For the love of order

18-Feb-2015 (Gilly)
Of Sacrifice

The mountain loomed before me, impossibly tall, all jagged crags and ragged peaks. < Meet me at the summit > she had said, < and show me what you have learned of Sacrifice and Willworking. > With wings spread, and golden scales flashing, I took to the air, ascended. Hours upon hours of flight, and still sight of the top eluded me. I spied a mountain goat, and dove for it, weary and hungry and thankful for a meal. With incredible dexterity it bounded, but proved no match for wits, speed, aerial maneuvers, and magic. Sated, I settled to rest briefly.

I awoke with a start, blood and flesh-gobbets coating halfling arms, willed myself True to no avail. Gazing upward, I steeled myself to the task, now the more difficult. For a while it was not too troublesome, my cloak kept the worst of the cold off but my hands were raw before I glimpsed the peak, and those soft leather shoes ruined. Inbupenita lay coiled there, sinuous and perfect. < Dear One > she spoke. My heart leapt at the sight, and I half-stumbled, half-ran to her side.

< I have come as you have asked. >
… < And what is Sacrifice? >
< I have many thoughts on Sacrifice, Beloved.>
… < And what is Sacrifice? >
< In part, when you risk what is precious to you for others. >
… < And what is Sacrifice? >
< When I am prepared to die for my companions, it shows Sacrifice. >
… < And what is Sacrifice? >
< Sacrifice is having the courage to bear loss that others may gain. >
… < And what is Sacrifice? >
< Sacrifice is the willingness to know cost. >
… < And what is Sacrifice? >
< Sacrifice is difficult, even for the tempered. My companions and I were hard-pressed to admit the need to spend our treasure, our favor with the universe, though our lives and more were at stake. >
… < And what is Sacrifice? >
< Sacrifice is when I am willing to give what I must, to climb this mountain, to come before you with lacerated feet and hands— >
… < And what is Sacrifice? >
< Sacrifice is my pursuing protection for my comrades, when I could be seeking power for myself. >
… < And what is Sacrifice? >
< Sacrifice… is a dream I had, where love and blood could fuel powerful workings, and— >
… < Enough. Point at the moon no more. Sight Of Possibilities. >

The magic washed over me, a spell I had never encountered before. I did not resist, and my vision altered, an overlay of glowing web strands across the barren landscape, reds predominant, silver and blue next, but every color of the rainbow in attendance. I paused to examine the knots in my possession. They were Workings, or metaphors of them, strands of Power I could tweak to achieve some effect.

< And What Is Sacrifice? >

In seeing, immediate recognition. It had to be, that impossibly orange nodule. Why orange, I could not say. I did not answer, but only stared, briefly wondering if all this was worth it. Sacrifice I might gain (or is it lose?), but I knew I did not have the mastery of Willworking necessary to perform the feats I saw in my dream. A moment only, then my resolve hardened, and I stretched out my… arm. My little halfling arm, not nearly long enough to reach. I took a step, but the web moved with me, the task as difficult now as before.

Gathering my Will, I mentally demanded that the web reshape to allow me to claim Sacrifice. At first, nothing happened, then slowly the topology morphed according to my command, bringing the nodule closer. Inbupenita watched intently. But as it approached, its movement slowed, and it came to a stop a mere inch from my grasp.

Physically and mentally, I strained to my utmost, but to no avail. Then the thought sprang into my head: the claws will extend your reach. I manifested them, but something was unexpected about the space. The claws collided with the nodule instead of grasping it, and sent it spinning it slowly away from me.

In an instant, I sized up the situation. The web held me as surely as I held it. Was there perhaps something keeping me from… and then I understood. That bright red strand, weak but beloved, my first memory of using the wondrous powers of a dragon. Flammae. It pulled in nearly the opposite direction. I found I could bring myself to cut that tie, in one swift motion of the claws, and lunge for the mind-bending orangeness. It was intensely hot and charred the skin touching it, but I held on.

Did I just undercut my connection to the Draconic? Or only my childish and incomplete understanding? Flammae was never a powerful Working, though it served me well many times. To know a dragon as one who breathes fire, is this the foundation, or the facade? Still the orange power seared my flesh, though quickly it was being brought into my sphere of influence. I knew I had passed the test, and I knew I had failed it as well, and the incongruence of these thoughts bore strangely on my mind.

I looked into Inbupenita’s eyes, but no answers were to be found in those limitless depths. < Dear One > she spoke as the web faded to colorful wisps of memory. < You spoke of protecting your friends. I will show you a power of Sacrifice for now, while you continue to study Willworking. It is an extension of Manifest Scales, fueled by Sacrifice and contained in a resonance field, like thus… >

21-Nov-2014 (Gilly)
The Larabay and the Hatchling or, The Thousand Dreams and the Dream

I had offered up before sleeping, in the prayer of a non-adherent, almost certain to go unheard, but perhaps in this place:

O Desna, great Tender of Dreams, thank you for this space of yours. Please guide us to dream what we need to dream.

I wonder sometimes, if I hadn’t seen what I have, if in some other life I might have followed Desna. But if I had lived differently, why would I love dreams as much as I do? Perhaps, perhaps not.

I had hoped to dream of Inbupenita. I do not know if my prayer was heard or not, but the next two hours were the longest any have ever been.

