Kali's Journal (a Jade Regent Campaign)


Campaign Journals

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Vanykrye wrote:
Dotting...this has been a fun read. I'm just nowhere near caught up yet.

Thank you, and thank you for reading!

The pace will be slowing soon. I am nearly caught up to our monthly game sessions.


Well, I just found this thread a couple days ago and am reading it during my downtime at work.


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One of the challenges in Jade Regent is making the NPC's more than just a source of relationship points, especially since the AP struggles to keep them relevant to the story (Ameiko fares the best, but even she is frequently sidelined with little or nothing to do). One of the approaches that's evolved in our group is to develop small, one-on-one scenes with the GM to write up in our game journals. The GM provides the general tone or setting, and sometimes even specific dialogue, for us to work with. This entry was one such scene.

Arodus 21, 4712 (evening, Kalsgard)

Ameiko joined me at the Shrine again today. She has been playing her samisen while I practice with Shiro. Which is actually kind of amazing. Dancing to her music is very inspiriting and also kind of nostalgic. It recaptures some of the feelings I had when we were growing up.

We had a long talk on the way back to the caravan.

“You know, I never thought I’d see the day when you swung a weapon. I mean, really swung one.”

“I prefer the dance. And I know. Please don’t remind me.”

She grinned at me. “Maybe I should have tried music back then.”

When the bullying turned violent—genuinely violent—Ameiko didn’t teach me to fight: she taught me to avoid fights. How to be alert for trouble; how to get away if I was cornered. It worked most of the time. When it didn’t, she was usually there with a potion lifted from her dad’s storeroom.

“I’m glad we did it the way that we did,” I said.

“Yeah. Me, too.”

We walked in silence for a bit and I could tell she had something on her mind. She gets this faraway look when she is deep in thought. I decided not to press her on it. She’d tell me, or not. You didn’t force things with Ameiko.

After a couple of blocks like this, she finally said, “When we left Riddleport, I was a nervous wreck. I didn’t know if I could do this.”

I smiled. “Tell me about it.”

“No, not the trip, Kali. The whole thing! The ‘ruler of my empire’ part. At first I didn’t even want to say the words.”

What do you say to that? There were no secrets like this in my family. No one was hiding their past from anyone. I had no idea what she was going through. Fortunately, she saved me from having to come up with some kind of a response.

“But, and this is what’s strange, as we get closer and closer to it, I actually feel like…I don’t know. Like, it’s what I am supposed to do. It’s just gradually feeling more…normal. More right.”

This actually took me aback. The first time Olmas had a conversation with her about her role and importance, I thought she was going to lose it. Like, it might actually come to blows. Even Suishen had stopped baiting her on the topic, and baiting people is all Suishen seems to do.

“This is a long way from almost punching the last person who called you ‘princess’,” I said.

She grinned at that. “Yeah. I guess I have just grown more accustomed to it. Still, it won’t be like the old days, will it?”

“That’s an understatement if ever I have heard one.”

“Do you think they’d let me sneak off for an adventure, or a night of singing in a tavern?” She gave me a wry smile, but I knew she was only half-joking. I played along, anyway.

“Oh, Gods, can you imagine? You’d put the entire country in a panic! I don’t know what would be worse, you disappearing, or them finding their empress in a common tavern.”

We had a good laugh over this, imagining the possibilities. Then the laughter stopped as abruptly as it started. I looked over to her and saw that her face had gone completely pale. She looked nauseous.

“Ameiko? Are you OK?”

“I almost ruined everything.”

“Huh? What do you mean?” Genius that I am.

“I really screwed up, Kali,” she said, in a shaky, faint voice. There as a small park up ahead and I steered us over to a bench as she spoke. “I just wanted to get out to the Jade Quarter, you know? To learn some more about…” Her voice trailed off.

She sat down on the large, wooden bench. It was probably sized right for an Ulfen, but for us it was big and uncomfortable. But it was a place to sit.

“I even disguised myself, you know? I am still pretty good at that. And I thought I had done really well and could just…blend in. Not be noticed. Like I used to do. And instead…” Her voice broke then. “I am so sorry, Kali. You all are doing this for me, and I almost wrecked everything!”

She buried her face in her hands. I put an arm around her and she leaned into me. We sat there for I don’t know how long. A few minutes, I think. I knew better than to say “it’s OK” because, well, because it wasn’t OK, and she knew it, and patronizing her wasn’t going to help. But neither would lecturing.

I finally worked up the courage to say something.

“Ameiko, when we raided Ravenscraeg, we went in there without any protection against poison. None. I mean, that very morning before we left, they put that arrow into the side of the wagon, and it was coated with the most expensive, most exotic, most deadly poison known to man. You would think we would have gotten the message.”

Ameiko looked up at me, her face red and a little puffy, and said, “This is not making me feel better, Kali.”

I ignored her and went on. “The point is, we all made mistakes. Mistakes that could have gotten us killed. Ours almost got Olmas killed. No one blames you. I don’t blame you. We all ended up in over our heads.”

She thought about this and I watched a tiny smile appear at the very corner of her lips. “That was pretty stupid of you all.”

“That’s the spirit,” I said. “Anyone who wants to give you a hard time over this needs to look in a mirror first. And, they’ll have to go through me, too.”

Her smile became a tiny snort. “Gods, Kali, I can go through you.”

“Me and Qatana, then.”

I got her to laugh, which was a good sign, I think.

Her voice was steadier now. “Let’s get back.”


This happened in-game.

Arodus 26, 4712 (night, Turvik)

We had a going away party for Etayne tonight. Is that the right word? Party? It didn’t feel like a celebration. Or rather, it did until it didn’t. I guess it just really hit me, right then and there, that she was leaving. I got up to get another drink, but instead just kept walking out the door.

Qatana found me several minutes later, sitting out front.

“Is everything OK?” she asked.

“No,” was all I could muster for an answer.

She looked at me and then, in what I can only describe as classic Qatana fashion, asked, “Does this have something to do with your hair?”

I had given it the first of what will be several growth spurts the day we left Kalsgard. I didn’t expect it to go unnoticed, of course, I just would have preferred better timing for that conversation.

“No, it’s not related to my hair. I am just growing it out. I am literally growing it out.”

This is not what I wanted to talk about, but it’s Qatana. You have to answer the question. Thoroughly.

“It’s just a spell I learned,” I added.

“Oh. So what’s wrong, then?”

“People keep leaving.”

I don’t know why it was affecting me like it did, but it was. I didn’t really expect Kelda to stay on with us, of course, but then Herlgarval announced it was time for him to move on. Then Spivey was next. And finally Etayne, who had been with us since the beginning.

“I saw some mice in the building out back. Do you want to go try and catch them?”

And, believe it or not, that actually sounded comforting. “Yeah. Yeah, I’d like that.”

We returned to the party a while later with several in tow.

Rova 14, 4712 (noon, The Path of Aganhei in the Middle of F**king Nowhere)

The last few weeks have been a grind. The days are all running together, and the landscape has barely changed since crossing the mountains, just like the routine. Each day we get up, break our fast, travel for a few hours, stop for lunch, travel again, and then stop for the night and for dinner. (Well, the others eat. Thanks to the ring, I only nibble here and there for the tastes.)

My day doesn’t end there. I work the next several hours enchanting one in a seemingly endless string of items for myself and the others: earrings that protect me from the elements, boots so Sparna can keep up with us, a huge extra-dimensional storage bag, beads to make campfires, even a halter for Kasimir. As I said: a grind.

The catch? I can’t really complain because we need all this stuff. You know, if we want to live. Gods, that sounds so trite. But it’s true.

I need a change in scenery. I am trying not to think of what it will be like on the ice.


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Rova 20, 4712 (evening, Path of Aganhei, Rimethirst Mountains)

Skygni met up with us in the foothills of the Rimethirst Mountains. So far he seems content to simply shadow the caravan from a distance, disappearing from time to time to hunt. It’s only been a couple of days, but I have to admit I feel less trepidatious about his presence than I did back in Ravenscraeg. The few times he’s interacted with us he’s actually been polite.

What does it say when the winter wolf has better manners than the sword?

Rova 23, 4712 (night, Path of Aganhei, Urjuk)

Is this what our journey is going to be? One sad and depressing scene after another? The frost giant that attacked us wasn’t just old, he looked haggard. Worn down. One of the others, Sparna I think, inspected his axe and said it was so rusted and decrepit that it wasn’t worth repairing.

We tracked him back to the cave where had had been living with his winter wolf companions (what a tense moment that was: my fear was that Skygni was not going to take to us fighting others of his kind, but it was clearly not an issue). This was about what you would expect. Rags, bones, and not much else. He was living the dream.

Not too far from the cave entrance was a wrecked caravan wagon. Inside we found the remains of a man that, amazingly, Ulf recognized. Apparently he was another Crown guide. We asked Ulf if he would like to bury the body and he said yes, so we held a small ceremony and put him to rest.

Welcome to the Crown of the World.

Ramashan 6, 4712 (evening)

We spotted a silver dragon today. At first I was scared to death, because it was a dragon, but then once we figured out it was silver instead of white most everyone, including me, relaxed. It shadowed us for a while, doing lazy circles and loops in the sky above us.

Dragons are quite beautiful once you stop being terrified.

Ulf wants to visit a small village off the main path before hitting the ice. He has never traveled during the “off season” (as he calls it) so he wants to get some more information on the road ahead. Fair enough. We have a guide for a reason.


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Lamashan 9, 4712 (late afternoon, Path of Aganhei in the Hoarwell March)

The silver dragon returned today. It flew in from the east directly overhead, and then spiraled down towards our caravan. This was another one of those tense moments that had me second-guessing myself: Are those scales silver or are they white? It got close—uncomfortably close—and then called out to us. “Ho! Caravan! Ice trolls ahead of you!” Several of us shouted gratitude in some form or another in response, and it flew off.

Silver dragons are known for taking a sort of protective role around humanity. Actually dealing with the ice trolls directly would have been better, but that is probably a bit too much to expect. It is not it’s job, and I think the species in general takes the same approach as parents when looking after children: it is important to learn to fight your own battles. A little nudging here and there is fine, but direct intervention makes them soft and dependent. I admit I have mixed feelings about this brand of pedotrophy, though, probably because mom’s definition of “a little nudging” differed significantly from the norm. She left the hen house open to the fox and the extent of her guidance was “figure it out”.

Sandru stopped the caravan so that we could work out a plan and the first thing we did was consult with Ulf. “Ice trolls are smaller and weaker than regular trolls, but they are adapted to the cold. And, they’re smarter.”

Of course that is a relative term. It’s not difficult to be smarter than a troll, but he didn’t mean for it to be a backhanded compliment: ice trolls really are cunning, or at least cunning enough, and have been known to create skillful ambushes. We could very easily have stumbled into one if the dragon hadn’t warned us. We needed to know what we were walking into.

I asked Nihali to scout ahead and see what she could learn. This earned me a number of stares. Every time I send her out or involve her in our activities I get questioned about her safety and my apparent disregard for it. I never know what to say to this.

Etayne treats Ling like he is made of glass, and I get it. Much of that is simply the reality of being a witch, but on top of that she has her reasons—very personal reasons—and I don’t question that. But it seems everyone has the same expectation of me, and that is just not how it is. I am sorry to disappoint you. My relationship with Nihali is no less important to me, but what I need from her is not the same as what Etayne needs from Ling.

Whatever their opinion, no one argued with the results. Nihali returned in short order with the rough location of the ice trolls’ camp, and we dealt with them.

Were they as smart as Ulf suggested? More or less. They attempted a respectable, albeit unoriginal, ruse that certainly caught our attention. Their only mistakes were assuming we didn’t speak giant, and that wouldn’t recognize flanking maneuvers. In all fairness, I suspect few would pass the first test, and though the second was fairly obvious, if you were close enough to see it you were probably in trouble, anyway. Unless, of course, you were equipped and prepared as we were.

I would never say this to the others, but this skirmish nags at me. It was the first time we have gone out of our way to confront—to kill—creatures native to this part of the world. Logically, I understand that they are a menace, dangerous not just to us but to everyone who lives here, and we saw enough human bones in their camp to reinforce that point, but there’s this fine line between preemptive and aggressive. On which side did we just fall?


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Lamashan 11, 4712 (evening, Path of Aganhei in the Hoarwell March)

Snow has been falling steadily since late this morning. This would be lovely if it weren’t for the winds. By mid-afternoon heavy white flakes were blowing all around us making it difficult to even see the road much less make any progress on it. Until they died back it wasn’t possible to tell if the snow we were getting was newly falling or merely being relocated from points north.

“Died back” is not the same as “stopped entirely”, however, and drifts have started to form on the windward side of the wagons that mark the perimeter of our camp. We’re going to have to dig out in the morning before we can get moving, and that’s assuming we’ll be able to move at all.

I’m not exactly a stranger to snow or even blizzards, but such things are rare occurrences along the Lost Coast and I’ve never been in snowstorms as intense and heavy as this. Growing up we’d get at most an inch or two here and there, and maybe one big snowfall every few years. It was fun as a kid but it’s less so when you can’t just go inside to get out of it. The campfires created from the beads are helping to keep us dry, and our spells and enchanted items are keeping everyone warm, but these things do not keep the wind from whipping the canvas of our tents and the covered wagon, nor do they keep the snow out of our face and hair. The latter in particular makes guard duty particularly unpleasant. I predict a long, damp, and restless night.

Lamashan 13, 4712 (evening, Path of Aganhei in the Hoarwell March)

The storm has been our faithful companion for three days now. Only a few inches of snow seems to be falling overall, but the winds have been a constant presence whipping up to blizzard and whiteout conditions for hours at a time. Yesterday it took us much of the morning to dig out and de-ice, and I doubt we traveled more than a dozen miles afterwards.

Today, we didn’t even try to move. The drifts were several feet high, nearly burying the supply wagons, and the wind was gusting heavily. We’d get one wagon cleared, but in the time it took to do another the first would be inundated with more snow and ice. It wasn’t worth wasting our energy on a pointless activity. We have opted to wait it out until morning and see if the weather improves.

I suspect this is just a taste of what is in store for us in the coming months.


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Lamashan 14, 4712 (morning, Path of Aganhei in the Hoarwell March)

The storm finally broke over night. After days of gusting winds the air around us is eerily still and silent. We are surrounded by an ocean of snow, with drifts like waves stuck in time. We are supposed to turn off of the Path of Aganhei today and head for the village of Iqaliat but I don’t know how we will be able to see the road we are currently on, much less the next.

Skygni dropped in on us as we were de-icing the wagons in preparation for leaving camp. We asked in passing what he thought of the storm. “Get used to it,” was his reply. I thought that pretty much spoke for itself, but he had more to add. “It’s not common to see this so early in the year, but we’ll get more of it as we head north.”

So that is something to look forward to.

Lamashan 17, 4712 (morning, Hoarwell March)

We can finally see it clearly in the distance: the cliffs that form the edge of the arctic plateau. The High Ice. After two months of travel we are nearly there.

Ulf says we will make Iqaliat by noon. I asked him what we should expect.

“They are mostly a nomadic people. The main caravan route bypassed their village, and they are generally suspicious of outsiders.” He paused and then said, “They have their own ways.”

I interpreted that to mean we would not exactly become close friends during our stay. Ulf concurred. “Don’t expect them to be friendly until they get to know you, and you them.” He pulled out a strange talisman that looked like it was made of remorhaz scales. “This was a gift from their hearth mistress. It’s a token of friendship between me and their tribe.” Which meant he would do most of the talking.

Why make the stop at all, given the cold (ha!) reception we are likely to receive? Because they can tell us what the conditions are like on the Ice. If we ask the same question in Unaimo—the last village along the main caravan route on this side—they will in all likelihood (and rather sensibly, I might add) just tell us not to go and leave it at that. Unfortunately, this is not one of our options. We need information, not a nanny, so Iqaliat it is.

(Afternoon, Iqaliat)

There are basically two decent people in this entire village: the hearthmistress, Sonavut, and the chief. Two gods-be-damned people in a village of over one hundred, and truth be told? I think the chief is just being polite. What is wrong with these people?

That’s a rhetorical question. What’s wrong with them begins with, “what is wrong with their shaman, Tunuak?” He is an old, bitter, angry man. Every misfortune is a punishment sent by the gods for some transgression; every penance requires some form of sacrifice (the barbaric variety where you kill some hapless animal and let it go to waste). All his solutions involve returning to the “old ways” and spilling blood.

The Erutaki worship elemental spirits, and if Radella and I are right they believe these spirits control the seasons and the weather. Please the spirits and you are rewarded with sunny skies and a balmy subzero day. Anger them and they park a storm over your head. Or worse.

They are currently dealing with “worse”. In the past four months, a white dragon has raided their village three times, flying nearly 60 miles one way to do it.

Their shaman tried to use us as scapegoats. We stepped out of Sonavut’s home and into a lynching. “It is as I told you,” he cried out to the crowd of villagers that had gathered around him. “We need a grand sacrifice! One of the outsiders must be killed!”

It was almost as if we weren’t welcome here.

He was whipping the villagers into a frenzy, and was not above using a little magic to improve his delivery. Well, sir, two can play at that game. I had prepared for the possibility that we would need similar help ourselves, so when Olmas stepped up to try and reason with the people and their chief, I figured there was no better time than the present. The shaman then tried to bully us with veiled threats, but Sparna would have none of that. Finally, he resorted to the time-honored tradition of outright lies, and that's when Qatana joined the fray.

In the end it was something of a draw. “We are not going to sacrifice anyone,” the chief said, which sounded pretty good, but then she turned to us and added, “You may stay the night, but you must leave the village in the morning.” Hardly a ringing endorsement. As for the shaman? He expected his performance to end with, I don’t know, a public beheading or something. When it didn’t, he stormed off in anger.

I wanted to leave this village to rot and its wounds to fester right then, especially given the welcoming party, but two things have turned their problems into our problems.

