Kast

Chapter 60: So much to do
Tuiz

To-do list:

  • Figure out how entangling rope works.
  • Spread the word of Gordon, rhino of righteousness.
  • Find out if Kulan is evil.
  • Return Tome of Understanding to Emma in Hanged Tower.
  • Send Emil thank-you note for breaking curse.
  • Keep Brenna’s grave kept up.
  • Congratulate mayors on reelection.
  • Find out how to kill Brunt more permanently.
  • Help Caleb find NK’s cache (and wind?) in the Arid Wastes.
  • Check ruins in W. Wildlands possibly related to above.
  • Investigate Nadir guild in Sukatra.
  • Help Berger’s friends’ expedition deal with natives.
  • Check if Fleeting Mystique is front for actual snake cult (related to Hanged Tower?)
  • Find relic stolen from Critius.
  • Investigate weird happenings near tower in W. Wildlands.
  • Figure out how to get to Sukatra.
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Chapter 59: Not quite just trying to get home
Lucky

You remember the thing with the ritual in the Shadowfel? Total fiasco? Yeah, well, today’s story follows that one.

When the ritual circle collapsed it was mayhem: hundreds of stray cultists running for their lives, the Red Queen breaking free of her bonds, and the tatters of the ritual flickering and lashing out as it died. Then this black dragonborn took control of the situation, overpowered everyone, single-handedly rebooted the ritual, dominated the Red Queen, and then BAMFed out.

I was out of spells and separated from the party in that dark, depressing place. I ran away. I spent my last effort making myself invisible, hopped on the broom, and escaped. I was not ready to deal with those problems. I went to the Hanged Tower, the only place of reasonableness I knew on the whole plane. And, conveniently, a place where I knew there existed a portal home.

Of course, it wasn’t so convenient that the portal was actually open… and that’s kind of how we ended up in a swamp again, fighting big frog things again. Kulan called them… Bandywugs? No, Banderhobs? Mmm, Bullyhobs? Anyway, these giant toady frogmen. Bigger than Tuiz, huge mouths, bigger bellies. Like, you think that statue over by the Carrier place is ugly? It’s got nothing on these guys.

They’d been using their strange toady shadow magic to steal from the Hanged Tower. That’s how we got after them. There was basically no food left in the tower and since the portal wasn’t supposed to open for a while and Emma, the new tower mistress, offered us a cool magical reward we decided to track down the toads, eliminate the threat, help out, and claim the reward. After the death ritual, yeah, it would have been nice to just lounge around but there wasn’t anything to eat and the toads weren’t that tough. Kulan had this cool track-y disk that made it pretty simple to find the toads then they mostly got hypnotized and distracted before getting chopped and blasted into shadowy mist. Their tentacled master frog behemoth though? That’s a whole nother story.

So yeah. Though the Hanged Tower had been pretty wrecked when we left after the book-ink-dragon encounter, Emma and her snake-y crew had fixed it up again. Same sort of magically, implausibly, hanging tower but now more warmly decorated. A comfortable enough place to stay, if only because of the enchantments that block out the oppressive Shadowfel atmosphere. It’s still a library annex for people who prefer the dark side or aren’t otherwise permitted into The Lacuna.

Before we met up with Kulan, who became our new adventuring companion after the Banderhobs thing, we actually did some research. The twitchy, Belladonna-serving Kiran was also there and helped fill in some of the pieces. You see, in the chaos of the ritual Tuiz recognized Iris Bloodmist. Yeah, that Iris Bloodmist — supposed hero, member of the Stormcrown Crusade. Initially confused, we later learned she’d become a vampire and gone down a dark path. Somehow she usurped the mantle of the Red Queen as a play to avoid being enthralled. That didn’t really work out for her. And the power hungry bloodlust and need to feed she picked up from the old corrupt red dragon was probably no fun either. I can see why Kiran didn’t want anything to do with her, we didn’t either.

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Chapter 58: /sadface
Brena

We try to break up a ritual and might have succeeded if a new villain hadn’t showed up and overpowered everyone. Brena dies. The rest of us are fortunate enough to escape.

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Chapter 57: Attempted Ritual Murder
Tuiz

As Tuiz charged downslope toward a few hundred cultists, a handful of ancient elf death worshippers, three ominous magical rings, and one very angry-looking possible demigod struggling against magical shackles, he thought to himself “How did I end up here?”

How, indeed.

Going through the portal had probably been the first mistake. When they found that scary magical mist, they should have gone back and asked the tied-up cultists about it. But instead we ended up here, in the Shadowfell. Here, where our only possible allies are a powerful evil fey who is clearly using us, and his sworn enemy, aforementioned possible demigod, said to be bad news.

