Archive for August 31st, 2005

A Smashing Success

Wednesday, August 31st, 2005

When I wrote my last entry, earlier this afternoon, Nigel and I had
just jumped back to Sessuadra to check out the ancient elven university
there.  Snowdown, in her new role as the TTC’s spirit companion,
was happy to tell us where we could find the university though she,
herself, had never been there.  Upon our return to the city, we
asked the priests if they were familiar with that area and one of
Berol’s men, a gentleman named William who’s quite handy with a sword,
told us that the Kelemvorians had never explored the old university
because no monsters seemed to come from there; thus, it was never a
high priority.  I reminded him that the fact nothing came out of
the old university doesn’t mean there’s nothing in it, and he
agreed, offering to accompany us on our trek.  We were glad for
the companionship and so off we went through Sessuadra.

I want to take a moment to describe Sessuadra as it is now.  Were
I not there myself, I think I would not believe it.  The main
temple complex is cleaned up, free of rubble and filled with
the tents and barracks of Berol’s people and the supplicants who have
come here seeking aid or, more often, a peaceful place to spend their
final days.  The time was, though, when Sessuadra was where we
went every time there was upper-case T Trouble.  If it wasn’t gargoyles, it was nagas.  If it wasn’t nagas, it was giants.  If it wasn’t giants, it was worse
That place, and the haywire magic that surrounded it, had spent
hundreds if not thousands of years housing every type of foul critter
you can name.  It wasn’t a ghost town, it was a monster town. 
Every corner and every empty doorway and every crumbling alley was just
another form of death waiting to claim us. 

Trust me on that one.  I died there, once.

Today, however, Nigel and William and I walked for well over an hour,
right through the middle of downtown Sessuadra and out into one of the
outlying quarters and we saw… nothing.  No one.  It was
completely silent.  It wasn’t just that it was calm, or that it
wasn’t dangerous.  It’s that the city is dead.  Stop
for a moment and consider your own town – the village where you were
born, or the city where you live now.  Imagine yourself walking
its streets and there simply being no other living thing at all. 

I almost wanted the monsters back.

William led us to where the University is, though, and we started out
by checking the remaining guardhouse at its gates.  We found a
whole lot of nothing, save one small pool of unbelievably foul brown
liquid.  We agreed to come back and fireball it, just in case,
because any adventurer worth their salt knows one does not leave standing pools of unusual liquid just lying around, waiting to eat someone.  Honestly.

There really didn’t seem to be any signs of anything at all creeping
around, though, so we went right to the biggest building we could see,
inside the gates of the University.  It was a big, marble
structure, its west wing collapsed, with a 2nd story sitting atop the
middle of the first floor.  There was no writing on the building,
but we made our way up the front steps and into the lobby and there we
found a plaque:  Sessuadra A&M, EST. 231.  The
date was in some elven reckoning that doesn’t really mean anything to
us, but the alphabet was ancient and the plaque was half-covered in
some grody moss.  We made our way into the building proper and
found that some stone counters and such were still standing but nothing
else was left.  Any furniture or carpets that might once have been
here are long-since dust, naturally.  The door to the west wing
was useless, we figured, given how that end of the building looked from
the outside, but the door to the east wing was long gone and through
the remaining arch we could see a hallway with a series of open
archways off of it where doors once might have stood.

Rather than march into the place without a care, I asked Greebo to fly
around the building and report on whether there was anything inside any
of the rooms.  He’d gotten around the west wing, confirming for us
that it was nothing but rubble, and on his way past the east wing he
started giving off the oh shit, oh shit alert and came tearing
back to us.  “There are people in two of the rooms on the east
wing,” he said.  “They are dead, but they are still walking.”

Yech.  I just cannot abide undead.

I turned Nigel, William and myself invisible, with Greebo perched on my
shoulder, and we snuck down the hallway to peek into one of the
rooms.  The thing inside – a ghast, I think – absolutely reeked of
decay and seemed to be shuffling about aimlessly in what looked to be
the ancient remains of a classroom – stone risers to form a sort of
auditorium, with a stone podium at the front.  Nigel and I agreed
to try some minor magic to bring it down, and on the count of three we
pinched our noses, swung back around the door frame from either side,
and fired off some magic missiles.  The ghast went down with a
thud, and we agreed that the other rooms probably had more ghasts in
them, given Greebo’s report. 

