Dead Diary…dark energy

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “Against the Giants”

As we continued following the line of the mountains south, we spotted some figures in the distance coming toward us – just fewer than a score, and much too big to be human. I also noticed they were grey-skinned, though, and Stone Giants are…shall we say, a big more “live and let live” than other giants. So I took Heiron and Lydia into a copse along the road, just in case, while encouraging Ezekiel to try parlaying with them.

When the group got closer to us, the leader – out in front – pulled a white sheet from the baggage and held it out. I didn’t catch all that he and Ezekiel said to each other, but they worked out that neither side was looking for a needless fight. Apparently, their tribe even heard of us specifically “through the stones” – which I hope is a good thing, but I’m not sure. Their leader (Ez called him “Thane Ogier”) said the lesser giants had been attacking the “little folk,” and there is a dark energy behind their actions. He couldn’t say if it was tied to the bubble in Istivin or not, but it seems we might not be on a side-quest after all.

I saw female and young Stone Giants in the group, and most of them were carrying bundles of some kind. They said they don’t want a part of the coming trouble. With how jumpy the patrols are these days, all we can do is wish them luck.

They even gave Raven a parting gift – a wheel of cheese big enough to roll a wagon. He says it’s the elusive flavor he’s been searching for since Hochoch, and seems excited. Nobody asked what kind of milk goes into it.

After that, the countryside continued empty and barren. Occasionally, we’d pass a dead ox or horse just lying in the field. The fields should surely be more tended at this time of the year…but the ones that are planted are full of weeds, kr trampled by large feet…and a few in the distance even looked burned (though Agnar said that was just my imagination…but he’s lower down, so he couldn’t see so well). The people who aren’t killed by giants will be hungrier this winter.

Some people find trouble, and some people make trouble for themselves. As evening was settling in, we came on a village that seemed strangely untouched by the giants. The people shot us looks as we headed toward the inn, but no one seemed to be in armor or uniform – and Ezekiel noticed the same thing. At the inn, the locals made room for us…but almost made a point of ignoring us.

The serving lady was friendly enough, telling Raven all about their specials, and telling Lydia about the wine selection. I wasn’t feeling so well, maybe because of the obnoxious group at the next table, where a big man had drunk too much.

What gives people the idea barmaids want to be fiancé to everyone in town? I’ve seen it in other places besides here – but I don’t usually feel like fighting an entire room of half-drunk men. (Oddly enough at the Welcome Wench, Master Osler kept a firm lid on inappropriate behavior.)

Neither here nor there, I guess… The big man grabbed the waitress one time when she was going by, and wouldn’t let her go. The two (former) Heironeans had just sprung from their chairs when Raven seemed to materialize on top of the man and escorted him politely to the door.

The server brought a wine bottle “on her,” though she looked scared or worried. She said the man was part of a gang under “Big Johann” and he’ll want revenge. One of the locals near us muttered something about, if Johann couldn’t find us, he’d find the rest of them. Then Aliana (standing up to her full height, and at times like that, it’s hard to remember she’s barely above four feet) announced he could find us in the center of town. And I decided that the prospect of trouncing bullies had done wonders for my appetite.

(The waitress couldn’t tell us much more about the town’s situation. She said they didn’t have much for the giants to steal, and most of the townsfolk had nowhere convenient to flee to. Maybe that’s part of the story.)

Anyway, we set up the fortress on the village green, and Ezekiel cast light up there (he doesn’t understand how shadows and glare work for archers…but the main point if it is so Johann Boy can find us) and Aliana got her horse and lance ready.

If they keep us waiting, at least the moons are pretty tonight.

****

Things got exciting when the ground started to vibrate, and from the other side of the green, huge shapes came out of the darkness. A voice yelled something about leveling the place – with a Frost Giant accent, if I’m not mistaken – and Heiron and I started launching arrows.

The ground shook, and a huge, hairy elephant (Mikael tells me it’s a mastadon) charged toward us with a giant on its back – only to slam into a stone wall that appeared out of nowhere. As the mastadon broke through the wall, ogres swarmed around it to attack Mikael and Agnar on the ground. Aliana charged the mastadon with her lance, while Ezekiel started flying somehow.

Lydia pitched an egg into the crowd – which took me back to our earlier days in the Temple of Elemental Evil – but naturally I mostly paid attention to my marksmanship. After Aliana and I took down the frost giant, most of the ogres were easy pickings. The last one fled, but Aliana, Raven, and Ezekiel chased him down to ask questions. I gather it went about as well as our questioning usually goes (Ezekiel said he used a potion to read the ogre’s mind, and now he wants to throw up), but Raven was able to talk to the mastadon (that Mikael charmed after it stomped on him a bit).

Agnar and I went through the bodies. The ogres had nothing but copper (call us privileged if you must, but we left that for the innkeeper)…but we did discover that guy from the tavern earlier was also with them. He had magic chainmail and a glowing sword, so I guess he wasn’t a push-over (I mean, depending on what you compare it to). The giant himself had a huge ax that Agnar tried to lift, but there’s no way any of us is wielding it.

Finally, we found an oxskin made up like a parchment, with big, rough runes and an “X” at the bottom. Lydia says it’s some kind of contract, or agreement, that says the undersigned promises to fight for “Jarl Grugnir.”

Ezekiel moved the fortress to outside town (we haven’t seen any people, but we feel we’ve made enough of an impression) and in the morning Raven says the mastadon (Mikael named her “Donna”) can take us to the “sleep place.” It seems reasonable this gang took their loot somewhere, since it wasn’t on their persons.

