Lorin

Alseera's Journal, 27th Entry
written while resting after the battle with the Dark Lord of Fear
Conditions steadily deteriorated as we approached the Crucible, turning dark and stormy. Kethra’s analysis of the weather found it to be not natural. No surprise there. We landed about half a mile from the keep itself, where forest was still green and growing. Further in all the trees were dead, the ground barren. The storm grew worse and lightning began crashing down quite nearby. Hakon used an Arcane Eye to scout ahead, and found only one way in to the central keep. The courtyard between the curtain wall and the keep itself was deserted. The whole place looked decrepit and long-abandoned.

Whurel moved ahead, using his powers to create a tunnel under the outer wall. We went through that and scouted around the central keep, only some 60 feet on a side and square in shape. Digging down found massive solid walls going far down underground. Two of the three entrances were bricked up very solidly as well. Having no choice, we went in by the one remaining door to find the inside largely decayed: forges, long gone cold, dry pits with reddish, greenish, and black crusts about them, old broken or rotted weapons, crumbling furniture, rotted out doors, etc. The only thing “fresh” was the torches, which were magical with what looks like Continual Flame on them. I am using one; Bernard took others. It was these that made it seem that the place was occupied, as they shone out through the arrow slits. Those slits, by the way, were magically warded and allowed nothing solid to go in or out. No creatures of any kind were found in the keep, not even rats and spiders.

We checked out the ground floor and the one above it. Nothing except as noted above. One stairwell going up was thoroughly blocked by brickwork. Bernard tried to crack through it and succeeded only in bending his crowbar a little.

Going down, the only option left, led to a room with 4 illuminated stained glass windows, one depicting Bernard, one Whurel, one Kethra, and one me. None for Hakon. They looked as if they were translucent, as if one could walk through them. Hakon detected magic on them, but found only the mix of necromancy, illusion, conjuration, abjuration, and divination that pervaded the whole place. (As at Domas Mostellaria, light was dimmed, vision restricted to perhaps half normal distance.) In any case, what happened next revealed this was a carefully planned trap. If someone attempted to go through a window not his own, they bounced off. Whurel and Bernard tried a trick wherein W was on B’s shoulders and they went toward W’s window. W went through, B bounced off. Moments later, K pushed her club (not herself) into her window, and it still sucked her through. I dispelled the magic on mine. B then smashed the glass, but no way through existed behind it. He then went through his window, leaving me and Hakon behind. We started looking for another way down.

We tried blasting the wall with dozens of Rays of Frost and Silver Bolts, but that didn’t seem to work. Or maybe it did, because not much later, the wall proceeded to crumble behind where my window was, revealing a curving hallway. As we went down, I felt strange, and the hallway began to become quite cramped. Looking at my hand, I noticed my fingernails turning into claws and hands into more like a dragon’s forefeet. I was turning into a dragon!

Hakon and I arrived in a large chamber. In it was an enormous white dragon, which said I had stolen its Drak-esk Ork, and killed one of its kin. I knew from reading the Draconomicon that she was Wintermute, the Queen of White Dragons. For some reason, I was a white dragon too, not a silver one. Much of this struck me as odd, but powerful magic must have been at work so ‘normal’ explanations may not be appropriate in analyzing what went on here. That the DLF could have persuaded Wintermute to sit in his room (with no exit big enough for her!) is unlikely at best. In any case, Wintermute opened the festivities by blasting me with its cold breath, but that, of course, did nothing at all. That too, did not make sense — a white dragon, especially one so experienced, must have known that all white dragons are immune to cold. I didn’t even try my breath, but figured my only chance was to be quicker and more maneuverable (it was far larger than I). So I flew behind it, and attempted to use claws and teeth. That did some damage, but was about as effective as hitting a stone wall with a pebble. Hakon hid behind me, finding some doors out and tried to get through them. Barred. I then attempted to smash my way through, while dodging the larger dragon’s attacks as best I could. It took a while, and I was rather bloodied, but I tore a hole in the doors. Hakon slipped through that and was able to unbar the doors. We hightailed it down a long corridor, the larger dragon being unable to fit. I barely fit! Being “small and slim” (for a dragon, anyway!) was a decided benefit.

We came out into a large room, and I was in my own form again, though still badly battered. In it were all of us, arrayed along one wall. Before us was a large empty chamber, then a wide opening into a second chamber containing a throne, some coffins, two stands with spheres floating above them (one clear, one black), and two black-armored figures in the shape of men. One of the two black-armored ones turned and said to the other, “I’ve done all I can. Finish this and meet us in the north.”

Bernard and Whurel charged, but before they got there, I was able to hit the remaining enemy with a Silver Blast, doing damage. After that, it blasted several of us with a huge spell or something; the next thing I remember was Whurel pouring a potion down my throat. I was still in bad shape but able to move and cast again. Battle continued, with Kethra (as a giant elk), Bernard, and Whurel surrounding it. I tried a Silver Bolt but missed. The three of them, taking much damage, managed to destroy it, with the final blow — an awesome, shattering one — delivered by Whurel.

Meantime, Hakon had discovered that the clear sphere was a crystal ball (and taken it from above its stand), and that the black sphere ate anything put into it. He tried moving the black one, and nearly got eaten, but he was able to dive out of the way when it came toward him.

Kethra cast a healing spirit spell that helped me get better, and eventually (after the fight was over)everyone else injured. Somewhere along in here I realized that Whurel had brought Wanda’s corpse, carried by Jane the Carpet.

We explored (I did detect magic twice) and found the six coffins contained poor children being sucked of life by necromantic magic, plus the throne soaked with necromantic magic, and a magic teleportation circle around the corner out of the chamber. We rescued the children, then destroyed the coffins by heaving them into the black sphere. Bernard and Kethra did as much healing of the children as they could; they did not awaken but seemed stable.

We all gathered up all the parts of the destroyed death knight (if that’s what it was, but I am fairly certain it was indeed the Dark Lord of Fear) and throwing every bit of it, all its armor and weapons, even the dust of its bones, into the black sphere.

Kethra had the happiest idea of the day: let’s get rid of the tainted gold in this sphere! We all agreed (with B promising to make up W’s share) and threw every single evil coin into it. What a joy to be rid of that worry!

