Archive for the 'summaries' Category

Long Time No See

Sunday, February 11th, 2007

The next morning we awoke and ate Adric’s magical breakfast. We spoke a bit with Dyson and Rand as we did. Dyson is a member of an adventuring party that was based in Mulhorand until their encounters with the Ascended – the winged kobolds – led them to Waterdeep in search of information regarding some prophecied, apocalyptic event. There, he said, the Ascendeds attacked him and his friends. Most of them were killed, he thinks, but one of them threw him through a portal in Waterdeep that deposited him here, thousands of miles away, in Rashaman. That was a few days ago and he’s desperate to get back to Waterdeep to look for his friends but has no way back. As it happens, Rock and I needed to take some of the treasure we’ve recovered to Waterdeep – and we’d already discussed harvesting scales from the corpses of the dragons frozen in the lake inside the mountain for fifty thousand years to add to the TTC’s commercial inventory – and so we began to contemplate taking Dyson with us. In part this would be (one hopes) to put him at ease regarding his friends and in part it would let us assess the truth of his tale. It’s easy enough to believe that there was another adventuring party on the trail of The Mother – another term which Dyson recognized right away – but still, we know a great deal more of what all this is about than anyone else and we were still in the mode of trying to hide that knowledge from others.

The… seven? of us? I think so. The seven of us went down the crevasse again and began to explore the chambers underneath the mountain. Aside from the dozens – perhaps hundreds – of dragons frozen in the ice as they had tried to make their escape we found one hole bored out of the ice so that one could descend and enter into the ancient elven weapons-works themselves. We had to get a small, metal door open and then climb down a ladder into an initial sort of anteroom. During the battle those many millenia ago the building had been breached and water had begun to pour in everywhere; moments later, the water had all been frozen at once. Ice covered the floor of this room to about waist depth and in that ice we saw the perfectly preserved bottom half of some humanoid race, the top half, that above the ice, having decayed to naught but bone. Certainly some welcome wagon they have here, I thought as we trod stolidly past.

It would have been easy to believe that this place was nothing more than a tomb at this point but Rock was already tracking footprints, very faint, of unknown age but not too terribly old. We strongly suspected they were the prints of BOB in one of his man-sized forms – either Muad or the Faerath. We knew he had been here perhaps as recently as a few days before. As we wound our way down spiral staircases and through ancient security doors, the rooms became progressively larger. We were clearly in one of the Font-produced structures that’s largely spherical in shape. The next significant chamber we entered seemed to be deep inside the structure; it had a spiral staircase descending through the middle but there were open-air levels to either side onto which one could step from the stairs. One side had been effectively blocked by the rushing in of water right before it was all frozen in place. There was also the ancient, decayed corpse of an enormous dragon, the very one that had smashed in the wall so that the water began to pour through. I had to wonder at the determination those dragons had to destroy this place: they breached the mountain itself so that they could try to flood the whole building with the lake that formed one of its layers of protection? Did they think they would be able to escape, or were they so ready to end this war that they were willing to flood it from top to bottom with water even when they knew that the effort of certainty would require that they die at the bottom of it themselves?

Said dragon had, when it came in through the wall, crushed a strange and vaguely nondescript bit of mechanics when it landed. On the opposite landing its counterpart and twin was still intact: two metal hoops, one smaller than the other and sitting inside it, mounted at perpendicular angles to one another so that they spun in opposite directions – one over and under like a mechanical grass cutter and one from side to side like an egg beater. I turned on Greater Arcane Sight and could see that the device in question was a negative energy generator: a device that would produce the very stuff of anti-life. I couldn’t see an ON switch anywhere, which was good, save that it meant that neither could I see an OFF switch anywhere. We descended carefully past it and Rock continued to track the foot prints of our quarry off to the left from the bottom of the stairs, up to an enormous, circular door in the wall.

A little careful negotiation with the door led us to open it and find a long, circular tunnel. It had filled with water at some point and frozen solid, but the ice had been carved away by some means. We trod along it into a room that was surprisingly, well, sterile. It was all metal and glass, including little chambers behind thick glass that sounded different from normal glass when rapped upon. There were also man-sized cylinders of glass here and there around the room, some broken, but three intact: two filled with what looked to be metallic wasps and a third filled with tiny motes of fire. There were also small glass containers not unlike an oversized wine bottle which obviously had been crafted to fit into small portals at the base of each cylinder. Whether the elves had meant to collect the metallic wasps or motes of fire for some purpose we did not know.

Moving on we found more stairs and then a long hallway with doors to either side. The walls had placards reading WEAPONS LABORATORY here and there, and we had our suspicion about the wasps and such upstairs confirmed: this wasn’t a place where the elves merely built weapons. It was a place where elves tried to develop new ones out of whatever nature provided. I had to wonder what Badl thought of all this but couldn’t bring myself to ask lest it seem like prying or… I don’t know, taunting of some sort. It is times like yesterday when I most acutely feel something like shame at my High Elven heritage.

We carefully opened each door and in each room we would find more or less the same thing: some creature of a doubtless dangerous but not exactly menacing nature held in captivity. It was a wonder to me that these things were still alive, but then, they were mostly elementals or slimes or things unknown to us until later: a room with six lightning elementals trapped and howling – doubtless mad from millenia without contact or freedom – in more glass cylinders, a room with some being of utter darkness but capable of simplistic, almost childish communication via motes of light against the surface of another glass chamber, a room with what seemed to be a slime made of money. There were some rooms that were empty, no doubt chambers where they “tested” – ie, tortured, bred, manipulated and then abandoned – more short-lived, conventional forms of life. At the very end we found what seemed to be a sort of office with a few work tables in it.

The tables were largely empty except for one where there had once sat three objects but now two remained, the third indicated by its absence in the dust on the table. The two present and one missing objects, however, were of immediate interest: they were the white, gray-streaked stones like the one we had taken from the half-demon upstairs, the stones that allowed flight in the presence of this modified, mountain-spanning Undeniable Gravity enchantment.

No sooner had we congratulated ourselves on our find than an enormous slime rose up behind us and attacked. It was a short battle, but it reminded us that given this place’s nature – a facility where the ancient elves tried to weaponize animals and other entities – we should be more careful. We inspected the desks and, after destroying one to learn its workings, opened the others in a more conventional manner and found inside small tools and other indications that this was one of the various rooms used to create more traditional crafted items such as necklaces that would allow flight. It was obvious what BOB had done: he had come here, knowing that these stones had been left behind, and retrieved one so that his appointed guardsman, the half-demon, would hold the advantage of flight when we showed up to investigate.

But what else had brought him here? Or was it really as the half-demon had said, an enormous trap?

Regardless, we were here now and there were creatures still held by the evil work of ancient elves. Together we resolved to go back to the other beings still held captive and try to communicate with them to ascertain which ones desired freedom and which ones we could help. We turned back to the room of lightning elementals first and there Badl was able to speak with them and determine that yes, they were mad, but they desired freedom above all else. Badl could cast a Banishing that would send most of them back to their native plane, releasing them forever, but that would only be six of the eight in the room. We couldn’t face leaving two of them trapped for who knew how many more millenia so I asked one of the remaining ones if they would be able to contain the electricity that makes them so dangerous if one of us simply smashed the cylinders in which they were held prisoner so that they could walk out. “You are made of water and standing on a metal floor,” he said sadly. “I would kill you instantly regardless of anything I did.” We discussed our options and agreed that it was likely we were going to spend another night here anyway, so we could come back the next day and release the remaining two with another Banishing.

Next was the money-slime, which appeared to be simply that: a slime made of money. The explanation was simple enough once one of us thought of it: the elves were fighting dragons. Dragons have hordes. Deposit a slime that looks like a big pile of coins and gems in the horde and the dragon lies down to sleep on top of a bed of its own enemies. The notes we could find on the ancient elven displays – like the little “scroll” I carry of that ancient gardener’s at the embassy to the Netherese – indicated that the slimes were simply too slow and stupid. We left it to its own devices and that was that.

The last one was the room with the creature of pure darkness. It certainly seemed pleased to see us – it drew little smiley faces and such with the motes of light at its inexplicable command – but we could no more have a conversation with it than we could my left boot. (To be honest, we probably have a spell somewhere between us to have a conversation with my left boot, but that’s neither here nor there.) We decided to leave that one for now and head back to the main chamber where there was another big, round door that we imagined led to another big hallway and more chambers of tortured, abandoned beasts. BOB had not gone that way – we had, in coming inside and going to the workbench where there had been three medallions to allow flight (yes, we took the two remaining) then tracking back almost to the exit, retraced his every step – but we are curious. We are adventurers. Opening doors that say DO NOT OPEN is what we do.

We checked the door and, no sooner than we had found it free of traps and opened it up, a voice rang out across the chamber. It sounded tinny and slightly flat, like an imperfect aural illusion. In a calm, female voice speaking the ancient tongue of the elves it said: “Security breach. Deploying defensive measures. Security breach. Deploying defensive measures. Security breach…”

I had refreshed my Greater Arcane Sight before and now, as that remaining generator’s circular blades began to whirl in perpendicular directions to one another, I saw a halo of negative energy began to grow around it and sparks dance around inside.

Uphill Both Ways In The Snow

Thursday, December 21st, 2006

After a night spent in Phlan to make sure that the posters were in full production and regain spells, I teleported us to the same spot in Rashaman where we’d scried Alex a couple of weeks ago. Adric cast a Wind Walk to let us fly up and get our bearings and we could see three major features in the distance: a high mountain, a small village and what looked like a more makeshift, impermanent settlement of soldiers, each a few miles from one another on the otherwise fairly featureless near-tundra of this barbaric nation.

Our discussions in Thentia with one of the city’s wizard – something called a Geomancer, and quite an odd fellow he was – had told us already that the high mountain was very likely a feature called Featherbane Peak, said in legends to be a mountain where nothing could fly. We decided against flying over to it to check that out and instead Badl and I decided to infiltrate the village and the military camp to see what we could learn about whether Alex or anyone else had been through here recently on their way to Featherbane.

