Shades of Shadora

Finding the Throne

Ellisandra came over to where Nightshift was lying and used her healing skills on him. “He will be ok in time, but for now, he is out of the fight. Help me move him, Alorrah,” said Ellisandra as she worked to lift the troll from the ground.

It took no time at all to get Nightshift moved to the guard tower by the gate. “I will watch over him so that our enemies can’t hurt him, as well as securing our rear,” said Alorrah.

With a nod, Ellisandra went to where Grimclaw was licking his wounds, and used her healing skills on the big cat. The rest of the party checked the courtyard to ensure that no enemies were laying in wait to ambush them. Brine, who had begun to dry out from his extended time out of water jumped into the pool in the center of the courtyard to rejuvenate himself. At the far end of the courtyard from where the party had entered, there was a façade that had been carved into the face of the rock with eight stone columns carved in the shapes of dragons and a wooden double door in the center of the façade. Walac walked over to the stairs and began to check the area for traps, and found nothing more than piles of hobgoblin junk piled on the stairs and the porch of in front of the doors. The doors were eight to ten feet tall, and made of oak bound with iron. They were painted with the back of a clenched fist showing and an eye on the back of the hand. There was writing on the door, but Walac couldn’t read it or even tell what language it was written in. Finn walked up beside Walac, and said, “Interesting. It’s Journeyman writing, and says ‘Magic is the key to all things’”.

Finally satisfied that there were no traps (or at least none he could find!), Walac went back to Prospero and told him what Finn had said concerning the writing on the door. “Well of course, magic is the key to everything,” snorted the wizard, as he led the group to the door.

Trish went up the steps towards the door, but Finn held out his hand, “Step back Trish, I got this,” he said, stepping forward to push against the door.

A blue flash limned Finn’s figure as he flew down the stairs from the shock the door had given him. He shook his head as the ends of his hair and beard smoldered slightly. Maelstrom slid between the cracks in the door, causing the air to fill with blue arcs of electricity, but the bolts didn’t harm the elemental. Once inside, he could see more stone pillars, and two hobgoblins hiding behind a table at the end of the corridor, and with a room opening out behind them. With a push, Maelstrom opened the door, and the hobgoblins drew their scimitars and began casting spells. Hearing the scimitars burst forth from their sheaths, the party rushed in, and in the haste of the moment, no one got off a good attack on either side. A large, well armored hobgoblin to the rear was barking orders at the hobgoblins under his command. Maelstrom floated towards the table, and thundered, stunning the hobgoblins there, even as two more came from his flank to swing burning swords at him. The hobgoblin commander cast a spell just before Prospero’s blast turned the area between him and the two hobgoblins by the table into an inferno, wounding them all. Maelstrom thundered again, wounding one with a wall of sound, and then he floated back towards the entryway out of the reach of the flame blades. Trish rushed towards the hobgoblins near the overturned table, and was joined by a clockwork elemental Finn had summoned. As Ellisandra moved into the entryway, she heard a noise behind her and looked back to see a group of creatures that were a cross between owls and bears come shuffling into the courtyard, and toward the entryway. “Owlbears!! Get inside, Finn,” she cried, running inside and casting a spell.

Finn paused briefly to fire a jet of steam at the closest owlbear, but it dodged out of the way. Finn turned and ran inside, passing by Ellisandra and moments later her spell went off, creating a barrier across the open doorway and preventing the owlbears from getting inside. Grimclaw pounced on a hobgoblin, wounding it just as Prospero’s blast killed two of the evil creatures. Trish killed one of the goblins by the table, and then rushed in to attack the hobgoblin commander. Walac wounded the other hobgoblin by the table with a well placed arrow, even as Trish cried out when a riposte from the hobgoblin commander caught her in the shoulder.

With a resounding whooshing sound, a group of kushna appeared in the entryway and attacked the party, with one of them appearing close enough that it was able to snap its jaws closed on Brine’s leg, wounding him. Two of the other kushna breathed out blasts of hellish fire from their open maws, burning Finn badly. The clockwork elemental killed one of the kushna, and Ellisandra banished one. Finn turned his blunderbuss on the next to last kushna, but the weapon appeared to have no effect on the creature. The clockwork elemental spun to the sound of the weapon, and tore into the devil dog, killing the creature.

Trish attacked the commander, wounding him with her runeswords, but the hobgoblin snapped a potion from his belt and after swallowing it, his bleeding stopped and some of his wounds closed magically. One of his troops came from the side and swung at Trish with a sword that had black flames dancing up and down the blade. With a grating sound, the walls on both sides of the entry foyer slid open to disgorge more hobgoblins from the bowels of the building before sliding quickly shut again. One of the new arrivals nonchalantly batted the clockwork elemental into the wall with his blade, destroying it, while another wounded Brine with a quick swipe of his sword. Another popping sound was followed by a large, horned figure appearing in front of Grimclaw. Although surprised, the big cat attacked and wounded the fighter.

Prospero’s blast spell killed the last kushna who had been attacking Walac, as well as wounding one of the hobgoblins that had come from the sliding doors, and stunning another. Brine drank a healing potion during the brief respite, and Walac wounded one of the hobgoblins with a quick bowshot. Prospero cast another blast, but the spell backlashed on him, stunning him briefly and causing the spell to catch Trish, as well as the commander, and killing the hobgoblin assisting the commander. Brine speared the hobgoblin nearest him with his trident, as Finn bashed in another’s skill with his hammer, Oathbinder.

More hobgoblins came pouring out of the walls, filling the entryway that was becoming littered with the dead and slick with spilled blood. Brine attacked one, killing it, and Prospero shot bolts into the fray, killing the horned fighter as well as shaking one of the hobgoblins. Ellisandra’s bolt spell took the last two hobgoblins out of the fight, and Grimclaw pounced on the commander, but was unable to injure him. Trish wounded the commander again, but he continued to fight. As Trish and Grimclaw tried to take the commander down, Finn, Walac and Brine looked at the sliding walls in an attempt to figure out how to open them. Just as they gave up being able to open the doors, they slid open once more to reveal another group of hobgoblins waiting to join the fray. Not taken by surprise this time, Finn fired a jet of steam down the hallway, stunning two of the hobgoblins in front, and wounding one in the back who was too slow to jump out of the way. Walac wounded the hobgoblin in front with his rapier as the creature staggered in pain from the steam. Brine and the first hobgoblin through the door on the other side traded wounds, as another of the horned fighters popped into existence in front of Prospero. Maelstrom flew into the hallway and began to thunder, stunning one of the hobgoblins there. With a final push, Trish ducked under a swing from the hobgoblin commander, and coming up from below drove Oblivion upwards through his chin and into his brain, killing him instantly. Withdrawing her sword, she ran to help Brine, but missed with her hastily aimed swing with Keller’s Razor. Grimclaw killed one of the goblins in the corridor just past where Brine was standing. Maelstrom thundered, killing one of the hobgoblins in the hallway, as Grimclaw pounced on the back of the hobgoblin Trish and Brine had engaged, killing it. With all of the hobgoblins down, Grimclaw turned his attention to the horned attacker, wounding it and Ellisandra’s bolt spell sealed the deal, finally killing the creature.

As the party stopped to catch their breath, a blast spell went off, catching every member of the party inside. While the rest of the party tried to find the phantom spellcaster, Ellisandra began to work on Brine’s wounds. During the hunt, Prospero uncovered a loose flagstone, finding about four hundred silver talons, a jade idol of a leering demon and a potion. Searching the bodies, the commander was carrying a superb runesword with a darkness rune. Once Ellisandra had done what she could with the injured, she barred the door to the owlbears, and let her barrier spell drop. Meanwhile, the party spread out to investigate the ruins, while attempting to keep from bunching up enough to become a target for the mysterious sorcerer. Finn examined a door to the back of the building, as Prospero began to walk down a nearby hallway. As Prospero passed Finn another blast spell went off, but although it didn’t do any damage, it was beginning to wear on Prospero’s nerves.

Finn opened the door and could hear the sound of running water. He stepped into a small corridor, turned the corner, and was amazed to see a column of water running from the ceiling to the floor. He retrieved one of the hobgoblin’s shields, and tried to divert the water enough to look at the drain. Once he did, he realized that the “drain” was in fact a homing circle for teleportation. He went to the main room and told the others, “There’s water coming out of the ceiling in that room, but it’s draining through a magic circle in the floor.”

“Really?” asked Walac, his whiskers twitching. “We should see what would happen if we put one of the goblin bodies in it. For science, you know.”

With that, Walac began to drag one of the bodies to the door. Trish sighed and helped him move the body, when Prospero came around the corner. “The only thing back that way is a large room with a torn up floor and a non-magical, hacked up wooden throne. There are some other doors, but I didn’t want to go through them alone…What are you doing with that dead goblin?” said Prospero in a rush.

The group brought Prospero up to speed and without further ado, the body was duly deposited in the fountain, where it immediately disappeared through the “drain”. No one felt up to following it through the hole in the floor, and nothing appeared to attack them, so they decided to leave it alone. Going down another corridor, they came to a door that had been barricaded from the outside. Maelstrom slid through the cracks in the door and investigated, but found nothing but a flooded room with a humanoid’s body that had been there for a considerable amount of time. The party went to the throne room that Prospero had found earlier, and as they reached the room, another blast spell went off, wounding Ellisandra, and hitting Maelstrom and Finn. Ellisandra tended to her burns, and Prospero opened the door on the far end of the room. Without warning, two hobgoblins attacked Prospero through the doorway, one of them casting a spell and then running towards a hallway that appeared to lead to where the secret passage was in the entryway. Prospero contacted Grimclaw telepathically to have him head the spellcaster off at the other end. Brine and Walac, seeing Grimclaw start running, followed at pace. Ellisandra cast a bolt spell at the hobgoblin attacking her master, and killed it instantly. Prospero followed the spellcaster, coming up behind him as Grimclaw pounced at the hobgoblin. The hobgoblin cast a spell at Grimclaw, wounding him, and Prospero killed the creature, even as the rest of the party ran to catch up. A search of the room and bodies revealed a wand with an earth rune (later discovered to be a wand of shield, and given to Walac for safekeeping), and a golden goblin idol.

With the rest of the building searched, Prospero headed towards the final secret door with the rest of the party following at intervals in an attempt to avoid being hit by the blast spell again. He cast invisibility on himself, and headed down the corridor. Reaching the end of the corridor, he opened the door, and saw a large boar on the other side of the room, sniffing the air as if it knew someone was there, but couldn’t quite figure out where. Prospero crept across the room, and got close enough to kill the creature with one stroke from Kindred.

The room was full of foul smelling bed rolls and a matted bunch of old rushes that appeared to be the boar’s bed. Prospero began searching for secret doors, and finally, with a click one sprang open. Looking into the room, Prospero got a feeling of vertigo, because it was like looking into the night sky. There were stars and planets and darkness, and within the darkness, there was one hobgoblin who appeared to be standing on nothingness to the rear of the room, but the thing that drew Prospero’s attention was the ancient looking, robed hobgoblin, sitting on an iron throne that was floating in the middle of the room! Not wasting a moment, Prospero cast a bolt spell at the figure on the throne, wounding him. The hobgoblin stirred and made the motions of casting a spell, but nothing happened. Trish came to the door and stepped just into the room, and the fighter in the back rushed forward missing with a sweep of his sword, even as an arrow sizzled past from the corner of the room on the same side as the door. Prospero cast another bolt spell at the figure on the throne, and with a gasp, the hobgoblin died. The throne began to float gently towards the floor with the corpse on it. The hobgoblin with the sword hit Trish, and Finn shot him with his blunderbuss as he came through the door. Brine shot his crossbow, wounding him, and Trish swept his head from his shoulders with her runeblades. Moments later, the last hobgoblin joined his brethren in death. A search of the bodies revealed that Trish’s foe had been wearing masterwork plate mail that would likely fit her after a little cleaning and possibly a slight resize. The old sorcerer had a necklace with fire opals set into it, as well as a cloak and two potions.

Prospero sat on the throne and it began to float. “Wow. I can see all of the rooms of the building. No wonder we kept having spells hit us. He could target using this throne,” he said. After some experimentation, the party found that the throne would only float with a sorcerer sitting in it, and that Maelstrom could push it easily from one place to another. Prospero relished the idea of being able to make it back to the water temple in style, sitting on a throne and powered by his apprentice’s familiar!

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The Water Temple

As the ship’s billowing sails drew them closer to the Priest Barrens, Captain Ward told Prospero, “I’m not really sure what to expect here. I’ve never been to the Priest Barrens before, but there are plenty of weird stories about the area. Unfortunately, this is the only place where we might be able to find help for Simon.”

Prospero nodded, acknowledging the nervousness from the captain of the vessel without comment, and stepped towards the bow of the ship, deep in thought. A few hours later, the lookout shouted down to the captain, “Ship ahoy, a small vessel to our starboard side.”

“Helmsman, make for the ship,” said Captain Ward, “Let’s see if whoever it is in trouble…or causing trouble,” he added ominously.

Within minutes, the ship had come alongside the vessel, which was a small dinghy with a dwarf who was tossing buckets of water overboard at a rate that was clearly being exceeded by the amount of water coming in the bottom.

“Ahoy, master dwarf,” called the captain, “can we be of some assistance?”

“Nope, having a grand time, don’t need any help at all,” came the gruff reply from the dwarf.

