Dear Diary….one wild morning

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

We had barely finished our conversation when there was a knock on the door.

This derni’s magic fortress thing has a roof you can access, with battlements and everything…so they sent me up to the roof to scope things out. An old man in rags was knocking at the door, wearing a battered hat and cloak.

Ezekiel opened the door enough to ask him his business, and the old man dropped to the ground and started whining. When Ezekiel brought him inside the fortress, I came down from the roof.

The old man had about three brain cells left, it seems. He kept calling us “Great Master of the Abysal Fires” and begging us to send him home “to the Orth”…and offering us “thousands of gold pieces and my eternal service” if we would help him.

When he said his name was Sargin, Ezekiel winked at us, and I guess he was mentioned in the little book from the High Cleric’s room as a Temple official who got condemned to the nodes.

We did get kind of uncomfortable at him calling us “demon or devil,” and Mikael tried to explain that we’re not Evil (“I’m a Master of Trees, not the Abyss!”) but it was like talking to a sneaky child…Sargin just kept agreeing with everything we said, and insisting that he would serve us faithfully – no matter what kind of monster or weird being we were.

Even after Raven fed him (he gobbled it so fast he crumbs in his beard, which was full of twigs and stuff anyway), Sargin didn’t make much sense. Ezekiel tried asking him about the Air Node, but he just gabbled about “no way home” and the dragons were “guarding, guarding, always guarding something – maybe a way home? – but I couldn’t…couldn’t…” He couldn’t even face the puddings (says he hid from them) which makes sense, being a magic user with no spell-books.

Wonillon asked him where this gold was that he offered us, and Sargin said “back home,” in the Kingdom of Erdi. Wonillon and Ezekiel kind of rolled their eyes at each other…I gather it’s something to do with the Great Kingdom, which at least tells us that the Temple gathered acolytes from all over the place – but nothing more useful than that.

Finally, Ezekiel seemed satisfied that nothing useful would come of prolonging the conversation. Raven convinced Sargin to give up his weapon – a dagger was all he had left – and then we signaled Lydia (Ez told Sargin to “carefully obey everything Mistress Lydia says”). A few minutes after Raven drew a chalk circle on the ground, a wooden crate popped out of the air.

Raven stepped into the magic spot to explain everything to Lydia – and offered Taki the chance to leave the node, but Taki said he had some things to collect first.

While Raven was gone, we opened the crate and discovered enough flasks of oil for each of us to take a couple…which is nice, because it felt like I was the only one who prepared for that. Also nice to know Lydia can help us out with supplies — having an on-demand portal back home is sure useful!

When Raven came back, he said some men-at-arms took Sargin off. S seemed calm enough, so maybe he can get the “help” he needs.

Sobering to see what could happen to a man in a place like this…without Taki’s strength and skill, and without the back-up of the bandit band (whom we haven’t seen yet).

Taki says he’s willing to spend the night in here with us…an impenetrable fortress sure comes in handy. In the morning, Ez says he wants to work around the feet of the central spire, exploring as we go, and try to find the way-point to the Water Node that Taki mentioned.

****

One cave down. Taki took off on his own not long after we started. We spotted a cave mouth above us as we headed north (what I’m calling north) along the ravine floor, and went to investigate.

At the first fork, we headed right, and found a couple spacious caves. The strangest thing about them was the glacier walls along the north side — don’t know if the cave butts up against something icy, or if something covered those walls with ice.

We did meet a half-dozen ice toads – so maybe they covered the walls with ice (but then, why only the north side?). Mikael and Wonillon held the front line (Mikael was wearing the ring of warmth, after all) while Heiron and I peppered them with arrows. I’m getting faster on my draw…if Father could just see me now.

Once they were all dead, they didn’t suck in heat so viciously – so we could approach without being hit with biting, finger-numbing cold. Ezekiel patched up the wounded (he gets such a kick out of that) while we searched the bodies.

