From the Diary of Doorag Marzipan

cthulhu42

Explorer
Plntng 25

My work goes well, and I have made good headway on the enchantment on
Griff’s gloves. The periapt for Taklinn is a bit more difficult, not in it’s crafting, but
in finding a ‘legend lore’ spell to use as the base. I finally had to settle for having an
academy wizard cast it for me for a price. No matter, it’s not a spell I’d have really
wished for in my library for anything other than it’s novelty value. It’s far to vague
for my tastes.

At any rate, I visited Freya today and told her the news. She took it quite badly,
and I am not used to dealing with women in crisis. I fear I could do little more than
pat her on the knee and say, “There, there.”

I explained to her that the Broken Blade is hers, that Caribdis would have wanted
it that way, but she professed not to want the bar. She has no interest in running it,
and it was then that I could see that she is exactly what she appears to be: a very
young farm girl who was caught up in something she has not the imagination for.
She was used as a pawn by Melesandre, and Caribdis chased her across two worlds.
She was swept off her feet by his heroics; how could she not fall in love with him?
But I see now how the bloom had left Caribdis’ rose. She is not stupid, but rather
simple. She has no vision beyond everyday life; no ambition other than to build her
nest and live happily ever after. Her capacity for intellectual conversation is non-
existent, and she has no wish to speak in words of more than two syllables. I
quickly grew uncomfortable in her presence, and assured her that I would do what I
could to alleviate the responsibility of the inn to her.

One thing did strike me though. As I sat consoling her, I looked into a basket that
was set near her chair. In it was a ball of yarn and a pair of knitting needles. When I
saw what she had been knitting my heart leapt in my throat and then sank like a
stone. She is knitting booties. Baby booties.

I have since done what I can to procure management for the Broken Blade,
insuring that the place will continue to run, with a portion of the profits going to
keep Freya in a decent lifestyle. She has been through enough, and I know that,
even though Caribdis had tired of her, he would still see her comfortable and taken
care of.

All of this had cut into my work a bit, and I must be to bed now so that I can get
an early start in the morning.


Plntng 26

Work continues steadily. I hope to be back with the crew by early Flocktime.


Plntng 29

Happy’s belt of many pouches is nearly complete. I think that she will like this
item very much, for I have seen her look with envy at my handy haversack many
times.

I have succeeded in finding a manager for the Broken Blade. He realizes that he is
dealing with a wizard who intends to scry him from time to time, and who will
check the books to make sure accounts are being handled correctly. He knows that
there is no place he can hide from me should he try to steal from the bar, which I
think will keep him honest. No one wants to be on a wizards black list.


Flktme 5

Taklinn’s periapt will be complete by tomorrow. I intend to return to Latona the
minute they are done. I miss my friends, and hope they are well. Unfortunately I
cannot scry them, as they all wear rings of nondetection.

Over these past days I have had much time to dwell upon Caribdis’ death. The
weight of it will not leave me, and I have been (somewhat obsessively) scouring
tomes that deal with the art of communicating with the dead. I must somehow talk
to him. I must know why he didn’t come back. I must know that he is happy where
he is. And I must say goodbye.

Also, there is the matter of Freya, or, more to the point, what could be growing
within her. If she is with Caribdis’ child, should I tell him if I have the chance to
speak with him? Does he already know? Would he have come back had he known?
So many questions.

I hope to speak with Taklinn about this upon my return, for clerical magics will
be of far greater use in finding and talking to him.

In the end, I suddenly feel a part of something incomplete. The Crew is without
one of it’s vital components, and I fear further splintering will occur. Will we heal
ourselves? Will we find a replacement for him? Or will we dissolve?

I like to think that we are stronger than that, but the possibility is there. Each of us
lends our balance to the whole, and suddenly we are teetering, without center. I
wonder now if the one thing we cannot defeat is our own internal dichotomy now
that it has been pushed off kilter. These thoughts keep me up at night, and I fear that
I will return to Latona to find a crew steeped in discord. I doubt my wisdom in
leaving them for so long, as I am often times the voice of logic and reason, yet I
must trust them to police themselves.

Perhaps this loss will make us stronger. It may prove to be the most difficult thing
we must ever overcome.


Flktme 9

How swiftly the worm turns! Two days ago we were heroes. Today, we are
wanted criminals. As I write this Taklinn languishes in a prison cell and the rest of
us have been branded fugitives.

Our story has taken such twists and turns in such a short time it is difficult for me
to unravel it all. The more I try to make sense of it the more tangled it becomes, but
I shall attempt to relay an account of this mess in the hopes that writing it may
somehow reveal some pertinent wisdom I have overlooked.

I spent an extra couple of days in Havilah undergoing an initiation into the
academy of mages there. Given the benefits of membership to the Order, it seems a
wise move, though now that my future is unclear and my honor besmirched, I may
have to reconsider my options.

I returned to Latona on the 8th of Flocktime and found Taklinn drinking in the bar
with a woman I had never seen before. She was a stunningly beautiful human with
an air of mystery to her. Even though I am not given to amorous desire in most
cases, I could not help but appreciate her features, though I still regarded her with
mistrust when Taklinn introduced me to her after our initial greeting.

Her name is Scylla D’neif, and according to her, she was an acquaintance of
Caribdis. A very ‘close’ acquaintance, it seems. To be succinct, she was the Other
Woman in Caribdis’ life. How strange it seems to suddenly have one of his secrets
revealed in the wake of his death. She told me that she had heard of Caribdis’ death
only a few days hence, and had used a scroll of ‘teleportation’ to travel to Latona
where she had sought out his friends. Apparently she felt somehow responsible for
his death, given the fact that she had given him an ultimatum shortly before he’d
left Havilah. She was under the impression that her having drawn a line in the sand
with Freya on one side and herself on the other, had been the reason Caribdis had
left the city. She claims to have come here to help us find a way to bring him back.

I gave her explanation a sideways glance, not trusting her in the slightest, even
though Taklinn assured me that he detected no evil upon her. I was still unsure
though, and kept my eye on her as we waited for Happy and Griff to return.

An hour later the pair walked into the bar and were delighted to see me. I was
eager to catch up, and the five of us sat around a table exchanging our stories over
warm mead. Taigel and Mardath, growing weary of life in the city, had taken a
hunting trip into the tundra that was expected to last only another day or two.
Though it seemed ludicrous that they would actually go looking for trouble out in
that accursed snow, I could do little but shrug and hope they fared well and returned
safely.

My first order of business was to give Griff, Taklinn and Happy their newly
crafted items, with which they seemed quite pleased.

Our second item was the further matter of Caribdis. I was reluctant to speak of
this in front of Scylla, but Taklinn, Happy and Griff had, apparently been keeping
company with her since her arrival in Latona, and they seemed at ease with her.
Reasoning that I would be giving up few secrets, I allowed the conversation to run
its course.

It looks as if Taklinn and I have been on the same page regarding this, for while I
was in Havilah doing research of my own, he has taken it upon himself to gather
information from a source intimately familiar with the realms of the dead. He told
me that he had called a celestial deva and sought guidance from her, and that she
had told him that, yes, it was possible for us to make contact with Caribdis again;
that it was even possible to petition his deity for a second chance at a resurrection.
The only hitch was, we would have to go to him.

I watched Happy and Griff grow more and more uncomfortable as Taklinn
explained the convoluted process we would have to go through to reach Caribdis. It
involved the crossing of several planes of existence, the infinite staircase, a trip into
Ysguard, and still further possible rejection from Caribdis even after we pay what
will surely be a steep price for a second chance for our bard, should his deity even
decide to give it.

It was a long shot, and a dangerous one to boot. I immediately declared my
willingness to take it. Taklinn agreed, though he sighed and explained that the
dragon would have to be dealt with first. I argued with him, but he was adamant
about it, and in the end I could only agree that Caribdis wasn’t going anywhere
soon.

The final item on our agenda was the sticky matter of an assassination attempt on
Griff and Happy some two weeks ago. As they explained it to me, they had decided to
do a little fact finding themselves while I was gone in the hopes that some of the
locals might know something about Acessiwall, given their close proximity.
They roved from bar to bar, casually asking questions and being greeted with blank
stares or turned backs. No one, it seemed, wished to talk about the old wurm.
Finally they were pointed in the direction of a fellow named Losom the Large, an
ironic moniker, given the fact that he is a gnome. Losom was reputed to be a retired
bard who now dealt in information. Happy and Griff paid him a visit, as well as
some hard coin, but unfortunately received little more information about white
dragons (and Acessiwall in particular) than I had already provided. Feeling
frustrated and a bit put out with having paid for trivial information, they returned to
our inn.

A few nights later Griff woke up with a start as a shadowy figure plunged a blade
into him as he slept! Griff was quite fortunate that the assassin’s blade missed it’s
mark by a fraction. He was able to roll out of bed and grapple his assailant while
Happy grabbed a dagger and nailed the assassin a couple of times. Weakened and
wounded, the would be murderer was little match for Griff once he grabbed his
sword, and with a slash, he crumpled to the floor, dead. They disposed of the body
after searching it in a fruitless effort to find clues.

Happy was convinced that Losom had been in some way involved in setting the
assassin on them, and to that end she resolved to question him. She snuck into his
house and confronted the gnome, but he merely ‘charmed’ her and called the guard.
She just barely managed to escape. As we sat at our table she reiterated her
assurance that he was a prime suspect and that they had been waiting on my arrival
to deal with him.

It all sounded reasonable to me, and I suggested we pay Mr. Large a visit with a
few ‘charm persons’ of our own. There being no time like the present, I fortified
myself by memorizing a few appropriate spells before attempting to scry him. To
my happy surprise, I was able to locate him despite having no more than a name to
go on. I viewed him as he sat in a small room full of books as he sat reading. I
studied the room carefully, and within the hour we set out for Losom’s house.
Scylla trailed after us, though I was still unsure of her. I shrugged, reasoning that
she couldn't do much harm.

How wrong I was!

I must have been filled with either misplaced confidence or foolish pride, for we
formulated a half baked plan that contained many holes and no contingencies
should things go wrong.

It was decided that, since Losom would probably not recognize me or Scylla, the
two of us would pose as would be information seekers while the rest of the crew
waited across the street, ready to lend aid. Happy scouted through a window or two,
and saw that three body guards lounged in the main sitting room downstairs.

I knocked on the door and it was answered by one of the guards, and though he
answered me, it was Scylla that he could not take his eyes off of. He seemed utterly
smitten with her beauty, as did the other two guards who vied for her attention as
we were let in after I introduced ourselves. They fell over themselves getting her a
comfortable chair and something to drink while I explained that we were here to see
the master of the house; that we had good coin to exchange for information. One of
the guards finally tore his attention from Scylla, who appeared a little
uncomfortable with the attention, and went to fetch Losom.

Five minutes later a finely dressed gnome entered the room with a wide smile and
greeted us. He seemed only too pleased at the prospect of selling a bit of his
knowledge, and listened intently as I spun a threadbare tale. We were, I inexpertly
lied, seeking information on the whereabouts of a band of scoundrels which
included a halfling, a dwarf, and a tall swordsman. Describing my own crew gave
the story some small bit of validity, but it was merely a ruse, a framework within
which I wove a spell.

He did not see the ‘charm person’ coming, but to my amazement, he got lucky
and shrugged it off!

It was at this point that things began to spiral out of control.

His face turned pale and he immediately drew a dagger and backed toward the
door as he yelled at his body guards. “He tried to cast on me! They're thieves! Get
them!” He suddenly blinked out of view as I recognized the ‘invisibility’ he had just
cast. Swearing, I just had time to cast ‘see invisibility’ on myself as one of the
guards rushed me. I watched, frustrated, as Losom fled through the door. The guard
grabbed for me but I ducked and danced back a step. Two of the guards were
attempting to grapple Scylla, but I was determined not to let Losom escape. I
quickly cast a ‘teleport’ and the guards arms closed around empty air as I popped
into the book lined room I had seen Losom in earlier.

Sure enough, a second later the door opened and Losom entered with a look of
fear on his face. He was surprised to see me there, but not so much so that he could
not try a ‘confusion’ spell on me. Fortunately the dweomer slid off my mantel, and I
grinned at him. “Not today!” I said, cheerfully, and targeted him with a ‘hold
monster’ which stopped him in his tracks.

Now, what to do with him?

I quickly shut the door and cast an ‘improved invisibility’ on him, reasoning that
the guards would be here to check on him soon. Then, just to be sure he didn’t
escape, I cast a ‘feeblemind’ on him, which turned him into a drooling, held,
invisible idiot. In retrospect, the ‘feeblemind’ may have been a little overkill, but I
knew the hold would only last a minute or so, and I wasn’t about to allow this
slippery fellow to escape. I just had time to read a scroll of ‘invisibility’ for myself
as I heard the pounding of booted feet in the hall outside. The door swung open, and
I cursed when I realized that Losom stood too near it. The door hit him, knocking
him over, and giving away the fact that the room was not unoccupied. Two guards
stepped into the room, finding Losom by feel, and vainly asking him what the
matter was.

I was surprised to see Griff step in behind them. The two guards seemed to pay
him no mind, and I believe I must have blown a cover of some sort when I said,
“We’re going to need the bag of holding, Griff!”

Hearing my voice, the guards looked about wildly, then at Griff. With suspicious
faces, they drew their swords and pointed them at him.

Griff sighed. “Look,” He said, “I don’t want to kill you. We’ll pay you double
what he was paying. Just take it and get out!”

The two guards looked unsure until I wondered out loud if it might help to
convince them if I turned one of them into a toad.

“Fifty gold!” one of them shouted.

“Apiece!” agreed the other one.

“Pay them, Doorag.” Griff grunted, walking around them to find Losom’s form.
Grumbling, I tossed the guards the coin. They scooped it up and ran as if the devils
of hell themselves were on their heels. Griff rolled Losom into the bag of holding as
I heard whistles of alarm sound outside.

“Now what?” I wondered aloud. “Griff, get him to the inn and take care of him.
I’m going to search around here for a bit and I’ll catch up with you! Go!”

Had I only known what was going on downstairs!

I followed Griff from the room to find Happy waiting for us. “I heard whistles!”
She said, nervously. “Let’s get the hell out of here!” The three of us made our way
downstairs and saw Taklinn and Scylla. I gaped at Taklinn, who stood beside a pile
of his own weaponry and gear.

“What are you doing?” I asked him warily.

“You’d better go.” He replied stonily.

“What,” I asked again, “are you doing, Taklinn?”

“Come on, come on!” chattered Happy, standing near the door.

Taklinn stood as still as a statue, neither speaking nor looking at us. I was
exasperated, though still invisible, so I’m sure that my expression of frustration was
lost on anyone.

“Taklinn! Come on!” Griff snapped. “Let’s get out of here!”

“I think he’s waiting for the guard.” Scylla interjected quietly.

“What?” I cried, “Taklinn, what?” He merely nodded.

“Ah to hell with this!” Griff muttered. “We’ll meet you back at the inn! Come on,
Hap. You too!” He grabbed Scylla and ushered her out the door. The three of them
disappeared into the night.

“Taklinn, what’s going on?” I pleaded, hearing more whistles in the distance.

“It ain’t right!” The dwarf said, at last. “I ain’t no kidnapper!”

I groaned. “Kidnapper? This guy is our prime suspect in the assassination attempt
on Hap and Griff! We’re going to question him, that’s all!”

But any reply from Taklinn was cut off as city guardsmen piled through the door,
swords drawn. Still unseen, I quickly backed away and watched helplessly as
Taklinn greeted them stoically. “There’s been a kidnapping and an attempted
murder.” He said without emotion. “I’m one of the culprits. That’s my gear on the
floor, and there’s a wounded man across the street. I’ll come quietly.”

I stood there, mouth hanging open as they shackled him and led him out the door.

Soon the house was full of guardsmen and it was all I could do to avoid them as
they searched for more kidnappers. Finding none, they left after about fifteen
minutes, and I was alone. I clapped my hand to my forehead in disbelief at what I’d
just witnessed, and walked in a few tight circles in a lather of frustration. This was
bad. Very bad.

Gathering myself, I focused on the task at hand. I began a methodical search of
the house, looking for evidence that would tie Losom to the attack on Griff and
Happy.

Nearly five hours later, I cradled my tired head in my hands in despair. I had
found nothing. Not a single incriminating factor to point to Losom as our culprit.
The pit of my stomach dropped away as I was forced to accept the fact that we had
made a terrible error. Sighing heavily, I used my last teleport to return to our inn
room.

There they sat, Happy, Griff, and a drooling Losom, tied as comfortably as they
could make him to a chair. When I arrived they both leapt to their feet and began
pummeling me with questions.

“Where have you been!”

“Where’s Taklinn?”

“What the hell is wrong with this guy? What did you do to him?”

“Hold on a second!” I yelled, holding up my hands defensively, “Give me a
minute! Where’s Scylla?”

Griff scowled. “She’s gone! She went to the bathroom and never came out. When
I checked, she’d disappeared. I don’t know where the hell she is, and I ain’t gonna
go looking for her! Now what the hell is going on?”

I gulped and looked nervously at poor Losom. “I have good news and I have bad
news.” I said.

Happy eyed me. “What’s the bad news?” She asked, hesitantly.

“Taklinn is probably in jail. He gave himself up to the guard. He told them that he
was part of a kidnapping plot. He may have told them where we are, though I’d
think they’d have been here by now.”

Griff stared at me. “Your kidding!”

“No.”

“What’s the good news?” Happy asked hopefully.

“Actually, I’m not through with the bad news. Apparently someone was injured.
Probably one of the body guards. We can likely add attempted murder to our list of
crimes.”

Happy’s face drained of blood and Griff gaped at me. “What about him!” Griff
pointed to Losom.

“Um, yeah,” I stammered, “More bad news there. He’s under the effects of a
‘feeblemind’ spell. He had roughly the intellect of a sack of mud.”

“You don’t say! And how long does that last?”

“Well, permanently, more of less…”

“What!?”

“…permanently, until the right spell is cast on him!”

“And what would that be?” Happy groaned.

“’Heal.’”

“And can you cast that?”

“Actually, no.”

Happy sat down on the bed, thunderstruck, unable to talk. Griff paced the room,
shaking his head. “You cast a spell on him that you can’t fix? Are you crazy?” He
shouted.

“Well Taklinn can fix it!” I replied defensively. “Of course that will be a bit of a
trick at this point…”

Silence followed for several minutes as the pair digested this information. I sighed
and went on. “There’s more.” I said.

“Not more bad news!” Happy pleaded.

“Actually, yes, I’m afraid so.”

Griff growled deep in his throat and glared at me. “What?”

“We got the wrong guy.” I said. “I didn’t find a shred of evidence to tie him to
that assassin. Either he doesn’t keep any kind of a record of his criminal activity, or
he keeps it somewhere else, or he’s not involved at all. At this point, I’m leaning
toward that last hypothesis.”

“Doorag!” Happy cried, “What’s the good news!”

“Oh, that. There is no good news. I was just trying to soften the blow.”

Happy fell back onto the bed again, and I sensed that she was close to panic.
“How could you do this?” She demanded, sitting up and glaring at me. “How could
you turn this guy into a turnip while Taklinn gets hauled away to jail!”

“Me?” I answered, indignantly, “Happy, you’re the one who seemed so sure he
was the guilty party! I’m not the one who went to him asking about dragons! I’m
not the one who snuck into his house and got herself charmed! But I am the one
who’s dealing with it! Now calm down and lets think this thing through! This place
isn’t safe, but we don’t have any other place to go. I’m nearly out of useful spells
and I need to rest. However, we’re not without a few tricks yet. I have a couple of
‘rope trick’ scrolls that should provide us with a safe hideout until I can get my
spells again and try to figure this thing out. In the meantime, I’m going to scry
Taklinn. It’s probably safe to assume they took his ring off, so I should have an
easy time of it. Now let me read the scrolls, we’ll get out of sight, and I’ll do what I
can.”

“This is bad.” Muttered Griff.

“Yes, it is.” I agreed, pulling scrolls from my haversack. In short order I had cast
the ‘rope trick’. I had to burn another scroll to ‘levitate’ the chair Losom was sitting
on so we could get him into the space. We climbed up after him and I sealed the
entry.

“There.” I said, “We should be reasonably safe.” I withdrew my crystal ball and
held the image of Taklinn in my mind. The mist within the ball shifted and parted to
reveal our cleric. He was indeed in a cell, kneeling on the dirty floor in prayer.
Before him, drawn in the dust and hay on the floor, was a crudely inscribed outline
of Clangeden’s holy symbol. I sighed deeply. How, I wondered, were we going to
fix this mess?

***
Eight long hours later we opened the hatch of the extra dimensional space and
climbed out. It took another ‘levitate’ to help Losom to the ground. We immediately
noticed that our room had been ransacked during the night. Obviously Taklinn had
finally gotten around to telling his jailors where we were staying and they had come
to see if we remained. The fact that we had eluded them while being right under
their noses did not make me feel smug. The events of the past night were still fresh
in my memory, and the sight of poor Losom, with the attention span of a ferret and
the mental faculties of a gnat, only made me feel worse. I could tell that Happy felt
much the same way. It had been Happy who had tended Losom throughout the
night, and it had not been a fun job. She’d fed him and cleaned up after him as best
she could, but he was still a mess and she looked frazzled. I quickly used an ‘unseen
servant’ and a few well placed cantrips to freshen him up.

“I feel so sorry for him!” Happy moaned. “I wish we could talk to him and
explain what’s happening.”

I nodded sympathetically as I secured my hat on my head and prepared to learn
my spells for the day.

My hat!

“Happy! I’m so stupid!” I cried. “I must be slipping! Of course we can talk to
him!” She looked at me quizzically, but understanding dawned on her as I quickly
removed my enchanted hat and placed it on Losom’s head. Immediately a light
seemed to return to his eyes. He blinked and regarded Happy and I with curiosity,
then fear, as he remembered the night before and realized who we were. His
intelligence was probably nowhere near what it was before the ‘feeblemind’, but he
was at least able to understand me when I reassured him that we meant him no
harm.

His eyes kept returning to Happy with fearful glances, and she smiled weakly
back at him as I attempted to explain.

“Losom,” I began slowly, “A terrible mistake has been made…” I toiled over the
tale for an hour, repeating parts that he had obvious trouble understanding. I told
him of the assassination attempt, of our suspicion that he was involved, of our half
baked plot to charm and question him, culminating with his ill advised capture, the
‘feeblemind’, and our night in the ‘rope trick’. Happy interjected periodically with
sincere apologies. I went on to tell him that my main goal for the day was to
procure a spell that would return him to normal, which would be followed by his
immediate release.

He nodded, but said nothing. I could tell that his comprehension still left a lot to
be desired and that he still didn’t trust us a bit. I could not blame him. It pained me
to do so, but I told him that I would leave my hat on him to insure that he would not
have to endure still more hours as an idiot.

After a quick discussion Happy and I decided that she and Losom would remain
in the room inside a fresh ‘rope trick’ while I teleported to Taklinn to explain the
situation to him. Perhaps the knowledge that he could cure Losom would convince
him to let me help him escape from his cell. My hopes were not too high, for it
appeared that Taklinn was bound and determined to suffer the full consequences for
his part in our plan, but it was about all I had to go on. I selected my spells
carefully, scryed Taklinn again to make sure he was still in his cell, made myself
invisible, and cast the teleport.

I appeared in Taklinn’s cell and he was in the same position I’d seen him in last
night, head bowed in prayer and supplication. His eyes were tightly shut, and his
lips moved wordlessly. To my surprise, in the cell next to him, sat Scylla. She wore
a strange pair of manacles around her wrists which I eyed suspiciously. Anti-magic,
I wondered? They would need something of that sort to keep her from using her
spells, especially given the fact that she was probably a sorcerer.

I cleared my throat loudly, and Taklinn’s lips ceased their whispered prayers,
curling instead into a knowing smile.

“Hello, Doorag.” He said.

“Good morning, Taklinn.” I replied, taking a seat on his cot. “How was your
night?”

“Not bad.” He answered, opening his eyes and looking toward the sound of my
voice. “I have been treated surprisingly well, all things considered.” Scylla perked
up, listening to our conversation but saying nothing.

“Err, Taklinn, it seems that we’ve gotten ourselves into a bit of a bind.” I said,
humorlessly.

“Yes.” He said blithely, “Kidnapping and attempted murder. How does Losom
fare?”

I sighed deeply and began to unravel the story again, explaining that Losom was
innocent as far as I could tell, and that he was ‘feebleminded’. “You can cast heal,
can’t you?”

“Not without my holy symbol.” He said, shaking his head. “And they’ve taken
that from me.”

I brightened a bit. “You could use mine! The one you gave me!” But he quickly
squashed my enthusiasm.

“That one has not been properly consecrated.” He explained. “Besides, the fact
remains that I am in here while Losom is out there.”

“Well that’s just a matter of logistics. Give me five minutes and a couple of spells
and we’ll be out of here! I could even ‘port to your temple and get another symbol
for you…”

That would not be wise.” He cut me off. “Teleporting into a dwarven temple
would not be looked kindly upon.”

“I did it before,” I replied, “After Caribdis died. I went and visited his body.”

“Did the clerics see you?”

“Well, no, I guess not.”

“That is lucky for you. Besides, I cannot allow you to facilitate my escape. I have
broken the law, and a penalty must be paid.”

I groaned in frustration. “Taklinn! Your missing the forest for the trees here! We
have bigger fish to fry! We’ve got a dragon to slay and Caribdis to get back from
the great beyond! We can’t let a stupid mistake detour us from what must be done!”

He shook his head sadly. “I’m sorry, Doorag. My honor is at stake. I must uphold
the law, no matter how small the crime, nor the intent behind it.”

“The law? We don’t even know what the law is here!”

“I must assume that kidnapping and attempted murder is against the law here, as
they are in Havilah.”

“How do you know you’ll even get a fair trial here?”

“I don’t”

“Then how…”

“I have faith.”

I stood up and paced back and forth, trying to put my thoughts together. “What
did you tell them about us?” I asked.

“Everything.” He said.

“Everything?”

“Everything.”

I smacked my forehead with my hand. “Taklinn, how could you…?”

“I cannot lie, Doorag! And frankly, I am surprised at your eagerness for
duplicity!”

I sputtered and swore at his stubbornness. “What about this attempted murder
thing? What happened there?”

Taklinn pointed over his shoulder to Scylla with a thumb. “She took one of the
body guards down with a spell. By the time I got to him he was near dead. I healed
him.” Scylla suddenly became very interested in a speck of dirt on her gown.

“Well thank the gods we don’t have a murder on our conscience! What were you
thinking, Scylla?”

“I acted in haste.” She replied. “I have never been in such a situation before, and I
cast without thinking, wanting only to stop him from raising the alarm. I realize
now that it was a foolhardy move, and thus I have joined Taklinn here after turning
myself in.”

“Marvelous!” I said, caustically. “You two make a fine pair of martyrs.”

Just then the jingle of keys could be heard coming down the hall. I quickly went
silent as a guard approached Taklinn’s cell. He looked around curiously.
“Everything all right in here?” He asked.

“Yes.” Taklinn answered. “Everything is fine.”

“Hmmm, thought I heard voices.” Satisfied that things were as they should be, the
guard turned to leave. I gritted my teeth in mute frustration.

“Wait!” I shouted. The guard turned in surprise, looking into the cell suspiciously.

“Who’s in there?” He demanded.

“My name is Doorag Marzipan.” I answered. “You can’t see me, but you can rest
assured that I am here. I need to speak with the magistrate. Now!” The guard looked
quite unsure, and I prompted him in no uncertain terms. “Well, what are you
waiting for? Go get the magistrate before I change my mind! Come on! Chop
chop!”

The guard seemed to finally realize that this was no trick, and he took off down
the hall at a quick jog.

“What are you doing?” Scylla asked.

“Probably making a terrible mistake.” I said. “But I suppose that would be no
surprise.” I sat down to await the magistrates arrival.

***

My wait was short. Barely ten minutes passed before we heard the sounds of more
footsteps hurrying toward Taklinn’s cell, and presently we were joined by a small
troop of guardsmen and a distinguished looking fellow with graying hair and a stern
expression. He bore an air of importance; of not having his decisions questioned.

“What goes on here?” He demanded, looking at Taklinn.

“Good morning, your Lordship.” I said, wearily. “I am Doorag Marzipan. I
assume you’ve heard of me.”

The magistrate stiffened visibly at the sound of my voice. “Indeed I have. Show
yourself!”

“Well now, that seems an awful waste of a spell.” I replied, shuffling my feet.

The old man sniffed indignantly and I could see color fill his cheeks. “How dare
you! You will show yourself, or this conversation is at an end!”

I began to get a little indignant myself. His tone was haughty, and I surmised that
he did not yet realize that he was not dealing with average criminals. “Your
Lordship, if I may just…” But he cut me off.

“This is outrageous!” He cried. “You break our laws, you enter my jail, you
dishonor me this way! Is this how things are done in your precious Havilah?”

I bristled at his derisive mention of Havilah, but did my best to maintain my
composure. “Your Lordship,” I began again, “I am merely attempting to right our
wrongs. If you would allow me…”

“You may right your wrongs by turning yourself over to me!” He snapped. “And I
will speak no further with you until I can see you, that is, provided you are brave
enough to show yourself.”

His attempt to shame me into becoming visible by questioning my courage was
thinly veiled, but I decided to concede the point to him. The spell was near its end
anyway, so I dismissed it, and within a second he could see me. “There,” I said,
“May we have a civil conversation now?”

He ignored me. “You can be sure that a message has been dispatched straight
away to Havilah informing your superiors of your activities. You are in no position
to make demands, Mr. Marzipan! You may think that you are above our laws simply
because we are a tiny city, but I assure you that you are sorely mistaken.”

I scratched my head. What would it take to make this man listen? “Your Lordship,
I am not arguing the fact that what we did was wrong! If you would just hear me
out you would see that I am trying to do the right thing, the most important of
which is the return of Losom…”

“Ah! So you do have him!”

“Yes, he is safe. But he is under the effects of a spell, and I need Taklinn to…”

“What is the ransom?”

“There IS no ransom!” I shouted, exasperated. I want to turn him over to you! I
want to free him! Do you understand that? I simply need Taklinn to be able to cast a
spell on him that will reverse the effects of a spell I have placed on him!”

“You enspelled him?”

“It was necessary at the time, so yes, I did. Unfortunately Taklinn is the only
person I know of who can reverse the effects.”

“This is outrageous!” The magistrate was working himself into a fine lather, and I
began to despair of ever reaching a meeting of the minds with him.

I took a deep breath and tried to keep my voice calm. “Lordship, I am sure
Taklinn has already told you who we are and why we are here. I’m sure he’s told
you why we did what we did. It was ill advised and ill conceived, but our intentions
were good. I know that does not excuse us, but I need you to understand that we
mean your city, nor it’s inhabitants any further harm. This has been a most
regrettable occurrence, and no one is more sorry or embarrassed than I. Were we in
Havilah I would have already turned myself over to you. But we are not. We are
here to slay Acessiwall…” The magistrate inhaled sharply at the mention of the
dragons name, and I looked at Taklinn. “You have told him about Acessiwall,
haven’t you?”

“Actually, no.” Our cleric shrugged.

“Wonderful. Anyway,” I turned back to the magistrate, “That is why we’re here.
We have a debt to pay and a dead comrade to rescue. I cannot be detoured from
this, especially not to face trial in a place where I cant be sure of receiving a fair
trial. This incident with Losom the Large has compromised us already. It is my
fervent wish to return him to you, and to return him to his full faculties.”

I looked at the magistrate hopefully, but all I could see was righteous anger. “Mr.
Marzipan,” He began, struggling to control his voice, “I am unused to such
disrespect. You have kidnapped a prominent citizen; you have nearly caused the
death of one of his bodyguards; you have entered my jail uninvited; and now you
question the validity of our judicial system. How dare you come to me with
demands…”

“Your Lordship, I have made no demands!”

“You want your cleric to cast a spell on Losom…”

“More a request, I’d say.” I interrupted him again. Unfortunately this seemed only
to have the effect of making him so angry that he could not speak for several long
minutes.

“Mr. Marzipan,” He began again when he had regained his composure, “This
conversation is at an end. You will release Losom to me and I will see to his well
being, be that through the care of Taklinn, or another of our priests. After that, you
will surrender yourself to me or be branded a fugitive. It is that simple!”

I opened my mouth to say something but thought better of it. There was obviously
no reasoning with this man, at least not until I’d met him half way. “Very well.” I
nodded, and cast a ‘teleport’, leaving Taklinn’s cell and the disagreeable company
of the magistrate.

I appeared back in our inn room and called out to Happy. She cracked the hatch to
the ‘rope trick’ space and, seeing it was me, climbed down. “How did it go?” She
asked hopefully.

“Not very well.” I sat at the table and ran a hand through my hair. “The magistrate
is unwilling to listen to reason, and for that matter, neither is Taklinn. I’m going to
take Losom to them. Let it be their problem.”

“Then what?”

“I don’t know.” I admitted glumly. “We can’t hope to defeat the dragon without
Taklinn, and frankly this whole business has compromised me to an extent that I am
unsure as to my own future. The magistrate is a disagreeable chap, and I have never
so wished to turn an innocent man into a toad before. But he is right about many
things. If only I had a real notion as to what kind of justice one can expect here. I
have to assume that we will be found utterly guilty and that the full extent of the
law will be applied to us. If we are prisoners, that can only mean death or a life time
of incarceration. I don’t know that I can submit myself to that kind of penalty.”

“What if we can convince Losom to drop the charges?” She asked.

“Well, again, I don’t know if that would have any bearing. We might be accused
of magically coercing him to do so. It may be out of his hands at this point. I just
don’t know.”

“So what are we going to do?”

“Turn Losom over to them. After that, I have some thinking to do, and perhaps
some research into the judicial system here. They obviously hold the law in high
regard here, though I cannot know to what extent. We are in a sticky spot, Hap, and
no doubt about that.”

She nodded.

The two of us brought Losom down from the ‘rope trick’ and I explained to him
what was to happen. He nodded in understanding and I led him from the room. Folk
in the common room gasped as we made our appearance, and many of them
followed us into the street. In a short time the avenue was lined with onlookers,
many of them grumbling and hissing at me. Word had obviously spread.

I led Losom to the jail and bid a guard to fetch the magistrate. Moments later the
old man arrived, once again flanked by his guards, as well as a fellow I suspected to
be a spellcaster. Yet they did not attempt my capture. I apologized to Losom a final
time and retrieved my hat from him as a guard led him away from me. Not a word
was spoken as they entered the jail and left me alone in the street, surrounded by
citizenry who, I’m certain, were held back from trying to lynch me only by their
fear of my reputation. I hung my head sadly and walked back down the street,
ignoring the jeers of the crowd. My direction was aimless, and my thoughts were
scattered. I was made doubly sad by the notion that Havilah would soon hear of
this, and I wondered what sort of disciplinary action we could expect from the
academy. If only Losom had been the culprit! If I had found evidence to incriminate
him, we would probably be hailed as heroes, or at least well intentioned vigilantes,
for ridding Latona of a criminal influence.

I needed to gather the crew together. We needed to talk. I glared at the crowd
following me and returned my path to the inn, hoping to find Happy that the two of
us might find Taigel, Mardath and Griff.

As my boots trod through the ever present snow, I focused inward, ignoring the
hostile onlookers and taking the long way back to the inn. I hoped that Happy could
take care of herself; she still had the ‘rope trick’ to hide in if the authorities came
calling so I figured she would be safe. I needed time to think.

How had it all happened so quickly? One day we were regarded as one of the
finest group of heroes Mycondros has ever seen, and the next, we’re outlaws! I
gnawed on that strange turn of events for long moments and a plethora of emotions
welled up inside me, not the least of which was anger. Anger at Taklinn for being
so stubborn. Anger at the magistrate. At Happy and Griff for poking their noses
around in the first place. Anger at Scylla for using deadly force in a situation that
had not called for it.

I had a prideful swell of anger at the temerity of those too blind to see that I was
above the law simply by dint of the power I could wield, and I had a sudden dark
vision of myself, flying above Latona, dropping ‘fireballs’ on the heads of it’s
citizens in an insane show of retributive magical talent that would teach them all
that it would have been better to let sleeping dogs lie. I could turn the magistrate
into a toad; I could level buildings; I could summon terrible creatures to wreak
havoc through the town; I could…

But of course I was most angry with none other than myself. For even having
those thoughts, and for attempting to place blame. I was furious for
allowing myself to ever be put into such a position. I was angry that I would
consider myself above the law, for that would shame a philosophy I had thus far
dedicated my life to: that all, be he king or beggar, must follow the Rules.

I mused over that philosophy for awhile. It had not changed. The law had not
changed. But I had changed dramatically. A year ago I had been little more than an
apprentice wizard, barely able to hold my own against a few zombies in a
monastery. How I had depended on the strength of others for my survival. Even up
to the battle with Melesandre I had felt that I was little more than good backup for
Griff and Taklinn. But sometime after that, in these ensuing months, my power has
crept up on me, and suddenly I command magic’s that even a dragon like
Acessiwall must fear. I had never considered the awesome responsibility that
having such power at my fingertips would entail. The fact was, I COULD do
terrible things to this town. I could very likely slay every living thing in Latona,
given a day or two. There was also the matter of my superior intellect. I looked
about at the faces of Latona’s citizens and knew that I was vastly smarter than
nearly all of them, even without the benefit of my hat. I realized how easy it was,
given that knowledge, to consider myself above them, and therefore above their
law.

I could so easily rationalize it. Was I not benevolent? Was I not basically good?
Did I not strive to uphold the ideals of truth and justice? Surely it was better to have
someone such as I in a position to ignore laws that got in the way of the greater
good! Did the ends not justify the means?

I sighed, half believing my own argument. For someone so smart, I thought, I feel
pretty dumb right now.

I considered The Old Man In The Pointy Hat and wished that I could seek him for
council. I supposed that I could teleport to him, but perhaps that would be taking the
easy way out. To let someone else tell me the path to choose right now would be to
miss an important lesson, I thought. There is wisdom to be gained here, if I can just
figure out what to do. The only trouble was, all of the choices that seemed to lead to
the most enlightened paths were also the hardest.

Responsibility. I chewed on that word for many minutes. Who was responsible for
our predicament? What was our responsibility to Latona? How could I responsibly
wield the power that I had learned to control? What was my responsibility to the
law? To the crew? To Havilah? To our honor? Was I more responsible to the law,
or to the concept of good?

I knew then that my personal philosophy would have to be considered in depth in
the future. Right now there was the matter of our situation, and I had a sudden
epiphany. I felt my responsibilities settle squarely on my shoulders and I believed
then that I knew what had to be done. Abruptly, I spun on my heel and quickened
my pace. My step knew a determination and sense of purpose, and I knew that,
come hell or high water, this thing would be resolved soon.

Within fifteen minutes I stood, once again, in front of the jail, my jaw set, my
mind made up. A pair of guards eyed me suspiciously as I approached. “I must see
the magistrate!” I announced to one of them. He sniffed, but walked into the
building. Moments later he returned and bid me follow him. I was led to a small
antechamber and told to wait, which I did for what seemed like a very long time. I
surmised that the magistrate was probably trying to figure out what to do with
Losom, assuming that Taklinn would have to wait until his next chance to pray for
spells.

The hours dragged by, but finally the simple door opened and the magistrate
entered. I had expected him to be accompanied by a full contingent of guardsmen,
but to my surprise he was alone. He pulled up a chair and regarded me. “You asked
to see me?” He said, simply.

I took a deep breath and resolved to carry through with my plan. “Yes, Your
Lordship.” I replied. “First, allow me to apologize for the tone of our earlier
meeting. I spoke out of turn and treated you with less than the respect that you
deserve. I hope that you can overlook my rash words and we can have a civil
conversation as gentlemen.”

The magistrate cocked an eye at me. “This is a difficult situation, Mr. Marzipan,”
He said, “I can imagine the stress it puts you under, though I’m afraid you’ll find
little sympathy here. Still, I am not so unwise as to close my ears to you should you
have something important to say.”

I nodded and plunged ahead. “Your Lordship, a terrible mistake has been made,
of that there can be no doubt. We have insulted your town and it’s citizens, and
things must be set right. Under normal circumstances, that is to say, were we in
Havilah, I would already be under your guard. But we are not. Latona is alien to
me, and you must understand that I have no idea how your law deals with such
offenses, nor if I can expect to receive a fair trial. Can you give me any assurances
of the validity of your court here?”

The magistrate, to his credit, did not take offense to my reasoning. He simply
answered my question. “Mr. Marzipan, the only assurance I can offer you is my
word and the history of justice in Latona under my stead. I believe you will find
very little evidence of corruption within my court. This has not always made me
popular among the less moral of our citizenry, but the law is the law, and I will not
be responsible for seeing it bastardized by greed or influence.”

I mulled on this for a moment. “And what could I be facing here?” I asked.

“Well,” He sighed, “The charges are serious. I’m sure that they would be just as
serious in Havilah. Yet it does sound as if there are extenuating circumstances,
though that will have to be born out in court. Much will depend on the testimony
and disposition of Losom the Large and his guardsman that was wounded. I can tell
you that we are not in the habit of handing down death sentences lightly. Still, I
won’t lie to you. If things go very badly, you could well face a significant term of
imprisonment.”

“I suspected as much.” I nodded glumly. “Yet that doesn’t change the fact that
reparations must be made. To that end, I have a proposal for you.”

“I’m listening.”

“Your Lordship, after much consideration, I realize that the root of this fiasco can
be traced back to me. I would like to offer myself up to the court, taking full
responsibility for my own actions, as well as the actions of my cohorts. They were
simply following my lead and instruction. I would ask that they be absolved of all
guilt, or at least have it understood that they were mere accomplices under my
direction. If that can be agreed upon, I shall turn myself over to you and accept
whatever penalty you hand down.”

The magistrate cocked his eye at me again. “That is an interesting proposition,
Mr. Marzipan, and one that I can neither accept or decline until I am able to speak
with Losom. If his story supports your assertion, then I can strongly consider it.
Your clerical friend tells me that he will be able to cast the proper spells to return
Losom to his full faculties in several hours. Only after that can I give you an
answer.”

“Very well.” I replied. “I suppose I will see you tomorrow then.”

“You're welcome to remain in my custody tonight.” He smiled.

“That is most generous of you, Your Lordship, but I really should talk this over
with the rest of my crew.”

“Of course. Then perhaps tomorrow?”

“Yes, perhaps tomorrow.”

I left his offoce and hurried back to the inn, my heart still heavy, but with some small
light at the end of the tunnel at last. I found Happy pacing the inn room, so nervous
that she nearly hurled a dagger at me when I entered unannounced.

“Where have you been! I’ve been going crazy here! Did you return Losom to
them?”

“Yes.” I answered as I pulled my crystal ball from my pack and set it on the table.

“Well? What happened?” She demanded.

“I’ll explain in a moment. First we have to find the others.”

Happy bit her tongue and paced again as I concentrated on Griff, seeking him out.
The mist within the ball parted, and he came into view. “’Bert’s cudgel!” I swore as
the scene revealed itself.

“What? What!” Happy asked, looking over my shoulder.

“Grab your gear! We have to go to them! Now!”

Without asking me again, she scooped up her pack and grabbed my outstretched
hand as I cast. The teleport blinked us out of the room, and the next second we were
whipped by the icy wind of the tundra as we appeared behind Griff, who stood,
swaying a bit, and cursing loudly. In his hand he held the melted remains of his
sword. It was little more than a blob of useless steel. Ten feet from him lay the
carcass of the rhemorez I had seen him fighting. Taigel and Mardath stood across
from it.

“Oh no!” I cried, “Not your sword!”

Griff jumped, startled at my voice, and spun around. He scowled but relaxed
when he saw Happy and I, and tossed his ruined blade to the ground in disgust.
“Yep. The blade the king gave me. Son of a… I don’t like rhemorez!”

“Are you hurt?” Happy walked to Griff, inspecting him for wounds.

“I’ll be ok.” He grunted. “How are you?” What’s going on with Taklinn and
Scylla?”

I picked up his melted blade pondered it for a moment. “It’s going to be awfully
difficult to fight a dragon without a magic sword, especially one of this quality.” I
mused. “Hang on to it, Griff. Who knows, I might be able to fix it.” He shrugged
and dropped it into our bag of holding. “As for what’s going on in town,” I said,
“We need to talk. Lets find a place out of this wind.”

An hour later found us hunkered down within a shelter built of snow. It was cold,
and a far cry from the Leomund’s shelters Caribdis had provided us with, but it
would do for our purposes.

“What?” Griff demanded when I had told him my plan.

“You can’t take the blame for all of this!” Happy exclaimed. “If it’s anyone’s
fault it’s Griff and me! We’re the ones who started this whole mess!”

“That may be,” I explained patiently, “But the fact is, it was I who formulated the
plan of charming Losom; it was I who cast the first spell; and it was I who
incapacitated him. The rest of you can viably claim to have been following my
orders.”

“And why would you do this?” Griff asked.

“Because it’s better for one of us to take the fall for this than all of us. Besides,
reputations are at stake here, and I will not have your names sullied. Especially
yours, Griff.”

“Mine? What the hell does my reputation have to do with anything?”

“Your reputation has everything to do with this, Griff. You are the savior of
Havilah; the slayer of Melesandre, and the wielder of Everyman’s Blade! I will not
have your name tarnished by some stupid mistake! The people need their heroes!”

Griff rolled his eyes.

“Besides,” I continued, “It’s a matter of principal for me. I am guilty, after all.
Furthermore, who better to defend themselves in court than me? I am eloquent,
loquacious, and verbose. I know that you and Hap aren’t going to turn yourselves
in, and I wouldn’t ask you to; and Taklinn really isn’t guilty of all that much. He
has association and intent going against him, and I’m sure they could charge him
with conspiracy, but in the end I am the culprit most able to deal with the charges
and the penalty.”

“What if the penalty is hard labor for the rest of your life?” Happy asked.

“That would be most unfortunate. I’m ill suited for it.”

“And how are we supposed to fight a dragon without you?” Griff added.

“You’ll find a way. I am not indispensable, and Taklinn will hopefully be with
you.”

Griff swore and spat. “If I have to choose between you and the dwarf, I’ll take
you.”

“You don’t mean that.” I said, giving him a stern look.

“Whatever.” He said. “If your going to do this I can’t stop you, but I still think it’s
a bone head move. I say we bust Taklinn out and make tracks!”

“You’d have to pry Taklinn’s fingers from the bars of his cell.” I laughed. “He is
determined to accept the full weight of the law. I believe he has an over developed
sense of justice. Anyway, I will need the two of you to get your stories straight; that
you were both following my orders. I know your prides may not like that, but its
essential.”

The two of them looked at each other and shrugged their acceptance. It was
decided that we would sleep in this shelter tonight and that I would port us back
into the town in the morning. I have spent the rest of the day catching up this
journal and with returning Taigel to his normal half-dragon form. He feared that,
should I be put away for good, he would have to spend the rest of his days as a
human, a situation he has no desire for.

I must try to rest now. Tomorrow will be a long day.
 

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cthulhu42

Explorer
Flktme 10

I awoke early this morning, my breath freezing in the air. It was a cold chore to
rise and go about my morning rituals, but the promise of some resolution to our
present legal situation was a great motivator, and I hastened to memorize my spells.
As I scanned them and committed my choices to memory I wondered if this would
be the last time I’d ever do this. I couldn’t imagine being locked away from books
and learning and magic, and the thought filled me with dread. I pushed the notion
from my mind and concentrated on spells that would be useful in case things went
wrong and I had a chance to use them.

Hap, Griff, Taigel and Mardath rose as I was halfway through my spell ritual, and
they prepared a sparse breakfast of rations. The wind was beginning to pick up, and
I kept waiting for Griff to announce the coming of another blizzard, but he never
did.

Packed up and ready to move, I gathered them all around me. As we formed a
chain, I noticed a look on Griff’s face unlike any I’d seen before. He was nervous!
Almost frightened. His jaw was clenched, and his eyes were squeezed shut. He
gripped Happy’s hand so hard she winced a little. I knew that he had never been
terribly comfortable with magic, but apparently, the idea of teleporting was
particularly unsettling to him. I stifled a small chuckle and did not make him wait.
The words rolled easily from my lips, and we went from the tundra to our inn room
in less than a second.

Griff released Hap’s hand and paced back a step, checking his limbs to make sure
they were all still there.

“Alright,” I said, “I suppose there’s no time like the present. Griff, I want you to
look after my gear. For the love of everything holy and a bottle of wine, please be
careful with it!” I handed him my haversack, loaded with my books and magical
items, as well as this journal.

I turned to Happy. “Hap, I need you to take care of something even more precious
than my things. You like animals, so I know you’ll keep a good eye on him.”

“I should really be going with you!” Ambros squeaked at me as I handed him to
Hap. “This is insane! I absolutely demand that you take me with you!” My poor
familiar was beside himself, and Happy looked none too sure either.

“How do I take care of a rat?” She asked, unsure.

“He’ll take care of himself for the most part.” I assured her. “He’s as intelligent as
most humans, if not more so. Just give him a bite and some water when you eat, and
he’ll be fine. And you, Ambros,” I looked at my rat sternly, “Will be on your best
behavior for Happy!”

“Master, you simply cannot leave me here!” He stretched forward from Hap’s
hands, squeaking furiously. His emotion resounded in my head, and I shared his
heartbreak at having to separate. I wondered again if this might not be the last time
I’d ever see him.

He was still demanding to accompany me as I left the room, shutting the door
behind me. I could still hear him in my mind even as I put distance between us, and
I finally had to shush him and tune him out.

I arrived at the jail shortly, and the guard did not even wait for me to ask; he
disappeared into the building, and returned shortly with the Magistrate, who nodded
solemnly at me and led me in. He took me to the same room we had occupied
before and shut the door behind us.

“I assume you’ve been able to speak with Losom?” I asked.

“I have.” He said.

“And?”

“Well, he was understandably shaken by the ordeal, but he has rebounded with his
usual good cheer. He was also gratified to find that nothing of value was stolen
from his home. He has given his statement, and also remembers your explanation
during his incarceration, though he admits to being a little foggy. I have relayed it
for you again, in detail as I understand it. His disposition remains uncharitable
towards you and your crew, though that should hardly come as a surprise.”

I sighed and nodded.

“With regard to your proposition,” The magistrate continued, “I am prepared to
tentatively agree, though I dislike the idea of allowing others to shirk their fair share
of accountability. I retain the right to view them as unsavory characters, should
testimony reveal them as such, and they would hereby be subject to exile from
Latona, or any other penalty I see fit. However, the bulk of the blame will be laid
about your shoulders, and you will answer in full for the charges levied against you.
Is that acceptable.”

“I suppose that’s as good as it’s going to get.” I said.

“Yes. I’m afraid it is, though I would assure you that I am no fool, Mr. Marzipan.
I understand who you are, and I have some idea of the power you wield. I realize
the sacrifice you are making here, and I know full well that you do not have to do
this. I will consider this when making my judgment, and, on my honor and the
honor of my family, I will give you a fair trial.”

I nodded slowly. “Very well then. Show me my cell.”

The magistrate rose and left the room, and I could hear him speaking with the
guards. “Let nothing happen to this halfling.” He warned them. They came to get
me, and I was led into the depths of the building to a row of simple cells. They
ushered me into a cell directly across from Taklinn and locked the door with a
devastating ‘click’. To my surprise, they had not fastened the anti-magic manacles
to my wrists, and it made me feel slightly better to know that I could still teleport
out of there should I wish to.

“Doorag!” Taklinn grinned at me from his cell. “What are you doing here?”

“Exorcising my right to be stupid!” I snapped.

He laughed, and Scylla rose from her cell floor next to Taklinn’s and waved to me
glumly. She still wore her manacles.

I explained the entire situation to Taklinn and his face grew serious. “You have
done a most honorable thing.” He said. “I admit, I did not think you had it in you.”

“Yeah, well, I’m probably not doing it for the reasons you think.” I replied dryly.

“Be that as it may, I’m still proud of you, and glad to have you here.”

“And we may not have to worry about the guard I downed!” Scylla added. “He’s
dropping the charges against us!”

“Really?” I said, skeptically, arching an eyebrow at her.

“Yes.” Taklinn answered for her. “She’s been a busy girl in here. She managed to
bat her eyes at the jailor a few times and he fetched that guard; his name is Marken.
She’s bribed him.”

“Oh, that’s swell!” I said sarcastically.

“Bribe is such a harsh word,” She pouted, “I’m just trying to make sure Marken
and his family are cared for! He has, after all, been dropped from the employ of
Losom. I simply offered him a small stipend to get him through these trying times,
and he was wise enough to see that as long as I am locked up I have no way of
getting his gold.”

“850 pieces of it.” Taklinn chuckled.

“I’m surprised you haven’t turned her in.” I shot at Taklinn.

“That’s between her and the guard” He answered easily. “If someone asks me
about it, I won’t lie. But I see no reason to offer the information up voluntarily.”

I sighed and closed my eyes, dreaming of better times. I remembered the way we
had met, how we had become a crew, and how we had toiled against Melesandre.
But most of all I thought of Caribdis. How I missed him. I had to laugh to myself.
For all his chaotic ways, it was not until after his death that we had managed to get
ourselves into such a fix! How ironic that we were now embroiled in a situation that
simply reeked of Caribdis. It was as if our bard’s hands were still busy from beyond
the grave.

I dozed for awhile, but awoke with a start. The sound of Ambros’ worried voice
filled my head and I snapped to attention and I groaned when he relayed his
message.

“They’re going to see Losom!”

Ambros was agitated, of that there could be no doubt. His high pitched shrill
echoed in my mind as he repeated, “Master! Happy and Griff have arranged a
meeting with Losom! I couldn’t stop them, and now they’re getting ready to go to
him!”

“Well don’t let them!” I exclaimed aloud. Taklinn and Scylla looked up at me.

“Don’t let who do what?” Taklinn asked, but I ignored him, focusing my
concentration inward to assess the full extent of my high strung familiars emotion.

“How?” Ambros wailed.

“Stand in front of the door!” I thought back to him, “Don’t let them leave!”

“Umm, ok.” Ambros replied. He sounded a bit unsure, and well he should have
been, for the next message he relayed to me was that Hap had simply picked him up
and deposited him into a belt pouch before she and Griff left the room.

“Doorag, what’s going on?” Taklinn asked me again, but I held up my hand to
shush him, concentrating on Ambros.

“Just stay low and keep your ears open.” I sighed to him. “Keep me updated.”

Twenty minutes later Ambros let me know that Griff and Happy had entered a
tavern called the Tricky Trap. They were led into a back room by a dour faced gent
of dubious disposition who closed the door behind them. Inside, seated on a rather
regal chair, was Losom the Large, looking none the worse for wear from his recent
capture and release.

Ambros relayed the conversation to me as it unfolded. Happy began with yet
another heartfelt apology and an oblique invitation to Losom as to the possibilities
with which they might somehow make amends. They spoke for several minutes,
and Losom seemed more and more intrigued with the idea that he might have, at his
disposal, a very powerful group of individuals. At last he laid an offer on the table
which Hap and Griff both readily accepted. This acceptance put Ambros in a
positively fevered state, and I groaned again when he explained it to me.

“Doorag!” Taklinn demanded, “What is it?”

“What do you know about hydras?” I finally asked him.

“Hydras? Why?”

I did not bother explaining it to him just then, preferring to let our dwarf stew for
a bit. He would know only too soon, I guessed. I mulled over the arrangement to
myself for a few moments, and realized that it might not turn out so bad after all.

Losom had explained to them that he was getting set to open a tavern in Latona
that he wished to decorate with a hydra theme. It would be called, appropriately
enough, The Hydra, and the crowning touch would be an array of stuffed hydra
heads mounted around the inside of the tap room. It just so happened that he knew
of the location of a hydra lair not thirty miles from Latona. He offered to drop all
charges against us if we would agree to bring him back the hydra’s heads. Hap and
Griff had accepted on all our behalf’s, and though that was a bit presumptuous, I
considered that I would much rather battle a many headed reptile than the law. A
simple fight was preferable to a lifetime of imprisonment, and I hoped that perhaps
the daring duo had actually accomplished something worthwhile with this
harebrained scheme.

Later that evening the magistrate came to visit us. He told us that our trial was set
for the following day. I made myself as comfortable as possible on the hard wooden
bench and ran over my arguments for the hundredth time in my head. I resolved to
get a good nights rest, for I would need to be as sharp as I could be come the
morning.


Flktme 11

Taklinn, Scylla, and I were led into the airy room that served as the cities court at
near noon. The three of us were seated on hard chairs behind a no nonsense wooden
table well away from the handful of spectators who had come to witness our trial.
Among them I noticed Happy and Griff, doing their best to be inconspicuous.
Happy was almost getting away with it, but there was no missing the tall figure of
Griff, festooned with daggers and a new sword. He leaned back in his seat and
looked generally dangerous. I noticed the guardsmen glance at him nervously
several times, but none made a move to apprehend him. I also saw the black nose of
Ambros peeking from under Hap’s protective hand as well, and it did my heart
good to see him again.

There would be no solicitors. We had not been offered one, and it did not appear
that there would be a representative for Latona other than the magistrate, who was
already seated behind a raised desk, shuffling papers and sharpening his pen. That
suited me fine, as I knew this would be a simple matter of confession and
sentencing.

The magistrate cleared his throat and called for order with a dismissive wave of
his hand. The onlookers settled down as he got underway.

“We shall dispense with opening remarks. The accused have been most
forthcoming with their confessions, and each appears to corroborate their respective
stories. The charges that have been put forth are kidnapping and attempted murder.
We will begin by setting straight the events of Flocktime 8. I would ask that
Taklinn please relate his memory of that evening.”

Taklinn rose and solemnly nodded at the court as he began his tale. He told of our
having come to Latona as a stop over on our way to the dragon, Acessiwall. At the
mention of the wurm's name, several members of the audience gasped and
murmured amongst themselves until the magistrate called for silence. Taklinn went
on to explain about Hap and Griff and their dragon information hunt, the midnight
visit by the assassin, Hap’s subsequent visit to Losom, my return from Havilah, our
half-baked plan to extract information from Losom, and finished with his surrender
to the authorities.

“More than that, yer honor,” He said, “I can’t tell you. I wasn’t there when they
captured Losom. As a matter of fact, I never saw him that night.”

“Perhaps Mr. Marzipan can fill in the gaps for us?” The magistrate invited,
looking at me.

I picked up Taklinn’s story, telling of my disastrous ‘charm person’ spell, the
scuffle with Losom’s bodyguards, my teleporting to his room and subsequent ‘hold
monster/feeblemind/invisibility’ casting. I told of my having ordered Griff to take
Losom to our inn with him, and also of my search of Losom’s house.

“And what did you find, Mr. Marzipan?” The magistrate interrupted.

“Some gold, some books, but no evidence to link him to the assassination
attempt." I replied honestly.

He bid me continue, and I told of our night with Losom in the ‘rope trick’, then
my visit to Taklinn the following day, and finally, my return of Losom to the
authorities. The rest was pretty much all public record.

The magistrate turned to Taklinn. “You mention your cohorts in this crime, one
Happy Lavina and Griffin Dorjan. Are these people in our court today?”

Taklinn nodded slowly and pointed them out. Happy looked as if she would like
to melt into her seat, while Griff stared back at the magistrate defiantly.

“Mr. Dorjan, let it be understood that no criminal charges have been levied upon
you. The court is to understand that you were simply an accomplice to this crime,
and that all charges against you are to be dropped in exchange for the testimony of
Mr. Marzipan. The same holds true for Miss. Lavina. We would ask you to give
your testimony, however, in an effort to make certain that we have the story
straight. Now than, do you have anything to add to the testimony thus far?”

“No.” Griff answered curtly.

“And would you say that the testimony we have heard is accurate?”

“Sure, I guess so.”

“You guess so, Mr. Dorjan?”

“It sounds about right.” Griff slouched sullenly, apparently unwilling to give the
magistrate any more than was absolutely necessary.

“And you, Miss. Lavina,” The magistrate continued, “Have you anything to add?”

Happy was equally evasive, and she was obviously ill at ease in the presence of so
many guardsmen, not to mention the judicial process in motion before her. She
shifted uncomfortably as she confirmed our story.

Finally it was Scylla’s turn. She turned up the charm and soon had every male
heart in the audience in her pocket. She was almost unbearably alluring, and her
innocent pout and air of contrition changed many a mind, I’m sure. She told what
she knew, and it solidified our story.

“Very well,” The magistrate said, making several notes in his book. “The victims
of these crimes have declined to be interviewed by the court, the reason for which
we shall address presently. The defendants have declared an admission of guilt, and
under normal circumstances there would be the mere matter of sentencing to
address. Decorum states that the defendants may make a statement at this point,
either to defend themselves, or to simply speak their minds. Taklinn, you may
address the court.”

Taklinn rose from his chair, and his deep baritone filled the room. “Yer honor,
while it is true that I am associated with these folk and did accompany them to the
door of Losom’s house, I would like to assert my innocence!”

I stared at him, thunderstruck. What the hell was he talking about?

“Yer honor,” He continued, “The only intention I ever had in going to the bards
house was to ask him a few questions. As soon as I realized what was going on, I
laid down my arms and did my best to see that no further laws were broken. It was I
who called upon the city guard, and it was I who pulled the bodyguard back from
death. As I see it, I have broken no law, and therefore wish to have my name fully
cleared of all wrong doing.”

My jaw hung slack as I listened to him, but he was already back in his seat and
the magistrate was calling my name. I stood, trying to collect my thoughts.
“Lordship,” I began, “I can but agree with Taklinn. I am still prepared to accept the
full responsibility for the actions of my crew, as well as Scylla. They were
following my lead. Taklinn cannot be held accountable for laws that he did not
break, and I would second his request for exoneration.” While I was still
flabbergasted that Taklinn had done such an about face, I did agree with him.

I took my seat again and Scylla rose.

“Your honor,” She said, with a bat of her eyes, “I just want to express how deeply
sorry I am for these unfortunate events. This was a matter of impetuousness on all
of our parts, and of inexperience on mine. If I could take it back I would, and I can
only pray that you’ll find it in your heart to have mercy upon all of us.”

The magistrate, apparently one of the few men in the rooms unmoved by Scylla’s
charms, cleared his throat again and asked if anyone else had anything to add. The
room remained silent, and he went on. “I have conducted this trial according to
normal procedures largely to satisfy my own curiosity and to hear a public
admission of guilt from the defendants. However, there are unusual circumstances
surrounding this case, not the least of which is the fact that the court has been
informed that outside arrangements have been made between the victims of these
crimes and the defendants whereby all charges shall be dropped in exchanged for
services preformed by the defendants for the victims. This is an entirely legal option
open to the victims, and as such, the court has no choice but to dismiss the
outstanding case against the defendants.”

I was thunderstruck again! Apparently bribery was an accepted cog in the wheel
of justice in Latona. Happy, Griff and Scylla’s propositions had paid off, and we
were off the hook!

Or so I thought.

“However,” The magistrate foraged ahead, “It is clear to me that the laws that
govern Latona have indeed been broken, and that the defendants, as well as their
entourage, however well intentioned, did present a threat to the safety and well
being of the citizens who live here. As such, the court is well within it’s right to
press charges independently of a plaintiff, especially given the voluntary
confessions of the accused. I have weighed the evidence carefully, and have spoken
with the defendants at length. In many ways they have been most forthcoming, and
the court understands full well that they are here of their own volition. It is my
belief that the defendants pose no further threat to Latona, yet their complete
absolution would be a slap in the face of simple justice everywhere, not to mention
that it would serve as no example or deterrent to others who would seek to
circumvent the law. With that understanding, I find the lot of you, Doorag, Taklinn,
Happy, Griffin and Scylla guilty as charged. Your sentence is exile from the city of
Latona for a period of one year from tomorrow, with the exception of any dealings
they may have that directly involve the completion of their tasks for the victims.
This court is adjourned.”

The magistrate made to gather his papers and get up. I was in utter amazement. I
was only too happy to agree not to set foot in Latona again ever, let alone for a year.
I felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders, and a broad
grin spread across my face. I saw the same on Scylla’s as the guards came to unlock
her manacles.

But Taklinn was having none of it. “Wait!” He thundered, bringing the room to a
stand still. “You find me guilty? Of what! I will not have my name tarnished for the
sake of setting an example! Tell me my crimes! I have committed none, and I
demand to be released from the stain that a verdict of guilt carries with it!”

The magistrate sat back down. “Taklinn, you did tell the court that you were
aware that Mr. Marzipan intended to charm Losom, did you not?”

“I did! But As soon as I understood that he had actually done so I…”

“A change of heart midway through a crime does not exonerate you, Taklinn. You
have been found guilty of conspiracy, plain and simple.”

Taklinn’s face clouded, and I wondered again what he was thinking. Where he
had once been so eager to wallow in his guilt, he now seemed bound and
determined to profess his absolute innocence, even if it meant denying what I
considered an extremely lenient sentence.

“This is a matter of honor! My name will already be sullied in Havilah once your
report arrives there!”

“Actually,” The magistrate said, “That report has not yet been sent. I had decided
to wait for the results of this trial. At this time I see no point in sending it.”

But Taklinn would not be placated. “I have been found guilty for the crimes of my
companions?” He raged, “What sort of nonsense is this? Would you seek out a mans
family if he commits a crime?”

The magistrate looked at Taklinn without humor. “It has been known to happen.”
He said, flatly.

Taklinn stood dumb for a full minute, and I saw the realization dawn on him that
Latona was, indeed, not Havilah. Certain rules did not apply here. Things
were done differently, and it was as simple as that. He opened his mouth to say
something but no words came. At last, he shoved his chair from the table and
stormed toward the door, shouldering past spectators and guards, demanding his
gear.

Several minutes later, when all of their belongings had been returned to Taklinn
and Scylla, we gathered on the street. As Griff handed me by haversack and Hap set
Ambros on my shoulder, I glanced at Taklinn with a wry smile.

“He did have a point with the whole conspiracy thing!”

Our dwarf was not amused.


Flktme 12

“A hydra?” Taklinn exclaimed over his breakfast on our last legal day in the city
of Latona. Happy and Griff had just explained their deal with Losom to him, and he
scowled deeply. “This is getting ridiculous! Every time I turn around I’m beholdin’
to someone else. First I’m beholdin’ to those that gave me my arm back, and now
I’m beholdin’ to a gnome. What next?”

“Oh cheer up,” Happy smiled at Taklinn, “At least you're out of jail and we can
finally get back to the task at hand. We’ve taken on worse than a hydra.” She
looked at me, a little unsure, “Haven’t we, Doorag?”

“Well,” I replied over a sip of tea, “Hydra’s are not to be trifled with, though I
dare say I’d rather deal with one of them than another rhemorez.” Griff nodded
dourly. “This one that Losom is sending us against is more than likely a
‘Cryohydra’, which is a cold dwelling version of the beast. From what I’ve studied,
we can expect a many headed reptilian creature that is fast, tough, and can
regenerate. It will have a breath weapon, if I’m not mistaken, made all the more
dangerous by the fact that each of it’s heads will be able to use it. Fortunately, they
aren’t too bright. I’d say average animal intelligence, which gives us a distinct
advantage. Also, hydra’s have no innate spell resistance, and they’re weak against
mind affecting magic’s.”

“Sounds like a good hunt!” Mardath grinned wolfishly.

“Right.” Griff said. “We’ve got our map from Losom; it looks like the lair is only
about thirty miles from here. I say we get busy and go after the thing as soon as
possible. No point in screwing around.”

Happy groaned. “More trudging through the snow!” Brightening a little, she
looked at me, “Unless Doorag can teleport us all there!”

“Forget it!” Griff declared. “I don’t like that teleporting stuff. I’d rather walk
through a hundred miles of snow than go through that again!”

“Pish posh, Griff!” I chided him, “It’s perfectly safe! Well, it’s more or less safe.
Kind of.”

Taklinn cut in. “I may have an alternate means of travel. While I was in jail I
made aware of a few other spells that I have neglected, one of which is ‘wind walk’.
I can’t take us all, but I could get myself and three more there in only a few
minutes; and there’s no chance of it going wrong like with Doorag’s port spell.”

“How does it work?” Griff asked, suspiciously.

“Much as the name implies.” Taklinn answered through a mouthful of bacon.
“It’ll turn me and three others into gaseous form and we’ll be able to let the wind
fly us to where we want to go much faster than on foot. We’ll never leave this
plane; you’ll be able to see and hear everything around you; and we’ll be able to
follow the map.”

“And when you get there I can scry you and teleport the rest of us to your
location!” I added.

Griff still grumbled over the idea, but was quickly outvoted. The idea of tromping
across the tundra had little appeal, and the rest of us were only too eager to
circumvent such dangerous travel if at all possible. It was decided that Taklinn
would take Griff, Hap and Mardath to a location outside the lair, and I would follow
him with Taigel and Scylla.

After breakfast we shouldered our gear and made ready. From within our room
Taklinn cast his first ‘wind walk’, and I watched with interest as he and his
passengers appeared to dissipate into a cloudy substance. In a flash, they were
whisked out the window, riding a current of air produced by Taklinn. We watched
as they rose into the sky and quickly disappeared from our view.

I gave them the five minutes that Taklinn had told me they would need before
using my crystal ball to scry them. In no time I found Griff, standing securely on a
snow bank. I quickly scanned his area, held out my hands to Taigel and Scylla, and
cast.

We popped into a vast field of empty snow with our party nowhere to be seen. I
just had time to say, “Whoops!’ and feel a bolt of pain wrack through my body
before we were off again. We were deposited in yet another stretch of tundra, and I
saw the grimaces of pain on the faces of Taigel and Scylla that mirrored my own
before we spontaneously teleported again. The third time I managed to muster
control of the spell and stopped it’s effect. We were once again on a barren field of
ice and snow, and I could tell that we had all suffered internal injuries from the
teleporting mishap.

Taigel looked quite confused and sore. Scylla gave me a seething glare. What the
hell was that all about?” She asked coolly.

“Well, it’s not an exact science.” I shrugged. “It was bound to happen sooner or
later. Now let me just try that again…”

“Wait!” Scylla cried, but I was already casting, and before she had even finished
the word we were standing safely beside Griff, Happy, Mardath and Taklinn. Scylla
glared at me some more.

“Are you three okay?” Happy asked, noticing our obvious pain. I sighed and
explained, and Taklinn was kind enough to see to our wounds while Griff pointed in
triumph.

“Ha! I knew it!” He crowed.

When we were healed at last and Griff was through with his gloat, we made our
way to the crest of a dune of snow and beheld a view of pristine white. Some two
hundred yards away we could just make out the entrance of a dark cave.

“That should be the lair.” Griff said.

“Very well, let’s get into shelter and formulate a plan.” I said, and quickly cast a
‘rope trick’ which we all climbed into.

The rest of the day was spent in hashing out a plan of attack. I reasoned that we
needed more information, perhaps a layout of the caves interior, and to that end I
cast a spell that I have had for some time but have never gotten around to using.
‘Ocular Orb’ is a weird and somewhat grotesque spell in which my right eye is
pushed forward and out of my head by a replacement that grows behind it. It takes
about an hour to accomplish the whole procedure, and I noted with some
amusement the effect it had on the rest of my party. Happy’s jaw looked as if it
would hit the floor as my eye bulged from my head and finally dropped into my
waiting palm. I blinked my new eye and held up my now detached orb, still trailing
ganglia and nerve endings. I practiced a bit with it, switching my vision from the
eyes in my head to the one in my hand several times. Interesting.

During the casting of the spell Scylla had wondered aloud if it might not be a
good plan to somehow lure the hydra from it’s lair with bait. Taking this idea and
running with it, Griff and Mardath went on a short hunting expedition. I was a little
concerned for them being out on the tundra alone, but they were gone before I could
nag them, so there was nothing to be done short of interrupting my spell and going to
find them. Fortunately they returned several hours later dragging the head of a
juvenile mastodon. Despite my reservations, I agreed that it would make fine bait.

I carried my ‘eye’ gingerly out of the rope trick and flew, invisibly, to the lair.
Once I was sure that no hydra would come charging out, I landed and gently set the
eye on the snow. At my mental prodding, it began a slow process of dragging itself
forward into the cave. I wished it a silent good luck, and returned to our shelter.

It was near dark by this time, and I cast a second rope trick that would last
throughout the night. The crew huddled around me as I focused my vision through
the ‘ocular orb’. The eye traveled painfully slow, inching along on it’s ganglia
through the cold, dark cave. I cast a ‘darkvision’ on myself to let me see, and
watched as the cave revealed itself to me.

It cut into the hill some sixty feet or so before making an abrupt left turn and
widening into an airy cavern. I urged the eye onward, cautiously, for I knew that
hydras possessed a keen sense of smell, and that should the eye be discovered by
the beast and destroyed, I would be stunned and blinded for several minutes.

Closer and closer the eye crept, until at last, at the edge of my vision, I made out a
hulking mass of reptilian flesh rising and falling with the breath of slumber. From
one end I could make out a tail; from the other, a tangle of necks and heads with
distinctly draconic appearance. The thing was frightful even in sleep, and I told the
crew so.

We debated out options for awhile and finally decided to wait for the morning.
This would allow Taklinn and I to be full of spells specifically geared to deal with
the creature. I had recently learned ‘protection from energy’ which I believed would
be invaluable against the hydra’s frost breath weapon. I also wanted to try another
new spell. It was a summoning dweomer, and I reasoned that we would be able to
use all the help we could get.

I am to bed now. The eye still watches and the hydra still slumbers. In the
morning we shall hopefully slay it and repay our debt to Losom.
 

cthulhu42

Explorer
Flktme 13

Today we were reminded of just how dangerous we can be when we set our
minds to it, and I must say, I think it was a boost to our confidence after the fiasco
in Latona.

We spent the early morning finalizing our plan, and by nine o’clock we were
in position. Griff, Scylla and I were situated on a ledge some thirty feet above the
hydra’s cave entrance, while Happy, Taigel and Mardath flanked the cave mouth on
the ground. Taklinn stood directly in front of it, axes in hand, glowing with holy
power from his spells. Next to him lay the bloody head of the mastodon as further
bait. I watched through my eye as Scylla tried Plan A.

She knows ‘magic jar’, a spell that I’ve toyed with the idea of learning, but have
never quite gotten around to, so I watched with interest as she laid on the snow and
cast it. It was almost possible to see her spirit leave her body as she said the final
words. I watched the hydra as Scylla attempted to enter it’s body. I saw the hydra
suddenly snap open it’s twenty eyes. It’s mass of necks began to uncoil with
frightening speed and it peered around intently. The next thing I knew, Scylla sat
straight up and shook her head.

“It didn’t work!”

“Plan B!” I cried down to our members on the ground, and they immediately set
up a caterwauling of shouts and shield banging loud enough to catch the hydra’s
attention.

Through the eye I watched the hydra stand up and curiously move toward the
tunnel. It sniffed the air with it’s many noses, and as it neared the place where my
‘ocular orb’ was hiding, I saw several of it’s heads turn in that direction. My
stomach dropped, and I knew if it sniffed out the eye it would certainly destroy it in
a heartbeat. That would put me out of commission, and I resolved not to let that
happen. In a flash, I had cast my first summon spell, and a large earth elemental
appeared in front of the cave, much to the surprise of my crew. I bid it to enter the
cave, which it did at top lumbering speed.

“Doorag, what the hell are you doing?” Griff hissed. But I held up my hand to
silence him.

Inside the cave the elemental met the hydra at the tunnels corner, and the hydra
lost any interest in strange scents in his lair. The awful beast lurched toward the
elemental and unleashed a blast of icy wind from ten separate heads. Frost coated the
elemental, nearly killing it, and I bade my creature to flee back out of the cave. It
did.

To my relief the hydra charged after it, and I grinned in satisfaction as I cast a
second summon spell and another elemental appeared to stand near Taigel on the
left side of the cave mouth.

Things happened very fast after that.

The hydra, spotting Taklinn, the wounded elemental and the mastodon head,
barreled out of the cave, intent on breakfast, but before he even reached them, Griff
was in motion. To my shock and horror, he leapt off of the ledge! He dropped the
thirty feet and landed squarely onto the back of the hydra, straddling it just behind
it’s necks. His sword came down, and it’s momentum cleaved through a scaly neck,
lopping off a head.

The rest of the crew descended upon it from all sides. Happy, under the effects of
a fly spell from me, swept in and attempted to stab one of it’s throats, but missed.
Scylla flew down to land behind Taklinn, and launched a fireball that exploded near
it’s hindquarters. As for me, I was determined not to let it retreat into it’s cave, so I
flew down for the view I needed and cast a ‘wall of force’ to block the entrance
behind it. Taigel, Mardath, Taklinn and my two elementals waded in, hitting with
sword, axe and fists, hammering away at the hydra, which was now thrashing about
wildly in an attempt to deal with the overwhelming numbers against it. It snapped
out with it’s heads, several of them taking frightful bites out of Happy and Griff, but
it was too late for the beast. We had already dealt it a tremendous amount of
damage, and Griff was in excellent position to finish it off. He thrust his sword down
again and again into its body, piercing vital organs as a veritable fountain of blood
and ichors spewed into the air to splash on the trampled snow. Griff rode it all the
way through it’s death throes until it collapsed to the ground, it’s remaining heads
twitching in death.

We gathered around it, cheering and clasping hands. It had been a relatively easy
fight, and that could only be attributed to our having made a decent plan to deal
with it. I felt good knowing we were not necessarily the bumbling armatures we’d
made ourselves out to be in Latona.

Cutting off the heads and getting them back to Latona was a simple matter of a
few strategic ‘wind walks’ and ‘teleports’. We gathered first in our inn room where
I cast a number of ‘tensors floating disks’ to carry the heads. We must have made
quite a sight, leading a parade of floating hydra heads through the town, and the
citizenry turned out in force to watch our progress.

Losom was well pleased as we dumped the ten heads on his front porch. He even
arranged to have us stay one final night in Latona, that we might get our rest for
further travels.

We used the time to discuss our dragon fighting strategies, and quickly came to an
unavoidable conclusion: We had barely any magical weapons at all, and without
them, we had little chance against Acessiwall, who would ignore the damage from
most mundane weapons. It was a very real problem, not to mention a potently
expensive one. I sighed, knowing that I had a difficult choice to make.

I have recently been in the process of learning how to cast cooperative spells, a
talent that would allow me entry into Havilah’s mages’ guild. However, I had also
been toying with the idea of learning to craft magical weapons and armor. The
choice now seemed to have been made for me. I announced that, were we to
return to Havilah, I would be able to craft weapons for our fighters that would
penetrate Acessiwall’s resistance.

Tomorrow we plan to return to Havilah. Taklinn will wind walk there with
Happy, Griff and Taigel while Scylla and Mardath and I will teleport first to Finch,
to pick up Hap and Griff’s horses, then to Havilah. It will take me a couple of ports
to do it, but I have every confidence that we shall spend tomorrow night in our own
beds in our own city. I confess, I am quite looking forward to it.


Flktme 17

Happy, Griff, Taigel and Taklinn arrived yesterday. It is good to have us all back
in Havilah again, and it is time to get to work. I fear that I shall have little time to
make proper entries in this journal as I will be devoting nearly all of my energies to
crafting items for quite some time, though I will endeavor to at least make a note
here and there.

Today has been taken up with the identification process of several items (the gear
from the assassin that tried to kill Griff and Hap). We are also tossing around
strategies to fight Acessiwall, and while we have no solid plan yet, I feel like we are
becoming more focused as a crew. Perhaps the fiasco in Latona and the subsequent
ease with which we killed the hydra will turn out to be the best thing that ever
happened to us. It has shown us both the folly of failing to properly plan, as well as
the benefits of taking the time to formulate a winning strategy. Even Griff, who is
normally loathe to sit still long enough to discuss options, has been reasonably open
to the idea of utilizing forethought in our quest to defeat Acessiwall.

This is a particularly good thing, since new information has recently been
revealed to me.

I have had the nagging suspicion that Acessiwall is somehow spying on us. With
that in mind, I have been casting ‘detect scrying’ on myself everyday since arriving
in Havilah. Today, my hunch paid off. At noon, as I was in the process of
identifying, the alarm sounded in my head, and I looked over my shoulder to see the
sensor. So great was my insight that I managed to catch a glimpse of the watcher. It
was Helious, the aged wizard employed by Acessiwall. I quickly dispelled the
sensor and returned to my work, but as soon as I could I let it be known to the crew
that we could expect more voyeurism on the part of the dragon, and that we must
beware of speaking about our plans so as not to tip our hands to an unseen watcher.


Flktme 18

An exhausting day, and my real work has not even begun! I have finally been able
to analyze the final dweomer on the amulet given to Taklinn, and while it is not
much, I feel it is best to know everything about the item before we use it against
Acessiwall.

Essentially, if the amulet is activated (via dragons blood) and then changes hands,
it must be activated again. It is a small bit of knowledge, but even tiny details can
sometimes be the difference between victory and defeat.


Flktme 19

I have begun work on Griff’s new sword. It will be my first attempt at enchanting
a weapon, and thus far all goes well. The strain of imbuing the blade with magic is
exhausting, but satisfying. I am glad that I long ago learned the art of siphoning off
the essence from others, as crafting such a thing would drain me beyond my
capacity.

We have also decided to tinker with the nature of the blades enchantment a bit.
This new blade will boast a bane verses dragons, rather than undead. Considering
our coming battle, it seems appropriate.


Flktme 23

It is my birthday!

Work continues steadily on Griff’s blade and all goes well. I hope he likes this
thing!


Wlsn 10

This day has brought happy news! Today, at dinner, Griff announced that he and
Happy have become engaged to be married! They have not yet set a date, but
apparently they have already purchased a small home in a town not far from
Havilah.

The news was met by congratulations all round. Happy was positively beaming,
while Griff, of course, scowled dourly, though I believe I detected just a hint a
smile under his grumpy visage.


Wlsn 17

It is complete! Today I called Griff into my laboratory and conducted the final
ritual. Holding onto to Griff’s hand, I touched the sword with my other hand and
incanted, feeling our warriors essence flow through me and into the blade. I could
feel his nervousness, but he stood firm, and within an hour it was done. Reverently,
I held it out to him. “I call it ‘The Talon’,” I announced proudly, “As in, ‘The
Griffon’s Talon’”.

He took it by the handle and felt it’s clean balance. His smile was all the payment
I needed.

More information has come to light!

In an effort to know more about our enemy I asked Taklinn to ‘commune’ with
Clangeden, to ask the god several questions that have been nagging at me. This
afternoon, he and I cloistered ourselves in his room and I watched as he prayed. He
fell into a deep trance, and in due time he came into contact with Clangeden and
began asking my questions. The exchange went a bit like this.

“How old is Acessiwall?”

“Nine-Hundred and fifty years.”

“Is Taigel loyal to Acessiwall?”

“No.”

“Does Acessiwall know the spell, Dispel Magic?”

“Yes.”

“Do we have at least two months to complete the task of killing Acessiwall as far
as those to whom Taklinn is in debt to are concerned?”

“Yes.”

“Can Acessiwall magically protect himself from fire?”

“Yes.”

“Is Acessiwall evil?”

“Yes.”

“Is Helious evil?”

“Yes.”

“Does Acessiwall have more allies than Helious in his lair?”

“Yes.

“Does he have more than five allies in his lair?”

“Yes.”
“Does Acessiwall have any special abilities other than his normal dragon
powers?”

“No.”

“From a spell casting standpoint, is Helious more powerful than Doorag?”

“Yes.”

“Was Caribdis involved with Scylla?”

“No.”

It was this last question, asked by Taklinn almost as an afterthought, that gave us
serious pause. Scylla had been lying to us! Taklinn and I talked at length about how
to deal with this information, and we decided to confront her with it at dinner.

The rest of the answers we got are more precious to me than gold. I now feel that
I can indeed trust Taigel, for I admit to a certain amount of wariness about him,
feeling that it was possible that he might simply be a spy for his father.

Knowing Acessiwall’s exact age is important too, as we can now narrow down
just what we will be facing.

Knowing that Acessiwall and Helious are, in fact, evil will avoid a repeat of the
Latona mistake. It would have been just our luck to have gone in there and killed
the only good white dragon in the world!

And finding out more about Helious is invaluable. I fear that we will have to think
harder about Acessiwall’s wizard ally, for if he is more powerful than I, he will be a
force to recon with; potentially more dangerous than the wurm himself, if he is
given opportunity to prepare for us.

***

At dinner tonight, Taklinn and I laid our cards on the table, telling the crew what
we had learned, finishing with our final question and answer about Scylla. The
sorceresses eyes fell when confronted with the truth, and an air of danger descended
over the table, as no one knew if she might panic and start blasting.

She did not. Scylla sighed and nodded, admitting that she had lied. When pushed
for the truth, she hesitated and asked how we would trust her to tell it. It was a good
point, and after much heated discussion, we decided to meet in a few hours in our
Academy chambers where Taklinn would cast a ‘zone of truth’. Scylla agreed that
she would answer all questions at that time.

I half expected her to not show up, but she was not only on time, she was early.

All of us were there except Mardath, who we had seen little of since we arrived in
Havilah as he has been spending nearly all of his time with Nanden and his people.

Taklinn began his rituals, first casting several spells directly upon Scylla to ensure
that she would not try to resist the ‘zone of truth’. To her credit, she did not balk at
the prospect, and quietly accepted them. Taklinn followed his spells with the zone,
and we seated ourselves within it’s area. No lies would be spoken for the next hour.

“Now then,” I began, “Who are you?”

“I am Scylla D’neif.” Scylla answered.

“And?”
The sorceress sighed and told the rest of her story. “My name is Scylla D’neif and
I have been quested to kill Acessiwall by a cleric of Wee Jas named Malika Moricz,
though killing Acessiwall is not my only mission. In fact, it is more of a cover story
for my true purpose.”

“Which is?” I asked.

“To discredit you two.” She stated flatly, pointing at Taklinn and I.

“What!” Taklinn’s face grew dark as she continued.

“Apparently Malika believes that you two are responsible for shifting the balance
of things to far toward the good. She wishes to sully your names in an effort to
realign her notion of balance.”

Taklinn positively fumed at this revelation, for his name may well be his most
valued commodity. As for myself, I could only chuckle, Since my recent
philosophical revelations after Latona, I cared little about my reputation, knowing
full well that folk would believe exactly what they wished to.

“Yeah, yeah, that’s all real nice.” Griff cut in. “So other than dragging their names
through the mud, are you planning on harming us, backstabbing us, killing us,
betraying us, or screwing us over in any way? Because if you are, you’ve bit off
more than you can chew, sister!”

“No.” Scylla replied.

“I want to meet this Malika.” Taklinn demanded. “Can you set it up?”

“Possibly.”

“That’s not a bad idea.” I agreed. “The last thing we need right now is yet another
enemy trying to undermine us. What do we do with Scylla in the meantime?”

We all spoke at once. Some of us were in favor of showing her the door right then
and there, while others (like myself) saw the value in having a second caster in the
group.

“Even if you demand that I leave,” Scylla pointed out, “I am still under magical
compulsion to slay Acessiwall. Without your help I will surely fail and, more than
likely be killed. I don’t know if it makes a difference, but should you cut your ties
with me you will almost certainly be sentencing me to death.”

This thought brought about another round of heated debate, which I was a part of
until suddenly my ‘detect scrying’ alarm sounded in my head. I looked around and
saw it, the sensor, peering at us from a corner of the ceiling. I quickly bade
everyone be silent as I cast a ‘dispel’ at the thing, but this time Helious’ intentions
were not to simply spy on us.

The first sensor winked out under my dispel, only to be replaced by a second
moments later. Before I could dispel this one as well, Helious had sent his first
attacker. In the blink of an eye, a skeletal ice golem stood on our table, it’s wicked
claws ready to lash at us.

We broke from the table, Scylla and I putting some distance between ourselves
and the golem, while Taklinn, Griff and Taigel drew and laid into it with their
weapons. Happy, unable to harm such constructs much, backed off as well.

But Helious had obviously learned that we were more than a match for one or two
golems, for, in quick succession, three more of them arrived, teleported in by the
wizard.

It was a brutal battle, and it nearly cost Griffon his life as the golems connected
with him time and again. I was largely frustrated, as I had not prepared many spells
that could adequately deal with the constructs innate resistance to magic. Even the
elemental I summoned could barely hurt the things.

