Aphonion Tales (New posts 6/13, 6/15, 6/19)

Aphonion is the campaign world of one of the finest DMs I've ever played with. Currently, I only get to play with him a couple of times a year. This storyhour depicts adventures in the current campaign I play in, which has met for two long sessions so far. I'm going to start in media res by beginning a write up of the most recent game, but I'm going to leave a spot free in case I ever get around to writing up the first game.

These writeups are Copyright 2004-2008, the author. All rights reserved. Please do not copy without permission. The world design is Copyright 1975-2008, the DM. I hope people enjoy this storyhour.
 
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Session 2:

Mahler Fife and Alistair talked quietly in one of the nicer taverns in Plurg in the City of Enclaves, which is to say a dive.

"The hags seem to do everything in threes," Alistair observed. "Stories always tell of covens of three, and at each of the two bases they were using for their slaving they had a triangle on the wall. When the guard hit one of the triangles, it triggered the alarm spell. I figure that the hags' actual base probably forms the third point of an equilateral triangle with the two we found so far. We just need to get a map, plot the points, confirm which one the hags are at, and turn it over to the Glordiadelian church troops to collect our reward."

"Sounds right to me. I bet we can get a map of the Enclave from the local parish church." Mahler finished his drink, dropped a copper for the tab, and stood to leave.

The two young men quickly reached the local temple to Glordiadel. A quick conversation with an acolyte persuaded him to show them a map of the Enclave- an authoritative attitude can be remarkably persuasive sometimes. A few quick moves with a compass identified the two possibilities. One of the two was at the docks of the Enclave, across from an Enclave filled with warehouses and not far from the notorious slave-holding Enclave of Zorplona-Argoni. The other possible vertex was far within the Enclave, in a nondistinguished section of streets.

Mahler looked at the two options. "The dock seems the best bet to check first. The hags seem to have some affinity for water, and besides, its position would make shipping slaves out to whereever they're sold easier."

"Makes sense. Let's check it out."

Mahler and Alistair travelled to the docks. Searching around pier by pier seemed a little two obvious, so they stealthily stowed away on board one of the many barges carrying the shipping down the canals. Crouched stealthily by the gunwales of the barge, they examined each pier as the barge slowly drifted past. Most of the piers were unremarkable. But as they approached the precise area predicted by the pattern, they noticed that one of the pier had an understructure enclosed in walls-- precisely what would be needed if the hags were using this area for a hideout.

Mahler dropped his heaviest gear and prepared to drop over the edge. "I'm going to take a closer look." Alistair gathered up a coil of rope near one hand, while keeping his spiked chain ready to hand but well concealed. Mahler slid lightly into the murky, foul smelling canal water, and quietly stroked over to the structure. When he arrived at the structure's side, he could hear voices within.

"Is dat de barge?"

"Naw, we gotta wait some more. But the ol' gal said it would be soon."

"And then she said we're supposed to clear out. I don't know why she wants us to leave, but I'm sure she'll tell us when she's ready."

Mahler maneuvered to where he could see into the structure through a gap between two planks. The two voices belonged to half-orc guards. The only other people in the structure were a group of scared human children-- kidnapped by the hags to be sold into slavery. Mahler carefully remained perfectly still while one of the half-orcs looked through a knothole. But as the guard turned back to his companion, Mahler pushed away from the pier and swam through the fetid water to rejoin Alistair, who hoisted him back into the barge.

"Definitely some more slavers there. The hags aren't there, though. We should act quickly, though. They're supposed to deliver the slaves soon."

"Hmm. I could create an illusion of one of the hags, based on what we saw before. We might be able to fool the guards into leaving without a fight. I can't make sound for the illusion, though."

"I can mimic the hag's voice. It'll be good enough to fool them."

"Let's send them back to one of the hideouts we already raided. The hags won't check back there, and we can capture them at our leisure. In the meantime, we can grab the barge that's coming to take delivery by calling in some reinforcements."

The barge captain burst in with a startled, "hey, wot's this, and who are you?"

Mahler looked up at the captain from under his cloak. "Uh... we're some of your crew. We got hired by the foreman..."

"No, you're not! I know all of my crew, and..."

Alistair tried a different tack. "Listen, sir, just be quiet and we'll explain." Alistair flashed a few silver coins to draw the captain's attention. He passed the coins over. "We're looking to rent a pier in this area for our shipping concern, and we wanted to get a view upclose without anyone the wiser. So we could know how much to offer, y'know?"

