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Cormyr: The Smile of Chauntea

Well I was doing an in character diary for the 3e D&D game that Steve Sloane is running, I thought I'd post it here.

Scott Bennie

Cast of Characters

Ascarin Nevermoon. Mage of Sembia, who found the conceits of the courts of Sembia to be stifling, so he fled Sembia in search of adventure. As presented here, he is a mage of 5th-6th level.

Sir Ulrick Cormaeril, Cormyrean paladin of a disgraced family, seeking redemption fortune and power. As presented here, he is a paladin of 5th-6th level.

Sir Aron Wyvernspur A minor Cormyrean knight of a great house, Aron is considered chaotic by most who know him. As presented here, he is a fighter of 5th-6th level.

Kord the elf An elven ranger (with a touch of the thief in his veins). Rather blood-thirsty and egocentric. A Ranger/Thief of 4th-5th/1st level.

What has gone before
In the wake of the devastation brought to Cormyr by the Ghazneths, four adventurers arrived in the Dales and set up a farm in Ashbeneford, hoping to export food to Cormyr and either feed their starving families or make a fortune. Attacks by raiders and the presence of drow led them far afield, eventually leading to the discovery of a series of portals at Galath's Roost. Fleeing the orc army that controls the portals, the fractious band followed one of the doors into Cormyr and has just arrived at the city of Wheloon.

####

THE SMILE of CHAUNTEA
Part One:

I have woefully miscalculated the ambition of a paladin. As you know, for months I have been the travelling companion of one Ulrick Cormaeril, who, despite the ill repute of his family, I believed loyal to the crown of his land. And while in his heart he still believes that he is the Torm-true son of Cormyr, he may have begun to take his first steps toward an abyss.

It began, of course, when our errand in the Dalelands went awry. We came to Ashabenford to grow food in the Dalelands to succor (and profit from) the famine that has stricken Cormyr following the death of the great Dragon Azoun. During our time in the Dales, our company became restless, and so we explored the citadel of the Orcs, and in doing so discovered a place of many portals.

(Tell none of this last development. It is the lynchpin of all our designs, especially mine.)

Ah, my merry fellowship, these battle-brethren. Let me speak of them so you might better understand my predicament. First there is Ulrick, a tall man of very fine features. He is a paladin who spends a lot of time on his knees in prayer to Torm, a posture that he has assumed more frequently of late, given how much our misfortunes have grown. He is full of certainty in moments which require introspection, and full of doubt in moments that require decisiveness. It is part of the national character, methinks.

Ulrick is matched in height by his Cormyte countryman, Aron Wyvernspur, a broadly built minor knight who has shown remarkable skill with a great two-handed flail (when he takes combat seriously, he is a chaotic, unfocused sort), and a great ferocity when roused. He has no couth, but after awhile couth can wear quite thin. His family is plagued by a pertilence of trolls, and we have promised to assist him, but other matters always detain us.

My last companion (whom I trust less than the others), is Kord, a shifty elf who shows a great affinity for woodcraft. He is a most unreliable man; he loves to pursue a target and play tracking games with them, but as soon as it appears like an enemy might actually have the capacity to do him some small harm, he retreats, often abandoning us to a potentially unpleasant fate. He is accompanied by two noisy fighting dogs who, when we were travelling in the Dales, were turned pink by a vexed wizard's curse.

Now let me proceed to the week's adventure. We fought our way through the orc den out of Galath's Roost, and followed one of the portals to the Cormyte city of Wheloon. "City", of course, is a term of dubious usage as it concerns Wheloon, for the place was neither fine nor hospitable even before the recent tragedies, but now one cannot look upon the place without experiencing great sorrow.

Before the Ghazneths devastated their realm, whenever a Cormyte looked at me, I saw only contempt in their eyes (which, given their natural state of ignorance, I could ignore). Now their eyes were full of fear, hatred, and above all else, hunger. Wheloon was never a clean place, but what could once be regarded as a rustic charm had been replaced by dirt and rot, and the desperation in the air was a palpable thing. Needless to say, the starvation and the ruin that I witnessed there resonated deep within me, touching my abiding compassion for all things downtrodden (especially when the downtrodden have full purses and empty bellies).

The evils that desperation spawns were quite rampant here: crime, mob rule, and the general breakdown of all things civilized. The place was sparsely defended when we arrived; the knights of the city had been slain during Cormyr’s recent foolhardy adventure, along with much of the nobility of the realm, and so when we arrived in Wheloon, we found a mob raiding the foodstores, with the surviving guards ready to slaughter them.

I urged Lord Ulrick to remain uninvolved, but despite my warnings, the big-hearted paladin could not endure the sight of such a pitiable mob, so he strode heroically to the city foodstores and emptied them. Without the consent of any authority, he distributed the stores to the entire populace, rather than leaving them in the granary (where undoubtedly the lion’s share would have been stolen by the city’s most capable scavengers). And thus our troubles began.

Invoking the knightly privilege of hospitality, we stayed at the city keep; a well-fortified but woefully spartan place (though once one is used to sleeping in a drafty farmstead in the Dales, this sort of dwelling almost becomes tolerable). In the evening that followed, we all experienced a most troubled sleep – though Lord Ulrick appearing to suffer more than most of us. We awoke to find the palace guards were gone; the lord had paid the guards in foodstuffs and without food the guards realized they would go unpaid, so they stole horses from the stables and fled into the wilderness (along with most of the town guard; I understand they have formed not one but three bandit gangs). Kord seems rather excited by the prospect of hunting them down. The chancellor, who had been sternly rebuked by Ulrick for his hoarding ways, had also fled.

With Ulrick now de facto ruler of the city, we were forced to meet with a series of delegations. The first was an ostentatious lot, their bodies were covered in tattoos and they wore silk robes dyed in the deepest crimson; the copious quantities of gold they displayed were as everpresent as insults at a Sembian court. Honey dripped from their tongues, and they flattered Ulrick, telling him that he was the savior of the city. They wanted Ulrick to grant them permission to set up a Thayan enclave within Wheloon.

"What!" I exclaimed. If my belly had not been nigh empty, I would have lost my meal. I laughed in their faces, but this act, which was once so effective in provoking these blackguards, did not engender the expected response. It is astonishing to see Thayans holding such legendary tempers in check. They offered bribes to all of us, including a holy sword for Ulrick and an exquisite wand of fireballs (crafted from red cedar, with a silver tip) for me.

They also offered me a substantial discount on mageries, should I purchase a supply from them. It was an offer that might have proven useful, however the Lord Ulrick was in a prudent mood and he refused to grant approval without the express permission of the Regent. I was satisfied that this would conclude the matter, but the Thayans, perhaps finding more hope in Ulrick’s words than I, departed without incident. But they were far from our only visitor - they were quickly followed by a delegation of local guild lords, who proceeded to give Ulrick a most expert and veritable tongue-lashing. They informed our dear paladin that a beholder-mage was blocking the way to Suzail, and an adult red dragon was attacking all the lake traffic, and that by giving away all the grain and causing the guards to depart, he had left Wheloon open to its enemies. This was a grim accusation. They called Ulrick a usurper who had no authority to act as he had done – they were right, of course – and accused him of bringing ruin upon them all. Ulrick was mightily offended by the observation, poking them in their bellies and accusing them of fattening themselves while the people starved.

This conversation knocked out all appetite for authority out of Ulrick’s belly – for now – and he prepared to depart Wheloon for Suzail. The Regent would undoubtedly have heard of his exploits, and given the unpopularity of the name “Cormaeril” with those who controlled the throne of Cormyr, he felt it prudent to clear up any misunderstanding. Furthermore, he felt time was of the essence; despite the barrier of the terror of many eyes that stood between Suzail and Wheloon, he was certain that even the diminished power of the throne could smite him at any moment. It is a typical paladin’s error, to assume that the one to whom you grant your allegiance is nigh omnipotent. But fate has a way of correcting such childish misconceptions.

The next delegation was that of several cloaked figures. Ulrick assumed that they were members of the local thieves’ guild, and refused to treat with them. They beckoned me, and I excused myself, and we had a long conversation. They introduced themselves as fellow Sembians who wish to see Wheloon secede from Cormyr and join our realm. I must confess I found the prospect amusing. They asked for my assistance, asking me to whisper in Ulrick’s ear so he might be bent toward this design. I told them I felt it was impossible – Ulrick’s loyalty to the throne was absolute – but also told them that if Ulrick were to become convinced that the throne of Cormyr no longer served the people of the realm, then a wedge might be driven between them.

