Archive for April, 2006

Eyes On The Ground

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

It’s all terribly complex, diary, so I do hope you’ll just bear with me.

In short, there’s a war about to happen and we’re trying to pull enough bolts out of the works to make the whole machine collapse.

We awoke the day after Nigel’s abrupt departure to discuss what to do with our various competing priorities. Badl, Bonzo, Katarina and Shadow decided to stay behind at the cave for the morning, wrapping up loose ends (and by loose ends, I mean the body of Philip the Half-Dragon). Adric, Rock and I, however, teleported to Shadowdale to take the Font to Elminster – yes, the Elminster – and ask him what it does. Given our experiences so far, we had decided that we would need the biggest guns we could find, and he’s a downright cannon. Upon arriving, we bought a wheelbarrow and took our bounty straight to Elminster’s tower (concealed in a burlap sack) and knocked on the front door.

To our surprise – despite our having sought precisely this – Elminster himself was there and spoke to us. Over lunch he examined the Font.

“This containment device is one of the most powerful magical artifacts I’ve ever seen,” he said.

“Wait,” we replied. “Did you say containment device?”

This was, in fact, what he had said. He explained that the Font itself – the metal egg-shaped thing – is one of the most powerful artifacts he’s ever seen. What’s inside, it, though, is even more powerful. The phrase he used, if I recall correctly was that it “could rival a god.” At that point, we told him whole story and asked him what he’d made of it all. Interestingly, he did a double-take when we asked him if he knew who was the Fae’Rath, the hero who had defeated Muad Ter’Thalas tens of thousands of years ago: the Fae’Rath, he said, is a figure of elven legend, a hero who returns when needed to lead the elves against whatever apocalyptic threat has appeared. Elminster didn’t know what was in the Font, however, and Rock’s suggestion we open it up and find out was voted down by those of us with more knowledge of magic. Elminster asked if he could keep it in his possession for a few days to study it, and said that we should check back in three days from now. We were hesitant to let it out of our sight, even to Elminster, but Elminster assured us that no one spies on him in his tower and that no one would be able to take it from him.

When we were done, I finally cracked the question I’d been dying to ask: “How old are you?”

“Old enough,” he replied.

“Well, see, the reason I ask,” I went on, “Is that this whole thing is older than anyone in the world. And if it’s this old, and it’s still a problem, then I’m willing to bet that whatever we do now will not, in fact, do away with it forever. We can put it back to rest, but what about fifty thousand years from now when it comes up again? How do we preserve whatever we learn so that it’s available then? Because this would all be much easier if we could just go ask someone who was here then.”

“Well,” Elminster considered, then replied, “There’s always lichdom. Mummies are eternal, too, for that matter.”

“I’m a Sunite. The Goddess isn’t too big on eternal rot and stuff.”

“Mummies do have quite beautiful head-dresses,” Rock observed, but I just couldn’t take that as a justification. Sune is the goddess of beauty, and head-to-toe raps and leathery skin just don’t fit into that.

“If you just want to talk to someone who was here fifty thousand years ago, though,” Elminster continued, “There is someone who was here then. I even know his address.”

Talk about a jaw-dropper! I keep thinking how profoundly more I know about the world than I did a week ago, but man, I don’t have shit on Elminster.

“Where?” I’m pretty sure we all shouted it in unison.

“His name is Melphis Gran,” Elminster said, “And he lives in the darkest heart of the jungles of Chult. He’s the last priest of the original god of the dead, granted immortality by Jergal as one of that god’s last acts. He might be hard to find, though, and he isn’t human so he might be hard to recognize.”

“What is he?”

“He is one of the original races of this world. I don’t know the name for his kind, but they are insectoid.” Elminster was one of those great minds that turned out to be remarkably conversational, so it was a little odd when he said this: “Think of a six-foot-tall Praying Mantis and you’ve got it, more or less.”

And so, there it was: deep in one of the places Badl has said he wants to go there is someone who walked the world in the time of Fae’Rath, Muad’TerThalas, Stormcloud and the Dragon War. Naturally, this has been added to our list of priorities.

