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

Journal of Egan: Entry II – Meanwhile in Diamond Lake

It’s been very long since I’ve felt at home, but you can never go home again.

Although only a week had passed since I traveled into the Mistmarsh with Etona, Melinde and Rey, we returned to a Diamond Lake unlike the town we left. In our absence, Dourstone’s mine was shut down because of his involvement with the Cult of Vecna, and Dourstone himself was hung at the hands of the Sheriff Cubbin. The garrison had intervened in the purging of the Dourstone complex, and Balabar Smenk and his closest goons, including the albino Half-orc, Kullen, were slain in mysterious, assassination-like fashions. The assumption remains that Vecna’s cult got revenge for his exposure of their operations in the mine. In a similarly mysterious fashion, the one Kenku that had been captured by our team escaped with the help of his cult members. The garrison was mobilized, and likely his security was reduced.

Since our return, Allustan has requested that we pursue our study of the strange larval, undead, green worms by visiting his old friend Elgios, a sage from his early years of training, in Greyhawk. Our first real encounter with the worm’s hideous conversion of a humanoid was revealed in the scout from the garrison at Blackwall, when he was overcome by their plague-like illness that caused a rampage in the basement, nearly infecting Etona’s aunt Verdre. We have managed to obtain a single inactive green worm from Filge’s, the necromancer’s, library which was in the abandoned observatory in Diamond Lake. Filge has since left, at our not-so-gentle urging, but the worm has been with Allustan all the while. A second worm sample came from the egg hatchery of the lizardmen, a whitish version of the green one, similar though. Our plan will be to give both worms to Elgios to study.

Though I hold no grudge to Allustan, I know he was untrue to me when my sister fell under the spell of the deathly sleep in the Whispering Cairn. She was certainly alive still at the time I asked him to search for her, but he could not pinpoint her location and could not, with a good conscience, send me to find her and risk another life. Yet, I have to wonder. Maybe I could have found her and, at least slept at night, or slept eternally by her side when I did find her. Diamond Lake can never be home without what has been taken from it.

That thought brings me to my next quandary, I sought arcane power in Greyhawk when I could not obtain it through natural talents under Allustan, and sought it to find my sister. Surely wizardry was my best hope, but I haven’t the mind for memorization, and as I watched Mel in the Mistmarsh, I saw that she wielded divine magic without much thought or preparation. In my case, I am ashamed to admit, I ran out of money and means in The Free City before I found power or answers. I was desperate then, but now I have my answers about dear Layla, my sister. Yet there is a debt to pay for my powers.

I made a pact with the Asmadai, a group of warlocks who serve Asmodeous, a devil of the Nine Hells. Clearly, the pact was wrought with complicated magics that granted me my sorcerous power, but the reward came at a price. I promised to give whatever I found in the Whispering Cairn, should I be successful, to the Asmadai to repay the debt of introducing me to my power. I now, no longer need my powers, but I must fulfill my debt at some point. You will see why I mention this story soon.

My hope is that I can avoid giving up all the treasure, under a small technicality. You see, Etona was present when we opened Zosiel’s, the Wind Duke’s, Sarcophagus. She technically found half the treasure, and I found half as well. I hope I only have to give up half, and I am more likely to hand over the mysterious circlet than the rod that housed the orb of annihilation. However, the plot thickens.

My dear companions have been gone for almost a week now, traveling to visit a young blue dragon, a former mentor of Rey. I have remained in Diamond Lake to study with Allustan. Last evening, a familiar face came into town, one of the Asmadai from Greyhawk was waiting for me at the Spinning Giant. I had hoped to never see them again, but I knew the day might come. All would be simple if not for my recent research.

I have been studying what Allustan has in his library, and it would seem that the Wind Dukes are not entirely gone, and perhaps one remains here on Greyhawk, though without the title of Wind Duke. An intermediate deity, called Volgan, a god of Wind and Storms has served the human races on Greyhawk for a great many years. This deity may have been a Wind Duke of Aqa’a from ages past. The most well-known deity of Wind and Storm is Quetzalcoatl, but his magics lie mostly with the tribes to the North, and he seems to be linked to the age or the primordial titans, whereas Volgan is newer. At any rate, I have found references to Volgan rituals, and I think I can perform one at the Whispering Cairn. The magics there likely would enhance the ritual. I had planned to renounce my pact with the Asmadai and commit myself to serve Volgan in the next few days. The catch, I need a sufficient sacrifice to prove my commitment. As my sister died in the Duke’s burial cairn, and I swore to find answers to their ancient magics, I want to offer up the circlet from Zosiel’s Sarcophagus as an offering to beseech Volgan for Divine power. However, I have to pay my debt to the Asmadai, and now they have come knocking.

At first, I tried to avoid them, hoping my friends would arrive back in town to save me from the fiends, but my luck is bad as ever, and no help returned. I met with one of the Master Asmadai’s minions who instructed me to hand over any treasure. I tried to convince him that the magical club from the Mistmarsh was all that I had, but he didn’t fall for the deception. I couldn’t raise my magic against him either. My Pact would cause it to simply fizzle. I was, once again, powerless. At the risk of being destroyed at their hands, I agreed to lead them to the site of the hidden treasures. I wish now that I had left them in the Cairn. After quickly gathering my pack, we set out into the night to check the dry well near the abandoned mine shaft, the last place I saw the treasures.

The Master Asmadai and his two minions were quick to move, and they only appeared once we were of clear of the main town. Secrecy is the key to their success, no names, just Master and Servant, but I recognized all three of them from the Free City. We plodded along with the three of them following me. Perhaps Volgan will accept the hideous magical club from the lizardmen as a sacrifice, though I would much rather give the circlet. Hopefully, they leave me alone once they have what they came to retrieve.

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Journal of Etona - Entry Eleven

Before we left for high places, Allustan filled us in on much information. There is an old, secretive cult called Kyuss who idolizes the worms. The Eye of Vecna cult was in the Dourstone mine researching the old Kyuss cult during their gatherings in an ancient Kyuss temple down there. That temple is probably no more, but it might be worth sending someone down to make reliable drawings of the place.

Allustan recommended that if we were still interested in the worms, we should contact his man in Greyhawk named Elgios who knows more about them.

Smenk was dead, assassinated. The dwarf, Dourstone, was also dead, hanged for crimes against the city. The Vecna cultists largely escaped though some of them caused trouble before leaving. Sheriff Cubbin managed to still be in control despite the garrison doing his job and all his patrons being killed. Order has returned to Diamond Lake in the town thanks mainly to Captain Trask and his men.

Rey announced that she was returning to her mistress, the blue dragon. This is a two-day hike up into altitudes where, I have read, humans and my kind alike become weak and pale for some reason. Some sort of mountain miasma? It may have to do with the shortness of breath said to strike for many days until the body either dies or becomes acclimated. Fortunately there is an herb that my merchant friend sold, a preventative remedy partially made up of herbs I’d collected for him. He and I have traded many times before – we have tea and tastings and compare notes twice per cycle – and so I managed to purchase them at an excellent price procuring five doses for each of us.

We – Rey the Speaker, Rishkar the Speaker’s lizardman guardian, and I – would take Rey’s mistress some of the treasure we captured as a gesture of goodwill. Our plan was to tell the dragon about Ithane and her necrotic “egg bomb”. There was also some sort of plan to attune Rey’s new spear to blue dragon magic and also to Rey personally? Something like that? I didn’t really follow: it was Rishkar’s idea.

Egan remained behind with research tasks. Mel wanted only to go to Greyhawke and in any case would not represent Rey’s interests in front of this particular dragon. Once we returned, we would be on to Greyhawke, with Mel and Egan, to help design a treaty between the lizard folk tribe and the humans. I wanted to return to that human center of eyelash-straightening odors to pursue Phreet. And we all wanted to look up this Elgios person as well.

Coldeven 7th Day, three days to full moon
I learned quite a bit about dragons from Rey during the ascent. This one likes to be high in the air, above the summer snow line, and favors an area featuring many natural perils as well as traps that she has set. It is a home built to augment the creature’s natural strengths, molded across decades by a considerable intelligence. There are others who live with and around the dragon as well, whole communities roving or permanent depending on what the dragon needs or wants from them.

We ascended into the early spring mountains. I strapped on the high-top, fur-lined boots that I broke out for three months out of the year. Warm, but I always feel a little clumsy in them. Chatting at and occasionally with Rey, hunting and finding new herbs, enjoying the scents of the higher altitudes and, of course, experiencing the joy of firing Angivre easily filled the time.

I was the natural choice for being on guard during the night, and while I was making the rounds I heard something heavy slip on some scree. I circled around for a look at it but all I could make out was lanterns with prism lenses floating across the tops of the trees heading for the campfire. I had seen this before, otherwise I might have thought it an airborne procession of ghosts. I looked for the legs and found them: a house-sized spider was crashing towards us.

While I was introducing the monster to the biting cold of Angivre’s sting, I saw Rey again make a gesture before she engaged. She’d started doing this in just the past few days, and with it her attacks seemed to be landing unerringly. Most of them do anyway, of course, but after making this gesture I noticed her studying her foe intently for a second and then her spear bit more deeply. I asked about this after the fight; she was surprised to hear that I could not see the glamour she was marking her target with.

We made short work of the spider, and it fell with Obi ripping into its brain, messily tearing and eating. I managed to pull two doses of a paralysis poison from it that I suppose I will give to Rey.

Coldeven 8th day, two days to full moon
Her face waxes.

Her madness visits Her children whether or not we are physically at the Mirror. For some, it is lust; others burn to hunt and among them, mostly the druids, viscerally kill and kill. My father has visions and paints like mad. My mother would climb the tallest trees and carve glowing runes at the tops of them . . . when she was not straddling father or others among our tribe’s men. Even our family of half-elven farmers are affected, becoming hunters and lovers and, for young Moiriel, a sort of soil druid burrowing in the dirt. Even Verdre has trouble with that one. It is two long nights of burning passion that leaves us exhausted, so much so that we look to our allies in the forest, and the Fey, to protect us while we fall to extended meditation for the two days after.

Four years I wandered, and in that time the dorse feu did not descend upon me. It had always taken me more lightly than others, but its absence is akin to never enjoying a hot meal through endless days of rain or never seeing the sun (yes, we love and revere the sun: it is a common misconception that we do not. That fiery being is simply not who we are, but He is still important and we love Him).

Will Mistress Heat-in-the-Night offer me a drink of Her madness at last? I hope it is more likely this cycle than previous fifty. When I gaze up to the storm-shrouded mountain tops ahead, I cannot help but think that if She takes me up there, what will happen? Will Rey understand? And what of the dragon? Does she know of i? Will my Mistress tolerate Rey’s savage one and vice-versa?

We moved up into cold and wind and ice. Rey found us a stone shelter but took no pleasure or pride in doing so even out here in this featureless, bleak place, for her mistress’ claw marks were everywhere. The dragon hunts from the air, Rey said, and this evidence of her roaming on foot had her worried.

I was introduced to my first Xorn today. This is a creature from the Elemental Plane of Earth. There are stories among my tribe of a far-wandering druid encountering them – I will have to ask Verdre if she ever saw one – but their sightings are extremely rare. This one’s name is Whisper. It is three-armed, three-legged and has its mouth on the top of its body which makes it quite different from the Xorn of our stories. This is to be expected for creatures that come from other planes, I suppose: they would have to assemble themselves of whatever material was present, and I would imagine that temperament and race would play into what came out as well.

Whisper followed the dragon who uses it to find metals and gems, particularly sapphires which she particularly craves.

A roaring sweeping thing passed us by while I was meditating about the coming moon, disrupting me enough to get me to my feet. It was a snow tornado that Rey told me was actually alive in some way, a, thing from the Elemental Plane of Air.

What a land up here! I would like to stay long enough – perhaps a few years – to one day navigate it as skillfully as Rey does and see all of its splendid sights.

That night a dozen reddish dragon-like creatures the size of large dogs swooped around the mouth of our cave long enough to shoot down breakfast.

Coldeven 9th day, one day to full moon
Rey and Rishka woke to fresh-cooked meat laced with spices and an altitude sickness prevention poultice. It should be effective on Rey and me – I adjusted the doses accordingly – but I had to guess with the lizardman’s, if it even worked at all.

We climbed ever further into thunder pealing across the tops of the mountains, lightning flashing across gleaming ice, sleet pelting the rock all above us. For the final mile, we did descend into a dry zone valley now somewhat protected from the din, though now we were subject to one of the terrain traps: sinkholes.

And Rey located one for us. With her whole body. Never half-measures for her.

Once she extracted herself, she also found her mistress who probably came to see what had fallen in.

This is my second dragon. The first, a young male named Kravostrix, wanted to rule Far Dale and the surrounding area. But for some reason he wanted to look good, actually asking us for, eh, fashion tips I think is the human expression, and to rule well. And so he asked us – in his imperious, dragony way – how he would best gain the respect of the town. Each of my friends at the time offered different advice. Mine was Friendship and Sacrifice: that a proper monarch would die for any of his subjects, and in turn his subjects would willingly sacrifice themselves for him without being asked. I told him of the hollowness of fear with its accompanying resentments, festering disloyalty and short-term fame. If you are hated, you are forgotten. If you are loved, your name and what you stand for will endure in one way or another forever, because people want and need hope. He seemed to listen to us. I very much want to go back and see how he is doing all these seasons later.

That all goes to say that I believed myself prepared for Rey’s mistress.

