The Twin Kingdoms

School's Out Forever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ZAKAROTH AND FAYE DO NOT READ THE NEXT BIT

ACTUALLY CHRYSTA DON’T READ THE NEXT BIT EITHER

VALL YOU’RE PROBABLY OKAY TO READ THE NEXT BIT

FAYE I MEAN IT DON’T READ IT

<explosive-runes.png>

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

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

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

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Guest Post: Back to the Crater
as scribed by Merindarel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Windup toys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Troll in the Dungeon

We pondered how to open the spellbook. I tried summoning an earth elemental and getting it to pick up the book; it vanished from my sight and Faye, who we’d stationed down in the dungeon, saw it appear. However, this time I noticed some more magic than the last time. I summoned a dog and once again, it was teleported downstairs, and this time yet more magic – a couple of spells I couldn’t identify, as well as the teleportation and alarm.

Next I tried with eagles; multiple alarms went off, they teleported away of course, some sort of idiocy spell was triggered, and some kind of summoning magic. It turned out a troll had appeared; Vall, Faye, and Chrysta took it down, and we burned the remains with oil.

At this point, given that every attempt to open the book seemed to trigger increasingly aggressive measures, we decided it perhaps best to leave it for a while and consider other issues.

It seemed very likely that Adam and Mary were ghosts who hadn’t realised they were dead, but beyond that it wasn’t immediately obvious what to do with this information. We explored the mansion some more and found a secret door leading to an upwards staircase.

Upstairs we found rooms that appeared to be stables for flying creatures. Gryphons? There were still some old harnesses, but no gryphons left; they also had drums, apparently used to communicate in flight.

In a scriptorium we found some minor magics, including a pen that never runs out of ink, which I suppose will go well with my ink bottle that also never runs out of ink. Looking through assorted papers we found evidence that the lord of the house was a devout servant of Asmodeus. There were several contracts, cunningly if very unethically written to hoodwink a signatory.

There were also antique paintings, tapestries, and furniture, confirmed to be antique by the Cataclysm’s time, and likely to be worth a fair bit.

And of course there was a large shrine to Asmodeus.

Exploring further, we found a very well-stocked treasure room, but with a suspiciously magical archway. We tested it with a summoned eagle; there was an alarm, a teleportation spell, and some sort of fire. Another eagle gave the same results. Some sort of evocation spell?

There was also a chapel, with something on the altar radiating very strong necromancy. There we found two fingerbones, and correctly deduced that they were binding Adam and Mary. Zakaroth called the two of them, then convinced them that their old master was dead and that as head of the Church of Asmodeus he had inherited the estate.

The ghosts and the house seemed to accept this, and the protective magics no longer threatened us. To my vast delight this included being able to read the spellbooks, and I have been writing for countless hours to transcribe those magics into my own travelling book.

Shiny points: 25 carried over, 1 earned, 1 spent = 25.

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The Haunted Mansion

We set out for the castle… and once again we encountered some sort of transition. Vall, going first, stepped across some invisible boundary and was suddenly drenched. As we followed, we also crossed into cold and rain, with lightning flashing overhead. A bit of experimentation suggested that the bad weather was centred on the castle.

Observations: transitions are not all alike. In the case of the time-distortion effect we recently encountered, we could clearly see the centre of the zone from a distance (once we overcame the aversion effect that initially prevented us from looking in that direction), and it looked the same close up. But in cases like this, the interior viewed from outside looks quite different to that viewed from inside. And in this case, Chrysta saw things the same way as the rest of us, whereas on other occasions (like the avoidance effect we encountered recently, but also on the approach to the Divine City) she saw things quite differently.

As castles go, Castle Dracolivius (for so it was named) was on the small side, but still nothing to be sneezed at. (Note to self: how much do castles cost, building, staffing, and upkeep? Are they practical?) The outer walls were two storeys high, with a taller section whose name escapes me just now. Through the rain we could see lights showing through the windows.

