[5E] The Age of Worms - Solid Snake's Campaign

Journal of Eleanor 01

“My name is Eleanor.”

I felt my eyes widen.

“What?” I said. My lips moved repeating the name Eleanor. Had I heard it before? Yes, that name again. It wasn’t right. Or was it? “Eleanor of, Eleanor of A--.” Of what? Flows and arcs, it was right there and I couldn’t bring it to the surface!

“Lady Fier?” prompted the Elven priestess, Lady Etona Aspianne.

I had chosen that moment – signing up for arena combat – to make my introductions and by the rivers of essence I cannot even get past my own name. I was Lucienne Fier of Greyhawk. Not Eleanor of –.

I pressed on reciting their full names with title, as far as we knew them.

“Lady Etona Aspianne of the Mirror.” Small, lithe, she moved with certainty and grace, smiling easily and sincerely. Our observer net confirmed she didn’t behave much like other elves, certainly nothing like the haughty, laughing, sometimes cruel, ambassadors from Seline. I could see she was this party’s leader or at least some kind of emotional center.
“Ambassador Rey.” A tall, muscled, dour-looking half-Elven woman who belonged in Greyhawk negotiating a treaty about as much as the other ambassador who lurked next to her. She exuded the kind of confidence that Greyhawk’s Shadow Rangers wear: solitary, quiet, utterly capable of living without a word spoken to anyone for months at a time. In fact, I looked her up to make certain she wasn’t a Warren Lord here. How was she to be the Speaker that the dragon folk’s tribe required?
“Ambassador Rishkar of the Southern Swamp.” The enigmatic lizard man who seemed more an assassin than anything else. The half-elf represented his people in the upcoming treaty talks, so whether the lizard man was here as observer, bodyguard or potential assassin should the fae-touched fail was anyone’s guess.
“Officer Melinde Vereene of Greyhawk.” Red hair, holy symbols in the armor, the sword, around her neck. Paladin. Comfortable in armor and probably nothing else. She’s accumulated a history of violence from a temper that emerged whenever her holy will was thwarted, was removed from office because of it. But so young! Celestial arcana but she was young. What was this girl doing here?
“Private Lucien Cromwell.” A withered drunk haunting the back alleys of Greyhawk bars. Discharged, our records say, for neglect of duty. Miss Zinia remembered his mother, Jane, a lady-in-waiting. She told me that Ms. Cromwell had fallen prey to the thug manservant of a nobleman here – no recourse, obviously – though in the course of my own investigation here I inquired about the manservant that had his way with her, Maas Tetrem, and discovered he died in the mad house. Lady Zinia’s response was simply a look of satisfaction … the knowing satisfaction I’ve associated mysterious turns of justice with her. Despite attaching this shamed woman to a staff in another noble’s house, Jane Cromwell died when Lucien was nine. He was taken in by an orphanage. Then odd jobs. Then the streets. Then the army. All-too-common story.
He was an outsider to this group.

This group. They were an odd party. Adventurers, clearly: going out into the world to fight and explore and die as heroes. What was their quest such that an organization like the Asmadi was firing fusillades of insects at whole buildings to get at them? That they, possibly accidentally, brought down a deep changeling infiltration at the hands of their Doppleganger leader. That they were here to shepherd the halting of a war between Greyhawk and another race after saving a human fort and lizardman’s den in the same week? Any one of these deeds made them heroes in all senses of the word including meddlesome, unpredictable and dangerous. Heroes they are. It was my job to reign them in.

Sparks at the end of my fingertips. Control. Control! Elements, something has set me off again, and now save for Cromwell who looked like he was trying to decide if it was worth it to proposition a genie, or whatever he thought I was, they all backed away a step, Ambassador Rey moving in front of Lady Aspianne. This, my reveal to them, was supposed to be a bit dramatic, yes – cowl lowered, badge presented, take command – but my body was off again and they saw the silver eyes, the silver veins, the sparks. I probably didn’t look human to them.

Nothing for it. Make the best of this Flow: both this “Eleanor” name and my storm essence that chose the same moment to surface.

I wave away the effects dismissively. “I am Eleanor Fier representing Lady Xaro Zinia on assignment for the Circle. I am also, like you, currently retained in service to Lord Chosik. I greet each of you as my teammates in the latter regard and as fellow investigators in the former.”

I looked at us. A drunk, a horse, two beasts, two Fae, a fanatic, and me. And we’ve never fought nor even trained together, and we’re not down there even to win. We had better find what we seek quickly.

I ascertained details from the suspected Asmodi attack and we parted ways. They were curiously incurious about me, asking no questions whatever, though they did answer all of mine, if curtly. The elf took an early dislike to me, if I am reading her kind’s features correctly, and the Fae-touched seemed to be following suit which made the lizard man bristle. Or maybe he just always bristles. According to Lady Zinia, the elf and half-elf both disliked it here. I was probably a representative, in their eyes, of a noisy, messy civilization their simpler minds cannot handle. I found an ally of sorts in Officer Vereene, at least. And the lizard man did seem to understand the Flows to an extent, through his feral nature and tiny eyes. There is no one to talk to inside the shell of Lucien.

Later, I watched the elf priestess’s little ceremony. Well-attended by the dregs by the docks, there for a free hand-out, her emotional words certainly sailed over their heads. It was a good show, though, and from what I knew of Lady Aspianne, her words were heartfelt. I don’t know what her motive is for putting it all on, for the food and fresh water she handed out to sixty people: elves do not proselytize. Elves most certainly do not help humans for no mischief in return.

A changeling was there, and the elf let her go free. This was shocking, given recent revelations. I at least insisted on questioning her, this Ziki, and the story I had from the party earlier corresponded to her account. Officer Vereene also let her go, deferring to their priest, and so into the night she vanished. I sincerely hope she goes all the way to the Mirror or somewhere else as distant: her kin has brought ruin to Greyhawk. Her master’s schemes have caused the government to take emergency measures such as bringing in Truthsayers from all over the kingdom. Once the distraction of the Arena Games is over, secrets are going to spill, accusations will fly, mistrust at all levels, at a boil now, will explode. According to Lady Zinia, who was doing her best to manage the situation for her own two lords, Greyhawk’s government was in pre-upheaval and would shortly fall into civil war. She was considering fleeing the city to one of her ten thousand friends and allies she seemed to have all over the land.

That was a problem for another day, hopefully not tomorrow. For now, there was the Arena.

***
 

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Eleanor's Journal - Part 02

The master changeling, Telaken the doppleganger, was to watch a demonstration of his new powers at the games. From his letter: I was pleased to see a few tickets to the Champion’s Games awaiting me. These seats should give us a good view of the coming of a new Age. I truly look forward to enjoying the privileges of true power.

More changelings in the works. And we had just released one. How many more had that beatific elf let back into the world to terrorize and corrupt in her personal quest to feel wonderful about herself or bow to the whims of her mercurial goddess. Oh yes, I knew about this Sehanine: chaos and mischief and cruelty and, above all, disrupter to civilizations such as Greyhawk represented.

It was another night of troubled sleep for me.

We met the next day, 26 Coldeven, and travel to the arena. My Nessian silvers – with the Fittenberg boots and Rondon gloves to match – should present me in the appropriate light. They set my mind at peace: their carefully-engineered fabrics sewn to exacting specifications exuded a devils-may-care turn that belied their rigor and raw intellectual majesty underneath; their colors were produced, not found, after thousands of hours, or centuries depending on how broad your scope, of craft arriving at this apex; folds that tumbled according to temperature, the down-force of the material planes, moisture and so much else. Donning these garments, truly inhabiting them, was vanity to some among the dim who did not comprehend; even most who wore them well did so without deeply appreciating at the elemental level what it was they became: acknowledgment of hard-won knowledge and reaffirmation of will against a world ever seeking to reduce us to apathetic dust.

Just in case, though, I also packed my RaTs. Rough and Tumbles, created for me just that second week in Miss Zinia’s employ, three years four months, thirty-seven hours, six minutes and, tick tick tick, 15 seconds now.

Officer Vereene relayed her charming of a maintenance man named Leef who works in the arena. Some salient points she was able to take away:
• All equipment is ferried by elevator to the underground complex from above; after the start of the Games, maintenance staff reside down in the complex until the end
• Each team has its own minimal quarters – there are no shared bedrooms between teams
• There are vents throughout the complex which may be locked (and possibly trapped) or may not
• There is a separate barracks for Loris’ private security force in addition to Greyhawk-employed arena guards called Gray Wardens
• There may be a guarded passage from Loris’ house to the arena
• There is a waterway that runs through the arena providing fresh water

Leef also gave her a map of both levels of the arena.

Opening Night Dinner
There was a delightful dinner that night where the rules and prizes were explained by old Tellebir Welleck. Briefly:

• A party or individuals can always surrender: drop weapons and kneel with hands in the air
• Combatants may fly up to 40’ above the ground; burrowing into the arena is disqualified
• Winning gladiators cannot loot the fallen
• Combatants may not endanger the spectators
• Disqualified gladiators must move to the outer ring
• No time limit on battles

The schedule:
Day 1: four-team elimination, that is, the winner in a free-for-all of four teams advances
Day 2: day of rest
Day 3: one-on-one team vs. team
Day 4: one-on-one team vs. team or battle an exotic beast

The prizes, to be handed to the team manager for splitting however they agreed:
1st round: 2000GP
2nd round: 5000GP
3rd round: 10,000GP
Winner of the games: 20,000GP

Lord Chosik was present for the occasion reinforcing the importance, though not the details, of our mission and the necessity for our winning the first battle.

The champions from last year’s Arena Games were present as well, a trio I was aware of: Orik the warrior, adjunct Kellek and another troublesome elf, Tira, who is under five investigations at last count. Her two teammates along with her own fame and fortune shield her, and her membership in the Thieve’s Guild makes her invisible to the law, so she is unlikely ever to be even fined a silver piece let alone imprisoned. They were together the fabled “Orik’s Warband”, fighting again this year though Tira has recused herself.

My thoughts: Why did Tira recuse herself? She isn’t a judge or anything connected to the Games in that way as far as we know.

Loris gave his short, standard speech and then, later, in conversation with Lord Chosik he said in a tone clearly mocking him: “Councilman, what news of your sister? Have you found her yet?” It was a telling moment. That Loris has done something to or with Lahaka seems even more likely, but we must proceed without blinders or assumptions.

A crush from Karush
During dinner, I talked to Karush, the leader of one of the teams we were facing, a confident, pruning ladies’ man though certainly not without his charms. He seemed very interested in me despite – or perhaps because of – my appearance. Enjoyment of witty banter aside, it was imperative we advanced to the next round in the Games to be in a position to investigate, so I feigned great interest at conversing with him. This blossomed into the real thing when I electrocuted him only to give him pleasure not unlike goosebumps.

I would discover that like myself he was not entirely human, though unlike me he probably knew what the rest of him is.

At any rate, he said he would help us. I said I wanted to see more of him, after. It was a deal.

Adventures in the dark darkness
After, while I was sleeping, Rishkar and Rey headed deep into submerged tunnels. They found and eliminated eight ghouls there, possibly the outer ring of an entire band. Perhaps our chances tomorrow will not ride completely on Karush. They also found a hidden chamber that communicated with the sewer and has at least one hole poking up into the city. They both wanted to go exploring again the next night, after we had won the first contest.

Our showing in the arena
Well, most of us didn’t die.

Officer Vereene lost her celestial horse, and Greyhawk’s lesser pubs will find themselves saddled with an extra gallon of their cheapest ale now that Lucian Cromwell is gone, and my RaTs have a score of holes in them from more elves causing me trouble, but otherwise we survived.

Karush and his team rode from their corner to help us mow down a shaman and his guard. We then turned to the Elven trio of women raining arrows all over the battlefield.

A simple smoke screen or fog cloud would have essentially disarmed them: they were very lucky we didn’t have anything like that. Extremely poor planning on our part. We even knew the trio would be there facing us, and that they would likely have bows. Our lack of foresight should have murdered us: they should have won. We only defeated them because Karush rode across the field – taking many arrows that felled both his men – and struck at them, forcing a surrender from their leader after we felled two of their three. Several of their magic-tipped arrows plunked into me knocking me unconscious as I tried to approach, so I did not even see the end of the battle.

How come I to the Games to fight with so little thought to the combat? Was I going to charm them? Perhaps these Bow Maidens of Sehanine were out there to parlay? That must be what I thought.

Ridiculous.

After felling the elves, Karush knelt and put his hands up in surrender looking up at me.

So we won when we should not have. But we did win.

The spoils of battle: data at last
While we recovered underneath the arena, a courier delivered Rishkar’s crafted frost sword. He allowed me to see its pommel and examine the blade. The craftsmanship is excellent, I could plainly see.

Lord Chosik was waiting for us, smiling broadly. He awarded us the bronze bull and 200 platinum. This was all given to Rey, for some reason, which I accepted on Officer Vereene’s assurance. I do not in the slightest believe that Rey is some kind of thief, but it put me in the position of asking for my own money from an ambassador. Hopefully, as an ambassador, she will properly request from me that I take my share when appropriate as soon as we can surface.

Lord Chosik brought us more riches than these: he awarded us his confidence and bestowed information.

“I had a hidden agenda for entering you into the Games,” he explained. “You have risked injury and possible death to win a difficult match. I can now be forthright with you.

“My sister Lahaka disappeared just after the Games last year. She was, is a traveling musician. Some months before the games, she caught Loris’ eye. They began to be seen together. And then she vanished the day after the championship. I have found nothing in twelve months of scrying and investigating.”

We engaged him in a question-and-answer.

Eleanor: Where was she seen last? Near Loris’ palace.
Eleanor: Was she romantically close to others? She is a free spirit. Many lovers. There were signs that she was probably going to move on from Loris.
Eleanor: Did she appear happy? Yes, initially. But she was going to leave Greyhawk shortly after the Games. Her friends said she seemed like she was growing weary of Loris’ company.
Eleanor: Was the relationship understood to be monogamous? Yes.
Melinde: What did Loris have to say? She left. That was all.
Melinde: Did Loris seem bothered? Not at all.

My thoughts: The window of investigation thus appears to be that day after the championship.

Eleanor: She left without contacting you, my lord? Was this unusual? Very much so.
Melinde: Did she have any friends? Many, but none know where she had gone. They thought her happy during the year she was with Loris, until the end.
Rey: Did your sister speak with the winners from last year? Yes. She sang at their victory celebration. Orik is an incredible warrior; Kelleck is an adjunct professor here in Greyhawk; Tira a member of the Thieves Guild.

My thoughts: I know Sandrishan Kelleck. I was in a class he taught at university. His theory class was middling – I felt he hadn’t a true grasp on some of the subject matter – but he was competent and, though a bit sour most mornings, was friendly to me. And we shared something else in common ….

(Chosik continued): Loris has removed everyone who could be close to him save perhaps for his personal security head, Okoral. He has no close relations, does not seem to be interested in female companionship at all.

Rey: How old is Lahaka? 31.
Eleanor: What actions have you taken to look for her? I sent out, at great personal expense, spies, criers and posters to all the surrounding towns asking about her whereabouts. I engaged multiple scryers. Many had seen someone like her but nothing ever came of it. Her friends have no clue, and musicians who might know her have heard nothing.

My thoughts: We are probably looking for Lahaka’s body at this point.

We concluded the questioning session and promised to use whatever method we could down here under the arena to find clues. There were several places on the map Leef provided that would be worth investigating.

Squim and the Varmint Patrol
After Lord Chosik left, the burnt and battered bodies of other combatants started being carried through to the medical center or their own rooms. One in particular interested us very much.

While I spoke with Sandrishan, Officer Vereene and Ambassador Rey found Varmint Patrol, a group of were-rats plus the merchant captain Fellador Arma’s son, Kragen. They had not been prepared to fight in the arena and had fared poorly.

Squim was in the medical bay fretting about his fallen teammates who were alternately burned or sliced to pieces. The ambassador and the paladin each used a healing spell, and this earned his trust enough to be led away for questioning. He had little choice since they were flanked by three Gray Wardens, arena security. Officer Vereene was able to bribe them in disturbingly easy fashion allowing us to separate and question Varmint Patrol’s patron.

Their story was this: through a series of strategic bets and the prize money itself, Varmint Patrol was to have become rich off of this first round and instantly retire, leaving the Games. Kragen was looking to make easy coin through his participation. He was able to buy his way into the group through giving Squim the family compass that his father was searching for. Squim initially wanted nothing to do with this deal, wary of placing the well-known merchant’s son into a path of danger, but Loris’ chief of security – who somehow got wind of this – expressed considerable interest in the compass.

Officer Vereene: What happened to the compass? I passed it along as a promise of future wealth.
I had already registered the team but then Kragan wanted in. I didn’t want harm to come to him, given his father, so I refused. He had only offered a compass which was not of interest to us.

Officer Vereene: What made you change your mind? Okoral, “speaking on behalf of Loris” (meaning that Loris would not be connected officially, true of all his dealings), wanted the compass. So we found Kragan again and said Yes. I told him he would face easy opponents, but instead we were matched with Orik and annihilated.
Rey: You were meant to die.

My thoughts: An excellent and surprising insight from Tall and Silent. They were meant to die, and none would know then of the compass.

Officer Vereene: What did you face out there in the arena? Fire. Walls of it. Storms of it. No one could get by Orik or the wizard’s golems to get to that bastard himself.

Officer Vereene: When was the transaction, handing the compass to Okoral? A few days ago.

They then found and cornered Kragan, 18 years old and thoroughly shaken by the sudden overwhelming defeat. He’d only survived by immediately surrendering. This seemed to fit his description: well-manicured, beard carefully trimmed, unused armor never scratched. Not prepared for real fighting beyond a skirmish with a dueling teacher, according to Officer Vereene.

He tried to escape but the ambassador wasn’t having it. Officer Vereene ultimately calmed him by stating he wasn’t under arrest – the compass theft was family business, not Greyhawk’s – and could he answer a few questions about how he came to be on the team?

Kragan had given the compass to ‘the patron’ – he initially hadn’t known Squim’s name – who didn’t want him on the team and laughed in his face. Later, though, he came back and said OK so long as the payment was still the compass. The agreement was that they weren’t going to fight, not really: the battle was supposed to be rigged up for a round with lots of betting on the side.

My thoughts: Check to see if Orik’s Warriors or Varmint Patrol were moved at the last minute to fight one another. If so, who moved them and why?

They asked him about Phreet. He didn’t think much of her. She had, he said, been hanging out with his dad’s crew but kept trying to steal stuff, so his father put her in the brig. He’d intended to let her out and tell her to go away, but then the compass went missing so he kept her a little longer.

My thoughts: The compass obviously represents Phreet which seems to lead to the Lady Etona. Okoral would be in a position to move fights around, no doubt. Did he?
Does Okoral need to be a changeling himself to accomplish any of this. Presumably no: money is as effective as powers, but what is the long game here? Does it extend all the way up to Loris?


Talking to Kellek
While they were interviewing Kragan about Phreet and the compass, I spoke with Kellek. He was open and cheerful enough, particularly after remembering that I had been a student of his, and the one who shared his interest in perfectly engineered designer garments.

He remembered Lahaka at the evening feast that Loris put on last year. She had been wearing an Umarra (!!) from the fall line. If you are from caves and live on leaves and bugs, you possibly do not know that Gwendolyn September Umarra is one of the preeminent gown designers in Greyhawk.
Lahaka’s dress, on loan from Umarra for the occasion, was a snow-white Hidden Color silk gown, an experiment of color then that is quickly becoming known now. We talked much of it, though I did not think to ask if Umarra ever got the dress back.

My thoughts: Use this opportunity to speak to Umarra herself (!!).

Tira would possibly know more about where Lahaka went, but she recused herself from the Games and was not available.


Talking to Orik
Orik didn’t remember Lahaka until his memory was jogged through prompting.

“Oh yeah. I was planning on getting together at a later time, but I never saw her again.”

Rey: Do you think Loris knew where she went when she disappeared? Or knows where she is now? Dunno. They used to be an item, so maybe.
Melinde: Was the relationship between Loris and her amicable? Dunno. She was all over me that night, though.

My thoughts: What if Loris had not been not using Lahaka for some purpose but was really fond of her, or just resented the appearance of his being a cuckhold, and so was moved to remove Orik and replace him with a changeling who then was supposed to throw the match to Varmint Patrol? Far-fetched but not impossible. It would tie into changelings to replacing people – specifically Orik – at the Games.

We reassembled in our room and traded information. That evening we would be looking for Leef to get us in to some forbidden places. More bribery, apparently, but the Flows know I am not above it if it means understanding the truth.

It finally occurred to me that Lord Chosik’s offer to help us included materials. We decided to requisition some potions and certain specialized clothing:
• Gaseous form
• Invisibility
• Sleep bombs
• Water breathing
• Silence cloaks/boots
We sent a courier with the request. Over dinner and some rest, as we waited for the reply, we talked about our plan for the night.

The evening shifts are more lax than the day and get better for us as the graveyard hours go by. Leef will be on his own shift tonight, and Officer Vereene will use him to make friends with his friends: that and money should get us upstairs closer to the high-security area in the center.

We shall see what we can.
 

The Journal of Eleanor 03

Rest Day
Ah, our order of liquid mischief has arrived. What do we have here?
• Four water breathing distillates which typically last an hour each
• An invisibility mix, another hour, I have read
• One mid-level healing drought

I’d spent much of the day receiving details about these people’s recent pasts, filling in gaps where I have missed information. After a bland lunch livened by the spices I always carry, we demonstrated one another’s abilities a bit more thoroughly with light sparring. I use illusions to call upon mine as it is quite wearing to actually cast higher-order spells. We are not a fighting force, not yet, but we are a step closer to behaving like a team in the future.

That evening, an early and uninspired dinner of “meat rolls” later (what are we, apprentices?), we decide to use the potions to swim to the location with the hole leading up into a non-arena area. We would need to leave the Village unobserved.

