Rote-ay-ip Aruthala's Journal in Reverie
We camped some miles from Stoneroot. I was in no hurry to return to that infested city of dwarves. The wilderness is no safe place for travelers, but it was preferable to keeping dwarven company.
The wilderness is no safe place, and that night we were attacked. Another burrowing plant creature pushed through the dirt directly toward our camp; I noticed it just outside camp, and immediately woke my companions. Mara attacked it, as did the rest of us. It tried to swallow Gwen. This made me angry, and although I recall few subsequent details of the battle, the plant creature did not survive it. The rest of the night was uneventful.
It was around this time that my ha-bashe started to dress her pets in clothes. Boris (Smokey) the bear was the first: Gwen cut a blanket into a poncho like shirt and used a piece of rope to tie Boris into it. I hoped this would not become a persistent trend.
We arrived at Stoneroot. The kobolds had passed us in the night, and had already entered the subterranean city. Many previously infected dwarves were free, and more dwarves emerged from the tunnel entrance as we watched.
The dwarves were free, but they were not happy. They had lost their home. And more importantly (to them), they had lost their beer supply.
This was a mixed blessing for us. Mara claimed that she and Herzog could supply beer. So finding willing dwarven workers was no longer a problem. But now we had too many workers: about three hundred dwarves wished to join our project. Mara was quick to take advantage of these desperate people, and we arranged for them to follow us back to Silk's Crossing.
We traveled ahead of the disenfranchised dwarves, as we move much faster than they. The first leg of our journey took us back to Farstone, the dwarven logging village along the Dar River. The trip took us four and a half days; a vast improvement over the ten day journey going the other way, when we were traveling in dwarven company.
Along the way we encountered more burrowing plant creatures. Against the wishes of most of the party, Mara was intent on fighting one. The plan, such as it was, was for Mara to attack the plant, get swallowed, and we would attack its outside while Mara attacked from the inside. Unfortunately, the plan was miscommunicated, and Gwen was grabbed by the creature, instead of Mara. By spells and combat we rescued my bashe, but she was badly hurt. I didn't intend to countenance any more unnecessary attacks on these creatures.
Just before reaching Farstone, we met another traveler: a halfling named Teazil. She was walking along the tracks coming from the direction of Farstone. Teazil seemed friendly enough. She was on a search for new homes for her people. After some discussion it was decided that she could come with us. Perhaps she would be of help. I hoped she would not turn out to be an enemy in disguise.
We arrived in Farstone. Mara found Cromulunt D'Garnikle and continued her bargaining for the dwarves' services. I have no liking for these rock people, but Mara bargained ruthlessly to exploit their situation. I tried to suggest that a partnership was possible, and could be profitable for both the humans and the dwarves. But Mara was intent on pressing her advantage.
It seems this is typical human behavior: subjugating other races. Humans do not possess good elven morals. And it is a lucky thing that these mortals also do not possess elven learning, so they remain only a minor nuisance to my people. (I miss my people, and renew my determination to discover the reason for their demise.)
I didn't pay much attention to the negotiations after my suggestions were rebuffed. But one result was that Cromulunt would direct the Stoneroot dwarves to Silk's Crossing, after they arrived in Farstone. We borrowed a barge, normally used to transport stone blocks down river, and went on ahead.
For the most part, our river trip was easy. Mado started teaching me how to fish, although I remain a much better hunter than fisher-woman. The trip would take use about six days.
On the fourth day on the water, we were attacked. A fifty foot snake -- a constrictor -- grabbed my bashe off of the barge. It grabbed her and dragged her to the bottom of the river. I dropped all but my dagger and dove in after her, while breaking into a feral rage.
I charged through the water. I stabbed it with my knife, with all my strength. I remember Mado, and Mara, and even Teazil fighting beside me. I don't know how long we struggled under the water, until we freed my bashe. It was not enough. I swam after he retreating snake. My rage would not let me let it be. I stabbed and stabbed, until its blood clouded the water and it stopped moving.