Apparently some other travelers weren’t so lucky, as we found some remains inside – mostly gems and jewelry, that wouldn’t digest, and a couple magical items (Tressarian confirmed that they were magical). One was a decanter with a stopper – though Ezekiel couldn’t figure out how to work it. The other was an ordinary-looking hat…but once Raven put it on (he didn’t mind all the toad juice, I guess) suddenly he could look like me – or Ezekiel. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this…but Heiron pointed out that maybe Lydia would like it, and I suppose if she wanted to assassinate us, she doesn’t need to disguise herself as us to do that. (I think we all agreed that the hat would be safer with her than with Raven.)

Ezekiel did some poking around the ice wall, but couldn’t find out anything else. He said maybe the different nodes “border each other paraphysically” (whatever that means), but from what I see, that doesn’t change our strategy much.

(Speaking of strategy, Heiron whispered to me to ask if maybe he should have used his flame-tongue sword on the toads instead of his arrows, since they were ice, and so would have been vulnerable to fire. He made it sound like he was at fault for what he did, but I pointed out he’d be risking frostbite in his fingers to get that close to them, and even though that’s what Wonillon did, there’s no accounting for gnomes…Anyway, I told him that next time we face something like that, he can try a new approach if he wants. We’re the archers of the party for a reason, but it’s true we have various different tools for a reason.)

Exploring the cave near the entrance, we found something weird. It’s a metal tube with some kind a lever mechanism on one end, but it doesn’t seem to do anything (Tres says it’s not magical, though of course he didn’t notice Druid Kela’s shape-shifting periapt).

Raven and Ez think they hear some kind of whirlwind on the other side of the wall – which Ezekiel is convinced means some kind of air elemental, so we’re going to check that out next.

(At the cave mouth we met a huge, grey ball – taller than Mikael! – rolling past. When it started rolling toward us, Heiron peppered it with arrows, and it started deflating like a giant bladder. Mikael calls it an “askamoyd,” and says we should stay back until it finishes deflating so we don’t get hit with any spores. Apparently it’s some kind of mushroom, and pretty poisonous.)

****

New journal. Hope the old one dries out all right. Some of the pages are kinda smeared…Lydia says my handwriting could hardly get more illegible, but she’s just in a mood.

It all started with the second cave. Shortly after leaving the toad cave, we found a slope leading to another cave that we assumed would abut to the last one (and contain the elementals Ezekiel was sure he heard). When we got about forty feet above the ravine floor (Wonillon said that’s what he figured), we reached a plateau in front of the cave mouth.

As we cautiously approached, we spotted a cluster of foggy clouds drifting about inside. With their strange misty tentacles and their three glowing red eyes, they fit the “Wind Terror” name that Mikael gave to them (I guess it’s a druid’s job to know all about the things that go on in nature, and what can go wrong).

With the howl of a windstorm, the elementals charged us – and battle was joined.

Mikael threw faery fire on them right away. Heiron launched an arrow – but when it passed right through one of their misty bodies, we both switched to our magic swords.

I think Tressarian liked getting some action. I don’t know if “sliced” is the right word, but he sliced right through one of the beasties (he says “beasties” isn’t the right word) and it vanished with a shriek.

Mikael whacked one with his rod (I saw the fog or whatever billow and recoil) but Ezekiel wasn’t having the same luck, and his mace seemed to whiff right through the Terrors without dispersing their bodies at all.

Heiron moved up to the front line – and he must have been a really attractive target, because the Terrors kept flinging sharp debris at him and lashing him with their cold, clammy tendrils. They hurt more than you’d think, so Ezekiel kept busy touching Heiron with healing spells.

Wonillon stabbed a Terror with his dagger, and when Heiron and I carved up enough of the others, the last two fled over our heads, sounding like a blizzard on a mountain or something.

Mikael stopped Heiron’s bleeding (he really took the brunt of the battle) while the rest of us looked around. First thing we noticed was that Raven was gone – but then his voice told us that he just drank a dose of his invisibility potion, so everything was all right.

