The Floor Drops Out

The goal of this work is to accurately but succinctly characterize. As with previous works within this series, while the particular facts are almost certainly important, the goal of this author is to use those facts to highlight larger issues and illuminate the broad spectrum of human experience, particularly building upon the theories presented in [AK] and [HJ] (It has come to the attention of the author that [VL] is in fact blatantly false). Regardless, we continue where [L] has left off.

Speak with Dead

The individuals of interest returned to the hermit’s clearing, the place of the ‘death’ of the Deus referred to as Set, learning death was not an extremely permanent condition for Set (perfectly consonant with the theories of cognitive re-disassociation presented in [WI]). Emotions in the clearing were suppressed, an uninformative inference to those already familiar with [GS]. Set directed the documentary subjects toward the third guardian of the Lacuna, a large magical book. In accordance with [BE], obviously the most powerful of the guardians (or at least created by the most powerful). The identity of the other guardian was also revealed, but is suppressed here for reasons given in [GE].

Still-dead Set gave us directions to the third Lacuna guardian (turns out the first was one of the townsfolk we met before). We made our way to the Hanged Tower through more library, a stubborn magic portal, and down an awkward cliff-face haunted by a ghost and patrolled by skeletal chimeras. The third guardian is a fairly unhelpful, animate book.

Through the Floor-Door

A door in the floor lead into what we subsequently discovered was the realm of shadows. This lead downwards up a mountain slope to the hanged tower at the top of an upside down mountain, clearly flying in the face of the patently absurd claims in the already discredited [FK].

On this slope we both encountered a ghostly creature as well as undead wyverns. The aforementioned troupe of individuals were able to handily dispatch the ghosts primarily through utilization of the precepts put forward in [DC]. As every situation has some reference material which makes all action simple application of theoretical precepts the wyvern was similarly dispatched on the basis of [TC].

Checking out a Book

The author of this treatise was finally able to spend sometime devling into the ultimately simplistic ontological consequences of [AT]. Also, finally the final guardian was encountered and the investigation could continue. This turn of events was clearly fated, as any well-read scholar familiar with [PR] would have no doubt already been aware. That said, the jaws of epistemic defeat are everpresent in an endeavor as fraught as this.

The ultimate ramifications of these experiences, while no doubt obvious to even the most idiot of savants, will nonetheless be expanded upon in [L2].

[AK] Arrow, K.J. Social Choice and Individual Values.
[AT] Anaximander, T. Treatise on Disillusion into Thalean Essences.
[BE] Bulwer-Lytton, E. The Pen is Mightier.
[DC] Dicey Jenning, C. Consciousness Without Attention.
[EB] Embry, B. Truth and Truthmakers in Early Modern Scholasticism.
[HJ] Hadamard, Jacques. An essay on the psychology of invention in the mathematical field.
[GE] Gilnara, E. I, EarthWard Gilnara, am the Other Guardian.
[GS] Gellar, S.M. Once More Without Feeling.
[FK] Fine, K. Unified Foundations for Essence and Ground.
[L] Loreseeker, Daevon. Events Preceding.
[L2] Loreseeker, Daevon. Forthcoming. (forthcoming)
[PR] Pasnau, R. Snatching Hope from the Jaws of Epistemic Defeat.
[TC] Tepid, C. Gotta Get Down to Get Up.
[VL] Volkmann, L. Fundamente der Graphentheorie.
[WI] Wendingo, I. Life, Death, Life-Death and Death-Life: An Exhausting Survey.

No Longer a Placeholder
Excerpt from Tharn's Journal

With the help of the unseen servants, I was able to find one book on Nature Magic, and it was one we had already stumbled upon in the library proper. Only one! I guess this isn’t the best place for that kind of knowledge. Fortunately several of the others were more fortunate with their searches.

Tuiz was able to find a good deal about the history of the Lacuna. Apparently the land above was once the nation of Konsu, which was destroyed hundreds of years ago by the Necromancer King. The Lacuna itself is extremely old, and was founded by exiles from the surface and from the underdark who wanted a place they could feel safe, apart from the judging eyes of above and below. The physical space itself was created by the Deus of Lore (whom we have already met), and its … unique geometry is maintained by magic from crystals like the one guarded by the Deus.

As for the layout, Tuiz found a map, which explains why I was having trouble discerning the layout from our explorations. Not only is the Lacuna huge, but the paths loop over and under each other in ways that don’t seem possible.

Meanwhile, Daevon was able to find some information on the Deus of Law, with the most interesting part being that there have been multiple (perhaps many) avatars of this Deus over time, following a cycle of death and rebirth.

Thankfully, we were all rescued (Daevon might say distracted) from the tedium by the call to dinner, where we met some of the other guests.

I spoke with Lord Balthazar, who had arrived on a flying horse. I asked about his mount and tried to learn a bit of who he is. He is researching ley-lines and historical maps, for purposes unknown. After hearing of his hobbies, I can’t imagine his intentions are good.

On my other side was a dwarf named Opalheart who wore a ring designating him as a master of his craft. He is a master jeweller who had come here to try to find lost gems which contained an angel. I found his conversation boring, and was glad that he was speaking mostly with Daevon.

Across the table from me was a lady named Mezlia who spent most of the evening flirting with Tuiz, who happily joined in. She seemed nice, but was very secretive when it came to her ‘mistress’.

The only other guest we hadn’t met was the mysterious Howl. She kept her face well hidden, along with all skin, and didn’t speak during the dinner at all.

Braxtol opened up somewhat as well, explaining that he had come to research deus of the lower realms, such as darkness, evil, and death. Amil was simply excited to have so many guests, and spent most of the dinner telling stories, some likely true, and some certainly false.

For dessert, we had a lovely cherry dish. At least, it would have been lovely if it hadn’t made me sick. Looking around the table, I noticed my companions all reacting as I felt, while no one else seemed to notice. I took half of it for further inspection.

