Kast

Chapter 36 - Interlude (Part 1)
Excerpt from Tharn's Journal

Now that Braxtol and his gang were safely away, we set about our task of finding the Grove of the Sun King. Using our tried and true method of looking around (from above), we discovered that in the arc east to north of us, there are three towers, southwest there is a building surrounded by a region with sparser trees, and almost directly south there is a series of hills with caves in the side. With only a vague description of the place to go on, we decided to start by heading to the hills. After that is when things started to get weird.

After a short while, we noticed a group of … things … walking toward us in the opposite direction. They were a bit like fish, and a bit like lizards, but totally unlike either. They walked (or shambled) on two legs, and seemed completely focused on whatever their destination was. Thankfully, this made avoiding them easy. After they had passed, we were surprised by a voice from above saying that we had made the right decision. While this phrase might sometimes refer to a god or other omniscient and omnipotent being guiding us in our lives, in this case the voice belonged to a comparatively normal person.

A man, with the legs and horns of a goat, jumped out of a nearby tree and introduced himself as Dr. Tummibelli. TB, as I will refer to him from now on, said he had decided to come to this forest on vacation. He said a friend had recommended it as a location to find adventure. While I cannot argue with that, it doesn’t seem an ideal vacationing spot. He also said that Christmas (the queen of our fairy allies in Glissana) had recommended our group as one that would be sure to find much excitement. That is also true, as much as I wish it were not so. Anyway, he had a deal for us. If we agreed to help him complete his vacation to-do list, he would point us in the direction we wanted to go.

Knowing that satyrs (like TB) tend to be tricksters, I knew we would be in for a wild ride, but they are generally not mean, so it should be a good deal of fun. After a brief discussion, we agreed to help him as we could.

First up was to find a spring where nymphs were known to frolic. On the way there, we avoided some of the common dangers of the forest, but still had to fight our way past a displacer beast and a tree. As we got close to the spring, I noticed some tell-tale signs of dryads, indicating that TB’s information might be good after all. When we got to the spring itself, we saw an elf with relaxing in the water. Before we could greet him, TB sprinted past us and leaped into the spring, sending water everywhere and terrifying the elf. Before we could apologize, the elf had run off. As he ran past, we noticed tatoos much like Tuiz’s covering his body. Unfortunately, we were unable to calm him and didn’t get a chance to speak. Then, with no obvious threats around, we took the opportunity to rest and relax in the soothing water.

Next on the list was pegasus tipping. Why you would want to do that to a noble beast like a pegasus, I don’t know. I also didn’t know how you might go about “tipping” a creature that sleeps lying down and can fly. On the way, we discussed possible strategies, none of which seemed particularly promising. When we finally found the pegasus, we went with “do anything and everything, and hope something works.”

First, Lucky cast a hypnotic pattern on it, but it seemed unaffected.

Then, Tuiz tried to persuade it to stay, but it didn’t seem convinced.

Then, Lucky cast another hypnotic pattern, I tried to stop him, and the spell went off, sending cloth streamers flying from Lucky’s hands. It was certainly impressive.

The pegasus was completely captivated, giving Tuiz and TB an opportunity to try pushing it over. Unfortunately, they were unable to topple it.

As the pegasus tried to fly away, Tuiz grabbed it and kept it aground.

The second attempt to push the pegasus over was a success, and TB, Tuiz, and the pegasus all fell to the ground in a great heap.

With the task done, TB pulled out a golden apple and offered it to the pegasus. The pegasus now seemed more amused than anything else, and flew off with the apple.

Before we had a chance to move on, we noticed that there were two Luckys. Having seen this before, we happily greeted Indy. Strangely, Indy was behind us, in his normal tiny dragonling form. Before we could become too confused, he introduced the second Lucky as his cousin Marion Vynwood-Levander. We were of course happy to see Indy and his brother, but didn’t know why they had come here of all places. TB’s next task answered that question for us. It was time to steal magical fruit from a grumpy Yeti.

