Kali's Journal (a Jade Regent Campaign)


Campaign Journals

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Calistril 2, 4713 (Uqtaal Necropolis, morning)

Nothing happened over night. I was worried they’d come after us while most of us were asleep, but it seems they are confident we’ll come to them eventually. Where they assume they’ll have the upper hand. They are right about the first part; the second remains to be seen.

I am more than a little nervous. One unpleasant side effect of these rings is that you have lots of time at night to fret and worry. I spent what felt like hours thinking of all the ways this plan could go wrong and what to do about it, which was nowhere near as productive or helpful as it sounds. I used to be able to break these mental loops through meditation, but…that was a long time ago.

We’ll stay together until we reach the anti-life shell inside the necropolis. Then I am on my own. The plan is for them to give me time to enter the throne room, then they’ll launch a raid to provide a distraction while I figure out what, if anything, has happened to the chief. I’ll have very little time to do this. If l screw it up, if I am discovered, or if our theories are just outright wrong, then we’ll be completely surrounded and fighting the entire Yeti tribe.

Please, Shelyn, let this work.

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I'm a Jade Regent GM and my party is just about to enter the Uqtaal Necropolis. I'm really enjoying your journals, it's an excellent reminder of the journey my party have taken so far (with some differences due to GM styles and party dynamics).


Thank you for the kind words, DM. And thank you for reading, too! I love this AP so far, though this segment has been my least favorite. That being said, it was responsible for our most harrowing battle, and the fight to come is among our most memorable.


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(afternoon)

I am still in shock. It worked. It worked! My muscles still ache, I was so tense, but it worked! And it’s over.

Panic almost set in when I reached the chief’s throne room and he wasn’t there. I knew what he looked like because I had seen him before, and there was no sign of him at all. But, if we was invisible or shape-shifted or hiding through magic, it was only a matter of time before I found him.

The yeti knew we were coming and they were waiting for us in absolute silence. It was unnerving. The tension was so thick it felt like I was swimming through it. I couldn’t so much as whisper without giving myself away and that meant that I couldn’t warn the others, either; couldn’t tell them I needed just a little more time, that there were more than we thought, or that a group of them could make a run at the caravan if they felt so inclined. I just couldn’t risk being heard. The yeti didn’t know I was there, and I was not about to lose that advantage and make myself a target.

In the end though none of that mattered. I was still sweeping the room when the others came in. It was too soon, which meant that they had been able to just walk in. I guess we should have expected that; this was supposed to be a trap after all. As the saying goes, we had them right where they wanted us.

I didn’t see where the chief came from or how he had remained hidden, but I saw the first spell go off and then I knew, I knew, it was Katiyana. She’d used that lightning strike on us before, and the chief was using it now. What were the odds? And then Olmas called out where he was and I turned around and saw him.

The start of the skirmish, though a ways away, made just enough noise that I could risk a whisper. I messaged to them that I was sure it was Katiyana as I flew to the yeti chief’s position, still under the cover of invisibility. I stopped directly above him, letting the protective ward that was surrounding me envelop him.

And then chaos erupted.

The chief stumbled back, almost falling over, then cried out “Stop fight! Stop fight! Bad spirit! Friends, if you help me!” He was struggling against something that we couldn’t see. It was Katiyana, of course, fighting to regain control. But as long as the ward was up she couldn’t do it.

I reached down and placed a similar ward directly on him, so he wouldn’t be dependent on me being so close. I saw that Sparna had the nine-ring sword out, intent on exorcising her spirit. “This sword can force her out,” he said, “but I have to strike you with it.” This seemed like a bad idea to me, but the chief not only consented, he pleaded to Sparna to do it. “It’s trying! It can’t take me! I give you magic rock if you get rid of bad, bad spirit!”

Lightning kept striking around us. That spell she had cast was still active, and she didn’t need the yeti’s body. It took only her will to unleash each bolt.

Sparna struck, but to no avail. “Oh!” the chief cried out as the blow landed. “It’s hanging on!”

Spells were going off everywhere now: I remember seeing at least one to protect Sparna from lightning, and another to dispel the protections Katiyana had cast on him.

Sparna struck again, and finally it worked. Katiyana’s ghost was literally flung from the yeti’s body. Then more spells went off as we tried to take her down. I fired blasts of pure force, and two spiritual entities appeared next to her and pressed the attack. Some of these bounced off her harmlessly, and some struck true. A lightning elemental materialized and came to her aid, but just as quickly it was banished from the material plane. I lost track of what was happening until Radella moved in and struck the ghost down. Katiyana cried out something about being the Avatar of Sithhud, and then she was gone.

And it was over.

The yeti chief or king—I am still not sure which is correct—was true to his word. He thanked us for what we had done, for expelling the spirit that had forced him to confront us, and offered his ioun stone to Sparna in thanks. We forged a welcome, if awkward, truce. Several yeti were dead. Bevelek was dead. It was not their fault or ours, but that doesn’t undo what was done.

It’s some 700 or 800 miles to Ordu-Aganhei. It will be two weeks before we can raise Bevelek. But at least we’ll be moving again. We won’t be able to leave until tomorrow morning, though—it will take a few spells we don’t normally prepare to get across the chasm and out of the Necropolis—so I’m going to spend some time with Koya and see if we can’t remove the stain of Fumeiyoshi from this place. The necropolis was originally built to venerate Desna, after all. We shouldn’t leave it like this.


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Calistril 3, 4713 (morning, Uqtaal necropolis)

We are leaving today. I can’t say that I am sorry to go, and if we could have left yesterday we would have. We never intended to come here, we certainly didn’t wantto come here, and pretty much everything about this place has been horrible. Making peace with the yeti was a welcome change from how we started, but it doesn’t bring Bevelek back to life. And while the chief is grateful to us, I worry that not all of his tribe is on board with that. Katiyana may have been the catalyst, but several of them still died at our hands. I am anxious to put all of it behind us.

I spent hours and hours yesterday cleansing this place with Ivan and Koya, removing all traces of Fumiyoshi and restoring as much of the Desnan iconography as our spells could handle. Even that was unsatisfying. It feels like a job half finished, but there is just no way we are backtracking 30-some miles to remove all of those skulls. That, and no one understands, much less knows how to deal with, the pool with the tree. Other than using the specters for target practice, which I doubt was the original intent.

I am tired. I didn’t sleep well. And I hate it here.

Calistril 6, 4713 (Path of Aganhei, Wall of Heaven, evening)

We rejoined the Path of Aganhei around mid-day today after over three days of winding through the mountains. We’ve begun our descent to Ordu-Aganhei, though according to Ulf (and our maps) that is still over a week away.

We finally have pleasant weather. The sun is on a reasonable schedule, the skies are clear, and while it’s still cold we aren’t anywhere near the sub-freezing temperatures of the arctic.  I should be happy about all of this, but I’m not. I promised mom and dad that I’d check in once we got this far and I have been putting it off because I don’t know what to say to them. There’s no way for me to tell them that Bevelek’s dead without confirming their worst fears about our journey, but I can’t not tell, them, either. So, the mature adult that I am, I’ve been avoiding it.


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Calistril 8, 4713 (Path of Aganhei, Wall of Heaven, evening)

Ivan has been making small repairs to the caravan using magic as we go. The wagons took quite a beating in the storms, and then again under the mountains. As we learned in Ul-Angorn we don’t want to look like we’ve been through…well, all that stuff we just went through, I guess. Of course there’s no avoiding the obvious, which is that we are coming down from the Crown in late winter. At best, people will think we have lost our minds, but with the wagons beat to the Abyss and back, we’ll look like fools who didn’t know better and are lucky to be alive.

These mountains go on for hundreds of miles inland. They call it the Wall of Heaven. The coastal range stretches from the divide between Tian Xia and the Crown all the way down to the equator. At every point it’s at least a hundred miles across—in most it’s at least twice that—with peaks towering to 30,000 feet and beyond. Except at Goka, the only port city on the west coast, at the only break in the range. It’s no coincidence that it is also one of the largest cities in the world.

It’s said that there’s a lost valley somewhere in the northern expanse of the Wall, maybe a thousand miles or so from where we are now, where the people live an idyllic life, isolated in, and by, the mountains. It’s a Nirvana on Golarion, with no rulers, no war, no evil, and no sin. It sounds like any one of a dozen other legends we have back in the Inner Sea. I don’t believe any of them, either, but who’s to say? Maybe there really is a paradise out there, and humanity is just too jaded to accept it.

Calistril 10, 4713 (Path of Aganhei, Wall of Heaven, small hours)

I finally talked to mom and dad. It could have gone a lot worse.

“Bevelek? By the gods, Kali…what—”

I cut him off. “It was our fault. We…we made an assumption that…it was a terrible mistake. I—I don’t know how else to…”

I had to stop to wipe my eyes.

It didn’t have to happen. We could have prevented it. I…”

Another long silence. Then mom spoke.

“Do you want us to tell someone? Do you know where their family lives?”

Give us…give us a week or two,” I said, sniffing, and wiping my eyes dry again. “Qatana says she can…bring him back.

A much longer silence this time.

You don’t approve.

This time, dad spoke. “That is not it at all. We are just…surprised. Qatana? Your friend, Qatana. Qatana Marchand.” he asked, clearly incredulous.

“Yes.

Another long silence.

“Now I do not know what to say.”

Calistril 14, 4713 (Path of Aganhei, Hongal, evening)

We spotted a hunting party not far from the road today. They didn’t approach us, and we didn’t approach them. Ulf suggested that was for the best. He explained that the people of Hongal are more or less suspicious of foreigners, and accept the trade route and the travelers on it as a kind of necessary evil. As long as we stay on the road and keep to our business, they’ll leave us alone. Stray too far from it and we’ll be trespassing, and around here that is like asking to be executed without the added burden of having to ask.

They are mostly a nomadic people; even their king lives in a sort of traveling tent city. They are famed for their horsemanship, and live in a land that is equally famous for the quality of its horses. The city we are headed for, Ordu-Aganhei, is one of only two permanent settlements in the entire nation. Unsurprisingly, the other one lies along the trade route as well, on the border with the Forest of Spirits.


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Calistril 16, 4713 (Ordu-Aganhei, late afternoon)

Prince Batsaikhar, the brother of the Khan, has made us his honored guests in the palace. In less than two hours, we have gone from living like vagrants and transients—literally living off the land by our wits and skills for months—to luxury the likes of which I have not seen since Niswan. And back then, I only saw it. As the Prince’s guests, we are living in it, and I lack the words to properly describe the contrast between where we were and where we are. Less than three weeks ago, I was in a frozen wasteland isolated from humanity. Now there are servants attending to my every need, following me like a cloud of gnats.

They don’t seem eager to please so much as terrified to not. Or, perhaps more accurately, terrified of not satisfying their ruler’s demands. The Prince makes me uneasy; he’s always smiling and overly polite. I think Ulf summed it up pretty well: “The Prince can be a powerful ally, but he is also known to be ruthless. So be careful.” A point that is underscored by the severed heads adorning the walls of the city. Chua said that “they were robbers, preying on traders along the Path of Aganhei.”

Still, our situation now is something of an improvement over our arrival. Because I couldn’t keep my temper under control. Yes, the guards at the gate were not just rude, but belligerent, accusing us of everything from being smugglers to spies to assassins. When they started climbing all over the caravan like rats in search of food, I let it get to me. Challenging their authority was, perhaps, not the right decision. Fortunately, Chua intervened before weapons were drawn.

Chua is the…well, I am not really sure what he is. Perhaps a chancellor or vizier or whatever title they give here to the one who is closest to the Prince and responsible for making things happen. He interrupted the guards and extended the royal invitations to us. Naturally, I accepted on everyone’s behalf without consulting them because it didn’t seem wise to refuse or even put the matter up for debate. It was Chua that gave us our first hints of what the Prince might be like: he handed a black rose to each of the ladies in our party, and uttered some artificial and demeaning remark about the beauty of foreign women. (A black rose is, of course, a terrible insult to a Shelynite, but Nihali takes the form of a black raven and that earns me my own share of stares. So, I guess I am not in a position to complain.)

After listening to the highlights of our travels across the Ice in the dead of winter (Radella says he was bored by them, but good at hiding it) Prince Batsaikhar declared he would be hosting the Five Feasts of Hongal in our honor. So I guess our little stunt isn’t pulled very often. Arriving in mid-Calistril was something of a red-letter day.

The first dinner is in a couple of hours. I asked Chua for advice on not accidentally offending our host. He said, “Be polite. Speak your own language, because he prides himself on his expertise in Common. And use chopsticks.”

Ameiko and I will be giving everyone a crash course on the latter.

I already screwed up the middle one by speaking to him in Hon-La. I am not sure what Shelyn has in mind for me, but apparently it involves drawing attention to myself, good or bad.


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Calistril 16, 4713 (Ordu-Aganhei, late night)

Dinner was, in a word, disgusting. I have a little cantrip that covers up a lot of sins, and I got plenty of use out of it tonight. Look, I pride myself on having a wide palate, OK? You can’t travel like we did when I was young without adapting to the local culture’s food. I’m not even a vegetarian for gods’ sake (I’d practically be a pariah in Vudra for that, alone). But every culture has some bizarre “gourmet” dish that is truly foul, and the chefshere  went all out to ensure that was all we ate.

It also doesn’t bode well for the next four nights: if bird brains and chicken feet aren’t off limits, then there is a lot of ground that they can cover.

To make up for the food, we were treated to cultural entertainment. It was actually pretty impressive: the Prince’s royal guards performed an exhibition of what they called the “Three Games of Hongal”: mounted archery, bareback horse racing, and wrestling. It’s pretty obvious that their reputations as horse masters has been earned.

The big surprise of the night was the Prince asking us if we could do these same things. Like, literally, the same games. After we picked our jaws up off the floor, we actually put on a pretty good showing. Ivan says he got lucky, but I’ve seen him shoot and you make luck like that. Two arrows struck their target, dead center. Sparna was challenged to wrestle their champion, and he managed to pin the guy to the floor. It was a close match—I don’t know the rules of wrestling, but it was pretty obvious they were somewhat equally matched and it went back and forth a couple of times—but Sparna got the upper hand and that was that. I remember saying, quietly, “He probably just executed that guy.” Which was not intended as a joke, but rather a factual observation. Olmas, for his part, almost pulled of the horse racing with Kasimir, but Kasimir is a warhorse and I guess he just didn’t see the point of it.

Still, two out of three wasn’t bad for people who were put on the spot like that. The Prince obviously agreed and—

There was a knock at my door just now. When I answered there was no one there: just a gift box sitting in the hall. An ornate gift box tied with silk ribbons. I opened it, and inside was an absolutely stunning, Tien-style evening gown. One that is, shall we say, fairly revealing. It was accompanied by a note from Prince Batsaikhar saying, and I am quoting this, “Your exotic beauty graces his palace and will shine all the brighter in this fine gown,” signed “with his humble compliments”.

OK. I’ve been sitting here for several minutes, dumbfounded. I don’t know what to write. I can’t process this.


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Calistril 17, 4713 (Ordu-Aganhei, morning)

I am pushing all thoughts about dinner tonight and that gown out of my head for now. That is the plan for today, anyway. Shalelu says she found a suitable shop where we can purchase the diamond Qatana needs to raise Bevelek, and we have all agreed to meet at roughly 5 o’clock tonight to get it done. Until then, we are going to be unloading this collection of crap we’ve been carrying since the Storm Tower and then use the money to do some shopping. It’s just the sort of distraction I need.

I did come to one decision, though: I am wearing the gown tonight. I decided it would not be in our best interest to refuse a gift from the Prince. At least, one that is, aside from the modesty (or lack of it), fairly innocuous. We need more time here, and we need to keep him on our good side if we are going to remain here as royal guests. I intend to do my part.

Last night after dinner, the Prince announced what tonight’s feast would be (The Feast of the Ancients), and as soon as Chua came to escort us back to our rooms I asked him what the entertainment would be (because we are not going to be caught off guard like that a second time).

“Theatrical performances with story-telling,” he said.

With Ameiko’s help, I think we can have that covered.

(evening)

Bevelek breathes again.

It’s hard to fathom that one among us possesses the power to raise the dead. It’s even harder to fathom that it’s a Cleric of Groetus, and harder still that she willingly used it. I mean, it seems like a contradiction, but then again so is Qatana.

Besides, she points out that Groetus is the god of the end times, not the god of death. The latter is Pharasma’s job. Touché.

