Kast

Chapter 54 placeholder
Brenna

The new party, Brenna, Tuiz, Lucky, and Aticia/Bolucia, journeys westward to New Brighton seeking information about the necromancer previously encountered in the area and his/her associates (if any). Residents (mostly farmers) of New Brighton are celebrating an engagement and we start to get a sense that some things in town may be amiss. We find a few curious clues (?) in Old Brighton and from exploring in the mountains further west. We have some theories but nothing solid.

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Chapter 53: Conspiracies
Tuiz

“So,” said Brenna, “can you tell me a bit more about what we’re going to be looking for?”

“Of course,” replied Tuiz. “I told you that we’re looking for the commander of that insane necromancer we hunted together earlier, but I didn’t tell you why. My sources-”

Brenna quirks and eyebrow at this, which Tuiz ignores.

“-report that a serial killer who was killing some time ago may be on the move again.”

“Did they kill again?”

“Not yet, as far as we know. We think they’re working with a big shady group, since we intercepted some orders that seemed to be directed to them, and recognized the name. You might have heard of this killer: the Red Dryad?”

“That’s the one that drained their victims’ blood, right?” Tuiz nods. “It sounded like gruesome scenes.”

“Right, we don’t want that happening again. But we don’t have much to go on. There’s some rumors in the south, others in the west. I think they may be based out of the Veiled Mountains southwest of here, possibly making trips to the areas nearby, which could explain the rumors. And this news made us think twice about that necromancer, they might have been working for the Red Dryad.”

“So what’s the plan?”

“Uh, we go the Veiled Mountains and, err, investigate.”

“Investigate.” Brenna sounded doubtful.

“Yeah.”

“Ohkay.”

The conversation dies for a few minutes.

Eventually, Brenna asks, “So what happened back at the ball, anyhow?”

“Oh, right. Have you heard of the Penumbra Guild? You must have, with Count Cadmus running for mayor and getting so much talk. (I can’t wait to get the election results — I hope Chino at least showed that the common man has a lot of votes.) Anyhow, we only just met Cadmus at the ball, but we’ve got a history with some of the other members of the Penumbra Guild.”

“Oh, they helped you defeat the Fang, right?”

“They did. They also tried to have us arrested, kidnapped our guide, and tried to kill us. Oh, and they were really buddy-buddy with Brunt, the cursed Ashlands warrior.”

“Sounds complicated.”

“Right. Anyhow, what we know is that they lied to us about suspicious activity by the staff of the ball, passed us a forged threatening note, and cast some illusion or enchantment magic on us to make us think a dragon hatched out of that nest on the desert side, and was threatening our friends. When we figured out what was going on, they laughed like it was just a prank, but I don’t know.”

“You think they were desensitizing you against future threats?”

“Yes! Maybe. Or creating a diversion to distract us from something evil they did at the ball. I don’t know. Maybe this is some messed up attempt to make friends.”

“Maybe you should ‘prank’ them back. If they interpret it as friendship, fine, let them think you’re their friends. At a minimum they’ll be in the same position you are now, unsure whether the next sign of danger is real or not.”

“Hmm, that’s a fair point. Thanks for the advice.”

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Chapter 52: Long Rest
Lucky

While today’s story is somewhat lacking in excitement, it plays an important part in setting up what’s to come. As I’ve said before, if you want to understand the whole of a thing then you need to understand the whole of the thing. In short, this covers this time between late summer in year 3 AL and early summer in the year 4 AL. Lest you think nothing happened of importance, here’s some of what happened of importance.

The first thing to remember is that we’d just slain the gnoll Fang in the epic battle at Hidden Monk village. For that reason alone we deserved some rest and relaxation. Plus, we’d just spent weeks in the field, some of it sleeping in a swamp, and so I for one was ready for a nice hot bath, a warm homemade meal, and a soft, pillowy bed. I also remember really needing a haircut, though that’s of little consequence.

