Monday, December 28, 2015

Many paths to walk

We each walk our own path. We are each responsible for the steps we take and the choices we make. The road we travel allows us to interact with others, and sometimes paths will cross and weave together for a time.

The party I currently travel with threatens to break itself apart time and time again. It threatens to do so again now. With the other party members being in an uproar over Shalev's recent action, I look at them and I wonder if perhaps this time it will really happen. Fife, Osman, Lan and KelLyn have taken the cart and traveled ahead of us to the next little village. I begin to suspect that, perhaps, they may have gone their own way.

Tobias remains here with me, but I see the anger in his walk. I see his discomfort and I am reminded, yet again, at how young the rest of the party members are. Tobias is my consort and my lover, a companion where I thought I might never have another. Yet his unrelenting ire towards Shalev is proving to be problematic. I think, perhaps, there is a little bit of jealousy there, though there is no reason for it. I wonder if he worries over whether I would choose to remain with him if presented the option. It is a circumstance I hope to never find myself in the middle of.

I wonder, sometimes, why I choose to stay with any of them. I contemplate my own path, the quests that I have set myself to accomplish, and the possibility of just walking away. I do not think I would return to the deep desert. After so much time away from the scorching sands, I feel I have grown softer. More accustomed to the luxuries of traveling with an adventuring party.

For there are certainly luxuries in traveling together. Conversation. Safety in numbers. Surety of supplies. Adventure.

Oh yes. Adventure is definitely a luxury. One that I have discovered that I have a desire for. The other immortals rarely travel outside of their sanctuaries, and so I am unique in that regard. I have a taste for the road that drives me on to see what lies outside of the next horizon, and I do not know how long this current case of wanderlust will last. I do contemplate what I will do once it dissipates. Where I will be. Who will be beside me.

I will outlive them all. That is a fact that I deal with continually. I am immortal. Barring battle or injury, I will remain until the stars die out and beyond. I have seen the stars themselves change. The fade, they die, they are reborn, and I am here as a silent sentinel for it all.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Lost City - A Conversation with a God

Previously in our story...

Shalev spent several hours trying to explain his actions in killing the mercenary to the others. They were still quite angry with him, and the discussions became quite heated at some points. I am concerned at the current level of disharmony in the group, and do not understand their animosity towards him for actions that are no different than some of the things they... that we... had done in different circumstances.

Perhaps it is because Shalev tends to hold himself to a higher standard. For a human, he is quite moral, and he constantly strives to better himself. I wonder if, in allowing himself a moment of humanity, he inadvertently held a mirror up to the rest of the party members? If so then they certainly did not like what they saw. I imagine there will be many long nights where my student and I converse about the ways of the world, as we often do. As an arbiter of balance, sometimes it is necessary to do distasteful things, and there often is no black or white answer to the quandaries that we encounter.

Shalev's road is not an easy one, and I fear that the party's current level of ire towards him will drive a wedge between them that will ultimately lead to a parting of ways. I am curious to see, then, how they do without. Shalev's foresight and planning have often proved a valuable asset in our travels, providing food and water and supplies where otherwise things would have been scarce. They take him, and his abilities for granted, and I can see that it wears heavily on him.

As the debates and moral arguments continued, I separated myself a bit from the group to keep watch against anyone or anything who might approach. As I stood vigil I noticed a flash of red in the trees and instantly focused my attention there, wary of another attack.  I noticed a pale, red haired man hiding in the shadows of the forest. Curiously he wore robes that were in a style that was common to the desert, and this itself piqued my curiosity. Someone of his coloring was obviously not from the desert, and yet he wore garments that just as obviously proclaimed that was where he came from. I pointed the man quietly out to KelLyn, and asked if she could sense anything about him. She winced in pain and said that he didn't just feel magical, but mystical as well, and cautioned against approaching him.

The arguing among the other party members had grown quite heated, and I noticed that the worse it became, the more the strange red haired man seemed to enjoy it. He watched with obvious bemusement, and I disliked his sudden interest in us. I muttered to KelLyn to watch my back and walked quietly over to the man in the trees. I could feel her glaring at me as I approached him, and I greeted him politely, asking him about his noted interest in the arguments occurring. I asked if he was from the desert, and he replied vaguely that he thought the robes that he wore might help him blend in with our group. We spoke for a few moments, and I asked him to join our party instead of remaining here in the trees. He expressed a worry laden with sarcasm that he might be beheaded as well, and I was instantly more wary of this strange man, wondering at just how long he had been watching us.

