.

Then “Heironius left her” or something, and her warhorse attacked her, and she had to kill the horse to save her own life (like Mikael and Corby having a fight to the death!).

She said she couldn’t heal her own face, let alone help Ezekiel…not when she wasn’t a paladin anymore.

Ezekiel said it wasn’t a “paladin” he needed (I mean, Yeti was a paladin, and that wasn’t good enough)…but that he understood a little about the power of the divine flowing through the servant, and so would she try to cure his disease anyway?

Well, she put her hand out, and Ezekiel coughed a bit, and then he could talk with his normal voice.

He called us all over and we got a round of drinks and he told us his story. I think he’d told us before – Mikael and me, at least – a while back…but I might have been too young back then to be a good listener.

Ezekiel the Cleric with Self-Image Issues

He says he was an acolyte – a man-at-arms – in the service of Heironius (he told us the name of the fort, but I’ve never been there) when a strange traveller appeared. The traveller was apparently from somewhere called Torrel (Lady Glimmersky seemed to know what this was – it’s like a different plane or world or something) and Ezekiel had the job of taking care of him.

It’s this traveller that told Ezekiel about the “God of gods,” Ao, the deity in charge of heaven, so to speak. Ezekiel decided to follow this god because, as he says, he was intrigued by the idea of a being who didn’t need worship, but just deserved it…who was “truly worthy” of honor and reverence.

He also says he was a “foolish child” at the time…

But he’s obviously worshiping Someone Good, with how powerful he is against undead. You can’t pretend there’s nothing to it – not anymore, anyway. Sure he doesn’t get spells, but it’s not like I ever get spells, and no one would expect me to, either. I don’t even ask for them.

Ezekiel says the last thing he wants is to convert someone else – or, as he put it, to make another child of Heironius betray their vows and abandon the Glorious Host – (though again, if this God really deserves worship like Ez says…don’t you think Heironius would be cool with it?) – but what he did tell the lady is, “Just because Heironius won’t take you back doesn’t mean you’re done; you’ve been given power by Someone, so maybe it’s time to seek a new direction.”

Lady Aliana said she would think about it – and that she needs a new sword – and then she left.

I’m just glad Ezekiel finally got the mold out of his lungs, after all that. He kind of laughed and said, well, of course the mold in his lungs wasn’t about the mold in his lungs – there was more going on.

So far, Obed-Hai has never turned down Mikael’s request for a spell. We would never expect it. I didn’t even think about someone like Yeti losing that “thing” that makes him a paladin.

It makes you think. Everything I have is a gift from Ehlonna…or someone else. Makes sense to pay attention to where you got those gifts…

Like when Father took away Gerkin’s horse because he was galloping around town and making a nuisance of himself and coming in after the house was already locked up.

****

Well, no one was kidnapped, murdered, or robbed during the night, so I call that a win.

The Lady Aliana told Ezekiel about a “temple of Ao” in a street near the inn, so he had to check that out before we left.

It looked like a small house, except there was a bas-relief on the front of some kind of face – like the face of Rau, except it had fish surrounding it like sun-beams.

The high priest greeted us (as far as I could tell, he was the only priest) and waved his hands and arms in a funny way and said some words that Ezekiel might have recognized, though none of us understood what they meant.

The priest told us that was a greeting from Abr’Torrel, and that since Ao is a god of Abr’Torrel, that’s what they do.

He took us into the next room (although he said Corby had to stay outside, so Mikael told her to fly around a bit) and there was another bas-relief there (Ezekiel and Raven bowed to it).

The priest said the man who taught him is now dead, but the chapel was founded by some cleric from Celene – also now dead – and it was conversations with this cleric that inspired the sacred writings of Ao.

Ezekiel really wanted to read these writings (he was trying to figure out why fish were such a big part of their iconography, when his holy symbol was a sheep) so Raven decided to visit a temple of Merikka that Lydia had told him about.

I went with him, since Merikka and Ehlonna are probably friends, if not related – and Heiron came with us (and it’s totally not creepy the way he’s imitating how I walk and hold my arms in relation to my sword and stuff. On the bright side, he looks very big and beefy, which means casual ruffians are more likely to feel we’re not worth the effort when he’s around).