Scylla caused nearly as much harm as aid, for she opened up on the golems with
the one spell that I knew could harm them: ‘scorching ray’. Unfortunately, she is
not a particularly good shot, for I counted no less than four times when one of her
rays went astray and hit a crew member. Once she hit Griff, already grievously
wounded, and nearly took him down. I saw her face go deathly pale, and I knew
that she felt horrified at having accidentally hit him. Thank Clangeden Taklinn was
able to lay a hand on our warrior and pull him from the brink of death!

In the end, they fell. One by one our fighters hacked them apart, though we were
on the verge of desperation by the final golem. Happy was even reduced to tossing
flaming logs at it that she had plucked from our fireplace! I was able to do little,
though I did manage to dispel Helious’ second sensor, hopefully preventing him
from sending any more (though in hindsight, it would not have), or at the very least
denying him the pleasure of watching his golems do their work. I was also able to
fell one of the golems for a few seconds with a ‘grease’, though that did little more
than buy our warriors a bit of time.

When it was all over we still stood, and the room was strewn with heavy chunks
of melting ice. The silver lining to the cloud was the cache of diamonds contained
within each of the golems, and between them we found over 20,000 gold worth
which we split up immediately, since we had all incurred quite a few expenses.

We sent for Academy help to clean up our meeting area while we put our heads
together again. Helious had shown himself to be a foe to be reckoned with, and this
attack in our own home infuriated us all. I resolved to deal with him at our first
opportunity, forgoing further item creation until we could take the wizard out of the
equation. The rest of the crew agreed with me, and to that end I stepped up my
plans, vowing to learn a spell that I had only recently purchased, as soon as
possible. The spell, ‘antimagic field’ is, I hope, the key to defeating a wizard.

Even though Scylla had made herself few friends with her sloppily cast ‘scorching
rays’, we still saw the value in having a second caster, especially when she came
clean with what spells she could, in fact, cast. One of them was teleport, and I knew
that that could come in quite handy in our plan to go after Helious. We decided to
keep her with us, albeit at arms length.

I stressed that we must, from this day on, stay close. Had Helious sent his golems
after only one or two of us, we would have had little chance. This idea was met with
some resistance. Griff disliked the idea of being held prisoner by the threat of future
attacks, and Taklinn insisted that he was going to ‘wind walk’ to his home to visit
his fiance. I argued my point passionately, feeling that it was pure folly to divide
our forces. In the end, no consensus could be reached, and I feared that we would
splinter again. We resolved to speak more of it at breakfast tomorrow.

But my night was not yet over. An hour after we had all separated and I was once
again cloistered in my lab, there came a soft knock on my door. Opening it, I was
surprised to find Scylla there. I half expected some sort of attack, but she said that
she merely needed to talk with me. I warily let her in.

We spoke for nearly an hour, and what she revealed to me left me shaken and
thoughtful. When she left I considered my options carefully, cast a ‘rope trick’ and
climbed into it for a night of secure rest. I write from the inside of that safe space
now, pondering what to do with this new information. I believe that the only course
of action is to tell Scylla’s real secret to the rest of the crew in the morning. They
must know, though I am a bit worried as to how they will deal with it. Apparently
she only told me because she feels that I am more logic driven than my comrades,
and therefore less given to knee-jerk reactions. I can only concur.


Wlsn 19

We gathered this morning around the breakfast and I brought with me a cold glint
in my eye, for I not only had staggering information to relay to the crew, I also had
a plan for dealing with Helious.

I tossed and turned last night, unable to let go of my anger at having been attacked
in our own quarters; inside the Academy, no less! I had been turning over a strategy
for fighting Helious for some time, and it made so much sense to me that I’d even
purchased an outrageously expensive copy of ‘antimagic field’, a spell that would
be the key to the entire plan. The attack made me realize that our battlegrounds had
drastically changed, and so must our strategies. I resolved, last night, to press ahead
with my plan. I can’t help but see the irony in my rage at having been attacked by
foes in my own home, considering the fact that I seem to have based much of my
career in doing just that very thing, but it still made me madder than a wet hen, and
I wish nothing more now than to see Helious cold and dead.

Call it righteous indignation.

Taklinn and I had little to say to each other as we ate, for we’d argued long over
his plan to visit his fiance. Not only would it divide us, it would call for a
postponement in going after Helious.

“Look,” Taklinn leveled his gaze at me, “I’ve got it all planed out. I’ll cast a
‘word of recall’ here, and if I get into any trouble I’ll just retreat back here. I’ll be
back in two days; three tops!”

“Fine.” I replied, nonchalantly, “I can’t take all of us anyway. We’ll let you
know how it goes when we return.” I took a dramatic quaff of my milk while
Taklinn’s eyes narrowed.

“Can’t take all of us where?” He demanded. “You’ll let me know how what
goes?”

“Yeah,” Hap chimed in, her interest piqued, “What are you spinning, Doorag?”

“Well, we’re going to kill Helious, right?” I asked, wide eyed over my oatmeal.”
I’m certainly not going to sit around and wait for him to come to me, and we’ll have
to teleport in to do it, and I’m sorry, but I have yet to attain the power to transport
all of us. But I can take four, so that would be Taigel, Happy, Griff and Scylla. Of
course,” I added thoughtfully, “Scylla can cast teleport, so I suppose we could take
more, but I understand that you need to see your fiance, so the five of us will just
pop over and mop up this nasty business.”

Taklinn looked at me for several long seconds, his jaw set, and then broke into a
grin. “Okay.” He sighed, “What’s the plan?”

I chuckled and leaned over the table, no longer bothering to conceal my eagerness to
talk with them about it.

“We need to kill a wizard.” I stated. “A powerful wizard; more powerful than me,
in fact. Helious has already demonstrated his power. Those golems last night were
more than likely sent here via ‘greater teleportation’, which means he has access to
at least one, and probably two circles of magic that I can’t even comprehend yet.
Now I can give you a probably two dozen reasons why we don’t have a prayer in
hell of getting close enough to hit him, let alone actually kill him, not the least of
which are ‘fly’ or ‘teleport’. We’ve already been able to scry him, so we have a
decent chance to port in to him, but if he gets a spell off, we’ll never see him
again.”

“Unless…” I let the word sink in, “Unless we take away his magic.” I withdrew
the scroll from my holder held it up for them. “This, ladies and gentlemen, is a
scroll that contains one ‘antimagic field’ spell. Once I learn it, I shall be able to
impart upon my person a field of anti magic that will extend ten feet from me on all
sides. Absolutely no magic will work within this field. Items will not function.
Magic swords become normal swords. And spells cannot be cast. Once inside this
field, Helious will become nothing more than a harmless, old man.”

“My plan is this: Today I learn this spell. Tomorrow we port to Finch, which is
within striking distance of Acessiwall’s lair. We scry for Helious and when we find
him we act quickly, casting as many speed enhancing spells on ourselves as we can.
We then teleport directly to his location. At that point it will all come down to who
acts first. My first and only concern will be to cast the field –for obvious reasons I
can’t cast it before we teleport- while the rest of you launch yourselves at him,
though I don’t mean to attack him with weapons. Only Hap has that job. Taklinn,
you, Griff and Taigel rush Helious and grab him. You wrestle him to the ground
and stick a sock in his mouth if you can. You break his fingers, you sit on his hands,
you do whatever you have to do to make sure he is immobile and can’t run or cast
should I not be able to get the field up in time.”

“Now Hap will probably be first to reach him since she’s so quick. Hap, you don’t
attack him unless you see him trying to cast. If you do, you hit him with everything
you’ve got and try to disrupt the spell. If we can keep him from casting or running
before I get the field up and get to him, then he’s ours. If he’s pinned down, he’ll be
short work for Happy.”

“As soon as the job is done, I drop the field and we port the heck out of there.”

I smiled at the crew, awaiting the inevitable complications that they would point
out.

“What if he’s not alone?” Griff asked.

“He probably won’t be.” I said. “It doesn’t matter. All we should need is ten
seconds. After Helious is dead, we either deal with his guards or port out. Scylla
may come in handy as well if she can get out of the field and cover our backs.”

“He’ll be helpless?” Taklinn asked slowly.

“That’s the idea.” I answered, already knowing where this was going.

“I don’t know…” The dwarf thought aloud, scratching his beard, “If he’s helpless,
why couldn’t we take him prisoner?”

“What?” Happy laughed, sitting straight up in her chair, “Take him alive?
Taklinn, have you gone mad?”

“I cannot kill a helpless foe!” Taklinn shouted. “It is dishonorable! If he can be
incapacitated, we must bring him to Havilah for trial!”

“You really are nuts!” Griff scoffed. “Let me tell you something, Taklinn. If it
was Doorag after me and I had a chance to kill him, I’d take it without a second
thought, and if this Helious is more powerful than Doorag, then it’s a done deal. He
dies if we get the shot.”

Taklinn sighed. “I understand your position, my friend, but you must understand
mine. It is simply against my code to slay an unarmed opponent when there is an
alternative.”

“Taklinn,” I asked, “If that is so, why do you carry those large, sharp and fatal
axes? Why do you not wield a club, that you might beat your foes into
unconsciousness, after which you can haul them off to justice?”

“Axes are the symbol of Clangeden.” Taklinn answered lamely.

“Look,” I said, not wishing to press the point, “Take the guard position then.
Taigel and Griff will tackle Helious while you and Scylla keep his friends off our
backs. I will be extremely vulnerable, so I’ll need all the protection I can get. And if
he does happen to be alone, all I ask is that you help to incapacitate him. You don’t
have to do the dirty work.”

“And don’t forget,” Hap chimed in, “He is evil. Clangeden himself said so!”

Taklinn scowled, but he could see that our minds were made up on this. Helious
had to die. “Very well, I’ll go with the intention of protecting you. I’ll even grab the
wizard if I can, but I will not take his life. Let that be between yourselves and
whatever higher power you ascribe to.”

“Agreed!” I said happily.

Taklinn had other concerns. “It’s still a long shot.” He said. “Don’t you think
Helious will have ways of protecting his lair from being teleported into? And
what’s our contingency plan if things don’t go right?”

“Your right,” I agreed, “He may very well have a ‘dimensional lock’ in place, in
which case the plan won’t work and we go back to the drawing board. Nothing
ventured, nothing gained, and all that. As far as a contingency, if Helious gets a
spell off and we can’t get him, we get out as fast as we can. At the very least he’ll
know he’s not safe and it’ll give him something to think about. It’s not full proof,
but if you can think of a better plan I’m all ears.”

Taklinn could only shake his head somberly and admit that he had no better idea.

“Very well,” I said, standing up, “I am not to be disturbed for the next twenty-four
hours. Tomorrow at this same time we’ll leave for Finch. I’ll see you then!”

I stopped, suddenly remembering that I was not finished. Sitting back down, I
looked them over. “There’s one more thing.” I said.

“What is it?” Happy asked.
I looked across the table at Scylla, and the sorceress knew that I was about to spill
the beans. She seemed to steel herself for the worst.

“Last night,” I began, “Scylla came to me with news that you should all know.
She knows that I’m going to tell you, so I’m not speaking out of turn here.”

Griff’s eyes narrowed. “What?” He asked, dangerously.

“Well, apparently, it’s a matter of her lineage.” I said. “Specifically the identity of
her mother.”

“What are you trying to say, Doorag?” Taklinn asked.

“Uh, well, Scylla, why don’t you tell them who your mother was.” I said, looking
at her.

Scylla met the gazes of the others and did not flinch. “Her name was
Melesandre.” She said.

I will not go into the chaos that followed. Everyone spoke at once, and several
hands fell to weapon handles, but I shushed them and finally got their attention.

“Yes, she’s Melisandre’s daughter. Apparently she wishes to clear her family name,
or at least bring some semblance of honor back to it. She was able to circumvent
Taklinn’s ‘zone of truth’ by seeking out this Malika person and having the ‘geas’
spell she spoke of cast on her. In other words, she had herself geased so that she
could tell us one layer of the truth.”

Happy whistled under her breath, and I could tell that she was impressed with
Scylla’s machinations despite herself.

“So this Malika woman has no real axe to grind with us?” Taklinn asked.

“She has no love for you,” Scylla nodded, “And she would not mind seeing your
name sullied, but the idea was mine, not hers.”

“This is making my head hurt.” Griff intoned. “Why did you lie all this time, and
why are you coming clean now?”

“I’m tired of lying.” Scylla shrugged. “One lie leads to another and another.
Sooner or later you will uncover the truth, and when that happens, how will you
ever trust me. It is my only desire to bring some honor to my name, to make up for
some small part of the damage my mother caused. How better to do that than to aid
the very people who slew her? I decided, after coming so close to being found out
last night, to tell all and let the chips fall where they may. I’m tired of living behind
a veil of falsehoods.”

“And how do we know your telling the truth now?” Griff pressed on. “How do we
know your not just like your mother?”

“I never really knew my mother.” Scylla said. “I was raised by… others.”

“Where are you from?” Happy asked.

“I was raised on Edik.”

“Wait a minute.” Taklinn’s eyes narrowed and I could see that he had a hunch.
“What ‘others’ are you talking about? Who raised you?”

Scylla sighed. “I was raised by a yuan-ti couple.” She admitted.

“Was one of them female?” Taklinn hissed.

“Yes.”

“And her name was?”

Scylla paused for a long moment, and I knew the answer before she even said it.

“Sensesi.”

Another groan rose from the table and it was long minutes before order was
restored.

“Look,” I said, “She’s either telling the truth or this is another part of some
complicated web of lies. At this point I don’t know what to believe. I’m inclined to
give her the benefit of the doubt. She’s come clean when she didn’t have to, and I
can’t hold the sins of her mother against her. Besides that, she’s another spell caster,
and she could be very useful in the coming battle.”

“Or she might turn against us and spell our doom!” Happy countered.

“I can’t argue with that.” I agreed. “But the fact is, she’s geased herself to kill
Acessiwall. I’d rather we all tried it together rather than waste a potentially valuable
ally by letting her go alone and get herself killed. I’m not suggesting we trust
her entirely, but I say we let her accompany us until she gives us a solid reason not
to.”

“Whatever.” Griff spat. “I don’t care. Just know this: If you're thinking of
extracting some kind of vengeance for your witch of a mother, you’d better think
again. I killed her, and I’ll kill you too.”

Scylla smiled without humor and nodded. “Understood.”


Wlsn 20

The easy part of the plan has gone smoothly. I have learned ‘antimagic field’ and
we are now all in Finch. The townsfolk here are less than overjoyed to see us,
especially since we brought Taigel back into their midst, but we are spending the
majority of our time shut away in the single, tiny room the innkeeper has provided
for us. It is uncomfortable and cramped, but we should be used to such conditions
by now.

Scylla successfully scryed Helious yesterday, though her sensor didn’t last long
under his scrutiny. Still, she was able to get a look at his surroundings and will have
a chance to teleport there. Our strategy now is to simultaneously scry Helious in an
effort to find him in a place we both recognize so that we can both have a
reasonable assurance of teleporting to the same location. It would not do to port our
two groups into the lair only to be separated.

We are finding out that Helious is a slippery one, and obviously has
‘nondetection’ cast upon himself. Breaking through that barrier may prove a
difficult feat, for neither Scylla nor I was able to do so tonight. The crew stood
around us, ready to go, but we’ve had to call off the plan in favor of trying again
tomorrow night.

We have decided to attempt this in the wee hours of the night, hoping to catch
Helious at rest.

On another side note, I have explained another potential flaw in the plan to the
crew: the fact that there is a very real chance that either Scylla or I might teleport
erroneously, that either of us might take our group to the wrong location. There is
even the very small chance that we may find ourselves in a ‘teleportation loop’,
which is potentially fatal. Griff groaned at this news, but he is still set on going.


Wlsn 21

Another day of waiting around until dark to scry Helious, and another day wasted.
I am frustrated by my inability to break through his ‘nondetection’, but I know it’s
just a matter of time. I only hope my crew shares a little of my patience.


Wlsn 22

A third day of failed scrying, and I can tell that the crew is going stir crazy. There
is little to do in Finch at the best of times, and poor Taigel cannot even leave the
room without one of us to accompany him for fear of causing general panic
amongst the townsfolk.


Wlsn 23

It began as it has the last three days, with the crew gathered around my small table
as I peered into my crystal ball, focusing my ‘scry’ spell into it and seeking out
Helious. This was my third attempt of the evening, and they were all expecting a
repeat performances of our previous nights as they lounged around and spoke
quietly amongst themselves. Taigel had excused himself to use the chamber pot,
unfortunately at a very inopportune moment.

The mist cleared, my focus sharpened, and there he was! My sensor hovered
above his form, swathed in blankets on a simple cot in a small chamber. My
excitement showed on my face, and the crew immediately stood up, knowing that
this might be our time.

Helious sat bolt upright in his bed, obviously aware of my sensor. His
annoyance was apparent on his face, and he hastily cast a dispel at it… only to have
it fail! I chuckled at the rage and frustration on his face when he realized he’d been
thwarted, but my laughter quickly died in my throat as I saw him disappear without
a single gesture of movement of his lips. He can cast without speaking? I wondered
to myself. That put another kink in my plan, for if he could cast silently it meant
that the boys had little chance of keeping him from casting even if they managed to
tackle him. Covering his mouth would not prevent him from teleporting if he had
such an enhanced version of the spell prepared, which he obviously did.

I cursed. “He’s gone!”

A groan rose from all of us, and it seemed as if we had been stymied again. How
would we ever get the drop on him? But Scylla was not ready to give up. “We could
still go in!” She suggested, excitedly, “We could steal his things, maybe set him
back a little. And perhaps I can leave my familiar in his chambers. It would be easy
to scry my familiar, and we wouldn’t have to keep trying to scry Helious!”

“That’s a bad idea.” I said. “If he finds your viper, which he more than likely will,
he’ll…” But I never had a chance to finish my sentence. Scylla said the words I
knew only too well, and was gone.

“Holy…!” I sputtered, “She’s gone in!”

“What? That crazy wench!” Griff exclaimed.

“Quick, Taklinn, cast what you need to, we’re going in!” I withdrew my wand
and cast from it, ‘hasting’ the lot of us as Taklinn hurriedly hit himself with an
enhancing spell. As one, we grasped hands and I cast my own teleport, crossing my
fingers and hoping for the best.

As we disappeared I wondered what Taigel would think when he returned from
the chamber pot to find us missing. Perhaps Ambros would somehow be able to
explain as I had decided to leave him at the inn.

The four of us reappeared in a tiny, doorless, stone cell that I immediately
recognized as the room I had seen Helious in. His unkempt bed still stood in the
corner, and a sturdy, metal chest squatted in another. In a third corner was a gently
smoking brassier, and in the last corner there stood a low desk at which Scylla stood
franticly going through drawers. Helious was nowhere to be seen, and I breathed a
sigh of relief at our having arrived safely and accurately.

We spread out, Griff and Taklinn drawing weapons and putting their backs to the
wall in case we suddenly had company. Happy made straight for the chest and
examined it. “Hmm,” She muttered, “Magical trap.”

I was already casting, and in a second the antimagic field was up, filling nearly
the entire room. I felt suddenly naked within such a field, but I knew it probably
offered the best protection I could ever ask for. I went to stand next to Hap and she
smiled, for she no longer saw any evidence of the magical trap. She lifted the lid
carefully and we both gasped at the plethora of items contained within. Quickly she
began tossing them to Griff, who stood outside of the field and began to deposit the
goods in his bag of holding.

Scylla was apparently trying to pry open the false bottom of a drawer, and soon
she produced several tightly rolled scrolls. Taklinn, meanwhile, was poking around
the room. Looking under the bed, he noticed something and reached for it. He
gasped as his hand encountered an invisible, fleshy object. He motioned me over
and I stepped toward the center of the room so that both the object he’d found and
the chest Happy was emptying were in the field.

Once the invisibility that masked Taklinn’s find was suppressed, we were all
treated to a shock. It was a body! What’s more, it bore a striking resemblance to
Helious! I examined it closely and realized what it was.

“Destroy it!” I said. “It’s a clone; his back up plan in case he dies. If we managed
to kill him, his soul would enter this body and he’d be back in action.”

Griff grinned as he drove his sword through the lifeless body’s heart, spilling
greenish ichor across the floor.

Hap had just finished clearing out the chest, and Scylla was satisfied that the desk
contained no further treasures, when it happened.

Helious returned, blinking into the room, already working his hands in an attempt
to cast. On the opposite side of the room another figure appeared. He looked very
much like Taigel, except that he bore an aura of malevolence that positively
radiated off of him. He was a half-dragon, another spawn of Acessiwall, no doubt,
and he held a truly wicked looking sword in his hand. An evil grin spread across his
face, and he looked prepared for murder.

But Hap was incredibly fast. She let loose with a handful of daggers, the last
leaving her hand even before the first hit. All three of them sank into the half-
dragon with meaty thunks as they pierced his throat, groin, and abdomen. He
grunted and swayed a bit, and I could tell that she’d hurt him bad. He swung around
on her, and I could see hate in his eyes.

Meanwhile, Helious must have finally realized that he’d made the fatal error of
porting into an anti magic field, for his eyes widened in horror as he found himself
helpless to fend off Taklinn, who was standing right next to the mage. Despite
Taklinn’s reservations about slaying Helious, he must have realized that he was still
far from innocent or incapacitated. Our dwarf swung first one axe, then the other,
connecting twice, leaving deep and gory wounds on Helious’ chest and thigh. The
wizard looked for running room but found none. As for me, I was in the center of
the room, far too close to the half-dragon for my likening. I quickly scurried under
the bed, leaving the half of the room containing Hap and the half-dragon out of the
field.

I saw Griff’s eyes glance from the half-dragon to the Helious. “Kill the wizard!” I
screamed. “We won’t get another chance!” Thank all the gods that Griff listened.
He took a step forward, closing the distance between himself and Helious, and
unloaded on the wizard with everything he had. Once, twice, three times, the Talon
bit into Helious. Blood sprayed across the stone walls, and just like that, our
wizardly foe lay dead.

We were not out of the woods yet, for the half-dragon was now out of the field. In
a heartbeat he was upon Happy and slashed his sword across her as quick as
thought. Our roguish friend yelped in pain as she tried to dodge, and I could tell that
she was barely standing, which made what happened next all the more unfortunate.

Scylla raced across the room to get out of the field and fired off a ‘scorching ray’
at the half-dragon. But, much like her shooting against the golems, her aim was
poor. The first two rays struck the half-dragon, but the third landed on Happy, and
with a moan, she fell to the floor.

“NO!” Screamed Griff, and he and Taklinn were already moving toward the half-dragon.
Taklinn landed an axe, but it was Griff’s strike that downed the horrid warrior. His dragon
bane sword came around, driven by the full weight of his fury,and the half-dragon’s head
went sailing across the room, careening off a wall and bouncing across the floor.

Before the half-dragon’s body had even fallen to the floor, Griff was dragging
Taklinn to Hap’s body.

“Fix her!” He demanded. Taklinn knelt at her side and detected some life still
within her. He quickly cast his most powerful healing magic, and Happy opened her
eyes.

“Did we win?” She asked, with a crooked grin.

Griff wheeled around to glare at Scylla. He pointed his bloody blade at her and
hissed through clenched teeth. “Don’t ever do that again. Ever!”

“It was an accident!” Scylla cried defensively.

“I’ve about had it with your accidents.” Happy grumbled, fingering the rips in her
clothing left by the sword blows. “Maybe you shouldn’t fire into combat if you’re
that bad a shot!”

“Maybe you shouldn’t stand so near where I’m shooting!” Scylla replied
petulantly.

“Shut up!” Griff cut her off. “Your lucky I don’t drop you where you stand!”

“All right, all right!” I said, “Break it up! Let’s strip these clowns and get out of
here!” I dismissed the field and felt my magic’s return to me.

Within moments we had taken everything of value from the bodies of the dead.
After a last search of the room, we clasped hands and teleported out. Scylla made
straight for Havilah while I stopped off in Finch to retrieve a very befuddled Taigel
and Ambros. Both were full of questions.

“I’ll fill you in when we get home.” I assured them, and we were gone.

So now we are back in Havilah, surveying our treasures and going back over the
battle. Luck was on our side tonight, for had Helious not left his chambers before
we’d arrived, the chances of casting the field before he teleported away would have
been quite slim. And though Scylla’s impetuousness is frustrating, I must admit
that, had she not gone off on her own to Helious’ chambers, we probably would not
have gone at all. I can’t say that I like the fact that so much of the battle came down
to luck, but I won’t let it sour our victory either. I feel as if we’ve delivered a major
blow to Acessiwall, and the old wurm must be seething with rage tonight.

On another lucky note, the antimagic field turned out to help us in more ways than
one. I forgot to mention that when I slid under the bed, I pulled the field away from
the chest. As soon as it’s magic’s functioned again, it had disappeared! No doubt,
had Hap opened that chest while not in the field, it would have ported away, taking
all it’s treasures with it.

And what treasures they are! Several scrolls, a wand, a necklace, a magical pearl,
a pair of bracers, not to mention the headband we found on Helious, as well as a
ring. The half-dragon also had his share of items, including his armor, shield, and
that terrible looking sword. Two fat bags of coin also clink upon the table, but the
most exciting find of all is the book that now sits next to me. I have yet to open it,
for I must make sure that it’s protective magics are dealt with first, but my gut
instinct tells me that this is Helious’ spell book! I will not be able to sleep tonight
for wondering what it contains!


Wlsn 25

Helious is out of the way, and thus the real work begins.

I have spent the better part of yesterday and today analyzing the items we
liberated from Helious. We divided them up at during our lunch this afternoon, and
I think everyone was quite pleased with our haul. Scylla did extremely well, taking a
pair of armor bracers of the highest enchantment, as well as a wand of ‘dispel
magic’, Helious’ crystal ball, and several scrolls. Taklinn kept Helious’ headband of
intellect and a nicely enchanted ring of protection. We all made a fair amount of
gold off the sale of a few items, as well as gold we found in the wizard’s room, but
it was I who made out the best (at least in my opinion). There is the 4 level pearl
of power, which I like very much, but it is the book that has given me the most joy.

After seeking Nivin Motel’s aid to break the protective magic’s that warded the
book, I found it, not only to be a spellbook, but a highly enchanted one at that, for,
while it looks and feels like a normal book, it contains ten times the amount of
pages that a normal spellbook could, with 444 of them being full.

Just skimming the book tells me that there are over eighty spells contained in it, at
least half of which I do not already have, as well as a handful that I am not even
sufficiently powerful enough yet to cast.

The curse of too little time! I have so much work to do, yet my eyes keep
returning to this wondrous new find. So many spells, yet I do not even have half of
the days needed to learn the ones I want to.

But I know that time is of the essence. Chances are we will be here for at least
another month before we move against Acessiwall. I still have Hap’s gloves to
finish, though I intend to scribe several scrolls before I get to them, which is why I
have been holed up in my lab all afternoon, franticly scribbling the words onto
paper. I intend to scribe five ‘stone skin’ spells, at least as many ‘protection from
energies’ and a handful of ‘fly’ spells. All of these will be invaluable against
Acessiwall, and I feel that facing him with the chance of these spells not being
readily available would be tantamount to suicide.

Least I forget to mention: the sword we took from the body of the dead half
dragon turned out to be a highly magical blade of life stealing. Not only that, the
thing was sentient, and evil! While it pained me to hear him say it, I could but agree
with Taklinn when he insisted we destroy it. There was some grumbling among the
ranks, but in the end I used an ‘unseen servant’ (for I dared not touch it) to prop it
against a wall so that Taklinn could break it.

Then it spoke to us! An unearthly voice issued from the blade, pleading with us
not to kill it, promising at once to forgo its evil ways, and to impart on its wielder
power untold.

But Taklinn was not to be swayed, and he made to snap it. Scylla was only too
happy to point out this bit of perceived hypocrisy, wondering aloud why our cleric
would balk at the notion of slaying a helpless Helious, but have no qualms with
killing whatever being possessed the sword. Taklinn argued that swords did not
have souls, but Griff denied that, reminding us all the Everyman’s Blade certainly
had certainly contained the soul of Roland.

The arguing went back and forth, but at last I took a stand. The sword was simply
too evil and too powerful to let live, and I have no moral objections to executing
evil, no matter it’s state. If Taklinn would not break it, I declared that I would take
it to the forge and have it melted down myself.

Taklinn’s axe sundered the evil sword, which shrieked out it’s defiance as it died.
I took it to the forge for good measure.


Rchfst 5

We are well into Richfest, yet I have taken no time out to enjoy the revelry. There
is still too much work to be done.

I have been attempting to scry Acessiwall again, but he is proving to be a difficult
target. Not only is he extremely resistant to spells, his mind is terribly strong, and
thus he shrugs off every attempt I make. I will keep trying, but my hope is slim.


Rchfst 7

The ‘stone skin’ and ‘pro energy’ scrolls are complete. I will begin work on Hap’s
gloves in the morning, and if there is still time when they are through I will scribe
the ‘flys’. I need a break from scribing!


Rping 16

I have failed to enter a word into this journal for sixteen days, and now that I
finally allow myself a moment to do so I find myself too exhausted to write much at
all.

These past days have been spent in raising Happy’s gloves of dexterity to their
fullest potential, and though it may be superfluous, their enchantment may be the
difference between her hitting Acessiwall or not. Every small bit will count.

I must also admit to a certain amount of pride at having raised them to such a
degree, and the look on her face when she tried them on tonight assured me that it
was time well spent.


Rping 17

The ‘fly’ scrolls will have to wait one more day. I have instead elected to learn a
new spell. “Arcane Eye’ is a spell that I have been neglecting to take for too long,
and today I have rectified that. I am learning that divinations can be our best tool to
defeat our enemies. Fireballs are nice, but an invisible spy is invaluable. I plan to
put this spell to good use once we enter Acessiwall’s lair.

I also intend to use tomorrow to learn ‘greater heroism’, as I believe it might give
Griff the edge he needs against the dragon’s tough hide.


Rping 21

At last, they are done. The ‘fly’ spells are on paper. Even Ambros is sick to death
of the crafting and scribing process, and Griff is positively climbing the walls with
impatience.

I told the crew at dinner tonight that my work was complete, that we could depart
for the snowy north tomorrow, but Scylla has been busy. She explained to Taklinn
tonight that there was still the matter of Malika, the high priestess of Wee Jas to
contend with. She swears the Malika still wishes to sully Taklinn’s name, and that
she can take him to her. But Taklinn only partially bit on this bait. Scylla would not
tell us why she chose now to tell Taklinn this, she just seemed very adamant that we
deal with her soon. Taklinn chose to report the existence of the secret church to the
city officials and leave it at that. We have bigger fish to fry.

Scylla was disappointed, and the more I know her the less I trust her. She may not
be evil, but I find it difficult to believe that she has out best interests at heart. I don’t
know what her game is, but I fear for the day we find out.

She is her mothers daughter.

So it has been decided: we will leave Havilah first thing in the morning. Happy,
Griff and I intend to stop first in the Green Mountains to visit Hap’s family for a
few hours before we continue on to Finch (via teleports) where we will meet up
with Taklinn, Taigel and Scylla. Though she has not said as much, I have a
sneaking hunch that Happy wishes to properly introduce Griff to her parents.

I have just tried scrying Acessiwall again, and still no luck. His spell resistance is
too strong, his mind too slippery. Scylla has also been trying, with the same results.
It is very frustrating.

No matter. Soon we will face him head on!


Rping 22

We awoke before dawn this morning, our gear already packed and ready to go.
Gathering outside the Academy’s rear entrance, Scylla reminded us once again of
the threat of Malika in what I can only assume was a last ditch effort to divert our
plans, but we would have none of it. Taklinn and Taigel merely shouldered their
packs and reached for her hands, telling her to hurry up and get them to Finch.

I was a little worried for the boys. After all, if Scylla truly wanted to do us harm,
she could accomplish plenty of it while teleporting us. The thought of her porting to
a spot miles above the ground and letting them fall crossed my mind briefly, but
then I remembered that Taklinn can use his ‘word of recall’, and Taigel has wings. I
sighed and tried to put it out of my mind. Scylla is an odd duck, and I doubt I will
ever trust her entirely, but we cannot let fear rule our lives. Besides, her magic will
be vital to our coming mission, especially her teleportation abilities.

With a frown and a word, she disappeared, taking the two with her. I held out my
own hands to Happy and Griff, and seconds later we stood in the town square of a
tiny village of halflings nestled in the shadow of the Green Mountains. I had been
scrying Hap’s father for several days, and thus knew this location quite well and
had little trouble getting there accurately.

Our abrupt arrival in the little village prompted a great deal of excitement,
especially when the folk realized that their favorite daughter had come home. A
chorus of “Happy is back! Happy is here!” could be heard from every direction, and
we were immediately surrounded by dozens of greenie children, and at least half as
many adults, all talking, laughing, and greeting us at once.

We spent the better part of the day enjoying the hospitality of Happy’s home
village. For such a tiny community, these folk celebrate like a town three times its
size. Within a few hours a full blown feast was well under way and we were given
positions of honor at one of the dozens of tables set up outside to accommodate
everyone. There was roast boar and venison, plenty of fowl, and plates piled high
with fresh fruit and vegetables, not to mention some of the best breads I have ever
put in my mouth, as well as three whole tables devoted entirely to desserts. It’s been
a long time since I had dirtberry pie like that.

The whole thing was quite pleasant, though I became a bit melancholy toward the
end as the sights and sounds reminded me of my own home and the fact that I have
yet to visit my family. I began to feel quite a bit of guilt, knowing that I had little
excuse for not having popped by my own village for a chance to catch up with mom
and dad. I have been so wrapped up in the defense of Havilah and the study of the
arcane that I have neglected my family, and I vowed right then and there to make
the time for a visit as soon as opportunity allowed.

At any rate, we were treated like royalty. Happy is a local celebrity and her
friends and relatives (of which she has a never ending supply) pressed her for
stories of her adventures while Griff played with the children. For such a gruff
fellow Griff has a soft spot for them, and thank goodness he does, for he was able to
divert their attention from me. Children make me quite uncomfortable, and I was
content to sit and observe the party from my seat. Most of the greenies gave me a
courteous space after they found out who I was. Halfling wizards are an anomaly at
best, and these folk, while respectful and friendly, obviously had little clue as to
how to take me. I was left alone for the most part, which suited me fine.

At one point I observed Griffin and Happy’s father break away from the gathering
for a stroll around the village. I can only assume that the two were discussing Griff
and Hap’s upcoming nuptials, and the thought of Griff asking Happy’s dad for
permission to marry his daughter brought a smile to my face. It’s always fun to see
the big warrior a little uncomfortable. When the pair returned, Happy and her
mother joined them briefly, and I could tell that things had gone reasonably well.

By late noon I began to hint that it was time to go, but it would be three more
hours before we were allowed to. When we finally teleported away, it was with a
basket full of fruit, three pies and a loaf of still warm bread. Hap’s mother wept and
her father shook mine and Griff’s hands, wishing us well. I don’t know if Hap told
her parents where we were going.

We arrived in Finch seconds later, greeted by the now familiar cold shoulder of
the folk there. We found Taklinn, Scylla and Taigel safe and sound at the inn.
Taklinn and Scylla were embroiled in yet another of their philosophical arguments,
and it seems to me that the sorceress delights in pulling our cleric into rhetorical
discussions that tax his faith. By the time we arrived Taklinn’s face was red and his
voice was loud while Scylla demurely countered his points with wry smiles and
circular logic. I could already see that it was talk merely for the sake of talk and I
rolled my eyes and left them to it, electing instead to study my book and call it an
early night. Tomorrow will see us at Acessiwall’s lair, if all goes well, and I want to
be well rested for that.

Taigel assures us that he knows the location of a spot in the Mectcliff mountains
where Helious had told him to come should he ever want to join with his father. We
have to assume that the entrance to Acessiwall’s lair is near there. The plan is for
Taklinn to ‘wind walk’ the rest of the crew there, after which I will scry them and
port to their location. From there it will be a matter of searching for an entrance.


Rping 23

Today has been long and frustrating, and we find ourselves back in Finch tonight
with little to go on other than some small hope for a plan.

All went according to the script this morning. Taklinn wind walked himself,
Taigel, Hap and Griffin to the spot pointed out in the Mectcliff mountains by
Taigel. Soon after, I scryed them and ported myself and Scylla to their location. We
found ourselves at the base of a sheer cliff some three hundred feet high with a
frozen river flowing from within it. Only the portion of the river where the water
met the cliffs base remained unfrozen due to the violent movement of the water, and
we surmised at first that following the river upstream might lead us into
Acessiwall’s lair. Unfortunately the water allowed no space between rock and water
to investigate with my ‘arcane eye’, and the thought of jumping in and trying to
swim upstream through an underwater tunnel of unknown length appealed to no
one.

Instead, we elected to search the cliff more thoroughly, and to that end I took to
the skies, flying in an ever widening circle in an attempt to spot a cave mouth or
some other entrance. Griff hiked along the base of the cliff looking for the same. He
found nothing, but he did manage to stir up a small creature from it’s lair in the
snow. He called a warning as the creature leapt from the snow and made a mad dash
for the river and we all got a good look at it, though I was unable to identify what it
was. It appeared to be no more than three feet tall, very thin, and perhaps made
entirely of ice. It scampered to the base of the cliff and dove into the river without
hesitation. The last we saw of it was when it disappeared beneath the water,
presumably to swim under the cliff.

Still having no way to follow it, we continued our search of the cliff, and it was
Scylla, also air born, who finally stumbled upon something. Some fifty feet above
the ground, camouflaged against the cliff face with a large, white, fur, she found a
cave entrance. It was quite well concealed, for I had looked right at the spot several
times and had managed to miss it.

We gathered on the snow below the cave and I had my first chance to use my
‘arcane eye’, casting it and sending the spy through a tiny opening between the cliff
and the fur. My ‘eye’ traveled through a wide tunnel adorned with stalactites and
stalagmites, following it for only fifty or so feet before rounding a bend to find a
creature that I was now quite familiar with. It was a cryohydra. A big one. This
hydra sported twelve heads, though I soon realized that it was not so much a
predator as a guardian, for as I circled the thing I noticed a thick chain attached to a
heavy collar around the base of it’s necks. The opposite end of the chain was
securely set into the wall of the cavern.

I saw no other exits from this chamber and surmised that there must
be some secret passageway hidden here and guarded by the hydra. I told the crew
what I had seen, and they agreed. We used our flying magic’s to raise the six of us
to the cave mouth where we discussed potential plans for dealing with the beast,
and it was decided that there could be no harm in letting Scylla try her ‘magic jar’
spell again. The sorceress laid down on the cave floor and breathed deeply,
whispering the words to the spell. We watched as her life essence departed her
body, only this time she did not immediately return. Moments passed and still she
did not stir. We could only hope that she had been successful.

Happy, Taklinn, and Griff edged forward to investigate, with Happy taking the
lead, searching the ground for traps. Unfortunately, she missed the ones that lay in
wait for us. She had a twenty foot lead, and as soon as Taklinn and Griff put their
weight on a section of floor she had just passed over, it fell away beneath them to
reveal an icy shaft that led down to certain doom. Thankfully Griff still had the ‘fly’
spell on him that Scylla had cast in order to raise him to the cave, and Taklinn has
his winged shield. Both of them barely managed to escape the fall and they landed
on the opposite side as the floor section slowly lifted itself back into place.

I had been about to follow, but now I wasn’t so sure, electing instead to hang back
with Taigel and Scylla’s body.

Hap continued to search for traps, and continued to miss them! No sooner had
Taklinn and Griff caught up to a spot she declared was safe, than a massive blast of
magical fire filled the area! Hap managed to roll to safety, but both Taklinn and
Griff suffered terribly from the flames. I gulped, knowing that that single trap
would have been the end for me.

Taklinn grumbled something about halflings in general, but quickly cast his
healing spells on himself and Griff. Before long they were ready to venture ahead
again.

No more traps lay in wait, and soon they faced an impatient hydra, one of it’s
huge claws drumming the ice floor in anticipation. As I flew after them it became
obvious to me, just from the look on the hydra’s twelve faces, that Scylla did indeed
reside in the creatures body.

We set about searching the cave, and to our dismay, found nothing! Apparently
the hydra and his cave were a red herring, for no secret entrances to Acessiwall’s
lair could be found. Nothing but a few old bones were revealed to us, and we cursed
in frustration. Happy picked the lock that held the hydra chained to the wall, and
Scylla lumbered about in her hydra body, trying to communicate with nods or
shakes of her dozen heads, which was comical to say the least.

Taklinn was all for re-chaining the hydra to the wall and leaving it alone, though
the rest of us were not comfortable with leaving such a beast behind. Scylla flatly
refused to let herself be chained again, and she finally lumbered down the tunnel to
the pit trap. Once there, she leapt onto the hinged floor and let the hydra fall while
she exited it and returned to her own body. We heard a ground shaking thud and a
dozen hisses of pain and rage. The fall did not kill it, but it could not escape the
sheer pit. We felt a bit bad about leaving it to such a fate, but Taklinn reasoned that
it would at least not starve, figuring that, since it could regenerate, it would eat it’s
own heads and that they would simply grow back. I am not so sure, but if it lets
him rest easy at night, who am I to discourage his rationalization.

We descended back to the snow again and continued our search, spending the rest
of the day combing the cliff face and the surrounding area. At dusk we gave up in
frustration. We had found nothing, and it looked more and more as if the only way
into the cliff would be to follow the river upstream. We bandied about ideas on how
to do so, and I proposed that a ‘passwall’ spell might do the trick. The only problem
was, I did not actually know the spell. However, ‘passwall’ is contained within
Helious’ book. Given twenty-four hours, I could learn it and we could be on our
way.

The rest of the crew sighed at the notion of still further delays, but no better ideas
were forthcoming. With a last look at the cliff, we ported back to Finch where I set about
learning the spell.


Rping 24

I was taking a short break for lunch this afternoon from learning the spell,
‘passwall’, when Scylla joined us at the table. She excitedly plunked down a sheet
of parchment on the table with a hastily drawn map of a room.

“That’s where it is!” She exclaimed.

“That’s where what is?” Griff asked through a mouthful of mutton.

“The creature we saw yesterday!” She answered proudly. “It took me some time,
but I managed to scry it! There’s a whole pack of them, but they are pretty small,
and I got a good look at the room they’re in. I’m pretty sure I can teleport there.
Even Doorag will have a good chance!”

“What?” I cried, “What about the ‘passwall’ idea? I’m right in the middle of
learning the blasted thing!”

“Well, this way we don’t have to worry about whether or not the ‘passwall’ will
extend far enough, and we’ll also have some element of surprise. Come on, we can
do it!”

Griff looked doubtful but said nothing. Happy looked at Griff. Taklinn eyed the
map thoughtfully, as did Taigel.

“It might not be such a bad idea.” Taklinn said at last. “We can’t count on the
‘passwall’ to get us in as far as we need; you told us that yourself, Doorag.”

I sighed. “You're right. I guess I’m willing to give it a try, though remember that
our chances of teleporting accurately are only about seventy-five percent. I’m up for
giving it a go, but not until tomorrow. Now that I’m already halfway through
leaning this spell I’ll be darned if I’m going to stop now. Griff, what do you think?”

“Seventy-five percent, you say?” Griff answered slowly.

“Yes, about that.”

Griff scratched his chin, and I could tell that his internal battle was over a course
of action that might lead only to more waiting and reliance of spells, or the chance
for immediate battle with Acessiwall’s forces. In the end, his warrior side won out,
and he nodded his acceptance of the plan. Scylla grinned broadly and we vowed to
depart first thing tomorrow.


Rping 25

Last night, after my journal entry, I attempted my own scry of the small ice
creature and his lair, based on Scylla’s description. It was very little to go on, but
without having seen the creature at least once I would have no chance at all of
porting to his location.

To my surprise, it worked, and I was able to view the creature through my crystal
ball for several minutes. I studied the room he was in and watched as several more
of the ice creatures wandered by him. There seemed to be quite a few of them, but
they did not appear to be too dangerous.

Though I am not foolish enough to let looks deceive me. I’m sure that many
would say that I don’t look dangerous.

I looked at Scylla over my crystal ball when the scry had ended. “What do you
suppose they are?” I asked.

“Ice mephits?” She shrugged, taking a guess.

“Hmmm,” I said thoughtfully, “I don’t know much about them.”

“Neither do I.” She replied. “But I don’t think they’re too bad.”

I frowned. “I hope you're right.”

So it was that we gathered this morning for a ‘hero’s feast’ conjured by Taklinn.
A mighty fine spell, that. Not only does it provide an excellent meal, he tells us that it will
negate the fear effects of Acessiwall should we meet him today.

We split into two groups. I would port in with Griff and Happy, and Scylla would
take Taklinn and Taigel. I was as nervous as Griff usually is over teleporting, but
Scylla seemed all to eager to get on with it. She wore a reckless grin and I hoped
against hope that she knew what she was doing. We wished each other luck and
began our casting, timing our teleports so that we would reach our destination
simultaneously. The innkeeper watched with a scowl. By now he was used to our
coming and going in such a manner, but I doubted he would ever approve of such
things in his establishment. We had paid him well though, and he merely waited for
us to disappear so that he could clear our table.

I spoke the final word of my spell and we were gone. Just as quickly, we
reappeared in a cold room with a pair of massive ice pillars supporting the ceiling.
A quick look around showed far more of the small ice creatures than I had
originally seen, not to mention a massive beast squatting in a far corner that I
quickly identified as a paraelemental. There were at lest a dozen and a half of the
ice mephits (if indeed that’s what they were), but the paraelemental gave me far
greater pause. It was huge, and resembled a frozen wave of water adorned with
hundreds of icy spines.

There was no sign of Scylla, Taigel or Taklinn.

There was no time to wonder where our companions were. We had the element of
surprise and we used it to our full advantage. Happy had long ago become the proud
owner of a necklace of fireballs, and she had been waiting for just such an
opportunity to use it. Pulling one of the beads free, she hurled it into the midst of a
group of mephits. A wave of searing heat washed over us as it exploded into a ball
of magical flame. When it was gone, nothing remained of several mephits but
misshapen chunks of melting ice.

Taking my cue from her I quickly read off a ‘fireball’ of my own from a scroll,
killing another handful of mephits. Griff stepped toward a mephit and it shattered
under his blade.

Happy threw a second bead straight at the paraelemental, but it seemed to do
little, and the strange creature glided forward, hammering at her with it’s spines.
She danced away, suffering only a minor wound before Griff put himself between
her and the creature.

The remaining mephits scrabbled toward us, surrounding us and breathing cones
of frozen breath that chilled me to the bone. The damage was minimal, but I knew
they must be dealt with. I read from a second scroll, this one containing a fireball of
less than full capacity. I centered it on myself, knowing that it might damage my
friends as well, but taking the chance of killing the rest of the mephits.

My gamble paid off. My mantle protected me, as did Griff’s armor for him.
Happy rolled out of the area with ease, taking nary a scorch. When the blast
dissipated not a single mephit remained.

I looked franticly about me. Still no Scylla, Taklinn or Taigel. I could only
assume that her teleport had not worked.

Griff hacked away at the paraelemental, his sword biting off huge chunks of the
things icy body, but still it came. Happy tried to hit it with her daggers, but they did
little. I cast ‘fly’ on myself an became airborne just as our erstwhile companions
showed up.

Scylla, Taigel and Taklinn appeared in the room without fanfare, and I could tell
by the look on Taklinn’s face that he was not pleased. He had no time to voice his
displeasure, however, for Scylla’s teleport had deposited him only a few feet from
the paraelemental. He wasted no breath, for his axes were already in his hand. He
made to attack the thing, but fortune did not smile upon him. He slipped on a patch
of ice and fell to the floor with a curse. Taigel ran around behind the creature and
slashed away at it with his two short swords, dealing it some damage, but not
downing it. Scylla backed away, casting a ‘scorching ray’ that seemed to do nothing
more than enrage the thing. It turned it’s full fury on Griff, slamming at him with
tremendous power. Once, twice, three times it’s spiny arms connected with our
warrior, and down he went. Griff was sent spinning to the floor, and Hap screamed
his name. I took a sharp breath, for Griff did not move.

To make matters worse, one of the doors in the room burst opened and in charged
a two-headed beast that I immediately recognized as an ettin. The giant made straight
for Hap, bashing her with it’s club, nearly taking her down. She groaned in pain as she
danced back, letting fly with her daggers at it.

Taklinn, back on his feet, and Taigel renewed their efforts on the paraelemental,
each of them connecting, but still it stood. I knew that we had to kill the thing; that
we had to focus our efforts on a single foe. I also knew that Taklinn must get to
Griff soon.

I fired off my ‘conjuring bolt’ at the elemental. It was the one spell I had that
would bypass its spell resistance, and I prayed it would be enough. Ten small
missiles slammed into the creature, and to my great relief, it shattered into a
thousand pieces.

I turned my attention to the ettin, but to my surprise it was waving it’s arms.
“Don’t attack!” It shouted, “It’s me!” I looked to where Scylla had stood and saw
her limp body on the floor. I immediately understood that she had ‘magic jared’
herself into the ettin’s body, and she smiled at me with both heads.

“Griff!” Happy screamed, racing for her companion. She knelt down at his side
even as Taklinn did the same. Our cleric felt for a heartbeat and his face looked
grim.

Panic showed in Hap’s eyes as she watched Taklinn. Our cleric pressed his
fingers to Griff’s throat for a second, feeling for his life pulse, and at last, he
breathed a sigh of relief.

“He lives.” He said.

“Well don’t just sit there, heal him!” Hap exclaimed.

Taklinn did just that, laying his hands on Griff and allowing Clangeden’s power
to course through him. Within seconds Griff’s broken bones mended and his cuts
closed. He stirred and his eyes fluttered open. A moment later he stood, good as
new. I silently thanked the gods that Griff had gotten over his notion of not wanting
Taklinn to heal him anymore.

We set about searching the room, finding little except for an adjoining room that
had been the ettin’s, and a second door that lead out to a deserted corridor some
twenty feet wide. An antechamber lay between us and the corridor, and after some
searching we found that it’s floor bore a strange and magical rune. Happy surmised
that it might be a trap and was somehow connected to an unmarked leaver she had
found in the paraelemental room. We stood well away as she tested the leaver.
Upon pulling it the antechamber was immediately filled with a ‘force cage’. A nasty
bit of business that would have been had we gotten ourselves trapped in that!

Scylla, still in the ettin’s body, carried her own lifeless body into the corridor and we
followed, gathering to decide which way to go next. Before us stood a massive set
of double doors while the corridor led left and right before curving off into the
unknown. It seemed a perfect time to use my ‘arcane eye’ spell, and I did so,
casting it and concentrating. I sent my invisible spy to the south and it traveled
around the bend which began to slope upwards. It spiraled around in an ever
increasing ramp until it emptied into a chamber full of doors. An ice golem stood
sentry there, still as a statue. I held my breath, waiting for the golem to come to life,
but apparently it either did not sense the ‘eye’ or was not set to bother with such
things. It simply stood there.

I could find no way beyond the doors with my eye, so I turned it around and
brought it back to myself, sending it the opposite direction. Down the corridor it
floated, rounding another bend, this time descending down a spiral ramp for about
one hundred feet. At the bottom it emptied into a room similar to the one I had seen
previously. A golem stood here as sentry, and again, did not move. This room,
however, had but one exit, an open tunnel, and I steered the eye through it.

Down hallways it went, spying on a group of six ogres mining for ice before
heading deeper into the complex. Past several closed doors it went, following
corridors and exploring intersections before finding a couple of passageways that
ended in what appeared to be abandoned mines. I back tracked the eye, finding
another corridor and followed it. I saw a small chamber guarded by five more ogres,
and beyond that another mine, only this one being worked by apparent slaves of
several races that included humans and dwarves. I gasped inwardly as I saw what
they were mining.

Diamonds!

I had gone as far as the eye would allow, and thus I let the spell end, quickly
getting out a piece of parchment and sketching a map from memory. I held it up to
the crew, but they were already at work investigating the set of double doors that
blocked our way. I shrugged, figuring that we would search beyond the door
eventually, so why not now?

Happy picked the lock on the doors and Scylla put her now considerable ettin
strength into it, opening them to reveal a corridor that traveled some fifty feet only
to end at another pair of double doors. On the right wall were two more sets of
doors, with another on the left.

Cautiously Scylla and Hap made their way to the first set of doors on the right,
and before long Happy announced that they were trap free. It took some doing from
Griff and Scylla, for the doors were stuck fast, but eventually they forced them open
into a comfortable room complete with a bed and a magical brazier that heated the
area. Another set of double doors led from the room to the west.

While Griff and Scylla investigated the room, Happy picked the lock on the doors
to our left (in the corridor) and opened them. She and I looked in to see a storage
chamber filled with shelves and trunks. The smell of must wafted over us, and I
whispered to her that it looked like no one had ventured in here for a long time.
Happy entered to poke around a bit while I stood watch at the doors. No sooner had
she prodded a pile of moldy blankets than a massive centipede crawled forth,
snapping its mandibles at her. Happy was no fool, and she quickly retreated after
hurling a dagger at the thing, but more of the fifteen foot long insects were crawling
out of their hiding places. I quickly counted five of them, and called to Scylla and
Griff for some help. I considered casting a spell, but reasoned that Scylla may as
well put her borrowed body to good use. Scylla and Griff entered into battle with
the centipedes, and were soon joined by Taklinn as well. Taigel stood watch at the
first set of double doors, and I saw that it irked him to be left out of the fight, but he
was also standing guard over Scylla’s real body.

He did not miss much though, for Scylla, Griff and Taklinn easily slew the
centipedes. I was content to watch as they chopped the big insects into pieces, and
Happy was already searching the room with the brazier while our warriors were at
work. By the time the last centipede stopped moving Hap had declared that the
room contained nothing except a fiendish trap of some sort. She could not tell
exactly what it did, but she could point out dozens of tiny holes in the ceiling, and
said that they were somehow connected to the bed.

It was a sleeping dog we decided to let lie for the moment as Scylla and Griff
broke into a few of the trunks in the storage room. We found little there except for
moth eaten winter gear. Even a ‘detect magic’ revealed nothing.

Happy shrugged. “Which way now?” She asked.

“Well,” I said, “First things first. We need to back up a bit. Scylla and I should go
back to the ettin’s room and study it for a good while so that we’ll have a better
chance of porting in here. I have a feeling that we’re not going to clear out this lair
in a single day, and if we’re forced to leave and return later, I’d like to not have
another teleportation mishap. After that, I suppose we can either head on down this
corridor, or we can free the dwarven slaves.”

I let those last words drop before Taklinn, knowing full well that he would never
resist that sort of bait.

“Dwarven slaves!” He roared, “Where?”

“Right about here.” I said, pointing to a spot on my map. “In the diamond mines.
Of course there are more than just dwarves being held as slaves down there, but I
thought you would want to know.”

“Why didn’t you tell me this before!” He demanded, already turning to stalk
toward the wide hall where Taigel stood guard.

“Where the hell do you think your going?” Griff hissed.

“To free my brothers!” Came Taklinn’s curt reply.

Griff snorted. “Just hold on a minute. Didn’t you hear Doorag? He needs to study
a room to teleport into. Those slaves aren’t going anywhere. I’m all for setting them
free, but let’s get out ducks in a row first, shall we?”

Taklinn grumbled but stopped, waiting impatiently for Scylla and I to study the
room to our satisfaction.

We did just that, committing every detail of the ettin’s room to memory before
announcing that we were ready to carry on. It cost us an hour, but I deemed it time
well spent if it meant a solid teleporting location.

“All right then!” Said Taklinn, “Let’s go!”

“Wait,” I implored him, “Lets at least set our strategy first. My ‘arcane eye’ has
given us the advantage of knowing what we’re going up against. Let’s use it to our
advantage.”

Taklinn frowned, but he could not help but see the wisdom in my words. “Very
well then, what do you suggest?”

“Well, I know that the first room we’ll come to is guarded by one of those ice
golems. I think we should let Scylla use her ettin body as much as possible. I say we
let her go in alone to battle it. We can hang back and mop up anything if the golem
kills her ettin body. What do you think, Scylla?”

The sorceress shrugged. “May as well.” She agreed. “We’ll have to dispose of this
body sooner or later. I’d just as soon have it killed by a golem as anything, though
I’m not crazy for the idea of being bashed around. I can still feel pain you know.
But I can also cast from this thing, so maybe I’ll be able to take it out. Let’s give it a
try!”

So it was that we made our way down the north corridor, looping around the
descending ramp that led into the lower levels of the lair. Halfway down we paused
so that I could cast two ‘stone skins’. One on Griff, the other on Taigel.

We continued on until the ramp leveled out to empty into the golems chamber.
We could see the thing standing statue still. Scylla took a breath and entered the
room.

We waited for the golem to come to life and attack her, but it did not. It seemed
likely that it was programmed to ignore such things as ettin’s. Scylla glanced at us
and shrugged. She took up a position as far from the golem as she could and
unleashed a ‘scorching ray’. Three lines of flame leapt from her fingertip and all
three hit the golem, melting great chunks from it. At last, the construct came to life,
lumbering straight at Scylla. She just had time to fire off another ‘scorching ray’ at
the thing as it closed with her. We have known for some time that, while the ice
golems are immune to most magical effects, they are particularly vulnerable to fire
spells. Scylla’s three rays struck the golem, and it immediately fell to pieces, put out
of commission before ever having a chance to lay a hand on her. Scylla grinned
with both her heads and waved us into the room.

“That wasn’t so hard!” She said.

We searched the room but found nothing other than a cabinet full of mining
equipment. I pointed to the room’s only exit. “That way leads to a large ice cavern
with six ogres mining for, apparently, ice.” I said. “They shouldn’t be too hard, but
let’s not get overconfident.” The rest of the crew nodded and we carefully made our
way down the tunnel.

It was a short walk of no more than fifty feet down the tunnel that led to an
intersection. The tunnel continued on to the south while a short hall opened into a
rough hewn chamber that appeared to be chipped from solid ice. Six large ogres
toiled there with picks, hammering away at the ice walls. In the center of the room,
on a cart, was a massive block of rectangular ice.

We gathered in the entryway, making no attempt to conceal our presence, and the
ogres obviously noticed us, yet they did not cease their labor. We looked at each
other a bit uncertainly, not prepared for non-violent confrontation.

“Perhaps we should talk to them…” Taklinn began. But Scylla was already in
motion. Unbeknownst to us she had cast a ‘spectral hand’, and before we could act
she sent it flying toward one of the hapless ogres. The disembodied hand touched
the ogre and it groaned in apparent pain. Glancing at Scylla’s ettin body I noticed
several of it’s small wounds close and heal.

‘Vampiric Touch’! I thought. Taklinn shot a glare at Scylla, but there was no time
for him to disparage her, for Scylla’s act of aggression prompted the ogres to turn
the attention on us at last. All six of them turned from their work and lumbered
toward us, picks raised, and the battle was on.

These ogres were tough indeed, one of them even managing to score a painful hit
against Taklinn, who’s armor is normally very hard to penetrate. The clang of
weapons echoed off the ice walls as our two forces bunched up near the entrance.
Happy dodged aside and Griff stepped into her space, cleaving into the ogre that
had threatened her, taking it down. Scylla continued to stand back, letting her
spectral hand deliver her vampiric touch. Taklinn got off a spell that made him even
stronger and more frightful than he already was, and closed with an ogre, while
Taigel laid into another with his two short swords. As for me, I hung back, still not
wishing to cast against enemies that should not be a real threat. Truth be known, I
had prepared my spells that morning with an eye toward dealing with Acessiwall.
To that end I had plenty of ‘dispel magic’s’ and ‘stone skin’s’ and the like at my
disposal, but few offensive spells. I was loathe to spend them on mere ogres.

And indeed, while these ogres were of a sturdier breed than their normal lot, they
were still little match for the fighting prowess of our warriors, and one by one they
dropped. I was feeling quite confident by the time only two remained, and I stood
watch at the intersection believing that these last two would fall with ease and that
we would soon be on our way.

I was partially right.

I glanced away from the battle for a split second to check the south tunnel, and
my heart leapt into my throat, for there, charging towards me, was the biggest ogre
I’ve ever seen in my life! Granted, I have not seen that many, but this one, a female,
was at least a foot taller than her brethren. She sported a finely wrought breastplate,
a wicked looking double axe, and a gleam of pure murder in her eyes. I barely had
time to take to the air, flying above the heads of the combatants in the ice cave,
yelling a warning to them as I got out of her way.

Scylla spun around to see the she-ogre hulking in the entry way. The sorceress
cast quickly, and immediately the floor beneath the ogre was covered in a fine film
of grease, which slowed her considerably. Taklinn, glancing over his shoulder from
the ogre he was fighting, grinned. He ignored his ogre to cast a spell that made him
suddenly double in size. Holy power seemed to radiate from him as he turned to
block her passage, keeping her standing on the greased floor. He raised his axes to
her in challenge. The two exchanged blows, each connecting, and I gasped.
Taklinn’s attack could have felled a sturdy oak, but the she-ogre just grunted a
laugh. She retained her balance on the greased floor and returned the hit.

Griff and Taigel, unable to get past Taklinn and Scylla to help with the she-ogre,
contented themselves with dispatching the remaining miners, and within seconds
the last of them lay dead.

I floated above them all, and did my part to help Taklinn, casting a ‘grease’ of my
own on the she-ogre’s weapon. To my delight, she dropped her axe. Snarling, she
leapt from the greased area and ran with all speed back down the corridor,
disappearing around the bend.

With a great dwarven war cry, Taklinn leapt over the greased area and sped off
after her, ignoring our cries of, “Taklinn! Wait!”

I flew after him, determined not to lose sight of our raging cleric.

Around the bend we raced, down hallways and past closed doors. I glanced over
my shoulder and could not see the rest of the crew. I prayed that they were
following us.

I was only just able to keep Taklinn in sight as he made an intersection and
quickly turned right. I knew that he was heading toward the diamond mines. Upon
reaching the intersection I hesitated, and decided to wait there for the rest of the
crew. It would do no good to have them looking all over for us. A second later I
heard Taklinn’s war cry again and the clang of steel on steel. I groaned inwardly,
wishing that the crew would hurry up.

Then I saw them, jogging down the hall in search of Taklinn and I. I waved to
them before flying off after Taklinn. I reached another intersection and looked left
to see our cleric’s broad back filling the hallway some fifty feet down. The hall
beyond was full of ogres, and he appeared to be taking them on one at a time. I
quickly flew down to be near him and saw what I’d already known was in this
corridor. Directly to Taklinn’s left was another door set into a small alcove. It was
guarded by another ice golem, and it had been my fear that it would have come to
life and attack him. Ogre’s were one thing, but I had already seen on several
occasions how difficult the golems could make life for our fighters, and I was quite
glad to see that, again, this one simply stood there, letting Taklinn ignore it in favor
of the ogre’s.

I landed quite behind Taklinn, far too close to the golem for my liking, but I had a
plan. I waited for Scylla to arrive.

Sure enough, the lumbering ettin (Scylla) rounded the corner and made it’s way to
my position. She saw that golem and skidded to a stop. “Scorching rays!” I shouted
to her, and she understood. Simultaneously we cast, and six fiery rays pounded into
the golem. It never had a chance to activate; our two spells melted it into a pile of
ice chunks and puddles of water. Hap was right behind, and set about gathering the
trademark scattering of diamonds that these golems left behind.

Griff and Taigel arrived, but could do little, for Taklinn’s wide form filled the
hall. Again and again our cleric’s axes came down. His laughter echoed down the
tunnel as he split ogre skulls one after another. The ogre’s put up a tough fight, but
they were no match for our magically enhanced cleric, and he downed them one by
one as a farmer might cut wheat with a scythe.

Griff and Taigel did not have to stand idle for long however, for we heard a roar
behind us. Spinning, I saw yet another ogre coming at our rear, with another
behind him. From around the corner we could hear a distinctly feminine ogre voice
issuing commands, and I knew that the she-ogre had returned with support.

Scylla dropped a ‘fireball’ amongst them as Taigel and Griff closed to combat
with the first ogre. I cast a ‘persistent missile’ and pelted it, and the roaring ogre
dropped without a chance to even raise his massive club. Taigel and Griff moved
against the second, and Scylla and I provided yet more spell support from the rear
until it too dropped. At last, the she-ogre rounded the corner, now armed with a new
double axe. She screamed her challenge and lashed out, but victory would be denied
to her, for she was already grievously wounded. Taigel punctured her with his short
swords, Scylla blasted her with another ‘scorching ray’, and Griff did what Griff
does best. His sword came around with enough force to carve through granite,
hewing into flesh and bone. A great gout of blood erupted and sprayed across the
wall, and she fell with a defiant scream.

I looked to see how Taklinn was doing and saw that only a single lone ogre still
stood against him. The ogre was terribly wounded; near death, and I believed that I
could probably take it out with a volley of my missiles. But Taklinn had been barely
hit at all, and he appeared to be enjoying himself very much. It is not often that he
has the opportunity to revel in such battle lust against sworn dwarven enemies, and
he had thus far taken on four ogres by himself. I decided against stealing his kill and
held back, waiting for him to finish the job.

Scylla had no such style, however. “What’s the matter, wizard?” She laughed,
“Running out of spells?” She let fly with a handful of her own ‘magic missiles’ at
the ogre. I scowled at her and thought briefly about countering her spell just to shut
her up, but did not, figuring it would only stir up more bad blood. Fortunately, her
missiles did not kill the ogre and Taklinn would not be denied his kill. With a final
cry to Clangeden, our cleric stepped in and brought his axe down, caving in the
ogre’s skull, killing it in fine fashion.

Taklinn turned to regard us, his face lit up with a bloody grin as his spells finally
dissipated and he returned to normal size. His breathing was heavy, but I could tell
that he was flush with battle fever and victory.

“Nice.” Complimented Griff, as he eyed the carnage that lined Taklinn’s path.
Beyond the five dead ogres led another path that led into what I knew were the
diamond mines with their slaves. We quickly searched the ogres, and found a
bulging sack of uncut diamonds on the she-ogre, not to mention her axe and her
breastplate that glowed with magic. I quickly flew back to the area we had first
encountered her to retrieve her first axe, which also glowed magical. We tossed this
loot into our bag of holding. Taklinn stood like a statue, impatiently waiting for us
to follow him into the mines. I was curious about the door that the golem had been
guarding, but I knew full well that Taklinn would not wait much longer to free his
brethren. In truth, I knew that it was the best course of action as well. If we could
spare the workers beyond even a few minutes of slavery, then surely that was our
most important duty.

As it turned out we would not have to seek out the slaves, for as we gathered
behind Taklinn to head into the mines we became aware of forms approaching
cautiously from behind the first bend in the mine tunnel. Several of them came
forward, all humans save for a single dwarf, as if to see what all of the commotion
had been about. They had obviously been treated badly by their captors, and their
first instinct was to believe that we had either come to slay them or to force them to
work harder, for upon seeing us they grew fearful.

I suppose we must have made quite a sight. Griff was splashed with streaks of
blood from chest to thigh. Taigel, fearsome looking at the best of times, was striped
with ogre blood that stood out in stark contrast to his pale, white, leathery flesh, not
to mention that these poor souls had likely been visited by Taigel’s brother, the
half-dragon we had killed in Helios’ room. I could only imagine the cruelty that one
would have visited upon helpless slaves.

And what to make of Scylla, still in her ettin body? It’s two heads and hulking
form would have been enough to put the fear into anyone, and Taklinn was a mess
of gore from head to toe. His shield and axe dripped with ogre remains, and he
smiled through a mask of blood. He would need several cantrips that night to make
himself presentable.

So it was no surprise that we had to chase the slaves into the mine and assure
them that we were liberators, and not tormentors.

We found twenty-two of them in all, three of them being dwarves, the rest,
human. Many were undernourished and weak or suffering from sickness or wounds.
Taklinn set to work as best he could trying to ease their pain.

As the understanding that we had come to free them spread through the group of
slaves, a mummer of gratitude and joy swelled among them, and I was touched.
These poor folk had suffered in ways that I could not possibly imagine, and for
what? To stock a vain old lizards treasure horde. I resolved that we would do
everything in our power to return them to their homes before pressing on any
further.

It turned out that most of them are from Latona, which would make the job
somewhat easier. Though I was technically forbidden to enter the city, I reasoned
that this would be an acceptable exception to my exile. I would teleport as many as
I could back to the city at my first opportunity.

But we were still not through with the day. Not by a long shot. Many doors lay
behind us, and with these, the slaves were quite a bit of help as well. They were
able to tell us what several of the doors guarded, and we were saved the time and
anxiety of searching them. Behind one we found still more played out mines.
Behind the one that had been guarded by the second ice golem, was the slaves
quarters. Around a corner and down a hall we found a door that Griff unlocked with
keys he’d taken from the big female ogre. It opened into a hallway that held tiny
spy holes into two other rooms. One looked to be quarters for ogres (now empty),
while the other was obviously a golem sculpture room. Four huge, rectangular slabs
of ice lay on four tables. One of the ice slabs was being feverishly sculpted by a pair
of slaves; artisans forced to ply their craft to hideous ends. Already the torso and
legs were visible. Griff smashed the half finished golem after we had freed these
two slaves, which made twenty-four that we had found so far.

We unlocked another empty barracks room with ogre sized beds, and then another
that led into a hall flanked with several doors. We soon found out that these were
sturdy cell doors that held Acessiwall’s prisoners. One of them was a frost giant!

The huge humanoid sat against the wall of his cramped cell and glared at us as we
debated his fate. Scylla was all for tossing in a few fireballs and toasting the
helpless brute, but Taklinn glared her down, and I daresay I shot her a disgusted
look.

“Hmmm,” Taklinn wondered aloud, “Perhaps he’d help us against Acessiwall…”

I stared at him, aghast, and the rest of the crew seemed just as dumbfounded. “Are
you out of your dwarven mind?” I asked. “He’s a giant! A FROST giant! You’re a
bloody dwarf, are you telling me you don’t know anything about frost giants?”

Taklinn shot me a wounded look. “Well,” He said, I’ve never actually met one.”

“Well neither have I, but I’ve studied them at length. Frost giants are generally
evil!” I said.

“Are you sure?” Taklinn looked doubtfully between me and the giant, who
obviously understood us and had taken an interest in the conversation.

I slapped my forehead. “Cast ‘detect evil’ on him if you don’t believe me! Go on,
cast it!”

Taklinn did so, gesturing with his holy symbol. “Oh.” He said, a bit sheepishly, “I
guess your right. Still, he’d be a good arm to have against the dragon. My enemies
enemy is my friend, and all that.”

The giant agreed whole heartedly with Taklinn’s line of reasoning and said so in a
booming voice. “Bet your arses I’ll help ya against that cursed worm! Just give me
a chance and I’ll show ya!”

“Shut up, you!” I snapped at the giant. I then looked Taklinn straight in the eye.
“Let’s get one thing clear,” I said, “We are not allying ourselves with this giant! We
are going to leave him right were he is, we’re going to feed him if we have to, and
we’re going to go kill Acessiwall. After that, we’ll figure out what to do with him.
I’m putting my foot down on this one, Taklinn.” I looked at the rest of the crew to
gauge their thoughts on the subject, and found them to be in total agreement with
me.

“I ain’t traveling with no freaking giant!” Was Griff’s vote, and Happy nodded
vehemently. Taigel shook his head and Scylla shrugged. Taklinn did not argue the
matter, and I don’t think he was terribly upset to have his idea shot down.

Two other cells were empty, but in the last we found yet another slave, this one
obviously stricken with a debilitating disease. The poor fellow was on the verge of
death, and Taklinn did what he could, though he said that he would have to wait
until tomorrow to pray for the needed spell to cure the ailment. We picked up the
mans entire bed and transported him back to the rest of the slaves who were
overjoyed to find him still alive.

One other door led into a storage area, and the last emptied into a tunnel of rough
design. It led off into darkness, and I (more or less) volunteered Scylla to explore it,
figuring that we might as well get as much use out of her ettin body as possible, and
that it would be no great loss should it be killed. Scylla shrugged again and plodded
off down the tunnel. A second later, Happy, to Griff’s great displeasure, scampered
off after Scylla. She assured us that she would stay well behind the ettin, she just
wanted to see what happened. Her bright grin was the last thing we saw disappear
into the inky blackness.

It was all we could do to keep Griff from tearing off after her, but we convinced
him to have a little faith in Hap’s capabilities. “Five minutes.” He said, at last. “I’ll
wait five minutes. Then I’m going after her.”

I could tell that he would not be dissuaded and we agreed.

Perhaps three minutes later Griff stalked into the tunnel, hot on the heels of Hap
and Scylla. Taklinn, Taigel and I hurried after him.

It was several minutes before we caught up with the pair, safe and sound. The
tunnel appeared to simply sink into the earth at a sleight grade without promise of
any particular destination. Even after all of us had walked nearly a half hour, the
tunnel changed not a whit, and I surmised that it might go on for miles. Perhaps
even into the underdark. At last, despite Hap’s curiosity and certainty that
something must surely lay just ahead for us to discover, we decided to turn around
and head back. Soon we had returned to the men we had freed and at least one wing
of Acessiwall’s lair that was now under our control. It was time to rest.

Before I did, however, there was the matter of the slaves. We now had twenty-
five men and dwarves in all to return to Latona. Scylla was out of teleports (or so
she said), but I had two left. Gathering four of the sickest of the men around me
(including the bed ridden fellow) I told the crew I would be back in moments.
Telling the men to form a chain, I touched one of them and cast, picturing our old
inn room in Latona.

I think we scared the poor trader who was sleeping in that room half to death! I’m
sure that when he rented out the room he never expected a halfling wizard and four
bedraggled and sick ex-slaves to teleport into it while he tried to sleep! I had to toss
him a gold piece for the fright we had put into him, which quieted him down in no
time.

I told the men to report what had happened to the magistrate, that we would be
returning more slaves tomorrow, and that I sent my apologies for this breech of our
exile. I hoped he would understand.

The grateful men promised they would deliver my message. They thanked me
until I was embarrassed, and then helped their sick friend from the room. With a last
nod and a wink at the trader, I ported out again, returning to the lair.

It was time I got some rest. I was nearly out of offensive spells, and that would
never do. I cast a ‘rope trick’, climbed into it, put out my ‘Do No Disturb’ sign, and
settled in for a journal entry and some shut eye.


Rping 26

It seems that our day was not yet over after I had gone to bed last night.

We had decided to hole up in this, the mining wing of Acessiwall’s lair. It
appeared the best spot, being that there was only a single entrance to it, and to that
end Taklinn, Happy, Griff and two of the former slave dwarves settled themselves
in for sentry duty in the room where Scylla had killed the first ice golem by herself.
This room was a sort of antechamber to the whole wing, and was a defensible spot.

Fortunate that the crew was cautious, for late last night we did indeed have
visitors.

I was, of course, asleep in my rope trick in a far room of the lair, so I had no idea
of this until I was informed at breakfast. From what I gather, our crew and the two
dwarves were resting on the floor of the room when Happy heard the sounds of
approaching footsteps. She quickly hid herself behind the entry corner as Griff and
Taklinn roused themselves from their bedrolls. Two men, both heavily armed,
entered, and though they were outnumbered, it didn’t bother them a bit. Apparently
sure of their own fighting prowess, they drew and advanced, only to have Happy
slip up behind one of them from the shadows and plunge her daggers into his back,
nearly taking him down. But the fighter was made of tougher stuff and wheeled
around to cut Hap with his sword badly enough that she was forced to retreat.

By then Taklinn and Griff had joined the fray. From what I’ve been told, luck was
on their side during that fight, for our warriors missed not a swing, cleaving the two
enemies down in a matter of seconds.

I would have to agree with the luck assumption, for I’ve seen the equipment that
the two dead men had on them, and I can scarcely believe that any two foot soldiers
would be able to acquire such gear. One of the suits of armor alone must be worth
thousands at the least.

At any rate, no further attacks came, and I was able to slumber through the night
in blissful ignorance of the violence.

And where was Scylla during all of this? According to Happy, our intrepid
sorceress did have a single ‘teleport’ left, and she used it to return to Finch,
preferring to sleep in a warm bed instead of sharing a floor with the rest of us. She
arrived back this morning after having obviously enjoyed a good breakfast, and she
showed not the least bit of guilt at having left her party to suffer the confines of this
lair alone.

Yet another reason to dislike her.

I said nothing to her about this lack of etiquette, for I knew I would need her help
today. We spent the first part of the morning teleporting back and forth from Latona
to the lair with our cargo of former slaves, and between the two of us we managed
to transport all but one of them back to the city. The magistrate there must have
given us some leeway in our exile, for no constabulary awaited us, and indeed, even
the poor trader that I had frightened so badly last night was gone, as if they had left
the room empty specifically for us to use as a landing point.

There were no mishaps, and we ported twenty people into Latona today without a
hitch. This, of course, used up both of our repertoires of fifth circle spells, and we
decided to wait for one more day before continuing our hunt for Acessiwall, thus
allowing both Scylla and I to replenish, as well as giving us the opportunity to take
the last man to Latona tomorrow.

We whiled away the rest of the day in the lair, searching it out and feeding our
prisoners. The frost giant still sits in his cell, sullen as ever, and Scylla’s ettin now
occupies another cell. She knew by last night that she had to do something with the
monster before her spell wore off, so she imprisoned him in a cell and returned to
her own body. I suppose it is an improvement.

As we prepared to bed down again tonight, Scylla announced that she would be
returning to Finch again for another comfortable night. She ignored the looks on our
faces and disappeared without so much as a fare thee well.

But the laugh would be on her tonight! Last night, as I studied my spells before
bed, as I usually do, I suddenly realized that I had had a major breakthrough!
Several spells of the seventh circle became clear to me, and it was with trembling
hands that I turned the pages, basking in the potential power of these dweomers.
This morning, when I memorized, I committed a spell that I have been longing to
cast ever since I heard of it. I have spent months researching it, and after Scylla
departed, I felt that it was time to put it to the test. Grinning from ear to ear, I
gathered the crew around and cast.

The shimmering doorway appeared in thin air and I opened it with a command,
ushering my friends inside with pride.

‘Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion’, it is called, and the interior was even
more lush and opulent than I had hoped. Spreading before us were carpeted floors
and decorative entryways that led into warm, comfortable rooms. There were beds,
chairs, couches, tubs, tables piled high with food, and cups overflowing with drink.
Ghostly servants awaited our orders, and the night was spent in more luxury than I
daresay we have ever been privy to. Griff grumbled a little at the idea of spending
the night in an extra dimensional space, but Happy was utterly fascinated with the
mansion. I had even constructed it with the pair in mind, having designed a specific
bedroom for their pleasure. There was not even a question as to where she would be
spending the night, and Griff sighed, following her in. I don’t know that he was
ever able to relax, but the wine was good, and soon even he was settled into the
mansion. All in all it was a delightful evening; restful, clean and safe. The final
slave was in utter awe, and he thanked me for this final treat with tears in his eyes.

I sit here now, in my room, looking about the mansion in wonder. It may not be
an offensive spell that lights up the sky and strikes fear into the hearts of my
enemies, but this mansion may well be my new favorite spell. Now if I could just
figure out a way to make it permanent…

Tomorrow we intend to head back into the unexplored areas of the lair. Part of me
hopes to find Acessiwall tomorrow, but I must admit to a certain amount of
trepidation. The old wurm will be crafty, and my spells will do little against him. It
is extremely difficult to try and gauge what spells to memorize for the upcoming
battle, especially should we meet any more of his minions before we confront him.
The spells I will learn to deal with the dragon will be more oblique in nature, and
will do little against his allies.

This is, of course, always the difficulty of being a wizard. At times I find myself
admiring Scylla, with her ability to spontaneously cast. She seems to never run out
of spells, and she never has to memorize them. If she needs a ‘scorching ray’, she
will have it. If she needs a ‘teleport’, it will always be there for her.

Of course this flexibility comes at a steep price, for she will never know the broad
range of utility spells that I have mastered. Her entire repertoire would only fill a
few pages in my book, and I would not trade my own knowledge for that kind of
limitation. Besides, while she is undoubtedly powerful and dangerous in her own
right, she is still only a sorcerer. Much like any fool born with a decent singing
voice or an innate talent for art does not have to truly work at his craft, she can
hardly be considered a true aficionado of the craft of magic. She is merely a savant,
gifted with natural aptitude, but she will never know the true meaning of the art of
the arcane, for she has not the intelligence or the drive to master the intricacies of
magic. In many ways she is a spoiled child with a wonderful gift that she will never
fully understand.

I have been noticing some interesting changes taking place within our crew. Griff
and Happy are now a force unto their own, as if they are their own team. They still
watch our backs, but it is now no secret where their priorities lie. I know that if it
came to a choice between myself and Happy, Griff would leave me to rot. I cannot
fault him for that. He has found his partner, his other half, and who could begrudge
him such a thing? Griff is still as grumpy as always, but I sense in him an inner
calmness now; a sort of peace that was absent only a few months ago. Gone is the
man who lived only for cheap drink and cheaper women, and in his place stands a
husband and protector. As much as he tries to hide it, it is only too obvious that his
world revolves around Happy, and I do not think he regrets it one bit.

Happy is, of course, over the moon for Griff. She always has been, and their
recent engagement has only solidified her love for him. Now Happy and Taklinn,
on the other hand…

The dichotomy between those two has gotten a bit rough of late. As both of them
become more and more secure with their respective places and life paths, the more
they have diverged. Taklinn has become far more zealous in his quest for
divine perfection, and his code of ethics seems to conflict with Happy on a daily
basis. Happy is, of course, a thief. She is small, she is quick, she can hide in the
shadow of a pebble, and her deft hands can best nearly any lock ever made. She
strikes from hiding and uses the angles available to her to her best advantage. And
well she should! However, her ideas of what is right and wrong do not necessarily
follow the word of law, let alone Taklinn’s concept of morality, and it is for this
reason that the two have exchanged rather harsh words of late.

I believe that deep down they both at least respect each other. I would hope that
that respect could even bare a certain sort of love that comrades in arms share. But
on the surface they continually jibe one another, and sometimes it gets downright
nasty! Taklinn has taken to reminding Hap of how many times he has healed her,
while Happy refers to him, off handedly, as nothing more than a tool for a god. She
laughs at his supposed lack of free will, while he remembers aloud all the times he
has brought her back from the brink of death, as if keeping score of some debt she
owes.

The whole thing is petty and bores me, but it is a bit bothersome to see the rift
growing between two members of our crew. Worse, any rift between Hap and
Taklinn will certainly distance Griff and Taklinn as well. I consider this a bad state
of affairs, for our very strength lies in our solidarity.

Still, there has always been bickering between us. I only hope that we will
always find a way to overcome our minor disagreements in favor of the big picture,
something that I must keep at the forefront of my mind.

Perhaps finding Caribdis will set things right. As chaotic as the boy was, he
seemed to provide a focal point for all the chaos within the rest of the crew. It was
as if we were kept so busy watching out for the trouble he caused that we had no
time to dwell on our own differences. Scylla is, of course, a bit similar, but not
much. Caribdis was, at heart, simply a boy going through the difficult transition to
manhood. He never meant any real harm, and his heart was always in the right
place. Scylla, on the other hand, seems not to have a heart at all. None of us trust
her, and I can only believe that we will cut her loose once we have dealt with
Acessiwall. I keep waiting to find out what her real plan is; for the other shoe to
drop, as it were. I only hope we find out before it’s too late.

Ah, Caribdis. I have not mentioned him much in this journal since his death. It is
too painful. At night, when we share our meal, I listen for his ceaseless rhymes, but
they are not there. Every time we are faced with a decision, I keep expecting him to
chime in with the most ludicrous of notions, but he does not. Taklinn remains sure
that we will be able to find him in the spirit world, though he tells me that there is
every chance that Caribdis may refuse to return with us again, or that whatever god
holds sway in that realm will deny us the right to even petition him again.

It is a chance, though. A chance that I am willing to take. I miss the boy too much,
and there is still too much left unsaid between us.

Speaking of rifts developing between us, it should be noted that, while Scylla is
not much liked by any of us, the acrimony between she and Taklinn is fast reaching
a boiling point. Not only are her actions suspect, he finds her selection of spells
profoundly distasteful. She thinks nothing of using ‘magic jar’, ‘vampiric touch’,
and ‘enervations’. While these are not inherently “evil” spells, they do not mesh
well with Taklinn’s skewed notion of right and wrong. He grumbled heartily over
her taking over the ettin’s body, and while I understand the value in being able to do
such a thing, I can understand Taklinn’s stand point as well. The idea of trapping
another’s soul makes him terribly uncomfortable. Worse yet, she seems to take
great pleasure in flaunting such spells in front of him; poking the bear, as it were.
This is a bad idea, for Taklinn has never been one to be poked, and he has said as
much on several occasions. I can only hope that we will find and defeat Acessiwall
before those two have a bad confrontation. I daresay the outcome of such a thing
would be devastating!

Ah well, there is little I can do except try to be the voice of reason. Thank
goodness for Taigel! I suddenly find myself being more in line with the thinking of
our half-dragon companion than any of my old friends, for he is supremely easy
going in nearly all things. He regards the world with a kind of stoic humor that I
admire. Perhaps it is born of having been an outcast for so long.

Not that I have any real problems with any of my crew. I still get on well with all
of them. Taklinn and I no longer see eye to eye on many counts since I have come
to see the world from a much different perspective than I used to after the incident
in Latona. Still, I admire and respect him, and I believe he shares the same feeling
for me. We have gone through far too much, and in the end we both share a basic
sense of justice and morality, though mine may be a bit more flexible now.

Perhaps it is simply due to my having grown so dramatically in power. Griff has
never been keen on spellcasters, and the more I learn about magic the more he
seems to distance himself from me. I know that, in his heart, he likes me and trusts
me as much as he can any wizard, but I doubt we will ever be much closer than we
are now. Happy, of course, bears no grudge against my powers. She seems
endlessly fascinated by the things I can do, but her very interest seems to make
Griff all the more reticent.

Such is the price of knowledge and power though. A wizards life is a studious and
solitary one, I am learning. I believe that I will always be able to count this crew as
my companions and friends, but in the end I know that my true family will be my
books and my lab and my spells. I will never know the love that Hap and Griff
share, and I will never know the serenity that Taklinn receives from his faith. It is a
choice I have made, and there is no turning back now. I only hope that my friends
will remain accepting of me.

Alas, it is late and time to turn in. The plush four poster bed awaits me, and the
bath I took earlier has made me sleepy. If we should perish tomorrow at the claws
of Acessiwall, I suppose I will not be able to say that I did not have at least one fine
last night of rest.


Rping 27

We awoke at dawn, and it was odd, throwing back the thick quilts on my
luxurious bed, stepping on the thick carpet, and having an attentive magical servant
slip my robe onto my shoulders. It took me a full minute to remember that we were
still deep within Acessiwall’s lair, and intended to hunt him down today if at all
possible.

We met for breakfast, as always. Instead of partaking in the sumptuous fare
offered by the mansion we elected to eat Taklinn’s conjured ‘hero’s feast’ for the
magical protections it would offer. As we ate, we went over the plan one more time.

“All right,” I said, “You know how this is supposed to go. We get as close as we
safely can to Acessiwall, then Taklinn and I pile as many buff and protective spells
on us as we can. Many of them won’t last very long, so time will be a major factor.”

“And what if we don’t have time for the spells?” Griff asked.

“Then we teleport the hell out of there.” I answered. “Going in without ‘stone
skins’ and ‘pro energies’ would be suicide, and that’s the bare minimum. I won’t be
satisfied unless I hit most of you with several more. Taklinn will also give at least
one of you a coin with a ‘silence’ spell cast on it. That will make it a little tougher
for the wurm to cast spells. We’ll also need ‘fly’ spells on everyone or we’ll likely
never get near enough to him to make a difference. Once we get within ninety feet,
Taigel will attempt to use the amulet on Acessiwall. He may resist and force Taigel
to try it a few times. It will be a matter of luck on that count. Griff, you and Taigel
will go into melee with him. Remember to flank him as much as possible; this will
give Happy the opportunities she needs. Taklinn, I imagine you’ll be in combat as
well. Once you get the proper spells cast on yourself you should give Acessiwall
plenty to worry about; but remember this: Your our only real healer! It’s your
responsibility to fall back and lay hands on anyone who’s in bad shape. Do you
have that ‘status’ spell you mentioned earlier ready?”