After dinner, I asked Caleb to check the dessert for poisons, but he was unable to find any. Daevon had similar suspicions, and went to talk with the chef. He didn’t see any poisons in the kitchen, but he did happen to notice ink in some of the desserts. What a fitting poison for a library (and abundant).

Lucky, reacting to the situation in his own way, “borrowed” a few items from Braxtol. He managed to acquire some money, spell reagents, and a sending stone. He left the stone in Daevon’s hat, and left the other items under the chair Braxtol had used for dinner.

The following morning, I found that I was still much older than I should be. It must have been some powerful magic from our encounter with the ghost. It is also affecting Forth, and neither of us are very happy about it. Unfortunately, we can’t leave here for several days, which according to our research, would be too late to find a cure. Caleb and Amil both tried their magic, but neither were able to help. Amil directed us to Howl, who is apparently a procurer of goods. During our interaction, she did not speak, but I got a distinct impression of a cat from her. Maybe that is why she covers herself and remains silent.

Unfortunately, Howl didn’t have anything that would help us, but she did have one potion that would reduce the drinkers age. Not really what I was looking for, and far too expensive for us (even I knew that). So now we are stuck here, worrying about our lives, unable to do anything productive. I guess I could go back to reading “Fantastic Beasts” or whatever it is called.

The ink from last night must have some lingering effect, because I could swear that bookshelf just moved…

Chapter 27 - Towerful Mystery (Part 1)

It’s been a while, so lets begin by setting the stage. Location: Hanged Tower. A sort of auxiliary library to the huge underground Lacuna library. A tower, I should add, hanging impossibly from a rock face in the Shadowfell. All dark stone and pointy angles.

It would be a terribly depressing place if not for the hosts. Amil’descong’friz’amater is the Genasi butler… steward? Butler? Well anyway, he oversees the place. Jovial fellow despite being somewhat blue. Fairly excitable, he planned many events for us during our stay. I get the sense that he’s usually lonely. I would be too if I was stuck working in a library for the rest of my life.

I also found the tower fascinating since it was chock full of magical servants and animated furniture. At first it’s a shock but then it’s super cool. Need your pillows fluffed? Call for a servant and it’ll just float right in. Or you can tell them to fluff themselves. I whiled away at least one morning teaching one of the chairs to sit. And play dead. And stay.

Of course, we weren’t the only guests that were there. You might remember from before, but bear with me anyway; they’re going to become important in the mystery to follow. Oops, well, yes. Turns out there’s a mystery. It was almost like something out of a book. The enchanting local girl: Mezlia. The fine dwarven craftsman: Opalheart. The silent one in the corner: Howl. The dark and dashing: Balthazar. And our recurring foil: Mr. Braxtil himself!

So we’re stuck in this tower with a mystery to solve. Whodunnit?!

The first step in our process was research. We were, afterall, in a library. The others read about legends, fantastic beasts, Deus and that sort of thing. Things that seemed relevant given the problems with the Lacuna and what we’d gathered from some of our companions the night before at dinner. Braxtil had been researching legends and death gods. Balthazar apparently was a man of twisted taste and in possession of a magnificent magical horse. Mezlia and Howl both seemed suspiciously normal and like they might not be entirely human.

Me? I didn’t do much reading but I did get some books on books. What for? Well, because the guardian was a book. There’s a large, strange, animate book that’s also a character in this story. It’s the third Lacuna guardian we came to help/check on. Something was definitely amiss in the tower and the book, given it’s guardianness and the tower as its home, was involved.

The second step was more research. Since someone had inked our desserts the night before at dinner, we did some research to see if any of our fellow guests had similar ink. Daevon borrowed some from Opalheart that wasn’t a match. I checked Mezlia’s room but didn’t find any ink at all, save for that written neatly on a scroll in some language I couldn’t read. Howl’s room was locked… but empty. I guess she was staying somewhere else? There was a small paper bird though in one drawer of her room. Though no-one was staying there, I did lock it again on the way out. Leave no trace. Balthazar was sleeping and Braxtil was in his room at the time, so we’d have to follow up on them later. There also was a sixth closed door in the guest quarters…

Which brings us to the seventh relevant character: our host, Mr. Amil’ca’alum’fis’namar himself. Turns out, his room is in the guest quarters. I didn’t check it since we heard noises from inside. Turns out there was a catmeleon in there. Yep, that’s exactly what it sounds like: part cat, part chameleon.

The next clue in the mystery came while we were researching in the library. I mean, what else would we be doing while trapped in a library? I suppose we could be fighting monsters, okay, sure, but, well, hang on, just let me tell the story. So we’re sitting there and reading, some of us more than others, and suddenly we hear this deep voice sort of whisper, but like pretty loudly and from everywhere: “kill them”. And then the library up and attacked us. Bookshelves, rugs, decorative weapons, the coat rack even got in on the action. Right? As Amil’a’cadabra’von’amar later explained, any guest could command the magical furniture. But we didn’t know that at the time, otherwise we could have just told them to stop.

Instead, we fought. It wasn’t really tough, despite our lack of weapons and armor. A bookshelf isn’t very nimble and since they mostly just tried to poke people with a corner it wasn’t very effective. The rugs could have been trouble but Caleb’s wind magic and Fourth’s fists of fury beat them pretty soundly. The surprise chandelier attack could have been deadly but fortunately it missed. And the swords might have cut us up but Tuiz grabbed one and turned it against the other. Me? I couldn’t do much without magical reagents or a staff and I didn’t really want to trash the library so I mostly watched and called for Amil’aran’asan’amar to help us. He eventually did arrive and dispelled the magic animating the last rug and sword. Braxtil passed by on the stairs during the fighting but didn’t stop or help at all.

Afterwards, we spent some time in the library talking through the mystery. A little sandwhich cart rolled through so I was able to snag a snack and some tea. Like I said, the magical servants were quite nice. During the discussion I received a sending from Braxtil’s stone. The mystery narrator on the other side sought to inform him about Gnoll troop movements, the Fang’s ritual failure, and had an inquiry about Elf research. This touched off another round of library research.

