Chapter 4: Trials by Earth and Fire

Scout’s Log, Entry 189

The journey from Respite to the Earthstone Monastery was reasonably safe. We were attacked by a clutch of cockatrices: the beasts weren’t particularly threatening, but their magical nature is a bit unnerving given the region’s history: I fear more dangerous magical beasts may lurk the forests. We also crossed a bridge that had fallen into significant disrepair, but it held even our iron-clad allies. I wouldn’t let my sister pass through this region without me by her side, but once again I cannot find evidence of the sort of rampant danger that Anfaug-sensei expected I’d encounter in the aftermath of the Necromancer King’s reign.

The Monastery itself is atop a high plateau. The cliff face looked inaccessible, but when I grasped a strange hand-like protrusion the rock changed, growing hand- and footholds to make it manageable. Two of my companions, Tuiz and Daevon, went up first, and found the cause behind this unusual behavior: an earth elemental awaited them at the plateau’s summit. Oddly, this creature that had just aided our ascent immediately attacked!

His stone body proved resilient, but with the thunderous magicks of Caleb and “Lucky” he was defeated. Or so I was told: I tried to climb to their aid, but, well… ahem… suffice to say Manka will have another verse of “The Ballad of Butterfeet” to write. But I digress.

After falling apart, the earth elemental surprised us again by reforming. And… congratulating us? It claimed that we’d passed the Trial of Earth, carried Tharn’s wolf to the top, and pointed us in the right direction.

Following the strange helpful/hostile creature’s directions, we soon came to a hut containing Master Roshi. He… is not well. His diet seems to consist entirely of rocks and sediment, later he casually destroyed a wall in his hut just for a demonstration, his entire demeanor… He does not have the disposition of a monk. When we mentioned the skull we sought to destroy, we learned what I suspect is the cause of his illness, when he transformed into a man named Menil Firecrown. Apparently the two had been fused together by one of the Necromancer King’s foul “experiments,” and the process clearly left the both of them broken. Menil explained that to destroy the skull we would need the blessings of the four elements, a particular magical reagent, and a sacred place. Then Menil, too, attacked, transforming into a sabertooth tiger.

“Lucky” bewitched the beast with a sleeping spell, and he reverted to Roshi. The master explained that by defeating Menil, a being aligned with the Deus of Fire, we had now earned our second elemental blessing. The reagent Menil had mentioned could be found in a nearby cave, and the Monastery itself would suffice as a sacred place in which to perform the ritual. But both locations are inhabited by monsters (including, Roshi suspects, manifestations of the remaining two elements).

Chapter 3: Departure
Excerpt from Tharn's Journal

It seems that my friends managed to finish off the would-be thieves while I was unconscious. When I awoke, with the help of Caleb, we had some time to examine their hideout. In a back room was an altar with a dragon statue looming over it. Daevon informed us that it is, in fact, a likeness of the Dei of the negative energy plane. This was likely a meeting place for a cult to that Dei long ago, but the thieves seem to have no connection.

As we left the cave, it was impossible to miss the commotion in town. This was largely due to the heat and glow from the burning houses! Some wizard was attacking the town with the aid of golems. While tindertwig golems ignited the buildings, two suits of animated armor prevented anyone from interfering. My friends immediately set upon the golems while Lucky and I attempted to bring down the wizard from a distance. Once the nearest suit of armor had been destroyed, Telsyn attempted to engage the wizard more personally. Unfortunately, he seems unaccustomed to city structures, and had some difficulty in the approach.

When it was clear that he was beaten, the wizard hurried off, pursued by Telsyn. They were moving far to quickly for me to follow, so I turned my attention to the remaining golems. During this combat, Nathani was also doing her best to aid in the defense of the town, and with her help we were able to dispatch the remaining golems. With the golems out of the way, the townsfolk were able to mobilize to extinguish the fires, and fortunately there was minimal dawizard and no deaths. Telsyn returned from his pursuit without the wizard, and did not know where he had been headed. Close examination of the scraps of armor we had fought showed that they were the same armor we had seen in the building we had rested in a few days prior.

After a short but much needed sleep, we again broke our fast with Kara. She suggested that we travel to the Earthshroud Monastery in the foothills of the Veiled Mountains. The Earthshroud Monastery was destroyed, but Kara believes that a monk named Roshi still lives there. Years ago, Roshi opposed the Necromancer King and was defeated, leading to the destruction of the Monastery. With his knowledge of the Necromancer King, Roshi is the most likely to know how to destroy this skull.

Before heading out, we went to the market to procure supplies for our journey. While I’m sure I could find plenty of food while we travel, time is (as they say) of the essence, so this mediocre substitute will have to suffice.

As we left the town, we encountered Lord Atil and Lady Aritessa as they were returning. They thanked us for our help, but also for adding some adventure to Kara’s life. It seems they worry that she is a bit too focused on her studies. They also encouraged us to return when we can, but asked us kindly to not disclose the town’s location. We will honor their wish.

The first night of our travels, we had not yet left the forest, and we camped in a small clearing. During my watch, I witnessed an extraordinary occurrance. As the night grew dark, faerie dragons appeared and began to dance. Their movements and shimmering, flickering lights they created were captivating. Had danger presented itself, I’m not sure I could have responded.

