Friday, October 18, 2013

Servants of Hammehauk

Her arrival in Joven was not planned, but she took the downtime opportunity and skipped out of Woodland as quickly as she could.  After leaving a note with Fred at the counter of the Guild as to where she was going, she left.

For once, Dwight was actually home.

Her heart leaped when she heard the news from the guards at the gate.  They knew who she was and informed her that her quarters were prepared for her.  When she handed over her backpack and heavy winter cloak, she was assured it would be delivered to her room.  She gave them her thanks and walked in to the keep, in search of Dwight.  She no longer needed an escort around the place, but she still got lost sometimes.  Knowing Dwight, he could be anywhere from having his nose buried in a book to getting his hands dirty in the garden while discussing supplies with the keep’s cook.

She checked his “office” first.  It was a room that Dorian had set aside for informal visits near the main gate, with a desk and comfortable chairs and a few shelves of books.  While Dwight was away, Dorian could be found there working.  When that turned up empty, as had the library, garden, and kitchen, she walked up the back stairs to the main hall.  Since she had used the steps that the kitchen staff did for serving purposes, she came up behind the large carved chair his ancestors had used for audiences and banquets.  She stood in the shadow of the doorway, silent and unnoticed, and listened in on the proceedings that seemed to have been going on for some time.

A man and a few armored soldiers, somewhat worse for wear, were standing before their Duke and the Earl giving a report about the gnoll infestation.  After dealing with the same problem here and then again in the south west region, Shallan was no stranger to this dilemma.  They reported that another red-eyed shaman had popped up, but the well trained knights of the Duke had dispatched it.  Unfortunately, the loss of leadership had not done anything to disband them or even to encourage the gnolls to leave the area. Not even the snow and ice of winter had slowed them down.

Dwight thanked the man for his report and Dorian escorted the group out assuring them of lodging for the evening before they returned home.

Once alone, Dwight took a deep breath.  Shallan could see the responsibilities of what he had been dealing with pull at him, wearying him.  He dropped his head into his hand, tired.

Shallan walked forward into the room from her hiding spot, deliberately making noise with each step so she didn’t startle him.  Dwight’s head came up and he turned, his expression fatigued, obviously expecting someone else.  Once he saw her, he instantly revived and she could see some of the weight he carried drop away.  He rose out of the chair to greet her, squeezing her close, kissing her deeply.  She was a little surprised at the strength of his embrace, but she returned it with equal fervor.

She had missed him.

There was no crisis, no need for them to go riding off to someone’s rescue.  There was nothing more important than each other, at least for this moment.  She felt a twinge of guilt at leaving the Walled Valley without waiting for him to arrive, but she had no idea how much longer he would have been training villagers in Greenhill to the East across the border.  For her part, the gnoll problem had been growing in other places and not just Joven, and she wanted to know if there was a solution to be found down in Riverwest.

Dorian returned to find the two of them entwined.  He coughed politely to announce his presence.

Shallan could feel Dwight’s smile against her lips.  He looked up at his brother without letting her go.  She ducked her head in embarrassment, hiding her own smile.  “Please clear my schedule until dinnertime. I’ll catch up then and can hear audiences during my meal.”

“Yes, sir,” came an amused reply from the older paladin.  He left them and closed the door firmly behind himself.

Shallan reached up and knotted her fingers in Dwight’s blonde hair as he leaned down a second time to kiss her.  She supposed she was forgiven.  His warm breath in her ear asking her to follow him held promise.

Oh, gods, how she had missed him.


Once they reached his rooms, they wasted little time.  It had become almost tradition to excuse themselves as quickly as possible and enjoy each other’s company in private.  Shallan laughed at his eagerness as he shut the door behind them and began making his pleasure at seeing her again known.  It was a rare expression, one few could coax from her.  He was unabashed and she was just as willing.

As the afternoon waned, Shallan was half asleep curled around Dwight, tired from their exertions.  Her hair had come undone during their sport and he was playing with the ends of it.

“A talking sword?” he asked her, after she had sleepily updated him on what she had been doing for the past two months.

She nodded against his chest.  “And it can’t remember much.  I’m just afraid it might warp something unexpected while it is unattended.  It was in those woods for a while and the animals could speak.  Who knows what other damage it can do?  I left it at the Temple of Apollo in Woodland for the time being so a friend of ours could keep an eye on it.”

“How many animals did Cyneric wind up bringing home with him?” he asked with a chuckle.

“None,” she answered curtly.  Dwight laughed aloud at her sour tone.  Shallan continued, “I threatened him with severe bodily harm not to collect any more.”

“A dire threat indeed,” he teased.

She laughed and playfully smacked his stomach in admonishment.  His whuff of surprise was followed by him grabbing her wrists to keep her from doing so a second time.  She struggled for a moment, leveraging herself astride him.  She paused, taking in the look of him spread out beneath her, his body honed from sword-work, faded scars from battles.

He released her wrists to caress her legs on either side of him.  A quick buck of his hips, forced her to stop her fall with her hands to either side of his head, her hair curtained around them.

She dug her hands in his hair, burying her face in his neck, teasing with light kisses.  His hands clenched on her thighs and she felt his body stiffen beneath her.  Her laughter changed to a chuckle of pleasure as he responded to her ministrations.

There was just enough time before the evening meal for a second round.


Dinner was only slightly awkward.  She had sat at this table before, but only with Dorian.  Dwight did not have much time to converse with her as he was occupied with Dorian on the other side, signing documents and discussing decisions he had put off from earlier when she arrived.  She listened with half an ear on what they were saying.

The patrols around Joven had been killing more gnolls, weeding out raiding parties faster than they had ever done before thanks to Shallan’s work with the trackers.  The knights had been working more efficiently and response times were as quick as they could be, also due to her work with them.  At the mention of this, she studiously ignored the surprised glance from Dwight.

But the threat was still there and not lessening.  No one knew where they were all coming from, who led them, or why their patrols which were more effective than ever weren’t making a dent in the attacks.

Shallan looked down over the men and women who had chosen to eat with the Duke and Earl this evening.  Most she knew now, at the very least in passing.  A majority of Dwight’s Diamond Dogs were there and she knew them from their time in the Ogremoot.  Some of the rest were the ones she had been coming up to Joven to train, knights and a mercenary or two, and she had reluctantly gained their trust.  There were a few people she was unfamiliar with and she made a mental note to find out.

