Scourge Beneath the City

Riding Hippogriffs in our Dreams
And Saving Babies, of course!

Dear Diary,

I know it’s been a while since I wrote but we’ve been on some crazy adventures and yesterday we got to ride a hippogriffs! Can you believe it? More on that soon enough.

So yeah – somehow we ended up in this alternate reality where goodness and righteousness and day-long prayer are utterly useless and magic prevails. In an untimely development, just as we’ve entered this alternate reality of magic and mystery, Allara came down with a bug and has been practically useless. She couldn’t even produce her tensor disc of hauling booty to get us off the weird floating island.

After we ported through to this weird floating disc, we spent time exploring the place. We found that some of the rocks themselves actually levitate and if we dug enough soil out, we could probably make the whole island fly even higher. From what we can tell the nearest island is over a 1/2 mile away. Jeez – really missing that tensor disc right now. We contemplated all kinds of ways to get us onto another island since our beacon points the way out of here — sail, wind, mechanical — even gas-driven propulsion ala beans and beer. Desperately fearing the negative olfactory side effects of this idea, we decided to explore even further afield.

We didn’t run into any other people but did hear lots of birds and other flying creatures. We heard a great commotion further inland from the island’s edge and we followed the sound, hoping we’d befriend a colony of humans who could help us off their island.

What we saw when we rounded the corner and peaked through the trees ahead went beyond our wildest expectations. We saw a group of 20 Hippogriffs! I’ve done my best to sketch them out for my diary (thanks cjewords.blogspot.com)! They were amazing! Beautiful and powerful and really confusing all at once – I swear they barely understood Common at all.hippgriff.jpeg

They were all watching several adolescents in a spirited game of wrestling – using nearby trees as a makeshift ring, they practiced their battle skills for the glory of being declared victor — at least for the afternoon. Older creatures watched the game holding back the young Griffs who begged to join their older brothers and sisters in the ring. They were adorable. So cute they should have been named Totes Magoats. Seriously. Here’s an attempt to capture their innocence (thanks whimsy-floof.deviantart.com).mlp_fim_hippogriff_by_golddemona-d4a9kir.jpg

After spending several minutes watching the powerful teenage creatures carry on in heated battle, we approached the elders in the group. Immediately the games ceased, like someone turned off the record player at a honky tonk bar. Some of the male Griffs took a threatening stance to let us know they were watching us. Using our nature and language skills, we attempted to communicate with the elders in the flock but they didn’t seem to understand our request for help getting off the island.

Instead one of the young Griffs led us to what appeared to be an abandoned humanoid village. Signs of pillage and death were strong but it was quickly getting dark and we needed shelter, so we plopped our bedding down for the night while Allara and Neva held watch over our group of slumbering warriors.

I swear I had barely closed my eyes when I heard an ungodly screeching coming from the direction of our Hippogriff friends. We poured out of our humble shelters to catch a glimpse of wings, feathers, and remains of adult Hippogriffs along with (gasp) baby Griffs in the claws of what we thought were Aarakocra. Hand-to-hand combat later confirmed this to be the case.aarakocra.jpg

As the adult Hippogriffs approached at a swift pace, we jumped up and down – letting them know we were thirsty for battle and willing to help them rescue their young. We definitely have a thing for saving the children and after the kindness they’d attempted to show us – we wanted to help. Besides, no good deed goes unrewarded – maybe they could finally get us off this bloody island.

They slowed down just long enough for us to jump on-board the beautiful beasts and dreams came true. The Griffs led us to the lair of the Aarakocra. Fearful for the lives of the babies, two of their brave warriors charged ahead into the lair while a few others stayed behind to engage the guards. With them distracted, we charged into the lair not knowing what lay before us. After much heroics and slaughter, our band of merry misfits managed to heal the Griff warriors saving them from certain death at the hand of levitating crossbow firing squads. After all the Aarakocra had been dispensed with and the lair was carefully gutted of booty (propellant boots (2), elixir of levitation (8), and an Ebon Fly) we led the baby Griffs out into the light meeting those who’d been battling the guards. The Griffs returned to their village, dropping us off where Niva and Allara had been waiting for our return.

Grateful for our assistance, one of the village elder Griffs began trying to communicate with us one more time. Gesturing wildly with his wings, he carefully drew an image in the sand , he let us know that he would be able to take us off this island and to our next destination — just as soon as Cragsbeard had played with the Hippogriff children and we’d all spent a full night peacefully resting while dreams of sugarplum Hippogriffs danced in our heads.

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The City of Glimmer

In which the party explores the city’s grand market…

130922b-Market.jpgUpon landing at the docks, we headed toward the marketplace the gondoliers told us about. It was indeed very grand. I’ve been to many cities, across much of the known world. The marketplace in Hammerfast impressed me much as a youngster, but then I realized it was just a hovel compared to the bustling port city of Waterdeep. That City of Splendors is very influential and has the very well-developed roads leading to it. But even Waterdeep didn’t compare to Wakeen’s Promenade in Athkatla. The Athkatlans are famous for their ostentatious display of wealth, competing with each other for each others’ jealous looks.

But all of that looked like cheap tindul compared to this.

130922b-Market3.jpg130922b-Market2.jpg130922b-Market4.jpgThis marketplace had everything imaginable. Preserved pieces of beasts to hang as trophies. Elaborate bracelets covered in jewels. Glittering magical trinkets. Exquisitely made garments. Fruits of every size and color. Tankards of everflowing ale. Animals of every species in cages large and small. Magic items. Traveling items. Armor. Weapons. Through it all, people milled around, with their cloth wrappings all around them. Many carried large baskets to carry their purchases. The chatter of merchants and shoppers merged together to a loud cacophony.

I started to look through the stalls. One had large scrolls rolled and stacked on a table so high I could barely see the horns of the cloth-wrapped merchant. Behind him, a large parchment was spread on the wall showing a street map. I peered at it. “Yes,” the merchant said, “you like my map of Glimmer? This particlular one was drawn by Layneng himself. I especially enjoy the detail he’s included on the Great Library.” I nodded and smiled. We were traveling along the planes. Most of the places we were going we could probably use a map. But which maps? I couldn’t possibly anticipate what we’d need. I smiled and waved at the merchant and left.

130922b-bedrollnew.jpg130922b-campsite.jpgFrom there, I wandered through the other stalls. Merchants called to me “Feel this! The most comfortable bedroll you’ve every seen!” “Behold! a word from you, and this canvas unrolls to become a campsite complete with tents and fire!” “Heft these bracers, feel their strength against all foes!” “Tokens! Find a token of your guardian animal!” I smiled to myself. I once had an instant campsite. And my bedroll has been feeling a liitle rougher than I remembered. Some bracers would be good. 130922b-dog.jpgBut animal companions. They were such the begehrt in my traveling days. I rolled the onyx figure of a dog under my fingers. But they were often more trouble than they were worth.

Wait. In my traveling days? What have I been doing for the last few weeks? I’m a traveling adventurer again. It may have been intended as a brief search for Halaur, but now it had become a much grander trip. And there are things an adventurer needs.