Whurel and I then managed to badly damage, if not fully destroy, the throne by mentally “pulling” on the sphere. Each time I tried to move or control it, it would move about 10 feet toward me. Our method was to position ourselves so the sphere went through the throne as it came toward us; this was dangerous and eventually I realized that I just couldn’t control it well enough to do more damage than we had already done. The throne was not fully destroyed, but left spouting occasional gouts of necromantic magic that did not go far. It looked very broken, with the sphere floating just above the seat, and we left it at that.

Bernard found a bag of 130 rubies under the bowl of the teleportation magic circle, and after I dispelled magic on the 3 in the bowl, we had 133 very nice non-magical rubies. Further hunting around by everyone found one door out (concealed, found by me) and a piece of one of those ancient earth magic pillars…no magic on it (found by Kethra and Whurel, I believe, I didn’t see it exactly but they were over that way).

The corridor behind the concealed door led up and to an opening behind and outside of the curtain wall of the keep. We rested, did as much healing as we could on the abused children, and realized that we needed to seek better healing than we have to get them better. We then discussed the situation elected to go to the nearest town, Kirgan. Some risk exists of being branded “heroes” (a la Dumas) and ending up with more trouble; this made us desire to stick together.

Jane can make food! While we were resting and figuring how to get all of us to Kirgan, the carpet suddenly created a banquet for six. How convenient!

Our plan, eventually, was to get to Kirgan by putting Whurel (150 pounds), me (100), the six children (600), and Wanda (120) on Jane (total load, 970, about Jane’s limit). Hakon will ride his broom, while casting Tenser’s disks for Ketha and Bernard to ride on. In this way we can travel reasonably fast. For the moment, we are resting in the Leomund’s Tiny Hut, recovering.

The weather, by the way, is nice again; the evil gloom and unnatural storm are gone. Bernard, Kethra, and Whurel have not yet told me what happened to them after they went through those ensorceled mirrors/windows. I expect to be listening to some exciting tales while we’re flying along!

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Alseera's Journal, 26th Entry
The enemy is setting traps and ambushes. About halfway to the Crucible, we were suddenly set upon by air elementals or something like them. Many of us were nearly thrown from Jane and would have fallen to our deaths, but between some deft carpet maneuvers and Hakon’s catching Kethra with his magic broom, all of us got down safely.

The one elemental we saw first, outlined by the dust it stirred up, was enormous, far larger than one would expect. My spell of Banishment worked! Silver threads surrounded the monster, then began to spin into a vortex which sucked it away to nowhere. Thereafter the silver threads in the vortex condensed into a beautiful silver sparkle which vanished with a pop and was gone. I get the distinct feeling the banished monster was not an ‘ordinary’ air elemental, but something more powerful. Its exact nature is a subject for research at a later date.

However, two creatures were after us. The other one, also invisible but much smaller, suddenly attacked Whurel just after the larger one was Banished. Kethra had summoned an earth elemental with the horn, which then struck the invisible foe. Though we couldn’t see the thing, we knew roughly where it was. While the others rained blows on it, I tried Sorcerous Rays. Didn’t work, and I missed badly, one of them scratching Whurel by accident. Kethra then managed to outline it by covering it with webbing (she had morphed into a huge spider). Now able to see it, I shot a Silver Bolt which hit.

After this it was rapidly destroyed by numerous blows from all the others. When the combat was over, I suggested that we hide Whurel’s necklace (in the Bag of Holding) given to him by Wanda, as it may be used by the enemy to track us. We certainly tried to find out where she is by using it, and I suspect our enemy is smart enough to do the same in reverse. In any case, he refused to part with it, Bernard would not intervene, and my very reasonable suggestion was ignored.

Kethra discovered that the horn of elemental summoning does recharge, rate unknown. We have used it twice now, but have 3 charges remaining and it had 4 initially. Perhaps you can control which type of elemental it summons by the three holes it has…sounding a different note depending on which holes are covered —another item for future research. The smaller foe may have been an invisible stalker, but that’s only educated guesswork.

Putting this away now; we are approaching the Crucible.

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Alseera's Journal, 25th Entry
Duma is a grim place to visit. They had bodies swinging from gibbets at the gate we came in, with a sign warning everyone not to be a “hero,” which I take to mean not upsetting the apple cart of those in power. The presence of the military was everywhere.

We found the mageguild building readily enough, but it was late in the day and the guard at the gate, an extremely ugly fellow, would not let us in, in spite of repeated tries. We repaired to an inn.

While we were there, some of the military came in and arrested some more of these “heroes.” Hakon managed somehow to purloin a coin those arrested left behind. It has writing in Celestial on it and refers to the “Blue Templars.” Evidently this is some kind of anti-establishment organization.

Later in the night, some disturbance occured in the room occupied by Bernard, Hakon, and Whurel. Kethra and I were in the next room, and nobody really told us much of what went on. I suppose it must have been minor, as they didn’t bother to mention it later.

In the morning, we repaired to the mageguild and were let in by that horribly ugly servant, whose name was Caliban. He may have been a hobgoblin, from the looks. We discussed things with Miranda and she said to return later in the day for traveling papers, which she would prepare for us. I gave Miranda the letter Prospero had entrusted to me. There followed a long discussion about some aspects of the empire, the Black Legion, and the Crucible. She also had further information on death knights and the five sins of Dagda’s religion, both of which I read. The author of the sins scroll was someone called Oghun, scion of Oghma. (Is he claiming to be the child of a god?!!?? In any case, he was supposed to be living in the deserts in the southwestern part of the Azeryan empire). Oghun was expanding upon the scroll written by Enobarbus, whom Oghun called a “daft idiot.” In any case, this is what was written about the sins.

Wrath, combining anger and hate, and not surprisingly associated with the color red.

Avarice, combining greed, lust, and envy, or, if you will, “need beyond reason.” It is associated with the color green.

Cowardice, color yellow. This can be both the usual kind (excessive fear in the face of an enemy) or groveling to a superior power or authority…i.e. failure to stick up to principles by doing whatever is going to make the powerful ‘happy.’

Sloth, color gray. This isn’t just physical laziness, but apathy, complacency and conformity, again taking the “easy way out” instead of sticking to principles.