Satisfied with the bribe, the captain quickly began turning away. "Ah, right. Never noticed you on board at all..."

"Captain, would you mind dropping us off at that pier?" Alistair pointed at the pier next to the hag's hideout.

"Not at all."

"And actually, if you could block traffic for a little bit-- we don't want to be interrupted."

"Blocking traffic could get me fined!" Alistair handed the captain a gold piece. Moments later the captain skewed the barge across the canal and began yelling at his crew for having screwed things up. It would clearly be several minutes before the barges started moving again.

The two young men hopped off the barge onto the dock. Mahler dirtied up each of their faces to make them more convincing as employees of the hag. Mahler made some general noise to conceal the spellcasting, and an image of a green hag appeared. Neither paid much attention to a slight shimmering in the air nearby.

The hag strode imperiously into the slave center, trailed by Mahler and Alistair doing their best thug impressions. The two guards looked up in surprise.

"There's been a change in plans." Mahler threw his voice and changed it to sound like the hag's. "You two should head to the other base, beneath the pipe foundry, and wait for further orders there. These two," the hag gestured at Mahler and Alistair, "will watch these slaves until pick-up."

"Yes, mum. We'll go right then." The guards were confused, but they knew better than to argue with the hag and left immediately.

A slight breeze stirred through the structure, stopping as the guards left, but Mahler and Alistair assumed that it was just an unusual windpattern. Besides, they had more important things to worry about. As soon as the guards were out of earshot, the hag disappeared and Mahler and Alistair began releasing the children. "Don't worry kids- we're here to rescue you." While Mahler freed the last captives, Alistair fished a scrap of parchment out of a pocket, scribbled a note on it, and melted some wax. He drew a signet ring out of one of his pockets, carefully set the seal inside the letter while positioning himself so that Mahler could never see either seal or signet, closed the letter, and sealed it on the outside with a simple thumbprint. The ring dropped back into the same deep pocket it came from.

Turning to one of the oldest children, Alistair handed him the letter and said, "Take this to the temple of Glordiadel. Tell whoever you meet at the temple that you were told to give this directly to the priest." As the child ran off with the message, Alistair turned to Mahler. "That should get us some back-up. When the barge arrives to pick up the children, we'll be in a position to start following the slave trade the other direction by capturing whoever crews the barge."
 

Meanwhile, a ripple in the air continued to follow the two guards across the Enclave of Plurg. One said to his companion, "Did the ol' gal seem a little off to you?"

"I dunno. Maybe she's sick or somethin'."

"Hope not. Hate to see what could make 'er sick. She just seemed a little... off."

As they walked down the street, an old crone with a bag of bright, juicy apples looked at them in surprise and distaste. Transforming into her true form, a ten-foot tall night hag, she spun on the hapless guards. "What are you doing here? Why aren't you at your posts?"

The guards pulled up short. "One of your sisters told us to go to the base below the pipe foundry. Told us the new guards would watch the slaves 'til the delivery was made."

"Did she, now? Tell me about these new guards." The hag never noticed the shimmer in the air as it zipped back to the slave pen.

Moments later, a strange form appeared before Mahler and Alistair. The form had the torso of a man, but only a whirlwind for legs. Furthermore, the entire body of the stranger had a blue cast to it, and was vaguely translucent.

Mahler and Alistair leapt back, drawing their weapons. "Who are you? What are you doing here?"

"My name is Stithis," replied the djinn. "I've come to warn you. I've been watching your efforts, and you need to know that the hag found out that you had sent the guards away."

"She can teleport, so she'll be here soon." Alistair turned to the children who were still milling around. "You need to run now. The hag is coming back, so scatter." The children ran away from the dock in every direction. Alistair and Mahler clambered up to the top of the dock, where they each hid. Stithis simply resumed his invisibility.

Meanwhile, a group of Council of Opposition Canal Guards, resplendent in their many colored sashes, had arrived in a fast boat to clear the traffic problems. Knowing his cue to unblock the canal, the captain of the barge swung back into traffic, resolving the problem. But as a result of his delay, the Canal Guards were perfectly positioned to hear the hag cry out, "Where are my slaves?" The hag burst through the door at the end of the slave den below the pier, anger and hatred flashing in her eyes.

