For the love of order

7-Jan-2012-Syama

We are going to have an interesting afternoon.

So we finally found the city! Normally I’d have suggested getting a good night’s rest before we ventured into an abandoned underground Dwarven city in the Chaotic Lands, but we hadn’t been having much luck sleeping anywhere, so we went right in. It wasn’t as bad as I’d thought, even with whatever variety of Dream Eaters those were… though I’m sure I’d feel differently about them if I were the one who hadn’t rested. We had a few encounters as we tried to follow barely-understood multi-lingual kennings through a maze of ancient stonework, but nothing too bad. Not that they’re really very ancient, but it sounds better than ‘old’. It’s interesting, the more I study other languages, the more familiar I get with Common, and the more I notice the sounds of things. I sympathize more now with bardic exaggeration than I once did. Anyway.

Things were looking up as we found a (former?) temple to Irori, which we thought might be where this Star of Eternity was, or possibly just an important step along the way. It’s hard to tell with this book. Then things promptly looked down as we ran into a couple of Asura. Apparently my reading missed a spot here, as these monstrosities completely failed to strike a chord with me. Asura apparently are divine mistakes, who resent their existence and everyone else’s, and for some reason feel the need to remedy everyone else’s before remedying their own. These two were the ‘Adhukait’ variety: two melded beings, complete with two minds, two heads, and 4 arms. The battle was tough, and we actually had to spend a long time afterwards having Maral chop at them while we searched and meditated for Holy Water to keep them down permanently. Victor actually found a vial whole, in a pile of broken glass. How about that.

But the real fun hadn’t started yet. One of them, dying, said something about an Aghasura. We have to assume that it’s farther into the temple… which is where we need to go. For some definition of ‘need’. Victor, again, was the only person who’d ever heard of these things before. In spite of his odd approach to tactics, he’s very useful. Fortunately, he remembers rather a lot about their strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, they have a lot of strengths, and very few weaknesses, which we are not at the moment able to take very good advantage of at all. Fortunately, we were able to beat a strategic retreat to develop a Plan and make some quick modifications to our equipment list.

That said, the reason I took the time to write this in the midst of everything is actually because of a spell Gilly cast in the combat, when she must’ve been very worried about the outcome. Back up a moment. The other day, she started one of her philosophical discussions. Or attempted to anyway, Maral is often quiet in philosophical discussions, and Dolg seemed distracted. At the beginning anyway, later on he got interested. And the topic was, what is Syama suddenly learned a new spell, which was not approved by the Wizard’s Guild? Would you turn her in for casting it? I should’ve guessed that this was a less hypothetical question than it sounded, but I wasn’t thinking about it. Anyway, no one said anything, so I said I wouldn’t turn myself in. Then there was some talk, although there wasn’t much in the way of answers. Come to think of it, I didn’t answer really either… I was focused on thinking about the ramifications of Syama getting an unapproved spell, and what that would mean about the intentions of the Heavens. Note to self: next time Gilly starts a philosophical debate, look for what she might need reassurance about. She’s had a tough time, and has trouble trusting that the party will stay on her side. Not that I entirely think she’s wrong. I haven’t any idea what the party would do if she did something really extreme. I think she’d have a better chance if she’d just stop talking about being evil. Honestly I don’t think she’s as evil as she thinks she is, but she’s been on the defensive for so long, I’m not sure she can help it.

But really, if she just talked as though ‘any reasonable person would of course make this decision’, they would assume that was true unless something made them examine it. Anyway, it turns out she had a new spell, not on the List. It makes a weapon magically poisoned. I saw her cast, and knew it was something unknown, and my primary reaction was curiosity about what she would do with her power as she became more powerful. I certainly don’t think she’s likely to wave us goodbye and go off to bring down the Hegemony. I don’t think she’d leave to take a job as an assassin either. But now that I think of it, I should really say something to her. No wonder she’s edgy, if even I’m not saying anything. Sometime after this mess, assuming we’re both still alive.

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30-Nov (Gilly)
Snapshot of a Birthday Party

It’s nearing midnight, so the party will be finishing up soon. The sun was still in sight for the early portion of the party, but that’s Maral’s fault for having a summer birthday — it’s the third night after Midsummer, so night is hard to come by, even in Atur. I’d tried to find a hall on Midsummer itself, but the asking prices were astronomical. Fortunately, it would be an easy excuse that more people would attend if it didn’t conflict with the festival. Not that anyone asked. Maral was a bit floored to be having a party at all, and the rest of our group happy to get a free ride on credit for hosting it, no one made a point of the precise day. It was fortunate that I found this place — the warehouse was full to the brim just a few days ago with supplies for Festival, now it was empty, to be restocked the day after tomorrow.

So empty that it looks spare despite our efforts to decorate. There’s a table for food and drink, a bunch of chairs, and a little platform for testimonies and voting, and that’s it. We put up a banner and some streamers, but it’s still kind of a boxy space. No biggie. This party isn’t about the hall, it’s about the people.

Well, and the food and drink, that’s important too. Our recent adventure netted us an unexpected benefit in that department. I was looking to invite the guardsmen we rescued from the ogres, they had to check their schedule with their employer. He not only arranged it so several of them could go, but asked to come himself. A bit of friendly diplomacy, and we had a line on considerably more beer than I’d planned on, and a better variety of foodstuffs. And he had the chance to recruit at a pleasant nominally non-business gathering with a lot of young fighters, with his guardsmen in attendance to talk up his role in the rescue, and I’d make sure anyone who needed to got an earful on how we thought he was a great employer.

He was certainly making good use of it, glad-handing a handful of lightly soused warriors, nodding sagely as one of his guardsmen effused on how not many would have gone to such trouble and expense on their behalf. “It’s true, there’s some it’s better to work for than others. Important to go with someone you can trust to look out for you. So I can expect to see you in the morning, see what you’ve got?” Of course, he already knew the young man he was talking to was talented, though new enough that he wasn’t expecting much salary. One of my many jobs was screening the candidates via an unsuspecting Maral. No need for the warrior to know that though, it would work out nicely for everyone involved.

