Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Wherein Ishmael earns the name Dragonbane

We watched the old man for a while to ascertain that he meant himself no more harm, and continued to talk to him to keep him calm. He relayed to us all that he remembered of his ill fated fishing trip, and told us all he knew - rumors mostly - about what lay at the heart of the swamp. There was a moment then, where he grew pale and balked at taking the party out into the swamps.  We continued to speak gently with him though, and he reluctantly agreed once again to take us out on his raft and act as a guide through the swamp to the tomb. We made certain that the surplus of our supplies were secured safely and what we DID choose to carry with us was as water tight as we could make it, then we followed the old man out to the edge of the swamp where he had anchored his raft.

It was a large, sturdy structure that had a single bench where the old man sat to steer the craft. We all managed to get aboard, and the old man pushed off. We traveled south, against the current, for some time following the shoreline. Travel was slow, but any offer of help that we made was rebuffed by the old man, who told us his name was Stephen.

After several hours of laborious movement through the murky swamps, Stephen pushed the raft slowly away from the shoreline and turned the craft toward a large island off to the left. He grew noticeably more reticent and watchful the longer we stayed out on the water, and maintained that this was a "bad place."

I have to agree with him there. The water here is dark, cloudy, and full of unknown creatures and terrors. The air is dank and heavy with moisture and a very real sense of oppressive dread. Even the trees, the cypress knees and towering trunks of the forest that so recently developed here are foreboding. Everything about this place seems off to my senses. There is no balance here. It is a place full of evil, and I do not like it. As reluctant as he was about being our guide, I am quite relieved that Stephen is here with the party, as we would undoubtedly have been lost several times over by now in the myriad of twists and turns and ever shifting land masses here.

Darkness fell quite suddenly over the swamp, and Stephen dropped the anchor of the raft bringing it to a halt between two ominous islands to each side of us. He warned in whispered tones that we had to stay in the center of the raft, and that we should not go into the waters. The party grew tense and expectant, instantly on guard for whatever might arise, and we saw the islands to either side of us begin to writhe with ghostly forms. Stephen quietly murmured that these were the shades of all those who had died in the swamp, but that the undead should have no reason to cross the waters unless you were a holy man.

The party shared a horrified glance then, as nearly everyone of us radiated faith of one form or another, and we all turned our backs to the center of the raft as the shades began to creep towards us. We warned Stephen that we were in for a fight, and that he should stay as still as possible.

Osman asked if one of us could ready an arrow, and I showed him my already knocked bow. He nodded and said something like a prayer over the arrow then asked me to fire it into the center of the larger group of advancing shades. I raised an eyebrow and did as he requested, but to no obvious effect.

KelLyn then tried casting a spell, but as usual, she lost her control, and the spell went awry causing wooden ramps to appear leading out of the waters towards the raft.

Shalev muttered a curse to himself under his breath - that I'm sure he didn't think I could hear, and am honestly surprised that he knew - and began to audibly pray to Ma'at, using his brooch to cast a mass dispell undead. Ma'at heard him, and answered, and the spell that he cast managed to destroy twelve of the ghosts.

Osman then summoned and deftly controlled an elemental of air - something that I took alarmed and wary note of. I knew that Lan could do this, but then she is fae. To have another party member try to force order into the chaos of elemental magic makes me distinctly uneasy. But, control it he did, and he commanded it to destroy the closest shade. He was able to do this twice more, which showed a remarkable amount of control for someone appearing so young. Perhaps KelLyn should take note of this new party member and learn from him?

KelLyn attempted then to cast a spell that would affect the whole area, and managed to succeed this time, turning the remaining shades to dust.

No one was wounded, and Stephen remarked that travelling with us was both more frightening and more reassuring than traversing the swamps alone.  We spent the rest of the night in peace, and the next morning, Stephen raised the anchor to the sight of eight large crocodiles sunning themselves happily on the wooden ramps near the raft. The party wisely decided to leave them alone - even Amit was staying well away from the fanged reptiles - and we continued on through the marshes.

We took note of several large birds standing along the shore of a nearby island, and we decided to hunt a few of them to replenish dwindling stores. Amit bounded off to hunt on his own, and Tobias, Fife, Osman, and I each manage to kill a few of the birds. Osman's skill with a bow is remarkable, and I suddenly realized why he seemed familiar to me. He is of the Edabali family, and he himself is a renowned archer in the areas near home. I asked him quietly who was teaching his students while he was out adventuring, and he looked at me with surprise, then wryly answered "another student." I smiled and then offered to teach him some survival skills in exchange for some archery tips. He agreed, and I look forward to being able to augment my ability.

