“Politics and Paladins”
The Further Traveling Journals of the Band of the Blessed Fountain
By Molliam Merryweather
[In which the band journeys to the town of Red Gorge, confronts the merchant Maavu, joins forces with a mysterious secret society, sets off on the trail of a lost paladin, follows a map through a very dangerous wood, meets a deva, storms the ruins of Vaprak‘s Voice and routs a demon beyond the veil of the Starry Mirror]
June 8th, 316
We’re breaking our rest in a moment. Ham and Nickel have tried to comfort me, but I find I’d rather let my wrath burn. Poor Perry has become rather difficult recently, missing my attentions I suppose. I haven’t the heart for dear, lovable Perry, though, and I suspect my disheveled state of mind has influence him. I am anxious to arrive and expect we’ll reach Red Gorge at nightfall. I hope the others don’t intend to take to the inn straightaway.
I’ll not rest until I have Maavu’s corpse hung in the courtyard of Brightwater Keep.
I should also mention that we’ve adopted yet another foolish Halfling into our midst. Harken Stonecleaver, whom I remember as an officer of some note in the Littleton militia. He hasn’t mentioned, to my hearing, anything concerning the ruin that Littleton has become over the last year. I suppose his presence here rather than there tells the tale well enough. Naturally, I find myself comfortably lacking in anything resembling pity or remorse for the fate of our common hometown. In my current mood, I do hope he is not foolish enough to make comment of it.
Harken Stonecleaver is a tall and physically strong Halfling with much the same air of gleaming armor and military precision that I recall from our past encounters. Most of which consisted of my running away while he and a horde of other guard and militia gave chase. And, of course, the occasional shakedown in some dark alley or other. Still, I’ve heard rumors from here and there over the last few months that he’s become a bit of a rough and tumble sort himself. I specifically recall something about a band of ogres he and his now conspicuously absent comrades trounced a month or so back.
Rumor has it he’s quite the scrapper, which I’m sure will come in handy. And, coming as absolutely no surprise whatsoever, he’s a follower of Heironeous. Reason enough to despise him, his shiny armor and snooty riding hound aside. But, Ham insists we need another blade in our midst, so I’ll let it be for now. I find, despite my dark mood, that it’s quite pleasurable using my shadow magic to hide right in front of him. I can practically see the old town guard in him gnash his teeth every time.
Still, I’ll grant him this. He at least seems to bathe on a weekly basis.
We have stopped to camp for the night. I am weary of travel. Even my rage at the villain Maavu is dead for the moment. I want nothing more than to be rid of the concerns of this world. I will write again when I’ve something worth reporting.
Death is a curse. We all must suffer it and, it would seem, we must all suffer it until it comes to steal us away. I find Griffon’s absence more and more oppressive as time passes. I’ve come to dread the weeks and months ahead, through which I will surely suffer so. I vacillate constantly amongst many distressful states of mind. Most often I am merely overcome with anguish, numb to all but the crushing weight of my grief. At times I find I am suddenly desperate, willing to embrace even the most outrageous schemes to somehow, someway contact and convince Griffon to return to me. But, of course, it is already far too late for that now.
Most often I find I am unable even to accept the simple truth that so torments me. Griffon has abandoned me. He has found in the Beastlands beyond, in the eternal Grove of the Unicorns, a greater joy that he could ever find with me.
And, I am loath to admit, it is this thought that too often fills me with bitterest resentment. I think of my own return from the afterlife. Did I not leave Olidammara’s Den? Leave the eternal masquerade to return to this banal life? And why? I cannot say I recall now more than the vaguest impressions of that afterlife. But I know enough that I would not have heeded Ham’s call without a most compelling reason. And I can find none, when I dare to examine the matter. None save one, at least.
No. I’ll not name it. Not now.
He is forever lost to me. Lost, and I will never again see his beautiful face. Never again will the cobbled street and the sunlit meadow convene. He has gone to his eternal Grove. As I will one day return forever to the den of delights. Even in eternity we are only to be further sundered.
Olidammara help me, but I do hate him a little for breaking my heart.
June 9th, 316
We have arrived in Red Gorge. It seems a well enough little town, though perhaps a bit under populated. Likely the only real point of interest would be the basalt fortifications that nearly surround the place. Or at least they interest Ham. According to Nickel they were raised whole from the earth by some ancient mage or other long years ago. I can practically see Ham’s imagination at work, envisioning himself erecting such walls about our keep and blessed fountain. Really, I’m sure if Ham had his way, and there were room enough on the plateau for such walls, he would have long since secured the place to such a degree that even we could not approach it.
We have found the one inn in Red Gorge. The innkeeper, Mikimax, seems a likable enough fellow. I suppose I expected to find the place run amok with evil creatures and elementals as Cauldron seems to have been of late. Apparently Maavu is concerned less, or perhaps more, for this place than his own city.
We have taken rooms and have come to sit in the common. We will await the evening and the more talkative patrons that typically accompany it. I am eager to get about taking my vengeance.
It is midday and much has occurred. Less, though, than I had anticipated. Soon after we made our way to breakfast in the common the bard that has been hanging about the place called out some ridiculous riddle to Nickel as we passed. Nickel responded, against her more reticent nature I would reckon. Whatever it was she said must have been correct as the fellow was quick to appear at our table once we had been seated. It didn’t surprise me that Maavu seemed as impatient to conclude our business as we were, to send his lackeys to practically fetch us. I took the role of unobtrusive henchman, jotting idly in my journals, while Ham played up our naiveté a bit for the human. In due course he invited us to attend a meeting of some mysterious secret order.
Naturally, we respectfully declined, not wanting to seem too easy a target. The human then casually dropped a couple of names to gauge our response. Maavu and, surprisingly, Alek Tercival. Alek being the same paladin that supposedly challenged Skellering, the captain of the Cauldron guard. At Ham’s glance I can see he is wondering the same thing as I. What part could a paladin play in Maavu’s evil schemes?
The others seemed to be fumbling the banter a bit, so I pitched in as best I was able without calling undue attention to myself. Finally I managed to casually prod Ham in the right direction and get us re-invited to the meeting without making us seem too eager. Not that this human didn’t know exactly who we were or what we were about, of course. But it seemed wise to me to appear at least somewhat casual about it all. No doubt Maavu expected there would be some long discourse once we were finally able to confront him. Questions and righteous indignation, no doubt, rather than some abrupt act of savagery.
Let him to continue to think so.
Despite it having been so long since I’d had occasion to use my particular talents under such circumstance, I found this human to be laughingly easy. I was able to take to the nearest shadow and disappear as he escorted the others downstairs to the chambers below the inn. He was quick to notice my absence, of course, but Ham and Nickel covered for me well enough, claiming me as a mere footservant who shouldn‘t attend anyway. I even followed unnoticed right at the fool’s heels all the way to the central chamber of the place below. I could have pilfered his undergarments, I think, with him none the wiser.
Once there, I observed from the shadows as the alleged leader of this secret society, the Foreman, spoke with Ham and Nickel. I must admit I was becoming rather irritated with the entire ploy. Maavu certainly seemed to value some sense of theater in all this. Why drag things out so with such ridiculous scheming? Why not simply appear and engage, if he truly considered us so foolish as to fall for this mockery?