I took a small chance and offered him my personal hospitality for the duration of a day, and he agreed to accompany me back to the group. He belted on a sword made of the yellowish metal that I knew Shalev had been researching, and then stepped up beside me to walk back to the group.  As we approached, the group noticed him and the arguments slowly died away completely. I introduced him to the party with the solemn statement that I had offered him my protection for the duration of the day. Tobias shot an angry glance my way at this, but wisely did not say anything else about it.

Shalev stepped up then and greeted the man with a formal desert greeting.  The man introduced himself as Seth and returned the greeting, again with that same bemused smile on his face. Shalev turned and said something to Jaeger in dwarfish and Seth promptly answered in the same language before turning to Jaeger and speaking to him in Jaeger's native language. Shalev raised an eyebrow at Seth's display of languages, and offered in the common language to make him tea. I pointed out that it would perhaps not be wise to camp so near all of the remains of the fight, and the party reluctantly agreed to travel a short distance down the road to make camp.

Once camp was set up, Shalev offered Seth bread and salt in the desert custom, and Seth accepted the proffered offering. In return, Seth offered a style of flaked salt that boasted of an extravagance rarely ever seen. Jaeger spoke at length to Seth in his guttural language, and  as they conversed I moved again a short way away from the main party. Knowing that we were running short on grains and other food stores, I pulled out a few grains of wheat from my pouch. I concentrated for a moment, and reached out with my druidic power to try to create more. After a moment, I was able to successfully create about a half of a bushel of wheat, and seeing my success I tried again using some of the kernels of corn. Again, I was able to create about a half of a bushel of the grain, and I then said a quick but sincere prayer of thanks to my deities before dragging the heavy sacks over to the cart. I hefted the bags up onto the cart and then moved back over to the edges of the camp to make a small meal for myself while I maintained vigil.

After that we continued to travel around the lake, and as we traveled Shalev asked Seth if there was anything that he wished to trade. Seth responded that he did not, but then asked when the arguments were going to start again. The landscape slowly changed into a moorish area, and I see Fife grow melancholy and wistful, as if thinking of a place he had not been in a long while. Both Osman and Lan  approached me, and I asked them quietly if they were able to tell if Seth were fae. Lan started walking around and cursing in the fairy language, and after a few moments something began throwing rocks and water cress out of the lake. Lan then ran over to the water's edge and stuck her head in the water. The rocks stopped being thrown, and I guessed that she had told whatever lay beneath the murky waters what she was doing.

I heard Seth ask again when the arguing would resume, and I asked him quite pointedly why he was so interested and amused in our arguments. He looked at me calmly and stated that it was a way to tell what people were really thinking. I thought about this for a moment, then nodded my agreement of the statement. I stated that it made sense to me, but then I had been around for a long time. Shalev didn't understand though, and Seth proceeded to explain his thoughts on the matter. This discussion evolved into a weighted conversation about Shalev's goddess Ma'at, and I noticed that it continued well on into the evening. The discussion delved deep into perceptions and philosophy, and Seth managed to drive home some points to Shalev that were difficult lessons to learn.

Shalev called Jaeger over to join the conversation with Seth, and I stepped up beside Amit to take over watch duties, as none of the other party members were willing to be anywhere near Shalev at the time.  Seth looked at Amit strangely for a moment and then turned to Shalev to comment that he traveled with some scary companions.

Their conversation then continued on in dwarfish, and I turned my attentions out to the waiting darkness. Amit suddenly growled softly at me and shouldered me over towards Shalev and Seth. I looked down at him and then walked over to where they sat. Seth asked me if I could produce a lotus flower for Shalev. I agreed, and watched the flower grow, bloom, and then wilt quickly. I took the seed pods and gave them to Shalev, and Seth went on to describe in detail how to build an altar for Ma'at.

Shalev also learned then that Amit was more than just a mortal being, but was rather a god in his own right, quite literally, and was also known as the Eater of Souls. Amit had chosen Shalev as a companion, and that Shalev had been guided towards becoming a paladin simply so the great cat wouldn't starve. I could see that this completely threw Shalev. The larger picture of his fate became a little more clear to him in that instant, and it did not set well with him, I think. It is difficult thing to learn that your entire world has been overturned, and he began questioning everything he had ever done.

Seth then turned to Shalev and gently told him that it was time for him to sleep. Amit walked over and shouldered Shalev, still standing in stunned silence, over to the bed rolls. As Amit passed Seth, Seth reached out and scratched Amit from ears to tail in a greeting, and it solidified my thought that Seth was some part of the pantheon that Shalev followed.