For many of us, the city of Glissana was home and so that’s where we went to find those comforts — and also to claim official reward for our deeds. For others, home was elsewhere. Telsin, a hero for arriving in time to defend his home and an instrumental part in defeating the Fang, elected to remain with his family and go with his clan to establish a new home in the Earthsong mountains. His mission to confirm the Necromancer King’s demise complete, he probably retired to a life of using his experience to guide the others. It’s hard to say really; they’re still quite secretive.

Tharn, as you’ll recall, wanted to see the world and was much happier out in the wild. While he was tremendously helpful as our companion, it’s completely understandable that he chose to step away from the adventuring life and instead travel and explore at a more relaxed pace with his Kimya. Sounds a little too wild and rustic for me but it certainly is bodily safer than chasing Necromancer King lieutenants as we were.

That was, of course, still our goal. We’d already destroyed Marrow and watched Brunt die during the battle at Hidden Monk village but there were several others still at large, most notably Lord Balthazar Pendergath whom we met at the Hanged Tower. Daevon’s magic might have helped us track him but by this point he’d also retired to a simpler life. And so, what once might have been a brief rest in Glissana turned into nearly a year of fun little side adventures before we were able to get back on track.

Besides all the standard resting, eating, screwing around, liquidating some of the loot we’d acquired, and doing some basic shopping, I did some travelling. I made a trip to visit the not-quite-so-hidden-now city of Respite — when they showed up to help fight the gnolls that cat was kind of out of the bag. There I spent some time with Kara, Lord Aetil, and Lady Ortessa, continuing our relationship and gaining the ability teleport to their home in Respite. Being able to do that is so very convenient. I’m eternally grateful to everyone who helped set up the teleportation circle here in Glissana because that’s super convenient too and I’m especially thankful for those that put up with my questions and attempts to help.

I took a trip out to the Lucent Pass which is very gorgeous, as you know. That was to help Berger with some cargo. But shhh, don’t tell anyone. I also visited Tharn and Miranda in the Grey Forest. They helped me craft a Luckblade… or, well, I should say Miranda crafted that fancy sword and we helped supply materials and support.

I also did some things closer to home, like exploring the Underhame. That’s where I found the famous runic cube. A surprisingly large amount of time was spent pressing that cube against things. We also helped thwart some fiendish intruders who were collecting children.

But that’s enough about me; what about the others? Well, Caleb was apparently wanted for murder; he turned himself in when we went to claim our bounties. Given his heroics the authorities were lenient and he was able to get out and go on an expedition to the ashlands after a few months. Tuiz was still smarting from the mental whammies he’d been subject to and thus sought to improve his mental defenses. There also was a thing with a necromancer and some zombies. At the time it really felt like that was our track back on track but it didn’t work out.

We also hopped a teleport over to Proffex’s special graduation ceremony. There, we were surprised to find Tuiz’s parents and his younger sisters! The sisters were graduating from magic school. Though they got fused together like Master Roshi and Minnow, they seemed quite reasonable about it. It’s quite impressive that they managed to work together and master magic in the way they did. I have enough trouble keeping myself in line, let alone sharing everything inside with a whole different person.

A couple times along the way we also bumped into Brenna but I’ll tell you more about her later when we get back to adventuring.

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Chapter 51: The Storm
Tharn's Journal

It’s over?

It must be over, I saw it happen.

I saw him die, saw Telsin deliver the final blow.

I didn’t think this possible, but we finally defeated the Gnoll Fang. The day now feels like a dream. It was terrible, and I will never forget what happened, but none of it seems real. The ash and remnants of fire around me assure me that it was, but my mind wants to pretend this was all a story, that we will laugh about all this destruction and move on.

Somehow, we all survived. Well, by “we” I mean the small group that set out from Glissana, with the possible exception of Daevon, who we have not spoken to since leaving him in that tunnel. Still, it is a miracle that our small band survived at all.

We spent the morning doing final preparations, and around noon we were told that gnolls were approaching, and along with them a growing storm. We took this last moment of respite eating the magical feast we had discovered, trusting that its power would protect us somewhat.