Not little dogs though. I turned away and went back to the weaponsmith. There was a nice battleaxe I’d had my eye on.

130922b-Battleaxe.jpg“Watch carefully.” The weaponsmith held the gleaming battleaxe in front of him again. This was the third time he’d shown me, but I needed to see it again. “Shkindia,” he whispered. The battleaxe was suddenly duplicated into each hand. “Se Adunia,” and the battleaxe was rejoined again. He handed it to me. The balance was perfect and the weaponsmith continued to talk to me as I made some practice swings. “You sense the balance, the way it cuts through the air, how it seeks a target. Alone, it is a grozav, terrible, strong weapon. But with one in each hand, you can be a true apărător.”

”Ssst!” I took a quick breath and looked at the growing bead of blood on my thumb.

The weaponsmith chuckled. ”Yes, and it’s sharp.”

I looked carefully at the weaponsmith. There was no way to negotiate here. He knew I wanted it. We had discussed price before and what kind of xoth I might be willing to share. He was interested in what an old dwarf might have experienced in life. He thought my knowledge could be especially valuable in Glimmer, the City of Secrets.

Secrets. I thought of all the places I’d been, all the people I’ve met, the adventures, the stories, the accumulation of incredibly minute trivial facts. What kind of xunder tales could I share? 200 years of accumulated experience. What would I trade for something I see of value? The information I know is so mundane to me – how could I ever start to predict what these merchants would find valuable?

130714-Estoth.jpgThen I remembered. In our first plane jump, after battling the Beholders, Estoth offered us payment in Akashic crystals. Though I have little knowledge in the ways of magic, I do know a bit about stones and the myths of olara. These are rare crystals, used in many rituals, and they are usually summoned as a component for these rituals. Estoth brought us to a waterfall and explained the Circle of Magic. “When people die, their magic essence is transferred to the surface. Water travels across, through and under the surface bringing this magic essence to concentrate in pools. In some places, the magic essence is crystalized into these crystals. When people drink the water filled with magic essence, the cycle starts again.”

We had each taken some of these crystals as payment. But we had never been anywhere that we could trade them. We haven’t been to any cities at all. I reached deep in my bag to the hidden pouch and brought forth the Akashic crystals. “Is this worth something to you?”

The weaponsmith took a deep breath. “The Moon Crystals themselves are worth even more than the knowledge of where to find them. Yes, I would give you 10 platinum pieces for each crystal.” I nodded and the merchant gestured to his wares.

I lifted the battleaxe and took a deep breath. Some practice was in order, but yes, this would be a good weapon. I also collected a longbow and arrows, reasoning it would be useful to have a ranged weapon I didn’t need to collect afterwards. Also some bracers. Then a return trip for some of the other items I’d seen. The sleeping roll, a new Bag of Holding, that instant campsite, and the alchemist…

Vestra

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The Beauty and Peril of Underground

In which the comforts of terrain are balanced by the discomfort of its inhabitants…

After the transfer from the small world of the Trikin, there were two things I immediately noticed.

130922a-caves.jpgFirst, we were underground. Not just underground, but in an immense caurak that extended for days’ journey in all directions. I took a deep, deep breath. Faernak . The acrid, dusty, metallic, comforting smell of home. This was an underground complex to rival them all, I’ll bet by grandfather’s dwarven nose, no doubt about it. I could sense the ancient strength of the rocks. Veins of phosphorescent crystal gave the cavern a greenish-yellow glow. The cavern was large enough we couldn’t see the ceiling, the walls were wet in some places with condensation. I licked my fingers and enjoyed a brief smile of pure pleasure at the tang of the minerals. The cavern was so wide, I could barely discern the opposite side. Along the center, a stream wended its way off along the tunnel. Mushrooms sprouted off the walls in some cracks, and they also gave off that same glow.

The second thing I noticed was the unmistakable sound of retching. From two people, Tryn and BRND. There is always some amount of dizziness and nausea after a crossing. We’d gotten a little used to it, and usually a deep breath or two would make it pass. But the fermented root ale seemed to be affecting them greatly.

130922a-DarkNode.jpgAmidst the bright blow of the cavern, the one thing not glowing was the Fey Node. In every jump, it’s varied in dimness. Last jump, it was very bright indicating that the next crossing was only a few steps away. Now, it was the darkest we’d ever seen. The only light on it seemed to be the reflection from the cavern.

Allara seemed concerned, but not overly so. She held her cloak open and put her head and the Fey Node underneath. “It is still glowing, and it does give us a direction. It’s just that this may be a long journey to the next crossing.”

130922a-Planesmap.jpgNiva gave a little shiver. “I’m not looking forward to a long journey. You realize where we are? We’re in the Shadowfell.” The Shadowfell. That strange, dark reflection of the normal Mortal World. I could understand Niva’s discomfort, her cleric powers were going to be diminished, and her psyche would feel a negative pressure. BRND and Allara would feel these as well – perhaps that contributed to BRND’s ill feelings. But I was still a bit heady from the cavern itself.

I looked back at the others. Tryn was sitting on the ground with her limbs tangled around her. BRND was still upright, but unsteady. Cragsbeard seemed reasonably recovered from his drinking the night before. Crag used some water from the stream to splash his face. Then he ran his fingers through his hair and beard. He even went so far as to re-braid the two halves of his beard, one on each side of the giant scar that took up a sizeable part of his chin. Then he stooped down, picked up Tryn and hoisted her over his shoulder. He grabbed BRND’s arm to support her, and nodded to the rest of us.

You have to be realistic. Sometimes there is no way but through. I adjusted my pack, and joined the others as we walked down stream.

130922a-lake.jpgAlong our walk, the cavern seemed to get wider and wider, the stream turning to a true dunlur with occasional rapids. We walked a long way with several breaks. After about 10 hours, the opposite side of the cavern was no longer visible, and it was just water as far as we could see. _ Ah, arau dunglor!_ Niva might be uncomfortable in this plane, but the glory of this underground cavern, the splendor of its sheer magnitude, the weariness that had begun to settle on my altfrau bones was beginning to lift.

Out in the middle of the water, we could see people in their boats with nets, apparently trying to catch fish or other water dwellers. Their large eyes and wide mouths gave them the look of frogs. The bank of the river along the cavern became narrower and narrower until we were walking single-file. Then we could see some sort of dock with boats and people waiting.

130922a-Gondoliers.jpgAs we approached, the boat tenders all stood up a bit straighter and started to compete with one another to get our attention. Once upon the dock, I could see the gondoliers were completely wrapped in strips of cloth from their feet to their shoulders and down their arms. Most of them wrapped their heads and face as well, but they left the top of their heads bare to reveal 7 horns and their glowing eyes.

They spoke to each other in a guttural tongue, but upon recognizing our origins switched to a clear common.

“Every passenger must pay one secret, then I take you across the lake. Yes, a simple touch to your forehead, and we learn a small thing from you. Just a small thing, as we are only going across the lake.”