However, there was a pair, a man and woman, who made her extremely uncomfortable.  Not because they were new, or even because of their odd clothing that made them stand out from the men around them.  It was because they stared at her the entire meal, even so much as to ignore the food in front of them.  She tried to avoid looking over since she could feel their gaze without trying.

It was not every day that she drew the attention of Hammehauk’s clerics.


Shallan had been awoken at dawn when Dwight had reluctantly left their warm blankets to begin his day.  But rather than join him, she had enjoyed a rare opportunity to grab another hour or two of sleep.  They had been up quite late the evening before enjoying each other’s company and catching up on the few weeks they had been apart.  She returned his morning kiss and snuggled back down into the warmth he had left.

The rapping on the door to Dwight’s suite had woken her for the second time that morning.  She pulled one of Dwight’s shirts on and went out into the more public room to answer it, opening it only to be greeted with the unfamiliar pair from the evening before.

She blushed at her appearance even though she had covered herself sufficiently, her activities with their Duke obvious in her state of undress, made doubly embarrassing since they were clerics.

"Shallan Telenarett, you are to accompany us,” the man began without preamble.

Rather than question them, she informed them she’d need a few minutes to get ready.  She shut the door politely and went in search of her armor.  She noticed that someone had brought her things from the room that she had been staying in during her visits and had unpacked her clothes and necessities in drawers among Dwight’s things.  Her two sets of armor were arranged in stands, placed right beside Dwight’s working armor and ceremonial plate armor.  This gave her a second’s pause.  Not only had it been done while they slept, but that it had been done at all was strange to her.

She opened the door just as she was bucking her belt.

The woman looked down and saw the sword and scabbard, frowning.  “There will be no need for your sword.  We will not be leaving town and you will be perfectly safe.”

Shallan glanced down, and unbuckled the belt, walking over to place it back on the rack where she had found it.  However, that didn’t mean she left weaponless.  She swung the heavy winter cloak over her shoulders, closed the door to Dwight’s suite of rooms firmly and followed where the clerics led her.


In all the times she had visited Joven, she had only seen the outside of the Temple of Hammehauk.  She had no contact with the priests there except those few years ago when Dwight was to complete his Paladin Trials.  It had been a strange time, and Shallan had found it odd that the priests had allowed Dwight companions on a trial that every one of his ancestors had completed alone.

The roadway leading to the Temple was designed to be impressive.  The paving stones brought the eye right to the edifice, an imposing structure three stories tall.  It was a rather plain building, but it stood like a beacon, made of shining white marble among the wooden structures of the town.

When the two clerics ushered her into the main room, she had expected it to be crowded, but it was echoingly empty.  The bustle of the street outside could not be heard here and the silence was almost uncomfortable.  She recognized the statue on the center dais as the maiden she had seen at the completion of Dwight’s trial.  Small alcoves around the room were filled with candles and representations of the aspects of the deity.

She was left alone for some time.  She had begun to grow impatient when two very familiar men entered from the sanctuary area.

Dorian walked past her with an odd glance, walking to take a place by the main entrance to the temple.

She moved forward to greet Darik, pleased to see him after such a long time.  And only then did it dawn on her that the two knights were dressed in armor beneath their cloaks and she stopped.  This was out of the ordinary.  The last she knew, Dorian had business with Dwight today and Darik had not been allowed near weapons or armor since the trouble he had caused in Woodland.  Darik had not regained his paladin status, yet here he was, fully kitted out as if ready for a fight.

She glanced between the two men, and the gleam of sunlight in Darik’s hand put her on high alert.  He had dropped a weapon into his hand from a hidden catch in his sleeve.  Shallan backed away, her hands up defensively.

He lunged at her and she jerked back, the dagger flashing far too close to her face.

"What are you doing?" she asked, panicking. She looked over to Dorian, who watched them, as still as a statue.  She spun away from Darik, scrambled to get one of the pillars in the room between them.  Why was Dorian allowing this to happen?

Darik came around the pillar with snakelike ease.  His punch, weighted with the dagger hilt, knocked a stroke of lightning through her head and she fell to her knees, stunned. The large man gripped the front of her shirt and lifted her, pressing her up against the wall.

As the storm in her head cleared, she found his dagger against her throat and she pushed back, trying to keep him from pressing the knife in. She clawed at her boot cuff with the other hand, scrambling for her own dagger, bringing it up to Darik's throat.

"Darik, stop." Her heart contracted in fear. This man she had once trusted to train her, a man she had asked for help to cure her from a possible werewolf bite, the man they had tried so hard to save when he seemed possessed.  He again seemed haunted.  She wanted him whole, for his own sake as well as his brothers' and to be attacked by him once more...

"Dorian!" she called out to the frozen paladin, hoping to stir him to action.  His expression was oddly blank and he did not move from his post at the door.

Darik's knife bit into her throat, the sharp sting opening up a warm trickle that traced down her neck.

She pushed back against the larger man, trying to use the wall behind her as leverage. She kicked out, struggling to get him off, but he only pressed in closer, using his weight to trap her against the wall. Her knife remained on his throat, the cold steel threatening.

"Dorian!" She gasped, her desperation growing and leading her to ask for what she rarely needed. "Dorian, please...  Help..."

"He will not help you." Darik's look penetrated her.  He studied her closely, his eyes clear and calm. "You are on your own. Use your blade."  He shifted her, his grip tightened and his blade cut deeper.

She grunted in pain and surprise, her dagger close to slipping into his flesh. It would be so easy to make him stop, to sink the knife in and end his life to save hers.

Kill him.

"I can't," she whispered.  Her body, tight as a bowstring, released, the dagger dropped to the floor with a metallic clatter. She couldn't meet his eyes.  Dwight's brother. She couldn't kill him, not even to save her own life, even though he would clearly kill her.  "I can't..." Her throat tight, she gripped his sleeve in defeat.

The sound of running echoed through the temple. A cry of "No!" was torn from a familiar throat.

Shallan opened her eyes to look over and see Dwight struggling against Dorian as he held his youngest brother back.  He was trying to get to her, to help, but the older man restrained him.

Darik sank the knife in, a spray of blood painted the marble wall and floor of the Temple red.  He released her limp form and stepped away, looking down at what he had done.