The temple of Merikka is small, but very nice – they have a small display of last year’s harvest, as a token of faith that Merikka will give another harvest next year – and Raven donated a bunch of money (and cheese) to further their work. I think they take bread to starving families or something, so that will be a help. (He had a nice long conversation with the cleric on duty, so he felt confident this was a “normal” temple, worshiping as it should.)

The others caught up with us with the wagon. Lydia says the high priest of Ao is crazier than Ezekiel is…and here all this time I thought the high priest of Ao was Ezekiel.

Mikael looked like he was just recovering from a laugh, and said those “fishy” people didn’t seem to be following a god at all.

You might think Ezekiel would be disturbed by all this, but he seems to be taking it in stride. He says he got to the “fourth epistle” – where some yoo-hoo was “theorizing” about the nature of Ao, and came to the conclusion that “of course” the face with the fish around it was what Ao had to look like – before giving up.

The high priest wouldn’t let him copy any of the scrolls (said Ez had to be at least “level three” – while being shocked that Ez could turn undead. What do these “clerics” do even?) but maybe that’s just as well.

(Mikael says he’s glad he didn’t bow to the fish-face after all. Raven says, “Ao knows my heart,” and he was just being polite, as a visitor. Maybe there’s a difference between Evil and Just Loopy.)

We left by the nearest gate and followed the road around to pick up Raven’s spear and Cuddles. A little inquiry at the dock found us a boat heading down the river, so we can start our journey “home.”

For a whirlwind tour of the famous city Greyhawk, I’m satisfied that we got what we came for without being fleeced too badly. Whatever else is happening is, as Ez says, “above our pay-grade” (although Heiron is the only one guaranteed to get paid, so I’m not sure exactly what he means…).

****

Had to get off the boat because Luna is full and Mikael insists he needs mistletoe right now.

Can’t complain, though…the weather has been decent, and the druids in the nearby grove are more friendly than a lot of them. Also Cuddles was getting hungry, and I like having all my fingers and toes.

Drilling the upper-cut with Heiron.

****

Back in Homlette, safe and sound, the 23rd of Readying. Raven is in charge of getting rations together (since he’s the pickiest about food) and we’ll send Heiron with him to help carry.

Raven has also been talking privately with Lydia. I guess we’re all working on strategy…since as soon as we’re ready, we head to the second level of the Evil Temple.

Ezekiel reminded us he’s going to try hitting undead with his mace, and so to be prepared to stand back. I’m not entirely comfortable with this, since the only good undead is an undead reduced to piles of dust…but what are you going to do?

I have been given the skill of poking things with holes until they fall over. I can’t make wounds knit together or light my hands on fire or scare dead things with my face. So I do what I can do…and be thankful for what I’m given.


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Dear Diary….the mysterious and the truly creepy

Mikael reminded us that he has stone-shape prepared, and we remembered that I have the Ring of Warmth, and so with those two things we returned to the warded door in the far corner. I wasn’t sure if the ring would help that much, but it was worth a try.

Wearing the ring, Mikael smeared his clay on the walls around the doorframe and said his casting words.

The stone walls seemed to melt away, and the door fell forward with a bang – Mikael jumped out of the way just in time, his fingers coated in frost…but after hugging himself and blowing on them for a minute, we decided they weren’t going to fall off.

Inside, we saw two rows of sarcophagi. Ezekiel insisted we had to investigate to make sure this wasn’t a vampire lair, and even though I was not at all excited to fight a vampire, he took Yeti with him inside while the rest of us held the door.

No sooner had the disappeared from sight than a few ghouls came around the corner and decided to advance. I shot one in the shoulder while yelling for Ezekiel, and he came out and brushed them away with his sheep symbol.

I see Lydia’s mind was working, since she had her silver shavings ready for Protection from Evil, but she went ahead and saved it for next time.

Ezekiel went back inside and started ripping the stone covers off the coffins and rummaging through them. He touched his magic mace to each body he found, but from what they tell me the desiccated husks didn’t react – which is what a normal corpse would do.

We assume these are the high priests of the various temples, buried in state…though from the state of decay on them all, I can’t help wondering how long this place has been running?! Are they all from ten years ago and more?

He did take a bronze ring with a jet triangle from each body – sort of their club insignia – though in retrospect I wonder if it was worth it?