Step… four? of the research plan was for us to check Braxtil and Balthazar’s rooms that evening during Amil’ignar’ator’s evening festivities. However, given the lateness of the hour, that part of the story and the exciting conclusion will have to wait for another day.

I’ll leave you with some questions to think about though. Firstly, who do you think is behind the magical mayhem at the tower? Have you figured it out yet? Secondly, who is the catmeleon’s master? And finally, if a friendly catmeleon implored you: “Quickly, come with me, we must save my master!” what would you do?

Chapter 28 - The Elephant in the Room
A hastily-scrawled note in Tuiz's pocket

About to confront powerful magic user — jotting note in case it alters memories (or worse).

At party, Amil says believes in “balance” b/w light + dark (suspicious!), then excuses self (errand 4 master), refuses help, exits front door. Gives obvious note “someone is trying to kill you.” (Ink same as dessert poison!)

4th + Lucky snooping downstairs. Toshiko-catmeleon speaks to them, leads them to room. Seems empty, but illusion. Inside is missing guide from Lacuna, tied up. She says kidnapped and brought here (by who?). Toshi is her pet (contradict Amil!).

Room is trap. Can’t exit. Magic paintings spill ink into room, floods. Lucky teleports out, calls 4 help. Other painting has giant gray horse-tentacle thing. 4th eventually kills it. We can’t find way into room, slowly break thru wall. Ink spills, but painting destroyed stopped flow.

Search Amil’s room, nothing suspicious. Search Braxtol’s. Magic desk has extra-d space, many ways to unlock. Book of rituals and code. We steal desk, but Raven flies out, warns Braxtol, we give back.

Tharn turns 2 Mezlia (master=Belladonna) for blood ritual 2 undo age curse.

Guide gone again. We go 2 ask Book wtf is going on.

Chapter 29 - Judge a Book...
Excerpt from Tharn's Journal

Well, today was certainly interesting.

After my meeting with Mezlia, I joined back up with the rest of the gang, who had decided that we should ask Book for information about our guide and how she came to be a prisoner. As usual, he was very direct with his answers, and assured us that he knew nothing of the matter. When we shared our distrust of Amil, Book made it very clear that Amil was unable to act against Book’s wishes (a little creepy).

We also learned that Book makes the ink for the tower with the aid of spectral servants, who do the pouring and mixing under his direction. As he has been doing, Daevon took a sample of the ink and compared it to the sample from our dessert a couple nights ago, and it was a match! That told us that someone in the tower had poisoned us… not very helpful.

As we were finishing this line of evidence, Amil returned from his excursion with two humanoids he was leading on leashes. The “reagents”.

It was time to take more drastic measures. Daevon convinced Amil to join us in our rooms, where we bound Amil and forced him to answer some questions about recent events. He told us that he had been given Toshiko by Braxtol, and that he knew nothing about the captive guide. This confirmed our suspicions about Braxtol. (Also, Braxtol apparently has an invisible imp).

As we questioned him, he grew anxious, as Book compelled him to bring the “reagents”, which he had already done. At this point, Lucky told us that he had found the prisoners, determined that they were terrified, and were certain they would be killed. Being Lucky, his response was to release them.

The tower’s servants informed us that Braxtol had left, so we prepared to search for him. The bulk of the preparation was figuring out what to do with Amil. We couldn’t just let him go, because he was clearly doing evil for Book, but I was unwilling to leave him tied up, because he wasn’t responsible for his actions, and tying him would likely cause him undue harm. The solution was to bring him with us. Daevon incapacitated Amil, and we carried him to the tower entrance, where we were unable to take him further. It was as though he was tethered to the tower. This threw a wrench into our plans.

Further complicating our pursuit was the fact that there was no trace that Braxtol had left via the only path. Even Kimya couldn’t pick up the trail. As the others took Amil back to our rooms, I went to investigate a commotion in the stables. Balthazar’s Nightmare had disappeared. Well, that explained how Braxtol had left. I tried to get Balthazar to help us track the Nightmare, which would hopefully lead us to Braxtol as well, but Balthazar was inconsolable, and unable to help us in his state.

With no direct actions we could take, we decided on a more thorough questioning of Amil. Tuiz used a potion he had created to read Amil’s surface thoughts. This would give us a more accurate idea of what Amil though of as true. Oh boy, did it.

Amil was definitely being controlled by Book. He was not happy with the actions he was being forced to perform, but was given no choice in the matter. Tuiz said he could sense the mind control through his minor telepathy. Amil let us know as well as he could that he felt we were still in danger, and that we would remain so until we left the tower. All this new information made it clear that we had been chasing the wrong person this whole time. We needed to confront Book more directly.

We made sure Amil was tied securely, and made our way to Book’s room. We were not at all prepared for what we found. Book drew upon the ink in his study to transform himself into a huge black dragon!

Daevon, being the book fanatic that he is, opened with the appropriately heroic line “I hate it when good books turn bad. I’m writing this ending” to get us all fired up.

Dragon Book, as I will call it from here on, broke a huge hole in the ceiling, allowing it access to the ink manufactury, and providing it a large area in which to move… if it could. For a while, Dragon Book tried to escape Daevon, but Daevon was able to force it to stay put in a battle of will that was truly awe-inspiring. Once it was able to move, it flew up a level and began throwing massive cauldrons to the floor where we were standing. From these cauldrons, ink poured, infused with the magic of Dragon Book. Touching the ink resulted in either scalds or frostbite, a truly nasty weapon either way.

Then, something horrible happened. A vicious blow brought Caleb down. This might have been the end, but Tuiz, thinking quickly, drew upon his blood magic to provide some healing and get Caleb back in the fight.

After this, Dragon Book used its superior mobility to strike at whichever of us was least defended. All the while, Tuiz ran, or attempted to run, between these various locations, never quite making it to Dragon Book. It would have been funny, if we weren’t in a deadly contest.