In short order, though, the target of my wrath entered the room alongside the innkeeper and seated himself at the table. Even then he seemed to present himself as some common member of this little group. So well, in fact, that I began to wonder if he truly were the one behind all the trouble and not this Foreman fellow.
Ham and Nickel continued to play their parts, keeping the attention on themselves with all manner of appropriate questions which the Foreman had dodged until the other members arrived. Now, though, he answered freely, espousing on the “shadowy conspiracy” that was the supposed cause of all the recent trouble. He made a point of indicating Griffon’s death as one such instance.
It seemed the appropriate moment to bring this little travesty to an end.
I had my blade at Maavu’s throat and my fingers curled into his hair before he knew it. Even the Foreman, seated right at the head of the table, droned on for a bit before realizing I had taken the man hostage. To my wicked delight they were all taken quite off guard. Ham had blocked the exit with a great stone wall and even the new fellow Harken had his blade at the Foreman’s gullet before any of the scoundrels could so much as gasp in surprise.
What passed the next few minutes was a rather twitchy and treacherous discourse, to say the least. I damned near slit Maavu’s throat several times out of hand before it began at last to dawn upon us that this group of humans might actually be exactly what they claimed to be. Maavu, of course, desperately denied any part in the beasts that had plagued the city during both our visits and, specifically, with the two fire spirits that had claimed the life of both Ham and my beloved Griffon. And when I was able to put aside my lust for vengeance for a moment, I admit I did finally recall the destruction of his warehouse by one such creature and the air elemental that had targeted him specifically at the riot. Several things suddenly seemed clear. The four humans we had seen stir up the riot and then disappear into the crowd, for example, . The fact that Maavu, supposedly a wizard clever enough to have spent years achieving a position of influence in the community, was so inept as to blatantly implicate himself in all the destruction of the past months.
To hear the Foreman tell it, whatever force was behind the evil in Cauldron knew of their little society and had taken bold steps to eliminate them as a threat by utilizing simple framework. Olidimmara help me, I did so want my revenge and Maavu’s throat was there, at my blade’s very edge. In the end, though, I could not accept the convenient resolution when, it seemed, there was suddenly so much doubt whether these folk were our true enemies at all.
We allowed the Foreman fellow to go on, under our blades still, laying out for us the political upheavals that had taken hold of Cauldron recently. The crushing over-taxation of the people, the swelling of the city guard with half-orc mercenaries. Indeed, once he called our attention to so many things that had escaped our notice during our visits to the city, it did seem to us that some manner of rot had infected the leadership of Cauldron. To what end, I couldn’t dare to guess. But it had killed our leader, Griffon, and fed us a false target for our vengeance in the merchant Maavu.
If I was angry with Maavu before, I was properly furious toward this shadowy enemy that had so easily manipulated us all.
In due course, we put aside our weapons and allowed some measure of peace to come between us and this group of humans. Before long we were able to discuss our common concerns and agree, at last, that we should offer our aid in rooting out this evil. If only to allow us our vengeance in the end. I find I am more than a little frustrated that a proper measure of vengeance for Griffon’s death should be still yet to come. But I would not be much of a sneak if I did not allow for the occasional need for patience in any endeavor of worth.
The Foreman’s first and last concern seemed to be this paladin, Alek Tercival. He had failed to attend the meeting as he had been expected to. That alone would be cause for concern but, according to the Foreman, the Cauldron guard captain was already making plans to march on Red Gorge to root him out. And if he was not here when they came, then it would not go well at all for the folk of the town. On top of that, the group had already decided it best, considering the political concerns involved, that Alek rescind his challenge altogether. Something he could not do without, of course, reappearing.
To my insult the group, which called itself “the Chisel” of all things, somehow felt it right and proper that we simple Halflings should be the ones to track down the errant paladin. After all, they were all far too busy with this and that bit of espionage and political intrigue, naturally. I fairly bristled at being treated like hired thugs, but Ham was far too quick to accept and plunge us all into trouble that was not our own.
In the end I find we’re off to Cauldron yet again to seek out this Alek fellow’s acquaintances and some clue as to his whereabouts. Jenya Urikas, a high priestess in the temple of St. Cuthbert, is said to be an old friend of Alek’s. We are to begin our search with her.
June 10th, 316
We have arrived in Cauldron and the temple of St. Cuthbert. Jenya was kind enough to meet with us without too much delay and has freely offered what she knows of Alek Tercival. She has confirmed that Alek’s ancestry grants him the right, by the ancient Law of Peers, to challenge the guard captain. At this she is somewhat mystified, as it seems a quite bit out of character for him. That, along with his disappearance and the recent rumors that he is possessed by a demon, however unlikely that may be, have given her cause for some anxiety.
In the end she was able to offer only one plausible avenue of investigation. That being a local proprietor named Tygot Mispas, a Halfling with whom Alek had dealings with on regular occasion selling this and that trinket he had managed to gather on his various adventures. Tygot was conveniently located on the nearby Lava Avenue and we set out immediately to find him there.
Tygot in turn was most helpful as well, having heard of us about town and more than eager to claim us among his customers. His relations with Alek had apparently been quite good and he was more than willing to expound on the paladin’s multitudinous virtues. Chief of which, it would seem, was a remarkable knack for finding exceptionally interesting antiquities. He showed us several, which I admit were indeed quite intriguing. Of primary interest to us at the moment, however, was an odd metal plate which he billed as “the Hegemonic Plate“. On it were depictions of some sort and, glory to Olidimarra, an actual map scratched into the backside of it.
Nickel was able to translate the runes on the plate, after some amount of study. Apparently they showed some ancient society of powerful spell-casting creatures engaging in a construction of some sort. On the right was depicted the leader of the creatures holding aloft a particularly important artifact that the runes referred to as “the Starry Mirror”. Around him, in turn, were presented runes corresponding with a string of numbers. On the left, three scenes displayed the ogre slaves of these people laboring to construct a proper platform for the thing, their use of some form of potion to grant them even greater strength to do so and, finally, a rough representation of the completed foundation with the “Starry Mirror” planted atop it.
Of course, our main interest was the map on the backside. Even at a casual glace it clearly delineated a route leading from a statue on some unnamed river to the end destination, referred to as “Vaprak’s Voice”.
We have purchased the plate at a reasonable price from Tygot. Although, I must confess I think we made out so well as much due to the old proprietor’s odd hound than to any bartering skill on our part. Strangely, the beast seemed intent on disrupting Tygot during our negotiations. In the end, he capitulated more out of frustration than anything and let us have the plate for likely very little more than it’s actual worth, despite our obviously desperate need of it. I gave the strange dog a proper ear scratch on the way out, by way of compensation.
We spent a little time fishing among the few Halfling taverns and gambling houses in the area for information. We quickly found several folk to confirm that some manner of headless statue was known to decorate the shores of the Red River, somewhere below Red Gorge.
We have visited the Temple of Lordly Might and spoken with Hranleurth. Griffon’s body has already been transported to Brightwater Keep, Hranleurth himself having performed the rites as there was no cleric of Ehlonna to be found in town.