I was not.

She emerged out of the ground, a creature of impossible size, simply immense compared to Kravostrix. The air crackled around her, the ground glowed under her footsteps. Her scales were the blue of sapphires, of the center of mighty icebergs that Uncle Skaen used to tell us of. Gleaming sabers, her claws, and arm-length teeth. She radiated catastrophe, discord, hunger, strife.

But her eyes . . . .

Her eyes were milky and sick. The wind all around roared and yet she scented us, turned her massive head to us, unseeing. Rey walked to her alone, and when her mistress finally saw her, she said only, “It is you. Follow.” And back underground she went.

We followed into a slightly warmer place of phosphorescent blue light and glass walls. The entryway, I noted, was of Dwarven make.

Whisper popped up out of the ground as we moved into some kind of huge audience room. “Back you are, back you are! The mistress cannot see!” he said in Draconic which Rey translated for me. “The eyes are clear but the mind is unwell.” The mistress crouched in a sitting position like a cat and turned her attention to us. Whisper vanished once more.

Her presence filled the room. Every part of our last several hours climbing up towards her lair was redolent of her: touches on stone shocked; the air swirled blue; there was a constant feeling of being close to an electrical storm. I had experienced something like this once or twice in the Fey, but here this lingering presence of naked power came with menace and doom.

Words in Draconic flew back and forth between Rey and the dragon. None of it seemed hostile but it is an aggressive-sounding tongue so it is difficult to tell. The creature pointed to Rishka, said something, and he immediately opened the chest of treasure. She beckoned it and him to her side, and I saw the fear and awe of a follower there.

She beckoned to me as well, switching to Common.

“Who are you?” she says.

“I am Etona, a child of the Mirror.”

“You worship the moon goddess,” she said.

“I am–. I was my tribe’s priestess of Sehanine.”

“Whom do you serve now?”

“Today I serve Rey’s mistress.”

She snorted. This seemed to satisfy her and I was forgotten for a time.

Rey explained all of the events from our going to the swamp, what we found, and our return. She wisely left out our adventures in the cairn. The dragon took this all in but looked intently at us when Rey described where the treasure came from.

“These shinies are from Ithane’s cache?” she asked suspiciously, and then she waved a claw over it, spoke some words. The air shimmered. “You have brought me a trap! This metal is dripping with her scrying magic. She knows where I am now,” she said in voice laced with contempt, sparks arcing between her horns. “Do not move, any of you.”

We waited. Possibly for death.

She cast a spell. Tendrils of blue lightning wove themselves into a tea cozy that encircled the treasure. There was a buzzing, a crackling. A *whuumph* that made the coins tinkle.

“It is done,” she muttered. “Bring me no more cursed treasure.”

Since we were to live, we continued, as we made our apologies, to covertly examine her to try and figure out what was ailing her. Rishka heroically engaged her along many conversation points, accidentally(?) lapsing into Draconic now and then, stalling her, so that we could look for clues to make a diagnosis. We saw much, but not enough. She finally left the way she came.

Whisper reappeared and, after a gold piece morsel from Rey, told us that Tody is in the next chamber over, a very retiring green-skinned gnome. How curious! I had never met one such as he.

“My name is Etona. I have always wanted to meet a gnome, but you always run too deep for my . . . kind –.” I faltered as the gnome looked like he was under assault.

“Too much words, the elf says too many! Stop! Stop!”

I saw Rey suppress a smile.

“Why are you here?” asked Rey.

“Mistress summoned me,” said Tody. “There was a mix-up and I was supposed to accompany someone, but...” he shrugged.

“What are you doing here?” she pursued and motioned to the glass tubes and burners set up all around the room.

“The mistress has changed.” He begins rushing around the . . . laboratory, yes, that’s the word for what he has created here. “Scales getting thinner. Poisoned! But I checked,” he points to a set of tubes containing colored fluids, “the water and lake, the dirt, the soil. She eats only local, caribou, all good. She goes out during the day, hunts, comes back at night. She is frightened of rocks falling. She pees everywhere.” He makes a sound like an annoyed badger. We would hear this a lot in the coming days.

We sat down to understand the sequence of events here. At some point in the recent past, the blue and black dragons fought, probably at the fruit orchard. The blue was already ill and not able to kill her younger, smaller rival. Rey left her mistress after this to try and find answers as to what was wrong when she met me and subsequently Hannah selling her land with the ever-regrowing lilacs. Then the gnome came, and then Gubble, and then we returned from the swamp and journeyed here.

Oh yes, Gubble: a Vecna Gnothic brought here by an increasingly paranoid dragon to search for spies.

Gnothics, Tody told us, are beings punished by Vecna for something, possibly coming too close to a particular secret. They are cursed individuals: shunned by all but retaining enough humanity, maybe, to understand what they have lost. They see into people somehow with their single malformed, oversized eye. They are lost creatures, existing as mere tools for the wicked or desperate. This one, Gubble, has the single burning red eye, warped features, remnants of hair, patchwork clothing, and it delights only in interrogation. I have never met a creature crying out more obviously for death, though perhaps something worse awaits after. This last thought stayed my hand when I came upon the creature unawares, looking in confusion at itself in a reflecting pool.

Gubble told us that it is still working on “the last monk.” I immediately had this person moved to our room and the apparition sent away.

The monk was unconscious. I tended to his unusual wounds as best I could: he seemed to have been hollowed out, skin sloughing away. I suspect he is from the Twilight Lodge outside of Diamond Lake. There are wonderful tattoos and constellations and patterns – I recognize every one of them – on most of his exposed skin. All of them track or represent the majesty of Luna.

I undress him as part of treating him, though much was curiosity I had to admit. And . . . . well, he looks strong despite his torture, and handsome. And I hear Her laughing. Her full face is mere hours away.

When I had done all I could, and all I permitted myself to do with a desirable but unconscious man, we again gathered to assemble our clues. We began to understand something: the cattle at the beginning of my story with Rey had been poisoned by an unknown agent so their owner moved them to Hannah’s farm where they were, to their owner’s disgust, dying from another problem, the magic lilacs.

Poisoned cattle well within the dragon’s hunting territory.
The dragon was eating the poisoned cattle.
She was sick before Hannah’s farm, stricken by whatever made the cattle sick before they moved to Hannah’s. I remembered the conversation with their owner only now: the cattle suffering from blindness, distemper, urination.

Rey’s black spear earlier that day had sucked her mistress’ blood into itself and left behind a single drop of quicksilver.

Metal poisoning. Quicksilver poisoning. This is what has happened to the dragon.

Tody believed he could create a potion to cleanse the arcae’mithrear from her body. With the Xorn providing sulfur, it might be possible, over two weeks of daily administration involving vomiting and pain, to cure her. Possibly fully, possibly not.

He got to work, both Rishka and I helping.

While I did so, and later while I was wandering through the deeper caves, I pondered what this meant: mercury in the cattle. Arcae’mithrear in the land. The mine. The mine is poisoning the land! It must be closed. Verdre and I will contact the Briarwood Lodge, the garrison, perhaps even Greyhawk: that mine must not be allowed to reopen and in fact will need to be cleansed and then filled in.

I also pondered everything we had learned to this point: What did we know about Ithane? These green worms destroyed the Clutch and Ithane appeared after the Clutch was wiped out. What did we know about the worms? The green worms seem to have been created this way: they are not a change to an existing worm, Egan thinks. It is the larval stage of something else.
The Vecna cult in the Dourstone mine discovered the green worms in the surrounding area but they were likely from the Clutch. It all originated in the south with the black dragon. But black dragons aren’t necromancers, I thought. Nor evil worm makers or contagion spreaders.

The white worm that we found in a tube among Filch’s belongings has similar properties, but we don’t know what it is or how it is related to the much more plentiful green ones. Perhaps we should try to find Filch again?

Through the night I watched the monk. I also gathered and prepared what ingredients I could to aid Tody’s effort on the morrow. When Rishka woke as he did during the night from the cold, I asked him: “What if we allow Rey’s mistress to die? Would it not serve a greater good? The chromatic dragons are ravagers. They use their intelligence and power to –.”

“All dragons are sacred,” Rishka interrupted me. I now know what outrage looks like on a lizardman. “They are the first ones. Their ways are not our ways.”

I did not come up here to slay a dragon nor watch one die, and there is some sense in Rishka’s words. Also, it would hurt Rey, perhaps more than I understand. As well, My Mysterious Mistress has not offered any indicators one way or the other how She feels about my helping this creature.

I needed to think, so I needed to wander.

The caves go back a considerable way. Their immense size allows me to ignore for the most part that I am under the earth, surrounded by rock eager – in its ancient crumbling way – to bury and forget me.

Its beauty is not lost on me. It is not hard to understand the dwarves’ fascination with being down here: crystals, shimmering pools, stalag–, stalactim–?, glowing mushrooms, trickles of water as calm as any burbling brook. The peace of being wrapped in the blanket of the earth. Yes, I see it. I simply cannot feel it. All I feel is smothering, the weight, the ocean of rock. Any ocean has this effect on my kind: we are prone to melancholy whenever we encounter one, and I am no exception.

I came upon the Gnothic staring into its pool. A single arrow, blessed I was certain by My Merciful Mistress, would fell it and bring peace from its tiny world of torment that it was forced to exist in. But, as I wrote before, I could not. Its misery is not mine to end, unasked for.

So I will ask.

Journal of Etona - Entry Twelve

Coldeven 10th day
When everyone woke up, we undertook the task of convincing the dragon to drink what we had wrought. We tried this line of reasoning at my urging:

Mistress, this potion will expel the weakness inside of you. You will be sick, you will expel this rotted blackness violently, but once even some of it is out, your immense strength of will and your tremendous vitality will overwhelm what is left utterly. You will be yourself again . . . perhaps, if we dare to hope, even better.

It was unpersuasive. Rey told her that she would stay for the first few days of treatment and would even drink the potion with her if it came down to that. This offer to take the potion herself, and my joining her, finally got the mistress to take the first dose.

The wyrm’s eyes snapped open in alarm. She wretched, waved her head about in great distress obliterating stalactites of ice and granite, and stormed from the cave.

“Rey?” I whispered.

“Yes, Etona?”

“Should we be here when she comes back?”

But she was adamant, her eyes calm: she knew what needed to be done, and indeed later that day when her mistress did return, she allowed Rey to hunt with her, to be her eyes. Rey found kobold tracks belonging to a half dozen of them: certainly spies from Ithane. Though she understood the traces of their passing, she was surprised to lose them again and so did not catch up to the kobolds. Her mistress, almost blind at this point, noticed none of this.

That evening as I felt shudders along my spine, my eyes kept drawing up towards Luna and the heat began to creep across my skin. I explained the dorse feu to Rey.

“Our people came from the Bright, what most other races including ourselves call the Fey. Fey is the Elven word for bright home. It is the Well of Life, the place from where all natural energies spring. You and I exist here in the Fade, a shadow of the Fey diluted through its touching other pure realms such as the Shadowfel, the Elemental Planes and the Astral Plane which is, I understand, a doorway to yet other planes of existence such as Hell and the Abyss.

“It is a long story how some elves came to inhabit the Fade, and how our tribe in particular came to the Mirror. Our clan to be called the Thornblood. We had always worshiped Sehanine, but before we started our journey to the Mirror we also paid tribute to Llolth. Yes, that Llolth, before She had fallen. Despite teachings against her, I have always felt a little sorry for Her, actually, and I know some of us would still hear Her people’s words if they were peaceful. But they largely are not: they are violent and cruel, though Verdre now believes that they have to be that way in order to survive. I have actually met one named Lilliam who befriended my aunt, as much as that was possible for dark elf, but that is a story for another day.

“We left behind the complex Oaths of our old lives. In following Sehanine’s edict to leave the Fey, we became free. And so to this day we resist laws: they are tyranny to us, their frequently complex wordings hearken back to the enslaving layers of the Bindings.

“And so Sehanine led my, humans call them ‘great-grandparents’, into the Fade. When they got there, they found that they had lost their long lives – we only live a few centuries now. They lost many of their powers, and for the children of these first travelers born into the Fade came the dearest loss: siring more than two or three children over our lifetime. My family, the Aspiannes, is quite large actually: my father has two siblings, and I have some fifteen blood kin.

“Additionally, they could feel the Shadowfel pushing on them as a constant pressure, slowly through the generations cooling their blood. The Children of the Mirror are yet vyld – humans might use the words “wild” or “uncivilized” – but it is the true wild of being part of nature and not a life of fury and violence. We use to love easily and passionately always, but that has faded. Sehanine’s gift to us, something She would not allow us to lose, She reserves now for those two arcs a cycle when Her face shines fully down upon us. That is the dorse feu, the time of fire in our veins; the return to fury and passion; our reconnecting with the Fey.”

“I have a hard time imaging you as cold and aloof,” says Rey. That made me smile. “So how does dorse feu affect you? Do you fight?”

“Different individuals among us are affected in different ways. For father, he paints madly his dreams, and they are interpreted for cycles to come by Tamyl and other leaders among us and allies in the Bright. Mother climbed trees and fashioned living art there as do several others in our tribe still. That is, when she was not straddling father and other males in the tribe. Me, I often lie under Her face and soak in Her. In that condition I am found by my kin and . . . we enjoy one another.”

“You mean –?” said Rey.

“Yes. Not by force, though sometimes it can get a little rough, particularly if a druid happened upon me. And family members are not part of it: it is not permitted.”