The fifth sin is “Obedience,” i.e. slavishly following the orders of a higher authority, even if doing so violates principles. It seems to be a more severe version of “sloth,” as its color black is more intense than gray, in that the sinner is willing to do things against principle rather than just go along. It is thus a sin of commission vs. sloth’s sin of omission…failing to do anything.

According to Oghun, this is so deadly a sin that it is not uttered by those of the Dagda religion. The scroll closed with an interesting opinion:

“The irony of the deadly sins is this – these conditions of the heart are not written about for the purpose of guarding oneself from these evils. In fact quite the opposite. This theology is a list of attributes to be groomed in a society for the purpose of subjugation. This is a recipe for domination! A wrathful man can be turned on his brother. A avaricious man can be lured by promises of rewards. A coward can be cowed through threats of punishment. A slothful people can be counted on to ‘go with the flow’ and not resist, choosing what is easy over what is right.”

To that I add that the over-obedience sin allows the formation of an amoral cadre of enforcers of the leader’s wishes, even if those wishes are entirely corrupt or sinful. The Black Legion might fit that description.

We mentioned the arrest in the inn last night and showed Miranda the “Blue Templars” coin; she immediately became nervous. In a slip of the tongue, she seemed to imply she was a member of it, and that we risked exposing them. Then she shooed us out as if afraid of us, not to come back until the papers were ready. As we had not been able to give her a full explanation of what we were about, I offered to write a summary for her of the entire affair since Domas Mostellaria.

We wandered about town some, bought a few things including some very fine and tasty baked goods, and then repaired to an inn called the “True Blue” (the co-incidence was hard to miss!). In that inn, it seemed that the clientele was anti-establishment, but subtly. The guards came in and threatened everyone once, too. Nonetheless I got the summary written while we were there.

We collected the traveling papers at the appropriate time, and I left the summary, written in Draconic, with her. This included everything from our initial visit to Domas Mostellaria up to the part about Whurel’s vision, sourcing entity still unknown, of the corruption invading Dagda. The traveling papers, by the way, said we were collecting magical components and might go anywhere. We left town shortly thereafter, about mid-day, and headed southeast.
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Alseera's Journal, 24th Entry

Alseera’s Journal, 24th entry (written flying from the ruined tower to Duma)

After leaving the Rakshasa the first time, we headed to Kesara to get proper papers, and I thought it a good idea to see Prospero, the guildmaster of the mageguild there, and find out what was going on and how to get those somewhat obscure ‘papers’ we will need if we are going into Azeryan territory.

I had warned the others about the corruption and extreme prejudices that we were likely to encounter, and that both got much worse in Trierzon the futher east you go. They discounted what I was saying, or didn’t care much, or both. Our arrival was mundane enough, including suspicious and corrupt gate guards making comments about the non-humans in our party. Invoking Prospero’s name (“came to see him about magical matters”) was not effective. Gold bribes and mentioning buying things in the town (‘city’ is too grand a term for Kesara) did work. Once in, we repaired to the inn the bribed guard mentioned; note that when paid a bribe his answer as to where to stay was different than his first answer to that question.

We went to see Prospero. His “guild” here is just himself, apparently. We tried out the cover story of consulting on matters of fiendish magics first, even to the extent of showing him the Gem of True Seeing and letting him look at the fiendish gold through it. However, dear Bernard acted far too intelligent and authoritative while this was going on, and Prospero — an intelligent man — saw through the cover quickly. We then proceeded to explain all about the Dark Lord of Fear, about our encounters at Domas Mostellaria and consequences thereof, and that we were here to rescue Wanda. He also read the accounts written in the books of the Knights Warden and of the Knights of the Shield. He was fascinated, and offered to help.

In the middle of all this, Whurel suddenly went into a kind of trance and began describing a scene of a magnificent white temple now diseased and gushing forth a foul black ichor. Humans, either dazed or unaware, did not notice this filth. When he finished, he appeared to snap back to being himself, but could not remember what he said, or even that he had said it. We reconstructed as much as we could from what the rest of us heard, but it is probably incomplete. Here it is:

“In the furthest distance, due east, is a city shrouded in gray and shadow. I see more detail than is possible from this distance. I see a tall, gleaming temple with a façade of white marble. Its doors crash open and an ugly black ooze pours forth. It spreads up and out, covering the white marble with a thick black coating. The black infection seems alive as it spreads over the temple engulfing it. My point of view pulls back to take in the masses of people who populate this place. Almost all are humans, but they seem to walk in a stupor. They don’t respond to the black ooze covering the temple. My point of view takes me in close on their faces. Their skin seems pale, yellowish. Their eyes are wrong – looking ‘bloodshot’ with strings of red and green infecting the whites. There is a smell of disease here.”

It sounded to Prospero like the Great Cathedral of Dagda in Mekopolis was being corrupted, something that he found to be unlikely, given the power of Dagda, but nonetheless horrifying. The prospect of the red and green fiendish creatures being weak compared to what “Lord Tymek” could do, from Kethra’s vision, came immediately to mind, and note the red and green in the eyes of the zombied humans in Whurel’s vision. While all this is based on visions, it bears thinking about; the Dagda hierarchy should be warned. Prospero spent considerable effort to inform us of the way of life in the Azeryan Empire. Some of this I knew, but some was new and informative. Here’s the gist of his comments:

The Emperor directly appoints the state governors. All city
and town ‘magistrates’ are then appointed by the governors,
with the population having no say in the matter. Most of these
magistrates are retired military officers, and the army is used
in place of what we would call city or town guards. ‘Peace’ and
order are maintained through naked force.

Any Azeryan guard or soldier is likely to challenge a
traveler. Be prepared to present papers. Demi-humans
(dwarves, elves, and the like) will be treated with suspicion.
Humanoids will be treated with disgust.

No one may speak freely, or against the established
powers; such ‘rabble-rousing’ and other public disturbances
are not tolerated.

The Black Legion is the most elite company of the Azeryan
military, the personal guard of the emperor and, occasionally,
his agents. The commander of the Black Legion is a larger-
than-life figure, by some called some the ‘Dark Lord of the
Legion.’