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Chapter 37: Yeti Too, Brute?
Tuiz

Alkin the Elf
Southwestern Gray Forest

Hello Alkin,

Thanks again for helping us find the Sun King’s Grove. I hope you’re doing well. Say hi to Miranda from us next time you see her.

You’d asked us what we were doing in the forest, and though we gave you an answer about what brought us to the forest, I think you also ought to know what we were doing at the yetis’ cave. Since you were so helpful and since, well, we might have made that yeti even more ornery than usual.

You probably figured that we were there for the everfrost fruit, which you saw Lucky share with the pair of fruit-loving faerie dragons. But that’s not actually the main reason we went to the yeti cave. We’d met up with a satyr who called himself “Doctor Tummibelli” who’d promised us a reward if we helped him do some weird things he said he wanted to do for fun. It sounds dumb of us to agree to that I guess, but he did seem to know where some things were in the forest, while we were totally lost, so we want along with him partially for lack of better ideas. Anyhow, one thing he wanted to do was “prank” a yeti. He sort of had stealing the everfrost fruit in mind, but wasn’t set on it, and when we pointed out that theft wasn’t much of a prank, he quickly got excited about our example of something prankier: putting a funny hat on the yeti.

So that’s why we were there. To put a funny hat on the yeti. And also steal the fruit, at least for the dragons.

We spent a while planning, but in the end picked a pretty simple plan. Most of us would go up to the yeti in a friendly way and try to talk to it and keep it distracted while Lucky got the fruit and Tharn snuck the funny hat he’d made onto its head. We hoped that the smell of most of us would let Lucky and Tharn go un-smelled. And we were prepared to run if we had to.

So we dove into the yeti’s cave from the pool of water that you later saw us come out of. It’s a long cold swim on one breath, but eventually it gets so cold that a thin layer of ice stops the water, which you can punch through. This will put you — and put us — in a cave filled with cave rock formations, and no obvious signs of yetis living there. I don’t know if they use that entrance actually, because the only way we saw to go was through a narrow little squeeze that I don’t think a yeti could make it through.

Once through that squeeze, then you get to where they live. This is a bigger cave, with no rock formations, a shallow pool of water for washing or scrying or something, and the everfrost fruit. Also we could tell yetis lived there because there was a big yeti sleeping there, in front of the fruit. Lucky went through first, invisible and with darkvision, but he couldn’t really do much before the rest of us arrived.

As soon as we were all in there, the yeti woke up, and Tummibelli the satyr betrayed us. It seems he was actually from the Bitterroot Court, a fae court that we’d crossed several weeks beforehand. It wasn’t that impressive as betrayals go — he threw out some coins, which turned out to be cursed, seemed to make the way we’d come through disappear with an illusion, and disappeared himself, probably back out through the illusion. I discovered the illusion and discovered the coins were cursed right away, so they weren’t much trouble. But we were in a small space with an angry yeti, and that is a pretty good trap.

Lucky tried to let us avoid the fight by hypnotizing the yeti with magic. But Lucky’s spells don’t always go right. This one dropped a statue of some large river beast on the yeti. (If you want a statue and don’t mind it being in bad shape, you know where to find it now.) There was no avoiding the fight after that. Those yetis are vicious, with an icy stare that can paralyze you and frost breath that’ll chill you to the bone. If you have some way to protect yourself against the cold you should use it, if you ever have to fight one. And if you know the Crimson Rite of the Flame, I recommend it — it was a big help in wearing the yeti down.

While most of us were fighting, Lucky was still intent on getting that fruit. Oh, but I forgot to tell you about the mug. Tummibelli had a magic novelty mug that would punch you when it got close to your face. As another part of the “prank” he wanted us to leave it in the yeti’s cave. I guess Lucky forgot he was holding it, because when he went for the fruit he accidentally brought the mug near him and it knocked him on his ass. It would have been funnier if we weren’t fighting for our lives.