He had moved to the second row in the first chamber, when he pulled off a lid and a cloud of dust or something billowed up in his face (according to Yeti).

Ezekiel coughed some, but kept digging through the coffin, and found that the corpse’s cloak looked in pretty good condition, even though the robe the guy was wearing was all threadbare and turned to dust with age.

So they took the cloak and tossed it to us to put in the bag of holding.

There was a second chamber, and even though Ez was panting a lot, he wanted to search the row of coffins there.

A party of gnolls had passed by earlier – they squeaked and scampered away when they saw us – so when I heard another sound I thought it might be more of the same.

But…it…was…not.

At first it just looked like a wall…but it was dead bodies – pinned in horrible, confusing positions – upside down, sideways, flopping nonsensically – and sliding toward us. From wall to wall, floor to ceiling – I can only assume there were about forty-four of them, but I had no intention of waiting to count.

I yelled for Ezekiel, and he raced out – dropping to the ground and wheezing as soon as he arrived.

Yeti came into the hall a moment or two later, while Ezekiel raised his sheep symbol and scolded the thing in a gaspy voice.

But nothing happened.

Raven kind of went “Aha” and said he thought it was slow enough we could make it back to the crossroads and retreat down the other passage.

Heiron obviously didn’t like the sight of glassy-eyed, pale and shriveled corpses scraping the walls toward us – and, of course, neither did I.

So we hurried forward to get to the junction before it did – Ezekiel wheezing like an old man the whole time – while Lydia dug a flask of oil out of her pack.

When we turned the corner at the intersection, she doused the floor in oil, and Raven grabbed one of the torches from the wall (high quality torches, if they haven’t gone out yet).

The rest of us kept retreating while Raven kept an eye on the monstrosity (since he’s the fastest) until the time came to light the oil.

The rest of us had rounded a turn in the passage by then, but I could see Raven hovering at the corner, watching a dim firelight while strange popping noises came from around the corner.

Then – we assume that if the thing gathered up the dead bodies, it sucked up the barrel of oil, too – there was a muffled, bubbly “bang,” and fire erupted around the corner.

Raven appeared, walking slowly toward us while his clothes billowed with the rush of hot air (and possibly slime)…his head down so that his eyes were shadowed. Flames of fire danced around his head like tossing hair (and he’s probably glad he didn’t have any of that).

After that, we all had to catch our breaths – though Ezekiel couldn’t, even after Yeti put his hands on him and mumbled something about “cure disease.” Mikael even tried Cure Poison, and nothing seemed to change.

Lydia covered his nose, and Raven and I took a peek at our enemy. The whole corridor was coated in slime and dead bodies, with a chunk of gelatin or something here and there. Raven says the thing was a “gelatinous cube” — the leather armor seems to have been eaten away to where it won’t be much good anymore.

(That’s what I get for being so untidy! From now on, I should really clean up my bodies.)

The others were discussing what to do – meaning Ezekiel said, gasping every other word, that he wanted to finish with the crypt (there were four or five coffins still unopened) and the others were looking between his labored breathing, and the sticky, smelly mess of the gelly.

Heiron stepped forward out of nowhere, his face kind of white, and asked Ezekiel for the mace. He screwed up his face as he took it, and asked Yeti to help him “finish the job.”

Ezekiel sat against the wall and coughed, while Mikael told him he probably has mold in his lungs.

I’m not going to say I wasn’t embarrassed that Heiron would do something I wouldn’t, and I’m not going to say I wasn’t impressed that he’s one of us enough to take these things on himself…but I will say there are things that one is suited for, and other things one is not suited for, and I’m working on knowing my own limitations.

And walking through the gooey bodies to investigate a crypt while Ezekiel keeps coughing was not something I’m suited for.

They weren’t gone long at all – though when they came back Heiron was hacking and wheezing.

As we made our way toward the entrance, Lydia borrowed a jar of the Keoghtom’s Ointment, smeared some on her finger, and made Heiron lick her finger (nerve-wracking at the best of times, but he couldn’t really refuse, could he).

By the time we passed through the augury chamber and into the corridor that leads to the front, he had stopped coughing and seemed perfectly recovered.

So we made Ezekiel try some…but it didn’t work on him or something.