The Crucible, a large square keep, is the legendary fortress
where each individual Black Legion soldiers was ‘forged.’ That
is the myth, but the mundane reality is that the most elite
(Prospero did not say if that ‘elite’ had to do with social position
or military prowess) soldiers from each Azeryan company are
given the honor of serving in the Black Legion. However they
come to be in the Legion, no one has ever held a conversation
with a Black Legionnaire, or even seen one out of their head-
to-toe uniform.

Whatever the reality of the Legion, the fires of the Crucible
went out centuries ago, until now. The heart of the Legion
beats again. (Chillingly, rumors speak also of children disappearing
in that area, just like the tales of the Dark Lord of Fear from long
ago.)

The Cruicible itself lies about 60 leagues southeasterly of
Duma, but before you reach the town of Kirgen, also in that
direction, and is perhaps 180 leagues away by road.

He gave us papers that will get us to Duma, including a sealed letter for the Duma Mageguildmistress, Miranda. She should be able to help us further. He also wanted a report upon our return (he used ‘if’ rather than ‘when’) of what we found and what happened at the Crucible.

While we were in Propero’s home/guildhouse, Hakon was reading scrolls and books, and found a couple of interesting items about Death Knights (written by, of all people, the Enobarbus we met in Seville) plus some highly skeptical comments (e.g. “rubbish”) by a mage on what Enobarbus had written. The gist of the latter was that Death Knights were not fallen paladins but evil creatures right from the start. Prospero discounted the veracity of the skeptical author. Frankly, my take of that ‘controversy’ is that so little is actually known (i.e. facts: names, dates, etc), that all of it is suspect.

When we left Prospero’s that evening, and headed toward our inn, the other three suddenly went off to another tavern. I suggested strongly that we stay out of sight, but they were more interested in having a good time than being discreet. I am beginning to wonder about the judgement of Bernard and Hakon, not just Whurel. In any event, I went back to the inn and stayed with Kethra and told her what had transpired at Prospero’s.

After that I spent some time in the common room talking with locals, mostly the bartender. The news was all mundane items about taxes and schools and such, nothing of interest.

The others came back sometime in the night, evidently without any untoward incidents…thank goodness…anyway, they were there in the morning. We repaired to Prospero’s early to pick up the papers, and the sealed letter (which I have) for Guildmistress Miranda. We also got a full helm for Bernard, which helps disguise him by hiding his mouth. Hakon is good at disguises, it turns out, and was able to make Bernard look almost human.

We took the direct route to Duma, over the Rakshasa tower (the caravan routes, to avoid that area, go well north of it, and we wished to avoid contact). The tower was burning when we got there, and looked different. Going down to investigate more closely, we found the white tower to be gray stone, the two witches’ caps gone, the magical protective shell gone, the surrounding outer wall breached in several places, and (per Whurel) recent fire in the firepit. Going in the tower found the doors smashed open, and a dying Rakshasa in a broken chair in an otherwise plain room at the top of the stairs.

The Rakshasa told us “he” (we assume the DLF, but it didn’t say so) had come to remove whatever potential threat the Rakshasa was. It now would freely give Whurel the answer to three questions, and this was the result:

1. Where is Wanda? Below the Crucible, where “he” keeps his pets. He is waiting for you.

2. How can you defeat the Dark Lord? The Rakshasa didn’t know, but suggested using all your power to crush him. Bludgeoning was mentioned.

3. What is the best way to enter the Crucible? “He” will only let you in by the front door. (And it suggested we would suffer somehow by doing so.)

It would answer no more questions, and told us to leave. I offered to help it on its way to where it was going (it said Hell) with Banishment, but it more emphatically said to leave. We did.

As we took off, I did mention to the others that perhaps we should go straight to the Crucible now, surprise having been lost. We discussed this for a while, but the group elected to go to Doma first; they wanted to deliver Prospero’s sealed letter. Now that I think on it, at least giving information to the Guildmistress about the potential evil threat to the Dagda is also wise.

The matter of how the DLF found out we were here already, and knew we had talked with the Rakshasa, bears investigation. The DLF may have had agents at (or magical means of watching) the Rak’s tower, and they would have reported. The time from our arriving at that tower to now is about one day, not enough for any normal mode of communication to have allowed so quick a response. So our enemy no doubt has magical means (sendings, scryings, whatever) of communicating, plus the ability to move powerful forces over long distances quickly. And if any report of a flying carpet was involved, the DLF (who no doubt knows what his former possessions were) then certainly knows someone has arrived who took the carpet from Domas Mostellaria. Either that, or he had an agent in Kesara who reported us.

Other things are also unusual to an extent that demands investigation. Some power took over Whurel, and in doing so seemingly provided us with insight into the enemy’s plans to corrupt Dagda. Who is this power, and why does it work the way it does? Why does it not directly intervene, given its evident power to take us over from long distances?

The more I think about it, the more warning Dagda of the danger we have seen supersedes the mission of rescuing Wanda. While the latter is noble and worthy, stopping the Dark Lord’s attempt to corrupt Dagda is of far greater importance. We should go to Mekopolis first, to take care of that. This will also perhaps foul up the Dark Lord’s plans for us, if we go off in an unexpected direction and not directly into his planned traps.

We also need to think of a way to get into the Crucible besides his “front door.” Blow the horn until we get an earth elemental that can open us a tunnel into the spaces below the fortress? See if we can get some powerful magic in Mekopolis (with Dagda’s help if they choose to believe us)? Hire a Xorn? Mind control an Umber Hulk? The last two are ridiculous, of course, but if we can come up with a viable scheme, it is both good tactics and sensible to outflank the Dark Lord.

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What Whurel Said

In the furthest distance, due east, there is a city shrouded in gray and shadow. You perceive more detail than is possible from this distance. You see a tall, gleaming temple with a façade of white marble. Its doors crash open and an ugly black ooze pours forth. It spreads up and out, covering the white marble with a thick black coating. The black infection seems alive as it spreads over the temple engulfing it.

Your point of view pulls back to take in the masses of people who populate this place. Almost all are humans, but they seem to walk in a stupor. They don’t respond to the black ooze covering the temple. Your point of view takes you in close on their faces. Their skin seems pale, yellowish. Their eyes are wrong – looking ‘bloodshot’ with strings of red and green infecting the whites. There is a smell of disease here.