That afternoon we went back to the cave and gathered everyone up to go to Sess’uadra with the body of Philip. Upon arriving we explained the situation to Berol and asked him if Philip could be resurrected, or would want to be. Berol’s suggestion was to simply ask, and one Speak With Dead later we had learned that Philip does want to be resurrected and that nothing prevents it. This is a good thing, though on reflection I’m not sure we nailed down exactly the details of getting that taken care of. Crud. I really hope that doesn’t mean Philip is tapping his foot somewhere on The Other Side.

Things got real complicated real fast after that, though, so perhaps we’ll be forgiven. To wrap up the day, Adric cast a Word of Recall to return to The Tomb and check in with the priests and warriors defending it, Rock returned to Elventree to catch up with Bliss and I teleported to Arabel to check in with Lady Lall and just generally see what’s up in that corner of the world. Adric found The Tomb undisturbed and well-defended, Rock found Bliss thrilled to see him home and I found Lady Lall unable to entertain. A note she sent me read as thus:

I’m afraid I can’t visit with you tonight, as I am in conference with the other leaders of Cormyr. If, however, you happen to know why Hillsfar is marching on Zhentil Keep then feel free to enlighten us.

So, Hillsfar is making use of those mercenaries they’ve been hiring – among them some of the very people we rescued from The Tomb mere days ago – by marching on the remains of Zhentil Keep? I sent a note of ignorance and returned to The Tomb to update Adric in person. We spent the night there and, when Bliss delivered Rock the next morning, discussed what to do. Adric and Rock felt it might be fun just to go watch Hillsfar flatten Zhentil Keep even further, and so we decided to spend a day just scouting it out and seeing what’s going on while we planned further excursions to the remaining places of power. Before doing so, however, I notified Lady Lall that we would be checking it out and visited the new mayor of Phlan, my home-away-from-home, to let him know that Hillsfar was marching on Zhentil Keep – Phlan is, after all, the next city over on the Moon Sea. Mayor Poopenmeyer was distraught at the news, and asked what the Tinker Trading Co. would do to defend the city. “I’m not sure yet,” I said, “But I have an idea. If the orc horde from the north marches this way, and they do so under the banner of Sune, know that I’ve taken care of it.”

As we gathered back together and set off to go scout the Hillsfarian march, we wondered what had brought this on. “This has to have Alec/Muad Ter’Thalas behind it all, somehow,” Rock said, but I was doubtful. Hillsfar is ruled by a human-supremacist who has long loathed the other cities around him that include other races, and Zhentil Keep especially for using orcs in its armies.

In the end, it’s all rather difficult to explain, but suffice to say we ended up capturing a Hillsfarian agent and another man (who was subsequently killed by agents unknown while we subdued the Hillsfarian scout). Upon interrogation, we learned that the Hillsfarian army was going to “assert its rightful place as the dominant power in the Moon Sea region,” and that, more importantly, the armies of Mulmaster were marching from the other direction to aid them. When we found out that Hillsfar had only fielded 5,000 soldiers, and Mulmaster a mere 8,000, we asked how they thought they could stand up to Zhentil Keep, Phlan, Thentia and Melvaunt, and learned that somehow or another the gates of Zhentil Keep would “stand open upon Hillsfar’s arrival,” that Melvaunt would “look the other way” and that Thentia would be “neutralized.”

With more scouting and some gentle interrogation (I borrowed the scout’s uniform and questioned an affable young camp-follower, while Rock took to the shadows of the Hillsfarian encampment and eavesdropped near its leaders) we were able to learn that, in fact, the Hillsfarians had set up camp to await the arrival of mysterious allies who would assist them. Hillsfar’s allies? None other than the Citadel of the Raven, ruled still by the Zhentarim, the mercantile and political wing of the old leadership of Zhentil Keep, now eager to wrest control of it away from the Banites who had once ruled Zhentil Keep with them, but now ruled it alone.

Adric summoned the spirit of the dead man we’d initially subdued on that same scouting mission, then found murdered, after he refused an offer of being returned to life. We were quick to learn that he was an agent of the Zhentarim, sent to conference with the Hillsfarian leader, Malthir, about battle plans and when to expect his allies’ arrival. His spirit wasn’t exactly eager to assist us, but Adric was able to confirm Rock’s initial fears: Alec/Muad’TerThalas is in fact behind the entire effort by Hillsfar, the Citadel of the Raven and Mulmaster to subdue the rest of the Moon Sea. The Citadel of the Raven paid him to make at least some of the arrangements for the effort, including showing Zhentarim assassins a secret way into the tunnels which connect the towers of the wizards who rule Thentia; when they gather for their weekly council meal in a few days, those assassins will kill them and thus decapitate the leadership of the only significant land power currently targeted. With Thentia gone and Zhentil Keep left open to attack by Zhent agents planted in that city, Phlan would be dead meat and the war would be over in a matter of days.

