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  1. #31
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    Flip followed Uthas as quick as he could, pressing through more people who, to the two nobles, mostly looked like bandits and other assorted thieves. A bunch of them came from another tavern, not exactly sober. A window in the inn where the fight was broke, and a halfling came a-flying, landing unconscious in some bushes. Uthas reached the front door an basically tore it from its hinges, allowing the other combatants, wannabes and escapees a chance to get in or out. Then he vanished, followed by Flip.

    With a groan, the prince wanted to go after them, but Nev held him back. "We won't. Those look like a bunch of cutthroats, and your mother would kill us if we die here because of our servant's foolishness." The irony of that statement didn't register to either of them.

    "They are our friends, too," Orlath insisted.

    "You already know it is not a good idea. We have no clue what is going on, who is fighting who and why, and what this place even is. Looks like an outlaw village to me if I ever saw one. Hardly any females about, no children, and look at their weapons."

    Only now the prince noticed that most of the people gathering were armed, and most of the weapons didn't look as if they fit in a fishing village. "Good point, but Flip and Uthas..."

    "They will argue their way out most likely than not, I suspect that, in a way, Flip fits the job description of many inhabitants here quite well." Nev grimaced at that, but knowing Orlath's mother and what he had seen of the halfling, it was likely true.

    "Now, don't insult Flip," Orlath mumbled, but he had had some suspicions as well. But be that as it may, he had to make a decision. "We go back into the tree trunk," he decided. "And we wait at least until the commotion has died down a bit."

    Flip, was, at that time, ducking under the larger people's legs, his dagger drawn to avert any possible attack. To his surprise, the inside of the inn was still mostly intact, although the chairs were all broken and most of the tables toppled over. An orc woman was shaking a dwarf who was holding a short sword trying to slice at her. Someone in bright armor, shining with a magic light, pressed up the stairs against two half-elf sword fighters while being decked with arrows by an unseen archer on the balcony. Some mostly human and dwarf males plus two gnomes were trying to push back a group of swordsmen in dirty clothes with what looked like old sabers, a pitchfork and some other implements that made it likely for those to be the simple fishermen they had expected. A tall woman, probably with giant blood, stood in the entrance to the kitchen wearing a pot as helmet, a serving tray as a shield and was swinging a metal rolling pin in one hand and a soup spoon in the other. One of the dirty sword fighters took a step back too close to her as he was trying to gut a guy with a pitchfork. He went down under the rolling pin, dropping his sword in the process.

    Tripping one of the dwarf thugs getting at the orc woman, Flip began to see through the situation. To him, it looked like bandits had taken over the settlement and the shiny figure and the orc woman had something to say about that. "Uthas?" he shouted as loud as he could. "The shiny guy and the orc are on our side, and the giant female and the people with pitchforks, too.!"

    Uthas turned for a moment, holding the limp figure of two dwarves who had just been banged together by the heads, and thought hard. Then he nodded. It seemed the explanation had gone through his excitement.

    "Hi there, cutie" the orc shouted to Uthas while defenestrating the dwarf, too. "I'm Thalla. Who might you be?"

    "Uthas," said Uthas, while following her example. "And I tossed my dwarves further than you!" He laughed loudly.

    Flip, jumping over a turned table to get cover for his crossbow in the hopes of getting the archer above, almost froze. In the middle of the battle, those two started a flirt? He was sure this passed for flirting with orcs, he had seen it before.

    He located the archer ducked behind a large chest at the end of the upper corridor. To the halfling, it looked as if he still had a lot of arrows but he could be wrong. Also, his concealment was close to perfect. Flip could only see the upper head and the right shoulder and a bit of the hands. He would need to usher the guy out somehow. Then the figure in shiny armor reached the upper stairs, throwing one of the two opponents over the bannister. The head of the stranger turned so Flip could see the left half of the face, and his jaw dropped. In his surprise, he forgot what he was about to do. The stranger was not a stranger at all. It seemed impossible but the elegant elven face under the helmet was unmistakable. "Lhess??" he shouted. "How in the name of the 99 gods did you get here?"

    The woman didn't hear him as she was busy throwing the next foe over the bannister. This one, Flip guessed, would not be getting up anymore. He shook off his confusion and concentrated on what was going on around him as Lhess made her way to where the archer was, still protected by that shiny divine light of hers.

    Just in time Flip ducked under a flying tankard that dripped blood. His knife found the arm of the wielder and caused him to drop it. Then he kicked the guy where it hurt most and ducked back behind his table. What was he even doing, he wondered.

    He felt tired and cold and hungry, which he had been feeling before, but for some reason it hadn't bothered him as much. Now, a wave of despair suddenly seemed to come over him. With some difficulty, he turned his head to look for the caster, as he was sure to be under some spell. A weasel-like guy crouching under the bannister caught his attention. He should get to him, do something about it... but he was so tired, so weak. Maybe he should just curl up behind the table for a while.

    When he came to, the inn was deserted save a few bodies, and his head hurt where the table had fallen onto him. It also seemed someone had stepped in his left leg, as it had a dirty footprint and hurt rather awfully. What was worse, he could only vaguely remember who he was and how he got here. Scrambling to his feet, panic set in. This empty room was not the place to be, he needed to get out of there and quick. There was noise outside, and he could see lit torches in the dark, moving away from the building.

    Limping to the backdoor, he peeked out and saw no one and nothing but a dark village. He felt for his backpack and his weapons – did he really only have some daggers and a crossbow? Then he sneaked out, making sure not to cross any spot of light. He would get out of here unharmed, as true as his name was... What was his name? Terrified, he realized he couldn't remember. It was almost there, as if hiding behind a locked door, but he could not get at it. For some reason, this rather amused him and his fear lessened. "Get to safety first," he told himself. "Find out more later."




    Things had gone completely off target for the prince and his cousin, too. Hiding in the tree trunk, they left the secret door open just a little to see what was going on outside. Clouds were covering the sky, so there was precious little light, but enough for elven eyes, of course. The wind rustled the leaves so it was hard to pick up on sounds.

    At first they didn't see much but what they had seen before. Then Nev caught a large figure sneaking out of the back of the inn with a well covered light. The unknown sneaker vanished between the houses, and they didn't think much of it until all of a sudden, a very tall man with a well covered light appeared from the bushes right in front of their tree. For a moment, the two of them feared he was looking for the secret door as he seemed to know where it was, but then a whispering voice spoke up from their left. "Is it all done?" A much smaller man in the black robes of a priest of the god of destiny appeared, holding an equally covered light.

    "Yeh. He's dead," the also whispering, but still rumbling, voice of the giant replied. "The village is all ours."

    "Good good. Now we need to get rid of his most trusted who didn't get killed in the fight. Who started that, anyway?"

    "Two strangers," the voice rumbled on. "And orc and some elf woman. The elf dented my helmet and kicked my behind around good, I tell you. I hope they got her for that."

    "Spoken like a true coward," the supposed priest sneered. "But that's what makes us stay alive and them die all off." The two of them laughed for a moment. "Let's go back to the inn," black-robe then said. "Fight seems to have died down and they need to see you are still there so none will suspect you."

    As they moved off, the elves pondered the situation. "No real priest, I think, and the other was a hired killer of sorts, I take it. Nice alibi, such a bar fight." The prince opened the door a bit more. "And I think we need to go elsewhere, as I am certain that big guy knew of the secret door, or maybe they both did."

    "Yeah, that will make it hard to get the mirror later if we don't sort this all out," Nev said, always the practical one. "Even for a fisher village, things are way too fishy here." He followed his cousin out into the bushes, and then they carefully tried to follow the two suspects. Unfortunately, neither of them was good at tracking, especially not at night. So they made sure instead to listen carefully for any sounds indicating anyone nearby and strained their eyes in the dark to make sure they would see even more details than usual. They got within a stone throw distance to the inn where the bushes ended next to a tiny hut.

    A crowd was gathered in front of the inn. People with a random set of improvised or old weapons were tying up survivors of the conflict. A tall figure in armor directed them. The crowd was agitated, and it looked like it could become a lynch mob. Just when they could make out the two they were planning to observe, Nev saw the backdoor of the inn open and two tall figures sneaking out. "There is Uthas," he whispered and pointed. "And I guess we have found the orc woman. Or, at least, he has."

    With an expression of confusion, Orlath watched the two of them vanish into the dark. He thought he heard chuckling. "Yeah, but where are they going?"

    "Are you seriously asking? Uthas has found a woman of his kind not involved with gangs or pirates or shady merchants. And you are asking where they are going?"

    The confusion stayed on the prince's face for a moment. Then he blushed. "Oh."

    Nev sighed and shook his head when the prince looked pointedly back to the crowd. Orlath had no little idea about women. Largely his mother's fault, who, for some reason, insisted for a long time that he be kept from all female company that was not related to him. Nev thought the few times Orlath had fallen in love, including their little mishap in Freeport, could be counted on one hand, and in all those cases it had been more of a straw fire. Secretly the elf wondered if the Lady's attitude towards her son and women had to do with the fact that the Lord, the gods bless his eternal soul, used to chase everything down that showed even a hint of female body parts.

    "Where are they going?" The question got him back to the here and now, and he looked where the prince was pointing. The priest robed man and the tall guy were splitting up, with the tall man, instead of trying to appear to come from the inn, walked right to the crowd with his hands on his weapons. His companion tried to stop him, but it was in vain. Slowly, the black robed guy backed off into the bushes again, looking around to check if anyone from the villagers had seen him.

    "My guess is that the villagers taking their village back was not on his agenda," Nev snorted. "And he's already admitted to being a coward. I just wonder what made the other guy forget that he prefers to avoid a fight."

    "He is not a coward," the prince mused. "He just didn't correct his... friend. Probably to gain his trust."

    Indeed, there was a commotion among the crowd, which was now truly turning into a mob. The armored figure, presumably the elf they had heard about, was barely able to control it. A short grapple occurred, then someone who looked like the blacksmith knocked the giant out with a piece of chair probably from the inn.

    "Do we show ourselves and tell them about that... priest guy?" Nev asked.

    Orlath watched the villagers drag their captives to the middle of the settlement. More and more torches lit up as people who had been hiding in the houses, including women and children, added to the line. This looks like some sort of justice being handed out. If we tell them, there might be a stampede of them trying to catch Mr. Priesty," the prince thought. "And some others might escape. Not even to mention that no one knows us here. How do we explain our presence, especially in time to follow the man? No. We can catch him." Orlath pointed to where his prey had vanished and began to sneak off.

    "Oh, are you remembering now you are a hero, eh?" Nev teased. "Why us? He might be small be he looked dangerous in another sort of way. Sly, treacherous, and all that."

    "Oh but we are two mages of the Realm," Orlath reminded him. "and I am positive it can't be a real priest, which means he can't do any magic. But we can."

    "Ah but... what if he can do arcane magic?" Catching up to his cousin, Nev threw a last look to where the villagers were now gathering around a well.

