Dear Mom - Mishap Adventures of a Mommy's Elf


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    Dear Mom - Mishap Adventures of a Mommy's Elf

    This Story Hour is from a game not yet done but quite a bit longer in the works. The first parts are only the letters the party sends back home to the mom of the supposed main character because we lost all the other detailed notes. It will open up to narrative style eventually.

    All the players are part of a "literate kids" project in a youth club around here. When this started, the youngest (playing Flip) was 10.

    The letters have to be translated from German while keeping the style, so I am likely not quite as quick with updates for a bit. The letters were really written to the GM at the end of each game so they could not only practice their imagination and keep track of stats, but also have a motivation to put something down not dictated by school. The player for Uthas has a bad case of dyslexia and thus opted to play a semi-literate barbarian, which is really just the craze.

    It helps if you know the Freeport series to understand all the letters but later it really gets easier to follow.


    Cast of characters:

    Orlath – young naive elf noble sent to Freeport to both help a friend of his mother and to finally grow up and get his act together. Officially, he is there to study at the Temple of Knowledge. Mage of the 7 Stars. His mother created magical scrolls allowing them to send missives to each other no matter where they are. He's quite under pressure for regular reports, which basically means daily. At least.

    Nevukh – Orlath's best elven friend who thought going along would be a great adventure. Not quite as naive but somehow always gets into trouble. Mage of the 5 Rings. Orlath's mom gave him magical scrolls as well and paid for the damages he lately caused to make him send reports on their group and, of course, especially her son.

    Uthas – Half-Orc barbarian bodyguard of Orlath. What no one but Orlath' mother knows is that the other half of his heritage is elven, a result of a drunken night in a whore house when Orlath's father was supposedly "doing government business." Was sent along not only to protect mama's little darling, but also to disappear lest anyone finds out about his heritage. He is somewhat literate and thus was given magical scrolls as well, although Orlath's mom doesn't expect much to come from it.

    Flip – Halfling servant recently employed not only to serve Orlath, but also to send said magical missives as well. Flip thinks of it as an easy job enabling to "liberate" enough riches for himself – at least until the journey begins.

    To come in later:

    Lhess – Orlath's older sister. Paladin of the Golden Realm. Blunt, straightforward, undiplomatic, no people skills... she appears to be unfit to be a paladin until you see her defending the unfortunate, weak, poor, betrayed... and so on. Orlath and her do not get along that well because she goes straight over his head all the time. Whenever Orlath is in danger to mess up, mom will threaten to send his sister after him to "sort things out."


    NPCs in the background:

    Mom – with full name Theka, Protector of the Southern Realm, Scion of the 9 Stars, Mage of the 3-Fold Council. Overprotective of her last True Born son.

    Jansen: Human majordomo to Theka. He has arranged for agents of the Realm to have an eye on the group once they arrive. This can cause more problems than help.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------


    Part 1 - Death in Freeport


    Letters from the 1st of Dhai


    Dear Mom

    I am sorry for not writing back to you during the journey here. It seems to me that elves, or at least Nevukh and me – are not suited to travel the seas. I spent my time, as the crew called it, fattening up the fish. I have not had any food in days and still do not feel well. The only reprieve we had from the ups and downs of the waves was when the "Lucky Seagull" stopped at a small island. This is also why we are a bit late arriving here. See there was a woman on the island calling out to the ship, and there was a wreck. First we thought she was a survivor but then it turned out she was some sort of nature spirit wanting us to clean the shore up. She said we had made the mess. The captain said it was one of our ships stranded there but we were not able to find out the name. Uthas was very helpful in the clean up.

    Nevukh made me go into the cave this spirit was inhabiting. That was not such a good idea. She got all angry and chased us out and I tore my robe at a rock and knocked my head somewhere. We left that evening when done with cleaning and we didn't tell anyone we had been in the cave.

    Then when we came here, something strange happened. A group of thugs stopped us on the docks. I'm not so sure what it was all about, but according to Flip, such gangs are abducting people they think defenseless to do work on some ships. I can't imagine the authorities not doing anything about such behavior. In any case, Uthas beat them up all by himself. Didn't even have to use a spell. Mom, you should have seen him. It was amazing. He sent them running wild.

    The priest you wanted us to meet was expecting us at the docks, too. But it seems our foray into the depths of the Temple of Knowledge needs to wait a bit. See, one of the man's friends is missing and we agreed to see if we could find him as his duties keep him from searching a lot. Can't be that difficult, now, can it? Nevukh already asked all kids of questions about the missing priest – the archivar of the temple I think – you know how Nevukh is, always into something or the other.

    We are staying at the Scholar's Quill for now, maybe you know it from your studies here? It is manageable but I may search for better quarters later on.

    I need sleep now, everyone else is already in bed and I just stayed up to finally write you.

    Your loving son Orlath






    Honored Lady Theka!

    Apologies for not writing earlier. The wind and weather at seas are not agreeing with me so well. Additionally, we were late arriving at Freeport because we stopped at a small island. There was a shipwreck, and the nymph living there asked us to clean it all up because it was a ship from our Realm. We asked Uthas to help and it went all quickly.

    Orlath went into the nymph's cave, however, and I had to follow him to get him back out before she got too mad at him. He was all upset he tore his robe in the process but he is fine. Really, if he would just learn a spell to fix his own things he would not need to be worried about such trivial matters.

    When we arrived at the port, we were waylaid by a press gang. I am new to the concept, it seems Freeport is as dangerous as you have warned us about, Milady. Uthas took care of them though, it is good to have him along.

    We were indeed expected by Brother Egil. However, before we can study at the temple it seems he wants us to find a friend who is missing. One Lucius, supposedly you know him? He was and now is again the librarian of the temple. A strange thing happened 5 years ago, when he suddenly behaved weird and then vanished. Only recently he came back and was let back in the temple despite being thrown out before. Careful inquiries lead me to believe that he was readmitted because he brought back a lot of books.

    Orlath isn't much interested in the matter. I guess he thinks the rest of us will take care of it. In all likeliness, this Lucius has just gone up and about again, but we will try and solve the issue for Brother Egil's peace of mind.

    We are staying at a modest inn, and while I find it refreshing to be away from too many servants and protocol, Orlath has some trouble adjusting and might insist to stay in more noble quarters. As you have instructed us to learn a more normal way of living, I suppose you would be opposed to this?

    I will write more once I have had some rest. Everyone else is sleeping and only my sense of duty to you keeps me awake to send this letter.

    In Your service

    Nevukh




    Most High Lady Theka


    I am finally able to write after my disagreement with the seas has prevented me to do so. We arrived fine, if a bit late, and Uthas already had to beat some bullies up. Freeport looks fine to me though, and I am sure as soon as we all know how life works here we will settle in just great!

    Your honored son has decided to take things easy and went to bed early while honored Nevukh went to the Temple of Knowledge to inquire about a missing friend of Brother Egil – who was, might I add, happy to hear you were well and safe. Nothing has come of it so he asked us to follow him to the missing man's house tomorrow to see what we can find. As you know, Milady, I have a keen eye for things that are off. I might make a good investigator.

    Everyone else is sleeping already so I had some quiet to write this note. I will make sure to keep you informed promptly.

    Your humble servant

    Flip





    Letters from the 2nd of Dhai



    Dear Mom

    No, I'm not too arrogant to stay with the more normal folk, I just do not see any point living in a substandard place. With the money you gave us we could even buy a house. Maybe I'll just do that, and hire more servants, too. Flip is a bit on the impertinent side. He had the guts to call me lazy when I got up a little late for breakfast. Seriously, I stayed up late after all.

    For some reason, I had to trudge along with the others investigating the house of this Lucius. I would have rather checked out the city. Supposedly, you knew the man. How did you end up being friends with someone so... I do not even know what to call it. He's a librarian and lives in such a mess in only two rooms – and a basement that looks like a mostly empty library. And he must be a very confused individual, as his to do list for the day he vanished included such unforgettable things as sleeping. And he wasn't very tidy either. Obviously, he has no servants, not a wonder in the place he stayed in.

    I kept Flip with me when I went for lunch, although he seemed to be disappointed not to be able to go to see that pirate orc ship with the others. I'm not sure why they are insisting, anyway, just because this Lucius wanted to talk to their captain, Scarabeus or something like that, doesn't mean they got him. And if so, it would probably be too late or could wait another day.

    So, now I'm at lunch in a place called The Silly Goose. Very good food, a mix of spices from all part of the world. You would love it. It is also entertaining, as there are many rumors floating around. Mostly about the new lighthouse. From what I gathered, it is mostly a waste of money and may never be completed. A prestige project mainly. This Lord Drac of theirs could learn a few things from you, mom. Can you believe the thing is 10 years in the build and it basically ruined the city financially? They reduced the watch to be able to keep building it, no wonder we were waylaid on arrival! So, they call the thing "Milton's Folly" which seems to hit it. And supposedly, the Captain's Council – some poor substitute for a ruling body, it seems – would like nothing better than to get rid of this Drac.

    I'll keep you updated on the news from your temporary former home, for sure. It is quite interesting.

    Brother Egil is going to show us around the temple in the afternoon. I heard they have a large section on Old World spells and the history of the peoples from there.


    Your loving son Orlath






    Honored Lady Theka!


    Today a lot of things happened. It looks like Lucius was involved with some orcs. We found a note stating he wanted to talk to a captain Scarbelly from the Bloody Vengeance. Uthas and I went to check the ship out but even with Uthas shouting at them for a while, they didn't let us see the captain.

    After Orlath and I had been introduced to the temple in the afternoon – a true treasure of knowledge is in those walls indeed. We signed up Uthas for an additional language course as he is still so bad with the Realm's language. He was eager to learn, actually. Maybe we will make a scholar out of him yet.

    Uthas, Flip and me went back to the docks when Orlath had gone to bed. We went to follow the captain to a tavern and there Uthas managed to get some information out of him when he was drunk. The captain, not Uthas. Uthas only had about 5 or 6 kegs. Turns out Lucius had traveled with the pirates before, and paid them well for it. He stayed a few months and then vanished. He admitted he had seen Lucius, who got him drunk as well and asked questions about things he should know. Mainly, about his time on the ship. Would Milady have any idea why this librarian would consort with pirates?