After it was dead, my rage left me. It was hard work to salvage the carcass, especially in my weakened state. I always feel weak for some time after one of my rages. But with Mado's help, I salvaged most of the snake's carcass, and we ate well for the rest of our journey.
Silk's Crossing was much as we had left it, a squalid tent city. But it's spirit was vibrant and growing. Visible progress had been made on many of the permanent buildings. Behind the Brief Respite -- Mara and Herzog's tavern tent -- the foundation of their new building already extended to cover the well, in which our shared adventures began.
I am continually amazed by the energy that arises from mortal life; and how the energy is lost when a mortal dies. So many souls of the dead wander the land, lost and listless. So unlike their living brethren. The living strive to create a new city, with hope and pride; the dead look on in despair.
These are not my people, and I care little for their lives (other then my own family and friends). But my destiny could be to watch over them. These are not my people, but their dead might one day be my sheep, and I their shepherd into a new after-world.
A destiny would be offered and accepted in the next twenty four hours. The next dawn would see me started on a spiritual career; a destiny of death, destruction, and possibly the salvation of mortal souls.
We each went our own way: Mara to discuss the dwarven workers with Herzog, and the others to their own tasks. I chose to go shopping, to replenish my supplies, and to try out my newest spell.
I stood in the market and cleared my thoughts. Soon the thoughts of passerbys drifted through my mind. Merchant sailors scammed their equally crafty customers, a ship captain thought guilty thoughts about the source of his cargo, and men were searching.
I focused on the searchers, and the object of their search was surprising. They were looking for elven workers of magic; or perhaps a specific elf mage. The were agents from a black ship moored in the harbor. Their kind had been forcefully recruiting madmen and individuals with special talents from the town. Why were they specifically looking for an elf mage? Were they looking for Andon, Mara, or me?
I drifted away, out of sight, and cloaked myself in illusion. (Figment -- the magic rapier -- wanted to help, although it was not necessary.) I returned to the Brief Respite to find my bashe and my friends. I found all of them but Mado, and told them of the danger.
The agents of the black ship were only minutes behind me. Six thugs and a magic using merchant surrounded the tent and entered from the front and rear. Mara attacked the two in the front, and I tried necromancy on one in the rear. Mado had followed them to the tent, and now attacked one before he could enter. Gwen attacked one near me. Andon cast his magic missile. And an illusionary elf wizard, created by Figment, added a distraction and false target.
The fight was going well, but with my bashe in danger, I let my rage consume me. My spell had not worked, but my scythe was deadly. The thugs were quickly being dispatched. But the merchant mage used invisibility to sneak attack Andon, and knocked him unconscious. This seemed to upset Figment, and the rapier killed the merchant with a spell. (Figment was more powerful than I thought, and I would have to keep a careful eye on him in the future.)
As the battle wound down we noticed a sizzling sound coming from the unconscious form of Andon. A suspected this was a sign a imminent danger, so I chose to charge an enemy outside the tent. I tried to call Gwen to come with me, but she remained inside to attack a thug still in the tent. So I was outside when Andon exploded in flame, burning everyone inside the tent, and setting the tent on fire.
All the pirate attackers were dead. Gwen and Mara were burned. Mado had been badly stabbed in the scuffle. And Andon was not affected by the fire, but was beaten unconscious. I was the only one unhurt in the fight.
After this brazen attack, we resolved to retaliate, and Herzog suggested a plan. We rested until early morning, then went down to the docks. We left Andon, still unconscious, hidden under Herzog's new building.
We watched twenty pirates come ashore in two longboats. They left only two men to guard their boats. Mado, Mara, and Herzog snuck up on the two sentries and soon both were dead. Figment cloaked us in illusion, making us appear as pirates, and we rowed out to the black ship.
