The Twin Kingdoms

Whoever designed this tomb needs to DIE

We sent an earth elemental through the crawl space under the naga, and it came back to report that on the other side was a room with an ugly-looking statue. This turned out to be a statue of a four-armed gargoyle, like the one we fought earlier, but one arm was broken off and lay on the floor in front of it. The other three were held out as if inviting us to give it something.

I recognised strong transmutation and conjuration magic. Vall searched the room and then the statue. He noticed that the three hands still attached each had a depression matching the size and shape of the ten blue quartz stones we’d found on the previous gargoyle’s collar.

The rest of us retreated to the other side of the crawl space, and Faye experimented with the gems. In brief, she found that placing one or two of the quartz stones in the gargoyle’s hands did nothing, but when she placed stones in all three of the attached hands, they closed, crushing the stones to dust.

We then performed a series of experiments: testing with gold pieces, trying gems one hole at a time, placing a gem in a fourth hand. The only reaction was when we had gems in all three of the attached hands, at which point they started to close again, but stopped as soon as we yanked one gem out.

Dear reader, I will spare you the tedium that followed as we attempted to figure out what we were supposed to do. Eventually we got bored and frustrated enough to agree to Faye’s proposal of crushing the remaining gems, three by three, before placing the last gem in one of its hand. This gem it also crushed, and then a voice spoke:

“Your sacrifice was not in vain. Look to the fourth to find your gain.”

To cut another story short, Vall kicked the broken-off arm and heard something tinkle in the corner, but couldn’t see anything. Groping around, Myrie eventually found something: a small disc, coated in some sort of slime that made it invisible. (I took a sample for investigation.) When she wiped it off, the disc became visible – a gem of some description – and with some study I worked out its properties: a looking through it would grant us true sight, but only twelve times, each for one minute.

(Dear reader, I think I have never hated anybody as much as I hate the designer of this so-called “puzzle”.)

We returned to the great hall of spheres, and being of suspicious mind, I poked all the walls with a stick, at heights matching the placements of the spheres. We found several more illusory walls, as follows:

Mummy: the entire wall.
Nymph: ditto.
Gargoyle: ditto.

Sahuagin, hydra, skeleton: crawlspaces.

Myrie used the gem and found doors behind the mummy and the nymph. The gargoyle was the door where we came in, a one-way passage.

When I came near the sahuagin crawlspace, I felt an urge to crawl inside, but I resisted and warned the other. We sent two earth elementals in; the first one reported finding treasure, then faded out, and the second one instead reported “a squishy thing in a jar”.

Chrysta offered to explore, and we tied a rope around her so we could pull her back if she fell under the influence. She found what looked like a wizard’s workshop, badly damaged by some kind of explosion; in one corner she saw something shrivelled in a glass canister and felt it trying to influence her. We decided to leave it well alone, at least for now.

Shiny points: 30 carried over, +1 for summary, -1 spent = 30.

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Pan-Galactic Gargoyle Blasters

We checked inside the remaining traps, but there was nothing of interest other than suspiciously-coated spikes.

Remembering the clue about “two pits”, I suggested investigating the painting of the imprisoned creature (does this count also as a “tormentor”?) Securely roped, Faye stood at the edge of the pit trap and poked at it. Scratching away the plaster, we found a door behind it.

Behind the door was a short corridor with a door at the end. We decided to leave it for a moment while we returned to the main corridor. Down at the end was the green devil head and next to it, an arch; we followed the advice to “shun green” and went for the arch inside.

On the arch frame were three stones: yellow at the lower left, blue at the top, orange at the lower right. As we approached they glowed. Through the arch was very thick mist, and none of us fancied stepping into that, so instead we worked through the stones, touching them in combinations until we hit upon yellow-blue-orange, at which the mists vanished, showing the red path continuing down the corridor.

We decided to leave that alone for the time being and head back to the secret corridor behind the painting. We could detect strong transmutation magic from behind the door, and all of us had a bad feeling about it – visions of messy death danced through our heads – so we decided to go in prepared. Boosted with all the spells we could muster, Chrysta and I conjured up two archons and had them open the door.

Behind it was a very unpleasant-looking creature, a four-armed gargoyle which would have looked quite at home on a gothic cathedral, but which seemed more interested in murdering us.

I was ready and hit it with a ray of exhaustion, which slowed it visibly, followed by a draining spell. Zakaroth and Myrie showered it with arrows, the archons flailed at it (not very effectively), we hit it with various other spells, and eventually it fell – but only after an alarmingly heavy amount of punishment.

The gargoyle was wearing a metal collar with ten gems on it, and I noticed something magical inside. On close inspection, there was a secret compartment inside the collar, holding a scrap of parchment. Chrysta read it:

Look low and high for gold to hear a tale untold
The archway at the end and on your way you’ll wend.

In the southeast corner of the room there were two doors, one facing south, one west. Zakaroth opened one, and what followed was a tedious sequence of near-identical rooms, each with a slightly different way to open a secret door into the next. Pull the door down, push it up, pull it open, swivel it…

Vall and I were suspicious that the tedium was a ploy to lull us into inattention, although it’s also possible that Acererak was simply a tedious kind of person. In any case, we made a point of jamming the doors behind us.

