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Monday, 7th December, 2009, 07:12 PM #241
Thaumaturgist (Lvl 9)
And the Maze isn't itself isn't the reason souls are staying put -- it's Drosh's abdication of duty. (If Drosh had fled to the Astral Plane, you wouldn't say the Astral Plane was the reason...) Also, Aravis's fragment isn't omniscient, Maze-wise -- it's just wandering around inside, scouting space-time for useful info, as is the mysterious ally who's helping on occasion.
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Wednesday, 9th December, 2009, 06:25 AM #242
Waghalter (Lvl 7)
Friday, 11th December, 2009, 09:33 PM #243
Gallant (Lvl 3)
I guess it must be hard sometimes to pick out all those loose threads that are strewn through all the story hour sessions; there are so many of them!
Look forward to the next update And thanks.
Sunday, 13th December, 2009, 09:40 PM #244
A 1e title so awesome it's not in the book (Lvl 21)
Also, his bad-guy-voices blow mine away. We're about to fight Octesian next game, and that guy gives me the willies just remembering how he speaks.
Monday, 14th December, 2009, 11:53 AM #245
Gallant (Lvl 3)
That's one of the things that I still find hard to pull off, getting the bad guys' voices right. Any tricks you or Sagiro care to share?
Tuesday, 15th December, 2009, 08:03 AM #246
Minor Trickster (Lvl 4)
Wednesday, 16th December, 2009, 08:07 AM #247
Thaumaturgist (Lvl 9)
Sagiro’s Story Hour, Part 299
Putting aside for the moment the echoing equine lamentations, the Company stays focused on their immediate goal – following a lead toward Praska. The find the path is specifically pointing to a innocuous store on one of Opal's main streets. They land on the road outside the shop, still wind walking and veiled as crows. Kibi makes Morningstar invisible and she slowly opens the door to the shop. Right away Kibi sees her invisibility become dispelled, though it's not entirely unusual for fancier stores in Kivia to have that sort of protection. And the veil seems to be holding.
Morningstar sees that the shop sells glassware of notably fine quality. She hears someone call out from a back room in an unfamiliar language. Kibi, under the effects of a tongues, understands the words.
There some shuffling, and an old man emerges from a workshop in the back of the store.
“Hello? Is someone there?” he says, looking around. He doesn't notice the crow, hidden behind a counter.
Morningstar casts a silent brain spider on the man and starts digging around in his mind. There are no images of Praska floating in his surface thoughts, and no memories of her. The priestess frowns.
The old man shrugs, looks around once more, and goes back to his workshop.
Morningstar continues to root around in his head. He has recent memories of talking to a relative, of a married couple (tourists) who wanted to buy an expensive opal, and some local customers. She searches back another day and finds more of the same sorts of memories. There's nothing about Praska, the Black Circle, or anything else even remotely sinister. The only interesting nugget is that several days ago, guards from Kingstown came around asking if he'd seen any foreigners. But even that is routine; the man has many such memories, since that's standard practice in the xenophobic country of Seresef.
Ernie suggests that perhaps Scree could search for secret rooms in or around the shop, and some minutes later Kibi hears the voice of his familiar in his mind.
“Did you know that there's some sort of hidden chamber under his shop? It's not very big. Maybe twenty feet on a side, and made out of stone. The odd thing is, it's completely sealed.”
Morningstar confirms that the shopkeeper has no memories of such a chamber. He does have a basement storeroom, but Scree's chamber is beneath it.
“They must teleport in and out,” she concludes. “This glass-maker probably doesn't even know the room is there.”
“Oh, here's something else,” thinks Scree to his master. “When I look through the ceiling of the room, I see a black circle in the floor. I must have poked my eye up through it, though nothing happened to me.”
“Come back, please!” answers Kibi, alarmed.
They spend a few minutes discussing the discovery, coming to the conclusion that it's most likely a way-station or safe-house for the Black Circle. Aravis notes that the scarcity of foreigners in this town makes it a good locale for such a place. There's some talk about going into it, maybe even perpetrating a bit of sabotage (or at least vandalism), but they decide they'd rather not risk Praska discovering the discovery. (And there's also the possibility of another trap.)