At the ship, we bluffed our way on board. The first four pirates we encountered, the ones who pulled us aboard, were dispatched easily. Mado and I climbed up to the crow's nest, and I slit the throat of the lookout, who was drunk and sleeping on watch. After some discussion we decided to attack the officers next -- the captain and the first mate.
Still disguised as pirates, Mado knocked on the captain's door, and asked him to come out. But something went wrong: the captain only cracked open his cabin door, and then blasted us with lightning from a metal wand. Mado and Herzog were hit. I wrenched the door open, beginning to become enraged. Mara, Mado, and I rushed into the cabin to attack. Despite our attack, the captain summoned darkness and escaped. The first mate was seen looking out of his cabin, but he also escaped below deck.
More sailors came on deck and attacked. Herzog and Gwen were attacked, and my bashe was wounded. With he captain out of sight, I attacked the other sailors. Soon we had cleared the deck of immediate threats. Mara quenched fires started during the battle, and Mara healed Mado and herself.
With no more immediate enemies, I opened a hatch to below deck and dropped down. I saw no immediate enemies. But the captain found me, and blasted me with another lightning bolt.
I was seriously wounded, and could feel my rage draining away. With only a short time left, I charged and hit the captain with my scythe. He was not slain, and I was weakening. I slumped to the ground. The others now appeared below deck. The captain blasted away with another lightning bolt. Mara attacked him and I attempted one last spell, and finally he was defeated. But all was turning dark, and my consciousness fled.
As I hovered near death, I had a vision. I floated among huge gems. Many lights sparkled within the depths of these gems. And a god spoke to me: Lord Strith spoke to me personally.
I must gather souls for him. In return he would grant me spells and power over the dead. Gems where the conduit and container of the collected souls, and the scythe was his symbol.
I was unconscious for only a few seconds, and woke soon after my bashe used her healing power on me. As I recovered strength, I rushed up on deck, but the battle was over. The ship was ours. The only remaining enemy was the first mate. He was trying to swim for shore. Gwen and I shot at him until he sank below the waves. Interestingly, we were helped by a pair of dolphins; perhaps even Glom and Glomp, the dolphins we once rescued from the well.
Much treasure was recovered from the pirates and their black ship, including possession of the ship itself. We returned in triumph to the town. The twenty pirates, who had gone ashore were captured. But that is another story.
Not until later did I remember my near death experience, and Lord Strith's charge. My feelings were mixed. Why should I care for these mortals, or follow the direction of a human god? But perhaps I could do something for mortals that they could not do for themselves. Perhaps I would become their guardian angel. Or perhaps Strith's purpose was harmful and I would be a bane to mortal souls. Only time could tell.
Much to ponder, little to do. I was so tired, and it was only morning; being near death takes a lot out of one. My greatest desires: to rest, examine our hard won treasures, and wait for the dwarves we had hired to arrive. With our dwarven workers, we could excavate the buried ruins of Dar's End; a task we had espoused weeks ago. It could all wait for tomorrow, or the next day. At least I could wait, my companions could not.
Mado, Mara, and the others appraised the pirate's treasure. We were rich! Even divided into shares, I could afford a grand new bow, one crafted to match my strength. I replenished my other supplies. I also kept three gems from our treasure hoard; with these stones I would discharge my obligations to Lord Strith.
Part of our new found treasure was the captain's book of spells. As the only one of our party who could use it, I took this book. I would learn the spells contained therein over the next few days, or as I had time.
I was bone tired, but there remained some unanswered questions. What had happened to the score of sailors who had come ashore last night? How had they been subdued? Teazil claims she did it, and I was too tired to inquire further. I only know that the sailors were all Herzog's prisoners, tied up and suspended from ropes in the buried lighthouse below the Brief Respite's new building.
Mara led the interrogation. Most of the captives were ignorant thugs. After some questioning, one man was revealed to be more than a common sailor. Hurkl was one of the pirate captain's main henchmen. He was an evil man responsible for torturing his fellow humans to gather information for his captain. From him we learned about the pirate's home island, and Mado seemed quite interested in some of the things Hurkl described.