Alec/Muad Ter’Thalas has pulled the levers he could find to sow chaos and destruction across the region next door to The Tomb. I wonder whether he merely enjoys inflicting suffering on the world, or whether it’s to keep us and everyone else occupied while he does something? I’m afraid the answer is probably both.

On learning all of this, I asked Adric to cast two Sendings: one to Berol, asking him in turn to cast a sending to Haktor requesting that the orcs of Thar ride out to defend Phlan – an ironic turn of events if ever one there was – and one to Lady Lall notifying her of the new information so that Cormyr could form a reaction plan.

Lady Lall’s response: This is unacceptable, and Cormyr will march to prevent this if necessary.

Berol’s response: I will tell Haktor your request, and I will send representatives of my own. If a war is to commence, my Doomguides will pray over the battlefield.

I’m still not sure how I feel about Berol having a cadre of elite priests called “Doomguides.” It’s unquestionably hot, though.

With those responses, we knew we’d taken care of pulling a few levers of our own.

As a side note, we were initially interested in tracking down a few Hillsfarians to, uh, question after learning that they had been killing any farmers in their path and pillaging their farms. We were able to determine that the Hillsfarian scout in our possession had not been a part of rape or murder, however, and so we told him we were going to take him to jail.

“Where?” he asked.

“Someplace they’ll treat you fairly according to an established legal system,” I said.

“Oh, gods, are you taking me to Zhentil Keep?”

“Good grief,” I said, “Of course not.”

“Cormyr?”

“No.”

“Thentia?”

“No,” I sighed, and I reached under my jacket to produce the gold star I still wear. “Phlan.”

“Phlan?! But… they don’t have spies! They’re supposed to be a speed bump between Zhentil Keep and Thentia!”

“Have I shown you my mayor’s badge?” I asked him, holding it out. It really is my mayor’s badge, too. I made Poopenmeyer get one of his own. The hell I was giving mine up when I left office.
“The mayor of Phlan is Phlan’s spy?”

“It’s always the quiet little town you least suspect, isn’t it?” I replied.

And so tomorrow I will deliver him into the care of the Phlan jail, update Mayor Poopenmeyer, then teleport to Thentia to warn the wizards that rule it. I don’t know that the TTC carries as much weight there as it does elsewhere in the region, but I was once a client of one of the wizards that rules the city, many years ago. I remember where his tower was, and remember a nice little inn where I can teleport straight into the stables. If all goes well, tomorrow over lunch I’ll manage to save the leadership of Thentia from being murdered over dinner. After that, a serious wrench should be lodged firmly in the plans of Hillsfar and its allies, and one of Alec’s plans in the modern world will have been stymied.

He’s going to be so pissed.

Ties That Bind

Thursday, April 13th, 2006

When I first met Nigel, he was this red-haired kid with simple robes and an old dagger and a knack for magic. It was Shadowdale, and we were in a bar on the same night. We’d met there, bumped into each other vying for refills, and before long we were exploring caves under the town and stirring up trouble. It was, I guess, my first “adventure.” His, too, from what I could tell. He was smart and clever – two different things, I’ve learned – and carefree. We were so young, then.

Gods, but we were young.

Fast forward a few years. We’d been through the whole business in Daerlun, with the Talonan priestess who’d been Llannen’s roommate back in her school days. We’d dealt with the threats to Arabel, we’d gotten away from that awful Lich in that shadowed tower off the wagon roads in the Dales. We’d lost Holly after she took off into the sewers with a bad case of lycanthropy and we’d… well, you get the picture. The talking sword, the dopplegangers, everything. By then we were known as The Flatliners because that’s what we kept doing everywhere we went. It wasn’t a good day if we didn’t brush against Death in a dark alley or a dim cave. We’d made the mistake of stepping through a magic mirror somewhere in the wilds and stepped out far, far under the land: The Underdark.