< Dreaming >, I curled among kings’ ransoms, the greatest treasure this egg, borne of my body, my message to the eons to come. Alert where I would sleep were I free, thought I on Inbupenita’s words. This my testing, my lesson? Simple enough. To guard, though weary, this I offered to my friends, no less to my own bloodline. My vigil stretched unbroken. But it was never so easy…

< Dreaming >, I watched my wyrmling climb awkwardly atop a heap of coins, crowing proudly at the summit. Foolish thing, coins make poor footing. No knowledge of tactics whatsoever. Without training, support, surely would he succumb to this biting world. Did I not have grander schemes to wage? But I understood, or thought so, knocking the heap, sending him tumbling to dust, judging his recovery, challenging him to learn. Would that it were so simple…

< Dreaming >, I spread homeward wings, jaws free to grip goat’s carcass, food enough for < Little One > and I for some time. Something felt wrong, a stirring in the air or perhaps in my mind, as I returned to the cave. My screams rent the night at the sight of the mauled corpse of my son. I sniffed the air, dropped the goat, and took to the air seeking vengeance.

< Dreaming >, … returned to the cave with good speed. My screams rent the night at the sight of the mauled corpse of my son. A pale humanoid with parrot wings spun around from his examination of my treasure, baring teeth like needles. < LARABAY > I roared, and dove to the attack. He fell, but the victory was cold.

< Dreaming >, I avoided hunting to keep Malikni safe. His plaintive hungered cries pierced the night.

< Dreaming >, I hunted nearby, finding little prey to sate the hunger of me and mine. I spotted a Larabay in the forest, it ran to ground quickly before my might.

< Dreaming >, … returned to the cave with all possible speed. A foreign scent alerted me to trouble, and I approached to see a humanoid creature threatening Malikni. I flung down the goat and attacked swiftly, wounding it and forcing it to flee.

< Dreaming >, … threatening Malikni. I attacked with stealth, hoping to pin it beneath my claws and rend, but it surprised me by casting a cone of cold at my son, killing him instantly. Raging, I slaughtered it, learning only after its death when it reverted form that it was a Larabay. < LIVE!> I demanded, cradling my hatchling’s corpse. < LIVE! > But it was no use.

< Dreaming >, … < LIVE! > I roared again. < BY MY WILL, LIVE! > The world shook and bent with the force of the working, but it was not nearly enough. The broken body gave no answer.

< Dreaming >, I arrived too late to save the wyrmling, but soon enough to avenge him. Again.

< Dreaming >, … with the force of the working, but power such as that requires sacrifice. Sacrifice? Wait. What Inbu-

< Dreaming >, I killed the Larabay, and held Malikni, his life in the balance. < Where is that healing wand? I need to find it NOW! > One claw scattered gems and coins in a desperate search, a struggle against time, as his life leaked from the wound and onto the stone. Life. I… see.

< Dreaming >, the battle waged hundreds of ways, Malikni uninjured, wounded, dead. The Larabay fleeing unharmed or damaged, or dead upon the stone, the path, the forest floor. Full fourteen times it was I who died, the Larabay crowing in triumph as it sank the rapier’s point in again and again. More than that the times it < suggested > I leave on another mission and bufuddled, I abandoned my son, or wrapped my thoughts in mazes that I killed Malikni myself. Those were the worst.

< Dreaming >, I killed the Larabay, and held Malikni, grievously injured. < You will live > I told him, but even a hatchling could see the wound was fatal. He looked up at me with beautiful wide eyes. < I love you > Then the eyes closed, his blood slicked scale and stone. < Love > my reply in words, and my blood replied to his as I jabbed my claw deep in my chest. Excruciating pain blossomed, a flower of love and sacrifice, and my strength ebbed. But I kept my WIll, and shaped it to the power I needed. < From my sacrifice >, and that power surged even as a red miasma crowded my vision, < By My Will, LIVE! > I collapsed on the floor, exhausted, my own blood crowding out both Malikni’s and the Larabay’s combined. < His eyes opened. >
I startled awake, Dolg’s hand on my shoulder. I was still True? No, wait. I was a halfling again. He asked if I was all right. My head swam with a thousand dreams of the same night, one overlaid on the next. I don’t even remember what I said, but I’m sure it was confused. My focus was solely on the lesson I’d learned — or hoped I’d learned — from those two hours.

Guiltspur Visions
Sights and sounds under the lava

Maral in the Library

Maral enters the room after passing through the layer of fog visible from above and has a startling vision. He sees the library as it was during the city’s height — a vast repository of knowledge stretching from floor to ceiling, its shelves holding thousands of books, scrolls, maps, and grimoires. Eager students and wizards mill about the floor below or float up to replace or retrieve books, when suddenly, the dozens of men and women stop and turn to stare hatefully at the Maral — and the closest face is Maral’s! The books in the room suddenly writhe and fly off the shelves, opening up and spilling forth foul black mists and coils of corrupt secrets that should never be known. The mist and coils engulf the wizards and students and crush them to pulp. An instant later, the vision passes and the room appears as it actually does.

Gilly and the Sphinx

As Gilly approaches the shelves, she suddenly feels as if the room were spinning around her while the sphinx statue grinds to life and turns to faces her. She feels the faceless gaze hold her motionless while the world crumbles away to be replaced by the vastness of space. The certainty of a singular malevolence looming behind the stars themselves, a darker dark amid the blackness, fills her mind, along with a myriad of strange and horrific secrets. An instant later, the room returns to normal, and she remembers only that she stood before an entity known as the Crawling Chaos.

Vi at the Altar

As Vi steps up onto the raised pulpit area, she suddenly feels dizzy. An instant later, the two faceless gargoyles suddenly animate and lurch forward. A low, rumbling chanting in an unknown language fills the room as the gargoyles move up to snatch Vi into the air between them. As they do, the room itself crumbles away, revealing that the other party members are held aloft by the two monsters several miles tall, over a strange frozen mountain plateau below. As the gargoyles drop their captive, she snaps out of the vision.