“Aye.” Nodded our cleric. “Though you must remember I’m not much good at
casting while being attacked. It may be rough.”

“Just do what you can, and be cognizant of the rest of the crew. Don’t get so
wrapped up in fighting that you neglect the wounded.”

Taklinn nodded again.

“Scylla and I will hang back.” I continued. “She’ll try to punch through his spell
resistance with whatever she can. ‘Scorching ray’s’ will likely be the best bet if we
can get around any fire protection spell he may have on him, ‘enervations’ if not.
As for me, I’ll provide support. My first order of business will be to hit him with a
‘dispel magic’ to get rid of those protection spells if I can. I’ll also be waiting for
him to cast so I can try to counter him. I’ll have more protection spells of our
own ready in case he casts a dispel on anyone. After that it’s just a matter of getting
past his hide and doing him in. But if it goes bad and at least twoof us go down,
Scylla and I do our best to port us all out of there. Any questions?”

Five somber faces regarded me. Finally, Taklinn spoke quietly. “I have a
question,” He said, “For all of you. I’ve got two ‘raise deads’ memorized. Now we
never spoke of any of us dieing before Caribdis went down, but we should have.
When I cast the spell, it’s not in my hands. The spirit can choose not to return to it's
body. What I want to know is, what do each of you wish me to do should you be
killed? Who among you wants me to bring them back should I have the
opportunity?”

The silence around the table deepened as we all considered the implications of his
question, though I did not hesitate. “You’d better bring me back!” I grinned. “I’ve
got too much left to do!”

Hap and Griff looked at each other as if for a hint of what the other would want.
“If you don’t let Taklinn bring you back, I’ll hunt you down myself!” Hap said to
Griff.

Griff scowled. The very idea of returning from death via magic was abhorrent to
him, but he sighed. “As long as you promise to do the same.” He said.

“We’ll both come back.” Happy smiled, looking at Taklinn.

“But if both of us go down, he brings you back!” Griff suddenly demanded.

“Now wait just a minute…” Hap began to protest, but we could all see that Griff’s
mind was made up. Hap glared at him, and I could see that she was far from
finished with this argument, and I did not doubt that she would lobby Taklinn in
private to do just the opposite.

“If I should die,” Taigel quietly put in, “I do not wish to be brought back.”

“Taigel, you can’t be serious!” I cried. “Think of all you have to live for!”

“That is my wish. Taklinn has asked, and I will expect him to respect that.”

“Aye,” Taklinn answered. “Of course I will. And just so it’s understood, I share
the same feeling. If I should die, I want none of you getting the crazy notion of
trying to have me raised by a more powerful caster than I. I’ll stay dead.”

I gaped at him. “Taklinn, no! How can you say that?”

“Tis my wish, Doorag.” He said, gruffly. “I am a war priest, and what better death
could I ask for than at the teeth of a dragon?”

“But you…” I tried to protest, but Taklinn cut me off.

“Scylla?” He said to the sorceress, almost as an afterthought.

“Of course I want to come back.” She laughed. “If I find that death is so
wonderful, I can always return to it easily enough!”

Taklinn gave Scylla a look, but said nothing.

“I still think you should consider…” I began again, but it was Griff who cut me
off this time.

“Are we gonna sit around here all day worrying about dieing, or are we gonna go
kill us a dragon?”

We finished our meal and made ready, stepping out of the mansion and back into
the harsh reality of the dragon’s lair. Before we continued on, I had one more quick
trip to Latona to make. Holding the hand of the last slave, I ported him home where
he thanked me again. Within seconds I had returned to the crew and we were ready
to be off.

We made our way back up the spiral ramp that led to the wide corridor with it’s
still unexplored double doors. We paused at the major intersection to have a look
into the room where we had fought the mephits and the paraelemental. Oddly
enough, it looked as if nothing had been disturbed, and I wondered if it were
possible that Acessiwall still did not know that we had invaded his lair. Either that,
or he was running out of minions.

We decided to check out the large hall with it’s double doors first, and after a few
minutes Happy announced that they were trap free. Griff put his back to them and
they swung open to reveal nothing more than an unadorned room with an icy river
cutting through it. The river was, we assumed, the same one that we’d seen coming
out of the cliff face. It flowed out of one wall and disappeared through another. We
checked the walls for secrets but found none and Griff sighed with disappointment,
for he’d had a gut feeling that Acessiwall would be lying in wait behind those
doors.

There was still another door inside the room with all the holes in the ceiling, and I
was not keen on finding out what might come out of those holes, so I stood in the
hall while Griff tugged at the doors. He heaved with all is might, but they wouldn’t
budge. Even with Taklinn’s help they only managed to unstick the door a few
inches, and Griff gave up in frustration. Scylla cast a ‘blink’ on herself and
transported herself into the room beyond the door with a thought, appearing seconds
later to announce that it was merely another guest chamber.

We were left with only one way to go. South, and up the spiral ramp. But Scylla
had a thought before we ventured that way. She wondered if perhaps one of the
prisoners might not know a little more about Acessiwall’s lair. Perhaps, she mused,
they might provide us with valuable information, given the right… motivation.

Scylla’s idea of motivation, of course, was to drop a fireball into the cell to give
her hapless victim an idea of what sort of fate might be in store for him should he not
answer her questions, but neither Taklinn nor I would have any of that nonsense.
We discussed what we might offer the prisoners as we made our way back into the
mines, and I offered the obvious choice.

“We offer them their freedom.” I said.

Taklinn scowled. “You’d let a frost giant, and an ettin go free?”

“If they gave me directions to Acessiwall, I would.” I replied. “Besides, what else
are we going to do with them? Do you plan to execute them after we kill the
dragon? Or will you just let them starve to death in their cells?”

Taklinn had no good answer for that, and he sighed in resignation as we
approached the prisoners.

I spoke to the ettin first and found that he could communicate at least a little in
orcish. We had a brief exchange, and he was surprisingly polite and deferential. I
wondered if that had anything to do with the look Scylla gave him whenever he got
a little rude.

The ettin was quite excited by the prospect of gaining his freedom, and he
gestured towards the ceiling, repeating the words, “Up! Up! Up!” when I asked him
where Acessiwall was. I handed him a sheet of parchment and a piece of chalk, and
he eagerly scrawled out a pathetic attempt at a map which showed a crude spiral, a
room, and crooked hallway. It was well nigh impossible to make it out, but the idea
was clear that, to find the dragon, we must head “Up!”.

The ettin seemed disappointed and confused when we did not immediately release
him, but I assured him as best I could that we would return after we had killed
Acessiwall.

“Can we go now?” grumbled Griff, impatiently.

So, back up the ramp we went, down the hall, past the intersection, and up the
second spiral ramp that rose into the mountain.

“There will be an ice golem at the top room.” I warned. I saw it with my ‘arcane
eye’ when we first got here. Scylla, be ready.

As it turned out, I was half right. There were, in fact, two ice golems guarding the
room at the top of the spiral, and both of them immediately came to life the instant
Griff stepped into the room. But we now knew how to deal with these things, and
Scylla and I blasted both of them with a pair of ‘fireballs’ that left them severely
weakened. Taklinn was able to step up and shatter one of them with a blow from his
axe, and Griff slammed the second in the head with an ice pick he’d grabbed for
just such an occasion. The golem still stood, but I finished it off with a scorching
ray before it had a chance to attack.

Double doors led from the east of this room while a smaller door was set into the
south wall. We readied ourselves, fearing the worst, and Griff pulled open the
double doors, only to reveal a grizzly sight. This had obviously once been a
laboratory, but now everything lay shattered and strewn across the room. Beakers,
vials, half finished golems, and bits of paper littered the room, and it rended my
heart to see such damage done to innocent equipment. No other doors led from this
room.

So Happy checked the smaller door in the golem room, and Griff opened it to
reveal a hallway lined with more doors. We set out cautiously to explore, expecting
to find Acessiwall waiting behind every one.

It appeared as if the dragon was cleaning house, for the first room we opened was
streaked with the blood and gore of the poor human who lay, dismembered, on the
floor. We recognized tools for gem cutting laying on the floor, and the man still had
a jewelers loupe clutched in his dead hand, which Happy pocketed.

We opened still more doors, finding a kitchen, a dining room, a privy, and a
couple of guest rooms. We found several more dead humans, probably slaves that
Acessiwall had slain in his rage at having had his lair invaded. One room in
particular gave us the chills. It was a large area with a huge pentagram carved into
the floor that glowed of faint magic. Above the pentagram, painted on the ceiling,
was a mural of four white dragons spiraling inward.

We gave the pentagram a wide berth, and felt sure that the double doors in this
room must lead to Acessiwall. But opening them only led to the dining room, and
we were disappointed again.

An hour passed, and at last we had to face the fact that we had opened every door
and searched every room.

“Damn it!” Said Hap, “Where is he?”

“Up, up, up!” I replied, dryly.

“There must be a secret door we’re missing,” muttered Taigel. “Perhaps we
should check again.”

“The pentagram!” Taklinn shouted. “It must be a portal! Of course!”

I looked at him doubtfully. “You think so?”

“What else could it be? We’ve searched everywhere else. I say we step onto the
pentagram and get this dragon!”

We went back to the pentagram room, and the symbol did glow with faint magic.
I rubbed my chin, and hoped that Taklinn was right. “Very well,” I said, “We
should go ahead and cast our spells. We don’t know what we’ll be going into, so
we’ll have to hope that Acessiwall isn’t far from where we’ll land.

So Taklinn, Scylla and I began casting. Stone skins, protections from energies,
and flys for everyone. I hit myself and Hap with greater invisibilities, though I
assured her that Acessiwall would not be fooled at all by not being able to see her. I
put a ‘see invisibility’ and a ‘spell turning’ on myself, as well as several more minor
protections. Taklinn was doing the same, and by the time he was through, he
positively radiated with strength and power.

“Okay!” He cried, “We don’t have much time before this all wears off! Let’s join
hands and…”

“Umm, guys,” Hap called out, “I think I found something.”

We looked toward the south corner of the room, and while only I could see her
invisible form, we could all see the secret door that she had found and opened
there.

“Oh no!” I groaned. The appearance of a new route to explore was a major
problem. “We’ve got about thirteen minutes before several of these spells wear off.
Which way do we go?”

“We try the portal first!” Taklinn cried, his voice resonating with divine power.

We agreed, and the six of us joined hands, and stepped onto the pentagram.

Only to have the doors to the dining room open.

That was it. Nothing more. We gaped in dismay at the realization that the
pentagram was nothing more than a regal means of opening the doors. I counted off
the passing seconds in my mind. “We need to move!” I said, “Now!”

This was it. Time was of the essence, and if we did not confront Acessiwall
within the next ten minutes or so we would be forced to retreat for the day.

All six of us took to the air, flying down the hall that lay beyond the secrete door.
We raced, pell mell, around corners and burst through doors with none of our usual
caution, expecting a trap to explode in our faces at every turn. But we found
nothing. Just more rooms within a hallway that took us in a circle to our starting
point. We had wasted a full minute and I gritted my teeth in frustration until Happy
exclaimed again.

“There!” She pointed, and raced toward an unassuming wall in the last room we’d
found. Her fingers quickly traced another secrete door, finding the release catch and
flinging it wide. A blast of cold air swept into our room, and beyond the door we
beheld a massive shaft that went straight up, disappearing into darkness. A spiral
stair case lined it’s wall, but there was no time to walk it’s steps. We instead flew
straight upwards as fast as we could.

A hundred feet straight up we flew, the air getting colder and colder as we
approached the top, until finally we crested the shaft to find ourselves in a natural
cave so huge that we could not see the walls. All about us hung icicles. Plateaus of
rock rose from the floor and natural columns of ice and stone connected floor and
ceiling. It was eerily quiet, and I knew that this was it.

We had found Acessiwall’s lair.

We hovered there for a few seconds, taking in the sheer size of the place. Though
our vision was limited, the cavern simply “felt” big. Even the largest of dragons
could fly unfettered in this place.

We slowly advanced forward, and I scanned for anything I might recognize from
the only time I had successfully scryed Acessiwall. Rising twenty feet above the
surface of the cave, I thought that the canyon-like fissure we were flying through
looked familiar.

Seconds ticked away, and I was painfully aware of how long our spells would
last. I worried in particular about the fly spells on everyone else, knowing that the
mobility of flight was a major advantage for us, and I prayed that we would meet
the wurm before they wore off. Taigel and Taklinn floated near me, though we were
careful not to bunch up. Hap drifted off to my left about twenty feet away with Griff
near her. Scylla hung back, uneager to be the first to meet the dragon.

And then he was there.
 

cthulhu42

Explorer
From out of the darkness a huge shape formed and came into sharp focus.
Acessiwall, the ancient white dragon that we had hunted for so long flew on silent
wings, gliding with incredible speed out of the inky blackness. He was upon us
before any of us had a chance to react. At least fifty feet long and fifteen feet at the
shoulder, I knew that he was small by dragon standards, but his very speed and
visage made my blood run cold. I had no doubt that, were it not for the ‘hero’s
feast’ I’d eaten earlier I would certainly have bolted from the caverns, running for
my life.

Acessiwall pumped his wings, buffeting us with the downdraft as he came to light
on a plateau that towered some forty feet above the cave floor. With a mighty roar,
he exhaled, catching Taigel, Taklinn and myself in his freezing breath ray. I felt the
chill numb me briefly, but the protection from energy spells did their jobs, and we
took no damage from his breath. Acessiwall roared again, and this time I recognized
it as a challenge.

Taklinn was the first to react. “Clangeden!” He bellowed, casting a ‘righteous
might’ on himself. His size doubled as the spell took hold, and he flew straight at
the wurm, axes held at the ready.

Taigel flew upwards toward his father and slashed a wound onto his own forearm,
coating the amulet worn around his neck with his own blood. Acessiwall’s eyes
narrowed as he looked straight at our half-dragon friend, but he must have shaken
off the effects, for he turned his attention back on Taklinn. Before he could attack,
however, I wove a spell and hurled it at him, hoping against hope that I would
defeat his spell resistance.

I did. The ‘dispel magic’ stripped away several protective spells. Acessiwall’s
body seemed to shimmer for a brief second, and then remain firmly within my
vision. I shuddered, realizing that I’d just got rid of a ‘displacement’. The wurm
snarled in my direction, long strands of bile dripping from his fangs, but he
unleashed his fury upon Taklinn.

Acessiwall struck like a snake, his jaws clamping into Taklinn and tearing at him
before letting go, only to lash out with his cruelly hooked claws. Our priest took all
three hits, but wavered not a bit. His ‘stone skin’ soaked up the majority of the
damage and he was well able to take the rest. Acessiwall also managed to slap
Taigel with a wing, knocking the ranger back several feet.

By now Griff was in motion. He flew straight at the dragon’s flank and brought
the Talon down in an arc that could have sundered steel, but it merely glanced off
Acessiwall’s scales, and Griff’s curse echoed through the cave.

Taigel had been knocked down to a ledge beneath the plateau by Acessiwall’s
wing, and as he struggled to right himself a creature appeared from behind a rock
outcrop that made my blood run cold.

It was a Hezrou, a demon apparently summoned by Acessiwall to aid him against
us. The sickly beast was upon Taigel as fast as thought, snapping at him with an
ugly mouth full of teeth. Taigel twisted away, avoiding the bites and flying out of
it’s reach. I watched as a second hezrou appeared from the opposite side of the
plateau. This was a worrisome development, but I vowed to concentrate on
Acessiwall.

Happy flew forward, searching for a position from which her dagger could do the
most good. Seeing the second hezrou looking upward, as if to climb up to Griff, she
hurled a knife, taking the creature by surprise and causing it to howl in pain.

Taklinn roared his own challenge at Acessiwall, bringing the full fury of
Clangeden to bare and attacking again and again with his axes. Twice his blades
clanked off the wurm’s scales, but his third attack hit home, eliciting a hiss of
unfamiliar pain from the dragon. Taklinn had drawn first blood.

Taigel was out of the hezrou’s reach and once again within his fathers line of
sight. He splashed more of his own blood across the amulet as he closed. This time
it worked. Acessiwall’s head snapped around to regard his son. The dragon’s eyes
glazed in a rage that I had expected. A shriek of pure hatred filled the cavern and he
bared foot long fangs at Taigel.

A black ray beamed in from the darkness and struck Acessiwall as he prepared to
unleash his fury on Taigel. I recognized it as an ‘enervation’, and I was glad to see
that Scylla had found her range. Unfortunately, the ray fizzled against the dragon
and I heard Scylla mutter an expletive behind me.

I decided to try an offensive spell of my own, firing off three ‘scorching rays’. To
my pleasant surprise, they worked! My dispel must have stripped him of his fire
protections as well, for when my three rays of fire overcame his spell resistance
they burned him badly. I grinned with deep satisfaction at having actually hurt the
wurm.

But Acessiwall barely noticed. So intent was he on the bearer of the amulet, he
shrugged off the damage I had caused and hit Taigel with everything he had. Taigel
was enveloped in a hurricane of teeth and claws. Wings and tail lashed out at him as
well, and blood gouted from several wounds as he was sent reeling. The ‘stone
skin’ I had provided him with soaked up much of the damage, but I could tell that
our friend had taken much of it himself. I knew that he could not take too many hits
like that.

Griffin did his best to help Taigel, bringing his sword down again and again
against the dragon’s hide until finally the blade bit deep, cutting through scales and
into flesh. The dragon bane enchantment I had imbued upon the sword caused
Acessiwall added pain.

I had been watching, waiting for Acessiwall to act so that I might try to foil him
should he go for a spell, but I had neglected the hezrou. I barely had time to see the
one that Hap had stuck with a dagger twisting it’s claws in a spell gesture. The
‘unholy blight’ saturated the area around me… and bounced back at it’s caster! The
‘spell turning’ I’d cast on myself earlier saved me from the effects, turning it
instead on it’s caster. Unfortunately the hezrou was not affected by the spell, though
Griff and Taklinn were in the area of effect. I saw Griff wince and wobble a bit, but
Taklinn seemed barely to notice as he stepped inside the dragon’s reach again,
hammering away with his axes and drawing still more blood with two long gashes
across it’s flank.

Happy moved within range and let fly with three daggers at the hezrou that had
just tried it’s spell on me. All three of them slammed home, and the hezrou shrieked
in unexpected pain, looking about wildly for it’s invisible attacker.

On the opposite side of the plateau Taigel went toe to toe with Acessiwall, and I
beheld an eerie calm on his face as he ducked a claw, coming in with his twin short
swords flashing. Once, twice, three times he made contact, opening up new wounds
in his fathers breast and neck. The dragon screamed in pain and rage, his eyes
flashing, and I knew his counter attack would be bad for Taigel. Determined not to
let that happen, I desperately cast ‘haste’ from a wand, hitting Taigel, Taklinn and
Griff with it just as Scylla cast a scorching ray of her own from behind me. Two of
her rays hit, breaking the dragons resistance and burning it.

But neither my ‘haste’ or Scylla’s fire could prevent Acessiwall’s attack on
Taigel. Maddened with pain and fury, the dragon struck again and again, teeth
ripping, claws rending, wings and tail whipping forward to slam our ranger over
and over again. Taigel was hit too many times to count and blood splashed from
him in obscene fountains. Staggering back, he raised his sword in a futile attempt to
fend off the terrible bite, but Acessiwall forced through the defense and clamped his
jaws onto Taigel’s shoulder, snapping his head back and forth, shaking his son as a
dog would a rat. I saw Taigel go limp, and he crumpled to the icy floor as
Acessiwall released him and raised his great reptilian head in a roar of victory that
drowned out our own cries of anguish. Taigel lay in an unmoving heap on the
ground, his life blood flowing from a dozen wounds. Even the ‘stone skin’ had not
been able to protect him, and I knew that Taklinn did not even need to check him
for a heartbeat, for even I could see that the damage was too great.

Taigel was dead.

As the last of the life drained from Taigel I could see the rage clear from
Acessiwall’s eyes. The dragon looked about him as if understanding for the first
time how wounded he was. True, he had killed one of us, but blood poured freely
from him now and we were pressing the attack with renewed vigor, eager to avenge
Taigel’s death even as the dragon’s allies deserted him. The hezrou that Happy had
wounded so badly disappeared, followed closely by the second demon. Acessiwall
flexed his great wings as if to flee, but not before we set upon him again. Taklinn
hacked away with all his might against the wurm’s breast, but was unable to pierce
the tough scales. Scylla hit with two more scorching rays, and we could tell that her
fire burned him to the core.

Griff, beside himself with bloodlust at seeing Taigel go down did the unthinkable.
He flew above the dragon and straddled him as one might a horse. The Talon came
down again and again, biting deeply.

But Acessiwall was already in motion. With a great beat of his wings the dragon
launched himself from the plateau and took flight. We could do little but watch
helplessly as he disappeared into the darkness with Griff still hanging on to his
back!

“Griff!” Happy screamed as she landed near us on the plateau. She and Scylla ran
for the fallen form of Taigel, each reaching for the amulet as Taklinn and I took
flight in a desperate attempt to reach the dragon, even though we knew that he was
more than twice as fast as we were.

The events that followed are a bit of a blur and much of it took place out of the
line of my vision. I have been able to piece together what I believe happened after
hearing my comrades versions of things.

Taklinn and I plunged into the inky blackness, but we could see no sign of either
Griff or Acessiwall. According to Griff, the dragon flew several hundred feet, trying
to shake him off as Griff clung tenaciously to his scaly back. Nearing the rear of the
cavern, Acessiwall banked hard and doubled back toward us, but instead of
continuing his attack, escape was now his desire.

“Hang on, friend!” The old wurm hissed at Griff as Taklinn and I saw the pair
headed straight for us. We braced for the attack, but at the last moment Acessiwall
beat his wings furiously and headed straight up. Like an arrow, the dragon bore
toward the roof of the cavern, smashing through a thin spot in the cave roof and
flying into open air.

According to Hap, she watched as Scylla flew forward after Taklinn and I,
perhaps sixty or seventy feet, and then disappeared when she saw Acessiwall head
for the cave ceiling. I must assume now that Scylla teleported.

Happy snatched up the amulet and a strip of Taigel’s bloody shirt. She took to the
air, flying after us.

Taklinn and I flew after Acessiwall with dwindling hopes, knowing we would
never catch him in the open sky.

Griff still clung to Acessiwall’s back, the wind whipping at him as the dragon
flew ever upwards. A thousand feet high he flew with only a few mighty wing
strokes. He then folded his great wings against him and turned toward the earth,
plummeting downward in a terrifying dive, heading straight for the frozen river. I
must assume that he intended to get to the water and swim back into the sanctum of
his lair.

The impact with the water would surely have killed Griff, but he had no time to
think about it, for as they streaked downward, Acessiwall was suddenly engulfed
with a fireball that could only have come from Scylla, who had teleported to a spot
near the river. Unfortunately her spell did not overcome the dragons resistance,
though it did do a fair amount of damage to Griff.

Cursing, Griff tried a desperate move, releasing a hand from the dragons back to
take a swing with his sword. But he was moving too fast. Acessiwall gave a sudden
jerk, and Griff was forced to let go of his sword to regain his handhold or lose the
dragon. The Talon tumbled to the earth below and was swallowed by the snow.

Down and down they plummeted, only four or five hundred feet from the river.
Taklinn and I finally rose from the cavern into open air just in time to see them pass
us on their way down. We flew toward the edge of the cliff and were just in time to
witness Scylla’s second fireball erupt over Acessiwall.

This one took. The already wounded dragon felt the burn of the fireball, unable to
either resist or dodge the magical flame. It scorched every inch of his body, and
Griff had no choice but to feel the pain of it as well.

But Acessiwall was far more wounded than Griff. The dragon gave out a terrible
roar, attempted to gain control with it’s weakening wings, but they suddenly went
limp. The dragon’s head tucked beneath itself and it began to tumble like a stone in
free fall. Griff let go, using his ‘fly’ spell to stay aloft, and we all watched as
Acessiwall fell, end over end, to earth, smashing into the snow with a muted thud.
Hap reached us, panting, as we peered over the edge of the cliff. Acessiwall did not
move. The old wurm’s arms and legs bent at impossible angles, and his neck
stretched out against the ground. One wing lay trapped beneath his body, while the
other fanned out on the snow, shattered and scorched.

Griff joined us as we flew down to the body, and Scylla was suddenly there as
well. The five of us stood around Acessiwall, scarcely able to believe that he was
dead. I think we kept expecting his eyes to pop open and for him to attack us again.

But he did not.

Acessiwall was dead.

There was no rejoicing. There were no cheers. Somberly I turned and flew
upward, back toward the hole in the roof of the cavern. I flew back into the cave
and went to Taigel’s body. Our ranger friend lay there, twisted and battered,
covered in blood. As my friends joined me, I straightened Taigel’s arms and legs
and closed his eyes. There was silence among us.

Then, from the corner of my eye, I saw Scylla fly away into the darkness. My
eyes narrowed and I left Taigel’s side to follow her. The sorceress flew across the
cavern, skirting a wall until she came to a spot that was well worn. This, I assumed,
had been where Acessiwall had spent much of his time. I landed next to her and she
seemed a bit surprised to see me.

“It’s not that I don’t trust you, Scylla,” I said, “But I don’t trust you.”

She gave me a wolfish grin. “Well spoken.” She said.

I watched Scylla as she scanned the cave walls, searching. At last she seemed to
see something, and the two of us flew up to an outcropping of rock that could have
easily been missed. There, behind the barrier of stalagmites, we saw the first glow
of Acessiwall’s horde.

The rest of the crew joined us soon after, and we spent the remainder of the
afternoon going through a treasure the likes of which I have never seen before. Coin
of every denomination was heaped in piles. Gems and jewelry lay scattered and
draped everywhere. Our ‘detect magic’s’ picked up item after item, and pieces of
art decorated the scene. It was amazing to behold.

We collected and organized the treasure as best we could and then sat down to
discuss our next move.

“What shall we do with Taigel?” Hap asked. We had all been thinking the same
thing, but none had thus far dared to voice it, as if talking about what to do with his
body would make his death more real.

“Well, he didn’t want to come back,” Scylla remarked, “Why don’t we just leave
him here?”

Taklinn’s eyes flashed at the sorceress. “I found a symbol to Heironious on him.
If he was a follower he should be taken to the church for proper burial. It is the least
he deserves. We will take him to Havilah and commit his remains to the priests
there.”

Griff cleared his throat. “This is gonna seem weird,” He said, “And you might not
believe me, but Taigel asked me something before we went out this morning. He
told me that if he didn’t make it, he wanted me to take care of his equipment and
weapons. I don’t know what I ought to do with them, but there you have it.”

“Of course we believe you, Griff.” I said. “You’re hardly the type to take
advantage of a companions death for the sake of a few trinkets and a couple of
swords.”

Griff grunted and spat.

“Look,” Scylla insisted, “Why should we take him all the way back to Havilah?
He deserves a heroes tomb, and this is as good as any. In fact, I think we should cut
him out a share of the treasure and bury him with it. We could entomb him where we
found the horde, buried forever with his share of the loot!”

“No!” Taklinn rounded on her. “We are taking him back to Havilah!”

“Why?” She pressed the point. “I don’t see why…”

“Because,” I cut her off, “It would be only too easy for someone to wait a few
days, teleport back here, strip all the treasure from his body and keep it for herself!”

Taklinn looked at me, his eyes wide with shock at my words. “Doorag, do you
really think…”

“I don’t know what I think. But I do know that I don’t trust her.”

“Do you really want to address that here? Now?” Taklinn asked me.

I looked straight at Scylla. “I just did.”

Was it hurt that filled Scylla’s eyes? Anger? I am not sure. She looked back at me
for long seconds and silence hung between us. When she spoke at last, it was but a
single word. It was the verbal component to her teleport spell, and just like that, she
was gone.

“Doorag, perhaps…” Taklinn began, but I cut him off, turning in anger.

“Perhaps what?” I asked him. “Perhaps I was too harsh? I think not, Taklinn.
Acessiwall is dead and our ties to Scylla are now broken. For months now I have
been waiting for the other shoe to drop. For months now I have been wondering
what her ultimate plan is. Perhaps she has none, but she has given me no cause to
believe that! Every time we turn around we are faced with her lies and
machinations, or have you forgotten that? I have tried to trust her, but the fact is, I
have not been able to comfortably turn my back on her since the day we met. She is
the product of Melesandre and Sensesi. She flaunts spells before you that cause you
distress. She delights in suffering and shows no compassion whatsoever, and might
I remind you that she has shown no loyalty to us at all. She was only too content to
let us all stay in the danger of this lair while she ported back to Finch for a cozy
nights rest! You think I was too harsh? I have been holding my tongue for a long
time, Taklinn, but no more! She is entitled to a share of the treasure, and I will do
my best to see that she gets it, but beyond that, she has a long way to go to gain my
trust.”

Taklinn nodded, stroking his beard. Griff and Hap said nothing. I took a deep
breath and turned, casting a ‘mord’s mansion’. I opened the door and disappeared
inside.

The others joined me after a few moments and it was decided that we would stay
here tonight. The mansion was comfortable, and we still had a bit of business to
attend to in the lair. We have brought Taigel’s body into the mansion and he lays
now, wrapped in clean sheets, upon a bed in a comfortable room of my design. It is
beside him that I sit now, scribbling furiously in this journal and wondering about
all of the things I never got to know about him. So often am I buried in books that I
oft times neglect to explore the friendships that I have.

I realize now that my anger toward Scylla was largely born of my anger at
Taigel’s death, though in the end I meant every word I said.

Tomorrow, if she does not return, I shall try to scry her. She should, at the very
least, receive her share of the horde.

I must be to bed soon, but I cannot stop looking at Taigel. I keep wondering why
he did not wish to be returned. Was life so cruel to him? What a shame that such a
magnificent creature could find peace only in death.

Yes, I must be to bed soon. But perhaps I will sit here for just a while longer.


Rping 28

Today we have wrapped up the few loose ends that needed to be taken care of in
Acessiwall’s lair.

I should have mentioned that I went in search of Griff’s sword before settling in
for the evening yesterday. I put far too much work into that blade to let it be lost in
a snow bank, and when Griff reminded me that that’s where it was I immediately
set out to locate it. It took an hour of flying around and scanning the area with
several ‘detect magic’s’, but at last I spotted it’s glow buried beneath a mound of
snow. Griff was pleased to have it back.

Griff and Happy also spent some time combing the areas in the lair that we had
passed over in our haste to get to Acessiwall yesterday, and found a few more items
and some treasure, which is good; I’d hate to leave anything behind.

My first order of business this morning was to analyze our finds and organize the
horde. The scope of the wealth we will take from this lair has left me quite
breathless! Being a practitioner of the arcane arts comes with a high price, not the
least of which is monetary. I never seem to have enough gold, but my share of
Acessiwall’s fortune will go a long way toward my goals. The final list of our
discoveries is as follows.

42,672gp worth of miscellaneous coinage.
3,500 in various gems and jewelry.
A pair of jeweled gloves.
A fire opal pendant.
A string of pink pearls.
A silver scroll case.
A polished obsidian mug.
A silver snuff box.
A silk pillow.
A wool tapestry with images exalting the deity, Cord.
A mithril and ruby hat pin set.
A teakwood serving tray.
A silver anklet decorated with elephant charms.
An onyx statuette of a centaur.
A cape made of vrock feathers.
A lion skin cloak.
An antique carpet depicting the god, Herionious.
A lovely crystal lamp.
A gem of Brightness with 19 charges left.
A Staff of Transmutation with 13 charges left.
A vial containing a potion of ‘shield of faith’.
A Rod of Cancellation.
A Ring of Evasion.
A Short Sword of subtlety (Happy’s jaw hit the floor when I told her what this
sword does).
An Iron Flask.

This list does not include the hundreds of diamonds we have recovered
throughout out journey through this lair, both mined from the walls and found in the
wake of golem battles, not to mention the several fine magical items taken from the
bodies of our dead foes. All told, if we were to decide to sell everything we would
all walk away with something in the neighborhood of 50,000 gold apiece (if
Happy’s assessment of the values of the art objects is correct). Of course there will
be magical items that we wish to use instead of sell, and Taklinn seems intent upon
turning over the tapestry of Cord and the rug of Herionious to their respective
churches, which will cut the portion down a bit, but still, it is more gold than I ever
dreamed of having at a single time.

We have seen no sign of Scylla today. I tried to scry her, but to no avail. I will
attempt it again tomorrow, and I also plan to learn the spell, ‘sending’ as soon as
possible, with which I can send her a message.

Our last order of business was to deal with the ettin and giant that still sat,
imprisoned, in cells. After some discussion on exactly what we should do with
them, we were faced with the distasteful task of setting them free. True, they are
evil at their core, but they pose no immediate threat, and have done nothing we
know of that would justify execution. Leaving them to starve was not an option, so
we unlocked their cells and led them to Acessiwall’s cavern where Taklinn issued a
stern warning to both of them that if he ever found out that they were meddling in
the affairs of the civilized races he would personally hunt them down. I seconded
this threat, assuring them that no place was safe from my scrying eyes, which
appeared to make believers out of both of them. I cast a pair of fly spells on the two
and they (rather clumsily) extracted themselves from the lair.

Toward late noon we gathered outside at the body of Acessiwall. The old wurm
was semi-frozen now, but we were able to take a trophy or two. I had Griff dig me
out a tooth and a claw for my personal collection, after which Taklinn chopped off
the entire head!

“It is done!” He cried at the sky, presumably to the celestial folk to whom he had
been in debt. “I am beholdin’ to no one!” He used magically enhanced strength to
hoist the dragons head to his shoulder, cast his ‘word of recall’, and spirited the five
of us back to Havilah.

I must say, the urchin that keeps out rooms at the Academy in order (Crispin, I
believe his name is) was awestruck at our appearance, especially given the fact that
Taklinn dumped a dragons head in the middle of the room. The youngster is utterly
star struck with Griff, and he immediately bombarded our warrior with excited
questions. His chatter tired me within seconds and I retired to the calm of my lab for
a well deserved bit of peace and quiet. Ambros and I spent the rest of the day in
relative calm, doing a bit of research on the outer planes.

At dinner this evening there was talk of Griff and Happy’s wedding. They wish to
be married before we go in search of Caribdis. I was a bit taken aback at this, and
asked them how they could even think of having their wedding without Caribdis
present, but they explained that they felt that they had waited long enough, not to
mention the fact that Griff really does not believe that the boy can even be brought
back. I think he believes our quest to find Caribdis a fool’s errand, though I have
little doubt that he will accompany us.

At any rate, there are some logistical dilemmas surrounding their wedding, not the
least of which is the transportation of several dozen halflings from the green
mountains to Havilah. I wonder at the wisdom of bringing so many of them to the
big city, but Griff did promise Hap’s father that her entire family would be hosted at
the wedding. I wonder if he knew just how big Hap’s family is when he made that
promise.

I suppose I will aid them with a few teleports to expedite the process. Happy is
quite excited at the prospect of her upcoming nuptials, and intends the wedding to
take place some forty days from now. This will give me a bit of desperately needed
time to learn some of the spells contained in Helious’ book, not to mention crafting
a few items that I have been wanting.

I savor the notion of a rest, but at the same time I find myself eager to be after
Caribdis. I feel as though each day we delay our odds of bringing him back grow
slimmer and slimmer.


Gdmnth 1

Our first full day back in Havilah, and I can already feel myself begin to breath
easier, despite the fact that Scylla has still declined to make an appearance, and the
sorrow with which we turned Taigel’s body over to the priests of Heironious today.
I know they will care for his remains well, but still, it was difficult to let him leave
my sight.

Taklinn has sent a sending to Scylla requesting an audience with her. I would do
the same if I had the spell, but alas, I do not. It is in Helious’ spellbook, but I have
had no time to learn it yet, and probably will not for some time.

Despite our desire to be off after Caribdis, we have decided to spend at least a
month and a half in Havilah. We need this time to liquidate our treasures, and Hap
and Griff’s wedding must be planned. Both of them are already hard at work with
the organization of the event. As for myself, I have already begun work on
something that I have been wanting to craft for several months now. It is in it’s
beginning stages, and I have yet to even get any more than the raw materials for the
item. My plan is to craft an anti-magic vest for Griff. It seems appropriate for him,
given his general distrust of magic; it simply feels right, and I vowed some time ago
that he would have such an item.

I want to craft the actual vest from the leather I’ve taken from Acessiwall’s wing.
I have the material, now it is a matter of turning it into a vest in a timely manner.
Rather than waiting through the tanning and sewing process, I have elected to track
down a scroll of ‘fabricate’. It will not be inexpensive, but time is of the essence if I
am to complete both this vest and the wedding gifts that Taklinn and I intend to
make for Griff and Happy. What I spend in gold, I make up for in time.

There is also the matter of the iron flask. It is easily the most valuable item we
found amongst the dragon’s horde, yet is potentially the most dangerous, for,
according to my research, it’s purpose is to trap dangerous outsiders and bend them
to the owners will. Therefore, it is conceivable that the flask could contain anything
from an elemental to a balor. We have no way of knowing until we uncork it,
although Taklinn has found a way to circumvent this problem through his
divinations. He has communed with an agent of Clangeden with regard to the flask,
and the agent has revealed to Taklinn that the flask contains a glabrezu, a
particularly loathsome and dangerous type of demon.

This is a potentially deadly problem, but we think we may have a way to
effectively deal with the demon, since the flask will allow us to command the
demon for the period of one hour. Our plan is to force it to lower it’s resistances,
after which Taklinn will ‘dismiss’ it back to the abyss. Taklinn assures us that it
will work, but I am sure that Griff and Happy, like myself, will take all available
precautions when we attempt this tomorrow.


Gdmnth 2

Our good luck continues. Not only did I manage to procure a scroll of ‘fabricate’
this afternoon, we were also able to deal with the iron flask.

Taklinn’s plan of dismissing the demon actually worked flawlessly. Griff, Taklinn
and I (I don’t know where Hap was) took the flask several miles outside of the city,
and after much preparatory spell casting on the part of both myself and Taklinn, I
unstoppered the cork and uttered the command word.

An oily, black, smoke issued forth, swiftly forming itself into the dog muzzled
freak of evil that stood before us, balefully awaiting my command. With a shiver, I
forced it to accept Taklinn’s ‘dismissal’, and in a flash, it was gone, sent back to the
pits to rejoin the blood war. With a collective sigh of relief, we headed home.

Taklinn is already at work on finding a buyer for the flask, though I must admit
that, at least on an academic level, it pains me to see it go.

We have also split the few items of magical treasure. Which reminds me, Taklinn
got a reply from Scylla today. He sent her another sending, and was told that all of
her share of the treasure was to be dealt with through Happy!

The revelation that Hap had somehow been in contact with Scylla was startling
indeed, but she would give little detail, other than to say that she considered Scylla
a friend, and that we ought to reconsider our positions toward her. Griff bristled at
this, and Taklinn seemed none too pleased either. As for myself, I care little either
way at this point. I am bothered to think that Hap might be somehow deceived by
the sorceress, but I must trust her to take care of herself. I wish for Scylla to have
her fair share of the treasure gained from Acessiwall, but beyond that, I consider
our relationship at an end. I haven’t the time for ill will, and I do not consider her an
enemy, but the plain fact of the matter is, I cannot trust her.

I will spend tomorrow learning the ‘fabricate’ spell! Ironic that this one spell that
I need was not contained in Helious’ book, and cost me over a thousand gold to
purchase. Still, that cost will be minimal compared to the cost of enchanting the
vest itself. I have no regrets though. This will be a masterpiece; a one of a kind item
that will serve Havilah’s greatest hero. If my name lives on only as that of the
artificer that crafted some of Griff’s most cherished items, I will have done well by
it.

Griff, of course, would never understand that. He does not realize that people
need heroes, and in a sense, that is the quality that makes him the best kind of hero
of all. His very reluctance; his continued ascertains that he is simply in it for the
gold; his reticence toward fame; all of it makes him all the more heroic, and I love
him for that.


Gdmnth 3

The ‘fabricate’ spell is mine! It has been an exhausting day, as it always is when I
must learn a spell, but the exhaustion carries with it the delicious satisfaction that
only comes with unearthing a new secret. “Fabricate’ can hardly be considered the
gem of my arsenal, but the thrill of learning a new spell never fails to please me, no
matter how benign the dweomer.

Tomorrow I will cast it on the leather of Acessiwall’s wing, and with any luck, I
will have the beginnings of Griff’s vest.

I have also decided to make use of my ‘permanency’ spell, and to that end I have
created a permanent ‘familiar pocket’ inside of my hat in which Ambros may spend
his time in safety and comfort. He is in there now, and while it is odd not to feel his
weight on my head, he tells me that the small space is a large step up in terms of
comfort. It is worth the spent life essence to keep him out of the line of fire.

I cast a second ‘permanency’ on myself, in conjunction with ‘detect magic’. This
one has been a long time coming, and is probably something I should have done for
myself months ago, yet ‘permanency’ carries with it it’s own risks, and it is only
now that I feel that I am powerful enough that my spells will stand a decent chance
of resisting possible dispels.

Tomorrow I intend to finish the job with permanent ‘darkvision’ and ‘see
invisibility’. The cost in essence is high, but being caught without these two spells
can be deadly, and I never want to suffer that again.


Gdmnth 4

The vest is finished! Well, at least the physical vest now exists. It is of fine and tough
leather, white, and has a texture unlike any bovine leather creation. I believe it will
be well suited to Griff.

My research into the ‘anti-magic’ spell is also complete. It is necessary to tweak
the spell a bit with regard to it’s area of effect. It’s ten foot radius would, I believe,
get in the way at times and make it difficult on his other party members. Therefore I
have reduced it’s area to a five foot radius. The cost will be slightly higher, but not
prohibitively so.

I now have permanent ‘darkvision’ and ‘see invisibility’ on myself.

Each day sees more and more of our treasure liquidated, and Taklinn drops off the
new portions to us as soon as he can. All told, we will each take away nearly
50,000gp from the dragon, and we all appear to be doing our best to spend it as fast
as possible. While I have hardly left the lab, I still hear of the obscene amounts of
gold that Griff is spending on his wedding, and Taklinn has told me that he is
having his armor further enhanced. I would love to do it for him, but we simply
haven’t the time.

Happy, apparently, has made sure that Scylla is receiving her share of the
treasure. While I know that the very idea of Hap paling around with the sorceress
grates on Griff’s nerves, I can only shrug and hope she knows what she’s doing. I
am a little put out, though hardly surprised, that Scylla will not talk to us. Truth be
told, I don’t know that I have much to say to her.


Gdmnth 5

The true work on the vest has begun. I doubt I will make many entries in this
journal other than specific working notes simply due to the fact that the crafting
process is so exhausting. Still, it gives me such a sense of satisfaction.

I have always wished that I was more skilled in the arts. How I envy the painters
and musicians; yet I am beginning to realize that the creation of enchanted items is
an art unto itself. Perhaps I am more creative than I gave myself credit for.


Gdmnth 19

What a long and interesting day this has been!

It was an hour past noon when I imbued the vest with it’s final incantation and
stepped back to admire my work. It was complete, and ready to wear, and I could
hardly wait to give it to Griff. We were due to all meet for dinner this evening, and I
resolved to give it to him then.

But the day would hold much more in store that just that!

Late last night I received a written message via currier from Happy. Our roguish
friend is obviously too busy to come see me herself, and I do not begrudge her for
that, for I know that the planning of her wedding has taken them nearly every
available moment. That, and I daresay she probably would not have wanted to field
all of the questions that her note brought to my mind.

“Doorag,” the letter began, “Scylla has been in contact with Nivin Mottul and
Yigil. She wishes to join the Academy and become a protector of Havilah, and they
support her in this. I ask you to give her a second chance.”

I was quite taken aback by this news, for certainly the idea of Scylla being
sponsored by Nivin and Yigil was an unexpected twist. Still, doubt nagged at me.
The odds were simply too great that this was an example of still more of Scylla’s
machinations, and I resolved not to take her at face value. Yet, if these esteemed
and learned men could give her their trust, then I knew that I must at least hear her
out, should she decide to come to me.

So I was surprised, but not shocked when, an hour before dinner was to be served,
there came a knock on our door and I answered it to find Scylla standing there.
Beautiful as ever, yet still with her icy cold eyes, she regarded me cautiously, and I
her.

I was on my guard. “Are you here to fight or dine?” I asked, taking a step back,
prepared for anything.

“Well,” she laughed easily, “I certainly didn’t come to fight.”

“Then make yourself comfortable.” I said, showing her in.

She did, and I had my unseen servant pour her a glass of wine, though I did not
turn my back on her. We sat in silence, each regarding the other for the better part
of an hour until the others began to arrive.

Happy smiled at Scylla and Griff scowled. Taklinn gave her a noncommittal nod.
We sat around our communal table and Crispin began to bring in the food. Talk was
light at first. We have seen little of each other over the past two weeks, and there
was much catching up to do. Griff and Happy, of course, had been deep in wedding
plans, not the least of which was the transportation of some twenty-six of Happy’s
family members to Havilah. To that end Griff had approached me about possibly
teleporting them here, and I had told him that I would be only too happy to do so
when the time came.

The pair had finally set a date. They will be married on Harvester 11, which
means that I will just have time to finish their wedding gifts.

Taklinn had gone back to his home in the mountains and had returned with
several of his family, not to mention his fiance and her chaperone. He introduced
me to them, and I must say that she is… handsome? He is putting them up at
Havilah’s finest inn, which must be costing him a fortune, but what good is gold if
not to be spent on ones family and friends?

As dinner winded down and Crispin cleared the table, I had my servant pour us all
wine, and Griff stood up as he produced several tightly wrapped parcels. I
had been about to present him with his vest, but, not wanting to interrupt him, I said
nothing.

“Taklinn, Doorag,” He said, clearing his throat, “Since you're both going to be in
my wedding, I’ve gotten you a couple of things.” He passed a parcel to each of us,
and, unwrapping mine I was delighted to find a beautiful robe of ceremonial design
in the blues and whites of Havilah. Taklinn received clerical robes of similar make.

“Why, thank you, Griff, you needn't have bothered…” I began, but he cut me off.

“Yeah, whatever,” He gruffed, “It’s also customary for the groom to get his honor
guard a little something, so these are yours. Don’t get all weepy on me either!”
Griff slid two more bundles to us. Mine was long and thin, a while Taklinn’s was
wide, flat and round.

Pleasantly surprised by this unexpected outburst of generosity, I unwrapped my
gift and stared in awe at the bronze wood staff I held in my hands. Taklinn
unwrapped one of the most beautiful shields I have ever seen, and we both looked
at Griff, mouths agape.

“It’s a staff of fire.” He said to me. “And Taklinn, that shield is made of
Acessiwall’s hide and it’s magiced all to hell.” Indeed, Taklinn’s shield was a work
of art. It was white, and engraved with a series of dwarven runes and the symbol of
Clangeden.

I hefted the staff, savoring the feel of it. “Griff, you should not have done this!”

“Shut up.” Griff muttered, and I laughed.

“Griffon Dorjan, I thank you!” Taklinn rumbled, his voice nearly cracking with
emotion as he fit the shield onto his arm. “It is beautiful and I shall wield it with
pride!”

Griff muttered something else, and I laughed again at his discomfort.

“Well, Griff,” I said, “As long as we’re giving gifts, I suppose now is as good a
time as any to give you this.” And I produced a parcel of my own, sliding it across
the table toward him. His eyes widened a bit, obviously not expecting such a thing.
He unwrapped it and held up the white vest, obviously wondering what it was.

“Griff,” I said, “I know that you have never been very comfortable with magic,
and to that end I have been wanting to make you something like this ever since we
battled Helious. It is my position that you should not be bothered by magic if you
don’t want to be, and therefore I have imbued that vest with an ‘anti-magic’ spell.
You need only utter the command word, and it will envelope you in an anti-magic
field once per day.”

Griff’s eyes widened even further and his mouth dropped open. It is perhaps the
only time I have ever seen the gruff warrior at a loss for words. “Doorag, I… it’s
incredible!” He finally said. “Thank you! I shall wear it with pride!”

We toasted each other, lifting our glasses to the Band of the Broken Blade. Only
Scylla did not join in our festive talk, and I knew that the time had come to deal
with her.

I set down my glass and regarded her across the table. “Well, Scylla,” I said, “I
know you didn’t come here for the food. I take it we have a few things to discuss?”

“Indeed.” She nodded, smiling demurely.

“Yes, we do have much to discuss.” Taklinn agreed, stroking his beard. “Am I to
understand that you have been in contact with Yigil and Nivin Mottul?”

“As a matter of fact I have.” She said.

Griff leaned back in his chair, cradling his glass in his hand and watching with
interest, and Happy scooted forward, her eyes bright.

“I know what the message I received told me,” I said, “And apparently Taklinn
has heard the same. I must assume that Griff knows of this as well since Happy and
you are now such good friends. But I’d like to hear the whole story from you,
Scylla, if you wouldn’t mind.”

The sorceress coughed and gave me a disarming smile that immediately put me
on my guard. “Of course I wouldn’t mind. I have been in touch with Nivin and
Yigil in an attempt to further clear my good name. It is my desire to be accepted as
a full fledged member of the Academy, and they have agreed, though they request
the good word and backing of at least four other Academy members, specifically,
yours. They feel that, having traveled with me, you four are in the best position to
judge my intentions. That is why I am here, to humbly beg you for a chance to
prove myself, not only to you, but to Havilah at large.”

The table fell silent as we digested this surprising new development. Across the
table, Hap dug and elbow into Griff’s ribs. The warrior scowled, but finally sat
forward in his chair.

“Look,” He said, “If Hap says your ok, then I say you’re ok. But hear me now,
I’ve given you chances in the past and you’ve blown it! This is the last chance you
get from me. Put any of us in danger again, and I swear by every god in the heavens
and hells that I’ll take your head off. You got that?”

“Of course.” Scylla nodded.

Happy looked hopefully at Taklinn and myself. Our cleric was the first to speak.

“I have been speaking at length with Happy about you, Scylla,” He said, “And she
has convinced me that you have gone through many changes in these past weeks. I
know that I have sometimes been less than kind towards you during our time
together, and I also know that it has not always been warranted. I have been
meditating upon my own shortcomings recently, especially with regard to my
attitude toward those who do not necessarily fall in line with my philosophy, and to
that end I am trying to be more open minded and accepting. Happy and I have, until
only recently, had an axe to grind, but hopefully we have buried it. Part of the peace
we have made concerns you. To facilitate that peace, and to attempt to turn over a
new leaf myself, I will offer you my support in your sponsorship to join the
Academy. I may have my reservations, but I believe that few are irredeemable. I
welcome you into the fold, and hope that this will mean a future of friendship
between us.”

“Thank you, Taklinn.” Scylla said, quietly. And then all eyes were turned to me.
“Doorag?”

I sighed and pursed my lips, narrowing my eyes, attempting to see past the
innocent expression on Scylla’s face. Many thoughts whirled around in my head,
but at last I straightened them out.

“Scylla,” I said, “Understand that I have nothing personal against you. I admire
your talents, and I believe that your skills would be invaluable in the service of
Havilah. However, there is still the matter of history, which weighs heavily against
you. You ask me to extend my trust to you, yet, upon reflection, I can find no
reason to do so. The fact is, while you seem sincere enough, I am reminded of all
the lies; all the layers we have had to get through to find the truth in the past, and I
can only wonder if this is not yet another in a long line of your seemingly endless
machinations. That said, I’m afraid that I cannot, in good conscience, put my
reputation on the line for you. I applaud Taklinn and Griff for taking the leap of
faith, and I pray that my concerns are unfounded. I hope that you do become a
member of the Academy and prove me wrong, but until then I must err of the side
of caution. I would hope that my vote on this will not be the difference between
your sponsorship.”

Sadness clouded Scylla’s eyes. “Actually, I’m afraid it might.” She said.
“Certainly I can never become a full fledged member of this crew without
unanimous consent.”

“I’m sorry, what?” Taklinn shook his head as if to clear his ears.

“A full fledged member of this crew?” Griff sat bolt upright in his chair. Even
Happy’s head snapped around, as if startled by Scylla’s desire, not only to join the
Academy, but our crew.

“Well, of course.” Scylla said, “What better crew to join than this one?”
“Now just a damn minute!” Griff pointed at her, “You never said nothing about
joining up with us on a full time basis!”

“No,” Agreed Taklinn, “You didn’t.”

“Why would I want to join any other crew?” Scylla asked, as if it made perfect
sense. “I have traveled with you, we know what we can all do, and I’m certain that
we’ll soon be working as a smoothly oiled team.”

“No,” I interrupted, “We won’t, because I absolutely will not agree to that!”

“Nor can I.” Taklinn shook his head.

“Hell no!” Griff said, his jaw set. He glanced at Hap, ready to fend off her
arguments, but she was strangely silent.

Scylla sighed, and a hint of anger flashed in her eyes. “I should have known. You
have always treated me as if I were beneath you, why would you change now?”

“Now just a minute!” Taklinn said, “Perhaps I have not always been kind to you
in the past, but I am willing to let bygones be bygones. I will support your decision
to serve Havilah, but you cannot expect any of us to open the doors to this crew to
you without your having proven yourself!”

“Ha!” She smirked, “I have to prove myself to you!”

“You find that ironic?” Taklinn asked.

“I do.”

“Pray, tell me why.”

“I rather think I should spare you my personal observations, Taklinn. I doubt your
ego would let you hear them.”

“Try me.” Our cleric said, leaning back in his seat.

Obvious anger now boiled in Scylla’s eyes, and I tensed a bit as she seemed to
warm to a topic which she had obviously dwelt much upon.

“Very well then. You are a priest of Clangeden, are you not?”

“I am.” Taklinn replied

“And you follow the law of Clangeden?”

“I do.”


“You are Clangeden’s representative, his voice in the mortal world, are you not?”

“I am one of many, but yes.”

“You hold his laws above all others?”

“Of course! Get to the point, Scylla.”

“Is it not your duty to enforce his laws upon this world? Is it not your duty to
quash evil in all it’s forms?”

“It is.”

“And do you do so?”

“Yes, I do!”

Scylla smiled, but there was no humor in it. “Ah,” She said, slyly, “But you do
not!”

“Explain yourself, Scylla.” Taklinn said.

“Taklinn, you call yourself a man of god, yet you turn your back on evil again and
again. You allowed the release of that giant and ettin from Acessiwall’s lair,
knowing full well that they were, at their very core, evil.”

“They had done nothing for which I might convict them.”

Scylla ignored him, pressing on. “I have seen you pick and choose, Taklinn. I
have watched you argue for mercy towards the blatantly evil. I have watched you
let others carry out justice. You do not have the courage of your convictions! You
are a coward, Taklinn the Shorn.”

I gasped at her words, and even Griff moved away from Taklinn a bit, as if to
allow him room to swing an axe. Taklinn’s jaw stiffened and I saw pure ice behind
his eyes, but he remained calm.

“I will assume you are trying to make a point, Scylla,” He said, slowly, “So I will
ignore your insult.

She barked a mocking laugh. “My point? Yes, I am trying to make a point. The
point is, that you will not carry out the wishes of your own god! You allow evil to
go free in the name of mercy, but at what cost? You really think that giant we let go
will just change his ways? How many innocents will die because of that decision?
Do you recall your arguments when we planned to go after Helious? The point is,
Taklinn, that you are utterly qualified to play the role of judge, jury and
executioner, yet you shirk that responsibility, instead placing it in the hands of your
companions, or, worse yet, the hands of judges who have no idea of the
circumstances! You do not trust your own judgment.”

Taklinn’s face darkened, and the danger in the air was palpable. Yet, with
supreme self control, he said only, “If accepting quarter when asked is a crime, than
I accept my guilt.”

Scylla scoffed derisively again, but by this time I had had enough.

“How dare you!” I said, my voice shaking with anger. “Taklinn may be many
things, but a coward is not one of them. You cross a bad line when you call him
that!”

“I agree.” Griff put in. “Taklinn is no coward.”

“The fact is,” I said, “I may not always agree with Taklinn’s decisions, but I never
have to worry about trusting him. He is a good dwarf, and a credit to his race and
religion. He follows his path and we accept him for that. You, on the other hand,
have shown time and again that you cannot be trusted! That is the basic difference
between all of us and you, Scylla. I can place my wealth, my loved ones, or my life
in the hands of any at this table and not think twice about it, with one glaring
exception, and that exception is you! If Taklinn, or indeed, if any one of us says that
we will do something, if we make a vow, you can rest assured that we will see it
though. With you, not so much. Such concepts as loyalty and trust are alien to you.
You have proven that time and again, and frankly I am tired of constantly waiting
for the other shoe to drop. I am tired of wondering what your real agenda is. I am
tired of having to question your motives, and I am tired of needing divination spells
to assure me of your sincerity! You dare question the honor of Taklinn? That is a
thinly veiled attempt to muddy your own mirror, Scylla.”

“Thank you, my friends.” Taklinn said, quietly.

“Look,” Griff cut in, obviously tiring of this debate, “I already said I’ve got no
problem with you joining the Academy, and I don’t even give a crap if you want to
come with us on this cockamamie search for Caribdis, but it won’t be as a full
member of this crew. I’d have to see you change first.”

“Griff speaks wisely.” Taklinn said. “I would also agree to a trial should you wish
to travel with us.”

“As would I.” I agreed. “At this point we may be able to start with a clean slate,
but a trial period would be expected of any perspective member of this crew.”

“So I must prove myself yet again!” Scylla snapped.

“You have not proven yourself a first time!” I retorted. “You are a talented spell
caster, that is true, but you give no thought to the ramifications of your magic. You
cast carelessly. You fire spells into melee and hit your own companions, not just
once, but over and over! I am glad that you and Happy have found common ground,
but I daresay she would be singing a different tune had you accidentally killed Griff
with one of your misplaced scorching rays.” I glanced at Happy, and she favored
me with a glare, but I knew I had spoken the truth.

“And let us not forget the matter of simple, decent, loyalty.” I pressed on, “In
Acessiwall’s lair you gave not a second thought to leaving us to rot in the mines
while you ported back to Finch for a nice warm bed. That, Scylla, was the straw that
broke the camel’s back for me. You think that I could not have done such a thing?
You think that I would not have preferred the safety of a cozy inn? Yet I stayed,
even though I could do little more than hunker in a rope trick and rest, I stayed. Do
you even understand why I would choose to stay, Scylla? Do you even comprehend
the concept of friendship?”

“When have you ever treated me as a friend?” She shot back.

“When have you given me reason to?” I answered, coldly. “All things considered,
I believe that I have been more than decent to you.”

Scylla choked out an ugly laugh but said nothing. She looked at Happy for
support, but still our halfling friend said nothing.

“Ah, screw this!” Griff exclaimed. “This is getting us nowhere! We’ve put our
offer on the table, Scylla. We’ll back you for Academy membership, and we’ll even
let you come with us when we go after Caribdis. If you can convince us that you’ve
changed, then fine, we’ll talk about crew membership then. There it is, take it or
leave it.”

Scylla’s eyes smoldered for several long seconds, and I half expected her to
simply teleport away again in a fit of pique, but she only said, “I shall have to think
on it.”

“You do that.” I said. “Think on it very hard.”

She shot me a last look and spun on her heel, heading for the door, but Taklinn’s
voice stopped her as she reached for the handle.

“Scylla!” He barked.

She turned and waited for what he had to say.

“I meant what I said about clean slates,” He said, “And I still have hope that we
can start fresh. But know this: If you ever call me a coward again, we shall cross
more than words.” His voice was even and without threat, but they carried the
weight of ten thousand years of dwarven pride, and they sent a shiver down my
spine. Scylla said nothing. She flung open the door and disappeared.

“That went well.” Griff said, sarcastically, and Happy shot him a scathing look.
She groaned.

“I didn’t know she wanted to join the crew.” Was all she said.


Gdmnth 20

It is late evening now, and still we have heard nothing from Scylla. Her silence
worries me, but I suppose that I would have to thing twice about anything she did
say, so there’s no point in losing sleep over it one way or another.

I have begun work on Happy and Griff’s wedding presents. Taklinn and I were
thinking along the same lines when it came to a gift for the pair, and we have
pooled our resources to make the items. We are crafting them a pair of amulets with
a permanent ‘status’ spell imbued within them that will only work for them. This
way, as long as they wear the items, they will know the health and whereabouts of
each other. I would have liked to have included a teleportation ability as well, but
the cost would have been prohibitive, not to mention the time factor. Perhaps in the
future I can add the port ability.

Taklinn has agreed to cover the monetary cost of the amulets while I will take on
the cost in life essence. He will also cast the ‘status’ spell daily, while I do the
actual crafting, so this is truly a combined effort. If all goes well, I should have
these items finished by the day before the wedding.


Gdmnth 23

Damn that woman!

Three days have gone by without a word from Scylla. Taklinn finally sent her a
‘sending’ this morning asking her what decision she has made, and she replied to
him with a very curt, “I do not consider ourselves to be allies anymore.”

Taklinn told me this, this morning when he arrived to cast the ‘status’ spell, and I
was so angry that I could not concentrate on my work. Instead, I shelved the
amulets and dug out Helious’ spellbook and spent the day learning ‘sending’ for
myself. I fully intend to give her a piece of my mind come tomorrow.


Gdmnth 24

My ‘sending’: “Do you still intend to attend Happy and Griff’s wedding? She is
expecting you.” Happy had asked Scylla to be her maid of honor (much to Griff’s
chagrin.

Scylla’s reply: “No.”

My second sending: “Grow up! Do not make your only friend suffer for our
differences!”

Scylla’s reply: “Happy did not stand up for me during our conversation. I will not
come.”

My third sending: “Wallow in your pettiness then!”

She made no reply at all to this. Was I harsh? Perhaps I was, but I am through
handling her with kid gloves. If we are no longer allies, then I must assume we are
enemies. This state of affairs saddens me, but I will not live in fear of her. Part of
me thinks that a pre-emptive strike against her is in order, but I realize that that
might be an overreaction. I will hope that we can both find peace in neutrality. I
wish her no harm, but I will shed no tears if I never see her again.
 

cthulhu42

Explorer
Hrvstr 3

The crafting on the wedding gifts progresses well, though I have had to put the
project on hold for another day, though this time it is at Griff’s request.

I had mentioned the fact that I have made several spells permanent on myself, and
he had also picked up on the other spells that I can make permanent, which I had
mentioned in passing while discussing the ‘permanency’ dweomer. He approached
me a few days ago and asked me if I would be willing to cast a permanent
‘telepathic bond’ upon he and Happy during their wedding. He is willing to pay the
cost in life essence, and has also purchased a copy of the spell for me to learn. How
could I say no?

So I have spent the day learning the ‘telepathic bond’ spell. Griff, of course, does
not know that this will set his wedding gifts back a day, but it is something he
seems to really want, so I will be honored to do it for him.


Hrvstr 11

The deed is done! Griff and Happy are married!

It was a beautiful ceremony, and everyone of note in Havilah was there, even the
king and queen themselves! Outside, the streets were jammed with citizens eager to
catch a glimpse of this union of the two heroes. There was no shortage of halflings
either, as Taklinn spent the last week ‘wind walking’ Happy’s family (all twenty-six
of them) here from the Green Mountains. Crispin walked out at Griff’s side, his
narrow chest puffed out with pride as he took the position of Griff’s squire.

Griff was nervous and Hap was beautiful.

Taklinn and I stood nearby, dressed in our blue and white finery as the couple
stood before Nivin Mottul, who preformed the ceremony. Nivin seemed delighted
to wed them; he positively beamed.
After Nivin had led them through their vows, Griff asked me to come forward and
do my part. Happy looked a little unsure as I took both of them by the hand, but
Griff gave her a reassuring nod as I began to cast. Within seconds the ‘bond’ and
‘permanency’ had been cast, and Hap’s eyes widened as she heard Griff’s voice in
her mind for the first time. I don’t know what he said to her, but whatever it was
made her smile.

Soon after, Nivin pronounced them man and wife, and a great cheer shook the
hall. Taklinn and I looked at each other like proud parents as they walked down the
aisle amid the flower petals that the onlookers showered upon them. I am not
certain, but I think I saw a tear forming in Taklinn’s eye!

Every wary of her, I kept a sharp eye our for Scylla, and I had cast a ‘detect
scrying’ upon myself before the event, just to see if she would at least magically
watch the proceedings, but I saw nor sensed nothing.

Griff and Hap intend to plan to spend a week at their new home, after which we
will, at last, be after Caribdis.


Hrvstr 12

The wedding gifts are finally complete. Taklinn and I hid them in amongst the
massive pile of gifts that continue to arrive at our Academy quarters. Griff and Hap
will find them in their own time.

At last I have some time to learn the spells that I really wish to learn! While a
week is not even half the time I might wish for, it is far better than nothing, and far
more than I had expected. We are due to depart for the planes on the 19th which
gives me six days to learn spells. I have chosen them carefully, and, with any luck,
by the time we leave I will have added the following spells to my repertoire:
‘disintegrate’, ‘chain lightning’, greater teleport’, ray of enfeeblement’, ‘force
cage’, and ‘plane shift’.


Hrvstr 19

Today started out innocuously enough, but it has grown progressively more
strange as it has progressed.

Knowing that we were to be headed into the shadow plane today, I took the
opportunity to teleport to Ester yesterday. Ester is, of course, the small town in
which Griff and Happy have set up their household. I have scryed them
occasionally while they were here, so it was a simple matter to arrive on their
doorstep.

Elium is a picturesque little town, and Griff and Happy’s house fits nicely. From
the outside one would never know that two of Havilah’s finest reside within when
they are not out righting wrongs. The only tip off might be the silver raven
sculpture that adorns the roof overlooking the front porch. I glanced at it nervously,
noting the dim aura of magic that surrounded it before knocking.

Happy was pleasantly surprised to see me and showed me in. We found Griff
lounging in the living quarters, and it may be the most relaxed I have ever seen him,
though the Talon was still propped within arms reach. I noticed that they both wore
the status charms that Taklinn and I had crafted for them. Hap gave me a tour of the
house, and I must say that, while no where near the magnificence of my mansion, it
is warm and cozy. I can easily see that the two of them would enjoy what days their
schedule allows there.

Hap offered me the guest quarters, but I assured her that I had no wish to intrude
upon their privacy, and that I still had work to do that would require solitude and
the rest of the day. To that end I cast a ‘mansion’ in their back yard and cloistered
myself within, not seeing them again except for a brief but enjoyable dinner. I must
say that I had no idea that Hap was such a fine cook! Certainly my memory of her
trail ration preparations did not hint at her true abilities in the kitchen. She smiled
wryly at me when I complimented her on the fare, giving only a mysterious look by
way of thanks.

At any rate, yesterday was spent in seclusion, as I was busy learning the final
spell on my list, ‘planeshift’. The plan is for Taklinn to cast that particular spell, but
it won’t hurt for me to know it as a back up.

I awoke this morning and broke my fast with Happy and Griff. We expected
Taklinn sometime today, and he was not late. Near noon he knocked on the door,
having ‘wind walked’ here from his home in the mountains. He has spent the last
week with his family and fiance, and he looked well rested and ready for action as
we greeted him.

The five of us took seats around the kitchen table to discuss our plan again.

“All right, Taklinn,” I said, “Break it down for us again.”

“Very well,” He replied, “Here it is. We will first ‘planeshift’ to the plane of
shadows. From there we must locate the nexus of the river Styx and Oceanus. We
follow Oceanus to the infinite staircase and ascend it to the third door, which should
lead us into the top lair of Ysguard, which is the domain of Olidamara. Once there,
we will more than likely have to petition the deity to even allow us to speak with
Caribdis, let alone let Caribdis return to life.” Our cleric looked at us with raised
eyebrow as he laid it out for us.”

“This is crazy.” Griff muttered. “Have you even cast this ‘planeshift’ thing
before?”

“Well, no, not actually.” Admitted Taklinn, “There’s never been a need for it. But
it’s a simple matter; just another spell.”

“Just another spell my arse!” Griff growled, “Is it like teleporting? Can you screw
it up?”

“He can’t screw it up,” I answered for Taklinn, “But there is the matter of how
close we come to our actual destination.”

“Right.” Taklinn said. “We will basically end up between five and five-hundred
miles from where I try to put us. My target will be the nexus, but the odds of
actually landing close to it are slim.”

“Marvelous.” Griff said, dryly.

“I still don’t understand something,” Happy interrupted, “If that spell can take us
to any plane, why not just go straight to Ysguard?”

Taklinn sighed, as if he weren’t too keen on his own answer, but gave it anyway.
“Because this is the course of action given to me by the servant of Clangeden I
communed with. Your right, in theory I should be able to shift directly into
Olidamra’s plane, but Clangeden has counseled me otherwise, and I am loathe to go
against that.”

“I agree.” I said. “Clangeden must know what he’s talking about. I’m not going to
second guess him.”

“So okay,” Griff said, “What do you two know about this shadow plane we’re going
to?”

Taklinn stabbed a thumb towards me. “I know a little, but I’m willing to bet
Doorag knows a lot.”

I smiled, for indeed, I had been doing some research, and the study of the planes
has long been an interest of mine. “The plane of shadows will be, as it’s name
implies, dark. You can expect vision to be as if under a moonless sky at night. Color
simply does not register well there, and everything will be drab and bland. Magic
will also be affected, though only Taklinn and I will have to worry about that. In
essence, spells containing a fire element will have a chance of failure, and their
ranges will be reduced. I, of course, have such profound control over my spells that
I should have little trouble, though I don’t know how Taklinn will fare.”

“I’ve chosen my spells accordingly.” Taklinn said, glumly.

“Also,” I continued, “the plane of shadows is morphic. That is to say, distance and
geography will have a tendency to shift, though not so much as to prevent us from
actually getting to where we need to go I believe. All in all, I think it will be
fascinating!” I smiled happily at them, but Griff still looked far from pleased.

“I’m just going to go on record one last time as saying that I think this is a
colossal waste of time! Caribdis is dead. There’s no coming back from that. Maybe
Taklinn can do it with his ‘raise dead’ or whatever it is, but I haven’t seen it yet,
and it’s been months. That’s way more than the time Taklinn said he had to cast that
spell. We’re going to get there and this diety thing is going to tell us to go piss up a
collective rope! Sooner or later you’re going to have to accept the fact that Caribdis
is not coming back!” Griff leaned back in his chair, arms crossed, and glowered at
us.

“Duly noted.” I said. “No one has to go. Taklinn and I are doing this with or
without you, and Hap has said that she’s ready for it. Should we have another
vote?”

“Don’t even bother,” Griff sighed, “If you think I’m going to let you fools go
without me to keep you out of trouble, you’re touched in the head. I just want to be
able to say I told you so.”

“Oh cheer up!” Happy grinned, nudging Griff with her elbow. “It’ll be fun!”
Griff smiled in spite of himself, something only Happy seems to be able to make
him do when he is in an obstinate mood.

“Very well.” Said Taklinn. “When shall we go?”

“No time like the present.” I answered, standing up and shouldering my
haversack. The four of us assembled in their back yard and formed a circle, joining
hands. I saw in Griff’s face the same unease that was always there when we were
about to teleport as Taklinn intoned the words and held out the fork of metal used as
a focus. Slowly, then all at once, our world faded, the sky darkened, and ruined
buildings rose up around us. The grass beneath our feet was replaced by broken
cobblestone streets, and as we looked about we realized that we were in a gutted
city, standing on a crossroads. A faint air of familiarity touched me, as if I had
been here before.

As I had warned, it was dark, and Griff and Taklinn wasted little time seeing to
that. Griff lit his ever burning torch and Taklinn caused himself to glow with holy
light, though both of their illuminations were pushed back by the oppressive
shadow.

I cast an ‘overland flight’ on myself and took to the air for a look around, but no
sooner had I done so than Happy gave a sharp whistle of warning.

“We’ve got company!” She hissed, and even before the words had left her mouth
I saw the creatures bounding toward us.

From out of the ruins they came, horrid two-headed beasts seemingly torn from
the shadows themselves. Even their teeth were black, and they seemed to flow from
the night like quicksilver. Dusk Beasts! I recognized them from my research, but
had no time to alert the crew as to their nature, for they were already upon my land
bound comrades. But these denizens of the shadow realm had bitten off more than
they could chew, for Hap had already hurled a handful of daggers into the flank of
one, wounding it grievously, and as a second tried to close with Griff, our warrior
brought his blade around in an almost casual series of strokes, disemboweling it
within seconds.

Two more of the beasts appeared from the shadows, seeking to close with Griff
and Taklinn, and I was about to try out my new staff when a curious thing
happened. The dusk beasts were suddenly caught in the area of what I recognized as
an ‘ice storm’ spell. For a brief few seconds they were pelted with sleet and hail,
and while it didn’t kill them, it caused them quite a bit of damage. Startled, I looked
about, trying to find the caster of the spell, but the inky blackness hid everything
from me, even with my magically enhanced eyes.

The spell had only hit the creatures though. I could tell that it had been cast to
purposely miss Griff and Taklinn, which gave me some hope that we were not
dealing with another enemy. I decided to concentrate on the danger at hand, raising
my new staff and uttering it’s command. The ‘fireball’ shot forth, exploding around
the two injured beasts, enveloping them in flame. When the smoke cleared, they lay
dead.

Taklinn was already toe to toe with another beast, and Hap shouted a warning that
more were on the way. From my vantage point I could just make them out a second
pack of them running from shadow to shadow. I dropped a second ‘fireball’ into the
midst of them, and for a brief second I could make out three of the beasts,
illuminated in sharp contrast by the flame. I didn’t kill them though, and on they
came, leaping through the rubble to close with Griff and Taklinn, who had just put
down the last beast from the first group. I spied Hap as she scurried into a gutted
building to hide, presumably to attack from cover, but one of the beasts spotted her
as well and veered off to track her down.

And then another mysterious spell from our hidden ally was cast. From the
cloudless sky there came a bolt of lightning. It crackled and struck one of the beasts,
and I was able to ascertain that it was likely a bolt from the spell, ‘call lightning
storm’. Now I was even more intrigued, yet I had no time to try and find the caster,
for danger was still afoot below me. Griff and Taklinn were dealing well with the
pack of beasts that assailed them, but I did not like the idea of Hap dealing with one
of these things by herself. I flew above the building she had run into, it’s roof now
crumbled away, and was able to see down into the area where our rogue danced and
dodged away from the snarling creature. She had already been bitten at least once,
and I decided to lend her some aid. My ‘hold monster’ paralyzed the beast in it’s
tracks and Hap winked a thanks at me as she stepped in to pierce it with three quick
dagger thrusts that ended it’s life.

I turned my attention to the street in time to see Griff slay another dusk beast
while Taklinn wounded a second. Another bolt of lightning crackled from the sky,
hitting a beast, and by now I was determined to find the caster. Griff killed another
beast, then another as his sword continued it’s arc. Taklinn laughed, almost
playfully fending off the last beast as Griff approached, knowing the warrior would
make short work of it. He was right, and within seconds the street was quiet again.

As Happy stepped from the ruined house to join Taklinn and Griff, I set myself on
solid ground next to them. “We’ve got company.” I whispered as I scanned the
darkened street on all sides. I saw nothing, and decided to play a hunch. I
concentrated, looking for magical auras within range.

“What do you mean?” Taklinn asked. “What company?”

“Those spells,” I answered, still scanning the area, “The ice storm, the lightning;
somebody was helping us out.”

“Griff looked surprised. “I thought that was you!”

I was about to answer him, when I suddenly beheld a faint glow from within a
tree standing not far from us. From within it’s branches (how do the trees here grow
without sunlight?) I could just make out an aura. It was quite small, and as I stared
at it, trying to get a better look, it seemed to fly away. Just like that, it disappeared
beyond the range of my detection. I thought I heard the flutter of wings as it
retreated, and I began to make a hypothesis.

“A druid?” I mused to myself.

“What?” Taklinn asked.

“Well,” I surmised aloud, “Those spells were of a divine nature, and are often
favored by druids. That, and I believe I just saw a magical bird fly away from that
tree yonder. I know of few clerics who can shape change into an animal, so I’m
thinking that our mysterious ally might be a nature priest.”

Taklinn grunted at this, looking around, a little paranoid at the idea of unseen
birds casting spells, even if they were to aid us.

Happy, who had been listening to our exchange, suddenly hissed. “In the tree
behind us! I see a bird. I think it’s an owl!”

This time I decided to be cagey. Not wanting to tip my hand, I remained facing
away from the tree that Happy indicated as if still searching the east road. But
beneath my hat Ambros peered through his peep hole. He was the eyes in the back
of my head, and was able to benefit from the ‘detect magic’. Sure enough, there was
the magical owl, perched in a tree not far from where we stood.

Taklinn, however, is not prone to subtlety. Staring straight at the tree, he shouted.
“You there! Are you going to play about in trees all day, or are you gong to come
down and face us?”

I sighed, but turned to face the tree. “Yes,” I added, “Please show yourself! We
are an envoy from Havilah and mean you no harm! We thank you for your
assistance, and would like to meet a friendly face from this realm!” The bird
answered me by taking wing and quickly flapping away into the darkness. For a
moment I thought that it had left for good, but then Happy’s sharp eyes spotted a
figure moving toward us.

The man emerged from the shadows. He was dressed in simple robes and had the
scruffy appearance one might expect from a druid. His hair and beard were
unkempt, and well worn sandals shod his feet. He walked to within ten feet of us
and stopped.

“You might want to put out those lights.” He said simply, looking at Griff and
Taklinn, “They will only attract more evil.”

Griff scowled and seemed in no hurry to plunge himself into darkness, but he
played along, extinguishing his torch. Taklinn, likewise, turned his light off.
“Great!” Muttered Griff, “I’m freaking blind!”

I bowed low to the man. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance,” I said, “I am
Doorag Marzipan, and these are my friends, Griff, Happy and Taklinn. I thank you
again for your aid against those dusk beasts. What may we call you?”

“I am Driscoll.” The druid said. We waited for any elaboration, but none was
forthcoming.

“Well, Driscoll,” I carried on, “We are travelers, unfamiliar with this plane. What
about you? Are you from here?”

“No.”

“Ah, so but have you been here for some time?”

“For awhile, yes.”

“What do you do here?” Taklinn cut in.

“I am the guardian of this place.” Driscoll answered.

“Oh, a guardian!” I exclaimed, “Well, rest assured that we mean no harm to this,
ah…” I looked around me, wondering what further harm could actually come to this
ruined city, but though better of pointing that out. “…place.”

“Hey, maybe you can tell us where we need to go.” Happy interjected. “We could
use a guide.”

“And where is that?” The druid asked.

“We seek the nexus of the river Styx and Oceanus,” I replied, “you see, a friend
of ours has died and we intend to find him and…”

Taklinn interrupted with an exaggerated clearing of his throat. “Perhaps,” He
cautioned, “We shouldn’t tell all before we really know who we’re talking to?”

I looked at Taklinn, but shrugged. “We’re looking for a friend of ours.” I said
simply. “Can you tell us how to find the nexus?”

The druid nodded slowly. “I can take you there.” He said. “It is outside the city,
perhaps a few hours, perhaps a day. It changes.”

“Ah, of course.” I said, remembering the morphic nature of this plane.

“So you can take us there,” Griff said, “But will you?”

Driscoll almost smiled at Griff’s bluntness. “I will take you there. All I request is
your respect for the land.”

“Of course.” I assured him.

“What about me?” Griff complained. “I’m blind as a bat here. Doorag, can you do
anything about that?”

“Hold on a minute,” I said, as I thumbed through my scroll collection, finally
finding an old ‘darkvision’ scroll. I unrolled it, casting the dweomer on Griff,
enabling him to see as well as the rest of us. “Unfortunately,” I said, “It’s a scroll I
scribed a long time ago. It will only last about three hours. Tomorrow I’ll make sure
to memorize a longer version for you.”

“Whatever.” Griff grunted. “Let’s get moving.”

I looked at Driscoll. “Shall we?”

He favored me with a curt nod, and then cocked his head for a moment, as if
listening to a voice in his head. We watched him curiously, but soon our attention
was drawn to the massive form that emerged from the darkness. It was a wolf,
roughly the size of a horse! I took several quick steps back, preparing to take to the
skies again, and my companions were equally startled by it. But the wolf paid us
little heed, instead it padded up to Driscoll where the druid gave it a friendly scratch
on it’s muzzle. Apparently the two were acquainted, and it fell into step behind him
as he headed off down the street.

We followed, still a little unsure, but thankful to have a guide. I nudged Taklinn
as I walked beside him.

“Did you check him?” I whispered.

“Aye,” He rumbled, “He bears no evil that I can see.”

“That’s a relief.”

“True, but then again, neither did Scylla.”

That was food for thought, and I kept my eyes open as we walked down the
cracked streets.

As we made our way through the city I began to see more and more things that
jogged my memory until I could keep quiet no longer. “Does anyone else keep
seeing familiar buildings?” I asked, stopping in an intersection.

“Now that you mention it…” Hap trailed off.

I pointed to the husk of a burnt out building on the corner. “Tell me that’s not the
bakery on the corner of Adder street!”

My crew looked hard at the building. “I think your right.” Said Griff.

“Aye, lad,” Taklinn agreed, “It’s a mess, but now that you mention it, I can see it.
And look there, that’s Barl the tailor’s shop next to it.”

“Ye gods! It’s Havilah!” I cried.

“Well, it’s one version of it.” Taklinn said, stroking his beard.

Happy looked mournfully around at what we all remembered as a thriving
metropolis. “How sad.” She said.

“You think this is what it would have looked like if Melesandre had won?” Griff
wondered aloud.

“Probably,” I answered, “Though maybe even worse.” Then I was struck with a
sudden thought. “Hey, we’re heading right by the Academy! You don’t think…”

“Think what?” Griff snorted. “That we’ll find ourselves waiting for us? I doubt it.
If Havilah looks like this here, it means we’re probably dead.” Griff’s brow
furrowed around the duality of the idea. “This is making my head hurt.”

“Maybe we could just stop in for a moment…” I began, but Griff was having
none of it.

“Hell with that! We’re getting out of here as fast as we can. I only know one
Havilah, and I like it that way.”

“We need to be moving.” Driscoll interrupted us, “It is dangerous to stay too long
in the open.” Without waiting, he continued on down the street. We followed.

Now that I realized that we were in some sort of perverted mirror version of
Havilah, I could not help but marvel at the horror of it all. Everywhere I looked I
saw things that I recognized, though now they were sad parodies of what I
remembered. As we rounded a corner and the Academy came into sight, my heart
sank. Here in this land of oppressive darkness, it’s magnificence was reduced to
ugliness. Still, my curiosity was eating me alive, and I tried to think of some way to
convince my friends to at least give the insides a cursory look. Before I was able to
come up with anything, however, we would be assaulted again.

As we walked up the wide street that paralleled the Academy’s courtyard, we
suddenly saw a dark shape ride from around the far corner. It was a man, dressed in
black armor, astride a six legged mount that I quickly and wondrously identified as
an ecolipse. The rider reined his mount, blocking our path, and the pair of them
stood menacingly in our way. Again, I was tickled with a faint familiararity. I had
seen that armor before.

“I was afraid of this.” Driscoll said, without emotion.

“Who the hell is that?” Griff asked.

“He calls himself the toll master. He requires a fee for safe passage. I believe he
was once a blacksmith, though now he seems to have delusions. He is not right in
his head.”

“Bert’s cudgel!” I exclaimed, “It’s Elbert! The Academy smith! We know him!”

“I doubt you know this version of him.” Driscoll warned. This fellow fancies
himself a knight of sorts, and he has a keen interest in arms and armor. He will want
a toll paid in return for safe passage.”

“Ho there!” Taklinn called out to the rider. “What is it you want? We mean no
harm, and I ask you to let us pass!”

For a long moment the rider and his mount stood as still as a statue, then, his
voice came to us, resonating throughout the street. “You may not pass!” He stated
“Without payment!”

“And what is your fee?” Taklinn asked.

The smith appeared to look each of us over until his helm pointed directly at
Griff. “I will have his armor.” It was more a command than a request.

Griff gave a short laugh. “To hell with that and to hell with you!” He snorted.

“Then you will fight me!” The smith retorted.

“Okay then.” Griff said, happily, and unsheathed his sword, walking resolutely
toward the knight.

Things happened fast after that. The smith spurred his mount forward in a
frighteningly fast charge, and I could see the incorperalness of the ecolipse as it
closed the distance. As they clashed, I saw the front half of the ecolipse suddenly
solidify, and I reasoned that Griff must have used his anti-magic vest for the first
time. This worried me a bit.

The two fighters clashed, and Griff drew his sword across the ecolipse’s flank,
drawing a gush of black ichors, while at the same time the rider brought around a
heavy war hammer. Without benefit of magical protection Griff was an easy target,
and the blow sent him reeling.

Happy raced around, doing her best to get to the opposite side of the ride so she
could flank him. Taklinn cast a spell, but it fizzled as it hit the anti-magic field. He
cursed when I shouted to him that Griff was using his vest. I cursed a little myself,
realizing that I could do little as long as the field was up. I tried a different tact.
“Elbert!” I cried, “Stand down! We are a crew of Havilah!” For the briefest of
seconds the helm turned toward me, as if in recognition of his name, but then he
turned back to Griff, dismounting and coming forward, hammer raised.

The two exchanged blows again. Griff did what Griff does best, cutting deeply
through metal and flesh, but the smith appeared nonplused. Instead of dropping
dead, as most of Griff’s opponents do, he swung his hammer around in three
devastating arcs, connecting again and again. The force of the blows nearly dropped
Griff to his knees, and I saw pain and anger cross our warriors face as he went into
a defensive posture, warding off further blows. He was hurt, and badly at that. I
knew he could not take another pounding like that, and I screamed at him in
desperation.

“Griff! Turn it off! Turn the field off!”

I heard him utter the command word, and I took my chance then, knowing it was
slim, but desperate to end this fight before he was killed. Summoning the words to a
spell that I had only just learned, and had, in fact, never tried before, I cast
‘disintegrate’. The pale ray of magical energy sprang from my fingertip, striking the
smith above his right elbow.

And then the smith was gone. His armor and hammer clattered to the
cobblestones, a thin scattering of dust the only evidence of their owner. Happy,
nearing the back side of the ecolipse, skidded to a stop, her mouth hanging open in
utter awe. Surprise lit Griff’s face, but he kept his head and turned his attention on
the riders mount. But the ecolipse would not stand without it’s master, and with a
shake of it’s ghostly head it turned and galloped away, disappearing into the
shadows.

I stood there, shaking at both the realization of just how close we had come to
losing Griff, and of the raw power of such a spell. I looked to Taklinn and saw our
cleric looking at me with something akin to awe.

“What the hell,” He asked, “Was that!”

“New spell.” I replied with a shrug.

Happy walked to the pile of armor and moved it with her toe, looking from the
dust to me, then back again.

“Ow!” Griff said, reminding us of his plight. Taklinn quickly moved to him and
began his healing spells, but even as he did his eyes kept returning to me, as if still
unable to believe that I commanded such power.

I was a bit embarrassed by all this, and busied myself with scanning the armor and
weapons for magic. I was gratified to find that the armor, hammer, and a ring all
glowed. We stashed them for future analysis. During all of this Driscoll had stood
by, watching with his wolf. I could not blame him, for it had not been his fight.
When Griff was sufficiently healed, I said, “Well, shall we move on? Unless, of
course, any of you thinks we ought to go into the Academy and have a look
around…”

“Let’s go!” spat Griff, working the feeling into his joints and muscles.

“You might want to be a little more careful with that vest.” I chided him.

“You don’t say.” He said, dryly.

With that, we moved on again.

Within an hour we had reached the edge of the city. The grand gates and
portcullis that I remembered from Havilah hung from rusty hinges here, forever
frozen open to allow anything to come and go at will. Looking behind me I could
still barely make out the remaining spires of the academy, and sadness gripped my
heart. I was glad to be leaving this caricature of my home.

Driscoll led us along the main road until it was overtaken by thick forest. There
was still an air of familiarity about the place, but it faded more and more the further
we got from the city, until at last I truly felt like I was in a different place. Truth be
told, I preferred it to the constant reminder of what Havilah might become.