By all accounts he should arrive today. I find I am not eager to return home any longer.
We leave now for Red Gorge to secure some manner of transportation downriver.
June 11th, 316
In Red Gorge we found the Chisel at last offering something in the way of aid. Mikimax, the innkeeper, has offered us a small rowboat to journey downriver in. Further I was able at last to discover something of the fate of Harken’s old company. It seems that the one survivor of whatever disaster had ended Harken‘s crew had been off in the Littleton area recruiting all this time. When we arrived at the inn last night we found him there waiting with five rather young mercenaries in tow. Harken was quick to introduce us to Rolo Clickheels, formerly of the Littleton guard, clearly with the intent that we take him on.
After a short interview Ham has deemed him worth of carrying our baggage and allowed him to come along. The little gaggle of recruits, however, we are leaving behind. Ham, curse him with a thousand poxes, has offered that they stay at the keep until we should wrap up this whole affair. They have already gone on with a letter from Ham granting them lodging until we arrive home.
Leaving our riding hounds and taking Rolo, we are off for the river and whatever awaits there.
The journey down the river to the headless statue was some twenty-five miles or so, by my reckoning. And not without a bit of excitement at the end of it. Well, excitement for everyone else, anyway. I had to sit the whole thing out, as it happens.
We had just come within sight of the huge stone statue we had been looking for when arrows began to rain down on us from the forest just off the beach. Immediately Ham, Nickel and myself were struck. Before I could properly nock my bow, Nickel had been hit again, eliciting something of a squeak from her, and Rolo had already begun returning fire.
Ham had eaten a hearty breakfast, it seemed, and quickly called up a wall of wind like the one he’d used before in the Underdark. Instantly the arrows of our unseen enemies were thrown into the air before they could reach us and we were able to prepare ourselves for battle without being skewered in the process.
As Nickel began clamoring for everyone to row closer to Ham’s wind wall (we were too far from our enemies for any of us to toss any proper magic their way) I had begun suddenly to feel very sick. Before I knew it I had stumbled, in as far as a person who is sitting down can rightly stumble, and had fallen to the floor of the boat. As the arrows continued to strike the wind wall and fly away into the air, the others began to row madly up as close to it as they dared. Ham knelt down over me and quickly chanted me up. To both our surprise nothing seemed to happen, beyond the small wound from the arrow that had struck me closing up. Apparently I had been poisoned.
Ham cursed, waved some odd form of warding over me and admonished me not to dare move. I was by then far too ill to do more that moan at him and off he went to help row.
By then we had approached the wind wall and our enemies had since stopped shooting. Ham and Nickel both started casting their arcane and divine intentions toward whoever was trying to kill us and, unable to bear not knowing what was going on, I did manage barely to pull my head up enough to see. I saw Nickel call up her poison cloud on a spot on the edge of the wood, while Ham cast an obvious curse in the same general direction. Harken and Rolo were still rowing like madmen and we breached the wind wall with a rather nauseating heave and sped on toward shore.
Immediately the arrows began falling again and I could see, at last, their source. Tall, human-sized hairy beasts with dog heads. Gnolls, I learned later. Having never seen one before, I didn’t then recognize them. They seemed quite the savage creatures, on first impression, but clearly they were intelligent enough to utilize bow, arrow and poison. Indeed, even Nickel supposedly deadly cloud had only killed two of them precisely because they were clever enough to have spread out along the tree line.
They had only time to toss one more flurry of shots at us before we struck shore, thanks to Harken and Rolo’s hearty rowing. While I retched busily the two of them immediately sprung to the beach and drew swords. Ham, ever favoring his stone spells called up his stone wall and anchored it across two small outcroppings of boulders amidst the beach. Not particularly sturdy, perhaps, but enough to block the gnoll’s sight. Harken and his comrade moved up cautiously, waiting to see if the beasts would come from one side or the other.
With startling rapidity the gnolls appeared at both edges of the stone wall, swords in hand, and off the both of them ran to tackle the two beasts at the left. Ham, on the other hand, headed right to take the three appearing there. Before he could get far, though, Nickel had already called up her wall of fire which, to my surprise, she formed in a circle about them. I hadn’t known she could do that.
While I gagged and moaned, Harken and Rolo quickly dispatched one of their opponents and Ham, along with Nickel’s magic missiles, laid low the others as they scrambled burning and shrieking from their fiery prison. One quick magic missile tossed underhand from Nickel finished the already badly wounded one that Harken and Rolo were fighting and the whole thing was suddenly over.
The first fight I had ever missed. If I hadn‘t been so busy puking I would have been thoroughly disappointed.
Ham was kind enough to toss me over his shoulder and lay me at the base of the wall right away. While the others unloaded the boat, he looked me over and pronounced himself completely unable to do anything at all for me. I was already, by then, so weak from the poison that I could not even sit up. Ham and the others decided, to my relief, that we would camp at the base of the stone wall until morning. Then, hopefully, Kord would take pity on this follower of Olidammara and grant Ham the power to deal with the poison. Assuming, of course, that I survived the night.
June 12th, 316
I needn’t have worried as the poison that had tipped the arrow seemed to have already done it’s worst. I woke early, thanks to Ham and his caterwauling prayers, still feeling awfully wretched. As morning rose I found that Kord did indeed granted Ham the power to remove the poison and undo the weakness it had afflicted me with. With a grinning and a wink to Olidammara I offered Kord a rude gesture of mocking thanks and set about helping the others break camp.
At that time it occurred to me that we hadn’t managed to get ourselves into the sort of danger that offered an actual profit in quite some time. With that in mind I tried my hand at whipping the new boys into shape and getting them busy rolling the corpses of the gnolls for loot and salvage. To my surprise they both took exception to the idea of pinching the goods from a bunch of dead folks, even hairy dog-headed ones. I had to wonder for a moment how in the world Harken had managed to keep his former company geared up without making a regular habit of stripping the dead. Still, I wasn’t about to waste time pondering it and set the two of them straight right off. Thanks to Ham we’ve got a regular crowd of folks to feed back at the keep and we can’t afford to let decent gear lay around decorating the dirt when it could be filling our keep’s new vault with coin.
In short order I had them grumbling, stepping and fetching. One thing I’ve learned about men is that they should be kept in a constant state of busyness, whether at chores or in bed. A smart girl don’t let her bucks get underfoot until they’re dead and buried, my mom used to say. Anything else is just begging for trouble.
I suppose the ambush by gnolls should have been taken for the omen that it was, looking back on things. Or at least an indication that this particular stretch of wilderness would prove unusually dangerous. Still, the attack that struck us that morning as we broke camp would have come as a surprise regardless I suppose.
Rolo and I noticed the two huge lizards charging from the woods, but not in time to respond much more quickly than the others. They were on Ham and Rolo before I could whip up my little burners and scorch the hide of the closest one. Now, the beasts were rightly huge and had slashed Ham and Rolo mercilessly before we could lay them low. But, still, you would think even dumb animals would have more sense than to charge a group of armed and armored folk at their campfire. Perhaps they were especially hungry.