The first came from the hearth mistress. The usual caravan route is completely blocked by what she called the morozokus. “They are terrible storms that come down from the north, from the center of the High Ice.” It’s been an unusual year. Not only is this not their normal season, but they are traveling farther and farther south, and are fiercer than ever.

If that sounds a little like she thought of them as being alive, I had the same question. “The old gods of the wind oversee the mighty storms. Our shaman has been chastising our people for not doing the normal homage to them.” More elemental spirit mumbo-jumbo. Regardless of the reason, though, the result is the same: the caravan route is blocked by the storms, and that leaves only the alternate route—the passage north that Ulf spoke of. The problem is that this northern route will take us near the dragon’s lair.

Of course, we could just take our chances on that: three attacks in four months sounds like pretty good odds for just passing through. But there’s that second thing I mentioned.

It came from Radella, who had the wisdom (and the skill) to follow our shaman friend after he left his impromptu town hall meeting. With a little help from some invisibility, courtesy of yours truly, she was able to tail him all the way to his secret lair hidden in the cliffs above the village. No, really. That is actually a thing.

Tunuak has been a busy man, and we’re pretty sure no one else in the village knows what he’s up to. We’re certain they don’t know he’s been creating or controlling undead. This little but of news was enough to grab our full attention, and even Ulf had something to add after Radella described what she saw. “They say the souls of those who die from the freezing cold come back as frost spirits.”

Qatana and I looked at each other and I could see the look of grim resolve and determination on her face. She started in Pharasma’s church before…well, before. Unlife is the very antithesis of Pharasma’s domain. Willing souls use it to cheat death and avoid her judgement. Unwilling souls are ripped from her grasp. Qatana may no longer be part of that faith, but her views on this particular matter haven’t changed. If the shaman is using this brand of necromancy then he is up to no good, and we are getting involved.

I admit I am concerned, though. They insist on doing this today…on doing it now. I don’t have the right spells for this. I am going in unprepared.


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Lamashan 17, 4712 (afternoon, cliffs above Iqaliat)

He smashed the eggs. The bastard smashed her eggs.

OK, I don't have proof of that, but something tells me those eggshell fragments are not some grand coincidence, or that he wasn't trying to hatch a dragon of his own. And if I am right...

Gods! What if I am right? What if this is exactly what it appears to be? She'd just be defending her nest. Can we blame her? Would it really be a surprise to learn she blamed the whole village for this? They don't all deserve to be punished for what happened, but isn't this her nature? If we kill her, are we any better? Are we even doing the right thing?

Gods, I feel sick.

Can we do this? Should we do this?

(evening, Iqaliat)

Our suspicions about Tunuak are all but confirmed, and though we still don’t understand exactly why we have at least been given a glimpse at the larger picture. The altar he had made for himself at the base of the chimney was decorated with a number of paintings that he, himself, had created. Not all the details are clear to us, but collectively they tell a story about storms being unleashed on the northern reaches of Avistan and Tian Xia, swallowing people, ships, cities and countries in a permanent winter that would rival even Irrisen. At the center stood a winged, blue-skinned woman that none of us recognized, but who Tunualk had named: Katiyana.

The symbol of Sithhud was everywhere. Tunuak had drawn Katiyana grasping the three fingered claw in her hand. The floor of the cavern was littered with bones, and the ones large enough to hold it had been etched with his rune. The nascent demon lord of the frozen dead, ice and storms.

The storms. The Erutaki here call them morozokus and speak of them as though they are living things. “The old gods of the wind oversee them,” Sonavut said. Maybe, maybe not, but they may not be far off the mark, here. I found a reference to them in one of the books we picked up back in Kalsgard. They were named after the druid who first saw and described them, and he wrote that they seemed to be guided by some malevolent intelligence. So, gods of old? Maybe, but Sithhud feels closer to the mark, and he was all around us down there.

How did this happen? How did Tunuak go from village shaman to all of this, whatever the gods this is? The answer, apparently, is a vision quest.

I’m not an expert on these things—it’s times like these that I really miss Etayne’s counsel—but I understand the broad strokes. I lived most of my life in Varisia, and you can’t spend that many years there without learning a thing or two about the Shoanti. Some of their tribes have rites of passage that sound like much the same thing: you spend several days in the wilderness, alone, fasting, waiting for the spirits to send enlightenment and revelation. Among the Erutaki that live here, according to the hearthmistress, those seeking vision quests seek out none other than the Nameless Spires because “that is where the wind spirits live”. The same Nameless Spires that appeared in the paintings in Tunuak’s cavern. The same Nameless Spires where Tunuak went on his vision quest.

He went out there seeking guidance from the old gods, heard voices on the wind, and came back towing hoarfrost spirits, smashing dragon eggs, bargaining with quasits, and spreading the sign of Sithhud like seeds. What in the name of the gods happened out there?

The chief has agreed to let us speak with his spirit, like we did with Kimandatsu. Obviously they want answers, too.


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Lamashan 18, 4712 (morning, Iqaliat)

Kimandatsu wanted to gloat. She wanted to talk. She wanted to tell us everything, even in death. But Tunuak? His essence was evasive. He admitted to his crimes, he just wasn’t forthcoming with the details. But he told us enough: Sithhud wants to reclaim his place among the demon lords, and Tunuak intended to help him. We just don’t know how the pieces fit together.

“Why did you smash the dragon’s eggs?” Qatana asked.

“I did what must be done.”

See what I mean?

I am distinctly uneasy with the situation we’re now in. As the chief was quick to point out, “Regardless of what Tunuak has done here, the dragon is still attacking our village.” Yeah, sure. And how would you respond if someone killed your children?

Gods.

We’re going to try and bargain with her. We don’t exactly have proof, but we have enough of the story, and Tunuak’s remains to show her, so she might be willing to listen. I admit that it’s probably not going to work, but if there’s even a chance we can put a stop to all of this then we have to try. But we also have to prepare for the worst.

It’s going to be a four-day hike to her lair. That’s one way. I wanted to use the caravan to get us most or even part of the way there, but Sandru would not budge. Which, I suppose, is understandable: the caravan might prove too attractive a target should she pass overhead. And, this way, if she gets away from us and tries to seek revenge on the village, Ana and Shalelu will be there to help. But regardless of how much sense it makes? I just don’t want to walk.

It’s Lamashan, and that means the days are quickly growing shorter as the nights get longer. The sun rises (if you can call it rising) late in the morning and hangs low in the sky just above the horizon for only a couple of hours. Most of our waking time is spent in dawn and dusk light, and when the weather is sour it’s as good as dark. There is something isolating about walking across the frozen landscape in a faded sky, no matter how many people you are with.


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Lamashan 22 (evening, dragon’s lair)

She’s dead. I don’t think it’s what any of us wanted, but that’s how it ended. We tried to parley. We brought her the proof that Tunuak had paid for his crime with his life. Whether or not she believed us didn’t matter, however. What he had done to her was unforgivable, and she was going to punish “all two-legs”, everywhere, in retribution. Iqaliat was almost certainly just the beginning. She would have been hunting and killing humankind for as long as she was alive and able to do it. Even when we had her bested, and she knew it, she refused to give, so deep was her anger. This. This is what he had done.

I actually stood face-to-face with her. It is a position I never want to be in ever again, but I did it. Was it foolish of me to walk into that cavern alone and call out to her? Probably. But if we were going to try to talk to her, it had to look that way, too. By appearances, I was the least threatening so I volunteered as spokesperson. I never even heard her coming, and I bore the brunt of the ice and sleet from her breath, protected from harm solely by the spells we had prepared. Fortunately, Radella was beside me in an instant. The bitter cold I could handle. Her teeth and claws would have been another matter.

Mere seconds later, most of the rest of us were on her. For a terrible moment I thought she was going to get away. We made the mistake of not holding someone back in reserve. I had images in my head of her bearing down on Iqaliat, only this time not stopping at just a few Erutaki and their goats. After what we had done to her, she would not have stopped until the village was buried in blood and ice.

I took a cue from the harriers of my youth. I went after her pride, taunting her the best I could, hoping it would be enough to turn her back at us. It was to no avail. Fortunately, Qatana was just fast enough following her up the chute and she did something—I am still not sure what—and the dragon fell, lifeless, just as she was clearing the top of the rift.

Testament to Tunuak’s sins was found in a small cavern: shattered eggs, a stone hammer, and a tribal talisman. It was, in all honesty, a clumsily staged scene, but how sophisticated did it really need to be to enrage a white dragon? That is a rhetorical question.

We’ll be taking her body back with us. In the morning, I can prepare the spell to shrink it down. I also suggested to Sparna that he make armor from her hide. This whole thing has been such a waste of life. Why compound it further by letting her body rot to no purpose?

Or maybe I am just fooling myself. Pretending to still have the ideals that I left in Avistan. I know I’ve changed since this journey began. The question is, how much?

I’ll have four days walking in the gods-be-damned snow to think about the answer.

Lamashan 23 (morning, dragon’s lair)

Skygni was actually impressed. I get the feeling that this doesn’t happen often. He kind of looked at us for a moment, then said, “You may make it across the ice after all.”

It goes without saying that most AP's are railroads, and when you choose to play one you are signing up for that. But this scenario really left me feeling cheated because it set up what I thought was a significant moral dilemma, and the solution was nothing more than old school murder-hobo.


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Lamashan 26, 4712 (night, Iqaliat)

Iqaliat wants to celebrate, and I get it. I mean, if my village was being terrorized by a dragon or some other monster, and strangers arrived out of the blue and just “took care of it”, I’d probably want to celebrate, too. In fact, I’ve been there. I grew up in Sandpoint, right?

And, maybe if I had tried to persecute and even execute those same strangers when they first showed up on my doorstep, I might go a little overboard in trying to make them feel welcome during round two. So I don’t want to say that this little gala is wrong. It’s just that…I expected there to be at least some acknowledgement that we’re throwing a party over the death of something that shouldn’t have had to die at all. That wasn’t even a threat until someone went out of their way to provoke a fight. Can we at least acknowledge that?

When I tried bringing this up to the chief and the hearthmistress? Blank stares. OK, fine, we’re just going to ignore all that, then.

They pulled us aside to talk about what they had learned from Tunuak’s secret shrine while we were away. Fine by me. I couldn’t take one more minute in the village, anyway. Iqaliat would just have to celebrate their heroes without all of the heroes.

For what it’s worth, the village elders had been busy trying to figure out what their former shaman had been up to. What he was unwilling to give us through his spirit, they had been busy working out from what he left behind.

“The morozokus are the scourge of the demon lord Sithhud. The dark-haired woman, the one he calls Katiyana, may have found a way to restore his power.” When we first arrived, we’d been told that strange, black monoliths had been appearing on the landscape. No one knew what they were for, but given Tunuak’s pictograms? The general consensus was that they were connected somehow. I couldn’t fault the logic.

“The tower in this pictogram may be the Storm Tower. It is similar to the towers in the Nameless Spires, but it stands alone near the Alabastrine Peaks.” It’s called the Storm Tower because, yup, storms always seem to be swirling around it. No one puts any thought into these names.

We were told that the storms have been getting worse each year, slowly working their way farther and farther south. Whatever plan this Katiyana has? It seems to be working. She’s not just a threat to the inhabitants here, but to Avistan and Tian Xia, too. She’s been operating up here unopposed for quite a while. I think it’s time for some opposition.

Don’t get me wrong: I am no crusader. We were pulled into this mess and all but forced to do something morally repugnant to fix it. This Katiyana person is the why, and I aim to do something about it.

Neth 2, 4712 (evening, Unaimo)

About half way to Unaimo, we lost the sunlight completely. The next three months will be in total darkness save for the lights we bring with us. It’s unnerving.

We’re in Unaimo just for the day to resupply for the trip over the ice. If it wasn’t so late in the year it would be a busy trading town, but being the off season it’s more subdued. I got my share of inquisitive looks when I was filling every inch of cargo space with the provisions we purchased there. I think they were waiting for me to volunteer the answer. Fat chance. I wouldn’t have said anything even if they’d come out and asked.

We leave for Iqaliat in the morning. Then? It’s up onto the Ice.


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I am not to blame for this, I swear! Two of the PC's stayed in Iqaliat during the side trip to Unaimo, and one of them had a rather colorful time while we were away. Inadvertently encouraging a villager was but one of many shenanigans.

Neth 10, 4712 (night, Iqaliat)

Ameiko and I spent a little time in the village square this afternoon, generally taking a break from the caravan preparations. Most of them had been done before we left for Unaimo, anyway, and we were about to spend two months—possibly more—in complete isolation. No matter my feelings about Iqaliat, I wanted some time around people before leaving in the morning. We sat and talked as the villagers went about their business in the glow of the torches both magical and mundane that dotted its perimeter, and protected from the cold by the spells on the sashimonos which stood guard at opposite ends. Most of them made a point to look at us and smile as they walked by, and a few spoke to us either in greeting or in thanks.

We were talking about nothing of consequence when she unexpectedly switched to Tien and said, casually, “You have an admirer.”

The sudden change in topic and language caught me off guard, and I wasn’t sure I heard her correctly. “Excuse me?”

“An admirer. You have one.”

Please.”

“I’m serious. He’s been watching you from across the square for a while now. Don’t look right at him, silly! Be discreet.” She admonished me when I turned my head to see who she was talking about. A little more nonchalantly, I looked around as if taking in the village. There was a young Erutaki man sitting on the other side of the square that looked away as my gaze swept across him, but in my peripheral vision I could see him turn back.

“He’s probably looking at you,” I said.

She smirked at me. “Ooohhh, no. It’s you he’s trying to work up the courage to talk to.”

Pfft. How can you be sure?”

Smiling mischievously, she stood up abruptly and said, “Let’s find out, shall we?” And before I could object, she walked across the square to where he was sitting, spoke to him briefly, then strode off into the darkness towards the front gate. She had not gone more than a half dozen paces before he got up and approached me. I am going to kill her, I thought. I am pretty sure Suishen will understand.

Unnusakkut, Kali. I am Anerk. It is an honor to meet you,” he said, kneeling at my feet. My face suddenly felt very hot; I must have turned beet red. Somewhere out there, Ameiko was probably watching this scene and laughing. Death is too good for her.

He was just a kid, probably only a couple of years older than Ivan. He limped slightly on his left leg as he walked. I didn’t ask. I probably already knew the answer, anyway.

“I’m pleased to meet you, Anerk,” I replied. I gave him a smile that I hoped was friendly but not encouraging.

“I want to thank you for saving our village.”

I bowed my head slightly. “You’re welcome. It’s terrible what happened here. We knew we had to help.”

He looked down at the ground for a moment, long enough that the silence was awkward. Finally, he said, “I wanted to thank you during the celebration, but Ivan did not know where I could find—”

“It’s OK,” I said, cutting him off. I really didn’t want to know what “thanking me” would have entailed that night. He looked up again, looking right at me. He had that sort of nervousness that comes from talking to someone that you have a crush on. Way, way too good.

“Ivan says you stood face to face with the dragon. You were very brave to confront her with no armor.”

Personally, I could think of a few other words for that and none of them were as flattering. Still, I felt like I was being placed on a pedestal or something here and I was not comfortable with it, or where this might be headed.

“I am not defenseless, Anerk.”

He winced slightly at that. It must have come out harsher than I’d intended.

“I did not mean to offend. Of course you have magic.” He stopped there, suddenly reminded of Tunuak, I am sure. Another awkward silence followed.

Then, in a soft voice, he asked, “Is it true what they say? That he smashed her eggs?”

“Yes, he did.”

His expression turned somber. “I understand her rage.”

“Yes. But…it was not going to stop. She didn’t care about justice; only wrath. She was going to level this village, then move on to the next. And then the next.”

He nodded. “And—”

“Kali! Sandru needs you!” Ameiko was crossing the square, coming to my rescue with perfect timing. The kind of timing that is manufactured. Sandru absolutely did not need me.

“I’m sorry, Anerk. It was a pleasure to speak with you, but I must go.”

Tavvaujutit, Kali. Naammaktsiarit.”

Later, I learned from Ivan that his family was killed in the first attack on the village. So, naturally, now I feel like a heel.

We actually had a debate about whether or not there would be activity in the village in the winter time. In the end we decided that living wear its cold and living in it aren't the same thing. If they can gift us a Sashimono of Comfort, then they'd use them in their own village, too.


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Neth 11, 4712 (night, the Ice)

Ulf is confident he can get us to this Storm Tower. It sounds so easy when you just say it like that, but it’s just one structure standing alone in thousands of square miles of frozen nothingness. Sonavut says it’s closer to the Alabastrine Peaks, which you would think would be hard to miss, but day and night are one and the same now, and under overcast skies the landscape is an ink so black we’d never see them on the horizon.

But, as I said, Ulf is confident he can get us there. I don’t know how, but this right here is why we hired a guide and if he says he can do it then he can do it. Who am I to argue?

What are we going to find there? The paintings in Tunuak’s makeshift altar are vague, even the one of the woman Katiyana. He depicted her as essentially human, only blue-skinned with black wings, and I don’t know what this means. The only blue-skinned beings I have seen that could otherwise pass as human are the yamah that occasionally visit Magnimar, and something about Tunuak’s depiction of her (and, of course, the whole connection to Sithhud) just doesn’t say “azata” to me. A tiefling, perhaps? Geniekin? (Aasimar? But what are the odds of there being two Nualias in my lifetime?) Not that it matters; I am just curious. Whatever she is, if the elders of Iqaliat are right, we are likely to encounter either her or her sway.

The Nameless Spires are supposedly the ruins of an ancient civilization, one that even predates Thassilon (which is as far back as my knowledge of history goes). The Storm Tower is rumored to be much like the spires of that place, only off by itself because…because otherwise, it’d not have a name, I guess. If Katiyana really is responsible for the growing ferocity of the storms, then it stands to reason that the tower, itself, figures into her plans. Perhaps she is harnessing some ancient magic or power that was once dormant inside, or maybe the purpose of the tower was to influence the weather and she has merely appropriated it for her scheme with Sithhud.