Captain Ward watched for a minute or two as the water gained on the dwarf, coming up to mid thigh on him. “Master dwarf, again, I’d ask you to come aboard,” said the captain.

The dwarf continued bailing and said, “I’m fine here, really”.

Finally the dwarf ceased bailing, looked around him as the water began lapping around his waist and said sheepishly, “Actually, captain, it looks like I could use a ride, if you’d be so kind”.

A few moments later, the dripping dwarf stood on the deck of the ship as his dinghy slipped beneath the waves. He held out his hand, “Thank you for your help, captain. My name is Finnbjorn Ironstone, but most call me Finn.”

Captain Ward took the dwarf’s hand and shook it heartily, “Welcome aboard, then, Finn”.

As further introductions were made with the party, the sails were unfurled and the ship was dancing over the waves towards the water temple. Captain Ward called his crew together and said, “Men, I will give you this chance to put ashore if you wish, as you know the rumors surrounding our destination. We don’t know what we are going to encounter at this temple, and we also know that there is a reputation of the area being unfriendly to outsiders. None will think the less of you if you decide to put ashore, and I’ll send provisions with you as well as pick you up if we are able to leave.”

After a few uncomfortable seconds passed, Mr. Rackham spoke up, “Captain Ward, after all we’ve been through, I think that I speak for the rest of the crew in saying that none of us is willing to leave. We’re with you on this for the long haul.”

A ragged cheer went up among the crew at these words. “Well then, what captain could ask for more?” replied Captain Ward, “Back to your stations, lads, we’re getting close”.

The captain then went to the helm with a misty look in his eyes to ready himself for the unknown. As the day came closer to the hour of the cat, the ship approached the bay of the Priest Barrens. When they got closer to the bay, the remains of dozens of ships could be seen, some with weathered wood poking above the waves, and others visible through the water. Suddenly, the wind left the sails in spite of the efforts of Maelstrom to fill them again, and the ship drifted to a stop. After the ship stopped, silence descended on the deck, and no one seemed willing to break the silence. Without warning, the water around the ship erupted into the air as about a dozen men leapt from the water and quickly surrounded the crew, herding them into the middle of the ship. The men had grey skin, tattooed faces, wide mouths and eyes set far apart in their face, causing them to look eerily fish-like. One of the men, wearing a blue turban, stood slightly apart from the others, watching the proceedings. Prospero noticed that as Brine was pushed past the man with the blue turban, he laid his hand on the shoulder of his soldier, and bowed to Brine, keeping his eyes locked on him; the bow of a free man, not a slave. Brine’s eyes widened in recognition, but the only thing he said as he was pushed into the knot of men at the center of the boat was, “Do not resist what comes next”.

With all of the ship’s crew gathered, the man with the blue turban stepped forward, stuck out his tongue and licked each of the party and the crew on the cheek. He then stepped back and gestured to two of the sailors, who were brought forward to him and forced to kneel on the deck, with one man behind holding their arms pinned against their back and another standing to the left of one man and to the right of the other. The man with the blue turban spoke, “Know that I am Krimma, and I have tasted the salt in your skin, which speaks to me of the poisoning of the Lunam Oyster Beds. What do you know of this crime?”

The man to the left said nothing, but bowed his head and looked at the deck. The man on the right tried to stand, but was forced back to his knees by the man holding his arms. “It were an accident, see? We were being chased, and had to start pushing the cargo overboard. We never meant any harm! It were an accident!”

Krimma motioned with his hand, and quick as a flash, the men on either side of the prisoners drew wickedly curved knives from their belts and slit the men from their crotch to their throats. Blood and entrails gushed wetly across the deck as the men began to die. “Steady lads,” cried Captain Ward, “We’ve all got crimes in our past that we may be called to answer for. Let’s do nothing foolish.”

Krimma turned his attention from the men who were feebly trying to put their guts back inside and stop the bleeding. “Wisely spoken. Why have you come to our waters? Know that I have tasted your salt, and I will know the veracity of your words.”

Prospero said, “We bade the captain bring us here, we are looking for the water temple to seek resurrection for a friend of ours who was recently killed fighting Chaos.”

“We are not trying to interfere…” began Ellisandra.
Krimma interrupted her and looked at Brine, “Boy, where did you get that armor?” he asked.

“It is my father’s armor, given to me when I left to make my way in the world,” replied Brine.

“Oho,” laughed Krimma without humor, “And did your father know of Sargos?”

Brine said, “Yes, my father told me tales of the battle of Thenga Sheru, he spoke of Sargos often, and said that his followers had secreted him away when he fell, why do you ask?”

“Because we are the Sargosi, and your father was an ally. Your presence is all that has spared these unbelievers so far, but whether they stay alive much longer has yet to be decided,” replied Krimma.

Turning to Prospero, Krimma said, “So, land dweller, tell me why you should live.”

“The friend we are trying to resurrect was a great Chaos fighter, and the work we do on the land helps keep Chaos from the oceans,” said Ellisandra.

Krimma considered this for a moment. “I am not convinced. We care nothing for the surface; you will be fed to the sharks, eels and Kraken,” he said.

“Perhaps we could complete a task for you,” said Prospero.

Krimma looked at Prospero intently. “Perhaps you may have some use after all. Choose such companions as you would bring with you, and we will discuss this matter with the high priest.”

Within moments, the party, along with Captain Ward and Simon’s body, stood assembled in front of Krimma. Each living member was given a small shell. “Place these under your tongues, and we will be on our way,” said Krimma.

Prospero placed the shell under his tongue and cried out involuntarily as he felt something stab his mouth. Even as he doubled over in pain, he glanced to his side and saw each of the others suffering similarly. What else he saw was that each of the party members had sprouted gills from their necks! The transformation complete, the party brought Simon and followed Krimma over the side, leaving the crew under both the command of John Rackham and the watchful eye of the Sargosi.

The group swam into an underwater cave that opened out into a sort of road. They passed other of the Sargosi who stopped what they were doing to stare at the outsiders being led into their world. Krimma led the way, making signs to the giant eels that poked their heads out of caverns to the side of the main road, like giant watchdogs. Prospero got a glimpse of a giant squid in a side chamber that appeared to be asleep, but one of its monstrous eyes opened and trained on the road as they passed. Eventually, the passage ended at a great chimney, and as they started swimming up, they swam through a pod of sharks that guarded this passage. Finally, the group surfaced inside a large natural cavern filled with air. The party was surrounded by guards riding on the backs of giant crabs, and Krimma’s men collected the shells from the party. Once the shells had been collected, the guards moved back to their posts, and allowed the party to pass. They were marched between columns that surrounded the central temple area, and there was a robed Sargosi towards the back of the chamber setting up an altar.

“Krimma, why have you brought this rabble of surface dwellers to the shrine of Sargos?” asked the priest.

Krimma replied, “Sarma, I have tested their salt, and find they are Chaos fighters. They have offered to complete a task in return for their freedom and the resurrection of their friend. I remembered that you had spoken to me just last week concerning an expedition to the surface world, and I thought perhaps a bargain might be in order.”

Sarma came forward to where Krimma stood. “There is merit in what you say, Krimma, but I would hear it from the mouths of the surface dwellers,” he said.

“How did your friend die?” asked Sarma.

Prospero stepped forward, “He was fighting against a vampire while we were in the process of clearing out a nest of Chaos in the Wailing Ruins. The foul creature sent a blast that killed him. We have fought many creatures of Chaos in the past, and it was simple misfortune that made this encounter fatal.”

“It’s true,” said Captain Ward as he stepped up next to Prospero, “they have saved my ship multiple times from all manner of creatures”.

Sarma went to Simon’s body and laid his hand on it. After a moment, he spoke, “There is a throne, a Journeyman relic, that we have heard is in the hands of vermin a few marks from here. As it is on the surface and far inland, we cannot travel there easily, and yet, this relic cannot be allowed to remain in the hands of those who now control it.”

Sarma moved away from Simon’s body and stood before Prospero and Captain Ward. “This relic is a magical throne. If you will recover this relic, then I will raise your friend, and you will be free to go. Directions will be provided to you. I will hold onto your friend and you, captain, will stay here until your friends return. I will preserve the body, but I cannot keep your friend’s spirit from the halls of silence for more than five days, if you take longer than that, I will not be able to help him. The relic is being held about a day’s journey from here, so you should have time.”

The dwarf stepped forward, beside Captain Ward and Prospero, “Priest, have you heard any tales of Terrel’s bones?”

Sarma looked at the dwarf, “No, I am not familiar with them.”

“Perhaps have you seen another of my kind?” asked Finn.

Sarma chuckled, “You are the only surface dwellers who have ever made it into this temple.”

Within the hour, the party was on their way to the surface, shells giving them gills again, with crude hand drawn maps that showed a box canyon as the location where the throne was being held. Once on the surface, they travelled for the better part of the day and made camp. Morning broke, and the party began to scout the area, quickly finding the entrance to the box canyon marked on the crude map provided by the Sargosi. The party moved up the canyon and discovered that the area had been blocked off. A stone wall led to a large door or gate, with a tower standing to the right of the door as they faced down the valley. Walac scouted closer to the door and returned to the party with bad news, “There are at least two hobgoblins manning the tower. The construction is fairly new, not more than a few seasons, based on the weathering on the door.”

Prospero said, “Let me do a little more scouting before we do anything”.

Prospero cast armor and invisibility on himself, and then cast his burrow spell. Moments later, he emerged from the ground on the other side of the wall, and began to take stock of the situation. In the building to the left side of the gate, which made up the stone wall portion of the barrier outside, he could see the large, repulsive form of an ogre lounging on the stone floor. Prospero quietly unlocked the gate and moved to the door of the tower. As he got to the tower, he could see a campsite further coreward from the tower. Disconcertingly, he could also see one of the hobgoblins pointing directly at him and shouting. Once the shouting started, the sound of a whip cracking came from the building rimward of where Prospero was standing, and the ogre followed it out, along with guttural shouts from whoever (or whatever) was cracking the whip. The ogre went to the doorway, and a hobgoblin with a whip emerged and followed it to the door, trying to see what was going on.

Outside the gate, Nightshift heard the shouts, and said, “Uh oh, cat is out of the bag,” and began moving towards the gate with Brine. Maelstrom picked Ellisandra up and the rest of the party moved up with them, with Finn pulling out his blunderbuss and taking cover behind the hulking troll. Nightshift threw a javelin at one of the hobgoblins on the wall, hitting it a glancing blow and stunning it momentarily. The hobgoblins in the tower began to call out to their brothers that they were under attack. In the confusion, Prospero went to the back of the building and saw a large number of skeletons standing in formation in the center of the building. As the call went out about the attack, he saw the skeletons begin to move out of the building. Prospero sent a blast spell to the choke point between the buildings, killing two hobgoblins, and wounding two others, even as arrows from the skeletons began to land around him.

As the blast went off behind him, the ogre threw open the door and saw Nightshift. Without hesitation, he rushed the troll and missed him with a wild sweep of his club. Finn discharged his blunderbuss, but in the fury of the moment, missed the ogre entirely. Trish stunned the ogre with a slash from her blades, but didn’t wound the creature significantly. The ogre swung again with his club stunning Trish with a glancing blow, and missing Nightshift completely. Nightshift’s axe bit deeply into the ogre’s flesh, causing him to howl in pain. The ogre held off the attacks of Finn, Nightshift, Trish, and Alorrah, but he was fighting a losing battle. A skeleton came lurching out of the gate behind the ogre, but a swift shot from Walac caused the creature to fall to the ground in a heap. Swinging wildly, the ogre missed Walac and Nightshift with his club, and Nightshift took the opening to hit the ogre with his axe again. Trish wounded the creature with her runeswords, and after a blast from Ellisandra, the ogre fell face first in the dirt, dead.

While the others were fighting the ogre, Maelstrom moved past the door and began to thunder, stunning many of the creatures that had gathered in the doorway. The thunderclaps began to wear down the opposition, first stunning, and then killing many of the creatures gathered there who could not hit him due to his magical nature. Prospero cast burrow again, this time coming up outside the door to the tower, just as Alorrah shot and killed one of the hobgoblins that was stunned by Maelstrom’s thunder. Nightshift shook off an arrow that lodged in his armor from one of the hobgoblins in the tower, and charged forward, killing a skeleton and then a hobgoblin on the backsweep. Finn’s blunderbuss killed one of the hobgoblins that rushed through the gate, and Trish took care of a second one. As Prospero worked on the door to the tower, he noticed a hobgoblin running to the back of the canyon, and blew it away with a quick bolt spell.

Walac and Finn looked for more targets to come out of the doorway, but they were both surprised when the ogre stood up and took a swing at them. The ogre hit Finn, wounding him. At Walac’s surprised shout, Trish came running out of the doorway and stunned the ogre with another quick attack. Quickly enough, the ogre was felled again, and Trish began chopping it into pieces to prevent it reforming and attacking again, while Ellisandra set fire to the remains.

Prospero made it to the top of the tower, killed one of the hobgoblins, and wounded the other. The wounded hobgoblin couldn’t find Prospero due to the invisibility spell, and as he searched for his attacker, a well placed arrow from Brine found it’s mark and ended his search forever.

Meanwhile, Grimclaw, while trying to find and help his master, Prospero, was surrounded by skeletons and heavily wounded. Nightshift and Alorrah began working their way through the remaining foes to assist, and Nightshift took and arrow in the sternum and fell to the ground unconscious. Alorrah, seeing the bad state Grimclaw was in, cast shimmer on him to help shield him from attacks, even as Prospero, Grimclaw, and Trish took out the last of the combatants.

