The Edge of Empire

The Bard's Prelude
from Jack Jones

Swamps are not the proverbial cup of tea, by any unit of measure you care to try. OH, you could guess, you could get lucky, and when all else fails you could bluff madly, but in the end…

It’s still a smelly, murky hot enough to poach the eggs in their shells, with logs that tend to turn into foul creatures with teeth.

Felt good to be out of there, even if ‘out’ had merely been a tiny patch of dry ground that houses had sprouted on. Like fungus. The fungus of civilization.

Well, alright, that was my type of fungus, but I prefer the big white mushrooms you can buy in bulk as opposed to the red ones with white spots that….

I digress.

It was good to be on the raft, at least at first. It barely counted as a barge or real boat, feeling more like something extremely intelligent beaver’s would have slapped together after a few drinks. Trust me on this.

It was a smooth enough ride. A boring ride, really. Muddy water too thin to plow, too thick to drink flowed, taking us with it. The trees all hung with thick moss, low shrubbery right to the water’s edge.

Dragonflies, mosquitoes, wasps you name it, all flutter above the water’s surface. And occasionally then they vanish with a splashy plop.

Now, I’d been eating decidedly dubious rations with that bone headed cult hunter, had a few bowls of stew that were only stew because they didn’t serve it in a trough, and now was on a diet of salted fish, because it was too humid to dry the little bastard out, or smoke them.

Fresh fish, however, didn’t sound bad. Certainly anything fresh would be novel even if all I got were shit sucking carp.

So I borrowed a rod from the halflings. I recall that their names rhymed because halfling mothers have all the creativity of those drunken beavers I mentioned earlier when it comes to naming things. I can’t be more specific than that.

Beginner’s luck sunk in hard, the thing I drag out of the water was one of those powerful, child swallowing beasts that inspired Nob and Bob to do a dance.

I’m not a fan of fish guts, so I let them do the cutting and the cleaning. They spend extra time prodding the stomach, which makes me wonder if that old legend is being trundled around again.

The second cast was not so good.

I should rewind, and tell you about my fellow raft dwellers. Glaucher, the dwarfish captain-

there’s a story there! as my father would say,

his halfling crew of Nip and Pip,

and the other passengers. Whom I assume paid for the privilege of the ride with a few coins and a promise to help load and unload the crates and barrels.

The taller of the two, the goliath, is unfortunately my seconds catch of the day. He didn’t seem to mind the hook in his ear much, but it draw the anntention of-

the elf.

I really dislike elves. They don’t have enough facial muscles moving at any one time to really read them in a card game, any then tend to be nosey in a really passive way. Utterly untrusting of anything that’s not a pointy eared wanker like themselves.

Plus they’re basically elephants, they never forget, dammit. You can’t do a big score in a town full of elves more than once without enlisting some serious magic’s to change your appearance.

Plus I swear this bastard started fishing after me just to prove that he was better at it. Stuck up ‘we are of the natural world’ bastards.

But there’s no reason to be anything but sociable when you’re on a boat, so when the fish got cooked, and I talked the halfing out of raping that poor poor lyre, I invited him to join us in a friendly card game.

His overlarge companion didn’t join in, but the goliath’s are only famous for betting poorly, so maybe that’s a sign of intelligence.

One game of Cripple Mr. Onion later, and all I had managed to learn from the elf was his name, Seishi, his companion’s name, Lo’kag, and little else.

Well, not little else. He bet well, even with worthless bits of trash as the pot, and he’s a suspicious jackass like every other elf on the planet.

Just another adventurer, really.

I slept fairly well. There is a bit of a soothing rhythm to a river raft that’s absent on dry land, and too strong on the ocean.

It was early morning when we hit the tree. Not so early that I couldn’t recognize a man made barrier when I saw it, though, thank you, the tree had been clearly felled for the purpose of blocking the path.

Our fearless if brainless captain began to set that axe to work trying to free the boat. I might have helped, if I hadn’t been busy taking cover while the first halfling tried to play arrow catching.

It wasn’t a defensible condition, really. I focused on looking for someone in the tree’s while getting my sling ready.

People say that slings are only for hunting squirrels. They’ve never been brained in the head by a fast moving rock the size of an egg.

Besides, I like the low whom-whom the leather chord makes in the air as you spin it, and my aim’s not that bad.

Pity I can’t see a damn thing. I keep looking though, while the elf does something inane with fire.

... Fire’s not a bad idea, actually. The tree that blocking up won’t burn easily, it’s not an old dead tree, and there’s a lot of under brush.

The lamps of the boat are still lit, too, filled with oil. Dangling on long poles out of the water. It wasn’t hard to swing the pole, let the lamp smash into a tree. Smoke the bastards out, that’s what I was hoping for.

Actually I justed wanted a target to scream at, more than anything else. Something to hit with my rock. Good thing that the Goliath makes sure a big, shiny target or I might be having a much crummier day.

Both the halfings die. I have to wonder if perhaps the god of lutes had a hand in that, there was surely no reason to aim at such well labeled non combatants.

