The Thorns of Winter -(updated 5/15/22)

Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise

Constructs and Observations.

Floating in the middle of somewhere, I could do little more than wait. The flickering lights surrounded and defined the place with a dim glow like the clearest night sky full of bright stars. In the distance trailed away from me strands of light and darkness. Both shed light around themselves, although how the dark strands did this, was a mystery. I didn’t understand the place I was in; if it was in my head, if I was projecting my soul somewhere else, but its twilight like beauty was undeniable. But I wasn’t here because I wanted to view the scenery. My last visit was confounding; a strange place and even stranger revelations; neither which I understood. But while the nature of the place eluded me, it was the revelations I wanted to discuss. Or I supposed, demand it be discussed.

So, I wasn’t shocked at all at the lack of a response from the construct. The last time, I left with only a partial answer, and a last moment understanding that it was my celestial father was tied to this…place. Or perhaps it was more accurate to say, he tied to me to it. I was bound to these strands unable to escape them, much like a fly in a spider’s web. But it didn’t volunteer this information then either. I demanded it, got a response I would have expected from a modron, and then only then, learned the sender behind it. So, I waited for an inevitable answer, strung in complex jargon and phrasing. A ‘no.’ But now I hung there, waiting. I had expected a swift denial. But, somewhere in this place, the construct was doing something I couldn’t perceive.

“Element Myrai—" started the monotone voice of the construct echoed in my head, startling me. “—you have already been informed on the purpose of your duties. There is no need—”

“—Pike it!” I spat aloud. “I understand my ‘duties’ just fine. Never mind I had to browbeat it out of you. And I’m done with that as well. I want to communicate with my father, not you.”

“Element Myrai must then demonstrate knowledge pertaining to their—”

“—No.” I said pointedly.

There was an awkward silence for a moment, and the construct started again. “Element Myrai must comply, and demonstrate—”

“—No,” I said crossing my arms and I glanced around the space. “I will not play this game. So tell my father I want to speak to him, now.”

Once again there was empty silence as I floated there. “Construct is unable to comply with element Myrai’s request.”

I looked around me, as if I would find a source of the voice in my head. I wanted to glare and focus my annoyance on something tangible. But, I straightened up and said, “Well then. Element Myrai is unable to comply with further…what did you call it, ‘passive with active engagement with proto-petitioners.’ Go find someone else.”

“Other options are not longer viable. Element Myrai must comply and perform duties.” The construct rumbled in my head.

“No longer ‘viable?’ What in Baator does that mean?”

“Your predecessors have been discorporatated. You are the last viable candidate.”

My curiosity got the better of my willpower as I slowly asked, “What does that mean…discorporated? Dead?”

“Simplistic. The soulcase is dead. However, the soul has been—”

“—What reborn? Am I it?”

“No. The soul no longer exists.”

“No…longer…exists,” I enunciated slowly, feeling cold. “So…gone…forever.”

“This is accurate.”

My stomach clenched at the thought, and I shook my head. That was a fate reserved for souls beyond redemption, and not fit to be reborn. It was said that Kelemvor would judge souls, and those deemed faithless or false, would be entombed into the ‘Wall of the Faithless’ and be absorbed into it. But I also had heard that in the lower planes, souls were placed into something called a ‘soul coin’ that could be traded…or consumed by the immortals there. It was a horrid concept that a soul of any worth could be eliminated that way. But this only steeled my resolve.

“Then if I am the last option, if I am at risk of ‘discorporation,’ I think…no demand that I talk to him, and get some answers,” I said through clenched teeth, my frustration starting to change into anger. “Why should I risk this? Why should I care?

“It is imperative that element Myrai comply.”

“No,” I said calmly. “I have survived a lot, but I am sure I could find something to kill me. You can force me back like you did the first, and I’ll just keep trying. Because I have a hunch, is that someone is out of time. Aren’t you?”

There was another round of silence, and after a moment it responded, almost managing to sound resigned. "Construct will make arrangements,” I was about to object, but it continued. “Paternal figure cannot be easily reached at this time. A message will be sent with your...threat.”

I frowned but I realized that this construct of magic couldn’t compel a celestial to do anything. Being this was the best offer that could be made I grudgingly nodded, “Fine. You do that. I won’t wait forever though.”

“A reply of some nature will be forthcoming. Observation, element Myrai is obstinate and willful, similar to her—”

“—just like my father. Figures.”

“Incorrect. Traits are similar, but not the same. Element Myrai best resembles her predecessor.”

That stopped me short as I thought about it and realized something, “Predecessor? My father had other children before me. So, I had a half-sibling?”

“Correct.”

“A…sister? A brother?”

“The element Cryl identified as male.”

“Cryl,” I said quietly. A name. Names have power, and this one unlocked a longing I hadn’t felt in a long time. I had only one other I considered family, but she was kin by necessity, to survive growing up. I missed her greatly. But not once had I considered that I had anything more than an absent father or a dead mother.

“I will have to ask about him as well,” I said to myself, and then addressed the construct. “How long will this take?”

“Several sunrises. You will know when it is time. You may depart after some infusion of loci.”

“Wha…oh no! Not that agai—” and I was cut off as a pair of strands, one light and one dark, flew straight into me from the darkness. It was more painful than the last time, but I soon shook in the afterglow as the power flowed into me, taking my breath away. I watched with mouth agape as the strands bound themselves, and wove together into even more intricate braid. I felt out of breath, and it took me a moment to finally utter, “Could you…at least…warn me first?”

“Assimilation of loci complete. Configuration of loci for offensive and informative functions,” the construct intoned.

“Wonderful—”

“End of Construct.”

“What? No no wai—” and I inhaled sharply as my eyes fluttered open. I was still sitting on my bedroll, but it seemed that some time had passed. The light I had manifested, was gone and I could see Adrissa nearby asleep. Looking around, Rosa and Doxx were also slumbering in their bedrolls. Meanwhile Bookshelf’s driftglobe hovered over their shoulder as they studied a crystal, a siberys I believed. Meanwhile I saw that Sage and The Blade were both standing and looking outside the dome talking in hushed tones.

“It can’t see us, right?” The Blade asked.

“No,” Sage said quietly. “I am familiar with this spell. It can see the dome, but not what is within.”

I stood up, still holding the Apocrypha and approached the pair. “What’s going on?” I said in a hushed tone.

Neither looked at me, but Sage turned his head slightly and continued. “A visitor is watching us,” and he pointed outside the cavern.

The light of the rising sun was just creeping across the clouds, turning them a dull orange. The woods here had thinned, with individual pines scattered here and there. There on a branch of a gnarled leafless oak tree was a raven with grey streaked wings, while the rest of it was a pitch black. It struck me as familiar as realized that I remembered seeing one like it in Denning, just as we left. Its head made quick turns here and there, but its gaze always settled back looking towards us. But something about it seemed familiar.

“It’s following us,” Sage said.

“That’s ridiculous,” The Blade stated. “Why would a bird follow us? A handout?”

“I saw it in Denning. It stood out because of the grey striping.” Sage argued.

My mouth dropped open. “It…It can’t be.” I said.

“Can’t be what?” Sage asked.

“It looks…the coloration makes it looks like an Executioner’s Raven,” I said dumbfounded. “But it’s too small.”

“I have never seen a grey striped raven before,” The Blade said. “Or even a grey one. All the ones I’ve seen in Sharn are solid black.”

“As were the ones I saw on the Sword Coast,” I concurred nodding.

“What do you mean ‘it’s too small?’” Sage asked.

“Executioner Ravens are…about my size. And their wings twice as wide,” I said outstretching my arms.”

“That would be a big raven,” The Blade admitted. “Could it be one? A young one?”

I shook my head, “The chicks are much larger and are a mottled grey and white fuzzy puff balls. Kinda cute I suppose, but the adults are nasty. That bird is smaller than a chick.”

“Still, its out in the freezing cold,” Sage said. “No nest, or cover. What bird would do that willingly.”

“Not a real one,” I said. “But a familiar would. A familiar of someone that either was creative or has actually seen an executioner raven. Someone who has been…to Sigil.”

The pair looked at me, “Perhaps that’s a coincidence. But how we can tell if it is a familiar?”

“Give me a moment,” and I pulled out a strip of metal from the Apocrypha. I started to whisper under my breath in celestial. The Blade and Sage watched me as I read the incantation over and over, slowly pulling on a white strand and wrapping it around my eyes. Then I pulled on it and snapped it and looked at the bird.