Well, the cult sure seemed to be bad news for Brighton, and stopping them seemed like the right thing to do (especially if they’re working for Death), so here we are. Taking them all at once seemed like a bad idea (and yet — here we are), so we started out trying to just disrupt their ritual. Lucky, being the sneaky one, made himself invisible and went in amongst them disrupting their plans: erasing runes, moving gems and idols, subtly altering runes, that sort of thing. Unfortunately it seems like the cultists are careful, and we saw what looked like them finding the “mistakes” and correcting them.

We figured to be doubly sure the ritual was disrupted, we’d destroy their supplies. Can’t set up a bunch of idols in a ring if all your idols are in pieces, right? And as far as we could tell all their supplies were in a single tent. So Lucky, being the sneakiest fireball-caster in the group, and most accustomed to casting from broomstick, cast a fireball from the broom into the tent (and then went invisible). That blew lots of their supplies to smithereens. The cultists sure noticed that, and immediately summoned some fog to hide them from further attacks.

No further attacks came — we thought we’d accomplished our mission — so they summoned something else. Some kind of awful air elemental, which wouldn’t have been so bad except that one, it somehow found us, and two, it was invisible. It was wiping the floor with us until Brena figured out that she could detect where it was (she called the magic she used “Detect Evil and Good”, but I don’t know why — it detects different things than that). With her pointing us to it, we managed to take it down. We’ll be in trouble if we ever run into something invisible that she can’t detect. Speaking of which, just before that thing approached Kiran vanished. I thought he’d teleported away, but he claims he was there the whole time, and Brena says she did sense him (despite him not helping us in the least). So he can turn invisible, which we should prepare for when we eventually have to fight him.

Anyhow, we were feeling pretty beat up after that fight, and decided to take some time to bandage up. We crawled into the neat little hidey-hole that Lucky’s cube can make to lick our wounds.

But when we came out, the cultists had a new tent! That seemed to have plenty of supplies! They were either well-prepared, with extra supplies somewhere nearby, or else powerful enough to get or make more supplies at short notice. Ugh. We figured we might have disrupted them enough to stop the ritual, but probably not. We considered having another go at it, maybe stealing the metal they were casting into huge rings, but couldn’t find a good way to make that work.

Kiran told us that the Red Queen would be here when the ritual was performed, so we figured our best shot was fighting alongside her. So we let the cultists finish their prep, and waited for her to show up. Before she did most of the cultists hid themselves, with a lot of crouching and a bit of illusion. We thought it was kind of obvious, and the Red Queen would see the trap.

But she eventually came into view, and it seemed like she’d walk right into the trap. We decided we had to start fighting now, so that she’d see the horde of cultists and avoid the ritual area. But that bint leapt right at the trap’s bait (probably Shadar’kai) as soon as she saw us, and seems to be getting trapped right this moment.

So, it’s us against the cultists and the Shadar’kai, just like we were trying to avoid. Let’s hope we can get the Red Queen free, and that once we do she doesn’t try to kill us.

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Chapters 55 & 56: Through the veil
Lucky

After resting in Glissana, we accepted a mission from the Blood Hunters to head south-west to New Brighton and investigate the surrounding area. Tuiz and Brenna had previously traveled there and put down a rogue necromancer and we were looking to see if there was more to that thread in the area. Additionally, rumor had it the notorious Red Dryad may have been involved so we were looking for evidence of her involvement as well.

New Brighton was… weird. I mean, at a glance it was just another little farming town: small inn, cobbler, general store, well, and some nearby farmhouses. But as we spent time in the area we kept finding things that were out of place. Tuiz used his magic to find they weren’t evil and that they were all new and slightly magic-touched. As someone who has accidentally conjured a few things in my time, I figure these curious items were similarly weird fallout from the area’s close connection to other planes.

Since the necromancer had fled towards the mountains west of Brighton, we focused our attention in the hills. We quickly established a regular search pattern but it took us a while before we found anything. Well, I mean, we found a lot of things first but it was just normal nature things and some of those weird new magical bits.

As I flew back over an area where we’d previous found some interesting stuff, one cave seemed weird to me. It might have been a magic thing or maybe I just remembered it differently, but when I went in and poked around we discovered the back of the cave was an illusion! Behind the illusion were some cultists who called out in alarm before they were entranced and quickly dispatched.

They were mostly weak little minions. A couple died mostly by accident before we caught, bound, and gagged the rest. The red-robed leader tried to raise the alarm but it’s not at all clear why. After clearing out the entryway we explored most of the cave and found… nobody.

Yeah.

That’s right.

Some cultists were guarding the entrance to their empty cave. Why? I dunno. Maybe they thought they were going to come back and use the space again after they completed their ritual.