It was there that we lost Nigel, in some backwater cave, on the run from some damn thing or another. He’d cast a simple fireball that had turned back on him, the magic gone all wrong, and in a flash of pain and light he simply wasn’t there anymore. There were a pair of smoking boots where he’d stood. We thought he was dead.

Fast-forward again, this time another five years. Rock and I get summoned to Sess’uadra to meet with Berol and there’s Nigel in his company. Hugs were exchanged, we tried to catch up. Nigel was more tight-lipped than before, more stern, more concerned with payouts and the here-and-now. He still had that shock of red hair, but he was… different. All his magic turned to fire, now, even the spells that should have come out ice or lightning or whatever. He wouldn’t tell us where he’d been, either, except to say that he was held as a slave by the Drow for several years. He’d just escaped a few weeks before, made it to the surface, found his way to civilization and the care of a stranger – Berol, it turned out.

We didn’t pressure him because… well, because you don’t press too hard when you touch the long-dead. You don’t try to force anything because you lost them so easily the last time and you don’t want to lose them again.

All this is important. Just remember it for now.

Right before we left to finish exploring the Embassy, Nigel cast a spell to hide the Font from sight – magical or normal. We can see it, but no one else can, and no one else can scry to find it or otherwise learn its location. It’s a new spell Nigel just learned. His magic is just a little stronger than mine – he can reach heights I can’t – and this was one of the new things he was able to do.

That part is also important.

On to other matters at hand, though. We wrapped up our exploration of the ossuary in the Embassy by discovering a staircase down into utter darkness. A quick conference led us to decide that we should finish exploring the surface level before we moved on into the basement. With that, we started exploring slowly and carefully. At first we didn’t find anything much worth noting – a room where they stored jars of the sickly-sweet nectar the jackal-headed men would sit and drink, a few dusty store rooms. We found an office, with a safe that held a bag of holding in it and, on exploring that, we found a few gold bars, a few gems and a ceremonial head-dress that looked just sufficiently ornate to denote a middle-manager in the Mulhorandi heirarchy. The desk, the ink well and the cash in the safe led us to decide this was probably the Embassy’s accountant. We stashed the stuff amongst our things and kept going, finding the barracks where the embassy’s residents once lived – when they were living. The rooms were barren and decayed, anything not made of stone having been rendered to dust thousands of years ago. One room was locked and trapped, however, and on getting past its door we found an elaborately preserved apartment of almost royal appointments. We started to poke around inside, but then the ceiling turned into a terrible monster – all mouths and squidgy bits – that had to be killed with a quick fight. This, we figured, was where they put those who had to die, or a false prize left for would-be looters.

A little more exploration, and we had worked our way almost to the very back of the complex. We had started to believe we would find nothing else of value in this place, but soon we came across a large set of intact doors with an evil set of runes inscribed across them in vivid, purple ink: runes of pain, death, madness. Whatever was inside they wanted kept inside, it was apparent, and so we of course decided we had to see it for ourselves. Rather than try to deal with the door, however, we walked around to a side wall and with a spell I simply melted part of the wall away.

A shuffling and a groan greeted us from the other side, and a voice choked with dust and years rumbled out in ancient Mulhorandi: “Who disturbs this servant of Osiris with foul light? Shutter your lamps, I beg you, as there is something in that light that unbinds my soul at its touch!”

We all looked at Rock, whose sword had been enchanted by Adric – the priest of light whose spells pack a special punch against the undead.

“Are you friendly?” I called out, casting Tongues on myself so that I could be understood.

“I wish to harm no one,” the voice said, “But please, contain that light!”

We signaled to Rock to sheath his sword, and he slapped an alchemical sunrod against the ground to create light that wouldn’t harm the undead. As he did, I cast a spell on each of the others so that they, too, could converse with the being inside the room.

“Who are you?”

“My name is Chul’Tok,” he rasped, “And I am the Ambassador.”

We all looked at one another in the silence, and studied the room beyond for a moment: obviously a chapel, and in its ancient, stone pews lay the bones of many people who had died there as though sitting in a service.

“Are you undead?”

“I am a mummy,” the voice replied, and as we edged into the room we saw him standing in the far corner, having tried to escape the light of Rock’s sword. “I am the representative of Osiris in this place.”