The raven continued to gaze in our direction, but my perception of it was now altered. It seemed to be covered in a cloud that appeared to be a sickly dark green. Unsure about what I was seeing, I turned around and looked for Gossamer. It took only a moment to find him, as he had decided to nap on my bedroll. But what made him so easy to find, was that he appeared to be surrounded in soft blue nimbus. But as I looked around, no person gave off the same light; not the people, not the horses in the back of the cavern. I returned my gaze to the raven saw again the green cloud around it.

“It’s a familiar,” I confirmed. “It’s not a celestial one, like Gossamer. But…it’s not a fiend either.”

“Then what is it?” The Blade asked.

“It might be a fey,” Bookshelf commented from his seat on the cavern floor.

“If that is a fey…it is a really, really rotten one,” I said looking at it with disgust now.

“Perhaps it is Unseelie,” Bookshelf commented, still studying his crystal.

“Great, now what?” I asked and I had barely gotten the words out of my mouth, when in a quick motion The Blade nocked an arrow, stepped outside the crystalline dome and loosed it at the bird. The raven didn’t move at all as the arrow struck it in the breast, causing it to fly off the branch. But as it sped to the ground, the body seemed to evaporate into a mist, all the while I swore, I heard…laughter, cold and mocking. Sage and I turned to look at The Blade as he walked back inside.

“We probably should have discussed that,” Sage started as I looked at the elf incredulously and nodded.

“No point,” The Blade said with pride. “There is no reason to allow it to spy on us with obviously criminal intent.”

“Won’t its master get suspicious?” Sage asked, and at the same time Bookshelf stood and moved closer to us, looking at the Blade curiously.

“They’ll know that it is gone,” I said. “It’s like a glass cracking in your head. But, they won’t see what had happened unless they were close and concentrating—”

“—See?—” The Blade said looking at me approvingly.

“—But they’ll just resummon it, and learn what happened anyway.”

“—Oh.” The Blade said, slightly defeated. “No matter. It will take a while for it to find us again.”

“We were following a road that leads to Cattbron,” Sage said shaking his head. “The only one. We are not going to be hard to find.”

“Erk…keep it down,” Doxx said from her bedroll. “What did our dark brooding elf do now?”

“The Blade shot a familiar spying on us,” Bookshelf said calmly.

“Alright…good for him,” and Doxx turned over to try to fall back to sleep. But not two heartbeats later, she jumped and stomped over to the rest of us. “You what?” she said giving the elf a withering glare.

“Sage claimed that a raven was following us, and you are concerned that I shot it?” The Blade said mystified.

“Wait? What raven?” Doxx said confused.

“Oh…you mean the one from Denning,” Rosa said yawning as she sat up.

“You are all out of your mind? There was no raven following us!” Doxx said getting more agitated.

“Ugh,” Adrissa groaned and looked at the old woman, “Why are we talking about the raven?”

“Because The Blade just shot it,” Sage said.

Adrissa nodded, “Good. I didn’t like how that one looked at us anyway,” and she stretched and started to put on her armor.

“See? She shows promise!” The Blade beamed, before frowning. “Wait, you noticed it was following us, and didn’t mention it?”

“I think the point is we should have discussed whether we should shoot it,” Bookshelf said calmly.

“Wait,” Doxx said in shock. “You all aren’t kidding? There was a raven following us, and no one mentioned it?”

“It wasn’t exactly hiding,” Sage pointed out.

“I thought everyone knew,” Adrissa said with a shrug, and everyone else except The Blade started to nod.

“Well…crap,” Doxx said dejectedly. “Well, that’s done. We better move, before another one can find us.”

“That, I agree with,” Sage said. “Let’s get moving before the weather turns.”

We all turned, and moved to our respective bedrolls to decamp, and I sighed saying, “Well, we might have at least questioned it.”

“Wait,” The Blade said. “You could have questioned it?”

I nodded, “Rosa was able to talk to Gossamer, and I know a similar ritual. So now we know we’ve been followed. But not who.”

“It’s obvious really,” The Blade said calmly.

“Who then?” I asked and then three people spoke at once:

“The Emerald Claw,” said The Blade.

“Moragon,” said Rosa.

“Melisandre,” said Doxx.

The two warforged just looked at each other and groaned, while Adrissa blurted out what was going through my head. She glared at everyone and said:

“You are all idiots.”

Session Notes:
Well...enough self created drama, because I promise you all, the next installment will put us back into the action, and maybe just maybe, you will get to meet the worst wizard in the world.

Just saying.
 
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Richards

Legend
That's...quite an echo you've got going there! (Other than the "Session Notes," your entire post is duplicated. Got pasted in twice or something?)

Johnathan
 




Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise

It Tastes Like Chicken - 3/30/2022​



The sun was rising behind the Ironroot mountains, somewhere behind the thick grey cloud cover. We thought it might be just early, but as we rode it became clear that what light we had was the best that could be hoped for. The twilight conditions made riding through the thick snow a slow trek. Fortunately, the snow didn’t seem to daunt the magebred steeds, and they plodded ahead, crunching snow under hoof. The bright spot in all of this, was that it wasn’t snowing. Yet. The threat hung overhead, but as time passed, it appeared to an empty one.

But as we progressed, it became colder and colder. Everyone had pulled out blankets and wrapped themselves within, relying on the heat from the horses to stay warm. I was constantly using white strands on my armor, to both warm it, and stop the accumulation of frost. It wasn’t a fire’s heat, but it was something I could do. The others handled their problems of staying warm in very creative ways.

The warforged didn’t seem to care about the cold, but they did seem concerned about their joints freezing in place. They rolled their shoulders, stretched their arms, and even walked ahead of their horses so they could stay mobile. But otherwise they said nothing. The Blade was also not used to the cold weather, and wore a blanket under his great leather cloak the cowl up and pulled close to his skull. I even noticed that he had put on layers of masks, one on top of the other, to keep more of his face from the elements. Adrissa was smaller than almost all of us, and she just folded over blankets on top of themselves, doubling the layers.

But it was Doxx and Rosa that made much more unique choices. Doxx usually wore the face of an old woman, rail thin and bent. And while she was still an old woman, she was now plump, seemingly adding six or seven stones worth of weight to herself. So while she didn’t fit in her clothes well, the bulk added warmth. Rosa took this to a different level, and stopped riding her pony entirely and just became a white furred bear that looked like it had consumed enough to sleep through winter. I admitted that I was envious; I would love to experience the world in different shapes, to fly in the air, or soar beneath the waters of lakes or oceans. But I would have settled for a fur coat of any kind.

This left Gossamer out, his fur and body weight not enough to keep him warm. My blankets didn’t leave enough room for him to snuggle comfortably either. So he sullenly asked to be put in his extra dimensional space to wait. It wasn’t warm there, but it was far from freezing. I didn’t even bother to ask him to scout ahead, as just a couple moments of flight was enough to gather ice on his wings. So he moped in his space, clearly not wanting to admit that he wanted to be in his hiding space.

The wintery landscape had changed, into flat plains, and we left the stands of trees behind us. While it wasn’t snowing, there wasn’t much to see but endless white in all directions. Everything was hushed, except for the sounds of hooves crunching the snow. I doubted that wolves or anything else could sneak up upon us in the open. And nothing did. But as the cold increased, we finally could see it again; the wall.

It reached from the snows and plunged upwards into the roiling grey clouds, while spreading out and curving to the left and right out of sight. As we tread farther south, it just grew and grew, and features on it became more distinct. The thick trunks of thorns weaved around themselves. It seemed that from them, puffs of snow and ice constantly fell from the twisting shoots from far heights. But the tops were concealed high in the cloud cover, giving no indication how high they grew. Around the tops, lightning flowed through the clouds, flashing brightly within. Occasionally you could see a fork streak across the sky, illuminating the walls, so you could see thin twisted shadows between the huge stalks. The stalks were a darker shade of grey, edged with white ice, and thorns pointing every which way, which meant they had to be massive. It reminded me distantly of razorvine in Sigil, although snow and ice were rare occurrences within the city. More and more of it became clearer as we all approached. Finally we came to the top of a ridge and could look down into Cattbron.

Cattbron was in a low valley, bisected by the Lightning Rail like the river did in Denning. The buildings’ chimneys blew smoke into the air, giving it a hazy quality. Every building was topped with thick snow, and the streets were clogged, almost burying the smaller buildings completely. But some work had been made to clear streets, as there was snow piles, on the road leading into town. As the light faded, it was clear that life was normal as could be for a spring day as everbright lanterns illuminated the streets.

