Archive for June, 2006

A Royal Bug and a Bugged Prince

Monday, June 26th, 2006

Heavens, but we’ve had a couple of busy days. I’m trying out that elven journal thing that we found in the Mulhorandi embassy – I just write on it like in my normal books, and it just kind of… keeps it. Like, forever. I fiddle with this and I wonder what the hell else did the ancient elves leave lying around, waiting to blow up in someone’s face?

Anyway, so yes, what disturbed my last writing was something trying to eat us, but it was not “the spirit of the jungle.” Instead it was a really big worm. We killed it, and as soon as it was dead a veritable army of insects emerged from the undergrowth and started eating it. Have you ever heard, oh, five thousand insects (many the size of a large dog) eating at once? One word: grody. I mean, so not pretty.

Anyway, Badl had made friends with a dinosaur when he was away for the night, and apparently while he and The Dinosaur (I don’t know what to call it) were out running around and making nice with each other, Badl ran into Melphis Gran. He and his new friend tracked him – with Melphis knowing he was being tracked – to a gorge that had been cut into the earth by a quake or something. Hanging out of either side of it were ruins of an ancient city, and Badl and his new pet watched him disappear into one of the windows in one of the buildings hanging out of this rent in the earth.

Naturally, we went after him.

A few spells and some careful exploration showed us that this was once a city of insectoids. There were inscriptions and artwork on some of the walls – and weird foot-holes in the walls as though for sitting – but much of the art and inscriptions had been defaced or outright destroyed. At the end of a long hallway we found a statue of an insectoid that had been disfigured – that statue, not the insectoid – and around the base Badl and I could just barely make out part of the inscription: The great betrayer, destroyer of our people.

Eventually we saw Melphis Gran spying on us, this time, and when we turned around, I cast Alter Self to turn myself into one of his kind. He took off running from us – well, flying and hopping, mostly – and we pursued. A chase through a labyrinth of ancient city and stonework followed, until finally we realized he had lost us and we were in a huge, open area with more inscriptions on the same general theme. A huge mural had once graced the ceiling, a meeting of some sort between these people and a god, but it, too, had been defaced.

We wondered what to do next, but it was answered for us: ghostly insectoids began to appear from the corners, and soon we were in combat. Adric’s holy light sizzled the ghost-flesh from some, while Badl and Rock and The Dinosaur were able to take out the rest while I cast a few spells. We made short work of the ones who would brave us, and the rest fled when they saw what had happened.

And at the other end of the huge room – stadium, church, I don’t know – was one exit, the only way Melphis could have gone, so we went up and it and soon found ourselves once more in the light of day with Melphis Gran sitting in a tree overhead, watching us as we exited.

“I was the destroyer of my people,” he said, his voice surprisingly crisp and light for such an ancient being. “You have seen what became of them. Do you still wish to speak with Melphis Gran?”

“Yes,” we answered, unhesitatingly, and he nodded his head and waited for us to speak.

So we started asking questions, and I took notes.

Melphis Gran was the first of his kind to wish for his life to end, and this created death. Jergal, the first god of death, made Melphis his first priest in return for summoning him into being. This denied death to Melphis Gran – he is quite bitter about this – and caused his people to begin to grow old and die. That was over one hundred thousand years ago.

Could he be killed? No. If someone found a way to kill him, would he want it? Yes, but many had tried, and the results were not what they intended.

We spoke to him some of his past, and then began the telling of our mission – in full, with no secrets kept, nothing held back – and he listened patiently.

“I know the one you seek, the one you know as Alec, or Muad Ter’thalas,” he said. “He was a member of the original race of shapechangers. These are the ancestors of the dopplegangers, a pale imitation of the power of the originals. They had no shapes, no identities. And so they took these things from the races that followed them, claiming their shapes and names for themselves. They would build stables of shapes, keeping each one safe in another place – an interdimensional space – and use each as they needed. The one you call Muad was not an elf. He took that elf’s shape, and his identity, and so that elf ceased to be. When they executed Muad Ter’thalas, it was merely someone else he substituted in at the last moment, some other shape he was willing to sacrifice for the time being. You cannot kill him – or, at least, when you kill one of his shapes, you do not kill him as long as there are others kept safe. But if you could find a way to get to where he keeps his stable, and destroy them all, he might be defeated.”