Once the hunting was done, we made a camp along the shore of another island, and dressed the fowl for meals and rations. Amit returned from his hunt, obviously successful, and while still quite grouchy with the party, he is also noticeably in better spirits and healing well. He looked at the birds we had caught - and I could swear that I saw amusement in his eyes at our attempts to hunt - but then he made a sound of distress about eating them, and it was enough for Shalev to cast a purify spell over the meat with some obvious affect. I thanked Amit for his care, and though he still growled at me when I approached, it was less menacing and more long-suffering in nature.

We took the quiet opportunity to rest well, and then continued our trek through the miasma. After another four days of  easy travel, Stephen warned us that we were in another "bad area." We encountered nothing adverse though, and after a short space of time, Stephen offers to teach us how to fish with sticks and strings. It is an odd way to catch fish, as it seems to rely on tricking them into biting the hooked piece of metal at the end of the string. It is far safer, however, than venturing into the murky waters. Even Lan refused to fish in her usual seal-form. There was a decent amount of humor in the learning process, and I for one was glad for the brevity. The swamp is oppressive, and I can feel the weight of the darkness here like a constant threat. It weighs heavily on me. None of us were very successful at this new form of fishing, save for Shalev who brought in a very large water turtle. Stephen warned that the turtles here had a nasty bite, but no injuries were suffered in bringing the catch in, and he poled the raft over to another nearby island so that we could make a camp for the evening.

Amit went out to hunt on his own again, and he returned some time later carrying an extremely large snake. He dropped it in front of Shalev, and made it clear that the kill was for us. He waited for Shalev to accept the gift, then Amit collapsed with a groan. I moved over to check on him and discovered that he had been sorely wounded by the snake. I chided him gently about biting off more than he could chew - even for us - and he allowed me to gently run my hands through his fur as I healed him. I was able to successfully cast a druidic spell to heal the worst of the damage, and I convinced him to swallow a healing potion to take care of the rest.

Osman at that point cast a spell that created two haunches of goat, which he gave to Amit. The great cat immediately devoured the meat, and then fell into sleep. I checked him again as he rested to make sure that the healing had taken effect, and the rest of the evening passed without incident.

The next morning, Stephen told us that we were getting very close to the temple, so we took some time to clean off the muck and mud, and refresh ourselves. KelLyn offered to create water for our ablutions, and when she cast the spell she discovered a line of power nearby that augmented her spell considerably.

As we were getting clean, Fife was attacked, taking an arrow to his shoulder. Osman and I retreated to the center of the raft to begin picking the attackers off with arrows. Fife, being wounded, also joined us on the raft and displayed considerable skill with a bow. The attackers return fire with arrows, but we all manage to dodge out of the way and avoid further injury.

KelLyn cast a spell then, and caused the earth to begin quaking. We all manage to hold our balance, and Fife asked KelLyn to create a fire spell around his arrow. Something went wrong with the spell, and when the arrow hit, a gate opened to the outer plains.

The form that emerged was a demon prince, stepping right out into the center of the horde of enemies that had been attacking us. The demon began negligently slaughtering the hobgoblins, and our party retreated with great haste. KelLyn frantically attempted to close the still open gate, using her wand with success to do so. Once the hobgoblins were taken care of, the demon prince turned towards the party and said that he had business with a mage on the other continent. He asked KelLyn pointedly if she could aid him in getting there, and in a stroke of destructive mischievousness, she opens a gate to the central room where the group of mages that had been scrying on her specifically for so long resided. The demon stated then that this was better, and told KelLyn that in way of thanks for aiding him, she had earned a "god-like" power. He hummed something in Fyrewerian then, and stepped through the gate, closing it behind him amid the terrified cries of the surprised mages in the room.

KelLyn immediately repeated what the demon had told her in Fyrewerian, and created a small gem which contained power. The demon had taught her the ability to create power nodes for use in the creation of magical items. This is an ability that has been lost for generations, and I can't help but think of Ma'tron in the cursed elven city, with her and her husband's adventures to find magical items and recreate them.

After making sure that there were no additional attacks coming our way, we decided to continue moving on. A day or so later, around noon, we saw an island that looked considerably different than all the others we had encountered. This area was very dense, with the trees crowding close, and the earth mounded up to form the bulk of the island. There was a stone platform going into the mound on the north side, and a very large decorated wall near the rear of the structure. The whole area radiated unholy magic, and all of us were extremely cautious as we approached.

As Stephen poled the raft closer to the dock, we saw nine skiffs tied to the edge. He said that he had no wish to stay here, and would leave after we had disembarked. He was adamant, but did make a promise to return in two days, and then again in nine, should we survive.

With that promise in mind, we all climbed off of the raft. As we did so, Shalev noticed a body face-down under the water. He hooked it with a grapple and pulled it to the surface. It was the body of one of the count's men, with a crossbow bolt in the back. It looked as if the man were fleeing toward the skiffs when he was shot. The rest of the party looked around cautiously, but saw no signs of where the attack might have come from.