Anyhow, eventually we had the yeti on the ropes, and it saw it was in trouble and climbed away through a tunnel we hadn’t noticed in the ceiling. They can climb quick. I took a paw off it as it left, so if it’s real ornery now that might be why.

I’d told everyone that the coins were cursed, but I guess the curse can attract people to the coins even from a distance, because once the yeti was gone Daevon, Tharn, and Lucky all started fighting over the coins. Fortunately the faerie dragons have some sleep magic, and after being knocked out my friends got over the curse.

Once that was cleared up, we headed quick out of the yeti’s cave, which is when we ran into you. You must remember that well — everyone remembers where they were when they heard the Necromancer King was defeated. Thanks again for staying with us as we rested, and for leading us south to the grove of the Sun King.

We were quite taken aback by that grove, by the way. All those animals hanging around peacefully — we were a bit nervous about the owlbears. You could have told us more than “temper your expectations.”
Anyhow, now you know what we were up to in the yeti’s cave. Sorry for causing trouble. If you ever need a contact with the Order, just let me know.

Sincerely,
Tuiz Burden-bearer

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The Sun King Also Rises

Clearing, quite large, filled with many forest creatures and sylvan races

idyllic

“We Seek the Sun King (Brewery)” -Tuiz

Northern river investigation fruitless but working fine

Big tree turns out to be a woman and the sun king, reference Mr Kaplan

each spring I am dressed in my colorful best
in warm summer air more layers I wear
the colder it grows I fling off my clothes
If winter is here naked I appear
what am i?

A deciduous tree, reference puss in boots riddle episode

The sun king concentrates power grows a flowery garment and then attacks

the Sun King attacks

Sun King continues to grow and grow as the fight continues

miraculously at one point Kimya is able to bring them down to the ground

Tuiz ends the first season of spring, ‘seasoned combatant joke’

Evening gown, animating other tree

bloodied but un-boughed

huge boulder crushing tharn

Sun King gets lit up and the party lays into her, the animated tree is burnt to the ground by lucky and finished off with a radiant bolt

Daevon caused the Sun King to Fall, but in falling they rose, growing leafy wings and taking to the skies, reference carver kings

Telsin teleporting up and superhero landing

gets blinded by radiant beam

Telsin rips off the wings and drives the sun king to the ground

The skies are completely dark, there is no light,

The Sun King is only a withered naked form, everybody lays into the withered form

Withering frost attacks, including a ring of frost around them

Caleb withers away with the sun kings withering

winter storm takes over the area

Then lucky

Then Tuiz

Telsin runs in and goes unconscious, Daevon drags him out

Tharn goes down

Kimya runs in and goes down

Daevon drives forward dropping shield, swinging with the warhammer two handed and fells the final form of the sun king

It was a test, all Daevon’s allies are restored

Fang seeking a long imprisoned Deus, Clariel of Chaos and Bloodshed

Elders of the hidden village are protecting the imprisoned Deus, stained by his shadow the elves defend it

Elves have a secret cache, training ground, hidden temple

Should the fang succeed, the land will be torn by war

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The Trek
Tharn

We left the grove of the Sun King dark and late, as our guide recommended traveling the woods at night. Fortunately, I was able to use my magics to allow all of us to see despite the darkness. Since I had failed to avoid dangers previously, I stayed close to our guide so that I could observe his methods.

The forest had transformed dramatically from its daytime appearance. The fog had cleared, and we were surrounded by lights, some dancing between the trees, and some still on the ground. Closer inspection revealed the ground lights to be phosphorescent mushrooms which had not been present during the day, and were rapidly growing once night had fallen.

The darkness made it difficult to see dangers, but Alkin kept his eyes on the lights, noting when some of the dancing ones seemed to get stuck, and following the mushrooms along the ground. After a short while, we came across a different sort of light, this time from a few rocks on the ground. Alkin didn’t seem to pay them any mind, and continued on. I would have liked to learn more about them, but wasn’t sure that disturbing them was wise.