“Okay,” I said, as bluntly as possible, “But we just fought the Ambassador yesterday.”

“You mean the ambassador of Set,” Chul’Tok said, voice solemn. “He is a wicked being, and his people seek only death and destruction and chaos.”

We conferenced again, very quickly, and then resumed our interview. In the time that we spoke, his features became more apparent as he moved with greater trust into the light of Rock’s alchemical torch: a mummy, true to his word, wrapped in ceremonial bandages and wearing an elaborate set of armor, arms, rings, jewelry and head-gear. He looked… well, he looked like something in a Mulhorandi museum.

He looked like living history.

“How long have you been here?” I asked him.

“I do not know,” he answered. “I have been here since the government changed, and we were sealed in by the worshipers of Set.” Chul’Tok’s eyes narrowed, and then he asked, “Are you Netherese?” His eyes fell on Rock and myself and then Badl – still in the form of a Dire Bear – and said, “And… are you related to the elves? What manner of creatures are you?”

“The Netherese Empire fell – literally – several thousand years ago,” I sighed. “The nation you were sent to is long gone. There’s nothing but desert for a thousand miles in any direction. We are here as… ”

“Archaeologists,” Nigel said.

“Yes. And we encountered the Ambassador – the other Ambassador – and killed him yesterday. A different band of soldiers, against whom we are also working, destroyed his minions at the same time.” Rock filled in the rest of this, and we looked to Chul’Tok for a reaction.

“Does Mulhorand still live?”

“Yes,” I said. “We,” and I gestured at Rock, “Were there just a few years ago. Mulhorand is alive and well and the Setites do not, that I know of, rule it. Horus seems to be their chief god now.”

“As would make sense,” the Ambassador intoned. I was very confused, and he was quick to figure that out. “Our system of government is… different,” he explained. “Osiris and his followers rule for a time. Then Set comes to power and overthrows us. Then, in time, Horus avenges Osiris. In time, the cycle begins anew.”

“Well…” I shrugged, finally. “I’m sorry that the Ambassador to Set is dead, but he was very, very dangerous.”

“And you were wise to destroy him.” Chul’Tok wasn’t exactly shaking our hands and buying a round from the bar, but he was opening up to us a little.

“So were you always a mummy?”

“No, I was a man,” Chul’Tok said. “Until the Setites came – the Ambassador was also a man – and murdered many of us and usurped our power. I and many of the Osirians were locked in this room, and so we performed the rite which made me what I am now so that I could be preserved in my mission. I knew that, in time, the wheel would turn.”

“So what do you do now?”

“I will return to Mulhorand to deliver my report. If they decide that this place must still be protected, I will return and resume my duties. If not, I will fulfill whatever tasks might be given me there. I will need to know in what direction to walk.”

“Wait… walk?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because I must return and give my report. It is my duty.”

“But…” I tried to be as tactful as possible. “You can’t walk to Mulhorand. You’ll be killed.”

“Undead,” Rock said slowly, “Are not popular in the world.”

“95% of the mummies in the world are evil – Undead in general, for that matter.” Badl spoke to him in his rumbly bear voice. “The armies of many nations would march to stop you in your journey. They would not understand.”

“Undead are evil now? Even mummies?”

“Oh yes,” I said. “Very evil. That’s part of why we were so ready to destroy the Ambassador of Set.”

Then Chul’Tok said something which has lodged in my mind ever since: “It is a tragedy that the magic of immortality is used for evil in these days, and not used to preserve wisdom instead.

We were, I think, a little stunned by the conversation so far. Finally I blurted out something I realized we might not have long to ask, given he was already asking directions to Mulhorand: “Your Grace, are you familiar with something called The Font?”

Chul’Tok narrowed his eyes at us again and nodded his head. “I am.”

“What… does it do?”

“I do not know,” he sighed, heavily. “We found it when we were building this place. The Netherese were so deep in their magic that we decided to hide it from them. We built it into this embassy to hide it from them. It is one of the things I must report on my return to Mulhorand.”

“You just… found it?” Rock was incredulous, but respectful. “Did anyone in particular try to influence your decision to build here, or to dig there? Was this where you originally planned to put your Embassy?”

