"A Hike Through Hell”
The Further Traveling Journals of the Band of the Blessed Fountain
By Molliam Merryweather
[In which the band visits the lovely land of Occipitus, battles numerous demons, confronts a traitor in their midst, unlocks the secret of the Smoking Eye, returns home again to address a number of concerns surrounding Brightwater Keep and Molly faces the prospect of loneliness yet again.]
June 15, 316
I'm finding it harder and harder, it seems, to suss out the spare time even to jot in these journals. Exciting events seem to be breaking upon us like waves on the beach these days. Even I am nearly grown weary of it.
Well no, to be honest, that is not quite so. I must admit I much prefer the excitement to laying about dwelling on my adorable and faithless Griffon. The traitorous tree-humper. I do hope he enjoys buggering about with the celestial fauna for all eternity.
But, to the matter at hand...
It is noon...I think...of the day following our fight with the glabrezu. We find ourselves in a stranger place even than the Starry Mirror trap that has flung us so far from hearth and home. Yet another odd one has joined our mad band, if only for a time. He found us this morning as we prepared to brave the desert for some sign or sense of direction. Truthfully, I must admit I should be thankful he came upon us when he did, though I find it hard to be generous these days. If I thought smelly old Ham were likely the most unattractive ever to come among us, this one surely bears me correction.
But, let me not spin things too far out of order. Firstly, yet another pouncing by fiends in that chamber where we left poor Alek Tercival's corpse. As we hefted up the last of our gear and prepared to strike across the sands we heard something coming at us from the desert. Shrieking and gibbering, naturally, as one would expect of a horde of fiends that comes wailing at your from out of the wild for no discernable reason. I swear, we were almost casually resigned when we slung our gear aside and prepared for battle. Really, I suppose a bath and a proper breakfast between the various avalanches of carnage that have begun to fall upon us so regularly is too much to hope for?
I'll not waste a proper description on the beasties. Gaunt, terrible and appropriately razor-clawed they were, with all the requisite mad howling and intent to do us violation that one might expect from a pack of demons. We gave way to their charge and flowed back into the chamber, hoping for a proper tactical advantage from the narrow entry to the place. Once they arrived and ducked (quite nimbly, really) beneath our defenses I found them far more agile and cunning than I expected any hell-maddened band of demons to be. Indeed, they showed themselves to be a good deal more sly than that great hulk of a glabrezu we nicked up yesterday. A couple of them even managed some admittedly impressive maneuvering to strike at both Harken and Ham's backsides.
Naturally, I returned the favor and weren't they surprised to get nipped in the kidneys! Nickel was kind enough to make generous with the mirror images and a couple of unfortunately ineffective lightning bolts. Still, we faired well enough in the end. Which is to say that we did not all die before we routed them.
Our latest addition joined us then, himself appearing from the desert. Kaurophon is his name and he claims to be a half-demon of some sort. Or, at least, partially demon-blooded. He looks it somewhat, too. Which is why I grant him the nearly unique status of "slightly more hideous that Ham the Smelly". He flew frantically into the chamber from outside, promising us his aid and proceeded to toss about a couple of small magics that had absolutely no effect. Actually, he was kind enough to drop a ward of some kind on poor Ham, who seemed to have attracted more than his fair share of the nastiness. For that, at least, I suppose I should feign some manner of gratitude.
We dispatched, literally, three of the evil outsiders soon after he appeared and the remaining two were kind enough to flee then. Kaurophon, on the other hand, proved less charitable and remained with us. Naturally, we were a bit put off by his appearance but he seemed genuinely interested in repelling the demons during the fight. More interestingly, he claims to know a bit about this "smoking eye" that Alek gurgled on about before he died. He even bears a symbol of such on his tunic. Ham wasn't particularly inclined to hear the fellow out, nor was I, but it soon became clear that he at least offered a way out of the desert which was good enough to convince me to lend half an ear.
Ham and Harken went on and on for a bit interrogating him but I was really too worn to give much attention to it. I caught enough to figure there's some outer plane or other that the fellow wants to purify or something. A part of some celestial plane that broke off and fell into the abyss, I think. The "smoking eye" apparently refers to a test of some nature that will appoint one as the master of the broken bit of plane and possibly allow it to be elevated back to it's proper place. Or something along those lines. Can't say I can fathom what this has to do with everything else that's been going on. But, then, I can't say I have a proper notion what's going on anymore anyway.
Naturally, the fellow wants us to help him liberate that lost little chuck of celestial plane from the pit in exchange for getting us all back home.
Now, do I really need to say how our brave little bucks responded to that? What's that you say? You've guessed that they eagerly volunteered us all to go trotting off and toss ourselves gleefully into the eternal abyss? Well, right you are! And how clever of you to have guessed correctly. Indeed, a properly brilliant deduction you've made, considering there's no readily apparent reason to believe anyone possessed of the slightest sense would ever entertain such a notion.
I say, you've certainly been paying attention haven't you?
Kaurophon was eager enough to aid us in ending our lives in so interesting a fashion and quickly produced a scroll to whisk us all away to...this dreadful place. Now, from your recent (and, I say again, quite astounding) deduction concerning our little band's quirky obsession with charitable self-destruction, I know that you've been paying close attention so far. Thus, I can reasonably assume you can recall my complete and utter lack of infatuation with the Underdark. Indeed, I bet you keenly surmised that I found it to be the dankest, most depressing and generally least likable place I would never choose to go traipsing about in. Well, bearing that in mind, I hope I can properly convey to you how horrid I find this little chunk of existence to be. Verily, I would rather cavort naked through the Underdark with lusty kuo-toa than be here a moment longer than it takes to leave. Honestly, I would apologize for the mental image I will attempt to impart to you were I not so offended that I feel compelled to share it.
Imagine, if you will then, a boil. A particularly nasty boil which you've liberally rubbed with poison ivy for a bit and scratched until it bled. Now...imagine a larger one. Much larger. Large, as in "walk for a week and not reach the end of it". Indeed, that seems an acceptable rough description of the landscape here. It is most horribly fleshy in both appearance and texture. Granted there do seem to be a few mountainous piles of rubble and evil-looking growths here and there on the horizon to offer a bit of variety. And, of course, a huge skull-shaped mountain out in the midst of it all...with humongous balls of fire flowing up into the air from it's eye socket. Is it an indictment of my own depraved state that I admit that none of this in the least surprises me? The "sky", if you can call it that, is seemingly composed of a proper ocean of said fire hanging over our heads which stubbornly refuses to fall on us and end our foolishness. All in all, it's everything I expected the abyss to be. Indeed, if I am surprised at all it is in the fact that this little plane is supposedly celestial in origin. I'll not dare imagine a fully abyssal existence, if it's all the same to you.
Kaurophon has cautioned us against flying about in the air, considering the flaming sky and it's supposed tendency to leap down and devour any living thing that might approach it to closely. I can't say the thought ever entered my mind. He's also pointed out herds of gag-worthy beasts here and there that he claims are hell-bison should we prefer to hunt and forage rather than partake of our rations. The man is utterly mad, I tell you.