We approached; Vall knocked at the main door and then hid, while Faye and Zakaroth stood ready. It was answered by a servant, a solidly-built man who looked to be in his thirties or forties, and who let us in when we asked for shelter from the rain. We stabled our animals and then headed inside.

The servant told us that we were in Lord Salamien’s castle. While my companions talked to him, I tried to analyse his speech to get an impression of date and origins… and realised that I could not understand it or even recognise it. On further listening, I became convinced that there was no true language at all, just meaningless noises. Some sort of illusion/telepathy effect? Interestingly enough, when I mentioned this to Vall, he did not experience the same effect; he was still able to understand (or believe he understood?) the servant.

At this point, I was starting to think about the vanishing castle/magic school that we saw shortly before Qurell’drel.

Pondering: many of these transition zones seem to be associated with powerful illusion, or perhaps even parallel reality. They seem to have appeared at the time of the cataclysm… and Savana, goddess of illusions, is a new god.

I wonder where she came from.

The servant, named Adam, showed us into a green-themed room and made to leave. As he did, I asked Chrysta to scan for undead, and she confirmed my suspicions: Adam was undead, but not evil. My best guess is some kind of ghost; he may not even realise he’s dead.

(A wolf howled outside.)

The room was decorated with paintings of people, who looked to be related and bore a device with a dark flame that I don’t recognise.

Adam returned with a young lady in archaic clothes. This, apparently, was Mary, and she was also undead. I couldn’t understand Mary, and she couldn’t understand me, without somebody to relay our communication. I had Mary bring me a goblet of water, which I spilled on a pretext as an excuse to touch her hand; it was cold, but solid.

We were shown to two red-themed guest rooms (one for Vall and Zakaroth, one for the rest of us). With some prompting from me, my companions asked Mary a few more questions. She told them “I am of the household staff, I do what is required”; “I was raised by the household, this is my home”. How many others work here? “Maybe fifty.”

She gave directions to the library and told my companions that it was otherwise best if we stay in our quarters. Something about the master having intentions to find a wife? She said he has just gone down to town and should be back soon.

(Hmm. Considering the power with which he exploded – assuming that he was the glowing man at the centre of the wreckage – it’s quite possible that bits of him are back already.)

We asked about the season, and she mentioned that it was only a few days since Midwinter. Meanwhile, by what I shall call Standard Time, it’s about three months after the spring equinox.

She showed us to the library, hurrah! I was relieved to find that although the books were in an archaic script, I could read it. The master had an eclectic collection with a mix of religious texts from different viewpoints, theoretical magic, local history (this got Chrysta’s attention), and spellbooks.

Granted, there was a ribbon tied over that section of the shelf, and they radiated abjuration magic, but nobody had specifically said we couldn’t look at them.

Chrysta found that the castle was indeed an upgraded manor house, which had had some dubious occupants in the distant past. The book ended about 150 years before the Catastrophe, although it was in good condition, certainly not over a thousand years old.

Vall came back and investigated the spellbooks, confirming that there was a magical trap on them. He attempted to disarm the trap on one but was caught by it instead, setting off some sort of alarm spell as well as teleporting him away. He found himself in a dungeon downstairs, but was quickly able to pick the lock and find his way back upstairs; evidently the creator of the traps had assumed some sort of guard force would be present.

I was quite relieved when he came back into the room unharmed; I think we were very lucky the protective magic wasn’t any worse, and perhaps I should have been more cautious.

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

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Let's Not Do The Time Warp Again

Chrysta identified strong evil radiating from the glowing man. We had an extended debate about what we might do next. Somebody started discussing poking spellcasters; I cannot endorse this as a general principle but there are certainly cases where it might be appropriate.

I examined the magic. Fascinating. It was a very complex working, and a self-repairing one, clearly made to last. I have taken some notes; there’s much to learn here.