There was a bit of urgency to all of this, of course, for two reasons: this mountain was, so far as we could tell, the site of an ancient elven arms factory from the time of Muad Ter’thalas and the Fae’rath. Who knew what weird-ass 50,000-year-old elven weaponry might be down there for Alex to use to his advantage? In more modern concerns, the legend about nothing there being able to fly was just as disturbing; what better place, after all, to trap some tremendous dragon like that which had been starved to death in the Cormanthor Tomb?

Badl took the form of a pony and posed as my pack animal and I walked beside him into the military camp. Current buzz in the realm is that the Iron Lord of Rashaman is old and the young are competing to replace him. In preparation for this I’d brought several of the masterwork swords we’d gathered here and there as gifts from Phlan to cover our arrival. I was all set to put on an elaborate display of diplomacy when we got just inside the bounds of the camp and all of a sudden Badl turned from a pony back into his native, gnomish form. Swords clattered all over the frozen ground and several people stopped what they were doing – brushing horses, sparring or otherwise hanging about – to stare at the horse that had turned into a tiny man.

A soldier approached us and asked who we were and I bowed with as much dignity as I could. “I am Whitten Silvervoice of the Tinker Trading Company, come on behalf of the city of Phlan to give gifts to your esteemed Iron Lord.” All eyes then fell on Badl who replied, “I’m his pony. Also I can dance.”

Some muddled and befuddling conversations ensued, but eventually we were able to meet with the current Iron Lord, who has obviously grown bored of his job. I made some nice talk and gave him the swords and then Badl did a… well, a dance, to be frank, and the Iron Lord found this a most amusing and engaging spectacle. So engaging did he find Badl’s performance, in fact, that he lamented that the gifts I had brought were mere swords, of which he has plenty, and not a dancing gnome. He retired from his court, such as it is in this place, and that pretty much left Badl and me free to look around at will.

Given this, we immediately set out in search of one of the witches of Rashaman. Our intelligence told us before coming here that the witches are most likely the true rulers of the land; everyone pays great deference to them and, in fact, when we asked if there were any witches about with whom we could discuss some matters of import we were warned that there are lots of witches about, what with the selection process under way for the new Iron Lord, and that if we encountered any we were to, at all costs, avoid looking at or addressing them directly. With this advice we sought out the communal witch of the small village we’d seen nearby.

Her name remains something of a mystery, as no one spoke it, including the witch herself. I could tell by the tenor of her voice, even as I kept my eyes on the floor of the lodge where she made her home, that she is young and probably new to her task. When we asked her for her wisdom regarding Featherbane Peak and any protocols regarding permission to explore that mountain she was quick to encourage us to do two things: talk to some other witch and talk to a local blacksmith named Lars McManus.

We started by going back to the military encampment, as we had been told we’d find the oldest witches there, and looking around until we found one. We positioned ourselves as best we could and I knelt on one knee as she approached. I stared at the ground; Badl at her knees. Rather than have to call out to her or otherwise seek her attentions, she walked right up to us and asked our names. After introductions were made – including a brief explanation of why Badl had gone from pony to gnome, as it turns out the military is encamped on top of a naturally-occuring anti-magic zone – I gave the witch our cover story about being here to give gifts on behalf of Phlan and the TTC. She didn’t buy it for a second and so we quickly went on to explain that we sought to explore Featherbane Peak and why. By the time we were under the direct scrutiny of one of the ruling witches of Rashaman, informal though the setting might have been, there was no real use in lying or otherwise trying to withhold any measure of the truth. Badl and I summed things up as concisely as we could and then asked her whether we would be prevented from approaching Featherbane Peak and whether Alex or any of his other guises had been seen in the area.

“Oh yes,” she said finally, “We know the one you speak of. We have seen his faces. All of them.”

“I don’t suppose you could describe any we haven’t mentioned, could you?” asked Badl.

“We have seen all the ones you describe, plus one more: his face as a man. Dark of skin and hair, with a full mustache, as of the Mul people. He passed this way several days ago. Shortly behind him was a band of men dressed as soldiers of Rashaman, but they were not our soldiers. They are encamped at the base of Featherbane Peak.”

Both Badl and I were surprised by the company of faux Rashamani and asked her to repeat that part. She did: Alex had come here either pursued by or ahead of allied soldiers disguised as Rashamani soldiers, a company so brazen they had ridden within sight of the encampment of the Iron Lord himself. We thanked her for the information and then I offered some in return: “Your people are at war with Thay. We have learned in the last few days that the princess of Thay has wed the ruler of Mulmaster and their forces have been combined. Thay now commands the armies, living and dead, of that city. We have disrupted their efforts on the Moon Sea but they are merely frustrated, not defeated.”

The witch was quiet for a few moments, then thanked us politely for this information and just as abruptly as she’d approached us she turned and walked away.

“Nice people,” we agreed, and then off we went to meet Lars McManus. By now our cover was blown and so Adric and Rock joined us and the four of us went straight to Starfall Village, the permanent habitation near the military encampment, and to the lodge of the McManus clan. Lars had been recommended to us by the young witch of Starfall Village because, as a boy, he had dared to scale Featherbane Peak and brought back a rock with “special powers.” Upon asking to speak with him he graciously allowed us into his workshop where we cut straight to the chase and asked about the rock.

“Aye,” he said, “I brought it back down after climbing the mountain in a day. It makes my hammer fall harder against the metal on my forge.”

I asked if I could examine it magically and he agreed, though somewhat warily. With bulging biceps he slid the iron forge off of its usual spot and underneath we saw an oddly-colored dark gray stone with streaks of white in it, almost marbled but distinctly and inexplicably different. One Greater Arcane Sight later I knew why it was special: the rock was part of an overall, very large and entirely unique variation on Undeniable Gravity. Anything over or in the area of the rock – once it lost direct contact with the earth itself – weighed more than it would otherwise and fell faster. So that, we figured, was what kept the birds at bay: they flew into the area of effect of said enchantment and gravity took over from there.

Lars described the base of the mountain to us: a regular circle circumscribes the irregularly-angled, five-pointed peak. The border of that circle is marked by the bones and feathers of generations of birds that have fallen immediately to their deaths on passing that magical barrier.

We thanked Lars for his information and then asked him if we could make a gift to him in return for his help: one of the sets of adamantine smithing tools we found in the Tomb of the Fae’rath. Upon showing them to him, he asked what metal they were made of. Though I am not as skilled a craftsman as he, I was able to draw on my own limited abilities in weapon- and armor-smithing to explain adamantium’s advantages as a metal. He moved the enormous forge back into its place, pulled an iron rod from the furnace and struck it once with the adamantine hammer only to gape at its ability. “Where do these come from?” he asked.

“From 50,000 years ago, when they were used by dwarves enslaved by an elven empire,” Adric replied.

“Can you tell their tale?” he asked.

All eyes turned to me and I said, “Well, there’s no better time to try out new material than on the road, so what the hell?” Lars called together the rest of the village and I put on a quick, impromptu performance for the McManus clan and some of the other villagers, in which I sang the tales of Alex, Muad, the Fae’rath and BOB. By the end I’d guaranteed that Alex would never pass unmolested through this part of the world again, I hope. When it was over, afternoon was wearing on and we decided to move ahead with getting to Featherbane Peak and seeing what we could see.

Wind Walk was still active, of course, so we took to the air and came down a hundred yards or so outside the very obvious circle of feathers that marked the beginning of the mountain’s anti-flight enchantment. On the other side of one of the spurs that marked a point on the irregular star the mountain describes we could see an encampment of a hundred or more human warriors and, somewhat to our surprise, some of the winged kobolds – Ascendeds – in service to the Mother. It was safe to assume, from the way they had marked a rough path part of the way up the mountain, that there were blinds and lookouts from there to the very top, but that’s where we wanted to go: Lars had described a crevasse that opened deep into the interior of the mountain and we figured if we were going to get to the machineworks of the ancient elves that was probably the best way.

I flew up, outside the boundary, and spotted a place I felt it would be safe to teleport, and we first blipped up there to begin our explorations. That took us about 4/5 of the way up a mountain it might have taken a day to climb from the very base. Rock took to the shadows on the northern side of the ridge line and climbed the rest of the way, ahead of us, to come to a flat peak about a hundred feet across. There he spotted a constructed but well-concealed from below blind in which at least a couple of soldiers were keeping watch. I went up a few minutes later, with Snowdown carrying a Silence from Adric so that I could remain undetected, and up there I invisibly studied the terrain so that I could teleport the rest of us in from our vantage point down below.

Minutes later, Adric, Rock, Badl and I appeared in a blip of light behind the soldiers in the blind. They turned in surprise and we were upon them. Badl and I each froze one of them in place to make for easy kills and Rock charged the third – who turned out to be one of the Ascendeds. I cursed our thoughtlessness, as we’ve long known that the Ascendeds have worldwide telepathy at all times. As soon as one of them had seen us here, they’d all seen us here. We killed the Ascended quickly and began to talk about how much time we might have before the ones at the encampment at the base of the peak might get to us – the better part of a day, we hoped – when Rock called out that there was activity in the camp. Together we watched as a dark figure emerged from a tent and… started flying towards us.

“How the hell is he flying on this mountain?” we all asked, in some form or another, but as he came closer to us it became apparent: he was wearing a stone around his neck, this one white with streaks of gray through it, and smoke was pouring from it as it counteracted the magic of this place to allow him to fly.

The figure himself is worth some commentary: a twisted, deformed figure, he was half-elf and half-demon, carried aloft on leathery wings. He got about 300 feet from us, moving fast, and even as I touched Rock on the arm and turned him into a Stone Giant the figure in the sky read a scroll and turned himself into an enormous demon. Quickly I made Badl, Adric and myself vanish from sight and then the three of us took whatever steps we could to prepare us for the half-demon’s arrival.

“You bested the half-dragon!” The half-demon’s voice was booming from above. “I’ve been looking forward to facing you!”