The fight didn’t last long but there was certainly a huge amount of violence dealt on both sides in short order. Though the beasts were laid low, poor Ham and Rolo both were a bloody mess by the time it was done. I did finally get a proper look at our newest fellows, Harken and Rolo, in battle and I must admit I was quite impressed. Even Ham commented on it, once he had stopped all the bleeding that was going on.
Bearing all that in mind, I say that I have to agree with Harken’s suggestion that Ham might rather stay behind the lines from now on. With two other decent front liners, there wasn’t much sense in tossing our healer into close quarters combat all the time. Ham, of course, just grunted and shrugged. Meaning, of course, that he’d do as he damned well pleased and the rest of us can get bent.
As a side note, Nickel was able to get a quick look at the statue before we headed out. According to her the demon it represented was something called a glabrezu. Can’t say I’ve heard of it or understand the significance. Nickel’s point seems to be that someone went through all the trouble of carving the thing so we might profit by making note of it.
We reached the cave marked as “home” on the plate map fairly quickly, as it presented itself less than two miles from the river. Ham seems to have taken over the position as leader of the group with Griffon’s passing, which I find more than a little irritating. He’s ordered me forward to scout it out. Still, I’m always glad when the others show enough wisdom as to make use of my skills, even when it puts me at the head of the buffet, so to speak.
The interior of the cave wasn’t particularly large, as caves go. Which is to say you could likely fit a couple or more Halfling families and their lot in there comfortably. What had managed to fit itself comfortably in the cave, however, was a rather humongous beast of some sort. I couldn’t even hazard a guess as to what it was, but it seemed natural enough despite it’s gargantuan size. By that I mean it didn’t seem to have the wicked characteristics common to most creatures wrought my magic. The ancient wizards did, I think, tend to lend a particular aspect to the creatures they’ve created over the long centuries past. Even naturally magical beasts, like dragons and such, are obviously not particularly natural looking even at first glance.
The beast I saw had four legs and somewhat resembled a badger, though lacking the badger’s coloring. It had the teeth and snout to mark it as a carnivorous hunter or scavenger of some type, which would indicate that it was likely to prove aggressive. Its claws, too, appeared as much for digging through flesh as through earth.
I was proud enough of my appraisal, figuring only Griffon would have likely done better than this street rat, and slipped back out to report. It was far too massive that I would have considered taking it on myself. In fact, I wasn’t considering taking it on even with the rest of the band, for that matter, and suggested as much to Ham.
Ham disagreed, of course. With a quick consultation between he and Nickel, the two of them tiptoed forward to the edge of the cave opening and chanted the place up a bit. Immediately Nickel’s poison cloud sprung up deep inside the place, right about where I’d seen the beast lurking, and Ham quickly called up his stone wall to seal off that whole back section of the cave.
Honestly I was impressed. It never would have occurred to me to simply choke the thing to death.
After that we simply sat back and waited while the rather intimidating thumps and bumps coming from beyond the wall shook the place up a bit. Before very long the thumping and bumping ceased and only a steady, frenzied scratching could be heard. According to Nickel the cloud will kill most folks quicker than anything. Others possessed of sturdier stuff, or in this case greater mass, would at least be reduced to twitching lumps of sickness. She doubted the cloud would kill this creature, but supposed it ought to be pitifully weak by the time the cloud dispelled.
After about ten minutes or so Nickel pronounced the spell completed and we all entered the cave. Ham set about with his stone shaping magic and started opening up a Halfling sized hole in the wall. Before he broke completely through, though, he stopped and stood frowning. Turning our attentions to the scratching sounds beyond we noticed, as Ham apparently had, that those scratchings seemed like awfully healthy scratchings from a beast that was supposed to be either dead or damned near it by now.
Nickel had the decency to look embarrassed when Ham and I frowned at her. She’d only used that poison cloud three times so far in battle and it had, apparently, only worked once.
After a brief moment of panic we decided we were in for it no matter what we did. The way we figured it, the creature wouldn’t likely take kindly to its treatment and would probably just track us down in the woods if we didn’t finish the fight here. And besides, Ham and Nickel had wasted a couple of good bits of magic on it already.
So with that we just drew our weapons and simply waited. From the sound of things that beast would be poking its head out any moment now and we’d just have to do our best to make sure that’s all it had time to poke out.
After at least two minutes of utter dread the section of wall immediately before us cracked and broke. Out poked the beast’s claw once, twice, three times more and it had cleared a space enough to poke its head through for a good sniff around. We laid into it with a frenzy right away and managed to bloody it up quite well before it roared and practically pushed its way right through the hole it had just clawed out. Amidst a rain of broken rock and noise it lunged and snatched old Hamidoc in both its claws and proceeded to stuff him straight into its maw. I swear, I may have simply imagined it in the terror of the moment, but I would bet my last copper that thing was trying to swallow him whole.
On the other hand, the beast had its claws otherwise engaged so we made the best of it by throwing in everything we had. Nickel tossed a twisted bolt of lightning right into the broad side of it and I let my burners cut a zigging line down its neck. Harken and Rolo, meanwhile, were doing their best to make bacon strips out of the other side. Someone must have finally managed to nick something necessary to the creature’s existence because, before we knew it, it collapsed dead as a rock and old Ham flopped and rolled to the floor of the cave.
Ham was, once again, in rather bad shape. Thankfully he’s developing a knack for being almost, but not quite, dead and was able to patch himself up in quick order. Still, I could tell even our fearless Kordling was a bit shook up by the experience and we sat about to let him recover for a bit.
We left the cave once Ham had collected himself and headed down the trail again toward Vaprak’s Voice. Almost immediately we heard the flapping of wings in the woods about us and the wildlife in the surrounding area went quiet. Before we had time to brace for whatever threat had come for us a most remarkable woman stepped from the brush into the trail before us. Her skin was perfectly white, like milk, and her eyes were of sternest silver. From her back branched two great wings of feathered white and she held a great flaming sword in one hand.
Ham immediately fell to his knees and bowed his head. The others, too, knelt before her and even I was compelled to show some measure of respect when she raised her flaming sword above her head. The wooded trail all around us was shot with brilliant beams of light and there was a stillness such as I have never before experienced. Without pause she introduced herself to us all as Nidrama and proceeded to offer her thanks for all manner of deeds we had done in the past year or so, claiming she had watched us for some time.
She offered warnings of deceit and danger that lie ahead, and warned further that “The Lord of Demonskar” knows of our approach and prepares his minions for our arrival. She compelled us to save the paladin Alek Tercival, claiming he had fallen sway to the same deceit that would ensnare us, if we let it.
Most interesting of all, she informed us that somewhere in this place we journey to there lies a great weapon. The Alakast, a staff infused with hatred for fiends and destined to be wielded against the Lord of Demonskar who, it seems, is the very same mysterious foe we seek.
With that she wished us well and, with a great gust of her wings, she disappeared into the sky.
I find that I am fearfully a little of what is to come. Not mere magical merchants have we made our enemies after all, but fiends and creatures of the outer dark. Indeed, when devas come to offer warnings one can expect the future will hold the nothing but ill.
We have discussed the stunning events that have just occurred and decided, as a group, to continue onward. As for myself, Ham and Nickel, we have devoted ourselves to avenging Griffon’s death. Harken and Rolo, on the other hand, seemed somewhat reluctant to face demons and such, but are bound by their honor. I hope for their sakes they do hesitate at an inopportune moment.