Was “Big Johann” milking this village in exchange for protection? Who knows. We can’t hold everyone’s hand all the time, and I think they have their own issues, apart from giants. But giants I can deal with. And now I really need to be sleeping.

****

By evening, we reached a cave at the foot of the mountains, easily reached from the plain south of the Davish. Smells like ogre, looks like ogre. No loot, though…so Raven questioned Donna further. Oh, one of the ogres took the treasure “away”… Mastadons don’t care about gold, apparently, and care even less about details (but she loves when Mikael magics up some goodberries and feeds her snacks).

I did find some traces of a lone ogre heading off into the mountains, but we’ll have to wait for morning light. Who is the boss of the bullies?

**

As we followed the trail of the ogre, we came across some strange boulders – that looked almost like they had been shaped with tools. Mikael asked me if they were magic, and when I asked Tressarian to check out the closest one, the boulders flung back like trapdoors, and hill giants leapt out.

Hill giants. It was not their day.

Once they were dead, we investigated the holes where they hid with ropes and levitation. Contrary to what I feared, we found several hundred pounds of silver and electrim coins, plus some magic crossbow quarrels (Raven was excited to get those), and a magic sword (Agnar said it was a blow-hard that told him it could detect invisibility so that it could kill things with him…but he didn’t see anything invisible. Maybe we should rethink having him carry all the extra swords…but how to put it to him?).

We also restocked our supply of rope, and found a cooking pot big enough for Bearington (not big enough for him to use, that is…). I assume the hill giants must have had that for their own use, rather than as loot from someone else…but clearly they’ve been robbing a lot of people. Patrols? Other independent contractors? Did they also have a secret base, or a boss, that they took their loot to? Their tracks don’t join with the ogre we’re following…so if they did work for the same people, they didn’t travel the same way. Maybe these hill giants were pirating off the other giant raiders, and that’s why they have so much money. Had so much money.

We talked Mikael out of putting wheels on the cookpot so Bearington could have his own coach, and continued on.


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary…standing orders

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “Against the Giants”

We tried out some of the magic rings from our attackers. One of the sketchy thief types had a gold ring – Ezekiel said it made him feel calm, but who knows what practical application that would have (Raven said he could think of a few). Another ring, Aliana called a “ring of faery” – but Mikael couldn’t get it to do anything. She says it has to be in tune with the wearer’s alignment to activate. Mikael, Agnar, and Lydia upgraded their rings of protection (Lydia didn’t even have one somehow, which must be an oversight), and Ezekiel took a sip of a potion that he said let him “look through our foreheads,” which sounds gross. He said he could tell something was going on in our heads, but not what was going on – he’d need a higher dose.

****

3 Richfest

Approaching Istivin, the weather has been toasty…but more than that, there’s a taste like a storm in the air. Raven said it reminded him of the blue fire in the dungeon below the stockade. It makes Mikael uncomfortable, too. Even from a distance, you can see the huge ebony sphere in the center of town. You can’t see it moving, but it sits there, swallowing light like something out of a nightmare.

The refugee lines along the road have disappeared – probably because everyone has already left. The only people we met were a patrol of Keoland guards, who seemed more at ease once we explained we were heading to the king’s agent to offer our services. The commander gave us directions, and before very late in the day, we rode up to Algrathas’ manor above the river and announced ourselves.

They ushered us into a room stuffed with expensive things, that somehow reminded me of our vault room at Haven…maybe because of all the different things pulled from various collections and adventures all stacked together.

For telling Klim where he could kill us, Master Algrathas seems like a nice enough well-to-do old man. (We got in a little private conversation with him, and he explained Klim just asked for his information services…without spilling his whole identity as a vengeful priest of the Earth Dragon. Ezekiel and Raven asked if he could “research” the identity and location of “E” for us, so perhaps we’ll get a useful lead there. If Master A isn’t on the up-and-up, then he’s been lying the whole time we’ve known him.)

As for the king’s agent overseeing this crisis, Master Lashton – we first met him yelling at Master Algrathas over something.

He made a political jab about the respect owed the king of Keoland by His Grace the Grand Duke (as Uncle might say, what century does he think he’s living in?) but finally gave us some actual information on the situation.

The black sphere appeared about a fortnight ago. No one knows what caused it, but the most popular theories are: demons; a “gift” from another country; a mis-guided magical experiment. As Aliana remarked after we left, that about covers the gambit.

Making matters worse, the giants from the Jotens are taking advantage of the confusion and panic, and mounting more and more raids on the land. They seem to be coordinated, so there must be some leaders of the giants urging them on.
Master Lashton said he was handling the bubble, so we could handle the giants…not in those words, exactly. He made a show of being too busy to explain further, then stood listening to his assistant explain we could start in the southern mountains, and we could keep any treasure we found (which was not something we were worrying about, but it makes the accounting much easier). Overall, he felt like Archie – but if Archie never did anything, maybe?

Before we crossed the river, Ezekiel and Lydia wanted to examine the sphere – confidence in Master Lashton’s magical competencies notwithstanding… They say that a stranger approaching the sphere will find it hard as rock, but a native of Sterich/Istivin can pass through it…only none of them have ever come out again.

The city looks like a war is approaching. Houses are boarded up everywhere, and once in a while we spotted a cart of belongings just abandoned by the refugees. The pressure builds in your head, with a smell like a storm, but without rain. It’s a wonder we didn’t all get headaches.

As for the sphere itself… Tressarian said he could smell Evil and magic on it, but Fetafencer didn’t think it was demonic. So no luck trying to banish it. The surface looks like a ball of yarn – a myriad various cords crossing and recrossing each other into the heart of the sphere…but the surface is very much solid like stone (Raven tossed a pebble at it, and it bounced off with a clatter). It doesn’t twitch or move – it just sits there (though they tell us from measurements that it is growing).