Syama and the Idyllic WIndow

As Syama approaches the foot of the illusory window, the scene depicted suddenly shifts from an idyllic noon-time hillside to a nightmare vista of frozen Dal Quor aglow under the gibbous light of a bloated moon. The landscape appears cracked and desolate, and in the medium distance a troop of pallid froglike monsters leads a line of chained captives. A jagged mountain range cuts the horizon, while beyond this range the head of an immense jackal-like leviathan slowly turns, as if to peer back through the window.

To be continued?

23-Sep-2014 (Gilly)
A Dream of Inbupenita

I < dreamed > again, Inbupenita and I exploring, soaring over crags and cliffs to snow-capped peaks beyond the realm of safety, where hidden riches lie guarded by uncounted weight on stone. Places neither had seen nor dreamed, limitless possibility. So glorious these times together, these dreams, and no drugs needed to know < her/myself >, my journey, my wings, my claws.

Did that contentment breed familiarity, presumption, hunger? Or warmth, closeness, togetherness? Was I trying to use Inbupenita to further selfish ends, or was I trying to know < her/myself > more, to < self-improve > and immanitize a higher unity? Even now, I cannot assuredly answer.

But I < know/remember > what happened then, when on rocky ledge we lay exhausted. Brushing travel’s dust from her < beautifully-shining > scales, < Beloved >, I spoke, < those others, the green, the black, whom I had burned to ash for my love of you, they proffered me gifts of magic to tempt my unlearned heart. Would not you do as much, who does love me far greater than ever they did? >

Inbupenita turned, full sinuous glory, fixing me with eyes of limitless depths. I could not know if this gaze was inquiring, damning, loving, testing; only inscrutable. I knew though, that if I averted my gaze I would < lose a great treasure >. I did not look away.

< Dear One >, Inbupenita spoke after what seemed ages, < My gifts are yours always, and never held back once you are ready for them. They are forever mightier than those others’. But you must first understand Sacrifice and Willworking. >

< Willworking I understand as much as any can, thanking our ally’s aid, and… Sacrifice, Beloved? I risk my life for my friends, for Syama’s cause even though she hates/fears me… I lay my very soul on the line, and you sp- >

< ENOUGH, Dear One. I will send dreams, when you are True but alone, to illumine the way when you are ready. Until then, do not speak of this to me again. >

< I… I will seek to understand, Beloved. >

< Now… we are rested enough. Let us descend to the East, I see waterfalls and interesting cave systems. >

Wings spread, we took to the air.

11-Apr-2014 (Maral)
Letters to Kirkata

“Yer lucky to be heading out now, and by the West Gate.”

‘No kidding, the demons were bad enough, but they say there’s an army attacking this evening? I’d rather be pretty much anywhere. Any last-minute mail?’

“Ayup, got one for Fenwick, one for Littleton, and two for Kirkata. Here you go.”

‘Right, thanks. Good luck tonight on the wall, you live through it and I’ll buy you beer when I’m back in town.’

“I’ll be holding you to that.”

’You’d better.’

In two sealed letters in the mail, in formal Dwarven:

From: Maral Glorgirn
To: Thosun Glorgirn, and To: Elric Glorgirn

Honored Elder, here do I, faithful member of the Glorgirn clan, send greeting.

As we share an interest in a certain shape, I have made certain discreet inquiries, and have found some information that I think you will find most edifying. The sigil on p. 2 should be of especial interest. I entreat you to study the enclosed at your earliest convenience, and await word of your opinion of the effect of this information on arrangements. If your reply is by post, I would suggest sending it to Atur. While we travel frequently, we visit there from time to time, and have arrangements that letters may be held with the post.

In other news, yesterday evening we managed to defeat, though at considerable cost and after much destruction, an attempted invasion of Atur by a powerful force of demons. We learned only after the final victory that they had the help of a substantial group of Drow. Garlek, a nearby town, was recently assaulted by a force of orcs and ogres, which our group was also intrumental in repelling. I am further given to understand that a large orcish army is en route from the east, and will be arriving this evening, at which point our services will again be required. Accordingly, I hope to still be alive when you receive this missive. Having secured the city walls, we expect to repulse the army, though we are likely to suffer numerous casualties. Accordingly, you may consider sending east with all due speed such materiel as medical supplies, arms and armor of ordinary quality, building supplies, and the like, which are likely to be needed or having been depleted, command a good price.

Maral Glorgirn

By my hand, Thomas Cooper, scribe to Lavinia Hilltopple, Sanctified of the Structured Light, Priestess of Abadar, a true copy attest: from Variations on a Theme: A History of Sects, Denominations, Heresies, and Orders of Abadar and related Minor Dieties, author Olga Andirsdottir, p. 244-247 thereof…

Planes of Alignment

It’s been a while since I wrote anything. I can’t claim that we’ve always been busy… but when we’re not, I’ve been so glad to relax into the quiet challenge of crafting. And I’m still not sure how I feel about trying to become vastly important in a way I don’t actually understand. But excuses don’t feed the sheep, so I’ll go way back to one of the important bits.

These trips to other planes have happened enough that they’ve become just another thing to deal with, like being watched by unknown forces in times of stress. So we weren’t enormously surprised when one of the mysterious hole-in-the-landscape portals appeared. And I insist, now, on going through more or less right away. I don’t want a repeat of whatever happened with that fire plane. So off we went, and found ourselves on a plane of Good. It seemed to be occupied entirely by herds of animals training for battle, which I suppose makes sense? It must make sense, but a herd of leopards doing small-unit tactics exercises was one of the stranger things Ive seen. At any rate, the animals didn’t help much, though one of the bison became oddly attached to Victor. But we eventually found a person, who was much more helpful, though he hadn’t any idea that there was a problem. It was from him we learned that there was a summoning altar in the area. As in, an altar which allowed creatures to mark themselves as available to be called by summoning spells to other planes.