The elf was spitting more fire, right about the time the gas hit us. I suppose I should have been happy that it wasn’t the sort of swamp gas that exploded when it hit an open flame.

Then there were bandits on the boat, and the worthless dwarf didn’t at all, period, the whole time. Which was obnoxious because clearly he was decent with an axe, and dammit it was his cargo that we were fighting for.

It was weirdly a relief when the men started to make demands. Being in no position to argue, and with no desire to interfere in what was clearly the dwarfs issue the theifs lightened the vessel considerably.

I can only be glad the elf considered himself above it, and hadn’t read too many heroic ballads. You tell yourself it’s Robin Hood, you hand over the other mans money, you move on. Best bet for this situation.

I do have to laugh when the man asks us to help up unload the boat. The elf laughed too, almost and the bandit look a look at us and decided, rightly, that we were too injured to be persuaded to care.

And then we made it to the town.

There’s not more too it than that.

It’ll never make a decent song. No one likes ballads where the heroes are mildly out numbered and politely surrender up the belonging of the idiot that got them into the mess in the first place.

View
Meetings, Greetings, and Beatings
Kythorn 4, 1479

The malevolent empire of Netheril, a long extinct kingdom of shade and shadows, was returned to power during the cosmic cataclysm known as the Spellplague. It sits at the heart of the supercontinent of Faerun and threatens its neighbors, a dark, corrupting influence expanding inexorably through a combination of magical power, military might, and dark, secret manipulations.

The nations that border the Netherese Empire have acted swiftly to shore up defenses and consolidate power in expectation of an attack. Some of you have seen the effects of these consolidations in bitterly personal ways.

Several days ago, a few of you journeyed the Greyflow River into Loudwater on a boat called the Grey Minnow, captained by a dwarf named Glasur, helping him negotiate his way past a group of bandits, and giving up a few barrels of precious cargo along the way.

You met up with the rest of the group at a bizarre in the town of Loudwater, the last bastion of civilization before the Fallen Lands, working together to fend off a surprise attack from a small band of Goblins. You earned the initial suspicion of a Garwain, the local shopkeep the goblins seemed to be after, but eventually won him over through a combination of stubbornness, charm, and gold.

Garwain sold Hosvir the horn dagger that seemed to be the object the goblins’ raid, and Hosvir has since given it to Una to use.

Upon further investigation, you learn that the horn dagger was taken from a goblin lair by the old wizard Curuvar the Brazen, who lives a life of quiet retirement in Loudwater and has befriended Garwain.

The Captain of the town guard, an elf named Harrowleaf, has offered you 4 gold per goblin killed as a general bounty, but seems not to think of the goblins as a serious threat worthy of chasing into the deep woods, preferring to simply tend to his city’s defenses.

The elf Saysho spoke to the old wizard Curuvar and received his counsel not to venture into the goblin lair, which he called the Barrow of the Ogre King. He refused to tell Saysho how to find the barrow, insisting that he would be loathe to send another group of adventurers to their deaths.

Through a night of quiet eavesdropping at the Green Tankard Tavern, he had learned of Hosvir’s intent to hire a group to escort him to see the Oracle of the Scepter Tower, which sits atop a single mountain many miles into the Fallen Lands. Curuvar counseled Saysho to accompany Hosvir rather than brave the Barrow of the Ogre King.

The Fallen Lands are a wasteland made virtually uninhabitable by wild magic left as a residue of the Spellplague. It sits as a natural barrier between the Netherese Empire and Loudwater, for not even the Netherese would dare to take the unpredictable Fallen Lands.

Unable to venture upriver due to continued bandit attacks, you were forced to brave the Swamp of Chelimber. The journey was difficult. Bloodied, filthy, and exhausted, you finally make your way past the edge of the swamp and up to an overlook, where you see a long road rising toward the Scepter Tower in the misty distance.

View
Another Roadside Attraction
Kythorn 7, 1479

After a night’s rest and a futile attempt to rid yourselves of the muck and stench of the Swamp of Chelimber, you wake to find Jack Jones mysteriously vanished, leaving behind a cryptic message along with the jeweled band he had cut from the belly of a swamp gator.

You begin the long journey up the ancient road toward Spellguard and the Scepter Tower. The climate is arid and the road is rocky and hot.

Una finds surreptitious comfort in the cool of a passing wagon transporting twenty young women to the Oracle, where their eunuch chaperone has been ordered to inquire as to the sexual past of each prior to their marriage to a prominent Sheikh from Calimshan.

Alas, the rest of you are left to walk.

Around mid-day, your journey is interrupted by a man sitting on a rock, suffering in his plate-mail armor through the mid-day’s dusty heat. He calls himself Corvyr and explains that he and his traveling companions had come across a battle. His companions fled, leaving him to fend of a band of kobolds.

The kobolds had found a large, unhappy victim in Lo’kag, the colossal barbarian who has long been a friend of Saesho’s, and who had journeyed ahead of Saesho for reasons unknown and taken up with a caravan before apparently sacrificing himself to let the caravan escape.

During his battle with the kobolds, Lo’kag had unwittingly sprung one of the creatures’ many insidious traps, bringing a large boulder off a nearby hill and onto his leg, immobilizing him and crushing his helpless limb into paste. The goliath had clearly been there awhile.