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Prospero's Advice

On the afternoon the party spent with Prospero, he spent considerable effort to inform them of the way of life in the Azeryan Empire. Among the points he brought up were the following:

  • The Empire is divided into states ruled by governors appointed directly by the Emperor. (Ambassador Wilhuff Typhon was the governor of the western territories before the empire withdrew.)
  • Local city and town governments are head by “magistrates” appointed by the governors. Local populations have no real say in their governance. Most of these magistrates are retired military officers.
  • The regular army is used in place of civilian police. “Peace” and order are maintained through force.
  • Any Azeryan guard or soldier is likely to challenge a traveler. Be prepared to present papers.
  • Demi-humans (dwarves, elves, and the like) will be treated with suspicion. Humaniods will be treated with disgust.
  • “Free Speech” is obviously not a thing here. Rabble-rousers and public disturbances are not tolerated.
  • The Black Legion are the most elite company of the Azeryan military. They function as the personal guard of the emperor, also occasionally acting as protectors of his agents. The commander of the Black Legion is a larger than life figure, referred to by some as the Dark Lord of the Legion.
  • The Crucible is the legendary fortress where the Black Legion soldiers were “made”. It is a large square keep with the mystique of a forge – the mythology being that the individual soldiers of the Black Legion were each “forged” here. The reality is thought to be more mundane – that the most elite of soldiers from each Azeryan company are given the honor of serving in the Black Legion. However, it is notable that no one has ever held a conversation with a Legion soldier or seen one out of their head-to-toe uniform. Whatever the reality of the Legion is, the fact remains that the fires of the Crucible went out many years ago…until now. The heart of the Legion beats again.

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Pell Report #1

Report on Pell #1,  by Cpt. Jassen

 

   Pell was sent by Master Hand to find out why Master Quizmet had not returned from an errand west of the University.

    The Master had been knocked out and taken by a large hill giant.

Pell and one Doris, evidently a wizard in residence here who had also been taken by the giant, were able to overcome the giant and rescue Quizmet. In the fight, Pell suffered some wounds, but not too serious and will be fine. Quizmet was brought back by using the giant’s sack and some wood to make a travois, with Pell pulling it.

    On the way back, after getting soaked crossing an icy creek, they built a campfire in an old stone circle with a low flat stone in the center, and were resting and rewarming. Doris took a rubbing of the writing on that stone. Two minor demons then appeared and attacked, claiming some “dark lord” did not want them there. Pell killed one (he showed me its head, which he took to the alchemists afterward), Doris the other.

   Upon return he reported first to Master Hand, and then to me.

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Alseera's Journal, 23nd Entry

Alseera’s Journal, 23rd entry (written after the encounter with Lord Tiberius the Rakshasa).

     An interesting, and too exciting, day.  Everything was just fine as we flew along east until we ran into a three-headed beast (I believe they are called “chimera.”) and got into a fight with it.  I hit it 3 times with Silver Blast and once with Silver Bolt.  That, plus the damage the others did was enough, but I got badly singed by its fiery breath. Kethra was kind enough to heal me, with some interesting new spell she has that summons a healing spirit. I cut off and have the monster’s dragon-like head and stowed it.

    Later, as we headed east, we spied a tower in the distance, in a place that Whurel recognized from his “non-vision.” When we arrived, it turned out to be a courtyard enclosed by a 15’ wall, and magically protected from aerial entry.  Whurel dug a tunnel under the wall, and entered.  He encountered a huge agglomeration of animated stones, and the rest of us rushed in after they attacked him.  Net result was that most of the fight was over by the time I got in there, although I did get in one Silver Blast, which was the finishing blow as it turned out.

    Oh…before I forget, we named the carpet. It likes to be called “Jane.”

    Back to the tower. After we defeated the animated stones (earth elemental?), we entered the tower, which was empty except for a winding staircase going up to one door.  Going in revealed a space that could not be seen from outside the doorway, evidently a magical portal of some kind into an extra-dimensional space that was larger in diameter than the tower we entered.  Inside was what looked like a man sitting in a chair, a couple of windows, a fireplace, and several bookshelves.  I glanced at the titles, which were written in a variety of languages.

    The creature, who turned out to be a Rakshasa, a kind of fiend, was glad to see us, and mentioned an invitation given to Whurel previously (he denied ever having received such) was to be extended to all of us.  That “invitation” was for a deal whereby we asked it questions (W. getting 3, the rest 1 each), it gave us the answers (Whurel being intensely interested in where Wanda is), and we left the door open for it to escape its imprisonment.  In the course of the conversation, it came out that “Lord Tiberius” (the name it used…never heard of any such name in all my history lessons) had been imprisoned by the DLF, that it wanted revenge on the DLF, that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend (i.e. us), and that it was a Rakshasa. Also evident was the fact that it could read minds, and know things about you it could not except by some kind of magical seeing/knowing/scrying. It called me a “dragon girl,” and Hakon a “drow” (what’s that?). So it had the advantage of us; a negotiation is difficult when the other side knows every bit about what our side knows and is thinking.

     This led to a debate about whether we should accept such a bargain with it, as doing so could release a huge evil upon the world. In the end, the possibility of gaining information about Wanda was just not worth the risk of releasing such a monster upon the world.

    Kethra brought up a very good point that the Rakshasa may have been imprisoned by the DLF before the latter turned to evil. (That’s based on the very sketchy knowledge that the DLF is a “death knight” and thus supposed to be a fallen paladin.)  In the end, although I felt that what it actually said was more or less the truth, it was nonetheless too selective about what it chose to tell us, and too secretive, so I elected to not deal with it. Bernard, Kethra, and Hakon also declined. Whurel was open to the bargain, but since we others would not guarantee to prevent the Rakshasa from leaving, even if W. was willing to do so, the entire deal was off. And we left.    

     I relearned a lesson: be careful about unknown magic.  When we were outside, I talked the others to going up to the roof of the tower, which had a flat space between its two witches’ peaks. The idea was that we’d found 1 staircase and 1 door, but obviously two rooms were at the top.  I got zapped by magic sparks when trying to step onto the roof, and that ended that.