Looking about, I spied Rebecca casually slipping another pasty in a bag. She’s the only one of the three Harnath refugees still at the party, probably hanging around to the end to see if she can’t help herself to a bit more. I don’t mind either way, if she doesn’t take them, they’ll go to the roustabouts who’ll be clearing the hall in an hour. The refugees’ testimony was kind of a downer, thanking us for standing up and warning the city and the mages about the waterworks, and they wish that we’d been heeded, thanking us for trying. But that’s par for the course if your house burned down and you don’t even have a place to stay in the city, and need to head to Atur.

Precious few women here, besides Syama and myself. We had a gnome lady from Garlek with a young boy in tow at the beginning of the party. That was funny — “My idiot husband decided to stay and defend the villlage. Thank the Gods that this lot showed up, he’d probably be dead otherwise, the damn proud fool.” She spent a while socializing and minding the kid, but exited early. Besides her, there’s just the handful of women from the Fighters Guild contingent.

And there’s Gregory talking with Romel Tharashk. Both of them were invited in connection with the Gorlinson affair. Gregory was the father of Jon, the murder victim, and Romel had successfully outsourced Felda’s capture to us. They’d given us (and especially Maral, cause it’s his party) warm praise for our sleuthing skills, and set off a cascade of law-and-order testimonies. There was the moneylender who’d loaned money to who-he-thought-was-Mosco, and then Garlard, the investigator in the poisonings. That last got a big cheer from the guardsmen contingent, including the one non-local. That was one of the group who escorted us and the forger back from the village west of Atur, at least until we found that crazy magic teleportation thingy in the middle of the road. He was incredibly happy to be invited — I think we’re the coolest thing that ever happened to him.

Of course, the Internal Affairs officer politely declined to attend, or to send a note of proxy testimony, cause duh. We did get several proxies though. One from the merchant lady we’d traveled with to Iron Town, on account of her making another ore run at the time of party. One from Garn Redaxe, the mayor of Garlek. Now he knows how to write one in proper style. I’m shocked, shocked! to find he’s familiar with this sort of dwarven adulthood party. Unlike Kalzan, who wrote a nice note, apologizing for being too busy to attend, but decidedly not ‘testimonial’ in flavor.

The most impassioned testimony was from Einar. I don’t know what went on at his forge when Maral was tweaking something about his waraxe, but perhaps I should, because he was apparently really impressed by it, and he’s supposed to be a master smith. The whole thing was in Dwarven, so the rest of us had to have it by translation. “To call Maral Glorgirn a youth would be a crude attempt at insult. To call Maral Glorgirn an adult shows only the speaker’s ignorance. Maral Glorgirn is a hero. Beyond his deeds these past months, which you have heard of this night in plenty. He has been granted the spark of the Smith’s wisdom, I have seen it with my own eyes. He has been chosen for deeds far greater than any said so far, and his name will be remembered unto the ages. I am privileged to call him my friend. Behold my vote!” Maral’s eyes were filled with tears at it.

The music, well, it wasn’t all that great. I found the best dwarven-style buskers I could, but it’s not particularly common, and anyone really good had engagements lined up already. Fortunately, no one seemed to care much, and they could at least lead the fighters who broke into choruses of battle songs and drinking songs from time to time.

Time to start making the rounds and getting people to demand an accounting of the ‘vote’. I don’t think I’d a bucket of stones upended over my head, even to say I’d arrived in the land of adulthood, but I imagine Maral will enjoy it immensely.

View
5-Nov (Einar)
Reforging

The bell jingled, announcing the arrival of a customer. Looking up, I saw Maral Glorgirn in the doorway. He was several days later than he’d expected, and he looked worried. I nodded to acknowledge him and smiled slightly, then returned to the hammering. Maral’s no smith, but he knows enough to know why certain tasks can’t be interrupted. He waited patiently until I set the sword aside.

“Maral! Good to see you again. Let me go get her from the back. How’d Harnath go? You guys save the day again?” The delay was uncomfortably long – something had gone wrong. ‘Not really. We did what we could, but… the elementals destroyed a lot before we finished them. Many civilians dead.’ “Seriously? Damn. Elementals, you say?” ‘Aye, a long story. I’ll tell you when I’m back properly. We’re camped on the road, see, and… Cor. She’s beautiful.’ I just nodded, and watched him looking over the waraxe. I’d done good work here, even if it was mostly just polishing and honing, and a bit of gold inlay. He hefted it reverently. “Why don’t you go and try it out?”

He was back the next day, absolutely giddy. With his muscles and snap technique he could make a serious dent in a log, even an iron bar. ‘And the edge is still sharp! Look!’ I nodded and smiled to myself. I’ve seen any number of dwarven warriors promoted to the use of adamantium, the reaction is always the same. Well, except for the ones who can’t realize the implications of what they’re wielding – but they shouldn’t be given it in the first place.

So far, so good. But the next day, Maral was back again, and his expression was a little shadowed. Like he was unhappy, but didn’t want to admit it. “What’s the problem, Maral? You nick the edge already?” ‘Oh, no, it’s holding up beautifully. It’s…’ “What?” ‘I don’t know. It’s just not quite right somehow.’ “Let me take a look.” I checked it over. “Looks fine to me. How about you run the Grunhild Kata with it? At pace.” He nodded, accepted the waraxe, and began the practice figure. The Grunhild Kata is a thing of beauty when done slowly, and a different sort of beauty at pace. It was designed after the legendary defense of the Murdok Pass by Grunhild, the act that catapulted him to a hero among the dwarves. After a few initial passes against single opponents, it launches into a furious flurry of slashes as the lone defender engages an onslaught of foes, feet dancing and shield arm shifting to block blows. You run through enough practices like this, when the times comes, your arm knows what to do without you having to think about it.