Ezekiel took Aliana gaseous with him to examine it from the air. About that time, a patrol came by to tell us to move along – that too many people were lost inside the sphere already. So we headed south…and Ezekiel tells us he couldn’t penetrate the surface even as a gas (I think Aliana thinks that’s just as well).

South of the Davish River, it looks like a war is here. We didn’t even see a patrol – though that doesn’t mean they never come by. Leaving Istivin, even the fields and cottages outside it are abandoned.

The first people we saw were a patrol on the southern road, several hours after we left the city. Their commander sounded tired – in his manner more than his tone – and said there were raids and attacks all along the mountain range. He also said the commander for the counter-offensive is the king’s agent back outside Istivin…which is ridiculous. You can’t handle a major offensive like this from a command post a day’s ride behind the lines. At the very least, there should be lieutenants coordinating the response on the front lines…but it sounds like every company’s commander is more-or-less on his own. No wonder he sounded stressed.

We noticed the riderless horses at the back, and the captain recommended we burn any fallen…he says there are more than giants in these hills. That would be right up Ezekiel’s alley – but first things first.

Dear Diary…haunted by the past

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “Against the Giants”

[smudge] Richfest

The farther from the Starkmounds we come into Keoland, the stranger things become. All day we’ve passed a stream of people headed the other direction, pushing carts, riding wagons, or just walking – bundles of their valuables on their backs.

When we asked them what the trouble was, we got incomplete answers. Some said giants were attacking all over Keoland. Others said that, with the absence of the earl, the bandits had just become too bad – and they were moving in with relatives in Geoff.

One man went on and on about dark sorcery in Istivin, and said the earl turned himself into a dark bubble that swallowed the city. Ezekiel asked if I took notes, but I’m not sure we can trust half what that guy said – even if his voice never changed pitch. I mean, he wasn’t dressed like a courtier, so how would he know what the earl was up to secretly? And what did whining about the music that bards sing these days have anything to do with it?

**

The clouds have been lowering all day, and the rain finally broke shortly before we entered a little village with one inn. (Mikael very disappointed that we had no enemies to smite with lightning.) We didn’t see much as we rode in, but from the looks of the common room, the place is largely deserted. It’s basically us and the innkeeper’s family; everyone else has evacuated, joining the stream we saw along the road. Not sure how long he’ll be able to keep the doors open this way – everything’s pretty threadbare and polished-by-time.

Just as well the inn was basically empty… We weren’t ready to turn in yet, when suddenly the door crashed open with a howl of the wind. A man with shield, mace, and armor stood in the doorway, lashed by rain, and bellowed, “At last you will pay for your interference.”

As he started chanting something else, Aliana drew Fetifencer (who didn’t glow red), Ezekiel said, “Shush!” and Mikael made buzzing noises with his mouth. Raven and Aliana charged the attackers in the doorway – a second man joined the first, his cloak drawn over his face as he made incantory gestures with his hands – and I fitted my shield on my arm as Tressarian and I appraised the flank.

The shutters were closed, naturally, to keep out the storm – but now someone started hacking them open with axes, one after the other, and bowman stood at the windows – just visible in the firelight – to launch arrows at us.

Agnar dashed past me, and I headed for the nearest bowman. As I went, someone nailed Ezekiel with an arrow; it didn’t penetrate his armor, but it did lodge in a joint, oozing darkly. That’s all I saw in passing – then I engaged the bowman just outside the window.

I’m not sure he was prepared for that, and he left himself pretty open. He did retreat, but not very far, and I scrambled over the sill and caught up with him. The light from the windows – even leaking through the rain – was still enough to take him down (though the cover of my shield slipped a little, sending a beam of light out into the village).

I conveniently remembered the back door of the inn was around the corner, and peeked back there.

Two shifty characters stood there, clearly up to no good…but I didn’t think I could take them both out without one of them escaping. So I went back to the window and whistled for Heiron’s attention, and then he ran over to distract them from the door-side so I could block them from the road-side.

By the time we got out there, the ne’r-do-wells had slipped around the corner – but they hadn’t outright disappeared…which I consider strange, given the clanging and banging and shouting coming from the inn.

Heiron told them to yield – but they were about as saucy and unyielding as you can get…and then they were dead. We dragged them through the back door to get out of the rain (and for easier examination) to find Ezekiel checking on us, and the innkeeper’s family (safely hiding in the cellar; his kid was not of the type who would want to see a severed head again and again).

We searched the dead for anything useful, and then piled them in the stable for tidiness’ sake (Lydia offered to burn them in the morning, which saves us digging). Their leader (the one who yelled so cryptically) had interesting armor: his helmet had an ugly mask painted on it, while his breastplate had an eye inside a triangle worked into the metal. It was hard to tell, though, because the symbol of the Earth Dragon was painted over the top. Did he steal the armor? Or was it a hand-me-down?

Under his helmet was even more surprising. I didn’t recognize him, but Ezekiel knew it was Solmon Klim, the cleric who was one of the Slave Lords, and obviously escaped the island blowing up somehow. So I guess the Earth Dragon still deigned to give him spells…

Ez and Lydia went over the papers from his belongings (including a letter she had to translate with magic) while the rest of us investigated the others: two shady, leather-wearing types; the dark spell-caster who also had a battle ax and longsword (I didn’t notice whether he was an elf or not); a couple fighters-for-hire; and about four archers (yes, with poisoned arrows. We disposed of those quickly). Also a pack of giant spiders – but the shadowy character had them on leashes, so hard to say if they were his “friends” or merely his “dogs of war” (Mikael was very sad they all died). It’s possible these people all had ties to the Slave Lords – or to the Slave Lords’ bosses – but even Ezekiel doesn’t recognize anyone but Klim.