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A Fast Trip

Captain Ward’s eyes opened wide in surprise as he saw the adventurers bringing Simon’s body on board. “What happened up there?” he asked Trish.

“Simon fell to a blast sent at him by a vampire,” said Trish grimly, “We have taken our revenge on the creature, but it still leaves us with a dead friend.”

Stepping onto the deck, Prospero said, “Captain, do you know of anyplace nearby where we might be able to look into having Simon resurrected?”

Captain Ward considered for a few moments before answering. “In these waters, the closest place would be the Priest Barrens, but that’s more than a week’s sailing away even if they can do resurrections there. Your friend would be beyond anyone’s care or help at that point. It wouldn’t be so bad more rimward, but with the heat in these seas, his body won’t last more than a couple of days.”

“I have an idea, Captain, if you are not opposed to travelling to the Priest Barrens?” asked Prospero.

“No, certainly, if you can think of a way for us to get there, I’d be happy to go. They have a trade center there as well, which will help me replace the crew members I’ve lost so far on this cursed voyage. There are always dangers in the Sea of Steam, but this trip feels almost as if the Gods themselves are against us,” replied the captain.

Prospero went to the shroud of his friend, knelt, and retrieved an item from Simon’s lifeless body. He walked to where Ellisandra stood near the ship’s cargo hatch, still in shock from her companion’s death. Prospero pressed a small ring into Ellisandra’s hand, “Take this ring, apprentice. You have a much better way with words than I do.”

Ellisandra started to object, but Prospero stopped her, “No, apprentice, you are the one for this task. This is the Ring of Storms, there are sylphs bound within that can help us with this task, but they will only answer to the one who summons them. You must summon one of the sylphs and persuade it to help us or Simon will be truly dead, and a stalwart champion against Chaos will be gone forever.”

Ellisandra took the ring and bowed her head. “I will do my best master,” she replied, slipping the ring on her finger. She ran her thumb along the gemstones and finally came to rest on one. A name came to her mind, then to her lips, “I summon you, and command you to appear, Aeorod”.

As the invocation was spoken, the wind began to pick up, and the sky darkened as black clouds rushed to fill the air. The water around the ship began to chop as the wind created waves that crested ever larger against the side of the vessel. As the winds grew ever faster, a funnel began to form over the water away from the ship, but Ellisandra continued to concentrate on her summoning.

Without warning, the torso of a giant burst forth from the water next to the ship, with seaweed and kelp draped over his blue-green shoulders like a cape, and wielding a gigantic club made of coral. “Who is disturbing my rest with this storm,” cried the giant, who then plucked a crewman from the deck, popping the hapless man into his mouth and beginning to chew, as if the ship was nothing more than a snack plate at a dinner party.

Screaming, the remaining crew ran to man their battle stations, turning the ship’s ballistae towards this new enemy. The giant took a swing with his club at the tiny figures on deck, missing them entirely. Trish ran forward and attacked, but the rune swords glanced off the giant’s rubbery skin, as Walac launched arrows towards the creature without effect. Prospero turned invisible, scrambling to get out of range of the giant’s wicked coral club, even as it swung forth across the deck again, fortunately missing everyone due to the violence of the action of the wind and sea. Both ballistae thrummed as their bolts struck the giant, causing it to stagger with the force. Brine dove from the side of the ship, transforming to his shark form as he arced towards the water. Once in the water, Brine was surprised to see that the creature was actually a giant merman, but as his eyes rolled back in his head and he wounded the giant with his attack, his shark instincts took over and he thought no more about it. As Brine continued his attack underneath the waves, Prospero cast his sentinel spell, creating two fighters who began to attack the giant relentlessly. Walac fired another arrow, this one striking the giant in the face and hanging like a bizarre decoration as the creature howled from all of the attacks that were scoring his body. With a final sweep of their swords, the sentinels severed major arteries in the giant’s neck, and as filthy black blood spurted from the wounds, the giant toppled backwards and fell beneath the water, the wave from his passing lifting the ship briefly into the air.

Meanwhile, the whirlwind was taking a more definitive shape, as Ellisandra had continued her summoning during the fracas. With a clap of thunder, a being appeared; a being that looked somewhat like Maelstrom, but much, much larger. Large enough to lift and carry the entire ship easily! With a voice like an angry storm, the being called out as it moved closer, “Who has summoned me, Aeorod?”

Ellisandra shouted to be heard above the storm, “I have summoned you, Aeorod, oh, mightiest of storms! We have great need of your assistance.”

The wind and waves quietened ominously, like the calm before a storm, “Explain yourself, and I may let you live, little one.”

“Our companion fell fighting creatures of Chaos, and we would save him if we can. The port of Priest Barrens is our only hope for his resurrection. Without your help, oh mighty one, we will never make it there in time,” said Ellisandra.

Aeorod’s countenance became even darker as he leaned closer to the ship, his voice like the moans of a storm before the rains begin, “And why should I help you, who would keep my brothers and me enslaved in your ring?”

Ellisandra stared, unable to think of a reply, when Prospero said, “We are not the ones who placed you within the ring, and if you help us in our time of need, you will enable a great Chaos fighter to continue to bring justice to those who so richly deserve it!”

Aeorod considered this line of logic, “You speak well, little man, and there is truth in what you say. Competent fighters against Chaos are needed and in somewhat short supply. I have seen through the lens of the ring what this fighter is capable of. I will help you, but first release my brothers from the ring to help me carry your ship.”

Ellisandra had recovered herself from her momentary lapse, and began to flatter the elemental, “But surely, oh mighty Aerod, your winds are more than strong enough to carry this paltry ship, even on so great a journey as this?”

Laughing, the elemental stretched his arms wide, “I am marvelously strong, little girl, let me show you”.

Brine changed to human form just in time to scramble aboard the ship as the elemental picked it up. “Perhaps a little jaunt might be in order, after all,” said the elemental as he sped off at a tremendous rate of speed.

Three times over the next two days, Aerod stopped and tried to get Ellisandra to release his brethren from the ring to help him, and every time, Ellisandra flattered or cajoled the elemental into taking them further. On the evening of the second day, the company approached the shore near the Priest Barrens, when Aerod placed the ship back into the water and said, “This is as far as I will take you little one, and no amount of flattery will convince me to go further this time. I bid you farewell, and I now go to find those who imprisoned me within the ring.”

Without further conversation, the elemental popped out of existence, leaving the ship on the now calm sea. The crew began to unfurl the sails, and Maelstrom assisted in filling them with wind once they opened. The ship picked up speed as they sailed in to the Priest Barrens. “Let’s hope that our luck holds out,” said Prospero as he watched the coast grow steadily closer.

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The Fall of a Hero

The party waited while Walac quietly crept up the trail. He had grim news on his return; a half dozen of the crew were tied to warping posts in a chaos circle. In the center of the circle was a powerful demon wolf howling infernal curses and warping the men into horrors. Guarding the circle were a six apes, six hobgoblins, and ten goblins. The only good news was that the two goblins guarding the trail were totally focused on the ritual with little time to watch the trail. The party had a long hard whispered conversation. None wanted to test the chaos hoard but all agreed that if not now when, if not them who. They moved into postion and attacked from surprise.

Grimclaw and Walac took out the sentries without a hitch. Prospero and Ellisandra burrowed across to the far side of the field to near a tree that showed highly magical properies. Before departing Prospero cast invisibilty on himself and Ellisandra. The attack began with Simon and Trish charging the circle, they quickly cut down their targets but then the hoard responed charging and swarming towards them. Prospero and Ellisandra attacked the Demon Wolf but were unable to damage it, their attacks drew the attention of the nearby guards. They moved closer to the magic tree and it began to glow. As the fight continued it seemed to lend them strength and skill. The Howling Demon charged Trish while an Ape and Hobgoblin engaged her. Grimclaw lept from the shadows and downed the Hobgoblin, tearing off its head. Walac stood off sending well placed arrows into the hostiles.

The battle wavered teetering against the party when Nightshift and the Fel warrior joined the fray. They had been guarding the landing but when the Howling of the Wolf began screeching they hurried to lend their strenght to the party. Their aid tilted the fight in the hero’s favor and soon Trish’s swords, Simons Katana, the sorcerer’s spells and the Trolls club were crushing the foes. When the demon fell at Trish’s hand the party rushed forward for about 50 meters ahead they spyed a cave that no doubt held the heart of the chaos that surrounded them.

Near the entrance a flock of the goblin bats flew from a ruined tower and blast spell from within the cave rained down upon the team. Spells from Prospero and spears from Nightshift quicly finished the bats. Trish and Simon did not hesitate and rushed into the cave to confront the chaos direclty. Trish cut down a fire wizard while Simon dealt with more of the fliers. A Trish moved towards the Necromancer he shouted out to his Masters to aid him. From a room of bones to the North rose three Vampires, sorcerers all. Trish and Simon were quickly smashed by the weight of the combined spells but the rest of the party didn’t flinch and rushed to their aid. Trish and the spells of the vampires killed the Necromancer. Nightshift stuck struck one of the vampires so hard he flew into the next room, as he became gaseous Maelstrom struck ripping apart the cloud, a thin wail was heard as the vampire was destoyed.

Simon drew his wand of stoning and shot a spell at the second vampire and was rewarded by the crinkling sound of his flesh turning to stone. But the last Vampire was not to depart the living without a true fight, another blast struck and Simon was hit hardest, already wounded the hero fell. When he didn’t rise the partly collectively gasped, and then vented their rage on the final enemy. Prospero grabbed the wand and sent a stoning spell flying towards the vampire, it struck but the vampire was to tough and resisted. Trish immedatly teleported behind vampire catching him unaware, but her attacks were not enough to disable it. Walac who had quietly crept into the cave took careful aim and fired an arrow at the fiend’s heart. It struck home the Vampire looked up in surprise and rage. A scream issued from its lips as it turned into dust. As the vampire crumbled the ghost of Gilliam drew near Trish and disappeared into her sword.

The party quickly converged on Simon, but their fears were true Simon lay dead at their feet. Prospero cast a spell conjuring a shroud, the party carefully wrapped the body. The moved it out of the lair of his enemies and placed it near the tree of power. The party began a search the area. Quickly bored with the search Nightshift turned to smashing the vampire of stone into small pieces. The search proved fruitful among other things were found a Master Work suit of chainmail, a cloak of woven shadows, and a supurb great axe. After destorying the warping posts the party returned to the landing and signaled the long boat. The crew was initially elated to see their crewmates rescued, when they saw Simon among the fallen the joy quickly faded. Prospero counselled hope, perhaps the Captain will know of some healer or priest in the area. They slowly rowed back to the ship.

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The Wailing Ruins, Part 1

Towards the end of the first day, winds began to push the Fall of Orana on a more coreward course than they had been following. Simon, from where he was sitting on the deck overheard Capt Ward tell Mr. Rackham, “I’m not liking how close we’re getting to land, John. We’re far too close to the Wailing Ruins, and I’ve known too many not to come back from that accursed land.”

Darkness fell on the ship without incident, and the wind had begun to calm when Walac heard something that set his whiskers twitching. He ran soundlessly to the bow of the ship and peered out intently into the darkness. Within a few minutes, he called out, “There are shapes in the air, coming from the land. It appears to be giant bats!!”

One of the crewmen ran downstairs to rouse the watch that was sleeping, as the crewmen on deck peered through the darkness to try and see what Walac’s keen Lir eyes had discerned in the darkness. Walac drew his bow and fired a few shots as the bats got closer. He was fairly sure that all but one missed, but the last one he fired made the swoop and dip, and as it did, Walac’s eyes widened and he called out to the crew, “The bats have riders! Goblins!”

As Prospero made his way to the deck from his below deck quarters, the scene was chaotic and lit only by swaying oil lamps and the thin light of the newly risen moon. Bats flitted about the rigging and across the deck, with two of them dragging crewmen away from the sails as their legs flailed, trying to find purchase on thin air. A series of skulls crashed into the deck, with four ghosts rising like smoke from the smoking shards, and two flameskulls floating eerily into the air to attack the crew with flaming breath. Simon cast a shield spell and attacked the nearest goblin rider and his bat, while Trish shattered one of the flameskulls and rushed across the deck to engage the remaining one that was burning the crew. Meanwhile, the bats that had managed to grab sailors from the rigging wheeled away from the ship, with their prizes gripped firmly in their claws. The last flameskull let forth a burst of flame that exploded around Trish, slightly warming her armor, but doing no damage her. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the rigging around her, which burst into flames with the burnt and frightened crew fighting to put it out and prevent its spread. Three bright streaks of light from Prospero’s bolt spell sped past Trish and exploded against the flameskull, shattering it. Simon killed the bat he was fighting, knocking the rider into the ocean along with a crewmember. As they fell, a giant shark head breached the water and snapped the goblin in two as Brine joined the fray. He stopped briefly to encourage the crewmember to ride safely on his back as he searched for other prey. Seeing that the crewmember was safe, Simon looked out at the retreating groups of bat riders and teleported to the back of the closest one. With a swift movement, he threw the rider off the back of the bat towards the ocean. Brine, seeing the goblin fall, began to swim quickly to finish it off. With a quick flip, the bat flung Simon from its back and joined with the rest of the unholy flock on their way back to land. Simon hit the water, and after taking a few steps across the surface sank quickly into the ocean. Brine came up beside him, with the remains of the goblin hanging from his mouth, and the crewmember still holding on his back. He paused briefly for Simon to get a grip and then began the trip back to the ship.