“Hmm… you know, I think you’re a little towards twitch, and not getting as much force in as I’ve seen you manage. Are you gripping it too far up?” ‘What? No, I… hmm… no. The grip’s right where it ought to be, can’t move down any further. But you’re right, that’s it. It needs the shaft to be a little longer, so there’s more inertia to the head. I know I’ve already asked a lot of you, but do you think you could…’ I frowned. My time was tied up for weeks to come with outfitting the Tir Carra company. Maral’s frown answered mine – I’d told him about that work before, so he knew I didn’t have time for the work. Just as I was about to say that I was sorry, but I didn’t have an apprentice skilled enough to handle adamantium, he said ‘I could do the work if you’d give me a few pointers, and let me use the forge.’

I was stunned. It was all I could do to keep from bursting out laughing. “Maral, working adamantium is, as they say, a bitch and a half. I’d be happy to give you a few pointers in smithing, and the secondary forge is fine, but … I don’t think you’ll be able to manage it.” His eyes never wavered from mine, and they pleaded his case solemnly. “You’re serious about this?” ‘I am, Master Smith.’ Master Smith? Great. He is serious.

There was no good answer. Maral’s a good friend, and turning him down and dismissing his lack of skill would be a serious affront. On the other hand, he was almost certain to not just fail, but screw up the waraxe, introduce a fault that leads to it breaking when tested, and then it’d been to be remade entirely. I suppose by the time he thoroughly gave up, I’d be done with the Tir Carra work. I’d be sure to charge him a pretty penny for getting the waraxe back into shape, and he’d learn a valuable lesson. Certainly it was the best option. “All right then. If you insist.”

After that, Maral came by the workshop for several hours each day. He tied a strip of cloth around his forehead to keep sweat and hair from the work, and he had an intensity that I would love to see in one of my actual apprentices. Whatever he was doing, helping with the bellows, peen point hammering, tempering metal, he approached it with a quiet, furious focus, drinking in the essence of smithing. His progress was amazing. After a day or two, he went from nothing to where he could have earned a solid living as a smith. Not good enough to work adamantium, but still, very impressive.

Unfortunately for his endeavor, his ability plateaued there. He could tell it wasn’t enough, but he refused to give up. He enlisted the help of his mage friend Victor, to give magical support to his efforts, and then his eyes had a look of confidence that he’d lacked before, and his smithing took another leap. Still, it wasn’t enough. Or it might have been, if he’d been lucky, but Maral is not one for relying on luck. He stopped coming for a couple days. I thought at first it was frustration, but it turned out his party was doing a spot of detective work, hunting down a notorious poisoner.

And then… when he came back, he put his soul into it. I know, it’s a tired phrase, but there’s nothing else for it. There was an aura about him, like you hear of in stories, which said I Will This, Thus This Will Be Done. Maral had never struck me as strong-willed, much less heroic, which made it all the more shocking. The apprentices were a little afraid of him, and more than a little in awe. He would come in in the morning as soon as we opened, having slept in his smithy gear, stoke the fires and take to the secondary forge. He wouldn’t even notice it was lunchtime unless we reminded him, and would have worked past closing if I’d let him.

Days went by like this. He worked with deliberation, testing each small change, but it was clear that working adamantium was suddenly trivial for him. The Smith Lord himself must have granted him a spark of divine inspiration, I can see no other explanation. Despite the intrusion in the workshop, we set a better pace on the Tir Carra work than we had before, with Maral inspiring my apprentices to more diligence and attention than I’d seen from them in a bit.

And then it was done. We’d stepped out for lunch, Maral deciding to work through again, saying he was almost done. He’d said it yesterday as well, and the day before, but this time it was true. When we came back, we found him testing the blade. It rang true as it bit into the mithril stock, singing the clear note that tells the maker that it has no weak fault lines within. His aura was gone, and the intensity in his eyes as well. He smiled, exhausted but happy, and brandished the blade. The way he held it was more like an extension of his arm than a weapon. Then he shifted to the initial stance of the Grunhild Kata and started the form.

It, like the waraxe, was perfect.—

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6-Oct (Gilly)
So, You Want to Be an Assassin

So, after one side trip to Atur for Maral’s waraxe, and a second to the elemental plane of fire for … goodness knows why …, we returned to Atur to find I had a message waiting at the inn. Weird, because I’d checked in with the inn last evening, and it wasn’t there then. A letter in an unfamiliar hand: “The time has come to fulfill promises made”, a location and time, and the mark of the Cult. The time was pretty much now, and the location not right here. Sigh. Extricating myself from my companions as quickly as reasonable, I made my way there, on my guard for potential attack.

Arriving, I saw a cloaked figure, a human female of slight build. I tried to sneak up, but she heard something, so I had to slip behind a wall. I managed to glimpse several minor magical auras about her. While I was contemplating what to do next, she spoke. “Gilly?” I stepped out and approached. ’That’s me. And whom do I the pleasure of addressing?’ There was a pause while we sized each other up in the dim light. Her eyes were a hard grey-blue, her face lean and angular with several scars. Hmm… not actually human but instead half-elven, if I don’t miss my bet. Her eyes narrowed slightly. “You can call me Allyria… Gilly. You’re late. Fortunado will not be pleased.” Ouch, ouch, and ouch. This was certainly getting off on the wrong foot, and it didn’t look like she’d be swayed much by pretty words. I dropped the concentration on my spell to focus on the conversation. ’I’m sorry. I only got the message a few minutes ago. And, um, where is Fortunado?’ Her expression still hostile, she answered: “He has business in another city. Surely you don’t think you’re his only project?” ‘Ah, I understand. And you understand that he would want me to be sure. Could you tell me the phrase he gave me?’ “Certainly. From craggy cleft to dive, from under underdark to rise.” Yup, that was it, ‘Allyria’ was legitimately representing the Cult of the Dragon Below.