As the battle continued, ink kept pouring out of the cauldrons, reducing our mobility and giving Dragon Book more strength. It would land near a pool, drink from it, and then unleash a terrible breath attack at whoever was unfortunate enough to have angered it most recently. This did, however, give the hand-to-hand fighters a chance to strike blows, with Kimya surprising everyone when she was able to drag Dragon Book to the ground! While exposed in this way, we were able to inflict some heavy wounds, slowly wearing Dragon Book down.

Then, Dragon Book turned on me. The last thing I remember is the horrible black monster landing in front of me and striking out, then nothing.

My friends told me that after I went down, Daevon was able to deliver the final blow with a blast of light. Some hasty healing and a quick slap brought me to consciousness in time to see Dragon Book begin melting into a pool of ink, with the book lying in the center. We took a moment to recover from the devastating encounter, and Lucky saw that the letters ‘NK’ had reappeared on the book’s spine. Daevon, looking around the destruction, found some treasure, but we were not out of trouble yet.

With the death of Book and the loss of his magic, the tower began collapsing. We hurried from the scene to release Amil, who was overflowing with joy at being released from his servitude. We then found the other tower guests, who were preparing to leave the crumbling tower, and convinced (easily) Toralir to join us on our way back to the Lacuna.

Once out of the shadowy realm, we set about solving the problem of the lost guardian. Amil directed us to the crystal formerly linked with Book and told us how a new guardian could be made. When none of us offered to take the position, Amil said he would be the one. After some preparation, we performed a ritual with dancing, chanting, and a suitably occult rune circle.

During the ritual, Kimya shocked me by howling along with the chant! I’ve never heard her make a sound before! This warrants further investigation.

When the ritual was complete, Amil told us of an incredible connection with the Lacuna. He was able to “see” what was happening, “feel” passages that he had never known about, and was aware of incredible powers available to him within the Lacuna. With these powers, Amil sped us on our way to an exit, thanking us again for the help we had provided, and wishing us good fortune on our journey.

We scouted the exit, and were pleasantly surprised to find that there were no gnolls waiting for us. Hopefully our good luck continues, because we surely have more dangers ahead.

Chapter 30 - Out of nowhere, back to somewhere

So we come out from the tunnel, and at this point we’re all on alert because we don’t know how the battle went, or where we are. So we’re thinking we might be stepping out into a huge pack of gnolls. Then wham! From out of nowhere Lucky gets clocked on the head! So I’m looking around like “where are they? Where are they?” And Lucky’s like “Wait, it’s… mail?” Turns out it was the mail delivery, with a whole batch of letters his mom had wrote him. I guess they don’t deliver underground, or maybe we were under some magical wards, but as soon as we got out they were on top of that delivery.

So Lucky’s reading his letters while we’re trying to get oriented and decide to do, then wham! From out of nowhere an arrow grazes off my arm. And for a moment I’m like “who mailed me an arrow?” but then I’m like “oh here’s the gnolls.” Also it was totally a gnoll arrow. We see a figure on the faaaar bank of the river, and we’re like, first, “goddamn longbows”, but second “we’ll stop him somehow.” So Forth starts trying to head towards him, when wham! Out of nowhere the plants grab us. Some sort of druid magic. They don’t get Forth though, and she knows that spell couldn’t be cast from all the way on the far bank, so she starts looking around more, and totally spots a druid. She runs over and punches at him, but whiff! It goes right through. An illusion!

Daevon is like “illusion, shmillusion” and does his bolt-of-light thingie at it, which somehow seems to hit? He tried to explain how he knew that would work but I think it was a lucky guess.

Anyhow, then these two start yelling at each other, which maybe shoulda been our first hint that they weren’t gnolls. But it wasn’t really two, ‘cause around then a jug of some sort of magical cold comes crashing down and freezes the plants that are still grabbing me. And not long after a jug of magical fire crashes down… quite a ways away. So we suspect there’s a third one of ‘em, who doesn’t have good aim as the archer. Not that the archer is really doing much lately.

Anyhow, Caleb helps me get free, and we’re starting to suspect these may not be bad dudes, but I’m like “why take a chance?” They seemed to be trying to kill us. They weren’t that good at it, but when that happens it’s no joke. So I run over to the druid to see if some magical fire can hit this illusory druid the same way Daevon’s light bolts can. And I don’t think the magical fire did, but taking a big overhead chop sure did, because I hit something about halfway down the druid. Lucky takes that cue to hit it with one of his firebolts — sizz! — and the illusion drops and we see an unconscious halfling woman.

The remain two yammer at each other a bit, but we’re now pretty sure these aren’t bad guys. Forth goes off to search for whoever was throwing the potions at us. I get the halfling druid in a headlock, ‘cause you can’t be too careful, and then, uh, give her some healing. She comes to, upset at first of course, but in a headlock so she can’t do much. And I convince her to call the others off. They’d been calling us gnolls, which we assured her we were not.

It was ‘cause of the gnolls’ illusion magic, right? They expected to see gnolls disguised as humans. And I don’t know if you’ve heard this, but folks worked out a system to signal that you’re a good guy, which of course we hadn’t heard of, because we’d been living literally under a rock for a week.

Anyhow, those three give us the skinny and introduce themselves. The druid was Vic… Vicki? Victrola? They call her Vic. The archer’s Falovar Deadeye. And the guy with the potions, who by the way wasn’t throwing them but had a portable catapult — how cool is that? — is Gerard. We ate lunch together. Nice folks.

After lunch Forth and Tharn did some aerial recon up where the gnolls had been, and then we decided to get back here. Fortunately, we have a portable boat. Well, I guess all boats are portable, kind of the point of them, but this one is easily portable over land, y’know? Carried it with us the whole time. Anyhow, we deploy that and sail down here back home. We popped by the Queensguard to report what had happened, of course, and Oddward told us some more about what the gnolls have been up to with the raids and the move to the gray forest and such. And then we came right back here to see you all, and get some of this great grub! Sure beats trail rations.