And then, the gnolls arrived. It didn’t begin as a wave, like I’d imagined. They stood outside the gates, waiting for something, and then the elder, Shoyuen, strode out to meet Grimfang. Whatever happened out there, it ended with one of the elves we were protecting dead, and an army of gnolls charging inward.

We stuck to the plan, and defended our section of the village from the invaders. The first wave to break through the outer defenses was easily dispatched. It consisted only of some gnolls, a bunch of undead, and some winged snakes. Following on their heels, Forth arrived, bringing the aid of another whom I did not recognize.

The only real surprise from this were fireballs that were launched into the village from some distance away. They burned with a strange, almost purple flame, and seemed to suck life from the surrounding areas. Lucky went out to try to learn more about the source of these fires, and reported back that he had easily discovered they generated an anti-magic field, and had managed to escape and return with some difficulty. He wasn’t very forthcoming with details of his trip.

While he was gone, the next wave arrived. This time, it was a group of gnolls from behind, who must have managed to evade the other defense parties. As we were fighting them, Miranda and her cat Aseko, along with the Elf Alquin came to our aid. Miranda once again provided me with a magical trinket, this time a bow to wrap around my bow. She said it would help my arrows penetrate enemies’ defenses. Alquin was the real surprise, becoming very furry, large and definitely more intimidating than usual. I’ll have to ask him about that if I get a chance.

With those attackers dispatched, we had a short break before some real challenges showed up. This time, it was Cad Bane and his standard bearer leading a large group of gnolls. Lucky, arriving back just in time, managed to fly past and grab the banner from the gnoll holding it. Demonstrating the anti-magic properties of the flames that were now starting to engulf some of the elven buildings, Lucky tossed the banner in, destroying it completely.

Then several unexpected things happened. First, and most surprising, Kimya started to glow, and take on an appearance similar to the starry beast that visited us a few days ago. In this aspect, she was able to protect our allies from magical harm. I’ll see if I can train her to do that more. Then, Braxtol and his gang arrived, pursued by an ancient, flying gnoll and a small army of undead. Upon reaching us, they turned to fight, and with their aid, we were able to defeat the gnolls and the undead, but the flying one managed to escape.

After that, there was another brief period where we tended to our wounds, feeling that the worst would soon be upon us.

And we weren’t wrong. It wasn’t long before Grimfang, the necromancer from earlier, and the two lieutenants we’d met at the training grounds arrived. Before engaging, Grimfang ordered the necromancer to prepare the ritual, and he quickly departed. While this was worrying, we had more immediate matters to deal with.

Lucky managed to banish the half-demon quickly, leaving us with only Grimfang and one lieutenant, until another appeared from the shadows and joined the fight. At this point, the elf we had been protecting decided to join the fight. Wrexidor fought valiantly, but although we were able to defeat all the lieutenants, he was taken down by Grimfang and carried away.

We hurried after him, with the aid of the pegasus we pranked what seems like ages ago, and were able to confront him at a large bonfire which burned with the same purple as before. We could only watch as he threw the body of Wrexidor into the flames, which consumed him then dispersed.

After that, the pegasus and I managed to occupy the necromancer, preventing him from interfering with the main combat against Grimfang. Together, my allies were able to slowly wear down the gnoll leader, but it wasn’t until Telsin used the secret technique we had found that any real progress was made. And that technique was… interesting. It was certainly effective, but using it seemed to drain all energy from him. Thankfully, he had been warded against this situation, and he was able to remain standing, but it clearly had almost killed him.

After that, to no one’s great surprise, Telsin was struck down by a massive blow by Grimfang. By then, Caleb had managed to catch up, and he managed to restore Telsin somewhat.

With a speed and strength I can hardly believe, Telsin leapt from the ground, and delivered a series of powerful blows to our enemy, finally dragging him down.

After that, time seemed to return to normal. I hadn’t realized it during the combat, but this day has seemed to last weeks. Finally it is over, and we have defeated Grimfang, general of the gnoll army.