Sithhud. Not much is written about him. Legend says his domain was taken from him by another demon lord. Clashes among the ranks of the Lords and the Gods are rare, but decisive ones are even more so.

I imagine he did not take it well.

Neth 14, 4712 (evening, the High Ice)

We have reached the High Ice. Honestly, it mostly looks the same as the regular ice (the low ice?) except of course that it’s higher, and the only reason I know we’re here now is because Skygni said he’d accompany us this far and today is the day he took his leave.

The air has been getting thinner as we climb in altitude. The whole ice shelf slopes upwards towards the north, and every day it is a little harder to breathe than it was the day before, and we are a little quicker to tire. Ulf says it takes about a month to adjust to the conditions, and we’ll have to decide soon how we want to progress: stop and camp, travel slowly, or just push on. Strictly speaking there is nothing wrong with doing the last one—we are just as vulnerable spending that month traveling as we are sitting still—except for that part where we’d reach the Storm Tower still short of breath and easily exhausted.

Our progress has been slow thanks to the storm that rolled through on our way to the dragon’s lair and buried the ice road in several inches of snow. Of course snow doesn’t melt in subzero weather, but eventually whatever doesn't get packed down into ice gets blown by the winds off the shelf into warmer zones. “Eventually” just hasn’t happened yet.


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Memories: Nualia

Spring, 4701

Kali scampered down Main Street, taking care to avoid running into a pair of guards leaving the garrison as she slipped between it and the town hall. She didn't want to miss too much of the sunset over the water, but colliding with someone on the busy streets would guarantee that she'd not get to see anything at all. She rounded the corner with equal care, a right turn that took her to the cliffs overlooking the gulf. She could see the enormous glassworks a couple of buildings down on her left as she trotted out to the edge.

The sun was just above the horizon, still bright but turning a fiery orange as it sank slowly to the water. She sat down on a comfortable grassy spot just a few feet from the edge that had become her favorite viewpoint, so caught up in her routine that she did not realize at first that she was not alone.

She recognized Nualia, of course; Kali knew who Nualia was within days of moving to Sandpoint. Everyone knew Nualia. At barely eleven years old Kali had been fortunate to see more of the world than most people would in their lives. She'd seen humans from nearly every continent and humanoids of all types, but Nualia with her silver hair and purple eyes stood out among all of them. Not that she hadn't come across others with a distinct or unique appearance, but those were all cross-breeds of some sort. Nualia looked both human and otherworldly at the same time.

What did mom say she was? Aas-something?

"It's not polite to stare."

Kali turned her head away quickly, feeling embarrassed. She could tell her cheeks were flushing as she said, meekly, "I'm sorry."

Nualia was laying on her side in the grass just off to her right, one hand resting on her abdomen. Quite a few people in Sandpoint came out this way to watch the sunset every now and then, but this was the first time Kali had run into her here. For some reason it made her uncomfortable.

Nualia turned to face her.

"You're Kali."

It wasn't a question, but Kali answered as if it was.

"Yes, miss."

For just a fleeting moment Nualia looked annoyed and Kali was embarrassed again.

Dummy! Just talk to her like she's normal.

People did weird things around Nualia. Not so much the ones living in Sandpoint, but those in the farmlands out to the east. They would ask to stroke her hair, or to have a lock of it, and to touch her face or hand. Some even asked her to kiss their children. Once while she was out with her parents Kali saw someone kneel at Nualia's feet in supplication, and beg or pray for something. She wasn't sure what because she couldn't hear the words, but her mom was very annoyed and remarked harshly about the farmers being superstitious. Her dad was more reserved, but she could tell he found it terribly rude and he was shaking his head as they walked away.

"Other kids pick on you."

Also not a question. This time Kali didn't say anything. Yes, some of them did; she was getting used to it, and was learning who to avoid and who to ignore. That didn't mean that she wanted it pointed out to her. Uncomfortable under Nualia's gaze, Kali looked down. Her eyes found a patch of dirt in the grass.

Nualia turned away, staring out over the gulf where the sun was dipping into the water, slowly turning from orange to a deep red.

After a couple of minutes she said, matter-of-factly, "It gets worse."

The sun set in awkward silence.

§

In the first year of the game, a couple of us shared a handful of background stories about our characters. This is one of the first ones written for Kali.

As I mentioned earlier, we chose to set our campaign in the same continuity as our previous (3.5/OGL) RotR game, which means most of our JR characters lived through those events.


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Neth 19, 4712 (evening, the High Ice)

I am really feeling the effects of the altitude now, along with everyone else. We’ve chosen the “slow travel” option, and will be moving the caravan one or two days out of every week for the next month. This will keep us from going stir crazy without running the risk of pushing ourselves and the animals to the point of exhaustion. It’s not ideal as no one wants to spend this much time just camped in the middle of nowhere, but we are all too aware of our physical limits and know it’s the right thing to do.

It’s beautiful up here in it’s own way.

Nihali is less impressed. The magical devices I made keep us warm most days, but the spell that powers them has limits and every so often it is cold or windy enough to exceed them. She is forced to stay wrapped up in one of the covered wagons until these cold snaps pass.

Neth 25, 4712 (afternoon? evening? daytime? who can tell?)

A wagon axle broke today. The constant buildup of ice had made it brittle and that was that. Fortunately, we have plenty of wainwrights among us and their knowledge plus a few spells had us back up and moving in short order.

It’s not enough to mend broken objects with spells. This is something I learned long ago watching the occasional repairs in mom and dad’s warehouse. An axle, for example, is but one piece in a system of moving parts, and there is more to the repair than just making the spindle whole again: the surrounding pieces must inspected for secondary damage and the whole unit properly reassembled. It takes skilled hands and a skilled eye. It also takes time. Spells just accelerate some of the steps.

It’s been three months since I sent my last message home. Do they worry about me? I think they must, even though they know not to expect to hear from me again for several more weeks. I purchased a scroll in Kalsgard for a spell that, if I understand it correctly, I can use to see them and even exchange whispered messages, but it’s still beyond my ability. Every few days I give it another try—I want to learn it, not cast it—but progress has been agonizingly slow.

Kuthona 6, 4712 (night, the High Ice)

A couple of nights ago we were attacked by one of those glowing lizard things Skygni had warned us about. We’ve seen a couple of them from a distance since reaching the Crown, but this was our first close-up encounter. Qatana and I were on watch when we saw it streaking across the sky, only instead of circling in the distance it made a turn in our direction. We had just gotten everyone woken up as it passed overhead.

Skygni said that they were dangerous, but not precisely how so we had to learn the hard way. Olmas, once again, was critically hurt. After the fight was over, we determined that it probably sensed the world entirely through sound much as a bat does, only it could also send out sonic pulses in far greater strength and intensity than needed for navigation. This is what struck Olmas. And a few others. And our encampment.

It stands to reason that some of the creatures that live up here have adapted to the long winter night by not needing to see at all. We’ll have to be mindful of this.

For those keeping score at home, that's the fifth time Olmas came close to dying. These events are from our 18th game session.


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I made an eBook from our group's journal entries. Interested in other players' perspectives of our game? 

eBook info:
It covers our first 14 game sessions, which correspond to the first two books of the Jade Regent AP, The Brinewall Legacy and Night of Frozen Shadows. Four of our players journal regularly. In addition to the journal entries, it includes the character backgrounds that were submitted to the GM, and some extra goodies. I am a stickler on details, and ensured there is a consistent structure and format, with entries broken out by "chapter" (game session) and character.

Download link: Jade Regent Chronicles, Book 1
The .ZIP archive contains the ebook in 3 formats: MOBI (Kindle, can sideload via send-to-kindle or USB), AZW3 (Kindle, can sideload via USB), and EPUB (just about everyone else)

Kuthona 12, 4712 (night, the High Ice)

I am not tiring as quickly and as easily as I used to which probably means were are close to having adjusted to the altitude, if not there already. As soon as Sandru and Ulf give the word, we’ll head to the Storm Tower at our full speed.

When skies are clear, we can just make out the Alabastrine peaks under the stars, far on the horizon. It shouldn’t be much longer.

Sparna presented me with a gift. It was one of the nicest, most thoughtful things anyone outside of my family has ever done for me. He said it was in thanks for a spell I’ve been casting for him every few days, but this goes far beyond that.

Some time ago he asked to borrow my crossbow, which I hardly ever use—I think the last time was in Brinewall—and when he returned it, it had been enchanted in a way that I had not thought possible. Bolts shot from it no longer draw blood. When he explained this to me I thought I was going to start crying right in front of him. Few people understand. I mean really understand. Ameiko, Qatana and Koya, for sure, but Sparna?

I actually thought he didn’t like me all that much. You just get that sense, you know? But as I get older the more I am coming to understand that I’m just not any good at reading people. I’ve also come to terms with the fact that I was not a particularly pleasant person to be around when I was a child. I was quick to anger, easy to offend, and prone to small outbursts. I still have shades of all three. I am my own worst enemy at times.

Crystalhue, 4712 (evening, Alabastrine Peaks)

Sandru took the caravan to within a few miles of the Storm Tower and then brought us to a halt. I don’t blame him. The first priority is to keep Ameiko safe, and that means keeping the caravan safe. We will set out on foot early in the morning.

There’s no question we are at the right place. A strange, blue glow emanates from the top of the tower and it was this light that guided us in. As Sonavut and Iqaliat’s chief had told us, storms swirl about its spire even when the weather is clear around us. The tower seemingly gives birth to each morozoku, feeds it until it is weaned, then sends into the perpetually night sky. The blue light from the tower illuminates the cycle for us to see, reflecting off the snow on the ground and the peaks on the mountains, and bathing everything in a soft, violet light.

Today is Crystalhue. There is no sunlight to shine through my prisms and no community festival to attend, but there is the central fire where the caravan is encamped, the magically-enhanced lanterns that provide our light, and of course my friends. I took out the small, glass and crystal bead sun catcher that I purchased in Kalsgard before we left, and hung it from the covered wagon so that I could watch the fire sparkle through it as the others ate. In memory of Asvig and in honor of Helva.

It is somewhat apropos that we have come here on the winter solstice.


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This journal is just two sessions behind our game now, so I'm adding these short background stories to smooth the transition to less frequent updates.

Memories: Cliff Street

Early Fall, 4700

"Go away."

Ameiko stopped under the trees that stood between Cliff Street and the bluffs for which it was named. Kali was sitting in the tall grass a short distance from the drop-off, staring out over the water. Gulls rode the currents along the ridge, rising overhead to hover briefly before dropping down and vanishing over the edge.

A long silence passed before Kali spoke.

"If you're here to yell at me, too, don't bother. I don't care. So just leave."

Ameiko stepped over to her and sat down without saying anything. Kali turned away, putting her back to Ameiko as she sat.

Ameiko said softly, "I'm not here to yell at you."

The onshore breeze picked up, lifting the gulls high above. Kali watched a half dozen of them hang in the air, wings outstretched. An even longer silence passed before Kali spoke, her voice breaking slightly.

"I hate them."

"They're jerks. Just ignore them."

"I can't. They won't leave me alone."

"Getting angry will just make it worse."

Kali knew she was right. She knew it. But that didn't mean it was easy to let it go. It all started when she was eight: names, some jokes behind her back, hushed giggles and laughs. Two years on, it had turned to this.

Very gently, Ameiko added, "Ana isn't one of them. Neither am I."

Kali knew she needed to apologize to Ana, but she didn't want to. To make matters worse, her parents had found out about it because everyone in Sandpoint hears about everything, eventually. She had never seen her father get that angry before and it actually scared her. It also made her want to apologize even less.

"Taking it out on your friends isn't going to help."

Kali also knew that Ameiko was right about that, too. Ameiko was always right. But Kali didn't want "right", and she most certainly didn't want to be reminded of it. What she wanted was to be mad.

So she stood up abruptly and stormed away.

§

One of the things I like most about this story is that it hints at just how much of a boor Kali could be when she was growing up. Of course, no one deserves to be bullied and maligned, but lashing out at your friends in response is hardly excusable. I wanted to point out that, in those early years, Kali could be very difficult and she was occasionally hard on those who cared about her.


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Kuthona 22, 4712 (morning, the Storm Tower)

The Storm Tower rises some three hundred feet into the air, a hexagonal column of basalt cut like glass growing out of a pool of black slush. A ball of blue light crackles at its apex, feeding a budding storm overhead.

We’ve seen the slush before. According to Ulf, it’s a common sight around the Crown of the World and is one of the region’s more deadly hazards: a highly toxic, poisonous sludge that flows out of cracks in the ice. Its source seems to be the Nameless Spires, but what created it is a mystery.

We weren’t really sure what we’d find here; I reserved some of the mental energy I use for learning spells so that I could adapt to the situation at hand. Just a couple of months ago, I couldn’t afford to do this because I needed every spell I could possibly learn each morning, but as my abilities grow I find that each one takes less effort to commit to memory. I spent some time preparing for the assault on the third level now that we know what it is that we don’t know.

While I did this, the others began the tedious task of pulling gems out of the walls. This room is filled with them, the stones connected by an intricate network of wire. The crystalline entities that were inside seemed to be operating or maintaining this bizarre display as though it were some sort of machinery, but of course there is no mechanism. Just the gemstones, wire and magic of a type that I could not identify or even make sense of. How long have they been here? What were they doing? What was the room’s purpose? We have no answers, but this could very well date back to when the tower was created; the crystalline beings eternally performing a duty that has not been relevant for thousands of years.

The remorhaz were more recent occupants. Both bore the mark of Sithhud, each etched into one of their scales. Someone (Katiyana?) purposely brought them here, almost certainly to serve as guards for what lies above us. It was a lovely trap that produced a tense moment for Ivan.

We keep getting tripped up by the unexpected.

Much like the ground floor. A giant, carnivorous flower had taken root. How it managed to survive here with, I assume, no source of food is a mystery (another reason why I miss Etayne). Qatana got “swallowed” whole (do carnivorous flowers swallow? Is that even the right term?) and ejected in a constricting, digestive pod. I’ve never seen anything so alien. We had to literally cut her out of it to save her life.

The others are almost done collecting gems. It is time to move.


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Kuthona 22, 4712 (afternoon, Storm Tower)

Stupid, stupid, stupid! I need to stop making little mistakes like this before they get someone killed. The speed with which one bad decision can cascade into a crisis is alarming. It is basically my fault that both Ivan and Sparna ended up in danger—I could have dealt with it if it was just one of them, but both? How do you make that decision? Gods, we got lucky.

How did all this happen?

I summoned a small air elemental and sent it up the core to just scout around for us, and it told us about the winds, and the frozen dead aimlessly wandering about. The former were strong and would hamper our flight, and that meant we couldn’t ignore the latter. After discussing it with the others, we tried a simple, opening salvo to thin their ranks: a fireball sent up the bore to detonate in the room, followed by earth elementals to push one or two down. This mostly worked. Two bodies flew down the central shaft, one crashing onto the floor we were on and the other dropping all the way to the bottom. When we ascended, we saw the burned corpses of two more.

Almost nothing went right after that. Before we even stepped off the platform we were hit by something—a spell of some sort. My air elemental hadn’t scouted the whole room—I needed it to survive or the scouting would do us no good—so naturally it didn’t see Katiyana. She had just announced her presence.

She flew through the air as nimbly and gracefully as can be. It was like the wind wasn’t even there, and yet it was all around us like some raging storm. It was a spell, obviously, and I felt my stomach sink. We’d had access to it, with the emphasis on had. Tunuak’s staff carried it, but we sold it in Unaimo. It never occurred to me that we might need the thing, or that traveling to a place called the Storm Tower might involve, well, storms. It was foolish of us.

Here’s the thing: they count on me to think about stuff like this. If I can’t make these obvious connections, then what purpose am I serving?

I watched from the ground as Olmas was literally blown into the walls by the winds. The others were struggling against them as they flew up to meet Katiyana. It was a losing battle from the very start, with her tossing spells at us at her leisure and us unable to respond. I stayed on the ground too long, moving undetected among the frozen dead thanks to Ivan’s spell. Then someone finally got a shot at her and the spell collapsed, and I was suddenly surrounded.

Ivan called out to me. “Are you OK?”

And I wasn’t OK, but I shouldn’t have said so. Ivan came down to help, and then he got hit and went down. And then Sparna did the same. And I couldn’t help both of them. It was an impossible choice. I did what I could, trying to get the demon Katiayana had summoned away from Sparna while I engaged the frozen dead to protect Ivan, but it was only delaying the inevitable. Then, miraculously, Ivan broke free of whatever magic was binding him and we just barely turned it around before killing blows arrived. It was that close.

And that’s the other thing: they count on me to tip the scales in our favor, and I can’t do that if I am occupied saving myself, or worse, salvaging some debacle of my own creation. We lost valuable time—time that needed to be spent eliminating Katiyana’s advantage over us.

When that time finally came, it took me a couple of tries to get it right. I’m not going to be hard on myself on this one: it was not an easy problem. How do you stop gale-force winds blowing down out of a 20′ hexagonal hole in a ceiling with lightning arcing through it? On the second go at it I had an idea that worked. Those platforms Radella had managed to operate? The one leading to the third floor? Sometimes she was able to create one that had a dome covering it. It looked an awful lot like a spell I had picked up but never had occasion to use.

It’s mostly a camping spell, but I am told that some wizards use it for defensive cover because it creates a dome that you can see out of while those on the outside can’t see in. It doesn’t block spells or weapons, but what it does block is wind—just like the little platforms we used to go up and down in the Storm Tower blocked the wind—because when you’re camping, who wants the wind blowing in your face? And that dome? It’s not actually a dome: it’s a sphere. It just looks like a dome when you use it on the ground.

