"Out of the Frying Pan" - Book II: Catching the Spark (Part Two) - {complete}

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Finally. . .

Session #37 (part II)

They marched through the woods that covered the hilly land, northward to Summit. Kazrack marched with Belear the entire time, and they talked in hushed, but serious tones the entire time. Ratchis led the way, but Helrahd was close behind. The others marched clustered in groups. Jeremy walked with Blodnath and Baervard at first, but later walked ahead to chat with Beorth and Martin.

The three companions discussed Jana, and Chance and even Malcolm, Jeremy fearing that the others had forgotten them, but then remembered that Beorth did not remember any of them, and Martin had never met Malcolm.

A recurring topic of discussion was Kazrack’s refusal to wear armor. It seemed everyone in the party thought he was being foolish.

“Kazrack?” Beorth asked the dwarf. “When you die, How shall I bury you?”

“You need not concern yourself with that,” Kazrack replied. “With Belear here, if such a thing were to occur, he could take care of it.”

“I am afraid your lack of armor will cause your demise,” Beorth stated flatly.

“I have made a pledge,” Kazrack said solemnly. “Please do not rebuke me. When I have seen that I have regained my gods’ favor, then I will re-don my armor.”

------------------

Summit was reached by late afternoon. Camp was made at the foot of one of the trails leading up the ridge to the town proper, and a list was made of equipment the group needed for their endeavor. The dwarves donated an emerald they claimed was worth 200 pieces of silver towards the collection, while Martin and Jeremy went into town, craving the comforts of an inn.

At the Sun’s Summit Inn, they were spotted immediately by Maxel the local smith that also acted as town constable. He called them over to his table.

“You two look pretty road-weary,” the constable said, standing to pull over an extra chair. “Come sit and eat and rest your feet and tell me of you journeys.”

“Well, um,” Martin pulled at his collar. “There isn’t much to tell.”

“Uh, yeah,” Jeremy added. “We ran into a bunch of gnolls and a crazy monster and had to come back here to rest and recollect our supplies.”

“In order to hunt the dragon?”

“Of course,” Martin replied.

“Well, those friends of yours. The brothers and foreigner,” Maxel began.

“Finn and Carlos and Frank and Gwar?” Martin asked.

“Yes,” the constable said. “They went looking for the missing people, which I am glad they are doing. Even if they don’t find the dragon, they can still do some good around here. I think the king was smart to attract stout-hearted young men here to Gothanius. We needed their spirit after the dark years of the wars with the orcs.”

“Um, do you know where they went?” Martin asked.

“Not exactly, but I know they were going to go to the temple of Bast to ask the young priest there for help,” Maxel replied.

“Temple of Bast?” Martin asked.

“Yes, surely you’ve been told about it,” Maxel said. “A little place north of town, a very thick wood separates the town from it. It is in the shadow of large outcropping of rock, where the ridge’s height rises dramatically. Arrias is a young priest that came took over the place after the old priest died. Not many people go there anymore. Bast has fallen out of favor in these parts, just not much call for luxury or pleasure.”

“I was unaware there was a priest there,” Martin said. “Perhaps we too can enlist his aid.”

“I’m up for going out there tomorrow,” Jeremy said. “Anything else unusual going on?”

“Well, actually,” Maxel said. “You see that young man over there.” He pointed to a young man of probably no more than 17 summers sitting at the bar. He had short dark red hair, and a fresh lightly freckled face, but it had the deep marks of dirt that only comes from weeks on the road. He wore a dark brown tunic with a green shirt, and had a dusk colored cloaked folded over the seat next to him. He had a pack beneath his feet, and he slurped from a bowl of steaming stew in fingerless gloves, but thicker leather gauntlets lay on the bar. The boy had a battleaxe on his back, and a bow wrapped up beside him.

“What about him?” Jeremy asked.

“Oh, he’s looking for you,” Maxel replied, looking at Martin.

“For me?” Martin asked. The constable nodded. In the meantime Gibb had brought them both food himself. And bringing a pitcher mead “on the house.” The constable noted that Martin did not drink any.

“I am abstaining from drink,” Martin replied, fingering his ring nervously.

“And the stew?”

“I ate on the road,” Martin said, as Jeremy slurped his down hungrily, smearing a thick slab of bread in the leftovers and then gobbling it down with relish. The Neergaardian washed it down with a second mug of mead.

The constable looked at Jeremy’s zest and then to Martin, but the watch-mage excused himself and walked over to the young man.

“I was told you seek me out,” Martin said, allowing his outer fur cloak to open to reveal his road-worn but immaculately clean emerald Academy robes. (184)

“You are Martin the Green!” The young man said, smiling. He stood and took Martin’s hand.

“I am called Derek. Derek Jamison,” the young man said. “I was sent to give you a message and to aid you if at all possible, by Barnstable the Brown, of Ettinos.”

“Oh? Have you really?” Martin replied with a smile. “What bring you to Derome-Delem to begin with?”

“Oh, I have been here 6 or 7 months,” Derek replied. “I have things I need to tell you, but perhaps here in the common room is not the best place.”

“Of course,” Martin replied, and waved for Jeremy to follow him. Mara led them to the room that had been prepared for them.

“Barnstable was a friend of my teacher, Red Arrow,” Derek said. “And my teacher sent me in his place to aid you and inform you however I could about the dragon.”

“What do you know about the dragon?” Martin asked intrigued.

“Well, there is evidence he uncovered that it might not just be any old dragon,” Derek claimed. “It is supposed to be one of the oldest dragons. One of the first generations of dragons - I think they call the ‘Progenitors’.”

“I don’t like the sound of that,” Jeremy quipped.

‘Tell me something,” Martin said. “What kind of familiar does Barnstable have?”

“Uh, a goat named Scrappy,” Derek replied.

Martin nodded.

“Are you some kind of dragon expert?” Jeremy asked.

“No, not at all,’ Derek replied. “I am just a good tracker. Good at getting into place, decent in a fight, if I have my bow, that is.” The kid winked.

“Heh,” Jeremy dropped into his bed and started pulling off his boots.

“Well, we can use all the help we can get,” Martin said. “It is good to know that my Academy contacts an actually pan out for me. But unfortunately, the dragon is the last thing on our list right now. We have quaggoths from the Plutonic Realms and people searching for Hurgun’s Maze and demon gnomes and drow.”

“Well, I gave my word I’d help you, and so I will,” Derek said. “What are you doing next?”

“We are going to go save some good gnomes from evil gnomes,” Martin explained. “Or at least try. But in a way that will help because they might know more about the dragon, especially after we were led to believe there was no dragon.”

“Oh, there is a dragon,” Derek said.

“Well, if Barnstable says there is, then I believe it,” Martin replied. “But there is a lot you need to get caught up on if you should hope to help.”

“Well, tell it to him quietly then, will ya?” Jeremy said, crankily rolling over in the bed. “And you know Ratchis would kill ya if he knew you were telling a stranger about all the things we been doing.”

“But Barnstable the Brown sent him,” Martin objected.

“Yeah, yeah, Barneby the Buh. . .” the Neergaardian’s voice trailed away into a snore, the kinks and knots in his body relaxing as he snuggled into the straw filled mattress.

Martin and Derek talked into the night, until finally the well-traveled boy fell asleep on the floor. Martin who only needed two hours of sleep, spent the rest of the night scouring his maps and studying his notebooks and spellbooks, while Thomas ran around in circles about the room.


Osilem, 24th of Onk – 562 H.E.

Jeremy was up early the next day, and after a quick bite brought Derek with him to the camp. He introduced him around as “Martin’s friend who is gonna help us” and proceeded to enlist his aid in helping the party gather the needed supplies.

The dwarves all paid no attention to the young man, except Kirla, who Ratchis noticed giving the once over.

Kazrack shook the boy’s hand heartily, “Know how to use that thing?” He gestured to the battle axe.

“Kind of,” Derek replied. He was soft-spoken, but had a tone of confidence that rung in the few words he used to express himself.

Ratchis immediately trusted him, and decided to go with his gut feeling. “Is not Nephthys also goddess of friendship?” he thought. (185)

Jeremy, Derek and Ratchis went to retrieve the goods the party needed.