Corvyr relays all of this to Saesho and the others. Dositheus provides enough healing to stabilize Lo’kag’s wound, but determines on further examination that the giant man would have to be attended by expert healers in a proper facility. He would have to be moved.

It would take hours, of course, but haste would be required, for night would bring more kobolds.

Saesho and Corvyr begin a frantic search for the materials it would take to build a makeshift stretcher, while Dositheus and Hosvir tend to Lo’kag.

Corvyr turns up nothing but a few mushrooms, while Saesho finds the necessary supplies.

Once the stretcher is built, the four adventurers carry the wounded goliath to the road and offer to pay a passing caravan to take them as far as the cliff of the Spellguard ruin.

Dositheus handles the negotiations, which involve relinquishing the jeweled band Jack Jones had found.

Once safely deposited at the cliff, the company is able to beg a handcart from the caravan and begin the long, treacherous journey up the switchback trail 500 feet to outpost above.

About halfway up the dangerous path, Lo’kag wakes, confused, and began to feverishly thrash, causing the cart to buck and tip.

Hosvir helps to right the cart. Thinking quickly, Dositheus remembers the sedative properties of the mushrooms Corvyr had found. He feeds them to Lo’kag, returning the suffering goliath to unconsciousness.

Several minor stumbles and many hours later, you reach top of the cliff, where stands the Monastery of the Precipice. There, you meet Sister Cherra, who takes Lo’kag immediately into her care, and Allendi, the lead administrator of the Monastery.

In conversations with Allendi, you learn several important things about Spellguard and Lady Saharel the Oracle of the Scepter Tower. To wit:

  • Spellguard is a ruined keep that once belonged to Netheril in ancient times.
  • It was destroyed hundreds of years ago, but one tower remains undisturbed and unopened—the Scepter Tower.
  • The Oracle, Lady Saharel, appears when she will, with seemingly no pattern or reason.
  • Some believe that helping to reconstruct the keep causes the Oracle to appear.
  • Many people journey from afar to await the Oracle or to dig about in the ruins for unknown treasures of the Netherese empire.

The you meet Yannik Johastra, who asks for your aid in rebuilding a section of ruin. After working all day to replace a keystone on an arching door, you are disappointed to see that the oracle does not appear.

So you wander toward the Scepter Tower, a 100 foot tall structure of stone standing untouched among the ruins. Once you venture close, you find yourselves pelted by rocks and arrows from above.

You take cover, then eventually flee back to the monastery to confer with Allendi, confronting him with the information that, despite his claims, the Tower has been breached.

Plans are made, discarded, and remade in discussions with Allendi and other travelers seeking answers. Finally, you decide to visit Clewsoro, a wealthy merchant who may have some ideas.

After some discussion at Clewsoro’s camp, you learn that someone or something from the tower is interested in the white alabaster pillars that dot the ruins. Search parties from the tower regularly seek the pillars and pull them into the tower.

Corvyr recommends that the company find a pillar of their own, take it into their custody, and see what happens next.

View
The Successful Infiltration of the Scepter Tower
(if one is inclined to accentuate the positive)

Into the evening, plans made, remade, and retold. Dositheus enters into a prayer vigil for guidance while the others bring the plan to action.

Saesho would take the form of a panther and watch for the dark figures who sneak from the tower in the moonlight.

He performs an ancient ritual to summon an owl that would ferry a warning to the others, once the figures had been spotted, then takes his animal form and skulks off into the night.

After midnight, four small humanoids exit the tower and pick their way through the ruins toward one of the alabaster pillars that seem to attract their interest.

Saesho sends his owl to the others, then sneaks behind the dark figures, attempting to trail them. He is soon spotted, though still in his animal form. The figures seem cautious, but not yet suspicious, so Saesho continues.

Meanwhile, the owl arrives back at the Monastery’s common room, interrupting a female halfling’s attempt to teach Hosvir and Corvyr a very complex betting game. They beg out of the game, rouse Dositheus from his vigils, and charge off into the night, pausing briefly to debate which plan they had actually settled on with Saesho. Were they to meet him at the pillar or at the Scepter Tower? It couldn’t be the pillar, could it? How would you know which pillar they are approaching? But why go to the tower? What’s the advantage of following them if you’re going to confront them at the tower anyway?

The tower was decided upon, in hopes that the tower’s watch would not see you operating under cover of darkness.

Saesho watches the four dark figures surround the pillar and begin to drag it through the ruins, back toward the Scepter Tower. The figures seem to be concerned about the purposes of large cat that’s been following them. Suddenly, one of the figures disappears.

That figure is next seen leaping onto Saesho and stabbing at him with a dagger.

Battle breaks out, as the figures all attempt to surround and destroy Saesho, but the others are within earshot and they rush toward the fight, ready to confront whatever they find.

The fight continues awhile before all hear the large doors of the Scepter Tower swing open and slam shut again. Only Dositheus sees what comes running out of the door toward his engaged allies. He charges forth, hoping to keep the mysterious interlopers from entering the fray.