    When we were on our way back to the inn, we were waylaid again. This city is really getting out of hand, they do not have enough money to pay enough watchmen, so I heard. This time, they shot at us – shot at us! – from the roofs and tried to cut us off in the street from both sides. And they even had a mage with them. Not a very good one, admittedly, but still. I was under the impression that Freeport was a place with few arcane magic users. Well, now there is one less. After Uthas interrogated the man, we made sure he would leave the city on the next ship. I do not trust the system here to deal with him accordingly. Uthas had, unfortunately, killed the others. Flip had a hand in it, somewhat, by getting 2 of them off the roofs. There is more to the little guy than I thought. We had some additional help, too. When we thought we would be wedged in between our foes, a group in night blue robes and hoods arrived and killed half of them before we could do much, then vanished when they saw Uthas handle the rest. They looked suspiciously like Realm agents to me. Do we have many Realm agents in Freeport? And if so, are they shadowing us?

    And here comes the shock. This was a band of mercenaries hired by some Enzo. The mage didn't know anything else except that they were to be paid in a tavern called Black Gull. Uthas was angry, very angry, and he insisted on checking the place out right away. It is a very seedy place close to the docks, as can be expected. From the descriptions we had been given, this Enzo was easy to find.

    As you can imagine, Milady, Uthas handled the situation with his usual charm. He grabbed the man and dragged him into an alley, threatening to remove his teeth all in one if he wouldn't talk. While I usually disdain such blatant display of force, it was very helpful in this case. This Enzo believes that he has been recruited by some sort of cult calling itself just "Brotherhood." I think he has been duped to run errands for someone who takes advantage of his gullible, feeble minded nature. But supposedly, we have angered the oh so powerful leader of this cult and are now a target. I have no idea why we would have angered anyone, all we did is attempting to find a missing librarian. So, either someone important has him and feels threatened, or someone has a hate for our noble line. Which would explain the presence of the agents.

    I asked a few more detailed questions, and found out that the supposed temple of this cult is some old unused house in a more or less unused part of the city. Uthas and I decided it would be wise to take Enzo with us and lock him up in Uthas' room so he can lead us there tomorrow. I am hesitant to involve the officials yet.

    I have loaded up on magic energy, including some globules of each color, and I have learned a new spell in the temple today, too. Something defensive, in case we get into trouble. I think out in the real world we will need more of the magics used for attack and defense. It is good I knew enough to catch this mage earlier.

    Ever in Your service

    Nevukh




    Most High Lady Theka


    Things are going awry. We – except your son - have been attacked tonight, by a gang of mercenaries called the Yellow Shields. By sheer luck and with the help of some unidentified strangers nothing happened to us at all. They had a mage, and that one's spell and one from honored Nevukh collided, knocking the stranger out. Please, Milady, if you have any contact to them, which I assume you do, could you tell Nevukh to be more careful with his magic? He meant well but as back home, he might do more harm with his thoughtless use of it than help.

    Uthas ended up capturing the man who paid them, and it looks like some sort of cult member of whatever. They don't seem to have a real name. We will need to make honored Orlath go along tomorrow. He is the better caster, I know, and he knows offensive spells, which we may need. But I assure you, Milady, we will watch out for him. A bit excitement is just what he needs. This morning, I had to wake him – he slept to almost midday. He didn't like me getting him out of bed either but I just did as Milady instructed.


    Your humble servant

    Flip




    Bosslady

    I am be writing now late. Was to match to take all inn. Has had beat up some folk and tonite we capture some dumb arse thinks he is ina cult. Nev sais he is making stuff up. Well see tomorow.

    I am good watch for son of you. I am even be learning better langish of you elfs. Nev sayd some about puting a colar on me but I hope sure he was been joking.

    And Flip say it is my turn get young boss out from bed now. Young boss snore like a drunk hore. Flip gave me a buckit to fill with water so I get him out more fast.

    ~U
    My Story Hour campaigns. What are they up to this week?

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    Letters from the 4th of Dhai



    Bosslady

    We got back from cellar fight in city. All are going be good, Flip and son of you got a bad bump on head, not awake yet. Nev lost blood much and not strong to write ssays he. Healer says can write tomorrow and explain.

    ~U


    Mom,

    you won't believe what happened! We are heroes now! Just like you predicted we would be. Much of it was my doing, of course, and Nev's but the others sure did their part.

    But, let's start from the beginning. The others got attacked again when they were returning home from their attemtps to talk to the orcs. Turned out they were some mercenaries and they captured a guy. I forgot the details, but he was to tell them where the cult was he was supposedly working for. He led us to some old house where in the basement was a concealed door magically set to trigger an alarm. Can you believe they, including Nev, just wanted to go through? It was very good that they took me along because otherwise they had alerted everyone that we would be coming.

    I disabled the alarm in no time and we went in. To my dismay, Nev insisted on carrying the prisoner along. I would have left him outside with Flip as I didn't know how useful Flip could be at that time. See, Flip is more than he appears to be. You do probably know that but I was surprised that he found a trapdoor and a hidden door in the room we found ourselves in after a short trek through a corridor. I had not taken the whole situation quite seriously until then, I have to admit. But when we found the other rooms, I was very much alarmed. There was a ritual room of the darkest kind, with a pit to summon evil things no doubt. I am, as you know, not very receptive to the vibes of different energies, but it was so obviously evil in there that I insisted on backing out, and the others mostly agreed, only Flip investigated a little. We also found a library with the most foul writings about the forbidden lore of the Unspeakable One. Seriously, that is a cult outlawed in even the more evil places of the world! Who would have thought we could encounter anything like that in Freeport? By then the prisoner was finally realizing who he had been working for and was suddenly very cooperative. A coward, definitely, but at least he had some sense left. He said that there was a temple somewhere, too, but he had not been there yet.

    While Flip and Uthas investigated another room close by – and in there destroyed several skeletons as I was told – Nev and me went to magically seal those dark writings. Nev is better with such stuff but I could at least help. Then Nev packed most of the library into his magical rucksack after handing me everything else from in there – were you aware he owned a Goblet of Clarity? – and we made to check out the rest of the place. Unfortunately, by now we had announced ourselves to the cultists thanks to Uthas not having been very quiet about taking those undead apart. Someone was sending twisted lizard creatures against us. Not an issue for Uthas and me – I am happy I took uncle Klaine up on the offer to teach me lightning spells – but we made even more noise, and by the time we were done with them and reached the temple part itself, we were expected by 3 of the cultists. Imagine my surprise to find their leader was no other than Milos from the Temple of Knowledge!

    One of the cultists started to attack us right away, while Milos was doing the same kind of babble you tend to read about when it comes to evil leaders. I didn't even pay attention and instead put some magic missiles into him. It didn't seem to help much, and then there suddenly was this dark, tentacled creature behind Milos. It was not much bigger than himself, but clearly one of the hordes of the Unspeakable One. I must have been in shock or something because I didn't notice the attacking cultist swinging at me with a staff. I was knocked out and also the subject of some sort of spell. I was about to pass out when I saw that Flip had had the foresight to take the silver candle holders from the ritual room and was now landing blow after blow on the cultist's back.

    I woke up in the Temple of Knowledge with quite some headache. Yet, I still had to write to you. I will ask Nev to fill in the rest of the story.

    Your loving son with a headache

    Orlath



    Honored LadyTheka!


    We are all back and safe from our little adventure. Orlath said I should fill you in from where he left off, but I have the feeling he is not aware of me writing to you anyway. I take it I should leave it at that?

    After Orlath and then Flip got knocked out, Uthas was just done with the 3rd cultist. It seems our half-orc friend is quite resistant to some magic, especially sleep effects. He took his opponent by surprise thanks to that. Maybe it was the combination of a magical spear and shield Flip had taken from the treasury where we met the skeletons first. Flip also took about everything else in there but that is fine to me – he was a great help and I consider it earned riches.

    I had been placing protective magic over myself and Orlath, but could not include Flip. But the protection from evil combined with a displacement spell was enough to send the tentacled evil back to where it came from as it touched the circle of protection. Milos got very upset about that and pelted me with some sort of glowing embers spell.

    My one meager ray of frost I was able to produce under the circumstances seemed to really slow Milos down, he was vulnerable to cold. But it was not enough. Flip had badly wounded the other dark priest left and so I told Uthas to go for Milos while I was taking up the sword against the remaining foe. I am not yet trained that well in the arts of sword fighting, but luckily, the priest was only armed with a staff and a badly manufactured short sword. It was not the first time I had to kill someone, but it was the only time until now I felt no regret. This was a dark soul destined for hell and I am happy I managed to rid the world of it!

    On the bad side, I had received a cut to my thigh I did not even notice at first, there was no pain. It was when Uthas felled Milos, who seemed to be all out of spells that I noticed, but then the most wonderous change happened to the treacherous temple priest and I forgot I was bleeding. Milos changed into a reptile in front of our eyes! No wonder he was vulnerable to cold. He looked somewhat like the twisted lizards, just not twisted... if that makes any sense? He threw curses at us and more babble of overtaking the world and all. The cult must be quite a bit larger than I first thought. Then he died.

    Uthas found Lucius behind the altar. He was in bad shape and used up the healing potions to be able to stand up. Confused as he was, he was still able to assist our prisoner to get me to get out of the place after I had magically stopped my bleeding. Uthas easily carried the others. To my dismay, I passed out once we were out of the old building, but by then, the guard was already alerted and helped us.

    We were assured the officials would evacuate anything in the temple and destroy it as needed. The story spread quick, especially about Milos having been a shapechanged lizard. I wonder how many more there are? I do not feel quite safe yet, maybe there will be some sort of retaliation later.

    Flip confessed he is also writing reports to you. He asked to tell you that thanks to a healing resistant injury he received from a spell, he will not be able to write a lot in the next few weeks or so. It somewhat fused the fingers of his left hand – his writing hand – together.


    Ever in Your service

    Nevukh



    Dear Mom,

    No, you do not need to send Lhess here. We can make do without my overbearing sister at our sides. Didn't we just prove we can handle ourselves?

    I will take up your advice about seeing your old adventuring companion. If he knows as much about this city as you think he does, he will definitely be a great help.


    Your loving son Orlath



    Letters from the 9th of Dhai


    Dear Mom,

    as in my last letters, not too much has happened with us. But we found out now what it was with Lucius. It seems he was possessed by a being from another plane for the last 5 years, a being that wanted to learn about our world and has, among other things, traveled with the orc pirates to find out whatever it could. And it seems the cultists, or at least this Milos, whoever he really was, wanted to learn about it and probably use it in their dark scheme.

    The poor guy. Imagine losing 5 years of your life! A local temple of the Goddess of Mercy has some hopes to restore the memory they say must be there despite him not having been himself, but still. After all that has happened in his life, maybe he will never see peace again.