And thus I made my most serious mistake. No, not in giving advice to a probable adversary – it is better to keep an eye on a vipertongue than to allow them to slither under your house – but in overestimating Ulrick’s bond of affection to the throne. The Sembians (if that is what they are), expressed delight at my cooperation. Thus I have become ensnared in what feels like a most despicable enterprise. But my love for Cormyr is almost as small as my love for my own people, so I sleep without guilt or shadow of recalcitrance.

The nature of my error was soon made clear to me. Ulrick, whom I had never deserted even in the darkest of hours and the most foolhardy of enterprises, had abandoned me. No monster could frighten him, but the political beast had shaken him to his marrow, and so he quickly departed Wheloon while I was still speaking with the Sembians, and Aron had departed with him. I do not blame them, of course. They are simple folk; like peasants who found themselves forced to dance while wearing tatters in the middle of a grand ballroom, they were woefully unprepared for this challenge.

Kord, eager to see the result of my meeting (almost certainly thinking they were thieves and fellow reprobates), decided to linger awhile to learn exactly who they were; and that is when the crack opened and we found ourselves falling to Gehenna. Not literally, of course, but it might well have been. Thirteen fit armed men, clad in chainmail and wielding bastard swords, forced their way into the castle’s central keep and arrested us, declaring that we were traitors to the throne. The elf argued that as non-citizens we could not be technically be traitors. I noticed one of the guards was a sorcerer, a dragon-blood, who cast a spell upon himself that greatly quickened his reflexes. Realizing that we had a wizard who was my equal, and twelve sturdy veteran soldiers to face one elf, I immediately surrendered. Kord, as he has always done, attempted to run from the fight. He ran into the kitchen, discovered he had reached a dead end, then also surrendered.

Comparing me to the basest of animals, they shackled me and forced a strip of sackcloth into my mouth - the taste was rank and mildewed – stripped me of my possessions, then threw me into their donjon like a common criminal. To make matters worse, I was forced to share a cell with Kord, an elf who is so amoral that I’m convinced he’d think nothing of eating you if his stomach began to grumble.

I suppose the situation could have been worse. William, my stoat familiar, had been sleeping in one of my spare cloaks, they might have skinned him alive, force fed him to me, then cut out my tongue for dessert. That’s been the sorry fate of more than one Sembian who’s found themselves imprisoned in a foreign gaol.

Thus Kord and I were left to languish in the cell for hours. Kord complained incessently that we were better off in Ashabenford. I quickly tired of my comrade’s grousing, and so I initiated an old (if gruesome) child’s game, “ratball”, a sport which involved us killing rats with good stiff kicks and then kicking their carcasses between us like a ball. Anything to pass the time, I suppose. We wondered what was happening with Ulrick, but the outside world was silent except for the taunting of the guards.

We learned no news of the outside world for hours, until the chancellor, who had returned to the keep with these so-called members of the “order of the Dragons of Wheloon”, inspected us. A man of terse manners and irritable patience, he informed us that we were to be put on trial soon. The news was not welcome; a quick trial meant a quick hanging. The chancellor also told me that they hoped to capture Aron and Ulrick so they could stand trial with us (Tymora forbid that they should only have two hangings when four gibbet-swain, swinging in a swift breeze, is a far more entertaining display).

So we waited two nights and a day. Nothing of consequence happened. The guards jeered at us in our cells, especially at Kord which was understandable (since it was an aggrieved elf who was the architect of Cormyr’s recent misery), but still quite disspiriting. I was not completely convinced I was going to die, but I knew that my best hope of survival was to impugn Ulrich’s name at the trial, and such a base act of dishonesty was loathesome to me. Never tell a lie unless you are certain it will not be discovered (and even then, only when it is necessary, for he who tells too many lies is often blind to those truths which can save one’s life). But desperate times call for desperate measures, if not blind panic.

So we continued to wait, and on the second day of our captivity, we received some very shocking news - the Chancellor, who seemed the most temperate of our enemies, was dead. The guard told us that Ulrick had lured him to the town square, and then had him shot with poisoned crossbow bolts. This story was, of course, absurd. The guards promised to kill us, but first they would deal with Ulrick and Aron, who had chosen the moment to single-handedly storm the castle. What wonderful fools those lads can be. The guards departed to battle the intruders; with our cell now unguarded, Kord took a pick from his boot and opened the look on the cell door like an expert thief. We could hear the commotion on the castle's upper floor, and so we bolted to the battle in an attempt to bolster our rescuers.

Surprisingly, this turned out to be quite a smart move on our part. Our comrades were engaged in a desperate struggle against the surviving Dragons, and the enemy sorcerer, bolstered with spells and employing a necromancer’s touch (such a specimen of Cormyrean nobility), was slowly killing our good Lord Ulrick – Tymora had not been kind to them prior to our arrival. Kord had raided the armory and fired a crossbow bolt into the back of one of the soldiers who was bedevilling Aron, whose great flail was missing its mark more often than it struck. My task was to teach the dragon-blood of the virtues of a studied approach to magic, a task I undertook with relish. With a single spell, I stripped away the magicks that bolstered the sorcerer – six images that diverted killing blows shattered like shards of a broken mirror, his lightning-quick motions became sluggish, and his magical armor crumpled.

This turned the tide. Without his illusory doubles to protect him, Ulrick drove his greatsword into the sorcerer’s arms and sides, attempting to hew him like an unwelcome tree. It looks impressive, though I must confess that Sir Aron’s fighting style interests me more – I would never have guessed a flail could be such a fell weapon (he once smote an enemy in the neck with such a mighty blow that its head fell from its shoulders).

With an new enemy at their flank, the enemy found themselves in a dire predicament. One of the guards charged to engage me, but warded by my own spells, I ignored him while I directed a barrage of evocations at the sorcerer as he was battling against Lord Ulrick. After my lightning bolt nearly cut him down, th dragon-blood cast a spell to reestablish his quickness, cast a second spell to bolster his footspeed, then he fled through a door, scaled the castle walls, and escaped into the depths of the city. His fellow Dragons, on the other hand, did not survive the battle, and their loudly spoken oaths to defend Cormyr had fallen upon the deaf ears of the gods.

We buried the Chancellor and his Dragon zealots with honor, though the people of Wheloon seemed to think that a dignified ceremony was unwarranted. These wretches had endured months of war, famine, loss and a host of other miseries, and now their despite for House Obarskyr and all who followed their banner was an equal of our hatred for the Zhentarim. Still, I must confess to a certain guilty amusement. Is it not the perfect irony that this nation, which had so proudly lorded the greatness of its knights for generations (and who had labelled all Sembians as “honorless curs”) were now themselves fighting like starving dogs in an abandoned kennel?

The next day, bearing himself in lordly fashion, the victorious Sir Cormaeril assumed the duties (if not the title) of the Lord of Wheloon. He sent a messenger to the Harvestmaster of Monksblade, informing him of the changes that had occurred in the city. Then he did the one thing that most surprised (and alarmed) me; he met with the Thayans, and granted them permission to establish their enclave. He drove a hard bargain: in addition to the bribes they had offered us, the Thayans also promised to remove the dragon that had been preying on the local trade routes, restore the water traffic with Sembia, and import sufficient quantities of grain to feed the masses of Wheloon and its surrounding for a year. It was a good bargain for the people, but any bargain struck with devil-hearts must turn to evil in the end. Also inevitably, those Sembian blackcloaks (whom I am certain murdered the chancellor) will attempt to use me as an instrument to sway the heart of “my lord Ulrick”. They cloak themselves in shadows, but a veritable sun shines on their intent – they wish me to turn Ulrick completely against House Obarskyr and the Purple Dragons, so that in the end I will deliver Wheloon to them as a bauble that will gleam brightly in the crown of whatever nation they truly serve.

So let us savor this triumph and pretend it is not a disaster. Let us celebrate the glory of my great and valiant lord paladin. Perhaps if we besot ourselves with these old, crooked delusions, it will make the situation seem tolerable for awhile.

With Love, as ever, thy brother and thy servant,

Ascarin Nevermoon
 
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14th day of Uktar, in the Year of the Standing Stone, 1372.
Saerloon.

Dear Ascarin,

How in Toril do you get yourself into such fixes? ‘Tis a wonder that we have anything to do with you. I say this in jest, as always, but still… a Cormyte paladin?! A psychotic elven ranger who (I’d wager half the family fortune on it) has more than a hint of a thief in his bloodline? Have you forgotten the old (and very wise) saying that one should never meddle in the Cormyrean body politic, for it lacks all subtlety and crushes anyone who stumbles into its path like a drunken dragon?