As for the letters… One was written in fancy script, ordering the recipient to atone for his “failure” by bringing them the “heads of our enemies,” and signed merely “E.” The last pile of letters from “E” is in the vault back in the mountains, so we can’t check the handwriting to see if they’re the same. I’m beginning to wonder if “E” applies to a collection of people, and not just one mastermind. Another letter (the one Lydia had to read) talked about “consternation in the noble houses” (Heiron asked if that was like dysentary) and “Her” displeasure leading to “the death of the others.” It also mentioned a place in Flen (which is a town in eastern Istivin) where the recipient can rendezvous if “operations” have to close down.

Ezekiel suspects the helpful notes and trail markers we got in the Pomarchj were from “E” because she/they were closing down the Sudderheim operation – by letting us tear it down. Which raises the question, what failure was being punished? It couldn’t be the failure of letting us destroy the tavern and Marquessa’s place, could it?

Raven wonders how Markessa’s experiments fit in to all this. I remember that the Spider-Queen is a “she,” and Marquessa’s stockade was cooperating with the Underdark…but I haven’t mentioned it to Ezekiel. He’s paranoid enough right now. Raven says that stealing a whole city would take powerful magic. Who has arms long enough to pull the strings of the Slave Lords?

The last note said something like, “You will find your enemies in Geoff – so says Algrathus the Seer.” Someone more tactful than I can bring that up when we see him…that’s the house where the king’s agent is staying. (I put the ring of truth back on.)

Dear Diary…no rest

Dear Mother and Father,

How are you? I am fine. The Grand Duke is letting us build Ezekiel’s temple in the Crystalmist Mountains, so I should be able to write more often.*

We killed some fire giants since I saw you, and Tressarian had a great time. The cleric types put my guts back in fine  wait I wasn’t going to say that part. Also we killed a fire-breathing dragon, so now I have more to have nightmares about.

We went on a trip for Raven to fight another monk and visited Alpheus, and he said he is doing fine. Roland showed me his very own sword that he got for his birthday and he’s not allowed to use it in the house.

I am learning about different cultures, like Bakluni and Centaurs; in some ways we are the same and in some ways we are very different. A couple centaurs came and asked to help me patrol the mountains, but they’ve been helping our elf ranger friend while I am busy. Heiron says they do a good job hunting mountain goats.

I’m glad I got to come see you. I’ll try to write more often.

Yours truly, Elwyn

*P.S. Never mind, His Grace has something dangerous and magical for us to investigate, so I will have to write to you when we get back.

**

Dear Archie,

Thanks for fishing me out of the pond all the times you fished me out of the pond. I’m glad you can have fun organizing things.

Sincerely, Elwyn

**

Dear Tomlin,

How are you? I hope you are feeling better. My friend the priest is building a temple, so here is a sketch of the mountain we’ll be living near for a while. He says it’s a dormant volcano.

Also here is a sketch of a wizard tower. It’s not supposed to be tipped over like that, but a dragon pushed it over. I thought you would like the roof.

Also here is a sketch of the Grand Mosque in Ekbir. Some of the details I had to do by memory, but notice how the gateway mirrors the roof-line.

We visited Mother and Father, and she said she likes it very much when you write her letters. Take care of yourself, and keep staying away from those priestesses in the skimpy outfits – they’ll get you in trouble.

Sincerely, Elwyn

P.S. This sketch I kinda rushed, but it’s of a centaur, and his name is Chestnut Who Paces the Bounds, and he and his friend Madam Whinny also send you greetings. And so do Ragni and Agni, who are dwarves, and Agni promises if he gets a chance to sketch some of the mountains around here he’ll send you some.

****

The griffon-riding messenger came back this morning from delivering Ezekiel’s note, and brought a summons from His Grace – “as soon as possible.” So Ezekiel marshaled us and had Lydia take us to Gorna through her mirror. (Best thing we ever stole from an evil wizard.)

The guards announced us, and His Grace said he was glad we could get there so quickly – though he looked much disturbed by something. We sat down, and he explained our neighbor Sterich (which is a vassal of Keoland) is in big trouble. Their earl, Querchard – along with his capital city, Istivin – has disappeared! Well, it’s been replaced or covered or something by a huge shadowy dome. With no earl, and no provincial seat, the king of Keoland has sent an agent to coordinate all efforts to correct this thing, and the Grand Duke wants us to go lend our aid. He even offered us the use of horses, if we decide to leave from here – which makes sense, since it cuts out the trek through the mountains and northern Geoff.

We popped back to Haven to make sure we had all the gear we wanted, and to bring along Heiron and Agnar… Heiron didn’t say much, but I can tell he was really worried about Lydia while she was gone, and Agnar says it has been bor-ing up here in the mountains.

Besides, it’s not fair to make Sirion, Dree, and Usin do all the baby‐sitting all the time.

We left by afternoon, and got a few hours of riding behind us before stopping for the night. Ezekiel has been drilling Aliana and Lydia about what might “disappear” an entire city…but it’s not really in the specialty of any of us.

I’m wondering if it’ll trace back to the Astral Plane eventually…


Find the previous entry here.

Read the next entry here.

Dear Diary…my God can beat up your god

We got directions to a monastery up on a mountain, and found it without trouble. We took it easy on the horses, and still arrived fairly early in the morning. The big door on the courtyard was open and guarded by only two monks with polarms.

