"The [music] produced is not in the mouth, not in the body, but, in fact, in the bones. It is all the bones in the body which are singing, and through that song, you hear the creation of worlds.
Previously in our story...
Once we were inside the passage through the mountains, KelLyn attempted to cast her spell that would show us the best path. The worn road in front of us lit up suddenly, illuminating a massive waterfall flowing out of the ceiling in the center of the area. The water flowed over a large crystal in the center of a fountain, and that crystal was the source of the light that now permeated everything. The fountain flowed down into a deep pool, and then into several channels that curled their way into the abandoned cityscape before us. The ceiling of the cavern was 65 feet up, and rough hewn, and aside from the cascade of water, was otherwise featureless. The waterfall looked to be the central water source for the city, and the water itself was clear, clean, and arctic cold.
The city itself looked to be completely abandoned, and everything here was covered in a heavy layer of dust. The buildings were crafted for someone about five foot tall, and everything was made of stone. We notice that there are no doors or window coverings, but simply a single stick placed across the entryway of each domicile. The dwellings closest to the fountain seemed to be old workshops and store fronts, and a quick glance inside showed only more dust.
I recalled that it had been about three years since the dwarfs and gnomes had retreated deep underground, and pointed out to the party that this place appeared to be abandoned around that same time. From what we could see, everything had been packed up and taken with them when they left. Since we had a good source of water at hand, we decided to make camp here for the night, and Tobias and Osman quickly scouted out rooftop vantage points for the evening watches. Shalev walked over to the well, and noticing that there were coins in the bottom, took out a single platinum piece and tossed it into the water as well. Whether he thought it was a wishing well, or simply did it for luck, I do not know, but there was no visible or tangible effect from his action.
We took the opportunity to refill the water barrels and skins from the fountain, and the pack animals and horses were also able to drink their fill. Lan took some time to swim in the frigid waters, frolicking with delight in the crystalline pool.
Fife and Ishmael had wandered over to explore the abandoned buildings to see what they could find. As soon as Fife moved the stick placed in front of the door way, there was a shift in magic in the area. I saw KelLyn look up suddenly in alarm and begin trying to discern what changes she obviously felt in the air. She mumbled to herself as she worked, and I heard her say something about a luck line running through the area, a brief sharp laugh out loud before saying "so that's where it went!" and something else about curses. She continued to mutter and concentrate, and I wandered over to see what trouble Ishmael and Fife were getting into.
Fife had discovered that the building that they were scouting through was at one time a jeweler's shop. He found an unfinished gold statue in one of the drawers there and showed it to Ishmael. The statue was a humanoid figure with six arms, and fittings where gems would have been fit in for the eyes. Ishmael hefted it once and examined it closely. He said that it was made by Hassan Abdel-Qa'id and was likely an idol of some kind for home or personal use. It was not made of solid gold, as he and Fife had originally thought, but was merely plated somehow. Fife pocketed the idol, and Ishmael found some apprentice quality tools that had been left behind that he also took.
As they left the building, Fife replaced the stick across the entrance, and they moved over to the next building. As he moved the stick out of the second doorway, KelLyn looked up sharply, then stood up and walked over toward him. Ishmael, after looking inside the building, called me over and said that this appeared to be some kind of tea shop. I stepped inside to look around a bit, and though most of what I found inside was mouldered and unusable, I did also find a half brick of tea from the mythrian farms of Kestria. Labeled Big Blue, this tea was one that I knew to be exceptionally valuable and delightfully enjoyable. I checked one small corner of the brick to see if it was still good, and discovered below the top layer, the leaves were as fresh and aromatic as the day it was pressed into a brick. I wondered why such valuable tea had been left behind, but placed the brick in my bag with a smile at the thought of being able to enjoy such a delicacy. I also noticed several chipped and broken tea sets, and I gathered these together in a small box to bring to Shalev. He enjoys tea as much as I do, and it was my thought that he might be able to repair the tea services and use them as trade goods. The porcelain they were made of was very fine quality, and I could see them being of some value when restored.
I stepped out of the building, and stretched up to my full height again with relief. These buildings were not made for someone as tall as I was. I looked over then to see KelLyn fussing over Fife and telling him quite crossly that he was to sit down and not touch anything until she could take a look at him to figure out what had gone wrong. He did as she asked, though I could tell that he was somewhat annoyed about it, and after a moment of concentration she told him that he had been affected by a very powerful curse that would make him extraordinarily unlucky. She said that even though she was the one that created the luck line that ran through this area, she had no idea about how to manipulate it, or how to remove such a curse, and that he needed to be extremely careful with everything he did until she could figure it out. She pointed at the sticks that lay across the entry ways and said that they were a protection spell that triggered when moved or crossed, and warned Fife and Ishmael very sternly not to touch anything else.