A couple hours later, I noticed Kimya tense, and Daevon called for us to halt. He had seen two humanoid figures, shambling in a direction roughly opposite ours. Telsin volunteered to get a closer look, and returned to let us know that these figures were more of the undead lizard-like beings we had seen before. Alkin wouldn’t tell us what they were, but suggested that we avoid contact. I wasn’t about to argue with that.

Eventually, we came upon a gnoll encampment, as we had suspected we would. Rather than try to fight our way through, we decided to take a loop around, and successfully did so without attracting attention. This added several hours to our march, but it was worth the time to avoid a large fight. After continuing a distance from the gnoll camp, we reached a point where the river dispersed into swampland, more mud and water than solid ground. I couldn’t find a dry spot for us to rest, so instead of pitching tents, we used our boat.

I set up a canopy on the deck so that I could sleep outside without fear of rain, and we settled in for the day. Towards the end of the night, a storm rolled in (Daevon said it was during his watch), and I was very glad for my makeshift shelter. Also, Daevon spotted something in the water. According to Tuiz, who investigated, it was a mermaid, which swam away as he approached. Also, it was undead. How pleasant.

After we had all slept, we still had several hours before dusk. I decided to spend the time exploring near our camp, trying to learn as much about the forest as possible while staying within a safe distance of my fellows. At the furthest point from them, I was surprised by a voice from the bushes. It spoke to me, calling me “Hunter”, and told me to follow it to its mistress’s domain. I was very wary of a disembodied voice speaking to me, and found the source to be a black fox. While certainly surprising, this reassured me somewhat. After it told me to travel north, I returned to my comrades to tell them about that strange encounter.

As this clearly seemed like an invitation from the Sun King’s opposite, we didn’t want to miss this opportunity. Alkin wanted no part of it, so he headed away after telling us where we could find him. And then we set off again. This time north along one of the river branches, following a mermaid that stayed right at the edge of our vision. Along the way, Kimya heroically fought off a hydra, and we had to fight another tree. Traveling at night was definitely a better choice than this.

While walking, we saw some signal lights being sent up north and east of us. Series of flashes as, we assume, gnoll parties communicated with each other. This repeated a few times, but we were unable to gain any specific information other than the location.

Our path took us all the way to the main branch of the river and across it. A few of us used the boat to cross, and the rest walked or swam. We were careful to stay away from the lights we had seen, not wanting to run into any gnolls, and so we were able to cross the river without incident. From there, we continued north along another branch of the river, always following the mermaid.

As night fell, we received a message through the sending stones, in Tonias’s voice. “Humans, soldiers, trapped in this tower. Gnolls have them surrounded. A larger force approaches. We see the Grim Fang, what should we do?”

Just then, I noticed that we could no longer see the mermaid. I used my wings to fly out over the water to where we had last seen her. And that is where everything went wrong.

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Chapter 40: Tricks of the Light
Lucky

As you know, we spent many days in the forest. What follows is the tale of a slightly bizarre… evening before our encounter with the Masked Midnight.

We’d been following this merfolk shapeshifter that had guided us northward. We’d followed her for most of the day across the river, around some gnolls… the details aren’t so much important to this particular narrative if you get the point that it’d been a fair amount of walking through the forest. It was foresty. This particular part wasn’t that marshy, it was more of the shrubberies and trees you get in the northern part of the forest. There were some patches where it was clearer and almost pleasant — as though we got a momentary respite in a garden from our past — but mostly it was dense trees and underbrush.

Around dusk, we lost track of the merfolk. While Tharn split off to try to find her, the rest of us received a magical sending from Tonias. Him and his crew had found some Kingsguard holed up in an old tower and besieged by gnolls. Their reconnaissance indicated that the Fang herself was coming to the tower.

Of course, we heroically set off to save them. Daveon drew upon his power to provide us with guidance and we quickly cut through the forest to the tower. Lest I be left behind, Tuiz was kind enough to carry me.

When we arrived at the tower the sun was just brushing the tops of the trees and we found the …

Eh? What’s that?

I said it was dusk earlier?