Raven kinda explained his business, and they let us in, and after we handed over our horses Raven found a monk who could understand us enough to direct us to the Master of the West Wind. That brought us out, sort of behind the monastery buildings, where a cliff overlooks the sea, and tall spires of rock look out off the cliff. In peak monkishness, the Master was sitting up on one of the spires, closest to the sea.
Raven climbed a spire a polite distance behind him, and the rest of us settled down to wait.

About two and a half games of checkers later, the Master finally stood up, and he and Raven introduced themselves. When Raven said he was here to test his strength in the Combat of Monks, I think Master Edelikir was non-plussed, and didn’t really answer him.

After some more sitting, the Master climbed down and went into their practice yard – where he corrected some of the initiates, and made an address (all in Bakluni, of course). Raven and Ezekiel found the right person to get us guest quarters – and then Raven, Keom, and Ronhass did some sparring in a courtyard. I helped Aliana check the horses.

****

[sketch of cliffs and spires of stone, against the sea]

[sketch of monastery gates]

[sketch of shrine to Al-Akbar]

I hear Raven helped prepare breakfast this morning, and afterward he and the disciples went back to following Master Edelikir around. Ezekiel and Lydia found the library, but of course it was all in Bakluni.

At lunch, when Raven still seemed to be hanging around waiting, Mikael said the Master was being rude. It’s true Arch Druid Talifen gave him every benefit when it was time for him to advance in the circle of Obed-Hai…but it’s also true they both serve Obed-Hai.

When everyone else had finished up, a man from the high table came and introduced himself as Master of the South Wind Deshan, and said Raven was disconcerting Master Edelikir.

Raven explained his situation again, and Master Deshan said normally if the post was vacant, the first monk in the order to attain the skill level could just assume the title without a fight. He said if Raven’s god wanted to do it differently, it was unreasonable to expect other gods and their followers to go along.

Raven and Ezekiel said ordinarily that was true…and Ez gave a remarkably restrained explanation of their deity – the God over all gods. (Maybe Aliana has given him some tips.) He suggested that, since he is a cleric, he could spend some time praying and ask for some kind of verification message to be sent to us. He took some incense and went back to his sleeping cubicle, and Master Deshan volunteered to go with him in case a messenger showed up.

Well, apparently someone showed up, because late this afternoon we saw Master Deshan collect Raven and head to an arena-type area to meet Master Edelikir.

It was not as impressive as some other fights we’ve seen (maybe should’ve made friends with some gypsies beforehand) but it was another good reminder not to tick off any monks. Raven flew across the field at Master Edelikir – and then the master pummeled him so quickly his arms were like a blur. (Probably didn’t help to have Mikael yelling, “Faery fire! Wasps! Hit him with thorns!” from the side-lines.)

Finally, Master Deshan stopped the fight, and Ezekiel showed up saying he was done with his meditation, and did anything interesting happen. We rushed down to help Master Edelikir bind Raven’s wounds, and then The People showed up.

We really should be used to this kind of thing by now. The little bald man with bad eyes showed up after Raven’s fight with the lady Merikkan, after all. But this time, he was accompanied by giant, bright people with wings. I’m not entirely sure everything “Master Paul” said (Mikael was busy asking me if I saw the giant winged men who appeared out of nowhere), but I gather he congratulated Master Edelikir (and Raven) and said we had accomplished our role of being a calling card to the monastery of Al-Akbar here. Then he left, and Raven’s wounds and bruises were all healed.

The masters bowed low to Raven and Ezekiel (Master DeShan especially seemed impressed, and said he had a vision of Al-Akbar) and Ez thanked them for their time. So Raven can’t call himself “Master of the West Wind” yet, but he says he learned some valuable things.

Lydia teleported herself away, so we scrambled to grab Ezekiel’s armor from his room and tell the stablehands they could keep our horses before she came through the portal for us.

Back in Haven, the dwarves were eager to show us what they’ve accomplished: the ground floor is mostly carved out, with the main hall, a barracks on one side, and more individual quarters on the other side. They also built a griffin aery high on a cliff above the valley, and a griffin rider has been staying here for a couple weeks already. Ezekiel wrote a note to the Grand Duke, saying he was about to start producing holy water in bulk, in case anyone in Gorna wanted it for anything…then went with Dree to see how she’s been organizing everything while we were gone.

I went to find the centaurs and Sirion, and found them staying with Mikael’s disciples at the south end of the valley, beyond the lake. Madam Whinny says they don’t like the griffin, since it’s known to eat horses. Ragni (I think it was Ragni, or maybe Agni) said Sirion has taken them on some patrols, and they haven’t needed the healing potions I bought for them yet…so that’s good. Sirion did say, though, that he spotted some dens we will need to clear. Gotta divert any fire giants before they reach the valley… (Tressarian says he hopes “divert” means “stab.”)

Keom says he can tell the dragons missed him and Ronhass (especially Ronhass).

Hopefully now things will finally quiet down.


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Read the next entry here.

Dear Diary…different culture

Our road through Bissel led us through Thornward, so we dropped in to see Alpheus, and Ezekiel’s brother Peter. Alpheus says Mother talked about our visit in one of her letters, so I hope she didn’t include anything embarrassing. He says they fought some centaurs with the raiders from Ket, but I hope Chesnut and Madam Whinny are different, since they have Sirion’s recommendation. Ezekiel told Peter what their sister has been up to, and Alpheus’ boys asked why we didn’t bring the dragons.

Alpheus also recommended we travel with a caravan when we head north – he says the Bramblewood Forest can be very dangerous, quite apart from the political turmoil in Ket. Says he thinks the power struggle is turning the Baygraf’s attention outward, to galvanize his supporters with raids and external enemies. Hope it doesn’t become more than Alpheus and the others can handle.