Fife came on watch then, and when Seth approached him to talk to him, he rather coldly told Seth that he wanted nothing to do with him because of his conversations with Shalev and Jaeger. He walked away, and Seth hummed something under his breath. He pointed out to Fife that there were giant rabbits in the fields to the north, and that he knew that Fife was afraid of them. He then joined me at the campfire, and we sat silently for a while, simply watching one another.

 He asked me if there were anything that I wanted from him, and I questioned his knowledge of the fact that I was a druid. He raised an eyebrow and he told me that just because I had been discouraged from using elemental magics did not mean that they were inaccessible to me. He then told me of a spell that might allow me to sense where druidic power was strongest. He said that it might be useful to me for finding old places where druids once were. He confirmed my thoughts that the libraries would be the best place to search for the knowledge I sought.

As I relinquished my watch, Tobias stepped up and took my place at the fire side. I heard he and Seth begin a conversation about the crazy cleric Duson, who was known to wander the deserts. I heard Tobias also ask about his spear, and Seth looked at it and told him about the control word he would need to properly wield it.

The sun rose, and I saw Shalev begin his morning rituals and prayers. Seth approached me then, eyes on Shalev, and asked me if he always did this. I replied that he did, and Seth pondered him with bemused eyes before going to walk along the edge of the grasses. He dove into the field and emerged a few moments later with several birds nests full of eggs which he then carried over to the fire to make breakfast for the group.

Jaeger went over to find Fife, and managed to convince him to come over to talk to Seth. Fife said bluntly that he didn't feel like he could be a part of the group any more, that he didn't support the party's actions, or their welcome of Seth. Fife refused to say another word then, and turned to walk back to the smaller camp that he, Lan, and Osman had set up.

Seth returned then to the fire with Jaeger and then turned to Shalev to tell him plainly that he had been sent by Ma'at to discuss things and had been given specific authority to redress the balance. Shalev immediately moved to act, and I put a cautioning hand on his shoulder, counselling him that perhaps he should talk to the person that his goddess sent to talk to him. He turned to me, and I told him that I felt he was taking a more personal view of things he regrets, but that perhaps those things had nothing to do with balance. He and Seth spoke for a few moments, and then Shalev prayed directly to Ma'at. After a moment, he started to express the thought that he should take on the sins of the person he killed, but I quickly cut him off  with the blunt statement that I thought that was a stupid idea. Shalev thought for a few more moments and then Seth tells him "this is a gift from she whom you worship, and I am glad to give it. Next time there may be other ways in which I greet you."

Then Seth looked at the sun and mentioned that his time was up and that he didn't want to risk me shooting arrows at him. He then turned and walked away, and Shalev said that he was going back to the lake. Tobias, Jaeger, Amit, and I accompanied him, leaving Fife, Osman, Lan, and KelLyn to guard the cart.

Shalev reached the site where he had killed the mercenary, and moved to reattach the head. I recommended possibly trying first to simply apologize for the wrongs. I also recommended not defacing the body any further. He asked Tobias to go and get Lan, and then when they returned, he asked Lan to cast a spell to restore the body. Lan said that she could cast the spell, but that it was a very difficult one to complete and she was not sure she could do so successfully.

Jaeger and I talked long with Shalev and brought him around to realizing that the soul of the man he killed remained stuck in the body, and that as a paladin he might have to ask for the soul to be weighed. Shalev looked at us, then at the body for a moment and then prayed. There was a feeling of energy, and Amit walked over to the body and sniffed at it for a moment before visibly relaxing and then walking away again. Shalev said that he immediately felt worse and that it was the wrong thing to do, but did not know what else he was capable of doing. His eyes suddenly lit up, and he grabbed the wishing ring from around his neck. Jaeger grabbed his hand to stop him and then told Shalev that he was free of his obligation. He then drew his sword Antarna and stabbed the body of the mercenary.

There was a bright flash of gold light and Amit started to violently retch. As soon as Jaeger withdrew the sword, the man sat up with a scream, being fully restored to the land of the living. Amit glared at Jaeger and grumbled about having lost his meal. We calmed the man down, and discovered that he had no memory of anything that had happened to him. Shalev talked to him and told him we would accompany him to the next village where we would set him up with enough to make it to Ishmael's shop. The man said that his name was Simon, and that he could make it to the dwarf village on his own. Shalev agreed after a moment, and then drafted a letter for Simon to carry to Ishmael as a voucher for apprenticeship with him. He also gave him a bag of coins to get started, and then Simon began his long walk to the dwarf settlement and Ishmael's forge.

