The Razor's Edge

The Illusionist

Jhorn D’Norise sat at the edge of the courtyard, hiding under an illusion of leaves and overgrown shrubbery. Blending into the scenery of Castle Hagthar wasn’t all that difficult any more. Not like it had been only a few years ago. The Dragonborn had really let the place go downhill in the past few hundred years.

He watched those that came and went from Lady Celeboken’s office. He had tried more than once to gain entrance, but each time, Lady Celeboken seemed to see right through his illusions, taking offense to his true form and to the fact that he’d tried to use deception. In his latest attempt, she ordered the guards to throw him out, instating a new mandate that if he tried to come back into the Keep again without a proper escort, they were to kill him on sight.

He snarled at the thought. How could she do this to him? He was, after all, an accomplished wizard. So much more than an illusionist. He was mastering all four lines of magic at the same time, a feat that had never been done before in all of the land. But he was missing one aspect to his magic — Necromancy. None of the Necromancers of his area would teach him. They insisted that the magic he already knew would be twisted by the necromancy, turning his own mind against him, and ravaging his soul.

But there were other masters that had studied more than one line of magic, including Necormancy. Lord Di’Passaunt was one of the Shiva’s greatest leaders, and his armies of undead protected the great city for centuries. Yet, he was also one of the greatest abjurists that had ever lived. And what of Glakdok the Powerful? That little Dwarf had become the Keg Morrah’s greatest wizard, balancing necromancy and evocation into great swarms of plague and hailstorms that would level any army foolish enough to blatantly attack their kingdom.

Both were heroes in their lands. And Jhorn knew that he, too, could become a mighty wizard. In fact, his whole purpose in life was to become the greatest wizard that the world had ever known, learning all five forms of arcane magic : Illusion, Abjuration, Conjuration, Evocation and Necromancy. So far, he’d become more than just “proficient” at four of the five. If he could obtain the Book of the Dead, perhaps the Necromancers of his hometown would reconsider. Perhaps such a great gift would not only teach him the basics of Necromancy, but would be a prize worth showing them. And with that prize in hand, he could really become the most powerful wizard that walked the face of the world.

A loud shout in the distance brought Jhorn back to the present, almost shaking him from his own illusion. The high-pitched nasal shout was from a shaved little dwarf. He looked so sad, covered in tattoos, and missing every ounce of hair that Darves took so prominently. They loved their hair and beards, so Jhorn wondered what this poor soul had done to deserve such a punishment.

“Ohh.. oooh! Hey! Do you think that charred book was it?” The dwarf asked the Barbarian and Tiefling that led the way. A gnome followed quickly behind, his eyes rolling back as they passed Jhorn’s secreted location.

“Hush,” the barbarian scolded. “We should not discuss it in the open. Come. Let’s go to the inn.”

The dwarf pouted. “But… What if that was The Book of the Dead? It’s sitting down there in ruins, waiting to be taken. Do you think we could repair it?”

“Hush!” The Barbarian female shouted, then lowered her voice. “It was nothing we can use. In fact, it’s a worthless pile of ash now. But as I’ve stated, let’s not discuss this in the open. I’m not certain whom we can trust here.”

Jhorn’s heart stopped, and even he could see his illusion shimmer before regaining a solid look. Had they already found the object of his desire? And they had just come out of the Keep. What if they already had Celeboken’s ear? Would she really let them take such a relic from her vast keep? If he could just study it for a short time, … if he could just get his hands on it … Images of the power flowing through him sent a cold ripple of pleasure throughout his body.

When he looked out from his hidden location, he could see the quad of adventurers entering the abandoned inn. Shattering through his illusion, he made up his mind in less than a second. He adopted his best “Elven” form as he scurried forward. With illusion firmly in place by the time he reached the inn, he grasped the handle to the door and pulled it open.

The Tiefling glared back at him from under the ridges that formed its eyebrows. For an instant, Jhorn held his breath, waiting to see if the Tiefling would attack. But if the Dragonborn Celeboken trusted the Tiefling, he hoped that he could as well. When he glanced at the gnome, he looked irritated that someone had interrupted them.

The tattooed dwarf seemed almost excited to see a new face. “Hello!” he shouted. “I’m Kayden. What’s your name?”

Jhorn stepped in, still blocking the door open in case he needed to make a quick exit. “Hello. My name is Jhorn D’Norise. Please ecuse my rudeness, but I will only be a second. I hear that you are the four adventurers that have stirred the entire city. With so few people here these days, news travels fast.”

The barbarian woman stood, stepping closer to him. Her hand was on the hilt of a weapon strapped at her side, but she made no aggressive motions. “What can we help you with, good Elf?”

Jhorn almost looked behind himself before remembering the illusion that he’d cast over himself. Elf. Right. He hadn’t used this illusion in over fifty years. “Lady Celeboken said that I should speak with you. She said that your path and mine have a similar goal, and I was wondering if we could join forces.”

“Odd…” The Barbarian woman scowled. “She did not mention you to us.”

Ah, so they have seen her. And even talked with her. This was good news. “I know, and forgive my interruption. I’ve asked her to keep my presence a secret in the area. What I’m seeking is an object of great power. Even the dragonborn of the area may fall to its great seduction. It is a book on the ultimate powers in Necromancy. You see, I’m a wizard studying here to learn all that I can from every single line of arcane power. But Necromancy is forbidden here in Hagthar. But that’s not to say that books on the topic haven’t been collected. Celeboken suggested that I speak with you because she’s just sent you out, and our goals are so similar.”

“Please step inside.” The Tiefling growled. “Your voice may carry outside, and it is not best that everyone should know the items we seek.”