The oppressiveness of the forest in the shadow plane is like nothing else. It is
difficult to describe, and every shadow was a potential enemy, waiting to leap at our
throats. Yet Driscoll guided us unerringly, as comfortable here as Taklinn would be
in the belly of a mountain, and I was glad to have such a guide.

We traveled for several hours until we were in need of rest. By this time the
‘darkvision’ spell had worn off of Griff, and he was none too pleased with having to
be led through the darkness, so we elected to bed down for the night and get a fresh
start in the morning. I cast my mansion and invited Driscoll to join us, but he
humbly declined, stating that he was far more comfortable in the forest.


Hrvstr 20

I awoke early this morning to carefully select my spells and then meet the rest of
the crew to make a plan for the day. Taklinn had been busy with thoughts of his
own, and he revealed them to us as we gathered in the sitting room.

“As much as I appreciate the help of the druid,” He said, “I believe we can make
far better time without him.”

“How so?” Hap asked, her eyebrow cocked in curiosity.

“I’ve memorized two spells today that I believe will facilitate our travel.” Taklinn
explained. “One of them you’re already familiar with, ‘wind walk’. The other is
called ‘find the path’, and it will guide me to the exact location I specify.”

“Without fail?” I asked, skeptically.

“Without fail.” Taklinn replied, with a firm nod.

“I don’t know,” Happy mused, “It’s nice having an extra hand about if there’s a
fight. Actually, a hand and a paw, if you count his wolf.”

Taklinn nodded in agreement, but pointed out, “Ah, but the wolf is the problem. If
it were just the druid we could offer to let him join us. But the wolf is far too large
for me to carry with us on a wind walk, and I have great doubts that Driscoll would
be willing to leave his friend behind to travel with strangers such as ourselves.
Besides, this is not his quest. We should not involve him in such dangers unduly.”

“I agree.” Griff said firmly. “I’m all for anything that gets us there faster. Besides,
with the wind walk thing, we’ll fly over most of the dangers this forest has to offer.
I say we thank the druid and then get the hell out of here!”
I scratched my chin and said, “I have to agree. The power of flight will allow is to
circumvent many possible dangerous encounters, not to mention getting us there
much faster. Driscoll said the nexus might be an hour from the city, or it might be a
day away, depending upon how much the landscape shifts. We could be chasing it
on foot for quite some time.”

In the end, only Hap was not keen on the idea of leaving Driscoll behind, but fate
would make the decision for us. I poked my head out of the mansion to invite
Driscoll in for breakfast and discussion, only to find that he was nowhere to be
seen. Indeed, the terrain had morphed considerably overnight. Where we had
stopped in a reasonably thin grove of unassuming trees, we were now within a
strand of what looked like mighty oaks with trunks of utter black. The very air was
forbidding, and I quickly pulled my head back into the warmth of the mansion after
calling out to Driscoll for several moments and receiving no reply. I hoped that he
was safe.

I returned to the crew at the breakfast table and explained to them what had
happened. “I’m surprised Driscoll didn’t warn us that the land might carry him
away from our location.” I wondered aloud.

“Maybe he knew and wanted to cut us loose.” Griff surmised.

“Maybe.” I agreed, though not really believing it. “At any rate, it appears that we
will have to take Taklinn’s plan after all.”

“I hope he’s ok.” Hap said, worriedly.

“We can have a look around for him before we go.” Griff suggested, and we all
agreed with that. It was the least we owed the druid, so we ate quickly and geared
ourselves up for the coming day. I cast an ‘overland flight’ on myself and a much
lengthier version of ‘darkvision’ on Griff while Taklinn cast his ‘wind walk’. We
stepped out of the mansion, right into the arms of danger!

No sooner had our feet touched the thick moss of the grove outside the mansion,
than the very forest itself seemed to leap to ambush us. We detected slight
movement from three of the massive trees that surrounded us, and then, from the
canopy of branches that covered our heads, thick vines dropped, each of them
looped to form a sort of noose that sought to snare us!

I dodged aside as several of the nooses dropped near me, and I could see the rest
of the crew doing the same. I quickly aimed my staff skyward, filling the air above
our heads with a fireball that burned away several of the vines. I then scurried back
into the mansion, turning to poke my head out of it’s covering door.

Happy fled several yards from the vines, but still more of them dropped to reach
for her. This time she could not dodge them all, and I heard her gasp in pain as they
tightened around her, squeezing the life from her small body. At the same time, I
heard Taklinn cast a ‘flame strike’ at the nearest tree, but apparently he had
forgotten that the plane of shadows is quite unreceptive to such spells, and he
cursed heartily as it fizzled.

Griff raced to the trunk of the tree that had Grabbed Happy and slashed at it with
his sword, drawing a gush of oily sap. The tree seemed to wince in pain, but it still
held Happy tightly. As I watched helplessly, it tightened it’s vines around her even
more as she struggled, and she went limp. Desperate to free her from the tree, I cast
a new spell, ‘finger of death’, that should have killed the thing out right. But the
spell failed, and Happy was being hauled up into the trees branches even as Taklinn
joined Griff in hacking away at the trees base.

I quickly cast a summoning, and a large earth elemental appeared beneath
Happy’s dangling body. The elemental heeded my bidding and reached up with one
massive hand to pull and snap the vines that held her while his other hand cupped
her body easily. Once it had freed her, the elemental brought her to the mansion, all
the while covering her with it’s body as still more vines dropped around it. The
elemental was far too large for the trees to get a grip on though, and it easily
deposited Happy next to me in the mansions foyer. I called out to Taklinn as I
checked her for life. I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw her chest still rise and fall.

By this time Griff and Taklinn had hacked their way through the trunk of the tree,
and we could almost hear it groan as the life fled from it. Taklinn quickly returned
to the mansion and cast a ‘heal’ on Happy that returned her to her feet. She grinned,
rubbing her bruised ribs, and returned to the battle, skipping out the door even as I
sent my elemental against a second tree. This time, however, she was able to stay
out of reach of the remaining vines, and she hurled alchemist fire at the trees from a
safe distance as Griff, Taklinn and the elemental teamed up in an all out attack
against one of them. There was a bad moment when Taklinn was grabbed by a pair
of vines and hauled off his feet, but he managed to break free and fell with a solid
thud to the moss. I tried a ‘disintegrate’ on the tree, but again, it was ignored. I
cursed roundly, satisfying myself with a volley of empowered scorching rays. The
third and last tree still strove to grab my companions, and I decided to give it
something to think about. With my staff, I cast a ‘wall of fire’ that encircled the
trunk. The immobile creature could not escape the flames and heat, and within a
minute it was blackened and dead.

At last all three of the tree creatures were still, and the forest around us was quiet
as a tomb. Griff ant Taklinn were both quite injured, so Taklinn set about taking
care of their wounds even as Griff said, “Can we go now?”

We did search for Driscoll as much as we could, but the druid was no where to be
found, and he did not answer our calls. At last we had to hope that he was ok, and
Taklinn cast his ‘find the path’ spell. “Got it!” He announced, declaring that he had
the location of the nexus firmly in mind. We all let ourselves take on the cloudy
form that facilitates the wind walk, and we took to the skies, following our cleric
through the murky darkness.


We soon found that wind walking in the shadow realms is an un-nerving exercise
at best. With our vision limited to only a handful of yards, the process of traveling
at such un-natural speeds became disconcerting very quickly, yet there was little
way around it and we had to put our faith in Taklinn to get us where we needed to
go without slamming into the side of a mountain. Of course, a mountain side would
be little more than a distraction, given our gaseous form, but still, I could not get the
image of a cliff face suddenly rushing to greet me out of my mind.

Fortunately Taklinn knew his business, and we traveled throughout the day
without incident. Many hundreds of miles passed beneath us, and I wondered if
Driscoll’s calculations had simply been incorrect, or if the landscape had really
morphed so drastically, for the druid had inferred that the nexus could be reached
with a days walk. Certainly such would not have been the case.

At any rate, toward early evening Taklinn indicated that we were close and we
slowed down, not wanting to over shoot our mark. Several minutes later we
followed Taklinn as he began to descend, and soon we got our first glimpse of the
nexus.

A great whirlpool of two toned water flowed in entirely the wrong direction,
allowing the water to gush upward from the earth instead of down into it. As we
landed beside the whirlpool we could see that the waters diverged and became two
very distinct rivers, one flowing north, the other flowing south. As different as night
and day, the river Styx was the color of coal and we could smell the scent of death
and decay coming off of it at a hundred paces. Conversely, the river Oceanus was
the color of snow, and gave off an inviting aura that brought a kind of peace just
from being near it. As we neared the nexus of the two rivers Taklinn gave us a stern
warning.

“Hear me now,” He intoned, “Do not, under any circumstances, touch the waters
of the river Styx! It is the river of death and madness, and can bring only woe to
whomever comes into contact with it.”

“You don’t say?” Happy said, looking curiously at the brackish water from the
river bank.

“I do say.” Taklinn said, solemnly. “I can’t say exactly what would happen, but I
know that it cannot be good for the living. Doorag may know more.”

“A bit.” I agreed. “According to my research the waters of the river Styx
eventually descend to the lowest pits of hell, traveling also through the abyss. It
would depend heavily on your own internal fortitude as to what might happen to
any who touch it, but I’d wager that it would do none of us any good at all. It might
simply kill you, and at the very least it would make you very ill, perhaps in body,
perhaps in spirit, or perhaps both. The river Oceanus, on the other hand, is reported
to have healing powers. It has also been known to reveal great truths to it’s
imbibers. Still, it is raw, uncontrolled magic, and I believe it would probably be
wisest to leave both of them well enough alone.”

But even as I concurred with Taklinn’s warnings, I was already digging out a pair
of empty flasks that I had brought along for just such an occurrence. I simply could
not let such an opportunity go by without at least trying to collect samples for my
collection of oddities, and to that end I cast an ‘unseen servant’ from a scroll and
commanded it to procure a vial of water from each of the rivers. I was pleasantly
surprised that the Styx did not dissipate my servant, and in due course I proudly
held up two bottles, one black, and one white. “These will go right next to the alien
tool box in my lab.” I mused to myself while Hap looked on a bit nervously.

I was just tucking the bottles into my haversack when Griff gave a hiss of
warning. Looking up, I saw he and Taklinn hunched over a spot of muddy ground
near the Styx. As I joined them he pointed out what his sharp eyes had seen. I
would have missed it had he not traced the prints out for me with his finger, but
after he had done so it was easy to make out the mark of unshod hooves in the mud.

“No ordinary horse made these tracks.” He whispered. “Whatever it was had six
legs, and I only know one kind of horse that fits that description.”

“An ecolipse?” I wondered.

“Damn straight,” He grimaced. “And it was here not long ago. I say we get the
hell out of here.”

“I second that!” Happy nodded vigorously, already letting herself go cloudy for
further wind walking.

But it was not to be.

From the edge of our vision they came, three riders, mailed in black, mounted
astride fearsome ecolipse’s. They took shape from the shadows and I squinted to
make them out. The two on the outsides wore helmets, but the one in the center
wore only a dark cowl, and the features of his face that I could make out stirred a
sudden spark of recognition. I quickly realized the irony of my having referenced
the alien toolbox that graces my collection of oddities, for it was during the same
adventure that I had procured it that I had fought so many himrock orcs, and these
three riders (or at least the one in the center) were none other than members of that
same race. The slightly piggish and heavily tattooed features on the middle rider
were unmistakable. After all this time we had come face to face with himrock orcs
again, only these fellows were obviously of a more aristocratic breed. There was an
air of sure authority about them, and just from the ease with which they sat astride
their mounts and the way they carried themselves, I was fairly certain that these
fellows were seasoned warriors. One of the outside riders carried a heavy crossbow,
already cocked and loaded, as well as a great axe across his back. The other held a
wickedly curved bow of black wood, and a well broken in sword rested at his hip.
The center orc had a cruel looking mace strapped to his side. One hand moved in a
magical gesture to cast a protective spell upon himself, while the other held a short
length of rope from which he casually swung a round object about the size of a
pumpkin. From the fact that he wore armor I deducted that he was likely a priest,
and I stepped behind Griff to cover my actions and cast a ‘spell turning’ on myself
as they trio came to a halt some fifty feet from us, looking down toward where we
stood from the crest of a low hillock.

They regarded us for a long moment, and we regarded them, until at last the
middle orc bellowed his challenge.

“You are the slayers of the armorer!” He declared, his voice filling the river
valley.

We looked at one another, uncertainly. “The armorer?” I mouthed, unsure of who
we had been accused of killing.

Griff grimaced. “What the hell are you talking about?” He yelled back at them.

“The one called the Toll Keeper!” The orc exclaimed. “He was one of ours, and
you have slain him! For that we issue you challenge! You have taken one of ours,
and we will take two of yours!”

“Looks like that guy in the city had friends.” Happy said with a smirk. “Good
thing they can’t catch us! Let’s get misty and get the heck out of here!” She was
already beginning to change to her wind walking form, but Taklinn turned slowly,
shaking his head.

“I cannot.” He stated. There was small tinge of regret in his voice, but I could
already see by the line of his jaw that he would not be swayed. Happy, however,
would not be dissuaded from trying.

“What do you mean you can’t” She hissed. “We can outrun these fools! Turn
gaseous and lets get going already!”

“I cannot decline a challenge!” Taklinn rumbled.

Happy clapped a disbelieving hand to her forehead. “You’ve got to be kidding
me!”

“I’m sorry Hap.” Taklinn turned and began casting enhancement spells of his
own.

“Griff? Doorag?” Happy pleaded, looking to us for support.

Just then the center orc whipped the pumpkin shaped object around on it’s rope in
a sharp circle and let it go. The thing sailed toward us, landing with a meaty thud
and bouncing to a stop at our feet.

It was Driscoll’s head.

“Well, that about answers that!” Griff frowned, drawing his sword from it’s
scabbard and taking a position beside Taklinn. I sighed and reached out to touch
Happy with a ‘fly’ spell.

“Looks like we’ll be sticking it out.” I shrugged, and then turned to give a low
warning to the crew. “Don’t charge them,” I cautioned, “Let them come to us!”
Griff and Taklinn nodded and Happy sighed, quickly going invisible with the aid of
her magical dagger.

“Come on down and get some then!” Griff cried, his sword held out at a
dangerous angle from his body.

The following seconds were silent except for the words of magic intoned by
Taklinn, myself, and they orcish cleric as we cast our respective enhancements.

“The middle guy just put a ‘stone skin’ on himself.” I informed the group after
recognizing it being cast. I used my contingent ‘greater invisibility’, though I knew
that the cleric had already cast ‘true seeing’ upon himself.

The flanking orcs opened the battle with missile weapons as a volley of arrows
and a crossbow bolt sped toward us. One of them hit Griff in the shoulder, but it
was more a feeling out than anything. When we refused to run to meet them, they
broke away from the cleric at fast trots. The one dropping his crossbow and un
slinging his battle axe, while the other moved to our right flank, already knocking
another arrow. The cleric made to cast another spell, but I had been holding a spell
on the tip of my tongue and chose that moment to unleash it, hoping to divide and
conquer our enemy. My ‘wall of ice’ formed a sudden barrier some twenty feet high
and blocked us, at least for the moment, from the archer and the cleric. One end of
my wall butted against the river Styx, while the other would be easily ridden around
by the cleric, but the archer would have to drastically change his direction to round
it.

The axe wielder galloped in, heedless to our outnumbering him, straight at
Taklinn. The two smashed together in a clang of axe steel as the ecolipse reared
four of it’s legs in attack as well. Hooves and blades slammed into his armor, but
our cleric stood tall and responded in kind, his mighty steel biting deep into the orcs
flesh.

The orcish cleric had quickly maneuvered around the walls end and rode hard
along it’s length at an invisible Happy that had been skulking along it in the
opposite direction. His ‘true seeing’ exposed her to him, and he took a sweeping
blow at her with his mace that barely missed, whistling above her head by inches.
Griff charged forward to take the focus from Happy, coming down with his sword
on the clerics thigh.

As for myself, I flew quickly upwards, wanting to peer over the wall and see what
the archer was up to. I was quickly reminded that ecolipse’s can fly! The archer had
simply spurred his mount to climb thin air, and he met me at the top of the wall, his
arm already drawn. Fortunately, he did not have the luxury of ‘true seeing’ so I was
hidden from him. He released an arrow at Taklinn, and I saw it sink into our
dwarven friends hip.

Happy and Griff tried their best to flank the cleric, and they brought terrible pain
to him. I saw Happy, floating behind him, jab again and again, and the cleric reeled
atop his ecolipse, but did not fall even as Griff punished him further. But the cleric
seemed to focus instead on Taklinn as the dwarf brought his axes down again and
again in utterly devastating blows to the fighter. The orcish axe man sagged on his
mount, barely able to keep upright as Taklinn yelled, “Surrender!”

But there would be no surrender. The fighter swung back in kind, connecting, but
not nearly hard enough to give any hope that he could best Taklinn. Victory for
Taklinn looked assured, but the cleric had other plans. With harsh kicks of his heels,
he spurred his mount in a dead charge for Taklinn and reached out to touch him,
uttering black words as he did. I recognized the ‘harm’ spell and gasped. The very
life seemed to drain from Taklinn all at once, and our cleric, usually so hale and
healthy, nearly dropped to his knees. He could barely keep his feet, and I knew that
he was only one good axe hit away from death. Or an arrow strike!

I glanced at the archer and saw his drawing a bead on Taklinn and I cast without
thinking. He stopped in mid bow draw as the ‘hold person’ gripped him. Unable to
shift his weight to stay atop his mount, he slid, statue-like, from the ecolipse’s back
and fell heavily to the ground.

Meanwhile, Griff rushed to Taklinn’s rescue. He charged in, placing himself
between the axe wielder and Taklinn, simultaneously swinging his sword at
activating his anti-magic vest. His blade caught the axe man square in the breast,
piercing plate armor and flesh below. Blood gouted from the orcs mouth and he fell
to the ground in a heap.

Hap flew in at top speed, skimming along ten feet above the ground. As she his
the anti-magic field, her momentum carried her forward and she landed neatly
behind the cleric with supreme grace. Her dagger came up and around, finding the
soft joint in the armor below his arm pit. It pierced deeply and the cleric groaned.
Happy followed him to the ground as he fell, barely conscious, already drawing
back her arm for the killing blow.

I breathed a sigh of relief and was able to concentrate on the archer. Griff was
holding off the dead axe wielders ecolipse, and the cleric’s had fled, plane shifting
away.

The archer's ecolipse stood guard next to it’s masters form, and I cursed as I
watched the orc shake off the effects of the ‘hold’ spell and stand up, grabbing
another arrow. I hit him with three scorching rays, but it only seemed to enrage him,
for he fired off a volley of arrows at where he thought I was, only to have them
miss.

I decided to try to end the fight quickly, casting my only “sudden death” spell. If
it worked, he would be held for a significantly longer period of time. My ‘flesh to
stone’ spell hit him and I watched as he tried to fight it off. But the spell took, and I
saw him turn swiftly to a perfect statue of himself cast in solid stone, his bow string
still drawn back to his cheek in mid fire.

Looking back to the other side of the wall I could see that Griff had dispatched the
last remaining ecolipse. He had dismissed his anti-magic field, and Taklinn was
already casting healing spells upon himself, so there was no danger left. Even the
archer’s ecolipse had fled to another plane, and I quickly had to decide what to do
with my statue orc. He was hidden from the crew by the wall, and I acted swiftly.

Setting down next to the statue, I cast a ‘mord’s mansion’. Then, from scrolls, I
cast both ‘reduce’ and levitate’ on the statue, making it light enough to lift with the
levitate. I quickly pushed it into the mansion and bid the servants take it to my
room. I am some what sad to say so, but I was worried by Taklinn’s potential
reaction to how the statue orc should be dealt with. As for me, I wanted the orcs
gear. To that end I would have to cast a ‘stone to flesh’ on him in the morning, but
to do that in safety would require the orcs permanent demise. As far as I was
concerned, he was already dead, and had given up any rights to life when he
attacked us. I had no qualms at all with the notion of breaking off the statues head,
thus assuring a very dead orc when I changed him back to flesh. I worried that
Taklinn, on the other hand, might not complicate the issue with his overly zealous
moral notions.

Indeed, when I flew back across the wall and announced that I had gone ahead
and put up a mansion, for we surely needed to rest, he asked me what had become
of the archer. I shrugged and assured him that the archer was “No longer
breathing.” And that he had been taken care of. It was an esoteric reply, and had
Taklinn not been so shaken by his close brush with death he probably would have
questioned me more closely, but as it was he was only too happy to accept it and
head for the mansion for some much needed rest in a safe place.

Later that night I made my way to Hap and Griff’s room and asked them to
quietly follow me to mine, where I showed them my prize.

“What the hell did you do to him?” Griff asked wonderingly.

“Turned him to stone.” I replied.

“Wow!” Laughed Happy. “You never cease to amaze, Doorag. Too bad about his
gear though. You’d have to break his bow out of his hand, and it still wouldn’t be
worth anything.”

“Well,” I said, “I actually can turn him back to flesh tomorrow. Trouble is, he’ll
be back to life and dangerous again. That’s kind of where you come in.” I looked
meaningfully at Griff.

“What?” He said, suspiciously.

“Well, I don’t suppose you’d be willing to knock his head off for me?” I asked.
“I’d do it myself, but I could be here all night chipping away at it. Your way
stronger than I. I’ll bet you could take it off with a single good hammer blow! You
could use that cleric’s mace we took!”

Griff stroked his chin and regarded both the statue and me with doubt. “I dunno.
You say he’s still alive in there?”

“Well, technically yes, I suppose so. Though in reality he’s permanently a statue
of stone, so he’s basically innate, and thus, dead.”

“Yeah, well,” Griff mused, “That may be, but I still don’t really like the idea. I’m
not saying it’s necessarily a bad way to go, but I just can’t see myself killing a guy
who can’t fight back.”

“He is pretty much already dead.” Happy chimed in, obviously having no
compunctions with fixing the ‘pretty much’ part.

“Mmm, well, still, I can’t do it.” Griff shrugged. “I won’t stop you from doing
what you have to do, Doorag, it just ain’t me. But don’t worry, I won’t mention it to
Taklinn. He’d probably want to send the guy home with a pat of the head and a
basket full of muffins. I don’t really buy that either.”

I shrugged back at him. “That’s ok, Griff. I can respect that. I wouldn’t want you
to do anything your not comfortable with. Besides, I can probably get the mansion
servants to work on it tonight.”

Which is what I did. Even as I write this I can hear three of the servants busily
chipping away at the statues head with hammers I provided them. It is taking a little
longer than Griff would have, but the last time I checked they had fairly good
progress, and I believe that a couple more hours will assure a very dead orc upon
his return to flesh tomorrow.

It is a bit morbid, I realize, but the orc can feel no pain, and he is unaware of what
is happening to him. Better to at least free his soul than to keep it trapped in
suspended animation forever.


Hrvstr 21

Gads, what a day it has been. Once again I fear for the cohesion of my crew, only
this time it is I who is to blame.

We set out early this morning from the nexus with a fresh ‘wind walk’ cast upon
us. Thirty feet above the river Oceanus we sped, following it’s winding path like a
silver road through the darkness of the shadow realms. Unable to converse in our
gaseous form, it was, as long wind walks always are, a boring trip, and it was made
more so by the inability to even appreciate the scenery, hidden as it was by endless
shadow.

As the hours passed I fear we must have grown complacent, for when we were
attacked without warning it was only Happy who had the presence of mind to react.

The thing came out of the darkness right in front of us, hurtling itself at us at
insane speed. I never saw it coming until it was right on top of me; a horrid winged
creature with a massive great axe poised for a swing. I later identified it as a
Nycoloth, a sort of demon-like creature from the plane of Gahanna that lives only to
hunt and bring pain. It had chosen me as it’s target, and it would certainly have
caught me by surprise had Happy not intervened.

Before anyone of could even react, our small friend veered to cross it’s path,
putting herself between me and that terrible axe. She took the full brunt of it’s edge
and though she could make no sound, I could almost sense her cry of pain.

The Nycoloth flared it’s wings out, pulling itself up short and hovering as the rest
of us slowed to a halt. It brought it’s axe back for another swing, and I feared that it
would be the end for Hap, and I could do nothing about it.

The one downside of wind walking is the cloud like form we must all take, and
the thirty seconds or so that it takes to enter into and come out of it. While in that
gaseous form I am helpless to cast and Taklinn and Griff are unable to swing their
blades. Normally Hap’s vaporous body would have allowed the Nycoloth’s axe to
simply pass right through her, but it must have been enchanted enough to allow it to
bite. I desperately began the transformation, knowing full well that it would be far
too late by the time I took solid form.

But Griff was not about to wait. I saw his cloudy form shoot between me and
Hap, and suddenly he was solid again. I realized that he must have activated his
anti-magic vest! His sword was already in his hands, and he swung it even as he
began to fall. He would get only one good swing before hitting the ground as there
was no magic to hold him aloft, but he made it count, bringing his steel around in a
wicked arc that cleaved into the Nycoloth’s hide. A great gout of brackish blood
sprayed Griff, and then he fell the thirty feet, landing just inside the bank of the
Oceanus. I saw him splash and then haul himself to his feet, knee deep in the silvery
waters, and even in the midst of battle I found myself curious as to what the effects
of such a dunking would be.

Happy dove down to her husbands side, landing and doing her best to turn solid.
Taklinn floated near me doing the same thing. The Nycoloth was quite near us, and
had it wished to it could have hacked one of us to bits, but Griff had caught the
creatures undivided attention, and it folded it’s bat-like wings and dove, dropping to
it’s feet on the bank of the Oceanus, slamming into Griff with it’s axe.

Unprotected by magic, Griff could do little but take the hit, and he reeled from the
power behind it, but our fighter showed then why he is a hero of renown. With a
bloody grin, he hauled The Talon back and brought it down. Three mighty cuts tore
through the Nycoloth’s blood and bone. The first sent it staggering, the second took
it to it’s knees, and the third separated most of it’s head from it’s body. It was the
work of mere seconds, and just like that, Griff stood over the things twitching form.
He was not even breathing hard.

The Nycoloth’s blood flowed into the river Oceanus, and I watched with interest
as it left no stain at all on those pure waters. The blood simply dissipated into
nothingness as it came into contact with the river. With a grunt, Griff kicked the
body into the river, and it sank like a stone into it’s depths and we saw it no more.

Our troubles were not quite at an end, however, for as we all became solid it was
evident that the creatures ax had been enchanted to leave lasting wounds. Happy
was still bleeding profusely, and I worried that even Taklinn would be unable to
staunch the flow. Then I noticed that, while Griff had also received wounds from
the axe, his wounds were not continuing to gush blood, and I had an idea as to why.

“Hap, quick!” I exclaimed, “Get into the river!”

She looked at me quizzically, but did not argue. She waded into the Oceanus and
immersed herself neck deep before climbing back out again. To my relief, my
hunch had been right. While her wounds were still there, they were no longer
bleeding out, and Taklinn could now see to them.

Moments later we were back in the air, our eyes wide open now, on the alert for
any more enemies. Fortunately, no more attacks came.

Into our eleventh hour of travel I noticed a curious mist begin to cover the ground.
As we covered more miles the mist turned to light fog, which in turn turned thick.
Soon we were enveloped in the soup and vision became a serious issue. Several
times we thought we had actually lost the river, and we were forced to skim it’s
surface at a much slower speed. With my enhanced vision I could see that the fog
was magical in nature, and that had me a bit worried.

At last, when we could barely see one another, we slowed to a stop and let
ourselves become solid on the rivers bank. We had little choice from that point on
but to do it the hard way. We continued on foot.

Mile after mile we slogged on, following the twists and bends in the river. The
oppressive fog muted all sound, and it was an eerie thing to travel through it.

Then, the river was gone. One moment it had been at our sides, and the next it
was nowhere to be found. We listened for it’s gurgle, but could hear nothing, and
panic gripped me as I feared we were well and truly lost and could not find our
guide.

There was little to do but keep moving and hope for the best, and just like that, we
got a break. We took no more than a dozen steps, when suddenly the fog was gone,
and so was the shadow realm. I looked about in wonder at what I now beheld.

We stood in a pasture of the most utterly pristine grass I had ever seen. Fields
spread out before us, dotted with small groves of trees that bore fat fruit. Not ten
feet from where we stood, a group of rabbits feasted upon the sweet grass with no
fear of us at all, and not far away I spied a small stream that led toward a beautiful
forest not more than a mile away.

As I took it all in, I became aware of the oddities. It was, to put it in a word,
perfect. Each blade of grass was the same height and shade of green. Each tree was
spaced exactly the same distance from it’s brother, and each was a mirror image of
the other. The fields were perfect squares, and the river was unlike any river I had
ever seen in that it was absolutely straight and without variation in it’s width.
Everything about the place was a perfect representation of nature, yet it’s very
perfection was an anomaly to nature itself. As we walked deeper into the field, I
began to realize where we were.

“We’ve crossed planes.” I said. “We’re on Arcadia!”

The others looked at me curiously, and Taklinn’s eyes practically bulged from his
head. “Are you certain?” He gasped.

“Look around!” I said, waving my hand at the geometric precision of the pasture,
“Could we be anywhere else?”

“What the hell is an Arcadia?” Griff demanded.

I smiled back at him. “Arcadia,” I replied, “is the plane upon which one will find
Mount Clangeden.”

“Mount Clangeden?” Happy asked, eyes wide.

Griff narrowed his eyes. “You mean…?”

“Exactly,” I said, nodding, “Arcadia is the home of Taklinn’s god, that fine
dwarven diety whom we all owe our lives to.”

Griff whistled low and long. “Well I’ll be damned!”

“Arcadia,” I continued, as if giving a lesson, “Is a plane of law and good, though
it is not without it’s problems. The balance between law and good has, apparently,
been tipped in the favor of law, and therefore it is slowly being overcome by
unyielding structure. In fact, it used to encompass three layers, but, as I understand
it, it’s lowermost layer has been assimilated by the plane below it thousands of
years ago. That plane is, of course, Mechanus, the plan of ultimate law.”

“Your making my head hurt.” Griff said with a scowl.

I grinned back at him. “It’s all really quite fascinating! It could be said that we
now stand in the birthplace of harmony and law. Can you imagine? Even nature
conforms to order here. Have you ever seen orchards grow like the ones you see
over yonder? Have you ever seen a field with no blade of grass out of place? What
must the cities be like? Not to mention the fact that deities actually reside here! Not
only does Clangeden live here, but Saint Cuthbert as well!”

Happy, at least, appeared to share my enthusiasm. “Do you think we have time to
visit Clangeden’s mountain?” She wondered. “Does he allow visitors there?”

“From what I’ve read,” I replied, “Mount Clangeden is actually quite inviting to
guests, especially warrior types who can stay within the law. From what I hear it’s
quite a party; and some of the finest armor and arms to be had anywhere can be
found there.”

“Well,” Griff said, stroking his chin, “That doesn’t sound too bad. Maybe it’s on
the way.”

But Taklinn had said nothing throughout this exchange, and I wondered as his
expression become more and more dour. At last, he said, “No. I cannot go. It has
been commanded.”

“What do you mean?” Hap asked, surprised.

“The servant of Clangeden whom I spoke to; the one who gave me this path to
walk to find Caribdis, specifically forbade me from entering the Mount.”

“But why?” I asked, astonished.

Taklinn hung his head, as if in shame. “I do not know.” I could see that it hurt him
deeply to be denied entry to his gods home, and I wondered why such a thing would
be.

“Perhaps it is a test.” I postulated.

“Perhaps.” He nodded, glumly.

“Well, at any rate, we still don’t know exactly where we are on this plane, and we
still have to find the river Oceanus again. We should find some civilization and ask
for directions. The inhabitants of this plane should be pretty friendly, especially to
Taklinn.” Everyone agreed to this, and soon we were walking along again. We
could have wind walked, as there was still some time left in the spell, but it was
good to feel the grass beneath our feet and the sun on our backs after the
oppressiveness of the shadow plane, and we elected to walk. We made our way to
the ram rod straight stream and began to follow it toward the tree line.

We soon found out, however, that there is danger to be found even in this idyllic
place.

We were less than a hundred feet from the perfect forest, when suddenly a small
form broke from the tree line. I immediately recognized it as a halfling, running as
fast as his short legs could carry him. He spotted us and made straight for us,
screaming for help at the top of his lungs.

When he reached us we could see that he was battered and bruised, out of breath
and clad in tattered clothing. “Don’t let them get me!” He panted, “Please! Don’t let
them get me again!”

“Don’t let who get you?” Taklinn demanded. It was at that point that six riders
thundered forth from the trees, reigning their horses in hard as they saw us and
coming to a halt no more than fifty feet away.

“Ahhh!” The obviously terrified halfling cried, “It’s them! Don’t let them hurt me
again, I beg of you!”

“Calm down!” Griff hushed the halfling, “No one is going to hurt you. Who are
these guys and what do they want with you?”

Before the halfling could answer, Taklinn uttered a single word: “Harmonium.”

Keeping one eye on the six riders I asked Taklinn if he wouldn’t mind expanding
on that. The word struck a faint bell with me, but I couldn’t quite place it.

“The Harmonium,” Our cleric explained, “Are a militant group dedicated to
forwarding the ways of law in all things. They span many planes, including the
prime. They have no real power base that I know of, but in some places they are
quite strong. I’d imagine they thrive here.”

“So what, they’re like a cult or something?” Griff scowled.

“For lack of a better term.” Taklinn nodded and began to walk forward. “Perhaps
they will be open to parlay.”

Griff fell into step behind Taklinn and the pair of them walked to within twentyfive
feet of the riders who had been conversing amongst themselves in hushed tones, probably
weighing our potential threat. Hap and I stood back with the shivering halfling; I quickly
cast a ‘fly’ on her just in case. “This could go bad.” I worried aloud.

“Do you have a weapon?” Happy asked the halfling.

“N-no.” The fellow stammered.

“Here, take this,” She said, handing him one of her daggers. I wondered briefly at
the wisdom of arming him, considering the fact that he may very well be an escaped
criminal, but decided against bringing it up right then. Things were happening.

“Hail!” Taklinn called out to the riders. “I am Taklinn the Shorn, of the Band of
the Broken Blade! Yonder halfling has asked me for refuge and I cannot deny it
until I am certain that you are within your rights to take him! Will you parlay?”

My discerning eye had already determined the probable types of men we were
facing. Four of them were heavily armored in uniform plate and carried pole arms
and long swords. Another was also dressed in plate but wore a holy symbol of
Cuthbert prominently displayed, and I surmised that he might be a priest. The last
of them hung toward the back, mounted on a light horse. He was dressed in robes,
and I could only assume that he was an arcane caster. I kept my eye firmly upon
him.

One of the knights leaned over in his saddle and words passed between he and the
cleric before the cleric answered Taklinn in an authoritative bellow. “The little one
is ours!” He shouted. “We will have him back, as well as two of yours!”

This last bit caught us by surprise but I had seen him glance at Happy and Griff
when he had said it. Apparently he could read the auras of our friends and had
decided that they would join the halfling as prisoners, presumably since neither of
them were adherent followers of the concepts of law.

Taklinn was not yet ready to give up, even though Griff, who had also seen that
glance and heard the implied threat, had already dropped his sword into a ready
position. “There is no need for blood shed!” He called out. “I ask for twenty-four
hours to determine if you are within your rights to hold the halfling. If such is true,
then on my honor he shall be returned to you! My companions, however, you may
not have!”

The cleric swung down from his horse and his five followers did likewise. He
answered as if he had not heard Taklinn at all. “Both small ones will come with us,
as will the swordsman at your side! Drop your weapons and come quietly, or feel
the wrath of the Harmonium!”

Taklinn, at last realizing that diplomacy would not be an option with these
fellows, sighed and hefted his axes. “Then this question shall be determined by
combat!” He answered. “May your gods show mercy when you arrive at their
gates!”

There was no turning back from that point, and I had already been whispering the
words to a spell. As quick as thought, I flew forward and left, covering some
ground and putting myself into line with two of the warriors and the mage. I
released the ‘lightning bolt’ and it sprang from my finger tip in a jagged line of
electricity. It struck all three of them, and I noted with satisfaction that the mage
took the full brunt of it. Yet none of them went down, and that worried me a bit. I
mouthed the word to my contingent ‘greater invisibility’ and disappeared from
sight, and was slightly perturbed to see their mage do likewise, though he had to
hard cast it. Fortunately he could not hide from my magically enhanced vision, and
I was able to see him flee back toward the tree line for cover.

Griff charged the cleric, covering the distance at terrific speed and smashing into
him with a great sword thrust. Two of the fighters ran to help their priest while a
third charged at Taklinn. The fourth fighter headed toward where Hap and the
halfling stood, but neither of them were going to stand still for very long. Hap took
to the air and headed toward Griff while the halfling took off at a dead run in the
opposite direction.

The cleric got off a single spell before Griff unloaded a flurry of steel upon him.
Three mighty slashes opened up the priests guts and he fell with a scream that was
cut short by death. Griff’s momentum carried his blade into the flesh of another
knight, bringing more pain. Taklinn, still not wishing to kill these men, used the flat
of his axe to pound his foe, who was having a difficult time penetrating our clerics
armor. Hap, not having flown high enough, found out the hard way that the last
knight could reach her with his pole arm, and he drew a bit of blood from our
halfling friend.

I lost track of them from that point on, however, for I found myself embroiled in a
wizardly battle that took all my attention.

I flew forward, scanning the tree line for the wizard, when suddenly, I was able to
see myself! I cursed, realizing that I must be in the area of an ‘invisibility purge’
that the cleric had cast, and though he was dead, it still clung to him and revealed
me to the sight of the wizard, who took ample opportunity to fling a ‘fireball’ at me.
The flames overcame my mantel’s spell resistance and I was unable to dodge them.
I could do little but cry out in pain as the heat washed over me, singing my clothes
and blackening my flesh. I knew I could not sustain another hit like that, and
desperately looked for the wizard.

There! I spotted a bit of movement behind a tree and raised my staff to return a
fireball of my own, but at the last second I saw the shimmer of magical energy that
surrounded the spot. Though I do not personally have the spell, I could recognize it
for what it was; a ‘globe of invulnerability’. I cursed, knowing that I would be
unable to affect him with two thirds of my repertoire, including a fireball from my
staff. Still, I had plenty of other weapons at my disposal, and I resolved to give him
something to think about. I quickly cast my most powerful summoning spell,
conjuring up a massive air elemental and directing it to attack the spot where I’d
seen the mage. I then flew upwards in an attempt to get out of the invisibility purge
area. I was just able to see the elemental smash away at the spot, and was gratified
to hear a cry of pain.

I glanced over my shoulder to see how the others were doing and saw that two
more of the fighters now lay on the ground, either dead of unconscious. Hap and
Griff flanked one (and I knew he would not be long for this world), while Taklinn
continued to pound a second with subduing blows. They appeared to have their
situations well in hand, and I returned my attention to the wizard.

Through the canopy of trees I could see the elemental swing away at the wizard,
and though my creature could not see the caster, it obviously frightened the mage
enough that he had to deal with him, which bought me the time I needed. I head the
wizard intone a quick spell, and to my surprise, it worked! The elemental was
polymorphed into a small, white, rabbit!

Cute, I muttered to myself, remembering how well that particular spell had served
me in the past; but these days I had a different spell that had quickly become my
favorite, and I was determined to give this wizard a taste of it.

I dove at a steep angle, heading straight for the wizards hiding spot. I zipped
through the branches and pulled up just short of the ground. There he was. The
enemy mage was just looking up from the polymorphed elemental, and he
desperately tried to bring a spell to bare on me, grabbing for his components. But I
was already casting, and though he still stood within the area of his ‘globe of
invulnerability’ I knew it would offer him no protection from ‘disintegrate’.

My ray struck him square in the chest. His eyes never had time to register surprise
before he was reduced to a small pile of ash. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing
that I had taken a gamble. Had I missed, or had he shrugged off the spell, he likely
would have killed me, for I was sorely wounded from his fireball. Such are the
ways of combat, I reasoned. I glanced toward the elemental/rabbit and quickly
issued an apology to it before releasing it to return to it’s home. Then I peered
through the trees to the battle field and saw that it was over. The ground was littered
with Harmonium dead, and Taklinn now knelt beside the cleric, obviously casting a
spell. I wondered what he was up to, but for now I contented myself with gathering
the wizards gear and shaking the dust from it.

I walked from the tree line with my hands full of the wizards belongings and
headed toward Griff and Happy who were already in the process of stripping the
dead or downed fighters. My magic scan detected quite a fine haul and Happy was
all smiles as she removed a cloak from a warrior. Griff looked me over as I checked
for a heart beat on one of the knights.

“You ok?” He asked.

“A little toasted around the edges,” I said, “But I should be fine after a bit of
Taklinn’s help.” I looked to where our cleric knelt over the enemy cleric. He was
still in the process of casting a spell and had his holy symbol held over the body. “Is
he doing what I think he’s doing?” I asked.

“I dunno, what do you think he’s doing?” Griff replied.

“Just watch.”

Sure enough, a moment later we were able to observe the dead cleric’s body begin
to undergo a transformation. His wounds began to close and then sealed shut
entirely. Within seconds his eyes fluttered and he sat up with a gasp.

“What the hell?” Griff exclaimed.

Taklinn then cast a minor healing spell to give the cleric back a bit of strength,
then stood and offered the man a hand. The cleric looked at it with uncertainty, but
finally took it and allowed himself to be helped to his feet.

“I am Taklinn the Shorn,” Taklinn said, solemnly, “Remember my name well, for
it is I who has given you a second chance at life today. I hope that you will use it
wisely.”

The cleric nodded, still obviously shaken from his experience in the great beyond.
“I will remember your name.” He said with a wry smile.

Happy came to stand beside Griff and I as we watched the exchange. She dumped
some gear near us and rolled her eyes at the conversation.

“Perhaps,” Advised Taklinn, “You should consider a change in philosophy.
Forcing others to bend to your will is folly and has brought you only death today.
Might I suggest a more oblique approach?”

The cleric grimaced and spat out a little blood. “I thank you for your mercy,
dwarf,” He said, “But I will have to ask your forgiveness if I do not heed your
council. It is a shame that you are so misguided.”

Taklinn nodded, and his voice was tinged with regret. “Very well. I can do no
more than I have. Two of your men yet live; I assume you can get them to their
feet?”

“I can.”

“Good. You shall return to your masters on foot, with only mundane weapons to
protect you. Should you cross my path again with such an attitude of aggression, I
cannot promise such mercy.”

The cleric smiled mirthlessly. “I will keep that in mind, Taklinn the Shorn.”

Taklinn walked to where we stood as Griff tossed our hard won treasure into his
bag of holding. Happy regarded Taklinn with a raised eye brow.

“What?” Taklinn asked.

“Nothing, nothing.” Hap said quickly, and busied herself searching for the
halfling. She found him a few hundred yards away, hiding behind a tree, and led
him back to us. He was still quite shaken up, but he could not hide his exuberance at
seeing the beaten cleric casting healing spells on the two fighters who yet lived. The
three of them gave us one last look before turning to walk back into the forest.

“Yeah!” the halfling chuckled, “That’s right! Skulk on back to your camp, you
big bullies! Next time pick on somebody your own size!” The halfling turned to us,
eyes wide with adoration. “I’ve never seen anything like that!” He gushed. “You
took those buggers out like last nights chamber pot! Wow! How can I ever thank
you?”

“Well,” I said, “First off, you can tell us your name.”

“Ah,” he replied brightly, “My name is Wasp!”

“Pleased to meet you, Wasp. My name is Doorag. This is Happy, Griffin and
Taklinn. We are a crew from the city of Havilah. Are you from around here?”

“Me?” He laughed, “Oh no! This place is far too stodgy for me! I’m from all over.
I was just passing through when those tin suits grabbed me.”

I had a sudden thought and asked our new friend, “Tell me, Wasp, we seek the
river Oceanus. Do you know where it is?”

“The river Oceanus?” he looked thoughtful, “Hmm, the river… the river… Oh!
Yes, I know what you’re talking about! It’s up on the next layer.”

I glanced at the crew, then back at Wasp. “Do you know how to get there?”

“Oh, sure! I can take you there. Heck, it’s the least I can do! There’s a portal not
far away that will take us up, and from there it’s a short walk to the river. I’d be
glad to take you!”

“A most fortunate occurrence that we crossed your path,” Taklinn said, “For all of
us.”

“I’ll say!” Wasp concurred. “Those metal heads were putting a hurt on me, that’s
for sure. Wow! I still can’t believe how you beat up on them! They never had a
chance! You guys must be the best fighters anywhere!”

“Well, I wouldn’t put it that way…” Taklinn said, modestly.

“Can we get a move on now?” Griff cut in. “Those Harmonium guys could be
heading back here with reinforcements.”

“Griff is right,” I said, “Besides, it’s been a full day and we need to rest soon. I
say we use our new horses and put some distances between us and the Harmonium,
at least until night fall.”

“Great!” Wasp nodded vigorously, “I’ll be happy to camp out with you! Though,
I don’t see any tents.”

Happy grinned at the halfling. “Camping with Doorag isn’t what you might
expect,” She said, “Just wait.”

Thus it was that we set out again, with Happy, Griff and Wasp riding our captured
horses. Taklinn, as always, refused to ride, but was able to trudge alongside at a fair
clip. I, of course, flew.

Night came to Arcadia as I knew it would; in one fell swoop. One moment all was
sunny and bright, the next, we beheld a line of darkness sweeping across the land.
Within seconds it had passed us and it was dark. Only this was not the cloying
darkness of the shadow plane. This was simple night time, and we felt no
malevolence in it. I cast a mansion and we all entered. Wasp gasped in delight as he
beheld the wonders of the place, and looked at me with renewed awe.

We made ourselves comfortable and Taklinn used the rest of his healing to take
care of the last of our wounds. Wasp, seeing him do this, cleared his throat. “I, uh,
don’t suppose…” He began.

“Are you wounded, little one?” Taklinn asked.

“Well, my feet have seen better days.” The halfling said, and to be sure, the poor
fellows feet were cut and bruised. Taklinn quickly laid his hands on them, and the
halfling sighed with content as the healing washed over him.

“So tell me about these Harmonium.” Griff said as we sat around the dinner table.

“Well,” Wasp replied through a mouthful of roast chicken, “Apparently they just
ride around and grab anybody they see that they don’t think is living right! I was
just wandering through the forest, minding my own business, and then there they
were. They snatched me up and said they were taking me back to their camp for
‘reeducation’.” Wasp shuddered at the memory.

“And what, exactly, did re education entail?” Taklinn asked.

“Hmm, well, you probably can’t see them too well now that you healed me, but
maybe you can.” Wasp stood and pulled his shirt off, turning around to show us his
back. I gasped, for I could still make out the faint criss cross pattern of whip scars.

“They flogged you?” Griff said, outraged.

“Just about every day.” Wasp nodded, pulling his shirt back over his head.

“But why?” Hap asked with disbelief.

“They said my mind wasn’t right.” Wasp shrugged. “They beat us every day like
clockwork until you said what they wanted to hear.”

“’Us?’” Griff repeated, eyes narrowing.

“Oh yeah, they have a whole camp full of prisoners.”

“How many?”

“Mmm, probably around fifty, I’d guess.” Wasp reached for a plate of bread and
slathered a slice liberally with sweet butter. “As a matter of fact, I seem to recall
some of them saying they were from Havilah. That’s where you said you were
from, right?”

Griff looked around the table, and I knew what was on his mind. My heart sank.

“So? What, are we gonna let this just slide by?” Our warrior demanded.

“Griff,” I said, gently, “We already have our mission…”

“Are you kidding?” He looked at me. “We’re gonna leave those prisoners behind
to get beat on until they tow the Harmonium line? That’s crap!”

“He’s right!” Happy nodded, “We can’t let them get away with that kind of
stuff!”

I groaned. “But what about Caribdis?” I asked. “We’re so close! For crying out
loud, let’s not get side tracked again! Besides, if those six that we fought back there
are any indication of their strength, we could be biting off more than we can chew!
Wasp, how many of the Harmonium would you say there are?”

The halfling paused to consider this for a moment, doing quick calculations in his
head. “Oh, probably not more than a hundred.” He said. “But you could take them!
You guys have got to be the most powerful fighters in the land! And with you
wizardly skills I’ll bet you could wipe them out in a minute! Why, just look at this
house your able to whip up!”

I looked at Griff. “A hundred of them? Get serious, Griff! If they’re as tough as
the ones we fought, we’re out-numbered, and badly, not to mention that they must
have more spell casters!”

But Griff’s jaw was set. “Look,” he said, “I don’t care if there’s a thousand of
them. I can’t sit still while innocent people get nabbed off the road side and then get
whipped until they ‘get their minds right’. Taklinn, what do you say?”

Our cleric had been strangely silent throughout this exchange, and now he looked
from Griff to me and back again. At last, he sighed heavily. “Griff, you are my
friend, and you have followed me into messes that you probably didn’t believe in.
Of course I’ll go with you.”

Griff looked at Happy, but needen’t have worried. “Count me in!” She chirped.

Then our warrior looked at me, and I felt the terrific weight of responsibility settle
on my shoulder. A bitter taste filled my mouth as the seconds passed. The thought
of Caribdis being so near filled my mind, blocking all reasoning. “I’ll wait for you
here.” I said, at last.

Griff looked at me with an expression of such grave disappointment that it
crushed me. “After all the times you and Taklinn talked me into fights? After all the
times I followed you into fights that weren’t mine? After all those time, you’re
going to cut me loose?”

“Griff, we have our mission…” I tried.

“He’s right!” Happy scolded me, “Griff as always followed you guys everywhere,
and now that he finds something he believes in, you’re not going to back him up?”

“We can’t do it without you, Doorag.” Taklinn said, quietly.

“Look!” I sputtered, becoming more and more agitated, “I asked Griff to follow
me into fights that I believed we could win! We’re talking about a hundred well
trained, well equipped, warriors, and who knows how many wizards and clerics! Do
you really think the four of us can take them on?”

“Five!” Wasp interjected. “I’ll help!”

“And besides all that,” I went on, “Caribdis is…”

“Caribdis is dead!” Griff cut me off, “And these people are alive! Doesn’t that
mean anything to you?”

“Of course it does, and I’m sorry for their plight, but if we stop to right every
wrong we see, we’ll never get anywhere! What are you going to do if you find out
that there’s another Harmonium camp fifty miles from here with more prisoners?
Will you go after them too?”

“If I have to, yes!” Griff shouted.

“That’s ridiculous!” I cried, my own voice beginning to raise. “You’re suggesting
a declaration of war on a militaristic cult that spans whole planes!”

“Yeah, so what?” Griff growled, “What if we were in Havilah, Doorag? What if
those were Havilah citizens being held in that camp against their will?”

“Actually, I did say that there were folk from Havilah there…” Wasp piped up.

“He did say that!” Happy nodded vigorously.


Frustrated, I cast about for answers to these difficult questions. “It would depend
on the situation! I would ask for council from the Academy and the king, and if they
willed it…”

“You’re full of crap.” Griff interrupted. “You’d no sooner let this kind of stuff go
on within the borders of Havilah than you’d use your spell book for bog paper, and
you know it!”

“It’s a matter of priorities, Griff!” I insisted, digging in my heels, “We are here to
find Caribdis! Were he with us right now, if our crew was whole, there would be no
question as to what we must do.”

“But Caribdis isn’t here.” Griff retorted. “He’s dead. I, however, am alive, and
this is something I think we need to do.”

Happy jumped at this point. “He’s right, Doorag. I care about Caribdis too, but
this is here and now. Those people are suffering and we can stop it. Caribdis isn’t
going anywhere.”

“Since when did you become such a crusader?” I asked, turning on her, “How
many times have I heard you say that this is just a job to you? That you belong to a
crew because it pays well and is exciting? When did you start caring so much about
your fellow man?”

“If Griff cares, I care.” She said, curtly.

“And what about you, Griff?” I carried on, “Mr. ‘I don’t want to be a hero’?”

“It has nothing to do with heroics.” Griff answered, flatly.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I guess it has to do with freeing the innocents. Well what about
your friend, Griff? What about Caribdis? Don’t you want to free him? Whoops! I
forgot, you don’t even believe we’ll ever see him! You think that this whole trip is a
fools errand, so why not hang him out to dry, eh?”

“Caribdis isn’t a prisoner! He had his chance to come back and he refused, as I
recall!”

“He’s a confused boy! We owe it to him to offer him a second chance!”

Griff and I were now both on our feet, our voices raised to levels we had never
used before with each other, and Happy helped not at all when she interjected.

“You’re putting a dead comrade ahead of a live one, Doorag,” she declared, “Is
that how your loyalties lie? If so, then I’m a little disgusted with you!”

Now, full of righteous indignation, I swung around on her. “How dare you!” I
stormed, “How dare you question my loyalties! If it were you who had died and not
Caribdis, I’d still be here, willing to go to the ends of the earth to bring you back!
I’d hunt these planes to hell and beyond for any one of you, and I’d hope you know
that by now. The fact is, my dear, you’re only too willing to let yourself be
distracted by any perceived evil that comes down the pike. Or perhaps you simply
see this as more profitable than continuing our quest for a dead friend? We did get
quite a tidy haul off those we bested earlier, and maybe you’re hoping there’s more
where that came from, no? What are you’re priorities, Happy, my dear? Is the
promise of coin and magical trinkets more appealing than the long and unsure road
to finding Caribdis? If such is the case, then I am afraid that it is I who is a little
disgusted with you!”

Fury glazed Hap’s eyes, the likes of which I had never seen directed at me, but I
was too angry to take back my harsh words. “OK!” she said, tersely, “That’s it. I’m
through talking with you.” With that, she got up from the table and made to walk
from the room, but I was far from finished.

“Oh, you’re through talking to me?” I yelled, following her, “Well I’m not
through with you!” I was about to unleash another verbal barrage, but fortunately, I
was interrupted.

“Enough!” Taklinn slammed the table with the palm of his hand hard enough to
rattle the dishes. “We are a crew, and more than that, we are friends! We do not talk
to each other so! There must be a way to compromise!”

How do you expect to compromise with this pig headed…” Hap began, but I was
still seeing red myself, and, petty though it was, I deliberately baited her.

“I’m sorry, what?” I cut her off, “Are we talking again? I could have sworn that
you had said you were through talking to me. I take it we’re talking again?”

Her face reddened, and I could tell that I was treading on very dangerous ground,
but I didn’t care. She sputtered and said something under her breath.

“All right, knock it off!” Griff said in a commanding tone. “Taklinn’s right.
There’s got to be a way we can work this out.”

“OK then,” I said, turning back to the table, “Let’s talk about a few things with
Taklinn.” I eyed our cleric and asked him a few rough questions. “Taklinn, if we do
this, are you prepared for what the consequences might be?”

“What do you mean?” he asked, warily.

“What I mean is this: If we mess with the Harmonium, it may very well mean that
we end up killing many or all of the ones that reside in that encampment. Are you
prepared to stand by and watch me fly over them and rain fireballs down upon their
heads if it comes to that?”

Taklinn looked uncomfortable at the thought, and I pressed on.

“Are you also prepared to wage war on a society that is not, technically, evil? As I
understand it, the Harmonium, despite committing what we might perceive as evil
acts, are not, in fact, evil. Will you impose your will upon their way of life because
you find it distasteful? I ask this because I recall a certain town called Latona that
we visited not long ago, and…”

“That was an entirely different situation.” Our dwarf insisted.

“True,” I agreed, “But this situation may well bring with it moral quandary, and I
don’t want to be in the thick of it only to have you change your mind half way
through. And need I point out the obvious repercussions of meddling in the affairs
of such a far flung order as the Harmonium, especially here, on Arcadia? I’m
willing to bet that there are more than a few followers of Cuthbert among them; so
now we’re talking about you, a servant of Clangeden, picking a fight with servants
of Cuthbert, on the very plane where both these gods live! Need I even point out the
implications of such a thing?”

Taklinn sighed, and I could tell that my points had driven home with him. “It is
something I shall have to pray upon.” He admitted. “But I say again, I cannot sit
idly by and let evil thrive, even if the evil doer does not understand it's actions. It is
complicated…”

“That it is.” I agreed, with a solemn nod, “That it is. I’m having a hard time
wrapping my mind around the notion that these Harmonium can commit evil acts
day after day, yet remain neutral. I can only assume that their belief that they are
doing the will of Law is so fervent that they are blinded by it; that it somehow
protects their souls with a sort of naive view that what they are doing is just. The
point is, Taklinn, we could very well end up killing many of them, which could lead
to a much bigger war than we counted on should this thing escalate, not to mention
the fact that we will forever be looking over our shoulders for retributive strikes
from the Harmonium. This is a powerful enemy we’re talking about here, and I
highly doubt that they’ll let bygones be bygones if we wound them.”

Taklinn looked uncertainly at Griff, still wanting to throw in his lot with him, but
also beginning to see the bigger picture. Griff saved him the discomfort of
answering me.

“Tell you what,” Griff said, “Let’s focus on the tangibles. We don’t even know
what we’re really facing here. Wasp, can you draw us a map of the camp? A
detailed map?”

“Sure!” Wasp said, eager to be included in the plan.

“OK,” Griff continued, “And you, Doorag, can you use your magics to spy on
them to try and determine their strength?”

I looked doubtfully at him, but nodded. “I suppose I could try to scry that cleric;
maybe watch him for a bit and get an idea of how many other casters and clerics
they have if he interacts with them. That, and there’s the option of a fly over while
invisible. I can’t see that it would hurt to at least take a look…”

“Good enough!” Griff said. “And you, Taklinn, can you somehow talk this thing
over with Clangeden? Doorag is right, I don’t want to start some holy war, so
maybe if you could ask your god where he’d stand on such a mission?”

Taklinn pulled at his beard. “Give me the time to pray for the spell and I’ll do it.”

“OK,” Griff smiled thinly, “You do that. If Clangeden tells you it’s a bad idea, I’ll
trust that he knows better than I do and drop the whole thing. Is that fair?” He
looked at me.

“That’s fair.” I replied.

“Then I suggest we sleep on this.” Griff said. “Wasp will draw us a map and tell
us all he can remember, and you two can cast to your hearts content. Tomorrow
morning we’ll all be a lot calmer and we can hash this thing out like the crew we’re
supposed to be.”

I must admit, I was caught off guard by the maturity of Griff’s suggestion, but I
could hardly deny his wisdom, and I nodded my agreement. We all went to our
separate rooms shortly afterwards, though Happy and I still had little to say to each
other in the way of good night wishes.

I retired to my room when we had all parted, commanding even the servants to
leave me in solitude and locking the door securely behind them. I had some
thinking to do.

Wearily undressing myself, I removed my hat from my head and set it on the
desk, immediately feeling the drain on my mental faculties as I did so, but enjoying
my normal intellect at the same time. While it is true that the hat, with it’s magical
enhancement to my intelligence, affords me a greater range and command of magic,
sometimes I think it causes me to be too cerebral, and thus, out of touch with
visceral emotions. I have always struggled to maintain a connection with my heart,
and the wisdom therein. Too often I am simply too analytical, and I feel like
removing my hat sometimes allows me to catch a glimpse of the world as “normal”
folk see it.

Besides, I needed to talk to someone, and that someone lived in my hat.

“Come on out, Ambros.” I said, sipping from a glass of sherry and rubbing the
bridge of my nose. My trusty familiar appeared, whiskers first, sniffing the air and
then padding out to sit on his haunches. He regarded me with raised eyebrows, and I
could see by the expression on his small face that the crew’s conversation had not
gone unheard by him.

I set my glass down so that he could have a sip of the sherry, and while he did, I
loaded my pipe, lighting it with a cantrip, trying to relax and look at things
objectively.

“Well,” I asked him, “What do you think?”

“About what?” he asked, innocently.

“Don’t be coy, Ambros.” I said, dryly. “You know what I’m talking about.”

“Ah,” he said, “The Harmonium problem?”

I blew a smoke ring that landed on his head and turned into a tiny wizard’s hat
before dissipating, a trick that I know irks him. “Yes. Specifically, my take, as
opposed to the rest of the crew’s position.”

“You want my honest opinion?” He asked, swatting away the smoky hat.

“Of course.” I replied.

Ambros scratched his chin for a moment and twisted a whisker thoughtfully as he
considered all the angles. Finally, he sat back on his haunches and began to speak.
“You bring up many good points,” He said. “The Harmonium could well be a far
reaching group, and our actions may have repercussions as far as Havilah and
beyond. I don’t relish the idea of having them as an enemy. Depending upon just
how vengeful they might be, we have to consider the possibility that they might
seek to extract revenge not on us directly, but on those whom we love, though that
is, of course, always that chance. Also, there is the matter of Taklinn’s stance to be
considered. Starting a war with them, especially here on Arcadia, could be
disastrous, given a possible clash between Cuthbert and Clangeden. Taklinn will not
want to be the one to upset the balance between the two deities on their home plane.
Hopefully things wouldn’t go that far, but, as with many things we stick our noses
into, the potential for uncontrolled escalation is there, and that’s a factor to be
considered. All too often, events have a tendency to run away from us. There is also
the matter of Caribdis. We are close, and every day we dilly dally about decreases
the odds of his returning with us when we finally find him.”

“However…” he let this last word hang for several seconds until I prodded him.

“However, what?” I said.

“Well, you’ll forgive me for saying so, Master, but I personally believe that
Caribdis is a bit of a blind spot for you. Since his death you have become somewhat
obsessed with the idea that you can find him and return him to life. I know that you
accept the possibility that he may refuse to come back, or that we may never even
get the chance to talk to him, but in your heart of hearts I don’t think you have
allowed yourself to actually believe that it could happen that way. The closer we get
to him, the more tunnel visioned you have become, and now we find ourselves in a
position where you have been ostensibly forced to choose between Caribdis and
Griff, and you have chosen Caribdis, or at least that is what it looks like to the rest
of the crew. Not only that, but you have chosen Caribdis over your own morals and
the tenants by which you have lived your life and upheld as a crew member. Your
desire to find Caribdis has enabled you to rationalize the suffering of innocents, and
while I agree that we cannot save everyone, and that innocents will always suffer,
we have always considered ourselves duty bound to do what we can, when we can.
Evil thrives when good men do nothing, and all that.”

Ambros paused to take another sip of sherry and regarded me, trying to gauge my
reaction to his observations.

“Go on.” I urged him.

He did. “There is also the matter of your vote on this matter, and the way in which
you cast it. The fact is, should this encampment of Harmonium be as powerful as
we think they might be, the three of them, well, four including Wasp, will have
almost no chance at success without your help. Taklinn can cast some very
powerful spells, but I don’t think he has the utility that you command. Therefore,
what you have, in essence, done by simply refusing to take part is to attempt to win
the argument by allowing them no chance of success. Because I can feel your
emotions, I know that this was not your consence intent, but perhaps on a deeper
level you did realize it. Essentially you have made a power play, blocking their will
in an attempt to facilitate your own desires, which, I’m afraid, can only lead to
resentment.”

Ambros fell silent then, and I did not answer. I smoked furiously for several
minutes, looking at a point above his head, lost in thought.

“Your angry, but not at me.” He said.

I sighed. “I am angry at myself, Ambros. You are, of course, right.” I stood from
my chair and began to pace the room, talking all the while. “How can I possibly call
myself a crew member of Havilah if I am willing to let evil, even under the guise of
neutrality, go unchecked? And how can I call myself a friend if I am willing to
withhold my help in order to accomplish my own ends because I decide that they
are more important than Griff’s? I still doubt the wisdom of picking a fight with the
Harmonium, but I cannot let fear govern my choices. I’m quite sure that they will
not be the last enemies I acquire.”

I sighed again and realized my pipe had gone out. I set it on the desk and looked
thoughtfully at my rat friend. “Perhaps,” I said, “There is another way than a full
frontal assault.” I sat back down at my desk and began to formulate a plan.
 

cthulhu42

Explorer
Hrvstr 23

This morning I met the crew at the breakfast table, and it was immediately
apparent that the wounds we had opened between ourselves had not healed over
night. Griff was even more silent than usual, and Happy refused to look at me at all.
Only Taklinn seemed not to have lost his appetite (well, he and Wasp) and the pair
of them were busy tearing into platters of eggs and ham. It was obvious that there
was much we all wanted to say, but none of us seemed to know where to begin.

I shuffled my feet for a few moments, stirring my eggs listlessly, until I finally
decided to break the tension.

“Ahem.” I cleared my throat, “Griff, Happy, I have a few things I need to say.”

The two of them looked at me expectantly, though it was clear by their faces that
they did not expect to like it.

“I, umm, I think I owe the pair of you an apology.” I began. “I said some things
last night that were not befitting of a crew member, let alone a friend and comrade.
I hope you will take me at my word when I say that I was simply heart sick at the
notion of forgoing our quest for Caribdis again, no matter how short the diversion
may be. I was blinded by it, and spoke without thinking. I placed my desire to find
him above your desires to do the right thing, and such is not the way of this crew.
Of course I will help you to free these prisoners. If I didn’t, I would not be worthy
of having a place in this crew, or of your friendship. I hope you can forgive me.”

Griff regarded me for a moment, then shrugged. “No apology necessary, Doorag.
Lets just do this and get out of here.”

Happy also looked at me, her face softened dramatically. “I understand, Doorag,”
she said softly, “I want to find Caribdis too. I know you didn’t mean those things. If
it’s any consolation, I can tell you that my main reason for wanting to knock these
Harmonium guys down a few pegs is because they picked on Griff and I. They
wanted to take us in for their ‘re-education’, or whatever it is, and that rubs me the
wrong way. I take that kind of thing personally.”

I smiled at her, realizing that she was telling the truth. My mind went back to our
capture of Sensesi and the memory of how personally Hap had taken the yuan-ti’s
attack on her.”

“OK,” said Griff, breaking the awkward silence that followed, “Taklinn, have you
talked with your god?”

Taklinn stopped his chewing, his mouth still stuffed with ham, and swallowed
slowly. “Err, no.” He said.

Griff raised a questioning eyebrow. “Why not?”

“Well,” our cleric answered, wiping his mouth, “I thought quite a bit about it last
night and came to the conclusion that I’m not entirely sure I want to use a
‘commune’ to speak with Clangeden this close to his home. I’m not real sure what
would happen. Probably nothing out of the ordinary, but I don’t know. That, and I
think this is a decision that we need to make ourselves, and I have a feeling that it
has been made.”

I nodded slowly. “You may be right, Taklinn. Truth be told, I’m all right with the
responsibility. This way Cuthbert cannot blame Clangeden for putting his stamp of
approval on our action.”

Griff shrugged again. “So I guess we need a plan.”

“Funny you should mention that, Griff,” I said, “I actually have a little something
put together in my head that you might like. Wasp, did you make that map we asked
you to?”

“Yep!” The little fellow grinned, shoving a rather rumbled and grimy, though still
legible sheet of parchment with a map drawn on it toward us.

I spent the next twenty minutes going over my plan, stopping to answer questions
and clarify points, though for the most part Taklinn, Griff and Happy, and even
Wasp, listened with rapt attention, nodding now and again. I produced paper and
pen, sketching it out and showing them exactly what I had in mind. I used Wasp’s
map a reference often, and stopped to ask him for details on the schedule of the
Harmonium troops.

“So there you have it.” I said at last. “And the real beauty is, if it works, it may be
one of the sweetest prison breaks of all time! If all goes well, we’ll free every
prisoner in their, we won’t shed a drop of Harmonium blood, and they won’t have a
clue as to how we did it! What do you think?”

The four of them looked at me for several minutes, then Griff’s face broke into a
broad smile. “I think we’ve got a plan!”

I spent the rest of the day in preparation. First, I wanted a peek inside that camp,
and to that end I used a ‘greater scrying’ to find and watch one of the fighters we
had let go the day before. He was busy going about his routine, and I was able to
catch many glimpses of other warriors as he passed and interacted with them. What
I saw gave me serious pause.

My second scry was directed at a fellow whom Wasp had shared a cell with. With
his name, I was able to find him, and got a good look at the interior of the prison as
well as the yard when they took him out for a bit of exercise before his ‘lesson’.
Fortunately, his lesson for the day consisted of a few hours of being preached to by
a pair of Harmonium who hammered away at him with their twisted philosophy of
law. It was an obvious attempt to brainwash him, and I could tell that he was very
tired. There was no physical abuse, but I could only imagine the mental strain of
such lectures day after day.

When I was satisfied, I cut the connection and found the rest of the crew.

“These guys are tough.” I said, flatly. “Very tough! And rich, apparently.”

“What did you see?” Hap asked, suddenly very interested.

“Well, as you know, we got quite a haul off of those six we dealt with in the field.
Each of those guys wore at least a decent ring of protection and a cloak of
resistance that is equal to mine, and those aren’t cheap! Not only that, but all of
them packed magical blades and armor. I was hoping that such wouldn’t be the case
with the rest of them, that perhaps that was some sort of elite strike team, but
apparently not. Just from following one of them around today I was able to see that
each knight is armed exactly the same way! We’re talking about heavily magically
equipped troops here, and a lot of them!”

“Well, with any luck we shouldn’t have to run into any of them!” Hap reasoned.
“Though it sure would be nice to relieve them of some of those toys. But ah well, if
we can relieve them of their stupid pride I’ll be satisfied.”

I spent the remainder of the day and most of the night in learning a spell from
Helious’ book that I would need. ‘Solid Fog’.




Hrvstr 24

Today we put the first phase of our plan into action. As soon as we were up and
ready, we exited the mansion and walked back around toward the forest. The
encampment was located about one hundred yards from a tree line, which suited me
perfectly. We made our way to a spot about fifty yards back into the trees, well out
of sight of the camp, and we began.

First, Taklinn cast a ‘find the path’ on himself, and I was envious at what a nifty
spell it was! However, the second part fell to me, and thus I cast a ‘polymorph’ on
him. Immediately he took the form of a frost worm, smaller than the one I had
turned into a turtle on the tundra, but every bit as frightening. Taklinn seemed to
grin through the huge mandibles, ready to go to work.

I cast a ‘passwall’ spell directly at the ground, opening up a shaft in the earth that
descended for thirty feet. I stood back, motioning for Taklinn to lead the way, and
he did, slithering down the shaft. Once he’d reached bottom, he began to eat away
at the dirt below, quickly carving out a tunnel that led south, toward the Harmonium
encampment. With a levitate, I let myself down the shaft to follow him while Hap
and Griff remained on top.

I followed Taklinn as he bored his way through the earth at amazing speed,
casting ‘walls of stone’ every so often to ensure that the tunnel did not collapse on
our heads. With his dwarven knowledge of tunneling, he was able to avoid sections
that looked unstable. It took two castings of ‘polymorph’, but at last he stopped. We
were now exactly thirty feet below the prison building. I knew that, straight up, was
the hallway that ran between the rows of cells.

When Taklinn had returned to his own form, we made our way back through the
several hundred feet of tunnel and climbed out again. I dismissed the ‘passwall and
the earth closed up over our tunnel as if the shaft had never been there. Our tunnel
was hidden thirty feet below.

I cast a mansion and we entered, hiding out for another full day while I learned a
second spell from Helious’ book. ‘Dominate Person’.


Hrvstr 25

Today we put our plan into action!

It took me until early afternoon today to learn the ‘dominate person’ dweomer,
after which I needed my rest, which was fine as we could do nothing until night. At
midnight my servant woke me as instructed and I began to prepare. By one o’ clock
we had assembled ourselves on the spot where we had begun our tunnel yesterday.
Wasp was to remain there, out of harms way and ready to greet the escapees.

Taklinn, Hap, Griff and I set out for the tree line and once there, we found
ourselves a fine hiding spot from which we could barely make out the log walls of
the Harmonium encampment in the odd moonlight afforded by the orb that passes
for a moon here on Arcadia. We waited there until two o’ clock, at which time we
put our plan into motion.

Taklinn began to intone a prayer that would eventually lead to the casting of a
‘control weather’ spell. At first the hot summer night was still, but as the minutes
passed a sudden breeze played at the trees and the first fat rain drops began to fall.
Thunder rolled in the distance. Our cleric let the storm build slowly, taking nearly
an hour to wind it up to its full force. By 3:00am the land was gripped in a two mile
radius by a full fledged summer storm that caused the trees around us to bend with
the force of the winds. A driving rain pelted down upon us and one thunder clap
quickly gave way to another. With any luck the storm would provide the distraction
we needed and would cover any noise we might make.

“Ok, Taklinn!” I shouted above the thunder. “We’re going in! Remember, only
use the elementals if I give you the signal!”

I saw his face lit up by a flash of lightning as he nodded. We had decided that,
should we need further distractions to do our work, Taklinn would summon several
air elementals to wreak havoc in the camp. Hopefully it would not be necessary.

“Are you two ready?” I yelled at Griff and Hap. Griff gave me a thumbs up, and
all I needed from Happy was the excited grin on her face to know that she had been
ready for quite some time.

The first order of business was communication, and to that end I used a spell that
I had learned specifically for Hap and Griff’s wedding. I cast the ‘Rary’s telepathic
bond’ and the four of us soon found that we could hear each others thoughts
provided we were open to receiving and sending them. This would facilitate silent
communication between all of us, including Taklinn so that we could keep him
abreast of the situation.

Next, I cast ‘invisibilities’ on Griff and Hap and they faded from view
satisfactorily. For myself, I invoked a ‘greater invisibility’. It would not last as long,
but it would enable me to cast offensively without becoming visible. We knew that
at least one controlling spell would have to be used.

“All right, get ready!” I thought to Griff and Hap. “And remember, there will be
one guard in the hall, I’ll attempt to deal with him. If it fails, it may be up to you.
Silence is key!”

“Got it.” Griff thought back.

“Check.” Added Happy.

I reached for them and cast ‘greater teleport’, picturing the hall that ran between
the cells within the prison building.

And we were there.

The prison was the only solid structure within the entire camp. Warriors, clerics
and wizards alike resided in sturdy tents that lined the log walls, while at it’s center
they had constructed the prison, also from logs. One half of the building was used
for “re-education” while a single door led into a narrow hall that ran for thirty feet
or so. The entry door was made of sturdy wood with a single, barred, window
looking out into the rest of the building, while more of the same sorts of doors lined
the hall. Behind each of these locked doors I knew we would find several prisoners.

But first, there was the matter of the guard.

My previous scrying, and Wasp’s information, had told us that a single guard
patrolled the hallway at all times. I had aimed my teleport for the spot closest to the
outer door so that we could be between it and the guard should I fail to enspell him.
The first thing I did as we appeared in the hall was to look for the guard. He was
easy to find, as he was leaning up against a door not three feet from me! He
appeared quite bored, and never flinched as we ported in so near him. I had a split
second of panic before I remembered that he couldn’t see us, though I knew I had to
act quickly, for water from the rain outside would soon begin to drip from our
cloaks and give us away. In an instant, I was casting.

The thunder outside masked my whispered incantation. The guards eyes jerked
wide, and then I felt a powerful bond to him as the ‘dominate person’ dweomer
took hold!

“Got him!” I thought to Hap and Griff, excitedly. I felt rage and resistance boil
within the guard, but he had to obey me when I spoke quietly into his ear. “Do
nothing!” I commanded. “Stay where you are and remain utterly silent!” I felt him
try to break the charm, but it was no use. He was my puppet.

“Hap, get the keys!” I thought to her.

Our silent rogue did so, snatching them from the guards belt with a chuckle, but
Griff had discovered something. “Doorag!” He thought to me. “There’s another
one, right outside the door! All he’s gotta do is take a step and look left and the jig
is up!”

Fortunately I had prepared for just such an eventuality, and cast another spell that
I had never used before. I aimed the ‘permanent image’ at the outer doors window,
carefully picturing the scene I wanted to set. Once I had finished the spell I allowed
myself to relax just a bit, for now if anyone was to look through that window they
would see nothing more than the hall, empty except for the bored guard, leaning
against the wall.

“How’s it going in there?” I heard Taklinn’s worried thought in my head.

“Everything’s fine,” I answered, “Just keep that thunder coming.” As if in reply, a
huge clap of thunder sounded in the night sky, and I sent more instructions to the
crew.

“Hap, get the cell doors. Use the thunder to mask the sound. Griff, you know what
to do.” With that, I dismissed the ‘invisibility’ on him.

The day before, I had explained to Griff that I felt it was of vital importance that
he be the first one of us the prisoners saw. I reasoned that he was the most “heroic”
looking one among us, and would easily command the trust of the prisoners and be
able to convince them to stay silent, that we were here to help them. He had rolled
his eyes at this, but could hardly argue. The only thing that made him nervous, he
had said, was that he would be the only one visible!

Hap turned the key noiselessly in the first cell door and swung it open, thunder
and rain covering the creak of hinges. Inside we saw five forms, huddled in
threadbare blankets, rising and falling shallowly with the breath of sleep. Griff
entered quietly and knelt beside a man, placing his hand over his mouth and rousing
him from slumber. At first, the man’s eyes went wide with fear, but Griff quickly
put that to rest.

“We’re here to break you out!” Our warrior whispered urgently. “Be as quiet as
you can, wake the others and tell them to wait in the cells! Not a peep out of
anyone! Got it?”

The man nodded and Griff took his hand away to reveal a wolfish grin on the
fellows face. He and Griff quickly woke the rest.

Hap and Griff repeated the process again and again, unlocking doors, waking
prisoners, and assuring them that their freedom was at hand while I kept an eye on
the outer door, listening intently for sounds of alarm and communicating with
Taklinn every few seconds to tell him what was going on.

Within a minute every cell door was ajar and some fifty people waited within for
us to free them. We instructed one cells worth of prisoners to come out into the
hallway, after which I commanded the guard, who had, this entire time, been
seething with desire to scream for help, to enter the now vacant cell. I did not want
him to see how we were to free the prisoners. As I closed the door and locked it, I
told him to remain silent and to do nothing. He looked at me with hatred, but had to
obey.

It was time to put the next phase of our plan into effect. Hap took my spot and
kept watch as I made my way to the far end of the hall. Once there, I looked at the
final ten foot section and prayed that my calculations had been correct and that
Taklinn’s ‘find the path’ had been accurate. I cast a ‘passwall’ at the floor and a
thirty foot long shaft opened up into the earth. I looked down into it and breathed a
huge sigh of relief. I could see the end of our tunnel below. I quickly followed the
‘passwall’ with a ‘solid fog’, filling the shaft with the heavy mist.

“Ok, Griff,” I thought to him, “We’re set to go!”

“All right, in you go.” Griff whispered to the nearest prisoner. She looked at the
shaft uncertainly, hardly willing to trust that the fog would keep her from
plummeting to the bottom, but Griff was convincing in his own way. “You can stay
here and let these tin suits beat on you,” he hissed, “Or you can trust me. It’s magic!
You’ll be fine!” He handed her his ever burning torch and lit it for her. “Take this,
it’ll be dark down there. Now go!”

The woman could hardly argue with him, and with a deep breath, she stepped into
the shaft.

As I had known it would, the fog caused her to settle slowly into the shaft. I was
gratified by the look of surprise and relief on her face as she sank harmlessly
downward.

Griff motioned for more prisoners to follow, and seeing that the fog would do as
he had promised, they quickly followed the woman. The seconds that passed were
tense as we waited for all of them to take the leap of faith. I kept expecting the
sounds of our discovery and cries of alarm, but none came. At last, the final
prisoner had stepped into the shaft and we were alone in the hallway.

“Let’s get the hell out of here!” I thought to Griff and Hap, and the could not have
agreed more.

The three of us jumped into the shaft and settled to the bottom where we found
the fifty people waiting for us. I quickly turned and dismissed both the ‘solid fog’
and the ‘passwall’, and just like that, the shaft sealed itself. Now, anyone searching
for a means of the prisoners escape would find nothing. We had left no trace.

“Let’s go!” Griff shouted, shouldering his way to the front of the column. We
followed him through the tunnel and I could see the excitement growing on the
faces of the people. They were beginning to believe that they were actually going to
be free! Truth be told, I was just beginning to believe it myself.

I sent a quick message to Taklinn. “We’re in the tunnel! Get out of there and meet
up with Wasp!”

We followed Griff for several hundred feet until we came to the end of the tunnel.
Several of the prisoners eyed the dead end nervously, but I asked them to excuse me
as I made my way to the front of the line. From there, it was a simple matter of
casting a second ‘passwall’ at the tunnels ceiling, and soon I heard the delighted
gasps from the prisoners as they felt rain pour in and a breeze cool their faces.

I had used a ‘fabricate’ to craft a ladder the day before, and Wasp stood ready
with it. He lowered it down to us, and from there it was a simple matter of climbing
out. By the time half of the escapee’s had made it to the top Taklinn had rejoined
us. Soon the clearing was full of our crowd, and when I was certain that all were
accounted for, I dismissed the ‘passwall’, thus hiding the last of the evidence.

By this time I was visible, and I made the same true for Hap. I quickly made
introductions to the freed prisoners, but warned them that it was too early to
celebrate.

“I still have a connection to that guard,” I said, “So I’ll know when they find him.
So far, so good. He’s just sitting in that cell, stewing, but sooner or later they’ll
relieve him, and when that happens I want to be as far from here as possible! We’re
heading for the portal that will take us to the upper layer of Arcadia. I suggest that
you all accompany us!”

There was no argument from the crowd, and soon we were a mobile column
again, moving in a northeasterly direction through the forest as fast as we could.

Despite their confinement, the prisoners were able to make good time, and we
soon left the trees and broke into open fields. On and on we raced, knowing that the
portal was only a few hours away, yet I also knew that we were not out of the real
woods yet, for I had to assume that a few things were going to soon happen.

First, the guard would be discovered. Second, their wizards would scry one of the
escaped prisoners. Third, they would mount up and ride hard after us while a
contingent of them would almost certainly teleport directly to our location. I could
only hope that we would beat them to the portal. Even then, there was no real
reason to believe that they would not chase us even to the upper layer.

We jogged on for two hours, at which point the “sun” showed it’s face, and within
seconds daylight bathed the plains of Arcadia. This seemed to invigorate us, and we
forged ahead.

Another hour passed, and still I felt nothing but frustration and anger from the
guard back in his cell, but then, that all changed.

I stopped, detecting a sudden change in the emotion of the guard. It was hope!
Griff, Taklinn and Hap looked at me quizzically and I told them what was
happening. “We’re about to be found out.” I informed them.

Minutes later, hope turned to excitement and relief, and I assumed that the guards
cell had finally been opened. I knew that the guard would be unable to tell them
anything as long as I dominated him, but I wanted one last laugh at the expense of
the Harmonium. I sent the guard a final mental command, which I also voiced aloud
for the benefit of Hap, Griff, and Taklinn. “You will do nothing but sing and
dance!” I willed, and I could feel a sudden burst of humiliation from the guard as
I’m sure he began to caper about and caterwaul. The rest of the crew must have had
the same mental image, for all of us doubled over with laughter at the thought of the
befuddled Harmonium as they watched the poor fellow helplessly prance about.

But there was no time to savor the joke. Wiping a tear of mirth from my eye, I
glanced behind us. “They’ll probably dispel my ‘dominate’ soon and that guard will
be able to talk. Also, they’ll scry us. I’ve got a ‘detect scrying’ going already, so I’ll
tell you when that happens. I think we’ll beat the riders to the portal if Wasp is right
about how far w have to go, but we can expect a few of them to port after us. Let’s
get going and stay ready.

I was soon proven correct, for fifteen minutes later I felt the bond between myself
and the guard break. Nearly an hour to the minute later, I felt the first hint of a scry
being used.

“They’re on to us!” I shouted. “Keep moving!” The prisoners renewed their
efforts, running on on tired legs, but the taste of freedom gave them strength. Griff,
Taklinn, Hap and I fell to the rear of the line of people, and I kept looking over my
shoulder, waiting for our pursuers to arrive.

I did not have long to wait.

They appeared behind us, eight of them in all, perhaps one hundred feet away.
One thing I can say about the Harmonium is that they are consistent in their
uniform, and thus it was easy to pick them out by occupation since their dress was
identical to the first six we had fought days ago. Five of them wore the plate mail of
their knight class; there was a single cleric; and my stomach fell when I saw not
one, but two mages. That was bad.

We skidded to a stop, yelling for the prisoners to keep moving, to break for the
portal and not look back while we held the Harmonium off. Taklinn, Hap, Griff and
I turned to face these opponents and I began to cast furiously.

I had only a few high level dweomers left after the escape plan. Even my normal
‘overland flight’ had had to be forgone in favor of other spells. I had a normal ‘fly’
spell still in reserve, but I decided not to waste the precious time needed to cast it. I
wanted to hit them hard and fast. To that end, I invoked a contingent ‘greater
invisibility’, hoping that it would be defense enough. I followed that up by raising
my staff and sending a fireball at them. Grouped as they were, it caught them all,
and while I knew it probably wouldn’t kill any of them, it would soften them up a
bit and give them something to think about. The fireball exploded in their midst and
I saw at least one of the wizards nearly fall to the ground. Near dead, he was able to
keep his feet only with the aid of the cleric who was already casting a healing spell
on him.

After my initial volley, I raced away from the rest of the crew, hoping to get
outside the possible area of any return spells, and setting up for another blast of my
own.

My hunch was right, for the second mage, not as badly wounded, hurtled a
‘fireball’ of his own at my crew that completely missed me. It was a nice try, but
largely ineffective. It would take far more than a couple of medium evocations to
kill Taklinn, and Griff’s spell resistant armor simply allowed him to ignore the spell
entirely. As for Happy, it is pure folly to even try to hit her with such things as
‘fireballs’. She tucked and rolled, coming up without so much as a singe. She pulled
her magical dagger and went invisible, blinking out of sight. Now, only Taklinn and
Griff offered visible targets, and the Harmonium knights took their best shots.

Four of them charged straight at Taklinn and Griff while the fifth man hung back,
searching the area for Hap and I. Griff grunted as two long swords found him and
bit through his armor. Taklinn was hit once. Neither of our fighters were in too bad
a shape yet, and I resolved to concentrate on the spell casters. Besides, with my
enhanced sight, I could see Happy maneuvering around for a killing strike on one of
Griff’s enemies. I hoped that they would soon have those fighters well in hand.
Indeed, Taklinn took a step back and invoked his ‘righteous might’. As I saw the
holy energy flood through him I grinned, knowing that he would soon give these
Harmonium much to think about.

Meanwhile, the two mages and the cleric still stood back in the spot where they
had first appeared, and I thanked them inwardly for being kind enough to stay
bunched up like that. The cleric was preparing to cast another healing spell on one
of the mages, but he never got the chance. I hurled a second ‘fireball’ at them. For a
split second they were concealed by the flames, but when it cleared, both wizards
lay on the ground, still as death. The surprised and wounded cleric looked about
himself for help, found none, and switched the target of his healing spell to himself!

At the same time, Griff was returning the pain that his two enemies had visited
upon him. With a mighty swing he caught his first man high on the shoulder. The
knight tried to dodge, but that only brought him close enough for Happy to dart in
and sink a dagger into his thigh. Griff followed with a second slash that dropped the
knight where he stood.

Undaunted, the knights pressed their attack. Taklinn’s pair managed to hit him a
couple of good blows, but our cleric laughed them off. He was nearly twice his
normal height now, and bursting with holy strength. He dropped his shield, grabbed
the haft of one of his axes in both hands, and waded into the two knights. His first
attack caught a knight squarely in the side of the head, caving it in, helmet and all.
The knight dropped like a sack of flour. Taklinn followed through with a mighty
slam at his second opponent, and I saw that one drop as well! But our cleric was not
through yet, for his momentum carried his axe blade on around to connect with
Griff’s last opponent, and down when that one as well! True, the fighters had all
been softened a bit by my first ‘fireball’, but it was a fearsome display of clerical
might nonetheless!

There was one fighter remaining, and he appeared utterly ready to lay down his
life for his cause if it meant possibly taking one of us with him, and unfortunately,
Happy was directly in his line of attack. Her hit on Griff’s man had caused her to
become visible, and she barely had time to spin around to meet him as the knight
charged her from behind. His sword came down, she dodged, and the blade
whistled harmlessly past her! Cart wheeling out of the way, our roguish friend
backed off, opening up space for Griff and Taklinn to deal directly with the knight.