We're off to hike our way through this nauseating place toward some old cathedral or other where he claims we can help him take of the first portion of the test. Again, no surprise that this "test" consists of multiple parts, nor that we are obliged to tromp about literally through hell for days on end for the privilege.
It's evening now, I think, and we've hiked a bit through this place ("Occipitus" it is called, by the way) and encountered little but the bile-provoking bison. We have set up camp and I can't say that laying about on the smelly, fleshy ground here is any more appealing than stomping across it. I still can't quite shake the notion that I've been shrunk to the size of flea and forced to march across the expanse of Ham's unwashed buttocks. Truly, the idea has plagued me since the first few moments after our arrival. Were I not able to merely glance over to find him marching alongside me I would be completely convinced.
A side note. I must admit I've found in this place an odor more offensive than that of my dear Ham on a humid day. Yes, I'm am astounded as you, dear reader, but I stand firm that it is true.
I am profoundly disturbed.
June 16, 316
It's morning and we're making ready for a day-long hike toward the cathedral Kaurophon has told us about. We only managed a couple of hours of stumbling about last night, being already rather fatigued from the day's events. Looking about the place I find I'm in something of a better mood than before. Truly, though this particular environment is sadly lacking in anything endearing at all I find it does have, overall, a rather disturbing charm of it's own. I find the aura of wild disorder somewhat pleasing, really. If only the place weren't so pervasively oppressive and nasty. And smelly on top of it all.
The others seem somewhat dazed, though. I can certainly understand Nickel's wide-eyed revulsion. Why, you can practically see her suppressing the urge to clean up the place. I find I take a particular wicked pleasure in Harken's twitchiness. Probably fearing the persistent gleam of his armor might get mussed a bit. Ham, though, surprises me. I thought he'd appreciate a bit of wildness but I can see he's sorely tempted to just lay about with his sword and kill...well...everything.
If only Occipitus just weren't so damned icky.
I knew the moment I opened my mouth that I'd made a mistake, to be truthful. I saw the demon a ways off and pointed it out without thinking. But, for Olidamarra's sake, I haven't seen too many demons in my short life and I was a bit excited. I certainly didn't intend to get it's attention or anything. Ham, of course, nearly started frothing at the mouth and was quick to start snapping orders. I mean, I knew the evil of the place had him itching to kill something so I really should have known better. In short order we had our bows out and ready to rain Ham's wrath down on the thing. Honestly, there's only one demon I'm interested in cutting up. What's wrong with, for crying out loud, actually sneaking through hell? Doesn't that just make sense?
Even at such a distance I managed to pin the nasty frog-demon through the neck, though, having had the rare chance to actually aim a bit. Rolo and Ham hit too, but didn't seem to hurt it much. Nor Nickel with her lightning bolt. Harken pinned it good, though. Right in the chest. Of course, the damned thing disappeared on us the moment we all struck.
Thankfully, we could see the path the beast was cutting across the fleshy ground as it thing charged at us. We tried our best to land a few more arrows and bolts into it before it fell on us but, really, it was invisible after all. Nickel still had that old seeing wand of hers and she managed to open Harken and Rolo's eyes to the thing before it got too close, then switched to tossing off magic missiles once it drew nearer. Not that it really mattered. By then it was on top of us and laying about with more claws and teeth than it should have had. We could all see it plain as day by then. Our missiles hadn't seemed to have done much of anything to it, so we all switched to blades and laid to as fiercely as we could.
That seemed to do the trick and we felled the ruddy thing after a rousing bit of melee. Still, I must say these demons are disturbingly tough. Granted, Ham dropping that strength boon on Harken really turned the tide, not to mention that new staff of his. Still, I've found that the best you can hope for with demons is to just scratch them to death. Their hides are tough as steel and the damned things heal as quick as you can draw their black blood. In all honesty, I think if we had been just one blade short I'm betting we'd still be back there scratching at the thing.
Kaurophon didn't make much account of himself, though. No surprise there. Tossed about a few minor magics and such but was a little too eager to avoid putting himself in range of the thing's teeth. Looking back at our utter failure to properly discern anyone else's trustworthiness since we fell into this whole mess, I've decided to keep myself at that fellow's back from here on out.
Resting our heels a bit while Ham patches everyone up. I've managed some semblance of a glare and mutter at old Ham for involving us in that totally unnecessary scrap. I didn't really mind, of course. Having rested a tad, I think we all really needed to beat up on something to work off all the frustration that's been creeping up on us. We are tramping about across the backside of the abyss, after all. Hardly a vacation. Still, we can't encourage Ham to go around picking fights with everyone and everything that moves through hell. Not when we all have to back him up.
Made a long hike of it but I gather we're most of the way there. Camping for the night. Kaurophon says we'll be there mid-morning tomorrow. I really don't like the fellow and I've found that the others agree with me. Ham and Harken have questioned him extensively and he certainly has given all the proper answers when asked. By all accounts he seems genuinely honest in his dealings with us, which is all the warning I need.
June 17, 316
Slow morning getting things together after the attack last night. I was on watch, natch, when the beast struck. Quite a sneaky attack it was, too. I honestly didn't notice the fog that welled up around me until it was too late and it formed up behind me to gnaw on my poor shoulder. I don't know how I managed to turn and strike. I really should have been laid out by that blow. Maybe plain old luck. I shudder to think that poor Perry would have been cut to ribbons for sure if he hadn't been nibbling on apple bits in my lap at the time.
This beast, now, was truly something to see. Here I thought that old glabrezu we are all after was the worse the abyss had to offer. But this thing was truly monstrous in both appearance and mass. And the stench...Kord's balls, worse than anything I've imagined. I did manage to cut that horror a new wrinkle in his thick neck before he knocked me away, though. Now, mind you, everyone was quick to wake and engage. Regular bunch of light sleepers we've become. But the stench of the thing was most impressive. None of the others could get within striking distance before I was knocked about a good bit. Kaurophon, to my surprise, was the one to spring to my rescue but he got his own self cut up but good. He magicked himself away without even scratching the damned thing.
I managed to land a blow or two more but couldn't quite pull off another cut in that thick hide as I had with my first panicked strike. Not a scratch I made and I was in quite a dangerous way. I'll not apologize for skittering away like a properly intelligent lass rather than getting myself bravely eviscerated. Ham and Harken finally got within stabbing distance of the roaring nightmare in time to cover my retreat. They gave it what for and well enough, too. Once Rolo managed to get alongside I was able to see the demon's murderous eyes begin to take on a bit of worry over what I'm sure he thought would be an easy enough slaughter.
Poor old Nickel never did get a chance to toss in her contribution to the violence and was forced to stumble away from the busy mess to retch at the monster's stench. I'm sure the beast intended to flee once he realized the little Halfling tasties he found wandering through his lands were a might more grizzled than he had first assumed. He made the mistake of sticking around for one more swipe at us, though. Can't say I should have been surprised by the blasphemous filth that spewed from his horrid maw. I suppose he was trying to shock us a bit and throw us off our attacks for a moment. Allow himself a chance to turn tail. And I'll grant you further that no mere mortal would have imagined such a black and depraved thing to say. I'm sure it would have caused any normal folk to pause a bit, at the very least. But, we rough and tumbles have developed quite a rage over the past months and aren't quite so easily put off from satisfying it once it's roused. Especially when shaken from our bedrolls in the middle of the night by uninvited visitors bent on disturbing our rest.