The leader of the Canal Guards turned to one of his companions. "Plurg isn't one of the Enclaves that permits slavery, is it?"

"No, sir."

"Pull for that pier!"

The hag looked at the approaching boat and called out some arcane words while gesturing. A lightning bolt ran the course of the guard boat, badly injuring many of the guards. Her magic attack only drew more attention, however. Alistair and Mahler continued to hide as best as they could on the top of the pier. A spark halfling sorcerer of their acquaintance, Delbon Glittercheeks, watched from a perch nearby. Stithis remained invisible. But most importantly, a group of Glordiadelian church guards, resplendant in their immaculate white surcoats, hurried towards the dock, followed at a little distance by a somewhat portly priest who could not move as fast now that he was no longer a young man. Seeing the lightning bolt, the Glordiadelians redoubled their pace, determined to engage the foe as swiftly as possible.

The hag recognized the threat that the Glordiadelians posed. Turning her attention back in that direction, she invoked another spell. With loud claps of displaced air, the two lesser hags appeared on the dock, between the night hag and the church troops. The lesser hags were both annis hags, with scabrous, mottled green skin, greenish black hair, and long claws at the ends of their hands. One of the green hags flung a clump of ivy at the nearest group of Glordiadelians, crying out the name of a major demon as the command word. As the ivy spun in the air, it expanded out into a net that ensnared three of the church soldiers and began slowly crushing the life out of them. The other hag pounced on one of the unentangled soldiers and savaged him with her claws, leaving him dead or dying in seconds.

Mahler could not simply watch any longer. He dropped off the end of the pier. As he fell, he stabbed the balck hag with one of his daggers and grabbed on as hard as he could, pulling her with him off the end of the lower level of the pier and into the foul water of the canal. The two began sinking quickly.

Delbon decided to help by conjuring a layer of grease under the hag that threw the constricting net, hoping to send her as well into the canal. She was unable to remain standing, but fell on the pier, not into the water. Stithis engaged the hag who was ripping into the guards. He slammed his halberd into the hag's back, but she continued on, oblivious to the new threat. Alistair, for his part, still viewed the situation as too dangerous to reveal himself, and quietly hid and hoped.

The black hag twisted out of Mahler's grip as they sank. She reached out and grabbed his head, turning it to face her so she could stare deep into his eyes. As she did, she unleashed one of her most fearsome powers, trying to use her gaze to snuff out Mahler's life, but his will was too strong. She did, however, carve a foul rune into Mahler's forehead with one of her claws. Mahler broke free of her and swam off towards the surface, hoping that she would be unable to swim and would drown.

The guards continued to battle the annis hags. The hag was too absorbed in her bloodlust to realize that the priest and Stithis each presented a greater danger than the church troops, so she ripped another guard apart. Delbon created grease beneath her as well, while Stithis continued to strike her. The priest gestured at her and held forth the sun symbol of his god. A bright beam of light shot out from his holy symbol and burned the hag. Alistair continued to hide, although he readied his spiked chain just in case.

The black hag, having lost her current prey, landed at the bottom of the canal and gave a mighty leap, travelling all the way out of the canal to land on the top of the pier. Mahler was not far behind, climbing up the side of the pier. Stithis and the guards continued battling the annis hags, who laid low another few guards. Fortunately, Glordiadelian church troops are determined and well-trained: they would die before allowing an enemy to reach the priest they guarded. A solid blow from Stithis caused the uninjured green hag to slip in Delbon's grease and to tumble all the way off the dock and into the water. Unlike the black hag, she both needed to breathe and could not swim, sinking worriedly to the bottom of the canal. After a few worried seconds, she remembered the stairs out of the canals some distance away, and simply walked along the bottom of the canals until she could make her escape. Still, she was out of the fight, which accomplished Stithis's main goal.

The priest, recognizing that the towering, extraplanar hag represented a much greater threat than the remaining annis hag, called forth a pillar of flame from the sky. His flame strike hurt the black hag, but she remained focused on vengeance twoards Mahler, who flung one of his daggers at her. As the hag began to cast another spell, Alistair decided that the time to hide had passed and struck out at her with his spiked chain. His aim was true and he hit a blow that should have been very heavy, but his weapon was unfortunately made of simple, unenchanted steel. The hag was not even distracted as the weapon failed to harm her. She finished her spell and bolts of magical energy streaked from her hand. As the magic missiles struck Mahler, he toppled over.