Now this is a fascinating bit. The altar does not have a fixed position, you can get to it by traveling around searching for it. And when we found it, we found that it wasn’t even entirely in that plane. In fact it exists simultaneously in planes of Law, Chaos, Good, and Evil. And the shifting of the planes had pulled the various aspects of it out of alignment with each other, so that spellcasters were not always getting summons of the alignment they expected. Another fascinating bit was when it became clear that this partial staff we’re collecting is a Staff of the Planes… and I was suddenly able to charge it even though I didn’t have 5th-level slots to burn for it. That didn’t last, of course… but it did allow us to investigate the altar on each of the planes.

What we found was that on each plane, there was a physical altar (square, stone, with writing on the sides.) On each plane one could also see another altar overlaid, but slightly shifted from the one which was physically there. There were two separate texts, one giving power to the summoner to call a creature to himself, and the other allowing creatures to bind themselves as potential summons. On Danvi (the Lawful plane), there was a book on a stand close by, full of explanation. The explanations included mention of the altars going out of alignment from time to time, and a description of the ritual needed to pull them back into alignment. This ritual needed to take place on the plane of Evil (eep…) and required one good person, one evil, one lawful, and one chaotic. One of the people would lead the ritual, the others answered at certain times, and that would be that. (Right?) Well, we learned the ritual from the book, but still had a bit of a problem, as no one in the party was chaotic. So off we went to Kithri. We figured we ought to look at the altar in each plane before trying the ritual, and hoped we could recruit a willing chaotic creature to come help with the ceremony. That was a success, we were attacked by someone who had a lot of control over the local gravity, but when we won the battle and asked her along for an adventure, she was willing. Then we went on to visit the Evil plane.

Travel there was unpleasant. But when we found the altar, the spaces for the ritual participants to stand in were clear, and we had no trouble with the ritual. Until we got to the result of the ritual. This hadn’t really been specified in the text we found. On completion of the ritual, I (I’d been leading the ritual) was glowing brightly in that plane, and frozen in place. Meanwhile I’d been pulled out of time, and was listening to unknown gods discussing the situation. As if this wasn’t disturbing enough, the gods were agreed that we couldn’t possibly handle the situation, and had been called there too soon. One of them wanted to help us, and got agreement on that. He came to me and handed me a pitcher, telling me to drink as much as I could. It was… maybe pure magic? I don’t know what it was. It was not hard to drink it at first, and the more I drank, the more I knew. But it got harder and harder to drink it. I almost lost it once, but when I thought of how much we all needed this power to survive, I kept going. An oddly Gilly sort of thought, but it worked. Eventually I couldn’t drink any more, and then I found myself in a dilemma.

I was conscious of two worlds at once. In one, I was frozen out of time, my friends were gathered around the altar where they’d been last I’d seen them, and on the altar was an enormous Storm Giant, chained and angry. His chains, where they should have been held by my Staff, were loose, and he was quickly getting free. In the other, I was in a small room, with a table in it, and a stack of blocks on the table, which were out of alignment. I knew that fixing the altar was a simple matter of aligning the blocks, but that it would take time. I also knew, and had the power to cast, an impressive number of spells which were normally (and still are) well outside my ability. I could watch both worlds at once, but I could act only in the room with the blocks, until I chose to go back and help my friends.

I was lucky. We were all lucky really… but I was particularly lucky in that I didn’t need to choose between fixing the problem and saving someone’s life. I had enough time (though barely) to get all the blocks into alignment before I needed to go back and help with the battle. And we won, and no one died… but it was the most dangerous situation we’d ever been in, by far, and it was terrifying. When the giant died, he left behind another piece of the Staff. We took our chaotic helper back to her home, and took ourselves back to Atur.

There are open questions though. The gods are clearly involved, but we don’t know which ones. In particular, it would be nice to know which god it is who gave me that pitcher… and gave us all his ‘blessing’ after our visit to the Fulcrum. Are the other candidates being pulled to different planes to fix problems, or is that a result of us having the Star, or of something else? I should’ve asked those guys from the party of the last candidate we encountered. Next time, perhaps… since apparently all the candidates but one will die. I’m not happy about that either, but it wasn’t my choice. And now that I’m here, I’ll do my best to stay alive. Thank the heavens I’ve got friends.

26-Oct-2012 (Maral)
A temple to Lilith

What an awful, awful day this has been.

I shouldn’t say it. I’m wrong to say it.

We haven’t had anyone killed. We’ve learned things. We’ve even made progress towards finding this Aelidron person. And I know I said I’d see this adventure through to the end. But right now, I’m just hoping to get through today without it ratcheting up one more time.

It might be cheating to start from late yesterday afternoon, but that’s when it started. We’d flown yet another day, and were approaching the center of the area of interest. Not that this area was well-defined, or small enough to search, but it was the best we could do with star charts consulted from hundreds or thousands of miles away while looking over sketchy ancient maps. Suppose it’s a damn sight better than searching the whole mountain range. Anyway, I spotted something by the lake what looked like a boat dock. Thought it might mean there was a settlement nearby. If I’d known what would come of it, not sure I’d have mentioned it at all.

It was a marble ledge, well-used, with a few long-abandoned boats nearby. We investigated, and Victor’s summons found an underwater tunnel, which Dolg swam to discover a cavern at the other end. Now, I’m not fond of distance underwater swimming in full plate, but it was that or teleporting in without being quite sure where you’re headed, and that makes it the lesser evil.