Ellisandra made it to the deck in time to see the ghosts advancing on the crew. She cast a banish spell, which caused the glow surrounding her target to flicker, but not dismiss it. Maelstrom formed through the planks from underneath the ghost as it turned on his mistress and his attack sent the ghost back to the Halls of Silence. Prospero banished a ghost as Maelstrom killed another, and Trish finished off the last with a swipe of Oblivion. The crew started screaming as another spirit appeared over the cargo hold, but this one seemed different than the ghosts they had just faced. Trish turned to see a spirit with the tattoos of an Ahay, limned in a green glow. She called to the spirit, “What do you want, spirit, identify yourself or you will be destroyed”.

The spirit turned to her and began to float soundlessly closer, “Lady of Death, know that I am Gilliam, a fisherman from the village on yonder coast. We were brutally slain by pirates, who we haunted until they died of fear or left. Many years we wandered alone hoping for our tribes to look for us, but in the end, Chaos moved in and corrupted our bones. Many of the spirits in our village have been bound by Chaos and are forced to assist in their abominations. The bats the riders use are undead creatures created by Chaos magics and fed on the blood of passersby such as yourselves. Please, Lady of Death, assist us. Take our bones home to our shaman and allow us to rest.”

Trish looked at Captain Ward, who said, “This is beyond my knowledge, lass. Tell me what we need to do, and I’ll do what I can to help.”

Trish turned back to Gilliam, “What help can you give us in this mission?”

Gilliam’s already sad face turned down even further, “I can show you the path to the village, and lead you through the beach, where hostile foes await, but I can do naught more than that.”

“My duty is clear,” said Trish, “I must help lay these spirits to rest.”

Captain Ward said, “My crew can help you get to the island, but we’ve lost too many for me to lend you any of them to fight. Once you are on the beach, they will row back to the ship and await your signal to return.”

A short while later, the party were following Gilliam down the beach. “I feel like we’re being watched,” said Walac.

Grimclaw spun and growled deep in his throat as he heard something in the rocky spars of the beach. Simon ran lithely to the top of the spars, where he saw the hindquarters of a large lizard, possibly ten feet long, disappear around through the rocks. Simon returned to the party and said, “It looks like a bunch of giant lizards in the rocks, probably nothing to worry about.”

Shortly after resuming their way down the beach, Walac and Grimclaw noticed that they were being followed. “Looks like the lizards are back,” said Walac.

Prospero cast a spell on one of the lizards, “It looks like they are intelligent, there was no response to that spell, and if they were brute beasts, there would have been. What do you know of these creatures, spirit?”

“I know not of the nature of these creatures,” replied Gilliam, “but we should not tarry.”

Simon rushed the lizard, which stood up on its haunches and opened a frilled neck. Simon hit the sand as if he’d been poleaxed. Trish cast a detect chaos spell as Grimclaw tried to drag the unconscious Simon away from the lizard, and Prospero cast a bolt spell that caused the lizard to explode when it hit. Immediately after the lizard dies, Simon sat up, “What just happened?” he said.

As the remaining lizard advanced on the party, a roar came from spinward of where they were facing it. A troop of four giant white furred apes wearing leather armor and wielding spears came charging down the dunes at them. One thrust a spear at Simon, and snapped forward, biting him with poisonous fangs. Simon began to feel fatigued as the poison began to infiltrate his system. A second ape wounded Grimclaw with a spear thrust. Trish dodged the attack of one of the apes, and slapped the flat of Keller’s Razor against its head as she tried to find her footing in the shifting sand. Ellisandra cast an endure spell on Simon, invigorating him as Walac launched an arrow at the lizard, stunning it.

Prospero looked at the battle unfolding and decided that the lizard’s ability to stun without warning posed more danger to the party than the apes, and fired a bolt spell at the lizard. The lizard blew apart from the force of the magic bolts hitting it. The apes managed to wound Simon and Grimclaw with their spears, and four more apes could be seen running down the beach towards the party, drawn by the roar of the initial attack. Simon teleported to a ridge just behind the apes in an attempt to get away from them long enough to catch his breath. Almost at the same time, Ellisandra cast a hasty blast spell which went wide of the mark. Simon stared at the bard in disbelief as flames burst into being around him, startling him, but not hurting him. “Sorry about that, Simon,” called Ellisandra as she cast a bolt spell that killed one of the apes.

Maelstrom flitted across the beach, his winds throwing sand around him, and killed two of the apes, almost effortlessly, as Grimclaw missed with a swipe of his hairy paw. Prospero cast bolt spells at the apes that were coming up the beach, wounding three of them and killing one. As Simon prepared to pull out a healing potion, another lizard scurried out of the rocks behind him, “Enough is enough,” he shouted, slashing the creature to death with his katana. He then calmly removed a healing potion from his pouch and took it.

Trish drove both her runeblades into the torso of the ape in front of her, and spun to attack one of the ones that Prospero wounded with his bolt spell, but missed. Maelstrom killed the last of the apes from the original attack, as one of Walac’s arrows sprouted forth from the eye socket of one of the new arrivals. As the final ape danced around avoiding the party’s attacks, Simon leapt from the ridge he was on and delivered the final blow with his flail.

As Ellisandra healed Grimclaw and Simon’s wounds, Trish looked over the bodies of the lizards, “I remember these from my studies, they’re basilisks. Simon, you’re really lucky, they can kill with their gaze, and sometimes turn people to stone!”

A search of the apes revealed that one was wearing a fine plate corset, while another had a map of the village. They also had three gold, thirty one silver, seventy seven copper and two gems that Ellisandra estimated were worth about thirty silver each.

Gilliam led the party to the ape’s camp, where they found numerous bones of victims. “Sailors who come to shore here to the Wailing Ruins,” he said helpfully, “This is why most people refuse to land here.”

Trish took time to bury the bones properly after being assured by Gilliam that they were none of his kin. Afterwards, Gilliam led them to the goat trail that would take them to his village.

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Reunion

In the Sentinel Swamp, Gergle pulled the ship up to the docks at the city of Ard. As the party gathered their things from the deck, he pulled Brine aside. “My son,” he said, his eyes glistening, “You are about to go off on the greatest adventure of your young life. You have companions who will teach you how to go forth through the world and make your way there.”

Brine looked uncomfortable as his father continued. “Here is my old armor, trident, and spear gun that saw me through the battles of my youth. May they protect you and bring you safely back home to me when your travels are through.”

Brine took the backpack that contained his father’s gear. “Thank you. I will wear them proudly and bring honor to our name”, and giving his father a quick hug, he ran to the dock to hide the tears in his own eyes.

“We’ll look after the boy as best as we can, Gergle,” began Simon.

“Yes, Simon, I know you will,” interrupted Gergle, “I’ve known this day was coming for some time, but even though I know he will be in good hands with you and your friends, I fear for his safety. These are evil times, when even ancient armor and the most stalwart of friends may not be enough to see a youth through to adulthood. Chaos is moving through the world and only adventurers such as yourself stand between it and the normal people trying to survive. Allow Brine to book passage for you with the ships you will need, Agualans are always welcome on board a ship.”

There was nothing more to say, and Simon grasped Gergle’s hand firmly, then turned and stepped from the ship to the dock and joined the rest of the party. Arriving next to the party, Simon said, “Itcherat, where’s your gear?”

Itcherat smiled and said, “It’s still on the ship, my friend. It looks like this is where we part ways. I’ve decided that I’d like to assist the people of Broad Shoulders, they have many enemies and I think I can help them. I’m going to offer my services to Rory as a spy against the Chaos. Remember me, though, Simon; both you and Trish. My kind were betrayed by a lie and bound into dark service long ago, but we are not all lost. Look for friendly faces amongst your enemies, and you may be surprised at what you will find. Show mercy to my kin when the fates allow it.”

“Is there anything we can do for you to help you on your way, Itch?” asked Simon.

Itcherat shuffled his feet, “Actually, the boon I would request is if you could see your way to give me one of Salar’s favors, it would help me to bridge the gap for those times when people aren’t able to see past the face of a goblin.”

Simon fished in his bag, and retrieved the small pouch containing the favors, scooped one out and put it in the palm of his hand. He reached out and clasped Itcherat’s hand, simultaneously shaking his hand and transferring the favor to Itcherat. “We’ll miss you, Itch. Good luck on your travels.”

Itcherat stepped forward and gave his friend a hug. “I’ll miss you, my friend.”

After saying goodbye to the rest of the party, Itcherat climbed the gangplank back to the ship and stood by the railing, his fur hiding the tears that had begun to fall.

The party settled into one of the many inns dotted around the docks of Ard and secured rooms as well for the group coming with Prospero from Emancia. After putting their equipment in their rooms, the party went their different ways to run errands, shop and tithe to their various guilds and temples. It seemed that every temple had a horror story, from needing gilding on the roof of the fire temple, a leaking roof on the library of the one of the temples, or training facilities for the Death temple recruits. Between the tithes, the requests for help from the priests (and sometimes the temple spirits), and supplies for the upcoming trip to help Simon on his quest, the party’s finances were dwindling rapidly. As Simon counted out his coin for the gilding on the temple roof, he mentioned his vision and quest to the priest. “I know the very Fel from your dreams, young master,” said the priest as he put Simon’s donation securely into a chest in the temple.

“His name is Telpurr. Telpurr is short, with mottled grey fur striped like a tiger and long drooping whiskers. He wears a russet cloak wrapped around his thin frame and a silver earring in his left ear. His right ear is missing and that side of his face bears a long scar from a fight in his youth,” said the priest, “It is said that he and a handful of his students slew over 1000 Lazuri when he held the Nuclama Pass in the jungles of Solantim to allow his tribe time to evacuate. He was blinded by the Lazuri when they captured him after finally overwhelming him during his fight in the Nuclama Pass. He wears a blood red sash with the Bandar runes of fire-illusion-mastery over his ruined eye sockets. He escaped and formed the Tiger Temple high in the mountains rimward of the Sea of Steam.”

“Then it is to the Tiger Temple I must go,” replied Simon, “my destiny is there.”

“Well, young master, as it is your destiny, I feel compelled to help you,” said the priest, “It’ll take about twenty-five to thirty days at sea to make it to the temple. I can put some requests out for you in regards to a reputable captain and ship for your journey. For a small fee, of course.”

Simon gave the priest some more of his hard earned talons and left. The next few weeks were a blur of activity. Prospero and his party arrived and both groups told the story of their adventures, as well as made introductions of Brine and Ellisandra. Walac, Trish, and Ellisandra all took time to learn to swim from some of the local sailors who were waiting for their ships to leave, while Simon took the time to study battle scrolls to increase his ability to lead others in battle. One evening, as the party was relaxing in the common room of their inn, a man walked in and walked up to Simon. “Unless I am misinformed, you must be Simon,” said the sailor, “I’m Tobias Ward, captain of the Fall of Orana. I hear from the priests at the fire temple that you’re looking for passage through the Sea of Steam to the Tiger Temple. Cost is ten talons a day, 20 talons for trolls or mounts, as they eat more and require special attention.”

As the captain paused and looked at Nightshift, Ellisandra spoke up, “Good captain, ten talons a day is quite expensive, perhaps you could see your way through to giving us a discount for the Agualan that will be accompanying us.”
Ellisandra gestured at Brine, who stood up from where he had been seated, playing a game of chess with Prospero, and being soundly beaten for his efforts. “Well, that certainly makes a difference, young lady. For the Agualan, I will drop the price to five talons a day and ten talons a day for the troll and any mounts. I’ll even throw in bunk space and rooms on the inside for the ladies and the wizard, but the rest will bunk on the open deck,” said the captain, “Also, the waters we’ll be sailing are dangerous, so any day that you fight on behalf of the ship will be free. I’ll be making for the mines of the Twin Hells, which is near to where you are heading. The trip should take about thirty days with fair winds, and I’ll require half your payment up front.”

“What if we fight all the way there?” asked Simon.

“In that case, and we make it through safely, I’ll refund whatever portion of your passage fee you are owed,” replied the captain with a laugh.

“When will you be setting off?” asked Simon.

The captain said, “I’ll be leaving in a week, barring the unforeseen, so that will give you time to work out any last minute details you and your party need to take care of. Can I count on you as passengers?”

Simon extended his hand, “You may, captain”

Captain Ward shook Simon’s hand, “If you need anything before we leave, my first mate will be down by the docks. His name is John Rackham. I’ll tell him to look out for you. If nothing else, I’ll see you in a week.”

A week later, morning found the party on the docks giving John Rackham the money for their passage. The Fall of Orana was a sloop, fitted with two ballistae and two catapults, and had a capable, well-seasoned crew who were busily making ready to cast off. John showed the party to their quarters and assisted them in stowing their gear in between shouting orders at the crew. With their gear secured, the party went to the rail of the ship to take a last look at Ard, as well as to stay out of the way of the crew to the best of their ability. Captain Ward came up beside them through the bustle of the crew, appearing at their side almost as if by magic. “We’ll be underway soon,” he said, “If you’ve never travelled the Sea of Steam before, you should know that it gets its name from the volcanoes and islands that dot the sea. When there are eruptions, which are frequent, it causes the sea to boil and steam and makes travel treacherous. I’m going to take a longer route, but hopefully it will be a safer one, rimward. There have been pirates plying the waters coreward of here, and I’d rather not tangle with them if I can help it. I’ll even look to do some trading with some of the ports between here and there.”