**

Aliana and Ezekiel have gotten us passage with a caravan. The Bakluni seem pretty grumpy on average, but I guess dealing with outsiders would bother anybody. Raven is making sure we have plenty of rations, and we head out first thing tomorrow.

****

This many people doesn’t travel very fast, but it’s a good experience. We’re towards the back of the train, so we can hear everybody chattering all in their strange languages – and once in a while, in accented Common. (Raven says I sometimes get an accent, but he’s wrong.)

The road is very well built, though very old – I asked Ezekiel who built it, but he didn’t know. Sometimes, I think I can see something dark skulking through the trees. We’ve been spending nights in the forts spaced conveniently along the road.

****

Saw some wyverns fly overhead today. They make a racket like cats getting murdered. I think I don’t mind that they and pegasi are uncommon – otherwise everyone might have to travel in covered wagons. Ogre camp in the woods. They were smart enough to leave us alone. What else do these woods hold?

****

Ezekiel has been busy trying to make friends. He spotted a half-orc traveling alone and invited him over…demonstrating that the line between friendly and creepy is very thin. The half-orc (very green, but I think his ears were not standard) seemed very tense, especially around Aliana, but he consented to share dinner. He had a book and staff, and said he was seeking “wisdom”…but he also said he hadn’t been here before, so he couldn’t give Ezekiel and Raven an opinion on the two Faiths. Says he’s aiming to live longer than most of his “kind”…and like with most people, that depends on making good choices. I think Ez made a positive impression.

****

6 Wheelsun

Arrived safely in Nehez (even Ezekiel’s new half-orc friend, who continued on right away). The locals say we should have no trouble following the road to Lopolha, which is where the “Great Mosque” is. The inns here have bead curtains instead of doors. Theoretically, that should say something about the trust and crime-rate in this society. I’ve heard of places that have half-doors on their taverns.

[sketch of inn front]

****

So we met Lydia’s uncle today. We were heading out of town when a couple men came flying out of an inn, followed by a towering man dressed in leather and chest-paint. The big man tussled with one of the others while we tried to decide if this was socially acceptable in Ket. He recovered some kind of gem from the smaller man just before the thief dealt a parting blow with a dagger and ran off.
Lydia spoke to the big man in a language I didn’t know, and he seemed to be arguing with her. Finally, he stomped off toward the inn – but weaving a little, and looking paler than I think he’s supposed to (he has pink eyes, and his short hair is almost white).

Lydia explained enough to say he was her uncle, and when I asked she said she wouldn’t stop me from saving him from poisoning…but she didn’t look super worried about him, either.

Fortunately, Ezekiel decided to make not-our-business into our business (maybe that “all flocks are my flocks” thing influenced him) and he and Raven and I followed the big man (“Uncle Sveri”, Lydia called him). He was definitely looking greenish when we found him on a bench, but Ezekiel got a scroll out before I got my Keoghtim’s ointment out, and “Uncle Sveri” shifted back to what I assume is his natural color and balance.

He was still quite grumpy, and asked what we wanted, and Ezekiel said, just the story. So Sveri called for drinks – though Raven went back to his disciples (he said if anyone should tell us this story, it should be Lydia) – and we sat down (though I was on the edge of my seat, as the crowd looked a little rowdy and overly interested; but I wasn’t about to leave Ezekiel on his own).

Sveri told us how the Suluese used to have an empire – a big, prosperous empire – but they used magic, and now their empire is a vast sea of dust, where nothing can grow. He says their people now swear off magic, so Lydia is a traitor to her people, like her mother. (Remember this in any dealings with them.) Finally, he gave Ezekiel a coin for healing him, and we took our leave with all our stuff intact. L seems thoughtful; I guess she and Agnar have more in common than either of them guessed.

****

Reached Lopolha in a few days. Lovely weather for the time of year. The palace of the Baygraf catches the eye first, but I think the temple is actually bigger – it certainly has bigger spires. There’s also a tower of dark stone in the center of town that’s not clearly related to either of them…though if I stayed longer, maybe I could tell the pattern. Aliana got us into an inn where I don’t think they will rob us.

**

Took Raven to the mosque first thing this morning. They told us to leave weapons outside (I suppose because we were strangers), so I stayed outside to hold everything, and Lydia stayed to keep me company. She may be a big learner, but comparative religions isn’t her focus.

Raven explained to us what the priest who talked to him said: the “True Faith” (this is the one that split off when their leader was banished) teaches the four feet of the dragon…Honor, Family, Generosity, and Piety. The problem is, they seem to use some of those words differently than we do. “Honor” is the most important, but I’m not sure I completely understand how they use it. To lie or be a coward in the face of danger is dishonorable – and I can understand that – but for a man to marry a woman outside his class “shames his family” and is also dishonorable. Good thing no one brought up Ezekiel and Aliana…How would they feel about them?

“Generosity” applies mainly to giving sage advice to people under you – which I guess is helpful, but not often appreciated in my experience. And “Piety” refers to honoring the four gods of the True Faith – the Lady of Fate, the Lady of Perfection, the Lady’s Hand, and the Lady of Living Waters (and presumably Al-Akbar, the “restorer of righteousness,” although Ez says he’s technically a demi-god). I would never have guessed from looking at the outside of the temple that it was such a goddess-heavy religion.