“It looks snowed in, but otherwise fine,” The Blade noted, sounding muffled under his cowl.

“Well, the vegethingies didn’t get this far,” Doxx muttered between chattering teeth. “Probably means eyerot isn’t here either.”

“Let’s find the Cannith enclave here,” Sage said after a moment. “Between its library and stores, we might as well secure what we can. Afterwards, you can all rest in the Golden Dragon here.”

“Do we have to?” I asked between chattering teeth. My armor just seemed to soak in the cold and with each breath I took, the frigid air seemed to burn in my chest. “Can’t we warm up first?”

“I want to see this book, and read it while you rest,” Bookshelf said. “The tagget oil can wait until morning.”

“To Cannith then,” The Blade said with a touch of bravado. “It should be dusk by then and shadows up in full. Just the way it should be, in case we need to interrogate the tinkers there.”

“Growfff…Gro…I don’t think we need to treat them as criminals,” Rosa said her voice changing from deep and husky to her normal soft alto tones. She had just shed the form of the white bear, and gave The Blade a reproachful look.

“We should be prepared!” The Blade insisted, swiftly replacing his current rime covered mask, with a clean black leather one from a pouch at his side. “If they aren’t criminals, they have been criminally duped. So, they will act like criminals and deny any involvement, so we should just save time and treat them as such.”

Doxx opened her mouth to say something, and then just shook her head instead. Rosa just shrugged. “As you like. Let’s do this swiftly and get warm again.”





The streets were deserted, as anyone with sense was indoors staying warm. But they were lit, with everbright lanterns shining in the now dark streets. The shadows seemed to creep in from snow choked alleys, and small flakes of snow descended from above, with a trace of a cold breeze causing the snow to drift in front of our approach. We made our way to the cut in the town, where the lightning rail was, and to start our search for the Cannith Enclave. It wasn’t hard to find, as it was a large warehouse like building, next to the House Orien rail station. It was big, and made of red brick, and was taller than any of the other buildings in town. High on one side facing the street parallel to the raid, was a large coat of arms, with a bull made of iron staring straight ahead. Below it was an open area, covered from above from the elements, with a pair of iron bound doors.

Before heading there, we stopped next to the Golden Dragon Inn, and gave them our horses to board for the night. My legs were still in agony from the ride, stiff and barely able to move, and I stumbled forward with a little difficult as we crossed the road and approached the doors. On one of the was a sign:

Cannith East Enclave

We are closed due to weather

Night deliveries use the intercom next to the door

“What’s an intercom?” Doxx asked. Both the warforged looked at each other and shrugged.

“I am not familiar with such a thing,” The Blade said. “Sharn uses speaking crystals on some estates in Skyledge.”

“It must be this,” Adrissa said, and she moved to the right side of the doors. Attached to the brick wall was copper tube which had one end enter the wall, and that stuck out of the brick, turned downwards, and then turned and flared out into a bell like shape. Above it was a hastily attached sign that pointed out the obvious.

THIS Intercom.

--The Management

“Helpful,” Rosa said slight annoyed. “How does it work?”

“You put your mouth near the open receptacle and shout what you need. Seriously...some people…”

We looked around in confusion, not recognizing the voice.

“Here!...HereHereHEREHEREHERE!” and I realized, that the sound of a voice was coming from the copper tube that opened here.

The Blade leaned forward and asked in a gravelly voice, “How did you know we were here?”

“I can see you on the crystal monitor. Nice outfit. What did you want?”

“We need to talk to someone…more in charge,” The Blade said annoyed.

“I’m as high as you get with the snow. The local management is off in Krona Peak on a retreat. And I’m stuck here. Alone. Again!” the voice grumbled.

Rosa sighed, stepped up to the tube, “We need tagget oil and—”

“Well…you’ll have to wait till someone can open the safe and process a sale!” the voice said irritably.

I nudged Rosa aside and leaned down to the copper bell and spoke into it, “What’s your name?”

“I said that I can’t do…oh. Uh. Kalborius. Kalborius Framlin.”

I continued, “Look we’re tired, and we really would like talk and explain our urgent need. And besides, we need a book as well.”

“A book, eh? I do like talking about books.” Kalborius said with a thoughtful tone. “You look familiar too…oh why not. If you rob the place, I can tell the managers ‘told you.’” At that, there was a loud click, and the sounds of bars scraping and sliding behind the door. Sage pushed on the door, and it swung open while the frozen metal hinges made a horrid screeching sound, revealing a foyer.

The foyer was a large square room, paneled in bronzed wood on which hung the house coat of arm. The rails and balusters were gilt in golden, silver and iron shaded metals, forming knot like patterns over many of the surfaces. The metal reflected the everbright lanterns around the hall, and on sconces on the railings of the stairs. The stairs themselves, ringed the walls as they ascended the interior walls leading upwards a great distance. Finally, closed mahogany doors were centered in the walls, going each direction. In the center of the room sat a wooden oak desk, which had an assortment of papers, forms, quills, and stamps, all neatly arranged in front of an empty chair. We all hurried inside, to take in the comparatively warmer air, compared to the outside. Bookshelf came inside last, and shut the door, as we stood there and shook the melting snow off our garments. I was already pulling on a light strand and was wicking away the melting snow, when we realized that we were alone.

“So where is this…Kalborius?” Doxx asked aloud as she looked around squinting critically at the room. I shrugged as I pulled Gossamer out from his hiding space

--Ah…warmth. I would say about time, but this is worth the wait.

“On the third floor where the library is!” Kalborius’ voice sounded, from a copper funnel mounted above us, attached to a tube that ascended upwards and branched in different directions. “Come on up, its warmer up here.” And I eagerly started up the stairs, the encircled the room, followed by the others, all while Gossamer flew circles in the center of the open space, keeping his elevation just above where we climbed. But while he might have been on the third floor, it was clear that whatever comprised the first floor, the second-floor landing was far above. But as we climbed our host kept talking to us, each time from a different funnel as we kept moving.

“So, anyway what is this about a book?” Kalborius asked.

“Yes, the book is one that we found in a reference—” Doxx started before getting cut off.

“--Very nice. What is the title?”

“Title…” Rosa said, her voice trailing off. She opened her pack and pulled out the journal we found on the Cannith researcher down in the bowels of the machine. She started flipping through the pages muttering, before shaking her head. “We...we don’t know. We know it was written by a gnome from Trolanberg, and that Sylannis d’Cannith had read it—”

“Ah! I know precisely what book that is! ‘Dhakanni Artifice and other Rumors, Undebunked Again!’ by Waldif Pentoalium d’Sivis. Strange how popular it has been over the last year.”

“What makes it popular?” Rosa asked confused.

“I have no clue!” another funnel spoke aloud as we wound our way upwards. “I have never read it myself end to end. But I do remember others commenting how bad a read it was. Especially Syl. She really hated it. So did the other three in their own way.”

“Three?” Adrissa muttered, her eyes furrowed. “Three read it in the last year?”

“No…three others did, besides her.” The voice chided the now annoyed teenager.

“Who was the first one?” I asked.

“Ah…tall lanky man with dark hair and green eyes, dressed in leathers. Well-travelled and softly spoken.” Kalborius said thoughtfully. “I’m not even sure why I let him see it come to think off it.”

“Moragon,” Rosa said.

“Yes! That was his name! It sat on the shelf for months, and the Syl looked at it. But the last two pulled it out only weeks ago, one right after the other.”

“Anything notable about them?” The Blade asked, his voice low and gravelly.

“The first one was an elven fellow. Long straight hair, blue eyes. Had the robes of a Karrnathi miltary attache. Old but still spry like all of them are.”

“That sounds like…Lolopethes?” Doxx said confused. The Blade shot the old woman a look their eyes both narrowing in suspicious.

“Did he read anything else?” The Blade asked.

“Hm?” Kalborius said over the copper tubing from yet another funnel. “No. He came in, asked for the book by name, and then left satisfied. No…not satisfied. Amused…Not sure what he found funny. And actually…I don’t remember why I let him see it either.”

“That seems too specific a pickup and read,” The Blade commented. “I have a hard time understanding why he would have had to think about a book, he specifically came to read here. Something here doesn’t make sense.”