    "Did that rat look like he knew anything about magic to you?" Orlath snorted. "Nah, we'll probably have an easy time being heroes for once."

    The easy-heroes-to-be followed their target to the local temple, a place that, as usual in small settlements, was dedicated to all the good gods and most neutral ones. This one didn't look like it was maintained very well. A sign on the lawn in front of the temple said that they were collecting donations to do renovations. From inside the temple came muffled commands. They could understand a few words, usually pushing someone to work faster, hurry up, and derogatory comments over said person's parents. Not too long later, a northern orc with greenish skin, as opposed to the usual brown and beige hues, appeared burdened with a trunk and a bunch of bags on a rack on his bag, and a backpack fixed on his front, looking really silly this way. His master followed, carrying a much smaller backpack and some pouches. "Move it you oaf," he hissed at the orc who, the way he behaved, was somehow enslaved to him. "We need to be off before that dumb fool gives me away."

    Groaning, the orc turned towards the shore, shuffling along as quickly as he could without tripping over anything. The elves looked at each other, nodded and followed them. If the villagers thought this con man to be a priest, it was better to catch him trying to get out of the place than inside, so there would be proof he had not been trying to just safe keep what was most likely everything worth a penny from the temple.

    Thankfully, the orc made enough noise to drown out their not always successful attempts at sneaking. When the shoreline came up, barely recognizable for anyone not able to see in low light, the thief fumbled along the pier until he found the planks leading to a larger fishing boat. Even from far away, you could hear the sound of a deafening snore. Whoever that was had slept through all of the commotion. The con man kicked hard against the doors of the only cabin on the boat, calling out without curses now and claiming to be on a holy errand of utmost importance.

    The snoring stopped, and a moment later the cabin door cracked open. The tallest lizardfolk male they had ever seen squeezed through a door too tiny for him and hissed a question. "What's it with tall people in this place?" Nev mumbled as he watched the exchange of words and gestures. "I think we should act now or it will be too late."

    "Agreed." Orlath stepped out behind the hut they had used as cover and called out. "Hey, there, hold it! This man is a thief, not a priest. He's stealing temple treasure!"

    "What? Who are you?" The black robed figure was close to panic but managed pretty well. "That is a lie. I am safekeeping the items. Strangers like you want to steal them."

    "Of course you would say that." Orlath smiled and decided to do something new he had learned to save them all precious time. "Now, tell it has it really was," he commanded, adding an arcane formula and threw a bit of sugar and flour into the air.

    The truth spell took hold, and against his wishes, the whole story came out. How he had sided with the bandits who came to town to extract even more donations from people who wouldn't know a true priest from a fake. How he was intending to reach Freeport by boat and never come back, taking the village's indentured worker – a payment for a raid the orc had done in the past – with him and probably sell him as slave. The lizardman howled and tried to grab the human but while talking, the thief had moved back onto the planks and now was turning to run past the orc and to the right down a coastal path. The lizard tried to follow but bumped into the orc and, trying to regain footage, fell off the planks into the dark water.

    "Guess it is up to us, after all," Orlath grinned and took off after the man. "Happy hunting!"

    Nev was not too happy to have to follow into unknown territory, but he had little choice now. So he picked up his elven speed and soon was next to the prince as they were running next to the water, jumping over puddles and then suddenly moving left right into the bushes where the smaller man had an advantage. There was an overgrown path there, but the elves had to duck a lot and were slowed down.

    A few minutes later, when they were beginning to get out of breath, they arrived at a large open space with little grass and no other growth. A damaged old tower was in the middle of it. Their target was zig zagging right towards it, probably hoping to hide before they would notice him. From the looks of it, he was out of breath, too, and he had dropped some of his pouches at the edge of the clearing to be faster.

    Orlath fell full speed over a sign put into the hard ground because he had paid more attention to the thief than to where he put his feet. A very unprincely curse came over his lips. Nev stopped at the last possible moment. "Whoa, don't go any further!" he exclaimed, looking at the sign.

    "Why, now, what is it?" Orlath gasped for air as he got up. Neither of them was in their best shape anymore.

    "Look." Nev wiped the moss off the sign.

    DANGER! DO NOT PASS!
    CURSED AREA!

    Under the words was the sign of the Church of Redemption, a group of well known paladins and clerics dedicated to free the lands of curses and other evil. When they could not find an experienced enough paladin or cleric to deal with an issue, they put up wards and warning signs and would get back at the problem as soon as possible, the worse it was, the sooner things would be dealt with. This one seemed relatively minor at first sight.

    "I can detect some wards," Nev added, "and they are strong to keep evil things inside but don't stop anyone from entering, as we also have seen."

    "Can't be too bad then, no? The warning is for commoners not knowing how to defend themselves, I bet. If he was not afraid, we should not be. "

    "But..." Nev started. It was too late though. Seeing the human go around the tower, Orlath was sure that he could go where a presumably non-magic human could go. Nev took a few deep breaths and followed after his limping friend. "One of these days, we'll get ourselves killed and I don't think it will be my fault."

    "Rats!" he heard Orlath call out, and a moment later he heard them squeaking. It sounded like a lot of them. "Just what I am talking about," he gasped as he rounded the tower. In the former courtyard, there were 1000s of rats, all circling Orlath, who was, as Nev could see, preparing a spell. Knowing what would be coming, the mage stopped and waited for the ripples of fire spell. From the prince's position, several waves of fire moved outward until they almost reached the courtyard wall ruins. The rats squeaked and panicked, but all of them got caught and the stink of burning flesh spread over the area.

    "Barbecue!" Orlath laughed. "He went in there," he then pointed to the steps leading to the main doors. "And he moved like someone knowing the place. If he's been here before and is still alive, we are fine." With that, Orlath leaped up the steps.

    "Ah.." Nev tried once more to caution the prince but to no avail. He feared that the con man had only been here during the day before and that, as with many curses, the danger would only become apparent once light had fled the land. Again, he followed, feeling somewhat helpless.
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  • #32
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    The tower's interior looked worse than the outside, and the first door Orlath found and tried to rush through with a new found energy was stuck and bounced him back. With a curse, he rubbed his shoulder, glad that his friend had not seen him. Then he pushed the door again, but to no avail. In all the years, the wood had gotten wet so often that it was now completely stuck, molded to the frame, too. But that also meant the human could not have come through here.

    Looking around, the prince finally spotted a small set of stairs behind a half crumbled statue. Just when Nev reached him, he charged on, his former lack of breath seemingly forgotten. Nev couldn't call out anymore. He leaned against a wall and huffed for air, wondering how his cousin did it. That lead him to remember a cantrip he had learned a child for just such an occasion. With some difficulty, he managed the words and blew into his palms, and immediately, air came back into his lungs and he felt a lot better. It would not last long, but it should enable him to keep up with Orlath.

    Orlath reached a wide corridor with a lot of broken or rotten decoration. Somewhere across the hallway, he could hear a clanking noise. Grinning, he adopted a regal pose, with one hand on his sword and the other on his component pouch. He would show this swindler not to ridicule the gods or to steal from villagers.

    Following the sounds to the source, he arrived at huge double doors. They were slightly ajar. In the last moment, he had the good sense not to rush in but to peak around the doors first. He saw a large room spanning half of the tower, from the layout, it once had been a ballroom of sorts. The sounds came from the left corner in the back. In the dim light his elven senses were a great help. But he still wished he had not seen what he just saw. Carefully, he retreated.

    A ballroom, alright., There was still dancing going on. In fact, the room was just filling up with the participants of this danse macabre. Skeletons, mummies and from what he could make out, a few zombies as well. If they were not careful, they would stumble over their own entrails. While Orlath was not particularly scared of the undead anymore, he would not take on this set alone. He would need Nev – but first, they had to find the con man.

    A moment later, he could make out fresh dirt on the ground – footsteps obviously from the human he was in pursuit of. Throwing a last look at the ballroom door, he followed them to what once had been a great library. Now, there were not even rotten books, the crumbling shelves were just empty. On some of the shelves, though, were stacks of newer items which appeared to have been stolen from the village, including a large silver chalice looking like it would belong in the temple. Something was moving in the back of the room, so Orlath, sword drawn by now, moved forward.

    "There you are," a voice came from behind, and the prince jumped. It was Nev, of course, now out of breath again. "Did you notice the undead celebration in the ballroom?"

    "Yeah, we can take care of them later, for now, I think we found our conniving friend."

    "Take care of them later? But..." Nev sighed once more as he saw Orlath had stopped listening. At this moment, he was sure glad his friend wasn't the crown prince.

    Nev had his eyes on the ground to watch where the footprints were going, so it took him a moment to notice Orlath had left the trail. As he looked up, he saw the other elf approach a set of tables. From his point of view, several meters ahead of where Orlath had swayed right, Nev could see dark forms sitting at the table, hoods drawn into their faces. They were sitting at what would have been copying tables once, where the lower ranked scribes copied everyday stuff like news and announcements to hang in villages or even books and pamphlets which were borrowed out a lot. So this must have been a somewhat public library once. However, it was logical to assume that those scribes still sitting there, moving their hands as if still writing, were not part of the living. There were at least a dozen, and his friend was headed right towards them. "Orlath!" he called out.

    Suddenly, semi-transparent ghostly shapes appeared all around them. "Ssshhhhh..." they made, putting their ghostly fingers in front of their lips. One who looked like a female dwarf of all things looked at him very disapprovingly. "This is a library, you know," she hissed, her voice sounding like turning pages in a book.

    "Ah, no, hate to disappoint," Nev said, deciding on the blunt approach. "This was a library once, a long long time ago, but now it is but a ruin and you are all ghosts stuck in this cursed building. Now, if you'd let me pass..."

    He had no idea what made him say that, but it seemed to work. The look of confusion on the faces of the ghosts was both priceless and pitiful. When he was back in Freeport, he would see to it that someone would finally take the curse of this building, Nev told himself.

    Orlath was not looking back, he just rounded the next shelf and almost bumped into the copying tables. For a moment, Nev hoped that the undead scribes, too, would just tell him to be quiet so they could turn back. But there was no such luck. A dozen mummies threw back their robes and stared at them with strange green eyes. Nev caught up to Orlath, sword also drawn. "You need," he gasped as his spell was starting to wear off, "to be more careful. You can't charge into a cursed building like that!"

    "You have a point," the prince admitted while retreating a few steps. "But we have faced undead before, even back home. Remember the mine graveyard with all the weird zombies?"

    "Yeah but you are forgetting something." Nev pulled his friend back to the library exit while the mummies started grunting and picking up speed.

    "What?"

    "We had your sister with us. This time, there is no one to turn undead for us. Unless you have suddenly picked p a few skills in necromancy."

    "Uh... we have our weapons..." Orlath picked up retreating speed, knowing what Nev would say.

    "You certainly remember what happened the last few times we seriously wanted to use our swords. Uthas has a name for our fighting style, remember?"