As they discussed options on how to remove the curse, Fife moved over to the fountain and tossed a coin into the water in an attempt (or hope) to gain back some of his luck. The coin skipped across the surface of the water instead, and only fell into the water after bouncing off of the edge of the fountain. He tried again, and again, it skipped all the way across and back, this time only falling into the water when it bounced off of his chest. Frustrated, he tried for a third time, this time holding the coin in his hand and placing it directly into the water. He ended up falling face first into the pool instead, and began to drown. Lan, seeing his predicament, swam over and dragged him out of the water, but he had already stopped breathing. She turned into her seal form and bounced on his chest a couple times to clear his lungs of the water he had inhaled, but he still did not revive. She shifted back to her normal form and looked at him for a moment, using her skills as a healer to see why he was still not responding. KelLyn walked over and gave him one of her healing potions, and once they could get him to swallow the liquid, it was successful in reviving him. He appeared not only revived, but rejuvenated as well, and KelLyn began reiterating her earlier statement that he should not touch anything until she could figure out how to remove the curse. She moved away to her bed roll then and began rummaging through her books to research how to accomplish this.
After we set up camp for the evening, I spent some time in meditation to my god and goddess. They were, as they often are, silent, and I wonder sometimes whether their silence is meant to be a comfort. I brewed some of the Blue tea, and found it to be just as aromatic and delicious as I hoped it would be. With the first sip I took, I was saddened somewhat by the fact that I had so little of it. I savored it slowly, and even offered some to Shalev, as such a tea should be shared. I made a note to try to find more when I could, and to use what I had only sparingly. As we shared the tea, I spoke with Shalev about the history that I knew about the tea, the groves, and the makers. He said that he had heard of the name Kestria before, and relayed to me what Tobias and KelLyn had told him about the group that they had encountered on a previous adventure. Led by a paladin and some clerics of a god of knowledge , and disguised as gnomes, they were from Kestria, and were apparently on a grave robbing tour of the region when Tobias and KelLyn had encountered them. The mage with them was responsible for the death of one of the party members that Tobias and KelLyn traveled with. These were knights from the same order, that KelLyn had wanted to attack out right as we journeyed to Eeyore. Her vehemence against them makes more sense now that I know about their previous encounters.
I can't say much about tomb-raiding, as we have done our fair share of that lately, but the tale of their violence and aggression was something that I took note of, should we encounter them again.
The evening watches passed uneventfully, and the next day, we broke camp to continue on through the mountains. As we broke camp, Ishmael asked me if I would be willing to lay some false trails to some of the other entry ways with their cursed sticks still in place. I was able to do so easily, though I was not foolish enough to cross over the sticks to put footprints in the dust inside the dwellings. As we made our way past the fountain, KelLyn and Lan both said that they felt a massive wave of energy from behind us. We looked back to see that the doorway behind us had closed, leaving us only one direction to travel. Forward.
Osman fretted a bit over whether or not the red mage that had been hunting KelLyn was responsible for blocking the way back, but we reminded him that it really made no difference, as we had no plans to travel back that way in the first place. If the red mage thought that blocking us in would cause a panic then he truly does not know our party at all, and if he waits for us at the other end, then it will be his downfall to encounter us so cornered. Shalev did confirm, using his compass, that the mage was not in the mountain following us, but I do not know if I fully trust the answers his compass gives him, as it can be quite literal.
As we traveled along the passage, we saw several unmanned check points, but no other side galleries or pathways aside from the one that we walked. Tobias scouted ahead for a few hours, as he did not have to rely on torches to see what lay in front of us. When he returned he said that the pathway continued to switchback, but that there was nothing else of note. After two days of travel, the switchbacks got noticeably longer, and we began traveling for longer periods of time, with breaks for rest only when the animals showed signs of fatigue. Three days later I noticed that the temperature in the passage was growing discernably more heated, and I recalled that this was not the heat of the desert, but rather the heat that was given off by the mountains that men called volcanoes, and the liquid earth within them.
I cautioned the party members that it would likely get very hot very soon, and gave everyone a reminder on how to survive the heat using my knowledge of deep desert survival. I changed out of my heavy leather armor, and into my light weight layered desert attire, and it felt strange to have the robes and gauzes billowing about me once more. KelLyn and Osman worked double to keep the animals cool and hydrated, and we all took extra precautions to remain the same way. Shortly after that, we turned the corner of the last switchback to see a river of molten earth hissing red-hot through an enormous cavern. There were stairs leading down to the glowing vein of magma, and a great stone bridge that arced high above the flow.