We’re pretty sure it’s not a curse connected with the cloak – since both Raven and I touched it to put it in the bag of holding – which is good I guess, but it’s still frustrating that nothing seems to work.

Just at the foot of the stairs, we were attacked by three ghasts. They came charging down at us, and while I nailed one before they reached us, I can’t quite drop one in a single hit. Maybe not actually needing their lungs and throats for breathing is a factor.

A couple of them clawed at Yeti while another one bit Ezekiel (fortunately he didn’t stiffen up and drop his weapon like Yeti did) – but Mikael and I got some good blows in, and then Ezekiel got his sheep symbol out, coughed into it, and waved it at the enemy.

They didn’t shriek, and they didn’t turn any paler, but they did drop their mouths open and stretch their eyes wider in horror.

Heiron landed a shot before they started to retreat, and Simba charged forward and clawed one before it got away completely (he stiffened up and fell to the ground for his trouble, though).

Wonillon tried to knife a ghast as he fled past him, but they all got away and ran up the stairs (for not being technically alive, they move pretty fast).

Under other circumstances, we might have been more interested in chasing them…but no one except Raven was really in a position to catch them. Besides, Ezekiel could only get up a few steps before he had to lean against the wall and catch his breath.

We got out of the Temple all right, and found the horses doing just fine. We bundled Ezekiel into the cart (and Cuddles, who says it’s way too cold out here) and made it to the campsite without any trouble.

Lydia tells us the cloak is indeed magic, but that’s all she knows.

Mikael says there’s “not enough nature” in it for him to tell what it is or something. (I guess that means it wasn’t spun by spiders or woven straight from plant fibers or something?) (He’s also grumpy that Luna is waning, so he missed his chance at full-moon mistletoe.)

When Ezekiel talks too much, he gets light-headed with trying to breathe.

I don’t like it.

****

Got into Homlette mid-afternoon, no trouble. Yeti and Raven volunteered to take Ezekiel to the chapel of St. Cuthbert to see what could be done, while the rest of us took the luggage to the Welcome Wench (and pampered the horses).

Master Osler’s stable hand was kind of shaken to see Cuddles, but in the end we got him a place in a stall with Syphon (Yeti’s horse, who’s smart enough to understand he and Cuddles are on the same team, so is cool with it).

We took the treasure up to our room and counted it all out – though of course we’ll have to get the gems and other valuables officially appraised.

(Reminder to self: PAY HEIRON…he really earned it.)

When the others came back, Ezekiel was still wheezing to make it up the stairs. Ez says Canon Turjon tried a “Cure Disease” spell with no effect, so he’ll have to go back tomorrow after he’s had a chance to inquire of his deity.

(Raven says the Canon was kinda grumpy that they didn’t tell him Yeti tried Cure Disease, too.)

The good news is we have some kind of account in town, on Sir Rufus’ orders, so that even if we can’t change all our treasure in liquid funds right away, people will work with us. Ezekiel also says that we’ll get the full attention of whatever experts we need at the tower, so we can learn as much as possible in as short a time as possible and then get back into the war.

Raven says he heard there’s a monk master or something staying at the tower as an advisor or something, and he wants to go ask him some questions. Mikael says he’s got some questions for Druid Master Geru.

Ezekiel seems eager to talk with Canon Turjon about his mace, but when he can barely eat chicken soup for coughing so much, I’m not sure he can do much talking.

I made him go to bed. When we were sick as kids, Mother always fed us chicken soup and made us go to bed early…but of course, she was also a Cleric of Ehlonna and kissed my big old bloody scratch from falling out of the tree back to normal.

We’re pretty sure the cloak is a Cloak of Protection, so Mikael gets to wear it (since he’s more often on the front lines than Lydia, and besides it goes with his outfit).

We don’t think we have a use for the magic morning star, magic ringmail, or magic mace (the other one that’s not Ezekiel’s), so Yeti can go get them appraised tomorrow.

The javelin of lightening, however, Raven wants to keep – since there’s a chance he’ll get to practice with javelins and might just figure out how to use it. Is this a good thing?

And now Ezekiel is talking in his sleep…still wheezing, of course.

Some days I just don’t know what to do.


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Dear Diary….food and floorplans

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “The Temple of Elemental Evil”

Mikael healed Ezekiel while the rest of us organized the loot from our fallen enemies.