    "I get it, I get it... so, what now?"

    Renewing his second wind spell, Nev felt impatient with Orlath. "Well, there is but one thing to do – run!"




    Lhess stopped to consider the trampled over sign on the grass. 3 sets of footprints probably meant that the two elves the lizard had been talking about when he came with the orc slave into the village center were still following the false priest. It also meant someone, possibly not the runner, had paid more attention to what was ahead than his surroundings. The paladin reached out to straighten out the sign when she heard gasping and moaning coming from the tower. In a quick move, she slipped behind a willow tree and drew her sword.

    A moment later, someone fell over the sign again and loudly cursed in elvish. She knew that voice and choice of bad words all too well. With a smirk, she stepped out from her cover, just to be bumped in by someone else, who also cursed loudly while rubbing his elbow which had made unpleasant contact with the paladin's armor.

    "Hi Nev," Lhess smiled brightly at her cousin. "And hello, brother. As I see, your tendency not to watch where you are going hasn't changed a bit."

    Orlath gathered himself up from the ground, by now looking rather tattered. "Lhess?" His eyes grew wide like the moon. "What are you doing here?"

    "Saving your behinds, it seems." The woman pointed towards the tower. "At least if this collection of various undead is any indication."

    The space between them and the tower was crawling with zombies, skeletons, mummies, ghasts and some other variations. Gasping for air again, Nev could neither say something nor go any further. He grabbed Orlath for support and tried to hide behind Lhess. Orlath fought the burning in his lungs to make a useful reply, but all that came out was "It's not what you think."

    "What do I think?" Lhess got into position and lifted her silver gleaming holy sword to the dark sky. Then she shouted out the ancient words of the elven gods to destroy undead abominations. A wave of light spread out from her weapon, hitting the front line of the approaching horde. One by one, they crumbled, falling to the ground in piles of ash and dust, something they should have turned into a long time ago. "Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust," Lhess mumbled as she slowly lowered her sword. "Well?" she asked the prince as if nothing had happened.

    "Huh? Oh!" Her brother scratched his head. "You are thinking we got ourselves into trouble but that is not true. It's more like trouble got into us."

    "Yes, you always say that. It's why mom sent me after all." The paladin put her sword away and winked at the two men. "And I came just in time, as it seems."

    "We were doing... fine, really.... Lady Theka should not have... wasted your precious time with... this. We are not... usually interested in... what you want to do," Nev gasped.

    Looking back at the tower, Lhess shook her head. "Yeah," she said. "It sure looked like you had everything under control. The undead tire so easily it is a blast to just outrun them."

    "Point taken," Orlath conceded. "But we were after a con man. He is still on the run."

    "He isn't." Lhess closed her eyes to let her special life detecting ability take over. "There is nothing alive in there. A few unfortunate ghosts, probably."

    "They... got the swindler? Good." Nev stretched, trying to get rid of cramps. "And there are ghosts who, I think don't get they are dead, they still think the library exists and all."

    "I'll check on them tomorrow, and we'll see what else from te false priest's loot we can find. The lizard told us everything when he came running into the village."

    "Can you even help them, with the curse and all? Even the Church of Redemption couldn't..."

    "I am the church of Redemption. At least right now." Lhess didn't notice the surprised look on her relatives' faces. "And I'll sure have a talk with the chapter leader about not getting back to this. The sign looks a few years old. Well, now that we are clear, let's go back... slowly," she grinned at Nev. "I saw Uthas appear with the orc I came here with, and I can guess what they have been up to. Just one question left."

    "Which is?" Orlath sounded resigned to his fate by now.

    "Where's Flip? You did bring him here with you, as your town house was empty."

    "He's probably off with some halfling girl or two, I saw some in the village," Nev suggested. "Whatever he is up to, I'm sure we'll see him in the morning and he will have had a better night than we did."
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  • #33
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    Very slow with updates as typing hurts me at the moment. Sorry about that.

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

    13th of Peli


    Hi Mom


    I found them, by accident you might say but I believe the gods wanted me to find them so fast.

    I told you about the village I went to help, and that's where they were. In a bar fight – isn't that typical? At least Uthas and Flip took part in that, although, they weren't the one who started it. I guess that was me and an orc woman I met on the way.

    Long story short, we drove the bad guys out alright. Few of them were actually leaving, most were killed or executed. A real bad bunch, they were. Worse was, of course, the village's fake priest who sold them out. The culprit met his destiny in a cursed tower around here though. I just took care of the curse this morning and we discovered a big stash of stuff. Guess the man planned to leave soon, anyhow.

    The village has an orc slave, who is theirs for 3 more years after he committed some crime no one wants to talk about. We were shown the entrance to the dungeon complex under the tower and what was once a great keep. There were a lot of different humanoids there. Even goblins. And they were all very civilized and friendly. They, too, have slaves taken for some time for the crimes they did, including a halfling and a human. Seems to work out nicely, better than prison if you ask me. Their shaman binds them with her magic in some way. Very impressive.

    We borrowed one of their rangers to track down Flip, as they seemed to have lost him after the bar fight. No one saw him leave, and we didn't manage to find any tracks – well, that is something none of us but Flip ever trained in at all. Anyway, their ranger found traces of a halfling running out the back door and up to the main road a mile or two further. There, in the packed dirt and dust and after some light rain while we were still tracking, we lost the trail. I have no clue what happened. Maybe you can contact him with one of your missives, he will still receive them even if he has lost his stash of missive paper.

    We are not sure if we should return to Freeport now or try and find Flip. If he is acting on your orders, just let us know so we know to go back. Something might be going on in that city you so favor, I have had a bad feeling about it last time I was there. Now, I am almost sure the city might need their heroes (with me as a lucky addition) sometime soon again. But there is something we have to do while the ranger is still trying to fin more tracks.

    The humanoid have issues with a supposedly haunted temple or monastery of sorts. They aren't sure as they don't go near it. We went to check it out, but if not for the goblin at the fake wishing well – he put up a sign it was a wishing well, you see, so people would throw money in and he could cash that – we wouldn't have found it. The building is lost in a jungle of underwood and overgrowth. The leather part of my armor is all scratchy again. In any case, here we are now and want to have a quick peek before making camp.

    Lhess, trying to think for all of them




    Dear Mom,

    Gods know, I'm not happy you plague me with the presence of my ever-so-holy sister. But she was, at least, a real help with the cursed tower. I'm sure she already told you all about it the humanoids we met afterward. And, of course, that Flip is missing. No, we didn't lose him as Lhess keeps claiming. How can you lose someone who wasn't even close to you when he ran? If anyone has lost that little bugger, it's Uthas. It's all his fault, anyway, for running off to the fight.

    Well, maybe not all his fault, but come on, really? Why does anything with orc blood always want to brawl and rumble as soon as they are a little bit annoyed about something? I shall have a sleep spell ready for the next time he tries that.

    As for Flip, if this had happened in the city, I'd say he was on your orders, now that Lhess let it slip that you have him sending reports as well. I hope not on us, though, because I would not like you to spy on us and would have to use some ritual to bind Flip to me so he couldn't talk about me. I hate gossip, as you very well know, and Flip is a sneaky little halfling, which is why I suppose you sent him along.


    Well, now Lhess has dragged us to solve the not-so-much mystery of a spooky place. Some old temple we just came out of. Nothing much of interest that we saw this evening, but thanks to Nev poking around where he shouldn't have, we woke some giant centipede thing which, of course, attacked me, and magic won't work well in the temple. Uthas came just in time to help me kill it. And as if that was not enough, there were also wolves attracted by Nev's shouting as he was hiding behind the door when we got the centipede. Luckily, Uthas can somewhat talk to, or rather howl to, wolves, so they left us alone. Nev was fleeing the scene before they even calmed down, though. What's with him and wildlife? He keeps forgetting he is not completely a city elf and should know better.

    I hope I have a good night's sleep at least.

    Your loving son Orlath




    Honored Lady Theka!


    I suppose I should thank you for sending Lhess to us, after all. She has changed so much since I last saw her. Granted, she is still the arrogant do-gooder paladin who knows everything better, but at least she now also listens and doesn't interrupt... much.

    But of course she drags us from one "help the natives" quest to the other already. Not that I usually mind helping people, but for some reason Flip ran away from us, as you no doubt have already heard. And no, we didn't lose him somewhere, he actively left!

    So here we are, just being chased out of the temple by a group of wolves. And that was after the prince went and stirred up a giant centipede that was, until he poked his nose in, peacefully resting. If not for Uthas, we might be hurt or even dead. I tried to hold it off with my meager sword skills – which have somewhat improved but still – while Orlath ran to hide somewhere. He screamed like the whole world was behind him, too. I don't mean to put him in a bad light, but really?

    Magic fizzles in the temple, except for Lhess divine stuff, of course. Which makes me think after dealing with that cursed tower alone, she can handle it herself come morning. I, for one, hope to have a good sleep, at least.


    Ever in Your service

    Nevukh



    14th of Peli


    Bosslady,


    Went back to temple today, led by daughter of yours. She's good fighter, I like for one not having worry about being accidental hit by own allies. Well, and her being paladin and all, she was real help for masses of undead in backrooms of temple. There was zombies and ghouls and, in a room I thought was empty cuz dust on the ground was all not disturbed, some flying heads vampire like things she called varghouls or some such. I almost got bit by them I think, but Lhess got them done for. She had some problem with making undead turn for some reason, magic in temple they say is all weird, and only the divine works. Even with that she had trouble so she destroy them right there. She got all rightious angry (can't spell that) and them are dead now. Truly dead. But it scared the holy light out of me, and we had to go find Nev and the prince after for they ran. Since they was in cursed tower, Lhess says, they are super scared of undead. Must be part of curse, maybe, she will look in it.

    After that, daughter of yours was out of magic and son of yours was out of pants. We had to retreat for the day. So I just got back from hunting rabbit and the goblin who is still with us will cook. He is good at it, and we pay him a little. Humanoids out here are as civilized as back home, ain't that strange, Bosslady? We were always told outside the Realm, save the orcs all humanoids are still savage and dirty and violent.

    I miss Flip. Flip always knew what to do when I was worried. I am worried now, about rest of old temple.

    ~U



    The reason for Uthas' worries was sitting at a makeshift stone table right that moment, with a bandage around his head, playing a game of cards with a hobgoblin named Gurt. The smell of mushroom stew was in the air, and a remarkably good ale was on the table. The cave they were sitting in was clean for the most part, too, a fact that still surprised the halfling.

    Gurt had fished Flip out of a trench he had fallen in on the morning of his "escape." Flip still was not remembering anything, but the hobgoblin blamed it on the injury. In any case, Flip was feeling much better, and he happened to like his new companion a lot. For a hobgoblin, Gurt was weird – clean, a chef specializing in mushroom meals – he even cultivated his own mushrooms in the next cave – and a tender of sheep and cows for an ogre named Blogg. He didn't like the sheep too much, and he had to cook for the ogre, too, but he at least had a cave over his head, some protection and the droppings from the sheep to cultivate his mushrooms on.