“Your mask is probably too tight,” Doxx said mildly.

“It stays on better that way,” The Blade replied, not acknowledging the jibe. “So who came next?”

“A woman, on business from House Medani—” Kalborius started.

“—Raven hair and favoring a blue dress I would guess,” I said.

“Yes! —”

“—Mellisandre—” Doxx said her mouth pursed like it had tasted bitter fruit.

“—But she asked for it in a different way. She asked about what the other chap had read. Now we don’t share our checkout records normally…but I didn’t make any for him. Or her. Or the other guy. And why did I tell her anything?...”

“She asked about ‘what the other chap read?’…just like that?” I pressed.

“Oh no…she knew his name.” Kalborius’ voice said from the next funnel. At that we all stopped on the current landing, halfway between the second and third floor and looked at each other.

“Melisandre does know everyone doesn’t she,” Bookshelf noted.

“This is beyond coincidence,” Sage agreed. “We do not understand what is at play here.”

“But she does,” Doxx said. “She fed us all a line in our letters for a game of her own design.”

“I don’t agree,” I said causing the old woman to glare at me. “I met her, and she helped me out of a bad situation. She seemed genuinely invested in helping Taryn.”

“Could Taryn be in on this?” The Blade asked grimacing. “Or is he caught in this web as well?”

“He seems to be very…focused on the mine for his uncle,” Rosa said. “And even if he was lying, I doubt that Debrika would have been ignorant about it. Or put up with it.”

“I can agree with that,” Doxx said. “She’d lay into him with that maul if she thought he was going down a path she didn’t approve of.”

“She didn’t approve of much as I recall,” Bookshelf commented.

“No, she did not.” Doxx concurred.

“Well, I have the book here with me,” Kalborius continued. “Careful now, you don’t have to damage the doors up here—”

We all looked at each other confused. I then spoke to the copper funnel, “What are you talking about Kalborius? We haven’t gotten to the—”

“WHAT!?! NONONONO G-G-G-GET AWAY FROM ME YOU---URK,” came Kalborious’ panicked voice, followed by a wet slurping sound and what sounded like muffled thump, like something was dropped into a sack.

We ran up the stairs, pulling out weapons; Adrissa and The Blade, on bows, Sage his armblade, Rosa, Bookshelf and I our foci. When we reached the third-floor landing, the first thing we saw was that the lanterns were ripped from their sconce that once flanked the door. The door itself, was solid and bound with oak, but it now lay on its side, as if something ripped it off its hinges and flung it against the stacks of shelves within. Gossamer who was already ahead of us to start with, quickly flew inside the room and sent me a first impression that made me clench my teeth together.

--Oh, this is not good.

We darted inside and looked around. It was a long rectangular room, and here we saw more lanterns pulled from sconces and discarded onto the floor. A rug lead down the middle of the room, passing by shelves nearly twice my height holding books, scrolls and other stacks of paper, haphazardly stacked in very unorganized piles. About halfway to the other side of the room, was a more open section where a shattered desk was on the floor. On top of the desk were books and papers, all crushed underfoot of the large creature that stood before us.

It was dark green and covered in slime and boils. It stood as tall as the bookshelves around us on spindly legs that seemed too slight to carry its prodigious bulk which fatty bulk quivered as it turned to face us. Its long arms nearly reached the ground and each webbed hand ended in sharp talons. It’s large yellow cross slit bulbous eyes stared at us for a brief moment before widening, and then narrowing as if vexed. It took a deep breath and opened its huge mouth and bellowed with a deep guttural sound that echoed in the room, while spittle flew from its mouth. And as it did so, it swished its great tongue back and forth. Near the end of its roar, I could see to my horror, down into its gullet and saw the wide eyes of a man, his dark hair and purple robes matted with slime.

“HELP M—” Kalborius screamed from the open mouth of the creature, before it clamped its mouth shut, and began licking its lips and flexing its claws in anticipation.

“That…is a huge frog,” Adrissa said disbelieving her own eyes.

“It’s a frogging problem!” Doxx shouted he ran with Sage to free the man in the belly of the beast.

Session Notes:
Well...go ahead and guess what it is that has eaten our friend Kalborius. So if you thought things were weird and horrific, the players hadn't seen anything yet. But at this point I must disclose that there is a private joke here about Myrai and Kalborius.

You see, Myrai and Kalborius were adventurers briefly in an abortive "Curse of Strahd" campaign that lasted one session. Kalborius was my son's charater and he is playing Sage here. Both were characters with very specific backstories and entrances (Myrai was dropped into a river, and was going to hipped in Barovia.) But the group as a whole, couldn't get into the gothic horror themes that the dm wanted to portray. The players started to turn it into absurdist slapstick. This really annoyed the DM, and he gave up that evening. I was looking forward to the gothic drama personally, but I so was invested in Myrai as a concept, I just took her, at level one and reused her in the Souls of Legend campaign.

Much later, Myrai and Kalborius appeared in a homebrew campaign, in a distorted version of reality in a parallel Sigil, where my son and I were playing lizardfolk characters. The party we were part entered a bar, who were filled with characters from prior adventures, in an enternal champion moment. All of that was run by player who plays Bookshelf in this adventure. In that bar, the players of Rosa, Doxx, and The Blade met characters of our past adventures in an endearing moment.

So good characters are never wasted; they always find a good story.
 
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Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise

The Worst Wizard​


The creature blinked once and made a low rumbling sound, that only just covered the muffled sounds of Kalborius in its gullet. Its eyes squinted and it pulled its lips into wide toothy grin as it watched Sage and Doxx charge down the center of the shelves. It squatted down low awaiting the charge unconcerned. Doxx, being the faster of the pair had her stick ready and was about to swing when we all heard a sound the sound of something spiting. Doxx turned her head and all I could hear her say, “There’s anoth—”

From between a pair of shelves on the right, a flesh-colored mass the size of a small pig slammed into Doxx, and then retracted back dragging Doxx with it. We all heard a loud grunt and the old woman scream in pain. Sage’s head turned to look down the shelves, and when from the left side another tongue slammed into Sage’s shield. But unlike the first one it simply pulled taut, and then stretched even farther as the Juggernaut continued to lumber down towards his quarry. Sage didn’t even break stride heedless of the of the giant mass of green flesh he now dragged behind him. The creature gurgled in frustration as it tried to regain its footing, tumbling behind the runaway warforged.

“Great, three targets,” The Blade said and loosed an arrow which lodged deeply into a spine of book on the shelf. The elf growled, and notched another arrow and loosed it, and it pierced the extended tongue attached to Sage, causing it to detach from him. The momentum carried it down the same aisle that Doxx disappeared down.

“What the?…nononono AGH!” Doxx shouted followed immediately followed by the sound of a pair of damp wet fleshy creatures slamming into each other. Sage ignited his armblade and swung at his target, easily cutting through its viscera with a sizzling sound. From inside the toad there was a scream of panic. The creature opened its mouth and attempted to rip off Sage’s sword arm with its maw. But Sage turned and it chewed instead on his shield. As it did so, the muffled screams from it stomach became clearer, “Watch it with the flaming sharp object!”

Bookshelf and I looked at each other and shrugged. He with a snap, pointed a cold white beam that struck the toad, and hoarfrost formed over its right shoulder and chest. It turned and glared at the warforged, grimacing. I then pulled on some light strands and cast a pair of strands toward Sage’s opponent. They manifested as bright purple bolts, but it felt different. I could feel the energy flow down the strands faster than before, and the bolts seemed to glow brighter than they had before. They both slammed into the toad thing and its gaze snapped to look at me, its eyes narrowing.

“That’s not good, is it?” I asked Bookshelf.

“Unlikely,” the warforged said.

“What in Dolurrh are banderhobbs doing here?” Rosa said in puzzlement. We both looked at the druid confused as she ran down and stopped at the intersection of shelves where Doxx had been dragged. She looked down between the rows of shelves and yelled, “Where are you Doxx? Where’s the other one?” and she rolled on the floor dodging a tongue that lashed out at her

Adrissa grimaced and bolted down the stacks drawing two short blades as she ran. Then she suddenly ducked, as another tongue shot out at her from her left, not two paces from where The Blade, Bookshelf and I stood. I then heard Doxx’s stick strike and crack bone, and the sound of a banderhobb grunt in pain.

“Wasn’t Doxx on the other side?” I asked, suddenly alarmed.

