Rote-ay-ip Aruthala's Journal in Reverie
Mado took us in the Raven, West and South down the coast of the Sea of Celestian. A brief stop in the town of Kank informed us of more activity by the Keepers' of the Sane: A Keepers' ship had come to Kank about one month before us, and shanghaied a local farm worker.
After Kank, we sailed to the first significant city I had seen since leaving Xylan. Korth Kalumbel is a walled city on the West shore of the Sea of Celestian. Over ten thousand mortal souls live there, and they were unfamiliar with my people -- the elves.
Romalar had been here before. He recommended that Andon and I conceal our nature, and even he and Gwen -- as half-elves -- should be cautious of showing their elven traits. As I would learn, my people were not totally unheard of in this land. And the local rumors and legends would lead to fear and loathing, rather than understanding, if we were found out.
After allowing myself to be robed and hooded (in black of course), we each went our separate ways, seeking rumors of the Keepers' activities. My bashe came with me, 'though I didn't go far.
Near our ship, just under the dock, I could smell the attar of imminent death. Wrapped in my black robe and carrying my silver scythe, I climbed down to find its source. I found a sick, old man, being watched greedily by two hungry dogs.
Gwen handled the dogs, while I interrogated the mortal. His mind was broken, but he was lucid enough to recognize my nature, and though death should not be feared, he was terrified by my presence. He though I had come to take his soul to a land of sleepless torment, and only by sampling his thoughts could I learn from him what I wanted to know.
The Keepers' had been in Korth Kalumbel. This man had escaped, when the Keepers', with the help of a local merchant prince, rounded up the social refuse living under these docs. In his demented state, the man could only quiver between his fear of me and his fear of a fiery place that he could not explain.
I did not trust my ability to gather more information in this strange city, so I waited out the rest of the day on the docs. I was watching the people, and waiting for the return of my friends.
Eventually, in the evening, my companions returned to our ship. There was little new information, but one name seemed important: Azud Al'Kath. He was a despicable, evil merchant lord of this city. And his home -- his palace -- was located a short way outside the city walls.
The next morning, I left with Gwen to scout out Azud's palace. I dressed again in the same black robe and hood. We made our way to a gate in the city wall. It was at this gate that I learned how fearful these mortals were of my kind.
As I passed though the gate, the men on guard penetrated my disguise, and immediately lept to attack me. Luckily I reacted faster then they did, and called up an enchanted fog to conceal me as I moved away. Then, to add to their confusion I summoned the skeletal remains of one of their own, and set these bones shambling into their midst. Gwen and I made our escape easily after that.
We arrived outside Azud's palace. Sniffing for the effluent of old graves, I led the way around the compound, outside the wall. On the side opposite the only gate, I climbed the wall and peered through the thorn bushed along its top. There were the Al'Kath family crypts, and the psychic residue of many violent deaths. I also saw a woman walking the paths around the palace, and guards patrolling inside the wall with dogs.
All in all, we detected a handful of guards. Most of them were posted at the gate, and two patrolled the grounds with grey hound dogs. Gwen and I spent the rest of the day watching the compound from a distance. We were waiting for dusk.
At dusk, we tried to re-enter Korth Kalumbel though a workman's gate. But the guards saw through my covering. With much shouting, the gate was slammed in our face. We retreated before they could muster any other response.
We tried again, this time at the gate we had used that morning. Gwen's presence went unremarked, but, despite our best efforts, I was discovered yet again. Before the guards could close the gate, Gwen trapped them in a supernatural brier patch, entangling nearly all of them. Only one guard was brave enough, or stubborn enough, to challenge me. I punished him for his temerity -- cursing him with blindness -- and then my bashe and I escaped into the city and back to the Raven.
It was obvious I did not know Romalar very well. He had potent contacts in Korth Kalumbel, a part of his itinerant past. He was again in contact with a man named Zek ud Dragor, a caravan master. And Zek was interested in the crazy old man I had found the day before.