“Agreed,” Jhorn said with a smile, then stepped fully inside. The door creaked to a close behind him. “While objects of such power are collected here, they are not to be studied for fear of a Prophecy that was spoken over Hagthar over five-hundred years ago. The practice of Necromancy is outlawed, but the collection of necromantic artifacts are plentiful here. But I am seeking this one, very specific artifact. For it has the incantations that I need, from start to finish, or so I’ve been told.”

“Please,” The Barbarian said, “What is the item you seek?”

Jhorn nodded, trying best to assure them of his good intentions. “Forgive me. I’m just so excited to have met the adventurers that have done so much in such a short period of time. I am seeking The Book of the Dead. I could pay each of you handsomely. I could offer 200 gold plus my time and telents if I could go with you to find it. I long to just hold it in my hands for a few hours while I revel at its contents, and study the simplest of them. Forty-eight hours. That’s all I ask. And I promise not to harm the artifact, and to return it to your care after studying it for such a short time. Two days. That’s all.”

“Sit.” The Tiefling said with a gutteral growl. Just the sight of him sent a shiver through Jhorn. He’d heard that their kind was merely a fable. Then again, he’d heard that abut his own kind as well.

The Tiefling pulled out the chair next to him, and patted the wooden seat. “I think we may be able to assist one another.”

View
The Fire of Ashurbanipal

For a long moment she basked in the rays that spilled through the windows of the inn. The golden light bathed her, and she experienced it’s warmth, luxuriated in the radiant beams of morning light. It would be easy to sleep late, to linger in the languid sunlight. But then her attention shifted. As she focused on the shafts of light that filtered through the open windows, she thought of the walls of the great temple that the Grand Kalif, Ashurbanipal the Great, had commissioned. There dozens of artists from throughout the land were brought to Pazar to carve the god of the sun, his thousand arms descending down from the solar eye, each tipped with a calming flaming hand to bless his supplicants below. Of course she knew every stone of the temple, she had travelled up the stairs and hurried down the illuminated corridors every day of her life since she had come here.

She had long served the goddess, who was the consort of the sun. Sekmet was the great winged lioness of the desert, who bore the orb of light across the skies. She too was depicted upon the walls of the temple, carved into the living stone.

As her reverie mingled with the realities of morning, slowly she began to take in her surroundings, and some bothersome thought that had from the moment that she awoke, half consciously been murmuring to her that something was wrong, something was very wrong, transformed from a mumur to a roar.

She had no idea where she was.

She knew she must be far, far from home, for she had no recognition of her surroundings—none at all. Even the nature of this architecture was foreign to her! The walls of this Inn were fashioned of wood.

There was nothing like this in all of Pazar! Not even in Khemet!

She left her bed and studied the quarters in which she found herself. Wood floors, wood tables, aging tapestry. There was a backpack half open laying against a desk that did not belong to her. She slowly crossed the room to the open windows and stood, mouth agape, as she studied the street and the buildings beyond. This was not Pazar. There were dogs barking outside, the breed of which she had never before seen, and children playing with glass beads in the street, wearing strange costumes unlike those of her people. And no cats, not one, could she see in the streets. Images collided and made little sense. She reeled back and took hold of one of the sturdy bedposts to steady herself as she adapted to these new surroundings. She was a priestess of Sekmet after all. She calmed herself, bringing all of her knowledge and intuition to bear upon this situation in which she had found herself, and began to focus on what she knew.

“I must not fear,” she repeated to herself. Her fingers played upon the tashib she wore, counting the prayer beads of her necklace without thinking as she continued her prayer, “Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

As the magic of the litany against fear that she intoned swelled within her, she looked back with her inner eye where things were once, but no longer. The place of memory.

In her mind’s eye the city grew up from the dense shrubbery and verdant trees on the lush Island in the River Athis that flowed from the Fountain of Athis near the pyramid of Amun-Re. The buildings were all constructed of the most beautiful white limestone, cut from the bedrock of the island. Constructed of huge blocks of white stone, the towers of Pazar reached up to touch the stars. She recognized the constellations, silently naming them, and the course of the moons through the houses of heaven.

It was night, and she was alone, but she was unafraid. There was nothing to fear traveling the streets of Pazar. The same magic that had imprisoned Kalithárius had brought peace to the city. For no creature under the eye of the sun, or indeed of his sister the moon, could commit violence in the streets of Pazar, or indeed in all of Khemet! The archmage Martek had seen to that! In Pazar the Suloise, or even those Teufél or Drakeîn that resided there, maintained a peaceful coexistence. Though wars may rage elsewhere, Khemet remained a sanctuary, a peaceful oasis in the war, famed for its miraculous natural flowers and lush vegetation. Pazar was the last, best hope in forging a peace between the warring factions of the Teufél and Drakeîn.

The polished stone of the towers reflected the light of the stars, and very soon would capture the first sliver of the morning sun.

It was for this that she had come to this place, to witness the dawn. For in no other city was the dawn so breathtaking as in the city of her birth. The sky that touched the eastern horizon slowly shifted from ebon, to purple to hues of red as dawn approached.

And then she saw it. There was a sparkle in the tallest of the towers, the great Tower of Ashurbanipal, hewn from the blackest onyx, and imported from the distant Hellfurnaces. The sparkle grew into a shimmering light bathing the city in sparks of scarlet hues, reflected from the first rays of sunlight as the sun was again reborn and the goddess once again began her journey skyward, bearing the orb of the sun into the heavens. This was the Fire of Ashurbanipal. The most holy of relics, the greatest treasure in the realm. The blood of the goddess, preserved as a perfect crystal shard. The priesthood had long been pledged to protect it.

It was her sacred duty!