She clutched at her throat, trying to stem the flow as it leaked through her fingers.  She couldn’t believe what was happening.  How had Darik been possessed again?  She looked up at him and saw a flash of pain and sadness in his face, instantly replaced with that cold studiousness.

The Bronze knight turned and faced his brothers.  When Dwight saw her blood on his brother’s armor, he lunged for Darik, but Dorian held him firm.  “I’m sorry, Dwight,” was all Darik said as he slowly drew his sword and advanced on his younger brother.

Shallan fumbled along the ground, her fingers searching for the knife she had dropped.  She grasped it and threw the knife, only to cry out when it bounced off of Darik and clattered to the ground.  It was impossible.  She had thrown it hard enough and it had hit with deadly accuracy at the seam in his armor, there was no way it could have just bounced.

A gong-like thrum rang through the temple.  Darik had frozen in place and Dorian released Dwight.

Dwight raced to kneel next to Shallan, placing his hand over hers, hoping to stop her life from leaking away.  He began the prayer to summon the strength of his goddess, to use his power to heal her.

“There is no need to call me, I am here.”  A blonde, impossibly pale maiden stood among them.

Shallan grabbed Dwight, holding him off.  She struggled to her feet dizzily, using Dwight as a steadying presence.

The maiden studied her, seemingly right through her.  “It seems you cannot save your life, but would rather sacrifice it for others.”

Dwight’s grip on her arm squeezed tight, but Shallan’s hand was gentle on his.  She could feel his anger and a little fear from him when faced with his goddess.  Shallan knew, she felt exactly the same way.  “My life is the only thing I have to give.  It is a worthy enough cause,” she answered.

This seemed to please the woman.  She looked over at Dwight’s brothers, who had knelt on one knee when the maiden had appeared.  “My servants give much, and I ask much from them.  Are you prepared to serve?”

“No,” came Shallan’s stubborn answer.  She was elven and not of this land.  Hammehauk was not her goddess.

Dwight was taken aback at her tone.  Speaking to a goddess in such a way was a quick way to find yourself cursed or worse.  His whispered admonition rankled, “Be careful, Shallan…”

The maiden raised a hand to forestall him and he silenced immediately.  She walked over to the kneeling brothers.  “My sons would not be here but for you, daughter.  These two had betrayed me and would have died had you not brought them back to me to begin their atonement.”  The two knights had not moved the entire time.  “You gave Dorian something he had lost and he has returned to me.  Darik, almost killed for his betrayal, was brought home, and begun back upon his path.”

The maiden approached Dwight, who had bowed his head.  As She reached out a hand to his arm, he too fell to his knee.  “And my son here, almost lost to me forever…”  She caressed his cheek, and Dwight gasped at the touch.  “He has taken the place of his fathers with your help.”  She smiled down at him.  The intense gaze of the maiden fell on Shallan.  “My touch need not always be heavy.  I have guided you since you arrived in our borders.  Your steps led here, to this place, to do as was needed.”

Shallan shook her head. “This is not possible.  No one changed my steps. My choices, my life.”

The maiden nodded.  “The path continues, as it ever did.  But everything you have done since you left home has been to prepare you for what is to come.  You have felt it for some time.”

How could She know?  The dreams were almost every night now.  The path, the image of the maiden before her had been appearing more and more often.  The dreams had been strong, realistic, and somewhat disturbing.  Sometimes Dwight appeared and there was a compelling need to do something, something she was forgetting or unable to do.  A mental block seemed to stop her, and the final step or action could not be taken to make the dream complete.

"You are ready.”  The maiden held out Her hand.

Shallan hesitated.  Would this be a betrayal of everything she had done in her life?  Her own god, the elven god, had seemed to be pushing her to make a choice: serve him or serve another.  But she was not in elven lands, nor did she ever serve his purposes.  Everything she had done since arriving in this country had been to serve its people and not her own.  This was what Hammehauk was asking: to do exactly what she had been doing anyway, but She was offering more than just accepting Shallan’s obedience.  The ranger saw it in the life that Dwight and Dorian led.

Shallan glanced over at Dwight, his head bowed to his goddess.  It was his honor, his loyalty to his people, his pureness that drew her.  His brother Dorian was cut from the same cloth.  And they had both accepted her more than her own father had.  They had become her family.

All the times she had come to Joven, its people seemed to capture that same loyalty in her.  She felt compelled to defend them, to keep them safe.  This same need came tenfold when it involved Dwight and his brothers.  It was this that the maiden asked from her, to do something she had chosen to do anyway.  Something she would already lay down her life to protect.

Shallan closed her eyes and knelt.

A gentle hand was placed on her head, and the same light she had felt when Dorian had healed her filled her.  Shallan surrendered to it, falling, and feeling a release that she hadn’t known had been wanting.  But where Dorian’s power had healed, the maiden’s power overwhelmed her.  It was comparing a gentle forest breeze and the full blown rage of a hurricane.  The gale swept her away.


“Are you sure this is what you should be doing?” Sir Manfred questioned her.  He and Thopas had been taking over the training yard duties of Dwight’s men from Dorian since they had returned with their Duke.

The Diamond Dogs were ranged around her as she adjusted her armor.  She checked her fastenings on the studded leather, adjusting here and there for comfort and range of motion.  She looked around and saw the other knights of Dwight’s patrols watching her warily.  Though she had gained the trust of both groups, they still doubted her.  She doubted this decision herself, but at least this time Shallan knew that if she mis-stepped, there would be a sign she was doing wrong.  What she was doing was dangerous, and she rubbed at her neck uncomfortably, at an oddly shaped scar that had not completely healed despite the efforts of her ring.

Thopas handed her sword over, and she hefted the short blade easily.  She took a deep breath and glanced up at the balcony above the training yard.  There she found two men looking down at her with worry, but also with the trust she was missing from the knights surrounding her.

She stepped forward and faced her sparring opponent, he much larger, heavier and in better armor than her.  She trusted that this was the right thing to do, the only thing to do.

She leveled her gaze at her opponent.  “Alright, Darik, let’s begin…”

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Playing catch-up after months of adventuring

((There is a lot that happened in the D&D game since I last typed up one of these entries. It's frankly daunting, so I'm going to just have Cyn summarize to save me some sanity. Bullet points are your friend, dude. As much as you hate not being able to be verbose, run with it for now.))