Meanwhile, Martin finally awoke, having finally gone to sleep as the sun had appeared below the eastern mountains. He washed up, and gathered his things to visit the Alderman. However, when he opened the door, there stood William Turnkey.

William’s long brown hair was back in a neat pony-tail, and he wore a long coat of dyed sheepskin and a three-corner hat.

“May I come in?” he asked with a polite smile.

Martin stepped back and let him in, closing the door again. “Richard?”

The form of William Turnkey shifted and bulged and twisted. There stood Richard the Red, his auburn hair falling in neat ringlets on his adorned ear. His crimson Academy robes were immaculate, especially when compared to Martin’s shabby road set. He smiled broadly. He had finely combed beard and mustache. The inner lining of his blood red dyed sheepskin cloak was a soft turquoise satin. He wore a short sword on his belt, and a huge red stone on a golden ring on left pinky finger.

“So, where have we been?”

“I don’t know where we have been, but I have been helping to fulfill tasks required to reverse the consequences of your misdeeds,”: Martin said. He offered Richard a chair, but the watch-mage preferred to stand.

“You are not being clear, Martin,” Richard replied. “How am I supposed to help you if you are unclear with me. The more information you give me the more I can piece together and figure out exactly what is going on around here and fix it.”

“I dare say that you, Richard, a good part of ‘what is going on around here’,” Martin replied. He plopped down on the bed. Thomas popped up onto his shoulder.

“Oh, your familiar is cute,” Richard said, and suddenly there was a nut in his hand. He offered it to Thomas.

“Thomas isn’t hungry,” Martin said, flatly. And the squirrel leapt into the younger watch-mage’s hood.

Richard flicked the nut into the air and then caught it again. It disappeared up his sleeve.

“It’s important to know all kinds of magic,” Richard winked after his little trick.

“What do you want Richard?” Martin sighed/. “Have you freed another drow witch we should know about?”

“Come now, Martin! Where are your manners?” Richard chided him. “Is that any way to treat a colleague and wizened mentor?”

“I ask again, what do you want?”

“I come to offer you something, Martin,” Richard replied, sighing some himself. He sat down beside Martin on the bed. “Surviving in this environment means growing and becoming more powerful to help defeat the evils we both know exist. We are on the same side, Martin. We may have different means, but we have the same ends. Peace. Stability. Justice. I have a proposal for you.”

“And what is that?” Martin the Green stood and walked across the room.

“I train you,” Richard replied. “I teach you some spells. I am certain you are ready for spells of the Third House (186) and maybe a little bit of this or that, and you inform me.

“Inform you?”

“Yes,” Richard stood and walked over to him. “You and your companions can serve as another set of eyes and means of gathering information. If we pool our knowledge we can both be better prepared. I with share with you my magical knowledge and arcane lore and you will share with me your gathered knowledge, you rumors, and sightings and theories and what-have-yous. Of course, I would tell you some of these things as well.”

Richard turned and walked back to the bed.

“I cannot speak for my companions.”

“Then speak for yourself,” Richard retorted. “What will it be? Will we help each other?”

Martin hesitated.

“I don’t see any reason why we cannot aid each other in mutual goals, or with some shared knowledge,” Martin finally said. “But I must confer with my companions about the training. I, too, think I can handle spells of the Third House – but this will take time and that we do not have much of.”

“Okay, so let me start by asking you where you and your companions have been,” Richard said.

“The Circle of Thorns,” Martin replied. “A druid’s circle dedicated to the Beast Gods, west of here.”

“I have heard rumor of them. What were you doing there?”

“Kazrack and Ratchis had tasks to accomplish there. Tasks for Osiris in return for bring Jeeremy back to life,” Martin explained.

“ What?’ Richard seemed genuinely shocked. “When did Jeremy die?”

“In Aze-Nuquerna,” Martin replied. “You know after you charmed him and drew him down to the garbage pit was, with the living pile of tentacled filth?”

Richard looked down suddenly. “I, uh, I didn’t know. I certainly didn’t mean for him to get hurt. I, uh, didn’t want him to go down there after me. Could you tell him I’m sorry?” Richard looked up at Martin, who eyed the older watch-mage intensely looking for a sign of sarcasm.

He found none.

“Tell him yourself.”

“How did he come back to life?” Richard asked.

“The Urn of Osiris,” Martin answered. “The elves had one.”

“Of course, they can’t use it themselves,” Richard scratched his chin. “So you all had to make promises to Osiris to get him back?”

“Yes.”

“What was yours?”

Martin hesitated.

“Why do I think you are going to be able to tell me something about my required task?” He finally said.

“I don’t know. What is it?”

Martin sighed.

“I’m not sure I should tell you,” Martin replied.

“I cannot help you if you don’t tell me,” Richard said, softly.

“I am supposed to retrieve something called the Book of Black Circles from some Brotherhood of the Lost and then cast one spell from it and then destroy the book,” Martin said, all in one breath as if to sneak it by the elder mage.

Now it was Richard the Red’s turn to sigh. He sat back down on the bed. Martin sat on the chair.

“That is not exactly an easy task,” Richard finally spoke.

“It’s not.”

“What is the alternative?”

“Death.”

“Have you considered dying?”

Martin did not reply, but rolled his eyes.

“I am not kidding, Martin,” Richard said solemnly. “The Book of Black Circles is not just any old spellbook and if half the things I have heard about it are true, death is preferable to reading even a single one of its pages.”

Martin buried his face in his hands.

“What was written in that book was transcribed by seven of the most diabolical and corrupt minds of all time.”

Martin looked up, “The Corruptor?” (187)

“Yes,” Richard nodded. “He was the last. It was he who was finally able to bend the book to his will.”

“What more do you know about it? What specifics?” Martin asked.

“This has to be an even trade. I’ll tell you all I know about the book and you tell me about, hmmm, the other tasks. I assume the others were for Kazrack, Jana and Ratchis?”

Martin nodded.

“Well?”

Martin went into a long-winded and carefully worded description of what the party had done in Dybbuk Akvram, and about the death of Jana. He left out the monks, the golden dire ram and about Ratchis’ night of copulation.

“So what spells can you offer me?” Martin asked as soon as his tale was done.

Richard laughed and named five spells. Martin could choose any two of them.

“I would not seek out that book if I were you,” Richard then said. “It will mean your death, or worse and the same for your friends. Sure, there is great power in it – but it will corrupt you. It cannot be used for good. You do not have the strength to withstand it.”

“And I bet you would, right?”

Richard was silent for a moment, and then shook his head.

“No, I would not trust myself. I would not touch it.”

The two watch-mages were silent again. “But not to worry we’ll figure you a way out of this. You know, even promises made to gods can be circumvented with the proper loopholes.” Richard winked.

“I need to find companions and discuss the question of my training with them,” Martin said, standing. “I am afraid we are under too tight a schedule to fit it in now, but I will try my best. How shall I find you?”

“I have a room here under William Turnkey,” Richard said.

-----------------

Martin caught up with his companions and spent the morning with them collecting gear. He mentioned to Ratchis about Richard the Red and training.

“I don’t trust him,” Ratchis replied.

“Neither do I,” Martin said. “But I need the spells, and the power will help us against Mozek, if he is who we are to face next.”

Ratchis nodded. “I think we have waited this long, we can afford to wait a little longer. How long will it take?”

“Eight days or so,” Martin replied.

‘The hardest part will be convincing Kazrack,’ Ratchis said.

“But at least we will be able to spend the Festival of Isis here in town,” Martin said.

Again, Ratchis nodded.

------------

The afternoon found Jeremy, Martin, Ratchis, Derek and Beorth having a light meal and sipping beer (except Martin of course) at the Sun’s Summit Inn.

Suddenly, the door burst open and a teen-aged boy in an apron came running in. He had bowl-cut black hair and chubby cheeks despite his tall thin, almost gawky, frame. He had a hammer in his hand.

“Gibb! Sound the militia bell!” the boy cried, out of breath. “There are dwarves marching on the town dressed for war!”

“Ranold Horton, if you are fibbing me you know you’re going to get in quite a bit of trouble,” Gibb said, snapping the towel he had on the bar.

Martin rose and walked over. “I’ll handle this,” he said. “It is my fault. The dwarves are with us. I should have informed the constable and the alderman. Run back to your father and tell him to not raise the alarm. I will be right over to explain everything.