She knelt before the aspect of the goddess that hung like a vast mirage above the city, gazing down upon its ancient towers. She knelt down and she prayed. She thanked the goddess that she could be here, in this place, at this time, where amid the insanity of war a real and palpable peace might be fashioned. For there was no other city like Pazar. No other place in the world were men were forced to seek the alternative to violence since bloodshed here, was simply impossible. Here the ambassadors to warring nations worked to forge and end to the war that had already devastated the lands. The northlands, the lands of the Drakeîn had suffered terribly. The Teufél had sought dark alliances, with terrible creatures of darkness, infernal creatures from the abyss. The gods had marked them for their folly, and yet they persisted. They were no longer men. The Drakeîn had never been men. It was up to the Sulois to forge this peace among warring nations before the world was destroyed. And the prophecies maintained that it would be. Again and again. Her order was dedicated to strengthening the single thread of action that might avert this apocalypse.

And then it came.

Softly, almost imperceptibly, as a great cat stalking its prey, silent footfalls upon the sand, but then grew. She felt a sensation of falling inside her as the land shifted. People around her ran, fell to the ground, screamed as the earth rumbled, vibrated and bucked with a deafening roar. Saints and sinners fell to the ground and prayed their souls might be spared. To the prophets, it seemed that the end of the age, long prophesied by the Drakeîn upon their copper plates, was near.

And it was.

From the north storm clouds gathered.

The storm was fast approaching and without warning the city was beset. The sky churned and roiled like a dying thing. Light from within and beyond the clouds flashed, though as yet no lightning bolts coursed their way downward from the sky. Only a strange colorless glow that backlit the storm as it descended upon Pazar. The strange glow gathered and grew in strength until at last a single brilliant rod of light shot down from the heavens to strike the Tower of Ashurbanipal, which exploded into a vast cloud of fire, dust and debris. From what was once a wonder of the world, the tallest tower known to civilization, thousands of great broken blocks, shattered stone, and sharp shards of black onyx, falling skyward and then raining down upon the city, crashing down into the stone structures, shattering the city with shards of obsidian glass.

As the tower ruptured and burst, amid the cacaphony of chaos, a single sparkle of scarlet light trailed across the heavens. She followed its course as it ascended and began to fall. Without thinking of herself she ran, gathering all of her energy, focusing all of her perception to track the course of the stone as it plummeted into the River Athis.

She muttered the words of a charm and plunged into the water, descending in pursuit of the glowing red stone as it tumbled down through the currents. She understood now what had brought her to this place, on this day, at this time. The goddess had assigned her this task: to protect the stone. She dove down until the waters of the river pressed hard against her. And there she found it, almost hidden by reeds at the bottom of the river. She gathered the stone into her hand, as only a woman, a priestess of the goddess might, and then rose to find the surface.

As her form crested the surface of the river, she opened her eyes in horror at what was befalling Pazar. A terrible rain of colorless fire—glowing droplets of flame, falling from the storm clouds that roiled and lashed against the tallest towers. The rain touched her skin and burned her. She gathered one final glimpse of her beloved city as she sought the protection of the currents. In her final vision, she watched the towers of Pazar shatter and fall as the rain of colorless fire razed the stone towers. The city was ablaze. People ran screaming as their hair and clothing burst into flame. She could see the shadows of cats against the flames, thousands of cats, for they were sacred in Pazar, leaping and whirling, climbing and clawing for shelter in a cacaphony of burning terror.

Beneath the waves, she remained strangely calm. Her tears were lost to the currents as she quietly wept and implored the goddess to protect the city.

At length she arose under the shelter of a stone bridge that crossed the river, and waited there as devastation rained down. Her fingers played upon the tashib she wore, counting the prayer beads of her necklace without thinking as she repeated the litany against fear again and again. She looked down and realized that aside from her vestments, it was her only possession of value that she had brought with her when she had stolen out into the night to witness the dawn.

Slowly the rain of fire became a rain of ash, that coated the city in an eternal blanket of grey. The sounds of destruction receded, and the cries of the terrified transformed into the moans of the dying, and then grew quiet. The city of Pazar was cloaked in grey silence.

She surveyed the ruins of Pazar, the burning trees, the flame scoured land, and understood that the city was dead, that Khemet was dead, and that life she had known was over. Despite her training the enormity of this overwhelmed her, and she understood that she too might learn to hate, now that they had taught her terror.

The voice within her told her to waste no time, to set out with the setting of the sun, to flee eastwards into the mountains. She made haste, finding her way through the burning ruins. A dense black cloud of ash blotted out the light, and the crowds of screaming people fleeing around her ran in terror, without purpose, with a destiny.

Only later, as an aging crone in her solitude in the Hellfurnaces would she learn the truth. What they called a war to end all wars had unleashed the most terrible of magics ever released. Historians would name it the Rain of Colorless Fire.

She learned that after the destruction of their own homeland the Drakeîn magi-priests of the Bakluni gathered within the stone circles of Tovag Baragu and had conjured a mighty working, bringing down the terrible Rain of Colorless Fire upon their enemies, the Teufél. She had recognized this terrible ritual magic for what it was. In fact the majority of her natural life was spent infiltrating the Drakeîn and stealing the ritual. Though the scroll could not be destroyed, such was the curse invoked upon the world that created the spell, it could be well hidden, though she knew there would be powerful entities that would search the nooks and crannies of the world in search of this ultimate power. What remained of her life was spent protecting the enchantment from discovery.

She herself had witnessed the terrible rain, which burned masters and slaves alike. The Teufél had used a lesser ritual against the Drakeîn. In righteous anger the Drakeîn unleashed the full fury of this enchantment upon the world. No one was spared. Not even the Sulois, the brokers of peace. The buildings were scortched, the land burned, even the rocks and soil to became ash, leaving the Sea of Dust as a monument to the hubris of war. The Drakeîn and the Teufél had been cursed by the gods for their folly, never again to know a homeland, to wander and to diminish as the other races thrived and multiplied.