    We've sent our former prisoner – who we have kept as secret from the authorities as possible – to Laryss in the Realm with one of the Realm's warships getting provisions here. The city or the cultists here would just kill him, but the poor coward was taken advantage of his whole life. I am sure Laryss can rehabilitate him, as with so many others.


    Your Loving son Orlath

    PS: We just learned from Brother Egil that Lucius is missing again and he suspects that the cult has taken him again. I believe he might just have left Freeport for good but we promised to check on it again.




    Honered Lady Theka!

    I am happy to report that, with the help of your old friend, all the dark writings have been destroyed by now. Some of the effects of destruction were quite spectacular, as you have suggested they would be. The threat is gone!

    We are all making significant progress in our studies at the temple as well.

    Ever in Your service

    Nevukh
    My Story Hour campaigns. What are they up to this week?

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    Letters from the 10th of Dhai


    Dear Mom,

    while we are waiting for lunch to be served, I have a moment to tell you about this morning's events. After Brother Egil described to us how someone had searched Lucius' simple home and the guy went missing after that, Everyone but me and Flip decided to find out what had happened. I spent the morning studying in the temple, as I suppose you would prefer me to do while Flip was running errands.

    There is so much talk at the temple about Milos and how come no one ever had any suspicions, and not only Brother Egil but most of the priests feel unsure about who else might be a foe. So I ran a few detects on them to show them no one else has been shapeshifted. Really, how likely is it there would be more of those snake people? Not counting those mentally unstable twisted ones we encountered in the cellar. The guards let us know there were more of them in the sewers, and supposedly they will root them out one by one.

    I learned a few new spells, although you may think of some of them to be useless. One allows me to learn a fact about a place, object or living being. That one is useful without a doubt. I may go back to that dark temple just to learn a bit about it, now that it is safe. I've also learned some variations of arcane locks, and a spell to change the weight of some thing or being. And I learned to make ghost sounds, this to me very useful trick every gnome just seems to know. Yeah I know, you just shake your head at those type of tricks, but I think them useful and fun, too.

    There are a few more things I've learned, I will tell you all about it tonight, lunch is here now.


    Your loving son Orlath



    Most High Lady Theka

    It is with regret that I have to confirm your worries. Your hero son – forgive me my sarcasm – seems completely content to rest on his momentary fame and go back to his studies. Nevukh says it is because you have read him the Holy Book of Ghor * before you sent him here and he now wants to prove he can stay out of trouble. Nevukh also says Orlath would like us all to stay out of it despite your wishes to help Brother Egil again. He also seems to be sure I am more than a simple servant by now. I hope he does not get the idea why I had to leave the Realm. After all, he might get the wrong idea and think of me as untrustworthy.

    He tries to send me on so many errands I can hardly help the others. Paid a few boys today to go shopping for me and went with the rest to the old bricked house to see the temple again but there were guards telling us the matter was taken care of. Thanks to one of Nev's scrying spells we got a good idea that they were carrying everything we had not taken, including the temple floor tiles and some books we overlooked, out of there to hide it somewhere else. I can smell a conspiracy behind this.

    With the scrying spells, we found out where all of the stuff went to. It is the house of a councilor, the upstart named Verlaine. It is well guarded, and we really didn't have a real reason to ry and get in, anyway. But I might check it out once things have calmed down, as there is definitely something amiss.

    This evening over dinner, I suggested we check out where this Milos snake used to live, lest we miss something important. No one else had had the idea yet, and they all agreed, even Orlath. He is not only curious about how those lizards spend their days, he also hopes to find some more magical things in there.

    Other than that, things are going fine at the temple. Uthas is trying hard to learn the language, and he is also trying to learn to calculate better. One of the priests has come up with the idea to explain numbers to him with soldiers on a battlefield, and that he seems to get, at least.

    Your humble servant

    Flip

    * expression when someone has been chastised




    Mom!

    No, you don't need to send anyone after us, especially not my sister. We are grown men able to take care of ourselves and do not need a girl to 'look after' us! Seriously! Stop treating us like little boys. Please. Mom?




    Letters from the 11th of Dhai


    Honored Lady Theka!

    Things are moving again, but we do not know where to, as I have to admit. After our studies today and after we helped your ever so resourceful friend Falthar with his magic shop, we all went to check out where this Milos used to live. According to Brother Egil, he had another identity, that of a guy named Devlin. Mkes sense, when you are a shapeshifter of sorts, I suppose, though I wonder why no one ever wanted to visit his Milos identity, or why he didn't have rooms at the temple as well. But what do I know about the ways of snakes?

    His Devlin self had rooms at the Marquis Moon. You won't know it, it is a relatively new, yet poor quality inn in the Old City. I had to charm the man being something like in charge – not that he paid much interest – so we could get to "Devlin's" rooms. And really, for all the poor state of the place, it seems this snake, at least, was a neat freak. It is almost as if someone drew a map to not leave an inch of the place unused. Walls behind shelves with books and scrolls and ritual stuff – he was really into all of that cult crap. Some books were about other things, too. And he slept on the floor. I guess snakes do not want beds. It was all kind of dusty but someone must have been here because the layers of dust were not smooth everywhere. Flip guessed someone had been checking the room only a few days ago. He also found that some books had no dust on at all and suggests that those are replacements for removed volumes, probably about this whole cult stuff.

    When we asked in the common room about who was here, only one old drunk dwarf could help. After some drinks of course. He told us some "official looking" people had been here, claiming to be on council business. I guess he knows official when he sees them.

    Well, that was not much so we left. Outside, someone called for help and before me or Ortlath could stop him, Uthas rushed to help a young looking fellow, a messenger about to get his message stolen by some orcs as it looked like. Uthas seemed to be so happy about a chance to fight after all his studying that he drew us right into a fight. It was only when the supposed victim was caught by Flip with his hands in my dropped bag that we realized we had been tricked. They didn't manage to steal anything. Flip wanted to go back and check the room out again, suggesting there must have been something there the first search party and us missed, but I didn't think it likely and Orlath refused to deal with the stupid innkeeper again.

    The thief managed to wriggle free and run, but we didn't bother to give chase. An attempt at a crime of opportunity, no doubt.

    This evening, your son suggested taking the scholar's route to this issue. Find out more about councilor Verlaine, on who we all agree that he is suspicious. His suggested method was going through the city records. Uthas and Flip were both groaning, refusing to be a part of this. So Orlath and me will go alone after our studies tomorrow.

    Ever in Your Service

    Nevukh



    Letters from the 12th of Dhay



    Dear Mom

    We are finally getting somewhere. We went to the records office as you said we should. It is chaos, really, not a bit of organization can be recognized in the mass of papers, and most is useless anyway. The man running the place was a bit unfriendly, but when he heard we were there to find out about Verlaine, who he hates, and probably find evidence against him, he was very cooperative. Seems that the councilor's thugs, as he calls them, recently paid him a visit to get city maps, especially of the sewers, although such maps do not seem to exist. We spell copied the maps he showed us as well, and the man was very forthcoming spouting dirt about Verlaine. He came to power after the last Lord Drac died. Rumors are Verlaine had him assassinated. By now, he seems to be the biggest influence on the council and no one really dares to oppose him. It may be that he is the one after the whole lighthouse mess.

    While this was all not that remarkable, what was was the group of guards awaiting us outside, wanting to arrest us. They would not even tell us what for, so I played on the diplomatic status my birth and rank gives me in most parts of the world. Their dumbfounded look was priceless. They left in confusion.

    It turned out they had gone to arrest Flip and Uthas though, and there was nothing much we could do about them, as they do not share our status. To our surprise, Brother Egil brought them back. The temple of knowledge, as it seems, holds considerable influence. Flip was all about storming Verlaine's place, saying that Lucius must be there as well. I was, however, still sure that the cult would not bother with the librarian again. Nev suggested checking the temple to see if he was back from the given leave and if not to go to Verlaine's place. Brother Egil was none to happy about that, saying we were wasting time. Then Uthas came back to the inn from an ale run and immediately seized Egil. We were all confused until he told us that this was not Egil, that the guy smelled wrong. Orcs and their sense of smell, you know. Well, Uthas was quick in making the guy talk, too. Quick as in it took only a few broken limbs. His real name was Nikko and he's with that stupid brotherhood that still has no name. Not a snake, just disguised with a potion, and he doesn't know where the real Egil is but assured us Lucius was fine. He also admitted he wanted us to go to Verlaine's house. Why, he wouldn't say because Uthas overdid it and accidentally killed the guy. Asides from the logistical problem of getting rid of a body now, we were also missing vital information. Our best guess is that the cult disliked Verlaine's amount of power and wants to pit us against him rather than them. Or maybe they have some sort of internal power struggle. Silly folks, would they just have left us and the temple alone, nothing would have happened at all. Now we are really pissed and do not want to leave this matter in the hands of the locals, who seem incapable to sort things out anyway.

    The cultist has a plan of the sewers with him. Something must be important about them as Verlaine's people had asked the record keeper about them as well. Uthas was all for checking the marked path but I sure as hell is hot won't go down into the sewers, of all things, and neither will Nev. I am sure there are other ways than getting ourselves dirty like that.

    We are still discussing how to go about this. Uthas called me a coward, can you believe that! And he needs to be careful, I am already angry at him for throwing a bucket of water at me this morning when I was just getting up.

    Your loving son Orlath




    Hi bosslady


    Accident I kill a bad cultist today. When I have ask him about what he do. He had map of sewers so Flip said I should probably just throw dead man in there to rot. So I did that while others are in fight of what to do next.

    I dont mind sewers. Bad smell but can wash later. Flip says he go, too, but son of yours and Nev are too high nose to want get dirty. Maybe Flip and me go alone but Flip says dont be silly to me. He may right with it be too dangerous for us.

    ~U
    My Story Hour campaigns. What are they up to this week?

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    This reads like the best kind of British fiction - looking forward to seeing the rest of it! Very touching!

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    Letters from the 14th of Dhai


    Dear Mom

    I was so right not to go into the sewers. It would have been a trap. We are out, clean and, more importantly, alive. Flip has a concussion and needs a few days worth of bed rest. He says he is not going to let any magic get to him if he can avoid it. He explained it to me. Did you know you can be allergic to magic?I never suspected! Turns out he starts twitching when magic is worked on or to close by him. I'm tempted to make it an experiment but Nev insists it would be immoral. I will at least read up on it at the temple.