It is not permitted, Skaen!

“I do enjoy it very much: it satisfies a deep crav--. Oh, Rey, I see that you are very uncomfortable with this! It is your human modesty. You do not have to be. Not with me. But yes, it is a lot to take in.”

She was silent for some time as we did other things.

“Men, and women?” ventured Rey, not able to help herself.

“Oh yes! I enjoy recreating with men, but I have always fallen for women.” I smiled but this seemed to alarm Rey rather than merely answer her. I didn’t know what else to say, so we kept doing what we had been doing: I tending to the monk, washing my clothes and self, and checking the mixtures on the lab table, and she mending her armor and practicing short throws and retrievals with her new magic spear. I have said too much, I know, at least too much for Rey to hear.

The monk, I realized, was watching us both. I hadn’t noticed him awaken.

His name was Hilraam. He spoke with his hands – not a sound from his mouth – and in his eyes stood utter calm no matter the subject: the dragon, his torture, his fellow monks dying, our reason for being here. I questioned him on all of these, and all were returned with a serenity I have never before seen in a human. He patiently communicated through gestures that he was indeed captured by the blue dragon, and his brothers were eaten by her, though he bore her no ill will.

He and his brothers at the monastery love Luna. They track Her, study Her. They all wear tattoos of Her moods and wanderings. They have designed and created lenses that harness the power of Luna, that show much and foretell the future. They are secretive but not, if you do not harm them, dangerous.

All this time a mere stone’s throw from Diamond Lake, and I did not know.

While he was explaining through gestures something I was not grasping immediately, I impulsively kissed him. He returned it, and he and I smiled, both of us understanding something unsaid.

For the next long while I talked to him about myself and the Children of the Mirror. When his lids began fluttering somewhere after Standing, I sang him to sleep.

Coldeven 11th day, full moon
We finally told the mistress the truth about the mercury poisoning after Rey drank the potion again. This time the mistress drank and did not vomit.

The crystal and Rey’s spear were brought up, and the mistress said Yes to the plan of firing into it.

Whisper found and ate a couple of kobolds, it said. These could be Ithane’s. That might have solved the spy problem in the short term? What I was curious about was how swamp-dragon-aligned kobolds could survive up here. I hoped we would capture one and have the opportunity to ask.

I don’t really remember what else happened that day, for the dorse feu was only hours away. And with a human. I hoped we would not damage one another.

Coldeven 11th night, dorse feu
Hilraam was skilled, responsive, and durable.

His chest, I was delighted to find (and run my fingers across) was indeed artistically rendered in lunar paths and constellations, all of which I eventually recognized. Many among our tribe render similar markings though nothing as . . . mathematical as this.

When we were both at the limits of our stamina, I saw an image of him, actually a projection, above his body. He was aiming the lens at me, peering at me through it. I spread my arms in welcome. He then peered in the direction of Luna, and then the image vanished. Hilraam slept on peacefully.

This has been a wonderful return to the ways of my kin. Here, in a frozen dragon cave, underground, with a mute human. No wonder my father has strange dreams: what can dreams of future events along my own timeline for just my own life look like, let alone an entire people?

Coldeven 12th day
Outside, the crystal was set up and Rey and the dragon were positioned by Rishka. Ah yes, the mad plan.

At his signal, Rey’s mistress reared up and spat out a bolt of lightning that passed through the crystal, exploding it. Save for stolid Rey, we all dove for cover. She was deafened for a time, a little scorched, but happy, because it worked! The lightning imbued the spear, changing its very essence from black to blue, from acid to lightning.

Afterward Rey explained to her mistress about seeing the kobolds, and that although Whisper had one or more ground into kobold paste, it didn’t get all of them.

“Well, why don’t you go find them and kill the rest,” she ordered. Rey left for some time and returned to report that she found the tracks, saw that they were leaving the area, but then she lost them in rocky, windswept terrain.

Later that afternoon we were all sparring when Whisper popped out of a stone wall, arced through the air – an arm missing – to land in a heap, motionless. A stony claw followed it out, attached to the rest of a massive earth elemental that started swinging at everything it saw.

Rey blew the side off the thing with her first shot: the new magic within the spear is puissant. I hit a couple times with my Silver, but it was Hilraam who ran in and engaged the thing. He attacked with his bare hands, thunder rolling out from his fists and feet. He dodged and parried with remarkable skill, but the stone monster’s huge size was too much: it slammed him down and then, with a sickening crunch that caused me to cry out, it crushed him.

We killed it a moment later – a moment too late – and it fell into rubble.

I pulled Hilraam out and spent time with him, praying, recommending him to Sehanine. I kissed him one last time before giving him to Rishka to take away for eating. His body would not go to waste: the dead feed the living, that is the way. I could not personally eat him, of course – that is for animals, and our more feral druids like Skaen and Tu’urka – but I think Hilraam would be pleased that he could offer one last service.

Coldeven 12th – second night of the full moon
My second and final night of the dorse feu. I could only pray this night: my skin’s yearning fled with Hilraam’s death.

“So much death all around me, My Mistress. I ask that let me heal once again. Let me your beacon once more, please, just for a time.”

I dreamed. Sehanine smiled down on me and I see my hands on fire with her moon glow, bloodied friends and lovers and kin rising towards my glow which has spread to all my body. They lay their hands on me and are healed.”

My hands tingled all over when I awoke, and I know my healing has returned. My initiate spells are clear in my head: they have come back.

All alone in my little alcove I had created to separate Hilraam and me, and then just me, from Rey and the gnome and all others, I cried. Joy, but sadness too. Each new wave of Her grace returning to me has come on the death of another. What can this mean?

Journal of Etona - Entry Thirteen

Coldeven 13th day
We journeyed down carefully, aiming for our old hideout. More of the snownadoes, more traps circumvented, sparks in the air. What a marvelous land that was. Just . . . very cold. Also, my eyes hurt while I was up there.

At our “pad” - our out-of-town headquarters, I suppose - I prowled while people slept, and that is how I heard and then saw the group of four men come up the trail to the place. I recognized Egan and initially came to greet him but then withdrew. Something about their postures, the way they moved. One of them heard me.

The one in the lead grabbed Egan by the scruff of the neck and said, “Did you hear that? What was that?” A human speaking Common. As I passed around them, I realized that their scent was also wrong for humans. Where had I smelled that before?

Two more thoughts raised my hackles:
They have come to steal the artifacts.
They are mistreating my friend.

I moved around them trying to size them up. Eventually I understood that they could see in the dark better than I. It would be revealed soon that they used magic I had seen Egan use for this purpose. They also exchanged words between themselves that were not Common, but like their scent I had encountered this before as well.

Where? Where before?

I stole back to our little base and awakened the others. We would confront them on the road in front of the building, see what they wanted. Angivre and I perched in the second-story window keeping watch.

They halted before the trio reached the corona of light thrown by Rey and Rishka’s torches and the moon-kissed stone I provided. I could no longer see the other two with him under the overcast dark sky.

“Egan, what is this about?” Rey called to them.

Our young warlock came forward. “Oh, eh, hi there, Rey! Yes. Good evening,” Egan replied. “We’re just here to get something and then we’re off.”

“What you are here for does not belong to you,” Rey said.

Apparently, that was the end of the conversation. What followed was a very peculiar mix of hide-and-seek and dodge-the-fire-wizard. Egan would play the part of concerned hare.

The trio was aligned with the Hell realm. Their leader was armed with flame spells which he shot out with abandon. All three could turn invisible and throw spheres of orum, or utterblack around.

Rey and Rishka – and Obi, too – dodged torrents of flame in attacking the fire mage who, like Egan, wore a tough armor. I let fly the Silver at him, Rishka attacked with jaws wide open, and Rey struck with her spear. In short order we forced his retreat . . . into thin air: not only was he was adept at his invisibility but he could also shadowstep like many Eladrin.

He was a diversion, however: his two invisible fellows made for the well where the artifacts were. At least one of them dove in sealing the top with a complicated spell of whirring metal blades that appeared out of nowhere. I had seen the like before: Olma, a Dwarven cleric I had known, had also used this dweomer (her word for a spell). It was an odd plan: how would they get out again? Could they also shadowstep? If so, could they do so from inside a well?

They dropped i, we countered; they created the blade wall, we kicked in the stones underneath to pound them; they shadowstepped, we tracked them. Egan, bereft of powers through all this, sought shelter. He was clearly on our side: in the fight he yelled that we should dispatch these men and that he was powerless and he would explain everything and . . . oh, poor Egan.

They were able to grab the artifacts and get some distance away, but not far enough. We felled both of them knocking them unconscious. However, between a last powerful storm of fire from their invisible leader and Rishka’s seeming insatiable hunger, both of them ended up dead. I could do nothing about the former, but the latter . . .

“Rishkar! If you eat someone still living again in my presence, you will have to answer to an angry goddess.” His small eyes slitted in regarding me. Rey intervened and led him away.

We tracked the mage to the Whispering Cairn. "Your claim is not unjust!" I called out, and though his party's attack without even speaking to us was rash, even these actions could be justified. I explained that we understood all of this and wanted to parlay. He did not, remaining invisible. In the end we simply waited him out and, when he appeared we surrounded him, Rishkar licking his lips.

He told us he was with an organization called the Asmodi, a group of some size and resources acting on behalf of Hell. Egan’s abilities - could we fail to notice? - were from there, negotiated earlier with this group. He owed them much for his powers.

“He was desperate, penniless, and trying to find his lost sister,” I protested to a shrug.

“Few happy people come to us. You for example, moon priest, wouldn’t. But we offer a fair deal. Customers such as Egan are not even required to pay up front.”

Ruthless this may be, but it was undeniably fair to an extent. That they only required material gain was fortunate: Egan had not sold his soul. Except . . . .

“That treasure you came for and were willing to kill us over is not his and so not yours to claim. He found it alongside R--, the huntress here and myself.” No need to give him names beyond my own. “A different prize will have to be offered.”

This he nodded at.

Rey and I stepped away and had our first of many little conferences. She was angling to kill this man. The only counter-argument that she would listen to was whether or not that would do any good.

A yell of pain. Rishkar had eaten part of the man’s hand ostensibly, the walking crocodile explained, to prevent more spell casting. I think it more likely he was simply missing his midnight snack.

We asked the sorcerer about what usually happened when a claim team did not come back.

“They simply send a stronger party to find out what happened.”

“What do we need to do for your order to leave Egan alone and never bother the rest of us again?” I returned.

It would take much money, he said, something of similar value. No, he did not want to die, though I sensed he was not particularly afraid of that. This to me is odd: I thought servitors of Hell gave up their spirit to torment upon death, but maybe that was incorrect. He was certainly disciplined: he was reacting only mildly to the loss of part of his hand.

Rey still wanted to kill him, and so did Rishkar since it was nearly Elevensies and the hand merely whet his appetite, but I wanted no part in that. I could not talk them out of it, however, so I left.

And yet, Rey held back. She could not do it. I knew she could not! I took and squeezed her hand. "Thank you," I whispered to her.

And so the man told us to go to Greyhawk's Silver Dragon Inn and leave a message there for the Asmadi. They would contact us to arrange payment of the debt. We then let him go, and he seemed to be grateful enough for sparing his life so I remain hopeful we will get a fair bargain out of it.

“Is this what you want in life?” I asked him as he was leaving. He turned around to face me again. “A little borrowed power to terrorize others with? To do the bidding of creatures who mean the world no good?”

“Everything people have, every scrap of happiness, comes from power. All else is illusion. It is what there is.”

I stepped close to him and gazed into his eyes.

“No. There is more.”

He stared at me a moment then chuckled, a little ruefully I thought. “Maybe for elves, but we humans have a rougher time of it. This life is short and dirty. You make what you can of it and then you’re erased.”

He walked away.

“Sehanine light your way, human. I hope to see you again.”

Coldeven 14th day
When we went back to Diamond Lake, Rey, Rishkar and I made a bee line to the Emporeum. Shag met us at the door: he is the new door attendant! As I hugged him and asked if he was available later that night for games and tea, I wondered at my gentle friend’s ability to turn people away. I couldn’t imagine him sternly ordering anyone to retreat.

While Shag and I chatted, I sent a message to Madame Z. It came back almost immediately – please come up to her office.

She was agitated, I could see, and distracted. Clearly she wanted to unburden herself to me. Before she could, however, I wanted to set up a meeting with the Twilight Lodge. She agreed to leave the usual message at the usual location, and we would wait. She then asked us into a small private nook off the main office.

We crowded in, Rey and I, Rishka remaining just outside, taking care not to disturb her remarkable collection of a hundred or so little figurines of the peoples and monsters of the world.

She was hoping, she said, that we would take papers to Greyhawk and bring back an emissary for a nobleman on the council who was looking to get more involved in local mining. This was apparently a secret as council members are not supposed to have direct interests in mining or some such? Words about laws slip too easily out of my thoughts. The escort of this individual back to Diamond Lake would need to be covert and also not connected to Greyhawk itself. This ruled out many people whom Madame Z could otherwise trust, and so she had hoped to hire us.

It is a way to pay our debt, though doing this job also pays gold as well. Furthermore, I did come upon the idea that this councilman we would be aiding could perhaps be persuaded to move the refinery elsewhere, particularly once we’ve destroyed it. The mines themselves are doing little damage to the land, so if this poisonous thing could be relocated it would save people its weight in bother. Finally, this same councilman could potentially vote for our treaty recommendation to smooth relations between Rishkar’s folk and the humans.