Next thing we noticed was the nest of trinkets in the corner. I wouldn’t have thought elemental fog clouds were interested in collecting treasure…and I guess it could just be the remains of other unfortunate travelers who have come this way. We looked over the pile while Ezekiel scrutinized it for traps, and Tressarian sniffed for magic.

Magic axe (which is mine now), magic mace (which Ezekiel pounced on, as a “back-up,” he says), magic ring, magic potion, magic scroll in scroll tube (protection from all elementals – now Mikael has a second one), and…a pile a gems, one of which was magical.

Ezekiel declared the pile safe from traps, and picked up the magic aquamarine.

And then – I spluttered as I found myself underwater.

I was holding Tressarian, of course, and good thing he understood that I wanted to levitate, because then we were out of the water (turns out it was only ten feet deep), hovering above some kind of sea.

A rocky, coral-covered island lay not far away, so I used my feet to paddle toward it. By the time I got there, Ezekiel and Heiron were pulling themselves ashore, coughing and spluttering. Raven, of course, wasn’t wearing any armor, so he leisurely tread water along behind them, and helped Wonillon find the island. Moments later, a seal flopped up onto the island, and turned into Mikael.

Naturally, we assume this is the Water Node. The whole place was dim, like moonlight on a humid night, and mists rise from the water in all directions. There are more islands scattered everywhere, and the water tastes brackish. Mikael supposes that both fresh- and salt-water creatures could live here, though the salt-water beasts might not be super happy about it…and from what Taki said, the node has been stocked with the most dangerous and deadly creatures.

Ezekiel set up the fortress, and we all went inside (well, all except Mikael, who turned into a dolphin and made laps around the island, just to show that he could, I think. He does say there’s a coral ridge a few yards away from the island that plunges into deeper water, so I guess we can be grateful we didn’t pop into the node over there).

When we got into the fortress, we found the crate that Lydia gave us still sitting where we left it – which I guess means it got shrunk along with the fortress, so that’s nice! It means we can stock the fortress with a little furniture and stuff – or at least with some dry firewood – and not worry about it getting atomized when we shrink the fortress. (That’s a fun word Ezekiel used…”atomized”…)

Wonillon built a fire from the crate and we all huddled around it while Raven drew his chalk circle (he says the chalk was a little smeary, but it worked). Mister Whisker wasn’t too happy about going swimming without warning, but I think he was pretty well protected in his special traveling pocket, and his attitude improved after I gave him some cookie (soggy cookie, but he didn’t care).

It took quite a while for Lydia to answer us, and Ezekiel spent the time swinging our new weapons around. He seems to admire the axe (which makes sense when I remember that he grew up in a temple of Heironious), but he’s not allowed to use sharp weapons anymore…and besides, it’s mine. One of us has devoted his life to dealing pain with all manner of weapons, and that one is not Ezekiel! I don’t care how many disciples he thinks he’s going to get one day, he can’t just hoard all the magic weapons. One of us spent weeks banging on an anvil to build the muscle tone necessary to wield a hammer or ax in combat (that one is not Ezekiel).

Anyway, Lydia finally poked her head in through the floor, and she seemed mighty ticked. She demanded to know what we did, and after we all blamed Ezekiel, she told him to “put the stone in something,” then get rid of the fortress.

Ez put the magic stone inside a pouch in his backpack, and then we left the fortress and shrank it. Mikael joined us as himself, and when Lydia’s arm waved at us through the ground, we all stepped over to the spot – and stepped out into her room in the tower in Homlette.

She shooed us into a corner where there wasn’t carpet, and lectured us a little bit about how hard it was to find us again after we all disappeared. Raven tried to soften her a little by giving her the hat of face-changing, and Ez asked if she could send us back to the Air Node, now that she’s seen that.

She grumbled a little, and sat in front of the mirror, and I used the time to check my bowstring. Looks like I’ll have to switch to my spare one, but fortunately that one was wrapped up well enough and buried deep enough in my pack that it wasn’t bothered by our momentary dunking.