Hey hey, we’re back for lunch! And we went shopping! Err, uh, sorry, just for adventuring gear, nothing for you. But check out this cool stuff we got, which is totally going to help us beat the gnolls. First we nearly cleaned out the reputable item shop, picking up this nifty flask which just has water in it now but supposedly is going to have a new potion every day, and also a collar for Kimya that can heal her, and some gloves for one of the magic users. And then we decided to stop by the bad side of shopping, Piacular Peculiarities. It took us a bit to find it, but we ran into Matrim and he knew where it was. Anyhow that was some tougher haggling, but we came out of it with a nice matched set: this little goat figurine can turn into a giant terrifying goat— yeah, okay, I don’t blame you for laughing. I want to see it too, but it can only do it once a week so I don’t think we should use it now. But anyhow I also got this ring, see, which lets you talk to animals. So we can be like “alright goat, charge at the gnolls on the left or whatever.” I wonder if Lucky could ride it. And would that make it more or less terrifying? Hmm. Maybe we should test it out…

Chapter 31 - Smoke on the water

Durr Derr Darrr, Dur Der Da Derrrrr, Durr Derr Darrrr Der Durrrrrr

Nah, just kidding. We didn’t leave to actual fanfare, just a few shocked looks as Daevon snapped his wrists and made our little boat box expand into an impressive river boat.

But actually, I’ve gotten ahead of myself again. Before the actual leaving there was much to do.

As you’ll recall, we’d returned back to Glissana after our journey North and all that Lacuna stuff. We hadn’t done what we set out to do and so we decided to again set off to pursue that.

But again, we set out later. First there was the excellent welcome home party and some good night’s sleep home in a real bed. It was most excellent to see everyone again and they were oh so happy that we returned in one piece!

But it wasn’t all rest and relaxation. We reported in to Oddward at the Queensguard center and got caught up on the news. He also was able to provide us with a really useful map of the Grey Forest which is where we’d decided to go to pursue the Gnolls who were no longer a huge army encamped up north but were now a fragmented force hiding in the forest. But first we did some shopping and picked up some fancy new magic gear and a pile of rations for the road. Kinda jealous Daevon learned how to survive without eating though at least he was willing to carry a lot of stuff for us. Plus, it would be sad if you couldn’t eat tasty things anymore… though I guess he can eat he just doesn’t have to eat.

Sorry, I got distracted by thoughts of sticky buns there. Where were we?

Oh right, getting set to head off. I can tell from your faces you think I’ve wasted enough time with boring town stuff, so we’re off. New red armbands tied, we set sail on the magically folding boat!

As you know, it’s really quite fun to sit up on the prow of a boat and watch the scenery roll by. On this particular day it was nice and warm with a light breeze as we sailed lazily downstream. As we floated along I noticed a large log floating in the river in front of the boat. I tried to shatter it out of the way and it reared up and attacked us!

Turns out it wasn’t a log at all but a huge crocodile! How was I supposed to know they float like logs as they wait to ambush prey? It was at least as big as the boat, maybe twice that size, and it was not happy. It rammed the boat and knocked a bunch of us into the water. After that it was mayhem.

I tried to blast the croc before it wrecked the boat and we ultimately succeeded, though it got really weird. I kept trying to zap the croc and instead caused a huge burning ring of fire and like, a weird scream and funny smell that didn’t do anything. At least, I think I caused that. It was really hard to tell though because it seemed like all the nature in the area was upon us. There was the huge crocodile, of course, plus, like, a dozen swarms of stinging insects, a bunch of birds, and A HUGE SNAKE!

Yeah, I know!

So anyway, while the dumped-in-the-river crew was fighting their big ole snake, we finally managed to kill the croc and then poof! It just vanished into smoke. One moment, huge thrashing crocodile. The next moment, deep purple smoke on the water! As it vanished into nothing, I swear I heard a little giggle.

Of course, at first I thought I’d fortunately caused it to be blown into smoke, but all the other menaces similarly poofed. I mean, not that surprising for a swarm of flies, but definitely weird for hawks and snakes and crocodiles. Poof! Poof! Poof! Lots of smoke on the water. Afterward Daevon explained how summoning works and though I don’t quite understand how it works it makes sense that someone or someones had set conjured animals against us. They poofed because they weren’t real; or something.

So we’re going to mop up the little gnats when suddenly we notice it’s getting dark, but it’s still probably midafternoon. At this point I bailed out, diving headlong into the river along with the others. A SUPER EPICALLY HUGE ENLARGED ENORMOUS OUTRAGEOUS MONSTROUS HUGE GIGANTIC BIRD was coming for us. It was probably as wide as the river! It eclipsed the whole sun! Of course I bailed!

I’m surprised it didn’t crush the whole boat. Though that was probably quick thinking from Daevon, changing it from boat to box instead. Anyway, I look back and this SUPER GIGANTIC ENORMOUS GARGANTUAN COLOSSAL BIRD has grabbed Tuiz and is flying away. So I banished it to another dimension.

Surprised that worked so well, I mostly treaded water and maintained my concentration until the last of the pests decided to bugger off. Or maybe they all got poofed. It was kind of hard to tell with everyone thrashing around in the water. Well, everyone except Daevon; he sank like a rock in his shiny new armor. But it’s okay, I don’t think he needs to breathe either at this point and was able to blast his light rays from the bottom.

Once things settled down, we gathered together and Daevon re-popped the boat. When the banishment ran out, we noticed a large eagle — just, like, a regularly large eagle — appeared but by that point we’d made it far enough downstream that it didn’t chase us.

Afterwards, we tried to be more attentive, but the rest of the journey passed simply. We packed up the boat again and went afoot just before we got to the abandoned fort at the edge of the forest.

And that, that seems like a good place to end for tonight.

