The Twin Kingdoms

Let Slip the Gods of Yore

We continued to jog towards the city limits. Vall scouted ahead and reported back: several of the teeth-eye-things were lying in ambush. Going around would have been time-consuming, so we decided to assault them head-on and thin out the opposition.

There were about a dozen of the kind we’d met before, and two more that seemed different; they still had the many-angled teeth/eyes thing happening, but they were bigger and moved more deliberately, seeming more solid.

Still, they went down quickly enough. Zakaroth shot one of the big ones repeatedly and it went down quickly, Vall killed another. Faye charged in and attracted a crowd of them (of course she did); they scratched her up a bit, but she did all right. I called up a sphere of fire, which might have been effective if they hadn’t kept dodging, and then I shot one with my crossbow.

I had been concerned that using magic might strengthen them (being thaumivores) but I thought it better to test that theory than remain uncertain, and it didn’t seem to be a problem. However, when Chrysta called up an earth elemental, she experienced unexpected pain – perhaps because the city is in another plane, summoning is affected?

Anyway, I moved in to help Faye and knocked out four of the critters with a colour spray. One of them hit me as I was casting, but I kept my concentration, and with that the fight was pretty much over, with my companions having taken care of the rest. As they died, they slipped back out of existence.

Curiously, the guards accompanying us hadn’t moved during the fight. Apparently, from their perspective the fight was over too quickly for them to see.

Moving on, we encountered another ambush. We dealt with it quickly enough, but Val took the opportunity to test the guards; he poked one fellow, who came to and joined the fight. It seems that we’re able to snap them out of it by interacting with them. Very peculiar.

Approaching the gate, we found the party we’d left at base camp, fighting something large and ugly. It was standing on the city side of the boundary, casting spells at them (which fizzled harmlessly at the boundary) and throwing rocks, which were rather more effective. It was an ugly creature: tall, humanoid, with broad shoulders. Zakaroth told us it was radiating strong evil – some kind of demon or devil?

I bolstered Faye’s strength, and we charged in. Faye, Vall, and Zakaroth hit it with a series of well-aimed strikes, and for want of anything better to do I plinked away with magic missiles. It showed surprising resilience and fought back, hitting Faye hard. I smacked it with my staff from a safe distance, and Chrysta woke up our accompanying guards, who finished it off.

We didn’t have to worry about the old “is it really dead?” question because it exploded very convincingly, showering us with corrosive ichor. I cast Prestidigitation, which cleaned it off me, but I felt a flare of pain in my fingers as I cast it; I suggested running past the threshold, and Faye did so; when she did, there was a blinding flash of light, a smell of pork, and the ichor was gone.

(At this point I vaguely noticed that there were five guards on the other side, not the four we had left, but I was still rather distracted and didn’t think to investigate this as I should have.)

Zakaroth rode past the portal, cried havoc, and released the gods. A line of lights linked him to the mountain, there was a loud crack, and things changed: now the air in the city was the same as on the outside, and the magical boundary was gone.

(Meanwhile, Faye was terrified that something was going to hunt her down and eat her. Hmm.)

Returning to the city we found it still abandoned, similar to its previous state, but the atmosphere was much less oppressive. We returned to the temple district, beginning with the temple of Iomedae; Faye called on her, and she responded, much faster than on our previous visit.

The gods told us that the demon had come from another realm, and was trying to take over. Iomedae advised me to go to the temple of Nethys, which I did.

Faye visited Cayden’s temple again. He was doing rather better; still bandaged, but no longer smelling of gangrene. Iomedae told us that his soul had been separated from his body, but now that they were reunited, the spark of heroism will remain in our world and will no longer fade as it had previously done.

(This, I suspect, is going to shake things up.)

Then Cayden challenged Faye to a drinking contest, which went much as you would expect.

Visiting Nethys’ temple, the feeling of presence was still weak; I called on him, and once more Iomedae-acting-for-Nethys appeared. She told me and Chrysta that the blockage resulting from his absence could be circumvented, and touched us lightly. I was overwhelmed by the sensation – as was Chrysta – and it was several hours before we regained consciousness, but I can tell you that it was VERY much worth it. As she had promised, the blockage was gone – no, not gone, but pushed aside, held at bay – and I felt new power coursing through me. Iomedae told me she had placed a permanent part of herself inside me.

(I hope Iomedae is not too easily shocked.)

Zakaroth visited the temple of Asmodeus and, I am informed, found him strengthened like Iomedae. I am not entirely sanguine about this.

Iomedae asked us, and I understand Asmodeus gave similar instructions, not to let the outside world know about the changes that had happened to the gods. If anybody else wants to know, they can come here and find out themselves.

More good news, which will certainly shake things up: the travelling-stones can now be reactivated, though not remotely; we will have to go on a little tour. There is one in the Celestial City and one in the outer city, and we tested them, so that’s a start!

Shiny points: 17 carried over, +1 for summary -4 for rerolling to get decent HP = 14.

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The Many-Angled Ones

After finding the two dead guards in the gazebo, Vall and Zakaroth returned to base camp to warn the four we’d left there.

Meanwhile, Chrysta and I went to investigate the boarded-up temple (of Gorum, as it turned out). It had been pretty solidly blocked up, with heavy stone slabs – somebody really didn’t want people getting in, and I think I can guess why. Even standing around it made us both feel increasingly angry; I’m sorry to say that we quite lost control of our tempers. Chrysta went for me and tripped me up; I caught her in a web and backed off, and as I moved away from the temple I found the anger diminishing.