    But I disgress. After we've considered all sides, we naturally went with what Nev and I suggested. Which means we decided to get into that councilors house, heavily guarded or not. After some hesitation, Uthas said he would probably be able to bring some allys, and Flip went of to get some supplies without telling us what he meant by that. We met a few streets from the mansion in the better area of the city. Flip was there with a bundle of key-like tools, which he assured me would get him into and out of anything. Uthas looked a bit nervous when he arrived, followed by a bunch of armed, dark cloaked figures. Before I could ask we heard a snarly voice from one of them uttering some sort of greeting and what passed for a ruffian's thanks for a welcome distraction. To make a long story short, it was the pirate orcs we had somewhat deal with earlier... whatever their ship was called again. Turns out they are so nervous because a wizard had paid them to steal something magical for him and not showed up yet to get it. Uthas promised we'd help find the wizard and, if we could not find him, would pay the other half of the money he was owing them and take it with us. They are not too happy with anything magical on their ship, especially not knowing what it does, which I can understand.

    This seemed a bit above Uthas' usual line of thinking, so I looked at Flip, who sheepishly confessed to have had a hand in the negotiations before he ent to pick up his new toys. I would have chastized him, but it was really a good move. I got the idea we could use the orcs as a distraction to engage the guardsmen watching the mansion, and then slip inside with the help of a bit of magic. Nev has learned a new spell creating a zone where everyone would be hidden in plain sight as long as we would not draw direct attention to us. It would only last a minute or two, but that should do it as the door to the garden was, as last time we checked, wide open. Deliveries were still going in and out.

    The whole scam worked quite well at first. The orcs pretended to be drunk and harassing Flip, so the guard did their duty and came to the halfling's rescue. The orcs really made a show of really being misunderstood and just wanting some property back, and while the guards had their hands full with them, Flip hurried over to us and Nev did his spell. We could slip inside without a problem, except that Uthas almost bumped into a servant, which would have somewhat killed the spell effect.

    We were now in a big and well kept garden, well able to rival one of our lesser estates at home. The two guards on the roof were totally focussed on the scene with the orcs so we got close enough to the wall before they could see us. To our surprise, the front door stood slightly ajar. That got us all alert, because obviously it makes little sense to protect a place that well and then leave the door open. Not if you want to keep someone in there safe. To us, it looked more like the house was used as a go-through, to hide something else.

    We sneaked in and checked out the ground floor. To our left, the living room was empty and undisturbed. The adjacent dining room had a wide variety of food and a place set up for the lord of the house to eat, but the food was all cold. Didn't stop Uthas and Flip from helping themselves, of course. In the kitchen, at the end of the hall, it looked like all was fine at first but then we found that the silverware was lying all about and a lot of it seemed missing. We had a bit of a discussion – well, a hand waving contest really, as we didn't want to make much sound – about where to go next, upstairs or downstairs. Nev and me were all for downstairs this time; after all it had all been about using the sewers before, and we had pretty much agreed that the marks on the sewer map would be somewhere around this mansion. But no, of course now, Flip and Uthas wanted to check upstairs first. Something about the situation being all weird and not wanting for anyone to fall into our backs. As if that could not nhappen the other way around as well, but they got Nev to agree with them so we went upstairs. Luckily, the stairs didn't make any sounds like in the horror stories of our childhood.

    The doors upstairs were all closed, but we could hear the sounds of someone rumaging through one of the rooms. It turned out to be the study, and it looked like a storm had blown through. Torn papers everywhere and toppled over furniture. Before I could decide on anything, Nev used a hold person spell and Uthas quickly ran to hold the man's mouth shut before the surprise was gone. From the symbol on the man's shirt, he was a cultist. Why he would ransack the home of a councilor who seemed in league with them was curious, but right then we just wanted him secured. Unfortunately, he started to struggle and Uthas lost his patience and just broke the man's neck. Just like that. He terrifies me at times.

    Flip searched the body and turned up several stolen goods including the missing silverware. There was also a very rough map of the Temple of Knowledge. We had to think twice about what it was supposed to be.

    Uthas had sneaked out and was now returning with a second dead thief – he said he had heard him rumaging in the wardrobe. He, too, had all sorts of stolen goods with him. A note was among the loot in which Verlaine authorized an inflitration – more likely an attack – on the temple. By now, I was utterly confused. Flip didn't seem to be, he made 'that face' – you know, when he suddenly gets it all to click for some reason.

    Nev and Uthas went to check out the bedroom, but Flip held me back. He said that we had to get out of there quick, that we were being set up. And that we hgad to hurry to the temple to warn the priests. But we had not yet checked out the basement. I was about to tell him that when Flip and Nev came back. They had found the body of Verlaine and some of his guards in the bedroom. Flip repeated his insistence on getting out of here and back to the Temple of Knowledge, but when we hurried downstairs, we could see the guards outside had finally turned away the orcs, and we would have a hard time explaining the situation.

    Flip mumbled something about them having expected us to come through the sewers and left guards outside to lure them in once we were there. It did make sense to me finally, but the problem how to get out again remained. Uthas finally suggested the sewers again – he has a brain up there somewhere it seems – but that's really not something I wanted to consider. Flip then suggested getting up on the roof and let the guards there sleep for a bit, so Nev and me could fly off. He knew of course that Nev can do a fly spell lasting long enough to get us out of there. He said he and Uthas would take the sewers and get to the temple directly, suggesting that we would take somewhat longer. We agreed to that.

    Flip had some darts with a sleeping drug on them he said he aquired earlier this morning. He really surprised me with that. The two guards went down almost silently, but some guards from below had heard something, so everyone but Nev and Uthas flopped to the shingles while the two of them waved back at them to signal all was fine. It was a tense moment, but it worked.

    Nev and me waited a few minutes so we could be sure the others were back down and on their way into the basement, which worried me a bit because they were only two and there might be more of those mad men around. Nev suggested that with what we had seen from Uthas earlier, we would not need to worry. He put the spell on us and we flew out to the other side of the street, off from the gate.

    The temple is, thank the gods, not that far away. Yet there was a fog creeping up from the sea reaching up to the merchant's district, and it made it hard enough to see anything, even with the well tended lights of Freeport. The only good thing about that was that the cult fools would be slowed down the same way, at least that was what we hoped.

    Not too much later, about a corner or so away, Nev said we were followed. How he discerned that, I have no idea. But he pulled me over to a wall and into a doorway, away from any light, and when we stood still I could hear it, too – the muffled steps of several people behind us. And a moment later, some dark cloaked figures showed up. From the way some of them moved, they must have been elves. Nev did his hide in plain sight thing again, and from earlier situations similar to this one, I knew to put some shost sounds out into the fog and direct them away from us. But this changed everything. If they had followed us here, they were evne better organized. Nev says they were not cultists but who else would follow us? This was too much to be a coincidence.

    They would probably notice they were fooled sooner than later, so I pointed at the temple behind us. We had been standing in the doorway, and as temples are always open in Freeport, Nev agreed to slip inside to get out of the reach of our pursuers. It happened to be the Temple of Nature, which was a good thing as we could just pray while there; we definitely could use some divine help by now. Also,. No one would wonder why we were there. Our worries about our companions had to be put aside for our own safety. After all, we are of royal blood and important to the Realm.

    I'll give the others some paper now and let them add to the story so I do not hog all the spotlight.

    Your loving son Orlath


    Most High Lady Theka


    I will tell the story of Uthas and me from when we left Verlaine's house.

    We went downstairs and into the wine cellar undisturbed. After some search, I found a hidden door there, leading through a badly secured tunnel into the cult's reconstructed temple. It looked very bizzar, partly like a cave with stalactites all over, partly like something from another dimension as the stones seemed to bend very weirdly. Uthas hated the place but followed me in anyway.

    We came out right behind a large of those grotesque statues of their unspeakable ugly god. Which was a good thing as on the altar, which was on a platform in front of the uglyness, we could see a bound figure. It turned out to be your friend Brother Egil. There was a brazier with hot coals holding a branding iron, and aq cloaked figure – what's it with those cloaks anyway? – walked around the prisoner, waving incense. The scent wasn't bad, good thing, and it sure masked the large fart Uthas let rip just then. I should probably not mention this to Your Highness but the echoing noise was why the cultist saw us before we could sneak up on him.

    Lucky for us, the wretch was so baffled by our appearance, he just stared and allowed me to sink a knife right into his chest. Without your honored son present, I decided not to worry about possible redemption of anyone. We needed to warn the priests of the temple, after all. To that effect, because we were in a hurry, Uthas just grabbed the badly beat up Egil and threw him over his shoulder. I retrieved my knife and then we made way to the other end of the temple, where we saw an exit. We ran around a u-shaped corridor and passed two rooms, one looked like a library – of course – and the other was a storeroom. We had no time for either.

    We came around a few bends and then there was a steep upward slope. Thanks to our burden, I had to use my grappling hook to allow us to move on, and even then it was difficult. Good thing Uthas is so strong! We finbally exited into the sewers, and, ignoring the stench, made to the next visible exit. The stairs we found were stepp, and again it was difficult to carry Egil up but we managed. Once out and in relative safety, we sat him down and removed his bounds. He was afraid of us for a moment. He thought we might be shapeshifted serpent people. We half carried him along while telling him of the planned attack, and he finally got we were really us.

    When we got to the temple, thanks to Egil we were led right to the high priest, Thuron, while Egil was taken away to be treated. The old man was weary, he seemed to have expected this day to come. He said he would tell us what it was all about if we would manage to defend the temple and survive the night. That got me wondering just how many cultists he was expecting to show up. In any case, he had the alarm roused, and the priest were prepared. Uthas agreed to help in the defense of the temple without asking me. I decided to slip away once the attention was on preparing for a fight, because the priests really looked nothing like fighters. I knew where the orcs would wait for us not far away from there and decided to get them.

    I was really hurrying up, by my legs arfe short and it also took a moment to convince those pirates to help again. When we came back, the fight was in full action. According to what Uthas told us later, a bunch of cultists had arrived disguised as ambushed priests after slaying the originals. Thus, they got inside temple before they were revealed to be fakes. Uthas and several priests were wounded, some unconscious. Captain Scarbelly and his crew dug right into them, happy to be able to do some legal slaughter. I have to give them that, it was easy to see why they were so successful as pirates.

    The leader of the cultists, a female, decided to revert to snake form. Didn't make her any prettier. She went from normal fight to suddenly slinging spells around. Dark priests and their wound spells, that is never good. I think it was one of those spells that managed to kill an already wounded first mate of the pirate crew. This made the captain super angry though, and he went on a rampage. That was the end of that snake woman, who could not produce more spells by then I guess. The rest of the cultists tried to flee but the orcs cut them all down. With the carnage done, they laughed and left, telling us to meet them in the evening the next day.