At that point it occurred to me that (assuming the glowing man and the destruction of the building happened at the same time, and assuming that this coincided with the temporal sequestration of the surrounding territory) the remains of the building ought to be ten thousand years old, and as such to have been completely destroyed by time and weather. Clearly they were not.

We explored the grounds cautiously, starting from the outside and working inwards. The building was old, but not ten thousand years old, and some of the rubble looked newer than the rest – especially towards the centre.

Aha.

We tied a rope around Faye and sent her in towards the centre. Within a few steps, she started slowing down. Clearly time was passing at a slower rate closer to the centre, which would explain the glowing man’s frozen-ness.

At first this caused me some confusion. Letting T0 stand for the passage of time at some distant reference point – say, the capital – then in the elvish zone, time was passing at about ten times T0. Assuming that the glowing man’s stasis was the epicentre of that effect, one might expect time to pass FASTER, the closer we got to the epicentre, but what we observed was the reverse.

The best explanation I can think of is that the glowing man had pushed time out of his immediate neighbourhood, creating a surplus of it further out. Take a tray of flour and drop a ball in it – in the middle is a hole, but around that is a ridge where the flour is higher than it was, because the displaced flour has ended up there. Under this interpretation, the glowing man is the ball, we were standing in the hole, and the surrounding zone was the “ridge”.

This implies that time, or its passage, is a conserved quantity or approximately so: to slow it down in one area, one must speed it in another.

This suggests that with careful measurement of the passage of time in the “ridge” zone and the size of that zone, one could estimate how much time had been displaced from the central time crater, and hence (knowing the size of that crater) estimate how slowly time might be expected to pass there, even without direct measurement!

Unresolved question: was time absolutely frozen at the epicentre, or just so slow that we could not perceive it? And if the former, was it completely frozen only at some point, or in a zone wide enough to cover the whole of the glowing man? That is, would his outsides still be ageing?

Extremely unpleasant thought: if the time gradient becomes infinitely steep at the centre of the effect, then when one approaches it sufficiently closely, the difference in time rates between different parts of one’s own body would become large enough to have physiologically significant effects. Holding one hand out towards the centre, my heart (further out, hence beating faster) might be pumping blood to it faster than it could withstand; meanwhile the other hand, held out in the opposite direction, might not be receiving blood quickly enough, and might wither from that. Meanwhile, it would presumably become difficult to balance.

Note to self: if we find ourselves in a similar situation in the future, keep arms as close to the body as possible.

Further note: perhaps invest in several small hourglasses?

Zakaroth fired an arrow at the glowing man. As it flew through the air it slowed, and eventually came to a halt, suspended in mid-air.

Chrysta confirmed that the evil was coming from the man himself, not just from the magic. One wonders: was he trying to live forever? And did he consider that it might be “forever” only from somebody else’s frame of reference?

Chrysta attempted prayer, and told us that Pharasma’s voice came through very slowly. She was some distance away from the centre when this happened, presumably far enough away to be subject to accelerated rather than slowed time.

Further thought: Chrysta’s magic is on a daily basis. It would be interesting to confirm whether this works on local time or standard time – if she experiences a new day more often than her god does, which one determines the frequency of her spells? I wonder if she would cooperate with an experiment?

Having received magic from Pharasma, Chrysta attempted to dispel the working. None of us were very surprised when the attempt failed; the magic was far too strong. Clearly we’d need some sort of boost if we were to do this.

At around this point I was reminded that Savanah had given Vall a veil, with the sort of cryptic “you might need this” that gods are wont to offer, and we decided to try it with Chrysta.

We left Faye standing at the periphery, and the four of us walked towards the middle. The effects were interesting, if predictable. As we moved into the slower regions, we saw Zakaroth’s arrow moving again, only to slow once more as it got closer to the centre. I tried a scorching ray of heat, but even that appeared to slow asymptotically as it approached.

At around this stage, Faye got bored and decided to charge in. By our reckoning it had only been a few seconds, but by hers it had been two days. She overtook us, approaching the man, and at this point Chrysta attempted another dispel.

