Rel's Faded Glory III: Glory Reborn (FINAL UPDATE 6/22 - SHE'S DONE, BABY!!)


First Post
We're getting it...slowly

Lola said:
One would think that y'all would be wary at just such a time, but I guess that's probably because I just read the part II straight through, and I'm starting to see a trend.

The title of the next update probably needs some tweaking, like so...

Where did everybody go... and why am I in this handbasket?

We are catching on to him now. We play once a week and do forget stuff though. Marcus, Cathall and Marius have been away from RPing for a bit and some of us still say stuff like "now does this provoke an attack of opportunity or not?" Or "If armor bonuses don't stack, then what's the deal with shields?" When I say "we" or "us" I mean me, playing Marius.

The group has gotten a better feel for each other in a scrape, though tactics fluctuate from not at all to sort of to occasionally pretty good. I'll let Rel sum it up though. So far I think Marius' new book will be entitled: "Reflex Save...Good! Will Save...Bad!"

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Liquid Awesome
Good to see you in the thread, man.

As for this:

Riggs said:
So far I think Marius' new book will be entitled: "Reflex Save...Good! Will Save...Bad!"

At least you don't have to roll a d6 for your saving throws like Speaks apparently does. ;)


First Post
Hi everyone.

As the member of our gaming group newest to this edition of D&D (I'm only down one on Cathall since I actually tried to GM before reading the 3e books :rolleyes: ) I am easily distracted by random bonuses in stats and flashing skills that may never come up. I would also like to include a "Marius translator" filter so when Rel, our RBDM as Raven put it, starts making up falsehoods :eek: about Marius, you will know better.*

For instance, "what was he thinking?!" should be taken as "His brilliant plan is not apparent right this second"

Another example,
"Cowered like a twit after failing the Will save" should read, "Was simply preoccupied while looking desperately for a barber's chair, smock and scissors with which to trick the scary baddies ala Shaggy and Scooby"

I could go on, but I don't want to encourage him.

* Of course, his compliments of Marius are almost always true, if a bit understated :cool:
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Registered User
Hellow again...

Hah, Rel got some readers :D

Riggs, if you need powergaming munchkinizing, gimme a call... ehem. Go with style ;)

Rel, if I ever make it to your general area, I'd love to get the adress of that little waterfall thingy you wrote about in General... Sounds grrrreat!


Liquid Awesome
Darklone said:
Rel, if I ever make it to your general area, I'd love to get the adress of that little waterfall thingy you wrote about in General... Sounds grrrreat!

It was indeed great though I'm not sure that waterfall has an actual address. As it was, we were lucky to be able to pick our way across the river without getting our feet wet. My wife is not always the most coordinated person in the world. Anyhow, I'd be more than happy to give you directions if you ever make it stateside.

Until then, you'll have to make do with a Story Hour update:

Where Did Everybody Go?

Marcus quickly ascended the rope into the odd little realm that Lazarius had conjured. He awoke his companions and urged them to come help him search for Speaks, Cathal and Scipio. The group was soon gathered on the muddy ground outside and began to cast about for clues.

Marius was an experienced tracker and he searched the ground for signs of where their companions might have gone. “I see no footprints, but there are some odd markings on the ground over here, as though someone dragged a pile of sticks across the ground. They lead off to the north. What lies in that direction?”

The three Imperials exchanged glances knowing that none of them were in familiar territory. After a moment Lazarius spoke up, “I think that’s the direction of the Dark Wood.” Again they looked at one another as the foreboding name hung in the air. Marcus spoke next, “Well we must try and find them and the day is getting no younger.” He gathered the remainder of his gear and soon the trio was walking north, following the odd trail they hoped would lead to their companions.


It was light. And he was alive. And he hurt.

Speaks leaned over and spat blood from his mouth. He was in the woods somewhere, but where? And where was Scipio?! And Cathal?! He cast about for signs of his companions.

As he rose achingly to his feet, he saw that he’d been propped against a large fallen log and his eyes were suddenly drawn to something on that log. Just a couple feet from where his head had been a moment ago were words carved into the log in a language few understood. It was the same language he had used to carve his markers in the woods for his fellow Druids to someday follow. And the words carved in that language left him cold:

You have caused enough trouble. Abandon that which you seek. There will not be another warning.