My brother, you are the sweetest idiot I have ever known. In your last letter, you swore to me that this Lord Ulrick meant nothing to you, except as a swordarm to clear away the obstacles that lay between you and your fortune, and a beast of burden to carry your fortune from the deep places of the earth. You told me that he was so handsome that he attracted more than his share of women, which allowed you to take the pickings of those with whom he could not fit into his bed. He was supposed to be a tool for you and nothing more, which (to be frank) is all that the Cormytes have ever been good for. (One need only look at recent events to see what a right and fine mess the noble citizens of Suzail can make of their lives.)

But now you’re traveling with this would-be lord from a traitorous house and acting like his court magician. Don’t deceive yourself! You are not a great mage, my brother; when you and I last spoke, you could barely cast a creditable evocation. Please tell me you have not become so entranced by your schemes that you’ve become blind to the risks you are taking. You have already tantalized the hangman with your pretty neck once, and if you stay, you shall doubtless do so again. Please leave Wheloon as soon as the road to Monksblade becomes open again.

Still, perhaps some good shall come of this; I shall mention at court the fact that you were involved in the removal of the dragon and the restoration of the boat-traffic between Cormyr and Sembia; it may win you some favorable notice. And I shall also keep my ear to the ground concerning the Sembians in Wheloon, whether or not they are a genuine faction, or merely (as I suspect) exiles and pretentious brigands.

Wheloon is not the only place where these Thayan tatterskulls are stirring; they’re endeavoring to establish themselves in Sembia, and entrenching themselves quickly, despite the fact that everyone knows they’re devil-pacting slavers and gnoll-bloods who copulate with demons. I fear that when their liches cast the spells that bring down our cities, we’ll be the fools who’ll have sold them the components.

More is happening in local politics, of course, a veritable labyrinth of events and scandal, as usual. Incidentally, the fashionable color this season is yellow (a hideous bright yellow), and Velker Hamsbrun’s new spell, a miniature pyrotechnics.display that orbits his head like an Ioun Stone, has become the talk of the colleges. It is a trifle, of course; I thought Damt Huminbyr’s new spell that separates a familiar from his master and makes them unable to come within close proximity was the most clever thing I’ve seen lately, but as you’ve said on numerous occasions “Gevrael, you’re so damn practical you could pass for a Durpari.”

As I write this, I am watching two suitors wait for me in the foyer. Father chose them for me, of course; they’re a pair of muttonweights with excessive manners and absolutely no wits. Your brother Argrad stole uncle Malveanon’s candles of emotion and lit them in the hall; I’ve kept them waiting for three chimes, and they’re starting to become quite jealous of each other. You’d like it Ascarin; you always enjoyed watching stupid people kill each other (no doubt that’s what attracted you to Cormyr). Perhaps one of them will goad the other into a duel, it would be very amusing, though more than likely, I’ll have to settle for fisticuffs. Oh well! A girl has to take what fun she can get!

Anyway, my brother, please take care of yourself, and do not forget where your home truly lies. You have not yet entirely burnt out your welcome, no matter what our father may say.

Your loving sister,
Gevrael
 
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The Smile of Chauntea
Part Two:
16th day of Uktar, in the Year of the Standing Stone, 1372.

My sweet and evercaring sister Gevrael,

The news you bring me from court seems trivial, as do these new fashions of spells. Even your inexplicably petty malice toward your suitors (is there Drow in our bloodline, my dearest?) does little to hold my interest, for the affairs of the moment are all-consuming. Ulrick continues to drive toward a chasm on the charger of his ambition, and I am tangled in the reins.

But first let me speak a little of my companion, Aron who (though Cormyte born) seems more alien here than I. He is a fine oaf in combat, oak-limbed, tall and fair of face, the sort of man that you would happily bed, admire his form like a fine colt, and then discard as soon as you were done. His manner grates on me; not to the level where it is a mortal offense – however, his judgment is wanting in the extreme.

Consider this. Aron, the fine-featured Wyvernspur stableboy-knight of Cormyr, decided that the great task of securing our fortune and helping his fellow Cormytes in the midst of famine and ruin was too boring for him. Boring! What could this troll-head be thinking? He decided that the affairs of this place were too small for one of his stature, so he set out onto the streets of Wheloon and publically announced that he, Aron Wyvernspur, was now founding a grand order of knighthood. This delusion lasted but a few short minutes, until Aron made his offer to the first able-bodied soldier we met and was promptly reminded that to organize such an order without the patronage of the royal house of Cormyr was a crime punishable by death. This revelation cowed the lad.

I reminded the down-hearted Sir Aron of the proper ways of knighthood as I had always known them: find a squire, train him to knighthood, then repeat the process and slowly build a consort of vassals, so people would not suspect what you were doing until it had come to pass. But deliberation is a quality that is even in less abundance in Wheloon than food.

I suppose I should be thankful to young Wyvernspur for providing me with a comic diversion in such grim surroundings. Between the trials of our “Lord” Ulrick, the machinations of the Thayans and the Sembians and the insane laws of Cormyr that were never intended for times as grim as these… well, the body politic is an infected place that neither cleric nor god can heal.

So we gathered in the keep and were left to mull over the list of Wheloon’s problems, when two new ones were brought to our attention.

First, a series of murders has been occuring in the city. The victims had their throats slashed, and a paper with a skull set in the center of a dark sun was inserted into their throats. It appears Cyric, having been spanked by the gods, is attempting to solidify his hold on the realm of cutthroats. The magnificent dark sun has now been reduced to a back alley bloodletter. I could almost be less than happy about it.

The second revelation was brought to us by the council of merchants, who had a grave concern – there was a scarcity of coin. Wheloon had goods, but not the currency, to trade with the influx of Thayans and Sembians who would be importing food into the city once the Thayans had dealt with the dragon. The amount of coin we would need to replenish the city’s coffers was staggering – I believe the figure was three million pieces of gold. The coins had to be Cormyte; Sembian coins had no value here, and the minting of currency was – you guessed it – a crime punishable by death. The only way to get such an amount was to face the dragon, but we did not know the whereabouts of its hoard, whereas the Thayans who had promised to drive the dragon away undoubtedly knew where to find its treasure.

The solution that it occurred to Ulrick was the one the Sembians encouraged me to whisper in his ear – separate Wheloon from Cormyr, at least for the duration of the crisis. I urged him against this – surely if we waited, other events would occur beyond our current reckoning, and perhaps easier solutions would come. He said nothing, but I know his heart was against my counsel – which is as I planned. For now I have advised Ulrick against separation, so if I am captured by the Cormytes (and not slain on sight), I will be able to honestly tell an inquisitor that I urged Ulrick stay loyal, but Ulrick is almost certain to disregard my counsel, which shall make the Sembians happy (provided they do not disbelieve me when I’m forced to tell them that I gave Ulrick this advice because the paladin has a contrary nature).

To add a second level to the labyrinth, yet more problems presented themselves. First, there was the matter of the former guards of the citadel of Wheloon, who had fled the city and turned to banditry; they had burnt the keep of one of Wheloon’s vassals. Second, the beholder who blocked the way between Suzail and Wheloon was scrying on us, and casting some devil-magic that tormented him in his dreams with the image of a terrible eye. Third, we were visited by a Thayan lady, who claimed the right of hospitality and took refuge in our keep. She said her name was Elebeyth, and claimed that she knew Szass Tamm.

Sweet Azuth, what next? One of the Manshoon upon our heads?

Kord, our sweet ranger, had had enough. He had not shed blood in two days, and thus was practically shaking from a fit of despite. He ventured out toward Monksblade, where our network of gates lay, and once again encountered a squad of knights who claimed to be paladins of Chauntea, in service of one called the Harvestmaster. Upon his return, I ventured to the local priestess of Chauntea, who claimed that she knew not of such an order at Monksblade.

Kord returned to the area, with Aron and I in tow, leaving Ulrick to mind our affairs in Wheloon. In one of the villages near Monksblade, we heard a tale of families disappearing from farmsteads, and we decided to investigate. Kord found signs that the bodies had been dragged from the farmhouse in the direction of Monksblade. We followed the trail.

As we approached Monksblade in the early morning, we were waylaid by the paladins of Chauntea, who came upon us in a column twenty strong, led by a mail-clad captain who bore a great staff and informed us that we had to turn back, in thr name of the Harvestmaster of Monksblade. But Kord and Aron, being men of contrary moods, were not receptive to his demand, and we quarreled. In the end, I spake soothing words to ease the situation, then inquired as to the history of this paladinly order. The captain stammered, as if caught by surprise, then attacked us.