Shalev stated then that he felt that his was the right thing to do, and that he was feeling less out of balance now. I can see that he is still quite troubled over the events of the past two days, and his thoughts weigh dark and heavy on his heart. I wonder at what else he and Seth may have discussed, and I wonder as well if he may be entering a crisis of faith. He has much to consider now, and his goddess seems to delight in letting him flounder without guidance unless it amuses her to give it.

I am glad to see that he is taking this new lesson seriously, even though it is a painful one to learn. The road to balance is not an easy one to travel, and he still feels as if he is lacking. I reminded him gently that it is normal to feel so, especially after an encounter that turned his whole world upside down. I recommended that he perhaps take a step back from the party leadership for a space of time, and he agreed with the hope that it would ease some of the growing animosity that he sensed they bore him. I reminded him too that he was not alone, as I, Amit, and Jaeger stood to guard him.

As we made our way back to the camp that we had set up, we discovered that Fife, Osman, and KelLyn had taken the cart and moved on toward the small village. It was easy enough to track, though, and so the rest of us gathered what possessions we had and set off to meet back up with them. I wonder at what we will find when we reach the village, whether Fife will have taken this opportunity to part ways, and whether or not the others will have decided to go with him.

Shalev is silent, heart sore, brooding and weary. His world has been upended, and he has much to consider. Jaeger remains a mystery to me, as I can not speak any language that he does. Amit is still glaring at Jaeger for the loss of his meal, and I wonder when looking at the great cat. How much of what he does is pure facade for our sake? If he truly is a god in his own right, then why would he have decided to travel with us?

More questions than answers lately, and we have yet more uncertainty ahead of us. Seth, whomever he may be still wanders this plane, for I fully believe that he is also divine in nature, and I wonder if we will encounter him again.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Lost City - A Paladin's Choice

Previously in our story... 

"Sometimes it's these little things that make up our character, being able to stick to our own convictions is sometimes harder than living by someone else's convictions."

As someone who strives to maintain balance, it is important, at times to take a look at the larger picture. It is also just as important to consider the smaller things, for if you focus too much on the long game, it becomes easier to lose track of your own internal harmony.  This is the nature of balance. Yin and Yang. 

For being and nonbeing arise together;
hard and easy complete each other;
long and short shape each other;
note and voice make music together;
before and after follow each other;
That is why the wise soul does without doing,
and teaches without talking. 
- Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching


Standing there in front of the deep metal doors with the glimmering layan handles and rose marble columns, I was stuck again by the gaudy opulence of this place. Like someone who had been given all the money in the world, and couldn't decide what to do with it.

Shalev asked the party to check the doors thoroughly before touching them, his previous experiences showing through to a vigilance that I have seen become tiring to the others. Tiring as they may think it, I know that he finds comfort in the vigilance, and more often than not it has proven itself necessary in our adventures. Tobias did as requested though, and told us that there was no indication of whether or not the doors were holy or unholy. Fife also checked the door, looking for traps,  and also came up negative. Shalev examined the doors again, and could not figure out how to open them, as they did not budge when pushed. He asked Tobias and I to try, thinking perhaps that the layan would somehow respond to an elven touch.

We looked at one another in wry amusement, but agreed, each grasping one of the layan rods on the massive doors. Then we looked back at Shalev, and pulled the doors easily and soundlessly open. Inside the room was a dais in the center of the space that held an ornate throne. Ebony and mahogany wood benches sat on either side of the raised area, and we noticed that the room was glowing with light. I looked up to see delicate hanging chandeliers that were woven with glowing layan leaves. The leaves were connected to delicate threads of layan that disappeared up into the ceiling, acting as a focus to bring the sunlight down to light the room.  I looked at the elaborate and beautiful lighting, feeling the warmth of the sunshine radiating off of the leaves with a gentle heat, and I wondered again at the sheer extravagance that was exhibited here.

Jaeger said something to Shalev in dwarfish, and then he turned into a raven and flew up to explore the ceiling of the great room. Fife, Lan, and Tobias explored the walls, and Lan discovered a passage on the wall directly behind the throne, and another on the right hand wall. We checked the wall to the right first, and Fife discovered a lever for the passage behind the throne.