It was Zek's contention that the old beggar knew something of Azud Al'Kath's illegal activities. Knowledge that could be used against Azud. Zek told Romalar to look for the old man, to try to find him, and to bring him back to be questioned. But first we would have to find him.
The morning arrived with a strange sense of imminence. The dock was quieter than normal, where mortals moved with subconscious trepidation. I conveyed my observation to the others. With Andon's help, Romalar left to scout.
Flying and invisible, Romalar drifted above the city. He found a mob gathering in a nearby plaza. The focus of the mob's attention was none other than the old, sick beggar. The beggar was preaching about the arrival of an angel of death, come to punish the people of his city. Could he possibly have been referring about his encounter with me?
A pair of thugs came out of the crowd to grab the beggar. Romalar shot one man, and the beggar touched the other with an unholy power that withered the man's flesh. (The boy had potential.) Romalar then swooped down, and led the beggar back toward our ship.
Their escape was cut off by more thugs, as they neared the ship. Andon, Mado, Gwen, and I rushed to their aid. Between fire, summoned creatures, and our efficacious attacks, the thugs were forced to flee. The beggar was alive, but knocked unconscious in the fight.
With Andon's help to make us invisible, Romalar and I carried the unconscious old man to a meeting with Zek ud Dragor. The others returned to the ship. We made our way to one of Zek's warehouses unscathed, and waited a few short minutes for the caravan master to meet us there.
We met with Zek: Azud's minions were loose throughout the city, and we were in danger, as were our friends back on the ship. I used my Ring of Whispers to call to Gwen, and following Zek's directions, guided her and my other companions to safety. We all met in a complex of tunnels under the city, and Zek led us to a safe-house, where we could rest.
Something had to be done about Azud, and Zek had a plan. With a diversion orchestrated by his people, he wanted us to enter Azud's palace from below, and take care of the problem. I do not like working for the purposes of others -- especially mortals, like Herzog or Zek -- but Zek was right: something should be done about Azud's temerity.
After resting out the daylight hours, we started out. Zek led the way through the tunnels, to the edge of Azud's demesne, and then left us to our own devices. I say again: I don't like working for others' purposes, risking ourselves, while they direct our acts from safety.
Our first challenge was an iron bound door, which Andon opened after both Romalar and I had failed. Andon used the simple expedient of reducing the door to char and slag; a technique as messy as it was effective.
On the other side of the door we found a storeroom, with more dark halls beyond. Soon we stood before another locked door. Frustrated at our recent failure, Romalar and I attacked the door with our shoulders, until the door burst open. Inside, they were waiting for us.
The room was full of large, alligator headed beasts, armed with long spears and heavy crossbows. We immediately commenced a fight for our lives. Barely evading bloody death, we slew all but one of the creatures. By the blessing of the spirits, we survived.
One creature escaped. Down a hall from the chamber, it ran to get reinforcements. Bloody and weakened, we had only moments to prepare. Another beast was coming. The sound of flailing chains and the stink of evil came to us from the passage. In seconds we would have to fight again. My only hope lay in an intuitive sense that I had learned something from the fight; that the simple fact of my survival made me more capable of meeting our next opponent. I prayed it was not a lie.
|The sound of flailing chains and the stink of evil came to us from the passage. While being succored by my bashe's spells, I tapped the magic given to me many months ago by a faerie princess: Two wicker men to stand, hopelessly, as probability fodder between us and the evil thing that approached.||I fingered the eye stone and prayed. My body was weak, and my thoughts were a blur. Images of the spiritual plane; Arcane knowledge written in a book; Blood, battle, and death. Then I had it: The secret, and the power, beyond the next veil of arcane mystery.|
|With new hope, I was ready.|
The creature was swaddled in chain that clanked and rattled as it lumbered toward us, up the hall. Andon hit it with fire, Gwen struck it with supernatural lightning, and I used my new knowledge to strike with an arcane electrical bolt from my open palm. The fire was ineffective, but the electrical attacks slowed it.