I can only assume that Savanah’s veil made a big difference, because the spell started collapsing, stage by stage. I made a suggestion to Zakaroth and he began firing dozens of arrows at the glowing man. They slowed, stopped, and then as the disruption reached the centre and time returned to normal, they all connected at once.

In hindsight, it probably didn’t make a difference, but who knows? It may be a useful trick on some other occasion.

Chrysta yelled “RUN!” I paused just long enough to cast a haste spell on my companions and then we legged it. I didn’t see what happened but there was an almighty bang and something hit me in the back, hard. I think Faye flew over my head and landed some way beyond, unconscious. When I looked around, the surrounding forest was on fire.

Reconstructing events, our best guess – later confirmed by Savana in conversation with Vall – is that the glowing man was a very powerful wizard at the time when the magic went away, and tried to avert the explodey-wizard problem by manipulating time. Did he realise he’d be imprisoning the elves for ten thousand years? If he was as evil as Chrysta says, perhaps so?

Which raises the question… what would I have done in his position? Accepted my fate? Sacrificed others to save myself?

Well, I prefer to think I’d have found a clever solution that required neither of the above.

Anyway, when we picked ourselves up off the ground we saw signs that the time distortion had ended. Some of the local elves had shown up to investigate, and were extinguishing fires.

Acts of heroism and derring-do are all very well, but adventurers have bills to pay, so we made sure to search the region. There were more old buildings around, rather damaged by time and magic, but in what must have been an old tavern basement we found a dozen barrels of varying size holding what turned out to be extremely valuable wine and whiskey.

At the epicentre of the explosion – well, there was nothing left of the wizard, except possibly for some powder of indeterminate origin. But a few of his possessions had survived. A string of beads that, if I’m correct, could be thrown to create fireballs of varying size, and two rings: one that makes the wearer impossible to grapple and so forth, the other that gives some benefit in evading explosions and the like.

(Pity we didn’t have that just a little earlier.)

The rings are both extremely valuable; we have assigned them to Vall and Faye for now, but will need to adjust for their value at some point. I may be able to replicate the anti-grappling effect from Vall’s ring in a belt or some such, at which point I’d be interested in swapping for the ring, but I’ll need some expensive materials!

Vall took the belt back to Savana, and confirmed that the portal stone now worked without the pain that my companions had previously experienced (although there was some clowning as he attempted to convince Faye otherwise). Faye went off to party with Caiden, and returned in a state of extreme inebriation.

We took the barrels back to the capital and made arrangements to auction them. We appear to have lost about a month due to the time distortion effects, and it’s now already mid-Spring. The quality of the booze was such that the auctioneer wishes to advertise and allow time for bidders to visit from afar, so the auction will be held in midsummer.

Meanwhile, we sold the necklace of fireballs to the King for what I consider a very good price, and Chrysta divided up some of our earnings. Vall paid me back the remainder of what he owed me, and after borrowing five hundred gold from Chrysta I was able to further upgrade my headband. I’ve recently completed an enchanted spellbook and a set of lenses to improve my vision – quite nicely kitted out here!

The elves informed us that there’s a ruined castle up to the north-east, so that’s our next destination.

Shiny points: 24 carried over, +1 for summary = 25.

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Ten To One

We continued our discussion with the elves. One of them told us “Midsummer has passed over ten thousand times since we were thrown out [q: from where?]… since we were lost.” They do not remember the portal stones being active.

Ten thousand years ago, they told us, the land was cursed, the gods stopped talking to them, and they were banished to this small area. The other races died out, and there were no animals (give or take insects worms etc. which are actually animals but people seem not to count them for some reason).

We sent Vall off to the Divine City via portal stone, to talk with the gods about what was going on, and Chrysta returned to the capital to fetch meat for a barbecue (I’m not sure it’s a great idea to give meat to people who’ve been vegetarian for millennia, but her eyes practically glowed at the prospect of kindling a fire. She needs help.)