Of course, Melphis Gran had no concept of what Alec/Muad might intend in the modern world, but he had always played powers off one another, weaving schemes into other schemes to produce desired results far from what seemed to be the epicenter of his doings. We asked him if he wanted a friend, someone to talk to, to learn of the outside world – OK, so I asked, and because he seemed so sad and so weary – and he said that we were welcome to return but it would not be advised. The spirit of the jungle, he told us, comes for all outsiders in time.

And that’s when we saw the spirit of the jungle, as a roar filled the trees and the ground itself began to shake. Melphis warned us to leave, and everyone grabbed my belt loops and we teleported away as fast as I could say the words.

Soon we were back in Elventree, where Rock and I got to sleep in our own beds in what seemed like years. Adric was put up in Telesarin’s old room – his lucky platinum still obstinately standing on its edge, which I still take as a sign that he is wherever he needs to be, wherever that is – and Badl chose to camp under the stars with his new companion, who told him he rather liked Elventree for its slow, fat prey.

Of course, upon waking the next day we found there was something new to deal with.

The High Elves who have been making camp just outside of town for months now had brought in huge shipments of elfwine and started bonfires and seemed to be about to have a huge party. That night, I Alter Self’ed again, this time into an elf, and talked my way past the guards to get into the party proper to see what all the hubbub was about. Around the elfwine I grilled a couple of grunts and learned that the elves were about to break camp and attack Myth Drannor with the goal of driving the drow back underground. Apparently, their “final preparation” had been completed, and the big party was to celebrate their readiness.

That’s nice and all – I don’t mind seeing them roll their wagons out of my town, personally – but I had to know what the “final preparation” was, since lately there had been all too many armies on the march after just exactly what they (thought they) needed had been dropped in their lap. I spotted their leader, called Prince Erinthas, dancing away amongst his own soldiers. Off to the side, watching with something between disapproval and jealousy, were what looked like two older officers. Naturally, I sidled up to them and asked them if they were enjoying the party.

“How did you get in here, half-breed?” one of them asked me, and so I dropped the Alter Self and showed my true form with apologies. “And what do you want?”

“I’m just curious as to what this big ‘final preparation’ is,” I told them. I had a telepathic bond going with Adric, so I asked him if I should go ahead and play my aces. He encouraged me to do so, so I blurted out, “Is it Hillsfar’s march on Zhentil Keep, or is it the return of the Fae’Rath?”

The two elves narrowed their eyes at me, and the one who had seen through my Alter Self pointed a finger at me, calling to some soldiers. “Do not let this one leave,” he said, and then he marched off towards the Prince. The other shook his head and said, “You should not know that name.”

“Pffffft,” I responded. “Why not? Everybody knows it, lately.”

With that, the Prince appeared and said, with a grin to beat the band, “I hear you’ve been asking about me. Shall we discuss it in my tent?”

And with that, he and his two generals – the two guys I’d been chatting up – took me to the Prince’s tent, and we talked for a nice, long while. Turns out the Prince saw something in the tomb of the original Faerath – in Evermeet, of course – that convinced him he was the Faerath reborn. His mission: attack Myth Drannor, drive the drow back underground, repair the mithil, then march down into the Underddark and start destroying the drow, personally.

“Good thing you’ve got an army,” I said. “You’re going to need it, and I wish you all the success in the world but you don’t seem to grasp that there are whole nations of drow down there. You’ve got, what, a thousand armed women and men? Maybe you can take Myth Drannor, and more power to you, but you’ll never come back out of the Underdark if you saunter down there with this force. They’ll eat you alive. I know.”

“I’m the Faerath,” the Prince replied, with that same grin. “It’s fated.”

“I’m not questioning the veracity of that,” I said, pretty carefully, “But I’m dying to know how you know that.”

“Because of what I saw in the Faerath’s tomb,” he said. “But I can’t tell it to you. It wasn’t meant for your eyes.”

“How did you find it?”

“Twenty years ago a group of halfling thieves were caught trying to sneak into it. We don’t know how they knew of its existence, as it was lost even to us, but once we caught them and found out where they were going, I went in myself and found the tomb of our sainted king.”

“And this repairing the mithil thing – how do you plan to do that?” The mithil, in case you don’t know, is the ancient elven magic erected around their cities to regulate the weather and provide magical defense and support. One of the problems with Myth Drannor and Sess’uadra is that their mithils are broken. Magic is unpredictable, the weather is wild, beasts and other things drawn to chaos flock to them like moths to the flame – a broken mithil doesn’t just make things uncomfortable, it makes things unliveable.