Soon enough, the larger figures reveal themselves to be bipedal, intelligent creatures who share the physical characteristics of spiders. And they quickly show themselves to be quick like spiders, as they quickly leave Hosvir and Dositheus beaten unconscious.

Corvyr’s shouts of encouragement rouse Hosvir as he drifts in and out of consciousness, but the battle is essentially lost when one of the creatures shoots webbing from its face to cover Corvyr, immobilizing him.

The group surrenders. They are stripped of weapons and armor, blindfolded, and led to a secure, guarded, windowless room.

And there they sit, waiting for a reckoning from the mastermind who first infiltrated the Tower, resulting in a probable death sentence for them all. Things look hopeless.

Only…

Hosvir seems to have a secret spy loose in the Tower.

Saesho believes she can get a message out, maybe to Una?

The space between door and doorjamb is somewhat wide.

And where in the Abyss is Jack Jones?

View
The Gang's All Here

The creature sniffed at the room. Smelled like death. Like starvation. No. He would not be going in there. The Subject and his cronies would keep there well enough while he explored the tower. Strong magic here. Magic enough to buy his freedom?

Even nearby, the magic seemed to resonate. There. On the hip of one of the Subject’s jailors. A leather satchel.

A quick movement of wrist and finger, and what was the jailor’s became the creature’s. And then he was gone.

Unseen, unseeable, he crept down the outer stairs, bare, clawed feet on damp stone, stumbling only slightly as the lightning from outside rocked the tower.

He paused to unwrap his stolen treasure: a magical hand-shaped device, flat, like a puzzle piece.

The stairs led to a new level containing a hallway with a few doors. Two short, hooded creatures kept watch, guarding one entrance.

The creature’s left ear twisted to better hear the strange arcane syllables spoken in rising tones beyond the door. A man performing a ritual. An ancient and powerful spell to…to summon and to bind, permanently!

No! Not again! Not a third time! He could feel it again…the irresistible pull, the unyielding call toward certain, permanent bondage. The indignity of servitude to a lesser being. The sense memory overwhelmed. Panicked, he fled.

Down the center spiral he stumbled at a sprint, past another level and into a crowded kitchen. He tripped and shouldered his way past busy kobold cooks, knocking pots from hands and dishes from counters before bursting through double doors into the tower’s main entrance hall.

Still unseen, but no longer unnoticed, he ran through the hall, past guards and soldiers of dark, hideous nature, and into a very large, very locked door.

“What is it?” one of the guards demanded.

“I don’t know, but kill it!”

Spider-creatures, hooded skulks, and kobolds closed in, surrounding the creature. Even invisible, he had no where to run.

Then he noticed the spot, near the door, at human eye level. It was a flat sculpture of a hand affixed to the wall with an indented space inside it for a smaller hand to be placed. The puzzle piece!

He quickly pulled it from its satchel and placed it briefly in its spot, allowing the door to open to the fierce elements before removing it again and running out into the storm.

“After it! It must not escape!”

The creature ran like mad. As lightning lit up the night, he saw a familiar human figure in his path. The mouthy layabout who cut the alligator’s belly? Was he working with the fiends in the tower? The creature veered away, just in case.

He ran into a section of ruin where stone was still stacked on stone, and found the tiniest of cubby-holes. There, he waited, hardly breathing, while his pursuers searched.

Safe, for the moment, he watched the ridiculous hobbit appear from the shadows to converse dully with obnoxious female scented gadabout. He smiled as they entered the glowing tower, satisfied that it would probably mean their deaths.

But no. The bumbling Faerunites making their way up the ramp no doubt intended to rescue the Subject. The Subject would stop the horrible binding ritual that even now resonated in his ears pointy ears. Yes. But he would need to get through the guarded door.

The creatures looked down at the magic puzzle key in his hand, and back at the tower. He cursed an ancient demon-tongued curse that could have curdle milk or made an old lady swallow her tongue. Then he ducked from his hidey-hole and invisibly skulked back toward the thundering, glowing tower.

Inside, chaos in the dull-witted duo’s wake. Kobolds running scared, guardians wounded, and the sound of barrels and crates being moved about upstairs.

He made his way up the spiral stairs past the dining hall, narrowly avoiding the creatures that moved about to block the Subject’s eventual escape.

He heard a crash and a thud just in time to leap from the winding staircase, dodging a flood of whiskey and the flames that followed, and landing on the floor in front of the double-doors that stood between himself and the ritualist.

He shuddered.

He dropped the pouch with the key in it, letting it land just below the hand-shaped sculpture beside the double-doors, exactly where it would be needed.

Then he ran into another room, hid, waited, and hoped for the Subject and his contemptible band of hirelings to prevail. Just this once.

View
An Audience with the Lady

“Shit, I have to go first? Well, fuck.”

Jack Jones scratched behind his ear and continued.

“Probably can’t say fuck here, you’re awake and back and you’ve made the place feel like a church.

Ahh. Well…

I want to know how to…

Dammit, everyone’s here, too.

