Black Dougal wrote:
James, did you ever stat up your cleric of Wee Jas from Erik's Age of worms campaign? I am running it and one of my player's Wizard just went to the Wee Jas compound and asked for help in dealing with the Triad. The head cleric decided to send an observer into the Dourstone mine with them, figured a 1st or 2nd lvl NPC cleric of Wee Jas would suit the bill, maybe becomes a cohort later.
Since I ran her in that campaign... of course I statted her up! I assume you meant to ask if I ever made her stats public. I've got a relatively abbreviated set of stats for her on this old alias of her I used for campaign journals back in the day; check out her page for details.
John Kretzer wrote:
Yup! That's me!
(Tyralandi was my LN cleric of Wee Jas in Erik Mona's Age of Worms campaign he ran many, many years ago.
And I have full approval over the PF Tales, and periodically help with plots and stuff but 99% of that is James Sutter.)
The Thrice-Damned Fiddle of Tvash-PrullThis ebony and onyx fiddle shows signs of decades of use, but is otherwise in exemplary condition. A small monogram bearing the initials "TP" appears on the back of the instrument, a hint at its former owner. The fiddle gives a wonderful sound when played, and may be employed to produce magical effects should the player attempt a particular song. Two sheets of faded parchment bering a series of musical notes—presumably original compositions by Tvash-Prull himself, are tucked within the hollow recesses of the instrument. Presumably additional magic-inducing songs exist as well.
Each song has an associated Perform DC. If this is met, the player begins aggressively playing the song, releasing the associated magical effect. Effects apply to all friendly characters within a 30-ft.-radius burst centered on the player. The effect lasts only so long as the instrument is played, and the Perform DC must be met each round in order for the song's effects to take place. If the check is missed, the intensity of the song increases, and the player immediately suffers 2 points of Constitution damage. Stopping the furious fiddling is a full-round action that requires a Will save equal to the song's Perform DC. Failure results in increased intensity and further Constitution loss.
March of the Korreds DC 14 Effect false life
Detect Magic wrote:
That would be me!
(Tyralandi was the iconic cleric from the Dungeon magazine era—Wayne's design for her was so cool that when Erik started up his Age of Worms game, I based my character on that art. She was a cleric of Wee Jas who channeled negative energy who multiclassed a little into binder... the name "Tyralandi" I stole from myself from a character I invented for "Porphyry House Horror.")
But not dead clerics who got better? Lame.
Talking fanged bags never cease to amaze me with their uncanny similarities to the human condition.
I'm sure it has nothing to do with the fact that I stumbled across a certain cleric's character sheet a few days ago and was seized by a fit of nostalgia.
Ambrosia Slaad wrote:
I'm just glad that someone got the reference! :)
Of course, if I'd been around for that caper, those zombies would have been all taken care of a lot sooner.
Doesn't cause them enough suffering, nor is it as satisfying as fire. Plus, that comes dangerously close to actually touching them. Have you ever smelled a flumph? Not something I want to touch. Ever.
It is! It's the avatar I use to post to the Age of Worms journal, but alas, that game's in permanent limbo it appears, so I never get to use this avatar as much as I'd like.
Maybe that should change.
While I think on it, I've got to go do a run through the Hungry Halls up on the hill under the Tower of War—heard a rumor that a flumph's hiding out behind a two-headed statue of Zagig in there. Stupid flumphs.
Goodmonth 22, 595 CY
So now, Frothlethimble's buried on a hill overlooking the old city. I hope he appreciates how much filth I got under my nails and on my clothes doing this for him!
Baermon and his companion, the still-quite-undead Filge, were waiting for me when I got back to the temple. I wasn't really in any condition or mood to talk to them (being NEARLY as filthy as they were, after all), but they seemed insistent. Apparently, a message had come for me, and Baermon was convinced the message was some sort of sign. I couldn't decipher from his excited jabberings if he thought it was some sort of promotion, condemnation, or a brand new prophecy to stack on me next to "The Lifeless Born." I sighed, made peace with the fact that my bath wouldn't be happening for a bit longer, and went with him to retrieve the message.
It was in a plain envelope, marked with a seal that I, at first, didn't recognize. Then it came to me; the mark of the sage Eligos. It seemed like months, even a year since we'd spoken to Eligos about our discoveries in the Diamond Lake region, and I'd almost forgotten that we were still waiting for his response to the items and questions we'd confronted him with. I opened the message and read it.
"What is it? WHAT IS IT?" Baermon clamored. When I told him it was nothing more than an invitation to speak to the sage, I was quick to amend that the information he had for me was for my ears only (and for those of my adventuring companions), and that what he had to say would certainly qualify as knowledge that puts the listener in danger even to hear. For his sake, Baermon should not attend the meeting. Fortunately, he bought that line completely. With a bow and a thanks to the "Lifeless Born for throwing herself in the destructive path of forbidden knowledge so as to shield the world from madness and ruin," or something like that, he and Filge (reeking more than ever of preservative chemicals and the tangy undercurrent of ripe decay) returned to their quarters at the Green Dragon.
I took a two hour bath that evening. I think the acolyte was getting a bit impatient the fifth time I commanded her to replace the water, but she wisely hid most of her displeasure. I was in no mood to be patient with whiners.
Goodmonth 23, 595 CY
That left five of us in all. Dram, leaning back in his chair with his feet on the table and a morning ale tipped to his lips. Rac, seated opposite, quiet and brooding as usual. Demon Boy standing ON the table trying to catch a particularly large moth that was fluttering near the ceiling (he still had a good three feet to the moth's lowest reach, but that wasn't stopping him from trying). And Gar, a mug in one hand and his huge mysterious book in the other. He looked up as I took a seat at the table.
"You done turning that damn gnome into a headless zombie, girl?" he asked. He still obviously hadn't gotten over the fact that I'd wanted to bury Frothlethimble rather than burn the body and feed the ashes to rats and then burn the rats, or something like that. I ignored his question and tossed Eligos's letter down on the table.
"The sage has finished researching what we brought him. We're to meet with him now to talk about his findings." There was a little bit of grumbling at the short notice, I guess, but they'll get over it. What was harder to get over, though, were reminders of the upcoming Champion's Games, only a few days away. Flyers, criers, and gossip seemed to be obsessed with the coming tournament, all of which seemed to elicit fresh waves of disdain and mockery from Gar, who couldn't seem to leave alone the bumbling antics of the gladiators we'd hoodwinked into wasting their time on a dead-end cairn back at Diamond Lake; Auric, Khellek, and Tirra. I wondered for a moment what had become of the three winners of last year's Champion's Games, but really, all I could think about when I saw the proclamations of the coming event was that the man who ran it, one of Greyhawk's most powerful political figures, the esteemed and heroic Loris Raknian, apparently wanted us all dead. And was willing to hire illithids and doppelgangers to get the job done. In fact, the longer we stayed in Greyhawk, the more nervous I grew. By the time we'd reached Eligos's home, I'd decided that whatever he had to say, it was probably a good time to retreat from the city for a while. At least until the arena competition was over and things settled down.
Hmmm, Tyrlandi the Risen Martyr?
Eew... no thanks. That prestige class has a built-in timer on it—once you hit 10th level, you're done.
Well... that, and you have to be good aligned to qualify for the class. Which Tyralandi does not (and probably never will) qualify for.
Actaully... once I burn through all 5 levels of the Apostle of the Green Lady prestige class... not sure where I'll be going after that.
Goodmonth 20, 595 CY
The room still smelled of smoke and blood when I opened my eyes, and when I tried to move, the pain that shot through me did more than make me cry out. It brought tears to my eyes, although I’m not sure if it was relief that I was alive or disappointment that I would have to wait a little longer to join Wee Jas’s side. Someone handed me my wand of inflict light wounds and I began burning it down, soothing the burning feeling of my almost cooked body with waves of cool, refreshing necromantic balm.
In a few moments I was able to sit up and look around without hurting.
It was Frothlethimble who had used my own wand to save my life, as it turned out. I guess he only owes me for three rescues from death now.
The rest of the group was in poor shape as well, but no one had died. As fortune would have it, that last sphere of fire the mind flayer threw was a dud—it simply failed to ignite. I like to think it wasn’t a dud, that Wee Jas reached up from Acheron and snuffed out the fire the instant it began, but I didn’t belabor the point with the others.
That we were all alive was the good news. Even Garesh had survived, if only barely. The bad news was that we’d been unable to kill Zyrxog. Between Gar and Dram, they were able to beat him down to within inches of his life. One more arrow, would have been his fate. Had I just thrown one dagger at him and hit, he would have been dead. But no. He escaped via plane shift and is still out there. I’ll be sleeping with a spiked helm on for the next few months, I suppose.
The other bad news was that when we went through his papers and loot, we found a contract. Apparently, Zyrxog himself was some sort of horrific black-market go-to guy who moonlighted as an assassin. Someone had paid him a lot of money to kill us. That someone turned out to be a man named Loris Raknian. The name seemed familiar, but Dram was the one who put a face to the name. Of course. The director of the Free City Arena.
But why would he want us dead? It made no sense.
It was good to know who was after us, of course. But after finding out that the doppelgangers were working for someone, and that someone was working for someone, I’m pretty sure that Raknian’s not the end of this conspiracy either.
Especially in light of something else we discovered in Zyrxog’s records—Raknian had recently secured from the illithid something called the Apostolic Scrolls. I remember reading something about them... one of those “banned in 50 countries” texts written by a dangerous lunatic. Worse, I seemed to recall that the dangerous lunatic in this case was none other than Kyuss. Which meant that this Age of Worms prophecy we’d been hearing about and the man who wants us all dead are somehow tied together. Delightful.
I proposed that we leave the complex and return to Eligos at once. He’d had weeks to pour over our notes and discoveries, and with this new piece to the puzzle, I really wanted to see what he’d learned. And to get back Zosiel’s Circlet—that thing really helped me focus while I was wearing it.
But there was still an unexplored tunnel, and leaving behind an unexplored tunnel is not something I’ve found that the rest of these folk like to do.
So instead, we went into the last chamber in Zyrxog’s lair. Wounded, tired, and pretty much completely out of spells, it was with a sense of relief that we found the last room was indeed the last room. Seemed to be some sort of trophy hall, with all manner of books, skulls, weapons, and other totems on display. A large statue of a vulture-headed demon loomed in the center of the room. Took that statue all of ten seconds to wake up and become a real-life flesh and blood demon, of course. Frothlethimble had something to do with it… the demon woke up an instant after the gnome raced in to the room to grab at a sharp-looking dagger on display. And again, Frothlethimble opened wide his arms and spoke to the enemy, repeating (in Gnome) what sounded like the same phrase that he’d spoken to the illithid. The vrock paused and seemed to regard the gnome’s words, then smiled and stepped around him to attack us.
The fight against the vrock was not quite as harrowing to me as the fight against Zyrxog, but that was primarily because it wasn’t trying to burn me alive. I’m pretty sure I’ll never look at fire the same way again. The vrock sprayed some sort of foul green spores on Gar and Rac, and while the two of them did a heroic job at holding it back and covering our retreat, the demon didn’t seem much to care. Once all of us were out of the room (except Frothlethimble, who was trapped on the other side of the room), Demon Boy filled the place with webs.
At this point, it was fairly obvious that Frothlethimble had betrayed us. The demon was ignoring him and focusing on us, but then when its voice forced its way into our minds (the feeling was terrible... like bits of glass grinding under the roots of your teeth as they tried to rasp their way up into the brain), the hunch became confirmed.
“The little runt tells me that you have a weakness, Gar. That you value your friends too much, that you’ll sacrifice yourself if I let the rest of them flee.”
With a popping noise, the demon teleported out of the webs and manifested on the other side of us, blocking our retreat and looming menacingly over me and Demon Boy.
“Is this true, little Gar? Would you sacrifice yourself just to give these other mortals a chance to flee like cowards?”
“HOW DO YOU KNOW MY NAME!?” Gar roared as he charged through us to chop at the demon with his axe. The demon took the blow and staggered a bit, but chuckled at Gar’s fury anyway. Demon Boy dismissed the webs, and we retreated back into the trophy hall while Rac and Gar held the monster at bay. One of my spiritual weapons managed to get by its resistance to magic, and Dram was peppering the thing with arrows. Demon Boy was preparing some sort of last-ditch spell. But Frothlethimble had taken a seat on one of the shelves and was only watching the fight—watching Gar fight, in particular, with a glitter in his eyes that I could only call anticipation. Suddenly, he jumped to his feet and started a little jig, and began to sing. I recognized the cadence, sort of; Frothlethimble had used his newfound bardic powers a few fights before to bolster our spirits. And while I can’t deny that the tune was catchy… I’m pretty sure it didn’t raise anything in Gar but rage.
Here’s the last thing I ever heard Frothlethimble sing:
“At attracting foes,
Suddenly, the world seemed to explode into sound. I dropped to my knees, stunned by the vrock’s sudden shriek. Through watering eyes, I could see that the monster’s shriek was born of desperation; its body was bleeding ichor from dozens of places, and its shriek probably would have given it a chance to finish us off if, as fortune would have it, it had stunned us all.
Unfortunatley for the vrock, it hadn’t stunned Gar. The dwarf, still enlarged from his magic, stepped up to the demon and did what he did best. One swing of the axe later, and the vrock’s headless body was staggering back against a wall and collapsing.
The stunning screech persisted after the demon’s death, thoguh, and we could do nothing but watch as Gar strode across the room to where Frothlethimble sat, his hands clutched to his ears. I’m not sure if the gnome realized that he’d pushed Gar too far, even then.
“That’s enough out of you, gnome.” And with one more swing of the axe, a gnome’s head joined the vrock’s on the floor.
Goodmonth 21, 595 CY
Demon Boy seemed to take the turn of events the hardest. He cried all the way out of the dungeon. That he didn’t seem to blame Gar pointed to the fact that he didn’t quibble with the method. None of us, I think, felt that Frothlethimble had been murdered or even executed. It was more like he committed suicide, really.
I wrapped up his body in his cloak and made sure we didn’t leave it down there in the dark. He may have been a traitor and a coward, but he saved my life. The least I owed to him was a proper burial.
We recovered a few more items of value from Zyrxog’s trophy hall, but the thrill of the adventure had been muted by the burning, the horror, and the death. I’m not sure it was right of Gar to take the law into his own hands—but I can’t argue with the expediency of his sentence. And I’m positive that, had Frothlethimble gone to trial for his treachery, the end result would have been the same.
I’ve been thinking more about this whole “Lifeless Born” thing as well. It doesn’t seem to be that encouraging. If I’m prophesized to bring my friends against this coming darkness, doesn’t that just mean that I’m doomed to lead everyone who I befriend to their death? It certainly seems like how it’s been working out so far. Of the twelve people that have comprised “Abelard’s Band” over the past few months… half of them are dead. Abelard, of course, but also Vyth, Kol, Tassilo, Belgrak, and now Frothlethimble. With one more death, the dead will outnumber the living in our group. Seems morbidly appropriate.
Looking back on all of my friends and companions who have died, I can’t say that it’ll be Frothlethimble that I’ll miss the most, but damn, that last song WAS pretty catchy.
Goodmonth 20, 595 CY
With Garesh’s aid, we managed to navigate through a patch of yellow mold and caught an initial ambush of drow off guard. Using stones prepared with silence spells, we even managed to keep alarms from being raised. The spirit naga that dwelt further in gave us a little trouble; I tried to talk it into letting us by unmolested, but again, being a monster, it would rather just wallow in its damp cave and be unfriendly. Its punishment? Delivered by Gar’s axe.
The cave beyond the naga’s lair was the first to really give us trouble. There were quite a few drow in there, and the priestess hit us again with confusion. Fortunately, very few of us succumbed to the spell this time, and after a long battle involving much clambering up and down from ledges and Garesh’s a-little-too-gleeful opportunity to stab his one-time companions, we prevailed. I found a side cave in which four zombies were guarding several prisoners; I called upon Wee Jas and showed them the mockeries of their existence. Two of them fell into line immediately; I ordered them to destroy the other two. I sent them aside fro a moment and then helped guide the prisoners back to the surface—having made it this far without triggering an alarm, I felt we were doing pretty good.
Back in the caves, we moved deeper in, using the zombies as advance scouts. One of them triggered a glyph of warding and got blasted to pieces, and the other died a quick (and deserved) death when it staggered into a large cave beyond, where the first of Zyrxog’s octopins attacked us.
This was where we started to have trouble. A little. Not much. There were three of them, and they had bear traps for hands and slow spells for eyes. A few times, they got both of their grabbers onto one of us and did horrific amounts of damage as they folded and spindled the tender flesh between their razored edges. Rac took a few pretty solid hits, but I managed to patch him up quickly enough.
The room beyond saw a transition from cave to worked stone. Garesh warned us of the large brain structure in the first room, and armed with protection from evil, we were able to withstand the device’s mind controlling powers and pounded it to rubble. In the next room, we found a sort of laboratory. There was a large stack of books next to a big tank filled with murky water, and here I admit my common sense fled me. Those books were so intriguing! I went up to check them out, and the mother octopin, a monster twice the size of the others, clambered out of the tank and attacked us. I managed to escape before it realized I was in reach, and we managed to defeat it before it tore any of us to shreds.
Defeating the octopin brought us to the edge of Garesh’s knowledge about the complex, and in so doing, to the edge of the easy part.
Father Frothlethimble took the lead, moving through a side room that contained some sort of scrying pool. We barely had any time to investigate it, though, for at the far end, the hall opened into a huge round chamber. And floating in the air therein? ZYRXOG!
Frothlethimble leapt into motion. At first, I thought he might be rushing up to the mind flayer to charge it, but when he reached it, he just threw his arms wide and said something to it in Gnome. Of course, no one else in our group could speak Gnome, and I assume it’s POSSIBLE Frothlethimble was doing something uncharacteristically heroic and attempting to bar passage to the rest of us… but I doubt it. I have a feeling he was saying something entirely different to the monster.
In any event, it responded with a blast of mental power. Many of us were prepared for it with spell immunity, but alas, Frothlethimble was not and was sent reeling. The battle then began in earnest, and quickly grew more complex when two more octopins slithered up from the other hallway to assault us from behind. Rac and Garesh and I hung back, hoping to stall them while Dram and Gar took turns trying to attack the mind flayer, which had SEVERAL defensive spells in effect. Demon Boy filled the lower halls with webs, locking both octopins in place but, in all probability, sacrificing Garesh to a horrid fate somewhere within. He didn’t seem too broken up about it. Demon Boy then took my hand and dimension doored past the webs, leaving Rac behind to finish off the octopins.
Once in the central room, another mind blast sent demon boy reeling, and the mind flayer began a hit-and-run tactic, lobbing one exploding fireball after the other into the room. He’d pluck a globe off a necklace he wore and toss it into the room before levitating away, and an instant later the fire would BURN! It was horrific! I tried to dispel all the magic on the illithid but the spell just completely failed for some reason. Another ball of fire rolled in and exploded. The pain was excruciating. I tried to send a spiritual weapon against Zyrxog, but it couldn’t get through his natural resistnace to magic. And then another ball of fire burst! I fell to my knees; felt at once like crying and vomiting and just curling up. A horrible smell was filling my head, the stink of my own charred flesh. And yet Frothlethimble looked even worse; bright bone showed through his charred flesh here and there. He wasn’t quite dead; I could see his chest heaving for breath. I tried to half crawl, half roll over to him, trying to ignore how I was leaving black smears of charcoal and blood on the floor, of how the smell of burning hair was making me choke, of how my fingernails had blistered and melted away from the heat.
I’d only made it halfway to the dying gnome when another globe bounced into the room. It rolled almost playfully across the floor of the room, bounced off my shoulder, then came to a rest a few feet from my head. The pain was gone now, and somehow, I knew that was a bad sign. Pain is what the body feels when it is in danger. It tells you to move, to get to safety. A lack of pain in this situation could only mean one thing. Wee Jas was already reaching up to take me into her halls. I lay there on the floor and marveled at how the growing fire inside this last globe of fire so close to my head looked so beautiful. Like the sun setting back in Diamond Lake when I was spending nights in the boneyard. The sun, framed by gravestones. Just before it sets, there’s this final pulse of light it seems, just before it dies for the night. The globe of fire was going to pulse in the same way, just before it exploded. I closed my eyes, even though the smoke and steam had already pretty much blinded me.
I didn’t want to see that last blast of fire when it came.
Goodmonth 14, 595 CY
To its credit, the doppelganger didn’t really seem to be putting much into the deception at this point, because it did an evil little giggle after that. Not that Daejin didn’t giggle evilly now and then. But it was obvious that it wasn’t our friend out there.
So we waited. Twice more over the next half hour knocking on the door and mocking voices called out to us. That third time was the last straw. Gar stood up with a heavy sigh and started putting his armor back on.
We emerged a few minutes later to find the hall once again quiet. Armed but low on resources, we moved back into the maze and were once again jumped by the doppelgangers. This time, though, we were better prepared, and we made short work of the deceptive freaks. It wasn’t much more work to navigate through the rest of the maze, and feeling accomplished, we stepped into a large chamber.
At one end of this chamber was a complicated chair-like device, while at the other was an upraised area and a large, full length mirror. And standing in front of that mirror was a famliar face—Allustan. Of course, the trickery would have had a better chance at getting us if we weren’t so deep in Doppelganger Dungeon. “Allustan” made some silly attempt to invite us up to hear about the “truth of things.” We responded with weary hostilitiy, as is our want.
Of course, “Allustan” seemed to be ready for that, and before any of us could reach him he hit us with confusion. I recognized the spell even as I felt it creeping into my mind, knew that the strange thoughts and compulsions racing through my head weren’t my own, but I was powerless to ignore them. I spent the next minute or so locked in a struggle for life and death against my arch enemy, Dram.
Fortunately, with me chasing after him and not being able to do much harm with my morningstar, and my chasing after him preventing him from doing the Dramelo Shuffle and getting all skirmshy kept us from really hurting one another. The rest of the group did their best against “Allustan” even as he threw walls of fire at us. Gar finally charged him, eager to engage a week wizard in melee, only to see “Allustan” transform into a hulking barbaric orc armed with an even bigger axe than Gar’s. The battle was ferocious, but it ended the same way most of our fights do—Demon Boy waiting until the foe was on his last leg and then zapping him with magic missiles.
After some awkward apologies between Dram and myself, we got to the looting. The giant mirror looked fantastic but we weren’t sure how we could safely navigate it out of the dungeon. Fortunately, there were some tapestries in the next room to wrap it in. We found some other baubles as well, including a scroll of dominate person that Demon Boy quickly snatched, and a message from someone who spells his name by drawing a tentacle. That would have been ominous enough, but the contents of the letter were worse, for they seemed to indicate that the doppleganger band we’d just defeated were in fact the minions of someone else, someone who apparently, according to the letter, lived near a sewer junction under something called a “cold forge.” Wonderful. I suppose it really was just a matter of time before we ended up in the sewer, though.
We had a little trouble on the way out. Drow trouble. They jumped us at the octopus room, but weren’t really much of a problem. The monster that had led them here to ambush us, though… different story. I only caught a glimpse of it before it vanished—human shaped, but with a face that had too many tentacles to be attractive. After dispathing the drow, Gar identified the creature as a mind flayer, and we all had a collective shudder. Who hadn’t heard stories about the brain eaters?
One more thing—after that last fight, Demon Boy used his scroll of dominate person to get himself a pet drow. His name is Garesh, and he’s rather easy on the eyes if I do say so myself. I wasn’t about to ask Demon Boy for a loaner, though. I’m not quite that desperate for company yet.
Goodmonth 15, 595 CY
In any event, I think I’ll go to sleep early. Demon Boy and Frothlethimble are making sounds like they want to go out on the town. I hope they don’t bring Garesh along. People don’t react well to drow, normally. But then… when the rest of that particular group’s a red-skinned halfling and a murder-mad gnome, maybe he’ll be the least of the city guard’s troubles.