After a bit, Lydia gestured us toward the spot to the side of the mirror that I guess would let us pass through it again (I don’t know how it works, but it does work, so that’s what matters).

We filed out, and eventually recognized the brisk air and chiseled rocks of the Air Node…and Taki, who looked kinda startled at first. We’d never been to this particular part of the node before, but I guess Taki gathered up his other belongings (he has an extra backpack now) – and seemed amenable to joining us in the fortress when Ezekiel set it up again.

Lydia’s still a little grumpy, because as Ezekiel stepped into the fortress, he tripped over a crate that appeared in the air underneath him…but it’s full of firewood, so it’s plain she’s looking out for us.

Mikael distributed all the healing he had left for today, and Ezekiel explained our morning to Taki (not sure why he feels the need to go into so much detail, but there you go).

As he was explaining the mysterious node-transferring gem, he pulled out the pouch and opened it – just enough so that we could see what he was talking about…and Mikael and Wonillon both spoke up and said it looked like the depressions in the skull!

Don’t know how much Taki knows about the Key – or wants to know, or needs to know – but Ezekiel is very excited that it seems we’ve found one of the rocks-in-boxes on our first day inside!

I can’t imagine the rest of the Key-stones being this easy… Of course, “easy” is a relative term, since we had to kill half-a-dozen fog fiends that could easily have killed Heiron in return, if we didn’t have clerics to back us up.

It’s barely noon (in our biological time – not in node-time, since it’s always the same in this fake-sky) but both Mikael and Ezekiel have used up their healing for today. It seems a shame to wait out a whole afternoon, but we don’t need to take unnecessary risks. Besides, we have to dry out our gear, and I have to swap out my bowstring…and I think Taki is still deciding if he wants to help us on our “mission” for a while, or if he’s had it with the nodes, and wants to make his escape while he can. He seems at ease enough, since Raven was so nice to him…but we sure seem like a crazy party to people outside.

Also, I’m not sure Ez should explain everything about what we’re doing, and what we want in here. Rescuing trapped people is good enough…the whole “Key of the Fungus Queen” is complicated, and even I don’t understand all about it. It still seems like “repairing the Key so we can get to Her and kill Her” is, like, giving Her exactly what She needs to be free and wreck havoc. Maybe that’s just me…


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary….the elemental node of air

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

Ehlonna has given me a little friend! He’s a weasel named Mister Whisker and he should be very handy in following scents and such.

(Also, I’ve wanted a pet since I was six years old, but just because Wolfgang dropped his puppy out the window or something before I was even born! the rule was no pets. Besides, Lydia and Mikael both had lots of pets, and it just doesn’t seem fair that I couldn’t have one, so now I do.)

He’s still having trouble coming when I call his name, but we’re working on that (he really likes little crumbs of honey cake, which is handy). Lord Otis says I could have spent that time doing push-ups, but at least he’s happy with how my sword work is coming. (I think the smithy is getting a new roof in the near future.)

I’m going to have a special pocket sewed into my backpack so Mr. Whisker can ride underneath my shield when I’m walking around with my bow. Also, that way he won’t make all my gear smell like him so much.

****

Turns out the others have been real busy while I was away. Lydia and Ezekiel practiced with her magic mirror, and figured out that if she’s scrying you, there’s a spot where you can step out of her mirror and join her. She’s going to wave through it or something to make it easier on us (she said, because otherwise we’d never get out) but that’s going to make it super handy to rescue anybody trapped in the elemental nodes.

Cuddles is going to stay here, though. He’s kind of big, and he probably wouldn’t do well in the nodes…and this way he can keep Lydia company.

The others have also been sorting out the magic gear, and reading the labels on the potions to decide which ones should be in our backpacks for easier use. While I was in Mrs. Streng’s neighborhood, I did buy more Keotighm’s Ointment, since it came in so very handy before…and what else am I going to use this money for? (I also bought some flasks of oil, since without Lydia with us, we might want a way to make a big fire.)