With that he flew in, throwing ahead of him an ever-smoking bottle so that smoke quickly blinded us all. I polymorphed into a gold dragon and Badl summoned an air elemental and between us we were able to clear the smoke just enough for Rock to find the bottle and throw it over the edge of the mountain. That cleared our vision in time to see the half-demon reading from another scroll and summon some sort of gross-looking giant spider that stank of brimstone. “Kill the casters!” the half-demon ordered and the spider began to sniff the air around it to try to find us, invisible as we were. Badl’s summoned air elemental went after it instead and Badl transformed into a bear to fight it as it turned to face him and his summoned ally. Meanwhile, Adric summoned a rain of sacred embers, deadly to evil beings, and I began to fire orbs of electricity at the half-demon. As Rock struck him with his swords, wounds began to appear. Snowdown and Adric were kept busy healing Rock and Badl was dealing handily with the spider. As I fired what I hoped would be the last orb of electricity needed, the half-demon held up one hand and screamed, “No!”

Imagine my surprise when this caused the orb to turn back, mid-course and return to strike me instead. Hobbled, I prepared to fire another but the half-demon was faster than all of us: abruptly he took the form of a shadow, much like Katarina’s pet, and sank into the earth with a taunt: “Dare you follow me, brave heroes?” He laughed as he disappeared into the earth. As we peeked over the edge of the crevasse, and then through a hole in the earth bored by another of Badl’s summoned friends, we could catch fleeting glimpses of the half-demon, still in the form of a Shadow, as he took to the shadows of the dark chasm below us.

“Well, that’s just great.”

“We should let him run away and fight him again tomorrow,” Rock said.

“He’s just going to get back the same spells we will,” I said. We discussed our options and finally decided to go in after him, despite this obviously being a trap. I cast Detect Thoughts, then we all took our mist forms again, as Wind Walk lasts for many, many hours, and rolled over the edge and sank down into the deep darkness of the inside of Featherbane Peak.

As we touched down inside and began drifting slowly around, our vision adjusted: the inside of this hollow peak was vast, hundreds of yards across in any direction. The floor had at first seemed to be ice but now, on closer examination, we could see it for what it was: a lake, flash-frozen in such an instant that the crests of ripples and small waves were still perfectly formed.

And caught in the ice, dozens upon dozens upon hundreds of them, were the corpses of dragons of every size and type, frozen to death in that same moment, trapped here as they sought escape, clawing over and at one another in their attempts to get away, in what must have been a battle between the elves and the dragons all those tens of millenia ago.

Literally hundreds of corpses of dragons preserved in their agonizing final moment were around us and beneath us and visible on every side.

As we approached one wall I sensed a new mind and pushed against it even as I felt it do the same to me. I managed to resist, but he did not, and I could hear his thoughts: Isn’t it beautiful? All this death?

I stopped abruptly and began to materialize, and the others took the cue to do the same. “He’s here,” I whispered. “He went out of range, I don’t know where, but he’s here and I can read his thoughts.”

“They all come here!” his voice boomed from above. We couldn’t see him, but he could see us: the corpse of a Tyrian paladin crashed down from above, at our feet. “Their gods send them to this place in search of Alex and what they find instead is me! And then, amongst all this death, amid these mighty dragons I could raise to build an unstoppable army in service to the Mother, they find their own deaths. Isn’t it a beautiful trap?”

With that, a huge black dragon detached from the rock wall and flew at us. Badl made himself enormous – fifteen feet to a side, at least – and he and Rock took off across the icy floor in pursuit. Adric and I cast spells to try to damage him, but he could move so fast that he was out of range in a flash. Rock and Badl were much faster than we, and they covered half the ground between us and the half-dragon, now in the form of a dragon, in the same time it took us to cover a few yards. A few yards were all we really needed, however, as Rock and Badl closed the distance to illuminate the area where the half-dragon had gone.

Once they got there, though, they saw he had shifted forms again, this time to that of a hydra. The wounds on his body were closing even as we ran to try to get to him. Rather than try to get closer for some of my more finely-aimed spells, I just let loose with fireballs as Rock and Badl charged. I was already starting to tap into the higher end of what I can do in a day and so I put the extra oomph I can behind my spells so that they went off with far more than their normal intensity. Badl and Rock were nimble enough to get out of the way but there wasn’t much the hydra/half-elf could do to avoid them. Even as most of them would wash off, some would catch him and burns are the one kind of wound a hydra cannot heal.

Rock and Badl tore into him with claws and swords and even though he put up a might fight of his own, we were wearing him down slowly but surely.  He changed shape again, back to a black dragon, then opened his wings and began to lurch into the air.  Adric, thinking fast, called out to Lathander and summoned an enormous comet into the air directly over the dragon even as he took flight.  In a moment it had crashed down into the middle of the half-demon’s back, throwing him back to the ground and then landing on him.  Blood sprang from every wound the creature had endured and he breathed no more.

We were very, very tired, but we knew several things:  we had to get the necklace off of him so that we, too, could fly up here; we had to make sure he was dead; we had to work fast before more Ascendeds showed up.

Even as we spoke we heard some commotion from far above us, outside the crevasse that led into this frozen lake.  Badl reached out and rusted the chain around the half-demon’s neck so that the enchanted stone would fall free, and Adric used a rope conjured by Rock to tie it around his own neck, then kicked his heels together to activate his flying boots.  As Badl, Rock and I stayed behind to make sure the half-demon wasn’t pulling a fast one on us, Adric took to the air – smoke pouring from the anti-enchantment stone as he lifted off – and levitated up and out of sight.

The commotion, it turned out, was the arrival of a half-dozen or so Ascendeds.  They had been surprised by, or had surprised, however, three others who had reached the summit of Featherbane Peak:  two Rashamani, both vying to be the new Iron Lord, and a stranger to this land who had arrived only a few days before.  One of the Rashamani is Rend, a Bardarian – a bard who can lose himself to rage, apparently – and he had decided to come up to the peak and take one of the stones, as Lars did a generation ago, to increase his standing and try to get an advantage over the competition to be Iron Lord.  The other Rashamani with him was along to do the same and the stranger – who had also apparently thrown his hat into the ring – was along because Starfall Village had, frankly, become dull in short order.

Adric healed their wounds when their fight was finished and, in time, the body of the half-demon reverted from the shape of a black dragon to his natural form and we knew he was well and truly dead.  Rock held one hand and I clenched some of Badl’s bear-shape fur in the other and the three of us, along with Greebo, teleported from the surface of the frozen lake to the top of Featherbane Peak, joining our two groups together.  Quick consultations led us to conclude that the Ascendeds would probably be up here in significant numbers by the next afternoonn and so we would sleep here, in the blind Alex’s organization had constructed to espy anyone coming up the peak, and head down into the Siegeworks of Aelfwynn as early as possible.

Introductions were made, and we learned that the stranger – a thin and slightly shady-looking young man named Dyson – was actually from Waterdeep but had spent a good bit of time sailing and was most recently resident in Skuld, that city we left in such a hurry five years ago.  He told us a tragedy had brought him here, but I was exhausted and so was everyone else and so we settled in to sleep before telling each other very much.  In the morning we would have much to do:  the Ascendeds would doubtless come after us and there was another of the ancient world’s hidden wonders to be explored.

Art and Architecture

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

The next morning we arose in Thentia and made plans for the day. Adric had some goods he wanted to pick up in Melvaunt, one-time home of the spy who betrayed my circle of agents and seat of one of the largest temples to Tempus in the realm.

As Adric saw to his own priorities in town, I engaged a street caricaturist and described to him – without explanation – the various faces of BOB we had seen or had described: Alec, Muad Ter’Thalas, the Faerath, the dwarf, the grey-skinned being and the bullfrog into which Badl turned him when we fought him in the Tomb.

I ordered, from said caricaturist, one poster with each of these portraits, in caricature, on a single page. Once I had that in hand, and was satisfied that the likenesses were sufficient to serve their purpose, I took the sheet and paid him well, then set off for a messenger service. The Mulmasterian noble Adric and Rock had interrogated the day before had confirmed one of our suspicions about Mulmaster and Hillsfar’s two-pronged invasion: Melvaunt’s leadership – ie, Helmuth Bruhl – had agreed to allow Mulmaster to pass by unmolested, once Thentia had fallen, in order to assault Phlan. As mayor emeritus of Phlan, I was more than just personally offended; my people had been traded between Melvaunt and Phlan like so much excess cattle.

In order to make the point to Helmuth that his deed had not gone unnoticed, I used my disguise kit and a quick Alter Self spell to make myself into the living image of Lord Dicaprio, the spy who betrayed the rest of the Obsidian Arrows all those years ago. He’s long dead, you understand; in his guise I walked right down one of the main streets of Melvaunt, into a messenger service, and sent a note to Helmuth:

It looks like you won’t have a chance to wave hello to your Mulmasterian friends as they pass by on the way to Phlan. Tsk – this is how the followers of the god of war behave when there’s an invasion on either side of them?

XXOO,
Lord Dicaprio,
Deceased

Then I turned right back around, walked right back down that same main thoroughfare, ducked into an alleyway to drop the disguise and the rest of us teleported to Phlan.

Once in Phlan, I had to locate a high-capacity printer. I found a dwarf who could do 20,000 copies of the caricatures I’d had drawn in Melvaunt. I had him add specific text to the posters, too: HAVE YOU SEEN THIS SHAPESHIFTER? Some of them have the address of my teleport point in Waterdeep, others the address of the temple to Lothander in Selgaunt, still others simply “Sess’uadra,” and some with the address of the old tower of Rowena, in Phlan itself.

Speaking of said tower, we (the TTC) now formally own it. I engaged an engraver to make a TTC sign to go on the building, but he was unwilling to actually remove the old sign from the front of the tower and replace it with mine; our compromise was that he would prop the sign up in a chair in front of the door of the tower but not actually touching it.

Is it wrong of me to hope that these posters, which are currently being manufactured and distributed throughout the realms, will piss off BOB so badly that he’ll send someone after us in Phlan and they’ll end up springing all the traps Rowena left behind so we don’t have to bother?

In other craftables news, I have commissioned the manufacture of two more TTC signet rings from a jeweler in Phlan. When they’re completed, I plan to give one to Badl and one to Adric to formally welcome them into our ranks. In the meantime, however, there are two more places of power to investigate: the Aelfwin weapon foundries in what is now the frozen waste of Rashaman and the City of Dragons, where the gold dwarves now make their home. From the sound of things, Adric wants to go to Rashaman first.