It’ll be nice to sleep in a real bed. I’m sure I’ll be sleeping in some foul damp sewer cave tomorrow night, after all.
Goodmonth 16, 595 CY
I’d been putting it off. It’s easy to say, “I’ll drop by later, after I’ve dealt with these murderous doppelgangers,” but in the end I finally admitted to myself that I was a little afraid of how they’d react to my developing association with the Green Lady’s vestige. It seems that it’s “moved in” more or less permanently now. My eyes have turned bright green, and now and then little wisps of green fire or mist seem to ripple over parts of me. And, if I do say so myself, the weird splotches and, um… nasty patches on my skin seem to be clearing up as well. I even feel a little taller. Whatever the effects the Green Lady’s having on me, I dare say they’re positive ones.
So, I made it to the temple without event, but it took a few moments of quiet prayer to work up the guts to actually go inside. The place is pretty huge… nowhere near as imposing and massive as the Wizard’s Guild, but a LOT nicer to look at. Wizards know their stuff with magic, but they aren’t very good at interior decoration. And their image suffers from it. Not the case here; painted statues of Wee Jas, scarlet curtain bedecked with bits of crystal, mosaics, complex tiled floors, carvings on walls and pillars, even the doors looked great!
I wandered the halls for a bit, took some time in a shrine to meditate, and then finally approached one of the acoylytes and introduced myself.
“Wait. Did you say Tyralandi?” he asked. I replied in the affirmative, and then said I’d been sent here to speak with Alamander.
“I should say so, my lady!” he replied, “He’s in his office. He’s been waiting for you.”
That threw me. Being called “My Lady” by someone who sounded sincere about it AND being told that Alamander expected me. I made haste into the office and found Alamander there behind a desk, a thin-faced man who looked up as I entered, an expression of what looked like relief and perhaps curiosity on his face. Sitting at the other side of his desk were two figures.
“Why there you are, Lady Scrimm,” he said with a smile. “I was wondering when you would come to visit.” He indicated the other figures at the table. “I believe you know my guest?”
I recognized him then; Baermon, the gruff and rather unruly oafish guardian who lived out in front of the Green Lady’s Cairn. He wasn’t looking much better for his stay so far in the city; he’d made an attempt to comb some of his hair, and was actually wearing clothes over all of his body, and appeared to have recently taken a bath, but he still looked more like a mercenary than a devotee of the Ruby Sorceress.
He staggered to his feet and seemed almost ready to engulf me in a hug before he caught himself. He blushed, figited with his clothes, then finally thrust out a giant hand to greet me.
“Lady Tyralandi! Remember me? Baermon! I walked all the way here! Remember me?” I patted him on the forearm and told him it was good to see him, then shoulderd by him to take a seat at Alamander’s desk. I shot a sideways glance to the other figure seated next to Baermon.
“Who’s he?” I asked.
“He’s my friend,” Baermon answered proudly. “And yours too! Don’t you recognize him? I brought him here for you!”
I wasn’t sure how to respond to that, so I decided to put it off for a moment. I turned to Alamander. As it turned out, he’d been speaking with Baermon for some time already, and the topic, of all things, was me. Seems the church has been watching my actions more closely than I had thought. I wasn’t sure if I was excited and honored or a little weirded out by that concept. The whole idea of an actual organized and regimented part of my faith was still something a bit new to me, but it felt… it felt right in here.
In any event, the conversation revolved around some sort of prophecy about someone called, “The Lifeless Born.” According to several prophecies carved on walls deep in the Green Lady’s Cairn, this Lifeless Born would gather friends to her side and face a great darkness that threatened the natural cycle of birth, life, and death. Baermon interrupted at this point, grabbing my shoulder roughly.
“This man thinks you’re the one, Tyralandi! He thinks you’re the lifeless born! And that makes me the friend you’re gathering to your side to fight this darkness!” He beamed, obviously honored and proud to be part of a prophecy. I made clear my displeasure at his big, unmanicured, unbelievably thick and clumsy hand on my shoulder, and as he withdrew it I turned back to Alamander.
“It can’t be me that this prophecy is about, though. I’m alive. At least, I’m pretty sure… uh…” His expression made me trail off, and he casually asked to see my arms and legs.
I knew what he was looking for—the marks. The patches of necrosis, of dead flesh, of mold and veins and softened skin and leathery wrinkles. He nodded, then asked me what I remembered of my childhood. I couldn’t tell him much, but then he said something that made my blood run cold.
“Is it possible you were stillborn? That your parents had you brought back from death?”
The thought had never occurred to me, but now that it had been spoken aloud… it felt right, just like being in this temple.
Alamander and I spoke for hours, him asking me questions about how my divine powers had developed and me recounting my adventures in Diamond Lake, the Mistmarsh, and here in Greyhawk. He seemed convinced, by the end, that I was indeed the Lifeless Born.
It was all a bit much, and I think he saw that in my expression. He advised me to return to wherever I was staying and think things over—if I wanted, I could even stay here at the temple. There were records kept in the basement here, hundreds of thousands of them. I could come back at any time to look through them—records of resurrections and deaths. Perhaps somewhere in there, I would find the final bit of proof that I was indeed who he and Baermon thought I was.
I’m not sure I want to see that proof.
Before we left, I did step down into the archives for a bit, but that was more to get into a relatively private place where I could ask Baermon the question I’d been burning to ask.
“So, this guy with you,” I said, indicating the hooded figure that never strayed further than a few feet from Baermon’s shoulder. “Who is he? You said I knew him…”
My words caught in my throat, for Baermon had reached over and pulled down his companion’s hood.
It was Filge.
My hand shot to my mornignstar—for a brief moment, I assumed Baermon had been sent by the cult of the Green Lady to finish me off, that they weren’t as happy with me binding vestiges of their saint as I’d hoped they would be. But there was something off about Filge. Then it struck me.
He was still dead. Sort of. Someone had animated him.
The irony of it all was incredible. I must have been laughing for at least five minutes by the time I caught my breath and wiped the tears from my eyes. Baermon stood patiently the whole time, waiting for me to compose myself.
“So,” I said, “Not that I don’t appreciate this, but why? Why animate this monster and walk him around Greyhawk? Why not burn his carcass and be done with him?”
Baermon shrugged. “My mistress told me it was all part of his role. His life, his death at your hand, and now his servitude to you is part of the prophecy.”
Filge. My undead minion.
“You realize that my friends won’t really understand this, do you?”
“You know you have to keep this a secret, right? That no one needs to know?”
He nodded again.
“Fine. He can stay. I’m still not convinced that I’m this Lifeless Born, but knowing that Filge is getting a taste of his own depravity kind of makes me warm inside, truth be told. All arcane necromancers should be so lucky.”
And so Baermon and Filge accompanied me back to the Green Dragon. I wasn’t keen on having more folk added to the group, especially when one of them was the walking corpse of a man I’d killed and who the rest of the group hated, but he seemed so eager. I met the others in the common room and introduced Baermon as “my chronicler, appointed by the church.” Not completely a lie, and the title seemed to please Baermon. The rest of the group either just shrugged and went back to drinking or rolled their eyes. Gar mumbled something about “as long as they don’t get in my way, you can bring along as many servants as you want, I suppose.” I didn’t bother that with a reply; I was just glad no one seemed too interested in the other guy who was following me around. Of course, Demon Boy and Frothlethimble seemed to be deep in some sort of secret sharing game, whispering and giggling and, it seemed to me, glancing at Gar more often than not.
I excused myself, arranged for Baermon and Filge to share a room, then retired.
I wasn’t hardly asleep before Gar’s roars had me out of bed. It was impossible to understand him; he was so enraged his words were all running together, probably getting all tangled in his beard or somesuch. I threw on a robe and stepped out into the hall, where Rac and Dram were already waiting.
“What’s happening?” I asked.
“Gar’s freaking out again,” Dram said nonchalantly. “Should we check up on him?”
“We should,” I replied. “He sounds really pissed about something.”
Turns out, he had more than a reason to be angry. We entered his room and found the place completely, absolutely, and horrifically soaking in blood. His pillowcase was dripping with it. There was puddles of it between his sheets. It welled up between his toes from the bearskin rug astride the bed. All of his clothes looked like they’d been completely soaked to the last thread in it.
So much blood. It was a little surreal. A part of me started trying to calculate how many people had to die to produce this much of it.
“What’th goin’ on, Gar?” came a voice behind me. Frothlethimble entered the room, and his eyes widened at the sight of all the blood. “Oooh! Lookth like you goth yersthelf another murder or shomthin!” He giggled.
“YOU! YOU DID THIS!”
Demon Boy and his pet drow Garesh entered as well. Demon Boy’s eyes were big and sparkling, and he was gnawing on a fistful of candy. Garesh was having a harder time of looking innocent; he was grinning like a fool.
Father Frothlethimbe shrugged. “I’m sthure I have no idea of whath your thalking about. You probably just stheep-murdered sthome bandiths or sthomething.”
“NO! YOU DID THIS! HOW MANY PEOPLE DID YOU KILL?”
Frothlethimble looked around the room with an appraising eye. “Hmmm... yeth. Looksth like whoever DID do thish to you would have had to kill what…” he glanced at Demon Boy. “Probably at leasth thwenty people? More ifth sthome of them were babiesth.”
Gar closed his eyes, took a deep breath, then slowly put down his axe. I don’t remember him picking it up, but then again, there was a lot of blood in the room.
“Okay. Stay calm, Gar. Maybe he has nothing to do with this. You’ve seen some crazy things in the past few months. So first, look for clues. Rule out the simple answers.”
Dram offered to help, but Gar waved him away with a snarl. So we watched him go over his blood-soaked room, on his hands and knees at times, his beard swirling around in the crimson soup, his hands slipping over the boards now and then. And finally, a triumphant cry. He stood, and clutched in his hand was a long thin hair. With a wave of his fingers, he used prestidigitation to clean the blood from the hair.
It was white, and about a foot long.
All eyes went from that damning hair to the rest of us. In particular, to Demon Boy, Garesh, and Frothlethimble, who all had white hair of that length.
“Wow,” said Frothlethimble, his face betraying nothing. “Wouldth you look at thath!”
That did for Demon Boy and Garesh, both of whom exploded into laughter. Slowly, the truth dawned on the rest of us—it had been a joke. A gruesome, morbid, and sinister one, sure. But a joke.
“Tell me you didn’t kill anyone, you little monster,” Gar said, his voice calm and scary.
Frothlethimble just shrugged again, and Garesh said, “Show them the goblet! It’s delightful!”
Frothlethimble shot the drow a look, and for a moment I was sure that the gnome was going to open him up. There was madness in those eyes. I’d seen it before, but this was the first time it really gave me a chill. Demon Boy and Garesh were yuking it up, but Frothlethimble just looked quietly pleased.
It took a bit of cajoling, but we finally got the truth out of them. At least part of it. They’d found a magic goblet the night before, something that turns water to blood. None of us really pressed the matter, partially because we didn’t want to know, and partially because I think we needed to give Gar some room to cool down. He’d cleaned his room with prestidigitation spells; I offered to help with my ring, but he made it pretty clear my help was Not Needed. As he finished, he made to close the door, but paused before doing so and leveled a glare at Frothlethimble.
“That one was your freebie, gnome. The next one will cost you. More than I reckon you’d be willing to pay.”
Frothlethimble met his glare, unblinking and unafraid. “You can come and thry to collecth on that paymenth anythime you feel up to ith, Gar.”
There’s something wrong with that gnome. Anyone who’s seen what Gar’s capable of doing and then all but threaten him’s got more than a deathwish. Better keep an eye on that one.
Goodmonth 19, 595 CY
Tomorrow morning, though, we head into Zyrxog’s lair. Armed with the map that Garesh drew for us, several spells to protect us from mind blasts and mind control, and hopes that we weren’t heading into a trap, I just hope we can keep our own interparty problems under control. Frothlethimble’s been strangely quiet lately. I’m afraid the blood prank was only the beginning.
Goodmonth 12, 595 CY
Seemed obvious what had happened, in hindsight. Some of those we’d rescued were actually more doppelgangers. Perhaps all of them.
Dram and I hurried back to Sodden Hold to report to the others, but when we arrived, it was pretty obvious that reports wouldn’t be necessary. Two dead bodies lay in the alley across from Sodden Hold, both gray and wrinkled humanoids dressed in the uniforms of city guards. Frothlethimble, Rac, Gar, and Demon Boy told us that they’d returned to the area not long after we’d left, and when they saw the “guards” were chasing poor crazy Gattel, they confronted them. Bloody combat was the inevitable result. Alas, Gattel was murdered by the doppelganger guards before they could be stopped.
We hid the bodies as best we could, and came to the decision that it would be best to return to the Green Dragon to rest and recover before we returned to Sodden Hold to investigate the watery pit.
Goodmonth 13, 595 CY
Truth be told, it was guilt at not seeing the poor woman to safety that really drove me back to Sodden Hold. Taan was still nowhere to be found, but the rest of us soon gathered our gear and set out to see if there was more to the warehouse than what we’d found so far. We left Rac on guard, in case Taan returned and needed direction to find us, and then made a quick sweep of the warehouse. Still empty; Ilya hadn’t been returned to the cells.
We finally returned to the strange water-filled shaft. I called upon the grace of Wee Jas to give us the ability to breathe water, and after we leapt into the pit, we discovered what we’d suspected—that after dropping underground, the shaft turned and doubled back up into a larger chamber. Frothlethimble eagerly swam into the flooded room, eager to explore, and was thus able to warn us about the monstrous horse-sized octopus that lurked in the room. Warn us, in that he was suddenly grabbed by a long greasy tentacle.
Fighting underwater… is not my favorite. Even able to breathe the stuff, it’s just a little too strange, and it’s certainly difficult to move and swing weapons. Nonetheless, we defeated the octopus before it crushed anyone TOO badly.
We surfaced in the room beyond to find a platform protruding from the water. A ladder went up the side, and DaeJin, Frothlethimble, and Demon Boy clambered up atop it while the rest of us made sure there were no more octopi lurking in the water. You can never be too sure about octopi.
A sudden grinding noise caught my attention. I glanced over to the platform and saw that Demon Boy had discovered a lever protruding form it. And since it was there, he had, of course, pulled it. The grinding turned out to be the sound of a large submerged vent opening, and quickly the water in the room began to drain. The octopus’s body partially clogged the drain in that nasty way that a boneless monster’s body clogs drains, but soon, the water level had dropped to a point where the platform, once just off the water surface, was now dozens of feet overhead.
Although Demon Boy pulled the lever again, it was apparent that it would take a few minutes for the water level to rise, allowing Gar and Dram and I the luxury of being able to clamber out and onto the platform as well. Frothlethimble couldn’t wait, though, and he capered off into a tunnel he discovered with a hoot. DaeJin followed, and of course, it wasn’t long after that we heard the sound of combat. The water level still hadn’t fully risen by the time several more “city guards” swarmed onto the upper walkway in the room. DaeJin continued to fire at them with her bow, and the rest of us did our best to fight them with spells and arrows from the water. By the time the water level had risen high enough for me to clamber up onto the walkway, the guards had been defeated. And had reverted to their true doppelganger shapes.
And that was when I realized that Frothlethimble’s incessant chattering and murder-talk had fallen silent. DaeJin had a pale, sick face, and silently pointed down a nearby hall. Fearing the worst, that this time the bloodthirsty little man had pressed his luck too far in a case where I was unable to reach him to save him, I was surely not prepared for the sight that greeted me as I rounded the corner.
Frothlethimble lay dead on the ground, several arrows protruding from his chest. Or more precisely… the doppelganger who had been wearing Frothlethimble’s clothing lay dead.
How… When could this have had happened? Had he been snatched and duplicated just recently? Did it happen several nights ago, when he had left the Golden Phoenix to find money to pay our bill? Or had Frothlethimble always been a doppelganger?
Dazed, shocked, and more than a little suspicious of the rest of the group, we decided to press on. Demon Boy got the smart idea to tie bits of cloth to each of our shoulders, so we could at least tell who we were, just in case. Before he did, I called upon the prayer of thought detection and looked upon the minds of my supposed allies. It was with some relief that none of their minds registered as wrong in the same way that doppelganger back in the garrison jail had registered. Demon Boy suggested we tie ribbons of cloth to our wrists so that if more doppelgangers tried to trick us, we’d notice. Seemed like a desperate plan, but we did it anyway. In any event, in a daze, we pressed on. We discovered and avoided a pit trap, and found what appeared to be a row of barracks for “guards.” Beyond one of these, a single door beckoned. And when we opened it… things got really complicated really fast.
For within the hexagonal room beyond were all of us! Exact duplicates, myself included, tied to chairs and gagged, squirming and looking at the rest of us fearfully. Gar was having none of it. He barreled into the room and tore off the gag on the second Gar, and screamed, “WHAT THE HELL’S THE MEANING OF THIS?” He seemed ready to chop off his own duplicate’s head, when suddenly the other Tyralandi stood, having wriggled free of her bonds. She tugged off her gag, pointed at me, and shrieked, “Get her! She’s one of them!”
What followed was one of the most surreal and nerve-wracking battles I’d been in yet; a kaleidoscopic melee where it was nearly impossible to tell friend from foe. I’m pretty sure that the real Gar hit me with his axe at least once, but I can’t be completely confident of that. In any event, we managed to defeat them; Demon Boy’s cloth on the arm trick proving to be the key. It turned out that almost all of the ones tied to chairs were doppelgangers—all of them save Frothelthimble, who was rightfully overjoyed to see us. We compared stories, and found out that the poor gnome had been snatched several days ago, not long after we’d first entered the city. Which meant that the “Frothlethimble” I’d eaten dinner with at the Golden Phoenix was a doppelganger… which mean that the poor real Frothlethimble didn’t even have the luxury of memories of the wonderful repast to lessen the sting of never being able to go there again (needless to say, the sting of spending thousands of gold coins).
Reunited, we turned our attention to the other end of the subterranean complex, finding a planning room, and beyond that, a particularly frustrating maze of mirrors. And naturally, said maze was patrolled by more doppelgangers. They seemed to know the maze layout well, and took advantage of shifting walls to keep us confused and baffled, but by now we were growing accustomed to their tactics. We managed to defeat most of them with ease, but one of them got away. And another managed to land a rather hideous blow on Gar, slashing across his face and cutting deep into his nose. The wound was ghastly, and even after magical healing left an ugly scar. He seemed to be content with it, which rather horrified me. How could someone, even a dwarf, live with such disfigurement? It hurt to look at him!
At this time, it was obvious that we were tiring. Our resources were growing thin and Demon Boy was complaining about being hungry. I suggested that we return topside and recover back at the Green Dragon, but the others disagreed. Gar, in particular, argued that we should hole up in one of those nice sleeping chambers back there, and that way we wouldn’t have to fight our way back in here the next day. The argument that it probably wasn’t safe to sleep in the middle of the enemy’s stronghold didn’t seem to phase him—“We can lock the door!”
And so, with great trepidation, I agreed. I wasn’t going to let my friends sleep in this place without someone to heal them, and the beds in the sleeping chambers were uncharacteristically comfortable looking. We picked one and holed up, just like Gar had suggested. And just like I had feared… it was less than twenty minutes before we heard a knocking on our door.
Goodmonth 11, 595 CY
I called over the waitress and explained in as pleasant a matter as I could that I would be sending my gnome servant and companion out to fetch the payment, apologizing for the unconventional measure but explaining that I had underestimated the fact that the establishment would feature such a fine vintage as I had earlier enjoyed. The waitress seemed a bit put off, but she agreed. What followed was an increasingly nerve-wracking wait as the minutes crept by. I had just enough time to wonder if Frothlethimble had simply made an escape from the bill, and then to wonder if he’d been jumped by thugs, when something altogether more horrible occurred. He returned, with Taan, Demon Boy, and Gar in tow, all three of which had eyes sparkling like hungry predators led to an unsuspecting kill.
I considered, for a moment, using the distraction of their arrival as a means of securing my own unnoticed escape, but the concept of leaving without paying for the delicious meal kept me in my chair.
My traveling companions loudly and boisterously shambled into the dining room, all guffaws and chortles and swagger. Taan’s eye was immediately caught by the empty bottle of wine, and he swept it up and began to interrogate the staff about it’s value. Demon Boy clambered up onto the table itself and began a monstrous combination of dancing (staining the white tablecloth with dirt) and scavenging leftover food (some of it from neighboring tables). And Gar began to loudly proclaim that he had come to pay “Gracious Lady Tyralandi’s bill” with the blood money that he, her hired thug, had gathered from unfortunate debtors who owed her. He went into graphic detail about how he’d been forced to chop one thief’s hand off and how another had tried to eat the gems owed Tyralandi, necessitating an on-the-spot vivisection-via-axe to retrieve the loot from his bile-filled gut. The three of them certainly looked the part, spattered head to toe with bits of blood and disheveled as if they’d indeed just returned from a brutal fight.
The dining hall emptied fairly quickly, but not without a few shocked and horrified socialites losing their expensive dinners at Gar’s gruesome description, or his discovery of what he claimed to have been a severed finger still stuck in his beard that he tossed to Demon Boy for “safe-keeping.” By this point, the owner had been summoned, and Gar made his point again, paying the man in a filthy combination of silver, gold, and even copper fished out of an oily, bloodstained sack.
It was, without a doubt, the most humiliating experience I had ever had. In less than ten minutes, my erstwhile companions singlehandedly destroyed any notions I had been entertaining about joining Greyhawk’s social elite, or of possibly building up enough status in the city to perhaps, one day, be able to afford and live in as wonderful an estate as Eligos. They had created a very real and permanent ceiling over my head, one that I would likely never be able to reach beyond. In Greyhawk, at least, and if one couldn’t become nobility in Greyhawk, there’s basically only banditry, inheritance, or adventuring as an option for increasing one’s wealth. Banditry turns my stomach, and I have no relatives to inherit riches from. Which left adventuring. A soul-numbing thought at best.
I suppose the tab was settled. By that point I didn’t really notice; everything was blurring together. I remember leaving the Golden Phoenix and trudging back to the Green Dragon Inn, I remember Demon Boy’s chatter about how disappointed he was that there wasn’t a REAL golden phoenix at the place, and I remember Gar’s constant chortles and guffaws of delight at my discomfort. But most of all I remember Frothlethimble’s oblivious attitude about how great the evening had turned out.
When we reached the Green Dragon, I paid for a room and immediately went upstairs to cry myself to sleep on a burlap pillow under patchy sheets of tenth-generation linen.
So much for making the big-time in Greyhawk.
Goodmonth 12, 595 CY
Yet upon arriving at the local jail, it quickly became apparent that no man matching the description of our shapechanging thug was in the prison. We spoke to the guards, and they told us that a person had indeed been placed under arrest last night for disorderly conduct, but that person was a foul-mouthed doxy. We asked to see her anyway, knowing she had the ability to change shape, suspecting an illusionist or transmuter at the time. She proved to be as foul-mouthed as she was intractable in her story that she’d never seen us before, but a strange glint in her eye made me think otherwise. I called upon the Goddess for aid, and peered into her mind to read her thoughts. But instead of thoughts, all I got was a curious blankness. As I probed deeper, finding nothing, she glanced my way and threw me a wink, saying that she’d said all she was going to say, and that she was sure we’d find who we were looking for “soon enough.”
We retreated back upstairs and I told the others about the strange blank mind effect; this, combined with the shapechanging aspect, led us to believe that our enemy was something more than a spellcaster. All signs, at this point, indicated he/she/it was a doppelganger. Yet doppelgangers rarely worked alone in large cities like Greyhawk, and why had she targeted us in the first place? The only clue we had was that weird bent key, and with a little asking around, we soon determined that the octopus attacking the boat was the same symbol as used over the door of an out-of-business trading company that once maintained a warehouse down by the river. A place known as “Sodden Hold.”