In due course we discover the round cave, as marked on the plate map. It turns out to be a great tube sticking up an angle from the ground. I couldn’t rightly determine the material that composed the tube itself, though I must assume it some kind of metal amalgam.
We have journeyed down the tunnel and found that it quickly became something of a maze of intersections and turns. Backtracking, we followed the route indicated on the plate and some three hours later found the exit.
The tube opened out onto a small ledge with a set of steps leading down into the crevice which it occupied. On the far side, some hundred feet or so, the crevice rose with a dozen or so small ledges and slopes to nearly the level with the surrounding edge before disappearing around a curve. From where we stood we could see an iron portcullis set into a crudely chiseled opening in the crevice wall and a bubbling pool of foul water directly beneath us. Two huge tubes, like the one we had just exited, rose up from the ground before us straight into the air above the crevice. With the wind up there blowing across the opening of the two tubes, the place was filled with a intermittent howling sound that most disconcerting. The air at our own level was filled with the stink of sulfur and, to my embarrassment, I quickly found myself so ill from it that the band had to stop for a moment to allow me to recover.
Once I had regained my breath I completed my humiliation by promptly slipping and falling full on my backside and sliding gracelessly right off the damp edge of the ledge onto the ground below. This, of course, was extraordinarily painful and I yelped pitifully. Ham, thankfully, led the others quickly down the steps to tend to me. I noticed none of them so much as stumbled on the way, drat it.
When Ham had me able to stand on my own we were immediately startled by a strange, pale and utterly naked little man, perhaps half our size, springing up out of the pool. Before we could recover he had sprouted a set of bat-like wings and flew swiftly toward the portcullis, shrieking his little head off.
The men already had their bows nocked and ready, thankfully, and together with a couple of well placed magics from Nickel and I we were able to drop the strange creature before it could raise a fuss from beyond the gate.
We gathered together to the side of the portcullis and noted there seemed to be another opening, perhaps two feet in diameter, carved into the rock some fifteen feet above the gate. Probably where that little flying thing was heading. Ham used his stone shaping to open a small passage past the gate before us and sent me through to scout around a bit.
The tunnel beyond only went some fifty feet before opening into a rather large and decidedly strange room. Looking back over my should quickly to check my flank I was surprised to see a parapet or balcony carved above the gate entrance of the tunnel. Up there, snoring lightly, was a hill giant napping against a small pile of round boulders. Naturally, this brought to my mind the only time me and my band had faced a hill giant. Recalling that it was only by the most absurd luck that we had survived the battle, I endeavored to skulk about with even greater caution.
The room I stood in, at quick glance, was dominated by an odd table of some sort. It seemed to be composed of all manner of unusually shaped movable plates and was broken up to lay at several different levels. Around this monstrosity were many large chairs with, odder still, three armrests each. Of note, too, were several square panels fastened to the ceiling and endowed with some manner of illuminating magic. I was a bit disappointed as I had just yesterday figured out how to tune my eyes to darkness and had been eager to put my new skill to the test. After a quick poke about, though, I could discover nothing of immediate interest. The doors north and south were closed so I proceeded west down the wide hallway there.
The next room was a properly constructed square chamber with columns rising up to the ceiling. The columns themselves, however, each had some strange crystal or glass globes filled with a bubbling clear liquid. This liquid trickled down through the base of the spheres to individual spigots at the bottom of the pillars and, from there, flowed along thin runnels in the floor to a large pool on the west side of the chamber. The liquid, now purple in color, nearly filled the pool and seemed to evaporate as quickly as it arrived.
I also took note that the doors of this place seem to have the peculiar property of opening of their own accord when someone walked close to them, which I suppose explained why I had not spied a knob or handle on any of them so far.
Like the one before it, this chamber had such doors leading north and south, but the pool occupied the space where an exit to the west would have been. Figuring I was relatively secure I came from the shadows to examine the liquid. Using a minor divination I was able to determine the purple liquid was, as I suspected, possessed of some magical property. From what I could interpret from it’s aura I would have to guess it would alter one’s physical strength or general prowess to an impressive degree. On the other hand, it seemed clear that the stuff was not well made and would have a slight, but nonetheless detrimental, effect on the mind in the process.
Having secured a relatively safe path into the place I again took to the shadows and skulked back down to the entrance to fetch the others.
I honestly expected that the more clinkily clad folks were sure to rouse the hill giant above and stood ready with my burner. But, luckily, they seemed temporarily possessed of some actual caution and managed to make it all the way to the fountain room without bringing giants and such down on our heads. There I showed Ham and the others the odd liquid and explained its properties. Though we were reluctant to dabble with anything that might adversely effect our mental state, we each filled an empty vial with the stuff anyway. One never knows.
With that area secured I proceeded south through the door there to scout further. The short tunnel ended in another door where, by the most insane luck, I managed to spy a rather subtle trap. Along the unusually tight crack between the doors and the surrounding foundations I noticed a thin layer of black resin. With the resin completely sealing the entire edge of the doorway, it was obviously intended to unleash some bit of nastiness or other on whomever opened it.
Which, I assumed, meant there was something worth having on the other side. When I approached the doors, however, I barely managed to stop myself in time before reaching a proximity that would tempt to doors to open up for me. Considering the situation carefully I set about devising some way of keep the door shut so that I could approach safely. In short order I had the thing properly wedged with my dagger and couple of dozen well placed slivers of stone. I was really rather proud of myself. I could tell the others were growing impatient behind me , though, so I set about quickly chiseling the resin from around the door seal. This let loose an oddly noxious gas of some sort from beyond the door but I soon had the thing properly carved out and set about unblocking the doorway.
Having spent well over ten minutes at all this I was more than a little irritated to find that the entire tunnel beyond the door had long ago collapsed right up to perhaps an inch of the door itself. I poked at it a bit in frustration, but it was clear there was no going further in this direction. Ignoring Ham’s snickers I set off across the room to the other door to try my luck there.
These doors lead to a rather nondescript hallway leading perhaps fifty or sixty feet to another set of doors. Before I could reach a distance where the doors would open I heard the unmistakable sounds of movement from beyond. Gesturing for the others to stay about mid point down the hall, I spent the next few moments trying the same trick on these doors as I had on the last. In short order I was at the doors with my dagger, prying them carefully open just enough to peek through the slit a bit.
Beyond the doors I could see a large room with a raised platform and throne dominating the northwest corner. A curved ramp rose up the eastern and northern walls leading up to it. On the platform itself lounged three rather nasty looking creatures. It took a moment before I recognized them as hags. Naturally, I was a little dismayed that there were three of them, as everyone knows three makes a proper covey and that means serious trouble.
When I reported this to the others they were likewise discouraged. After only a short discussion Nickel was able to convince the others to let her try her hand with that poison cloud of hers again. We were a bit reluctant, of course, but she adamantly insisted that it would work on hags. Probably. We patched together a quick plan of attack and I had the others wait where they were until I could spring the doors free.