-We found intricate daggers (“secari”) on all of the derro; according to Clarence, they each make their own and all are different.

-We traveled through the derro lair in the search for the beholder, meeting more derro, kobolds, etc, as well as the “stuck guys” Chip had mentioned. These seemed to be a mix of slaves and guards which Chip described as “stuck in their heads” and we sent them off with a lie to meet other dwarves to the north.

-Along the way we came across grates in the floor which held another Sirilas (the elf we freed earlier), some orcs, and an elven woman. We set those free and left the first Sirilas in one of the cells for now.

-Continuing on, we finally found the real beholder. Using the shields that Vordb had fashioned, we approached this carefully and began to attack. After much work, we destroyed it with Tonk getting the final hit by ripping out its giant eye, which he took with him.

-On our way out we retrieved the orcs and elves we had left behind and made our way out of the beholder's lair. Traveling through the forest we met two centaurs who were standing guard on the trail who let us past (they were concerned about people heading in, not out), and made it back to the abandoned town of Wood's Edge where we rested before heading to Greenhill. There we found out that the elf woman we rescued was the cousin of Zyquis's wife and the extra Sirilas we found was a doppelganger.

-While we were in Greenhill, Ghost called for The Master who gave her the bit of advice that the abbot in Walled Valley would know who could help get the statue-people in the beholder's lair turned back.

-Next we stopped by the gnome village of Treehome, telling the mayor of our recent adventures and paying our respects for our fallen companion Caleb. On the way from there to the Walled Valley, we met up with Tonk's tribe. He told us that he would let the ogres know that we did what we promised, then he left to continue on with them.

-At the Walled Valley, Ghost and I met with Abbot Sol who answered our questions about how to change back the people who were turned into statues by the beholder. He said that the person who might be able to help would be an old wizard named Kellar who lives outside one of the port town on the north coast (Sunset).

-It was in the Walled Valley that we discovered that the ivory skull that Vordb had been carrying around could talk. For some reason Vordb decided to name it Murray.

-We Gated back to Woodland where we reported back to Micah at the guild hall. Here we learned that Khrom-Vel had gone to the northern continent to look for a dragon he knows who lives there and that Rooks had been arrested so someone else had gone west to the elven lands.

-We also learned that the gnolls had moved to the barony of Riverwest (they had been up in Joven), so we decided that this would be our next course of action. I prayed to Hermes for advice and received “the shaman leads the gnolls, the shaman is not what he seems, the shaman is seeking something”.

-As we traveled to Riverwest, we learned that Murray the talking skull doesn't remember anything prior to Vordb picking it up and putting it in his bag. Since Vordb was understandably curious about this skull, I sent a bird along with a letter from Vordb to Ayman to see if our wizard friend could help.

-Along the way we met with a treant who had been mistaken for a downed tree across the road; he told us that he had been pushed over by the dragon Goro Sabaht two days previously.

-Our group was attacked by a group of werewolves and Vordb was bitten. This did not have a result right away, but soon enough we realized that he was turning into one of them. Sten dealt with this as best he could, but the high priest at the temple of Apollo in Port Volta told us that we would need the high priest in Westwatch to cure Vordb's problem, but this would only work during a certain phase of the moon.

-Traveling again we were attacked by several aquatic trolls; we destroyed these and Chip learned a new word to repeat (“Scrag scrag scrag”), adding it to his wordy repertoire of “food food food” and “shut up shut up shut up”. Then we took care of some gnolls, finding that they were branded with a crescent moon shape in their fur. Finally we met with something that wasn't a monster: Sir Kennard of Westwatch and his men out on patrol escorted us to Westwatch.

-In Westwatch we learned that tales of our adventures had traveled far and wide. Sigh. (Apparently part of the rumor is that I can turn into a giant badger, which would be pretty great if only it was true...) We also found out more information about the gnolls including that they may be the same ones we had dealt with in Joven months ago, and that a caravan had been attacked with only one member still alive (paralyzed at first but still unable to speak). The other tidbit of knowledge was particularly appealing to myself: that there was something magical going on in the woods to the south that made the animals there talk. We met with the baron and let him know that we would help with the gnoll problem. He told us that there was an abandoned town (Stoneham), which could be where the gnolls were coming from, and that the remaining man from the caravan was in the town of Barrier Hill.

-We were nearing Barrier Hill when the group stopped me with an intervention, making me promise that I wouldn't pick up any more stray animals. (Sheesh, I only have my fox and raven. It's not like I'm traveling with a circus. Just because I like talking to animals doesn't mean I want to adopt all of them.) In town we heard yet more about the gnolls (and found one scrounging around for food in town), then I went to the house of healing to see if I could talk with the now-mute man from the caravan, figuring (or at least hoping) I had a chance to succeed where others had failed because I have communication magic that does not require speaking (the perks of following the god of messages). Thankfully my telepathy spell worked and the man (Wilson), though surprised, was able to respond back to me that way. He told me that dead things, not gnolls, had attacked them by the ruins of Old Stoneham and left him paralyzed for a time; they dragged everyone else away, but there weren't enough to take Wilson, as well. His friends were taken back to the ruins and all the guards were killed. I promised the man that I would do my best to help and try to locate his friends.

-We headed out to Old Stoneham and during watch one night Chip told me that there were “mees” nearby. It turned out that having a kobold along was helpful because he was able to get the group of kobolds to leave after first learning from them that there were “hyena-men” (gnolls) in the direction we were heading.

-We traveled until we saw the ruins on the other side of the stream, but we were stuck as to how to get across the water. For this Vordb and I worked together. He knows quite a bit about engineering and building things, so I used magic to create a semi- illusionary saw for him and Oakskin to use to build the wooden parts of a bridge. To fill in the rest of the gap I used my stone-manipulating spell to create the rest of the bridge; between the wood and the stone, it was wide enough for us and our horses to get across.

-Ghost scouted ahead to see what was going on in Old Stoneham, then the next morning we made our way across the bridge and over to the destroyed town. We charged in and eliminated the gnolls that were on guard near the old inn and discovered a secret door in the basement. We went through this and followed tunnels that had tapestries hanging from the walls that looked like they belonged in a church. After taking out more gnolls, we discovered that the church thing was accurate when we found what appeared to be a temple's defiled embalming room and rooms with old remains of what appeared to have been warriors. This was disturbing in and of itself (I just can't get used to coming across dead things and defiled temples. It's disconcerting and, frankly, gross) but we came across more gnolls and a few flinds in the process of trashing a similar burial chamber. We eliminated these, then came across dozens more in a larger chamber.