    That was when Nev and your son showed up. I let the others go from here.

    Your humble servant Flip



    Bosslady,

    fight was good, but hard. Not just like snaping the necks of some thief. No son of yours to protect so I better fighter! Pirates came to rescue when it show that priests all not know what end of a weapon is front. May is temple of knowing things but they lack the good knowing. Cultist folk fight with long knife with weird name and magic and them held me with some spell then knock me up good. But we win because as saying is, many orcs can cull a party

    Then Nev and Orlath show up. I think now we done and they did some heal on us, but then boss priest says to talk to him. Lead us to the tombs, not good place for talk. I get suspes suspac didn't trust him but Nev said is all fine. Son of yours did some spell to see if was safe. But then boos priest turn out not to be boss priest but other snake man! He show us body of real boss who he says died when he first came to the temple when he folow Lucius from his trip to some village in the montins. He has made hidden bury place for old priest and then shape change to be him. I got a bit confuzzled here so Nev explain what is matter.

    ~U


    Honored Lady Theka!


    What has been said so far is already most of the story. Orlath and I decided to finally sneak out the backdoor of the temple and then lost our way in the foggy alleys. When the battle around the temple started, we followed the sounds, which turns out to be somewhat difficult in a fog, too. So, we came too late to be of help, but they managed without us very well.

    Yes, the old priest was really a serpent guy, but a good one. He was so sorry he missed the intrusion of others by his race into the temple, as he was busy searching for new knowledge. He is a true priest of the God of Knowledge, though. His true name is K'Stallo, and he has intercepted a note in snake language, addressed to Drac. He had to translate it for us. He has come across a draft of a speech this wannabe city leader, Drac, is supposed to give tomorrow. I copy it here:

    "This evening, Councilor Verlaine and the clergy of the God of Knowledge have been slain. Their murderers are the adventurers who of late discovered the caverns beneath our town. After an investigation by the Council and the City Watch, we have pieced together the truth.

    Chief Councilor Verlaine, that great servant to the city of Freeport, heard rumors about town of unwholesome activities at the temple to the God of Knowledge. He hired the wandering mercenaries to investigate. They made a tremendous discovery: The temple and its priesthood were a cover for the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign, a grotesque cult of serpent people. The mercenaries joined the temple to gain its secrets, but they proved treacherous to both masters. They revealed the caves beneath the city and threatened to expose even more secrets unless the Brotherhood paid them a fortune in gold.

    The Brotherhood agreed to their demands, on condition that the mercenaries accept one final task for their serpent masters—assassinating their erstwhile employer, Councilor Verlaine. The double-crossers carried out the grim job, but they quickly found themselves double-crossed. The Brotherhood refused to pay them their blood money. The mercenaries went mad with rage and slaughtered the cultists, but were killed themselves in the battle.We mourn the loss of Councilor Verlaine, but his efforts brought this menace to light—and rooted it out of town, once and for all."

    Yes, quite, I'd say Drac or whoever sent him this didn't do his homework in regards to our heritage, or he would know Orlath and me to be royals of the highest standing, not prone to wanton violence and certainly not in need or wealth or inclined to conspire with stupid cultists. But this means the city ruler is a part of this dark cult. Maybe it is time to send Lhess now. We could certainly use a paladin.

    We have agreed that K'stallo should keep up his disguise for now. There is no way Drac can use the speech in any case, as the temple still stands and the bodies of the cultists will be burned in secret as to not to alert the public yet. We cannot know who else is involved, so the temple is now our only base of security, and we will move quarters here, Orlath has decided. The guard is mostly corrupted as it seems so we'll not involve the officials in any way.

    Ever in Your service

    Nevukh




    Additional letter sent by Flip later on:


    Most High Lady Theka!


    I have to be direct here, Your Highness, but you have to do something about your son's, and partly Nev's, attitudes. At one time, he is reckless, and then he seems to want to hide from all responsibilities. He knows you have sent us here to see what is wrong with the city, despite this all being labeled as a study trip. Yet, he doesn't act on it and keeps mentioning that the city is, as the obvious name says, a free port.

    He is, as you said when we left, treating life as a game. I am but a servant and am as loyal as possible as long as I am not faced with certain destruction. Forgive me, Milady, but my will to live is greater than my readiness to die for the stupid decisions of someone else.

    Your humble servant Flip
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    For a bit of background info and some story where we lost the letters: The group that followed the two elves in the foggy streets had been the agents of the Realms they know nothing about. They have seen them a few more times without mentioning this in letters, which makes them a little bit paranoid.

    Flip and Uthas have taken to hanging out with the groups of less good repute in the city, which was how they secured the orc's help. They have, at the beginning on the next segment, already asked around to see where the wizard went who was to pay for the artifact the orcs stole. Nothing has come of it.

    The heroes are, at this point, lodged in a town house they bought, not too far from the temple district. They are still helping in the magic shop of Falthar, the adventurer friend of Ortlath's mom. Ortlath's mom had considered sending his sister several more times, but the letter Falthar sent her kept her from doing so. Of course Falthar had somewhat misjudged the situation.

    After their heroic deeds were known all over town, it was no wonder some people came to them for help. One of those was the mistress of an influential guard member, who wanted away from him and elope with her true lover, a bard. Her merchant who paid for all of her stuff was furious and had put a price on the bard's head under false pretenses. Orlath and Nevukh both fell for the "poor woman's" plight, and tried to get her and the bard out of the city, avoiding bounty hunters as they tried. If not for Jansen's agents following them, they wouldn't have survived that. Neither of the wizards knows this though; they are under the impression they had by sheer luck and their intimidating presence won the day. The two lovers escaped in a boat without as much as a backwards glance to those who saved them.

    To make matters worse, the two young mages wanted to let the finally defeated bounty hunters go. After all, you don't just kill someone, especially not a seemingly helpless foe. Enter Uthas and Flip, who had followed their charges to the dock where the final showdown was, but came too late to help. While they were both amazed the two of them managed on their own, they were equally annoyed by the decision to let the bounty hunters live. Naturally, they didn't reveal themselves to Orlath and Nav, and instead showed up after the two left and killed the bounty hunters anyway, disposing their bodies as shark food.

    Orlath and Nev, having no idea their companions knew about their doings, promised each other not to tell them, as they did not want to admit that they had fallen for a woman of ill repute they couldn't have associated with either way.

    Soon after this fiasco was the annual Swagfest, a celebration to remind everyone of Freeport's colorful history. Here the heroes prevented an assasination of a wannabe council member who was giving the opening speech. No one noticed them saving the day though, which annoyed Orlath. In the following celebrations, Uthas won the rat catching contest. For all of this, they wrote letters home (each putting themselves in the best light, of course).

    Except one thing Flip kept hidden. While going on a pickpocketing spree (everyone knows servants never earn enough) he came across the lair of an aranea, a spider-shapeshifer being who often goes into the town to hunt, usually disguised as a dwarf. The spider offered to let him live if he would just leave, but Flip, having a good sense for when a being is evil and when it just makes a living, instead offered the aranea a deal. H and his friends and the spider could help each other by rooting out evil people, and they would bring her the bodies of their future foes (Flip knew all too well there would be more) if the aranea would leave the good folk alone. That was easily agreed upon, as the spider was usually catching pirates, cutthroats and drunkards anyway. He told Uthas about this, but the 3 of them agreed to keep this a secret from the two wizards. So things got a wee bit complicated with who is keeping secrets from who.

    Back to the regular stuff in the next update.
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    Back to updating. thanks to cancer surgery and other annoyances, we had a long break. There might be some time between updates still, but i doubt anyone is still following this But maybe we get a few new readers. Ut will be finished eventually.

    -------------------------------------------------------


    The rain was coming down in torrents, drenching the bedraggled group of survivors they had rescued out of the tomb of the supposed pirate captain in the volcano foothills. All of them looked exhausted to the point of passing out, despite the whole exercise having been, as the paladin had put it “a standard rescue-and-kill-the-undead expedition.

    For several days they had been following the bandits around, found their old abandoned lair in the ruins of a hamlet and finally caught up to them at a tomb where, for some reason, the orcish leader of the gang had been able to control the undead inside - which seemed to have been recently created - with a triangular shaped pendant made of platinum, as far as they could say, with many jewels in it. Lhess had never seen the like of it, and when the bandit leader finally succumbed to her sword, she secured it to study it later.

    The orc leading the gang had turned out to be the disgruntled son of a noble from Freeport. Lhess didn’t kill him, as opposed to the other riff raff, because he was the only one not detecting as evil, despite his control of the undead. She wasn’t sure if the young man would spend even one day in jail – it was Freeport, after all, and she had already heard a lot about how justice worked there depending on if you had money or not. But she had taken care he would not be able to harm anyone anytime soon – thanks to the short sword she hardly ever used and normally just carried in her bag of holding. Her sword of righteousness. All she had to do was touch him with it and speak the command word. The next time the orc would think about doing something that could be remotely considered evil, even if it was just stealing some extra money from his father, he would be facing pains all over his body relevant to the crime he planned to commit. It would last for a lifetime – or until the sword touched him again. The latter was unlikely to happen.

    They were back on their way to Freeport, but at the current speed, in an open ox cart and with some donkeys as pack animals taken from the robbers, they would take quite a few days. The only horses in the group, owned by Lhess and her orc friend, were getting impatient at the slow speed and the weather. There was no doubt some of them, if not all, would get sick if they would not find shelter soon.

    She was just about to suggest making shelter with the little they had when a small figure appeared out of seemingly nowhere in the middle of the road. The slight swoosh from pushed away air indicated a teleport. Before the paladin could tell anyone to stop the cart, the ox stopped on his own, seemingly happy with not having to move again. The figure came closer, and they could now recognize it as an old, female halfling in the robes and clothes of an Oracle of the God of Knowledge.

    With a heavy sigh, the paladin jumped off the horse and went to greet the old crone. The orc mercenary’s eyebrows went up in understanding. To anyone who had some experience adventuring or just cruising the lands, it was clear what this meant. There had been a vision of sorts, and they, at least the paladin and her friend, considering the state of the others, had been in it. With any luck, it also pertained to their missing friends and would save them some time. If not... well, time was not of the essence, except maybe to find this Flip guy. It also meant, Thalla was sure, that there was some quest or the other in it for them to really gain the help of the oracle. Even if it would only be mentioned in passing, it would be expected of them to return a favor. It was all the same to Thalla, but obviously not to Lhess.