The cleric had used his healing spell on himself after my last ‘fireball’, but I
continued to pile the damage on to him. I cast a ‘lightning bolt’ at him, all the while
moving ever closer to him, getting within the range I needed for a follow up should
it come to that. Apparently it would, for the cleric still would not go down! In fact,
he even ignored the damage to cast an offensive spell of his own! Vertical pillars of
flame suddenly filled the area where Hap, Griff and Taklinn stood. Happy, of
course, rolled out of the way, but Griff and Taklinn were beginning to show signs of
wear from the spells and hits they had taken. Still, they were far from down yet, and
I knew that if I could put the finishing touches on this cleric, our fighters would
certainly be able to take care of the final knight.

I raced forward the final few feet I needed and unleashed an ‘empowered
scorching ray’. All three of the rays struck the cleric, nearly lifting him off his feet.
He shrieked in pain, franticly batting away at the flames, but it was no use. He took
three staggering steps and fell, face first, onto the ground.

I breathed a sigh of relief and looked back at the rest of the crew to see how they
were doing. My relief was made complete, for I saw that the last of the knights was
on the ground, with Taklinn’s massive form pinning him there. I learned later that
Griff had rushed the man, knocking him off his feet, and Taklinn had simply thrown
himself on top of him.

“Surrender!” Taklinn commanded the helpless knight, and to my surprise, he did!
The knight let go of his sword and asked for quarter.

I checked myself for wounds, found none, and jogged to where the three casters
lay, scanning them quickly for useful gear and finding much to make me smile.

We gathered what items we wanted from our defeated foes while Taklinn healed
an unconscious knight. We now had two prisoners and Taklinn reminded them
again of who had brought about their ruin.

“I am Taklinn the Shorn!” He roared at them. “You live today at my whim! Now
go, and tell your masters to end their harassment, or we shall not be so eager to take
prisoners the next time." Beaten and stripped of all but their undergarments, the two
knights gritted their teeth and began the long walk back to their encampment.

Taklinn laid his hands upon wounds that needed his attention as I rejoined them.
“We’d better catch up to our people.” I said. “The Harmonium might send more.
We were lucky this time. I doubt the next lot of wizards they send will be without
the protective magic’s they should have had. Lets go!”

I did not need to ask them twice, and soon the four of us set out at a run across the
plain.

Within a few minutes we had caught up to the prisoners, several of whom had
lagged back out of concern that we would lose them. The looks of relief on their
faces was obvious and a cheer went up from them as we neared.

We all trotted on, ever vigilant of more Harmonium that might come after us, but
all our backwards glances showed us nothing. The Harmonium were, if only for the
day, ready to sit back and lick their wounds.

Soon we crested a small rise and beheld the portal. A massive stone dais was
flanked by two massive pillars that curved slightly inward to points, like two giant
fangs. Between them glowed a shimmering, round, portal suspended in mid air.
Stone steps, worn concave by countless feet led up the dais toward the portal, and
we all stopped, catching our breath as we regarded it.

“This is it!” Announced Wasp with a grin. The halfling approached each of us and
happily shook our hands. “I can’t thank you enough.” He said, solemnly. “If we
ever cross paths again, I hope its on better terms, and if its anywhere near a tavern,
the first round is on me!” With that, he climbed the steps and, with a last look over
his shoulder, he stepped through the portal.

The rest of the former prisoners followed suit, each of them embracing us or
pumping our hands and offering their heartfelt thanks before disappearing into the
glowing disk. Finally it was just the four of us, and one by one, we entered the
portal to Abellio.

In no more time than it takes to draw a breath, we stood upon a similar portal, still
in Arcadia, but now on it’s top layer. Abellio shared all of the features of the lower
layer with regard to the terrains geometric precision. In the distance we could see
another river flowing arrow straight, dividing squares of grassy fields and
symmetric orchards. The most prominent feature, however, was easily the mountain
that dominated the horizon. Perfectly conical, it rose into the Arcadian sky, it’s tip
piercing the clouds. For me, it was awe inspiring. For Taklinn, it was heart
breaking.

I glanced at our dwarf to see him staring at Mount Clangeden with a barely
concealed look of anguish on his face. Even as Wasp, who had waited for us on this
side of the portal, piped up, Taklinn did not tear his eyes from the mountain.

“The river Oceanus is that way,” Wasp told us, pointing toward the mountain,
“Just keep heading toward Mount Clangeden and you’ll have to cross it. Good luck,
and thanks again!” With that, the halfling joined the rest of the people we had freed,
trotting away across the fields to what I hoped were better fates.

“Well,” said Griff, “You heard him. Let’s go.”

Taklinn heaved a sigh that was almost a choked sob, but he quickly coughed it
away and set his jaw. Without a word, he set his path toward the mountain and we
all followed.

It had been a long and trying day though, and we made only an hour before we
decided to get some rest. I cast a mansion and entered, though it turns out that I
sleep here alone, for Hap, Griff and Taklinn have elected to sleep outside. Hap and
Griff simply prefer nature, and Taklinn, I believe, would at least sleep in the
shadow of his gods mountain, even if he may not climb it.


Hrvstr 27

We slept through most of the day of Harvester 26 and napped through the night.
By the time the sun orb cast its light over Arcadia on this, the 27th we were all
eager to be off, especially Taklinn, who has been uncharacteristically quiet,
spending long hours staring towards Mount Clangeden.

We walked at a leisurely pace for the better part of the day, fording small streams,
cutting through fields and small groves of forest, now and then waving at the
inhabitants of this plane. Though Abellio is much the same as the lower layer, we
felt somehow safer here, as if our troubles with the Harmonium had been left far
behind, though I knew, in the back of my mind, that that was probably untrue.

By late noon the mountain was quite close, and soon we could see the shimmering
strip of liquid white that was the river Oceanus as it coursed its way across Abellio
like a razor straight slash. As we got nearer and nearer to the river, I stole more
glances at Taklinn, for I knew that once we reached it our course would change and
would be heading away from the mountain. He had said little all day, and it was
painfully apparent that his unexplained exclusion from Mount Clangeden was
causing him no end of torment. I sighed, feeling great empathy for him, and
allowing myself a moment of wonder at how the diety could justify such a cruel
thing. I knew that it was pointless to try to understand the workings of a god, but to
simply tell one of his most faithful that he can come right to the gates of his most
holy of places, but not enter, with no explanation, just seems unjust. I hoped that,
once we put the mountain to our backs, Taklinn’s mind would be put at ease a bit,
though I sorely doubted it.

As it turned out, our path would find yet another detour!

By early evening we were nearly to the banks of the Oceanus, and as we got
closer we could make out a figure standing on the far side of the river, apparently
waiting for us. As we drew closer still, we could see that the creature was quite tall,
hairless, and sprouted beautiful white wings from its back! It also held a massive,
two-handed sword. As we reached the river bank, I heard Taklinn gasp as he
realized what it was, and I echoed him as I also recognized it.

A solar!

Taklinn dropped to one knee in deference to the angelic form, and even I lowered
my eyes and gave it a courteous bow. Griff and Happy looked curiously from
Taklinn and I to the solar, having no idea what it was or why we would genuflect
toward it.

“It’s a solar!” I hissed at them.

“Yeah, so?” Shrugged Griff.

I opened my mouth to whisper to them exactly what a solar was and why they
should give it its due respect, but was interrupted by the creature itself.

“Arise, Taklinn the Shorn.” The solar said in a weird and echoic voice from his
position on the opposite side of the river. “I have been waiting for you.”

“You’ve been waiting for him?” Griff growled, eyes narrowing, “What the hell
does that mean?”

“I have been waiting for all of you, Griffin Dorjan.” The solar said patiently.
“Greetings, Happy Dorjan, and greetings, Doorag Marzipan.”

The fact that the solar knew our names did not surprise me, though it did take
Griff a bit off guard, and our warrior challenged him no more.

“What would you have of us?” Taklinn asked, his voice heavy with reverence.

“Not I, but Clangeden,” The solar said, his topaz eyes glowing with holy inner
light, “For I am merely his messenger. You may call me Anwell. I have been sent
here to inform you that your quest has changed.”

I groaned inwardly at his words. Part of me had already known that the
appearance of the solar would lead us away from our path to Caribdis, but I had
been holding onto hope that such would not be the case. I said nothing, however,
for since the Harmonium I had come to a certain peace with the fact that we would
simply get to Caribdis when fate so decreed it. We were obviously only partially in
charge of our own fates, and there was little point in fighting it. I sighed and waited
for this new detour.

“I am Clangeden’s humble servant.” Taklinn declared. “What would he have me
do?”

Clangeden would request a service of all of you,” Anwell spoke, “A service that,
if not completed, could tip the balance of power in the lower planes and send
ripples outward that affect us all.”

“Several nights ago,” The solar continued, “An item of great import was stolen
from Clangeden. How such a thing came to be is unimportant. Suffice to say, the
item is an axe of great power, both physically and symbolically. Clangeden asks
that you retrieve it.”

Griff sighed, obviously not as resigned to our fate as I. “Crap.” He muttered.

“Where must we go, my lord?” Taklinn asked, pointedly ignoring Griff.

“The axe has been taken by a Yugoloth called Valthjov to the grey wastes of
Hades, and there intends to use it’s powers in a bid to take over the throne of Siege
Malicious in Khin-oin. Such a thing cannot come to pass, especially with the aid of
Clangeden’s own weapon.

“Khin-oin?” Happy wondered aloud.

“Siege Malicious?” Griff echoed her confusion.

“Perhaps Doorag Marzipan can explain the details better than I.” Invited the solar.

I cleared my throat, knowing full well the weight of what the solar had asked, and
tried to put into words the details for Hap and Griff.

“Hades is the grey wastes,” I began, “A plane that separates the abyss and the
hells. The abyss is, of course, where demons reside, while the hells are home to
devils, and Hades is where they meet to do battle.”

“To do battle?” Hap exclaimed.

“Yes,” I nodded, “It’s the site of the blood wars, the eternal battle that has raged
between demons and devils for untold millennia. Hades is a war zone of untold
proportions. It’s where demons and devils and untold amounts of other evil
creatures battle in a never ending conflict. It’s not a nice place.”

Griff spat on the ground. “And this Khin-oin?” He asked.

“Khin-oin is an artifact of near uncontrollable power.” I said. “It’s a tower that
stands in Hades. Legend has it that its carved from the spine of a massive demon.
Within the tower lies its control center, a throne, known as the Siege Malicious.
Whoever sits in the throne may wield the terrible power of Khin-oin to his own
ends, though, as I understand it, it’s a dangerous proposition at best.”

“Doorag Marzipan’s studies have served him well.” Anwell said. “Valthjov seeks
to unseat the current ruler of Khin-oin. That, in and of itself, is not our worry, for in
the end, the tower governs itself. What we may not allow is the use of Clangeden’s
axe to facilitate such a thing.”

“When do we go?” Taklinn asked simply. Griff and Happy looked none too
pleased with this new twist, but they said nothing, nor did I, for I knew that there
would be no turning away from this quest for Taklinn, and therefore we would
follow him.

“I will return to you in twenty-four hours.” The solar said. “Use that time to
prepare. Do not cross the river under any circumstances.” This last sentence seemed
to hit Taklinn in the gut, and he lowered his eyes in shame made all the more
hurtful by its lack of explanation.

“One more thing,” Anwell said, “You may rest assured that Clangeden is well
pleased with the way you dealt with the Harmonium.” With that, he simply
disappeared, and we were left alone on our side of the river.

With little to do except wait for the solar’s return, I decided to use the time wisely
and returned to the mansion for some study. I had only recently learned to control
spells from the eighth circle of power, and there was one particular spell from
Helios’ book that I felt might aid us in a fight against Yugoloth. Happy and Griff set
out to explore the area a bit, and Taklinn sat on the river bank, his axes at his feet. I
believe he stayed there most of the day and on into the night, staring wordlessly at
the mountain, so near, yet so far away.

At dinner that evening I explained what I knew of Yugoloths.
“Yugoloths,” I said, “Are evil creatures from the plane of Gehenna. Most often
they act as mercenaries for both demons and devils. They are extremely chaotic,
and have little loyalty other than to the highest bidder. They come in several
varieties, the least of which are the Canoloth, who are the grunts. They are blind,
but their sense of smell more than makes up for that. Next are the Mezzoloth. They
look like large beetle demons, and have a repertoire of nasty abilities, not the least
of which is the ability to cast ‘cloud kill’ at will. After that you have the Nycoloth,
one of which we already encountered just before we got to Arcadia. They are
winged, tough, and delight in pain and suffering. Finally, there are the Ultraloth.
You can consider them the generals or wizards of the Yugoloth. Not as tough as the
Nycoloth, but far more intelligent, and with a whole host of spell like abilities at
their command. It’s my guess that this Valthjov fellow is likely an Ultraloth. We
can expect all manner of nasty work from him, including hypnotism and mass
suggestion.”

“Great.” Griff said sourly.

“Oh, and they are also highly spell resistant,” I added, “Not to mention resistant to
fire, cold and most other energies. That could be a problem.”

“So what’s the plan?” Hap asked.

“I don’t really have one right now.” I answered. “Just being on Hades will present
its own difficulties. The Yugoloth might be the least of the foes we face there. My
suggestion would be to keep an extremely low profile, get in and get out as fast as
we can. We certainly don’t want to get the attention of some of the worst of the
things that inhabit that place on a regular basis. Even the minor demons and devils
might be encountered in their hundreds.”

“All will be well.” Taklinn said, somberly. “Clangeden guides us.”

“Great, that makes me feel a lot better.” Griff chuckled dryly.

“I must return to my research,” I said, “Lets just try to get a good nights sleep and
be as ready as we can be for whatever tomorrow brings.”

My friends agreed with this, and soon I was back at my desk, sifting through the
details of the ‘mind blank’ spell.


Hrvstr 28

I awoke early the next morning and decided to prepare my spells on the river
bank, reasoning that a bit of fresh air would do me good. I had mastered the ‘mind
blank’ dweomer last night, and was eager to cast it upon myself. It was a spell I had
been looking forward to for quite some time.

I left the mansion to find Taklinn already sitting in his spot on the river bank, still
motionless, still staring at the mountain. I did not disturb him, but sat several yards
away with my books. An hour passed and I soon became lost in the preparation
process of my spells. When next I looked up, the sun had moved some ways across
the sky, and Taklinn still sat there. With a sigh, I put my books away and walked to
him.

“Umm, how ya doing?” I asked, rather lamely.

His only reply was a grunt of acknowledgment.

“Taklinn,” I tried again, “I know you must be feeling pretty low about this whole
Mount Clangeden thing, but you can’t let it drive you crazy.”

Taklinn looked at me and I was surprised by the anger in his eyes. “You cannot
know the depths to which it affects me.” He said flatly.

“I’m sure that’s true, but perhaps my distance affords me some perspective.” I
said. “Surely this is just some sort of test…”

“How can he do this to me?” Taklinn’s words were tinged with heartbreak, with
anguish, and I felt his pain most acutely at that moment. “Have I not been a true and
faithful servant? Why does he shun me? What have I done to deserve to be
ostracized from his holy mountain? It is not right! It is not fair!” Taklinn had risen
to his feet by now, and though he spoke to me, his eyes never left the mountain.

“Again, I’m certain that this just must be some sort of test of faith, Taklinn.” I
assured him, “Part of your duty as a cleric of Clangeden is to accept his decree
without question, to trust in his wisdom.”

The anger seemed to drain from him a bit. “I do trust him.” He said. “Of course I
do. And I accept his word as well. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

“No,” came a voice from behind us, “It does not.”

Taklinn and I whirled around to see Anwell standing there. He had crossed the
river this time. Taklinn clamped his mouth shut, refusing to speak more of his
feelings, which was just as well. Hap and Griff were, even then, sauntering down
the hill toward us, and I knew we would be off soon.

“A couple of questions, if you please?” I asked the solar.

“I will answer what I can.” He nodded.

“This Valthjov, what sort of Yugoloth is he?”

“Valthjov is an Ultraloth.” Anwell said.

“Hmm,” I mused, “I thought as much. And how many others can we expect?”

“Anwell considered for a moment. “Valthjov is the only Ultraloth we know of
that you will encounter, but he is in command of at least one Nycoloth, as well as a
small troop of Mezzoloth. It would not surprise me if he had more though.
Generally such creatures do not travel without an entourage of Canoloth at the very
least.”

“And how do we find him?”

“We are unsure as to his exact whereabouts, though we believe that you will find
him near the tower of Khin-oin.”

“Fair enough.” I said. “What about returning? I assume that you will shift us to
the Hades, but how will we get back here?”

“Taklinn will use this.” Anwell said, producing a small, forked piece of metal that
I recognized as a ‘plane shift’ key. “It is attuned to Arcadia. Either Taklinn or you,
Doorag Marzipan, can use it in conjunction with the ‘plane shift’ spell to return
here.”

By this time Hap and Griff had joined us, and though I’m certain they had plenty
of reservations about this mission, they seemed eager to be off. Their gear was
ready, and they nodded when Anwell asked if we were prepared to go. I had only to
cast a few long lasting preparatory spells on myself (‘mind blank’ being one of
them), and I was ready as well. I grasped Taklinn’s hand on one side, and Hap’s on
the other. Anwell touched out chain, and uttered a few words. The lands of Arcadia
grew dim and slipped away, and the next instant found us standing in the grey
wastes.

There was no sun. There was no moon. All was grey and lifeless. Here and there
we could see trees that somehow grew on this desolate plain of ash and rock, but
they were horribly twisted and deformed, as if evil itself had taken root in the very
soil of this forsaken place. In the distance we could see dots of light that might have
been hundreds of small fires, and I could only guess at the horrors that danced
around those flames. In another direction, we could just make out the cruel spire of
a tower that pointed like an accusing finger at the heavens, and I assumed it to be
the dreaded Khin-oin. Some fifty yards away we could see a black river winding its
way across the barren plain; I figured it to be the Styx.

Nothing moved as far as we could see, and we were gratified that Anwell had
seen fit to deposit us in a relatively safe place.

“Oh, this is lovely!” Hap exclaimed, sarcastically.

I peered about ourselves, quite nervous, and used my ‘overland flight’ to ascend
several feet into the air. “Let’s just get going.” I said. “Let’s find the axe, take it,
and get the hell out of here!”

“I’m all for that.” Griff nodded. The oppressive evil that permeated the very air
here seemed to disconcert even him.

Thus, we began to walk across the fields of ash and lava rock, picking our through
the unforgiving terrain. We used no light source, for we wanted no beacon to attract
unwanted investigators. Over hill and crag we walked (or flew, in my case), with
the tower ever in our sights. We were perhaps an hour from it when we met our first
denizens of this hellish place.

Happy heard them first and whirled around to face them with a warning to us all,
but it was too late. Three coal black horses with hooves of fire and eyes red with
hate ridden by three horrible old crones with sickly figures and hideously revealing
clothing charged down from behind us, crossing the distance with incredible speed.
I had chosen this moment to alight on the ground and walk with my comrades for
awhile, and I never even had time to retreat to the air before they were among us.

Griff was pounded by flaming hooves while Taklinn fended off his own hag with
his shield. The third looped around and came straight at me, and I ducked franticly
as hooves battered the air where my head had been only a fraction of a second
before. Without thinking, I fired off a trio of max/empowered ‘scorching rays’ at
the night hag rider, and then promptly cursed myself loudly, for not only did my
spell fail to penetrate her spell resistance, even if it had it would have done no good,
for hags are, of course, immune to fire! As I sailed into the air, dodging yet another
flurry of hooves, I berated myself for my stupidity.

Happy tucked and rolled, coming up behind Griff’s hag. Three quick dagger
thrusts found their homes and Griff followed with a massive slam of his own that
unseated the hag, which hit the ground hard and lay there twitching.

Taklinn slammed his own hag with axe blows, and meanwhile I was in trouble!
Even the air offered no refuge from the hag, for her nightmare simply took to the
skies after me. I could not avoid the hag as she grabbed for me. I felt her bite and
yelped loudly. Blood streamed from my shoulder as I dived for a position beside
Griff, turning in midair to fire off a ‘flesh to stone’ on her night mare. But it failed!
The hellish beast shook off my spell and dove right after me!

Then I saw Taklinn take a step back and hold out his crossed axes symbol of
Clangeden. With a mighty shout he cast what I learned later was “holy word’, a
very powerful divine spell which instantly paralyzed the three remaining
nightmares! I breathed a sigh of relief as the one coming after me froze and her
rider, caught off balance, fell to the ground, only to leap to her feet and try to bite
Taklinn! She pierced his armor and I saw blood on her teeth, but Taklinn merely
grunted and whirled to face her.

Griff stepped in at that moment and brought the Talon across the throat of
Taklinn’s first hag, dropping her where she stood. One of the nightmares fell,
reveling Happy, who had been standing on it’s other side. Her daggers were coated
with gleaming ichor, and she wore a gleeful grin as she moved on to the next frozen
nightmare. As for myself, I set my jaw and cocked my crossbow, flying up to the
last paralyzed nightmare. I took careful aim and unloaded a bolt into the things eye.

Between Taklinn and Griff, the final hag was out matched, and she quickly fell
beneath their steel. We looked around for more marauders, but none appeared.

Taklinn inspected his own wound and seemed satisfied that he was uninfected,
but upon examining my bite he clucked his tongue in concern.

“She’s given ya the taint, boy.” He informed me, and I had a moment of panic as
he explained the awful disease that night hags enjoy infecting their victims with.
Fortunately our cleric knew a bit about these creatures, and after rummaging over
one of their bodies for a moment, he gave a satisfied grunt as he found what he was
looking for. It was her heartstone, and with it he assured me he could cure the
wound. He pressed the stone against the bite for a moment, and I almost felt the
poison and sickness being pulled from my body. The stone glowed dully for a
moment and then returned to its dead black hue. I felt much better.

We gathered the two remaining heartstones, found nothing else, and headed out
again, eager to leave the bodies and any evidence of our existence on this plane
behind.

We trudged on for another hour, Khin-oin growing larger before us with each
passing step. Though I should say that Hap, Griff and Taklinn did most of the
trudging. After the attack by the hags I wanted to be off the ground as much as
possible (even though it was no help against the nightmares), so I spent the hour in
high in the air with Taklinn’s telescope, scanning the area around us for any signs
of trouble.

I found some!

I quickly adjusted the focus on the telescope, zeroing in on what appeared to be an
encampment of insectoid creatures. Though I had never actually seen one in the
flesh, my studies identified them easily enough. I flew straight back to the ground to
stand with the others.

“Mezzoloth!” I announced excitedly, “About a half mile away! Twenty of them!”

“Didn’t Anwell say something about Valthjov traveling with mezzoloth’s?”
Happy asked.

“Indeed he did,” I agreed, “These might be his.”

“So what do we do about them?” Griff said. “Did you see the guy we’re looking
for?”

I shook my head. “No, I didn’t see any Ultraloth or Nycoloth’s. They could be
just a random band of Yugoloth mercenaries.”

“Let’s find out!” Taklinn said menacingly. “We should capture one of them and
get information from it!”

“Easier said than done.” I said. “They can all plane shift at will. You’d have to
knock one of them out to take it prisoner. I could try a ‘dimensional anchor’, or
Griff could use his vest, though I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“We can at least try.” Taklinn said, setting his jaw and hefting his axe.

“I agree with him.” Griff said, stroking his short beard. “If these guys know where
the Ultraloth is, it would be worth the trouble.”

“I suppose you're right,” I nodded, “Besides, I don’t relish the idea of letting them
get behind us. How do you think we should approach this?”

“I say we sneak up on ‘em!” Happy said, a dagger already held loosely in her
hand.

I waited for Taklinn to disagree with such a dishonorable tactic, but he surprised
me by nodding his head and agreeing. Apparently he felt no compulsion to show the
inhabitants of this place the modicum of fair play he generally afforded others.

“How tough are these guys, Doorag?” Griff asked.

“Well,” I said after some thought, “I’m not real sure. Their ‘cloud kills’ could
hurt, and they have high resistance, both to spells and energies. I’m not certain how
effective I’ll be against them. Still, I don’t think they pack that much of a punch.”

The four of us spread out and began to cover the ground between us and the
mezzoloth’s as surreptitiously as we could by darting from sickly tree to ashy
hillock. We almost managed to get the drop on them, but alas, it was not to be.

I have said before that Happy can hide in the shadow of a pebble, and I don’t
think I’m exagurating, for even as we moved across the field I would look for her
from time to time, and even though I knew where she was, I still had trouble seeing
her. Griff and I are nowhere near as stealthy, but even we managed to keep our
heads down and our feet quiet enough to draw within about a hundred feet of the
Mezzoloth encampment. Taklinn, on the other hand, is an entirely different story.
Tip toe though he might try, there just wasn’t much help for his clanking armor and
lumbering pace. I cringed with every step he took as the sounds of metal on metal
echoed all around us.

We had made it to a small pile of rubble within a stones throw of the Mezzoloth,
and I felt reasonably happy that we had even made it that far without being heard,
but even as I was congratulating ourselves, Taklinn took another rattling step and I
watched in dismay as twenty Mezzoloth heads snapped around as one to look in our
direction. Taklinn gave us a look of, “Oops!” but it was far too late to worry about it
now. We had been discovered, and it was time to rely on our fighting abilities rather
than our stealth.

Suddenly our entire area was cloaked in a thick, cloying, gas that filled our lungs
and made us gag and choke! The Mezzoloth had wasted no time in using their
‘cloud kill’ abilities, and it appeared that the whole area was no suffused with the
yellowish fog. I felt the sickness grip my body and strength drained away from me.
I cursed as I watched it have the same effect on Hap and Griff. This was not good,
and I began to worry that we had underestimated these foes.

I leapt into the air, flying straight up as fast as I could, bringing my staff around to
point at the Mezzoloth pack. I unloaded a fireball into their midst, knowing it would
do little, but having few area effect spells available that would reach them. The
fireball exploded, and at least singed a handful of them, though for the most part
they simply ignored it and pointed toward me with their tridents.

I was out of the gas for the moment, and I watched as Griff charged from the
rubble where we had been hiding. He ran full tilt, sword gripped in both hands, lips
curled in a sneer. He barreled into the thick of them, and soon I could barely see
him, so surrounded by Mezzoloth he was. All I could make out for long seconds
was his blade coming down again and again.

Taklinn was hot on his heels and crashed into the flanks of Griff’s Mezzoloth
attackers. He waded in with his axes, and soon he and Griff were fighting back to
back. It was a desperate battle, for the Mezzoloth proved to be made of tougher
stuff than we had anticipated. I saw sword and axe blows land that would have split
normal men in two, but the Mezzoloth appeared non-pulsed and simply jabbed
away at our fighters with their tridents while the rest of them piled more ‘cloud
kills’ into the area. I was sick with worry over that strategy even as I hurled another
fireball into a group of them, for while Griff and Taklinn were very hard to hit, and
could withstand many physical attacks, sooner or later the cloud kill poison would
bring them down. We needed to turn the tide, and I was frustrated by my inability to
help. My fireballs, even when they overcame the Mezzoloth spell resistance, were
doing little real damage, and I had nothing else that could seriously hurt the
buggers. I decided to change tactics and try to aid our fighters instead. I used my
wand of ‘haste’ on Griff and Taklinn, and watched as they were suddenly made
faster.

More cloud kills surrounded me and I choked as I tried to fly out of the spells
area, feeling even more life drain from me. I scanned the ground for Hap but could
not find her, which was a good sign. She was probably hiding, working her way
into position for a stealthy kill. Taklinn and Griff hung on grimly, hacking and
slashing, slowly making small bits of headway as they dropped a couple of the
Mezzoloth. But there were still far too many of them.

I quickly cast a powerful summoning spell and called forth a large earth elemental
on the flank of the group surrounding Taklinn and Griff. The elemental immediately
laid about with its massive fists, slamming a Mezzoloth and getting their attention.

I continued to fly straight up, trying to get out of range of the cloud kills, when
suddenly, as if from nowhere, I spied a flurry of daggers whip through the air. Two
of them thunked home less than an inch apart in the back of a Mezzoloth’s head,
and the beetle creature dropped in instant death. A third dagger pierced a Mezzoloth
that Taklinn had already wounded, and it to dropped. I grinned in spite of the
nausea that gripped me, for I knew that Hap had finally gotten into position.

Happy’s two kills seemed to be the spark that Griff and Taklinn needed, for the
pair seemed to go mad with blood lust and fury. Griff howled out a guttural battle
cry and swung his sword like a madman. I watched as one, then two, then three,
then four, and finally a fifth Mezzoloth dropped. Taklinn was close behind, his axes
coming down, biting, cleaving, rending flesh and bone. He killed four of them out
right.

At last we were evening the odds. My elemental continued to beat on Mezzoloth
while Griff and Taklinn moved to deal with still more of them. The battle was
slowly turning in our favor and even the small amount of damage I had done with
my fireballs appeared to have helped as Griff and Taklinn waded through still more
of them. Between our fighters and the elemental, four more Mezzoloth’s were
dispatched. I was about to cast a few ‘magic missiles’ in an attempt to at least help
in some small way, but I never got the chance. Seeing that the fight was lost, the
remaining five Mezzoloth disappeared, plane shifting away. Just like that, we were
left alone on the field.

Cloud kill fumes still clung to the ground and I could hear my land bound
companions coughing as they sought clear air. At last, Happy, Taklinn, and finally
Griff stumbled from the clouds and I set down next to them. Griff was dragging the
still form of a Mezzoloth with him.

“This ones still alive.” He said, spitting bile. “That’s what we were after, right?”

Taklinn quickly saw to the bleeding Mezzoloth, using minor healings to stabilize
the creature without bringing it to full conciseness.

Our lungs burned and all of us were worse for wear. Hap and I could barely stand
at all, and I suggested a quick retreat, voicing my fear that the fleeing Mezzoloth
may have gone to their Ultraloth master and might already be getting ready to come
back with reinforcements.

Packing our prisoner with us, we hurried away from the battle field to a position
about a half mile away. I quickly cast a mansion and we all stumbled inside. I
sealed the door behind us with a relieved sigh and joined the others in the sitting
room where I threw myself onto an overstuffed chair, breathing heavily.

“Cloud kill!” I said, simply.

“Yeah.” Griff replied, still coughing.

“That’s a nasty one all right.” Taklinn added.

“I feel like hell warmed over.” Happy said. I knew that all of us had been
poisoned by the gas, and I asked Taklinn if he could do anything about it.

“Tomorrow I’ll be able to dispel the lasting effects.” He replied. “But not much I
can do right now. It may be a long night. Sorry.”

“So what do we do with this thing?” Griff asked, pointing at the limp Mezzoloth
body that lay on the carpet before us.

“We get the information we seek from it, and then we kill it!” Taklinn replied
flatly.
“What?” Happy looked at Taklinn, aghast. “You never cease to amaze me…” She

started, but Taklinn knew where she was going.

“Look,” he said, cutting her off, “These things are irredeemable. Everything on
this plane is fair game. I will show no mercy to demons, devils or Yugoloth. I see
no dishonor in slaying them, be they combatant or prisoner.” Happy glowered at
this, seething in Taklinn’s perceived hypocrisy.

“Yes,” I said, “But how are we to get the information from it? I don’t think torture
will do much good against a creature to whom torture is meat and drink, and
besides, I don’t relish such an idea anyway. Our other option is to promise it a
reward in return for the information.”

Taklinn’s eyes narrowed. “What kind of reward?”

“Well, it’s freedom, I suppose.”

“Bah! To hell with that!” Our cleric barked. “Promise him whatever you like, but
after that, he gets the axe!”

“Taklinn, think about that for a moment.” I cautioned him. “This Yugoloth may
be beyond redemption, but there is still the matter of your personal honor. If you
promise a prisoner freedom in exchange for information, and then kill him anyway,
isn’t that a pretty bad reflection on you, no matter how loathsome the prisoner?”

Taklinn scowled and chewed his lower lip for a moment. I could tell that he
wanted nothing more than to kill the Mezzoloth, that the very idea of freeing such
an evil creature was abhorrent to him, but at last he sighed heavily. “I suppose your
right. Especially if it means getting to the Ultraloth and Clangeden’s axe.”

“So how do we keep him from just plane shifting out of here when he wakes up?”
Happy asked. “And even if we can, what’s to keep him from just going to this
Valthjov character and warning him that we’re coming?”

I considered her questions for a moment and then said, “I have a few spells that
may help. I have a couple prepared that I normally don’t have ready since I thought
we may be meeting the Ultraloth today. I think they’ll work just as well against this
guy. My suggestion is this. I can use a ‘dimensional anchor’ on him to make sure he
can’t plane shift away. After that, I can incapacitate him until after we’re through
with Valthjov. Once we have the axe, we make good on our promise of his release.”

“How are you going to incapacitate him?” Griff asked. “Turn him into a statue?”

“Ah, therein lies the rub.” I said. “Unfortunately I don’t have that particular spell
prepared. We could wait until I’m rested and can prepare it, but we then run the risk
of our friend here waking up and shifting out of here. As an alternative, I do have a
scroll of ‘feeblemind’ though. It would keep him from being able to use his shifting
ability. He’d be too stupid.”

“Wait a minute!” Taklinn interrupted. “Feeblemind? Isn’t that the spell you used
on Losom the Large?”

“It is.” I nodded.

“And isn’t the only way to get rid of the effects a ‘heal’ spell?”

“Yes,” I replied, “You would have to ‘heal’ him once our mission is
accomplished.

Taklinn had plenty to say about this, and Hap was only too eager to be
exasperated by his moral compass. Griff sighed and rolled his eyes. As for me, I felt
that the time for action was now.

“Griff, would you tie him up, please?” I asked. Griff shrugged, and in a minute,
the Mezzoloth was securely bound. I cast two spells in quick succession. The first,
‘weaken resistance’, was to strip away his spell resistance; the second, ‘dimensional
anchor’ took hold easily, and we could now rest assured that he would be unable to
shift away.

“Taklinn,” I said to our cleric, even as he was still arguing with Hap, “We have
fifteen minutes, after which time the ‘dimensional anchor’ will wear off. Would you
please bring him around?”

I don’t think that Taklinn had even realized that I had already cast my spells. He
scowled, realizing that we were committed. Grumbling, but seeing little choice, he
knelt next to the Mezzoloth and recited a prayer with very little passion. Health
flooded into the bound creature, and it’s eyes flickered open. It glanced about itself
with hate and fear. I knew it was trying its level best to plane shift away, and I
could see the confusion on its beetle-like face when it didn’t work.

“What do you want!” It demanded, speaking with us telepathically.

“Information!” Griff answered the Mezzoloth with a steely voice. The creature,
out of its element, and unable to use its plane shifting powers to escape us, cowered
before Griff, obviously in great fear for its life.

“Will tell you what you want!” It whined. “Don’t kill! Don’t kill!”

“That’s up to you, my friend,” Griff answered, “Tell us what we want to know,
and you go free. Hold anything back, and I let him do what he wants.” Griff pointed
at Taklinn, who stood with axe in hand. The Mezzoloth shuddered, for Taklinn
wore his holy symbol openly, and there was little doubt as to what the dwarf would
do given the opportunity.

It peered at Griff. “I tell you, you let me go free?” It asked, slyly.

“That’s right. But if I think your lying, it’ll go bad for you.” Griff said.

“Will tell!” It nodded eagerly.

“OK, first question. You know Valthjov?”

The Mezzoloth hesitated not one second. “Yes! Valthjov! I know!”

Griff raised an eyebrow toward me, then continued. “You fight for him?”

“He is master! I obey! You let me go now, yes?”

“Not just yet.” Griff said. “Where is Valthjov?”

“In lair. A cave, not far from Khin-oin.”

“How do we find it?”

“Walk to Khin-oin until you get to boiling lake. Put Khin-oin on left. Walk to
hills; maybe one hour. There is valley between hills. Look for cave. You find
Valthjov there!”

I glanced at Taklinn, and even he seemed to think that this was going far better
than we could have hoped. Apparently, loyalty was not the strong suit of the
Yugoloth race.

“How many guards, and what kind of guards?” Griff continued his interrogation.

The Mezzoloth paused to think about this for several minutes, doing painful
calculations in his head. He seemed to finally give up trying to get a sound number
and simply said, “Many Canoloth. Maybe five or six Nycoloth. And Valthjov waits
for Clodoveo. Clodoveo is Ultraloth!”

“Another Ultraloth?” Happy wailed. “This gets better and better!”

I stepped forward and caught the creatures attention. You’ve been in this lair?” I
asked.

“Yes, in lair. I have been!” The Mezzoloth answered.

“Describe it.” I said. “In detail.”

While the Mezzoloth told me of everything he could remember about the lair and
I committed it to memory, I had a servant fetch pen and paper, whereupon I had
Griff free one of the Mezzoloth’s arms and I bid him draw me a map. Ever helpful,
the creature took the pen in it’s hooked pincer and sketched a crude map of a large
underground cavern with two exits.

“That way to Valthjov!” He announced, jabbing at one of the exits with his hook.
I no go there. No Canoloth go there. No Mezzoloth go there. Valthjov no allow!”

“But he is down that passageway?” I asked.

“Yes, yes! Valthjov is there. Not far. But this room full of Yugoloth! They kill
you good, yes! Canoloth snap your bones and Nycoloth chop off your arms! They
kill you good!”

“We’ll see about that,” Griff cut him off, “When is the other Ultraloth supposed to
show up?”

“Do not know.” The Mezzoloth shrugged.

I looked at my crew. “Any more questions? We’re about out of time.”

“None that I can think of.” Griff said. Hap shrugged and Taklinn shook his head,
never taking his eyes from the Mezzoloth.

Satisfied with our information, I produced a scroll and unrolled it.

“You let me go now, yes?” The Mezzoloth asked, hopefully.

“Not just yet,” I replied, “But soon, don’t you worry. Just as soon as we take care
of Valthjov, you’re on your way.”

“But you say…!” The creature hissed, not understanding. I ignored him and read
from the scroll, casting the ‘feeblemind’ contained therein on him. As I said the
final word of the dweomer, the Mezzoloth became quiet and withdrawn. I looked at
his eyes and saw only dull listlessness and confusion. A small rope of drool began
to slip from his mouth.

I breathed a sigh of relief. “It worked.” I said. “He’s dumb as a box of hammers.
Let’s lock him in a room. I’ll have the servants feed and water him.”

“Doorag,” Griff said, “You seem awfully relieved. Did you have some doubt
about all of this?”

“Well,” I said, “To tell you the truth, that scroll was the only ‘feeblemind’ I had.
If it hadn’t worked, we’d be in a bit of a moral pickle right now.”

“What was your plan if it didn’t work?” Hap asked.

“Cross that bridge when we came to it?” I said, shrugging. “To tell you the truth, I
was just kind of hoping for the best.”

Griff chuckled. “So okay, we got our info. What do we do with it? It sounds like this
Valthjov is holed up pretty tight, and he’s got plenty of guards. If we had such
trouble with a grip of Mezzoloth, what are we going to do about this lot?”

I picked up the map that the Mezzoloth had drawn for me and studied it
thoughtfully.

“I have a plan.” I said.


Brwfst 1

“It’s a simple scry and fry.” I said the next morning. We were gathered around the
dining table as is our habit, and Taklinn was in the process of casting ‘restorations’
on us to heal the losses incurred from the ‘cloud kills’. I pointed at the map that the
Mezzoloth had drawn for us, outlining my plan. “We port in here,” I said, drawing
an ‘X’ on a point nearest the exit where the Mezzoloth had said Valthjov could be
found, “And we hit them hard and fast. We don’t screw around with the guards in
this main room unless we have to. We’ll be flying, and as soon as we get there we
make for Valthjov’s chamber. Griff, I’m thinking that you and I should concentrate
on him. Hap, if you can get the right angle on him, well, you know what to do.”

Hap grinned wolfishly at me, fingering the hilt of a dagger.

“Taklinn, I’ll need you to protect my flank. These guys can see through my
invisibility, and chances are the ceiling won’t be high enough for flight to afford me
much safety. Heck, the Nycoloth can fly, and if they come after me, I’ve had it. I’ll
do my level best to ‘dimensionally anchor’ Valthjov, because if he thinks he’s in
any real trouble he’ll just shift out and we’ll be worse off than we are now. We need
to take him out as fast as possible, grab the axe, and port out of there. Any
questions?”

Three heads shook, and we spent the next twenty minutes going over details and
finally casting enhancement spells. By the time we were ready nearly all of us had
‘fly’, ‘stone skin’, and ‘haste’ on us. I added a ‘greater heroism’ to Griff before we all
joined hands. I pictured the point in the cave in my mind and cast ‘greater teleport’,
crossing my fingers in hopes that the Mezzoloth hadn’t been smart enough to lie.

As it turned out, our prisoner had been telling the truth, for in the next instant we
appeared in a large underground cavern, quite near an exit. The cave was full of
bulldog looking Canoloth and four-armed Nycoloth, but there was no time to deal
with them even as their heads snapped around to regard us with surprise.

We’d gotten the drop on them and had a few precious seconds in which to act
before they gathered themselves to attack us. I resolved to use them wisely.

I was the first to move, and thus I flew as fast as I could through the exit. The
tunnel was short, only fifteen or so feet, and emptied into a smaller chamber. At it’s
far end, I saw our target! An Ultraloth stood over the body of a second Ultraloth.
The dead one appeared to have died in quite a bit of pain for its features were
twisted in agony. The living Ultraloth stood over it’s brethren with a look of
consternation on its face. I saw also that the dead Ultraloth held in its claws a
beautiful white axe, and I immediately assumed that the pair had been attempting to
wield Clangeden’s artifact and that one of them had paid the ultimate price for
doing so.

The Ultraloth, whom I assumed to be Valthjov, looked up at me with a face full of
pure shock. My companions were already streaming in behind me, and for a second
I thought to go with our original plan. But I had a plan B in the back of my mind
that was contingent on just such an event. I had the drop on Valthjov, and I had
decided that if such came to pass, I would gamble. Casting furiously, I rolled the
dice.

One of the things that had given me great pause when formulating a plan of attack
against the Yugoloth had been their resistance against spells, and therefore I had
spent the previous night going into the back pages of my spell books and boning up
on offensive dweomers that could not be resisted. Two of them had leapt
immediately to mind. ‘Conjuring bolt’, a spell that I had used with great success in
the early days of my career, and ‘Duvar’s Ripper Portal’, which was basically the
more powerful cousin of ‘conjuring bolt’. Both of them used force energy to
damage their targets, both of them hit unerringly, and neither of them could be
resisted. The only downside was the relatively small amount of damage that they
would cause. But I had recently mastered a couple of new meta-magic techniques
that I hoped would make those spells far more dangerous.

I had gone into the fight assuming that the best I’d be able to hope for would be to
use ‘dimensional anchors’ and ‘weaken resistances’ against Valthjov, but I’d also
prepared two big hitters in the event that I caught him with his pants down.

My first spell was a maximized ‘ripper portal’ which took Valthjov square in the
chest. The Ultraloth took a surprised step back as a look of rage and pain swept
across his face. He snarled and glared at me with hatred, but I was not through yet!

I followed my first spell with a quickened ‘conjuring bolt’, and it too sizzled into
the Ultraloth’s chest. A look of sheer amazement crossed his face, and then he
dropped to the floor, dead.

“Holy crap!” I heard Happy yell from behind me. “What did you just do?”

“Get the axe and lets get the hell out of here!” I yelled back by way of reply. But
Taklinn and Griff had already reached the bodies of the Ultraloth. Taklinn reached
down and grasped the axe, tearing it from the dead hands of the Ultraloth and
holding it up reverently. Happy flew to their sides, as did I, but it was too late for a
clean get away. As fast as we were, the Yugoloth were hot on our heels. Three
Nycoloth’s suddenly teleported directly into the room to surround Taklinn and Griff
while Canoloth began to pour into the room, charging our fighters.

“Grab my hands!” I shouted, already bringing a ‘teleport’ spell to my lips. But it
was not to be. Even as Happy reached for me, a Nycoloth leapt into the air,
pumping his wings, and grabbed her in its four arms, pulling her out of reach of my
extended hand. On the ground, two more Nycoloth swung away at Griff and
Taklinn while the Canoloth joined in as well, snapping at the pair of them (and at
me as well) with long tongues that dripped with paralyzing poison. Our luck held,
and none of us were frozen by the Conoloth’s poison, but there would be no easy
escape. Griff and Taklinn were in the thick of it, and Happy struggled for her life to
escape the grip of the Nycoloth as it attempted to rend her.

Griff looked over his shoulder to see his wife in the grip of the Nycoloth. Rage
overtook him and he tried to go to her, but he was pressed back by Yugoloth
attackers. I saw him dodge a Canoloth tongue even as he parried a Nycoloth axe.
Frustrated in his attempt to reach Happy, something seemed to snap in him. Griff’s
eyes became narrow slits of steel; through clenched teeth I heard his guttural exhale
as he lashed out with his sword. The Talon caught the Nycoloth between its two left
arms with a meaty slice that nearly cut the beast in half. It threw up its hands, its
axe flying away from it as it howled fruitless denial at its own death.

The Nycoloth slumped in death, but Griff was far from finished. His yard of steel
continued its arc, cleaving into one, then two Canoloth, both of whom fell. Griff let
his momentum carry him to the next, and it too fell to the gore soaked cavern floor.
Then another, and another fell dead, cut too deeply to live, until Griff stood at the
center of a clearing, his breath coming in ragged gasps. Not one Yugoloth was
within reach of him.

Not to be outdone, Taklinn faced a horde of his own Yugoloth. The axe he held in
his hand seemed to flare with brightness as he gripped it, and I saw flickers of doubt
and fear in the eyes of the Yugoloth as holy light appeared to dapple across them.
With a look of wonder, and something like peace, Taklinn swung Clangeden’s axe,
and buried it to the haft in a Nycoloth chest.

The Nycoloth was driven to the ground by the force of the blow, and it died there
as Taklinn used his boot to kick the body off of his axe. He fended a Canoloth off
with his shield even as he brought the axe around for a backhand swing that took
the top off of a second Canoloth’s head.

He brought it back forward, and his eyes seemed to follow the axe head, as if in
awe, instead of his targets, but it did not affect his aim, for he dispatched two more
with bone crushing slams.

All of this happened in the space of a few heartbeats, yet I witnessed it all, as if in
slow motion, as I twisted my body to dodge the tongues of two Canoloth that
stalked me from below. I could see that victory, not escape, was now the order of
the day, for Taklinn and Griff had reduced the enemies number by nearly two
thirds. Instead of running, we were going to kill these hateful creatures.

But there was still the matter of Hap, and I resolved to free her of the Nycoloth
that was doing its level best to tear her head off.

My intention was to fly out of range of the Canoloth tongues, but even as I made
to shoot away, a tongue found my ankle, wrapping around it and hanging on. I felt
its poison flow into me, but I shook my head to clear it, refusing to succumb to the
paralyzation. Never taking my eyes off of Hap, I pulled at the Canoloth’s tongue
even as I cast the ‘hold monster’.

The Nycoloth froze, utterly frozen by my spell. It’s wings stopped beating, and
immediately both it and Happy crashed to the ground. Fortunately Happy landed on
top, and managed to quickly slither free of the Nycoloth’s statue-like grasp. It’s
eyes flashed with hatred as it willed itself to disappear into another realm, but not
before Hap got in one quick thrust with a dagger that nearly killed it. Alas, before
she could draw back for a second thrust, it shifted.

The rest of the Canoloth, seeing the final Nycoloth flee, did likewise. My ankle
was suddenly free as they shifted away, popping out of Hades one after the other
until only the four of us and the bodies of our foes remained.

Griff limped over to Hap, who was gingerly checking her bruised ribs.

“You okay?” He asked.

She grinned through the pain at her husband. “Been worse.” She said, giving
Griff’s hand a squeeze. She clucked her tongue as she checked Griff’s wounds,
making sure that none were potentially fatal.

I landed beside them and nodded toward Taklinn, who stood amidst the scatter of
Yugoloth bodies. His eyes were still glued to the axe with a reverent gaze as he held
it before him. He was utterly entranced.

“Taklinn?” I called to him, and he broke from his reverie with a start, looking
sheepishly, yet proudly at me.

Happy was already searching the bodies, and soon we’d collected a nice sum of
platinum. She spied a chest in a small alcove as well, and within a few minutes had
bested the lock to reveal quite a bit more coin. We tossed the lot of it into Griff’s
bag of holding, and Taklinn said, “Very well then! Let’s be back to Clangeden!” He
withdrew his plane shift ‘key’ that Anwell had given him, and held out his hands to
us.

“Not so fast!” I said. “We still have one more obligation!”

Taklinn gave me a look, but merely sighed. “All right, all right. Let’s get it over
with!”

I grinned at him and held out my own hands. As they all linked together, I
‘teleported’ us back to the mansion.

We entered and went to the room where we had locked the ‘feebleminded’
Mezzoloth. Taklinn gave me another sour look and a grumble, but in the end he
gritted his teeth and cast the ‘heal’ that was needed to restore the Yugoloth to its
full faculties. The thing grunted and hissed at us, but Taklinn simply gave it a level
gaze that spoke volumes.

“Never let me see you again.” Our cleric said simply. The Mezzoloth’s eyes
widened, and it disappeared.

“Now can we go?” Griff asked.

“Yes,” I said, “Taklinn, cast away.”

Taklinn did, and we soon left the infernal planes of the blood wars to return to
Arcadia.

We wait now on the spot where we first met the solar. I had to use up all my
seventh circle spells capabilities during the Yugoloth fight, and thus, I sleep for the
first time in a long time without the comfort of the mansion. Though I miss it, I
must admit to a certain pang of nostalgia as I sit around the campfire with my
friends as we did on so many nights so long ago and listen to them recount the tales
of our battles as I write in this journal.

Yes, I miss the warmth and comfort of the mansion, but I have a feeling that I will
sleep very soundly tonight, under an open sky with my friends near at hand.


Brwfst 2

Today has been a fair whirl wind of events that I am nearly at a loss to even put
into words, though I suppose I shall have to try.

This morning would be a good place to start.

I arose early and stretched in the new “sun” of a fresh Arcadian day and saw that
Taklinn was already up, seated in his now familiar spot on the riverbank, keeping
his vigil for the return of the solar. Clangeden’s axe was still gripped firmly in his
hand.

Hap and Griff rolled out of their blankets shortly after I had begun to prepare my
spells, and they soon had breakfast in order.

After a meal I cast an ‘analyze dweomer’ on the unidentified prizes we’d
accumulated and split them as we saw fit.

As we finished this task, I saw Taklinn jump to his feet from the corner of my
eye. Anwell had returned, and now stood on our side of the river. He had appeared
no more than five feet from Taklinn, and our cleric bowed low before him,
proffering the axe in outstretched arms.

The solar said nothing, but took the axe from Taklinn’s hands. He gave it an
appraising look, and when he was satisfied that this was, truly Clangeden’s axe, I
saw a smile spread over his face.

I got the distinct impression that solar do not smile much.

“You have retrieved the axe and accomplished what was asked of you, Taklinn
the Shorn.” Anwell said. I heard Happy cough loudly in the back ground, but the
solar ignored her. “Our lord Clangeden wishes to express his gratitude. You are
permitted from this day forward, to enter his mountain as a guest of honor. He
wishes you to make haste to the front gates of the city.”

Taklinn looked up with a mixture of “its about time!” and gratitude on his face,
but the solar was already gone, having disappeared in the blink of an eye.

Taklinn looked at us. “Well what are ya standing there for?” He exclaimed,
throwing his hands up. “You heard him! We have to get to the city!” With that, he
tromped away from us, fording the river like a bull and climbing up the opposite
bank. He did not wait for us, and we were left to hurriedly stuff our gear (his
included) away and run after him.

We caught up to our dwarf eventually and asked him to kindly slow down a bit,
but there was no talking to him, and we could do nothing but match his pace as his
short strides ate up the ground. I flew, but Hap was reduced to being carried on
Griff’s shoulders.

“We gotta get you a harness!” Griff laughed.

“You just keep walking!” She said, playfully slapping his head. “You’re a lot
prettier when you don’t talk!”

It was three hours to the gates of the city nestled within Mount Clangeden. Those
gates were tall, reinforced, and meant business, but as we neared, they were opened
wide to us by none other than Anwell, flanked by a contingent of heavily armed
dwarf guards, who parted to let us through.

“Come.” Anwell said, motioning for us to follow him. We did.

The city is a honeycomb of dwarven engineering the likes of which I had never
hoped to see. It was breathtaking as each massive cavern gave way to the next, each
one in turn more magnificent, more complex, as they connected to each other via a
myriad of tunnels. Buildings were hewn out of solid rock, and vast walkways
spanned the air above us, connecting their upper floors. I saw shops of every kind as
well as temples, schools, sculpture, rivers… the list goes on and on, and I soon
realized that beneath the face of Mount Clangeden there breathed a living
metropolis.

Everywhere I looked I could see dwarves in training. They marched through fest
halls, they sparred in court yards, they drilled in front of their homes. But dwarves
were not the only race I recognized. Plenty of humans, and even a smattering of
small folk walked the roads, shopped in stores and made merry in inns.

And last, but certainly not least, was the clanging of hammers on anvils. Every
fourth shop here appears to be devoted to blacksmithing of some kind, and even a
cursory glance at their wares displayed out front showed us weapons and armor that
were enough to have Taklinn and Griff practically drooling openly. We also had to
keep dragging Happy away from selection after selection of some of the finest
daggers she claims to have ever seen.

Anwell finally brought us to one of the cities finer inns and stated that we were
honored guests, and that rooms had been prepared for us. Our room and food
would, he said, be taken care of. We were led by the beaming dwarven proprietor to
our rooms and left to rest, though Anwell informed us that we would be visited
shortly.

I closed the door to my room and looked around at what passed for dwarven
luxury. It was not on par with my mansion, but it was certainly comfortable by any
standards, and I bustled about happily, setting up house as much as I could. When
an hour had passed and I had still seen no sign of a visitor, I settled down with
Helious’ spell book, in hopes that I would have time to learn a fresh spell from it.

Several hours passed, and I was quite immersed in my studies. I fear I missed the
first series of knocks on my door, but when they caught my attention at last, I
opened it to find Anwell standing there.

“May I come in, Doorag Marzipan?” He politely asked.

“Of course.” I replied, standing aside to let him enter. I eyed him a bit warily, for
he still presented an imposing and fearsome figure, despite the kind smile that he
directed at me. I shut the door and found a chair, awaiting his words.
“Clangeden has chosen to honor you, Doorag Marzipan,” he said, “It is not often
that the Father of All Battles finds occasion to gift a halfling, a halfling wizard at
that. But he is pleased with the doings of you and your dwarven companion,
Taklinn the Shorn.”

“It is not an easy thing for a suitable gift to be found,” the solar continued, “You
stand in a center of metallurgy and smithing. Were you a warrior, the task would be
simple. The best armor and weapons in the planes can be found here.”

“But you, Doorag Marzipan, are not a warrior. You are a wizard – an uncommon
career for the dwarven fold. You are a weaver of spells, a slayer from a distance.
These are things that Clangeden Silverbeard does not honor.”

I raised an eyebrow at this and stiffened a little, but did not interrupt him.

“But Clangeden honors you, Doorag Marzipan, and thus he has ordered this. First,
he gives you the title of Dwarf Friend. This is a gift in and of itself, for should you
need aid and find a dwarf in your midst, you must merely name yourself in the eyes
of Clangeden, and good dwarves within the reach of Clangeden will recognize you
and come to your aid.”

“But this is only part of your reward, Doorag Marzipan. He also offers you these.”
Anwell dropped to one knee as a box appeared from thin air at his feet. It appeared
to be crafted of finest mithril and bore the images of scrolls on its lid, crossed in the
manner of Clangeden’s axes. I could see that it glowed with the aura of
transmutation.

“Open it.” The solar commanded.

I slid from my chair and walked around to the font of the box, eyeing it and
appreciating the craftsmanship required to build such a thing. I could see no seam in
its construction, and wondered if it might even be water tight. With a look at the
solar over my shoulder, I reached for the lid and slowly opened the box.

Inside, I was puzzled to find a small chain shirt, patiently crafted from links of
pure mithril.

“Few mages wear armor,” Anwell said as I lifted the shirt from the box. It was
surprisingly light, and the links rippled like folds of Ebarium silk, “but few mages
have had the opportunity to wear armor such as this. It will not slow you down, nor
will it hamper the flow of your magic. It is comfortable enough to sleep in, and you
will never find need to repair it. It is the final achievement of Kristol Goblinsbane, a
follower of Clangeden Silverbeard. He considered it his greatest creation. Indeed,
Clangeden has kept it over the ages, until now. He believes he has found the one
worthy to wear it.”

“Finally,” he said, “The box is also yours. You may call it or send it away at will,
and when it is gone you can be sure that it has gone to a place untouchable except
by gods. Your belongings will be as safe, or safer than anywhere else you could
imagine. Clangeden gives you his word on that.”

The solar was silent then, as if waiting for the true weight of these gifts to sink in
to me and to say something.

My mind raced. The title of Dwarf Friend would have been enough reward for
me, but the addition of the box was more than I had dreamed of. The chain shirt,
however, gave me pause, and I searched for the proper thing to say.

“Err, thanks…?” I said, lamely.

A frown creased Anwell’s features. “I sense that you are… embarrassed.” He
said, curiously. “Pray, tell me why?”

I looked up at the tall, winged, creature and felt like a fool. “Its just that…” I
stammered, “Well, please convey my thanks to Clangeden for the title and the box,
I hope they both see use. But, err, well, I’m thinking that I cannot accept the shirt of
chain.”

Anwell’s eyes widened in surprise. “And why not?” He asked.

“Ah, well,” I swallowed, “Its just that… I don’t… I don’t wear armor.” I admitted
at last. I hurried to explain as he opened his mouth to protest. “You see,” I said, “I
already have items that provide me with as much protection as this shirt could, and I
already wear magical clothing that I could not continue to wear were I to put on this
shirt. My mantel and robe are both enchanted, and I would be loathe to part with
them. Therefore, I’m afraid that this fine gift would be wasted on me. If it is,
indeed, the crowning achievement of this Kristol Goblinsbane fellow, I would hate
to take it only to give it an unfitting home amongst my collection of oddities. This
armor is a piece of art, and I fear that it would be wasted upon me. Please
understand, I do not wish to appear ungrateful. These rewards are far more generous
than I deserve, and I am more than happy with the box and title. But please, see to it
that someone more fitting than I receives this armor. It deserves much more than to
end up a museum piece in a wizards laboratory.”

Anwell considered this gravely for a moment. “You are correct, Doorag
Marzipan.” He said, at last. “I will take the shirt back to Clangeden and explain the
situation. He will understand your motivations. Still, he will not be satisfied until
you receive what he feels to be adequate reward.”

“But really,” I began to protest, “The box and the title are more than…”

Anwell cut me off with a wave of his hand. “Such things are not for you nor I to
decide, Doorag Marzipan.” He said. “Simply accept his generosity. Now then, do
you have an idea as to what might prove a more suitable reward? Something that
you desire?”

I thought about that for a long moment, reluctant to offer suggestions and still
feeling like a lout over the whole armor thing, but at last, I sighed. “Well,” I said, “I
have most of what I need, and what I don’t, I can eventually craft myself, if I ever
get the time, so I don’t really…”

“Time?” the solar said.

“Well, yes, time. I never seem to have enough time. Heck, I have a whole book
full of spells that need learning, but I just never have the time to…” I stopped, for
he had caught my eye. His look was questioning, and I dared a guess. “Unless,” I
wondered, “Clangeden can give me… time?”

“Would that be your desire, Doorag Marzipan?” Anwell asked. “Time?”

“Why, yes!” I exclaimed. “Is that possible?”

“We shall see,” The solar smiled, “We shall see.” And with that, he was gone,
leaving me to wonder at what he was up to. I shrugged, and went back to my
studies, though I could not help but try out the box several times. It satisfactorily
disappeared and reappeared when I spoke the command words, and I was quite
pleased indeed.

Several hours later there came another knock on my door. It was Anwell again,
and he wore a wide smile on his face.

“Gather your belongings and come with me, Doorag Marzipan.” He said simply.

Anwell led me from the inn and through a half mile or more of tunnels to an awe
inspiring structure carved of living rock. Priests of Clangeden milled about
everywhere I looked, and the gods crossed axes symbol was carved prominently
above the entryway. Anwell led me inside and dwarven priests bowed low before
him, parting to let us pass.

Down corridors and through chambers I was led until at last he brought me to a
simple, stone, door. He pushed it open and I could feel a grin spread across my face
when I saw what was inside. A complete wizard’s laboratory was set up inside, as
well as a fine selection of tomes and books. The solar led me inside and opened a
second door that led into an adjoining room that was obviously a living area with
bed, basin, and other accoutrements. It was comfortable and clean, and I looked at
Anwell questioningly.

“Once I close this door you will have your time.” Anwell stated. “Two months, to
be precise. Outside the door only two weeks will pass, but within this room you
have much longer to do with as you please. I will explain to your friends what you
are doing. Have no fear for them, for they have much to accomplish as well, and
some of their rewards will take more than two weeks to facilitate. Is this an
acceptable reward, Doorag Marzipan?”

I gaped at the solar, open mouthed. “Two months?” I hardly dared believe he was
serious.

“Two months.” He nodded.

“That is more than generous!” I grinned. “Thank you very much!”

“It is Clangeden’s will.” Anwell said simply. “Food will be delivered to you daily,
and if you have need of anything at all you may ring the bell you will find in the
laboratory. Good luck with your studies, Doorag Marzipan, and enjoy your time.”
With that, he bowed low and backed out of the room, shutting the door softly after
him.

I looked about, hardly knowing where to begin. Two months! What I could do
with that kind of time! I quickly unloaded my haversack and became familiar with
the lab and library. Once I was satisfied that I had everything I needed, I decided
upon which project to start first. I withdrew Helious’ spell book and laid it open on
the desk, turning to the first of some twenty spells that I had thus far had no time to
learn.


Ptchwl 9

Only two weeks have passed since my last journal entry here outside of the time
fold in which I have been sequestered. Inside the room that Anwell left me in,
however, two months have passed, and not a second of it went to waste. In that time
I have learned more than twenty new spells and have crafted for myself a pair of
dexterous gloves much like the ones I made for Happy.

My journal is chock full of notes concerning my time spent outside of the normal
stream of time, the vast majority of which are technical specifications and notations
of curiosities with regard to spells, yet one entry in particular I keep going back to
over and over again.

My reward here in Arcadia has sparked an idea within me that I cannot let go, and
I am determined to explore it further.

In essence, my idea concerns time; my need for it, and a way to get it. I had not
previously considered a way in which to facilitate my studies and crafting in a more
expeditious manner, but now that I realize that it can, in fact, be done, I am
intrigued enough to follow through on ways in which I can emulate the gift given to
me by Clangeden. Near the halfway point of the two months spent in the lab, it
suddenly dawned on me that the answer to this dilemma has been right under my
nose for some time now!

Edik.

Once the name of that plane popped into my head I immediately re-read my
journal entries from our time spent there and, sure enough, I saw where I had
recorded a time difference of ten Edik days for every one of our days!

This is a tremendously exciting discovery, for it means that, if I can return to
Edik, I can have access to just about all the time I will ever need! For example, the
gloves that I so recently crafted would require thirty-six days to create in Havilah,
but if I were to make them on Edik, only three to four days would have passed in
Havilah!

The mind boggles at the possibilities!

We have already been able to return to Edik with Yigil’s help. At the time I was
unable to cast the needed spell, namely, ‘plane shift’. But Yigil had cast it after
crafting a key to the plane and we were able to return there to retrieve the remainder
of the women and children that did not accompany their men when we attacked
Melesandre. I can only believe that, now that I possess the ‘plane shift’ dweomer,
the only thing between me and unlimited access to Edik and it’s time differential is
a ‘fork’ attuned to it. If Yigil can craft one, then why not me?

All of which dove tails nicely with a quest that Taklinn has been hinting about for
some weeks. He has visions of returning to Edik to destroy the evil temple to Illugi
where the souls of Kester Orban and his crew are still trapped. Taklinn feels it is our
duty to free them, and I can naught but agree, though now I have all the more
reason to wish to return to Edik

But I am getting very far ahead of myself. Our quest here is hardly at an end. I
feel that we are so terribly close to Caribdis, and I yearn to get back on his track. It
will still be another week before we leave Arcadia though, for Taklinn, Hap and
Griff are all in the process of having weapons and armor crafted for them. Each of
them has already received a major reward from Clangeden. When I finally left the
laboratory, exhausted but happy, I went back to the inn where my friends have been
staying. They were glad to see me, and I could immediately see that they had
received their gifts. Happy carries a new dagger that glows with a magic the
brightness of which is matched only by the new sword that Griff now wears at his
side. He still carries the blade I crafted for him, but it has now been relegated to a
back up weapon, for this new bastard sword is a blade of incredible enchantment
and quality. I must admit to being slightly saddened at the thought that the Talon is
in semi-retirement, but Griff made me smile again when he flashed both of his
swords from their scabbards and referred to them as “The Talons”. I suppose that
any decent griffin should, indeed, have two talons.

And Taklinn, well, Taklinn carries the axe. Yes, the axe we rescued from the
Yugoloth now belongs to our cleric. I doubt I could ever put into words the pride
with which Taklinn wields that axe. It is perhaps THE major milestone in his
career, and he now joins what I am sure is a very elite group of dwarves who have
been personally gifted by Clangeden with one of his weapons. I am by no means a
scholar on the ways of dwarves, but I know enough to appreciate the honor and
prestige that such a gift confers.

As I said, we are still a week from departing Arcadia, as at least Happy is having
a new suit of armor crafted. She tells me that it will be heavily imbued celestial
armor that will allow her the ability to fly for limited periods of time, which I agree
is something she has been lacking. Between her new armor making her far more
mobile and difficult to hit, and her new dagger, with its myriad of enhancements,
she will become twice as dangerous to her foes as before, so I cannot begrudge her
the extra time we are spending here.

As for me, even though I have just spent two grueling months at work, I have
resolved to use the next seven days wisely. I plan to scribe several new scrolls, as
well as make permanent both the ‘tongues’ and ‘comprehend languages’ spells
upon myself. It is a significant drain on my life essence, but I feel the benefits are
well worth it.
 

cthulhu42

Explorer
Ptchwl 16

At last! We are on our way again!

We left Clangeden’s city at early noon today once Hap had finally received her
armor. I must admit, it is beautiful. It is as thin and supple as Ebarium silk, and
though it is not as “roguish” as her old armor, which was darker in color, it provides
much the same dweomer as well as offering far more protection. Hopefully, she will
not get hit nearly so often now.

One other gift has been made known to me, though I do not know all of the
particulars. Apparently Griff has undergone a bit of a time shift himself, though it is
far more subtle than mine. From what I can gather, Clangeden has slowed his
aging slightly so that he is a bit more in line with Happy. In essence, Griff now
ages as a halfling, which will extend his life span by some fifty years or so. This is a
fine thing, since I know that Hap has expressed her concern to me about what will
happen when they get old. She has had fear (and rightly so) that Griff will die of old
age long before she does. I have been meaning to do a bit of research on magic that
can extend the ageing process, but now it looks as if the problem has been taken
care of, though I dare say, if my plans to gain access to Edik come to pass I will still
need to find a way to control my own ageing, for I could easily die of old age on
Havilah long before my time should I not take care with how much time I spend in
a faster time stream.

At any rate, we have hired a boat to ferry us down the river Oceanus. A typically
dour dwarven guide stands at the helm and assures us that we should reach Ysgard
within a couple of days.

Before we left, I made one final request of Anwell, namely, I asked him exactly
where we might find Caribdis. He replied with his wry smile that Caribdis is in the
free city of Himinborg in Ysgard where he tells tales to the heroes of that realm
from the stage of an in called The Heroes Rest.

He also explained to me that our route has changed slightly. We are no longer
required to find and follow the infinite staircase into Ysgard, but instead may
simply follow the Oceanus into that plane now that our deed for Clangeden has
been accomplished.

All of this is extraordinarily exciting news! As it now stands, we could find
Caribdis before the end of the week! I am beside myself with excitement at the
prospect of finally finding our bard again. It has been so long. We have so much to
tell him. Soon, very soon, the Band of the Broken Blade shall be whole again.


Ptchwl 19

Toward midday, after following the river for two days and nights, the mist began
to roll in. I recognized it now as the border between planes, and as our vision
became reduced to mere feet, I grew more and more excited, for I knew that when
the mist cleared we would be in Ysgard.

For these past two days my stomach has been knotted in apprehension. It seems
that for every step toward Caribdis we get, we take a step backwards. At every turn
we have been asked to perform some mission or have become side tracked, and as
we floated down the Oceanus I kept expecting some detour to present itself;
something that would delay us yet again.

But such has not been the case, and when the mist did finally clear and the planes
of Ysguard came into view, I almost dared breathe a sigh of relief.

Ysguard is a different place altogether than Arcadia, that much is sure. Gone are
the geometrically perfect fields and streams. Here, the terrain and vegetation
appears to do what it wants, growing willy nilly and spreading itself in random
directions. It has a far more natural appearance, and both Griff and Hap
immediately seemed more at ease on this plane. I know that both of them, Griff
especially, enjoyed their time on Arcadia, but Ysgard appeals to their inner
convictions and philosophies far more, and I could see them visibly relax as we
cleared the mist and left Arcadia firmly behind us.

Our guide worked the oar for an hour as the Oceanus twisted its way through
valleys and around hills, until we were treated to a breath taking sight. On our right,
we beheld an immense battlefield alive with tents, cavalry, machines of war,
infantry, and on and on. The sounds of war reached us as two opposing armies
clashed in a veritable blood bath of steel meeting flesh. We watched, fascinated, as
we saw folk of every race lift up arms against their foes. Soon the field was awash
with blood and gore; the clash of weapons and the screams of the dieing reached out
ears, and I saw Hap shudder as she watched, wide eyed, the carnage.

“Not to worry, Hap.” I said cheerfully, patting her on the shoulder. “This is just
what goes on in Ysguard.”

She looked at me curiously and I expounded, for I had done much research on this
plane after having figured that Caribdis would be here.

“Ysguard is the plane of heroes and men of war.” I explained. “The battle we are
witnessing is its own kind of heaven for men and women who spent their lives
dedicated to the art of war. Believe it or not, this happens every day. They will fight
throughout the day, and at night the fallen will rise to drink and tell tales of the
battle with the victors in the inns of Himinborg, only to do it all again in the
morning.”

Hap looked at me incredulously. “You’re kidding.” She said.

“He is not.” Taklinn interjected, and in his eyes I could see his own lust for battle
as he watched a troop of horsemen smash into the flanks of a contingent of infantry.
A cloud of arrows suddenly filled the sky and rained down death into their midst as
he said, “The eternal battle is the only thing that can slake the true warriors thirst for
blood, and for these heroes they have achieved true reward in being able to
participate in such. Aye, tonight the dead on this field will rise and share in the
glory in the fest halls, for tomorrow they may be the ones left standing. When my
own time is at an end I shall reside in the halls of Clangeden, but I can well
appreciate this end as well. What better way to spend eternity than among you’re
fighting brethren, testing you’re skills against the finest blades from all of history?”

“Hmph!” Happy scowled. “I can think of lots of better ways!”

But I could tell that Griff shared Taklinn’s sentiments, for his eyes were fastened
securely to the chaos of battle and contained a kind of longing, as if he would like
nothing more than to enter the fray.

“I agree with you, Hap,” I said, “But for the true warrior, this is heaven. Still, this
is not all the Ysguard has to offer. There is much to know about this plane.” I was
interrupted by the screams of several men about a hundred yards from us as a
catapult stone hurtled into their midst, sending them flying. “Ysguard,” I shouted, “is
comprised of three layers, and we are on the top most. This is fortunate, as the
bottom two are not nearly as hospitable. This is the plane of heroes; Olidamara
resides here, as well as Kord. This plane is actually made op of floating earth bergs;
gigantic islands of land that float upon the second layer, which is called
Muspelheim. Muspelheim is made up mostly of fire and is inhabited by literally
thousands of fire giants. Below that is Nidavellir, which is just as unfriendly, for the
earth there is in constant flux. Any step you take there might cause the ground to
open up and swallow you. For the most part only dwarves live there, for only they
are in tune enough with the earth to know where to safely step.”

“Earth bergs?” Happy asked, “Floating islands of land? So how do we get from
one to the other?”

“Well,” I replied, “You would have to fly or teleport I suppose, but that shouldn’t
be an issue. We are already on Olidamara’s island, which is where Caribdis is. All
we need do now is find the city of Himinborg and…”

At that moment we rounded a hill that took us out of sight of the battlefield and
opened up a broad expanse of plain before us. There, in the distance, we could see
it. A city, broad and shining in the sun light, perhaps an hour away. I knew at once
that it was Himinborg.

“There it is!” I cried, barely able to contain my excitement. I was breathless with
it, for Caribdis was so near now that I could feel his presence in my bones. Taklinn
and I exchanged smiles as I urged our guide on, sure now that we would be seeing
our bardic friend at last. Happy shared our anticipation, but Griff looked at the city
sourly, a frown on his face. He said nothing.

Our dwarven boatman dropped us off some time later as the river Oceanus began
to turn away from the city. We paid him handsomely and set our feet on dry land to
walk the last leg of our journey.

The road to Himinborg was alive with warrior types and heroes of all shapes and
sizes. It was odd to actually recognize a few of them as great generals and fighters
of old, now passed on to this afterlife. They led men at arms to and from the
battlefield, barking orders over each other. The whole thing bore an air of controlled
chaos that I supposed only the dead could truly appreciate and understand. Under
normal circumstances I would have been fascinated, but as it was, I could focus
only on the gates of the city as we drew nearer and nearer to them. My stomach was
twisted in knots and I was a bundle of nerves. I heard myself chattering on and on
about something or other and clamped my mouth shut, knowing that I was talking
out of sheer apprehension. Taklinn grinned at me, recognizing my jitters, and
probably feeling much of the same, though he hid it better than I. Griff had still not
said a word.

A half hour later we passed through the city gates and into the narrow streets
bustling with heroes. The noise and smell was overwhelming, and everywhere we
looked showed us something new. Men, dwarves, elves, orcs, gnolls, halflings,
gnomes, and on and on and on filled the streets. We passed jugglers and dancers
and other street performers as well as fest hall after fest hall. From all directions
came the sounds of song and the clashing of steel. Warriors sparred on street
corners, laughing and clapping each other on the back when blood was drawn.
Again, the overall feel of the city was that of barely controlled chaos, and I saw
unease in Taklinn’s face, though apparently the city suited Happy just fine. Her grin
never ceased as we made our way through a market place that was a hive of
activity.

I stopped and asked a merchant where we might find the Heroes Rest Inn, and he
was only too happy to give me proper directions in exchange for a coin, and soon
we were hurrying along with our destination near at hand.
The four of us rounded a corner after ten minutes of walking, and there it was.
The Heroes Rest squatted on a busy corner, its aged shingle waving in the breeze. It
was a wide, two story affair, and its doors were open wide to allow the constant
flow of traffic to enter and exit. The sounds voices raised in celebration could be
heard coming from within, and the street near the entry was crowded with folk.

We pushed our way toward the doors, and then Griff stopped, frozen in his tracks.
I looked up at him and his face was ashen as he appeared to cock his head, listening.
I looked at Hap for she could hear it too.

“It’s him!” she cried. “I can hear Caribdis!”

I strained to listen above the clamor that surrounded me, and there, just at its edge,
I could make out a word or two in a familiar voice; a voice that I had not heard in a
very long time indeed. It was Caribdis, telling a tale in his stage voice, a voice that
carried above the crowd and was meant to grab attention and entertain.

Barely able to keep from jumping up and down, I cried, “Well what are we
waiting for? Let’s go!” I made for the door, but Taklinn stopped me.

“Wait!” He said, and I turned to see him hurriedly casting cleaning cantrips on
himself. I sighed with impatience at his vanity but waited for him. When he was
satisfied at last, he and I, with Happy at our heels, entered the Heroes Rest. I turned
to see Griff still standing on the street, as if rooted to the spot.

“Come on, Griff!” I shouted at him. The sound of my voice seemed to break his
trance, and he walked up the steps with determination, following us inside.
The air within was a haze of smoke and noise. Tables filled the room, all occupied
by fighting men and women who either shared tales of their own glory or listened to
the bards that worked the room. I hopped up and down, straining to see over the
heads of the people, and at last I simply allowed myself to fly above them. I
scanned the room, and finally saw that Taklinn was staring at a particular corner of
the inn. Following his gaze, I saw him.

Caribdis stood on a stage in the far corner of the tap room, his arms outstretched
as he told a tale of warrior’s glory and honor in battle. Several dozen people
listened in rapt attention to him and clanged their mugs on their tables by way of
applause during particularly gripping moments. Caribdis was dressed as he always
wanted to be, in the finest of apparel. Rings glittered on his fingers and his hair was
perfect. He worked his audience like a true professional, building his tale to an
exciting climax as we made our way closer to his stage.

All of us except Griff, that is. Our warrior suddenly blurted, “I need a drink!” and
made for the bar. I thought to call after him, but I was too entranced by the fact that
Caribdis was finally within out sight to worry about Griff. Instead, I followed in
Taklinn’s wake as he pushed through the crowd.

We reached a spot near stage right as Caribdis brought his tale to a close. He held
his audience enrapt as his hero saved the day in an exciting manner, and even I
found myself getting caught up in the story. I recognized his particular style of
embellishment, but to the untrained ear it made it all the more gripping.

“And they lived happily ever after!” Caribdis said, drawing an end to his story
that brought a round of approving applause from his audience, including Taklinn,
Happy and myself. Indeed, when the applause had died down, one pair of hands still
clapped, and Caribdis turned to see who it was. His eyes came to rest of Taklinn,
whose hands still pounded together, eyes welling with tears.

Recognition, shock, and joy swept over Caribdis’ face as he realized that his old
comrades stood at the foot of his stage. “Taklinn!” he cried, leaping to the floor to
embrace our cleric. “Happy! Doorag!” Caribdis gathered both of us into his arms
for a hug, and I could only grin stupidly, such was the joy that filled me upon
feeling him as flesh and blood again. He knelt at our level, looking at us, scarcely
able to believe that we were actually there.

“A fine tale, boy!” Taklinn said, clapping Caribdis on the back, “And well told! I
see you have honed your craft during your stay here.”

Caribdis laughed. “Thank you, my friend, I try. But to hell with my tales, what of
yours! I can’t believe my eyes! Come, we must have a drink!” He stopped
suddenly, a look of concern on his face. “But what about Griff? Where is he? He’s
not…?”

“Griff is fine.” Happy answered, and I could see relief flood Caribdis’ face. “He’s
just getting a drink at the bar. I’m sure he’ll be along soon. He’s a little…
uncomfortable with all of this.”

“Oh.” Caribdis chuckled. “Well, I suppose it is odd, seeing me dead and all. I
can’t wait to see him though!”

Caribdis led us to a table that was obviously reserved for him, and the serving
woman treated him with impressive respect. I gathered that Caribdis was something
of a celebrity here.

I also noticed that Caribdis was… different. His manner, his speech, his persona,
all of it bore a maturity and wisdom that I did not recognize. His voice had taken on
a deeper edge, as if it had filled out, and I realized that the boy we had once known
as Caribdis was gone. Before us was the man, Caribdis. The man that he had always
wanted to be.

I was far too giddy with excitement at having finally found him, at actually sitting
across a table from him, and I could not find the words to properly speak. I found
myself looking at him, wide eyed, as he and Taklinn spoke.

“What in all the nine hells are you doing here?” Caribdis laughed, wonderingly,
as a round of drinks were brought to our table by the serving maid, who winked at
Caribdis.

“We came to see you, boy!” Taklinn grinned, taking a frothy swig from his mug.
“We’ve traveled quite a ways, I can tell you!”

“I can well imagine you have! You must tell me all the details of your journey;
I’ll bet there’s a tale to enthrall the masses there! But what about everything else?
What about Acessiwall? Did you kill him?”

“Aye,” Taklinn nodded somberly, “That we did.”

Taklinn went on to relate our adventures after Caribdis’ death, though I
interjected with a precaution that perhaps Caribdis could tread lightly when retelling
our trials in Latona, it not having been our finest hour.

Taklinn told him of Scylla, and our hunt for Acessiwall. He told him of our final
confrontation with the wurm and the fall of Taigel. He told of our falling out with
Scylla. Happy filled in details as Taklinn went on to relate Hap and Griff’s nuptials,
and then our travel into the planes of shadow, Arcadia, Hades, and Ysgard. He told
of our battles and our trials, and ended with the four of us having found Caribdis at
last in the Heroes Rest.

Caribdis listened with rapt attention, soaking up everything, asking for details.
When Taklinn had satisfied him, he asked, “So but why? Not that I am not
overjoyed to see you all, but why have you come? Why put yourselves through all
of this?”

“Well,” Taklinn said, as if it were obvious, “We’ve come to fetch you, boy! We
want you to return to the land of the living with us, eh?”

Caribdis’ eyes widened in surprise at this news, as if it were something he had not
even considered. He opened his mouth to say something, but no words came out.
He took a drink of his ale and looked at our expectant faces, and finally said, “That
is… that is an incredible thing. You have come all this way for me.” His voice was
choked with emotion. “And it makes this all the more difficult to say. Taklinn,
Doorag, Hap, I thank you. I truly do. You are the best friends anyone could ever ask
for, but…”

“But what, Caribdis?” Hap coaxed him gently.

“But I cannot go back.” He said at last.

“But you can!” Taklinn said, “I have the proper spell, and it can be done, for
Clangeden has told me…”

“No, no, you don’t understand.” Caribdis cut Taklinn off, though it appeared to
pain him to do so. “It’s not that I can’t go back, it’s that I do not wish to.”

It felt as if someone had punched me in the stomach, and I reeled back in my seat,
the room spinning. My mouth opened but no words came out, and I shook my head
to clear my ears. I looked at Taklinn, whose face was as motionless as stone, and
Happy, who bit her lip. A long moment passed, and Happy leapt from her chair
without a word, making her way toward the bar, I hoped, to find Griff.

“Caribdis,” I said, at last, “We’ve come all this way to give you another chance.
To give US another chance. The Band of the Broken Blade is incomplete without
you. Things are just not the same. Even the actual blade that Griff carried and gave
to you, the Everyman’s Blade, has been stolen from your tavern, as if a sign that
things are not as they should be. Your death was senseless, meaningless, and
pointless. You deserve a much longer life and a much finer death than that. You had
so much ahead of you, so much to look forward to. It’s fine to tell the tales of
others, but are not the finest stories the ones you participate in? Caribdis, we miss
you. We all miss you. And what about your tavern? What about Freya? Please,
Caribdis, won’t you reconsider?”

My old friend looked at me sadly, and I could tell how difficult it was for him as
he slowly shook his head. “I don’t want the bar.” He said. “And Freya and I were
never meant to be. And I do appreciate this, I really do. To come so far to offer me
this chance, I… it is overwhelming. But Doorag, Taklinn, please try to understand,
here in Himinborg, I have found… peace. Here in Himinborg I have found
happiness and a place to call my own. All my life I felt out of place, as if I didn’t
belong. But here, I am respected and sought out. Here, I am Caribdis, the bard
extraordinaire. Each day for me here is as a brand new day, and I love every minute
of it. Here, I can not only tell the stories of heroes, I get to have dinner with them as
well! I… I belong here, and I do not wish to leave. Please try to understand that.
Please try to respect my choice.”

I sat back in my chair, utterly destroyed, completely shocked and overwhelmed
with disbelief. This could not be happening! This was not how things were
supposed to happen!

“You’re dead!” Came a voice over my shoulder, and I turned to see that Hap had
somehow convinced Griff to return to the table with her. Our warrior stood, stock
still, pointing at Caribdis, his face as pale as I’d ever seen it. “You’re dead!” He
repeated. “I saw you die!”

Caribdis broke into a wide grin and got up to grasp Griff’s pointing finger in both
his hands for a hearty handshake. “Griff! My friend, it’s so good to see you again!”

“But your dead!” Griff exclaimed a third time, even as Caribdis embraced him.

“Yes, I suppose I am.” Caribdis said, with a shrug and a smile. “This is my
afterlife. Welcome to it!”

“This is bull!” Griff shouted to no one in particular, which made Caribdis laugh
heartily.

“I’m glad to see you haven’t changed.” He smiled.

“He’s not coming back.” Happy said to Griff.

“What? What the hell do you mean he’s not coming back? You mean we came all
this way for nothing?” Griff turned to look at us angrily.

“It was hardly all for naught,” I said softly, “The journey has not been without its
reward, and we at least get to say goodbye to our friend…”

“Whatever!” Griff snapped at me. He turned his eyes back to Caribdis. “I already
said my goodbyes. I won’t go through that again!” With that, Griff turned on his
heel and stormed out of the bar, slamming the doors open before him.

Happy looked after her husband. “Don’t take him the wrong way, Caribdis.” She
said, “He doesn’t mean it. He just…”

“I know.” Caribdis said, gently, “I know.”

With a sad smile, Happy gave Caribdis a hug and a kiss on the cheek. She peered
into his eyes for a moment, and then left to follow Griff.

“If you will not come back,” Taklinn said in a low rumble, “May I ask your
forgiveness?”

“My forgiveness?” Caribdis blinked, “Why, whatever for?”

“For all the times I spoke out of turn.” Taklinn said. “For all the times I treated
you as less than the man you were. For those things, I am truly sorry.”

Caribdis laid a hand on the big dwarf’s shoulder and met his eyes. “Taklinn, there
is nothing to forgive. I could ask for no better friend and mentor than you. You
taught me lessons that my father never did, and for that, I thank you. Let your
conscience rest at ease, for I harbor no ill will over any way you ever treated me, of
that you can be sure.”

The two looked at each other for a long moment, and I saw a single tear roll down
Taklinn’s cheek and soak into his beard. Our dwarf blinked rapidly and coughed,
wiping his eye as if clearing an irritant. He smiled at Caribdis.

“Then let us dine and rink tonight as if in the old days! Let us tell stories of our
adventures and enjoy our brief time together as the best of friends and brothers in
arms! I have done what I set out to do. If you will not return with me, I can but
respect your decision, but I will not stay longer than I must. I will return to Havilah
tomorrow. But tonight, let us forget what separates us, and revel in what binds us!”

“Aye!” Caribdis agreed with a broad grin, and the two clasped hands.

As for me, I still could not digest the truth that Caribdis had refused our offer, but
though I was deeply saddened by it, I resolved to follow Taklinn’s lead and enjoy
what little time we had with Caribdis. I raised my own pint and the three of us
clashed mugs as the waitress brought us more.

“Taklinn,” Caribdis said, “Do you remember the time…”


Ptchwl 21

Taklinn, true to his word, departed for Havilah today. He awoke early and met
with Caribdis and I for breakfast and told us that he had learned, via ‘sendings’ that
Griff had rented a room at another inn and that Happy had joined him there. Griff
refused to see Caribdis again, which caused our bard to smile sadly, but say
nothing. Taklinn informed me that he intended to collect them after his meal and
‘plane shift’ back to Havilah immediately.

Taklinn assumed that I would be accompanying them, but I told him that I
planned to stay in Himinborg for a few more days. There was some shopping I
wanted to get done here and that I would be joining them within three days.
Caribdis had already told me that he had many contacts in Himinborg, and that he
could direct me to a merchant that could provide me with a planar ‘key’ for my
home plane. I had hoped that Taklinn would stay with me, but his resolution to
leave was firm and thus he told me to watch myself and that he would see me soon.
He said his goodbyes Caribdis, embracing the bard one last time, and turned away
before his emotion could catch up to him again, and left the two of us alone.

Caribdis and I set out on our shopping expedition, but no sooner had we gotten
into the market than I received a ‘sending’ from Taklinn explaining that Griff
refused to leave without me, Hap refused to leave without Griff, but Taklinn,
himself, was still leaving. He gave me the name of the inn where the pair was
staying, and later in the day I left Caribdis to his work of entertaining the patrons of
the Heroes Rest and went there.