Hither & Yon & Back

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

Diary, allow me to paint the picture for you to refresh your memory: I was swimming underwater, in the form of an aquatic elf. Adric, Rock and Badl were above the surface of the Moon Sea, flying with various of their abilities. I had blown holes open in the sides of a Mulmasterian ship carrying several of their Banite priests, sinking it. Shortly after, a voice had appeared telepathically in my head: a vampire, released into the water from one of the ships.

My answer to that was quite simple: I polymorphed into a dolphin and swam the hell away. The vampire chased me briefly, but pretty shortly it gave up the chase. I took to the air shortly afterwards, circling back towards the rest of the party. Badl was up high, having taken the form of a seagull and was circling above one of the Mulmasterian warships. None of them knew about the vampire just yet – Adric was concentrating on keeping the storm going, directing it to push the ships further and further away from the coast so that we could separate the Mulmasterians from their supplies. However, they learned of the vampire quickly enough because the vampire emerged from the water and simply appeared next to Adric, fangs bared, ready to attack.

Adric turned to face it, held up his holy symbol and uttered a few words of prayer… and the vampire dissolved into ash in a flash of light.

One enemy down, two warships left to go.

I made myself invisible again, flew around towards one of the Mulmasterian warships and used a Disintegrate spell to blow a hole in its side. As it started to take on water, clerics rushed down into the hold and we saw smooth wooden walls start to fill the hole; I melted another hole in its side and this time it took on water too quickly, or perhaps the priests had used up their spells. In either case, the warship began to list hard to one side and it was obviously going to sink.

That the ship was doomed, however, did not necessarily mean that they were done with us. Two clerics ran out onto the deck and began to summon creatures into the water. Though we were flying, and thus in no danger from them, demonic sharks – red runes and wicked plates of chitin up and down their bodies – appeared in the water and began to search fruitlessly for us. At the same time, another couple of clerics ran out and cast Invisibility Purge in the area to expose us. Upon seeing me there, they cast Air Walk and ran out into the air to approach; I was able to freeze one and between Adric, Badl and myself we were able to take them out in time. As their Air Walks were dispelled, or their lives taken, they would sink from the air and into the sea, trapped there forever by the weight of plate armor.

Finally we moved on to the last ship. Rock had gone and begun scouting it out ahead of us. I had one Disintegrate left and used it to make the ship begin taking on water. Badl and Adric finished it off when the clerics onboard ran below decks to try to repair the damage by casting successive Comet Falls in the middle of the decks. That ships defenders were a wizard and a fighter – a fop armed with rapiers. I had become invisible again and polymorphed myself into a young gold dragon to give myself a greater chance in melee if need be. The wizard opened by trapping Adric in a force cage and Badl was out of spells and needed to stay in bird form so that he could fly. Much to my and everyone else’s surprise, I proved fairly effective as a meleer once I had the strength and range of movement of a dragon. I had nearly finished the wizard when he turned to his fighter companion and said, “Good luck,” then teleported away. Badl, Adric – now free of the cage – and Rock subdued the fighter and we confirmed that the last of the warships, having had a Disintegrate and two Comet Falls hit it, was sinking without hope of recovery.

We had eliminated the three ships that oversaw the fleet of fishing boats Mulmaster had pressed into service, and so Rock and Adric went to question our prisoner while Badl and I went to scout out the fishing boats – on each of which was at least one Mulmasterian handler, there to issue orders to the original crews of fishermen. We landed on one – Badl in seagull form, me invisible – and took out its handler, then questioned the original crew to learn what we could of the other ships. Most of the other ships had a fighter or warrior type on board, but some had weak clerics. Liberating them would be a trivial endeavor; however, they did have one big surprise in store for us: the ships were not carrying supplies, they were carrying dozens of crates of zombies.

I polymorphed into a dragon again and flew from ship to ship, taking out the handlers one at a time. Individually, and facing a dragon, they didn’t stand a chance. Once we had liberated all of the ships, we called a conference of their captains and promoted one of them to Admiral in the new Phlanian navy, then gave them the option of continuing on to Phlan – whom we would warn of their impending arrival – and giving up their lives under the rule of Mulmaster for a chance to live in a free society. They accepted, and Badl and I rejoined Adric and Rock to get an update on their questioning.

The fighter we had captured turned out to be the son of a noble family of Mulmaster. From him we learned that the crown princess of Thay had recently married the ruler of Mulmaster and now Thay calls all the shots. Why they would be interested in helping Hillsfar conquer the Moon Sea was beyond us, other than the obvious explanation that they would gain wealth and Mulmaster’s predilection for the mass production of undead would be a formidable addition to Thay’s usual arsenal. The noble told Adric and Rock that the crates of zombies on board the shipping boats were to be the first stage in Mulmaster’s plan to invade and conquer Thentia: first, the shipping boats would arrive and sneak the undead into the sewers of Thentia. At the same time, Alec’s directions would have allowed Mulmasterian assassins to eliminate the cabal of wizards that rules the city when they gathered for their weekly communal meal. By the time the actual army of Mulmaster arrived, the city of Thentia would be in chaos and the residents would welcome Mulmaster’s invasion as a way to restore order.

Of course, we were only too happy to put an end to that. Rock took the sword Adric keeps enchanted with undead-searing light spells and went out to the fishing boats. As we cracked open crate after crate of undead, Rock would chase them around the hold until they had melted away entirely.

Once we had separated the army of Mulmaster from its fleet, however – the priests of which were conjuring huge quantities of food each day to keep the army on the march – we knew we had only a very short time to act to inhibit the movements of the army itself. We flew directly to a valley which the Thentians had told us about and set up to call down a hurricane to slow the army’s advance.

The best vantage point over the valley through which the army was going to pass that night was a huge and somewhat unnatural-looking rock formation on the northeastern edge. We landed and Adric began preparing to cast his spell but almost immediately, from all over the rock formation, gargoyles began to appear and approach us. How many times, diary, have I had to deal with gargoyles? Yet in all the years of adventuring I have yet to see gargoyles with that singular and unmistakable spark of intelligence in their eyes. They approached us with caution and care rather than the usual “swoop first, ask questions later” approach, but all the same their approach was obviously enough also aggressive rather than peaceful. Given how many of them there were, and how low we all were on spells, we simply ditched our advantageous spot above the valley and took one on the other side of the valley. Rock, Badl and I stood watch for a few minutes while Adric summoned up a hurricane to slow the advance of Mulmaster and then, with that, we were off again.

At that point it was back to Thentia to report to them what we’d learned.  The geomancer on their ruling council heard us out, thanked us and told us they would be able to handle the army of Mulmaster once it arrived.  Then it was off to Phlan to warn them that a fleet of fishing boats with a few priests and warriors of Mulmaster held captive among them, would be arriving in a few days and to have agents of the temple of Tyr ready for them.

And then, back to Thentia to spend the night and rest.

The next day would be a big one

An Update of Many Things

Tuesday, September 19th, 2006

Editor’s Note: OK, so I’ve not managed to get an update up for the last three (four?) sessions, which sucks. As such, I am skipping the narrative function of writing something from Whitten’s perspective, and simply detailing what has happened:

While Rock and Badl were busy dusting Hillsfar’s attempts to summon demons to fight on their behalf (our band having foiled the Citadel of the Raven’s attempts to aid them), leaving Hillsfar to fashion a Plan C on the fly, Adric and Whitten teleported to Phlan to check on the barbarian horde that had shown up outside of town. Ren of the Blade, sometime protector of Phlan, met up with us at the current mayor’s offices and offered to accompany us out to the barbarians. We went to greet them and, on arriving, discovered that Keth – an old member of the Tinker Trading Company – was among their number, serving as bodyguard to the barbarian chieftan. The chief, an old fellow who seemed much more wise and staid than the term “barbarian” might imply, told us he was there with friendly intentions and the horde had brought supplies of their own. When asked if we could offer them anything by way of payment – to fend off any ugly futures in which the horde, not having fought anything, decides to loot Phlan as recompense for their arrival – we were told the chieftan had come here to repay an old debt to Haktor and no payment was necessary. We asked if they were interested in marching east to meet the army of Mulmaster before it arrived in Thentia, but the chieftan said that while his clan would undoubtedly agree to go to a fight for the sake of going to a fight, he was in no rush to see more death than necessary. He surprised us with his frankness and the sense that he is perhaps weary of war, and they left on very pleasantly friendly terms. Back in Phlan, Whitten got the mayor to say that the city wouldn’t sell Rowena’s old wizard tower to anyone else before letting the TTC make an offer on it.

The whole group got back together at that point and discussed the events so far. There was still the matter of delivering the letter to the wizard-general of the High Elves and trying to convince the Prince that he had been duped by BOB, the name we have given to the shapechanging entity we first new as Alec. We also needed to check in at The Dragon’s Tomb, meet with Elminster about The Font, deal with the Red Wizard staked out in Shadowdale looking for us, get to Thentia to check on their defenses and scout out the positions of the Mulmasterian army. There was also the small matter of the remaining places of power and trying to track down BOB. We first went to Selgaunt, gathered a few more priests to go defend The Dragon’s Tomb, bought a ship of supplies and had it sent to Phlan, then gathered intel to learn that the army of Mulmaster was marching over land with a fleet of impressed fishing boats tracking along the coast to keep it supplied. We started turning over the possibility of stealingliberating said fleet from the army of Mulmaster and starving them back home, then went off to Myth Drannor to try to find the army of the High Elves and make a mail delivery.

Once to Myth Drannor, we had no problem finding the army – just follow the trail of dead drow and keep walking until you hear a big fight. The mythil had been restored, but twisted: it offered all its usual protections and bonuses to elves in the city, but no one else. The mythils had originally offered protections and bonuses to anyone inside them. In the city center, around a high tower from which radiated the aura of energy given off to sustain the mythil, the drow and the High Elves were entrenched and fighting for control. We were quick to sweep in and turn the tide, Adric and Rock turning their attentions on the drow squadrons on the ground while Badl and Whitten focused on the dryders coming up out of a tunnel in the earth. Badl and Whitten collapsed the tunnel and killed the dryders while Rock and Adric started scattering drow. As we were cleaning that up, we heard a voice bellow, “Release the juggernaut!” and an enormous orc kind of thing with huge plates of armor stapled to its flesh ran onto the field of battle from one of the side streets. Badl took to the air above it and Rock prepared to charge when a ball of fire exploded in the air high over the city and – of all the things or people – Nigel began rocketing towards us. The fight paused for a moment, then took on renewed vigor. We dispatched this “juggernaut,” then two of its handlers – a wizard keeping it protected with spells and a priest healing it as it fought. Its third handler, a monk, escaped from us. Eventually Nigel took the form of an enormous devil, herding the drow into a corner and then wading in to slay them by hand. Badl and Whitten dispatched many of them with magic just to be merciful, and then Nigel and Rock took off after the escapees to hunt them down and see where they were trying to go.