“How do you know where we want to go?” As I stepped closer, I could see writing on all the strips of cloth that covered him.

Cragsbeard pushed his way past me and thrust Tryn’s head at the gondolier. “Here’s one secret,” he growled. The gondolier reached out and touched two fingers to Tryn’s forehead. There was a small bit of white light on her forehead, then a glow of white light on one of the wrapping cloths. The glow resolved itself to look like writing, but in a language I didn’t recognize. Cragsbeard bowed his head to donate a secret, then pulled BRND up for her turn. After the same process of glowing, the three of them got into the boat.

The gondolier turned to answer me. “There is only one way to go from here, and that is to the City of Glimmer. That is where all travelers we encounter are headed. Come.” Niva, Allara, and I looked at each other, then ducked our heads to give our secrets.

130922a-braids.jpgAs I sat on the boat, I remembered something I hadn’t thought of for a very long time. As a youngster, my mother made me practice braiding techniques. First as a young girl to show my intelligence and innocence. Then as a maiden to declare my adulthood. My mother felt strongly that I should be able to make the most intricate braids possible, even those which were thought too hard to do alone, those only people wealthy enough to have servants would be able to wear. So often, I complained at the amount of time it took every day. The combing, the brushing, the weaving – it just wasn’t worth it.

130922a-short.jpgWhen I left on my first adventure, I cut my hair short, just more than a finger’s width from my scalp – easy to maintain on the trail and a protest that I was not going to stay home and be some man’s wife. My mother argued with me, wanting me to stay and not choose the adventurer lifestyle. We argued, my mother weeping. greybraid.jpgTwo years later, I returned home to find my mother had died. It didn’t stop me from cutting my hair, nor did it stop me from adventuring. But when I did decide to settle down 50 years ago, I let my hair grow. But the elaborate braiding is gone. Just a simple braid down the center is fine to keep it out of the way.

I looked over the construction of the boat. Bone made up the structural portions, oiled leather provided the surrounding skin, which was attached with some coarse twine that resembled woven hair. Hmm…What industry has these materials in supply for building?

130922a-desmodu.jpg130922a-drider.jpg130922a-undead.jpgI turned back to the group on the boat. Niva was busy interrogating the gondolier. He was patient with her questions, but nothing he said would assuage her concerns about being underground in the Shadowfell. “No, no dangers, really. There are the Desmodu, flying bat creatures, and Driders, but they both have their own settlements outside of Glimmer. They only come when they have business here. Which can be often. Travelers between Glimmer and other cities would encounter them, and entering their territory is definitely unwise. But Glimmer, no this city is very safe. The undead squads who patrol the city make sure of that.”

Niva didn’t look convinced. “Who lives here? About how many? What’s the layout of the city?”

130922a-Incunabula.jpgThe Gondolier looked out across the water, presumably toward Glimmer, but only the faint outline of a shore could be seen. “Glimmer welcomes visitors from many places. The main population are the Incunabula. We trade in secrets. All information from all the planes is important to us. Information leads to truth, truth leads to understanding, understanding leads to enlightenment. The enlightened become close to Vecna, who promises us knowledge everlasting.” After a pause, the Gondolier continued. “When we reach the city, you will see the magnificent marketplace. Travelers come from all over the planes to learn information, sell information. There are many, many items which you may find of value, and you only need to give us your secrets in return.”

We spent the rest of the boat ride in silence, with our own private thoughts.

VESTRA

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It's a Small World After All

In which the party walks around the entire globe to find the next crossing point…

130908 jungleThis was the densest rainforest I had ever seen. There were trees, saplings really, reaching for the sky with vines wrapped around them as far as the eye could see. In many places, the vines had grown so heavy, the trees had bent down and were lying along the ground. The trees, fighting this grapple, extended their branches toward the sky, themselves becoming new saplings. The vines continued the struggle, climbing around these extended branches and in some places, pulling down these secondary saplings. Which then extended branches for vines to climb. Underneath this tangle of vines and trees, the understory had its own vegetative struggles. Decaying leaves and wood were covered with moss that then supported small grasses and flowers. Swampy pools appeared where the mossy ground was low, and these harbored floating insects, algae, and other debris. Additionally, even the air battled for attention. The oppressively humid air teemed with small gnats, and shone with a diffuse light.

130908 stonetrail 130908 sheepAmazingly, in this sprawl of twisted greenery, there was a trail. It was clearly marked with stones, shored up in damp places, and wide enough for four of us to travel abreast. Our crossing had put us right on the trail. Looking at the tracks, I could see the trail was well traveled. There were many print resembling the cloven hooves of deer, sheep, or goats. Strangely the feet were smaller than these, but the stride was much longer. I tried to imagine long-legged sheep walking through the jungle. I also noticed that all the tracks travelled in the same direction, to our left. The Fey Node indicated the next crossing was just a few paces to the right. After a brief discussion, we decided we’d spend the next few hours exploring to our left, then come back when Allara was ready for our next crossing.

130908 stonehut Walking along the trail, it was obvious it was well-traveled and scrupulously maintained. There was no real dirt or ground, just mounds of plants that had been trampled by the constant travel. And the path was laid to avoid the deepest, swampiest places. After about 20 minutes, we could see a village of small stone buildings up ahead.

130908 trikin The people of this village stood tall on two long legs, but had an additional four appendages, two on each side of their bodies. Their heads were wide, pointed at the chin, and their huge eyes bulged from the top. Their claw like hands and feet matched the cloven prints I had seen on the trail. Their bodies reflected the light like smooth glass, giving off tints of amber, green, and gold.

130908 armorThe village was loud with the sounds of chattering, talking, and singing. Their language was difficult to make out. It sounded a bit guttural, like Draconic, but also had some high-pitched teeth sounds. They were very welcoming to us, and seemed happy to see us and converse. They called themselves Trikin. Some of the smaller people, possibly youngsters, were especially entranced with Cragbeard’s metal armor. They crowded around him, rubbing their claw-hands along his armor, gesturing to each other, tapping on Cragbeard, and on each other comparing the sound of each other’s carapace.

Niva and Allara gestured with the villagers, hoping to find someone to converse with. Meanwhile, Cragbeard, BRND, and Tryn had determined that metal of all kinds was extremely interesting. The villagers held up copper and silver pieces and watched them reflect the light, chattering quickly amongst themselves. Looking around, I could see that everything in the village was made of stone, wood, and plant fibers. There were spears with points made of obsidian, but no metal. Eventually, Cragbeard, BRND and Tryn went off with a group of villagers who were playing a game with stones and leaves. They started drinking some sort of fermented root ale. Even without any common language, they managed to enjoy one another.

130908 crossbowAnother group of villagers had gathered around Niva inspecting the mechanics of her crossbow. The villagers had very well-made longbows and arrows, again from wood, plant fibers, and obsidian, but the winding of the crossbow and the strength of the shot seemed fascinating. Everyone took turns firing bolts at a tree target, and a sort of contest started. Niva helped villagers use the crossbow and bolts. The villagers exchanged some large nuts they demonstrated as healing, and Niva nodded and gestured that the crossbow was theirs to keep.