-With the help of two of Ghost's illusion plaques (a beholder and a troll- fortunately Ghost's random pick grabbed two really good ones), we got rid of all but one of these. That one was a gnoll who appeared to be the leader we thought we had killed back in Joven- while the others took care of the rest, this was the one I focused on. Knowing that he would be a spellcaster, I immediately cast a spell that dispelled whatever magic he had been trying to work. Before he could do much in the way to react, I then threw my Mental Domination spell at him, amazingly being strong enough to get him to sit down and shut up while the rest of my group took out the rest. Once the battle was over, Shocko tied up that big gnoll to keep him from escaping while I worked another telepathic-style spell to read his mind while we questioned him. He resisted, of course, but if there's a word I can use to describe myself, it's stubborn. I eventually learned the answers to quite a few questions:
-Who sent him: he thinks it's a dark god who goes by “Interloper”, “The Displacer”, “Giant Killer” and looks like a shadow of a big gaunt gnoll. (Eventually I was able to get the name “Yeenoghu” out of him.)
-Why was he here: he wants Vordb's amulet in order to bring his master here (the amulet is both the gate and the key to get to his master).
-What is he: he was convinced that he was a gnoll and the shaman leader (which was strange considering the advice I got from my god, but okay).
-Why was he not dead: his master brought him back; he may be imprisoned, but his power is strong. (It was at this point that I began to hear another voice speaking along with him.)
-How many of his people are there: 200 gnolls combing the countryside but at least 500 more over the border. (Here I finally heard the other voice in a language I could understand. It was saying “They are coming, they will be here soon”.)

-Oakskin, ever glad to kill gnolls, did so to this one when I got all the information out of him that I could, but I have my doubts that this will be the last time we see him. I mean, just look at how many times (and incarnations) we had to deal with the Brotherhood of Dread and I'm still not entirely certain that those won't come back some day.

-We soon learned that we were too late to rescue the other men from the caravan; they had all been killed before we had even arrived. We gathered up their belongings to take back to their families, as well as the what they had been transporting, and gave the men a burial.

-We traveled through New Stoneham and then back to Westwatch to speak with the baron again. We told him what we had done and learned and we handed over the belongings of the men from the caravan. The baron asked for Vordb's amulet because it had proved to be useful in turning the group of ghouls we had met (and by “turning” I mean “made fifteen poof into dust”), but Vordb was unwilling to hand it over.

-Speaking of Vordb, it was now the correct phase of the moon to get his onset of lycanthropy cured. He returned to the abbot in Westwatch and the priest was able to remove this curse just as he was beginning to change again.

-We headed back south to Barrier Hill and arrived there just in time for the end of year festival. This was a rare event for us in that it was finally a festival where no monsters attacked; I wonder if that will ever happen again. My reason for returning, however, was to check on Wilson and give him news in person about what had happened to his friends. I learned that he was doing well and was talking again, but he was understandably upset when I told him what had happened to the rest of his caravan.

-We had a few days to rest while Ghost went out on patrol, then the group begrudgingly went south with me to try to investigate these talking animals about which we were still hearing rumors. We set off towards the town of Spence and along the way we came across a wild pig in the road. The rest of the group wanted to kill it, but I did what I always do and tried talking to it; my instincts turned out to be right- this was one of the talking animals. Granted not a particularly intelligent one, but it told us that there were other talking animals around and that “Carro” was the smartest. He led us for several hours until we reached a hollow log, from which a rabbit popped out and began talking to us- this was Carro. The rabbit told us that a sword had fallen on his home and that's why he can talk, then went and retrieved the local druid, who agreed with the rabbit's story. The druid led us to a clearing where there was in fact a sword sticking out of a stump. Vordb discovered that the sword and the area around it radiated magic, which was pretty much obvious considering the talking animals. It wasn't just the animals that were talking, though, because at this point the sword began to talk. And talk and talk. It told us that its name was Ignus Ixium (the “almighty sword of almighty justice” or something like that) and that it had fallen from the sky through a portal in the elemental plane of air, a few days after which the animals in the forest began to speak. It seemed as though the animals affected were just the ones in the glade and within one hundred feet past that, equaling about twenty of them. When it started talking to Murray the skull we figured out that the two of them knew each other.

-This is getting long-winded again, so I'll summarize more. The sword is broken (something to do with the gem in its hilt... pommel, whatever) and has some sort of amnesia which means huge gaps in its memory. Ghost ended up with this and we made our way back to Barrier Hill and then Westwatch, meeting the usual kinds of monsters (giant beetles this time). Ghost tried to get the sword fixed in Westwatch, but to no avail; she needs a skilled dwarven smith.

-Back in Woodland Ghost met up with Homer the halfling because the sword had mentioned being carried by someone named “Slewfoot”, but it turned out that the sword had meant his grandfather.

I am sure I am missing much, but this will have to do until next time.

~Cyneric Conroy, Order of the Fleet Fox

Beholder's lair

In Greenhill:
We sought more information about the upcoming beholder, but this was soon interrupted. As we were sitting down to dinner, the door of the Ivory Branch Inn slammed open and one of the scouts from town shouted about a fire in the nearby fields. Our meal forgotten, we rushed out of the building to discover that flying, horned kobolds were flinging rocks and torches. Our party split, some of us going west and some east. We eliminated the urds (those flying kobolds), but far worse monsters had targeted the center of town: manticores, which are huge, winged lions with faces of men and scaly bodies- and vicious tail spikes. While Linora, Vordb, Shocko, and I fought these, Ghost and the rest of our group battled two trolls while some of the townsfolk joined in.

After we destroyed the monsters (with help from an air elemental, Dwight and his men, and Ghost's Deck of Illusions) we found that the manticores had the symbol of the eye painted on them; clearly these had been sent by the beholder. We heard another shout of ″Fire!″ and discovered a group of drow with torches. We left one alive to question, but to little avail as all she would do was spit back words in her language.

The next morning there was a town meeting addressing the attack. Dwight volunteered to help with security and combat training while the rest of us planned to continue our quest to find the beholder. Zyquis, the mayor, told us of an abandoned village a few days to the south, so this was where we headed.