The following day, we continued our journey until we came to a river. The river was shallow, but we were near a bridge. As we began to cross the bridge, a troll emerged behind us, demanding a toll. When trickery and negotiations failed, we were forced to fight our way out of the situation. During the fight, we “disarmed” the troll, and threw its arm into the river where it was immediately devoured by a swarm of fish. I hate to imagine what would have happened to us had we decided not to take the bridge.

When the troll was finally vanquished, we hauled its body to the river, where it too was devoured by the fish. With that obstacle overcome, we continue on our journey to find Roshi…

Chapter 2: Demons part 2

Okay. Kids. Hey! Pay attention. This is the story of how I met your mother.

It all started back at the summer home of Lady Oritessa in the city of Respite. Of course, you’ve heard of Lady Oritessa and Respite, but at the time they were a complete mystery to us.

We’d been sent into the Raug’Tawar woods on our first quest when we were drugged, captured, and brought to what was, at the time, the hidden city of Respite. We awoke in the aforementioned summer home, surprised at our lavish accommodations and apparent freedom.

Thereafter, we met our host, Lady Kara, and joined her for breakfast. She was a bit strange, in that way meeting your first Tiefling is, but I immediately liked her. She was accommodating and forthright and tolerant; my opinion of her grew further when I learned her family had done so much to let so many live freely as themselves in Respite.

So anyway, over breakfast she explained that she could see glimpses of the future and that she needed our help. She told us that if we helped her prevent the theft of Marrow’s skull, that she’d work with us to make sure it was destroyed safely. We agreed to help.

The plan involved a series of decoy skulls hidden in a variety of locations around the city: in the barracks of the town guard, at a local inn, in the shop of a young girl who owed us a favor after Daevon and Tuiz intervened on her behalf… We spread out to provide some cover for each of the decoys. As expected, the thief struck at the summer house and made off with the skull stationed there. Tharn raised the alarm, but despite our best efforts the rogue slipped away into the darkness.

Fortunately, we were able to track the thief to an underground lair. Trapped, four members of their crew decided to fight us. With Kara and Caleb joining our number we were seven and we quickly dispatched them. However two stronger members surprised us in the flank and struck both Tharn and Kara down. As usual, Caleb kept our allies breathing while we fended the foes. The fighting was quick and brutal and Tuiz nearly single-handedly felled one foe. Tis a bit of a shame they fell to thievery and gave their lives against our blades, bow, and magic. They didn’t even manage to steal the real skull (it was safely with Telsin and later Daevon).

Chapter 1: Demons

It was so empty. I’d heard stories of the countryside, and seen it from the city walls enough times, but I didn’t realize how empty the lands outside the city are. I kept expecting to see… something, as we rode along in that farmer’s cart. But it was just fields… and fields… broken up rarely by the occasional farmhouse.

At first I thought I was seeing things when I spotted the village ahead of us. When I realized it was actually there, I was more surprised that this was all there was to it. All the buildings would have fit on one block of Glissana. But the people seemed honest, and, I reminded myself, they needed our help.

… or so I thought. I was a bit annoyed to find that there were already a group of four warriors talking to the town… mayor? Jad Southpaw. Jad seemed to have already gotten some help for his problem, so maybe we three weren’t needed here after all. But we’d come all this way, and there wasn’t anything else to do, so we joined those four and set out to figure out why beasts from the woods had been attacking people.

I’ll tell you a bit about the other four. The one you’d notice first introduced himself as Bard, though I couldn’t tell if that was his name or just his profession. He was an ass. It’s not nice to say bad things about dead people so… well, we’ll leave it at that. Then there were two elves, or I should say one and a half. An archer, Tharn, and a brawler, Telsin. Neither one spoke much. Elves. The last one was a young guy called Caleb Windseeker, a cleric. He seemed to have seen some shit, as you might expect from one turned to adventuring so early. He kept fairly quiet too, but was generous with his healing magic. I like him.

But let’s get on with it. We followed Jad’s directions to the place that had just recently been attacked, a farmhouse not far away. The tracks there were pretty obvious, and between the elves — both wilderness types — we were able to follow them pretty far.

But then, just as the tracks were leading us towards a forest, a wolf burst out of it and charged us! I was ready to fight, but Tharn told us to calm down, insisting that she was his pet. So I was somewhat unprepared when, not long after, just as the tracks were leading us towards the forest, a wolf burst out and charged us! Followed by four more wolves!

As soon as I figured out these ones were not pets, I charged in, since the others, save Daevon, looked not as tough as me. That might have been a mistake. I killed one of the bastards (in a single swing), but then two of his pack-mates surrounded me and clawed me up good, knocking the wind out of me before I could react. I guess the others in the party were fairly handy with their weapons, because by the time I was back on my feet the wolves were dead, the last one charred by a fireball from our pal Lucky.

The elves said that these ones were actually young direwolves, and that they’d been cut up by something. That didn’t sound good, but we had to go on. There were some statues of demons and fey at the edge of woods that we didn’t pay much attention to, but probably should have.