Shalev moved over to examine the throne itself, and saw that it was carved out of one solid piece of a green stone that matched the brooch that we had acquired from the merchant back in Eyore. The throne was a solid, stylized dragon with deep metal and gold shackles on each leg. Each arm rest has a fist sized gemstone where someone's hands would rest. The gemstones are the crowns of the heads of more stylized dragons, a star stone crowned the head of a serpentine dragon; and a gleaming opal crowned the head of a more lizard like dragon. I noted that neither of the dragons depicted here matched the great Fae dragon that flew over this area.

On a whim, I took a seat on the throne, and placed my hands over each of the gemstones. As soon as I did so, a mouth opened up on each of the walls on either side of the throne, and a voice boomed out in resonant tones an introduction of my person to any and all who might listen. The introduction was done in my native language, and consisted of my entire name and all of my titles throughout the ages. After about 10 minutes, the introduction ceased with the statement that all should show reverence, causing both Tobias and Shalev to instantly drop to their knee. I noticed that both of them seemed awed, and as they gazed with shining eyes, I felt a little embarrassed to be so outed. I had not ever made a point of mentioning any of the titles I hold, as they mean nothing to me. I hadn't heard most of the exaltations in centuries anyway, and found myself a little disappointed that none of them sparked any memory that may have once been associated with them.

Curious about the throne and it's capabilities, Shalev, Lan, Osman, and Fife all followed suit to sit on the throne and be announced. Each one received their own announcement, in the language that they spoke most often. Shalev then asked, bemusedly, that Amit do the same, and the great cat gave him a long-suffering look, but climbed up onto the chair. Again, the mouths on the walls opened up, and again they made their announcement. This time, however, the exaltation was said in a series of growls and chuffs that took almost a half hour to complete. Amit, bored with the whole thing, lazily left the chair once the voices had quieted, and looked at Shalev with cat-like superiority before flouncing back to the edge of the room.

We checked out the passage behind the throne to see a door to the left and a passage that continues along the wall. Inside the door there was a room filled with velvet and ermine cloaks hanging on ebony wood pegs. The party took the sumptuous cloaks, and discovered that there was another door on the left hand side. I ventured back out into the main throne room to check to see if there was another lever near the other passage. Finding nothing, I returned to the party and Fife checked the door inside the cloak room. It opened into a large bedroom that was completely empty save for a massive bed. Fife, Jaeger, and Kellyn flip the mattress over in hopes of finding more treasure, but only revealed more floor and a massive amount of dust. We went back out into the main hallway to escape the dust cloud, and Tobias took point so that he could use his dark vision ability to follow the passage to the right. There were two doors to the left, and we opened the first door into a triangular room filled with shelves that held small ingots of imperial stamped platinum plates. The room was filled, floor to ceiling, and we estimated 25,000 ingots in total.

The party members stood, dumbfounded, at the uncountable wealth in this room. As they began discussing how best to transport it, I pointed out that we already had more wealth than any of them had ever seen before, and that there would be no feasible way to carry it. Tobias and I urged the party members to leave the ingots behind, and if they must, return to them later. The rest of the party grudgingly agrees and Shalev asked KelLyn to come look into the room to remember the location so that they could return later and potentially transport the ingots elsewhere. She wryly commented that there were limits to even what she could do, but paid attention to the details of the location room as he asked.

Fife then moved over to the second door and checked it for traps. He discovered a needle trap which I am able to disarm after about an hour of tedious work. The room beyond was large and square, and completely empty. There was a door across the room on the opposite wall, and Fife also checked that for traps. Finding none, I moved again to start work on unlocking the door. As I worked through the tumblers, however, it tripped a trap that was expertly hidden within, releasing a noxious green gas. I blinked once in surprise, but felt no effects whatsoever, so I continued to concentrate on my task. After the door was unlocked, I stood up and stretched, glancing around to see that all of the rest of the party, including Amit, were fast asleep on the floor. I checked on all of them, and found them unharmed, so I left them to sleep off the effects of the gas and I opened the now harmless door.

Inside, I saw another triangular room with a circular depression in the floor. Inside the depression was a column of layan that rose nearly to the domed ceiling of the room. Encased inside the glowing layan was a man wearing full metal armor. The man was looking straight up into the column of light with an almost sadly reverent look on his face. I looked closer at him for a moment, but then decided that I wanted to wait for the rest of the party before I explored further, so I returned to the room where they lay and made myself comfortable in one corner before entering into the deep meditations that function to refresh my body.