There were some guards nearby, and I warned them to stay away from the temple. Chrysta was shouting obscene things in Dwarvish (something about sedimentary intrusions? idk) and eventually broke out of the web. She came charging towards us, and Vall tripped her, whereupon she bounced down the remainder of the temple steps still yelling. Vall and the guards grabbed her and Vall applied minimal throttling until she passed out. When she woke up she was quite apologetic, and I hugged her to show there were no hard feelings.

From there we went to the gazebo. I hadn’t been there when Vall and Zakaroth first found them, but according to V&Z the slash in one of the guards was bigger than it was, and the non-spattered clear space on the floor was growing. Even as we watched, we saw a drop of blood disappear as it expanded. On experimentation we found that there was no magic within that zone.

At this point I spotted eyes watching me, down at ankle level, near one of the gazebo pillars. A little experimentation showed that casting spells made more of them appear, and we decided that this might be a bad idea. We backed away while Faye made some sort of reassuring speech to the rest of the guards.

This was when we noticed that two more guards were missing. They had been near the back of the group when we were investigating the gazebo, and as best we can tell something had picked them off very very quietly from behind everybody else’s backs.

We instituted a buddy system: guards in groups of three checking in on one another frequently, and groups checking in on other groups, so at least we’d know if it happened again – although I’m happy to say, we didn’t lose any more. Perhaps the increased vigilance deterred these predators.

We searched the adjoining house in hope of finding clues as to what was going on. It showed signs of having been evacuated in a hurry, but beyond that we found nothing of interest. By the time we finished, the troops were very jump. They reported feeling urges to leave the group and go check on things, but only when they were far away from us. Very curious.

At this point we felt a call from the temple district, and we hurried back with all the guards, to the sound of constant buddy-checks. We gathered at the temple of Iomedae. Or perhaps Iomedaes; there was a divine presence over the altar, and a human-sized avatar before it.

We described the problem, and she told us the attackers were creatures from other planes (yeah, we’d kinda figured that) which shouldn’t be able to touch ours. Then she asked us to take her avatar to the city border – but at the temple doorway she stopped, and said, “This is not our world”.

It seems the city has been somehow transported – which would explain why the atmosphere was different, and how the thaumivores were able to reach it.

Very very interesting…

She told us we’d talk further in the morning, and we spent an anxious but uneventful night in the temples. The city is shaded by high mountains to the east, and so in the morning the light appeared first in the west.

We spoke again to Iomedae, who was also channelling the other gods. They told us that they needed somebody to carry the essence of all the gods back to our world. We discussed, and almost unanimously agreed that it wasn’t going to be Faye; I’ll confess I was very tempted, but it also seemed a mite risky so we felt it might be best if it was somebody heavily armoured, and so we settled on Zakaroth.

We formed up around Zakaroth with all the guards and hustled back along the road to the edge of the city. On the way we were ambushed by six things that are hard to describe; the angles were all wrong, but I had an impression of big eyes, teeth, and claws.

I wasn’t sure whether spellcasting would exacerbate the situation, but I tried a low-level grease spell, and that tripped one. Another leapt at me and attempted to give me the haircut to end all haircuts, but I escaped with only minor scratches, and Zakaroth killed it before it could cause more inconvenience. One way and another, the other five went down, and we continued on our way.

To be continued…

Shiny points: 16 carried over, +1 for summary, +1 for “putting the ‘rot’ back in ‘erotica’”, -1 spent = 17.

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Your God Is In Another Dimension

Well, it has been… a time.

We made our way east along the cobbled road. All of us felt some sort of presence just out of sight; Vall and the soldiers scouted but found nothing.

After several hours we made it to the ruins of the old city walls, now collapsed and badly overgrown, and here we encountered another curiosity. A little way past the (ex-) gate, the state of the cobblestones abruptly changed from “ancient ruin” to excellent condition, as if they were brand new. Attempting to detect magic, I found nothing – but as I approached, I discovered that my spell’s range cut off abruptly at the point where the cobblestones changed.

Zakaroth walked across the threshold, then Vall, and then myself. As I had suspected, once past the boundary my range returned to normal, but when I turned to face back the way we had came it cut off at the boundary again.

It felt strange on the other side; the air was thicker, humid. (Quite odd – we were a long way from the sea.) On a hunch I experimented with a small fire, and found the smoke did not cross the barrier. Then we noticed something more: a complete absence of life past the threshold, except for us humanoids. No plants, no birds, no insects, nothing.

I ventured back out, caught a small beetle, and brought it back towards the barrier. As I came near it started to panic, and fled. When I caught another and carried it in a box, it began to struggle near the barrier, and did not stop once past the barrier; when I opened the box it scuttled out and flew back to the west.

Zakaroth’s horse was extremely nervous at crossing the boundary, but followed orders. Chrysta’s pony Quicksilver point-blank refused. We decided to leave four of Bastian’s troops behind with Quicksilver, to set up a supply depot outside the city, and then the rest of us proceeded in.

As we walked into the city we confirmed a complete lack of living things, or indeed recently-living. Flowerbeds were empty, stables had no straw in them. Old wooden objects remained – carriages and so forth – but no trees. Indeed, there were some holes in the ground where trees might once have stood. The river that ran through the city was crystal clear, devoid of fish, plants, and scum. At this point I checked my food and was relieved to find it still there and edible.

We made for the temple district, which is arranged according to the alignments of the deities; Nethys, being neutral, was in the middle, with a temple that opened in all four directions. It was very ornate and finely built (note to self: get Chrysta to write an appendix about the architecture) and as I walked in, I felt very comfortable. As if I was where I belonged.

There was a great altar at the middle of the temple. I walked up to it – more than a little nervous – and spoke: “Nethys, I call on you!”

The light did… strange things. A brightness, phasing in, and a form in the light.