Eager to find out more, we geared up and made our way to the river. The close smell of the city got a little better as we passed through the gate and into the riverfront, the air now heavy with the distinctive scent of river nettles, mud, and fish cooking on numerous noontime open-air stoves.
Sodden Hold turned out to be worth its namesake, a forgotten building partially protruding over the river on thick, algae-encrusted pilings. The street seemed fairly empty, with most of the traffic bustling further up the river toward the city wall, so it was with relative ease that we tried the key in the front door’s lock. Success!
Inside, the southern half of the building seemed to be a partially filled storage hall. Crates and barrels, covered with dust, lent the place an air of being abandoned, yet here and there we could see the scuffle of recent passage in the dusty floor. We were about to turn our attention to an upper walkway that led to a door leading north, when suddenly Rac cried out in surprise. I glanced over at him and watched in shock as one of the crates turned strangely malleable, extruding out a pseudopod to strike at Rac just as a toothy, horrific mouth slithered open along its top. Daejin cried out, “A MIMIC!” with a sudden strange terror and shock, indicating that she’d had some sort of previous dealings with man-eating crates before. I started to call upon a spiritual weapon to strike at the creature, when suddenly a second crate beside me slithered into life. Shocked, I was unable to dodge aside in time, and in less than three heartbeats it had lifted me off the ground and was feeding me into its strangely dry mouth, a sucking pit that stank of dust and rusty nails. I tried to squirm away, but the thing had begun to exude a nasty, vinegary glue that clung to me, making it impossible to even move. The dusty stink of its interior was growing overwhelming, and stars had started to sparkle at the corner of my eyes before, as suddenly as it had leapt into life, it went strangely slack.
I managed to crawl back out to see that Dram had slain the mimic after helping Rac dispatch his own. A third lay leaking and dead at Gar’s feet. Father Frothlethimble was gracious enough to use prestidigitation to clean me up, but I barely grumbled a thanks to the gnome. It was going to take far more prestidigitations than one to make up for involving Gar and Taan and Demon Boy in the previous night’s error.
We moved on through the door, down a flight of stairs, and into what can only be called a prison. Strange to find a prison inside of a supposedly abandoned warehouse, but stranger still to find that prison occupied by prisoners! There were four in all. Two city guards named Martal and Regim who quickly began begging us to release them, a strange hairy man who shrieked and capered and giggled about us being overdue on our taxes, and a quiet woman who barely registered our arrival but sought instead only to shrink deeper into the corners of her cell.
Martal and Regim seemed the most talkative, and from them we pieced together a vague picture of thugs who had been jumping people in the dead of night and then bringing them back here. They told us that the gibbering man was once a tax collector named Gattel, while the woman was an elf named Ilya Starmane. None of them could tell us much about their captors, so we decided to let them all out and escort them out of the warehouse. Once there, the two guards thanked us and said that they’d escort the other two prisoners to the closest barracks to have them processed and returned to their families. Seemed like a good enough plan at the time, so we bid them farewell and returned to the warehouse.
Beyond the prison, we came into a large room that must have taken up much of the section of the building overlooking the river. The floor had all but fallen away, though, leaving behind only a few timbers and pilings that looked hardly safe enough to traverse. That didn’t really deter Frothlethimble, who immediately scurried out along the timbers and around the corner to report that he’d found a ledge and a door. Daejin, Rac, and Dram moved out as well, but the old timbers proved too much for them and suddenly, with a crack, Rac went tumbling into the waters below. Unfortunately, those waters were strewn with rusty weapons and spears, as he painfully called up to inform us. Even more unfortunate was the fact that several unseen, invisible creatures chose that moment to descend upon us.
The fight with the invisible monsters was disorienting and nerve-wracking. Demon Boy and I remained in the doorway to the south, using magic to fight them (his glitterdust spell proved especially helpful) while the rest of the group did their best to fight them from the various ledges (or in Rac’s case, pits) they found themselves in. It was a close fight, but we defeated the monsters in the end and found that the door Frothlethimbe had discovered led to a final room. A room with a trap door leading down to a shaft that led below.
It was getting late, and the fight with the mimics and the invisible stalkers had taken a lot out of us, so instead of continuing our explorations into the doubtlessly even more soggy chambers below Sodden Hold, we decided to come back tomorrow, leaving Rac, Frothlethimble, and Demon Boy to watch the warehouse from a second abandoned building across the street.
But not before Dram and I headed up to the local garrison to make sure the prisoners we’d rescued had reached it and were doing well. Which, as it happened, was a smart move. Because they’d never shown up at all.
Goodmonth 10, 595 CY
Our approach led us to one of the city’s southern gates, just north of the walled oldtown (of which I’d already decided I wanted nothing to do with). A long throng of people; farmers, merchants, pilgrims, and adventurers alike, had queued at the gate, and a pair of guards were diligently taking names and taxes and screening for troublemakers. It took us nearly an hour to reach the front—small price to pay for reaching such a sparkling crown of civilization. Dram introduced us and used his connections with the Diamond Lake militia to get us into the city’s Artisan’s Quarter with little hassle.
Once inside the city walls, I felt a bit of vertigo. To the left, a soot-covered wall protected us from a view of the Old City, but to the right the city itself perched on the upward slope like an immense wave of history and culture ready to crush us with advanced learning and high-priced trinkets. It was exhilarating.
We made it all of 240 feet into the city before getting distracted.
Just inside the wall, we were confronted with a tavern by the name of “The Fat of the Hog.” Not a name to evoke what I imagined one would find in the Artisasn’s Quarter, but I was rather hungry, and Gar’s eyes lit up like diamonds when he saw the place.
“TIME TO EAT!” he roared triumphantly as he barreled into the tavern.
Who would have ever guessed that a single dwarf could consume so many pork ribs?
The tavern’s owner, an aptly named man named “Wide” Waldo Parstiche, seemed to take to Gar like stink to a monkey. I managed to finish about a third of my plate before I got full, but fortunately Gar was there to help me out. By the end, his beard was a nightmare of meat and sauce, and I excused myself saying that I needed to seek out a place to get our magical loot identified and perhaps sold.
“OOH!” Gar belched. “Me too! I’ll come along!” My heart sank, but fortunately Father Frothlethimble was there to use prestidigitation to clean the dwarf up.
After the orgy of pork, we split up, each of us eager to accomplish some sort of different task. Gar and Demon Boy and I headed into the Low Market to look for a place to get our magic items identified and soon enough found a dubious man and his somewhat more reliable-looking pet monkey. He offered us several things, including a discount fortune reading from his sister, but he looked a bit... self-employed. We thanked him and decided instead to head up to the Mage’s Guild and have our items looked at by professionals, but not before Demon Boy bought an enormous sack of candy. The little guy was apoplectic with giggles as he began to chew his way through his sugary sins, but found the generosity within his soul to give the merchant’s monkey a large sugary treat before we left.
The Mage’s Guild was in every way the opposite of a shifty swindler’s Low Market squat. The guild is a majestic pyramid, and while non-members were only allowed entry to the first few rooms, it was enough to impress me. Had I chosen a different path in life, I would have easily found a home there. Gar and Demon Boy both signed up to become members of the guild at once, a move I approved of whole-heartedly. The entire place made me more curious than ever to seek out the city’s cathedral of Wee Jas—I had not forgotten my promise to Amaris back at the Green Lady’s cairn to seek out Alamander of Wee Jas here in Greyhawk once I arrived. Amaris’ cryptic comment that I had not yet “found myself” still haunted me, and I suppose fear of what Alamander might know about my childhood, my history, and of my damned hideous skin problem is what kept me from immediately seeking the cathedral out.
In any event, I managed to have my new violin identified as well. It is, apparently, an ancient item indeed, the Thrice-Damned Fiddle of Tvash-Prull. It could, of course, be used for performances as any violin, yet there were two songs when played upon its strings by a gifted performer that would produce magical effects. One song would imbue myself and my allies with false life, while another, more complex song, would ward myself and my allies from death. Both songs had side effects though… if I were to play them too long, they’d kill me. And once I started playing… it was apparently somewhat difficult to stop.
After Gar and Demon Boy proved their spellcasting prowess to their new guild by casting spells on each other (seeing Gar blinded by glitterdust was rather amusing), we returned to the Fat of the Hog to sleep. As I lay down in that lumpy bed with its coarse blankets and the lurking scent of pig in the air, I promised myself that the next night, my accommodations would be of a sort more fitting me.
Goodmonth 11, 595 CY
Eligos lived in a beautiful section of the Garden District, and as we arrived at his house I realized that I needed a house like this for my own. It looked fantastic, with a wide walkway flanked by hedges and statues of exotic fauna. The interior of the place was equally impressive, down to and including Pollard, the house’s major-domo. Pollard led us into a parlor, and not long after, Eligos arrived to speak with us.
A fiery-haired middle-aged man, Eligos struck me from the start as a scholar, yet not one who had learned all he knew from books. He carried himself with authority, and spoke with a firm voice that betrayed no hint of self-doubt. Yet when we mentioned Allustan, his demeanor changed—he raised his eyebrows and chuckled to himself. Apparently, the two go way back. After that, our conversation was much more relaxed; he seemed particularly intrigued by the preserved green worm we’d found in Filge’s laboratory and in the items we’d recovered from Zosiel’s crypt. The talisman, he told us, was a sort of controlling device for an ancient weapon used long ago by the forces of entropy and chaos, yet it seemed to be deactivated. He was also intrigued by Zosiel’s circlet, and promised to return it as soon as possible if I would loan it to him for study. After a bit of thought, I agreed, although removing it from my brow immediately caused a piercing (but thankfully short-lived) headache. The rest of our queries, about the Age of Worms and the letters we’d recovered from the Ebon Triad cultists, intrigued him as well, to the point where he told us he’d research the items free of charge, as a favor to friends of Allustan. Unfortunately, it would take several days for him to fully examine the clues; in the meantime, he gave us the name of a local inn owned by one of his friends. A place called “The Green Dragon.”
I, however, didn’t really have an interest in spending the night in another “quaint” local dive. As diplomatically as I could, I asked Eligos for another recommendation, something with a bit of class. He pondered for a moment, then with a strange half-smile mentioned a place called “The Golden Phoenix.” The name seemed right, but only Father Frothlethimble seemed interested in accompanying me to dinner. Fine. We still had about an hour before sundown, so while the rest of the group wandered off to the Green Dragon, Frothlethimble and I set about the task of buying new clothes. One hour (and about 2,000 gold) later, I was ready to impress with not only new jewelry but an incredible red and black full-body gown guaranteed to turn heads once it was on display, and best of all, it didn’t leave much skin exposed so I only had to touch up my hands and face and a bit of cleavage with makeup to hide the marks.
The Golden Phoenix was, if anything, even more impressive than I’d hoped. I spent that much on my new outfit hoping to be the impressive one there, but ended up merely fitting in. Frothlethimble showed up in a garish and clashing outfit complete with wide brimmed hat that somehow, incredibly, looked pretty awesome. Gnomes can get away with checker patterns and purple and green.
The meal was equally incredible, a delightful feast that consisted of a ten-course meal accompanied by musicians and entertainment. The Almorian Stuffed Stirge was the second-most adventurous risk of the evening, but it turned out to be far more delicious than it had any right being. The MOST adventurous risk, of course, was ordering “the best wine in the house.”
Turned out to be a crystal bottle of elven honey sun wine. The date on its label said “2.” Everyone else in the place grew silent when I ordered it, and the staff brought it out on its own wheeled cart. When they opened the bottle, the wine got a standing ovation.
It was, without a doubt, the most incredible thing I’d ever tasted, and between Frothlethimble and I, we drained the bottle dry over the course of our four hour meal. Finally, deep into the night, and barely able to move for being so full and pleasantly drunk, our waitress arrived pleasant and thankful at our table and presented us with the bill, a simple piece of folded parchment on a golden platter. A shudder built inside me, as nothing on the menu had displayed any prices, but I managed to hide my trepidation enough as I reached for the parchment and opened it up.
4,785 gold pieces.
15% gratuity not included.
Goodmonth 6, 595 CY
“DRAM!” I hissed. “WAKE UP! We’ve got some idiots here!”
To his credit, Dram was up and in action before anyone else. The bandits saw him reaching for his bow, and suddenly it turned from a nice gentle robbery into chaos.
Screams and curses fought for dominance in the common room as the bandits began spreading out. Dram was already moving, and had a few arrows sticking into the leader by the time the rest of us were up. I cast a longing look at my armor, stacked neatly on the floor next to the still-warm bedroll I’d been lying on. I’d probably regret leaving it on the floor, but there was no way I was going to take the time to put it on. So, like most of the rest of my companions, the battle ensued in sleeping clothes.
The leader, two of Dram’s arrows sticking out of a shoulder, dove behind the bar and took up a defensive position with his crossbow. I called upon Wee Jas, imbuing my voice with her voice, and knowing I wasn’t yet powerful enough to usurp complete control of his will, simply suggested to him that he clean up behind the bar. A strange look crossed his face, he lowered his bow, and then silently began alphabetically organizing the bottles of booze on the shelves behind the bar.
To the south, a door burst open and a loincloth-clad Gar barreled into the room. “WHAT’S THE MEANING OF... OH!” he said, as he realized what all the noise was coming from. He reflexively reached for one of the runes on his armor to cast a spell, then flew into a spout of profanity when he realized that he had left his armor in his room. With an angry shrug, he raised his axe (which he hadn’t left behind) and waded into the fray.
Rac and I fought side to side, defending a table that became an impromptu shelter for a few guests and the bard who’d been performing on the stage not an hour before. No loner bound to whatever spirit he favored, his combat style was less rigid but no less destructive as two bandits fell to his blade. His seeming indifference to defense gave me something to do for a bit, as I tried to keep up with healing his wounds as fast as they appeared. A few feet away, Taan calmly picked out wounded foes and finished a few of them off with magic missiles or beams of fire.
At the other end of the bar, DaeJin and Dram were providing covering fire with their arrows while Demon Boy scurried around. He seemed particularly amused by the bandit leader, who (despite the curses and desperate calls for help from his minions) seemed so focused on cleaning up behind the bar.
Through it all, I’d lost sight of Father Frothlethimble. To the great dismay of the enemy—so had they. One cried out in a terrible high-pitched gurgle as a great gout of blood sprayed out of his lower regions, his weakened knees giving way as he slipped and fell into his own red to reveal a grinning, bloodthirsty gnome with a dripping weapon in hand. Frothlethimble seemed a bit too taken with his murderous work, and didn’t see his victim’s ally coming up behind him with a sword raised.
Fortunately, Gar was there. With a roar, he swung his axe. Frothlethimble looked up to see what all the to-do was about and got a shower of gore as the decapitated bandit fell onto him. Gar paused for a moment as he looked down at the gory gnome.
“Woah... sorry little guy. Didn’t see you down there.”
“No probhlem!” Frothlethimble replied with his incongruous lisp. With a tip of the red-soaked pointy hat, he was off to find a new victim.
At this point, the bandits realized they’d picked the wrong tavern to rob, and were making a hasty retreat out the door. We followed, hoping to at least catch a few of them alive. And that’s when things started to get complicated.
As it turned out, a flight of four wyverns had come to roost on the roof above, likely drawn by the calls of pain and terror below. The first bandit barely had a chance to yelp as he was plucked from the ground and carried off. It seemed like a good idea to stay indoors, what with the wyverns out there, but we were already out there. Practically naked and already wounded from the bandit fight.
None of that seemed to bother Father Frothlethimble, though, who charged one of the fleeing bandits and skewered him in the lower back with his glaive. The killcrazy gnome hooted and howled in delight, shrieking, “I HIT HIM! I HIT HIM!” He was obviously excited about actually striking something with his favorite weapon, and didn’t see the wyvern perched on the eaves above him. I screamed out to him, tried to warn him, but the wyvern was on him.
Rac and I tried to reach him, but another wyvern landed directly in front of us. Rac began chopping at it just as Gar arrived, wild-eyed and axe-mad. By the time we’d murdered our wyvern, the other had Frothlethimble on the ground and was chewing at him and stinging him over and over. The little gnome wasn’t moving.
Before we could reach it, Taan stepped out and blasted the wyvern with magic missiles, attracting its attention long enough for Daejin and Dram to fill its beady little eyes with arrows. The wyvern shrieked and staggered to the side, allowing me to rush up to Frothlethimble to try to save him.
The gnome was bloated with poison. He’d been stung at least three times, and his entire body was swollen with the stuff. I couldn’t tell if he wasn’t breathing because he was dead, or simply because the poison had paralyzed him. I closed my eyes and concentrated, trying to block out the distractions of combat as I channeled healing energy into his body. I felt something within, a faint glimmer of life, but it was drowning in a sea of poison.
Acting on instinct, and knowing he would die if I didn’t get the poison out of him, I began cutting into his body with my dagger. Gouts of envenomed blood sprayed from the already gory gnome, and as he bled to death I managed to close his wounds with magic. With the poison out of his body, his heart began to beat again and he suddenly gasped for air. He was still unconscious, and probably wouldn’t feel like eating for a few days, but he would live.
I felt dizzy and tired after that much healing, and half sat, half fell onto the blood-soaked ground next to him. My vision was blurry, and suddenly I saw the strangest thing. The bandit leader was screaming at the top of his lungs, waving his arms in the air as he ran out into the field from the inn’s back door. He was glowing, as if covered with luminescent dust, and a few seconds later ran full-speed into a fence. He grunted as he draped over it, and an instant later a wyvern was on him as well, tearing into him with excitement.
Someone was screaming “GET BACK IN THE HOUSE!” I’m not sure who. I felt someone lift me to my feet, saw someone else pick up Father Frothlethimble. The sudden motion was too much, and I think I lost consciousness for a few moments. I came to back in the inn, the doors closed with furniture pushed up against them and numerous scared locals huddled in chairs, listening to the sound of wyverns eating bandits outside. Demon Boy was sitting on a table, swinging his legs and giggling. “Did you see that guy run? Hoo boy! That wyvern was on him like a cat on a mouse! Hee hee hee hee hee!”
Goodmonth 7, 595 CY
The next few days, fortunately, were relatively free of trouble, which was a nice change of pace. Each day, I cast what restorative spells I could on Father Frothlethimble, and in a few days he was back to his old self, seemingly no worse for the wear. I hope I don’t regret keeping the little killcrazy gnome alive.
As we drew ever closer to the free city, I grew more and more excited. I’d never seen Greyhawk, but I felt like everything I’d been doing until now was building to this point. Just imagining the comforts of civilization that dwelt within the Free City’s walls was enough to make everything else seem worth it.
Well… except perhaps those weeks in the Mistmarsh.
Goodmonth 5, 595 CY
It was a message from Lady Amaris—it seemed that she knew I’d returned to Diamond Lake and wanted to speak to me. A nervous chill caught me, I admit. What did she want? Did she have another mission for me, like the one she sent me on to deliver the “scroll” to Filge? Did she know something about the weird violin I’d found? Or did she have something to do with the strange dreams I’ve been having?
By the time I’d gathered my thoughts, the rest of the group was awake. I told them that I needed to visit some friends just out of town and made to leave, but that proved too intriguing for them to let alone.
“Friends? You don’t have any friends outside of town!” Gar guffawed. I let his rude comment slide.
“Well, let’s call them… accomplices?” I replied.
“Who are they? It’s those cultists on the other side of the lake, I bet!” Dram said as he tugged on his hat.
I paused, then said, “Yes. Lady Amaris needs to speak with me.”
“How do ya know that, missy?” Gar asked, his eyes narrowing in comfortable suspicion.
“It’s better you don’t know that.”
Demon Boy popped up from behind a table, two handfuls of suddenly forgotten kindling clutched in his hands. “I wanna go! I wanna go!”
And that was it. My quick visit to the Green Lady’s Carin turned into a circus.
It was easier to find this time. There was a bad moment when we reached the sentinels—I was sure Gar was going to attack the animated skeletons, but I managed to talk him down from the attack (with Taan’s help, of all people!). We reached the clearing before the cairn entrance, and while a few of my companions balked at entering, Gar and Dram and Demon Boy seemed eager to find out was inside.
We found Lady Amaris waiting for us on a large padded chair in a grand hall—a different place than when I last met her. The walls of this chamber, like all of the walls in the cairn, were thick with carvings of the Green Lady’s works so long ago. Lady Amaris greeted me, but there was something in her voice that seemed different than before. She began by asking me what I had accomplished recently, so I gave her a full report of my adventure in the Mistmarsh. She seemed particularly interested in the spawn of Kyuss we’d encountered, and was relieved we’d left each of the ones we’d seen destroyed. I told her about the violin, and the strange skeleton that had given it to me, but she didn’t seem surprised. She may have even smiled a little, but it was hard to see in the gloomy chamber. I asked her about it, and she said only cryptically that some mysteries we had to unravel on our own.
Which brought her to the reason she’d called me to the Cairn. She began telling me about how the Green Lady was a key figure in saving many of those who fled the Rain of Colorless Fire and served as a bastion of our faith in the new world the ancient Suel found themselves in. Only five minutes into the captivating story, though, Demon Boy sighed loudly and asked, “Isn’t this story over yet?” He was lucky—Lady Amaris didn’t kill him. She just told him it was best if he went and waited outside. Which he did.
After she finished, Lady Amaris said she knew (or at least suspected) I was about to head to Greyhawk, and when I confirmed that plan, she nodded and then asked me a strange question.
“Do you know yourself?”
It took me aback. I asked her what she mean, and she asked me what I could remember. I shifted uncomfortably. It wasn’t easy to think back on my childhood, let alone talk about it. Especially in front of Dram and Demon Boy. And Gar.
But I couldn’t not answer Lady Amaris, so I told her what I knew, of how I’d grown up in a traveling carnival, of being sick a lot as a child, of taking care of my father when he grew too drunk to help with his roustabout duties, of learning about Wee Jas from several large books on the occult and religion, and of how her teachings seemed so right to me. About how the Rhennee thugs attacked the carnival one night, of how my father’s wagon burnt down and the fire spread, and of how I’d managed to kill the priest who had tried to tear me open with his magic only to heal my burn wounds. And of how for the next few years I’d wandered the backroads of the Hills until finally settling down, after a fashion, in the outskirts of Diamond Lake.
As I finished, an explosion of laughter startled me. It was, of course, Gar.
“You were a CARNIE?” he managed to blurt out between peals of belly laughter. I closed my eyes and did my best to ignore him, and soon his laughter trickled down to a series of giggles and snorts. Lady Amaris took it all in stride.
“So you know where you are from? You know why you walk the path you walk? Why the darkness soothes your soul and the light burns it?” she asked me.
“I… um… no. I suppose not.”
She shook her head. “Then it is not yet time. I’m sorry I brought you out here.” She stood and was about to leave the room, then paused to look back at me. “When you reach Greyhawk, you may wish to pay a visit to Alamander, at the temple there.”
And that was it. Feeling worse than before, I returned back to the surface, only to find Demon Boy the center of attention—his fire-breathing trick had apparently captivated the acolytes of the Green Lady. When he saw we’d returned, he asked what had had taken us so long. I summarized things for him as we left, and of course that only confused the little guy all the more.
“What did she mean, Tyralandi? What’s the darkness? Which path do you have to follow? Aren’t you from Diamond Lake? Why did she think you were from somewhere else?”
“Maybe we need to find some fellow carnies to read her fortune,” Gar muttered, then burst into a new round of chortles. During the whole time, Dram remained uncharacteristically silent, but of the three, the worried look on his face actually bothered me the most.