We’re going to start with the node of air, since Raven visited there before. We’ll see whether we’re prepared or not…

****

We made it through the Temple safely (someone’s been leaving graffiti here and there, but otherwise it feels pretty deserted) and followed the map to the air node room (the color of the walls helped…it was obviously trying to mimic the Air Temple on the floor above).

We took a deep breath, and stepped onto the magic circle.

I’m not sure what I was expecting…

We found ourselves standing on a mountain peak, with a cavernous roof of some kind at least fifty feet up. A glow of light seemed to come from the dome above us, while misty clouds swirled around the peak. The air was cool, but not painfully so…although the wind has a tendency to snatch your breath away without warning, or throw dust in your eyes.

Ezekiel and Wonillon led the way, and we followed a spiraling ramp that led us down the mountain. Here and there on the ground lay bits of bone, buckles, or even bits of chainmail. There have obviously been other people here…I wonder how many of them are still alive? What are their stories?

Other cliffs and hills rose all around us, so it was hard to tell how far the dome overhead might stretch – or where the ridges might connect with it. It’s certainly a vast space…I’m pretty sure I saw a white dragon flying far off to the south – but fortunately it didn’t see us, or ignored us.

At length, we reached the floor of the ravine (fighting the buffets of the wind) and spotted a slope across the way that seemed to lead up to a cave. Curious thing about that…the ramp looked like it could have been carved by pickaxes. In fact, everything looked artificial…not in a pre-planned way, but in a hand-carved way. It’s a reminder that this is a fake place, created by the Temple for evil purposes.

When we reached the cave mouth, Ezekiel spotted a big white blob — it spotted him, too, and started shlumping toward us.

Apparently only I brought any oil, so I handed it up, and Heiron poured it on the ground and lit it with his flame-sword. That way, at least the pudding couldn’t get at us.

Heiron whacked it in two with his sword, and then while I was digging a torch out of my backpack, Ezekiel threw the Instant Fortress at the puddings (he made sure Heiron got back, first).

When he shrunk it again, the puddings had been knocked into the oil; though I don’t think they were hurt much by being squished, the fire did help them…and when they crawled up the wall to try to get at us again, Heiron was able to flame them to death.

Ezekiel had only just picked up the fortress – and the oil was still smoldering – when a funny-looking flying cat swooped out of the darkness ahead of us and perched next to the puddle of goo. (It had a head and wings like a hawk, and I bet it’s responsible for the droppings I saw on the ramp outside…they looked like big cat droppings, but as though they hit the stone at great speed – or from a distance.)

Apparently it was a kind of sphinx, and could speak to us. It started by saying, “Well this is an interesting riddle,” then asked us for money, then said the “little one” looked tasty and maybe we should deal with it.

Ezekiel said, no, you can’t eat Wonillon (so I guess they didn’t mean me), and then he tried to make up a riddle: “Guess why we’re here – and we’ll leave.”

I guess the sphinx didn’t find that very interesting, because it left. We decided to take the other passage into the cave before bothering the sphinx (it did say “we,” so we knew there were more of them). This second opening led to a cavern full of rats (Ezekiel called them “vapor rats,” though I’m not sure why) and Raven came to the front to talk to them. They told him that the passage didn’t go any further, and that humans “sometimes” came by this area…but they’re only rats, so they couldn’t really tell us more.

Heading back to the cave mouth, we spotted another white pudding in the opening – well, sort of on the cliff ridge just outside. As we were preparing to deal with it, a…brain with…horns or fingers of something (Mikael said its limbs looked like coral). The brain thing fought the pudding for a while, until the pudding wrapped around it and digested it or something. Then it casually slid off the cliff and left.

We all huddled back and watched the show. Not sure if the others agree with me, but I think these blobby slime beings might be creepier than all the giants and trolls I’ve ever seen.