Eventually, a person came forward to give a very broken greeting in Eladrin. Allara and I sat with him and talked as well as we could. He spoke often of “Athoos.” We couldn’t tell if Athoos was his name, the name of the world, or their god.
“We with Athoos”
“Elements part of Athoos”
“No danger with Athoos”
“Round, pool, hole, powerful, good”
“Others powerful, hole, bad”
“All is good with Athoos”
“Something from pool…” after this phrase, the villager shook his head.

130908 largeinsectAfter some time, a group of Trikin entered the village from the trail we’d used. They had their bows out, and a sack of large insects gathered as food. The Trikin started to gather in their homes, and we decided it was probably time to start heading to the crossing point the Fey Node was pointing to. Niva said goodbye to the archers, Cragbeard, BRND, and Tryn made their farewells to the gamers, and Allara and I said thanks and goodbye to our guide. We headed in the direction the Fey Node pointed, back the way we came.

It had only taken us 20 minutes to get to the village from our crossing onto this world. And the Fey Node had said the next crossing was only a few paces from there. As we walked along the trail, the Fey Node continued to point in the direction we were heading, but the glow never got any brighter.

130908 clockAfter 2 hours of walking, BRND sat down on a rock. “Have I had too much of that root ale? We’re walking, trees are moving past us, but we’re not getting where we’re going. Are we walking in circles?”

Niva climbed a tree, she said all she saw was uniform jungle trees forever. Tryn sat down beside BRND and shook her head. I looked again at the trail and the tracks on it. All the tracks were pointed back toward the village. Only our tracks were pointing in the direction the Fey Node pointed.

“Well,” I said. “Is it possible that there is only one way to travel? Would the Fey Node point us in a direction we can’t go?”

Allara explained, “The Fey Node points out the direction of shortest travel. There may be obstacles between us, but it points in the direction of the crossing.”

130908 smallworldNiva and I looked at each other. Cragbeard swatted at the insects surrounding his head. Tryn kicked at some rocks on the side of the trail. I thought about trying to hack our way through this dense jungle, trying to triangulate the position of the crossing, and it didn’t seem appealing. Assuming this was a spherical world, we could continue in the direction away from the crossing, walk around the entire globe, and end up where we wanted to be. That wasn’t appealing either.

I adjusted the pack on my shoulders. “Back to the village?” Niva, Allara, and BRND nodded. Cragbeard and Tryn just shrugged. We turned back the way we’d come and headed in the direction of the village. In about 10 minutes, we were back. All the Trikin were in their homes. We 130908 stonehutwalked across the village, down the main street, and out the other side. On the other side of the village, the stone trail continued. All the tracks also continued to point the same direction we were going, away from the village. The Fey Node continued to point back the way we came. It also started to get dimmer. Either we were going the only direction possible on this one-way planet, or all roads led to the village. Those hunters must have gone somewhere and gotten back. We must be able to get somewhere and get back.

I stopped walking and looked around. In my musings, I realized I’d outpaced the rest of the group. Walking in the only direction possible on a world you hoped was small enough to get all the way around it in a reasonable time will make you speed up a bit. I looked up and saw that the trail had widened into a large area with many pools of water. I waited for the others to catch up.

130908 blurmovingAllara and Niva arrived at the clearing and were excited by the pools. Allara stepped up to one and dropped in a rock. Niva approached the pool and squatted to touch the water. Before I could stop her, Allara stepped into the pool. She became a blur, appearing to move very fast. Allara stepped out of the pool and joined us at the edge. “Did you see it?!” She gasped, and ran to another pool. Meanwhile, Niva stepped into the first pool and started to move very fast.

At the second pool, Allara was standing in the water, holding her orb out in front of her. I dropped a stone in the pool. “I can see fire in my orb,” Allara said. She stepped out of the pool. “The flames are gone.”

I looked around. There was no sign of Crag, Tryn and BRND. Thudul. Fermented root ale.

130908 flyingAllara had moved on to another pool. She screamed as a giant lizard-shape burst from the water, grabbed her and dragged her into the pool. At the first pool, Niva struggled to keep her balance as a winged creature hovered above her sent an icy blast to freeze the ground she was standing on.

130908 firehandIn front of me, a fiery claw reached toward me. I pulled my battleaxe and warhammer and squinted at the creature in the pool. The bright flame made it difficult to focus. The claw extended its fiery fingers to scratch at my head. “Ha!” I chortled as I felt nothing. Then, a few seconds later, searing pain extended from my forehead to the center of my chest. I stumbled back. Flammen, verflucht flammen.

Over my shoulder, I could see Allara had escaped from the lizard beast. She flung a thunderbolt at it. With a deafening crack, the creature was blown back stunned, and dissolved back into the pool. I turned my attention back to the flames. I stepped into the pool, then watched as my weapons began to glow with a smoldering power. I swung at the creature and felt them connect, but the creature didn’t step back. I swung again, and this time, there was a strong connection. Then, a blast from Allara finished the beast.

We both turned to look towards Niva. The flying beast was gone.

We stood for a moment catching our breath. The entire encounter took maybe 20 seconds. Crag, Tryn, BRND came to the clearing. “Why are you standing there?”

130908 vialsAllara pulled some vials from her bag and began to collect water samples. “These may come in handy.” While Allara filled her vials, I looked at Niva and debated whether to tell Crag, BRND and Tryn what had happened. No harm in storytelling.

I turned to Tryn. She was leaning against BRND and looking a little pale. “Are you okay?” I asked her. She shook her head, “Yes, I’m fine. I mean, BRND gave me, no the Trikin gave me a big nut to eat to feel better, and I can’t tell if it’s helping.” BRND shrugged. “Small people aren’t big drinkers.” This earned a dirty look from Tryn, and a pointed raised eyebrow from Crag. I smirked at her. “Careful what you say about small people. There’s more of us than there is of you.” She nodded and smiled.

130714 fey node“Look,” Allara got our attention. “The Fey node is not as bright, but it’s pointing along the road now, not the direction we came.”

As we continued along the trail, the Fey Node got steadily brighter. After a few hours, I recognized the landing point where we’d arrived. The Fey Node was bright and steady. Allara gathered us around, drew a circle of light in the ground, and we crossed to our next point.

Vestra

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Continued Journey Through the Planes

In which a summary of many transfers is given…

It’s a misunderstood life, that of an adventurer. There are always stories about the battles, the encounters with the strange, the challenges and how they are overcome. But, the truth is, most of the time travelling around is very mundane, even boring. Currently, we are continuing our trip toward home, and I’ve lost track of how many places we’ve been. Or how much time has passed.

130714 fey nodeThe Fey Node continues to direct us toward the weak points where travel is possible between Planes. Once we get to a transfer point, Allara can perform the ritual that takes us to another Plane. Then she needs to rest for 6 hours before she can perform the ritual again. At first, sehr spannend. Each random trip could be to a new place, with new lands to roam, and new people to share stories with. And, of course, new adventures to enjoy.