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Chapter 50: Seriously now, the calm before the storm
Parts unknown

Somewhere far off, perhaps in the far future, perhaps in another plane, a group of figures observes a scrying glass. The glass shows a boggy forested river delta from above, as if viewed by a bird. But as if the bird is diving, less and less area is visible in the glass, and more and more details can be picked out, until an elven village suddenly becomes apparent. One of the figures — call him Nar’Ator — speaks.

“The small village of Dae’ostar. In many ways, it is like any other village.” The scrying glass shimmers and changes to showing an aged elf repairing a fishing net, shimmers again to reveal elven children climbing trees.

“But this land is unwelcoming,” the glass shows in sequence views of hydras, jaguars, giant spiders, and treants, “and eking out a living here is hard”, we see some sort of gruel being slopped into a wooden bowl.

Nar’Ator continues, “So why choose to live here? And why do they treat strangers with such paranoia?” The scrying glass shows a large group of what can only be “adventurers” entering the village, and then moments later a larger group of elven warriors appear, as if from nowhere, with blades at the adventurers’ throats.

“Elder Shoyuen explains,” says Nar’Ator, and the glass provides a close view of the face of an ancient elf, whose words are easily understood by those observing.

“In the past, the Deus Clariel was a bane to all the land. And so the other Dei banded together to imprison Clariel. No normal prison would suffice, so Clariel was bound in the very blood of the people of this village. Our three great families, Glimelion,” the glass shows a woman of middle years who gives the impression of steel covered with velvet, “Deymagrin”, now we see a scarred veteran, standing straight despite seeming to bear a great burden, “and Shoyuen”, the view is again of the ancient elf, though now from further away, and we can see a younger female who bears some resemblance sitting next to him, “keep Clariel imprisoned. If all our blood should be spilled, Clariel will surely be freed.”

Nar’Ator takes over the story, “And so they came to this desolate place,” fog rolls through a bog, “and they trained in the martial arts,” pairs of young elves can be seen sparring. “Still they paid a heavy price in blood,” the glass shows a stone bearing the words “To those who have fallen”, and then begins to move down, revealing a list of names. As the view drops, it also moves away from the stone, revealing more and more names. Eventually we see the edges of an obelisk, and the view begins to rotate around the obelisk, revealing more names on its other sides. As soon as the view is far enough away that the obelisk fills only about a quarter of the scrying glass, lines appear diving the glass in three, and views appear of two more obelisks, clearly in other parts of the same village.

“And even that price may not have been enough. A long-range scout has just returned,” the glass shows a large image of a younger elf, clean shaven, with dark brown skin and brown eyes, “bearing word that an attack is indeed imminent. An army of gnolls bears down upon the village.”

“And so the village prepares, as best it can. Those who cannot fight, flee.” we see a strapping young human helping a family load heavy sacks onto a cart, then a shimmer and a line of elves plodding away from the village. “Fighters prepare themselves with a few more drills, both martial,” a pair of elves sparring, “and mystical”, a young half-elf meditates in the woods as vines writhe around him. “While honor prevents the warriors from running, it does not stop them from using every weapon in their armory.” A foreign-to-the-village elf hands a vial of sickly green liquid to the human we saw earlier. The glass shifts, and reveals the half-elf scattering duff over a pitfall.

“But will it be enough? Will this village manage to beat back the gnoll threat? Or will the scout’s joyful homecoming,” the glass shows an elf girl play-fighting with the scout from before, then shifts to a scene of the scout surrounded by other elves, who lean in to hear the tale he tells, “be cut abruptly short?” The glass is again providing a view like of the village from above, when suddenly the earth shifts, trees sway, and a flock of birds takes wing, squawking in alarm.

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Chapter 49: The calm before the storm
Lucky

Wet, cold, and mostly exhausted, we found ourselves floating in the water a ways from shore. But we’d gotten away from the gnolls and had a moment to catch our breath.

We made the sensible decision to go ashore. Since Telsin was dragging the corpse of one of the gnollish lieutenants we killed, we headed back North and West towards the Masked Midnight.