Once away from the Emporeum, I spoke with Merris Sandover, a scout for the Bronzewood Lodge, asking him to contact Nogweir, their leader, about the poisoning of the land and what we could do about the refinery. He is not of a mind to level the building for some reason, but he liked my idea of approaching the councilman. I asked him to keep a look out for Verdre and tell her we went to Greyhawk, our next destination for the next several days.

Next up was Allustan. We asked if he would venture into the deep of the cairn to examine the black sphere and its red stand. No, definitely not, he said, but he would like a chance to study it. Egan volunteered to make the arrangements to get it up to the surface world and into Allustan’s house using a team of men and dwarves. He will stay behind to oversee this.

I am actually quite worried about him: his latest bad idea is finding information on the Wind Dukes for the purpose of communing with them, gaining their favor, and passing their power through him as he did with the Court of Hell. I made him promise he would consider not doing that – not be enslaved to another round of potentially malefic deities – and so to not move at all towards that end at least until we return. At least when I was not in Her favor, she did not send agents after me to exact retribution.

Come to that: perhaps he would interested in following Her Silver Path?

We let Mel know we were leaving for Greyhawk in a couple days. She had an interesting surprise for us: a summonable celestial steed! It was white and silver-gray, beautiful, sixteen hands high. Calm, utterly confident with a look in its eye that I’d last seen from a halfling pretending he was a child but knew that I knew but was in on the secret. Mel will be our human guide through the noisy hive of the human capital city. We assembled everything we would need to visit it, and the next day off we went.

Journal of Melinde Vereen - Entry I

It’s been too long since I’ve been in the city.

I guess what they say is true. You can take the kid out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the kid.

It wasn’t half a day into our second day back in town, while Rey, Rishkar and Chrism were working out details of the lizardman treaty (I think they call it the Mist Marsh Treaty), when we were beset upon by a swarm of unusually aggressive horned beetles. They came down hard on the Hunter’s Mark Inn. After a short fight, where I got to blast quite a few of the nasty little things, the attack let up, and Chrism left with the treaty to pass off to the Council. I think they weren’t going to actually vote on it, but Rey seemed happy. Those papers all seem like a waste of time to me. The average soldier on the ground is going to panic when he sees something like Rishkar, and it only takes one idiot with a crossbow to mess all this work up.

Anyhow, after Chrism left, Etona was chomping at the bit to get back to Phreet’s dock buddies’ hideout to see if they had the stolen family heirloom compass that the ship captain Arma wanted back. I could understand the urgency. The little urchins might have pawned the thing already, and then we’d really be on a wild goose chase. I offered to get some help from some of the watch that were coming off duty.

I managed to come across a few of the guys from the low market watch. Their captain was Viddick, a lumbering oaf of a man who took up more space in his britches than he had brain cells to control. Needless to say, I paid for some drinks and agreed to do him a favor in the future and off we went to the docks.

Evening was fast upon us at this point, and the docks were beginning to stink of the drunkards. None of us had seen this crew of Phreets’ so I tried to wring it out of one of the drunks near Pier 11. I got some vomit on my tunic, but the old sailor was out cold before I could finish my questions. It turns out Viddick and his crew could visually identify members of Phreet’s team, so my questioning was unnecessary. Viddick waited until after I was vomited on to tell me that.

Rey and Etona quickly located the suspected campy site of Phreet’s crew. It looked like it was ransacked. Actually, according to Rey, it looked like someone came from the water attacked her crew, took the people and left. Three came in and six went out. However, other than some spattered blood, there was nothing to find.

I let the boys go at that point, and Viddick seemed less concerned about the potential crime scene here than getting back to his bed and going to sleep.

Etona led us back to wharf house where people pick up jobs. I tried my old City Watch defending the peace routine to try to get some info on Phreet’s crew’s activity, but George, the wharf clerk blew me off. Etona was much more blunt, and George told her that Phreet’s crew rented a boat a few hours before we got there and went out to Captain Arma’s vessel. He didn’t see them come back, but he assumed they were doing a rigging job for Arma.

That certainly confused me. If someone came to their camp and roughed them up to get the compass back, then why would they go back to see Arma? And if they didn’t have the compass and got roughed up, why would they go back to see Arma? At that point, we all seemed confused. Admittedly Etona had the most bizarre notion that Doppelgangers came into their camp, killed or abducted them, assumed their identities and then went to Arma.

Regardless of our queries, Etona hired a boat, and we all went back to Arma’s barge. The vessel was pulling anchor when we arrived. After a bit of a confused interaction with his crew, we met the Captain again. He seemed equally befuddled by our visit. He told us that Phreet’s crew came back with the compass, confessed and he let Phreet leave with them. He said he hadn’t sent anyone to attack them or try to get the compass back. He was pulling anchor because his son was staying to be a gladiator in the arena, and he had finished his business here.

Something still didn’t make sense. If someone went and roughed up Phreet’s gang, why wouldn’t they have just gotten the compass at that point? I suppose Phreet’s rigging crew could have hidden it somewhere and agreed to bring it back only if they were let go. But then where did they go with Phreet?

Etona was equally confused. After checking one more time at Pier 11 for Phreet’s return, we found nothing of the rigging crew and no new clues. Everyone decided to return to the Hunter’s Mark.

Back at the Inn, we had a message waiting from a mysterious author, likely Elgios, the wizard friend of Allustan who was researching the undead worms. We were invited to the Crooked House in the Foreign Quarter. Having no other current options, we made our way there.

The new Innkeeper, a boisterous gnome, had a special rate for us, and even offered a stable for my new magical horse and Rishkar. The new setting was a welcome change. I’d prefer the Foreign Quarter any day to the Low Market crowd.

After checking in, we headed over the Shrine to the Moon Goddess, Sehanine. Etona met with Estae (the lay priest) to see if they could locate Phreet again. They both started talking about some upcoming moon festival or new moon something or other. I think I was watching some fireflies when they were finally ready to go.

We returned to the Crooked House, named for its slightly off-kilter architecture, just in time for dinner and evening festivities. I found an old war veteran who was missing a couple fingers, Lucian, to arm wrestle. Etona made friends with the elven singer, Coraline, who looked deceptively fey, but seemed completely uneducated in the elven ways outside Greyhawk. Rey had a talk with the cook, Borgo, to get a whole pig to feed to Obi and Rishkar. Dinner was quite tasty.

Overnight Etona told us she was going back to the wharf to see if she could do some good and attract some followers to her new moon ceremony. I’m not sure when she left or came back, but I slept well.

The next morning, our 3rd day in the city, we met in the main room early. Etona likes to be up early. Just as we were starting in on breakfast, a scream erupted from the street outside. There wasn’t a moment to lose. Action in Greyhawk is like the High Ery in the spring. Nothing stops it.

Once outside, we came across a gathering crowd. A middle-aged woman, a local baker’s wife, named Kalinda came across a body in the street. A man appeared to have fallen from his second-story balcony and died on the street below from the fall. However, as the crowd gathered, we began to suspect foul play. Rey inspected the body and found a likely fatal wound at the base of the man’s neck (from a stiletto) and another on his chest where a strip of skin had been cut away. Both injuries clearly not from the fall.

Around the same time, Viddick showed up with his crew of half-exhausted cohorts. He accosted me and asked for his favor. It seems the Watch has been busy with a Serial Killer in the Lower Ward, so Viddick’s busy with that investigation. Apparently, he’s also short-staffed, which is always the case. So, just my luck, he made me an offer to reinstate my position with the Watch for a day to investigate this crime. Of course, I have to write a report, and I’m really terrible at investigating, but it’s so good to be back. I couldn’t turn his down. He wasn’t real happy about our findings, but it was a murder. Or it looks like one.

Etona, Riskhar and Rey graciously agreed to help me out, since I probably would have just called it an accident without them. Up in the man’s apartment, we found a large store of art pieces, and we learned his name: Svans Clemansor. Etona also found another clue: a small pile of flour: uncooked, just outside the balcony door and a trail leading from the entrance to the apartment door. The apartment door was unlocked and there were no signs of struggle either. Likely this attacked was done by a skilled assassin. Possibly someone working for that guild. A guild I can safely say is dangerous.

The art dealer’s neighbor on the ground floor, Borland Zigvaris (a smith of some sort) said that Svans was a dealer who had special parties for the art elite. Apparently, they didn’t travel in the same circles, but he was known. We couldn’t tell if any art pieces were missing. In fact, it looked like the hit and man’s flesh were the target of the attack. I’m not savvy about stealing flesh, but it sounds like something a necromancer would do, though I thought they took whole bodies for zombification.

At any rate, we left the crime scene at that. I would like to question the baker himself at some point. Perhaps he was expecting some fresh baked goods and got a knife in his back instead. Though, it’s more likely that someone picked his lock, knew his morning routine and tried to make it look like an accident. We need to find out what other things he was planning, possibly even later today. There have been a lot of fancy pieces coming out of the dungeons under Castle Greyhawk lately.

Back at the Crooked house, we ate breakfast, and I worked on my report with Rey’s help. We had no suspects and no motive, so it was pretty bland, but I still had all the details that proved it was no accident. Etona went to meet with Estae, I assume to see if he had any leads on Phreet and to talk about their new moon ceremony.

Around noon we headed to the stables at the Middle Gate to the Artisan’s Quarter. Etona had a meeting with Tomas, the driver for Councilman Thran Chozik. When we arrived, Tomas was waiting with the well-known Black Coach. Apparently it got its name because it was tradition to paint all coaches white and emblazon them with emblems in Greyhawk, and Tomas was the first to paint one black.

Tomas had a bit of a surprise for us as well. He planned to take us to our scheduled luncheon with Elgios, in the High Ward. Admittedly, it would be a fine way to travel and would avoid questions about Rishkar. We accepted and were ferried quickly to the High Ward.

We arrived at a majestic estate made of cut white stone. I think Rey said it was marble. It had a long stark entrance with a few colonnades and an equally few guards. It seemed limited by comparison to other family homes in the High ward, but I guess if you’re a wizard, you have invisible guards.

We were welcomed by Pollard, an aging elf at the door and escorted to a large lounge. In a fancy sitting space we met Elgios, an aging man with cropped red hair and a silver breastplate and dressed in ruddy red robes. He invited us to eat with him.

As we entered another room, he introduced another guest, a middle-aged man with longish blonde hair, a chain shirt and a muscular build. I was stunned when he called the man Thran, Councilman Thran Chozik. Despite the councilman’s presence, we began to discuss the undead worms from Ithane’s egg and the lizardman clutch. It seems Elgios found writings about a cult that worshipped a minor deity called Kyuss, and that Kyuss’ rebirth heralded a time known as the Age of Worms, which apparently was a time in which life as we know it would end and another form of existence would take over. Apostolic scrolls and The Libris Mortis seemed like good references from Elgios. Though Etona was skeptical at first, it seems we had already seen a minor servant of Kyuss in the form of the worm-infested scout from Blackwall. If that was a minor servant, then we are in for rough times. It seems Kyuss is not a free-roaming deity currently though.

Etona moved to engage Councilman Chozik in conversation about the Smelting House in Diamond Lake. She made some good point about it poisoning people, and was very forward about looking for a solution, even hinting at a violent dismantling at the hands of the druids of Briarwood if no other option was available. The Councilman was very reasonable though, and said he was open to discussion. His ask was this: Lorus Rahanian, a veteran Arena fighter currently controls the Champion’s Games. His games tame much of the unruly populous, and Thran wishes to be able to have some influence over the games or their controller. He currently can’t gain access to that kind of influence with Lorus, but he thinks that Lorus may be partaking in some illegal activities. If he can use this knowledge of Lorus to gain influence, aka blackmail the guy, then he’ll be happy to oblige Etona and likely Rey as well with the Mistmarsh Treaty.

The catch to the Councilman’s request, we have to enter the Champion’s Games as a team to get access to Lorus’ quarters to investigate for him. Of course, I’m game for investing any illegal activity. That’s in my nature, but I’m more likely to turn Lorus into the Watch that let him keep breaking the law just so Thran can pull his strings. That’s my take on things, but I told the Councilman, I would jump at the opportunity. Etona was opposed to fighting, but the councilman assured us that we didn’t have to enter into any combat to simply sign up and gain access to the grounds. It’s considered a punishable offense to kill your opponents in the Arena anyhow. It’s supposed to be subdual only. Accidents happen, and monsters are fair game for a kill. Maybe she can convince Sehanine that a warrior priestess in the Arena is far more likely to gain converts than a soup kitchen. I’m just saying it a way to reach a larger audience.

I still have some questions for the councilman, like: who would he propose replace Lorus if the man was removed from his post? How much evidence do we need and what kinds? Getting people to talk is something I can do, but keeping them alive in this town is really hard.

Furthermore, I need to question the baker about Svans, and find out what he might have had planned for this evening. I’m starting to wonder about Phreet’s fate as well.
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Journal of Melinde Vereen - Entry II

I think I last left off while we were talking with Coucilman Thran…

Our discussion became something of a question and answer session for a brief time before we were dismissed. I asked about replacing Loris (the Arena’s master), and the Councilman had no specific plans for that.

I asked about the Serial Killer in the Lower Ward, and Mr. Chozik said he had heard of someone or something called the “Lantern Man,” which was thusly named because the rumor was that a person would see an eerie green lantern before someone was killed.