Speaks regarded the carving for a few more moments as its ramifications sank into his mind. But practicality took over soon and he realized that he would have to contemplate this further at a later time. He reached into a pouch and drew forth a Goodberry, casually popping it into his mouth. It made him feel a bit better and the sweetness took the taste of blood from his mouth.

He then turned his attention back to the message on the log. He waved his hands in familiar patterns and spoke some words in the same language as the message before him and the wood became like soft clay in his hands. With a bit of effort, he was able to carve the portion of the log away that bore the message and stow it in his satchel. He used another of his spells to heal the worst of the bruises and fractured ribs that he had suffered.

That done, he turned his attention outwards once again and leapt atop the log. A few dozen yards away, he spotted a large prone form that he recognized as Scipio. He fearfully approached his friend, afraid of the condition he may find him in. But the great cat yet lived. He applied more of his healing magic and Scipio’s eyes opened wearily. Speaks scratched him behind the ears lovingly and watched as the Dire Mountain Lion climbed slowly to its feet.

Wordlessly they began to search about for Cathal but the Brigante tribesman was nowhere to be seen. Speaks knew that if he was going to find him that he stood a much better chance from the air. He took the familiar form of an eagle, which made him feel better all by itself, and weaved his way aloft amid the branches of the trees.

As he suspected, he was in the Dark Wood, just a half mile or so within the forest. The rolling hills more sparsely dotted with trees extended off to the south. He dipped back below the treetops and screeched in Scipio’s direction. The cat dutifully followed his master who took to the air once again, his keen eagle eyes scanning the forest for signs of Cathal.


Cathal of the Brigantes had faced possible death many times in the past year, but had never come any closer to it than the previous night. He regained consciousness somewhere in the woods and felt as though he had been trampled by a herd of Almani horses. He rose to his feet and quickly reached out a hand to a nearby tree, preventing him from falling back to the ground. His sword came into his hand as he cast about for possible enemies. A moment later he appreciated the fact that he still retained the weapon passed down to him by his father. He wondered why his enemies had not taken it.

He could not tell exactly where he was but he felt it likely that he was in the Dark Wood somewhere from the large trees that surrounded him. It was still morning and so the thin fingers of sunshine that penetrated the trees were coming from the east. That meant south was to his right and presumably in that direction laid his companions. If they still lived. He kept his sword drawn as he limped in that direction.


Below, a human form emerged from the tree line. Speaks screeched and dove downward as Scipio picked his pace up to a trot and traced the path of his friend across the sky. The Druid transformed back to human form as he touched down a short distance from Cathal. “Thank the Wild that you’re alive my friend!”

The tribesman’s demeanor was more grim. “Am I alive? I was beginning to have doubts.” Speaks used what little healing magic he had left and Cathal began to feel as though he might survive after all. The two of them began to try and piece together what had transpired during the night when they were interrupted by a voice calling from a nearby hilltop.

They looked up to see Marcus, Marius and Lazarius trotting in their direction. “What in all the hells happened to the two of you?” called Marius. Speaks and Cathal explained that they were ambushed by some sort of plant creatures while Marcus used some of his magic to tend to their wounds. Speaks concluded his account somberly by saying that their assailants had left a message for him to “abandon that which he sought”.

“Someone wishes us to give up the search for Ilrath and his party?” questioned Cathal. “Perhaps this has more to do with our search for The City of Endless Summer,” Marius responded. “I was unaware that there might be those who would oppose that mission.” There was displeasure evident in the voice of the member of the Imperial Explorers Society.

Lazarius continued the conversation, “These ‘plant beasts’ that attacked you, those sound like the sort of thing I’d expect from the Dark Druids. Do you think that some of their brothers have returned to have revenge for our slaying them and destroying their army of undead?” The question was clearly directed at Speaks who wasn’t quite sure what to say. He had some suspicions as to the identity of those who had attacked them and left the message but he wasn’t sure he wanted to share them at the moment. After a moment’s further thought he responded, “Perhaps. Regardless it may be prudent to try and put some more distance between ourselves and this place. I’m not sure we can avoid this trouble but we might outrun it for a while.”

He explained to the group that he had an enchantment that would transform them all into birds. It would allow them to cover the distance to the Fodor in a day rather than several. While some in the party were reluctant to place themselves so fully at the mercy of the Druid’s magic, they were less willing to place themselves at the possible mercy of the Dark Druids or whoever had ambushed them the previous night. Speaks had some trouble coaxing Scipio to accept the transformation but by using a spell to Speak directly to the Animal, he explained his intentions and the cat agreed. Moments later they took to the air and continued west in a small flock overseen by Speaks in eagle form.