She continued, “We’re going to meet Gustakol [ed – pronounced ‘goo-STAH-kohl’] within the hour. Can you tell me why?” A test. Shit. My mind raced. Gustakol, he was a major figure in the Rogue’s Guild, one that everyone knew and no one spoke of. The one thing consistently said was that no one, high or low, powerful or powerless, would dare to cross him. As to why I’d be meeting him…? Right. Fortunado never said as much, but my training regimen clearly indicated what I was being prepared for. ‘For instruction in the gentle art of assassination.’ “Good. Glad to see you’re not an idiot. So. Dress competent, not fancy, meet me in the southern vestibule of the Guild. You can bring armor and weapons, and as you’re not an idiot, you’ll know not to use them. Don’t mess this up. Don’t chicken out. Don’t piss off Gustakol. And most important, don’t think yours is the only ass on the line here. Got it?” ‘Understood. Oh, and one small matter.’ “Yes?” ‘While I was adventuring, I found I had lost the use of the word kiero. It had an invisibility effect of very short duration. It wasn’t that important, but I was … under the impression that my magics would only grow, not diminish. Do you make anything of that?’ “Not my field, but I’ll pass it along.” ‘Thanks.’

Naturally, I was detecting magic again as we waited for admittance. After a while, we were shown to a room. Several auras flared inside, but before I could sort them out, an aide requested/ordered me to dismiss my active spells. Well, so much for that plan. There were four of us, Allyria and I on one side of a massive table, Gustakol and a scribe? aide? of his on the other, the latter taking studious notes on the proceedings. Gustakol was a hobgoblin, large and muscular. Given his profession and skill, his fingers were likely as nimble as mine despite the difference in size, and given his position and status of ‘living’, his mental skills were accounted for as well. “Sit down, please.” His eyes studied me, missing nothing. “So, you want to be an assassin.” And here is where it becomes clearer than ever that the Grey Master, the Reaper of Reputation, and Blackfingers are sides of the same coin. I wondered idly whether Gustakol worshiped Norgorber as well.

First we went over the referral credentials. “By whose authority are you here to seek training in assassination?” ‘By Fortunado’s, sir.’ “And whose authority is his?” ‘Ah. A Cult of the Dragon Below.’ Allyria snorted. “THE Cult of the Dragon Below, if you please.” “I’ll leave that terminology to you.” replied Gustakol. “As well as your arrangements with them in exchange for the opportunity. The Cult is in good standing with our branch of the Guild, and we recognize the referral. Now, to the question of payment. I’m sure you understand that nothing free can be properly appreciated. I think-” and here he looked me over carefully. Trying to judge how much would be enough to hurt the wallet, but not impede my development? How much he could get away with before causing himself trouble? “- twenty pounds of gold should be sufficient. Due within the week.” I managed to keep my composure. Where would I get that kind of cash in a week? Right, those magical gems I’d stolen. Given their effect, they were easily worth at least a thousand gold, if I managed to get close to their value, I’d be set.

They also tested my training at disguises and escape artistry. Strangely, they seemed more concerned with how much time and effort I’d put in, and the ‘book learning’ aspects, than my ability to perform the skills. I wondered about this — did they want to avoid naturally-talented dilettantes? But there’s a place for asking questions, and this wasn’t it.

“Your skill is acceptable, if rough. But we will also require a test of your will, whether you’ve the nerve to do what is necessary. This”, here he took a proffered bit of paper from his aide, “is your target. We expect the body to be delivered to the location noted there, also within the week. We’ll know when it is done.” Right. I’d been putting this off too long. Of course, murder by request is an important test of a new assassin, but it’s a test that my companions could easily balk at. ‘This target, is he of any special skill or-’ “I’m sure that a person of your ability should have no trouble whatsoever.” ‘Understood, sir. It will be done.’ We were shown out afterward, and Allyria breathed a sigh of relief. “Well, that wasn’t horrible. You were clearly scared shitless, but that’s normal enough for people who know who they’re talking to.” I nodded, my mind trying to figure how to frame this for the party.

By dinner, I had it worked out. I started by asking for a favor, that they could give me their honest opinion. Always a good opener when you can use it. Told them about how this was a big opportunity, and important to me, but traveling with them was even more important, and they being my good friends, I didn’t want to cause trouble, and so on. All of which is true! Went through the skill sets that I’d be picking up, and reminded them how they’d thought poison was okay when they’d seen it in Garlek, and such. Covered it well enough that I could say afterward that it was clear and obvious that I was talking about assassin training, without actually saying that.

Then, out of nowhere, the bombshell. Dolg had been a little bewildered by the skills, and Syama said in a loud stage whisper ‘to be an assassin’. Shit. She knows. Of course, she knows all sorts of things, but … now I’m screwed. I didn’t blink, but I was waiting for “So Gilly, tell me, what do they make you do before they’ll teach you this?” or “Anything we should know about the prerequisites for this training?” I could lie, but she’d know, and she’d either call me on it, or out me later. And backing out of the training now would be ugly, likely get me killed or disgraced.

But she didn’t. She looked me straight in the eye, and spoke of how any power can be used for good or ill, and how they trusted me to make the tough calls. “Go for it.” she said. And she gave me a meaningful look, that said “We have an understanding here, capiche?” I gave a tiny nod in reply. I wouldn’t mention unwanted details, she wouldn’t ask. The others quickly agreed, as they usually do when Syama and I are clearly on the same side of some question. I managed to hold myself together to wrap up the conversation. Now that was an arrow dodged, and a nasty one at that. I hadn’t expected Syama to okay it. Was she more … pragmatic than I’d thought? More cold-blooded? Had she seen some oracular vision that said I was vitally important to her being a successful przywrócenie niszczyciel, and this was a price she was willing to pay? I suppose I’ll have to let them go unanswered, as those questions were just made unaskable.