It came as only a minor surprise. I let fly a barrage of missiles, while Kord invoked the power of some minor nature spirit, and the fields became a tanglenest of grappling vines. It was a spell that nearly killed the company once before (entangling one’s fellows is not wise when the half-orc raiders you are fighting are armed with bows and you have nought but sword and shield), but this time, the tactic worked splendidly. I levitated above the field and brought thunder and lightning down upon our foes. Aron fared less well; the lad became so tightly wrapped with vines that he could not advance against the Captain, and so he could not quench his bloodthirst. Fortunately, the enemy troops fared no better. The soldiers, who turned out to be skeletons clad in plate mail that obscured their body, quickly crumpled. And after taking bow shots and my best spells, the enemy Captain disintegrated into a pile of snow and perished.

Yes my dear, he was a simulacrum. I have heard tell of such children of frost, but it is remarkable – and quite frightening, given the power required to create such a thing – to meet one in the icy flesh.

I garnished the simulacrum’s staff, and we retreated back to Wheloon. A raven flying overhead, attempted to guide more skeletons to our position, but I shot it with a ball of flame from the wand that the Thayans had gifted me, and the creature toppled from the sky. Aron charged over to it and stabbed it repeatedly with his longspear. We then returned to Wheloon in a parody of triumph. The real enemy had been scratched just badly enough to strengthen his resolve to crush us. Sometimes it is better to leave an enemy alone than it is to bloody him.

To our surprise, no one had tried to kill Ulrick in our absence. The Lady Elbeyth examined the simulacrum’s staff and determined it was an object of necromancy. And thus we suddenly suddenly why the Harvestmaster of Monksblade had chosen that name.

Ulrick seems more determined than ever to declare his independence; he acts more like a lord by the day. I do not know what frightens me more; that he shall bring down the retribution of the Steel Regent on our heads, or that the crown of Comyr has become so weak that Ulrick might actually succeed in his designs, which does not bode well for the fate of the larger realm.

Contemplate this thought, sister. The beholder that controls the land between is a terrifying creature of great magical puissance. It is indeed a barrier to us. But one such horror should not be sufficient to stay the forces of a place as powerful as Suzail if the Cormytes are in a determined mood. Am I not correct?

Unless the beholder is harbinger of a greater menace with designs on this place, or the reason that Cormyr stays its hand is because Ulrick is in secret league with them?

One cannot sleep with both eyes open, but these times seem to call for it.

So, with a beholder to the west, a dragon and a necromancer to the east, raiders and trolls on our doorstep, cutthroats and Thayans in our midst, and the inevitable wrath of Cormyr gathering on the horizon, we have discovered that our virtue and compassion have become a more unyielding trap than can be found in any dungeon. I know not how this endeavor will end, but I would offer you this counsel: should you ever come across a wager at court that concerns our survival, bet against it.

As ever, I wish you prosperity and happiness sister, even though your dour brother is (as ever) more fatalistic than the walls of Kelemvor.

Your brother,
Ascarin Nevermoon

PS Do not abuse all the suitors in Saerloon, or you shall need to resort to magic to win anyone’s affections, and that is something I would strongly advise against. For Azuth's sake, find someone you can be kind toward. A.N.
 
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Broccli_Head

Villager
I'm a sucker for a new story in Faerun. Good beginning. I like the correspondence-style.

I would encourage the paladin to contact the Steel Regent.
 
We game every week, alternating on a three week cycle between games.

As for contacting the Steel Regent, I don't know how the campaign will unfold, but I'm sure he'll be meeting her representatives at some point down the road.

Scott Bennie
 
Part Two:
19th day of Uktar, in the Year of the Standing Stone, 1372.

Dear Gevrael,

The time has come to discuss the fate of my comrade Kord… or should I say ex-comrade? While I am not completely displeased by the turn of events, they were messy, and therefore quite regrettable.

After having been subjected to the unpleasantness of politics in an era of Cormyte anarchy, our fellowship was all quite eager to experience the simple joy of swinging a blade and watching an enemy die. Kord the elf enjoyed the exercise more than the rest of us, provided that he could substitute “firing an arrow at eighty paces” for the proximity of a sword duel, (and provided that his quarry was facing away from him). For when it became obvious that we had to face a worthy adversary, Kord’s usual response was to run away as quickly as his feet could muster and leave his comrades to die. He was a very good scout, but a terrible companion-in-arms.

Once, when we were attacking an encampment of raiders near Ashenbenford, with Aron and Ulrick armed only with swords (and the raiders armed with bows), Kord came up with the inspired plan that if he was to cast a spell and entangle everyone on the battlefield, we could prevail. After the battle, when one of our comrades lay dead (after spending as much time fighting the writhing plants as the enemy), Kord insisted that the debacle was our fault because we were not carrying bows and crossbows. In other words, rather than observing the situation and adjusting his tactics to fit, Kord displayed true elven arrogance by insisting that whenever the world didn’t adjust itself to fit his perspective, the world was wrong. No wonder the elves whimpered and Retreated from the world.

Kord also had the annoying habit of lording the elves’ ancient achievements as examples of their superiority. I only shut him up once, when I reminded him that humans were one of the founder races of Faerûn and that elves were mere shoddy imports from some foreign realm. This did not sit well with him.

Anyway, getting back to the story at hand, our good paladin Ulrick wanted to kill something, preferably something that qualified under the category of “very evil”, and we were of like mind. Now Wheloon has eight lords who live outside the city who are foresworn as its vassals, and we reasoned that their loyalty could be quite useful to us in our current situation. We also learned that one of their estates had been overrun by a band of brigands (who were formerly the guards of Castle Wheloon, who made this career change after we arrived in the city). Kord was sent ahead to scout the area and discovered that the brigands had murdered the local lord and lady, and were now holed up in the lord’s keep. We needed to capture the keep, kill the bandits, and show the local lords that we would protect them (or at least avenge them).

Kord kept a vigil on the keep, and was rewarded when he spotted a crew of six young men, all of who had the demeanor of farmboys, building a catapult on the outskirts of the keep. Kord waylaid the head of the farmboys while he was attempting to relieve himself – it’s amazing how talkative people can be when a knife is held to their genitals – and learned that he was Sir Alfred, the son of the late local lord. Sir Alfred’s fiancée was still being held prisoner in the keep. The boys – who seemed to be wrought of the same reckless fabric as Ulrick – had the brilliant plan of using the catapult to launch themselves over the keep’s walls and then using potions of dove feathers to waft gently down to the roof before they splattered. When Ulrick arrived, he thought it was a brilliant plan (paladins!), but ordered Sir Alfred and his men to stay back and leave the assault to us.

Once we arrived at this quaint sitting, we immediately started debating our plan of attack. With Ulrick at hand (and with a deficit of stealth magicks at our disposal – I never have the proper spells to fit these lackbrains’ crazed schemes), we chose a frontal assault. We crept to the keep during the day and found it lifeless and deserted. Kord was sent to lurk in ambush should any bandit escape through the front gate, while the local farmboys flexed their muscles and deluded themselves into thinking they were important by keeping watch on the tunnel entrance of the castle’s bolthole. Their task would turn out to be far more fateful than I suspected, especially for Kord.

I suggested that we penetrate the keep at dusk, when the shadows were at their longest and our movements would be most difficult to spot. But we tarried a few minutes too long. The keep came alive at nightfall, and the sudden fear that we were facing something unnatural set us to pointless bickering, giving the enemy time to set torches along the castle walls. When we arrived, our approach was seen and they were ready for us. We climbed the manor walls to find several squads of archers waiting for us, perched on balconies surrounding the castle keep.

Nonetheless, although they were prepared for us, they were not prepared for the Thayan wand of fire that I wielded. Our cousin Caecason would have been delighted with the result, given that he once burnt down a manor house too (albeit through malice and not magic). Two squads of archers were burned alive, screaming for only a fraction of a second before their charred husks fell to the ground, and once I lit their pyre, the enemy resistance crumbled. After a half minute of battle had elapsed, I contented myself to watch Aron and Ulrick flounder as they attempted to corner the enemy (which they did after some effort), and tried to dispel the enchantment that barred the door. The latter was a task beyond my power to affect; the door held firm even though my countermagic was more puissant than any I had ever cast. (Of course, Ulrick and Aron were scornful that I had but one such countermagic prepared. As gratitude would require humility, it is excluded from the list of Cormyrean virtues, which may go far in explaining this kingdom’s sorry state.)

So we broke through into the stables, which adjoined the main house but did not benefit from its protections; here Aron showed his stabling skill by releasing the horses and keeping them under his control so we were not trampled to death as they were herded through the main gate. Then, we turned our attention to the main house. Using an anvil or some other heavy implement (I cannot quite recall what instrument we chose - Ulrick’s head perhaps) we broke through weak points in the burning wall and strode into the manor house. It was already well on its way to becoming a flaming ruin.