I wanna know what I have to do to get this… COndition of mine to go away. I wanna wake up in the same bed I went to sleep in more than once, you understand? I mean, I don’t even know what happens when I vanish, and you know what? Don’t tell me, just tell me how to make it stop.”

She smiled, her ghostly form glowing with a bluish hue.

“Yes. I will answer your questions. And then I will give you a gift. For you have rescued me from Thoran’s grasp.

Moonflower, your trial will end when your trial is over, but only if the one who holds the scales looks favorably upon you. Remember her condition.

Who will be your witness when none know your name? Who will vouch for a stranger? Who will attest to your character when you have so many, yet so little?

Who will stand for one so selfish?

Think on these things as your day of judgement approaches.”

She then turned to the elf.

“Angiledhel? Do you have a question?”

Angiledhel’s eyes darted from the lady to ‘Jack Jones’ and his other companions, then back to the apparition. He bowed before her with a rough-edged grace, deeply-ingrained courtly manners shining through despite years away from the halls of Myth Drannor.

“My lady honors me,” he said, and stood tall, meeting her gaze unflinchingly. “As you know me, Lady, you know the question in my heart already. What must I do to free the elven lands of Myth Drannor from the evil usurper Ingerhol of Ovare, and restore the rightful rule of the House Findwallae?”

He longed to ask her more, to ask about his mother and sister, and the fate of his friends Adlindris and Elchelmon, but feared to ask too much, and not be answered at all.

The Lady smiled, charmed, before her eyes seemed to focus elsewhere, perhaps lost in reverie of bygone days, when such ancient courtly manner defined her every interaction.

“_Piradrastai_,” she said, gently, meaning “little prince.”

“Only your word may convince your people of Ingerhol’s treachery. Only your eminence may draw allies enough to defeat him. Only your fang may slay him. Return to Myth Drannor when your tongue is honored, your roar is renowned, and your your bite is deadly, or do not return at all.

When your time comes, seek your allies among the people of the dagger.”

Her head turned abruptly. “You, Una. What is your request?”

Una pondered his reactions to the answers so far.

So, am I missing something? Do I know these people around me at all? The only one I really trusted, besides Dositheus, of course, is the bard. But now I discover I didn’t even know something as trivial as his real name until now, and I’m not even very convinced he’s a he. I mean, Moonflower??

And Angiledhel?? I’m not particularly surprised that he lied about his name; he hasn’t left me abounding with trust since we first met. But now I find myself empathizing with him more. A noble cause, to free his lands from an evil kingdom that stole them from his people. I can relate ALL too well. But I feel I must learn something about these people of House Findwallae. Presuming I can respect the clan, I am glad to know a bond might be growing between our “nearly shared” causes. I feel I may be with him and the others for some time, and it’s glad to be around others who can carry their weight (maybe mine?) in a fight. As much as it pains me, I suspect my immediate future has too much fighting in it.

Enough of this brooding; to the task at hand:

“My lady, I am sorry for your troubles as of late; I’m very glad that Hosvir convinced us all to go on this quest. I suspect this simple discussion may have saved your being, if I may be so bold, and this thought emboldens me to ask a very personal question:

“I am torn between tracking those who possibly destroyed my family and my friends, and tracking the friends and family that may remain. But I cannot let vengence rule my spirit. Please tell me how I could find and reconnect with my mother. She is lost and imprisoned in lands far to the East, currently under control of the Netherese, I believe. Thank you deeply for any help! Again, I am so glad to know that you are well, and I thank Hosvir for convincing me and the others to come to your aid.”

She paused, seemingly puzzled, then closed her eyes. She held her hands forward, palms up, raised her head, and held this position a few moment before finally beginning to speak, as if entranced:

“Follow Torm’s servant and his path will guide, To answers to questions goliath provides.

He’ll lead you through swamp and through dungeon and keep, And down the dark river that flows through the deep.

Until you are lost, hopeless, and weak. Then this riddle’s answer is what you must speak:

Ever before you and ever behind, It’s where the road leads, wherever it winds.

It’s high in the mountains, low in the plains. Invisible during the snow or the rain.

You won’t ever catch it, though quickly you tread. But a new one you’ll find if you just turn your head.”

She opened her eyes, and looked around, as if waking, befuddled. Then she seemed to regain herself, her pleasant smile returning.

“Yes. Now that the renowned hero of Wheloon has his answer, let us hear from his cohort, the servant of Torm.”

Dositheus turned his head, took off his helm, and knealt in front.

“M’lady,” he began, “you bless us with your gifts!”

“By Torm,” continuing, “all that I need known is, what has happened to my Master Eutocius, a servant of Torm like no other! He was the one who taught me at a young age in my small village of Antikythera, the gentle art of healing, and of combat, and of the wise and just carings of Torm.

Eutocius was to have arrived in Antikythera for his summer visit, but instead an imposter was in his place! This imposter did horrible things to a young villager, and by Torm, when I’d reported it to the men in the city temple I’d been thrown in jail!

If not for Una’s quick hands I would still be in jail, not faltering in my faith in justice but questioning the ways of this world!”

Please, m’lady, tell me news of Eutocius!”

The Lady looks genuinely confused.