Eventually we found that both the doors from the gargoyle room brought us back to the same ten-by-thirty-foot room, pointing east. This had another secret door at the far end, leading into yet more rooms with more trick doors.

Eventually we got to one with seven studs set next to the door. By dint of poking them telekinetically, we found that pressing both 1 and 7 simultaneously opened the door. In fact, it opened very fast and hard, and I was quite glad I’d been operating it from a distance.

On the other side was a very large room (“the second great hall”?) It extended both north and south from our entry, about 130 feet long altogether. The floor was inlaid with tiles, and the walls and ceilings painted with various creatures holding spheres of different colours in different positions. I made a record:

West wall, north to south:
Gold sphere held above head of naga
Orange waist held high by mummy
Purple at feet of minotaur
Bronze waist high by nymph
Gray sphere at shoulder height by owlbear
Bright blue sphere at feet of a sahuagin
White sphere held above head by slaad
Turquoise sphere held shoulder height by satyr
Scarlet sphere, waist high, mind flayer
Pale green sphere, held at feet, by medusa

East wall:
Pale blue, shoulders, werewolf
Silver sphere, feet, four-armed gargoyle
Green sphere, high, half-orc
Yellow, shoulders, falcon-headed creature
Pink sphere, high, yuan-ti
Black, feet, hydra
Pale violet, shoulders kuo-toa
Red, waist-high, skeleton
Buff, feet, human wizard
Indigo, high above head, bat-winged woman. (Succubus?)

“Look high and low for gold”, eh? The naga was holding a gold sphere high; poking at its feet we found the wall there was an illusion, concealing a narrow crawl space.

To be continued…

Shiny points: 29 carried over, +1 for summary = 30.

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Tomb Of Horrible Poetry

Myrie was rather surprised to learn that I have become, at least technically, a parent. She was not entirely thrilled to learn about Zakaroth’s… allegiances. But nobody has tried to murder anybody yet, so I suppose that’s good?

We rode on towards our destination, and as we rode I gave some thought to our recent adventures. There have been a few occasions lately where a disturbance of the earth has released monsters previously unknown to the area.

Given what we previously learned about how the status of the gods aligns with worldly events, this is a little concerning. By my understanding, Rovagug – who may not be the official deity of monsters, but certainly has an affinity with destruction – was imprisoned under the earth. An association between seismic disturbances and monsters is, hence, troublesome. Perhaps something to mention next time we visit the Divine City?

After a couple of days further travel, we arrived at the site: a low flat-topped hill grown over with ugly weeds, thorns, and briars. There were some black rocks on the hilltop, which fascinated Chrysta, because rocks.

Zakaroth went ahead to scout the hill. It appears to have been heaved up from the earth quite recently; Myrie climbed up to the top and confirmed that from her vantage point, the resemblance to a human skull was far more than coincidental.

There were three indentations around the sides of the hill. Faye and Chrysta got to work on digging one out as a possible entrance, and Faye motivated the rest of us to join in, by singing, and the promise that when the job was done she’d stop singing.

On entering we found ourselves in a roughly-worked plain stone corridor. Vall found a pressure plate with a nasty collapsing ceiling trap; he avoided it, and investigated the two doors at the end of the corridor. Both of them opened onto a wall… ha ha, very funny, architect.

We returned to the surface and knuckled down to digging out another of the indentations. This one seemed more promising: a corridor with brightly-coloured stone, cement and plaster with illustrated scenes on the walls. Some had fields with cattle grazing, and in the background a copse with wolves. Others showed what appeared to be slaves, including humans, orcs, and some weird pig-hybrid things.

On the floor was a message in runes, surprisingly enough in Common:

“ACERERAK CONGRATULATES YOU ON YOUR
POWERS OF OBSERVATION. SO MAKE OF THIS
WHATEVER YOU WISH, FOR YOU WILL BE MINE IN
THE END NO MATTER WHAT!
Go back to the tormentor or through the arch,
and the second great hall you’ll discover.
Shun green if you can, but night’s good color
is for those of great valor.
If shades of red stand for blood the wise
will not need sacrifice aught but a loop of
magical metal—you’re well along your march.
Two pits along the way will be found to lead
to a fortuitous fall, so check the wall.
These keys and those are most important of all,
and beware of trembling hands and what will maul.
If you find the false you find the true
and into the columned hall you’ll come,
and there the throne that’s key and keyed.
The iron men of visage grim do more than
meets the viewer’s eye.
You’ve left and left and found my Tomb
and now your soul will die.

There are some obvious riddle/puzzle elements here, but leaving those aside for a moment, what does this tell us about the author?

#1: Writing poetry for his own tomb suggests that he may be of the not-breathing persuasion. The gigantic skull motif is also suggestive here.

#2: It’s not very good poetry. It rhymes, in places, and sometimes it even scans. But it doesn’t have a consistent rhyme scheme or meter. Suggests perhaps somebody with declining mental powers. I suppose that makes sense.

The name Acererak is vaguely familiar. He was a lich, a very long time ago. But as I recall, even liches don’t last forever, and given the suggestion of deterioration in his poetry it’s possible that by now he may have decayed into a demilich. Now what was it that Curzweil’s Compendium of Cursed Creatures had to say about demiliches?

“Run away.” I think that was it.

But I do like a challenge, and as Zakaroth reminds us, we are being paid for a service. So, let’s work through this.