The defenders had fled; no doubt they had gone through the bolthole that Lord Alfred had mentioned. We did indeed find Alfred’s betrothed inside the keep – but alas, she was dead, she lay alone in the castle bath with her throat slit, wearing a bloody wedding gown. This was a most appalling sight, for she was fair and strong of frame, so if she had lived she would have been likely to bear very strong children, if she possessed no ambition for higher things. Such a doleful waste – why those animals killed her, when they could have bound her and dragged her through the bolthole to be kept as a useful bargaining chip, is beyond my comprehension. But I have always found evil difficult to fathom – especially when it’s wasteful, so dreadfully wasteful.

Our attention was now turned to the bolthole, to whose outer exit Kord had retreated once it was obvious that no raiders would be coming through the gate. This, too, was a very sad sight. Kord had left no brigand alive – but Lord Alfred and the farmboys were also dead. Our lanterns revealed a trail in the grass, which we followed to discover another dead farmboy, lying facedown on the ground about thirty yards from the bolthole with an arrow-hole in his back. I was fearful that more raiders were lurking in the woods, but Kord assured us that this fear was groundless – he had killed the farmboys.

We stood agape in the Cormyrean night, listening with disbelieving ears to Kord’s explanation. The elf had parked himself at the bolthole when the brigands began to pour out. He had cheerfully began to slaughter them, but when he took a step back to find better footing, Lord Alfred decided to rush in and win glory for himself. Believing that Lord Alfred was a pup who was about to be cut to pieces, Kord grabbed him and was trying to throw him out of the fight when one of the brigands thrust a longsword through the young lord’s chest, killing him before he could draw another breath.

From their vantage point, fighting behind them in the dim light of a half moon, Lord Alfred’s braintrust of farmhands perceived Kord as having grabbed their liege-lord to assist in his death. So they attacked Kord, who calmly drew two blades and killed both brigand and farmhand – the only blood on his clothes belonged to his foes. One of the farmhands wisely decided that it would be prudent to flee from this elven threshing machine, but Kord does not believe in allowing an enemy to live, so he drew his bow and calmly shot the farmboy in the back, killing him instantly.

“So he did not stop when you called for his surrender?” I asked, trying to find some way to allow him to wrest himself from the situation. Kord was bewildered by the question and by our concern; the idea that anyone would object to killing this poor farmboy, merelh because he had stopped posing an immediate threat, was beyond the elf's comprehension.

“Warning? Why would I give a warning?” he replied.

Ulrick was troubled, and debated what needed to be done. He was loth to punish the elf, but clearly Kord had done a grievous wrong, and Ulrick had no allowances to let it go unpunished, either as liegelord of the land, or as a paladin of Torm. According to the laws of chivalry, once the elf insulted Lord Alfred by laying hands on him, his vassals had no choice but to avenge the insult, and the fact that Lord Alfred had died had made it even worse.

Ulrick fumbled over the appropriate punishment, even though it was painfully obvious that whatever judgment he decided upon, Kord was too self-important and willfully amoral to accept it. Ulrick was muttering something about naming Aron as the deceased farmhand’s champion in a trial by combat, when I finally moaned to him: “You know what needs to be done. Just have at it and be done with it.”

So Ulrick arrested Kord for the farmhand’s murder, and (as expected) the elf immediately bolted. I could have tried to strike him down with a spell, but I doubt even my best lightning bolt would have killed him in one stroke, and I would rather not have given him reason to further begrudge my life, so I let him go. He ran into a copse of trees where the moonlight was beshadowed, and faded from human sight, and we did not see him again.

Alas! Kord was an elven swaggerer of a kind that had not been seen since the fall of Myth Drannor, but he was also a true arrowsinger with one of the steadiest hands and eyes I have ever witnessed, and because of that he was often useful to us. But the fool's bloodthirst and his lack of understanding of the virtue of forebearance frequently made him a curse, so it is good to be rid of him. Unfortunately he knows secrets about our discoveries (particularly the ones we made in Galath’s Roost), that I do not want to set loose in the open world. But there is not much I can do about it now, I forsook the chance to cast a spell, and so Kord is gone, and we are not likely to see him again. I trust you now understand why I view his absence with a mix of emotions.

So our tattered fellowship returned to Wheloon, not at all elated by what we had seen and done. Ulrick half-heartedly placed a bounty of five hundred gold coins on Kord’s head, with the provision that the elf was to be delivered to us alive. Ha! As if any local bounty hunter could catch him! And thus the farce ends in a bigger farce, and is true to itself; though I would wager heavily that if Kord the Wolfhead knew just what a niggardly price Lord Ulrick had been set for each of his fine pointed ears, he might feel so grievously wronged that he'd return to bedevil Ulrick just to see how high the paladin would be willing to set the price.

No matter. It is done, and the sole benefit of this affair is that Kord’s misdeeds overshadowed mine, so I will not have to endure an endless stream of petty jibes about the fire at the manor house. I hope Kord is gone forever. We have too many enemies as it stands.

So that is all for today. The dream of the dracolich, and our subsequent (if understandable) panic, will have to wait until my next correspondence.

Oh, and don’t spend too much on potions. You never know when you’ll need the money.

Warm regards,
Your Loving brother,

Ascarin Nevermoon
 
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Well, Ulrick is a paladin of Torm (god of loyalty) and felt that he owed Kord an honorable trial as payment for past loyalty, so cutting him down was out of the question.

Also, it was a moonlit night, and Kord's vision was far superior to the humans, and with his Stealthg ability, it was pretty easy for him to escape. As noted elsewhere, Ulrick's not fond of ranged weapons.
 

AvarielAvenger

Villager
Impressive story hour. The diary format is written very well, and the characters seem to have great depth so far. It is unfortunate that Kord turned out to be an untrustworthy companion. I look forward to reading more of this story hour, should you continue.
 
22nd day of Uktar, in the Year of the Standing Stone, 1372.

Dear Gevrael,

Thank you for your recent hospitality and understanding in our recent stop. I must confess I was surprised by father’s (relative) courtesy – do you think he knows of Ulrick’s importance in the machinations of certain Sembian parties? We've both known for a long time that a heart of cold, barbed iron beats underneath the courtier's lace and magician's silk.

I wanted to explain this to you in person, but our departure was in haste, so this letter must suffice. It began with Ulrick, of course: the big lug had dreams again. One would imagine that the dreams of a paladin would consist of visions of epic struggle and great quests, like the wildest tales of a cunning Cormyte tavern-bard who sifts through knightly purses by telling them the only tales they wish to hear (regardless of how obnoxious they become in the retelling). I imagine most paladins dream of the deathscreams of dragons and the touch of chaste women. What else do they have to dream about?

But not Ulrick. His dreams are different than those of other men, more portentous and vivid. I can only imagine what is like to be him at night, when the comforts of a woman’s touch fade with the coming of slumber, and there is not a scrap of dream-glory to be had, only torment.

And that night, his torment was the vision of a lone dracolich, death-boned, steel fanged, raising its great horned limbs through a star-blue portal, destined to bring a final death to Cormyr.

####

Weeks ago, before we arrived in Wheloon, we had a chance encounter whose importance was lost on me until this moment. We had found three dead Orcs in the wilderness, on the path between Monksblade and Wheloon, one of them clutching an amulet with an odd symbol engraved on it. Unfortunately, the events of Wheloon had distracted me from researching the amulet, but now I suddenly remembered that it bore a great similarity to the sign of the Sammasterites, a cult which holds that undead dragons are the true gods of Toril, to be nurtured and worshipped as a prelude to their coming age of supremacy.

A cult whose ultimate goal is the creation of those same abominations that Ulrick had beheld in his vision.

It had struck me as odd that something as base and weak as an Orc-band could control something as important as the portals. Now it occurred to me that their mastery of the portals was due to information that they had stolen from their portal's true masters, the Sammasterites.

When I informed Ulrick of my theory, the bedevilled paladin immediately declared that we would travel to Suzail and warn the crown of the dracolich threat, despite the rather dramatic consequences of such an act. A reminder of the beholder-mage that blocked the path was sufficient to dissuade his (dubious) lordship from that course of action – barely – but the portals still held our attention. Two portals in particular seemed to demand further exploration: one which led to a wine cellar where Kord was attacked by someone who was dressed like a Sembian, and another which led to a ruined shrine to Mystra. So we spent a half-day riding to Monksblade (the pair should consider themselves fortunate to have a Sembian companion who actually knows a thing or two about horses) found the cliff opening, and returned to the portal room.