The chain creature entered the room, its chains flailing in a deadly flurry around its body. This made it difficult to attack, but it was still slowed and unable to attack effectively.
Then Andon detected an invisible, alligator headed creature still in the hallway, controlling the chain golem. Following Andon's directions, Gwen struck the alligator headed monster with another lightning bolt. In desperation, the chain golem was directed to forgo its flailing attack and follow us deeper into the room. But this opened it up for arrack, and it was quickly hacked into inanimate pieces. The alligator headed monster -- the last of its kind in this place -- was also slain.
In the subsequent search and exploration, we discovered Azud's torture room and prison cells. From the cells we rescued several men, and two beast-men: a turtle man, and a severely beaten lion man. Denying my companions' need, I spent my limited healing powers on the lion man -- Simbal ul Rashid.
We put Rashid, and his turtle bodied friend, in charge of guarding the rescued prisoners, until we can lead them to safety. We then continued our exploration of the catacombs beneath Azud's palace.
We found a locked chamber, with mirrored walls. Inside was the recently slain corpse of a woman of the people.
We found a subterranean garden: Many plants and flowers, a stream fed by a serpent shaped fountain, a pool with lilies and fishes, and a marble alter. On the alter was a human woman (Mara a'Kesh). Sleeping? Or oddly preserved between life and death. When we approached, she awoke and greeted us. She was friendly, but claimed to be engaged to Azud, so we were wary. She played eery music for us on glass disks standing in the stream. When we left the room, she wished us well in our upcoming attempt on Azud's life.
We found an iron door, and neither Romalar nor I could open it. But it could not stand against Simbal ul Rashid's strength. Beyond were giant snake statues around another iron door. The lion man opened this door for us as well. The chamber beyond contained a stone weight -- over a ton of stone -- hanging from an iron chain. The stone and chain were descending very slowly. An iron crank near the entrance could be turned to raise the stone.
A stone staircase led us out a hidden door, and into the barracks and training rooms of Azud's guards. The diversion provided by Romalar's friend -- Zek -- was effective: All the guards were absent, except for a handful of those too sick or wounded to be any threat.
Another stone stair brought us to ground level inside Azud's palace. The palace had a mostly open floor plan, with rich silk hangings used to separate the space into rooms. We continued up, finding a stone and metal stair up to a stone platform under the palace's central spire.
A spiral stair continued the ascent into the central minaret. But before we could ascend further, we were overheard by the men above. One man -- Azud's son? -- showed himself on the stairs above us. Andon blasted him with fire, forcing him to retreat out of sight.
The time for stealth was over; We surged up the stairs, each as quickly as our individual skills allowed. In the minaret, four arched doorways let out onto an encircling balcony, and another stair led further up. Azud awaited us at the top, but his son remained a threat on this level, waiting just out of sight on the balcony.
Romalar and Mado raced out onto the balcony to attack. Azud's son was a handful, a powerful warrior, and attired in an armor of adamantium wires that cut any weapon used against it. His sword was also made of adamantium -- like a line sketch of a great-sword -- and filled with a film of acid. The sword cut both flesh and armor, and the acid film splashed and burned his opponents.
Romalar and Mado were hard pressed, but when Gwen went out onto the balcony to help them, and was hit, I became enraged. I stepped past my bashe. I bore down on our opponent, slipping past his guard. Then I swung my scythe in a might arc. He fell, his head and body landing separately on the ground far below.
In the mean time, we heard Azud summoning his guards to help. Andon saw several guards, when they climbed up to the platform below the minaret, and he burned them all in a ball of fire. But his enthusiastic attack had an undesirable side effect: It set fire to the many rich hangings and furnishings that filled the lower levels of the palace. We now had a limited time before smoke and flame would force us out of the tower.