After about three hours or so, the party members began to groggily come to. Shalev passed around some of the bitter espresso beans that he is fond of chewing on, and when Jaeger looked at him questioningly, Shalev also offered some to him to try. Jaeger sniffed at the beans, then following the example he had seen, popped them into his mouth to chew. He made a horrible face and promptly spit them out, muttering something to Shalev in dwarfish that made him chuckle.

Once everyone was up and fully aware, I tried to explain what I had seen in the room beyond, and then gave up in my explanations and just opened the doors so that they could see for themselves. The layan column was still there and still glowing radiantly. The man still knelt in the center, looking up reverently. Since the rest of the party was here with me now, I walked up to get a closer look at the man. The armor that he wore was very old, and appeared to be from the first imperial age. I posed the thought that this mand appeared to be a paladin of an old order, and Shalev checked to see if he could sense the alignment of the entombed knight. Shalev concentrated for a moment, and then noted with surprise that he felt TWO distinctly different alignments of Lawful Neutral and Neutral Good.

I looked again at the man, and then looked at the column of layan. I had never seen so much in one place before, and I wondered with a sudden suspicion if a sylvan tree could survive having so much of its sap removed. I reached out to touch the column, and find it to be warm and solid to my hand. As I rested my hand on the layan, I saw that it descended down into the floor and thought about how far it might go. Suddenly and silently, the layan column began rising up out of the floor as if responding to my thought. It slid up until it revealed the kneeling man inside completely, and we saw that he held onto the cross pieces of a massive sword.

Still touching the glowing layan column, I cast my Nature of Things spell and it told me what I had feared it would. The column was the life blood of the sylvan tree of this land, and incorporated nearly 1500 gallons. There is no way that any tree could have survived having that much sap taken from it, even a little at a time, and I yet again felt frustration with myself that there was knowledge that I should have known that lay just out of my reach. I wondered at the arrogance of such a man, who would take the essence of such a thing to make himself a tomb. I also wondered if this was the original ruler of this land and if the wizard had displaced him somehow.

I touched the layan again with the thought of retracting it back into the depression in the floor, and it once again answered to my thoughts. Once it was down, however, I found that I could not get it to raise again. Shalev asked KelLyn if she would also cast Nature of Things in here, and she scoffed that the sword was so magical that she could feel it from outside in the courtyard. Shalev was intent on removing the sword though, and asked if I might be able to soften the sap enough to get to it. I looked at him for a moment, then nodded my assent, and concentrated on trying to craft a spell that would allow me to return the sap to a liquid form. It took a very long time to do, and I had to maintain constant contact with the material. After a day, the layan column rose up again, and I realized that the rising and lowering was not thought based, but rather time based.

20 hours of focused concentration later, the man's face, the decorative chain of his armor, and the sword were uncovered. The effort to reveal him completely exhausted me though, and I broke away from the column to stumble over to Tobias. I fell into his arms and murmured to him a request to guard my back before falling completely away into a dreamless sleep to recover. I awoke some time later to the rumbling purr of Amit, who had laid down beside me, and Tobias standing watch in front of me. He filled me in on the events that happened while I lay sleeping, and I found out that Lan had wanted to cast first aid on the man to see if she could discern why he had died. Jaeger had offered to help boost her power, but he botched the spell. There were thankfully no visible effects of the wild magic, though, and Lan was able to cast her spell successfully. She learned with distinct clarity about the weather for the next day, and looked at confusion at Jaeger before trying her first aid again, this time without his help.

She was able to learn that the man had died of old age, and then was encased post mortem by his people. Shalev spoke up then to say that he could only sense the alignment of the sword now, and suspected that the man's soul had been held within the layan prison until we had released him. The sword had Fyrewerian writing along the blade, and KelLyn read it out to the party saying that the blade was presented to Alberich Chrondor by the Fyrewerians. The blade was three feet in length and it radiated enough magic that, according to KelLyn, it glowed like a star.

I could tell that Shalev itched to hold the sword, but having been burned literally once before, he held himself in check to my silent approval. He said that Jaeger was the only one of the party who was properly aligned to wield the weapon, and though I could see the disappointment in his eyes, he shrugged it off and stepped back so that Jaeger could take up the sword. Jaeger thought for a moment about this, and then asked if we could clear the scabbard of the weapon as well.  I once again agreed, and after another exhausting 16 hours, was able to do so. As Jaeger picked up the scabbard, a molded layan blade fell out onto the floor which Tobias promptly picked up and claimed.