We made it back to Diamond Lake by noon, and I asked Rac if he was still willing to help me with the urge to visit the graveyard. He agreed, and before long we were standing at a forgotten grave of some nameless miner. We didn’t speak. I simply squatted down by the grave and proceeded to draw the circular rune in its soil with my holy symbol. It took only a few moments, and when I was done, I glanced up to Rac. He nodded, then indicated the rune I’d drawn. I looked back down, and suddenly I understood. The rune was more than a rune. It was a focus for the Green Lady, a way the echoes of her power could be focused from the past, when she was alive, into the present. As I realized this, a surge of energy bloomed inside me. The entire world suddenly flared with green fire, and I felt… someone… something else in my mind. Someone who felt incredibly familiar, yet at the same time, a bit unnerving. The emotions locked in this second soul were nearly overwhelming.
When my vision cleared, the world looked different. There was a strange underlying green tinge to the world, and everything seemed just a little more focused. As I stood, ripples of this green light seemed to dance over my skin, barely visible yet impossible to ignore. As I looked at Rac, his expression made me pause.
“Your eyes…” he said.
I pulled out a mirror and checked myself out, and indeed, my eyes had changed. They shone from within with an emerald light, and I realized the green I was seeing wasn’t in the world. It was from my own soul. Or more to the point, from the second soul that had bonded with my own. I had called up a remnant of the Green Lady, an echo of her spirit, and made it my own.
As we returned to the guildhouse, the rest of the group seemed equally shocked by the change.
“And what sort of evil you get yourself into this time, girly?” Gar asked, his eyes narrowing. As he asked, I felt the Green Lady’s soul flare up inside me, and suddenly something came into focus as I looked at him. A spell. An arcane spell. I knew then that I could unleash two arcane missiles of force upon him if I wished, and the urge to do so was nearly overwhelming, but I fought it back. The Green Lady would have to learn to accept Gar’s intolerance, because we needed his skill in mayhem more than we needed a zombie Gar who obeyed my every command. And plus, I wasn’t keen on having my head lopped off.
I explained to the rest, with Rac’s help, what had happened. As best as I could, which was difficult since I didn’t quite understand it all myself. In any event, the day being almost over, we decided it would be best to bed down and then head out for Greyhawk first thing in the morning. As I lay there and tried to sleep, my mind raced with the possibilities and curiosity. What sort of secrets did the Green Lady have to reveal to me?
Goodmonth 6, 595 CY
We were ready to go within the hour. Some of us, particularly Gar (“Remember when Beaky nearly bit off my thumb while he was sitting on that shelf?”) seemed a bit emotional about leaving the half-rebuilt dump, but I couldn’t wait. I headed back up to the graveyard and rebound the Green Lady, meeting up with the others on the way out. I didn’t look back as we left Diamond Lake behind us. Hopefully, forever.
By Dram’s best estimate, it would take us about five days to reach Greyhawk. It seemed impossibly far away, but at the same time, I knew that with each step westward, the dregs of Diamond Lake fell further into my past. It felt pretty good!
As we traveled, we passed other folk now and then. We heard stories of a strange increase in the number of wyverns sighted in the region, and met several St. Cuthbert priests on a slow journey to the west, on a pilgrimage or some such. A few hours after noon, we came upon a patrol from Diamond Lake, a patrol of fairly desperate-looking soldiers. They slowly started surrounding us, and it became apparent that they were interested in claiming Demon Boy and returning him to Diamond Lake for the bounty. Fortunately, with Dram’s and Taan’s aid I was able to talk them out of it and they went on their way with a final warning about the wyvern sightings.
Wyverns. What’s the big deal? We killed that one in the Mistmarsh handily enough.
That evening, we came to the first of what would be several roadside inns. Gar quickly purchased the only available room, leaving the rest of us to the fate of sleeping in the common room. Which kind of made me feel a little queasy to the stomach, but with memories of sleeping in spider-infested trees deep in the swamp still fresh in my mind, I suppose I took to the common room with some bit of relief. I can’t wait to get to Greyhawk! To have my own room, one befitting me rather than one befitting a farmer or dirt merchant or dwarf!
Of course, since the common room was the same room as every other room, it made no sense to try to get to sleep early. Instead, I sequestered myself in a chair against the wall and just watched the commonfolk do their thing, as I’d done so often before in Diamond Lake. One guy, a filthy local or some such, staggered half-drunk over to our table at one point and tried to make friends with Dae Jin, but she rebuffed him with a quick comment about how she could never respect someone who wore striped yellow pants. Which, of course, sent him over to me for a second round of disappointment, after which he returned to his lonely little table to drink himself unconscious. How can anyone live like that? A few minutes later, a less depressing local, a ranger by the looks of him, stopped at our table to chat, mostly with Dram and Taan.
Gar and Frothelthimble seemed to be having a great old time at the bar, sitting to either side of some guy they’d befriended. Their conversation was loud and was giving me a headache, so I turned my attention to the woman on stage who had been playing several tunes on her lute. She was actually not bad at it, and I found myself starting to enjoy her music. My thoughts drifted to the strange violin in my bag. The one the skeleton had delivered to me. And of how, even now, days later, I still hadn’t tried it out. When one of the woman’s lute strings snapped, I was momentarily struck with an urge to take her place, to try the violin out, but my fear of not being able to do the beautiful instrument justice made me hesitate long enough for Frothlethimble to stagger over, half drunk, and drop a cantrip on the broken string to fix it.
Eventually, people started drifting off to their rooms (or onto/under tables in the common room). Frothlethimble and his new friend stepped into the back room, which seemed strange to me, especially when Frothlethimble came racing back out a few minutes later to gather up Gar. I thought about heading over to pry into their business, knowing full well that a sober Frothlethimble and a drunk Gar meant trouble, but then Gar returned, paid his tab, and headed into his room. Frothlethimble emerged a bit thereafter, a creepy grin on his face.
None of my business.
I tried to stay up as long as I could, hoping to cling to the Green Lady’s vestige and curious what would happen if I stayed awake all night. Was it sleep that released the vestige? Or was it time? I was on the verge of falling asleep anyway when someone stood up across the room and made for the exit. I recognized him as the ranger who’d talked with us earlier. He was moving quietly, obviously trying to sneak out without waking anyone. I called out to him.
“Off to hunt some midnight wyverns?” He stopped, looked at me, and said, “As a matter of fact, yes. Care to join me?”
I thought for a moment, then waved him on. “No thanks. I’d rather avoid poisonous dragons for the rest of the night.” But something seemed strange about his voice when he’d answered. As he left, I drew my mace closer to me and listened. Yes… there were definitely voices just outside the door.
Which is how I was the only person in the inn who wasn’t shocked when the “ranger” and his four friends kicked in the door and stormed in, armed to the teeth.
“OK everyone! No one move, except to empty your pockets onto the floor, and no one gets their throats opened!”
Goodmonth 3, 595 CY
Classy. This guy spends the entire walk out of that forsaken swamp firmly establishing his misogynistic attitude and blasphemous habits, and now that he finds out that I can cure disease, he wants me to fix his itch? I told him to go to sleep, and that the next morning I’d see what I could do for him. Maybe an act of kindness would plant a seed in his thick skull.
It was glorious being able to sleep on solid ground, to be able to relax just that much more without fear of rolling in one’s sleep into leech-infested water. It only took a few moments for me to fall asleep, and when I had, the dream was waiting. Again, I was in the huge circular graveyard, and again, Rac was making strange circles in the air. This time, as he made the rune, a strange presence seemed to waver and shimmer in the air, a presence that seemed at once familiar and a little bit frightening. It could have been a woman. A woman with bright green eyes. She pointed at the graveyard’s center, at the green gravestone there, and I was suddenly seized with an urge to inscribe the rune in the soft dirt at the stone’s base. Just as I was kneeling to do so, though, I was awakened by Gar, who mumbled something about it being my turn to watch.
It was a little chilly, so I drew my blanket around me as I sat down against the roots of a tree. The fire had burned low, and once again I wondered why they always wanted me to take a watch. It’s not like I’ve got dwarf eyes that can see into the dark to pick out gemstones in some dusty hole in the ground, or elf ears that can hear bees cough at 200 paces. Nevertheless, about half an hour later, I did indeed hear something.
The violin player had returned.
As tradition called, I prodded Dram in the ribs with my toes. I told him the violins had returned and he made some whiny noise about me being crazy. I poked him again and this time he sat up, quickly (and loudly enough to wake several others) proclaiming that he couldn’t hear anything.
“Fine,” I said. “You stay here and watch for a bit. I’m going to go find out what’s playing that violin.” As I grabbed up my morningstar and headed out, he said, “OKAY! Okay. Hang on. I’ll come with you.”
By the time he’d pulled on his armor, most everyone else was awake too. What initially was going to be me sneaking into the woods to find a mysterious violin player quickly turned into a parade. Hopefully, the sound of a clot of people trampling the underbrush wouldn’t scare it away.
Of course, it did. It sounded like it couldn’t have been more than a hundred feet away when it ceased. This time, however, I didn’t hesitate. I broke into a run, stumbling a few times on roots but quickly enough came to a small clearing where the noise had been coming from.
And standing in the center of the clearing was a skeleton holding a violin. And not just ANY violin. It was a beautiful piece of art, made of what looked like some sort of pale, almost white wood and inlaid with abalone and pearl. I froze in my tracks. As I did, the skeleton turned a little to face me, then kneeled and held the violin out toward me. I reached out to it, and as soon as I touched the amazing instrument, the skeleton itself crumbled to shards. I caught the violin before it fell, and a strange tingle ran up my arm.
It wasn’t a heartbeat before Demon Boy said, “Aww crap. This means you’ll be making those terrible sounds again, doesn’t it?” I ignored him and looked the violin over. It was amazing. It carried with it an almost palpable sense of antiquity, and I was tempted to try it out there and then. But I didn’t. For some reason, I didn’t feel that anything I could do would honor this incredible gift. I needed to practice more.
Dram and Taan both gathered up a handful of the bone shards (I’m not sure why, but whatever), and then we returned to the camp. I finished out my watch in a state of horrid distraction—fortunately, there were no further incidents.
Goodmonth 4, 595 CY
I skipped breakfast, instead taking the time to inspect and clean my new violin. When I called upon Wee Jas to view its aura, I could even tell that some sort of magic had been woven into its strings and wood. What the violin actually did, I could not yet tell. Taan noticed my distraction and sat down next to me.
“So… you seem to be carrying a lot of things lately, Tyralandi. You know… I could help a bit. I could carry that weird box the bullywugs gave you.”
Seemed like a good idea to me. I gave Taan the box, despite everyone else suddenly growing very interested in NOT giving him the box to carry. I’d been watching him though. Since the disaster back in the Whispering Cairn when he riled up that earth elemental, he really did seem to be changing. He kept up his outward veneer of “devil may care” attitude, but he’d handled the diplomatic relations with the lizardfolk and then with Prince Groak with skill and ease. Why not let him carry the box? Saves me the temptation of peeking inside myself! In any event, he just examined it for a bit and then slipped it into a bag, unopened. We packed up and set off.
We reached Shank’s Rest two hours before noon. As we approached, Dram suddenly froze. He quickly hissed back at us, “Two people hiding in the bushes behind the building!”
We approached with care, and before we got within fifty paces, I called out. The two thugs in the shrubs remained motionless, but a few seconds later, the front door to the old farmhouse burst open and a florid heavyset man emerged. Still distracted by strange dreams and fancy new violins (which, as it turns out, radiated magic as well!), I didn’t catch the majority of the conversation. From what I gathered, though, Dram and Marzeena both knew the man—he was a lieutenant from Diamond Lake named Dobrun Trent. Apparently, he was the one selected by the Diamond Lake Garrison to head south to Blackwall Keep to augment the troops there. That he’d been spending the last week or so holed up here at Shank’s Rest seemed to concern Dram and Marzeena, and for good reason. When Trent found out that Blackwall Keep was lost, that the keep’s previous battlemage had been locked in a room in the basement while his worm-infested body made the transformation from life into undeath, that he’d emerged from the room and had murdered all but a few of the soldiers left there, he seemed taken aback and a little nervous. We asked him if he’d seen the soldiers that fled the undead-haunted keep, and his nervous demeanor increased. He grew blustery, claiming that anyone who would abandon their post in such a manner deserved to be hanged.
That was when Dram said, “So… is that who those bodies were out back?”
For a moment, I thought Dram was talking about the thugs who were hiding in the bushes. Not the case—I peeked out a window and indeed, hanging from a tree branch behind Shank’s Rest were three bodies, each wearing the uniform of garrison officers. Each, apparently, executed for abandoning their post and spreading “ridiculous stories of the walking dead.” When our story collaborated with the one the executed soldiers had told, Dobrun’s nervous demeanor began to shift into one of desperation. We decided to leave then, to continue on to Diamond Lake. A good choice, I think. Dram and Marzeena agreed to report Dobrun’s cowardice and overly-zealous methods of punishment. I would have rather had him beaten senseless and dragged back to the garrison for his own dose of punishment. At least… that’s how I’d handle it if he were a lesser member of a church I was in charge of. But he’s not, and I’m not in charge of any churches, and I just got this neat violin that I’m afraid to try out because I’m worried that my paltry skills would taint its beauty. So I left the decision in Dram’s hands. He seems capable enough when it comes to matters of the Diamond Lake Garrison anyway. He keeps getting promoted, so he must be doing something right.
In any event, we reached Diamond lake an hour after sunset. The place seemed not as terrible as I remembered it, which really kind of depressed me. I’d never really thought of Diamond Lake as “home,” and the feeling that it WAS my home only made me hate it all the more. As we hit town, we split into groups. Taan wanted to go hit the Feral Dog (and doubtless sniff around for that elf woman Tirra he seemed taken with… never mind the fact that after what we pulled on her and her friends I doubt that she’d be that happy with us), and most of the others wanted to speak to Allustan. Dram, Marzeena and the other rescued hostages, and I instead headed up to the Garrison. They seemed to be overjoyed to see Dram and the others, and there was much rejoicing cut short when they gave their report on the situation in Blackwall Keep. Dram got himself ANOTHER promotion when he said he was heading in to Greyhawk to deliver word of the treaty he’d drafted with the Twisted Branch lizardfolk.
Finally, they seemed to notice me. When they asked Dram why I was here, I stepped forward. “The body of one of your soldiers, whose absence you haven’t even commented upon, lies here. He wanted to be laid to rest here, so we kept his remains in state and returned him. See that he gets the respect he deserves.” My little speech seemed to take them aback, but I didn’t stick around to see their reactions. Dram can handle them. I’d only get frustrated and do something or say something I’d regret.
Most of the rest of the group were waiting at the guildhall by the time I got there. Gar gleefully reported that Auric, Tirra, and Khellek had returned to Diamond Lake some time ago, and apparently caused a minor riot in their attempts to find out where we had gone. Auric in particular seemed to have been put out of shape by our treachery. He put six people in the sickbeds at the shrine of St. Cuthbert after he flew into a rage at the Feral Dog, and when another six used a table to push him into the dog pit, he killed three of the dogs. Gar wasn’t quite so gleeful when he reported that the three had apparently fled Diamond Lake, bound for Greyhawk. The free city’s a huge place, I hear. But I doubt it’s large enough to hide us from their attention. Oh well. We’ll deal with that when the time comes.
Before I staggered into the side room to claim a bed, visions of an early morning bath and clean clothes dancing in my head, I approached Rac and asked him if runes in circles meant anything to him. He seemed momentarily taken aback, then admitted in a somewhat evasive way that he used circled runes to focus his faith. I’m not sure what exactly he meant by that, so I told him about my dreams. He seemed intrigued, and when I asked him if he would accompany into the boneyard the next morning to try something out… to see if I could scribe the rune I’d seen in the cemetery’s center from dream’s memory… he agreed.
Goodmonth 2, 595 CY
At some point in the day, a great beast, a wyvern, all teeth and claw and stinger, swooped down from the rancid wet sky on us. It knocked Dae Jin to the ground and might have eaten her had not the others reacted in time… by the time I managed to bring my magic to bear, the beast had been slain. I nursed Dae Jin back to consciousness, did what I could to tend to her poisoning, and we set on, almost as if nothing had happened. This swamp is reducing us to the state of animals, I fear. We seek only the luxury of semi-solid ground at the end of a day, and hope to survive the night and day to come.
If we don’t reach solid ground by evening tomorrow… I do think it will be time to move on to my goddess’ side. Certainly this vile swamp does not lack in methods of reaching her court.
Goodmonth 3, 595 CY
“GET UP! GET THE HELL UP!”
A rough shaking and prodding intruded into my dream and suddenly I was awake. As I staggered to my feet, Gar moved on to the next person around the camp, and I saw immediately what had set him off.
Our campsite had been surrounded by frogs, both of the hopping and the talking variety. Nearly two dozen bullywugs watched us in all, and as Gar woke the last of us, a lanky bullywug riding an immense frog spoke to us in halting Common.
“Prince Groak will speak to you now!”
With that, a familiar figure stepped out of the mists—none other than Prince Groak himself, followed by his royal frog Shlub-Schlub. What followed was a fairly tense standoff… it seemed that the magic wand that Taan had given Groak to secure our passage through the swamp had failed, and in so doing, had mortally embarrassed the Prince. Somehow, we managed to stay our hands (even with Father Frothelthimble sputtering and gnashing his teeth and waving his weapons in bloodlust the whole time), and by convincing the bullywugs we were on our way out of their swamp, mostly managed to talk them out of killing us. On one condition—Prince Groak made me promise to deliver something. With that, he produced a mud-caked coffer and pressed it into my hands.
“When you reach your City of Hawks,” he said in a voice that sounded just as mud-caked, “Deliver this to a man named Fellup Noade. Do not look inside. If you do, he will know. And if he knows, he will tell me, and we will march your city into the mire.”
Although I promised Groak to deliver the box, a part of me cringed inside. I felt certain it was a lie. Nothing Groak could want could be good for Greyhawk. At the time, though, all I wanted was to be out of the swamp, and agreeing to his demand seemed the fastest route.
Seemingly satisfied, the bullywugs retreated, leaving us to catch what tiny bits of rest we could over the next few hours. I, for one, couldn’t get to sleep. The combination of the near battle with an army of frogs and the strange memories of the dream kept me awake. I was tempted to go ask Rac if he knew anything about the strange circle, but he, somehow, had fallen asleep almost instantly.
Two hours later, the sun was up and so were we.
Six hours after that, we cleared the Mistmarsh.
Oh how incredible it was to stand on ground that didn’t shift and quake under the foot! To be able to see further than a few hundred feet, to breathe air that, with each step, was cleaner and less repugnant. Blackwall Keep was only another hour away, and the promise of actual beds to sleep in drove us on. It seems amazing to me that only a few weeks ago, the thought of trudging over trackless hills would have left me so morbidly annoyed, yet now it felt positively divine.
Perhaps this is why we didn’t realize there was trouble ahead until we were practically in Blackwall’s shadow. The promise of comfort certainly clouded my mind, so that when I realized that there were fresh bloodstains on the ground near the entrance to the Keep, and more down by the stables… when I realized that no one was calling out to us or greeting us… it was truly a shock.
Marzeena and the other three soldiers noticed this as well. She called out their names; Gerber Horst… Rogar… Minho… and a handful of others. No answer was forthcoming from the keep. We entered, and immediately split up. Gar took half of us down into the basement to look for clues, while Rac, Marzeena, Taan, Dram, and I headed up into the upper floors. It was on the second floor we found what we took to be the first “survivor.”
Marzeena recognized the cowering, sobbing figure as a man named Yaris. As we approached, Yaris murmured, “…hungry… it hurts…”. I realized something was terribly wrong an instant before Yaris suddenly lurched into horrible life. Or what now passed for life in his torn and rotting flesh.
As Yaris stood, he began a choking scream. Choking, for as he screamed, a torrent of writhing green slithered from his mouth. And from his empty eye sockets. A face of worms regarded us, and as his blood-caked arms reached for us, I managed to call upon the scorn of Wee Jas. I felt her presence fill the room, and then condense around the unliving mockery before us. The creature shuddered, then staggered back against the wall as if struck by a hammer before dropping to its knees and whimpering helplessly. And if that had been all of them, we would have been fine.
A loud thud behind me caused me to whirl around. A trap door had opened to the floor above, and three more of the worm-haunted dead had clambered or fallen through. Their cries were chilling, and before I could raise my shield in defense one of them struck me on the side, knocking me against the wall. As I shook my head to clear it of the ringing, I felt something horrible. One of those wretched green worms must have slithered off its claw and into my armor! I could feel it squirming between the armor and my skin, and in another instant a sudden pain lanced through my side as something bit into flesh.
I stumbled back, hoping that the others would be able to hold them off as I tried desperately to dig in under the armor to get to the worm. But by the time I reached it… all I could feel was the tiny, warm, wet hole it had left as it burrowed into me. I could feel it squirming in me, writhing, and suddenly another blow struck me at the base of the neck. One of the dead had managed to reach me, and now I could feel another worm writhing through my hair and then biting into the flesh at the base of my neck!
Somehow, all of the horror of the Mistmarsh seemed welcome. It had been rancid and wet and terrible, but it had been outside. This was something worse! I could feel both worms now, wriggling around inside me, chewing at times but at others simply nuzzling their way along the bones, making their way, it felt, toward my head. I thought for a moment of leaping from the window, and somehow knew that a similar fate had already visited those poor souls we now fought… and that death would not be an escape.
Desperate, I called upon Wee Jas to purify my body, a spell I’d been casting nightly during the trip through the Mistmarsh to cleanse myself of any diseases or infections the place had visited upon me. And then, just as I felt the first worm rasping its toothy little maw against the base of my skull, a wonderful feeling of warmth enveloped me. In a heartbeat, the horrific intrusion into my body vanished, whisked away by Wee Jas’s grace. I sank to my knees and offered a quick prayer of thanks, then looked up, ready to smite any of the foul dead things that remained in view.
Fortunately, the others had done the job already. The creatures lay on the ground, twitching feebly as their wormy parasites writhed and melted into sludge and Demon Boy capered around them, begging us to help him drag the bodies up onto the roof to burn them. And then I realized that one of our own had fallen as well.
Marzeena kneeled over Mursk’s body, cradling his head in her lap. I could tell at once he was dead, and felt sadness but not shock when his eyes peeled open. For a moment, those bulging orbs looked at me, and then they twisted and split apart as the worms ate them from within. We put him back down and added his bones to the fire.
In all, it seemed that only two of the soldiers we’d left at the Keep had escaped transformation into the wormy undead. Dae Jin was able to determine that they had fled to the north—their trail, a few days old, was apparently obvious to her (although I couldn’t see any footprints at all). No one mentioned the possibility of sleeping in the Keep. It seemed somehow wrong to do so. Instead, we set out to the north, hoping to make Shank’s Rest by midnight. Hoping that the wormspawn undead we’d just killed had been contained in the Keep, that we’d caught them before they’d spread much further.
Hoping that the missing reinforcements Allustan had promised hadn’t become part of this writhing new problem.
Reaping 29, 595 CY
We spent the night in the Twisted Branch lair, sleeping in nests left by one of the numerous lizardfolk warriors we’d slain the day before. I felt a little guilty about how things had worked out, but then again the lizards had hardly given us a chance to open diplomatic relations. And then I think about poor Tassilo, wrapped in a hammock and held together only by the grace of Wee Jas, and my guilt washes away in a flood of righteous indignation. If it wasn’t for these lizardfolk, Tassilo and Kol and Belgrak would still be alive. And I wouldn’t have spent the last week sludging through this horrible place!
After my morning prayers, I joined the rest of the group near the entrance to the lizardfolk lair. We had gathered to prepare our exit from this filthy region, with promises of peace between the lizardfolk and the domain of Greyhawk. Left ahead was the daunting task of convincing Greyhawk to honor the pact, but the important matter was the fact that the four prisoners we’d come to save were all still alive.