Though we were sure we were being pursued, the trip through the forest by day was fortunately uneventful. We dodged some spiders and hydras — Tharn and Telsin recognized the signs — found some zombies that were already dead, and avoided a huge crocodile. Like massively big. As big as our old boat. We left the gnoll’s body there in hopes the huge beast would destroy the remains.

Previously, of course, we’d claimed the gnoll’s heart which we intended to exchange for the blessing of the Masked Midnight. That exchange was peculiar, as dealing with such beings often is, but largely went off without a hitch. I think the biggest problem was my struggle to swim down into the Midnight’s weird upside-down water bubble cave. Well, or maybe it was when Tuiz tried to read the Midnight’s intentions and got intimidated into compliance. Or maybe it was when a bedraggled Tharn nearly drowned trying to swim back out.

Anyway, we weren’t sure quite what we were doing but it worked out well for us. The Masked Midnight even gave us a wonderful magic blue firefly guide after gulping down the gnollish heart. I considered eating the firefly in response, but it’s just as well I didn’t. It was much more useful as a guide in one of Tuiz’s spare bottles.

Returning to the Grey Forest, we saw signs of the pursuing gnolls and their new brimstone hounds but we were safely across the water and away without them noticing us. After a long day’s travel, and still bearing many of the strains from the morning’s combat, we finally settled down for the night.

Fortunately, the night passed uneventfully. No wait, uneventfully isn’t the right word. It went un…badly. It was not bad; things happened but they were good things. There were no gnolls, or nasty monsters, or other evil. Most notably, this is when I finalized the fruit bond with Indigmarionassimo. Or maybe it’s a food bond? I still don’t really know how it works. Did we finally bond over bacon under majestic starlight? Was it the purple monk mind synergy tea? Did I just dream about the bacon? Maybe it was Indy who was dreaming about bacon… (it can be hard to tell our thoughts apart sometimes). Anyway, I gained a familiar friend. Telsin spent the night practicing Monk techniques, like they do. Everyone slept and rested and recovered before the battles that would follow.

In the morning, we traveled to the center of everything in the forest: the Hidden Monk village. The firefly helped. It was rather larger than I expected, I remember. Plenty of nice, natural architecture; it really fit into the forest and it’s easy to understand how they could hide so well there. And then… no wait; this is its own story in its own right. We’ll get to that another time.

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The Worst Good Day
Tharn

I’m wet, I’m tired, and I’m in serious pain.

I didn’t expect this day to go smoothly, but I also didn’t expect it to be this bad. It started out fine, with us trapped at the bottom of a tunnel, the entrance of which was surrounded by hundreds of gnolls. That we could handle. When Lucky forced open the scrollcase we found, nothing evil came out (as I had expected). It was just some fancy elven martial technique that means nothing to me. The day didn’t get interesting until I talked to Braxtol.

We were planning to flee the gnoll camp while Braxtol etc. created a diversion. If, in the ensuing chaos, we managed to capture or kill Cad Bane, that would be a nice bonus. Braxtol’s reaction to this plan was definitely not what I expected. He said the army had left. Good news for us?

No.

After taking the lift back up the tunnel, we were surprised to find that none of our magic worked. The next surprise was that we were confronted by two figures, one gnoll and one humanoid with more than a hint of demon. The demonic figure addressed us, calling herself Aurra Sing, and she offered us a deal. We could trade one of our number as a prisoner to receive as a prisoner one of the gnoll commanders.

While this would be an easy means to obtain the heart of an adversary, we had two major problems with it. One, we weren’t particularly keen on sacrificing any one of us. Two, what good is us getting to the village if the gnolls also do (and probably faster). And then the fighting started. It turns out that in addition to those two (who happened to be gnoll lieutenants), the rest of the gnoll leadership was there, waiting outside. We managed to mostly hold our own until Braxtol and his followers arrived, pursued by the fang.

From there, things got nasty. I don’t think I’ve ever been so close to death (and I have had plenty of experience with that), and I wasn’t the only one.