Before long, the sails had filled with wind and the sloop cut the water cleanly as the ship left the port of Ard behind. The party settled down and began to get accustomed to life on board the ship. About midday, a call came from the rigging, “Enemies Ho!”

“Where?” cried the captain as he came bursting from the hold.

“Landward, to the bow and starboard” called the lookout.

The captain put a spyglass to his eye, then cursed and brought it down swiftly, “Spiderlin. Ready the catapults and ballista!”

It didn’t take long for the party to see what was in store as giant spiders came into view running across the water like their smaller brethren. The difference was that these spiders had riders; goblins. Worse still, some of them were crosses between spiders and goblins, the spiderlin. They had spider’s bodies with the torso of a goblin rising from where the spider’s head should be.

The ballistae and catapults fired. The first ballista rounds skipped off the water near the advancing spiders, but the catapult found its mark, crushing one, sending it and it’s rider to the bottom, and wounding a second one. The second volley from the ballistae and catapults each claimed another spider and rider, and the third ballista round wounded a spider, but the catapult couldn’t fire again before the spiders were too close to the ship. Brine, who had been scouting for the ship in the water using his shark form, burst forth from the water to kill one of the spiders and its rider while the other spiders crawled up the sides of the ship and onto the deck. The spiderlins cast spells as they began to scurry up the side of the ship from the water. As Simon attacked and killed one of the spiders, the rider leapt off the back of his dead mount to the deck. Meanwhile, the spiderlins and goblin spider riders began to kill the crew members they were close to. Ellisandra cast a bolt spell that went burst against one of the spiderlin without effect. One of the goblin riders hit Trish with his sword, but the blade turned as it hit her armor, causing the flat of the blade to hit her head and stun her.

Grimclaw pounced on the goblin that hit Trish and killed it, while Prospero’s blast exploded against the chest of another without damaging it. Trish shook off the blow she received and executed a double strike that killed the goblin Prospero hit. Simon attacked the riderless spider, killing it, as another struck at him, missing with its mandibles. Ellisandra cast quickness on Simon, and his already fast movements became a blur. Maelstrom’s attacks were ineffective against the spiderlin he was attacking. The spiderlin, glowing with green runes, was shocked when his attacks passed harmlessly through the sylph. The spiderlin cast a spell, as a second spiderlin hit Simon, wounding him. The next attack of the spiderlin damaged Maelstrom, surprising the sylph. Prospero cast another bolt, which did not damage the target. Walac’s attacks were ineffective against the spiders he was engaged with, his rapier passing through their armor without doing any damage to the creatures. Grimclaw pounced on the spiderlin that wounded Simon, killing it.

The fray continued, with the two remaining spiderlin killing more of the crew who had given up any pretense of fighting the monsters and were running around on the confines of the deck trying to avoid them. Simon killed another of the spiderlin as Prospero cast a bolt spell, wounding the two spiderlin. Grimclaw pounced on and killed one of the spiderlin as Simon killed the last one.

As the crew began to clear the deck of the creature’s bodies and stack their slain brothers to the side for burial, Captain Ward came over and thanked the party for their work in fighting off the invaders. “And just remember, today’s free!” he said with as much humor as he could manage.

View
The Conundrum

Taken from the text of “The Conundrum: A Primer” by Magnus Archibald Leek III -

“Traveling the conundrum is an intricate walking enchantment ritual which casts both the Create Familiar and the Apprentice Bonding Spells. The Spells are cast once the student emerges safely from the dark maze. Within the maze the Apprentice Candidate will encounter their Familiar and must prove themselves worthy via a series of tests that the Conundrum chooses. The tests are unique for each student and are considered a deeply personal journey. The candidate may only take their staff, a dagger, and attuned magic into the maze. The challenges will test the candidate’s power, knowledge and skill within their element. Many take the test, most fail and some die. Those that survive sacrifice find themselves bound to both their Familiar and their new Master.

At the entrance of the Eman Conundrum stands a small statue of Eman Zelen, the First wizard after which all the Eman are named. The statue’s face appears to smirk at the viewer. The statues inscription is written in the Journeyman tongue as. “Behold! The perpetual learner approaches.” Most believe that this message is a subtle reminder of the sorcerer’s paradox of discipline and humility: The discipline to study constantly and continue learning, and the humility to realize that their learning will never be complete.”

On this morning, Ellisandra and Prospero arrived at the entrance to the Eman Conundrum, where over one hundred students milled about with their masters, making last minute preparations for their trial, giving and receiving encouragement, and generally bustling with activity. The sudden sound of a gong broke through the noise of the gathered participants, causing all to be silent for the master of ceremonies. “The time has come for the walking of the Conundrum,” said the wizard, “All participants begin filing into the mouth of the cave, your test will now begin.”

When the wizard finished speaking, the clumps of people began to move as one towards the mouth of the cave, vanishing into the darkness. Ellisandra and Prospero moved with Master Balardus towards the mouth of the cave, and when they entered the darkness, there was a moment of disorientation, and the three found themselves alone together deep in the recesses of the Conundrum. “Conserve your power, you will need every last bit,” said Master Balardus looking at Prospero and Ellisandra both in turn, “If you fail and live, you may take the test again next year. If you pass, Prospero, you will be a mage, and Ellisandra, you will be a full apprentice. If you fail and die, you will not be resurrected. Good luck to you both.”

With a quick implosion of air, Master Balardus was gone. Prospero fished in his robes, and finally brought out a stone, which he pressed into Ellisandra’s hand. “This is an Aid stone. You may call on me for help once and only once during your trial. Do not lose this stone. Good Luck.”

Prospero cast a light spell on Ellisandra’s harp, and another implosion of air left Ellisandra standing on her own deep in the maze of the Conundrum. She stood for a moment, not sure where to go or what to do, when she began to feel a faint breeze on her face. She turned until she was facing the breeze, and stepped forward into the darkness. A short while later, Ellisandra stepped into a cavern, where what appeared to be a small tornado stood in place. A face appeared in the tornado and rotated slowly around to look at her. “Sooo mortal. You would ssssseek to have me assss a familiar? Very well, let usssss put your ressssolve to the tessst. If you would have my ssssubmissssion, you musssst prove your dominance!” the creature said ominously.

Ellisandra stepped back and thought of which skills she had that would help her in this situation. Brute force and magic would not stand her in good stead in this case, so she began to persuade the elemental creature, using her best logic. “You are an elemental creature. You were caught by mages and are bound into the service of a mage before you can return to your normal plane of existance, is this correct?”

“Yessss,” replied the tornado.

“Once the mage you are serving dies, you will no longer be bound to service and you can go to your own devices, is this correct?” she continued.

“Correct again,” replied the tornado.

“You realize that I am the lowest level of mage, and I still have to survive the rest of the tests of the Conundrum? If you accept me as your master now, you may be free of your obligation within minutes, if I die in the Conundrum. At most, your seventy or eighty years service could start now, and be over that much sooner,” she said reasonably.

“What you say has merit, mortal,” said the tornado in a more normal tone of voice, without the sibilance that it had been using previously, “You reason soundly, and accept the inevitability of your death. This may be interesting. I will accept you as my mistress, Ellisandra Ambire,” said the sylph. “My name is Maelstrom.”

Ellisandra smiled, “I gladly accept you as my familiar, Maelstrom, and offer you my friendship as well.”

“We shall see,” rumbled the sylph as the pair headed further into the caverns of the Conundrum.

Ellisandra and Maelstrom followed the corridor as it branched right. The walls began to narrow, and she could feel the earth closing in around her. With a sudden rumble and a shake, Ellisandra was thrown from her feet, and as she reached out for Maelstrom, her arms caught only air; she was alone again.

“Ellisandra,” began a voice that sounded as if two giant stones were being ground against one another, “You have been betrayed by your element. Flee this place and live. Stand against me, buried deep in the earth, and I will grind you to dust, and none will find your mortal remains!”

A golem lumbered out of the darkness, and Ellisandra began singing and firing bolts made from the energy of her songs into it, finally rendering it asunder even as it reached out to grab her. Standing waist deep in gravel, Ellisandra dug herself out as Maelstrom reappeared next to her. The pair moved further through the tunnels, this time going left, until once again, they came to another cavern. Maelstrom vanished and Ellisandra began to feel a sense of despair as she realized her companion was gone and she was alone in the darkness that had grown around her. She stood still, for fear of falling into the pits like she had passed going down the hallways. Suddenly, a quiet voice whispered laughingly from the darkness directly in front of her. “Ellisandra…You have been betrayed by your element. Flee this place and live. Stand against me, alone in the dark, and I will freeze your flesh and still your heart.”

The darkness surrounding her eased slightly, and Ellisandra could just make out a darker, human shaped shadow creeping stealthily towards her. She began singing again, and bolts flew forward into the shadow until it blew apart with a dark flash and Maelstrom swirled quietly at her side once more.

A voice said from within the cavern, “Not all problems can be solved with violence, student. Sometimes magic helps in other ways. Show me how this could be.”

Ellisandra brought her harp up in front of her and began to play, a tune designed to influence the listener with sorrow, and directed the energy into the room. As she completed her song, the voice said, “Very good, student. You have completed this task. However, not all problems can be solved with magic. A wizard of the line of Zelen must be both brave and wise, as well as accomplished in magic.”

A man appeared before Ellisandra, “I don’t believe you are strong enough to be a magician. Persuade me otherwise.”

Ellisandra thought carefully about her argument before speaking, “I am in the Conundrum, I have a familiar that I didn’t have when I entered. I have defeated Earth and I have defeated Darkness, and made the intangible feel sorrow. I stand before you after completing years of study as the ‘whore wizard’ and I’m unbowed. I have the strength for the tests, both magically and emotionally.”

“So you have,” said the man as he melted into the floor.

A table appeared in front of Ellisandra, with five similar shells on it. All five shells lifted and revealed that one had a small marble under it. “Watch carefully, student, you must tell me which shell has the marble under it at the end,” said the voice.

The shells slapped against the table and began to move, faster and faster until they became a blur. Ellisandra watched until she could no longer distinguish which one was the one that had the marble under it. “Choose wisely,” said the voice.

Ellisandra began to panic, because she had lost track of which shell had the marble under it. She then took a deep breath, and with the studiousness that had gotten her through many nights of study, she recalled the table and the shells before they began moving. Studying the table in her mind, she suddenly realized the shell with the marble under it had a small chip on the back that none of the others had. Looking over the table, she found the one with the chip in the back, and lifted it with a swift movement, revealing the marble. Her success was short lived, however, as the table immediately disappeared and creatures of Chaos slithered out of the darkness towards her. The voice intoned, “A wizard of the line of Eman Zelen knows no fear, and abide not the chaotic and their evil ilk.”

Ellisandra began singing, and bolts of magic flew from her, blasting the creatures who continued to swarm out of the darkness.

Prospero moved forward into the first room of the Conundrum. A few steps in, he realized that the ground was damp and he was moving into a room filled with water. He picked Grimclaw up and walked through the knee deep water and began to wade through to the exit on the other side of the room. As he reached the center of the room, a jet of water shot up from the pond and struck him in the chest, causing him to drop Grimclaw as he slipped and fell on the slick floor of the room. As he sputtered and sat up, all the water in the room sucked into the middle of the room to form a huge standing wave with what appeared to be a darker humanoid shape inside it. A guttural gurgling came forth from the creature, “Prospero, you have been betrayed by your element. Flee this place and live. Stand against my current, and I will dash your broken body upon the rocks.”

Prospero stood and cast a banishment spell, sending the water elemental back to its own plane of existence. He walked across the now dry room and out the exit to another tunnel. The tunnel led him to a large empty cavern, and the light flickering from his staff bounced off the walls. As he made his way across the cavern, a thunderclap sounded, the concussion of which knocked him to the ground. As he shook his head, he could see a cyclone forming in the middle of the room, with flickers and sparks of electricity dancing on the edge of the newly formed sylph. Prospero’s hair stood on end as the sylph intoned, “Prospero! You have been betrayed by your element. Flee this place and live. Stand against my storm and die.”

Prospero’s banishment spell made short work of the sylph, banishing it back to its plane, and leaving the cavern ominously quiet. A voice rang out in the cavern, “Not all problems can be solved with violence, apprentice, retrieve the relic from within the cage.”

As the voice faded into the darkness, a glowing cage appeared with a crystal ball on a stand in the middle of the cage. Prospero reached out and touched the cage, and got an electrical shock from the cage, causing the glow to dim. He stepped back and swung his staff at the bars, throwing a shower of sparks, but without any other noticeable effect. He circled the cage, and could see no way through the outside of it or over the top of it. Inspiration struck and in an instant, Prospero cast a burrow spell and came up under the cage next to the crystal ball. He picked the ball up, and immediately the ball, cage and stand winked out of existence.

“Very good,” said the voice, “A complex task now faces you, apprentice, for not all problems can be solved by magic.”

As the voice faded, a large tome on a stand appeared in the middle of the room. Prospero approached the stand cautiously and opened the cover. It was written in Journeyman! He began to translate, and finally made out the first paragraph, “First were the Elements, who are forever. Next came the Giants and the Dragons, keepers of lore. Our magics have shaped the world and will affect all who come after us, making them GODS!”
Prospero spoke the words from the translation, and the book and stand disappeared. “Noooo!!! All that knowledge!! I must study it!!”