    "So, Blogg says he still protects me, but that we haves to go ask for more tribute from the farmers, you see?" Gurt just explained his latest worries while he was about to win again. "I don't likes that. The village and us, we kind of lives in weird harmony. They pays us some tribute, most it is beer and food and sheep and moo moos– sometimes pigs, pig droppings better for mushrooms- for fresh meat, and we help them defends against the stupid dragon. But nows, all uf a sudden, Blogg acts crazy, so I goes follow him to see what's going on, and there is this human wizard man and he's puts the charm on him, he has!"

    "Wait, dragon? There is a real dragon around?" Flip had heard lots of weird rumors in Freeport, and even if he did not remember them, he was pretty sure he would remember something like that. "And a human charmed your boss? Someone from the village?"

    "Yeah, from the village, son of the late evil wizard Eras... something. I not so good with names. Want to pick up where dad failed and died, me guesses. And yeah, dragon. Big old one named Wavengashz or some the likes. As I said..." he shrugged.

    ...you aren't good with names, I get it." Flip grinned. "One more game?"

    "Sure." Gurt started shuffling while he kept explaining the problem he wanted Flip's help for. "So this wizard man is evil and he's asked Blogg for humans. I guess theys want to sacrifice them. So Blogg he goes and steals two of them and now the village is all upset."

    "Blogg abducted humans?" Flip put down his ale and winced as he realized what was coming. "So you need my help freeing them?"

    "Rescue thems, yes, and helps Blogg. Blogg all charmed, and if the wizard summons the demons..."

    "Demons?" Now Flip almost spilled the ale. Ever since that bird demon thing, he had had his fill of those.

    "Wells, at least one he already has, wants to get at least one more. I hears him talks to himselves when I haves been sneaking up on him. And sometimes he talks with what I thinks is a lower demon, who helps him."

    "I'm not exactly good with demons," Flip explained.

    "You are are thief, and maybe assassin, no?" Gurt pointed to the equipment the halfling had. "I sees your stuff. Good sword, many knives and arrows and some other things for killing."

    "I prefer the term rogue," Flip evaded. "And I don't really remember anything, remember?"

    Gurt blinked, then he understood the sentence. "Yes but skill you learns, you don't forgets. You forgets what makes you you..." he made a twirling motion with his hand at his head, " but you never never forgets skills. Gurt knows. Cuz I don't remembers who I was before, either." Then Gurt grinned sheepishly. "I tries to do all alone, so you know. But me, I am a cow-ward!" He hacked a loud, weird laugh. "Gets it? Cow-ward. I ward his cows."

    Flip couldn't help but join in the laughter. "How come you lost your memory?" he then asked.

    "Was fight with waylayers from mountains. Bandits. They hates the village. I trieds to raise the alarms but gots caught by then. Then I gots bad hit on head. That's what Blogg says and he founds me and helpeds me."

    Flip stared at the hobgoblin for a moment. "Alright, I'll help you. But I need to know all about the cave system in this hill, everything you can remember. And whatever you can find out about this human wizard, too." He had a bad feeling about this, but he also felt he had a duty to do this. There were wolfs around, and he might as well have become their dinner if not for the hobgoblin.

    "Greats! Thanks you very much. We could go tonight to gets started. Blogg drinks in evenings, and then gets drunk and sleeps very well. He won't hear us, then. Hopefully." Gurt blinked at the table. "And you just lost again."

    The halfling shook his head and went to get his gear, but the 'Hobgoblin shook his head. "First takes old clothes and wraps everythings in it. Your clothes, too. You wills be wearing old clothes to throw away."

    Blinking, Flip looked back over is shoulder. "And why do we do that?"

    "Because of the stink-spray," he explained. "Big furry thing with white and brown stripes, makes you all stinky?"

    "A skunk?" Flip sighed.

    "Yes, skunk they calls it. Very big one!" He signed half halfling size, maybe more.

    "A dire skunk. My night just got a lot better," the rogue figured. Then he started taking his clothes off. The replacement he got was all tatters, fit to be thrown away after being sprayed, and they looked remarkably like the pink dress of a human child and the boots of a dwarf kid. Flip decided not to comment on that. After all, no one else would see him this way. "Let's get going, and tell me all you know."
    My Story Hour campaigns. What are they up to this week?

  • #34
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    Short update, but should be regular again now.

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


    Flip held his breath as he poured the vinegar over his naked self after ditching the skunked clothes. For a while, neither he nor his hobgoblin friend spoke. Then, when they finally had to breathe again – vinegar was in itself not the best smell to Flip – the halfling looked accusingly at Gurt. "You just had to poke it, hadn't you? It was sleeping nice and deep, not minding anyone or anything, and you just had...to...poke it!"

    Shaking off the vinegar and pouring some stale water over himself, Gurt looked at him, slightly confused. "I neededs to know if it was alives," he said in his defense.

    "Whatever for? It is not like it is your favorite pet or something. It would be as good to me dead, well, no, even better dead so it wouldn't have reacted to your poking!"

    "But if it was dead, I'd haves to finds a new guard for that entrance,you see. It's part of my duties." Gurt nodded wildly at that. "And evil wizard guy or not but I needs to protect our home."

    Grunting some sort of non-answer, Flip, now clear of stink, followed the hobgoblin out of the storage room past some old tomb and a few traps Gurt knew his way around and finally to the cave the ogre had made into his room. Even from far away, you could hear an awfully loud snoring.

    As Gurt carefully shoved the old wooden door open, Flip could see the ogre slumped over at the table, face in his food. An empty bottle was in his hand, and there were more on the ground. While he still had his cracked leather armor on, his immense club was leaning against the wall in the back of the room where a bed made of furs was. Flip sneaked up to the snoring Blogg and poked him with a little needle he had prepared. "Just a mild poison," he explained. "Preventing him from waking up before the morrow."

    Gurt brightened visibly even in the dim light provided by some candles. "Good thinking! Do we then goes and finds the wizard right away?"

    "Yeah." Flip frowned, thinking about how to best go about this wizard problem. For some reason, he knew he could not be charmed, but that was definitely not true for his new friend. "Where does he usually go around this time of night? I doubt he'd be in bed."

    "No, he woulds be in his lab, or goes about all this dark stuffs in his ritual chambers. Come on, I knows where the traps are and can gets us past all save."

    "I hope so. Do you think maybe the wizard has put new traps in you don't know about?"

    "Nah." Gurt shook his head so quickly it made Flip dizzy. "He's too frail for a human his age to do much. Some sickness of sorts. And, Blogg woulds only gets confused by new traps, and the dwarf maybe's too."

    "Dwarf?" Again Flip frowned, although the hobgoblin couldn't see that, walking in front. "What dwarf now?"

    "Wizard charmed towns smith, he is," Gurt explained. "Mostly harmless. Does his works and not bothers anyone if we just leaves him alone."

    "Are there any more people I need to know about?" Carefully, Flip climbed down some stairs after Gurt while the hobgoblin deactivated the trap on it.

    "Just the prisoners he needs for doings of dark ritual stuff. They ares not too bad, yet," the hobgoblin said. "If there is any mores, I do not knows."

    Flip, who had to help the hobgoblin with deactivating several of the more complicated traps, was trying to form a plan to deal with the situation. They should have done that before they decided to embark on this errand, but maybe after what made him lose his memory, he didn't have all his faculties together just now. The halfling thought it even more foolish to turn back now though, especially as they could already smell the alchemy lab the wizard had, according to the hobgoblin, constantly been working in not too far ahead.

    "This charmed dwarf, where is he, usually?" Flip wanted to know.
    "In the caves with the prisoners, making more cages for thems." Gurt shook his head. "I already trieds to gets him out and to help, but he is convinced the wizard is his friend. Darn magics."

    "Have you tried telling him his, err, friend wants something from him? Like coming with him?"

    "No..." Gurt grinned at the halfling in admiration. "You are very clevers! That coulds work!"

    "Are there any empty crates down here?" Flip jumped over a small pit, trying to keep up.

    "Oh, plenties. What woulds you wants it for?"

    Flip decided he'd need to talk to Gurt about his language issues while his mind was spinning wild with the possibilities of the current situation. "I have a plan. Kind of. Depends on where the wizard is. Listen..."

    Gurt listened, and a wide goblin grin spread over his face.

    A moment later, they reached the alchemist's lab. The cave it was in was rather big, stretching left and right, filled with tables laden with things one would need to go about alchemical work. There was also a wall set up as library, and on some tables were more books even. Most of the material looked to be fairly new. The stench usually coming with such activities was faintly in the air. Gurt pointed to another room going off the lab. Rhythmic clangs on metal could be heard. That was, so he had explained, where the captives were and the dwarf worked.

    The wizard was nowhere to be seen, but they could hear his more or less melodic chanting from another cave nearby. He would, so Gurt assured Flip, be busy trying out his spells and formulas until early morning. Gurt went towards where the dwarf could be heard working, but flip shook his head and pointed at the tables. "Let's see if we can find some notes first, to see what exactly the guy... what was his name again... is doing."

    "Suto," Gurt said. "Crazy lookings guy, too, for being that young. Why bother with notes? Need to get rids of him, anyway." He was obviously burning for some action, whipping back and forth on his toes.

    "We better find out what exactly he's trying to summon, no? There are plenty of different demon types vulnerable to different things, just in case he succeeds." Flip started going through the books and notes on the nearest table.

    "Oh, alright. You are clever." Gurt grinned. "I can't reads well, so you tells me what I need to looks for?" He frowned. "And how do we fight a demon, vulnerable or not?"

    Flip stopped flipping through the pages of a journal with current entries and thought about that for a second. He hadn't given it much thought, but he realized it was a bit naive to believe an opportunity would just present itself out of nowhere. "Look for any weird long names, it usually means a demon," he said, basing this on what he had heard somewhere. If he could just remember where... "As for how to fight one, we wil see in the unlikely event this Suto succeeds." Maybe it was not so unlikely, he thought, seeing all the research, but he dared not mention that.

    "A name like.. Flaburr... Flabbarr.." Gurt tried. He held up a tattered looking scroll. Flip scanned it and nodded. With the luck of the naive, Gurt had come upon a summoning scroll that seemed very unfinished. "Flabburkanadzar," Flip read. "Let's just call it Flab." He turned to a tome on demons to look the name up.

    "Flab," Gurt giggled. "Flab and Flip!" For some reason, the halfling found that a lot less amusing.

    "Here," he exclaimed after a while. "Demon of wishes and bad luck. For each wish it makes come true, someone else you need to specify will be struck with bad luck and worse. Guess the wizard does not only want something for himself but also revenge something or the other."

    "Sounds not too bad," Gurt mused. "Get what you want and make your enemies suffer for it."

