Aiwan

Fiorina, the Hydra's Bane
How are we not dead?

The Party

  • Kemanorel
  • Aldo
  • Oz

Oz, Aldo, and I sat getting our fill of drink, trying to decide what we might do with our little party, ill-suited as it was for heavy combat. We settled on the idea of trying to line our pockets with some extra riches for ourselves, remembering that there was an Eternal Flame not yet discovered after the party’s previous encounter with a fire giant in the Burning Hills.

Aldo and Oz mentioned an enchantress, Aevan who might have the knowledge we sought. I sensed some amount of aversion to this path from Aldo, perhaps to spending coin or favor when we might find what we need in the library. We spent a day among the old dusty tomes, but ended up walking out with nothing more than we already knew when we entered: it was a flame and it was eternal. Aldo and Oz were more quick to acquiesce defeat to the tomes and seek out Aevan, while myself, like a stubborn animal, continued in the library. I caught up with them at Aevan’s, long after they had made far better use of their time.

She informed them that the flame was the cause of the burning hills infinite smoldering, but that it would also grant protection from flame to all those who might stand in it and survive until the flame felt cool. How exciting! We had initially sought riches of gold, but permanent resistance to fire could be priceless! She told us that it would likely be guarded by elementals, but the real trial would be to stand in the flame without magical protection in order for the ritual to work. Challenge: accepted.

We discussed at length what precautions we might take with us for spending an extended amount of time in the Burning Hills and how we might deal with elemental guardians. We settled on purchasing several scrolls to protect us from flame as well as wands of healing, and set off for the Torch and Campfire. Aldo informed us, despite the drinks he had imbibed, that he remembered elementals should have a stomach and so be vulnerable to nauseation. Oz was incredulous, but it was the best strategy we could hope for.

While our adventure might be for ourselves, figuring running some errands for the rest of the group wouldn’t go amiss, we delivered the Skymetal to the Dwarves so they could ply their trade. They told us what they might make with a lump of metal that size, and then turned to less cheerful matters. The dwarves told us a sad tale of a missing scouting party, and we conferred with them about the possible location of the Flame while vowing to keep an eye out for any signs of the lost dwarves.

With no new information, the road took us to the hot springs were the fire giant was slain, hoping that the giants frequented the location of the flame. Surprisingly, the massive corpse of the fire giant was no where to be found. Oz sent Horus to scout from the sky, and tracked the giant’s feet in the ground. Oz found two sets of footprints; one heading east and the other north. He determined that the tracks heading north were a bit deeper, probably due to one giant carrying the other.

While following the road traveled by whomever was carrying the fallen giant in hopes that he would be laid to rest at or near the Flame, Horus soon informed us that there was something up ahead. Aldo scouted to Horus’s mark, returning with news of a stone house with another Red Giant outside, sitting the base of a large crater. Interestingly, this giant had the distinct features of being female. After correctly surmising that this Giantess was the spouse of the previously slain, I confess that I felt sorrow for the widow. This unfortunately got us no close to determining where the flame might be. It crossed our minds that it may even be in this giant’s stone house! Because a direct confrontation was likely out of the question, we discussed other tactics.

Owing to a need to prove myself to my new companions, and a fairly large dash of foolishness and stupidity, I suggested that I might spin a tale in hopes of having this beast of a lady simply tell me where the Eternal Flame resides. My comrades took up hiding positions along the road in the event I needed to remove myself from the vicinity in a hurry, and I set my plan in motion. Taking care to disguise myself with burn scars and tattered clothes to help sell my story, I summoned my Steed and made my way up the road. I stopped atop the lip of crater hoping that in the event I needed to make a hasty retreat being at the high ground might afford me some protection. Now, I’m not a novice adventurer, but after putting myself in a situation this precarious, I’m sure that would have been what they put on my epitaph had my ploy ended poorly. Surely, the tale of woe would eventually include the line, “I got this. Hold my ale."

I took a deep breath and composed myself, controlling the steady flow of adrenaline before calling down to her, “Greetings, lady!” in as friendly and respectful a manner as possible. I pointed to Oz’s Horus still circling in the sky, “He told me someone was here!"

She responded, rather gruffly with a hint of melancholy, and in much deeper tones than one might expect of a female, “What do you want, Halfling?”

I chuckled a moment, thinking that if she thinks that I'm a halfling, what would she call Aldo, but I digress. “I am tracking some people. I thought you might want to help…”

That she might “want" rather than simply "be able" to help, piqued her interest for just a moment, and the tale weaving began.

I told her of a group of adventurers who we might both have an interest in finding. I explained that this group of people had burned down my village and killed my family. I had tracked them to the local town, but had just missed them. She took this information without question, and a fair bit of disinterest, but she started to hang on my every word when I told her that by using coin for information, the locals told me the group was heading into the Burning Hills to find the Eternal Flame, boasting that it would be easy since they had already slain the Fire Giant protecting it!

She was incredulous, “How do you expect to take them all on yourself if together they were able to kill my husband? Would you have been strong enough to take him on your own, tiny one?”

That caught me flatfooted. I stammered, “Certainly not. I am quite sure I would have not a chance against neither you nor your husband. While I am strong, I suppose I would have to try and find a way to separate them. First, I need to find them. Can you tell me where the flame is? It's my best bet.”

Surprisingly, she seemed to accept this explanation. What happened next, was far more surprising, and futhermore had not been predicted…

Rather than just telling me the location of the Flame, she decided to take me to it personally. Traveling with a fire giant was about as expected as finding mimic that looked like a boat… We had not discussed this possibility at all. Aldo, Oz, and I had planned for every possible outcome to the situation at hand, except this one.

I dared not refuse the offer, and could only hope that Aldo and Oz followed without alerting my new traveling companion. With distance between myself and the giant now at, literally, her arm’s length, any chance of running was miniscule. My skull would be crushed like a ripe melon before I could utter a single spell.

She led the way south east, eventually coming to huge, round basin, with a temple at the center. It was a simple domed structure with entrances at the cardinal directions, and sitting on the top of that temple, was a hydra as red as a blood moon. One, two, three, four… EIGHT?! Eight heads?! Then it dawned on me, and I assume to Aldo and Oz as well, that if we had simply gone east at the hot springs, we would have found this place. Granted, we would still have an eight-headed hydra to face, but now our destination was also being watched by giant. And, not any ordinary giant; one who was out for blood.

It was some amount of comfort that I noticed that Aldo and Oz had taken up hiding positions on the opposite side of the bowl, but began to fear that my disguise may not last much longer, and neither would my life. I told Fiorina that I was sorry my weak body couldn’t stand in the environment of the Burning Hills much longer and asked if west would take me to the hot springs so I could find my way home. She affirmed my direction, but before leaving I assured her if I ever killed any of them, that I would let her know her husband was avenged.

As my horse headed west, she seemed intent on keeping watch for a while, but Aldo and Oz were able to make there wait back to the hot springs soon after I did. What a relief to be out of the company of such an imposing creature. But, we were soon back in the frying pan as we concocted a plan to have the fire giant do some of the hard work for us. That pyrohydra was nearly as imposing as the Giantess. We prepared again, taking a path east-southeast so that we could loop around the basin to the south. With Oz and Aldo once again taking up hiding positions, I was once again about to hop into the frying pan.

As I came over the lip, she had already noticed me, but I had cast Ghost Sounds spell already, trying to make it sound as if a group of people had snuck into the temple. I quickly ran my mount around the edge to Fiorina, waving wildly for her to be quiet, pointing to the temple. I hopped off my mount, and in frantic whispers I told her I had tracked them back from the hot springs, and that they were in the temple right now. She could get in, but if I could get in then I could flush them out, but there was no way I could get in without provoking the hydra.

It was about as weak a lie as I had yet told her, considering she would be putting herself at risk. I was about ready to present her my head, but instead of taking it, she charged the Hydra! If ever I had seen such a fine display of swordsmanship, I couldn’t remember it. She was magnificent! There is no other way to put it. Oz, Aldo, and myself would have been never been heard from again had we tried to take her. She might be about as beautiful as a half-eaten, rotting bear carcass, but compared to her onslaught, I may as well have been throwing pebbles rather than spells.

The hydra didn’t stand a chance. For every blow she landed, she had also dodged three or four or five or more attacks from the hydra. She was as graceful as she was ugly, and as fierce as she was intimidating. After just two flurries, she had removed every head and it fell in a heap on the group, the heads rolling a short distance away. As she stood over her prey, I could only stare in awe and fear, hoping that I never end up on the receiving end of her aggression.

The fire spell used to attempt to cauterize the heads before they grew back was utterly futile. Fire wouldn’t work on this beast, but I didn’t have time to do more. She had already moved to the north entrance of the temple and was hurling questions about why the guardians weren’t alerted despite the sounds inside the temple? A deer caught in a fascination spell would have been better equipped to answer her question. This was it. The lies weren’t going to hold up anymore, and I would be minced in just a few more moments… I knew it was coming.