As due diligence they make a fly-through of the rest of Opal before landing a hundred yards outside the town. It doesn't seem like a hotbed of Black Circle activity, whatever else it might be. It's upscale, with citizens in well-tailored clothes and streets almost completely free of sewage. As the party (still looking like a cluster of crows in a field of short grass) discusses possible next steps regarding Praska they notice a dog is approaching them from the direction of the town. It's a handsome golden retriever, walking slowly and with an almost regal bearing. It sniff the air and looks around curiously.
It sees a bunch of crows, and freezes. A low growl starts deep in its throat, and it starts to back away. Aravis, an idea leaping to his mind, casts greater arcane sight. The dog has several spells upon it: telepathy, tongues, and some minor enchantments. Satisfied, Aravis flies over to it.
“Hello,” he says to the dog.
The dog stiffens and turns to the crow.
The dog speaks directly into his mind.
“Why do you look like a bird?” continues the dog with clear disapproval. “That is extremely unseemly.”
“We felt it best to remain hidden from sight,” Aravis explains.
The dog snorts. “That may be, but it is an unfitting disguise.”
“And who might you be, may I ask?” Aravis asks politely.
“I am Arkin,” says the dog. “I am of the Great Pack.”
“I see,” says Aravis, his suspicion confirmed. “You'll have to pardon what you may see as a faux pas on my part, but I am only newly aware of my status.”
Arkin's voice betrays no sympathy. “I would not let the rest of the Conclave see you in such an illusionary raiment.”
“I will endeavor to follow that advice,” Aravis answers humbly. “You realize that my normal raiment might be considered unseemly by some.”
“You are a human,” Arkin says. “That is what makes you extraordinary.”
When Aravis doesn't immediately answer, the dog adds: “I would have expected the divine spark to give you knowledge.”
“I would have expected that too,” Aravis says.
“Do you have somewhere safe we can talk?” Arkin asks.
“Yes, I do. May I inform my Company of who you are?”
“Do you trust them?” asks the dog
“With my life.”
Aravis shares the discussion with the others, and then casts rope trick at a low height. Arkin bounds gracefully through the dimensional opening, and Aravis follows, pulling up the rope. The rest of the Company remains outside, both to keep an eye out, and to respect Arkin's request for privacy.
Settled in the extra-dimensional space, Aravis sits and watches Arkin carefully.
“So, you were looking for me.”
“Yes,” says Arkin. He notices Pewter for the first time, emerging from Aravis's pack and resting on the wizard's shoulder. “I have been. I share an affinity with all of my kindred, so I was able to find you. I've come a long way. My legs are tired, and I am hungry.”
Aravis digs out some jerky from his pack and offers it to Arkin.
“Better,” says Arkin as he chews. (His speech remains telepathic.) “So, what do you know?”
“I know that I am considered a God by cats,” Aravis answers. “That is the extent of my knowledge.”
Arkin is incredulous. “That's all?”
“I know that someone is killing various other animal deities,” the wizard adds.
“We are not deities, Aravis. We are divine, but we are not deities. Spirits. Paragons. There are more fitting terms.”
“Now,” Arkin continues gravely, “for the first time in history and memory, there are two fewer of us. One of the Great Pack was killed, and only hours ago one of the Noble Herd was also slain. I don't know for certain, but if one of the Feline Conclave was born into the body of a human, I can't believe it's a coincidence. So. Why aren't you doing something?”
Arkin makes no attempt to hide the accusation in his mental voice. Before Aravis can think of an adequate response, Arkin asks another question.
“Do you know your history? Do you know of Quarrol?”
Aravis thinks the name sounds familiar, but can't place it.
“No,” he admits.
Arkin puts his paws on his head, a clear gesture of disbelief.
“You have to understand,” says Aravis. “I...”
“I understand,” Arkin interrupts. “You are a cat, in a manner of speaking.”
Pewter can't keep silent at the rebuke. “Are you going to take that from him, Boss?”
Aravis puts a hand on his familiar. “Now is not the time, Pewter.”
“But he's being a jerk!” Pewter protests.
“I want information from this dog. I don't want to annoy him.”
Pewter sulks. “For the record, he annoyed you first.”
“Until a few months ago,” says Aravis to Arkin, “I thought I was only human.”
“How could you not know?” Arkin can't keep the disbelief from his voice.
“All I knew was that cats liked me, and rats hated me. The Council of Nine wanted to kill me.”
“Yes. Yes, they would,” Arkin answers somberly. “And the Unkind also want to kill you. The Noble Herd and Great Pack are mostly on your side.”