    "Except demons tend to fulfill their end of the bargain with some twists and turns that would make you wish never to have wished, so don't even think about it." Flip placed everything but the unfinished scroll back – better not take a chance for it to be completed soon – and waved for Gurt to pay the dwarf a visit.

    The Dwarf, Master Durbin, was hammering away happily, humming to himself. In the cages along the long wall of the crude cave were several villagers – 2 human women, a male gnome, a half-orc child and what looked to be a mix of dwarf and halfling. They were in various states of shock and despair, as far as Flip could tell.

    "Master Durbin," Flip started. "We need your help. Our friend Suto needs us to move his lab stuff to another room for now." He smiled widely as he neared the charmed prisoner. "You are Suto's friend, are you not?"

    "Why yes, yes I am." The dwarf started at them in confusion, then back to his work and shrugged. "But I need to finish those, Suto asked so nicely for them!"

    "Yes, I know, I know," Flip assured him. "But Suto needs his lab stuff moved now as he is expecting visitors who might accidentally damage the equipment. He said you would be the right man to help and the guard all the stuff while finishing the cages in another cave." Still smiling, Flip came closer and pointed to the prisoners. "We don't need to take them, they are no friends of Suto."

    "No, no, they are not. And I can finish the work in the new place?" It was obviously very hard for the dwarf to shift his focus.

    "Of course, Suto needs the cages, remember? He just needs the lab stuff moved first. We already brought crates."

    Gurt nodded and pointed to the boxes he had just brought out of storage. "We cans be quick and all do our other works for Suto again."

    "Alright, then." Still hesitating, the dwarf dropped his utensils. "Let's hurry up then so I can finish."

    Flip released his held breath. He hadn't be sure that this would be working. Luckily, the wizard had not thought to make his orders more specific. Likely, he felt very secure down here, no wonder with all the traps they had gotten rid of. They worked in silence; the dwarf because talking meant slowing down, the halfling and the hobgoblin so no strange noise would alert their foe.

    Once the dwarf and the equipment was safely in a much smaller cave, Durbin immediately got back to work on the cages for 'his friend' while the others locked the door behind him without him even noticing it. "Now," Flip announced, "it is time for your part. Are you sure you are up to it?"

    Gurt blinked, obviously worried. "No, but we haves no choices. And I'm afraids well enough so the wizard will not thinks me trying to tricks him."

    Flip nodded, wondering if his plan was sound enough. "You remember what to say?"

    "Yes, I does. Almost the truth, too, rights?" Gurt grinned and rushed on towards the cave the wizard was in,

    Flip followed almost as quickly. He readied his small arsenal of throwing weapons, coating several of them in a larger amount of the same poison he had used on the ogre. It might not be enough but it was all he had with him.

    Gurt already started calling out. "Master Suto, Master Suto, come quicks, we're attacked by the villagers and peoples in shining armors! There's peoples in the dungeons stealing your stuffs. And Blogg is all drunks and passed out again." Gurt managed to sound real panicked, maybe because he was. He banged at the door to the cave where Suto was doing whatever he was doing, and it just occurred to the halfling then that the wizard might have a good spell at the ready. But it was too late to worry about that now. Flip stayed right behind Gurt, holding his right arm with the left as if he was injured, trying to look dazed. The left hand concealed a poisoned dart.



    At the same time, back in the camp near the temple ruins, a goblin standing watch beyond a cloud covered sky noticed a strange light emanating from the remains of the buildings. The big ones had cleaned it out earlier, so the paladin had assured him, which made him more curious than worried at first. The islands they were living on sometimes had strange swamp lights and other phenomena which were usually not dangerous unless one was foolish enough to follow them.

    Krock, as his name was, wasn't foolish, just a bit lazy and not the bravest. Because of that, he didn't dare go nearer, and he hesitated to wake the others. Waking them could mean being left in the camp alone while they would go investigate. And the last think Krock wanted was to be alone around here.

    The light slowly intensified, turning from a dark green to light green and then to yellow. A low, almost inaudible rumble started. The goblin had never seen a swamp light do that, and he was contemplating sounding the alarm when the temple suddenly seemed to explode in light and sound, without any of the remaining walls really being damaged. Krock started to yell in panic, and the next moment the group's half-orc fell over him as he rushed, naked of all things, out of his tent.

    The 3 elves were almost as quick, but they had taken the time to throw on their robes and armor respectively. All of them, Uthas still on the ground next to Krock, stared at the sight. The ruins were now hanging colors from green to yellow again and again, and the walls seemed to be intact, complete with the tower and fortifications and all, and a moment later back to their real self, to appear overgrown with vegetation the next moment just to be gone completely in the blink of an eye. It happened again and again. And someone was yelling in the building.

    "Let's go!" Lhess ordered. She said that so matter-of-factly that the others, including a naked half-orc barely remembering to grab his axe, followed without thinking much about it. Uthas found himself wishing they hadn't left Thalla, the orc woman, back at the village to find traces of her kidnapped merchant – an orc – or half-orc – warrior charging into battle naked was a sight any orc female would enjoy. But then, he remembered, he had no idea if there would be a battle or not. In fact, the situation looked to be more magical than anything.

    The rotation through light and appearances intensified, and Uthas felt a strange sensation, like ants crawling over his skin – a sure sign that there was a lot of magic around, although he had no idea why he could detect some magic that way when most others could not. At the same time, the world seemed to slow down around him and sped up at the next moment, and the elves seemed to move in different speeds, too. At the entrance of the temple ruins, the half-orc could now make out what looked to be a very old human man, staggering out of the building in apparent confusion. The cries came from him. Uthas blinked, as for a moment the man had looked almost young again, and he was sure it has not been a trick of the weird light.

    Lhess and the others came to a stop well off the entrance. Nev made some movements with his hands and mumbled a spell, and Lhess held up her holy symbol – an eternal knot of wisdom – for protection. Uthas tried to push himself in front of the prince but he could not reach them, as for some reason the world around him either sped up or he slowed down. It was almost like he was stuck in honey. Once more, the human now out of the temple looked to be young, then there was a final flash of light and a bang like a million thunders, and then it was all quiet and dark around Uthas. The only lights he could still see where those dancing in front of his eyes.

    Lhess and Nev knelt next to the old man in tattered priest robes where he had fallen once the magic dissolved. He looked really ancient now. "Are... they...gone?" he croaked. "All the... undead?"

    "Yes," Lhess assured him. "The gods helped me take care of that."

    "Good." The unknown man closed his eyes. "You must... save the library. Very important. Take... key to transport it. Time... and space... it's the key." The hands of the man, aging rapidly now, went up to Nev's robes and grabbed him by the collar. "Time... is of the essence. Space... we need the space. You must be... the destined..."

    Nev saw the hands losing their grip on him and blinked in confusion. He was about to ask for details but then he noticed the wide open eyes of the human. The unknown priest was dead. Lhess looked at the temple and back at the priest in irritation. "Where did he come from? We searched the whole place, there was nowhere for him to hide, and there certainly was no library!"

    "But Lhess, this is magic. Arcane magic." Nev, slowly getting up, looked for Orlath. "I don't know what happened exactly, and you are right that we checked the whole place, wolves and all." For a moment, Nev appeared to be embarrassed by the memory of that episode.

    Orlath appeared beyond the temple entrance. He had gone in once the spectacle seemed to be over. "There was no library when we checked," he nodded. "Not in our time. Nor in our space. But I heard what he said." He pointed at the corpse. "And I believe we have made a very important discovery here. If what he was guarding was as sensitive as I think it was, we better hurry up finding and getting the library out of here and don't tell anyone else about it. At least not for a while. Except, you know, mom."

    "Alright." Knowing her brother was right, Lhess had no issue with him taking the lead. "But this magic, whatever it was, is gone now?"

    "Time magic, and space magic. I detected both. It is not completely gone yet, but it is harmless enough now." The prince pointed at the entrance. "Let's go."

    Uthas, who had gotten up again, blinked the remaining dizziness off. "Mind if I dress first?" he asked.

    Lhess looked back at him and grinned. "No, but be quick about it."

    Not too much later, the party, leaving the goblin to watch the camp again, moved back into the temple in search of the hidden library they were supposed to save. For once, all 2 elves were in agreement as knowledge was the most important thing, or so it had been drilled into them. Uthas was more concerned with the safety of the two wizards. But nothing stirred in the temple again.
    My Story Hour campaigns. What are they up to this week?

  • #35
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    The reason we split the party up so much was that we needed to schedule around the player's exams which was about impossible unless they played a few single sessions. It was better than a break in the game to us.

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

    The inside of the temple had changed indeed. Several times seemed to exist in the same space. They could see the image around them flickering. One moment, there was the temple ruins they knew, then there was nothing but a wild landscape, then again the ruins were in worse shape and the next second, the building was as good as new. A few times, they thought they could even glimpse people – builders, a cleaning acolyte, a priest. And from one dark corner, some sort of predator launched itself at them, just to disappear the next moment. Time was clearly in flux here, something none of them had ever experienced, worse, not heard much about, either.

    Whiel the 3 elves were edgy and jumped at several of the changes, especially the beast, Uthas was as calm as a morning flower. The barbarian had little concept of arcane magic to begin with, not to talk about the complicated implications of temporal magic. He shrugged it off and grinned. "It's like me mom and her patched clothes. There's one layer over the other, and sometime something gets torn off and you see the old stuff. Then you patch it again. Or like the hems, if you tear them you see parts not let out yet. See, time's just as everyday as everything else."

    Nev didn't know what to say to that, Lhess bust out laughing and the prince seemed insulted. After that, it was a bit easier, although walking through areas of different times still made them feel unsafe. And the impressions changed. Where first they had been only overlays, they now became true surroundings, and eventually, when they stepped into them they felt as if they were really in the past or the future – except that they could still see the present time temple shining through and knew where to go. How justified their worry was they could see when, at one point, they turned the corner on the second floor right after Uthas, but he was gone. "Hey? Uthas?" Nev sounded close to panic. "If that's one of your scare the elves games, then it's the wrong time. Come back here!"

    Lhess pushed open one of the old, partly open iron doors close to them. Asides from cobwebs, she found nothing in the small storage chamber likely once used for candles and the like. She rushed to the other door and tried again.

    Nev pointed into the corridor, which was changing images through times faster than before. "You think he's got lost in there?"

    By now, it was not possible to see the real temple ruins under the temporal impressions anymore. But what exactly real was, they weren't so sure anymore. If they went with Uthas' interpretation of the layers, then they all would be real somehow, and even the prince had to admit that he had no other explanation. Temporal magic was rudimentary, the best you could usually do was influencing the timeline a few seconds, maybe minutes, here and there. It was all new to them, and probably to most scholars.

    "I don't think that's possible... or is it?" the prince wondered. "It's only imprints of the past, I think..."