Mado wanted to sail to the pirate's island (I felt we should attempt our exploration of Dar's End first). Mara arranged to sell most of the soldiers into slavery, to keep them out of trouble. Hurkl we kept, chained to the wall in a lower room of the subterranean lighthouse ruins.
"Now," I thought to myself, "we could sleep." But my companions weren't done: there were all those deranged prisoners of the pirate ship, who had been freed or escaped into the town. For some reason, we would now try to recapture the ones who posed a danger to the community. Or perhaps we we looking for them to ask more questions about the pirates' activities before coming to this town.
We found one escaped prisoner. He was Krod, a half-hobgoblin barbarian, and he did not want to be our prisoner. Our conversation with Krod deteriorated rapidly, and when he grabbed Mara, actual combat commenced. I had not wanted to fight, but felt obligated to help my companions, no matter how much they deserved it. And Krod also threatened my bashe, Gwen, so I had no choice but to kick his ass.
Krod was surprisingly strong. It is interesting to see a berserk rage from the receiving end, and I never want to repeat the experience. Krod did massive damage to my companions. In the end, we could not subdue Krod. We had to kill him. The others were disappointed about the loss; I collected his soul for Lord Strith.
I begin to understand why I was so tired. I have survived more trying experiences with stoic endurance, but this day was pointless. Nothing we did could not have waited. I also realize how much I hate Silk's Crossing. The squalor, the human stupidity. I would much rather wander the forest, the plains, all the natural world, than this sterile mortal den.
Tomorrow would be better. I would fill my mind with the details of magic, learning from the captain's book. I would wait patiently for the dwarves to arrive. Then we could go, and continue our adventures in the wilderness.
No dwarves, but another task drew our attention. Bloated corpses were found floating down the Green River. Farmers by the look of them. Something was happening up north; something we should investigate before it could interfere with our other plans. Not to mention the good we could do for the mortals, who may be the next to die.
We spent a full day, moving quickly upstream. None of the locals had any helpful information. They seemed diffident, if not actually hostile toward me. Just like I have come to expect from humans, and it doesn't bother me...not any more. The villagers were much nicer to good looking Andon, even if they were no more helpful.
That night we camped, not far from the river. Andon took first watch. Maybe he was busy admiring his reflection in Figment's blade, since he obviously wasn't paying close enough attention to his task. To be fair, the creature was small, stealthy, and hard to see, and Andon did wake us all as soon as the threat was detected.
A flying eyeball, possibly some mage's familiar, stole my newest magic item. A ring taken from the pirate ship, a ring of whispered words and enchantment. The thief was a winged eye: one large eyeball, between a pair of bat wings, clutching my ring in its little claws.
Andon hit it first, with a magic missile. Mado, Gwen, and Andon gave chase. I bent my new bow, bought with pirate's treasure, and speared the little monster; through the eye, so to speak. The corpse and my ring dropped into the river. Mado, is an excellent swimmer. He found the ring, and we returned to camp.
The creature had been heading down river, heading South. Perhaps we had missed something. This was our first, and only, sign of strange happenings. So we turned around and headed back down river. I hoped we would find the flying eye's master. So I could return it to him, personally.
With help from my faithful raven -- Nevin -- we found another human village. Dirty, dirt farmers, and dumb too. They were roasting a chicken snake when we arrived. The beautiful one -- Andon -- spoke to them. Not surprisingly, they were not much help.
But one girl knew something. Andon tried to get her to talk, and oh did she want to talk to him. I got the impression she spent a lot of time with many men, talking. Now Andon seemed diffident. I wonder, could Figment be right in his assessment (and obvious interest) in Andon. Not that I care either way.
Anyway, the girl's information led us to the two day old camp of three humanoids, down by the river. The signs revealed that the creatures were large, larger than us, and equipped as warriors. Now we had a solid lead, and we set out to hunt them down.