In Wood's Edge:
When we reached what had once been the town of Wood's Edge, we found that it was built similarly to Greenhill, but many of the houses were burned to the ground. Hoping to discover what had happened, I tried my memory spell in the center of town. The memory I picked up this time was not a pleasant one. The vision I received was similar to our recent experience with flying kobolds and fire, but the man who had experienced this memory had been killed by one of the attacking drow. (This spell is useful, but I'd rather not experience death again!) While I was doing this magic, Ghost searched around for tracks, finding some that mostly led around a well in the center of the town. She dropped a shard of magical light down, but there was no splash when it hit the water. Vordb cast a spell to detect magic and saw that the water was actually an illusion, so Ghost climbed down to investigate. Unfortunately the rope snapped as she was climbing and she fell- and she heard whispering coming from further down the tunnel. Orfeo dropped his magic rope down and Vordb decided to use this first, but proved to not be particularly dexterous: the wizard managed to land on poor Ghost. Trying to find a better solution for descending into the well, I cast an illusion spell of my own to create a wood and rope ladder; this worked for some of the group, but those who could not see it still had to brave their way down with Orfeo's rope. There were no more accidents (thankfully both Linora and I can fly) and we followed Ghost down the tunnel.

We discovered a group of seven drow in a sort of bording house and knowing that these were horrible creatures in league with the Eye, we immediately started to attack. I summoned a few giant ants and figuring that the female drow was the leader, I set the ants upon her. Our group prevailed, leaving only this particular drow alive to question later. Linora caught her in a choke-hold, causing her to pass out, then tied her up before she could fight. Again we found the insignia of the Eye on these enemies.

We made our way back to the others we had left behind to guard the well, then headed back to Greenhill to hand over our prisoner to the authorities. We tried to question her but could not get much more information out of her than we did the previous drow, despite the fact that I could speak her language this time. She cursed at us and all we could learn was that the Eye would apparently eat all of us and that it now knew of us. As a parting bit of revenge, Vordb cast an irritation spell on her. Before we left town, Ghost learned that an elven warrior had gone to fight the Eye months ago but had never returned. We picked up a few more pieces of gossip, but none were overly useful.

The next day I prayed to Hermes asking for advice on how we could find and defeat the beholder with the least amount of damage to ourselves. The answer I received was as follows:
The darkest woods
Hide the hill
A lonely tower
Shows the way
Right and back,
Left, push, roll
Many fakes,
So stay away
The palest dwarf
Is a cunning foe
Watch your step
Or lose a toe
The eye sees all
From any side
Beware his gaze
Or meet your doom
No spells afore,
But from the back
Remove the eyes,
His power dies

This I shared with the group in the hope that we could soon make sense of the poem.

As we traveled, the woods became thicker and darker, the sounds of animals fading away. When we reached the end of the trail we were stopped by two centaurs and a wood elf; these were on guard to prevent people from entering the Night Wood. Ghost explained our quest and we were allowed through with a warning to take the dangers of the wood seriously. The next day we came to a large stream running across the path. Vordb was wading in to see how deep the water was when he was bitten (and almost knocked over) by a giant eel; several others soon circled. SwampFox and Linora were able to bring him back to shore and the group attacked. I used a spell to mentally control one of the eels and managed to beach it on the shore, but it had a creepy, slimy mind that left me feeling awful. (Note to self: don't mind control gross creatures.) Finally these eels were all destroyed and Orfeo tied his rope so everyone could get safely across. We picked up the wagon trail again on the other side and continued on.

Soon we came across a tree that did not look quite like a normal tree. We quickly figured out why when it began talking to us, trying to convince us to come closer because it ″had a gift″. Vordb, being Vordb, walked forward to reach for this and – surprise- vines dropped down to snatch up him, Shocko, and Oakskin. Not wanting to deal with this, I Commanded the tree to ″Release!″, which caused it to pause and appear to think for a few moments before lowering the three to the ground and whipping its vines back up. Shocko, wisely for once, shouted ″Move!″, but Vordb instead went forward- and was immediately grabbed again. Linora managed to cut him down and we got away before the wizard could repeat this mistake for the third time.

The Tower:
After more traveling we spotted the tower from my prophecy; this was ahead of us, atop a hill, but what lay closest to us was a large dead tree with burned branches. This had an opening in the trunk with a tunnel leading down. We decided to investigate this later and continued on to reach the tower. This was surrounded by a clearing and perched around the top were several stone gargoyles. At the top there was also movement. It was bright afternoon so Linora was unable to shift into a bat to fly up, so I got voted for this wonderful task. Unwilling to go, I finally (reluctantly) agreed when Ghost let me borrow her ring of invisibility. Using my winged boots, I flew up to see what had been creating that movement; what I found were a group of kobolds marching around the top. One of these was standing on the shoulders of another kobold in order to look through a large telescope. I cast a mind reading spell on this one and discovered that kobolds have … odd minds. It was not disgusting like the eel's, but it skipped around a lot, making it strange to follow. I learned that it was trying to look for something through the telescope because ″the dwarfs said it was coming″- when it said this, I picked up a chill as though the dwarves terrified the kobolds, and a mental flash/momentary image of a glowering, very pale face. I flew back down to tell everyone what I had learned.

Linora and SwampFox entered the clearing and immediately horns were sounded while the telescope spun towards them and the kobold archers began to fire down. They ran to the door of the tower and with Tonk's help, knocked in the door (squashing a kobold). Meanwhile Vordb and I followed while Orfeo began to climb the tower from the outside and Ghost circled around the building; the others remained hidden in the treeline. Once we began fighting we quickly learned that there were more than just kobolds to contend with: the gargoyles came to life and began to dive at the group. Ghost, Linora, and Vordb began to attack these while SwampFox, Tonk, and I faced the kobolds inside. Hearing Orfeo's agonized shout from above and knowing no one else could get to him faster than I could, I used my battering ram ring to quickly eliminate the kobolds I met as I worked my way upwards. At the top I saw that a gargoyle was viciously attacking Orfeo and the arrows being fired at it were not hurting it in the slightest. Still having my ring at the ready, I put as much power into this as I could to shove the gargoyle backwards off the tower. It crashed to the ground and I called for Sten to help while SwampFox helped Orfeo inside.