A clatter from the south entrance; Aldo, that amazing quarterling! Aldo stood on the southern ridge to give Fiorina a real target in place of my fake one. A perfect bait and switch! She charged after him as I got on my mount in preparation for a chase, but Aldo was quick to disappear from view before she got to the top of the southern side of the basin.

Oz was similarly hidden already, I suppose petting his hammer to keep it calm in Fiorina’s presence. As I rode to join her at the top of the ridge, Oz must have also been watching my bumbling signals meant for Horus and directed him south, giving chase to the fake group of adventurers. I followed Horus until Fiorina disappeared from view. After waiting for time, I returned with as sheepish a look possible, relaying my failure at tracking the group. "They must have cast an invisibility spell or something, because Horus wouldn’t have lost them otherwise!" That was the last lie needed, and I held my breath until she showed signs that she believed it. Her reaction thereafter nearly as scary as if she had attacked directly, cursing with the skill of a seasoned pirate. You didn’t need to understand Giant to guess exactly what she was saying.

After more profuse apologies, which were rather easy to fake because of how sorry I felt for having used her in such a way, I proclaimed that they would not slip through my fingers again. I turned to more neutral topics, complementing her on her prowess against the hydra, stating unequivocally that her swordsmanship was legendary. Rather belatedly, I finally asked for and learned her name.

As she returned on her way home, I made another vow that after all was done to her and how we had used her, that if there was any way possible, that she would be left alone. I felt that we owed her that at the very least, making a note to talk to the dwarves to determine if, while cooperation might be out of the question, if at least a pact of non-aggression might be possible.

Meanwhile, Aldo and Oz cleverly ran back to temple and poured a bottle of acid on the severed necks of the hydra, preventing it from ever coming back. One thing is sure though: Aldo can never be in the presence of Fiorina without provoking her fury. I joined them as they finished searched the corpse of the hydra. Finding very little left, I relieved one of the heads of a fang, placing it in my haversack as a trophy.

I moved quickly to scout inside, fearing that Fiorina may return to check the Eternal Flame. Whatever favor I may have accrued in the adventures with the Giantess was mostly lost as I provoked the attack of four flame elementals. It was only after this point that every word of warning about elemental guardians floated through my mind. The hydra wasn’t the guardian, just a beast basking in the magical glow and heat emanating from the Eternal Flame's brazier.

Aldo and Oz jumped into action, while all I could do was try to prevent myself from being burned alive. They shouted for to get on top of the temple again, using the hydra as a barrier against our back while casting flame resistance from scrolls we had purchased in town. After the initial onslaught, Oz had moved against the hydra, valiantly defending against two of the elementals. I prayed that Aldo’s drunken philosophic waxing wasn’t just babbling nonsense and loosed a Stinking Cloud. Success! One of the elementals near Aldo’s back seemed about ready to hurl up whatever it is a creature of that nature might, and there was a glimmer of hope that we all might yet escape with our lives.

Our party took some blows, dampened significantly by the resistance spells as we took control of the battlefield. Oz and Aldo continued to their assault on the guardians while I threw down more nauseating clouds, leaving but a small path for Aldo and I to retreat against the hydra. Despite their initial surprise attack, they soon succumbed to Aldo and Oz’s weapons, leaving us free to finally look into the Flames of Eternity.

The runes around the edge of the flame detailed the ritual and the effect. The ritual could only be done once per month, and, to our vast disappointment, would only last a month. It was something to hold in reserve should we ever knowingly need the protection, but since we were already here…

We readied ourselves, Oz and Aldo gripping wands of healing, and leapt into the flames. It was bordering on torturous to stand in the flames, melting flesh magically restored only to melt again. Aldo and Oz were more stalwart in the pyre than I was, several times it crossed my mind to jump out, but each time I was ready to give up, a wave of healing struck staving off the growing wave of panic building in my chest. How Oz and Aldo were able to concentrate enough to even use the wands while standing in the flame I do not know, but soon enough the flames felt more like warm bath water than the blistering tongues licking up our flesh that they had been the moment before. We stepped out of the fire, grinning to each other reaching back in to play with the flame as a child might had it been filled with water instead. I speak only for myself, but I would only stand in those flames again if I knew the resistance would be necessary in the coming adventures.

After all of this, as much as we wanted a flagon and a bed, our day was not yet over. As we made our way back to the Torch and Campfire, keeping a sharp eye out for the Fire Giant, we instead came across a pair of overly large insects, towing a pair of dwarves behind them. Aldo recognized them as Formians; nasty creatures who enslave the minds of others.

We tried speaking to them at first, hoping for an opening to free the enslaved dwarves, but they took the first attack. For the next few moments, what exactly happened, I can’t say for sure. It was like being in a dark room with a disembodied voice directing your actions as a puppeteer might command a marionette. When it commanded that I attack Oz, I pushed back against the voice and was conscious again.

When my senses returned, all I could feel was embarrassment as I realized that of the three of us, I was the one that had fallen prey to the Formian mental trickery. They would pay…

I yelled at Oz to let me go. I may as well have been trapped under a boulder for all I could move with him grappling me. Apparently, during the time I was out of my senses I had fallen into step with the mind-numbed dwarves. In a successful attempt to prevent my advancement with them, Oz had tackled me and was holding me down. He complied, and we all rained hell upon them.

Fiorina may be semi-evil and hideous to look at, but I’d sooner share a meal with her than any slaver. It made my stomach queasy to think about their encampment. Merely destroying them was too good a fate. The sooner they are all removed from this plane, the better I’ll sleep at night.

Thankfully, the rescued dwarves weren’t completely unaware of what had been happening. As we escorted them back to T&C, they revealed that the Formian camp was north of the lava tubes. Someday soon, I plan to see their camp in ruins, and a bonfire of their corpses burning on the horizon; but, for now, we all needed a rest.

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The Trials of Unjory
Sometimes, two wrongs do lead to a right.

It had come time to answer the question of Jory. For too long had our band of adventurers left him to his machinations, as we killed the occasional thrall and watched the goblins slowly disappear from the land. Our first encounter with the vampire he had become had… not gone well for us, but Bing Bong’s power grows with every passing journey, and she had discovered a spell to shield us from the energy drain that made Jory’s attacks so fearsome. Along with the new abilities granted me by Pelor’s light, we felt we were more than a match for the erstwhile fallen monk.

We set out from the gates to the north, past Hightower towards the ruined keep. Having come prepared and supplied for once, when we reached the stairs into the depths, we surrounded our group with a sphere of invisibility and silence. Jory would not detect our approach this time.

….that said, our technique did leave a few things to be desired. A light source would be visible from outside the sphere, and communication within the silent zone was impossible. That left Oz to be a shepherd to the blind, guiding us in a train holding onto the person nearby, the seven of us squeezed tight within the magical effect, and communicating only through abstract drawings on my arm. 

In the main hallway of the keep dungeons, Oz signed the presence of a handful of goblin thralls, who he later said had been practicing martial maneuvers, while a few dire wolves slumbered nearby. Enemies to be defeated before we left, but not our main quarry. We continued past, leaving the goblin’s somewhat confused as the sound of their exercise quieted and returned. Down the hallway along which Jory had run off the day of his fall, we found only a few small rooms, but within one we found a number of coffins, most likely the origin of the original vampires who turned Jory and then were destroyed by him in turn. Risking a little light, we set to work destroying those coffins, and found a stash of gear hidden beneath one. Here, much to our concern and curiosity, we found a note, which read:

<INSERT NOTE TEXT HERE>

It was addressed to us in Jory’s style, and when we compared it to some of his writing back in town later that night, it matched his handwriting. But before this analysis, there were his minions to cleanse. The sleeping dire wolves fell quickly to our ambush from stealth, surrounded before they even knew they were in danger, while Bing Bong vaporized the thralls with his holy power, a feat that remained impressive and welcome even now that it was becoming practically expected. Only the lowest level of the dungeon remained, a small room partially flooded with water, but all we found there were the decaying corpses of two creatures Jory must have laid low early in his ascent to mastership of the keep.

There was nothing to it but to follow the instructions of the note.

We set out once more from town, journeyed up into the foothills of the mountains, and early one afternoon, Oz was alerted by Whelm of the presence of nearby giants. Around the next corner of the path was our first challenge. Two mountain giants had a campfire roaring, near the base of a waterfall from the cliff above. Aldo took up his new favorite giant-slaying ice storm wand, and Ducky took to the skies to harass the giants from the flying carpet, and quickly enough, the giants were down. With some irony, we noted that these were probably the very same mountain giants Ducky had heard rumor of when we went looking for a giant to slay for Oz’ ritual to awaken his hammer. Had we at that time chosen stone instead of fire, our path might have already been cleared. So it goes in these wilds.