There was a bit of a chill between Griff and Hap, as if she was not strictly pleased
with how he had dealt with the Caribdis situation, but he showed no signs of
remorse. I told Griff that he needent have stayed and that I was entirely safe here in
Himinborg, but he flatly dismissed that, saying that he would not leave until we all
left. What could I do but sigh and nod, and appreciate his loyalty? I told him that I
would come to collect them when my errands had been accomplished and he replied
that he and Hap would be waiting. I tried to convince him to come with me, to
spend a little time with his old friend, Caribdis, but the look in his eye stopped me
before I even finished. I have long ago accepted Griff’s hard headedness, so I did
not press the point.

I spent the evening with Caribdis again. He showed me many of the cities night
spots, and though I am generally not one for carousing, I had a fine time with him,
and it gave me pleasure to see the warmth with which he was received at every
tavern and inn we entered. Caribdis has made a good name for himself here, and
many friends as well.


Ptchwl 22

Caribdis does, indeed, have some very fine contacts here in Himinborg. Though
the purchase of planar keys is generally a difficult process, he has been able to put
me in touch with a few merchants who deal in such esoteric wares, and I was able
to buy a fork attuned to the Prime Material Plane today. It was expensive, but
obviously worth it. Tomorrow I will purchase a key to Ysgard, for I fully wish to be
able to return here. Caribdis may not be returning with us, but now that I know that
even death cannot keep me from seeing him, I find no reason not to facilitate the
odd trip or two to visit him once in awhile.

He smiled at that, saying that he certainly wished to be kept abreast of our
adventures so that he could continue to tell our tale.


Ptchwl 23

It was hard to leave.

Near noon a delivery was made to me of my planar key attuned to Ysguard, and
thus I had no more reason to stay. I lunched with Caribdis and then told him that it
was time I headed for home.

“You’re sure you won’t change your mind?” I asked him one last time.

Caribdis shook his head slowly and smiled at me. “You know I’m not going to,”
he said, “But I do hope you make good on your threat to come visit me once in
awhile.”

“Count on it.” I nodded solemnly. “Caribdis, it was worth the journey just to see
you and talk with you again. I’m sad that you’re not coming back with me, but I’m
happy that you’re happy here. Just don’t forget your old pals, okay?”

“Like you’d let me forget!” He laughed.

We said our goodbyes and I left him there at the Heroes Rest, watching until he
took the stage. “This!” He declared to his audience, “Is the tale of the Band of the
Broken Blade! Once upon a time…” He waved to me and I waved back, and I
turned and fled from the inn, my vision blurred.

I walked for an hour to clear my head before heading for the inn where Hap and
Griff had been staying. I met them there and informed them that I was ready to
leave, which suited Griff just fine. He was ready within minutes and so was Hap. I
cast ‘plane shift’ while concentrating on the Prime key, and just like that, we were
there. It was a simple matter to teleport back to the city.

Back in Havilah, Griff and Hap declared that they were heading to their home for
some much needed time alone. I told them that I would keep them informed of any
important goings ons, and they departed. As for me, my steps were as heavy as my
heart as I made my way to my apartment in the Academy. Our quest to find
Caribdis had ended on a bittersweet note to say the least, and I still wrestled with
his decision not to return to life. As I looked out my window at the streets and roof
tops of Havilah, I thought of all the lives that were going on down there; all the
dramas that were being played out; all the laughter and tears, and I sighed heavily,
wondering again how Caribdis could have turned his back on it all.

But there was nothing to be done about it. Our friend had made his choice, and I
had to accept it. I meditated for a moment to clear my mind and focus it on tasks at
hand. I closed the shutters and returned my attention to Academy matters.

First I cast a ‘sending’ to Taklinn to inform him that we had safely returned. His
reply told me that he was in his mountain home with his parents and fiancØ, and that
he would return to Havilah shortly.

Next, I headed for Nivin Mottul’s office, for while I was certain that he already
knew that we had returned, he would want a full report from me. I was admitted
straight away, and was surprised to find not only Nivin there, but Yigil as well. The
administrator and the mage motioned for me to enter and have a seat.

There was already a chair prepared for me, with a cushion, so I climbed into it and
sat with the two men. Nivin prepared a glass of wine for me, which I sipped
politely.

“So tell us of your adventures, Doorag.” Yigil said from his place near the
window as he stroked the academy cat and inhaled deeply on his pipe.

So I did. Drawing in a deep breath I began, relating our journey and trials in the
realm of Shadow. I told them of the mad armorer in the Shadow version of Havilah;
of our fight with the tree creatures, then of Driscoll’s death and our battle with
Himrock orcs at the nexus of the rivers Styx and Oceanus. I told them of our flight
from shadow and the Yugoloth attack before we entered Arcadia. I relayed our
trials with the Harmonium, of our successful plan to free their prisoners and our
subsequent run to Arcadia’s upper layer.

I told them of Anwell, the solar, and his mission for us to retrieve Clangeden’s
axe. I told of our journey into Hades and our battles with the Yugoloth. I spoke of
Clangeden’s city and our rewards, then of the final leg of our travel that took us to
Ysgard, and at last I told them of Caribdis and his decision. When I could tell no
more, I stopped and shrugged at them.

“That is,” I said, “More of less, it.”

Both of the men nodded sagely. “That is quite a tale, my young friend.” Yigil said
in his gravely voice. He pulled a bit at his short beard. “You have my sympathies
with regard to Caribdis. He will be missed.”

“Aye.” Nivin agreed. “The boy was a wild card, but he added a curious balance to
your crew. Indeed, he shall be missed by all of Havilah.”

“I suppose he has his reasons.” I sighed, “Whether I agree with him or not is a
moot point. I take some pleasure in the fact that I have rare access to visit my friend
beyond the veil, but its hardly the same as adventuring with him. But at least we
tried.”

“Aye.” Nivin said again with a nod, “You did everything you could for a friend,
and that is part of what makes you and the rest of the Broken Blade such a fine
crew. Havilah is lucky to have you.”

“And so are the people of Edik.” Yigil added. I looked at him, but he only sipped
his wine mysteriously.

“Funny that you should mention Edik,” I said, “I’ve been giving that plane a bit of
thought these days, and I know that Taklinn has as well.”
“Mmmm, yes, we know.” Nivin replied. “As a matter of fact, Taklinn has
expressed his desires to us during your absence. Apparently he is interested in
traveling there to destroy the temple of Illugi and thus free Kester Orban and the
rest of the poor souls who are trapped there.”

“Yes.” I said. “He’s said as much to me.”

“And what do you think of the idea?” Yigil asked.

“Well,” I said, “I’m all for it, though I would seek the permission of the
Academy, of course. For that matter, we would need Academy aid to even reach
Edik. Neither Taklinn of I can cast ‘gate’ yet, so we would need a fork attuned to
Edik, which, as I understand it, you possess, Yigil.”

“Mmmm.” Yigil nodded slowly.

“But I must confess to an ulterior motive.” I said. “Clangeden’s gift to me caused
me to realize that Edik, with its different flow of time, would greatly facilitate my
crafting purposes, and would save me much needed time here in Havilah.”

“Ah yes, the time differential.” Yigil said. “I see your point. A day for every ten is
a good deal, no?”

“Yes!” I said. “So, for purely selfish reasons I wish to have access to Edik. But
while we're there I see no reason not to carry out Taklinn’s plan as well. It pains me
to think of those souls trapped in that temple, especially considering at least two of
them are Havilah crew members! Please, what are your thoughts on the matter?”

Nivin filled Yigil’s wine and then his own. “Actually,” He said, “We have been
thinking upon similar lines. Melesandre was but a puppet of a larger master. Illugi,
while a fairly young deity, is ambitious and evil in the extreme. He has been
thwarted thrice now, twice here, and at least once in Edik. We fear that he will not
cease his machinations, and therefore we have been deep in study trying to
determine a means of dealing with him.”

“We think,” Yigil finished for him, “We may have a lead.”

I raised a curious eyebrow at the two and waited for them to proceed. It is never
wise to rush a wizard or a sage.

“Melesandre,” Yigil continued, “was not without her own ambitions and plans.
We believe that she realized that her alliance with Illugi was transitory at best. We
believe that she, herself, quietly studied Illugi’s weaknesses and recorded them in a
book. We have great reason to believe that that book has been hidden here on our
world, as Illugi has less power here, and thus she had more freedom. We think that
the book lies within one of her old fortresses in the Wildwoods.”

I nearly jumped from my chair. “Well then what are we waiting for? You have but
to issue the order and we will go and bring the book back!”

“Ah,” Nivin smiled, “That order may well come very soon. But for now, we still
have much research to do. We believe that we are quite close to pinpointing the
location of Melesandre’s lair, but it will yet take a bit more time. In the meantime,
may I suggest you talk this over with Griff and Happy?”

“You and I could also work on crafting a duplicate ‘key’ to Edik, Doorag.” Yigil
added. “You will need one, and, as you said, it will aid you in your crafting
endeavors. I will caution you now though to be careful, least you grow old before
your time!”

I smiled at Yigil. “I have considered that.” I said. “I will indeed be wary of my
time spent there, and part of it will no doubt be used to study ways in which a
wizard might slow or stop his natural aging process.”

“A wise choice.” Yigil agreed.

“It is settled for now then,” Nivin said. “You and Yigil shall work on a fork for
Edik while I continue our research. Taklinn should be back on the fifth of
Readyrea’t. Explain the situation to Happy and Griff and when Taklinn returns,
come and meet with me here.”

I nodded. “Consider it done. We shall be here on the fifth.”


Ptchwl 28

With several days to kill until Nivin had completed his research, Yigil and I used
the time wisely, spending most of the last week sequestered in his laboratory
crafting a fork, or key, that is attuned to Edik and will facilitate my casting of the
‘plane shift’ spell to get there.

I must say that it was an enlightening and invaluable experience to spend a week
with Yigil. The old mage, while not a loquacious speaker, says a lot when he does
talk. Not only is he a master in the art of item creation and magic in general, but he
is wise in the more subtle art of being a spell caster. We spoke much of the risks
and hazards of having so much power at hand, and I believe that he may be the first
man I’ve met who understands temptation as I do.

We talked of good and evil, of moral fiber, of past conquests and defeats on both
our parts. The morality of magic and power was an underlying theme to many of
our conversations, and he nodded in understanding when I admitted that I often
times feel misunderstood, untrusted, and quite alone. Yigil knows what it is to be
separated, not only from the common man, but even from powerful non-spell
casters, by the sheer possibilities of the magic he commands.

He also knows what it is to be tempted by that power, as do I.

I must admit that I have never seriously considered using my magic for nefarious
purposes, but I still know that others wonder if I ever will.

Happy makes nervous jokes about power mad wizards in my direction, and I’ve
seen not just awe, but fear in her eyes the first time she witnesses me cast a truly
devastating spell. I can still remember the way her jaw dropped when I
disintegrated the mad armorer in Shadow Havilah. I think I knew, at that moment,
that her trust in me will never rise above ninety-nine percent. She will always
wonder about her ability to deal with me should I ever turn on her.

Griffin simply doesn’t trust most magic. He’s gotten much better of late, and now
seems to relish his enchanted items. Happy bought him a belt of giant strength in
Clangeden’s city of the highest enhancement, and about time too! For all this time,
all of us except Griff have been running about with enhancing items of the highest
caliber. All he’s had is a pair of gloves that I made him a long time ago that barely
boost his strength at all. At last, he wears the belt that all fighters must eventually
strive for.

But does Griff trust me? I don’t know. I don’t know if Griff truly trusts anyone
other than Hap. Perhaps it wouldn’t matter if I were a wizard or not, but I don’t
think it helps much.

Taklinn is another matter. Like me, he trusts the rest of the crew implicitly, and he
bases that off of simple faith in our moral fiber. He trusts that, at the end of the day,
Hap and Griff will always do the (basically) right thing. As for me, well, Taklinn is
a spell caster of some repute as well. Hypothetically, if I had to fight any one of my
fellow crew member, I would fear Taklinn the most, for he is every bit the spell
caster that I am, in divine terms. Fortunately, I do not fear ever having to fight
Taklinn, and I think that he feels the same way about me.

Still and all, being a mage is a lonely profession, and it was edifying to spend
some time with a wizard whom I can look up to. I visited The Old Man in the
Pointy Hat just before our journey into the planes, and I realized with a shock that I
had access to, and could cast, spells that he could not! I have surpassed my mentor,
and that was a thing both humbling and empowering at the same time. It reminded
me of the time I was four years old and beat my father at chess.

Yigil also has a laboratory that nearly had me salivating. Being on the road as
much as I am, it is difficult for me to keep my lab up to the most modern standards,
but Yigil has no such problem, and his lab is easily the most technologically
advanced I’ve ever seen, both in terms of utility and convenience. With it, we were
able to copy the formula for his existing Edik key without err, and by the fall of this
evening, we were able to complete the project. It cost me a pretty copper, but I now
own a plane shift fork attuned to Edik!

I plan to use it tomorrow!

I also used a bit of time this week to visit Hap and Griff at their home in Ester. Of
course I ‘teleported’ there, and made the mistake of porting directly into Hap’s
living room. I must have startled her, for she made quite a fuss, not allowing me a
chance to even tell her why I’d come. After a few seconds of her finger in my face,
I scowled and decided I’d had enough, and ported away, determined to let her cool
down for a day and try again the next.

I suppose it was in rather bad form. They could have been up to who knows what,
and it could have been embarrassing for all of us had I ported in, unannounced, at
the wrong time.

So the following day I teleported to their front door and politely knocked. Happy
politely let me in, and we started over.

I told her and Griff of Illugi and his tower of trapped souls on Edik. Griff nodded
when I mentioned that Taklinn wished to destroy that tower and free those souls,
and he said that Taklinn had mentioned it to him several times.

I told them of Melesandre’s book and Nivin’s research, and of the very real
possibility that we could soon be on our way to retrieve that book as part of a
sanctioned Academy mission. Griff, stoic as ever, just said, “Yeah, whatever.”

Happy said, “Well, we’d better enjoy being home while we can!” She said this
with an odd grin at Griff, and added, “See ya later, Doorag!”

It was a fairly heavy handed hint that they she wanted to be alone with Griff, so I
sniffed and bid them farewell, and that we were to meet on the fifth. I then
teleported home.

At the risk of waxing ever more introspective, I sometimes lament the fact that I
am seriously at a loss with regard to romance and all things concerning the opposite
sex. I am woefully undereducated in the ways of romantic love, and truth be told, I
have no real wish to be edified. Why this is so, I don’t know. I’ve never even been
with a woman, and have had little desire to do so. I should probably also mention
that my lack of libido includes all sexes, so it is not simply a matter of confused
sexuality. I simply don’t appear to be attracted to anything other than knowledge
and magic!

I sometimes wonder if this is entirely healthy. It certainly does not appear to be
normal, for it is the natural instinct of nearly all species to procreate. Even Taklinn
is subject to urges that he eventually satisfies. But I, I seem to lack that basic
instinct, and that worries me sometimes!

The last time I visited my parents I was forced to go through the painful
experience of my mother trying to get me to have dinner with Lolly Featherfoot,
who I have known since childhood. Lolly is a lovely girl, and even I can see that
she is an attractive one at that. I think my mother still somehow believes that all of
my wizardly ways are some sort of phase I’ve been going through for the last
twenty-five years, and that eventually I will settle down in the village and give her
grandchildren, although I don’t know why she wants any more! She already has
somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty-six grand kids!

The point is I am continually forced to disappoint my mother and be faced with
the fact that it is extremely unlikely that I will ever find love as Griff and Happy, or
my mother and father know it.

I must admit that this is a little depressing. I feel as though I am missing out on an
integral and important past of life, and I have no idea what to do about it. This was
another area in which Yigil could relate. He, like nearly all serious mages, is a
bachelor. He said that he had once met a woman with whom he fell in love, but he
could never reconcile his relationship to her with his relationship to magic. In the
end, he had to choose, and he chose magic. Did he tell me his tale with some regret?
I think so. But it appears that that is our lot in life.

Enough of this soul searching! One thing I do know is that I have always needed
time to complete my projects, and now, that time is mere hours away! I have
already purchased all of the materials I will need for my maiden voyage, and my
laboratory is already packed away and stowed in our bag of holding. Tomorrow I
plan to ‘plane shift’ to Edik and craft a project that has been on my drawing board
for a long time, though it hasn’t been important enough to spend the twenty days
required to make it. But tomorrow, I shall begin those twenty days in Edik, and
when I am through, only two will have passed here in Havilah! I can be finished
with this project before our meeting with Nivin!

I am beside myself over this! The chance to complete crafting in one tenth the
time as normal may well be the most important discovery of my career. I have only
written this much in my journal because I know how difficult it will be to sleep
tonight.
 

cthulhu42

Explorer
Rdyr’t 2

I have just returned from an exhausting twenty days on Edik, though only two of
Havilah’s days have passed. My plan worked perfectly, and though I am bone
weary, I am also alive with excitement over the knowledge that I can use the time
difference in Edik to my advantage.

For some time now I have wished to craft a traveling laboratory. I have had the
plan, and even the financial wherewithal to make it happen, but thus far I have not
had the time. Until now.

I used my new key to ‘plane shift’ to Edik on the morning of Readyrea’t 1 and
found myself on a desolate plain. My location was of no concern to me, as I was not
there for a sight seeing trip, and immediately set to work, first casting a mansion,
and then having the servants unload my laboratory, which I had carefully packed
and placed inside our bag of holding for the trip. Once all was ready, I set about
crafting a portable hole.

Twenty days and ten thousand gold worth of materials later I finished my work
and was the proud owner of an extra dimensional hole, which I wrapped up and put
in my pocket, after which I wasted no time in ‘plane shifting’ back to my own
world to happily find that I had hardly been missed, given the seemingly short time
I was gone.

I had enlisted the services of several carpenters to build a frame in my
absence, and by the time I had returned, they had completed their task. They had
followed my design and specifications to the letter, and I was pleased to take into
my possession a frame work of wood six feet in diameter and ten feet deep,
separated by a “floor” at the five foot mark, and with a narrow staircase descending
through top and middle layer. With the carpenters help, I was able to lower the
thing into my new portable hole, after which I had, in essence, a portable, two-floor,
room, of just my height, that I can fold up and carry with me! In short order I had
returned to my Academy room and set up my lab in the hole. It is a trifle cramped,
but utterly useable and entirely portable! Even now it is folded up and secured in
Clangeden’s box, awaiting its next usage. I was even able to fit most of my library
within it!

My days in Edik were more strenuous than usual, as the crafting procedure within
the mansion was, by its very nature, difficult. Each night, before the mansions
duration ended, I had to carefully pack up my lab and my work, cast another
mansion, and set everything back up again. It was time consuming and frustratingly
monotonous, but now that the portable lab is completed, I should never have to go
through such a trial again.

It is a triumph of magic!

But now that I am back, it is as if the last twenty days have caught up with me and
I find myself barely able to keep my eyes open to write this entry. I feel as though I
have been extremely lax in my journal upkeep, since I was simply too tired or busy
to write more than work notes during my time on Edik, though I suppose by
Havilah standards I have only missed two days, so I will not be too hard on myself.

I plan to spend the next few days in rest and study for our upcoming mission to
retrieve Melesandre’s book.


Rdyr’t 5

Evil is afoot, and we are, once again, in the thick of it! Though this time we have
not sought it out; no, this time evil has invaded the very grounds of the Academy
and we are forced to look it in the eye and face the fact that we are vulnerable even
here!

Taklinn had returned via ‘wind walk’ earlier this morning and had found me in
my apartment in the Academy. Though I had resolved to catch up on some much
needed rest, after a day of lounging about I could sit still no longer and have been
using the last two days to research the Wildwood further, wanting to be as informed
as possible about what we might run into. I was deep into a treatise on Himrock Orc
manhood initiation rites when I recognized Taklinn’s none-too-subtle pound on my
door. I opened it to find my friend all smiles and good cheer. Obviously his time
spent with family and fiance had done his spirit well.

We caught up a bit and I soon suggested that we fetch Hap and Griff, which we
did with a quick teleport. Within an hour the four of us stood on Academy grounds,
making our way toward Nivin’s office.

We took a short cut across the Academy training grounds where we had first
made such a debacle of our crew trial. Happy was able to laugh at it as she pointed
to the spot where Taklinn had forced Caribdis to apologize for his rash actions
against Lotte Spangler’s crew. Taklinn just sniffed and looked away, as if still
embarrassed by the memory.

And then all hell broke loose!

There was a sudden shimmering in the air that only I was able to perceive. I
immediately recognized it as portent to several beings about to teleport into our
vicinity, though it happened too fast for me to even shout a warning. Quick as
thought, we were instantly surrounded on all sides by four drider and an
abomination yuan-ti!

A chill rent my spine when I saw them, for we have not fought driders or yuan-ti
since the days to Melesandre. Now, here we were, about to embark on a mission to
find her book, suddenly being attacked by her old allies. Coincidence?

Instinct took over and I took to the air, shooting nearly thirty feet above the
ground just as two of the driders opened up on us with spells. They fired off twin
‘lightning bolts’ that zapped into the midst of Happy, Taklinn and Griff. I smelt a
quick waft of seared flesh and ozone as my comrades rolled out of the way,
coming up with weapons in hand. Taklinn was already mouthing the words to his
‘righteous might’ spell and Hap drew her new dagger and winked out of sight. Griff
drew his new sword in a single, smooth, motion, and squared off against a drider.

As I went aloft, I had also invoked my contingent ‘greater invisibility’, but I
watched in dismay as the yuan-ti’s eyes never left me. It was then that I noticed the
robe he wore, decorated with unblinking eyes. I stared hard and the robe glowed
hotly of magic. I cursed under my breath, trying to bring a spell to bare on the yuan-
ti, but the lizard man was faster. I saw his lips move and I steeled myself as I
recognized the words to ‘baleful polymorph’.

I felt the magic grip me and attempt to change me. I fought the shift, feeling my
limbs trying to reform. As it is when fighting any spell, it seemed like a full minute
passed. In reality, mere seconds ticked away, but at last I shedded the Dweomer and
glared at the yuan-ti, still in my natural form. Anger gripped me as I thought of the
audacity of this fellow, porting into my home and attempting to polymorph me. I
grabbed for components and rattled off a spell of my own even as I heard alarms
begin to sound all over the Academy. My maximized, empowered, ‘scorching ray’
hit the abomination three times in the chest, sending him reeling and gasping in
pain. Yet he still stood! I had hoped to down the bugger with such a powerful
casting, but he was made of tougher stuff.

Beneath me I watched from the corner of my eye as Griff plowed into a drider,
severing it’s head from its spider body in three quick slashes. I also heard Taklinn’s
‘holy word’ shake the very souls of all of us, though it appeared to do little more
than that to our enemies.

I saw a drider wince in pain and stumble, spinning around to hack at empty air,
but Happy was nowhere to be seen, until another drider showed off its spell
capabilities by casting an ‘invisibility purge’ which revealed our roguish friend as
she danced away from her foe.

Two arrows whizzed by me as the abomination had seemingly set aside his spells
in favor of a bow. Fortunately, he missed both times, and I prepared to hit him
again. But then I saw that Griff had taken down a second drider with Taklinn’s
help, and now had a straight shot at the yuan-ti.

I let him take it, and watched as our warrior barreled toward the lizard man. I had
already damaged the yuan-ti severely, and he was in no condition to take what Griff
was dishing out. With a single round house slice, Griff opened up a ghastly wound
in the yuan-ti’s chest that sent it spinning to the ground in a spray of blood.

With the abomination dead, I changed my target to a drider, attempting to ‘hold
monster’ it, but the evil creature ignored my spell, only to find itself face to face
with an angry dwarf with a fist full of Clangeden’s axe. He pummeled the drider
until it staggered back on its eight legs, only to be flanked by Hap, who had slipped in
behind it. She thrust with her daggers, her arms a blur, and the thing went down.

A final drider remained. “Take it alive!” I shouted, not wanting to lose a prisoner
that might have valuable information. To that end, I cast a ‘bigby’s clenched fist’
and used it to punch the drider a great clout on the side of its head. The spidery
beast staggered, unable to cast or fight for a few precious seconds. That was all it
took for Happy to appear beside it, sap in hand. With a few surgical blows, she beat
the drider into unconsciousness, and it slumped in a heap.

“What the hell was that all about?” Griff demanded to no one in particular.

“Yeah,” Happy echoed, nudging the drider with her boot, “Since when do these
clowns port into the Academy to try and kill us?”

“We can figure it out later!” Taklinn cried. “Alarms are sounding and I hear
battle. We are under siege!” With that, he pounded toward the arena exit, axe at the
ready.

As it turned out, we were not, technically, under siege, though various shock
troops of drider and yuan-ti had sprouted up in several Academy locations and had
done their level best to slay as many as they could before either being killed by
Academy security or fleeing via teleports. By the time Taklinn arrived at the battle
scenes, there was little to do but tend to the wounded.

Griff tied our drider prisoner securely, and we went on damage patrol, looking for
straggling drider or yuan-ti, and trying to help those we could. Within an hour it
was over, and the Academy was declared free of antagonistic forces. The four of us
met again on the training grounds, determined to hurry to Nivin’s office for a
clearer picture of what had happened.

When we arrived we were told by his secretary tat our meeting would be delayed
for two hours, given the recent attack and Nivin’s responsibilities. This was entirely
understandable, and we settled in to wait, only then noticing the other figure that
stood, razor straight, in the corner of the room.

He was obviously a fighting man, for he bore light armor and a pair of well used
short swords at his hips. He was a young human, in his late twenties perhaps,
though his stance and demeanor betrayed a man who had seen his share of battle.
Light scares crossed his face, though they did not detract from his rugged good
looks. He wore the uniform tabard of Havilah’s regular military, and I could see
from his insignia that he was an officer, probably a major. He was not a large man,
but I could sense that he was dangerous nonetheless, for his body was like a coiled
spring, even at his ‘at ease’ position. His jaw was square, and he regarded us with
steely blue eyes.

“Who the hell are you?” Griff asked, bluntly, when he noticed the man.

The stranger did not bat an eye. “I am Major Cromwell Throst.” He replied in an
even voice. “I am here for an audience with Nivin Mottul.”

We looked at Major Cromwell Throst and he looked at us for several long
seconds, all of us, I’m sure, wondering if our two meetings had anything to do with
each other, but finally deciding to simply wait and see. Our crew made ourselves
comfortable in the chairs that lined the waiting room walls while the Major
remained standing.

The hours passed with little conversation other than speculation about the recent
attack, and at last Nivin’s secretary announced that we could go in. To our surprise,
she nodded at the Major as well, and he led the way, pushing open the double doors
to Nivin’s office.

Inside, both Yigil and Nivin awaited us. Both men wore looks of recent strain on
their faces, and I imagined that they had been quite busy during the last few hours
trying to piece together the mystery of the attacks as well as coordinate added
defense and care for the wounded. Nivin waved to five chairs, and this time the
Major joined us in being seated, though his posture remained stiff.

“Let us get right to business.” Nivin said, his tone serious. “We have been
attacked within our own walls by forces we believe to have come from Edik at
Illugi’s command. Certainly Melesandre was not his only peon; we can only
surmise that this attack was an attempt to judge our strength. We can assume that
they have not the power to teleport a greater force directly into the Academy, and
for that we are lucky. It highlights the seriousness of the situation, however, for we
can now see that Illugi must have some clue as to what we are about and wishes to
cut us off at the knees. I’m certain that he would have been only too happy had his
strike force managed to kill the crew of the Broken Blade.”

“First things first; I take it that you have met Major Throst in my antechamber?”

The four of us nodded, as did the Major, and Nivin continued.

“Major Throst has served Havilah well in her regular army for several years,
achieving a name for himself as both a fierce warrior and a leader of men. He has
recently, however, come to me with a request to be assigned to a crew. Now that it
is assured that Caribdis will not be rejoining the Band of the Broken Blade, I
thought that the Major might be a fine figure to round out your thinned ranks. It is,
of course, not my decision. I am merely here to facilitate a meeting between the five
of you. However, I would submit that a fifth man in your crew would not be
unwise, and you could do far worse than Major Throst.”

Again, we looked at Throst and he at us. Happy was the first to grill him with
questions.

“Why do you want to join a crew?” She asked pointedly.

Major Throst regarded her coolly. “I have grown weary of chains of command
and having to fight through hundreds of minions only to have Academy crews deal
with the true threats to Havilah.” He said. “I wish to trade off regular military life
for a chance to take the battle to our enemies.”

Taklinn stroked his beard thoughtfully. “Tis a large pill to swallow.” He said.
“We have fought well, even without Caribdis, for some time now, and the idea of
replacing him may be difficult to accept.”

“I have no wish to replace anyone.” The Major replied. “I only wish for the
chance to serve my kingdom in the most direct way possible. I am not Caribdis, nor
am I a bard. I am my own man and will try to be nothing more.”

“Doesn’t matter to me,” Griff shrugged, “As long as you don’t try telling us what
to do.”

“Of course.” Cromwell nodded. “I would not think to consider myself your
superior in any way. If you accept me as a member of your crew, it would be as an
equal. That is all that I ask.”

“You realize,” I said, “That some might consider us a bit nonconformist.”

“And we bicker amongst ourselves quite a bit.” Happy added.

“I am familiar with your history,” Cromwell said, “And again, it is not my desire
to change your crew in any way. I have followed your exploits, and I agree with
Nivin and Yigil that it is your very diversity and unconventional spirit that is your
strength. I wish only an opportunity to be a part of that. In no way will I consider
myself in a position of leadership. In fact, leadership is something I wish to leave
behind me in favor of traveling with those I can consider my equals.”

“He talks a good game.” Griff said, leaning back in his chair.

I looked at Nivin. “I know that time is of the essence,” I said, “But may we have
an evening to discuss this matter? Perhaps the five of us could meet for dinner
tonight at the Broken Blade to get to know each other under less formal
circumstances.”

“I agree.” Said Nivin. “Time is short, but we can allow a night for the five of you
to get to know one another and come to a decision. Besides, we still have some
small amount of study to do. I believe that we will be ready to send you on your
mission within two days. My suggestion would be to come to your conclusions and
gear up for your mission to the Wildwoods. Return here on the morning of the
seventh, with or without Major Throst, and be ready to begin.”

“Have you any more information about where we’re going or what we might be
facing?” Taklinn asked.

Yigil took the floor then, responding to Taklinn’s questions. “There is a reason
that Havilah does not expand into the Wildwoods,” He said, “It is a rough and
brutal territory, not only in terms of unforgiving geography, but also of its
inhabitants. You may meet any and all manner of monsters within those dark
woods, and you will certainly cross paths with the worst that the Himrock Orcs can
offer. You will do well to remember that Himrock’s, unlike their boorish cousins,
are far from the lowbrow trash that raid our outlying communities to the north. No,
Himrock Orcs are intelligent and cagey, and many of them are able to master skills
that normal orcs cannot, not the least of which is magic. Be prepared! The lair in
which we believe Melesandre hid her tome will be much like the pyramid in which
you fought Himrock’s during your formative days, though we believe it will be far
more dangerous, given its deeper location in the Wildwood and its import to the
Himrock’s. Most of these pyramids are built to house their dead, so it would not
surprise me to find guardians that can withstand eons worth of time.”

“Undead?” Taklinn said.

“That would be one of my guesses.” Nivin answered.

“The pyramid is protected against divination and transportation magic. Even with
our combined skills we have not found a way to view it directly, and therefore we
cannot get you directly into the structure,” Yigil continued, “though we have scryed
a good location about a mile from where we think it is. Doorag, you will want to
join us tomorrow for a look at the location so that you can port the crew there.”

I nodded in agreement.

“Beyond all that,” Nivin added, “Prepare yourselves as best you can for anything,
get to know Major Throst and decide whether or not he will travel with you, and
meet us here on the seventh. Bare in mind that not only the kingdom of Havilah is
at stake here, but also the world of Edik. I cannot stress enough the importance of
this mission!”

We left Nivin’s office with much to think about, and agreed to meet with Major
Throst that night at the Broken Blade to discuss our possible collaboration.

Our dinner with the Major that evening was profitable for all sides. Though he
seemed unable to shed his military stiffness, he showed up for the meeting in
civilian garb and attempted to relax a little in our company. We talked for the better
part of the night, and we found him to be generally inoffensive, and carried himself
with a calm assuredness in his own abilities.

After our meeting with Nivin I had gone to do a bit of research on the Major, and
had easily found his records of military service, which were exemplary. He had
fought with distinction in several major battles, including Havilah’s defense against
Melesandre’s hordes. He was well regarded by his superiors, and his men followed
him without question. Their loyalty spoke volumes about his character and made
the idea of his joining us a bit easier to accept.

In the end, we could not deny the wisdom of having an extra sword (or pair of
swords, in the Major’s case) on our side, and by the time we broke for the night
there was unspoken agreement among Taklinn, Griff, Hap and myself that Throst
would be accompanying us on our journey.


Rdyr’t 7

Lands, but it has been a long day!

Major Throst met us in the antechamber of our Academy apartments early this
morning. All of us were geared up and ready for anything. Or so we thought.

Nivin and Yigil were waiting for us in Nivin’s office to see us off and offer us last
bits of advice. With Yigil’s help I had studied the location that we were to teleport
to yesterday, so I was ready with the image of it in my mind. As we have so many
times in the past, we joined hands and I cast my teleport.

***

We appeared in a dour grove of trees whose canopy blocked out most of the sun.
Looking around ourselves and listening, we saw and heard nothing. The forest was
eerily silent and devoid of life, which made us all uneasy.

Hap disappeared into the shadow of a tree while I lifted off from the ground
almost without thinking about it. Griff, Taklinn and the Major spread out, searching
the area, but finding nothing. I pointed west. “That way.” I said.

The five of us made our way through the quiet woods, ever alert for anything.
Griff led the way by twenty or thirty paces, and suddenly stopped, holding up his
hand and kneeling down to study the ground intently. It is good that Griff has such a
keen eye for tracking, for I never would have noticed the subtle claw marks left in
the earth. Griff outlined them for me with his finger, then pointed to several more
that led off into the woods.

“They look reptilian,” he said, “and whatever it is, it’s got more than four legs. I’d
say about eight. What do you think it is, Doorag?”

Eight legs? Reptilian? The words clicked switches in my mind and I did a bit of
quick mental research, coming to a disquieting conclusion.

“My guess is a basilisk.” I said, somberly. Griff scowled at me, for he was not
unfamiliar with such creatures. Hap, however, was not so educated.

“What the heck is a basilisk?” She asked.

“A basilisk,” I replied, “Is a large, lizard-like creature with multiple legs, a long
neck, sharp claws and nasty fangs, though incurring physical damage should we
happen upon one will be the least of our worries.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” She demanded.

“He means,” the major answered, showing off a bit of his own knowledge, “That
the basilisk’s most feared and preferred attack form is it’s gaze, which can turn a
mortal to stone.”

“You gotta be kidding me!” Happy said, wide eyed.

“He’s not.” I said. “And, truth be told, it’s worse than that. A basilisk doesn’t
even need to look at you for its ability to work. All you have to do is look at the
creature and you have a chance of being turned to a statue.”

“Great!” Hap said with a sardonic laugh.

“Which way is it going?” Taklinn asked Griff.

“Same way we are.” The big warrior replied.

“Even better.” Hap grumbled.

There was no help for it. We would just have to carry on and hope that our paths
would not cross that of the basilisk. Ah, if we were only that lucky.

Not twenty minutes later we came across still more evidence of the creature that
solidified my hypothesis that we were trailing a basilisk. Griff saw it first and
pointed. It was a rabbit, turned to stone in mid hop.

We continued forward, every nerve on full alert now, our eyes and ears peeled.
Even Ambros had his nose stuck from a hole in my hat, sniffing the air for any
unsavory scents; but even with our vigilance, we could not avoid the confrontation.

Ten minutes later they came, stepping from behind huge trees as if to ambush us,
scrabbling forward with surprising dexterity for such heavy beasts. There were
three of them in all, and there was no avoiding the first onslaught of their gaze.

The magic in their eyes was palpable, and I felt my limbs attempt to stiffen into
stone, but I furiously shook it off, as did the rest of us. I responded with a ‘fireball’
from my staff on one of them, but was dismayed to see how little damage it did to
the beast, and I quickly flew behind a tree to stay out of their line of sight.

Major Throst charged to meet the one I had scorched and dealt it a blow with one
of his short swords even as Griff and Taklinn did the same to the second and third
basilisk. Hap, of course, vanished, and I knew that she would be attempting to get in
on a blind side for one of her devastating attacks.

From my hiding spot I could hear the sounds of battle; the clang of steel, the
grunts of our fighters, and the screeching roars of the basilisk’s. Knowing that I had
to help, I took a deep breath and readied a spell. I poked my head from around my
tree and spotted one of the lizards locked in battle with Taklinn. Not wanting to
miss, I took a chance and looked straight at the thing, pointing my finger and
beginning my incantation, but before the words had left my lips, I felt the power of
the basilisk hit me again. My limbs went numb, and I fought it with all my might. I
just had time to see my hands go stone gray before everything went black.

***

First there was a dim light that grew steadily brighter, at last forming into blurry
vision that soon snapped into sharpness. I looked about myself curiously, still with
my finger pointed in mid cast. I let my arm drop to my side when I realized that I
was in Nivin’s office. I blinked a bit as I saw Nivin leaning against his desk. Yigil
stood before me, the remnants of a scroll in his hand. To my right stood Taklinn
with a worried expression on his face.

“What…what happened?” I stammered, confused.

Taklinn laid a fatherly hand on my shoulder, his look bespoke grim tidings and he
said, “I’m so sorry lad, you were turned to stone by the basilisk in the Wildwoods.
I’m afraid it wasn’t easy changing you back. It’s been three years.”

“What!” I cried, my eyes bulging from my head. “Three years! I’ve been a statue
for three years? How can that…”

Taklinn could hold a straight face no longer. With a guffaw, he burst into
laughter. “I’m sorry, lad,” he howled, tears of mirth squirting from his eyes, “I
couldn’t resist a little leg pullin’!”

My eyes narrowed as I looked at him more closely and realized that his clothing
was exactly as it had been when I had seen him last, and he still had traces of blood
on his tabard. I understood that I had been had.

“Tis been no three years,” He confessed, wiping his eyes, still chuckling, “Only
an hour or so. We mopped up those bloody lizards and then found you behind a
tree, stiff as a board and ten times as heavy. I dumped ya in the bag o’ holding and
‘word of recalled’ us back here for Yigil to take a look at you.”

Yigil could barely conceal a small smile of his own as he explained. “I did not
have the ‘stone to flesh’ Dweomer memorized, but knowing that time is of the
essence, I procured a scroll and set things right. How do you feel?”

“Fine, I suppose.” I said, scowling at Taklinn. “I’m glad I could provide you with
a little entertainment.”

“Ah, don’t be mad, friend Doorag,” Taklinn said with a grin. “Just having a bit of
fun is all.”

“All well and good,” I said, stretching my arms, “But we still have a job to do.
Where are the others?”

“Still in the Wildwood.” Taklinn replied. “We’ll return to them in the morning
once I’ve cast another ‘word of recall.”

“The hell we will!” I exclaimed, “We’re going back to them this minute!”

Taklinn’s face became serious. “Now lad, don’t go acting rash! It’ll not do to have
no quick means of escape! I don’t like being without the ‘word’!”

“That may be,” I said, “But I’ll be damned if we’re going to leave Hap, Griff and
the Major alone in those woods until you have your spells again! They could be
fighting for their lives right now!”

Taklinn sighed. “But the ‘word of recall…’” He began.

“Sod the word of bloody recall!” I shouted, waving my arms in exasperation. “We
are a crew, and we do not leave half of our members to fend for themselves in an
area as dangerous as the Wildwood! I just won’t have it! Now listen, here’s what
we’ll do: We will port back to them, then tonight, we’ll all port back here so you
can cast your recall. And if things get dicey and we need an escape route, I’ve still
got teleports to haul us out if we need them.”

Taklinn stroked his chin and pulled his beard, considering my words with
maddening deliberation. “Very well,” He said finally, “But we come back tonight
and I cast the word. Agreed?”

“Agreed!” I said, grabbing him by the arm and already incanting my teleport.

“Be careful!” I heard Nivin shout as we disappeared. “Try to be gone for more
than an hour this time!”

I landed us in the grove in which we had first appeared and we immediately began
a fast trek through the woods. It was nearly a half hours run (or fly, in my case) but
at last we found the rest of our crew seated amongst a strand of oaks. Not far off I
could see the three bodies of the basilisk’s, and I shuddered.

“Doorag!” Happy shouted with a grin. “We didn’t expect to see you back so soon!
How you feeling?”

“Other than my pride, just fine.” I replied.

“Thought you weren’t coming back until tonight.” Griff said, looking at Taklinn.

“The lad convinced me otherwise.” Taklinn said with a scowl.

“This is good,” Said the Major, “We can get on with the search for the pyramid
now.”

With the Major’s “Ever Onward” spirit motivating us, we determined not to waste
the rest of the day and set out once again, keeping our eyes sharp for any more
threats, though I was sorely distracted by a revelation from Happy as we made our
way through the brambles.

Our rogue sidled up next to me as we tramped through the brush and asked,
innocently enough, if I had anything on me to deal with future basilisk attacks.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Oh, you know, stuff to turn a fellow from stone back to flesh, so we don’t have
to run back to Yigil if it happens again.” She said.

“What, you mean like a scroll of ‘stone to flesh’?” I asked.

“Sure, something like that.”

“Well, no,” I said, “Though I suppose we could have picked one or two up in
Havilah. Though what good they would do us I’m not sure, especially if I’m the one
that gets tagged by a basilisk. ‘Stone to flesh is an arcane spell, and just as I can’t
cast a ‘heal’, Taklinn would be unable to cast a ‘stone to flesh’, so I don’t know
what help it would be.”

“Oh,” She said, nonchalantly studying her fingernails, “Well, I might be of some
help in the event that you get incapacitated.”

I looked at her quizzically. “I’m not sure I understand, Hap. What are you trying
to say? I know that some non-casters can figure out how to use wands and such, but
scrolls are a different matter.”

“I know,” She said, with a hint of exasperation, as if I weren’t picking up on the
obvious, “And I’m saying that I might have an outside chance of using a scroll.”

I stopped dead in my tracks. “What!” I exclaimed, loud enough for Griff to look
back at us over his shoulder. I lowered my voice and caught up to Hap again.
“What?” I demanded again.

“Look,” Hap said, as if it were no big deal, “When I was hanging around with
Scylla I used to watch her cast her spells. Now she didn’t have to sit around and
memorize them out of a spell book like you do, she just woke up in the morning and
had them, right?”

“Right.” I said warily, stiffening at the mere mention of the sorceress’ name.

“Well,” Hap continued, “I used to see her cast ‘unseen servants’ from time to time
and I thought that was a pretty neat spell. On the whole, I don’t have a lot of use for
magic, but that one seemed like a pretty good trick, especially since I was about to
get married. See, I’ve never been much of a home maker. Cleaning the house and
learning to cook just isn’t my thing, so I thought, wouldn’t it be great to be able to
whip up an unseen servant to dust the house and fold the laundry, and for that
matter, it would sure help my meals if I were able to cast a flavoring
prestidigiwhatever its called. So I talked about it with Scylla, and she was nice
enough to teach me a few spells.”

I stopped again. “Happy Dorjan, are you trying to tell me that you can cast arcane
spells?”

“Just a couple of the basics,” She replied, “Nothing like you can, and I guess I’m
pretty much stuck with the ones she taught me, since I cast like Scylla.”

I began walking again, my mind spinning with this news. “Happy, why in
Clangeden’s name didn’t you tell me this before?”

She looked thoughtful for a moment and said, “I didn’t think it was important. I
don’t have any spells that would be useful in combat, so I figured, why bring it up?
That, and you know how Griff is about spell casters.”

“Have you told him?”

“Yeah, I told him right before we got married.”

“And?”

“What could he do? He’s not crazy about it, but he loves me. We just don’t talk
about it. Besides, he’s not stupid. He knows that magic is what makes it possible for
us to… well, you know.”

I looked at her, perplexed. “No, I don’t know.”

Happy laughed at me. “Doorag, you're so innocent sometimes. The magic bracelet
you made for me allows me to grow bigger, which lets us… you know, be…
intimate!”

“Oh!” I said, blushing furiously and quickly changing the subject. “Happy, I
really wish you had told me about this before. The fact that you are able to cast
arcane spells, no matter how sleight your ability, is of major importance! It gives
you access to all manor of magical items that are usually restricted to casters.
Wands, staffs, that sort of thing. Generally I’m the one who carries such things, but
I rarely have time to use them in the heat of battle. We have a wand of ‘haste’, for
example, which would have been a major boon to our warriors in many a battle,
especially before you and Griff received weapons with the speed enchantment, but I
usually find myself with more important spells to cast. If you had had the wand you
could have put it to use! And yes, you are correct in your assumption that you
would have a decent chance to cast many spells from scrolls. If I had known this
then I would have certainly made sure that I grabbed a ‘stone to flesh’ scroll or two
for you, just in case. Beyond that, I confess that I’m a tad bit hurt that you would
keep such a thing from me.”

“Sorry,” She said, “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. Like I said, I just didn’t
think it was all that important.”

“My dear,” I sighed, “Every small edge we can get is important. Even something
as innocuous as a ‘daze’ or a ‘prestidigitation’ can be the difference between life
and death. You just never know.”

“Well, now you know.” She said. “And when you go back to Havilah, pick me up
a couple of those scrolls. Like you said, you never know.”

Our conversation was halted by Griff, who again held up his hand for us to stop as
he pointed out the steep hill that had revealed itself beyond a strand of thick oaks.

The earthen hill, covered by trees, was too steep and too uniform to have formed
naturally, and we could only assume that we had found one side of the pyramid.

“Now,” grunted Taklinn, “How to get inside?”

How indeed? We searched the base of the pyramid for nearly an hour with
frustrating results. Griff and the Major resolved to climb to the top to see what they
could find, and while they were about that, I decided to use the ‘locate secret
doors’ dweomer that I had prepared for just such an occasion. It is not a spell that I
generally have on hand, but on this day I was quite glad of my foresight, for, with it
in effect, I flew low to the ground, scanning the base of the pyramid, and within ten
minutes I detected a glow coming from an innocent looking clump of brush.

I flew back to my comrades and gathered them together, leading them to my find.
Griff hacked away at the brush and revealed a gully that led into the pyramids base
for several feet before being blocked by an obviously humanoid carved slab of
stone. The slab was massive, and must have weighed many tons, but closer
inspection revealed that it appeared to be set into a track which meant it was
probably designed to be slid aside. Griff put his weight into it, but the slab would
not budge. This, of course, made it Happy’s turn.

Our small friend leapt into the gully and studied the stone for several moments,
testing here, searching there, and finally slipping her fingers into a crack in the
outer stone. There was an audible click and she stepped back with a satisfied grin.

“Try it now!” She said.

Griff found an edge and heaved. This time the slab slid easily on its track, and
disappeared into the mountain to reveal a well built hallway leading into the
pyramid. The smell of must rolled out into the air, and we could tell that no one had
set foot in here for quite some time.

“Okay,” said Taklinn, hefting his axe, “This is it. Be ready for anything.”

Beside me, the Major drew both of his swords, and I saw a hue of steel color his
eyes.

With Griff and Taklinn in the lead we took our first steps into the pyramid, only
to be immediately stymied by a set of heavy double doors set at an angle not thirty
feet down the hall.

We immediately fell into our standard operating procedure for dealing with such
things, with all of us falling back a bit to give Happy room to work, and to stay out
of range of possible traps that she might miss. Our roguish friend searched the door
for several minutes, tinkering at the lock with her tools, and finally announcing that
it was both unlocked and free of dangers. Griff replaced her at the door with
Taklinn at his side, axes at the ready. Griff gripped the handles and flung the door
wide.

I flew toward the ceiling to get a view over their heads and sucked in a breath at
what I saw. Inside was a room, perhaps thirty feet square. Another set of double
doors led from it on the opposite corner, but between us and the doors stood three
iron statues that were far too intricate to be anything other than golems. I cursed,
knowing full well that my magic would be of limited use against these things, and
though they had not yet come to life, I had a hunch that it would take no more than
a few steps inside the room from one of us to animate them.

My hunch was right, for no sooner did Griff cross the threshold of the door than
we saw the glow of magical life spring to the eyes of the golems. With rusty creaks,
their heads swiveled to look directly at him.

I cursed again and did what I could. I knew that the one weakness an iron golem
has is to electricity, and to that end I cast another spell that I had only prepared on a
whim. ‘Chain lightning’ is not a dweomer that I often use, but in this case I was
glad to have one on hand, for I fired it at the middle golem and watched as it struck
and split to hit the other two. I was gratified to see the three statues immediately
slow their movement.

Griff angled off to the golem on our right, while Taklinn headed for the middle
one. The Major slipped past Hap and squared off with the golem on our left.

Some fights are lengthy and fraught with strategy. Not so, this one. With little that
Hap or I could do, we were resigned to watch as our warriors traded blows with the
golems. The only sound was the grunts of our men and the clang of steel on steel. I
saw both Griff and Taklinn receive terrible punches that would have killed lesser
men, but they answered with their own devastating attacks, rending the iron skin of
the guardians. The Major, while seemingly impossible to hit, was having trouble
dealing any real damage to his golem. It appeared to me that he was made for
delivering many small hits rather than a few heavy ones, and while his short swords
pounded out a constant rat-a-tat on the golems iron hide, it was clear that it would
take him a long time to down the thing. I attempted to help with a ‘bigby’s fist’, but
even that did little to hurt the golem.

Taklinn was having better luck, and I heard a massive crash as his golem went
down, the light of animated life draining from its eyes, and our cleric turned his
attention to the Major’s foe. Griff soon followed suit, and his golem hit the floor as
well. He raced over to add his steel to Taklinn’s and the Major’s. With the three of
them, as well as my fist, beating at the guardian, it did not take long for us to bring
it down, and soon we stood over their iron bodies, breathing with exertion.

“This one is ready to go!” Announced Hap from the other set of doors. She had
made herself useful by scanning them for traps and locks already.

Taklinn saw to the wounds that needed tending to, and we searched the room,
though of course, we found nothing. It had been a guard chamber and nothing more,
so we soon took up our positions in readiness for what might lay beyond the new
doors that Hap had so recently checked.

Griff pulled them open and we breathed easier, at least for a moment. A non
assuming set of stairs ascended into the pyramid. Griff shrugged and made to step
onto them, but Happy was quick to insert herself between him and the stairs. She
insisted that she check them for traps, and a good thing she did, for on the sixth step
she found a pressure plate that would have dropped several of the stairs from below
the hapless foot of anyone setting significant weight on it, thus plunging them into a
pit of unknown depth. She marked the stair and we were careful to step over it as
we followed her.

She continued her search but found nothing more. The stairs ended in a landing
that took an abrupt turn to the right. She peered around the corner and quickly drew
her head back.

“What is it?” whispered Griff.

“Not sure,” she said, “I see something on the wall at the end of the hall, though I
can’t quite make out what it is.”

“Let me have a look.” He said, stepping up to the top of the stairs and peeking
around the corner. No sooner had he popped his head around than he pulled it back
as a ray of dull light narrowly missed him!

He cursed under his breath in disgust. “Damn spell casters!”

“What did you see?” I asked him, excitedly, as I pushed my way to the front.

“Not much.” He said, “Like Hap said, there’s something on the wall down there
that shot a ray at me, but I don’t think I could describe it.”

Over come with curiosity, I made a foolish mistake and poked my head around to
have a look for myself. At the same time, Happy suddenly launched herself into the
hallway, hitting the ground in a somersault, coming up in a cartwheel and diving
down the hall. At the end, she bounced to her left, around a corner, and apparently
out of the line of sight of whatever magical trap was now shooting its ray at me!

The beam struck me between the eyes and I ducked back around the corner,
sputtering mad and echoing Griff’s curse. “Flaming, damn spell casters!” I spat as I
felt my essence drain away and several spells disappear from my mind.

“Doorag! Are you okay?” Taklinn gasped, coming to my side.

“Enervation!” I cried. “It’s a trap that shoots ‘enervation’ rays! It got me! Well,
we’ll see about that!” Beside myself with anger, I readied a spell and ducked my
head back out, casting quickly. Before the ray could go off again I used a ‘wall of
ice’ to block its view of us. The sheet of opaque ice formed at an angle that
effectively covered the magical sensor.

“I probably could have disarmed that thing!” Happy called down to us.

“Oh bloody well!” I answered, still infuriated at having been zapped with the ray.

“Not to worry, my son!” Taklinn said cheerfully, clapping me on the back. “I’ve
got just the ticket. Now just stand still…” He cast and I felt the soothing magic of
‘restoration’ flow through me, returning my essence and memory to me. I breathed
a sigh of thanks to my dwarven friend, relieved that he had such a ready answer to
my problem.

We joined Hap on the stairs to find her already snooping for more unwanted
surprises. I am happy to say that she found none, and we followed her up into the
next level of the pyramid.

A short landing led from the top of the stairs to another set of double doors which
Hap again checked, and again found no traps. She deftly picked the lock and
stepped aside for Griff to open the door. Inside was a room teeming with obvious
undead. They were mummies, draped in ceremonial wrappings and already
climbing out of sarcophagi to deal with us.

We fell into action with practiced ease, with Happy heralding our arrival with a
thrown fire ball via one of the beads on her necklace. Griff, Taklinn and the Major
fanned out into the room, blades ready and already hacking into mummy bodies.

There were nine mummies in all, but one of them, I noticed, was steadfastly
staying in an alcove of the room, and I could see his hands working to craft a spell.
Seeing that our fighters were otherwise engaged, I determined to put the caster
down, and to that end I flew toward the ceiling of the room and unleashed a huge
max/empowered ‘scorching ray at the thing, hitting it all three times, and though it
obviously caused immense damage to the thing, I was stunned to see it still
standing!

Fortunately, Griff had extricated himself from his own battle and was suddenly
upon the mummy caster. Much as it had been with the abomination that had led
the driders in their attack on us in the Academy, I had sufficiently softened our foe;
so much so that it took very little effort for Griff to smash the mummy to bits.

Between Griff, Taklinn and the Major, the remaining mummies stood very little
chance, and the three plowed through them with some support from Happy and I.
Taklinn even managed to turn two or three of them from us, and those were easily
slain.

Yet another set of double doors led from the south of the room, and we followed
the short hall beyond it to a stairway leading ever upward. At its top, a short hall ran
toward a room where we would fight for our very lives!

We followed the hall some twenty feet or so to find an intersection where we
could either continue forward or turn to the right. Each path brought its dangers, for
to our right, we could see four fierce Himrock orcs standing guard. Directly in front
of us, about sixty feet down, were still more Himrocks. Here was a room with eight
more orcs seemingly standing guard over a massive sarcophagus. We were able to
identify at least three of them as casters, if only from their garb.

We tensed, waiting for the charge, but none came. I looked closer at the orcs on
our right, standing in a corner of the hall about thirty feet away, and realized that
they had not moved an inch since our arrival. They appeared frozen, or paralyzed,
as did the eight orcs at the end of the hall, and it suddenly dawned on me that they
were probably in some sort of stasis effect, frozen in time to await intruders such as
ourselves.

I quietly informed the others of my hypothesis and Taklinn nodded, agreeing with
me.

“More magic.” Griff spat. “It never ends. So what’s the deal? You think they’ll
come to life if we get too close?”

“That would be my guess.” I said.

“Can we just blast them from here?” Hap asked. “Seeing as how they’re just
standing there waiting for a good blasting.”

“No,” I replied, “Not if they are under the effects of stasis magic. The spell is
quite powerful and will prevent them from harm until they are freed from it.”

“Well then,” muttered Griff under his breath, “Let’s not keep them waiting.” With
that he gripped his sword in both hands and headed toward the far room before I
could stop him. He left the hall and entered the room, and, as I had suspected they
would, the orcs blinked and came to life.

All hell broke loose.

Taklinn and the Major were quick to follow Griff into the room, and Happy went
invisible, as I knew she would, slipping in behind our trio of warriors. As for me, I
quickly scanned the room with my enhanced sight and realized that Griff no longer
glowed with magic. I could only assume that he had activated his anti-magic vest to
ward off the threat of spells from the three casters that stood behind the
sarcophagus.

I glanced to my right to make sure the other four orcs were still frozen. To my
relief, they had not budged, but when I looked back I could see that my companions
were already in dire straits.

The Major had rounded the hall corner so he was out of my sight, but I saw one of
the casters mouth the words to a ‘slow’ spell in the direction he had gone, and I
cursed, knowing full well the devastating effect that dweomer could have on a
warrior with the Major’s fighting style. I could but hope that he had been able to
resist it.

I could just see Taklinn from around the right corner, flanked by a pair of orcs.
These Himrocks were obviously elite guard, for I saw their great axes bite into our
cleric again and again, and he reeled with pain, trying to answer with his own axes.

Griff was also flanked, and though his anti-magic offered him protection from
spells, and quite probably much of the damage the orc’s enhanced axes would do, it
was a double edged sword, for much of his protection is magical in nature, and the
orcs were able to hit him over and over. Their damage may have been lessened, but
I knew that Griff would not be able to take the continued pounding for long. The
field stymied me as well, for with the orcs in its area, I could do little to help him.

Instead, I focused on the casters, sending a fireball into their midst. It exploded
and engulfed the lot of them, scorching them badly, but taking none down. I cursed
and flew forward a little to get a better view of the room.

I quickly realized that we were in a fight for our lives. Within the space of
seconds Griff and Taklinn had sustained terrible wounds and their blood spattered
the stone floor for many feet around them. The Major was locked in combat with a
lone Himrock, but I could see from the way he moved that he had been ‘slowed’,
and while he was still amazingly hard for the Himrock to hit, he was offering very
little in the way of return damage to his foe.

Happy suddenly slid behind one of Griff’s orcs, her daggers flashing with
vengeance as she inflicted terrible wounds on the creature, but he still stood! We
did, however catch a lucky break, for the casters still had not understood that Griff
was surrounded with anti-magic. The three of them fired off volleys of ‘melf’s acid
arrows’ at Griff and Taklinn, but all of them fizzled as they hit the field, dropping
ineffectually to the floor.

I unleashed another fireball into them, and they began to huddle back towards the
corner in an attempt to get away from both myself and the anti-magic field, but I
pressed on, determined to drop them before they could put their spells to good use.

Griff’s Talon flashed and tore through flesh and sinew. Great sprays of blood
gouted from the wounds of his foes as he pressed his attack. Then, with a feint to
push an orc back, he retreated a step and leapt onto the sarcophagus, gaining higher
ground and hacking away with renewed vigor, even though I could tell that he
barely had the strength to remain standing, so many were his wounds.

Taklinn was fairing even worse. Though he had inflicted his own share of damage
to his foes, they had done far worse to him, and he was now in a defensive fight. He
dodged and ducked their axes, bringing his shadowy blade around in wicked arcs
that ignored armor and opened terrific gashes in the orcs. But they refused to die,
and I knew he would not be able to take much more. With a mighty bellow to
Clangeden, our dwarf swung, connecting with the orc on his right and allowing the
momentum of his blow to carry into the orc on his left. Neither went down with his
attack, but Happy was already in motion.

An instant before Taklinn’s swing, Hap had taken a step back and released a
handful of daggers at one of the orcs bent on killing Griff. Her steel bit hard, three
times, and at last, the orc sank to its knees, then fell forward onto its face. But
before it even hit the floor, she was rounding on the nearest of Taklinn’s enemies.
Her arm pistoned and a single dagger flew from her hand, burying itself to the hilt
into the back of its thick neck. The orc howled in pain, reaching back desperately to
try and pull the blade free, but its strength was rapidly flowing away with its life
blood. The orc spun in a circle like a dog trying to catch its own tail, slowed, then
stopped, and finally slumped to the floor. Hap was still in motion, her hands already
full of more knives, spinning to get into position to help the Major, who was gamely
hacking away at his own foe with his diminished capacity. I cursed myself for not
having given Hap our wand of ‘haste’ now that I’d discovered her talent for arcane
casting, knowing that it would have negated the ‘slow’ effect on the Major. For a
second I contemplated using it myself, but looking at Griff and Taklinn, I knew that
far more drastic measures had to be taken.

Griff was at deaths door, still standing atop the sarcophagus, swaying dizzily, but
still pounding away at his remaining orc with the Talon. I knew I could do little for
him, still surrounded as he was by the anti-magic field. As fortune would have it, he
would not need my aid, for his sword came down in a mighty cleave that broke
through the orcs armor and bit deep into flesh and bone. The orc dropped like a
felled tree, and Griff quickly pivoted, bringing his long blade around to catch one of
the casters beneath the chin with the very point. The caster orcs throat opened like a
grizzly smile, and blood cascaded down the front of his robes. He staggered, still
attempting to cast, and died.

The battle was turning in our favor, but the remaining two casters worried me. I
so wanted to finish them off, but looking at Taklinn, I knew that I had to help him.
Our cleric’s face was ashen from loss of blood, and he was barely able to keep his
feet as he still faced one last orc. The orc looked pretty bad as well, bleeding from
several harsh wounds. I realized that one hit from either of them would take the
other down. I was determined not to let it be an issue, and turned my spells on the
orc. My ‘magic missiles’ hammered into the orcs chest and face, five in all. Under
normal circumstances I’m sure this Himrock warrior could have shrugged off twice
that number, but so badly had Taklinn hurt them during their battle that he was
unable to withstand the magical barrage. The orc stumbled back against the wall,
his axe slipping from his bloody grasp. I saw his face contort, as if willing himself
to live, but the fight was gone from him. His eyes rolled back in his head and he
died, sliding down the wall to sit, legs splayed, before slumping over on his side.

The Major’s orc was likewise grievously wounded, and it took no more than two
daggers from Hap to drop him. The Major saluted a thanks, but Happy had already
spun away from him, hurling more daggers at one of the two remaining casters. My
fireballs had done their jobs, and the wounded sorcerer was ripe for Hap’s attack.
The two knives landed less than an inch apart in the orcs chest, and Hap was able to
chalk up yet another foe killed.

The last caster, weaving a spell in desperation, cast ‘mirror image’. Suddenly
there were no less than eight images of him in the corner of the room, and we had
no way of telling which was the real caster. Griff didn’t care, and waded in, sword
arm pumping. He connected with three of the images and they blinked out.

I did my part, landing to put myself in line with as many of the images as I could,
and fired off a ‘lightning bolt’ that caused three more of them to disappear. Taklinn
was gasping, casting a healing spell on himself, and the Major was unable to move
fast enough to get to the remaining images and the true caster.

But Hap was right there.

Grinning, our little rouge filled her palms with daggers yet again and let them go.
The first one struck an image even as the caster was desperately trying to get off
another spell. The image winked out. With no doubt now as to which was the real
flesh and blood orc, Hap let go with the remainder of her knives. They slammed
home, thunk, thunk, thunk, in a neat row from the orcs throat to his naval. With a
sigh, the caster lay down and died.

Shaken a little at just how close some of my friends had come to dyeing, I leaned
against the sarcophagus. “Are you two alright?” I asked Taklinn and Griff.

Taklinn gave me a blood covered thumbs up, and I saw that many of his cuts had
closed. He had obviously healed himself. Griff was in the process of taking a gulp
from an oddly shaped bottle, and I watched in awe as every single one of his
wounds immediately healed! This was no ordinary potion, and I wondered where he
had received such a thing. He capped the bottle and returned it to his pouch. He
positively radiated magic now, and it made me wonder all the more, though I would
not be so gouache as to ask him about it.

Griff stepped up to the sarcophagus and heaved at the lid with all his might. His
muscles bulged beneath his armor and the stone slab shifted and moved. He slid it
aside and it fell to the floor with a mighty crash. Eons worth of must boiled from
the coffin, and when it cleared we were able to see the mummified corpse of a
female Himrock.

We immediately prepared ourselves for battle with it should it return to unlife, but
it only laid there. Griff put his sword through it once or twice to make sure, but
apparently it had no power to become undead.

Griff’s blade had torn many of its wrappings away and Happy grinned as the
mellow shine of gold was revealed. This orc, some sort of royalty perhaps, was
adorned with quite an array of jewelry which Hap immediately began stripping
from it.

Griff and Taklinn would have none of this grave robbery, and the Major, having
finally shaken the effects of the ‘slow’ spell, appeared to have little interest in
treasure. As for myself, I share Happy’s pragmatism, and felt not a whit of guilt
over helping Hap secure the trinkets. Far better that we put such money to good use
than to have it molder away in this crypt!

“Okay,” Griff said, poking a thumb back down the hallway, “Four more to go.”

“Perhaps we should rest first.” I said. “Most of my higher dweomers are used up.
Are you sure you’re ready to deal with more of these guys?”

“Aye.” Answered Taklinn, “I’m ready if Griff and Throst are. I’ve enough spells
left, and I’m as healed as I can be. I say we do them in before we're to rest.”

“I’m with you.” The Major nodded. “I’d like to get in at least one decent fight
before we call it a day.”

I scratched my chin uncertainly, but finally sighed in agreement, knowing all too
well that I would be unlikely to change their minds. “Very well then, but lets at
least go about this the right way. I have a simple, but potentially effective plan.”

“Let’s hear it then.” Griff said, impatient, but no longer selling the orcs short after
so recently being brought so near death by them.
“Okay,” I said, “Here’s what we’ll do…”

Fifteen minutes later we were in position. Happy stood hidden in the shadows on
the stairs that we had originally ascended to get to this room. Griff, the Major and I
were in the sarcophagus room, with Griff and the Major standing on either sides of
the entrance, waiting for our victims to come through, while I took up a position
behind the sarcophagus, peering over it, ready to do my part.

Taklinn waited for my signal from his position at the intersection where he would
only have to walk a few steps to meet the still frozen four Himrock orcs. When I
was satisfied that we were all ready, I gave him the signal to go.

I saw Taklinn disappear down the hallway, his axe in hand. I waited for perhaps
five long seconds, and then out he came again, running as if pursued by the devils
from hell!

One might think that Taklinn would be an odd choice for bait, given the plodding
speed with which most dwarves move, but Taklinn is another matter thanks to his
magically enhanced boots that he has been wearing for nearly two years now. They
make him far faster than the average dwarf, and for that matter, far faster than the
rest of us.

So it was that he had little problem outrunning the orcs after they awakened to
find a dwarf intruder walking down their hallway. Taklinn turned the corner, his
beard flapping over his shoulder, with a broad grin on his face as he barreled toward
us. He reached our room just as the Himrocks rounded the corner, hot on his heels.
Taklinn skidded to a stop about fifteen feet inside the room and turned to face them
just as I cast from my hiding spot.

The ‘grease’ spell coated a ten foot area just inside our room, and the orcs never
had a chance. The first of them hit the grease and both of them lost their footing and
went down in clumsy heaps, to be immediately set upon by Griff from the left, the
Major from the right, and Taklinn from directly in front of them. Swords and axes
fell like steel rain, and blood spattered the stonework, even as the second pair of
orcs attempted to cross the greased area. One of them fell while his partner kept his
feet, though little good it did him. Happy had come in behind them and was now
busy hurling dagger after dagger, while Griff took round house, two-handed swings
at him.

The battle, if one can call it that, was short. Within seconds the four orcs lay dead,
and not one of us had received a scratch. How different a fight can go with only a
small bit of strategy and planning!

“There,” I said, “They’re dead. Can we call it a day now? I’m running on empty
over here.”

“He’s right,” Agreed Taklinn, “I could use a bit of spell replenishment myself.”

“Yeah, okay.” Griff said with a slight grumble.

I cast a mansion and we entered, safe for the night, though the Major insisted on
keeping a watch outside anyway. Even as I write this he is standing his post outside
the door, even though I have told him repeatedly that he is much safer inside. I
suppose it is difficult to change old habits.

I must say that I am very pleased to have the Major along with us on this venture.
I don’t believe that we have even seen the best of what he can do yet, but just his
calm and sure presence in the ranks is a good influence for all of us. Thus far I have
found him thoughtful and open to planning, as would be expected of a military man.
He brings a bit of discipline to our otherwise freewheeling crew, and though I doubt
he’ll ever have us marching in step, he sets a good example of teamwork, and I
appreciate his being with us very much.

Taklinn and I had a small argument tonight. Well, not an argument per se, but
more a bit of discussion, though not without a bit of my laying on a ploy of guilt to
him.

As we settled in for the evening, he reminded me of my promise to port him back
to Havilah that he might recast his ‘word of recall’. While its true that I had indeed
said that, I informed him that, for one thing, it would be a costly teleport, as all I
had was a scroll of ‘greater teleport’ to work with, and for another, there was no
guarantee that the spell would even work, given the protective magic’s that
surround this pyramid, and certainly we would not be able to port back into it. We
would have to teleport back to our original spot some hours away and walk back in,
thus giving us the unwanted chance of meeting more basilisk, not to mention having
to deal with the enervation trap on the stairs below again.

Taklinn was fairly adamant about going back though, sighting the fact that he did
not like being without an escape route. I responded with the fact that I would still
have the scroll, and therefore we would still have a means of escaping. He argued
that that would mean that they were all reliant on me, and should I become
incapacitated, as I had when the basilisk had turned me to stone, the scroll would do
them no good.

I said that that was not entirely true, that I was not the only one among us with
arcane ability. Taklinn looked at me questioningly while Hap suddenly became very
interested in a speck of dust on her armor. I repeated my assertion while looking
directly at Hap pointedly, and at last she cracked, spilling the beans to one and all
about her abilities.

Taklinn was still not to be swayed however, even after Happy’s revelation. He
countered with the fact that I had promised, and I could do little but agree with him
on that point, though I did rationalize it by reminding him that, had we stayed in
Havilah long enough for him to cast the ‘word’, it would have meant leaving Griff,
Hap and the Major alone in the Wildwoods to fend for themselves for twelve hours.

In the end, a promise is a promise, and I withdrew the scroll for a casting attempt,
though I did it slowly, giving Taklinn plenty of time to reconsider. By this time
Griff had come to my defense, and before I could begin reading, Taklinn sighed and
told me to put the scroll away. He would go without his escape route. I don’t think
he was pleased to do it, but to his credit he acknowledged the wisdom of not
wasting valuable scrolls that might not even work, and said no more on the subject.

It is much later and I should, by all rights, be deep in slumber. Clangeden knows
that I have enough to do tomorrow without wasting time waxing poetic.

Yet, something in me compels me to set pen to paper at this late hour. Sleep
eludes me as if trying to grasp mercury. I turn over in my mind, again and again, the
true nature of heroism, and one of my companions in particular.

I have never fully explored in writing one of the most fundamental facets of my
philosophy, namely, that one of the basic reasons for the existence of this crew is to
facilitate the legend of Griffin Dorjan.

It is never far from my thoughts, the reputation and necessity of the figure of
Griff. Have I said in these past pages how important I feel it is for men such as Griff
to exist? Perhaps. I am too weary to check the volumes of my journal at this point.
Even if I have, it bears repeating.

Havilah is a city of humans. How odd that I have allowed myself to fall under the
spell of a city not of my own building. Yet, there it is. I have devoted my loyalties
to the city, the kingdom, and her ideals. I wonder sometimes if I feel a connection to
human ambition that others of my race do not share, for I suppose if there is any
one single trait that sets the races apart, it is the inborn need for humans to explore
and conquer. That, and their improbable birthrate must certainly ensure them a
place at the top of the political ladder.

It is this expansionism, yet also the fact that it is tempered by wisdom in Havilah,
that attracts me so to this kingdom.

Or is it more basic than that? Is it simply a drama that calls to me; a chance to
dabble in the epic exploits of a people destined to face the greatest challenges, and
taste the greatest rewards?

One might ask why I would call it dabbling. Surely I have played an important
role in the events of the last two years. Surely my magic and my council have been
the difference between victory and defeat on many occasion. Yet, when the history
books are written, let me be a footnote, let me be window dressing for a man who,
against his will, has been thrust into the role of hero.

I have oft wondered why I keep this extensive journal, almost obsessively, and I
believe that one of its sole purposes is to chronicle the life of Griffin Dorjan, for one
day his stories will be taught to children in Academy classes. If it is but noted that a
Halfling wizard was arcane council to Griffin Dorjan in one-thousand years, I will
be satisfied.

Why do I hold to this notion of Griff as a hero; as the peoples hero? I suppose it is
because of the ease with which, when I close my eyes, I can summon up the image
of him, clad in armor, outlined against a setting sun, weary, battle worn, yet still
standing proudly, hands resting atop the butt of the great sword sheathed at his
waist. Griffin Dorjan is, whether he likes it or not, the very image of a human hero.
Yet he is even more. He is a hero that transcends racial definitions. He is a man who
would stand up for the rights and honor of any good Halfling man or woman, no
matter their origin. He is a man who will never be able to ignore the plight of any
being that lives under the light of truth and honor. Griff is the silhouette of the
strong armed swordsman that gives hope where there is none, for as long as he
stands, the people of Havilah, no matter their race, will stand and follow and fight
for what is right and just.

I recall those nasty days in Latona, accused of terrible crimes, and rightly so. How
odd that my main concern was not for our escape from imprisonment, but for
Griff’s reputation. I laugh now, remembering how cavalier he was about the whole
mess, how dismissive he was of what others might think, and how angst ridden I
was over the possibilities that our actions might besmirch his image in Havilah.

I believe that the people would forgive Griff's (and likely, the rest of us)
transgressions in a far away land, but still, better that there be no smear on his
record at all.

I think that Griff understands, deep down, that the people need a hero. I have no
doubt that he has no wish to be that hero, but in the end, that is what makes him so
perfect for the job. Griff is the consummate hero: utterly without interest in fame
and glory, yet rising again and again in defense of the people of Havilah. What man
or woman could not look to such an icon and find hope? What downtrodden soul
would not follow such a man in the fight for justice?

It is late. Very late, and I am nearly too tired to see the paper clearly. I know it is
time for bed, yet I am glad to have gotten this out of my system, at least a little bit.
Tomorrow will bring its share of challenges, and part of my duty is always to be in
top form, for it would certainly not do to have such a hero die some senseless death
at the hands of a lucky orc who should have been brought down by magic. No, Griff
is bound for a better end. I can only hope that I am there to be some small part of it,
be it glorious death, or the chance to see his face on a coin.


Rdyr’t 8

As has become our custom, we broke our fast on Taklinn’s ‘hero’s feast’ some
twenty-four hours after I first cast the mansion. I must say, that’s a handy spell, and
a tasty one at that!

The Major joined us for breakfast, and we could tell that he had stayed up the
entire night. Obviously a man used to putting in long hours, he was far from
exhausted, but Taklinn scowled just the same and used a refreshing spell to put the
Major right, though he warned him that such use of his magic was superfluous,
given our quarters. The Major only shrugged and cast a wry grin as he dug into his
food.

When we were ready, we left the mansion and headed down the hall where the
last four orcs had stood guard. Directly to the right of where they had been standing,
a new flight of stairs led upward, and we began our climb anew, as always, behind
the watchful eye of Happy, who fastidiously checked each stair for unwanted
surprises.

We followed her to a landing some thirty feet up, and down a short hall to yet
another set of double doors. Hap checked them and then grimaced.

“Trap,” She announced, “Magical.”

Those two words were more than enough to give us pause. She seemed fairly
certain that she could disarm the thing, or at least circumvent it, but Griff was
having none of that. He invoked the power of his anti-magic vest once more and
stepped forward so that the door fell into the radius of the effect. With the trap
effectively inert, he threw open the doors without ceremony.

From behind him I spotted an odd rune on the opposite wall in a medium sized
room, though that was hardly the least of our worries. Six more Himrocks stood in
stasis guard here, though they were not frozen for long. Seeing the rune as well,
Griff crossed the room in three long strides and put his back against the rune, using
his anti-magic field to dampen it even as it started to glow evilly at his approach.
His strategy was sound though, for as he closed to within five feet of it, the glowing
rune was rendered inert.

Happy was close on his heels, though she blinked from view as she did, staying
just far enough away from her husband to ensure that her dagger would work.

Conversely, the once inert orcs sprang to life, hefting great axes and stepping
forward to surround a very visible Griff, slamming down several times with their
axes. We heard our warrior grunt with pain, but not give a step, remaining
stubbornly against the wall.

Taklinn and the Major charged in after him, throwing themselves at the rear guard
of the orcs even as Happy went to work with her daggers, bloodying up one fellow
in a bad way.

One orc broke off from Griff to go toe to toe with the Major, while two of them
turned to face Taklinn. Griff gamely held off two of them while the sixth orc
slashed at the air wildly in an attempt to find Hap. He was unsuccessful.

As for me, I stepped into the room and did my best to aid the nearest fighter, who
happened to be the Major. I cast a ‘Bigby’s clenched fist’ and pummeled his orc.
The beast staggered and dropped his weapon, looking quite dazed from the beating.

Long seconds followed in which swords and axes came down, finding flesh and
armor, clanging away or biting deeply. I continued to try to beat on the Major’s orc
even as the Major used his whirlwind fighting style to try to bring it down. The orc
got lucky though, and I fear that I allowed myself to be caught on the ground with
little protection. The orc spotted me from the corner of his eye, and seeing an
opportunity to damage someone a little easier to hit than the Major, he took it. He
had retrieved his axe, and now charged me with it raised high in the air! I ducked
and tried to avoid the steel, but it was no use. I gasped as the unfamiliar pain of
being slashed with a weapon roared through me. My back was against the wall, but
I still had an escape route. I flew upwards at full speed to get out of his range (thank
the gods that the ceilings are nearly twenty feet high in this pyramid!) while
directing my ‘fist’ to engage him again. The Major quickly caught up with the orc
and between the two of us, it was not long before he collapsed.

Taklinn had started the fight on a bad note, having swung a bit too wildly with his
axe and throwing himself off balance. He had righted himself finally, after staving
off a flurry of axe attacks, and came back around to try to give a better show of
himself. With a two-handed swing, he cut deep into the chest of an orc, dropping
him. He cleaved straight through and went on to the next, hacking and chopping
until that one went down as well.

Griff and Hap were just finishing off the last of their orcs as I landed, still shaking
from having been cut so deeply. I could not feel Taklinn’s healing hands soon
enough, I can tell you! I don’t know how our warriors can take being cut and hit all
the time.

We waited until we were reasonably sure the rune had run its course, and Griff
stepped away from the wall. We breathed a sigh of relief when no further magic’s
were unleashed upon us, and Happy turned her attention to the next set of double
doors that led from this room. After several minutes, she declared it safe and
unlocked.

Taklinn had been seeing to all of our wounds, and now that he was through and
we were healthy again, he stepped toward the door, taking Griff’s usual position,
and pushed them open.

What he saw made him gasp. He glanced over his shoulder quickly at us, and I
could see that the blood had drained from his face, though he tried to keep up
appearances.

“Maralith!” He cried, and I knew immediately his fear.

***

Time seemed to slow down from that point on as Taklinn shook his great mane of
beard and hair, squaring his shoulders and planting his feet in the doorway. I saw
the glow from his axe flare in proximity to the evil that emanated from the room
beyond.

Then, we all heard the voice, soothingly sweet, yet indescribably wicked at the
same time. “Come, son of Clangeden!” The voice taunted with palpable
malevolence.

Taklinn, unfazed now that he had collected his wits, backed down not an inch.
“Let us dance!” He cried.

But it would be the Major who would start the dance, for the words had not even
fully left Taklinn’s mouth before Throst was charging by him, both swords gripped
in his fists. I cried out for him to wait, but it was too late. The Major disappeared
into the room, and seconds later I could hear the clash of steel.

“Crazy son of a…” I heard Taklinn yell as he charged into the room hot on the
Major’s heels.

Griff, Happy and I raced to the doorway and beheld the battle that took place
before us. The room was huge, perhaps seventy feet long and two thirds as wide,
with a massive and ornate sarcophagus set into the floor at its far end. Four
Himrock warriors helped to guard the sarcophagus, and they were now busy
surrounding Taklinn, beating down our dwarf with mighty axe blows. The Major
had obviously broken through the ranks of orcs with his ill advised charge, for he
now stood quite near the sarcophagus, and was paying dearly for the honor, for atop
the stone coffin was coiled a Maralith.

Her beautiful female torso and head did little to detract from the horror of the rest
of her body. Her lower half was all snake, and slithered incessantly as she playfully
dodged the Major’s attempts to strike her. She also had four arms, three of which
wielded demonic looking swords with which she parried an attack and then returned
several of her own. Mere seconds had passed, but we could see that Taklinn was
outnumbered and the Major was out matched.

Griff and Hap broke into a dead run heading in to help even as I cast, using a new
spell I had learned only the night before. The ‘horrid wilting’ overwhelmed the
Maralith and the orcs for a brief moment, and I was gratified to watch them writhe
in pain as the spell sucked the moisture from their bodies. None of them dropped,
but I had certainly wounded them, hopefully priming them for the blades of my
friends.

The Maralith appeared to shake off the pain of the ‘horrid wilting’ even as the
Major came at her with everything he had. His twin blades were a blur of motion as
he struck, but only a single attack seemed to give her a scratch, and she looked
down on him with something akin to pity. So sure was she that the Major was no
real threat that she ignored him, instead electing to toy with Happy, who was
stealthily creeping up behind one of Taklinn’s orcs. Hap was, of course, invisible,
but the magic of her dagger could not hide her from the Maralith’s gaze. With a
word and a gesture, the Maralith used ‘telekinesis’ to lift Hap bodily from the floor
and slam her against the far wall. I heard the Maralith laugh, as if she were a cat
batting around a mouse before the kill.

By now Griff had rounded the orcs and had gotten close enough to the Maralith to
strike. Anger drove his blade, but I knew that the demoness would simply soak up
most of the damage he might do, and even though he hit her once, she simply
looked down upon him, still none too concerned.

Taklinn was in a bad way. Two of his orcs had broken off from their battle with
him to deal with the Major and Griff, but the remaining pair continued their assault,
and I was shocked to see their axes bite through Taklinn’s plate again and again.
Taklinn reeled as blood flowed from numerous wounds, and I could tell that he
would not be able to take another attack like that.

“Taklinn, heal yourself!” I cried, as I grabbed for components, and I breathed a
sigh of relief when I saw him take a step back out of the reach of the orcish axes
and cast a mighty healing spell that closed many of his wounds.

I cast a ‘chain lightning’ that fizzled against the spell resistance of my primary
target (an orc), but still arced out to strike the other three, wounding them further. I
did not bother with the Maralith, for I knew she was immune to such electrical
effects.

At the sarcophagus, the Major showed why he has risen through the ranks of the
military to his position, for even in the heat of battle he could see that his blades
were doing little against the Maralith, and that our hopes must lay in Griff’s ability
to lay on massive amounts of damage with a single blow. To that end, he ignored
the orc that was attempting to chop his head off in favor of trying to take some of
the pressure off of Griff. The Major stepped up to Griff’s orc and swung like a
whirlwind, carving three times into the creature, but with every blow his arms
seemed to get slower and slower, and I suddenly had the idea that something was
very wrong. Even Griff, upon striking the Maralith again, did not have his usual
strength and vigor behind his follow up attacks.

The demoness smiled without humor at Griff and seemed to attack him from all
angles, her three swords a blur of steel as she cut him again and again. He was
taking a terrible beating and I wrung my hands, trying to figure out the best way to
help him. The fact that my ‘chain lightning’ had fizzled against one of the orcs told
me that I could not depend on magic to harm them, and I cursed myself for not
having another ‘Bigby’s hand’ prepared, or at least a ‘conjuring bolt’.

Fortunately Hap had made her way back into the fray, and though the Maralith
could see her, the orcs could not. She stopped several feet from Griff’s orc and fired
off a volley of daggers that sent the orc staggering.

At the same time, Taklinn was busy with a little wet work himself. He had been
struck again by the two orcs still bent on his death, but he refused to back off. With
a mighty bellow he brought his axe around, gutting the first orc and cleaving into
the second. Already wounded from my spells, neither orc was up to the task of
living through Taklinn’s attacks, and the second one dropped as well, giving him
some much needed breathing room.

Griff saw the orc that Hap had wounded draw back his axe for a swing at him, and
he turned his attention to the foe. Perhaps the Maralith had skin thick enough to
ward off his blows, but not so the orc, for Griff’s blade cut deep and the orc sagged,
dropping his axe and falling to the floor before he could finish his swing. Griff
continued the arc of his sword, hitting the Maralith again, though I noticed that
there was little force behind it.

The Major and Hap double teamed the final orc, each of them drawing blood, still
hitting it even as it crashed to the floor.

The Maralith scanned the area. With the four orcs dead, she did not seem so sure
of her victory now, but she hardly looked afraid either. It was easy to see that Griff
was barely able to keep his feet after the beating she had given him, and the Major
was in an even worse way, practically reduced to supporting himself with his
swords, using them as crutches to keep from falling. She ignored Hap, knowing full
well that as long as she could keep the little rogue in sight she offered no serious
threat. The Maralith shifted her eyes from Griff to the Major, as if deciding which
one of them she would slay first, and I had little doubt that she could do just that.

I gritted my teeth and knew that I could not let her slay one of my crew. With a
leap, I took to the air, flying hard straight for her, waving my arms and screaming at
the top of my lungs.

“Come on, you four armed freak!” I cried, “You haven’t even scratched me! I
thought you demons were tough! What’s the matter, afraid of a Halfling?” At the
last possible moment I hit her with a ‘disintegrate’, but, of course, it fizzled against
her resistance.

But my true strategy had worked, for I had defiantly caught her attention. With a
bemused and twisted grin, she ignored Griff and the Major, and I steeled myself for
whatever she was going to throw at me.

Her ‘blade barrier’ swept across the room and I dodged franticly as whirling steel
suddenly seemed to erupt all around me. I was fortunate to get out of the way as the
wall of flashing blades bisected the room, and I breathed a relieved sigh, knowing
that I’d not only been lucky, but that I’d bought my friends some much needed
time.

The Major refused to give in to the magic’s that sapped his bodies strength. As
long as he stood, he would fight, and with that philosophy firmly in mind, he threw
himself at her again, his swords trying vainly to pierce her hide, only to be drained
more and more with each hit. At last, the Major slumped to the floor, utterly
without the strength even to stand.

Things still looked bad. The Major was down, and Griff was weakened, but
Taklinn still had a trick up his sleeve.

“Stop!” He cried in a voice that shook the walls. I felt the power of the spell that
accompanied his command, and I saw the horror in the eyes of the Maralith as she
tried to resist it and failed! Her three swords fell from her grasp and she seemed to
stagger, disorientated and unable to react to her own body’s commands.

It was the opportunity we needed, and a golden one for Happy at that! Hap’s
daggers looked like a beam of steel as she set them loose, two of them slamming
home and extracting a terrible toll on the Maralith. Griff followed her example,
swinging around in his two-handed style, chopping deeply into demonic flesh and
bone. The Maralith slithered one way, then the next, pain and rage boiling in her
eyes, but it was too late for her. With a heavy crash she toppled from the
sarcophagus and fell to the stone floor, dead.

Griff stumbled backwards like a drunken sailor, nearly falling. He was bleeding
from a dozen places, and Happy raced to his side to prop him up. He wiped blood
from his eyes with the back of his hand and looked around, his sword still gripped
in his hand.

“Everybody still alive?” he asked.

“It would appear so,” Taklinn said, “Though it looks as if the Major took more
than his fair share of that fight.” He moved to Major Throst’s side and knelt beside
him. The Major did not even have the strength to roll over onto his back. His lips
barely moved, but no sound came out, and his eyes struggled to remain open as
Taklinn laid a gentle hand on his forehead.

“He’s been sapped of all strength.” Taklinn announced, “I believe that the
demoness and her lot were under the protection of an ‘unholy aura’, a nasty bit of
magic, that. I can feel my own muscles aren’t what they were at the top of the fight,
and I’m betting you’d say the same, Griff. With every hit we made on these
buggers, the magic of the ‘aura’ drained us. We got lucky. Things could have gone
a lot worse.”

“Will he be okay?” Happy asked curiously, looking at the Major.