Stithis and the guards finally managed to overcome the remaining annis hag, and none too soon: only a handful of guards could still fight and protect the priest. Realizing that this was not a battle she could win, the black hag slung Mahler's unconscious, bleeding body over her shoulder and leaped back into the water below.

As she walked away on the bottom of the canal, Mahler began to drown. Stithis, however, possessed unusual devotion to his comrades for a djinn, and flew after Mahler hoping to perform a rescue. He skimmed invisibly along the surface of the canal. As his body consisted solely of hardened air, it was rather more malleable than most, and he shifted the lengths of his arms. Swinging his now greatly elongated right arm down into the water, Stithis scooped Mahler's unconscious form off of the night hag, and hauled his head above water, moments before he would have drowned. Stithis quickly flew back to the pier, and the night hag, although angered by the loss of her prisoner, continued on.

Meanwhile, the priest and Alistair tried to save as many of the guards as they could. Several guards were already quite dead, but the priest was able to heal several, and Alistair cut the net off the guards it entangled just before they would have died. After attending to his allies, Alistair stabilized the green hag before she would have bled to death. A prisoner, after all, is much more valuable than a dead enemy. Stithis carefully laid Mahler on the pier and made sure he was breathing. A quick spell by the priest restored Mahler to consciousness.

The priest looked around at the motley group gathered on the pier. "Where is he?"

Mahler looked at him in confusion. "Who?"

"Where is Lord Alistair?"
 

From his position behind the priest's back, Alistair shook his head emphatically at Mahler. Mahler looked at the priest seriously. "Lord Alistair? He, ah, he isn't here. We haven't seen him in days."

"But he sent us a message under his seal requesting aid! The Archduchy has always been among the most pious Glordiadelian realms, and we were happy to come to his aid, but we need to find him."

Mahler continued, "We are companions of his. He was working with us to break up a slavery ring, but he left several days ago. He left us a piece of parchment with his seal on it, saying that we could use it to get aid if we needed it. That's what we sent to you."

"Ah, fighting against slavery is just the sort of thing he would do. Still, we need to find him. He hadn't been heard from in months. And with his father's death, finding him is even more urgent."

Alistair interrupted, surprised and distressed. "His father's death?"

"Oh, yes, his father was killed some while ago. The efforts to find Lord Alistair have become much more urgent since then."

Mahler stepped in. "We could probably get a message to Lord Alistair. Let him know about his father's death and such."

"Yes, that would be best. If you go to the cathedral of Glordiadel and ask to see the Bishop in a few hours time, he'll be able to explain more and provide appropriate messages for Lord Alistair. In the meantime, we should move the bodies back to the church, and deal with the prisoner."

Alistair removed the hag's magical belt-- the Inquisition would not need the loot. "We'll need to have her interrogated."

"It's probably best if we turn her over to the Church of Paranswarm, then. The Paranswarmians have also been fighting these slaving rings, and they have an Inquisition that will be better at getting information from the hag, much as I'm loathe to have any connection to their Inquisition."

The surviving guards escorted the hag to a church of Paranswarm, where the Inquisition took charge of the prisoner, after promising to share whatever intelligence they might gather.

Having dealt with that matter, the small group retired to a convenient inn, where they paid the extra for a private room. Mahler carefully checked that no one lurked in the hall outside, and then shut the door securely. Turning to Alistair, he raised an eyebrow and smiled. "Lord Alistair, eh?"

"Indeed, although just Alistair will do fine." Alistair grimaced. "I figured that using my seal would get us some reinforcements. I didn't figure they'd be spending much energy looking for me this far from home. But then, I didn't know my father had died, either."

"Who was your father, anyway? And where's home?"

"Home is the Archduchy of Canberry. My father's the Marquis Belconnen. Or, I suppose, he was. More to the point, my grandmother is Her Sovereign Grace, the Grand Duchess of Canberry. My father was her heir-apparent."

Delbon looked at him in surprise. "Are you now?"

"It's a little complicated. My father didn't have any legitimate children, and I'm his only acknowledged child. But some of my older half-siblings are well known, and my grandmother had several other children. So, while I have a claim, so do a lot of people, and it's not clear that I have a duty. And it's not a claim that I've ever wanted."

Mahler nodded. "You don't have to worry about it if you don't want to. We could claim the reward, and you could keep living the life you're living."