Many of the men had bronzed plate mail, with bronze rings that had a triangular setting of jet. Several others had brown surcoats with the black triangular device on it, or medallions with a black triangle. It certainly seems like we’ve cleared out most of the Earth Temple people.

We didn’t find much else of interest (all their gear is pretty basic quality) except for a javelin that Ezekiel thinks will shoot lightening or something (technically he says it’ll turn into a lightening bolt if we throw it at someone, but none of us are really experienced at javelins. Still, it should be worth some cash).

The fight took us north into the corridor with our opponents, so we continued exploring from there. (Should I hide the bodies somewhere so they aren’t gobbled up by ghouls? See when we have time for that…)

A door opened east into some quarters…the first four bunks were obviously for officers of some kind; each cot had a chest, and each chest had a leather ceremonial harness with a bronze dagger…probably for sacrificing people!

We also found a note: “Remember to check Augury Chamber to see if Belstro was lying.”

Unfortunately, we have no idea who Belstro is, or what he said, so it doesn’t really matter to us if he was lying. I suppose it doesn’t matter to the owner of the note anymore, either. Maybe Belstro is from one of the lower temples?

The rest of the barracks room held bunks and footlockers for the grunts, a fountain for water (Raven thought it smelled funny, but Lydia said it was probably all right, so he replenished water skins). He also found some dried apples and hard biscuits, so we now have enough rations to stay down here a little longer. (I trust the horses are taking care of themselves on the surface…)

They also stored buckets of weapons in their barracks (good to have spares, I guess) and more torches (so I should have plenty if I want to restock my supply).

A door on the south led out into the corridor below the gnolls’ barracks — in fact, the door right across the way leads to the gnoll room where we spent the night (still blocked by the quadruple-crossbow on the other side, of course).

[sketch of rooms]

If we had come up that corridor, it could have been a very different story, with the crossbow firing down on us through the slit in the wall, and men and gnolls charging us from each side. But of course, it’s not our style to use the front door for anything. (Ezekiel even makes me use the back door of the Welcome Wench because he has some delusion that our enemies don’t know I’m alive again.)

Well, that connected our map there, so we returned to the corridor of battle and went through a door to the north.

The walls were plastered, and benches and stools stood around. A lantern was lit, placed to shine on the wall where we entered. Eyebolts held a wire that ran along the west wall and ran into a hole in the north wall…some kind of signal or alarm? With any luck, no one is around anymore to hear if we trip the alarm.

There were four more bunkbeds here (personal effects, nothing interesting) and a barricade across the opening where the first room ran into the next room.

Oh – a hand-ax hung on a peg on the wall…clearly its owner didn’t bother to grab it before charging into battle. I’m feeling much better about axes than I used to (practice is everything), but it’s not like I’m running short of weapons. (Master Otis says it uses the same muscles as the blacksmith hammer.)

The room beyond the barricade was some kind of dining room, with a big table and benches, and tapestries and paintings on the walls.

The paintings all seem to be decadent drinking and debauching (Raven says he’s not sure debauching is a word — but that’s what you get in a Chaotic temple. It could be quite an education if we had any interest in looking at the pictures).

There are also barrels of water, beer, and biscuits here – so Raven can restock our supplies as much as he wants. There were also some big sausages hanging around, and a small round of cheese – but he only took the cheese.

It seems a pretty good place to camp out, with doors we can lock, and a barricade we can hide behind – and beds and padded armchairs for some real class for once.

There is a door to the north, sheathed in bronze, that we couldn’t get open…it seems to be barred from the other side. We think it’s Romag’s suite, which means the chances are pretty low anyone will come through there (they’d have to go in the secret door, then unbolt this door…and if they haven’t done it already, they’re unlikely to now).

We did find a locked chest that Wonillon was able to open (racial skills sure are nice, am I right?) and it contained some clothes, some brandy, rope, and a potion (looks like a healing potion).

The brandy might be worth something, and you can always use more rope…and Ezekiel suggested Wonillon carry the healing potion, because it never hurts to have options while in battle.

Can’t believe the morning is only half-gone. A snack break was just the thing – I needed to stretch…my bow fingers.