“Aye, I can help him. Give me a moment.” Taklinn concentrated and grasped his
holy symbol as he laid his hand on the Major again. Throst’s body, barely able to
generate enough strength to work its own lungs, seemed to revive by leaps and
bounds as the power of Clangeden undid the damage caused by the Maralith’s
magic. As the seconds passed and Taklinn’s lips moved in prayer, strength and
vitality flowed back into the Major’s body until he was able to sit up, and then
stand, if a bit shakily. He retrieved his swords from where they had fallen and
sheathed them, nodding his thanks to Taklinn

I made myself useful by scanning the bodies of the fallen for magic, finding a few
trinkets. In the meantime Happy was scouring the room for any exits, hidden or
otherwise. When she had searched the room to her satisfaction, she announced that
this was it, we had come to the end of the line.

“Well then,” said Griff, “Lets see what the bitch was guarding.” He waited for
Hap to check the sarcophagus for traps, and when she gave the all clear, he and
Taklinn put their shoulders to the lid and slid it aside.

The five of us peered over the lip of the stone coffin at the mummified remains of
still more Himrock orc nobility. This one, most likely a male, lay in eternal repose,
wrapped in funeral linens, smelling faintly of spice and rot. Its hands were clasped
across its chest, and within them it held a book.

We waited while Hap looked closely, not touching, but examining every inch of
the book, the corpse, and the interior of the coffin. “I don’t see any traps,” she said,
“But its hard to tell. That, and I wouldn’t rule out contact poison.”

“And me without an ‘unseen servant’ prepared.” I said pointedly to Hap. She
rolled her eyes at me, then looked at Griff who grimaced but said nothing.

“Oh, all right!” she said, and muttered a few words that invoked her own ‘unseen
servant. We all backed away as she commanded her servant to fetch the book,
which it did with no fanfare. I held out my hands, draped in protective cloth, and
she had the servant give it to me.

I took it with the same awe with which I regard all ancient tomes and books. It
was heavy and leather bound and without title. The only feature I could see on its
cover was a stain of some silvery substance that had long ago been splashed across
it. Looking closer at the stain, I deduced that it was dried blood, though not that of
any mortal. No, this was the blood of a celestial, and I wondered at its origin.

I was eager to open the book and delve into its contents, but of course I did not.
Flipping through its pages without first checking it for magical wards and traps
would be a sure recipe for disaster, as any first year mage can tell you. Instead, I
reverently wrapped the tome in cloth and summoned my box from Clangeden. I
placed it inside and dismissed the trunk, sure that it was the safest place for it.

“Good enough,” Griff said, spitting some blood onto the floor, “Are we done?
Can we go now?”

“I don’t see why not,” I said, “Shall I try a teleport?”

We gathered and joined hands, eager to be out of the Himrock tomb, but alas, it
would not be so simple, for, as I had theorized in my earlier argument with Taklinn,
the nature of the pyramid’s protective magic’s would allow neither entry nor exit
via teleport, and my spell was cast with no result at all. We would have to make out
way back to the point in the woods where we had first appeared.

Fortunately we now knew where the traps in the pyramid were located and how to
navigate them, and we had slain all guardians on our way up. We made our way to
the exit unmolested and began our trek back through the woods. Our luck held, and
we met not a soul on our way, and within an hour we had reached the grove we had
first teleported to. I cast, and soon we stood again on Academy grounds.

“I’m taking the book to Yigil and Nivin,” I announced, “You’re welcome to come
if you want, though I doubt we’ll get too many answers this early in the game. The
book will need to be thoroughly cleaned of wards and traps first, which could take a
day or two.”

“Fine with me,” Griff said, “I could use a drink!” He and Hap promised to meet
with us later in our Academy apartments for a full report, then they headed for the
gates to find a watering hole.

Taklinn and the Major joined me as I headed for Nivin’s office. His secretary
admitted us immediately and the sage greeted us warmly as we entered.

“You have returned,” he smiled, “And in the flesh. I trust all is well?”

“It is.” I replied. “Our mission is accomplished. Is Yigil available?”

“He is already on his way. I expect him momentarily.

Indeed, even as the words left Nivin’s mouth, the doors to his office swung open
and Yigil strode in, excitement showing in his eyes.

“You have it?”

“I believe we do,” I said, “Though I haven’t dared to open it. I figured to await
your expertise before doing so.”

“A wise choice,” Yigil said with a wry smile. “Well, lets have a look, shall we?”

And so it was that I called upon my trunk again. Its appearance was cause for
admiration in the eyes of both Yigil and Nivin who looked at me questioningly.

“A gift from Clangeden.” I explained.

I brought forth the book from the trunk and gingerly unwrapped it from its
protective cloth, holding it out to Yigil who took it with great care. The old mage
examined it closely, being careful not to open it. His fingers traced the bindings and
he appeared satisfied.

“This is it.” He announced. “You have done well. Have you any idea what this
stain on the cover might be?”

“I think it may be the blood of a celestial,” I answered, “Though I could be
wrong.”

“No, I do not believe you are.” Yigil said. “If only these leather covers could talk.
I would be interested to know how such a stain came to be.”

“When will we know something?” Taklinn asked, as always, getting directly to
the point.”

“I fear it will take several days, my friend.” Yigil replied. “We must be sure that
we have stripped it of protective magic’s before we even dare open it, and then
there will be the matter of scouring its contents for information pertinent to our
plans. I must assume at least a week, perhaps longer. Rest assured though, your
crew will be high on the list of the first to know as soon as we uncover any
information. May I suggest that you assume the best, that we shall find what we are
looking for and be ready to send you on your next mission within no more than two
weeks. Stay close and prepare as best you can, for if my suspicions are correct, you
will soon be off to Edik to face Illugi there.”

“Then I will await your summons.” Taklinn said. “Clangeden’s strength guide
you.” With that, he turned on his heel and departed.

“I’ll do the same,” I said, “Though I have a bit of crafting to do. Shouldn’t take
much time, and when I’m through I’d be interested in helping you with the research
of the book if you’ll have me.”

“Of course!” Yigil replied. “You know where to find me.”

The Major and I left Nivin’s office and headed back into the Academy. I could
tell that the Major was still at less than full strength, but I said nothing. He is a
proud man, and I knew that any show of weakness left a bitter taste in his mouth.

I left the Major and headed for my apartment. Even though I was still weary from
the recent battles and exploration I had much to do to prepare and I am not one to
waste time. Also I was eager to be at my journal while the events were still fresh in
my mind.

Some hours later I was paid a visit by Taklinn who had it in mind that he wished
an item crafted. His desire is for a periapt of wisdom crafted in the form of a belt,
and after discussing it for awhile it was decided that it could be done, though the
crafting process will have to take place on Edik due to our time constraints. I am
loathe to leave Havilah, even for the three days that will pass here, but this project
seems of great importance to him, and I feel that I owe him this favor after our
recent disagreement. I fear that a trip to Edik may be ill advised, given the nature of
our current quest to destroy Illugi and the fact that the deity has such a strong grip
there, but I have weighed the risks carefully and have decided that it is worth it. We
must simply be wary and keep an escape spell handy at all times.

We will depart in the morning.


Rdyr’t 11

Taklinn and I ‘plane shifted’ to Edik on the morning of the 9th after I had analyzed
the treasures we had recovered from our enemies in the pyramid and let the rest of
our crew know where we were headed. Hap and Griff set out for their home in Ester
the same day while the Major said that he would remain in Havilah. They bid us
farewell and we were off.

It is now, of course, the 11th of Readyrea’t in Havilah and we have returned
unscathed after a month spent in Edik.

The landscape on Edik tells a terrible tale, one that is progressing swiftly. It is
barren there; and the earth will support no life as far as we could see. Pathetic scrub
grass struggles to survive in parched soil, and it rained not a drop during our entire
time there. We spent our month cloistered within my mansion, but we still stepped
outside from time to time for a breath of fresh air, though the air on Edik could
hardly be called fresh. There is a foulness there the likes of which I do not
remember, even from my last visit, as if the evil of Illugi is fast spreading across the
land, leaving ruin in its wake.

It was a harsh reminder that the time differential between our two worlds has
worked against us as well as in my own favor, for while months have passed for us
since the defeat of Melesandre, years have come and gone on Edik; years in which
Illugi has recovered from the loss of Melesandre and gathered his forces again. We
were far from any civilization and saw not a soul, but I can only imagine the forces
of yuan-ti and drider and other abominations he has called to serve him, and it was
depressing to think of the relative swiftness (at least by Havilah time) with which he
has rallied from the blow we dealt him.

On a more positive note, Taklinn’s belt is complete and he seems quite happy
with it. It was far from inexpensive and it cost him a fair share of his own essence,
but, like my hat, it will provide him with a considerable boost to his magical and
divine powers. A worthy trade off, no doubt.

It was also pleasant to spend an extended length of time with only Taklinn for
company, and we spent many fine nights beside the mellow fire retelling tales of
our journeys and trading philosophical ideals. Taklinn is far more than axe and
armor; he is far more than a holy symbol as well. I have met my share of priests, but
Taklinn has reached a point where he shines with an inner light I have not seen in
any other holy man. I wonder if there will come a day when his word will be
considered canon to his faith. It would hardly surprise me, for even without his new
belt, he speaks with a simple wisdom that is undeniable, if perhaps a bit slanted.

Yigil has successfully cleansed Melesandre’s tome of its wards and tells me that
he will begin his research into its contents tomorrow and has invited me to aid him.
I am very excited at the prospect of gaining such knowledge, though he has
cautioned me that much madness may be contained therein. We will have to tread
lightly, least we suffer the megalomania of Melesandre as well. Between Yigil,
Nivin and I, we intend to check and balance each other, and I believe that we will
succeed.


Rdyr’t 20

Our research is complete and our plan is made. Tomorrow we depart for Edik to
deal with Illugi, or at least Illugi’s avatar.

Yigil, Nivin and I have spent the last long days deep in study of Melesandre’s
book, scouring it for clues as to the nature of Illugi and how he can be brought
down. In the end, we have discovered that we probably cannot slay him entirely (he
is an immortal, after all), but we believe we can eject him from Edik and thereby
close his door to Havilah as well.

Nivin and Yigil summoned us to Nivin’s office this afternoon. All of us have been
in the city for the past couple of days, shopping, having things made, and generally
making ready as best we can for whatever we are to face. We assembled in Nivin’s
office to learn what secrets we could and formulate a plan.

Nivin was seated behind his desk while Yigil paced the room. Melesandre’s book
sat on the desk, and my eyes kept returning to it as Yigil spoke.

“We have learned much from the tome,” He began, “Though unfortunately we
find it not only written in the style of a woman possessed by delusions of grandeur,
but somewhat incomplete as well. Still, we believe that we have pieced together
enough information to justify an assault on Illugi.”

“Melesandre refers to her dark master again and again as He Who Returns Again,
and infers many times that he enjoys the struggle for power as much as the power
itself. We can gather that he is a dark, intelligent and creative being who delights in
conquest and pain. He is known on many worlds, usually as the god of serpents and
arachnids. On some of those worlds he is still young and struggles to gain a grip on
even a small amount of the populace, but on others, he rules supreme.”

“Illugi seeks always to expand his rule. He is patient and cunning, finding gates
that lead from one world to the next, and insinuating himself there, always with an
eye toward his next conquest. For some reason that we have yet to ascertain, he
seems to bare a particular grudge against Havilah and her people, perhaps because
we have thwarted him again and again. Whatever the case may be, he seeks to
conquer our world at all costs.”

“Edik is his stronghold and his doorway to Havilah. We cannot close the door to
us, but if we can force him out of Edik, we believe we can close the gate there,
which would free not only our world, but Edik as well.”

“As you know, Illugi is attempting to make headway into Havilah via the
Himrock orcs who have taken to his worship with a vengeance, and we believe that
he has taken many of them to Edik to further expand his troops. We have,
unfortunately, allowed him years of Edik time to prepare, and we can only conclude
that his army of yuan-ti, driders and Himrocks must number in the tens of
thousands. Once he masters the art of shipping them here en mass, we may be
looking at a force that will make Melesandre’s army look small by comparison, and
without the weak spot that her undead minions possessed.”

Yigil paused to let all of this sink in. “Haven’t you got any good news?” Happy
quipped.

“A bit,” Yigil said with a thin smile, “But first I’m afraid there is still more bad
news.”

Happy groaned.

“For one thing,” Yigil continued, “He knows we’re coming. Keeping our plans
from him has always been difficult, and we have always been proactive in dealing
with him. He may not know exactly when, where and how we will strike, but rest
assured that he expects us.”

“On yet another sour note, he is not without allies. We have great reason to
suspect that Scylla has thrown her lot in with him.”

“I knew it!” Griff spat, “I knew we should have done that wench in when we had
the chance!”

“Damn right!” Happy agreed with a frown.

“Be that as it may,” Yigil said, “After her split with the Band of the Broken
Blade, she rejected the Academy entirely and began to forge many unsavory
contacts in the court of the Himrock orcs. One guess is that she desires to rule them
after they sweep over Havilah. This is, of course, only a hypothesis, but whatever
the case may be, we have to assume that she means none of us any good and that
you may encounter her.”

“It’ll be the last time we encounter her, I can tell you that!” Griff muttered.

“There is also the matter of Sensesi.” Yigil said.

“Oh no! Not her as well!” moaned Hap.

“I’m afraid so,” Yigil replied, “Though perhaps not in the capacity you might
think. I’m afraid Nivin and I have a small confession to make. We haven’t told you
this yet, given your prejudice against her, but after you freed her she contacted
Nivin and expressed a desire for revenge against Illugi for his having controlled not
only her, but a nation of yuan-ti as well. She claims to blame him for the deaths of
her family and friends, and wishes to see him fall. To that end, it was she who told
us of Melesandre’s book and where we could find it. She also revealed many of the
steps and components we must accomplish to defeat the deity.”

Taklinn frowned. “What makes you think she can be trusted?”

Nivin answered this question. “I fear we have little choice, Taklinn.” He said,
“Thus far her information has been sound, and though this could all be an elaborate
trap, we have nothing else to go on. Our only alternative is to wait for Illugi to come
to us, and though Havilah is well on its way to recovery, we are far from being
strong enough to withstand a force that has had years to prepare. I believe Major
Throst would agree with me on that.”

The Major slowly nodded his head. “Our military is well trained and armed,” he
said, “But it’s in no condition to take on an army like the one you’re talking about.”

“Yes,” Yigil said, “We have decided to chance the sincerity of Sensesi, with
plenty of caution, of course. We feel that Havilah has not much choice but to do
so.”

“And where is the snake now?” I asked.

“Ah, that is a good question.” Yigil replied. “She has disappeared some time ago.
All attempts to scry her or otherwise contact her have failed. We fear that she may
have been taken by agents of Illugi back to Edik, beyond the scope of our
divinations. “

“Humph,” I muttered, crossing my arms, “I truly do not like acting on information
provided by that creature. I just don’t trust her.”

“You can say that again!” Hap added.

“Be that as it may, our alternatives are few.” Yigil said. “And she, as well as the
book, have provided us with a strategy which we deem sound. We would not send
you on a suicide mission, my friends. We believe that this can be done.”

“So what is it then?” Griff asked, getting to the point, “What do we have to do?”

Yigil picked up the book, flipping through several pages until he came to a crude
drawing of the temple in which we had recovered the orb that allowed mass transit
between the Edik and Havilah. “The secret lies in his temple,” he said, “He gathers
much of his power from the tortured souls imprisoned there, and it must be
destroyed from the inside out. The souls, including those of several Havilah crew
members, are held there via the effects of a powerful ‘soul bind’. We believe, and
the book seems to verify this, that the strategic placement of a few ‘Mordenkainen’s
disjunctions’ will dispel the powerful magic’s that harness these souls, though it
will also unleash a guardian the likes of which you have not faced before.”

“Oh yeah,” Griff said, “Like what?”

“Like Illugi’s avatar.” Yigil answered somberly.

“Great cats!” Taklinn exclaimed. “You can’t be serious!”

“I’m afraid I am. Illugi’s presence on Edik is represented by his avatar, and the
freeing of the souls bound within his temple will surely draw his ire and summon
that avatar to halt such an incursion.”

“Whatever,” Griff said, “If it bleeds, I’ll kill it.”

“Well,” Yigil chuckled, “It certainly bleeds. His avatar is the physical
manifestation of Illugi on Edik, and like any avatar, it is subject to most physical
laws, including those of the blade. However, I cannot stress enough how dangerous
this fight will be!”

“Wait a minute,” I interrupted, “You said we need to cast a ‘disjunction’ in the
temple?”

“Yes,” Yigil replied, “Probably more than one.”

“How do you intend for us to do that?” I asked. “I have yet to master ninth circle
spells, even though its one that I’ve been studying.”

“True,” Yigil smiled, “But I believe that your breakthrough is closer than you
think, Doorag. You are one of the most able wizards Havilah has ever known, and it
is my belief that you will soon master the most powerful of dweomers, including
the ‘disjunction’. But even if you do not by the time you gain access to the inner
temple, I believe that you will still have a fair chance to cast the spell from my own
scrolls which I will provide you with.”

I looked at him doubtfully. “You think so?”

“I do.” He said.

“For all our sakes, I hope you’re right.” I mumbled, not at all pleased to have had
the cornerstone of this operation placed on my shoulders.

“Don’t worry about it, lad!” Taklinn said with a wink, “You’ll do fine. You’ve
never let us down yet, have you?”

“Well, there was that one time…” Happy started, but she thought better of
continuing her tale as Taklinn shot her a withering glare.

Griff got us back on track. “Okay, so we get Doorag into the temple and he casts
the discombobulate or whatever the hell it is and then we kill the avatar. That’ll seal
off Illugi from Edik?”

“Theoretically, yes.” Yigil nodded. “Without the power of the trapped souls in the
temple to draw from, we believe that he will be unable to re insinuate himself into
Edik. Once that has been accomplished I highly doubt that the current alliance
among drider, yuan-ti and Himrock orc will stand. Even if it does, they will have no
way to reach Havilah without the power of Illugi behind them. Either way, our job
will have been done.”

“So what’s the plan then?” Griff asked, “What? We blip over there, teleport into
the temple, cast and kill? Is that it?”

“Not quite, Griffin, my friend,” Nivin answered for Yigil. “The course of time on
Edik, coupled with the contamination of Illugi, has drastically altered much of the
architecture of Anvie city. You will see for yourselves when you get there, but
believe me when I say that it is highly unlikely that the temple you remember has
not undergone a dramatic change. Everything from the floor plan to the exact
location has shifted considerably. Not only that, but Illugi will have certainly taken
precautions against such intrusions. It is simply too easy to seal off an area, what
with ‘dimensional locks’ and so forth. No, I fear that a more direct assault must be
applied.”

“To that end,” Yigil continued, “We have devised a plan. It is dangerous, but we
believe it will give us the best chance of success.”

Griff looked at the pair doubtfully, unwilling to put his trust in sages and mages,
especially concerning a military endeavor. “I’m listening.” He said.

Yigil poured himself a glass of wine. “Before I speak of this plan, let it be
understood that talk of this goes no further than this room. I have used many
magic’s to ensure the security of this office, but I must caution against any loose
talk outside these walls. Our only hope is to hit hard and fast and to take their forces
by as much surprise as we can. If word of our plan reaches the ears of Illugi’s
informants, we will likely be doomed before we can even start. Is that clear?”

“Of course.” The Major answered for all of us, though there was nodding of heads
all around.

Yigil looked at each of us in turn until he seemed satisfied. “Nivin,” he said,
turning to the sage, “I’ll turn it over to you since you have been most in contact
with the military on this thing.”

“Thank you,” Nivin said, standing up and polishing his spectacles. He walked
around to our side of the desk. “Now then,” He began, “You are somewhat familiar
with the layout of the temple courtyard in Anvie city. While it is true that we dare
not try to port directly into the temple, we have been able to scry the courtyard
enough to know that we can attempt to insert a sizable force there. Our plan is to
have Yigil create a series of ‘gates’ that will lead from the Academy arena directly
to the courtyard. A hand picked troop of soldiers, both crew members and Havilah
soldiers, will enter first to gain a foothold in the courtyard and clear a path for you.
We expect some resistance, as the courtyard is guarded, but we think that our men
should be able to handle the bulk of it. You will follow them through and make for
the temple itself while they secure the courtyard and fend off further attackers. Your
job will be to gain entry into the temple and find the chamber containing the souls.
You know the rest.”

We looked at Nivin, and then one another for a long moment as we considered the
plan.

“Do these hand picked guys know where they’re going?” Griff asked. “Sounds
like it might be a suicide mission for a lot of them.”

“As Yigil has already said, security is paramount. We have told none of them
their true destination, only that it is an extremely dangerous mission of utmost
importance.”

“That stinks.” Griff growled, leaning back in his chair and folding his arms. “I
don’t like sending men in ahead of us that don’t even know what they’re getting
themselves into.”

Major Throst answered for Nivin. “They are soldiers.” He said simply. “Theirs is
not to know or reason why. It is enough to serve for the honor of the kingdom.
Besides, this is what soldiers do. They know the risks when they enter the service.”

“Whatever.” Griff replied evenly.

“I have a question.” I cut in. “What happens to them when the rest of Illugi’s
troops get wind of what’s going on and rally a huge force? Won’t they be crushed?”

“Not necessarily,” Nivin said, “For one thing not all of Illugi’s forces are
contained in Anvie. Indeed, much of his army is spread out over his empire to keep
order, though we believe he can mobilize them for an assault on Havilah fairly
quickly when he deems the time right. Also, we know that, while they are allies, the
chain of command among Illugi’s forces will not always agree with one another.
We have seen examples of infighting between drider troops and Himrocks, and that
sort of thing. We have good reason to hope that their diversity and chaotic natures
will slow them down a bit. If it looks like a no win situation we will do what we can
to pull them out, just so long as you are able to get into the temple.”

Griff frowned. “I dunno. It still sounds half baked to me.”

Nivin raised an eyebrow toward our warrior. “I am open to suggestions, Griff.”
He said.

Griff scowled but said nothing. Truth be told, I was not terribly keen on the plan
either, but I could think of nothing better.

“What can you tell us about this avatar of Illugi’s?” Taklinn asked. “Know yer
enemy, and all.”

Yigil fielded this line of questioning. “This much I can tell you: do not, under any
circumstances, touch him with your bare hand. You can expect your life essence to
be drained if you do. You can also expect him to be highly resistant to damage and
magic. He is also known for a fondness for summoning dweomers. Beyond that, we
know little.”

Happy shifted in her chair, obviously getting antsy and bored with all this talk.
“So when do we go?” She sighed.

“In the morning.” Nivin replied. “Get yourselves ready and meet on the Academy
arena grounds at sun up.”

“Are there any more questions?” Yigil asked.

There were more questions, and Yigil and Nivin patiently answered them all as
best they could. Finally there was nothing to do but depart and gear up for our
mission.


Rdyr’t 22

The things I have seen today could fill an entire journal. Where to even begin?
How to even capture with words the events of the last hours?

Imagine a heavy sigh here, gentle reader, for any who have followed my tale from
it’s beginning will certainly wail with grief and cheer with joy, as I did, when I
relate the ups and downs we have suffered today.

***

We met on the arena field at sun up, as instructed. Nivin and Yigil were already
there waiting. At first, it was just the seven of us.

“So where is this crack team that’s supposed to beat a path for us?” Griff asked.

“Soon,” Yigil smiled, “Soon.” He closed his eyes and concentrated, as if feeling
for something with his mind. I saw his lips move and form a single word: “Now.”

At his utterance the half dozen doors that lined the arena walls burst open and out
poured a stream of men and women, marching in double time toward the center of
the arena where we stood. I stared in awe at this show of force, for this was truly
Havilah’s finest. Crew member marched alongside soldier as they formed
formations and joined, lining up in neat rows near us. At a quick count I reckoned
nearly two-hundred fighters, all of them geared up and ready for a fight. Swords,
axes, pole arms, bows and cross bows were all held at the ready, and I could see in
the face of every warrior there a grim readiness to fight and die in the name of
Havilah. My heart swelled with pride and I vowed to see as many of them as
possible return to the city they loved.

“Quickly!” Nivin commanded, even as officers formed their warriors into groups,
“There is little time! We must give them no chance to prepare! Yigil, now!”

But Yigil was already casting. He unrolled a scroll and quickly rattled off its
incantation, and even as the paper burned away, a large extra planar ‘gate opened
quite near me. Looking through, I gasped, for I was able to see the courtyard of the
temple in Edik!

“Snake Skinners! White Skulls! Through!” I heard commanders call to their
troops, and immediately an organized charge of warriors made for the ‘gate’.
Without hesitation, they leapt through and into Edik.

Yigil was already casting again, and then a third time. Two more ‘gates opened,
and more of Havilah’s finest streamed through, and by now we could already hear
the sounds of combat issuing forth from the other side. I glanced at Griff and saw
that he already gripped his sword, barely containing himself from jumping through.

Yigil cast a fourth ‘gate’ and the last of our troops ran into Edik. There would be
no more holding back for our fighters. Griff, Taklinn and the Major took off at a
dead run, leaping through the gates and into Edik. I took to the air and flew in after
them with Happy hot at my heels.

The next thing I knew, I was back on Edik with all hell breaking loose around me.


Cries, grunts, the clashes of steel on steel, and the screams of the dieing assailed
me. An arrow flew a little too close overhead as I tried to get my bearings.

In front of me stood Taklinn, and I could already hear him chanting the prayer to
his ‘holy word’ spell. His great shout seemed to shake the stone foundations of the
temple courtyard, and I saw several yuan-ti and a drider freeze in their tracks,
paralyzed.

I shot into the air to get a better view of what was going on, and soon ascertained
that our soldiers were entrenched in brutal combat with dozens upon dozens of
yuan-ti, drider, and a squad of himrock orcs. Griff and the Major were already toe
to toe with a pair of driders, and I was more than likely the only one who saw an
invisible Happy sneaking around for a shot at Griff’s drider. As for me, I quickly
zeroed in on a spot where Illugi’s forces were the most dense, and I hit the lot of
them with a ‘horrid wilting’, wounding several and dropping more outright. I swung
around, skimming low over the heads of the combatants, seeing Taklinn charge into
a drider, axe swinging even as the drider launched a ‘lightning bolt’ at him. Taklinn
soaked it up and shook off the charge of electricity with a grin, slamming home
with his axe and bringing the drider to its knees.

We were all busy for those first seconds as the crew beat down three drider and
several yuan-ti and himrocks, but finally we regrouped as I pointed at the obsidian
slate door of the now-oddly shaped temple a few hundred feet away.

“There!” I shouted above the chaos of battle, “We have to get to the temple!”

“I think those guys might have something to say about that.” Griff said evenly,
nodding at the temple. I looked again and saw them, seven of the nastiest looking
himrock orcs I’d ever seen, coming out of the now open temple door. They stepped
into the courtyard as if they owned it, their course hair bristling. Most of them
carried evil looking great axes, but it was the three that carried no weapons at all
that I was most worried about, and I could already see the distinctive sheen of
malevolent magic on them.

They strided several yards into the courtyard, looking around, but ignoring our
troops for the most part. Then, they spotted us. One of them raised a finger and
roared out a challenge. They began to walk toward us, fanning out as they did so.

Suddenly, a streak of lightning leapt at us, striking Taklinn and branching out to at
the rest of us. But Taklinn had already cast a ‘holy aura’ that provided us with
substantial protections from magic. Ironically, Taklinn was the only one other than
Griff to feel the bite of the spell.

I answered with a ‘horrid wilting’ upon them all, but knew then the same
frustration that the enemy spellcaster must have felt, for I could tell that my most
powerful dweomer affected only one of them. The rest ignored it via the resistance
given them by an ‘unholy aura’. Though I felt sure that I had hurt the one I did
affect, it enraged me to have been unable to penetrate the rest of them.

Griff was moving, with Happy, like a shadow, invisible again, keeping pace. She
peeled off at the last second, as Griff met one of the himrocks head on, the Talon
singing as it sliced through the air and then armor and flesh, knocking the orc off its
feet.

Major Throst hit their opposite flank, dodging past two warrior orcs to get at a
spellcaster, piercing him in the side and quickly setting up for another round of his
dizzying short sword work.

Taklinn, of course, charged straight down their center, colliding with a massive
orc. The orcs axe glanced off of Taklinn’s plate, throwing sparks, but Taklinn’s
blade, being made wholly of energy, ignored the orcs armor and cut deep into
muscle and bone.

It was a brutal and dirty fight. With each of our two groups being under the
affects of both ‘holy’ and ‘unholy’ auras, each hand to hand attack was a gamble. I
shuddered as I watched Griff or the Major wince as strength drained from them, but
at the same time, even as an orc slammed Griff with his axe, he immediately fell
blind, and was reduced to swinging wildly.

Major Throst came at the sorcerer from every direction at once with his swords,
and the caster was dead, I’m sure, before he even knew it. But the warriors had
caught up with the Major by this time, and one of them waded in, damaging him,
but being struck blind for his trouble.

I was, unfortunately, largely ineffective. A well aimed ‘disintegrate’ was ignored
by one of the casters, and my ‘chain lightning’ was little more than a nuisance to
them. I cursed and swore that I would have a few ‘dispel magic’s’ ready for them
next time!

Griff had killed one orc, but the blind one still stood, and despite his inability to
see, he still managed a lucky shot that sent Griff staggering. This, apparently, was
unacceptable to Hap, and she immediately filled the orc full of daggers.

Taklinn took a hard axe blow to the thigh, but returned three in return, dropping
the warrior orc, and stepping into a spellcaster, slamming him as well and also
killing him.

Throst parried and thrust, stabbing, slashing, and dancing away from the
maddened and blinded orc. Griff joined him, and cut high as the Major cut low. The
orc fell dead.

A large orc stood back, still protected by warriors. He held aloft the wicked
looking symbol of Illugi as he imbued strength upon his allies. I flew upwards for a
clear shot, and unleashed a volley of my most powerful ‘scorching rays’, but again,
they were resisted! I was furious at my impotency, and was ready to simply throw
rocks at the priest, but fortunately, that would not be necessary, for Happy was
already hurling dagger after dagger into one of them while Griff was hard on
another. Throst slipped through to hammer away at the priest. The three orcs were
dead before Taklinn could even reach them to lend his aid.

The five of us stood amongst the ruined bodies of the orcs, panting heavily, many
of us deeply wounded. Both Griff and the Major had taken substantial damage, not
only to body, but to their strength via the ‘unholy aura’ that had protected their foes.

Around us the battle still raged, though it was apparent that our forces were
gaining a foothold of sorts, driving yuan-ti, drider and orcs toward the enclosed
courtyards exits, surrounding pockets of resistance and overwhelming them with
sword and arrow. Taklinn did his best to heal those who needed it most, using
‘restoration’ on the Major as well as some of his more powerful healing spells to get us
all back into fighting shape. Griff took a great swallow from his odd potion bottle
that bore the mark of Clangeden, and seemed immediately not only fully healed, but
positively bursting with energy and vigor. Happy was visible now, and looked
quizzically at the temples open door, though only until I began to point out various
magical goods possessed by the now dead orcish elite that we had slain. She
grabbed what she could while Taklinn healed, and then the five of us made for the
door, entering with drawn weapons, ready for anything.

The antechamber was round, and was similar, though subtly different from how it
had been the first time I had been here some ten Edik years since. A spiral stairwell
rose up from the center of the room while several doors, some familiar, some not,
studded the curved walls. The things that most caught the attention of first myself
and Taklinn, and then the rest of the crew after we had pointed them out, were the
malevolent figures that crouched along a ledge that ran around the interior of the
room some fifteen feet above the floor. These creatures, not moving and nearly
statue-like, might have been mistaken for gargoyles by the untrained eye, but I had
fought gargoyles before, and knew immediately that these were no gargoyles.
Indeed, had they been, it is probable that Griff, single-handedly, could have swept
through the lot of them, but I knew from my studies that such would surly not be
the case, for I recognized them for what they truly were.

“Vrock,” I said, letting the word drop slowly as I edged toward a wall near the
door.

Taklinn’s eyes narrowed, for he too knew what they were. “Demons,” he spat,
“And nasty buggers at that.”

“Immune to electricity. Bad bite. Watch the claws, and hit the deck if three of
them start dancing! They can call up a hell of a magical electrical burst if they get
together on it.” I recited what I knew about vrock in short, clipped, speech,
attempting to succinctly give as much information to the crew as I could before the
inevitable attack. Indeed, while the demons still had moved not a muscle, while
even their eyes remained fixed straight ahead, we could all feel them watching us,
coiled to spring, as if waiting for us only to take one too many steps into the
chamber. “Hit them hard, they’ll resist most of your weapon, and darn near any fire
or cold you throw at them.” I said all of this while at the same time taking a mental
inventory of my spell supply and gnashing my teeth inwardly at how many
electrical, fire and cold based spells I had there.

I concentrated, allowing my permanent ‘detect magic’ to scan them, and to my
horror, I saw that they (there were probably fifteen of them in all) were steadily
charging up with magic. I could see it pulse through them, growing stronger and
stronger. This did not bode well, and I said so.

“Now,” I cried, “Take them now!”

Before the words were even fully out of my mouth Griff and the Major had raised
and leveled their crossbows at a pair of the vrock and loosed their bolts, both of
which hit home, piercing the mottled flesh of the demons and for the first time,
eliciting a response from them. Vrock on all sides of us began to move, flaring their
small wings and flexing their claw filled hands, ready to leap down amongst us.

I let fly with a fireball from my staff at a group of three of them, and while I knew
they would shrug off most of the damage, I also knew that every small bit could
help, and the fact was, I simply had no other area spells that would hurt them. Even
as the fireball engulfed them and exploded, I was moving up, flying into the air,
hoping to make myself an unattractive target. Vrock were, I recalled, poor fliers.

Then they were amongst the land bound crew, dropping from their perches and
flapping clumsily to land on clawed feet, surrounding my friends. Taklinn
attempted a spell but four of the vrock fell upon him, clawing and biting, and
snuffing his spell out through sheer weight and damage. He valiantly fought back
with his axe, crushing one of them, but more or less swinging in broad arcs, trying
to buy himself some breathing room.

Griff, the Major and Happy could do little to help him, as they all found
themselves with plenty to do. I saw Griff step into a vrock and cut its head from its
body as two more of them attempted to gnaw on his legs. He swept into a second
vrock, killing it as well, and I marveled at the incredible power behind his swing.

The Major wounded one, though his light swings were having typical difficulty
penetrating the inborn damage resistance possessed by these demons, while I rained
another fireball from above, catching two of them in its midst.

The vrock seemed to be everywhere. They moved too fast to keep track of,
clawing, biting, and releasing small, airborne, pockets of spoors that we all inhaled.
I prayed that Taklinn would have the cure for whatever hellish disease they surely
carried.

But disease was the least of my worries, for as I scanned the floor below and
wondered if ‘magic missile’ might not be more effective, I noticed three of the
vrock standing in a circle near a set of double doors on the west side of the room.
Hands clasped, they began to caper and prance, jumping about in a manner befitting
the insane, and I watched in awestruck horror as electricity began to crackle around
them.

Slow seconds passed. Taklinn killed a vrock. Griff killed two. The Major pressed
his attack. Happy killed one with a flurry of dagger attacks from the shadows of a
room built into the circle of the antechamber. Still the three vrock danced, even as
their numbers dwindled. I sought to stop them, to interrupt their vile ritual, and cast
a ‘finger of death’ at one of them, but my bad luck held, and the demon merely
looked pained, but never missed a step in it’s ghastly dance.

Happy, quite near the trio, must have realized that they were up to no good, and
she too attempted to remove a link from their chain. She hurled dagger after dagger
into one of them, yet it survived! Barely standing, yet sneering it’s hideous grin, it
howled and danced, and great bolts of electricity seemed to shed off of the three,
sparking and crackling, building up to something very bad indeed. The smell of
ozone was suddenly sharp in my nostrils.

Just then, one of the vrock let out an inhumane screech that jangled my nerves to
the core. For a brief instant, I could do nothing. My mind was a mass of twisted
thought, and I could not bring any one of them to bear. I watched numbly as Griff
slew two more vrock, trying to get to the dancing trio. I watched as Major Throst
reeled backward, his sword points dipping as he was overcome by the screech as I
was. I watched Happy draw back her arm for another dagger throw, but the steel
would never have a chance to leave her hand.

As if in slow motion, I saw the room spark and fill with electricity. It emanated
from the three dancing vrock and mushroomed out to fill every nook of the room,
clear to its seventy foot ceiling. The bolts of lightning sought to engulf us, and we
dodged this way and that for a single, desperate, second that seemed to go on
forever.

Then, as suddenly as it had been unleashed, it was gone, and though all of the hair
upon my body now stood at attention, I was still alive, and indeed, unscathed,
thanks in no small amount to the ring of ‘evasion’ I wear at all times. But the bolt
had been massive, and so too was the damage inflicted by it. I scanned quickly
for my friends.

Hap, of course, had danced with the electricity as if it were an old and familiar
partner, and showed not a sign of damage. Griff, however, and Major Throst, had
not been so lucky, and both of them now nearly sagged to the floor.

But it was Taklinn that my eyes came to rest upon. Our dwarf, our sturdy dwarf,
the pillar that could not fall, lay blackened and charred upon the stone floor. His
flesh was charred to the color of burnt coal and was stretched across his bones far
too tightly. What was left of his beard and hair smoldered. His axe lay unattended at
his side, seeming to flicker and pulse uncertainly. I was forty feet in the air, but
even from that distance, I knew. I knew that Taklinn was dead.

“TAKLINN!” Griff’s voice filled the room much as the massive burst of
electricity had done just an instant before, only there could be no dodging the
anguish it contained. It numbed my bones.

A surge of blind and single minded rage seemed to sweep over all of us then; a
thirst for vengeance and the right to kneel at the side of our fallen comrade without
fear of attack. It gripped us like a madness, as if we were animals caught in traps,
lashing out to deal pain that might somehow equal our own.

Griff, wounded as he was, crossed the room in three long strides and crashed into
the trio of vrock that now howled in victory. He cut them short, catching one of
them with a great cleave of steel that sent the demon flying in two separate
directions.

Hap, all of the usual humor in her eyes long gone, had only pure murder on her
mind, and her daggers flew with enough force to pierce stone. Both of the
remaining vrock were wounded, and neither of them could stand up to her barrage.
Down they went.

From the corner of my eye I saw a vrock that had taken to the air. The demon was
no more than twenty feet from me, and as if from outside myself I heard my own
scream of rage and sorrow as I unleashed a maximized and empowered ‘scorching
ray’ that struck him thrice, burning him to the core, yet not killing him. Not caring
if the thing lived or died, I dove toward the floor, to where Taklinn lay, hoping
against hope that some small spark of life remained within that charred husk. I
landed next to his body, and the memory that keeps coming back to me again and
again even as I write this is the image of tiny wisps and tendrils of smoke that still
escaped from between his blackened lips. My heart howled and thrashed within my
chest, unable to accept what was so clear.

Through a mist of tears I found another vrock in the room and cast a ‘hold
monster’ on him. The spell held him long enough for Happy to puncture it several
times and for Throst to finish it off. In the meantime, still in the grips of his frenzy,
Griff was cutting a swath through the last of the demons, taking hits, bleeding from
a dozen gashes and cuts, but making them pay, yes, pay dearly for the life of our
cleric, and when he was through not one vrock stood alive. Their twisted and torn
bodies littered the floor of the chamber.

I stood in shock over Taklinn’s body, staring, unable to accept his stillness.
The Major walked near in silence, sheathing his blades and bowing his head in
respect. I heard him whisper a soldiers prayer to a dead comrade and I think I nearly
fainted from the purity of sorrow that hit me like an ocean wave.

Happy stood near Taklinn’s head, her mouth open, in much the same shock as I.
Tears welled in her eyes, and though I knew that she and Taklinn had often had
their differences, I also knew that a small part of her lay there on the floor as well,
burnt and dead.

But it was Griff whose eyes met mine as he stumbled to Taklinn’s side, his sword
dropped and forgotten behind him. He fell to his knees, reaching to touch the dwarf,
but drawing his hand back as if from a viper. He shook his head, then looked at me,
and the way that his face twisted caused my throat to close.

“Do something!” He demanded, holding my eyes with his own.

“Griff, I…I can’t.” I whispered.
“What the hell do you mean, you can’t?” He shouted, all logic driven away by his
pain. “All your magic’s can’t bring him back? I don’t believe that! You bring him
back right NOW!”

I hung my head. “Griff,” I said softly, “My magic and Taklinn’s are quite
different. I have no direct connection to the gods. I have no spell that will do what
you’re asking.”

“You’re lying!” Griff cried, though I knew that he knew that I was not. His rage
was without direction, his words, products of a broken heart.

“I am not.” I said, and a tear rolled down my cheek. “But more than that, even if I
could, do you not remember all the times that Taklinn swore that he would not
return from the dead? It was his wish to fall in battle. He said time and again that
we were not to attempt to bring him back.” I choked on the words and pressed my
palms into my eyes until I saw only bright red.

“Then I’ll do it myself!” Griff hissed through clenched teeth, and he reached to
Taklinn’s side and gripped Clangeden’s axe in both fists!

Clangeden’s axe was imbued with enough holy power to flat out kill a Yugoloth
that had once dared to touch it, and now it seemed to radiate heat that I could feel
from several feet away. Griff’s face sagged in pain as the handle, engraved with
runes and symbols, seared into his hands. The high, sickly sweet odor of burning
flesh filled my nostrils and I watched in awe and fascinated horror as smoke began
to erupt from Griff’s fists. I could hear the sizzling of his flesh, but he would not let
go his hold on the axe. Happy seemed frozen in place, and the Major’s eyes went
wide.

“CLANGEDEN!” Griff screamed through the pain of his wounds, the pain of his
burning hands, the pain of his loss. “Clangeden, hear me! Taklinn is your servant
and my friend and I…want…him…BACK! Hear me and grant him his life! Return
him now, and I swear by all that I hold true that from this day forward I will serve
you! Bring him back and you will forevermore count the sword of Griffin Dorjan
amongst your own! Clangeden, HEAR ME!”

And apparently, Clangeden did.

***

With Taklinn’s death and Griff’s subsequent and jaw droppingly dramatic plea
and vow to Clangeden, I thought I had seen it all. What could possibly shock me
after the events of the last few moments?

But my stomach twisted into an even more complex knot at the sound of a
familiar voice belting out rhyme with cheerful gusto, and I’m certain that my mouth
hung with dumbfounded slack as I turned to see Caribdis march through the front
doors, his beaming smile lighting up the room.

Happy rubbed her eyes, as if to make sure that what she was seeing was real, and
even Griff seemed to forget that his hands were cooking at high temperature when
he saw our long lost bard stroll through in. But as Caribdis came toward us as if it
were the most natural thing in the world, Griff must have caught wind of his own
flesh, for he dropped the axe to the stone floor. The clatter seemed to break the spell
of shock we were under, and I was dimly aware of Major Throst looking on in
confusion as Griff, Happy and I drew back from Taklinn’s body and let Caribdis
into our circle.

Hands on hips, Caribdis was the very picture of hale and hearty health. “Looks
like the old boy bit off more than he could chew this time, eh?” he grinned, nodding
at Taklinn’s body. “Never fear, I’ve got just the thing! If you’ll allow me a bit of
room…”

Caribdis knelt next to Taklinn and laid a gentle hand upon the dwarf’s brow. In
his low sing-song voice, he began to chant, and my hackles rose as I felt the
powerful magic emanate from him.

Neither Hap, nor Griff, nor myself had yet said a word, and we remained in dumb
silence throughout the minute long casting of the spell. We watched as Taklinn’s
burnt flesh healed and became its normal leather-like complexion. We watched as
his fingers, fused together by the intense electrical heat, came apart. We watched as
life flowed back into him with every word that Caribdis spoke, and when his eyes
fluttered, then opened, I realized that I had completely forgotten to breath.

Caribdis sat back on his haunches as Taklinn came to, blinking and sitting up. He
looked about himself, and his eyes came to rest on the smiling Caribdis. “It’s good
to see you, my friend.” He said.

“Likewise.” Caribdis replied. “It looked like you’d gotten yourself into a spot of
trouble, so I figured I’d better lend a hand.”

Taklinn took a deep breath and gathered himself. “Yes,” he agreed, “I suppose
you’re right. The last thing I remember is lightning. Lots of it. The next thing I
know I was in the halls of Clangeden. Funny though, even as I realized where I was,
I knew it wasn’t my time yet. Clangeden was there and he just shook his head and
smiled, as if to say that I was right, that I had too much left to do in the land of the
living.”

It was a surreal moment, watching one newly dead comrade pick himself up off
the floor while another, long dead, friend helped him to his feet. Happy went to
Griff’s side but he seemed not to notice her. His eyes went again and again from
Caribdis to Taklinn to his seared hands, and I could tell that much was going on in
his head.

I came to my senses at last and found my voice. “Caribdis! What on earth are you
doing here?”

“I’d have thought that was obvious.” He smirked. “Just bringing back the dead,
singing a few songs, you know, the usual.”

“Don’t be flip!” I said, crossly. I had not yet had time to let the joy of his return
wash over me, and already he was pushing my buttons. “Why now? Is this just
coincidence?”

“Well, no, not exactly.” He said with that old mischievousness in his eyes.”

“What then?” Taklinn asked, all ears.

“Let’s just say I’m doing a favor for a couple of higher ups from the other side.”
He said.

“Who?” Griff asked. We all turned to look at him, for the tone of his voice gave
no room for oblique answers.

Caribdis blinked. “Fharlanghan and Clangeden.” He said, simply.

“They asked you to come back?” I pressed him, “Why?”

“Yeah,” Happy demanded, “And why would you come back for them when you
wouldn’t come back for us?”

“Jeese! What’s with the Q and A?” Caribdis said, defensively, “I thought you’d
be happy to see me.”

“Of course we’re happy to see you back,” I replied, “It’s just quite a shock!”

“Well, if you must know, the two gods figured you might need all the help you
can get on this mission. According to them, if you get killed while taking on Illugi’s
avatar there will be no coming back.”

“Ever?” asked Hap, wide eyed.

“Ever.” Caribdis nodded solemnly. “I was on the fence about it, but then this
thing with Taklinn happened, and well, what could I do?”

“Well, whatever the case, I’m glad ye did come back!” Taklinn laughed, clapping
Caribdis on the shoulder, “It would have been a sore ending to have the final pages
of my life read that I was done in for good by a bunch of scurrilous vrock!” Taklinn
bent and retrieved his axe, and I saw Griff follow that motion as if entranced.
Something was up with our warrior friend. Hap could sense it and so could I. Even
Major Throst looked warily at Griff, but none of us said a word.

“So what now?” Caribdis asked, “I’ve been brought up to date on the mission, and
truth be told, it feels kind of good to be back in my skin. I’m ready for some
action!”

I eyed Caribdis, noticing a few things about him for the first time. “Speaking of
your skin, Caribdis, what’s with you’re new color? And how about that mark on
your forehead?” Indeed, upon closer examination, Caribdis’ skin contained an odd,
golden, hue, as if he almost seemed to glow. And upon his forehead was a symbol,
a circle with a line slashed through it and a crescent moon shape. I recognized it as
the symbol of Fharlanghan.

Caribdis shrugged. “Not sure,” He replied, touching his forehead, “Fharlanghan
touched my head before they sent me back. Maybe it’s a brand.”

“Well, a pair of axes would look better, but I suppose it’ll do.” Taklinn grinned.
“Now what say we heal up and get on with this? Illugi awaits!”

There was no denying that Illugi did indeed await, and though I had many
questions for both of them, not to mention Griff, I decided to wait until a more
opportune time. As it happened, we still a bit more drama to endure before we
would be on our way.

Caribdis and Taklinn fell into their old ways immediately, looking for wounds on
us and laying hands on to quell bleeding and pain. Caribdis was all smiles as he
sang his healing song, but suddenly it died in his throat. His grin faded and a far
away look came into his eyes. He took a step back, and I saw something new,
something different flood into him, and his eyes became quite sharp, and quite
malevolent!

“So, the gang’s all here!” He said with a humorless smile.

I sucked in my breath in horror as a bell seemed to chime in my head. The voice
was Caribdis’, but I recognized the tone, the intonation, the hint of sarcasm. I
struggled to place it, but it was Happy who realized first who it was.

“Scylla!” She gasped.

“Nice to see you, Hap.” Caribdis said, with no sincerity at all.

It hit me like a ton of bricks as I recalled Scylla’s love of the ‘Magic Jar’ spell,
and I understood that the witch had taken over our bard!

Taklinn and Griff understood it too, and their weapons came up in a flash. “What
do you want?” Griff demanded.

“Oh, I just couldn’t resist taking a jaunt in your weak minded friend here,”
Scylla/Caribdis replied, “And maybe to warn you to turn back now. You’re in way
over your heads here. You can’t possibly win.”

“Get out of him!” Was Griff’s only answer as he took a menacing step toward
Caribdis.

“What, you’re going to cut down your old friend?” Scylla laughed, “What sort of
homecoming would that be? Besides, you know it wouldn’t hurt me.”

“I’ll see him dead before I let you toy with him you twisted…” And Griff drew
back his blade with a look that said that this was no threat, it was a promise.”

Scylla/Caribdis took a step back. “I should let you kill him!” She hissed. “But no,
Illugi has plans for you all! I came here to warn you, but I know you won’t listen.
You’re all fools! Come ahead then! Come ahead and feel the wrath of true power!
Feel the might of a god who will soon trample your precious Havilah to dust!”

Griff took another step forward and I flinched, sure that he was going to take
Caribdis’ head off. But suddenly our bard blinked and looked around. “Well that
was odd.” He said, a bit puzzled.

Griff’s blade lowered as we realized that Scylla had fled Caribdis’ body.

“Here!” I heard Taklinn cry. I turned to see that he had found a gem, cleverly
mounted into a door on the east wall. It had to be the component for the ‘Magic Jar’
spell, and Taklinn wasted no time in shattering it to a thousand pieces with his axe.


Caribdis looked puzzled at Taklinn, obviously having no recollection of the
events of the last few minutes. We were left to tell him, but upon hearing that he
had so recently been used as a vessel for Scylla, he shrugged with maddeningly
Caribdis-like aplomb and grinned.

“Well, we’d best get looking for her then, hadn’t we?” And with that, he headed
for an unchecked door, and before anyone could stop him, flung it wide! Whatever
he saw beyond that door set his hackles up and the next thing I knew he was firing
arrows through the doorway and then giving chase with a hoot!

We were all too stunned to react at first. The shock of Taklinn’s death and
resurrection, a seemingly profound occurrence in Griff, and the sudden
reappearance of Caribdis, not to mention the fright from Scylla, had set us on our
heels. But it looked as if Caribdis was not going to give us time to acclimate, and as
soon as we’d gathered our bearings we charged after him.

The door led into a long hallway, at the end of which, on the right hand wall, was
another door. Caribdis was down there, shooting another volley of arrows even as
he recited a verse that was new to me, though I did catch its discordant message and
sensed the inherent magic within it. I soon heard the clang and smash of weapons
on armor from beyond Caribdis’ doorway and our bard chuckled at whatever chaos
he had caused as he let off still more arrows.

We reached the doorway and jockeyed for position. I flew overhead and
witnessed several himrock orcs in a room, several of them fighting with each other,
a product, I assumed, of Caribdis’ verse. Still more himrocks were charging for
Caribdis, but Griff and Taklinn were already inside. They went to work.

It was nasty. There was a cleric among them who hit Griff with a ‘harm’ spell that
nearly brought him down, but fortunately Caribdis still knows a healing verse or
two and managed to bring Griff back from the brink before another enemy could
finish the job.

Taklinn and Griff bore the brunt of the attack, as they always do, while Hap did
what Hap does best. Caribdis healed, fired arrows, and aided us all with his verses,
and I could not help but grin inwardly at how good it felt, even in the midst of a
fight, to hear his silly lyrics laced with magic.

Major Throst waded in as well, and I cast what I could, but, to my disgust, these
orcs were also under the effects of an ‘unholy aura’ spell, and I had a devil of a time
with the resistance it afforded them.

At one point two of the orcs fled for a door on the far side and we gave chase,
only to find still more orcs on the opposite side, waiting to pounce. Even I was
struck once or twice, but Taklinn and Hap managed to take my enemy down, thank
goodness! Those himrocks hit hard!

We cleared them out at last, and I looked around at the dead orcs and my
wounded friends, knowing that we were not up for another fight like that.

“Caribdis, do you suppose we could call it a day?” I asked him.

“But I just got here!” He protested.

I gave him a withering glare and nodded at Griff, who Taklinn was even now
using the last of his healing on.

“Oh, okay.” Caribdis sighed. I created a mansion.

There were several matters to think about before we just turned in. For one thing,
we were in the belly of Illugi’s temple, not a good place to camp, even within the
extra dimensional mansion. Also, there was the matter of the remaining Havilah
soldiers. I returned to the main entrance to find them there, perhaps thirty in all,
many of them badly wounded. They had barricaded the door to the courtyard. The
men were bloody and without leadership, their commander having been slain in the
attack. I heard a sigh beside me and looked to see Major Throst there. Without a
word to me, he began barking orders at the soldiers, forming them into ranks and
issuing commands, pointing and getting them organized for a siege. Throst was a
natural leader to these men and he was in his element. A moment later, he
approached me.

“The men need a commander,” He stated simply, “I am the obvious choice by
way of my rank. I think it would be wise for me to remain with them, both for their
sakes and for the sake of your crew. It would appear that one of your original
members has returned. I understand the balance of these things, and while I know
that my swords would aid you, I fear that I would do more harm than good. Call it
superstition, but the balance of a crew should not be tried, especially in such dire
times.”

I could tell that it pained him to say it, that he wanted nothing more than to carry
on with us, to confront Illugi for the honor of his name and for Havilah. But I also
know that what he said had merit, and I merely shook his hand. “It has been a
pleasure, Major Throst.” I said, and then I took a step back and saluted smartly. He
nodded and saluted back, then turned on his heel to rejoin his men.

I offered and even tried to insist that the Major and his men stay in the safety of
the mansion, but he declined, stating that it was their job to secure the entry way, to
make sure no more orcs and yuan-ti entered to come after us. He would have it no
other way, but I at least would not yield on the issue of food. The mansion creates
more than enough food to feed twice as many of us as there were, so it was agreed
that the men would enter in shifts and dine as heroes of their caliber should before
hunkering down for the day.

When those arrangements had been made, I headed straight for my chambers. I
could see Taklinn and Caribdis deep in conversation in the den, so I let them be,
preferring seclusion. I had much to think about, and I would have liked nothing
more than to grill Caribdis about what exactly it was he was doing here, but I knew
that there would be no getting any straight answers out of him for at least a little
while. He was obviously still enjoying the drama of his return too much to let all the
cats out of the bag and I didn’t feel like playing that game. As much as I love the
boy, I was less than ready to listen to his esoteric replies to anything I might ask
him.

And I needed the rest. The sooner we were all at full capacity, the sooner we
would take the fight to Illugi and Scylla, and I had a powerful thirst to see an end to
those two, especially the latter. It made me nervous to be here, resting within the
temple, and I feared for Major Throst and the soldiers, wishing again that they had
acquiesced to stay in the mansion. The sooner we got moving again, the better. I
wrote for an hour and then doused the lights.
 

cthulhu42

Explorer
Rdyr’t 23

Today began innocuously enough. Surprisingly we were not attacked during our
rest and neither were the soldiers barricaded in the front entrance. It remained quiet.
Too quiet, but given the situation there was no winning. I slept hard, determined not
to wonder why our enemy would not try to take back the temple’s lower level.

We set out again this morning with the intention to check the few doors left on
this level that we had left last night. All went relatively well, though our search was
not without its hiccups. For one thing, Caribdis’ stay in the realms beyond has done
nothing to temper his impulsiveness, and we are having to work hard to acclimate
ourselves once again to his nature. For the last several months we have become
something of a well oiled machine, at least when it comes to checking strange doors
for potential traps in dangerous lairs. Generally Happy will scour them for suspect
traps while Griff watches her back. Taklinn will watch from a short distance, ready
to heal or fight as the case may be, and I do my best to stay well clear of any blast
radius’ that might occur.

All of that is fine, and we began in just that manner this morning, with Griff
opening a couple of doors after Hap’s announcement of safety. We found a room
that had obviously once belonged to a cleric of Illugi, and Hap began to
meticulously search it out. A bit too meticulously for Caribdis’ taste, apparently, for
no sooner had she begun to go to work on a chest that had turned up than Caribdis
began opening more doors with no thought given to safety or strategy. Anything
could have been protecting those doors, and anything could have lurked behind
them. Only his good fortune kept him from yet another untimely demise before we
could stop him. I had a brief but stern conversation with him concerning letting
each of us do our jobs where applicable, particularly in the case of unchecked
doors. The common sense of letting her check them is so cut and dry, so obvious,
that I could hold my tongue no longer and I made my point as succinctly as I could.
Caribdis, of course, rolled his eyes, but I think the look on my face gave him an
idea of my seriousness, and he backed off from the doors, waiting impatiently.

In the meantime Griff was fast learning what it meant to be in the service of
Clangeden, for in the god’s service he was. Earlier in the morning, over breakfast,
we had all caught a glimpse of his hands; they were branded now with the runes
that grace the haft of Taklinn’s axe, burnt forever there as he had sworn his fealty to
Clangeden in exchange for Taklinn’s life. I do not know if it was that oath that
brought Taklinn back, or simple coincidence on the part of Caribdis’ timing.
Perhaps it is a bit of both. I must believe now that Griff’s words played a part, for I
do not think that Clangeden would hold him accountable for a gift he did not
provide.

Griff had shrugged off our comments about his branded hands, but later, there in
the orcish cleric’s room, while Hap disabled a trap on the chest and while I shook a
disapproving finger at Caribdis, Griff caught his first glimpse of evil.

There was a statue in the room of Illugi, grim and horrible as any other we have
seen, but when Hap announced that the trap was disarmed and looked up at her
husband she saw him standing there, stock still, staring at the statue with wide eyes,
utterly frozen to the spot with a look of terrible awe on his face. We all noticed it as
Hap ran to his side and shook his arm, which seemed to break the spell that had
come over our warrior.

“Griff, what is it?” She asked. “What’s wrong? What do you see?”

Griff stared at her for long seconds until he seemed to return to himself again.
“Nothing!” he gruffed.

Happy was not buying it and would not let the matter drop, but Griff turned and
stomped away, refusing to discus the matter further, which, of course, put Happy
quite beside herself! Oh, was she angry! But nothing she could say would make
Griff admit that he had seen something out of the ordinary.

I didn’t believe him either, but thought better of saying anything. Griff, I have
found, will tell you his secretes when he is good and ready and not a moment
before. Asking him only guarantees you more of a wait. Besides, it was time to
move on.

There was a fine find in the chest. A book concerning Illugi, much of it esoteric
rituals for his worship, but I caught glimpses within it that might reveal more to us
about the nature of our enemy should I have a chance to study it later. I wrapped it
up and secured it away.

Hap finally gave up on Griff and stormed back to an unchecked door in a huff.
She checked it a little too quickly for my taste, but she was right in saying that it
was not trapped. We checked the room beyond and then repeated the procedure
until we had cleared out the lower level. Only one way to go: Up.

Or so I thought.

We made our way back to the main entry hall and the spiral staircase that rose up
into darkness there. Standing at the bottom, looking up, one could almost smell the
evil that drifted down from above. With weapons drawn, we began our climb as
Major Throst and the Havilah soldiers watched us.

Round and round we climbed, into a stone shaft lined with steps that circled ever
upward. We climbed for what seemed a long time through a mist that tumbled like
smoky water down and around our feet, until Taklinn suddenly stopped.

“What is it?” Griff hissed.

“Shh!” Taklinn held up his hand for silence, his head cocked, straining to hear
some sound that only he could. Slowly he reached out and touched the stone wall,
closing his eyes, listening. And then his eyes snapped open.

“She’s gonna give!” he managed to cry before the crack appeared, racing down
the stairs between our feet. Then another and another, spiderwebbing their way
down the walls as a tremendous rumble began and the earth began to shake. We
struggled to keep our feet as a chunk of stone gave way and fell from the wall above
us. We dodged as it tumbled down and around the stairs, narrowly missing
Caribdis.

“Back!” Taklinn yelled above the din, but there was to be no turning back, for
when we turned it was just in time to see the lower stairs crumble and fall away.
And the steps continued to break apart one by one, chasing us as we turned and fled
upwards. But it was a race we could not win, and I at last felt the stone fall from
beneath my feet.

I was, of course, under the effects of an ‘overland flight’ spell, so I was able to
keep from falling. Hap, too, used her armor to fly. But the rest of the crew had no
such means and we could only watch helplessly as Caribdis, Griff and Taklinn fell
with the rubble, down to the temples first floor and beyond, for the floor had given
way as well and the staircase, along with our crew, fell through the gaping maw
below.

Without thought, without warning, Happy flew down after them. With a curse, I
was hot on her heels, flying into inky blackness.

For a moment I lost sight of Hap, and there was the sensation of floating instead
of flying. I lost sight of which way was up or down, and I let myself fall, but still
there was the sensation of drifting, and I no longer saw the exit through which we
had fallen. All was darkness and silence.

Until I felt gravity grab me again! I had to do a quick pull up, kicking in my flight
again just in time to slow my descent even as I heard the splashes of rubble and
crew into water below. I looked about wildly, and was relieved to see Happy. She
was still flying straight down, toward the sounds of splashing, calling out Griff’s
name.

I came in low and fast, skimming the black water, my eyes wide open for any
signs of trouble. Happy circled anxiously around the spot where our friends had hit
and finally we saw them. First Caribdis, then Griff and Taklinn rose from the water
with gasps, staggering and sputtering, obviously all a bit the worse for wear from
the fall. The water appeared to be only three feet deep or so, and the three of them
had no trouble standing in it. Taklinn waded to Griff and laid his hands on him
while Caribdis healed himself.

“What the hell was that all about?” Hap demanded, a little too loudly. Her voice
echoed off the water and seemed to carry a long way.

“It was an ‘earthquake’ spell.” Taklinn answered grimly. “And I’d bet my beard
that I know who was behind it!”

“You think it was Scylla?” I asked.

“Aye! It has her grubby hand prints all over it. Only a powerful caster could have
done it, and she’s obviously wanting to toy with us, otherwise she’d have tried to
kill us out right. Instead, she’s dumped us here.”

“So where do you suppose ‘here’ is?” Caribdis wondered aloud.

It was a good question. We had to assume that if Scylla had indeed dropped us
into this pit that there would be no easy way out. I flew upwards to have a look
around, but all was such blackness that my darkvision could not penetrate far
enough to tell me much, at least until I reached the roof of the cavern. Many feet
above the water I found a roof of glistening stone, yet I found no shaft, no hole
through which we had fallen. It was as if the earth had spat us out and then closed
up behind. There would be no flying back out of this prison.

I flew back to the crew and gave them my report.

“That’s just great!” Griff said, spitting into the water. “What about one of your
teleports, Doorag?”

“I don’t know,” I said slowly, rubbing my chin, “I have to think that Scylla would
have thought of that too and would put us out of teleport range. I have the sneaking
suspicion that we have fallen through a gate of some kind. We may be on another
planet or another plane. I’ve a feeling that a teleport won’t do us much good.
Besides, I don’t have it memorized today.”

“So what do we do?” Hap asked, still flying in circles around us.

“Well, the first order of business is to get out of this water!” I said, nervously
looking at the dark surface of the underground lake, knowing that anything could be
lurking below. All heads nodded in agreement, though there was no telling which
way might lead to dry land. I had found no walls in this chamber, and for all we
knew this shallow lake might go on for a very long time indeed! There was not
much else to do but pick a direction and begin wading.

Hap’s fly spell wore off quickly and she was soon riding Griff’s shoulders. She
renewed her inquisition as to what he had seen earlier, but he refused to even
acknowledge her questions, which, of course, made her all the more angry. We had
to shush her several times.

Hours passed as the crew sloshed through the water. Fortunately it got no deeper,
though Caribdis did manage to find a hole at one point, dropping below the surface.
We had a bad moment trying to find him, but he finally popped back up, thrashing
and sputtering. Still we trod on, led unerringly straight due in no small part to the
uncanny directional senses of Griff and Taklinn, until at last, the water began to get
lower and lower as the ground beneath began a gentle rise that gave way to dry land
within our sight.

All this time I had been nervously scanning, always on guard for some unseen
menace gliding below the surface of those black waters to attack and pull one of us
under. But now that land was in view, I breathed a sigh of relief.

Too quickly.

A sudden splash and a flash of movement followed by a fast moving ripple in the
water, then a hiss and the echo of wicked laughter from another side. Something
was out there, skimming below the surface.

Griff and Taklinn took stances, weapons up. Caribdis drew back his bow and I
could see his lips moving in verse. Hap drew her feet beneath her, ready to spring
from Griff’s back in a flash, and I flew tight circles overhead, straining to catch a
glimpse of this new danger.

I banked tightly to the left, keeping myself no more than twenty or thirty feet from
the rest of the crew as they stood, waist deep in water, in a tight, defensive, knot. It
was then that I saw it, a nasty head protruding from the water attached to a
serpentine body that roiled beneath the surface. It was only a glimpse, but what I
saw was enough to send a chill down my spine, for I recognized it immediately as a
naga. In a flash, the abomination sank back beneath the oily water and was gone,
though I was certain that it hadn’t gone far.

Naga’s, I thought. Of all things! I became suddenly quite cross, angry at Scylla
for dumping us into such a pit, and put out that these beasts should give us a scare.
We had come too far and through too much to let them slow us down. If it was a
fight they wanted, they would have it, but I decided to give them fair warning first.

I flew back to the crew and circled above them, clearing my throat and putting as
much force into my voice as I could as I shouted, “Hear me, you pond scum! We
are the band of the Broken Blade, and we eat the likes of you for breakfast! If
you’re that eager to die, then come get some! Otherwise, move on and let us pass!”

The crew looked up at me, eyebrows raised, but they said nothing. We waited in
silence for several moments, poised for a fight, but it never came. The last sound we
heard from the Naga’s was a subdued splash in the distance. After that, all was
clam. I looked back down at the crew and shrugged. “Shall we?” I said.

When we were sure that the silence was no ruse, we continued toward the bank of
the lake, the water growing steadily more shallow until we at last stood on dry land.
I used a ‘prestidigitation’ to dry my friends out as we surveyed the area. What we
saw was not promising, though our vision was severely limited. What we could see
was nothing but black, unforgiving, volcanic, stone. A plane of it that stretched far
beyond our straining eyes.

“Well,” Hap sighed, “What now? Which way do we go?”

I scratched my head. “I have no idea.” I admitted.

“I do!” The voice cackled out of the darkness and we all whirled, swords drawn,
spells at the ready, once again falling into defensive postures against unseen
dangers. We strained our ears to hear, and then the voice came again.

“I know the way! Ah yes, Neekesh knows the way home, he does!”

It was the voice of an old man, though there are plenty of creatures that can
imitate such things, and we let our guard down not a minute.

“Show yourself!” Griff growled.

We held our breaths, waiting for what seemed like many moments, before a timid
figure appeared at the edge of our vision. He was, in fact, an old man. Dressed in
rags, his beard well down to his chest, a wary grin containing only a handful of
teeth plastered across his face. He stopped, poised like a rabbit, ready to run.

“Don’t kill Neekesh!” He pleaded. “Been here long time! So long. Don’t kill me,
I know the way… home!”

Thus began our acquaintance with Neekesh. When we had at last convinced him
that we meant him no harm, he approached and we were able to get his story from
him. He was an Edik native who had, apparently, displeased a higher up in the
Illugi clergy and had been exiled to this terrible place. He had no idea how long he
had been here, but guessed that it must be years. He had survived by hiding for
most of his days and scavenging for what small bits of food the predators that
roamed these rocky planes left behind. He was in sore shape, painfully thin and
perhaps a bit mad from darkness and seclusion. But he claimed to know the passage
back to Edik, though when we asked why he had not left he shuddered and nearly
came to tears.

He told us that the way off of these planes was guarded by three terrible beasts.
He called them dragons, though I could hardly believe that such was the case. It
would be unlike three dragons to remain in one spot to guard something other than
their own treasure. Perhaps this is another case of mistaken wyvern identity.

We set out at once, picking our way across the rock, following Neekesh’s
directions after we had vowed that we would take care of the “dragons” and bring
him back to Edik with us.

Neekesh assured us that the gate to Edik was only a days march away, but he
warned us of the dangers of this place, glancing nervously about as he did so. His
warning was not without merit, for we had walked for no more than an hour when
we were besieged by monsters.

I figured later that they were barbed devils, a very nasty sort of underworld
denizen. They came at us out of the darkness without warning and it was all we
could do to meet them even as Neekesh howled in terror and curled up on the
ground in the fetal position.

I took a claw to the face and Griff got hit pretty hard as well, but in the end they
were no match for us, and within less than a minute, nine of them lay scattered
across the black rock, sliced and scorched and pierced with arrows. These devils
had had the misfortune to tangle with us while we were at our full compliment of
powers and spells and were in no mood to be detained. We slaughtered them.

Neekesh rose from ground with a grin spread from ear to ear, cackling with glee
as he surveyed our handiwork. We got the idea that he had been living in abject fear
of such creatures for some time and was delighted to see them suffer for a
change.

We pressed on across the porous rock, and as we did so, Griff fell into step next to
me. He glanced quickly over his shoulder to make sure that no one would over hear
him and seemed satisfied to see Happy involved with a conversation between
Taklinn, Caribdis, and herself.

“Doorag,” He muttered, “Can I, uh, can I talk to you for a minute?”

I looked up at him, eyebrows raised in curiosity, “Sure Griff, of course. What’s on
your mind?”

Griff took another furtive look at his wife to make sure she was still out of
earshot, and lowered his voice. “Back in the cleric’s quarters yesterday, that statue,
you remember it?”

“Yes,” I nodded, “The one of Illugi. You seemed a little freaked out by it.”

“Yeah, well, I could… see it.”

“Right,” I said slowly, “We could all see it. It looked like all the others we’ve
seen.”

“No,” Griff whispered urgently, “I could see IT! I could SEE it!” I could tell he
was struggling for the words.

“See what?” I asked. “I’m not following you.”

Griff sighed, frustrated. “I could see… evil.” He said at last.

I looked up at him and blinked, and I could tell that he was deadly serious, and
quite uncomfortable with this revelation. He had obviously come to me as a last
resort. “Describe to me exactly what you saw, Griff.” I prompted him.

Griff took a deep breath. “I looked at the statue and just sort of… concentrated. I
don’t know exactly why. But the point is, after I’d stared at it for a few seconds, I
started to see this black cloud thing hanging all over it-“

“Like an aura?” I interrupted him.

“Yeah, whatever.” He said. “An aura. Anyway, it was strong! I couldn’t take my
eyes off of it! It chilled me worse than almost anything I’ve ever seen! Made my
stomach flip!”

“Hmmm,” I mused, “Interesting. It almost sounds as though you were seeing the
statues evil aura. I don’t have that power myself, but I understand that its quite
similar to the ability to see detect magical auras. But that would mean…” I stopped
in mid sentence, looking at Griff with wide eyes.

“What? What does it mean?” Griff demanded.

I blinked. “Well, generally speaking, the power to see evil and/or good auras is
restricted to those who have chosen a divine path. Taklinn, for example, has
probably been able to do it since he was able to hold an axe. It’s usually a spell or
an innate ability granted by…”

“Granted by what?” Griff asked urgently.

“A deity.” I finished.

Griff moaned and rolled his eyes, pressing his hand to his forehead as if trying to
digest that. “What have I gotten myself into?” He asked himself.

“This may have something to do with your promise to Clangeden.” I said.
“Though it would be strange for a dwarven god to grant such powers to a human.
Tell me, do you feel any different otherwise?”

“Actually I do,” He admitted. “I feel… I don’t know how to describe it.” He
struggled for the word, and finally settled on one. “Pure?”

“Really? How fascinating!”

“What? Why is that fascinating?”

“Well, and please bare in mind that I’m just guessing here, but it almost sounds as
if you have been accepted into the role of a holy warrior. Generally speaking, the
power to detect evil is limited to priests, druids, and…” I trailed off.

“And what?” Griff hissed.

“Paladins.”

Griff groaned again, but I continued quickly. “I have to doubt that you have
suddenly shifted from fighter to priest. That sort of thing is usually a conscious
decision and requires much forethought and dedication, and I just don’t see you
filling that role, not to mention that it would be patently unheard of for a dwarven
god to accept a human as one of his clerics, especially a god like Clangeden.
However, the idea that you may now be a paladin is not so farfetched. Its unlikely,
but I suppose its not out of the realm of possibilities. Tell me, have you felt
anything else strange or odd?”

Griff was silent for a long time, but finally he sighed and nodded. “I can heal
myself.” He admitted. “Just a little while ago, after that battle with those, what did
you call them, barbed devils, I still had a few cuts after Taklinn healed me, and… I
don’t know, I just kind of knew I could take care of them. I put my hand on my
wound and concentrated. When I took my hand away, the wound had closed.” Griff
looked at me with a discomfort I had rarely seen on his face. “What does it mean?”

I chuckled, but quickly hushed myself when I saw just how upset he was by his
admission. “I think it means that I’m right, Griff. The abilities to fight well, see evil,
and perform minor acts of healing are all earmarks of a paladin, which, by the way,
is almost entirely unique. I would be interested to know when the last time a
dwarven god accepted a human to carry his standard was. Still, you're hardly the
average human, and you did make quite a promise to Clangeden while holding that
axe. Stranger things have happened.”

“Well that’s just great!” He said, sourly. “What the hell am I supposed to do now?
I don’t know how to be a paladin!”

“I’m sure you’ll work it out, Griff.” I said, shrugging. “The fact is, I’m hardly the best
person to ask. We have with us one who is far better suited to answering questions
about Clangeden.”

Griff glanced over to Taklinn and sighed. “You’re probably right. I just wanted to
get your take on this. I just know that Taklinn is going to see this as some kind of
victory for his god or something. He has a tendency to gloat about these kinds of
things.”

I shrugged. “Well, you can’t really blame him. His life is devoted to Clangeden,
so the fact that you may now serve Him will probably grease Taklinn’s wheels to no
end. Though I will add that your motivations are nothing to be ashamed of, Griff.
What you did was one of the purest examples of friendship I have ever seen. You
can be proud of that, and no matter how Taklinn reacts to your news, you can know
that he is forever in your debt.” I looked over my shoulder to where Taklinn was
deep in heated debate with Happy and Caribdis. “The real question,” I said, “Is how
will Happy deal with this?”

I saw Griff shudder, and he refused to even look toward his wife. “Yeah,” He
nodded. “That is the real question.” He sighed heavily. “Thanks, Doorag. Can we,
you know, keep this between ourselves for the time being?”

“Of course.” I said, “And you're welcome. Anytime, my friend. Anytime.”

On we trekked across the black rock with only ourselves and the occasional whiff
of sulfur to keep us company. With no sun or moon in the sky to denote the passage
of time we soon lost track of how long we had traveled, though I began to measure
our progress by the amount of times Neekesh repeated that we were “almost there!”
Neekesh was obviously half mad and not an entirely pleasant guide, but he proved
to be true to his word, for after what seemed like many hours of walking we at last
spotted a faint glow in the distance, at which point Neekesh began to jump up and
down excitedly and proclaim that our destination was at hand. Cheered at the
prospect of leaving this dark place, we pushed on with renewed vigor, the glow
becoming steadily brighter the closer we got.

We would not reach the glow without some conflict, of course, but the attack,
such as it was, highlighted just how far we have come since our early days.

We had walked for perhaps another hour (Neekesh had exclaimed that we were
“almost there!” six more times, which seemed to equal about an hour) when
suddenly the rock beneath our feet began to shudder with what felt like heavy and
fast footfalls. We all felt it at the same time, and there was no doubt that it was
growing rapidly stronger, as if something large was charging straight for us, which,
in fact, proved to be the case.

I shot into the air, straining my eyes, while the rest of the crew drew weapons and
assumed a now familiar defensive posture. Mere seconds passed before it
materialized from the darkness, a hulking brute of a beast bearing down upon us at
a dead run.

It was a bulette, and a big one at that. Its stubby legs bore its massive bulk across
the rock at surprising speed, and I suppose most creatures that got in the things way
were made short work of. Bulette’s are feared across every land that I have ever
heard of, for they are fearsome and savage predators with a seemingly endless
appetite for meat and a penchant for burrowing underground only to surface
beneath the feet of their prey. Fortunately the hard rock surface of this place did not
allow such a maneuver, but even without that element of surprise, the sight of it
charging full speed, its maw lined with hundreds of jagged teeth, would have turned
the knees of most men to jelly.

Not only are bulette’s feared for their ferocity, but also for the difficulty one has
in fighting them, for their protective carapace can withstand the mightiest of sword
blows. Many have died while trying in vain to penetrate that thick shell. All of these
thoughts flashed through my mind as it closed the distance, and I hurriedly called
up a spell.

But I would never cast it.

Griff, almost serene in his economy of movement, stepped forward to meet the
beast head on. He set his back foot, held his sword aloft, and at the last possible
second, brought it down with enough force to cleave through an oak in one swing.
His blade struck the bulette between its beady eyes and carved through that
legendary carapace like butter, shearing through brain and lower jaw, splitting that
mighty head with almost casual ease. Griff stepped nimbly aside as the bulette’s
knees suddenly buckled and it plowed into the ground, skidding to a shuddering
stop, dead before it had even stopped moving.

I remembered the way the crew had looked at me the day I had ‘disintegrated’ the
armorer on the shadow plane. Now it was Griff’s turn to be stared at in awe as he
wiped his blade clean and slid it into his scabbard as if nothing out of the ordinary
had happened. He nudged the bulette once with the toe of his boot and then turned
without a word to keep walking toward the glow.

We followed and the glow got brighter and brighter until it seemed that it must
now be no more than a mile or two away. I decided that now might be a good time
to see if we could get a look at it, and to that end I borrowed Taklinn’s telescope
and flew high into the air, pressing the eye piece to my eye and focusing in on the
glow.

As the image sharpened, I let out a gasp! Neekesh had not been telling tall tales at
all, for there, surrounding what had to be an interplanar gate, squatted not one, not
two, but three dragons! Two blacks and a red!

I blinked with disbelief and pressed the telescope to my eye again to make sure I
had seen correctly, and to my dismay, saw that my eyes had not deceived me. The
three great reptiles, large even at this distance, paced in a tight circle around the
gate, seemingly at ease with one another and their task of guarding the exit.

As I continued to watch them and study their movements, it became clear to me
that these were not normal dragons. Though it was difficult to see from this
distance, I began to catch flashes of things that betrayed their true nature. I saw
ragged holes in wings and missing scales. I saw long swaths of bone, and patches
where flesh hung in flaps and strips. In a flash I understood. These were dragons,
yes, but they were no longer alive by normal standards. These dragons were
undead, which explained how they could remain in place for so long and not turn on
each other. I shuddered. What sort of power must it have taken to raise such
creatures from their eternal slumber for such a purpose? I almost felt sad for them,
for though they were evil in life, at least they controlled their own destinies, and for
all their wicked ways, one cannot deny the majesty of even an evil dragon. These
things I saw in the telescope were perverse parodies of true dragons, and I resolved
to free them of such a humiliating end.

I flew back to earth and related what I had seen. Much discussion followed as to
what strategy we should take, and though Caribdis was all for taking them on right
then and there, we decided to take a day to prepare. Undead of any sort have certain
weaknesses that we could exploit, given time, and we knew that to go after them
half cocked would be a fools errand. I cast a mansion and we entered, gathering
around the massive dining room table as we usually do, to formulate our strategy
while Neekesh wandered the halls, head tilted in unrestrained awe.



Rdyr’t 24

I wish that my writing skills could convey my agitation! We should be well past
those undead dragons and through the gate back to (hopefully) Edik even now, yet
due to miss-communication and utter ineptitude, we are forced to remain in this god
forsaken hell hole yet another day!

This is such an amateur mistake that I can barely bring myself to relate it here, but
for the sake of continuity I will at least give the bare bones of our problem.

One of the cornerstones of our plan in dealing with these dragons is a clerical
spell called ‘heroes feast’. Now ordinarily such a spell falls under Taklinn’s
domain, and ever since our fight with Acessiwall he had pretty much been casting it
regularly each morning. It is a nifty spell to say the least, with a multitude of
effects, not the least of which is that it conveys immunity to magical fear effects, an
invaluable asset when dealing with dragons, since even being near one can cause
grown men to flee in panic. We had to assume that these dragons, even undead
though they may be, still had the power to cause fear in even the staunchest of
hearts, and therefore it was standard operating procedure that we would, of course,
partake in a ‘heroes feast’ this morning to ward off such a thing.

Well, this was discussed last night, along with what other spells might come in
handy, several of which would be cast by Taklinn, his divine powers being
particularly effective against undead. The problem lay in the fact that the ‘heroes
feast’ would take up what could potentially be another effective spell to use against
the dragons, and to that end Caribdis revealed that HE could cast ‘heroes feast’, and
volunteered to do so, thereby freeing Taklinn to cast another spell.

So this morning we gathered at the table, fully expecting Caribdis to cast the feast
for us, only to find out that he had used that slot up to cast some other damnedable
spell that I can’t even remember now! Of course Taklinn had already prayed for his
spells earlier, which meant that we would have no ‘feast’, and that we were now
quite unprepared to face even one dragon, let alone three!

I was beside myself! Not only had Caribdis set us back a day, he acted as if he
had done nothing wrong, and could not understand why we all looked at him and
shook our heads. I was disgusted, and stormed out of the room, going back to my
own chambers where I stew even now. There is nothing for it but to wait until
Taklinn can prepare a ‘feast’ of his own, which means another twenty-four hours
here.

Oh, but that boy is infuriating!


Rdyr’t 25

We gathered this morning almost exactly twenty-four hours after finding out that
Caribdis had neglected his ‘heroes feast’ duties. As is typical for our crew, the day
started with confusion and consternation. Last night, after Caribdis’ failure to cast the
‘feast’ Taklinn announced that he would not leave that spell to chance again and
would cast it today. Of course that meant that this morning Caribdis DID have the
spell prepared and ready to cast, as did Taklinn, which defeated the purpose of
allowing Taklinn an extra spell entirely, but at this point we were all too tired of the
argument to flog it further. Taklinn cast the feast and we ate it in silence, eager to
finally be on with the day.

Neekesh joined us at the table, and if there is any among us who hasn’t minded
the additional day here it is him, for he has been enjoying the mansion immensely,
wandering its halls, eating its food and getting good and drunk on its wine. I take it
it has been some time since he has had access to alcohol and he has been enjoying it
with a vengeance. Last night I was roused by a clamoring and stepped from my
room to see a naked and drunk Neekesh dancing down the hall.

One thing he has not taken advantage of, however, is the mansions bathing
facilities. He is as dirty and ripe as the day we met him, and several times I have
thought to tactfully ask him if the bath in his room is in working order. Taklinn has
wondered if he might not cast a cleaning spell on the old man, but Neekesh still
seems a little distrustful, especially of we spell casters, so Taklinn decided against
it.

We finished the ‘feast’, feeling the now familiar properties of its magic wash over
us, and discussed our plan, which more or less consisted of a hard and fast attack
led by the most powerful spells we could muster, followed by a physical assault by
Taklinn and Griff. Not pretty, but its worked for us in the past.

Had there been a sun, its rising would have seen us leaving the mansion and
heading toward the glow that still shone less than a mile away. I cast my longer
lasting preparatory spells like ‘mind blank’ and ‘overland flight’ on the way.

As we drew near enough to actually catch sight of the dragons we bid Neekesh to
stay behind and await our return. We had to promise him several times that we
would return for him, but he relented at last, anxiously pacing back and forth and
watching us as we walked on.

Undead or not, a dragon is a fearsome creature, and the prospect of facing three of
them didn’t do much for my confidence. Still, I was heartened by the knowledge
that we’d had ample time to prepare and were well geared to take them on.

We made it to within several hundred feet of them before they took notice. They
stopped their incessant circling of the gate to swing their great heads around as one
to search us out with dead eyes. For a moment we braced to receive a charge, fully
expecting them to attack us on sight, but luck was with us. These dragons were truly
guardians, and it appeared that they would not leave their post. The three merely
placed themselves between us and the gate, snorting and scratching at the rock as if
in warning. I’m sure that whatever residual draconic instinct still remained in those
dead brains was screaming at them to attack us, but the magic’s that held them in
place was too strong, and they held their posts.

This gave us a golden opportunity and we took it. We were still well out of range
of their breath weapons, but quite within range of some of the key spells we’d
decided to use. Taklinn and I both unloaded. I cast my first ‘sunburst’, illuminating
the dragons area and catching the red and one of the blacks in the burst. That spell
is doom for undead, and these fellows were no exception. I could tell it hurt them,
and quickly cast a second ‘sunburst’ to catch the same pair. Taklinn was also
casting even as he and Griff ran forward. Caribdis launched arrow after arrow as he
too closed the distance. Unfortunately for Hap, she could do little in this fight since
undead have no vital areas in which to strike. Her particular style of fighting
would mean little against these foes.

We walked forward at a determined pace, pounding them with spells which took a
terrible toll on the dragons. When Taklinn was within range he unleashed
‘sunbeams’ upon them while I rained fireballs onto the blacks from my position in
the air. Just as Taklinn and Griff came within range of their breath weapons, the
pair charged, Griff wielding his blade in two hands and Taklinn now twice his size
and glowing with divine power, his axe held high.

All three dragons immediately unleashed their breath at our warriors and they
were both caught in blasts of fire and acid, but we had prepared for just that event
with ‘protection from energy’ spells, and they were able to withstand much of the
damage.

Griff reached them first, colliding with the red, bringing his sword around in
wicked arcs again and again, faster than the eye could follow. Taklinn reached a
black and buried his holy axe to the haft in the creatures neck.

Below me Caribdis sang his verse, imbuing Taklinn and Griff with heightened
combat prowess even as he sent his arrows into the fray. His shafts left his bow in
rapid succession, and I swear that I counted three of them in the air at one time,
following each other in a straight line until they thunked home in the flank of a
black dragon only a hand span apart.

Happy, unwilling to let Griff face such danger without her at his side, raced across
the rocks and nimbly danced around the perimeter of the fight, hurling dagger after
dagger.

I flew in a wide circle, my staff at the ready, eating up its charges with one
fireball after another, knowing that the beasts were highly resistant to such magic’s,
but also knowing from long experience that every little bit helps. I also worked a
‘disintegrate’ into the mix in the hopes that it might take. It didn’t, but one never
knows unless one tries.

The red dragon clawed at Griff and bit several times, but our warrior retreated not
a step, standing his ground and hacking away with his blade. Taklinn, like a turtle in
a shell, was so very hard to hit, and the black dragons attacks had a very hard time
finding their marks. Taklinn stood back to back with Griff, swinging with both
hands, reciting prayers and bellowing praises to Clangeden.

Taklinn’s black, already weakened by our spells, was the first to go down,
followed swiftly by the red that Griff had been working on. Our spells had done
their work, and the trio of beasts were severely wounded. The last black dragon,
scorched by fire and light and pierced by nearly two dozen of Caribdis’ arrows, not
to mention Hap’s daggers, was little match for Griff and Taklinn by the time the
two of them turned their full attention on him. It got in one good bite before Griff
rammed his blade home, twisting it in to the hilt and ripping it free. The wurm
sagged back, stumbled and finally fell, heaving its last gasp before sinking into real
death.

The entire fight had taken less than a minute, but we had taken our lumps. Griff
leaned against the carcass of the black, breathing heavily, and Taklinn bled from
several nasty bite wounds. He quickly began his healing, as did Caribdis when he
reached them.

I landed near them. “Nice work.” I complimented.

Griff stretched as Caribdis healed yet another wound on him. “They were no
Acessiwall.” Was all he said.

A moment later a very excited Neekesh came scampering over the rocks, crowing
with glee at the sight of the three dead guardians. When we had finished healing we
all stopped and regarded the glowing circle that lay on the ground amongst the
carcasses. It was indeed a gate, though we now had to face the very real knowledge
that we had no idea where it led.

“Well,” said Taklinn, “Shall we?”

When we had properly prepared, we stepped through, Taklinn leading the way.

***

I followed Taklinn through the gate, stepping into its luminescent glow and
feeling myself fade swiftly from the underground land of rock and darkness, only to
wind up in another place of stone and gloom.