Past the cavern, we came to a decorated area, hallways with wave-and-water-motif carvings, looked like a water-aspected temple place. Sigh. I don’t much care for strange temples, and especially not watery ones. Give me a city, or a mountain, or even the forest with the dirt under my feet. Earth, rock, metal, these are solid, sturdy, trustworthy things. You can’t trust water. Always fluid, that’s its nature, and in nature that’s tolerable, but as a philosophy? Bah.

The first creature we encountered, they called a ‘water mephit’, a sort of watery imp thing. It was snacking on someone’s arm. I knew I wasn’t going to like the people who live here… Oh, and they’ve got leeches. Not one or two, but swarms of them. Syama thought they smelled oddly intriguing. Gilly thought they needed burning. She always does with vermin, at least the reasonable-sized ones. Giant spiders is fine, well, as much as any monster, but swarms of little things… not so much. Wonder what it is about them that she hates so? Dunno.

That disposed of, we explored what turned out to be the ‘left half’ of the complex. There was a store room, a room with a pool of water and a censer, a chasm with some nixies up on a ledge, a sunken area in the back with what had once been a throne, and a temple… with statues of the demon goddess Lilith and her six monstrous children. Demons. Ugh. This just gets worse.

We took a long time looking through these places, didn’t want to make any dumb moves in a powerful demoness’s temple. Victor talked with the nixies, but we couldn’t trust what they said. Syama made a bridge over the chasm, but again, we didn’t trust the nixies to enough to cross. Oh, and the sunken area had more leeches, which Gilly again jumped at the chance to immolate.

Then Gilly remembered about looking for secret doors and the like, and things got interesting fast. First, she found a hidden alcove with a magical conch shell, which supposedly tries to make people speak the truth. Seems strange to find such a thing just tucked away in a corner, but there it was. Then she discovered a sort of button in the nixie’s room, which she prodded with her ‘tracto’, and all hell broke loose. Rocks fell throughout the room, bringing both nixies crashing to the ground. We rushed over the moonlight bridge from earlier, found one already dead, and I was forced to use my dragonmark to save the other.

It was as is always is: first I felt the itchy prickling, then warmth as the mark flared to life, felt the healing magic rushing up my body, down my arm and out my hand, making the dying live, and at last the familiar trepidation — would using it make it stronger? Would I someday find that I could have removed it, but only if I hadn’t relied on it so often? No time to dwell on it now though.

We explored past their room, and found a secret door leading to the passage beyond the temple. In it, six alcoves inscribed in Aquan, broadly hinting that we should place the wands from the statues here to open a locked gate at the far end. Gilly tried to take one of them, from the statue of a Lamia, and it came to life! Not for long, we quickly defeated it, but it did something to my mind first, and Syama couldn’t fix it. It still feels wrong today. Sigh. Really not liking this place. We sized up the potential other fights, one (a succubus) being very dangerous, and one (a maralith) being absolutely fatal. But Syama’s star chart thought there was a means to getting the wands without having to fight, and a possible benefit to our mission from doing so. I guess we’ll need to keep our eyes open.

We decided to explore the other side of the complex before waking the nixie. She’d be asleep for a good long time, and we might want to ask questions about the things we find there, or demonstrate our knowledge of the place to make her more talkative. Of course, the first thing we do is muck up a powerful magical trap (which we avoided earlier by doing the left side first). Syama tried a couple times to dispell it, but to no avail, so Victor sent in a summon to trip it. There didn’t seem to be any effect, so after a moment, Gilly went in to see what was going on and maybe disarm it. Then she came out, blinking furiously, and proclaimed “I am confused. Stop me.” before she started acting crazy. I grabbed her, and she twisted and flailed and tried to bite, like some kind of wild animal. Victor declared it was a confusion effect, and we waited a few minutes for it to wear off. It didn’t. We couldn’t think of anything better to do, so we waited for something like an hour, and finally she went limp and came to her senses. She was rather tired out from all the wrestling, heh.

The trap still seemed sprung, so we proceeded without too much worry. The first room we passed had brine and rust and two coral golems. They didn’t attack us, but they did move forward in a discomfiting way when Victor tried talking with them, so we closed the door. They didn’t come through, so we just left it at left.

Past that, we found a cell block. One live prisoner, whom Gilly talked to a bit, he tells her there’s another one currently being tortured by the sirens who run this place. Like the demon they worship, they’re forces of destruction, bringing suffering for no better reason than that they can. They’ll taste my axe soon, I warrant.

At the end of the passage, we found a disturbing sight — a massive stone head of some sea creature with lots of huge sharp teeth. The teeth were adorned with dead bodies, sacrifices to this dark place. Beyond the disgust we all felt, it gave me a sense of foreboding, but it would be the next day before I knew why.

We healed the nixie enough to talk, with the conch nearby and an setup that let us pretend her friend was still alive without actually claiming so. I don’t like these tactics much, but they’re definitely effective, and as Gilly keeps noting, that’s what really important. The two sirens, one a cleric type and the other something of a fighter, keep house past the gate you unlock with the wands, and they find the nixies tolerable company. Though not enough to tell them about traps… Having gleaned some useful information, we killed her. Again, some of us weren’t comfortable with it, but we all could admit it was what we needed to do.

We plotted a strategy for fighting the nymph, medusa, and siren statues, and these worked well enough. Lots of fighting blind and relying on grapples, bit touch-and-go but nothing serious. Then we encamped for some well-deserved rest.

In the morning, Syama attended to her star chart with Gilly giving the questions. Gilly can get the wands without fighting if she can emulate chaotic evil, but not anything easier. Throwing everything she can think of at it, including opening her soul to chaotic corruption, won’t be enough to be sure of success. Okay, that’s bad… But success might be guaranteed if she sacrifices the drowned man at the stone head by having Maral impale the corpse upon the teeth? What the fuck? Syama flinches too, but continues.