I led the way, following the creature's tracks. Their tracks were joined by the tracks of five others, making eight in all. I am ashamed to admit that I lost the trail where they had camped, and only with the help of Gwen's pet bear did I find it again.
We followed the tracks all night, and rested at dawn. We were all tired, so we all rested at once. My faithful Nevin watched over us.
Only a couple of hours later, Nevin woke me. I woke the others, and we looked over the grasses to see a small band of hobgoblins riding chicken snakes. We identified them using Mado's spyglass, formally part of the pirate's treasure. But they saw us, and chose too flee rather than staying to talk.
After we finished our rest, we continued to track the creatures -- most likely hobgoblins -- on foot. We continued to follow their trail for several hours. Until....
The four hobgoblins riding chicken snakes, and the eight hobgoblins afoot, whom we had been following, attacked us from ambush. They fired arrows into our party from several hundred feet away, and the mounted men urged their mounts into a charge. Mado was hit several times.
While my bashe and Mado took the fight to the eight hobgoblin foot soldiers, two hobgoblins on chicken-back rode Andon down. The other two riders charged me: only one hit, and I hit him back. Then my faithful Nevermore touched the one I had hit, and released the arcane energy I had given to him. The hobgoblin was stunned, paralyzed by the chill touch of death, and enchanted to reek like a three day old corpse in summer. The other rider was sickened by the stench, and when he approached me again I killed him with my scythe.
The two, who had felled Andon, circled back to loot the body. But as I knew from past experience, that is when he is most dangerous. I heard Andon's slumped form sizzling, and so was not surprised when he exploded into flame. The two hobgoblins were not so prepared. They were charred, but not down. They came for me next.
Now Figment, acted to avenge his fallen wielder. Although it looked real, I knew that the figure of Andon that stood and cast fire at the remaining hobgoblin riders and me was an illusion. One hobgoblin went down, and although I knew it was illusion, it felt real at the time.
I was hurting, I still faced one hobgoblin, and Mado and Gwen still battled the other eight soldiers. I did not intend to lose. So I got angry. I stepped up to the remaining rider, now afoot, since his mount was barbecue.
I attacked. He cast a spell. (What the? A spell caster?) I was too angry to be stopped by his trivial enchantments. I laughed in his face. I invited him to kneel for me; to kneel for death; for Kabala. He fought on, and I was glad. I would kill him. No quarter asked, none given. And I beat him back; I staggered him; he was defeated!
But he was saved -- at least momentarily -- by the rider who had been paralyzed. While I defended myself from this new attacker, the hobgoblin leader cured himself. I slew the troublesome rescuer. But was dangerously hurt myself; and weaponless: the hobgoblin leader attacked my scythe and shattered the haft.
Then the tides of battle turned again, against the hobgoblin leader. Gwen and Mado had finished their attackers, and they came to my aid. My rage was slipping away; I had the presence of mind to heal my own wounds before I passed out. And Mado felled the hobgoblin leader.
I was restored -- mostly -- as the illusionary fire damage left me. Andon was recovering, his fungal symbiote curing his damage. And Mado made sure there were no serious threats left for us to handle. Together, we took stock of our victory, i.e., looting the bodies. I clamped the hobgoblin leader into manacles. Later, when he was healed and conscious, he would answer all the questions we chose to ask him.
The last few journal entries may give the impression that my adventures had settled more into the mundane. We've wandered the forests and fields, fought pirates and marauders, negotiated with dwarves, and talked to crazies in town. Not business as usual, but not overtly fantastic either.
A normalcy that didn't last.
We brought our hobgoblin prisoner back to Silk's Crossing. Along the way we learned what we could from him, using a combination of physical persuasion and spells. He was a cleric to a new hobgoblin god -- KROD -- and a scout for a possible hobgoblin invasion.
This was important information, but not fantastic. We told Herzog all about it, but what could I do against a mortal army. I felt mired in the mundane; My was supposed to tend toward the epic and bizarre.