Flying up to scout on the carpet, Ducky announced that up on the cliff at the waterfall’s head, a trail began and wound its way steeply up the mountainside. Chauffeuring us one by one to the trailhead, Ducky stuck to the air to keep watch ahead as we began our laborious ascent. 

After a few hours of hiking, the next challenge appeared out on the horizon. The keener eyed members of the party pointed out a pack of wyverns on the wing, which quickly spotted us back, and wheeled to attack. Jorven summoned two giant hornets to fly out and keep some of the creature’s at bay, while the group attacked with whatever ranged options we had available. Most of the wyverns were brought down in the air, but one or two unlucky beasts were sent crashing into the mountainside by Oz’s and my blades when they flew by to attack. Their poison seemed fearsome, but luck kept its effects to a minimum within the party. The danger past, Ducky’s scouting suggested that it would be nearing dark by the time we reached the top of the trail, and since none of us had a desire to encounter Jory without the protection of the sun close at hand, we decided to camp on the ledge on which we had made our stand against the wyverns, and I used my magic to cleanse away the lingering effects of the poison from those who needed it. 

We reached the doors of the monastery in the late morning, as the sun rose high. An eerie silence lay over the forest. Great doors stood closed before us, the monastery’s bulk stretching away back into hillside. We threw open the portal, and found that we had been awaited. Within was a large courtyard, packed with rows of monks, who turned expectantly towards us. Sunlight shone down within the center of the courtyard, but a ledge at the back, with doors leading further into the monastery, lay covered in shadow, and there stood the monastery’s leader.

He asked us our purpose, and we told of our hunt for Jory, that our trail had led us here, and that we had no quarrel with the monastery or its members if it would surrender him to our justice. But we didn’t have to hunt any longer, for Jory himself stepped forth from a doorway to confront us. We expected Jory to be their master, not their guest. A puzzling development.

A tense standoff followed, our party just outside the door, trying to gauge whether we could count on the monks as aid against the monster in their midst, or whether they were another obstacle in the way of cleansing our mistake from the world. Though the history of our conflict with Jory seemed to surprise his master, he did not seem to be siding with us. Rather, our presence seemed to be driving a wedge between the two men.

I stepped forward into the courtyard, urging Jory to join me in the sun and free his soul, but the conversation soon trickled out, and it was clear there was to be blood. The master nodded his head, and promptly vanished into the shadows, while Jory fled back into the monastery’s depths as the monks in the courtyard attacked us.

The fight to end that day was a grueling one, there were many monks arrayed against us, and though I urged them to surrender and be spared, they fought to the end. They were not much threat against Oz’s and my defenses, but there were many, and the most experienced in their group could disappear into the shadows of the courtyard, attacking us while remaining unseen, while we shot bolts and slashed blades at where we thought they might be. 

Eventually, all the monks succumbed to our party, and as the bodies fell silent, so too did the courtyard, until a spell blasted out at us from somewhere on the shadowed ledge. The master had made his move, but in casting a spell, he had revealed his location to Kemanorel, who unleashed his own force attack back at him, revealing him, and his true nature, to the rest of us. The master had taken on the form of some fearsome feline hybrid, with black and orange stripes and large clawed paws, while retaining the gait and form of his former human appearance.

Oz charged the creature, and a furious grapple ensued, Oz managing to get the upper hand and wrestling the master to the ground, while the rest of us attempted to cut him down, but his hide was beyond tough, and it seemed we could barely damage him.

In the midst of this struggle, Jory returned from the hallway he had fled down, and I moved to intercept him before he could attack the party. Weakened earlier from a few of Aldo’s silver bolts, when I unleashed my reserve of holy energy to disrupt Jory’s unholy form, he was blasted instantly into mist, and fled back to his coffin.

Finally, I summoned all of the sun’s fury I could muster, and smote the master with my blade. Combined with Kemanorel’s magical damage, it was enough even with his great toughness to bring the master to his death.

The monastery lay still except for our party’s breathing. What had begun as a hunt to right a single mistake had turned, unfortunately, into a massacre. But our exploration of the now-empty monastery revealed that, at least, Jory had still had some decency left within him. Within the master’s sanctuary were plans and notes making clear that the monks of this monastery had been planning an attack on Aiwan, one we would have been completely unprepared for. The whole town might have been destroyed. The puzzle pieces clicking into place, it seemed Jory had taken to converting the goblins in an attempt to raise his own fighting force to counter the monks. But both groups had been silenced now. 

At the end of our searching we at last found found ourselves in front of Jory’s coffin. His form lay motionless within. We destroyed the body as the rituals decree, and finally released Jory’s soul from the unholy creature he had become. It was done. One less shadow, well intentioned or not, lay on the land.

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A Throng of Ice and Fire
Stay frosty

The Party

  • Aldo
  • Rost
  • Oz
  • Ducky
  • Snorri

The Adventure

Once again I was approached about our journal not being kept up to date. Once more I shuffle through the scribbled notes in my field notebook, attempting to piece together the story of the week prior.  Things have been pretty hazy since I almost died several weeks ago.  I’ll retell that story at some point.

We set out to find the fire giant, because of stuff involving Oz that I apparently slept through. (NB: don’t fall asleep at anymore party meetings).  It was in the direction of the flaming hills, which was promising, because we parted on good terms with the creatures that were mining their depths.

The party made the trek out and reconnected with Torch and Campfire, who said they could point us in the right direction… if we cleared out a lava tube that they wanted to migrate to.

Being an accommodating bunch, we agreed and entered the lava tube.  All went well until we opened a door and were set upon by a fiery cloud, followed by some strange gnome-like creatures.  We managed to fell one, but the hallway chokepoint was a bit much, and the other fled back into the room.  We regrouped and pursued…

… only to be ambushed by a larger group of fire creatures lurking on the other side of the steel door.  More fighting ensued and more enemies feel, with one succumbing to a brutal one-two combo from Rost and your’s truly.  Just when we thought we were out of the woods, we were set upon by a gigantic dude that immediately raised a wall of flame, splitting Rost off from the rest of the party.  Unsure as to whether or not our protection spells would spare us from the flames, we cautiously passed through the wall to engage the enemy. Thankfully, we were undamaged.  After killing the giant, who turned out to be the last of the opposing force, we looted the tube and returned to the mine in the flaming hills to claim our reward.

Torch and Campfire were pleased with the news we brought (including that the tube appeared to be flush with ore), and promised us a boon in the form of crafting a special item out of a piece of skymetal we had in our possession.  We took an IOU since it wasn't on hand.  The imps provided us the location of the fire giant and we bid farewell as we set out for his location.

The terrain around the giant’s lair was unimpressive, if not scorched.  I crept over a hill that appeared to overlook the epicenter of his domain, and sure enough, there he was in his pale, crimson glory, taking a soak in a natural spring.  It looked quite welcoming.  Sadly, such luxury would have to wait as we had business at hand.  I returned to the party to inform them of the situation, and we set about strategizing.  Rost et al. were encouraged by my burgeoning magical abilities, and entrusted me with the frost wand!  I immediately pointed the business end at the giant and let loose a storm of ice and snow with great efficacy.  Meanwhile, Rost, Oz and Snorri moved forward to engage the giant in melee combat.

The combination of their brute strength and my frozen volleys quickly slayed the giant.  Oz performed the ritual he needed to perform, and we set out for Aiwan – it was quite the exhausting day, and the sun was getting very low.

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Into The White Plume Mountain
The Reminiscings of Snorriā€™s (as transcribed by a threatened villager)

Scribbling this down is a waste of time when just talking would do fine but you all asked so here’s my tale. In the early morn we set out to reclaim the property of Riikan Dack from the White Plume Mountain. Seems the man got robbed by some scheming wizard and like all magic folk with too much time on their hands, the wizard decided to make a show of it. A bad move in my opinion.

With the offer of gold on the table Jorven, Rost, Bing Bong, Ducky, and me went journeying North toward the Mountain. We found our way in and took barely a step before coming across a beast guarding the path and spouting nonsense. Seems the beast wanted to play games before letting us past. Now while I was of the mind that it would look better without its head on its shoulders, Rost was quicker. The man puzzled out the answer to its game before I could provide my option and the beast showed us the way East.

Now as we went down that path, walking through an inch or two of some foul water, Rost proved that reading books aint everything and fell down a hole. After we dragged him and his plate mail up out of the water Ducky went down exploring with those magic shoes of his and found us some loot left by the last man who fell in without friends to pull him out. After an impressive leap by me and some less impressive leaps by the others we left the hole behind.

As we continued on the hall opened up into a small room where we heard the sound of movement in the water around us. From the murky depths crawled out four creatures looking to tear us apart. Needless to say my mood was improved. However, the battle began and ended in a heartbeat as Bing Bong used his holy magic to turn the undead back to the grave. In the water where they rose we found a hoard of gold and other metals. Ducky probed for coin in the dark for an hour before we thought best to continue on and found some new fresh hell around the corner.