We’ve still got some blank spots on the map to fill in (might need to adjust some of these dimensions to make everything fit) and Ezekiel wants to dig up whatever’s in the Earth Elemental “sanctuary” tomorrow before we leave.

[sketch of immediate area]


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Dear Diary….the whole rest of the party

We opened a door in the east of the corridor, and discovered an ogre preparing to come out. That’s as far as he got, though, as my arrow caught him through the throat and he fell backward with a shocked look in his eyes.

He wore a copper belt with a purse, and the room beyond was obviously living quaters…with cracked plaster walls, a some couches pushed together to make a huge bed, and a large cheese and sausage on a table. (Raven took the cheese.) There was also another store of weapons here…as long as the Temple had hands to wield them, they’d have plenty of weapons for defense – or attack.

Raven found a chest under the table, and Ezekiel found the key on the ogre. It had a decent amount of gold, along with two agates (I don’t think they’re magical).

A door to the south led into yet another room (it’s the theme around here), and I spotted a gnoll and fired an arrow into him. Corby flapped past us to get at their eyeballs, and Yeti threw his hammer.

There were probably a half-dozen or so in that room, which had a big fireplace along one wall, a keg, a bed, and other furniture – trashed and broken from its former glory.

Heiron took out two of the gnolls himself.

While Ezekiel was inspecting the fireplace, Raven went exploring around the corner of the room, and found some more gnolls. I killed one, while Mikael lit up the others with faery fire. I saw Corby flap past with a strip of gnoll flesh in her beak.

(Heiron missed a couple shots in a row, so I guess he is only human after all. Makes me feel a bit better.)

Wonillon caught one in the ribs with a dagger (made me feel uncomfortable to watch him for some undefined reason).

As Ezekiel and I mopped up the last of them (probably a dozen or so altogether) I noticed a bugbear among them.

Mikael and Yeti did their healing magic while I recovered some arrows and took what money the enemies had on them.

It seems this room used to be a reception or council room – though now it’s full of pallets for gnolls. A fountain stands in the corner to provide a trickle of water, and a distressed sideboard would support meals for the barracks.

There’s also a fascinating quadruple crossbow (it’s not quite a ballista) that was aimed through a peephole in one wall to fire down the hallway toward the from of the Temple (the hallway on the other side of where we entered. We seem incapable of finding anything except the back-doors).

It was getting towards evening, so we decided we might as well hunker down. There’s a stack of wood that provided nicely to make a fire – and it works out that we used it, because Wonillon found a pile of money stuffed into a hollow log over there (does he have some kind of gnomish gold-detection? He seems really good at this).

We set watches for the night, and Ezekiel really, really wanted to have Lydia watch with him, despite her being a spell-caster and a girl and needing her rest.

I guess he should be old enough to take care of himself…just makes me suspicious, is all.

We have blocked the doors to keep things peaceful.

****

Something told me it was very early…but we were all awake, and felt rested. And besides, it’s always twilight down here, so it doesn’t matter much.

After some discussion, we decided to go check out the pile of bones – leaving the hallway out the east door of the gnoll-barracks for later.

Wonillon took a gear from the quadruple-crossbow, so that no one could (easily) use it against us.

Back in the wide corridor, right before I killed the ogre with one shot, we headed north. The passage is about twenty feet wide – and a huge section of it is covered with bones…human and humanoid, broken and gnawed on, mixed with broken weapons, armor, shields, and helmets.

Someone estimated that between one and two hundred people died there.

The passage T-ed to the east and west, and as we advanced we had to pick our way between bones – or just crunch them underfoot.

“Anyone see any cheese?” asked Raven – but of course I couldn’t look for that while I was keeping an eye on the ceiling, and the floor, and the walls, and the bones, and the shadows where enemies might try to advance on us from.

Ezekiel had his holy symbol in his hand, but then he bent down to examine something I guess, because then half-a-dozen gnoll skeletons came shuffling toward us – clack, clatter, clack (I didn’t see if they just rose up out of the pile, or if they came around the corner).

Corby cocked her head and looked at them, as though she didn’t see the point of enemies that didn’t have eyeballs.

Yeti shattered one with his hammer into little fragments – and Raven smacked one so hard it staggered backward and stared at him with a stunned look in its…eye sockets?