Oh, how should I know what time it was? In some places the forest was so dense I could barely see three feet, let alone the sun. It doesn’t matter what time it was. We were there to do hero stuff. There was enough light.

So anyway, as I was saying… we arrived at the tower and found the tower as described: containing soldiers and being attacked by gnolls. As soon as we were close enough, we engaged.

Tharn and I were going to hang back and rain destruction from afar but in our haste to arrive we failed to notice a pack of dire hyenas and their gnollish packmaster. Fortunately, Tuiz had paused to use his crown of destruction and was there to help us hack, stab, burn, shoot, shock, and generally kill the hyenas. In the meanwhile, the others charged into melee. Telsin, Caleb, and Kimya focused their effort on a big, armored, magically-enhanced gnoll who was leading the assault; though they got knocked around they took him down and beat him up pretty good. Daevon went right past and into the main battle line. Though he got surrounded by gnolls, they could barely scratch his light-infused self and his bravery undoubtedly single-handledly saved many of the soldiers.

With the help of those in the tower, we cleared out all the immediate gnolls and gained ourselves a few moments of rest. In the siege, the soldiers had lost most of their officers and so they were somewhat disorganized. Daevon effectively assumed command and we had the soldiers quickly pack up so we could leave before the rest of the gnollish forces arrived. We left Braxtol and his crew to harass the gnolls and escaped back the way we came with the soldiers.

When we reached the river, we crossed southward to the less gnolly side and then sent the 20 or so remaining soldiers home in our magic, inflatable boat. They’d come for intel and we sent them home with a bit more; their work in the forest was done.

As for us, we headed back around towards the lost-merfolk spot. As it grew dark we decided to camp for the night. I have no idea where we were, somewhere in the forest. I also have no idea what time it was by this point. It was dark and so stopping to sleep seemed reasonable. Unfortunately, but also fortunately, the Dark Huntress found us while we were resting and alerted us to a large group of incoming gnolls. Too many for us to fight. We didn’t get to finish our rest but we were able to pack up and flee before we had to fight.

After a time we changed directions and crossed the river again. This time Tuiz took the broom and Telsin was kind enough to carry me (he’s so cool he can walk on water). Tuiz flew off because he thought he was being watched and the way things played out he probably was. Of course he came back though.

Anyway, we eventually make it back into the strange, dark forest around where we lost the merfolk. There were some gnolls across the river and they shot something that looked like lost Kingsguard trying to cross the river; I’m not sure how we saw this in the dark, maybe some trick of the light. Anyway, it happened, just like we saw a big bird soaring about in the sky. But that’s a story for another time.

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Chapter 41: The Life Aquatic
Tuiz

“Hey Daevon, we’re back.”

“Mmm.”

“You must have been worried about us.”

“Mmm?”

“We left in the early evening, to go to the Shadowfell. It looks like it’s mid-day now, I guess of the next day…? You must have been worried.”

“I had a book.”

“I know you had a book. I can see you reading it now. I remember you reading it all yesterday morning when we were looking for the Masked Midnight. That’s why we took that long walk around this end of the river, by the way. Not sure if you picked that up. I also remember you reading it yesterday midday, when the rest of us were trying hard to find some way to safely get to the bottom of the river, held back by the fact that we all need to breathe. I appreciate that yesterday evening, after Telsin made his way to the bottom of the river and through the veil into the Masked Midnight’s domain and didn’t return as planned, you stopped reading for an hour to help locate him. Really, I appreciate that. We got him safely back, by the way. Do you want to hear what happened to us in the Shadowfell?”

“Almost done with this chapter.”

“You’re impossible.”

“Mmm.”

“Okay, I can take a break. Tell me about the Masked Midnight.”

“Right. The Masked Midnight is odd. He — or she, it’s not clear — said that our adversary — presumably the Fang — already stopped in and got his blessing. He offered to help the Fang with a dark ritual to steal the Sun King’s blessing, and to do it he needs the heart of one of the Fang’s rivals, like us. But the Masked Midnight says he doesn’t really want the Fang to succeed because he’d rather have Clariel’s power for himself, so he offered us a similar deal: bring him the heart of one of our rivals and he’ll give us his blessing.”

