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. 

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