It is a marvel, this chamber. Sixteen or so portals, some dead, some blocked by stone, others only slumbering, doorways etched into the stone by the craft and magicks of ancient Netheril. When the appropriate word is spoken, the portals become alive, sparking to red as they ignite, then cooling to a green miasma as they settle, finally fading first to a blue shimmer (as pretty as the crown of Mystra) and then to dark grey stonework when the doors are closed. We divined the opening word for many of these doors on our previous venture, a disastrous expedition where nearly all of us had died. Now that we had mustered our strength, we were eager to renew the assault.

Finding the chamber unguarded by the Orcs, Ulrick once again entertained the idea of using the portals to get to Suzail, even though none of the doors would allow us to circumvent the obstacle of the beholder. Unfortunately, driving a point into a paladin’s head is enough to vex any man; a long argument followed that rattled me, and so I forsook my usual caution. Attempting to end the dissention before my headache became too great to endure. I stepped into the wine cellar portal, ready for (the expected) ambush.

Yes, I had remembered what Kord had told us about the archer who had been lurking in waiting. But what I failed to remember was the very powerful magical trap that was situated at the door. Idiot! As soon as I stepped through the portal, I was suddenly surrounded by a coriolis of lightning. Instinctively, I dodged to one side, otherwise the lightning would have done more to me than to smoke my robes and singe my legs and hands. The instant I stepped away from the trap, I immediately found myself wearing a thief on my back. Azuth, I have never beheld such speed! He plunged a dagger into my right kidney, and gave it a twist for good measure.

I would have been dead then, had it not been for Aron. The fool raced across the portal, bearing the brunt of another lightning bolt, and charged the thief. The distraction allowed me to stagger backwards through the portal, still clutching my side with one hand as shakily pryed a healing drought from my belt, and I quaffed it before it could fall through my fingers. I have never seen so much of my own blood in my life.

Normally, I despise the taste of these brews, but for once I welcomed the burning sensation as it raced down my throat, (tasting much like rat's dung floating in a lamp oil soup) but the light-headedness and the pain in my side suddenly halted. I was not completely whole – my side still throbbed like a succubus in heat – but I always hate to let an injury go without a response, so I steadied myself, cast a spell of myriad images and prepared to rejoin the fracas.

Alas, my comrades were not faring well. Seeing himself outnumbered, our quarry covered himself with magical dust – vanishing from sight, of course, and then he fired arrows at us while he danced nimbly around the cellar.

I never dreamt I would miss having Kord at my side.

“Cast a fireball!” Ulrick barked to me as yet another mightily swordstroke connected with empty air. “Fill the entire room!” But the paladin had clearly lost his mind. How could anyone forget that any thief worth his salt would be able to hide from my fireball in one of the room’s many crooks and cracks, while we would all be burnt to a crisp? Not to mention what the fireball would have done to the wine – burning Cormyte manorhouses is one thing, but destroying good Sembian wine is quite another.

Still, Ulrick had reason to worry. Twice the thief stabbed him in the back, in parts of his body where his heavy armor afforded little protection. I began to cast a spell to sense enchantments; within twenty heartbeats, I would sense where the cutpurse was standing from the very magical dust that hid him from our sight, and if tried to disrupt the spell, it’d be likely he’d expose himself to my comrades and be cut down like a dog.

The thief countered my spell by dancing around us and whispering a word to shut down the portal. Fearing that we would be trapped, we panicked. I dove through the fading gatewayl back into the portal chamber, and the others followed.

When we arrived on the other side, we realized that the thief had crossed the portal with us, so Ulrick decided to reopen the portal and return to the cellar. Unfortunately, as soon as he and Aron crossed the portal, the trap came to life again. Ulrick was electrocuted and fell dead to the floor; his armor was smoking and his father’s greatsword, sheathed in heavy cloth straps and fastened to his back, fell from his back and smoldered on the ground. Clearly it would never strike a blow again.

Aron was grievously injured, so I rolled my other healing potion to him. Once he quaffed it, he was ready for the fight. The armor that the Thayans had given him fortified him against thief’s most deadly attacks, so our adversary decided to play a waiting game. The thief fled the cellar and hid in the upper levels of the building, but fortunately he was alone. The slow but diligent Aron carefully searched the building and finally discovered the thief hiding in an attic crawlspace, the dust’s dweomer having worn off over time. Aron smote the thief with several mighty blows, flaying him to death.

So! Our enemy was dead, brutally harvested by my strong-armed companion. But Ulrick was also slain, and I was in no mood for funerals. I bade Aron to return with Ulrick’s body across the threshold before the trap reset, but he suggested that we should inspect the area outside the building first. To my surprise, his counsel was the wiser. That’s how we discovered that the portal led to our home city of Saerloon, where healing would be much easier to find than in Cormyr, and Ulrick could be raised from death to renew his task.

Now you know why I demand such secrecy from you, sister.

We stripped the thief’s body of its possessions, taking it as weregild for the priests of Azuth, whom we would employ to return Ulrick to the tragic lands of the living. Remembering the wounds he had given me, I spat on the thief’s body, a satisfying if petty act. I almost wish I had a raven familiar to feast upon its eyes. Aron changed his bloody clothes, and we wrapped Ulrick in a large hooded cloak and stood on either side of him, carrying him like a drunken man who had passed out from the excesses of the night.

Our deception was made much easier by our fortuitous arrival at festival time. I had quite forgotten what a gaudy spectacle the Ravenswatch frivolity can be; the flight of the ravens from the jail to the citadel is impressive, of course, but the swaggering host of mages that follows it, casting their "spells", is laughably pretentious. None of these pups could challenge the city fathers’ as the Ravenswatch founders did a century ago. They are primping, posturing and perfumed pack of little beasts like poodles, who are utterly untroubled by the fact that they are lapdogs walking in a world of wolves.

But they did provide a distraction, in case the thief’s comrades were watching the building. Singing a drunken, off-key ballad, we bards of the damned carted the huge paladin (with Aron bearing most of the burden) down the clogged streets of Saerloon, eventually dragging him to the House of Azuth.

After three clangs on the heavy iron gate, we managed to rouse a half-drunken acolyte, who shivered in a hastily thrown nightshirt as rain began to fall. All the high priests were away at festival (probably listening to the Ravenswatch bravos tell drunken stories of spellcasting mishaps and childish pranks) so after some haggling and exchange of coin, we hauled Lord Ulrick's paladinly corpse down a (much too lengthy) passage and several long flights of solemn stone stairs down into the temple’s necropolis. And to think that I enjoyed hiding in those catacombs as a boy!

We laid Ulrick upon a slab in its catacombs, covered it with a sheet of canvass, and hoped that the rats didn’t pry into it. (Fortunately the body had not yet begun to smell). Our business could not be concluded until the morning, so we retired into the depths of the city and looked for lodging.

I really did not wish to see father, so I took Aron to the Winding Serpent Inn. The big Cormyte was famished and demanded a meal fit for three hungry men, but the sight of a man in such heavy armor at festival time was an affront to the innkeeper, and so they refused to serve the Cormyte. Ah, what a satisfying turn that was, after being a target for everyone’s spittle in the Dales and in Cormyr for so many miserable months.

“Why should they care what I wear?” Aron growled as we sat down at a table.

“Why should you care?” I replied. “I’ve seen you dance around naked.”

“I only do that once a month,” Aron protested. “For religious purposes.” The knight is a devotee of Selune. Selune! Have you ever heard such foolishness? What good can come of worshipping the Moon, unless one wants to be a howling idiot?

I ordered a huge meal, and tormented Aron by forcing him to watch as I devoured the repast. Grievous injury does encourage a certain hardy appetite. Once I had finished the meal, I purchased the use of a grand suite, to celebrate my return to civilization in the appropriate style. Aron’s keen (and hungry) glance espied a man who was carefully watching us while I ate. I didn’t know if he was a thief or someone more sinister, so I retired to my room, had food brought up, and retired to bed. Though I was sleeping in the city of my birth, both Kord and Ulrick were gone, and their absence brought only a grave discomfort. Enemies seemed to be everywhere.
 

Broccli_Head

Villager
in the middle?

doesn't seem that you are quite finished!

How could you let Ulrick die?
I know that adventure. I glad to see someone playing it. Anyway, looking forward to the conclusion of that letter.

BH
 
I was afraid for our safety, even in the heart of Saerloon, so I conjured a rope trick and scurried up the rope to rest while Aron guarded me. It was not a comfortable sleep, but one does the best that one can in such circumstances, and at least my gravest fears did not come to pass. I passed the night unmolested, then ate a quick breakfast and prepared to return to the temple of Azuth to see if they could work an undeserved miracle on our dear impetuous paladin.