Not that Groetus has an opinion on what she’s done. Among theologians it is widely believed that Groetus does’t intend to create followers, and either doesn’t know he has them or doesn’t care. In short, Qatana is given divine power without any guidance on its use. Immense power that flows freely, unhindered by responsibility.

Vankor was especially grateful to have his brother back. And of course Sandru and Koya were almost equally emotional. The brothers have been with Sandru’s caravan since it’s beginning. I’ve known them nearly as long, but what I felt was quite different. I felt the weight of guilt lifting off of me. Just a bit.

(late night)

My predictions about dinner were, unfortunately, spot-on. The assault on our senses resumed with such delicacies as goose stomach, fish lips, and solidified blood. I consider not throwing up to be a major victory.

The entertainment was a play whose title translated to “Why the Marmot Doesn’t Have Thumbs”, told through shadow puppetry and accompanied by throat singing to music on the horsehead fiddle. As expected, Prince Batsaikhar asked us if we could put on a performance to match, and this time, we were ready.

Ameiko told the story of the white dragon, through music and song. Ivan and I opened her performance with a few special effects courtesy of our spells, and as she got underway I began interpretive dance, interacting with imagery from Ivan’s illusions.

The accolades we received were enough for me, but the Prince already had two things in mind. First, we were gifted one of the Hongal performers’ fiddles (and I suspect we have executed her, too). Second, he thanked us all personally, but me especially, and then he asked me to join him for breakfast in the morning. I am not really fond of the idea, but refusing the Prince in front of a couple hundred of his nobles and subjects seemed like an extraordinarily bad idea at the time. So I said yes.

Note that I said, “at the time”. As Chua was escorting us to our rooms, Olmas struck up a conversation with him, and he asked a few questions about the Prince that have me regretting that answer.

Among the stories Chua told us was this gem: “Once he stacked seven people on top of one another to see if he could sever their heads with a single stroke of his katana. Which, of course, he did!”

“We’re they prisoners being executed or something?” Olmas asked.

“I don’t know. I suppose they might have been. But whoever they were, they weren’t important." With a bewildered expression, he added, "Should that matter?”

Chua will come by at seven o’clock in the morning to take me to breakfast. Sparna volunteered to escort me.


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Calistril 18, 4713 (Ordu-Aganhei, morning)

Gods, I feel sick. I’m still trembling. I managed to keep myself together until I got back here but then I started shaking and I couldn’t stop. Even Nihali couldn’t help. I’ve calmed down since then but I can still see the tremors in my hands and my stomach won’t stop aching.

On the way out, as I was about to walk through that door, I felt him run his hands through my hair. I was not OK with that. Not in the least. I didn’t ask for it, and I didn’t want it ... but I could at least ignore it.

And then his hand continued down to my back, to my skin, and I was back on that beach with Jeffy Theern looming over me. I could feel the wind against my face, smell the ocean air, and count the grains of sand against my palms.

Nihali tells me I froze for just a second. I don’t remember, and the Prince didn’t let on that anything had happened, but I have no reason to doubt her.

On the way back, I whispered to Sparna using one of my spells, and told him what happened. Told him I’m worried what the Prince might try next. Then we met with the others when it was safe to talk.

We’re getting the caravan ready to move. I can get out with magic, but the caravan can’t and if my hand is forced it could put everyone in danger.

I have no problem admitting this: I am scared.

(late night)

I am writing this hastily as the girls are waiting for me to begin. But I need to get this down while I can still hold myself together.

Tonight was the Feast of Fire. I barely remember any of it, just the part where I was, once again, asked to perform. Dancing on burning coals (under the protection of fire resistance, of course) in a not-at-all-revealing dress of fiery reds and golds that I had chosen. Once again, we were rewarded with gifts from the Prince. I played my part.

He announced the next two feasts. Tomorrow is the Feast of the Honored Visitors, and we are expected to help his kitchen staff prepare a traditional Varisian meal, and provide all the entertainment. Because of course we are. The last is the Feast of the Dragon, a city-wide celebration with food, music and dragon-dancing.

It struck me on the walk back to our rooms. The Feast of the Honored Visitors. None of us has been “honored” more than I have, and we won’t be dining in the palace the night after. Whatever he’s planning? It’s going to happen tomorrow.

But just in case I am wrong, the other girls and are staying with me tonight. I don’t want to be alone.

________________________________

Commentary:
The events from the last six posts, including this one, all took place in our September game session, roughly three weeks before the story about Harvey Weinstein broke and the start of the #MeToo campaign. Our October game was the weekend before it hit the news.

Obviously, what happened in the game is all make-believe, and I would never, ever dare to claim that a made-up event in a made-up fantasy game is even remotely equivalent to real women whose lives are impacted by real, unwanted advances (and worse) from men, especially from those who are in power. I do believe, though, that how we play the game matters. If we want to maintain an open and inclusive game where women feel welcomed to the table and safe there, then we need to treat in-game events like these with an appropriate level of gravitas. We don't necessarily need to strike certain topics as "off limits", but if we allow them in then we should do so respectfully, and prevent them from turning into microagressions (or worse) while using "it's just a game" as an excuse.

Kali was chosen for this because my GM trusted me, and because there were elements in her backstory that would provide a genuine sense of menace, even though her raw power (from a gaming mechanics standpoint) is significant.

I hope I played this right. I really tried to find the right notes for her, and over the next few posts you'll see her change as she deals with her predicament. But, if you think I screwed this up and it all rings hollow or it trivializes the subject, then I sincerely apologize. You are welcome to PM me about it, and I would like to hear from you.


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Calistril 18, 4713 (Ordu-Aganhei, late night)

My memory of this is still clear because we just finished the reading, but ... memories fade, and those that don't? They often get muddled. Memory is just so unreliable, and it only gets worse with time. The details are important here so I need to get them down while I can. While I still have it right.

I should back up first, though, because I didn't have time to do that earlier. That, and I felt like I was on the verge of an anxiety attack or something. I had really worked myself (perhaps unnecessarily?) into a full-on panic. How was I even able to talk to anyone? I suppose it could be that I am remembering it as worse than it really was. Maybe. I am not exactly doing well right now. Far from it, really. But I don't know. See above.

After talking to Radella on the walk back from dinner, I asked Ameiko if she would stay with me tonight. "I don't want to be alone right now," I said. "I need someone with me. I ... can't really explain it." I still can't. "I just don't feel safe."

"As if you need to even ask. I can tell you're troubled. Of course I'll stay with you," she said with a smile. Probably so that I wouldn't think I was being a burden to her, she added, "It would be nice to have the company, anyway. The feather beds here are comfortable, but after all these months of being crammed in the wagons? Nights alone in a room are both a luxury and ... a bit unfamiliar."

I was kind of feeling just the opposite. Or I had, until this morning.

"Thank you," I said. "I don't think anything will happen, at least not directly, but ..." I didn't have to add that I could be coerced or manipulated, and no one would be the wiser. And of course, everyone here seems to live in fear of him. Even if I am safe, the people here may not be. I could easily get someone killed, I thought. Lots of someones. I shuddered at that.

Ameiko thought about this for a moment. "I—I don't think the Prince would kidnap you or ... probably ... outright force anything. He does seem to value honor and etiquette—to a fault, if you ask me—but I still don't trust him or know how far he can be pushed before he drops the facade."

"I need to ask. Is there anything you can do or provide that can help me? In case I have to talk my way out of trouble, or slip away if I can't teleport." I hesitated, not exactly sure how to phrase the rest of it. "The catch is, I don't know when it would be needed, so I can't completely rely on spells." This is why I was borrowing Radella's circlet. Every little bit helped.

It didn't matter, though. All she had to offer was advice. But. It was good advice. "I would not outright refuse him, especially in front of others. Find a way to string him along, perhaps, until we know we can make our escape or find out what his true motives are."

"In other words, stall," I said.

"Yes. Stall. It's a delicate and dangerous line to walk." She sighed, then said, "I never imagined you would get entangled in the political intrigues of court when we started this journey. But, such are the perils of court." She spoke as if she knew how these things worked. Exactly when was she an expert on political intrigue? I bounced that around in my head. Has Ameiko been holding out on me?

I'd have plenty of time to ask her later, and I snapped back to the present. Stay focused, Kali. "I ... I think I need Koya's help on this, too," I said. "I am rudderless here."

Ameiko got Koya's attention with a small wave and then gestured for her to join us. When she did, I explained what I intended to do and why I needed her there. "I can manage the spell, but I still need help with interpreting the cards."

Koya looked lost in thought briefly. "Well, it's not usual to combine the spell with a reading, but I think that's because most people don't take the time to learn both. There's certainly no reason why you can't do it."

I said, "It will take me some time to prepare the spell, but I'll start as soon as I get back to my room."

Ameiko interjected, "As soon as we get back. We'll wait with you until you are ready to cast. Though I believe Radella has suggested a ladies' night in your room, so it might get a little crowded there." The more the merrier, I say.

The rooms weren't far. While they settled in, I hastily wrote what I wrote earlier, got down to memorizing the spell, and then announced, "I'm ready."


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(continued)

Koya came over to sit next to me. She handed me her deck (mine is not yet finished), and waited for me to start. I pulled out the nine Crown cards for the Choosing, and then I just stared at them. I remember thinking, Are you sure you want to do this?. I must have been like that for a while, because I felt Koya’s hand touch mine, gently. I snapped out of the reverie, spoke the words to the spell, and drew the first card.

I was looking at a dragon. It was The Tyrant.

My heart sank and Koya sighed heavily. “That is … not a pleasant card. It indicates one who rules but who does harm to those over whom he holds sway.”

It meant my role in this was linked to the Prince. It was confirming my fears. I stared at it for a while. I’d not studied the art on this one yet. Is it … eating its own egg? I shuddered, then quickly shuffled the Crown cards back in the deck, and laid out the Tapestry, face down.

Starting with the Past, I revealed The Eclipse, misaligned.

“The Eclipse. A hidden place revealed, or an unheralded ability. The necropolis? Shelyn’s gift of Hon-La?” I asked.

“Possibly. Both brought us here in some fashion. Though I have learned not to be too certain in Harrowings.”

The next card was The Snakebite. “A weapon used against us. Any of the oni or ninja could fit here.”

“Less certain is this one, but your interpretation is as good as any,” she replied.

A wave of dread washed over me when I turned over the third card. “The Rabbit Prince,” I said quietly.

“Our host is the younger brother of the Khan, is he not? This hints that he is slippery and clever as an adversary.” Well that’s just great.

It got worse on the next column, which represented the present. Much worse. I turned over the first card and immediately thought I was going to be sick. I could barely speak, but managed to croak out, “The Marriage. Oh, gods, Koya …”

“Now, child, don’t take the cards too literally; these are merely … images and shadows. In this case it means that something will change in a permanent way, but what that change is we cannot be certain.”

But I couldn’t get past the literal image. It was like I was being sent a personal warning. I could hear and feel my heart pounding in my head. I fought to keep the world from fading into the distance.

My hand was shaking as I turned over the next card.

I wouldn’t have thought I could feel any worse, but then I was staring at The Beating. I sniffed and wiped away the start of tears, then said out loud what I was thinking. My voice weak and hoarse. “I—I shouldn’t have done this.”

“The seasons change whether we read the cards or not,” she replied. Well, sure, but logic is a cold comfort. “In this position, though, I think it represents how you are feeling now. A dissolution of self.” I admit that this actually made sense, and the thought helped me compose myself. I nodded and moved on.

“The Unicorn, misaligned. A false friend. I think I know who this is.”

“You are probably right.”

Koya let out another sigh, and that feeling of almost being sick reasserted itself. The top right card was The Courtesan. I knew what it represented, but I just sat there shaking my head slowly in denial so she took the liberty of explaining. Maybe for Ameiko’s benefit more than mine.The slow approach was killing me so I turned over the cards in the last column, representing the future, in rapid succession.

“I think it’s telling you that your future requires you to continue in this role. You must navigate the politics of this place, and there’s some peril if you slip or falter.”

I still didn’t say anything. I just sat there and stared. Koya added, “I’m sorry, child, this is a heavy burden to place on you.

“The Sickness is difficult to interpret,” she continued, though with less certainty. “It could mean the moral decay of a place, or the corruption of an individual of importance in your life.”

I waved my hand dismissively, blowing that card off. It didn’t feel like it had anything to contribute here. Honestly, I just didn’t care. But the last one …

I took a long, deep breath and said, “The Inquisitor. I can’t cheat my way out of it. I have to face it head on.”

“With the help of your friends,” Ameiko added. She’d been watching the reading quietly this whole time. “Don’t forget that.”

Other than a hint of a smile, Koya ignored the interruption. “Normally we only interpret a few, key cards in the Tapestry. But in this case, most of them had something to say. What is the spell telling you?”

I could feel its effects now, and was trying to characterize them. “I am being … encouraged … to use my wits.”

A long silence followed. I could feel them watching me. “We have to tell the others,” I said. “Any information we need to get, about the road ahead, Minkai, the Forest … We need to do that tomorrow. Just in case.”

_________________________________

My original intent was just to use the Harrowing spell (the Inner Sea World Guide version) to try and get some luck bonuses to spend on future interactions with the Prince becuase I was looking for as many ways to boost Diplomacy and Bluff checks as I could. Combining that with a traditional reading was our GM's idea.

This was done between game sessions so as not to take up precious game time. The actual draw was done by our GM. The original intent was to take whatever came at random and then make changes to some key cards in order to fit the scenario, but he said the resulting spread fit so perfectly that he used it as-is and sent it to me, along with some suggested dialogue from Koya, Ameiko, and Kali. I did some tweaking and wordsmithing to fit Kali's narrative style, and went with it.

The impact of it in-game was to turn up the level of (perceived) menace, as well as the feeling of being trapped in a situation where the only way out was through. I also used this as a catalyst to boost Kali's confidence and resolve.

Harrow readings are fun, but both the players and the GM have to be willing to invest time in them. If you aren't using the spell, the GM also may need to take time to arrange the deck in advance. To save time, both on interpretations and deck stacking, I strongly suggest using automation.


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Calistril 19, 4713 (Ordu-Aganhei, small hours)

I spent a good portion of the night coming to terms with this. In the course of a few hours I’ve felt alone and scared, victimized and helpless, overwhelmed and anxious, and hollowed out and numb. Now? Now I am just angry: angry at being put in this position, at being trapped, at being fetishized because I am a foreigner, at being labeled as “exotic”. Here’s a hint for you: “exotic” is not a compliment. It translates to, “You’re attractive, for a <blank>”, where you fill in the blank with anything that's inferior in your eyes. That little backhand speaks volumes.

We can’t just leave. It would be perceived as an insult to Prince Batsaikhar, which is something he is not likely to take well. From what we have seen and heard, the people here live in a constant state of low-grade fear that they’ll disappoint, anger, or even just fail to please him. It explains why the attendants here are so enthusiastic to carry out his requests. Most people, given the option, prefer to live. Making him angry gets people killed. That’s the sort of person we are dealing with.

Ameiko is pretty sure that we’re safe as long as we are his guests, but this position is tenuous at best. Our status can be revoked at any time, and if he really needed a justification to turn on us without breaking the protocol he values, I am sure he can find one. We can’t travel across Hongal with a hostile government at our back.

That means we are stuck here until the last Feast, and that means I have to see this through. I have to keep him happy, too, even if it means enduring more … of that. If I slip up, if he doesn’t get what he wants from me, will this be taken out on my friends? Will this be taken out on his subjects?

I can’t do anything about the latter, of course. We’re not here to overthrow a government. Well, okay, we are, but not this government. In Minkai, Ameiko at least has a divine mandate to rule and that is supposed to mean something to the people there. Here? We’re nobody, and nobodies don’t start revolutions. This isn’t a fight we can even start, much less win. We’re just going to have to move on.

Ensuring we can move on is now my job. Whatever the Prince wants from me, personally, I have to find a way to give it to him. If it’s something he can’t have (for example, me) I need to refuse without refusing. To give the impression of accepting without accepting. Ameiko and I spent a lot of time tonight practicing, role-playing various scenarios. At first it just felt like a desperate exercise, but by the end … I have to admit it was a little empowering. I walked away feeling like I could actually exert some control over these events. That I could spin convincing half-truths, and use his assumptions to my advantage.

What does it say about my friendship with Ameiko that it has made me a better liar?

The point to all of this is to buy time so that we can get away safely.