Both of them were gone for quite some time. I went on talking to the elves, making some notes on their language. It seems to be an old version of Sylvan, but the grammar has been forgotten, and it has occasional words that seem Dwarvish or Gnomish.

A few more elves appeared – they are quite hard to see, the eye slides off them – and went off to their huts to cook. Faye attempted to perform for them; it wasn’t one of her better efforts but they seemed interested nevertheless. One of them sang, and I got the impression that he had memorised the sounds without knowing their meaning. (Fairly standard: guy tries to impress a beautiful woman. Some things never change.)

About five hours after Vall ported out he reappeared, in considerable pain. He whimpered for quite some time.

I was beginning to have some suspicions, and he confirmed that he’d only been away about thirty minutes of his time. Although the sun had been high in the sky here when he left, it was close to nightfall in the Divine City when he got there. The travel out had hurt, like a short sharp punch to the entire body; the travel back had been the same, but much more protracted.

He had talked to Pharas-Calis’Ir about the elves, and the gods had told him that the world itself is not ten thousand years old, so the elves cannot be that old. Then they referred him to Gosreh, who could sense the area we’d visited, but couldn’t see it.

Faye volunteered to assist with a little experiment: she would port to the capital, count to ten, and come straight back. When she had left, I also started counting at the same rate, and (as I had expected might happen) I reached a little over a hundred before she returned and immediately passed out.

So it appears the time within this little region passes ten times as fast as in the outside world; that would account for how the elves have been trapped here ten thousand years by their reckoning.

I considered the commercial possibilities; I could take magical commissions in the capital, work on them here, and get them done ten times as fast from the buyers’ perspective. However, it wouldn’t be any faster from my perspective, and from my friends’ description of the experience travelling to and from this portal stone I am not very eager to do more of it than absolutely necessary.

Vall collected some botanical samples and braved the portal again to take them back to Gosreh, who told him he’d hardly been away any time. Gosreh examined the samples and confirmed that they were from our world, containing some of Gosreh’s essence, but didn’t recognise the plant that they came from. Vall suggested taking some of Gosreh’s essence back (as we had done previously, on behalf of all the gods) but Gosreh declined, not wanting to be further weakened.

Next Vall consulted with Savana, who told him that this effect had to be anchored somewhere, and speculated that it might be due to Nethys’ disappearance.

(Meanwhile, Chrysta returned with large quantities of meat, and was knocked unconscious by the return trip; some time later, Faye woke, shouting “TEN!” I thanked her greatly for her courage in the service of science.)

Night had fallen, and I studied the stars. The constellations seemed the same, but the season was wrong, early to mid-summer instead of the early spring that we’d come from. Perhaps it would be possible to find the boundary to the zone by travelling out, and watching for the point where the stars change?

The elves told us that if they travelled for more than about a day’s walk in any single direction, they found themselves coming back to the village again.

In the morning, once Vall had returned and Chrysta was awake, we set out to do some exploring. We’d established that the centre of this little temporal anomaly was a little bit northeast, and we headed thataway.

As we got close Chrysta saw us veering off course, and we lost sight of her altogether for some time, until she stepped towards us and suddenly became visible. (You’ll remember something similar on our first visit to the Divine City.)

Once again, Faye volunteered for an experiment. We had her hold hands with Chrysta and follow Chrysta’s lead. Once again, Faye saw Chrysta disappear; from Chrysta’s perspective she was still holding Faye’s hand, but Faye couldn’t see her.

Next, we had Vall fire an arrow towards the centre of the zone – but Chrysta saw Vall turn before firing. Some sort of mental avoidance field? Does Chrysta’s part-construct nature make her immune to this?

Next we tried tying ourselves to a rope and having Chrysta lead us. When she disappeared, I closed my eyes and told her to pull. She felt some resistance; I felt the rope dangling loose in front of me, and then I “tripped”. I suspect Chrysta had pulled me over, but the effect had made it impossible for me to sense her pulling.