“Yes sir,” the boy said and went running back out.

Beorth and Ratchis decided to head to the dwarf camp “just in case”, while Jeremy accompanied Martin to the Alderman’s house.

The two companions found Alderman Henry Horton up on the roof of his house with one of his sons, re-shingling the roof after what had been a harsh winter.

“Make sure you get those straight, Garold,” the alderman said to his oldest son, and then waved to Martin.

“Martin the Green! I’m glad to see you alive and well, and to hear we are not under attack by dwarves!” the alderman said, as he made his way to the ladder and down off the house.

“I like him, he’s down to earth,” Martin whispered to Jeremy.

“Down to earth? But he’s on the roof!” Jeremy replied, with a chuckle.

Martin poked the Neergaardian with an elbow.

The alderman invited the Martin and Jeremy inside, where his wife Melanie, served crackers and cheese, along with some wine. Jeremy ate hungrily, while Martin did his best to look as if he were eating, and even managed to swallow down a mouthful of the stuff, that was as tasteless and disgustingly textured as damp parchment covered in half-solidified glue to him.

Martin did his best to tell the alderman some of what the party had been doing, without giving away anything too specific, though at one point he mentioned the gnomes, causing Jeremy to shoot him a glance.

“Gnomes?” the alderman asked. “What gnomes?”

“Oh, nothing terribly important, and nowhere around here,” Martin replied. “Just some gnomes we encountered journeying from abroad. Um, we told them we’d give them what aid we could to get home safely.”

Jeremy nodded.

“Well, even a day’s journey beyond here to the west, north or southwest can lead to very dangerous territory,” the alderman said. “While the people of Gothanius have never seen eye to eye with the non-humans of Derome-Delem, I hope no harm comes to them.”

“I’m sure none will,” Martin replied.

“Anyway, gnomes are pretty short. You’d have to get down on one knee to see eye to eye with them,” Jeremy quipped.

Martin glared at Jeremy. But the Alderman laughed.

“Well, hopefully those mercenaries the king sent to explore the territory north of Greenreed Valley for further expansion will make this whole area a lot more safe,” the Alderman said, and took a sip of wine.

“Mercenaries? You mean the dragon-hunters?” Martin asked.

“Huh? No, no. A group of maybe two dozen men passed through here to explore the area north of Greenreed Valley. They arrived during that last horrible snowstorm, and left right after it cleared. Hmmm, maybe four days ago; No word from them yet, but it hasn’t been too long.”

“Oh, I see,” Martin mused over this silently.

“Not to butt in, but do you know why the king has decided to send these men now?” Jeremy asked.

“Well, springtime is the best time for exploration, and the dragon has not been sited for some time, as far as I know,” the alderman explained. “The more land we have, the more resources, the more resources, the more strength.”

Melanie walked into the living room, and Martin noticed she was looking at his plate.

“I… um… um… I…” Martin hemmed and hawed.

“How long do you plan to be in town?” the alderman asked. “Now that the thaw is here, we can begin the work on your house.” (188)

“Oh, my companions and I have not decided yet…”

Jeremy interrupted, “But hopefully, we will be here for a few days at least. We can use the rest and recuperation.”

“Yes, I hope we will be here long enough to celebrate the Festival of Isis with you and your townsfolk,” Martin finished.

“That would be lovely indeed, and would mean a lot to the people of Summit.” The alderman replied.



As Martin and Jeremy walked back to the place at the foot of the ridge where the dwarves were camped, Jeremy said, “I have a bad feeling about what might happen if those mercs run into the gnomes or vice versa.”

“I know.”

At the camp, Martin pulled Ratchis and Kazrack aside to speak with them about Richard the Red’s proposal.

“At the very least it would mean another delay,” Kazrack said. “Not to mention, that Richard the Red is not to be trusted and is responsible for great evils beings loosed on the world and the effective death of two young elven women.” (189)

Martin nodded, and Ratchis scratched his own chin.

“In fact, instead of trying to convince me that it is in our interest to allow you to train with this villain, perhaps you should explain to me how it is not in our interest to tell Belear of Richard, rally my kinsmen we have here and march into town to capture, and failing that, kill, this so-called Watch-Mage?”

“We should discuss this with everyone,’ Ratchis said. “I have no objections to involving Belear, but we should limit what the other dwarves know, lest one of them put it on themselves to do something rash.”

“Dwarves are never rash,” Kazrack replied.

“Uh-huh.” Jeremy said, walking over.

Soon, Jeremy, Martin, Ratchis, Kazrack, Beorth and Belear had made their own circle around a smaller fire to discuss the situation. Derek was busy looking through the various supplies the others had gathered in and around town, hovering not too far away.

“Beorth, what have you been told about Richard the Red?” Ratchis asked the paladin.

“He… freed the drow witches, at least that is what Jana told me,” Beorth replied.

“It is a bit more complicated than just that,” Martin sighed.

And the tale of the party’s woes, especially as they pertain to Richard the Red were discussed in some detail, each member of the party adding what they remembered and their own two coppers besides. Martin and Jeremy added what the alderman had said about the mercenary band.

”This is as convoluted as the ancient tales that take six days to tell,” Belear commented.

“And yet, we did it in less than an hour, not bad eh? Jeremy quipped.

“I do not think it is in our power to defeat or capture Richard the Red,” Martin said.

“And yet, it seems perfectly within his power to know where we are and when Martin is around,” Jeremy added. “Maybe we can learn something from this, and eventually be able to defeat him.”

“I don’t like it,” Kazrack said.

“Kazrack,” Belear spoke in his typical solemn tone. “You are more familiar with this man’s crimes than I am, so I leave this decision in your hands, and out of mine. However, Martin, my advice to you is that you abandon these foul arcane practices that can only lead to your corruption.”

“Um, thank you,” Martin coughed. “I will consider the advice.”

“I say he does it,” Ratchis said. “We are going to need whatever firepower we can against Mozek, and we can use more time to gather supplies, and I want to commission a bow built for my strength. In addition, we should seek out the aid of the priest of Bast, and perhaps Finn and the others will return with some useful news.”

Kazrack grunted and stood, as if to walk away, but then turn back to the circle, and looked to Martin. “You know best in regards to your own order and ways, Martin,” the dwarf said. “I do not trust Richard the Red, but I do trust you, and thus I trust you to make the right decision.”

There was silence around the fire, broken only by Derek’s sudden whistling as he moved to where the dwarves were preparing dinner.

“Then I say we stay a while and I learn what I can from him,” Martin finally said. “Whatever evils Richard may have done or allowed to have happened, I have to assume at this moment that he still had a good intention despite his means, and still seeks to fulfill the oath of our order to help each other in training and gaining of knowledge.”

“And what of the mercenaries?” Beorth asked.

“They have either found the gnomes or not by now,” Ratchis said. “There is nothing we can do about that.”

“Also, I would like to be around for the Festival of Isis,” Martin said. “As superficial as it may seem to some of you, the ability for a watch-mage to accomplish his duties is often dependent on the goodwill of the people he is sworn to help protect, and if I do not know the people of Summit and they do not see me among them celebrating holidays as they do, there could be an irreparable gulf that could cause greater harm later.”

And so, it was agreed.

End of Session #37

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Notes:

(184) Martin uses the prestidigitation cantrip to keep his travel robes clean. He has a second set of robes he dons for special occasions.

(185) As friendship is a duty chosen by freewill, Nephthys also concerns herself with element of human life.

(186) In Aquerra, arcane spells are divvied by “House” to describe level of power.

(187) Marchosias the Corruptor is one of the most infamous of evil wizards in Aquerra’s history. A former master of the Academy of Wizardry, he is responsible for the Second Humano-Orc War, the creation of The Void Heart (aka the Sphere of Annihilation), and the collection of countless items of great magic for his plans of world domination.

(188) Remember, Martin the Green is supposed to be stationed in Summit overseeing the dragon-hunting project and helping to aid the people of Gothanius in general and the settling of Greenreed Valley in specific.

(189) Rahasia and Tirhas Tesfay.
 
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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Well, there you go. . .

Sorry for the delay. . .

I hope there aren't too many more typos than usual, as part of this was written during a delusional fever. :D (I'm not kidding either)

I hope you enjoy!

As usual, comments and questions are welcome.
 