She also heard rumors that the Sulois had constructed a new city deep in the forests, a momument to their past. According to the tales they had brought many of their secrets, all that remained, into this secret stronghold. She longed to visit the city, and spent many years searching for it. But her people had learned their lesson. There was a security in stealth. They became insular and avoided contact with all others at all costs. She wondered if they had preserved the secret of Pazar, and fashioned a city forged in peace. She doubted it. Her faith that mankind might ever truly understand a lasting peace had been shattered with the destruction of Pazar.

This realization brought her little comfort. Hope was kinder than truth.

Then, suddenly, she found herself standing alone in the Inn, a lifetime of memories flooding through her, filling her. She understood again that there was a reason that she was here, in this place, at this time. She opened her eyes and recoiled for a moment, unaware of the other presence until his reflection met her gaze. She turned to face him. And he turned to face her. He was more than a boy, but not yet a man. From his expression he was as surprised to see her as she to encounter him.

“I can help you.” he said. “But you will have to trust me.”

All of her training had brought her to this moment in time. At first glance this boy did not seem so trustworthy. Instinctively she understood that it was his nature to lie, and that in the course of his lifetime, deception had been perhaps his singularly defining characteristic. But there was more to this boy than that. As she listened to his words to the sound of his voice, to the inflection of his tone, and discerned the expression in his eyes, she sensed that his words were truthful. At least this time.

“What is your name?” The boy asked. He stood very still, staring deep into her eyes, seeking out the reflection of a soul.

“Shahrazád,” she answered, and she realized somehow that just perhaps it was the first time her name had been spoken aloud in a thousand years.

View
Return to Bride
Tiefling

Bart and Brandon headed back to the great city of Veluna with news of a lead to find the flowers in the Sea of Dust. They encountered another patrol of orcs along the way still seeking the wrathstone, and considered that the orcs had been tracking their group as they were the last to have the stone in their possession. After much discussion they decided that the orcs would never have ventured into the Great City of Veluna in their search.

Brandon noted during their travels that Bart was behaving strangely on several occasions, in a most unpaladinlike manner. Several times his actions seems so inconsistent with the Bart he had travelled with for so many months. And so it was that after having spoken with the city fathers in Veluna that Brandon took leave of Bart. Bart decided to meet the others in bride as they had planned.

Bart made it to Bride with a minimum of misadventure and thereabout met with the Captain of the City Guard and offered his services to assist with capturing any criminals, or helping the city to recover from the depradations the orcs had recently visited upon the town. Bart found the outlaws the guards sent him to bring down, slaying two of them during their capture. He took one back to Bride to stand trial, then acted as executioner. Bart chopped the heads off the brigands and put them on pikes next to the road and posted a sign saying, “The Fate of Thieves.”

Bart was experiencing some level of guilt, in the night since the town had been razed by orcs in pursuit of the wrathstone which he and his group had been carrying across the land.

Meanwhile, the daughter of the Baroness discovered that the “Book of the Dead” an ancient tomb from the Sea Of Dust, was missing from the dead Baron’s library. She realized that it held secrets the party would need to successfully achieve the magical flowers they sought to restore the forcefield around Velune. She dispatched Drusana, one of her guards, along with a incessantly chattering Mul, to meet up with the adventurers in bride as they had planned. Drusana was gifted with the Baron’s horse, a fine steed, which proved the earnest intent of the Baroness that the party successfully find the flowers, whose secret source had been entrusted to the most noble family of Restonford for generations. Drusana informed the Baroness that William DeHellsong, and his friend, Nicole, had left for Celene to aid the elves in the war against the invading army of Orcs. The Baroness directed Geeves to provide the Mul with Firefly, a “spirited” mare who had gained notoriety in the stables of Restonford. The Baroness charged her with providing the party with the importance of achieving the stolen tome, and told them to meet with the sorcerer who might know of another location where they might find that particular tome. On their way out of town, they did encounter the wizard and Caronne and the old geiser recalled a copy of the tome to have been in the library at Castle Hagthar, which was a stonghold of the dragonfolk.

While awaiting the arrival of the others, Bart did what he could to help the people of Bride. After all the orcs who had burned the town were in pursuit of the Wrathstone, were they not? Despite his gruesome experience, his manner was gentle yet fierce in his desire to avenge wrongs. He assisted the townfolk, and quickly gained their trust, and indeed affection during the days he spent among them. He took on tasks from chopping wood, to healing the wounded, to assisting the blacksmith in the city to fashion weapons should orcs revsist their city. He provided the men of the township with some training in the ways of war, though mostly it was the young men who sought to learn from him. One young man even fashioned himself a helm of goat horns in an effort to emulate his new mentor. Bart donated his earnings from the city fathers to the temple there to help the rebuilding of the town. He spoke often of Truesilver, always getting the name right, and tried to share the importance of law in maintaining order, and peace in a civilized society.

The Tiefling realized that he was growing to love this city. He had been welcomed here by the people in a way he had never before experienced. The temptation to stay, to become a defender for this town was very great, but he had made promises. He knew that he would return here someday after his promises had been made good. And he hoped that someday he might even call this city home.

As Drusana and the incessantly chattering Mul came riding in to the town of Bride, a young boy spooted the Mul’s mule and tried to pet it, but the spirited critter answered with a hoof to the head of the boy, which brought his mother dashing across the dirt street to the aid of her son. Drusana calmed the mother, who carried her son to the healer at the temple. Bart aiding the mother by laying hands upon the child.