Of the three, Marzena was obviously the leader; she kept the other three soldiers close to her and for the most part they seemed to be content with taking orders from her. These three men were named Kyl, Mursk, and Tevver. Kyl was the one we’d rescued a few days before from the ruined temple; he seemed to be the most sensitive of the three, and was taking his time in the swampland particularly poorly. I actually felt sorry for him, but before I could decide what to do to try to soothe his worries, Taan (of all people) stepped in to give him an actually rather bolstering talk. He ended it by casting a simple cantrip on him, but he convinced Kyl that it was actually a spell of good fortune. It really did nothing to protect him, but as long as Kyl thought he was protected, I saw no reason to burst his bubble. It was heartening to see Taan do something nice, even if at the core it was all about deception.
The other two soldiers were quite a bit less agreeable. Of the two, Mursk was the less obnoxious, although his devotion and toadying to Tevver didn’t help his case. Tevver, for his part, seemed to be made of equal parts racisim, sarcasm, and misogyny, three qualities that are more or less guaranteed to get you moved to the bottom of my “to save from bleeding to death” list. I’m not sure how much of his hate stemmed from the humiliation of being captured by lizardfolk and how much of it was for real, but his snide comments and biting quips did not earn him any points in my book.
Shukak, the shaman (and now the new king) of the Twisted Branch tribe was there to introduce us to the lizardfolk guides he’d selected to lead us out of the swamp. He asked which of us was the leader, to which I answered. None of the others seemed particularly ready for the responsibility, and after all… we were in this mess because of me anyway. I was the one that gathered us together in the first place to investigate the Whispering Cairn so many days ago, so if what had befallen us since that date was anyone’s fault, it was probably mine. In any case, the leader of the band of lizardfolk guides was named Jhesk. With him was a tracker named Helius, and three soldiers named Jessik, Lhock, and Kevver. Shukak made sure to get us to promise to deliver the treaty to Greyhawk one last time, and then we were off!
Most of us remained in a tightly-formed group as we returned to the horrific mud-slopping trackless swampland. The fact that we were finally heading out was only moderately uplifting—until we reached ground you could stand on and perhaps sniff without gagging, I would hold no real hope. Somehow, Tevver managed to make the whole thing even more grueling, with his bitterly muttered comments never far behind me. Up ahead, Dram, DaeJin, and Helius scouted the way for us. Now and then, they’d stop to take pot shots at birds with their arrows; I’m not sure what they were up to, really, but at one point one of them noticed something disconcerting—the sudden flight of a flock of swamp quail or some such nasty birdlife indicated we were being followed.
Jhesk asked us if we had any ideas of who could be following us, at which point our uncomfortable glances among each other tipped him off. It was only a few moments later before we admitted to our contact with the bullywug Groak and his frog Schlub-Schlub, and of how Taan had secured non-violent passage through his territory by tricking him into accepting a depleted wand as a bribe.
The lizardfolk seemed a bit shocked at this news. Turns out, Groak is what amounts to a prince among the bullywugs, and his frog Schlub-Schlub is some sort of imperial mount. It seemed likely that upon his return, Groak quickly discovered his wand was all but broken, and facing humiliation would gather a warband of his greatest warriors to track down the outlander who dared to intrude upon his lands. Armed with this information, we redoubled our efforts to leave the swamp.
As we continued on our way, a different thought occurred to me. I asked Jhesk if he thought it was possible that the dragon his tribe was allied with was in fact following us, but Jhesk quickly discounted this possibility, saying that Ilthane was the tribe’s protector. I was unconvinced, and tried to point out as gently as possible that the dragon wasn’t a very good protector, since she wasn’t ever around. Jhesk continued to defend the dragon, saying that she’d saved the tribe years ago from an infestation of worms. I pointed out that even this was a failure—that members of his tribe were still infested by worms. He seemed shocked at the news of recent worm infestations. And strangely enough… so did Mursk and Tevver. In fact, their reactions to the talk of worms was so strange that I surreptitiously cast a spell to detect their thoughts.
What I found in their minds was shocking. Disjointed thoughts of a militia officer locked behind a door in a basement, of terrible scratching noises from a basement, of guilt, of fear. I continued the conversation with Jhesk, steering it in a way to involve Blackwall Keep, and the surface thoughts of the two soldiers swam into sharp focus—they’d seen the worms before as well, when the previous Blackwall Keep battle mage returned from a failed diplomatic trip infested with them. When I revealed I could read their minds, they grew angry—for a moment, it looked like Tevver was about to draw his weapon to attack me, but Mursk’s sudden breakdown and admission of guilt stole the wrath from his soul.
It turns out that several soldiers were in on the conspiracy. Unsure of what to do with the worm infested battle mage, they locked him in a basement chamber under Blackwall Keep hoping he’d get better. He got quiet, but never better, and eventually they think he perished. Afraid that they’d get in trouble for their ham-handed handling of the infested man, they all swore to keep their poor decision a secret, yet Mursk was convinced to this day that if you listen at this door at certain times of the night, you can still hear the battle mage scratching at the walls…
Visions of worm-infested undead dancing in my mind, we eventually found a large mangaroo grove. We began to look it over, and just as we discovered a poor adventurer shrouded in a coccoon of silk, we were attacked by a mass of monstrous spiders! A few moments later, the true terrors shambled out of the mist—spidery humanoids with faces full of fangs. Ettercaps! With the aid of the soldiers and lizardfolk, we managed to defeat the monsters, but two of our lizardfolk guards were slain and both Mursk and Tevver were mortally wounded. I called upon Wee Jas to restore some of their health, and for the rest of the evening the normally unfriendly soldiers had resorted to stony silence. Tevver did manage a curt word of thanks. Hopefully they’ve learned that “witches” can be helpful too, the ungrateful thugs…
In any event, the spiders defeated, we gave the two slain lizardfolk proper swamp burials as befits worshipers of Semaunaya. Jhesk seemed to be both surprised and impressed that I knew the proper words and rituals for the burial. I was just happy to send them on in a way that their souls deserved.
Reaping 30, 595 CY
Reaping 28, 595 CY
Around the corner, we found a single lizardfolk waiting for us. This one seemed similar to the druid we’d encountered earlier, but didn’t seem quite so quick to attack. There was a tense moment while we regarded each other—fortunately Dram spoke Draconic and managed to establish a rapport with the shaman. Taan also spoke the language and stepped up to aid in the negotiations, leaving us to watch in terror as the two bitter rivals took the situation into their own hands. I was ready to rush up to aid in their defense at any second, but unbelievably, they managed to keep their cool and actually seemed to reach some sort of agreement. Dram wrote something on a piece of paper, signed it, and gave it to the shaman before turning back to us to report.
“Okay,” he said. “This is Hishka, the main shaman for the Twisted Branch tribe. Turns out, he’s not too keen on the way their current leader, Shukak, has been running the show, but since Shukak’s allied with a dragon…”
At the mention of a dragon, Dram’s voice was overwhelmed by cries of shock and fear and exclamations of, “I was wondering how this forsaken swamp could possibly get worse!” We questioned Hishka some more and found that this dragon was probably not in the lair at this time. Probably.
Dram continued. “Anyway, if we kill this King Shukak, Hishka here inherits the tribe and promises to lay off the attacks on humans. As long as we humans, and by that I mean Greyhawk, don’t atack them.”
Gar sputtered. “And was that a contract you signed, Dram?”
Dram shifted his feet and looked evasive. “What matters now is that if we kill this King Shukak, Hishka promises us an escort out of the swamp.”
That was enough. The implications of a contract between Dram (representing Greyhawk) and the Twisted Branch were immediately forgotten. We headed further down the passageway Hishka indicated, and a moment later a voice cried out in rage at our intrusion. We’d found King Shukak. And his dozen bodyguards.
As King Shukak raised a roar of alarm, we heard answering roars back down the tunnel we’d come from. Turning around, my heart sank to see another lizardfolk rushing at us from behind, a lumbering barbaric brute and a pair of otyughs! Huge otyughs!
Belgrak and Neko stepped in to fight these second creatures; I called up a spiritual dagger to aid them and then stepped up to provide support to those fighting Shukak, who was utilizing a trident in battle, hurling it at foes. Each time he threw, the trident magically returned to his hand, allowing him to throw it again. The battle was intense, and at one point Gar took a trident throw to the neck. I was fortunately close enough to restore enough life to him that he could finish the fight. Several frantic exchanges of weapon blows later, Shukak and his guardians lay dead.
Alas, as we regrouped, it came clear that we had suffered our own losses. Father Frothelthimble and Rac stood over their dead ally Belgrak, torn to pieces by one of the now-dead otyughs. The other, larger otyugh had retreated back to its lair, having taken the body of poor slain Neko with him.
By this point, the loss of so many companions to the denizens of this swamp had become little more than a vague numbness in my heart. I’m sure, if (WHEN!) we ever make it out of this place, I’ll find time to mourn them. For now, though… it seems to me that the dead are the true victors in this reprehensible realm.
Reaping 27, 595 CY
Out in the swamp, a strange trio of figures were struggling toward our camp. The central figure was a bulky shape, a half-orc dressed in the holy raiments of Kord. He was bent over the water, pawing at the stuff and bellowing, “WHERE IS IT?!” To his side looking somewhat annoyed was a tall human man. He had some sort of strange tattoos on his arm… golden geometric patterns of some sort. The third figure I almost missed entirely. Only his head protruded above the water, a head sporting a prodigious nose, frenzied wet hair, and a tall pointed hat. A glaive protruded from the water beside him.
“WHO ARE YOU? WHAT DO YOU WANT?” Dram called out, and the three figures jumped in surprise. They chattered among themselves for a moment, during which Taan pointed out this would be the best time to get the jump on them. Fortunately, the rest of us were either too worn-out or too frightened of heading out even a few dozen feet into the swamp to take him up on his advice. Soon, the half-orc sheepishly produced a fishing pole and held it aloft. “We’re... fishermen? We’re fishing!” he said, obviously unsure of himself.
“TRY AGAIN!” Gar yelled back, to which the human stepped up. “I apologize… we’re a bit disinherited here. We’re all that’s left of an expedition that came into the swamp to assess the bullywug menace. We’re cold. We’re tired. We pose no threat to you.”
I stepped up next to Gar and Dram. “Sounds believable enough, don’t you think?” I said to him. “If they were part of this horrible place, don’t you think they’d be more formidable looking? At the very least, they would have been able to sneak up on us easier.” Gar shrugged and huffed before calling back to them, “Fine! Come share our camp, but any funny business and you get the axe!”
I congratulated Gar on his first tentative steps into the wonderful world of diplomacy, then returned to the camp to make sure Tassilo’s body was okay.
Over the next hour, we listened to the other group’s tale of woe. In many ways, it paralleled our own; they’d lost gear, lost allies, lost hope.
The half-orc was indeed a priest of Kord. Named Belgrak, he didn’t strike me as a particularly quick-witted fellow, but honestly that was a bit refreshing. Too many shifty allies capable of fostering private agendas can make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. He’d apparently lost a favorite greatsword somewhere in the swamp.
The gnome was a curiosity, not because he was a gnome, but because despite the horrific nature of the swamp and the fact that he’d had to wade through it up to his mouth he remained upbeat and chipper about the whole thing. He had no disillusions about the terrible nature and filth of the place. He just wasn’t letting it get him down. It was actually quite a bit inspiring to see. He introduced himself as Father Frothelthimble, and while his thick accent made understanding him difficult at times and always amusing to listen to, his cheerful outlook was certainly welcome. He seemed to be a priest of Olidammara, which probably meant he was a scoundrel and a pickpocket and a trouble-maker despite his outwardly friendly attitude. One to keep an eye on, certainly.
The human was the most intriguing to me, though. He introduced himself as Rac. He was a little evasive about his role in the expedition. Up close, I could see his tattoos weren’t actually tattoos—they were actually plates of metal that seemed to grow from his arms. When I asked about them, the grew a little self-conscious and drew away. Fair enough, I reasoned… skin conditions are personal business. He had a greatsword strapped to his back, and seemed to carry himself like a soldier. Of the three, his attitude was certainly the most regimented, orderly, and organized, something that reminded me quite a bit of Tassilo, before the swamp broke him, and even of Abelard, before those horrible beetles ate him.
Eventually, we all settled in for sleep. It felt good to have three more allies at close hand, I do admit. We were up one soul, and that might just be enough for us to see this horrible mission through to the end.
Reaping 28, 595 CY
I’d just finished when I heard someone’s cry echo out from the swamp. “AID ME.” It was a loud, baritone call, but one devoid of emotion. In a few seconds, I realized the voice was Rac’s. We quickly assembled at the edge of our island and saw that he’d wandered about a hundred feet to the south to a second small lump of sod. Why, no one seemed to know. What we could see, however, was that the swamp-festering dead had found him. A pack of ghouls had surrounded him, and he was valiantly chopping them apart with his greatsword as he made a staggering retreat toward us, but he was just as obviously outnumbered.
We leapt into action. One of the ghouls turned out to be a ghast, but Belgrak managed to crush it to pulp with a particularly mighty blow from his warhammer. Rac was holding his own as well, and once we got to his side he ceased his retreat and pressed the advantage, slicing them apart with almost mechanical efficiency. As soon as I got close, I called upon Wee Jas for judgment over these wandering souls. They were too tainted for me to command, but I did manage to send three of them to their knees and force them to accept their abominable status, making it easy to finish them off.
The undead vanquished, we returned to our isle to finish breaking camp. The guard we’d rescued agreed to stay here and hide out, waiting for us to return. I tasked him with guarding Tassilo’s body, and to aid him I called upon a blessing from the Stern Lady to protect his flesh, to stave off decay, and to prevent his transformation into one of the undead. As I cast the spell, I spontaneously added a bit of my own life to the necromancy, infusing it with even more power. Just as I had managed to save Vyth from death once, I did the same to save Tassilo from undeath. The whole process left me a little light-headed and I sat down for a bit to catch my breath. I’d forgotten that I’d run out of makeup to hide my… condition.
“Woah!” Belgrak gasped as he pointed at my arm. “You’ve got some sort of swamprot or something, lady!” I glanced down and saw what he was pointing at… one of those obnoxious numb lesions of gray scabs and flaking flesh that had been popping up on my skin since the Whispering Cairn. I pulled my sleeve down over it and said, “It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”
“Can’t you fix it? You’re a cleric! You should fix it! I can fix it if you want. It’s easy! Here…”
“NO!” I replied and jerked away from him. I could see in his eyes he was confused, and I felt actually pretty bad for how loudly I’d yelled at him. “I mean… I’ve tried to. It doesn’t hurt. It isn’t contagious. It’s just the way it is. Don’t worry about it.”
He smiled, shrugged, and I found myself a little jealous of his ability to take things at face value without questioning the truth. “Okay! Good job on showing those ghouls, by the way! They looked like they were going to cry!”
“Yes…” a small voice agreed to my right. I turned to see Father Frothelthimble leaning against a tree and eying me. “That was most interesting.” His expression bore no such indication of acceptance. Indeed, he was sizing me up the same way those intolerant thugs at the Garrison did. “Strange how the ghouls didn’t flee you, Tyralandi. How instead they just cowered, as if they were ashamed of something.”
“What are you trying to say?” I asked him, refusing to look away from him.
“Nothing,” he said. “Yet. Just observing. In any event, it looks like you took a hit in the battle. Would you allow me to heal you of…”
“No! I’m fine, damnit!” I snapped. “In fact, leave the healing of me to me. It’s not your concern. I appreciate it, but healing from other people… it doesn’t sit right. It hurts. So save it for the others, for the people who can actually be served by it, okay?” I stalked off, but still caught his reply.
“Fair enough. I’d figured as much, anyway.”
I turned to ask him what he meant, but he’d already scuttled off to aid Belgrak and Rak in preparing for the day’s journey.
The nerve of that little thief! Passing judgment on me like that, when he worships a god of scoundrels and alleybashers!
Of course, a half day of slogging through the swamp put all that out of my head.
It was a minor miracle when, in the early afternoon, we stumbled upon an enormous mound of mud, plant matter, and tangled roots. A group of lizardfolk patroled around the rim, and our guard friend confirmed that this was, indeed, the lair of the Twisted Branch lizardfolk, and the same place that he’d been brought to (and then from) a few days ago. Marzeena and the other two missing guards were somewhere inside that heap of stink.
We set up a sheltered camp on a nearby island, hiding Tassilo’s protected body under some roots and telling the still-shaken guard to stay there. To wait for us.
After the lizardfolk patrol had moved out of sight, we entered the lair.
Inside, the place was as disgusting as I’d feared it would be. At least the ground was more or less dry. It felt good to be able to move without feeling mud and water sloshing over my feet and legs.
We hardly made it to the first intersection of root-lined tunnels before a terrific croak raised an alarm, and in an instant we were set upon by lizardfolk. Fortunately, these were more like the commonfolk variety we’d encountered at Blackwall and not the commandos we fought at the ruined temple. Compounding the fight was a group of four harpies that had allied themselves to the lizardfolk. We were indeed fortunate that none of us fell to their captivating songs. Well… Taan did. Demon Boy caught most of them up in a web, while Belgrak tried to pull the roof down on one of them before giving up and mashing at them with his hammer. Dram and Daejin sniped at them from the intersection, felling harpy and lizardfolk alike with their arrows. Neko, who had seemed to have befriended Daejin, guarded the retreat. To the north, the bulk of the lizardfolk fought against Gar and Rac. Father Frothelthimble hung back, went invisible, and then reappeared on top of a harpy he’d just cut open with a tiny little dagger. A few moments later, Belgrak, who saw one of the harpies trying to flap away, had grabbed it by the wings and had pinned it to the ground. I decided to conserve my magic and ran in to aid Gar and Rac as I could with my morning star.
Soon enough, we had defeated the harpies and had the lizardfolk on the defensive. One of them seemed a bit… off, though. His scales were dull, his eyes rheumy, and his movements weak and slow. He was obviously sick. I tried to tell the others to stay away from him, that he might be contagious, but then Gar blasted him with his axe. The sickly lizardfolk tumbled to the ground.
And burst, like a rotten melon.
From his exploded torso, a sudden torrent of green worms flooded out. The combat froze, both us and the lizardfolk looking on in horror as the worms evacuated the dead host to make a writhing green corona around the corpse before twitching and melting into pus. The tableau broke as the remaining few lizardfolk shrieked, dropped their weapons, and fled back down the tunnel.
We let them go. I assume because the rest of my companions had also recognized the shape of those green worms. They were the same exact creatures that we’d found in that jar back in Filge’s lab.
Something monuments had happened, and I felt there and then that what we’d uncovered would change things for us. Forever.
Reaping 27, 595 CY
“Okay, listen. I’m gonna charge up there and attack them before they have a chance to hurt that guy. You guys better be right behind me!” We assured him we’d be hot on his tail. Gar nodded, then cast an expeditious retreat spell on himself. With a dwarfy roar, he barreled up to the ruins and quickly cut down one of the lizardfolk. Kol and Neko were close behind. Unfortunately for the rest of us, the lizardfolk who were waiting in ambush chose that moment to spring the trap.
Several were armed with bows; they took aim at Kol and after a flury of arrows, our druid ally crumpled to the ground. Another of the lizardfolk was the druid we’d allowed to escape from our initial arrival and battle at Blackwall Keep. He stood up from behind one of the crumbling stairwells, cast a spell, and suddenly all of the horrible, slippery reeds and plants growing out of the soggy ground writhed to life! They all but entombed Demon Boy in their rancid grip; the rest of us were equally rooted in place. A couple of the others managed to stagger out of the mess before the plants got them, but I remained stuck. And helpless… all I could do was watch as the druid turned his attention to Neko. He cast another spell, and my heart sank as I recognized the words. Neko froze in his tracks, shook his head as if drugged, and then, as the druid pointed at Dram, the tiger pounced. Dram shrieked, held up his poor tender fleshy hands to ward off the tiger’s razor-sharp claws, and was slammed to the ground as the beast tore into him. In the space of only a few heartbeats, two of us had been taken down. Gar glanced over his shoulder, and upon seeing the situation, turned and fled back toward us. He took several bloody hits as he disengaged, but fortunately he remained mobile. As he ran, the druid called out in his guttural language, and from the two wells near the ruined wall, a pair of immense serpents erupted, scaly hissing geysers of undulant flesh and anger. We had gone from outnumbered to doomed.
I tugged with all my might at the plants entangling me, and with a bit of shock I felt my legs pull free. Pressing the advantage, I left Demon Boy trapped. I figured he’d be safe at the heart of the mass of writhing plants. I ended up on the edge of the entangle next to Tassilo, who’s eyes had suddenly taken on a strange calm. I recognized that calm. It was the same look that Filge got, just before he drank the vial of poison I supplied him with. The look of death’s acceptance.
“Tyralandi!” he asked, his voice surprisingly even. “Would you say Neko’s been dominated?” I nodded, afraid of what he was planning. “Good. Which means protection from evil should block the control.” Before I had a chance to remind him that magic had a tragically limited range, Tassilo was racing off to the north, shrieking out, “HERE KITTY! NEKO! GET OVER HERE!” and waving his arms.
I screamed at him to stop, to let our fighters handle the cat, or at the very least let the others handle the enormous cat. Tassilo wasn’t cut out for face-to-face battle with a beast like that. Neko noticed, and charged. Fortunately, the fact that Tassilo had cannily made sure one of the ruined stairways was between himself and the cat, Neko was unable to pounce on him, and Tassilo actually managed to duck under the cat’s single swipe. He began his spell, closing his eyes in concentration, and for a moment I thought we’d be okay. But he froze. On the last syllable, he froze. He opened his eyes, and I saw the panic there as he forgot the crucial closing words to the prayer. And in an instant later, that damn menace of a tiger was eating him.
Things grew disjointed then. I remember hazily channeling healing energy into Gar, healing him of the worst of his wounds. I remember Demon Boy somehow managing to wriggle his way out of the entangling plants and then blasting several of the lizardfolk archers and both of the enormous snakes with glitterdust, blinding them. Gar charged the druid and took him down with one ruinous swipe of his axe. Neko froze, seemed to realize what he’d done, and slumped down next to Tassilo’s body and licked forlornly at the gaping red wounds in his head and back. Across the ruins, I saw several lizardfolk dragging Dram away. I was out of resources, and there was no way I’d be able to even throw a dagger that far. Gar, still moving fast from his spell, charged up toward them and used his spell to hurl his axe through the chests of three lizardfolk. Suddenly, another lizardfolk appeared just before me. I blocked his weapon with my morning star, and over the course of the next several seconds tried as best I could to take him down. The thug took every hit I dished out. Teeth flew from his jaw, blood washed over his scales, and yet he wouldn’t go down! Just as my arms grew limp from the strain of the fight, a blast of bright energy burst from the lizard’s side and he crumpled. Demon Boy had finished him off, and silence returned to the Mistmarsh.
Over the next several minutes, I walked about the battlefield in a daze. Kol was dead. Tassilo was dead. Dram was unconscious. We needed to retreat. We NEEDED to leave this filthy swamp, but at this point I doubted we had the resources to do anything like that. Gar mentioned something about needing to find somewhere safe to hole up and rest. I agreed, but the closest safe place was Blackwall Keep, several days travel back through the swamp. It was all I could do to just sitting down on a mossy rock to wait for some sort of horrible spider with a snake’s head or a five-headed shark-frog or some other swamp monster to come up and finish me off. And then my gaze drifted back to Tassilo’s body.
Kol was of the natural world. He would have wanted nothing more than to be returned to the land, so we did just that with his body, working with Daejin to make sure his beliefs were observed in death. Yet Tassilo hated this place even more than me. His body should not be left here to fester in this swamp and play nursemaid to a legion of hungry things that swim and crawl. He deserved to be returned to the barracks in Diamond Lake, and if I gave up here… I don’t think anyone else in the group would have cared enough to do anything more than strip him of his gear and bury him in a shallow grave in the peat. With the possible exception of Dram, who was still unconscious and in a bad way. Another reason I needed to stay alive.
And so, following Daejin’s advice, we set back into the swamp. I could hardly manage to carry Tassilo’s body, so when Gar stepped up to carry him, I was grateful. Maybe he was softening, that dwarf. I hope so.