Obviously, we can expect traps, and no doubt Vall will earn his keep. I would be surprised if there are a lot of critters here, other than perhaps undead and constructs that can survive without sustenance, but you never know with a powerful mage.

“You will be mine no matter what” – possible word-play on mine (digging, explosive?) but seems unlikely. More probably just braggadocio.

“Shun green if you can” – presumably we’ll find something with green in it, but “if you can” implies it might be hard to avoid. Will have to evaluate that when we come to it.

Pondering: would changing the colour of the green whatever-it-is, e.g. by prestidigitation, render it harmless? Seems very unlikely.

“Night’s good color”: was Acererak aware that black is technically not a colour, and if so, was he enough of a pedant to care? Probably yes to the latter but no to the former. Nevertheless, we should consider blue as a possible alternative.

Why good colour? Did he just stick in an extra word to make it scan, or is there some significance there?

“…is for those of great valor” – is that a good thing, or does it mean we’d have to fight something?

“stand for blood” – as in “signify”, or as in “rise up”?

“a loop of magical metal” – a magic ring?

“You’re well along your march” – well as in a hole in the ground perhaps?

“A fortuitous fall, so check the wall” – so we should check pit traps and the nearby wall in case they contain something valuable?

“beware of trembling hands and what will maul” – maul as in the weapon perhaps?

“iron men of visage grim do more than meets the viewer’s eye” – golems, or something else?

“left and left” – two turns?

“and now your soul shall die” – bleah, necromancy. Better check what spells Chrysta has to protect against that. Might be worth camping for a day or two to make some more scrolls; perhaps even enchant some weapons?

There was a meandering red path on the floor of the corridor. We (mostly Vall) found six pit traps in the floor: four of them on the path, two not.

Remembering the “check the wall”, we noticed that next to one was a painting of jackal-like creatures holding a box which stuck out slightly from the wall; another had a jail cell door with a monster behind it.

Chrysta summoned an earth elemental and had it poke at the box. It found a stud on the top; when it pressed it we heard a “click”, possible from a poison needle trap, which the elemental of course ignored. Meanwhile the bottom of the box fell open, and we could see there was a rod in the box connected to something.

I used my Mage Hand spell to yank the rod from a distance, and of course a pit trap under the box fell open. In the pit – not very deep, but designed to close again and lock the victim inside – we found a skeleton wearing enchanted goggles designed to protect against dazzling.

Hmm. Is this some random hapless adventurer, or is Acererak one of those smug “I gave you all the clues” types?

Shiny points: 30 carried over, -2 spent, +1 for summary = 29.

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Fire Dance With Goblins
They Can't Even Juggle

A couple of days after our run-in with the tigers, as we continued our travels, we noticed a burning smell, which for once, wasn’t Chrysta-related. It took some time before we crested a hill to see the source of the smoke: a small village that was currently on fire.

We could hear screaming, and Vall told us there were people running around and smaller figures brandishing pointy weapons. By now we could hear distant screaming. Naturally we moved in, to find the village overrun by a couple of dozen goblins and their rat-dog-things.

Of course Faye charged in ahead, which was very convenient since many of the little bastions immediately swarmed around her, making them prime targets for an area spell. It meant hitting Faye as well, but I figured she was quite probably strong enough to ignore my “Black Tentacles”. Or at least to survive it.

My tentacles were not quite as effective as the last time I used it, but they still kept the goblins busy and out of my face. Meanwhile, Zakaroth was happily shooting at them while Vall filleted a goblin, Chrysta began a long spell-cast, and Besh sucked the soul out of one of the ones my tentacles had subdued.

That group was under control, but we could hear the sounds of battle behind a nearby house; apparently somebody was giving the goblins a serious fight. I came around the house to find a big cluster of goblins and rat-dogs swarming somebody taller, and promptly hit them with a fear spell before they could react to my arrival.

This worked better than I’d hoped. Every one of the goblins and rat-dogs turned tail and fled, along with a wolf, leaving only the elf. As she looked at me, I recognised her face – Myrie!

By then the fight was effectively over. The goblins were either pinned or fleeing, and Zakaroth had no difficulty in hunting down the latter. Poor Chrysta was looking forwards to murdering something (I worry about her sometimes) but by the time her spell summoned a couple of ferocious wolverines, there wasn’t much left for them to murder.

We introduced Myrie (and her wolf, now returned) to Zakaroth and Vall handed her a letter from the high priest of Calistria, letting her know that her banishment had been rescinded. She was not overly impressed by this. Since we didn’t have permission to give her the full details ourselves, we located and activated the village’s portal stone and took her to the Divine City, where she was… not at all impressed… to hear about the changes that had been made since the last known pantheon.

Shiny points: 29 carried over, +1 for summary = 30.

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Fancy meeting you here
in which an unexpected reunion leads to unpleasant truths

Myrie’s journal.

Today started out normally enough – or, at least, as normal as life gets for me these days.

I’d been gradually tracking north for a while, following everything from rumours to goblin tracks to weird images and impulses from my meditations. Wandering, basically. Living up to the name – hah. Having the opportunity to put a serious dent in the goblin population was a bonus. It seems that I’ve become something of a problem for them. I don’t know if goblins have wanted posters, or maybe it’s just word of mouth, but these days, they attack me on sight.