And so we entered the forest. Ragtuar Woods, they say it’s called. Forests are… strange. They’re at least not empty, like the countryside we crossed to reach it, but what is in it (mostly trees) is laid out all mish-mash, with less guiding principle than a slum.

But let me get on with it. As we tracked the wolves through the forest, a pair of adult direwolves, burst from the bushes. Maybe they were the parents of the little ones we’d killed. Naturally we fought them, but before we could even finish them off, a whole bunch of tiny fey appeared out of nowhere. The little things were vicious. I didn’t ever get a good look at one, but they seemed like little balls of fur and knives. They went “pop” when I chopped’em, though, and we took them down without too much trouble. One weird thing is I could have sworn they were muttering some words of guttergab, but it didn’t make any sense, so maybe Fey just sounds like Guttergab.

Right after that, it started to rain. At first I was worried about this, because there weren’t any buildings around to wait it out in. But then I remembered that you can hide out under a tree during the rain and stay pretty dry, so I figured we’d be fine, because the forest is trees everywhere. Turns out it doesn’t work that way; you still get wet in a forest in the rain. Bummer.

But weirdly, we found a building to hang out in! It seemed like some sort of barracks or something, with a bunk room, an armory, and some offices. The crazy thing was it was abandoned, and they’d left a whole bunch of armor and weapons behind. It must have been worth a few hundred gp at least. We also found a little hidey-hole down below that had some actual cash, and some potions. I guess they must have been planning to come back for it, so maybe we should have left it, but we don’t even know who “they” was.

We took a break there for a while, hoping the rain would blow over, but it didn’t. The elves said we might lose the tracks of those fey buggers if it rained any more, so we went out into it. Found the tracks before too long, and followed them towards some place that made my hair stand on end the closer we got to it.

For good reason, it turns out. We came into this little clearing, and there in the middle of it is none other than Marrow himself. On the one hand, how awesome is that: first real day on the hunt, and I find Marrow. On the other hand, we came to fight wolves and such, not prepared for hunting powerful magical abominations. But what chance did we have? We bust in and went to work.

Weird thing is, first arrow that hits him he goes pop and winks out. An illusion. So I’m thinking oh, it wasn’t him at all and kinda sad but mostly relieved. But then I notice a big old skull sitting where he was, and before long some kind of big flashy force field appears around it, so it’s obviously some kind of powerful magic user, so maybe it is him.

Things slow down there a bit, because we quickly figured out that nothing was getting through that force field. Daevon takes a look at it — he knows this stuff — and he says it isn’t even a force field, it’s seven force fields in a row. I know, right? Anyhow, he says each layer of it can be dispelled by some opposite force, like ice, or fire, or portals, or — get this — dispel magic. Daevon and Lucky and Caleb, mostly, get to work on those. Meanwhile the archer elf, Tharn, starts climbing a tree to get a good angle. The other elf, Telsin, starts trying to lob darts up over the fields in an arc. I’m just trying to figure out how to help take the shields down. But then Bard, you know what he does? He tries to vault over them. They were not short. He did better than I expected, and nearly made it over the top, but he didn’t get his legs over. Sliced right in two. Rest in peace.

Unfortunately, a corpse seems to be just what Marrow was waiting for, and next thing you know Bard’s top half, now inside the force fields, is reanimated. Oh, and speaking of undead, at some point in there Marrow conjured up some illusory skeletal warriors, but we figured out they were illusions pretty quick so they weren’t much nuisance.

So we’re making some progress on the shields, splashing water on them, casting spells, and so forth. Meantime un-Bard is crawling through the stream — did I mention there’s a stream? — towards the skull presumed to be Marrow. We don’t know what’s going to happen when it gets there, but we know it isn’t going to be good, so the elves shift fire to it. Telsin actually manages to hit it with one of the lobbed darts, but it isn’t enough.

So then un-Bard reaches the skull, and the skull casts some sort of invisibility spell, and un-Bard dumps it in the stream. I guess the thing was Marrow, but why was it trying to run away, from us? And then right after that Daevon manages to take down the last shield, not much use now.

Anyhow, we start trying to find an invisible skull in a stream, which is not easy. I dump my holy water in, hoping that’ll break the spell or hurt him or something. Daevon, true to form, throws himself in the stream as a human dam. But then one of the elves gets him dredging with his cloak.

So now we have the bastard wrapped up in a cloak, and I guess he’s out of spells or something, but I am not going to give him a chance to rest and regain them. So I set that thing down on a rock, and get ready to bust it into bits with my glaive, but then just as I’m winding up a whole bunch of guys in robes come in surrounding us, crossbows drawn, telling us to halt. I guess they must have been his lackeys, and he’d just been buying time until they showed up. But I’m one swing away from turning the fucker into powder, so I go for it.

The jerks with the crossbows are fast. Before I can complete my swing I’m hit by a few of their bolts. And apparently the bolts were poisoned, and the poison was fast, because my legs give out right from under me.

And that’s why I’m sleeping and dreaming now. Thanks for my listening to my story, you weird little dream-hallucination-fish. If you can grant wishes, wish for us to come out of this alive.

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