After, I tried to take Gilly to task, sacrificing to demonic forces is out of the question, and she didn’t even consult me first? But she coolly told me that she’d hoped it wouldn’t be necessary to even ask the question. And that this is a question of what’s necessary, given that if it fails, we all die. Of course, she’s right, I might not want to do this, but it’s my duty to the party.

We discussed the question of ‘maybe’ we’d succeed, and thought this was probably because maybe we’d get the form right, and maybe we wouldn’t. Victor informed us of the proper style, which involves raising the body over one’s head and thrusting it down upon the teeth with great force. I tried not to think about what I was doing. But then that wasn’t an option. The corpse hit with a terrible wet sound, and as the stone teeth erupted from its chest, water and blood going everywhere, time slowed and then stopped. I was in the temple again, but the statues were gone. And Lilith herself stood before me.

I wasn’t afraid as such, and I still don’t know if that is to be commended or mocked. I was overawed, I could feel her power… and her nature as well, that force of destruction that I had come to hate above all else. She told me my sacrifice was a pleasing one, and that she knew what I sought, and it would be mine, that my companion would have no trouble with the wands, if I would but drink. “And what will this drink do to me?” She seemed disappointed as she praised my wisdom in asking first, and explained that it would turn me chaotic evil. But, this is Gilly’s doing, not mine, I sputtered, ask this of her. But I knew the answer before she spoke it: this choice was mine, and mine alone. Gilly had made it very clear that we needed to be sure about this. But to corrupt my mind, to make me support my enemies? It was impossible, even knowing that it risked all our lives. Shame poured over me as I said I could not accept. She seemed unperturbed, leaving it as much my decision as she had said it would be, and I came to in the room with the stone head.

It was utter relief and utter revulsion together to be back, gore splattered on my armor, the sodden corpse still in my hands, blood running down the jagged teeth, but away from Lilith. I never wanted to be the one to seek the planes, banter with gods and such. But here I am, and I did what I did of my own will. Why did I ever agree to it? Why? I… I can’t think of it, not now. I need to be strong, for the party. They’ll need me focused for the fight.

We returned to the temple room, and I explained why the sacrifice ‘maybe’ hadn’t been of any use. Syama said she didn’t blame me, but Gilly didn’t say anything, just continued with her preparations. After some spells, she marches into the temple, calm as you please, bows to Lilith, and takes the wands. The statues stay stone. Later, after the battle with the sirens, I tried to apologize. She just said “Really? You think we’d be mad about you not wanting to be chaotic evil? Why? Cause we’ll think you’re unreliable? Psh, Maral, use your head.” Argh. This place must be getting to me if I need the likes of Gilly to tell me that.

We were now ready for the big battle, both having the wands and being out for blood. Of course, the magic users had to hash out their plans for the fight. Took them a while, but they came up with good ideas, protection from the mind-warping songs, flying, haste, giant wasp summons. We charged in, taking out a door on the way, and attacked. As luck would have it, my target was the cleric. She had a miserable time of it, Gilly interrupting her spells with firey blasts, and my hasted axe cutting furiously.

The other was a lot stronger at melee, with great agility and powerful focused strikes. Gilly got in an amazing shot with an infirmum, but it didn’t slow her down much, and neither did Dolg’s flying fists. She got one perfect hit in that put Dolg in a world of hurt. Makes me remember I need to practice zone coverage with the shield more often. Any rate, we weren’t at risk of losing the fight, but if she got lucky, she might manage to kill one of us first. After a few tense moments, she tries to escape out the doorway, but fortunately, Dolg already had that covered. He had been on the defensive for a while there though. Wonder if he worries as much as I do about being strong enough? Glancing over at him as I write this, it’s clear there’s nothing to fear there — he’s as serene as always. Aye, he’s a wise one, knows his job’s as important as anyone’s. No need to ask.

We rescued the second prisoner, healed him and ourselves some, and hunted around a little to find some magical items, one of which lets you scry using the pool… It sounds implausible at first, that we’d find just the thing we need to locate Aelidron, but then I stop a moment and think. There’s been any number of Fated moments, supposed coincidences that we found we were steered towards by gods, the portals, the Fulcrum, all of it. And now that Syama can consult her star charts, we generate our own Fate more and more. Of course we should happen across something like this, and it probably isn’t happenstance at all. Didn’t we start our search here based on information from those charts?

We bound the fighter and healed her enough to awaken her, and made as if to bargain with her life, getting the word to use the scrying pool and then killing her. Again we don’t object when Gilly rips open the siren’s belly with her claws, though again we let her do that job. We’ve all got our role in the party, and I don’t mind that that one is hers.

Then, finally, we go to the pool, and Syama spends an hour coaxing its magic into searching for Aelidron. Every minute my spirits rise, thinking of how soon we’ll be out of this accursed place. And then it doesn’t work.

We’ll have to try again tomorrow.

Maral and Dolg will need to stay here while the other Wind Walk to bring the former prisoners to a safe haven, and see if we can get some more information.

I know it’s the best choice. Logically, tactically, it’s the right thing to do. They need Victor to leave, the prisoners couldn’t possibly make the swim, and having diplomats and mages on this mission makes a lot more sense than fighters. So I bite my tongue and put my stoic face on.

After they’ve gone, I try to talk to Dolg, but he’s studying his book and meditating. Maybe later. For now I’ll write down what I need to, before I forget any details.