Who looked nothing like what I expected of Nethys. Female, armoured, wielding a sword.

Digression: can the gods read what I write here? I cannot assume so – given some other curious gaps in their knowledge, more on that shortly. But I cannot assume not. On the other hand, if they can read my journal, perhaps they can read my mind anyway, in case it doesn’t matter.

So I’ll just say it. I was of course very impressed to meet an actual god, and I don’t mean any insult by this, she seems like a very nice and worthwhile deity, but she wasn’t the God I was hoping for. She was, in fact, Iomedae.

“Nethys cannot answer your call.”

Well, with apologies to any gods eavesdropping: goddamnit.

She told us: “When the Destroyer [Rovagug] was released, Nethys sacrificed himself to destroy it. He put himself on the other side of the divide, from which he cannot return.” Apparently she has attempted to take over his portfolio.

She added: “Nobody has travelled the stones to us in a thousand years.” Apparently the gods weren’t aware that the stones haven’t worked in a thousand years!

She explained that they don’t venture outside the city, because if they were to do so it would risk breaking the foundations of the world; the city is some sort of special reinforced zone. We filled her in on what the world was like from our side, and then she vanished, to go confer with the other gods.

Next stop: temple of Pharasma. Chrysta was also in for something of a shock: the goddess who appeared was not Pharasma but a chimeric god-being named Pharas-Calis’Ir. Apparently Pharasma, Calistria, and Irori had all been badly injured in the war, and merged to form a trinity. Again, it seems very odd that they hadn’t taken more notice of the fact that nobody had come to visit them in a thousand years; apparently they can only hear their worshippers very faintly.

Next stop: the temple of Cayden Cailean, which should have been a cheery place but stank of alcohol, blood, and gangrene. Faye called on him, and he made his appearance, looking worse than I’ve ever seen Faye, even after that time she went on an absinthe bender. He was badly injured, and looked to have been crying hard for a long time. The source of his grief: losing his friend Nethys. Apparently this grief is also why his wounds won’t heal.

Zakaroth mentioned something interesting: the spark of heroism that affects us (but not him) resonates with Cayden’s essence. It seems Cayden has been sleeping for decades at a time, in his grief; our theory is that the outbreaks of heroism coincide with his waking.

Cayden confirmed that Nethys sacrificed himself for “that thing”, and also clarified that the divide isn’t death. So… Nethys is still out there, somewhere? He also told us that the other gods were keeping “that bitch” Lamashtu in check.

Vall tried to touch Cayden to comfort him, and fell unconscious; when he woke, he told us he’d been overwhelmed by the god’s grief.

Then we went on to the temple of Torag, to resolve Chrysta’s increasing worries about her status as a dwarf. The temple was decorated with depictions of dwarves, and I have to say, none of them looked very much like Chrysta.

When Chrysta called at the altar, another hybrid god appeared: Tora-Saren, a female figure carrying a sword and hammer, looking very confused about it. She apologised to Chrysta and explained that both she and Torag had been badly injured, and this had destroyed the bodies of the dwarves; when Torag and Sarenrae merged, they put the souls of the dwarves into construct bodies made from the rock.

To my great relief, Chrysta was delighted by this news. She didn’t care about her body, now that she knew she had a dwarvish soul. Poor thing, she had been so distressed by her doubts of the last few weeks, it’s good to see her happy again.

(Though we still have to solve the bit where she’s likely to explode in a hundred years or so.)

Then Zakaroth made for the temple of Asmodeus, and some of us followed him. (Val went off to attend to business at the temple of Calistria, and since he clearly wanted his privacy, we respected that and left him alone. An excellent example for any gods or Fayes who might be thinking of reading my journal.)

Chrysta was unable to enter; I felt a very intimidating presence, but managed to step inside the temple nevertheless. I kept very quiet as Zakaroth spoke with Asmodeus, who I will not attempt to describe.

Asmodeus appeared very displeased with the state of affairs (by now we’d written down a FAQ to save having to explain the same things to gods every time) and told Zakaroth: “Your charge is to fix this. Without magic, we can’t operate. Do not trust Lamashtu or Urgathoa.”

In passing, we noticed that what must have been the temple of Rovagug now lay in ruins, and another (Gorum, lord of Battle) was boarded up. Curious.

Since we had split up, some of our group sent two of our guards with a message to regroup. The message was not delivered; when we went looking for the missing guards we found their trail led to a gazebo, and in the gazebo the two of them lay viciously disembowelled (I’m not sure if there’s any other way?) with one missing many important body parts altogether. There was a lot of blood, but the splatter went up to a certain point in the gazebo and then abruptly stopped.

(A dimensional portal? Some sort of object blocking its spread? Something else?)

Shiny points: 15 carried over, +1 for summary = 16.

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Into The Wilds

And we’re off!

Captain Bastian arrived at the Cat and Fiddle to let us know that His Northern Majesty had agreed to stage a joint expedition. (Much to my relief. Faye had been making noises about setting up public debates against Zakaroth, something that seems almost guaranteed to end terribly.)

So we set sail on the King’s Hope with Bastian and an honour guard of twelve soldiers. Faye had been celebrating our departure and was too hung over to sing, but I’m sure she’ll compensate for it at some point.

We had a four-day journey up to the delta at the mouth of the Majestic River. I was surprised to see nothing more than a small fishing settlement there, but apparently boats usually give it a wide berth since the outflow can be strong and dangerous.

Well, a small fishing settlement, and a large ship flying Northern colours. The Northern contingent had no heroes per se – apparently they have only recently started emerging there – but they matched our guard: a dozen soldiers led by Captain Lyka, a half-orc of the female persuasion.

