The Twin Kingdoms

Lich-y, I Scream

Well, I almost got us all killed today. But more on that in a moment.

Earlier on, we’d found an archway leading to a mist-filled room; by pressing gems on the archway we’d made the mist vanish. I wondered whether this might be the same as whatever that mist was, but on close examination, it seemed somewhat different. I detected conjuration magic in the mist, now fading – perhaps the conjuration magic had been to replace what the air elemental scattered?

We sent an earth elemental down the corridor to check what was going on. The fog seemed to be gradually thinning, but had not yet cleared when Vall went down to see what was going on, and immediately started to panic – very much out of character. Myrie held her breath, went in, and pulled him out. Since the mist was still dissipating, we waited for an hour or so until it was completely gone.

(Why did it replenish itself at first, but not later? Was it because we burned the webs?)

The panic effect was no longer giving us trouble. Vall headed back down and searched thoroughly, finding no traps, no secret corridors, and no keys.

At the bottom of the stairs was a small room containing various rotting furniture and a gilded couch on which a dead-looking humanoid lay with a crown on its head. A jade coffer lay at the foot of the couch, and near the stairs was a mace.

From the mace I detected strong conjuration magic, and from the couch strong transmutation. Chrysta scanned for undead, and to nobody’s surprise confirmed that the figure on the couch was of that ilk.

I had my suspicions here. We hadn’t reached the end of the poem, so it seemed unlikely to be Acererak himself – more likely some sort of decoy, I thought, especially given the smallness of the room. The only conjuration enchantment I could think of that would be likely found on a mace would be disruption – that is, undead-killing – which seemed awfully convenient. Also, if my understanding of Acererak’s current status was correct, he ought to be much smaller and skull-ier.

In all this I was correct, but I badly misjudged the exact nature of the threat in the room. I assumed it to be a mummy, or something of that ilk, and we prepared accordingly: Chrysta and I cast various magical enhancements on one another, we stood in the stairway with our tougher fighters in front, Chrysta and I both summoned lantern archons to assist us, and then I telekinetically picked up the mace and handed to Chrysta.

At that point, the figure on the couch sat up and boomed something about “Who disturbs the rest of Acererak?”

Then, because we had obligingly arranged ourselves in a line up the staircase, it hit all of us (give or take Vall) with a ferocious gust of cold. Merinderel fell, and Faye abandoned the front line to go to his aid; I’m not sure this was a clever tactical decision, but at the moment I’m hardly in a position to criticise her for that, and I suppose I should be glad if she’s showing some sign of taking responsibility for her entourage.

The archons were blasted out of existence – a couple of mine scored a few hits on the creature before they went – and the others engaged. Chrysta hit it with the mace, which seemed to scare it, and Vall slipped past it only to find that his rapier had little effect on it. Myrie had similar problems with her arrows, before switching to blunt-headed ones.

(Note to self: brief companions on appropriate measures against various creature types, ensure that everybody is adequately equipped with a range of options for combat.)

By this stage I realised my error; we might not be dealing with Acererak himself, but this creature was a lich of some power. I had some idea of their capabilities and was concerned that another spell might well kill us all.

Thankfully, my Halt Undead spell stopped it in its tracks – not the first time it’s saved us from serious danger – and we had time for a very quick tactical discussion and change of plans. We checked the jade coffer, thinking perhaps to find a phylactery, but there was nothing appropriate. Then Chrysta gave the mace to Vall and resumed using the hammer I’d enchanted for her – it is gratifying how fond she is of it – and I boosted Faye’s strength.

Once we were ready, Faye grabbed the lich, preventing it from casting and from defending itself against a thorough hammering from the rest of the party. Before very long it was smashed to bits.

At this point the magic mace disintegrated (the ONE decent bit of loot we’d found in this damned place) and the ceiling started coming down. We ran back towards the entrance, all the way to the secret door in the pit, and things continued to crumble around us.