That spell was my answer, except for the small detail where I hadn’t prepared it for the day. So I pulled that trick Eudonius had taught us, morphing a spell I had into the one I needed.† (What would he think of how often I’ve been doing this? I’ve certainly felt the toll it takes on me. I don’t think I’ve made these decisions lightly.) In an instant the winds stopped, and I looked down to see my friends converge on Katiyana in the air. If only I could have done this sooner.

Katiyana was a sylph, a being connected to the plane of elemental air. They are genie-kin, born from the mating of a djinn and a human. How a sylph ends up in the service of Sithhud, though, is anyone’s guess. I am sure it’s fascinating story that we’ll never get to hear.

Of more immediate concern is whether she was working alone or had help, and we’ll take a shot at getting some answers to that tomorrow. The Tower itself had no obvious living quarters, and there are no other structures for hundreds of miles that we know of. So if she wasn’t living there, then where? And if there is a somewhere else, is there a someone else to go with it?

For the immediate future, at least, it seems our problem has been solved. As soon as the sphere collapsed on itself the weather broke overhead. It’s been positively pleasant, with stars shining on us through clear skies.

Or maybe it’s not. A few days ago, before we even got here, I overheard Ivan talking with Koya around our nightly campfires. He’s been having these recurring dreams about being surrounded by frozen undead. In those dreams, I send a ball of fire into the advancing hoard, but the spell he manifests is strange and ineffective. Dreams are like that sometimes, but what troubles me is not his distress over his spell so much as the whole setting. I didn’t used to put much faith in dreams as omens or as being somehow prophetic, but my time with Etayne has taught me not to be so dismissive. It could just be coincidence that we found ourselves on the third floor of the Storm Tower surrounded by hoarfrost spirits, or it could be that his dreams really are a warning of sorts about the road ahead. We are only half-way across the Ice, after all, in the winter season when unknown dangers abound.

I said earlier that my friends rely on me to think ahead, and to make connections that might otherwise be missed. Is this one of those?

I think it is. The question now is, what do I do about it?

Yes, I really did screw up, and that mistake nearly got two of our PC's killed. It was not a good feeling.

______________________________________
This was me spending a hero point.


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Kuthona 22, 4712 (evening, The Storm Tower)

Ameiko and Koya wanted to see the tower that was at the center of all this turmoil, so we obliged. I mean, why not? We had cleared it out so it was safe—aside from the sludge—and it was completely alien in design and construction, unlike anything any of us had ever seen or were likely to see again. Ultimately, this journey is about restoring Ameiko’s rightful place as heir to the empire of Minkai, but it is also about traveling far away from home and seeing the world outside of Avistan and all the strange and wondrous sights it has to offer. A piece of that world was staring at us right here, right now. When we would have another opportunity?

Ameiko seemed just as interested in the remorhaz as the ancient, basalt spire. I understand the appeal, especially after having stood in close quarters with two of them. They have a reputation in this part of the world that is, frankly, well deserved. And, Sparna offered what I thought was a pretty good idea, inspired by the talisman that Ulf carries. We could fashion a few of our own from their scales and use them in much the same way as Iqaliat. When we arrive in Tian Xia we may need a system for identifying who we can trust, and fetishes of our own may be the answer. That, and trophies made from remorhaz scales kind of send a message about who people are dealing with. I have little patience for convincing others to take me seriously and I suspect Ameiko has even less, so why not make that first impression count?

Ulf wants to pick up the Path of Aganhei again and according to him the best place to do that is at Dead Man’s Dome. I imagine this has a lot to do with the fact that it’s one of only a handful of identifiable landmarks around for literally hundreds of miles. Once we clear the Alabastrine Peaks, Ulf says we turn right and head south. Though just about everything is south from here, so I’m pretty sure that “head south” was meant as a gag.

I almost wrote “We leave at first light”, but of course there isn’t one and there won’t be for several more weeks.

Dead Man’s Dome used to be a fortified tower of some sort, an outpost along the Path of Aganhei that extended the protection for travelers onto the Ice itself. A couple hundred years ago, though, it was attacked by a small army of giants and frozen dead while several caravans were sheltered there. It threatened to be more of a slaughter than a battle, but a soldier whose name has long been lost to time mustered a brilliant counterattack that shattered the attacking formation. As the giants regrouped, the surviving guards and caravans managed an escape, but that one, lone soldier stayed behind and lured the attackers into the tower before collapsing it on himself and them. It is a seemingly fantastical story that, as near as I can tell, is absolutely true. It hasn’t even been embellished.

Ulf says that, according to legend, the ghost of the Dead Man protects the dome to this day. Six months ago I would have scoffed at such a notion, but not now. Etayne and Koya would be pleased.

We’re going to try and speak with Katiyana’s corpse before leaving tomorrow. It’s become a disturbing ritual, but it has to be done, right?

That’s what I keep telling myself.

Silver Crusade

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This continues to be a fascinating tale of adventure but even more so I am enjoying seeing the growth of Kali both mentally and morally.


Thank you, Big Joe, that is very kind of you.


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Kuthona 23, 4712 (midday, The High Ice)

Katiyana’s essence was about as cooperative as I’d expected. She (it?) gave circular answers that told us basically nothing, though that may have been in part because we didn’t know what to ask. This spell seems to work best when you are seeking to confirm that which you already know or at least suspect. The more general or vague you are the less likely you are to be satisfied.

One of our questions was answered with a threat of sorts.

“Who are the others you were working with?” Qatana asked.

“I was allied with felled creatures of the frozen north, raised from death”, she replied in that hollow, lifeless voice we’re used to from this spell. And then she laughed. An eerie facsimile of a laugh, but a laugh nonetheless. “My allied creatures may yet thwart you.”

So that is something to look forward to.

She also implied rather strongly that she wasn’t associated with the oni of the Five Storms. As she put it, she served “the Frozen Lord who shall return.” Uh huh. Good luck with that. It’s reasonable to assume that she was working alone up here until very recently, and Tunuak seems to have been a lucky break rather than part of any kind of master plan. He was probably the only one of her victims that was useful to her alive, and I doubt that hoarfrost spirits and whatever other undead she’d created from the rest served as anything more than brute force. Sithhud is going to have to get used to disappointment.


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Kuthona 24, 4712 (evening, The High Ice)

I talked to mom and dad today. I actually tried last night but it didn’t work, or rather, not all of it did. I could see mom and even hear her, but when I tried the spell that would let me talk to her? Nothing. All I could do was sit there and watch as she worked in the office.

I actually did that for a while—watch her as she worked. I couldn’t let the image go. And then I realized how voyeuristic it was. As much as I wanted just to see them again, doing it this way suddenly felt horribly wrong, and I let it drop.

Tonight, though, I got through.

Mom.

There is a difference between knowing something might happen and actually having it happen. She and dad knew what to expect because I’d made these plans with them that day back in Magnimar, but she still nearly jumped out of her seat. I mean she literally jumped. So I guess I startled her.

“Kali! Thank the gods you’re OK!” There was a pause, then a look of concern on her face as she looked around reflexively. “Are you OK? Where are you?”

Near the north pole. Yes, I’m OK. We all are.

It took a couple of minutes—precious time I didn’t really have with this spell—for her to find dad and get back to where they could talk privately. I was treated to a short tour of the office, though I could only see a small bubble around her as she walked. Unsurprisingly, it hadn’t really changed since I’d left.

“We received the letters,” dad said. “There were three?”

Yes.

“They gave us quite a scare. What happened up there?”

I was more or less expecting this question and had prepared an answer. “We guessed they’d be watching for us and they were. They’ve been there for decades, patiently waiting in case someone from Amieko’s family turned up. They’d formed a small criminal empire of sorts using a trading guild as a front. Like the Sczarni in a way.

Mom spoke up then. “We’ve heard rumors of a guild coming into trouble with the king there.”

Yes. That was us. And them. You won’t hear our names, though. The public face of it is an Ulfen merchant named Lute Haggersly. If you are looking for new business contacts up there, by the way, he’s someone to trust. He’ll remember my name.

We didn’t have much time so I quickly recounted the highlights from Kalsgard to points north. More surprises, more alarm, especially after I got around to Iqaliat.

Dad interrupted this time. “A dragon?! Kali—”

It was a small one. If that helps.

“Kali…” He paused, and I got the sense he changed what he was planning to say. “We are both immensely proud of what you are doing, and what you have accomplished. Both you and your friends.”

But.

“But, we worry that events continue to escalate.”

Mom spoke up, then. “So far you’ve been able to handle it. But it feels like things are on the verge of spiraling out of control. How will you know if…?”

She trailed off, not able to put the question into words. It didn’t matter though because I knew what she was asking me. And I didn’t have an answer for it. Not one that would satisfy them, anyway.

You might be right. I—I know that’s not what you want to hear. I can only say that we’ve all agreed not to take needless risks. That this isn’t worth our lives. I know that’s not much, but…it’s the best I can offer. We learned a lot from Kalsgard.

They asked how Ameiko was doing so I told them. It was an abrupt and awkward change of subject, but I get it. In their position, I would have wanted to do that, too.

I am probably making this conversation sound like something of a downer. It wasn’t like that, really. It was just honest. But it’s not something I’m used to doing with them, and if I feel and sound a little numb I guess that’s just me coping with it.

“When will we hear from you next?” dad asked.

We had just a few seconds left and I could feel the spell coming to an end. The image of them in front of me was starting to fade.

We should reach Tian Xia in a month, plus a week or two to get through the mountains.

“Take care of yourself, and your friends,” he said.

“We miss you and love you. And we want you to come back to us.”

I miss you and love you both. I will make it back. That is a promise.

The uncomfortable truth is that this isn’t a promise I could really make. I mean, how did know that I could keep it? We didn’t know what really lay ahead of us. But the point is that I meant it. They knew that, too, and that’s what mattered.

I managed to hold my composure until after the spell expired.

__________________________________________________________________

Mechanics:
This is Scrying plus Message. I worked up a casting schedule for the travel days. Denea needed a natural 20 to make her Will save against her daughter, and Message had a 35% chance of success at Kali's CL. On day 1, Scrying succeeded but Message failed on her mom (I made the judgement call that the success chance was per casting of Scrying, so no repeats on a failure), but on day 2 both succeeded.


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Kuthona 28, 4712 (night, The High Ice)

For the last several days we’ve had clear weather that would qualify as pleasant if it wasn’t so cold. I was beginning to think we might actually make it to Dead Man’s Dome without incident, but tonight as we were making camp word started spreading that there was a figure of some sort out just beyond our light. A woman walking alone in the freezing darkness. Naturally, this put everyone on edge because, really, how could that possibly be what it appeared? Olmas rode out on Kasimir to investigate, with Qatana and Ivan close behind.

The short of it is: it wasn’t a woman. Surprise. Not a living one, anyway. She was a malevolent spirit of some sort, and was trying to draw people away from camp. Mostly it was the others that dealt with it. There just wasn’t much I could do to contribute. This has me rethinking some decisions I made about which spells I have chosen to learn. Each one takes precious time, and of course money, so when I was starting out these decisions were difficult to make. Now that money is less of an issue, and time is something we have far too much of, I don’t have to make tough choices. The problem I have now is even more frustrating: no resources. I can manage a couple of news spells on my own as my skills grow, but that is about it for self study. It could be weeks before we are in a suitable town or city.

I am a little surprised we haven’t attracted more attention. Our caravan is putting out a lot of light. We knew we’d be crossing the Crown in the dead of winter, and that we’d be going a couple of months without the sun. If we wanted to see by we’d have to supply our own light. Qatana, Ulf, Ivan, and I made up plans for a couple of bulls eye lanterns for the covered wagon that Sandru drives, and regular lanterns to go on the others. Each one is lit by a magical flame that Qatana produced. It was expensive—each casting consumes a small ruby—but they never go out unless magically extinguished. We can see as far as 100 feet away in all directions, and even farther in front due to the head lamps. We’re a very visible beacon, one that can be seen for miles and miles in the darkness. Not everything up here is blind.

We modeled our light output. 

Mechanics:
Our GM let us houserule mathematical modeling of overlapping light sources. Pathfinder and 3.5 simplify the inverse-square falloff rule from real-world physics—doubling the distance quarters the illumination, and so on—into lighting steps: dark, dim, normal, and bright (daylight is many, many steps brighter than 'bright'). This sample light field image (click to view) is based on 5' squares, with blue squares representing the light sources.

Kuthona 31, 4712 (mid-day, The High Ice)

The Silver dragon flew over us again while we were stopped for lunch. I assume it was the same dragon, anyway. How can one tell? It was big, it was silver, it was a dragon. That was about as far as I could get on distinguishing features. It didn’t stick around, either, which I assume is a good sign. No news being good news, and so on.

Other than that, it was shaping up to be an uneventful day. And then we broke camp.

Vankor, one of our drivers, was pretty visibly shaken. I remember thinking he looked a little nervous this morning, but didn’t think much of it at the time. After only a few hours he was clearly doing much, much worse. He wouldn’t go near any of the wagons, or rather, the musk-oxen that were pulling them.

Both Ulf and Koya are sure it’s Howl of the North, a form of madness that comes from being without the sun for weeks on end.

His brother Bevelek said, “I noticed he’d been a little slow to get moving in mornings. Reluctant, even.”

Sandru nodded his head. “I had, too, but I didn’t want to give him a hard time. I just figured…I guess it was getting to him, only a lot more than I realized.”

Qatana pulled out some of our diamond dust and tried a restorative spell that works on these sorts of things. It produced some results, which is encouraging, but it didn’t cure him completely. We may give it time, or we may try the spell again.

For now, Sparna will take his position as driver, and Koya will watch over him. That meant we needed someone to perform the divinations for the caravan, and I think just about everyone was shocked when I said, “I’ll do it.”

Koya looked at me skeptically for a moment—Yeah, I would doubt me, too, I thought—but then she smiled, nodded, and said, “OK. Come with me.”

Why am I doing this? I guess I’ve come around. Koya is no charlatan, and I’ve learned to respect that there is real magic at the core of what she does for us. That, and if we were counting debts, I’d be in hers many times over. This seems like a step towards balancing those scales.


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New Year’s Day, 4713 (mid-day, Path of Aganhei, The High Ice)

Our scouts tell us that a large group of undead are trailing us, and I can just barely make out a handful of figures lumbering behind us at the far reaches of our light. The first skeleton was spotted early this morning, just a few hours after we set out, but as the day drew on more and more undead were seen converging on our flanks. It doesn’t appear that they can get ahead of us, but they really don’t have to: we and our animals have to stop and rest at some point, and they do not. We’re going to have to pick a time and place to make a stand.

Ulf has suggested doing that at Dead Man’s Dome. It’s where we are headed, anyway, and we should arrive in a couple of hours if we just continue on. The Dome will gives us some defensive terrain which sounds much better than trying to do this out here in the open. Plus, the longer we go the more likely we’ll be to draw them all out and get them following behind us instead of converging from all around.

That doesn’t mean this isn’t tense. I’m told there are at least a couple of dozen of them out there, now, and I have no doubt that more are coming. A few skeletons, wights, and even hoarfrost spirits are not a threat to us, but a few dozen is a different matter. And, it’s not just us: it’s the wagons, the animals, Vankor who is essentially helpless, and our provisions. It is on everyone’s mind and the wait is not helping. We also don’t have much of a margin for error. If another wagon axle breaks, if we wander off the path and get stuck, if anything slows us down at all… We have to be ready to face them at a moment’s notice. Spending every minute of every hour on constant alert is exhausting and stressful, and it's not a pace we can keep up forever.

We are fortunate that the weather has been good, and the packed ice and snow here has been fairly level and smooth. It was not easy, but I was able to spend the last 20 minutes or so memorizing some spells, filling the reserves I had held back for the day. There are some spells we’ll want that I do not normally prepare.

Thank the gods I have fallen into that habit.


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New Year’s Day, 4713 (evenimg, Dead Man’s Dome)

The ground below us is littered with the shattered and charred remains of the undead. I am, frankly, stunned by the combined destructive power that we can bring to bear. We have obliterated some three or four dozen of them in a matter of minutes, and much of that time was spent preparing for the second wave of the attack.

Granted, as Olmas and Sparna would say, this was probably the best possible scenario for us. We had the higher ground. We more or less knew what we were up against. We could define the encounter. They had limited capacity to plan or respond. We had more resources at our disposal, from abilities to weapons to magic. And, most importantly, we had time to prepare.

I am beginning to understand why powerful spell casters are as often feared by the common man as they are revered. I am also more than a little frightened by my own potential. Since this began, I have spent most of my energy and efforts supporting the others, either through direct action or by hindering our foes, giving us small advantages wherever possible. Actually participating in a fight directly has always been a last resort, when there was nothing better for me to do. This time, direct action was called for, and I rained down earth and fire, over and over again after the aurochs had flattened the front lines.

Granted, these creatures were undead and no one will mourn them, but what lies ahead of us? How often will I be facing living, breathing beings? I’ve done it a few times, and it has never sat well afterwards. Mom and dad are worried that we may face a situation that is beyond our abilities. I guess my fear is different: I worry there will be a day when this no longer tugs at my conscience.

The biggest surprise of the day came from Dead Man’s Dome, itself. Just as the first wave began its assault, a ghostly figure rose from the ground ahead of us and took a place in our defensive line. It did not take long for us to understand that this was the spirit of the Dead Man, himself. I did not get a close look at the manifestation, but it reminded me of what we had seen back in Brinewall: energy given physical form, only protective instead of destructive. As it stood there waiting for the second wave, someone quickly brought Ulf down to see. I understand that it was quite a shock.

Later in the evening, after we had made camp and the Dead Man had sunk back into the earth, we were sitting around the campfires, eating and talking. Just on a whim, I asked Ulf what he thought about what we’d witnessed.

“By the gods, do I have a story to tell! No one will ever believe me, but—You know, I had my doubts about leading you fools across here at this time of year, but this here made it worth it.”

I decided to let the “fools” comment go.


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Qatana's player approached me with this idea. After agreeing on the general dialog, we each journaled the scene from our own character's viewpoint.