     Whurel was obviously disappointed.  He also was unaware, apparently, that he had ever been offered any bargain by this creature. Mind control of some kind by it? Who knows!  And speaking of “who knows,” we are now back to knowing nothing specific about where Wanda is (except the vague “heart of blackness” east of Seville).  Tuallerton’s scrying failed, the love necklace failed (a great surprise to Tuallerton), Whurel’s non-vision leading us here did not work.

     Oh, yes, I forgot, but when we flew over the old druidic circle just west of Trobridge, it had been entirely destroyed with all the stones shattered and thrown down.  So whatever bad actor was after it is certainly still active.

 

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Alseera's Journal, 22nd Entry
(written while flying east on the carpet)

Alseera’s Journal 22nd Entry (written while flying east on the carpet)

Whurel has just crossed a line. In his unreasoning demanding insistence on going east immediately, just before we left, he called me a coward to my face. When we get back, I will ask him again for an apology for that (he’s refused so far), and it better be a sincere one. If not, I am finished with him. Bernard and Kethra both agree that the time we spent at Seville was worthwhile and useful. I will put the matter aside now only because it will not help Wanda to break apart, but once that is behind us, I will hold him to account for his actions. How he could call me a coward, knowing what we’ve been through together, and have such a low opinion of me, hurts more than the insult.

The other major event just before we left was Guerny coming by with Hakon, a wizard who Argent sent to boost our numbers.  Apparently he and Bernard know each other from before, as the two of them were overjoyed at seeing each other.  This helped to break the tension that had just developed. Seems to be a friendly fellow, and of course Argent must have some confidence in him.

We got a lot done yesterday and this morning, and had two unsettling experiences. Much of it was basic stuff, but it started out by going to see Dane. Unfortunately, as we had suspected, someone was using Dane as bait to lay a trap for us, and we were set upon by 4 assassins using poisoned blades. We killed them all, but Whurel and Bernard took some serious damage in the process. The last one, who was held and could not get away, took poison to kill himself, so we have no idea who sent them…yet. The only positive out of this was that they had quite a number of black pearls on them (20 all told, so 4 each and 4 for party reserve, and worth in aggregate about 2000 gold). When the city guard came, they started an investigation, of course, but Guerny was there with them and excused us from any interference in what we were about; we gave statements, of course. On the way back from that mess, we told Guerny about the two letters, ostensibly from Dane, and the different handwritings. He has those now, and will pursue that matter as part of the investigation. We four all felt that Dane was an innocent party here, and Guerny agreed. The matter of the letters will be handled discreetly.

The other major matter was a visit to a stone circle 2 miles west of town where a rubbing was taken and two ice fiends destroyed. We went there with the two who had rescued Quizmet (a Shorkyne army scout named Pell and the little fellow, Argent’s assistant, I’ve seen around the School of Arcana who was calling himself ‘Doris,’ though I’ve not heard that name used for him before…odd…must ask Argent about that later.) and found the center stone, from which the rubbing had been taken, was missing now. Three satyrs had been killed, too, throats cut and hanged over one of the stones of the outer circle. We buried them, looked around for any clues, found none, Kethra said some appropriate words, and we returned to town. The rubbing that started this had two lines, something on the order of “the forgotten will be found, and the storm wind blow.” That’s not exact, but note how that sort of fits with the mention of “the forgotten maiden” in the poem from the other stone circle outside Trobridge. Note also that “Stormwind” is Kethra’s last name; coincidence? I’m betting the two are related, and, more than that, whoever was responsible for summoning the Hezrou was also responsible for the removal of the rubbing-stone and the murder of the satyrs. A number of minor matters also got done: the Tyr cleric was cured and we learned the Tyr hierarchy determined it would take a high priest with a holy relic to exorcise the tainted money. The temple of Seker said essentially the same, though they of course mentioned a different relic and high priest. (So now all we have to do is find an appropriate high priest and holy relic!) The issues about the nasty business at the old stone circle got reported to Master Oak and to Argent. Maggie at the bank was cured of the money-disease. We all went out to dinner at a place called the “Troll’s Hammer” with Guerny, thus getting up to date on the latest goings-on in town (not much, except for the rescue of Quizmet and the subsequent issues). We made sure Dane was cured of any money-disease and recovered his small portion of red gold, and that completed the sequestering of all the diseased coins that got loose. Oh, and the chilled cream trial is a success and the Red Dragon is now renting it at 1 gold/day for me.

All that being done, we’re off to the eastern border areas of Trierzon, to hunt for some mountain pass where supposedly Wanda might be. Not the best of well-laid plans, that.

I thought of an experiment on the tainted gold while we are flying along. I got out one green and one red, and tried my Banishment spell on them. Didn’t work. The evil entity is so well tied to the gold that the spell could not be effective, as the gold itself anchors the fiendish entity here. If only it had dragged both gold and scum to the hell from which the latter came, we could at least get rid of it. But, it didn’t.

So, we are left with one of many extreme methods. The new one, and about the only one that actually recovers the gold, is an exorcism by the combination of an appropriate high priest using a holy relic. Trouble is, they’re not likely to do that for free, and I suspect the fee for a spell that powerful is going to be more than the gold itself is worth. All the other possible methods are pretty much in the same boat as used with a cursed item: they get rid of the taint, but the object with it. It’s worth reviewing those, though, and thinking about them.

Dropping the tainted gold into Mount Ignus in the Hellfire Peaks, and we might even be able to find that place with the carpet, will work, but we’re not likely to get the gold out of Mount Ignus again. Some salamanders will find gold raining down on them from heaven, and no doubt will thank their lucky stars…or maybe not, if the gold all melts and drains away.

Grinding the stuff in the Doomgrinder (if we can find it!) will work, and maybe we could recover some gold dust or powder or gold leaf, but I doubt it.

A sphere of annihilation will certainly work, should we be able to find one, and it’s also certain this method means giving up on recovering the gold itself.

For both the Tarrasque eating it and Greatwyrm Conflagarus breathing fire on it, the “cure” is worse than the disease. We are not likely to survive encountering either one. The Greatwyrm won’t care about the taint, no doubt being quite violent and greedy already, and will take it all for itself, either before or after eating all of us. Probably before, so he can enjoy watching us rue the day we brought it to him.