The ambassadors slip away before I even realize they are gone leaving Officer Vereene and myself. I make a great show of my unhappiness with our performance yesterday, an easy temper to feed as I am still sparks and thunder about it. Officer Vereene manages to move off as well, though I find out she used our sole invisibility potion – as precious an item we have down here – to merely walk away. This is akin to using a wish ring to order breakfast (although down here, it would be tempting). Where did she get it the elixir? Why did she have it? Oh yes, the Ambassador Rey collection. Easy come, easy go. This will become my mantra around these people, I suspect: they are not fastidious with details nor rigorous planners. They are resourceful, and fearless, but impulsive. I must find some way to contain that.

My ruse works and I am left alone: no one wants to talk down the mad storm woman. I go soak myself in the river, swimming noisily back and forth. I am wearing too much for this to be entertaining to the puerile, so people tire of me and wander back to what they were doing. I retrieve the rest of my gear and submerge.

It is a winding trek to the room the two ambassadors had discovered the previous night. When we emerge to considerable stench, I realize we have decided to infiltrate their toilet system. Flows and essence! this was not in the job description, and I mentally increase my fee before mist-stepping into the room above as quickly as possible, taking Ambassador Rey’s rope and grapnel with me. I tie it off on one of four chain rings spaced … hmm, equidistant … around the room….

This is not a toilet, it is a torture room or at very least one where bodies are suspended over the hole presumably for bloodletting.

The party climbs up behind me. The scent is earthy, the air tingling with magic but also rot. It is well-lit with ever-burners on the walls and I can see into the next room. Boxes, no, coffins. Oh yes, they are already beginning to vibrate. We arrange ourselves to meet them, and here they come, greenworm-infested corpses shambling to their feet.

“They were sealed into the coffins, sealed in with the worms,” a woman says, her voice shaking with emotion. It is my voice but not me, not my thoughts. “By the blood of Our Savior, who would do this?” I continue. I feel tears!

It is Eleanor again. Not Lucienne, not me, but this woman from another life, the one from whom I am merely wearing her name.

People became theseworm-infested creatures, but what am I becoming right now? Who isthis? Who is Our Savior?

I have to snap out of this. I lash out with a Witch Bolt raising the hair on everyone’s arms and swirling the air in the tiny chamber. The ambassadors line up behind Mel who has bottlenecked the horrors in the corridor, and they throw their own lightning and frost. I am unnerved, even frightened, fighting my fears as much as these shambling nests of disease.

Ambassador Rey looks back at us. She is also wide-eyed and pale as I had not seen on her before nor imagined her able to wear. Her look is one of, “Wish me luck,” and she pushes ahead to one of the things. She melts it with a touch! It stiffens, the worms burning. The current in the air isn’t from me, or not solely so: the ambassador is wielding lighting not merely with a magic spear but something else, something intrinsic to her. Fascinating.

With her lead and Officer Vereene’s armor, we kill the monsters.

Two corridors lead out ahead as does the unhidden side of a secret door on the side. Stairs roll up to another secret door behind this one seeming to exit somewhere within the round, closed-off area of the first floor. I think we should investigate there but our paladin is concentrating and predicting that each of the hallways leads to walking corpses, one direction far worse like a volcano next to a bonfire.

“We must burn every unclean thing here,” she says, and everyone begins to nod. Everyone but me: I think we should move up into what is probably offices or storage or someplace civilized so we can talk about this and, with luck, perhaps arrest ringleaders right there on the spot. Failing that we should retreat and bring news of all this to the surface world. But Ambassador Rishkar pronounces the worms-corpses anti-nature creatures and so must slay them now, and Ambassador Rey hopes still to find Lord Chosik’s sister here – at least as a body – so they move forward.

We take the lightly-cursed corridor first to an old, desiccated combat training room. Six worm zombies are here which we dispatch. All but one who turned out to be important for it managed to crawl to a double door, open it, pull itself into the short corridor behind and open yet another double door which led into….

I think I’ll call it the Cosmic Evil Ripening Room.

A simple altar ofstone squatted in the middle of this oval chamber. It faced a largeset of stone double doors. On the altar are two scrolls glowing withan unnatural green light and casting green beams into a gem whichfocused the ray onto the doors, bathing them in the same green glow.I sense the temporal magic: this is a time-speeding spell. Whateveris behind those doors is not being held in stasis – at least not bythis process – but rather is being accelerated. The scrollsare not actually in this time shard and so cannot be destroyed. Theoverall spell is necrotic but also evocational.

A being who I imagine to be the Faceless One, based on listed descriptions, comes out of a door in the back.

"Who are you?" I ask.

"The future"

"I am interested in the future."

"Indeed?"

Mel is charging but is stopped by an invisible barrier in front of the being.

"Is your future pain and suffering for the people of Greyhawk?"

"Quite the contrary: I bring glad tidings, a world without pain."

"A world withoutfree will," I return. "A world without hope or light. Yes, I recognize yourspecific brand of evil."

But the creature, I immediately sense, is more powerful than we are prepared to do battle with. He will kill or capture one or more of us, I feel it not only in my bones but as a buzzing sensation up and down Thoth, my silent armband, who is already preparing to remove the two of us. I don’t know wherethis information is coming from, but it is almost certainly tied towhy I know that the energies here are temporal.

“Retreat! Everyone retreat!” I command.

The Faceless One casts a black field of sharp, writhing tentacles behind Officer and Vereene and me. It snags and slices Rey, but she electrocutes the ground and pulls free, running away. Rishkar dances through the things which don’t seem to be interested in him for some reason. They also leave me alone as I charge through.

That left Officer Vereene facing the Faceless One alone with her escape route cut off and the party retreating. But I could see in her eyes a sort of elation: she wants to die, or at least to die in this way, perhaps facing an unbeatable foe while securing our escape.

Paladins! Flowsbless them.

As my final action, I fire a Haste spell at her.

“Use this magic, Melinde. Run!”

Thankfully she sprang alive and raced through the tentacle field right past the rest of us running for our lives back to the stream from which we crawled.

The Faceless One has in the meantime walked behind us and now enflames the entire corridor. We have no choice but to continue running through necrotic fire sucking our lives away.

Ambassador Rishkar,however, turns and – I don’t know what part of his soul or spiritor chakra he has that he dumped into the spell, but he concentrateslike never before with that Ray of Frost of his and somehow freezesthe cult leader to the wall. This also succeeds in dropping theflames.

Everyone dives into the water.

I feel overcome, just exhausted. Officer Vereene, still Hasted, helps me swim further down the stream.

…into a functionally invisible gelatinous cube taking its afternoon constitutional there. Desperation drives Officer Melinde, and particularly Rey, straight through it – tearing it to pieces – and we wash up on the beach beyond.

As we lay there gasping, I notice some symbols carved into the walls of wherever we now are.
- a triangle with a circle on top, a little like a pawn from the Royal Game
- some waves
- a circle with a jack through it
- a spiral
Bits of bone remain in the grooves of each one indicating they were carved from the many bones around us.

Hmm. The spiral looks out of place from the others. It would have been an onerous task to carve that into stone and as well as it was done. Curious.

“Catastrophe,” a woman says. “Remember?”

It is I, or a rather a translucent version of me, in a very strange metallic outfit. I am holding a metal-wound staff of some sort. “Thee burn away precious minutes.”

“What?” I say to her.

She disappears.

“What was that?” asks Ambassador Rey. Of course, only I can see the apparition.

“We have doomsday to avert. We must get back to the village.” The half-elf nods to a passage, indicating, Yes, it’s right there. “And we must leave the Games. We need to tell everyone what we have found.”

“That would mean forfeiting, withdrawing from here permanent-like,” says Officer Vereene.

I nod vigorously. “The good we can do here is slight compared to what an activated Royal Guard, Watch, Church of Greyhawke and all the other organizations I intend to alert can bring to bear.”

They still do not look convinced, particularly the paladin whom, I have no doubt, honestly believes she can wade into any problem requiring something evil to kill and simply handle it. I suppose she is still here so it is working for her so far.

“Each one of you has deposed to me and others your opinion of the magnitude of the danger these worms bring. My own research has borne everything you say out. We do not have a problem with a couple of corpses lurching about somewhere in a tunnel: this is a powerful cult leader with an artifact building a disease bomb in the middle of the city. This is beyond our skills to deal with.”

“We will be prevented,” Officer Vereene says. “They know about us, and to be right there in the middle of the Arena, they are obviously tied into Loris’ operation, and so the guard here is going to nab us.”

“They’re welcome to try! But keep this in mind, Officer Vereen: you, all of you, are extremely well-known. You might be the most famous people down here other than Orik’s Warriors. Two of you are ambassadors. I am working for the palace. You are a member of the Watch. If they cause a scene with us, then they are pointing out for us whom to fight, a great risk. I suspect they are, instead of looking for us, speeding up preparations for their attack or abandoning it altogether and fleeing.”

This seems to convince the girl, so we go to the Grey Wardens nearest the exit and tell them we are forfeiting the match. We have been summoned by Lord Chosik and must leave for the surface immediately. This very much confuses and dismays the guards, but they allow us to leave. One of them on the way out confides that he bet a hundred clinks on us. Ambassador Rey rolls her eyes and hands him a palmful of gold coins. I believe she has made a lasting friend today.

We go our separate ways to alert the city.
 
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Eleanor's Journal - Part 04

I take my leave of my companions.

Officer Vereene is heading to the Watch.

The ambassadors travel to locate Lady Etona, probably near her temple or down by the docks where she seems to be ministering to the poor there? Nothing I know of Sehanine – or elves in general – allows this to make sense to me. Elves do not preach their gods unless insane, and they do not concern themselves with the trivial, noisy, short lives of us human specks.

“You are not human,” she says. It is that woman, me, again, but not me, someone who might look like my sister if I had one. She is dressed regally, though in fabrics and jewels I have never seen the like of before. And she is shocked at her pronouncement. And, I now see, merely the reflection from a mirror I am gazing into. “Lucienne?” she says – I say – touching lips.

“Ma’am?” calls out a food cart owner. He has been saying it several times now. I recognize his voice.

“Landrau,” I say shaking off scene which evaporates. “Just thinking of … official court business.” It is a little joke between us. Landrau is one of those people gifted with the ability to not take anyone seriously while at the same time letting you in on the joke. I like both him and his unique product very much.

“Oh, official court business. Madam President looks parched. Her usual?”

I don’t know what a president is, but it sounds like a title so I laugh. “Official, trade secret, palace, utensil business. And yes, a small pineapple juice as usual, please.”

“Utensils. Mmm.” He hands me a cup with the exotic yellow liquid. “No ownder you were wool-gathering. It’s been turning winds all day. Somethin’ up?”

Copper coins clatter on his table. “Yes, you could say that. Keep an ear to the juice trade these next couple days, won’t you?” A silver bounces among them now. That is professional courtesy: he would help whether I paid him or not, but I know he can do more with more, so I am helping my own cause with the coin.

He scoops them up leaving the silver coin spinning, one brief movement that makes me smile at his fingers’ cleverness. “Always lovely to see you, my queen.”

A final grin and I am hurrying to Loris Chosik who, regrettably, is in the middle of hosting a gathering when I arrive. Terrible manners my interrupting like this, but there is nothing to be done.

Lord Chosik is surprised and concerned to see me, so he takes me to his study where he hears my story. He becomes as alarmed as I had hoped, asking that the party meet him at the Hall of Justice in three hours. He has much arranging to do.

I go to Lady Zinia. Over enforced tea and through polite chit-chat lasting eight minutes exactly, I am able to bring her up to date in what may have been my fastest briefing ever delivered to her. Zaro also has news: she tells me that Elgios is a member of the Circle reporting to the Loris himself! And we are to meet him at once at his house.

I run and retrieve the others, Lady Etona included – she was at her temple – and we dash to the house of Elgios. He seems relieved to see us and takes us into his small mansion.

“I have for the first time in my life been subject to multiple assassination attempts in a single week,” he begins after we summarize for him what we know. “The Age of Worms is a prophecy of doom. Most such divinations are rubbish, but this one can be traced back 2000 years, and several of the predictions have come true. There are in fact a mere two left:

And on the eve of the Age of Worms, a hero of the Pit shall use his fame to gift a city to the dead. I fear that eve is today, and that city is Greyhawk.

“The other concerns the reunification of a tripartite spirit. More mysterious, but you are closer to the actual machinations of the prophesy unraveling itself, so perhaps you will understand it? No?”

We are collectively shaking our heads.

“Someone,” I begin, “some organization is making this nonsense true.” I turn to the others. “Have any of you detected any connection between the Asmodi and any player in this Age of Loris narrative so far?”

“No,” says Lady Etona. “The Asmodi were simply trying to retain a member who traveled with us in their ranks. He reneged on payment to them and the powers he borrowed were lost. I consider the matter closed, but they do not. We will have to meet with them to inform them of their error.”

“After our current problem is dealt with,” adds Ambassador Rey.

Elgios opens a safe and extracts an amulet. It is a silver disk with a ruby in the middle attached to a gold chain. “I know you are on a mission, but we must stay in communication. Activate this at any time to send a message to me and my trusted companions. We can use it to track your location and potentially summon you to us.”

He tells us further that the scrolls powering up whatever was behind the doors might be the Apostolate Scrolls from Kyuss, God of Worms. They purportedly allow the ability to contact Kyuss for the purpose of sacrificing. They will summon an ulgustasa, a great, green worm undead monstrosity.

We have 34 minutes left, just enough time to get to the Hall of Justice without running. Lord Chosik is there as we arrive.

The Justicier will assemble troops, he says, secure search warrants for the arena and question Loris and Okoral. All troops, including us, must submit to a Zone of Truth which we willingly enter. I confess to making ready for battle as each of my party members submitted to the test. I don’t really trust any of them yet.

We are all clean. Or not Changelings, anyway.

Two squads of 30 each have assembled under the overall command of Captain Stor. They will accompany us to the arena.

Stor is well-known to me: captain of the Watch, older at about 40 years, handsome, soft-spoken with a gift for calming men and exciting women. His is a long and storied career.

He is currently carrying two long swords and wearing heavy armor covered with layers of protection runes. Stor is anyone’s perfect embodiment of a hero and has certainly been helpful to my Lady Zinia in the past, so I am grateful enough that he is here.

We all troop in to the arena, Stor clearing the way. “Hello, Tom. We need to get through here, a priest of Vecna is attempting to infect the populace with gods-knows-what,” and “Hey there, Venset. There some kind of cult leader in here causing mischief – we need to see what’s going on.” he says to Grey Wardens in front of him and they fall aside. His aim is to arrest Loris and Okaral. We find them readily enough: Okaral is chained at Loris’ feet. Unless this is a ruse, some of our work has been done for us already, as one of these men is clearly guilty of something. Loris clears this up in a moment.

The captain has brought two lieutenants. His first one takes some men and goes through the secret door. The second one heads downstairs with a squad and myself, going down into the Village with the idea of rousting the warriors there. Officer Vereene would be the best person to do this but she is sticking with the captain.

“Lo, here is the apostle you seek!” Loris is shouting as I descend. I hear madness in that voice. We have our man, and he is undefended. He will be swiftly taken, I am sure. But where is the cult leader?

Halfway down to the Village I am almost knocked off my feet by an earthquake. A terrible buzzing – I feel it on my skin and inside my brain as much as in my ears. The scrolls … something unleashed … time is wrong, or right after being wrong. The men around me freeze into place, stopped in time, and then everything flies forward, time frantic, then … then normal.

It has happened. It has been unleashed.

I race down the rest of the way to the Village. “Heroes of Greyhawk! You are summoned to defend your city! Fly! Fly!!”
 

Egan's Journal: Return to the Cairn

When the heroes left Diamond Lake almost a month ago, Egan had a clear path. He wanted to search the cairns to find out the source of their magic. And, in doing so, either learn their meaning and make peace with it, or find a greater purpose that could lead him forward. He was affected by his sisters death, but was a fatalist at heart. For him, there was a reason she died in the Whispering Cairn, and he felt like it was to lead him there. The path of deal-making with a devil was not something that made him proud, but, driven by helplessness and guilt, he knew there was a reason for that as well. After renouncing the devil’s power, and ultimately running off the pursuers, he returned to the only other path he knew, hard work and study.

Albeit, far from hard, he had some gold from his recent adventures, and a place to stay in Diamond Lake, he still had no leads and little help with his arcane investigation. He had to turn to Allustan once again and make amends.

The reunion was not unfriendly, and Allustan had relied on Egan before to investigate the Cairn with some success. The sorcerer quickly regained a working relationship with Allustan and put his mind to work on some of the ancient writings. After a few days of repetitive head-banging and dead-end texts, Egan and Allustan headed into the Cairn itself to look.

Much as before, the Cairn whispered ancient words of the Wind Dukes, making a endless monologue of seemingly meaningless sound to the untrained ear. Allustan bestowed a spell of comprehension to Egan, and the two went to work observing the various runes and writings. Egan led the elder wizard to the hidden burial chamber, and even the the rooms where he found his sister in eternal sleep. The two uncovered some information that had been overlooked before, but the mechanical blockages of the tunnels were more than they could handle.

A day later, and with a small pot of gold dispensed with the dwarven mining team from the lakeside mining town, the teacher and pupil had returned to move some debris. After extensive clearing of some of the collapsed tunnels, Egan uncovered a message referring to a book, a codex more specifically, of the ancient Wind Dukes. Later that day, an altar was uncovered from another collapsed area. Neither human dared interact with it. In fact, Allustan placed a wizard’s ward on it to alert him if it was used, and he sealed the chamber with another ward.

The dwarf team camped inside the entryway to the Cairn, and Egan worked late into the night, studying the runes of the architect’s quarters. Within another day, most of the debris had been cleared. The broken elevators were beyond the dwarven team’s skills, but Egan secretly vowed to get them working again. The flooded section remained submerged, and the team had yet to be able to fully examine it.

As the sun set on the third day in the Cairn, Egan found himself dozing off in the architect’s quarters. He had arranged the sparse furniture to make a cot-like bed, and had even tried to keep the room warm enough to rest in. Allustan had said the orange substance that seemed to seep from the central feeding trough was safe to eat, but Egan wasn’t sure. He was weary though, and laziness overcame him. He dipped a finger into the orange goo, then tasted it. It was sour, something like yeast but more like citrus too. A couple of handfuls later, he felt quite full. After burping loudly and appreciating the echo, he lay down on the stone cot and drifted off to sleep.

As he rested, he dreamed. An armored figure came to him and granted him a boon. The armor was ancient and covered in runes, much the guardians of the resting places of the Dukes of Aqua’a. He stood from his cot and followed the armored specter to a mural. A wall of stone depicting a duke handing a book to a diminutive air elemental. He followed the specter as the mural changed and shifted. The small elemental carried the book to another wall with a stone basin and deposited it above the basin. From there, the basin flowed with a strange luminous water. The specter motioned to the basin and spoke a word: Drink.

Egan nodded and complied, extending his hands first then submerging his face in the cold luminous flow. As he did, he woke, coughing and sputtering as his face was soaking wet. Realizing suddenly that he was no longer in his sleeping chamber, he jumped back from the water before him. Luckily the dwarves had placed ever-burning torches at each room, and the dim, bluish glow flickered across the now-rippling pool before him.

The room was part of the Cairn that had not been fully repaired yet. Flooded by some unknown source, Egan and Allustan, had left this part for a later date. Egan knew he was here for a reason though. Something was hidden in that water that he needed to find. A book and a basin, perhaps more.

Steeling himself against the cold chill of the water, he waded in, taking the magical torch with him. A few brief dives revealed some more runic language, which he was beginning to recognize but still could not read without Allustan’s magical ward. He followed some similar runes to ones he had seen above in the burial room. After a point though, he could no longer hold his breath, and he had to emerge, empty-handed but with a purpose.

The next day, he brought his team to the flooded space. Allustan suspected an underground spring with a failed pipe, but the dwarves disagreed. A couple spells later and Egan was breathing water and reading the runes easily. He followed them to a niche in the wall, much like the dream, it was a small basin, likely once used for drinking.

He inspected it quickly, though found nothing. He mimicked the motion of submerging his head in the font. As he did, some hidden force grasped his head and held him there, forcing him into a flow of water that rose from the basin, almost as if it were trying to drown him while already underwater. The grasp initially startled him, but he knew he could not drown with Allustan’s magic.

Instinctively, he tried to push himself free, but was unable to break the grasp. His hands began searching the edges of the basin, feeling the cracks, the edges, the divets. His eyes were stuck looking into the basin, and so his other senses took over. After a few minutes, he began to feel a bit trapped. Surely Allustan would come into the water after him, but what if he didn’t? What if the dwarves led the old wizard down another tunnel to check for pipes?

Instead of panicking, which he was prone to do, he thought of his sister. She always told Egan to not believe everything that he saw. Mustering all his nerve, he calmly let go. He stopped fighting the pull, and his body floated, weightless, like a leaf on the wind. As he drifted, he felt the flow of the water on his face, passing upwards, as if a fountain, then catching the edges of the font and swirling away. Without thinking, he let his hands stroke the stone, following the flow.

Something clicked above him, a small drawer, or slot, opened. He still could not see it, but he raised his hands and gingerly felt the edges of a rectangular slot in the wall. Sliding his fingers ever so gently into the space, he felt air in the pocket, as if the water was being expelled. Reaching further, his hands clasped onto a small rectangular shape, a book! Unsure if it was trapped or magically warded, he feared to move it. Moments passed as he contemplated his predicament.

Finally, without any other real resolve, his fatalist took over. He felt it was a sign, and if he found this book, then he was to use is. He grasped the edges and pulled it free from the nook. As he did, he felt his body suddenly surrounded by a bubble of air. The hidden watery grasp, vanished and he breathed in a warm, fresh breath.

Raising his torch, he looked at the font, realizing now that there was a pattern to the decorations that his hands had followed, and a small cubby for a book. In his hand lay a silvered tome, small enough to fit into a large pocket and not very thick. It was decorated with scrollwork that looked like wisps of air, storm clouds and a series of interlocking circles on the front. Indeed, this was the codex from his dream.

Elated, he swam back to the encampment to discuss his find with Allustan. Upon returning, the older wizard was busy with assessing an aqueduct that was seemingly not draining. Just as Egan had feared, they might not have come back for him if the spell had worn out while he was underwater A quick private discussion led the two men aside to explore the tome.