I noticed that the wall towards the back of the structure shimmered oddly, and pointed out that that it did not appear to be a solid wall. I looked closer, and saw that it was not a wall, but a curtain made of tightly woven seashells. Osman walked up to the curtain-wall and touched it, only to be immediately shot with three crossbow bolts from behind the screen. Shalev rushed over to provide aid, and managed to drag him out of the line of fire to heal him. Ishmael then went over to the screen to mark the spot where Osman had touched the screen when he too was shot with crossbows.

Shalev grabbed Ismael's shield at that point to cover he, Ishmael, and Osman while they got to safety. He managed to glance back through the screen to see three rows of humanoid figures wielding crossbows. He retreated behind the columns of the main area of the temple, casting a spell to dispel evil as he ran.

Osman turned then to see Stephen, who had been instantly killed in the flurry of crossbow fire, fall slowly into the waters of the marsh. He ran to the edge and dove in after him, in an attempt to save him, but it was too late. Stephen was gone, and Osman was left to try to make his way through the waters back to the dock.

KelLyn attempted to cast a spell to catch the strings of the curtain on fire, in an attempt to remove the obstacle from our path. Her first attempt to ignite the curtains failed, but thankfully with no ill effect. The humidity in the air was making the strings nearly impossible to ignite. So she made a second attempt, this time using a different word in Fyrewerian. This time, it worked, and her flames ignited with an indescribably beautiful detonation. The color was well beyond any normal flame, and the very air vaporized in a thunderclap of deafening sound. The force of the impact pulled Kellyn into the room just as I used the scroll of fireball that we had picked up in previous adventures to create and throw a fireball into the crowd of crossbowmen.

The scroll also detonated with an enormous backlash, and three water creatures emerge from three stagnant pools in the room, screaming with agony at the killing heat.

KelLyn was severely wounded from the backlash of the thunderclap, burned by the fireball, and appeared to be completely unconscious and exhausted. Shalev fearlessly waded into the middle of the bowmen to engage them all, keeping their attention firmly fixed on his deadly blade and giving Ishmael time to rush in and drag KelLyn away to heal her with a potion, saving her life.

At that moment, the large statue behind the curtain of shells shifted open, and a resonating voice rumbled out a question of who it was that had disturbed his rest. Lan looked back in time to see the head of a black dragon emerge from the corridor revealed by the shifting statue. She began casting a spell, and screamed out to the rest of the party as the dragon attacked her with a shot of acid breath. She released the spell she was casting in order to use one of the draughts of pure healing to counteract the terrible damage done by the acid. As her spell released, it warped into something purely wrong. The spell that she cast was an abomination of Destroy Animal, and it resonated against every aspect of nature. It hit the dragon square in the chest, and the dragon looked shocked for a moment, not understanding what had happened.

Upon seeing the dragon, my heart went cold in my chest. Here was the destruction of the druids. The reason I was the only one in living memory. Unnatural and unearthly, and utterly evil. I began to pray, at that point, for some guidance on how to deal with what I faced.

The dragon then cast a charm spell on the party, which affected everyone save Lan, who was not human, and Ishmael, who had quietly made his way over behind the dragon and had begun to climb the scales of it's neck and was out of range of the spell. Lan summoned a small fairy who took one look at the dragon and squealed in fright before tossing Lan a weirding stone and vanishing entirely.

The dragon, confused by why his spell had no effect on Lan, then stated "Ah, but you are fae. Sacatha said nothing about a fae. Interesting." He failed to notice Ishmael continuing to deftly climb the scales of it's neck toward it's head. Lan put the stone into her mouth, turned into her seal form, and dashed into the water to swim away from the dragon.

This confused the dragon even more, and he lowered his head into the water to try to find out where she had gone. This allowed Ishmael to slide down the dragon's neck to behind it's head- still unnoticed - and prepare to attack it with his mace. At that point, the dragon turned to me with the statement that it must be I who was the magic user. I wondered at why he could not tell who the magic user of the party was, but I was still held fast by the charm spell and could only watch with growing terror as the dragon opened his great mouth and brought his head forward to snap me in half.

I was only saved by Ishmael, who in that moment, swung his mace with all of his considerable strength into the dragon's eye. Ishmael, hanging by his mace from the dragon's eye socket, quipped "I am NOT the mage", and then stabbed it in the other eye with the bronze spear that Shalev had given him to study. The dragon was caught completely by surprise and bellowed with pain, but managed to keep hold of the charm spell that held the rest of the party immobile.

Ishmael continued his attack, and made another successful hit with the bronze spear, which had begun to glow with heat. He noticed then that there were words that had appeared on the handle of the spear that said "Flame Strike". He read the words aloud with a little confusion, only to have to hold on for dear life as the spell went off directly into the dragon's eye with white hot fire. Ishmael then, realizing what the spear and the spell did, repeated the words over and over and over again. Three times the flame strike spell went off, each time piercing the dragon's head.