But now, the newness has worn off. With every transfer, I find myself hoping it will take us back to the Material Plane. Of course, even if we get to the Material Plane, it could be anywhere in the world. We could still have weeks, even months, before getting back to Balekeep.

I try to keep positive. I try not to sound like a grizzled altefrau. Yes, it is good to be traveling again. The feel of the battleaxe and warhammer in my hands is more comfortable and fluid than it has ever been. The community of fellow adventurers is uplifting, replacing a long-unfilled need that has haunted me these last 50 years living a traditional live. Even the water from the reisebecher tastes sweeter. But, it is hard when each transfer takes us to a random place and there is no control.

So where we’ve been. Or, some of where we’ve been.

130830 desertcamelsWhat we called “The Desert Plane,” where we met some Fahrendr people. They were traders who traveled using strange long-necked beasts. It was difficult to communicate at first. We had no common language, but with smiles and gestures, we were able to make ourselves understood. They were willing to give us food for some of our (to them) strange objects. It was a pleasant time while we traveled together.

130830 snowThe Snow Plane, where fierce winds, ice, and snow forced us to find a khavit for shelter. No signs of civilization, of people, of animals, nothing. Ach, de iss ad annan mi, chilling me to the bone. After sufficient rest, we ventured from the khavit, using the Fey Node for direction. Trudging through the weather, tied together, blind and cold.

130830 talltreesThe Plane of Tall Trees, a beautiful, restful place. Birds, small animals. A calm lake, mirroring the landscape around. We stripped down and swam for a while, feeling clean and rested for a full day before traveling on. Erholsam.

130830 ruinsThe Ancient Village. An obviously advanced culture, perhaps beyond our modern ways. But completely in ruins. What happened to these people? What were their lives like? Why did they leave their city? No evidence of bodies, or war, or disaster, just empty. Did the people leave voluntarily? So many questions.

130830 fireFire. Just fire. Taal, taul, flammen. It was not all around us, we could escape it, but we needed to keep moving. Allara needed rest, so we manufactured a way to carry her with us. Trading off carrying her between us, and choking through the smoke, that was a brutal 6 hours.

130830 mudcityThe Mud City. Friendly, happy people all living in rooms stuck together. They were so generous with their space, their time, and their supplies. We helped with some construction and bringing in the apple harvest.

130830 hotspringsRocks and Hot Springs. This was a combination of empty rocky terrain and dense forest. In the forest, it was pleasantly cool. The rocky terrain was another matter. Sunny, hot, and difficult to navigate. And, oh, der geruchl! I can’t remember ever experiencing such a terrible odor before in my life. The gestank from the hot water pools all around more than countered their colorful beauty.

And, now we’re off for another transfer. Time in this plane has been easy, but now we leave this forest for another try toward home. I’m hoping that we (well Allara and Niva) can find some way to control the arcane powers to aim our transfer a bit better.

Vestra

View
Misty Terrain and Unclear Motives

In which Vestra and the team battle demons and the landscape…

130728 rock tower2We arrived on some rough ground, dusty, with pillars of rock all around us. The pillars were large, in some places sticking up above the mist that lay all around. Although immense, they still had the look of being placed by giant hands. In some places, the columns had fallen, leaving stones strewn in a tumbled stream. The Fey Node pointed us ahead and to the left, and was dim enough to let us know it would be a long walk.

I adjusted my pack, shifting the weight to the left side. My right side was still a little sore from the last encounter with… verdam, I’d lost track of all the minor skirmishes we’d been in. I don’t even remember.

There was light from some disperse source. Sort of a pervasive twilight, orange and pink in the mist, seeming like it would be night soon. The red and black streaks in the rock showed a strong contrast to the lighter sandstone. On the ground, there was a gritty, sandy surface that made for a slippery surface as we descended down a slope. I started to wonder about the rock formations, stopped walking, and stepped up closer to one.

As I fingered the surface, I looked at the sand on the ground and the smoothness of the rocks in the pillars. There was evidence of wind. Kheluzluft. Strong enough that I counted ourselves fortunate to be here on a calm day. I looked up at the tower. These are not natural kaurtaurm. Who stacked them? When? And why has there been so much neglect? How much time? What powerful agent neglected this work?

“I agree with you.”

I was surprised, but took a deep breath so as not to show it. Niva was next to me. I looked at her. She smiled, “You were muttering to yourself,” she explained. “Yes, it’s not natural. This place seems to be part of the chaos, but also seems to be imbued with some magic. Like a powerful mage – no, a demi-god – was experimenting with his/her new-found skills.”

130728 fallen rocksThere was a large crash behind us. I turned around to see a line of fallen stones next to Cragbeard. He shrugged in satisfaction and sat on one of the boulders. Next to him, Tryn was climbing a pillar and disappearing into the mist. Allara and BRND were experimenting with the mist, surprised to see their arms vanish into the mist, then re-appear as they brought their arms back.

I turned back to Niva, then gasped in surprise. Niva had slumped next to the pillar. I helped her into a sitting position, leaning against the pillar. “Are you okay?”

“Yes.” Niva gave me an embarrassed smile. “I tried to find out more about this place, sending my consciousness out to…” she stopped and gave me a measured look. “Suffice to say, there was definitely a god of some level here, who created this place in their own image, and then was gone for some time. There is still some presence, like a distant memory, or a song you can’t get out of your mind.” She took a deep breath. “There is something here, weak and distant, but still connected.”

130728 blurry“Vestra! Watch . . .” Cragbeard’s warning made me spin around to see a figure phasing into solidity behind me. It was humanoid, and about dwarf size, then there was pain on my chest as the demon hit me. I saw two more figures solidify from the mist, one running toward Allara and one next to BRND.

I used my left foot to push against the pillar and used my arms to leverage my strength against the demon. He didn’t move. The dwarf demon showed his teeth, “It will take more than feeble pushes to knock me down, Grandma…” I spit upon his insult, but he just laughed. I reached for my warhammer and battleaxe and stepped to the side for space to attack. As I swung both weapons at him, he continued to laugh, “Accood is the bad brother, and the mist helps him!”

130728 brnd tryn130728 crag allIn the distance, I could see BRND against one demon, hitting him soundly. Tryn had joined that battle, ducking under one demon’s arm and stabbing it in the side. Cragbeard and Allara were working on the other.

130728 blueglowThe eyes of the demon dwarf in front of me glowed blue. I felt a wave of energy crash against me, but I was able to grasp a foothold and not get dragged away. It was my turn to laugh. “You will die, khuzdarg, vas em bi!” The demon countered with, “The Mist is not happy.” He was silenced with the cleaving of my battleaxe and the bludgeoning of my warhammer.

Cragbeard gave a shout of triumph as one of the demons he was battling fell down. Meanwhile, Tryn was wandering in circles, muttering to herself. BRND and Cragbeard teamed up against the remaining demon, while Allara stepped back to a strategic position.