My luck ran out when I found a mob of them terrorising a small village. It’s never enough for them to just steal – they have to burn, and go after the weakest. There was too much smoke to pick them off with arrows, so I had to go in on foot. That’s when I realised there were at least a dozen of them, riding their mangy dogs. Even with Maro’s help I was quickly surrounded. There was nothing for it but to keep fighting.

I’d just seen an opportunity to disengage when a wave of fear hit me out of nowhere, leaving me shaken. It must have been magic of some kind, because the goblins all turned and ran. So did Maro, unfortunately – stupid wolf. I was left with my sword in my hands and goblin carcasses at my feet – and then I heard a familiar voice call my name.

It was Nura, the wizard with whom I’d travelled long ago, when I’d first started adventuring. She sounded entirely unsurprised to see me (but then, I think it would take a lot for her to sound anything but poised, and a little bored). They were all there – Chrysta, Vall, even Faye (who seems to have become a terrifyingly good fighter). There were new people, too. One of them (Zakaroth was his name, a half-elf I think) rode straight past me after the goblins. There was also a gnomish cleric, and an elven bard who apparently followed Faye. I’d only just introduced myself when the bard rummaged in his bag and brought out a letter addressed to me.

The seal was unmistakable. I’d seen it everywhere when I was younger. The Council. Wasn’t it enough that they’d banished me? What could they possibly want with me now?

I read the letter with growing disbelief and anger. It was a mistake? They hadn’t meant to actually exile me? Oh, and by the way, they’d hoped I’d come back one day?

I’m not sure what would have happened if Vall (of all people) hadn’t stepped in. He knew exactly what I’d just read, because he’d also been contacted by the Council. And he understood how furious I was. the next thing I knew, we’d somehow moved instantly in space (he called it teleporting), to a place called the DIvine City. And that’s where I met the Gods.

Except they weren’t the Gods as I knew them. We went to the temple of Calistria, Vall prayed (which was strange enough), and then someone appeared. It wasn’t the Goddess as I’d seen her depicted, though there was definitely a resemblance. And when she spoke, there were three distinct voices. She/They told me that because of the ‘betrayal’, the Gods had banded together to fight a terrible evil, and one – Nethys, God of magic – had actually been killed. The others were weakened, and some had, for want of a better word, merged. (That included my Goddess, Desna. She was now Shelyn-Desna, but they seemed to be somehow more at ease with each other than the being who had been Calistria.)

They apologised. Gods, apologising to us. Apparently the directive to banish us had been misunderstood by the elves. We were supposed to be given a choice – we could remain at home among our own people, or we could choose to help the Gods restore the world. (At least, that’s what I thought they were saying. It was all starting to overwhelm me.) I think that if I’d suddenly found myself before the Council at that point, I would have simply attacked them. How many of us had our hearts broken by this ‘miscommunication’? How many were still out there, not knowing the truth?

Shelyn-Desna took pity on me, I think. She granted me the power to use these magical transports, the portal stones, and let me go. In an instant, we were back in the village, with the adventurers. Strangely, it was Faye who realised I wasn’t exactly in the mood for a reunion. She suggested that drinking heavily might be the right thing to do. I couldn’t agree more.

So here I am, my world turned upside-down again, back with the people who I travelled with at the start of my journey. There are new faces here, too. I don’t know where things are going from here. I think I can safely say, though, that nothing’s going to be the same again.

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Tyger, Tyger, Burning Bright

Back in capital, we learned that two of the clockwork soldiers had gone back into their alcoves, presumably to wind themselves up again, foiling our plan to run them down.

We spend quite some time discussing plans. I suggested sabotaging the winding points, perhaps by putting glue on them so the soldiers would get stuck when they next went to wind up – but magical glue strong enough to hold them is expensive, and they would still be a menace to anybody who came into arm’s reach.

The other option was simply to fight them, although given how much damage they’d done last time, I wasn’t terribly keen on this. Constructs being made of metal and hence rather hard to damage, we considered the desirability of acquiring some adamantine weapons.

These are not exactly easy to come by, but Chrysta had recently – after a long wait – acquired a set of adamantite plate armour. Somebody suggested melting it down to make weapons, which earned a withering look, and then we started talking about swinging her around on a chain as a weapon, or perhaps bringing a small trebuchet to fling her.

Eventually we decided to order some adamantine arrowheads instead. But before we could do anything further in this business we received a summons to the palace, and off we went.

We were ushered into King Melinar’s private audience chamber. Lord Andine was present, and an unfamiliar half-elf wearing the colours of the northern kingdom.

It seems there had been recent seismic activity near the Spine, revealing a disturbing-looking protuberance that has people worried. He showed us an artist’s impression: it looked like a giant skull.

Hmm. A giant skull would be a rather impressive retreat, if a bit clichéd. But I expect Chrysta would find reasons to disapprove of it.

p.s. I am not a necromancer. I just happen to know a little bit of necromancy. All part of the rich tapestry that is magic.

We decided that this was more interesting than wrangling with the clockwork guards, so we made plans to head to the skull-ish protuberance as quickly as possible (via portal stone to the northern capital), and then come back a more roundabout way, looking for more stones as we went.