Once that was done, I slipped into the shadows in the room beyond just as the trio of ugliness turned to the opened door. The others were streaming through by then and the hags were just startled enough to allow us all to strike the first blow. Rolo was quicker than anyone else and fired an arrow right at the second of the three hags. Unfortunately, it missed her torso and only poked a nice hole through her cloak. Harken followed suit and planted an arrow right into the shoulder of another one while I cut my burner down her side.
Nickel then had called up her poison just as the hags began to shriek and rise to the attack. As it billowed up amongst them Ham let loose the stone wall he’d been holding back. I watched in awe as a flowing panel of stone nearly a foot thick arced over like a dome and entomb the lot of the them where they stood.
With that we simply sat back as we had the last time and waited. After some nine or ten minutes Nickel gave the nod and Ham opened a nice Halfling sized doorway into the dome. Tossing in one of our ever-torches we could see all three hags twitching and gurgling on the floor, too weak even to move. The boys made short work of binding and gagging the lot of them before we set about stripping them.
We didn’t find much on them but three rings and a gem of some sort set into what appeared to be a clasp, possibly from a coat or cloak. While the boys dragged the evil witches out of the dome I set about examining the items. I found, to my delight, that the rings were rather strongly warded and quickly claimed one for myself. The other two I gave to Ham and Rolo, as Nickel already had two of her own. The gem however was quite a shock as it appeared to be a disembodied eyeball of some sort. Recalling what I knew of hags I remembered that a covey could pool their power to create such a thing to spy on folks. In disgust I tossed the thing to the floor and smashed it with my boot heel. To everyone’s surprise the hag’s all stiffened up, sputtered a bit and fell over stone dead. I didn’t know that would happen, honestly, but it saved me and Ham the trouble of arguing with the others about taking them back to town at least.
Through a door off the platform we discovered what was undoubtedly the their bed chamber. Within we found their beds, a common chest and, oddly, a loom and some bails of wool. Along the western wall, though, stood four very old and very large skeletons with four arms each. Ham immediately pushed us all in, suspecting them to be necromantic. Of course he was right and they naturally set upon the moment we crossed the threshold.
Now, we’d learned from our last fight with the dead how these skeletons move. Once you get an eye for the peculiar lumbering swing of the things it isn’t that difficult to keep from getting scratched up. These things, though, had four arms each and were nearly three times our height on top of that. While I don’t think we were ever in any particular danger it was quite a prolonged and taxing battle in some damned cramped quarters. By the time it was done we were all quite winded.
And to add insult to fatigue, it seems that two of the four had taken a particular dislike to me and spent the whole fight trying their very best to rip my face off. Aside from a couple of meager scratches amongst the others I was the only one that required any actual tending once it was all over.
In the chest, though, we found a rather nicely compensatory pouch of coins, a few obviously arcane scrolls and no less than seven potions which I promptly identified as healers of various strength. Hanging along the western wall we also found a nice collection of gold-plated baboon masks. We had seen one of these dark wood carvings before in Tygot’s antiquity shop in Cauldron. Thankfully the fellow had priced it for us at about three hundred and fifty in gold. We stuffed the lot in Rolo’s backpack and set out again with a proper spring in our step.
Down the north hall from the throne room we found what was likely our goal all along. There in the middle of the room sat a rather fancy chair or throne of some sort facing an odd pentagonal mirror set in the west wall. Nickel promptly identified it as the same mirror that was depicted in the carvings on our plate. Decorating the floor were six colored pentagons describing a circle around the chair.
Nickel naturally sprang forward to examine the mirror while the rest of us poked about. In a moment she called the rest of us over and we all peered at it. She showed us first its smooth yet pliable surface. When she poked her finger easily through the thing it was readily apparent that it served as some kind of portal. With a little coaxing Nickel was also able to get us all to seeing through the reflective surface of the thing. Beyond it we could dimly see a pentagonal room with similar mirrors set one to each wall.
In one of the mirrors there we could see the unmistakable form of a human in plated armor slouching before a large door. The man matched perfectly the description we had been given of Alek Tercival.
Ham, of course, was all for going right on through and getting the fellow. But the fact remained that we had left the majority of the complex unexplored and at least one hill giant at our backs. Clearly the paladin was in no shape for a fight, assuming he was even alive at all. In the end we decided we’d best clean the place up a bit before proceeding through the strange mirror door.
Back down the hall and through the northern door of the first chamber we snuck. There, in a chamber set to the east of the hallway, we spied no less than six two-headed giants lounging about. I took a moment to allow Ham to glare at me a bit for convincing him to shush out the place before I started prodding him into coming up with some sort of plan.
In the end I suppose we were all getting a bit weary of this place and decided to just stride in and toss everything we had at the lot. Nickel took delight in flashing us all with her mirror image wand until we had a veritable army of rugged looking Halfling filling the hallway. Once we’d drawn steel and prepared ourselves we charged around the corner and set about killing us some giants.
Ham immediately summoned up, of all things, a great gleaming hippogryph right in the middle of the buggers. Nickel, to no one’s surprise, set to tossing lightning bolts through this one and that one. I used up the last of my burners for the day, but was glad to see them split the hide of no less than three of the smelly hulks before I started tossing magic missiles into the happy mess.
I honestly felt bad for Harken and Rolo when we first charged into the room. But when I saw them dancing and slicing about the legs of the giants, with their illusory doubles dancing right after them, I didn’t feel so bad. I felt bad for the giants instead as they flailed about them in confusion, not hitting anything but illusions with their great big spears.
They did manage to finally focus on the only thing in the room that there seemed to be only one of, the glittering hippogryph. But the moment they went after that, Nickel flashed it with her wand and they found themselves faced with a whole herd of them as well.
In short order Ham flew by me and slammed into the leg of the closest giant. He seemed to have been a little busy himself as he’d somehow grown to nearly three times his normal size and seemed rightly sheathed in some kind of gleaming aura. The sight of him and his doubles all jumping into the mix lent the whole scene a perfect air of complete and utter chaos. I just loved it!
As much as it surprised me to no end, we actually managed to drop two of them without a single injury on our side. Unfortunately a couple of lucky shots In a row managed to dispel all of Harken’s illusions and the giants set about trying to pin him to the floor. All except the poor fellow who had the hippogryph pecking at his face, of course. Before Nickel could toss another set of images around Harken he’d been poked at least three times and was obviously in some distress. Still, despite that bit of bad luck, Nickel kept us protected long enough for us to bring the whole lot low. And just in time, too. I had used everything in my little bag of tricks and had jumped into the dreadful calamity to flank and jab at one of the behemoths. While I found the battle quite an interesting sight from a pace or two back, I can’t say I enjoyed being in midst of all those giant feet.
Still we were well and properly giddy from our victory when it was all done. Can’t say I’ve heard of a gaggle of Halflings taking on a whole band of giants and coming out of it alive. Rightly rough and tumble we are, I say.
After scrounging the place and finding the giants seemingly devoid of anything of value I set off through the shadows of the west tunnel to the huge double doors at their end. Using the same trick to similar success I managed to peek out another giant all alone in the huge room beyond. This one, though, was different from the others and much, much larger. From what I could see he resembled more or less a really big red-headed dwarf, if that makes any sense.