This was enough to destroy the dragon's formidable concentration and release us all from the charm spell that bound us. KelLyn then, picking herself wearily up off of the floor, walked over to the dying dragon and stated calmly "I AM the magic user" before casting a spell to draw the essence of the dragon into one of it's scales, causing it to finally fall over dead.

We took a moment to stare in awe at Ishmael who seemed not to realize just how profound a deed he had just accomplished. He shrugged it off with some embarrassment, and we all sat there for a moment in sheer relief that we were all still alive. Lan took that moment to hop up out of the waters, and turn back to her human form; and Osman also finally managed to make his way back out of the murky deeps. We took a moment to search the area to discover that the three stagnant pools held a small trove of treasures:

  • a solid gold brooch
  • a solid gold necklace
  • a pin made of a strange gemstone
  • a platinum bracelet
  • a pin made of a soft green stone
  • a gold pin set with a garnet the size of a robin's egg
  • a woman's tiara set with three rubies and carrying the imperial crest
  • a cache of platinum coins
  • a potion with a Fyrewerian word written on the bottle (polymorph self, duration 1 month) 
and then we turned our attention over to the entrance of the chamber where the dragon had emerged, only to have our breath taken away by the sheer amount of treasure to behold. The room was full of gems, coins, and several kingdom's worth of wealth. 

The party went out to the main columned area of the temple and built a rudimentary camp in order to rest and recover. There is a hoard of treasure to go through, and who knows what we will find there in the piles of wealth. I can already see Shalev planning to send a chest or two somehow back to his mother. His pending marriage weighs heavily on his mind, and in sending a portion of this treasure to the care of his mother, it is his thought that he may improve his lot enough to put his mother ahead of the game in the negotiations for his wedding.

I will caution that, while we are indeed deserving of a portion of the treasures here, there is way more than we could possibly carry with us. I know that Shalev is neither greedy, nor shortsighted, and would not take it all as he is from the desert and has learned well that we only keep what we can carry with us. I do worry that he reaches too high at times, and can forget that money and wealth can occasionally cause more issues than it solves.

He is discussing telling the count where the treasure is, with the stipulation that the divination priests receive a portion of the money to cover the cost of providing answers that the party members may seek. This is a wise plan, as the diviners can provide some much needed information regarding the quests that we still have before us to complete.

He was also considering trying to hire one of the diviners to serve in the court of the Oasis for a time, but I do not know if that will be possible. The desert is a different culture, a long way from here, and alien to these people. But if he can convince them to aid him in his quest to raise his status among the peoples of the desert, I will not stop him.

There is a country that has been rife with desolation and destruction, and so it would be my thought that the lion's share of this go towards rebuilding and reestablishing trade and commerce here in this area. The easiest way will most likely be to leave the bulk of the treasure here where it lays. That is for the count and the people of this country to do, however. We can start the process to restoring Waycam to it's glory, but it will ultimately be their choice on how to continue from here. 

Stephen is dead, poor soul. May he finally find the peace that he needs. I am sad that we were not able to protect him, and I worry now that we have lost our guide. There is still much to do here, and I believe that what we face is only going to be worse than this. For what can command a dragon? Sacatha was not the dragon we faced today. His tomb is located here in the heart of the swamp, but whether it is further in, underneath this temple somewhere, or otherwise hidden we still have yet to discover. 

May the god and goddess go with us here, watch us and guide us. Protect us however they may, for we will need their help. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

The eighth man

After the battle with the giants, the party decided to rest and recuperate for a day as we waited for the effects of the Slow spell to wear off of Amit. While we rested, Ishmael used the down time to practice his craft, and he made several tubes of varying sizes out of the metals he carries.

The next day we broke camp and traveled on. Shortly up the road, we came across a very large oak tree that had been recently split by lightning. At the base of the tree lay a man in obvious distress, and a second man was there tending to the injured person. The second man stated that his name was Osman, from the desert area. He spoke desert common in a dialect that Tobias, Shalev, and I all recognized, and seemed quite taken aback when Tobias offered him a formal desert greeting. He returned the greeting somewhat timidly, and then told the party about how he came across the wounded man, and had been tending to his wounds.

As he conversed with the rest of the party, I went over to check on the oak tree to see what could be done. I was able to determine that the tree was still alive, and I attempted to cast a basic druidic spell to help heal the tree. There was no visible effect, but I felt like I succeeded to some degree. Perhaps my spell was able to give it the strength it needed to sustain itself during the regrowth process? Only time will tell, but I could not just leave it there without trying something.

I came back over to the party to see Shalev check the wounded man, and then give him a healing potion. As he regained consciousness, we asked him gently who he was and what he could remember. He said that his name was Bartow, - this is the man that the Count tasked us to find - and that he faked his death in order to discover what happened in the area, but was unfortunately captured anyway. He managed to escape, but was wounded in the process and that the last thing he remembered was collapsing by the great oak tree.