(Mmm, women in uniform.)

Pondering: the kingdoms were divided because the old kingdom was too large to govern without magic. But what if magic should return? What if some present or future king were to decide it was time to reunite them? Could be messy.

(Though I imagine mages would be in demand!)

From there we transferred to a barge, which was rather more crowded than the King’s Hope, and they began to pole us eastward.

To our surprise and inconvenience, we encountered solid-ish ground where we had expected navigable swamp. We got out to explore. The blockage was mostly dried mud and muck mixed with flotsam, apparently washed down by a flood, but up ahead we could see a plume of smoke.

I levitated Vall to get a better view. He reported that there was an encampment up ahead, and it looked as if the river had been deliberately blocked and diverted, possible for fishing purposes.

We headed up to the settlement; I was not very surprised to meet more lizard people. This time Faye didn’t get to kill any of them (hooray!) Vall negotiated with them and arranged passage; they told us which way to go around the blockage.

We returned to the barge and headed upriver. Near nightfall we arrived at solid-er land, an old trading post with a nice boat ready for us.

We journeyed another ten days upriver, taking us to near the eastern edge of known lands. The boatmen agreed to drop us off as far east as they were willing to go, then return to settled lands and wait for a month to pick us up.

The cut-off, when we reached it, was quite abrupt: on the west side of a fence were ploughed fields, on the east was untouched wilderness.

We discussed options and agreed that Bastian, Lyka, and the guards would come with us; they don’t have the spark that we do, but they should be able to look after themselves. We found an old cobblestone road, badly overgrown, and set off into the wilds.

Vall and some of the guards scouted ahead and reported that there was a large chasm blocking our path, some forty feet wide, running north to south as far as the eye could see, and here it was that things took a peculiar turn.

Chrysta approached, and saw no chasm, nothing more than a tiny crack in the ground. She stepped across it; Vall saw her disappear, and then reappear on the other side of the chasm. When they talked, Chrysta sounded faint to Vall, but Vall was loud to Chrysta – all in all, as if the chasm existed for Vall, but not for Chrysta.

(The rest of us, when we arrived at the chasm, experienced things as Vall did. Except for one thing that I’ll get to…)

Chrysta laid a short stick across the chasm, and to the rest of us it appeared as a long log spanning the gap. Vall set up a rope and climbed down into the chasm, and to Chrysta it appeared as if the rope was vanishing into a narrow crack.

I attempted to detect magic, and learned that Zakaroth has a magical quiver, armour, and bow, but I learned nothing about the crack.

Vall walked across the stick-bridge that Chrysta had laid. To her, it looked as if he was shuffling very slowly balanced on a small stick.

I looked into the crack, and was rather unpleasantly surprised to see eyes looking back at me from the abyss. Lots and lots of them. Most were watching me, some Zakaroth, a few Vall and Faye, but none Chrysta.

(Hmm. Responding perhaps to magical potential? Except for Chrysta’s; presumably if she can’t see the chasm, it can’t see her.)

Chrysta had told us previously that this mountain was known to dwarves as “the place that doesn’t make sense”. I suspect some extraplanar interference… but why is Chrysta affected differently? Is there something peculiar about dwarves?

We decided to cross using the stick-bridge. Vall and Faye went first, but the bridge broke. No matter, since Vall had a rope and they were able to recover. The eyes didn’t eat anybody.

As a replacement Chrysta laid down Faye’s falchion and we crossed it, one by one. (In my case, with a bit of unease, considering all the eyes.)

Shiny points: 16 carried over, +1 for summary, -2 spent = 15.

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Equinox

As I mentioned in my previous entry, our trip upriver awaits agreement from the North Kingdom, so we have had a couple of weeks to spend in the capital.

Vall has been exploring the town, no doubt doing something legitimate and businessmanlike.

Faye has spent her time talking to the elders here, learning their wisdom. I am surprised by how much she has matured in such a short time; she has learned the value of quiet contemplation and the pleasures of the mind.

(Joking. No, she headed straight for the taverns and got into a drinking contest with the sailors there. I think she won, if the hangover was anything to go by.)

Chrysta has spent much time in the temple, trying to fathom Zakaroth’s remarks about her being “not a proper dwarf”. She hasn’t spoken of what she learned, but she seems quite distracted and concerned. Maybe she’ll talk about it later.

Zakaroth has been… recruiting for Asmodeus? Apparently that’s legal.

As for me, I’ve been reading Grandmother’s books.

Her grimoire contained a wide assortment of interesting and useful spells – most pleasing! – but none of them are above the level of power that I already command. It is disheartening to think that this could be as far as I ever go.

From her journals, it’s clear that she felt the same way about it. At the start she was very enthusiastic about adventuring, after almost getting married instead, and happy to be out and about with her brother and friends. But later on, when she hit the same block that I now face, she became grumpy, frustrated, and at last outright hateful of the gods responsible. No wonder she chose to move far away from reminders of the adventuring life.

Great-uncle Andine let us know that there was a banquet coming up to celebrate the autumn equinox, and most of us took the opportunity to invest in some new clothes. I have acquired an exceedingly pretty silk dress, and I am exceedingly glad to have learned both cleaning and mending spells.

After a few days I needed a break from reading, and we headed down to investigate the local Adventurers’ Guild. We had heard (correctly) that people there were shaking down visitors for money before they could touch the orb, which we took amiss. Apparently by law the place belongs to adventurers (i.e. us), although held in trust by the Crown.

We shook down the shake-downers and did our best to return the money they’d taken from other visitors. Faye made some sort of speech which made me nostalgic for my recent spell of seasickness, and she and Zakaroth started showboating for the spectators.