Abadius 2nd, 4713 (night, The Path of Aganhei, The High Ice)

The Path of Aganhei lies ahead of us; the frozen remains of the undead, behind.

I spent most of the night finishing a headband for Qatana. She approached me with the request the night that we left the Storm Tower.

“Hey, do you have a minute?” she'd asked sheepishly.

“Of course. What’s on your mind?”

“I picked this up way back in Kalsgard, but forgot about it until I found it while rummaging through my pack this morning.” She held up a simple bronze headband studded with half a dozen gems of swirling green malachite. “I was wondering, uh, if you weren’t too busy…if you might be able to fashion this for me into a headband that can strengthen my will.”

I took it from her and studied it under the caravan lights, turning over and around. Qatana’s tastes tended toward minimalist. “It’s lovely,” I said, and I meant it. “I like the malachites.” The simplicity of its design had a certain elegance.

She made a small squeak, shifting on her feet is if someone had prodded her. I looked up expecting an explanation, but none came. Instead she added, “I have enough diamond dust to complete the work…at least when supplemented with some of the crystal shards we took from the tower.”

We had piles and piles and piles of purple shards. The unidentified gemstones had powered the storms above the Tower, and we destroyed them by literally bashing them to pieces. They shattered into clouds of tiny fragments as the magic infused in them was released. They almost certainly have no trade trade value, but that does not make them useless.

“Of course!” I said. “It will take me several days, but I can do it.”

The magical cubes we’d found made this process both faster and easier. Spells and furs might keep me warm, but my tools and equipment have no such protection. With the cubes it was like working in a heated cabin, only without walls or a roof. No matter how cold it was outside, once you crossed the threshold the chill was just gone. Which was weird until you got used to it.

Qatana looked excited when I presented it to her this morning. “You used the tourmalines!” she said. “And you’ve made it beautiful!”

I smiled at this. I didn’t strictly need them, but the headband itself came from Kalsgard, the ornamental wire from Unaimo, the gem fragments from the Storm Tower…I could go on. “I wanted this to tell a story,” I replied. Almost everywhere that we’d been was represented in some fashion.

I was actually worried that I had overdone it. The design was a little more ornate than pretty much anything she wore and I was more than a little relieved that she liked what she saw. One very refreshing quality about Qatana was that you always knew where things stood with her. If she said it was beautiful, then she thought it was beautiful.

And then, very abruptly, she said, "Thanks" in a barely audible voice, and she reached out and gave me a hug. A big one. I didn't know what to do because Qatana doesn't do hugs. Not anymore. She doesn't even like to be touched. It was so unexpected. All I could manage was, "You're welcome."

After making camp tonight, Ivan conjured some fire for the sole purpose of melting the ice and snow around us. “We’ll have a snow party!” he said, clearly excited.

It was actually pretty fun, much more than you would think. For weeks the landscape has been a trial at best, and this was a chance to see it not as an obstacle to overcome but instead something to play in and enjoy. It felt good to just be silly for a while.

I spent a couple of hours creating an ice sculpture of the Dead Man. It won’t win any awards, but that’s not really the point.

Abadius 3rd, 4713 (noon, Path of Aganhei, The Crown of the World)

We’ve dropped down into a basin on the Tian Xia side of the plateau. It is enormous: according to the map, it’s roughly 100 miles wide here, at its narrowest point, and four times as long. At the wide end, the town of Ul-Angorn sits on the shore of the Ruun Uvas, a huge saltwater lake which is fed by melt water coming off the ice sheet. It will take us nearly a week to reach it.

Vankor is still not doing well. Qatana, Ivan and I talked this over and we’re going to use the restoration spell on him again. We have plenty of diamond dust, Ul-Angorn isn’t that far away, and we really need him back. This second casting will take care of it. Qatana will prepare it in the morning.


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Memories: The Horse

Sandpoint, Summer, 4707

Kali found Anavaru in the back of the stables tending to her horse, brushing out his tan coat using a wide, wooden brush with stiff bristles. The hair had gotten lighter during the summer months and huge piles of the blonding strands were collecting at Ana’s feet.

Kali wasn’t exactly sure how to start this conversation. While this was well in the past, Kali had some moments when they were younger that she wasn’t proud of, and that was on her mind. She felt awkward and embarrassed about bringing up anything that might sound critical, even by accident.

She cleared her throat to get Ana’s attention.

“Hi, Ana.”

Anavaru turned her head and smiled though she did not stop her brushing.

“Hi, Kali.”

After a brief and uncomfortable silence, Kali said, hesitantly, “I’ve…uh…I’ve been meaning to tell you something—”

“I know.”

“Err…I mean, I just thought you should know, because you don’t see them up here—”

“No, I know already.”

“Oh! OK. Because, I wasn’t sure if you were aware—”

“Yes, I know my horse looks an awful lot like a camel.”

This joke about Anavaru's animal companion started in her character's background story, and it became a running gag between the two of us in the campaign. We never once referred to it as anything other than a horse, even when talking to the other PC's in the party. Alas, her player had to leave the game due to other commitments, though she and her "horse" are still with the caravan as NPC's.


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Abadius 6th, 4713 (evening, The Path of Aganhei, The Crown of the World)

Qatana cannot always be relied on to help us maintain a low profile. That’s just something we’re going to have to accept, I guess. Part of the frustration is that you never really know which Qatana you’re going to get when we meet someone new. Will she be cordial? Suspicious? Friendly? Hostile? I’ve given up trying to predict how she’ll react to strangers. Honestly, at times it just seems to be completely random.†

She wasn’t always like this. I still remember, very vividly, the first time I saw her after she and her family had vanished. It was in Korvosa of all places: she was the only one who had survived, and it was Shalelu that had found her. I have no idea how or why they were so far east; I never asked. I was eleven then and Qatana and I spent a couple of days exploring, me showing her the best parts of the city from a child’s perspective. She was distant, hesitant, guarded, and grieving, but also curious and excited. And more importantly, what she did also made sense, even to an eleven-year-old. At least, once I fully grasped what was happening. Even a decade later when we would see each other in Magnimar, she was still the Qatana I had grown up with. Yes, she may have come across as rude to people who didn’t know her—OK, and sometimes to those who did—but she was never erratic. This…what I see now is something new.

Sometimes I feel like there was more I could have done, or something I could have done differently, once she was back in Sandpoint. Those first years were hard—how could they not be?—and they were the years that would have made the difference. Without a family of her own she needed support wherever it could be found, but the thing is, neither of us were particularly rich in friends before. Logically, I know this doesn’t make sense, that this isn’t about me, that there’s more to it than that. But logic has nothing to do with it. It’s how it feels.

I bring this up now because we’re only a couple of days out of Ul-Angorn and we’re starting to see signs of human and humanoid settlement. The most significant of them came about mid-day today, when we passed a cabin fairly close to the Path of Aganhei. Even in the faded twilight we could see the smoke coming from its chimney so we decided to stop. I mean, why not? Not counting Katiyana (why would you?), this was the first sign of civilization…gods, in nearly two months.

The owner was a halfling gentleman named Kobi, and for reasons known only to Qatana she decided she liked him. After an awkward little greeting where he thought we were headed ontothe High Ice—we were clearly headed south, but people see what they are expecting to see, I guess—and tried to talk us out of it, he invited us inside just to visit. There was no hiding that we had just crossed, of course, but Qatana just could not help herself. She gave him the highlights of our exploits across the Boreal Expanse: the storms, Katiyana, the Storm Tower, Iqaliat, the white dragon, and even the Dead Man. What do you do at that point?

It’s not the events so much as it is the attention. Realistically, one halfling living 100 miles from the nearest settlement does not seem like a huge problem, but eventually he will talk to someone, who will talk to someone else, and so on. Word spreads. We were supposed to come to the Crown and disappear, not develop a reputation that calls us out.

Abadius 9th, 4713 (night, Ul-Angorn)

I give up. Honestly, I do. It is impossible to keep a group of thirteen adults, including the ones who should know better, from drawing attention to themselves. So I am done trying. I can’t be everyone’s nanny, and I wouldn’t want the job even if I could. I don’t want to be my grandmother. I love my grandparents, but that is not the same as loving everything about them. That is no way to live my life.

People will either learn or they won’t. Ameiko obviously hasn’t—at this point, whenever she says, “No one here knows who I am,” it is reasonable to assume that we are in imminent danger—and even Suishen has stopped offering advice on what to do about it. The sword and I finally share a common bond.

We are a danger not just to ourselves, but also to those around us. If we’re going to continue to tempt fate like this, then I’ll just have to be prepared for when someone takes advantage, especially in environments that put others at risk, as happened tonight. I have to pick spells that I can use in close quarters, without harming people and structures, even incidentally.

Speaking of tonight, that ogre mage was foolish to try and take us all on like that, but hauteur seems to be a running theme there. I mean, he had to know we were not going to roll over and die given what had happened in Kalsgard, right? But I guess he thought he was different.

In all honesty, his gambit was a good one. While we were all wary, we weren’t really on guard for an oni disguised as a human (though I suppose we should have been, yes?), and even if we were could we reasonably have kept it up for hours on end? Which is how long he was willing to wait. That part was smart, as was the attempt to lure Ameiko away through an enchantment. He just didn’t have a contingency plan that was better than “hack-and-slash with sword”, which is what surprises me. But if our enemies want to make it easy on us, I guess I shouldn’t complain.

The worst part of that was having it all happen in the middle of The Frozen Spike. One second we have Mr. “Why Don’t You Come See My Music?” surrounded and magically held, and the next there’s an ogre mage standing in his place, chairs and tables pushed aside and bar staff and patrons scrambling to get the hell out of the way or cowering in terror.

Ten seconds later we had cut him down on the spot. Ameiko landed the killing blow. That may end up being important.

The owner or proprietor, I think her name was Gerta, was pretty distraught. I guess I would be too if something like this happened in my bar. Ivan and I used our spells to fix the chairs and tables, and of course expunge the blood. There was a lot of blood. In less than 15 minutes, though, there was not a trace of it left, and I think the bar was even cleaner than it was before we got there. A little music, a little dancing, and a round of drinks for everyone, and things were more or less on the road back to normal.

Maybe I am being hard on Ameiko and the others. Yes, a Tian woman playing a samisen is an obvious giveaway, but so is a five-wagon caravan rolling in at this time of year, looking battered and battle-scarred. There is a reality here that there’s just no way for us to hide or be discreet. Drawing attention to ourselves was just pouring water in the ocean.

You know who else is well known here? Ulf. I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise. I imagine every caravan stops in Ul-Angorn on the way to Tian Xia so they probably get to know all the Crown guides fairly well. Gerta’s professional assessment? He can hold his liquor. That, and he can be “surly”. That’s it. That’s what came to mind. Obviously, she bases this opinion on how he spends his time between jobs, or on overnight stops. Which is a little unfair. The drinking he’s done on the road with us has hardly been excessive, and you can be surly and gruff if you have the skills to back it up.

We more or less knew the “surly” bit already, anyway. It was pretty clear from talking with Uksahkka that Ulf had his way of doing things, and you either did them his way or he wouldn’t do business with you. But like I said, his reputation spoke volumes. Even Greta eventually, albeit grudgingly, admitted the same: “He obviously must be good at what he does because gets people across.”

We’ll be here another night.

This is an inside joke. It is random: there are circumstances where her player literally rolls dice to determine her reaction.


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Abadius 10th, 4713 (evening, Ul-Angorn)

Sparna has made arrangements to have some maintenance and repairs done on the wagons. Strictly speaking, this isn’t even remotely necessary, but given last night’s events a little added good will can’t hurt. I spent the morning getting us re-provisioned and learned the locals were divided on whether we were saving the day or the source of the trouble. Of course, we know the answer to that but we’ll be keeping it to ourselves.

Qatana interrogated our corpse because that’s just a thing we do now. Like that sort of thing is somehow normal. For once, we got direct answers.

“Who were you working for?” she asked.

“I am an agent of the Five Winds.”

The Five Winds? We have no idea who that is, though it’s certainly a good guess that they are related to the Five Storms and bad with names.

“How did you find out we were here?”

“I was waiting to see if you would come.”

“How did you get here?”

“Traveled by magic.”

Her last question was the one we most needed to know: “Did you communicate our presence to others?”

“Yes,” he said. And that was that.

Obviously, this is not good. They know we’re right here, right now, and will soon learn that we survived. If it was up to me we’d have left on the spot, but no one asked me for my opinion.

Ivan took care of the body. He conjured a ring of fire around it and just let it burn until there was nothing left but ash and blackened, brittle bones.

Sparna found a set of jeweler’s tools for me while I was running my errands. I’ll need them for our talismans, which I want to set with some semi-precious stones just to give them a little flair. We still have weeks of travel ahead of us, and this is a good way to use the time.

There are a handful of dwarves here and they and Sparna have more or less gravitated to one another. A couple of them were in the Frozen Spike last night and I overheard them talking to Sparna, but I played dumb. For one, I’ve learned not to tip my hand just to show off, and two, I didn’t want to butt in on their conversation. And, I suppose there’s a three, as well: people talk pretty candidly when they don’t think you can understand them. You never know what you might hear.

Ameiko, Qatana, and I spent the afternoon together and, predictably, it descended into mischief. I like a little mischief now and then, and the three of us were pretty good at it when we were kids. There was this one time, back before Qatana…well, back before, so I must have been 9 or 10 years old. The Flinch brothers had this horse and they were obviously not taking care of it and she was very upset. We came up with this crazy scheme to liberate it without it being obvious that it had been taken. Qatana spent days making an enormous, fake cocoon, and one night—anyway, it was so brazen and ridiculous that it made sense only to a kid, but amazingly, it worked.† Well, it worked long enough for the horse to find a new home far away from Sandpoint, which was good enough.

Today, we visited a little shrine to Desna that was tended by a druid. I was a good girl, and did not burst out laughing when Qatana asked, “Would you mind if we erected a small tribute to Groetus behind the temple?” If you want to really catch someone off guard, that’s a pretty good opening line. From that moment on, I was on board with her idea.

Qatana’s formal religious education may have stopped a few years ago, but mine has not. Some random druid was not going to win a theological debate with me, and they relented in short order. “Just make sure it’s far behind. Maybe on the other side of that pond over there?” That was a little extreme, of course, but I didn’t want to upset Desna, either, so I chose a respectful distance for my task: making an ice sculpture of a grinning skull.

Side note: it’s really hard to do that when you’re fighting fits of hysterics.

This may sound like a downtime entry, but it was all in-game.

_______________________

This references one of Qatana's background stories, which her player asked to involved Kali in.


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Abadius 14th, 4713 (evening, Ovorikheer Pass)

We started the climb to the Ovorikheer pass today. This whole area is geothermally active and it just smells terrible. We had to navigate the fumarole fields of Baruun’s Breath carefully to avoid being overcome by the fumes.

Radella unpacked what looked like a portable alchemy lab and spent much of the evening extracting chemicals from the hot springs near our camp. It’s the sort of thing Etayne would have done.

When she was finished, she had four vials of what looked like three different substances.

“What did you end up with?”

“Sulfuric acid, arsenic, and cyanide.”

I am sorry I asked.

Abadius 15th, 4713 (midday, Domagalki Forest)

Everyone’s pretty shaken up, including me. Gods! Two enormous spiders, the biggest I’ve ever seen, hit our caravan. We didn’t even see them until they were practically on top of us. How do you miss something that big? How do you miss two of them?

I didn’t even think. One of them was bearing down on Ameiko’s wagon and I just started dumping everything I had on it. When it backed off, I turned to the other and didn’t stop until it was engulfed in flames.

The others had to intervene to keep me from incinerating the first one, too. Why? Because they wanted to harvest its venom. Again, sorry I asked.

Olmas went down during the skirmish, barely clinging to life. Sparna, too. We were mere seconds from disaster.

People are giving me that look. Especially Sparna. What do you want me to say? What did you expect me to do? They were gods-be-damned spiders the size of a whale. What part of this isn't clear?


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Abadius 15, 4713 (evening, Ovorikheer Pass)

The barren trees of the Domagalki Forest are coated in windswept ice. In the waning twilight it takes on a sinister appearance: frozen teeth glistening in our lights, claws reaching for us as we narrowly slip from their grasp. It’s said that it used to be a lush forest, tended to by a family of fey. A few years before I was born, they left for reasons known only to them—the fey are a fickle lot—and this was the result.

We left the frozen piling and the still-smoldering corpses of the spiders behind us and resumed our ascent to the summit of the Ovorikheer Pass.

Twenty, maybe thirty miles of ice lies ahead of us, and then we are done with it for the foreseeable future. Our days are mostly twilight now, a welcome change from the perpetual night. This part of the world is equal parts beautiful, deadly, and peculiar. I will miss the astonishing sights, but not so much so that I wish to return.

Abadius 19, 4713 (morning, Path of Aganhei, Osman Confederation)

We will reach Jaagiin tomorrow around midday. It sits on the shore of Lake Buriyiim and is the seat of the Osman Confederation. According to Ulf, the Erutaki settlements here are formed around clans, and each one sends a speaker to Jaagiin to serve in an assembly. Jaagiin itself is a large trading village, about a third again the size of Sandpoint. At this time of year there won’t be much trading, though, which means we will once again be attracting attention.

Does that matter? Probably not. After Ul-Angorn it’s not exactly difficult for the Five Whoevers—we now have both Winds and Storms in our retinue—to figure out where we’re headed, or when we’ll be there. There’s no hiding at this point, so all we can do is be prepared.

We did learn one other lesson from our last stop, however, and that’s to keep the caravan looking somewhere between good repair and well-traveled. Ivan has been using spells each day to fix the worst of the wear and make sure the small stuff doesn’t get out of hand. I do some cleanup as well using cantrips that help keep it looking neat but worn. Obviously, if it always shined like new that would be suspicious, but we don’t want it looking like it’s been through the Abyss, either. We won’t have to tell stories if it doesn’t look like there are stories to tell.