“The big question we were discussing on our way back to camp is whether we can trust him. His motives don’t quite make sense to me, and while he claimed that he would be honest with us because he doesn’t want to be a mysterious fae, I don’t think someone called the ‘Masked Midnight’ is known for being honest. Also even within his realm there were a bunch of warnings in Guttergab carved into the stalactites”

“Stalactites?”

“Oh, right. So when you go underwater and pass through the shimmering barrier into the Shadowfell, weird things happen. First, gravity flips. Also the surface of the river becomes hard; you can’t get through it. So this leaves you trapped underwater, walking upside-down on the surface of the river. Fortunately we could breathe water in there, though it wasn’t fun. Anyhow, the bottom of the river forms a sort of a cavern and it’s got stalactites — which I guess are stalagmites here, if they exist on this side — with weird faces carved on them along with generic warning graffiti. Also there are merpeople there, and Telsin said some were friendly but the one we saw was bone-chillingly terrifying.”

“And speaking of creatures there, you know how I’ve been feeling watched? Well the others said they saw a shadowy black dog standing right behind me as soon as we got there. Once we started talking about it it ran off, and I caught a little glimpse of it. And now I don’t constantly feel like I’m being watched any longer. I’m not sure if the dog-thing had anything to do with the Masked Midnight, but maybe.”

“But anyhow, I don’t much trust the Masked Midnight. He was kind of a dick, except to Kimya. Why not send us a guide to actually get us into his realm? Why wouldn’t he let Telsin exit to tell us it was okay? Why require this quest of us if he really does want us to stop the Fang? Why not answer any details about what sort of heart would suffice, or even be straight with us regarding that he really does mean “the Fang” when he says “adversary”?”

“But we have maybe made a deal with a powerful fae, so I guess we should get him a heart. We need a heart of a ‘rival’, and he was clear he didn’t think we’d bring him the Fang’s. I think he said ‘rival’ so it would include the B team; I’d be happy to bring him Braxtol’s or Brunt’s heart. And the Dark Huntress probably deserves to die too; though I guess we should get some evidence first. Or we could go looking for a gnoll lieutenant.”

“So anyhow, if you could see your way to not reading for at least a bit longer while we pick which rival to cut the heart out of their chest, that would be great.”

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Chapter 42 - Three days later

By the time we left the Masked Midnight’s domain, the sun had risen and it was almost noon. Clearly time passed differently there, since we couldn’t have been there for more than an hour. We then spent a while discussing what to do next, with no clear option presenting itself.

With our new task from the Masked Midnight, we had an incentive to track down a gnoll commander or to turn on Braxtol’s crew. However, we didn’t have reliable information on the gnolls’ movements, and Braxtol was still a useful ally.

We eventually decided that the best course of action was to head to the elven training grounds. Because of our round-about path to this point, we decided to head there on our own, instead of going to find Alkin. With that discussion out of the way, we rested until nightfall to make travelling easier.

That was when we got our first real shock. The regular check-in from Braxtol came as expected, but its contents were strange. Apparently we hadn’t responded in the last three days. After confirming with each other that we had responded the previous night, we realized that we must have been in the Masked Midnight’s realm much longer than we had thought.

With a new sense of urgency, we headed toward the training grounds, splitting the difference between the two towers on the way. When we were about halfway between those towers, we came across a well-worn path that seemed to run between them. In an effort to gain information on the gnolls, we sent Lucky (invisible on the broom) to investigate the path to the south.

While Lucky was gone, a group of creatures came down the path from the north. They looked like gnolls, but weren’t moving or making noise like they normally do, and Kimya reacted strangely to their scent. When I went up for a closer look, I saw they were clearly undead. Unfortunately, they noticed my presence and began advancing toward my position. To confuse them, Telsin broke from his hiding place and began running directly away from me. This caused the group of undead to split, with half following Telsin, and the other half still coming toward me. Seeing no easy solution, I used my cloak to fly away, back the way we had come. Seeing the confusion, Tuiz also ran, and he was easily pursued by gnolls.