NEXT: New Enemies and Old Friends


Registered User
Now exactly HOW did this update escape my blind eyes???

Interesting that the players suspect the dark druids behind living plants though... shouldn't Speaks have known better?

"Interesting that the players suspect the dark druids behind living plants though... shouldn't Speaks have known better?"

Speaks With Stone is still very unsure about a splinter group of druids that may or may not be officially sponsored by the druid order. In the last campaign, we found a history that showed the druid order had a group running around exterminating anyone that could link the druids with Bane and the dark arts used in that conflict. Not being sure if those suckers are running around (but strongly suspecting it now), I'm not sure I want to go blabbing about such things. I am trying to maintain plausible deniability that I know anything about all that so that I and all of my friends don't get disappeared.

This character was a little paranoid to begin with (what with keeping a mask between himself and society to maintain a comfortable distance and control), but now he is just about over the top. I have found ways of trying to protect against us "disappearing" along with all of the secret information - but I'm still trying to maintain plausible deniability. As long as they never scry in when I'm not looking and overhear us talking about it, I figure they may assume I don't know a thing about it. Then again, they sounded kind of p.o.'d last time I saw them, so we may be in trouble.

But anyway, I know better, but I'm trying to keep the others looking in the wrong direction. Besides no sense in damaging the druid orders reputation if this old splinter group is now a distinct group not operating within the order. I'm trying to figure that one out right now, too.


Liquid Awesome
Darklone said:
Interesting that the players suspect the dark druids behind living plants though... shouldn't Speaks have known better?

Speaks pretty well covered this above, but just to clarify:

He feels fairly positive that the Shambling Mounds and the note left in Druidic were not the responsibility of the "Dark Druids" (no small indication of this is the fact that he was left alive and he can think of no reason why the Dark Druids would let that happen). The rest of the party knows nothing of the evidence uncovered previously about the existence of a "Druidic Secret Police" group that exists for the purposes of covering up any links between the Druids and the Cult of Bane.

This is not true for the players of course but their characters are (appropriately) not acting on that knowlege. The only nasty Druids that they know anything about were the Dark Druids so they assume that they are the ones responsible. Speaks is content to let them think that for the moment because to reveal the truth further spreads secrets that the Druids would obviously like kept quiet, exposes them to danger (because they would now know the same information that has put Speaks' on the hit list) and makes Speaks more of a liability to the party because of this baggage.

Very good roleplaying by all involved if you asked me.


Registered User
Right, and the new players don't know much about Blighters...

Well ... we happily expect the next part:
"Noone expects the druidic inquisition!"


Liquid Awesome
Sorry gang. There's plenty of story to write but the last week has been a busy one for me work-wise and I've also been having to do some organizational stuff related to the ENWorld NC Game Day. I'll do my best to get an update in over the next few days. The good news is that after mid-December, my work schedule is fairly clear and I should have plenty of time for updates over the holidays.


Liquid Awesome
My undying thanks for the bumps, guys. Well, at least today I'm pretty sure it's not dying. Yesterday I was fully in the nasty grips of the grippe. I'm feeling a bit better today and struggling to get done the remaining work I've got before I can call myself on holiday. Trust me when I say that I'd far prefer to be writing Story Hour updates.

I promise that you'll be seeing some beefy updates as soon as my work schedule and my illness allow.


Registered User
Wooo, get better fast and merry Xmas!

Uhm. 3am in Germany. I better move my sore @§§ to Spain and win one hour.

C u later, chachos!


Liquid Awesome
At last I've had some time to work on the Story Hour! My work for the year is done and I'll be engaging in some much needed R&R for the next week. I plan for this to include a healthy dose of much needed Story Hour writing. Expect frequent and lengthy updates for the next several days:

”New Enemies and Old Friends” – Part 1 – Old Friends

The group flew west and the miles soared away beneath their wings. Speaks looked down with his eagle vision as the Fodor River passed below. Just over a year ago he had been struggling to get across the river just barely ahead of a pack of Gnolls bent on his destruction and that of his friends. But they had escaped and their travels had taken them into the western lands and adventures they could never have imagined.