We were jumped by one of the snakes a few hours later, come back to track us once its blindness from the glitterdust wore off. Neko, who had taken a liking to Daejin, made short work of the snake. A few hours later, close to sunset, we finally found a grove of mangaroo trees that wasn’t haunted or infested or carnivorous (thank Wee Jas for small miracles!) and clambered up into its almost-dry upper branches to rest. I had wrapped Tassilo’s body in my blanket and hammock, and made sure it was tightly shrouded before drifting off to sleep. The logistics of how to escape this swamp would have to wait until tomorrow.
Reaping 26, 595 CY
The Mistmarsh continued to remind me on a constant, exhausting basis of just how uncomfortable swamps are. After wading through a particularly long and deep trough of thick water, I made a half hearted search for leaches. A few others checked as well… none of us found any but I doubt any of us looked that hardly (for fear of what we might have found if we did). At one point, as we passed through some ruins, the mist grew especially thick and we heard the ominous sound of enormous crocodiles bellowing and splashing in the nearby waters, but thankfully they must have been full and didn’t attack us.
In the late afternoon, we came upon a curious scene. A huge frog squatted on a low island, and nearby, talking to him, was a humanoid frog! Dram recognized the creature as a bullywug, one of many of the aquatic humanoid races who dwell in the swamplands of the world. He and his frog seemed to be involved in some sort of conversation, and I was of the opinion we should leave them be but Taan and Dram went up to talk to them.
Turns out, the bullywug was named Groak and his frog friend was named Schlub Schlub, and they were out scouting the swamp for food or enemies (or maybe both). The conversation went on for about ten minutes, at which point suddenly Taan whipped out his wand of shatter. For a terrible moment, I thought Taan’s amoral cruelty had won out over his diplomatic side, but as he utilized the wand on a nearby dead tree I relaxed a bit.
Later, after Taan gave Groak the wand and the two froglings went on their way, they revealed that Groak had seen the lizardfolk and their prisoners pass this way not long ago. Taan had given the wand to Groak as an offering of peace to secure our safe passage through his tribe’s lands, and added a bit gleefully that there was no way Groak could activate the wand and even if he could, it only had two charges left anyway, so when Groak returned to his tribe to show off his tree-exploding wand, he would be mocked and humiliated. Not sure of the diplomatic value of such a “gift” but hopefully we’ll be out of this hellhole by then and won’t have to deal with the repercussions.
We walked about an hour into the night before we found a stretch of dry land large enough to serve as a campsite. Alas, the three trees on the island were too far away for my hammock, so I was forced to sleep on the ground. Like a peasant or a goblin. How disgusting. There were some strange mud nests in the trees, high up in the branches. Kol scrambled up a tree to look but said they were nothing to worry about. He had a strange look in his eye, as if he wasn’t telling us the whole story, but I was disgusted enough about the smell and feel of the place that I simply didn’t have the energy to press him for more details.
Poor Tassilo bundled up in the exact center of the island, and refused to eat any food since it’d all been tainted by the swamp water. It seems a bit unbelievable, but I think he’s enjoying this “adventure” into nature’s toilet even less than I.
In any event, I volunteered for first watch. It went okay at first, but an hour in, after everyone had gone to sleep, strange lights began bobbing out in the mists. I’d heard tales of will-o’wisps, and these certainly seemed like they could be them, but they kept their distance. I was half-expecting (half-hoping, to be honest) to hear violin music again, so when instead I heard a woman’s voice whispering into my ear I was a bit shocked.
“Join your sisters in the trees,” the voice whispered. There was no one there, but the voice continued. “Abandon them. They mean nothing to you. Join your sisters in the trees!”
When I saw a shape approaching through the waters, a headless woman in a white gown, and when said shape reached the edge of the island and pointed at me and then up to the weird mud nests in the trees, I decided it was time to wake up Dram. He seemed a bit cranky at being woken up; I asked him quietly if he heard anything or saw anything over on the beach… he looked, but saw nothing and went back to sleep. When I looked back, the headless phantom had vanished.
Soon, my shift was over and I woke Daejin and tried to go to sleep. I was certain sleep wouldn’t find me, but eventually, it did. For at least three hours.
Reaping 26, 595 CY
Eventually, the sun rose, although this deep in this accursed swamp the sunlight registered as little more than a vague and almost tentative lightening of the surrounding mists. I called upon Wee Jas for food for us all. It was bland and cold, but also filling and free of filth and parasites and disease. We set out again into the swamp, hoping to reach the lizardfolk lair soon. None of us spoke, certainly not about the disinheriting fact that we’d have to walk back out of this place. By midafternoon, the feeling of solid ground that didn’t suck at your boots felt almost alien. I didn’t believe it at first, but as the mists parted, there was no denying it. We’d come to a sizable ruin indeed, and of course, this being the monster-haunted, gods-forsaken Mistmarsh, the ruins were far from deserted…
Reaping 25, 595 CY
After we entered the Keep, we had a few moments to relax while they told us about what had happened. The lizardfolk had been besieging the Keep for a day, it seems, and at one point even managed to breach the keep’s walls. Before they were forced to retreat, they’d killed several and captured four, including Marzeena! Allustan went pale at this, and understandably. Those lizardfolk are savage—who knew what plans they had for living prisoners?
We quickly made the decision to follow the lizardfolk into the Mistmarsh in an attempt to rescue these four. Allustan seemed nervous and a bit distraught, torn between accompanying us and remaining behind. Eventually, he made the decision to use a scroll of teleport he kept on hand for emergencies. He would return to Diamond Lake to report to the garrison the situation and gather reinforcements for the Keep; if the lizardfolk were to strike again, they’d certainly overrun the keep and from there... who knows?
I had hoped, at least, to get a chance to rest before we set out, but it seemed that rest was a poor choice when the lizardfolk already had a head start on us. So we gathered torches and lanterns, including several more supplies from the Keep. I noticed a single, lonely hammock in one storeroom and snatched it up before anyone else could claim it.
By the passage of an hour, we were ready to go.
The Mistmarsh lived up to its name. Not only was it a foul, wretched place thick with bugs, mud, water, and strange night noises, but within an hour of our entrance, a writhing low-hanging fog sprang up, making the footing even more treacherous. I was thankful multiple times that Dram and Daejin were scouting the way for us, for many times they stumbled into a deeper trough of mud and water and had to scramble back to solid ground. It was bad enough that my legs were freezing and caked with mud...
It was only an hour before midnight when the strange swamp noises took a turn for the worse. A sudden, tremendous splash to the left foretold the disaster, and suddenly an immense crocodile reared up from the swamp just to my right! The creature bellowed, then clamped its jaws down upon poor Kol, shaking him like a dog with a toy before flinging him off into the mists. As the druid was tossed, I reacted more out of instinct than planning and channeled a short, hasty burst of healing into his body. I could feel the magic knitting bone and staunching severed arteries even after he was tossed out of sight into the mist, and hoped it was enough.
A moment later, a second crocodile emerged from the mists to my left. Flanked and surprised, the massive reptiles tore into us. One of them all but swallowed Gar, but that only seemed to make him angrier. He fumbled on his belt for his hammer and began beating on the creature’s head with it, to no avail. I reached out and managed to heal some of Gar’s wounds, barely matching the rate at which the crocodile was masticating his dense dwarven meat. There was a shriek behind me and I saw Demon Boy scooped into the mouth of the second crocodile. It bit down, and then gasped open as Demon Boy blew a gout of fire down its throat. The shocked crocodile dropped him, but quickly recovered its hunger and made to snatch him up again.
Fortunately, Neko was there to save the poor little guy. The cat leapt onto the crocodile and tore into him, forcing the surprised reptile to drop Demon Boy and fight back. Dram, in the meantime, scurried up and grabbed hold of Gar’s legs. Bracing one of his own feet against the side of the crocodile’s jaws, he tugged and, by Wee Jas, somehow managed to extract the enraged dwarf from the monster’s jaws! Both of them tumbled into the rancid swamp water, but Gar was up in an instant. He raced around to the side of the crocodile, narrowly avoiding its snapping jaws and then cried out the words to an unfamiliar spell.
As he spoke, I saw his axe glow with a strange pallid light. Then he threw the axe at the crocodile, as if it were little more than a throwing knife. The axe bit deeply into the closest crocodile’s head, then sprang free to continue its course to bury itself in the side of the second crocodile’s neck! Gar reached his hand back, and suddenly the axe was back in his grip, and both crocodiles were dead.
It was only in the silence after the battle that I noticed Tassilo, standing in the center of the area, his face pale and his hands shaking. He seemed to recover quickly enough once he realized I needed help healing the victims, at least.
We moved on from there, and just as it felt my legs were about to collapse, we came across a particularly huge mangaroo tree. Dram called back, informing us that this was apt to be as best a spot to sleep as we’d find. Thank Wee Jas! It took some work getting up into the tree (I found that it was much easier to clamber up into its oversized branches once I put my shield away), but once we were up out of the nasty swamp, we found the place thick with spider webs. Webs about the thickness of my wrist.
“What the hell kind of spider makes webs this huge,” Tassilo asked, his voice uncharacteristically tiny and tremulous.
“A big one,” Gar replied casually. “Like that one.”
We looked where he was pointing and my heart skipped a beat. What kind of monster haunted swamp was this? The spider that was gliding softly down from the upper branches toward us seemed, if anything, even larger than the crocodiles! Gar stepped up to it with a roar and swung his axe wildly, striking the behemoth square in the head. It quivered once, then its legs drew up against its body and the entire thing tumbled, dead, from the tree into the swamp below.
“We should probably stand some watches,” Dram said nonchalantly as he watched Gar clean his axe. Sound advice.
I tried to dodge watch duty, pointing out how last time I took a post, the guildhall was attacked and nearly burned to the ground by goblins. It didn’t work, which is how at 2:00 am I found myself sitting in my hammock (a brilliant idea, I must say, as everyone else was forced to sleep on moss-soggy branches among the discarded webbing of the monstrous spider, although Gar didn’t seem to mind and even used a ball of spider webs as a nasty pillow), fighting the urge to fall asleep. Dram was on duty with me, and he certainly seemed more alert, which is why I didn’t feel particularly guilty about nearly nodding off every few minutes.
When I heard the violin music, I thought at first I had fallen asleep and was dreaming. It was a strange sound, out of place in the swamp. The violin sounded wonderful... a much nicer instrument than the rickety one I’d had (and had broken) several days ago, but whoever was playing it didn’t seem to have the skill to match.
“Dram!” I whispered loudly. “You hear that?”
“What, more swamp noises? Spiders? Crocodiles?”
“No... it’s a violin!”
“WHAT?” Dram didn’t believe me. I clambered out of my hammock and to the edge of a branch. It sounded as if it were coming closer now.
“Oh, come on! You have to hear it now!” I said.
Dram cocked his head. “Tyralandi... are you feeling okay?”
“SHHH!” The sound was closer still. I leaned out over the edge of the branch and called out to the strange musician, and suddenly it went quiet. I looked back at Dram, who now had an expression of nervous concern on his face. Before he could say anything, I cut him off. “It’s gone. Never mind.” I got back into my hammock and proceeded to wait out the rest of the shift. I’m sure Dram heard the music. It was so close! How could he not have heard it? Unless... unless what’s happening to my skin is creeping up into my brain...
It took a long time to get to sleep after my shift ended.
Reaping 26, 595 CY
Within the hour, we were slogging through the swamp again. With each step, it seemed to grow worse. I kept running over the words of the prayer to remove diseases in my mind, certain that I had caught some sort of swamp fever or marsh madness or something from this disgusting place. At the same time, I couldn’t stop thinking about that weird violin. Would it return tonight? Who was playing it?
We came to a fairly sizable island soon. At first, I thought we’d reached the lizardfolk lair, but it became obvious soon enough it was just an old campsite. One decorated with five strange statues of militiamen. The statues themselves had a curious aspect to them—by their lifelike poses of terror, it seemed obvious they were in fact petrified soldiers from Blackwall Keep. Great. Dram tried to soothe our worries by pointing out that basilisks lived in the desert, but then sabotaged his efforts by pointing out that medusas and cockatrices were far more likely to be the cause of these statues.
Dram scouted ahead, and then called back to us, saying that it looked safe enough. We were hardly on the island before a swarm of tentacles were exploding from the water on either side. Tassilo cried out, “THIS SWAMP IS HORRIBLE!” just before one of the huge monsters plucked him effortlessly from the ground. The others put the second otyugh down quickly enough, but the one that had grabbed poor Tassilo proved a bit tougher. The creature’s filth-encrusted tentacles had wormed their way under his armor, writhing against his skin in places I’m sure he would rather they avoided. It was feeding him, feet first, into its cadaverous mouth, slobbering along his length with a thick spotted tongue. After we dropped the beast, Tassilo slid wetly out of the monster’s rancid maw and staggered to his feet. I noticed he was sobbing.
“Why am I here? This place is horrible!” The words were coming thick around his sobs. I tried to comfort him, understanding all too well how terrible it was to be covered with filth and suspecting that no one else in the group would understand, but he drew away from me violently.
“DON’T TOUCH ME!!” he shrieked and staggered away to sob next to a tree. I turned to Demon Boy and asked him to help with a prestidigitation spell to clean him up a little. Demon Boy rolled his eyes, but then noticed the tears.
“Woah. Is he crying?” I confirmed, and Demon Boy replied, “Awww... poor guy! Okay, I’ll help.” Tassilo seemed not to care when Demon Boy approached and used his magic to clean off the otyugh slobber and mud, but when he stood, I could see how close he was to a full breakdown.
That made me nervous. If Tassilo snapped and ran off into the swamp... no one left in the group would be able to use my new wand to cure my wounds if I were unconscious!
Reaping 22, 595 CY
We returned to the Guildhall to rest and recover from the looting, and that night my dreams were filled with visions of Greyhawk. At the very least, I should be able to find a violin there that isn’t pre-broken.
Reaping 23, 595 CY
The thought of leaving Diamond Lake and never coming back, I must admit, has me giddy with excitement. I suppose I’ll be back to visit the Cairn of the Green Lady now and then, but I won’t be stopping in this flyspeck town. That’s for certain.
Dram arrived as we were preparing to leave Allustan’s and told Tassilo that the two of them were needed at the garrison for some sort of Heironeous chatter or something of the sort. Although seeing Dram did remind me that today was his birthday. I was still feeling a little guilty about his reaction when I told him I’d poisoned Filge, although I couldn’t understand why I felt guilty about it. The monster needed to die, after all.
In any event, I wandered over to the general store to look for something that would serve as a birthday present, not expecting to find anything apart from hand-me-down mining picks and that damnable cage of canaries. Fortunately, I was in luck! I found a really nice cartography kit with several sheets of vellum and a collection of different colored inks and quill pens; perfect!
Later that afternoon, when I gave Dram his present, he seemed a little surprised and almost guilty. Good. Although I wonder what he has to be guilty about…
Reaping 24, 595 CY
Only it wasn’t a wolf. It was a barghest; a feral outsider that’s only part goblin. The rest is fiend. I’d heard that some barghests weren’t completely unreasonable entities, but this one seemed to be out for our blood so I didn’t bother trying to make peaceful contact with it. Neko jumped on it, but his claws seemed to pass through it and didn’t damage it nearly as well as they had Smenk’s mooks. Kol seemed particularly rattled by this fact, but in the end we dispatched the foul thing with little problem.
After the battle, Dram told us he’d understood some of what the goblins were shrieking; apparently, these were the survivors of Bask’s pet goblin tribe, the same ones he’d used against us at the Guildhall a while back. Hopefully these were the last of them. Gar came puffing up over the bridge, a look of excitement in his face. He was babbling something about how he’d used some new spell to kill a whole line of goblins, but no one had seen him do it. I asked him about the spell, curious, but when he realized no one had seen him cast it he immediately grew sour and moody and wouldn’t talk about it. Whatever; if this spell’s as fancy as he thinks, I’m sure we’ll get plenty of chances to see him use it in the future.
We reached an abandoned farmhouse that evening, a place the locals call Shank’s Rest. After a day’s travel, my legs were aching, but it was a good ache since every step took me one step further from Diamond Lake. That ache was a reminder of my new freedom. We spoke to Allustan for a while; he mentioned his old master at one point but clammed up immediately after. Must be some bad blood between them. Taan challenged him to a game of dragonchess, but I fell asleep before I saw who won.
Reaping 25, 595 CY
The keep was under siege by dozens of lizardfolk! I’d never seen one of these people, but I’d heard plenty about their violent and savage ways. Every few years, it seemed, they’d boil up out of the Mistmarsh on a rampage. Only if this happened every few years, I couldn’t help but wonder why I’d never seen any of them before, having lived near the Mistmarsh my whole life. I’d come to the conclusion that tales of their savagery were greatly exaggerated, but here was evidence to the contrary.
Allustan seemed particularly distraught. He asked us to “take care of” the fifteen lizardfolk on this side of the keep while he took off to handle those on the other side. I was a little concerned… the lizardfolk outnumbered us two to one. And one of them was riding on a giant snake!
Fortunately we had the element of surprise. Gar did his thing and charged into the middle of them while Dram skirted the edge of the battlefield, firing arrows with great efficiency and accuracy. Taan did the same, alternating arrows with magic, and Demon Boy managed to blind an entire group of the creatures by conjuring up an explosion of dazzling, glittering dust. Kol sent Neko in to take care of the snake-rider, while Tassilo and I hung back and used spiritual weapons again to pick off the stragglers. I expected to have to do a lot of healing, but as it turned out, the lizardfolk were pushovers. The only thing that gave us any trouble was a strange, lumbering monster that seemed to be made out of fungus; at one point it spewed a cloud of spores over Gar, but he sucked them in without being phased. Dwarves must be able to eat spiders and scorpions for breakfast. I guess that’s a good quality when you live your life in a hole in the ground.
When Neko dropped the snake-rider, we knew our victory was assured. I heard a strange sound behind me at the same time, but when I turned around, there was a line of dead lizardfolk radiating out from Gar. He had a crazy-giddy look in his eyes, and he shrieked out, “DID YOU SEE THAT? THAT WAS INCREDIBLE!” I could only shrug, and when he realized we were all distracted by the snake-rider battle, he said some things in Dwarven that I’d rather not learn the translation of. Maybe if he didn’t always run off to fight his own fights at the far end of the battlefield every time we’d be able to see his neat new tricks…
In any event, it seemed that a few of the lizardfolk had escaped our massacre, including a druid. Hopefully they’ll bring word back to their tribes folk that Blackwall Keep isn’t to be messed with. Pleased with our success, we gathered together and headed up the hill to the keep to meet with Allustan. As we drew near, though, it became obvious that the lizardfolk siege had been going on for quite some time. There was blood spattered everywhere, and the trampled ground was littered with arrows and bits of flesh. Hopefully, our victory wasn’t too little, too late.
Reaping 21, 595 CY
In any event, with the rest of the day free, I decided it was finally time to investigate this “cult of the Green Lady” I’d been hearing rumors about for months. Talk about town was that this cult worshiped some strange incarnation of Wee Jas in a cairn on the far side of Diamond Lake. So I packed a dinner and set off to find out for myself.
Took about an hour to walk around Diamond Lake; I certainly wasn’t going to pay some half-wit to boat me over the polluted thing. When I reached the far side, it took nearly as long to find any trace of the cairn the Green Lady’s servants dwelt in, but eventually I noticed something peculiar. Just off the vague trail I’d been following, a trio of skeletons stood at guard. I could tell they were raised to animation not by foul arcane necromancy, but by the grace of Wee Jas. I concentrated, reached out, and made them mine, ordering them to take me to the Cairn of the Green Lady. They complied, and within minutes they had led me through the undergrowth to a clearing.
A few people dressed in green robes stood guard in the clearing; they were arguing about something. On the far side of the clearing was the entrance to the cairn, a much less ominous one than the entrance to the Whispering Cairn. A large number of runes and markings that felt strangely comfortable to gaze upon were carved around the stones marking the entrance. Soon enough, the guards noticed me.
One of them was a bearded fellow named Baremon; he was the speaker of the group, and demanded to know what I wanted. I told him these skeletons had brought me here and that I wished to speak to their leader, that I was a priestess of Wee Jas and was curious about their beliefs. He seemed hesitant, but when he noticed I had taken the skeletons as guides, he bade me wait a moment before stepping into the cairn.
After a few minutes, he returned and said, “Lady Amaris will see you. Send the guardians back to their post.”
I did, and as the skeletons shuffled back to the trail, I entered the cairn. Inside, it was warm and dry. I could see niches where the acolytes slept, and noticed immediately from the decor that these worshipers focused more heavily upon the death aspect of Wee Jas over magic, and certainly over beauty. Perhaps there was something I could teach them as well.
I found the central chamber easily enough; but all that stood within was a large sarcophagus graven with images of a beautiful woman leading her people through a mountain range. And rising from within was a woman dressed similarly to the one in the carving. For a brief moment, I thought she was the same woman, but then I saw that the resemblances were only superficial; this was Lady Amaris of the Green Lady.
We spoke for some time; she had much to say of Wee Jas, of how the Green Lady once led the faithful to safety from the Rain of Colorless Fire, and of how she died here in the Cairn Hills. Their beliefs were, as I had suspected, not quite the same as mine, but they were nonetheless intriguing. I was particularly interested to learn that they had been observing me for several months. I asked Lady Amaris about the affliction I suffered from, of the strange taint of death that seemed to infuse my flesh but had thankfully not progressed further in the previous week. She had little to say about it but to give me an enigmatic smile and a promise that, with patience, I would know its reason and cause soon enough.
Sometimes I wish people weren’t so mysterious. Anyway, as the conversation drew to a close, I asked if she had any wands of inflict wounds I could perhaps purchase; I needed something as a backup if my healing gave out (especially since Tassilo seemed to be so squeamish about the way I heal damage). In response, she mentioned Filge.
My eyes narrowed and I felt my anger rising immediately; the thought that the foul necromancer might be judged too kindly by the Hieroneans had gnawed at my mind daily since we turned him over to them. Lady Amaris asked me if I could get close to him. I supposed I could; I had been to the garrison several times now, and while they tended to ignore me, they no longer prevented my entrance thanks to my association with Dram and Tassilo. Lady Amaris then asked me for a favor. She produced a scroll tube and asked if I would deliver it to Filge. I told her I would, and she told me that once I had delivered the scroll to him, I was to consult a certain grave in the Diamond Lake Boneyard for the wand.
I got back to the Guildhall just before sunset, but as everyone sat down to eat, I found I had no appetite. I could feel the weight of the scroll tube in my bag; I hadn’t opened it on the walk back since it wasn’t for me, but I could tell that whatever was inside wasn’t a scroll. It was something harder, smaller, more compact. Why did Lady Amaris want to contact Filge? I couldn’t imagine she approved of him, of the use of arcane necromancy, but what if she did? Where did that leave me?
When dinner finished, Taan and Kol announced that they were heading into town to begin the night’s observation of Smenk’s manor. The others seemed disinterested in going with them, but I could stand it no longer. I made an excuse about going into town to do some shopping, and aside from Demon Boy (who asked for some new clothes since he didn’t feel safe going into town), no one seemed to notice or care.
As it turns out, I did stop at a small shop on my way to the garrison. The shopkeeper was a pleasant enough (if desperate) woman who, when I asked if she had any “children’s clothes” for sale, seemed to grow disturbingly excited. It would have been too much work to explain I wasn’t shopping for my child, and by the time she had brought out dozens of different outfits for young girls and boys, I already had a headache. She was asking for barely anything for a set, so I picked out the nicest looking and bought them. Turns out, this amounted to about 40 outfits, some for girls, some for boys. I told her to bundle them and have them delivered to the Guildhouse, then moved on to the garrison.