Chul’Tok’s mind clicked back through untold aeons and then he made a sound of deep thought. “There was a dwarf. He was our builder. We wished to be closer to the Netherese capital’s central district, but he insisted that this was the perfect place. He was also the one who found the Font, and recommended we not tell the Netherese. We found it whole, exactly as it is – encased in a room of mithril alloy as though it were simply waiting to be discovered.”

“Did you ever see the dwarf again?” asked Badl.

“No, we did not.”

But we all knew, right then, didn’t we? We all knew that dwarf must have been Alec, whose great age even then would have seemed to one as ancient as the Ambassador to be as huge a chasm of experience and alien thought as the Ambassador of Osiris’ own years seemed to us.

After a few moments’ thought, the Ambassador asked, “Have you encountered the Guards of Osiris? Are they destroyed as well?”

We shook our heads and looked blank. “I must wake them,” Chul’Tok said. “They must guard the embassy while I journey to Mulhorand. And I must think of how to get there without attracting the attention of these nations of the world.” He paused and looked at us. “Are there many nations between here and Mulhorand?”

“Pretty much all the dry land,” we replied. “The Dales, Cormyr, Sembia…”

“Ah,” Chul’Tok said. “In my time, there were naught but barbaric tribes.”

“Were there elves?”

“Of course, the High Court is a force of great power. But the human lands are – were – uncivilized, disorganized. Nomadic.” With that, he disappeared down those stairs in the ossuary where we had yet to tread. We followed him in, and by our torch we could see him approach each of six sarcophagi, each one covered with the same evil, purple runes as the doors into the chapel. Chul’Tok simply grasped the lid of each tomb, however, and rent it from its moorings, tossing it aside. In each he found a mummy like himself, these clearly armored as soldiers of Mulhorand. They did not speak, but they obeyed his every order. In a matter of minutes he had distributed them around the complex such that every entrance and exit could be watched.

“We are,” I said, “Still on our archaeological mission. Would it be possible for them to know that we should be permitted to pass?”

Chul’Tok agreed, and gave those orders to his men. From that moment on, they did not even look at us.

As he woke and arranged them, however, we conducted a quick conference. The bottom line, I felt, was that we could get him to Mulhorand – and keep the secret of the Font safe for as long as necessary – and keep from creating another batch of trouble in the process. If we told him everything and made him understand the importance of it all, then teleported him to Selgaunt so that he could skip the civilized nations between us and the Sea of Falling Stars, he could then cross under the ocean to Mulhorand under his own power. It would take him months – possibly years – to make that crossing on foot. “Look at him shuffling around,” I said. “He’ll be down there until this time next year. And by then, it’s probably not going to matter whether Alec finds out we have the Font.” Nigel was worried that we couldn’t trust him, that it might be an elaborate ruse by an evil foe of the Ambassador of Set’s, worried that if we had bested the one who had bested him that he ought to play nice until we were out of sight. A quick casting of Legend Lore quickly provided our assurances that Chul’Tok could be trusted, however, as this came into Nigel’s mind:

Chul’Tok, Servant of Osiris

Loyal beyond sanity

Faithful beyond measure

He lives only for Duty

And so, I sat down with Chul’Tok and I told him all of it, that we were seeking the tools of an ancient and wicked elf who had once betrayed many nations, including his own, and escaped his punishment to wreak havoc on the world. The Font, whatever it is, was “the foundation of cities,” and given its bizarre effect on plants we wondered at the awful possibility of placing it near that giant, skeletal dragon in The Tomb. Did Alec want it to bring back his faithful mount, Stormcloud? Or did it have some even worse purpose? I explained to him that I could teleport him to a modern city, but that he would have to cross the ocean – something he assured us would be no trouble – in order to buy us some time. “You will be able to make your report,” I said, “And we will be glad to help you live up to that duty, but we must ensure that it take time, something you have in plentiful supply.”

“I agree,” Chul’Tok said. “We leave tomorrow.”

He also told us that the Ambassador of Set probably kept his personal belongings in the old Ambassador’s quarters, behind the throne room. As the Guards stood in mute sentry here and there, we ventured back to the very end of the complex and found a trapped door behind an over-sized throne. Once through it, we were greeted by an ancient dwelling, all furniture gone save one stone bench and one stone chest – and two stone golems. A very brief scuffle ensued, and before long we were holding some of the Ambassador of Set’s most prized possessions in our hands – including an ancient artifact even by Mulhorandi standards, something none of us had seen before. It was a piece of worked, green glass with writing on it in ancient Elven, and when we moved our fingers up and down the side the text would move so that one such piece of glass could hold many times its own capacity in words. A small stylus was attached to it, and with it we could enscribe other words on the glass as well.