Chapter 32 - Spiders and Owlbears and Crocs, oh my!

I had expected to find gnolls at the towers. Instead, our approach was uninterrupted. When we got to the base of the first tower, we couldn’t immediately discern an entrance. Only after brushing aside some vines were we able to locate a door. Two large iron barriers prevented our entry. At least until we put Tuiz on the job. With the screeching and cracking of well rusted hinges, the door swung open just enough for us to squeeze inside.

The interior of the tower was clearly deserted, as a thick layer of dust covered everything. The air was permeated with a rich, musty scent of death and decay – not overpowering, but enough to make it clear that things had lived (and consequently died) here.

None of that would have been threatening if it weren’t for the contents of the tower. The floor and walls were lined with coffins. According to my companions, the tower’s architecture bore strong resemblance to some of the old buildings in Glissana, dating this structure to some time within the reign of the Necromancer King. With this knowledge, we were wary of dormant undead that might still be in the tower.

We decided the best course of action was to examine one of the coffins. At a safe distance, that is. It was easy enough to remove one of the coffins from the tower, but the coffin was locked. Who locks a coffin? Lucky for us, one of us was prepared with some lockpicks, and we were able to open the coffin. Inside, we found nothing. The smell of decay coming from the coffin was a bit stronger with the lid open, but otherwise, nothing.

With that out of the way, we walked around the bottom floor until we found the stairs up. The second floor was an open area without much in the way of furnishings, so we continued up. The third floor was clearly the living quarters for the troops at this tower. There were ten beds, each with its own desk. Some of these beds and desks were in rather poor repair, but that was unexpected, given how long we estimated it had been since this place was inhabited.

Unlike the previous floor, this room had a door. The light seeping in from cracks around it suggested that this probably led to the bridge we had seen. Once again, Tuiz managed to force the door open, we were able to see the path across to the other tower.

The second tower was far more interesting. The top floor had two rooms. The first of these that we entered was decorated as I would expect a commander’s quarters, except that in place of a bed, there was an ornate coffin on the floor. We ignored this, but searched the rest of the room, finding nothing of interest.

The other room turned out to be more exciting. While most of us looked at the room from the doorway, Lucky walked over to a desk and started to examin its contents. When he opened the top drawer, a fountain of water erupted, covering Lucky and quickly filling the room before draining out the door. However, the fun wasn’t over. Away from the source, we could feel the water around our feet solidifying and holding us in place. Lucky, well, wasn’t. He’d gotten a face-full of the stuff and was quickly turning into a Lucky-shaped statue. Not wanting to be exposed any more than necessary, I threw him a rope, and we were able to pull him out.

Fortunately, the substance quickly grew brittle and crumbled into sand, freeing all of us. With the danger passed, we completed our search of the desk, finding a pouch and a scroll case. The pouch contained 9 of what we assumed was used dust of dryness, while the scroll case contained what had probably been a scroll, before it was drenched and solidified.

Moving on downward, we came to a room with a large map of the surrounding area, showing the terrain and various points of interest. Everything on the map concurred with the information we had, making it a nice find, but largely useless.

The bottom floor of that tower was much like the bottom floor of the first, so with nothing left to see, we left the way we had come.

From the towers, we proceeded east along the river. I had expected to feel at home in the woods, but these woods were anything but welcoming. First we came upon an owlbear, which I scared off using my newly acquired ring. Then we had to fight of a tree. From there, I scouted ahead, only to walk face-first into a giant web. Once my friends arrived, we were able to dispatch the spider, but that is an experience I hope never to repeat. Just past the spider web we found a clearing with bright red flowers, under which were the bones that once belonged to the spider’s victims.

From there, we continued, fighting trees and avoiding any clearings with those red flowers. Around that time, we decided it would be a good idea to look for a suitable place to spend the night. The first place we found was on a small pond, which unfortunately contained a very large crocodile. We were able to escape, but still needed a place to sleep.

We split up to search, and while looking, found not one, but two gnoll patrols. Fortunately, they didn’t seem to have noticed us. We planned to move away without alerting them, but one of the groups definitely spotted us, and we saw a blue and red ball of light fly up through the trees and descend in an arc. They were alerting someone, which probably means it’s time to stop writing.

Chapter 33 - For whom the Braxtol?

“Hey guys”, Tuiz addressed Daevon and Lucky, “walk this way with me.” The three split a bit from the group as they hastened through the woods. “Okay, I think this is far enough away they can’t hear us, even with elf ears or whatever. I want to talk through this Braxtol thing.”

“I don’t like it,” Tuiz began. “I don’t like him, and I don’t like it. There’s too much suspicious about it all. I mean first there’s the timing. His party arrived right at the same time as those gnoll reinforcements. Is that a coincidence, or are they working together? Could he be the one giving the gnolls magic tattoos? The white tattoo that made that shield didn’t seem quite like his style, but the red and purple ones seemed to be some sort of combat magic, though they failed so we don’t know what. Failing is only kind of Braxtol’s style. And the warlocks with the gnolls — did they make a pact with whatever same dark master Braxtol is drawing power from? The gnoll with the crippling arrows — could they have been pact magic? Plus he looked like he’d been in a fight recently; maybe Braxtol beat him into submission. And could be the archers were trained by the dark elf huntress of his…”

“But Tuiz, if he’s in league with the gnolls, why did he fight them?” asked Lucky.

“Did he really?”

“That fireball-”

“Yeah, the fireball seemed to kill a bunch of gnolls, but what if they were more illusions? You remember that first group that tricked us for a while. I didn’t get a chance to check out any of the corpses of the ones he fried — because Tenaius wanted us out of there so quickly, also somewhat suspiciously — and then he sent his cronies supposedly to collect gnoll ears but maybe to cover for the illusion.”

“Wait,” said Daevon, “did he send them? I thought they collected ears of their own accord.”

“We can’t be sure,” Tuiz grumbled. “Oh, and that trained owlbear. You remember in the monastery Braxtol had a bunch of gargoyles with him. Owlbears and gargoyles are both ugly sorta bird-like things, so maybe he summoned it.”