Metus

First Post
Nice. Gotta love the big updates. :D

Something that's been nagging on me everytime I see it mentioned is Martin's ring. It allows him to go without food or sleep, right? However, if he needs to eat (if only for show), why does he not just take off the ring, eat, and then put it back on. Likewise, if he's free to sleep and wants to, why doesn't he just take it off momentarily?

In any case, I'm liking it that they're back with civilization. I wonder how the gnome thing will turn out, and I still miss Tirhas. Here's hoping that ends with a good result.
 

Sammael99

First Post
nemmerle said:
Well, there you go. . .

Sorry for the delay. . .

I hope there aren't too many more typos than usual, as part of this was written during a delusional fever. :D (I'm not kidding either)

I hope you enjoy!

As usual, comments and questions are welcome.

Great stuff, as usual !

It had been a while since we had so much background and it reminds me how pleasantly Aquerra's history and legends unwind.

Way to go !
 

Horacio

LostInBrittany
Supporter
Nemm, compadre, that was a wonderful update!
Long, full of life...
Amigo, I miss the times where you updated weekly...
 

Ciaran

First Post
Metus said:
Something that's been nagging on me everytime I see it mentioned is Martin's ring. It allows him to go without food or sleep, right? However, if he needs to eat (if only for show), why does he not just take off the ring, eat, and then put it back on. Likewise, if he's free to sleep and wants to, why doesn't he just take it off momentarily?
The ring's benefits regarding food and sleep take a week to kick in. If he takes it off for even a moment, then he has to wear it for a whole 'nother week before it starts working again. This generally hasn't been an option up to this point.

- Eric
 


Cyronax

Explorer
I think I like the long updates.....that's what nemm's done in the past, and that's what i'm used to.

Short updates, especially when an author gives as much details as nemm does, wouldn't have as much...um....drama or effect as long ones.

As for the update, great as ever. The PCs needed a bit of a rest after all they've been through lately. As for Derek Jamison, I'm fairly suspicious of certain things about him....especially given Richard's recent appearance.

Nemm thanks as always,
C.I.D.
 

Cyronax

Explorer
(off the second page bump)

No one else loves this story?! I hate to be posting back to back like this, but darn it....BUMP!!!!!!!

C.I.D.
 

Sammael99

First Post
Re: (off the second page bump)

Cyronax said:
No one else loves this story?! I hate to be posting back to back like this, but darn it....BUMP!!!!!!!

C.I.D.

Course we do !

Nemm, you rock !

Cyronax, thanks for bumping but here I was hoping it was an update...

Grrrrr...

;)
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I haven't worked on the next installment yet - but some of the things you can look forward to:

* The Celebration of the Festival of Isis!

* The Party gets a name!

* Martin trains with Richard the Red!

* The Party and their dwarven allies finally leave to face the demon-gnome threat.
 

Manzanita

First Post
I love this story. I hope I'm not repeating a question, but one thing I think particularly contributes to the 'feel' of the story is the color names associated with the academy graduates. Are their colors an individual thing, or a specialist thing, or something else? By that, I mean, are all illusionists 'the Green' & all enchanters 'the red'? (I assume Richard is an enchanter.) If so, do you mind telling us the other colors associated w/the other specialities?
 

Ciaran

First Post
The color names are purely an individual thing. At graduation, each new alumnus is assigned a color; if I recall correctly, the color is chosen by a consensus of your classmates. I chose green for Martin because he likes gardening, though that's not something that really gets showcased all that much in the story hour. :)

- Eric
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Manzanita said:
I love this story


Hey! Thanks for dropping by! Have you been reading for long, or are you a recently caught up new-comer? Just curious, cause I've never seen you post before.

As for the Academy Robe Color thing, Cairan got it right. . . It is merely meant as a way to distinguish Academy from other mages. . .
 




el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I am on page 16 of the next installment. . . I promise it some time tonight or tomorrow morning at the latest. . .

I will bring you one complete session! (Then I will only be 14 sessions behind, instead of 15 ;))
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #38

And so days began to pass, as winter hiccupped into spring. Martin spent his time training with Richard, learning to channel greater arcane forces, and trying gain whatever knowledge of arcana and other interesting tidbits he could, but Richard the Red seemed very closed mouthed while he did his teaching. He was very serious about the task at hand, and tolerated little small-talk.

The dwarves remained camped outside of Summit, just southeast of the alder-village, at the base of the path that led up the ridge to the settlement.

Each morning Belear would awaken Kazrack with a kick, for they had training of their won to do, as the elder dwarf was helping the younger to unravel the greater mysteries of the miracles granted him by the dwarven gods. (190)

“Ugh! I was already awake,” Kazrack would complain, shielding his head with his arms.

“You say that every morning,” Belear would always reply with a sign of humor.

Meanwhile. Jeremy did his best to help Beorth with his climbing, finding a spot on the ridge and spotting him and giving his pointers as the paladin alternately scaled the cliff both with and without his armor on.

Ratchis spent his time wandering the nearby woods, gathering wood and game for the camp, and occasionally accompanied by Derek, who also seemed to be at ease in the forest, and helping to provide for the rest.

During this time, both the party and the people of Summit were preparing for the Festival of Isis. The party prepared their own gifts for one another (or at least some of them did), while the town built a stage in the square, and all the townsfolk hung bells from their eaves and had paper-lamps hanging in their doorways and windows. The weather was growing just warm enough to allow the outdoor celebrations to go on without worry, and tables were brought out and the smell of the traditional butter made from small crisp winter apples to be spread on the bread being baked in every home.

Anulem, the 28th of Onk – 564 H.E.

On the evening of the holiday Ratchis approached Kazrack after the dwarf’s evening training session.

“Kazrack, would you do us the honor of joining us in town tomorrow evening for the celebration? Despite your religious affiliation?” the half-orc asked the pious dwarf.

“Your offer warms my heart, but I cannot join in revelry at this time,” the dwarf replied solemnly. “I wish you and our companions a good time, and I wish I could join you.”

Ratchis shook his head and walked off to join Beorth, Jeremy and Derek on their walk up to town.

The whole town was aglow, not only with the colorful shadows of the paper lamps, but with genuine joy. It was as if the sorrow that normally hung over the town on the edge of the Gothanian frontier had temporarily lifted.

The sound of music could be heard, even before the party turned the corner to see an open pavilion tent, beneath which a rang-tag banc of ten musicians played, while townsfolk danced in circles and squares, spinning each other around and switching partners when a caller commanded.

The smell of freshly cooked food wafted in the air, and there were three large bon-fires burning, as children ran screaming chasing each other in blind glee.

Martin the Green was already there, standing with the alderman and shaking the hands of the townsfolk, who all seemed to want the honor of meeting him. He had spent the first part of the day training with Richard, but the lesson had not been very productive. Richard seemed to have returned to his chatty and questioning self, continually bringing up the gnomes, and asking what the “internal matter” that would be so important to him. (191)

There were only about 200 people in Summit, and all appeared to be in attendance. Ratchis immediately walked over to where the food was being served and grabbed a bowlful. The townspeople parted like the sea before the huge half-orc, some glaring at him from a safe distance, but most simply avoiding meeting his gaze altogether. The women shuddered as he went from table to table getting food. Ratchis felt the alienation heavy on his shoulders, but he felt the rumble in his stomach more deeply.

Jeremy joined the dancing, while Derek stood by and listened to the musicians, while eating a spiced sausage on a stick.

Beorth stood apart from everyone, though he did try some of the food. He seemed uncomfortable with the whole thing. (192)

Martin began giving out copper pieces to all the children, and soon a riot broke out as several wanted more than one and others began fighting over what had been given them.

“Is that anyway to behave on the Festival of Isis?” Martin asked them. “If you don’t behave Isis will see and your gifts will go ‘poof”!”

The children were astonished.

“Hey Martin, you look like you picked up some new recruits!” Jeremy exclaimed as he walked over, smiling at the children that surrounded Martin.

“Is he an evil wizard?” one of the children asked, pointing at Jeremy. The Neergaardian did not wear any armor, and only had the Right Blade of Arofel with him, he had washed up and his golden locks were slicked back. He had finally gotten a chance to shave in the inn, and his rugged good looks were apparent once again.

One of the young girls tittered.