Mikael poked Ezekiel in the back so that Ez stood up again and waved his sheep symbol at them (and ordering them to turn into dust, which they did).

Some more were coming up from behind us (I guess they didn’t see his symbol?) and Wonillon stabbed one – but a dagger doesn’t have much to slice and poke when it’s all bones.

Yeti threw his hammer and shattered another one to dust (I saw one try to claw at him, but it couldn’t get close enough to hurt him).

When the last skeleton turned to dust, Ezekiel handed me the thing he found — it’s an arrow with a silver tip. Apparently it might be useful against devils (though not demons maybe?) so I’ll keep it for emergencies.

Then Ezekiel (being Ezekiel) held up his holy symbol and yelled, “Anyone else?”

It seems like immediately after that, we heard the jingle of armor and pounding of footsteps, and we could see a whole crowd of men heading down a hallway to join us up ahead.

I got an arrow into one, and then Lydia threw an egg into the hallway with them.

As the green cloud spread, Raven ran to the edge of it and held up his magic ring. Blue sparks filled the hallway, and the men screamed as a whole bunch of them fell down – dead.

I nailed a couple more with arrows while they were trapped in the cloud.

Raven batted a crossbow bolt out of the air before it could hit him, and Ezekiel planted his plate-mail self in front of me to block any missiles he could.

Lydia called out her magic lion, and Raven threw a dagger and got one in the joint of his armor.

Herion did very well for himself – sniping down one enemy and wounding another – but then someone got him with a javelin and, magic chainmail or no magic chainmail, you can’t fight with your insides rearranged.

Mikael didn’t hesitate, but jumped right in and started to heal him, while Raven tried to catch any javelins that were thrown at them (he didn’t do so well all the time).

One of the guards rolled a barrel down toward us, and Ezekiel charged into the cloud to kick it. It spun around, spraying oil everywhere (including on Ez), but it stopped rolling toward us, and he staggered back out again without needing a rescue.

Since they couldn’t really fight at range, Raven took Ezekiel behind the cover of the wall to the side of the hallway, and Lydia ducked into safety on the other side (but not before a missile caught her).

Yeti threw his hammer so hard it smashed through several fighters with one swing – and it’s so very cool that it comes back to him when he throws it. Raven should get some daggers that do that.

Raven dumped a waterskin over Ezekiel to help dilute the oil.

As soon as the cloud dissipated, Corby swept in to attack (I guess she was ready for some eyeballs?) – as did someone from the other side, who charged Yeti. Didn’t do him much good, as Lydia’s Simba mauled him pretty good.

Ezekiel yelled and charged, knocking a guy so hard I heard the “gong” on my end of the hall.

Wonillon, Yeti, and Raven also rushed forward – since they finally had a path for their melee weapons – and took out their opponents.

By that point, I was feeling frustrated (maybe seeing all my friends get hurt so much, and not killing the enemy quickly enough) that I switched to my sword to finish the job. As I ran past, I saw Yeti “laying hands” on Corby with a soft magic glow.

After that, it was…messy…but quick. Yeti and I each took out three while Wonillon and Simba were taking out two – and Raven took out one.

Ezekiel bashed some blonde, ax-wielding chick with his mace, and purple lightening sparked everywhere.

As Yeti bounced his hammer against one guy’s head into another guy, the last two bowmen fled to try to get range for their shots. Simba and I didn’t let them do that, though, and chased them down while Wonillon was knifing the final leader.

I counted forty-four bodies in all. (Ezekiel sure knows how to ask, doesn’t he.)

It may sound different on a page, but I much prefer fighting gnolls and bugbears and orcs and hobgoblins and ogres.

These are ordinary humans like me. They ought to be serving Good deities, and living Good, normal lives.

Instead they’re kidnapping villagers to sacrifice to Earth Elementals and stuff. And stripping ladies before feeding them to undead…

Gotta keep it in perspective. It’s still not tidy or painless, but it needs doing.


Find the previous entry here.

Start at the beginning of the Temple exploration here.

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The Blonde in Room 128

Todd checked over his shoulder both ways so no one would see him at the alleyway entrance. So far, his buddy at work had been correct.

The address appeared to be an apartment building with heavy curtains in all the windows.