As the drow cleared the battlefield and the high elves advanced, we caught up with the other elven general, the fop, and found out from him that the prince and the wizard-general had gone the same way Rock and Nigel were going even now. We took off after them and the five of us found another tunnel into the city from deep underground. Going down it, we eventually found it paved in sheets of metal and light numbers of drow guards. The guards were dispatched and we pushed for a mile or two underground until the road opened into a huge cavern with guard towers carved from stories-high stalactites and stalagmites. There we caught up with the prince, the wizard-general and the elites of the High Elf army, assaulting a drow wizard and the squads under his control. Nigel recognized the wizard as the one who had tortured him during his years of captivity in the Underdark and swooped – still in devil-form – to knock him from the sky and tear out his throat. As he held the wizard’s beating heart aloft, the High Elf priests, stunned to find a devil in their midst, banished him back to his native plane – now the elemental plane of fire – and Nigel was gone in a flash. Again, we turned the tide and as the elves performed clean-up in the last of the stalagtowers, the TTC explained slowly and carefully to Prince Eradrus that he had been duped and that he should go home. (We also delivered the letter to the wizard-general, the one written by the queen of the elves, and he shed a tear. I wanted to read the letter really badly, but only because I knew I couldn’t.) The wizard-general then laid a hand on the prince’s shoulder, told him he should spend some time thinking about what had happened, and teleported him straight to the tomb of the Fae’rath. He then said he would return the army of the High Elves to Evermeet, thanked us for our help, and all of us returned to the surface.

Along the way, we asked the wizard-general what had been given them to restore the mythil, and told him we knew it had been improperly restored. He agreed to show us, since they were going to take it down anyway, and it turned out to be an enchanted gold net which had been wrapped around the magical stone that powers the mythil. It regulated the mythil’s energies, he said, which had been rendered wild by damage to the mythil.

We left, returning to Elventree for the night, and the next morning were off to Shadowdale to meet up with Elminster to find out what he’d learned about the Font. He hadn’t learned much, but knew that whatever god had been trapped inside probably wasn’t still there as anything intelligent, though their power definitely was. We asked if we could experiment with it, and took it outside to Elminster’s back yard (“Don’t mess up my herb garden!”) to play. Rock and Whitten talked Adric into using The Font as a mystical focus while casting Create Water and, when he did, he took a good deal of damage as the Font sucked energy out of him and then we all took damage when it shot water at high speed in all directions – water which disappeared immediately after impact. We then talked Badl into using it as a Focus for Summon Nature’s Ally, asking for Dire Rats. A point in the air opened and the party saw something maddeningly extra-dimensional – a suggestion of a fractal universe into which every Dire Rat is jammed into every corner – and from that space shot blood and gore and bits of bones from Dire Rats. Again, Badl took damage, and again we were all hurt, and again the output of the spell disappeared immediately upon its own creation. We wondered whether the gold net used by the high elves to stabilize the mythil in Myth Drannor might allow the Font to be used as a powerful spell focus, then asked Elminster to continue storing it on our behalf.

After that, it was time to talk to the Red Wizard, who had a huge and brainwashed warrior acting as his bodyguard. He informed us that the god of the Red Wizards, Kosuth, had learned of this Alec and his apocalyptic fate, and that we knew about him, and thus this wizard had been sent to interrogate us. He informed us he would be casting Detect Thoughts to learn everything we knew of Alec, and we declined his invitation. He lamented that this meant we would have to fight, but I told him that was silly, what we should do was talk, as frankly I was just as happy with the Red Wizards killing Alec as anyone else. We did allow the wizard to cast Discern Lies before we spoke, but then we had a peacable and largely amicable conversation about Alec in which we gave away nothing particularly damning and, hopefully, managed to shake the Red Wizards off our trail. At worst, the Red Wizards have had confirmed that Alec is bad news and that we are on the case; at best, we’ve told them nothing they didn’t already know and have left this one wizard in particular nothing new to tell his masters. As we left the meeting I couldn’t resist one snide remark, however: “Heard from Rowan lately?” Rowan was an escapee from Thay who was part of the TTC for a while, some years ago. “No,” the wizard replied. “Well,” I said, “I wish you better luck with Alec than you’ve had with my old friend.”

With that, it was off to Thentia to get maps of the area where we expect Mulmaster to be marching, and worked out a plan to separate their fleet from their army and, we hope, drive it on to Phlan where there will be a barbarian horde waiting to make sure they don’t cause trouble: Adric would summon a few hurricanes, hopefully creating a real one in the Moon Sea, driving the ships far from shore and far off-course. We scouted it out, finding the ships mostly fishing vessels loaded with supplies, each with a Mulmasterian “handler” on it, plus two warships and one ship stocked entirely with priests. As Adric went out to see and began summoning his hurricanes I snuck into the fleet in various guises and blew a hole in the side of the priests’ ship with a Disintegrate spell. My goal is to sink the warship and the priests’ ships – it won’t kill them, but it will slow them down while the fishing vessels and the supplies they carry are irreparably blown out to sea. As Whitten swam around under the surface of the water as an Aquatic Elf, he dropped a 500gp bar into the sea in hopes Umberlie wouldn’t take offense at this disruption of the ocean’s surface. No sooner had he blown the hole in the priests’ ship and confirmed it was taking on water, however, than he heard a voice in his head that said, “I smell you, elf, I am coming for you,” and saw a dark shape – a vampire – under the water some distance away.

And that’s how we ended the last session.

A Quick Update

Thursday, July 27th, 2006

Editor’s Note: I missed the most recent game due to an RL activity. I know – what kind of D&D player am I? Anyway, here’s the quick version:

The sobbing ghost, it turns out, is not the Fae’Rath.

He is the brother of the Fae’Rath.

He is the betrayer of the Fae’Rath.

Lo those many millenia ago, the Fae’Rath’s brother was a shepherd. When the Fae’Rath found ‘what remained of the elven gods’ on a hill in Evermeet, those gods blessed the Fae’Rath and made him their standardbearer. With their divine blessing, he mustered the strength to rebel against the corrupt king, Muad Ter’thalas, and bring down the tyranny of his cooperation with the dragons of that time. The Fae’Rath locked Muad Ter’Thalas in the Dragon’s Tomb, in the Cormanthor, and when what we now call BOB, the true being who masquerades as Muad, appeared to the Fae’Rath’s brother, he asked that he make a deal: bring BOB the Fae’Rath.

And the brother of the Fae’Rath did so.

With that act of betrayal, the Fae’Rath’s brother doomed his own people. Once BOB had the Fae’Rath, the Fae’Rath became a tyrant as terrible as Muad Ter’thalas had ever been. He fathered child upon child – attempting to bring his race back into the world, we think – and eventually, when he was aged even by elven standards, he slew his own brother and passed his body off as his own, entombing it beneath Evermeet and moving on to take up other plans in other places.

The ghosts in this place know this, and that is why they scream at him and have screamed at him for dozens of thousands of years.

So why did he do it?

Because even when his brother was a great king and had restored the elven gods to their rightful place, he – the brother of the Fae’Rath – was still a lowly shephered, and he was jealous.

Rock did some tracking around the tomb and confirmed that the dust had gone undisturbed save for the set of tracks we have followed the whole way here – those of the elven prince even now on his way to Myth Drannor – and one other set that appear, standing, where the Fae’Rath’s brother now sits. BOB came to this place, drove away the other spirits, took the countenance of the Fae’Rath, and then used that face to assure the current prince that he was the reincarnation of the Fae’Rath and that his fate was to liberate Myth Drannor, then destroy the drow throughout the Underdark.

Good fat frickin’ luck with that, I guess.

When we’d heard it all, we turned and went back out, exploring the two remaining tombs – that of the children of the Fae’Rath, and that of his friends. The children’s tomb was a simple, spherical ossuary, the bones cast into the bottom in heaps so deep a man could drown in them. The children of the Fae’Rath – those attempts to return his race to this world, as I said – were twisted mutations. Some made it to late childhood, but most did not. Their bones said all we needed to know. What interested us most were the fae monsters that emerged from hiding to attack us once we were there. They were quickly vanquished, but they left a lingering question – were all the Fae’Rath’s children necessarily dead when they were entombed?

The other tomb – of his friends – was more traditional, with twelve sarcophagi arranged in a circle around the room. I opened my eyes to the magic, and saw that a modified Create Undead was active in the room. With a Mage Hand, I knocked on one of the sarcophagi while we stood a safe distance away, and immediately the lids all trembled, then flew off, and twelve rotting, ancient corpses flew across the room to combine into one… big thing. Again, we dispatched it with alacrity, but it was a foul beast. Some way for the Fae’Rath to honor his friends, eh? They’d spent millenia condemned to mindless entrapment.

On the way out we poked around a bit more in the rest of the complex. There is a room there filled with… well, thousands of the constructed, dwarven-appearing defenders we saw earlier that day and also at the Dragon Tomb. Badl threw a rock at one, knocking it slightly off-center, and it righted itself but otherwise didn’t engage us. It would appear that somewhere in that complex is a magical control which can cause that army of constructs to march forth. I hope the elves do not make use of it – we certainly didn’t find it, and didn’t tell them where we thought it might be.

We also found a dozen sets of adamantine forging tools. As a weaponsmith, I was very interested, but Gerhard would be most interested of all. We are going to try to arrange to send a set to him, somehow, and then keep the rest for ourselves. Should we ever need custom work done, they would be a prized bit of barter in return for the work.