I discovered that there was one remaining kobold up on the tower and, waving my ring at it, told it to drop its weapon in Orcish. When it started flailing and running around, I realized that scaring it would not help, so I Charmed it (unfortunately this meant that it began to follow me around, smiling that creepy kobold grin...) to hopefully get some help out of it later. Meanwhile the rest of the group continued to attack the gargoyles, Sten managing to wrestle one down at one point. We killed all but one, which flew away but was knocked back into the trees by the air elemental which Ghost now controls. The battle now done, I questioned the kobold I had Charmed. I was led to the telescope, where he pointed it to a hidden valley: this was where we would find the beholder. This particular kobold said that he could take us there and told me that he had seen the Eye close up, but had not been to where it usually is found. He also told me that there were kobolds, ogres, and derrow (the ″masters″, the pale dwarves) in the lair. What I did not learn was his name; it turns out that kobolds do not have those (perhaps they have smells instead?) so we decided to call him Chip.

We camped in the tower that night after learning from Chip that more kobolds were not due back until noon the following day. The next morning we had a familiar visitor: the Master pulled up in a hippogryph-drawn cart. He thanked us for making it this far and gave us a message along the lines of ″This is the most danger you've ever encountered, the beholder's not pulling any punches, he's at home and knows you're on the way, and to take heed, but this is all the help I can give. When in doubt, get behind something, look up, look back, look around, and be careful who you trust″ and went on to say that Chip will be more useful than we think, so we should take him along with us. (Presumably this means that the kobold is someone we can trust?)

Grateful for this extra bit of advice, we traveled towards the clearing where were would find the beholder's lair. We found a round stone door cut into the side of the hill which was guarded by two ogres and two armored men, all with the sigel of the Eye. Clarence told us that he had a Silence spell ready, so he and Ghost snuck ahead; Ghost backstabbed one while the humans silently blasted their warning-horns. We eliminated these guards then plotted a good way to get through the lair. We decided that disguises would be our best bet and Clem and I (the only two trained in this kind of thing) helped dress a few of our number as guards while Ghost found a hidden key to get us through the door.

Beholder's Lair:
Inside Ghost went invisible to scout ahead while Linora did the same in bat-form. Moving forward we soon came across a tunnel filled with large purple mushrooms. As soon as we came near, they because to shriek. Clarence again tried his Silence spell and managed to reach all but once, which Ghost finished off. We continued along until we reached a room with a large pit and the path corkscrewing down; floating along the path were things that looked like beholders. Chip warned us that these would go ″boom!″ if we got close. Ghost shot one from a good distance away and sure enough, it exploded when the arrow hit it, causing a chain reaction of several of them going off. Between the shouting mushrooms and the exploding floating eyes, clearly our presence was now known. We continued through the tunnels and reached the room Linora had earlier seen while in bat-shape. In here were several statues of warriors, elves, centaurs, and ogres, all looking horrified, and in the center was a big stone statue of what looked like a beholder. Branching out were several other tunnels; picking one we found a small room with a single prison cell. Inside was an elf who said that he had been there since July- this was the elf warrior we had learned about back in Greenhill. Orfeo broke him out of the cell and Sirilas explained that he had been turned into stone but the beholder had changed him back, possibly because he was worth more alive. He had scouted into the tunnels before being caught, but either the tunnels had changed (I find this rather unlikely) or his memory was faulty because the tunnels we took did not lead to the places he recalled.

Soon after freeing the elf we met our first derros (derroes?). Ever so pleased to see us, they fired off their crossbows before turning to run in opposite directions. I tried Charming them to get them to stop, but to no avail. Vordb had similar luck with the insects he summoned, as these would not follow the dwarves. Linora, Vordb, Ghost and SwampFox gave chase and followed the derro into a dark room. One of the dwarves had begun cutting at something, which caused another something to swing around from the center of the room to cut at the four who had followed. This was not enough to deter them, however, and they took down the two derro. We then met up again and tried the next tunnel. This one led to a large room with a pool of water spanning the entire width. Linora flew ahead as a bat to investigate and discovered a small alcove cut into the ceiling where two derro were waiting with loaded crossbows. She flew up behind and turned back into a human behind them in order to shove them off the ledge; the one fell but the other managed to smack his head and fall out when he tried to get away from her. Ghost meanwhile took care of the one that had first fallen and the women shoved the bodies into the water. We all made our way across and traveled on until we were stopped by Chip.

The kobold warned us to be quiet and that the ″pit room″ was ahead; Sirilas clarified by explaining that it was a store room and that our disguises might fool them if we acted nonchalant. We found that it was a large room with many alcoves along the sides, a few tunnels leading off, and a huge hole in the center. The room was also full of kobolds, ogres, and derro- not good! Ghost went first to pull a card from the Deck of Illusions (suddenly a good portion of the room was filled with a hill giant) and while the monsters were distracted by that, I used my Wand of Fear to frighten as many as I could. A few of the kobolds and ogres ran away, leaving us with still a good number of enemies to fight. Before the battle started Ghost threw a Greek fire at an ogre, then the melee began. We seemed to be doing well when one of the derro did something that changed the outcome: he pulled out a glowing vial and drank from it, then breathed out a great wave of fire. Seeing that this severely hurt most of our party, I flew down to frantically begin giving out healing potions, but this was too little too late for Shocko, who had been killed by that fiery attack. Now I began praying frantically and grabbed the magical scroll that I had been keeping near at hand (figuring I would need it for one of our foolhardy wizards) to try my hardest to bring Shocko back. The scroll faded and nothing happened for a few moments- but then Shocko gasped. Thank Hermes, he was alive!

Back at the Tower:
After as much healing (both magical and non) as possible for the time being, we wisely decided that it was now time to flee before any other fire-breathing dwarves arrived. Running as fast as we could, we made it back to the tower where I cast a protective spell around the building and everyone piled as much heavy debris in front of the door as they could. That night Vordb attempted astrology to see if he could see what the future held for us. One constellation stood out: the one known only as ″The Dragon″. Without any doubt, the wizard was sure that there would be a dragon in his near future. (When he told me of this, all I could hope was that it would be a friendly dragon.)