Before we went to retrieve Ulrick’s body, I noticed Aron fumbling through his pack and uncovering a damp parchment (his wineskin was leaking) with barely legible writing. I asked him what it was.

”Oh,” Aron said. “I’d almost forgotten about that. It’s a letter I found on the person we killed in the wine shop.”

Immediately I snatched the letter out of his hand, regretting that I had not been more observant earlier. It was – to say the least – interesting correspondence.

“Treibor,

Kell and Gregor have gone missing. I think these demon-cursed Orcs have got them. I have signs(?) of the others using the portals. The rubble in the portal room has been cleared away and I have found fresh pools of blood there. However, the glyph that was still in the temple has been triggered but no one was found wandering about. You should remain here to guard the wine shop while I return to the tower by way of the temple portal to warn the others. Be ready to shut down the portal system if need be.

Kayll

P.S. The Masters are close to completing their great task. Even in death the pool will restore you to serve our great lords even in death, so fear not. Our sacrifice will pave the way for our great lord’s rule.”


I take the letter and set it among my papers and scrolls. Aron had made some even more illegible scratchings on the back; I think he was using it to record an inventory of treasures. The fact that the big oaf is literate is a great (and perhaps terrifying) surprise.

The reference to the “temple portal” seemed to point to only one place; months ago, we followed one of the portals we found near Galath’s Roost and discovered an ancient shrine to Mystryl (the progenitor of our most beloved goddess Mystra). Unfortunately when we examined the place, Aron triggered a glyph, and since his skill at dodging spells rivals that of a drunken kobold, he was immediately blinded. We then retreated back to Ashbeneford, where we begged the priestess of Chauntea to restore his sight. The matter clearly demanded further study – the place was so ancient that it was almost certainly beyond the knowledge of either the local Mystraites or Azuthites, so the best way to explore it was first-hand. But first we needed to restore Ulrick to life.

We arrived at the temple of Azuth and emerged to find Ulrick clutching a robe as he woozily emerged from the afterdeath.

“I suppose it is a good thing that Torm is such a forgiving god,” I say with a smile. This is not the first time the knightly lummox has fallen in the line of duty. Ulrick, as usual, does his best to ignore the jibe, although this time it’s probably due to trauma and exhaustion, not natural forbearance. But even if death did not diminish a man, it taxes them to the innermost fiber, and one need only look at the haggard look on Ulrick’s pallid face, and a stagger that’s one step removed from a zombie’s gait, to see that Ulrick has not completely rejoined the living. He’s certainly in no shape to confront our enemies, so I decide to retreat to the only place in Saerloon that offers a modicum of safety – father’s estate.

Father treats me with the usual cold formality. No one takes me to task for bringing a pair of big sweaty Cormyte human-horses into the house (perhaps your suitors have accustomed the staff to the habits of the breed), though I wish they had, as redress to the future injuries I’ll suffer when we return to Cormyr.

So that’s why we were at the house. I understand you had other business, on which even I am not so foolhardy to speculate. We were given rooms in the west hall, and if anything is broken there, it’s Aron’s fault. Once we rested, and a color other than green had taken bloom in Ulrick’s cheeks, we sat down by the Wolfwicker fireplace and discussed the situation. The reason we had left Wheloon was to explore the portal network of Galath’s Roost and to prevent the Sammasterites from unleashing a dracolich upon Cormyr. There was little left to do in Saerloon, so the next logical step was to explore the abandoned shrine of Mystryl.

Not wishing to repeat the same mistake we made at the wine shoppe (falling into a trap twice. We are such idiots!), I insisted that each of us recall whatever we could remember from our previous expedition. About the only thing Aron can remember is the glyph that blinded him. Ulrick sighs and mutters under his breath that Kord had the best memory of all of us.

“Well, to be honest, I was lost in thought over the uses of the portal system,” I confess. “Not to mention I was barely able to catch my breath after we escaped from that other portal. You remember the tentacle thing, that cross between a shambling mound and a otuyugh…”

Aron shudders.

“I remember,” Ulrick says. “It was a very starry night.”

“The moon had gone behind the mountains,” Aron added; as a devotee of Selune, he ought to know such things. “I climbed up the slope and we saw the pool and the statue of Mystra…”

“It was Mystryl,” Ulrick corrected. “An unaging statue of the goddess, standing in the pool. Then Aron touched it…”

“And I won my wager with Kord that you would be the one we’d need to drag back to the healer,” I smile. “Well, I think I’ll need to make a small detour and see if the local Thayan mageries has an erase spell at an affordable price.”

“They let the Thayans into Sembia?” Aron wondered.

“I heard somebody actually let them enter Cormyr,” I smiled, looking at Ulrick. He’s too busy making plans to empty the Enclave’s stock of healing potions to react. One day, I’ll find a taunt that will truly test his patience.

There is a saying in Sembia: “nothing proves one’s manhood like shopping”; there is truth in the saying, as barter requires a forceful will, a silver tongue, and a sharp eye (and even sharper mind). I suppose those who ply their trade in ancient ruins struggling to best magical beasts may dispute the claim, but I will confess that I am less nervous facing a troll than I am these Thayans. I keep one hand on my purse as I walk; cutpurses are as common as rats in Saerloon, and half as clean. The Enclave is a cluster of beaded tents, shouting voices, burnt quail smothered in spices and roasting on open spits. I keep Ulrick at my side, and I pull on him and occasionally poke and jabber at him as if he were my bodyguard. The masquerade appears to amuse him.

“Would you care for a drink, honored sir?” a Thayan asks, suddenly stepping in front of me and holding a bottle of a green beverage which smells like rotten beer.

“I must decline,” I tell him, as politely as I can when I have a Thayan looming over me like a drunken familiar. “Another time…”

The merchant bows and returns to his stall, and I observe him with somewhat morbid curiosity as he blows on a large pipe, which issues a white smoke that is very harsh on the throat and nostrils. It is times such as these that I’m thankful to be such a nimble mage, as I’d have choked if I’d been caught in the center of the cloud. The narcoticist blows the opium mixture in heavy white rings that dissipate before they can rise above tent level; I suppose the wind is blowing harder than I thought. After a few seconds of inhaling it around the periphery, the bitrous smell is almost a temptation.

But we don’t have time for distractions, so I continue walking. Arriving at the main stall, I’m forced to wait for close to a half hour as the vendor argues with a customer, a sagging old wizard with the motliest Raven familiar I’ve ever seen, and a voice almost as harsh as his bird’s. I never imagined that even a Sembian Ravenswatch could get so upset over the fabric of an old cloak. I keep my hand fixed on my purse, in case the quarrel is staged as a distraction for the benefit of the Thayan equivalent of the Knives. Finally, the exhausted merchant, dragging his prize on the ground, stomps away to the main streets of Saerloon, and it’s my turn to barter. With little argument, I sell the items we had taken from the man at the wine shoppe and use them to purchase scrolls containing eight or so low level spells, including a spell designed to erase magical glyphs.

“Well?” I ask Ulrick, who’s returned from a potion vendor with enough potions to heal a wounded dragon. He passes me a pair of minor curatives, and flashes a wand of healing, displaying it with a proud, shaggy-toothed grin.

“Additional healing,” I smile. “Of course when you die… again… the damned thing will be bloody useless to us.”

“Such an optimist,” Ulrick replied. “Of course, there was a reason I purchased potions.”

“Considering you still owe me for those potions that I used on you on our first battle in the Dales…” Like any good Sembian, I never forget a debt, but I must confess I’ve forgotten which battle it was that I used those potions on him – it was before the fight with the manticore, I’m sure of it. Maybe against that zombie we found in the undercrypt, yes I think that was it…

We’ve all had our fill of Saerloon, at least for awhile, so I bid the others follow me to the wine shoppe. Because of the distraction caused by Ulrick’s death, we really didn’t get a chance to properly explore it, so I’m hoping that we’ll have an hour or so to search the premises unmolested. We’re about halfway from the Inn to the shoppe when I once again notice the shifty fellow who had been spying on Aron at the Winding Serpent. He’s obviously following us. Abruptly, I step in front of Ulrick, causing him to stumble into me, then I shout at him and slap his face.

“Cormyte!” I snap, adding: “we’re being followed by a black cloak” under my breath. Ulrick, playing along with the ruse, looks penitent. I snap us back onto course – when Aron collides with a second black cloaked figure, who drops a large bowl of clear liquid onto the ground.

“You Cormyrean oaf!” the man shouts, turning away from the shattered container just a little too quickly, like an actor who knows his role too well. “That cost me ten thousand gold! I demand immediate repayment!”