This is when Chrysta’s obsession with rocks became useful. Something in the nature of the rockfall made her suspicious, and she stopped, shouting something I couldn’t catch. I realised what was going on, took rock-elemental form and melded with the wall (just in case I was wrong) and disbelieved the illusion, for indeed that’s what it was. The others took a little longer, and Merinderel made it all the way out and had to be retrieved by Vall, but eventually we regrouped.

Vall had picked up the coffer. Inside were six potions of mediocre healing, perhaps a thousand gold pieces’ worth of gems, a scroll with seven low-level spells, and a map that purported to show the location of a treasure several hundred miles away.

Working on the assumption that this entire “treasure” was cheap nonsense intended to insult and annoy us, I examined it closely – with Merinderel’s aid – and we confirmed that it was a high-quality forgery.

So, as suspected, the lich was merely a decoy. But the poem suggested that Acererak’s tomb lay some way beyond the pit-trap secret door, and there weren’t any other doors or rooms past that… or none that we had found.

Returning to the lich’s chamber, we found that his body had disappeared. We (mostly Vall) searched the room for secret doors, finding none, then continued to search all the way back to the pit trap. Just before the trap, on the stairs leading down, Vall found an extremely well-hidden secret door; it was sturdily built with no obvious way of opening it, but Chrysta dealt with this by reshaping the stone around it so it fell open.

Considering the next lines of the poem:

“These keys and those are most important of all” – still haven’t found them. Could be a problem.

“Beware of trembling hands and what will maul” – perhaps the lich, and the mace? Not sure.

“If you find the false you find the true” – does that mean the false Acererak? Or something else?

“And into the columned hall you’ll come” – not there yet.

Shiny points: 32 carried over, +1 for summary = 33.

The Story Of 'O'

We agreed to check out the skeleton passageway before continuing on. Vall found a secret door at the end, with a trap (of course) which he disarmed. The door mechanism was set up to drop down into the room, and we had some concerns that once in we might not be able to get out.

Chrysta summoned a small rock elemental, which swam through the stone and reported back to tell us there was a room below with three large chests in it. Next I triggered the door, since I would be able to shift into an elemental form and get back the same way if need be. As it turned out, the door was reversible, so I went back; Vall jammed it open, and we checked out the room.

It was about thirty feet by thirty, empty except for three large chests: one gold, one silver, one oak bound with bronze. The gold and oak chests both radiated strong conjuration magic.

(At this point I looked through my notes to figure out which spells might qualify as strong conjuration: mostly teleport or monster-summoning spells, neither of which seemed attractive.)

The silver chest didn’t radiate magic, and Vall found no traps on it, so I opened it telekinetically and then flew a mirror over to look into it. There was a small crystal box in the chest with a ring in it… as I had suspected!

Zakaroth picked up the box and a spray of darts peppered him and Vall – as we belatedly realised, nobody had checked the inside of the box. After the swearing stopped, Zakaroth opened the box and brought it back. He showed me the ring: faint abjuration magic, a small ring of protection.

We headed back to the chapel, where the eastern wall had a mark that might have been a letter ‘o’ or might just have been a picture of a ring. I placed the ring into the slot below, and there was a grinding noise, and a section of the wall descended into the floor. I must admit to a certain feeling of smugness – not just for interpreting this part of the riddle, but also for identifying that the clues appear to be in the order that we’re expected to navigate this mess.

Past the wall was a flight of stairs down, then a landing, then another flight of stairs, and then a set of doors with corridors, with a shallow and suspiciously non-lethal pit trap behind each door.

Faye: “Less whinging, more unhinging!”

Remembering the “Two pits along the way will be found to lead to a fortuitous fall, so check the wall”, we inspected the pits closely, and found that the wall of the third did indeed contain a secret door. This led to a narrow corridor which widened after ten feet, leading to a stairway down. The bottom of the stairway was obscured by a white cloud, and we realised we were already standing partway in the cloud, so we backed up a bit and I sent an arcane eye down to scout.