After running for a time, Tuiz turned to face them. Kimya, who had been tracking them on foot, and Telsin, who had circled back, ambushed them from behind, and I dropped in from above to assist. Together we were easily able to defeat the small group.

After that encounter, we headed back to the path to wait for Lucky, who showed up shortly after we arrived back. Lucky told us he had found one of the towers, as we expected, and that it was full of gnolls. They had somehow managed to detect his presence (I suspect an Alarm spell), but had fortunately been unable to pinpoint his location. We discussed the possibility of attacking the tower, considering several avenues of assualt, most including the pellets full of water we found a few days ago. Eventually we decided that an assault wasn’t worth the risk, and continued on our path.

We neared the camp around dawn, and found a somewhat unexpected, very unfortunate sight. Between us and our destination was the bulk of the gnoll army. I guess we’ll get to fight those lieutenants after all.

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Chapter 43: If at first you don't succeed...
Lucky

Once again, we found ourselves hiding in the forest, looking upon a large gnollish encampment.

Of course, this particular camp was significantly smaller thanks to the Kingsguard’s excellent service, but there was still far too many for us to fight and hope to win. That didn’t stop Brunt from being Brunty and advocating for a direct assault, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Got to set the stage first…

After traipsing through the forest we’d found our way to the end of the Lorian. There, the river ceases to really be a river and becomes mostly a swamp. On the eastern edge of the last open water, the monks of the forest had built a training area. They had a very nice stone tower with built-in vines and trees; an elegant blending of construction combined with nature. You’ve seen similar structures in the lower crown district. Of course, the gnolls got there before we did and had knocked down most of the nearby trees as they set up camp around the tower. Their camp also had some broken ship parts scattered about as though some angry child had thrown them into the forest and broken them.

So anyway, the gnolls outnumber us 100-to-1 or so and most of us aren’t, at this point, willing to personally challenge a hundred gnolls to a fight. I mean, if we could have carefully separated them and planned a perfect ambush… but of course we didn’t do that. Even if we had wanted to try it wasn’t likely to work. We settled for trying to bait out some of the gnolls and waiting together in ambush.

In particular, we tried to sucker out the leader gnoll and his standard bearer. There was a big, burly slave-master gnoll we remembered from the northern encampment and a smaller — though still burly — gnoll following him around with a big, bloody fang banner. They clearly commanded respect in the camp but we were unable to draw them out with our first attempt.

We didn’t really have any good ways to set traps, at least not without days of hard work, so we picked out a muddy section of forest and took up positions. When Telsin indicated, I sent up signal lights like we had seen the gnolls do. We were hoping the leader would rush out with some nearby gnolls and we could surprise them. That obviously didn’t happen. I already told you the leader didn’t come. But also, the gnolls were surprisingly orderly about the whole thing. Telsin watched them call out the lights, call together some of the leadership, organize more than a hundred gnolls into search parties, and for those parties to fan out into the forest to search.

Wanting nothing to do with hundreds of organized gnolls, we left our muddy position and tried to get out to the edge of the fan. I’m not sure if the plan was to fight anyway or just avoid the gnolls, but it didn’t really matter. Heading through the forest someone thought they heard something and we froze, hoping to spring an impromptu ambush on the coming gnolls. I took the broom and invisibly flew a low pattern through the forest but didn’t find anything.

Figuring we shouldn’t waste too much time, we followed Kimya’s nose to the gnolls. And in the third ambush situation of the day… everyone failed. Or, everyone succeeded? Turns out the gnolls were hiding in an illusion but we were moving so carefully and passing without a trace that we got right into their midst before anyone noticed anyone.

And then in a flurry, like twenty things happened nearly all at once. Arrows went flying, weapons were swung, spells were cast, gnolls appeared from hiding, gnolls disappeared into the void, a tree started flailing its limbs, … and, like, no more than 20s later it was all done. The last surviving gnoll tried to flee and was captured by Tharn’s new magic and Telsin’s amazing quickness.