Adventures, which only Speaks himself had survived intact. Krase was dead, Arc had been killed and twisted into evil by the cursed leader of the Orc horde, Rhys was brought back from death only to have to come to grips with living in a body not his own and Ilrath was missing in the forbidding crags of the Black Peaks. Speaks glided on the air and looked down among the small, helpless seeming bird-forms that his companions wore. He wondered how many of them might be dead or worse before another year passed. Speaks shook these dour thoughts from his mind as they came into view of Hrongar’s Hill a few hours later. It would be good to be among the Brigantes again.

The party alighted at dusk and were greeted and welcomed into Urdrax’s mead hall. He openly embraced Speaks and Cathal but looked on with curiosity at the Imperials. Marius quickly put him at ease with his friendly manner and genuine interest in learning all he could about the people who populated the Western Wilds, as they were called in the Empire. Marius had studied the tongue of the folk of the Fodor lands before departing from Emor and this showed a respect that Urdrax could admire.

Marcus found himself fixed with more than one cold stare as the gaze of the tribesmen fixed on his holy symbol. The Inquisitors of St. Cuthbert had made a less than favorable impression when they visited the Fodor lands with their firm questions and arrogant manner. There could be no doubt that the people of the Fodor and those who bowed to St. Cuthbert shared a common enemy, but they shared little else. Or so thought these tribesmen.

Actually, Marcus was keeping his eyes and ears very open and his mouth very shut. This was typical for he saw himself as a man whose service to his Lord came primarily in the form of vigilance. But he had personal reasons to learn about the Brigantes and other tribes of the Fodor lands. For now he was content to observe what was going on around him and bide his time.

Lazarius was already coming to the opinion that the rustic life of these barbarians was not for him. The benches were not padded, the food was crude and he suspected that his cot for the night would be without the embellishment of a soft blanket. The drink was fair if a bit gritty. But he supposed that he had better get used to the idea that comfort was something to be enjoyed when it was close at hand because the way west into the Black Peaks was likely to see it in short supply.

As the various warriors that populated the mead hall departed for their quarters or succumbed to their drinks and slumped forward onto the tables, Urdrax drew the party close around the fire to ward off the chill of the night. He knew why they had come and he wished to tell them what news he had from his tribe and the other peoples of the Fodor.

Unsurprisingly there had still been no word from Ilrath or his party. Urdrax had asked after them from the Almani whose territory lay further west but the keen-eyed Almani scouts had seen no sign of the group. They did indicate that Ilrath had taken a more southerly route into the mountains than he originally intended. The exact reasons for this were somewhat clouded, but it seemed that Ilrath had come across the site of a large group of slaughtered Orcs that gave him cause for concern. He decided instead to strike well into the Black Peaks before turning north in search of the City of Endless Summer.

Perhaps it had something to do with the disturbing reports from the Almani scouts that a large winged creature had been sighted soaring over the mountains in the last few months. At first they were concerned that it was a flying serpent such as the one that led the orcish invaders in the Winter War. But it was reported to have proper wings and be much larger. Cold comfort that was.

The Suevi tribe, led by the brash young Relmar, had continued to show contempt for the other tribes who were attempting to trade with the people of Glynden and parts south. Relmar had wed the Suevi shaman, Orthula, not long after the Winter War and the couple had had a son soon after. (Speaks was glad the firelight hid the color rising to his face at this reference.) The obvious “potency” of their young chief had filled the Suevi warriors with arrogance and swagger. They openly mocked the other tribes for becoming “pets of the Empire” and “forsaking the old ways”. These jibes were largely ignored, but there were some disturbing rumblings about a possible rift between those who cleaved closer to the ways of their ancestors and those who wanted to adopt a life of peaceful trade.

This situation was made all the more difficult due to the troubles that the people of the Fodor were having in producing goods and services that they could sell. A small group of Corritani fishermen had finally opened a ferry service across the mighty Fodor River, though for the time being, it seemed little in demand. A group of craftsmen had turned out a large collection of scrimshaw and wood carvings and these were soon to be sent by wagon east to Glynden and then south to Oar to see if a market for them could be established.