“I’m going to flank it,” The Blade said, and he darted to the left, trying to reach the end of the line of shelves. Unlike the middle of the room, the sides were dark, based that I couldn’t see any shadows with my eyes. At that point Rosa called out, “Whatever you do, stay away from the shadows!”

“What? Why—What the?” The Blade called out at about the same time Sage said, “It backed up between the shelves and vanished!” The Blade made a grunting sound and followed by the sound of teeth ripping leather and The Blade hissing in pain. Adrissa stood up and continued to run down towards the sounds where Doxx was swinging her stick, and I heard her swords slice into flesh and the banderhobb bellowed in pain.

Bookshelf ran to follow where Adrissa had gone, while I decided to follow The Blade. I rounded the corner and saw it dragging the elf behind it and darting between another pair of shelves, letting arrows fly as he ran. At least one found its mark, based on the grunting I heard.

“Sodding Baator,” I said, not having time to throw more magic at it. I ran and turned the corner and saw that the toad had released the Blade and now watched us with an evil smile. The Blade had been mauled and was now bleeding badly. I ran towards him putting my shield in front of me, expecting a tongue to lash forward. Then I pulled on a light strand and used it to weave a lattice to close the bleeding lacerations on The Blades’ shoulder. Nearby I could hear Bookshelf mutter, and I heard crackling ice, followed by a sound of wood on wet flesh, and the sounds of swords slicing and cutting.

Out of my vision, I heard Sage say, “You will not evade me that easil…what the?…WATCHOUT!”

I heard a creaking followed by a loud thump a short distance away, followed by more creaking. I turned my head to look at the banderhobb and it smiled and waved its hand, wriggling its fingers as it stepped into a shadow and melted away. I furrowed my brow confused, when I heard the creaking and thumping repeat itself and get louder. The sounds of books scattering on the floor, followed by more crashes and booming sounds growing louder. The Blade looked at me and staggered to his feet. He turned his head toward the crashing sound, muttering; “It baited us, and its partner pushed over the shelves! We need to run!”

The Blade grabbed my hand and pulled as we ran towards the center aisle. The crashing of the bookcases grew louder as one shelf hit another as the stacks were collapsing. The Blade pulled me along, his longer legs and faster gait causing me to stumble and trip. We were several paces away from the aisle, when the shelves on our left shuddered and started to collapse. The stack, dumped its contents onto our head as it proceeded to tip, coming down upon us.

“Pike this!” I leapt forward and pulled back on The Blades’ arm, pulling him into an embrace with me. I then cast a strand of light towards the aisle and pulled on it hard snapping it. The air rushed through my hair as I clutched elf and dragged him with me, following the strand to its terminus. From behind me the thundering explosion I left behind, shredded books and scattered papers everywhere. The I watched the stack push over its neighbor, as it collapsed into a pile of splintered wood. The air rushed through my hair as the shelves shattered behind us. But I barely had time to digest this.

We stood there, The Blade’s chest touching my breastplate. But even clad so, I could feel there was a hard object above his breastbone. As we embraced, I felt a surge of energy from it. It wasn’t like the strands that I used. It wasn’t dark or light, but what I felt was something more familiar. It felt like one of those times where I would summon the light from within me, but the energy was inside whatever he wore.

It felt like me.

I looked up at The Blade, his masked face betrayed a momentary flicker of surprise, as I realized he too could feel the same sensation I did. But we had no time to dwell on it, as he aimed his bow towards the far side of the room, and loosed a pair of arrows. Each sank deep into the toad that had only a moment before emerged from the shadows at the end of the shelves. It looked down at the arrows that jutted from its hide with disinterest and then looked at the The Blade and I, shaking its head. It then raised a hand up and extended a finger to its lips and made a wheezing “Shush” sound.

There then was the sound of a loud crack, and Doxx rolled out from the stack, clutching Adrissa. The shelves fell over and as they did so and started to fall upon on the next set. As the last shelf fell, there was only a solitary guttural “Eep!” sound, followed by a loud pop, and squishing noise. On the floor, green and pink ichor flowed into the aisle from the crushed banderhobb within.

The other banderhobb was still wiggling its fingers at us when a shadow emerged from behind it. It turned in confusion as a large brown bear embraced it and started to tear at it with claws and teeth. It returned the favor with its toothy maw, ripping into bear hide with glee. Blood and ichor flew everywhere, as Rosa kept at it, holding her toad in place. The banderhobb then looked around in alarm, as it tried and failed to move towards a shadow and was quickly assaulted by cold light beams from Bookshelf, Doxx’s stick breaking more bones, and finally Adrissa cutting into it, causing it to dissolve into more sticky goo.

Turning, I saw Sage chase after the third one, as it lumbered to the edge of the room. They both ran on top of the collapsed shelves, as both of their bulks, crushed the wood beneath their feet of steel and flesh. Suddenly, it turned to face Sage and bellowed. Out from its mouth in a ball of slime flew out Kalborius, who slammed into the warforged. Sage, off-balance from chasing the banderhobb, caught the man and was bowled over, hitting the floor so hard, the shelves that still stood, shook, and books fell from their shelves. The banderhobb was still smiling and made a motion with its hand and pointed towards a thick paned window. It ran over next to it and crouched down and disappeared.

Quiet filled the room as dust drifted down from the rafters. Ruined shelves and their contents were now scattered across the floor. Many of the books were torn from their bindings, and few seemed to escape the fracas unscathed. Among the wreckage, Sage’s armored form creaked and shuddered as he slowly sat up, cradling the dripping form of Kalborius in his arms.

“MRorr…Is everyone alright?” the bear asked as it shifted back into Rosa.

“Never…better,” Doxx said flopping down casting her arms wide across the length of shattered wood.

“Kalborius?” Sage asked the dazed man in his arms. The wiry man was panting heavily, as he wiped goop from his short shaggy blonde hair. His face was covered in a scaggy scruff of a thin beard, now matted against his cheeks. He patted the ground and found a pair of wire rimmed spectacles that he put on, only to realize that one lens was cracked, and the other missing.

“I’m…fine. Where is it?” the man said as he squinted looking around at the pile of books with difficulty.

“Where is what?” Sage asked.

“My spellbook. It was under my arm, as I was sorting out other texts, when that thing swallowed me,” the man replied.

“I think this is it…based on the slime,” I said as I pulled on a light strand, to lift a slimy text from the floor, unwilling to touch it.

“Oh no! It will be ruined!” Kalborious exclaimed as he approached and saw the soaked book.

“I can probably dry it out,” I said as I started to weave both light and dark strands and squeezed them, pushing the fluid out of the pages as the others talked.

“What did you call these things?” Bookshelf asked Rosa.

“Banderhobbs,” Rosa said with disgust, but she looked around the room nervously. “They are a magical amalgamation of flesh and shadow, and not a real creature of nature.”

Bookshelf thought a moment, “Something that a druid would create, based on you know about them?”

“Here Sage,” I said handing the thin tome to the warforged. “Can you look at this and see if I should do more, while I clean off Kalborious?” I slapped away the hand of the man as he reached for the book. “You are still covered in slime, so don’t touch it till I’m done.” The man nodded and patiently waited, while Sage flipped through the book.

“You really should use a spell crystal, they are far more dura….ble,” The warforged cocked its head as it looked at the book in confusion, and then addressed Kaborious. “This is a cookbook.”

“Yes yes, all magic spells are recipes really,” the man said as he patiently waited for me to finish cleansing him.

Sage shook his head, “No. This is book about cooking food. This page is a recipe for Karnathi sausage bread pudding. Although…why is it covered with diagrams in…wax?”

“It was the only thing handy, and I inscribed the arcane language on top of it. Only a wizard would understand.” Kalborius said dismissively.

“I am a wizard,” Sage said evenly as he flipped through more pages in the book. “And these drawings don’t make any sense.”

“What do you mean wax?” Adrissa asked, as she cleaned a cut on her arm with a cloth. She walked over and looked at the book as Sage flipped through the pages. “Wait…crayon? You can write spell books with crayon?”

“Not normally,” Bookshelf said.

“Certainly, you can!” Kalborius said defensively. “I did exactly what the priest said to—”

“You took wizard training…from a priest?” I asked.

“The Silver Flame disciples helped me understand arcana and encouraged me to take notes as I used my spells…to sometime surprising effects.” Kalborius admitted.

Sage shook his head, “That’s backwards. You don’t cast a spell randomly and take notes. You learn the spell and then cast it.” The warforged handed the ‘spell book’ to the man. “I don’t think you are a wizard.”