The demon in front of me collapsed as I struck it again with the warhammer. “The Mist brothers will welcome me home,” the demon muttered as it slumped to my feet and disintegrated. I looked up. Cragbeard, BRND, and Allara had dispatched the last demon. Tryn was still wandering in circles, but this time she was stumbling as well. I looked down at Niva. Our eyes met and she nodded slightly. I walked to the rest of the group.

Tryn had a large cut along her forehead which was seeping blood. She was also speaking nonsense syllables. BRND grasped her by both shoulders and spoke to her boldly. “Tryn! Tryn! TRYN!” BRND reached out and slapped Tryn across the face. Cragbeard stepped forward to look directly in BRND’s eyes. Tryn continued to mutter. BRND touched Cragbeard’s hand. “I think she may need some sort of exorcism.”

Allara stepped between them and looked at Tryn critically. “Let me look at her,” she said, all politeness and sweetness and authority combined. BRND nodded slightly. I cleared my throat to get Crag’s attention. “Come on, Crag. Let’s look over the loot.” Crag nodded.

130728 parchmentWe looked over the debris left from the demons’ attack. I poked at a cloak with my battleaxe, and Crag shrugged. I turned the cloak over and found some parchment bound together. I picked up the pages and brought them back to Allara and BRND. When we got there, Tryn was sitting and giving BRND a small smile while BRND looked at her carefully. I handed the pages to Allara. I kicked at the clothing from the other two demons. I found a rod. Niva joined us and shook her head. “Leave it.” Her tone was strong enough to make Crag and I look at each other.

130830 fireTryn, BRND, and Allara joined us. We gathered ourselves and headed back in the direction the Fey Node pointed. After another hour, the light had dimmed considerably, but there was a bright light in the distance. As we continued, the light in the distance brightened as well as the light in the Fey Node. Eventually the distance brightness resolved itself into a wall of fire. The wall extended as far as we could see in both directions. Allara gave a grunt of, well, what exactly? Resignation? “The crossing point is directly through the flame, not more than five strides.”

Tryn stepped forward. She’d gotten noticeably more clear-headed as we’d walked. “Stand back,” she whispered and pulled out a dagger I hadn’t seen before. Tryn muttered a few words and the dagger started to glow with a dull blue shine. She walked toward the fire holding out the dagger. I began to feel cold myself as I saw ice crystals form on the blade. Tryn pierced the the flame and started to cut a wide circle. As she cut, the flame retreated from the dagger until an opening was made. “Just big enough for a dwarf,” I said and jumped through. BRND and Crag were right behind me. I stared through the acrid smoke and saw some figures coming toward us. “Company,” I muttered and pulled my battleaxe and warhammer into position.

130728 tryn bloodyWhat unfolded was one of the most confusing battles I’ve ever experienced. At one point I was hitting a misty form, then BRND was coming at me. Crag let out a yell as he was hit, then stepped back as BRND charged him. Tryn seemed to be everywhere at once. First behind the form I was swinging at, then on the other side of BRND, then next to Cragbeard. Allara’s face with a halo of hair, BRND next to her attacking her, then Tryn in front of me. I swung my battleaxe at her, again, and yet again, then collapsed to my knees in tears.

After the crossing, we sat around the campfire and nursed our wounds and confirmed our friendship. It seems Tryn was the only one clear-headed enough to withstand the psychic forces of the demons beyond the fire-wall. At least, that’s the way Niva described it. Whatever Allara had done had made Tryn more resistant to the demons.

Vestra

View
Into the Rift

In which Vestra leads the party against aberrations…

130714 estothEstoth and the villagers gathered around the central meeting grounds and invited us to join them. It seemed the only shifters left were the very young and the very old. Estoth confirmed this. “As I told you, many have died in our village because of the attacks of the Many-Eyed Ones. They are not native to this Plane. Simply speaking, they should not be here.” He began drawing in the sand. “In our previous searches, we believe the Many-Eyed Ones are coming from a rift in this valley here.”

130714 beholderWe all looked at each other. BRND spoke first, “How far away is the ravine?”
Estoth replied, “About a quarter day’s journey from here.”
BRND nodded. “Then we will travel with you, eliminate these aberrations, and save your village.”

We got ready to depart. Cragbeard decided he would stay behind to defend the villagers in case a Beholder escaped us and came toward the village.

130714 complicatedAs the rest of us traveled toward the ravine, Tryn pulled me aside and whispered to me. “Amark, The Archmage, it seems he was very powerful.” I nodded and waited for her to say more. “Powerful enough to expel the elemental from Balekeep 10,000 years ago. And his powers have only increased since then, creating his own space in his own Plane.”

Again I nodded. I noticed that we had become separate from the rest of the group. “Tryn, what is it you are trying to say? Is it the same thing I’ve been thinking myself? That he’s been so generous asking nothing in return? Except to fight off those undead enemies of his?”

Tryn shook her head. “Allara, Niva, and BRND all trust him completely. Maybe I am wrong.” She looked ahead at BRND’s back. BRND looked back and smiled at Tryn. “It just seems that if Amark is so powerful and trustworthy, he could have sent us directly back to the Material Plane, right?”

I nodded. “Perhaps. I am not knowlegeble in the ways of magic. But yes, I suspect there is some motive behind our random walk amongst the Planes. Some task we can accomplish for Amark The Archmage while we use the Fey Node and find our way home.”

130714 ravine entranceBy then we had reached the ravine. Estoth pointed, “There is a cave at the end of this ravine. My fighter companions believed this was the only entrance – and only exit.” The only plan seemed to be a direct approach. We nodded and began our descent.

Upon entering the cave, we did our best to be quiet in hopes of surprising the beholders inside. But loose rock made that impossible. Well, impossible for everyone but Tryn. I swear, that Halfling must walk on air.

130714 ravine encounterWe came to a place where the tunnel opened into a large khavit.

We could see three Beholders facing toward our approach. I could hear a sharp intake of breath from Allara, Niva, and BRND. I shrugged, and tried to be motivational, “These are not the largest Beholders I’ve ever fought.” Tryn threw a dagger toward one, but even she seemed shaky and the dagger fell short.

130714 initiativeEstoth looked at me for a plan. I gave a rousing battle cry and charged toward the Beholder furthest away. “Big eyes will not scare us. We will defeat you. Ut an ar dem abgesehen kan per kan per kan, vas em bi!"

130714 vestra beholderBRND, Estoth, and Tryn teamed up against the other two while Allara and Niva sent ranged attacks toward all the Beholders.

The battle was long. Three beholders each with one large eye, a large mouth with long sharp teeth, and 10 eyestalks each with a different eye ray to attack. Thudul, they were small. It was chaotic and difficult to keep track of everything in the battle. 130714 brnd beholderI stayed focused on the beholder I was fighting. At various points, I was weakened, immobilized, hit, slowed…But my battleaxe was true. I severed a few eyestalks, and finally the Beholder went down.

As I looked toward the end of the khavit, I could see that the others were doing well with their battles. They seemed weary, Tryn looked especially worse for wear. But the Beholders were beaten.