I take a step back and watch in some amusement. Aron stammers while Ulrick also watches, though much less amused than I. Aron refuses to pay the money – he doesn’t have one-tenth of the price- so the man demands satisfaction. Confused, Aron turns to me with Cormyte astonishment that the authorities would allow a duel to take place on the street.

"It's gauche," I admit. "But not uncommon."

"Draw your blade." the bravo says. Aron draws his dire flail. "Do I look like a chaff of wheat to you, sir?" the bravo snarls. "Draw a real weapon." Wrestling against a rising anger, Aron draws his other weapon, a greatsword. "Are you a knight or a barbarian?" the Sembian gasps in wonder.

I must admit the bravo has a point - armed with a dire flail and a greatsword, Aron simply isn’t equipped for proper dueling. Given his love for huge weapons (no, it isn’t compensation for the inadequacies of his anatomy, a fact I can attest to because I’ve seen him dance naked under the full moon as part of the rituals of Selune), I do wonder how Aron ever achieved any rank of knighthood in a nation as hidebound as Cormyr.

The bravo threatens to involve the local authorities, so Ulrick finally offers to take Aron’s place. I can’t help but laugh. “What is your name, sirrah?” I sneer at the aggrieved blackcloak. “Is it not customary for a challenger to speak his name? Or are you afraid to speak it aloud, knowing that everyone on the streets of Saerloon will treat it as an object of ridicule, for anyone who would handle an expensive potion in the middle of a crowded street and then complain when he drops it is an unmitigated fool!”

The man snorts like a horse and accuses me of poor manners and threatens to gut me after he’s dispatched Aron. Such a cheap, self-aggrandizing bravo – is it not pathetic what’s happened to the young men of Sembia? Of course, Ulrick will not allow him to do make good on his threat, and insists on staging the duel. The bravo showers the paladin with a drunkard’s drought of insincere praise – how noble he is, how full of honor, to defend the unworthy - and then draws a long rapier that glitters like ice and a snub nosed dagger. Battle is joined.

The duel that follows between paladin and bravo is mercifully brief; despite a flurry of quick motions with scimitar and dagger, and a display of showy cave-waving, our third-rate countryman can barely graze the paladin. Ulrick, on the other hand, is fighting well (if not as stylishly); he bites his adversary’s shoulder with one sword stroke and follows it up with a slash along his rib cage. His side bloodied, the bravo falls to one knee. Ulrick immediately grants him mercy. The bravo forgives Aron’s debt, and, clutching his side, staggers away. I notice him duck into a back alley - the same alley where Aron had noticed the man who had been following us had also gone.

You do hate it when the conspiracies are this obvious, don’t you, sister?

###

It’s an hour past dawn now, and Aron is rousing at last. I will resume the adventure another time, hopefully soon.

Your loving brother,
Ascarin Nevermoon
 
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Broccli_Head

Villager
Glad you're back to continue the tale of Ulrick and co.!

I like the conspiracies that are unfolding, also. Dragon Cultists....the temple of Mystra...crisis in Cormyr...Semiban and Thayan oppurtunists.

Very grand!
 
22nd day of Uktar, in the Year of the Standing Stone, 1372.
In the shadow of the Death That Grows

Dear Sister,

Though mere days have passed since my last correspondence, it somehow seems much longer to me. A brief letter now, to prompt thy memory, and then we shall speak of the Pool of Radiance - and the three humiliations we suffered there - in greater detail some other time.

###

Meanwhile, in the marketplace of Saerloon, Ulrick is again displaying the two wands of curing wounds that he just purchased and is grinning like the idiot he is, boasting how much more cost effective they are. Actually, any good Sembian would agree with his assessment, of course, but I'm hardly in an agreeable mood.

"You do realize that if you die, they'll be useless to us," I point out.

"Then I guess you'll have to keep me alive," Ulrick answers.

"Judging from past experience, that's a task beyond mortal ken," I reply. The sarcasm washes off his skin like rain, as always. I hate that.

We proceed to the wine shop which holds the portal network we found - aware that we're being followed as we enter the doorway. Fearful of Orc guards, we scurry past the nexus and into the portal that leads to the shrine to Mystryl. Surprisingly, no one ambushes us on the way.

The shrine itself is trapped with dark magicks and ugly glyphs that hover in the air like twisted, charred hummingbirds. Carefully, I speak words of magic to counterspell them, and gradually, a rune at a time, the ancient spiritual bastion of the goddess is cleansed. All except for one rune, which is beyond my power to erase, though we can walk around it easily enough.

Ulrick slaps me on the back and the chain mail coif he wears is lit up by a too-handsome smile. "Good work. Ascarin,' he says, in the condescending manner of an elder mate at wizard's school upon seeing a spell-addled apprentice cast his first cantrip. He can keep his praise for worthier deeds.

We reach a stone stair that leads out of the enclosure. I send Willhih, my weasel companion, up the stairs to scout. I instruct him to do so quietly and not attract attention. Unfortunately, when he sees the two guards standing over the exit with drawn swords, he panicks. The weasel nimbly dodges a sword-thrust and runs down the stairs, diving into my cloak and burrowing into it frantically. The poor thing is such a coward - much, as it pains me to admit it, like his master. Fortunately, when I have two such doughty companions as Ulrick and Aron, courage is rarely a necessity. The two howling sword-wavers rush up the stairs, quickly dispatch the guard, then give chase to her companion - the guard who fled for reinforcements.

We're forced to leave Aron, languishing in his armor of sluggardness far behind us, and Ulrick finally gets a good crossbow shot into the guard's back. Kord would have been proud. The sentry grabs his back out of instinct, realizes he's running with an arrow stuck firmly between the shoulder blades, and panicks. Ulrick readies a second shot - which isn't necessary. for a tree suddenly grabs the guard around the throat, hoists him upward, and breaks his neck.

Friendly shrubbery. How wonderful.

"Well!" a gnome says, suddenly scuttling out of the underbrush. His bright eyes (do all gnomes have bright eyes?) shine in suprise. "You aren't the Dragon's Men!"

"Indeed we are not!" Ulrick says, introducing us. "It's a pleasure to meet such a distinguished looking forest gnome..."

"Forest?" I smile, mocking him with both glance and word. "He looks more like a lone gnome to me."

The gnome narrows his eyes at me, but continues. It's a good thing you came." he says. "I'm a lone gnome alright, but I wasn't always - unfortunately the Dragons have got him... he's a prisoner at their tower."

"Who?" Ulrick asked.

"There isn't time for that," the gnome says shakily. "The Dragons - Cult of the Dragon, you call them - they're draining magic items. They're using them at the Pool of Radiance. They're trying to spoil the Weave!"

"What!" I say. I admit that I am no hero - not an Ulrick - but even I can hear the clarion call of necessity ,and I know when I'm required to risk my life for the greater good. I know it and hate it, it's a curse.

"So where are we?" Ulrick asks. The gnome points to a huge forest in the distance - a wood that's so thick and so tall that it appears like a black shadow on the horizon, rising above the hills.

"Myth Drannor," the gnome says, and I suddenly feel the urge to vomit. Myth Drannor! Admittedly the wealth it contains - and the lore! - are an almost irresistible siren call, but I know enough about the demonic creatures who abide in that accursed wood, long abandoned by the elves, including a dracolich (which goes a long way toward explaining Ulrick's dream) to know that I never want to go there until I get very very much more powerful.

"You do realize we're dead men, don't you?" I tell Ulrick. He ignores me.

"And there's other problems beside," the gnome says. "There's also the matter of the corpse!"

"What corpse?" Aron asks. The gnome's already in motion, and we follow (nearly leaving Aron behind again). What the gnome takes us to is a badly bloodied thing, clad in forest green and brown raiment, a broken bow at his side in the underbrush, his fingers quivering. He's still alive. The gnome flips the body over, and I begin to laugh.

"You do us ill, forestling, to show us this sight!" I mock. "This is truly the ugliest and most disgusting corpse I've ever seen!"

It's Kord.

###

And so, having reunited with that insufferable insane elf, we begin our walk toward the certain death that is called Myth Drannor. And that's where we'll leave it for now.

Oh, and don't wear out your current boyfriend so quickly.

With affection,
Your loving brother,
Ascarin Nevermoon
 
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darkbard

Explorer
excellent story! i'm new to it with today's posting but it's already among my favorites. it seems i've been steeping myself in your writing lately [i'm the fellow who was inquiring about more information about mulhorand on a thread in the general boards some weeks back and went on to download the ESD of the old empires and your 3e conversion]. thanks for the inspiration and here's hoping to some more frequent updates!
 

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