It was simple enough to talk my way past the guards into the garrison by now; they knew I was friends with Dram and Tassilo, after all. Once into the garrison, I began to make my way toward the jail cells. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite know where they were. So when I opened a door to peek inside and ran into Velias Childramun, it was a mixed blessing.
He seemed a little distracted, as usual, but also seemed happy to see me. When he asked what I was doing, I told him I had left some stuff here from when I’d spent the night here a few days ago and was just coming back to pick it up. He volunteered to escort me, and in order to keep down his suspicions, I agreed. It soon became apparent that he wasn’t going to let me alone, so I asked him about Filge, engineering my questions to build a sense of fear and danger. “Has he been sleeping during the day?” “Does he seem more energetic on moonless nights?” “Has he asked for meat with lots of bones?” Eventually I voiced a concern that he might be constructing a tomb mote from the leavings of his meals and his own wastes in order to engineer an escape.
He bought into it completely, and led me down to the dungeon to check up on the prisoner. We got there and Filge was sitting on his bunk, waiting patiently. He seemed amused that I had come to visit him, but had nothing to say. Velias began asking Filge all sorts of questions, and in order to get him to leave us alone for a moment, I pointed out how Filge’s cage could probably do with a search and a good cleaning, and suggested that he head upstairs to get some buckets of water to do just that. I tempered my suggestion with my faith, and as a result, not only did Velias immediately race off to collect some water, he brought the two guards nearby with him.
Alone now with Filge, I withdrew the scrolltube. “So what do you want?” he asked, his voice unbelievably still cocky and arrogant.
“I’ve a message for you, Filge. A message from someone important,” I replied as I held out the scrolltube for him to take. He hesitated a moment, then took it and opened it. Inside was a small glass vial of liquid. “What the hell is this?”
Of course, I wasn’t sure what it was. I had an idea, but I didn’t want to give that idea to Filge. What was obvious was that Lady Amaris wanted him to drink it. I just hoped she wanted him to drink it for the same reasons I would give him something to drink. Thinking quickly, I bluffed, “It’s a potion. Drink it and you’ll be able to communicate briefly with the one who gave this to me to give to you. I’m not sure what they have to say for you, but it seemed important.”
Filge narrowed his eyes. “It’s from Smenk, isn’t it?” he said. I didn’t answer. He shrugged, turned the potion over in his hands, and asked, “I’ve been expecting him to get me out of here, but why’d he wait so long? And why’d he send you?” I didn’t answer. He looked at it again, then said, “I guess anything’s better than sitting in this cage waiting to be executed...”
He popped the wax seal and downed the potion in a gulp. A few seconds passed, and then he grew pale. He gagged. His eyes bulged, then seemed to fill with blood as he clutched at his throat. The cords in his neck strained and he collapsed. His convulsions and the thick sloppy noises coming from deep in his throat lasted less than a minute.
As I looked down at the necromancer’s corpse, I breathed a sigh of relief. Not only had Lady Amaris’ plans for Filge been exactly what I had hoped they would be, the fact that she’d chosen me as the messenger filled me with pride. Not enough that I lost sight of the situation though; I knew Velius would be back soon. I ripped the corner of my dress near the left shoulder strap and sat down in the corner opposite Filge’s cell, doing my best to look shocked and frightened.
When Velius returned, he was shocked to find Filge dead, but again he bought my story without question. I told him Filge had lunged at me, and that I’d only managed to escape by lashing out at him reflexively with my magic. Magic that had apparently been too much for his feeble frame. Velius seemed nervous, but I got the feeling he was more nervous that Filge had died under his watch more than he was concerned about my safety, and noticing that made me feel a bit better about my deception.
He escorted me to the exit, and as he was working his courage up to report the event to his superiors, I left and returned to the Gatehouse, calling upon a minor bit of magic to repair my torn dress as I went.
That night I had the best night’s sleep I’d had that I can remember.
Reaping 22, 595 CY
He thought for a moment and then said, “I’ll find a use for them all.”
Taan and Kol were next to report. They told us that Smenk’s home was apparently well guarded, not only by people but by some sort of guardian animals. Monkeys, of some sort, as it sounded. Of course, since their primary reporters were stray cats and mice, well… who knows what really awaits us inside Smenk’s palace.
I went and checked the boneyard later that morning and was happy to find the wand waiting for me on the grave, just as Lady Amaris promised. Carved from a femur and inscribed with sacred runes, I made sure to tell Tassilo what it was for. He seemed a little put off by the wand, but neither did he immediately accuse me of devil worship, so I count that a win. As long as he remembers I have it if I’m bleeding out from monster bites on a cold dungeon floor, I honestly don’t care what he thinks of it.
As Gar recruited aid from others to finish work on the Guildhall, Taan and Dram took me aside. It seems that they had not only heard of Filge’s death, but they’d also learned that I was involved somehow. They seemed a bit antagonistic and suspicious of my motives, so I told them simply that what I’d done I’d done for Wee Jas, and that she had passed judgment on him. Since Filge’s sins were certainly against my goddess, I guess they accepted my explanation, but they nonetheless voiced concern that I was acting without them knowing what I was up to. I don’t see why that should be a problem. I don’t ask what they get up to on their free time in the gambling den or brothels or wherever.
As evening rolled around, and the rest of the group learned of Filge’s death (although it seems like only Dram and Taan know I was responsible for it so far), the time for the invasion of Smenk’s home drew near. We gathered in the alley behind his estate; according to the mice Kol had spoken to, the door we faced led down a long hall that opened into a large chamber, and from there it was only one room away to get to the place where Beaky was held. I have to admit, I was still a bit shocked we were about to invade a man’s home just to rescue a baby monster, especially when the one who spearheaded the plan (Gar) seemed to be so vocally opposed to the act of summoning monsters to aid us in a fight. I don’t understand that dwarf, but he carries a big axe and seems really good at killing folk so it’s best to not antagonize him.
Turns out the mouse was right. After arguing about a plan, we abandoned any pretense of tactics, picked the lock on the back door, and invaded the house. Gar cast his favorite enlarge spell on himself, and then promptly triggered some sort of glyph that flashed with light, and suddenly he started crying out something about being cursed and doomed. I saw Dram roll his eyes and withdraw a small vial from a pouch, and heard him mutter something about, “I guess this is a good time for the potion of remove curse I picked up.” Before he could pass it to Gar, though, Smenk’s bald pet wizard Merovinn Bask stepped into view at the end of the hall.
“I was wondering when you’d pay us a visit! Come with me; Smenk’s waiting for you in his parlor.” Gar wasn’t interested in that. With a shriek, he charged Bask, who just had enough time to flash an expression of shock before Gar buried Kullen’s axe in the wizard’s head.
For a moment, there was a strange silence. None of us had expected Gar to charge so immediately, but neither had we expected Bask to go down so effortlessly. And then, chaos. Guards stepped out of the shadows in the room and began firing arrows, and as we filed into the room to confront them a wheezy, high-pitched voice, one sounding as if it had to fight to escape a body too fat with flesh and sin to make yelling feasible, shrieked out, “RELEASE THE APES!”
The sound of chains dropping away announced the arrival of two enormous apes. Dire apes by the look of them; lumbering brutes with great fangs and claws and filth matted in their hair. Tassilo and I called up spiritual weapons to hold one off, but it was Kol’s tiger Koro that carried the battle. The beast was a frenzy of murder, its claws and teeth tearing apart flesh without regard to its flavor, man or ape. Kol himself transformed into a tiger as well to support his pet, and while the rest of us managed to defeat the guards we were faced with, the tigers won the day.
We didn’t pause after the sound defeat of Smenk’s guards. Still frothing and spitting in a paroxysm of rage, Gar kicked down the door leading to the room from which we’d heard that fat, lisping voice. The room beyond was a study or office, but it was empty. Well… not quite empty. On the desk was a letter that read, “You haven’t heard the last of me!” It wasn’t signed, but what served as a paperweight left no doubt as to who had written the note.
It was the freshly severed paw of an owlbear cub, the stump still draining onto the page.
Reaping 20, 595 CY
That evening, we met them as scheduled at Lazare’s. They were there already, and had selected a booth on the northern side of the room. I let the others do the talking mostly, and surprisingly the meeting didn’t end in bloodshed. Gar put on quite the show, talking in hushed tones about how much loot Smenk had stored in his home and how if we all teamed up, we’d be able to split the loot into 10 shares and be RICH! Barring, of course, any monies paid for resurrections after the caper. He somehow managed to sound legitimately excited about the prospects while at the same time making it sound completely unappealing. Eventually, we all agreed that we’d go storm Smenk’s place the next evening, and all of us left except for Taan, who stayed at their table at Tirra’s invitation.
Outside, we ran into Melinde, a paladin I’d seen in passing here and there in town. Part of the Garrison, she immediately latched on to Tassilo and Dram and pulled them back into Lazare’s to talk to them. Interesting… I can understand why she’d want to talk to Tassilo, since they’re both devout worshipers of Hieroneous, but Dram? I know he’d been hanging out a lot with Tassilo recently, and had even accepted a commission from the garrison, but I hadn’t realized how taken-in with their creed he’d become. I’m not sure Hieroneous is the right choice for him, but I suppose that’s something he’ll need to discover on his own time.
The evening had grown late by this point… all in all, an exhausting day. I headed back to the guildhouse to catch some sleep and dream of soft beds with sheets that don’t give me a rash.
Reaping 21, 595 CY
At this point, Demon Boy had pretty much decided that he could never return to Diamond Lake. If those other adventurers had recognized him, EVERYONE in town would be after him for the bounty. I tried to soothe his fears, and even rigged up a pretty nifty little costume for him. He looked great! At least, the others and I did, until Gar kicked open the door to announce that “Daejin and some weirdo” had arrived. Gar fell for the costume, and when he asked who the hell this was, I told him “Meet Blinkblink! He’s a new gnome recruit for our band! He’s a prospector from Grossetgrottel.” Gar peered closer at him, then snorted. “The hell you say! That’s just Demon Boy! Why’s he wearing my blanket?” Which, of course, sent poor Demon Boy back into his funk.
Of course, any consolation for the little chap immediately got put out of mind as Daejin stomped into the room. She paused when she saw Demon Boy, and asked, “Who’s that guy?” I told her it was Blinkblink, and that he’s a new friend. In reply, she sat down at the table and immediately helped herself to breakfast. Between bites, she tossed her head back to the door and said, “I’ve got a new friend too. That’s Kol. He knows something about this Age of Worms thing, and we’re supposed to help him out or something.”
I looked up at the door, and standing in it was an old guy, tall and skinny, with hair more white than blond. His face was like tree bark, all craggily and raspy with a crazy mountain-man beard. Oh, and behind him loomed a huge white tiger.
The tiger, of course, wiped away Demon Boy’s fears. “TIGER!” He immediately leapt up into the big cat’s face and demanded a ride. Kol stepped in between the two and said, “Easy, little boy. This is Neko, and he’s a bit… particular about who rides him.” He peered closer at Demon Boy. “And he’s quite particular about little red tieflings.”
Hmmmph. I still think his disguise was pretty good. It’s not fair that the first people to check it out were unimaginative nit-pickers.
Reaping 20, 595 CY
Of course, just as with everything else we try to do, things just refused to go smoothly.
I woke this morning feeling like a person again for the first time in days. Sleeping in a real bed and not within smell-distance of over a dozen dead cultists can do a lot for your attitude. I met with the others for breakfast, an event that quickly turned into the “What has Tyralandi stuffed in her handy haversack?” I emptied the magic bag out on the table and we sorted through everything. It took nearly two hours, but in the end we had most everything sorted and cataloged. I ended up with a suit of magic banded mail—it’s pretty nice looking, but I’m going to have to do something about the blue leather parts. They just won’t work. Maybe I’ll dye them black or something.
Daejin had to leave soon thereafter to report back to the Bronzewood lodge; she promised to make it back to town as soon as she could but said it might be a couple days. Taan and Tassilo gathered up the remaining loot and magic and set off into town to pawn what we didn’t need and to get Allustan to identify the magic we couldn’t figure out on our own.
Which left myself, Gar, Dram, and Demon Boy with Vyth. I told the others that we’d be ready to bury him by early afternoon, and that if any of them wanted to be in attendance they’d best show up at the boneyard by then. It took an hour to prepare his body for transport; he’d suffered some damage in the flight from Dourstone’s mine. He had to look his best for the afterlife, but fortunately I was able to restore the worst of the damage. Demon Boy seemed particularly interested in this stage... I’m not sure why, but he was quiet so I didn’t bother shooing him away.
With Vyth prepared, Dram, Gar, and I worked together to carry him from the garrison out to the boneyard. The trip necessitated us passing through town, alas. I was ready for gawkers, but I hadn’t anticipated attracting the attention of who we did.
I’d seen the guy around town before—his name was Auric. He seemed strangely proud of the fact that he was wallowing in self-mockery. I recognized the belt he wore as the Champion’s Belt—a prize awarded to those who triumphed in a series of annual gladiatorial fights in Greyhawk. I’d seen previous champions in my youth—many would travel for a week or two with our carnival and perform for the rubes. But if Auric was the new champion, what was he doing here in Diamond Lake? He stepped up to us and immediately started asking us about Demon Boy, who was slinking along behind us. I tried to ignore him and step around his bulk but he stepped to the side to block my path further. That was when his other pal, a sour-looking man who introduced himself as Khellek, stepped in to help his friend. It seemed that they had seen the posters advertising a 100 gp reward for Demon Boy’s capture, and had taken an interest in collecting.
Of course, an argument started. I was in no mood for a fight, but I could tell that Gar was. After spending so much effort making Vyth look presentable for death, I wasn’t about to risk him in a street brawl. At first I tried to talk them out of it with shame, pointing out to him that it seemed ridiculous that the winner of the Champion’s Games had been forced down to the role of bounty hunter for a backwoods freak show, and wondered what had happened to force him into such desperate measures. This seemed to the do the trick, and for a moment I think he was ready to let us go in favor of a loud and lengthy argument with Khellek, but unfortunately Khellek managed to turn the conversation back to Demon Boy with ease. Auric was definitely not the leader of their little operation.
Next, I offered to pay them for Demon Boy’s bounty, to buy them out. I had my offer up to 400 gold (and it looked like the two were about to agree) when, out of nowhere, Taan burst onto the scene.
“If you give them anything, Tyralandi, I’ll have to kill you out of shame. I think instead, we’ll have to take 400 gold from THEM, as payment for the honor of talking to us!”
It’s amazing that our little group has lasted this long.
The conversation started turning sour then. Diplomacy and bribery were done, and with Taan ready to just yank Khellek’s coin purse off his hip and Gar guffawing at Auric’s attempt to impress us with stories of his gladiatorial prowess (“What kind of idiot would want to be a gladiator? Honestly, are they anything more than clowns with less makeup?” being one of Gar’s wittier comments), I was looking around for someplace nearby that I could stash Vyth where he’d be sheltered in the upcoming fight when Dram, bless his heart, spoke up.
“Listen, we just lost a friend and we’re on our way to bury him. And as a result, we’re not in the mood. And really... Demon Boy’s small potatoes. If you REALLY want some money, you need to set your sights higher. I hear Balabar Smenk’s got a lot of money these days… certainly more than you’ll get running errands for Zalamandra. In fact, we’d love to help you if you were willing to take that fat bastard on. But we’re not going to give up Demon Boy, so you’re not going to make your piss-ant 100 gold by turning him in. All you’re going to get is a fight. So, in the interests of keeping all of us safe, why don’t we all meet later this evening and we can talk things out a little more civilly?”
Dram’s speech was enough to call out the third of Khellek’s little band of thugs—the elf Tirra. She stepped out of hiding and put away her bow—she’d obviously been hiding back there somewhere and was ready to plug one of us with an arrow if things went bad. I really have to work on my attention to my surroundings… one of these days it’s gonna kill me. Anyway, Tirra seemed to agree with Dram and went so far as to agree to the meeting. Her announcement seemed to annoy Khellek… seems like all three of them fancy themselves the leader. I did notice the glances that Tirra and Taan seemed to share as she joined her other two friends… interesting. Looks like Taan might have been up to more than just gambling and threatening local shopkeepers on his trips alone into town since his arrival in Diamond Lake.
In any event, the three let us pass. All in all, the confrontation worked out pretty well; we even got to keep our money. We need to do something about that bounty though... Dram and Gar and I plan to go over to the Emporium after Vyth’s burial but before our meeting with the others and take care of it.
Vyth’s funeral was short, mostly because I realized at the last minute that I really had no concept of what it was that worshipers of Xan Yae did to honor their dead. If I hadn’t had been so flustered earlier in the day, maybe I would have remembered to do some research. Mental Note: I need to find out how the rest of the group wants to be buried when they die so I can make sure I do a good job for them when the time comes.
Fortunately, Tassilo remembered some key rituals. One, in particular, involved the ritual sacrifice of a cat to be buried with the body. Fortunately, Diamond Lake has a lot of stray cats. Some of the group found sacrificing a cat to be a little creepy, but I personally didn’t understand the problem. It’s just a cat, after all. And it should be honored to be part of such an important moment in Vyth’s existence. Perhaps the MOST important moment of Vyth’s existence, as a matter of fact. Well… maybe his birth is as important. I suppose.
Anyway, Dram took off to find us a cat. He found one in a disturbingly short period of time, but he’d killed it in the process of catching it. No good! You can’t sacrifice something that’s already dead! He caught another one quickly enough, and finally we were able to get on with his burial. Vyth’s and the cat’s, that is. Not Dram’s. That’ll come sometime later, I suppose.
Gar actually had a few nice things to say at the side of the grave after we had interred his body (Vyth’s, that is, not Gar’s). I marked the site with a small cairn of stones, and left him one of my daggers in case he needed it to help fight off soulgaunts or whatever might rise up on his path to the other side in an attempt to consume his soul. Not sure what he might have done in life to attract them, but I’m sure he did something. Merely leading a life of silence does not mean you led a life without sin.
Rest well, Vyth. I wish I’d had a chance to get to know you better.
Reaping 19, 595 CY
As if on cue, the moment we read those lines, a terrific roar echoed through the chamber. It was muffled and distant, but nonetheless powerful. It came from the south. From the chamber the elevator had lead to. The chamber that contained that sinister dark pool.
We were in little condition to take on another fight, but as the roars were joined by the sound of terrific destruction, we also realized that we wouldn’t be able to rest. Whatever had risen from that pool would find us sooner than later. Best to confront it now, while we (hopefully) had the element of surprise.
Tassilo and I used the last of the healing scrolls, and managed to work out how to use the wand of healing we’d liberated from the Hextorites as well. Beyond this, unfortunately, I had little to offer save for a single scroll that contained a monster summoning spell, a scroll we’d discovered in this room not a few moments before.
We made our way back through the labyrinth to the south quickly. Upon reaching the door that opened into the central chamber, we could hear the sound of something huge lumbering around. Gar used his final spell to grow in size, and with that, we threw open the door and hurtled into combat.
The creature that lumbered into view from behind the ruined and crushed elevator was not what I expected. It was worse. It stood ten feet high, a six-armed monster with a fiendish face and massive fangs. Three of its hands were missing, but the other three ended in terrible claws. It saw us and roared, but fortunately we had the drop on it.
Dram, Taan, and Daejin took off to the left and began firing arrows into its flank. I read the scroll and called on Wee Jas for aid... ironically, she sent a huge clattering centipede similar to those that we had just seen the Faceless One call upon, only this one shone with radiant light. I sent it around to the right to distract the monster from our archers. Gar, in the meantime, roared his own challenge and charged the beast. The battle that followed was intense. The monster seemed at times able to shrug off our attacks with ease. The archers, Dram in particular, kept hitting it with well-aimed arrows, and Demon Boy used the last of his magic against it (including a failed attempt to burn it with a scorching ray that actually, horribly healed some of its wounds). The monster focused its initial wrath on the largest target, the summoned centipede, which gave Tassilo and I the chance to get up behind Gar. We used the wand of healing to keep Gar on his feet, barely, and as Demon Boy, of all people, ran up behind the creature with his spear to distract it, Gar finally got in a killing blow and dropped the menace to the ground.
By this point, we were exhausted. The monster had destroyed the elevator, so we were forced to jury-rig a harness of sorts to haul up those of us (me) who couldn’t climb the walls of the elevator to freedom. By the time we had hauled up Vyth’s body and were making our stumbling, staggering way to the exit, all I wanted to do was get back into the open air, get a bath, and see to Vyth’s burial. Unfortunately, there was one last wrinkle.
As we stepped out into the blinding sunlight of late afternoon, a group of several guards stopped us. They informed us that our presence had been requested in the nearby mining office... a request by none other than Dourstone himself! There was a tense moment where I thought a fight might break out... it’s a little disturbing how quickly some people forget how to operate in society if they spend a few (admittedly grueling and disgusting) days holed up in a cultist-infested mine. Fortunately, we hadn’t completely regressed to the level of troglodytes (although we certainly smelled the part), and in moments we were clambering up the stairs to Dourstone’s office.
Dourstone himself was there, as we expected. What we didn’t expect was Merovinn Bask. We hadn’t seen the bald and creepy wizard since the whole fiasco at the Feral Dog several days ago, when Gar had lopped off Kullen’s head. Bask had been with Kullen and the rest but had slinked out the back door when the fight started. Doursone greeted us friendly enough, offering us food and wine. We didn’t accept. Something was going on, and the longer the conversation went on, the more it became obvious to me that Kullen had used some sort of magic to make Dourstone more compliant with interrogation. Indeed, when we asked him about the cultists in his mine, Dourstone was more than willing to admit to the fact that he knew all about them. Even Dourstone seemed surprised by his honesty. With a few minutes of conversation, I felt we had everything we needed to see him placed under arrest, but other members of the group seemed to want to take the law into their own hands.
Normally, I would have tried to argue them out of it. But I was tired, filthy, and in still in shock over Vyth’s death. When Tassilo and Dram announced that they’d heard enough and was heading over to the garrison and the church of Heironeous to report Dourstone to the authorities, I joined them. I had a feeling that something dire was in the works for Dourstone, Bask, or both, considering the people we were leaving behind to finish the interrogation, but at that point I couldn’t care less.
Fortunately, the church of Heironeous had a vault in which we could store Vyth’s body overnight. Not that I minded carrying his body all the way out of the mines, but it was nice to put him down somewhere safe and relax. The priests of Heironeous and the garrison commanders seemed to only notice Tassilo and Dram... they ignored me completely when they weren’t eyeing me with distaste. Whatever. Soon enough we got to the part that interested me the most: they would put us up for the night, and there was somewhere I could get a bath.
The rest of the group arrived a half hour later with the news that Dourstone was dead and Bask had fled. The news didn’t surprise me, but the fact that Dourstone had apparently been poisoned by Bask and wasn’t killed by Taan or Gar or Demon Boy did.
Ugh. What a dreadful period of my life the last few days have been. Tomorrow, we bury Vyth and go through the spoils of the fights under Dourstone Mine. Wee Jas willing... there will be enough to finance an escape from this town.
Reaping 19, 595 CY
Ah HA! There were indeed thoughts hiding ahead. I stepped a few more feet into the hall to try to pinpoint them, and suddenly one of the minds… unfolded! Where at first had been one mind was suddenly a million, each clamoring for the others’ attentions and all shrieking and begging to be heard. The sudden outrush of madness overwhelmed me, and I think I blacked out for a second. A few seconds after that, it came shrieking down the hall at us, a writhing, roiling cloud of inky smoke that just barely held to a man’s form. I recognized it from an old book—an allip.
Tassilo tried to turn it, to no avail. I tried to seize control of it, and failed as well. And after it came several silent cultists. Each wore brown robes, and each were missing their left hands and left eyes; fanatics of Vecna! They opened combat with color spray spells, and one of them caught me full in the face. I spent the next several seconds reeling, blind and unable to move. The sounds of battle around me seemed like they were coming to me from along a long, metal tunnel. I knew I needed to move, but I couldn’t. At least, not right away. Eventually, my sight returned and I saw that the battle had moved around a corner to the north.