After a brutal fight that we were clearly not going to win, Braxtol opened a portal and urged us all through. Just as the fang closed on us, we all managed to slip through the portal, even dragging an unconscious gnoll with us.

And that’s how we got into the lake. And why I’m wet. But at least we have a gnoll, who probably has a heart?

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Chapter 47: Blasted, Gassed, and Slashed
Tuiz in dialogue with Telsin

“Ooh, treasure” says Tuiz.

“Step aside,” says Telsin, “and let me examine the artifacts of my people the ninjas.”

“Wait, what?” interjects Tuiz. “You want first shot at the items?”

“Why not? It was my final kick that drove the statue into submission.”

“Sure, you got the final kick”, said Tuiz, “but only after passing out twice. If Caleb and I hadn’t healed you, you’d be lying on the ground right now.”

“I wouldn’t have passed out if you guys could be a bit more careful.”

“Oh, you mean it’s Tharn’s fault that his phoenix’s blast knocked you out after the statue had grabbed you?”

“Yes that, but also when I thought I was safely recovering behind you, you dodged to the side and let the statue skewer me!”

“It’s not my fault you didn’t dodge as well as I did.”

“I don’t think it was my fault either — that statue was casting powerful curses as the seals on its sword were broken.”

“I didn’t notice the curse making it any harder to dodge.”

“Whatever. You are still in my debt from earlier, in the room with the four statues that fired opposed elemental beams. You turned the negative energy beam on me, knocking me out.”

“Because you didn’t dodge! Besides, that blast blew up your happy-light-magic statue. Which by the way I haven’t forgotten that we let you get the happiness statue while I took the evil one.”

“You didn’t seem pleased by the so-called ‘happiness beam’ when you were in the force of it. Perhaps you’re particularly susceptible to radiant energy?”

“Are you calling me evil? Come on. Are you forgetting that I saved you from the poison gas room?”

“I credit Lucky with saving me. He’s the one who stealthily approached each station, getting us to the first scarf. And as you tell it, he spotted the real lock, dispelled the magic ward on it, and picked past the mechanical aspect. All you did was lift the door up.”

“I’d have liked to see you lift that door with the gas sapping your strength. Plus I also kept Lucky alive so he could do all those things. I bled for him so that he could stay up long enough.”

“So your argument against being evil is that you used blood magic? Not very convincing.”

“Be careful what you say, as someone with powers that only work in darkness.”

“You’re the one who tried to convince us not to eat those delicious dumplings.”

“Because I don’t trust magical dumplings summoned by ancient ninjas that are trying to kill us! I was trying to keep us safe!”

“Not doing a very good job of it. You also caused us to lose Tharn’s rope, trying to bind the statue.”

“Excuse me for having the idea to prepare for an obvious ambush. And remember that I lost my bedroll to that cursed sword.”

“Mm-hmm. Didn’t you heal the statue near the start of combat?”

“What, you mean when I figured out that fire healed it? You can hardly blame me for being the first one to deal fire damage to it. And I warned you all. If I hadn’t, Lucky would have healed it with those meteors, or the phoenix that Tharn accidentally summoned from Master Roshi’s rock would have used more fiery attacks.”

“Hey by the way guys”, interjects Lucky, “that phoenix was pretty terrifying, right?”

Tuiz and Telsin look at each other, then back at Lucky. “Uh, not really,” says Tuiz. “And hey, what are you doing those those?” At this point Tuiz and Telsin notice that while they were arguing, Lucky, Tharn, and Caleb have done an inventory of the item’s in the golem’s chest:

  • A cloak of deep blue-black like the night sky, with silver inlay
  • A golden chalice
  • A wooden staff with a metal ball that seems to detach from it and return as if tethered
  • A basin of a strange silvery liquid
  • A small bag covered in runes that seems to hold some type of powder
  • A giant scroll, bound and locked shut.
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Chapter 46: On time, luck, and beetles
Lucky

As you’ll remember from before, we gained entry to an old monk stronghold in the Grey Forest and were testing ourselves against the ninja trials. We spent quite some time down there, some of it more effective than others.