And what if I’m right? What if what he wants from me really is me? My biggest fear there would be a marriage proposal (no doubt I’d be added to what I am sure is a long list of wives with whom he quickly grew bored and possibly beheaded), but it could be any number of things which are nearly as bad, from joining his concubine to becoming a permanent fixture at the palace for him to beckon and paw. If it comes to this, my best diversion is my Vudrani heritage and customs.

I think this would actually qualify as irony.

Vudrani have a fairly structured society: it’s a caste system, marriages are often arranged, and going outside your caste for anything is, while not unheard of, fairly rare. Though I’ve never livedin a traditional Vudrani society—the closest I have come is visiting dadi and dada in Niswan—I know the broad strokes. It sounds awful and I want nothing to do with it. I am lucky to have grown up in Varisia.

Dad doesn’t care about any of those traditions. I mean, look who he married, right? And he’s not some black sheep in the family: dadi and dada aren’t much for these norms, either. It’s not generally known, but dada is half Keleshite. My aljidu al’akbar was from Katheer, and he met my paradadi in, of all places, Sothis. They were married in Absalom. It’s always been a kind of international family.

Technically, that makes me only three-eights Vudrani. I haven’t exactly tried to hide it, of course, it’s just that it doesn’t come up, and it’s easier to say “half” and skip the details. I am actually kind of surprised that no one has ever asked. I mean, it’s obvious from both dad’s name and our family name that there is more than just Vudrani behind him, but I guess that these subtleties get lost north of the Inner Sea, even among the well-traveled.

My grandparents on mom’s side are pretty progressive, too, especially for Korvosans. It’s almost two cities in one: there are those who long for the days of Chelish rule, and those who recognize Cheliax for the literal hellhole that it is and bask in Korvosa’s independence. Grandma and grandpa fall into the latter category. They are quite proud of mom’s marriage. It reinforces their view of Korvosa as a cosmopolitan city, and their contributions to it.

But for the Prince, I need to be half of Vudrani with an orthodox heritage. For anything beyond courtship, I require permission from my father (though, technically, I needed it even before that). Ignoring cultural protocol and norms will bring shame to me and my family. Protocol and honor seem to be concepts the Prince understands and respects. And of course, this conveniently and retroactively explains why I’ve needed an escort on both of our “dates”. The best lies are the ones that are founded in truth.

Unfortunately, this would only buy time for my friends to leave. If it comes to this, they’ll take the caravan out of the city and once they’re safely away I’ll escape and catch up. That sounds deceptively simple, but for once it really is that simple. A day’s head start is sufficient for the caravan. I can teleport short distances and that’s enough to get out. Then I can summon a horse—or better yet, conjure a phantom one—and race after them. Time it right, and it will be hours before anyone in the palace notices I am gone. Especially if I repair those little peep holes Radella told us about using magic. We already did that in this room.

Worst-case scenario is that I end up being held against my will, and they take my spell book. But the thing is, they can’t take the spells out of my head. I will memorize what I need to get away, and regardless, I don’t need my spells for dimensional hops. They cannot hold me here.


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(early morning)

We need to prepare the food and entertainment for tonight. Traditional food and entertainment from our "native land". Qatana got a little excited about this and put together a meal plan that is … a little over the top, so Ameiko offered some suggestions to tone it down. I am actually not too worried either way. As long as it tastes good, we’ll be fine. Those two know what they’re doing, and they’ll have an enormous, professional kitchen and a small army of sous-chefs, chefs, cooks and bakers at their disposal. I’d be pretty stunned if the dinner came out anything less than spectacular.

For the entertainment part of the evening we need two performances of something. So far, the Prince has treated us to a mix of arts and sporting events so I suggested we do one of each. More than one person remarked that the Prince wants to see me dance again. Preferably in something with less coverage than I normally wear. Yeah, I figured that one out already, thanks. And, f**k you, too.

My suggestion for that was a flamenco dance. I said, “Ameiko can play strings for me, though we’ll need to procure a lute or something like it.” Flamenco is an emotionally intense form of dance, with expressive arm gestures and precise footwork that rivals tap for speed. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, and when done right it leaves an impression. Flamenco is a whole experience. And it’s roots are Varisian.

For a sporting event, I thought a mock gladiatorial battle, with heavy weaponry and armor, would play well. What we’ve seen of the people in Hongal so far is what Sparna and Olmas call “light cavalry”. Weapons are slim and sharp, and armor is thin. Lightly armed, but very mobile. While I’m no expert on martial weaponry, I’ve learned enough through osmosis over the last few months to know that our fighting styles in Avistan are vastly different. A heavy flail crashing against plate armor both looks and sounds terrifying, and that also leaves an impression. And it’s something these people have probably not seen.

But the latter idea was vetoed because I don’t know why, and then we bickered for a while over alternatives that ranged from the impractical to the ridiculous. I don’t know why this needs to be so difficult.

At one point Sparna asked, “What about Kikonu’s play?”

I should have said “no”. I should have, but I didn’t. Now I am stuck here for the next few hours so I can work with the actors once they get here. We can’t do the whole thing, of course, but we can do this one scene where … Never mind. It’s terrible, just like the rest of the thing, only it’s terrible in a way that is almost so bad it’s good. Koya was excited about putting together abstract crow costumes, so this thing is either going to be spectacularly bizarre, or a memorable failure. I count either as a win.

I think what all of this says is, while I should have said “no”, a big pert of me really wants to do it.

Chua knocked on the door a little after sunrise to extend an invitation from the Prince to join him for lunch and a tour of the city. Of course I said yes because I don’t want my friends, or half the servants attending to us, to be executed. But, having empowered myself to take an active role in events, I put this place to work so that we didn’t lose precious time on a glorified scavenger hunt. I sent Chua off in search of a lute-like string instrument—Ameiko helped here, showing him what she needed, and how it differed from the traditional instruments in Hongal—and some local actors who were comfortable with a little improvisation.

The latter was actually kind of surreal. Asking about finding actors slipped my mind, and I didn’t remember until after he had left so I had to go find him. As soon as I called out after him, nearly two dozen servants swarmed into the hallway ahead of me, hollering his name in a clamor of “Chua!”‘s. They practically tackled him in their enthusiasm to help out. This place is just one absurd scene after another.


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(early evening)

Merely images and shadows, my ass. Prince Batsaikhar asked me to marry him.

Gods! I don’t even know where to start. I can barely think straight.

If I hadn’t spent all that time last night preparing for this possibility I’d probably be in a panic right now. A worse panic, that is. It’s not like I am taking this in stride.

He led up to it with compliments, and promises about how the city could be mine, and how much it’s been graced by my beauty, how I will always be safe here, and other over-the-top nonsense. Oh, I am sure he meant it all, but so what? We’ve only been here three days. He’s infatuated and nothing more. If I were so naive as to believe this was somehow real, I’m sure I’d be tossed aside and forgotten in time.

Just as I worked out with Ameiko, I stalled. I feigned nervous excitement—this wasn’t all that hard because the “nervous” part came naturally—and went on about needing to get my father’s permission, with what I hope was a sufficiently frenzied tone. All without ever answering ‘yes’. He just assumed that I meant to, and more or less accepted the delay as a mere formality. That part went flawlessly.

Less flawless? He wants an answer as soon as possible because we have a wedding to plan! How exciting! Just writing that makes me gag. I said, truthfully, that the soonest I could talk to my parents would be tomorrow because I (intentionally) don’t have the right spells prepared. It will be done in a public ceremony right after the Feast of the Dragon. How dramatic!

I’ll actually have to talk to mom and dad twice. The first time will be from the privacy of my room so that I can prepare them for what’s about to happen. That should be a lively discussion. Frame it right, and they might not even disown me.

Having to do this tomorrow buys us less time than I was hoping, but it will have to do. What choice do we have?

OK, this is as much as I can afford to think about it right now. We still have to get through tonight.

The actors Chua found are as ready as they’ll ever be. Once they got over the fear that this might get them killed, they got down to the business of rehearsing with consummate professionalism, and even spent much of the day practicing on their own. They’re good. And Koya’s crow costumes are a literal work of art. Each is a simple black outfit or dress, adorned with strips of fabric that is reminiscent of feathers, torn in places to give them a tattered look. They are positively spooky. It’s amazing what she was able to accomplish in so little time.

The instrument that Chua turned up is not a lute, but it has the right sound so it’s good enough. Ameiko is satisfied and that’s what matters. He didn’t let me pay for it, though, which means it was probably “appropriated” from the owner. I made a big deal of writing a thank you note to them, complete with an origami rose and a blessing to Shelyn. Hopefully they are still alive to receive it.

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Kikonu is a member of my party's caravan and I'm 100% throwing in his play as a suggestion for a performance.


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(late night)

Gods, what a night. I would not think it possible to have this much upheaval in just a single day. I am wrung out.

Sparna is leaving us. He didn’t even come to dinner. Ivan said he’s leaving because he has, in his words, lost his nerve. The constant threats to our lives, the poisonings, the paranoia—basically the entirety of the past seven months—has gotten to him. I had no idea. None. I guess it hit him hard enough that the only person he was able to face was Ivan.

He’s been a guard with Sandru’s caravan for as long as I’ve known him, possibly even going back to when Sandru started his business. He wasn’t much of a talker back in those early days, but I think that’s part of the image. Who wants a chatty guard, right? I’ve been kind of hard on him about his gruff manor. I should have toned it down. This news is going to be hard on Sandru. His employees are more than just hired workers: they are his friends, too. This has to sting.

There were eight of us when this began. Now we’re down to five. The Five Storms have a significant advantage over us in this way. We have to force them out of Minkai, almost certainly at the point of a sword, but their task is much easier: they just have to stop us. Whether they kill us all or demoralize us into abandoning the quest, the result is the same: they win. They’re well on their way.

This more or less set the tone for our dinner conversation.

I used that spell I got from Thadeus so that we could speak freely, and told them about the Prince. Most of them looked concerned or worried, but a couple of people were downright angry. Qatana, especially, looked like she wanted to kill someone (guess who?).

The pressing issue was, how was I going to escape?

“I have a plan,” I said. “You get the caravan out of the city tomorrow morning. Then, after the Feast of the Dragon, you leave and I stay here. It would make sense that you would continue on without me.

“I’ll find a time after you have left to slip away. I can jump outside of the city walls so I can’t be followed, conjure a phantom horse, and then come to you.”

The short version is: everyone hated it. Olmas, in particular, pointed out the big flaw in my thinking; that a one day lead is not going to be sufficient in a country renowned for its horsemanship (and, I might add, notorious for its xenophobia).

“How about we stage your death?” he asked. “It’d give a reason for you to disappear.”

Radella and I looked at each other. We had the exact same thought: he could get angry enough to kill a whole bunch of innocent people, thinking they had failed at their job of keeping an eye on me. No. No way. I was not going to pay for my escape in executions.

But Olmas persisted. “I don’t like the idea of you running away from the Prince.” Presumably because it would make him angry.

Ivan chimed in, too. “We can’t get away fast enough.”

These were good points. After a long silence, I finally said, “All right. If you want to do that, then we should make it convincing and stage an attack. We can take the seal out of the box.”

There was stunned silence, followed by nervous laughter. “I’m serious,” I said.

I mean, this would do it, right? The Five Storms almost certainly know we’re here. How could they not? There’s been nothing subtle about our time here. So why not goad them a little? Having a couple of oni come at us in the middle of the palace would probably change the equation significantly. The Prince would either evict us, or we’d have good cover for my disappearance.

Obviously, it was a terrible idea, but I was so frustrated at that point that I didn’t care how reckless it was. I just wanted to be done with it. But, of course, there’s never a “done” with us, is there? As soon as it seemed like we were in agreement, Olmas and Ivan objected: If the Prince was even indifferent towards the Jade Regent, an attack from the Five Storms might just cause him to turn on us.

And we were back to the same problem: the caravan can’t get away fast enough.

That’s when Ivan suggested, “Instead of faking your death, let’s make it a real one.”

He was being completely serious. He was seriously suggesting that I kill myself, and that they stage it as a murder or something. This is what it’s come to. I didn’t even bother saying anything as I am sure they could see it on my face. This was insane, and the answer was “no”. No f$%@ing way.

After a long silence, a good idea finally came to me. Shut up. It’s been known to happen.

“It will take two weeks for the caravan to reach the eastern border,” I said. “I’ll stay here, then find you by scrying and teleport to you. I should be able to manage the spell on my own, but I’ll get a pair of scrolls just in case.”

The short version is: they hated only a little bit. It would still infuriate the Prince, but it would give the caravan a huge head start.

Most of the objections centered around leaving me here by myself, the fact that I’d probably be married at that point (as if I cared), and a long string of what-if’s. What if they take away my spell books? What if they lock me away somewhere? And on and on. It was like listening to my grandmother. We traveled halfway around the world to end up where I started.

I lost my temper. “I am a f!+!ing adult! This is my decision!” I realized that I was standing, and that lots and lots of people were silently staring at me. I sat down and said, quietly, “Even if they take away my spell book, even if they take my things, I can get out of here. They. Can’t. Hold me.”

Was that strictly true? Maybe not in the way that I said it, but effectively? Yes. They can slow me down, but unless they plan on keeping me in some anti-magic bubble for the rest of my life, I can and will get away. That’s a promise.

Damnit! This is making me upset again. I can’t do this right now.

__________________________

Sparna's player was no longer enjoying the character. It really came down to some character choices made at the start of the game, and the party going in a direction that was not a good fit for the character. In part, I think the responsibility lies with the Caravan Guard campaign trait, which lends itself to characters that don't automatically have strong connections to Sandpoint and the other PC's and NPC's.

His replacement character debuts in the next journal entry.


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Calistril 20, 4713 (Ordu-Aganhei, small hours)

Nihali helped calm my anxiety. I wish I’d had her when I was young. Much of what got me into trouble, or rather more trouble than I should have been in, was my lack of self-control. Outbursts, flashes of anger, saying things I’d later regret (or should have regretted a lot sooner), and so on. It wasn’t until I began seriously studying Irori that this really changed, but of course by then it was too late: I had already acquired enough bruises for a lifetime.

Nihali is, in a way, a tiny reflection of myself. She knows me better than anyone, perhaps even better than I know me. And that means she knows why I get into these mental loops, and more importantly how to break them.

All this is a verbose way of saying: I’m ready to get the rest of this out.

I suppose I should start with: the food tonight did not disappoint. Caviar, suckling pig, poached apples, fried potatoes … Qatana and Amieko have cooked for us for months now, but this was the first time they’ve been able to pull out all the stops. What we had tonight was truly gourmet. We needed to make an impact, and make an impact they did. But the enjoyment of it, for me anyway, was dampened heavily by the dinner conversation. Including what followed our little debate on how best to get me away from here.

I may have been stuck in my room all morning and with the Prince all afternoon, but the others weren’t and they made good use of their time. We learned quite a bit more about the situation we’ll be facing in Minkai as well as the road leading there.

The big news was that there really is talk of a nascent rebellion, but the problem is that it is still just talk. The Jade Regent is definitely unpopular, but that doesn’t mean we can just walk in there and rally the people behind us. Are they just going to take Ameiko at her word? Somehow, I doubt they are going to be as accepting as Dasi. More than likely, they’ll be as trusting of her as we are of him and that means we’re going to have to prove her claim. No one knows quite how to do that.

There is also the problem of getting there. The only road between Hongal and Minkai skirts the Forest of Spirits, and it is patrolled by the Jade Regent’s troops. Assuming we could even travel that way without being recognized, the general impression we were left with is that the soldiers are as likely to kill you as they are to protect you. People and wagons simply vanish from that road. Some believe it is the spirits of the forest that are responsible, but most lay the blame at the Jade Regent’s doorstep.

The Forest of Spirits is equally—if not more—problematic. According to the locals, it is not a place for people to go. Most, in fact, believe it to be haunted (hence the name). Exactly how it’s haunted is not clear but there is agreement on one point: if you go in, you are lucky to return. This implies that whatever is in there is not going to take kindly to trespassers. Namely, us.

So, we can’t go through the Forest, and we can’t take the main road around it. Which doesn’t really leave us with a lot of options.

Not that we had a lot of time to figure it out. We still had the performances to deal with, and though we didn’t know it at the time, Dasi, too.