Scabbard in hand, Jaeger then reached out to grasp the sword, and paused for a handful of heartbeats before sheathing it home and belting it on. Jaeger also claimed the imperial armor that the old paladin had worn, and I took some care to wrap the body in the ermine and velvet cloaks that I had taken from the closet. I said a simple blessing over his corpse, and then worked steadfastly to encase him once again in the layan tomb. Shalev also blessed the body in human tradition, and the scabbard that Jaeger wore rang like a bell in response.

After a short period of rest, we continued to explore, and we discovered that the old paladin's spirit was what had maintained the palace here. Every room we encountered was now falling into ruin, and we confirmed that even the materials we had gathered from this place were crumbling to dust. The keep as a whole now felt empty and abandoned. The party returned to the room with the platinum ingots, and after another intense discussion, they took 32 of the ingots from the shelves. I reminded them again that taking it was pointless, and likely could carry some kind of death-effect on it,  but they placed the bars into Tobias' treasure box anyway. Shalev took one extra bar and offered it to Ma'at, but she responded to him with a gentle rebuke telling him directly that he should not tithe from the tombs of others.

Chastised, he put the platinum back, and when he noticed that Jaeger also seemed reluctant and averse to taking the ingots, he refused his share as well, saying that he wanted nothing to do with it. We gathered what items we had with us, and decided to continue traveling away from this now desolate place. On the way out, Osman, Fife, and Jaeger all decided to get into a pumpkin flinging contest using the giant trebuchets on the battlements, but found to their great disappointment that the giant gourds had also been affected by the removal of the old paladin's spirit, and were now nothing but sludge and dust.

KelLyn asked Jaeger pointedly if he would like her to identify his new sword, but Jaeger refused saying oddly that the sword would tell him it's name in time. The party broke out into a heated discussion about where to travel next, and I pushed for sticking to the original plan to go and visit the next city in the circle. We decided to travel the long way around the lake, and after about four weeks of uneventful journeying, we saw a group of mercenaries camping along the edge of the lake.

The mercenaries were all human, and wearing mismatched and dented aluminum armor. There were 11 men around the campfires near the lake, apparently paying no attention whatsoever to the fact that we were approaching. Shalev murmured to Amit, asking if he saw or sensed any others, and Amit turned to face the forest with a quiet rumbling growl. I immediately drew my bow and took aim at the area where he stared, and another group of 18 men emerged from the trees, splitting into two smaller groups. They tell us with dark amusement that it would be wise of us to join them for dinner, and Shalev's response was to draw his sword and ask them how they preferred their remains to be cared for. KelLyn looked distinctly bored with the whole situation, and Lan and Osman turned to look at one another with an expression that the party had come to recognize as their tandem call to the fairy folk.

Jaeger said something to Shalev, and Shalev looked at him with alarm before shouting out to the party in desert common that we should all close our eyes quickly. We followed his advice, and a blinding flash of light erupted from Jaeger's sword. A wave of energy followed suit, and the group of 11 men by the lake were blinded completely with cries of surprise.

I took aim at the two bowmen on either side of the leader of the first group at the tree line, and Shalev charged after the leader of the second group of men, killing him instantly with a precise decapitation. Fife speared one of the archer's arms to his chest, and though Shalev missed his second attack, he quickly struck again, hitting one of the bowmen in the face. Fife and I took out two more of the bowmen, and Tobias took out the leader with a solid strike to the head using the morning star that he favored.

The mercenaries hit Jaeger in a group, but Jaeger bemusedly ignored their attacks completely. Lan and Osman cast their summon spell successfully, and an elegantly garbed woman stepped out of thin air, saying quizzically that she had no idea why she should have been summoned here, as everyone seems to have perfectly functional clothing. Osman, thinking quickly, said that he was not perfectly dressed, and her eyes lit up with delight as she began to measure him precisely for a new garment.

The remaining bowmen all turned to target Shalev, and the second group of mercenaries all turned and began murmuring together to apparently elect a new leader right there on the spot. Amit was over by the group near the lake, toying with them as cats tend to do with their prey. Fife watched Amit for a moment before targeting the last one that Amit had tagged to spear in what quickly turned into the oddest game of "Duck, Duck, Goose" in history. One by one he took them out, until at last only one remained. That one he speared through the shoulder, effectively pinning him to the ground, but leaving him alive to question.