    The paladin and the oracle talked for a moment, then the oracle started humming, her voice going up and down the scale, while she was jumping around their trek. Lhess returned to her horse and got on, waving for the others to stay put. “She knows some sort of teleport ritual that will get us to shelter.” A look thrown at the orc confirmed what Thalla already suspected. There was more info for them about their friends.

    Before anyone could comment or ask questions, the world seemed to flicker out and then on again, unlike any teleport the two of them had ever seen. The animals were strangely calm during the process while the merchants and their prisoner shouted in surprise and badly disguised fear.

    The place they had come out at was not scary at all, though. High trees covered a central place of what in turn looked to be the center of a small village. No rain came through the canopy, and the houses around the place – halfling holes, a wooden town hall with roof high windows, gnome huts and, at the side of the trees, elven homes – were all dry, too.

    “Welcome to Sirlon’s Hamlet,” the old crone said, surprisingly in the voice of a much younger woman. “You’ll all be given rooms, food, and a chance to relax in warm water. I’ll talk with you two...” she pointed at Lhess and Thalla, “...at a convenient time tomorrow. Your animals will be well cared for, too.” With that, the little oracle vanished into one of the halfling burrows and left it to the suddenly appearing hamlet inhabitants to take care of business.

    Lhess and Thalla found themselves in a large room together, with several foods already waiting. The room had a door to a hall with several hot pools inside, and both of them made use of those extensively. Lhess almost forgot she was in need to find her friends, and Thalla totally forgot she was worried about Uthas. The whole place had the feel of a holiday resort, and the few locals at the pool at that time confirmed this. “But our main attraction is gone. Some 11 years back or so, and since then, we only get rich people from Freeport every now and then. Which is still fine,” an older gnome explained. “But nothing like Sirlon’s Spooky Mansion.”

    Sirlon, founder of the Hamlet, was an old wizard who had died about the same time his “spooky house” stopped functioning, they were told. Knowing about the commoner’s desire for adventure, he had build a mansion next to his small wizard tower and filled it with mismatched illusions of whatever people thought scary. Visitors could just enjoy the show or pretend to be adventurers fighting the monsters and other hostiles. But keeping up illusions as elaborate as these was hard, and no one else was able to fully maintain them after Sirlon’s death. So eventually, there were no more paying visitors, and their hot springs and nice landscape was all the hamlet had going for itself now.

    Lhess had the feeling there was more to the story, but none of the locals seemed to want to talk about it. Not feeling it was her place to dig for probably irrelevant information, the paladin decided to forget about it and just enjoy the water. Later that night, when she fell into a soft, cosy bed, she wondered for a moment where Flip was now, and why he had not bothered to find her yet.




    The halfling in question was, at this late hour, climbing off his donkey in the harbor area of Freeport, rubbing his behind as soon as he touched the ground. “My ass isn’t made to ride asses,” he grumbled.

    From over the back of her own mount, Elga looked at him in confusion. “What?”

    “Oh... donkeys are also called asses around here. I do not know why, maybe because they are asses to handle at times,” Flip explained with a grin. “Weird how I remember all that but don’t have any idea who I am, still.”

    “I see. And, well, if what we were told was right, this Zordak wizard guy should be able to help us.”

    Flip stared at the door to the self-styled “palace of entertainment” they had come to find. It was in bad need of new color. The current red painting was beginning to chip off and reveal an equally bad looking coat of yellow color under it. The stairs leading up to the door were squeaking under Elga’s light weight, and all the windows he could see didn’t appear as if they were still clean enough to see through. He could imagine what type of entertainment one would find in a place like this one. What a wizard renowned as a scholar regarding the mind and soul would want in such a place was a riddle to him, but he had a feeling he had seen stranger things before.

    Elga was pushing open the door, which seemed to be able to swing inward and outward, and released a thick cloud of smoke, not entirely created by normal tobacco if Flip’s nose was right. Sniffing in disgust, the young woman went in anyway, looking around as she did so. Flip hopped up right behind her, not intending to let her out of his sight. She might be a demon fighter, but that, in his view, said nothing about how she could handle a bad situation in a place like this one.

    And what a place it was. Held in reddish and yellow colors, including the few lights, they could see a large room filled with tables, a small bar and most noticeable a stage on which, right now, a group of humans and elves was performing some weird looking body bending tricks. Left from the stage, they could see a door going to a kitchen as full of smoke and steam as the room itself. The small corridor in which they were standing was to the right of the room and opened up to it, so it felt more like a room extension. 5 steps were leading down to the room to their left, and as far as they could tell, no one had even noticed them yet.

    “Maybe his trade isn’t much in demand and this is how he has to make a living,” Flip guessed, looking around carefully and while doing so noticing two more doors. One, back to the right of the room, seemed to lead to the privies, judging by the comings and goings. The other, a few meters left to the kitchen door, held a barely readable sign declaring what was behind private. “What about we get some drink and food first? I’m starving.”

    “Works for me.” His new friend jumped down the stairs to the room and placed herself at a free table in the back. As Flip joined her, the crew on stage was just done with their performance and applause set in. A moment later, an old gnome with an eye patch announced “Lalee, the Whipping Wonder,” and an orc woman with an assortment of whips appeared while a few stage hands placed targets and other contraptions on the stage.

    They ordered steak, potatoes, pies and red wine for Flip and beer, baked fish, mashed potatoes and carrots for Elga. The food came in no time, and they watched the amazing performance of the orc while eating in silence. None of them had noticed how hungry they had truly been.

    With an unladylike belch, Elga finished her meal and frowned. “So, what now? Do we just ask for the guy?”

    The scent of luckweed, holloweed, dreamsmoke and other things mixed in the smoke made Flip dizzy, and he wondered why it was not affecting Elga until he remembered that she had, over time, developed an immunity to all sorts of poisons thanks to her demon hunting. “I’d say that’s the best option,” he agreed. When the servant girl came to ask if they needed anything else, he did so, trying to make it sound as if they knew Zordak already.

    The servant nodded and pointed to the door labeled as private. “If you have business with the owner, I will let him know.”

    “Please do so,” Elga said quickly, then as she left looked at Flip. “Owner. That explains a lot.”

    “Yeah, must have saved up to buy this joint to make a living just in case,” Flip grinned. “That’s what I plan do do one day.”

    “Good plan,” his friend chuckled. “Probably have to save up for a while though, it looks like an expensive thing to run, despite the run down look.”

    The servant came back and led them through the door with the “private” sign, down a long corridor that kept bending and rounding corners. “An illusion,” Elga said happily. “Good one, too, but it is obvious the building isn’t that big.”

    “How come you can see that?” Flip wondered. Even being told, he could not see through the scam.

    “I can’t,” she grinned back at him. “But as I said, the building isn’t that big and someone running a place like this is likely to be a master of illusion.”

    She had a point, Flip thought. As he was just about to ask their guide how much longer they had to pretend walking a long corridor, they arrived at a door that seemed to change colors every moment. “A prismatic trap,” Flip recognized, wondering once again how he could remember such stuff but not his life, and what such knowledge was telling about him.

    The door opened on its own, and they found themselves facing a rather small dwarf in an equally color changing robe. “Master Zordak, I presume?” Elga said with a eloquent bow. Flip just raised his eyebrows.

    “Indeed, indeed.” The wizard stared at Flip for a moment, then he offered them seats on chairs fit for their size – everything in here but one table and two chairs, supposedly needed for bigger visitors, was sized for smaller folk. That in itself was not a surprise, it just looked kind of funny because the interior design of the room was so gayishly colorful it was neither dwarf nor halfling style. It appeared to be more gnomish in design.

    “What can I do for you?” the wizard interrupted their pondering of his office.

    “My friend here has lost his memory,” Elga came right to the point. “We don’t know why, he can remember everything but personal stuff, as it seems. His name is all he has of himself, and we aren’t even sure it is his real one. We were hoping you could determine what kind of trauma or spell has hit him, and possibly help to remedy the situation.”

    “We can pay,” Flip added, not wanting to appear like a charity case. The comfortable chair made him relax slowly, but he was intend on keeping his guard up.

    Zordak’s interest was obvious. “Such things can happen for several reasons. I am guessing this occurred at least a week ago, or you would not yet seek out help?” When they nodded, he continued. “Was there any injury to your head? Headaches, dizziness, maybe a bad feeling in your stomach? Or have you felt weak as if being sick with fever for a while?”

    “No,” Flip frowned. “I thought at first I had hit my head when waking up next to the road, fallen off a horse or something, but there was not so much as a bump on my head. And I didn’t feel weak at all, just hungry.”

    “Then,” the wizard concluded, “it was most likely something magical, or possibly a psionic attack. Let’s see.” The dwarf got up behind his table and stood next to the halfling. “I will cast a few spells to see what is most likely going on, and maybe access your lost memory already. Most of the time, there is a spell residue from a spell that’s usually quite harmless. Like a confusion, or a memory hole that would usually last a few hours. At times, with people receptible to such things, a residue is left which can keep the effects in place. I once had an elf who kept forgetting who he was every few days for a few hours. I got him all cured just fine.”

    Flip held very still while Elga was watching closely as the mage put a hand on her friend’s head and started mumbling a spell while holding a white glass marble in the other hand. After a while, he took a step back and looked at the white marble. “Hasn’t changed color,” he said. “No spell residue found, but you have been hit with a Mind Blank, I could determine that much. Hardly ever lasts more than a day, so with no residue present, something else must cause your problem.”

    Mumbling to himself, the wizard went over to a shelf full with weird items between clearly magical objects – like wands and staffs – and opened a simple wooden box to get a handfull of what looked to be white sand out. He also took a small piece of red yarn before he stepped back next to Flip. The halflings knew about spell components, of course, but it still felt strange to think Flip’s chances of remembering were tied to such simple things.

    Zordak dispersed the sand over Flip’s head, where it hovered for a moment before disappearing. The red yarn was hanging over his head and appeared to be tied to his hair. The dwarf made a pulling motion with the yarn, but it just tore and vanished. “Curious,” he said, scratching his beard. “There is another spell of some power blocking your memory. I have no idea what spell, though. Much like a protection, actually. Might have been triggered by the Mind Blank, probably would be triggered by any attempt to manipulate your mind in some form. I have not seen this before.”

    Flip thought about it for a second. “Can it be fixed? I really need my memory back.”