The play was, I suppose, as good as it could have been. It looked beautiful, and the actors gave it their all, but of course they were limited by the source material. That, and plays that are not based in religious text or doctrine just aren’t a thing here, so it was a lot for our audience to take in. The actors, too. One of them even asked me what it was supposed to be teaching us. I didn’t really know how to answer that since there really wasn’t a moral or lesson, except maybe “don’t hire oni to write your plays.” In spite of these limitations I was satisfied with the performance, though that was slightly undercut when one of the actors muttered “I guess we’ll get to keep our heads tonight” under his breath. It was a stark reminder that we had gambled with other peoples’ lives.

As for the dance, we gave the Prince and his court a performance that they will remember for a very long time. Seriously. It was that good.

It was also just a bit subversive. Flamenco is structured improvisation. The music and song are never done the same way, and they serve as inspiration for the dance which means it isn’t, either. They evoke an emotional response which the dancer uses to create a unique performance. Ameiko surprised me by putting to music an old folk tale from Varisia about a young girl who befriends a winter wolf that has wandered south, away from the ice and snow. Varisian is a difficult language in many respects: it’s a mishmash of Giant, Orc, Thassilonean and Taldan, and it’s ripe with double meanings and innuendo. Magic may help you understand what’s being said, but it won’t grant any insights into double entendres, insinuations and hidden meanings. I’d be shocked if anyone there understood that the story and dance were a metaphor for my situation, and ultimately a mockery of the Prince. I like to think that Shelyn would be pleased.

The evening should have ended on this note, but then we met Dasi.

We were completely blindsided. We’ve always assumed that we’d be bringing Ameiko into a country that doesn’t know her, and that we’d need to prove her heritage and her claim. It never occurred to us that someone from Minkai might come to us. And, assuming Dasi is telling the truth, that is exactly what happened.

Of course, the rub there is, how do we know he’s telling the truth? We don’t. Sure, there are spells that can supposedly help, but they are fallible and thus ultimately untrustworthy. We have to figure it out for ourselves. We have to take everything he’s said, dissect it, analyze it, and then make the judgement call.

So, which is it? Scholar and researcher from Minkai, desperately seeking the only royal family known to survive the purge in the desperate hope that he will find an heir to the throne? Or agent of the Five Storms, hunting down the sole remaining heir that is, literally, right in front of him?

These are rhetorical questions.

OK, fine. It was less obvious at the time. When he just came out and asked if we knew anything about the Amatatsu family, I thought we were going to be taking down another oni right then and there. In my room. But, later it occurred to me that neither of the oni we have confronted to date (I don’t count Kikonu, who was deranged and clueless) have been so brazenly direct. Literally walking up to us and asking, “Hey, do you know of an heir?” is about as far from subtle as you can get. And to what aim? I mean, the Five Storms knows she’s here. They even know what she looks like. What’s the point in pretending otherwise? What would be gained by alerting us? If you’re going to be that bold, wouldn’t it make more sense to just ambush us and get it over with?

I was more or less convinced already, and then something truly astonishing happened: Suishen spoke to him, and he was polite. Yeah, I know. I’m as shocked as everyone else.

____________

Dasi is the replacement character for the player who started the campaign with Sparna.


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(Ordu-Aganhei, early morning)

My room was, once again, the retreat of choice for our morning cross-examination of Dasi. Maybe I should consider renting it out for meetings while Radella and I are stuck here. I could even charge for extras, like the coded language spell and such. I am sure Prince Batsaikhar will appreciate my entrepreneurial spirit.

Qatana cast her spell and we asked a bunch of pointless questions. What do you want me to say here? We are walking in circles. Either we trust him or we don’t. At this point, if he is anything other than what he says he is it’s too late to be suspicious. Come on.

Eventually Qatana decided to go the direct route (finally!) and just outright said that Ameiko was the heir. You might call that a “tense moment”. Of course, it was fine. Dasi wants nothing more than to bring the rightful heir back to Minkai. He even swore loyalty to Ameiko right there on the spot. I think we have enough. We’ve had enough since last night. No other answer makes sense. Yet, some of them are still a little suspicious. Get over it.

This trust-you-but-don’t-trust-you thing is going to get old. Worse, it may drive him off. And we’re going to need his help.

I am getting irritated again. Honestly, I think it’s just the stress of the day. We’re getting the caravan out of the city this morning, and then we are going with my Plan B: they leave, I stay, and stick it out until they reach Muliwan. Radella kindly offered to stay behind, too, to keep an eye on me. I accepted. She knows how to be discreet and I may end up needing her help. And, most importantly, she won’t treat me like I’m made of glass.

I also have to reach out to mom and dad and I really don’t want to go through with it. That conversation is actually what I am most anxious about. The Prince, this place, the deception–those things, I can handle. Talking to my parents is another matter: I actually care about what they think.

Speaking of the Prince, Chua interrupted our summit to deliver a present: a jade necklace. It’s lovely, but … I don’t know. It’s so generic. Like some afterthought. It feels like he has a stash of them, and he gives one to all of his brides-to-be. don’t care, but I guess my pride does.

He’s also assigned two guards to me. They, too, are generic. They’ll keep honest people honest, but that’s about it. I didn’t point out that anyone or anything that is capable of making me feel threatened will crush them without even knowing they are there. I kind of feel bad about thinking that, but it’s true.

Well. I am all sorts of lovely company today.


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Calistril 20, 4713 (Path of Aganhei, evening)

My problem with Prince Batsaikhar has been solved for me. Part of me is … disappointed, I guess. I was so worried. I spent all this time trying to think my way out of it, preparing for as many contingencies as I could. And then I come up with a plan to pull it off and outwit everybody here, one that my friends would finally agree to, and it gets taken from me. I mean, what’s the point? Why set this up but not be permitted to see it through? It feels like I’m being tested but not given the test. I don’t understand.

On the other hand, it did mean a lot less risk (well, maybe a little less). I don’t have to worry about being held against my will, having my things confiscated, or someone attempting to suppress my spells. I don’t have to worry about having made a bad judgement call, or making a mistake in the days ahead. I don’t have to sit and fret for two weeks, dodging the Prince’s advances, worrying about when is the right (or wrong) time to just disappear. And, I suppose, most importantly I don’t have to explain any of this to mom or dad or even bring it up at all. I didn’t want to have that conversation.

And all it took was a threat to my life. Ironically, this actually was one of the ideas we came up with at dinner last night, only the plan was to be more in control of events. All that time strategizing and arguing, and it never occurred to us that the Five Storms would beat us to it. And of course it happened during something I actually wanted to see. I was finally enjoying myself but I was to be denied that, too. I do have to hand it to them, though: on just a few days notice, they found enough ninja not only skilled enough to pull off an ambush, but also to put on a passable street performance as dragon dancers. I mean, there can’t be many of those, right? You can’t just pick up one of those things and go. Unless that’s part of the ninja recruitment process. Can you imagine that interview? “Are you experienced with the use of poisons? Can you lurk in shadows without being seen? How much time have you spent in dragon dance teams?”

I don’t think any of us was really surprised that this happened, as it is not really possible to keep a low profile when the ruler of the city is throwing feasts in your honor. Maybe it was naive to think we’d be able to get out of here before the Five Storms screwed up the courage enough to stage a very public attack in the Prince’s city. Still, they have come across as more than a little desperate. At least in Ul-Angorn they managed to pull out an ogre mage, and they had less time to do it. We’d been in this city for four days and the best they could do was a violent theater troupe.

I suppose there’s another possible explanation: that’s what they thought they could get away with. Maybe sending an oni wasn’t practical. Ordu-Aganhei may seem small by most standards but it’s rather severely governed and that means it has resources. Maybe getting an oni in here undetected was the larger problem.

Whatever the reasons, though ultimately unsuccessful the attack was effective: we went from honored guests to ostracized in a matter of minutes. Chua was beside himself trying to eject us from the city without being rude while simultaneously apologizing for the same. I didn’t really give him much of a chance to explain. I had no idea just how much I had been wanting to revile this place until I was slamming the door in his face. Repeatedly. Seriously, the man just could not take a hint. (Radella didn’t look too pleased about this but her feelings are not my responsibility.)

As parting gifts, they gave us eight of the famed Hongali horses. “Gift” might be the wrong term here, actually. I think they were not-so-subtly encouraging us to leave quickly. They knew the caravan had already left and must have assumed we were going to walk the rest of the way to wherever it was we were going. Please go. And here’s something to help you go faster.

It was also kind of a thumb in the eye, though obviously they didn’t know it. I’d spent hours—hours—with Sandru doing some caravan planning for the road ahead, reviewing the merits of various options. How many wagons would we need? How much food? What could we sell? What should we sell? Do we tailor it for the forest, or for the grasslands we’d need to cross to get there? All that time and all that work only to have someone ruin it by imposing eight more mouths to feed on us as we are walking out the door. Literally walking out. It was too late to turn back for more provisions, not that we had room for them, or buy back one of the extra wagons, or even figure out if the latter was the right thing to do. So now I have to do this work all over again. Thank you for visiting Ordu-Aganhei, where even the gifts are a burden.

And then there’s Miyaro. Her first words to Radella were, “We need to talk.” You think? Normally I’d be pretty irate with someone with a talent for stating the obvious as if it were news (“We need to get off the streets”, “You’re in great danger”, and my personal favorite, “You need to leave immediately. Tomorrow, if possible.”) But, she did actually come to our aid, and she claims to be an agent of the kami in the Forest of Spirits. So I’ll just interpret the advice as her being thorough rather than patronizing us because she assumes we’re completely stupid.

She says she can guide us through the Forest. If true, that solves one of our previously-unsolvable problems. It does mean putting a lot of trust in her, but I think she’s earned it after today. She’s also warned us to stay off the roads and away from Muliwan. Hongal is too xenophobic to accept strangers anywhere but the main road, so we compromised by traveling within (distant) sight of it. The second one, though, is more problematic: we left Ordu-Aganhei in a hurry and that means we may need a supply run. I’m going to talk this over with the others.

________________________

Once again, I take issue with the module design. Similar to the white dragon, Kali was placed in a moral dilemma of sorts, but instead of being allowed to solve it the AP changes the calculus in the least subtle way possible, eliminating two game sessions worth of planning and intrigue while jabbing the players in the ribs and crying, "Ha ha! Just kidding there!". I was not amused, and still am not. If you're going to bother with the setup, then commit to it and make the players find their own way out.

Yes, our GM could have modified the AP instead of staying on the rails, but one of the reasons why our group chose an AP is because our GM, like many of the players, has very limited spare time. Adhering to the preset story is what makes it possible for us to game regularly.


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Calistril 20, 4713 (Spirit Road, night)

We have a ridiculously complicated guard schedule. I don’t remember the shifts being so short or so many. But we also have fewer people and more enemies, so I’m just going along with it. I am not an expert on these matters, anyway. The others know what’s best.

Miyaro doesn’t spend a lot of time around people. She more or less said as much tonight. After we had finished eating and were just killing time, she came up to me and asked, “Are you a princess? I don’t know your culture …” She just kind of trailed off there. I wasn’t sure how to respond. Me? A princess? I should be so lucky. Well, OK, maybe I almost was, but not by choice.

Anyway, I figured the chicanery with Prince Batsaikhar had been more than a little confusing for her since she wasn’t in on the conspiracy. I tried to explain but I don’t think it came out right. I probably left her more confused than ever. So, good job there, Kali. It occurs to me now that maybe it’s just my long hair and clothing combined with too many fairy tales.

Later, she came up to me and said, “You’re colorful.” It was kind of like being in a conversation with Qatana. Just a random statement of fact. I wasn’t sure how to answer. After an awkward silence she added, “I like colors.” This seemed like a good time to try and make a connection, so we talked about color, nature, and art for a bit. She knew of Shelyn, though only by her domains and not her name. I offered to put color in her hair using the same spell that I use for my own. She said she’d think about it. I’ve learned that “I’ll think about it” is almost always a polite “no”, but she didn’t grow up in the human lands, so maybe it’s just honesty. Which would be refreshing.

I took out some paper and folded her some flowers while we talked. That got an interesting response. “My mother did this when I was young.” How did she come to be associated with the kami? She said her parents “gave her to them” to be raised, which spawned a number of questions that she wasn’t ready to answer. Which I understand. You don’t spill your life story and secrets to total strangers.

Calistril 23, 4713 (Spirit Road, evening)

Dull routine has returned. Not that I am complaining: right now, boring is good. After the madness of the last few days I am thrilled to be back in a dull routine.

I’ve got a couple of items to enchant for Olmas and Radella—his is nearly done—and as time allows I’ve been writing spells into my spellbook from some scrolls I picked up in Ordu-Aganhei. We didn’t have a lot of time there, and the more complicated spells take several hours to transcribe so there were only so many I could do as a direct trade. Scrolls were the only practical solution to the time problem. An expensive solution, to be sure, but I almost certainly won’t have time for this in Muliwan (assuming we end up going) so I had little choice.

There’s no time to work on the talismans, so I decided to cheat: I used a new spell to finish them. It was actually pretty astonishing. I laid out the scale, chain, and gem fragments, and a few seconds later a talisman sat in their place. It took me over two weeks to make one by hand. I could get used to this! Though I should point out that, while it was easy, it wasn’t exactly trivial. I was essentially making jewelry, so I had to concentrate and keep a clear picture in my head of what I wanted. But it obviously worked.

I suppose one could use this spell to make a decent living in the custom manufacturing business. Assuming you didn’t die of boredom first.


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Calistril 26, 4713 (Spirit Road, late night)

Our camp was attacked earlier tonight by a dozen ninjas. Qatana saw them crawling along to ground to get as close to us as they could. It would have been a good plan if most of us weren’t sporting those rings: I think only three or four people were asleep.

The fight was chaotic, but heavily one-sided. Since I am writing about it I am sure you can guess to which side. We burned their bodies to ash inside a ring of fire. Ivan likes to be thorough that way.

Once again, it came across as a kind of desperate gambit that was hastily-arranged. But while we were never really in significant danger, it has forced me to rethink how we bivouac. Let’s face it: we were lucky. One well-placed spell with even a modest blast area could easily kill half our horses and probably wreck one or two of the wagons. It will cost me a couple of spells, but my idea here is to conjure two small buildings each night that we can use as shelter. We’ll dedicate one as a stable, and the other for our more vulnerable companions. Arrange them and the wagons properly, and we can severely limit just how much damage a single spell can do.

Of course, now that I’m about to go through all this work, nothing will actually happen, right?

It does look like we’re going to make a small supply run into Muliwan. In a concession to Miyaro, the caravan will stay a good 50 miles to the north while Dasi and I race to the town on a pair of phantom horses that I’ll summon. Once we get close we can either walk in or switch to real horses (again, summoned) in order to maintain a low profile. We’ll conduct our business and then teleport back.

The catch is that we’re trying to avoid drawing attention to ourselves, so I’m going to have to leave a few things behind. And I’m going to have to cut off my hair. All of it (it’s fine: I can grow it back in a day or two using a spell). I’ll be posing as a monk of Irori—which I am pretty sure I can pull off, certainly the Irori part of that—since I am pretty recognizable otherwise. But in general Vudrani are not that unusual here, especially ones who are students of Irori’s church.

Why Dasi? He’s a local, he speaks the language, he knows the area, and he’s new so not likely to be associated with us. Why me? Someone has to get us in and out faster than we can be followed. Also, I speak the language, too.

The others are a little nervous about it, but they understand that we need to be discreet and that’s not possible if we all roll in on a caravan with a bunch of extra horses. Sending more than two people makes it more difficult to protect the caravan, and to get in and out. So this is how it has to be. Though it’s still over a week away, so there is more than enough time for us to talk it to death.

___________________

The spell was the result of research, and is a conversion of the D&D 1E cantrip Hairy redone as a L1 wizard spell. I also brought in Color, again as a L1 spell.

Spell descriptions:
Color

School transmutation; Level sorcerer 1, wizard 1
Casting Time 1 round
Components V, S
Range Close
Target up to 3 cu. ft.
Duration 1 week/level (max. 4 weeks)
Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); see text; Spell Resistance yes (harmless)

By use of this spell the caster brings color to an object. It can be used to restore faded hues or to tinge those already colored with a different hue. Thus, dull or faded fabric can be brightened, pigments restored, or even hair or skin changed to another color.

Unwilling creatures can negate the effect on themselves or their possessions with a successful Will save. Unattended objects do not get a saving throw.