Crushing under the foot of “a humble ant” might work. Trouble is, that method depends on what is meant by “humble.” That’s a value judgement, and slippery for that reason alone. To me, an ant is humble in the sense of small and insignificant, but probably not so to a much smaller ant. So, from whose vantage point do we judge the small-and-insignificant-ness of “humble?” Philosophy makes my brain hurt! The other meaning of “humble” is to be blessed with the virtue of humility, but doesn’t that require sentience on the part of the humble one? I don’t know of any sentient ants, though with all the wonders of magic, they may exist somewhere. Maybe the Thri-kreen count? I saw a picture of one in a book once, and it looked ant-like, but that’s no guarantee.

Given the damage my little radiant spells can do, anyone exposing this gold, or anything else for that matter, to the blinding light of Seker is probably going to be burned to a crisp while doing so. Moreover, getting to whatever plane(s) Seker is found on will not be easy, and no doubt the inhabitants of said plane(s) will not like having their abode sullied by our bringing in gold filthy with fiendish gunk. We are likely to be punished for doing so.

The above as applies to Seker almost certainly applies to whichever goddess it is…we don’t know her name…whose loving touch can clean the fouled gold. She may not burn us up, but I’ll bet she’ll be highly insulted by being asked to dirty her hands with fiendish filth, and no doubt some penance for such temerity will apply. And again, dirtying of the heavenly abode isn’t going to win any celestial friends. Angering the gods stikes me as entirely the wrong way to go about things.

One wonders if a xorn would eat it. However, feeding poisoned gold to a sentient being, even one that normally likes to eat gold, is an evil act and thus out of the question. Now that I think on it, that stricture also applies to the Tarrasque.

I suppose our best strategy is to find a high cleric with a relic, and even if we end up having to give it all to the temple involved to cover the cost, the stuff will be cleansed. Failing in that, Mount Ignus sounds the best for at least getting rid of it.
 

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Alseera's Journal, 21st Entry

Alseera’s Journal, 21st Entry

We took a brief trip to Domas on the Carpet. It took but minutes, instead of hours of walking. I estimated that it goes ten times as fast as we can walk. While there, we searched the landslide and found three of the rubies, plus finding all the little caves and such were now gone, along with the two magical entries, and the old mansion beneath was now crushed to nothing.

We had quite a discussion over going to hunt for Wanda. Whurel was absolutely adamant that we had to go at once, no preparations of any kind. He would not listen to any countering opinions or arguments.

I thought of two possible reasons why Whurel is so adamant. One, the evil in the pools and gold affected him strongly, and he is falling under the control of the DLF and thus trying to lead us to our doom at the DLF’s hands; that thankfully turned out to be false. Two, he and Wanda were becoming friends, even exchanging gifts, and I have to wonder if he has fallen in love with her. He denied this, but it did come out that the necklace she gave him was a magical one, so maybe she was the love-struck one.

I finally remembered some things about those old earth-magic pillars. They were made by the Venar, or “The First Ones.” They are sometimes referred to either as “early Elven” or “early Human” civilizations (depends on who is doing the referring).

We returned to Skirgaard in time for their post-battle Healing Ceremony. Herger gathered us up and explained that after a battle, all the warriors gather in the long house to drink to the dead and heal the living. He added that we all fought well, and the Jarl invited us.

He brought us into the long hall. As before, the warriors sat either on rugs or on the dirt floor itself, all along the long thin fire pit down the center of the hall. The Jarl sat on his bench conversing with several of his knights. Conversations revolved around “burials” for the dead, rebuilding the village that was attacked, and how such a large group of orcs and ogres managed to make it so far into Shorkyne unnoticed. Evidently, Theo’s main force of knights encountered a much larger horde than we had to deal with.

The feast was mostly similar to the one the day before, but with some differences. The dead warriors were much more obvious this time, laid out on tables to one end of the hall. Warriors moved around the bodies, drinking, singing, and telling each other stories about the dead. Tiresias, the Seer, moved around the room. The food and drink was similar to last night, mead, venison, roasted fowl, but more flavorful and more filling this time. As Tiresias went about, he touched warriors on the shoulder or back, sometimes blowing on their food. They accepted this as normal. He came and touched us, too, briefly. I wanted to ask him questions, but there was no time.

In the later hours of the evening, when most plates were cleaned, drums started from the edges of the hall, a rhythmic sort of drone. The warriors began a sort of chant that flowed with the rhythm. Tiresias was again moving about the room, up and down the line of the fire. He had his own chant, something about war, battle, death and then healing and sleep. Occasionally, he tossed some small bit of powder into the fire, making bursts of light and smoke.

My eyelids then started to hang heavy, my full tummy making sleep the most wonderful idea in the world. The pounding of the drums speeded up; the chant grew stronger. Tiresias turned and wended his way around much faster, and he seemed to take on the form of an eagle. The drums came to a thunderous climax and stopped with one final enormous beat. In that same instant, Eagle-Tiresias threw back his head and exhaled a billowing cloud of fire, sparks, and smoke that enveloped the entire hall.

I should have been fascinated and excited by all this, but the exact opposite happened. Almost as if I were watching myself, I saw my head nod forward, my eyes close, and myself drift off into dreams. Tiresias is not just a seer; he must be some kind of shaman, priest, or mage, either self-empowered or gifted by an entity I do not know.

And what a revelation! I’ve had dreams before, but the vividness and detail of this scene made it more real than I’ve ever experienced before, including the dreams I have of new magics. No ordinary dream, it was a true vision! I found myself to be invisible, standing in a place I’d never been, and these scenes played out before me.

At first I am in a forest glen, green with summer growth. Ahead of me is a beautifully constructed temple of white stones, its arches and pillars adorned with reliefs of forest animals, satyrs and Sylvan script. A person emerges from the temple: male, a human perhaps, or an elf? He walks surefootedly past me, and my invisible self turns to keep him in sight.