We retreated back around the corner and away from the sweltering heat, and began to break down the carts to carry them across the bridge more easily. Tobias used his desert bred abilities and speed to ferry pieces across as quickly as he could. Shalev worked to herd the horses and oxen across safely. They balked at the heat at first, but he was able to coerce them over to the other side. Tobias carried Lan quickly over and she hid herself inside one of the water barrels to stay away from what - to her - could be a killing heat. Osman and KelLyn make their way across safely as well, and they help Shalev and Tobias begin reassembling the carts.
Ishmael, eyes bright with excitement, reached out and requested that I give him my sword. Knowing that he thought he had at last found a heat source great enough to repair it, I complied, handing the blade over to him and watching him disappear down the stairs towards the river bank. I stayed where I was, there in the protected area of the switchback, and Fife remained there with me, saying that Ishmael was his friend and he would not go until he did. Within moments of Ishmael's disappearance down the stairs, I heard the unmistakeable sound of the ring of his hammer on an anvil. The clear bell of the hammer striking the anvil was deep and resonant, and it echoed through the chamber like a song. A song indeed it was, with the deep tone of the anvil, the higher voice of the hammer, and then over all of it was Ishmael, raising his voice in perfect harmony with the call of the metal. He sang, and as he sang, he worked. I heard a keening wail begin, and the hairs on the back of my neck raised in warning, because it was the call of a northern banshee. I looked warily, but could see no source for the sounds, and then remembered that the others had said that my sword made that sound when I wielded it. I wondered then, at what Toshi had done in the making of such a blade, but the thought flitted away as I continued to listen to Ishmael work his magic.
Tobias came across then, and said that the gates on the other side of the bridge were beginning to open. The last of the supplies and equipment were ferried safely across the bridge, and the doors opened to reveal several dwarfs, eyes bright and intent on discovering the source of the songs they were hearing. Shalev and the rest of the party moved everything into the much cooler mushroom groves beyond the doors at the dwarfs insistence. I continued to stay out of sight and listen to the ringing songs of Ishmael's forging. As he continued to sing and hammer, the hallway, cavern, and bridge illuminated brilliantly with a blue light that pulsed in time with the harmonies being created. I heard a hum vibrate through the chamber, down to my very bones, and then the noise stopped completely. I continued to wait, not knowing what to expect, and then I saw Ishmael coming up the stairs with several dwarfs following him closely and chattering with him in their language. He handed me my sword, and it gleamed as if newly made. I tested the blade, twisting and flipping it to find that the balance was good, and the blade was perfectly edged once again. I thanked Ishmael with a bow of my head and then followed Fife, Ishmael, and the troop of dwarfs across the bridge.
As we were moving across the massive bridge, Fife - still under the effects of being cursed - tripped over nothing and fell, sliding over the edge of the bridge and towards the torrent of white hot lava below. I was fast enough to grab him to keep him from falling, but needed Ishmael's help to pull him completely to safety. We made it the rest of the way across without incident to see a resplendently garbed dwarf holding a blue staff waiting for us on the other side.
He guided us through the doors and I saw Shalev and the rest of the party there with all of our equipment waiting in the center of a grove of gigantic mushrooms. The elegantly dressed dwarf talked with Ishmael, and Ishmael acted as a translator for the rest of us. The dwarf welcomed us to Quadling and asked with great curiosity why we were here, because they had shut the doors years ago. We told him of our quest to find the city of Emer, and of my desire to see the blooming sylvan tree that lived there. He confirmed that Emer was just north of here, but warned us about the dragon that lived there. He told us of the war where the dwarfs went to aid the gnomes, and how that war had depleted not only their weapons and armor supplies, but had also been disastrous to their population.
The city of Quadling was nestled just outside the mushroom groves, in a verdant field of lush grasses and open sky with the mountain pass directly behind them. The dwarf told us about the city of Emer, which rested at the crossroads between this city and the other three cities in the valley. Each city corresponded to a different element, and had at one time had trade goods and abilities unique to each quadrant. Quadling corresponded to fire, with the great forge at the center of the mountain pass that they worked. Gilken, to the north, was linked to air. Wankae to the east was the city of waters. Damazen to the west was known for earth and deep metal. This is where the gnomes went to.