Vestra

View
Vestra and the Party Make a Random Trip

In which the party teleports to an unpredictable location…

The battle over, we spent some time cleaning ourselves and our armor and readying supplies. Cragbeard especially looked tired, though he tried to cover it well. The entire time, Allara was talking excitedly about the Planes. She drew diagrams on the floor, conjured models in the air, and lectured us about traveling the Planes.

130714 you are here“The main thing to remember is that it’s not something that can be really modeled in a way we can display on a map or even three dimensionally.” Allara listed the many different realms and Planes. Some I’d heard of before: Material Plane (home), Fey Wild (Elf and Eladrin home), Astral Sea (many distinct planes), Elemental Chaos (Elementals reside here). But this was a small fraction of all Allara described. I’ve worked with so many magic-users in my life and I’ve yet to fully grasp the world from their perspective. No matter. I’m sure they feel the same way about me.

“We are here,” Allara announced pointing to a place in her current depiction. “This is the Demi-Plane. It’s connected to virtually every other Plane, and so virtually anything can be encountered here.” I nodded as if I understood.

130714 portal“Traveling between Planes can be achieved through a few methods.” Allara continued. “There are Portals – permanent links between two Planes. Passage through these is easy, but there are very few Portals, they are hard to find, and they are usually guarded.”

“Then there are Crossings. This is what we’ll use. Crossings are weak points in a Plane where a ritual can be used to transport us to another Plane. The Fey Node that Amark and I created will allow us to find Crossings and use them to cross over.”

130714 fey nodeAs she held the object she called a Fey Node out to us, there was a moment when I felt myself daydreaming. Seeing all the places I’d been, or wanted to go, seeing myself walking through deserts, seascapes, mountains…”Vestra!”

I blinked and staggered back. Niva had a strong hold on my shoulder. “Come on, we’re ready to go.”

Allara concentrated and held the Fey Node in front of her. From it, she sensed a direction to travel, and seemed to know when we were getting closed to a weak point. All around us was that silvery-grey mist, so as we walked, it was hard to tell we were moving. After a brief walk, Allara stopped us and gathered us together within a circle she drew on the ground.

130714 forestShe concentrated, we stood waiting, then gradually the mist cleared and we were surrounded by trees. No sensation of travel at all. Just magnificent, tall, trees. The healthiest forest I’d ever seen. I gasped to myself, Arau vudd, em bi nai? And it teemed with life – birds sang as they flew high above us, the ground below was springy with moss, and there was the sound of trickling water nearby.

Niva spoke first, “This may look like the Material Plane to you, but I assure you, this is most magical. I don’t know where we are, but the magic is strong here.” She held her arms around Allara’s waist. “It will be 6 hours before Allara can perform this ritual again, so while we wait, we may as well explore.”

130714 hutsWe decided to walk toward the water source, and follow its course downstream. The creek became a small river, then a deep river surrounded by floodplains. Far off, we could see some huts on stilts, and indication of a small village. As we got closer, we could hear voices yelling – were they screams? Then we were close enough to see everything.

130714 village heroBy the riverbank, a round, hovering body made of mostly a large eye and mouth. There were 10 eyestalks radiating from the top, and it was chewing on some humanoid. It was not the largest Beholder I’d ever encountered, but it still gave me some pause. In front of the Beholder, a warrior stood fighting it off with a spear and net. And behind him, a gathering of the same humanoid folk, furry with pointy ears, each holding some kind of improvised weapon.

We barely hesitated. Allara cast her camouflage spell to give us some cover as we approached down the shoreline. Cragbeard was still recovering from our fight at Amark The Archmage’s house, so he headed toward the villagers to help them. The Beholder’s attention was fully on the warrior, so Tryn had no trouble approaching for a sneak attack. Impressive – it’s hard to catch something with 11 eyes unawares.

130714 retreatI ran up to the Beholder and swung with my battleaxe and warhammer. Both struck hard, then I whirled around and swung again. My battleaxe sruck again, and the Beholder began to rise out of easy reach. The warrior was readying his net, and Tryn struck again, but it was quickly up and retreating away.

130714 retreat fireThen, a burst of flame came from behind us and hit the Beholder. It quickly became engulfed in flame, then dropped from the sky. We turned around and BRND was scolding Allara, “It was retreating, you’re supposed to be resting, why cast that spell…” Allara merely shook her head.

The warrior approached us. “Thank you for your assistance. Without you, many more would have died. My name is Estoth, and this is the last of my people, the Shifters. We have been under attack by the Many-Eyed for several weeks now, and alas, I am the last trained warrior.” Then he paused. “You are not from here. You are from the Material Plane, yes?”

When we admitted our origin, Estoth smiled. “It is no matter. Come to the village. We will eat and compare stories together.”

Vestra

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Vestra Fights Another's Enemies

In which the party kills some undead, twice…

I awoke the next morning to find my hide armor waiting for me. The repaired places were only visible because I knew where to look. It still had the same fit, perhaps an even better one. Good. Since Amark kept this piece of the bargain, I was ready for the next step.

AllaraAllara had some instructions for us. “Now remember, The Archmage will not have as strong of a focus to keep this construction, his home, in place. In fact, even you may become displaced. You each need to focus on yourself and your location to keep from shifting in this plane.”

130630 misty undead She gave us some words to repeat to ourselves – a mantra. Allara said we could make up our own, and that mantras with positive messages of 7 or 12 syllables were most successful. Then she and Amark closed themselves in the back room. And we waited, whispering our mantras to ourselves.

Sure enough, a wall faded to that grey-silvery mist we had first seen. Then Cragbeard swore. I looked toward the sound – and he was now standing in the spring. Another wall faded, and beyond it, we could see three creatures. They appeared stretched out, tall with overly long arms and legs. They made grunting noises as they approached.

One charged BRND. His charge distracted BRND from her mantra and she was suddenly in another location. It worked to her advantage, and she blasted the creature from behind. It staggered forward, turned to face BRND, then staggered backward as BRND blasted it again. These creatures were undead, maugmorni, and highly weakened by BRND’s holy blasts.

130630 conga lineMeanwhile, Cragbeard was flanked by the other two creatures. He was a flurry of activity, withstanding hits and landing them. Tryn stood opposite to one of them, then I lined up on the other side. Cragbeard was screaming, keeping all the creatures’ attention on him. That let Tryn get in a few sneaky blows to the creature in front of her. Niva was helping BRND and Tryn by adding a few holy blasts of her own.

From my side, I swung both my battleaxe and my warhammer at the creature many times. Verflucht. Even with the creature’s attention on Cragbeard, I was unable to land any blows. Embarrassing. I took a deep breath and focused my attention on the situation. “Battleaxe and Warhammer, together we aim true and strike hard, vas em bi!” Finally, I struck the undead creature. It fell to the floor in pieces, then slowly faded away.

I looked around. All the creatures had done the same dissolving and disappearing. More walls were gone from Amark’s house — now the grey-mist surrounded us by half, with Amark’s home on the other half.

