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.”
“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.