Hair Growth

School transmutation; Level sorcerer 1, wizard 1
Casting Time 1 standard action
Components V, S
Range Close
Target one object
Duration instantaneous
Saving Throw Will negates; see text Spell Resistance yes

This spell causes hair, fur, or hairlike growth to thicken and lengthen. Thus, a head of hair, a peach, a beard or a cat could be affected. The caster can cause the subject material to increase up to 1 inch/level in length (to a maximum of 12 inches), and it must be trimmed or cut to remove the spell's effect. This can alternatively be used to shorten growth or effectively shave, but if used on hair growth under 1 inch in length then hair growth will stop for 2d6 days.

The same object can not be targeted with the same effect for a number of days equal to the inches in length that were grown or shortened, effectively limiting repeated uses to an average 1 inch of growth or shortening per day. The same object could, however, be affected by both growth and shortening since these are different effects, provided they are not applied more frequently than allowed. For example, you could grow hair by 5 inches and then immediately shorten it by 4 inches. That same hair could not be grown again for 5 days or shortened again for 4 days.

Unwilling creatures can negate the effect on themselves or on objects they possess with a successful Will save. Unattended objects do not get a saving throw.


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Pharast 5, 4713 (late night, Spirit Road)

I feel naked without my hair.

Dasi and I are making the trip to Muliwan tomorrow, and that means I spent hours tonight working on my disguise with Ameiko, Radella and Dasi. The easy part is looking like a monk of Irori: we almost always visited the temple when we traveled to Magnimar, and of course the time we spent in Jalmeray would qualify as “immersive”. The hard part is acting like one.

My clumsy attempts at being someone I wasn’t back in Kalsgard weighed heavily on me as I practiced, over and over, under the rising Rebirth Moon. I could hear Sandru’s voice in my head: it isn’t enough to know Irori’s faith. I’m not going to be quizzed on his tenets. I need to be someone that meets peoples’ expectations. This includes everything from attitude to speech patterns to gods-be-damned posture.

“Normally, when creating a disguise, you don’t want to stand out. You want to be forgettable,” Ameiko explained as I dressed in the outfit I’d fabricated. “In your case, however, you can’t not stand out, so you have to become someone that stands out for a completely different reason. It’s … a lot harder to pull off.” And that was the problem. Absolutely nothing about me had to be like me.

Dasi and I constructed a simple story for why we were traveling together. This is harder than it sounds because we had to be able to talk about where we were from, how we met, what we were doing together, and on and on. It took a half an hour to develop our “history” to the point where we could answer any questions the others in our group threw at us.

We are as ready as we’ll ever be.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. But, good news, thanks to the ring I can fret about it virtually all night long.

Scarab Sages

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You are doing an excellent job of writing your narrative. I check in every week eager for more updates! Thanks for sharing, and putting so much care into your writing. Loving every minute of it!


Thank you, Zhapenoth! I can only hope that future installments will keep you and others coming back.

The pace has obviously slowed recently because we are all but caught up to our monthly game sessions. That means I have to release smaller pieces less frequently. Another segment will go up tomorrow morning, though, since the last one was so short.


Kali Nassim wrote:

Calistril 20, 4713 (Path of Aganhei, evening)

I do have to hand it to them, though: on just a few days notice, they found enough ninja not only skilled enough to pull off an ambush, but also to put on a passable street performance as dragon dancers. I mean, there can’t be many of those, right? You can’t just pick up one of those things and go. Unless that’s part of the ninja recruitment process. Can you imagine that interview? “Are you experienced with the use of poisons? Can you lurk in shadows without being seen? How much time have you spent in dragon dance teams?”

This character, whom I'm playing on the boards in a Jade Regent PbP right now, is a ninja who masquerades as a dancer/acrobat in Sandru's caravan. She can even breathe dragonfire (thanks to chakra unlocks).


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DM_aka_Dudemeister wrote:
Kikonu is a member of my party's caravan and I'm 100% throwing in his play as a suggestion for a performance.

I wish I could take credit for it!

Hattori Aiko wrote:
This character, whom I'm playing on the boards in a Jade Regent PbP right now, is a ninja who masquerades as a dancer/acrobat in Sandru's caravan. She can even breathe dragonfire (thanks to chakra unlocks).

It makes sense, even if Kali doesn't understand enough about assassins to know that blending in is how they do what they do.

These little details are what I enjoy most about Paizo's AP's. A demon that's writing a play, ninja who are accomplished street performers, and so on. As our GM would say, NPC's have lives. They aren't waiting in place for the PC's to come along and kill them.


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Huge spoilers for the background of the Jade Regent adventure as well as crucial developments during Rise of the Runelords. I'm not going to use a spoiler tag to hide what is most of this entry, though. If you've read this far there's not much you haven't already learned, anyway.

I worked out with his player what Dasi, who is still fairly new to the party even if his player isn't, would talk about with Kali on the day-long journey to Muliwan and back. Dasi's player doesn't write lengthy backstories, so I focused on what he would ask of her. Like the letter to Helva, I saw this as an opportunity for some exposition, summing up the events that led up to the AP.

Pharast 6, 4713 (evening, Spirit Road)

Amazingly, we made it down to Muliwan and back without incident.

Miyaro came up to me in the morning and asked me why I had cut off all of my hair. I know she hasn’t exactly spent a lot of time around humanoid settlements, but … I thought what we were doing was pretty obvious. It’s the sort of question that makes me just a little worried about having her as our guide through the Forest. What else is she oblivious to?

“I need to not be recognizable in Muliwan, just in case agents of the Five Storms or Prince Batsaikhar are watching for us. My long hair would give me away.”

This seemed to excite her. “Subterfuge. Trickery!” she said with this huge grin.

Ooookay.

She also pointed out her hair, which now had streaks of white and orange in it. Streaks that weren’t there the night before. “What do you think?” she asked.

“It’s lovely!” I said. Though I am a little confused about how she did it.

I didn’t have time to get into a discussion, though, as Dasi and I were getting ready to leave. We wanted to be back by dinner time.

Dasi and I talked a lot on the way down. Or rather, he asked me a lot of questions, and I answered them. I learned that Dasi doesn’t like to talk about himself, though he’ll happily talk your ear off about what he does, which is write music, write poems and research the nobility of Tian Xa in general and Minkai specifically. The most I got about his background was that his mother is an elven performer of some sort, and his father is a warrior or samurai or something. He was raised by his father, which was clearly the only personal information he was willing to share.

Honestly, I don’t really mind the secrecy. He’s still not quite sure what he’s gotten into. You don’t just open up to strangers.

Most of his questions at first were around Varisia and Varisian culture. He wanted to know how Shelyn is worshipped along the Inner Sea, and how it differs from worship in Tian Xia (the answer to which can be summed up as “not much”). He also asked what I knew of the Minkai nobility (the answer to which can also be summed up as “not much”). Eventually, though, he got around to what I knew about Ameiko.

“I grew up with her,” I said. “We were close friends, maybe even best friends, for several years.”

His entire demeanor seemed to change right then. “What was that like? What was she like?” he asked, clearly excited.

So I told him.
________________________________________

My family moved to Sandpoint when I was six. It’s a small town in Varisia, the kind where everyone knows everyone, you know? Except of course I didn’t know anyone when we first got there.

Ameiko and I … we just sort of gravitated towards one another. I was obviously a foreigner, and she was a foreigner, too, and we were both girls, and about the same age. It seemed natural that we’d hang out together. Over time we became pretty close friends. And she was a good friend. Much better than I was to her.

Let me explain. Have you ever been bullied, Dasi? I mean, really bullied, not just picked on, or provoked into a fight because you made someone mad. The kind that is relentless, day after day, as punishment for the crime of being seen.

I didn’t think so. I was. You see, I was a small child. Much smaller than other girls my age. I fell seriously ill when I was a toddler and that illness, as a physicker would say, stunted my growth. Magic can heal injuries, cure diseases, even raise the dead, but there are things it can’t undo. So I was small, a foreigner, a girl, not particularly sociable, and not at all intimidating. Just the opposite, really. And that made me an easy target. And on top of that I had a temper, which made their job that much easier.

Ameiko stood beside me through those years. She was there to listen, to help, to offer solace, and when things turned violent, to teach me how to protect myself. And the thing is … I didn’t really deserve it.

No, of course I didn’t deserve to be harassed and beaten, either. No one does. But my friends didn’t deserve how I treated them. Especially Ameiko. When you are bruised enough you lash out at people, including those you love. Yet, as awful as I could be to Ameiko, she still stood beside me. But it’s not just that she helped: it’s how she helped. I wanted to fight back, to hurt the people that were hurting me. But Ameiko wouldn’t have that. She taught me to avoid fights, not to win them.

Yes, I know. I wasn’t big enough or strong enough to do the latter. It’s easy to blow off the significance of it like that. But that’s not why she did what she did. She wasn’t afraid I couldn’t fight back: she wanted me to be a better person than they were. That’s just who Ameiko is: she encourages the best in people.

Her family? No, Dasi, she didn’t learn compassion and human decency from her family. Well, perhaps from her mom, though even that was … complicated.

No. No one knows for sure how she died. The official story, the one told by her father, Lonjiku—which immediately makes it suspect, by the way—is that she fell from the cliffs behind their home. A tragic accident, they say. No one disputes that it was the fall that killed her, but how and why she went over that edge? That was a source of endless speculation for years.

How much has she told you about her family?

Of course not. Ameiko doesn’t talk about her family or her personal life. Don’t worry, though. Most of what I’m sharing with you now was widely known in Sandpoint, or at the very least an open secret, and the rest we reconstructed from the pieces Lonjiku left behind and what we have learned since all of this began.

Her father … Lonjiku was a bitter, angry and controlling man. We have since learned some of why that was, but at the same time, I firmly believe that personal tragedy only brings out more of what you are. Rarely does it cause a transformation in character. Lonjiku was a victim of the Five Storms, yes, but he wasn't a good person, either, and he lived long enough to visit his pain on others, particularly to those that were closest to him.

When he exposed the Amatatsu Seal many years ago he was unaware of his heritage, his family’s true name, and his role as heir to Minkai. I suppose that’s Rokuro’s fault, in a way, for keeping that all hidden. Lonjiku was, like anyone would be, endlessly curious about this thing he was forbidden to see and a past his parents wouldn’t discuss. Regardless, the deed was done, and his father sent him south to the family’s holdings in Magnimar, fearing they wouldn’t be safe in Brinewall. But the ships were caught in the fierce storms near Sandpoint and they never reached their destination. Meanwhile, in Brinewall, the agents of the Five Storms were faster than even Rokuro had expected, and they used that same storm as cover to attack the outpost and kill everyone there.

Lonjiku’s mother, who had been living in Magnimar at this time, learned that the ships had been lost and feared that her entirely family had perished at sea. The grief overwhelmed her, and she committed suicide. Atsuii, Lonjiku’s wife (and Ameiko’s mother, though this was before Ameiko was born), also believed her husband had died, but instead of suicide she sought comfort in an old, elven lover. But unknown to them both, Lonjiku had survived, floating on debris in the Varisian Gulf for who knows how long—we just know it was weeks, not days—before finally washing ashore. He limped to Sandpoint, starving and dehydrated, where he was reunited with his wife.

Atsuii gave birth to their first child, Tsuto. eight months later, only to everyone’s surprise (except perhaps Atsuii) the boy was a half-elf. A half-breed child—if you’ll pardon the expression—was humiliating proof of Atsuii’s affair, one that was illicit in Lonjiku’s eyes. Of course, she thought him dead at the time along with everyone else, but that did not matter to Lonjiku and the boyt was a constant reminder of his wife’s unfaithfulness and dishonor. Lonjiku refused to even have Tsuto in his home so he was sent to an orphanage of sorts in Sandpoint, where of course everyone knew who he was. Tsuto harbored rage and hostility towards his step-father for years, and eventually came to blame him for his Atsuii’s death.

Ameiko was born a year after Tsuto. Make of that timing what you will. Of course, in time Lonjiku would drive her away, too, because driving people away is what Lonjiku was good at.

It’s rumored that Lonjiku had an affair or two during his many business travels. Probably as a sort of retribution. There was even talk that he had fathered a child in Cheliax, though if Ameiko knows anything about that she won’t say.

Do I believe them? I was ten or eleven the first time I was invited to Ameiko’s home for dinner. That was actually a rare event, Ameiko being allowed to have friends over. Lonjiku I don’t think I’d go so far as to say he liked me—I don’t believe he truly liked anyone—but he certainly didn’t dislike me. Anyway, he spent much of the evening sniping at Ameiko and Atsuii. Ameiko was mortified. Atsuii was painfully silent. I was really uncomfortable and just wanted to leave. So, yes, I believe them. He all but hated his family. Sometimes I think I was invited to dinner that night just so he’d have an audience.

Anyway, Ameiko, of course, knew her half-brother. She tried on several occasions to reconcile the bad blood between Tsuto and her father. Her heart was always in the right place, of course, but Lonjiku didn’t have one and Tsuto? He would rather be hated than loved. When Ameiko was thirteen, one of those attempts to clear the air ended disastrously. Tsuto actually struck her. She ran away to Magnimar the next day.

Oh, yes, she ran away from home. Twice, in fact. This was the first time, and the second came a couple of years later.

She was only gone for a few months then … but it was long enough to not be home when her mother died. She returned for the funeral, of course, but everything came to a head right then and there. Lonjiku couldn’t even keep the peace at a burial. There was this enormous fight between Ameiko, her father, and Tsuto. I think that’s when Tsuto outright accused Lonjiku of murdering Atsuii.

Ameiko lived at home with her father for the next couple of years out of a sense of … what? Family? Honor? duty? But it didn’t last. Ameiko left again she couldn’t take it anymore, this time to start an adventuring career.

No. Well, yes and no. It didn’t last long: she and Sandru were gone barely more than a year. Something … happened out there. Something she doesn’t talk about. It made her … distant, even to me. So, no, I wouldn’t exactly call it a success, but she did earn enough money to buy an inn in Sandpoint, renovate it, and start her own business. So, that is something, right?

No, Lonjiku did not take this well. He saw it as a deliberate humiliation, and he did not even try to hide his feelings. He literally walked into her bar one night and—right in front of a room full of patrons—very loudly issued an ultimatum to her: come home with him or be cut out of the family. Guess which one she chose?

How did he die? Horribly. It was Tsuto that did it, that murdered him. He had gotten mixed up in a plot against the town and saw his chance to kill Lonjiku as part of it. So he did. He tried to kill Ameiko, too.

What happened to Tsuto?

Ameiko executed him.
________________________________________

We rode in silence for a half hour or so as he absorbed what he’d learned about Ameiko’s history. I don’t know what he was expecting, but it clearly wasn’t tragedy, betrayal and familicide.

Kali Nassim: conversation killer. Thank you. I’ll be here all day.

I finally broke the silence. “She’s a good person, Dasi. Better than most.”

Muliwan was, as I said, uneventful. We sold the items that needed selling, bought what needed buying, and teleported back courtesy of yours truly. The only unexpected stop was to pick up a slab of pork belly.

“Ivan sent to me,” he said when I looked at him quizzically. “He wants bacon.”

I did my best to put on my “disgusted” face. I was playing a part, after all.

That was harder than it sounds. I really like bacon.

___________________

Additional backstory about Atsuii and Lonjiku courtesy of James Jacobs. This is technically not cannon, but it was good enough for me.


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Pharast 8 (evening, Forest of Spirits)

We’ve been in the Forest of Spirits for a couple of days now and it’s already been astonishing. I can only imagine what the next two months are going to be like if this is how it starts.

There really are spirits in here so it’s more than just a name. They aren’t ghosts, exactly—or at least, the one we encountered yesterday wasn’t—though they seem to be something similar. The one last night sort of … melded with Sandru. It wasn’t possession. Not like with Katiyana’s ghost. It was … different.

She was the spirit of a poet who had, apparently, died over a century ago (amazingly, Dasi had heard of her, or knew one of the poems or songs she had written) and didn’t know she was dead. Sandru was still Sandru, but he also had her memories. He could speak Tien, and was telling us her stories as though they were his own.

So what are they? They seem to straddle that line between true ghosts and manifestations—the sort that lead people to say a place is haunted. This gave us ideas on what we could do to keep them away, as well as forcibly expel them. The latter actually worked. I … was not expecting Ivan to try it out on the spot like that, but I didn’t exactly make that clear, either. It was the right thing to do, though. We don’t know anything about these spirits, including what might happen if they are allowed to stay in their host.