    Right then, a cold wind was blowing out of one of the assumed impressions, which was showing the ruins in the future, covered in snow. "I think it's somehow real," Nev deducted and jumped backwards.

    "Guys, I think I've found this library we were looking for." Lhess had stepped into the other room. "And I also think it is the reason for all this trouble."

    The room the paladin was standing in was not too big; maybe the size of a large living room. Several shelves full of books and some other things were all over the walls and in two rows in the middle. A table and an old armchair were placed near an empty fireplace close to the door. The room flickered in some way, seemingly fighting to keep up one appearance. It didn't quite change like the rest of the temple, but it seemed to be only a matter of time before whatever prevented the room from falling to the same magic was running out.

    "Just how are we supposed to carry all that with us?" Lhess sighed, sounding frustrated. "Is any of it maybe not important enough to take?"

    "We wouldn't have the time to discern that." Nev looked at his cousins and blinked rapidly, a sign he was thinking quickly. "We need to find one expendable book."

    "Why?" Lhess wondered, while Orlath was already browsing the shelves next to him for a fitting volume.

    "There is a mass reduce spell for such situations, which can also be done in a ritual. We will probably have just enough time. What it needs is one from the type of things to be reduced as a component in the ritual. Which, of course, makes it about useless for living things unless you are into sacrifices," Nev explained in his usual long winded way. "We have all the other things we need, as it isn't anything unusual – candle, a piece of a measuring rope, incense of shrinkwood, black chalk to draw the area of effect in scale..." While he was talking, he already cleared a rug off the floor and began to prepare. "We did it before, actually. Long story."

    Lhess just stared. She had never before even heard of shrinkwood, and here her cousin presented it as standard spell component. "Okay. Do you need me to do anything?"

    "Get a bit of material from the walls to mix in with the chalk," Nev said. "It reduces the spell difficulty."

    While Lhess went to do just that, Orlath returned with a very old volume of "Basic Ingredients for Beginner Spells." It was almost falling apart and obviously not a part of the very well kept main collection. "That'll do fine," he grinned.

    Lhess stepped out of the way and watched. Her brother had an uncanny way to judge the measurements of any place right, and she didn't doubt the outline of the room he drew on the floor to place the candle in was in scale. Nev ignited the shrinkwood in a small earthen cup he had produced from somewhere. He took the piece of measuring rope and sat next to Orlath, who was making weird waving motions with his hands, as if he wanted to draw the room to him. Then they launched into a complex spell chant the paladin understood only half of, if that. She swore to herself to pick up her arcane studies again. Their mother was already annoying her about it, and maybe she was right. She had the talent, so she should make use of it.

    Arcane symbols emerged from the candle light and danced in a soft glowing yellow light around the heads of the two casters, then they expanded outwards and lit up the room. The books seemed to be shining in a fiery aura for a moment, then they changed and started shrinking, leaving the other things and the shelves as they were. Unsupported by anything but magic, they hung there for a few moments before being drawn towards the outline of the room on the floor. There was no sign of the candle anymore. There they arranged neatly and fell down on what looked to be a plate of stable smoke the size of the outline. Orlath quickly launched into another spell, sprinkling a few drops of sour smelling liquid over it all. Lhess was pretty sure it was vinegar. Before she could ask, Nev grinned at her. "A conserving spell so they won't fall off the plate when we put them into our backpacks." The prince was already doing that while getting up. Nev followed him to the door. "We need to find Uthas and get out of here."

    The room, relatively stable in time until now, flickered out of existence and for a moment, Lhess had the impression falling because the floor where she stood was gone. A picture of the future. The next, she was staring into the eye of a young elf girl in acolyte white, who shrieked in panic and dropped the books she was carrying. Then everything was back to normal.

    Except that the two men were gone.





    The wizard Suto was supposedly still young. But the worn out, thin, pale, white haired and wrinkled man who opened the door to the ritual chamber with a suspicious look in his eyes and some sort of spell glowing around his hands looked anything but young. Flip could barely contain his surprise. Maybe working with dark magic did such to you, which was as well because in a way, it would make the wizard easier to deal with.

    "Who are you?" he snapped as he noticed the halfling. At the same moment, Gurt was stumbling into him as planned and nicked him with the poison. That, he didn't notice because, as hoped for, he was putting his attention on Flip.

    "He's my bestest Friend," Gurt explained. "I'm a friend of his," Flip said at the same time. "And I am not exactly friends with the villagers either. Don't know what exactly is going on but the armored folks look an awful lot like paladins to me." He grinned in what he hoped was a dangerous manner. "Now Gurt here tells me you are a powerful mage and their new master so I guess you can teach them a lesson or two, but we have to hurry."

    Suto mumbled a word, and the glow around his hands surrounded his body for a moment, then faded. Flip was sure he had seen this sometime before, a sort of magical armor. Good Gurt had already gotten the poison to him. "This way," the halfling pointed and went towards the long winded ascent to the side of the hill as agreed on with Gurt.

    "Wait for me," Gurt wailed and followed. "Am scareds of thems but I do not wants to be alone."

    The wizard hard trouble following them. It could not be the poison yet; actually, the poison was more affecting the mind than anything, so Flip guessed it must be the man's fragile condition. Gasping for air, the man had to wave a spell or two to finish, and those spells he seemed to have trouble with already. When they finally emerged on a ledge on the side of the underground complex, staring down on a dark, shadowy forest, sweat was running down Suto's face and he had to lean against the exit wall for support for a moment.

    Jumping up and down, Gurt pointed into the mists and shadows. "There they sneak up on us, can you see them?"

    Of course, no one was there, but in the last few minutes, the human had kept looking around and listening to nothing. He was likely hearing voices by now, and probably seeing things. This was the most tricky moment of their plan, not counting the initial encounter with Flip. If he would see through the trick, they would likely both be toast – or the next sacrifices.

    Wiping his eyes and getting ready for some spells, the wizard tried to discern anything in the shadows. "Can't see... what's wrong? Is there someone down there at all?" He elbowed Gurt. "Is this some sort of trick?"

    "Of the light, maybe," Flip quickly added. "I can see quite well in the dark and they are moving." The halfling took his crossbow and aimed it at the dark, reading it for a shot. He wondered if he was overdoing it, but at this point, they had maneuvered themselves into a corner already. The next few seconds would show. At least, Flip thought, he couldn't be sad about any lost opportunities if he would end here – after all, he only remembered his name.

    Suto stepped forward, trying to eye both the halfling and the forest. He swayed, turning his head this way and that way, listening to sounds only he could hear. Then he raised his arms and, in a surprisingly loud and clear voice, cast a spell that lit up the area below them in a blueish light. It was immediately clear that no one was there, even to his slightly poisoned, exhausted mind.

    Flip didn't give the guy a chance to do anything else. The wizard was standing at the edge of the ledge, looking down with a frown. The halfling rushed forward and bumped with the fullest speed possible into the human, hoping that his lesser weight was still enough to topple the exhausted man down. But he would not have made it if Gurt had not reacted almost as quick, seeing what his new friend planned. Both of them were lucky not to fall down behind the yelling wizard, though. It was Gurt steadying Flip who prevented the worst. He two of them looked down to where the unmoving form of Suto could be seen among rubble and boulders. The blueish light went out.

    "We dids it, we dids it," Gurt yelled happily, "Wes got rids of that evil guy."

    "It's not over yet." Slightly confused by the quick events, the halfling pointed back to where they had come from. "There are prisoners to free, and we should check out that ritual room of his."

    The prisoners, while shaken and distrustful at first, proved to be little problem. With the help of the no longer charmed dwarf, they set about getting them out in little time. It turned out that 2 of the kidnapped villagers had already been sacrificed though. Which made Flip very reluctant to bother with the ritual room. "What if he has already summoned something up?" He looked at the dwarf who was herding the former captives out. "Do you have any other magician type in your village, by chance?"

    The dwarf shook his head. "Sadly, the only other wizard is on vacation in Freeport for a while. We do have a hedge witch, but if it comes to demons, as I suppose you think, she would be little help. She's deadly afraid of them."

    "Who in their right mind isn't?" Flip mumbled. He stared at the door to the ritual room while the others, including Gurt so he noticed, went uplevel. He tried to remember what he had read before. This demon – Flab – was a demon of wishes and bad luck. Maybe he could utilize that. In any case, something had to be done and it looked like he had been volunteered to do it.

    With a sigh, Flip opened the door.




    Uthas shivered in the sudden cold and stared at the frozen shore and the upset sea. Icy winds were blowing from the land outwards and small snowflakes were dancing all around him. A few seconds ago, in his view, it had been summer.

    He was still standing on the 2nd floor of the temple ruins, but where there had been a corridor a moment before, the floor ended a meter or so off his feet, the former floor and walls now lying down at ground level as a heap of rubble. Even around and behind him, there were hardly any walls, and the ceiling was gone. Some meters behind him, the corridor still had ceilings, and remains of the 3rd floor could be made out in a morning mist clinging to the ruins despite the wind.

    The future, he realized with wonder. Expecting to see the present blink back into place, he didn't move for a while, just blinking at the scene. When nothing happened, he began to realize something had gone wrong and scratched his meager hair.

    A long time ago, his mother had told him to wait if he was lost, so to give the search teams a chance to find him. But that had been when he had been very small and had gotten lost frequently in the maze of streets and tunnels that was Armanth City. On the other hand, this had to do with magic, and both Nev and Orlath had drilled it into him not to mess with it and wait for them if in doubt.

    But if he was in the future, they were not here, and maybe in this time, they wouldn't even exist anymore because Uthas has not been there to protect them.A worrisome thought. He had to find a way back, maybe this weird time jumping still happened in other areas of the ruins. Determined to get out of the cold wind at least, Uthas walked into mostly intact corridor, checking for signs of any time magic he could probably use to get back.

    But while he found stairs to below, also mostly intact, and a bunch of giant rats he had to chase away, he found nothing remotely looking like magic. The place was cold and abandoned, and so was he. He was also very tired as he had had no sleep, so despite the time in this... time... he decided to make camp with the little things he had in his belt pouch and warm up at a fire.

    When he woke up, the sun indicated it was early afternoon. Despite 3 fires he had build around him, the half-orc felt cold and uncomfortable. Not knowing what else to do, he decided to check if the village they had come from was still around and if so, if a half-orc with a mostly friendly disposition would be able to find a room and some food there. Luckily, his coins had been in his belt pouch. He assumed that gold was gold and silver was silver, so he would be able to make a decent living for a while. And hopefully find a way back.

    While the old well where they had found the goblin was gone, the path to the village was now a small road and he saw several people in winter clothes moving in either direction. No one took specific notice of him, and he saw a few hobgoblins, orcs and other humanoids among them, so he was confident enough he would not be seen as an enemy just for his heritage.