“I am!” Kalborius said, with a tone that said he was insulted by the entire conversation.

Bookshelf and I looked at each other for a moment, before we said the same thing, “He’s a sorcerer.”

“I am NOT!” Kalborius said in a huff.

“Anyway,” Rosa continued, “I have never known a druid to create them. The Children of Winter don’t. I heard about them from Greensingers.”

“What’s a Greensinger?” I asked, unfamiliar with the term.

“They are a sect that lives deep in the Eldeen Reaches, and they spent time with the fey of Seelie and Unseelie courts. But I have only heard of them being used by…” and Rosa’s voice trailed off for a moment as she looked around on edge.

“By…what?” Doxx asked impatiently.

“Well…covens of…hags.” Rosa said finishing her thought.

I gulped. I knew there were many kinds of hags in the multiverse. Each has access to strange magics and powers. They respected no one but other hags. The most famous hag I knew of was Ravel Puzzlewell, who was mazed by the Lady of Pain well before my time in Sigil. But I didn’t have much time to dwell on this as at the uttering of the word, ‘hags’ Kalborious reacted.

His face grew pale, and he started to shiver as he shook his head back and forth saying, “No…no…nononono! Not her. I don’t want to do anything with her.”

“Her?” I asked confused. “A…hag?”

Kalborius gulped and nodded. “Y-y-yes her. She lives in the hills nearby. Only the desperate seek her out, but she usually just spurns most seekers. But the stories about her…they say she was here before Karrn the Conquerer, and she turned him away…yet she spoke with Galifar years later. When people do manage to make a deal with her, it never ends well.”

“Does she have a name?” I asked in a low voice.

Kalborious nodded and muttered, “Twisted Mirth.”

The Blade was agitated and grabbed the man by the collar, “So, why would a hag send a banderhobb to a Cannith—OUCH!”

I turned to look at The Blade, and half of his face was now covered in snow and ice. He turned and looked back at the window, and there stood the banderhobb, holding a second ball of snow it its as it looked at The Blade, its eyes narrowed into a glare. It bellowed and then melted into the shadow again disappearing.

We ran to the window. The Blade was the fastest of all of us, and he reached the windows and threw it open to look down at the street, just as another snowball hit him in the face. I stood next to the window and leaned in cautiously and looked below. There standing in the snow beneath a lantern, stood the injured banderhobb. It beckoned with its scrawny arms at us. It didn’t run or move; it just watched the window with interest.

“It wants us to follow it?” I asked confused. “Why would we do that?”

“I’m doing no such thing,” Doxx said, turning back towards Kalborius. “Where’s the book we were looking for?”

Kalborius shook himself to regain his composure, and started to look around the floor, “I had just pulled it from that shelf…under there,” as he pointed to a crushed bookcase. “…when it swallowed me. But I don’t—”

“It has it,” Rosa said pulling herself to look over the window sill and look at the street below. There under the lamp, the banderhobb’s tongue snaked out of its mouth, holding a tome of some sort. It waved it around with its tongue before retracting it and stuffing the tome back into its mouth. “And if I had to make a guess…Twisted Mirth wants to talk to us.”

Session Notes:
Kalborius Framlin "Wizard Extraordinaire" is my son's favorite concept character. A sorcerer, raised by priests, who led him to believe he was a Wizard. It's just more funny that Sage (also played by my son) is arguing with himself about being a wizard.

Twisted Mirth on the other hand...we'll talk about her soon. Very Soon.
 
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Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise

March of Many Darks - 5/15/2022​



“You can’t be serious,” Doxx said pointing at the gesticulating banderhobb. “That’s an invitation?”

“I can’t think of a reason to stand there waving a book around,” Rosa said looking at the old woman reproachfully.

“Do we really need this book?” I said already knowing the answer.

“I don’t see how we can avoid it,” Sage responded.

“I agree,” Bookshelf said quietly. “Whatever knowledge is within its pages; it has been reviewed four times. And at least one of them is well informed enough that she wouldn’t have bothered if it were worthless.”

“You think Melisandre is all that?” Doxx said giving the slender warforged a sour look.

“She knew much about each of us,” Bookshelf continued. “She had reason and methods to know, and whatever her motivations, she doesn’t seem to be one to leave important knowledge unchecked and unheeded.”

“If…if…if…you are going to see…see…seek out Twisted Mirth, leave me out of it!” Kalborius stammered shaking his head back and forth.

“What about the oil?” Adrissa pointed out.

“That’s right,” I said, and I walked over and knelt by the shivering wreck of Kalborius who looked at me confused. “Do you have any in the stores here?”

“I…well…I think so?” Kalborius said confused at the change in topic. “I don’t keep track of the inventory, but I know it’s used for a lot of different things—”

“—How much?” Rosa interjected, rushing next to me.

“I don’t know…perhaps…well…I guess…”

“How much?!” Rosa stamped her foot in anger.

“Well, I think it is maybe a gold or two per flask—”

“Not the PRICE you idiot!” Rosa grabbed the man by his lapels, still soaked with ooze from the belly of the banderhobb. She shook him her teeth gritted in frustration. “How much do you have!?!?”

“Aaahh,” Kalborius stammered as the halfling continued to shake him. Rosa was then pried away by Sage as the he tried to speak. “Ah…maybe a tun?”

Rosa looked at the everyone quizzically while Adrissa and I shrugged our shoulders.

“That is about 36,000 flasks,” Bookshelf said after a moment calculating the answer.

Rosa smiled, “That is more than enough, assuming we can get enough morning glys we should have enough to cure—”

“—Cure?” Kalborius said warily, eying Rosa.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Doxx shaking her head vigorously and waving her hands wildly trying to keep us quiet. Unfortunately, Adrissa had her back to Doxx and spoke up first, “To cure the plague in Denning before it spreads—”

“Plague!?!” Kalborius’ eyes bulged in shock as Doxx winced and cradled her head in her hands. His eyes then narrowed in realization, “But you need the oil to make…a curative?” He stood up and straightened his ooze-stained robe. “It should be kept here for safe keeping—”

Rosa smiled sweetly and looked at Kalborius. “You wouldn’t happen to have any morning glys here?”

The man frowned. “That blooms in the spring normally, but not here.” he said. “In the swamps near Bog-o-Narn usually. But it doesn’t keep, and there have been several Cannith alchemists that have been trying to discover a meth—.”

“—Well then…we need to make it closer to where the outbreak is,” Rosa continued. “Otherwise, the curative won’t keep either.”

“That…that makes sense. I can see if anyone is willing to transport it, I suppose.” Kalborius said slowly.

“Leave the oil here and we should guard it. Perpetrators could just walk off with—OOF!” The Blade started, before another snowball hit him in the back of the head. He whirled around and there by the window, squatted the banderhobb. It shook the water and ice off one hand, while in the other it clutched another large snowball, which it casually passed between its claws. It’s looked at the The Blade with a toothy grin that opened wider at The Blades seething glare. It then made a low croaking sound and stepped backwards and faded from my view.

“It likes you,” Doxx said bemused.

“If it is foolish enough to lead us to its master,” The Blade said grimacing beneath his cowl. “I suppose we should pay this ‘Twisted Mirth’ a visit.”


What I didn’t realize that he meant ‘right now,’ and not ‘after a good night’s rest in a warm inn.” Although it had little to do with The Blade’s opinion, but it was more the insistence of the banderhobb. It had little concern about our comfort, as it lumbered ahead of us enthusiastically. It noisily crushed the snow beneath its flappy feet, and it occasionally bent over to gather some snow it kicked up and threw a large ball of snow at us when we didn’t keep up.

Well, ‘us’ might be generous. It really just kept throwing them at The Blade, and only when its aim went wild did it pelt anyone else. And it wasn’t like we could really keep up with it as the creature had a maddening habit of disappearing behind a frost covered tree and reappearing farther ahead. Eventually it grew bored with its icy jabs and freezing taunts, and simply waited for us to catch up with it, before leading us onwards through the icy fields in front of the foothills.

Then the clouds broke open, and moonlight covered the snowy landscape, the first time in many weeks. The light was enough to foul my strange sense of perception, and I saw the frozen landscape like how everyone else would. The trees were scattered around us, and the ground was covered in frozen bushes and scrub. The sound of our boots or metal clad feet crunched through the snow as we made our way to a range of hills ahead of us, while behind the lights of Cattbron were nothing more than a dull glow over the horizon.