We left the prisoners outside before entering and exploring — we obviously hoped to catch the cult before they got too prepared. But like I said, we didn’t find anyone. There were a few illusions, some zombie rats, and some trash left behind but otherwise the place was pretty thoroughly cleaned out. It looked like the place had been a cultist training ground. We found a large room for speaking or putting on a show, a lot of cheap beds, some progressively fancier beds for the leadership, and a lot of scribbled practice runes.

At the bottom of the cave we found the most interesting feature: a large cavern. As we explored it, the natural stone gave way to a decidedly unnatural grooved surface. It’s as though the magic of the portal had leaked out and affected the surroundings.

Yes, that’s right. At the bottom we found a portal to another place.

Now, you’re probably imagining a neat, solid circle enclosing a shimmering barrier surrounded by glowing runes. Instead, we found ourselves faced with a thick grey mist that filled the tunnel on the far side of the cavern. We couldn’t see what lie ahead but some simple tests found it to be unobviously harmful and resistant to being dispelled. Since it didn’t seem like it would hurt me, I took a rope from Tuiz and walked into the mist.

… and that’s where we’ll leave off for today.

No?

Okay fine. Though you needent worry. Obviously I made it through just fine. I’m here, aren’t I?

Turns out, the mist was a one-way portal to the Shadowfell. We actually came out somewhat near the Hanged Tower, though down in the valley of the blades.

There we met a strange fey figure: Kiran. He told us he was sent to be our guide. He’s the one who told us we were in the Valley of the Blades and that there was a war going on between his master and the Red Queen; two of the seven major powers in the Shadowfell. Apparently when we removed the Book from the Hanged Tower we removed a neutral force between the two powers and the resulting void lead to the fighting.

Anyway, Kiran also told us we were supposed to stop the ritual and pointed us in the direction of the hundreds of cultists that were setting it up over the next hill. Though the ritual was allegedly aimed at Kiran’s enemy, the Red Queen, he assured us it was important that we prevent the three rogue Shadar’kai and their minions from completing it. Though I don’t really understand rituals, my sense of the thing is they weren’t actually trying to kill the Red Queen but were instead going to attack her mind. I suppose if they controlled her or made her insane that would result in a much more spectacular appeal to Death than just ending one powerful fey.

So, now you know what we found on the other side of the veil and that’s enough for tonight. I’ll tell you more stories from the Shadowfell another time.

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Chapter 54
Brena

We left Glissana early the following day to make our way to New Brighton. On arrival in the small town, we noticed that the tavern was more full than I would expect on a normal day. Walking up to the bar, I questioned the woman busy serving drinks to the crowd.

Her name was Auggie, and she was the owner of the tavern and inn, and she informed us that they were celebrating a wedding. The lucky couple was Dap and Roan, and the town had been wondering when they would finally tie the knot. Dap had apparently found a ring with a huge diamond in some caves not far from town, prompting the proposal. This seemed a little odd, so we decided that the caves would be a good place to investigate. We questioned an old man named Phil about the caves. According to Auggie, he was the local expert. Unfortunately, he couldn’t give us specific details, but he told us a fantastic story about dangers of the cave system.

While eating and talking, we noticed an oddity in the place settings. Most of the dishes were simple, as one expects from a country inn. However, some were of a significantly higher quality, more like you would normally see in the estate of a family that recently came into a large sum of money. According to Auggie, she had purchased them at a low price from a travelling merchant, Prestwick, who was still in town. Given the odd nature of this, we decided to question Prestwick.

Prestwick had his shop set up in a simple tent, and his wares consisted of items normally associated with a merchant of his nature. When questioned about the dinnerware Auggie had purchased, he claimed to have no knowledge of it. Lucky, who apparently has some experience dealing with criminal types, thought that Prestwick was telling the truth, and that Auggie had probably acquired the plates in some way she didn’t want to talk about. With no solid information, we headed back to the inn for the night.

Unfortunately, the busy night meant that there were no rooms available in the inn, but Auggie was happy to let us stay in the hay loft of her stables.

We started the following day travelling to the ruins of Old Brighton. The town had been destroyed by the necromancer we were chasing, so it seemed like a good place to start. After spending a few hours searching the town, we were able to find only one clue. A scrap of cloth had caught on a patch of brambles. With nothing to go on, we headed into the hills to look for the mysterious caves.

A short way up, we came across a few shallow caves. There were three caves in the immediate area, and two of them were empty. The third had a pile of bones in one corner, and had clearly once been the den of some wild animal. Outside the cave, we found a couple crossbow bolts that looked like they had been fired toward the mouth of the cave with the bones. That would explain why no animals were living there now. Hoping to learn more, I tried to detect any kind of evil presence in the area. There was a weak aura of evil from the cave with the bones, but nothing that would indicate the past presence of a powerful necromancer.

From here, we didn’t know where to look, so we spent some time deciding our next moves.

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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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