We did learn that the Champions Games would entail a group dinner before the actual event, held at an undisclosed location, a tour of the Arena and the catacombs/living quarters below the event venue, and an assignment of living spaces in the catacombs.

Etona was fairly adamant that she would not want to participate in the Champions Games and let Councilman Chozik know this fact before we left. He stated that most teams had a minimum of 3 members and a maximum of eight.

After finishing our meal of duck and pudding, we made our way out the front gate. No carriage ride back, which seemed surprising if the Councilman and Elgios wanted to remain secret acquaintances or ours. Needless to say, I was hungry to continue our investigation of the murders in the Foreign quarter by the assassin who had killed Svans, the art dealer/former Circus of Peace performer.

My next stop was the Baker’s shop near the Crooked House. We made our way inside in the mid afternoon, the shop was still busy but not overwhelming. The head baker was Kroga, a surly dark-haired, scarred man with a bull-ring nose piercing. He had a personality to match his face. I decided to play it safe and actually buy something to get my information. Etona is hosting a party for a group of the poor in 3 days, and she’s going to need some food. Cakes seemed like a reasonable choice.

After Etona explained her design, 7-8 cakes that were frosted in silver to look like a crescent moon, Kroga seemed to be more willing to talk. We were really there to see if he could identify the flour found at the scene of the crime. Etona presented the flour from the crime scene, and Kroga nearly tossed his proverbial cookies. Apparently, he is some kind of flour guru or something. He went into a tirade about the flour we showed him, stating it was some kind of amalgam of poor ingredients possibly not even pure wheat flour.

Etona absorbed it all quite well. I think we all became experts after that little lesson with Kroga. Needless to say, Etona’s real shining moment was convincing Kroga to find the distributor of this particular flour for us, for a price. I ponied up the gold he requested for the cakes and the investigation of low-quality flour distribution. Etona seemed satisfied. Rey filled a bag with baked goods, and Riskhar looked perplexed at the entire shops contents. I don’t think he had any idea why a creature would take time to prepare food in such a way, or really, prepare food at all.

While walking back to the Crooked house, Etona started talking about Egan. In fact, she said something I had never heard. Apparently, the little rat was a legitimate devil-worshipper, an Asmadai with powers from the Nine Hells! It makes sense, given the nature of his fire magic, but to think… Etona assured me that he had purged himself of the devil-brand and forsaken the fire magic, but I was uneasy about it still.

At any rate, Etona was planning on going to the Silver Dragon Inn to tell the barkeep that she was leaving a message for the Asmadai. I nearly fell over when I heard this plan. At the very best, she would have been thrown out of the bar, possibly had the Watch called on her or been arrested. It’s well known that the Asmadai have been active in the City, but always in secret, and true-branded devil-worshippers are put to death. I had to convince her that such a plan was foolish.

It seems that she was planning on contacting someone who Rishkar had maimed (taken his hand off) in order to fulfill Egan’s monetary debt to the Asmadai. Apparently, they had something from the Whispering Cairn that they wanted to trade. My suggestion was this: we go ask someone at the Watch if they have anyone being held on suspected Devil Worship who is going to be released in the next couple days, give that person the message and let them deliver it. After some discussion, Etona finally agreed.

I made a stop at the Middle Gate to pass my message to Viddick. He said there was a man who was being held for using devil-magic to predict dice games at the Red Dragon Inn who could take the message back to any real Asmadai, if they existed. Viddick also confirmed that the threat in the lower Ward was known as the “lantern man.” Our needs quickly met, we headed back to the Crooked House.

Back at the slightly-off-kilter Inn, we returned to an evening of chaos. The cook had left for the day earlier and apparently never came back for the evening dinner shift. Borgo was missing. Etona immediately took up work in the kitchen, making some dishes for hungry customers while Mr. Graff’s wife, Sarfina did her best to stay out of the way.

Rey, Rishkar and I excused ourselves to go check on Borgo. The cook lived only a block away, and the evening air was starting to settle with smoke from fireplaces. The humid breeze that portends rain only added to the muggy evening. When we arrived, there was no answer at the front door. Rey scaled the side wall of the 2nd floor apartment to find the window open and, after entering, Borgo’s dead body in his main room. His throat slit and a patch of skin missing from his chest (albeit a different size and location from Svans).

Rishkar’s keen scent found a small dusting of flour by the window sill and evidence that a skilled thief had picked the window lock from outside. Our investigation took us downstairs to the neighboring apartment. A balding older man appeared in modest priestly garb of Pelor. He introduced himself was Loffer.

Having two incidences on our hands, we had more questions for him, and he produced some helpful information. Apparently, he heard some commotion upstairs a couple hours ago but thought it was Borgo doing a dwarven dance of some sort. That tidbit wasn’t useful, but he was able to link the killings.

He said that Borgo and Svans were performers together in something called the Peace Circus. He also knew a bit about the history of the Peace Circus. Apparently, they were successful until a few years back when some people broke into their group’s compound and tried to free a bunch of animals. The animals went crazy and some innocent people died and others were hurt. Arena fighters subdued some of the creatures, and only a few escaped, but the circus fell apart quickly after that, and the various performers were scattered in the Foreign Quarter, taking odd jobs. The others included Coralina (the elf who performs at the Crooked House) and her Husband Rocktar (a wrestler) and Coralina’s musician (a half-orc who works at the Crooked House part-time).

Such a wealth of information was welcome. Loffer asked to be allowed to say something at Borgo’s funeral before we called the Watch to come document the crime scene, and we felt that such a rite would be well-accepted. The usual Watch paperwork and negotiating an explanation for Rey’s unorthodox tactics ended with us being late for dinner and quite hungry when we made it back to Etona’s meal of Vegetable stew and potato crisps.

That night, I assume Etona went to speak to more poor folk at the docks because she smelled of fish and mud in the morning at breakfast.

Speaking of breakfast, the night went well, but I was awake only a half an hour before more chaos erupted in the Crooked House. Etona was planning on making breakfast with Mrs. Graff when the poor woman started screaming from the cellar.

We all rushed down to have a look, expecting a large rat or spider. Sadly we found a scene of another murder. The half-orc custodian/musician, another member of the Peace Circus was lying in his blood on the floor of the cellar, hacked to death with a common wood axe. A quick inspection showed that another, not identical, strip of flesh had been removed from this poor man’s chest as well. It looked like we had a pattern on our hands.

Rey discovered a hand-print with only 3 fingers on the back of the cellar door. The print was covered in blood. Our only 3-fingered acquaintance was Lucian, the drunkard war veteran who practically lived a the bar in the Crooked House. A quick discussion with Mina, Mr. Graff’s daughter, led us to believe that Lucian left around the second bell of the morning, drunk, and had not been back. No one knew where Lucian stayed at night, but it seemed like the consensus thought he slept outside.

This killing was different from the others, clearly not as stealthy, more sloppy and possibly more rushed. It seemed our killer was changing strategy, which meant we needed to find them soon. Also, Lucian, though an unlikely suspect, was now a serious person of interest.

A quick discussion led us to an urgent departure and a hasty trip to Coralina’s apartment. When we arrived, we were greeted by Rocktar, a large muscle-bound, shirtless man with short gold hair and a crooked grin. He, apparently, is the husband of Coralina. It turned out Coralina was in the apartment as well, though she looked a bit uneasy around Rocktar.

We explained the killings and that Lucian was a top suspect currently. Rocktar nearly took off to the Crooked House when he heard that. Rey, Rishkar and I decided it was best to accompany him back to the Inn while Etona escorted Coralina out to the temple of Sehanine to ask her some questions.

At the Crooked House, Rishar and I waited inside with Rocktar. The lizardman and the muscle-bound human seemed to be satisfied by throwing each other to the ground repeatedly in a test of combat prowess, though I think Rishkar was not impressed. Wrestling, unless it’s arm wrestling, has never been interesting to me.

Outside, Rey intercepted Lucian, who was still quite drunk. I came out when he arrived, and Rishkar kept Rocktar busy inside. After invoking my holy symbol to create a zone of truth, I questioned Lucian. The poor man thought Rey was looking for a date. He answered truthfully, and hadn’t been back to the Crooked House since he left when the bar closed. So, he wasn’t a suspect after all. Rey also pointed out that Lucian’s 3-fingered hand was much larger than the one on the back of the cellar door. Either we had the wrong three-fingered man, or we were dealing with a small doppelganger. I was starting to seriously consider Etona’s theory about changelings stealing Phreet.

We passed a tankard to Lucian and sent him on his way. Once Rocktar’s initial anger cleared, we explained that Lucian wasn’t the suspect and that we needed to do more investigation to find the culprit. Rocktar agreed to return peacefully to his apartment and wait for us to return.

Once again, we called the Watch, and soon the Crooked House was being canvassed as usual.

Not wasting a moment, Rey, Rishkar and I swiftly walked to the outdoor stones of the Temple of Sehanine.

Meanwhile, at the temple, Etona had talked to Coralina, gathering information about the eventual collapse of the Peace Circus after a failed exhibition with reptilian raptors at a small party. She learned that Coralina was having a relationship with Volin the former Beastmaster of the Circus behind Rocktar’s back. Also, she learned that Coralina would prefer to be engaged with Volin over Rocktar.

The most important information from Coralina was something she witnessed while staying the night with Volin. She recounted a story of a white-haired, white-eyed humanoid scaling the wall to Borgo’s home. She was too afraid to call out for help, but wasn’t sure what she could do. Essentially, she kept it to herself, not wanting to worry, but after Etona had explained the series of murders, she is sure that this thing was involved.

Once I returned, we shared the information about Lucian with Etona, and she shared what she had gained from Coralina. The young, elf, performer seemed uncomfortable about talking wth Rocktar present, so we were glad to have the privacy of the temple.

We quickly devised a plan. We would send Coralina and Volin out of town for a week or two, spending our gold to secure an Able Carter coach and Inn somewhere South or East of town, more than 20 leagues, at least. Then, we would invoke Rocktar’s sense of physical superiority, and general greed, by asking him to stay at his apartment, specifically staying indoors for a couple days to see if we could use him as bait to lure out the assassin.

Coralina agreed.

First, we went to see Volin, a handsome, middle-aged human with strands of grey in his hair and an overconfident air. He thinks of himself a quite a swordsman, though he looked more like an amateur with a knack for animals to me. Needless to say, he verified everything Coralina had said (while my magical Zone of Truth) and agreed to our plan.

Coralina returned with us, but without Volin, to encourage Rocktar to act as our hero to lure out the assassin. The large muscled man quickly agreed when he heard that there was a 50 gp reward.

After a quick goodbye, we put our stake-out into action. Rey and Rishkar remained on the streets watching the house while I ferried food to Etona and Rocktar, who stayed indoors. Rocktar rescheduled all his wrestling lessons for two days, and all we had to do was wait. Etona and Rey set a magical trap on the only window to the apartment, something that would cast a moon-like shadow outside to alert Rey or Rishkar and possibly signal that Sehanine was watching the household. Etona seemed intent on meeting the assassin first. She hopes to parley. Maybe she knows something about changelings. Maybe not.

That evening, it began to rain. I brought food to the crew at lunch and dinner, but nothing had happened either time. I decided to put up an advertisement for a Wizard or Mage for the Champions Games at the Crooked House. Maybe I can get some interest while they do the stakeout. We will need someone to cover for Etona.

What I didn’t know was what was going on at Rocktar’s place. Apparently the white-haired humanoid was there, setting off the magical trap just as we had planned.
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Journal of Etona, Entry 14

My impressions of this city have been mixed: there is the stench and disease of humans living in filth and poverty, but other shinier parts fairly drip with greed and self-interest. A less empathetic place I have never been to. I cannot decide if Hell is modeled after Greyhawk or vice versa.

After being attacked by another carpet of muercur – why are beetles so interested in me? did I offend? how does one offend insects? – we are off to a new place, an off-kilter lodging called the Crooked Inn run by husband-and-wife gnomes named Graf and Sarfina. It is at the periphery of the Foreign Quarter. From there I send a missive asking to meet the representative, Krisn, again so that we might discuss further the attack. Greyhawk officials “investigating” the “incident” are oddly incurious about a magical swarm of giant bugs attacking their own officials. We did received a note but not about this: it asks us to come mid-morning to the Elgios estate, and that we will be provided a carriage.

When we arrive at the grand, luxurious manor, we are brought to Elgios himself and his guest, human political leader Thran Chosik, our would-be patron. We speak of the investigation and the arena. He wishes us to purchase his conscience rather than merely following it for free. We are thus to participate in that hallowed old Orcish activity of fighting in front of cheering, bloodthirsty imbeciles as a front for investigating whether other gladiators are engaging in something deleterious to this man’s career. Mr. Chosik’s suspicions rest on the meteoric rise of the influence of one former gladiator named Lorus, a fighter who has gathered undue influence among the council.

“You are asking the priestess of Sehanine to participate in this base sport so you can find out whether you have a political rival? And our reward is your doing something faintly noble if it isn’t too expensive or inconvenient? I think not.”

“Lady Aspianne,” says Mel with what took me a moment to realize was worry on her face. I had never seen it there before. “Arma’s son, Kragan, may be down there. This would be a great chance to question him about Phreet as part of your investigation.”

“Even if I wanted to debase myself in front of your horde, my Mistress would never permit it. I will end up a thieving street urchin again if I so much as set foot in your pits of barbarism. No. Surely,” I address myself to the human, “there is something else I can lend my talents to?” I soften my voice. "Anything else?”