Still in a rage, I ascended the last stair to confront Azud. But he surprised me and stabbed me deeply. He was very fast, too fast for me to follow, and disappeared into a magical fog he also summoned.
With the other's help, I searched for Azud, and he surprised me again, cutting me deeply again. But this time I followed him as he tried to hide. His skill was amazing, and I gaped as he climbed easily up the underside of the stairs. I tried to attack him, but my climbing skill was not so great, and I fell. I barely caught myself before I fell all the way down to the platform below.
Finally, Azud eluded us. He escaped onto the balcony, grabbed the edged of his cloak, and turned into a bat. As a bat, he fled, and none of us could track him. The fight was over; Now we had to save ourselves.
Andon gave Romalar the power of flight, and spider climbing for himself. Mado descended the minaret, and the palace walls, in an amazing, controlled fall. I imbued myself with spider climbing, and, carrying Gwen, descended to ground level and safety.
We had won. Azud's soldiers surrendered to Zek's minions. The fire was burning itself out. And we made our way to safely, back through the catacombs under the palace and out.
Two final notes: On our way out we found a secret room in the chamber with the huge stone weight and chain. This secret room held much treasure. Second, in gratitude for our success against the hated Azud, Romalar (and by extension the rest of our party) was gifted with Azud's palace and grounds. We were now important and wealthy people in this town, even if I could not show my face in public.
I enchant my silver scythe
To steal the essential energy:
Anti-health and fatigue of life,
Yet respect experience and memory.
Will it turn all black and tarnished,
Remember, life is irrelevant:
I prepare for a lengthy trial
Do I serve a worthy power?
May life remain ephemeral,
After months of struggle, we took time for ourselves. Azud had collected much wealth in his mansion, and now it was ours. With time, wealth, and newly acquired skill, it was possible for us to enhance our weapons, armor, and equipment. And I had a special project in mind.
Combining the sinister power of the eye, the divine influence of Lord Strith, my bashe's proficiency with mystic power, and my own arcane skill, I poured power into the silver scythe made for me by the dwarves. I had taken the first step in the creation of an icon of necromantic might. Being a significant enchantment, I expected it to take nearly two months to complete. But after one day, it was done! I was happy, but wary.
At night, I walked the grounds of our new dwelling. Alongside the Al'Kath family crypts, I found a hidden shaft. It led down to a hidden cell, and inside the cell was the demented husk of a half-rat beast-man -- the lost companion of the tiger-man and the turtle-man.
I left the soul hurt rat-man with my companions, to succor him, but returned frequently to his cell. Messages scrawled in blood covered all the walls. I believe they may be prophetic hints concerning our fate, and the fate of the earth. I copied the cryptic scrawls into a book bound in red leather, and would look for meaning in times to come.
We spent two months in Korth Kalumbel. I was kept busy practicing my new learned skills of enchantment, imbuing items for my companions. Besides my own weapon -- the scythe Animere -- I led or assisted in the enhancement of a scimitar, armor and shield for Gwen, a bow and quiver for Romalar, and a number of ability enhancing trinkets.
My work kept me busy, so I did not show my face outside our palace compound in all that time. Despite my seclusion, I heard rumors that my initial brief appearance among the city's mortal population had not been forgotten. Small, black robed figurines appeared outside windows, and talk of death incarnate persisted.
At one point, Ashra -- Andon's lizard -- entreated me to lend him my Ring of Whispers for some plan relating to the people's gullible need to worship. Soon, I heard, small dragon figurines, as well as death dolls, were adorning the windows. And Ashra was gorging himself on the gold offerings that accompanied the figurines. I was amused.
During this time, Mado made an interesting purchase. It included a collection of foreign (but definitely elvish) junk, and a double handful of minor Mechanus inevitables. I talked to one of the little constructs: It dusted things. It was found in the ocean, among great gears, near a burning island of more broken gears. I then conjectured (to myself) that Mechanus had fallen, as the isle of "Black and White" (Arcadia?) had fallen.