If we were not grateful to have Sten with us before, now we greatly appreciated having a healer along. The priest of Apollo worked through the night and by morning everyone's wounds were healed completely. We gratefully waited another few hours so that he could have a well-earned rest. During her watch, Ghost decided to use the spyglass atop the tower. Through this she saw an orb shape rise above the trees then stare at her until it sunk back down below the treeline. Meanwhile Vordb worked to find some sort of shield that we could use as moveable protection from the beholder. With our help he was able to build three thin, portable walls. (″Portable″ only because we have an ogre with us.)

Instead of heading directly to the lair, we decided to first investigate that fallen tree. Inside the tunnel led down into a big, dark chamber containing some old human and equine bones. At the back were piles of rocks and coins with a large beholder-type thing sleeping atop. Ghost and Linora went ahead to sneakily attack, but they missed, causing the monster to spring up and open its large eye. Instead of eye stalks, this particular monster had tentacles, which popped out from all sides. Vordb summoned a swarm of flying bugs to attack while the fighters joined the fray. I cast Entangle, hoping to reach the roots of the ancient trees in the area; this worked, pinning the tentacles to the ceiling. Soon it was able to free a few of these, however, and hooked them into Linora and Ghost. Once the fake-beholder was killed, they were able to hack the tentacles to get free, then Sten used his healing skills to free them completely. We looted the treasure in the pile then headed straight to the lair.

Back to the Beholder's Lair:
Once we reached the stone door we discovered more guards than before; this time there were four ogres and four armed men. Seeing that this might be a good time to use the horn she had looted from the previous guards, Ghost moved off towards the tower before blowing into it. This caught the attention of the guards and soon a group of ogres, kobolds and an orc went off in the direction of the horn. Again Ghost and Orfeo did their sneaky thing and went ahead to backstab the guards, then Vordb summoned more insects while I used the Wand of Fear to try to scare the guards away. This turned out to be a mistake. Not realizing it had an area affect, the wand hit Ghost as well as the guards, sending all of them running and screaming away from me. A few minutes later Ghost came back to her senses and returned (I apologized), but the guards did not, so we took this opportunity to reenter the lair. Ghost rigged the door to hopefully jam and prevent anyone from opening it from outside, then we headed back down the tunnel.

All was quiet for a while until we neared the ″pit room″. Here Ghost and Linora scouted ahead and found one of the important derro speaking with the beholder. The dwarf was waving around the now blank illusion card and saying in Common ″Rigar, my son, they killed him″. The beholder responded with ″You have my blessing- find them, kill them, and bring them to me″ and both went down one of the lefthand tunnels. Inside the alcoves Ghost found weapons and tools and inside one was also a secret door. She and Linora returned to us to tell what they had found and Chip explained that the tunnels led in the direction of the derros, the kobolds, the bathroom, and the ″stuck workers″ (slaves? Guards?). We decided to check out the secret door first. This opened into a chamber about a quarter of the size of the ″pit room″, filled with bottles, casks, and vats. We had stumbled across the derro's brewery. Here we found a few bottles of glowing yellow-green wine and, not knowing if they were useful or not, took them for later.

Sirilas told us that he had found a secret way around from the back of the kobold chieftain’s lair. I was somewhat leery of this, considering that he was having trouble recalling where the tunnels led, and Ghost seemed to share my opinion. We got Vordb to cast his magical detection spell under the guise of investigating the glowing bottles (nothing was magic about these) to scope out Sirilas, but the only magic showing on the elf was his club. I am not convinced, however, and will be keeping a close eye on him, heeding the advice of the Master to ″be careful who you trust″ (not that I trust people anyway, of course).

Figuring this was a good place to hide for a bit, most of us stayed behind while Ghost again went ahead to explore. She found the guards who had gone off after her horn; they were saying that they could not find any trace of us. The derro they spoke with said that they would deal with us regardless of what the Eye said, then they all left the room. Moving on, Ghost went down the tunnel leading to the kobold's part of the lair, finding two guarding the end. These she past invisibly to find a chamber with a kobold wearing chainmaille seated on a pile of straw. This one was guarded by six kobolds: three holding one halberd, three holding one lance. True to Sirilas' word, Ghost found a wooden door off to the left of this room.

She returned to the rest of the group and inquired of Sirilas about that door. He said that he had been able to sneak in when the chieftain was out, that it went past the slave quarters to the hallway where the derro quarters are, and that the door had not been locked. We agreed that now would be the best time to test out our disguises and Chip and the three dressed as guards led us ″prisoners″ past the gawking kobolds. The chieftain came out wearing a broadsword almost as large as he and a ridiculous tufted helmet. When he saw that Chip had prisoners, he slapped the kobold on the back and gave a toothy grin. We were led into the chieftain's room while those of us tied up worked to secretly untie the ropes knotted at our wrists. The chieftain walked over to the door and hammered on it with a mallet. Two derro opened it and our disguises worked for them, as well; they looked us over and said ″Gulgar will be happy″. They led us down a wide tunnel where we passed above chambers filled with the ″stuck workers″- these turned out to be slaves- before tapping a code out on another door. The derro that opened this was the one who earlier spoke with the searchers sent after us. He was quite pleased to learn that we had been captured and after saying ″Gulgar will be pleased″, told our guards to take us to the larder.

The larder turned out to be what he said it was: a room of foodstuffs, plus a few more people-shaped statues. Here our ruse no longer held up and we switched back to action to fight the kobolds and derro in the room. Ghost questioned the last derro while Linora held him in a choke-hold. We learned that the way to the Eye was through the derro lair, there was only one way through, and that there were about thirty derro likely in their lair. Gulgar, the derro we had been hearing so much about, is their leader (″savant″ was the term used) and the prisoners were slaves of the Eye for whatever purpose it wanted of them; the beholder would turn things into stone when it was angry. He also told us that he thought that the Eye and its trophies were the only thing in that room and that the Eye does not sleep, but he did not know why we had been brought to the larder. After we had gotten this information, we tied the dwarf up and left him gagged behind some of the crates in the room.

On our way back through the tunnel we met with Gulstad and a few more derro. Apparently Gulstad was some sort of anti-magic dwarf (because he is a dwarf? Note to self: research this for later) because Vordb's spell failed while Ghost's sword lost its magical edge to become a normal weapon. We managed to take down all of these derro, but both Linora and Sten were hit with their poisoned arrows.

~Cyneric Conroy, Order of the Fleet Fox