He does not take the hint and in fact says, “That is disappointing. We had heard –. Well, your reputation had preceded you. I am sorry it was incorrect. Perhaps we can find a use for you somewhere else.”

A use for me.

I am glad Verdre was not here to hear that. The meeting would have ended much more dramatically.

When we returned, I shook off the insult by spending pent the rest of the evening at the Crooked Inn having dinner and enjoying the entertainment: an Elven dancer named Coralina performing with Drummer, her mute, half-orc band member and friend, I think, who of course plays the drums. I spoke with her “between sets”, the human term for when they ended a flight. I found she knows nothing of our people, having been brought up wholly in Greyhawk and infused with its culture. But she is friendly, if timid, and I think I can teach her if I do not use so many words next time.

Screams outside just as the inn was set to close its doors. A dead body across the street, fallen from a small balcony.

It is an art dealer named Svan. His death was not from the fall: he was repeatedly stabbed and, a notable detail, a strip of his skin was removed near his collarbone. He had been pushed from his second-story apartment by his attacker.

And here is great Watch of Greyhawk sullenly mobilizing to get through the tiresome process of asking rote questions about yet another in an endless parade of deaths of this city’s hapless citizens. Mel volunteers to take over the case in order to secure temporary reinstatement to this august body of tireless defenders – it will advantageous in the future, she says – and so the investigation is gratefully tossed into our laps with a “Feel free to call us never!” sigh of relief from whomever it was who had first appeared. Victor? Vermouth? Venezuela? It could not possibly matter.

Up in Svan’s apartment, the door was locked but his window was open, so entrance was either through there or from the balcony, both of them unlikely. A detail: there was a little bit of mealy flour near his balcony. It seemed to have nothing to do with any food in the place nor on Svan’s person.

Svan’s neighbor on the ground floor, a blacksmith, had no idea what had happened and had neither heard nor seen anything. Rey had no tracks to work with that weren’t instantly buried by the city traffic. There was no other flour anywhere. We thus headed to a nearby bakery.

Kroga is a surly, ugly, but passionate baker who instantly derided as literal garbage the flour I poured in front of him. I believe he was alarmed at its even touching something in his establishment. At my urging, and some coin, he agreed to investigate the distributor of this flour. He may have been more open to this because I also ordered seven silver-frosted cakes that together will form the shape of a crescent moon for the upcoming New Moon gathering.

That reminds me, I will need fruits, meats and bread as well as pure, clean water there as well.

We return to the Crooked Inn to find Borgo the cook missing: he had run off for the night leaving Sarfina to prepare dinner, a task she was about as suited for as I would be for promoting the virtues of this city to outsiders, so Rey and I took over and managed to craft a superb meal out of the wreckage of stranded ingredients, if the acclamation from the dining room was any judge. I took to cleaning the place and myself thoroughly afterwards during which Rey and Mel went off to Borgo’s house.

I am quickly brought back word: Borgo is also dead, murdered via a cut throat. A patch of skin is missing from his chest. The perpetrator clearly picked the lock from the outside, an impressively difficult task. And the same flour is there.

It is the same killer. But why? What have these people in common?

Borgo’s downstairs neighbor is a very poor priest of Pelor. His calm demeanor is placid as he tells us he does not know what happened up there, though Svan and Borgo did share a link: they had been part of the Peace Circus together.

Resh! Many many curse words!

The Peace Circus was the very same menagerie that I and others released animals from two years ago. I had known the group was taking in a lot of money, but I did not know that many, perhaps all, of the owners were orphans who had banded together to put on what they thought was a merry and delightful circus.

What had possessed me (save for the handsome leader of the group)? Honestly, that was an insane act!

Oh yes, I remember now. Dors'e feu. It had happened over full moon.

Well, the Peace Circus, animals gone, had to purchase more, but it had taken much time and money to assemble what they had, so this time around they hired more dangerous animals. They did well with that for a while until the giant raptors had gotten loose somehow and attacked people, killing a small girl. The priest recalled that a woman had literally offered herself up to the monster that was going for the child, but it had taken merely a deep bite out of the woman’s arm, thrown her aside and carried on to the girl. In the end they all had to be put down, and the Peace Circus dissolved.

Coralina had also been a member of the Circus.

This is all stunning news, almost too much to take in. I wander for a time finding myself at door of my tribe’s lay priest, Estee. I tell him everything. He hears me. He understands. He allows me to move past the wall of briar this news hurled me into, and I leave calm again but resolute. Today we will need to speak to Coralina and see if she knows anything, perhaps some double-crossing that set one Circus member on another.

But first, my Mistress’s face is in quenae’wek, thin and wan, a time for traps and deceit. She favors us with Her hunter’s visage. Only in these past few spins of seasons have I truly understood what that meant. My sickly childhood had molded me before then, but now I, too, have hunted to stay alive. I am stronger, and I have killed to survive. I feel within me this face at last.

And I know what it means to prey.

I descend into the poor quarter down at the docks, to humans who derive no satisfaction from Her waning. I spend most of the arc there helping people who will accept, which fear and suspicion keep to a handful. I heal where I can with herbs and remedies. I invite any who spoke to me to the dobrun du’uin, the New Moon ceremony three nights hence.

Dawn brings new responsibilities for me. I travel to the early markets to purchase everything we will need for the Crooked Inn’s breakfast and then lend my hand to the meal. Sarfina is up and ready to help me. I forgot potatoes! No, she says, and heads into the basement to get at their stores there.

Her screams rise up the stairs.

She found a hacked-up body: it is the half-orc drummer.

Drummer was custodian for the inn and so slept down in the basement when not working, playing or out in the city. His had been a gentle soul. I will mourn for him during the ceremony.

Rey is conjured by the screams. She grimly examines him: he will be an unresolved issue for her, this calm being of music who also happened to be half-orc, now butchered before she could understand him. She points out the same strip of skin missing, though located in a different place. I find the fatal wound – a furious ax blow to the neck followed by hacking until the orc was in pieces. Blood flow, stiffness of the joints and one or two other indicators tell me this happened while I was purchasing ingredients for my friends and the rest of the dayside beings’ morning meals.

Everywhere shelves are overturned: the place is a shambles. All of it is quite unlike the previous two murders, save for the missing skin patch.

Two other details: there is a bloody hand print of three fingers on the cellar wall at the base of the stairs. Bloody footprints eventually “peter out” to nothing (I think it’s a Dwarven term associated with mining) after the assassin removed te’s boots and then crossed water to re-emerge somewhere else.

The other detail: Drummer was a member of the Peace Circus. Coralina’s husband, Rocktar, is also a member.


I take Coralina to the Temple where I can talk to her about the Circus. I learn the following points:

Coralina was employed to dance before the raptor act
Rocktar is her human husband. He hits her sometimes and is generally abusive. This will not not allowed anymore.
Volin, another human, was the “fearless” raptor trainer
Coralina is in love with Volin and imagines a life with him even after what happened at the massacre
The raptors became more feral, but since Volin was an expert no one mentioned it to him

During the fateful last show, held in an intimate setting just outside Greyhawk, spectators could see and touch the raptors for free. Volin had not chained any of them, but he had felt it was safe to have them loose. A child dropped something and the raptors attacked. The circus members escaped unscathed, though the child’s mother – shielding her daughter – was maimed and thrown aside. She watched her girl be ripped apart.

We elves know something about being dinners for animals. It is uncommon, but sometimes one of us wanders too far afield, alone, is unwise, and falls back into the great chain of life, though this has usually been by something unnatural as native predators tend to leave us be. They know we are competition, but they also know of our respect, and of course that we come from Fae.

But to watch a son or daughter be killed in such a manner, surrounded by people in what is supposed to be a safe place: what would that do a parent? I cannot imagine, but perhaps the humans can, immersed as they are by misery through their short march of days to death.

The garrison came and killed the raptors.

Somehow, given this happened on “human soil”, none of the Peace Circus spent any time in one of their prisons.

Coralina went on to talk about what she had seen in the attack last night on Borgo: a woman with white-silver hair climbed the wall like an insect, passed through the window to leave but a moment later. She had white eyes that looked right at her as she slipped away. Coralina had been with Volin at the time, in Volin’s bed, actually, the latter asleep but she awake.

While my conversation with Coralina was happening, Rey and Mel were dealing with Lucien and Rocktar. Lucien had three fingers to match the blood spatter, but it was very clear after talking to him and also comparing his large hands to the small impression made in the cellar that he was not a suspect. No one else knows who else might have a three-fingered hand.

Mel addresses us when we return. She takes the oddly formal tone I heard back at Elgios’s house: “Indeed, perhaps we need to consider increasing our security for the Lady Aspianne of the Mirror as well.”

Lady Aspianne?

Nodding to Coralina, she continues: “If you have a place to go out of town, we can arrange a carriage. You don’t need to take Rocktar. I certainly don’t know who you might take, but perhaps your amorous friend would be willing to support your jaunt in the country.” Mel offers gold to get Coralina a carriage out of town as soon as tonight, and sets to putting her up somewhere beyond Three Mile Mill.

“Melinde,” I venture, “I believe I can take care of myself with regards to having actual guards. Perhaps I could in fact be bait. I agree that Coralina and, separately, her husband need to become hidden. As we also need to speak to Volin, we will potentially place him into hiding as well.”

“If we could talk more privately for a moment, Lady Aspianne,” says Mel, “perhaps we could consider alternatives.”

Away from Coralina, Mel seems very serious for a moment but then she shrugs it off in that way of hers. “Until we made the connection with the changeling, I had wondered about Phreet’s look-alike gang and their disappearance, but now I think these murders may be connected. Etona, I think they will try to apply pressure to you using Phreet as ransom, and if you don’t comply you may be at risk of being killed and mimicked next. I don’t know who or why, but that’s my hunch.”

Rey looks at me. “You are NOT to be bait. Absolutely not. Maybe you can go away with the girl.”

It is outrageous their protecting me like this, but also sweet. I have to stop myself from hugging Rey.

She goes on, switching to Mel: “And how are they using Phreet as ransom if they haven't even contacted Etona? Am I missing something?”

“I think we all are,” replies Mel. “Your guess is probably as good as mine. No one has tried to leverage anything against her yet, but trust me: if Phreet isn’t already dead, she will be used as a bargaining chip.” She muses, “I wonder . . . If Councilman Chozik is going to be the target, or possibly Elgios? I think we would be no match for either of them: their enemies may simply need someone to weaken them, and I assume you wouldn’t think twice choosing between Thran and Phreet?” she finishes, looking at me.

I just look at her.

“These plans,” I say instead, “seem to me to be very complex and expensive. We have only been here a few days, and we were not expected more than a few before that. Unless we were lured here by the councilman and all of his overtures about Diamond Lake are a hoax, I don’t understand how anyone could both know I was going to be here and then engineer this chancy series of kidnappings and murder. Furthermore, they are using changelings who must be difficult to locate, knowing as they do that they would be killed upon being caught which is a growing likelihood as these slayings stack up like cords of wood.”

“Mm. On the changelings, here is something to think about,” says Mel as she twiddles her small gold lightning bolt amulet of Heironeous, “I possess a blessing that creates a zone of truth around me. I can sense anyone who is lying so we have an indirect means of verifying identity. We only need to ask: are you _______? If the changeling lies or refuses to answer . . . well. However, the magic only lasts an hour or so.”

We return to the young elf. “Miss Coralina, if we keep Rocktar busy, would you allow Lady Aspianne to accompany you to Volin’s to make a plan for the two of you?” Mel gives me another deferential nod and hands me a pouch of gold.

I am not interested in titles, but this deference is nice, I suppose, particularly when I make the effort to dress the part, though it is clear she is playing her own part now and doing it convincingly, too.

The act may have put off Rey. She sidled up to Rishkar and whispered, “Does Mel still smell the same? Did we leave her alone with anyone?”

Mel overheard and looks stung. “I have Heironeous’ blessing to prove my worth.” She raises her mace and speaks the holy words of the astral tongue and the mace flares with golden light. “Let’s see a changeling do that.”

Rey visibly relaxes and murmurs an apology to Mel. She shrugs and addresses Coralina. “What do you say? How about a visit to Volin?”

Coralina nods her head in agreement.


We convince Rocktar to remain at his home while we escort Coralina away. We tell him she will be gone for some time, but he does not know it may potentially be with Volin, to whose house we travel now.

Volin is a thin, slightly oily human who cooperates readily enough. A short talk with him revealed confidence in his own martial skills and an ownership, no, a . . .

In my own tongue it is limri. The Common for it is 'condescing', no, 'condensation'. No. That is rain and snow. An attitude of, of condescension. Yes, that is what these people show towards her. Two very different men treat Coralina as one would react to a stray animal that had decided to live in their homes. My own conversations with her reveal a lost girl drifting with the waves of events. Some people are like this, but I wonder if she has ever had the opportunity to swim on her own. Perhaps, when this is over, we can travel together for a time and I can teach what it means to have the blood of the Fae in her veins.

At any rate, when the attacks are more graphically described, he agreed to leave town immediately with Coralina.

With them safely away, we lay a trap for the changeling. Rocktar will be the bait, remaining in his second-floor apartment. I will be in the closet, and Rey and Rishkar will be nearby down below on the street. I have rigged the window to gently alert me if it is opened from the outside but also to shine a half-moon on the wall through using a glass and gently tuning my own light spell. She shall not miss it.