21-Sep-2012 (Gilly)
A pleasant afternoon spent admiring Master Wrentham's garden

Well, it was supposed to be a pleasant afternoon spent admiring Master Wrentham’s garden. But little turns out as simple as it ought to be…

It all started when we plotted out our course for Wind Walking to the west in search of a fragment of the Staff of the Planes. I noticed the route passed close by Kirkata. Not that I’d walk into Kirkata at this point, not even if you paid me, but Master Wrentham had retired to a village only a few days travel away, and I would very much enjoy visiting him. See how he’s getting on with his garden, let him know I’m doing well as an adventurer, try not to mention how much I suffered at Kirkata after he left, that sort of thing.

The party was more than happy to oblige, it being next to nothing out of the way, and it looked like it would provide a nice break after days and days of monotonous travel. But when we got there, something was wrong. Couldn’t put a finger on it until we saw the sign, noting disease in the village ahead, travelers be advised to go elsewhere.

Of course we couldn’t just leave, and fortunately, we had Dolg with us. I can’t imagine how he does it, but he’s trained his body so well that he’s immune to disease. There went my plan of leading the way in, but a lot better than having one of us get sick and delay the mission. I was so flustered I forgot to tell Dolg that Johnathon Wrentham would know the name Amaryllis, not Gilly. Sigh. Not the impressive entrance of grace and power that I’d envisioned.

Not that such imaginings were important, once we’d heard the news. Much of the village was afflicted with some virulent plague, forcing so many to bed rest that there were few healthy people left to care for the sick. The local shrine was a makeshift hospital, with the healer providing what care he could. Of course, we offered to help.

As it turns out, there’s a lot that a high-level adventuring party can do, even if they’re worried about contracting illness themselves. Dolg went from house to house, providing food and water to those in need. Syama cast Lesser Restoration more times than the mind can comfortably comprehend. The next day, Syama confirmed with her star chart that we wouldn’t endanger the larger mission if we stayed a few days. When that gave us the go-ahead, Maral and I flew over to every village within a few days travel, spreading the news and getting the local healers to head out our way. The rest of the party stayed in the village, providing care and looking for information about how this ‘devil chills’ epidemic started.

By the time we got back, they’d hit paydirt. Some shady person had been through and … maybe doctored the drinks at the monthly dance? Whoever he was, he was also something of an idiot, because he’d left behind his map of other villages to hit on the way to and from Kirkata. Fucking Kirkata.

The next day, Syama consulted her star chart again. We might find the perpetrator if we look on the road; if we find him, we will be capable of subduing him and getting useful information. It will bring us to the attention of my enemies in Kirkata. Shit. The actions we have already taken will also bring us to the attention of said enemies. OH FUCK. Fuck fuck fuck. What was I thinking, coming into village after village on a great shiny ‘deus ex machina’ wind walk and being all obvious and identifiable. Well, water under the bridge now.

We moved to intercept him. It sounded like he’d be leaving the last village in the chain and heading to Kirkata, if we were lucky. If not, we’d miss him and be both late and downspirited as we continued west. But fortune was with us. We scoured the road from Kirkata toward the last village, and after a brief encounter with a pair of innocent travelers, found and ambushed him.

We got his story, he’s spreading devil chills on behalf of another, someone who’s teaching him magic and who intends to make undead from the victims. He’s nonchalant about it, but the party is predictably horrified, especially when they note that bringing him to justice isn’t an option here. After our interrogation, we kill him. I melt chunks of his body, in case of Raise Dead or Speak with Dead, and then we bury him, courtesy of Victor’s earth elementals.

Then we set on our way, flying westwards on the wind, leaving behind… something of a mess. I’m pretty sure the villages can manage with the information we provided and the small army of healers. Well, at least half of them. The other half might have been … ‘attended to’ before anything could be done. But it’ll be a lot better than it might have. But its effect on the larger struggle, on Kirkata, is less clear. Besides me, Syama was the only one to really guess at it. If the employer is connected to the corrupt power structures in Kirkata, how likely is it that he’d be charged with mass murder? And how likely that we’d be facing charges on killing the guy on the road?

Fucking hate Kirkata.

3-Sep-2012 (Gilly)
The Order of the Second Story

I did it. It’s hard to believe, even hearing the news, but I did it. I won a war. And what’s better, I think I might be able to count on my friends to wage another one. Sure, it wasn’t a “real” war, but neither is the one I want to start in Kirkata.

But I should start at the beginning.

It all started when we returned to Atur from the Mror Holds, fresh from our heroic victory over the Aghasura. Everyone was ready for some downtime, crafting and research and whatnot. Most of us got to do that for a while. But when I was checking up with my contacts, I heard something distressing, that the ‘alternate rogues’ were out to get us. Say what? I know we’d done a bunch of things that ended up against their interests, but it’s not like they’d actually tried to employ us or convince us or anything. I had been a little cagey in my skill assessment when I signed up with them, but we’d been very open as a party, so they’ve have to know that one of their network is a member of this party. Maybe they never had a good opportunity, maybe they didn’t really notice us until we were Deemed a Problem… not like I could ask them now.

I tried some tentative search, but before I’d had any real information, I got a letter from One-Eyed Kenny, asking to meet. Thank the gods I’ve the sense to treat one-time foes decently so they don’t need to be long-term enemies. I don’t think some of my companions really get that. One of the flaws of a stringently lawful viewpoint, too easy to pigeonhole people and lock in your opinion of them… but I digress.

Kenny had important news for us, which made the whole situation a lot clearer. The alternative rogues guild is called the Order of the Second Story (which seems apropos, when you think about it). They’d gotten frustrated with how frequently we’d ended up opposing their efforts and general viewpoint, and put a price on our heads. This is bad. They’ve got some serious resources, and many of their members are as amoral as I am. We might be underestimated once or twice, but I wouldn’t count on our long-term chances. Forced to abandon Atur as our base of operations? Ick. Note to self, play up the battle against the Aghasura, it’ll buy us time.