“Who are the Unkind?” Aravis asks nervously.
“And thus, your comment about my current appearance,” Aravis says, understanding.
“As for Quarrol,” Arkin goes on, “He is the Kivian God of Nature, Himself a creation of Posada.”
Arkin pauses and shakes his head. “How is it that I am giving this lesson to a human?”
“For two reasons,” Aravis explains “One, I am a mage, and not well studied in religious matters. But also I'm not from Kivia. Until recently there has been almost no travel or communication between Kivia and my Kingdom of Charagan.
Arkin lets out an almost-human-sounding sigh. “Well, there must be something about you, because Quarrol has chosen you. In centuries long past, Quarrol in His great wisdom imbued five species of animal with a divine nature: horses, dogs, cats, ravens and rats. One cannot fully understand His purpose about that last one. Quarrol decided that each of these races would always have nine of their number infused with a divine spark. They would have greater leadership, intelligence – they would guide their races, protect and advise them in times of trouble. These nine are spirits that are constantly reborn in generation after generation; when one dies, the spirit is returned to nature and then immediately reborn in a younger member of the species. There are always nine.”
Arkin pauses before continuing.
“At least, until very recently. When the member of the Great Pack was killed, his spirit was not reborn. It was annihilated. We suspect the same thing is true of the horses. Spirits are meant to travel from generation to generation, but now there are only eight. Something is killing us.”
“Do you know where the member of the Great Pack was killed?” Aravis asks.
“Yes. In a human country called Bederen, although I don't think that is material. Clearly this thing can strike anywhere.”
“Do you know the exact spot?” Aravis presses.
“No,” Arkin admits. “We don't know. He was traveling.”
“I ask because recently, when humans have died, their souls have not gone to their respective afterlives.”
Arkin nods. “Ah, yes. Drosh's mysterious absence. It is not of particular import to us, but I try to stay abreast of current events. Quarrol guides our souls. Not Drosh. I can tell you, if it matters, that the member of the Noble Herd was killed in the town of Waterhold, north of Djaw. Again, I don't know the exact location.”
More silence, as Aravis and Arkin contemplate. Then the dog speaks again.
“I assume from the fact that you are here, and not in the Wood, that the Feline Conclave has not contacted you.”
“No, they have not.”
Arkin growls. “I ask rhetorically: why not? They should have done so immediately. It should be obvious to them that you are of great importance. In only one in fifty generations are any animal spirits born into the bodies of humans – only in times of exceptional need. Humans can master greater power than we can. Quarrol must believe that there is great danger to us all – to cats, at least. And yet the Feline Conclave has not summoned you to them. Why?”
Aravis sighs. “I have no idea. I assume a summons from them would be impossible not to notice...”
“They would come to you as I have,” says Arkin. “I knew where you were; you share the divine spark. They would know even better – you are one of them, after all. They share the ability to detect other sparks – despite their lack of focus and capricious nature.”
Pewter fumes. “Can I swat him on the nose on general principle?”
Aravis ignores his belligerent familiar. “Do you have any clues as to what or who is killing us?” he asks the dog.
Arkin shakes his head. “We know nothing, save that it is likely very powerful. We strive to know its purpose but we have no leads.”
“Why specifically was it that you were seeking me out?”
Arkin growls again, frustrated. Are all cats this dense? “Because you are an animal spirit born into the body of a human – the only one among the cats, dogs and horses. And yet, you have not contacted the cats, and they have not contacted you. We are being extinguished. You are human because Quarrol knows we have great need. So I come to you asking, if not telling, there is great need and you should do something. Perhaps you need to go visit the Conclave.”
“I suspect you are correct,” Aravis answers. “Can you teach me how to seek out others of our kind?”
“It's innate,” says Arkin. “If you lack the skill, I cannot help you.”
“I'll do my best,” says Aravis. “For when I meet them, are other bird forms inappropriate, or just ravens and crows?”
“The finer points of feline illusionary etiquette are beyond me,” says Arkin dryly.
“Of course they are,” says Aravis with a wink. “After all, you're only a dog.”
“Nice one, boss!” thinks Pewter. “Now swat him on the nose!”
“I'm not here to trade insults with a member of the Feline Conclave,” says Arkin without betraying any humor. “Consider that advice to save you embarrassment later on. So, do you have a plan?”
“You mentioned the Wood,” says Aravis.