We wait as night draws across.
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Journal of Etona, Entry 15

The changeling comes in through the window, sees the half moon I had waiting for her upon triggering the trap, and pauses.

“Rocktar,” I begin weaving my spell which in Common would sound a little like this: “Draw quiet under Her immortal gaze. She holds you under Her moonlit rays. Cast no stone, and enemy hands will stay.” To the changeling, the final words: “Behold Her visage and turn away.”

She hesitates again but then pushes through and attacks anew, disregarding the licking silver flames and Sehanine’s face silently commanding her elsewhere. Or perhaps Sehanine does not intend for this dim, violent human to survive this night. I know not, as I cannot see what the changeling does.

“Revenge!” she yells and goes at Rocktar.

“Sehanine’s child,” and I gather Voice: “Stop!” But still she disregards. “Please! Listen to your heart.”

Rishkar smashes the window then, interrupting the completion of the deadly arc. He falls inside, flailing with his rapier, hissing angrily. He is under attack from outside? I cannot see anything. But it is enough for the pale woman: she dances away past Rishkar through the now-shattered window.

I check to make certain Rocktar is unharmed. He is bewildered events but unscathed. Meanwhile the changeling has run down the alley, busily changing form. It is not enough, however, to shake relentless Rey who together with a gray beam from the lizardman’s outstretched palm, effortlessly catches her. She changes her entire body again, this time to a child’s form, and limps away, but we surround her – Rey posing as her angry mother for the few curious onlookers on the street with us. We will not attack her here, the woman/girl knows, so I kneel down and talk to her instead.

“Why?” I ask her. “Why are you doing this? Why are killing these innocents?”

“They killed my daughter.”

Oh, goddess. She could not be –.

“How did they do that?” asks Rey.

She does not answer.

“Will you follow me?” I ask. “I promise a fair hearing. In my Mistress’s name I promise you a fair hearing and no harm to you while you are in our hands.”

She is sullen now, the fight drained from her. She nods and we all re-enter Rocktar’s apartment where she and sit facing one another at Rocktar’s table, Rey standing nearby. The woman places her dagger – a raptor claw and not a half-moon as I had thought – on the table and begins to speak.

She told of the Peace Circus, after losing all their animals how they tried to continue on as a group employing fewer but much more dangerous creatures, the giant raptors. They employed a handler, Volin, who due to the romantic attentions of Coralina neglected his tasks in making sure the creatures were healthy and secure.

When the animals broke out, the woman tried to save her child by intercepting the creature going for her, losing much of her hand and forearm in the process, but she could not stop it: it was too quick. It tore into her daughter right in front of her.

“I cannot have natural-born children: we changelings are created,” she explained. “We are abominations. I found her in a dumpster. Helpless. No idea she was waiting to die alone.” She shakes her head, a single sharp motion. “Humans.” I nod. “I raised her to be better than her kind, and better than I was. She was so much more. She was –.” She regarded me, say my own wet eyes, weighed her next words. Then she looked away but decided to speak them: “She painted all these beautiful pictures inside me, and I became someone else in a way I had not known could happen. I had never loved before: I did not even know what that was. She placed the best of anything inside this shell.”

She slaps her hand on the table.

“And they destroyed her.”

Silence for a moment.

“I begin to understand. Your fury is just.”

I get up off of the uncomfortable thing that must toil under the mistaken ken of chair and look out another window.

“I have no children,” I say. “I do not know how to feel what you must endure. But I can tell you this: I and my mother come from a blessed and also doomed line of women speaking with Sehanine’s voice. She was not a priestess though her mother was. Or is: Ael may yet inhabit a world somewhere. Ael lived, and so my mother was not priestess.

“My mother was young when she became quen’amo, pregnant. She carried me for sixteen months. She knew that like her and every other who is Sehanine’s will on earth, having me might end her. My Radiant Mistress is wickedly jealous and permits only the daughter who will be her avatar in the world to draw breath. My mother and Tamyl, our leader, and others among my people knew the odds were good that I would be our new priestess. She had me anyway.”

I am shaking my head in wonder, I realize, and not for the first time.

“A joyful, energetic woman with what humans call centuries ahead of her: Fiora’s art and gifts would only grow. But she sacrificed all. She died when I, a pathetic, sickly little babe that none but my father initially loved, came into the world. Father told me her face was a satisfied smile as she gazed at me, the light fading from her eyes.”

In a voice rough with emotion I finish my thought with, “So I know what you are capable of, and I stand by you, Child of Sehanine.”

“Zika,” says she.

“Zika,” I repeat.

“Child of Sehanine, which I don’t understand why you keep calling me that, is too many sounds.”

We smile a little at one another.

“Do you want tea?” I ask. In Elvish: “Rey, could you make us tea? Here, use these herbs. That muscle-bound clown will only have molding topsoil in his cupboard.”

We drink tea. We talk for another demi-arc. In the course of it, she demonstrates her abilities, trying out different forms: Rey, and then me. Meant to startle us, but I have I known a changeling before. I compliment her, pointing out little deficiencies in the form. Why should help a changeling perfect the roles of me and my nae’aerun? Because if this conversation goes the way it frankly must, then it will be of no matter.

We talked about her rage against the members of the Peace Circus, Coralina in particular. Ziki’s fury is concentrated not on the raptor tamer, Volin, whose negligence would seem to be the major contributor of the mayhem, but on the distraction from his would-be young Elven lover. I do not understand it. But I have never watched my daughter be killed by a rampaging dinosaur in what was supposed to be a safe venue, so her thoughts could be twisted in all sorts of unpredictable paths.

She must move past her grief, get to life after. Or she must die. There is no other choice.

“It is not about them, Ziki.,” I argue. “Not at all. That is why you mustn’t kill them.” She objects to this but I persist. “You are owed an apology and penance besides, though they may have paid that already in the terror of the murder of their friends. But I would hold they are in your debt still. You must face them, demand to be heard, tell them everything. And then you must walk away and leave this angry woman behind, stride back to your daughter’s reflection of love and hope. She would not have your every memory of her tainted with hate and vengeance. You must forgive and move on.”


“You must, for her sake as well as yours.”

“What would you have me do?” she asks.

“Meet with Coralina. Meet with Volin. I will be there but not to protect: I will be there for you. Demand that they listen. And then walk out of her and his and Rocktar’s lives forever. They are not part of your future. They no longer matter.”

Silent again. She doesn’t want to hear any of this, and part of her thinks my words are folly, but she is considering, for this is a path when before she had none. I see on her face the memories of her daughter, the realization that she has tarnished this small wonder of hers.

“And what of you? Do I walk out of my life forever as well?” she demands.

“I sincerely hope not, s’thaya.”

Earlier, Ziki had mentioned Phreet to me hinting that my little human sister was a bargaining chip. But now she slides a key cut to resemble an ornate squid across the table to me.

“This is to a safe house where Phreet is being held,” she says. “It is an abandoned warehouse called The Sodden Hold. She was taken by Telalkin, master of the Cabal of Changelings. He is dangerous, that one, a perfected breed of changeling. I have heard he is a being who can perfectly replicate another down to scent, taste and even thought. Phreet will not last there long. Once they finish studying her, they will eliminate her.”

“Then we will have to hurry. Rey, could we send a messenger to bring back Coralina and Volin? We will bring them, and meet you,” I nod to Zika, “at the New Moon ceremony in Sehanine’s temple not far from here?” She nods. “Will I, eh, know your face?”

“You will, though I will not take this form,” she says.

“Will you find me, come to me if you are feeling overcome?”

“I will try.”

I stand up. “Then you are free to go, Ziki.”

“This cabal,” says Rey as the changeling moves to the window, “are there any in the Greyhawk government?”

“At every level.”

Ziki hops out through the broken window rather than the door.

“Outstanding,” Rey mutters.

But this is Greyhawk’s problem, not ours. When you outlaw a people just because they exist, they will not like you, and finding an ally in them later when you need them – such as ferreting out who is human and who is not among changelings – merely becomes more difficult. Humans never learn.

“OK. Well, I am going to bed,” announces Rey, and she is off to the Crooked Inn.

“What? But I need you. Phreet is in danger!”

“She is always in danger, Etona,” she says over her shoulder. “I am done. We shall tackle her rescue in the morning.”

Mel comes in then, interrupting my response. I tell her that we let the changeling go, and she to my great surprise does not become angry, merely wondering what to put in her report. My days of predicting that one may be coming to an end. She agrees to send word to retrieve Volin and Coralina.

Mel also wants to act on Phreet’s rescue immediately: she may share my worry about how much time she might have left, or perhaps it is an excellent way to wrap up the case, potentially apprehending a pile of changelings and their leader.

So we return to the Crooked Inn where Mel let Rey know that I went to free Phreet, alone, probably to my death. Alas! It is well that I had a steaming mug of coffee waiting for her when she runs downstairs and scowls at my grin.

“Thank you, Rey,” I say on tiptoe, whispering into her ear.

Mel tells us all she knows of the Sodden Hold. She knows where it is and what the outside looks like, has some ideas about the inside.

“We will need reinforcements,” I say.

“I know just where to go,” replies Mel.

She leads us to an all-night thug dispensary where, with a flash of coin and a smile, she rents six armored men. They will remain outside the warehouse, a distance back maybe a hundred feet around the corner, while Rey, Rishkar and I creep in ahead.

When we arrive at the Sodden Hold, we check the area for unwanted eyes and then quietly unlock the door after examining it for traps. We do not open it. This will be our likely escape route and possibly the avenue for the cavalry – Mel and her boys – if we sound the alarm.

We draw back and investigate the rear of the warehouse which perches over the water. Rishkar scouts it for us: there is access to the aging building from underneath, but every plank of the copious amount of rotting wood there is studded with metal spikes. They all face up, though. If it is a snare, it seems to be to prevent escape. This is fortunate.

We ascend to find two doors. When we examine one, the very air knocks us with the force of a falling bough. Some kind of invisible servant.

Why was this a good idea again? I think back to the ornate key made with such care and probably much money. Of course any entrance will be trapped! We have set an invisible monster on us and probably triggered twelve alarms.

A shot of the Silver manages to show the thing’s outline for a brief second. It is big, like an invisible ogre. It evades my faerie fire and is shrugging off those few blows Rey and Rishkar manage to land until I finally get its attention with a hit that lights it up completely. I can feel it swoop over to where I am trapped on a tiny island of dirt surrounded, as we all are, by barely-submerged spiked metal planks. Of course, I do not see the blow coming. How could I?

Only twice before have I felt anything like what slammed into me then: when I fell out of a tree as a girl and was unconscious for a day – my father, aunt and only friend at the time each taking vigil waiting for me to die – and the time I made a Fae treant very angry at me.

It hit me. I flew. Wall. Bad sounds. Red. Black. Out.

Journal of Etona - Entry 16

I have listened to descriptions, different races explaining their experience of falling unconscious. They use many of the same words for sleep though most agree that it is unlike slumber in that it is closer to dreamless oblivion. It is not that way for us elves. We who do not know sleep find unconsciousness a trap underneath frozen waters: pierce the ice or die, gasping, in the attempt. I thus wake – as I seem to be doing more often these days – clutching my throat and panting.

It isn’t much better. The sensations produced by cracked ribs, if you have not enjoyed them in your life, are identical to falling on sharp stones. My head throbs, shoulder tender and oh, my back! I am fortunate the skeletons of my kind are not built like those of humans or I could look forward to never walking without pain again.

Everyone else is on their feet, so I smile weakly and shrug off aid. It will be nice to breathe normally again one day. I do look forward to that.

The invisible thing was finally felled by Rey, her dance of the blue spear a marvel for me to watch and a deadly weave for it to succumb to.

“Very well,” I say, “let us try the other door.”

Rey gives me a wry smile.

I press my ear to the metal-bound wood. Faint moaning beyond so I push it slowly open. Beyond is a short corridor lined with cells containing wasted prisoners. I creep in a few feet. Rishkar, Rey and I will be trees whispering over a babbling brook, unseen and unhea–

Melinde, her steed Thunderhooves, and her troupe of shouting mercenaries sweep through the front door, subtle as a forest fire.

“Form up on me,” she orders the men. “You and you: to point; you two on my flanks; you two high ground – those crates up there.” And then, louder, though I scarce thought that possible: “Officer of the Watch,” she proclaims to the room and perhaps to the region. “Drop your weapons and come out – you will not be harmed.”

The hush that followed, I realized, was all of us trying to identify these furtive, leathery sounds – and for Rey and I, at least, the bizarre odor – that had slipped into the air. Something was stirring.

And then the room erupted into Hellscape.

Translucent tentacles burst out of the largest crates. Beneath were great round holes of sharp teeth. A twisted mockery of five natural predators stuffed into a great sack of slime held together only by some wicked arcana. They were as repulsive as they were deadly.

Out of smaller boxes came other horrors: capes with teeth flew to encircle and smother the men who did not, as a group, react well though they did react understandably. One of them, armed with a crossbow atop a crate-turned-maw, fired a single arrow and then fell messily down, miraculously rose to his feet again and limped out the door. Another, wrapped up by a cape-monster, threw himself – and it – into a pit of mechanical fire spouts that had opened up. Ashes. A third also became caught inside one of the carnivorous rugs and stopped moving after a moment. Trickles of blood and then a foot fell out the bottom. Later we would find only wet bones inside.