When I opened my eyes I could see a big hole in the ground ahead of us.

Chrysta went back and carried Vall across with his eyes closed; everything felt wrong for a moment, and then he came through. Last of all, Vall and Chrysta pulled Faye through on the rope, and we turned our attention to the hole in the ground.

It looked like the foundations of a large building, with scorch marks around the area. Vall found himself unable to see the bit in the centre; his eyes kept skipping over it. Chrysta looked, but saw nothing. I had difficulty seeing it – my eyes, like Vall’s, kept glancing past it – but with some effort I managed to overcome the effect to see a human figure, levitating a couple of feet off the ground and glowing. It seemed frozen in an unhappy expression. With my guidance Vall was able to see it, and with eyes better than mine he told us it was an old man, robes blown to shreds, screaming in anger or pain.

I detected extremely powerful magic emanating from whatever-it-was, encompassing all schools of magic, and we thought about what to do next.

Shiny points: 23 carried over, +1 for summary = 24.

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Sightings of Elvish

In the basement was a big pile of assorted junk, and a small pile of assorted goblins in unnatural poses. By prodding them we confirmed that they had been petrified, presenting Chrysta with a quandary since she detests goblins but loves rocks with an unnatural passion.

While none of us was disappointed to find the goblins indisposed, unexplained petrification events are a cause of concern. I summoned an earth elemental to scout around, on the assumption that petrification wouldn’t bother it too much. It explored the junk pile and retrieved four suspicious-looking eggs.

From reading Zogby’s Catalogue of Cryptofauna (Collector’s Edition) I suspected cockatrice, and almost immediately my suspicions were confirmed as our sharper-eared companions heard squawking from above. We rushed upstairs to see four cockatrices approaching, but they gave us little trouble; if I recall correctly, two of them were shot down before even reaching us and we made quick work of the rest.

Chrysta wanted to cook the cockatrices and eat them, but we suggested that eating the flesh of a creature known for petrifying by touch JUST MIGHT be a bad idea? Perhaps? Instead, Zakaroth and I dissected them for parts.

From the junk pile we gathered that the goblins had been here first, and the cockatrices had taken over. We scrounged some valuables from in among the trash, and Vall paid me back a nice chunk of what I’ve lent him for enchanting.

Exploring further, we found some more ruined buildings – the remains of an old town, and yes, a portal stone. We used the stone to jump back to the capital, giving Alessandra the cockatrice eggs. (Good parenting involves encouraging the kid’s interests and challenging them, right? And yes, we did tell her what they were.)

Afterwards we stepped back to the old settlement and continued north. According to records this had once been prime farming land, but it was now too windy and dry. (What happened to the climate? Is this related somehow to the wetness of the other phase we encountered?) The country was lonely here, with few signs of life other than low grasses and an occasional skeleton from some migrating beast. Still, it made it relatively easy to follow the old trade route.

After a couple of days the trees began to thicken again and the trail veered westward. We came to a small collection of huts, and a trail of smoke suggested that they had been quite recently inhabited. There was also an old portal stone, which we activated, after testing a point of curiosity: these stones don’t radiate magic until after they’ve been activated.

Vall scouted the hut with the first and found food in the larder. The huts looked relatively new, primitive constructions on ancient foundations, and the bedding was a primitive weave that looked to have been scavenged from remnants of other cloths.

Near the huts were footprints, light as if they had been deliberately concealed, and very fresh. Chrysta was muttering something paranoid about trees and grass. We followed them, and saw one of the bushes moving up ahead.

Zakaroth shot an arrow near the bush as a warning and called out in Elven: “Show yourself!”

A creature emerged, apparently some kind of elf but hard to see even in the open; some magical effect was disrupting its appearance. It was speaking a very old form of Elvish, and I cast a spell of translation, but even so it was hard to understand, as if the creature was speaking its own language badly.