When I had slunk back and reported its appearance and size to the others Nickel was able to guess that it was likely a fire giant. I couldn’t say I liked the sound of that, but Nickel assures me that fire giants are giants like any other and merely have a propensity for sticking to hotter climes. Such as volcanoes and such, I mean.
After a bit of consideration Nickel suggested she’d like to try something on this great big fellow. Honestly, I really wasn’t all that eager to face it as the thing was well more than four or five times our height. But Nickel insisted and the others were eager to try their hands at giant slaying again.
In the end, to my surprise, Ham had a bit of sense and agreed with me that we should put off charging after the thing just yet. In the process of slaughtering the last set of giants we had all but depleted what magical resources Nickel and I possessed. Not to mention Ham was getting a bit short on blessings himself. We managed, with a little stubborn pig-headedness, to convince the others to agree to a solid bit of rest before proceeding.
To that end Nickel dug into her own little bag of tricks and produced a most astonishing conjuration. Snatching a length of rope from her pack she cast it up into the air of the chamber and, to everyone’s astonishment, it hung there. Up the rope she climbed and promptly disappeared into thin air. In short order her grinning mug reappeared, floating completely unattached to anything resembling a neck, and she called the rest of us up.
Now I know an interesting bit of magic when I see it and I was quite excited to go disappearing, so I scrambled up the rope and into the white room it led me to. Nickel still had her head poked down through the window-like portal that I come through and I could see the others below trying to gird up their loins enough to follow us.
With a little prompting the others eventually climbed up and joined us and we all made ourselves comfortable in the little white room.
Ham nearly had a fit when Nickel casually rolled the rope up into the room with us, but she reassured him that the window would remain open for as long as the room did. Before too very long we had the boys calmed down enough to rest and we all set about napping and making lazy all over the place.
June 13th, 316
When Nickel awoke me some hours later my magic had replenished itself and I could see that she was just stowing her spell book back in her pack. We woke Ham and set him about caterwauling and chanting while the rest of us broke out breakfast.
At present the boys are busy repacking everything while Nickel cleans up from our cold breakfast. With everything properly stowed and arranged we’ll be down the rope to see whether that giant is still around or not.
Apparently whatever bit of blacksmithy the giant had been about had kept him too busy to notice everyone else in the place had been dead for the last ten hours or so.
Like before we simply strode straight into the room like we owned the place and had come for the rent. This time, though, we held our tempers and let Nickel take the lead. I reckon the big fellow was a little surprised to see a gang of Halflings stride so confidently into his chamber and he only managed to blink at us a bit before grabbing for something in the furnace at his side. Nickel casually started in chatting the fellow up, though, while he drew back to toss a sizable chunk of molten metal at us. I couldn’t rightly figure what she was doing at first, seeing as how she’d always had a knack for casting spells without even twitching a finger or needing to chant up a bunch of nonsense like the rest of us. But whatever she did obviously worked as the giant quickly found himself chatting right back at Nickel as if they were old friends, the lump of glowing metal forgotten in one hand. He even tossed it back into the furnace and commenced to casually leaning on the wall while the two of them made one another‘s acquaintance.
We stood there rather bemused as Nickel set about, with a most comical sense of urgency in her voice, telling the poor fellow that we’d somehow broken the big mirror in the place and…my goodness…the whole mountain was going to get sucked into the outer void at any moment! I rightly couldn’t believe it but that giant just stood there wide-eyed and took it all in without so much as blinking. In short order she had him fetching his boots and was herding him out the door at a brisk jog that shook the very foundations of the place. She even got him to tell her where his stash was and the combination to the chest he kept it in.
She had volunteered to stay behind and gather his valuables for him, you see. Nickel’s charitable like that.
When the big giant had disappeared down the hall and his thundering footfalls passed out of hearing we all burst out laughing and pounding her on the back while she stood there grinning and blushing.
According to Nickel the fellow will still be hoofing it through the hills many hours from now when the enchantment wears off.
Giving the whole place a second glance we couldn’t find anything else alive but ourselves, so we set out for the mirror to retrieve Alek Tercival. Along the way, though, Ham recalled what the deva had said about a magic staff and set Nickel to looking for it. Nickel had a nice little divination designed specifically for such things, thankfully. Seeing as how the deva had been good enough to tell us the name of the staff she was able to hone in on it in no time.
We found it to be somewhere within the wall of the hag’s bedchamber and spent nearly a half hour shaking the place out before Rolo discovered the mechanism for springing it free. The staff didn’t look particularly special but Nickel assures us that it is most definitely the one the deva spoke of. Or at least she claimed confidence that it was a staff named Alakast and that it wasn’t too likely there were many such in the area. She gave it over to Ham and we set off for the big mirror room.
Now, Nickel wanted to properly study the thing before we all went and threw ourselves through it. We managed to give her a full hour to do so, despite our impatience to put an end to this little adventure. Still, after a whole hour of muttering and poking at the thing she couldn’t rightly claim to have learned anything at all.
Ham then took it upon himself to be the first to step through and did so before anyone could object. Once we spied him looking none the worse on the other side we all pushed our way through the thing as well.
Immediately I found myself completely alone in the room beyond. I did wait a bit for someone else to show up before getting panicky, but before long I realized that Ham wasn’t here waiting for me like he was supposed to be and no one else seemed to be popping into existence.
Before I could properly work myself up into a gibbering frenzy I heard Ham’s voice off in the distance. I couldn’t properly tell from what direction and his voice seemed odd. But there was no doubt it was him getting irritated and yelling for us to come on through. In short order I could hear everyone else as well and we all began clamoring for each other and trying to figure through which of the mirrors we all could be found. Soon enough it became clear that I couldn’t tell if I was hearing them through any of the five mirrors in my room at all or from the very air itself.
The room I occupied was five-sided with each wall dominated by a mirror like the one I’d just stepped through. Each one also seemed tinted with a different color and each of those were different from the green hue of the room I stood in. Thinking I’d maybe stumbled onto the key to the whole thing I yelled for the others asking what color rooms they were in. Sure enough, they all started naming off different colors corresponding with the tints of the mirrors around me. Before I could pick one and jump through I found that both Harken and Ham claimed to be in red tinted rooms and Nickel was, like me, in a green one. That neatly scuttled my theory.
Soon enough Ham was yelling for everyone to just shut up and let him think. We did so, but I must admit I was more than a little anxious. Before long he yelled out for Nickel to pull out the plate that had led us all here in the first place. Looking it over she couldn’t find anything on it pertaining to the mirror at all, other than the string of numbers written around its image. When Harken came up with the idea that the numbers most likely correspond to the different colors, considering there were six colors and six numbers, we got a little excited. Until we realized that didn’t really help since we didn’t know which number might be linked to which color. Rolo soon called us to mind of the colored pentagons arranged In a circle around the throne of the room we’d all left. But, again, no one could recall in what order they’d been.
Once again we all started to get a bit panicked but Ham yelled for everyone to hush up again and volunteered himself to start jumping through mirrors to see what would happen. We didn’t hear for him for a bit but soon enough he was yelling out again that he’d been through more than ten and accomplished nothing more than to change to color of his room. After a knocking several unproductive suggestions back and forth I finally asked Ham and Nickel if they some way of flashing us out of this thing or maybe calling in a favor with some otherworldly friend or other. Nickel claimed she had nothing that would help in that regard, though she did offer to toss a lightning bolt through a mirror or two, by way of experimentation.