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Abadius 20, 4713 (night, Jaagiin)

Astonishingly, we seem to have made it through the evening without someone or something trying to kill us. Of course, the night isn’t quite over yet so there’s still time to be disappointed.

We visited a few taverns tonight and Ameiko played a couple of sets in the first. We more or less knew this was coming so no one was surprised when she announced her intentions, but it still put us all on edge. After she was out of ear shot, I suggested that we “come up with a plan for defending the pub without burning it down along with the people inside.” This earned me a number of stares. No one appreciates my sense of humor.

We kept a close eye on Ameiko, the patrons, and pretty much anything that moved or looked like it might, especially while she was playing. I also listened in on as many conversations as I could—discreetly, of course—using one of my oldest spells to compensate for the fact that I don’t speak Erutaki.

This was more or less a waste of effort. Not listening to Ameiko’s music, that is, but being a party to the drama and intrigue of Erutaki life at the Crown of the World. Did you know that the caribou herds were thin last year, almost certainly due to the colder than usual weather which limited the meltwater in the river valleys? Also, the trappers from the clans to the south have been working farther up the lake in recent years—some would say “encroaching”—in order to boost their seasonal harvest, at the expense of those who have had an unofficial claim on this territory for generations. And Assembleyman Aninnuk’s son, Noahtak, disappeared two weeks ago and it was thought he had fallen prey to wolves, but really he had just eloped with Assemblayman Silaluk’s daughter, Salak, who was supposed to be back at home tending to the family’s herd of goats. Gripping stuff, no?

OK, I am being unfair here. We actually did hear two pieces of news that were of interest to us: The first was that there are unusually fierce and persistent storms this season that are making travel extremely difficult. The second was about a village named Iqaliat, whose people were recently freed from a relentless, months-long siege by a white dragon. They managed to slay it somehow, which only goes to show that the Erutaki people can’t be kept down for long. There was also some kind of kerfuffle—they actually used that word in Common—with their shaman, but the details there were a little sketchy.

You get the idea.

Qatana was genuinely curious how the bits about Iqaliat had traveled so fast, given that we had just gotten here ourselves. The answer?

“We have these things called ‘dog sleds’.”

Qatana looked confused. “We were told no one crossed the ice in the winter time.”

“Caravans don’t. But the Erutaki are hardy folk, and we know this area.”

I mean, it makes sense: one person with a team of dogs can easily outpace musk oxen pulling wagons, especially when the latter has to rest for a month just to breathe. And they can probably do it much more discreetly. I have to remind myself, and the others I guess, that Tunuak walked to the Nameless Spires. By himself. And he was probably about the same age as Koya. We don’t give these people enough credit.

What we didn’t get was information about the pass, Atlan Zuud. Almost no one makes the crossing at this time of year, and no travelers means no news about the pass conditions. That’s concerning because the bad winter weather has apparently been everywhere, more than we can definitively attribute to Katiyana’s antics. On the other hand, all of those reports are pretty generic and none of them are exactly timely. So there’s no specific reason to worry, and no hard information to act on. Famous last words?

Earlier in the day, I hunted down a wizard, which, thankfully, Jaagiin does have. Imnek was nice enough, and our skills are about on par. We each had a few spells that the other could use and we swapped a pair of them today. We made arrangements to do it again tomorrow.

Sparna and Radella both vanished shortly after we arrived. That’s pretty typical for Radella, but we weren’t used to it from Sparna. By late evening people were getting worried, and Ivan went off to find him. Turns out he had found a swordsmith and lost track of time while talking shop well into the night. Good for him. Maybe this will make him less grumpy.


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Abadius 21, 4713 (evening, Jaagiin)

Jaagiin doesn’t seem overly interested in who we are or what we’re doing, and that has helped put me at ease. They are happy to take our money without tacking on a surcharge paid in invasive questions.

Sandru and I topped off our provisions for the final leg into Tian Xia. This wasn’t strictly necessary, but we weren’t about to start the next leg of this trip without being fully provisioned, especially since it’s the dead of winter and we don’t really know what we are headed into. Glad we are on the same page, there.

Next up was seeing a jewelry maker about the talismans I’ve been carving. Each disk is about three inches in diameter, very slightly domed, with a leaf pattern adorning the inner rim. The leaves are polished smooth and the gaps between them are roughened. I’d completed the second of them just a couple of days ago, and though I still had more to make it was time to start thinking about settings.

I need a silver mounting of some sort for each, along with a silver chain, so they can be worn like an amulet. The bigger challenge, though, will be studding them with small stones made from the fragments of the gems that had powered the Storm Tower before they shattered. I don’t know how to set stones yet. I mean, I barely know what I’m doing in general when it comes to making jewelry. But I’m learning.

There was no avoiding it: I had to show her one because I needed her help. She slowly traced one of the leaves with her fingers. “Is this a remorhaz scale?” she asked.

“Yes.”

She paused, probably expecting me to elaborate. I didn’t.

“This is your work?”

“Yes, it is. It’s taken me a couple of weeks. I do the carvings from the smaller ones.”

She looked up at me sharply, clearly surprised by the implications of that response. It may sound like I was showing off, but I wasn’t, really. There was no hiding the fact that I’d need materials for making more than one setting. Though I suppose I could have been less coy about it. What’s the fun in that, though?

“It’s good. Especially for a kavdlunait. Yes, I can help you create settings for these.”

That took the rest of the morning, but now I have what I need.

The afternoon was spent trading spells with Imnek. There’s not much to say there. He’s still Imnek. He’s still a wizard. He’s still nice enough. We both have a new spell.

Tonight, Sandru, Bevelek, Vankor, and I will start prepping the caravan for our departure tomorrow. We leave in the morning, just an hour or two before twilight. Yeah, that’s right: there is still no sun. Thank the gods that will be changing very, very soon.

You don’t see many temples to Sarenrae up here.


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Abadius 24, 4713 (evening, Path of Aganhei)

We passed a cabin today that had a few trappers staying in it. Or, at least, I assume they were trappers; I don’t really know these things. They opened the door to watch us as we went by and they looked like trappers to me, so executive decision: they were trappers.

What does a trapper look like? Like a surly Erutaki dressed in heavy furs standing in the doorway of a cabin in the middle of nowhere. And that’s “surly” by Ulf and Sparna standards, by the way, which—let’s face it—is awfully surly. I thought I saw Qatana wave to them as we passed but they just stared at us in still silence. Having already had our fill of “surly” we didn’t stop to visit.

Watching caravan migrations must be what passes for entertainment around here. They probably have some game that they play for each one that they see, maybe the reverse of travel games like the ones that mom and dad used to play with me when I was really young and easily bored. In one of them, they’d say, “I see something that starts with the letter G” and I’d have to guess what it was as they gave me clues. When I was six my first guess for “G” was always “grass”, even when we were in the middle of the ocean (give me a break: I was six), but eventually I branched out to naming things that were actually there.

These trappers probably looked at us and pulled out their game for Abadius, where you try to be the first one to, I don’t know, spot the half-frozen corpses of the dead traveling companions, or some equally hilarious variation of that.

Abadius 25, 4713 (afternoon, Path of Aganhei)

Nihali is happy to be able to spread her wings again. Even with the tag I enchanted for her, the weather on the ice pack was simply too extreme for her to fly safely, and there were even days when I had to keep her wrapped up in the wagon for warmth. And of course it was perpetually night. We got a reprieve from the former down in the basin, of course, but there were only a couple of hours of twilight each day back then so that only solved one of two problems.

I do wish the circumstances were better. One of our scouts, Shalelu I think, saw a heap of something a little bit off the path. She thought it looked like a pile of animal corpses, so I sent Nihali up to have a look. Short version: that’s what it was.

We saw something like this back before Iqaliat, only the bodies were human. And I’m not really up for telling the long version because it’s horrible, so I’m just going to leave it there.

Abadius 26, 4713 (night, Path of Aganhei)

Qatana cast a spell for Ivan so that he could exchange a short message with someone. First, the obvious: I had considered that as an option for mom and dad, but as I understand the spell you only get a couple dozen words, each. I had better options. Second, I had assumed it was so he could talk to his sister, Abby. But, I caught his body language and thought to myself, that was not his sister. I have no idea what the story is there, and it would be rude to ask.

In the few hours of daylight today we could, for the first time, clearly see the mountains that form the Wall of Heaven in the distance under dark, grey clouds.


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Do you find these side stories interesting at all, or just distracting?

Sarenith 20, 4712 (Risa’s Place, Sandpoint, Late Afternoon)

“Do your parents still hate me?”

Kali gave Alexis a half smile and replied, “Do yours still hate me?”

His smirk turned into a huge grin. He picked up his cider and took a long draught from it, not taking his eyes off of hers.

“They didn’t hate you, you know,” Kali said. “Dad wasn’t happy, of course, but it wasn’t personal like that. Even less so for mom.” Kali paused briefly and smiled. “And you know what she’s like. As soon as others started making it their business, she almost became supportive.”

Alexis chuckled softly, took another drink, and said, “Wish I could say the same. Being half-Chelish really just made it worse.”

“I am surprised they even let me in the house.”

He shrugged his shoulders and cocked his head to the left. Kali was familiar with that gesture: he didn’t care what they thought. He probably still doesn’t, she thought.

He said, “It’s OK. You can say what you’re thinking.”

“What am I thinking?”

“‘The feeling is mutual.’ I know you don’t like them, either.”

“I wasn’t thinking that.”

“OK. But tell me I’m wrong about that last part.”

Kali grinned, then finished her drink without saying a word.

“Thought so,” he said smugly, and then grinned right back at her. “I’m used to it, you know. Comes with the name.”

“You’re the black sheep of the family. Or would that be the white sheep?”

Alexis snickered at that. “Maybe grey. I’m running one of the mills, remember.”

“Light grey. Send my best to Sefa, just in case I don’t see her while I’m here. And tell her ‘congratulations’ for me, too.”

“You should drop by the manor.”

“You’re hilarious.”

“We do have a private wing. One of the few good things that came out of the fire.”

“Oh, good! Then all we have to do is smuggle me inside, and back out afterwards.”

Alexis grinned as they stood up from the table. Kali pushed her chair in and then gave him a quick hug.

“Thanks for doing this, Alexis. It was good to see you again.”

“Same here. Tell your parents I said ‘hello’.”

Kali laughed at that. “Uh huh. Only if you do the same.”

Alexis gave her another huge grin and said, “You know what? I think I will.”

§

____________________________

The Scarnetti family is kind of the punching bag in Sandpoint, and in RotR specifically. The thing is, families like that are complicated, and not everyone can be painted with the same, broad brush. So, I imagined what it would be like if Kali had actually been involved with one of them when she was a teenager.

I actually have a journal entry from when Kali visited Sefa, but I left it out when posting the entries here back in December of last year. I've included it below for the curious.

Erastus 26, 4712:

This takes place in Sandpoint, right before Kali, Ana, and Ameiko returned to Riddleport

Erastus 26 (Evening, Riddleport)

I decided Alex was right, so I visited Sefa this morning. When was I going to have another opportunity?

I took a page out of my parents’ book and dressed to the hilt. Why not? I was derided by this family because of my heritage, so naturally I flaunted it. I chose my best sari, a deep red with gold accents and a 9-foot drape, over a matching choli.

I have no idea who the woman was that opened the door. I just announced myself as if I didn’t care (and I didn’t).

“Miss Kali Nassim of Magnimar, requesting an audience with Mrs. Sefa Scarnetti.”

The key is to be gracious and polite, no matter how many scowls it earns you. The worse you are treated, the more formal you become. Watching Titus glare at me as Sefa showed me to her wing of the manor was the highlight of my day.

After gently ribbing me for being overdressed for just a casual visit (“I felt like making an entrance,” to which she replied with a giggle, “You most certainly did that.”) we talked for a couple of hours. For me, it was, for the first time in over a month, a regular conversation about nothing of consequence: motherhood in general, her baby specifically, living in Sandpoint, and more than a little reminiscing. Between that and watching her with her son, and then holding him myself, it was one of those moments that almost had me re-examining my life choices.

Almost. I had chosen my path and I was happy with it, but I could certainly appreciate hers.

“Sefa, can I ask you something personal? You don’t have to answer.”

“Of course you can.”

“What made you decide you liked me?”

This was a question that had been on my mind for years. Making friends with Sefa had been something of a turning point, the beginning of the end of being an outcast, harassed and bullied for whatever reasons that children are labeled as outcasts, then harassed and bullied.

She thought for a moment, then said, “At some point, I realized that what was happening was just…cruel. I saw it for what it was.” She shrugged, then added, “And then I got to know you.”

“Our friendship…it changed my life. I wanted you to know that.”

“Thank you, Kali. That means a lot to me. And I met Alex because of you, so…it changed mine, too.”

I kept this same outfit on for the remainder of the day. I felt like returning to Riddleport in style.


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Abadius 27, 4713 (early afternoon, Path of Aganhei)

A huge winter storm has engulfed the pass and we are getting heavy snowfall and high winds even here in the foothills. I am going to go ahead and call this a blizzard just because I can.

This right here is pretty much what I was worried about. The only good news is, if we hadn’t stopped for a couple of days we’d have been up there when it hit. So, small victories, I guess.

We’re either going to have to wait it out or push through.

(evening, Wall of Heaven)

We decided to push through. I don’t know who “we” is and I can’t even begin to describe how much I am hating that decision. This was a terrible, terrible idea.

The lightning is ferocious and relentless. There is so much of it that the thunder is a constant roll of crashes and echoes (the only silver lining is that it’s possible to tune it out, but that’s only because it just never stops). And then there’s the snow and the wind. I don’t even know where to begin with that.

A while ago, we thought we might have heard an avalanche, but it’s hard to tell because, come on. Though it sure sounded different than constant, rolling thunder, which is a thing we’ve recently become experts on. We need to see to be sure, though, and that means having a closer look. Even if it were light out, though, all we could see from here would probably be blowing snow.

At one point I thought I heard voices on the wind. Qatana must have heard them too because she looked startled at the exact same moment that I did. Normally, I wouldn’t use Qatana as a litmus test for whether or not I am hearing things, but this was different. We both agreed it was reminiscent of what we heard at Dead Man’s Dome when the last of the undead fell. This can’t be a coincidence, and it can’t be good news.

Abadius 28, 4713 (morning, Wall of Heaven)

We’re getting out. This time, it wasn’t just Qatana and I that heard it, but everyone else, too. And it was more than once: laughter on the wind. We’d had suspicions that this storm wasn’t natural, and now those aren’t just suspicions.

The weather didn’t let up at all over night. If anything, it got worse. We decided to trek up the pass, on hoof and foot, leaving the caravan somewhat sheltered against a cliff face. Ivan graced us all with spells so we wouldn’t slip on the snow and ice, and I summoned a phantasmal horse to ride so I wouldn’t have to walk in this crap. It didn’t even take us an hour to figure out that the pass was closed. It wasn’t just avalanches of snow, but rocks as well. No one would be coming through here for a while. And it intensified as we got closer. It felt like it was a personal vendetta.

We delivered the bad news to Ulf.

(evening, Path of Aganhei)

This day just keeps getting better. Sandru and I had a little chat with Ulf. Storms do not rage in one place for days. This was all wrong.

“What are our options here?” I asked.

“There aren’t any.”

Ulf wasn’t being facetious. We could, maybe, go around the Wall of Heaven instead of through it but Ketskerlet is hundreds of miles to the east and the storm has expanded in the last few hours.

Sandru said, “There’s no way we could even make it that far. The caravan literally wouldn’t survive it.” Ulf agreed with that assessment, and added that even if we did, we’d still have to cross the Gulf of Khorkii somehow, which is thick with icebergs and floes this time of year.

Going west to the Ivory Sea might be better, but that trip is over a thousand miles, and every single one of them is in the wrong direction. Most of them through barren, frozen tundra. To quote Ulf, “No one goes that way for a reason”. The only realistic route to the coast is a couple of weeks behind us.

That pretty much left turning back for Jaagiin, but given our run-in with the oni in Ul-Angorn that is not a particularly attractive choice. Whether or not it’s attractive, though, is irrelevant if it’s our only choice. Which means it’s not really a choice.

And then I had a brilliant idea because I am an idiot.

“Let’s try a Harrowing. This is why Varisian caravans have fortune-tellers, right?” I was met with everything from silence to eye rolls, but I pressed on because I am a glutton for punishment. “What do we have to lose?”

There was general agreement, but while I think most of that qualified as humoring me Koya did seem genuinely excited about the suggestion. She disappeared into her wagon and emerged a couple of minutes later with her cards. I found out why she was so enthusiastic when she handed them to me.

“You go ahead,” she said, smiling, “Just like I taught you.”

Well, I walked right into that, didn’t I?

This was not the easiest way to start my budding career. Harrowings typically focus on individuals, and what we needed was a direction for our group as a whole. So I was already feeling in over my head. But Koya was there to help and she had never let me down before, so I dove in.

I laid out a bridge. I could clearly see Ameiko’s story revealing itself here, both the past and what she would face in the future. The problem was, I couldn’t make sense of the present. Or, perhaps more accurately, I didn’t understand what it was telling me. There was something about the mountains or the storm that we were missing. Some key information, and it was crucial to our survival. Even worse, the Hidden Truth card was misaligned. But the larger problem was, the reading didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. What we needed was guidance, not our failings laid bare.

To quote Sparna, “But what does it mean?”

Even Koya couldn’t make sense of it, and that’s when I got worried, and when everyone else got frustrated. This isn’t how this is supposed to go.

I don’t know what to do.

_______________________________

The idea of adding Harrowings to the game was something I cooked up with our GM (in terms of game mechanics, this was a way of increasing Kali's relationship score with Koya). For this game session, he told me to be ready to do it and that I would know when it was the right time. He had prepped the deck to ensure that four specific cards would appear in the spread (with the rest being random), and I did the reading on the spot. What I didn't know that it was something of a ruse (the nature of which will be revealed in the next journal entry). Kali's uncertainty at the end here was reflecting my own.