It was my first time in the north (Zakaroth had unlocked the stone on a previous, solitary visit) and I took some time to look around. The capital was rather more cramped than its southern counterpart, and although it was only a little while past midsummer, it felt noticeably cooler. As I explored, I noticed a few people who seemed to be surreptitiously keeping an eye on me, but so far nothing’s come of that.

From the maps available, we estimated that the journey to the skull-place would be close to a thousand miles, perhaps twenty-five days’ travel even on horseback. I realised that it would be faster if I spent the time enchanting horseshoes to grant us speed, even though it meant several days’ delay before the start of our journey.

Those of us who didn’t already have horses acquired them. Seeing no need to economise, I invested in a battle-trained heavy horse with a military saddle, and I’m glad I did.

I was pleased with the performance of the horseshoes; we practically flew through the countryside, making good time, and stopping at night where we could.

On the tenth evening, as we were approaching a town where we planned to stop, we noticed that our horses were getting restless. The grass at either side of the road was suspiciously high, and as we paused to look around we noticed large tracks with sharp claws.

The mystery was very quickly resolved when we heard Chrysta yell and turned to see her in the jaws of a large feline – some sort of oversized tiger? – which was trying to extricate her from her armour.

Knowing Vall’s habits, I moved around so that I (or preferably my horse) could occupy its attention while he flanked, and I hit it with some weakening magic, but Chrysta was still having great difficulty getting free of it.

At that point our troubles increased, as a second tiger leapt out and started chewing on Zakaroth. I wasn’t sure who needed me most, but Chrysta had heavy armour and a robust dwarvish physique, and between Vall and Faye pounding on her tiger I thought she wouldn’t be troubled by it for much longer.

So I greased the half-elf, using a simple but effective spell from some distance away, and he squirmed free.

Faye and Vall finished off the first of the tigers, and then Faye rode in to get between me and the tiger (much appreciated). It leapt on her, but Besh tagged it with a curse and I hit it with another exhausting ray, leaving it noticeably weaker. Chrysta, having extricated herself from under the remains of her tiger, targeted it with spells, and I hit it with a flaming sphere, and Zakaroth shot it, and it went down under our combined attack.

Then Chrysta did a lot of healing, and we all did a lot of swearing, before riding on into town. Where the local sheriff warned us about the threat of tigers. Thanks ever so much. Apparently they’d eaten almost two dozen people in the last couple of weeks, which sounds quite excessive.

Shiny points: 28 carried over, +1 for summary = 29.

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Four Adventurers Walk Into A Bar-Ghest

With the castle now permanently gone, our thoughts turned naturally to the basements. The fight with the spectres had been quite tough, so we decided to rest for the night before looking for more trouble.

Naturally, we set a watch. In the middle of the night I was woken by Chrysta shouting angrily; apparently somebody had shot her. Pulling myself to my feet, I saw about eight goblins attacking us: three charging Chrysta, five more standing back and shooting.

Zakaroth shot the one who appeared to be the leader, but despite several hits it didn’t go down. Since the shooty goblins were all standing quite close together, it seemed like a good opportunity to try one of my new spells.

The results were… quite gratifying. Massive black tentacles erupted from the ground, grabbing at all five of the goblins. Most of them were crushed immediately.

The leader was a different matter. Before my eyes it transformed into something bigger and much, much uglier. Something like a hideously ugly wolf. I’ve heard of such things: a barghest, a sort of demon that often associates with goblins.

The barghest managed to break free of the tentacles, but it didn’t do it much good; as it turned to flee, Zakaroth shot it some more and it finally dropped.

Meanwhile, Faye had come to Chrysta’s aid and killed one of her attackers. The others fled, only to be cut down by Faye and Zakaroth.

One remained, still in the tentacles. It must have been stronger than the rest, but I hit it with a ray of exhaustion that sapped its strength, and it collapsed into the grasping morass.

All in all, that could have gone a lot worse.

We rested up until morning and then tracked them back to some caves around the back of where the school had been. The back half of the cave was regular, the same sort of construction as we’d seen in the old school. All in all, it looked like one of the old store rooms, sheltered from the last thousand years of wind and weather by the time-locked school above it.

Searching through the basements, we found various old supplies including walking staves, fine china, textbooks on magical theory, and an interesting old letter from one of the inhabitants that mentioned the travel stones and the disappearance of the dwarves. The china looks like it might be valuable to the right collector.

After that we were ready to head back to civilisation. We stopped by the old farmhouses; after a thousand years of ruin they were barely recognisable, but we found some remnants of more old buildings that had us wondering if there might be a portal stone nearby.

The main obstacle to our search was that the whole area was heavily overgrown. Chrysta, obviously, wanted to burn the trees down, but I suggested just summoning an earth elemental instead. It took only a few seconds to find the stone, which we were only able to recognise from close up, and we were able to activate it.

Shiny points: 27 carried over, +1 for summary = 28.

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School's Out Forever

We discussed the old magical school that we’d seen almost a year ago, on our way down-river, and agreed that it might be time to pay it a return visit. I had some commission work to do: a private commission for a noblewoman whose name I shall withhold, and a set of magical glasses for myself that give me dark-vision the equal of Chrysta’s, as well as looking rather sophisticated. So the others headed out to activate portal stones while I completed my work.