Raven found us an inn that faces the main city square, because he says he wants to observe the people in their daily lives. On the one hand, people’s common actions are a great way to judge character. On the other hand, most of the ordinary people I’ve interacted with seem…much more focused on the Flaneas than the Wheel, so to speak. Someone (I forget if it was Mother or Uncle or who) used to say the most popular deity in Oerth was – that guy I can’t remember, but it’s something like “Mercury.”

[sketch of the front of the palace] [sketch of a tall, square tower]

****

First thing this morning, a woman started carrying on in the square outside, bawling her eyes out. Raven and Ezekiel raced out the door into the crowd gathered around a platform, but everyone was speaking Bakluni. From where Aliana and I stood in the doorway, we could just see some priest in elaborate garb climb the platform and address the crowd. Soldiers dragged out a prisoner of some kind (trailed by the woman who was making all the noise), and the priest (Ez says he’s called a Mufti) sounded very stern and insistent…(sort of like Father about to wallop Bartholomew and Wolfgang and Clarence – wait, that can’t be right, why would Clarence be involved with that? He was always in the kitchen. Maybe it was Dexter and Wolfgang?) Anyway, the crowd sounded much more expectant and rowdy than Bartholomew and Wolfgang would have…

The soldiers brought the prisoner forward, and lopped off his hand – then bound the wound and let him go. I lost sight of him and his woman in the crowd, but Ezekiel says he and Raven found him, and asked for his side of the story. They say he admitted to being a thief, but didn’t admit there was anything wrong with stealing because he was “providing for his poor old mother.” And providing for your family is Honor, even if you steal for it. So, was the merchant he stole from also Honorable for catching him and turning him in? I never thought of Honors as being mutually exclusive before.

And the punishment… Ez says the Mufti went on about how “justice must be applied equally” and “watch yourselves, you who hear” kind of stuff, but I didn’t get the feeling that the spectators paid much attention to him. Raven has gone back to the room to meditate, and to ask Keom and Ronhass what they think. Lydia also went back into the inn, before the “ceremony” was over. I’m trying to think what I could compare it to. I know Father hanged some bandits years and years ago, but I was not exactly old enough to sit in on his court. I think I sat in the window one time he was hearing disputes from the villagers, and I fell fast asleep, and Mother was cross when she found me.

Aliana has been asking around, and thinks we can reach the Great Mosque of the Exalted Faith in about a week and a half.

****

I was a bit worried about the border crossing, but everything worked out. Maybe because of Aliana.

The capital of Ekbir also has a huge Mosque. I must say the city is nice. Sweeping lines, and lots of color. Even Mikael admitted there were patterns from nature in the designs…they clearly put some thought into their buildings’ ornamentation.

When we passed the Caliph’s palace this morning, a line of poor beggar types was waiting at a side door for donations of bread. Raven and Ezekiel went into the Mosque again, and Raven says the priest who talked with them was very nice. He says the punishment for theft here is also losing a hand (I guess they don’t mess around), but if a man was the only provider for his family (say, a widowed mother) he could be put to labor instead. Seems to me that’s a net gain for everyone in the society.

Ronhass says, law without mercy strikes at the heart of goodness. It does seem like mercy is what marks the clearest line between Good and Evil, because mercy looks beyond yourself – and beyond what is “fair” – to someone else. Mercy says there’s a higher court than your own hand – where the gods of righteousness sit above us all.

Aliana and Ezekiel got talking at dinner and kept going after the rest of us all left.


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary…vision quest

18 Flocktime

Lovely sunrise over the mountains this morning.

Mikael and Arch Druid Talifen have more-or-less healed up this morning…still sore, though. I think they’ve both done some thinking, and the Arch Druid says he likes Mikael’s dedication and strength (even though he couldn’t quite take him down). Apparently there’s an option for Mikael to “side-step” the position of Arch-Druid in the hierarchy, and focus on reaching the next level of his abilities without the responsibilities that heading up the Order would involve. Arch Druid Talifen said a “storm” is brewing, and it might be helpful to have someone of Mikael’s strength, even if he can’t be one of the Three for Obed-Hai.

Mikael is off to pray about it overnight, so I guess we’ll see what Obed-Hai thinks. Sounds like if Mikael avoids the responsibilities of the Order, he’ll also lose some of the Order’s privileges…but that’s only fair.

Leomus says she and Hansi and No-Buckle would be happy to stay with Mikael…makes sense, I guess, when their previous master was working “outside” the hierarchy, so to speak (not for the benefit of people, though). Mikael seems to think they’re coming along nicely, and I think he wants to keep teaching them. He also said Arch Druid Talifen has been doing such a good job for such a long time, it seems a shame to mess that up…especially when Mikael’s destiny seems to lie elsewhere.

Bornthene said something about Lea “appreciating” Mikael’s company, but I couldn’t hear all of it because she tried to whack him with her staff, and he ran off laughing before he finished.

We found one of the dwarves who is pleased to make shoes for Chestnut and Madam Whinny.

****

Ezekiel has entrusted that pile of adamantite we found to some of the dwarves for making armor for Haven. He says it’s about time he wore armor he didn’t steal…(though that doesn’t entirely apply to this, either). Lydia says he wants to match his “sweetie.” He said he’ll order me a new shield, so that will be nice…and Mikael asked for a bronze buckle or some kind of plaque to go on his armor so he’ll match everyone else wearing the symbol of Haven: a ram’s head (like the mace). Ez could have mixed in the briar-rose Aliana has been wearing, but maybe he decided simple was better.

**

Master Vol said if we built a tower and roost for griffin riders, the Grand Duke could have a messenger standing by, in case we needed to send an alert from this frontier. I’m so excited! I’ve never seen a griffin, certainly not up close. What kind of man could tame and ride one?