Together, Nigel and William and I backed out of the hallway and back
into the main room of the first floor, then we proceeded to hoot and
holler and William banged his sword on his shield and we called out
that the ghasts should all shamble this-a-way for the brain feast we
had prepared for them.  Sure enough, four ghasts come moaning
their way out of various classrooms and towards us, at which point
Nigel and I dropped some magic of the fiery variety and, poof, no more
ghasts.  We were very pleased with ourselves for our tactical
prowess, and no sooner had we and William given each other a big round
of high-fives than an ancient and rather obviously undead elf stepped
out of the last classroom on the left and pointed our way.

“Keep that racket down!” he yelled, and with that he disappeared back into his classroom.

Needless to say, we were all a little stunned.

“Professor!” I yelled, and the three of us hoofed it down to that end
of the east wing and peeked around the doorframe into a
classroom.  There stood the elf in question, dressed in robes that
looked very professional, standing at one of the lecterns and
addressing the classroom.  Nigel and I agreed we should ask this
elf if he could help us – hoping that he was perhaps a more personable
example of the same sort of elven lich that helped us in Sessuadra once
a few years ago – and so we walked into the classroom to introduce
ourselves.

What a classroom it was:  filling the stadium-style seating were
zombies, gargoyles and at least one dead naga, all staring intently – a
bit like the hypnotized, in fact – at the elven “professor” as he
addressed them.  He looked sideways at us, pointed an eldritch
finger at the sundial in the courtyard behind the classroom, broken in
two at the base though it was, and said, “You are very late for
class, by the sundial.  Take your seats immediately and prepare
for today’s lesson!”  We stood there hemming an hawing, I’m
afraid, and he repeated himself, “Take your seats!”

I am somewhat mortified to report that both William and I did so, entirely against our own wills.

Nigel came and joined us, and the three of us sat there, surrounded by
vicious enemies, while the professor announced there would be a pop
quiz on the most recent class.  Everyone else had their own little
stone tablet in their lap and a pigeon feather they used to scratch,
ineffectually, at their surfaces.  The three of us sat there,
unsure what to do, and after a few moments the professor told us time
was up.  When he came to collect our quizzes, he poked us each in
the chest and said, “Very disappointing.  Shameful.  You have learned nothing.”  That was all well and good – William had expressed terror, and I confided in him that, frankly, I was never any good in school.  What I didn’t tell him was that this was most definitely not the first time a wizard (or whatever) had berated me for being simply incapable of learning the lesson at hand, so that part of it, at least, was familiar if unpleasant territory.  No, what really got me was that when the professor prodded us with his fingertip it hurt.  It hurt like a little bit of my life had just drained away.

With that, though, the professor started his lecture.  It was on
applied magic in agriculture, and then it hit us:  Sessuadra
A&M.  Agriculture & Magic.  We listened politely, and when the professor asked (much later) whether anyone had any questions, I raised my hand.

“Yes?” he said.
“I was curious about the story of Fae’Rath and the dragon Despair,” I replied.
“What?” he demanded.  “Why are you asking about ancient
history?  You couldn’t get into the bardic college in
Myth’Drannor?  Your test scores weren’t good enough?”
“Uh,” I said, and here I am quite pleased with how well I thought on my
feet, “No, it has an application to agriculture!  I, uh, read that
they used a special sleep powder on the dragon to keep him docile until
he died, and I wondered if anyone has ever considered using a diluted
version as a… uh, a pesticide.”

It turns out the professor didn’t think I was as clever as I
thought I was, and he came over and grabbed me by the ear (more with
the hurting, I should note) and dragged me out of the room and kicked
me out of class.  Nigel and William were quick to follow, but
Nigel pointed out that the back of the room was filled with
stone tablets just like each of the “students” had.  We stuck our
head back in the classroom and asked the professor if we could go
through the notes at the back of the room and he acquiesced – we could
take any homework assignments with our names on them, ha! – and so we
rifled through them.  Everything was about magic and agriculture,
though, so we gave up on that plan and asked the professor if he could
tell us where to find the library, at least.  He wasn’t pleased to
tell us, it being “the middle of the semester” and all, but he did tell
us:  the west wing.

You know, the part of the building that’s nothing but rubble now.

With that settled, we figured we should at least go upstairs, though we
stuck around long enough to realize that the “professor” had simply
launched back into the very same lecture as the one we’d heard. 
How many thousands of years has he stood there, lecturing whatever
monster wandered in and lost control of itself when he turned his gaze
on it?  At any rate, we topped the steps and walked up to the
first of the two doors on that floor.  William said he’d heard
something behind it, but Nigel, Greebo and I hadn’t, so I said to hell
with it and threw the door open.  Naturally, William was right,
and what was on the other side was… well, I can’t describe it. 
Take a hundred different monsters and mash them all together and then
tell them to fight for whose shape the new critter gets to have, and
you’re getting close.  It was just a writhing mass of arms and
feet and paws and tentacles and pseudopods and claws and mouths and
eyes, always shifting. 