One particularly odd room was full of strangely colored trees. Lavender grass, blue wood, orange leaves, silver edging… it was an odd pastel dreamland. It was also really annoying. There were traps everywhere that shot these annoying little darts and periodically a swarm of large, crystalline beetles would buzz around and try to bite us. They did that a fair lot but despite their size — they were roughly as big as me — they didn’t really hurt much.

But, I mean, we also couldn’t hurt them either. Not that we didn’t try. But it was like trying to break rocks; really hard rocks. We got a couple of cracks a couple of times but never did manage to break one open. And so, we never got the key to unlock that crystal-studded chest.

Oh, right, I should have mentioned that before. In addition to the oddly colored plants there was also a large golden beehive and a pair of sturdy chests. We got the gold-and-black inlaid chest open when Tuiz used his cloak to catch all those annoying darts and we found one of them was striped gold-and-black like a bumblebee. RIght, see? Beehive, bee-dart, bee-chest? That key let us open the chest and get the focus rune which was one of the six we needed to challenge the steel sentry in the anteroom.

But the beetles? We punched, kicked, shot, stabbed, tackled, dragged, slammed, rode, slashed, scared, flipped, and even caused one of them to crash head-first into the chest but never got the key. I tried to shatter them with spells and barely caused a pair of cracks. Tuiz even dragged one out into the anteroom, across the way, and tried to dunk it in the lava we’d seen in one of the other trials. Nothing worked. Remind me to tell you about the lava and the binding constructs another time.

The beetles? We just didn’t have the skill we needed. Or maybe we did and we just didn’t have the luck necessary for it to work when we tried it? Anyway, we tried across a couple of days because Tuiz adeptly figured the more runes we collected the easier it would be when we had to fight the golem.

You see, the steel golem had this huge cursed sword and every trial we passed caused a glowing rune to appear along the blade and ultimately shielded us from some of the power. We also made some preparations of our own, eventually, to try to hamper the sentry before fighting it. As Telsin said “the rules of the ninja are… there are no rules.”

Between attempts fighting the beetles we spent the night in the Earthsong monastery room. Whereas it was high noon when I recovered the balance rune, when we entered the room again we found it just after dusk. We later figured out that the trials had some sort of shifting time mechanism but we stumbled into finding the perspective rune mostly by luck.

You see, the trick in that room was you had to be there at different times. You could climb the invisible balance beams to the sun during the day but you needed to be there at night to get the shovels and dig up the perspective box. It was fortunate we decided to rest there when we did. Lest you think the rooms were just reflecting the outside time, know this wasn’t so. We took a good long rest in the Earthsong room and the sky didn’t change nor did the monk’s campfire burn out. I never thought of monks as particularly magical, but they had some cool magic working for these trials.

After we rested, we battled the beetles again and checked out the other two rooms. While the others explored the lava room, which wasn’t actually lava but just painted stone like the monastery room, I explored the grey forest room. That room featured a number of stone pillars that looked like trees and required sneaking around and triggering a set of hidden switches. Of course, I found the first such switch entirely by luck, but I mean, I’m Lucky. What do you expect?

But anyway, we’re out of time for today. Remind me next time and I’ll tell you more about the trials.

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Chapter 45 - The First Trials
Tharn

After the ordeal of getting down here, we all needed a rest. It also gave us some time to ponder the riddle “Ten skills define the way of shadow. Bring proof you have mastered six to challenge my might. The trials are deadly to the unprepared. Look twice before you decide which paths to take.” Clearly we’ll have to face the giant statue, but what are these ten trials? Lucky figured that one out quickly. While there are only five doors leaving this room, each door has ten runes next to them. These are probably our trials. Each rune is a word, in elvish, that presumably indicates one of the skills of a shadowy fancy-fighter, like Telsin.

Having located the trials, we still had many questions. How many people can participate? How deadly is “deadly”? Can any of us other than Telsin actually complete them? We decided to start by trying to do them all together. We picked “perspective,” since that seemed like one where multiple people would be a boon, and sent in Tuiz first, in case the door shut once everyone was in.