“Yes! I am an evil wizard! Boo!” Jeremy bellowed and the children scattered screaming. Jeremy laughed and went over to get some more food and drink before re-joining the dancing.

Soon the music died down and the Alderman, Henry Horton, took the stage. There was a rousing cheer and a great deal of applause. He made the typical official-sounding speech one would expect a politician to make, followed by some general announcements, and a general wish that the populating of Greenreed Valley would bring wealth and prosperity to Summit in the coming year.

“And one last thing,” the alderman added. “We have special guests with us here tonight. None other than Martin the Green, who as well all know will be living with us here in Summit as the kingdom’s watch-mage, showing again how even the Crown recognizes the importance of our fine town, and his stalwart companions, whose deeds have already reached our ears, though they remain humble about it. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I give you… THE FEARLESS MANTICORE KILLERS! (193)

There was a great cheer from the crowd and everyone looked to the party with great big smiles.

“Yes, word returned from the capital of how you all slew the beast and then donated to the king for his trophy room,” the Alderman added.

There was another cheer, and then a large cake was carried out in the party’s honor and they were all handed huge pieces and mugs of ale to drink. Ratchis had to go get his own though, as no one would approach him.

“No one likes you because you’re a pig-f*cker,”a man standing near the keg said to Ratchis.

Ratchis looked up with a snarl.

“Yeah, you remind them of what they don’t want to know,” the man continued. HE slurred his words some.

“And what’s that?” Ratchis asked.

“That no one in the part of the world doesn’t have some orc in ‘im,” the man laughed, and slapped Ratchis on the shoulder. “My own great-grandma was an orc. Sure, I don’t look like a pig-f*cker, but I am one too, and so are more people than would care to admit.”

The man smiled and Ratchis smiled back, and then the man leaned over and puked up huge chunks of the spicy sausage covered in a greasy yellow sauce.

“Cheers!” Ratchis cried with a smile and raised his cup, going over to his spot away from the crowd, but feeling better about it.

Derek moved embarrassedly away from the party, and hung around on the outskirts of the square, not wanting to gain undeserved glory by association; though he did have some cake.

The dancing and eating continued, and even after all the children had nodded off to sleep, the adults kept dancing and drinking. Beorth noted, however, that the people hardly ever actually praised Isis, or said the names of any of the gods.

As if to prove his thought wrong, an old woman approached the ghost-hunter of Anubis and asked, “I was told you serve Anubis. Is that true?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Beorth replied, bowing his head.

“You do not seem like the monks I saw when I was a girl, when there still some around. They took my grandfather away when he died,” the lady croaked.

“I am not a monk,” Beorth said. “I am a warrior in service to Anubis.”

“Well, I was hoping you could give a prayer or bless for my daughter,” the woman asked.

“She has passed on?”

“Uh, well… she’s among those that went missing,” the woman’s voice cracked. “She had gotten herself a beau, you know, and was on her way to meet him where he tended his papa’s goats, but she never made it there.”

She choked back a sob.

“I am sorry,” Beorth said.

“People say to keep up hope,” the woman continued, the tears streaming down her face juxtaposed against the revelry so near them and all around. “But it has been so long. I know in my heart she must be dead. I just have to let go. I just have to go on. I can’t hope.”

“I understand,” Beorth said. “What was her name?”

It took a long time for the woman to be able to speak the name, “Rita”.

“I will give a prayer in her name so that Anubis may watch over her soul wherever it may be,” Beorth promised. “Rest assured that whatever she may have suffered in this life, she is safe against the bosom of Anubis.”

The woman sobbed and thanked him.

Finally the night began to wind down. Jeremy drunkenly shook the alderman’s hand. “If you throw a party like this next year we’ll be back!”

“We throw a party like this every year,” the alderman replied with a smile.

Beorth, Ratchis, Jeremy and Derek headed back to the camp. Martin told them to go ahead as he received a note calling him back to the inn.

There in his room he found a pile of gifts and a note explaining that these items for him and his companions as token for the Festival of Isis. It was signed by Richard the Red.

Martin took up the gifts to bring back to camp with him. There was heavy rectangular object (probably a book) wrapped in a dingy gray cloth and tied with cord, addressed to Martin. There was a oblong package wrapped in burlap, addressed to Jeremy. There was a painted blue box addressed to Ratchis. A sack with clanging pieces of metal within was addressed to Kazrack, and for Beorth there was a linen bag that seemed to hold some sort of heavy cloth.

Martin distributed the gifts, but Beorth did not touch his.

Martin unwrapped a book which was a dictionary of runes, sigils and wards and their common roots. (194)

Jeremy unwrapped a jeweled scabbard of a golden weave. Three sizable sapphires were evenly spaced down its length. The attached noted read, “This is a replica of the scabbard of the Right Blade of Arofel. I saw it in a mural above the Vault of Lutz in the Trolldeep.”

Jeremy was awed and immediately began putting it on his belt.

“Where’s Trolldeep?” he asked Martin, and the watch-mage shrugged his shoulders.

The blue-dyed wooden box held an orcish tattooing kit for Ratchis. There were two large needles, and a barb for scarification, and two jars of ink, one red and one indigo.

For Kazrack, there was a black metal greave fit for his right arm, which would fit over his armor (195).

“Whoever this Richard is, he must think very highly of all of you,” Beorth said.

“He’s always wanted us in his debt,” Martin replied.

“I am refusing his gift,” Beorth said, flatly.

“Why?” asked Jeremy.

“Because this man is trying to manipulate us and buy our trust,” Beorth explained.

“What does your note say?” Ratchis asked.

“It says ‘Life is a series of choices’,” the paladin read. “I have made mine. Martin, you can give your friend his gift back.”

“He is not my friend,” Martin replied.

“Nor mine.”

“It was given in the spirit of Isis,” Ratchis said. “It would be an insult to the craftsmanship of whatever it is to let it go unused.”

“I will not be convinced,” Beorth said.

Ratchis distributed gifts of his own. He had used hides gathered from animals he had hunted and made armbands stitched with a broken chain motif.

“Does this make us honorary friars of Nephthys?” Jeremy asked excitedly.

“No, but they sort of represent our…uh,” Ratchis struggled for the word.

“Solidarity,” proffered Beorth.

“Yes,” Ratchis nodded.

“Will they get us sanctuary in a temple of Nephthys?” Jeremy asked.

“You can get sanctuary without them,” Ratchis explained.

“Oh,” Jeremy seemed disappointed, but he immediately put on the band.

Martin also distributed gifts. He had made each member of the party a wooden figure, which he made into necklaces.

During the gift giving Derek stood just within earshot; unable to fully participate in the camaraderie and friendship of his new companions.

The dwarves were up late drinking, as Captain Adalar had procured them a keg of ale from the Sun’s Summit Inn with Kazrack’s aid. He even gave Thomas a little wooden nut.

“A reminder of what I can never had,” the sullen squirrel sighed.

Martin scratched his familiar’s head.

That night Ratchis and Martin opened Beorth’s gift. It was a shining silvery gray prayer shawl of the type common (though varying in style) to the various priests of Ra’s Pantheon. It was lined with black and decorated with a pattern of diamond and quarter-moon shapes. A note upon it said, “This is the actual Shawl of Estes. I found it in the collection of the mad necromancer Mazzar. – R.” (196)

Martin cast detect magic and saw the glow of moderate magic. The two companions decided to keep the item for now and try to convince Beorth to take it.

Ralem, the 1st of Prem – 565 H.E.

The next day Martin studied with Richard and did not speak of Beorth’s refusal. He gave Richard a necklace as well. Richard’s figure was a pig.

“Oh, a pig?” asked Richard.

“They are the smartest beasts,” Martin replied with a smirk.

Richard nodded.

Martin asked Richard about the shawl, but the elder Watch-mage would only say that it was an object sacred to monks of Anubis. A holy relic called The Shawl of Estes.

He had lunch at the Alderman’s, who game him the gift a bottle of fine wine from Princeton. (197).

In the afternoon he continued with his studies with the party’s nemesis.

--------------------

The next night Martin offered the wine up to the party as they sat around the fire with Belear and Adalar discussing possible tactics for approaching the gnomish village, the chances that normal gnomes would help fight Mozek and his allies, or fight against the party, and how to recognize the evil gnomes. (198)

Suddenly, Martin hushed everyone.