Also, it reached out and slapped me, and the next thing I knew I was a puddle of goo on the floor.

Greebo started to freak, but I was still in there, and while Nigel
dispatched the creature with a couple of well-placed spells, I managed
to reassert my normal shape.  I could still feel it eating at me,
though, a sort of crawling madness under my skin trying to convince me
that I had no shape, no self, that I should just let go… so I grabbed Nigel and William and got Greebo on my shoulder and said, “We are going back to Berol’s temple now,” and we were there.

A priest ran up and Nigel and I tried to tell him what had
happened.  He and Nigel and I all fired spells at me – dispels,
healing magic, whatever we could think of – but nothing seemed to
help.  The priest called out to a helper to go get a more powerful
priest and I yelled, “No, go get Berol,” and then the next thing I knew
I was a writhing mass of goop on the floor again.  I could see
when Berol ran into the room, though, said a few words, and BLAM! I was
back to normal.  I threw myself at Berol, thanking him profusely,
while Nigel filled him in on what had happened. 

“By the way, Berol,” I said, pulling back, “Did you know there’s an
ancient, undead elf in the university who’s giving the same lecture,
over and over, to a room full of zombies and gargoyles?”

Berol looked around at his flunkies and said, “Get the boys
together.”  Five minutes later, Nigel and I were walking back to
the University behind a band of fifty armed fighters and priests, Berol
at the front, and when we got to the University they marched right into
the professor’s class.  We heard a bit of “You’re very late!”
and then it was pretty much all over but the screaming.  Berol and
his men filed back out and thanked us for informing them of their
unwanted tenants, then Berol asked if we wanted to explore the rest of
the upstairs with his help.  We were quite happy to have him with
us – just like old times! – and so we checked out the rest of the
upstairs. 

There wasn’t much to see, save one large and oddly abstract carving on
one wall.  Nigel and I studied it for a few minutes, and then it
hit me:  it was a map of the world.  It didn’t look right,
though – specifically, the Anauroch Desert was missing, and some other
minor details were different.  Then, it really hit us:  it
was the halfway point between a current, accurate map of Fae’run and
the picture emblazoned on the chestplates of the dwarven skeletons that
had fought us that morning back in that observation deck that
overlooked the “dead” dragon.

Those dwarves’ emblem is a map of Fae’run, too, and of the five stars
that adorned it in random places, one of them matched the location of
that very prison.  “It’s a map to their ancient places of power,”
I said to Nigel, and we agreed that this trip had been well worth it,
indeed.  If we really want to learn about Stormcloud/Despair and
Fae’Rath, apparently we’ll have to go to Myth’Drannor, but in the
meantime we know that there are probably other places like this, or at
least as ancient, tucked around the world:  one far to the west,
on some islands across the ocean (a place I so far quietly suspect to
be Evermeet), the middle of the Anauroch Desert, far to the north in
Rasheman and far to the south in the Rift Valley.

Fascinating.

We told Berol everything that had happened so far, and then off we
went, back to the cave where everything started.  It had been a
very, very busy couple of days.

Upon our return, Adric, Badl, Katarina and Rock told us all about their
own adventure.  As they rested, they had heard a booming voice
demand of the “drow” in the cave that they hand over Alec “or
else.”  Rock knew it was the orcs he’d seen “interrogating” the
lone remaining drow in their other outpost, earlier, and so the group
set themselves for an attack.  Apparently Badl and Bonzo literally
tore one of the orcs in two – just dug their fingers in and yanked –
and then Rock and Badl literally carved another one to death. 
Adric let loose a bunch of holy magic to disrupt and damage the orcs as
a whole, and Katarina took up a position from which she could disrupt
both their wizard and their priest and their druid.  Eventually
all but the druid and the priest were dead, the druid having turned
into a bat and flapped away and the priest having taken off on
foot.  Badl caught them both in a magical hailstorm, killing the
priest, but the druid limped away through the air despite the party’s
best efforts.  Now we have bodies to loot and bury, a halfling to
get back to Sessuadra and some notes to compare to figure out what we
should do next.

This is certainly no vacation, but I’m never going to claim it’s boring, either. (more…)