Then an interesting turn of events: some people who had previously touched the orb without any joy did so again, and found that it now glowed. Possibly proximity to us has awoken a spark in them?

And a very curious thing: the orb does not respond to Zakaroth’s touch. Hmmm.

(One wonders: is he, in fact, from the distant past as he says? Or could he be from somewhere else, subject to different rules, perhaps brought here without knowing that he’s no longer in the world he came from?)

By the end of the day we had identified nine newly-fledged adventurers. Mar (young man, fighter); Timbry (male, wizard – perhaps at some stage I can teach him something?); Ann (human, monk); Debil (halfling, some sort of sorcerer?); and Syldic (half-elf, legitimate… businesswoman). I didn’t catch the names of the other four: a paladin of Abadar, a cleric of Cayden Cailean, a dwarvish bard, and a lady half-orc barbarian.

It would have been interesting to bring them along with us on our expedition; I’m sure they would have learned much, but it might have been a fatal lesson given that they haven’t yet had training. For the same reason, we are not taking my charges Gerard and Alessandra. The Crown will arrange for training for all these.

The equinox festival was quite impressive. The dinner was exceedingly fancy: sweet melons carved into the shape of swans! Swans carved into the shape of melons! Or something like that. We were seated apart from our companions, in order to meet other people.

Many of them are adventurers from the previous wave, now greying; a few of the non-humans come from earlier times. Some have old spellbooks that they can no longer use.

Note to self: if our excursion DOES find a way to lift the spellcasting block, I daresay many of these people will be EXTREMELY interested in that. We may need to be careful how we handle that.

During the evening, Val said something that caused Chrysta great offence. I don’t know what it was about, but it may have had something to do with the business that’s been bothering her?

Happy to say, His Northern Majesty agreed to a joint expedition upriver. (Does the North have adventurers too? Will they be coming with us?)

We organised supplies, including cold-weather clothes and so forth. Gerard, Alessandra, and Ann tried to stow away under our tarpaulin; I had to tell them off, of course, but I was proud that they’d made the effort. Soon enough, children…

Shiny points: 14 carried over, +1 for summary, +1 for bad jokes = 16.

“Maybe he’s born with it… maybe it’s Valvoline.”

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Well, that's interesting...

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We spent the night at the Fox and Flower, apparently the best inn in Pont’s Cove, and then next morning boarded the ship to sail north to the capital.

Although I had had no trouble on the way down the river, the ocean waves were rougher and I was horribly seasick for most of the four-day trip. Faye occasionally popped downstairs to pester me, whereas Chrysta (after recovering from her own seasickness) offered me some sort of tea, which helped my mood if not my stomach.

Faye suggested tying me up and dangling me from the mast or something or the sort. I told her NO. I will remember her behaviour next time she wants something.

Have made up my mind to look into the possibility of acquiring a dragon, for riding purposes. Surely that would be less nauseous?

I eventually found my sea-legs (more to the point, my sea-stomach) on the fourth day, just as we came in sight of the capital. Val and Faye got very excited about some sighting of “dragons” but it turned out to be just statues on the harbour wall.

The capital is really big! Great big docks, big ships, rich districts, slums, all sorts of nifty stuff. Some time later, I’d love to explore it further, but given the delays in our trip we agreed to go straight to the palace rather than keep the King waiting any further. Captain Bastian arranged an escort for us, leading us through a district of fancy shops. There is even a university here!

After speaking to one of the palace functionaries, we were shown into a big throne room. It was very cosmopolitan; I noticed elves, dwarves, halflings, gnomes, and even a half-orc.

King Melinar was easy to spot: a youngish man on a very ornate throne on a large dais. Next to him stood an odd-looking man—a half-elf, I think, but with grayish-brown skin. He looked young but it’s hard to tell with that kind, and as it turned out, much more so in this particular case. He was very finely dressed and I think Faye was getting a little jealous. Or possibly amorous. Hard to tell.

We were introduced to the King, and he introduced us to the man next to him: Zakaroth, who comes from the Forest of the Elves far to the south. Then the six of us went to a side room to talk in comfort. The King seems quite pleasant, and dressed with tasteful restraint. I noticed some interesting rings on his fingers but forebore from scanning them for magic; it would have been gauche, and I felt safe assuming that if anybody has magic rings, the King would. (Confirmed later: they allow him to use magical scrolls of all kinds, although the scrolls themselves are in limited supply.)

There was an older gentleman present, wearing robes and religious symbols, and I correctly guessed him to be Duke Andine. I introduced myself and was startled when he told me I was the spitting image of my grandmother. It turns out the man is her brother, my great-uncle! (I must confess to getting a little weepy at this point, although I think I hid it well.) It seems he and she were both adventurers, in the wave of fifty years ago. After the magic died down, she went up to Callech to settle, while Duke Andine remained in court. He directed me to what seems to be her own record of her adventures, which I will read as soon as I’m done writing this journal.

(And so many other books here! I must see what else I can learn.)

We spoke of our travels, and Andine mentioned the limiting issue that Chrysta and I have encountered; it seems he and Grandmother also met the same difficulty.

The good news is, the records explain how to surpass this problem. The bad news is, the method doesn’t seem to work. They say that before the war, to develop further, wizards and suchlike had only to present themselves before their god. But since the war, the gods seem to be preoccupied, and it does nothing.

Zakaroth asked “Have you visited the City of the Divine?” and at this point, a very interesting conversation was had, during which it became apparent that his understanding of the land’s geography was very different from everybody else’s. After some confusion, we came to understand that he has been asleep for a very long time—since before the war!—and was referring to the old capital, before the kingdoms were divided. It seems that may be the place we ought to go.