Just as I was finishing up, I heard a telepathic message: “We’re at the big glowing hole in the ground castle, please join us.” I walked out of my workshop, and to my surprise found myself outside, in a forest, with my companions standing nearby. At first I wondered if one of them had discovered some teleportation magic, but no, there was a god involved.

Behind me was a ruined arch, and behind it a large crater. My friends filled me in: after some sort of fracas with spiders and teleporting dogs, they had arrived at the site. Once again, the magic school stood there, with its two guards; once again, Chrysta had dispelled it with a burst of positive energy, leaving only a large crater. Zakaroth had walked into the crater and started to fade out of existence – apparently quite an unpleasant sensation – before returning; fortunately Chrysta’s healing had restored him to substance. Somewhere around then, Savanah had shown up and facilitated my prompt arrival.

(Note to self: must ask later what form the transparency took. Were his internal organs &c. visible? Or only the outer layer?)

I detected an overwhelming aura of magic, the most powerful I’d ever felt, and after the business of the exploding time-mage that’s saying something. It appeared to form a sphere, albeit very slightly irregular, with the centre quite some way above ground level.

While we talked, Savanah had disappeared, as gods of illusion are wont to do. We agreed to wait until morning, in case the castle should reappear, and in the meantime I decided to test my new Arcane Eye for scouting the neighbourhood, in case of more spiders or similar.

Viewing the area from above, I saw bits of rubble and a magical glow. Some cellars were visible in the crater, and I also noticed the lack of debris around the rim; it looked more as if the ground had simply been cut out by the magical sphere, rather than blown outwards by an explosion.

Looking further afield: the forest. It ended abruptly near the crater, and at the back of where the castle had been, I saw some patches of difference. Under the canopy I found an old barn; evidently this patch had once been farmland, explaining the slight difference in foliage here.

After some minutes scouting, I decided to bring the eye back and send it through the ruined arch, into the magical effect. I woke up some time later with a throbbing head; apparently that was a bad idea.

Meanwhile, the castle had reappeared. On consideration, it seems that this happened every time we all took our eyes off it. Perhaps this explains the lyrics of the old ballad by Andrew ye Eldritch, “Whann Thou Seest Not Me, Thanne Do I Not Be”… although I suppose this is the reverse of that.

Faye tried throwing rocks, which bounced off the walls. Chrysta send an eagle through a window, and when it didn’t die, Faye took a grappling hook and climbed in, followed by yours truly.

The room looked like a scholar’s bedroom – a small cot/bed, desk covered in papers, scrolls, parchment etc. It didn’t look like it had been there for a thousand years, and soon enough we found out why. Every time I picked something up, it reverted almost immediately to its old state – books that I’d picked up to read returned to the shelves, etc. etc. Faye opened the bedroom door, and a couple of seconds later it was closed again, which might have been extremely nasty for anybody passing through.

I scanned the papers on the desk – those that were exposed to sight – and was not very surprised to find that they were mostly concerned with magical theory, written in an old dialect. In a cupboard we saw several sets of robes, and a very shiny outfit. Faye grabbed it briefly; before it reappeared in the cupboard, we saw it to be old-fashioned clothing.

We wondered what would happen if something from inside the room was taken outside the sphere. Faye grabbed an inkwell and threw it; it shattered against the wall, and then the shards and ink vanished. I tried pouring ink from my own inkwell, and it vanished from the floor, which raises some questions – at what point does newly-introduced matter become subject to this time-loop magic?

The others joined us, and we decided to venture further into the building and look for the centre of the sphere. Checking rooms along the way, we found a library – thousands of books, and of course none of them readable due to the magic looping behaviour. What a way to torture a mage.

We climbed up a level and found another library (gaah!) and then another level. Here the whole floor was a single meeting room with nine sturdy chairs around a table… and a feeling that there was something in the room I couldn’t look at. Familiar, eh?

Chrysta told us that it looked as if each chair was personalised for the person who sits there, and in each chair was a glowing humanoid form – some human-shaped, some dwarf, some elf, some gnome.

At this point Zakaroth showed up and bolstered my will to the point where I could see the concealed forms. I saw that every chair was marked with the insignia for one of the schools of magic, with the last having all eight. Seems appropriate for a council of mages or some such. The spacing of the figures offered an explanation for the not-quite spherical shape of the effect, as if each of them had generated their own sphere, overlapping the others.

Interesting point: the front door of the castle, and the two guards, are outside the crater and hence outside the spheres.

We remembered how the last glowing mage had exploded, and decided that detonating nine at once might be imprudent without divine aid, but before seeking that out we thought we might as well explore a bit further.

In the basements we found kitchens, storage… and a torture chamber. Charming. Returning to the meeting room, we found that two mages showed up as strongly evil; contrary to Certain People’s prejudices, neither of them was in the “necromancy” chair, but rather divination and abjuration.

Best guess: at the time of the Catastrophe, the mages had attempted to take the school out of time, which had not been an unmitigated success.

Having seen all there was to see, and resigned ourselves to a lack of opportunities for looting or reading, we decided to go back outside and have a word with the gods.

While we stood outside the castle, Zakaroth stood in communion with Asmodeus… and then, without warning, opened fire on one of the guards. They charged with considerable speed, and one hit Zakaroth with considerable force, leaving him seriously weakened. The others managed to kill one of the spectres, and I cast a spell that stopped the other in its tracks, giving us time to prepare both protective and offensive magics before bringing it down. At that point, the castle vanished once more, this time for good.