“I think we are being watched.”

Ratchis stood and looked around. Kazrack also stood. “Where?” the dwarf asked.

“It is just a feeling. I think we are being watched magically,” Martin explained.

Kazrack grasped the pouch of runestones around his neck and called out in dwarven to Lehrothonar to him sight to see the mysteries of magic. The dwarf scanned the area and what appeared to be a glowing orb floated not too far away. Only the essence of magic it emanated gave it shape.

Kazrack explained what he saw.

“We are being scryed upon!” Martin announced.

“What do we do?” asked Beorth.

“Jeremy, you are the closest. Poke it with your sword,” Kazrack said to the Neergaardian.

Jeremy stood and drew the Right Blade of Arofel and Kazrack directed him. He felt no resistance at all, but Kazrack confirmed that when the sword had met with the “sensor” it had popped out of existence.

“We must be very careful what we say from now on,” Ratchis said.

“We do not know who that was that was watching us, or for how long,” Beorth said.

“I bet it was Mozek,” said Kazrack.

“It could have been Richard,” Martin offered. “And Jeremy’s blade may not have done a thing. Perhaps whomever was listening in heard our intention and made it disappear.”

The group was silent for a time.

“Perhaps we should avoid going back to the gnomes and seek out Hurgun’s Maze immediately,” Ratchis suggested. “We may be able to use the power there to defeat Mozek.”

Everyone began to argue, but most disagreed with Ratchis.

Belear spoke up, “We an obligation to help the gnomes, but we also have an obligation to defend our stronghold against those bear-men creatures that you say were sent by drow. We have already been delayed, we cannot go on a wild hunt for a legendary place.”

It was agreed that whether the evil gnomes knew the party was coming or not that they would go and seek to liberate their gnomish friends along with their dwarven allies.

“We could always try to take one of them gnome patrols you told us about alive and then convince them we are there to help them,” Helrahd grumbled the suggestion.

It was also agreed that some of the party would take the three hour hike to the temple of Bast and see what aid or information they might get from the priest there.

Later in the night, Martin and Ratchis took Beorth aside and told him of the shawl and how it was a sacred relic of Anubis.

Beorth gulped and rubbed his calloused hands together.

“I feel as if I should know what this thing is, but alas with my memory gone I cannot ascertain its true significance,” Beorth said. “But my instinct says that it is what he says it is.”

“It has a magical enchantment, and nor could I detect an evil from it when I used my goddess’ favors to test it earlier today, “ Ratchis offered.

“It is hardly plausible that a villain such as he would give me such a valuable gift,” Beorth said, he took the shawl from the bag and examined it.

“What use is it to him?” Martin said by way of explanation.

“It would make sense as a way to get into our good graces,” Ratchis said. “If he thinks he can save Derome-Delem by freeing drow witches, than I think he would think nothing of parting with valuable items for whatever his agenda. We cannot presume to know his mind.”

Beorth nodded. “It seems impossible to reject such a gift.”

At that moment Jeremy was walking by and asked what the gift was.

“A prayer shawl,” answered the paladin.

“You mean like old women wear?” Jeremy asked with a grin.

“No, like the kind a priest or a follower of Anubis would wear.”

“Don’t they have a different word for it when a man wears it?” Jeremy’s questions continued.

“They do not.”

“I only ask because Malcolm used to call what he wore a kilt, but it looked like a dress to me,” Jeremy chuckled, remembering his fallen friend.

“Who is Malcolm?” Beorth asked, and Jeremy shook his head.

“You really don’t remember anything do you?”

Now it was Beorth’s turn to shake his head.

Night soon fell, and Jeremy decided to go back to town with Martin and sleep in the extra bed in the room Martin rented at the inn.

Meanwhile, Beorth prayed silently in the darkness to his jackal-headed god, wearing the Shawl of Estes. Ratchis saw that the shawl’s seeming luminescence became an actual glow of white light as Beorth prayed.


Osilem, the 3rd of Prem – 565 H.E.

In the morning there was a knock at the door.

“Who is it?” Martin asked, walking to the door. Jeremy was lacing his boots.

“Richard,” came the voice from behind the door. Martin let in the elder watch-mage.

Jeremy stood tensely when he saw the mage. He strapped on his weapon belt.

“Jeremy!” Richard greeted. “I am so glad to get a chance to see you. I really wanted a chance to apologize in person if my actions led in any way to your unfortunate death. If I had known that that would be the result I would have taken different action.”

Jeremy smirked, “It’s too bad you can’t apologize for Jana’s death too.” The weight of the girl’s death re-paying a debt for his sake weighed heavy on the young swordsman.

“Yes, it is,” Richard replied softly.

“Well, don’t let me keep you,” Jeremy said, and he made his way to the door. “You have lots of studying to do and I, uh… I have lots of things to do to.”

He closed the door behind him.

Martin opened his mouth to speak, but Richard raised and finger and silently prowled to the door and took the knob.

“Jeremy?” he called through the door.

There was no reply. Richard threw open the door and there stood the Neergaardian with his ear thrust forward. He quickly straightened up and cleared his throat. “Oh uh, you done already?” Jeremy asked.

Richard let out a hearty laugh, “Please leave us to our business, Jeremy.”

Jeremy shrugged his shoulders and left.

The penultimate day of Martin’s training began.

Jeremy joined the others, and while Kazrack trained with Belear and Helrahd was off hunting on his own and the other dwarves packed and repacked their gear all day trying to top each other in categories of portability over ease of use, Beorth, Jeremy, Derek and Ratchis headed through the thick wood north of the town.

They could see a black protrusion of rock several miles away, looming with some scrubs on it over the thick forest. They had been told that the Temple of Bast could be found at the protrusion’s base, built where the ridge that created Greenreed Valley abruptly changed in elevation.

They found the temple in a state of seeming disrepair. The trees and vines of the surround wood had grown out under the paving stones of the courtyard, and now it was a haphazard mess of root and stone. There were weeds poking up through the flagstones and nasty dirty mulch of autumn leaves left to rot beneath mounds of melted snow.

The building itself was squat and square, and had a large iron-reinforced wooden door inset against two wooden statues of cats. The iron was rusted, but the door still bore the carvings of hundreds of cat shapes that all fit into each other elegantly. It’s base was made of large brown bricks, while the top portion and roof was made of lacquered logs, now chewed by insects and the weather.

They approached the building. It was eerily quiet.

Ratchis called out, “Hello!”

His voice echoed amid the thick trees.

“This place sure could use a little upkeep,” Jeremy quipped.

Ratchis glared at him

“Have you ever met this priest before?” Beorth whispered, looking confused.

“Not that I know of,” Ratchis replied.

Ratchis knocked on the door with a meaty fist. The knocks reverberated in the quietude of the place. A cool breeze caused the hairs on the back of Derek’s neck to rise, as the protrusion of stone cast a dark shadow across their position.

There was no answer to the knocking.

The half-orc tried the door, but it was bolted from the other side. He quickly jogged around the building looking for another way in but found none.

In the meantime, Jeremy knocked some more.

“Maybe, uh…” Jeremy muttered. “They said he was fairly isolated here, maybe he’s wandering about or is somewhere close to town.”

“He may not actually live at the temple for all we know,” Ratchis offered.

“Maybe we need to ask for entrance, or say some magic word like in a story,” Jeremy said.

Derek chuckled, but Ratchis rolled his eyes.

“One would think that a temple would be open to all,” Beorth said.

Jeremy walked over to one of the shuttered windows, and knocked on it. There was a crack and a crash as the shutter he touched broke off a pin and cam crashing down, hanging across the other at an odd angle.

“Jeremy!” Ratchis barked.

“Might as well take a look in,” Jeremy said, shrugging his shoulders.

He covered either side of his face and looked into the darkness of the temple. He could see that the floor was sunken within, so that this window was further off the floor from the other side. Jeremy was surprised to see leaves and dirt within the temple as well. The few pews looked in neat order, but as if they had not been used in a long time. He could also see that light was coming through from holes in the ceiling.

Being Jeremy, he leapt upon the window sill and began to climb to the roof.

“Jeremy!” Ratchis barked again.

“What?” Jeremy called down from his perch, looking around for better purchase from which to grab the roof edge.