As I appeared in a small, man made, stone chamber, Taklinn was already in
pitched battle with what I quickly pegged as a wraith; a nasty undead to be sure, but
no match for Taklinn, who raised his axe and invoked the name of Clangeden,
turning the wraith away easily. The horrid thing sank into the stone walls, wailing
and hissing. It would not be the last we’d see of him.

Just as the wraith disappeared, Griff and Happy, then Caribdis, then Neekesh
stepped into the room, seemingly from thin air. No trace of the gate was to be found
on this side, and it was obvious that there would be no returning even if we’d
wished to.

The room we found ourselves in bore a faint familiarity. We had not actually
been there before, but the architecture and feel of its stone was deeply reminiscent of
Illugi’s temple on Edik, and we hoped against hope that that was where we were.

It struck us then that no doors were in this room, only bare walls, and for a bad
moment I wondered if we’d stepped into some sort of trap from which we would
have to extract ourselves. Fortunately I had prepared a ‘detect secret doors’ spell
and now seemed a fine time to cast it.

Sure enough, the moment I concentrated on the far wall I could see the reddish
outline of a door crafted to look just like the stone. I pointed it out to Hap and she
immediately saw it too. She swiftly began checking it and soon announced that it
was safe. Taklinn was in a mood to take the fight to the enemy and threw the door
open with no fanfare. He stepped into the revealed room, axe at the ready, but I
don’t believe he was quite prepared for the stone golem that waited there to greet
him.

The guardian, a hulking man crafted of earth and rock, took a heavy step toward
Taklinn and swung, catching him off balance. The massive rock fists pummeled our
dwarf, slamming him into the wall. Griff stepped in, placing himself between the
golem and Taklinn, slamming the thing with well placed sword blows.

Against such a construct there was little Hap, Caribdis or I could do. This was yet
another foe without vital organs for which Hap might aim. It was also immune to
nearly all magic’s, though I did have a trick or two up my sleeve for it. Caribdis
began his verse and did his best to distract it with arrows, though it seemed not to
even notice them, instead concentrating on our fighters. Even as it waded in,
hammering at Taklinn again, I demonstrated how even lowly spells can hamper
dangerous foes. My ‘grease’ slicked a sizable area beneath the golems feet and
down it went with a heavy thud, allowing Taklinn to gather himself, and for Griff to
get into a better position and even strike it as it tried to get up.

The golem was not without its attacks though, and it used innate magic to cast a
‘slow’. Suddenly Griff, Hap and myself seemed to move as if through mire.
Frustrated, I cast a second ‘grease’, keeping it trapped in one area, barely able to
stand.

As it crawled to the edge of the ‘greased’ area Taklinn and Griff fell upon it,
slamming and hacking with their magical blades, chipping great chunks of stone
from its body. It got in one more good hit on Taklinn before Caribdis stepped
forward and fired three arrows into it at point blank range. It had been on the verge
of death, and finally it crashed to the ground, nothing more than an inert statue.

Taklinn winced and worked his arm inside his armor where he had been hardest
hit. He tended to his own wounds while I used my spell to continue to scan the
walls, for there were no visible doors in this room either.

But there were secret doors, and my spell sniffed them out. As before, I let Hap
check it. This time we opened it and entered the room beyond more carefully.

The room was empty and nearly identical to the last two rooms we’d been in.
Bare, no doors, dry and more or less sterile. We entered, again looking for the way
out. Just as I spied yet another secret door, the wraith that Taklinn had turned when
we’d first arrived, appeared again, cackling as it rose through the floor and trying to
hit any of us it could. Griff was quick to slash at it, but the incorporeal abomination
was difficult to hit and he missed. Taklinn cast a ‘sunbeam’ and attempted to put it
down, but he missed as well. Before any of the rest of us could attack it, it had
glided through the floor again.

This happened twice more! The wraith had an amazing string of luck for as long
as it lasted. Twice more we located secret doors; twice more we entered cautiously
only to have the wraith appear from the stone and attack one of us, and twice more
did all of us fail to hit it at all! Fortunately it was as poor a shot as we seemed to be
and it was more of an annoyance than anything. In the end its luck ran dry and
Taklinn’s ‘sunbeam’ found its mark, burning the thing out of existence.

All of these secret doors had finally led us to a spacious room with a few normal
doors, and we could now tell by the architecture and the very feel of the place that
we were indeed back in Illugi’s temple. I would never have thought that being back
in such a place would be a relief.

Hap diligently went about the task of checking a door, but in the meantime
Caribdis had wandered. He’d found his way to an unchecked door to the west, and
opened it right up, sauntering through it as though we were out on holiday. Most of
us were concentrating on Hap and we did not at first notice that Caribdis had gone
until Hap’s head suddenly jerked around.

“Shhhh!” She hushed us. We all fell silent, straining our ears. “There!” She
shouted, pointing at the door through which Caribdis had gone. We now saw that it
was ajar and that our bard was nowhere to be seen. Hap bolted for the door, Taklinn
hot on her heels. Before she could reach it though, Caribdis reappeared, running
back into our room, his face as white as a sheet, obviously scared witless. He
slammed the door shut behind him and looked at us wide eyed.

“What is it?” Taklinn demanded.

“Very bad!” Caribdis babbled. “Very bad, very, very, very bad! Demons! Devils!
Not sure which, but oh so bad!”

I saw Taklinn’s eyes narrow at the mention of demons and devils. I knew we were
in for it now. With set jaw set, already casting, Taklinn stepped forward and put his
boot to the door, kicking it wide. He stepped in, beginning to swell and grow from
the ‘righteous might’ and other divine spells he was casting on himself.

“Neekesh will wait right here!” The old man yelped, sinking back into one of the
rooms we had left behind. As for Griff, Hap, and myself, we followed Taklinn.
Even Caribdis overcame his fear, and with a gulp, he followed us in as well.

We found ourselves at one end of a mighty hall adorned with carvings and
tapestries depicting every evil and perverse deed imaginable. It positively made the
stomach roil to see such things, and I could see the effect it had on Griff. At the far
end of the hall stood a massive set of double doors, black as onyx and already
opening. Taklinn set his feet and faced the doors, ready for whatever came through.

But not all of our attackers would enter through those doors. As quick as thought,
the hall began to fill with vrock, teleporting in. The evil things hopped and flapped
their pathetic wings, clamoring and cawing for our blood even as the double doors
swept open to reveal their masters.

The Hezrou entered first, all teeth, spines and claws, it was a true demon, a walker
of the abyss, leagues more dangerous than any batch of vrock. But it was the thing
that followed that gave me serious pause.

It was a Nalfeshnee. Like some hideous cross between a bore and a bear, the thing
shambled into the room. Though it looked like a simple monster, all tusks and teeth,
I knew full well that, of those of us in the hall, its intellect was probably inferior
only to mine. Not only was it incredibly strong and could rip any one of us limb
from limb, it also possessed a host of magical attacks, not the least of which was an
unholy smite that could have us all wandering, dazed and unable to act for whole
minutes.

To make matters worse, I could see that the vrock all bore the now familiar black
sheen that could only mean that they were under the effects of an ‘unholy aura’
spell.

The vrock closed in as the Hezrou bellowed its challenge which Griff was happy
to accept. The two charged at each other, meeting in a clash of claws and steel.

Hap had blinked out and was invisibly circling to get into position to help Griff.
Caribdis, his voice quavering but holding fast, sang his verse and let fly a half
dozen arrows at a vrock. I, of course, took to the air, casting furiously. I let fly a
‘greater dispel’ into the midst of the vrock, knowing that the ‘unholy aura’ they
possessed was almost more dangerous than they were. I had a bit of luck and the
‘dispel’ shed the dark sheen from three of the five vrock.

At least two vrock were pressing in at Taklinn, keeping him from charging the
Nalfeshnee or aiding Griff with the Hezrou. Not to be denied the opportunity to
stand toe to toe with such evil, Taklinn bellowed a ‘banishment’ spell, sending three
of the vrock immediately back to their infernal homes.

From my position in the air I could see Caribdis duck the claw of a vrock. He
came up dancing away, smoothly dodging the little demons attack even as he
pumped a volley of arrows into the Hezrou, which was giving Griff a hard time
indeed. Griff was holding his own, but the demons thick hide resisted his blows
time and again, and Griff was already bleeding from several places where the
Hezrou had made contact. I wanted to help, but I kept my eye on the danger at the
end of the hall. The Nalfeshnee was casting. I could see its hairy arms waving, its
piggish face contorting as it summoned dark magic. The demon began to pulse with
an inner glow, and I feared that it was preparing to ‘smite’ us. Knowing how deadly
such a thing might be, I focused my attention on the beast, waiting until the last
possible second to cast the most powerful spell at my disposal. Just as the last
utterance left the demons mouth, I unleashed my own dweomer: ‘Mordenkainen’s
Disjunction’. Fortunately none of the crew were near the Nalfeshnee at the time,
and even then I had to center the spell well behind the demon, such is the radius of
the effect. I laughed triumphantly as I watched every bit of magic be stripped from
the beast, including the build up of magic that was leading to its ‘smite’. The
Nalfeshnee screamed in fury while I laughed triumphantly. It’s hellish eyes found me
and burned with hate, but it would have no chance to seek revenge, for Taklinn had
finally arrived to deal with it. The Nalfeshnee roared in pain and surprise as our
cleric slammed his axe across its belly, opening a gory wound. The demon
responded with a flurry of claws and snapping teeth, but Taklinn just sneered and
took the pounding on his armor and came back with still more swings of his axe.

I glanced down to see how the rest of the crew were faring. Griff was holding his
own, dodging and slashing, keeping the Hezrou at bay. Caribdis got off arrow shots
between leaping away from the claws of a vrock. The final vrock had somehow
found Happy, invisible though she was, and was pressing her, gibbering and
rending with wicked claws.

Caribdis must have caught wind that Hap was in trouble, for he swiftly turned his
bow from the Hezrou to Hap’s vrock, ignoring his own. He let fly with too many
arrows to follow with the naked eye, and the vrock, already wounded, shrieked and
fell. This gave Caribdis’ vrock an opportunity and it seized it, slashing at our bard,
but Happy was quick to return the favor, taking a quick step forward and hurling
daggers that caught the vrock three swift times in the throat. It gurgled oily blood
and tried in vain to free the daggers from its throat with weakening hands. It loosed
only one of them before it died.

I swooped around, searching for a target, only to see the Nalfeshnee fall first
under the fury of Taklinn’s axe. The demon was no match for the holy might
infused in the axe. Its knees buckled and it fell, face first, screaming its defiance
even as it died.

Griff had also finally gotten the best of the Hezrou. Now filled with at least a
dozen of Caribdis’ arrows and half as many sword cuts, the demon fell back, doing
its best to defend itself. But Griff pressed on grimly, uppercutting with his Talon,
shearing through muscle and bone, bringing the Hezrou to its knees and then
running it through the eye with a yard of steel.

They were gone. Dead or banished, the demons no longer howled, and all was
silent except for our labored breathing.

At the far end of the hall the double doors yawned open, beckoning.

I set down on the stone near where Taklinn and Caribdis were already laying their
hands on the wounded. I stared toward the doors. All beyond was shrouded in
shadow.

“So you suppose that’s it?” I asked, referring to the inner temple where we were
supposed to defeat Illugi’s avatar.

“If it isn’t I’m not sure I want to know what’s guarding the real thing!” Caribdis
said, and for once I could not agree with him more.

“One way to find out.” Taklinn said as he finished a final healing spell on Griff.
He hefted his axe. “Shall we?”

I withdrew the pair of ‘Mordenkainen’s disjunction’ scrolls from my haversack,
wanting to be ready to cast them as soon as possible. I hoped that the ‘disjunction I
had already cast had hit not only the Nalfeshnee but the walls of the temple as well.
Whatever the case, I wanted those spells near at hand.

The five of us staggered ourselves in an uneven line and walked slowly toward
the doors, ready for the final conflict. I quickly cast what protective spells I had left,
but was disheartened to have so few. Still, we could ill afford to bypass this chance
to finish our mission here. The possibility of Illugi further fortifying this temple was
too great.

We stopped in the shadow of the doorway, peering in. Our hunch had been
correct. This was indeed the temple where we had battled demons so long ago for
Melesandre’s orb. The coal-black statue of Illugi still stood in the chambers center
and a palpable malevolence hung in the very air of the room.

Yet, something was different. Something was amiss. The walls that had once
shrieked and boiled with the trapped souls of the dead now showed only empty,
smooth, blackness. Not a sign was left to suggest that this room once contained
score upon score of tormented souls, harnessed by the evil god for his own designs.
Indeed, except for the statue of Illugi, the room was empty.

Or so we thought.

“I assume that was your disjunction, Doorag?” The voice came from the deep
shadow of the chambers far end, and was strangely familiar in its sibilance. She
stepped from the shadows, scimitar hanging at her waist.

Sensesi!

“You’ve come a long way, my wizardly friend.” she said, walking toward us,
“And I thought that polymorph you hit me with was inconvenient! You’ve just
managed to strip me of nearly my entire collection of magical items!”

“Not another step!” Griff shouted, his sword raised. Indeed, at her appearance a
small armory worth of steel was aimed in her direction. Arrows, daggers, sword and
axe were all pointed her way, not to mention the spell I was making ready.

She stopped. “Calm down.” She said. “I’m on your side, though you probably
won’t believe me this time either. For your own sakes though, I hope you at least
hear me out.”

“What are you doing here, Sensesi?” I asked, getting straight to the point.

“What I do best.” she smiled. “Infiltrating, spying, keeping track of Illugi and his
little game. I had a feeling that you would come and I wanted to be part of it when
you did.”

Griff’s eyes narrowed. “Why?”

“Take a look at my world, Dorjan.” She said. “Edik is a wasteland and my people
are a brainwashed army. I realized it when Melesandre held power here and I
realize it now that Illugi has taken center stage. That and I have an even more
personal fight here. My daughter has been corrupted. I will see her dead before I
watch her become the next Melesandre.”

“Scylla?” Happy asked.

Sensesi nodded.

“Why should we trust you?” I demanded, still ready to cast at the first sign of
deceit.

“Well,” she laughed without humor, “I can think of several reasons, but foremost
among them is that the inner temple you seek, the nexus of Illugi’s power here,
along with the trapped souls, has been moved, and I know where.”

“And you’re willing to take us there?” Griff asked.

“Smart and good looking.” She quipped dryly.

“How do we know we can trust you?” I said.

Sensesi shrugged. “Take me prisoner, cast truth spells, detect for evil or lies or
whatever you want. You can have my weapons and whatever items might have
escaped your blasted disjunction. Polymorph me again if you have to, but just leave
me a way to point the direction you need to go. Doorag, I’ve been slithering through
this temple for years spying on Illugi’s minions. I’ve watched Anvie sink into a
wickedness unworthy of yuan-ti honor, and I’ve had to witness my Scylla let herself
be infected with a lust for power and a depravity the likes of which you’ve never
seen. How do you know you can trust me? You don’t. You have only my word. But
the fact is, you also have no idea where Illugi’s inner temple is, but I do. So you can
either kill me and take up wandering these halls full time or let me come with you.”

Five sets of eyes glanced at each other as we tried to gauge her sincerity. Caribdis
lowered the arrow in his bow and let the string straighten. “She makes a pretty good
point.” He said.

“Humph.” Griff muttered, but sheathed his sword. “I said it before and I’ll say it
again. Screw us and I’ll cut you down.”

“Duly noted.” Sensesi said with a slight nod.

“What say you, Doorag?” Taklinn asked, looking at me.

I narrowed my eyes at Sensesi, not wanting to trust her in the slightest. But
Caribdis was right. Her points were valid. We could not afford to blindly search this
temple and hope we found Illugi’s chamber. For all we knew, the chamber was not
even in this building anymore. “Very well,” I sighed, “We have to take a chance on
her. Hap, what do you think?”

Happy screwed up her mouth with distaste, the memory of Sensesi’s attempt to
kill her obviously still fresh in her mind. “Whatever,” She spat, “Just remember:
take another poke at me and Griff will be the least of your worries. Got it?”

“Got it.” Sensesi said quietly.

Taklinn chuckled. “It would seem we are in agreement then. Sensesi, consider
yourself under an uneasy truce. Let us put the past behind us and form an alliance
against the real enemy. I only hope, for your sake, that you are telling the truth.”

Sensesi gave us her best serpentine gaze, level, cold, and very hard to read. “You
will know this much soon, with or without me: the path to the inner temple is
constantly in shift. It changes from hour to hour. I, however, have found a way that
always leads true. Unfortunately it is… problematic.”

“How so?” I asked.

Sensesi was silent for a moment, then said, “The way I know is no more than a
rift in the structure of the temple, a mere rat hole, or… snake, if you will. It is no
more than inches in diameter.”

“Humph,” I sniffed, “Leave that to me. For now we need to hole up. We’ve got a
new ally with new information, and we’re already beat up and low on spells.
Another handful of demons could come around here at any minute.” I headed out of
the deserted temple to find a suitably out of the way anti-chamber. “You’re
welcome to bunk with us, Neekesh.” I said to our nervous guide. The old man had
crept to within the doorway of the temple and now hunkered in the shadow of the
place, wide eyed with awe and barely constrained terror.

“Nay, Master Doorag!” Neekesh whispered hoarsely, “I’ve done found the stairs
down to the lower levels and the sweet outsides! I’ll be off now if you’re all up with
old Neekesh!”

The old man was already backing up toward the door, ready to break into a dead
run in his haste to get out of the temple, and before Happy had even finished asking
him if he’d like us to escort him out, he was off, legs driven by even the suggestion
that his obligations to us were at an end. In a flash, he was gone.

“I suppose he’ll be back if he runs into trouble.” Taklinn sighed.

“It is a short distance to the outside,” Sensesi said, “And you have already killed
most everything down there already. He will be fine.”

“But if we’re on the upper level, won’t he be stopped by the destroyed staircase?”
Caribdis pointed out.

Sensesi smiled. “The temple, Caribdis, the temple. You forget, it is alive with
Illugi’s energy. The temple heals itself.”

I raised an eyebrow at the thought, “Must admit, that’s a pretty fine domicile!
Speaking of domiciles…” I cast a mansion and opened the door. In we walked,
disappearing into thin air and appearing into a beautifully arched entryway with
gleaming marble floors. We continued our discussions as we stepped into the ankle
deep carpet of the sitting room, a fire already burning merrily, glasses already being
filled at the bar. Within seconds we had gone from blood-freezing evil to sinking
into luxurious leather chairs. I kicked off my boots and curled my toes into the
carpet for the sheer delight of it, as I do every time. It never gets old.

Taklinn took his usual seat by the fire in the overstuffed lounger I always make
sure to provide for him. There was also Happy’s couch that she landed in to lay
back, feet up, hands behind head, stretching like a cat.

And of course, Griff stood at the bar, leaning against it, one hand going to the
drink waiting for him there. Griff would sometimes sit, but he rarely chose the same
chair twice. I had taken to simply peppering the room with three or four different
seats, from day couches to milking stools, though in general Griff was a hard chair
man.

I was acutely aware that this was only Caribdis’ second time in the mansion, and
had yet to find a seat that he liked. He was another stander, though he would rather
pace or stroll around the room as he conversed, ever on stage.

Sensesi took a leather chair similar to mine near the fire and crossed her legs
demurely.

“So what’s the plan?” Griff got straight to the point, taking a drink from his cup.
“It sounds like we’ve got a drain pipe to squeeze through. Sounds like your
territory, Doorag.”

I nodded. “There are a number of options,” I said, “Some of which are even at my
disposal, though some of them involve form shifting, which I know you’re just
crazy about, Griff.”

Griff smirked at me as I continued. “There are alternatives, like the gaseous form
route, but anything like that is going to be costly in spells to get us all there.” I
thought for a moment. “I may have another way. Sensesi, you’ve been to the inner
temple?”

“No,” She admitted, “But I have gotten as far as its antechambers and I am
positive that the temple lies beyond.”

“Good enough.” I said, “Can you describe the place for me? In detail?”

“Of course,” She laughed, “I was spy, remember? My memory is impeccable.”

I took a sip of woodberry wine. “Well then, we may be able to circumvent the
small passage entirely. I would need you to draw me a detailed map of the area
we’re going to, but if planar travel is possible here then ‘greater teleport’ should
take us right there for the price of only one spell.”

“What about the temple and the way it shifts around?” asked Happy, “Will that
throw off your spell?”

I frowned. I had not thought of that.
“It might be okay.” Sensesi said, thoughtfully, “The temple seems to solidify as one
nears the inner chambers. The room that I can describe to you has remained largely
unchanged in months.”

“It’s worth a try.” Taklinn said, gesturing with his tankard. “But you might want
to have a plan B, lad.” He winked at me.

“True,” I said. Then, I mused to myself and started an odd ball rolling. “If only I
had that blasted spell component!”

“What component?” Caribdis asked, his interest piqued.

“Oh, it’s a circlet. I have to wear it for the ‘shape change’ spell. To be honest, I
hadn’t thought that I would have mastered such a dweomer before we faced Illugi,
but here I am, the spell learned, in my book, and ready to go, and me without the
focus!”

“What sort of a circlet is it?” Happy asked, sitting up and crossing her legs under
her.

“Jade.” I replied. “About 1500 gold worth of it.

“And what if you had it?” Hap said, her curiosity always getting the better of her
when it came to magic. “What could you do if you had that spell?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said, “Morph from an ancient white dragon to a ferret to a
solar to whatever I choose. It would at least enable me to get through the hole, and,
well, its just a spell that I’ve been wanting to cast for a very long time, and now that
I actually can, I’m flummoxed that a simple piece of jewelry stands between me and
it.”

“I’ll get it for you!” Caribdis suddenly said, excitedly.

We all looked at him. “What are you talking about, Caribdis” I asked, warily.

“Simple!” He grinned, “I’ll ‘plane shift’ back to Havilah and get you a circlet! I
need to go there anyway!”

I looked at him askance. “Caribdis, you can’t just zap off to Havilah!”

“Why not?” he asked.

“Well, for one thing, a ‘plane shift’ will get you close, but you’ll still more than
likely end up a fair distance from the city, and that’s where you would need to be to
obtain the sort of thing I’m looking for. There are specialty shops that sell precisely
the thing I need there. The point is, you would only have a matter of hours to
accomplish your task, since time here moves so much faster than it does on
Havilah. For every hour you spend there, some ten fly by here on Edik. We can’t
afford to stay here longer than a couple of days. That’s hardly time enough for you
to find transport to Havilah, then find the sources I know of, and still accomplish
whatever you need to go to Havilah for, and…” I paused, catching myself. “Say,
Caribdis, what exactly do you suddenly have to go to Havilah for?”

Caribdis’ eyes rolled toward the ceiling as if in deep thought. He seemed to
ponder the question for some time before slowly replying, “Something…?”

“It’s a bad idea, Caribdis.”

But he was not ready to let go of the plan. “Wait a minute,” He said, “It could still
work. All I need is a way to teleport to Havilah! I can’t cast it, but I can read it off a
scroll! You have to have an extra teleport scroll laying around, don’t you?”

“As a matter of fact I do,” I said, “But what about the return trip?”

“Another ‘plane shift!’”

“You have a key for Edik?” I asked.

“A what?”

“A key! The little fork you use to focus on when casting the dweomer! You must
have a key, tuned to the plane to which you are traveling!”

“Oh, well, no.” Caribdis admitted. “But I can get one in Havilah!”

“It took myself and Yigil nearly a month to craft a key to Edik.” I said, dryly.

“Well then! Fantastic!” Caribdis crowed, “You have one, let me borrow it!”

“And what about when you get back to Edik, miles from us?”

“Another teleport scroll! I’ll get one in Havilah while I get your circlet! I’ll even
get you a replacement for the one you give me!” Caribdis grasped at straws,
suddenly desperate to get to Havilah.

“Caribdis,” I said, “Why wouldn’t I just go myself? I can cast all these spell. I
have the key, and I know where to go to find the circlet. Why would I send you?”

“Aw, come on, Doorag!” Caribdis fairly pleaded, “Let me go! I really, really need
to get back to Havilah. I need to see Nivin.”

“Nivin?” Taklinn broke in, “Whatever for?”

Caribdis clammed up. “Its private.” He said, crossing his arms.

“Caribdis, it’s just not worth it. Time is too short. Even a few hours in Havilah
could mean days on Edik. We just don’t have the time.”

“But it’s a good spell, right? You need it! Look, you’re right, you should be the
one to go. Just take me with you, just for the time it takes you to get the circlet!”

“And leave the rest of the crew here?” I asked.

“They’re in the mansion…” He began.

“-Which won’t last forever, and which could potentially be dispelled.” I finished
for him. “No, Caribdis, it’s too risky.”

“But!”

“No, Caribdis!”

“If I may interject,” Sensesi’s voice purred between Caribdis and I, “I have many
contacts in the cities underground. Given an afternoon I might be able to find what
you’re looking for.”

“I don’t know…” I said.

“Suit yourself,” She shrugged, “I can guarantee nothing, but I have been able to
find nearly anything I need in Anvie, even in these troubled times.”

Happy was suddenly even more interested. “Hey, I could probably help out! Let
me come with you!”

“Oh sure!” Caribdis cried, looking incredulous and hurt, “Let them go out into the
dangers of a war torn city crawling with monsters, but heaven forbid if I want to
take a nice, safe, trip to Havilah!”

“Oh Caribdis, calm down.” Hap chided, “We’ll just be gone for a few hours. In
and out, no big deal!”

“I haven’t even said that you could accompany me.” Sensesi said archly.

“Try and stop me!” Happy answered, taking Sensesi’s words as a challenge.

“I work better alone.” The yuan-ti stated flatly.

“Oh ho!” Hap replied, “Just try and keep up with me!”

“This is just unfair!” Caribdis wailed. “How come they get to go and I don’t?”

Griff was now ready to put in his two coppers as well. “I don’t know if I like the
idea of you traipsing around this city, Happy.”

By now everyone was talking at once, including me.

“I haven’t even said that you should go!” I shouted above the din, “It’s not that
important! Caribdis, you’re not going to Havilah, and Sensesi and Hap, neither of
you should be wandering around Anvie right now!”

Despite my words, the argument continued for another twenty minutes, and in the
end only Happy was happy with the outcome. Sensesi was bound and determined to
seek out the circlet for me, and there would be no dissuading Happy from
accompanying her. Caribdis’ feelings were hurt, but I refused to provide him with
the teleport scroll he needed, or the plane shift key for Edik. Griff frowned and tried
to talk Hap out of going into the city, but she would hear none of it.

Finally I simply washed my hands of the whole thing and retired to my bedroom
where I now sit, contemplating the scope of the personalities I travel with.
 

cthulhu42

Explorer
Rdyr’t 26

This has been a busy, yet productive day. We have also managed to tidy up a few
loose ends and even get some real rest.

This morning Sensesi and Happy slipped out of the mansion, despite Griff’s
frowns and Caribdis’ pouts. Griff could, of course, keep some track of his wife with
the amulets that bind them together, and he did just that, pacing the mansions dining
room for the several hours that they the pair were gone, ready to dash out the door
at any moment.

In the end, his fears were unfounded, and by late afternoon they had returned,
flush with victory. Happy was positively giddy and she grinned from ear to ear
when she handed me a very fine circlet of jade that was just what I needed. But
when I asked her where and how they had gotten such a thing, she would only grin
wider and wink at me while Sensesi just shrugged. I did, however, notice a few
fresh splatters of blood on Happy’s sleeve, and when Sensesi said simply that I
probably wouldn’t want to know all of the details, I could but sigh and agree. I only
hope that no innocent blood was shed in securing my focus.

From there I teleported the lot of us to the spot where we had left Major Throst
and the Havilah soldiers. We were heartened to find them still there, in good health,
apparently unmolested. It took a little doing, but between Taklinn and I we
convinced them, at last, that it was time for them to return home. I had just come
into understanding the ‘gate’ spell and was able to open a portal back to Havilah for
them. With a salute, they stepped through and I dismissed the ‘gate’ behind them.
We are now truly alone in this place.

Finally we used the rest of the day to ‘analyze dweomer’ on several items that we
have been carrying around for some time now in the hopes that some of them may
come in handy against Illugi and his minions.

Sensesi and I have been going over the map she has drawn me of the inner temples
antechambers. I have had her describe it to me until I can picture it clearly in my
mind. With any luck we will be able to teleport there tomorrow. If such is the case,
then I suppose that this could well be my final journal entry, for we may encounter
Illugi, and if I am struck down…

But no, I will not entertain the notion of defeat. If it happens, so be it, but I won’t
burden this journal with worrisome lines and pre-emptive goodbyes. We shall
overcome this monster as we have all others!


Rdyr’t 27

It has been a bloody week up to this point, but the carnage I have witnessed today
puts the past several days to shame! If not for cleaning spells and the washing
facilities of the mansion I fear most of us would be covered head to toe in gore.
Today has been an inch by inch crawl through a sea of enemies, and we have left a
trail of bodies to rival a small army, one of which was almost a comrade!

We awoke early and consumed our ‘heroes feast’ in near silence, quite sure that
today would be the day that we faced the terrible avatar of Illugi. I had studied the
Sensesi’s map for much of the night and felt confident that my ‘greater teleport’
would take us there, providing she was right in her theory that the temple solidified
near its inner chambers.

When we were properly fed and girded, we left the mansion and stood in a tight
circle, each one of us touching another. Taklinn and I cast spells to aid ourselves
and our companions, and as a final touch I cast an ‘invisibility’ on each of us.
Sensesi had warned us that resistance would be fierce and was of the opinion that
stealth would be key to our success. I would have liked to agree with her, but with
Taklinn’s clanking armor and Caribdis’ general pell-mell attitude, I had my doubts
that we would go unnoticed for long.

I gave each of my friends a last look to make sure they were ready and was
answered with nods. I took a breath and cast my spell, holding the image of
Sensesi’s map in my mind.

And then we were there. Our tight circle stood in one corner of a non-descript
room that held four doors, one of which was a double set. With my permanent ‘see
invisibility’ I could see my comrades standing stalk still, trying to be as quiet as
possible, for even they were immediately aware of the danger that lurked in this
room.

The beast that stood guard here was unlike any that I had ever seen before, though
I quickly pinpointed what it was. A Slaad!

The creature was utterly alien, huge, and held a bluish tinge. I marveled at such an
atrocity, at the notion that Illugi had such creatures in his service.

A long second passed in which none of us moved. I quickly realized that the thing
should be taken out as swiftly and as silently as possible so as not to alert anything
waiting behind all those doors. There was only one of us that I trusted for a job like
that. I leaned toward Happy and, with barely a breath, whispered in her ear. “He’s
all yours. Take him now.”

I saw her face break into a grin and she quickly let go of Griff’s hand and moved
toward the unsuspecting Slaad on cat-like feet, making not a single sound. Griff
reached for her, unable to see her and worried for his wife, but I grabbed his arm
and held a hand to his chest, bidding him wait.

I watched as Hap slid close enough to the Slaad to climb into the things hip
pocket. I saw the length of steel in her hand as she withdrew a dagger. She paused
for a split second, gauging her aim, and then, with the speed of an asp, she struck,
once, twice, three times, and then a fourth from a second dagger! Hap had used her
dust of disappearance so as to remain invisible even after attacking, and the Slaad
never saw its killer as her blades bit again and again. She pierced the Slaad in all the
right places, her daggers thrusting upwards to puncture vital organs. The Slaad,
three times Happy’s size, gasped, open mouthed, tried to call out a warning, but had
not the strength to utter even a whisper. It was dead before its knees even buckled
and it slumped to the floor in a heap.

There was no time to congratulate our friend on her fine kill, for the invisibility
spells would not last long, and more monsters could open any of those doors at any
time.

“Positions!” I hissed, “By the doors!”

Taklinn moved to cover the far door while Griff took the middle. Caribdis and
Sensesi stood near the final single door. I stayed where I was, keeping an eye on the
set of double doors while Hap remained near the dead Slaad, ready with her
daggers, scanning the entire room.

I whispered to the crew, “OK, Taklinn, you and Griff…” But that was all I got out
before Caribdis unplugged the cork and let hell loose.

With a look of undeniable curiosity, he reached out and pulled the handle to his
door. The words, ‘Caribdis, no!’ never made it past my lips, for he had already
thrown the door wide. But what he saw in there gave him pause, and he slammed
the door shut just as quickly. I groaned in frustration that was mirrored in Sensesi’s
eyes. Though she could not see Caribdis, it was obvious that she knew that it had to
have been him. Not wanting to give whatever was in the room time to prepare, she
flung the door back open, the magical scimitar we had given her to replace the one I
had destroyed with my ‘Mordenkainen’s Disjunction’ held at the ready.

I had not been able to see what was in the room when Caribdis had opened it, and
I quickly shifted to better my angle, but before I could, whatever was in there
struck. It must have had enough time to cast an invisibility seeing dweomer upon
itself, for it had no trouble targeting Sensesi. I saw her take a step toward the room
and then stop in her tracks, her face twisted in unbelievable pain as a spell gripped
her. Her body twisted and jerked, seeming to fold in upon itself. She tried to
scream, but it was as her very throat had shut. Her scimitar clattered to the stone
floor and she slumped next to it, a pitiful pile of arms and legs, far too thin, twisted
at terrible angles. I recognized the results of the ‘implode’ spell. And just like that,
Sensesi was dead.

None of the rest of the crew could see what had happened, and they stood there
for a long second, wondering what had happened. I thought fast and acted, drawing
my back up staff and casting quickly. My ‘wall of force’ went up only a half inch
from the wall, effectively blocking off two of the three walls, leaving only the one
from which the ‘implode’ spell had come from uncovered. Taklinn had been
reaching for his own doors handle when he was suddenly blocked by the wall.

“Doorag!” he demanded, “What are you doing?”

“Sensesi is dead!” I called out, no longer bothering with stealth, “Get to the open
door!”

Griff was already moving, passing Caribdis and entering to deal with what waited
inside. Taklinn soon understood my words and charged in as well. Hap leapt over
her dead Slaad and slipped in behind them while Caribdis stepped back and raised
his bow, already letting fly with a steady stream of arrows.

I edged around to finally be able to see into the room and confirmed my worst
fears. It was a Death Slaad, the most dangerous of all Slaad, and it was again
attempting to cast one of its deadly dweomers. But it was surrounded on all sides,
and as terrible as it was, the thing was no match for four determined crew members
eager to avenge the death of even one such as Sensesi. Griff and Taklinn double
teamed the thing, slamming it with steel while Hap maneuvered into position.
Caribdis’ arrows found their target over and over, and by the time Happy struck
from behind, the Slaad was nearly dead. She finished the job, and down it went.

The alarm had been raised. I could see the other two doors banging against my
‘wall of force’ as whatever was behind them attempted to force them open. I
whistled quickly and the rest of the crew came out to deal with this new danger, all
of them now visible except for Happy.

Taklinn returned to the far door while Hap and Griff took the middle. Caribdis
stepped back, bow at the ready. When they were ready, I dismissed the wall.

The second that Taklinn and Griff could reach their door handles they hauled
them open. I caught a flash of steel gripped in a bluish arm as the Slaad in Taklinn’s
room lashed out at our dwarf, its sword clanging off of his armor. Taklinn
responded with a flurry of axe blows that sent the Blue Slaad reeling back into the
room. Taklinn pressed his attack, keeping the Slaad off balance and drawing a gout
of blood, but behind the Blue Slaad stood another Death Slaad, already casting. The
‘implode’ seemed to wash over Taklinn and I saw him shudder, as if fighting the
magic, before throwing it off and bellowing a laugh at the Slaad’s failed spell.

Meanwhile, Griff was facing nearly the same challenge, for behind his door there
also lurked a Blue and a Death Slaad. The Blue blocked the doorway, guarding the
Death Slaad, forcing Griff to cut and thrust in an attempt to force the brute back. I
saw Hap give a short skip, tuck her body into a tight ball, and roll between the
Slaad’s legs to come up on his opposite side. She was still invisible, and fortunately
her invisibility was the result of dust of disappearance, for I could tell that the Death
Slaad’s had cast ‘see invisibility’ on themselves. Dust of disappearance hides one
from even that powerful dweomer.

I cast quickly, placing a ‘Bigby’s Crushing Hand’ behind Griff’s Death Slaad and
began to slam at the thing, hampering it’s attempts to cast spells.

Caribdis was doing his part, his arrows finding their way around Taklinn to strike
the Slaad’s beyond. Taklinn, twice his size and glowing with divine energy, made
short work of even the monstrous Blue Slaad and dropped the creature with a final
axe swing that sent a spray of blood splashing from one end of the room to the
other. The Death Slaad, now without its guardian, hissed and cast another deadly
spell, ‘finger of death’, but again Taklinn merely sneered at the attempt and closed
with the creature.

In Griff’s room they were gaining ground. Hap had struck the Blue from behind
several times and Griff finished it off with a mighty cleave. He climbed over the
body to face the Death Slaad who was busy dodging my Bigby’s hand. In a desperate
attempt to escape, the Death Slaad cast an ‘invisibility’ on itself and winked out of
view, but I could still see him and I pressed the attack with the Hand, beating again
and again at him.

Caribdis rushed into Griff’s room and I saw Hap edge along the wall, looking for
where the Bigby’s hand was striking in an attempt to figure out where the Death
Slaad had got to. Griff did the same, though he had a fine answer for the Slaad’s
invisibility. Long ago we had come across a pouch of dust of appearance and
Griff’s had been packing it around for months for just such an occasion. With a
flick of his wrist, he tossed the contents of the pouch into the room and a very
surprised Death Slaad was revealed.

The Death Slaad’s, as fearsome as they are, were no match. Taklinn backed his
against the wall and pounded through its defenses until his axe bit deep and split the
Slaad’s skull. In the next room the final Slaad was surrounded by magical fist,
Happy, Griff and Caribdis. No matter where it turned it faced doom, and in mere
seconds it lay dead, festooned with arrows and blade wounds.

Taklinn stepped from his room with a grin, wiping the gore from his axe, but his
grin quickly faded as I dismissed the ‘invisibility’ from Sensesi’s body. The
implosion had reduced her to half her normal size, and her body was pathetic to
behold.

“Can you do anything for her?” I asked Taklinn as Griff, Hap and Caribdis also
exited their room.

“Aye,” Taklinn nodded, “I can. We’ve got to her quick enough. Give me a
minute.” Taklinn knelt next to the twisted husk of Sensesi’s form and began to
pray.

As magic’s go, the power to bring the dead back to life must rank up with the very
best of dweomers. How can I be but envious of Taklinn, for if I live to be one
thousand, I will never be able to cast such a spell. It is unfortunate that so much of
arcane magic is devoted to extinguishing life.

And so it was that I watched with fascination as power flowed visibly from
Taklinn’s hands and into Sensesi’s mangled body. As divinity coursed through that
broken shell, it was as if watching a water skin being filled. Her arms and legs
straitened and took shape. Her face and head reformed and her chest heaved with a
gasp of breath as her eyes flickered and opened She looked around, at first,
disoriented, then a bit sheepishly as memory flooded her face and she realized what
must have happened. I shuddered, wondering if it would one day be me laying there
with the knowledge that I had just been dead and brought back to life.

Sensesi got unsteadily to her feet with Taklinn’s help while Hap and Griff made a
quick search of the rooms.

“How do you feel?” Taklinn asked Sensesi.

She stood on her own and tested her muscles. “I’ll be fine.” She said.

I looked at her uncertainly. “Are you sure? Maybe we should wait another day, or
at least a few hours.”

“I said I’d be fine,” She replied, curtly, “Besides, now that we’re this close we
mustn’t turn back or give them any more time to prepare. We must press on.”

I nodded. I could not but agree with her.

“Not much here.” Hap announced as she and Griff came back into the main
chambers. “We must be getting close to the big guy though, ‘cause this place is
lousy with Illugi statues. There’s one in every room.”

“I can feel him.” Griff added, thoughtfully, “It stinks of evil here. Its like the devil
farted.”

“Well then lets go!” Caribdis beamed, heading for the only door left. It was a
large double set, and a path of blood red carpet led from our room and under them.

“Caribdis, “I said, “I don’t know how many more times Taklinn can resurrect
someone today. Maybe you want to let Hap do her job?”

He stopped short, giving me a pained look. But then his eyes landed on Sensesi
and he relented. “Oh, okay.” He said with a half hearted roll of his eyes.

Pleased to have the opportunity to show off her skills, Happy set to work on the
double doors and soon pronounced them clean. Griff shoved them open to reveal a
malevolent antechamber. Three passageways led off into their own separate
darkness, and in each corner of the chamber stood yet another statue of the
tentacled Illugi. The thick red carpet beckoned us down each hallway, and the air
was thick with the feel and stench of evil.

“Say,” pondered Caribdis out loud as we wondered which hallway to take, “What
about this Scylla character? What are we planning to do with her once we find her?”

Griff looked at the boy with barely feigned amusement. “I don’t know, Caribdis,”
he said, “Maybe we’ll ask her to share tea and crumpets with us. I’m sure she’ll be
only too willing to give up her plans for world domination once we explain the error
of her ways to her.”

“We’ll likely have to kill her.” Taklinn said, a bit more gently.

“Do you think that’s really necessary?” Caribdis asked, and I moaned inwardly,
already able to tell that our bard was beginning to get ideas in his head.

“She hasn’t left us much choice, Caribdis.” I said. “She’s gone too far. She’s
willing to bring the wrath of Illugi down upon the heads of who knows how many
thousands of innocents. She’s already conquered Edik, and she won’t rest until
Havilah, at the very least, bends it’s knee to her.”

“Yes, but,” Caribdis argued, “It sounds to me like she got kind of a raw deal.”

Griff looked at Caribdis askance. “Raw deal? What the hell are you talking
about?”

“Well, from the way you’ve told the story all she really wanted was to join the
crew. You all rejected her. It sounds to me like you’ve brought all this upon
yourselves.” Caribdis stated this with such irritating simplicity that it was all I could
do to hold my tongue. Griff, however, was not so politic.

“Caribdis, you weren’t there! You have no clue what you’re talking about!”

“He’s right, lad.” Taklinn interjected, “We gave her every chance. We were
willing to back her to the Academy, and we were being generous at that. To let her
have a place as a full member of the Broken Blade, especially after all that she’d
done, it just wasn’t going to happen.”

“Not while I still drew breath!” I added.

“That crazy wench nearly killed me!” Griff spat. “She fireballed me right off the
back of Acessiwall! She damn near killed Hap a few times when she missed with
her spells. She was a bull in a china shop, and no way was she joining this crew!”

“Why do you care anyway, Caribdis?” Happy asked.

“Maybe I’ve learned something about the value of life while I was dead.” He said
with a shrug.

I laughed sharply. “Save your pity for someone who deserves it. Like maybe
anybody that used to call Anvie home. Caribdis, Scylla never learned the value of
life while she was with us. She didn’t give two hoots for our lives or the lives of any
innocents that we came across. She always had her own reasons for doing things,
and we never could figure out half of them. She was so twisted she had to screw
herself into her robe in the morning! She left us to rot in cave while she ported
back to a nice warm bed! What kind of comrade does such a thing?”

But Caribdis would not be moved and he clung stubbornly to his misguided
notion that Scylla was simply misunderstood.

“All I’m saying,” He said, “Is that maybe there’s some good in her somewhere.
She did fight on your side against the dragon-“

“Nearly killed me in the process.” Griff interrupted with a mutter.

“-So who knows what would have happened had you let her join the crew?”
Caribdis went on.

“Are you seriously saying that we are the ones to blame for all of this?” I asked.

“Well, if you look at it in a certain light…”He replied.

Taklinn’s eyes narrowed. “Maybe you’d best look at this thing in the light that
shines brightest. Don’t try to lay this at the feet of your friends, lad. It’s a fools
tongue in your head if you do!”

Caribdis opened his mouth, I’m sure to obstinately reply with more inanities.
Fortunately he was interrupted.

We had been having this conversation while on the move, having chosen a
hallway at random and followed it. The hall led into a maze of carpeted halls and
small intersection chambers, all adorned with still more statues of the dark god, and
all branching off to other passages. We wandered for many minutes while trying to
talk some sense into Caribdis, and it was while we did that we passed yet another
intersection. We had stopped as the conversation grew more animated. I believe that
Happy must have heard a noise, for she had slipped down a hallway to investigate,
with Griff at her heels. The pair found a stout door and Griff pulled it open just as
the Himrock orc on the other side was reaching for the handle on the opposite side.
Behind him stood nine more orcs, and behind them slithered a Maralith!

It was at this point that the rest of us became aware of what was going on, and we
just had time to hear Griff ask, in a most nonchalant manner, “Excuse me, do any of
you know the way to Illugi’s temple?”

The moment would have been hilarious, had the orc not immediately drawn steel
and tried to run Griff through. Griff nimbly side stepped the sword thrust and took a
step back, drawing his Talon, and the fight was on!

Caribdis may have been deep into the most foolhardy conversation he’d ever
initiated with us, but that did nothing to slow his reflexes. In mid-sentence he went
from defending Scylla to a quick song of discord which he planted right in the midst
of the orcs as they piled into the hallway. Immediately there was chaos as several of
them lost their senses and turned on their allies.

Seeing his opportunity, Griff went from a defensive to an offensive posture and
brought the lead orc down with a swift sword thrust.

It was a scene of pandemonium. The orcs were bottled up in the hallway, shored
up on one end by Griff and Taklinn, and urged on by the Maralith behind, while a
third of them hacked away at their own brethren. Crossbow bolts flew from the
crowd and slammed home in the stone walls or in tough orc flesh. Griff, Taklinn
and Happy plied the mass of orcs with steel while I sent a ‘fireball’ over their heads
to explode in the orc’s midst. Sensesi loaded and fired a crossbow wherever she
found a target, and Caribdis did likewise with his bow, calmly picking off one after
another.

The Maralith did not remain idle. She cast one of our most hated spells, ‘unholy
aura’, on several of the orcs, but Caribdis was quick with a ‘dispel magic’ and
stripped the dweomer away from most of them. Taklinn took a step back and
attempted to ‘banish’ the Maralith, but she resisted his spell. I had the same luck
with my ‘disintegrate’.

But the demon was fighting a losing battle. Orc after orc fell to steel, either ours
or their own, and Griff and Taklinn pressed forward, eager to lay their blades on
her. With a look of hate, she disappeared, teleporting away to safety.

The rest of the fight was a mop up operation. With the orcs in such disarray it was
simple work for our fighters to lay them low, and within thirty seconds it was over.
The thick carpet soaked up blood, becoming an even deeper crimson than before.

There were a few wounds on our side and Taklinn set to them immediately. As he
laid his hands on Griff, Griff seemed to smell the air and grimaced.

“I can sense her trail.” He said. “I think I can follow it to where she came from.”

It was as good a plan as any, so we stepped over the fallen orc bodies and
followed Griff as he tracked the Maralith’s scent of evil.

We hurried down still more carpeted halls, turning this way and that, taking odd
lefts and rights, jogging down long stretches of darkness, until we suddenly turned a
corned and stopped in our tracks. There, at the end of this fresh hall, we could all
see the tell-tale glow of firelight.

Hap held up a hand for silence. “I’ll check it out.” She whispered, gripping her
dagger and going invisible before Griff had a chance to argue with her. We could
see her light footsteps in the carpet as she crept toward the firelight.

“I’ll go with her!” Caribdis announced, also turning invisible.

“Caribdis, no!” I hissed. But it was too late. He was gone, hot on Hap’s heels.

The rest of us waited for what seemed like long, tense, minutes before Happy
returned.

“It’s an octagonal room,” She reported, “And they’re ready for us. Four orcs,
positioned at the entryway, ready to ambush.”

“Well then,” I said, “Lets not keep them waiting.” I looked at Taklinn, Griff and
Sensesi. “Ready?”

They nodded, drawing steel and readying themselves for a charge. I could see
Caribdis making his way back to us so I had no worries of catching him in my spell.
As he rejoined us and opened his mouth to say something, I raised my staff and
hurled a ‘fireball’ down the hall, setting it off in the middle of the room, enveloping
it in magical flames. I heard the howls of pain and grinned to myself even as
Caribdis moaned.

“No!” He cried, “I was going to charm them!”

“Little late for that now,” I said by way of curt reply, and flung a second ‘fireball’
over the heads of Taklinn and Griff as they sprinted down the hall.

The ‘fireball’ exploded a split second before they made the room, but the orcs
were not through. Two of them, at least, had held their ground, and slammed Griff
with their swords as he charged in. He shuddered in pain and I head Happy gasp
beside me. She raced forward, diving between Taklinn and Griff, hitting the floor in
a somersault to come up on one of the orcs flanks and drive a dagger home in his
side.

Taklinn and Griff hacked away grimly, beating back the orcs until two of them
went down. A third broke and ran and Taklinn gave chase as Sensesi stepped up to
take his place and aid Griff against the fourth orc. I slid into the room and trotted
after Taklinn to provide backup should he need it. And a good thing I did!

The octagonal room fed into a short hall that emptied into a massive, round
chamber. A twenty foot wide hall exited from its far side, and two more hallways
flanked it. Taklinn had chased his orc into this room and I arrived just in time to see
them reach the center of the chamber. I skidded to a stop, and I’m sure my eyes
grew as big around as dinner plates, for from the two flanking halls were pouring a
stream of orcs the likes of which I’d never seen. They charged from the halls in
their dozens, screaming their war cries and brandishing axes and swords. At a
glance I could estimate at least forty of them with still more coming! I swallowed
hard, knowing that we were badly outnumbered and Taklinn was about to be
completely overwhelmed.

I glanced over my shoulder. Caribdis was healing Griff even as Sensesi and Hap
took the last orc in the octagonal room down. My mind raced furiously and I prayed
that we might have a chance if we could bottle the orcs up in the hallways. I never
dreamed that we could take them in the open.

“Taklinn!” I screamed, “Get out! Run! Come on!”

But Taklinn wasn’t going anywhere. With a grin flashed at me over his shoulder,
he set his feet and hefted his axe.

“Come on then, you sad sacks of pus!” He bellowed over the orcish din, “Come
and have a taste of the power of Clangeden!” And then he began to cast.

Himrock orcs, as I have inferred before, are not your average, everyday orc. They
are as well seasoned knights to a shopkeeper. I would not put it past Taklinn to be
able to take care of two score of regular orcs with nothing but harsh language and a
sharp stick. But these were Himrock’s, and Himrock elite at that. What other kind
of orc but the toughest and most dangerous would be this close to Illugi’s heart? As
they swarmed into the room and spread out, making for Taklinn, I wondered if we
had not bitten off more than we could chew.

But Taklinn would no sooner run than use his holy symbol as a toothpick. He
stood firm, axe raised, and shouted his ‘holy word’!

The spell boomed from his throat, filling the room and coming down on the heads
of the orcs like Clangeden’s own hammer! I gasped at the effectiveness of the
powerful spell when I saw how many of them simply stopped in their tracks, wilted,
and died on the spot. He must have slain over twenty of them with that single spell!

I set my jaw and did a quick mental inventory of my spell repertoire. It was clear
that we were going to stand our ground so I’d best get involved, and now that I took
stock of my weaponry, I thought I might have a trick or two to give even these
powerful foes pause.

“Have a little of this!” I shouted at a knot of Himrock’s coming from the left hall.
It is a rare occasion to have so many enemies conveniently grouped together and I
took full advantage, dropping a ‘horrid wilting’ into them.

‘Horrid wilting’ is a terrible spell to be on the receiving end of and fully fourteen
Himrock’s were suddenly sucked dry of all fluids and died shrieking in agony. Half
again that many felt the spell’s touch and halted their charge, yowling in pain and
anger.

There were still plenty of orcs, upwards of three dozen of them, and Griff
whooped in delight as he charged past me.

“Now this is more like it!” He hollered, smashing into an orc and cutting it down
with a clean slash of his blade.

Caribdis was not so exuberant as he entered the room to stand near me.

“Holy smokes!” He uttered, gaping at the orcish horde before remembering that
he could help. He raised his bow and unleashed a volley into an orc as he voiced a
poem to ‘inspire courage’ in Taklinn and Griff.

On his side of the room, the orcs had nearly reached Taklinn, but he was not out
of tricks yet. From the depths of his chest rumbled a second ‘holy word’, and this
one was even more devastating than the first! The power of the spell swept through
the horde with awe inspiring effect, dropping them like so many flies. In the space
of a heartbeat, over twenty Himrock’s dropped in mid charge, dyeing before their
battle cries had even ceased.

Not to be outdone, I used another of my most powerful dweomers on the mass of
orcs on the rooms left side. My ‘mass hold monster’ stopped another fourteen of them
in their tracks to stand as still as statues. The one lone orc that had managed to resist
my spell suddenly found himself the only voice raised in challenge, and he stopped,
looking about at his still comrades, trying to figure out why they all stood so stock
still. But he soon had other worries, for Griff had targeted him as the only real
threat on the rooms left side now, and was heading straight for him.

The huge hall in the middle of the rooms far end was a short one, and ended in a
set of massive double doors. These doors were now flung open to reveal a threat
even more sinister than the small army of orcs we had so quickly dispatched. It was
the Maralith, the one who had fled from the hall. Only now she was accompanied
by a second Maralith!

Griff spied them and veered away from his orc, wanting even bigger prey. He ran
straight for them, but never made it, for one of the demoness threw up a ‘blade
barrier’ across the entrance to the hall, catching Griff within it’s whirling blades. He
was flung back, grunting in pain as blood splattered from his wounds. He stumbled
back, fumbling in his pouch for the potion flask that Clangeden had given him.

On the rooms right side still more orcs were appearing from the passage, though
their numbers were certainly more manageable now. Still, Taklinn must have been
out of house cleaning spells, so he was forced to make do with something more
oblique. Taking a cue from the Maralith, Taklinn cast a ‘blade barrier’ of his own
which effectively cut the fresh orcs off from the rest of the room.

This was quite a gory site, as it turned out, given the fact that so many dead orcs
were strewn about right in the ‘blade barrier’s’ path. The whirling blades appeared
directly in the midst of a long line of orcish bodies and immediately began to grind
them to bits, flinging blood and bone and limbs in all directions! It was an awful
site as we were all splattered with gore! Heads, arms, legs, and torsos went flying,
and blood rained down upon us. I dodged an orcish head but still got smacked in the
face by an ownerless boot that still contained a foot. Soon the walls, floor and
ceiling were splattered and strewn with blood and entrails! Even Taklinn seemed a
bit taken aback at what he had rendered.

I wiped blood from my eyes and took quick stock of our situation. Two ‘blade
barrier’s’ whirred in the room, one of them cutting us off from the Maralith’s, and it
made me uneasy wondering what they were getting up to back there. Griff
positioned himself beside the wide hall as he took a swig of his potion and healed
his wounds. Nearby over a dozen orcs still remained in stasis under the sway of my
‘hold’ spell. I knew that they would not stay immobile forever so I made a tough
decision. I withdrew my staff and cast a ‘wall of fire’, encircling the hapless orcs.
Within seconds the stench of charred hair and burning flesh began to rise from the
orcs as they slowly cooked. It would be a cruel and painful death for them, made all
the more so by the fact that they would be unable to even scream, but I steeled
myself against pity, reminding myself that the fate of worlds was a stake. Besides,
we would certainly be able to expect no less were we to fall into their clutches.

From behind me I heard the sound of running boots. Caribdis and I spun around to
see several orcs charging from the octagonal room! I swore under my breath. The
orcs that Taklinn had cut off with his barrier must have doubled back and taken a
hall that put them behind us. They would not catch us flat footed though, for Happy
and Sensesi were ready for them. As the first orc entered our room he was
immediately brought down by the two of them. I just had time to fling a ‘fireball’
into the hall and scorch the orcs as Caribdis’ arrows found their mark time and
again. The orcs pulled up short, no longer superior in numbers and unsure of their
dedication to Illugi after all.

Caribdis ran to Taklinn. Our cleric had not managed to kill so many orcs
unscathed and had had to slay a few of them the old fashioned way, with axe and
arm. He’d been hit in many places and now staggered, weak with blood loss.
Caribdis laid his hands on Taklinn, healing him as best he could before dashing
over to join Griff, who seemed to have formulated a plan.

Griff invoked the power of his anti-magic vest and tested it against the Maralith’s
‘bladed barrier’. His hunch was right, and a path opened up in the seething mass of
blades to reveal the two demons lurking in the hall.

Taklinn spied the Maralith’s and took the opportunity to attempt to ‘banish’ one
of them, but the vile creature cackled a cruel laugh as she resisted his spell.

Then Caribdis was there, beside Griff, raising his bow for a shot at the demons,
but he never got an arrow off. Both of them rushed forward, their swords flashing,
and hit Caribdis hard. Caribdis was standing in Griff’s anti-magic field, and so did
not even have the benefits of magical protection. He came very close to being
killed, but Griff managed to grab him by the collar and drag him back.

The orcs behind us, seeing the Maralith’s, must have decided that the fight could
still be won, for they rallied and charged, though not before I hit them with a second
‘fireball’. Hap killed another one of them as they cleared the door. My magic’s had
wounded them to the point where they were easy prey for her if she could catch
them unaware. I followed my ‘fireball’ up with a ‘persistent missile’ spell and was
able to take down another with relative ease.

Then the Maralith’s were upon us! The pair of them ‘dimension doored’ into the
room, already swinging their swords. But Taklinn and Griff were ready for them,
and immediately closed in with their own steel. Both of our fighters made solid
contact and even managed to avoid paying the price of the ‘unholy aura’s’ that the
demons had on them. Caribdis finally got to get his shots off and soon Griff’s
Maralith looked like a pin cushion, so festooned with arrows was she.

Sensesi and Hap appeared to have the orcs well in hand so I turned and dropped a
‘greater dispel magic’ on Taklinn’s Maralith, getting rid of her cursed ‘unholy
aura’.

For long seconds the only sound in the room was the clash of steel and the grunts
of the combatants as they traded blows back and forth. Griff stepped in and round
housed his Maralith with a blow that could have felled a tree. The Maralith
responded in kind, catching Griff with two devastating blows. Griff staggered and
nearly fell, but with inhuman resolve he stood his ground and swung back,
unloading with everything he had. When his sword finally stopped swinging, the
Maralith lay dead at his feet.

Caribdis turned his attention to Taklinn’s Maralith, his arm working like a piston
as he unleashed a solid line of arrows at her. His aim was true and he hit with five
arrows in a spread no larger than a fist. Taklinn waded in with his axe, cleaving into
demonic flesh. For my part, I hit her with a ‘disintegrate’, and though she was able
to resist its true effect, it still damaged her.

The Maralith refused to flee. This was her last stand and she made it a good one,
hacking away again and again at Taklinn. But our dwarf backed down not an inch.
He let her blows rain down on his armor, gritting his teeth against the ones that
broke through, and responded with his axe.

Griff joined Taklinn, adding his sword to the fight. Caribdis pumped another five
arrows into her. By this time the Maralith was beginning to flag, reeling from the
onslaught. She vainly tried to raise her swords again, but it was not to be. Taklinn
stepped in and brought his axe around in a low, vicious, arc, cutting deep into her
side. With a shriek of pain, rage and defeat, she fell.

And then it was over. We looked around, guard up, ready to take on still more of
the enemy, but there were none. Hap and Sensesi had finished off the last of their
orcs, and the ones within my wall of fire were beginning to expire.

We rest now in the mansion. We would liked to have pressed on, but it simply
couldn’t be. We are too wounded, too low on spells and resources. But we are very
close. We took two orcish prisoners that we found still alive in the carnage of the
round room and, under the effects of ‘charm’ spells, they have told us that Illugi’s
temple is only moments from where we are now. There is no doubt in my mind that
tomorrow will see our final confrontation between the Band of the Broken Blade
and the dark god, Illugi.


Rdyr’t 28

There would be little sleep for me last night. In bed, I just tossed and turned,
going over and over again in my mind my battle plan when we again face Scylla.
The fact that we would also be facing Illugi’s avatar actually didn’t concern me as
much as the prospect of dealing with Scylla again. I was certainly not complacent at
the prospect of Illugi, but familiarity with Scylla gave me intimate knowledge of
just how dangerous she could be, and I have spent many nights staring at the
ceiling, going over and over again what spells she must have by this time in her
arsenal, and which spell I have in mine to counter her.

I wrote in my journal for many pages, but much of it was just busy work, jotting
down notes for spells and magic items.

I took a walk through the mansion and found that I was not the only insomniac.
Griff and Happy were playing tiles in the den, having a drink and talking quietly
with each other.

I found Sensesi in the kitchen with Taklinn, discussing religion.

And of course, I found Caribdis, fast asleep on a sofa in the hall, smiling in his
slumber as if he had not a care in the world. I suppose being dead for an extended
period of time, as he was, would allow you to face the prospect again with a certain
verve.

In the end, I forced myself to meditate for the required amount of time. When I
was refreshed, I sat down at my desk, already fairly sure of what spells to prepare.
Ambros slept late, still curled in a ball as I was finishing my preparations.

“If I die today,” he yawned, “I don’t want to regret not sleeping in.”

I smirked at him. “Ambros,” I said, packing away my journal and spell books,
“This journal would be a hundred pages thicker if I’d bothered to note all the hours
you have slept. I doubt anyone will accuse you of going to your final day unrested.”

“I should hope not.” He said, stretching and smacking his lips.

I washed and went to breakfast. Soon, the others straggled in and Taklinn
prepared his ‘hero’s feast’. When we had had our fill and could feel the magical
nature of the divine meal coursing through us, providing us with its protection, I
pushed my plate away and wiped my mouth.

“Well,” I said, “Shall we?”

“Aye.” Taklinn nodded. “Let’s be done with this.”
In a few moments we were once again geared up for anything. We stepped from
the opulence of the mansion back into the hellish scene of the large, round,
chamber. Each step was into a pool of congealing blood, and had we not become so
accustomed to such carnage over our career I’m sure some of us would have lost
our breakfast. We stepped over the seemingly endless orc bodies, charred and
dismembered. We were eager to leave this room behind us.

We made our way down the wide hallway toward the large set of double doors
that still stood open and, passing through them, we found ourselves in an
antechamber with doors on either side. Fully awake now and prepared for danger,
we took our positions, and Caribdis even let Happy check the doors for traps.

Behind each of the stout doors we found rooms that could only have been the
domains of the Maralith’s, for they still reeked of unspeakable evil, and the statues
of Illugi we found were even more malevolent than the many others we’d seen, if
that’s possible.

A quick search turned up some interesting finds. In one of the rooms Happy found
a figurine of an elephant that glowed strongly of magic. I had an idea of what it
might be, but it would have to wait for a more opportune time. In the second room
Hap also found a carefully hidden sack containing several dozen small vials
containing a strange and smoky substance of varying colors. None of the others
knew quite what they could be, but my studies had informed me of such things, and
I took the sack from Happy, gingerly placing it in a secure pocket of my haversack.
Unless I am mistake, the vials contain souls! Souls are the currency in the demonic
planes, and it stands to reason that these Maralith would have their treasures hidden
here. Those vials were the equivalent of a sack of gold to us, and I could not help
but be both fascinated and repulsed at the same time. I resolved to give the vials
further study at the first available opportunity. Perhaps there is a way to free them!

We found ourselves a bit stuck then, for no visible exits were in these rooms, and
at first glance we appeared to have arrived at a dead end. That is until Hap’s eyes,
ever sharp, noted an irregularity in one of the walls. Upon closer inspection, she
found a secret door which opened easily.

The hallway beyond was rounded and curved, and the feeling of an evil presence
was palpable. All of us felt it: we were getting closer.

Griff and Taklinn took the lead and we followed them along the hallways bend.
We began to note the floor beginning to slant downwards, slightly at first, then
more sharply as we descended still further into the earth.

The hall spiraled downwards. Around and around, and every yard we covered
seemed to pull us further into an evil that made the air thick, until each step was
heavy. We breathed it in. It filled our lungs and we could taste it on our tongues. It
was an indescribable aura of hate, terror, pain, and cruelty. Griff seemed
particularly sickened by it, though it did nothing to his resolve, and he pressed on
with even greater urgency.

Down and down we went, and I wondered if we would find ourselves in the very
bowels of hell itself! Then, the hall began to widen, and the left wall veered sharply
away. It was clear that, should we continue around the bend, we would find
ourselves in a chamber of some kind.

We stopped then, for we had no idea if Illugi and Scylla might be waiting around
this very bend. We took no chances, and Taklinn and I used several protection
spells in preparation while Caribdis whispered a heartening verse.

Even over our quiet words Happy was able to hear something from the chamber.

“Shhh!” She hissed, holding up a hand, “I hear… stretching.”

Griff looked at her quizzically.

“Bows.” She explained. “I hear bows being drawn back.”

I’m sure I looked doubtful. Would Scylla leave it to mere archers to defend the
heart of Illugi’s temple?

Griff shrugged, adjusting his grip on his sword. “I’d hate to keep ‘em waiting.”
He said with a wry smirk. He turned on his heel and walked round the bend with the
rest of us close behind.

As the room revealed itself to us I could see that it was a massive natural cavern.
It stretched nearly sixty feet to an imposing flight of shallow stairs carved out of the
rock. At the top of those stairs, beyond a short landing, we could all see the portal, a
glistening, vertical, pool of blackness that shimmered and seemed to cancel out any
light.

The ceiling of the room soared above us, nearly a hundred feet, disappearing into
darkness.

But our attention was soon galvanized by a pair of ledges set about fifty feet up on
the walls flanking the great stairs. Standing in a row on each ledge stood five
creatures that I had a very difficult time placing.

They were demons, of that there could be no doubt. But I had to search the
recesses of my mind to find reference to them. They were tall and gangly, and each
had two pairs of arms, and each pair of arms held a horn bow that I’m sure would
have taken three normal men to bend, though these creatures seemed utterly at ease
with the tension. Each set of arms appeared to use each bow independently, and I
knew that they would have no trouble with their respective aims. All of this added
up to twenty bows pointed at us, and I just had time to leap back behind the wall as
the air was suddenly thick with black arrows.

Taklinn crouched behind his shield and Griff simply withstood the barrage, his
hand digging in his pouch and coming up with a potion bottle. I reached out and
touched him with a “greater heroism” even as he downed it and began to rise into
the air, pulling himself rapidly along the wall and upwards in an angle that would
end at the ledge on the right. Still more arrows pounded at him as he went, several
of them hitting the cave wall hard enough to stick in the hard stone.

Caribdis, meanwhile, used his favorite trick and sent a verse of discord amongst
the demons on the left. Say what you will about the boy, he has a very effective
attack in that verse, and the next thing I knew one of the demons had been hit by his
own no less than eight times. He staggered as another one of them heaved him off
of the ledge and sent him crashing to the stone floor where he lay quite still.

And then Scylla appeared.

She came from thin air and stood amongst the demons on the right ledge, her
purple robes swirling about like her own personal storm. She glared down at us
from her perch and raised her hands, weaving magic from the air.

I leapt back into the tunnel, bringing my own hands up in a desperate attempt to
cast. But I hesitated. Something told me to hold off, to wait. An instinct welled up
deep within me, an almost certain knowledge that the Scylla we saw here was not
real. She was trying to draw us out, get us to use our resources. I sat tight, watching
her intently, straining to see through the illusion and hoping I was right.

Taklinn sprinted into the room, one eye on Scylla and the other on the south
ledge, still full of demons that sent a merciless rain of arrows down upon him. He
let them bounce off of his armor as he gave them a little something to think about in
the form of a ‘blade barrier’ that covered the length of the ledge. It whirred to life,
catching one of the demons in its grinder-like blades and spraying a fountain of
blood and body parts (especially arms) across the room. The surviving demons
hurriedly blinked away, probably ‘dimension dooring’.

Griff had attained the opposite ledge and closed with the first in the line of
demons that stood there. They may have been archers without peer, but they were
within Griff’s range now, and he made them pay for it. His first thrust took a demon
through the breast. Griff hurled him from his blade and the beast hit the floor many
feet below with a wet smack.

Griff was now face to face with Scylla! I watched, eyes narrowed, as she lifted
her arms to cast. I knew it was now or never, and I began a spell of my own, still
desperately attempting to see her for what I was so sure she was: an illusion. But if I
was wrong, and allowed her to cast against Griff, the consequences could be terrible
indeed.

The last word of my spell lay on my tongue, ready to be spoken, when, at last, I
saw it! The wall behind her. My vision suddenly broke through her spell, and I
looked right through her!

“She’s not real!” I cried, flush with my small victory, “Scylla’s not real! It’s an
illusion!”

I continued calling that warning even as I flew into the room to deal with the
unpleasantness happening on the floor.

The arrow demons, it seems, were not through being a threat, even in death, for
from the two twisted bodies that lay beneath the ledges, had crawled some small
abomination! The awful, blob-like creatures tore their way from the carcasses of the
demons and made as if to crawl across the floor, still seeking to attack us. I dropped
two or three fireballs upon them, which was enough to finally kill them for good.

Griff heard my words and pulled up short as he readied a swing at Scylla. He
stared hard at her, then shrugged and plunged his blade through her breast. The
illusion shattered, and the spell was broken. Scylla dissipated into magical energy
once more.

Griff carried on, colliding with another demon, hacking it apart and sending it to
the floor to be finished off by myself and Happy, who found good use for her
‘scorching ray’ wand by frying the gross offspring of the demons body.

The demons on Griff’s ledge disappeared, winking out, only to show up again at
the top of the wide stairs that led up to the massive portal. They hissed at us, raising
their bows for a final volley. Caribdis sent another song of discord in amongst them,
and with shrieks of rage, they turned and leapt through the portal, letting themselves
be swallowed up in the inky blackness, but not before Taklinn could slam one of
them with his axes, killing it outright.

We were alone in the cavern.

“Ha, I knew it!” I exclaimed. “I knew that succubus wouldn’t show herself just
like that. Not with only a troop of lousy arrow demons to back her up.”

“Good call.” Said Griff, settling to the cavern floor. “She had me fooled good. I
thought sure she was gonna hit me with some god-awful spell.” He shuddered at the
thought.

“She must be beyond the portal,” Sensesi said, looking thoughtfully at the
obsidian-black expanse that towered over her like a giant mirror made of shadow.

“Wouldn’t surprise me,” I said, joining her to stand before the portal, “The heck
with it, I’m getting ready.” With that, I began casting my protective spells.

Caribdis cleared his throat, suddenly serious as he addressed us. “Listen,” he said,
his voice grave, “I just want to say it again: We die here, and we’re utterly dead.
There’s no coming back. I also want to ask a favor. If we can, if it’s possible, I want
the chance to capture Scylla. Please.”

I could see the sincerity in his eyes. Why he would take a personal interest in
Scylla was beyond me, and I was in no mood to try to figure it out.

“Caribdis, if Scylla gives up, then I will gladly accept her surrender.” That was all
I had to say on the matter. My decision had been made a long time ago. If she
didn't give up then one of us would die today, either myself or Scylla.

We cast, piling on the spells, instinctively knowing that our quarry was not far,
perhaps only beyond the veil of the portal.

Each of us looked at one another.
“It’s been a good ride.” I said, solemnly, “Drinks are on me when we get back to
Havilah.”

Taklinn nodded. “Aye. Should the chance to say it not come again, I’ll say it now:
You are all like family to me. That is the greatest honor I can bestow. It has been a
true pleasure.” The big dwarf grinned then. “Now lets be done with this!”

We stood shoulder to shoulder. Happy and Griff joined hands. The six of us
stepped into the portal.

***

I thought I had felt evil. I thought I knew what it felt like to feel my head swim
with it. I thought I knew what it was for my soul to be in jeopardy.

I knew nothing.

The instant my flesh touched the portal I was drawn into the abyss. I felt despair
so deep that I wept with utter hopelessness. Abject terror nearly stopped my heart,
and mindless rage gnawed at my bones. My body and mind were racked with a pain
so severe that I thought I must certainly go mad. I saw none of my companions.
Even Ambros was lost to me. I fell though the eternity of my own private hell for
what seemed a very long time.

And then, there arose within me a spark, a flame, a burst of divine energy so
brilliant that it seemed to blind me from the inside. With the speed of thought it
coursed through my body, filling my limbs and clearing my mind. It exploded from
me, driving back the darkness, suffusing me in a state of joy, the purity of which I
had never known.

It was not a voice that calmed me, but rather a feeling, an unquestionable certainty
that what I was experiencing was the hand of divinity. The gods, whoever they may
have been, were intervening on our behalf. It would be providence that guided us
through this final test.

Suddenly, all was gone. All the evil, all the good, and I stood in a massive
chamber, staring at my goal.

Beside me I could see my friends. All of them had survived the crossing, though I
had a deep feeling that all of them had undergone the same journey. A certain
brightness still clung to them.

The chamber spread out before us, positively crackling with Illugi’s energy. At
the rooms center was laid an intricate magical circle, a pentagram. From each of its
points, spread throughout the room, were poles, long stakes with sharpened ends,
planted into the floor. Upon each pole was impaled the tortured figure of a being, as
much dead as alive. Energy arced from one body to the next, lighting up the room
with eerie pulses. In that weird light I could make out the twisting shapes that made
up the very walls of the chamber. Much as it had been in Illugi’s temple so long
ago, the walls of this room were alive with the tormented souls of those Illugi had
trapped. They wailed and moaned; I could see their outlines, as if only a sheet
separated them from me.

In the center of the room, surrounded by the pentagram, stood the biggest statue
of Illugi we had yet seen. It was blacker than any black had a right to be. Flanking it
were two demons that I could not identify. They were bloated and covered in
oozing sores. Their massive arms hung from hunched shoulders, and their taloned
hands drug on the ground.

Between the statue and us stood another line of defense in the form of twelve
himrock orcs bristling with weapons. They were the very finest of Illugi’s orc army,
and they stood ready to protect their lord.

But all of that was merely a diversion to what really drew my eye. At the far end
of the room rose a stage some fifteen feet above the floor. Two staircases, one at
either end, ascended to the stage. And at its center glowed a rainbow hued sphere. It
was a ‘prismatic sphere’, and I knew as well as I knew my own name that Scylla
was in there.

They were ready for us. I had only an instant to take stock of the situation and get
my bearings before the himrocks were moving in with drawn blades, and the
demons were casting.

Taklinn and I were both hit with targeted ‘dispel magic’s’ flung at us by the
demons flanking Illugi’s statue. Fortunately for me I had cast a ‘spell turning’ on
myself before stepping through the portal, along with ‘stone skin’ and ‘protection
from energy’. The dispel bounced harmlessly from me and saturated its caster.
Taklinn was not so lucky, and I heard him curse as several dweomers were
stripped away from him.

Griff stood in front of me in a protective stance, sword held easily in his right
hand, letting the himrocks close the distance, though the orcs were the last of my
worries. I watched as the fight began to unfold. Sensesi took three quick bounds
forward and met a himrock full force, her sword a blur as it crashed through armor
and flesh.

I took to the air, raising up to get above the weapons below and to get a better
view of the stage. I saw a burst of conjuration magic emanate from the sphere
before I was able to bring a spell to bear.

It was no time for cat and mouse games. I unloaded the first of the two
‘Mordenkainen’s disjunction’s’ I’d prepared, encompassing the stage, the prismatic
sphere, the back wall and several of the impaling stakes. The result was most
satisfying.

The temple wall within the area of the disjunction appeared to heave and writhe
and finally melt away as the magic harnessing the souls contained therein was
quashed. The bodies impaled on sharpened stakes swelled and burst with sickening
pops, and the lines of magical energy snapped, whipping wildly as their anchors
were destroyed. The prismatic sphere was dispelled as well, winking out. But its
disappearance revealed nothing. I saw no Scylla suddenly revealed and I cursed,
looking wildly about for her.

Below me I kept an eye on Taklinn as he stepped up to the front lines to lend
Sensesi his aid. Between his axe and her sword they brought down a pair of the
himrocks even as more orcs stepped in to take their fallen comrades places. Several
of them fired heavy crossbows at me, but my stone skin repelled the bolts.

Below and to my right, Caribdis loosed arrows at an orc while sending a song of
discord their way. Only one of them was affected, but, as always, it was gratifying
to watch him turn against his own without warning.

Happy had gone invisible. I was able to see her as she maneuvered beneath an
unsuspecting orcs guard and stabbed him with lightning quick thrusts.

The two demons stepped up their offense, blinking from existence, only to
teleport to within a few yards of us. Brutal magic emanated from them and all of us
were filled with a sense of loss and despair. For a second I felt like just giving up,
but my rational mind saw it for the cheap trick it was and resisted, forcing the
hopelessness away. Fortunately the rest of my crew was just as strong willed, and
none of us were overcome by the aura.

Now that they were close enough, Griff waded into them, Talon at the ready. He
took a brutal hit before he was able to swing, but once he did the sound of his steel
biting into demonic flesh resounded throughout the room. He hacked into the beast,
forcing it back several steps, and finally knocking it from its feet to sprawl across
the floor, desperately trying to defend itself against Griff’s fury.

I was still in the air, holding my spells, looking for Scylla.

I saw her! The sorceress stepped out from behind the statue of Illugi, a spell at the
ready. Before I could hit her with a casting of my own, she let her spell fly. I felt the
terrible magic grip me and I took the full brunt of a spell the likes of which none of
my studies had prepared me for. I felt my blood boil and I was racked with agony
for long seconds before it seemed that my blood burst from every pore in my body,
twisting me with pain. The blood that shot from me formed a wispy, but strong
web, anchoring to the ceiling and holding me fast within its net, much like a ‘web’
spell, only far stronger and far more gory. I struggled and fought to get an arm free,
desperately trying to extricate myself. I was badly injured and had no spell readily
available for such a situation. I cursed, knowing I was a sitting duck. But I had a
trick still up my sleeve. I was just able to reach two fingers into my scroll pouch
and, after tearing my arm free of the bloody webbing, I flipped it open, and was
able to read the ‘greater teleport’. In a flash, I was out of the webbing and had
repositioned myself across the room, looking down on the battle once again. I saw
Scylla below me, her back now to me. She was franticly trying to find me. My eyes
narrowed and I used a spell that I had prepared specifically for her. It was a
quickened ‘dimensional anchor’, and it struck her squarely. She hissed in rage,
wheeling to face me as she realized what I had done. My spell would severely limit
her mobility, and I knew that was the first important step in her defeat.

Scylla raised her hands to cast at me but I was not her only problem. Caribdis had
spotted her and he crossed the distance at a dead run, casting on the way. He
grabbed her shoulder just as he completed an ‘Otto’s irresistible dance’ spell. She
must have retained some sort of spell resistance, however, despite having been hit
with my disjunction, for Caribdis’ spell had no effect on her. She slapped his hand
away and leapt back, turning her own magic on our bard.

We were by no means the only ones locked in combat. Below me the battle raged
fiercely. Sensesi and Happy were thinning out the orcish ranks slowly but surely.
Hap was particularly effective, still invisible to the himrocks eyes. She danced and
tumbled among them, flinging daggers, stabbing, finding vital organs, and dropping
them one after another. Several yards from her, Griff was still locked in a deadly
battle with one of the demons. He’d been hit hard, and two orcs had joined the fight,
making the odds three to one. Hap rolled clear of a clutch of orcs and fired off a
volley of daggers that struck one of Griff’s orcs in a neat line of steel that ran from
the base of his neck to the bottom of his spine. The orc pitched over dead. Hap sent
another set of daggers at Griff’s second orc, wounding the brute badly.

Taklinn joined with Sensesi and the pair fought back to back. He brought his axe
around again and again, bringing it away bloody every time. Himrocks fell about
them and began to pile up as he sang a dwarven battle song loud enough that
Clangeden must surely have heard it. I watched Taklinn closely, for he was the
lynch pin in a plan that I had formulated to defeat Scylla many weeks ago.

Not far away Griff had finally gotten the upper hand against the demon. He
ducked a brutal swing, leapt out of the way of another, then came in low and fast,
driving the point of his blade up into the sternum of the unholy beast, pushing with
all his might, driving it to the hilt. A great gout of blood poured from the demon,
and with a scream of rage and terror at having failed, it died even as Griff used a
foot to kick the creature free of his sword. Griff turned momentum into a swing that
caught the orc that still harried him under the chin. The Himrock’s head tumbled
end over end, bouncing across the blood slick floor.

All of this happened in the space of mere seconds. When I turned my eyes back
toward Scylla and Caribdis, I saw her finish her casting. It was another spell that I
did not recognize. Illugi must certainly have made available to her some truly
unholy and unique spells. I saw Caribdis wince as the spell hit him, but somehow it
seemed to bounce off of him and return to Scylla. I believe his armor must have
some spell turning properties, though he has never given me more than a wry smile
when I’ve asked him about it.

Scylla gnashed her teeth as she was hit by her own spell, but her own resistance
fended it off. With hate in her eyes, she began to cast again.

Then the moment I’d been waiting for arrived. I saw Taklinn tear his axe free of
an orc he’d just killed. Our dwarf looked around for another target, and I resolved to
give him one.

For a long time I have been turning over strategies in my head. Plans that would
best be used against a foe such as Scylla. This morning, when I’d prepared my
spells, I had just this situation in mind, and with no hesitation, I cast.

My first spell was ‘weaken resistance’. The thin, gray, beam hit her just behind
the ear, and while it did no damage, it stripped away the many layers of protective
spell resistance that I knew still clung to her. In an instant she was laid bare, and I
knew that she was finished.

My second spell was a quickened ‘scorching ray’. I knew it wouldn’t kill her, but
it was key to the plan. All three rays of fire slammed into her, leaving scorch marks
and causing her to whirl and face me. She snarled, raising a finger to point at me. I
am positive that the spell that would have come from that finger may very well have
been the end of me. But I also knew she would never have the chance to cast it. I
smiled at her.

“Taklinn! NOW!!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.

Taklinn turned, his eyes taking in the situation. He saw Scylla, saw that she was
injured, saw that she was open. Our eyes met, and without words, he knew exactly
what I meant for him to do. He took three quick steps toward Scylla and called her
name.

“Scylla!” he bellowed, “DIE!”

It was the single verbal component of one of his most powerful spells, ‘power
word kill’.

Ordinarily she would have been unaffected by the dweomer, but my ‘scorching
ray’ had brought her within striking distance of it. She glanced at Taklinn, then her
eyes widened in shock and disbelief as she realized, too late, the trap she’d fallen
into. She heard the word, terror swept across her face, she opened her mouth and I
could see her lips trying to form a defiant, “No!”

But no sound escaped her throat as Taklinn’s spell gripped her heart, stopping it
in mid-beat. She staggered, fell to her knees, tried one last time to bring her hands
together in a casting, but her fingers went numb. Time seemed to stand still as her
mouth fell slack, and she fell backwards, slumping onto the floor, staring at the
heavens she had abandoned with lifeless eyes. Scylla was dead.

I had little time to congratulate myself, for the fight was far from over. Even as
Scylla died, the remaining orcs and demon renewed their attacks with fresh fury. An
orc leapt at Sensesi, hacking into her with a broad axe. Our yuan-ti ally was looking
quite the worse for wear, for she bled now from a dozen wounds. She reeled under
the blow, bringing her sword up, desperately parrying another swing.

Another orc closed with Griff, hammering at our warrior and making solid contact
twice. Griff returned with a solid slash of the Talon, and Happy punctuated that
with a handful of daggers that killed the orc outright.

Caribdis tore his eyes from the fallen body of Scylla, and I could see deep regret
there. Still, to his credit, he did not let his remorse get in the way of what had to be
done. With uncanny accuracy he let fly two arrows at Sensesi’s orc, striking first in
the right eye, then in the left. With twin arrows lodged in its brain, the himrock died
instantly.

The remaining demon launched itself into the fray, bounding across the floor to
slam into both Taklinn and Sensesi. Sensesi managed to throw herself out of the
way, but Taklinn bore the full brunt of the hit. The demons claw pierced our cleric’s
protective steel and came away covered in blood. Taklinn stumbled back a step,
grievously wounded, and raised his axe.

Then Griff was there. Screaming a challenge, the big warrior sprinted the distance
and smashed into the demon with everything he had, hacking through hide and
bone. The demon shrieked and turned to face Griff in a rage. Griff hit it again, this
time with enough force to knock the demon to the floor. Howling in anger, it leapt
to its feet, but not before I flew in low and struck it twice, first with a maximized,
empowered, ‘scorching ray’, and then with a quickened ‘scorching ray’. All six
gouts of flame hit the demon, sending acrid smoke boiling from its matted fur.

The few orcs that were left were determined to fight to the very end, and they
closed in around Taklinn and Griff and the demon. Taklinn backhanded one of them
with a massive axe blow, sending its head flying. His axe never slowed as it
continued its arc, slamming into a second orc. But that second orc refused to die,
and cut Taklinn across the shoulder with a wicked sword strike.

Caribdis raised his bow to help, but two more orcs had spotted him. They charged
and Caribdis grunted in pain as both of them hit home, piercing his armor and
drawing copious amounts of blood. Caribdis, like myself, is far from used to being
injured, but he gritted his teeth against the pain and ignored his attackers. He leapt
back, briefly getting out of their range just long enough to loose a half-dozen
arrows. Four of them struck the demon just as it was getting to its feet. They
thudded into its forehead in a grouping no bigger than my fist. The demon’s eyes
crossed stupidly for a second, trying to focus on the shafts that had grown so
suddenly from its face, then it fell like an oak, dead before it hit the ground. A fifth
arrow took Taklinn’s orc neatly in the heart, slipping through a narrow gash it its
breast plate. Like the demon, the orc died instantly.

By now the fight was ours. Taklinn and Happy, and even a very wounded Sensesi
waded into the final pair of orcs on their side of the room. The himrocks fell like
ripe wheat.

Griff raced across the floor to Caribdis’ aid. Our bard was dancing franticly,
ducking and twisting to avoid sword thrusts. Griff rammed the first orc from
behind, severing its spine with a well aimed slash. Griff turned on the last living
orc, opening up a long wound down its side. The orc spun to face Griff, but in doing
so he left himself wide open for Caribdis. Our young bard calmly put an arrow in
the back of the orcs skull from point blank range. The orc was dead before it had a
chance to attack Griff.

They were all dead. The himrocks, the demons, Scylla, all of them lay at our feet,
and the only sound in the chamber was our own labored breathing and the crackling
of energy that flailed from broken connections between the impaled bodies. I landed
near Scylla’s body, looking at her still form. I felt quiet satisfaction in the victory.

But we were not finished. All six of us turned to regard the massive statue of
Illugi that dominated the room. It seemed to pulse with a dark evil, as if it wanted to
come to life and strike those who had defiled its temple and slain its worshipers. I
knew that it would soon be granted that opportunity, for all that remained to be
done was a second casting of ‘Mordenkainen’s disjunction’ for Illugi’s avatar to be
set free.

Griff wiped sweat and blood from his eyes and flung it away without a thought.
“Damn.” Was all he said. The big warrior limped over to Happy who flung her arms
around him gingerly.

“You’re hurt.” She said, reaching up to smooth Griff’s long hair from his face.

“What else is new?” He gave Hap his wry grin and bent to kiss her on the head.

“I can help with that.” Taklinn announced, walking toward Scylla’s body where
we had all begun to gather.

“Good thing,” I observed, glancing at the statue, “That was just round one. We
still have another to go.”

When we were all within range Taklinn cast a ‘mass heal’. I never tire of seeing
wounds that would normally take weeks or months to mend be healed within a few
seconds by clerical magic. Soon we were back in top shape, at least physically.

Caribdis stood over Scylla’s limp body, a sad look on his face. She looked terribly
small and frail, laying there on the bloody floor, her eyes still wide and empty.
Caribdis said nothing as I unfolded my portable hole and rolled Scylla’s body
inside. I was unwilling to leave it behind.

I folded the hole and tucked it away in a pouch. I turned to stand with the rest of
my comrades and stare up at the baleful statue of Illugi.

“It’s pretty big.” Caribdis said, thoughtfully.

Taklinn nodded. “That it is, lad. That it is.”

Griff snorted and stretched his shoulders. He wiped the blood from the Talon with
a rag. “It ain’t that big. Let’s get on with it! Doorag, do what you gotta do.”

I sighed, knowing that Griff was right. Best to take it on now while our blood was
up.

We took our positions. Caribdis stood at the foot of the stage, his bow at the
ready. Hap went invisible again, though she must surely have known that it would
do nothing