The next hall was lined with copper plates along the walls that had that maddening look of something magic. Now being the fearless dwarf I am I let the other worry on while I went forward to test their effect. Now they may laugh just because it ended in me on fire and making a less than dignified retreat, but I think we can agree that it got answers. After a time, the group found it was our metal the plates would heat and by carrying our gear on a rope we were able to avoid a second roasting.

Forward we went and found a room of a different sort. Two great chasms filled with blades lined the near and far ends of the room with a long stretch in the middle. Again Ducky used his shoes to walk along the walls but as he stepped down to the floor he lost his footing and slid to the other wall. The floor was slick as ice ruining my chance for more impressive leaps. As Ducky worked to steady himself from the far end of the room emerged a harpy with murder in its eyes. Flying toward us we quickly drew our weapons. It called out to us with its strange song and we found ourselves moved to the edge of the chasm feeling our toes over the edge before regaining control. Stepping back from the edge we struck out at the beast as it struck at us but with a piercing thrust of Rost’s spear it was the Harpy that was cast down upon the blades of the pit. Having killed her we were free to move. To cross the room, we each in turn entered the bag of holding and let Ducky carry us to the other side.

Through the far door was a room of rafts with a river floating in the air from wall to wall. With Rost’s magic we made a raft glow and sent it downstream. It wasn’t long before we saw it making its way back from the other end so it seemed harmless enough and left with no other options we moved to mount our rafts. Turns out getting atop a raft on a floating river isn’t half as easy as it sounds and while I was falling on my backside the others made their way through the tunnel. By the time I hauled myself aboard and made to follow a ruckus could be heard down the way. I emerged to find Ducky, Jorven, and Bing Bong caught in nets with Ducky plucking his lute like he’s performing at a tavern. Stranger there was a crew of bandits admiring quietly while baring their steel. As Rost and I moved to cut the net Ducky managed to trick the crew’s leader (some fancy knight he seemed) that we were his allies come to save him from his backstabbing crew. The dense fool began to fight his crew and we did our part to help him only for Bing Bong to catch the knight with a poison arrow in the head. Now they say he was a wanted man in town so we took his head and as is my way I took a keepsake from each of the crew. Convenient none of them got any acid on their thumbs.

Now here’s where the tale takes a turn. From the burning halls, water filled halls we thought we were on our way through what the wizard called the “boiling bubble” so we were right surprised to find ourselves atop the inverted ziggurat. Multiple levels of water and stone laid out before us, each filled with fearsome beasts and each battle cost us dearly. Twice we fought beneath the water having Jorven’s scrolls give us breath and fighting alongside the sharks he summoned. We faced great lobsters, sea lions, scorpions, and manticore; each battle testing the limits of our strength and will. Many times we were grappled and pinned down as our band struggled against our foes, catching the barbs of stingers and the slash of claws. When the dust settled we stood at the base of the ziggurat surrounded by the corpses of dead beasts, some of them mangled by Bing Bong’s attempts to extract their poison for his strange ends.

Behind the mass of one of the dead manticore stood a single door and our only exit. Making our way through and down a dark hall we came across another door which had the gall to be locked. Me, not being stopped lightly, smashed in that wood with a mighty blow! Inside we found a fancy room full of stuff you’d expect to find in a lord’s house and weak lookin’ Halfling standing surprised at our grand entrance. He spun us a tale about being the wizard’s prisoner after gambling his life away. Something about everlasting servitude or some other. To be honest with ya I was only about half listening to some Halfling’s moaning. That is to say until the wee bugger disappeared.

Caught off guard, we stood with steel drawn waiting for any sign of him. Jorven whirled as he heard the Halfling moving on the walls and caught sight of a great blade mounted atop the door frame. We watched as the blade moved from the wall and held suspended in the air near the ceiling. Now I was most amazed that as small a lad as him could hold the thing but we soon found he wasn’t so small as he looked. He dropped his disappearing spell and there on the ceiling stood a giant monster, blade in hand and with murder in his eyes. With his size he swung at us from the ceiling, catching us with dangerous blows. We returned in kind slashing and stabbing, shooting bolt and spells. The fight went like that awhile and my breastplate shows he held nothing back. But as always it us we who laid the killing blow.

Our enemy laid mangled but leaving us not much better for wear. Hurt and tired from our trial we searched the room for our goal. The others took their weight in coin and me… I found the legendary great sword, Blackrazor. A tool that, once bound, we will use to crush our foes, slay any beast, and cut down the evil of this world. But most importantly… it’ll probably help me get more thumbs.

Alright I’m tired of talking and this peasant’s been shaking about half an hour. Point is we found our way through once but we didn’t find the weapon that Riikan really wanted, Wave. So we’re back in town and we’ll head back once we’ve had plenty of ale. But I’ll tell you what… Moradin help that wizard if he’s in that mountain when we

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The Fiend of Beasts
And Stumbling Upon a Lion

The party:

  • Ducky
  • Oz
  • Rost

    It has taken me a while to feel up to the task of recounting this particular adventure, for reasons that should become clear to you by the end of my tale. Our party was smaller than usual, as it was just the three of us. This did nothing to lessen our confidence, however, since we are all experienced dungeoneers at this point and are used to working as a team. We had rarely known defeat, except in the cases of losing Krom and having to retreat from Jori. So tonight we returned to the Chapel, with the intention of clearing out any evil remaining on the third and fourth floors.

    The third floor was mostly clear, with the exception of one last room that was filled with bones and a couple creatures that we handily dispatched (my memory is hazy here, as if I'm trying to remember someone else's life…). We soon found ourselves on the fourth floor, the first room of which contained some stone statues around the edges and a large, evil-looking circular inscription in the center of the floor. Rost and I didn't trust these symbols, but Oz couldn't resist knocking over the statues. He gleefully positioned himself between the nearest one and the wall, and proceeded to put his back to it and push it over, using the wall as a support. The statue fell and smashed into the symbols on the floor – as soon as contact was made, the inscription began glowing, then pulsating with light, until flames burst forth and produced a lone figure. It was a woman; she stood there naked, looking questioningly at the three of us.

    As soon as she appeared, I reflexively cast Hold Person on her, but, to my puzzlement, it failed to have any affect. Then she gasped, clutched at her neck, and told us that she had been sacrificed upon those symbols in some ritual, and she pleaded with us to lead her out of this place. I felt a strong will pressing against my mind; luckily I noticed it and resisted. My companions were much more open to it, though, and both Rost and Oz began sympathizing with her and leading her up the stairs. By this point I was convinced that she was dangerous – I wasn't going to fall for her victim routine, and only wanted to prevent our party from becoming HER victims. So I pulled out my lute, and ran after them while performing a countersong to battle with the hold that her enticing voice had over Rost and Oz. Her influence was strong, and so it took until we were on the second floor for me to break the spell on both of them. She then became enraged and flew at me; Rost, angry himself that he had his will bent by an agent of evil, quickly struck her down and thanked me.

    Slightly shaken, but encouraged by our teamwork, we went back down to the fourth floor and continued past the inscription. The room beyond opened up to a large split, one side of which was a hallway containing waves of flame that periodically surged across the floor. We went the other way, and came face to face with an ugly abomination that had tentacles coming out of its face. It grappled with Oz, and the two wrestled until they were on the ground, flailing wildly at each other. Rost and I, careful to avoid hitting our friend, stabbed and shot at the monster whenever it was exposed to us. Eventually it slumped over dead, and Oz tossed its corpse off of himself. By this point, both Rost and Oz appeared more cautious after their frustrating encounters; I was on a roll, so I eagerly forged ahead into the next room.

    I felt invincible – I was ready to take on more, nothing had tested me yet! My skills had proven useful multiple times already, and the party could have been in great danger if not for me. Around the corner I spotted a lion made of light. Finally, a worthy adversary for the mighty Stumbleduck!! I rounded the corner and showed off my new skill, loosing two crossbow bolts in rapid succession. The rest… the rest was a blur to me, and is the cause of my hazy memory. Rost and Oz say that the lion bounded across the room and pounced viciously on me, doing terrible damage before they could close the gap. They rushed to my defense and desperately fought the lion off, but worried that they were too late…

    As I lay motionless, mortally wounded, Rost and Oz began to pick me up with the intent of riding hard for town, to take me to a wizard who might be able to resurrect me. But by some miracle, I came to, and asked "how'd I do, guys?" Rost, relieved, healed my wounds with his Lay on Hands, and told me I wasn't allowed to lead the party any more…

    Finally, we came to the door to the next fiend. Feeling much more cautious this time, I cast Haste and Inspire Greatness on our party, and we used some scrolls to buff up. Rost then flung the door open, and we charged in to clash with the Fiend of Beasts. This fiend was a physical brute, but was no match for our preparation. We quickly tore through him, then cleared out the last couple enemies on the floor. I must confess that I don't remember much of that either; I was just glad to be alive.