Tobias attacked the group targeting Shalev, and Shalev turned to attack the remaining bowmen. His strike was true, and he managed to disrupt the concentration of his target. Tobias missed his brawl attack, though, and one of the bowmen managed to strike Shalev, causing minimal damage. Shalev retaliated by smacking the bowman in the face and removing him from the fight. I targeted the group of men huddled together, and threw one of the exploding pineapple seeds right into the center of them. The seed hit the ground and exploded with concussive force, killing everyone in the huddle instantly and causing minor damage to everyone within a large radius.  The spray of falling gore suddenly froze in midair for some reason, along with the two bowmen who remained alive. We all looked around in some confusion, only to see Jaeger sheathe the sword with a smug look on his face.

Searching the remains, Shalev picked up a striking long bow which he promptly offered to me. I could not draw the weapon though, and so I declined and offered it to Tobias. Tobias also declined, preferring his own bow, and it was offered to Fife. Fife took the bow with thanks, and the asked if Jaeger could unfreeze the remaining bowmen, I noted that Shalev offered his share to Ma'at, and raised an eyebrow in quiet observation at the new behavior.

The elegantly garbed fairy woman finished the garment that she was making for Osman, and then she asked what she would receive in payment. Knowing the perils of bargaining with the fair folk, Osman offered her a dragon short rib to use as boning for corsetry, and she quickly agreed with interest, on the condition that he could fashion her a needle out of the bone immediately. Osman did so quickly and efficiently, and she looked at him gravely stating that she appreciated that he did not try to draw her into bargains or traps or additional conditions. She also warned us all that there were four wars going on within the fairy kingdoms right now, and that he should be extremely careful about whom he summons from now on, as she could not guarantee that the next person to answer their call would be quite so... pleasant. Osman took her warning to heart, and then the woman gathered her new supplies and promptly vanished.

Shalev then walked over to question the one remaining mercenary by the lake who remained blinded and speared to the ground. Tobias quipped in irony that it would be wise if he joined us for dinner. The mercenary told the group that he and his men had been hired to fight in the war against the Ros Baban's on the other side of the mountains. After helping the gnomes until the passages collapsed, however, they found themselves trapped here on this side and decided turn to brigandry. He continued on to tell the group that the nearest township was near Mount Wanake, confirming that we had been heading in the right direction. He also told us of the Wagleburg colleges where there were maps and older fairies who had stayed and become the academics who ran the university. He proved to be a wealth of information, telling us that we shouldn't bother the dragon at Emer, but that the minions of the beast and others of the township were able to coexist peacefully. He warned that the dragon kept a harem of the most beautiful women so that he could show off his singing abilities, and that as far as he knew the sylvan tree was not there.

This confirmed, to my sorrow, what I had come to suspect when I saw the old paladin encased in layan. The mercenary added, however, that the wizard had journeyed around the entire area looking for tree seeds and saplings in an attempt to regrow or replant the tree. The maps and journals detailing his travels were rumored to be held at the university, and I made a note to try to visit if possible.

After the mercenary had finished his tale, Shalev offered the man a chance to start a new life. He offered to give him a recommendation to work as apprentice to Ishmael in the dwarven city, if the mercenary could give his word that he would give up forever the life of brigandry. The mercenary thought about it for a few moments, and then told Shalev that he would try it out, but could not guarantee that he would not return to thieving to get by. Shalev, not satisfied with this answer, or the risk to his name, killed the man quickly and mercifully. Jaeger walked over to the two bowmen that were pinned to the tree and killed them quickly as well, saying in broken common that they should remember the name Antarna.

Shalev's action immediately caused outrage in the rest of the party members, and it puzzles me as to why they took such offense at a merciful death. Tobias, especially, seemed infuriated by the action, and has shown great animosity toward Shalev. Fife too seems unnerved by Shalev's apparently sudden coldness, and I see fear in his eyes when he looks at the man he is supposed to bodyguard.

Having spent so much time with the desert human cultures, I can understand Shalev's reasoning, though I might not have done the same thing. We could not have cared for the man, and our food stores are dwindling to the point where we could not have supplied him to make it to the next town on his own. Shalev put his own honor at stake for the man's solemn promise to uphold the law of the land, and the man refused. It was merciful to grant him a quick and painless death this way. Still, however, I feel I may have to act as a mediator among the party members for a time, as none are willing to deal with Shaelv now.

Balance is a difficult thing to maintain, and the balance within the party has been shaken considerably by this apparent betrayal of trust. I am reminded, again, that humans have a much different outlook on things like this, although I do wonder at Tobias' anger. I would think that he, being from the same harsh desert cultures, would understand more than the rest. Only time will tell, but I think that I will have a difficult time trying to keep the peace.