Who or what is this person? He is dressed in a loose white linen shirt and beige pants going to the calf. He walks barefoot. He has a human’s height, a dwarf’s thick beard and thick muscles and the pointed ears of an elf — a mix of features I’ve never encountered. Yet, his face is so familiar! This is a person I should know, if only I could remember who! The figure walks a short distance to a carved post which stands in the clearing. It stands straight and tall, about nine feet high and two feet thick at the top, with odd glyphs and runes covering the whole shaft.

The curious-looking person holds out his hand and magical light begins to crackle from it, arcing to the pole. He opens his shirt, revealing glyphs on his chest similar to those on the pole. With one hand he touches these symbols on his chest. With the other hand, he reaches out and touches the glyphs on the pole. Crackling orange magical sparks arc to and expand around the figure, obscuring him. A quick flash of orange light fills my vision entirely. Then, the strange orange light is gone.

The man still stands touching the pole, but otherwise the scene is changed. Now I see now an open hillside, a vineyard with grapes ripening in the sun. The strange man steps away from the post, adjusting his shirt. He spends a few moments inspecting the grapes, and then heads down the hill.

I turn to see where he goes, but do not go with him. From my vantage point, he is heading down the hill towards a magnificent city built of gleaming white stones. The likes of it I have never seen, even in all of Trierzon. Then the vision faded and I spent the rest of the night in dreamless sleep.

As soon as I woke I took out the copy I made of the runes on the pillar on the plateau above Domas Mostellaria, comparing them to the ones in my mind’s eye from the vision. They are, except for the wear and tear of time, the same. Those poles then must be some kind of incredible teleportation device, and I am seeing a vision of the far past.

I have racked my brain about who the man/dwarf/elf may be. Is he a Venar, one of those who are thought to have built these pillars? His looks may mean the Venar are a mix of dwarven, elven, and human ancestry, or the progenitors of all three. And that city in the distance is perhaps the ancient seat of learning comparable to what Seville is now.

That still leaves the mystery of why he seems to be someone I should remember. I just don’t know; perhaps that will come to me with time.

Could he be one of those in the poem? The healer? The user of “green’s power”? He certainly used the ancient earth magic.

Why now do I have this particular vision, when I have been so concerned with other things? It is so very different from my recent past (the white dragon and my near brush with death, meeting the Shorkyne folk, a new culture, Tiresias the seer, the god-like eagle, the angst over the rescue of Wanda from the DLF) as to be almost jarring.

We finally solved the mystery of the green and red coins. The stain it leaves on you is fiendish in nature, a kind of poisonous disease. Bernard found this out by looking at the coins thorugh the Gem of True Seeing, which evidently made its fiendish nature very evident. His laying on of hands, and Kethra’s spells were able to rid me and her of any taint. Bernard and Whurel seem to be immune. In any case, we now have a way to get rid of the effects, and must quickly sequester all the affected gold. It took a bit of effort to get all the gold coins I’d spent at the silversmith’s back, but it’s done and only a couple of problems remain: 1. Kethra will decontaminate the last bank employee (she’s already done 2). 2. We need to get the gold that Dane had and exchange that out, too. It also turned out that Quizmet was badly affected by experimenting with the fluids from the pool, but he has now been decontaminated as well, by Bernard, and is recovering.

We sold most of the gems we had, from the ogre, the frost giant, and 2 of the Domas rubies.. Each of us gets approximately 360 gold, plus which we have the one gem left (one of the rubies, which were going for 450 each) which I’d left with Bernard to help pay for holy water, but he used his money to buy some instead. We’ll sell that last gem later and distribute the proceeds after paying Bernard back for the holy water. As I write this, Bernard and Whurel are off to a sunset ceremony at Seker to talk to the Brothers there about getting the contaminated gold cleansed.

Bernard and Kethra had dreams after the Healing Feast; for some reason, Whurel did not. Anyway, Bernard’s dream involved essentially eavesdropping on a conversation between an old person (he saw an aged hand with many age-spots on it) and Bella. What he overheard was essentially that Lord Tymek (spelling?) had returned, and that the old person no longer needed Bella’s red and green magic, which was weak by comparison. Also, it seemed Bernard knew that Bella’s escape was an “inside job” and that the perpetrator was still “inside.” Needs investigation. And the Dark Lord of Fear may well be Lord Tymek. The old person also mentioned that this Lord Tymek was the original “red hand.” That’s all very strange, because the name Tymek is the same as the 2nd Azeryan emperor, a nasty person historically. Did that emperor become so evil as to become a powerful undead?

Kethra’s dream was of being a dire wolf, and following a voice that turned out to be that of a young satyr. She ended up in a glade where both moons very very bright, and Selene (her moon) quite large. The satyr advised Kethra that she needed to find “Her” because then everything would be good again. She was to use all her senses, sight, hearing and smell, to do so.

Wesley is gone, moved back home. Dane has moved out, and sent a couple of letters. One said he was living above the Filthy Unicorn (a tavern), but Whurel says there is no living space up there, only a crawl space. Very oddly, the two letters were in different handwriting, and the signature was different on each. This needs investigation.

Tuallerton tried to do a scrying about Wanda, but it failed. While that was going on, Whurel reported that Tuallerton discovered that the necklace Wanda gave to Whurel was a “lover’s necklace” and could find her…but it couldn’t! So she is somehow sequestered somewhere, or on another plane, or magically shielded. This is disturbing, as it makes it harder to find out exactly where to go.

Curiously, though, Whurel seemed to know that the “heart of blackness” was associated with the Azeryan empire and that it was in a mountain pass somewhere on the border between Trierzon and the Empire. How he knows this he didn’t (to me, anyway) say, but I suspect he also had a vision, but for some reason didn’t want to admit such.

I told Argent and Aurumay all about the issues above, including the Bella “insider,” the problems with Quizmet (now, thankfully, solved), the dragon battle and subsequent matters: meeting the descendants of the Knights Guardian, still extant as the Guardian Knights of Shorkyne, the meeting of the crown prince of Shorkyne, the rituals, the feasts, the predictions of Tiresias, the visions, everything.

Visions…this time of new magics, came on late in the day. I seem to have a more powerful way of affecting minds now, so that I can stop violence without having to kill. And my recent encounters with fiendish things seems to have combined with my new knowledge of the planes…I can knock fiends back to their hellholes of origin. Whatever well of power I am tapping into seems to be growing.

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