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Return to Under Dome
A Sight to Behold

The Party

  • Aldo
  • Ducky
  • Rost

In our last outing, The Adventurers of Aiwan (as we have been named by the townspeople) stumbled upon a strange dome in the middle of the blighted forest.  With the night quickly approaching, and our appetite for adventure dwindling, we decided to leave the dome unexplored and return when we had fresh horses and empty pockets.

As we made our way back to the blight, we passed the watery cave where the powerful stones were entombed.  Unlike our previous excursions this way, however, we noticed signs of disturbance in the dirt outside.  Rost, ever-vigilant, stated that he detected the remnants of an evil presence.  We made note of the disruption and vowed to return sometime in the near future.  We had a dome to explore.

As we entered the blighted clearing surrounding the dome, we encountered two shambling zombies, not unlike those we first encountered in the graveyard.  Unlike the cemetery-dwellers, these ones were unusually fleet-footed, and quickly rushed us.  With a flash of his holy symbol, Rost scared the two beasts off as fast as they came.

Once at the dome, we scouted the surface for any openings or clues as to what lay inside.  We found none, but gained an idea of the interior of the structure – there appeared to be three smaller domes, connected in sequence, bubbling off the side of the central one.

I opened the large stone door and discovered two grotesque beings.  They were rolling balls of flesh, pocked with more mouths and eyes than any creature would ever need.  Ducky and I fired our trusty crossbows at them, but eventually exhausted our ranged options as the enemy appeared to be impervious to our bolts.  Rost charged in and struck with his weapons and, while effective, quickly found himself surrounded.  Meanwhile, one of the blobs spat some noxious substance at Ducky, blinding him.  Seeing my compatriots on their heels, I drew my morningstar and charged in, ready to provide Rost with the reinforcement he needed.  While I am loathe to engage in close combat, my assistance was needed as the other blob turned the floor into sand – making it difficult for Rost to find purchase.  After great difficulty, we killed the foul beasts.

Inside this first room there wasn't much to see, save for a doorway leading to one of the side rooms.  I picked the lock to it and we moved on.  Inside, there was what looked to be a large table strewn with broken remnants of something that looked vaguely alchemical.  There was time for further inspection as we were immediately set upon by two wraiths!  Our party was inventive with their combat, with Ducky climbing up the walls and Rost showing that experience can trump might in battle, but they were hurting us pretty seriously.  Somehow we scraped by and vanquished the wraiths.  We weren’t in good shape, however, and decided to camp inside the dome for a few nights and recover.

Once we were ready to move onto the next room, I started inspecting the lock on the door which lead into the third adjoining half-dome.  I couldn’t see any mechanical trap, so I picked it and pushed the door open.  Rost, unbeknownst to me, pulled Ducky back several paces.  It was a good thing he did because there was an enchantment on the lock that discharged some strong lightning at me.  Thankfully, my reflexes allowed me to dodge the incoming energy.  We pressed on to the next room.

… only to discover two two glowing orbs similar to those we encountered in the watery cave.  They were annoying to fight, but we defeated them.  The only doorway in this room led to the central dome, but the door itself appeared to have been blown off the hinges by a force from inside the structure.  If these three rooms were any indication, we were in for a fight when we went through, so, once again, we rested.

The next day we peered into the center dome.  It was pitch black.  Risking discovery, we threw an illuminated rock into the room and observed a large pit in the center of what otherwise appeared to be a barren landscape.  We also heard some scrabbling echoing off the walls.  Rost, obviously having spent too much time with Oz, marched inside and towards the pit.  Ducky and I scrambled behind him.

Almost immediately, beams of light streaked out of the darkness.  Rost and I managed to dodge them, but Ducky, unfortunately, was struck and fell to the ground, dazed.  He didn’t look to be doing too well, so I dragged him out into the side dome.  Rost lead up the rear, ensuring we weren't set upon by whatever strange creature was attacking us.

At this point, Rost (the only one of us who saw the enemy), informed us that this appeared to be what was called a "beholder" - a floating orb of flesh with a large central eye, and several protruding eyestalks.  Of course they were dangerous, and of course we had to get rid of this one.  Ducky still appeared to be out of it, so we hid on either side of the doorway, getting ready to confront our foe.  I centered myself (and my sights), popped into the doorway, and fired.

My aim was true, and the creature was unprepared.  My bolt sailed deep into the middle of its eye.  Rost, himself, followed up with a magnificent blow of his own.  Almost soon after, the beholder was dead! We caught our breaths while we waited for Ducky to regain his senses and rejoin us.

Once he was standing, we resumed inspecting the main dome.  The walls had rubble strewn against them, with bits of diamond shard glinting within.  In an effort to determine the depth of the pit, we threw the lit stone inside.  Ducky and Rost claim to have seen it hit the ground and disappear, but, with a great feat of will, I managed to see past whatever glamour was deceiving my friends.  Instead of a floor, there appeared to be a body of water at the base of the pit, into which the rock quickly sunk and vanished.  We decided that this merited further research in Aiwan, and turned back to return to the city.

To ensure the security of our find, we locked each room behind us. I left small, inconspicuous tripwires behind that would signal if the doors had been opened in my absence.  The front door presented an issue, however, as the two zombies had returned.  Ducky and Rost galloped out of the dome and attempted to draw the zombies away.  They were successful and I had time to lock the final door.  In the meantime, Rost had once more presented his holy symbol.  Unlike last time, only one of the shambling spirits turned heel.  We figured three-to-one were good odds, and dispatched it without fanfare.

We rode past the cave and decided that we had enough time to look into what was happening inside.  As we crept to the entrance, we heard three vampiric thralls discussing attacking Aiwan in order to get high quality food.  This couldn't be allowed to happen.

Ducky brought his lute to bear, and, instead of his usual standard, regaled us with a song that made me feel as if I was vibrating with energy.  Later, he informed us that he had made us faster to better our footing against the vampires.  With this bardic aid, we were able to kill them fairly easy, and destroyed their coffins in the process.  Despite not sensing any more evil, we ventured further into the cave and verified that the glowing stone was still untouched in the bottom of the pool.

Confident that we had left the world safer than we found it, we returned to Aiwan to warn the city guard of the looming vampiric threat, and to discuss the mysteries we had unearthed with the rest of our party.

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Lost wood trail

It's been awhile since I've picked up the bow, and even longer since I've picked up the pen. On this adventure, the party consisting of Aldo, Ducky, Rost, Oz, and myself are exploring the trail around the Lost Woods. As we headed down the trail, the party noticed that there was a large fire to the northwest, near the goblin village. Wondering what could have caused the fire, the party came to the same conclusion – Jory. We decided to continue on the overgrown trail until Aldo notices four large plants ahead of us. Wary of the odd plants, he prepared a molotov and tried to get close enough to move. Proving his suspicions correct, the plants began to move and one ensnared him. A battle began, and I guess my senses have dulled more than I thought, because I missed almost every shot I took. Luckily, the other members of the party have been adventuring and sharpening their blades. Jorven was able to finish off the fight by ending two of the plants in one go. 

Shortly afterwards, the party discovered some skeletons of unfortunate adventurers who have fallen prey to the plants before us. It's good to know those plants won't be ending any other adventures prematurely. Not long after, an even larger plant with long vines flailing everywhere appeared to the side of the party and railed Oz. Before being able to inflict anymore damage to Oz, the foe was quickly destroyed by the party. I hope this is the last plant we have to deal with, because I'm getting tired of getting smacked by vines.

As we continue down the trail the party noticed that there were an increasing amount of blighted areas. While I pondered to myself why there were blighted spots, I heard the ground drop from underneath Oz and his horse. Fortunately, Oz was able to pull back and avoid falling into a hole trap. Further down the trail, we reached a red ring of blight, where in the distance the party noticed a topiary of some sort. It was a bit hard to make out the shape since all the leaves were gone. Just as we figured out what it was supposed to be, the lion shaped topiary pounced towards us and bashed Oz (really not his day; no heads and the traps and enemies are after him). However, not only did he receive damage, but he also delivered damage and we were able to dispose the topiary fairly quickly. 