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Abadius 29, 4713 (small hours, Path of Aganhei)

Koya emerged from her wagon around 1:00 this morning, all aflutter. She found me working on one of the talismans in the center of our camp, and was practically manic. At first I couldn’t makes sense of what she was trying to say because she was just short of babbling, but eventually she got a coherent sentence out.

“I had a dream and…there’s something I can’t shake. I had an epiphany, or Desna’s speaking to me, or something…” The excitement in her voice was climbing again “The reading you did…where are the cards?!”

I still had them and set them out in order.

“There’s something with the Empty Throne and The Hidden Truth, something we’re not seeing. But, what really strikes me, is at the end of the bridge with The Big Sky and The Queen Mother.”

She explained, or tried to explain, that there may be some meaning to these cards, or to the way that they were brought out, that is not usual. That these cards appeared here as a message to us. I just nodded my head because I had no idea what she was talking about, but she’s the one who follows Desna. This was her thing.

“I’ve studied the peoples that worshiped Desna for years, and there is a story of a traveler that came through this land quite some time ago…that he insisted that what he saw was real.” Her thoughts were bouncing all over the place. “The Uqtaal people that used to live here, they worshiped Desna. They called her the Queen of the North Star. That’s what struck me about this.” She pointed to The Big Sky in the bridge.

She had my full attention now, as well as that of several of the others.

“What I remember is that they followed the north star. Even in death, they tried to follow the north star to be taken back to Desna and spend eternity with her. This traveler…wrote this story that the people here delved a nercopolis and a passage through the Wall of Heaven. It’s called The Path of Spirits. It was so their dead could find their way here. There’s an entrance we can look for…That’s got to be it.”

It was crazy. Even Koya thought it a fantastic story. But it’s not just a story, is it?

We got Ulf and Sandru and talked this over. Ulf had never heard of anything like this, but he was not exactly skeptical either. “No one goes to the west. At all. Because there is nothing there. Something like this, though…it could easily be that no one has heard of it because…no one is around to look.”

We let that sink in. It wasn’t proof, but he wasn’t ruling it out, either.

Lightning continued to flash in the distance. The storm was clearly expanding, getting closer. This would be a huge risk, taken solely—and literally—on faith.

I asked, “How would we even find it? One cave in an entire mountain range…”

According to Koya, the traveler’s story spoke of two statues, facing due north, that marked the start of the path into the mountains, and that path would lead to the passageway. It was…something. Better than something. It was enough to make a plan.

There will be enough light for Nihali to see by in a few hours. We’ll send her ahead of the caravan to search by air while we move west and search on the ground. All we’d need after that would be Desna’s blessing.

(noon, Wall of Heaven)

Nihali found it! Or we’re pretty sure she did.

We’d gone about twenty miles when I felt her coming back. There was a sense of urgency and excitement about her. A couple of minutes minute later, she landed in the covered wagon.

“There is a statue of a human, carved in rock. Not far from here.” One, not two. But it’s been hundreds of years…

“Can you lead us there?”

“Yes.”

And off she went.

The storm seems to be following us.

(evening, Path of Spirits)

There were two statues, but one had broken off at its pedestal. The one that was intact was clearly of Desna. They both faced due north and marked the start of a path that led about a quarter mile to a cave entrance in at the base of a towering cliff.

It’s a tight fit, but the caravan can manage with the wagons single-file.

This place… It may have been built by people who worshipped Desna, but something changed. The tunnel is lined with pillars decorated with star carvings, and the walls themselves bear stars and butterflies applied in faded paint. But on top of each pillar sits a skull, bleached then painted red, bolted into place. The skulls face north. Always north.

This is not Desna. Not any more. The symbology, assuming the Uqtaal clans were influenced by their Tian neighbors, is reminiscent of Fumeiyoshi, god of dishonor, envy, graves, and the undead. It’s said he murdered his brother, the moon god Tsukiyo, in a jealous rage and was punished by Yaezhing for his crime.

On a whim, I asked Suishen what he knew of Fumeiyoshi. He said, “His religion was banned in Minkai. Fumeiyoshi’s followers enjoy death and desecrating the graves of the dead.”

I don’t know what we’ll find here, but I suspect there’s a sinister explanation as to why so few have heard of this place.

Abadius 30, 4713 (morning, Path of Spirits)

We were rudely awakened in the early hours of the morning when four, headless mummies approached the caravan from the southern end of the passageway. Fortunately, I was already prepared for undead, and Ivan and I literally burned them nearly to ash, the others picking them off as they tried to escape the layers of flame.

This is just the beginning.


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Abadius 31, 4713 (evening, Uqtaal necropolis)

Seven months. Seven months, we've been traveling together. We've watched over one each other, cared for one other, broken bread together, and when it was called for, fought together to protect ourselves and our charges. For seven months, across some sixty-nine hundred miles, we've done all of that, sometimes in the face of seemingly unbeatable odds, and not one of us had fallen. And then, today.

Not Olmas (in spite of his best efforts to do otherwise) or Qatana (who we can't seem to keep from wandering off) or even Ameiko, but Bevelek. Bevelek.

This is not his fight. He and his brother have no quarrel with anyone. They are just here to do a job: to help get us from where we were to where we're going. They're not involved. Nothing was supposed to happen to them. It's not right.

And it's pretty much our fault. We thought the passage behind us was safe. We had every reason to think it was safe. Obviously we were wrong. Did we miss a side passage? A secret entrance somewhere? Were we being followed without realizing it? I guess it doesn't matter. Those are just excuses, and they don't change the fact I am staring at a funeral shroud. We're supposed to keep these things from happening.

I feel sick.

I've known him (and his brother) since I was, what, seventeen? They've worked as drivers for Sandru's caravan since the beginning, and I met them in mom and dad's warehouse that spring when Sandru finally returned to Sandpoint. I've always liked them, the little I saw of them. They were friendly, kind of talkative—Bevelek more so than his younger brother—and always made a point to say hello when I was around. Bevelek was especially good at working with the horses, and he'd invite me to come pet them or even help groom them as we were waiting for the wagons to load. This is how I repay that?

I didn't get to know him or Vankor very well back then, but in the past several months a lot has come out. Their dad used to run a small courier service of some sort back in Magnimar, but he ran in to hard times and that was that. I've actually met their sister—I didn't know who she was at the time—at the Old Fang. They're still in Magnimar, all of them. Every now and then I see Bevelek writing to them.

What else is there to say? Bevelek in particular just seemed to like people, much like Sandru does. He loved being around them, talking to them, hearing their stories. He was so quintessentially Varisian that way. And he loved to travel. This trip was exciting! Dangerous, sure, but that's why we're here, right? And now we're talking about him in the past tense.

Vankor was distraught, practically in shock. Honestly, I could barely face him. Sandru was unreadable. It's just as well. I don't know what to say to him.

At least we can do something about this. I am determined to, anyway. This journey has been a trial for everyone, in all senses of the word, but there's also no denying that we have enriched ourselves in the process. We have taken the lion's share of the spoils since this began. Yes, we have also taken most of the risks, too, but we are not the only ones here. We need everyone, and we can't just turn our backs on those who are supporting us and making this trip possible. We can't just put Bevelek to the earth like he doesn't matter.

It would be wrong to assume, though, so I broached the subject with Vankor.

"I am sorry about what happened to your brother. We...we may be able to bring him back. But, we don't want to do this against his wishes or yours. I need to know. Is that something you want us to try?"

This took him aback. He looked up at me hopefully.

"If you can bring him back...Yes. Yes! Please! This was...it's too soon."

I nodded, solemnly. "We can't do it right away, but—we can do it. We do have to know, though...people get a choice when you try to call them back. It's a difficult and costly spell. Before we commit to it, do you know...would he want to come back?"

He didn't even hesitate. "Yes! I am sure he would. He loved life."

We don't have the money. Or rather, we do, just not in the right form. According to Qatana, the spell consumes a single, valuable diamond and ours our too meager fill that role. There are no gem exchanges or diamond deposits here, obviously, which means we will have to wait until we reach Tian Xia. Koya has agreed to preserve his body using a spell. This will give us the time that we need.

The more pressing issue, however, is preventing today's disaster from playing out again. We can't be in two places at once, nor can we fight a battle on three fronts. We need to be able to explore ahead and secure our passage through here without worrying about the safety of our camp.

The necropolis seems to be guarded by undead. The headless mummies we've encountered both along the Path of Spirits and here in the burial chambers seem to be the resident hall monitors, attacking any living thing that enters. What makes them especially dangerous is the aura of paralyzing fear that surrounds them. Get caught off guard, or worn down by the relentless assault on your psyche, and you are overwhelmed by terror and magically rooted to the spot. This is what happened to Olmas two nights ago, to me and several of the others today, and probably to Bevelek before he fell.

Our first priority is keeping more of them from coming up from behind us like they did today. Qatana and I have some ideas, but the best ones can't be acted on until tomorrow so we're in for another tense night.

Next on the list are the yeti. Obviously, they did not build this place, but they're here now. The truth of it is that they are squatters as much as we are trespassers, but from their viewpoint we are invading their home and they've been rather aggressive about delivering that message. Not that they've actually said anything to us, but nothing communicates intent quite like an ambush.

___________________________

Our first casualty in the game. The Dalmuvian brothers are the only two NPC's on the caravan that aren't given any stats or background, so we made them up. I stated them out, and Olmas's player created their background.

The Dalmuvian Brothers:

Starday, Abadius 31 4713
Creduvian House, Magnimar

The hearth was still warm, but the embers were dying. Dinner had been welcome, but not very filling. Often, it wasn't, these days.

Money was no longer flush in their home, but Roxanda and her parents had managed to finally get a place of their own again for the family. True, there had been better times in the past, but out of respect for her father, they didn't bring up the past.

As it was, the family already found they had to remind him frequently he was now "retired" and any obligation to support his children had long since been met. It was his turn to be taken care of. With a muttered grunt and silent acknowledgement, he made it clear that while it may be true, it chafed him greatly. It had been a while since the day when Tobar was the patriarch of Creduvian Couriers, a successful and respected courier and shipping service. At times, some very wealthy merchants would trust nobody but him to get their shipments of goods to and from Sandpoint, Roderic's Cove, or even Korvosa.

But then there'd been a dishonest driver, missing goods, and a soiled reputation. Competition for deliveries was fierce, margins were thin, and his competitors could sense blood in the water. All it took was a few anonymous innuendos and a few discounted offers from his competition, and his wealthy customers were gone. Too often loyalty is measured by the gold piece, and under the shadow of accusation, the business struggled and for all intents and purposes, succumbed.

Effectively, it was gone now. The business that Tobar had hoped to pass to his sons Vankor and Bevalek was nothing but a weight around their neck. The family name, a symbol of prestige for so long, was now a hurdle to overcome. "Creduvian, you say? Sorry, we have all the drivers we need." Tobar and his wife of over 35 years, Ioanela, were, officially, among the poor.

Retirement. It may be a thinly veiled euphemism for her father, but it was not an option for her younger brothers.

These days, it was Roxanda who was the main source of income with her job as an assistant at the Old Fang. Vankor and Bevalek had been working hard at their father's business when the bottom fell out and they found themselves unemployed, and unemployable because of their name. Thank the gods for Sandru, who never did follow the mainstream. While he couldn't restore their good name, he helped them create a new one (Dalmuvian) and offered them a place on his team. Eventually, the plan was to establish new credentials, escape their old, and perhaps still become successful businessmen. In the best case, they might take up some of Sandru's business when he retired.

They rarely accompanied the caravan to Magnimar for obvious reasons, so the road was their home these days. But business with Sandru was good, and they both sent a healthy percentage of their earnings back home to support their parents. Being associated with a delivery service still had one important benefit: letters home were delivered quickly. Those 'in the business' knew how important they could be, and personal messages from drivers and employees were delivered by whomever was going in the right direction, free of charge, as a professional courtesy.

Although it was barely twilight, Roxanda was willing to let the fire die and go to bed. But her gaze turned to a box overflowing with different kinds of parchment and paper. Bed often came early these hard days, but reading her brothers' letters comforted her. She was closest with Bevalek, which was good because he was a much more frequent writer. On second thought, she threw a bit more fuel on the fire, lit a lamp, and started sorting through the letters.


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(continued)

The necropolis and the Path of Spirits were carved out of the mountain, and the latter occasionally intersected with naturally formed caverns to form those side passages I spoke of. A rather extensive network of caverns and fissures adjoins the catacombs, proper, and the former is where they’ve made their home. They seem to move back and forth between the two. The Uqtaal excavators apparently didn’t care if their necropolis simply opened up to the caverns in places—they may have used the voids in the rock to save time and labor, for all I know—probably because there weren’t yeti living there at the time, and the residents were not alive to complain about the decor.

I used one of my newest spells to project my sight and was able to explore much of it, albeit sloppily, until the magic expired. That is how I know all of this. Yes, it was an invasion of their privacy, and yet another trespass to add to our list of sins (one that is much worse than the first, if we are keeping track, since it was intentional). I am sure it won’t be the last, either.

This actually bothers me. There are wizards who specialize in these sorts of divinations and I am not comfortable around any of them. There is more to the school than what I am doing here, of course, but my problem with it is that there isn’t much more. It is a field that is ripe for abuse. All it takes is something you owned—even just a piece, really—and someone can spy on you from a distance with a reasonable expectation of success. Possess even the smallest piece of their person, such a bit of hair or even a nail clipping, and you can nearly do so with impunity. It’s distasteful.

And of course I am doing something much like it now. I can argue it, justify it, point out that we were attacked first, but I am still crossing that line. It’s a struggle at first, but each time it gets just a little easier. Mom, and probably dad, would say that the world isn’t so absolute; that it’s a messy place, and circumstances matter. That the stakes matter. Sometimes doing the right thing is not the same as doing the right thingThis…is probably true. But, sometimes I wonder. What if there really is an absolute right and wrong, and all this talk of nuance is just something people use to excuse their own moral failings? Or worse, to justify them. Maybe the world isn’t messy; maybe just people are.

But, we need more information about the yeti here, and we need to get it without risking our lives. I’d also like to not risk theirs. Where this falls on the axis of right and wrong, I don’t know, but it’s the best idea I have on a very short list of ideas. So, excuse or justification, I’ll probably be doing this again.

Before that, however, we need to stop them from raiding us as we explore the pool room. Much like the mummies we need to block them off, only whatever we put up we need to be able to pass through in the future. That limits our options. I have some ideas here, too, but none of them are particularly good.

The pool room is the real mystery here, and we need time to uncover it. The revenant…whoever it was in life was almost certainly slain here. A revenant is born out of hatred and a single-minded purpose: avenge their own death. It’s said they can’t be destroyed until their killer is slain, and we can thank Qatana for validating at least the first half of that theory. (I have to wonder what would happen if you were killed by a revenant and became one yourself. Would the two of you be trapped in an eternal battle, neither of you able to destroy the other?)

We don’t know how it (he? she?) died originally. We only know it wasn’t the spectres: the body is too far from the water, and the spectres don’t seem to be able to cross beyond the edge of the pool. So, whatever did this is obviously still alive (or given where we are, still undead), and able to move around. Which leaves three things we have to worry about tonight: mummies, yeti, and something else that we haven’t seen yet.

Because what we need after today is another challenge.


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This was one of the first background stories that I wrote for Kali, and there are references to it throughout her journal.

Early autumn, 4705

Kali tasted blood and sand.

She wanted to open her eyes but her face was clenched so tightly from the pain that it was squeezing them shut. From her chin to her ear, sharp jolts radiated outward, each demanding her full attention. The pain intensified to the point where she wanted to scream but then it suddenly went numb.

She was aware of the the ground pressing against her right temple, and tears flowing over the bridge of her nose. She had not cried like this in years, but she had never hurt anything like this before, either.

Her mind was spinning, unable to focus on any one thought long enough to piece together what was happening or even where she was. All she had was now. Feeling the sand and blood congealing on her tongue, she instinctively tried to spit it out but the pain returned in a burst so severe that it made her nauseous. Kali froze, letting the qualm pass and the pangs recede back to numbness. Don’t throw up don’t throw up don’t throw up.

Finally, a singular, clear thought formed. He broke my jaw.

She opened her eyes, but could barely see through the tears that were pooling in them.

She wanted her mom.

Someone was standing over her; someone she knew. A man? Yes. He was asking her something but she couldn’t understand the words. She knew it sounded like a question, but that’s as much sense as she could make of it. When she didn’t reply, he bent down to look at her more closely. She couldn’t make out his features at first other than that he was big, but then she recognized him as one of the Scarnetti boys. The older one. What is his name? He turned his head and she heard him call out to someone. To the Theern twin?

The thought asserted itself a second time: He broke my jaw.

My rescuer is a Scarnetti. It was madness, but she didn’t care. Whatever f%$&ed up moral code that family lived by at least included “not beating up young girls”. That was good enough for her.

“Don’t try to stand up,” he said.

Are you kidding me? Why would I want to do that?

Then she noticed she was on her hands and knees, with one foot brought forward readying to push herself up. What am I doing?

She shifted her weight back and settled onto her rump, arms still stretched forward. She just lay there, completely unaware of how much time was passing. He called out again, but she wasn’t listening. She saw that she was sitting up now—I don’t remember doing that—and that the two of them were not alone. Some of her friends and a few other girls that she knew were standing around them at a polite distance. She knew their faces but couldn’t form any names.

She lowered her head to let the blood, saliva, and sand drip from her mouth. She didn’t dare try spitting again. When she looked up afterwards she saw the small crowd had parted and through it she could see the Theern boy face down on the beach. He wasn’t moving. Is he dead? A small, muscular figure was standing over him and she recognized it as Qatana. Gods, she looks like a wild animal. What is happening?

“Don’t try to talk.”