Fortunately, this had apparently worsened an existing split in the guild, between the current leaders, who are more extremist, and others who’d like a more moderate position. Various people have been jockeying for position, and this just might be the spark that leads to a coup, if we get the right elements aligned.

I can so do that.

Getting the party’s support was partly easy, and partly tricky. “Hey, guys, there’s some people who want to kill us, I’m dealing with it, be careful” gets a great reception, where “Hey guys, so remember about the people who want to kill us? I want you to do a favor for someone who’s their enemy, it’s a little out of your normal comfort zone”… not so much.

Still, I got them to work together for a number of crucial missions that I couldn’t do myself. The first was to assist a man named James in recovering some ‘items of interest’ from the tomb of an ancestor of his. At least, he said it was an ancestor of his. I tried not to let my friends spend too much time worrying about whether this was actually true. It proved challenging, even if the shadows and wraiths at the door fell easily. The crypt things were a bit tougher when they ported Syama, but it was the devil summoning trap that really put us on our toes. Which was a good thing, in a way, because when we went to the end, where the death knight and the spiders and the lich shade awaited, we were ready for a serious fight. Which we got.

Afterwards, James got the item he was specially interested in, and I managed to secure an ioun stone which improves my spells a bit, and is linked somehow to the Cult, though so far my research attempts into it haven’t borne fruit. A good lot of the cash portion of the loot was in black onyx, which I suggested James use to secure the allegiance of the Blood of Vol in the conflict. When he liked the idea, I sweetened the pot by including the death knight’s armor as a bonus to bring to them (seeing as how they could keep it, er, ‘safely’, where others couldn’t). He was happy for an extra share, it didn’t cost us anything, and it strengthened our position in the upcoming battle. That’s the way to do it.

That was the first of several missions to win over potential allies, discourage enemies, and generally establish our network of influence within the Order of the Second Story. I did as much of this solo as I could manage, because frankly my party members were clearly uncomfortable at getting involved in such dealings. Though they didn’t have any problem collecting poison components for an alchemist, especially compared to helping with research into negative energy’s ability to block healing. I suppose it’s easier not to think about what they don’t have to see.

The planar shift just had to throw a massive wrench into the whole business. Don’t know, maybe it felt left out. One night the wall of our room at the inn was suddenly a portal to who-knows-where (turned out to be the canonical plane of good). Just when things were starting to come together, but it’s not like we get to ignore the portals.

Normally, I’d have been super-excited about the planar travels, and not just because the avatars of good we met didn’t try to kill me. And I was, don’t get me wrong. But there was always an undercurrent of worrying about how things were progressing, or not, or unraveling, back at Atur without us. Our adventures on the various planes of alignment-based creature summoning were quite impressive, but more Syama’s story to tell.

When we returned, things were tense, and ready to head in the wrong direction. We kicked into high gear, getting the last key people recruited and scouting out high-value enemies. One of these received a special delivery of the Distillate of Aghasura, courtesy of one of our new friends. Another needed the direct attention of our group, for they were a group as well. They called themselves The Cloaks, and were rumored to be decently strong. We were fortunate enough to find ourselves an involuntary informant, a poison seller who was familiar with their whereabouts and grateful to be allowed to leave town alive. We were even more fortunate to have Syama’s star chart to verify he’d told us the truth.

When we went down to their hideout in the sewers, we were buffed and prepared. They were not. The battle would have been a wipeout except for one factor: it turns out the leader of the Cloaks, one Mimo, was an old friend of Syama. Now an enemy, but naturally that didn’t stop Syama from wanting to help. Soon we’d heard her story, a thread of fate tangled with mine through Fortunado, and some other patron who’d granted her power, but at a cost.

It was Syama’s desire to go after this patron, in retribution for the suffering he’d caused Mimo, that started it. It was clearly the wrong move tactically, we didn’t know anything about him besides that he was quite powerful, but I’ve always been about sticking up for your friends and taking down their enemies. I spoke up, saying I’d definitely risk my life to take out those who had seriously hurt my friend, there’s just two things — first, that the rest of us were in, because this required our full strength, and second, that we don’t just let this apply to Syama, but also to any of us, including me. I thought that would be the end of it. The boys would say, “now that I think about it, I don’t want to be promised to take down Gilly’s tormentors. I don’t even really want to think about them.” But they said yes. They said yes! Well, Dolg and Maral said yes. Victor got into one of those weaselly arguments that focus on bizarre possibilities instead of the question at hand. “But what if we’ve gone insane?” Sometimes he reminds me of them. But he agreed in the end, if reluctantly. I could hardly believe it. If I could count on this group of law-lovers to move against those bastards, I might actually have a hope of getting revenge. But first, there are dues to be paid.

We got the jump on the patron and it was impressive for a five-on-one battle. He had a number of tricks up his sleeve, especially in enchantments. He got away in the end though, via some manner of extra-dimensional magic, maybe an ethereal jaunt? We made final preparations for the civil war, proclaiming to ally and foe that the Cloaks had joined the poisoned rogue in being out of the fight. We left Mimo and her unconscious and dead compatriots under guard for the fight, with Mimo in charge of them after.

The civil war was quickly over — though our side took a few losses from groups who assassinated their rivals before fleeing town, the tack we’d taken ensured a ‘mostly’ bloodless coup based on overwhelming force. I’d wondered if I had it in me to pull this sort of thing off, and now I know I do.

As to Mimo, the Cloaks, and the patron, well, as I said at the beginning, “Thank the gods I’ve the sense to treat one-time foes decently so they don’t need to be long-term enemies.” Before leaving on our wind walk, I did my best to make up, and give them a hand in getting back on their feet. This city needs a second story, even if few admit it, not just one way for everyone.


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