Drusana, the warrior from the northern mountains, Bart, and the Mul met to discuss their plans to recover the flower for Veluna, realizing that Bart alone was the only member left from the party sent by the regents of Veluna on the Quest for the Flowers. The Mull was quite concerned about the importance of a healthy breakfast. They discovered that the incessantly chattering Mul was the creator of the “talking stones” they had been using to speak with the Dragonborn. They also learned that Titus apparently had requested that the stones be designed to allow only brief exchanges of communication. Bart and Drusana looked at the incessantly chatter Mul with irony expressions. The stone was drained, not destroyed, but the Mul realized that its powers had been spent and it may be quite some time before it might be used again. In the morning Drusana went outside to greet the morning while performing a set of intricate exercises with her sword, “Northwind.” Bart also performed a strange ritual, dipping his swords in oil and bathing his body in flames as he performed a strange ritual of atonement. At the end he was staring into the sun, the hilt of his sword eclipsing the orb of morning. Two young boys who had developed a hero worship of sort for the paladin Tiefling, also tried to emulate what he was doing. Bart took the two boys to a nearby copse of trees where he gathered them wood poles that he fashioned into bokken for them to practice. He promised to begin their lessons in fighting upon his return. But showed them some basic maneuvers, quite unlike those of Heimlich, to practice until that time. They decided to leave for Castle Hagthar on the following morning with high hopes of obtaining another copy of the “Book of the Dead”.

As they made their way into the land of the Dragonborne they were set upon by large wolves, beasts that could stand on their hind legs. Bart was bitten and though he survived the attack, his wound was serious. He knew that he had been infected by the bite of the wolf.

View
Out of the Cave

Oooh. Hey. Hi. I’m Kayden. I’m a Mul. Hey! Have you ever heard a lizard sing? I’ll have to show you how to do that. But first, let me tell you about this strange warrior woman I met the other day. She’s weird. And tough.

And Bart. He’s different somehow. I remember him, big tall and ugly at Restinford, but he was different. His focus was on love and peace. But now, something is different. He’s … different. Strong. Not mean, but not at peace with himself. He’s torn inside. Broken. Shattered. Wounded.

Oh, hey, and I met the strong lady gal in Restinford. They have good milk there. We talked to the rich kid… the Baron’s daughter. I think her name was Lucy. Or maybe Sally… ooh! Oooh… Sadistic. No. Saradista? Anyway, she said that this flower thing can be found back in my old haunt near my desert. But there’s a dark secret. Unfortunately, we don’t know what that secret is. The rich kid said something about a death book. Book of death. Dead book of deathly deadness. Skeltor’s pages. Papier De Muerta. It’s at castle Hagthar and it can tell us a secret.

And that’s the problem. Hagthar. A word created by the Dragonborn. I think it means big-ugly… but don’t tell them that. It’s a great architectural city that is now receding into ruin. They are so distracted by their studies and their research to know that their buildings are falling in around them. That, or their dumb. No. Nope. No, they’re not dumb. They’re big. Mean-big. Not that they’re mean. Their just big enough that if they are mean, whoever they are mean at will be in trouble. Big trouble. Big, scaly, ugly trouble. (* shudders *)

With army lady taking responsibility for food and Bart taking responsi… well, for being Bart — we were doing great. We had a plan, we had a map, and we had food. We were on schedule, and nothing seemed to get in our way. Plenty of food. It was dry, but I could make it tasty with a well-placed rune or two. And just before we get ready to stop for the night, we were ambushed by two big wolves. Big. BIG-big-big. Big. Huge.

I drew my staff and tried to scribe as many runes into the air as I could remember. Master taught me well. They were tough, though. Some of my runes didn’t have much effect on them, but I was able to help the warrior lady and the beast fend them off.

I willed a rune into stone, and it glowed red — the surefire symbol of rage and destruction. I could feel the anger boiling inside me, taunting me and tearing at my soul to bash the wolves heads in and eat their brains. And I don’t even like brains. They’re mushy. I like milk better. Good milk, not lizard milk. I know what you’re thinking… lizards are not mammals, thus don’t have mammary glands. But they do produce a slimy substance from their tails. We called it lizard milk. It’s gross. Ecch.

I just hope that when we get to Hagthar, they’ll remember Titus. He’s nice. Big orange lovable guy. Very friendly. I hope the others are nice as well, or we’re in trouble. Bart and the Dragonborn may be a bad mix. Like putting a lizard in a pit with a werehog.

And I think we’re the lizards.

View
Innocence All Around

The Mayor of Garrotten, eh? Interesting choice, I must say, interesting choice. I guess I should feel sorry for Arrness, but better her than me, as they say! I can’t imagine there’s enough evidence to convict her. Oh, my little Twiddles, perhaps I can help in that regard! Oh my. What a wonderful opportunity this presents.

That dastardly Tellish. Word on the street is he got himself captured. That leaves two options – he escapes or I have to silence him somehow. Or both! That gives me a spectacular idea. What could be better than an escape of an assassin DURING the trial of an innocent Mayor? Excitement like Restenford hasn’t seen since… since… well, it’s sure been a while. And even MORE exciting if they both happen to die during the ruckus. I know, Twiddles, I’m rambling, but at my age I need to have some excitement even if I create it myself.

And of COURSE I must pay Little Miss Sadista a visit soon. A few more “suggestions” and I believe she’ll be ready for some more serious pushes in the right direction – which pushes ME in the right direction, doesn’t it? Mu-haha. Yes, yes. Not long now. Not long now, at all. I’m sure she will love me over time, even without having to be told to love me.

I do believe those are the evening bells I hear. Time to enjoy some repast and then perhaps give that new boy his first lesson. Don’t wait up, Twiddles, it may be a long, sweet, night.