Upon rounding the corner, I was confronted with a nightmarish sight.
Banks of black pillars flanked a huge, lumbering centipede of monstrous proportions. Its chitinous plates were covered with spikes and its red eyes seemed to flicker with an inner fire. The rest of the group was either fighting against it or against several other Vecna cultists. Gar had cast his enlarge person spell and Demon Boy had clogged a northern wing of the passageway with another web. Tassilo was trying to help Gar with the fiendish centipede, while DaeJin was plugging it with arrows. In the back of the room a taller cultist stood at an altar, his face hidden by an elaborate iron and wood mask. I saw a door at the far end open and watched Vyth, Dram, and Taan gather there, ready to jump the lead cultist. Unfortunately, the lead cultist saw them too. He spun to face them and with a wave of the hand a bolt of lightning erupted in the air between him and the three of them. It looked really painful, and judging by how they all retreated back around the corner, I could only assume it was worse than it looked.
I knew that if I ran in to help Gar against the centipede, I’d get picked off in an instant, so instead I called upon Wee Jas again, asking for her to send aid of a different sort this time. Something heavily armored with a lot of potent attacks. It arrived a few seconds later in a burst of white light, an opalescent scorpion the size of a wolf. The celestial scorpion scuttled forth and its claws lashed out with blinding speed, clamping onto the centipede’s flank and causing it to writhe and shriek in pain. Distracted by the scorpion’s crushing embrace, Tassilo and I were able to get in to melee it. Unfortunately, it’s hide was too tough to penetrate with daggers or even a morning star, but we were able to distract it enough so that Gar was able to get in a death blow.
The loss of his centpiede seemed to rattle the highpriest. With a roar, he fled north through a door, his retreat guarded by other cultists. We tried to hack our way through them and managed to do so, only to be confronted with a second fiendish centipede summoned by the highpriest.
The battle was going poorly. Everyone was bleeding from numerous wounds by this point, and Gar went down only to be healed back into consciousness by Tassilo. Things were looking grim. The high priest was holed up in the room beyond the centipede, and we could tell he was casting more spells therein, obviously summoning more aid. We knew if he called in another one of those huge centipedes, the battle was as good as over for us. This was when Vyth sprang into action.
He charged toward the centipede, weaving and dodging its frenzied bites and leaping up onto its back. Somehow keeping his balance, he ran down its spiky length and into the room to the north. We all heard the high priest’s shriek of outrage, followed by a shriek of pain as Vyth hurled a shuriken into his neck. Unfortunately, this strike didn’t drop him, and instead he fired a volley of magic missiles back at Vyth, who staggered back around the corner into the room beyond, obviously heavily wounded.
Dram saved the day then, killing the second fiendish centipede with a well-placed spear thrust to the head. As the summoned monster vanished, we all piled into the room to the north and found the high priest scrambling with a door, trying to escape. Gar roared and charged, swinging his axe… and missed. The high priest whirled, back to the door, and drew a wicked-looking dagger from the folds of his robes.
“Vecna take you, infidels! My death will only rouse the slumbering eidolon in the pool beyond. You shall all taste the true wrath of the Ebon Triad if you kill me!” Gar made ready to swing his axe, but Dram called out from the back of the room.
“Don’t kill him, Gar! We need him as a prisoner to implicate Smenk!”
Gar muttered, then swung with the flat of his axe, dropping the high priest to the ground, unconscious.
The battle was over. Surrounded by the dead cultists, we slowly regrouped in the vile laboratory we found ourselves in, and that was when we realized Vyth was nowhere to be seen.
It was Dram who found Vyth’s body. Poor, silent Vyth lay crumpled in the far corner of the room, his body riddled with the familiar welts and gashes magic missiles leave in their victims. His body was limp and pale, the blood draining slowly from his wounds, not spurting. I thought back to the battle against Ogermoch’s forgotten elemental in the Whispering Cairn, when Vyth had been crushed nearly to a pulp by the elemental’s fist and I had managed to reach out and beg Wee Jas for mercy, and pulled his fleeing soul back into his battered body. That was a miracle. A once-in-a-lifetime miracle. Wee Jas had obviously known that we would need Vyth’s bravery and agility in this battle, and that’s why she granted him his stay of execution. I saw that now. Had we assaulted this final chamber without Vyth, I felt certain that we would not have reached the high priest in time and he would have likely sent yet another summoned monster out to finish the rest of us off. Vyth’s bravery had slowed the cultist’s plans just enough so that we were able to get to him.
Dram lowered Vyth’s head back to the blood-slick floors.
“He’s dead. Vyth is dead.” Dram’s eyes were rimed in tears as he looked at each of us, and I felt my own heart lurch. When Dram’s gaze fell upon the cultist’s unconscious form, he said flatly, “Kill that bastard.”
Gar nodded once, swung his axe, and the Faceless One’s head rolled clear of his treacherous body. I went over to Dram and kneeled down beside Vyth. Silent as ever, now silent forever.
Reaping 18, 595 CY
Mostly recovered from our battle with the grimlocks, we dragged our crusty selves back to the central chamber. I gave that strange dark pool in the southern portion of the cathedral a sidelong glance, recalling the mention of something quickening within in Grallak Kur’s notes and hoping our business here would be concluded before then. Not even a ripple disturbed its surface. We turned north and passed through the door marked with Vecna’s symbol… and stepped into a maddening labyrinth of passageways. As we wandered the twisting halls, I did take pause to offer a prayer of thanks to Wee Jas, though, for at least the ground was level and smooth, and at least the air didn’t reek of rotting Hextorians.
It wasn’t long before we started hearing things. Whisperings, giggles, sobbing, crying babies, and stranger sounds. We’d gone deep into the maze and were considering backtracking to try a more organized approach when suddenly, a wall slid silently open and a weird little birdman stepped out, pulled a knife, and stabbed Taan in the gut.
Suddenly, birdmen were all around us. Their oily black feathers rustling, they squawked and shrieked and, most disturbingly, continued making the sounds of crying babies, shrieking old women, and anything else they could think of to throw us further into chaos. Things got bad when a pair of horse-sized weasels showed up. We were scattered, spread out throughout the maze and each of us tangling with a couple of the birdmen on our own. We needed help. So when I found myself in a relatively sheltered alcove, I sent out a prayer to Wee Jas for aid, asking for something that these nasty birdmen wouldn’t be able to hurt.
She responded with a lemure, a half-melted damned soul harvested from the depths of Hell. Excellent! Its turgid waxy flesh would run like rancid butter when the birdmen tried to cut it. One birdman in particular, one with arcane powers, freaked out and started throwing fireballs. The fire burned Gar and Daejin something fierce, but the lemure was fine. Wee Jas certainly knew the best thing to send in our time of need. The monster lurched toward the nearest birdman, its horrific battle cry sounding like nothing more than the death rattle of an old man choking on a mouthful of cold onion soup.
That was when I heard Gar starting to yell. At first, I thought he was just angry his beard had caught on fire or something, but then as he barreled further down the hall, I realized he was shrieking about “the fiend” and knew he’d seen the lemure. I wasn’t sure at the time he knew I’d summoned it, but in any event he lost complete sight of the weasels and the birdmen and obsessed on the poor damned soul. Fortunately, he missed it with his axe and the lemure was able to distract the birdman sorcerer for a few more seconds before it vanished, back to its well-deserved torment in Hell.
It didn’t take much longer to finish off the remaining birdmen and weasels. The enemy defeated, we began the standard practice of tending to our own wounded. But before I had a chance to heal Taan’s gut-wound, Gar rumbled up to me with a weird, hard glint in his eye.
“Did you call up that fiend from the pits, girlie?” he roared at me. I must admit, I was taken aback at his anger, but I answered in the affirmative.
“Well ye’d best never be doing that again. If you’re going to be trucking with fiends, I’ll be done with’cha. Or you’ll taste Kullen’s axe.”
His stubborn and sudden anger was having an effect, but I doubt it was the one he was hoping for. All I could think of suddenly were his tactics in the battle against Theldrick’s Hextorians.
“The lemure was under my complete control the whole time.”
“Ha! I doubt it!”
“It didn’t attack you, did it?”
“I wasn’t gonna give it the chance! You don’t bring evil into this world!”
“How is calling a lemure into the world any different than calling mad slashers into the world, like you did back in the Hextor temple? Mad slashers are evil too!”
Gar didn’t have a ready response for that. His eyes bulged, his skin turned even more red, and that vein above his right eye started shuddering. Flecks of froth danced on his lips as he turned to face the rest of the group, who was watching in shock. His eyes landed on Tassilo.
“Talk to her, Tassilo! She’s mad! Mad slashers and devils AREN’T THE SAME THING!”
Tassilo just shrugged. “I’ve got no real problem with turning evil back on itself to destroy itself.”
“WHAT!” Gar roared. He looked around in a building rage, his knuckles white on the haft of his axe. Things were about to go bad again, and I was fairly sure if he got his killcrazy dander up, I’d be first in his sights. And I was out of spells. I started edging toward the closest exit when he spun on his heal. “THAT’S IT THEN! I’M DONE WITH THE LOT OF YA!”
He stomped off, heading back to the Dark Cathedral and presumably the exit. I was amazed, and a little more amazed when I realized that everyone else was looking at me now.
“It was under my control the whole time! What’s the difference between devil and angel as long as I keep it under control?”
Tassilo rolled his eyes. “Don’t play coy, Tyralandi. You know the difference.”
I’m not sure if it was his calm tone of voice or the simplicity of his statement, but his words rang true. It felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. Obviously Gar had some sort of thing about fiends, and likely for a good reason. Thinking back, he did seem to be the one most disturbed about my control over the skeletons. A sudden wave of guilt washed over me, followed almost immediately by a wave of anger.
“Well,” I said, “Someone better go get him before he gets himself killed,” I said, making it obvious that that someone wasn’t going to be me. A few more moments of awkward silence, and then Taan, of all people, threw his hands into the air and ran off after Gar. The two returned a few moments later. Gar immediately set to searching the dead, but didn’t even look at me.
We returned to the temple of Hextor under a blanket of hostile silence. Fortunately, the tension was enough to distract me from the filth and smell of the place. I slept off to the side that night, away from the rest of the group, not sure what they thought of me and not sure why Wee Jas had even allowed me to summon a lemure in the first place, I lay there awake for several hours.
At one point, just before I drifted off to sleep, I heard Demon Boy off to my left.
“Well… I thought the melted skin man was neat.”
I’m not sure if Demon Boy’s approval helps, or if it makes me feel worse.
Reaping 19, 595 CY
I did what healing I could; at least the rest of the group wasn’t so sickened by me that they were willing to turn down Wee Jas’s restorative caress.
We returned to the labyrinth and found it to be empty. It took two or three hours, but eventually we managed to explore the whole place. Of course, it was riddled with secret doors. One of the last ones we located was particularly interesting, though, as it was in the northernmost reach of the maze and beyond it was a single door. We passed through the door, and beyond found a long hall. Several marble columns supported the vaulted ceiling, and strange green shapes seeming to writhe within the stone of these columns. The walls of the place were studded with wet-looking bulges and lumps. Gar, ever curious, walked up to a pillar to examine the markings more closely, and suddenly his shoulders slumped. And as they did, the bulges on the walls opened, revealing dozens of monstrous and bulging eyes set into the walls of the place.
As they did, I felt a chill pass through the place. The temple of Vecna itself had noticed our intrusion, and its true guardians had doubtless been alerted.
Reaping 17, 595 CY
Eventually, I got around to tending to the others’ wounds; Tassilo helped greatly by augmenting our healing magic by channeling positive energy. It’s a handy trick; too bad it doesn’t work for negative energy. I also couldn’t help but notice my three skeletons were missing. Turns out, after I fell and passed out, they’d had a terrific battle with chokers, grimlocks, and a particularly huge grimlock barbarian. This barbarian had smashed down the three skeletons (including poor l’il Gar), but in so doing had given the rest of the group enough time to take her down. Ah well. There’s more undead out there to use and discard. Wee Jas forgive them.
Soon, we worked our way back into the caverns. The grimlocks had been busy, creating several crude and disgusting shrines or warnings to stay out of their territory, using parts of my destroyed skeletons and pieces harvested from their own kin to erect monoliths of grue. Navigating the chasm took time, but at least we didn’t get ambushed. Until we were winding our way through a narrow cavern beyond the chasm, that is. Several more grimlocks jumped us, but they were little match for us—they weren’t particularly genius in their tactics. Indeed, at one point, Demon Boy wounded a pair of them to an inch of their lives. I saw this and took a chance by throwing a dagger at one about ten feet away. The one right next to me tried to club me as I let down my guard to throw the dagger, and in so missing me he tore open something inside him and crumpled to the ground in a pool of blood. His nearby ally followed an instant later, my dagger lodged in his throat.
Over the next hour, we continued to press deeper and deeper into the grimlock caverns. It was perhaps the most grueling and unpleasant thing I’d ever done. Not only did I stink of blood and sweat and filth, but the caves themselves tried to defeat us as well. Not only were they dark and often more vertical than horizontal, but the ground itself was buckled and twisted. We stumbled in the dark, fought grimlocks, pressed on, and on, and on. There seemed to be no end to these gibbering hordes. Demon boy’s newly acquired power to spew thick sheets of spiderwebs from his hands proved to be a key advantage; it really helped to keep the freaks off of us.
Finally, we came to the end of the caverns, a massive chamber with a deep fog-filled depression. By this point, we were ragged, wounded, and low on resources. I had hoped we would retreat and rest, but Gar had his “big dwarf” spell going so rather than waste a precious minute or two of its duration we pressed on. Of course, Gar got jumped by another mess of grimlocks and went down. And I spent the majority of the combat using the last of my healing on him and the others.
Soon, it became apparent that the fog in the depression was far from natural, and that someone within was using divine magic to harry us and augment the grimlock guardians. Out of spells, I dug out a scroll of dispel magic we’d found in Theldrick’s temple and cast it. The fog cloud vanished, revealing a horrible stooped grimlock who’d stitched a pair of disproportionally large eyes into his sockets! The freak capered and shrieked and started casting more spells, but his fog cloud banished he was easy to put down.
After taking a few moments to recover, we found something of note. Grallak carried several scrolls filled with strange spidery writing, words that spoke of a coming darkness and of a strange power growing in the pool back in the Dark Cathedral. Perhaps most interesting were the final two sentences: “At last the will of the Ebon Triad be done. With the return of great Kyuss, the Age of Worms is finally upon us!”
This disturbing news recovered, we made our way back to the temple of Hextor, our progress through the caves accompanied by Gar’s constant hatred of the tortured ground. Sitting now back in Theldrick’s quarters, rubbing the blisters from my mud and sweat and dirt and blood spattered feet, I was forced to agree with him.
Reaping 16, 595 CY
After an unsatisfying breakfast of dried food and tepid water (thank Wee Jas that Vyth planned ahead and brought food!), we headed back to the central chamber. The others took some time to investigate the large domed area to the south, and reported signs that some sort of sacrifices had taken place on the platforms that surrounded the strange dark pool. I could have told them as such. This is, after all, a cult temple. There was bound to be some sort of sacrificial shenanigans going on.
We decided to press on through the unmarked door, figuring that it was likely where the Erythnul-worshiping cult was based. According to Theldrick’s journal, these cultists had recently arrived and were supposedly still recovering from a long underground journey. We figured that this mean they’d be easy pickings.
Turns out, one shouldn’t necessarily trust the writings of half mad cultists.
The chambers beyond were unfinished caverns. The ground was strewn not only with rubble but tiny fissures, tangles of stalagmites, and other hidden ankle-breakers. Gar, in particular, seemed to be having trouble, and complained bitterly about it every step of the way.
It wasn’t long before we ran into the first batch of cultists... they were horrifying humanoid menaces with no eyes! They kept trying to douse our lights so they’d have an advantage but we put down the first batch quickly enough. Gar recognized them as grimlocks.
Not much further we came to a fairly large cavern, the far side of which fell away in a dark chasm. Vyth snuck ahead to investigate and was pounced upon! Some sort of creepy subterranean cat thing had him! Two more of the things leapt out of the shadows to attack, and not far behind was their hooting and howling grimlock keeper. Again, we managed to put them down without too much trouble, even though the cats had this strange and disconcerting tendency to unfurl the skin off their face in a most disgusting manner. My skeletons were rather helpful in this battle. I’m glad I caught them. The shortest one was turning out to be the best fighter of the trio, so I named him Little Gar to honor the dwarf’s fighting skills. Of course, Gar was not too pleased.
Anyway, the cats and their hooting master slain, we turned our attention to the chasm ahead. Dram and Vyth clambered down the side with reckless abandon, but they soon reached the bottom and said it was clear. The rest of us started climbing down as well. I was third to last, with Tassilo and Demon Boy still up top. I was a little unsure of the wisdom of climbing down into the dark, but apparently there were more caves below. I lowered the skeletons down first, leading with Little Gar. I was about 20 feet down when I heard a strange noise behind me. I managed to crane my neck around and saw this cunningly hidden ledge on the wall opposite... on which several grimlocks lurked! They leapt to their feet and threw strange dripping bags at us. I heard one land up above and Tassilo cried out, and an instant later one hit me in the small of the back.
AAUGH! The thing exploded and sprayed me and the rock around me with the most horrible tangled mess of foul-smelling sticky STUFF! It was viscous and thick, and it was really difficult to move with all the stuff dripping off of me. It dried quickly into a rubbery mess, and as I tried to move lower, I heard the grimlocks behind me hooting and capering and suddenly a fiery pain bloomed in my back. I felt the arrowhead grinding against my spine as I slammed against the cliff wall, and was dimly aware of the fact that the pain had caused my arms and legs to go limp. Suddenly, the wall seemed to be falling away from me, and I saw the grimlocks above me, lit by my sunrod, and I realized I’d lost my grip and was falling. I had just enough time to worry about what would happen if I landed on my back and what that might do to the arrow sticking out of it when exactly that happened. The pain as the arrow was pushed the rest of the way through my gut was eclipsed only by the pain of my head slamming against a pile of sharp rocks. And then; blackness.
Reaping 15, 595 CY
The Hextor priest nodded, seemingly satisfied with the arrangement before he turned back to face us. “I must have the word of your allies that they will not interfere with the battle.” Tassilo looked at each of us; he didn’t seem all that convinced we’d leave the battle alone but he sighed and said, “I give you my word.”
The priest snorted. “Know then that I am Theldrick of Hextor.”
Tassilo nodded. “I am Tassilo of Heironeous.”
Theldrick smiled, and drew his flail. “Any time you’re ready, cur!” he growled.
Tassilo responded by clutching the symbol of Heironeous he wore around his neck. With a flash of light, a blinding bolt of divine energy spewed out of the amulet to blast the Hextor cleric, who shrieked in pain. But he didn’t fall. Instead, he charged. The two clerics met in a terrific clash, but neither seemed able to hit the other. I was so entertained by their frantic stabbing and bashing that I lost track of what Gar was up to.
Turns out, Gar interpreted “Don’t mess with the battle,” as “Don’t mess with Theldrick.” He had moved to a position just under the two clerics to the north, and just as Tassilo finally scored a hit on Theldrick, Gar reached into his pack and tossed something up on the balcony above.
It wasn’t until there was a blast of smoke and a strangely familiar skittering noise that I remembered those strange discs we’d discovered in the Whispering Cairn—the discs that summoned mad slashers when they broke. The two clerics cried out in surprise as a mad slasher started lashing out at them. “Treachery! Murder! Slay the infidels!” The tiefling acolytes on the balcony leapt into action and began firing arrows down upon the rest of us.
One of the clerics reached out and before I realized it, had regained control of the three skeletons! The damnable traitors lunged at me with their swords and cut me! AAAHHH! I fled to hide near the large statue of Hextor in the middle of the room and managed to regain control of them before they came after me, and then sent them to surround Theldrick with orders to kill him if he dropped Tassilo. Taan didn’t seem to be that interested in playing along, and started shooting arrows at Theldrick. None of them hit, but they did make the cleric whine about cheaters. Daejin, Dram, and Demon Boy started firing arrows and crossbow bolts up into the upper balcony against the clerics while Gar tossed a second mad slasher up there.
Vyth, like me, had no real ranged weapon options. Unlike me, Vyth possesses a healthy dose of disregard for his own safety. He scrambled up onto the statue, and tried to jump from its head onto the balcony. As he sprang off the statue, the entire thing wobbled on its unsteady base. Vyth fell to the ground but immediately picked himself up and scrambled over to the far side of the statue and tried to push it over. No luck. I sent the three skeletons over to help him, but not having any muscles makes you less strong so their aid was doubtful at best.
In the meantime, the two shadowy figures had stepped forward to tumble off the balcony and into the battle pit with us. Zombies! Troglodyte zombies, to be precise! They shambled over to Gar and started mauling him until I had a chance to rebuke them for their sin of existence. They took the wrath of Wee Jas the only way they could, by dropping to their knees and writhing in fear. Daejin seemed to get a kick out of that, and spent the next several moments filling each with arrows. A shame, really. They would have been even better tools than the three skeletons.
At about this time, I heard a cry of pain and a telltale thunk. I turned, and my heart sank; Tassilo was down! I had a vision of the priest crushing his head with his flail, so I sent the skeletons back to engage him. The rest of us soon followed, and in short order we had Theldrick surrounded. He didn’t seem that worried.
Meanwhile, the mad slasher took down one of the clerics on the balcony. The other one pressed a button on the throne, and the doors leading into this room slammed shut, cutting Taan off and sealing us into the room. The cleric shrieked at the other archers to kill the mad slasher, then she ran down a side passageway. I heard a short, strangled yelp and saw Demon Boy crumple to the ground, an arrow protruding from his mouth. At the same moment, Taan managed to get the door open just as the cleric that had fled the room stepped out of a door behind him, having gone the short way around.
Suddenly, the battle turned tides. Gar finally managed to land a solid hit on Theldrick, and the high priest of Hextor crumpled to the ground. The second priest in the hall fighting Taan saw this and shrieked, “RALLY TO ME! I AM THE NEW HIGH PRIEST OF HEXTOR!” Her reign was short lived, though, as Gar charged her and cut her down as well. “Any more high priests around?” he roared. He then saw the door the second priest had emerged from and ran into the hall beyond to meet the last few acolytes who were trying to escape.
Before much longer, the cultists of Hextor lay dead. I finally managed to reach Demon Boy and stabilize his wound but was unable to return him to consciousness. With Tassilo I was a little luckier, and had him on his feet in no time. He didn’t say anything about the outcome of his battle with Theldrick, and I didn’t ask.
The exploration of the remaining chambers of the temple of Hextor took about a half hour. We stumbled across a few traps and found several bits of treasure and loot, including a strange little gold statue of a dwarf that Gar immediately claimed. Fortunately, there seemed to be no more cultists about, so we found a secluded room in which we could rest and recover. In this room, we found two things of particular interest. The first was a blank scroll that radiated magic. Taan looked it over and realized it contained magical words that could only be read with magic, and even then, it seemed to be written in cipher.
The second discovery was a large diary—Theldrick’s journal. Over the next few hours I looked it over; most of it seemed to be little more than the rantings of an unbalanced cultist of the Ebon Triad, a group dedicated to the unholy merging of Hextor, Vecna, and Erythnul, but two entries in particular seemed intriguing. These entries spoke of two others; someone called Grallak Kur, who seemed to be some sort of prophet for the Ebon Triad who had been gifted with visions of how the cult could achieve its goals. The second was someone called the Faceless One. Whoever this one was, he seemed to be a source of anger and even fear to Theldrick. If these three (Theldrick, Grallak Kur, and the Faceless One) are indeed the three leaders of the Dourstone Mine cultists, it would seem that we have two more temples to explore and to put down. Hopefully in one of them we’ll find something to implicate and ruin Smenk...