130630 misty undead And far, in the mist, another three creatures approached. We could see their long shadows, and they seemed even more shambling than the last. As they got closer, Tryn, Cragbeard and I agreed that our strategy had worked well. With the focus of the creatures on Cragbeard, Tryn and I could attack the creatures from their backs.

Wait, what is this? These undead creatures are the same as what we just killed, em bi nai? Cragbeard strode toward them yelling and screaming for their attention. But they seemed uninterested. Instead, the one that Tryn had finished came toward her, and the one I had finished came toward me. It hit me hard, but I concentrated and surged and surged again to shake off the wounds.

Oh, hateful maugmorni, offensive to Moradin, I killed you once, ohr an shmek liebha vider, vas em bi!

130630 long battle2This fight was long, and exhausting. By rising again, these undead seemed even less assembled, less substantial, which made them harder to hit – no sensitive places. BRND and Niva used every holy tool they had just to keep them distracted. By the end of the battle, we were all covered in vishlum flesh, tired and breathing hard.

130630 doorThe only visible evidence of Amark The Archmage’s domain was the door Allara had gone through. That door opened, and Allara and Amark The Archmage came through.

“We have it!” Allara was triumphant with pleasure. “Now we can start our trip along the Planes!” She blinked and looked at us. “Well, maybe after you’ve gotten cleaned up.”

Vestra

View
Vestra on a New Plane

In which the party meets a wise man and hears a long tale…

130630 seppoWe continued to stand in stunned silence while the grey-silvery mist surrounded us. The man in fine robes approached us.

“Hello,” he said, and opened his arms to us. “My name is Amark, but you may refer to me as The Archmage. Welcome to my home.”

As he spoke, the mist around us began to clear and vague forms began to appear around us. Soon there were walls around us, a bubbling spring in the center. Amark The Archmage continued to speak to us. “For a long time now, perhaps days or weeks in your terms, I have been feeling a strong pull from the material plane. I sensed it was powerful, and it created a lustful longing in me. For a time I resisted, but I confess, I was ready to succumb to my baser feelings, and re-join the material world.”

130630 new planeStrange. As he continued to speak, the air around us seemed to lighten, and I began to feel a cozy warmth as if I was home. Not my faern home in Balekeep, or my childhood faern, but Faernak — home as a conceptual, theoretical place I’ve never been able to find. I poked BRND, “Is it just me, or does he seem to be more solid now than when we first saw him?” BRND hushed me. So this is Amark The Archmage, the Kurztharki whom the underground thaukri were trying to summon. Now that we’ve thwarted their plot, does that mean he’s against us? But he said he was resisting them. So is he with us?

130630 longstoryAmark began to speak rapidly with Allara. She would ask him questions, he would answer, then ask questions. Allara would answer, ask him questions. It seemed to be a long, convoluted story. They started in Common, then changed to something Elvish-sounding, I assume it was Allara’s native Eladrin. Then they changed to something even older-sounding. It resembled the language I’ve heard clerics and wizards use sometimes when they are casting spells. Abtun. It seemed like a long story and the sound of the language put the unruhiaug on me.

Ach! Halaur! Is she okay? Did she make it out? The other kids? I trusted Halaur to make her way out, and even lead the other kids. She has the khuzdaz sense for caves. But what would they still encounter? Did we kill all the adversaries? What if the kids find their way to the summoning circle as the thaukri in Balekeep destroy it? Does anyone in Balekeep still know to look for kids?

Halten. Stop. Make camp. Focus elsewhere.

I found a corner, unloaded my knapsack and started taking inventory of food, weapons, clothing. Cragsbeard joined me first, then the others came over. Eventually Allara joined us.

“Okay, you all know about different planes of existence, yes?” Her eyes were bright and eager. “Well, Amark, I mean, The Archmage, he lives here. He’s lived here a long time. A very long time. And everything you see has been created from his mind. We’re safe here. If the evil ones had succeeded he’d be working for them, but since we stopped them, now he’s back to being himself, neutral, uninvolved.”

Cragsbeard, Tryn, and BRND all spoke at once. Allara held up her hand, “Yes, I understand. We all need to get back. But you must understand. We came here from the material plane. That means we can’t go from here back to the material plane.” Niva nodded in understanding while the rest of us looked at each other.

130630 doors Allara continued, “We’ll need to go elsewhere, then go to the material plane. You see, planes of existence are not connected as places in the material world are. It’s like the doors only swing one way. And once a door is closed, you can’t go back through it.” She continued to explain, but I couldn’t really follow. I turned my mind to more mundane things. Food. Wash. Sleep.

The others asked questions and seemed to get some information on The Archmage. Yes, he was involved in getting the elemental away from Balekeep some 10,000 years ago. He banished it to a place it couldn’t get back from. Yes, we need to choose a path. Yes, it could lead through the fiendish plane, or the celestial plane, or many others I lost track of. Yes, all paths are dangerous.

130630 compass“But,” and with this, Allara had my attention. “With my help, he can make us a sort of map, a compass, that will help us navigate.”

Allara explained further that it would take an entire day to make the compass. So, we should sleep tonight, and they would start in the morning. Also, while we slept, Amark The Archmage had offered to upgrade any magic item we needed repaired or improved.

I was suspicious. “So, The Archmage will make us a compass to get home, he will upgrade our magic items, and what does he get in return? How do we know he can be trusted?”

Allara was about to explain, but both Niva and BRND interrupted at once. They both felt very strongly that Amark could absolutely be trusted.

“Fine,” I said. “But still, what’s in it for him?”

Allara explained, “Making the compass will be very difficult. In fact he needs my help to do it. And while we are busy doing this, Amark’s mind will be focused elsewhere. This makes him vulnerable to enemies he has on this plane. In fact, since all the walls you see are created from his mind, they may become insubstantial, allowing his enemies to strike.”

130630 enemies
Such a simple bargain. Kill my enemies and I will get you away from here and give you gifts.

Still, it was tempting. My hide armor has suited me well on all my adventures. However, there is the place on the forearm where the Night Hag bit me, and the place on my thigh from the encounter with the Sea Cats. A more than competent mage was able to repair the armor, but it might be worthwhile to let Amark The Archmage have a look at it. If I was willing to take it off, and sleep in my cottons on a strange plane in a house that could dissolve whenever Amark The Archmage didn’t put his mind to it.

Thudul. I took off my armor and gave it to Allara. We made camp, ate rations, and cleaned ourselves up. Everyone seemed in good spirits, even singing some camp songs. Meanwhile, I found a quiet place to make my prayer to Berronar Truesilver.

130630 berr trueGreat Mya, Berronar Truesilver, the goddess of safety, truth, home, and healing, please hear my humble prayer," I whispered. “I have only these silver tokens as offerings, and ask your protection for Halaur and the other children we rescued. Please guide them from the dark places into the light. Allow them to find their waiting families and be welcomed home again. For myself, I am in a strange place, a stranger place than I have ever been. For this night, allow us peace.”

Vestra

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