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The Posse

The Baronness was quite willing to draft the documents as I suggested. So we left as soon as we had rested to return to Garrottin to arrest the mayor. Well, not all of us returned. The evil soul sucking elf decided to return to Veluna as did the Teifling Paladin. William and I remained to finish the job here. Apparently the needs of the many outweigh the needs of a few.

The Baroness assigned a contingency of guards to accompany us—only six—and I was expecting that we would need more. Inspector Caruso accompanied us, and was the official leader and spokesperson for the posse. I was very disappointed in the quality of at least some of the guards, and decided to help them by doing some training with then along the way. One of the guards was clearly superior. Her name was Drusana and she hails from the northern mountains. She was handy with a greatsword, and I would think she could clearly hold her own against any man. I talked to her a bit about the desert and she seemed keen on seeing it (No, of course I didn’t spill any of Veluna’s secrets. I know better. Iy was just a casual conversation about exploring the desert.)

When we got to Garrottin, the guards at the castle said that the mayor was gone. My dog barked twice and we told them that we knew they were lying. Blood has a talent for detecting truth, or at least that’s how the story goes. They finally let us in, but then we had to break into the keep. The mayor escaped while we were exploring her chambers in the keep, but we found enough for Caruso to become convinced she was not innocent. She had a whole bunch of wigs and makup and disguises, clearly someone had been disguised as the three main suspects they had planned to frame for the murder of the Baron.

She took off with a couple of guards on horseback and we cut across the lake. One of her guards spilled the beans about her little chateau on the other side of the lake. We actually got there about the time they made it on horseback around the lake. Their horses were tired, ours were fresh, so the chase did not last long.

I had fit a poisoned needle (that the mayor had set into a trap on a door) into an arrow and shot the mayor as she was trying to escape. It took her down and she got sick, of course William was able to keep her from death. I did not really know what the poison would do. It was her own special blend.

Caruso took the mayor back, and we released Martin the Druid from the gaole.

I’m really not sure what to do now. Maybe it’s time to go back to Celene.

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All The Baron's Men

In another time, back in the day, I would have gathered the group of suspects around the living room and outlined the clues we had discovered, watching their reactions and halfway bluffing my way through to a conclusion, but not in this story.

So many of our clues point to the Mayor as the brains behind the Baron’s assassination, but the clues only point that direction, there is no proof of her complicity.

Last night William correctly made the connection that an assassin may be looking to finish off the Baron’s family allowing the Mayor the opportunity to step into power. We were able to alert the guards just in the nick of time. Brandon, that most insidious dark elf, was successful in killing the assassin, who proved to be another crony to the mayor.

The Baron’s daughter gave the information Bart and Brandon had been seeking, something about a magical flower that grows in the Desert of Desolation in the far west of Greyhawk. From the little they told me it is needed in some ritual. The ritual must be an important one, for Bart repeated over and over that the lives of thousands depended on there mission.

I do not see that I can travel with them. After I watched the elf slay the helpless guard in the basement of Abraham’s Inn, I have accompanied them with trepidation. I had considered accompanying them for a bit. They mentioned that they had travelled with another shifter, and there are so few of us. From what they told me, I believe I may even know him—not the best ambassador for our race.

I have a plan to discuss with the Baroness, my idea is that while the evidence points to her, the clues are sufficient for an arrest and an investigation. I trust that Caruso, the investigator here is quite adept and will learn what there is to be learned. We will take a contingency of guards to the town with a writ of arrest for the Mayor. I suspect that she will refuse. However, I also suspect that many of her soldiers and guards will submit to the law and to the authority granted to us in the writ of arrest.

I actually suspect the mayor will attack us. I shall seek to return her to face justice, but I will not hestitate to defend myself.

When this is over I hope to return to Celene, though I must admit it is very good to see my old friend William. I may travel with him for a while.

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Like a Tiefling in the Night

Deep in the midst of slumber, when all guests of the inn were in bed, I woke in Abraham’s inn, the sheet soaked in sweat. What was the vile sound that brought me out of such a rest? The sound of a man screaming in agony. I listened intently, straining my ears to hear it again, and replaying the sound over and over in my mind. A frigid thought swept over my body, chilling the sheets against my skin. I had been the one screaming.

In my dreams, the visions that swept over as I closed my eyes, The Lord above had removed his hand of blessing from me. I could see his hand leaving my body, and feel his presence completely fade. The pain and agony of no longer feeling his love at my side was more than I could bear. To know a full and complete love day-in and day-out… and then to have that love ripped out of your heart like someone removing a rusted sword deeply lodged in your chest.

It was in that very moment that I knew I had gone too far. It wasn’t that God had abandoned me. No… I had abandoned Him. I had strayed too far from his teachings, and had tested the limits of his grace one too many times. Now, alone in a foreign land, I am not only feared because of my appearance and bloodline, but I am hated because of my allegiances, and powerless amidst them. If so much as one of them opposed me, I knew that I would be weak and powerless to do anything to stop them from killing me in the most tortuous ways imaginable.

That is the kind of “alone” that I had hoped to never feel again. How did I get so far down this path? How had I let myself trail from God’s grace and mercy to please my own carnal desires of hate, deception and anger?

Forgive me, Father! I have sinned and I beg your forgiveness once more. Take me back and restore your servant to his place in your kingdom, even if it is to scrub the floors, may I be so fortunate.

Then a soft voice echoed once again in my heart. It wasn’t the thunderous voice of Thal Dremar. It wasn’t the sultry voice of Sheliah. It was the soft gentle rebuke of Truesilver, a whisper barely audible above the evening breeze that floated through the nearby window. “Come home, my son. Come home. I will protect you on your journey, and you won’t even have to draw your sword. Just come back to me, my son.”