Ham and Nickel gave old Kaurophon a good dressing down for blinking out on me like he did. At least until he pointed out that I'd found it wise enough to turn tail my own self once the beastie clawed me up enough. They dropped the matter at that, but I can tell they're more than willing to find fault in the stranger. I suppose we've become a bit untrusting since the Littleton days. Not being able to find anything in particular to be distrustful of in this fellow is making us a bit twitchy, I think.
Four more of those skinny little demon buggers jumped us before we reached the cathdral a while ago, same as them that we rowdied it up with back in the desert a two days ago. Babau, Kaurophon calls them. I'll grant those buggers are right sneaky. Routed them without too much trouble but I think Ham's getting a bit ornery at how much healing he's having to do on us all (his own self included). This damned place is trying it's best to whittle us all down to nothing. Ham's a good hand at the blessings and patchings, natch. He's done us well enough so far and I've not a compliant at all in that area. He worries overmuch, I think.
What he gets for taking over leadership of the band, I reckon. You sure didn't see me jumping to lead the way and for that very reason. Still, he's done well enough. Can't blame him for how things have gone so far, he's done his best. We're resting now before approaching any closer to the cathedral. We're betting it's going to get bloody in there, so best to catch a breath before charging in there and raising a ruckus about the place.
Once I got the nod from Ham I made a quick circuit of the building. It looked for all the world like it had just been dropped straight from the sky at first, laying slight to side as it were. But once I made a full circle I realized that it was more likely that this place was trying to swallow it up or something. The tilt of the place wasn't dramatic or anything, but it was most definitely sinking to the side a bit. Natch, there were no windows and no other doors besides the front entrance so it didn't look like sneaking in the back way was a readily available option. I snuck a listen where I could, but all I could shush out was a flapping sound, like someone flipping through a bunch of books all at once. Other than that I couldn't scratch out any kind of warning of what may lie inside for us.
Reporting back to the band we all decided to make due with the obvious entrance. The doors were stuck, of course, and we all had to lean on a couple of pry bars to get them squeaking open a bit. Soon as we did, though, me and Ham heard what sounded like mutterings inside. Hushed everyone to listen, then, and Nickel said she was positive that was someone in there conjuring. Pretty sure it was an illusion of some kind.
Well, at that we decided the front door wasn't going to be the way we introduced ourselves to the place after all. We shuffled off quiet as mice to the back corner of the place and let Ham work his stone trick on the wall there. Ham's slick enough, too, that he opened up a proper Halfling sized crawly hole without letting on to anyone inside. And we could see from our little hole that there were nasties inside the cathedral like we expected.
A huge salamander man was rolling some kind of magical fireball around the place, going from one pile of rubble to another. Looked like he was bored enough to sizzle the rubble with it to pass the time. The other one, though, was the real groaner for us. A demon-lady alright. Probably a succubus I figured considering the way she was dressed. Or wasn't dressed, you might say. She was lazing about reading an old book, if you can believe it. We ducked back to put our heads together and whip up a quick plan before charging in.
I conjured myself invisible and snuck in behind the demon-lady without so much as stirring up the dust, I'm proud to say. Then I waited for Nickel to make our move for us. After a moment, she poked her head in the hole and chanted up a scroll she'd been carrying around since the Underdark. Quick as a flash that salamander fellow twinkled away and disappeared. At that I stuck both my blades right into that evil's back when she dropped her book and moved to jump up. Quite a squawk she let out, too. Then Harken and Rolo leapt through the hole in the wall and dash up on her while Ham called up a stone wall around the spot that salamander had disappeared from. Nickel had said it'd pop back in after a bit and he wanted to trap it at least until we could properly deal with the demoness.
Now that succubus may have looked a bit scrawny but she was tough enough to rip herself off my blades (damn near taking them with her when she did) and spring up full in the air to hover and gawk at us. I tried to slash her again when she did, but she was already out of my reach before I could come around full again. Harken managed to clip her though and Ham, too, with his demon-staff. I swear I hear a bone or two crack with that blow. She turned mid-air and shrieked at me in a proper snit, but a lightning bolt from Nickel and a thoroughly intimidating bit of swordsmanship from Harken and the other bucks convinced her to turn tail. Off through one of the holes in the ceiling she flew away.
We turned to Ham's stone trap in the middle of the room to wait for the salamander man to reappear. He did after a bit and Nickel promptly blew her poison cloud into the thing before he knew what was the matter. Then, of course, we all jumped back out of range of the green cloud like smart little Halflings. It was a bit tense at first, seeing as how we can't ever tell whether that stuff is going to work or not, but it worked just fine after all. He slammed and bumped about a bit in there for a while. Tossed a couple of intimidating fire magics through the hole Ham had left at the base of the thing, too, which we all managed to avoid getting roasted by. After a good bit (he must have been quite a tough one) he finally slumped down and gurgled delightfully. After the cloud dissipated Harken trotted over with that big old sword of his and dispatched it easily enough.
After we were sure it was dead I wiggled in there to check it over. Found a good bit of gold coin on him, though I couldn't tell you what kingdom they'd been minted in they were so strange looking. A nice little ivory scroll case (empty) and an odd gold and silver chain about it's neck, too. First time in a while we got anything of worth off something we killed.
Didn't have time to toss ourselves down for a bit of rest, neither. Before we even had time to look about properly someone tossed a web spell on us and struck Ham clean through with a lightning bolt. Rolo impressed me with how quickly he nocked and fired at one of the two driders that had appeared across the other side of the room. They were floating upside down up on the ceiling, too. Probably the ones were heard conjuring beyond the entrance earlier. I tried tossing off a lightning bolt before they could go at us again, but they'd fired off yet another web and bolted Ham again before any of us could jump to. Nickel and me both hit one of them with our lightning right quick after that, though. Ham, bless him, dispelled whatever was letting that one float around up the roof, too. It fell right to the floor with a wet thump, much to my amusement.
When they both tossed a handful of magic missiles at us, Nickel called up her fire wall again and properly roasted them good. Saw that one on the floor curl up and die at that. Ham and Harken had broken free of the webs enough to shuffle over toward the remaining one to dismember it. By that time, though, Rolo rose even further in my estimations by plunking an arrow right through it's black eye and dropping it stone dead.
Kaurophon only just managed to wiggle his human-sized self through our little hole by then. I suspect he wasn't in any great hurry.
A bit of scrounging on those two didn't turn up anything but a dagger. But it was a wonderfully nasty looking one with black spiders and, I'm pretty sure, some human teeth in the hilt of it. Took that little bit of ugliness for my own, seeing as how I lost my own dagger somewhere a while back. Even moved my sheath up toward the front of my belt so folks could see it coming.
Also found four really nice solid gold candelabra on the shelves in here, too. In the two side rooms I couldn't find anything of interest but a nice silk mantle that will probably sell for a small handful of coin. The other room was really interesting, though. Full of books flying around in a circle in the middle of the place. Five of the damned things threw themselves at me when I stepped inside the doorway, though, for a bruise or two. Nickel tossed a fireball from her necklace into there that burned them up, though. Burned up all the other books in there, too, unfortunately.