The voice from the darkness came again, “No, apprentice. You may not study it; it is simply a portion of your test. Perhaps another time. In the meantime, a perplexing riddle faces you, a wizard of the line of Zelen must be both brave and wise.”

A table appeared in front of Prospero. On it was a painting that had been cut into squares within a frame. One square was missing and the picture itself had been scrambled. Prospero began to rearrange the pieces in the frame, and within minutes, the painting was once again whole. The voice said, “Very good, apprentice, very good. As you know, a wizard in the line of Eman Zelen knows no fear and abide not the chaotic and their evil ilk.”

Immediately, the table and painting disappeared to be replaced by a gibbering horde of creatures of Chaos. Prospero threw his staff in front of him and cast a blast spell. The force blew the creatures in front of him apart effortlessly. As the parts of the creature slowly evaporated like ice in the sun, Prospero’s staff began to hum as he held it in front of him, and with a great burst of energy that lit the gloomy chamber, he could feel a piece of his soul being drawn into the staff. Suddenly he was very weary, and he moved towards the exit of the cavern. As he crossed the threshold of the cavern, he suddenly found himself in front of Master Balardus. “Welcome back, Mage,” he said to Prospero as he shook his hand.

Ellisandra finished the last of the creatures of Chaos, and stepped toward the final room of the Conundrum. As she crossed the threshold into the final room of her path, she felt a surge of power flow into her from the walls of the cavern itself. She touched her harp to Maelstrom, and began to speak the words that filled her mind in the tongue of the Journeymen. “I now make this oath, on both my honor and my blood, that I will be faithful to you, without deceit and will never cause harm upon you, and that you shall forever be familiar to me. If you harm another, I shall answer for you, and any who harm you shall answer to me. So I swear until permanent death shall take me, or I release you, or the world shall end.” Ellisandra felt drained by the familiar bonding ritual, but strangely energized as well. An opening appeared in the stone wall in front of her, revealing a long tunnel with sunlight at its end. She stepped into the tunnel, and the walls began to rush past her at an inhuman rate of speed, as if traveling many marks within an instant. Prospero was standing at the mouth of the tunnel and beckoning her forward, out of the cave. As she exited the cave, she could see a weatherworn, mossy statue of Eman Zelen. He stood with his ruby staff raised before him, with Bara, his hawk familiar at his shoulder, and his right hand held aloft in a clenched fist. Around this wrist is the shackle of a slave bracelet with a shattered chain. The inscription on the statue reads, “Go forth new learner and bend the elements to your will!” Ellisandra stepped forward to Prospero and knelt before him with her head bowed, raising her harp in her outstretched hands. He grasped the top of the harp, creating a surge of power through the instrument that they both could feel. Journeyman words filled Ellisandra’s mind and flowed through her brain as she recited the following oath, “By all that is Truth and Honor I swear by the power in my soul, by the mind within my body, by the Sun over my head, by the Earth under my feet, and by the harp in my hands that I will give faith, and aid, and fealty to you my master, until I am honorably released from this service, or permanent death take me, or the world shall end.”

While the mages were walking the conundrum, Nightshift took the shiny gold coin that Prospero had given him and found a cozy little bar called ‘The Bloody Bucket’. The sign had a picture of a bucket of chum which had been augmented with a severed hand, foot and head, lying on the table next to it. “Looks fun,” thought the troll to himself as he walked in. Though everyone looked up as he walked in, none of the patrons seemed to give the troll as second thought as they resumed their drinking. Nightshift walked up to the bar, and the bartender said, “What’ll ya have?”

“Your strongest alcohol,” said Nightshift in what he thought was his most high class voice.

“You got it,” replied the bartender as he went to get the drink.

As Nightshift sat on a stool near the bar, the front door swung violently open, crashing against the wall, revealing one of the wizards who had accosted the party with Master Belmeer a few days ago. “That bitch has killed my beloved Jenna and has no doubt slunk off to the Conundrum to screw her master to get her robes.”

He pointed at Nightshift, “I will have my vengeance troll, and I will have it on you!! So says Belamy the Red!!”

The hastily aimed bolt whizzed past Nightshift’s head, causing him to stand and ready himself for the next attack. The wizard attempted another spell, but something apparently went wrong as he grabbed his head and fell to the floor, even as a fireball erupted near the far end of the bar. “Little man, you say many words fast, but me understand vengeance!” said Nightshift as he grabbed the barstool nearest him and ran towards the prone wizard, pausing briefly to throw the furniture at him. Belamy ducked beneath the flying chair and as the patrons of the bar erupted into a wild melee around them, he cast another fireball spell that went wide of its mark. Nightshift grabbed a bench as he advanced on the wizard, and threw it at him, stunning him briefly when it knocked him to the ground. As Belamy stood up, he was greeted by the large form of the troll who had swung across on the chandelier, kicking him and landing on him with his full weight. Belamy collapsed in a heap crying. “Funny little red man, why you say big words and throw flaming sun at me?” asked Nightshift.

The wizard wet himself in fear as he looked up at the troll. “Do what you want to me, you abomination. Jenna is dead, her throat slit, and they found that whore Ellisandra’s silver dagger in her back. Master Belmeer is swearing out a warrant for the whore and her so-called master.”

With this, Belamy fainted dead away in the grip of the troll. Nightshift drug the unconscious wizard to the trash heap and deposited him on top, then walked through the chaos to grab his drink that had been left untouched in the chaos. He looked around approvingly at the fight, guzzled the drink and rushed to join the fray. The bartender and the bar staff had just succeeded in pushing the entire fight out into the street, and barred the door from the patrons returning when the sounds of the city guard could be heard drawing nearer. Without any further hesitation, Nightshift took off at a run towards the caves of the Conundrum.

Master Balardus handed Prospero a necklace of claws. “These are the claws of a dirt hulk, formed into a Necklace of the Burrower. Pull one of the claws and you will be able to burrow further and faster than normal.”

“Thank you master,” said Prospero.

Turning to Ellisandra, “And as is traditional, I have a gift for you as well,” he said, handing her a stone ring. “This ring has one of each of my spells on it, for you to use in our travels, as I won’t always be right by your side to get you out of trouble.”

As they stood talking about the gifts and the challenges they faced in the Conundrum, Nightshift came running up. It was obvious that he had been in a fight, and he was carrying their bags of equipment. “Guards looking for you,” he said with a grin.

Master Belardus cast a quick telepathy spell and read the trolls mind. “Prospero, they think that Ellisandra has murdered someone, an apprentice named Jenna. Belmeer has sworn out a warrant for your arrests. This must be related to the ring. Flee to the Black Gate, I will send to the Master of Circles, he will send you to Ard, and I will clear your name here, but you must flee now!”

The party began running away from the Conundrum towards the Black Gate, Maelstrom picked Ellisandra up and carried her through the city streets as a mother would carry her baby. Prospero summoned three elementals, charging them to delay their pursuers. Screams erupted from behind them as the golems blocked the roadway and the city guard crashed into them. More guards began to pour in from the side streets, and Grimclaw pounced among them, scattering them briefly, but allowing the party enough time and room to get by. As they ran, Nightshift grabbed a wagon and threw it across the road behind him. “Ellie, did you know red man’s mate?” he asked.

Ellisandra ignored the question as she tried to wriggle around in Maelstrom’s grip to be able to get a spell off at their pursuers. Ahead, the party could hear the clatter of horseshoes on the cobblestones as mounted guardsmen joined the chase. A group of horses and riders appeared in their path, and Nightshift punched one horse in the mouth, knocking it and its rider down as he roared as only an angry troll could. The horsemen scattered, and Nightshift called over his shoulder mockingly, “You need more guards.”

Another group of horsemen appeared further up the road, and behind them, giant hawks with riders swooped through the skies in pursuit. Ellisandra finally managed to get a spell off, casting a barrier across the sky in front of the giant hawks. Unable to see the barrier, and unable to stop, even if they had, the hawks crashed into the barrier, and fell into the streets, well away from the party’s path. Prospero summoned two sentinels to disable the pursuit behind them, and all that was between the party and the Black Gate was a group of incoming horsemen. Ellisandra cast another barrier, and the horses and their riders were lying in a convulsing heap as they entered the Black Gate. The Master of Circles was waiting for them as they burst into the room, and moments later they were on their way through the ether to Ard.

View
The Journal

The next morning was bright and clear, as the party went to the Mage’s Guild. As they moved through the crowded city streets, none of them noticed they were being followed until they were surrounded by a ragged group of children. “Please, spare a few coppers,” said the leader of the group, standing in front of Prospero.

Prospero tossed a few coins out into the street, which vanished almost before they hit the ground. Encouraged both by the affluence of the party, as well as the ease they had gotten money from the group, more children appeared, almost as if by magic. Nightshift saw where this was going and loudly roared a troll challenge, scattering the urchins, who melted back into the crowd and the alleys of the city. A quick check revealed that one of the urchins had lifted the purse from Ellisandra’s belt before he left, taking the change she carried there. Without further incident, the group made it to the Mage’s guild. Two men at arms flanked the door, and as the party approached, one of the guards stepped in front of the party, “Where are you going?” he asked.

Prospero looked at the guard, “We are going to the guild library,” he said haughtily.

“And the troll is your research assistant? I don’t think so,” said the guard with a sneer.

“No, the troll is not my research assistant, what a preposterous notion,” said Prospero as he tried to go around the guard, “He is our bodyguard.”

“Bodyguard or not, he can’t come into the guild. He’s not a magician; trade secrets and all that,” said the guard, standing his ground.

Sighing, Prospero turned to Nightshift, “Here’s a silver coin, find a pub nearby,” he began.

“Try the Pig and Whistle, it’s nearby, and has good service,” offered the guard.

Glaring at the guard, Prospero continued, “Go to this Pig and Whistle, and we will meet you there when we are done. Stay out of trouble!”

Nightshift took the coin and went happily towards the pub as Ellisandra and Prospero went into the guild. After getting directions to the library at the main desk, they entered the room and were confronted with the enormity of their task. As they stood in the doorway looking at the shelves that lined the walls all the way to the vaulted ceiling, a dwarf came from behind a pile of books to their right. “Close the door now; you weren’t raised in a barn, were you? Come in and stay or go out and leave, but I’ll thank you to close the door!”

Surprised by the outburst, Prospero and Ellisandra took a step in and the door shut behind them. “Now that you’ve put a slab of wood in the source of that nasty cold draft, perhaps I can help you. My name is Paravel, I’m the head librarian,” said the dwarf, extending a stubby hand covered in ink smudges of various hues.

“Prospero, and this is my apprentice Ellisandra,” said Prospero, shaking the dwarf’s hand. “We’re here to look for some information. Specifically anything to relate to something known as the ‘ring of velu’”
“Hmmm,” said the dwarf as he thoughtfully rubbed the side of his bulbous nose with his finger. “That’s a new one. Never heard of anything like that, but perhaps you can look for things related to rings, which is located in this section, and information on the great cities, located over there. I’ll look in a couple of non-standard sources and see if I can find anything there.”

A couple of hours passed, and Ellisandra had been unable to find anything on Velu in the section on the great cities, and Prospero hadn’t been able to find anything on rings that was particularly helpful. Paravel walked up with his assistant, Rig, just as Ellisandra was telling Prospero that she had been unable to find anything on any of the cities, much less on Velu. “My young lady,” began the dwarf, “if you are to be a wizard, you really must learn to do your research. Of course there is information there about all of the cities; you simply must not have been looking in the right place.”

“Sir,” interrupted Rig, “Don’t you remember, the great cities collection was moved for cleaning, review, and restoration into the archive room?”

Paravel looked at Rig in surprise, “You are absolutely right! I forgot that we had moved that collection. I am terribly sorry, young lady, the fault is my own. Follow me, please.”

The dwarf turned and navigated between the piles of books and desks heading towards a locked door in the back of the room. “We normally don’t let people in here during an inventory,” he said as he put his key in the lock, “but it’s the least I can do after having wasted…”

The dwarf’s voice trailed off, because as he opened the door, it was apparent that the room had been ransacked, as if someone had been searching for something. The dwarf scrambled around and started trying to restack the collection, and restore order to the chaos in the room. “It appears that the only things missing are to so with Velu,” he said, still in shock.

“Sir, that was the material you had me send to the Scriptorium in the divine quarter to be copied,” said Rig, “It’s been there for a couple of days at least!”

“Well, it appears that I have really been wasting your time today,” said the dwarf ruefully. “Perhaps you’ll let me make it up to you by giving you a letter of introduction to Hiram Scribblet, the head of the Scriptorium. He should be able to help you find what it is you are looking for.”

After the dwarf drew up the letter of introduction and apologized a couple of more times, Prospero and Ellisandra left the guild and had a quick lunch with Nightshift at the Pig and Whistle, which turned out to be a fairly nice place, which belied it’s ramshackle exterior appearance. After their meal, the party set out to the divine quarter to continue their search. As they headed down a lesser travelled side street, Prospero heard a voice in his ear,” I told you not to seek the ring of velu. You will pay for your persistence.”