Allustan determined that the tome was a relic of the Wind Dukes and that it likely had belonged to the architect of the Cairns. Within were many writings in the elemental language of the Aurans. The tome, though small, expanded magically when opened, and the pages extended well beyond the original size. A quick glance showed that there were theories of magic as well as the lore of the many planes. Truthfully, the knowledge was an explanation of many phenomena based on the elemental properties of air and gases.

Deeper into the tome, they discovered some minor spells that had been recorded and a series of rituals. Being untrained in such magic Egan relied on Allustan to explain it. Within an hour or two, the dwarven team was ready to move back to their campsite to rest for the day while the two pored over the codex. Late into the night Allustan studied, and when Egan woke from a drifting sleep, he found the old man likewise snoring over the book.

Egan took the codex and hid it in his belt and slept once more. As he slept, he dreamed of a great circle of 5 rings with lines interlocking. He dreamt that he traced them out, and stood above them reading from the book. He did not understand the words, but, placing his hand on the nape his neck, he raised the codex in a final gesture and felt enveloped by light and the rush of wind. A silence followed, and he dreamed of his sister alive, watching from the gaping door of the Cairn, looking unusually calm and not alone. She was surrounded by figures, clad in flowing robes with indistinct features, each singing softly in whispering voice of the wind.

He woke with Allustan shaking him. Around the camp, there were lines on the dusty floor, circles within circles. Allustan waved a hand and cast a spell, then coughed aloud. The faint blue glow of a magical aura began to emanate from Egan once again. The small man looked at the room, quite the same as he remembered from his dream, and felt a sense of calm, of home. He turned to survey the floor and, as he did, Allustan mumbled under his breath. The older wizard touched Egan’s nape of his neck and a crackle of electricity could be heard in the cave. Both men jumped.

With a look of astonishment in his eye, Allustan conjured a small mirror for Egan to look. On the nape of his neck, five rings, interlocked, were darkly tattooed on his skin. Indeed, as he wondered, he opened the Codex, suddenly the words were clear. He could read them and understand them. He flipped to the end where the the rituals were inscribed. Indeed, the same finding with the previously alien writing. He felt that somehow he had been accepted, bonded to the codex, and to the Dukes.

A quick discussion, and Allustan agreed. It seems that Egan had unknowingly sleep-walked, perhaps even through astral projection, and performed a ritual in his sleep that bound him to the Wind Dukes. In return, he had gained their sight and their awareness. Allustan likened the binding to the oath he took with the Asmadi, but it was not clear what the Legacy of the Dukes required in return.

Egan set his mind to reading and learning. He had come to serve his sister’s memory and prevent her fate from happening to another, but he had found much more. What would the pact entail? What knowledge and power lay within the codex? And what would he do with his newfound abilities?

The days seemed to speed by at this point. He spent most waking hours reading the codex, learning the magic and knowledge within. It was hardly a surprise that Allustan had to tear him from its pages a few days later to show him a new discovery. The dwarves managed to excavate a section that had previously been collapsed in the main entrance hall to the Cairn.

Behind the cave-in, there was a stone and metal opening, about 6 inches in depth and about 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide. It was ovoid and clearly inscribed with Wind Duke magic. After some testing and more scouring of the codex, the opening seemed to fit the description of a portal of sorts that might connect this cairn with others. Egan wryly nicknamed it the “Wind Tunnel.” He and Allustan worked tirelessly on the runes, and, after only half a day, determined how to activate the portal. When it sprung to life, the center became a hollow nexus of air, like the eye of a hurricane.

Neither of them had the gall to utilize it, but secretly Egan yearned to step into the stone hyper loop and see the other side. Sadly, Allustan’s caution was enough to hold Egan back. The old man had a point. There was no guarantee that the other end was not broken or obstructed or a hole in the astral plane.

Egan felt certain that the runes indicated that the portal could be taken to multiple sites and that they were other Cairns, but clearly the portal had not been used in centuries. As the day set, both men took a stroll outside in the evening mist that surrounded the lake. The discussion was jovial, reminiscing about Egan’s sad attempts at magic in the past.

As they took the hill above the Cairn’s main entrance, a glow of fire, and then a loud explosion, unlike the usual sounds of Diamond Lake erupted from across the water. Something was happening in town, something large and destructive. The explosion lit the lake in a eerie phosphorescent glow for many moments as some chemical-like fire burned hotter and brighter than normal flames.

Allustan fell into a trance, his eyes glazing over as he began to scry. He mumbled and cursed as he did. Just as he finished, Egan spotted a dark shape, larger than a bird hovering over the white-hot burning object. He knew immediately that it was a dragon. Fear began to grip him again. They were just beginning to find the secrets of the Cairn, and now this beast was invading Diamond Lake.

His mentor looked gravely at his pupil and sighed. “We part ways here, Egan. I must go face this beast. It is seeking out a wizard, and I am the only one by that description.”

The calm of the Cairn’s whispers seemed dull as Allustan quickly gathered his things. He gave a few words to the dwarves, who took note of the destruction, and promptly gave Egan notice of their termination of their agreement. The wizened old man vanished with a small pop as he teleported away. The dwarves took a bit longer with their tools, but they offered to allow Egan to come with them into the hills to hide out. Egan declined. He knew his place, and the Cairn would lead him where he needed to go next.

Once again, he was alone except for the quiet company of the Cairn. Little did he know that trouble would soon be coming his way, and even less why he would be the target. His mind reeled at the thought of losing his hometown, but his heart felt at home in the Cairn, and Diamond Lake could never replace that. For a moment, he wondered if his sister had felt the same thing when he had left her on that fateful night. Why hadn’t she left? Why did she stay? How did she make it to the architect’s chambers, alone, unguided?

Perhaps, she was not awake when she went…and then…perhaps she was guided by the same force as he.
 


Journal of Etona 19

It is a writhing monstrosity towering twenty feet high. The worm in the space of a few seconds eats Orrick, blazes green, then a wave of that color explodes out through the crowd. I feel it go through me and it is terrible. I feel poisoned.

“No, not you, little one,” She whispers to me in a second of total silence, of stopped time. Angivre flares and lights a tiny scene, now, where I am surrounded by my father’s garden, at the table he made for me, and the Moon at half over a summer’s night. She is there also, across from me, eating a poam’e, an ‘apple’.

She wipes Her divine lips and says only, “Here there be dragons.” As She evaporates, She adds, “Save the blue woman.”

Then Rey is before me fighting through the nausea herself. I am back on the arena battlefield. Melinde, Rishkar: we are all ill, but, that is all. Where the wave flows over spectators, however, some double over, some clutch their head. All are screaming.

They are beginning to transform into something ….

The fire wizard, Kellek, is cursing and raising white-hot, blistering walls of fire at the thing. So immersed is he in rage and the summoning of great gouts from Hell that he doesn’t see the writhing, crisping monster inside the conflagration pick him out and lunge for him. He, too, gets scooped up and devoured.

I am far out of its range, close to the side of the arena where Stor and Loris are, so I see another astonishing sight: Loris’ skin bursts out with purplish fire that hurts the back of my eyes to look directly at and, and … resh! He doffs his skin like it was unwanted clothing!

Orakal is open-mouthed. If he was ‘the bad guy’, he was not bad enough: his master is some kind of death knight.

Stor plunges his sword into Loris, all the way up to the hilt, but whatever this skeletal creature is now just cackles madly.

It is not through, however.

A few years ago I ran with another group of friends likewise outside of my own people. We also battled these worms; we, too, saw wonders. I pine for one of them even now. I wonder if she still thinks of me, her wild little friend. And we fought world-destroyers and liars as now. Among these was a devil, a denizen from Dis. The occasion of our killing it showed me my first Nightmare.

Like this one here in the arena, it flashes into being, a ripple that becomes fiery hooves, mane and eyes. It is a real, ride-able steed summoned from Hell.

The thing that was Loris jumps onto it and flies off into the afternoon sky, a comet blazing up to taunt Pelor, or would were not thickening purple and green clouds boiling out directly over us. The worm, or perhaps Loris, has brought its own weather.

A few more well-placed arquae from Angivre save a small knot of people. And then I see that Eleanor has arrived, half the heroes in the Village are behind her. They see what people are becoming, ghoulish things with white eyes and a decidedly un-zombie look of purpose, and they charge! But the royal investigator herself does not: she has her eyes locked on the clouds, starts to says something and gesture but is jostled by a steady stream of those she’d led up from the area’s depths. She finally moves to where she can square her back against a stadium wall.

Moments later a strong wind rises, and I think the clouds are clearing. Is she doing that?

Rishkar, meanwhile, is also roasting this towering worm. I dash over and lend Silver to his effort. But three of these undead things that had been the Free City’s citizens follow me. Faster than the worm-infested bodies we have fought before, they are nevertheless not swift enough. All fall before the Silver.

And worm falls before Melinde, Rey, Rishkar and me.

We have no time to reflect and begin immediately cutting a path to one of the main gates that people are swarming to. A group of the undead creatures that Melinde is yelling are wights follow.

We engage them at the gate, cutting them down and allowing people to stream away. A figure arises out of the ground as we do, a phantom of some kind. It materializes a clawed hand and it plunges it into Melinde’s chest! She crumples at first and I want to race to her, but she faces the thing, head up, eyes slit, a snarl on her lips. She rights herself, stands tall, and drives her sword into the being. She is making her last stand.

“Not while I have breath!” I yell and my Angivre channels my rage into a bolt strides long. It enters the monster’s chest, gathering there and reeling the rest of the Silver behind it like a fishing pole, and then explodes out utterly annihilating the phantom. The other wights flee from a paladin drenched in the holy lights of Sehanine and her own Heironeous.

Among the tumult of fleeing, crying people, Rey and Rishkar and Eleanor were battling for their lives, but the tide has turned.

As if to underscore that fact, the unnatural clouds move off revealing sunlight. Eleanor probably believes she did this, and perhaps her efforts helped, but I see Baerov, a druid I knew from my days as traveling priest. He is hundreds of paces away so I cannot contact him, but I have no doubt he also lent a hand in whisking away the darkness. Like Verdre, his path is the storms. Far more likely than the officious sorceress who was, anyway, busy escorting an odd trio of halfling, gnome and dwarf away to royal parts of the city to have spent more than thirty seconds gazing skyward.

Melinde and I make sport of harrying the undead through the night with Rey and Rishkar grimly guarding our flanks.

******************************
Morning. Wreckage. Pain.

My mind feels like this city.

How did I think I could fire a hundred Silver without penalty, each one taking a little bite out of my will as it did?

And Greyhawk, hardly a beacon of justice and goodwill in the first place, is stunned. It will wake to fear and consequence and all the responses frightened humans can muster. There will be suffering above what has been inflicted here this arc for a long time to come.

Our young paladin meets us the next morning along with a representative from Chosik. They both urge us to leave the city: no more good can come from us being here now that the wights have been hunted to extinction. We are now outsiders in considerable danger. More upheaval comes. Its first caress today is Melinde’s news that she will remain behind in her new position in the City Watch. My impression of Greyhawk has just risen a notch, though I am unexpectedly disappointed. She is noisy, willful, prideful and angry, but I have seen the girl beneath and in so doing glimpsed the woman she could become.

“Will you hunt this Faceless One?” I ask her.

She smiles wickedly. “Oh yes.” And then she scowls. “Though I’m sure he’s fled already.”

“Listen, Melinde: if you find anything about Phreet, will you tell Estee? If you find a hidden lair, take a sensitive there, a priest or a wizard. Maybe, maybe she is there, my little sister, somehow trapped in a jar or bound to a totem.” She looks uncomprehending. “I know. It is, we do not know what we do not know about where she is or if she even has a physical form anymore. I am only asking you to remember her when you are looking for captives or beings in chains when you and your people turn that arena inside out. Please look. Please save her if you can.”

She nods solemnly. “I swear it.” And she does, I see it in her eyes.

I hug her, and it is like hugging Rey or a startled cat. “You listen to your caer’e,” I whisper to her. “when you swear this oath to me. Not your mighty god nor your captain nor your friends nor even me, but to who you are.” I draw back. “It is why you are special.”

I do not know if any of that is true, but perhaps hearing it will make it true for her.

I say goodbye to Estee who is remaining in the city to deal with, I believe they are called converts? People who have opened to Sehanine because of me? This was not my aim, exactly, but it is gratifying, if unsettling. It has happened before, but ever with humans. It is what they believe I do, I suppose.

I greet two I recognize who are even now helping Estee rebuild our small temple area.

“Where will you go next?” he asks me in our tongue.

“South, at first,” I reply. “Since the treaty is to be ratified now, we can deliver ‘Ambassador Rishkar’ back to his home. That is Rey’s priority, and I want to meet up again with Verdre. Then, then … home.” The word causes me to tremble.

“The Mirror of Sehanine,” he says. I can only nod. “It is not my place to say, but you have earned it. What of Rey?”

“I think she is coming, too. I really want her to. There is human expression: ‘I cannot wait’. Obviously this is not true – I can and must; that is the way of things – but I understand the sense of it. It is a longing, an excitement. And I want to catch up to Ziki, if she is still heading there.”

He begins to bow. How silly: I hug him and hold him close. “Thank you, Estee.” We elves turn pale when we ‘blush’; it is the opposite of the human word used to describe it for us. He looks like chalk, and I laugh at it – though not at him, he knows this – in fair imitation of our Mistress.

******************************
The “Free City” recedes behind us. Outwardly calm, I know it will not be the same there for many human generations. Will it rise again better or worse for its punishment? I am sure I have no idea.

We leave the road some two miles from the gates and do not tread on it again until we reach Diamond Lake days later. Rey and I shake off what has happened after a day and we play games together; she would call it training for the hunt but there is too much laughter for such a stoic endeavor.

Our smiles drop near Diamond Lake, though.

We all smell it first. Then we see. Cresting a rise affords us a look down at the town: smoldering ruins.

Before I can even close my mouth that had fallen open, we hear soldiers approaching. They are known to us, and we to they: from Greyhawk’s garrison here, Sergeant Beejum and two men.

“What,” I stretch my arm out to indicate the destruction in front of us, “is this?”

“Lady Etona,” he starts. Lady Etona. Word travels quickly. “We were attacked. A dragon, a frickin’, dragon! Oh, uh, pardon, my lady. Black as pitch. It flew around spitting this green slime everywhere that melted whatever it touched.”

“Ithane,” Rey breathes, and there is a hiss from Rishkar.

“We tried to fight it – Williams got a lucky hit with a ballista; we buried what was left of him when we could get near him – but we’re not equipped to take on a frickin’ dragon! Oh, pardon, my lady.”

“What did she want? Did she say anything?” I ask.

“She kept bellowin’, ‘Bring me the wizard’ over and over again. So Allustan, he thinks it’s him, he goes to meet her, and she jus’ looks all cross and blasts him. That old man lived longer than he should’ve, but he’s ….” He trails off shaking his head, and then he sees my expression. “Pardon, my lady.”

I look to Rey. “Allustan is dead,” I say. She understands all the ways this hurts. Not the least: another friend slain. People who associate with the two of us die. We had discussed it on the first day traveling from Greyhawk.

“Why is Allustan dead?” Rey murmurs to no one in particular, but her voice carries.

“That’s just it,” replies one of the sergeant’s men. Restan. Yes, that is his name, Restan Pereatha. “She – well, the voice was female, I guess – she kinda screamed after she killed Master Allustan. She flew up and melted the sheriff’s place, Boyer’s bakery, a bunch of houses and half of Madame Z’s. And then she yelled, ‘No! The wizard, the young one!’ That’s what she said, over and over. ‘The young one’.”

“Egan,” says Rey, her eyes widening. “Where is Egan?”

They look nonplussed at one another, and then Sergeant Beejum says, “Oh, Master Allustan’s apprentice! The guy who hired those dwarves.” The other two nod and make ‘Oh, yeah, right,’ noises. He turns to Rey again.

“We don’t know, uh, ambassador. He was always out of town somewhere, kept comin’ in for supplies and goin’ to Master Allustan’s.”

“He is at the Cairn,” I say in Elvish and Rey nods.

I hear a growl in the tree next to me and see a purple-tipped tale only visible to the three of us from our angle. Thank the Goddess! Not everything has gone wrong.

“We will look into all of this, Sergeant Beejum,” intones Rey sending them off. “Is the captain …?”

“Yeah, captain’s OK. Most of us, actually: she didn’t really the garrison.”

“I am glad to hear this,” Rey replies and then turns back to us.

Once they are out of sight, I say to the branches above me, “Cousin!”

Verdre, now in her normal form, jumps down and allows me hug her. I don’t want to let her go, not anymore.

“You’re back,” I say into her shoulder.

“Indeed,” she returns. “And I have much to tell you. It is good to see you as well, Rey. Thank you for bringing back my Etona to me.” She weaves a gesture to Rishkar who returns it, and she says, in Common: “And it is well for me to meet you again, guardian. Pleased am I that you still tread the breathing earth.” He nods. “We must deal with Ithane’s fallout. The factory on the outskirts of this town is spewing poison into the lake. The very water is on fire.”

“The water is on fire?” Rey echoes, her face showing deep puzzlement. “How can that be?”

“Verdre,” I say, “we need to find our friend, Egan. He is at the center of this destruction, somehow.”

“I will be working to stop the death of the lake here. You do what you must, Etona. I am aware of your den near the Cairn and will check for you there each mirren if you do not locate me near the human factory. The Briarwood Lodge should know where I am. We will find one another.” She kisses my forehead. “Her light shine on you, cousin.” And she is a purple-tinged big cat of some kind again racing off.

“What is it?” Rey asks seeing my surprise.

“She has never blessed me in our Mistress’ name before.”

******************************
We pass through our ‘den’ – our headquarters, our common home in the area – where I check to make certain our two artifacts are still concealed in the old well. They are. We proceed to the Cairn.

As we approach, my feet notice the ground beginning to grow soft, the soil changing to a watery clay which squishes between my toes. The very air seems to be bit more opaque, and there is a scent in it of decay and something sour. Eventually we walk into a low mist clinging to the ground. Rey and I exchange glances as we discover these changes to the land.

Rishkar hisses. “This cannot be. It is a corrupted version.”

“Of?” I ask.

“My home.”

Another half mile – the Cairn’s outline fuzzy in mist that has risen – and Rey says, “Ithane is here.” She drops to her knees and begins whispering with her eyes closed in, I think it is Draconic? Whatever she is saying makes Rishkar’s head snap up. He assumes a low combat-ready stance and looks all around. I hear her say the word “Ithane” quite clearly.

On the back of her neck, her dragon mark begins glowing blue. I point to my own back and she looks at me, puzzled. I gently pull her cloak over her head and whisper, “You’re glowing.”

We approach some boulders for a clear view of the scene in front of us.

A small band of skritt – humans call them ‘kobolds’ – are interspersed throughout rocks in front of the Cairn. Behind them is a barricade in front of the opening of the cave. We hear chanting, at least two voices, form there. Rishkar mutters the word ritual. I can see writhing, dancing kobolds silhouetted in front of a bright, rainbow light behind them stretching across the cave entrance.

Draped across the top is Ithane.

She is large but not as much as Seraph, at least not from this angle. There is something diminished about her. Still, she isn’t not dangerous so we plot a course around the front of the cave to the left, stealthily creeping up to a side view of the cave and the mysterious colors and the kobold activity there.

Oh! There is Egan! He is standing behind the wall of color. It looks very much like it is keeping the kobolds out. Ithane herself confirms this when she speaks:

“I can smell your fear, wizard. It will be only a few moments more. The best meals are the ones that have been marinating in their own juices. I am in your debt: thank you for this delicious anticipation.”

We whisper to one another. I have never whispered this quietly in my life.

“They are trying to get through the color wall.” Rey hazards. “To nab him once it goes down.”

“What if we kill them all first and then run in from Ithane?”

“It is a good start ….”

We form a plan to wipe out most of the kobolds we can see. It will be a quick strike and then a retreat into the scrub at high speed, splitting up, make sure at least one of us lives. It isn’t my best plan ever, and I am frankly surprised when both of them agree. Rey keeps looking at Ithane and gripping her spear. But she isn’t …. Surely not ….

Rey quietly kills a skritt in front of her. No activity from the others.

“Your charlatan powers are pitiful against Dragotha,” Ithane brays.

A dragon with a master.

That’s why she seems … small somehow. And her eyes are black on black. She’s not, maybe, completely a dragon anymore?

We all attack. Three more skritt are dead instantly. And battle is well and truly joined as Ithane, furious, takes to the air.

“Rise, my pets! Rise!” she bellows, and marching down from the top of rocky hill forming the roof of the Cairn are worm-infested skritt. I also hear movement out in the mists back from where we came.

It is a blur of activity:

Rey runs dodging a variety of traps the skritt have lain. Obi appears out of nowhere. A massive worm-infested boar emerges from the mist and knocks her down, a raging thing careening through the fog at astounding speed. Another rises up and smashes the palisade in front of the cave entrance. It is then that Egan comes out, the color wall gone, and summons some kind of localized whirlwind charged with flashes of lightning. This keeps away Ithane, at least for a moment, Obi goes is pounded again and again and goes down. Rey looks battered as well. No one seems to have noticed me, not even the worm-kobolds walking just three strides in front of me, even after I take down two more skritt and harry a boar!

“Get into the cave, lasses!” shouts Egan, “and, eh, you also, lizard – brave lizard man! How er’ ye still alive, man?” But there is no time: Ithane zeroes in on Rey. I take aim, a hopeless arrow to fell a dragon but one carrying my very soul. If I can distract her….

I don’t need to. She is knocked out of the air, a web of sparks dancing all over her as a great blue form whooshes by. I am stunned to hear a cheer go up from from Rey, a single whoop, but for her it is like a celebrating tribe.

“You!” Ithane says. “I will enjoy this,” and she rockets up into the sky, into Seraph. They bite and claw and cast their breath weapons against one another until they disappear past the tree line and we can no longer follow them.

“Do ye want to go after them?” Egan asks Rey who nods. He gestures and she rises into the air. This is a day for unique sights.

Ithane flies back, gashed and wounded, but alone. Seraph is nowhere to be seen. Rey drops out of a fold in the fog onto the black dragon’s head and stabs. Ithane, snarling, grabs her in a claw and begins squeezing.