(Zakaroth tells us he fell asleep after being touched by his god, and woke in a frozen ruin. During this conversation we also discovered that the “PD” date stands for “post Dawn of the World”.)

Another extremely curious discrepancy: Zakaroth only remembers there being twenty gods, with no recollection of Sivanah. (And as I recall, Vallaise had temples to all the others but not Sivanah. HMMMM.) But Andine understands her to be one of the original gods of creation.

Zakaroth told us about a place called Mastere, in the shadow of the Divine City, which Andine understood to be a blessing of the gods rather than a real place.

So it sounds as if we may need to go up the Majestic River to investigate the Divine City. Chrysta tells us that it’s rumoured to be infested by…things (I am not sure if that’s the same ellipsis as in “legitimate…businessmen”?) and the laws of reality are mutable there, so the dwarves avoid it.

Another interesting discrepancy: in Zakaroth’s memory, the city has a mountain that rises cleanly to a peak. But according to others, the peak has blown off.

Andine has agreed to sponsor a trip up the Majestic River to investigate the City, although the King will need to discuss this with his northern cousin since that river marks the border between their realms.

In the meantime, we’re staying at the Cat and Fiddle, an exceptionally large inn built in the same mortarless interlocking style we’ve seen elsewhere. Andine warned us “if you want to avoid crowds, avoid the Adventurers’ Guild” so of course Faye went there.

And now to renew my acquaintance with Grandmother.
Shiny points: 13 carried over, +1 earned for summary = 14.

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Of Wizards and Lizard Gizzards

The weather remains sticky and warm. Chrysta has been unwell – perhaps the weather, perhaps the food, perhaps seasickness – and spent most of the time in her cabin.

Alessandra navigated us downriver; I’m not sure how she was able to find the way, but evidently she did. Her brother Gerard was bored, and for better or worse Faye was appointed to entertain him by telling him stories and teaching weapon-play.

At night we pulled up by the shore and took shifts on watch. On the first night, Vall noticed something during his shift and went ashore to scout: five humanoids with pointy sticks. He crept back and woke us (sensible fellow) before going back for a closer look. They appeared somewhat reptilian, with scaly skin, although much larger than the kobolds we’d met previously.

Vall tried talking with them in Draconic, but sadly they didn’t reply in kind. Instead one threw a spear at him, so we fought back. Vall and Faye killed three between them and I knocked the last two out cold with a colour spray.

Faye killed one of the unconscious lizard-men; this was unnecessary and (as it turned out) regrettable, but to be fair to her she had been hit a couple of times with their javelins. We took the other prisoner, and when he woke up we conversed with him.

He told us they were starving as a result of the floods, and looking for food. We felt rather bad about killing them, even if they did attack us first, so we did what we could to help. They’re obligate carnivores, so plant-based food isn’t useful to them, but we were able to buy three barrels of salted fish from the boat’s cargo and give it to them. Apparently they’re also willing to eat their fallen comrades.

Around this time we felt the same flow of power that we’ve had a few times before, but this time it felt wrong for me and Chrysta, with a sour note to the magic. I presume this is the limit we had been hearing about. VERY annoying, and I do hope we can do something about this.

We continued downriver. I think Gerard was developing some sort of crush on Faye. As his legal guardian, I suppose I could have forbidden it, but I think that would have been counterproductive. Besides, Faye’s better company when somebody’s paying attention to her. I will keep an eye on them in case of any greater folly, but otherwise I’ll just leave well alone.

She was teaching him how to use a falchion. I suppose it’s a useful skill, if you don’t have proper magic.

…what am I saying? I don’t have proper magic. Argh. Definitely need to deal with this!

The next night we were visited by another group of lizard men, this time larger in number. Vall spoke to them and convinced them not to attack. We would have liked to organise some sort of food shipment but couldn’t figure out a way to make it work, given that it’s likely to be some weeks before the traders are ready to head back upstream.

In the end we gave up; we hadn’t solved their problem but at least we’d avoided bloodshed. Continuing downstream we found the swamp thinning, and could see the lights of Pont’s Cove up ahead.

Pont’s Cove is situated on a knob of rock that rises out of the water. Its walls are old and high, made with a clever mortarless locking construction; it’s a shame Chrysta was too ill to admire it. Because the space available is limited (about half the size of Rendel) people build high, with some buildings as high as five floors!

Anchored by the cove we saw a small fishing boat, and a larger seagoing vessel flying the King’s flag. Aha!

Vall went off to investigate options for feeding the lizard men, and the rest of us checked out the inn. We recognised our welcoming committee from the royal livery, and although the place was short of rooms, they found some for us when we made it clear that we were on the King’s business. The leader of their party is a Captain Bastian, a well-muscled fellow of perhaps thirty years. I presume Faye will make a pass at him at some point.

The rooms were very comfortable and clean; the building is made of old rocks (are there any new rocks?) and I think Chrysta appreciated that, although she was still rather unwell. After an uneventful night Bastian arrived with a ceremonial guard to take us (and Gerard, and Alessandra) aboard the ship to the capital.

Well, this has been an adventure! I wonder what the King has to say to us… and what they may know about my grandmother?

Shiny points: 12 carried over, 1 earned for summary = 13.

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Muddy Waters

We continued downstream from Frentel, via Wirrin and Lindor to Rendel. Almost at Pont’s Cove now. (note: not “Ponce Cove”, mea culpa.) Along the way we picked up Marshall, another businessman, and parted with Roald.

There was a storm brewing, and by the time we reached Rendel it was getting quite ominous. Rendel is a town of two parts: the old centre is built on solid rock, but much of it is on soft ground. Every so often the river changes its course and those buildings need to be relocated, so they’re built to be dismantled and moved.