The corridor extended another forty feet, and in the thick of the fog there was a door on the south wall. Since I couldn’t open the door, I sent the eye back up to investigate the corridor continuing on past the pit with the secret door. That corridor continued some way west, then north for about 160 feet, then ended in another door, oak heavily bound with iron bands.

Having exhausted the possibilities of the eye, we returned to the mists. Chrysta sent an air elemental in, and it briefly cleared the fog with a whirlwind, but there wasn’t anything interesting on the floor. Zakaroth opened the southern door to find a stairway with lots of webs, and Chrysta sent a fire elemental down to torch them. More later…

Shiny points: 31 carried over, +1 for summary = 32.

Take A Pew

Behind the illusions, four secret passages remained: two crawlspaces under the hydra and skeleton, and two doors behind the mummy and the nymph.

The poem had mentioned “night’s good colour”, so we started by investigating the tunnel under the black-sphere-holding hydra. I sent an arcane eye through, finding a rather long and very twisty passage that eventually came to a dead end. I brought the eye back and tried the skeleton tunnel, which had a much shorter tunnel before another dead end.

To explore the mummy passage, we needed to open the door, which Faye did. Unfortunately Vall had not checked it for traps, which led to Faye and Myrie being rather perforated by a shower of spears. To add insult to injury, behind the door was nothing but the spear trap and a solid wall. Vall checked the nymph door and found it exactly the same, so he disarmed it.

We were suspicious about the dead ends, so decided to have Vall check them for secret doors. Working on the assumption that the designer of this place is an annoying prick who would want to inconvenience us as much as possible, we decided to try the long and winding hydra passage first.

Vall crawled through, and found a secret door at the end. Behind it was a big open space: a chapel decorated with scenes of everyday life, but with all the people shown as rotting. On the near side were four rows of wooden pews, with a mosaic path leading between them. Past that was a fence, and an altar on the other side, between two urns; there were also candelabra and a throne. Off to one side was a doorway with mists – similar to the ones we’d seen earlier – radiating strong conjuration magic. Oh, and a skeleton on the floor, outstretched finger pointing towards the misty doorway.

Zakaroth detected faint evil from the altar, and I detected magic. Vall investigated it, and found a lightning bolt trap – which he disabled – but missed a fireball trap. Somehow, despite it blowing up in his face, he managed to jump and dodge, coming out without even being singed.

Myrie and Chrysta searched the pews and found a goodly sum of money, much of it in silver – no doubt designed to annoy anybody who didn’t have a handy bag of holding, as we did. They also set off a nasty poison gas trap which had many of our company running for the exit.

Vall: “They all ran.”

Me: “I didn’t run!”

Vall: “All of them.”

Me: “I’m still here.”

Vall: “Everybody ran.”

Me: “Is my invisibility spell acting up?”

Vall: “Yes, and your inaudibility spell.”

Me: “Thanks for letting me know!”

Vall found and disarmed a matching trap in the opposite pew, and HOPEFULLY my companions have learned a valuable lesson about not touching anything that Vall hasn’t checked out.

One of the two urns had a lid, and seemed to have something inside it. On the eastern wall nearby was a small slot with an ‘O’ above it, about the right side to fit a ring.

Hmm. “If shades of red stand for blood the wise will not need sacrifice aught but a loop of magical metal”… perhaps we should go back to the skeletal passage (is a skeleton a shade?) and look for a ring to put here?

We paused for a rest, allowing recovery of those who’d been gassed, and then I used my Mage Hand to lift the lid on the urn, which may not have been one of my better ideas. Two bloody red clouds poured out of the urn, buzzing angrily: a swarm of undead mosquitoes. I turned into a fire elemental, which singed them a little, but not before I had been very unpleasantly bitten. Zakaroth and Chrysta eventually slew them with positive energy, and in the urn we found a bright red stone on a chain: a periapt of wound closure, capable of stopping bleeding, which would’ve been nice to have during that fight.

Shiny points: 30 carried over, +1 for summary = 31.

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.

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.

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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