Remember the soul arrow my Angivre was to launch? She and I summon massive Silver – I feel my blood cool, my head aches: I will pay a price for this, I know – and we let it fly. It pierces Ithane’s skull and she falls, Rey never letting up stabbing her again and again such that lightning once again flows all over the dragon’s twitching, expiring body.

We limp back together, I touch Obi’s fur and concentrating, pulling what is left from my small reserves, and she breathes more cleanly. Her wounds close to drip blood and not flow with it. She will not die.

We have much to talk about, but it will have to wait. Seraph is down somewhere, and Rey means to find her.

 
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Rey's Journal

Return to Diamond Lake

We arrived at Diamond Lake and were greeted by...devastation. Buildings were burnt to the ground, the foundry was burning and the lake was on fire. How in the world can water be on fire? The garrison, or whatever was left of it came and found us. A black dragon had come yesterday and demanded the wizard. Allustan had gone to meet her and perished. He was not the wizard she wanted. She’s demanding the young wizard, whom I can only guess is Egan. Ithane would not know that Egan is powerless these days. According to the garrison men, Egan is hiding out in the Cairn. I missed him in Greyhawk, more than I thought I would but how does trouble follow him everywhere? He’s a magnet for it.

Etona, Rishkar and I headed to the Cairn to rescue our friend. Or die. I am not sure we could take on Ithane and win. But I seem to be the only one NOT surprised by the coming battle. I somehow knew we would end here. Seraph has battled Ithane before. I didn’t know it then but Ithane was the black dragon she had battled while ill with mercury poisoning. Seraph sent me to find Ithane those months ago. Meeting Etona then Egan, I do believe were all part of her plan. We destroyed Ithane’s eggs in the swamp and created an alliance with the Lizardmen. This battle was coming. Maybe that is why I was so on edge in Greyhawk? Who knows.

We headed toward the Cairn and witnessed three kobolds chanting at a prismatic wall. Strange little dragon creatures. In another time I would have wanted to speak with them. They are oddly adorable, although in my experience cunning too. Above the Cairn rested Ithane. She is larger than Seraph but it was her eyes that sent a curl of fear through me. Her eyes were orbs of black. She exuded evil.

I kneeled and called to her, my Mistress Seraph. I did not know if she was nearby or if she would heed my call. Mistress, Ithane is here. Ithane is here! I could feel the tattoo heat and spread warmth throughout my body, pushing aside my fear. Time to face my destiny.

We chose, upon Etona’s insistence, stealth. Our plan was to circle around and pick off kobolds, hiding our position until the last possible second. If Ithane spotted us, we would be dragon dinner. We had a second of surprise but they were ready for us. I saw a worm-infested dire boar and froze. The last time I felt this kind of fear was the first time Seraph turned her eyes on me. My spear did not strike true and I knew for sure this battle would be my last. Obi fought beside me, clawing at the boars as worms dug into our skin. It all became a blur. Then. She came. My Mistress. I saw a streak of blue lightning and Ithane was blown into the hurling wind in front of the Cairn. I knew she had come. She had heard my call. All my fears vanished in that instant. The direboar charged and Obi went down beside me. I could not heal her but cast the worms out. Egan has regained some power, not his Asmodi powers but a new one. He shoots lightning as well. He pointed to the sky and I nodded, and in a moment I was flying. Next thing I knew, I was in Ithane’s mouth, her teeth piercing into me, the acid burning me. I did not see Seraph but Ithane had been badly injured, clawed and scorched and bleeding. I would have to finish it, for Seraph and to save my friends. I could not fail. I stabbed at Ithane with my lightning spear. The very spear we took from her and imbued with Seraph’s lightning blessing. I wonder if she recognized it.

I am never alone. Tonight I am reminded of that once again. Specifically Etona’s silver came flying up from the ground, through Ithane’s head narrowly missing my own. It brought us down. Ithane had me once again, this time in her claws. I could feel tearing into me and squeezing my life away. One last strike was all I had. So I put everything into it and stabbed her in the eye. It was enough.


 
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Gray Fox Journal: Introductions

It has been a long time since I have put my thoughts to paper. Some of my instructors counseled me during interrogation training that it was a risk to do so. That your thoughts, once they leave your mind, can be used against you. Except for the Boss. I mean Jade. That is her name after all. For some reason, she was the only one who did not believe that. She told me one day after dismissing class that writing down your feelings can stave off the madness only soldiers come to know. A sickness that endless war infects us with. I haven’t written anything down since my training for fear that it would fall into the wrong hands. How ironic that such fears were so misplaced. I ended up divulging my past freely to the first person that showed me kindness, and now many of my brothers have suffered for it. But let us not dwell on the past, I want to look toward the future. A future where decent men are not used as pawns in the Great Game.
The strong do what they will and the weak suffer what they must. I want to change that, but I am going to need some help. And money...lots of it.

Which brings us to the here and now. I’ve done my best to avoid detection for as long as I can, even moving to the bustling metropolis of Greyhawk. My hopes are to recruit candidates from the Champion’s Games. Though “civilized” in nature, I know all too well the formula for contests such as these. Bodies are broken and spirits are shattered. Purpose is usually lost in the process. It is from these individuals that I need to determine whether they can rise again. Instill in them meaning and help them see the greater picture. The War Dogs are finished, but I am not.

Any successful organization will need a base of operations. I have managed to secure a hostel down in the Slum Quarter. The location puts it in close proximity to the Southern Gate and far enough away from the Thieves Quarter to avoid further taxation. Though the building is quite dilapidated, I was not able to buy it outright. The owner, a member of the Council of Greyhawk, has agreed to rent to me at a “fair” market price. He is leveraging the influx of visitors to inflate the price. A very clever man this Thran Chozik is. He would probably be able to sell snow to a frost giant. Though with men like these, money is not everything. I knew at some point my skill would be utilized and so I too did some bargaining of my own. It seems like his sister has been missing for some time, a point that triggers deep emotions. He has hired me to look into her disappearance, reducing the rent I would have to otherwise pay him. Clearly this was important to him. So important that he could not wait for my report. He has engaged a separate group to perform a similar task. These individuals are brave, but not subtle. In the short time they have been in Greyhawk, they have set political institutions ablaze with their discoveries. Exposing a changeling cabal within the government of Greyhawk is a recipe for civil war. I would know, I used to do this type of work.

Nevertheless, I continued my work and came to one inescapable conclusion: Loris Raknian was likely responsible for Lahaka’s disappearance. In my profession, proof is not necessary. I suggested an elegant solution to Councilman Chozik’s problems, but he declined. He said that other individuals were already looking into Loris’ wrongdoing and that he would pay for his crimes in a public forum. I imagine it is that same group that exposed the changelings. Initially I was intrigued to see what they would be able to uncover, but that feeling quickly evaporated once wights came pouring out of the arena. Reports are conflicting, but it would seem that a giant worm erupted from the arena floor and consumed last year’s champions. A few individuals that survived describe a green wave of energy that emanated from the monster and transformed living spectators into an undead horde. Predictably, the higher quarters sealed themselves off quickly, forcing the problem south. I had to take care of a few of these things myself before the priests finally arrived to dispel them into the sewers. I am very sure that this problem has not been completely eradicated. On a positive note, the hostel is still intact and one of the young men I saved was so grateful for my intervention that he has pledged to come work for me. His name is Keth and he is a hard worker. I have promoted him to manager of the “Fox and the Hound.” I know, there is a bit of irony in the name but it felt right. Gray Fox and his Dogs of War.

 
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Gray Fox Journal: Fated Meeting

After the chaos subsided, Keth and I came out of hiding to assess the damage. I was helping the young man hoist our new sign up over the entrance when I spotted a familiar messenger. It was the same man Chozik used to summon me...before Martial Law was declared. Interestingly enough, this courier escorted me to the Garden Quarter. Though devoid of obvious opulence, the mansion was an architectural masterpiece and most definitely not Councilman Chozik’s home. The servant who maintained the home was an elderly elven man who escorted me to a foyer where two men awaited.


“Treig, I would like for you to meet a friend of mine,” Chozik said as he gestured towards the other man in the room. “This is Elgios and he and I have a special assignment for you.”

The other man had short-cropped auburn hair and a scarlet robe adorned with gold jewelry. He looked like he hadn’t spent a day in his life doing any physical labor. I lit a cigar, drawing the smoke into my lungs before exhaling. I saw Elgios’ facial expressions change subtly as he stared at the cigar. “What do you need?”

Chozik’s face grew dark before he continued. “There is a man in Diamond Lake by the name of Allustan. He is a trusted friend of Elgios and we need you to deliver a package to him.”

Something in my face must have changed because both men seemed to notice.

“It is nothing dangerous, just research I have been working on,” Elgios responded. I couldn’t help but smirk.

“Councilman, in my line of work, information is the most dangerous thing you can carry. Perhaps we could dispense with the pleasantries and get down to business.”

Chozik was clearly not accustomed to being spoken to in that fashion, but he hid his anger well. “Yes, as I was saying, we need you to transport this research to Allustan. The case is sealed with magic for...security reasons. At this moment, we are unable to transport you to village. You will need to use mundane means to make you way there. I also want you to check on the status of the Mines. Report if there are any issues with ore processing and output of the Smelting House. Contact me with this,” Chozik said as he handed me a smooth stone with a single magic rune upon it.

“The building,” I said nonchalantly.

“Excuse me,” Chozik sputtered incredulously.

I took another long breath, the embers of my cigar flaring to life as I filled the air with more smoke. “I want the deed to the hostel. If I do this for you, the building is mine.”

“I am not sure what you are accustomed to in your dealings, but-” Elgios laid his hand on Chozik’s sleeve. “That is fine.”

I left Elgios’ home with a secured victory. Or so I thought. My plan had been to pack up my things and commence my travels immediately, leaving Keth in charge of the Fox and the Hound until I got back. That was until I was ambushed by a pale-faced ranger and his shadow mastiff. The man was of no consequence and I easily subdued him before he evaporated into mist and escaped. More reason to get out of the city as soon as possible.
______________________

Everything was as it should be. Keth had his instructions, I secured a fairly swift horse with a contact at a nearby stable I knew, and I had finally secured the necessary supplies...many of them quite expensive, given the recent unrest. It felt good to be back on assignment. Having a mission and a purpose. This time, it was my own and I decided how it would go.

I was finishing my preparations when a stranger walked into the hostel. It was odd given the fact that we were closed for the evening, but I tried not attract any attention to myself. He was young and his skin pale as well, indicating his shared ancestry with the assassin who tried to relieve me of the case. He also had long white hair and was dressed in very expensive clothing. But something was different about this one. Unlike Elgios, he had seen hardship...and dealt with it.

Keth gave him the runaround and so he left, but not before giving the young half-orc a noble token in the event the owner of the establishment “returned.” I was relieved that nothing occurred and was about to follow the man out of the hostel, until he was ambushed. Apparently my assailant wasn’t finished with me. He pinned the man to the door with a magical viscous substance. After a quick curse, as it was obviously me he had hoped to target, the man ran in and drew his blades.

“Let’s try this again old man. Give me the case.”

“Son,” I replied. “I am going to have to put you down this time.”

I did. He lasted only a few moments after I closed the distance between us, caught him around the throat, and choked the consciousness out of him. I was so focused on ending the fight quickly, I didn’t notice his canine friend enter the establishment. That was a tactical error which cost me footing as the shadow mastiff wrenched me to the ground. I was probably going to be fine, but the man encased in tar held out his hand and fiery chains shot out, lancing the mastiff. They wound themselves around it, crushing it, and drawing it closer before we were enveloped in magical darkness. After exiting and discovering our enemies had fled, Jordan introduced himself to me.

“Are you the owner of this establishment,” he asked.

“I am. My name is Treig and you have my thanks,” I replied. “What can I do for you?”

“I was interested in speaking with Elgios on a matter of some personal interest to me. Unfortunately, after securing an appointment, I discovered he had been murdered.” Jordan waited for the event to settle before continuing. “I understand that you were the last person to see him while he was still alive. Did he disclose any information to you about what has transpired in our city?”

“He did not. I am actually leaving town as Greyhawk has become quite unsafe with all the recent events.”

“It would seem that you do know something Treig or have something of some import,” Jordan stated flatly. “I am willing to provide you with protection on your travels in exchange for useful information.”

I don’t want to fight this man if the other assassins are still around. There is no way he could have cast the darkness spell and escaped by himself, which means he has help. Fighting more than two enemies at once would not be ideal. Let’s try a different strategy this time: the truth.

“Truth be told, I know very little. However, I am on my way to Diamond Lake to meet a close associate of Elgios. His name is Allustan and he might have the answers you seek.”

This seemed to satisfy Jordan because the next thing I knew, we were on the road in a comfortable carriage drinking very good wine. This was going to be a good trip after all.

 
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Gray Fox Journal: Sojourn

I could not remember the last time I traveled in such comfort. Sleeping on rocks and having no shelter from the elements had been my routine. This was something else. Velvet pillows covering two benches that could easily have sat four grown men on each side, freshly prepared food for the journey, and a nearly unlimited supply of alcohol. I should have probably been more careful, but Jordan was such an easy person to talk to. We spoke mostly about politics and war, the two subjects that I understood all too well. He never interrogated me for personal information, he simply allowed me to carry the conversation wherever I desired it to go. I did try and find out more about him, but he was very deft at deflecting from his own past. It went on like this for days and I felt as though I had missed my opportunity to bring up the fact that he could summon burning chains from the Nine Hells. I know nothing about him, but I am piecing things together during our journey. My mind is always working that way. I need challenges to hold my focus, lest I turn that perception upon myself and drift into the abyss of sorrow. A warrior’s most dangerous weapon is his mind.

Sadly, I think Jordan’s story is not unique. Desperation comes to every man at some point. I see myself reflected in his eyes. He believed in something as I did. And when evidence of its corruption was revealed to him, he didn’t search his own soul, he found comfort in another system of faith. Good and evil. So simple and simultaneously so ridiculous. I have seen dying men on the field of battle cry out for aid and many of them would have been willing to take it from anyone or anything. The instinct for survival is a powerful one and some men are willing to do anything to hang on to life. They tell themselves that they can make a difference, that they will change, that they will be better...if only they are given one more chance. Oftentimes this is not the case. It is difficult for many men to rise above their own nature. I, myself, am a product of violence. I have been given advantages, but important things were taken from me. Am I condemned to remain in a perpetual state of conflict? Perhaps. But now, I feel as though I have free will. I can choose my path and I would like to see a different world. We all deserve better, especially Jordan.

The wine makes me melodramatic. This is why I avoid drinking. In fact, I had been so engrossed in my own thoughts and with Jordan, that I hadn’t even registered the cry of alarm coming from the driver.

“Uhh-sssirs-you best come out here.” The fear was palpable.

Jordan put his wine glass down and apologized to me before exiting the coach. I was a bit more cautious, opening my carriage door and looking out. Floating above the road in front of us was a darkly robed figure with an outstretched skeletal hand. I could not see its face, but two red glowing eyes stared back at us. This seemed fairly normal to Jordan, which was a bit disconcerting. As Jordan approached the figure, he began to speak Infernal. How is it that I could know this you ask? Well, I have participated in wars on and off Oerth and was trained by a wide range of individuals. In order to survive in any conflict, you need accurate intelligence. If you don’t know what people are saying, that becomes quite difficult.

The entire scene was too convenient for me. If I were arranging an ambush, this is almost exactly how I would do it. That is when I noticed it. The creaking of the front wheel and the soft footsteps on top of the carriage. So I did what any reasonable person would do, I lit up a cigar and took a deep breath, making my adversary believe that he had the advantage. That was until I flicked it out the window and it exploded into a cloud of golden dust. The invisible enemy was nicely outlined for me and as I had no idea what or who he was, I wanted to question him. Three poisoned-tipped arrows to the chest took care of that. He fell unconscious almost instantly and tumbled off the side of the carriage. I really have to thank Gengi personally for the quality of his ingredients. No one does Drow poison like that man. I wonder if he will be amenable to joining my plight in the future...I should really ask him when I get back to Greyhawk.

Unfortunately the fall seemed to stir the now visible man. He had an exotic sword slung over his back and a brand of three overlapping triangles burnt into the flesh of his arm. That wasn’t really what caught my attention. Three women clad in strange clothing materialized above the ground where they remained suspended as if they were resting on solid ground. One had bandages covered in magical runes around her eyes, one around her mouth, and the third around her ears. A giant with similar garb stood imposingly in front of them to block access to the trio as they wove spells to confuse us. The distraction of their arrival gave my opponent long enough to recover and activate the magic of his sword, which wreathed him in flame. He was unprepared for what I was capable of and I quickly disarmed him, and sent his magical blade hurling away as I pummeled him into the ground. Jordan, meanwhile, attempted to deal with the giant and the three sisters. He fared less well after being blinded and thrown through his own carriage. What was remarkable was that those magical chains he summoned before wove around him to protect him, creating makeshift armor and a shield. The blade he summoned also seemed otherworldly and it was unclear who was in control at times...the sword or him. In any event, the battle did not last as the enemy was unprepared to deal with our counter assault. It was unclear if they were after the case or on a mission of revenge against Jordan. I lit up another cigar and watched the armored man extract himself from the ruins of his carriage.

“Need any help,” I asked with a hint of sarcasm.

Jordan was not amused. I think he took the vow of protection quite seriously and rightly concluded that it was me who saved him and not the other way around. This made his tone take on an edge.

“Were they after you, Treig? What are you carrying?” It was unclear if Jordan was demanding or asking.

“As I said before, I don’t know. Something to do with the events that had transpired in Greyhawk. Are you sure they are not after you?”

“All my enemies are dead,” Jordan responded.

I did not press any further, but redirected Jordan to the task at hand. Getting to Diamond Lake. The loss of the carriage was of no concern to the hellish knight. He summoned a fiendish steed and we were on our way. I asked that he remained on the road, while I scouted from the cover of the adjacent forest. We were a day’s march from the village when we spotted a wagon headed our way. It was filled with an odd assortment of junk, but one thing caught our eye. A sign that looked fairly worn and battered read “Emporium.” Jordan stopped the driver.

“Yes, m’lord,” the villager stammered.

“What has happened,” Jordan asked.

“A dragon m’lord. A great black dragon attacked our village. Best not go that way,” he stated.

“What of the man they call Allustan,” Jordan inquired.

“He fought valiantly, but alas, he fell like so many others,” the villager replied.

Jordan was a noble. Of that I have no doubt. Likely born into privilege and groomed from a young age to ascend to a position of leadership most men would kill for. He was schooled in dictation and etiquette. I am sure that he knew at least fifteen different ways to say the word “no.” Expressing himself did not seem to be a problem for Jordan. His response, more than the news of current events, left even me speechless. All he said was “f**k.”
 

Journal of Jordan Cranden II - Entry I

How can I explain what it feels like to know that you might find answers. How can I communicate the passion, the rage, and at the same time, the hollowness and the trepidation. After centuries of searching, perhaps I have finally reached the point of lucidity.

Fate...such a cruel mistress.

I had made contact with Elgios a while back. He was a wizard of some repute - learned, scholarly, and powerful, if a tad young. But then, my frame of reference is an unfair lens. Elgios was just the sort of man that might be able to help me.

Of course, he needed to be alive to do that. His untimely death robbed the both of us. Inconvenient as it was, this temporary hurdle was just that. I could not escape the conclusion that the timing of his end could very possibly be connected to recent events - especially if his investigation led where it very well might.

I was unsuccessful in convincing the constable to share his evidence but one of the soldiers had let slip that Elgios’s last known contact was with a man named Treig. Perhaps I was out of practice - normally such a trivial clue was merely the first among many ‘secrets’ I could elicit. Alas, at least I was able to locate the contact. Apparently he was the owner of a hostel in the Slums, The Fox & The Hound.

Normally I’d send a messenger. Why didn’t I just send a messenger? I know why. But I try to suppress it, deny it, deny its hold over me. She was my love, my drug, my addiction. I could not leave this to a mere messenger.

Two men, a human and a half orc, waited in the antechamber when I arrived. No one was at the counter. The two seemed to be holding a private conversation. I rang the bell on the front desk. I really was addicted - me waiting for...just waiting in the first place. The half-orc eventually broke his conversation with the human and walked around. I was anxious but could suppress the sense of urgency easily enough - after all, what’s minutes compared to centuries.

In rough speech typical of the orcish accent: “Need a room?”

“Actually I’m looking for the owner of this establishment. I was told to ask for Treig.”

Again with the guttural accent: “He’s indisposed at the moment.”

I felt like expressing my annoyance in Infernal to really nail the point home...maybe with my sword through this creature’s thick skull. But then, of course, Treig would never get my message, or at least not the one I intended.

A constant reminder: I was not that man from long ago. People no longer jumped for me. I suppose this is what I wanted though. More honest...if utterly obnoxious.

“Please pass along a message.”

I left a few copper and my token, an iron disc intentionally rusted with the image of a burning sun with a broken crown, the crown polished smooth and black. My take on both the kingdom of Aerdy as well as the Knights of the Order. Not many of today’s day and age would pick up on the reference.

I turned to leave and noticed scratching at the door. There were strays in the area. I didn’t pay it much mind. With the undead plague set off in the Arena not but a day ago, undead were a possibility, but there should have been cries of alarm if that were the case. Besides, undead, were the least of my worries.

I didn’t have time for distractions, I had to establish Elgios’s other potential contacts and who else knew of these Worms. Who or what summoned them in the first place? That they were related to the illness Natasha and I contracted was incontrovertible. Yet there were also differences. By all reports, the transitions that took months for us were taking but minutes for the poor citizens of Greyhawk. I’m not one for sentiment, but I know. Oh how I know.

I pushed through the door designated for ingress not blocked by whatever canine was wasting its time at this shack and...

Well, there’s no other way to put this. I was blasted in the face with an orb of tar. Ok, the legs, but the face really does have a more dramatic flare. The material was stickier than a devil’s web of lies.