“Can you come down from there?” Ratchis half-asked half-commanded.

“Well, sure I can, but I wanted to see through the holes in the roof and see if maybe he’s sleeping or something,” Jeremy said.

“If there’s someone here he can answer the door,” the paladin banged on the door three more times with his mailed fist.

“Wouldn’t you think it was rude if some found you weren’t home , so they climbed up on your roof and came down the chimney?” Ratchis asked Jeremy, who still had not come down.

“I wasn’t going to go inside!” retorted the Neergaardian, and with that he made a grab for the roof and pulled himself up.

“Jeremy!” Ratchis barked a third time.

Derek looked at the half-orc and then up at the Neergaardian who balanced on the edge of the roof, and smiled.

“I’ll take a quick look,” Jeremy said. And that he did. From his perch, he could see that the altar was draped and that there was a door to the left of the dais. There was no sign of anyone being in there.

Jeremy quickly stood to report what he had seen, and spun around. Losing his balance he fell and rolled off the roof with a pain-filled “oof!”

He quickly sat up, but then sat for a minute clutching his side. Ratchis walked over and offered him a hand to stand and walk it off.

“No one’s in there,” Jeremy croaked.

It was agreed that they would leave the temple to its own devices, as breaking in with no actual sign of danger might be blasphemous.

“I hope we’re not leaving him to some ill-fortune,” Ratchis said, as they walked away.

“The only alternative is to force entry into the temple,” Beorth said, shaking his head.

“It was barred from the inside,” Jeremy noted. “How did he get out?”

“There could be a secret way in and out,” Derek offered.

Jeremy nodded. “Like in the stories.”

Ratchis rolled his eyes again.

---------------------------------

Meanwhile, during a lull in Martin and Richard’s study sessions, the younger watch-mage found himself doing some verbal gymnastics in order to keep from revealing too much as he found himself in a fast exchange of questioning with his tutor.

“I first encountered the drow and quaggoths in Trolldeep,” Richard was explaining, when Martin the Green was looking for more information on the potential drow invasion.

“Where is Trolldeep?” Martin asked.

“Southeast of here, just north of the City of Ash.”

“What is the City of Ash?” Martin asked.

Richard shook his head and sighed. “It used to be an elven enclave. It was destroyed during the Troll Wars. Engulfed by a great fire.”

“Why are the drow coming now?” Martin asked.

“My belief is that they somehow found out about the wedding of the King of Tempestas,” Richard said. (199) “Most elves in Aquerra, except those in the most remote regions will be either going there or have their attention focused there, allowing the so-called dark elves a chance to re-emerge and gain a toe-hold.”

“When is the wedding?”

“Sometime during the next celestial year,” Richard explained. “Which ranges from seven to nine years in our reckoning, but the party has already started from what I heard.”

“Could we get back to the fourth conjunction?” Martin asked, turning the subject back to learning the spells of the Third House so as to avoid more questions from Richard. “I think I’ve almost mastered it.”

“If you can remember that the movement of the smallest digit is most important as you emphasize the second syllable,” Richard said. “You are almost ready to cast a fiery bolt.”


Balem, the 5th of Prem – 565 H.E.

One last day passed uneventfully, and both Martin and Kazrack finished their training. Richard the Red reminded Martin of their agreement as he shook his hand one last time, and the others argued more about what to do next.

Ratchis brought up Hurgun’s Maze again and the need to seek out the Pit of Bones (200), but Kazrack and the dwarves insisted that helping the gnomes came first.

So finally they marched through Summit and down the ridge into Greenreed Valley, hoping to seek out the tunnel that had brought them out of the gnomes’ territory and into the dubious safety of the valley. Now they sought to follow it back.

As they came down the western side of the ridge into the vale, they could see the large area of steam to their south. It seemed like so long ago that they had fought the bizarre flaming flail-headed snail creature there, but it had only been barely over two months ago.

“Do you think it is growing?” Martin mused, of the steamy swampy area.

Ratchis shrugged his shoulders.

“What is it?” Beorth asked, always grasping at the ephemeral edges of his memory.

Jeremy explained the story, and Derek walked behind them, listening intently.

The prospective planning continued as they walked, but they could not find any course of action they could all agree on. Kazrack suggested that Thomas could be used to find the gnome village itself, as he had found his way there on his own when he had been separated from the party when they had first been captured by the gnomes.

“Thomas, we may have to follow you to the gnome village,” Martin told his familiar mentally. “Do you remember the way?”

“Uh-huh,” Thomas chattered. “But I don’t understand, how are all of you going to jump from tree to tree?”

“We can follow you on the ground, can’t we?” Martin asked.

“Oh yeah.”

------------------------

The party and their nine dwarven companions wandered for hours in the northeastern section of the vale, looking for a sign of the underground tunnel they had followed out of the gnomish territory, and where they had been ambushed by Mozek’s brothers when they emerged. Ratchis described the area the best he could to Derek, who also used his woodsman skill to seek out the spot, and in the end it was he who found it.

The burned tree trunk was still there, beginning to rot from the moisture of all the snow between that time and no, but the tunnel was collapsed, and while there was a sunken line of earth trailing off to the north, soon, the line ended where the tunnel was too far underground. They would not be able to go that way.

“We are going to have to find the tunnel that cuts through the ridge,” Ratchis said. “The big one.”

And so, tired and cold they continued to march. This time turning back eastward to the ridge, hoping to follow where they had emerged from the secret tunnel beneath the inn and then follow the ridge to the tunnel. However, by the time they found the spot, it was growing dark, so they decided to camp. The dwarves, especially the three brothers, Golnar, Jolnar and Tolnar, grumbled, for they had hoped to reach the gnomes right away, feeling impatient after having sat around the camp for over a week. However, the broad cave made a good place for camp and soon they all slept around a few small fires while they took turns watching in sets of four at a time.


Teflem, the 6th of Prem – 565 H.E.

It did not take them long in the morning to find the tunnel through the north side of the ridge. Derek looked at it in awe as they passed through. It was over a quarter-mile long and in most places was nearly perfectly round. It was not a natural passage.

Beyond it was the forest of pines, interspersed with deciduous trees, some of which had already begun to bud.

It was less than two miles to where the “root house” was. (201) However, the area was blackened by fire. Many of the trees making the perimeter of the little house’s “yard” were knocked over, scorched or cracked. And the house itself was nearly torn asunder, as the tree that made up its roof and the support for it walls had tipped over, creating a barrier that split the area in half.

The party and the dwarves carefully entered the area and began to look around. Captain Adalar ordered the three brothers to watch the perimeter, and Kirla and Baervard joined them. Ratchis moved in first to look for tracks. He did not have a hard time finding any.

“At least two dozen booted men came through this area,” Ratchis said, crouched on the ground. “Probably the mercenaries Martin mentioned.”

“Here is one,” Beorth said, and he pointed to the partially burned remains of a man in ring mail armor. He wore a tattered tabard that held Gothanius’ coat of arms. Derek found another body on the other side of the tree. It looked like it had been mauled by some large animal.

“Do you think this was done by the gnomes?” Martin asked, looking around at the remains of arrows, broken swords and bows and other signs of a large battle.

“At least partially, yes,” Ratchis replied.

“This is a bad bad place,” Thomas whimpered in Martin’s mind. “Lots of bad bad things happened here. Let’s go back to Summit. The inn is warm and safer.”

“But Thomas, we need to help the gnomes. They were very nice to us,” Martin replied.

“You’re right, but I hope we’re not burned up,” Thomas said.

“Me too.”

---------------

It took the party three hours to dig two graves deep enough to satisfy Beorth. Beorth took the time to prepare the two bodies the best he could while Martin and Kirla collected whatever arrows and other weapons they could find. Most were broken, but Martin mended a long sword, and the rest were packed for Kazrack to melt down or repair later.

After the burial and a brief snack, they continued on their way. Thomas went just a head of the party leaping from tree to tree.

Ratchis led the way for the group, followed closely by Helrahd and Kirla, while Baervard and Blodnath took the very rear. The rest of the group was spread out, Jeremy and Derek marching together, as did Beorth and Martin. Kazrack walked with Belear, while Captain Adalar led the three dwarven brothers.

