Kast

Chapter 63: Non-life in the Jungle
Tuiz, in dialogue

“Okay, I think it’s dead” said Kulan, as the Lizardman Necromancer’s corpse slumped to the ground. “We can relax a moment.”

“Relax?” said Tuiz. “No way. That giant rolling mechanical death machine is probably on its way here right now.”

“Uhh, why would you think that?” asked Lucky.

“The necromancer was obviously in league with the machines” explained Tuiz. “Think about it. That huge wheeled weapon of war came right to us. We only escaped by hiding in a different dimension. Something must have lead it to us. Something like that blood-sucking fog.”

“You think that mindless fog somehow signalled to the construct leviathan where we were?” asked Kulan, incredulously.

“Exactly! Those machines seemed like magic, right? But then when we took one apart, it was just a bunch of tiny gears and things. You know where something like that would have a big advantage in a fight? In a place where magic didn’t work! They turned off magic in the fight so that the machines could chop us up.”

“But, there aren’t any constructs around…” said Lucky, dubiously.

“Not that we can see at least. We might be one step ahead of them. We can’t let our guard down though.”

Kulan and Lucky glance at each other.

“You don’t believe me? Think about it. Those machines looked like way too much work for a mortal to do, right? You know who operates on a longer lifespan than mortals? The undead. It’s probably some kind of anti-life cult, necromancers raising undead to build machines to wipe out all living things in the area. That would explain the malice I sensed from the machine I meditated on.”

“But, the writing on the machine-parts looked like some kind of elvish. I don’t think that lizard necromancer was speaking anything like elvish” objected Kulan.

“That necromancer was obviously working for someone else. Maybe his master is an elf necromancer. You believe me, don’t you sis?”

Bolucia shrugs.

“Guys,” interrupts Lucky, “instead of arguing about how much danger we’re still in, maybe we should, y’know, finish searching this place? It might have more clues.”
“That is a good idea, but I’m not sure I should trust it coming from you”, said Tuiz, “maybe the necromancers messed with your mind when they sent you that dream.”

“You know what?” said Kulan, “you’re right. We, apparently, can’t relax now. You’ve made that clear. Let’s keep going.”

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Chapter 62: Dark Jungle
Lucky

You hear stories of lush tropical jungles. They always sound so rich and vibrant, full of color and sound, with tons of interesting things to look at. That’s…. somewhat accurate. There’s definitely a lot to look at but it’s not necessarily pleasant. If you want a walk in the park, I suggest going to a park.

Today’s story finds our heroes in the jungles of Tuwaten. Pretty, interesting place but darker than you might expect. For one thing, there’s a nearly unbelievable amount of stuff growing there. Huge trees block most of the light from even reaching the ground and what little does make it through the first layer of leaves is largely absorbed by the second and third layers and then the vines and the flowers and the ferns and all sorts of plants I’d never seen before and have never seen anywhere else. Even during the day it was pretty dim as we walked along the jungle floor.

Ah, but at least you were in the shade! Well, yes. Obviously. But that doesn’t mean it was pleasant and cool. It’s super hot and humid there. Everything is so dense there’s no breeze and the air holds a ton of moisture. It rained nearly every day. And even though we brought jungle wear it was hot. Though part of that was all the hacking through the jungle. There were so many vines and other plants it took us days to hack through to Sukatra, a distance that isn’t really that far if you’ve seen the maps.

Maybe we should have taken the road, but Kulan’s shortcut dropped us somewhere in the jungle and we didn’t know where the road was. Our maps were only so helpful at that time. After our encounter with Minnow, Jonah, and Dr. Hastor we headed south, directly towards Sukatra, rather than west towards the road.

Minnow’s crew was working with Braxtol, because of course they were. Unsurprisingly, they were looking for something and weren’t forthcoming about what. As we were trying to hurry to Sukatra before the trail of the Red Dryad went cold, we didn’t bother with them. But it was a glance into other things afoot in Tuwaten.

So anyway, we’re hacking through the jungle. Mostly Tuiz is doing it; clearing the way for the rest of us who can’t travel through difficult terrain as easily. Days and days of jungle. Lots of interesting flowers, huge trees, weird plants. One night we camped in this odd druidic circle. It was odd mostly because it was hundreds of feet of perfectly clear grass in a neat circle around this large stone tooth. It stood out mostly in contrast to the dense jungle. It was also full of sylvan chanting at night… or that’s what they tell me. It’s hard to tell if the others were joking, but Indy backed them up and I believe him. I just heard strange jungle forest noises.