In the interest of full disclosure, it took profound effort to not summon Beherit, teleport to the sniveling mage, and end his very existence. But to draw that kind of attention, in the middle of the free city no less...hell, I’d have every inquisitor hunting me from here to the Golden Sea - I don’t mean to invoke the Nine Hells...who am I kidding, yes I do.

Then I noticed the dog. Not really a dog actually, a shadow mastiff. I had only heard of such creatures. It was barring the other door. Intelligent bugger. So this ‘trap’ - was this meant for me? It was almost comical.

But no. The other man in the antechamber. Quicker than thought he had engaged the mage and completely incapacitated him. He had the skills of an assassin, one that could go where most men couldn’t. This man was a killer. You might say I felt an instant kinship with him - someone who dismissed the fictions so many cling to.

But then the dog attacked. Without thought, I summoned the chains of Mephistopheles. Why? Clearly this man believed the mage and his mutt weren’t after me, but him. I owed this man nothing. Was it all for an answer? Was it that old knight in me, buried so long ago. Was it curiosity? Maybe it was pure vindictiveness. I cannot say.

The chains impaled the beast and ripped it away from the man. I summoned more. Out from hell they erupted, constricting the beast, pinning it, suffocating it. That sick pleasure washed over me. Sometimes it was hard to know where Beherit began and I ended. I could feel his will, urging me to summon him. I could feel his hunger, to feast on yet another soul. How many had he consumed over the years...over the decades...over the centuries. Even resisting his influence it had to be hundreds. Inside this hostel, my exposure was thankfully limited. Rumors would spread, I knew. I had traveled this road before. No good deed goes unpunished after all. But I could stifle this.

But then a third party showed. He was the one who summoned utter darkness. Not before a slight nod to me, though. Perhaps he could feel the strength of the one who owned me. Perhaps not. The shadow mastiff evaporated and all three were gone by the time the tar lost its adhesiveness and I left the darkness.

The man with the eye patch was indeed the owner - this Treig character. He was forthcoming enough. He’d briefly met with Elgios. He was vague with the details but I hadn’t expected much to begin with. The fact that he had such skill made him somewhat interesting to me. I offered him my protection for information. Honestly I didn’t think he much needed protection, but I could legitimately aid him, even if it was just with resources. Surprisingly, he agreed without bargaining or interrogation. He ignored my chains - in every sense of that word. I ignored his techniques. He explained that he had a delivery to make to Diamond Lake and a mage there would likely have additional information. That nugget alone was worth all my efforts - all my efforts and then some. I escorted him to my residence and after arranging my carriage and supplies for the two of us, we were off. It was night but I intended to waste no time.

For a man of his caliber, he was pleasantly conversive. I knew better than to pry and subtlety steered the conversation to more neutral topics. Treig was a student of history- at least in so far as history was related to violent conflicts. Of course, violent conflict pretty much defines history, so we were like a couple of old friends at a reunion. I had to be careful with the degree of intimate knowledge I shared with this man. What impressed me - even more than his skills as an assassin - was his ability to intuit motive from the history of war. Treig indeed knew the way the world really worked.

On the fourth day of our trip, our conversation was quite rudely interrupted. The driver was clearly terrified by the way he called for me and the fact that he halted the coach in spite of my instruction.

A wraith-like fiend hovered in front of the path just beyond the coach with its palm outstretched in clear instruction. Was this a messenger? I couldn’t ignore this. It may be related to Treig and his delivery, but the extraplanar - albeit outerplanar - character of this entity made me question.

“What do you want?” I asked in quite impolite Infernal.

It didn’t respond. I waited for a moment, then asked again. My investigative mind itched- was this magic? An illusion perhaps? I backed up while not breaking eye contact with whatever this was. I instructed the coach to back the carriage up, turn it around, and flee figuring the footman would toss my bag out as they fled. Whether this turned violent or not - whether because a minion would make a demand or this was an elaborate trap, there was no reason to involve the servants. Besides, the fewer witnesses the better - I’d prefer not to eliminate innocent bystanders.

Again, Treig proved his skill. He had lit up a cigar from the stash he had stowed and upon blowing the embers they expanded into a cloud of golden dust which proceeded to outline an invisible creature atop the carriage. Useful that. Faster than I could blink he had flipped atop the roof and fired off several bolts from a concealed crossbow at the figure. A Suelese man materialized - unconscious- and crashed to the ground below. At virtually the same moment I heard harmonic chanting from the nearby treeline and a group of three women appeared. But these were no ordinary spellcasters. These were Yuen’s witches! I knew of the Suel Prince. It had been many years since I last visited Suel, but I kept tabs on their royal line - they had much tighter control over their kingdom than did my own ancestors over Aerdy. I actually rather admired the emperor. But his progeny were all political intrigue vying for their father’s mein. Too reminiscent of the Rauxes. The witches - and their identity could not be doubted, were marked, each lacking a means of communication. One had no eyes, one no ears, and one no tongue. They had runed bandages masking their mutilation but Yuen’s signature was overtly obvious. They acted as one - each member performing a different component of the spell. At first they attempted to muddle our minds. Failing that they robbed me of my vision. No matter. I could feel their taint.

Their pet giant was another matter.

In perfect Suelese, I threatened: “Go back to Yuen and tell the sniveling prince that he has no dominion here. Tell him his prey was elusive. If you do not, you will all die.”

I hadn’t realized it, but the last bit I had unintentionally said in Infernal. Regardless, they seemed to understand but dismiss the threat.

The servants had not yet fled - it was slow and difficult to reverse a carriage. But between the witches, the giant, and whatever it was that Treig was engaged with, I could not afford to remain unprotected for any longer. I summoned...the Devil.

As part of my pact, I was ‘gifted’ a shield, a suit of armor, and Beherit. When I summon the Devil, metallic chains doused in brimstone erupt from the depths of the Nine Hells and bond to me. They articulate and interconnect forming my armor and shield. Then Beherit appears. No appears is the wrong word. It’s as if he is drawn from a mortal wound in reality itself. The whole process is itself is an act of violence.

I was the Devil.

I reiterated to the driver to leave now. That mercy would have consequences. No good deed goes unpunished. My determination, my will, my rage - I unleashed them like a wave. I called upon the foul power that now fueled me. The fear and despair were so great that the giant stopped in his tracks. The witches seemed unaffected. Of course! I should have anticipated that Yuen’s concubines would have experienced a fate at least akin to my own. Fear had no hold over the likes of us - who laughed at such frivolities.

The blindness proved troublesome. Even in the giant’s fear, it was still able to easily grab me and launch me into my own fleeing carriage. First my clothes. Now my carriage. With a grin only the sadistic could sprout, I exited the ruins of my carriage’s cabin. I had not enjoyed killing for a very long time. I would enjoy feeding Beherit this day. Beherit thirsted. It needed.

But Yuen’s squad opted for retreat. The hovering witches were atop a flying carpet. The giant and the man Treig had been handling all jumped aboard and the squad flew away at top speed. I only caught sight of them as they crested the treeline. Then they were gone.

I looked over at Treig. He seemed uninjured. My armor had largely protected me. The carriage was gone, but I had called my steed a few days ago and mentally instructed it to make its presence known. We were about to enter a more heavily wooded area and Treig wished to scout ahead. So instead of my protection, I was now in this man's debt - twice over. I was intent on banishing my equipment but Beherit had other ideas. He had felt the murder in me. With much effort I was finally able to dismiss him. He didn’t like it.

We made camp for the night deep into the wooded terrain. I asked Treig about Suel, but he was vague again. There was something about the whole thing that felt wrong. Was this group connected to the first? I assumed they were after Treig, but maybe not. The witches... Natasha was a witch. Was there some connection? It seemed odd after all these years. And from Suel no less. While I knew of Yuen, I highly doubted he knew anything of me - or would even care to know in the first place. But that just made the whole encounter that much more bizarre. And then, they fled. We were outnumbered and they had the upper hand. Why? Why would they flee.

These were my thoughts when we ran into a farmer, driving a cart of junk down the road. I caught sight of what appeared to be a scorched - or, no, a decayed? - sign post. I asked the peasant about Diamond Lake and he explained the town had recently been attacked...by a black dragon!

After years of boredom, death, mayhem, and destruction, in only a matter of days, I somehow appeared to be getting closer to the middle of it all. My cynicism grew:

“What about Allustan,” I inquired.

The peasant droned on about the mage’s heroism and then actually answered me: dead. I’d normally be more eloquent, but only one word could come to me:

“F**k,” I heard myself say - and not even in Infernal.
 

Gray Fox Journal: Diamond Lake

It didn’t take us long to reach Diamond Lake, or more precisely, what was left of it. The dragon was almost surgical in its destruction, not the work of a mindless beast. Still, the real victims in these types of conflicts were always the same: the villagers. I could see them shuffling about as the Garrison attempted to demonstrate the facade of certainty. But even these trained soldiers looked lost. And why shouldn’t they be? A single creature had rendered their carefully trained security force impotent in a single day. What would the citizenry think? This dragon had done more than level a few buildings, it had shaken this town’s faith in its Institutions. The damage would take much longer to repair.

Jordan and I must have had an air about us, because we were confronted by an especially gaunt and frightened-looking soldier by the name of Leif. It isn’t often that I am contacted so openly by my employers, but the hysteria around us was probably sufficient to shield our conversation.

“Sir, I am sent by Elgios to inform you that there is a change in plans,” he said to us. “I was told that men fitting your description would arrive today and that I was to escort you to the Whispering Cairn to deliver the package to Allustan’s apprentice, Egan.”

I stared intently at the the man as I spoke. “Where is Allustan,” I asked. I was wrong in my initial assessment of Leif. He was pale and he appeared nervous, but he was not afraid. I know what fear looks like and he didn’t have it.

“He is dead sir,” Leif replied. “Crushed by a collapsing building.”

“Then show me the body,” I responded.

I noticed that Jordan was not paying attention to what we were saying, but he was fixated on this man and something nearby.

“The Garrison is trying to clear the debris, but it will take time.”

“Jordan, could you keep our friend company while I determine our course of action,” I asked. When you lose your way, go back to the beginning. The man nodded and began his distraction.

Meanwhile, I contacted Councilman Chozik to get some answers. I wished the Sending Stone went directly to Elgios, but alas he was not the one who was employing me. The politician was as useful as I thought he might be. He suggested that I make contact with Allustan’s apprentice to give him the case and see if there were any artifacts of note in the Cairn that could be recovered. I reported that the Mines were completely intact, but that the Smelting House had been damaged in the attack. In hindsight, I wished I had kept that portion of the assessment to myself because Chozik wanted a detailed report.

As I came back to the group, I noticed something curious. Jordan had placed his hand upon Leif’s shoulder, a pale blue light suffusing the man’s body. The soldier jumped a bit.

“I am well sir,” he stammered.

“Of that, I am not certain,” Jordan stated. “Lead us to where you believe Allustan’s body to be.”

Leif nodded and the three of us began our trek through the devastation. The streets were all but deserted in this section of Diamond Lake and that is why it became so obvious that it was Jordan who was leading us and not Leif. I had pondered questioning the man, but decided against it. The nobleman weaved his way through the alleyways and the rubble until finally we came upon a larger building. I was about to ask where he was taking us when the wall we were facing exploded outward, revealing a floating ghostly apparition. Debris swirled about it as it wailed in agony. Looking around, I seemed to be the only person concerned about these turn of events. Jordan was not. He strode over to the spectre and rolled up the sleeve of his silken shirt to reveal an elaborate tattoo of a chain wrapped around his forearm. It glowed an unearthly red as he raised his palm towards the creature and spoke in Infernal again. The spectre’s outward pain subsided and the debris swirling about it hovered, motionless. It followed Jordan like a docile pet. Strange, but useful.

Not wanting to be in the village much longer, I asked Leif to lead us to the Smelting House.

“It is very dangerous sir. The fire has come alive.”

Perfect.

Leif was right. We came upon a hellish scene. The Garrison had created a fire-line in an attempt to save the surrounding buildings from the conflagration. Near the shore of the lake, an elven woman was weaving magic to divert the effluent from the water. It seemed to be taking all of her concentration to save that polluted ecosystem from any further trauma. But that wasn’t the worst part. A roiling mass of pitch was devouring members of the Garrison as they fought the blaze. It dissolved soldiers with a touch, growing larger as it consumed them. I was going to suggest a strategy, but Jordan had plans of his own. He and his poltergeist made quick work of the ooze without sustaining any visible injury. Impressive.
________________________

Diamond Lake disappeared behind us as we climbed the slope towards the Cairn. The smoky, acrid air that clung to the village was washed away by the elevation. Although I was happy to leave the smoldering ruins behind, what we found was not all that much more inviting. Near a small copse of trees, a crater had been formed by the body of a black dragon. It had clearly fell from a great height judging by the impact. Around the the fallen creature were a group of chanting black-scaled kobolds. The ones performing the ritual were being guarded by more heavily armed members of their tribe. I acted without thought; the Transcendent Order would have been proud.

I closed the distance with the nearest guard, wrapping him up with my arm while I unslung the crossbow from my belt and emptied the contents into one of the nearby shamans. The poison took effect quickly, constricting his muscles and stifling his ability to speak. This ended the ritual and allowed Jordan and his new friend to systematically butcher the remaining enemy force. I kept one of alive for interrogation, but not before he could signal his companions with a magical flare. What surprised me the most was Leif’s recklessness during the battle. The enigma became clear to me once the conflict had ended. The ghostly apparition of Allustan emerged from the possessed soldier and disintegrated the body of Ithane. Leif finally seemed like himself, awaking from a long slumber. It was a tragedy that he became self-aware moments before Jordan cut him down. I trust every man, just not the devil inside them. Jordan truly was alone. Whomever he had made his bargain with had all but ensured it.

Attempting to remain calm in the midst of the madness, I tried to make good on my word. “Allustan, I have a package from your companion Elgios. May I leave it with you?”

The ghost looked almost confused for a moment, straining to cling to a life he had lost. “No. My time is at an end. Bring it to Egan. He is at the Cairn.”

I nodded and looked over to Jordan. He was wrestling for control of himself. “Whenever you make it back Jordan, we have to leave. They have signaled for reinforcements and our position is compromised.” He knew what followed, I didn’t need to say it aloud. I wonder if he was hoping for death, instead of dealing with the choices he made. I let him stare at the boy’s body for far too long before we left.
 

Journal of Etona - 20

“Do you see it?” I call.

“You were correct: here in about an hour,” she replies from the top of the Cairn hill. A solid bank of dark blue clouds flaring with lightning is approaching from the mountains.

From where Seraph lives.

Has it come to collect whatever soul the dragon possessed?

Rey comes back down the hill wearing an expression I had not seen before. It is alarming.

“We will be drenched,” she continues. “If there is anything like a trail, it will be lost.” Worry makes her voice crack. “But I think I saw it, where she came down.”

I am still not clear on all the little creases and folds of her relationship with Seraph, so I ask something probably pretty stupid.

“Do you want to find her … alive?”

Rey stares at me.

“Yes,” she states hardly believing my question. But her eyes widen as she understands. I had helped her kill a dragon. I would lend my effort to that cause again, if she wished. And perhaps it is what I want to do now….

I squeeze her hand. “Then we’d better hurry,” I say.

She takes off with Rishkar in tow, but I tarry to locate Egan.

“Are you coming?” I ask him.

“Nay, lass, eh, if ye don’t mind. I think I need ta stay here and make sure the Cairn doesna’ go anywhere.”

“You have enslaved yourself for some powers again, I see.” He smiles sheepishly so I continue. “I would speak with you about this when we return.” He shrugs. Infuriating boy.

***

The wind pushes us along. Whatever awaited us will have us scented. Though perhaps not: I smell [eclai’ir. The Common word for it is a funny one I cannot remember, something with z’s. ‘Ozum’ or something like it. They both mean lightning-burned air.

There is something else in the wind as well, an acrid scent, burning not from heat but more like the fumes of Diamond Lake refinery. It is chemical like the lab in Seraph’s lair.

I hear something even through the gale and alert Rey but she has also already caught it: faint sound ahead coming from where we are going, which is toward a naturally-occurring basin made deeper by something recent and unnatural. The sounds are voices and, too, the ground physically bubbling. Something like heat shimmers the air.

“It is Ithane,” Rishkar says. “She was here. This is her scent. I also smell k’sheek es’serast.” 'Mistress Seraph' in his Draconic tongue.

A ring of this nasty soup the ground has become forms the perimeter of the basin. As we watch a moment, getting our bearings on the scene, it seems to be growing, moving slowly towards a rocky middle on which we see a humanoid form, very tall and very blue. It is certainly not a dragon nor even anything like its kin, but details are hard to make out because a whitish smoke swirls in the breeze.

We see the owners of the voices: more kobolds peering over a ridge on the far side.

Rey runs heedlessly down into the basin. So this is how she must feel most of the time, I think as I watch her retreating form, no plan, no fear, no thought. I run down after her firing volley after volley at the glaring kobolds. I try to hit the rocks around them, freezing and exploding them in equal measure. Killing them might provoke anger. Scaring will provoke fleeing.

“We have slain a dragon today: your mistress is dead. Will you join her?” I yell.

No response from them. Rey catches my eye. I glance at her face which has assumed a ‘What are you doing?’ look. ‘What?’ I mouth back.

She cries out something in Draconic.

Oh. They don’t speak Common. Right.

But they also seem unimpressed at Rey’s words as well which are halting: she doesn’t like to raise it, I know, and her Draconic is not exactly theirs. Fortunately our weapons and Rishkar’s bolts make our case for us, and they withdraw.

We arrive at the figure who is just getting to her feet with obvious pain in front of us.

She is unearthly, supernatural. Over seven feet tall, her height seems correct for her, not freakish and not an illusion. Her skin is pale blue like the waters of a shallow shore. Her eyes are solid cobalt, glowing beneath unruly, raven-black tresses. Her lips are dark blue. She should be resplendent in her shimmering blue-silver metals that appear to be woven rather than linked by chain, but they are torn and melted, and dark red blood seeps through the gashes.

She has horns. It should have been the first thing I noticed, but her presence is so commanding – even limping and grimacing – that this detail takes a moment to register. The horn that is still whole is curled, aquamarine, blending into midnight as it retreats under her mad hair. The other is broken, leaking more blood.

She walks on obviously fractured legs to Rey, utterly ignoring Rishkar and me, her mighty pride not allowing any other course of action. Yes, this is definitely Seraph.

She says something to her in the dragon-tongue. Later, Rey would relate the entire conversation so I will notate it here.

“She is dead?” Seraph asked. Rey nodded. “She was weak, not merely weak-minded – the acid-spitters are all insane – but physically weaker than she should have been. It is why I am still alive.” She spat this last out as if it angered her to admit it. “You killed her?”

Rey nodded again and added, “With help from my friends.”

“Mmm. You again,” she said to me though I did not the words. “Little Moon Girl.” She turned to Rishkar. “What of you?” she demanded. “What marks of yours are left on Ithane’s body?”

“Fire and frost, mistress,” he said, presenting his icy blade and bowing low to her. She nodded and was about to say something more but then coughed violently. Dark red blood hit the ground. It had metallic flakes in it.


“Mistress!” Rey said and stepped forward. I also started but she stopped both of us with a hand and switched to Common.

“Yes, yes,” she berates us, waving off her pain. “Attend! I have three tasks for you. We complete the first now. I cannot get to my lair in this condition so you will take me into the Cairn, somewhere I can sleep in peace for some time.”

“Rishkar,” Rey commands after thinking a moment, “you can fashion your hovering disk into a proper throne, can you not?” The serpent man bows again and summons the disk. It shimmers in the shape of a large reclining chair such as I had seen in Greyhawk and also in the Fey city I traveled to years ago. She forces herself onto it in a quick, graceful motion, huffing in pain just a single time. Then she settles, satisfied as it rises up again, queen of all she surveys.

As Rey and Rishkar move slowly back to the Cairn, I act as scout and ward, harrying those kobolds drawing too close. They are still out there, packs of them. We have been hearing summoning blasts from makeshift trumpets for the past hour, but we do eventually make it to the Cairn.

Egan is nowhere to be seen, but with the obvious activity outside I am sure he has retreated within. I stay just above the cave entrance – where Ithane had draped herself, incidentally – and watch. And wait.

They come, dozens, maybe scores in number. They are far from the entrance, but they do not know Angivre’s reach. I show them.

I make to show them, that is, but the Silver does not come.

“Why?” I whisper.

I run back to the others.

“They are gathering outside,” I tell them “but they are not ready to push forward. They seem to be waiting for something.”

We descend to the room where we had found Egan’s poor sister, dead on a dais meant as a bed to a demigod. The place has been considerably cleaned. In fact, the entire Cairn has been built out, lit, swept and made habitable, but it was still underground to me so I focused on my breathing. Rey needs me now.

Speaking again in Draconic, Rey related Seraph and her own words to me later.

“One task complete,” Seraph had purred as the floating throne pulled up alongside her place of rest. “Very good. This is suitable. You have not failed me. You must not fail me.”

“I will not, mistress.” Rey was all but shaking.

“Yes. Well, it is time to reveal some secrets before my other tasks. You should know your father was one of my servants.” At Rey’s surprise, she’d continued, “Surely you did not believe you all lived in my shadow for so long with my having no knowledge of it? And he none of me?”

She had wondered that but had dismissed it. Faerellan, her father, had been a skilled ranger. Her more domestic mother, Emily, and little brother, Sanka, (e’isk in Elven, based on the word for pine needle) never strayed very far from home, so Rey had assumed that their little family had never been noticed. He had never said anything about a dragon.

There had been a rich blue in several places around the house, a difficult color to make, particularly that shade. Where had it been? In clothing? Pictures? She couldn’t remember.

“I knew him well,” Seraph continued. “He was unexpectedly useful to me.” She regarded Rey for a time. There was silence in the chamber. Then she said quietly: “Close, even.”

“He never mentioned….” Rey started.

“Very close,” she overrode Rey.


She utters one last word, in Common.

“… daughter.”

Rishkar hisses, his tiny eyes as wide as I have ever seen them.

“Rey?” I say but she cannot hear me. Her shock has frozen her.

What about a daughter? Do we need to save or kill or have tea with Seraph’s daughter somewhere?

But no, that was not it at all, of course. The reality is unreal.