The hills were a decent distance from the town and my legs were already aching from the march. This wasn’t my idea though.

---

“What do you mean we can’t take the horses?” Doxx said with a look of incredulity on her face.

“There is no way we are going to bring animals anywhere near a hag,” Rosa insisted.

“Aren’t we more at risk of…being eaten?” Doxx exclaimed.

Bookshelf and Sage looked at each other and just shook their metallic heads at what was obvious to them

“Not if the hag really wants to talk to us,” I had said. “If she wanted to just kill us, or use us for stew, we would be dealing with something worse than banderhobbs.”

Rosa nodded, “Most natural creatures stay far away from hags, and magebred horses, while not natural are smarter than—”

“—Us—” Doxx muttered.

Rosa glared at the old woman and kept talking, “—most people.” At which Doxx narrowed her gaze at the halfling. “So best we stable them in town—"

“—and walk,” Adrissa said grimly shaking her head.

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

And so, we plodded forward, the hills slowly growing closer. I shivered and tried to rub feeling back into my arms. The cloak I wore seemed to leak my body’s warmth away into the night, causing shivers through my limbs. On horseback this wasn’t as bad, as the steed’s body was like a furnace below you. But now nothing held back the biting cold’s caress. I winced and shut my eyes. I was tired. Beyond tired. Maybe if I stopped…

“You need to keep moving.” My head snapped up and I shook some sense back into my head. The Blade was standing beside me and nudging me along, and he threw his long leather cloak across my shoulders, sharing some of his warmth.

“Th—th—thanks,” I chattered.

“Don’t mention it,” he said quietly. I glanced at his masked face under the cowl. There was some crusty snow still melting from a well tossed ball from our guide. I could barely see his eyes, but I could see them twitching and focusing on different things; the banderhobb, Adrissa, the occasional tree. But after a moment they focused on me again and his spoke in a hushed tone. “What was that earlier?” he asked.

I huffed a moment and barely shook my head. In then reached into my pouch and wrapped the copper wire around my finger, and I brushed my thumb along the edge while I looped a strand around us.

“I assume you wanted privacy,” I barely whispered. His eyes turned to glance at me, and I could feel him nod ever so slightly. “I felt something…like myself.”

“What does that mean?” I heard in my head, as he replied to my missive.

“It felt like that part of me that…makes me an Aasimar. I feel it when I create light or purge poisons or diseases. But there was something different about it.” I paused a moment and watched his face.

He had stopped looking around and his focus on was on me alone when the inevitable question came; “How did it happen?”

“Well, I am guessing it is because of something you are wearing, probably on your chest.”

“Why would you say that?” he asked suspiciously.”

“Because we were chest to chest when I felt it, and I don’t feel it now standing next to you.”

His eyes narrowed thought, processing what I said. “You are…observant.”

“And correct?” gave a small smile as the magical connection continued to keep our words private.

“Yes. It is a…token from my grandmother,” his voice said in my head.

“Can I, see or hold it?” I asked carefully. Something about the way he ‘spoke’ about it was evasive or perhaps just reluctant to share.

He didn’t respond immediately. But I felt his head move and I glanced and saw him nodding. He shouldered his bow and reached within his tunic and pulled something out. He cupped it in his hand as if he was trying to hide it from the world, before placing it in my right hand. I could feel a surge within me as it resonated with me, sending warmth up and down my back. I then cupped it and pulled it close to my face so I could look at it closely.

Wrapped in a network of fine chain, it was a shiny dark grey material that was shaped like a flattened spiral, similar to a snail shell. I turned it over in my hand and I could see nor feel any entrance or defect in its surface. I brushed my gloved thumb over the strange object, and I could feel it respond to my touch. Each brush sending a sensation of power through my hand. I bit my lip a moment as I regarded it, and I lifted the object closer to my face. Squinting at it revealed nothing new, so I decided to try something. I turned my head a little and placed the flattened side of it and pressed it into my cold cheek.

The flare of warmth was a wonderful feeling, but that sensation was all too brief as I could now feel a connection. My vision was distorted as I was torn away from the hillside and raced among the clouds and beneath the stars. I was moving rapidly through the night, and I crossed over land and then a great ocean. I could see that I was rapidly approaching an island. Not a small one, but a huge one that put places like Nelanther to shame. I barely could grasp the size as I felt drawn to a city there, deep in the woods. The stone walls and causeways were old, but it wasn’t abandoned or in decay. I could see and feel points of energy moving around the streets, some faint and some bright. My senses then were pulled towards a large ziggurat in the middle of the city, and I was pulled to its edge.

My awareness stopped suddenly there. I felt pulling, but I couldn’t approach the entrance to the pyramidal structure. I could see in the stone nearby carvings, each ablaze with a bright white light, but the lettering was unfamiliar. I tried to move my perspective and found that I was in the grip of something I could not directly perceive. But I felt it hold and constrain me. As I kept trying to pull away, I found my awareness unable to shift away. Then as I struggled, I saw a light approach from the ziggurat. It was almost blinding as it enveloped me, and I realized it wasn’t one light, but a swarm of them. I could feel them swirl around my mind, and I could hear a cacophony of voices in my head. Each one spoke over the other, but more than that I could feel emotions from each light.

Surprise. Alarm. Concern. Curiosity. Contempt. Fury. Hate.

But most of all, Love. Not for me. Not for a particular specific light. A love not just for lights around me, but for lights in the causeways. Lights across the island. Light across the world. All the lights.

I struggled with the flood of emotion coursing through me, and I could feel not warmth, but heat flare through my body and up my spine. My back arched in pain as I could feel my wings appear in a blinding golden blaze. My mind was assaulted by more and more emotions and thoughts that slipped past me in my struggle to put everything into context. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I grasped the basics on what I felt. Something only described to me once, in tones of sadness and regret because it was something I could never experience.

Or wasn’t supposed to be able to.

Each light was a soul; I knew it. I had pulled enough people away from the veil of death that I knew the contours of them well enough. I could remember being nothing but a soul once in The Fugue as I thought I would meet my god in person. But I remembered that while my soul felt not stronger, but it had a radiant quality compared to others. I thought at the time it was the Strands and their connection to me, but now I realized that it was simply because of who I was; a daughter of a celestial.

But these souls put me into my place, as my soul was a best a pale imitation of their glory. And as I hung there in their judgement I had only one explanation for their source, a legend of their creation as the offspring of not an angel. But from a god.

Elves.

As that revelation crossed my thoughts, I felt a wave of rejection. The journey I had just begun, played through my senses again, but in reverse and in far greater speed. Within a the briefest of moments my vision returned to where I stood, light fading from the shocked face of The Blade, and the others around me. I realized that I somehow was in the air above the snow, and I quickly fell into the snow below me, the icy cold a slap to my body, as much as the slap to my soul a moment ago. I lay there panting in a daze as I could hear echoes around me.

“What in Khyber was that?”

“Is she alright?”

“Those wings were beautiful—”

“—Nevermind that they scorched The Blade.”

“Are you alright? Say something.”

“I’m fine citizen—”

“—Not you! HER.”

“That manifestation was greater than her prior ones.”

“Not now Bookshelf.”

“Myrai?”

I could feel my shoulder being gently shaken, and my eyes focused on Adrissa, who knelt in the snow next to me. Her face was streaming tears, but they weren’t tears of pain, but the tears of someone in throes of exultation. Like a window to the divine had opened and shut before her.

I blinked a moment and turned my head to look at my open hand, where The Blades’ token was. There in bright sigils was an elven word. I snapped my hand closed and started to push myself up, when Doxx and Sage lifted me to my feet.

“What was that all about?” Doxx asked me accusingly. “A blazing light in the middle of the night is only going to attract problems.

“What?” I asked wearily. “Like a banderhobb?”

Doxx’s face went red for a moment, “I know we are expected but still! That light show could probably be seen a league from here!”

I looked at him, and I am sure that my face was a muddle of confusion and disbelief. “What?” I asked.

“Darling,” Rosa said with a bemused smile. “You were a blazing light, greater than…no the only one we could see.”

“What triggered that?” Sage asked pointedly.

“Is it something repeatable?” Bookshelf quickly followed up with.

I glanced at each member of the group, but I really only wanted to see what was on The Blade’s face. His head had only the barest of movement, but he was clearly shaking his head no; at least to me.