After a short break and a healing session, we reached a corner of the forest and encountered a deranged elf. She yelled out "You mortals ruin everything!" in elvish. Using what I know of the elvish tongue, I tried to reason with her and tell her that we're not her enemy. Sadly, she had lost all of her elvish intellect and began attacking us. Rost charged at her on his steed and struck her, but not before she created a wall of fire to separate them from the rest of the party. Unable to see Rost and the crazy elf, Oz, Ducky, and Aldo quickly rode around it. I cast protection from fire on myself, closed my eyes, and walked through the wall. I opened my eyes and let out a sigh of relief, thanking Corellon I'm not a pile of ashes. With the party, minus Jorven, on her side of the wall, the elf ran into a wooded area as we began our attack. Remembering that I still had some poison, I thought it was a good time to use it. Sadly, the slew of profanity she threw at us, "YOU ##( FOOLISH MORTAL #!$& YOU &^!#% RUIN EVERYTHING #%#(… #!$&…", made me nervous and my hand slipped and the poison coated arrows cut my hand. Uh, I might have taken too long of a break… at least the poison wasn't that strong. I got into range of her and shot the poisoned arrow. It missed. Nice… definitely the poison. The elf attempted to cast another spell, but the party closed in and was able to knock her unconscious. 

Filled with questions for her, we tied her up, and Rost slowly healed her until she had awoken. She immediately began handing out insults and profanities to everyone in the party. After asking her a few question in Elvish and getting nowhere, Oz suggested gouging out her eyes so she can't look so crazy, to which she glared at him and spat in his direction. This was followed by a few minutes of her spitting in the direction of any party member that tried to talk to her. Fed up with her attitude, Rost wished to execute her, and confirmed she is truly a lost cause (a being of evil). "Perhaps we should…" Aldo began to say, but was quickly interrupted by the sound of Rost's sword being thrusted into the elf. "… nevermind." We decided to give her a proper burial and rest up.

Later that night, the other party members educated me on skills and abilities I had never even heard of before, and I became a disciple of the sun. We continued our adventure the next morning and found a black dome. It looked smooth on the surface and I wondered what type of magic could create such a structure. I don't think any being, no matter how skilled, could build such a thing. 

We began to move on. Feeling weakened and woozy from the poison, I can barely recall where we walked, but eventually we reached High Tower, where we see our Blackfoot goblin acquaintances in the distance. They waved at us to follow them inside. Suspicious of their behavior, Aldo seemed hesitant, but the rest of the party insisted on just entering. Once again, Aldo's suspicions were proven correct as the goblins looked pretty pale and began attacking us immediately. Using the gift the sun has given me I reduced all three vampiric goblins to dust, but not before they sucked some life out of Aldo. 

The party members informed me what they've learned about vampires and that we must destroy their coffins. We went through the tower searching and destroying. As we were destroying the second set of coffins, Aldo (who was on watch duty) warns us that Grok Blackfoot was here and he was looking "pretty pale". A few seconds later, we saw him standing at the door gazing into Oz's eyes, doing nothing. "You are no longer allies of the Blackfoots! You destroyed us by finding the weapon we have been searching for!" Grok angrily stated. Well, if turning into a vampire did anything for him, it's that he's a lot of smarter sounding than he used to be! Oz took the symbol of the Blackfoot clan, threw it at Grok's feet, and firmly responded, "No. The Blackfoot clan is no longer friends of Oz!" We began fighting and an angry Oz delivered a devastating blow to Grok. He immediately turned into a gaseous state and floated away. Jorven quickly suggested that he's floating to the top and back down to his coffin to recover so we returned and searched the other room. Lo and behold, we found the coffin with Grok's body inside, which we drove a wooden stake through.

With me still feeling the effects of the poison, and Aldo tired from getting some life sucked out of him, we decided to head back to town. Thank Corellon, I am done with all the plants, vampires, crazy elves, and self poisoning for one adventure. Too bad I can't rest for long if I want to stay vigilant! Until next time…

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Fallen Friends and Flights of Fear
Challenger Approaching! A new foe has appeared.

Ever since I arrived in these forsaken northlands, I have felt that Pelor was… testing me? training me? Placing in my path, no matter where we journeyed, stronger and stronger foes. Rewarding me as we bested them one by one with greater and greater power. Leading me ever forward to some unknown destiny, probably in the depths of his great temple.

But for the first time, about a week ago, our band came across a foe we had no chance yet of besting.

After our encounter with the vampire spawn in the ruins of the keep, and Jory's bizarre and troubling flight into the blackness we had left unexplored, I spent much time researching. Where there are lesser spawn, there must assuredly have been a more powerful vampiric force, and I sought all the information I could find, from the library of a half-orc priest in town named Malthu, and in letters I sent south to the order's fortress, on means of combating vampires.

But even all this foreknowledge was not enough. We returned to the keep, the sun shining with the brightness of midday (our group was Oz, Aldo, Ducky, and I, and Snorri came along as well, eager to add a vampire to his list of kills), and saw that, true to the goblin message that had been left for us at the town gates, the keep bailey was abandoned. It appeared Grok and his crew had fled in haste, leaving behind their stores and equipment, much of it now streaked with blood. An ominous silence hung like fog from the walls. 

Planning to travel down the main hallway to the room we had first encountered the spawn, we came down the same stairway we had descended last time, but heard as we did the sound of feet scurrying away into the darkness.

As soon as we came around the bend into the larger underground passage, we could see the misshapen goblinoid forms of the two vampire spawn waiting for us ahead, clearly reformed after the last fight. But now a third shadow appeared in the darkness at the edge of the firelight. It stood with a calmer and more assured posture than he used to have, and though the light was faint, the way it reflected off his sallow skin was… wrong, but… there could be no doubt. It was Jory.

And yet not. Though he may yet stand and walk and talk (and fight) and believe himself to be the same man, whatever power he found in the depths of the keep has killed him as surely as any blade through the heart. That it reanimated his body and corrupted his soul is only further desecration done to our departed companion.

The creature greeted us as friends in Jory's voice, and delivered some detestable speech about the new "power" he had gained, about how we should "join" him and bring "order" to a disordered world. It was the same drivel that the tyrants and villains of stories ages old tell themselves to ease their sinner's mind about the deal they have made with the literal forces of darkness. It was nonsense. My friends, without a god's light to see as clearly as I could the shadow that had replaced Jory's soul, gave his words more attention than they were worth, but being ultimately good-hearted (or at least fiercely independent) fellows, they joined me in resistance when I drew my hammer and declared an end to the pointless palaver.

The spawn rushed at us down the hallway, and after they had exchanged a few ineffectual blows with Snorri, I channeled Pelor's light through my amulet, and again drove the unhallowed creatures away back into the depths. We had a more important foe to fight.

But this new Jory was beyond our power to combat. He moved with blinding speed past us and into a smaller room in the corner between the two main passageways, and though it allowed us to surround him from both sides, such advantage was wasted.

Oz, Aldo, and Ducky shot at him many times but in a blur he sidestepped the arrows and bolts as easily as if they had been casually tossed stones, and even silvered and magically charged Snorri's and my weapons could find no purchase as he dodged and deflected with his bracers.

When he struck back against Snorri and connected a stunning blow, I watched in horror as the dwarf seemed to wither and grow sallow in an instant, and the few scratches we had made on Jory's skin closed over. When he lashed out at me, I could feel the energy being drained out of me, like a rope being pulled straight through my heart, my vision growing darker and my knees nearly buckling. 

This was not a fight we could win.

We began our retreat, and trying to keep his attention, I unleashed all the divine energy I could muster into a few attacks that actually seemed to impact solidly, with bright flashes, on the creature's chest. Then, relying on the one bit of new knowledge that proved of good use, I drew out again the holy amulet, and though its light seemed dimmer in those shadows, it was enough to stop Jory in his tracks. He glared in calm fury at me, but would come no closer. After a pause he rushed off to try and catch my friends as they went up the stairs, but I had bought them enough time, and as I slowly ascended step by step, keeping the amulet focused on Jory the whole time, he laid not another hand on us that day.

As we fled back into the sunlight, Jory taunted us repeatedly with his offer to join him in his infernal pact, and before I stepped away and let the amulet drop, I urged him, if there was any of our past companion still within that blackened heart, to follow me outside and put himself to rest permanently, in the sun's divine light. But he simply returned to the darkness.

As we caught our breath in the empty courtyard, recovering from the first fight we had truly lost since we began adventuring together, we heard the howl of wolves. Maybe smelling blood in the air, a large pack, ten or so, had come a'hunting. 

Quickly springing back into battle order, Oz deployed one of the arcane blasting disks we had found in that very keep in the gateway, and the resulting explosion when the first few of the wolves ran over it was an effective way to kick off what became a chaotic battle. Weakened as we were, I was first dragged from my mount, and then Snorri and I both tripped to the ground while trying to fight off the swarm of fur and teeth, but Oz pulled us back within the safety of the keep gatehouse before we could be overwhelmed, and the wolves were forced into the narrow passageway and quickly cut down. Aethon himself felled a few of the beasts that foolish enough to stray too close to his flaming hooves.

We returned to down, heads hanging low, and tried to recover, each in our own ways. I'm sure all in the tavern gave Oz a wide berth as he sulked over his ale. As I knelt in prayer for the coming of the dawn, I could feel the dark energy Jory had inflicted upon me worming it's way around my body, trying to find permanent purchase, but I focused hard, and as the first light of the sun peeked above the horizon, I could feel it surrender and disperse like the steam off of morning dew. Snorri too was able to fight off its dark claws, whether from his natural hardiness or sheer force of will. 