I am a little worried, though. My magic loot bag is getting filled up. I truly dread that I might end up having to leave some pretties behind for lack of room in there before this is all done. Heart breaking consideration, that.
Resting in the cathedral at the moment, after we dragged those toasted driders back to the entryway. Ham's patched everyone up really nice and even snapped at Kaurophon for whining about us wasting time. Will pick up and be about things in the morning.
June 18, 316
Went right down the stairs at the east end of the place and found a mummy waiting for us right there. Sitting behind a nice wooden desk like we'd come looking for work or something. I swear I peeked down here before we camped but I guess I didn't poke my head quite far enough in there when I did. Harken and Rolo froze up when they saw it, too. Is this the first time they've seen one of these things? I honestly can't recall. Ham, too, was strongly effected at the sight of it. But he was more moved to cut it to little pieces than any kind of actual horror. The dead thing was dressed not only in burial rags but in gold filigreed armor as well, which I admit had me wondering whether it would be more profitable to go that route, too.
It didn't waste any time before it was welcoming us all to the first test. "Test of Judgment" he called it. Gave us a choice between slaying a Bebilith to the north and an Avoral guardinal to the south. Well, Ham says a Bebilith is a big demon spider thing and the other is some kind of angel or celestial of some kind. Ham was more inclined to go south and talk to the celestial. Figuring that we were more likely to get something pretty from the angel than the spider demon I agreed with him. The others pretty much just went along with us on the whole thing.
One note of interest: Kaurophon stayed up at the top of the stairs. When Ham hollered at him to get down with us before we got into a scrap, he had the gall to say he was guarding the stairs. After a bit of snapping between the two of them he finally admitted he couldn't enter the room at all. Some pushy questions toward the mummy thing revealed that our new friend Kaurophon can't enter because the room is warded against denizens of the Abyss...which makes clear that old Kaurophon was born right here in the pit. Not the impression he gave when he claimed to be a "plane traveler" before. Never really lied about it, of course. But it's becoming clear this fellow is less than honest. No surprise, of course. He's half demon-blooded, that one.
Ham snorted in a huff and we waltzed on through the south door. There we found a large, winged, angel-looking fellow trapped in a summoning circle. He wasted no time begging us to rub a spot in the circle and let him go, which Ham was quick to do. After that, though, the angel proved more than a little distrustful and not-so-politely excused himself. Heard him having some rather harsh words with Kaurophon on the way out, too. Disgruntled, we went right on through the back hallway to the room beyond.
There we found a stairway rising up to a dais. Atop that we spied a lantern mounted by a chain to a long wooden handle. And around that a floating ring of glowing red symbols spinning around the thing. I made straight for it, of course, but the mummy fellow popped in right then to snarl at us all. Apparently we haven't done whatever we need to do to pass the test and can't get our hands on that magic lantern until we do. And, seeing as how killing that spider thing is obviously what we were expected to do, we were off again in quite a grumbling snit.
Now, once we got back to the first chamber, I got myself nominated to peek out the room beyond. Sure enough there a was proper nightmare of spider demon beyond, sitting himself in a big old web atop a set of rope bridges across to a doorway beyond. Ham was itching to try out the new blessing Kord had given him, considering it seemed so appropriate to our surroundings, so he cast his new ward in the first chamber so that it overlapped into our half of the chamber beyond. After that I just conjured myself invisible and crept in there to get a proper look at things. Unfortunately, it seems those spider things have pretty keen senses because I had barely got a good look at things before it came skittering and sniffing me out. Leapt back through the door before it could sting me, thankfully, and flashed my weakening gleam at it once I rolled over on my back. Managed to get him, too, before he got himself pinched by Ham's ward and leapt back to chitter angrily from it's web.
Again Rolo surprised me by running in there and plucking away at it with his bow like he had not a fear in the world. Ham also ran in there and raised up a wall to block that side of the area off from the spider demon, with nice little crenellations here and there on it no less. After that the bucks just filled it full of arrows and bolts from the safety of Ham's wall while Nickel and I tossed fire and lightning bolts into it. Killed it dead, we did.
Across the bridges we went and back into the chamber again. There the mummy was a bit more agreeable and smartly fetched that lantern for us. Handed it right to me, all regal like, once I managed to position myself real casually up in front of everyone. The lantern has an obviously magical silver flame to it and has the odd property of shining in one particular direction rather than all over the place. Didn't take much to figure out we were supposed to follow where it pointed since it was shining at the doorway we'd just come through no matter which way you turned it. According to the mummy, who's promptly disappeared, the next test is the "Test of Resolve". We're off to follow the lantern's beam as soon as Ham checks to make sure the spider thing is thoroughly dead.
We're sitting right where we've been whisked off to and waiting for Ham to finishing caterwauling to Kord. I'll catch us up on what's gone on since the cathedral. We followed the lantern straight off to the northeast (?), down from the hills and through some shaky ground. Kaurophon was nice enough to volunteer to hold the lantern for us all but Ham snapped his head off when he did. He hasn't made the offer again since. Now that ground was likely to most irritating part of our little jaunt through hell so far. Had a nasty habit of shaking and quaking every so often and we must have hoofed it over at least twenty miles of it. And it shook often enough that we must have spent a third of the time crossing just picking ourselves back up off the ground.
After that, though, it wasn't more than a few more hours of hiking and a couple of barely avoided demon-folk before we came to that odd plain. Kaurophon called it "The Plain of Cysts" and it seems apt enough. A huge field covered in the strangest big globs of translucent muck. Kaurophon says there was a huge battle here when Occipitus first fell into the Abyss between the celestial denizen that were trapped here and a veritable horde of abyssal demonfolk. Occipitus has long since absorbed the remains of the demons that fell in that battle but is apparently still have trouble getting those angel remains down. That's what all these big hunks of shiny muck are, it seems. Undigested angel bits.
Of course that's right where the lantern was pointing so off we marched. The really odd thing was that almost as soon as we entered the plain the lantern's beam just suddenly whipped around in a whole other direction. And we hadn't gone that way more than maybe fifty feet before it up and whips off in a whole other direction yet again. Damned thing had us whirling and twirling like we were in some invisible maze or something. Nothing for it but to follow, though. So we did. I don't think we had been in the plain, dodging around those nasty cysts, for more than fifteen minutes before an honest-to-goodness basilisk trotted out from around one of them to lick it's chops at us.
Now Ham and Nickel have got themselves something of an understanding. Seems they just somehow know what the other is thinking sometimes. If it weren't for times like this I might find that a bit eerie. But, like I intimated, it often works out for the good. They have their little stone wall and poison cloud trick down to the quick by now and that poor old nasty basilisk critter never knew what hit him. Unfortunately, Ham says that's the last he can call up a stone wall today.