Bartow went on to describe the enemies he faced in great detail – including verifying that the old man did in fact seem to be a harbinger of attack. He described the old man to us as being short of stature and wearing nondescript brown and green rags. He told us of the prisoners that were lead behind the Inn at Waycam, and warned that he did not know what else we might face.

 He seemed confused and still weak from his ordeal, and Osman chimed in at that point telling his side of the story – How he found Bartow gravely wounded, and took cautious steps to care for him during his time of need. Osman then stated that he is a scholar from the desert areas with some knowledge of the lizard folk and that he had ventured out to enhance his knowledge of the creatures. This struck the entire party as rather foolish, as Osman appeared to be neither armed nor armored, nor did he carry any supplies with him. He mentioned quietly that he knew some few spells that he had used to keep himself fed and mildly protected along the way, and I wondered then at how much more there was to this new stranger.

Fife and KelLyn both quipped with wry humor that the peoples of the desert seemed to be everywhere. I wisely kept my opinions to myself on the matter, but took small note of the nature of the gripe. Given the infighting that has gone on between the other party members to date, there might be concern for the mentality of “us vs. them” which, while not the case in the slightest, could cause trouble later on. It’s worth keeping a watchful eye on anyway. I have come to admire or respect each of the party members in their own way, and am loathe to see any rift between them grow.

As Bartow was still obviously weakened, and in no shape to guide us forward, Shalev equipped him with a horse and enough supplies to get him to the Robin’s Breast in safely, then sent him on his way with his word of honor that he would inform the count of our promise to find him, and of our continued progress to restore Waycam and clear the Evil out of the Swamp.

Since Osman had some small knowledge of the lizard men that we faced, and we could provide first-hand knowledge of the creatures, we agreed that he could join the group and travel with us; and after sending Bartow on his way, we gathered our small caravan and continued on for another few hours.

During the third watch that evening, Fife heard voices that forewarned “They’re not moving. Kill them now!”  He immediately threw a spear towards the voices and shouted to KelLyn to wake the party. The monsters attacked Fife, and he again relied on his skills with the spear and his extensive knowledge of boar hunting to kill one of the creatures with his first hit to the face.

Tobias and Shalev were the first to awaken fully, and they also immediately engaged the remaining monsters, only to see two additional foes appear just over the ridge about 60 feet away. Fife then shifted his attack to the new foes while Shalev and Tobias closed with the ogres that were attacking Fife.

KelLyn, having woken the rest of the party, then engaged and cast a spell on the end of Fife’s spear which turned it white-hot. Fife’s aim was true, as it always appears to be, and the spear exploded against the ogre’s face with a shower of molten metal and slag. Fife reacted to the explosion like a child with a new toy, and promptly urged KelLyn to do it again. As she prepared a new spell, Tobias and Shalev took down the two ogres that they battled, and the others turned to flee.

I managed to get a shot off at one of the running ogres, and shortly after that KelLyn's spell goes off.. predictably badly, causing a deafening cone of sound to detonate off into the swamp to the right. Shalev called for Amit to catch and kill the remaining running ogre, and Amit took off like a bolt to attack. Amit used his magically enhanced claws to rake the back of the fleeing ogre, and slowed it down long enough for Ishmael to smash it in the foot with his mace to take it down entirely.

With all of the enemies taken care of, we search their remains to discover more of the embroidered money pouches, this time with 50 silver in each. We check the party members for injuries, and discover that Amit was radiating an evil aura because of the effect of using the magical ability of his claws. Shalev was alarmed by this, and cast dispell evil on Amit, thinking it would cause the aura to disperse. Unfortunately, it caused a grievous wound to the great cat instead, and Amit collapsed. Shalev managed to get a healing potion into him quickly, and the wound was terrible enough that even with the effects of the potion, it took an hour for Amit's wounds to close and knit.

Amit was understandably distressed, and was very wary about letting anyone near him for quite a while after that. Only Lan and KelLyn were able to approach him and they fed him some of the salmon we had in our stores. They managed to get him to calm down enough to allow me to approach him - though with a deep warning growl - and I was able to cast a simple healing spell on him. It felt as if it were successful, and I thanked the god and goddess that he was well, and asked them to add some small blessing to Amit to help aid his recovery.

Shalev was heartbroken that he had caused such unintentional harm to his friend, and he spent quite a long time in prayer to Ma'at. I do not know what it was that she said to him, but after he emerged from his meditations, he asked for a goat so that he could perform a specific rite. She appears, for the first time, to have answered him directly, and that intimate conversation seems to have had some effect on Shalev. Perhaps his goddess has started him on the next steps of his path as a Paladin to her name? Time will tell there, I think. Though he has gained a measure of confidence with his position, he still appears to have some reservations about how he should proceed in some cases. I am concerned that he seems to gravitate towards rigid law, as opposed to the sense of balance that Ma'at represents.