Disheartened and thoroughly cowed by the ease with which the thing-that-had-been-Jory had driven us off, and eager to exact some petty revenge on the forces of darkness, we set off a few days later for a quick trip to map out more of the dungeons beneath the temple of light.

Making our way quickly over familiar ground and through the already cleared floors of the dungeons, we came to the cave branch that led further into the ground. As we followed it down, we came to another tunnel off the main path (which continued to spiral down into the darkness) and followed this split to see what lay on this level. It was more stonework rooms and passageways, in similar style to the architecture above, but the darkness seemed even more oppressive on this level, and foul runes and stains of evil smelling filth littered the walls and floors. 

Behind one door, we came upon a demon with black skin and a single large horn. It seemed uneager to engage in direct combat with us, though magically powerful, and though Snorri and I landed blows that seemed to wound it just fine, there was some sort of acid on his skin that tried to eat away at our blades after wounding it. Before long, the creature was looking weak, but before we could cut it down entirely, it chanted some foul spell and disappeared in a small puff of dark energy. It seems even in the choking fires of hell, there are cowards to be found. Heh.

We remained on edge after that, watching all directions as we moved deeper in for the demon to reappear and attack again, like the thing that hunted Aldo on the Wizard's isle, but we did not see it again.

As we reached another room, we heard the clanking of a great many chains, and as we carefully moved around the next corner, we could see the room ahead was filled with those chains, hanging from the ceiling, and dancing sporadically around, though there was no wind or movement at all in the air.

From within that metal forest, a woman-devil charged at us, wrapped up herself in similar chains, and wielding them like barbed whips at us. Oz took a few blows from these weapons as our group fought our way forward and close enough to strike back, but after a short fight we cut her down, giving her no opportunity to flee like the demon before.

After this fight, the floor itself nearly gave us more trouble than the demons that trod it. Having detected some sort of trigger on a door in our way, Aldo urged as all to stand back as he fiddled with the mechanism. He uttered a surprised curse and jumped back lightning quick as a pit opened up on either side of the door, leading to a nasty spiked pit below. A close call to be sure for the little halfling.

We backtracked and found our way to the other side of the pit from a different direction. In the next room down the hall, a striking sight greeted us. A great door set into the wall, carved into the shape of a horde of skeletal limbs, interlocked across the door's surface and impossible to count. In the center was a panel, and lo and behold there was an indentation that matched exactly the relief on my holy amulet! There was a great deal of good natured ribbing of Oz then, who had been so eager to sell off the raw platinum of the original before I could make a casting. Luckily better sense had prevailed then, and though the imperfections of the replication meant it took some forcing and wiggling, I was able to slot the amulet with a satisfying click into the door. When I turned it and then removed it from the panel, the door began to sink into the ground with a rumble.  

The room beyond was coated, floors and walls and ceiling, with innumerable skeletons, as if they had been plastered or carved from the stone, but these were clearly true bone, and the creation of that room remains a mystery.

Within stood a fearsome sight. A skeletal creature, but not truly a skeleton of any living being, stood cloaked in the shadows, a grinning mouth filled with far too many teeth, and each of its long arms ending in many sharp claws of bones, which before our very eyes seemed to shiver and blink, at one moment being like normal fingers, at another stretching out to a great length.

Being old hands now at fighting skeletons, we pulled out what bludgeoning weapons we had, Snorri and I our warhammers, Aldo his club, and Oz turned his axes around to improvise hammers out of the flat edges behind the blades.

The creature lashed out at us from 20 feet away as we approached, but it had trouble cutting through mine and the dwarves' armor. Whenever we would charge up and land a blow, it would quickly retreat, forcing us to advance slowly through the storm of claws it created or risk taking hits to close the distance quickly.

But soon enough it had run out of room to retreat as we forced it into the room's corner, and without space to take advantage of its reach, we smashed it down in short order.

Though there was more of that floor to explore, and indeed Talys' research leads me to believe the next fiend, the fiend of beasts, lies further on "beyond the chamber of bone down in the caves", we decided to return then to town, cautious of overextending ourselves after the fight with the vampires.

P.S.

Among some of the treasures we found in the bone-clawed creatures lair was a small brass urn, stoppered with lead and decorated with scrolls and runes. From the mouth of the urn, even through the stopper, issued a thin stream of smoke. We thought it nothing extraordinary at first, though when Oz and Aldo each handled the urn they reported feeling a great discomfort, and were unwilling to hold onto the metal for very long at all. My mind being distracted by thoughts of the vampires, I didn't pay much attention to what they had mentioned, though thinking back when I placed the urn in the pack I felt as if a great weight had been removed from my shoulders.

However, when I took the urn to Aeven to be identified, along with the rest of that batch of treasures, she nearly fell backwards out of her chair in shock, explaining that there was a miniscule chance every time a magical item was created that a form of sentience would spring into being within the item. So had apparently happened with this "Eversmoking Bottle" as she described it.

She warned that these intelligences always had motivations of their own, and that there was risk sometimes of the items dominating their users in service of those motivations if the users were unwilling to comply. But the force of will of the spirit was proportional to the strength of the magic in the item, and this one was weak enough that she believed there was little chance of it being able to overpower one of us. It was not even strong enough to use true language, as some could, communicating purely through flashes of emotion.

With this new knowledge revealed, I took a detour on the way back to my room to test out this new trinket. Walking out beyond the walls into the empty fields between the town and the edge of the forest, I unstopped the bottle, and was instantly surrounded by a thick bank of black smoke, blocking all sight and vision. As I stood in the cloud, I could feel a tug from afar, as if a thin string was pulling the bottle in my hand from afar, and I became sure that the spirit within wished to return to the temple and fight the darkness within. That the spirit's goals align with my own was an immediate comfort, and makes me curious if it was created long ago by the original defenders of the temple. I uttered the command to reseal the bottle, and fought my way out of the cloud towards town. I'm not sure how much use the bottle itself will be, since it blinds me as instantly as it does my enemy. If our group is forced again to retreat perhaps it will prove useful then. But perhaps there is more to its power that I shall discover when we return inevitably to the depths of the temple.

As my sight began to return at the edge of the smoke, I turned back and stopped suddenly, seeing within the faintest hint of two figures battling within. I tried to focus my eyes on them, but the breeze picked up, and whipped away the last remnants of the smoke as I strained.

I returned then to town, and I have not told any of my compatriots of the true nature of the bottle, beyond its original magical effects. It is clear the intelligence within would be unwilling to be carried by my more… free-spirited friends anyway, and since its desires and what I feel to be my ultimate quest in this land align so well… it feels… right, that the bottle should remain with me for now.

Though I am not sure yet what that vision in the smoke portends, I feel confident, even after our first real setback, that I am in the right place, doing the right things. Though the shortcut to power that the fallen Jory took puts him currently out of reach of my cleansing vengeance, I am sure that in time, even he will pale and cower before the heights of might and glory I shall reach if I only keep following the sun's light.

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From the Pen of the Hand of the Mind of Valence V. Vaughn