On thinking about the reality excursions that we’ve encountered to date, it occurs to me that

ZAKAROTH AND FAYE DO NOT READ THE NEXT BIT

ACTUALLY CHRYSTA DON’T READ THE NEXT BIT EITHER

VALL YOU’RE PROBABLY OKAY TO READ THE NEXT BIT

FAYE I MEAN IT DON’T READ IT

<explosive-runes.png>

each of them has been anchored to a specific creature or creatures – the spectral guards here and similar undead in that underground one, the exploding mage, and so forth. Presumably if we ever needed to end one in a hurry, the most expedient method would simply be to kill everything in sight until we found the anchors?

FAYE I DID TELL YOU NOT TO READ IT I THINK CHRYSTA HAS SOME BURN OINTMENT

Shiny points carried over: 26, +1 for summary = 27.

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Guest Post: Back to the Crater
as scribed by Merindarel

In absence of our oft-adopted scribe, I take it on myself to fill the page of actions rent by us in times between our wizard’s absence and return-to-stage.

Our cast at present:
Val, the elf unseen,
Faye, our vanguard, boisterous and brief
Chrysta, font of balance
Zak, elf 2
Myself,
and Besh, a scholar of Zak’s belief.

Our former focus; clockwork sentinels, were in the arduous process of winding down, and in our need to act with some intent, Val did recall a hole within the ground. A crater left by some enchanted school; perhaps some magic had survived its slight incineration; thus our motley band did venture via a portal towards its blight.

Our venture past the stone was quite mundane, a river cruise to some forgotten glade where corpses of some fearsome wolf-beasts lay, all slain by some familiar curved blade. Attempts were made to find the dead beasts tracks. Their age betrayed us, yet our charge was near. Our cleric called a winged beast to scout from high above; our passage was made clear.

Began our march, and yet we heard the cries of some fair animal; and a battle fought. We charged to find some spiders in a fray with Dogs of wisdom; thus our swords were brought to bear; the tide was turned to favour dogs. We cleaned their foes from earth, then tended to the wounded of the pack. As they could speak, our troupe petitioned them for what they knew.

As well as what we sought, we learned of foes that dwelt within the forest; something large and doglike, with a humanoid host in tow (although it couldn’t be said who was in charge). We thanked them, and swore we would slay the fiends (perhaps for friendship, or for bloodlust say?). Yet still we had a crater to explore, and sent the gentle blink-dogs on their way.

The crater was not quite as craterlike as would be seemed from what my mentor said. Rather, a mighty castle stood aloft, with fearsome guards at arms upon its head. We came to speak to such; they spoke in tongues that hadn’t graced our world for many years. We tried to speak in turn; our words undone, we knew our efforts fell upon deaf ears.

And yet, this still did not seem wholly true; my mentor thought of what they’d done before, when last encountering this forgotten place. Our Cleric, chrysta brought unto the fore. She cast a spell that would disrupt undead, and all the castle left without a trace. And as expected, some unholy gash now occupied the earth within its place.

Zak passed within the hole, was near undone, and came back to our earth half of himself. The damage was repaired, to our relief. Alas, we could not enter with our health. Without a wizard, we were quite unsure how to proceed, so Zak called on a name most ancient, and was filled with godly might; so gods might see this crater much the same.

And next to us appeared a woman quaint, who could not see the crater for the fort. She called herself a goddess, so our priest did lend her sight to this small god-like sort. She saw the hole, declared it most unique, and pondered with us on what next to do. Without our arcane specialist it seems we may be at an impasse, through and through.

So until she returns (and claims her page)
we make this clearing our terrestrial stage.

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Windup toys

Further developments: I can now understand Mary and Adam again, and the treasure room for this castle (castlette?) is quite well-stocked, enough so that the main limitation on my ability to craft things is now the time it takes to make them.

(Well, that and the annoying issue that although I can enchant hammers, necklaces, dimension-warping haversacks, belts, gloves, and marital aids, I cannot do anything with rings. Very peculiar.)

(Note to self: would be interesting to try enchanting a series of fingerless gloves, gradually shortening the wrist and losing fingers one at a time, and see what the cutoff is at which a minimalist glove becomes a ring?)

We have decided that it might be a good place to set up digs. The castle is an hour’s walk from the travel stone – close enough for reasonably quick travel to the capital, although a little too far for a zip-line – and not too far from the former time-stop zone, which might make for interesting magical researches.

The Church of Asmodeus owns the castle and a large part of the lands around it, which is very convenient for Zakaroth, but I am not entirely sure that I wish to tie myself too closely to that particular faith, and while it’s a nice little castle-ette in its way, it’s not quite how I’d expected a wizard’s sanctum to look.

Chrysta has been having some qualms about the ghosts, apparently believing it was her Pharasma-given duty to lay them to rest; while I’m not averse to the idea in itself, her insistence on this is has been causing… friction… with Zakaroth so I’ve been reading Pharasmite texts and doing my best to convince her that they might be part of the divine plan, or something.