**

The Caravan set off today. It makes quite an impressive line of wagons and carts, and I’m glad they have so many soldiers to discourage thieves. The Duchy is about to get stronger!

Two of the dwarves from Deepholm stayed who weren’t part of the building crew. When I met them, they were hiding behind Ezekiel, looking out at me – which is difficult, since they wear armor, and even suited up, he’s not as wide as they are. He said they want to hang out with me, so I wonder if this is a thing now.

Their names are Agni and Ragni (which will not be confusing at all), and they got over their shyness pretty quickly when we went to meet the centaurs and the dragons. They seem to get along with Madam Whinny quite well.

Ragni told us a story tonight about fighting goblins in their tunnels back home. Then Madam Whinny told about when worgs were attacking the centaur tribe, cutting off their trade routes with other people, and Sirion helped them fight them off. Then he took Chestnut and Whinny to help him track the worgs to their lair, and they wiped them out.

Then everybody wanted to know where the dragons came from, so I told the story how we fought Fang and Belch’s parents, and that’s why Heiron has manly scars on his face, now. And Ezekiel and Raven wanted to give the dragon babies a chance to choose better than their parents…and we’re still waiting to see how that turns out.

****

We finally have the foundation of a keep – secure enough that Ez and Lydia think we can transfer our vault from Veluna (or at least begin to). So Lydia set up her mirror, and sent some of us to Veluna.

While I was in the big city, I found a shop with healing potions. After all, the “cleric-types” are often busy with their own things these days, and you never know what you might come across on a patrol in the mountains…fire giants, dragons, who knows. (Also it’s about time I liquefied some of my assets…) So I bought one for each of my new friends, in case of emergencies.

When we got back, I heard Raven and Ezekiel have learned what Raven needs to do to prove he is growing in strength (monks are like druids that way). A couple Bakluni religions both claim to serve Al-Akbar, who is a servant of Al-Azram (Ez seems to think he’s a decent one). Ezekiel gave us a surprisingly succinct explanation from his readings – the “Followers of the True Faith” follow the Grand Mufti of the Yattles, and the “Followers of the Exalted Faith” follow the Caliph of Exbere…only they both insist the other group is abusing its authority or misfollowing the deity or something. So Raven must choose, based on the principles of the “One you serve,” which faction he wants to validate by beating up their monk. (I always knew monks were weird.)

We all got out the various maps we’ve collected over the years, and finally found the places in question (we think). Looks like if Lydia sends us Mitrik, we can head north through Ket, between the big mountain ranges, to Tusmit, then Ekbir (after checking the temple libraries for any more info).

I say “we” because Ezekiel all but said my Skills would be much appreciated, and they would really like my Help. And I guess I’m a sucker for feeling needed.

Keom and Ronhass are coming, too, as is only right, and Chestnut and Whinny just brightened up when I said I could really use their help watching the dragons and protecting the valley while we’re gone.

Lydia says she’s coming, too. I think Heiron is worried about her – but she pointed out we need someone smart and dependable to manage the hustle and bustle back here – and besides, Aliana is coming, so she’ll surely be safe. I certainly hope so…we’re not exactly heading into allied territory.

Lady Guderwinda seems worried, too, but all Aliana’s retainers will have Dree here to help them fit into the routine.

****

When we arrived in Mitrik we headed to the Cathedral of Rao, where they have a beautiful and (I’m told) informative library. Keom and I got a little side-tracked in the dragon section (one book was stuffed with outrageous pictures that I sincerely hope are mostly imagination), but the others found material more to-the-point.

It seems the whole split comes down to some sacred artifacts – a cup and a talisman that Al-Azram gave to Al-Akbar for “healing” the Bakluni people. But the artifacts were stolen by “elves as tall as men” who escaped on eagles, and when the Caliph blamed the Mufti for not properly protecting the relics, the Mufti left the territory and formed the “True Faith” (maybe he was also exiled, I’m not entirely sure).

Ezekiel and Raven also made an appointment with a scholar who’s made a specialty of these things – but Aliana went to buy us horses for the journey ahead. She insists she knows the most about horses, even though Raven can talk to them, and I guess it is part of her job.

Father Gren corroborated the story of the artifacts, and offered Ez and Raven letters of introduction to the Caliph (so they can hear the story closer to the source. It’s been several hundred years, so unless we find any elves from that area, we won’t get first-hand accounts). He also mentioned a priest of the Exalted Faith visiting Mitrik at this time, and promised to connect us if he could find him.

**

Brother Ekbarkad found us at dinner in the inn. He says he’s looking for the relics, and seemed understandably disappointed that we hadn’t heard anything about them – but then he was more than willing to explain his faith to us.

He says the teachings of Al-Akbar focus on Duty, Dignity, Faithfulness, and Guardianship…and that Al-Akbar has not claimed full god-hood (only demi-god-hood) out of humility (Ez seems pleased).

Br. Ekbarkad told us basically the same story about the theft of the relics. He says the followers of the “True Faith” rebelled against the proper authority of the Caliph, and the Mufti was at fault for not safe-guarding the relics.

I didn’t catch all he said, since his accent was pretty thick, but he seemed like a decent fellow. Now we just need to hear the other side of the argument, and Raven needs to decide who he thinks is more worthy (he asked me if the Brother was lying, and I said if he was, he was lying the whole time, since his voice never changed pitch. Reminds me I should swap out rings before we hit the road; protection will probably be more important than lie-detection in the wilds).

Dear Diary…druid fight!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary…new construction

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

****

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

Agnar moody today.

**

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary…the stuff legends are made of

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

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

The list. I have such a list now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**

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

**

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

**

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

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


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