These would be accompanied by the elven Wizard-Merchant, Tadius Silvanus, whose small army of mercenaries, led by Speaks’ sister, Tarsheeva, would help guard them on the trip south. Tadius was helping the tribesmen in whatever way he could and had even, astoundingly, decided that he was going to retire from being a traveling peddler of magic and set up a small school of wizardry to teach the more promising students among the peoples of the Fodor. While welcome so far as Urdrax was concerned (he had seen for himself the Elf’s power in the Winter War), it provided even more fuel for the growing feud between those who wanted to stay with the “old ways” and those who looked to the future.

As Urdrax finished speaking, the reaction among the companions was varied. Speaks and Cathal both listened carefully to the news of a land they held dear for different reasons. Marius was paid rapt attention for such news was the very bread and butter of someone in the Imperial Explorers Society. Lazarius was fairly detached about it all. He supposed it was interesting if you were looking to develop a trade relation with the tribes of the Fodor, but it held little information that he deemed critical to their quest.

But it was Marcus who spoke up first, “I have a request. My superior, the Abbot at the Church of St. Cuthbert in Oar, told me something of my past before I departed for the northlands. I was raised as an orphan by the Church. My father was a faithful servant of St. Cuthbert, which I had known since I was a child. But it was revealed to me that my mother was a tribeswoman from the Western Wilds. My parents settled down on a remote farm between Bremerton and Oar but were killed by a band of Orcs when I was a young child. I never knew either of them.

Now that I stand within the homelands of my mother, I would know as much about her as I can before I press onward in our quest into the mountains.”

The whole group grew quiet. This was more than the usually taciturn Marcus had said in one stretch since they’d met him. Urdrax responded, “In the morning I shall take you to Irdgar, our shaman. He is the keeper of the songs that recite the lineage of the tribe members. If your mother was of our people, he should be able to tell you of her.”

Marcus nodded firmly and settled back into his chair having said what he needed to say.

Speaks took on the silence that challenged them, “I too need to speak to Irdgar in the morning. The hour grows late for those with early appointments. Perhaps we should get to bed.” Lazarius groaned inwardly at the prospect of what his “bed” would consist of.

In the morning the group gathered and breakfasted in Urdrax’s hall. The Chieftain drew Cathal aside and told him that as the group headed west through the Almani lands he wanted him to ask Chief Ilmarl if he would consider sending some of their fine horses to add to the trade caravan that would soon be headed to Oar. The swift steeds the Almani bred for the rolling foothills of the Black Peaks were far superior mounts to the ponies of Glynden. Perhaps a market for them could be found to the south as well. Cathal agreed to do as his Chief bade.

Lazarius and Marius made ready for travel as Speaks and Marcus visited Irdgar. The shaman of the Brigantes listened as Marcus described what he knew of his mother. Irdgar told him that he couldn’t be certain, but he thought he had heard a tale of a woman leaving the tribe and settling with a Holy Warrior of the Empire among the Corritani. He would have to seek more information from them.

Speaks talked at length with Irdgar and told him of the Druids who had attacked them on their way west. Speaks had decided to send word south asking his superiors in the Druid Circle if they knew who these opposing Druids could be. He wasn’t sure where he might be when they sent a response and asked Irdgar if he would be willing to act as keeper of any return messages they might send until Speaks could retrieve them. Irdgar agreed to this.

Speaks hurried back to his quarters and gathered three small bundles he had prepared the previous night. Each consisted of two notes wrapped around a shard of wood. The pieces of wood were each parts of the threatening missive left on the fallen log by their Druidic attackers. One of the notes was written in the Sylvan tongue:

Dearest mother,

I hope all is well with you. Tarsheeva sends her love and she may be passing that way soon. Things go well, but I hope to pass a message on to the Druid Order. If you could relay the attached letter and wood sliver I would be much obliged. I will write again soon. If a return message comes I will likely be in the Brigante Lands, or somewhere near there. Thanks, I will come and visit as soon as I am able.

Love Quintus

The other note was written in the secret tongue of the Druids, just like the letters on the scrap of wood contained within:

Greetings Brother Druids

It has been a busy summer and I have marked off a southern boundary for the Dark Wood. The locals at this time are honoring an agreement to stay out of this area and an awakened wolf pack helps to watch the woods. Ogres and gnolls to the north of this area are troublesome but have shown little impact on the local flora and fauna at this time. North of that Great Root, the treant holds sway from his enchanted glade. All looks well for the future of the Dark Wood.