Three or four miles north by northwest of the “safehouse” as the party had begun to call the gnome destroyed post, the landscape became more difficult to traverse. They marched up and down some steep ridges, that were lined with tall pine and fir trees. It made it difficult to see very far ahead or to the sides.

“Good place for an ambush,” Ratchis said. “Stay alert.”

The half-orc turned from calling back to others and noticed a figure crawling over the ridge directly ahead of them. It was a man, dragging himself on all fours. His clothing was ragged, and his armor was in pieces. He wore no helm, and a large portion of his scalp looked as if it had been ripped from his skull. He moaned as he tumbled over and rolled painfully towards the party.

“Is it a zombie?” Martin asked, as Ratchis ran forward to attend the man. As he approached he could see a second man, crawling as well, about thirty feet further behind.

“There are two!” Ratchis called.

“Thomas! Coma to me now!” Martin called to him familiar.

“I’m right here!” the squirrel replied, poking up from Ratchis’ head, which he had dropped on as the ranger ran by.

The whole group stopped in their tracks, and looked around warily.

The fallen soldier cringed when he saw Ratchis’ ugly visage and hulking form, but the Friar of Nephthys was not daunted by the reaction. “Nephthys, grant me your grace so we can heal this fallen soldier. Show your infinite compassion, for we cannot be sure if he fights for good or evil.”

Ratchis laid his hand on the moaning man and felt the divine healing energies of his goddess pass through him.

Kazrack, meanwhile, ran past the half-orc and the soldier towards the second man, calling to Rivkanal to grant him her healing graces, but as the dwarf approached the blackened figure leapt up and clawed at him. Now Kazrack could see that this second man was dead. Rotten entrails swung freely from beneath the undead creature’s chain shirt, and its eyes were sunken and black. It’s skin was yellowed and hardened and it had dirty black claws that had once been human fingernails. He wore a torn tabard decorated with the symbol of Gothanius.

Before anyone else could react, Golnar, Jolnar and Tolnar cried out in unison, “Look!” pointing to the left. In a small clearing at the top of another ridge stood a gnome. It wore black robes and hard wiry green hair, and glowing green eyes.

The creepy little thing let out a loud shrill laugh. “I will kill you all and make you my undead minions!” It cried

“Evil gnome!”Martin screamed and the chanted, “Incendiore!

An arrow of pure flame shot towards the gnome, looking as if it would easily find its mark, but instead the gnome twisted and turned at the last minute and the flame arrow sped past.

Ratchis abandoned the injured solider and moved to aid Kazrack, but stepped into a blow from the creature. It threw its arm out and punched the half-orc in the neck. Ratchis felt an unnatural cold sensation rush down his body, and then a feeling like his heart had been grasped and twisted by a burning hand. (202)

“It can touch your soul!” he warned the others in a agonizing moan, and then swung his hammer with both hands smashing the dead man in the head and he fell over hissing, as black bile poured over his hairy chin.

“Kazrack, get back!” Jeremy yelled, rushing forward and stabbing into it with the Right Blade of Arofel as it clambered up to its feet.

“I’ll take care of him!” Golnar cried charging at the gnome, but his cry became one of distress and he disappeared, tumbling into what must have been a concealed pit, just to the right of the gnome. He let out a howl.

“No!” cried Tolnar and Jolnar in unison, and they charged as well.

“Come back!” commanded Captain Adalar. “Hold formation!”

But the young dwarves did not obey.

Kazrack stepped back from the fray and called out, “Natan-Ahb, please! We are beset by undead. Please halt them and turn them and drive them from my path!”

But Kazrack’s faith was insufficient and the undead solider rose to its feet, grinning with black broken teeth.

Derek fired an arrow at the gnome, but the arrow seemed to go right through him without an effect. The gnome just laughed.

Beorth ignored the gnome and went forward to join Kazrack. Now it was his turn to call his god’s power, “Anubis, I call on your power with my faith to turn this undead!”

The creature cowered and turned to move away. Ratchis and Jeremy both gave it what would have been crippling blows to any living man. It stumbled as it sought to escape the divine power of Anubis.

Martin now moved towards the gnomish adversary, fairly certain he was illusion, but knowing that meant there was a spell-caster hidden somewhere nearby. He cast shield as he moved.

Jeremy did not give chance to the wight, but instead stopped to gather his surroundings and noticed three more undead soldiers moaning softly ambling awkwardly towards them.

“Beorth! More of them ahead!” He warned his companion.

“Fall back!” Kazrack called out. “Draw them to us.”

Ratchis, however, kept up with the wight, and slammed it again with his hammer.

At that same moment, Tolnar leapt into the pit that Golnar had tumbled into to save his brother, while Jolnar seeking to go around the pit to get to the gnome fell into another concealed pit. Belear stepped forward to look into them.

They were filled with zombie soldiers.

The three dwarven brothers now struggled against a half-dozen undead Gothanians, dressed in ring mail. Some even had weapons sheathed at heir belts, left unused preferring to rip the living flesh off with their hands.

Noticing the disappearing brothers, Kazrack hustled in that direction, while Derek just stood around with confused inaction.

Again Beorth called to his Jackal-God, guardian of the dead, to send away the foes of life, and the approaching zombies turned and fled.

Jeremy leapt towards a fleeing zombie and tore through it with his long sword. It collapsed to a twitching pile of limbs on the ground.

“We have to get to the zombies in the pits!” Belear called to Kazrack. Martin walked and looked down to see the undead soldiers trying to overwhelm the two dwarven brothers who frantically tried to keep the things away. Flicking a drop of molasses into the pit, Martin spoke a word and suddenly the zombies moved even slower and awkwardly than before.

Ratchis would not let the wight escape and slammed it again, but had been drawn over 100 feet away from the rest of the battle.

Kazrack took his rope and grappling hook and tossed it into the branches of a tree near the closer pit, and Belear grabbed it dropping the end in for the brothers to use.

Derek fired an arrow straight into the top of the head of one of the zombies soldiers, and they heard it come out through one thigh and bite into the ground. The zombie did not seem to notice.

“I must help the dwarves,” Beorth, seeing the zombies flee. “Jeremy, we must help the dwarves.” And with that he hustled towards the pits.

He came near Helrahd who had cautiously moved to the right of the pits.

“Careful!” he hissed and spat at the paladin. “That gnome is hidden or invisible somewhere near here.”

Ratchis stopped and looked around allowing the wight to gain some ground. He hesitated, wondering if he should continue after it and get drawn further from the rest of the melee, or if he should go back. The wight started turning eastward, and Ratchis checked its progress with his eyes. Suddenly, the half-orc heard footsteps behind him and he turned just in time to see muscular gnome with wiry black hair and bushy nose-hairs and green eyes burst through the brush at him.

The gnome wielded a battle axe and wore a breast plate. He wore an evil toothy smile as he slammed the axe into Ratchis, who was just barely able to partially deflect the blow with his own weapon, or else it might have removed a leg.

“And I though I wasn’t going to get to the fight in time,” the gnome sneered. “Thanks for coming to me.”

End of Session #38
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Notes:

(190) All spell-casters must train upon gaining a new spell level.
(191) The party told Richard the Red that the gnomes wanted the elves’ help on an “internal matter” in Session #22 (part 2)

(192) Monks of Anubis do not celebrate the Festival of Isis, having their own secret ceremonies to usher in the new year; in addition, the fact that Beorth is from the Black Islands Barony where worship of Isis is forbidden, he probably never celebrated the holiday even as a very young child.

(193) DM’s Note: I warned the players, “start naming yourselves, or you will get named.”

(194) DM’s Note: By studying this book, Martin could increase ranks in his Knowledge: Arcana skill.

(195) DM’s Note: This greave has a 50% chance to cancel out any critical hit made to the arm in question.

(196) Little is known of the Mad Necromancer Mazzar, except that he was a student of Marchosias the Corruptor.

(197) Princeton is a “Free Town” on the southeastern coast of Derome-Delem.

(198) The party conjectures that they can identify the evil gnomes by their glowing green eyes.

(199) This wedding is supposed to end a centuries long schism between high elves (elustristani) and wood elves (silvestristani).

(200) Beorth learned of the Pit of Bones in the Interlude before Session #24 and that a route to Hurgun’s Maze might be found there in Session #26.

(201) See Session #15

(202) DM’s Note: Ratchis suffered a negative level.
 


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