“The Endless Wood. Yes. That is where the Feline Conclave resides, though I cannot be more specific.”
Flashback, to 18 months previous. The Company is traveling through Kivia in search of the Crosser's Maze. Returning to Djaw from the Golem City of Repose, the party is beset by swarms of rats that focus their attacks on Aravis. A semi-humanoid rat creature, sent by something called the Council of Nine, gave Aravis a warning: do not approach the Endless Wood for any reason, or be killed. It is all very mysterious.
Before Aravis can do more than think to himself 'those dirty rats!' he gets a sending from Morningstar. (With the rope trick closed, it's the only way she can communicate with him.)
There's a flock of ravens headed our way. A big one. Can you let us in?
Aravis shares this with Arkin as he opens the rope trick and lets down the rope.
“Are they moving to attack?” asks the dog. “The Unkind may have had similar thoughts as I, though not to the same ends. How many are there? And how far away?”
Morningstar had neglected to include that level of detail in her message, but the answers would be “yes,” “thousands,” and “imminent.” No sooner have the rest of the Company pulled themselves up into the extradimensional space, then the swarm of birds reaches them. They can see as dozens of birds actually swoop under the opening, frustrated at the disappearance of their quarry.
Aravis makes hasty introductions to Arkin.
“I am more powerful than a normal dog, but not strong enough to withstand what you have described,” Arkin says. “But you, Aravis, are a wizard. How powerful a wizard are you?”
Ernie fields that one. “If wizards were thunderstorms, he'd flatten trees.”
After Aravis has summarized what he has learned, Kibi turns to Arkin.
“Why do the Unkind want us dead?” he asks.
“Perhaps they are the ones who have found a way to kill other Animal Spirits,” Arkin ventures. “We have always been at odds with them, but heretofore that would have been fruitless. Now, though, the rules have changed. If the Council of Nine or the Unkind did discover a way, I'd not be surprised that they'd use it. So they could be coming for you, or for me, or both of us.”
Aravis ponders. “Even if they are not the ones responsible, they may believe that killing me will cause the spirit to come back as a cat, which would weaken the cats.”
Arkin nods. “So... I repeat... what are you going to do about it?”
Ernie knocks his fist against his helmet. “I'm armored. I could try to parley.”
“Great,” says Grey Wolf. “You're just going to stick your helmeted head into a swarm of ravens.”
“Okay!” Ernie lies down on his stomach by the opening. “If I tug on the rope, pull me back in!”
“I was joking!” exclaims Grey Wolf, but it's too late. Ernie sticks his out out of the rope trick.
He is not even given sufficient time to shout 'Ravens, what do you want with us?' before he is battered and buffeted, pecked and scratched by a hundred frenzied birds. The others quickly pull him back in. Ernie finds his wounds to be filthy, and he continues to take damage from them until he casts cure light wounds.
So much for parley.
“There are big ones out in the swarm,” says Ernie, confirming what they saw during the ravens' approach. “Dire ravens, bigger than any of us. At least a dozen of them, mixed in with the flock.”
They Company plans and plots for a few minutes before acting. Ernie casts prayer, releases Beryn Sur, and drops down. Aravis also drops down from the rope trick and like Ernie finds himself in the middle of the swarm. Concentrating hard, he casts lightning ring around himself, and the birds start to crisp. Grey Wolf drops out next, and clears out some of the birds with a fireball.
Aravis, and only Aravis is assaulted by dire ravens; Grey Wolf and Ernie are ignored. He is bitten and clawed and nearly knocked to the ground, though in a moment of unexpected comedy two of the huge birds collide head-on and fall stunned to the ground.
But this is all meaningless lead-up, really, to the main event. Morningstar drops down from the rope trick and casts prismatic sphere, forming a large hemisphere that wholly encompasses the extradimensional opening.
Lots of awful things happen to lots of ravens.
Gruesomely, dozens of bird corpses come popping into the sphere with them – some on fire, some melted by acid, some crisped by lightning, and some skeletonized by several of these at once. A few are made of stone and fall with little thumps into the grass. The lucky ones that manage to survive the trip in are still blinded, and don't survive the trip out the other side of the sphere as they flap around in a panic.
One dire raven comes hurtling in, petrified and smoldering. It rolls to Aravis's feet. After about ten more seconds the birds stop coming. The ground is an avian abattoir.