The same cannot be said of all matters here. As I informed you before, the orcs that descended from the north wore plumage of tropical birds, which suggests the City of Endless Summer is a real place. I and my companions are beginning a journey north from the Brigante lands to seek this enchanted land. The location of such an enchanted biome is not to be abandoned to such despoilers as the orcs. But I have been accosted by accomplished humanoids who appear to be druids. They attacked us, captured us, and left a message in druidic that we should abandon our quest.

Are there other druids that you have sent north? How should I treat these individuals? Clearly they could have killed me had they chosen and yet if I persist in my quest, they may decide to try it again. I can assure you that I am prepared to defend myself, but I do not wish conflict if they are Brothers that can be reasoned with. I have included a sliver of wood carved by the hand of one of these men so that you may scry and see them for yourself. I wish to hear word, though with winter approaching I must continue north from Hrongar’s Hill.

Thank you and may nature preserve and protect you as well as you preserve and protect nature.

Speaks With Stone

Speaks took his tiny bundles and moved off into the nearby trees and located three birds that he deemed capable of carrying them. He said to them, “My friends, I ask you to deliver these messages for me. I send you far from your homes. But I send you to the warmth of the south. Fly swiftly and safely.” He fervently hoped that his last remark would be true. But he wouldn’t have sent three copies if he were certain that these animals would not be targets for his Druidic adversaries...

NEXT: Part 2 – New Enemies
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Liquid Awesome
See? I told you there would be frequent updates!

NEXT: Part 2 – New Enemies
The group gathered outside the mead hall and made ready to leave. Marcus approached and announced that he would not be departing with them. He did not wish to come so close to the homeland and leave without any answers. Urdrax had been kind enough to detail two of his bodyguard to escort Marcus to the Corritani village of Rilaga where he could speak with their shaman about his mother. Marcus would then hasten to catch up with the group. Without further comment, Marcus turned to descend Hrongar’s Hill and make his way back east toward his past.

“How’s he going to catch up with us? He moves like a snail in all that armor,” commented Lazarius. Marius was quick to answer, “Have you not noticed? He almost never sleeps. He almost walked me into the ground between Oar and Glynden. He’ll catch up. Besides,” Marcus gestured to the west where the steep walls of the Black Peaks rose in the distance, “I don’t think we’re going to be moving too fast once we get into the mountains.”

“Best we get moving then,” said Speaks.

The way west into the Almani lands was easy travel but the air was certainly starting to have a sting of cold in it. Their passage north had better be swift or they’d be making it in the snow. The tops of the Black Peaks, looming ahead of them, were already draped in white.

The following morning after they left the woodlands of the Brigantes lands, they encountered a group of Almani scouts. The riders recognized Speaks and Cathal and bade them welcome to the lands of the Hawk. The scouts had a string of fresh horses with them and offered to speed the group on the way west by providing mounts and an escort. The group gladly accepted and covered much more ground than they anticipated they would by nightfall.

The next morning, most of the party was sorry they had accepted the offer. None were at home in the saddle and all limped about their camp as they made ready to depart. They rode out the morning wincing at every bump and glad for every break. Out of pure courtesy the Almani scouts made no comments about this and kept their grinning to a minimum. Considering the saddle sores Lazarius was nursing, this may well have avoided an international incident.

They rode into the Almani tent camp around noon. They hid their limping as best they could to keep up appearances and made their way to the pavilion of Ilmarl, Chief of the Almani. By his side was his son, Seshmarl, who had distinguished himself in the Winter War and become an ally to Speaks and the people of Glynden. The party was welcomed and, thankfully, offered cushions to sit upon.

Cathal relayed the suggestion by Urdrax that the Almani send some horses to be traded in the south. Ilmarl and Seshmarl conferred and agreed that this was a good idea. Thus far they had contributed less to the trade caravan than any of the other tribes save the Suevi. The nomadic nature of their tribe left them with nothing one could call industry and their craftsmen were few.

Marius was outgoing and inquisitive as usual, again making conversation and asking questions about the people of the Almani tribe. In due course it came out that the party meant to follow in the footsteps of Ilrath and were trying to locate him and the City of Endless Summer. Seshmarl told them that he had finally entered the Black Peaks well south of his original path. As the Almani were near the southern part of their range, the pass Ilrath used was not terribly far from the tent camp. He agreed to send them an escort and horses to guide them to the pass in the morning.