“Gentle knightling. To rise from such humble beginnings into the knighthood takes great talent and devotion, and I am always pleased to meet a man of such faith. But why do you ask me for news of Eutocius when one among you has as much news of him as I? Ask your question of her.

It is right that you seek him, for your order is a beacon in darkening Cormyr, protecting the defenseless and healing the weak, and Eutocius shines brighter than most. But your order has secrets, Dositheus. Surely you must wonder what first prompted Etocius to take an interest in you?

Find him as swiftly as you can. I am blind to the true nature of his mission and peril, but I know the danger is great. And the matter is more urgent and vast than even I can grasp.”

She turned to Corvyr and her manner became matronly. She approached him and rubbed a ghostly finger across his cheek.

“And you. Corvyr.” A rueful look. “Do you have any questions about your life’s remaining days?”

Moonflower, aka Jack Jones, stood watching, glowering.

Is there another girl in the party I haven’t noticed?

Who’s this knight that I supposedly have news of? Did I sell him a horse or meet him on a road? Unless he’s rich I doubt I robbed him. I’m not robin hood but I prefer the same target’s he chose. Rich, bloated, greedy. The greedy are easy to rob if you let them think they’re robbing you, you know. Was he collateral damage, with his money in a back I sent under?

She tried not to look hunted.

Giving shit advice is one thing, I think to myself, glaring at the wall. Throwing you to the wolves is another. Thanks, blue bitch.

Then she remembered: In Llork, there was a Paladin that hired her briefly as a guide. No serious larceny committed, that she recalls. Eutocius. Yes. He was looking for news of an evil cult.

Corvyr stepped forward and spoke:

“My lady, I only seek how to save my family from the grip of the Netherese Empire that has engulfed Sembia. I know not their state, but I fear for them.” Corvyr says, desperately hoping that the Lady will somehow have an answer.

The Lady responded with a voice of woe. “Poor young man. You must know that I am not infallible. The future is constantly in motion and I can offer only a passing glimpse. Yet every glimpse I see bodes the same for you.

Your family is safe and comfortable, though certainly not free. The worst of your brother’s bargains have not yet turned back upon your kin. Your best hope to achieve what you seek lies not in Sembia but here in this room.

Lead these people. Hone, shape, and sharpen them into a dagger to be hurled at the heart of the Empire. But you must have faith in your craft and your aim, for you will not live to see whether the dagger strikes true.”

She turns to look not at Hosvir, but at a point down and to his left.

“Hosvir, the deformed wizard who gathered these souls, and whose heart’s need was the reason for this quest. Speak your question, intrepid one.”

Hosvir shuffled quietly across the room to stand before Lady Saharel. He abruptly called under his breath for the small demon to restore himself to this visible dimension.

“Yamin!! Show yourself!!”

He paused. A few short moments later, Hosvir reached out in frustration and a for a brief moment, mystical hand extended its reach, grabbing the Yamin by his throat and shaking him into obedience.

Yamin faded back into existence.

Frustrated yet hopeful, Hosvir slowly pulled the hood down to display his true self. His shattered stature fell by almost half a foot, as his hunch back, oddly jointed arm, and generally disproportional disfigured body stood before her.

His eyes sown shut; he painfully pulled the stitching free to show Yamin’s demonic eyes squint and shutter around the room wildly.

“I was not always this way” .. he paused to clear his throat.. “You see, this unwillingly binding to this demon harvest my soul such as ants slowly picking away at a rotting carcass.”

A slow tear of blood ran down his cheek.

“I know not what magics can be used to reverse such a course but I know one must exist. I ask for a direction, a path, a person, whoever or whatever it may be, that can lead me from my dismay”.

All the while, Hosvir’s demonic eyes fluttering in the amazement of sight, Yamin’s eyes showed Hosvir’s true human feelings of sorrow and pain.

“Please tell me what I must do to be separated from this evil before it becomes my own.” Hosvir bowed his head as much as his crippled body would allow.

Una stood, shocked, having never seen Hosvir’s true form.

Holy shit, what did I get myself into! The self-proposed leader of our group is in an incessant struggle with his own insanity, brought upon by demon magic. The most magically adept in our party is struggling to find a magical cure to something that he himself proposes might have no magical cure whatsoever! And what’s the potential outcome? Merely the possession of his spirit and soul by an evil so cruel, so dark, that it has no equal in the mortal world. Hosvir himself recognizes that he may succumb to the demonic evil somehow embedded in him!

And what then? Will we have to send Hosvir to his death? Who could do this? This power where he bursts into flames around him could potentially take us all out! And what would his death do to HIS soul? Will he be forever banished in a dark realm, to suffer through the river Styx and all the other unspeakable sufferings? I have seen enough magic to know that there are plenty of fates worse than death. Hosvir has, to date, proven to be a good enough and worthy enough man. I cannot send him to such a fate, even pre-supposing that I could end his life, which I doubt.