We also saw? met? our first kami yesterday. Miyaro explained that virtually everything in the Forest has a guardian kami of some sort: trees, animals, structures, even geographical features. This one belonged to? was responsible for? a waymarker. The stone pillar had toppled over so we righted it. Miyaro suggested we leave a gift, and when we did the kami showed himself. Miyaro spoke with him for a moment, and then we went on our way.

The forest itself is kind of supernatural on its own, even without the kami and the spirits. The trees are enormous firs and pines that tower overhead, filtering the sunlight through their canopy. Unlike the forests around Sandpoint and Magnimar, we are hundreds of miles from anything even remotely resembling civilization. It’s still and quiet with just the occasional rustling in the underbrush from an animal foraging for food. There’s not a lot of snow on the ground, but there’s enough to dampen even the sounds of the wagons and our horses.

It’s beautiful.

But it’s also isolating.


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Pharast 10 (evening, Forest of Spirits)

Today, we were very rudely apprised that more than just animals make their home in the Forest.

I am kind of pissed off. All the warnings and stories about the Forest “not being a place for people”, and that we have respect the land and the spirits within, and on and on, and yet a group of stone giants is allowed to make a home—a literal, gods-be-damned homehere in order to waylay travelers. Really? We’re not allowed to just pass through, but they can move in and just kill and eat whoever and whatever wanders by? Makes perfect sense to me.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Pharast 11 (late morning, Forest of Spirits)

Personally, I would not follow a tiger back to its den. But I guess that’s a thing we’re doing now because I don’t know why. Radella, Qatana and Ivan took off after it about an hour ago and I’m just hoping they come back.

Dasi used a spell; he said the tiger was grieving. I don’t profess to know anything about tigers, but I can recognize “not typical behavior” when I see it. I thought for sure it was going to tear into us. And that we’d have to kill it. And that we’d be blamed for it. But it stopped short and just sort of sniffed the air around us.

Why chase off after it? To find out what’s wrong, I guess.

I mean, I get it. I understand what Radella is doing. It’s just … it’s a tiger. I may understand her intentions, but the tiger doesn’t.

OK. I need to stop worrying. They can take care of themselves.


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This conversation with Miyaro took place during a game session, but the GM and I held it over IM so the other players didn't know it had occurred until I sent it out as a side story.

I felt it worked better written up in the third person than as a journal entry.

Pharast 11, 4713 (late night)

Kali got up from her place around the campfire; the sounds of conversation faded behind her as she walked away. She found Miyaro sitting in the dim light away from the group, just on the edge of the trail through the forest.

"Hi, Miyaro. Do you mind if I join you?"

Miyaro looked up at the sound of Kali's voice. "You may," she replied. Kali noted that she didn't so much as even smile. She was still getting used to Miyaro's mannerisms. Or lack of them, she thought.

She sat down at a polite distance. A long silence passed between them. Miyaro is not one for small talk, she thought. Kali finally broke it, speaking somewhat hesitantly. "Miyaro..." The Tian woman looked at her. "You wouldn't happen to ... be a kitsune, would you?"

Miyaro's expression didn't change when she finally answered. Very casually, she asked, "What do you know of these kitsune? Do you know any? Are they good people?"

"I don’t know any, myself. Though I don’t think an entire race of people is good or bad. They are just ... people. But, I’ve heard they can be fun to be around. That they enjoy … games."

When Miyaro didn't answer, Kali added, “I, myself, used to get into a bit of mischief when I was young. Sometimes I miss those days.” She smirked at the end.

"I always found making up games to be a necessary part of my childhood in the forest. Even now I do enjoy a subtle game or trick. I agree about that being a nice pastime. I don’t know, though … I’m not sure a kitsune could be trusted." Her voice turned just slightly bitter. "They’re not human. You know how they all are. Non-humans cause all the problems of human society."

Kali snorted derisively. "I grew up in a human town, and humans caused plenty of trouble, especially to me. Humans, elves, gnomes, tengu, kitsune … Individuals are good or bad."

Miyaro turned to face Kali, staring intently while she considered Kali's reply. "That’s an interesting perspective," she says. "I don’t usually hear other people talking about their kind that way.”

"Perspective can get beaten into you."

"Yes, but kitsune deserve it, surely."

"Why would they? Just because they are kitsune? I find that … offensive."

"Do you?" Miyaro said. Her tone was a bit harsher, almost accusatory. "I don’t know anyone who would be friends with a kitsune. Would you consider such a one to be a friend? Would you still stand by this friend if they were accused of all the usual things by humans who see them?"

Kali looked taken aback by the sudden hostility. She considered her next words carefully. "Why wouldn’t I? Friends are people who share your interests and your values, that help each other, and look out for one another. These things aren’t defined by what we are, but who we are."

Miyaro sat silently. Kali couldn't read her expression, but she continued cautiously. "I have spent my entire life living in places where I was different. Where I looked different and acted different. Even now, even here, I am different. I know what it’s like to have people assume things about you because of what you are."

When Miyaro answered, there was a hint of resignation in her voice. "I’ve been so wrong before with people, I think it’s a problem of living in the forest by myself too much."

"I don’t want to make you uncomfortable."

"You are the one who asked."

The silence stretched on to the point where it was awkward and Kali grew very uncomfortable, worried she had insulted their guide. Finally, Miyaro spoke; so quietly that Kali could barely hear her. "How did you know?"

"The kami didn't recognize you when we first entered the forest. And, the coloring in your hair. Either one by itself..." She let the thought trail off.

Miyaro nodded. "I've been hiding among humans so long I thought I was better at it. I guess not. Can I trust you to keep this a secret?"

"Of course. That's what friends do."

§


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Pharast 12, 4713 (evening, Forest of Spirits)

We've added both a traveler and a wagon to the caravan. It's like there's some conspiracy out there to keep me locked in a perpetual cycle of travel planning.

I haven't seen very many armored wagons in my life. You would think mom and dad would have used them a lot but that's not the case at all. As dad explained to me once, an armored wagon really draws attention to the fact that you're transporting something valuable. And while they are certainly harder to break into (and steal from), they are just as easy to disable as any other wagon: you only have to kill the horses. That means they're best for transporting dangerous cargo, where the armor helps keep something in rather than others out, or important passengers or items that everyone already knows are inside but might need an extra deterrent to keep them honest.

This wagon falls into that first category. Our new addition is a gnome named Zosimus, and he is traveling with an alchemy lab the likes of which I have never seen.

I'm no stranger to gnomes. There are quite a few in Magnimar, and I spent enough time down in Ordellia that I got to know a few fairly well. In fact, I purchased a lot of my sarees from Grahaethelwin and Kyla. He's obsessed with fabrics, especially those from south of the Inner Sea, and Kyla's astonishingly talented as a clothes designer and tailor. Their shop is just this side of claustrophobic but what it lacks in space and room to breathe it makes up for in color and texture, its walls thick with bolts of fabric and the floor a maze of clothing racks (all Kyla's tailoring). I think the only reason it isn't more popular with human folk is the difficulty of getting in and out. And I suppose the vertigo.

Zosi is one of those rare gnomes with blue skin. I have to wonder if it's natural or a result of experimentation with his lab equipment? No, I am not going to ask him.

He was traveling with a small group of people who apparently hadn't gotten the memo that they shouldn't be in here, and they were attacked by hobgoblins that the giants hadn't already killed and eaten. We came along just in time to be too late to help them; Zosi was the only survivor.

He seems eager to join us. Apparently, he was just hired help and had no real connection to his companions except as a source of income (indeed, his primary concern was not that they had died, but rather that he's now unemployed). He seems particularly eager to be going southeast. Obviously there's a story there, but it's not our business. As long as no one comes calling for him, anyway.

Tomorrow morning I'll use a spell to create the parts we'll need to strengthen the wagon's undercarriage so that it doesn't slow us down. We've pooled the weapons and armor from the hobgoblins and the dead men for use as materials.

That sounds rather cold, doesn't it?

___________________

Zosi's player is an old friend that was part of our gaming group way back in our 3.x days.


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Pharast 16, 4713 (night, Forest of Spirits)

Zosi asked me about my family tonight. I told them that I grew up in Sandpoint, that we currently live in Magnimar, and that they run a merchant business there and have for most of my life. That got us to talking about all the traveling we did when I was younger.

Then, out of the blue, he asked, “Do they know what you are doing out here? What do they think about it?”

I didn’t answer for a while. What do they think about it? For sure, it’s complicated. They’re proud, but obviously scared and worried. And of course it didn’t get off to a great start. How to explain that?

“They know. When this all began, we had a … big argument. Actually, I should just call it a fight. There was a lot of yelling. I … It doesn’t matter. Things are better now. They are … supportive. But they worry. A lot.”

I spoke with them a few nights ago. I conveniently left out the whole mess with Prince Batsiakhar and I feel guilty about it because I promised them I would … that I wouldn’t hide anything from them. But that’s exactly what I did, right? I don’t know why. Habits are hard to break, I guess.

“Did you work in your family’s business at all?”

“Yes, sort of. I did some of the passage planning for a while. I can tell you don’t know what that is. It’s all about the logistics of how a ship goes form one place to another: the stops en route, customs forms at the destination, and similar logistics.” I smiled. “I was pretty good at it.”

“So why did you leave it?”

“I wanted a change.”

There was an uncomfortable pause as he just sort of looked at me. I knew what he was thinking but I wasn’t up for a conversation about it. “Yes, I am aware of the irony.”

He let it drop.

Pharast 21, 4713 (morning, Forest of Spirits)

We’ve encountered three spirits so far. The latest one was last night and he felt significantly more malevolent than the first, and from what Qatana described, the one they encountered while tracking the tiger as well. Fortunately, our plan to use positive energy seems to work and as long as you can hold them at bay they don’t seem to be a significant threat. But maybe the deeper in we go the worse it gets.


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Pharast 25, 4713 (early afternoon)

We’re sitting in a small clearing in some of the densest forest I have ever seen. The trees are so close together that the canopy blots out the sky. Who would have thought that we’d be needing the caravan lights during the day again?

This clearing is a sacred place for the kami and I guess I can understand that. It must be beautiful here in the summer when the sun climbs higher in the sky, but even now we can see the light on the tops of the trees above and it’s a lovely sight. Or maybe I just miss the sky that much.

We’re waiting now for … something. I don’t know what. The other kami, I think. I get the feeling that Miyaro is not really sure herself.

I guess it wasn’t obvious why we’re here or what we’re doing in spite Miyaro’s claim to be working as their agent. We were challenged by what I assume is the guardian spirit of this clearing before being allowed to enter. He asked us why we were traveling through the forest, and pointed out that we aren’t supposed to be here. “There’s a better road,” he kept saying. Yeah, there is, but it will get us all killed.

Finally, Qatana just came out and said what we we’re doing and those seemed to be the magic words.

“You specifically seek to undo the oni of the Five Storms?” he asked, somewhat incredulously.

“Yes, we do.”

“Then you may enter.”

I guess we should have opened with that.

(evening)

Kami and small forest animals began arriving around twilight. It was just a few at first, peeking at us from around the trees but as the night settled in their numbers swelled until we were quite literally surrounded. Mostly they were, and I suppose still are, both cautious and curious. A few have risked coming close to us, but for the most part they have stayed back at what they probably feel is a safe distance.

Then one of them approached Miyaro. She translated as he spoke to us.

As usual, the price of admission is doing a favor for someone. I have this feeling that this is what the future holds for us and for Ameiko. Want to earn my trust? Great. Prove your intentions by doing this one thing. Said thing is never easy. If it was, it would already be done.

We are headed to a place called The House of Withered Blossoms. The kami of the Forest had sworn an oath to keep the oni of the Five Storms imprisoned there, but because these are divine bargains the rules of it were needlessly complicated and ultimately self-defeating. The kami weren’t allowed to enter this prison while the oni were within, and that meant they couldn’t keep an eye on what was happening.

Prisons, whether mundane or magical, are not foolproof. Escaping is really just a function of time, and the goal is to make that as difficult as possible through physical and social barriers so that the prisoner dies (or is released) before they find their own way out. And this is the fundamental flaw in imprisoning someone for eternity: they have infinite time. When you aren’t allowed to even look in on the prisoners, then you have also given them free reign to plot and scheme, and that just makes their job easier.

The kami can’t enter to investigate which means at least one oni remains inside. I know how this sort of thing goes. It only takes one oni to keep the kami out, and it doesn’t matter who that oni is or what their capabilities are so essentially they just needed a warm body to stay behind. If I were in the Five Storms’ position, I would choose the oni they are least likely to miss or need. So that is good news for us. The bad news is, these aren’t just random oni: they are what passes as leadership of the Five Storms. So even the loser is probably going to be a hard fight.

The kami can’t enter the House but they can go look at it, and so we asked them what we should expect to find there, other than an oni.

“Hobgoblins,” he said. “And spiders.”

Why did it have be spiders?


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Pharast 26, 4713 (late night, House of Withered Blossoms)

The House sits in the center of a depression, and we’ve made our camp on the slope leading up to the rim. It’s basically a big pagoda, which would be unremarkable if it wasn’t encased in vines and wrapped with spider webs.

I used a spell to scout the towers from the comfort of our campsite, and I learned there’s a hole in the roof that we can use to gain entry without having to walk in the front door because why would we be so stupid as to walk in the front door?

Inside the tower are more spider webs and, in case there was any question about that, a bunch of spiders, though some of them appear to be spider-human hybrids of some sort. Because of course they are. A couple of levels down there is this filthy, grotesque and very large man. As the eye passed I saw him eat a spider that was scurrying across his face, so, point in his favor, but I am betting that’s all he’s got going for him.

Unfortunately I couldn’t get the eye into all of the building, but we have learned enough to know that we shouldn’t try to go in through the front door. Which we knew already, but it’s always nice to be validated. The plan tomorrow is to drop in through the roof.

The vines around the building have been treating us to a show. At sunset, these giant purple blossoms opened up, and as the night wore on they fell away into a snowfall of petals. That was followed by fruit that are growing at an impossible pace. It is eerie, beautiful, fascinating, and alien. And also filled with spiders.

Some people think the man I saw was the oni, but I am not convinced. The kami said their were both spiders and hobgoblins here, and I didn’t see any trace of the latter. Granted, there are parts of the tower I couldn’t get into, but I get this feeling there is more to this place than what we can see. A lot more.


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Pharast 27, 4713 (morning, House of Withered Blossoms)

We’ve taken the top tier of the pagoda, though we had to torch it until it was a blackened, hollow shell to do it. I am ashamed to admit that I was almost no help at all. I just could not make myself go into that hole knowing what was in there. That may have saved my life. These weren’t just giant spiders and they weren’t in there alone: shadows descended on my friends as soon as they entered. The poison they were ready for, but the life-draining touch of the shades took them by surprise and they were forced to retreat back to the roof. Olmas and Radella looked particularly shaken up. What if I had been down there? Would I even have made it out?

This thing I have—you can call it a fear or a phobia or a repulsion, as all of those fit—it goes back to when we still visited my grandparents in Korvosa. Their home is on the slope in Midland and it overlooks the docks and this strip of the Shingles that runs along the waterfront towards High Bridge. The shanties are a haven for spiders. Sometimes I would see them scuttling from rooftop to rooftop, darting in and out of the shacks people up there used as crude homes. One night when we were out just a little too late, a little too separated from the main crowds, two of them dropped in front of us. Mom skewered one and a city guard who just happened to be in the right place at the right time drove off the other, but not before dad was bitten. That sort of thing sticks with you when you’re only ten years old.

We actually have worse—much worse—in Magnimar. Three-eyed, and three feet tall, the shriezyx are nasty, mean, and aggressive, which, given what I know about the runelords that supposedly created them was probably the whole point. It makes me shudder when I think about it, but fortunately they don’t make it up to the surface very often so, out of sight, out of mind, right? Also, the guard has had plenty of experience dealing with them so those that do make it up are handily dispatched (though the real trick is not burning the city down in the process).

A quick search through one of our tomes told us a little more about what we were dealing with here: aranea, a sort of half-human, half-spider hybrid that can assume the form of either one. They have quickly risen to the top of my list of most disgusting creatures. We’ve seen a lot of vile creatures, of course, but there’s something about a human/spider shapeshifter that just isn’t right. I mean, this shouldn’t even be a thing. Who thought this was a good idea?