It had bizarrely all fit, Rey would tell me later when we talked about it: her human ‘mother’ never very close to her, even a little afraid of her, as was her ‘brother’. They had always behaved like favored servants to her father. Not kin at all.

And it explained all those other curiosities: her own body; her mind and how it worked; her natural grace; her strength which exceeded even her own father’s when she’d had but her dozen years behind her.

And of course the dragon mark. The magic she wielded without memorizing thick tomes, without a bargaining with a supernatural patron. Without a goddess to watch over her.

“Daughter? Rey? Do we need to find–,” I begin but she raised a hand at me. She faces me and all I see is lost. I want to go to her but it is not my time: this doesn’t involve me. I nod once and she returns it. Later, we have just agreed.

She faces Seraph again.

“Mother,” she says.

Daughter.

Rey –

Rey is her daughter??

Seraph chuckles. It sounds like wasps in a paper hive. “Mother. You acknowledge it quickly, my daughter. You were always decisive. It is why you succeed.”

My attention is riveted to Rey’s face. It is somehow right, says her expression. Alien, horrifying, exhilarating, but correct.

She is a dragon’s daughter.

She doesn’t look like a dragon. Not at all. She never has. She’s not a dragon.

“Why are you telling me this now?” Rey continues.

“It is time. You must carry out my two remaining tasks.”

“I must protect you,” Rey replies.

Seraph laughs until coughing again.

“That would be a waste. No. You must find the monster that infected Ithane and kill it. I have reason to believe it is also a dragon or assumes our form. Whatever it is has been tainting the lands for hundreds of miles in every direction. It is subtle, something that only we may sense, though perhaps elders among both of your peoples,” she nods at Rishkar and Etona, “have also noticed. You must bring this thing’s end.”

“I will,” Rey says pounding the butt of her spear on the ground. “What is the third task?”

Seraph closes her eyes. The air stirs. Something is happening. “You must slough off that human shell.”

“What do you mean?”

“This.”

Flare. White. Impossibly white. From … eyes? I hear a roar, a Seraph-as-dragon roar, and Rey cries out just as I am pushed off my feet away from them. Squinting through slitted fingers, I see Seraph has once again become dragon and is consuming Rey! But I can see Rey and Seraph is … what am I seeing? She has Rey’s forearms. She is still humanoid but the dragon is an ethereal image superimposed on the top. Humanoid Seraph has her jaws clamped down on the back of … her daughter’s … neck. Rey is on her knees, back arched, electricity flowing out of her mark, out from between Seraph’s teeth. It chases me yet further away.

Through pulses of current, I watch Rey’s body change: skin parts, bones move, muscles stretch. She is crying out, an unending bellow of pain. Stop! Stop! I yell, perhaps, I don’t know.

The woven armor during this torture slithers onto Rey. Its metal fangs bite into her at several points.

Finally Seraph releases her, quivering, to the ground. She wipes her mouth, smiles, and rolls back on her throne. I think she passes out.

I at Rey’s side in an instant. Her skin is very hot, hair singed. I can smell burning stone, roasted hide and even flesh. Her pulse is shallow and fast. O Silver Mistress what can I do? But she comes to suddenly, looking all around. She recognizes me after a wild moment and grips my hand.

“I’m here,” I say.

She sees Seraph, a collapsed heap that had rolled onto the Wind Dukes’ architect’s bed.

“Mistress? Mother? Mother!”

Seraph slowly, deliberately, blinks. Her lips are moving; Rey bends down to hear.

“I will, I will,” Rey says to her.

Seraph’s breathing slows to almost nothing.

“Okefsklur. Dragonsleep,” says Rishkar. He looks at Rey. “She regenerates.”

“What did she say?” I ask a moment later.

“’Daughter, whatever happens, return.’ I will, mother. I will.”

***

She has gently shaken me off. She wants to be alone, but she is also blazing with the task she has been presented with, so I give her space. I watch her as we return to the stairs. She is off-balance, but not from weakness. She is–.

Is she …?

She is taller. Is that right?

Yes. She is distinctly two inches or so taller.

Also, when she blinks there is something there that wasn’t before. An extra, slight movement under her eyelids. Because I am her subtle and tactful friend, I point it out of course. Imbecile. As if she hadn’t enough to worry about, had not had her entire world tossed out for this new one, and here I am with my little observations. No wonder she is keeping her distance. I do manage to not blurt out something else I notice, so faint that I didn’t think it real at first but I do now: her skin is tinged blue. It is not uniform: some kind of marbled pattern. I wonder if it is a pattern of some kind. It is very faint and is probably not even noticeable to most people, but now that I see it, it is obvious to me.

Her scent has changed subtly, too, though that might be the eclai’ir.

What do I do with a transformed friend becoming physically more like her maleficent mother?

***

When we get back to the surface of the cave, there is a kobold, black-scaled – one of Ithane’s – bound and muttering to itself. Egan has apparently captured it, but where is he?

The creature is huddled by the tall, round, standing ring of stone that has rested on its stone platform for who knows how many centuries. It had always looked to me like a raw and oversized version of a human waystone, quite dead. But that was before. It is active now.

I had never seen one working, but I read about them in a Fey library where there were also drawings and paintings. They could be almost any color. This one ripples with black liquid filling the ring, impossibly held upright by whatever magic is carved into the now-glowing runes all around.

We creep towards it until we finally spot a human man, but it is not Egan.

Swarthy, grizzled, wearing worn clothes, weapons and an eye patch on the left eye, he looks right at me. He should not have spotted me. He was putting a backpack together, I think, when he did. He does not seem surprised and doesn’t go for his blade.

“Who are you?” I ask.

“Trieg.”

“From Greyhawk?”

He laughs. “Yes, I suppose. Also from Greyhawk. As are you, I guess, at least recently. You’re Etona. And you’re Rey, and you, Master Rishkar from the southern swamp.”

“Why are you here?”

“Need to meet a young wizard.”

“Why?”

He eyes Angivre as I loose her and bring her into my hands. “I have a package for him.”

“Is he expecting it?”

He smiles. It would be charming in other circumstances. “I don’t really know. But I have to get it to him. It’s from Alastar.” He stands and raises his arms in a friendly gesture.

“So you are a courier and nothing else?”

“Simple courier today, yes. But everyone is something else.”

A growing racket outside has been tugging at my attention. Rey doesn’t seem overly concerned by this man and so heads in that direction. I turn to follow, just for a peek outside and perhaps a breath of fresh air, if it can be managed, but when I turn back to throw a last check on Trigg-er, no ... the courier, I see him striding into the black like he was heading to his bedroom. Something churning on the surface of the waypoint, but a blast of sound from the cave entrance pulls me away running.

***

A revenge army is here, I gather, to take Seraph. Led by a dragonkin in heavy armor, quite a lot of kobolds have assembled – certainly more than we can handle. Rey looks worried and not for herself. I place a hand lightly on her shoulder, expecting it to be shaken off, but she rests her own hand over mine. It is still hot. She looks back at me. Her expression says it all.

“They will gain these tunnels dearly, Rey,” I say. “But we could use need reinforcements. Is there way to get word–.”

They come out of the blue, flashing clouds, out of the wind. Dozens of them. Golden eagle heads on humanoid bird bodies. As they arrive, lightning begins touching down all around the Cairn, bolt after bolt.

Ithane’s lieutenant – the dragon kin who would normally be an impressive figure – is attempting to valiantly lead his troops into battle, but the wind is knocking him on his tail. And really, trying to do anything valiantly with kobolds is a wasted effort. After a few moments, the entire assemblage largely retreats.

A trio of the bird-men land directly in front of us. They nod to Rey who returns the gesture.

“We are here to safeguard our Mistress,” one of them chirrups.

“Then we will help,” I say and draw back the Silver. Only it fails to appear. Again.

Suddenly I cannot get enough air.

“What is it?” I ask her, stroking her along her curve. “Should I not be here? Should I not be protecting?” Angivre has never spoken to me before and does not deign to do so now.

“I must meditate,” I announce to Rey and stride quickly off into an alcove.

“What? Now?” I hear her outraged demand behind me.

I settle down where we found Egan’s sister’s sleeping bag and reach out my thoughts. I am vaguely aware of Rey kneeling down next to me, but she doesn’t say anything.

Memories, emotions, sounds of my body slowing; these I pass through. When She comes to me, it is sudden, I am energized, my skin tingles, my spine arches. I feel Her cold fire in my blood.

A game piece appears in the darkness behind my eyelids, one such as used by elves of the Fey to play one of their myriad games. This one emanates mists and lightning but it does not represent Rey: I feel sure it is Egan. It moves into a shadowy part of the board I cannot make out.

I am Angivre firing an arrow after him, not to strike but to light the way. I become that arrow passing above many figures now: a knight shaped like a dragon; a piece that looks like part of a fortress surrounded by wailing ghosts; and then above the wizard that is Egan.

Off in the distance – not in front of me but to the side, trying to intercept us – is yet another game piece: ancient and armored with a blade that burns red, a ruby crack in reality through which souls are crying out. This figure is leaping to us from another board, trying to join our game. The board rotates a quarter-turn and it seems like we are running now toward his, except the dragon piece has leaped to yet another board herself. I do not know which way to go: I cannot make out which piece is most important so I travel up and explode into moonlight. I illuminate everything, all boards, for an instant, and understand.


I awaken standing on my feet, Rey holding me up. I am panting and leaning on her. Faintly, I hear the cawing of ravens, one of Her signature echoes, in my head. Its sound pushes the flash of understanding right out of me.

Why give me answers and then snatch them away again?

“There are games to be played,” I say to Rey once I catch my breath. I am soaking wet. “And the pieces are setting up. I see Egan – he seemed to be in the lead – but two more are coming. One of them might be Trelaine, the courier.”

“Trieg.”

“Yes, Trieg. If so, there is something of ghosts and stone about him. I do not think he wields the crimson sword – that is another. We must follow them; we must go through the waypoint.”

“You are talking crazy. You realize that, right?”

“Am I?”

“It has been a crazy day,” she concedes.

“I was just thinking that, too,” I say and grin. This finally draws a real smile, her first since we encountered her Mistress a mile off from here.

But it is true: Diamond Lake attacked; Alastar slain; Verdre back from the Fey; Egan with new powers presumably from yet another master; we killed a dragon!; we saved another dragon and it is Rey’s actual mother??; Rey has transformed subtly into something else and perhaps she is not finished; bird men of legend arrive to attack Ithane’s kobold army here to kill Seraph; there is a stranger in the Cairn not here an hour ago who has a package for Egan; the ancient waypoint seems to be active now; as clear and compelling a vision as I have received in weeks, perhaps months; we are to pursue the stranger and Egan and another with a red blade promising a new reality through this unknown waypoint, all according to Her Unknowable Mocking Laughter of Truth.

And I have not yet even had dinner.

We walk to where the kobold prisoner is muttering to itself. After the briefest of discussions we decide to give the creature to the birdmen, which Rey does.

“I will enter first,” she commands as she turns to go escort the little monster to the entrance of the cave, probably to its messy doom.

Of course you will, I think. I am sure you have your own reasons, but your few words ever sing with self-sacrifice and protection. You are ready to take the lead, possibly to oblivion, at my say-so. Do you see my looks of wonder, I wonder?

She returns just as I am striding into the waypoint, a mischievous grin on my face just for her. She runs towards me, alarmed and exasperated, and …

It is as if a hundred giants breathed in, vaguely saying the word 'WOP!' all at the same time.

The passage is smothering, dizzying. But it was also quick, at least from my point of view, though perhaps years have passed. I have no way of knowing.

I came out into a dark corridor, the waypoint forming its end. Ahead of me is Trieste, no. The, uh, courier. I will get the name correct one day. Rey is but a moment behind me; she emerges with an arm outstretched. I take her hand.

“What now?” she asks.

Yes.

What now?
 

Rey's Journal

​Revelations

My mind is spinning. There is so much to process. So much that makes sense and so much that does not. Where do I begin?

As soon as Ithane went down, I left her to find my friends. A storm was brewing, I could see the darkness and clouds rolling off Seraph’s mountain toward us. I NEEDED to find her quickly, before all tracks were washed away. Etona and Rishkar came with me. I could sense kobolds around me as I ran toward her but they did not intercept me and I did not wish to waste my time with them. What I found was….Seraph and yet not Seraph. I found her in a crater, one she had created. But there was no dragon there. Instead there was a beautiful woman, dare I describe her as such? She was 7 feet tall, with raven black hair and blue...everything. Blue-ish skin, blue armour and blue eyes. I recognized her eyes. I could see that she was in pain, she was bleeding and carried herself as if bones were broken. She said she had three more missions for me to complete. The first one was to take her to the Cairn where she may rest and heal. After her first step I requested Rishkar summon his floating disk for her to sit. Seraph seemed pleased. The trip was fairly uneventful. Etona scouted ahead warning off kobolds. There were a few who were aggressive but did not engage us.

Seraph knew her way around the Cairn. I do not know why this surprised me, I know that she knows everything. She wanted to rest in the Bed of Eternal Rest where we found Egan’s sister those many weeks ago. The Cairn has been cleaned out since we were last here. I assume that is Egan’s work. We made our way to the Architect’s Lair and Seraph made her way to the bed. But before she rested, she turned and faced me.

This is the moment when my life changed. In a moment, all that I had known about myself shifted. Seraph called me “Daughter” then waited for my mind to catch up. There were so many memories and thoughts that burst forward I am surprised my head did not physically explode. Flashbacks to my father, I knew he had secrets. He never mentioned a dragon but I distinctly recall cobalt in our house. The relationship with my mother and brother. Although our home was cheerful, she was rarely warm towards me like she was to my brother Ryan. And father was the opposite, warmer to me than to my brother. I always thought it was because Father and I shared the same interests, where Ryan and mother were content to stay home. Mother taught me her herbs and gardening early on but gave up on me as I left childhood behind. I became the family’s hunter while Father was gone for weeks at a time. Daughter...it wasn’t luck that she saved me that day I walked into her den. And the grief that I felt from her was real, and not in my imagination when I told her of my family. My Mother. Seraph watched me with her knowing eyes then simply nodded as I accepted it as fact. Oh, how I miss my father right now. What I would give to have one more moment with him. One more hug and a thousand questions.

My mission: “Find the monster that has infected Ithane and bring its end.” Then she turned and bit me. My entire body was set on fire. I could feel electricity raging through me. My eyes, did I have them open? I saw pure blinding white. I do not know how long this lasted, a lifetime or a few seconds. When I awoke, Etona was staring down at me. I think she was patting sparks out of my hair. I went to Seraph. Mistress, Mother. “Come back to me,” she says as she lays back. I will Mother. I will. Rishkar says she is in a dragonsleep. She will heal.

We head back upstairs. I'm having some issues, I feel dizzy and clumsy, then I blink and I'm further than I should be. Etona also seems shorter. She says I am changed. Something about my eyes? There is a kobold prisoner but likely not the work of Egan. There is a strange man in front of the living black mirror looking at Egan's pack. He says his name is Treig and he has a delivery for Egan. He is dressed in worn clothes, ragged and has an eye patch. I don't sense a threat in him but a controlled purpose. By this time we are all certain Egan has entered the black mirror.

I hear the kobolds outside. They have amassed an army with dragonkin as their leader. They are here for Seraph. We are outnumbered. Three, maybe four of us against thousands. Then the dark cloud descends and from it emerge the bird people. I am not surprised when they know me. They are here to protect Seraph. I watch as they send the dragonkin tumbling with their wind and shoot lightning at the kobolds. They will protect Mother. I turn towards Etona who needs to meditate. Whatever she sees is not positive. When she wakes, she tells me we need to follow Egan and there will be someone wielding a crimson sword to join us. Today has been a crazy day.

Rishkar bids us goodbye. He needs to return to the Swamp and help rebuild his community. I count him as a friend and will miss him. I do not believe he can reciprocate those feelings for me. I am glad he can return to his lizardkin. After some discussion Etona and I decide we cannot leave the kobold here. She doesn't want to kill it and I don't want to leave it unsupervised. I take him to the bird people for interrogation. Killing it may have been kindness. I return just in time to see Etona step through the black. I'd feel exasperated but...this is Etona. Luckily there isn't a monster on the other side. We do find Treig. He looks like he disposed of a guardian for us.
 
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Gray Fox Journal: Whispering Cairn

Using the cover of the forest made my approach to the Cairn a bit easier. I let my kobold prisoner take point and directed him from the shadows. Stealth was necessary as the Ithane’s minions had begun to amass near the entrance of the Cairn itself. Ithane had probably cleared the surrounding foliage on purpose, improving visibility for any enemies attempting to move towards the threshold. It is what I would have done. I had to improvise if I wanted to get there undetected. So I sent my prisoner running towards the Cairn out in the open as I snuck along a more circuitous route. The plan worked as the frightened mass of kobolds let up a cheer as they saw their companion speed towards the entrance. They must have believed that he was attempting an assault on their enemies alone. No one came to help him.

I reunited with the kobold inside. The rock was worked many centuries ago, but the recent traffic was obvious. Someone had removed any trace of rubble and debris, returning this ruin ever closer to the majesty it once possessed. The only personal items I noted close to the entrance were a backpack and a staff near a mirror with a black, rippling surface. Inside the backpack, I found a journal with the Egan’s name. I looked up at the mirror and sighed heavily. Outside a storm was brewing, which is the only plausible explanation I could find to justify how a diminutive elf was able to sneak up on me. She had a silver bow in her hands, though oddly enough it wasn’t strung. Interesting.

“What are you doing with my friend’s effects,” she demanded.

She was flanked by a taller woman of elven ancestry who carried a spear that was crackling with electricity and a lizardman holding a glowing blue sword. I knew who they were. In fact, all of Greyhawk did.

“You must be Etona,” I responded. “That makes you Rey,” pointing to the warrior with the spear, “and you Rishkar. My name is Treig. I am looking for your friend Egan.”

“What do you want with Egan,” Etona asked suspiciously.

“My employer asked me to deliver sensitive information to Allustan, but unfortunately he has passed on. Because of this, I am looking for his surrogate, Egan.”

“What kind of courier travels through a kobold army to deliver his package?” She seemed perplexed.

“One that is well paid.”

Our conversation was interrupted by the sounds of battle outside. I had known war well enough to know its call. Both sides were beginning to gather for an assault. Egan’s friends seemed perturbed by the inevitable. Kobolds do not travel in small groups.

I looked again at the mirror. I wondered if it was worth it. The money. But it was never about the money was it? You gave your word; the only thing that matters in this world. Come on old man, let’s get this over with.

With an audible groan, I plunged into the mirror. The black substance washed over me like icy water and in that moment I felt myself falling. It was in the void that something lashed out. Untrained men would have been distracted by the experience, but magic was not new to me. I grabbed the creature’s arm before we arrived at the other side of the portal, forcing it out with me. It was an emaciated humanoid, dead for some time, and hungering for the taste of life. Without anyone to see the conflict and as I was not worried about killing something that was already dead, I made quick work of it with the Boss’ enchanted blade. The fight did not take that long, but the effort took my breath away. I had to lean against the wall and light a cigar to calm my nerves. That’s how Egan’s group found me. Among the remains of the ghoul...smoking. The corridor extended further in and everyone seemed eager to find the wizard’s apprentice. It seemed odd to me that I found myself here. Among ancient ruins with people I didn’t know in search of something I couldn’t quite comprehend. We used to make fun of these people on patrol. Adventurers is what we would call them.

I wonder if Jordan is alright.
 

Gray Fox Journal: The Spider and the Web

Egan’s friends had shrunk in number since we made our initial introductions. I was joined by the elven duo: Etona and Rey. I would have said they were sisters given how close they seemed, but their physical appearance eliminated that as a possibility. Not that I am an expert in Elven ancestry mind you, but even I could tell. Etona continued to be suspicious of my intentions, while Rey seemed to accept my presence as proof that I was a part of their group. I was flattered.

The portal had transported us to another Cairn altogether it seemed. More intricate glyphs dominated the walls and the worked stone hadn’t been touched by the living in some time. What worried me most was the convenient placement of rather sharp works of art that littered the adjacent rooms.

“Don’t move,” I commanded as I held up my arm. My new friends stared at me with concern.

As I inspected the floor more closely, my paranoia was rewarded. I found pressure-plates triggering something horrible. If I had to guess, based on the people that built the structure, the trigger would activate a gust of wind that would fling intruders into the wall of spikes. I marked the traps for the elves.

“How did you know,” Etona asked. “Have you been here before?”

I shook my head. “No, I’ve never been here before.”

“Then how could you know,” she continued.

“It is what I would have done,” I replied.

We were about to make our way deeper into the complex when we were joined by Jordan. I had mixed feelings about seeing him again, but they were mostly positive. That was not the case for either Etona or Rey. He wandered through the darkness in his demonic suit of armor, the spiked chains writhing about him. Not a good first impression. It took some convincing for the women to agree that he join us. I made a compelling case about his battle prowess and how useful it would be in this dangerous environment. Eventually, Etona relented but remained behind Jordan as he led the expedition through the tomb.

We travelled for some time, passed strange and exotic rooms before finally coming to the scene of battle. Scorch marks lined the walls and strange insect tracks littered the ground. Rey and I...if I’m being honest it was mostly Rey...followed them as far as she could before they disappeared.

“Egan was here. These marks,” I said touching the ash on the walls, “were created by magic and are as fresh as the tracks. He was probably ambushed here and carried off.”

My suspicions were confirmed as further exploration brought us to a large antechamber filled with columns and shadows. From the darkness a voice whispered in our minds.

“Are you here for the flesh bag?”

“Do you mean Egan,” I responded.

“If that is its name,” it rasped.

I kept him talking with Etona’s help to locate his actual position in the event we would need to act. She was able to extract quite a bit of information from the mad spider. It’s name was Fly Catcher and it seemed to believe that the Cairn belonged to him. He did indeed kidnap Egan and held him within a Shadowfell prison for safekeeping. What Fly Catcher didn’t seem to comprehend was that humans needed sustenance and the appropriate environment to survive, which meant that we didn’t have much time to rescue him. It was willing to exchange Egan for an artifact that was stolen by a man named Moretto. Fly Catcher identified the man as a ghoul that managed to bypass all magical protections erected by the spider and the Wind Dukes. Apparently Moretto was located at the base of the Red River, an underground waterway that ended in a waterfall which fell into a deep chasm. I only had one question.