Fuck, fuck! I need to talk to Dosi at some point about all this. These folks just seem so fucking unstable. The rational one is fighting off demonic magic that may turn him into my worst enemy. The irrational ones are so crazy they won’t even tell us their names – no, scratch that – won’t even tell us their fucking GENDER! Hmmm… I wish I knew Corvyr better: he seems at least sane, but he’s so quiet I really don’t have much to judge him on yet.

If I had my druthers, I’d like to leave the whole bunch, assuming I can convince Dosi to leave, too. But who knows? This last fight certainly needed more than just the 2 of us. Now I’m afraid that we’re marked somehow… that we cannot just walk away without getting jumped by more of the “ugly halflings” (what the fuck was that comment all about??).

What I wouldn’t give for a comfy bed, a few “magical” herbs, and a charming mistress on each side…

“Aldaman was wise to send you to me, Hosvir. Perhaps he intuited that he had not yet fully understood the nature of your tragic condition.

He believes that he interrupted a horrible experiment before it was complete, but that is not so.

In truth, the experiment was completed. And it continues, even now. This…,” she gestured to human and quasit alike, ”…pairing. It is the experiment. And its outcome matters a great deal to a being of great power.”

She appeared to walk, though in truth she merely floated, toward Yamin, who hissed and arched his back as she got closer. She knealt, then, and examined the creature, who sullenly yielded to the indignity.

“The quasit is bound to you, but he is also bound to another, in an older and still more immutable way. But this other is far from here, in a realm that my vision cannot pierce.”

Yamin swiped at her, and his vicious flash of claw passed through her. She seemed not to notice, as she stood and floated the to a nearby wall, where she appeared to look out a window, though the room was windowless. She continued, staring into an unknown distance.

“It is a difficult question that you ask. How does the rat quit its maze? How does the frog turn the pithing lance against its owner? Because I cannot see your tormentor, I cannot provide an answer beyond this: you must survive the experiment, for each experiment ends with a close inspection of the subject. When your enemy draws you close, you will have your opportunity to strike.”

“To survive, you must have power. You will find power in the swamp, beneath the Thunderspire, and in the Feywild. Resist no assistance. Turn away no advantage.

Finally, be watchful for clues as to the nature of the experiment. The more you understand what your tormentor is trying to learn, the more you might use that curiosity to your own ends.”

She turned back from the window and faced the entire group assembled there.

“Many pilgrims seek my counsel. I see the numbers camped in the ruin or ensconced in the monastery and I mourn, for it is not within my power to appear more often than I do.

I chose to appear to you for reasons beyond mere gratitude. If you had saved another, not me, I would still have appeared, for it is my way to honor a special trait that you all share.

The ones who seek my face are merchants, typically, or explorers, or lords and nobles, or philosophers. An artisan once sought my opinion on a vase he had fashioned. A bard once traveled all the way from Aberil to demand the complete lyrics for an ancient song that was partially stuck in his head.

You yourselves have held many occupations. Merchant. Horse-trader. Prince. Keeper of the Peace. Freedom Fighter. And you all sought me for your own reasons, like all the rest.

But when I was in danger, only you came. Whatever your previous occupations, you are now something else. You are heroes.

And you have chosen your new occupation well, for a great trial is descending, and heroes will be rare, and needed. If you can survive the labors, the world will give you all that you desire.

Seek Allendi when you leave this tower, for I have been conferring with him. He will give you further counsel and beg your help in an important matter. He will also bestow upon you my gift to you for your assistance.”

She smiles. “Goodbye, my Heroes, you who accept the yoke gladly and you who buck against it. When next I see you, we will all be greatly changed.”

Her smile became and expression of rueful sorrow and then she was gone.

View
New Directions

Lady Saharel faded, leaving the gathered company with nothing but questions—about their futures, about each other.

Una immediately demanded answers from Hosvir about Yamin and his situation, concerned that Hosvir could succumb to evil influence and destroy them all.

His questions extended to Angiledhel, and to Moonflower. Why had they given false names? Why had one of them given a false gender? What were they playing at?

Defensively, Angiledhel provided what answers he could, annoyed to be explaining himself at all.

They returned to the Monastery, and parlayed through the wee hours and late into the morning.

Dositheus conferred with Moonflower, seeing her with new eyes now that her gender was apparent to him. Angiledhel conferred with Lo’kag, finally awake from his fevered recovery. The group as a whole conferred with the monk Allendi, attempting to make sense of what they had heard and seen.

In fits and starts, amidst debates, digressions, and distractions, they shared information, revealed secrets, and asserted agendas.

  • Lo’kag revealed the reason for his sudden trip upriver. He had moved to intercept Angiledhel and warn him of a slaving ring he had discovered operating out of Loudwater.
  • Moonflower would continue to dress as a male and go by a male name, thankyouverymuch.
  • Moonflower confirmed that she had indeed worked for Eutocius, as a guide, and parted company with him in Llorkh, a small swamp village upriver from Loudwater.
  • Hosvir would warn the others if he felt the tug of evil’s influence.

Late in the morning, Allendi led them further up the mountain to a high eyrie, where he explained to them that he, too, had been in conference with the Lady, and that she had warned him of a great and gathering danger.