Later we crossed the large Tuwaten river, uneventfully, and proceeded into a different, darker sort of jungle. It wasn’t obviously evil but it was the kind of place that sets you a bit on edge. Like something isn’t quite right. Lots of the same dense foliage, plus a lot of moss growing over everything. Smelled kind of rotten.

The darker jungle was also more dangerous. One day I got grabbed by a large monkey thing, or so they say. I never saw the thing. One moment I was following Tuiz’s path through the tangle of vines and the next I was hundreds of feet away off on my own. I guess some monkeys have a silent pair-teleport like Aticia’s. Though it grabbed me around the neck, I was able to slip away with my own teleport, hide in the underbrush, and sneak back to the others.

Another day there was an earthquake. Trembling shifting earth. And later we got attacked by a bunch of mechanical constructs. Like the Clanks in the Underhame but smarter. It started with this shocking, burrowing trap-thing, then the others came. The oily snakes, the bolt throwers, this rude charging shield construct… they all hurt, but not like the bugs!

You see, the biggest and baddest ones were these huge flying wasps. I’d thought the worst of it would be the regular swarms of gnats and flies, but noooooo. Giant flying mechanical insects! Big as a cart horse! And flying! They brought the bolt throwers and dropped them and converged on Tuiz at the head of our column. Luckily we noticed them coming early and were able to burn them out of the sky before they killed everyone. They did stab Tuiz unconscious though — and let me tell you that’s no easy feat! I mean, not that I’ve tried to stab him, but usually it takes a lot more effort to knock him down.

So yeah. Strange mechanical constructs in the jungles of Tuwaten. But that’s a whole ’nother story.

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Chapter 61: Through the feywild
Kulan

Having made the decision to head south, we needed to determine how we were getting there. The obvious options were to either take a ship, which would have been slow and expensive, or we could go by land, which would have been even slower. Fortunately, I know a shortcut that uses the Feywild. It is dangerous, but my new companions are more than capable of dealing with anything we might encounter.

After agreeing to take that route, we made our preparations and set out the following morning. The entrance to the Feywild, which I’ve used a few times before, was conveniently located in one of the graveyards inside Glissana. We got there, and I described the method for crossing the barrier. We all circled the large tree three times, keeping it on our left, and found ourselves in the surreal home of the Fey.

Our journey through the Fey started out uneventfully. We walked for hours through a meadow, with the typically Fey bright colors and unchanging sky. At one point, we passed a copse of brightly colored trees and berry bushes that stuck out in the seemingly endless meadow. Fortunately, I was able to convince Lucky not to rush over there, so we avoided the potential danger something like that could pose.

Finally, we made it to a change in terrain. The grass gave way to a wall of trees, and we were in the forest. We continued on until what we thought was roughly night, although the light hadn’t changed at all. We made camp in the forest, and I surprised the others with my magic tent. Apparently they have never seen anything like this before.

Our rest was uneventful, and after about eight hours, we continued on. We had to cross one barrier, a river which resisted any magical attempts to cross it. I was able to get across, having traversed this area before, but they had some trouble, and ended up having to walk across.

A few hours later, we were almost at our exit. It would have been easy, but our path was blocked by ghostly spiders. We fought our way through, and that was that. Leaving the Fey was simple, but the others were hesitant to go through. I showed them the way, walking toward the gate and sinking into the ground before reappearing on the material plane.

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Chapter 60: So much to do
Tuiz

To-do list:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter 58: /sadface
Kulan

These three have been through a terrible ordeal. I respect them for what they were trying to do, but getting directly involved in ANY matter involving a lord of the Shadowfell is dangerous. Surprisingly, it sounds as though they nearly succeeded in their objective. They managed to stop the Shadar-Kai from completing their ritual, preventing them from containing the Red Queen. However, there was another party. The individual that interfered was very powerful, able to take control of the ritual alone. I was able to learn little about this individual, only that she is a dragonborn, and very powerful. She was able to complete the Shadar-Kai ritual alone and bound the Red Queen to her will.

Sadly for my new companions, one of them was killed in combat. She survived the initial engagement, and was finally taken down by the dragonborn, providing further evidence of the power of this unknown player.

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Chapter 57: Attempted Ritual Murder
Tuiz

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

How, indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapters 55 & 56: Through the veil
Lucky

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah.

That’s right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No?

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter 54
Brena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter 53: Conspiracies
Tuiz

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

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

Brenna quirks and eyebrow at this, which Tuiz ignores.

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

“Did they kill again?”

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

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

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

“So what’s the plan?”

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

“Investigate.” Brenna sounded doubtful.

“Yeah.”

“Ohkay.”

The conversation dies for a few minutes.

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

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

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

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

“Sounds complicated.”

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

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

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

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

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

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