At that moment, I arose from my bed, placed my armor in my travel bag, and slipped my cloak and hood over my weakened frame. Without even saying goodbye to my fellow travelers I slipped out into the pale moonlight. The road was lonlier than I’ve ever encountered in my life, but I know that they will see me again some day. I will return to them full of wisdom and power.

Just not today.

I’m sorry, my friends. Forgive me, for I am not as I may seem.

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Serpent In The Thorns

I fear I should have lost myself forever in the imaginings of Mistress Artina (Marika) Randis, “a half-elven boy playing a human scullery maid in disguise as highborn lady,” had my companions not called me by Daeson’s name three times. It was as if they knew the charm by verse and book!

Next thing I knew I was Daeson again, standing there near nagoy in some hoochie’s slip, staring down at a Teifling sleeping all buckeye in a cushbed. I couldn’t slip into that divotchka’s shell again if my yarbles depended on it.

Such is the power of names.

Knew they my true name, what power they should hold over me.

But now to the point. I have been busy trying to solve a mystery. I’m sort of having to do this on my own.

But all they know I now know.

Abraham must also be more deeply involved than he lets on. Abraham may be an Innkeeper, and he may be Balmorrow’s closest friend, but there are secrets he has not yet unfolded to us, for why should a simple Innkeeper maintain an Inn in which secret passages connect the rooms beneath the floorboards?

William DiHellson has arrived in Garreton. He and Brandon Darkelf visited Balmorrow, the wealthy Bard who owns the Mystic Celebration, and discovered that Balmorrow has dedicated himself to putting an end to the Guild of Assassins in Garreton (GAG). Now it begins to make sense to me why the killer of the Baron Restonford should have sought to pin this murder on Balmorrow.

One unanswered question remains for me. Given the passion Balmorrow feels for his lute, how could another (assuming his guise) have taken it and travelled so far away as Restonford, without Balmorrow becoming aware that his instrument had gone missing? We were told that the bard (or his doppelganger) played at the Inn in Restonford from 5:00 pm to 8:30 pm on the night of the Baron Restonford’s death. Balmorrow denies having visited Restonford at all.

I have also learned that two regular visitors at the House of Abraham are members of the GAG. I learned this not from asking questions but from listening. This time quite simply by listening to an exchange between my own companions who I doubt would have shared this information with Daeson. From their interaction it seems clear to me that they do not trust him. Besides Daeson was never a good listener. He talks too much!

Alas, one of the terrible truths of changelings is that we should bear witness to the uncensored thoughts of our companions, who realize not that they are speaking of us to us in another form. But it is hard to have hurt feelings when only words of truth are spoken. Besides they need me—especially the Tiefling! Bartholomew Bladeslinger may not know me, but I know him. I am a part of his destiny, and he of mine. It is no accident—our encounter in the woods. If I had that sketch of him that Túriel made for me after one of her visions then he might better understand. Unfortunate that it was lost; even more-so how it was lost!

Alas!

I visited the Mystic Celebration last night, but learned little. I managed to collect a few trinkets for my efforts, two gold candlesticks, 10 gold, and a golden stringed lute that belonged to Balmorrow.

I also discovered a small satchel containing a book, probably of little value, but the story was familiar. A set of loose leaf pages bound to it seem to be a work in progress, transforming the book into a stage play. It probably would have escaped my notice except for the sketch of the face on the top page, which drew my attention to satchel and book. I knew that face. I didn’t recall from where I knew that face until I dreamed about him last night while I was camped out in the old abandoned house. It wasn’t yet safe to go back to the House of Abraham.

I know William and Brandon visited the Temple of Osprom, the clergy who wear the barracuda holy symbols, the ones with the ruby eyes, but they learned nothing about the cleric who visited Restonford on that fateful night. The barracuda is the symbol of that Lydore Isle sea diety. I am as distrustful of priests of fish gods as is Daeson. Perhaps he learned that distrust from me! There is a whole fishing net full of secrets we have yet to haul in from the sea as far as they are concerned.

William is always a bit of surprise to me. I was watching him react when someone called him “father” and he became angry. Lots of emotion behind that face he fashioned to keep anyone from noticing. So now I wonder what happened to his child (or children). Something happened. He either failed to protect his child, or lost his child, or abandoned his child, or some other horror only a parent would understand. Makes me curious.

I never told him that I bought a dress from his mum.

I hate to say it, but now I wonder if all three of those suspects were ever spied at the same time. What if there were someone like me behind the murder. Abraham claims his vest was stolen, and it may well have been. There is still more to him than he lets on. His secrets overlay other mystery, obscuring them, and thwart me from finding out what I need to know if I want to untangle this gordian knot. Which is why it’s a good thing I found Serpent In The Thorns. To solve this mystery my companions don’t need Daeson. But I think I know who they do need.

I don’t think that we will learn any more from asking questions, though I believe I can assist them with their efforts. The answers they seek requires a spy, someone who can infiltrate the assassins and ferret out their secrets, not by asking, but by becoming one of them.

So I can see it will be necessary for me to spend some time studying that little midget and his friend. I need to know far more about them, and right now I don’t even have a name. To pull this off I will need to know more, much more. The face goes only so far. A quality performance will be called for this time, and I have gotten lazy. I like Daeson, it’s been easy being him. He was like a brother to me. Hell, he is like a me to me!

Almost too easy.

But as the saying goes, “time to put away childish things”. Of course even children have their place in the world. I’m sure I’ll visit him again! I owe him so much.

But for now I think it’s time to become what I was born to be.