And we’re still not done here. There’s—

__________________________

This is from half of a very combat-heavy game session, and it's not so much a cliff-hanger as it is a reflection of how quickly events were moving. Most of us try to restrict our journals to events which the characters would actually have had time to stop and write about, and we squeeze them in using breaks in the action. When a session is combat-heavy, though, we may have to push the verisimilitude so there's a meaningful write up.


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(later)

If you want to have nightmares, try watching someone slowly burn to death. Not in flames, but blackening like a roast over a spit. Gods. Spiders or not, it’s a terrible thing.

We drove the surviving aranea to the floor below. Qatana and Ivan lit the webs underneath us; I hovered over the hole in the floor, draping it in a spell that suppressed magic in order to limit their options. That’s when I saw they were grouped just a little too tightly.

I had to keep the opening covered with my spell, which meant I was staring down at them. It was my decision to encircle them with a curtain of fire. Mine. Trapped in a furnace that they couldn’t escape, and unable to penetrate the suppression field, they were helpless to do anything but be picked off and turn to ash.

Gods.

The man I saw the night before was the only one of them left. He put up quite a fight, but from what we can tell he was so high on opium that he didn’t really have a good grasp of what was happening. We tried to get him—and the other aranea before they burned—to surrender, but apparently we said the wrong thing because he became convinced we were allied with the hobgoblins and oni “down below”. We haven’t even seen a down below, but we also haven’t seen any hobgoblins so maybe that’s the why. From his semi-coherent ramblings we got a view of the larger picture of this place: the spider things hold the towers and the hobgoblins and oni dwell underneath.

Held the towers.

That may be premature. We aren’t done. Dasi senses more sentience in the floors below us. He says some feel like the minds of people who are trapped here, while the others exude a malevolence that suggests they’re the captors. And almost certainly more spiders.

There is ash everywhere. We have completely burned out the top half of the pagoda. I’d feel bad about that but the aranea were not exactly kind to it, themselves. They tore out floors, stripped the walls and rebuilt the interior as a gauntlet leading up to their den. I can’t imagine trying to take this place from the ground floor. But I guess that was the whole point. The oni can’t leave, and the hobgoblins can’t fly, so it was an effective defense.

Obviously, they never anticipated an assault from above.


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Pharast 27, 4713 (midmorning, House of Withered Blossoms)

We’ve rescued two people who were being held prisoner here. The aranea placed them in iron cages and left them hanging inside a maze of lacquered screens, guarded—or perhaps tormented—by pairs of mohrgs.

Mohrgs. What kind of arrangement Akinosa had with these creatures is anyone’s guess. They are foul things: intelligent, malevolent undead that exist only to kill the living, much as they did in life. Maybe asking what kind of bargain was struck is the wrong question. A better one would be, what kind of person would agree to one? This, I believe, says all there is to be said about the aranea, or at least this little clutter of them. I think back to earlier, how we tried to parley with them, to avoid killing them just because they were here and an inconvenience, and it makes me sick. What if we had come to some agreement? What if we had allied with them against the oni down below? Would we have learned what was happening here? What would that say about us?

It reminds me of Zaiobe. I mean, the parallels are pretty obvious, right? Only we did strike a bargain with her, and look how it turned out.

It’s tempting to compromise on principles out of necessity—or worse, desperation—but the thing is, the enemy of my enemy may just be my enemy. What I’ve learned is that you don’t casually form alliances of convenience; that there are consequences and repercussions to willful ignorance. Even if your life depends on it. What is the point in living if you can’t live with your decisions?

One of the freed captives, Junzo, says they were ambushed on the main road several weeks ago. The two of them escaped into the forest and quickly became lost, and it was the aranea that found them. They were captured and have been held here ever since. To what aim? We’ll never know. Probably for food, though I suppose another explanation would be for entertainment. Assuming that human suffering is what passed for entertainment among the aranea. I am sure that is a safe bet.

They were able to confirm that Akinosa really was fighting the hobgoblins for control of the House. The war has raged for years, apparently, and has recently been stuck in a kind of stalemate. Given their elaborate setup and meager numbers, I imagine the aranea were relying on deterrence more than anything else. I’d be shocked if they were doing much more than picking off the occasional hobgoblin that came and went.

Given what we’ve learned, though, I am kind of surprised this has gone on so long. Maybe the hobgoblins lack the numbers to cross the threshold (and more importantly, to hold it afterwards). Maybe the status quo has been the status quo for so long that no one thinks it can change. Or, maybe they just don’t know the sad state to which Akinosa’s opium-addicted army had fallen.


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(late morning)

There were so many traps on the lower floors that it was faster and easier to just set them off as we went. It’s a little more clear how the hobgoblins were being kept at bay: the aranea turned the ascent into a withering gauntlet of poison, murder holes, and flying blades. The hobgoblins apparently lacked either the means or the imagination for something other than a frontal assault, and a frontal assault would have been deadly.

Unfortunately, our talent and imagination are only going to get us so far with the complex down below. There’s only one way in and that’s through the front doors. Which is, I suppose, the big advantage of subterranean living: if guests come calling, you pretty much know where they are going to be.

I hate going in through the front door. We’ve done it a couple of times and it’s always kicking a hornets’ nest. These things go much better when we can be discreet.

Worse, these are hobgoblins which means this is going to be a grind. Assuming we don’t end up facing the entire army all at once—that is not a given—they’ll contest every inch of ground. And we can’t just burn the place out like we did here: we’re supposed to be rescuing a bonsai tree—I am not making that up—and learning what we can about the Five Storms. And, I guess it would be nice to be able to breathe the air, too.

I got a good look at where we are headed and it’s a gods-be-damned fortress. They built an actual stone wall complete with battlements in that cavern, from floor to ceiling (I guess they took this war with the aranea pretty seriously). I was staring up at Brinewall all over again, only, you know, there was no sky. So, we just have to get through that. Without raising an alarm. Of course, we’re a lot more capable than we were back then, too, so we have some ideas.

Normally we’d take the time to plan this out more carefully, but there is some urgency. It looked like they had two human or humanoid people stuck to the front gate. I don’t know if they were impaled or tied or hung or what, but at least one of them may be alive. We’re taking just a few minutes to get organized and then we go. Yes, perhaps it’s a bit reckless, but we’re motivated by the novelty of saving lives instead of just taking them.

OK. We’re going.

___________________
This is one of those moments I spoke of where we break with some realism in order to produce meaningful journal entries.


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One of the advantages of creating and exploring a character's background is that you gain a strong sense of who they are. The big disadvantage, though, is that it lacks flexibility: you can get locked into character decisions early on that limit your options later in the campaign. Unless you are following a programmed build, you don't have visibility that's ten levels out.

In Kali's case, the decision to multiclass into a PrC class without full casting was both a deliberate dialing back of her power, and a flavor decision in response to campaign events (the destruction of the Shrine to Shelyn in Kalsgard). With Dasi joining the party, however, some of her play options that came from the Evangelist were losing relevancy, and that required refocusing on her spell casting. A quick fix was to just boost her CL, and the best option was to pull in Magical Lineage via the Additional Traits feat. The problem, though, was that her background didn't fit the description.

So I improvised. This was an early story written for Kali, and with some small wording changes at the end, it felt like it fit the flavor of the trait even if it didn't meet the exact language. I submitted it to my GM for approval, and he agreed.

Pharast 9, 4710 (Magnimar)

“Do you even know how to use that thing?”

Kali turned her head at the sound of Lucian’s voice. She looked up from where she was sitting to see him standing just behind her, and smiled when their eyes met. No, I don’t, she thought before saying, “I grew up with them. My dad taught me when I was ten.” Which is technically true. She had gotten so used to having the khopesh strapped at her back that she quickly forgot it was there, but the mention of it made her aware of it again. It was long and heavy and awkward. It was also there purely for show.

“Are you going to tell me why you asked to meet me out here, or are you going to keep me in suspense all night?” she asked.

Lucian showed her his best, wry smile and tilted his head to the left as he shifted his weight to that leg. If he had a signature look, this “Varisian scamp” mien would be it. He said, “I’m going with option B,” then winked at her and sat down by her side at the edge of the Seacleft.

“Fine. Be that way,” she replied, in a mock-offended tone which she quickly regretted. She was worried he would take it the wrong way, but he snickered in response and her concern evaporated.

Lucian was a couple of years younger than Kali but he had started at the academy in her class. They didn’t normally accept students under 18 but for him they made an exception: he was smart—brilliant, really—and magic came so easily to him that instruction and study seemed almost a formality. When you’re that gifted the academy bends the rules.

He was handsome, too, in the classically Varisian way. Lucian’s short, dark hair was nearly black, and though it always seemed to be unkempt on him it looked rugged, not slovenly. Sly, brown eyes gleamed with intelligence and a hint of mischief. His skin was just a shade darker than normal, and he had a nicely toned, though not quite muscular, frame.

Kali had gone back and forth between liking him and liking him, but she eventually gave up on the fantasy of a relationship and settled on just being friends. Lucian was blessed with looks, a little charm, and a keen intellect, but he could be completely oblivious when it came to other people. Oblivious to the point of slighting and offending them. She figured that road would just lead to disappointment and frustration, which were two things she did not need back in her life.

“It probably won’t be dark enough for another hour or so. Do you want to get something to eat?” he asked casually.

Kali glanced over to the east where the Rebirth Moon would soon be rising. According to the astronomical tables there would be a total lunar eclipse later tonight, a so-called blood moon, and that eclipse was why Lucian had chosen this evening. He wanted to show her something. “Not the eclipse,” he’d said—which is just as well, as she’d seen plenty of those—but something else. Something in the city, and the best chance for seeing whatever it was would be tonight. But there were no guarantees; he had stressed that.

All the vague talk was starting to irritate her, but she was also curious. So she agreed. “Yeah, OK. But if you’re going to make me wait in the dark, figuratively and literally, then I get to pick the food. And you’re buying.”

“It’s a deal,” he replied.

“Follow me, then. I’m in the mood for this place in Dockway, near the Bazaar.” Kali stood up, waited for Lucian to do the same, and then headed for the road that led down the Seacleft. He quickly joined her at her right side, falling into step.

“Why do you like Dockway so much?”

This was one of those “aloof around others” moments. At least some of the reasons should have been obvious, but Lucian didn’t notice “obvious” things about other people sometimes. Often. A lot.

“Well, my parents’ business is down there, for one. They supply several of the merchants in the Bazaar. And I like the Bazaar, itself. All those cultures mixed together like that, including my own? And the food is pretty good, too.” She liked Ordellia even more, but it was farther away. It was even further if you wanted to get there and back in one piece at night; the most direct route wasn’t the safest one.

“But mostly?” she said, continuing on. “I like to watch the ships in the harbor, putting in to port and back out to sea. We traveled a lot when I was younger. Most of those trips were overseas.”

“My family traveled a lot, too, though exclusively by land of course. Except for the occasional river barge or ferry.”

Varisians as a whole had more than their share of wanderlust. Contrary to the stereotype, they weren’t all itinerants that endlessly crossed the countryside. Most settled in close-knit communities and satisfied their need to roam by exploring close to home (“always wondering what’s over the next hill”, someone had said to her once), but some did travel a great deal. If they were wealthy enough they did it because they could. If they were poor enough they did it because they had no other options.

Lucian’s family fell into the first category.

“Do you miss it?” she asked him.

“What? The travel? Yeah. Yeah, I do.” There was more than a hint of longing in his voice.

“Me, too,” she said with much of the same tone.

“So, naturally, we’ll be indoors and glued to books for the next two years.”

Kali didn’t say anything. They both knew that they were playing the long game, but it was frustrating to feel even more cooped up; for things to get worse before they got better.

They walked in that awkward silence for a while, working their way through the crowded plaza at the base of the hill and then south, skirting the Sczarni encampment known locally as Carent’s Camp. As the Bazaar of Sails came into view, Kali finally spoke.

“Why are we out here tonight, Lucian?”

“It’s better if you see. I promise.”

She led him to Mother Sarraf’s, a small Keleshite kitchen just across from the Bazaar. It was crowded tonight, as usual, but that only mattered if you wanted to dine at one of the small handful of tables. She told Lucian, “Don’t worry: we’ll picnic. We won’t have to wait long.”

“Thank the gods. For a minute there, I thought you had deliberately sabotaged our evening.”

“It’d be worth it. The food is that good. But, no, I want to see this mystery that you won’t tell me about.”

Kali was right about the wait. In less than ten minutes, they were walking back towards the Capital District, taking small bites as they went. She had chosen the stuffed grape leaves, which were filled with a mix of vegetables, lentils, split peas, and walnuts, then lightly coated in a tomato sauce. Lucian had gone for a skewer of minced lamb spiced with turmeric and sprinkled with parsley flakes.

“You’re almost right about the food,” he said between mouthfuls. “Almost worth sabotaging an evening over.”

As they started up the hill from the plaza, Kali asked for a third time, “Why are we out here tonight, Lucian?”

“You’ll see. I think it’s almost time.” He picked up the pace, taking them back up to the top of the Seacleft where they had agreed to meet. “Perfect!” he said, surveying the city. It was just now getting dark and the full moon was climbing it’s way into the sky.

“What’s perfect? What am I looking for?” Kali asked.

“Just give it a couple of minutes. I’ll find one.”

She finished her dinner while he looked, and then waited, growing more impatient by the minute. But before she could get irritated enough to ask “What are we doing out here tonight?” for the fourth time, he said, excitedly, “There! Over there!” He was pointing towards the Keystone district. Towards Seerspring Garden.

“What am I…?”

Kali’s voice trailed off as she spotted it. A light blue glow in the park, shaped like a human figure. At first she thought it was a spell but then it moved. It moved like a person. And then as she watched, transfixed, she saw another glowing blue shape, only this one was flying over the city. She traced it’s progress to the Garden, where it landed next to the first figure. Except there was now a third one there, as well.

“What are they?” she asked.

“They’re yamahs. They’re a type of azata. Come on! Let’s get you a closer look.”

Normally she’d object to the backtracking—they were just down there, after all—but there was no way she was saying no to this.

“Why are they here?” she asked as they jogged back down the hill to the plaza.

“Magnimar is home to a number of unusual religions. Among those are people who worship some of the empyreal lords. Ashava is especially popular.”

Kali knew a little bit about Ashava. She was also an azata, and her faithful referred to her as the True Spark. She sought out lost spirits and guided them to safety by moonlight. What is her holy symbol, again? A silhouette? A woman silhouetted against …

“The lunar eclipse,” she said, interrupting her own thoughts as the realization dawned on her.

“The lunar eclipse,” Lucian responded, nodding. “Other celestial events, too, but these are more frequent.”

“Lucian, I had no idea … I mean, Magnimar! Of all places!”

“It can be a magical city. At times.” Even with the qualifier, that was high praise from a Varisian.

They had just passed the bend in the wide, cobblestone street that would lead them past Lowcleft and on to the gardens when Lucian came to a sudden stop. Kali almost ran into him.

“There,” was all he said.

Kali saw it. Saw her. In the distance, coming up the street towards them.

“Come on,” Lucian said. “Let’s get out of the street where you won’t be so obvious.”

Kali blushed and said, “Sorry! It’s just—”

“I know. My first time was like that, too.”

The yamah was tall. A little over six feet tall, by Kali’s estimation. And she was beautiful. The celestial had glowing, blue skin and long, flowing hair that was as black as the night sky. As she moved, her white gown gracefully danced around her ankles and her hair sparkled and twinkled. Like stars, Kali mused. Her most amazing feature, though, was the enormous pair of blue butterfly wings attached to her back.

“Gods,” Kali whispered.

“Yeah,” Lucian replied. “You haven’t been here long, but you’ll … well, you won’t get used to them, exactly, but you’ll at least stop gawking when they walk by.”

She could tell he was grinning without even looking at him. It was enough to snap her out of her reverie. They waited and watched until the yamah had passed and only then did Kali notice that she was walking with someone. A human woman, probably Varisian, dressed in vibrant blues and greens. They were chatting with one another, like any two close friends would do…when one of them wasn’t six feet tall, blue skinned, glowing, and sprouting wings.

“Incredible! Thank you, Lucian, for bringing me out here tonight.”

Lucian laughed. “You would have seen them yourself, eventually, but what fun is that? I really want you to have the guided tour.”

“What are you talking about?”

Smiling, he answered, “We’re going to the Garden to visit.”

§

Most of this was inspired by material in Magnimar: City of Monuments.


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Quick correction: That should say Magical Knack in my commentary up there.