We were largely unharmed but the gnollish mage managed to throw up a distress signal before he got drowned in acid and a flurry of blows. I tried to fool the gnolls with an “all clear” signal but when we saw them continue to advance we decided to flee rather than risk getting surrounded. We definitely could have fought a bunch more gnolls but the goal had been to get the leader and that clearly wasn’t in the cards.

We took our captive and headed further east, towards the sea. Once the others were tired of running — I was still on the broom — or they knew we’d lost our gnollish pursuit, we took a break. Tharn tried to question the captive but all he did was howl until Tharn killed him. Tonias then tried some evil magic to make the dead gnoll answer questions. That didn’t work either.

And so, we circled back around to the gnoll camp to try again.

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Chapter 44: Elevator Boss Fight
Tuiz

Pfft Pfft Pfft Pfft Pfft. “Ow! Stupid darts.”

“At least that’s the last of the gnolls, right? So it should be just the darts and fire traps until we reach the bottom. I think we can all handle those. I hope there aren’t any worse traps”

“Speak of we all, are we missing someone?”

“Lucky! Where’s Lucky? Did anyone see what happened to him?”

“Nope”

“Not I”

“I think I saw him summon a horse — maybe he rode away?”

“No, I saw the horse bolt on its own and get cut down by gnolls, without Lucky on it. He didn’t ride off. At least not on a horse, but maybe on a broom? But there were a lot of gnolls out there, I hope he can get away.”

“He can turn invisible.”

“Yeah, but that bear shaman guy had some spell that made the two of us glow, right? It seems like that spell could be trouble for anyone invisible. And if they have magic alarms set up like we thought, they’d know roughly where he is.”

“Maybe he escaped back through the tunnel we entered through, and is going to meet back up with Daevon who should still be holding it open.”

“Could be. If so I bet he’ll go out to the B team, so Braxtol should tell you about that with his evil enchantment ravens.”

“I’ll ask him to let us know if he gets any sign of Lucky.”

“Good idea. But… did you see any way to make that platform go back down? I didn’t, though it’s not like we had a lot of time to look. And I don’t think he can teleport anywhere he can’t see. On the other hand I guess—” Fssshhhht. “Yow! I wish we could predict where those fire traps would go off. I guess maybe he could be farther up this… shaft on the broom; this thing seems to be going pretty fast. I hope all those gnolls we pushed off are dead, if he is coming after us. Is the entrance still open?”

“I can’t see it now, but I think it closed behind us.”

“If it is closed, do you think he could reopen it?”

“No, it took the two of us activating runes at the same time.”

“Oh, is that what did it? What was with those runes anyway, how’d you know to press them?”

“Right where we entered was a pretty easy riddle in Elvish, something like ‘Two sisters, one gives birth to the other, and she in turn gives birth to the first.’ Clearly the sun and moon.”

“Oh, yeah, even I could get that one. I guess it’s mostly a filter for who speaks Elvish. The gnolls clearly don’t; it looked like they’d been in there a while.”

Pfft pfft pfft pfft pfft. “Hey I think we lie down the darts will just shoot over us. How much longer is this thing going to go down, anyhow? It seems a bit too much; I don’t think anyone would—” Click. “Hey, it stopped. And, whoah, look at that.”

“That’s a big scary warrior statue.”

“Why can’t we ever find statues of kittens? I wouldn’t mind statues of kittens coming to life.”

“Hang on, it says something up there. Loosely translated it’s something like ‘Ten skills define the way of shadow. Prove mastery of six of them to challenge my might. The paths are deadly, so proceed cautiously.’”

“Challenge my might? That statue’s definitely coming to life later. I don’t suppose we can skip all that and just smash our way into that chest it’s guarding?”

“Hey guys, didja miss me?”

“Lucky! I am glad you weren’t eaten by gnolls.”

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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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