(Also, given that my magical development would be incomplete without thorough knowledge of all the eight schools, I would prefer that this not obstruct my friendship with Chrysta. For example, should I ever wish to raise an army of the dead – not that I have any current intentions in that direction! but one never knows what the future holds and it would be irrational to prematurely exclude – it would be nice to have precedent on my side.)

Eventually she went off to the temple for spiritual advice, although from her manner on returning I’m not sure she got the answers she wanted.

Faye and I decided to clear out, avoiding any potential contretemps between Chrysta and Zakaroth, and we headed for the capital. There was an elf waiting for us at the portal stone, with a bow, a rapier, and a whip. (Kinky.)

He introduced himself as Merindarel and gave Vall a letter, and then told Faye that he’d been sent to assist her by the powers that be. He can speak several languages, play some sort of stringed thingy, and sing!

We all discussed how nice it would be to have a bard accompanying us, how lovely it would be to have sweet music on our travels. For some reason Faye was a bit put out by this, I’m not sure why. Later on she tried to start some serious musical trolling of the entire Asmodean faith, but was advised that this would be unwise.

I decided to look into lawyers, in order to make sure that any arrangements made with Zakaroth et al. are adequately watertight. We established that there’s a lot of arable land to the north of the castle, attached to the castle, but the rest of the surrounding lands have reverted to the town, which is in a trust being looked after by the Crown. There’s some space on the northern edge of town, between the town and the castle, and it might be a suitable place to set myself up; I’m considering establishing a college of wizardry, especially since some magicks are best learned at a polite distance from populated areas.

Zakaroth has also acquired a sidekick, a priestess of Asmodeus by the name of Besh.

We took some time to attend to our affairs, and I did a good deal of crafting for my companions and for myself; I strengthened some of my protective equipment and managed to make myself an ioun stone, a little thing that gives me a little additional protection and (far more importantly) looks very impressively magical.

I mentioned before that we’d put our alcoholic finds up for auction. (Excluding Faye, obviously.) The day finally arrived, and we took the opportunity to hobnob with the rich and famous; I may have taken the opportunity to mention, once or twice, that I am able to craft magic items for an appropriate fee.

The first of the barrels went for a very high price, and then rather unexpectedly an earthquake struck the city. The older part of town is sturdily built and wasn’t badly damaged, but the newer end suffered some damage. The auction was placed on hold briefly, and then resumed once we were satisfied there was no immediate danger.

Some minutes later we heard screaming, and as has become habit we of course ran towards the danger. The screaming was coming from below the palace, in the stormwater system, but we had to get past a very heavy stone manhole cover to reach it. Chrysta reshaped the stone while I cast a spell to enhance my darkvision, and then we headed down the hole.

The tunnel was better than I’d feared, not flooded and not too smelly. It was pretty dark but there was light coming towards us from the palace, and the screaming was getting closer. It turned out to be coming from three workmen, two of whom were running while carrying their badly-injured colleague.

Chrysta healed him up and we questioned them. They told us they were doing maintenance work and then three things hit them, but they weren’t able to give us any detail.

We followed the blood trail on the floor to find where they’d run into trouble. There was a large open area, either under the palace or just before it, and the stonework looked old – quite ornate. Standing in the room were three humanoid statues, one with blood on its sword, and some of my companions heard a very faint ticking.

Chrysta ventured near and took a look at the statues. They were armoured, and in the gaps between the armour she saw cogs and gears. (note to self: look up what the difference is between a cog and a gear.)

I’ve read about such things: clockwork soldiers, constructs. Usually they can only go for so long before they require re-winding; Vall spotted a rod on the wall that might have served to wind them. Perhaps the earthquake shook them loose and activated them? They were marked with the insignia of the city seal, but an old version, before the Catastrophe.

Chrysta walked up to a grille, and this was when we discovered the statues’ attack conditions; one of them hit her extremely hard with some sort of pole arm, although in the confusion I cannot recall whether it was a guisarme, ranseur, or glaive-guisarme-bec-de-corbin. We backed off in a hurry and the soldiers didn’t attack further, so we decided it was best to leave them alone for now. Given their location, it seems likely that they were put there to guard the palace from unauthorised intrusion.

We sought out other workers and warned them to stay away from statues; then we headed up to the palace library and questioned a palace functionary who’s responsible for works.

He told us that the statue room is an exit for the palace drains. We asked about documentation and he pointed us to an old knowledge store full of plans of the palace and city buildings, old ledgers, etc. etc. – fascinating stuff! Plans of the sewers showed the constructs labelled as C1, C2, and C3.

From the accompanying documentation I confirmed that they are clockwork soldiers, which are usually restrained but can be remotely turned on. They have an active mode and a standby mode; they are less observant in standby, but it saves on winding. In active mode they have about twelve days’ endurance. Of course, there were no useful instructions on how to disable them.

We tried making a badge with the old city arms and putting it on a summoned ape. This was not altogether successful in discouraging them from attacking the ape. However, we did notice that they dropped into standby mode when we were far away, switching to active – ticking – when we approached.

This suggested that we might be able to run them down simply by keeping them in active mode. We tried parking a scarecrow nearby, but this wasn’t enough to keep them alert. I’ve suggested getting junior monks to sit there; they can practice meditation for a few hours or days at a stretch, and we can see whether that’s enough to run the sentries down.

Shiny points: 25 carried over, +1 for summary = 26.

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