After that spine-chilling spectacle, Ezekiel led us to “deal with” the sphinxes (he says we have to explore everywhere and everything).

We crept up the passage until I saw a sphinx swooping at Ez’s head – and shot it.

Ezekiel dropped the torch he’d been carrying to draw his mace, which meant our only light was from his shield and mine (on my back). Maybe that disoriented the sphinxes, because although they slashed at us from the air, they didn’t do much damage before Raven snared them in his rope. After that, it was like plinking fish in a barrel.

Their nest in the corner of the cavern was lined with feathers – and littered with human and demi-human remains. We didn’t see anything else of interest, so we headed back to the cave mouth.

As we emerged, we saw a warrior in plate armor, standing on an outcrop farther down the slope, facing us. His gear was all sky blue, from his helmet, to his chest-plate, to his shield – and he had to be at least seven feet tall (taller than Mikael or Heiron, even)!

Before we had too much time to wonder what on earth was happening next, Raven recognized him and called out, “Taki!”

The man answered with Raven’s name, and asked if we were his friends – and Raven said yes. So the man took off his helmet and joined us, and said he was glad to see we had finally showed up.

Another gust of that vicious wind slapped us around, and we suggested retreating into the cave — Ezekiel pointed out it was big enough to set up the portable Fortress.

(Taki was glad the sphinxes were dead; he said he saw them drop a halfling off the cliff once. If I still had any concerns about killing them, that settled them.)

Once inside the Fortress, Taki really relaxed. The wind couldn’t get to us there, and Ezekiel and Lydia have explained that no one – not even a wizard – can open it up from the outside…only whoever knows the magic password. (I hope no one can shrink it while we’re inside? We’re probably safe, since the old owner is dead, and no one else is likely to know the magic word.)

Taki had some scratches from the debris thrown by the wind, but other than that he seems in pretty good health. I guess to survive here, you have to be the best.

He gave us lots of info about the nodes. Apparently there are magic transportation circles that lead from one to the other, and he’s explored all of them to some extent (although he prefers the Air Node, since it’s the easiest to survive in). He says there’s a link to the Water Node from here, that he can show us or at least give directions to. (We haven’t mentioned our exit strategy yet, and although we’ll probably let him join us in our scour of the nodes if he wants, I wouldn’t blame him at all for wanting to be rid of them for good.)

He explained that he was separated from his party while fighting in the Temple, and the bugbears and ogres forced him down the passageway and into the portal to the earth node (better than being sacrificed to summon an elemental).

As for other people…he spent some time with an “Ashrim” guy (says he claimed to be the chief priest of the Air Temple; Ezekiel thought he recognized the name from one of the record books – sacrificed to node for discipline, and replaced with Kelno). There’s also at least one bandit group going around, but after Taki killed a couple of them they decided to cut their losses.

He seemed quite relieved when we told him the Temple leadership was dead. Apparently someone in here theorized that killing the High Priest would collapse the nodes, and fortunately that’s not the case. (Ez says they’re tied to the Key the Mushroom Queen broke and left behind, but of course we haven’t figured that all out yet.)

The nodes of Fire and Earth “feel” more underground than the Air and Water nodes, but all the nodes are dangerous. He says the Water one has a bunch of floating islands and dangerous creatures – but that some friendly talking rocks in the Earth node helped him out. Maybe we can rescue them, too, before collapsing the nodes?

Ezekiel is kinda worried about finding everyone Good here who might need rescuing. Just the Air Node is pretty vast, and full of dangers (Taki says there are three white dragons here! And we don’t have our magic user), and to explore all of them would take some doing…besides which, the people here keep on the move to survive!

We could always leave notes on the cliffs or something (in the varieties of Good), but that wouldn’t help rock creatures that can’t read. Well, our patron gods and goddesses have brought us this far…maybe they’ll have to lead us to the people we need to rescue. (Not to mention the parts of the Key, whatever those may be… Why has nobody found them yet??…)


Find the previous entry here.