Once outside, we reported back to the elven Queen regarding our find. She composed a letter to the prince, asked me to deliver it to the wizard-general who accompanies him, and then sealed it before we could read what it said. One Word of Recall later, we were back on our home continent and splitting into two teams. We checked in with our various contacts – the Cormyran army is ready to move, and “won’t let a war start without [them].” A horde of human barbarians have encamped around Phlan, saying they come at the request of Haktor to defend it. The army or Mulmaster is on the march to Thentia, still unaware that their plan to decapitate the city’s magical defense was foiled. As such, Rock and Badl split off to go assess the Hillsfarian threat, and Adric and I are off to Phlan to assure the mayor that the horde is friendly – assuming we find out the horde is friendly. I plan to name-drop Haktor and make sure they aren’t going to sack Phlan. Adric has suggested we might have time to march them to Thentia to assist in defending it. If we can eradicate the Mulmasterian army right away, all the better. In the meantime, I’ve got my fingers crossed there’s no requirement for weird-ass ritualized combat before the barbarians will even talk to me.

An interesting additional note: there’s a Red Wizard in Shadowdale asking about us. We think we might just show up and find out what he wants.

Badl and Rock, as the recon team, flew over the Hillsfarian encampment and were able to confirm that the Zhents had not arrived. Absent their assistance, Hillsfar’s leader has apparently decided to call on even more nefarious sources of assistance. They had carved an enormous pentagram into the ground in a field near their encampment, and apprentices were manning braziers at each point while the wizard himself was in the center doing an extended incantation. While Rock threw a thunderstone – nailing an apprentice in the head, knocking him unconscious and ending his participation in the chant – Badl swooped low over a brazier, in eagle form, and cast Create Water to drop twenty gallons right on it, extinguishing it utterly. The other apprentices screamed and ran over to try to set it aflame again, but to no avail, and as the chant began to fall apart, demonic… shapes began to emerge from the ground around the Hillsfarian leader, grasping at his robes and screaming in fury. He launched himself into the air, rained down a Comet Fall to destroy the demons – killing every one of his apprentices in the process – and then flit over to one of his generals to bellow, I need more acolytes!

Suffice to say, Badl and Rock rule.

Deep Into Ancient Dust

Thursday, July 6th, 2006

I’ve mentioned this before, I know, but one time we fought a god.

It was Cyric.  You’re probably familiar with him, but in case you aren’t, he was god of death.  He was the embodiment of the end of all things.  He was the laughing, blood-mad icon of murder and betrayal.  He was not the cold of the grave, he was the screaming terror of entry into it.

I had a special sword, when Rock and Telessarin and G’dam and Gerhard and Berol and I went to face Cyric.  I broke that sword when we actually faced him.

But when my sword broke, so did his – and with it, his power.

At the time, I figured that was sort of… it.  I’d seen the deepest secrets I would ever see, the most ancient evils, the dustiest caverns.  It was a god.  What could be more ancient than a god?

Today I walked into a tomb so old that even the queen of Evermeet – ancient retreat of the elves – didn’t know it existed until twenty years ago.

The high druid of Evermeet asked us to wait in his home – a fancy jail if ever one there was – while he petitioned the queen on our behalf.  In time, she called together her court and sent an escort to bring us to her.  We presented her with our story so far, and the letter from the wizard-general who had sent her word from the Prince.  She read the letter, lingered over the page for a moment, then made a single pronouncement before sweeping out of the court:  “Let them do as they wish, as long as they are respectful.”

The tomb itself was thick with dust.  There were a few obvious tracks that Rock could find – the Prince, two decades ago, but others, also, probably Alec’s.  We had picked up one of the halflings who came here with Alec all those years ago, and he is with us now, helping with the finding of traps, the opening of doors.  He had no idea what Alec really is, and seems a good sort.  As we searched the floors, he and Rock and Badl have been side-by-side the whole way, checking here and there for signs of others’ presence.

The tomb is an enormous structure, much like the tomb of the dragon in the Cormanthor.  Rather than an alloy of starmetal and iron, however, it is an alloy of adamantine and iron.  It’s also rather obviously a product of The Font’s trick of turning whatever’s around into a building.  This place must have at one time been a huge adamantine and iron deposit, lying in the ground, waiting to be discovered.

We explored the first level and found it dropped at each end into largely open shafts with huge statues of ancient elven warriors peering down them.  As we climbed the ladders to the sublevel, we were all a little surprised by the stream of ghosts that would appear and plead with us to rescue them.  They didn’t seem to be intelligent, however – just spirits trapped on this plane, stuck in their moment of greatest tragedy.  We asked Snowdown if she could speak with them, but they ignored her.  They lacked none of her self-awareness, and we moved on, further into the tomb, unable to help.

On the sublevel to which the shaft led, there were paths leading off in more than one direction but most footsteps led towards what we figured was roughly the center of the complex.  We made our way along further dusty, empty hallways until we entered into a larger hall with four large statues of elven warriors crouched on the floor, their hands held up to the ceiling.

“I bet these are going to come to life,” Rock said, and we all sort of sighed and nodded.  It was very likely, we had to admit.

Very shortly, however, we had other problems on our hands.  Namely, more of those constructed guards like at The Tomb of the Dragon were coming up the hall towards us, but this time a good number more of them, and some of them looked like spellcasters.

I climbed up on the lap of one of the giant statues, to keep a good view of things, with Greebo standing backwards on my shoulder to watch our flank.  Rock and Badl stepped forward – Rock having been polymorphed into a Stone Giant, Badl having taken the shape of a Dire Bear – and as the helmed horrors ran forward and their mage compatriots began dropping fireballs, I set about obliterating those I could with magic of my own, Adric brought down his own holy vengeance, and Badl and Rock simply sliced through the constructed guards like paper.  The fight was over almost before it started, but one mage standing after only a few seconds.  As I lifted my finger to cast a spell, a glyph glowed in its own hand and it spoke a single word:  “Reverse.”  On command, the giant statues’ hands started to move, turning the circular walls of the hallway where we stood so that the floor began to tilt, then turn.

We all scrambled forward to get away from the floor – designed to entrap its victims in a sealed chamber underneath – and Rock and Badl destroyed the constructed guardian before it could do anything else to hamper our progress.  A quick catching of our breath and a few moments to check the floor for tracks, and then we were off on the upward arm of a spiral hallway, still following what we assume to be the prints of the Prince (get it?) from twenty years before.

What we found ahead of us was something none of us could have expected.

A door blocked our way, sealed magically.  The corpse of the one who had sealed it lay before it, the ravages of waste or rot entirely absent from its body.  Its blood had been the agent that sealed the door, and written on the floor beside it – still in its own blood – were the words, It is done, and by my blood I have sealed it inside for all eternity.

The “it” in question was, to put it simply, an elven angel.  Its body was covered in wounds, and its eyes had been plucked out.

“I bet this is going to come to life, too,” we all agreed.

Still, the Prince had come this way, and so would we.  The blood of the angelic being seemed to have magically locked the doors shut, and though Adric was able to dispel a number of wards on the door, that seal remained in place.  Finally I simply disintegrated the door with a spell, and we went through, careful to keep an eye on the angelic corpse on the floor.  It never stirred, and with some trepidation we finally turned our backs on it and proceeded even further into this ancient place.

Ahead of us, around the curve of the spiral hall, we found an observation deck not unlike the one in The Tomb of the Dragon.  This one had no pre-recorded message, no self-contained history to show us, but it did overlook a sort of arena.  In the stands which surrounded the main floor were hundreds of ghosts and spirits of mutilated and ancient elves.  These, two, were locked in their moment of worst defeat – weeping, searching endlessly and emptily, seeking something they couldn’t express and we couldn’t satisfy.

One being, in the center of the arena, was made of more tangible stuff, however:  an enormous being who might as well have been made of armor, a sort of demon-monster, enormously tall.  It stood holding a tremendous, black scythe, a chopping block before it, and we realized quickly that this was no mere arena; it was an execution chamber.  A hallway led off and out of the arena, and it appeared to be the only way the Prince could have gone.  Unsure whether the executioner was still alive, or aware, we decided to risk descending to the floor of the arena and trying our luck.

“I bet that thing’s going to come to life as soon as we’re down there,” Adric said.

He was right, of course.

No sooner had we set foot in the ancient soil of that dark chamber than the being began to move towards us.  Prepare to meet the justice of the realm, it said.  For you are not elves, not nobles, and thus you must be here to die.  I called out that we were there by invitation of the queen of the elves, but it either could not hear me or did not care.  It lifted its scythe, walking calmly in our direction, and I turned Rock into a Stone Giant again so that he could run forward and engage it.  He, Badl and Adric all turned their various talents against it and opened a number of wounds in its flesh, but each of these mostly closed just as soon as they were made.  Either the being healed supernaturally quickly or was resistant to damage, or both.  In any event, it was apparent that it would be slow going to wear it down bit by bit, so I raised my fingers and waited until a few more wounds had been cut before simply saying, “Disintegrate.”  A shot of green energy fired from my hands and in a flash of light the being was gone, a pile of dust with an enormous scythe spinning on its end before crashing to the ground.

Rock lifted the scythe for a moment, feeling its weight.  “I think I could use this when I’m a Stone Giant,” he said with a little smile, and I agreed.  For all that time has changed us and our view of the world, Rock is still in many ways that fresh-faced boy who simply loves a good fight.

Now a bit more wary, we made our way across the arena and into the hallway where the Prince’s tracks led.  We didn’t have far to go, as the passage ended in three doors – one at the very end, and one to either side of it.  Wards protected each of them – insanity, death and pain, to be precise, so the people who had put them there were obviously serious about keeping it closed up.  The Prince’s tracks still moved forward, however, so he must have had some way beyond them.  As we studied the door, Badl and I realized there was an enscription over the main portal that read, in ancient elven, Bow your heads, ye who enter here, for this is the tomb of The Great Hero, Faerath.

And so we made our camp there, and took our rest, because gods only knew what we would face after that.