The actual work was easy in comparison. The gems fetched nearly full price from a buyer interested in what sort of ‘package deal’ I could offer. The assassination went smoothly as well, though naturally more complex. I’d thought about having him die in a tragic ‘accidental’ fire, but it turns out he lives in a row of shacks where a fire would cause far too much collateral damage. Sneaking in in the dead of night in the guise of a goblin, I was silent as a wraith removing the massive hammer polearm from my impromptu bag of holding. With one SMACK, I drove the hammer into his head. Some goo splattered, but that’s what the recently-acquired cloak and gloves are for. Wrapping the body in the bedclothes with some difficulty (he being considerably larger than me), I eased it and the rewrapped polearm into the bag. Double-checked the site for any clues of my presence, and when I was sure it was clean, sauntered away. The drop site was inside a small empty warehouse. I removed the body from the bag of holding, contemplated taking off the bedsheets, but decided that it was a lot cleaner to leave them on. The hammer, cloak and gloves went in the bag, and slicing the bag open from the outside, I found them to have been lost between the planes. The remnants of the bag itself took a blast of flammae, and were nothing but ash. Satisfied, I returned to the inn, dropped my disguise, and crept back into bed.

In the morning, I felt some trepidation. My mind kept returning to the deeds of the night before, and I needed something to banish such thoughts so I could avoid giving some tell to my compatriots. ‘Something’ arrived during breakfast, in the form of Syama’s old mentor. Bubbly social excitement is exactly the right thing to not be thinking about skulduggery…

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20-Sep (Maral)
The Harnath Waterworks

It’s only been a week or two, though it seems like months. Days groggy from lack of sleep can do that, I think. It all began with dreams of fire. Gilly, of course, was thrilled. Well, as thrilled as one can be with an unpleasant interruption of one’s rest. Dream connections to magic are her forte, and fire is easily her favorite element. And Syama is always in favor of investigating weird magic. Myself, I don’t trust it farther than I can throw it, but it’s not like we had a choice. The dreams started escalating, demanding our attention. I just hoped we’d get back to Atur soon. Einar assured me that the axe would be coming in ‘any day now’, and he gets a little antsy about doing custom work for adventurers who are away busily getting killed. I need to practice my skills at sundering so I can make the best use of it when it comes.

One image in the dreams, a bridge over a river on the edge of a city, with a waterworks built in, at least gave some context. That belonged to Harnath, a city to the west of Atur, and so we headed that way. The journey would have been easily a week on foot, but Victor conjured horses for us, so we made good time.

The waterworks, it turns out, is a massive magical civil engineering project, which somehow provides heating for the winter, and cooking heat for stoves and ovens year-round (at least for larger/public? buildings). We say ‘somehow’ because the wizards are very secretive about how exactly it does it. You think with a city council spending that kind of coin on a project, they’d demand a little more detail, but many people can be easily cowed by wizards.

We established our base of operations at an inn close to the waterworks, and soon had a number of leads to investigate. There are the wizards in charge of the project, of course, but there are also council records on the project’s approval, and other institutions with an interest in not seeing the city devastated. I recommended the temple of Abadar, which proved useful. They trusted our story, and were appropriately concerned, and Diana, the High Priestess, even offered to cast a divination to make sure it was real and relevant. I visited the temple often during our stay, praying for the strength to protect, and that I might be guided by His will.

I didn’t have that much to do for the investigation, mostly just being there supporting the group, and offering advice when I could. This works out well, I’m got some valuable non-magic-person perspective, and they can handle thinking about the magic side of things.

By the time we want to talk to the waterworks wizards, we’ve got our ducks in a row. As luck would have it, while we’re approaching the wizard guild to talk to Mycar (one of the waterworks wizards), we run into an adventuring party of wizards on their out, and they’re grumbling and muttering. Gilly rushes over to chat them up, and sure enough, not only were they trying to meet the same wizard we were just heading towards, but they had the same dreams we did! We put off trying to talk to Mycar and have lunch with them. We don’t learn much new, besides the unapproachability of Mycar, but at least we know how to contact these guys later. Instead of repeating their attempt to talk to Mycar, we end up making an appointment to talk to Sylia, another waterworks wizard.

The next day, we head to the temple of Abadar, and learn the divination’s answer was “The elements are shifting. Where will they fall?” So we end up explaining the matter of the shifting planes to Her Holiness Diana. Our magically-inclined party members start putting together a theory about how planar shifts could cause trouble with a large, powerful, possibly delicately-balanced? magical system.

After leaving the temple, we visited Sylia, and diplomatically ‘expressed our concerns’ about the waterworks. She seemed to take them seriously, and assured us that they could measure and monitor the ‘distance’ to the plane of fire. She seemed competent and reasonable, though still very secretive on the project’s workings. We did some more side research, talking with a gnome on the far side of town who opposed the project, and doing a bit of light spying on the project, then talk briefly with Gillan, the third wizard responsible for the waterworks. He seems to think they can handle any trouble just fine, thank-you-very-much. Gilly tries to probe on whether there are other planes involved besides fire. He denies it, but she’s pretty sure he’s lying.

She doesn’t press the matter though, which turns out to be a good plan, because soon she’s commiserating with him about yet another party of dreamers, whom he found more annoying… Naturally, we go to find this group after we’re done talking with him. The leader is a paladin, and fairly inflexible in his approach. Gilly makes predictable snarky comments later. I want to call her out on it, because I’ve known paladins like Sir Terrence Cooper, who really are a model for the best a person can be. But I know she’d talk circles around me, and the local paladin is not the best example.

Personal growth often comes under pressure. It’s around this point that all of us push ourselves beyond our previous abilities. I finally master the sundering move, Dolg finds he can repel disease, Syama and Victor pick up new spells. Gilly apparently gets a little stressed out about everyone else getting stronger, because she goes off and gets some … dream drug. She says (afterwards) that it helps her get into a lucid dreaming state where she can learn more of her dragon magic. A bad plan when your dreams are of endless fire, I think, but she did it anyway.