I will pull him aside when I get a moment to gently remind him that balance is not necessarily about always doing the good thing or the right thing, but that maintaining balance can sometimes mean allowing something bad to happen as well. This will be one of his most difficult lessons, I fear, and I hope that I can guide him with what little advice I can give.

On an interesting note, it appears evident that Osman is also a cleric or a paladin of sorts, as he emerged from his tents radiating a sense of faith and power. This would explain his lack of equipment or weapons when we found him, and it bears not only noting, but some careful observation as well. We know little about this new party member so far, and it will be interesting to discover more about him.

Later that afternoon, after the party had rested a little while, we continued down the road and eventually came across the remains of a ravaged village. Fields were burned, houses destroyed. The only remaining structure of any stability was the Inn. The Inn was also gutted and deserted, save for the innkeeper, who was trying to rapidly pack what belongings he could in preparation to leave. The innkeeper informed us that this was, indeed, what was left of Waycam; and he went on to describe the enormous flying creature that came out at night, as well as the crazy old man who squatted on the northern edge of the ruins here. He recalled that the road through here went north to the mountains, or continued straight to the desert, then went on to say that we could keep what wine we found in the inn, for he was leaving and didn't care much what else happened here.

It is possible that he was originally party to the destruction of the village in the first place, but we will never know for certain. After he left, we spent some time searching the remains of the inn, but found nothing remaining of any value. We then continued warily to the north, towards the old man, recalling the warnings that he was possibly some form of harbinger to attacks. We found the poor wretch to the north, in a semi-livable hut, singing to himself about others that had been carried off to the "bad lair". His rambling sing-song told us of Sacatha the great lizard king, who would come to rescue all and renew his kingdom. He knows how to get to the bad place on his raft, but that he would not go there. that he was to remain behind and bear witness to the destruction of all.

We managed to get him to agree to take us out to show us his raft. We left the horses at the stables near the inn, and agreed to hide the bulk of our supplies under the floorboards of the inn to retrieve should we return from the swamp. KelLyn promptly threw a hissyfit about her books, but finally stated crossly that as she did not trust any of the other party members with her things, and agreed to wrap them in oil cloth and hide them with the rest of the supplies. While KelLyn was arguing about her possessions, and angrily muttering about having to choose what to bring with her, Lan discovered that the old man was actually cursed with madness. After several more moments, and some more angry diatribe from KelLyn about being interrupted, Lan managed to convince her to see if she could help remove the curse from the old man. KelLyn reluctantly agreed, and drew a circle on the ground to call the power she needed to break the curse. She was successful, and as soon as she had completed the spell, she went back to sorting through her belongings.

The old man - who was now quite lucid - told us that he remembered fishing, and then being captured. That he was supposed to watch the people to see where they burned. The realization of all he had borne witness to sank in with a shocking realization, and the old man wailed at what he had done. In shock, and wounded to the soul at what had happened here, he tried to kill himself. We were unfortunately not fast enough to stop him from wounding himself, but we succeeded at removing the dagger from his chest and healing him completely before the wound could complete his desire. We promised him gently that he would have a chance to make things right. We sat him down carefully, wrapped him in a warm blanket, and gave him a little food and water to help calm him down.

He wearily told us that the tomb is actually real, and he made the offer to take us there on the raft. At that point Shalev boldly stated that he would destroy the evil, or die trying. Osman and I looked at each other in alarm, as we felt a clerical spell discharge, and we realized that Shalev had managed to geas himself to the task; quite possibly geasing the entire party to the same quest.

I do not think that the rest of the party was paying close enough attention to realize what Shalev had done. It alarms me that he made such a broad statement of intent, and that such a statement carried such a powerfully binding effect. He is still very cavalier with his own life, and it is my quiet thought that perhaps I should remind him that he is both a valued friend to me, and an essential member of the group. I do not know if the binding effect of the geas affects only Shalev, or will affect the entire group.  I fear what may come of this, but I promise to see it through to whatever end may come.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Balance Druid's Mantra

There is only Nature
I will do what I must to keep the balance.
The balance is what keeps me together.
There is no good without evil, but evil must not be allowed to flourish.
There is passion, yet emotion
Serenity, yet peace
Chaos, yet order
I am the wielder of the flame, the protector of balance.
I am the holder of the torch, lighting the way.
I am the keeper of the flame, soldier of balance.

I am a guardian.

Monday, December 1, 2014

More than they bargained for...

"How would you defeat them?"
"With a stick, while they slept; but when they are awake, aware, and working together? They are unstoppable."


While the party was preparing to continue the hunt for the bandits, we took the opportunity to ask Ahkmar and his clerics about various subjects that held importance to each of us.

Tobias asked about any information that they might provide us regarding the enemy that we hunt. Unfortunately, the only thing that they were able to tell us about that was that they always had difficulty scrying them. This is still useful information for us though, as it lets us know that they are somehow protected from such attempts.