Alistair shook his head. "I need to go to see the Bishop. I don't think he'll know me, and I want to hear how my father died and what the situation is back home. I can't let my country fall into a civil war, if that's likely to happen." He tugged at his long hair. "If we crop my hair short, I won't look much like any descriptions they may have of me. Back home I wore it long under a powdered wig."

Mahler nodded. "I can help disguise you." Mahler set to work with a disguise kit, changing Alistair's skin tone as well as clipping his hair short. When he was satisfied with his work, he nodded.

Stithis piped up. "You'll need a fake name, too. How about Jer Pardon?"

"Sounds good to me." Alistair paused as they prepared to leave their room and took out a piece of parchment. He quickly scrawled a note on it, and then sealed it before handing it to Mahler. "It's a letter explaining that the church troops who died fighting the hags were killed on Lord Alistair's business, and providing their families with a right to pensions from the Archduchy, or spots as squires for their children if any want to be knights, and that sort of thing. Grandma would approve..."
 


Mahler, Stithis, Delbon, and "Jer Pardon" walked to the Cathedral of Glordiadel. An acolyte looked them over suspiciously but quickly hurried them to the chancery when informed that the Bishop wished to see them. After a short wait in a well-appointed foyer, one of the Bishop's attendants entered the room and gestured towards the door he had entered from. "His Eminence, Bishop Humboldt the Holy, will see you now."

Bishop Humboldt turned out to be a middle-aged man, with a round body and a kindly smile. "The blessings of Glordiadel be upon you." Alistair kissed the bishop's ring, but none of the others approached.

"Thank you, Your Eminence," Mahler said, as the group took the seats by the fire that the Bishop indicated.

The Bishop gestured to another person in the room, a fit and well-dressed man of middle age. "I asked Earl Richard Sheffield, the Ambassador from Canberry, to join me when I first received the report that Lord Alistair was nearby. He is most eager to see him returned safely home."

Alistair quickly scooped up a wine glass and brought it in front of his face. He had never met Bishop Humboldt before, but Earl Sheffield was an old friend of his father's. Mahler's disguise skills would have to be good indeed to fool "Uncle Richard."

The Earl nodded to the motley group before him. "I am so glad to have made contact with companions of Lord Alistair. It is vital that he return to Canberry as quickly as possible. With his father dead, the situation is rather delicate."

Mahler nodded. "We understand. Unfortunately, Lord Alistair is several days ride out of the City. Pursuing a possible diplomatic marriage with an exotic country."

The Earl thought for a moment. "Couldn't be Ecsilias, or the dwarves... He must be searching for a bride among the elves then. That certainly would be interesting..."

"I'm sure we could get a message to him," Mahler continued.

Alistair couldn't stand to wait any longer. "How did his father die? I'm sure he'll want to be informed."

Despite his best efforts to keep a hand concealing part of his face, speaking drew the Earl's attention. The Earl's brow furrowed in thought, as if he almost recognized Alistair. Stithis averted the looming embarassment by allowing the wine glass in his hand to pass through his mostly air body. The resulting commotion and apologies thoroughly occupied the Earl's attention until Mahler prodded further. "Lord Alistair's father's death?"

"Ah, yes," the Earl's eyes grew sad. "He was on one of his adventures. Always trying to save the world, never minding the dangers. A Zorplona-Argoni valar sought to enslave many of the refugees from the fallen cities to the south of Canberry. The Marquis Belconnen and his entourage were crazy enough to fight the valar. It's not thought possible to defeat the fallen elves on one of their flying ships, but they managed to drive them off and save the refugees. Their victory came at great cost, however, leaving Lord Alistair's father among the slain."

"I assume that they attempted to raise him?" Mahler inquired.

The Bishop nodded. "Yes, but the efforts failed. Resurrection magic has its limits. Certain parts of the body must be largely intact-- destruction of the head and heart will prevent resurrection. And of course the subject must be willing to return. I do not know why the Marquis's resurrection was unsuccessful. I was not called on to assist."

"But his soul is safely with Glordiadel?" Alistair asked, worrying about the least pleasant reason that resurrection could be impossible.

"Indeed. I was assured that the divinations performed after his death proved that the Marquis's soul is safely in its eternal reward."

The Earl spoke up. "While I appreciate that Lord Alistair will want to know these details, I'm afraid that we must concentrate on the situation now. For all his virtues, Lord Alistair's father was somewhat .... inappropriate in his personal life. Why he couldn't have simply had a nice family with his perfectly nice wife and stopped his roaming is beyond me. But he did not, and we now need to deal with the consequences."