Somewhere in that agony of fire, she did manage to learn something. Not only dragon magic, but she also managed to sort of contact the entities(?) in the dream. The waterworks might be powered by some unhappy captive extraplanar creature(s)? And perhaps it is the danger that they might break free that would lead to the destruction our dreams show? The next night, she wants to try again, and Syama and Dolg join her. It seems a sort of desperate move, but the dreams are getting worse each day, and it’s not like they let you nap either, and if solving the riddle one day earlier means possibly saving lives, we have to try.

They each have a uniquely personal interaction with the dream, and each learn something different. Between them, and Victor’s clairvoyances, we can paint a good picture of what’s going on. It’s Gilly who puts it together into something of a offer of help, and something of an implied third-party threat, sewn together with a few lies of omission, to push Sylia et al to shut down the system before it breaks. We needed to convince the three somehow, because only they seem to have the power to manage the waterworks, if anyone does. Unless the extraplanar observer fellow who pretends to be a beggar could, but I don’t really understand his involvement at all.

In any case, it wasn’t enough, or too late, or something. Explosions, blasts of fire, a rush to battle marauding elementals… we did everything right when the crisis came, but I wish we’d been able to prevent it somehow. The waterworks mechanism turns out to be a sham, the controls smashed, the summoning circle (they tell me this was the true heart of the operation) obliterated, Sylia and Gillian dead, and Mycar comatose. The temple of Abadar filled with wounded. These are the wages of wizard hubris, the lessons they have to teach. And they be painful lessons. I pray that we learn from them.

We left our curative wand behind, and Mycar in the care of the temple. We’d done our duty as best we could, and it was time to return to Atur. Though for how long who could say — Syama had a vision, some winnowing of the przywrócenie niszczyciel candidates, and in it there was a piece of staff just like the one we have from the old traveler man / god…

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28-May (Syama)

So here’s my new resolution: when something strange appears, something inexplicable, I will always poke at it personally, even when others have investigated it. I do not understand this ‘ przywrócenie niszczyciel’ business, but it’s clear that there’s something going on which pertains to me specifically. Even if the whole thing turns out to be a mistaken identity, the fact that people (beings?) believe I’m involved, is making some very strange things happen.

Take this most recent development. I clearly wasn’t the best choice to examine the missing road. I don’t have the knowledge of spellcraft that Victor does, I don’t know rocks, I couldn’t even see the middle of it from the edge. When they mentioned the distances, I just thought it was too bad we couldn’t get in. It was interesting, and I’d planned on suggesting that we come back to look at it after delivering the prisoner to Atur. But as soon as I stopped focusing on the anomaly and my thoughts turned toward Atur, something felt wrong. Incomplete, perhaps. I knew that I just couldn’t walk away from this. Thank the Heavens, which saw fit to make me hesitate. When I went to the invisible wall, it gave a little at my touch, as the others reported it didn’t. My intuition confirmed, I realized that this path was for me, and was clearly the reason for the Fulcrum’s gift. Either that or someone was watching closely and took advantage of the Fulcrum’s gift to set a calling for us which would not likely be answered by others. Be that as it may, whatever we venture toward now is my path as decreed by the stars. And I cannot expect such guidance each time. If the mundane and the arcane fail to penetrate a mystery, it is only right to try the divine. I must remember that just as one person may see things another cannot, one person may feel what another cannot. Even something having nothing to do with this przywrócenie niszczyciel might be keyed to a spellcaster, or to one linked to the divine.

That said, I do hope we’re not walking into too much trouble here. Even knowing the alignment of our current plane, I just hadn’t thought about giving Gilly extra protection. I suppose it makes sense that the denizens of such a plane would attack Evil creatures on sight. I just wasn’t thinking. Well that and I don’t really think of her as evil. I mean, I wouldn’t argue the point, but it really doesn’t seem like her defining feature. What matters to me is that I can trust her, and I believe I can. She’s reliable, and dependable, and whether she helps me through general love of people, through knowledge that she will fare well in a solid party of friends, or through a deep need to influence history, is not really a big concern of mine. Obviously I keep in mind what seems to make each person tick, that’s only sensible. But I will be glad to get back to a place where sentient creatures don’t just leap out of ambush and attack with no regard for their own lives, merely because Magic told them that someone walking by had a different philosophy than theirs.

Speaking of home, and not being there… I really ought to write home to Mam. Everything has been moving so quickly that it’s hard to find a spare moment, but I’m sure she’ll be relieved to hear that I have friends watching my back, and that I’ve been able to further my understanding in at least some directions. I gain understanding of the stars, and of the Mysteries of the Heavens, and of many branches of learning. I am no closer to understanding why I am given this power, or by whom. The existence of a prophecy may imply that I was always intended to follow this path… or it may only imply that an Oracle of the Heavens would be made in a particular year, and that one would fill the prophecy’s role. Or now that I think of it, technically it is possible that I would have been thrown into this role even had I remained at home, apprentice herber in the midst of nowhere. If that were the case, the Gods surely saved my life and sanity when they pushed me toward a life which might prepare me. I pray that not be the way of it though, I think only the gods of Chaos would design such a situation, where the outcome of some fated question hangs on an uninformed farmer’s daughter.

Speaking of letters, and prophecies! Once I’ve written Mam, I really must write to Mother Galtha! I don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier. I don’t believe she’s particularly interested in Infernal prophecies, but if this business is alignment- or planes- related, I would imagine the followers of Desna would be interested. It must be difficult, following such a chaotic goddess in the Hegemony. If it were very important to Her, some of Her order may even have dreamed something useful. Either way, Galtha may know someone I could talk to. If I have time, I will try to write both letters right away, so I can post them as soon as we find a way back.