Ishmael took the opportunity to ask them about the city of glass - where he found the Flames of Prometheus. He was told that the name of the city was Medina Muscaloon, which in old desert means "city of merchants."

I also took the opportunity to ask a question, though knowing that the chances of an answer were slim. I asked about knowledge regarding Sacred Druidry, and the fate of those druids of long ago. They confirmed what I had read in my book, that the druids were destroyed 2000 years ago, by a mage. They told me also that old forests with established guardians would be my best chance of learning more; and they were able to give me the location of the two forests that they knew about. One located to the East of a mage's tower, and the other located in the valley between two ridges to the north. That one, they warned, was enchanted to always exist but had also been warded to bar any and all elves. I wonder if that is an all encompassing ban, or if I might be permitted to enter? It is worth checking into, for certain.

After we had conversed with the paladin and his clerics, we gathered our supplies and made preparations to leave the next morning. We awake to a steady rainfall, and depart the farm house to continue on the road. We notice the giant ants off in the forest - most likely confused by the sudden disruption of their normal hunting grounds. We wisely leave them alone to explore their new surroundings, and continue travelling onward. The forest thins out after about a day or so, though we continue to be wary of potential attacks.

The next morning we break camp to an extremely dense fog. It reminds me of the mornings at home in the deep desert.. where the fog rises with the sun and blankets the area. Heavy mists like this are always oddly secluding. Sounds are muffled, sight is limited, and it's very easy to lose yourself in introspection. Because our sight is so limited, we are extra alert as we travel.

Ishmael hums his songs that he learned for quenching as we travel, and discovers that the songs affect ALL water. Including the moisture in the fog. As he hums, the fog behind us turns to snow, much to everyone's surprise, and Lan's enthusiastic delight. She frolics in the snowfall, and we continue on in the oddly muffled silence.

During last watch that evening, Fife wakes everyone as a small group of bedraggled looking soldiers approach the camp. It's obvious that the didn't want any encounter with the group, but we stopped them and manage to talk them into giving us some information in exchange for some supplies. They tell us that we are about a week's travel from where they were attacked - although probably much less since we travel by horse. They are wearing the armor and markings of the count's men, and Fife suspects that they may be deserters. The weary soldiers tell us of the attack, and then interestingly that they felt an overwhelming fear in facing such sheer numbers which caused them to run. The fact that they ran is the only thing that kept them alive.

This reaction is an odd one from seasoned soldiers, and we contemplate the fact that there may be a fear spell and some form of illusion to deal with on top of everything else.

The soldiers tell us also that the brigands that attacked them did so with the express purpose to destroy - not to rob, as the caravans and merchants stated. They say that the Robin's Breast Inn is about a half day ahead, and we heal them, give them the promised supplies, and send them on their way. Since we were already all awake at that point, we decide to break camp and make our way to the Inn.

It's a lonely little structure, the Robin's Breast. A two story house off to the left side of the road. Not too many people there, understandably enough, given the current state of the merchant traffic and the constant fear of brigands. We tie the horses, and Fife stays with them as we go inside to see what information we might be able to gather. We find the bard over by the fire, and the inn keeper over at the bar.

Tobias inquires about a bottle of elven brandy, and he and the innkeeper bargain for an agreeable price for the treasure. It's hard to say who came out ahead in that discussion. The innkeeper certainly got his money's worth and then some, but Tobias managed to acquire the brandy, which he gleefully shared with me.

We ask the bard about any stories he can tell us regarding the current problems, but the farmers all begin to grumble suspiciously, fearing that the telling of the thing will make it worse.

The bard begins his song anyway, and the farmers all leave the inn with a good bit of grousing about not wanting to borrow trouble.

The song the bard sings with rather mediocre talent is the Legend of Sacatha's Tomb. According to the legend, Sacatha was the king of the lizard men who ruled his people with fear. His reign was supposedly aided by a ring that perpetuated the fear. Sacatha was slain by The Count [unnamed by the bard] in the great battle of Waycam, and his people secreted his body away to a sepulcher in the middle of the marshes. It is said that he will return to exact his vengeance on the count.

As difficult as it was to listen to the ill-told story, it does ring suspiciously accurate given current events. The Evil in the Swamp, the lizard men that we ourselves encountered on the road, the theft of children, the scrying attempts on the parties sent out to combat it, the spy in the count's inner court, and the raiding of supply caravans. The facts point to something gathering power, and that something - whatever it is - IS located in the swamp.

The bard laughs our statements of with naive nervousness, playing them off as simply part of the legends for stories that are told to scare children. Even so, we take note of the legend, because even legends are born in truth.

After paying for our meal, and compensating the innkeeper for the fact that all of his other customers for the day had been run off, we pay a few silvers to the bard for his story and gather our supplies to continue on. We make it several hours ride past the inn, when we are attacked by a trio of ogres.