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A Letter to Orlando, Fey Prince of Celene

Missive the First
A Letter to Orlando, Fey Prince of Celene,
Son of Queen Yolande and Fasstal Dorthmar

My betrothed,

We have been delayed by many days in the northlands. The death of a Baron Restonford has delayed our journey. Restonford was a close associate of my own father, Baron Marcus Randis, and our plans were to stay in his safe keeping, but his death has interfered with out planning. Though I thought it best to remain in Restonford to bring comfort to Arness, the grieving widow of Restonford, Brandon reminds me that we must attend to my own safety, as your betrothed, and move on. I should hate to learn that a war should be declared, and kith kill their kin over me! And so we are currently in Garriton where we stay in the well renown House of Abraham, an establishment high recommended by your emissary Brandon.

I have done as requested by the most mystical patriarch, Peltar, to participate in their investigation into the demise of Restonford. I do this most greatfully as the good Baron, may he rest in peace, was a most favored companion to my own father in his youth. My father has oft spoken of their boar hunts. Restonford has long been a staunch supporter of my father, whose lineage entitles him to the rulership of Whitehale, a situation, which no doubt will be remedied by his association with Celene, sealed through our marriage. Even now the legion he promised travels down the Great Western Road into the northern reaches of Celene. With the exchange of our vows, another two legions shall be dispatched. These are proper warriors of the Vesve Forrest, well equipped to secure Celene against the orcish onslaught! I should feel somewhat safer if we were travelling with them.

And yet I have become entangled in a web of deceit spun by the Peltar, The Wise & Powerful. The old sorcerer has requested that I travel to this Inn to seek out the Innkeeper Abraham who is, in fact, the chief suspect in their investigation. I beg your forgiveness for having placed myself into such a dangerous situation. Were it not for the close kinship Restonford held with my own father, I promise you that I should not have done so. But blood calls out to blood, and I must do what I can as a good and loyal daughter to the House of Randis.

We have discovered that in truth this Innkeeper Abraham did in fact possess a red vest with red leather buttons which he procured from the local tailor. Brandon discovered the missing button from Abraham’s vest in the baron’s chambers. That the Innkeeper has played some foul role in this murder is most certain, as he lied several times to us, the first of which was his denial that he had recently travelled to the Baron’s home.

Do not fear for my safety my love. I travel under the assumed name of Marika Labeaux, which I hastily borrowed from an impetuous scullery maid we encountered on an gnomish steamboat during our travels south. I too possess some fighting skills as I was a student to Duchess Clariece Landis, a very fiery lady who knows what she wants and is not shy about getting it done. Though she is my father’s rival, I must admire her spirit and tenacity. Your ambassador, Emissary Brendan Darkfell, who I know you handpicked from your Eladrin guard to accompany me safely back to Celene, is also most wily. His travel papers bearing your signature have proven most helpful at every checkpoint during our travels. Brandon also has a gift for understatement. Few suspect the terrible powers at his command.

Breytalomew, the Tiefling fiend summoned by my father, also serves as my guard though he is most willful and fails at the most basic levels of courtesy. I suspect, as you first advised me, that neutering should quell his blood and bring his surly attitude under control. His glowering presence and terrible teeth are frightening as his diet. It is fortunate that he is bound to protect me or I fear he should ravish me. His eyes are always upon me, and I am familiar with the bloodlust that is the baser nature of these fiends, and I do long to be under your protection. Thus far he has tested my limits as his guardian, it is an act of will that allows me to maintain any control over this fell creature.

It is unfortunate that Abraham, our host, is such an old murderer, for otherwise I should truly enjoy his company. He is an accomplished Innkeeper. The services he provides and the food serves rivals that of five star establishments in the realm. They lack appropriate bathing chambers for their guests, however the cook has seen to my needs unselfishly offering her own chambers for my use. We should send some gift to her after our wedding. I know that she would fare well in Celene. Her friendly disposition toward elves well disposes her to be a helpful servant of the crown. I may ask her to journey with us, for I am certain a human attendant to attend to my needs will be required. She is also an expert in the kitchen.

I have also purchased the most wondrous of necklaces—too make up for the ruby which was lost during our travels. I am not a vain woman by any means, as you know, but to travel unadorned is beneath my station, and I knew you would not approve of your betrothed journeying half naked through the lands. This jewelled necklace is unique in all the land—rescued from the Lost Tomb of Martek. Certainly worthy of the daughter of the Baron Randis of Whitehale. I recall hearing the story of this most famous desert tomb as a child, as I recall, though I cannot recall the details. I am almost certain that the tale involved a Djin!

Brandon was most hesitant to part with the gold for its purchase. You would have thought him some old gnomish moneylender, not the emissary of the Prince of Celune! Despite his protests the necklace now adorns my neck, and matches the new gown I purchased perfectly! I am certain that the jewels are magical, for this necklace has enchanted me with its ancient timeless beauty! How can such beauty pass through the centuries untouched? I shall never take it off!

I do not know for how many days more we shall be delayed. I expect that Inquisitors from Restonford shall soon be arriving in Garreton to being an inquiry. We have discovered little, only confirmed that the button discovered in the Baron’s chambers did, in fact, belong to the Innkeeper Abraham. Now the question is: Was he himself wearing it at the time?

As I mentioned before, your emmisary believes these clues to be nothing more than red herrings. He has also met with Balmorrow, the owner of the Mystic Celebration, a bard who himself possesses a lute with gold strings. According to Balmorrow one of his strings was recently stolen or broken and he no longer possesses a replacement for it. Your emmisary believes that assassins from the Garreton guild have planted these clues to bring these two men, and the as yet unnamed priest, under scrutiny. It seems odd, even to me, that Balmorrow should have so carelessly disposed of such a conspicuous item at the scene of the crime were he involved in the Baron Restonford’s assassination. But what have these men done that the Garreton Assassins Guild (GAG) should seek to throw them beneath the rolling wheels of the Inquisitor’s carriage?

I send you my love in these most dangerous of times,

Lady Artina Ilani Randis

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