Still, we were able to manage some slow communication. He (apparently it was a he) told us: “I am the eldest. We are those who remain.” We gathered that a small number of them had remained after “the bad”; they lost favour and the world went dark some ten thousand years ago.

Curious. According to the portal stone records, this place was known as “Aramoor” a thousand years ago, with no mention of extremely ancient elves. More and more it feels as if there are multiple worlds overlapping.

Pondering: the huts are quite recent. Is it possible that these elves were in another world again until we freed the gods a few months back?

Shiny points: 22 carried over, +1 for summary = 23.

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A Walk In The Black Forest

We stayed for the funerals of the four killed by the will-o-the-wisps, and Faye decided to write a song for the occasion. I suppose she means well. (Hopefully? it’s possible?) The rest of us loomed over her a bit during the creative process to ensure she didn’t get out of hand.

Further pondering: Desna, the god of travel, is one of those who was severely wounded and amalgamated. Hence, presumably, the general reduced interest in travelling?

After the funerals – of which I won’t write here – we took the Junior Heroes with us and set off northwards, heading across country to find more portal stones on our way back to the capital.

In three days we travelled perhaps a hundred miles, which took us as far as the last farm. Past that was old forest, and the road had long since fallen into disuse.

We made our way cautiously, and so we were able to notice a smell of rotting flesh, and some suspicious-looking vines, before we came into range. We skirted around them and avoided conflict, for now, but I don’t know how long that luck will continue; we told the Junior Heroes that nobody is to wander off alone.

Chrysta started ranting about trees and how they should all be destroyed with fire. Some sort of dwarvish thing?

On our fourth day in the forest we found an old wall by the edge of the road; it was mostly intact, if a bit weathered and badly overgrown. We identified it as high-quality dwarvish workmanship, and on searching we realised we’d found an old settlement, all built in old dwarvish style. Eventually we found a portal stone in a central building, and referencing against my notes we identified the settlement as Nog Badir.

We also found something rather disconcerting: about a hundred petrified dwarves, the old kind, with looks of terror on their face. It seems their souls were displaced at the time of the Great Unpleasantness – so where did they end up?

With that question in mind, none of us was particularly eager to sleep there, so we used the portal stone to get back to civilisation for the night. (I still find this mode of exploration very strange – one moment we’re out in the wilds where perhaps nobody has ventured in a thousand years, the next we’re back in the comforts of home.)

We returned in the morning with a few more minions, and Chrysta scanned for undead – nothing. Well, wherever those spirits have gone, I hope they’re at peace.

From there we continued north; after two days’ further travel the forest began to thin out, getting somewhat dryer. We found another building, also long abandoned, though not as well made as the first. When Chrysta found there was a basement, OF COURSE she wanted to explore it, and we agreed because there’d be no peace otherwise. And that’s when we noticed the smell of goblins…

Shiny points: 21 carried over, +1 for summary = 22.

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Won't O' The Wisps

Anne liked the gloves. At least I assume she did, from her reaction.

We spent some time in the capital. I’ve figured out how to modify the haversack enchantment to make larger extradimensional bags, and I’ve crafted one large enough to hold five hundred pounds worth of gear. Unfortunately it’s a bit too heavy for me to carry comfortably, but Faye doesn’t mind.

In between working on that project, I checked up on some points of historical curiosity. Two millennia ago, wars were commonplace in this land, but they petered out about five to seven centuries before the Cataclysm, give or take some frictions with the orcs. I asked Vall and Faye to investigate this in the Divine City, and Chrysta also had business there.

Faye spoke to Cayden, and Vall to Calistria/Pharasma; neither were eager to talk about it, but eventually Pharasma told Vall that Goram had caused the Cataclysm. His power had been waning, and he released Rovagug in the hope of triggering new conflict; after the gods dealt with Rovagug, at great cost to themselves, they chained Goram and sealed his temple. He will not be released again, they say. I certainly hope so.