I must write to Father about that – the implications for property law must be fascinating!

The storm came on, bringing days of heavy rain and—surprise!—a shift in the river’s course. Our pilots were unwilling to chance the waters so we were stranded in Rendel for a couple of weeks.

We decided to stay in the Adventurers’ Guild… well, why not? They have a laundry service, who had some success in de-inking my things.

They have an orb, of course, and Faye poked it out of curiosity. It glowed much brighter than the one at home did. Evidently our powers have increased.

(blah blah blah only few weeks ago feels like lifetime blah blah)

Of course the local youths were eager to test themselves on the orb. One of them has the spark! She is fourteen years old, Alisandre by name. She has a pet? weasel; she may be some sort of druid.

The Guild has a decent library, and I took advantage of our extended stay to do some research. What I discovered was fascinating but deeply disquieting.

Among other things, they have a register of adventurers, recording both those who visited Rendel and those who started out here. The records go back a long way (guild hall first founded around AT 173, it being now AT 1003 – or 4571 PD, in the older reckoning. BTW, what does PD stand for?)

Going by the records, these heroic awakenings are becoming gradually less frequent: fifty years from ours to the previous one, fifty years to the one before that, then forty-five, forty, thirty-five…

Along with this, magic is becoming steadily more limited. Some of the earlier heroes are recorded as using magic clearly of the seventh order, but as time passes these spells are no longer observed in use. Over time the limit has become so low that even bards began to notice it.

Related, we have a better understanding of the “exploding caster” phenomenon. It is a rare but not unique phenomenon, and not restricted to wizards; I also found instances involving clerics and sorcerers. My best guess, consistent with available records, is that it happens when a caster has already mastered the highest-level magic currently available… and then the limit drops, so that their magic no longer fits within the limits of the world. The recent case, who I read about in Frentel, had complained of headaches for several weeks and was returning home when she finally exploded.

At present the limit prevents spells above the second order – i.e. my current stage of mastery, and Chrysta’s. If historical rates may be extrapolated, the next drop is due in about a hundred years. Perhaps not a pressing issue for me, but from what I know of dwarven lifespans, it’s quite possible that Chrysta will still be alive when that happens.

But, perhaps, not for very long afterwards.

I quite like Chrysta, and I do not want her to explode, even if I’m no longer around. Let us see what we can do about this issue, hmm?

(Also, while I am delighted by the magicks that I have already learned, I refuse to stop here. I would sooner risk exploding myself.)

We visited the temple of Nethys and spoke to their high priest, who confirmed much of my interpretation. He mentioned that magical items already created can surpass these limits, but cannot be recharged. They don’t know what the cause is, or how to deal with it, and their prayers to Nethys go unanswered, as if the god himself was distracted.

(Faye suggests that perhaps the god of magic is dying. If that’s the case, perhaps the universe will need a new one? I’m not sure what a god’s duties are but I might polish my curriculum vitae just in case.)

The stones in towns used to be teleportation ports; quite likely the decline in magic also explains why they no longer work. I expect that must have been quite a shock when it happened.

We may be able to find more information in the capital, perhaps from the court wizard or Lord Andine (some sort of priest?)

Meanwhile, Rendel’s nether parts were sodden, the locals were scurrying to move their houses, and Chrysta was writing to her relatives to bring in some engineers to arrange a better, more permanent solution to the town’s hydrographical issues. I must confess I was a little preoccupied with my own studies and didn’t catch the details (perhaps Chrysta will record the proceedings?) but it seemed to involve a lot of gruff dwarves shouting and exploding things. It kept them happy, anyway, and the new dock looked very nice. Maybe it won’t fall into the river next time it rains?

The rain stopped after a week, leaving the town smelling rather like…

…actually, I’m not sure I have a word for it. Perhaps it’s better undescribed.

The water was still high, and the town’s pilots were unwilling to go further downstream until things had settled and they had time to test the waters. But Alisandre told us she could steer us through safely, and we’re going to take her at her word. We could hardly get much damper than we already are.

She has an older brother, Gerard, just under age. Both their parents have died, but they have two very decrepit grandparents. In the end, the easiest way to handle things was for me to take on legal guardianship of all four of them before giving the grandparents into the care of the local temple of Sarenrae. (I was quite embarrassed by how little it cost to ensure that they are well cared for. This adventuring lark pays well.)

So, uh, I suppose that means I now have two children, one year and two years younger than myself. This will be… interesting.

Next stop (hopefully): Pont’s Cove. And the sea! I am curious as to whether the water tastes of salt yet, but not quite curious enough to discover what else it tastes of.

Shiny points: 12 carried over, 1 earned for summary, 1 spent on reroll = 12.

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Also, The Wizard Has Exploded

We continued down the river from Blackwater to Tor. Brand and Russell were still with us. We had also acquired an older gentleman (Roald, retired jeweller, heading down to Lindor for retirement having sold his old home); two middle-aged women (Sasha and Lily, midwives); a middle-aged businessman (Mandrake, escorting a shipment down to Frantel); and a new crew member, a young fellow who seemed less than keen on the life of adventure.

(The ports ahead of us: Tor, Frantal, Wirrin, Lindor, Rendel, and Ponce Cove.)

I think it was Val who first noticed a smell of smoke, and soon we saw a plume of black smoke rising ahead. To our dismay, the town of Tor had burnt in some sudden conflagration!

Seeing our boat, many of the surviving townsfolk thronged to the shore. Our crew wisely anchored some distance off lest we be swamped by desperate refugees, and Chrysta shouted at the townsfolk until they chose a spokesman to fill us in.