“Tuiz,” explained Daevon, “owlbears and gargoyles are so unlike-”

“Maybe it was a gargoyle, charmed to look like an owlbear. We just don’t know.” Tuiz earned a skeptical look from Daevon. “And now we’ve made some sort of alliance with him. To not kill each other until 12 hours after the Fang is dead. Do you think he’ll follow it? Should we?”

“Well, my mother-” began Lucky.

“Rhetorical question, sorry, I need to get more off my chest,” cut in Tuiz. Lucky rolled his eyes. “When we do fight him, I don’t want him to have any backup, so let’s run through the members of his party. Telsin I think we can assume will stand with us. {TODO(mike): Determine if Telsin warned us about Braxtol with the sending stones.} Tenaius also seems like one of the good guys, though it seems like he has some long history with Braxtol? Could Braxtol be blackmailing him? We need to get him alone and press him for information.”

“Then there’s the mercenaries,” Tuiz continued. “Brunt seems like a straightforward guy, not that he’s said much. The dark elf — whose name we still haven’t gotten, right? — has also been pretty quiet. We’re pretty sure she’s not our guide from Lacuna, but it seems weird to encounter two dark elf huntresses in the space of about a week. Either way, if they really are mercenaries we should make sure our offer is better than Braxtol’s. Hopefully we’re still rich enough to do that.”

“Well, after our last foray into the marketplaces of-” Daevon began.

“Still going here, sorry,” Tuiz cut in. “Tell me later. Because I need to go over his story. He says that this whole time he’s just been hunting artifacts. I guess that could be true, he was reading those books about your pal Death, right Daevon? And now he says that one of the shards of death is in an elf village here in the Grey Forest. I never heard of any elves living in the Grey Forest. Could be true I guess. Hey maybe Telsin would know about elves, we could ask him. If we trust him. Braxtol says the gnolls might be here hunting the same artifact, and I did think they might be here looking for something, so maybe that is true. Or maybe he just knew what we’d suspect, and crafted a convincing story. Come to think of it, are we sure that Kimya actually smelled gnolls approaching? We’re taking Braxtol’s word that he faithfully translated what Kimya told the dark elf.”

“You are really paranoid, have I told you that?” asked Lucky.

“Shh, we’re getting close to the source of that smoke. Talk more later.”

Meanwhile, Tharn and Telsin, not more than a swallow’s flight away, had discovered something. Namely, a small cottage near a clearing, the source of the smoke we were approaching. Tharn went ahead, deftly avoiding tripwires and pitfalls. Telsin chose to proceed despite an Alarm spell, and not-quite-as-deftly avoided getting smashed by the trees released by the entryway pressure plate. Inside the cottage was much larger than it appeared from the outside, with quite a few bedrooms, though built to a scale for someone Lucky’s size. It seemed to still be lived in, or else hastily and recently abandoned. Yet its only apparent occupant was a drowsing cat.

Chapters 34 & 35 - Miranda's Rights

We’d been traveling through the Grey Forest when we were besieged by gnolls. In an amazing confluence of events we ran into Braxtol, Telsin, Tonias, Brunt, and the Dark Huntress and shortly thereafter noticed a small curl of smoke rising into the sky. Remember? Well, we pick up our story there anyway.

Telsin and Tharn had gone ahead with the scouting. We were waiting for them until Kimya and the Dark Huntress warned us about encroaching gnolls. Not really surprising, but it would have been nice if we’d been able to wait for our foresty scouts. We followed Kimya, Daevon and I, and everyone else followed behind.

It was a brief and uneventful journey until I felt something just brush the top of my head while I was distracted by a colorful bug. Attention snapped back to the task at hand, I realized I’d avoided a tripwire entirely by luck — or at least mostly by luck and perhaps slightly by the hand of its creator. In any event, I was able to avoid triggering the trap and stop the others before they triggered it either. Once clearly illuminated, Daevon disarmed it.

We followed Kimya through the forest and the fog until we approached a small cottage. This clearly was the source of the smoke. Ignorantly, we set off an alarm we didn’t know was there, but it ultimately didn’t matter since the house’s owner already knew we were there. Turns out, the owner was hiding in the house the whole time; it just took us a long time to figure out her hiding place. But hold that thought. We’ll get to Miranda eventually. For now, play along and see if you can figure it out.

We had to duck to enter the cottage under some swinging log trap one of the scouts had triggered. From the outside the cottage looked quaint for you or me. Maybe about the size of this room. Big enough for a small inhabitant to have a bed, a bathroom, and maybe a small table but not much more. Inside, it was surprisingly large though. More like Malcom’s cottage up north. Kitchen, workroom, sitting room, a couple bedrooms. It was obviously magical and I obviously liked it. Inside, everything was also clearly proportioned for someone like us. A little chair kinda like that one, a workbench about the size of that desk, a ceiling maybe seven feet at the peak. The big people had to be ducking under beams and careful not to bump their heads.

It was pretty open inside, other than the bedrooms. The work area and sitting area were separated by just some shelves. The sitting area and the kitchen were separated by just the space available for walking. As I mentioned, the roof supports were exposed so it felt a bit bigger than it was. Which is kind of funny if you think about it since it clearly was bigger inside than outside and the inside seemed even bigger still with the open ceiling. Anyway, nice place. Skylights, cozy fire, some comfy rugs.

It was also a mess. Telsin was sure there was an inhabitant and had been rummaging through things trying to find evidence. He’d even gone so far as to dust most of the open space with a thin coat of flour in hopes of catching an invisible resident. It didn’t work. A few of us double- and triple-checked the rooms, especially the second bedroom, and found no evidence that anyone lived in the home; you know, other than the neatly kept flower beds and garden, the whole host of traps outside, the stocked kitchen, the partially-complete project on the workbench, and the cozy fire in the hearth. Besides that, we found nothing but a fairly friendly cat. Rather than track flour everywhere, Caleb and I cleaned up. It was the right thing to do.