As we rested, I cast a quick Identify on Rock’s new scythe and found it had the special quality of severing heads if it’s wielded just right; a fitting enchantment for an executioner, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Rock watched us in our sleep, and told us of a strange event that had passed in the night:  a ghost that looked remarkably like the murals of the Faerath we’d seen scattered around the place had emerged from the main door, weeping and repeating I’m sorry, I’m so sorry over and over again.  The ghost of the Faerath, we figured, but that didn’t explain a thing about what had happened so far, or what the Prince might have seen here that was so important his own wizard-general had sent us here to see it for ourselves.

The next morning Badl cast a few spells and quickly disposed of the wards protecting the entrance to the tomb.  Bending on one knee, each of us quickly paid our silent respects to the dead that lay within, then opened the door.

We found a smaller, round chamber, like a miniature version of all the Font-related rooms we’ve found so far, with three doors.  On the left, an enscription marked the passageway to the tombs of the children of the Faerath; on the right, a passage marked as leading to the tombs of the companions of the Faerath.  Faithful even in death, it read, and I have to admit my first thought was to wonder how willing they were in joining him. Did they have any liberty when the Faerath was entombed?  Or did they come here after living their natural lives, to join him by choice?

The portal directly ahead, however, marked the tomb of the Faerath himself, and so we didn’t waste any time on children or friends – we moved directly to it, headed up another, smaller spiral hallway.  At one point both Badl and I felt we’d caught a hint of something odd about the murals along the walls, and a quick scan for magic showed two spots on the wall that radiated with enchantment.  No sooner had I pointed this out, however, than the spots in question stepped out of the walls and showed their true forms:  large, chitinous spiders that could apparently meld into the alloy walls and emerge at will.  Rock and Adric attacked one, while Badl and I focused on another. We soon had ours destroyed, and as I turned to wipe out the other it leapt back into the wall and beat a hasty retreat.  Gods only know how those things got to be in here, but there they were.

We all sighed again with relief, and proceeded forward up the stairs.  By now Franklin, the halfling who had come with us, was terrified of this place, and desperate to stay by our side.  We walked in silence, as light began to show itself ahead, further up the spiral, and as we reached the apex we stepped into a brilliantly lit room:  the tomb itself.  There we saw a huge sarcophagus, obviously that of the Faerath, with gems and gold and platinum and every precious material you can name worked into every inch of the room.  The lights glared off the walls like a hundred torches, and Rock had to mostly sheath his sword to get the light dim enough for us to see.  Once we could see, however, we were shocked by what we saw:  the sarcophagus lay open, its lid askew on the floor.  Beside it sat the ghost of the Faerath, as Rock had seen him the night before:  weeping and apologizing for sins unspecified, over and over again.  Now we could also see that his throat was slit, as though he’d been murdered.

And over him, against the ceiling, swarmed dozens of the same sort of mindless spirits we’d seen elsewhere in the tomb, but these were not sad.  They were angry.  They hissed and screamed for revenge, for justice, unable or unwilling to touch the ghost of the Faerath themselves but shrieking and writhing in agonized anger nonetheless.

And that’s why  I bring up Cyric yet again.  There was a time in my life when I thought I had seen it all.

I hadn’t even seen the half of it.

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.

Lizards In The Mist

Friday, May 12th, 2006

The next morning, we reviewed the options available to us and then split into three teams. Badl and Katarina stayed behind at the Tomb, Bliss carried Rock off to Arabel to update Lady Lall, and Adric and I went to deliver the Hillsfarian scout into the care of the Phlanian legal system, then warn the wizards of Thentia.

It was a complicated day.

Badl had pondered contacting some of his fellow druids, but where we are now, he’s basically the most powerful druid around. Instead, he and Adric spoke with Katarina about her desire to warn some of her friends in Zhentil Keep – friends in Zhentil Keep, what a bizarre combination of words – of the impending attack. We asked her whether she would be able to get in and, if so, would she be allowed to leave again? “Get me within an hour or two of the city and I’ll make my way back to you, here to the Tomb if nowhere else. I don’t think they’ll want to let me leave, but I don’t think they’ll be able to stop me, either.”

“With all the leaping from shadows to other shadows, and escaping of bonds, she’ll probably be fine,” Badl said. And with that, we… reluctantly? No, we warily saw Katarina off on her mission.

Bliss, in the meantime, teleported Rock to Arabel with only a minor mishap – on the first try she landed them a few miles outside of town, but it gave Rock a chance to use his new Fly Statue Thing for the first time, turning the little figurine into a saddled housefly the size of a hippogryph and riding it aloft to judge their distance from their goal.

Upon his arrival in town, he carried a letter he had written to the guards at the gates of Lady Lall’s palace. I had sealed it with the TTC mark, then perfumed it lightly, to make sure she knew it was really from us. When Rock presented it to the guard, however, he got a surprising response:

“Lady Lall is not in the city, but I can make sure she gets this at the front.” The guard paused, then stammered, “I mean, the camp.” No sooner had he said this than Rock had to get out of the way as the gates of the palace opened to allow a regiment of Cormyrian soldiers to march past.

“Do that,” Rock said, then he and Bliss were off to spend a little time together before our long journey south.

And while all that was happening, Adric and I left with our little Hillsfarian friend, appearing outside the mayor’s office in Phlan. I knocked, then entered, and looked around to see more of the office boxed up than not, and my successor hurriedly organizing what looked like a long trip away.

“Are you running away?” I was rather cross with him. Mayors do not abandon their cities in times of war; at least, they shouldn’t when the fighting hasn’t even started. For gods’ sakes, there’s a thing called dignity, isn’t there? Poopenmeyer had the sense to at least feign some tiny amount of shame, and so I asked about the mood of the city, only to be told that there were “no real panics, maybe some orderly, preliminary evacuation, but not panic per se.”

With that, I hmphed at him a bit gruffly and told him our most recent update from Haktor, King of the Orcs of Thar, by way of Berol: Haktor and the orc horde could not come to the defense of Phlan, for they have problems of their own. However, a human city from Haktor’s region would come to our aid in their place, at his bidding. I simply must get up there and visit Haktor sometime, as I am burning with curiosity as to what his life is like these days that he has the human armies of other city-states able to answer on his behalf when he’s called upon for aid. I promised again to be there when said army arrived, to make sure that their intentions were peaceful, and then Adric and I hauled our prisoner off to the city’s jail.

I’m afraid that, in all honesty, the streets of Phlan were deserted and the city jail was, in fact, guarded only by Old Jenkins, who’s guarded the walls of Phlan through at least three invasions. He and his polearm were leaned against the wall, and when I told him that we had a Hillsfarian prisoner and that he should guard him and have a Tyrian come around to heal him, question him, etc., he nodded his head and said he’d take care of things. Jenkins is a taciturn but faithful sort, and I asked him, after our arrangements had been made, a potentially sensitive question: suppose an army of orcs showed up to defend Phlan; would he serve with them?

Jenkins looked me up and down and shrugged. “Is that who’s a’comin’?” I replied in the negative, explaining that I merely wanted to get a sense of opinion on the street. Looking from one side to another, Jenkins wryly observed that as the only person on the street, other than us, he certainly did appear to be The Phlanian Street, and then went on to say that the orcs are fierce fighters with a long history against Phlan, but that yes, he’d serve. “Had three orc arrows pulled out of me by the Tyrian priests the last time them orcs was here,” he said. “But I reckon that’s all past us now.”

I wish I could believe that Jenkins’ opinion really was representative.

Having delivered our prisoner, it was time for the last big push we could afford the time to make in this effort to stymie Alec’s plans in the Moonsea: we had to warn the wizards of Thentia of the plot to assassinate them, and so Adric and I crossed our fingers and hoped I’d be able to nail a soft landing in an inn I visited some six or seven years ago. Happily, we arrived precisely where I’d predicted – Adric suggested we were perhaps a couple of millimeters off-target – and then we quickly made our way to the tower of Bartholemew, aka The Beastmaster.

Many years ago, when he was merely a kitten, I’d had Greebo enchanted by him. The enchantments were broken when Greebo matured and grew his wings, and I have never taken him back because, frankly, I like him the way he is. I did, however, remember the work Bartholemew did for me, and he was quite forthright at the time about being on the council of wizards that rule the city.

It is worth noting what a difference there is between Phlan and Thentia. In Phlan, one is likely to encounter people such as Mayor Poopenmeyer, a stuffy and weasely little bureaucrat, or Old Jenkins, a traditional salt-of-the-Earth commoner. In Phlan, a wizard in silk and velvet, a flying cat, a priest decked out like a sunrise and a foreigner in heavy chains are an event that might inspire talk for weeks. In Thentia, we were barely the third-least interesting thing on any given block.

So it was that when we arrived in Thentia we appeared at the doors of Bartholemew’s tower and, upon knocking, were greeted by a servant who showed us into a waiting room and served coffee while The Beastmaster finished some work that occupied his time. Within a couple of hours, Bartholemew emerged from his workshop in a long, thick apron slick with blood. His client, a halfling – not that halfling – followed him out, leading his new and improved pet: a dog with a second head sewn onto its shoulders, this new addition being larger and fiercer than the original and with tufts of smoke trailing from its mouth. “Bring it back when it’s healed, and you’ve got the right kind of snake, and we’ll take care of the back end,” he said, and the halfling left with a wide grin, calling his dog “Cerberus.”

Adric and I gawked a bit, and I held Greebo close. Bartholemew turned to us and clapped his hands together. “And what can I do for you gentlemen, today? I see you have a Tressym with you, have you come to have him lowered? Raised? Perhaps new shocks applied?”

Greebo crept around onto my back, peeking warily over my shoulder, and I shook my head quickly. “No, no, we’ve come to discuss something with you other than your more immediate business, sir. My name is Whitten Silvervoice, I was a client of yours some years ago. You may remember me from that, or as the former Mayor of Phlan, or perhaps as a member of the Tinker Trading Company? My associate, Adric, and I have come to warn you that you and your fellow councillors are in terrible danger.”

“You mean the army of Mulmaster marching this way?” he said, sticking his hands in his pockets and shrugging his shoulders. “Oh, yes, well, don’t you worry, young man, we’ve got a plan for their army, don’t you doubt it.”

“Yes,” I said, “But they have a plan for you. When you and your fellow councillors meet for dinner at the end of the week, assassins will be waiting for you. They’ve been shown a secret way into your meeting place and they’re going to decapitate Thentia in secret before their armies arrive.”