Apparently something had gone boom the previous morning, and flames had rushed through town; the fire had been so swift that when we disembarked to investigate the town, we found one blackened body still standing up. At the origin of the blaze we found a large crater that smelled odd, like oil…

Vall and Faye headed in cautiously, confirming that the smell was getting stronger. We were unsure of our safety near the middle of the crater so I fastened one end of a rope around my waist and cast a levitation spell, and Vall held the other end of the rope to steer me towards the epicentre. Here there was a hole in the ground; I dangled some rope down and confirmed that there was oil in the hole.

We returned to the townsfolk, who told us that the site was one of the older buildings at the edge of town, formerly a barn but recently converted to a blacksmith’s. Well, I guess a deposit of oil under a blacksmith’s fire would account for the explosion.

(I must admit, I was half expecting some more unusual explanation, perhaps a dragon? But I don’t suppose it makes much difference to the townsfolk, poor people.)

We discussed some short-term plans and established immediate needs: shipments of hay, boarding the homeless folk in nearby farms, and so forth. Chrysta set the locals working on such things, and we headed back to the boat. Poor Sasha was from Tor, and had lost her whole family; she didn’t want to stay on.

We headed on to Frentel, with Chrysta holding a memorial service on the boat.

Frentel is an old town – the gates have stood for more than a millennium – and larger than Blackwater. We spoke to the guard captain Adronis and made our way to the council, in a palatial old building. Chrysta told them about events in Tor while Vall visited the Guild of Legitimate… Businessmen, and I investigated local history.

As in Blackwater there was an old stone in the centre of town, although with different runes on it; again, as in Blackwater, it had a faint aura of inactive magic.

I found some information about places that used to be schools of magic, but it shed no light on the phantom school we recently discovered. I also found a book that listed locations of these rune-stones, along with their runes (which I have copied). Every town we’ve visited has a stone, as do many others, although they’re not always obvious. The one for Callech is in the tavern basement.

I learned that the time between waves of adventurers is getting longer. I also read about a woman who lived about a hundred years ago, an adventurer-wizard like me, who died suddenly – for no apparent reason, she EXPLODED. Curiously, although she’d been adventuring for many years, her magic seems to have barely exceeded what I’m already capable of – reminds me of the warning earlier from “Mother”.

I wonder what this limit is? And how to break it? Preferably without exploding, that would be good.

Shiny points: 14 carried over, 3 spent on rerolls, 1 earned for summary = 12.

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The Castle of Nope

I left off my last entry at the point where we had just finished clobbering the weirdwolves (save for a few that fled). The sailors were exhausted from their work portaging the boat, so they decided to rest until evening, and we took the opportunity to follow up on the wolves.

Following their tracks for a couple of miles, we came to something quite unexpected: a castle in a clearing. From its walls hung a flag, a book with a flame burning above it. As I recall, the insignia of a SCHOOL OF MAGIC!

This was, to say the least, an enticing proposition. But we were suspicious; the flag looked quite new, and it would be unusual in more ways than one to learn that a school of magic was operating here.

At the drawbridge stood two guards, apparently human. We tried to converse with them, but they seemed to be speaking gibberish. I scanned for magic and was nearly blinded by the aura I detected from the castle; it was very powerful, but it felt somehow wrong, in ways I can’t quite articulate.

Chrysta told us that the two guards were emanating evil. Faye hurled a stone at the castle wall, and we were not very surprised when it went straight through: some sort of illusion?

Val looked at the guards, and for a moment he saw them as undead before their human semblance returned. We conferred, and then Faye and Chrysta went for the guards. Chrysta channelled holy energy, and the guards and most of the castle simply disappeared, leaving only a crater glowing with some sort of magical residue.

Worst of all, no books.

We considered heading down to the crater and unanimously agreed that this seemed like a terrible idea, so we went back to the boat. The boatmen were unable to tell us anything about this castle.

(I had thought at first it might be illusion magic. But the fact that Chrysta’s power dispelled it makes me wonder – can buildings leave ghosts?)

Once the crew had rested we continued downstream, through thickening forest, and eventually arrived at Qurell’drel – an elvish tree-based city. Quite the sight!

We talked to the town guards about our observations (not even the elves knew anything about the castle – if it really was there, it must have been ancient!) We couldn’t stay long because our crew were eager to head on and make up lost time, but we did have time for some shopping.

Faye went in search of a falchion to replace Dawnrender. This to me seems like an excellent argument in favour of not naming one’s weapons too early in one’s career – it must become extremely difficult always thinking of new names that don’t conflict with anybody else’s.

I had hoped the elves might have something relevant to my interests, perhaps some spells I might transcribe, but they told me they had very few scrolls, saved for emergencies. Another disappointment, but I managed to work it to my advantage: I was at least able to sell them some spares from my own stock, which I was later able to replace for significantly less than the elves paid for them.

After three uneventful days of downstream travel, we arrived in Blackwater. Situated on the edge of a lake, it’s quite a cosmopolitan town: bigger than Vallaise, and it even has halflings and gnomes! (Either that, or the child labour laws here are exceedingly lax.)

Val has family here, and went off to catch up with them; Chrysta found us an inn (The Heffalump and Stone). Meanwhile I took the time to replace my scrolls, and chatted with a friendly lady from the Blackwater Historical Society. Their history goes back at least three thousand years.

In the centre of town, within the town square (actually more of a circle) there is a large stone that holds some residual magic; nothing currently active, but it may have been important once, and perhaps could be again. I sniffed a little magic among the townsfolk, nothing major – miscellaneous small heirlooms, one assumes – with more among the elves of the southern end of town.

Shiny points: 13 carried over, +1 for summary = 14.

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