It was a miracle of magic and craftsmanship, but even that failed to interest us when we read the words themselves:

Herein Are Contained The Reflections of One Aphtul, Elf, Follower of Muad Ter’Thalas

Aphtul was a scientist and farmer. The Font had been entrusted to his use and care. He did not detail in it what exactly the Font might do, but instead noted its effect on the odd plants of “this new world.” We could tell from his descriptions that he described common enough life: oak trees and ferns and such. The Font, he had realized, made them grow at a greatly accelerated rate. He wished, he said, that he had access to the cities and libraries of their former world so that he could learn if this was true of all Fonts.

All Fonts – so there were once many? And this one had been brought by Muad, likely stolen, for some great purpose in his escape or his banishment from – or his rebellion against – some other home.

Aphtul’s diary was not terribly interesting, but here and there it would speak of The Dragon War, and of how Muad Ter’Thalas, who had led the elves to this world, was growing increasingly unpopular. Eventually, the diary told us, he betrayed the elves to work towards the dragons’ ends, not the elves’. Aphtul remained loyal to Muad, even after his betrayal, but not so all the elves, and a civil war had started. His last entry was brief, but poignant:

Today, the Faerath comes for Muad and for all of us.

And so here we were, yet again close enough to the truth to reach out and touch some angle of it, one face of its many facets, the truth at the center of history – some ancient gem so dense and so perfectly hidden by the years of grime and ignorance and confusion that we could scarce make out what we beheld. The Font was important, yes, obviously, but its effect on plants is not its supposed purpose? We cursed this ancient elf for not having even mentioned what exactly the Font is supposed to do, but at least we knew now that this was an effect it has always had.

With that, we went back to the cave and slept the sleep of the truly tired.

The next morning Nigel and I teleported the Ambassador of Osiris to the docks ward of Selgaunt. There were screams, yes, and people were very frightened to see two guys and a mummy chatting on the docks. We pointed the Ambassador in the right direction and then he stepped from the pier and into the water and began his months-long journey. Moments later, we were back in the cave, and our secret was still safe, and we could talk about what to do.

First, however, we wanted to check on the Font. Badl softened the stone we’d shaped so that we could hide inside it the lead-lined storage crate which, in turn, held the Font. When we opened it, however, we did not see the crate. We saw only the lead lining that had been inside the crate, wrapped in a sphere around the otherwise slightly oval shape of the Font itself.

Nigel scraped away some of the lead. The Font was still inside, but it had obliterated the crate, and sucked the lead down around itself and formed it into a sphere.

The stone around it had started to warp as well.

The Font is forming a new sphere in which to house itself.

The Font, whatever its purpose, is after fifty thousand years – a hundred? a million? – trying once again to form its customary home.

We sealed it back up, and Nigel reflected that at least we would have another week and a half before anyone could possibly scry it to find it.

And here, I will note that Nigel had spent the whole morning asking us if it was warm in the cave? Were we uncomfortably hot? Was it just him? He had sweat, and drunk water, and waved his arms to flap the sleeves of his robe and cool himself, and with a heavy sigh he leaned a hand against the wall only to watch the stone glow red around his fingers and wash away like water.

A gate of flame opened in the side of the cave, and a being of fire spoke to him: “Nigel, you have done well. We have observed your skill, and know that your magic is now strong enough for the final stage. Come, the time is now.  This was, after all, the arrangement.”

We stared in shock, and then Nigel turned to us and set his backpack on the floor and took out the rod of quickening he carries. “Take this,” he said. “I won’t need it where I’m going.”

“Will you be back?”

Nigel looked at the being of fire, and then back at us. “I think so.” Then he stepped through, and he was gone, and so was the portal.

I don’t know where Nigel was for those years we thought him dead. But I’m not so sure I believe it was the Drow, and I think we know now a part of why all his magic turns to fire.
And next time I see the dead walk, I will press, and squeeze a little harder, and I will not be so scared that I will push them away again.