There's some brief, lopsided combat as the two stunned dire ravens regain consciousness. Kibi casts xorn movement and leaves the prismatic oasis, and pops up on the far side to take a look. While he's there he casts prismatic spray, and while this causes a similar swath of carnage through the ranks of ravens, there are way too many for a single spell like that to seriously thin their ranks. Kibi is dive-bombed and somewhat shredded before retreating again into the ground and back to his friends.
So, they wait it out, and after a few minutes the frustrated assault force departs. The Company can hear the retreating cacophony. They stay in the prismatic sphere a bit longer, just to be on the safe side.
A few minutes later they hear a voice outside.
“You guys had a barbecue and didn't invite me. I'm hurt.”
It's Dranko. Scree confirms it's really him, and Morningstar drops the prismatic sphere. There is a brief reunion and brain-dump. Dranko starts to tell them news of his excursion.
“Things went great! I've sewn up the market for gem imports. It's going to make me... make us... I mean the Undermen... a lot of cash. And I...”
He stops. Kibi is holding up his hand.
Flashback even farther – over two years ago. The Company is approaching God's Thorn on their quest to free the Yrimpa, when Kibi abruptly vanishes, having been summoned away to another world. Here is his experience from that moment:
Kibilhathur is standing on a white marble floor, and specifically within a wide grey circle drawn on that floor. Nine candles burn at various points around its perimeter. Around him is a wide chamber with a high ceiling; the walls are marked with glyphs and patterns written in a grey, swirling hand. The room is lit by hanging lanterns, and through a round glass window at the highest point in the ceiling he can see a full red moon in a black night sky. In front of him are two people: a tall, imperious-looking woman in a brown and white robe, and a small man with spectacles, holding a large book.
The woman speaks: “Something must have gone wrong. This is a dwarf!”
The man frantically looks through the book. “No, we did it right. I'm sure of it.”
The woman answers. “Dolt! The Opener is a mage. It has to be! And dwarves are incapable of magery. We must have made a mistake.”
“Perhaps this one isn’t. Maybe he’s… oh, I don’t know. And besides, this one has to be the Opener. The summoning wouldn’t have worked on anyone else.”
He flips to a page near the back of the book. “I’ll read it again, milady, in case you’ve forgotten. ‘When the smoke of nine is set beneath the Sigil of the Sky, and four of Tirat’s children align themselves behind the moon, the Opener will be brought from an echoing world. He is the wizard who will move the World Stone. He will bridge the Earth and the light, and force the gates of yesterday.’”
“I told you,” says the woman frowning. “It says ‘wizard.’”
“Hm,” says the man. He looks at Kibi. “Well? Are you a wizard?”
The dwarf feels as though he couldn’t lie, even if he wanted to. “Of course,” he says, affronted.
“Ah,” he says. “Well then. Good. What is your name?”
“Well, Kibilhathur Bimson, know this. You have been summoned by the Lady Serpicore, Mistress of the Wizards’ College, and by her humble apprentice, Maudrin. You are under our control for as long as the task takes. When your task is done, you will be released to your home. We will not mistreat you, but if you resist us, we will compel you, and that might cause you discomfort. Your task is dangerous, and though we will give you assistance, and protect your life however we might, there is no guarantee that you will survive. Understand that the fate of Cafille, our world, hangs in the balance, and that if you fail, you will perish with the rest of us. Will you assist us willingly, or will we be obliged to compel you?”
And now, years later, he hears this sending in his head:
“Kibi. Must move World Stone. Ruby is plane shift focus. Hurry... minutes before we're overwhelmed. Teleport to the world arch. Bring help if possible. Hurry!”
...to be continued...
Wednesday, 16th December, 2009, 09:55 AM #248
Enchanter (Lvl 12)
There's something about a dog holding counsel with a flock of crows in a field that I find very agreeable. This is such great stuff.
What do you want to do now?
Chasing the DM - D&D blog/occasional soap-box
Wednesday, 16th December, 2009, 03:25 PM #249
Waghalter (Lvl 7)
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Played in Swordlands Story Hour -campaign now completed.
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Friday, 18th December, 2009, 06:06 PM #250
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
Sagiro, did you plan for the sending to take place at this particular moment or did you decide that after 'x' number of days/months from the original summoning it would happen regardless of what the pcs were up to?
It may only be two cents, but at least it's MY two cents.