“Tell me again about those defenses you were talking about earlier.” I took a long drag on my cigar and exhaled, the smoke forming a haze in the air around us. “Take your time.”
_____________________

Following the river proved to be tremendously difficult without a vessel. There was no shoreline, as the river cut directly through the rock and tumbled into a waiting abyss. However, we were able to divert some of it through an aqueduct that was built by Wind Dukes, seemingly for this express purpose. Getting to the mechanism that dropped the water line came at great cost to Rey, as we had to traverse a thunderstorm to activate it. Had Rey not absorbed the lightning that danced within, many of us would have perished.

By diverting the river, we were able to safely access a doorway which allowed us to continue onward. Past the threshold rested more statues of the Wind Dukes, tall androgynous men with a far off gaze. As we walked passed them, one of them sprung to life and seized my arm. It was solid stone and had a grip like a vice. Possibilities streamed through my mind, forming a strategy. I was calculating the odds of not bleeding to death if I cut my arm off, when I heard a voice behind me. It was strong and calm. It was Rey.

“Icosial!”

The statue let go of me and returned to its original position, motionless once again. I looked back at the elven warrior with renewed admiration. Eyes are useless when the mind is blind. The door the creature was guarding took us to another portal, similar to the one I had stepped through initially. Part of me wanted to go through it, but my military training compelled me to clear the rest of the floor before stepping into the unknown. Leave no enemy behind you. This proved to be foolish. All we found were Ice Golems and Oozes. I called a tactical retreat to the portal once I assessed how strong our adversaries were. There was a moment when I thought that Etona was going to leave Jordan to the mercy of our enemies, but Rey’s intervention swayed the archer. When we regrouped, I was sure that Etona was disappointed at Jordan’s condition: the fact that he was still breathing. To be honest, the entire dynamic made me uncomfortable. That is why I volunteered to go through the portal first and scout.

A familiar icy sensation washed over me as I stepped through, finding myself at the base of the waterfall. The thunderous sound of the crashing water filled the cavern. I thought better than to explore it alone, so I went back to retrieve my new companions. When we returned, a figure stood out in the darkness, wreathed by a sickly greenish glow emanated from a lantern he carried. Etona and Rey immediately slunk into the shadows as Jordan and I moved closer to the individual. A chill, much like a fever, coursed through my body the closer I moved towards him.

“You must be Moretto,” I said.

The figure nodded. I did not detect much of anything from him. He was a man of average build, pale skin, and no visible weapons. I did note a satchel laying on the ground next him as he spoke.

“And who might you be.”

“My name is Treig and this Jordan,” pointing to the armored man next to me. “We come in search of an artifact for Fly Catcher.” I caught his eyes moving subtly towards the satchel before laughing. “He has captured a friend of ours and says he will return him if we were to deliver the item.”

“And what do I get out of this arrangement,” Moretto asked with smirk.

“What do you want?”

“Information,” the ghoul replied. “I am on a journey to the surface in order to learn more about a Prophecy. It foretells of a new Age where the living shall be turned into undead. What do you know about this?”

“Quite a bit,” I replied. “Green worms transforming living creatures into the undead have been reported in Greyhawk and near Diamond Lake.”

“Are any of these undead creatures intelligent,” Moretto interrupted.

Rey stepped forward. “None that we have encountered thus far, save for a dragon we believe is controlling them.”

“Dragotha,” Moretto wheezed.

Etona’s eyes widened. “What do you know about this name,” she demanded.

“Dragotha is a dracolich that was once a great red dragon. She too has been referred to in the Prophecy.”

“How can you know this,” Etona asked.

“I was once a resident of the White City. Now an outcast.”

“I have heard of it,” Treig stated. “It is rumored to be a city comprised entirely of undead deep underground.”

“Yes,” Moretto nodded. “Made from the bones of a fallen Titan. But that is a story for another time. I am happy to relinquish the artifact for the information you have granted me. I would be most grateful if you could aid me in my quest to the surface by disposing of Fly Catcher.”

“We must confer before agreeing to your terms,” Etona said while ushering everyone away from the ghoul.

Etona had reservations about aiding an intelligent undead creature. Her religious beliefs clearly stated that all undead were an abomination to the natural order and had to be destroyed. She worried about the unintended consequences of such a powerful entity loose upon a civil society. She saw no harm in a deranged spider that wished to stay in a tomb.

“Etona, my short existence has taught me that at times you have work with unsavory individuals to achieve your goals. In this case, I don’t trust that Fly Catcher will follow through on our arrangement or that Moretto is divulgining his true purpose. That said, Moretto is a more rational actor with valuable information on Undead Lore. It seems to me that making an ally of him is more valuable than honoring our bargain with someone that has extorted us through kidnapping.”

I could tell that Etona did not agree with the idea I had proposed, but Rey’s enthusiasm was enough to tip the scales. I would have to file that away for another time. Once everyone came around we informed Moretto that we would assist him in reaching the surface. However, we stipulated that we would not purposefully kill Fly Catcher to facilitate his journey. He seemed only mildly disappointed with the result but agreed.

“The Seal cannot be moved without a specific phrase to unlock it. To touch it without deactivating the magical warding glyphs would be suicide,” he said to me as I reached for the satchel. His voice was nonplussed and mostly curious. It was as if he was watching an animal stumbling upon an object he had placed in its path.

I hesitated before moving the exterior of the satchel so I could get a better look at the Seal. It had three runes on it that I recognized from throughout the Cairn, but the alphabet was in Auran. A language I did not understand. I knew that one of the runes was Icosial’s personal sigil and that another referred to Pesh, the final battleground of the Wind Dukes. It was there that used the Rod of Seven Parts to banish the forces of Tharizdun to his eternal prison. I just couldn’t put it all together...then it hit me.

“Rey, do you speak Draconic,” I asked almost rhetorically.

She nodded. Of course she did. Rey can do anything. It took myself, her and Jordan’s combined intellect to manufacture the appropriate phrase in Auran using the Draconic alphabet. I didn’t want anyone else to be annihilated if I pronounced something incorrectly. It would be such a sad end to anyone’s story. So I drew a calming breath and spoke the words. Nothing. Gingerly, I reached in touched the Seal. Nothing. I let out an audible sigh and smiled for the first time in a long while.

We set off with Moretto towards the portal, carefully retracing our steps back to the chamber we first encountered Fly Catcher. Stopping a ways before the its lair, I brought everyone together and whispered softly so my voice didn’t carry.

“Here’s the plan.”
 
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Journal of Etona - 21

The courier seems to be waiting for our arrival. He is enjoying a sandwich, a Greyhawk invention I am still wary of. Bred does not wholly agree with me but it is very important to the humans so I have tried to like it in the past.

“I am glad to see you again,” I say though he cannot hear me. In Mirror cant, I gesture to Rey: “I am glad to see anything again,” though I don’t think she heard me either, and her cant is stumbling, so there is no joke to catch.

We cannot hear one another: this is the problem. The wind is a swirling vortex of air and smoke, a tunnel of howling. Its sound is so unbearable, the stone above me so massive and thick, it makes me cry out in alarm. I want to go back, but that is not the way we must tread so we run through this column of angry air … and right into a summoning trap.

My Mistress of Obstruction grins. At least one of us is having a good time.

Jumped by magical weapons of smoke, we quickly realize that fighting them in this din without even being sure they could be damaged was futile. One of them lashed me on my way through, but though it stung it merely had the effect of making me feel light on my feet. Probably part of the trap, were I to remain in it. The creatures resembled manta rays, an animal Verdre sketched for me when she had returned from visiting the ocean for a few months, drawing everything she saw there.

We get out aided by Teegan who had already slipped by without trouble. I have the sense he has been here before. The room we land in looks like it had been outfitted by faeriquenti, high elves, studying under Dwarven trapsmiths. Machines of sleek rotating knives are parked in different corners of the room awaiting the hapless step of tender flesh. The nearest would probably have activated already but its pressure plate was broken, a fact the courier found by crawling slowly along the floor like a snake looking for its nose.

Behind us, something else steps through the din we fought past. I am expecting Egan or possibly another ally of Seraph, but no. Not at all.

Massive, dripping with burning blood: an eight-foot, masked, armored apparition of writhing chains and black spikes steps into our room. The Asmodi diplomatic corps have finally arrived.

Rey is en-guarde in an instant. I draw the Silver and begin raising protections for the three of us.

But the human could not have looked less concerned.

“’Lo, Jordan,” he says to the thing with a nod.

Jordan? That’s not a name for a demon nor even for a devil.

“What is this?” I say to Greet.

“Glad you made it,” he merely continues. “These are Etona and Rey.”

So the courier is part of the deception. They will kill us and proceed to Egan.

The hell knight bows at us, its head tilting to take in Angivre’s Silver and Rey’s sparking spear point both leveled at him. Little dribbles of electricity pour off Rey and spark along the ground. I feel the air charge up.

It removes its outlandish helmet revealing, to my surprise, a human face. With a gesture, the chains surrounding him retract into his armor … no. Again, that is not what happens. They pull back into his very skin. I will not quickly forget that sound.

He speaks.

“Good to see you, Trieg.”

Trieg! Was that his name? That wasn’t right, was it?

“Jordan is the man I have been traveling with. He helped me get here in one piece.”

“So you have a package,” I say to Trieg, “that comes with a devil. Let me guess, you two need to get this infernal present – likely something that tears spirits from bodies – to Egan preferably after slaying us.”

A sound, deep like the waking of an immense beast, echoes through the room. I dart my eyes quickly so as not to lose the two ‘men’, and am surprised that it comes from Rey. She is all but twitching to attack, but what holds my attention for far too long is a faint image of a dragon coiling to strike superimposed over her. They see it too, and fidget.

“I don’t think he’s a devil,” the courier says.

“No,” says the apparition, “I am not.”

“You are merely from a devil,” I press. I remember young Ptolmas Ohm’s dealings with – and ultimate demise at the hands of – Mr. G: a chatty, deal-making imp bent on setting up contractual obligations to damn people in Fardale. My tribe had run-ins with him before. “The Asmadi has sent you.”

“Again, no,” he politely replies.

“You are not from the Asmadi?” I ask, incredulous.

“Definitely not. They are neither friends nor allies of mine.”

“You are from a group like the Asmadi.”

“I assure you, no.”

“You may assure me of nothing, devil. What do you want with Egan?”

He looks displeased at my words: I think he might not like being called a devil. I am pretty certain he is not a demon, however, or an elemental or some outré being like that. Perhaps he is merely showy? Or cursed?

“I sought a mage in Greyhawk who was murdered. I was asking him about the events of the arena….” He stops when Trigger points to Rey. “Rey. Ambassador Rey. And the archer with the silver bow. You two. Hmm. The mage, Elgios, was connected to Allustan, the mage in Diamond Lake who, it further turned out, was also no longer living. His ghost, however, sent me on to the apprentice, this young man, Egan.”

“Why were you seeking all these mages?” Rey asks.

“The worms. It is all about the worms,” he replies. “What can you tell me about Egan?”

He must be kidding. “Nothing,” I say, but I do him the courtesy of stowing Angivre.

“Why are people after him?”

This causes me to pause. I look him up and down.

“Because Egan attracts trouble,” I reply. He smiles a little at that.

Rey, who had stepped between me and the knight, stands down, and we can all feel it: the charge in the room dissipates. What would she have done? I’d never felt anything like that from her before, and the outline of the dragon was new, too.

There is no help for it but to find Egan and deal with these men, and with the boy himself, when we see him.

The humans up front, Rey and I behind them, we move through the complex. We traverse a large room of spectacular purple and exit through another door. The hall on the other side leads eventually to a split: one direction reveals the river we’ve been hearing snarling behind the walls and the other that we actually take to a corridor where Rey is looking intently at the walls. This drops Trent to his favorite position – on the floor – and they say at the same time:

“Egan was here.”

“These marks, created by magic, see how fresh they are?” he says.

“He was carried off,” Rey adds.

I move forward, also low to the ground (I didn’t say his favorite position was unwise). The way ends in a round chamber cloaked in shadow. Or rather, shadows. Or, actually….

My Twilight does nothing to dispel them. Also, they crisscross but aren’t straight enough to come from the columns: there are little wiggles here and there that don’t belong. I must be transfixed for Rey comes up beside me and whispers:

“What do you see, Etona?”

Trent freezes behind us. He is wise to take my wariness seriously.

“They are like shadowy webs, but nothing–.” I draw back the Silver and illuminate a patch with her glowing flechette.

A dusty voice booms, “What are you doing? Why do you attack my home?”

“We are not attacking anything. Who are you?” I ask.

“You do attack. Like the other flesh-bag I have, one of you, a magic wielder like you. But he is mine now to do with as I please. His life relies on what you do next.”

I glance at the hell-knight but he doesn’t seem to be expecting this turn of events.

“Well, first of all some introductions: my name is Etona Aspianne. I am priestess of Sehanine. Who are you?”

“I catches the flies that would foul the tomb. I am guardian. I am protector, intruder.”

“We do not come to steal or corrupt, guardian,” I reply. “We are here merely to find our friend and leave with him. If you allow us this, you will not see any of us again: you may peacefully return to your duties.”

“Your friend came to steal and befoul!”

“If you have our friend, Egan, then that is not his aim. Have you spoken to him, calmly and without accusation, to find out why he is here? What he is looking for?”

“He is a thief, like the other one, like all the thieves! They come and try to steal. Why else would they be here?”

“Flycatcher, I sense you are one of My Mistress’s children. You defend your home from strangers, defend this tomb from robbers. Your cause is just, and we are not enemies. We do not seek to disturb you, but I must have my friend back, if it is he. May I know this much? May I speak with him?”

“Mmm. Mmm. I will permit you talk of the mind, but it does not work on the fae. You, human, I will permit talk of the mind. Hear him.”

The face of the courier – who I am increasingly believing is more than a mere package-deliverer, if nothing else, and there is plenty of else in the way he moves and watches – is suddenly slack. His eyes widen slightly. He is hearing something I cannot.

After a moment of this, I break the silence. “What are you sensing?” I ask him.

“Does he have a brogue?” says Trigger.

“I don’t know, does he?” I ask Rey.

“Yes.”

“Then it might be Egan,” he replies. “He sounds healthy, I suppose, but confused.”

“What did he say?”

“He wanted to know who I was, where I was, and where he was.”

“Tell him –.”

“No!” the flycatcher interrupts. “It does not in working that way! Your friend speaks out, but only I may speak in.”

Naturally. Resh! By my Lady’s radiant bottom! I turn away in a huff and walk a few paces towards the darkest part of the circle just outside the columns surrounding us in this room. I know I can capture that shadow sight again if I focus.

Focus. Sink into darkness. Become that darkness.

Become.

A figure, as if through layers of fine black netting, stands in front of me. I feel his presence as much as almost see him.

“Egan?” I call, my hands outstretched. “Egan!” The figure turns toward me. It could be him.

“Cannot I speak with him?” I cry out.

“No with fae,” it says. “I told you, not in working with elf heads. Humans, yes. I make the bridge. Here. Hear.”

“How do we get him back?” I ask. “What must we do?”

“Powerful adventurers can aid me, can help me! Yes. We make trade. Your friend for my property. A ghoul has taken it, the cowardly sneak. My sacred texts! He has swiped them – swiper, no swiping! and run back to his lair.”

“Where is that?” I ask.

“At the mouth of the river.”

“Does this creature have a name?” Rey asks.

“Morato.”

We agree to think on it, but there is another door out of the room to check out first. It bristles a warning as we approach, however. Trellis backs away and I feel my hairs standing on end. More electricity – it has been a charged day – with a heavy dose gathered at the handle. Stay away, it warns.

But Rey seems drawn to it. She approaches, hand out, until a small arc of lightning jumps to her. She plays with it, caresses it, like a mouse running across her fingers. She is like Ellen, that lightning mage in Greyhawk and perhaps Egan as well. Is everyone in this area going to spark like a Dwarven generator? Is Seraph responsible? Is she raising an army of sparklers?

I do not think so, truly. But it is remarkable that in the space of one week I have encountered more beings wielding the liquid light than all my years before.

With her other hand, Rey simply opens the door. A tiny thunderstorm in a round kettle of a room lay beyond, another door past it. Rey takes a breath and walks in.

A bolt lashes out immediately fastening onto her. It clearly hurts, but she is going to bear it for us to allow us to get across. We scamper out the mercifully unlocked other portal. Rey wills herself, body rigid with the storm’s energy, to march where she can hurl her body out, cutting the connection. I rush to her side but she doesn’t let me touch her yet.

“Wait,” she whispers, and I watch as little whirling winds of electricity flow from her feet off into the dark. After a moment, she lies on her back and says, “OK.”

I check her up and down, especially the burned patches on her hide armor beneath this new dragon plating. They are a little tender, she indicates, but nothing like what they should be. She should be dead.

“You’re amazing,” I say to her in Elven.

“I don’t know how much of this is me anymore,” she replies with a gesture to her body. I lace my fingers through hers and hold them there a beat before helping her up. I look into her eyes, to her odd extra blink under the lids.

“That won’t ever matter to me,” I say.

Beyond is a stone platform just long enough for all of us to uncomfortably fit and peer down into a stone channel. A metal rung ladder leads down. We discover, through experimenting with a turning handle, that water flows into here. The handle raises a barrier letting in the nearby underground river we hear churning in the dark, the one we went past just before entering the flycatcher’s room.

It is dark and cold, and I feel buried here. Treeve, ranging back and forth along the channel like a puma in a cage, was muttering with the Hell-human, but I feel myself suddenly succumb to the deep. I cannot bring myself to care about whatever they were bandying about: they all seemed to end in plunging down a great freezing waterfall in the pitch black, scattered among whatever was down there in the eternal dark.

My people do not recoil from the twilight of the woods that sends humans scurrying into their homes after sundown for the simple fact that even on the cloudiest night of dobrun, the new moon, it is merely dusk for us. Not so here. Here is the realm of the Drow, my fallen cousins who were consumed by the blackness of the Underdeeps; here be the Dwarves who drink and sing and build, the constant hammering of construction to cover the unease their pounding hearts beat out in living in true blackness. Underground is death, and we are treating it like solving an interesting puzzle, as if we were not here to offer ourselves as sacrifices to the great smothering deep. A plan is being worked out, something to do with Obi and chains. There is an other shore of the roaring watery death to where we must travel. The ghoul is over there, the humans somehow divine.

Numbly, I realize I have categorized the hell-thing as human. Something has alerted my unwaked spirit which has informed my wakened one. He is a man under the armor. Whether he is here for good or ill remains to be seen. He may be the one jumping from the other board, the one carrying the crimson crack in reality.

Angivre’s glow, though not extinguished outright, is faint, a wan thing down here, and I must supplement with Twilight spells. She would not go out, would she? No. Not as long as My Mistress is in the world, as even down here she must be. Right? Or does Her face not matter here save for perceived betrayer of her cousin Llolth, a being once as faeyre as she?
A touch on my shoulder. Rey. She sees my wild eyes in the gloom.

“You do not like it down here.” I shake my head, no. Her hand moves to mine this time. “Do you trust me?”

“Yes,” I whisper, and I must whisper because there is something muffling about the deep that forces silence. I do not want to be heard; I do not want to be discovered.

So she begins to sing to me, a quiet little ditty. It is the sort of song you would sing to yourself to pass time. It is in Common, though as I listen I believe it hales from another tongue. It is about caverns and crystals and the paternal foundation of kind, reliable stone. It is about ages passing in chaos above and merely echoing calmly below. Life here trickles, the lyrics remind us, and once it is over, merely sleeps.

I have heard it before though with different words: a song that human mothers sing to their children in Fardale. The theme is similar: do not miss the wonder of lightless places.
She sings this softly, almost under her breath, only for me. She sings while she is leading Obi and me to the broken bridge, while she shows me where to grip Obi’s mane, and with gestures directs the owlbeast to the other side.

“You are just full of surprises today,” I say when she finishes and we are prepared to do something unbelievably rash.

“I have to try to keep up with you.”

Obi slams a claw into the rock wall and tests her weight. It holds. Another claw, another test. Again. Again. She is dogged, unhurried, and as cautious as I could wish for. With this noisy, slow progress we make it across the umbral river, my pale Twilight spell on Angivre’s tip serving as our illumination.

I scritch Obi behind an ear before I slide off, and she prr-oots a bit before she goes back to retrieve much-heavier Rey. That one is an exhausting journey by the sounds of her wheezing hoots emerging over the roar of the flow. With a final leap from a wall, she dumps off her master, shakes her great fur and feather hide, and plops down onto the ground, thoroughly spent.

The men are waiting for us on the other side.

Trieve raises his eyebrows. “That was probably the easy bit.”
 

Gray Fox Journal: The Rod of Seven Parts

I dredged the bank of the river for a few moments before I found what I was looking for. I am sure to everyone else I must have appeared insane. Something that I have become accustomed to at this point. Then I found it, a smooth flat stone almost exactly the size of the Seal. I placed into the satchel we found earlier and nodded to Moretto. He began the incantations and waved his hand, transforming the image of the stone into an exact duplicate of the Seal. I checked its authenticity from a slight distance before bringing the group together once more.

“In order for this to work everyone has to function as a team,” I said carefully as I looked everyone in the eye. “We do not know each other well, but we do know what we are all capable of. Fly Catcher does not and so he will be taken by surprise should he choose to engage us.” I paused momentarily to let it sink in. I had given this speech hundreds of times to new recruits. This situation was a bit different; I was not in command here. “Stick to the plan and we will make it out alive.”

They looked ready. I nodded to both Etona and Moretto to begin their incantations before walking into the shadowy lair of Fly Catcher with Rey.

____________________

Moretto was right. Fly Catcher had spun dark webs all over the room that connected this space to the Shadowfell. I didn’t see it before because I wasn’t looking, but it would be problematic if we were walking on the ground. Thankfully, Moretto’s levitation spell prevented us from making contact with Fly Catcher’s trap. Once Rey and I had floated into the center of the room, I called out.