“I…I…can’t explain it. But I don’t think that would happen again,” I pleaded and swallowed, hoping the others would believe me.

“How?” Sage asked, as his towering form moved next tome and looked down at me, his eyes bore into me, searching for a reason to disbelieve me.

I wasn’t frighted of Sage normally, but it was only now that I realized how small I was, compared the juggernaut that easily weighed over four times my own body, armor and all. He could have easily broken me into two with the barest of effort if he chose, and I doubted I could even scratch his metallic skin in defense. I nervously returned his gaze and took a deep breath to steady myself and reiterated, “I don’t think it would happen again. I can’t say why.”

“Perhaps it has something to do with…this?” Doxx said. I inwardly groaned as I turned to look at her, and there hanging from her staff was The Blades’ token. I didn’t even feel her slip it out of my hand as I was brought up to my feet.

“That,” The Blade said evenly, “is not yours.” His bow slipped off his shoulder and he quickly grasped it with his left hand.

“I think I have a—” Doxx started.

“—You do not.” And The Blade held out his right hand. “Return it.”

Doxx and The Blade glared at each other. Doxx’s fingers clenched her staff tightly, her knuckles growing white from strain, while the Blade tightened his own on his own weapon. I think we all took a step back from the two, hoping that it didn’t come to blows.

The wind had just picked up slightly, when I heard a sudden rush through the air. I didn’t even turn to look, as alarmed and fascinated with the tension that was strung between the changeling and the elf. But the sound faded quickly, as a snowball struck The Blade in the side of the face. Doxx lifted a finger as if to point it out, when a second ball struck her in the face as well. Both turned and looked up the hill, where two banderhobbs stood, each one packing another pile of snow into a packed ball.

Then I heard a creaking and squeaking sound, of metal on metal. Then this strange sound came from Bookshelf’s mouth. As Bookshelf stood there, he started to shiver and then finally began to laugh. We all looked at each other for a moment, as the rest of us started to cut loose at the absurdity of what had happened. All except Doxx and The Blade.

They stood there unmoving staring into each other’s eyes, as snow clumps fell from their faces, their brows knit in concentration. Then suddenly both sputtered and joined us in laughter. Doxx proffered her staff with the token on the end, and The Blade took it back gently.

“We have enough problems with those…two?” Doxx said realizing that the banderhobb count had doubled. “We can’t become focused on the wrong thing.”

The Blade nodded in agreement, “No; we cannot be divided. And I assure you of two things; one this is personal. Two, she is never touching this again.”

I looked at The Blade with an expression that probably said, “hey now!” But the others looked at me and the mock damage to my pride and laughed harder.

“Let’s get up the hill, before we are…assaulted again,” Sage giggled in a deep baritone.

“I thought Doxx could, I don’t know, dodge those?” Bookshelf chortled.

“Yes, yes, yes. Very funny, let’s move!” Doxx said.

The Blade tucked the token beneath his jerkin, and he looked at me impassively.

“I’m sorry…about that,” I said as we turned side by side to trudge up the hill. I didn’t bother with the copper ring as any pretense of secrecy was gone. “I didn’t expect that…experience at all.”

“What did you experience?” The Blade asked quietly.

“I saw a city of stone, on a large island. Inside were souls. Elven souls.” I said looking at the Blade. I could barely see his eyebrows lift under his mask.

“You..saw Shae Mordai?”

“I guess?” I said uncertain on if it was, and why that was important. “I felt, rather than spoke to whatever I saw. But I wasn’t welcome there. Not at all.”

The Blade nodded looking ahead. Frowning he simply said, “The Undying Court.”

“What is…what is that?” I asked, never having remembered anything like that when Arnara and I spoke at length in the Misty Forest.

“The collection of the ancestors of the Elves,” The Blade said quietly. “The Aereni elves have paid homage to them for 25,000 years.”

“What does that token, have to do with them?” I asked.

The Blade pursed his lips and then sighed. “It was my grandmother's and see was a member of a group that protected the rulers of Aerenal and the Undying Court by extension. But she was betrayed and was…killed. This is all I have left from her.”

There was more there. I could see the pain on The Blades normally stoic face. But I didn’t want to cause more problems than I already had this evening. “Did you…did you see the writing on your grandmother’s token, when I fell?”

“I saw the light, but not the letters,” The elf said looking at me again. “What did it say?”

“It was a symbol that, is a challenge to the reader. To, ‘Have Faith,’” I replied. “Does that make any sense to you?”

The Blade frowned and looked at me, “Not really. I believe in myself, and that is enough." And with that, he pulled away and wrapped is cloak around him, leaving me again in the cold to shiver. I could only sigh and curse myself for handling something so sensitive to another so terribly bad. I couldn’t have predicted what had happened of course, but it made me feel inadequate all the same.

But what did happen? It was awe inspiring; nothing I had seen or felt before had the beauty to compare. I knew that from my time with the wood elves in the Misty Forest, that they held themselves aloof from, humans and others. I asked Arnara about it, and she had replied that it was avoiding the pain of losing people close to you, so frequently. It made sense, and I didn’t question it. But now I realized that there was far more to it. That the nature of the elves’ existence was a step removed from the rest of the mortal races. Or rather, two steps, if one could consider I was only a single step removed. That there was a difference of being borne from the blood of your god, as opposed the seed of an angel, or the whims of a god’s creation. I wondered if I could really understand Arnara at all.

I tossed these thoughts back and forth, as we climbed into the hills. We followed a trail the circled around one tall hillock, switching its trail back and forth. Here on the hillside, the scant few trees, were bare of snow and of life. Frozen mosses and lichen adorned branches and stone, but none looked healthy. It was rot frozen in winter for all the eye to see. The scrub was dusted in snow, and it too looked like it had the life choked away, many seasons ago. It was hush, with no sounds beyond the wind that tore through the hills in frozen gusts. The banderhobbs had scampered out of sight, and finally the trail we were following revealed our destination.

The trail opened up into a small gorge, clear of snow, inset into the hillside, with the rocky floor of sloping away toward us at the entry. At the top of the slope stood the two banderhobb, who fidgeted as they stood with their backs to the rock, flanking a crack like opening, where a sickly purple and green light flickered within. Off to the side of the entrance, was a plinth of stone the height of Sage. The plinth had writing carved into it, and as we approached, I could read warning in many languages. Most of them said, “Go Away,” or “Mind your own business.” Some were more advice in nature like, “All deals are final,” and “You better know what you are asking for.” And at least one I could see was crude humor of a sexual nature. Or I hoped so; I didn’t think dwarves could bend that way. But it was at the very top of the rock that gave me a sense of foreboding.

On top of the plinth was the miniature executioner’s raven. It looked at the Blade and hissed at him, confirming my fear; it was a familiar. I swallowed and decided that keeping Gossamer hidden away was the better choice, despite the tongue lashing he would dole out for his ‘imprisonment’ later. It looked at us and stood upright with a look of imperial disdain and began to preen its feathers, unconcerned with us or the cold.

We approached warily. I for one didn’t know how to announce ourselves to the occupant within. But I didn’t need to worry about that as it turned out. From inside the rent in the cave wall, appeared a shadowy form of a hunched figure, casting a long shadow across the floor of the gorge. Then we all heard a high pitched screech that morphed into a chuckle that echoed around the gorge. It was like finger nails scraping on slate as it took on the form of the most malevolent sound of glee that I had ever heard. After serval moments it gave way to a voice that chastised and mocked us.

“Well…finally the puppets of the three have arrived,” it chortled with malice, before increasing the rhythm of its insults, “Took you long enough to get here! Lollygagging through the countryside like your world wasn’t going to end!” It sighed and again chuckled. “Well, nothing more to be done there; all the good help was killed off long ago. So, I guess it’s you, or nothing. And have I the bargain for you…so step inside pawns; I promise not to bite…unless you want me to. Let us see what you can do for old Twisted Mirth, shall we?”

Session Notes:
First...this is very late. RL has been challenging recently, but I want to get back to the ride here.

The Blade, like the others, had a complex background story that were revealed in pieces; sometimes by the player, and sometime by the DM. As Ryan's writings indicate, there is a lot of family in the back of The Blades mind, which made him what he is today. The interactions that The Blade had with others was perhaps the best parts of the campaign.

But now we will begin to see the stage that players are really...but perhaps not all of it yet. Twisted Mirth has a tale to tell, and she of course does want something...which should give any sane cutter pause.
 
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