The only man left from Melinde’s platoon after about a minute of this horror was Sarge. He stood, steadfast, by his chanting and increasingly radiant commander. She was, literally, glowing. The pair were joined by Rishkar and the three of them simply chopped the abominations to pieces. As I was able to see while dealing with my own troubles, the monsters are, truly, helpless against the whirling paladin. Every attack is brutally repelled or falls upon her gleaming armor. I see it in her eyes: behind her snarls of rage fairly dances a being utterly in tune with her heart’s desire.

Rey and I have our own problems: two of the prisoners turn out to be more of these savage changelings. We end them, and I recoil at my desire to see them dead, very-much-oh-yes dead. I feel it burning in my veins, clouding my view. Betrayal. No cut wounds like one to the spirit.

When the fight is over, we nurse our wounds and chant our magics to heal us, and then we turn our attention to the remaining prisoners. One is an Elven woman frightened out of her mind. She could not hear me, simply running out into the night once we freed her. That is two kinswomen so far broken through living in this toxic city. I need to spend more time here or escape as soon as possible.

The other rescuee is an old human man who can only repeat “Me am Gattel” over and over to every question. He did look like he was trying to communicate, under a geas perhaps, but I had not the patience.

Phreet is not here. Just this abattoir.

We search the place thoroughly but all that remains is the other outer door leading in to a separate part of the back of the building. Beyond is a pool in which float some barrels and a small boat. The Sodden Hold key I bear fits a hidden niche in a wall. Inserting it reveals the chamber’s purpose: it is a complex contraption that lowers and raises the water line to expose or submerge a walkway to a door. An underwater guardian circles the place. It also seems to recognize the octopus key and leaves us be.

Beyond is the secret interior of the changelings’ base of operations, starting with a corridor of many doors. I go in first and, well, holistically locate a pit trap. When I come to, I am looking up at Rey’s face. Exasperation, concern, relief and . . . distraction. We must be in a fight up there. Yes, I hear it now. Rey fishes out and has me drink the healing potion I was carrying and then shimmies back up the rope. A moment later I, too, struggle to the top myself.

We are fighting more changelings, six of them. I get a bead on one and drop him. Melinde and Rishkar fell another while Rey fights to allow me a better position.

It is a lot of combatants, and we are a little worse for wear from the Hell room, so I expected we would have to retreat but we slew enough to force theirs. Mother Moon! but we are good at killing today. I expected more mercy from My Pitiless Mistress for those who have simply lost their way, but She desires revenge and so we are Her executioners.

No, that is not it at all. They have Phreet somewhere and are busily torturing her. And Zita lied to me not merely to save herself but to outright kill me as repayment of my kindness.

But changelings, too, are allowed to fight for survival and Phreet is human, a member of the species practically killing them on sight. And as to Zita, well, my heart refuses to believe she has lain this trap. I will need more proof. So am I simply angry at not knowing? Or is it something else entirely, this city and its too-many sounds, rank odors and ever-lit buildings wherein its cruel people buzz incessantly with plots and worry?

These thoughts so occupy me that I have given chase into the start of an obviously deadly labyrinth of mirrors before a firm grip stops me.


I turn to a bewildered Rey who must be questioning my sanity. This makes me catch my breath, a stock I realize I was running short of. I take her hand on my shoulder, draw a long breath, release. I squeeze her long fingers and nod. We turn to go back to the others –.

– and are almost knocked off our feet by an explosion that fairly rocks the foundation of the place. We hurry back.

One of the doors leading out of the main corridor led to a mirrored round room with a chair in the middle. It had been a relic of some sort – a thing of great power – until it met Melinde. Now it is a smoking pile of slag.

Before today, I had judged our young, headstrong holy warrior as competent if noisy. Now I am beginning to view her in a different light. Her killing power has almost drawn up even with her ferocity. It makes me uneasy. We will need to talk.

We steal into the back of the mirror labyrinth through what was once a hidden door in the ruined relic room. This allows me to surprise a changeling waiting in ambush for us to come from the other way. We return te to the room of now-blackened mirrors and Rey and I venture back in.

A few turns into our exploration and more changeling assassins pop out of mirrors! It is the remnants of the group in the corridor, one last charge. The first takes an arcuun right in the chest. Te looked surprised not expecting, perhaps, that I would be unfazed by her sudden appearance and could react with a Silver bite from Angivre. But the second changeling from another mirror was able to knock me off my feet. Obi was out now, however, and with Rey protecting me the two remaining had no stomach for the fight.

We went back to the relic chamber. Once the changeling there came to, te, an Elven neutral word for an intelligent being that Common seems to lack, assents to leading us to Telakin, the mysterious master shape-shifter in the heart of maze. It was surprisingly nearby.

A throne at one end of a long chamber; at the other a bed with a head-fitting connected to wires and tubes leading into a wall. It promised misery and probably the loss of any unfortunate’s soul who found herself there. Sitting atop the former was Allustan grinning as if we were here answering his invitation to see his daughter’s dance recital.

“You’re finally here. Etona Aspianne, priestess of Sehanine,” he said. “The mighty Rey. Ambassador Rishkar and, of course, the temporary officer of the peerless night watch, Melinde.”

I gave him a withering look. “Yes. Why am I here? Why do you know who I am? What have I done to be someone you’ve ever heard of?”

He laughs, delighted. “Why, the Nameless One, my master of course. It is he who sent me looking for you, luring you here to aid your pitiful soul in crossing over to his side.”

“And you just want to kill me? Why?”

“Oh, I don’t care if you live or die, but he needs your soul – asked for it by name – and so I must oblige him.”

“Where is Phreet right now?”

“Phreet. Lovely young lady. Stronger will than I expected: breaking her quite enjoyable. She’s now a permanent addition to my master’s home, holding up a bookshelf, I think. Or is she a foot rest?”

“We have killed everything you have sent to us, destroyed every trap, murdered your people by the dozen. You will be slain as well, empty vessel, slave to meaningless cruelty, though I take no joy in it. Vel’er’e arquae Angivre i’Sehanin!

I send a blast of Her light at him but it diffuses around him as he merely laughs. As I settle behind the misery table at the back of the room, we – Angivre and I – send the Silver, arrow after arrow, at him to only minor effect. It is like rain on a boulder.

But water always wins in the end.

My companions also attack. Warned off by me, they fall into none of the room traps set for them. As this creature wearing Allustan’s face summons bolts and blasts, Melinde and Rishkar climb up onto the platform he is on, avoiding the stairs altogether, to face him. They are very brave. Rey sensibly stands back biding her time and hurling her spear as she sees opportunities. She sends Obi to help the other two.

The creature shifts from Allustan to a huge be-weaponed half orc and back. This doesn’t seem to be strategic: he seems to simply be enjoying different forms, showing off his arsenal of skills. His broad smile never wavers as he hits all three with cruel blows. I am not certain we can kill him. Obi is already down. Her paws are shivering so I know she is unconscious and not dead. Also, Rey has not become a tornado of rage.

I must act. Watching this possibly doomed fight, my friends out there dying for me: I must end this. My Mistress favors bold action from unexpected quarter. Crouched behind the torture bed, I see what I must do. The headgear. The link to the creature.

I climb up onto the table, slide the machine over my temples.

I strike darkness from the night. Mistress Moon, grant me Your light.

I reach out with my mind.

A black wall yanks me to it to be lost in it, engulfed by it, eaten. This is not what –, this is a conduit to the Faceless One! And that malignant being is pulling at me the way a starving hyena would tug at a string of meat on carrion. I am not prepared for this fight. I drag myself away. Somewhere my hands wrench the helmet off.

It takes a moment before I can even realize where I am.

Pitched battle. Yes. Melinde and Rishkar have failed to fall in front of him. Our claws are drawing more and more blood. The doppleganger tires, stuck, I hope, in the half-orc form, too spent to change?

When I can manage it, I jump back down to my feet and resume firing. Rishkar is terrible to behold, a slashing, drilling monster bristling with his own arcane light. Rey has taken to the platform, guarding Obi and giving Melinde cover, her blue-tipped crackling spear darting and stabbing, finding its target. Every jab, however, from each of them produces a grunt of pain from an arc of energy that stabs up, claiming blood for blood drawn.

“Pit!” I yell in Elven, “Stairs!” and Rey nods. There is almost certainly a trap at the base of the stairs; it is so likely I can almost see it there. Rey maneuvers brilliantly and with a body blow knocks the battered Lord of Changelings onto the floor.

It swallows him whole. He falls onto a brace of polished, sharpened spikes and dies.

When I come to the edge of the pit, I bring back Silver, and Angivre spits on him, partially severing his head from his body. No longer a ‘he’, it is changed to its natural form, long and lean and not so close to the small, gray changelings.

We all plunk down on the ground, weary, disheartened. Killing that thing was like surviving an illness. There are no cheers. Melinde, I notice in particular, remains quiet. This fight affected her, and I realize I saw her almost hidden behind her shield for most of the late stage of the fight. Not the holy battle angel she: closer to a terrified girl.

No one among our companions is close to her – she seems to make sure of that. Though, truth to tell, Rey and I haven’t exactly been very warm. And Rishkar is . . . Rishkar. Melinde, ever full of pride and fire, is probably lonely. She looks to right wrongs in her blunt, artless way but is too young to know what that means. She shoulders all the responsibility she and perhaps others have assigned her without any guidance save the terrifying god of blood she worships.

We will need to talk.

Journal of Etona - Seventeen

The New Moon Ceremony (25 Coldeven)
“It is so dark tonight.”

Etona sees the faces around her, uncertain, fearing to open themselves even to so common a thing as hope. But she remembers. It was not long ago when she was in darkness, when Her light was withheld and She no longer looked down on her, when the moon was a rock in the sky, as the dwarves believe.

When she speaks, none can see her. She is using Thaumaturgy and also throwing her voice as she needs, both unconsciously, and so she is easily heard by everyone, not centered anywhere. At times it sounds like she is whispering in one person or another’s ears.

“Fear grips, failure clings. We are alone in a universe that does not care, our short lives a sinking island disappearing under the dark water.

“I am there now. I am that island; I am drowning with grief and hate. My senses terrify me.
I bring to you all my fear.

Eyar’i morun. I am in darkness. Eyar orum. I am darkness.”

Etona lights a candle revealing a face wet with tears.

She is in the middle of the gathering on a little rise, holding the moment silently, head bowed. But then she looks up, looks around at Rey, Estee, Melinde, some of the people she has come to befriend among the poor by the docks whom she sees has come. She thinks of her own father, of Verdre, of cousins and close friends among her tribe, and she smiles.

“But this night, called glennis i’mor’e, is the end of darkness. It is Exultation-After-Trial, the celebration that I am still here. I have survived the darkest night and harshest day. I have little; I am little; but this spark is still alight.

“We are come to glennis i’mor’e. We have survived the darkest night and harshest day. We have little; We are little; but our spark is still alight.

Etona starts to move through the crowd. She kneels down with some groups, moves to others, reaches for hands and fingers to touch.

Off in the distance, Angivre on her pedestal begins to glow, never bright enough to draw the eye, but silvery against the dark, its outline easy to see. Up there, it takes on the appearance of a quarter moon.

“We are not hot fury like the sun; we are not the noisy trumpet call to arms; we are not the rulers. All their fires blaze for a brief time and go out. But our spark remains. We remain. We survive through the cool nights.

“She is with us even if we have never understood. Sehanine, Seline, Rhiannon, Luun, Artemis: by any name She makes shadows for those who need them. She laughs with lovers. She is the cloak of the oppressed who gather in the night to strike. She is for the survivor-who-loves. She is patience in the blackest hours. Daylight makes us civilized liars, but She sees our actions taken in secret, listens to your murmurs as you dream.

“On this rare night, i’dobrun, New Moon, She extinguishes Her own brilliance so that she may see the feeble spark in our hearts. If there is love there, then you are Hers.

Eyar Etona. I am Etona. Eyar faer’ey. I am the spark of light.
i’Sehan aer’ey noor’ti. In Her name I feed your spark of light.”

She lights Estee’s candle.

Eyar Estee,” he repeats. “I am Estee. Eyar faer’ey. I am the spark of light.”

She lights Rey’s candle, smiling up at her, but Rey will always remember that night looking up into Etona’s beaming face somehow.

Eyar Rey, I am Rey,” she says in her low voice. “Eyar faer’ey. I am the spark of light.”

The three of them go out into the audience and – even Rey – light candles for the rest, helping them through the Elven words as needed.

Etona herself makes sure she gets to Melinde next. She squeezes her hand and smiles. Melinde looks into her eyes and nods. Etona lights the candle in Melinde's hand.

"Eyar Melinde. I am Melinde." She does not go further.

Eyar faer’ey", says Etona. "I am the spark of light.”

"Am I?" says Melinde. "Aren't I just the fire that goes out?"

"You are the fire, warming all the sparks around you including your own. You are spark right now. Quiet. Subdued. But you are still here. Eyar faer’ey, I am the spark of light."

Eyar faer’ey", Melinde repeats. "I am the spark of light.”

Etona nods. "Yes, you are."

When all the candles are lit, Etona finishes the rite.

“We are s’theay’n faer’e, friends-in-light. Look for Her in the night and She will be there.”

Angivre flares brightly spotlighting the banquet. Other lights also come up.

“Our sparks keep the darkness at bay. Let us shine brightly together. Let us sup together as friends.”

Music, light and lively, starts up. Etona’s last words are quiet, directed skyward, lost in a crowd now moving, some running, to the food and pure water.

“We welcome anew Her precious gaze
Playful and joyful for all our days.”
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