Now the next odd thing that happened was this...I noticed as I was trotting along with the lantern that there was something gleaming inside one of the those cysts. As luck would have it the lantern led us right close to it and me and Ham both could see it was big, long sword of some kind. And a right shiny one, too. I definitely saw a healthy amount of gold trim on the thing and what looked like some other pretties in there with it. Naturally we stopped long enough for Ham and Harken to slice that slimy thing open and see what was in there. You should have seen Harken nearly piss himself when he produced what is probably the fanciest and prettiest broadsword I've ever laid eyes on. And Halfling sized to boot. Pulled out a nice little cloak and some shiny bracers, too. Me and Nickel looked them over and pronounced the whole lot to be magicked. The broadsword especially was prettied up with all manner of celestial sigils and looked more fitting to be hung up in a temple somewhere. Harken has claimed it without any objection.
Now, I'm no fool. I know full well how unlikely it is to stumble across a Halfling sized blade, especially one so fancy as that, in a place like this. As a Halfling adventurer standing in the very midst of the Abyss I can easily give you a hundred good reasons why Halflings just don't come to places like this. And they sure wouldn't drop pretty broadswords all over the place if they did. But, I couldn't see anything evil or cursed on any of those things so I'm almost tempted to claim providence and leave it at that. Still, it makes a lass a bit twitchy. We did talk about maybe checking into the other cysts in the plain for more loot but Kaurophon nearly had a fit about that. More than a bit eager to be about things, I suppose. We agreed in the end.
Still, that's not the odd thing I meant to tell you about. That occurred the moment we were just starting to get about following the lantern again. Before we even knew what happened the lantern blinked and we found ourselves standing back outside the plain. Right where we were when we first walked into the thing. Now that properly shook us up a bit and irritated us besides, considering how much back and forth we'd hiked into the plain already. But we pressed on and followed the lantern in again until we reached and passed the cyst we'd torn into without any trouble.
Now we'd gone on a fair ways past where we found Harken's new blade when I spied a demon off the way a good bit. From what I could see it was digging around in one of the cysts. A tall, thin somewhat spidery looking demon it was and looked to be a proper bit of trouble. We stopped to confer about it once I pointed it out to the others. Soon enough I had them convinced to skirt around the thing and was quite proud of myself. Convincing my band of lunatics not to kill something isn't easy to do. I managed to talk them into going on ahead and away from the demon until I could follow the lantern forward enough that I was out of sight of it. Even dropped an invisibility illusion on myself to be sure.
Then, of course, we all twinkled and found ourselves back outside the plain again. I was rightly getting ticked off by then.
The band was good enough to let me fuss and cuss a bit then we set about trying it once more. We followed the lantern right through the exact same set of twists and turns as before until we reached the spot where I first saw the demon digging into the cyst. He was still there so we ahead went with the same plan I had before. Off they went while I dropped another invisibility on myself and followed the lantern's beam. Naturally the damned lantern twisted and turned so that I passed right by the demon. Couldn't have been more than thirty feet from it at one point. Now, I reckon myself to be a damned good sneak but I was carrying a lantern and following a beam of silver light from the thing, you remember. How that critter didn't notice me I can't say. Must have been awful busy with that cyst digging.
The others managed to catch up to me once I got out of sight of that demon again, though I imagine it wasn't easy to do on the sly with that lantern leading me this way and that all over the place. But, we got back together without attracting any more attention. Then the lantern's turned a couple more times and led me right back to that same damned demon again. I tell you, I was getting mighty pissed. Again we split up, I went invisible and others waited impatiently while I tiptoed past it again. When we met up a few minutes later, though, I noticed something bright and, I swear, twitching around a bit inside one of the cysts nearby again. I pointed it out to the others and, over Kaurophon's whining objections, Ham and Harken broke away to see to it while we continued following the lantern.
When they returned a bit later they told us it was a couatl, which is some kind of decent outworldly critter or other. Harken cut it loose and Ham healed it up nice. Turns out it learned a little caution from it's time in the Abyss, unlike some, and it took off after it hissed a bit at the two boys. No reward for setting it loose or anything.
Just when I was getting good and frustrated with all the pointless left, right, left again, turn around and go back of that sheep-buggering lantern of ours we finally twinkled and poofed again. This time not back to the beginning of the whole thing but, from all appearances, clear across Occipitus. There we found another of those gold filigreed mummy's who pronounced us to have successfully completed the "Test of Resolve". Onward now, he urges us, to the "Test of Sacrifice", which has a nicely ominous ring to it. He, too, wasted no time disappearing on us and the beam from the lantern jerked and pointed straight off toward the skull-shaped mountain in the middle of the place. We've settled down for camp and spent the night without attracting anything's appetite.
June 19, 316
So, morning now and as I said we're waiting for Ham to finish his caterwauling. I just know he's going to bring a horde of demons down on our heads. He claimed he put his new ward down over our camp, though. The same one that nipped that spider demon back in the cathedral and caused it to scurry back to it's web.
Ham finished up after not too very long and held us up again while he said another long winded prayer. I was getting pretty impatient by then, but that didn't stop me from biting at Kaurophon when he started to complain about the delay. Good thing we didn't press too hard, though, because Ham apparently has summoned us up an actual deva to travel along with us for a short while. A big, tall looking fellow with broad white feathered wings and an intimidating mace in one hand. A right strapping example of a celestial, though not nearly as awesome as the lady we met in the woods that one time.
The odd thing is that, according to Ham, these fellows always expect some measure of service in return when you call on them. It is, after all, only fair. And them celestials is all about what's fair and all. This one, though, demanded something mighty odd. Apparently he knows what we're about already and has demanded that Ham himself make the sacrifice that's called for at the end of all this. Wouldn't let on what the "sacrifice" referred to in the "Test of Sacrifice" was, neither. He was rather insistent and Ham, being Ham, didn't hesitate to agree. Kaurophon warned Ham off from agreeing, which I was thought was pretty stupid of him considering his bloodline and who he was mouthing off about. Kelestrel, which was the deva's name, was quick to command him to silence and the two of them had quite an interesting glaring contest for a bit...before Kaurophon realized just who he was glaring at and backed down as meek as a kitten.
Still, I sure would have loved to see that fight.
Kelestrel took the lead from the moment we set out. Straight on across Occipitus we hiked without meeting or even spying a single evil critter. I don't know if our deva friend scared everyone off or we were just lucky. To consider it, though, I don't reckon the demons around here would be scared off by a deva. Quite the opposite. I would assume they'd love to sink their claws into one.
We made it all the way to what Kaurophon calls the "Plain of Ulcers" before we saw any action at all. Again, aptly named place by the way. Full of great, big, bubbling pools of ickyness, it was. There Kelestrel held us up for a moment while he stared ahead. Then he was off like a flash, leaving us in the rear. He got out a good ways, too, before we saw what he'd sniffed out. A great big black dragon lunged up out of somewhere and laid into him. I tell you that was surely one hell of a fight to see. The two of the set to flashing and acid spitting and roaring about one another. They shook the place up something awful.
Took a while for the angel to put it down, too. And he got himself gouged and burned up pretty good before it was done. We caught up with him by the time he'd finished patching himself up and we were off again without a word from him at all. Sure were a lot of downy feathers floating around from that fight, though.