Screams rang out as grates were pushed aside by creatures crawling out of the sewers. Bystanders ran away as fast as they could and the party readied for an assault as skeletons clambered out of the grates behind them and zombies shambled forward from in front of them. Ellisandra began to sing a quick tune, and with a sudden explosion like a thunderclap, a blast filled the area in front of the party, blowing one of the zombies apart. Nightshift charged forward, stopping the forward movement of one of the zombies as it shakily got to its feet, while Grimclaw pounced on one of the skeletons, damaging it. The skeletons began to swing their weapons at Grimclaw, who used any opening he could find to counterattack. Ellisandra was covered in a brief golden glow as Prospero cast an armor spell on her. The skeletons not fighting with Grimclaw began to shoot arrows at Prospero, grazing him slightly. Prospero spun and cast a bolt spell, causing glowing missiles to shoot forward and destroy three skeletons in a shower of sparks and broken bone. Ellisandra continued her song, and another thunderclap blast destroyed another of the skeletons and knocked another one down. As the battle raged in the center of the street, a burst of flame erupted around Ellisandra and Prospero burning Ellisandra badly as a pair of flameskulls joined the fray. As another bolt from Prospero blew both flameskulls apart, Nightshift swung his staff, trying to keep the mob of zombies surrounding him at bay. Another thunderclap burst nearby as Ellisandra continued casting, killing two of the zombies surrounding Nightshift. Prospero cast the untie cantrip on his sword’s peace bond, causing the strap to fall to the ground as he pulled his sword and charged into the swords, being careful to stay outside the reach of the troll’s wildly swinging staff. Nightshift shifted backwards and swung, connecting with each of the zombies attacking him, and knocking the head clean off the one on the end, even as Prospero cut another in half with his sword. Grimclaw finally killed the last of the skeletons as Nightshift and Ellisandra finished off the last of the zombies; Nightshift battering two zombies apart with his staff, and Ellisandra cutting off the head of the last zombie with her dagger. Moments after the battle had ended, the city guard arrived, and began to ask questions about this being “yet another case of battle and magic within the city limits by the Prospero party.”

Ellisandra walked up to the captain of the guard, “Sir, of course my master is not involved with these events in any way, other than through the fact that someone means him harm. We have once again, simply defended ourselves, and unless you wish to assign a detachment to watch over us to prevent these sorts of events, I suggest you leave us be.”

After much deliberation, during which Ellisandra tended her wounds, the captain of the guard finally let the party go with an admonishment that they should “try to find less dangerous places to be”, and within minutes, the group was once again on their way to the Scriptorium. Hiram Scribblet met with the adventurers, thanks to the introduction from Paravel, “I’m happy to help, but I’m afraid you’ll find that your task may be quite a difficult one. There was an accident when they were bringing the documents over. It involved a wagon full of pig manure, and it really has been quite a mess. Sindy, my assistant can help you.”

Looking at the mass of filthy books and scrolls, Prospero looked at them with distaste, picking a particularly soiled specimen from the top of the pile. “I think we can help a bit with that, Mr. Scribblet,” and with a word, the scroll was clean as if it had never been dirty.”

“What? How did you do that?” asked the Scriptorium director.

“It’s a simple cantrip, even my apprentice knows it. Any mage worth his salt should be able to do the same,” replied Prospero.

“Amazing, simply amazing,” stammered the director, “Get me a crew of wizards here to clean this up. This will take no time!”

A short while later, after the crew of student wizards finished cleaning the documents, the search began in earnest to find the information they had been unable to trace thus far. As they began, Grimclaw told Prospero that he was hearing things hit the roof. Prospero asked Hiram about it. “Nothing to worry about, my dear wizard, we have a number of pine trees outside the facility. You get used to the cones falling and hitting the roof. You get used to it,” said the director.

Grimclaw went outside and looked at the roof, where he mentally contacted Prospero to let him know about the smoke he saw coming from there. At about the same time, a crash came from behind Prospero as four large salamanders fell through the roof and began to sling fire about them in a completely random frenzy. Copiers ran out of the building, abandoning their work as their desks burst into flame. Grabbing as much as they could carry, Sindy, Ellisandra and Prospero ran to the nearby window which had been blown out by the intense heat coming from the salamanders and jumped out with as many of the documents as they could carry. Hiram was distraught at the loss of knowledge that the fire was consuming, and as the wizards on the fire brigade put out the fire and captured the rogue elementals, he was somewhat consoled by the things Sindy, Prospero and Ellisandra were able to save. One journal stood out, a logbook of the watchwarden of the city of Thenga Velu. Hiram allowed Prospero to take it back with him for study.

On the way back to the inn for the night, a wizard from the darkness college bumped into Ellisandra. “Watch where you are going little girl, your betters shouldn’t be trifled with,” said the fat man with flowing robes as his entourage snickered nastily.

“Watch where you are going yourself, old man, you bumped into me,” replied Ellisandra testily.

“Oh ho,” laughed the man mirthlessly, “I recognize the apprentice Prospero. Is this student yours, apprentice? Perhaps you should teach this student to recognize the robes and station of a master wizard, such as myself, Belmeer. Assuming, of course, that you know how.”

One of the entourage stepped forward and whispered loudly, “That’s Ellisandra, the whore wizard.”

“Really,” said the fat man, arching his eyebrows, “and a fitting apprentice for Prospero she would be, a little, low born gutter slut, unfit to wear the robes of a mage.”

With that, he walked briskly away from the group without any further conversation, followed by his entourage. Prospero saw one of the beggar children who accosted them earlier, and tossed him a coin, “There’s more where that came from, but you have to get them from the fat man there.”

Nodding, the child called to his friends and within moments, the fat wizard was surrounded by dirty children who were grabbing at his robes and demanding money. “Come on,” said Prospero, “Don’t worry about Belmeer the Belittling, let’s get back to the inn and study this book.”

Erik’s Account

This is the account of Erik of Crowhaven son of Weldon, Watchwarden of the Wizard’s Spyre, in the great city of Velu.

-On this the 26th day of the Season of Flamesleap in the year of 7550 as reckoned by Emancia I stand watch over Trade Island. This is the 14th season of the Lazuri Empire’s siege on Thenga Velu.

-This is the hour of the Duck and there is great activity among the Lazuri fleet that lies in blockade beyond the Warm Water Harbor. The masters have seen fit to bless me with enchanted eyes that pierce both the dark and the distance to the bay. I can see individual sailors at work upon the decks. Were that they could extend my sword arm as far as my sight. The Great harbor chains and their sorcerous wardens have kept the vile fleet from the harbor for the last 2 years. Tonight the great ships appear to be lining up to make another run, so I have sent word to the masters to man the harbor chains and their wards once again.

-The watch candle has burned into the hour of the Porpoise and the unthinkable has occurred. The great Lazuri fleet has broken through the harbor chains and is pouring into Warm Water harbor. Never have I witnessed such fire. I swear that I feel its heat upon my cheek as I write. The chains flare and melt as the ebony ships with their great red sails push through them as though they were the paper ribbons set about the streets during the Adjournment season celebrations. While amazed, I have no fear, for our own great fleet of ships with their brave Velu sailors are racing forward to meet them.

-The watch candle has burned deep into the hour of the Sheep and the battle rages on. The lazuri have flung salamanders onto the decks of our ships using catapults! The gossamer leaves of the great elven tree-ships burst into flame despite their enchantments. The lazuri’s vile chaos sorcerers must be unleashing their unholy magics to cause the wooden ships to burn so. The screams of the elves dying in a manner that represents their greatest fears reaches my unenhanced ears even at this great distance. The floating stone fortresses that are the dwarven ships fare much better and their great cannons fire ceaselessly blowing gaping holes in the sides of the black ships. Many a mast, hull, and crew are sent to the bottom of the harbor as the lazuri find themselves perishing in their own worst way. I take some comfort that their screams also fill my in aided ears.

-In the hour of the Raven the raging battle for warm water harbor is taking a turn. Our brave fleet has held the lazuri black hearts at bay, but now a new fleet of fast ram ships is approaching the harbor from around the hills of Nathos. They are many in number, at least fifty and under full oar. I have sent runners to alert the harbor guard but I fear my warning will go unheeded as the lazuri in the harbor have conjured a new rain of fire elementals, this time aimed at the warehouse district. The cannons of the dwarves fleet and the arrows if the elves exact a steep toll on the lazuri for focusing their wrath on the city.

-My watch candles are starting to sweat from the blazing inferno in the streets below the Spyre, but I can still make out that it is now the hour of the Owl. Below me I can see the water mages, the priests of Demelna and those of Aguala conferring. I cannot hear their words but can only assume they are searching for the best way to fight the fires in the streets. The ram ships are approaching the harbor now and are moving at an unnatural pace. I train my gaze upon the lead ship and scream wells up in my throat. The drummer that is pounding out this merciless beat is none other than high general Harlen himself. He that has been missing from Velu these last three seasons after a sortie that he led was waylaid outside the gates by an overwhelming force. It is said that a thousand lazuri died beneath his hammer and the spears of his knights before he was overwhelmed. Great parades of morning were held in his honor in the following weeks, thinking him lost forever. But no! He sits before me surrounded by his knights Ekwell, Gwenall, Fynar, Zeloor, and Thoruth all leading the enemy’s ships against their own homeland. I must log that this is not betrayal, rather black magic as the fresh scars of the Entrall ritual adorn all their noble brows. My heart breaks as I write.

-In the hour of the Fox my tale grows stranger still. The Demelna priests have diverted the river into the streets of city to drown out the salamanders and extinguish their works. A great cheer goes up from those in the city manning the fire brigade. However, my keen eyes alight on the true cunning of the Lazuri’s strategy. Diverting such vast quantities of water from the river, lowers the depth of the harbor and now it is apparent why the Lazuri fleet kept to the shallows. Soon the deep drafted dwarven ships of stone are aground with no maneuverability. The lazuri ships fare little better and battle of great warships becomes a chaotic melee of boarding parties and hand to hand combat. The lazuri triremes with their shallow draft are unphased by the harbor’s sudden drop and seem to fly past the melee on the decks of the warships. They are heading straight for the wizards Spyre upon which I stand. I send a runner to alert the masters below that brother will soon be fighting brother in some macabre parody of a civil war that never was. As the ships enter the mouth of the warm river their cargo nets are cut free and vile wyrms and wyvern are loosed into the skies. I flash the lanterns at the air temple to alert Sky Marshal Parrier that the Spyre is in need of air support. I string my bow and whisper a prayer to Dagaral and instruct the runners to do likewise.

-This is the hour of the Bat as near as I can tell. My watch candle has been extinguished to make us harder targets. Some of the wyrms have riders with keen senses and powerful spells. I have spent all of Dagaral’s favor insuring that my shots at these fire priests fly true. I wish now that I have spent more time humbling myself before Dagaral instead of carousing with my men in the Bloody Bucket. The flying beasts are detained now by Sky Marshall Parrier;s gryphon squadrons and I can get a clear look at the assault. It appears that the Lazuri and their minions have reached Trade Island and gained the gates of the Spyre itself. Most of the city lays open to such a large force and I find it strange that they are focusing all their efforts, and considerable magic, on the Spyre itself. Perhaps they seek to destroy the journeyman gate, or worse yet, summon a great army through it to pour out and storm Velu from the inside. It is rumored that this is how they took Thenga Orana back in 7542. By Dagaral’s blessed bow! There had been a great explosion below me that has shaken the tower in its entirety. Form the enemy’s cheers I would say that the noble Spyre has been breached. The massed troops outside the Spyre are passing what looks like an iron sarcophagus over head from man to man on its way to the Spyre’s front gate. Great are the energies that are heaped upon it by Velu’s mages as it is passed forward towards the gate. Once it reaches the gate it passes from my site. The junior wardens are warning me of another approaching aerial assault, so I will set down my log in a safe place and make my stand. They are but girls and boys, these watch wardens, yet none of them flee their posts. They nock their best arrows and call upon their ancestral spirits to watch over them as a horde of hellish winged beasts put their back to the moon and bear down on us.

-The candles are out and my ink is lost so I will close my last log with my own blood. We were decimated but we sent many a wyrm and wyvern to the jagged rocks of the river bank before we fell. The junior wardens fought bravely and I request that each of their names be inscribed on the stone Columns of Courage within the courtyard of the Veluvian cohort. James son of Michael, Westren son of Kane, Grella daughter of Kimbra, Hess son of Dirk. My wounds will not be treated in time, and the poison of three wyvern stings courses through me now, causing my hands to shake. I would note that I crawled to my knees to peer over the ramparts and saw the iron sarcophagus loaded upon the lead ramship which immediately fled to the open sea. The remainder of the lazuri fleet was destroyed 79 ships in all. Only the ramship bearing the coffin escaped. The lazuri paid an awful price for delivering and then retrieving that coffin. They were but a short time in the arch. Not long enough to plunder its treasures. Perhaps they destroyed the arch or sought someone or something else on the first floor.

-I am weak now and will close this log with a final prayer. Dagaral, mighty hunter and hearth guardian, I beg of thee to bear my spirit to your happy hunting ground beyond the halls of silence. Thus ends the final watch of Erik of Crowhaven son of Weldon, Watchwarden of the Wizard’s Spyre, in the great city of Velu.

-Log addendum by Christin daughter of Harm – the lord of the watch has granted this last request and the great deeds of Erik and his wardens will live forever on the Columns of the Cohort. On this the 28th day of the Season of Flamesleap in the year of 7550 as reckoned by Emancia. It should also be noted, that the siege of Velu is now ended as all land and sea Lazuri forces retreated before the light of Kala broke the morning of this day.