The room on the other side was surprising, to say the least. The door opened onto a mountaintop, and based on the view, we determined that we were near the Earthsong Monastery. However, down in the valley below us, we could see the rivers and plains we’ve been traveling, but no sign of habitation. No towns, no farms, no Glissana.

With no idea of what to do, we headed along a path. That is, until we smacked face-first into a wall. Closer inspection revealed that everything in the distance was painted on the walls of the room, and they were enchanted to appear to have depth. Assuming the same was true of the ceiling, Tuiz used his polearm to try to find it. He wasn’t able to reach the ceiling, but he did hit some sort of beam rising at an angle from the wall. Further poking revealed a second beam. Lucky and I did some climbing, and were able to mark the two beams, but couldn’t find any more, or the ceiling.

Next, Lucky used his broom to fly up. (Why didn’t we think of this sooner?) Somehow, he managed to reach the ceiling without hitting anything, and he immediately went to investigate the “sun”. When he returned, he was holding a scarf with the “balance” rune on it. Odd. We sent him back up, this time trailing rope, and used that to find the rest of the beams. The beams were floating mid-air, and formed, when “viewed” from below, an asterisk with an arrow pointing to it. Unable to make any sense of this, we left the room.

Then we decided to try the accuracy challenge. As the archer, I went first. About ten feet into the room, the walls came alive, and a giant blade swung at me. It hurt. Having a clear point from which to shoot, I fired at where I expected the target to be, even though I couldn’t make it out from my position. After a few tries, I noticed that my arrows were striking a barrier some distance from the back wall. I figured I needed to get to the other side of the blade, and began walking forward. Unfortunately, there were more than one blade, so it quickly turned into a run.

Finally, after being cut a few times, I made it past the blades. And then the ceiling started dropping. In sections, like giant pillars trying to squish me. They were too fast for me to avoid completely, but I managed to get past that section without being pounded too badly. Now that I was closer, I could make out the object at the end of the hallway. It was a carved head, with glowing eyes, and it was radiating an aura of magical fear. I was able to resist long enough to get a good look at it, but it quickly took over my mind and drove me back into the pillars.

This visit didn’t go as well as the first. I remember a pillar falling toward me, and then looking up at the ceiling near the head. Nothing in between. Telsin, who had apparently followed me through, thought more quickly than I had, and threw a dagger at one of the glowing eyes. This caused the head to shrink, and the aura to intensify. We were on the right track! I was able to compose myself long enough to shoot the other eye, causing the head’s mouth to open, into which Telsin threw a second dagger. With that, the traps shut off, and we were able to safely return to the main chamber. As we walked back, Telsin showed us two pieces of cloth he’d found, labeled “mobility” and “accuracy.” Passing through the door caused the runes to illuminate, then disappear. Lucky pulled out the one from “balance” and it had also lost its rune.

With three of our six tasks complete, we moved on to “precision” and “focus.” At this point it was clear to everyone that the trials were in pairs. This time, the room was a woodland scene. A few things stood out. First, we noticed two chests in a clearing in the woods. One looked crystalline, and the other had a yellow and black pattern. Then, we saw holes in the trees. Vertical rows of holes, like those made by a woodpecker, were on all the trees. Finally, we saw a golden beehive.

Having learned my lesson from “mobility,” I stayed behind while the others explored. As soon as someone passed in front of the holes, we discovered their purpose. A dart shot from each of the holes in the column, making it clear that these were traps. Lucky went straight for the hive, to discover that it was metallic (but not gold) and hollow. He tried a few times to remove it from the tree, but was unsuccessful. That was when the giant beetles showed up. I don’t know where they came from, but they flew in and started attacking us. Our blows seemed to have little effect on them, but they were also unable to hurt us much. After a short while, they grouped up and flew between the four corners of the room before departing.

With this threat gone, I ventured into the room. The first dart trap I triggered revealed another secret. One of the darts caught my eye as I dodged them. This one was different from the others, with a yellow and black pattern. It must be significant, but we don’t yet know how.

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