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(afternoon)

We were right about the people I saw. Two Tian men had been impaled on spikes set into the gate and they were barely clinging to life. Every time I think I have seen the worst thing there is to see, something even more horrible comes along. Like there’s some sort of award for it. This wasn’t a unique event, either. It’s something the hobgoblins do regularly here, having mastered the grotesque art of spiking people without killing them outright.

Once Qatana had healed them up it was time for the interrogation, being the kind and compassionate people that we are. This started out okay—It’s how we learned that there are (or, perhaps, were) others here who were captured in the forest and forced to work before turned into door hangings—but it fell apart shortly after. They said one of the doors leads to “her domain”, so naturally we asked who “her” was. That’s when the panic swelled in both of them; to the point where I thought they might die of fright, right in front of us. They were terrified—petrified—and refused to speak her name, or of anything else.

We let Dasi talk to them, alone, and he was able to calm them down. I don’t know how. But whatever he said, it obviously worked. They said she’s a demon called Munasukaru, and the hobgoblins both fear and worship her. She lives somewhere below, at the bottom of a bottomless pit or something. Obviously the details there are a bit sketchy, and, um, probably of questionable accuracy.

This level is ruled by one called Buto, who—and I swear I am not making this up—calls himself “The Swine Shogun”. He also—and I swear I am not making this up, either—rides around on a giant pig.  I have got to see that for myself. How can you pass up a sight like that?

We shouldn’t have any trouble finding him as we were given clear directions: first, we go through the Torture Chamber to the Hall of Pillars, which will take us to The Agonies that is just above The Great Ledge. Seriously. I swear I am not making any of those up, either.

Good gods. Who comes up with these names?


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Pharast 27, 4713 (afternoon, below the House of Withered Blossoms)

How long has this dungeon been here? What was its purpose? How long did it take to build it? Those questions are on my mind for some reason. Probably because it feels like we’ve just gotten started here. We travel farther and farther down this road and there’s just … more road.

All the excavation suggests a level of boredom that I can only begin to imagine. When you are held prisoner for eternity, though, I suppose the biggest challenge is occupying your time. The Five Storms’ solution was, apparently, to dig a big hole in the floor and just keep going. The Kami said they swore an oath to hold the oni prisoner here, but we don’t really know how long ago that was. Hundreds of years? Thousands? Longer? I suppose we should have asked, though I guess it doesn’t really matter. It was clearly a long time. Even with spells, all this could not have been done quickly.

Assuming, of course, that this was the work of the Five Storms. We don’t really know for sure. A more troubling answer is that it was just Munasukaru. I mean, if boredom was a problem for the oni before, imagine what it must be like for just one of them now. Abandoned by her peers, left with only hobgoblins and hill giants for company. Trapped here, unable to leave. That can’t be healthy, can it?

How long ago was their escape? Again, the Kami didn’t say (and, again, should have asked…) but we can do some math. The letter from Rokuro was written over 25 years ago; he and his family fled Minkai 30-some years before that. The Five Storms’ plans for Minkai didn’t unfold over night, so figure two or three generations as a starting point. That means Munasukaru has been a placeholder here for roughly a century. Maybe even longer.

The hall where we were ambushed was filled with images of … disgusting acts. The oni chose a life of flesh and blood so that they could indulge in the pleasures of the former while spilling the latter. The carvings in that hall suggested a depravity and imagination in both that goes far beyond the worst of humanity. And those were just the carvings. What they did with the bodies of the men and women they had captured…

And what of the hobgoblins? I don’t know how or why they fit in, but they are here and they are a part of it. I just want to make that clear. All of this is on them, too.

We turned the tables on that ambush. Obviously. And I think we did it without spreading the alarm any further. So we have a reprieve for now.

The hobgoblins had enlisted the help of a pair of hill giants. That would normally be a problem but they succumbed to Qatana’s aura and turned on each other. I trapped them behind an invisible wall of force, and there they raged, beating on it and each other until one of their heads bloomed in crimson. We dropped the survivor when I dropped the wall.

Sometimes I think I am kidding myself.


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(HouDarWhereABlossmwWhosThr)

I have two lives and two names and two histories but it’s not clear which are from me now and me before. I came into the Forest with companions that have never met yet we were all traveling together so that seems wrong somehow because we were always together and we spent a long and bitter cold winter crossing the ice in darkness where there were just plains, tundra and forest. I remember growing up in Minkai and now I am returning there, a country I’ve never seen and only know from stories and memories. We traveled when I was a child growing up here and in Avistan so that makes sense but I haven’t spoken to my parents in so long that they must be worried I am lost or have died and I know they are worried because just last week they said so but that was not me it was me.

I know it wasn’t me because I remember dying here I felt my bones breaking and the darkness swallow me and I saw my body hung on a wall along the balcony where I was standing with my friends the ones that didn’t come with me before I died but came with me after. It is an odd thing to see yourself alive and dead and that too seems wrong because how can I be both? I cried out in anguish through her or was that through me? I helped take myself down from the wall and wrap myself in burial robes and that’s how I know I died and I know who killed me I know her name and I know what I have to do even if I don’t survive it. I didn’t choose to be here but I came here with a purpose and now there is another though they are the same except for why.


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(evening, House of Withered Blossoms)

Yuka is still here. I can hear her at times, sometimes even see her. Or see myself as though I was her. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s like there are moments when I don’t recognize myself, only sometimes it’s me as me, and others it’s me as her.

I … feel what she is feeling. I know what she wants and why. We can … communicate in a way. It’s not like talking, though sometimes I can hear her voice. It’s mostly … intent. And I can’t exactly ask her—myself?—questions, but when I have a question about something she knows I have memories that answer them. Her memories. My memories?

She wants us to kill Munasukaru. There is a burning intensity behind that. We were already on board with this plan, of course, and that seems to have satisfied her for now, and I no longer have the relentless whispering, begging, pleading. But she is still there, still speaking to me without speaking in a voice that isn’t mine.

She’s not hostile. It’s more like she’s … desperate, grieving, longing … all of these things. I can hear her now as I write this because I’ve opened myself up to her. She’s trapped here, bound by the unfairness of her death and the hatred it was borne from, much like a ghost only without the mindless, formless rage. (I want to say she’s lucky in that respect but that would be a callous dismissal, as though one would be “lucky” to lose only one arm instead of both.)

I don’t mind. Truth be told, I was curious. And maybe a little jealous. I remember Sandru around the fire and I guess I wanted that experience, too. It’s childish of me, and selfish, and … probably wrong because of why. I thought we made a mistake by expelling that spirit, but now I am less certain. I can feel her again as I write this out. It’s not right that these spirits are tied to the material world. They need to move on.

But, it also wouldn’t be right to forcibly expel Yuka, either. She needs help moving on, and that means doing this the right way: seeing it through to the end. If I am the vessel for that, then so be it.

We are holing up in the hall of pillars for the night because we need the rest. It’s possible we’ll get interrupted again, but there’s no better place so we’ll just take our chances with the next change of the guard.

I said “again”. I sent Nihali up to tell the prisoners we freed that we’re spending the night. So they wouldn’t panic and do something stupid. She returned almost immediately because a small group of hobgoblins had come down the flue, seen the battle scene we’d staged, then turned around and left they way they came. We were worried they might take their chances exploring the pagoda. If they found the prisoners we’d freed …

So we raced after them. They were setting up a magical rope to clear the smooth walls of the shaft where the stairs ended.

This answered the question of how the hobgoblins managed to come and go so easily. It also gave me an idea, and I conjured a storm of sleet and ice where they stood, extending it up to the top of the bore. I figured this would at least slow them down. If I got really lucky they’d slip and fall to their deaths.

I got really lucky. Two of the four did exactly that as soon as the ice enveloped them. The third needed a little encouragement from Zosimus, but then he, too, plummeted off the ledge. The fourth stubbornly refused to cooperate, however, and Olmas had to deal with him personally.

I actually saved the third one by stopping his fall. It occurred to me it’d be easier to interrogate him if he was still alive. Don’t judge me. It was one of my simplest spells. I could afford to splurge.


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Pharast 28, 4713 (morning, beneath the House of Withered Blossoms)

I had strange dreams last night. They were fragments of our memories jumbled together into an incoherent, shifting narrative. That’s not much different from dreams in general, of course, but it felt like we were I was trying to make sense of two, conflicting histories.

There were moments of clarity; scenes from our lives that stood out in sharp focus. These are the only parts of my dreams that I remember well, though even they were incomplete. I know, for example, that Yuka was a monk and I saw the dojo where she was trained, but I don’t have a sense for when or where she lived. Similarly, there were memories of me in Niswan as a young girl, an older me studying in Magnimar, and so on, but they were all disconnected from my past somehow, like ships adrift at sea. It’s hard to explain.

As I sifted through these vignettes, though, it occurred to me that I still didn’t know what Munasukaru looked like. That’s when another of Yuka’s memories came to me. An elderly Tian woman with wrinkled skin was looking down at me—at her—and smiling, only it wasn’t out of kindness: it was the satisfaction that comes from toying with your prey. Her form shifted then, stretching and elongating, her skin reddening, as monstrous features emerged. When it stopped, she resembled the hobgoblins that served her. I was looking at a kind of oni we hadn’t seen before.

This explains a lot. The prisoners we rescued said the hobgoblins both worshipped and feared her, and this is almost certainly why: to them she must look like some sort of god, and from what we know of the oni I doubt Munasukaru would correct the error (much like Kikonu and his corbies, only I am having trouble picturing her as a budding playwright). It suggests we may encounter more fervant devotees than just the soldiers and guards we’ve seen so far.

We’re told there are lower levels to this dungeon, and if she holds to convention she’s probably at the very bottom. Why does everyone do that? What is this fascination with burying yourself underground? Kikonu may have been unhinged, but at least he chose to live on the top floor. (Though maybe Munasukaru’s war with the aranea left her with few options.)

Zosi spent the morning fiddling with his alchemy equipment. It was fascinating to watch, though more than a little unnerving when he stuck a giant needle in one of the hill giant corpses and it stood up. Animating the dead is a sure-fire way to get our collective attention. Both Qatana and I watched with trepidation, but there was no necromancy involved and what he created wasn’t undead. He’d made a sort of construct, powered through alchemy.

Though it was still pretty creepy.

(later)

The Swine Shogun was kind of a let-down. I don’t think I’m ever going to see a hobgoblin riding a pig.


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Pharast 28, 4713 (mid morning, beneath the House of Withered Blossoms)

I think I overplayed my hand. In fact, I am pretty sure I did and now I’m concerned that I’ve done the exact thing we were trying to avoid: spread the alarm ahead of us as we go. My intent was to avoid the long slog through this cavern—having to fight our way through ambush after ambush on their terms—to reach the end by having the end come to us, instead. That part certainly worked, but the commander of the garrison here knew something was up when he came. And the whole thing just took too long, so we more or less knew that he knew. But how did he know? That’s the question that has me worried.

Maybe Munasukaru never actually comes up here. That’s certainly possible. No matter how good my illusion, no matter how clear my memories of her, none of it would matter if it was just all wrong on that basic level. It goes back to what Ameiko and Sandru have tried to teach me about bluffing and disguise: the details matter, yes, but you have to get the broad strokes right first. My game with the hobgoblins was fun, and they were certainly too terrified to think too much about what was going on, but their commander may have known better because it just doesn’t happen. Or at least, not in that way, or without his knowledge.

That’s the more benign theory, and to be honest, I don’t give it much weight. The more problematic one—the one that I think is more likely—is that they sent a messenger further…in? down?…wherever, in order to find out if she was really here. Or maybe they sent to her or someone close to her using magic, and learned that, no, she’s exactly where she should be and who is crazy and/or foolish enough to try and imitate her? (A rhetorical question when I ask it, though maybe more of a head-scratcher for them.) In which case, now several people are aware that something is going on, even if they don’t know precisely what that is.

If we’re lucky, they’ll blame the trickery on Akinosa. Though I am not feeling particularly lucky.

But, hey, at least we avoided the slog. Or, part of it, anyway. And, as a bonus, we ended up springing a trap without having to be there for it. So there is that. But, I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve compromised our long-term success for short-term gains.

It was a pretty nasty trap, though. Or would have been, had it come as the surprise that was intended. We learned a little about constructs back at the academy and I’ve picked up some here and there in my own studies, but this was the first time we’ve come face to face with one. They are largely resistant to magic and even physical blows which is probably why they are so coveted as guardians. These clay ones, though, are particularly nasty because the injuries they inflict simply do not heal, resisting even magical intervention (something we learned through personal experience). Imagine having to fight our way through waves of hobgoblins after tangling with that.

____________________

Major Image as a 1/day SLA is one of the boon options for an Evangelist of Shelyn. Our GM ruled that Yuka's memories provided enough detail to present a credible image of Munasukaru, and we used that to gain entrance into the underground pagoda. The ruse didn't last, but it sure beat a frontal assault. Have I mentioned how much I hate frontal assaults?


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(late morning)

While the others searched the store room I took the time to memorize a couple of spells. That seemed more productive than digging through rusty tools, junk-drawer supplies, moldy vegetables and racks of cured mystery meats. Gods, this place is disgusting. It’s like an estate sale for someone who died when I was still living at home.

I remember when I first came here. It was a long time ago. Long before I was born. It wasn’t the hobgoblins but the aranea. There were so many of them back then, more than we normally see around the forest, and they wanted to know why (I don’t remember who “they” were. Give me a break; it’s been half a century.) I stumbled onto the House, only I didn’t know it had a name back then. It was just this improbable pagoda rising out of a depression in the forest.

It looked a lot different. The aranea hadn’t gutted it, and of course we hadn’t burned what was left. Now it’s just a chimney, but when I first saw it? It was beautiful. The pit was there, though. It looked different, too. This was before the front lines of this stupid war were really drawn. I made my way down because I was curious.

Because Yuka was curious, and because it didn’t make any sense. She made her way down and she was captured by the hobgoblins, and eventually brought before Munasukaru.

I don’t remember how long I was down here. How long she was down here. But I But she remembers being tortured and killed, personally, by Munasukaru. And no one should have to remember that.  shouldn’t have to remember that. It wasn’t even me, but she remembers, and so I remember.


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Pharast 28, 4713 (mid morning, beneath the House of Withered Blossoms)

This part of the … whatever this is … is as an even bigger joke than the cavern above. One of the lines of defenses was, of all things, a leper colony. Really? That’s one of your tactics? You’re going to defend this place with a bunch of sickly hobgoblins by transmitting a disease with a one month incubation period? Exactly how does that work? We start the battle, then come back in three to four weeks?

Also, news headline for you: we can fly.

It was so easy that I almost felt guilty. Almost.

Next up was this ridiculous open pit, criss-crossed with bars with mist or fog rising up from below. We were trying to figure out what it was when three hobgoblins stepped out onto the bars and started threatening and taunting us. Something about this scene triggered Yuka’s memories, and I realized I was looking at a sort of bizarre dojo.

Here’s what I’ve learned about taunting your opponent: don’t. Just don’t. Not before the battle’s over, anyway. It may feel good at the time, but it doesn’t really accomplish anything and it’s always possible that they know something you don’t. And then you look stupid. And then you die, looking stupid.

Here’s the thing: We. Can. Fly. Do not taunt your opponents while balancing on metal bars above a steaming pit if they can fly and you can’t. Why do I even need to explain this?

And even if we couldn’t fly, we are quite deadly even from a distance. We knocked two of them to their deaths without breaking a sweat. We never even got close to them. We didn’t have to!

I have to wonder what went through their minds as they fell into the pit. Was it regret, maybe? That feeling you’ve wasted your life training for exactly the wrong moment? Or maybe it was just the sinking sensation in your stomach, when the realization dawns that you were fighting the wrong battle?

Or maybe it was just abject terror. The sounds from below…the noxious, billowing mist…we think it may be a gorgon down there. I wouldn’t want to fall on one of those, either.

(later)

We can hear sounds of … well … an intimate moment through one of the arches off the pit. I picked up just enough to make out the words, “I thought I heard something on the lattice,” but another voice said to ignore it, and then they, um, resumed their thing.

Or at least, that’s what it sounds like. It’s a lot louder than…never mind. I guess this explains why they didn’t hear us earlier.

___________________________

I have to wonder what the adventure designers were thinking here. What party does not have access to flight at this point in the game? Or devastating archery builds?


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Yeah! Finally caught up! Keep ‘em coming!

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