Ham shot that idea down and yelled at us all to shut up again. Before very long Ham offered that he could request a divination from Kord if he were allowed to mediate on it, but that it would take many hours at least. After a few more minutes of yelling no one could come with anything better so we’ve all made ourselves comfortable while Ham commences with his communing.
It’s been hours and hours and I can still hear Ham mumbling away somewhere in the ether. I am so incredibly bored.
Bored, bored, bored.
Still bored. Bored!
Said my sister with open delight,
I’ve dyed my nether hairs white!
I admit there’s a glare,
But the boys, they don’t care,
‘cause they find it more quickly at night.
A lovely young lad from Lorik
Could, when feeling euphoric,
Display for selection
Three kinds of erec
Oh, thank Olidammara he’s done. Now maybe we can get about something other than laying around being BORED!
According to Ham the appropriate order of mirrors is the orange, violent, blue, violent, orange and blue in that order. I’ve written them down here and will call them out to everyone else in turn to be sure they get it right. We’re waiting for Ham to try it and see what happens.
Haven’t heard from Ham. Harken is trying it now.
Nothing from Harken anymore, either. Nothing for it but to assume we’ve got it right and be about it. Rolo is already gone, I think. Waiting now for Nickel to go and then I’ll follow.
We emerged into a proper stone room this time, thankfully. There’s another of those odd doors at the opposite end. It doesn’t appear to be working, though, because Alek Tercival is there laying at the base of it and it hasn‘t opened yet.
Ham and Harken are talking to him now.
Alek seems to have been here for quite some time. Long enough to have gone completely around the bend. He keeps going on and on about archons and failing to save Cauldron and all manner of other things that make no sense. Ham’s tried reasoning with him but hasn’t had any luck. I’m going to suggest we just tie him up and be about finding a way out of here. Though that presents it’s own problem because the mirror we came through doesn‘t seem to be working. And the other door isn’t working, either. Alek seems to have been beating on it with his sword since he got here.
June 14th, 316
I can’t claim accurately that the date is correct, but I’m fairly sure it’s been no more than a day since we entered the Starry Mirror.
We’ve had a bit of excitement, to say the least, since yesterday. We had hardly spoken with poor Alek for more than a moment, and I only just closed my journal, when the shadows in the corner of the room spewed forth the most horrific monster I have ever seen. A great hulking demon with four arms, two ending in sharp claws and two in powerful pincers like some sea-creature. It had a wide-mouthed, dog-like head and several horns protruded from its skull. Its eyes were cold, hard and possessed of a most intimidating intelligence.
Without preamble it sprang at Alek’s prone form, screaming its insistence that none would save him. Only Rolo and I had seen it emerge, the rest of the band being too busy tending to the mad, lost paladin to make note of it. I immediately sprang closer to the beast, just out of range of its reach, to let loose my burner into its thick hide. I’m sure I acted more out of instinct, as I would undoubtedly have retreated in terror had I taken a moment to comprehend the thing before me.
Rolo, too, sprang for the beast instantly and was clipped a terrible gash in his side for his trouble. He tried in earnest, I can attest, but could find no place in the demon’s thick hide that he could pierce.
As the demon roared and began to savage the helpless Alek, Harken at last stood to and hewed at the beast. Neither could he draw blood from it. Meanwhile Ham was quick to bestow some manner of ward on the paladin, earning a deep gash in his own flank for drawing the demon‘s ire. Alek, however, seemed suddenly possessed of an even greater madness and took up his blade to join battle with the demon, roaring insanely. Such was his fury that blow after blow struck true.
To our fortune, the maniacal beast seemed intent almost exclusively on mauling Alek, striking only at the Harken and Ham when convenient. Nickel, who was thankfully far enough back to out of range of the whirling claws of the demon, had learned the effectiveness of her mirror imaging wand. She immediately cast at Ham and began dropping similar illusions on the other two men.
As Alek screamed in pain and mad rage, Nickel continued to image the rest of us and our two warriors furiously hacked at the demon, though with little success. Ham fought wisely and stayed out of range of the battle casting what aid he could into the fray. Immediately he called forth a great glowing ball of white light as I’d seen him summon before long ago against the red dragon. The archon began immediately pulsing its beams on the demon, drawing wisps of sulfurous smoke with each pass.
Soon, though, the combined illusions of Nickel’s wand and the various blessings that Ham had bestowed on Harken, Rolo and himself began to bear fruit. But, too late for Alek. With a last great slam, the demon ripped the paladin a great slash full across the throat and turned to face Harken with a terrifying roar of fury. Already the beast was awash with small gashes and burns from our desperate attempts to repel him. Now his intentions turned fully to us.
The boys were at last cutting some small wounds into the beast and Ham had finally strode forth, gigantic with the power Kord had infused him with. Together we struck the beast again and again, even as our illusory selves were cut down one after another. Nickel tried desperate to keep the illusions up, replacing each set with another the moment the beast began whittling them down. Even with the distractions the demon was able to strike Harkin once and poor Ham twice.
In the end we were too mad in our desperation to fight off the beast to notice how badly we had wounded it. Packed within the small chamber with barely room enough for the lot of us, we fought like the trapped animals that we were.
Before we knew it the demon drew back against the wall, its eyes mad with fury and pain. With a roar the shadows swallowed it again and we were left gasping and bleeding.
Ham immediately sprung to Alek’s side but the poor paladin, who had spent who knows how days in madness and hunger, was able only to gurgle his dying words, warning us away from returning to Cauldron. We stood astonished that the man could still draw breath at all, so terrible and so extensive were the wounds that the claws of the demon had inflicted on him. With his final breath he gasped at last, “Seek out the sign of the smoking eye if you wish to save them!”
Despite his efforts Ham could do nothing. The life had left the lost paladin at last.
We’ve managed at last to pry open the door of the place, though it was quite an undertaking. To our dismay we find that it may have been for nothing. Beyond we found only a set of stairs leading up to an empty chamber. There we found the single exit from the place half choked with sand. Beyond, were we stand now, only and endless desert as far as the eye can see.
We’ve stripped the gear from Alek, taking what we need and leaving everything else. As it stands we’ve no idea where we are or even, with any certainty, what day it is. We’ll camp the night inside the place and decide on what course to take in the morning. We are too tired now to do anything more.
Nickel has identified the demon that attacked as a glabrezu, which causes us to wonder if this is not the same “Lord of Demonskar” of whom we were warned. If so, then it is the same one whom we hold ultimately responsible for Griffon’s death. I take comfort that beast has fled to lick his wounds. Terrible though he may be, I find already that I look forward to reopening them.
But for now, we are at a loss. We’ve no idea where we are, or even if we are still in the same world. Around us only desert can be seen and no clue even as to what direction we should strike out. Tomorrow, I suppose, we will decide such things. But I fear we have become as lost as poor Alek Tercival.
I can only hope we do not also share the same doom.
[Here ends the second part of these journals]
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