    “The one who cast this spell, or at least someone who knew how it works, could definitely fix it. Me, I’m not so sure.” Again, he stared at Flip and seemed to consider saying something. “I will need to put some research into this. Come back in 3 days’ time and I may have a solution.”

    That was clearly a dismissal, and while the halflings still said their thanks and goodbyes, the wizard was already up on a ladder going for the top shelf of his library, mumbling about rare spells. He seemed to be really into the matter, which was not too strange for a wizard of his reputation. Only when they were with their donkeys again did Flip consider that the wizard had not asked for any payment, nor even mentioned a sum. “I’m sure he isn’t doing this for free, though,” he explained his thoughts to the woman.

    “No, I would not assume he would hand out his service free,” Elga nodded. “And there is something else. He knows you, if not personally, then from descriptions or from far. And he is not the only one. I was pretty sure the guards at the city gates also knew you. The way they looked at you and nodded to you, and the way Zordak stared at you – they know who you are, and maybe by asking around we can find out who you are.”

    “If he knows me, why hasn’t he said so?” The confusion on the thief’s face was obvious. “It would probably give us a good start to my recovery.”

    They led their donkeys out of the harbor area after Flip refused to get up again, his behind still sore. “ Many possible reasons. The most likely one is him hoping to be able to get a lot of coin for this, which makes me think he thinks you are rich, or know someone who is. He may also not want to get in trouble with whoever put that supposed protection spell on you. Or...”

    “I get it.” Flip sighed. “So, am I supposed to just ask a random person who I am? Or maybe ask the guard?”

    “Too risky,” Elga decided in her matter-of-fact voice. “Best not to show weakness by admitting you have no clue, and also we have no idea who might possibly be after you now. That spell on you, it sounds like it would be expensive to cast. We don’t want someone to come after you to protect some unknown interest. I am thinking, you know, maybe you know things you are not to tell anyone so someone placed a spell on you preventing you from telling if someone messed with your mind.”

    “Yes, that seems logical.” Flip’s frown of worry was not seen by Elga, who was walking ahead of him. “So I am some sort of important person to someone then, I guess. But how do we find out if we can’t ask people?”

    “You can’t.” Elga clarified. “I can. Just wait. Walk a bit ahead and pretend to be interested in the wares of that peddler, maybe even buy something, then walk along and wait at that tavern over there.”

    By now somewhat used to doing what she was telling him, Flip followed her orders. He bought a small luck charm from the peddler, who seemed to be more eager than expected to sell him something. Arriving at the tavern, he watched Elga talk to the peddler, too, also buying some small thing. Then she was laughing and slapping her forehead. Soon after, she approached his position.

    “It seems,” she said with a wide grin on her face, “that you are one of the heroes of Freeport. Together with some elves and an orcish type. Does that ring any bell?”

    “Hero? Me? Elves? No not at all! What did we do to be called heroes?”

    “You supposedly saved the city, more than once,” Elga answered, making it sound as if that was a daily thing to do where she came from. “You’ve acted heroic in the mountain, so I easily believe that. Come on now, don’t stand there staring at the air so open mouthed. Let’s have a few drinks and see if there is a bard or other storyteller who can relay the whole tale to us. And put your cloak up so people don’t recognize you or they would wonder.”

    Again, Flip did as asked, and he didn’t feel heroic at all as he followed her into the “Broken Bow” tavern.




    24th of Peli

    Hi Mom

    We now know that Flip is in Freeport, an oracle found it out for us after we helped her village solve bit of a weird problem. You won’t believe it, but I found someone had used summoning magic and somehow managed to not let the summons expire until the summoned creatures die!

    But I should start at the beginning. There was a wizard in this village who made some sort of theme park for wannabe adventurers out of a mansion full with illusions. Was a great success but the man died and everything started to break apart. Then a few weeks ago, the illusions seemed to be working again, just that they were no illusions. The groups of monsters and other threats coming from the mansion were real, and from one barbaric orc they killed with some difficulty, they found the dead body vanished immediately, just like they knew a summon would. Their local wizard confirmed it was summoning magic.

    So someone was summoning things and somehow kept them there, while still being able to command them. One goblin captured last week kept saying he had to follow orders and kept attacking, and they finally had to kill it, too.

    We agreed to check it out, as the village was definitely in peril over this, and I was also curious. We went up to the mansion this morning to see what was going on and I immediately had this feeling like when I was a child and you showed me the magical spider in our dream forest. Someone was doing magic, sitting in the middle of it all and holding the strings. Someone had moved in after the old illusionist had died.

    The way up to the mansion had some weird, old illusions, they were barely functional and suggested monsters attacking from behind bushes and some such. I have to say that wizard's’ idea about how a minotaur looks like was faulty, to put it mildly. Not much better for the centaur and the 2 dragonets which had goblins, of all beings, placed on them. I can hazard a guess this man has never seen much of the world, but one would think he had seen such creatures in books, after all.

    Equally strange was the stone bridge leading across a dry moat to the mansion, and yet stranger the stairs leading up to it, which were shrouded in fading illusions of blood dripping. It reminded me of the cheap horror stories some bards tell when they want to capture a drunken audience. Those stairs were long – I counted 317 steps, quite a strange number. The doors at the end were easy to open, albeit squeaky, which was probably a wanted effect. The room behind it was dusty, filled with real cobwebs and broken furniture and weapons. It was clearly not meant to be this way, because the illusions of a magic mirror and a speaking portrait were still on the wall – while the mirror and the painting they had been cast on were broken on the ground. This in itself was atypical, from what I know illusions are supposed to stick to objects, not places. My orcish friend had little patience for investigating this, though, and as you know, mom, I’m not that good with magic so I would have probably wasted time for nothing, anyway.

    From that first room, 2 exits were visible; a door opposite the entrance and a set of stairs to the left, leading down. Naturally, as high up as the entrance stairs went, there were bound to be some downsides, pardon my pun. We could see several tracks of different creatures, including different sized boots. There was a sign above the door which read “do not enter” but it was obvious some of the creatures had done so, anyway. We carefully opened it and found a simple room with a chest in the middle, and tar and feathers in a mess everywhere. It seemed someone had reset the simple trap, but forgotten to clean up which made a successful next catch much less likely.

    This reminded me of the stories in the village how some farmers had found their chickens without feathers one morning, the birds themselves not being harmed. They had thought of a curse, yet there was no sign of a curse according to the priest of the sun god. I considered it much more likely someone had removed the feathers with a spell. Otherwise, the chickens would have made lots of noise. Turned out later that I was right.

    We ignored the room and carefully made for the stairs, treating this somewhat like a real ruin or a dungeon. This proved to be a good idea, because no sooner had we entered a dimly lit hallway – the windows to outside were really dirty – 3 goblins jumped down on us from a ledge to our right. Yes, there was really a ledge in a hallway! Talk of weird spook house designs, so off from reality. Thalla, unfortunately, killed them before I could stop her, I’d have preferred to talk to them first, even if killing them was the only way to send them home. Their bodies indeed disappeared in the way summoned creatures disappear.

    The rest of the place was as ridiculous. We found more goblins, a naga, a bunch of orcs looking really lost and begging to be killed while they attacked us, skeletons and some very badly designed traps. And finally, in one small room covered with an expensive looking carpet, we found the culprit of the weird summonings. A yellow pseudodragon named Alsursar, former familiar of the dead wizard, hovered over the place in some sort of flying tent. He had been away on a mission and got “stuck in a bad situation” whatever that means, he didn’t tell, so only returned home long after his master’s dead. The little annoyance is close to immortal thanks to a spell of his master gone wrong – I am thinking the spell was supposed to help the master, not his familiar. In any case, the pseudodragon decided to revive the place as he thought his master must have wanted.

    As Alsursar tried to lure us into the room, we were both aware that he was probably trying to trick us. Sure enough, we found the whole room to be a large pit trap, leading to a slide ut to what once was a water filled moat. The poor thing was so disappointed we didn’t, literally, fall for it, it was a sad sight. He really was pitiful and quite lost, so all alone.

    He admitted to stealing the feathers, among some other things, and it became obvious he had nothing left in life but this run down place. He could not, however, explain how come his summons stayed around. He said “I just summoned them and willed them to stick here, just like master did with his illusions.”

    As this is a very curious thing, and he really could not stay here and keep this up otherwise, we convinced Alsursar to seek out a new life, and in starting so, travel to the Realm, to be seen by you and your court mages to figure out how he does it. It would help our armies tremendously if we could just summon the soldiers to the field, without any danger they would die for real. As there is a battle with the Eastern Alliance brewing, last I heard before I left, anyway, I hope you can make use of this little ex-familiar’s abilities at least and give him some purpose in life.

    Tomorrow we will continue to Freeport to pick up Flip, and then meet with your time specialists. I have this nagging feeling that something is awfully amiss with my brother and cousin.

    Have you had any luck sending missives to Flip yet?

    Your tired daughter

    Lhess




    Nev and Orlath had been sitting at the shore, carefully exploring the area, for 9 days before they decided they had enough supplies – dried fish and strange but edible fruits mostly – to go inward and check for a better fresh water supply and materials to make snares and bows and arrows. In all the time, they had seen no sign of intelligent life.

    First, they had followed the shore to find an easier entrance into the jungle. Once they had found the trail of one of the heavy beasts they had dubbed bicorns for their two horns on their nose, they turned north into the jungle, which was much lighter there.

    Nothing bothered them, the inhabitants of the jungle likely being as afraid of them as the other way around. After an uneasy sleep in the jungle – despite magical wards, they couldn’t fully fall asleep – they kept on the path the next day. The trail went upward now and bent slightly back towards the coast. Around mid-morning, they heard the sound of water in a shallow bed and quickened their steps. The jungle ended where a clear spring bubbled from a rocky pool halfway down a cliff they remembered seeing in the distance before they had entered the jungle.

    After filling their small water flasks and drinking a lot from the water, they slowly made their way to the top of the cliff, both for better orientation and to check out the view. And they were in for a surprise!

    Below them was not the shore, but the ruins of an old city, partly reclaimed by the marshland around it. It must have been a big city once, because as they kept looking their eyes could make out more and more rubble which once belonged to buildings, halfway up the cliff and far into the marsh, yet only a few ruined buildings remained at the foot of the cliff. And there were, finally, signs of civilization – or at least, they could see smoke rising from some ruins. How civilized those beings were, they couldn’t tell. But going by the city ruins, a big culture must have been here once, and that was reason for some hope.