I already figured that one out, thanks.

“She got to him first. Pounded him good.”

Kali tilted her head to the side, which he interpreted as a question.

“He’ll live, don’t worry. You, too. Help’s coming.”

She was not, in fact, worried about Theern but she was worried about herself. She knew this was bad. Really, really bad. There would be no hiding this from her parents, even if she wanted to. Except she still didn’t know what was going on.

The pain was coming back, a heavy throbbing that was impossible to ignore. She held back tears through sheer force of will.

She wanted her mom.

Someone else arrived. Her vision was blurring again and she couldn’t make out who it was. The newcomer was pulling something out of a pack or a bag.

You don’t seriously think I can drink a potion like—?

And the pain was gone, so abruptly that she reflexively swallowed and nearly choked on the sand still in her mouth. Kali coughed, spit, and gagged, and nearly passed out.

Someone gave her water. When the spasms ended she swirled some of it around in her mouth and spit it out, then took a long drink. When she looked up again she saw Qatana was gone, and sitting across from her was—

“Shalelu?”

The elven woman was looking right at her with an intensity that was unnerving. Kali had trouble reading her even at the best of times and at this moment Shalelu was completely inscrutable. It gave Kali chills.

In Elvish, she asked, “What did he do to you?”

    She had actually been invited. Not told she could come along, not encouraged to come by one of her friends, but actually invited. And by Sefa! An afternoon on the beach, just being out with a couple of friends and a few others around her age. This had never happened before. So, yes! Hell, yes!

    She had been searching for something. Agates? Pink agates. They were extremely rare, but they always seemed to turn up at this spot on the beach after really high tides and last night was a new moon. It would be something she could give to Sefa as a small gesture. She had just found one and was headed back down the beach to where the others were when she tripped on something and fell. She looked up and saw Jefy Theern standing over her (she was finally able to tell the vile twins apart) and … nothing after that.

    Until the pain, sand, and blood.

That wasn’t the answer Shelalu was looking for, though, because what had been done to her was obvious. Kali’s Elvish was good, but she was still in shock. She realized she must have misunderstood the question so she went over it again in her head. It may have been, “What was he going to do to you?”

A horrible chill ran through her as more memories flooded in, and she started shaking violently and uncontrollably. The blood drained from her face and from her head, and the ground disappeared beneath her. She was aware of a frenzy of voices from somewhere far away.

In the distance, so faint she could barely hear it, Shalelu’s silenced them all. “No. I will deal with him.”


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Abadius 31, 4713 (Uqtaal Necropolis, night)

I spent some time pouring through the books I brought with me, looking for every scrap of information I could find about yeti. I really wish Etayne was still with us. What took me close to an hour she probably could have done from memory, and maybe she could have given us something we hadn’t already learned from personal experience.

They are well adapted to the cold, obviously, as well as the dark. As we’ve learned, their bodies actually radiate a bitter cold, and if you are unlucky enough to meet their gaze you are hit with a paralyzing fear. On top of that is their incredible strength, rivaling that of even dire apes, and a ferocity to match. They don’t really have any weaknesses, either, except to fire. They are, in a word, dangerous—extremely dangerous—and there are dozens of them here.

They’re also intelligent, or rather, intelligent enough. One of the books I have suggests they speak aklo, a language of the darklands. In theory we would try and talk to them, but of course none of us understands it.

I have an idea about that.

Calistril 1, 4713 (Uqtaal Necropolis, early morning)

In my dream, I was standing on a hill at the feet of the Wall of Heaven, staring out at the expanse of Tian Xia below. The Path of Aganhei faded into the rocky plains in the distance, and a chill wind whipped around me. The caravan was behind me, silently waiting, the animals still in the cold air. I would find the way. The Path was important here. Stray too far from it, and the horse riders would no longer be bound by the traditions that protected us.

We had to stay on the road, but we couldn’t follow what we couldn’t see. I approached the two figures that were up ahead. I hadn’t noticed the tents making up the small village just beyond them. The Tian-La are a nomadic people, and move their villages with the winds and the seasons, following the wild horses that they would capture for breeding with their own.

The woman looked up at me. I skipped the introductions and pleasantries, and got to the matter at hand. In Tien, I asked, “How do we follow the Path from here?”

She looked up at me, smiling, and answered, “Chi bol gadaadyn khün shüü dee.” I didn’t know what it meant, and didn’t have the right spell prepared.

I tried again. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. How do we follow the Path from here?”

Still smiling, she said, “Tanyg tusalj chadakh khün bii. Namaig daga,” and then gestured with her arms as she turned around and began walking away. I still didn’t understand, but she obviously wanted me to follow her, so I did. She occasionally turned her head back to check on me, to make sure I was keeping up. “Ireerei! Namaig daga!

An enormous field of flowers spread out around us. There was no sign of the village or the caravan, just flowers as far as I could see in all directions. We were walking in between low hedges of flowers and thorns, and up ahead was a tall woman tending to her prizes. I was alone now, and she looked up and beckoned me towards her.

She had long, black hair, curly like the others I had met, but different somehow. It was much longer than I realized: it hung down around her ankles, and I thought I could see hints of red, green, and gold there out of the corner of my eye. When I looked directly it, though, there was just black.

Bi tand beleg ögdög,” she said. I still didn’t understand, but she held out a flower to me and I knew that she wanted me to take it, so I did.

Ene beleg tany ayalald tuslakh bolno.” This gift will aid you on your journey.

It was a delicate, red rose, the most beautiful rose I had ever seen.

Bayarlalaa,” I replied. Thank you.

It needed a vase so I reached for one of the tall, empty glasses on the table in front of me. The glass was made from a lead crystal, extravagant for drinking but perfect for this. The table stretched nearly the width of the hall. It was a lavishly decorated palace, and also immaculately clean. The white table cloth that covered it looked as though it had been made just for this occasion, but I knew that it had been used many times, and fastidiously cleaned to return it to this state. There was not a speck of dirt anywhere. Not on the table, not on the people seated with us, or even on those we had met since entering the city.

Tavtai morilno uu!” boomed a voice from one end of the hall. Welcome, travelers! I didn’t recognize the speaker, but everyone stopped talking and turned to face at me. I couldn’t see my friends anywhere, just hundreds of apprehensive faces.

I rose from my seat, and replied, “Urikhad bayarlalaa. Bid tantai uulzakhdaa bayartai baina. Thank you for inviting us. We are pleased to meet you.

Their expressions turned to smiles as the dream faded. When I woke up, I could speak and understand Hon-La.

We just need to live long enough to make use of it.

It was a long night. We faced threats from both ahead and behind, and the shadows and mummies had taken their toll on us. Qatana used the last of her spells to block the rear, while I conjured a stone building to partially block the passage a ways ahead of us. It’s normally used for shelter in the wilderness, but we needed a wall that we wouldn’t have to break through later and this fit the bill, especially since it lasts for several hours. Of course the yeti can just climb over it, but it was still useful as a bottleneck.

From what we can tell, a few of the yeti did, indeed, spend part of the night on top of the structure but stopped short of approaching us. They simply sat on the roof line, watching us as we watched them. Eventually, they got bored and left. Amateurs! Keeping a night-long watch is kind of a whole thing with us.

__________________

This is the Gift of Tongues feature from the Evangelist PrC class. I had my GM choose the language since that felt more like a gift from my deity than just picking one myself.

Scarab Sages

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You are doing an excellent job of writing this up. Thank you for sharing, and for spending the time necessary to do such a wonderful job.


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Dotting... I've enjoyed this, and my wife has been making noises about an AP not being the right vehicle for her as GM, so Elspeth may not get to become Amieko's Marshall.


Zhapenoth wrote:
You are doing an excellent job of writing this up. Thank you for sharing, and for spending the time necessary to do such a wonderful job.

Thank you, Zhapenoth. It means a lot to receive compliments like this. And, you are welcome. I really enjoy writing these up.

Debnor wrote:
Dotting... I've enjoyed this, and my wife has been making noises about an AP not being the right vehicle for her as GM, so Elspeth may not get to become Amieko's Marshall.

Also, thank you to you, as well, Debor. I am always happy to hear when someone is enjoying the journal.

I do wish you had the opportunity to play through it yourself instead of just experiencing it through someone else. The background and setup fosters characters that have grown up together or otherwise had some shared history. It has led to some of the most fulfilling characters and best RP that I've been a part of in decades of play.


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Calistril 1, 4713 (Uqtaal Necropolis, mid-morning)

People are upset with me. I get it. I changed tactics in the middle of that fight, and didn’t really have time to explain what I was doing while I was casting spells. We can’t function effectively as a team if we aren’t communicating with one another. The problems didn’t end there, either: afterwards, when I explained what I had done and why, it seemed as though they still weren’t hearing me. I was not trying to press an attack, nor did I think it wise to do so, but somehow that is the message that was received.

I don’t know how to fix this. I am not a tactician, and I don’t really understand the finer points of combat save for what I have learned from watching Sparna and Olmas. It’s difficult for me to explain my thinking in the heat of battle, especially when I’m reacting to a situation that no one else can see, and I don’t know when I am causing alarm or confusion.

All I was trying to do was stop those two yeti from getting away. If they could make it back to the rest of their tribe, they could rally a counterattack with more force than we were prepared to handle. I tried, but they were too fast and the caverns were too difficult to navigate. And then I found myself in the middle of a conjured storm of ice and sleet. I recognized the spell immediately—I actually know it, myself—and it was hardly dangerous, but it meant that a spell caster of some sort was coming. It meant the counterattack may be coming.

I did the only thing I could think of: I summoned a small cadre of fire elementals and sent them running amok through the caverns. My idea was to get the rest of the yeti tribe panicking so that the warriors and the spell caster would be forced to deal with it. I wanted their attention on the chaos, not on us. Qatana was up near me at this point and had a spell running so she could understand their language, and from what she told me this hasty, desperate plan was working. There were definitely panicked screams of “Fire!” and “Get water!” along with the unmistakable sounds of battle.

The others, though, seemed to think this was a waste of time and resources. I don’t understand. There was also this tense moment where they wanted to go on an offensive to take advantage of the chaos. Again, I don’t understand. There were still far, far more of them than there were of us, and we could very easily be surrounded in caves which the yeti knew and we didn’t. But, eventually, Qatana and I were able to convince everyone to withdraw while we could, and use the time to prepare for retaliation.

I am not sure how I could have done things differently, how I could have prevented this confusion. But I need to figure it out; our lives are at stake.

Obviously, having had a skirmish with the yet more or less implies that our attempts to parley with them were not successful. Not entirely, anyway.

We were able to solve the communication issue with that spell Thadeus taught me. It’s the same one I used with mom and dad back when all of this began. But communicating turned out to be the easy problem: the hard one was making any sense of what was going on.

Qatana and I sat opposite two of the large creatures, separated by one of the necropolis’s anti-life barriers. The conversation, if you can call it that, was mostly a mix of threats and bravado, all of it directed at us. It was not a waste of time, however: we learned that their chief insisted on destroying the caravan and killing the people that he called “the outsiders”—that would be us—and that his subjects fully intended to carry out his orders. Negotiation was clearly not in the cards. This bothers me. There’s no reason to have to fight our way through here.

Two more things came out of the exchange. The first is that the chief normally did not talk like this, and that even the members of the tribe found this to be unusual. The second is that this whole change started “two moons ago” when the chief was “blessed by the gods”.

What does that mean, “blessed by the gods”? I don’t know, but I can’t help but wonder about all the little coincidences that are piling up.

Back at Dead Man’s Dome, I know, I know, I heard a voice laughing out in the darkness, almost as if it were the wind itself. That laughter turned to rage when the last of the frozen dead had fallen. More recently, we had that massive winter storm—we may as well call it a morozoku—parked over the only mountain pass into Tian Xia, and doing things that storms just did not do. Like, staying in one place for days. And following us. And that laughter; the same voice we heard at the Dome.

I admit that this sounds crazy, but I have a suspicion that we are still dealing with Katiyana here. Look, I know she’s dead—we have her corpse, for gods’ sake!—but maybe what we’re up against here is her spirit. It would explain the laughter. It would explain why all of this seems personally directed at us. It would explain the chief’s recent change in attitude if he was possessed (and, to the yeti, that might look an awful lot like “being touched by the gods”).

It’s not a perfect fit, admittedly. I can’t explain the storm, nor the timing of “two moons”. But I’m not an expert on ghosts, and the one person in our group that should be knows even less than I do and has no interest in changing that. The basics line up, though.

And remember that this place used to be a shrine to Desna. In one of the chambers we found armor and a sword that were made to destroy spirits, as well as exorcise them from the bodies they possess. What if the exact things we needed were sitting right in front of us? Wouldn’t that be some amazing stroke of good fortune? The odds of that must be astronomically small. If only there was a goddess of luck…

The others are skeptical. Ivan sees Oni and Five Storms everywhere. Olmas is on board with the possession idea, but is pretty sure it’s not Katiyana because she’s dead (I don’t even know where to begin with that). I’m afraid to ask Qatana’s opinion because she’ll give it to me. Maybe I should work up the courage to talk to Koya.

I hate this place.

________________________

I fell prey to "it's what my character would do" and compounded the problem by trying too hard to maintain verisimilitude. Sometimes a little table talk can help prevent misunderstandings. That's more important that preserving the reality of the game.


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Calistril 1, 4713 (Uqtaal Necropolis, evening)

The counter-attack I was expecting never materialized, though we did get the next best thing, I suppose: several yeti emerged from the pool room and stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the cavern, forming a living wall between us and the necropolis. Why did they take a defensive position instead of making an assault? I don’t know, but I can speculate: they didn’t want to fight us on our terms. A theme that has emerged with them is “come see our king”, followed by some variation of “so he can kill you”. And if we were to be surrounded by yeti deep in their territory I have no doubt that they could follow through on that.

Obviously, they plan to ambush us when and if we do as they ask. We figured that one out even before they explicitly said so. They are not very subtle, nor are they particularly skilled at intrigue,

According to the others, the yeti just stood there watching us. After a while, Sparna and Ivan got bored and started a ridiculous pissing contest with them. It began with tossing pebbles at each other and then escalated to whatever was on hand, including the revenant’s corpse and Katiyana’s head. Because of course it did.

I think Sparna was trying to intimidate them into leaving, or going to get their chief, or something. Whatever his intention, this was making them agitated. I wasn’t sure this was the best use of our time or resources—we were supposed to be resting, healing, and planning, not starting another fight—but I didn’t want to be accused of not being a team player again. So I participated in the silly game until it stopped being silly. That would be when Olmas actually took a shot at one of them, burying an arrow in a yeti’s chest.

For all Olmas’s and Sparna’s talk about a discipline and order, it all comes down to the pot and the kettle both being black. I may have my moments of immaturity, but at least I don’t shoot people because I am bored and out of ideas. Desna was with us, however, and the yeti retreated before anyone died. On either side. Yours truly may have had some influence over that.

I was not in a good mood. I am still not. My wonderful theory about the Yeti chief? I couldn’t convince anyone at all, and after talking to Koya I was beginning to doubt it myself. It took the wind out of my sails.

It all came down to what the yeti meant by “two moons ago”. She suggested that the spirits they worship may be connected to the moon, or that they might find the moon sacred in some fashion. How they count days is still a mystery, but the suspicion was that their chief ventures outside from time to time for whatever passes as worship or ritual.

This is where the idea that the chief was not possessed, but rather replaced, started to take root. The Five Storms knew, more or less, where we were and where we were headed. It would not be unreasonable for there to be oni waiting for us at the pass. Faced with the same storm, said oni might have turned to the Path of Spirits as we did, only from the Tian Xia side where he or she encountered the chief. We know an ogre mage can assume a human form, but there’s no reason to believe that it must be strictly human. They could just as easily take the form of a large humanoid, like, oh, say, a yeti.

An oni in the chief’s place would be just as reasonable, if not more likely, than my theory of Katiyana’s ghost. It all makes perfect sense.

Except it doesn’t explain the storm, and there is this big hole in the logic. I get that the others believe this oni theory. I get that they want to believe it. But we all heard that voice on the wind. We all saw the storm expand behind us as if it were following us. That, and Sithhud and the Five Storms working together just does not make sense. How would they even make such an agreement? How would that even work? What bargain could they possibly make with one another? Demonic beings working together is a stretch on its own, especially when they don’t have common goals.

So I wasn’t ready to give up yet. And I made a proposal: that we test the theories.

They think I am out of my mind. They … may be right. What I suggested we do—that I do—is unbelievably dangerous and bordering on suicidal. It is an idea even worse than my plan for the white dragon.

“I can fly in under invisibility, and use a spell to mask my scent. The wand will give me the ability to see in the dark. I’ll have a protective spell up that will prevent mental control over me. And I’ll use another spell that will let us exchange whispered messages, if needed. I can get in to the chief’s throne room completely undetected.”

To what purpose? To find the yeti chief, and see what spells, if any, were on or around him. I would be able to tell the difference between mental control and shapeshifting. It would give us valuable information.

Sparna didn’t like it. Neither did Olmas. What if I was discovered? What if I was hurt? I’d be surrounded, with no real hope of rescue. I could be facing the chief, who is able to cast spells, and the entire yeti tribe. The objections kept coming.

“I can always teleport away. That’s my escape plan.” And it was a pretty good one, too. It was enough to get them to agree to it.

The problem, of course, is that it wasn’t foolproof. Meet a yeti’s gaze, and I might be overcome by the magical fear it instills in you. Alone and paralyzed, I would not be able to do anything except fall to the ground. I didn’t point this out; they’d never let me do it if they knew it could fail. But “certain” can be an impossible standard. You could waste your entire life waiting for “certain”. That, and, I am not some gods-be-damned fragile child! I wasn’t then, and I sure as hell am not now.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to do this. I mean, I do, but I don’t. But the thing is, I don’t want us to have to kill every living thing here in order for us to leave (am I the only one?). This may be our best shot at that.

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