Perhaps something strange awaited us in the ruins of Dar's End. But our dwarven workers had yet to arrive. We should do something else for a while. Perhaps when we had returned, the dwarves would have started to excavate Dar's End. Or perhaps the dwarven refugees and the people of Silk's Crossing would ally against the hobgoblin hoard.
I didn't care. We would find out, when we got back.
Our captured pirate ship was called the Raven. Teazil -- the halfling searching for a new home for her people -- had heard of an island in the Sea of Celestian that she wanted to see. So we chose to set sail, and leave mundane concerns behind us for a time.
Captain Mado navigated safely to our destination. We were eight days at sea. On the eighth day we spotted land: a pair of islands, with sandy beaches around dense jungle around strangely conical mountains.
We went ashore on the first island. Something was strange about this place: too many birds, no other animals, no fish in the streams. We waded up one of the streams to where it cascaded down from the mountain. More oddities: the mountain rose abruptly from the jungle soil, smooth sided, with the stream gushing horizontally from a hole, twenty feet above the jungle floor.
The mountain was too steep and smooth to scale, so we returned to the beach. A walk around the island showed us more: eight streams flowed from the mountain, flowing in the cardinal directions. The beach was made of white sand, and across the water the other island looked dark, with dark sand beaches.
We crossed to the black shore of the other island. It was similar: many birds, some streams, and another smooth sided mountain. We noticed something else about the birds: there were no young in any of their nests. Three streams, equally spaced, flowed down the mountain's slopes, through the jungle, and to the sea.
I asked Nevin to fly up to the top of the dark mountain, and look around. He only got part way before being forced down by extreme cold and magical darkness.
This place was definitely not mundane. As night approached we all decided to return to the ship. We all feared what might happen at night, if we stayed ashore at night.
The next day we returned to the island of white sand beaches. We explored the jungle, and found eight buildings. Each was about one hundred feet across, built from white marble, with tall columns and open arched sides. They looked like temples.
The first temple we found was built in the shape of a triangle, with all side of equal length. We entered, using a magical light cast by Andon. Inside was a water filled basin (a bird bath?) and the skeletal remains of a winged humanoid.
A don't know what kind of creature had died here. It had had wings, and still wore a simple but fine chain shirt, sword, and shield. It brought to mind stories of solars and other winged angels of the upper planes. When I touched the eye stone, I saw the winged man's final moments: shot by an arrow to fall and die where we had found him. We left the body untouched, and in peace.
When I used the eye stone outside, I discovered part of the secret of the birds. Each bird carried the soul of a man, or elf, or other intelligent creature. I tried to capture a soul, but these were not the souls of the dead. They were alive, just trapped in the form of birds.
Each temple we explored was built in a geometrical shape. Each contained a fountain or pool or some other water feature. The first temple was the only one with any sign of struggle or death, the only one with a skeletal body.
Using a climbing spell and another spell of elemental endurance, I scaled the conical mountain of white stone. As I climbed it became very bright and very hot. The climb seemed longer than it should have, like the distance to the top was distorted when viewed from below.
At the top, the mountain was flat topped, as though the top had been sliced off by a giant razor. the surface was smooth and glassy. It appeared dark in the nearly blinding ambient light. I could discover nothing else, so I climbed back to my friends, who waited below.
We crossed to the other island. In the jungle there we found found six, black marble temples. Each of these temples was oddly shaped, and contained one or more animal headed statues.
Using the same trick, I climbed the black mountain. It was also taller than it appeared. It became cold and dark as I climbed. The top was cut off, flat and glassy like the other mountain. I cast a spell to light the darkness, but it was muffled by the powerful enchantment of the place. I cast another light spell into the glassy floor, and was temporarily blinded by the prismatic spray that resulted.
Something was about to happen. Something fantastic. This was part of my destiny. I just knew it would be another step along the true path of my fate.