Since we’d been looking for a place to camp, I suggested we spend the night in the cottage. There was some disagreement, but ultimately we decided to stay. While we were making plans and dividing up the watch, it became obvious that Telsin wasn’t entirely crazy — the voices he claimed to have heard eventually resolved itself into a single voice that was fairly obvious to everyone inside. Poor Miranda really needed to pee. Once that was sorted, we turned in for the night. In hindsight, once it was clear someone did reside in the house we probably should have left, but we didn’t.

The night passed uneventfully. We split watches between the front and back of the house and Daevon wandered around inside reading. By morning, he’d heard enough of the muttering to narrow our focus to the fireplace. When someone finally pulled back the rug, we found Miranda. She greeted everyone with a shriek and those close enough also got doused in holy water. You see, Miranda had been hiding from undead and the Necromancer King in her cottage for many years. Turns out she’s a Wizard. It took a lot of explaining and convincing to get her to calm down and accept that we weren’t there to capture here and take her back to the Ex-Malo Meloria. The whole time she was clearly flustered and spent half the time talking to herself as if we weren’t really there.

As we prepared to depart, we asked Miranda for some information about the forest. She confirmed there were ruins to the south. She told us of the Grimalkin, a legendary beast that is all too real. She also told us of the Sun King’s domain — an elusive, magical holy place to the south. That garden turns out to be very important later in the story.

Before we got everything settled though, Tharn’s alarms went off and Miranda tried to bolt from the house screaming about approaching undead. Her being the little gnome she is, it was easy to restrain her from rashly charging into what we assumed were approaching gnolls. Though Miranda had claimed the house was protected from detection by magic-infused soil from the Sun King’s garden, I guess the gnolls could track us to it anyway. When Daevon decided to go fight the gnolls, there was no turning back.

We split to cover the front and back of the house as gnolls had circled around to both sides. Things were going pretty well on our side — with Brunt and Tuiz holding them off, Caleb supporting, and Braxtol and I dropping spells — until a magic gnoll stabbed me in the back and another gnoll set the house on fire. The front side was similarly organized — Telsin, Daevon, and Kimya up front, archers in the back, Miranda supporting — until Miranda remembered that half-finished project on the workbench was a half-finished explosive project, and well, she had a really bad feeling about the fact that the house was now on fire!

At that point I was trying to fight the fire and trying to not bleed too much, Braxtol definitely confirmed the project was dangerous and….

… then with a roar we heard such a clatter. I was tempted to go outside to see what force had shaken the whole house but I decided it was safer to stay inside and more important to fight the fire and try to save Miranda’s house. Ultimately, we did succeed at saving the house with the help of some animate shadows from Daevon.

However, the real heroes of the day were outside. They told me all about it afterwards as we rested and worked to repair the damaged house.

You see, the commotion was the arrival of more gnolls. In particular, a huge monk-y brute of a gnoll had charged across the clearing, right up and over the house, and waded into combat on the Daevon-and-Telsin side of the house. They tell me he literally left a trail of fire as he charged into battle. Though I’ve seen a lot of fantastic things, I’m not entirely sure I believe them. The subsequent fire on the roof of the house could have instead been from the flaming barrels.

Well anyway… it’s probably a better story with the flaming trail. Next time I’ll just have to tell it that way. So, in addition to this big brute, a bunch of gnoll ninjas showed up. Poisoned throwing stars, bladed chains, dark costumes, the whole bit. Telsin showed the impostors who’s boss, literally eviscerating one of them with its own weapon. He also chased down and single-handed ended the stealthy magic gnoll that stabbed me in the back.

Ultimately, it turns out most of the gnolls were just standard-issue strong survivor types with ninja gear. The real battle was with the brute monk gnoll. Even blinded by Daevon’s magnificent radiance, the brute was delivering impressive hammer blows. This undoubtedly was due to his raw upper body strength but also to a neat magic belt that dulled our blows and allowed him to utilize our own force against us.

By all accounts, it was a wonderful duel and contrast in styles between Telsin’s training and cunning versus the brute’s brute force. Though obviously others contributed, the blindness and Telsin’s cunning use of shadows to lure the brute into Miranda’s traps were the highlights of the battle.

With the brute temporarily trapped, we worked on mopping up the other threats. Miranda and I were still in working on the fire when the workbench animated into a vaguely humanoid elemental. Wanting nothing to do with that in addition to everything else, I banished it while Miranda bolstered my strength. Outside, Tuiz cut down a gnoll right through the defending weapon and several people tracked down the gnolls with launcher backpacks that had been lobbing flaming barrels into the clearing.

After a bit more battling, some sort of stinking cloud bombed the melee outside. When the smoke finally cleared, we’d managed to put out the fire and defeat the gnolls. However, the big brute — and his magic belt — managed to escape. It was a shame to lose out on such a powerful item.

As I mentioned before, we then spent the rest of the day helping Miranda fix her house and recovering from the battle. While this was kind of us and the right thing to do, it wasn’t entirely to just be helpful. You see, the day held another surprise. In the aftermath of the battle, Tuiz suddenly realized that the Balthazar we met back in the Hanged Tower was none other than Lord Balthazar Pendergath, former lieutenant of the Necromancer King!

This spawned a whole discussion of mental whammies and some consideration of what we knew about the remaining lieutenants. It was during this discussion that we realized with surprise that Brunt might very well be the Brunt from the stories. You know the stories. So while Braxtil’s team was resting to head out at dusk, we investigated and discovered that Brunt was undead and thus very unnatural. Not ready to throw down with the cursed betrayer-prince of the ashlands — and his possible allies — or let them turn on Miranda once we headed south, we helped Miranda with her construction, let the B-team finish their rest, and saw them off at dusk. As I said, it was the right thing to do.

Next time? Southward to the Sun King’s domain!


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