    As he crested the little hill that shielded the village from the wilder parts of the area, his mouth fell open. The settlement was still there, but it was no village anymore. He saw a good sized town, with several roads leading into it. It even had a proper harbor now. Uthas had no idea how fast settlements usually grew, but several of the houses, even those not around the center, looked to be several decades old at least.

    He thought about it for a moment, then he decided it didn't matter. It was probably easier to find work this way if he needed to. Or someone with the knowledge to help him back to his own time. A town like this was bound to have several mages, and if not here, he could still move on to Freeport.

    As he walked into town, he noticed a human girl and a hobgoblin warrior looking at him, then talking excitedly to each other. For a brief moment, he wondered what that was about, but the sight of a tavern blew all thoughts of anything else but food and drink out of his mind. "The Lonely Goose" was a smaller place, but frequented by a lot of people on this small road, so Uthas went right in behind one of the other travelers. He felt at home at once. A warm cosy common room with two roaring fires, the scent of ale and wine and roasted meat and spices... He dropped down next to one of the fires to warm up and cheerfully waved the orcish barmaid. "Here's a hungry traveler," he announced as she came close. "A spiced hot wine and some roasted pig with tubers and potatoes would be great."

    "New around here?" she asked in a full voice and winked at him. "Your accent sounds like nothing I've heard." She rolled her words in a way he could not remember the villagers talk back in his time. But6, he supposed, language changed like everything else.

    "Very new," he chuckled. "And it seems I'm under-dressed for the weather." He noticed too late that this was a silly comment that could get him too much attention, but she just nodded in understanding.

    "You teleported in with one of the recruiting wizards, right? They keep forgetting to tell the southerners that they need to bring warmer clothes. You didn't bring any equipment?" She looked for a backpack.

    "Ran into some trouble making camp up on the road," he improivised. "They couldn't get me, but they got most of my stuff. Not that it was all that much. Spare clothes – too cold for the climate as well, ya see – some rations and a rope. Nothing irreplacable."

    "The bandits are getting more and more annoying," the woman frowned. "Anyway, there is a storage shed on Harbor Road where you can get warm clothes for little money, as we have had the problem lots of times now. If you want something more fancy and can afford it, there are several good tailors in town, too."

    "Thanks," he nodded. "Will go with the storage, not too much coin on my name right now." He decided to play careful, too much wealth could draw too much attention.

    "Yeah, most recruits have little coin," she grinned. "But you can pay for the food, right?"

    "Darling," he grinned. "I can always pay for food and drink. I save elsewhere." With a chuckle, the woman left to get his order, and Uthas had a few things to think about. So he was considered a recruit from the south now. Recruiting wizards teleporting people in? Teleports had been a difficult thing, especially around Freeport. He would need to find out what was happening – once he had his stomach full.
    My Story Hour campaigns. What are they up to this week?

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    New PCs - Elga, halfling hunter of evil things. Or so she claims.
    Thalla the orc is likely going to be a permanent PC, too, after the gal playing her seems to have enough time to stick around and show up more or less regularly.

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

    The ritual room of the now dead wizard looked about as confusing as any others Flip had seen so far. Arcane symbols on the walls, floor and ceiling, strange items in holders or on tables and the scent of smoke and incense making him retch. It was not lit very well, just two dark blue everburning torches to the left and right of the entrance – presumably to be able to find it in all the smoke and dark – and a few candles around a pentagram in a standard magic circle. The circle was empty, and the halfling was definitely thankful for that. Getting dizzy from the incense, he was starting to look to light something with one of the candles and a way to get rid of the smoke. He knew that some of the materials used as incense could produce effects he didn't want to deal with, so he pressed a rag from his pocket to his face and hurried about it.

    He found the switch to open a latch in the ceiling quickly, and slowly the smoke began to drift out. Grabbing one of the candles, Flip ignited one of his own, smaller torches, as he would not need the light that long. Just to see if there was anything of use he could grab – besides the everburing torches, dim as their light was – to make a little profit out of this crazy adventure. Or maybe there was something in here to stir his mind to remember who he was. By now, he remembered his name and a few unpleasant events seemingly coming from his early childhood, but anything else was behind a mental brick wall. From the way he could not even make himself to concentrate on his past he began to suspect someone had done something to him, like a spell maybe, to prevent him from remembering. Then again, maybe it was better if he would not remember.

    Anything that looked like a potion and all the incense and scrolls he could find he bagged without hesitation. He could have them checked out later, in this big city Gurt had told him was nearby. Freeport he didn't remember at all, not even by name, so maybe he had not been there before, but he did have a feeling that he would do better in a city than in the wilderness or even the small settlements around here.

    When he was done scavenging, he heard a polite cough behind him. Quickly turning around, all his senses alert as much as the still present smoke allowed, he stared into the eyes of a halfling woman not much older than himself. She had red, bushy hair and hazel brown eyes, and a slightly olive skin tone, as if her ancestors had been a mix of several halfling populations. Dressed in a green shirt and matching green pants with heavy traveling boots, she carried a backpack, a utility belt, a sling, a hunting knife and a short sword, and as he took another look he saw a crossbow sticking out of the backpack.

    "Well, hello there," she smiled at him. "You look like you could tell me where I am, who has summoned the demon I just killed and why I was dragged along."

    "Err... and who are you?" Flip asked, trying to get his senses together.

    "Oh, pardon my rudeness, but the situation is a strange one, you have to admit. I'm Elga, hunter of demons and devils and other things that make the world unsafe. I was in the process of killing a wish demon when the thing was summoned, and as my knife was sticking out of him with me holding it, I was dragged along with the dying monster. I was in Derin, land of beauty, but this sure isn't Derin anymore."

    "How can you tell?" Flip burst out, then he remembered his manners and blushed, holding out his hand. "I'm Flip. Sorry that I can't tell you anything about me, really, I recently lost my memory in some sort of accident or attack. My friend and me, with a little help of some locals, got rid of the dark wizard who did this. I'm afraid he's dead and couldn't send you back, but I don't think he would have anyway, you killing his demon and all. Oh, and you are on an island with a city named Freeport. I do not remember it either but I was told it is pretty well famous, so you have probably heard of it."

    Slapping his offered hand in the standard halfling salute, the woman's smile turned into a surprised frown. "Freeport? Harbor of pirates and meeting point of lawless and righteous alike? For all that's holy, that's carried me way north and east. I've never been that far from home, ever." A bit of worry was in her voice, which was not a surprise considering the circumstances. "At least I do have most of my gear. I'm sorry about my tent and cooking utensils, though, and I fear my rations are gone, too."

    "Nothing irreplacable, then," Flip grinned. The smoke was almost gone now, and he noticed that the draft must have blown out the candles. Moving to the everburning torches to take them, he asked if Elga had money to replenish her supplies. He himself had, as he had found out soon after he was woken up by Gurt, only a bit of silver and a few coppers and had thus hoped the wizard would have some coin he could claim, but at least he should be able to sell what he had found here.

    "I got money, alright," Elga nodded. "Getting rid of dangerous things is a well paying business. You probably remember that much at least, as you look like the adventurer type to me, too. I don't usually go treasure hunting, I free the world from evil which is, in my opinion, less risky than delving into ruins and dungeons no one knows much of."

    "Haha, could be, but don't you have to go there every now and then, too?"

    "Yeah but only after someone else has already found something they couldn't deal with. Means traps and such have usually been dealt with and all that remains is to kill or send back what they called me in for."

    "You make that sound easy." Flip motioned for her to leave the room first and bowed a little.

    She threw him a smile again and left the ritual room. "It gets easier with time," she explained. "With experience."

    Flip realized he was staring after her and hurried to follow. His thoughts went in circles and there were bees in his stomach. He might not remember much but his name about his former life, but he remembered the feeling. He was in love.



    Krock the goblin was still waiting an the campsite when Lhess returned. Having seen the weird storm going over the building, he had already broken camp and packed everything, in case they would have to flee. Goblins, he explained, couldn't afford to leave resources behind. When he heard that the others were gone to whenever, his face fell. "Goblins sometimes goes in," he said. "To collect mushrooms and sharpherbs. One group not came back. Needs to tell them not longer to do that."

    Lhess nodded. "I think the danger is all past now, but I don't know enough about the arcane to be sure. Let's find a way to get all the stuff back to the village, then you can warn your people while I warn the villagers."

    As Lhess reentered the village, she could see cleanup was complete. Her orcish friend was waiting at their inn and jumped her with the news that at least 2 more merchants had been waylaid and kidnapped, and none of the survivors of the attacks had been able to identify the men except that they thought they were all orcish. Then she noticed Lhess was alone and inquired about the others, mostly, so Lhess noticed, about Uthas.

    Quickly gathering to listen to the story, the locals were all in awe about a time rift, as Lhess called it – never mentioning the library the other elves had with them – and asked a lot of questions the paladin couldn't answer.

    Thalla frowned when the paladin was done telling the story, staring into her tankard. "So, I take it you will go back to Freeport now, to find someone who can help you find your relatives?"

    Lhess blinked quickly, a sign of her being nervous. "Not yet. I'm Lhess of the Moonwind, and I made you a promise. We will find your missing employer first and end the attacks on the road." And she would also have to find Flip.

    The orc visibly relaxed. "Thank you. In return, I'll help you find someone to bring them back – unless maybe they need no help and can do it alone?"

    "That's vaguely possible," Lhess agreed. "But we are talking about time here. If they would be able to somehow make their way back, doesn't this mean they would already be here, returning to where they came from?"

    "Ah..." Thalla scratched her brows. "Maybe not. Maybe they had to go to Freeport, too, to get help, and are now waiting for you."

    "Oh, right." Lhess knew that if that was the case, she would get a missive from their mom very quickly. As it was, she had no idea how to explain this to their mother. The moment she met them, they had gotten lost. While it wasn't her fault, it left a bad impression.



    "I have no idea how to explain this to mom." The prince ran a hand through his hair, trying not to panic. "She might even think we just went to run away from Lhess. The moment she arrives, we get into real trouble."

    "We've been in real trouble before, but, yeah. This is really a mess." Nev's hand went to the sword on his side as he took in the surroundings. They were, no doubt, still in the same spot, but it must be a time long before the islands were settles. It was hot and humid, and the vegetation was so dense, they had had trouble to get out of the jungle just to get to the nearby shore. Which was not, as before – or later – over a broken off dune, but on a soft down slope. Animal sounds were coming from everywhere, including some that definitely belonged to predators. It was early afternoon, from what it looked like, and they both worried the real dangerous predators might come out after dark.

    "So," Nev said as they went through the few things they had brought. Only he had bothered to grab his backpack at the camp, and some of it, mostly the rations, had been emptied out to make space for the library. "Looks like we are in the far future or in the far past."

    "I wonder if the others still are where they should be, or at least close to our time," Orlath said. "If we are all scattered through the ages, it might be even more of a problem."

    "More than being stranded in a time where there is no civilization, with little equipment and predators around? You don't say!" He sighed and put the backpack down. "Rope, canvas and some fishing equipment I forgot to empty out is the best stuff there. Not much to go by."