Oh diary, much has transpired since last I had chance to put quill to parchment! In addition to being a misunderstood artificer prodigy, I am now a bonafide adventurer and illicit vendor of artisanal magiccraft! Isn't that marvelous! Ah, but I am getting ahead of myself. Let me recount the events as they transpired lest I deprive you of even a single exciting detail.
The journey to Aiwan was without incident. The trip overland passed quickly and I soon found myself staring at the gates of this hardy frontier outpost. I must admit, the city, if I dare call it that, is not without its rugged charms. I have no doubt that spending some time away from the overbearing Guild, with their pesky "regulations," "safety precautions," and "ethics", will allow me to give my research the focus it deserves.
With almost preternatural destiny, I found myself thrust amongst a company of brave and hardy souls seeking to travel beyond the wall into the unexplored hinterlands beyond. They invited me to join, no doubt sensing my innate fascination with the unknown and an untapped potential prowess in battle.
Now, ensconced amidst the embrace of Hindsight, the crystal-lensed spyglass that she is, it strikes me as curious that they welcomed me so quickly, seeking precious little in the way of details around the reasons for my sudden appearance in town or the circumstances of my abrupt departure from my previous place of employ. One could forgive me for being concerned that they might be accustomed to a, how to put this… rapid turnover amongst their number, fearing to grow too attached lest the mighty wilds claim their cheer as well as their companions.
No matter! We will be the best of friends. Oh yes! I can feeeeeel it. We will all feel it. In our bones.
Friends!
Passing beyond the borders of civilization, our ragtag party soon found ourselves outside a goblin hovel of prodigious size and smell. It reeked of goblin. The tribe's leader, Throk? Thrunk? Grunt? is apparently some sort of goblin mastermind who on a prior occasion, if I understood him correctly, connived the party into committing genocide on his behalf? (Additional details were not immediately forthcoming from my new friends, I'll have to remember to ask them about it later). 
Upon entering the catacombs, our party was almost immediately beset upon by a great and furious … Cube-thing. Massive, about the size of eight or nine horses boiled at length down to their constituent particles and forced to recongeal into a regular polyhedron, and as transparent as the muggy air above an open sewer. It was terrifying. Really, it was. Maybe you had to be there. It did almost kill all of us. Well, Oz. It almost killed Oz. The Cube… "cubed" at him with part of its cube-ness, paralyzing the Dwarf. But before further harm could befall the grizzled warrior, Jorven summoned one of her sacrificial hell-hounds to distract the beast (Why one would engage in extensive study so as to magically forge quasi-sentient beasts only to immediately doom them to a painful journey back to discorporate non-existance is beyond my comprehension, but I suspect our dear Jorven may have had an unhappy childhood).  Nevertheless, the hell-beast diligently went to its grim fate, halfheartedly blasting the Cube with fire and forthwith absorbed into the monster's translucent squarelyness. (Truth be told, I was a little disappointed that Oz did not take its place; administering Heat Metal upon his armor while inside the Cube would have made for a fascinating experiment.) Oh, and then we killed it (the Cube). (NOTA BENE: the remnants of such monsters may have utility in the cleaning of fine metal instruments. Or maybe a poison, but like for torture. Either way a possible untapped MARKET OPPORTUNITY!!!)
Our next confrontation was with a pair of squirrelly undead folk. I initially assumed them to be a fellow party of lost travelers, but before pleasantries could be exchanged, Rost produced a glowing charm of religious iconography and our erstwhile friends were driven, gibbering and afraid, into the recesses of the feshly-illuminated room. The rest of the party set upon them with gleeful ferocity. This did not strike me as particularly sporting, but Rost's stern, unwavering gaze (his eyes were also glowing, did I mention that?) convinced me to keep my observations to myself. Besides, why spoil everyone else's fun?
The pair resembled goblins in both countenance and stench, but the rest of the party assures me they were most definitely vampires (to be fair, our foes did burst into a dark miasma of shadow and flies that fled of its own volition, a trait not typically associated with goblins (NOTA BENE: Preliminary experimental evidence suggests that such vile vampire-goblin vapor is not damaged by the throwing of currency)) 
Oh yes, at some point we found some giant magic rocks. They seemed super magic, but Rost chucked them into his Sack before I had a chance to see if they could be disintegrated into magical essence. (TODO: Can they???)
Next our journey took us to a suspicious pile of rocks, or as our Dwarven compatriots informed me, a suspicious pile of clearly-not-rocks. It was a mimic, laying in wait, no doubt to crush our party as we walked within striking distance. Fortunately, the element of surprise was on our side! Or, it would have been, if we had not universally missed every attempt to damage a beast which was, without exaggeration, fully as big as the large side of a mid-sized barn. Thus alerted to our presence, the mimic set upon us and the usual assortment of fisticuffs and sacrifical-hellhound-summoning ensued until it was eventually defeated. Ooh, but I did administer a combat mixture, a sulpher-based pyrotransacetic unguent. That was fun.
What else? Oh yes, there were some particularly fleshy ceiling-dwelling arthropods. Apparently they developed in an environment free of ranged weapons, as they were ill-equiped to defend themselves from our bows, arrows, slings, spells, or, as it turned out, the cave floor. Regrettably, their grotesque visage combined with the stress of easy combat proved overwhelming to poor Jory. The young monk, in an entirely unexpected and, dare I say, unwarranted, fit of self-destruction threw himself, alone, down a darkened hallway. His final scream still echoes in my nightmares.
Regardless, I am sure Jory is super-dead and never to be seen again. 
After that, we turned our attention to vacating the catacombs without arousing the suspicions of the Goblin dwellers above. This was a simple matter of utilizing scrolls of Invisibility and Silence (Yours Truly) and rolling around in slug offal (Everyone Else) It is fortunate I was present; if left to their own devices, Grunk would have talked the party out of their treasure and, no doubt, sold them a used donkey for good measure.
That's all for now, diary! Tomorrow I rise at dawn to start work on my first custom piece; an Amulet of Natural Armor. Fingers crossed this turns out better than my last ill-fated attempt! Fortunately this time countervailing umbramatics are not involved and I have the power of Friendship on my side! Oh, and I've got a hot lead on a property for rent; a large warehouse just came on the market!
Talk to you soon!
Valen

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The Mystery of the Magical Meteors
Fail hydra

David Galloway cornered me the other day and pointed out that it had been several weeks since he received word of our party’s forays north of the wall. He was starting to grow suspicious as we would venture out and return bloodied.  Being the slightest one there, I’d wager that I presented an easy target for his entreaty.  Normally, I’d shrug off such a request and go to the bar to listen to the drunken ramblings of people with more coin than sense, but Mr. Galloway is putting me up in nicer accommodations, so fulfilling his request seems like the prudent choice.  My ability to recall events from over a fortnight ago isn’t the best, so consider this an abridged version of what was a journey fraught with peril, and having exactly the right number of handsome halflings.

The Party

  • Aldo
  • Rost
  • Oz
  • Ducky
  • Bing Bong
  • Jory

When Oz and I visited the Blackfoots, they were attacked by a strange orb of light they referred to as “The Swamp Star.” It had been terrorizing their village for some time, and they beseeched us to eliminate the threat (with a promise of a feast the likes of which we had never seen).

This adventure, the party set out for the black swamp – the source of the attacks.  We made good time, but soon became bogged down by the muddy ground and low-slung mist that surrounded the swamp.  It was because of this visibility impediment that we inadvertently stumbled upon two giant reptiles that were guarding something.  After we refused to turn back, they came for us.  Despite the hostile terrain, we slayed both of them and pushed on.

We soon came upon a clearing.  What immediately drew our attention were two large pyramid-like structures several hundred yards in. The nearest had a glowing orb being tended to by a lizard person with flowing robes, while the other had two dimmer orbs being guarded by two lizards.  Additionally, there appeared to be a lizard pen in the center.

Realizing that the glowing globes were most likely the cause of the “swamp star” phenomenon, we decided that we needed to intervene with our particular brand of diplomacy.  There was only one thing keeping us from our target – a rapidly flowing stream spanned by a dangerous-looking bridge. For a being as nimble as I, this presented no issue. However, the party was not entirely comprised of halflings, so we had to mitigate things by running rope across the bridge for others to grasp in the event of catastrophe.  We were almost successful, but Bing Bong stumbled and took a dip.  Oz dove in to save him, and, using the ropes, we pulled them to shore.  They were waterlogged, but none the worse for wear.

Once dried off, we needed to figure out how to take down the inhabitants of both pyramids.  They were stepped structures (research later identified them as being “ziggurats”), so there was a way forward that allowed us to avoid detection by the creature we now suspected as being a lizard priest at the peak.

We slowly ascended the closer of the two buildings, formulating a plan for taking down its inhabitant: Ducky – the bard with the fancy shoes – would sprint to the top of the ziggurat with a looped rope, which he would throw around the priest.  The rest of the party (save for Jory who was hanging on the ledge as back-up) would then yank on the rope to pull the priest out of sight of the other ziggurat, driving him to the ground.

It worked exactly as planned, except the priest didn’t succumb to injury.  Instead, he morphed into a giant hydra, with more heads than Jory had common sense. I say that because the monk immediately leaped from the top of the pyramid and onto the back of the creature.  Our party battled the hydra, and, despite Jory being knocked senseless and requiring aid, we managed to defeat the hellacious creature.

This time we all scaled to the top and investigated the orb.  It appeared to be made out of a crystal that ceased glowing when it was removed from the pedestal.  By this point, our presence was noted, so we pocketed the stone and quickly retreated into the woods, attempting to circle around the clearing and avoid the lizard pen in the center.

At this point, Oz’s eagle, Horus, proved his value as he pinpointed the enemy on our tail.  Realizing that we were moving faster than them, we pressed forward to the base of the other ziggurat.  We realized that we had been spotted by the warriors atop this pyramid, so, without fanfare, we ascended the steps and met our enemy head-on.

This battle, too, passed without significant damage to the party. Maybe we’re cut out for this adventuring thing after all?  The orbs here weren’t glowing, leading us to believe that they were inert until placed atop the other ziggurat’s pedestal.  We grabbed the two and scoured the area for anything pocketable.  Sure enough, we hit paydirt – a secret entrance on the top of the first pyramid opened down into what appeared to be the priest’s living quarters.  We liberated the chamber of its valuables as payment for our troubles, and then hurried back to Aiwan.  After seeing that horrific hydra up close, we all needed a stiff drink.

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