They are very large creatures, ogres. They attack us with boulders, and one of them strikes the horse that I am riding, killing the poor beast immediately. I managed to roll safely out of the way, and the other horses bolt in fear. The party retaliates, and we enter the fight. These creatures are difficult to wound, and it is a game of trying to figure out how not to be crushed by them.

Ishmael and Lan try to gather the horses and keep them calm, and Tobias manages to do some minimal damage to the lead ogre. I attempt to cast a spell to entangle their feet, but it fails - thankfully with no ill effect. KelLyn also casts a spell that goes awry, but she manages to disarm one of the brutes.

Fife uses his expertise with spears and boar hunting to bring down the lead ogre, and Tobias uses his incredible speed and dexterity to run up the second ogre's back to brain him with his mace.

The other two ogres turn to attack Fife, as it was he that felled the leader, and Fife spends several moments dodging their attacks.

KelLyn casts another spell in Fyrewerian  - Fire this time - on the ogre that Tobias climbed, and this time she succeeds, catching the hair of the ogre on fire.

Shalev attacks the remaining ogres with the layan claymore that Ma'tron gifted to him, and discovers that the great sword is enchanted to do additional damage to giants. His attacks succeed, and he also discovers, somewhat pleasedly that in killing the ogres, his brooch and symbol of Ma'at gains a charge.

We dispatch the ogres, retrieve the horses, and redistribute the items from my horse onto the remaining animals. The ogres don't carry any items on their bodies, save a finely wrought money bag with the common lettering "GR" embroidered on the face. The money bag contains 100 gold pieces.

The markings on the bag look remarkably familiar for some reason, but none of us can remember where we might have encountered it. Shalev mentions that it is very odd that the ogres would be carrying that much gold, and I hold on to the thought that perhaps the brutes were paid to attack.

It is not a foolish thought, though it is somewhat concerning to consider - given all that we are currently facing. It looks like everything that has been happening here is connected somehow, although how exactly, we have yet to determine.

After the fight with the ogres, we rest for a time to regain strength. Thankfully no one was badly hurt, and we are able to continue travelling quickly.

After another 4 days or so of uneventful travel the road runs up along the river Arda, and we see a bridge about 300 yards or so ahead of us. We stop briefly to discuss crossing the bridge, and to check our progress, and it is here that we are attacked by brigands.

It is a large group of 20 bandits, and they attack en masse. Shalev instinctively casts Dispel Evil, and three of the bandits flee in absolute terror. The rest of them split into three separate groups, and they shout "It's the mage we want, kill the rest!"

We all pull up in front of KelLyn, and prepare to fight. The group with swords as weapons rush to attack Tobias, the group with clubs attacks Fife, and the group with javelins attacks me. Tobias and Shalev both take great offense at the fact that I am being attacked, and Tobias rushes the group with the javelins to brawl with them.

Fife deftly dodges the attacks aimed at him, and KelLyn casts a Slow spell using one of her star gems to concentrate the effect. The star gem turns black, and the spell goes off - affecting the enemies, and unfortunately affecting Amit as well. Ishmael and Shalev engage the group armed with swords, and I spend several moments simply dodging out of the way and making it more difficult for them to hit me.

Lan summons another chaotic fairy, but then when it states that it could not do anything here in the fight, she sets it free instead of returning it home. Setting it free was probably a mistake, as the chaotic fae are capricious at best, and I hope that we will not have to handle much in the way of mischief that it may cause.

The rest of the fight continues quickly, and with the bandits being affected by the slow spell, we are able to take them down. KelLyn intimidates the rest, causing them to flee, and Fife spears one of the fleeing bandits. We search the bodies, but find nothing other than their weapons. Fife takes several of the spears to replace the ones that he lost in the fight, and Lan questions one of the bodies with a spell that she knows. She asks why they were after the mage, and the bandit replied "Because the king told us to" before falling back into death.

We check the area further, but there is nothing to be found, giving us more questions than answers. Amit is still being affected by the slow spell, and KelLyn crassly jokes that we can just leave him behind, which draws a promise of violence from Shalev. I assure him that we will not leave Amit behind, and we agree to make camp just on the other side of the bridge. There are no other injuries to any of the other party members, and I can't help but feel like this was only a test.

They were ready for us, that is certain, and they were somewhat organized. But they were poorly equipped, and fell easily, which contradicts the stories that we heard from the soldiers and the merchants. This feels more like a first push against a wall to test it's strength, and I wonder if we succeeded in giving the enemy yet more information about us. Among us, KelLyn is the only one who has protection against scrying, which may be why she was a target here. She is the only one they know nothing about. It makes me anxious, and supremely wary moving forward.

These bandits certainly ran into more than they bargained for, but I would be foolish indeed to think that was the worst of what we face.