And speaking of finding a way back, I’d best stop writing now and rest, since I suspect we’ll need our wits about us once we reach the village.

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26-May (Gilly)
A Letter to Mosco

Postage factors: person-to-person, 4d (1E→Atur,3N) 2xC1/2xC3, Alac=3
Paid in full, witness my stamp

From: Gilly Tealeaf
To: Mosco Highhill

Dearest Mosco,

I know that when we parted a few days ago, we had said it would be for good, and I do not mean to change my mind (despite how pleasant your company had been), but I simply had to write to let you know of another wrinkle concerning your late uncle’s armor.

Not but a few hours after you left the gates, my companions and I were approached by a moneylender, asking after you. Well, really about the armor. He was somewhat distressed to hear that it had been sold and you returned home, and produced a contract. It said that you’d agreed to turn the inheritance over to him upon receipt, and he would make regular payments against the expected value in the meantime, some three years now. Of course I knew you’d never have done such a thing, and I admit I treated him rudely at first.

But then it occurred to me: if this fellow had been hoodwinked by another, yet only had the ability to locate you, might he end up harassing you instead? To have to make another trip to Atur, and engage legal help, and sworn testimony… even though it might come out all right in the end, I couldn’t bear the thought of you having to endure such drudgery!

I spoke with the lender, and convinced my friends to investigate the case, though there seemed little to go on. If the scoundrel had been as careful in collecting his payments as he was in forging your identity papers, he’d easily get away. But I had to try!

We had one lead, a Guild rogue whose apprentice was sent to stalk us — but it turned out he was just after the armor. (You really did the right thing getting rid of it quickly and with us as guards, if there were multiple plans for stealing it!) But just when it seemed we were running out of options, we found someone with a description of the halfling in question, and a decent idea where he lived! (That is, the village I’m posting this letter from. It’s about a day west of Atur.) We went that way posthaste, and with a good bit of investigation (too long for this paper), and obtaining a search warrant from the authorities, found him! And the forged identity papers! So if you do hear anything disturbing, don’t worry, we’ve taken care of everything. We’re leaving for Atur within the hour with several constables and Mr. Prisoner in tow, and straighten everything out.

Hugs and Kisses,

— Gilly

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An Invitation to Dinner

When Gilly checks the message drop at the rogue’s guild, she finds a message from the hobgoblin she charmed. It suggests that Gilly and her two friends meet him, his master and one other colleague at the Feast of the Dragon, an upscale restaurant in the Civic District.

The suggested time is on the late side for dinner, but the note indicates that the three of them will be dining and suggests that Gilly et al at least be willing to spend some time there.

Gilly (and anyone else with Knowledge(Atur)) recognizes that the restaurant is not the sort that would generally have a close association with the rogue’s guild. It seems likely that the restaurant is neutral ground.

Can everyone make a Diplomacy roll. If you have Knowledge(local) attuned to Atur, add +2 to your roll.

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5-May (Maral)
Tipping Points

A fulcrum is, as everyone knows, a place where opposing forces are held in balance. Like the center of my merchant’s scale, the needle pointing directly up to indicate perfect equilibrium between the polished metal weights on one side, and the chunk of mithril on the other. But it is also the point at which the balance tips from one side to the other. And it is also the point that gives a lever power to effect change.

I have never sought a starring role in the mad schemes of deities and planes, and it does not come easily to me to assist in what might upset the status quo. But as I was preparing to exit stage left, Gilly cornered me, and put it in terms that made the decision obvious. (It’s usually Gilly in these situations, isn’t it? No idea what gain she’d find in strengthening my influence, it certainly isn’t in the direction she’d advocate. Maybe her earnest heartfelt words are actually honest this time?) “Maybe this isn’t the world-changing thing it hints at being. If that’s the case, you don’t have cause to complain, do you? Of course, maybe it is. But if it is, and you’re here, then you’re meant to be here. You, Maral, are important to this, and not just because you’re skilled at fighting. If — and I’m not saying it is — this is a conflict between cosmic forces, those who represent all you deeply love in are counting on you to represent your heart. If you refuse, if you turn away, the things you believe in will come out the worse for it. You don’t need to advocate or make speeches (frankly, if they needed that, they’d have someone else), just be yourself, and be true to yourself.”

So I’m in, come what may.

The next few days give me a rude awakening to holes in my training. I’m sure half the cadets would have been able to identify a rust monster, if not the chaos-spawned ‘mouther’ we found later. Fortunately, I carry an extra suit of armor. I must make a point of getting at least basic understanding of underground creatures.

We returned to Atur, learned a bit more about the prophecy, and a good bit about the Fulcrum, and went to seek it out. It was a reasonably uneventful journey, until we found ourselves followed by a giant metal floating eye-thing. Victor said it was an ‘arbiter’, a sort of lawful outsider construct. It was generally uncommunicative, though it did allow that its mission was to observe and report. At least it is on our side, as much as we have one. Eventually, we spot a silver dragon in the distance, also keeping an eye on us. Apparently the extraplanar interests are generally aware of our intended Fulcrum visit. Which might be a good thing — if they have foresights and prophecies about it, that makes it seem more likely that it’s real? that we will succeed? and then there it was.

The next few hours were a jumble of challenges. The first two were complex — first we fought duplicates of ourselves, and won with surprising ease. Then we exchanged riddles with a ‘sphinx’ (a sort of lion with bird wings, a human woman’s face and torso, and an inordinate love of puzzles). I regret letting the party down there — if I’d been paying better attention, I’d have figured the Mror Holds one, and we’d have won instead of merely coming to a draw. But it seemed a good enough performance. Proceeding, we were tested against a dizzying array of skills useful to adventuring, and repeatedly required to leave one of our group behind to continue (though we could go back to exchange them if needed, which we definitely did). Eventually, we (well, the magic people) passed a grid where you needed to produce various magical effects to advance, and then we were at the end. Or at least, something like an end, a chamber like the one housing our first battle, with alignment-based alcoves on four sides. Very symbolic. It took a bit, but we figured we needed to augment the natural party alignments with summons. Seemed cheating to me, but so did Gilly’s ‘mage hand’ trick in the stealth challenge, so there it is.