    "If we find a quiet pool somewhere, fishing should be sufficient for a while." He paused and stared off into the distance, with his serious thinking face on. "Come to think of it, I doubt any of our group is in a time where they are alive."

    "Why do you say that?" Nev pointed to a group of boulders a bit above the waterline and started walking. "This looks like a good place for shelter."

    Following him, Orlath began a lecture on time theory. "You know how it seems easy to go back and forth in time just a few seconds or minutes with the right spell, but the further you want to go, the harder it gets, as if trying to connect the same pole of two magnets? It's because the universe resists your essence, being at two places at the same time. If it is just minutes, whatever law governs this will not notice there is two of you as your body hasn't changed much in that time. The more age difference, the harder it is to enter a time in which you are also alive on the natural time line."

    "Oh yeah, I remember that somewhat from university," Nev nodded, checking out the view from their new campsite. "But the maths involved scared me off the topic."

    "It's as easy as traveling a few minutes to go to times where you were not yet, or aren't anymore, alive," the prince continued, waving his arms around as if that would help explain the lecture. "It just needs more advanced and difficult spells to determine when and where to go, but that's not related to the mechanics. Anyhow, with this wild time magic we saw, I don't think any of us caught in it could have been brought to a time where we existed normally. And for the two of us to travel together, it probably propelled us twice as long as it would have otherwise."

    His cousin thought about this while fixing the canvas between the boulders, using the hooks he had also found. "So we are, when? Stone age? Close to the end of the world?"

    Orlath shrugged. "How the 9 hells would I know? Too bad we can't just take out the library and try to research it."

    "So, you think this is a permanent effect, then, not something that eventually dispels and drags us back to our own time?"

    "Ah, could be both. See, even if it dispels in our own time after only a minute or 5, here it might mean centuries. It is very very difficult to time such things right, and even the time mages of the Realm could not make it more precise than a few days at best, usually weeks."

    "Yeah, well, isn't that just great." Kicking the backpack, just a little so the library would not be harmed, Nev folded his arms and looked out at the sea. "Weeks? I don't want to be stuck here in the middle of nowhere for more than a few days. Maybe we are lucky and there are settlements here we just have not found yet."

    "Maybe," his cousin said, but it didn't sound convincing. "But in any case, we need to build a real shelter out of this, find enough food sources,maybe even make some bows, and look for fresh water."

    "Making bows with what? We didn't bring any arrowheads. And don't get me started on trying to make stone ones, none of us is good at that."

    "I was more thinking along the lines of wooden ones. Magically improved, maybe." Orlath checked his spell components and sighed. "And we'll have to do a lot of rituals if we're here for longer, get alternate components or learn to do more spells without components at all."

    "We'll see." Nev put his hands on his hips and looked at his work. "This will hold, now we should find some rocks to fortify the shelter, maybe some wood, too, and get wood for a fire. Then it's looking for water, as you said, and a place to fish at." As long as they kept busy, they would not think about their problem too much.




    The only one not stressed out too much by the situation was Uthas. For him, 4 weeks and 2 days had passed, and he had settled in well after getting better equipment and working on a farm for payment. He had worked on farms before, and he liked the easy enough work well enough. And it gave him time to find out more about the world he was in now.

    Most of the recruits, who were kept here for a few month to prepare them, were barbarians of different origin. This was due to an upcoming battle between this country, called Principality of Grenkh, and a dwarf army trying to prevent anyone from coming close to some ancient city. For this battle, it was essential to find uneducated people. No one had been able yet to tell him why this was so, but the half-orc had decided that it was probably not a good idea to let them know he could read and write more than his name and count to more than 10.

    He had been told that it would probably take half a year this time for the next batch of recruits to be picked up. This was partly because the battle commanders testing the recruits on a field outside the settlement had dwindled in number after an attack of some sorts, but the main problem was that the elven fleet had been waylaid by dwarven destroyers and now needed their remaining ships for other things than picking up new soldiers. Thus, everyone would go out the way they came in – by teleport and one unstable gateway only working for a few hours a day. Lack of energy, he had been told, although no one could explain what that meant exactly, either. As it was, there were not too many wizards able to teleport long distances with several people and arrive exactly as planned.

    That was all well and good for Uthas, because he was doing what he had been told a million times by Nev and Orlath in case they got separated and he had to consider himself lost. Wait close to where he found himself. Good advice, too, because it had saved his neck a few times in the past.

    Getting more and more recruits meant tents were springing up, cold weather or not. Uthas, who had still managed to secure a room in one of the few lodging places, knew this influx of people also meant that, after he was done with the farm work, which would be soon, he might have trouble finding other work if he was to stay close. Some mercenaries had temporarily left the town, escorting merchants or organizing hunting parties, but if the elves showed up, he needed to be here. If he wouldn't work, people would wonder where he had the money from. There was some tension in town already about supposed thievery and the lack of privacy the locals now faced.

    Something he found a little troubling was that the tall hobgoblin he had noticed when he had first arrived was still interested in him. Uthas saw him around the farm, in town when shopping, around the hut he was sharing with a bunch of other recruits. He knew his name – Ratakar – but nothing else. He hadn't seen the woman again, the one the hobgoblin had been with when he saw him first. Not wanting to cause trouble, Uthas had left his stalker alone, usually pretending not to notice the guy. With some luck, he would be out of here soon. Time travel, he knew – and that was about all he knew – was a tricky business, and his elvish friends didn't have the experience with it. It would be somewhat funny if they would be old when they found him while for him not even a year had passed. Or maybe not, as it might mean he'd not return to from when he had left.

    The morning of the second day of his 5th week in town, he went ice fishing with the younger son of the farmer, a young hobbit – that's what the halflings were called in this time, as supposedly 'halfling' was an insult now – by the name of Alviel. An elven name, he had been told, because an elf rescued his mother when she was pregnant with him. They went to a forest pond they had been to before to catch a sort of winter carp which was, strangely enough, sleeping during the hot season. They were priced not only as food source, but the scales and the fish bones were sought out by mages and priests alike. Some also made magic gloves out of the skin, and the town witches paid good coin for the innards and eyes.

    As usual, Alviel asked questions about barbarian tribes and clans, the philosophy of concentrating on what you really are instead of filling your head with a lot of non-essential information – a world view Uthas had long since ditched – and about the world, especially the plants and animals, of other places. Uthas wasn't sure if all of the things he told the boy about were still existing, but the kid enjoyed the stories and shared some of his own. Alviel wanted to be a druid, a path his parents supported as the older son wanted the farm anyway.

    "Say, so you have hobbit blood in you?" Alviel suddenly asked. "I noticed your ears."

    Looking into the mirror clean ice at his reflection, Uthas grinned. He had asked the same question before. Unlike humans, who seemed to be able to breed with about anything that could talk, orcs were more restricted. Asides of humans, halflings and dwarves were known to produce offspring with orcs relatively regularly. Offspring with other races were exceedingly rare. Something to do with inheritance Orlath had tried to explain to him once.

    "I have no idea," he admitted. "My mother was a full orc, and she never said who my dad was. She was working in a whore house, you see, a job that paid well enough to get me and my siblings through life. My dad could have been anyone. But I'm rather tall."

    "Maybe your father was a half-hobbit," the boy grinned. "That would make you a half-orc-quarter-hobbit-quarter-something else."

    "Hey, don't you quarter me," Uthas stiffled a laugh not to alert the fish despite them sitting on a rock well above the water line. "I was once told that offspring between mixed breeds is rare."

    "Yeah but not that rare if one is a full blood. We learned that at school."

    "Interesting, but do me a favor and don't try to make me understand it." Uthas grinned back at him. "All I know is that I don't know, and my mom probably didn't know either and just doesn't want to admit it." He shrugged. "It makes no difference, as my orcish side is strong enough to keep up with my clan, and I can fight as well as any fighter trained my people who knew what they were doing."

    "Have you been in battle before?" The boy looked at him sideways, not wanting to touch a bad subject.

    "Not in a full out war, but battles, sure. Skirmishes, ambushes, sieges... lots of fighting. Don't always win, of course. But it feels good to smash in the skulls of evil people. Which, in my eyes, includes anything attacking me and my family."

    "Yeah... if I get strong as a druid, I will protect my family, too, if needed, but most of all, the land around me."

    "Druids," Uthas admitted, "confuse me. I get what they are doing, protecting the land and the plants and the animals, but sometimes they don't, really. I have seen some evil deeds gone unchecked by druids."

    "Evil is in the eye of the beholder, as everything else, my mentor says," the boy explained. "And druids are supposed to be neutral. Nature knows no evil. And without the dark, there would be no light."

    While it sounded like something Alviel had learned by heart and not thought about it much yet, Uthas nodded. He knew the basics, but he couldn't quite agree with them. No need to argue about it, though. "Hey, I think I saw the fish coming," he changed the subject, staring at the hole in the ice.

    The clicking sounds the fish made when their hard fins touched the ice was faint, and Uthas realized it was not the sound he had heard first. He lifted his head and concentrated. There it was again, the faint sound of several feet on ice and snow, still a distance away. His experience told him that it was probably a group of 4 or 5 people in heavy boots.

    Alviel heard it now, too, and he shook his head as the half-orc whispered the question if there were usually groups training out here. For some reason they both could not explain, they had a bad feeling about this and climbed off the rock with their fishing rods, pressing themselves close to the rock sides under a ledge just over the pond. With a weary look, Uthas eyed the ice, knowing that the hole might give them away if the strangers decided to have a look.

    The steps grew louder, and they heard what was definitely a curse in a language Uthas recognized as dwarf. He understood only fragments of it – they were looking to capture an elf. By the voices, Uthas counted 4 people. After a while searching, luckily ignoring the ice of the pond, the footsteps vanished into the other direction. The two of them waited a few more minutes before emerging from their hiding place.

    "That felt... evil," the boy said.

    Uthas nodded. "They were looking for a young male elf, from the bit dwarf I understand. And for some reason, they had been certain they'd find him here."

    Frowning, the boy waved for Uthas to leave, as he didn't feel sure about them not coming back. "That is strange. Very few elves in town, seeing as most followed the call to war. And even fewer of them male. Or young." Then he froze for a moment. "Or they were looking for me!"

    "Why do you say that?" Uthas wondered. "You have little in common with the elves, save the ears."

    "No but I have an elven name," the kid explained. "If they had been told to look for a boy called Alviel, they would assume it was an elf, if they had not been told I was a hobbit."

    Uthas growled. A bunch of grown men after a young man almost still a child? Just the bunch he'd like to beat up. "If you are right, what do you think they could possibly want with you?"

    "I have no idea, but if I am right then my family might be in problem. But my dad will know what to do!" He started walking faster, and Uthas followed him. He had a feeling where this would be going, and he didn't like it.
    My Story Hour campaigns. What are they up to this week?

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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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