“An elf of high repute was able to provide us with an artifact we have long sought.”

“Let me guess,” I said, “He just appeared out of nowhere with the Magic McGuffin and practically forced you to take it, and then he rode back out of town on his very friendly and completely normal donkey, right?”

They agreed that was pretty much how it happened, but they refused to believe my story about how Muad Ter’thalas was still around because an ancient shapeshifter had taken his form and identity fifty-five thousand years ago and swapped in an imposter for the execution. I told them enough to satisfy them that I knew the story of the Three-Faced King and the Faerath, but not enough to give away the location of the Tomb, or everything we know and how we know it.

I sighed. This had all started with a band of halfling graverobbers? “I’ve got a gold that says one of them was named Alec and he escaped shortly after you caught him.” That caught the Prince a little off-guard, and his wizard-general started eyeing me more carefully after that. “Look, that was Muad Ter’thalas, in one of his shapes. I’ve talked to him in that shape before. He is trying to set all this in motion for some obscure reason. Maybe you’ll get killed when you get there, or maybe you’ll win and repair the mithil and that will serve some obscure end of Muad’s in the long run. Or maybe you’ll get there and the drow have just had someone show up unannounced and hand them the magical whatsit that lets them walk in the daylight, and it’s all a trap and then they can repair the mithil. Whatever it is, it’s a setup. You have to understand that. I can’t stop your army – I may be the most powerful native wizard for five hundred miles, but I can’t stop you, so I’m not trying. I’m not going to put up a fight. But you’ve got to listen to me on this one.”

The Prince wouldn’t hear a word of it, and told me that I should enjoy the rest of the party but that his wizard-general – the one who saw through my Alter Self – was going to magic me up so I couldn’t tell anyone else what they’d told me. Of course, Adric was listening the whole time on the other end of the telepathic bond, so I told them that was fine. The Prince and the non-wizard left me and the wizard-general alone, and over the course of the talk I’d figured out the wizard-general maybe wasn’t so incredibly keen on this plan to go take Myth Drannor and exterminate the entirety of the drow with a thousand soldiers and a prophecy.

“He’s leading you to your death,” I told the general.

“Perhaps,” he replied. “But I am sworn to him. I have spent three hundred years protecting him, and won’t stop now.”

“Can you tell me how to get to Evermeet?” I asked, exasperated.

The wizard-general thought for a moment, and then produced a slip of paper, held his hand over it, and words started to appear on the page. “I cannot get you there,” he said slowly. “But if you can find a way, this letter will vouch for you, and this map will show you the tomb.” His note finished, and he held his hand over a second sheet, where a detailed map began to appear. Finally, a third note, which he rolled and sealed. “Give this to Her Majesty,” he said, “And do not read it beforehand.” I nodded grateful agreement, tucking all this into a scrollcase in my backpack.

“Thank you,” I said, over and over, and then I stopped, holding out a finger. “Before you magic me up, this is going to be a bit odd, but do you have any plants from Evermeet? Something big? If you do…” I shrugged. “We can get there tomorrow.”

The old wizard-general thought for a moment, and then half-smiled. “My colleague brought some samples from his garden. He is an herbalist. I believe one of our sunflowers will suffice.”

He produced the plant, handing it to me so that I cradled it in both arms, standing before him. “OK. Now,” I said, “Are you going to make me forget?”

“No,” he replied. “You just won’t be able to repeat our conversation. Oh, and tell whoever was listening on the other end of that mental link to keep their mouth shut, too.”

A few words later, he was dismissing me from the camp. We spent one more night in Elventree, and the next morning Badl sized up the sunflower, nodded approvingly, and told us he could get us there.

Five minutes later, we were standing in a field of sunflowers in an alien forest in another land.

A dozen elves who all looked exactly like what one things when one things “ranger” appeared out of nowhere, bows raised, and one of them said in a distinctly Cormanthoran accent: “Hands up, no weapons, and state your names and intents.”

“Is this Evermeet?” we asked. I produced the letter of introduction from the wizard-general and said, “We are not elves, we are the Tinker Trading Company, of Elventree, and we come to deliver a message from one of the Prince’s generals meant only for the eyes of Her Majesty the Queen.”

The ranger plucked a bit of grass and started to chew it, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

We were definitely in Evermeet.