In the center of it all was Emer, the elven city with the famed sylvan tree which was known to bloom twice a year in the spring and fall with glorious pink blossoms. It was once great trade hub for the entire area. It's walls were made of a deep green stone, and the roads that stretch out from it were made of gold. When the dragon came, he took the city and the elves that resided within disappeared. The old dwarf said that one druid was still rumored to live within the tower at the center, but could not tell us more about whether or not that was still true. He told us that the dragon was ancient and incredibly powerful. His scales matched the color of the city walls, and he was crafty and intelligent. The dwarf told us how the dragon had ripped the roads up to prevent easy travel to the city, and that he was known to take human form to patrol the roads that remained to find foolish adventurers and kill them before they knew what they faced.
Ishmael introduced Shalev as the noble he was, and as the Master of Trade Routes. The dwarf showed keen interest in this, and agreed to set up a meeting with the remaining merchants of the city to see what would be available for trading. The dwarf also mentioned their desire for food supplies, if we had any to spare, and Osman offered to create fresh meat for them using his clerical ability.
Shalev offered some of the oxen as breeding stock for goodwill, and when head dwarf mentioned again that they needed weapons, Shalev offered one of the three swords he wore of mystical quality make. The dwarf took it, tested it, and called it acceptable. Shalev, seeing the dwarf exhibit astounding skill with the weapon, asked him if he would be willing to teach. The dwarf said that his name was Sulayman and that he was part of a group of rangers at one time, and if Shalev didn't recognize him but still wished to learn, he would be willing to teach him.
As we talked, we made our way over to the northern edge of the city, where the dwarf informed us that we were welcome to make camp, as he knew that their homes would be uncomfortable for those of us of taller stature. Shalev, in his element here, began to set up camp in the fashion of a merchant caravan, instructing us that if we had goods we wished to trade, that we should display them just so. I brought out the Penician bows to trade, and the broken crossbows that we had acquired were also laid out. The oxen and horses were allowed to graze freely, as the dwarf said that there was an enchantment on the grass that would cause it to grow back the next day. There were no trees here, and when I asked about it, the dwarf told me that the great fires beneath the surface prevented tree growth, and that an enchantment prevented anything else from growing here as the grass would choke it out. What crops and gardens that they did have were in terraced containers throughout the city. I asked about the enchantment and he told me that the witch who had lived here was responsible for casting it because she wanted everything to look pretty. He also mentioned to me that if I wanted to see trees, that I should visit the forest on the western edge between here and Damazen, where the keepers of the forest were known to reside. He said that the keepers of the forest were reclusive, and looked like the trees that they cared for. I kept my excitement hidden as I thanked him for the information, making a silent note to visit the ents as soon as we could safely do so.
Osman, who had been creating meat for the city, stopped briefly and spent a moment in prayer to his god. After the prayer was finished, he cast his spell once more, but this time the meat didn't run out until everyone in the city had been fed. Knowing their need for living livestock, he prayed again, and after another moment, a goat appeared in thin air, which he caught and set gently down on the grass. The obviously gravid animal bleated happily and sauntered off to begin grazing, and the dwarfs simply stared and murmured a strange word to each other.
I spent some time as well walking among the plants and small gardens of the city, blessing what I could, and checking the health of the gardens. I noticed that the dwarfs of the city followed me at a short distance, watching my every movement. I heard them saying that odd word over and over again, but when I turned to ask what it meant, they all bolted back into their homes, only emerging again after I had turned back to my walks. I wondered again about the enchantment here, and recalled seeing both KelLyn and Lan cast a spell that would tell them the nature of things. I thought deeply about this, and then prayed to my god and goddess to see if I might be able to learn a similar spell. They responded to my request by granting me the knowledge of how to cast the spell Nature of Things, which will allow me to sense the type and strength of another spell. I thanked them quietly, and tried out my new ability to find that the spell on the grass was an exceptionally powerful Create Plant spell. I could not tell specifically what spell was cast, but the sheer power of the enchantment was awe inspiring.
Ishmael spent long hours in conversation with Sulayman, as the dwarf was a priest of the order that Ishmael followed. The discussions were quietly animated, and I could see the excitement in Ishmael's face as he learned more about the faith that had called him, and the abilities that he had been granted. Fife also showed some interest in this, as the dwarf showed Ishmael how to concentrate beer with a spell. Fife listened intently to what Ishmael was telling him, and I was amused to see that he had decided to convert because of the beer. He was still affected by the curse, and when he contritely talked to the dwarf about it, he was told that while the dwarf could not remove the curse, the druid that was rumored to live in the center of Emer might be able to do so. Fife then showed the unfinished idol to Sulayman, and asked if the jeweler who crafted it was here in the city. The dwarf looked at the piece and said that sadly the jeweler and his son had gone off to aid the gnomes during the war, and had been killed there. He told Fife to keep the idol if he wished, and Fife put it back in his pocket.