"Is it clear who is the heir-apparent now?"

"No, which is where the trouble lies. So far, Her Sovereign Grace the Grand Duchess has made no pronouncements on the subject. And there are several candidates with reasonable claims. The Marquis's next oldest brother, of course, is a strong candidate as the legitimate descendant of the Duchess with the highest claim. But so far, he has not indicated any interest in the office. The Marquis's children raise a particularly thorny problem. The older children are all by thoroughly inappropriate mothers and have little official standing, but some of them are well-known and have been successful as generals and the like. Lord Alistair, as the only openly acknowledged child and the only one of the Marquis's children with a vaguely suitable noblewoman, would also have a strong claim, but not while absent from the Archduchy."

"Have any of the Marquis's children taken steps to secure the inheritance?"

"So far, only Jerrabom, one of the Marquis's oldest children has declared his claim-- an act which probably offended Her Grace and eliminated him from true contention. Still, he has a strong military background, which could be particularly worrisome if anything happened to the Grand Duchess's health before the issue was resolved. None of the Marquis's other seven children are making public claims, although some of them may be advancing their cause privately, and all of them could make a plausible claim." The Earl paused. "I think that makes it clear why it is important for Lord Alistair to return home."

Alistair nodded slowly. "Especially if it was not just poor luck that his father's death was not reversible."

"Taking on a valar borders on the crazy... perhaps he knew the likely result and chose not to come back, although I would have thought that he would have talked to me before that. Or he may have merely been brave and unlucky. Heaven knows he was brave and lucky enough times in the past. But there may have been something more sinister at work in preventing his return, in which case the Archduchy may be gravely threatened."

Alistair spoke clearly and firmly, despite the hand that he insisted on holding in front of his face. "I'm sure that Lord Alistair will return promptly to Canberry when he understands the full situation."

Mahler looked sharply at Alistair and paused for a moment. "Yes, I'm sure he will. We will be happy to deliver the message to him."

Both Earl Sheffield and the Bishop looked relieved.

One of the Bishop's aides slipped into the chamber and whispered quietly into the Bishop's ear.

"You are certain that it was not merely misplaced?" the Bishop asked. The aide nodded and whispered a little more. The Bishop looked at the group with concern. "I fear you had best contact Lord Alistair quickly. The message with his seal requesting aid has been stolen. I fear that some enemy intends to use his seal to scry on him."

Mahler thought for a second. "Has anyone been making inquiries after Lord Alistair? It might give us some information about who these enemies are."

"A good question. Devon, please make some discreet inquiries about any unusual questions or strangers at either the cathedral or the church in Plurg." The aide immediately departed.

Alistair added, "We may need to travel incognito. If people are searching for Lord Alistair, using his name openly could be dangerous."

"A wise precaution," Earl Sheffield responded. "Here, take these. They state that the bearers have the favor of the Earl Richard of Sheffield, Ambassador from the Court of Canberry to the City of Enclaves, and are worthy of assistance. It should smooth your path, at least in some parts, without Lord Alistair needing to reveal himself. Still, I would use them sparingly and with caution-- while you are hardly the only people who bear messages like these, Lord Alistair's enemies might figure out why you have them." As Alistair reached forward to take his, the Earl stared at him. "You look familiar... did you accompany Lord Alistair from Canberry?"

All four startled in dismay, and Stithis decided on desperate measures. He flung the ornate silver carafe to the ground, soaking the Earl's fine garments. As the Earl patted at his clothes with a handkerchief, the Bishop stared more carefully at Stithis. "I say... are you an air elemental?"

"A djinni, sir."

"Ah, I see. And an unbound one at that. Most unusual... we rarely see your kind on this plane without being bound to the will of some mage."

"I travelled here on my own. I was curious."

The Bishop nodded. "I hope you are enjoying your time here." He paused in thought. "If you have a human friend who you can trust... you may wish to go through a binding ritual. As long as you are unbound, you could be bound by some evil wizard against your will. And if you were slain, it would be permanent. If you were to allow yourself to be bound by a trusted ally, you would then be immune to further attempts to bind you, and if you were defeated in battle, you would simply be returned to your own plane."

"Who could bind me? Would it have to be a wizard? And would I need to stay near them?"