We were eager to visit home, and we did so with some of the Junior Heroes in tow: Anne, Drupatha (dwarf bard), Debil (halfling sorcerer), and two of the Legitimate Businesschildren. The rest of our group travelled upriver by boat from Vallaise to Prudence to Tremayne, then by another boat up to Callech, activating the portal stones as they went; I stayed in my quarters, finishing off some work on a pair of boots for myself, and then used the newly-activated portals to catch up with them.

While we were in Tremayne, Galath arrived, and was very pleased to see us. Apparently he had sent a message to say that several of the town’s youth had gone missing. We hadn’t received the message, so it was fortunate that we’d arrived so soon.

Heading upriver, we met with our old friend the water elemental, which is significantly larger than last time – I’m glad we came to an amicable arrangement with it! The goblin cave was empty.

Despite the circumstances, it felt good to be back in Callech; I couldn’t spend my life cooped up in this town, but there are so many familiar faces her, friends and family. Life has gone on in our absence; the new temple of Pharasma is up, and Vall’s family have been growing up. His middle child has become a ranger, and it appears his wife also has the spark. My family are all well, and they were glad to hear of my great-uncle’s prominence back in the capital.

Galath was concerned that the portal stones might undercut his business, which they certainly could (despite Faye’s attempts to reassure him to the contrary). However, to my great surprise, the only folk who seem interested in using them are those with the spark; the others remain homebodies, even when there are obvious economic advantages to such a capability.

Galath, however, enjoys the trading life… hmm.

We took Galath to the Adventurers’ Guild, and as I had suspected, the orb glowed very brightly at his touch. Well, I suppose that offers him a new career?

We found Callech’s portal stone in the pub, which used to be the old town hall. As with so many other places, the town has shrunk; since the Catastrophe there are fewer urban centres than there were, with people moving out to farming locations and smaller populations overall. In hindsight this makes sense; Eristil and Abaddar, gods of families and cities, were badly injured in the war with Abaddar almost destroyed, and they were forced to merge into a single deity.

But we had a job to do. Four people had gone missing in a short period of time, and it didn’t seem like ordinary adolescent recklessness. The latest victim had left home for a short walk to her work, and disappeared in broad daylight.

Although it had happened a couple of days before, Vall’s wife was able to find some tracks. Partway along, they veered off the path into a patch that was much swampier than I remembered it being, and foggier too. I’d guess that the local bedrock has shifted (cross-reference: that nasty business with the basilisks) and water from the river is seeping into the ground here.

Chrysta picked up the presence of evil: nearby, two creatures which promptly attacked us. I believe they’re called will-o-wisps, little glowing balls of light that hit Faye and Chrysta hard with nasty electric shocks. They were very fast and hard to hit, and the situation seemed quite dangerous.

I caste a haste spell on all of us, then strengthened Faye. She and Vall managed to kill one of the creatures with much flailing about; Chrysta hit another with her hammer (I’ll take some credit for enchanting it!) and then summoned a demon.

…yes, a demon. Apparently Ms “don’t even THINK about a minor necromantic spell” has no qualms about summoning actual literal demons. Honestly.

I summoned a swarm of bats to get stuck into the remaining will-o-wisp. I figured it couldn’t dodge all of them, and if it tried to escape by dimming its light they would still be able to find it. However, it didn’t get time; having cast my spell I waved my dagger to threaten and distract it, giving Faye an opening to deliver a final blow.

In the swamp we found four dead bodies. Poor kids. At least we appear to have avenged them, but I’m concerned by the increase in monster attacks (see again: basilisks) and rather puzzled by where they could be coming from. Have such creatures really been hiding for so long? Or is there some sort of spontaneous generation going on?

Note to self: next time we visit the Divine City, perhaps we should ask about what Lamashtu’s been up to.

Shiny points: 20 carried over, +1 for summary = 21.

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