Shalev and I spent some time walking around the city together as he talked with the dwarfs about potential trade goods. He came across a pair of older dwarf women who worked in silk. Shalev asked if they would be willing to trade for it, and they were a little confused, as they only used the soft material for their infants. We explained a little bit of desert culture to them, and they agreed to trade their silk for one of the oxen. Shalev asked if they would be willing to work with the rope makers to craft lengths of silken rope, and again the dwarfs looked confused, but interested in the process as they had never considered making rope out of the silken threads before now.
During my walks among the plants and gardens, I also took the time to check on the animals. I found that three of the oxen were pregnant, and that three more were just out of season. I told Shalev this, and recommended that these were the ones we should leave here with the dwarfs as breeding stock.
We gave one of the pregnant cows to the dwarven women in trade for silk, and I spent some time with them showing them how to deal with the gravid animal, and how to handle her once she went into labor. They were thankful for the information, and for the cow, and immediately guided it back into their yard.
I heard that odd word murmured in my direction again, and I asked Ishmael what it meant. He told me that it meant "druid" and I asked the dwarfs to tell me about the druid who had lived here before me. I learned that her name was Khaibar, and that she had two brownie servants named Kheblar and Kheblor who helped her run a bakery. The called her the Crescent Witch, and the Witch of the South. I asked if I might be able to see her house and her work place, but the dwarfs were overcome with another bout of shyness, and would not tell me more about it.
Shalev and I continued our walks through town and come across another merchant who worked in a beautiful translucent porcelain. Shalev traded some of his personal funds to have a lovely tea service made for his bride to be, and I traded some of my gems for a personal set for two. Shalev also mentioned that the porcelain might be a highly valued trade good, and the dwarfs agreed to begin crafting the delicate material into cups and services for trade. He also commissioned a tea service for ten people, and when I asked him about it, he responded that cups would break, and that I would live longer than he would so this way I would have replacements for the cups. I was amused and touched by the gesture, though saddened to a brief melancholy by the vivid reminder that I would indeed, calamity aside, outlive everyone.
We also came across the tea tree groves, and both Shalev and I showed great interest in their local tea. Shalev asked how much a case of the tea would cost, but the dwarfs named a price that was beyond what he had currently. Shalev told them that the tea would be highly prized in the desert cultures, and they were also interested in becoming a part of the long term trade agreements. I asked if they would be willing to trade for a different tea instead, and they agreed with interest when I showed them the saplings of the Philosopher's Tea that I had been cultivating from the cuttings that Shalev and I took from Ma'tron in the elven city. I traded them one living sapling for a case of their pressed tea, and asked if I could also have a few cuttings of their own tea trees for my personal gardens. Shalev took note of the comparative trade of like goods, as I don't think he really realized until that point that not everything needed to be traded for coin or gems. They agreed, and gave me several cuttings which I immediately planted in small containers and added to my own collection. As they were taking the new sapling away to transfer into their own gardens, I heard them begin to sing to the plant. I immediately paid closer attention, as the spark of what the Maker told me about forgetting to sing still resonated deep within my thoughts. I listened to their songs, and while I noticed that they did not know the words, that this was quite clearly something that they had heard the Crescent Witch do. I memorized the tone and cadence of the song, in hopes that when I did eventually run across the spell that corresponded to it, I would be able to recognize and remember it clearly.
I also paid attention to the fact that they used tea tree oil almost exclusively here. I asked if they would be interested in olive oil in trade for their tea tree oil, and they were very excited about the influx of a different oil to use. I created several jars for personal trade between them and myself, and then asked them to go through Shalev to set up the major trade with the oasis.
With trade goods of silk, oil, tea, porcelain, and iron the city here has vast potential for the trade routes Shalev works so tirelessly to create. He has already crafted letters of agreement to be taken back to the oasis, and works with the dwarfs here to establish the beginnings of trade not only with the oasis, but with Waycam and Eeyore as well. It will be interesting to see what changes such an influx of new goods will create.
I have much to consider here as well. With the rumors of the druid that lives in Emer, and the stories of the druid that lived here, there is much to think on indeed. It is my hope that I can visit the home and workspaces of the Crescent Witch to see if I can learn anything more about her, and perhaps learn more about Emer, the tree, and the dragon as well. I need to spend much time in meditation and conversation with my god and goddess. I am trepidatious, not about what I might learn, but about how to deal with what lies ahead. The keepers of the forest to the west also call to me. I want to see what they might be able to tell me as well, though I fear the rest of the party might balk at the delay that staying here might mean. We may have some time, as the way behind us is closed, and there is much to do here in this city before we move on. In the mean time, I will watch, I will pray, and I will continue.