He spoke to them, gesturing to the expansive valley of the Fallen Lands below as he explained:

“In a time before the current nations, a great evil ruled all that you can see from this eyrie. The being was called P’lchrukk and it was not of this world.

It had three generals, who ruled under it. The Ogre King, who ruled the river. The Fell Wizard, who ruled the swamp. The Warrior Priest, who ruled the mountains. Together, they spread their tyranny as far as the Sword Coast.

The Warrior Priest worshipped P’lchrukk as a God. But he grew jealous of the others and wished to be P’lchrukk’s favored one. He betrayed the others, setting off an internecine war.

The subjugated peoples under P’lchrukk’s role took the opportunity to rise up, forming alliances with powerful heroes who, while unable to kill P’lchrukk, were able to banish it to the Shadowfell.

They sealed the rift caused by the banishment, leaving P’lchrukk imprisoned forever, and built a Keep around the seal so that it would always be guarded against P’lchrukk’s return. They named the place, naturally, Shadowfell Keep.

But the Spellplague has weakened the seal that keeps P’lchrukk contained. Its malevolent influence seeps through, influencing beings that are easily corrupted, bending them to its will.

P’lchrukk wishes to have its two loyal potentates returned from the dead so that they might restore their armies, march across the Fallen Lands, take Shadowfell Keep, and destroy the seal. Already, the easily corrupted are doing its bidding without fully understanding why, preparing long-forgotten rituals that will raise the Ogre King and the Fell Wizard from their dark slumbers.

P’lchrukk would no doubt ally itself with Netheril and subdue the Fallen Lands on their behalf. Their combined might would be unstoppable.”

Allendi begged for their aid, but did not receive the response he’d hoped for. Una, the most talkative of the group, was more concerned about the slavers. Debate ensued. Should they split up? Should they deal with the slavers first?

Throughout the debate, Dositheus provided steady leadership. He would go to Llork and seek after his mentor. Una should stay with him, if he intended to heed the oracle’s guidance.

The others, more inclined to do as the monk requested, agreed to travel together at least as far as Llork.

Allendi then imparted them with a gift: The Scepter Tower and all that it contains. He expressed further hope that they would use it as a base of operations in dealing with the threat of P’lchrukk.

View
The Gnome
a parchment letter written in ridiculously ornate script

Dearest Brother Flexis,

I write to indiclate that my tenure in the service of ridifluous longshanks Thoran has ceasured, due in large part to his untimely demise at the hands of an insult comic.

I was, thankfully not present for Thoran’s final brattle. Upon learning that the tower was under seige, he chose not to interrupt his ritual and defend his stronghold, relying instead on his hapless pets and his wizard assistruant, who obviously proved to be untrustworthy.

The insult comic was allied with an elf and a motley assemblage of the unfaerieor races—a limping goliath, a slowish Tormite, a lippy hin, and their trainer. But they were stout enough to take the tower and no doubt stout enough to hold it. I don’t know their plans for it, or if they know its secrets, but there was a wizard among them who seemed intent on puzzling them out.

I will have them watched. They seemed intent on “clearing out” the Tower, so they may die from what’s in the tomb. If not, seems our plans will be delayed until further knowtice.

I did rethieve the best of the books, and barely escraped with my gizzard unfissured. I will meet you at the appointed time and place to make the exchange.

Hello to mums. Make her eat.

Your Brother, Hexis

View
The Consort
in his sanctuary, Barthus woos his newest

My dear. I can see by the fear in your eyes that you have not yet come to accept your new nature. It is understandable. I was once the same.

But surely you are beginning by now to appreciate what has been done for you. When Thoran’s servants brought you here, they saved you from becoming the property of that sheikh—merely one in his retinue of slaves until you are discarded for being pregnant or sick or old. That is no life for one such as you.

Here, with me, you will treasured. My only queen.

I will lavish my attentions upon you, adorn you with rare treasures entombed by an ancient age. Through my bargain with Thoran, I can offer you to drink from among the wealthiest, heartiest blood on Toril for as long as a guard for him the secret way into the tower.

You will be protected. Ever safe. Ever young. Accept this, and the fear will subside.

Deny it, and your terror may kill you. It is your choice.

View
The Imp
while Hosvir sleeps, his familiar whispers in his ear

Fool. Do you think it is only my eyes that corrupt you? You pursue power, “master,” And what corrupts more than that?

Why do you toss and cry out in your sleep? Do you dream of the dead harem girl, floating in the muck? The price of Thoran’s bargain with the vampire Balthus. Grotesque. Tragic, perhaps. But no concern of yours.

No, it’s not the girl that haunts your rest. It’s the paladin.

It will be easy for you to blame it on the halfling. He’d rather think himself clever than go on living. But his provocations were not the sum of it.

Perhaps you will blame the paladin for his damned refusal to abandon the foolish hin.

Or perhaps you will blame the barbarian for fighting, or the others for failing.

But you know the blame is truly yours. In your lust for power, you pushed them further and further into the caverns. You insisted that they find the secret entrance. You pushed them too far, and now the paladin is dead.

At least you recovered the body before the vampire could corrupt him. Didn’t you?

Or is that him I hear now, skulking down the hall?

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.