The lantern led us at last to one of the ulcers in particular and seemed to point right down into it. We didn't have time to consider on that very much, though. There was, of all things, another deva there waiting for us. Only this one had big, black feathered wings and had somehow gotten himself pinned to the ground by a bunch of iron spears. Kaurophon looked surprised and claimed to know this fellow. Called him Saureya and said he knew a good many secrets about the tests. Our deva friend was at the other's side in an instant, just in time for it to give it's last attempt to break free and pass out. There was gold-flecked blood splattered all over the place from whatever fight the celestial fellow had lost so badly. Together Ham and Kelestrel had the poor thing patched up properly and it was able to chat us up a bit. From him we learned quite a few interesting things.
Apparently he had been one of the original celestial inhabitants of Occipitus back when it first fell into the Abyss. The demon who later laid claim to the place, Adimarchus, had captured him and forced him into service. Furthermore, it was he and Adimarchus who had fashioned the test in the first place, though this Saureya couldn't say what had become of Adimarchus and why there was no master for the plane at the moment. He wouldn't give us any clues about the Test of Sacrifice, neither. And he was something of an ass about it, too, when we asked.
He also took a great deal of glee in telling us that the other two tests we had shuffled through weren't even necessary. Apparently there was a glitch he'd introduced into the whole process so that we could have marched right over to this here skull and picked up at the last test without bothering with the first two. He had himself a good laugh at that, which thoroughly ticked me off.
We didn't get any further with our questions, either. It was then that Saureya noticed who'd been propping him up the whole time and he was quick to snarl and shake Kelestral's hand off him. At that Kelestrel just raised a golden eyebrow and informed us all that it was time for him to go. He had to set about seeing to his brother. With that he took Saureya firmly by the arm and led him away. With a quick reminder to Ham about his oath concerning the sacrifice, he disappear in a twinkling with his brother snarling and cursing at him to whole time.
With that we turned our attentions to the ulcer at our feet. Sure enough that lantern was pointing straight down into the nasty thing. We hesitated a good bit, I don't mind admitting. But in the end there was nothing for it but to dive in. We didn't have far to swim thankfully, though that nasty mess got into the awfulest places before I could scramble out again. We emerged into a tunnel of some kind that wound smoothly and clearly up higher into the skull mountain. We wasted no time hoofing it up that passage until it began to turn and spiral up higher still into the skull.
Thankfully I had taken point again and after a time I noticed voices up ahead. I hushed the others and made myself invisible to peek out the tunnel. There I found a rather intimidating looking tiger-headed fellow and, of all things, a fire giant. They were just leaning up against the side of the tunnel chatting it up in some evil sounding language. I imagine they were taking a rest. I noticed the giant had a couple of iron spears with him and realized immediately that these were the two fellows that had pinned and gutted poor Saureya outside.
Reporting back to the others we had ourselves a bit of a groan at our luck. We certainly weren't eager to take on a pair that had trounced a deva so badly. Even a deva as obviously corrupted and darkened as that Saureya fellow seemed to have been. Still, turning back wasn't even a consideration for us anymore so we knocked our heads together for a quick battle plan. In the end we decided we'd all go after the tiger-headed fellow first since he seemed to be the unknown quantity here. Fire giants we had at least met before, if not actually fought.
Ham dropped a strength boon on himself and Harken was well as a ward for our gleaming ex-town guard. He cast that odd blessing on himself that made him tall as a human and all gleamy, too. And another that made his skin sort of turn to stone. Nickel cast an invisibility on herself and some mage armor. She gave me a stronger kind of invisibility that would let me fight without completely dispersing and I donned my own mage armor enchantment. With that I moved off to pick a nice spot on the tiger-headed fellow's back while Nickel made mirror images of everyone.
I didn't have long to wait before a handful of Harkens came roaring up the tunnel with that big broadsword of his held high. Several Hams popped up out of nowhere to curse the tiger-man while a few Nickels came behind them tossing lightning bolts into him. Has some Rolos, too, plucking a swarm of arrows into the mix. I, meanwhile, planted both my blades roughly about the tiger-man's kidneys while he was busy gawking at all the surprise. The boys were on him before he could do more than twitch a bit on my swords and had cut him down good and proper. They both hit him with truly impressive strikes, they did. Wouldn't want to get in a stand up fight with either of our two bucks. The fire giant fell even more easily, though he did managed to break Ham's arm and shatter a couple of Harken's ribs. Kaurophon managed to hang back and drop magic on everyone as unobtrusively as possible. The fight lasted a long while, but Nickel's wand kept everyone out of any serious injury until near the end. Those mirror images of Nickel's are priceless, they are. I do hope that wand holds out a bit longer. I say, I may get spoiled.
Ham patched everyone up very well and we're all taking a breather before we continue onward.
At last we arrived at the eye socket of the skull where all the flaming plasma that filled the sky of Occipitus originates. We could see it flowing from a spot in the center of the room and pooling up along the ceiling before spilling out in big gouts into the air outside. The last of the mummy men were there, too, to offer his monotonous congratulations on arriving and to give us the details of the test.
I admit I was little surprised, though I suppose I really shouldn't have been. Turned out that the Test of Sacrifice was for whomever was to pass that test to offer up one of his allies to the fire as a sacrifice. We were still reeling a bit from that revelation when Kaurophon piped up behind us saying, "Sacrifice? That's it? No problem." I turned around then to see him start dropping wards on himself and edging back toward the tunnel. Reckon I knew exactly what he was up to right off. I started chanting it up straightaway and I could hear Nickel doing the same, bless her. But he hit us a blast of freezing cold before we could do a thing, the whole lot of us.
Ironic, now that I think about it. As I recall, I once died from that very same spell.
Me and Nickel lit him up with our lightning at the same moment and I saw Harken and Ham charging on him with their blades. He uttered a wholly unmentionable bit of blasphemy then, though, that rocked Harken a bit and caused him to stagger. Rolo was already busy plucking arrows into him, too, though that didn't seem to do much of anything. I tell you we laid into that blasted fiend with everything we had. I even dashed to his flank and plugged him a couple of good times in the vitals. But it didn't stop him from tossing his own magics and curses on Harken until he stumbled a bit. At that Kaurophon rushed forward and did his very best to slam him into the stream of fire.
That's where he made his mistake, though, I think. Too eager to get Harken into that flame and not quite mindful enough to putting the rest of us down first. Granted, we were all in sorry shape from that cold spell but we were hardly dead. Soon as he had his bulk pushing Harken toward the fire we cut him to ribbons and he fell down to twitch and die. Harken's new blessed broadsword proved itself in that fight, I tell you.
Once we set about stripping Kaurophon bloody corpse and getting our own bloody selves patched up, Ham started talking about making the sacrifice like he sworn the deva he'd do. Naturally, we all thought was just the stupidest thing any of us had ever heard and absolutely forbid it. And, naturally, Ham was as mindful of our opinions of what he should and shouldn't do as he'd always been. He just grunted, turned and leapt head first into that stream of flame before any of us could even draw breath to object.
Now the latest of all the odd things that we'd witness since we came here happened right then. We saw, I swear we did, old Ham get himself burnt to a blackened crispy all in an instant by that roaring flame. But at the same time there he was whole and sound getting laid all gentle-like down to the floor, passed out cold. Nickel was wailing and on him before you could spit but she stifled quick when she realized not a hair on his head was even singed. Oddest damned thing I ever seen.