    After a short discussion, they decided to go down and check the situation out. However, to do that, they would first have to find a way down. That was when Orlath, blushing slightly when telling, mentioned he had actually learned the Fly spell recently.

    “And you didn’t tell me that before why?” Nev was not sure if to be amused or angry. That spell would have made things a lot easier a few times before.

    “Well, I learned it, I didn’t master it yet. There are still some... side effects.”

    “With the spell function, or with you?” Nev inquired, knowing that his cousin had, in the past, managed to cast spells on others perfectly fine while, for whatever reasons, mess them up on himself.

    “Naturally, I didn’t get a chance to test that out,” Orlath growled. “I was hoping...”

    “Naturally,” Nev interrupted him with a sigh. “Well, test it on me, then, I can levitate down if all else fails.”

    “Or if all else falls,” Orlath grinned. “Very well, then.” He made a few waving gestures and mumbled his spell in the way that was his signature, the way that made lots of other wizards, including Nev, wonder how the magic even knew what he wanted. But it worked. A moment later, Nev felt incredibly light, and with a thought, he could direct himself up and around. No side effects he could tell.

    “Seems fine.” The prince breathed a sigh of relief. “Go on ahead... I mean, down, I’ll follow in a moment.”

    Nev considered waiting to see what his cousin would be doing, but he knew that, with this being a new spell not practiced well, it would have a rather limited duration. So he flew out over the cliff and, with the elegance of someone having done this before – which he had, just never learned the spell itself – he flew down and towards the ruins of the second nearest nearest building, which showed no smoke and still had some structure. He didn’t want them to be left out in the open.

    Shortly before he flew down into the building he turned to check on Orlath. His eyes widened as he saw the prince come down all in the nude, his clothes in his hands. He could not help but chuckle, lost control of his flight and landed on his behind. He could see the “side effect” in his mind – the prince flying but his clothes refusing to come along.

    Orlath landed with his “don’t comment” face, so Nev decided to rather check the ruins while the prince got back into his clothes. The building seemed to have been a library, with the books all made of bound together clay tablets, now mostly smashed to pieces. He didn’t recognize the language. The runes seemed to be all mashed together in a way making the writing look like vines. He had never even seen anything close to it.

    “We could try to puzzle some back together and use magic to read it,” Orlath offered.

    “Not much point, but we can try to find something not smashed. Maybe we are lucky and even find something on time travel.” Nev started searching, very carefully.

    “Doubt that, it doesn’t look like it was an arcane library, but then, what do we know how those people designed their arcane libraries.” The prince eyed the stone shelves reaching up to the highest parts of the walls still standing.

    After hours of searching, they found a part of the library with books surviving under a ledge that had broken off and fallen in a way so the writings were protected. Casting a Know Language” ritual took another hour, but at least affected both of them for a few days. Then they started reading, fascinated by the word types, weird grammar, flowery descriptions and metaphors they could not easily figure out.

    They were able to puzzle some information together. The name of the city was Thalanth, it had been the capital of an empire called Khedor. How long ago, they could not tell as the year count the books used told them nothing. The founding of the city by halflings, humans and elves and their mixed offspring was detailed, the rise to an empire from there and the abundant use of slaves from what they called “beast races” was abundant to a degree where they couldn’t have existed without them. They mostly venerated a sun god called Aphos and a moon goddess named Rhia, who were regularly called by those names – unlike in modern days where the gods were not officially called by their names anymore. Sometimes, those gods seemed to switch gender. Eventually, while digging deep into the cliff, expanding the place underground, a new god, son or daughter – not quite clear from the writings – of the ruling deities gained more followers – the deity of death and transformation. The book detailing this was obviously written by a priest of said god and was overflowing with praise and worship and was thus not a good piece to judge the true importance of this new religion. Everything else they found were short works on business and politics, which held little relevance now.

    “Well, that was interesting.” Orlath finally grabbed their meager provisions for a break. “But we need to resupply, and then there is the matter of the fires we saw earlier. Do you think we should make contact first, or try to hunt for some food and water?”

    “It would probably be more polite to introduce ourselves first. We might still not understand them without more magic. I doubt they speak this very language, even if they are the descendants of this culture. It’s been a long time.”

    “Right. No hunting in their territory without saying hello. Agreed.” Orlath started packing everything together again and mockingly bowed to Nev. “After you.”

    “The smoke came from over there.” Nev pointed across the overgrown road to the east, facing away from the cliff. “And there is another building where there is... is that steam instead of smoke?”

    Orlath nodded. “Looks like it.” The building Nev was pointing out was much closer, just north-east of their position. “Check that one out first?”

    “Yes, I’d say so, saves us running back and forth, plus, I hate having an unknown force in my back.”

    “I wish we had our magic equipment,” the prince sighed, not for the first time since they had time traveled. But almost everything had been left in the camp when they had gone to the temple ruins before their time jump.

    There were some brambles and hip high grass, but they could move around easily enough. Tracks were easy to find – barefooted reptilian ones, a race walking on 2 legs so probably intelligent, and different sorts of boots one could not tell who might have worn them. Neither of them was especially good at tracking anyway, so they could not read anything else from the signs, like how much time had passed since those people had come by, or even how many had been there. Both of them had spent their “tracking 101” lessons they had gotten as young elf scouts – something required for everyone of high birth as to not “lose contacts to one’s roots,” whatever that meant exactly – plotting mischief and playing jokes on people. Both of them somewhat regretted this now, something neither of them would care to admit.

    They slowly neared what looked to be an old bath house, trying to make no noise. The attempt at being silent didn’t work out that well; twice Nev stepped on twigs with dry leaves on, and Orlath once stubbed his toe and cursed audibly. Lucky for them, no one seemed to notice or care.

    There was an entrance with a partly broken statue of what looked to be a god of water next to it, judging by the fish one hand still held and the drop of water crown barely visible on a head overgrown with moss and vines. Peering in they could make out large, circular pools of hot water, which was where the steam was rising from. 6 lizardfolk people looking very similar to the ones they had met in their own time were relaxing in the pools, talking in a clicking language. Nev cast a Tongues spell immediately. And good thing he did, because from what they gathered, they were not the kind of people the 2 elves would want to meet.

    Talks of finding more “ape-people” slaves, making a good impression for the “non-apes” in the caverns to rise in status. Apparently, being a slave hunter was mostly a low status job, or at least this group was new enough at it not to be very much accepted in society. The listeners gleaned quickly that “ape-people” referred to regular humanoids, like elves. And considering the equipment the 6 lizards had at the edge of the pools, it would be a good idea not to mess with them.

    Unless...


    Nev saw the sparkle in Orlath’s eyes and tried to stop him, but it was too late. The prince grabbed a bit of ash from his component pouch, thew it up and moved his fingers while uttering a short command. He pointed at the big pile of equipment. Immediately everything burnable burst into flames, and the few metallic parts, like blades and chains, melted in an enormous magical heat. “Ha!” Orlath spat. “So much for them.”

    “Not really.” In the commotion emerging from the pools, Nev grabbed his friend’s arm and pulled him back to the direction of the library. “We are still outnumbered by a bunch of lizards much stronger than us, who could probably resupply somewhere close while we are still just 2 strangers in a strange place and obviously their prey!”

    “We have our swords,” Orlath replied confidently.

    “Yes, the swords Uthas always warns us not to hack off our own limbs with it. Remember the last time we tried to fight that monster in that warehouse?” Nev dragged the prince into the ruins and pushed his head down. “Hopefully, they will not search here.”

    “You have a point,” Orlath whispered, paling somewhat.

    They didn’t search at all, they didn’t even try to track them. Instead, from what they could here from their shouts, they were blaming each other for having put something taboo magic stuff too dangerous for hunters into their belongings. They in fact almost fought each other over who to blame and while doing so wandered off south.

    “Follow?” Orlath whispered, despite them being too far off to hear anything now.

    Nev nodded. With their lack of tracking skills, it was the only way to find out where they were going. As stealthy as they could, which was probably not much, they followed after the slave hunters to a building close to the foot of the cliff. It was clearly an old temple, with several statues lying scattered and the great domed roof broken in. As the lizards approached the building, laughing and taunting – in yet another language - could be heard from some trees, and a bunch of gnolls dropped out of the branches. It was obvious they were guarding the place, and it was obvious why. Within the broken down building, a cave entrance, decorated but damaged, could be seen. This was, no doubt, an entrance to the underground part of the city.

    They had seen enough. While the guards, who they would not have noticed if not for them betraying themselves, were still harassing the hissing lizards, the elves nodded to each other and retreated. There was no need to take any more risks.

    “Are we still going to check the house with the smoke out?” the prince asked.

    “We’ll have to. We need to know everything that’s around us. Lest we decide to abandon the area altogether.”

    “No way! There may be no other sign of civilization all around, and this place probably has hidden libraries and temples giving us a chance to learn how to get back to our own time.”

    Grunting his agreement, Nev took the lead. “We should ready some defensive spells, just in case.”





    “I must say, nice place you and your unknown friends have here. There is a magical balcony of sorts on the roof, and lots of stuff stored there and elsewhere. Some of it, like a large mirror, clearly magical. I am not good with magical auras, well, unless they are evil, but even I can tell.” Elga was babbling away while admiring the city house they had been told about. When they had arrived last night, it turned out Flip indeed had the key for it. Only two private rooms were magically locked; the room of one Uthas, judging by some letters he had gotten from someone he called High Lady Theka. A bodyguard of sorts, so they both thought. Flip’s room had shown no correspondence – Flip would have never left any evidence lying around – but gave the appearance that he was seen as a servant of sorts. It was more like the two elves they had heard about in the bard’s tales were the true rich and probably noble people here.

    “Yeah,” Flip answered absentmindedly. The halfling was looking at some of his things, sitting in one of the small sized seats in the living room. He had found very few hints as to who he was in any of it, but the little he had found – a lot of knives and a spare set of thieves' tools and the lack of evidence of his past life – made him think that his friend Gurt had been right assuming he was a thief, if not an assassin, too. Flip was not sure how to feel about this at all. It felt all wrong, yet right at the same time. There must be more to it, he was sure. Especially with this spell locking his mind away. Who was he working for? Maybe this Lady Theka person? And where were the folks supposedly living with him here?

    “You are not listening,” Elga chided. “It’s ok, you must have a lot on your mind. I say we wait here and don’t do much else until it is time to see the wizard again.”

    “Yeah,” Flip answered again. What she said made sense, yet... he had the impression he had never been someone to wait something out, and he would probably not do so now, either.

    TBC
    My Story Hour campaigns. What are they up to this week?

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