The companions spent the balance of the afternoon bartering for food from the Almani for the journey into the mountains. The Almani were more than happy to do so and the food they traded the party was of good quality and already preserved for travel as the lack of permanent villages made this a necessity for the tribesmen.

By morning the group was ready to travel if a bit loathe to mount their horses again. But they hid their pain for the sake of pride and made the best of it. Marius passed the ride by chatting with the guides while Cathal frequently dismounted to jog beside or ahead of the rest of the group. The Brigante wore a pair of enchanted boots that let him run and jump like the wind and he was just as pleased not to be bouncing in the saddle.

In the early afternoon the group came to the foot of the mountains and saw a winding pass flanked by a trickling stream in a deep riverbed. The guides explained that with the summer melt at an end and the snows in the mountains having refrozen, the streams were dry or low. The companions dismounted and gave the reins over to the guides. Seeing no cause for delay, they made sure their packs were secure and began climbing up into the pass. The guides let out a whoop for good luck and galloped off to the northeast.

The remainder of the day was spend making slow progress into the mountains and coming to grips with how rugged they were. Unlike the old, worn down peaks of the Dragontail Range that surrounded Glynden, these mountains were young and angry. They grudgingly gave up each mile in exchange for bruises, cuts and fatigue.

The party members fared differently in response to these rough conditions. Speaks With Stone simply flew from peak to ridge in the form of an eagle, keeping watch for potential foes from above. Cathal was not the greatest climber, but his great strength made up for this as did his ability to leap like a mountain goat thanks to his boots. Lazarius grumbled and cursed the rough ground. He considered using his magic to simply Fly above the ground as did Speaks, but his caution prevailed. He wanted to save that spell until he truly needed it and it also seemed imprudent to be soaring across the sky when an unidentified, large winged beast had been sighted in the area. He contented himself with using a less powerful spell to Climb like a Spider when the need arose.

That night they camped huddled beneath a shallow overhang and missed the presence of Marcus. He would often take more than one watch and let the others get additional rest. They hoped he would find the answers he was looking for and rejoin them soon.

At sunrise they began their trek again and continued to wrestle with the challenges of the Black Peaks. They found themselves doing more climbing than walking in places. If this sort of terrain continued, it would be months before they managed to make their way north toward where they suspected the City of Endless Summer lay. They considered using Speaks magic to transform them into birds once again but decided that they had to wait at least until Marcus caught up with them. Thus they continued to move westward, one rough cliff at a time.

In the afternoon, as Speaks flew overhead scouting, he spotted a hint of movement behind a sharp peak ahead. He flew closer to inspect this and rounded the far side of the peak to find a pair of some sort of large, winged-lizard-men perched on a ledge. He was further surprised when the creatures drew arrows across enormous bows and fired at him. The shots went wide but Speaks dove downward and behind the peak, flying rapidly back toward the rest of the party.

He found them hiking slowly along a narrow canyon with steep walls rising on both sides. He landed in front of them and quickly told them of the creatures that had attacked him. Lazarius did not hesitate before doing a bit of defensive magic, transforming his Skin into a hard texture resembling Stone. The others began to debate whether or not these creatures might be reasoned with.

This debate was cut short when a cry rang through the canyon, "Die, makers of abominations!" (Speaks and Lazarius recognized this as the dragon tongue). One of the lizard-men leaned over the edge of the canyon above and fired his bow amongst them. The shot scored a minor wound across Speaks’ forearm as an arrow the size of a javelin buried itself in the ground. Before the party could react, another shot was fired from the far side of the canyon but it missed its mark. A third lizard-man came into view atop the canyon wall.

Cathal was the first to react and literally leapt into action. His jump carried him a third of the way up the right-hand wall of the canyon toward the lone archer and he rapidly began climbing the remaining distance thanks to the speed lent him by his magic boots. Seeing the burly Brigante rapidly approaching, the lizard-man took flight and soared across the canyon, firing a haphazard shot at Speaks that missed. The third lizard archer took aim but held his fire and a fourth appeared behind him. This last one appeared to be smaller and albino as well. To the trained eyes of Lazarius and Speaks, it looked as though it was performing some magic.