Bartholemew chuckled and said, “Dinner? I’ve no idea what you mean,” but Adric was quick to prove our case:

“The dinner you have in the tunnels under the city, where they intersect?”

Bartholemew looked this way and that, then quickly cast two spells: Dimensional Anchor and Force Cage, then disappeared.

“Well, shit,” I said. “I don’t know why I thought they would just thank us for the info and see us on our merry way, but I honestly did think that’s what they’d do.”

A few moments later, Bartholemew reappeared in the company of two other wizards: one wreathed in flames, the other with electrical sparks dripping from his fingertips. They read our minds as we repeated our story, then Bartholemew said, “I can settle this,” and stared deep into Greebo’s eyes. My familiar went stock-still on my shoulder for a few seconds, then Bartholemew and he both came out of short trances and Bartholemew announced, “They’re telling the truth, or at least they think they are.” Greebo communicated that he did not like that at all, but we minded our manners as the wizards discussed the situation. The one with sparks on his fingertips, it turned out, was a priest of Azuth, the god of wizards. We asked them if they had seen Alec or heard of him, or Muad Ter’Thalas, and they said that no, they had not. They permitted me to Alter Self into an elfy-elf, such as Muad is, to show them what to look for. “I’ve never seen an elf quite so…” Bartholemew searched for the phrase, and then I said, “Elfy?”

“Yes,” he said. “Precisely.”

The one with the electricity at his fingertips asked if I were a sorcerer and I confirmed this for him. “I cannot discuss this with you, or the knowledge my god has, as he would not want one such as you to benefit from his wisdom. But we will pursue this matter in our own way.”

With that, we were released, and Adric and I refused Bartholemew’s gracious if unsettling offer of hippogryph omelettes in favor of a nice Thentian restaurant, then off we went back to the cave.

Upon gathering everyone together again, we all reported our findings and then, short another member, Badl, Rock, Adric and I began the long series of teleports that would get us within two Wind Walks of the heart of the jungles of Chult, for our next goal was to find and speak with Melphis Gran, the last priest of Jurgal and the only being we know of who walked the world when Muad Ter’Thalas, the Fae’Rath and the Dragon War were present in it, as well.

A few jumps – including one where I pointed out to Rock that I could take him to the Lake of Steam sometime, where we can fight the giant night-slugs together in its streets if he wishes – and we were in a safe little clearing in the forests of the South, a spot which I use anytime I come this way. There, Adric pulled out the magical device that lets him double the durations of his spells, and off we went into the sky to make our way more slowly to Chult.

Let me say this: nothing beats flying. Teleporting is faster, of course, but it’s nowhere near as grand. Once you’re up in the sky, watching the jungle roll past you, there’s basically nothing in the world that can seem wrong or dangerous. Viewed from so far above, it seems tranquil and beautiful and like nothing could possibly go wrong…

I wonder if there are gods who only ever saw it that way, before the Time of Troubles?

We landed and camped once, in part so that I could study the terrain for use as a teleport point and in part so that we could rest – especially Rock, who had been up for two nights in a row. As soon as we were rested and fed, however, off we were again, sailing through the sky and watching the forest thicken beneath us until finally we flew over a flat, uniform carpet of green punctuated only rarely by rustlings or birds or the heads of immensely tall beasts to indicate that beneath us were treetops and not rolling landscape.

Aside from Melphis Gran, sadly, we had come here also to release Bonzo, Badl’s faithful friend and our frequent savior, into the wild so that he could return to the life he had known before. “Our adventures are too risky for one such as he,” Badl had said, and so we touched down on the outer edge of the thickest parts of the jungle, where the treeline meets hills and opens up a bit into the sort of landscape Bonzo knew best. There, we let Badl say goodbye to his friend, leaving him with a small pouch and a couple of healing potions, while Rock demonstrated a couple of his spells to us, ones that make passing through thick jungle much easier. The jungle itself was thick and hot and the air was filled with a continual mist. Badl offered to cast an Endure Elements on anyone who was uncomfortable, but we declined for the time being.

In the air again, and down one of our animal friends, we journeyed on to the very center of the jungle. There we found what was meant by “the darkest heart of Chult”: a tall, crater wall in which grow trees and languorous shadows unlike those seen outside. It is twenty miles wide, Badl and Rock estimated, and we touched down just outside it after seeing what appeared to be a small village on one edge, where part of the hilly wall had crumbled away. Somewhat to my surprise, we found the jungle here, closer to the center of the forest, to be even more muggy and humid, and the mist was a veritable fog. “I’ll take that Endure Elements now,” I said sheepishly to Badl, and he kindly provided as he’d promised.

Creeping forward through the underbrush, however, we were spotted by a small lizard that, rather than attack or merely run, scampered away upright, carrying a small spear and crying out, “Father, father! Monsters have come!”

I have seen lizardmen in my time – base, savage creatures barely capable of existing in civilized society – but these were unlike any lizardmen I had previously seen: tall and sleek and with an intelligence obviously greater than what I had ever seen before. I quickly cast Tongues on each of us, so we could speak freely, and as we approached the village we saw the man the child had called out to, a tall and powerful lizardman carrying weapons and walking towards us. “These are not monsters,” he said to the child, “They are… men. They come from out in the world.”

We stopped and stood a respectful distance away, waiting to be approached, and the leader came towards us. “What are you doing here?”

“We come seeking the ancient wisdom of Melphis Gran,” I said.

“Hmph,” the leader replied, and then he looked us over. “I see one man, but two of you are something I have never seen, and one of you is a… child?” Here he looked back and forth between Rock and me – the half-elves – and then finally indicated Badl, who was in his native gnomish form.

“I am not a child,” Badl replied with a smile. “I am something other than a man. If you wish, I can be many things – a bear, a leopard.”

“You should be what you truly are,” the lizard said.

“Then I will stay as I am now.” Badl seemed entertained by the lizard’s curiosity, and we all just more or less tried to make it plain that we were not interested in hassling them at all.

“If you seek Melphis Gran,” the lizardman finally said, “He lives somewhere in the crater. We do not know how to find him. He comes to us, when one of us dies. He says strange words and places discs of gold on their eyes, and then he leaves again. We do not seek him out.”

“Discs of gold?”

“Coins,” Adric said to us.

Rock started to ask if perhaps the lizard man wanted us to take some of those useless gold discs off his hands, but Adric kicked him gently and said, “Do you object to us entering the crater to seek him out?”

“No,” the lizardman replied, “But be warned: the spirit of the jungle will take you. It takes us all, eventually.”

Why is it the locals are always saying something like that when we show up somewhere?

Adric and Badl went on to note that they were healers, if the village had anyone who was sick or injured. The leader of the lizardmen summoned the wounded and feverish, and they did what they could for them. Adric could not heal those who were ill, as he didn’t have the needed spells prepared for the day, but he told the lizardman that we would return to help them, too. He thanked us, and gave us a large and very sweet melon – yellow with thick, tangy meat inside – and then we marched onward, past the village, and into the crater.

Soon, all eyes were searching the ground as Rock located what looked to him like tracks that could be considered insectoid – hollow, round little depressions suggesting many legs or several bipeds walking very close together. The tracks themselves seemed to go in a spiral, outwards from the very center of the crater. We wondered at where Melphis Gran might make his home – caves on the edge seem unlikely to Badl, given it’s a crater – but soon we came across a more immediate quandry: the tracks walked up to the edge of a pit of boiling water, filled with soot and cloudy ash, then reappeared on the other side.

“I bet there’s a predator inside, or something,” Rock said, and so to check I cast a Detect Thoughts and then probed the pool. Sure enough, there were minds down there – eleven of them, in fact. As soon as I pushed into them far enough to discover that they were about as intelligent as dogs, however, they likewise took notice of us and one long, reptilian head emerged from the water to strike at Rock.

Then the other ten heads popped up, and we were fighting a hydra.

I dropped a sonic fireball on it, and Rock charged forward to keep it away from the rest of us. Adric hit it with magic of his own, and Badl took to the air to cast spells on it from above. The fight was very brief, as I turned Rock into a stone giant and he sliced the beast to ribbons, but before it was entirely dead it managed to breathe flame from all eleven of its mouths, scorching all of us terribly.

Once it was defeated, we moved on past the trap it had lain and continued following the tracks. Badl explained that the creature was a pyrohydra, immune to fire and vulnerable to freezing magics. No sooner had we finished discussing the creature than everyone – except me – looked up at once. They told me later what they saw: a six-foot tall preying mantis with the tattered remains of a cloak around its shoulders and a symbol around its neck, watching us from the trees above the trail. It studied us for a moment, its head cocked to one side, and then quick as a flash it had taken off into the air and out of sight.

And so we know, at least, that Melphis Gran is aware that we are here.

As we hunted further for him, Badl wondered if perhaps he had led us to that pool, to see how we would react. “Now he knows we can defend ourselves, and are armed and unafraid of a fight. Perhaps next he will show us something we must treat with peacefully.” Such conjecture didn’t seem to pan out, however, as eventually we began to suspect we were walking in circles and settled in to rest for a while. I read one of Nigel’s scrolls of Leomund’s Tiny Hut, producing a magical cabin where we could rest a while. Badl took flight again as an eagle, surveying the crater for a new pet: one of the dinosaurs that roam this part of the world. Adric went inside to rest, and Rock and I took to the roof of the hut to survey the jungle around us and wait for Badl’s return.

“I just got a message from Bliss,” he said at one point. “A friend of hers just told her that a few minutes ago, in Thentia, all the manhole covers in all the streets blew into the air and fire gushed out of the sewers.”

“I guess the wizards took the threat of assassins pretty seriously after all,” I said. After a moment, I added, “I wonder if I could pay for them to do that in Phlan…”

We had returned to our quiet meditations, watching Badl soar in the far distance, when his flight became slightly more agitated and we heard the cry of great lizards in the distance. Our ears perked up a bit, and then Rock pointed at the ground around the cabin: a large circle had started to form around it, as though some great worm were crawling around it.

And so I’m wrapping it up here and closing my book for now because, undoubtedly, the spirit of the jungle has come to eat us.

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.