Malhevik sent me a message. The elf corpse we had found and buried rose up and spoke to me: A hobgoblin attack on Silk's Crossing had been repulsed, and please come pick up Mara. In a couple weeks we were ready to leave. Like thieves in the night, we snuck out to the Raven and set sail, before the morning crowds could fill the waterfront streets. It would take two more weeks to reach Silk's Crossing.
But none of our trips were ever without peril, and this trip coincided with the arrival of Ashra's birthday. But the little lizard was not like mortals or elves, and his "birthday" consisted of a giant, multi-headed, dragon creature coming to eat him. We only learned this after sailing far from shore, when we noticed Ashra's growing anxiety, and finally got him to admit his fear to us.
The dragon came into sight the next day, swimming toward the ship. We immediately assessed the creature as a threat to the entire ship, and opened fire. Romalar hit it with enchanted arrows, but they had little effect. I tried to hit it with mundane arrows, but they simply deflected from its hide. Andon hit it with fire, causing some small damage; I hit it with lightning, and did no damage at all. Gwen summoned an elemental water creature, which did little damage to the dragon, but slowed its advance briefly before being banished by a devastating series of attacks.
Then, as it came closer, the multi-headed dragon rose up from the water, spread huge wings, and took to the air. Romalar also took to the air, and Andon shot magic bolts from his eyes; But Gwen, Mado, and I could not reach the creature with any attack that would hurt it. And then it used its breath weapons on us: fire, acid, lightning, and poison gas.
While we, on the ground, were burned and blasted, Romalar was grappled in the air by the dragon's rending claws. Mado retreated below decks. I was blasted again and this broke through my calm. In a rage, I scrambled up the rigging and lept at the hovering dragon. And I hit it! Animere wounded the creature, and drew additional health from its body and into mine. But then I fell, and was staggered.
Mado returned. He had gone below to release the hundreds of chickens we carried as trade goods to Silk's Crossing. The cloud of chickens was effective; They were a distraction that finally brought the dragon out of the air. And final attacks by my companions and myself dispatched the creature.
No more Birthdays or other monstrous holidays attacked us. And by the time we reached Silk's Crossing , we were fully healed. But we remained confused about the meaning of the multi-headed dragon's attack.
We arrived back in Silk's Crossing. There had obviously been a battle there, but it was over. Herzog and the dwarves told us how a hobgoblin hoard had attacked at night, while the dwarves were all below ground. But in the morning, when the dwarves returned to the surface, they found the invaders dead. Not just dead, they were pulverized, virtually boneless.
This was an eery reminder of Malhevik's power. We found Malhevik in his mystic tower. The tower that had not been finished when we left, was now complete. It rose straight from the ground in the form of an arm topped by a fist. Its sides were white, smooth, and unblemished. Malhevik came out to meet us, through a hidden door, that closed without a trace, when he left.
We talked with Malhevik. He was leaving. I was worried about the arm, but Malhevik assured me that the tower would be protection enough. He hinted that he wanted to find a leg to go with the arm. Perhaps he was joking; I couldn't tell.
Before he could leave, Malhevik wanted us to do something for him. A shape-shifter, possibly undead as well, had attacked Mara, and she only saved herself with the help of her strange dagger. Now she was under Malhevik's protection. He had put her in suspended animation, suspended in a giant amber shell. Because he was leaving, he wanted us to take her South, to another protector -- Seriog the Bone-Reaver. (This Seriog sounded like an interesting character.) As payment for performing this task, Malhevik gave us (gave me) a spell to access another plane, the plane of mirrors.
Our next move was uncertain. We could re-board the Raven and sail South to Tal Varish, as we had originally planned. Or sail South then East to find Seriog the Bone-Reaver. Or stay here to perform a side mission for the dwarves, who wanted someone to help them explore and possibly retake their mountain city.