Speaks began some magic of his own, preparing a spell to Summon one of Nature’s Allies. Lazarius preferred a more direct approach and fired a Bolt of Lightning at the winged foe flying overhead, escaping from Cathal. The bolt struck the creature squarely but it did not fall from the sky. Marius watched to see if the wounded creature would alight and he flipped a dagger into his hand almost quicker than the eye could see. If it came down anywhere near him, he give it a little sting. Speaks’ faithful companion Scipio also stood by to pounce on any of the lizard-men who dared come close to his Druid friend.

At the direction of Speaks, a creature formed of the element of Air appeared atop the canyon wall and attacked the nearest archer with little result. Even as the Elemental appeared, Speaks heard a voice in his mind utter a compulsion: “Your pet looks vulnerable. If you value his life perhaps you should withdraw and fight us another day.” Gripped by this Suggestion, Speaks called out, “Scipio! To me!” and began to fall back up the canyon the way the party had come. (Speaks has got the worst damn luck with the dice. He needed about a 5 to make his Will save and rolled a 4. Unfortunately, it won’t be the last time this problem plagues him.)

As Speaks withdrew from the combat, Lazarius heard one of the lizard-men cry out in the tongue of the Dragons, “This one is laden with magic! Get him!” At this command, the three large dragon-men charged Lazarius and assailed him with huge spears. One of these was a mighty blow that sent cracks running through the stone-like skin of the Wizard as the other two chipped at his defenses. Lazarius moved beyond the reach of two of them and dodged a blow from the third as he used another defensive spell he had prepared to cause him to appear Displaced from his actual location. He knew that he could not sustain another barrage of their attacks.

Marius stepped forward and flung his dagger at the closest of the dragon-men but it did little damage. Cathal leaped down from the canyon wall, slicing with Mailbiter at the closest of the scaly warriors, cutting it deeply. Marius prepared to step closer to the distracted dragon-man to plant his rapier in its flank. But before he could do this, he was mentally spoken to by the albino, “One of your friends has fled and the others are surrounded. You’d best surrender.” Marius threw down his rapier and threw up his hands.

The dragon-men, incensed by their lust for magic, ignored Cathal and launched another series of attacks at Lazarius. Two of these struck home despite the Wizard’s defensive magics and blood flowed freely from cracks in his stony skin. Lazarius knew that he had but one more chance if he and his companions were to survive this. He ducked out of their reach again as he thrust his hand into his magical haversack. Out came his prized possession: A thin rod carved with arcane runes. His other hand summoned forth a Bolt of Lightning again, but this time it was not fired at a single foe. The rod flashed green as Lazarius used its magic to sculpt his spell and strike all three of the closest foes while leaving Cathal and Marius untouched. Two of the dragon-men fell, smoking and charred, to the ground.

Cathal knew an opportunity when he saw one and charged the remaining winged warrior before he could strike the Wizard again. Mailbiter struck home and the creature fell to the ground, blood pouring from its chest. Almost before the creature hit the ground, the Albino was among them. He seemed about to touch his fallen comrades, perhaps trying to do some healing magic to them.

Marius saw that the tide of the battle had turned and fought off the compulsion that had gripped him. He grabbed his rapier off the ground and moved forward to level it at the Albino. Marius grinned: Now it was the lizard’s turn to surrender.

Lazarius was taking no chances however and let fly with yet another Lightning Bolt. (You’d never guess that he was an Abjurer, would you?). It sizzled through the Albino’s body and it slumped to the ground, unconscious and at the mercy of the party. As it lay before them, Lazarius saw that it sported a barbed tail. Gazing down at his own, blood-soaked robes, he drew his dagger as a vindictive grin took over his face. “That tail is coming off!”

“Wait!” cried Marius.

“What?!” replied the wounded Wizard.

“Let him keep his tail for now.” said the Imperial Explorer with a roguish grin.

“Why?” asked Lazarius. He wanted retribution and a trophy. Besides, that tail might be useful as a component for some exotic spell. Albino, spell casting, dragon-men were rare after all.

“Because if you cut if off now then we can’t cut if off later when he refuses to answer our questions. There’s a lot about these mountains that we don’t know.”

Lazarius regarded the unconscious reptile and then his dagger. “I hate it when you have a good point. But I get to do the cutting when the time comes.” He sheathed the dagger.

“Of course.” replied Marius. He knew that violence was best used as a tool, not as an end unto itself. It seemed some of his companions had yet to learn this lesson. “Let’s get his wounds bound before he dies and makes it more difficult to question him…”

NEXT: The Unlikeliest of Allies
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