"The person to bind you would need to have sufficient skill with magic to be able to perform the ritual but need not be an actual wizard. A mage, a bard, some priests with the right specializations, would all be capable. You could travel freely, as long as they did not exert their will against you, of course, and as long as you did not try to leave the plane without their permission."

"Thank you for telling me this. I know someone who may do well."

Devon returned to the Bishop's sitting room. "Your Eminence, I have the answer about suspicious questions." The Bishop waved for him to continue. "One of the acolytes on duty at the Cathedral reported a beggar asking after the high nobility of Canberry, ostensibly seeking to throw himself upon their mercy. He was told that the honorable Earl is the only member of the Court of Canberry anywhere near the City of Enclaves.
Upon hearing that, he departed."

"Does this beggar have a description?" asked Mahler.

"Yes, sir. He stood about five foot eight, with short cropped hair. The acolyte said that what he noticed most was the beggar's piercing steel-gray eyes."

"Sounds like someone from the Hidden Guild," said Alistair.

Mahler nodded. "In which case, we'd best be on our way. The sooner Lord Alistair is informed of the details and begins his trip home, the safer we'll all be."

The Earl nodded. "I will be certain to inform Her Sovereign Grace that her grandson will be returning. I know she will be grateful for the news."

The Bishop rose. "The blessing of Glordiadel be upon you-- may His Light guide your way safely back to Canberry."
 


Ladybird

First Post
Meanwhile, in another part of the Enclave...

Plurg was probably the least pretty enclave in the City of Enclaves. Certainly it was one of the ones with the least pretty name. And the least pretty part of Plurg was the docks area – broken-down tenements, seedy shops, alleys filled with smelly unidentified piles. That was part of the reason that the hag and the slavers had set up shop there. Nobody paid attention to what went on in the docks. Oh, the temples of Glordiadel did what they could when they could, but that wasn’t often – temples were always understaffed in neighborhoods like this.

That’s why Kit felt that she had to look out for the younger children. She’d been born in the docks neighborhood, and had lived there for all of her sixteen years, mostly making her way on the street. She could take care of herself – she was tough, quick on her feet, and unlike her neighborhood, she was very pretty, even under the scruffiness and dirt that came from living where she did. So she could flash a sweet smile and talk her way out of most situations. People just always seemed to do what Kit wanted them to.

And so she felt responsible for the other kids in the docks – the ones who couldn’t take care of themselves. She’d make sure the bullies wouldn’t hurt the kids who couldn’t stand up for themselves; she’d make sure they got home to their parents at night if they had parents, and to someone’s parents if they didn’t have any of their own.

Which is why tonight, she was creeping through the darkest back alleys, trying to track down where a few of her kids might have gone. These weren’t the type to run away, and even the bullies swore that they hadn’t touched them. Which left only one thing, according to the rumors that she’d overheard behind the tavern: slavers.

A sudden noise made Kit pause, holding her breath and flattening herself against the wall of a building.

“You think they follow?” came a guttural voice from right at her feet.

“Naw. We safe here.”

Ever so carefully, Kit edged away from the source of the voices, and slowly knelt down. A narrow window, its frame cracked and hanging askew, opened into a dim basement room. Two hulking half-orcs were clearly visible, their huge lumpy muscled forms seeming to take up the entire room. Then another sound caught Kit’s ear – a high-pitched whimper, unmistakably that of a child. She knew where her kids had gotten to.

“You sure they won’t chase?” the first half-orc persisted. “That priest – he look awful mad.”

“Told you, we safe here!” the second one answered. “Priests ain’t gonna follow. Dunno what’s gonna happen with the old gal, but we got the kids and we gonna sell 'em even if the old gal ain’t here.”

“Heh,” the first half-orc chuckled – an ugly sound that produced another whimper from one of the children somewhere in the shadows. “Yeah, more money for us.”

Kit pressed herself back against the wall, her mind racing. There were only two temples in this section of the docks neighborhood – one to Glordiadel and one to Paranswarm. It would be completely reasonable for anyone to be afraid of priests of Paranswarm following them, and they might get up in arms about something as illegal as slaving. On the other hand, the Glordiadelians would be much more likely to help if she went to them, even if they weren’t the same priests that the half-orcs were talking about. She took one last look around the alley, taking careful note of the surrounding buildings and their position, and crept off towards the nearest temple of Glordiadel.
 


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