Still, I said that was the latest of the odd things that had happened. The single oddest was definitely seeing old Ham open his eyes and spying that his left eyeball was clean gone from his head. In it's place was a bright glowing flame like a candle's wick. Had it's own little stream of bitter black smoke and everything. It just sat there in his head burning and smoking like nothing you ever saw.
After everyone shook all that off and Ham was roused enough to assure us his head wasn't on fire or anything, we found ourselves suddenly at the apparent end of our little adventure in hell. The mummy fellow had disappeared while we weren't looking and Kaurophon was dead as a doornail at our feet. And, of course, Ham was standing there with a candle flame for an eyeball and acting like there weren't a thing wrong with that at all.
Before too long we set about finishing looting Kaurophon corpse before it started rotting or anything and found his amulet. A little divination showed it to be a plane-jumping enchantment of some kind. Nickel assured us she should be able to whisk us anywhere we wanted with the thing. Having had quite enough of hell already for the year, we straightaway decided it was time to go home. And so we did.
Popped up right in the middle of Brightwater's courtyard and rightly scared the guards neat enough to mess themselves.
June 20, 316
I suppose the events that unfolded around Brightwater Keep since yesterday have become significant enough to warrant some mention in these journals. So, then, I will relay somewhat what has occurred since our abrupt arrival home.
First, and most surprisingly, when we arrived at Brightwater after our extended adventures in Cauldron we found a representative of the local lord awaiting us. Naturally, he was a bit irritable after having had to wait for some days for us to appear. We had barely a moment to dress down and start humping our gear over to our rooms before he practically tackled poor Ham right outside the stable, demanding an immediate audience. Even Ham’s smoking, flaming new eyeball didn’t deter him, though I must snicker a bit that it seems to have struck a mild terror into the hearts of our employees.
On conversing with the eager representative we’ve found, to our astonishment, that the local lord, Parriman Bigham has declared the entire land to which we hold deed to be a "fortified settlement". As we have appointed Ham ownership of the keep’s deed he is naturally expected henceforth to pay taxes to the lord and to declare his fealty.
Now we argued this at first, but once we stopped to actually consider it we realized at last just how many people have come to call Brightwater their home since we laid claim to the place. We already had quite a respectable number of mercenaries, miners and staff members employed at our keep. Even more now that Harken has followed us home with his company. And all of those folks have naturally brought their families, extended families, in-laws, animals and various hangers-on with them. In addition to that, there seemed now to be a horde of ill and infirm constantly camped out at the base of the plateau awaiting their birthdays. They, in turn, naturally brought their families or acquaintances along with them. Most of them need the aid, in fact, due to the infirmities that brought them here in the first place.
And taking a quick look around over the rude petitioner’s shoulder we could readily spot a whole group of other folks waiting respectfully to meet with “Lord Westwinder”. All in all, it appears the town that I feared would spring up around our little fountain has indeed begun to spring.
Ham, the poor man, was a bit flustered at this abrupt obligation that was being thrust upon him but Nickel was quick to chase the rude human off until he had “properly petitioned for audience with Lord Westwinder”. He must have truly offended our guards already, as I noticed they were more than happy to prod the irritating human back into the small mob of other petitioners in the courtyard.
At that we quickly retired into West Hall proper and began discussing the situation. In the end Ham decided that he was clearly long overdue in declaring the entire keep and surrounding plateau as officially dedicated to Kord. I admit I objected at first, until I realized that I had long since given up any particular claim to the spring, really. With all the visitors and whatnot it really has lost its former appeal. With Nickel’s help he quickly penned a short letter to the Church of Kord in Cauldron detailing the situation. We called our guards and had them escort the Lord’s representative in where we showed him the letter. Ham then politely suggested that his Lordship should take up any matters of tax, fealty and the lord’s rights with the Church of Kord, to whom he had essentially transferred ownership. The fancy human grumbled a bit before leaving in a huff and that was that. The letter was sealed and immediately sent off with one of our guards to town so that it might be conveyed by messenger directly to the Church of Kord.
The remaining petitioners consisted mostly of settlers with minor grievances and appeals, all of which were handled easily. Mostly these consisted of requests that our guards be given proper authority to maintain order in the growing settlement below. Ham sidestepped this by sending a guard down there to inform them all that if they wished to stay on our land they’d best get to picking some kind of leader and forming a guard of their own. We further warned them that if we ever felt compelled to send our men down there to keep order, we’d do so by simply running everyone off at sword point.
Additionally, no less than four of the petitioners had come to ask Ham’s permission to build and maintain businesses (an inn, a tavern and two trading posts, respectively) at the base of the plateau. I was thoroughly discouraged that it had already come to this, of course. Still, I did find it somewhat heartening when Nickel pointed out that they would all naturally be expected to pay rent.
Griffon’s gaggle of tree huggers also required some manner of closure, considering their leader had passed on. We consulted with them for some time, but it was primarily to share our grief. They had already decided to stay in the area if Ham would allow it, it seems. To that end they were granted rights to the impromptu camp they had long ago established with Griffon. This consisted of the wide crevice that jutted into the mountain just east of the keep itself which wasn’t of any particular use to us anyway. Ham naturally agreed. In exchange for this and for being kept on the payroll, curse Ham, they would be charged with patrolling the woodlands between the keep and Marikest, especially the road running between. This, of course, was quite agreeable with them and they gladly accepted. In order to avoid having to bother with supervising them Ham granted Belford Holimion’s request for authority over the band of rangers and the matter was settled.
During a minor break in all the burdensome politics Ham was astonished to discover that a band of nearly a dozen clerics and a couple of other Kord worshippers had come from the surrounding towns to offer their services or to seek a position in the temple. Of course, there was no temple here, despite apparent rumors to the contrary. But, considering Ham had only moments before written a letter to the Church declaring the keep to be dedicated to Kord, he accepted their service. And, despite my very reasonable objections, he put them on our payroll as well.
With the crushingly boring politics of keep management taken care of, Ham turned to consult with Harken, who’d more or less become a member of the band after all, as to whether he’d be staying on at the keep. Harken requested, and was granted, permanent housing for himself and his men. At which point Ham was quick to appoint him head of security, fold his company directly into the mercenary guards and charge him with keeping the peace on the plateau and overseeing security of the mines. Harken happily accepted, of course, and Ham was delighted to find his managerial responsibilities reduced by half.
Now with security of the settlement below and the plateau itself properly taken care of, he turned his considerations to the clerics who had just accepted his authority. In the end he decided that perhaps a temple wasn’t a bad idea after all, considering that he had already dedicated the keep to Kord and had a rather famous healing spring close to hand. Again I vehemently objected, as it was obvious he intended to build some kind of Kord-ish monstrosity right on top of the spring. But, again, I was given opportunity to lament that the spring was more or less ruined as a source of sensual diversion anyway and I surrendered it to him at last.