This triggered some manner of revelation in Syama, and she discovered the power of making a bridge out of moonlight. Something in me says this will end up being vitally important sometime later when we least expect it. I only hope it’s useful before then as well.

The arbiter approached us afterward, a bit more talkative when we confirmed that we had passed the Fulcrum’s tests, and the dragon approached with somewhat greater distance. Gilly called it something in her dragon-speech, and it seemed pleased. Then we were left to ourselves, and we decided it best to keep our recent activities quiet, as least for now, lest we expose our hand in a game we don’t know we’re playing. Or, as Dolg and I would have it, to not need to trumpet our successes at every chance, but instead take a humble stance and let our nature shine through.

But the strangest part was two nights later. As we pitched camp with a storm approaching, and having actually made a fire for the first time in weeks, we were approached by a human, an elderly man with but a wineskin for supper. He claimed to be a traveler, unversed in magic, having survived difficult places by virtue of friends and luck. We gave him a place by the fire, and some of our food, and spoke of philosophy, history, tales of adventure and such like. Various of the group seemed to not entirely trust him; Gilly even pointedly refused to sip his wine. When the orcs attacked in the night, we feared the worst — was the man in league with slavers? Were we about to be enslaved or killed? I fought with strength and speed born of desperation, the sort of performance you know you can’t rely on reproducing. Though at the brink of collapse for much of the fight, I kept going, and after some tense moments, we had the leader cornered, invisible, a elf-child captive in his arms (or as it seemed, floating in the air). He demanded free passage or the elf would die. Without thinking, I grabbed the hostage, trying to hold my balance at the edge of pit Victor had made to hem him in, trying to cover the elf with my shield and trying not to think about how inaccessible my axe was in this configuration. A thought ran through my head then: was I trying to be lucky? In the last few seconds I had taken extra swings that would normally be unwise, desperate to save my skin. Then I’d grabbed the elf and instead of backing away from the pit as would be sensible, held my ground even though it might mean we both fell in. Yes, that sounded like relying on luck. Immediately after, luck found me again. Struggling to keep my footing, I inadvertently rotated my shield, which caused the orc’s falchion to miss the elf’s throat as it glanced off darkwood instead. We set upon the orc with a vengeance… and then he, the other orcs, and elf melted away like mist before the sun. The old man, suddenly imbued with a divine majesty, proclaimed his approval of our actions, said that he hoped Syama would become the P.N., and give us ‘his gift’, flasks of highly potent magic that we could call upon in our need in future. Then he was gone, Gilly’s cry of ‘Who are you?’ vanishing into the downpour.

We discussed the details of the visitation, Victor writing everything down in the relative comfort of his rope trick space, and came up with no fewer than seven deities our visitor might be (or be the representative of, though as several of us noted, he had offered approval and gifts on behalf of himself, not another — might some gifts only be plausible for actual gods?) Eight if you count my thought that it might just be an “after you think you’re done” test of the Fulcrum, though none of us thought that likely. Syama seemed particularly interested/concerned in the possibility of it being The Traveler, on the account that it is said one should be wary of his gifts. Gilly pointed out that a gift’s hidden effect might not even be negative for us — if our actions resolve the current surfeit of gods into a more reasonable accounting, being tied to one might elevate him over gods of similar domain.

Gilly was in a surprisingly foul mood after this, and threw herself into the work of scouting and being prepared for a fight. We passed over the village with the innkeeper lady she had talked with before, to avoid having to reveal or lie about the Fulcrum, and stopped in another. There we met a young halfling man, who wished safe escort to Atur, as he needed to travel there to claim some inheritance. Gilly sized him up, and must have believed him, as she said of course we’d help him, and we can work out any payment later, etc.

The only actual danger on the route back came from a pair of shocker lizards, reptiles that hunt with electricity, but probably should not have tangled with a party of our prowess. But beyond that, there was the intensity of halfling flirtation. I swear, it seemed like it was only the complete lack of privacy on the road that kept them from sharing a bed. At one point, I pulled her aside and tried to gently broach the subject, and she practically exploded at me. “If a man finds me desirable, if I choose to accept him as a lover or not, what business it is of yours? I don’t tell you who to bed and who not to. You say you’re saying this as my friend? If you’re really my friend, let me make my own decisions! I’m a big girl, I can handle myself. I know which weeks to refrain, I know what tea to make if my course should be late, I’ve got priestly connections if I need them. Don’t you blush and look away, Maral Glorgirn. Oh, and don’t you even dare try to insinuate that I might be doing this for his money.” I hadn’t! I was just… Sigh. I don’t understand Gilly. I really don’t.

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On the road from the fulcrum

On the way back from the Fulcrum, the party encountered an old man, who discussed philosophy, history and other matters with them. During the night, a band of orc slavers attacked, already holding a captive elf. As soon as they were defeated, all of the orcs and the elf disappeared.

The old man, now looking younger and more radiant, gave them offered his approval of them and gave them each a small flask as his blessing. He also indicated that Syama may become the przywrócenie niszczyciel. He then disappeared.

Where he had been sleeping, there was a fragment of a staff. (I think I forgot this during the session.) It does not detect as magical, but has arcane markings on it. However, there is not enough of the markings to determine anything from them. Victor can think of three highly divergent ways to finish the symbols without even a moments thought.

After considering the events of the night, the party reaches several possible conclusions about who the visitor might have been. Either a messenger of the deity, or possibly the deity hirself, for any of these gods are possible:

(Note: the links go to wikis for standard campaign settings. They are mostly correct, but there may be minor inconsistencies, since this campaign has some fundamental changes.)

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