He drew a long breath, winced at the shooting pain in his temple, and checked the surroundings once more before heading inside.

The small lobby was empty except for a guy behind a desk at the far end, like in a motel.

Todd swallowed again and crossed the room.

The attendant looked up as he approached, but said nothing.

Todd felt like a fool, but his wife had insisted he come here. He swallowed again and tried to smile.

“Hi, I’d like a – an appointment,” he said.

“Right,” said the attendant, opening a big ledger in a blue three-ring binder. “What’s your pleasure?”

Todd double-checked the little brochure his work-buddy had given him…the one with head-shots of a dozen attractive young ladies.

“I’d like a – uh – blonde? With a…pretty face.”

He felt stupid saying it, but that’s the way it worked – according to the brochure.

“Right,” said the attendant again. “That’s $200 up front.”

Todd pulled out his wallet, and wiped his hands on the front of his shirt so he could pull out the cash.

The attendant took the money and slipped it into a little metal cash-box.

“Down the hall, room 128. Wait there.”

And with that the man pulled out a copy of New England Journal of Medicine and ignored him.

Todd shuffled down the hall. At least it was well-lit. Strange thumps and hums came from behind the closed doors.

At number 128, he hesitated…but he was committed now. Stroking his throbbing temple again, he slipped in and closed the door behind him.

A bright fluorescent white bathed the whole room, where a spotless white table the size of a gurney stood in the middle of the room – in front of an enormous white machine like a giant donut. It looked just like the photos on the internet.

Behind a curtain in the corner, Todd changed into the hospital gown he found in a plastic package on top of the table…then stood watching the machine, rubbing his head and licking his lips.

There was a knock on the door, immediately followed by a young man in a long white lab coat. Todd noted, with a desperate instinct to find humor in the situation, that the young man was blond.

“Head trouble, eh?” said the stranger, making straight to the LCD screen on the side of the machine.

“I got a sudden headache last weekend,” said Todd, tip-toeing up to the table. “My wife thought I should get it checked out, so I went down to our local medical clinic.”

The young man tapped away at the screen, and Todd licked his lips.

“They told me I should get an MRI scan, but the wait time would be –“

“Let me guess,” said the man in the lab coat. “Three months.”

“Five, actually,” said Todd.

“Ha! I’ve heard six months to a year. Colonoscopies are even worse.”

Todd licked his lips again. “Are you a doctor?”

“Nah, I just run the machine.” The stranger gestured at the table. “Take a load off. When we’re done, it’ll take fifteen minutes or so to load your results on a CD…and then you do whatever you want with it. If you want a doc to give his opinion, that’s another 150, and you have to come back in a couple days; we’ll give you the CD with a doctor’s notes.”

Todd lay down on the table. The stranger flicked a switch, and the whole platform started moving, until his head was inside the hole of the donut.

“A-Aren’t you afraid I’ll turn you in?” he asked, just to make conversation.

“Do you want to do that, or do you want an MRI?” asked the technician with a chuckle. “Think about it — you can either get us for practicing private medicine…or you can actually get the benefit of our services.”

“And you have real, registered doctors who work with you, too?” asked Todd.

“Face it: the National Medical System doesn’t pay peanuts. Plenty of qualified, university-trained diagnosticians are happy to make a little extra analyzing test results.”

“And if they’re wrong, the patient can’t complain — we don’t know who the doctor is, and we can’t admit where we got the test.”

The technician peeked into the donut and smiled. “You wanna live dangerously? Or you want to wait a year for an X-ray? By that time, if it’s cancer or an aneurism or something, you might be dead anyway.”

Todd held up his hand, anything to delay the strange machine from making noises. “What do you get out of it?”

The technician shrugged. “A little pocket change – and I get to make a difference in people’s lives. I actually run an ultrasound machine in normal life, but the pay – plus the regulations – are murder.”

He patted the machine. “Right, I’m going to warm up our lovely Blondie here. There’ll be a humming noise, but you won’t feel a thing. Just take it easy –“ He grinned. “Blondie will treat you well.”


The Blonde in Room 128 — Kimia WoodKimia Wood was raised by an aspiring author, so spinning words and weaving plots is in her blood.

She currently lives somewhere in the American Midwest with her family…including the brother people mistake for her boyfriend. She’s bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

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