“Fly Catcher! We have the Seal.”

I cackling whisper spoke from the darkness. “Place it on the Dias.”

The spider was indicating that I take the Seal to an adjacent room, cutting me off from my companions and potentially landing me in a trap. Not a chance. I need to keep him talking so Etona could get a fix on his location.

“Fly Catcher, we have met your demands. We need to be assured that Egan is safe. Bring him from the Shadowfell and I will personally hand you the Seal.”

The spider paused before responding. “No tricks, fleshbag.” The shadowy webs covering the floor writhed pulling something up from the floor. It was a humanoid creature, its voice muffled by the magical entanglements wrapping its body. All we could see were its eyes, wide with fear. “There, now give me what is mine!”

I did not waver. “We have no way of verifying that it is Egan. Release him, unharmed, so that we can make the exchange. We want a safe resolution to this situation.”

I’ve never heard a spider frustrated before. There is no way to describe the sound. Something between the hiss of a snake and the growl of a feral cat. Unpleasant.

Gotcha. I knew that if I had his location identified, Etona did too.

The shadowy tendrils released a shocked Egan to the floor. I looked back at Rey to make sure she was ready and then floated over to his form for inspection.

“Egan are you alright,” I asked carefully.

“Wha-what’s happening,” he stammered. “Who are you-”

Fly Catcher cut the man off with a hiss. “There, I have done what you asked. Give me what I asked for! Place the Seal on the Dias!”

Here came the tricky part. “Fly Catcher, I am going to ask Egan to move towards Rey as I do what you ask. While he is moving past me, I am going to give him a case. This was a package that I was supposed to give him earlier...before the unpleasantness occured. It has documents in it, that is all. I am telling you this openly so you know I am being truthful.”

“No tricks!” I could almost see Fly Catcher now. He was on the ceiling, in the corner of the room. A good vantage point to ambush us.

“No tricks.” I lied as I pulled a cigar with a red band from my pouch and lit it.

As I passed the confused sorcerer, I handed him the case. I wanted to be sure to fulfill my promise in the event that he perished during this encounter. I kept moving towards the Dias as I was instructed to and threw the satchel into the alcove from the edge of the doorway. As it floated through the air, my mind replayed the conversation again and again. Why didn’t he want me to hand it to him directly? Too dangerous to give up his position. That made sense. He wanted it placed in a location he could observe and then retrieve it once we were gone. That made sense too. He was paranoid, but he wasn’t stupid. Then why was he pushing that I put in the Dias? S**t, I didn’t think of it. The satchel landed with a heavy thud into the alcove.

“Betrayal!” The scream echoed from the darkness. “I knew I should not have trusted you! That is not the Sea-”

I didn’t give him time to finish before flicking my cigar. It detonated in close proximity to his face, the flash momentarily exposing the creature known as Fly Catcher. I had heard stories of the cursed Drow men who had angered Lloth. I had just never seen one up close. He was half man and half spider. Whether man or spider, zealot or atheist, it mattered not. I closed the distance between us and leapt onto his back. My blade buried itself into his flank, drawing green ichor which sputtered as it touched the ground below. I thought to ask for his surrender as my other arm wrapped around his throat, but then I realized from the blood coming out of his ears that he wouldn’t be able to hear me anyways.

I grunted in pain as Fly Catcher bit down on my forearm with his fangs. I could feel the poison coursing through my vein, seizing up my muscles. With my last moments of freedom, I cried out to my companions.

“Now!”

A flash of radiant light burst from the other side of the room, rolling over the shadowy webs and disintegrating them. Well done Etona!

Rey and Obi, now uninhibited by the hostile terrain began to engage Fly Catcher in brutal melee. Stabbing and slashing at his segmented body. Hellish chains erupted from the darkness as Jordan lent his aid in keeping our foe from fleeing.

As the tide began to turn for Fly Catcher, he did what any sane person would. He attempted to flee to sanctuary. I had other plans. Shadows gathered around him like a cloak, yearning to transport him back to the Shadowfell. That is, until the spell Etona cast upon me roared to life and bathed us in silvery moonlight. The darkness receded, abandoning us in his moment of need.

“No! This can’t be,” he wailed. In a frenzy, he attempted desperately to throw me off. I would have laughed if I could. The poison that he had paralyzed me with made that impossible. I clung to him like death.

Fly Catcher scurried towards the Dias, passing the waiting phalanx of my comrades. They made him pay in blood and undid the effects his venom had wrought upon me. In his weakened state and with an advantageous position, I put the creature down. After collapsing in a heap, Fly Catcher’s body began to fade into dust. All that remained of him was a pair of dark metal bracers with an intricate pattern of webbing on their face. Both Rey and Etona rushed to my aid.

“Is he gone,” Etona asked with a mixture of sadness and concern in her voice.

“He’s gone.
_______________________

Making peace is harder than making war. This thought came to me as I watched silently the conflict between Etona and Jordan. We had already bid Moretto farewell by this point, having vanquished the only foe capable of preventing him from reaching the surface. What remained was a dissolving alliance brought about by the destruction of a common foe.

We now had in our possession an item that may lead us to a piece of the famous Rod of Seven Parts. An artifact that was presumably powerful enough to challenge a God. The Wind Dukes had used it to defeat their enemy: Tharizdun. Apparently Jordan’s new life plan involved assembling the Rod to destroy the Arch-Devil Asmodeus, who he blamed for Universe’s ills. Which was another way of saying his own. It is amusing to see the words “justice” and “vengeance” so easily interchangeable. Jordan did reveal quite a bit about himself in these moments: that he and his betrothed were infected with the green worms of Kyuss. That Asmodeus came to him coincidentally in his time of need. And that his family’s legacy was destroyed by all of these events. He has not seem to move on from this trauma. Instead, he has obsessed over every detail, putting together an image that is to his liking. I have seen this many times before. The horrors of life are disturbing to us and so we concoct rationalizations for random events. No one wants to be told that their friend died for no reason, that the wicked sometimes triumph over the righteous, and that the universe doesn’t care about them. It is disquieting to realize that you are not special. The bottom line was that Etona did not trust Jordan with that kind of power and I didn’t blame her. And since neither he nor Egan would ever stop until they had the artifact, I knew where this was going.

“Let’s give it to Rey,” I said.

Everyone stopped talking. Even Jordan.

“She can decide what to do with it,” I continued.

Jordan and Egan couldn’t be trusted with that kind of power. They wouldn’t know how to manage it for vastly different reasons. Etona would probably throw it into a lake, having no concept of its importance. But Rey was afraid of it and what it would do. So she was perfect.

Once the group agreed that Rey would be in charge of holding the artifact, everything fell into place. Egan provided magical enchantments that allowed us to fly down the waterfall and towards the area Moretto had mentioned previously. The Seal showed me the way to Icosial’s tomb and cleared a path through the danger. We found ourselves standing in a hidden chamber after a long journey. A sarcophagus floated its center, among murals depicting the Wind Duke general battling the forces of chaos. As I approached, the white marble sarcophagus descended to the floor allowing me to place the Seal in its appropriate place. The top slid open and inside was a pair of swords, a ring, and a fragment of the Rod of Seven Parts. Even I couldn’t help but marvel at the treasures before me. I was jostled from my reverie by Jordan. He was trying to get my attention and pointing at the far end of the room. As I looked up, I saw the form of a demon covered in blinking eyes, framed by a pair of leathery wings. All its eyes were fixed upon me. I heard Jordan say “Oculus Demon” in a voice tinged with fear.

“What do you offer,” it asked.

“What do you want,” I countered.

“My freedom. Give it to me Seal-Bearer and you may take whatever you like,” it replied.

It seemed simple enough. Like a transaction. It had something we needed and we could give it something it wanted. Simple. Then why did I feel so uneasy with what it was saying? Everything is a test.

“This is a test isn’t it?”

“Yes. What do you offer,” it asked again.

I was sure by the look on Jordan’s face that in a fight with this creature, we would lose. All the sacrifices we would have made would be for nothing...that’s when it struck me. I knew what I had to do.

The scarf felt crisp against my hands, the blood long hardening with time. It turned the silk rough and stained the white into a dark maroon. I am not sure how long I held it in my hands before depositing it in the sarcophagus. A part of me regretted the decision instantly. It was the only thing that still tied me to Jade. I’m sorry Boss. I can’t carry you anymore. My vision blurred as I reached in and took the fragment of the Rod. I handed it wordlessly to Rey and saw the demon nod in approval. I couldn’t hear it clearly but the party seemed to debate the merits of sacrificing another item for the ring and the swords. I didn’t care. I felt hollow and numb.

We departed shortly after Jordan attempted to “sacrifice” his cursed sword. The demon chuckled and unsurprisingly it did not work. On the way back, there was more talk about what to do with the Seal and the dangers of other explorers acquiring the remaining artifacts. The group once again settled on Rey giving it to her Draconic mistress Seraph. I did not offer any argument and began to hand the Seal over to her when I felt something come over me. A powerful force was drawing me towards something Rey was carrying. It was not the Rod; I could see that object. No it was something else.

“Rey, do you have anything else from the Cairn on you,” I asked.

Rey nodded and produced a talisman and a circlet. Both of them glowed with a silvery light. Before I knew what I was doing I had exchanged the Seal for the circlet and placed it on my head. A part of me thinks it was the magic that compelled me to do so, but the honest part of me knows that it wasn’t. I was hoping for anything to make the pain stop. The circlet did not help in that regard. It made things worse, for a moment. All of my unprocessed grief came rushing up to me at once. I saw the battle against Jade play out from every direction. Time slowed and insight burst through me like a torrent. You knew that you were going to die that day, but you stayed anyways. You were waiting for me. It had to be me that did it, right Boss? I’m sorry. Thank you for saving me again.

I awoke to find everyone staring at me. A damp sensation rolled down my cheek as I got my bearings. No one said anything. Neither did I. We exited the tomb through the portal that gained us initial entry. On the other side were the avian creatures that Rey had previously described as Seraph’s protectors. Two of them pointed to me, obviously puzzled before getting their superior. How would I know that? I don’t even speak their language. The larger eagle-humanoid returned, unable to contain his shock.

“It is not possible. Why would he have such a blessing?”

I had no idea what they were talking about.
 
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Journal of Jordan Cranden II - Entry II

Much has happened in the last few days. Where do I begin? Perhaps I should continue where I left off - back at Diamond Lake.
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My mount arrived shortly after the fightenend peasant departed. Was I seeing things? Was someone atop Ember? But as the mount approached, the figment dissipated - it seemed that the hellfire that coursed through the creature had merely given a puff of acrid brimstone vapor that took humanoid shape. My mind was playing tricks on me. I could never quite shake the feeling that Asmodeus was keeping tabs on me. But such was an exercise in pure hubris. I was just another soul, trudging its way closer to payment. Whatever purpose I served was over and done with long ago.

Our trot through the remaining forest was in solitude. Treig had gone ahead and did not rejoin me until we reached Diamond Lake. I suppose I was no longer really fulfilling my end of the agreement. I was still perplexed by the Suelese Witches, though. The deaths of not one but two prominent magi with sage-like knowledge of these worms - this was a tremendous amount of effort to keep a secret...and now Suel?!? I had long been searching for connections between what happened all those years ago and the Outer Planes. Was this more tangential evidence? To attract powers around the world, it certainly had potential.

It was slow going. Ember's forge-hot hooves left unmistakable tracks - no not, tracks, brands in the earth - especially on stone. It wouldn't be hard to piece this together - for anyone that cared: my servants telling tales of a man transformed into a devil out of the Nine Hells. A devil whom had been heading towards Diamond Lake with tracks branded into the stone for anyone to follow. How about the fact that he personally took on a giant and a trio of hags? That's probably how the story would be told. Never mind the fact that I was escorting someone who had the very communications of the magi in the first place and he did all the heavy lifting in the fight. Such a bittersweet symphony of irony.

Amidst my musings, I realized I was finding Ember's heat strangely reassuring. I'd been summoning him now for over several decades. I could never know exactly what would greet me when I performed the summoning ritual. It was a bit ironic - to feel sentimental about a creature that would as soon as kill me as serve me, but for the magic that summoned it. I was so intertwined, now, with the Nine Hells. At one time, I rode atop Hope - the prized stallion of the Aerdy line. He was magnificent. The Rauxes had long since squandered his line and breeding. Such a shame.

My mind had wandered all the way back to Kargoth by the time we reached Diamond Lake. The town was a smoldering ruin. Townsfolk meandered around aimlessly - those that weren't trying to put out fires. Half of the town had been razed and the other half was in the midst of fiery destruction. The useful were trying to contain the fire. The dragon's attack had truly been recent - within the past day. But the shouts and screams coming from the group tackling the fire sounded a lot more like shouts of alarm. But something else was out of place - something far less mundane. Anger. A white hot, righteous, soul-ripping anger. It came from the opposite direction of the fires in the quiet section of town. Whatever was going on, that anger needed direction or containment.

A magi was channeling water from the lake towards the fires and Treig was speaking with a town representative. I didn't catch his name. The fires could wait - the vulnerable would have already been evacuated. The fire fight was about property salvage and the fate of the town, itself, had already been sealed. When Treig and the representative approached, I advised I'd be heading to the razed section - much to their surprise. But they followed, nevertheless.

The anger was like a beacon - a siren's call. How could they not feel it - even without supernatural spiritual awareness. I feared this anger might literally wake the dead. And then I felt a more subtle signal...coming from our guide/representative. Such a shame, that. He'd probably been infected by a worm from the undead dragon. Such a small signal must have been drowned out by whatever had died in this section of town. Our guide would have to be put down. But not yet. Judging by reports from the arena, he'd only have a few hours. But for now, he was still useful.

We were close to the anger now. My mind momentarily wandered - how many had been infected. How many would have to be put down? Death comes to us all. And then the anger exploded through the nearest wall of a still semi-standing structure. I wasn't paying attention. A whirlwind of debris from the angry spirit pummeled me. The guide was still sentient enough to possess self-preservation and fled while Trieg steadied a crossbow bolt at it. But this was beyond any of them. I summoned the infernal energy that powered me and bent the creature's will to mine. "Yes. YESSSSSSS. You are angry. You ARE ANGRY!!! Take vengeance on those that have robbed you of your most precious possession - your life. Take vengeance on them." I could feel that anger turn cold. I could feel it channeled into a point, as if it was chambered into a crossbow and ready, waiting. The maelstrom of debris whirling about the creature died down. Just a few pieces now wantonly swirled lazily about. "I will take you. Follow me."

Treig looked on non-plussed. But the guide was awestruck. We returned to the burning section of town. Several newly cauterized corpses littered the ground. Apparently, this property was worth their lives. I understood sentiment - I had once attributed it to worldly possessions as well. We could see a group of the fire brigade losing ground to what could only be described as living fire. Someone explained that when the fires hit Allustan's laboratory (the recently deceased town magi), that something came alive and was now continuing to spread the fires. It consumed anything came in contact with it. I wanted to summon the armor, but there were too many around. I'd need to be careful. I tapped into the frozen layer of Hell and encased myself in unholy protections and then cautiously approached. The living fire overran and consumed several more of the brigade and was upon me. This was no elemental. It was more of an ooze - an ooze ablaze, and the fire seemed to feed it! It swung a pseudopod. I had anticipated this and prepared a Ward. My miscalculation was painful. It wasn't fire. It was ON fire, but it was not fire. It was acid. Its 'pseudopod' washed over me eating through my garments, travel pack, satchel, sizable sum of money I brought on the trip, and all useful equipment in a fraction of a second. My magical protections were undone and my naked flesh exposed.

Most men would have screamed. But what few realize is that third degree burns - whether acid or otherwise - are actually quite anesthetic. Besides, the transitioning second degree burns were nothing in comparison to the chains that ripped through my body and soul on a regular basis. I was furious - mostly at myself. "This is a direct manifestation of what killed you, spirit" With my release, the undead pounded the magical creation with debris and with the help of a few of the townsfolk and Treig's crossbow bolts, the creature was destroyed. I wasn't anticipating using up my entire healing reserve just for this, but so be it. My skin regenerated. I'm sure the sight of a mostly naked nobleman followed by a vengeful spirit was quite a sight, but I paid them no mind.

Our guide, apparently his name was Lief, had explained to Treig that his instructions had changed with the death of Allustan and that he should instead deliver the package to the magi's apprentice, Egan. The fires still raged but were no longer being actively spread. There was something very peculiar about the spiritual signal from Lief. The signal was not proliferating as I expected, but then, my encounters with the worms had been so long ago, and the reports could be exaggerated. Regardless, he still seemed to be of sound mind and body and bid us follow him out of town. And yet, I could not shake the sense that somehow this was a trap.

How did word of Allustan's death spread so quickly that with us - on our way to Diamond Lake - passing only one person, informed us of the recent news - how did Treig's employer acquire the information so quickly to give him new instructions? Was this man somehow in league with Suel? In my experience, most that had ever tried to play the Great Game found that when I 'stumbled' into the center of their web, that I was actually a spider, myself. Moreover, the quickest way to learn a web's design was to tread upon it. And so we departed, leaving the ruins of Diamond Lake in our wake. And the spirit's anger churned in misery and vengeance as it left its worldly home behind.
_____________________

We traveled North. A storm was gathering - far too quickly to be natural, but not so quickly to prevent our travel. We crested a hill and there beyond the copse of trees was a crater. At its center - a dead black dragon - presumably the remains of what razed Diamond Lake. But it was not alone. A clutch of similarly scaled kobolds were performing some sort of ritual - their rhythmic chanting barely audible above the gathering winds. This abomination could not be permitted unlife again. Treig had already begun his approach. Partly to mask his approach and partly because I held no fear of these creatures, I broke from the treeline at a determined walk. Once I had gathered the attention of those kobolds nearby, I summoned my armor so none could mistake me for the threat I was to them. Treig had already engaged with one of the kobold shamans.

"Spirit, these are the ones responsible! You see the dragon there, it and its clutch caused your death. Take your vengeance!" Even though we were heavily outnumbered, the kobolds proved no match. Even the shamans were powerless against us. The kobold's intent was revealed when one recently killed dropped a glass flask. The flask shattered upon hitting the ground and a green worm wriggled its way into the dead creature's body. Beherit quickly ended any potential threat the worm-infested dead body could offer. Two surrendered by the end. I beheaded the first. The spirit was destroyed during the battle but perhaps its soul could now rest easy having exacted vengeance.

The most surprising part of the fight was not the kobolds nor even the worms, but Lief. With reckless abandon he attacked the kobolds - though ineffectually. His self-preservation was apparently waning. I feared Beherit would drink yet another soul this day. At the end of the battle, it all became clear. Lief had not been infected. He had been possessed - by the ghost of Allustan. Allustan emerged from the soldier as the last kobold surrendered.

This man, this guide, this soldier, he was not infected! The dragon, the kobolds, the undead, and the living alchemical acid had all been destroyed. Who knows, perhaps he'd be able to live the rest of his life in peace and put all this behind him. His name was Lief. Relieved of my cynicism, for the briefest of moments, I became that Knight Protector of long ago - romantic, idealist. And then I heard Beherit's laugh - a profane, dark, infernal sound inside my mind. Taunting with both hate and contempt he said, "But you promised me a drink."

I had wielded the sword carelessly. He did not drink the souls of the kobolds who'd died. I thought he was dormant. His eyes were closed. I stared out of a body I no longer controlled. In the midst of battle, seeing a green worm in the flesh, Allustan's ghost - in the midst of it all, I had lost control and Beherit had taken over. Had I decided to behead the kobold. Had I not decided? I hadn't really given it much thought. Was it just? Perhaps. But had I made the decision? When had I lost control precisely. A prisoner in my own body, I watched Beherit's eyes open and the sword flare to life.

It all happened in slow motion. I tried to cry out, but no voice came. Beherit had complete control. Like a child, Lief was awakening as if from a dream. As he was turning to look around, Beherit impaled him from behind. It was a mortal wound. Entering in through his lower back and sprouting forth from his upper chest. I could feel my arm twist and curve as it moved with supernatural strength. Beherit sheathed in Lief's flesh unleashed hellfire and molten hot chains - the pinnacle of pain as they tore Lief's soul from his body and consumed it. The only outwardly visual manifestation was hellfire erupting from every orifice of Lief's body, and while horrific, it was nothing compared to what happened within. I had experienced this. I knew the pain. The husk of his body collapsed to its knees and then completely to the ground as it disintegrated into ash.

Treig witnessed this all silently. Even he was taken aback by the savage horror of it all. And it all happened so quickly, even if he wanted to, there was little he could have done to stop it. A testament to his composure, he addressed Allustan.

Meanwhile, my soul screamed in its shackles. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

Like a caged animal I tried to claw my way into control. But Beherit's control was absolute. I growled curses and profanities at Beherit - in infernal and abyssal alike. I became like the angry spirit. Comprehensible speech ended. My soul projected rage-filled emotion. Any empath would have likely been knocked unconscious.

But it didn't matter. Lief's ashes quickly scattered to the oncoming storm. I lost track of Treig and Allustan's ghost. Chuckling, Beherit released his grip on me and I was myself once again. I must have been standing their locked in position wrestling for control for a long time, because my right arm was completely numb. I saw Treig cresting the rise of the next hill towards the Cairn. Beherit still sat in my hand, his eyes closed once again. I threw the blade away as hard as I could. It was petulant for its futility. Beherit sliced a gouge into the earth and then disappeared - summoned back into its soul sheathe, inside of me. I was drained, the mental effort and turmoil exhausting me. This is who I am, a menace, a murderer. There was the path I chose instead of insanity, undeath, and chaos. I cannot claim innocence. My choices led to Lief's death, and so many Liefs before him. I don't know why I was so affected this time. Perhaps it was the realization of his salvation, only to personally take it away. The cruelty of it all was particularly wicked.

Stealing myself back to cynicism, I knelt down over where Lief had fallen. The storm was picking up. I wanted to say a prayer...but who would I pray to? Who would listen to the likes of me? I disgusted myself. I blanked my mind the way I had learned from a Suelese monk so long ago - when I was still fully human seeking a cure. I heard myself say: "His name was Lief". And I wept.
 

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