At that we kicked off our boots and spent the remainder of the evening sketching rough plans for a temple and doing our best to deplete the keep’s store of ale. Ham was adamant about using only his Kord-granted stone wall and stone shaping magic to build the thing and we finally had to call in a couple of our dwarven engineers to polish up our simple designs. They, of course, were a bit disgruntled at Ham’s “box of stone” conceptualization but eventually agreed that a temple dedicated to Kord should reflect a tendency more toward structural strength than aesthetics. They were able to offer quite a few helpful tips for ensuring a properly sturdy foundation, for which Ham was most thankful.
During the course of all this we discovered that the dwarven engineers had completed the construction of our vault and were already preparing to start work on the shrine in the courtyard. At present they were cleaning up the last of the debris from the plateau and moving the salvaged piles of stone and earth from the vault project into the courtyard. We gathered our mugs and our boots and went to go inspect the thing. It was most impressive indeed, I must admit, and at our glowing appreciation the leader of the engineers presented us each with our individual keys to the vault’s triple locked door and pronounced the project completed.
Ham, bless him, took the opportunity to change the plans for the courtyard shrine to a proper monument dedicated to the memory of Griffon Downthistle, ranger of Ehlonna. He has already made arrangements with the dwarves to construct a small crypt in the crevice where Griffon’s rangers camp. I was overcome and, for the first time ever, I was able to hug him and not mind the smell.
Once the early evening had been thoroughly consumed with matters of keep maintenance and developmental plans we were all bone weary with our adventures, battles and sundry burdens. We dismissed one and all to their duties, announced that we were not to be disturbed for the next day and night on penalty of flogging and retired to our respective rooms.
After a short rest I slipped off from East Hall to meet with the engineers. The dwarfs informed me that my own project had provided more than enough raw materials for the monument to Griffon, as well as providing our squatters with much needed raw materials as well. Indeed, they all felt quite satisfied with their accomplishments, and their profit, overall.
To my surprise they also pronounced my underground hall was, in fact, completed as well and proceeded to give me a short tour of the place. Really, there wasn’t all that much too it but a couple of small rooms set off from the main chamber, but I did have to be shown how to go about finding and operating the secret door that opened at the base of the plateau. Also I found that the entrance hall had been carved right up to the floorboards of my room and had already been annexed from there. Apparently, one of the dwarfs is skilled in carpentry after all and took it upon himself to construct a hidden entrance from within my wardrobe.
Sitting in the main chamber after everyone had gone on to bed, I spent a little time admiring the place. Perry, as expected, was thoroughly excited about exploring the new environment. While he was off scampering about I sat and imagined all manner of furnishings and decorations I could procure for the place. Before too very long, though, I realized that I really didn’t have a clear idea any longer what to do with it. With Griffon’s passing most of my plans for the chamber had suddenly lost their appeal. I can admit now that the fantasies I’d conjured up concerning a secret pleasure chamber had, to be honest, mostly involved Griffon specifically. Now I simply couldn’t imagine bringing anyone else here to dally about with. It just wouldn’t be proper.
It was a bit of a shock to finally realize that the underground chamber I had managed to construct literally beneath everyone’s noses had no particular purpose at all. And calling to mind the vast amount of coin I’d spent having the place built, you can understand if I spent quite a good while cursing Griffon for the inconsiderate death that had completely ruined all of my plans.
In the end, before I finally slumped off to bed, I recalled what had brought the idea of constructing the chamber to my mind in the first place. I remembered my bittersweet meeting with my father in Cauldron and the one and only kiss I’d ever gotten from Griffon. It was that very night, the night of my twenty-seventh birthday, that I remembered the small underground tunnel where my father and his little band of thieves used to meet. It was in that simple tunnel that they started on the road that would eventually lead them to becoming the most feared and respected criminal enterprise in all of Littleton. Strange that I had, at least in this small regard, managed to follow in Hannigan’s footsteps despite myself.
As I lay here in bed and the fatigue of my latest and longest adventure begins at last to slip into my bones, I ponder many things that I hadn’t had time to properly consider before. First in my mind, of course, is the matter of profit. It would seem that I have become the only remaining member of our little band with any healthy degree of concern for the issue.
Ham, of course, has never been one to devote any time or consideration to financial matters. As far as he is concerned it’s just another troubling burden that comes with maintaining the keep. In fact, now that I think of it, the decisions he made today show amply that he is more than happy to be rid of such responsibilities whenever possible. Nickel, too, seems to have completely abandoned any such concerns. So long as she has sufficient coin at hand to procure the necessary materials for her research I doubt she even gives thought to it at all. Even our newest member, Harken, has no apparent concerns beyond honor, martial prowess and whether his armor is polished to an appropriate sheen. I admit that I am suffering no small amount of anxiety to find my band may have long since stricken the accumulation of wealth from our unwritten list of group goals.
I am also forced to consider the long-term ramifications of Nickel and Ham’s impending marriage. I expect they’ll have little time for me, or for anything else fun or interesting, in the weeks to come. Even in our earliest days here at the keep, before they began to share anything beyond common companionship, they were both dreadfully prone to their own respective obsessions. Ham is always out and about seeing to the maintenance of the keep or making plans for this or that monumental service to Kord. Nickel has her unending magical research and an almost maniacal drive to pursue even to most obscure tidbits of arcane knowledge. Now that they’ve added some rather more carnal pursuits to their list of favorite things, I can’t expect I will be seeing much of either of them anymore.
I would like to say our new member Harken, or perhaps some other of the Halflings that we’ve brought (finally) to live at our keep, represents a possible diversion. But, really, I find their company unbearable more often than not. Even the handsome young scout that he employs can be so excruciatingly righteous that I’d rather drown him than spend even a moment in unnecessary conversation.
Soon I will have to address the matter of my two oldest and most hated enemies, poverty and boredom. Indeed, having come so far in so short a time, I most certainly will not allow these two petty demons to plague the last few decades of my life. Some manner of keeping them at bay must be devised, and soon.
Naturally, my thoughts turn to the only other person that I've ever known who seemed to have devised any kind of solution to this same dilemma, Hannigan Merryweather. His solution being, of course, to form a proper guild of thieves. This in turn brings to mind the source of my current discomfort, the burdensome addition of so many unnecessary employees to our payroll. I cannot help but ponder that a few recruits of my own, out of sight of my partners, might be just the solution to my problem. After all, I already have a proper guild hall handy, don't I?
With the number of disgruntled folk fleeing the wreck that Littleton is rapidly becoming, I don’t believe recruiting a few young scoundrels with a proper work ethic will prove especially difficult. I suppose I can lazy about the keep tomorrow to recover from our recent ordeals and make a little overnight trip to town the next day. I’ll need to acquire a few furnishings and whatnots for my secret chamber anyway.
I am considering “The Shadowy Hand” as an appropriate guild designation. Or not. Perhaps “The Shadow’s Hand” is more befitting. I really can’t say I mind referencing myself as the enigmatic “Shadow” and it does have a rather agreeable air of threat to one’s purse strings, I think.
Yes, I find that works well indeed.
Well, enough for now. I’ll end these journals until the next adventure presents itself. I don’t think I can keep my eyes open another moment, honestly.
Farewell for now, good reader. And may none of your pursuits prove profitable enough to come to my attention.
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