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Riddle Me This

The day had finally arrived for meeting Kellor at the Bazaar, and as the hours dragged slowly towards the Hour of the Lizard, it became harder and harder for Prospero or his apprentice to concentrate on their studies. Pox, the hobgoblin librarian, had glared at them occasionally over the tops of her glasses when their discussions about the possible meanings had gotten louder than should be allowed in a study hall. That stern look was enough to send the conversation back to muted tones more appropriate to the studying they were supposed to be doing for their trip through the Conundrum. At last, the time came for them to make their way to the Bazaar to meet with Kellor, and with their bodyguard and familiar in tow, the pair made their way towards the merchant stalls. As the party drew near to the shopping district, four guards wearing the livery of the city galloped by on horseback towards the heart of the Bazaar, crying “Make way, make way,” and almost running some of the pedestrians in the street down in their haste.

“I wonder where they are going in such a hurry,” asked Prospero of no one particular as they continued on their way.

Within a few minutes, the party stood outside the door of the shop of Conril, purveyor of fine staves. Prospero opened the door to the shop and strode purposefully in, looking at the staffs lined up around the wall. “Good day to ye, sir,” said the dwarf behind the counter with a smile, “Looking for anything particular, or just here to see my selection, which is, of course, the finest to be had in Emancia?”

“Are all of your staffs enchanted, or do you sell normal ones as well?” asked Prospero.

“If you tell me what you’re looking fer, I can probably find it fer ye, within reason, of course. As they say, the impossible takes a little longer,” said the dwarf with a chuckle.

Prospero looked up from the intricate design on the staff he had picked up from its resting place on the wall. “I’d really be interested in something fairly simple, a normal staff, capped with rune metal. Darkness runes would be best, if you can find them.”

“Hmmm,” said the dwarf thoughtfully, stroking his beard, “Rune staff, ye say. I think I know just the thing for ye, take me a day or so to lay my hands on it.”

“What price would you be looking for?” asked Prospero.

“Well, I’ve got to see what it is I can find, ye see,” began the dwarf, “but I think I can find ye something in the neighborhood of about…ummm, say, four hundred and fifty silver talons,” said the dwarf, eyeing Prospero for his reaction.

“That should be acceptable,” said Prospero, “By the way, I was supposed to meet a friend here, by the name of Kellor, you wouldn’t have seen him by any chance? He’s actually late for our meeting.”

At the mention of Kellor’s name, the dwarf visibly started. “Kellor, ye say? Funny ye should mention him, there was a ruckus just outside me shop on the street, and some of the city guard were hauling off none other than yer Kellor. Right outside me shop! What’s an honest shopkeeper to do with goings on like that happening outside me establishment?”

“The city guard arrested him? Did they say what for? Were you sure they were the city guard?” asked Prospero.

“Well, they were wearing the livery of the guard sure enough; said something about arresting him for high crimes of some kind, with him protesting the whole way, swearing to them four guards that he had nothing to do with anything,” the dwarf peered at Prospero intently, “Here, yer not getting me tangled into some sort of mess, are ye? I’m not about to risk me livelihood fer a bunch of scallywags!”

“No, nothing illegal, but it is strange that Kellor was arrested,” said Prospero, “We’ll be back in a few days for the staff, thank you very much for your help.”

After leaving the shop, the party began the long walk home, speculating about the arrest of Kellor, and what it portended for their investigations, especially in light of the cryptic message he had sent Prospero. As they got closer to the Crystalline Bridge, the head of a nearby group of guardsmen began to look at Prospero intently as they party approached. As they began to pass the guards, the leader began to move towards them, “Excuse me, citizen, I’d like to have a word with you.”

Under normal circumstances, Prospero would be inclined to ignore the request, but the guards had moved out, and while not exactly surrounding them, they made it very clear that he was the one they were addressing. “Yes, how may I help you?” asked Prospero as pleasantly as he could.

Looking him up and down, the guard said, “Are you the apprentice of Master Balardus?” he asked gruffly.

“I am,” replied Prospero.

“I need to inform you, sir, that the use of offensive magics within the city limits is illegal, and is subject to a heavy fine or even arrest with hard labor,” replied the guard.

Prospero managed a shocked look, “Who would make such an accusation?”

“The merchants of Fleet Street made a report, and we’ve been briefed to keep an eye out for you,” said the guard.

“Nightshift, have we been on Fleet Street?” asked Prospero.

Looking puzzled, the troll answered, “Yeah, boss, that’s where we ran into those thugs the other day.”

“Fighting isn’t allowed…” began the guard.

Ellisandra stepped up, “Sir, my master, Prospero, has been out fighting wars against Chaos, and has only just returned from a campaign to take me as an apprentice, and help me to walk the Conundrum. Do you have to formalize this report, or is there something else we could do to take care of this. You know, for a veteran of the wars against Chaos?”

The guard looked at Ellisandra and stammered, “Well, ma’am, we all know someone who has fallen against the legions of Chaos. This war has left many an orphaned child or a wife without a husband…”

Seizing on the opening Ellisandra made, Prospero offered, “Then perhaps these gold coins could be used to ease the suffering of some of these citizens. I’m sure that someone such as yourself would have a far easier time getting this money to those who need it than I would.”

Taking the coins, the guard said, “I suppose that would be the right thing to do, especially if it was a matter of self defense. I’ll make the appropriate report this time, but rest assured, if I hear your name again, I’ll take a personal interest in bringing you to justice.”

The rest of the trip back was uneventful, and before long, Prospero and Ellisandra were back in the library. “Within the Conundrum, there will be four challenges,” said Prospero, “It will test your different spell abilities. I had to use earth manipulation, banish an undine, and do a hand to hand battle. There was something else, but for some reason, I can’t think of it right now. Too much else on my mind, I suppose.”

Ellisandra asked him, “I hear that you will find your familiar when you’re in the Conundrum.”

“That is correct,” said Prospero, “That’s how I met Grimclaw. He was there, and we’ve been companions ever since.”

While Ellisandra studied, Prospero wrote a quick note to Master Balardus and signed it with his arcane mark. He took the note to Pox, the librarian, who said she could get a courier for the note without any trouble. She gave Prospero, who she had known since he was a student in the university, a significant look and said, “You be careful with that girl, Prospero. She is very special to a lot of us here at the university. She’s more down to earth than a lot of the folks that come through. Really interested in helping where she can, and we’d be awfully upset if anything were to happen to her.”

About an hour after he sent the note, a courier arrived with a reply. The note read: “Kellor is being held in The Orb. After you finish your studies, go there, and see if you can speak to Kellor. I will be doing an investigation on my end as well to see what I can turn up.”

After a couple more hours of study, Prospero rounded up his apprentice, bodyguard and familiar, and headed across the Crystalline Bridge to The Orb, the notorious mages prison. About halfway across the bridge, two wizards stopped the party by blocking the bridge with their arms outstretched. They were joined by a third wizard who came up behind the party after they stopped. “You are in our way,” said Prospero, annoyed at the delay.

“No, you are in the way,” hissed one of the mages in front of him, “You will not find the ring of Velu”

As if that were a preordained signal, all three wizards cast a spell, and then immediately dove from the side of the bridge. Prospero had no time to try and see where they went, because he was confronted with the sight of an enormous spined demon standing in front of him where the wizards were seconds earlier. Behind the demon were four kushna devil dogs. A glance behind him told him that the magician there had not been idle either, as two dissolvers pulsated in a disgusting mass in the middle of the bridge. “Invokers,” said Prospero between clenched teeth, “the filth!”

Screaming began quickly, as students and teachers on their way to or from class saw the Chaos creatures in their midst. Grimclaw pounced on the spined demon, but wasn’t able to hit it as Prospero cast a banish spell that glanced harmlessly from the demon’s side. The demon flicked its tail into the air, sending a swarm of spines towards the party, but the swarm passed harmlessly by the group. One of the kushna and one of the dissolvers were quickly dispatched by some of the other mages on the bridge, although one of the dissolvers caught a student that ventured too close. The student’s clothing began to smolder and dissolve in the grip of the creature, and the pain was causing him to scream. One of the kushna behind the demon breathed out a cone of flame, immolating friend and foe alike. The screams of the demon and Ellisandra blended into one eerie sound as the flame seriously wounded them both. A second kushna joined its fire to the first, completely consuming the demon and wounding Grimclaw. Within moments, the battle was over, as the city guard, mages, and Prospero finished off the kushna and the last dissolver. The city guard asked questions about what happened as the injured were tended to by healers, and didn’t take long to assure everyone that it would only be a matter of time before the invokers would be caught.

A short while later, the party arrived at the prison, and after a physical search (to look for weapons) and a spiritual/magical search (to look for mind control or shapechange spells, common with assasins), Ellisandra and Prospero were led to Kellor’s cell on the holding level. “Kellor, eh,” said the guard as he took the pair to the cell, “Quite the troublemaker. Murdered the wife of one of the council wizards. Shameful business.”

Once at the cell, the guard moved away just far enough away that he didn’t have to listen to the visit, but could see if the pair tried to give the prisoner anything. “How’ve you been, Kellor,” began Prospero.

“These are strange times, what are you mixed up in? I have some important information for you, but now is not the place for it, too many ears,” said Kellor, casting a significant look towards the guard, “Come back tomorrow, they will have moved me downstairs, and the guards there are easier to bribe for privacy.”

Not much more was to be said, and after a few pleasantries and a short time catching up, it was time to leave the prison. After an uneventful night and trip back to the prison, Ellisandra and Prospero found themselves being led to the lower levels of the prison. They passed a containment field that had many Chaos creatures stalking inside, as well as chambers with magic dampening spells that contained magic items deemed too dangerous to be allowed outside and too difficult (or impossible) to destroy. Ellisandra slipped the guard a few silver talons after he opened the door to Kellor’s cell, and the guard moved away down the hall, presumably on a mission “to find the visitors something to drink.”

Prospero and Ellisandra entered the cell to find Kellor curled up in the fetal position. Turning him over, Ellisandra let out a gasp. The man who had been in fine health yesterday, had been beaten bloody. His face was swollen almost beyond recognition, and his right hand had been broken. Ellisandra began to use her skill as a healer to mend the wounds to the best of her ability, and as she did, Kellor’s broken mouth began to chant, “Prospero, Prospero, Prospero…I like the way that sounds. You are for the Ring, but when…when is a ring, not a ring?”

Ellisandra did the best she could with her healing, but nothing she could do would touch the unhinged mind of the creature that used to be Kellor. The guard returned a few minutes later with drinks. “Has Kellor had other visitors?” asked Ellisandra.

The guard consulted his log book. “Nope, no other visitors, why do you ask?”

“Because he’s been beaten within an inch of his life, that’s why,” replied Ellisandra.

“What?” asked the guard, “Come here, Frierson, they say Kellor’s been beaten.”

The guards seem genuinely puzzled as to the condition of their charge, and had the medic on call for the prison come downstairs to look at Kellor. After a thorough examination, the medic says, “I can’t do anything more for him than the young lady has done. I’ll file my report, but I can’t tell you more than what you already know. He’s been beaten by person/persons unknown. Only time will tell if his mind will return.”

As they exited the prison, a student was waiting, “Prospero? I have a message for you”.

Prospero took the message and handed the student a few coppers for his trouble. The message was short, “I hope that I have caught you before you leave the prison, come see me in my laboratory when you are done there.”

A short while later, Ellisandra and Prospero stood in the laboratory of Master Balardus. Balardus’ penchant for familiars was well known, and the lab swarmed with creatures, flying, slithering, or scuttling around the room until they got used to the visitors. Prospero told Balardus of their findings so far and about the beating that Kellor had been given. “This is troubling,” said Master Balardus, “Framing someone isn’t really unusual, but it’s something that is usually cleared up in a few days and is merely an inconvienience. However, it would take a special hand to deliver a beating like that in prison. The invokers involvement is also a puzzle, and one that does not bode well for us. Anything that can reach him in a mage’s prison must be a powerful force indeed.”

Master Balardus handed Prospero a key, “This is the key to Kellor’s room. I’d like you to go there and see if you can find any clues as to what is going on, or to the warning he was going to give you.”

“Certainly, master,” replied Prospero, putting the key in his pouch and removing three potions, “I wonder if I could trouble you to identify these potions I found on our travels?”

“I can,” replied Master Balardus, “It will take some time and research, though. Go ahead and find out what you can in Kellor’s room, I’ll let you know once I know what they are. Also, when you are done with Kellor’s room, take your apprentice to the House of Tamlin, she needs to choose a familiar.”

The Ellisandra and Prospero arrived at Kellor’s room, and as Prospero headed towards the door, a voice called out to him, “You’re not Kellor.”

Somewhat taken aback, Prospero looked for the source of the voice, and soon realized the lock on the door had spoken to him. “No, I’m not Kellor,” he said.

“Do you have the key,” asked the lock.

“I do,” replied Prospero, holding up the key in his hand.

“Did you take it by force?” asked the door.

“No,” replied Prospero, and he put the key in the lock and opened the door.

Kellor’s rooms consisted of an entry/living room, and a study/bedroom in the back. The entry room was virtually bare, except for a couch, a couple of chairs and a small table in the middle of the room. The bedroom was much more populated, with shelves full of books, a small bed that had not been made, and a cluttered desk with items stacked all over it. The things that stood out the most on the desk, however, were an open journal, a mummified hand, a severed head, and a box containing a beating heart. Ellisandra and Prospero began looking through the room, and as she looked at the shelves with the books, he flipped through the journal. Prospero exclaimed involuntarily as the mummified hand flew up from the desk, touched him on the shoulder, and then fell back to the desk, writhing momentarily, then becoming still again.

When she heard the noise of the hand hitting the desk, Ellisandra looked at it, “That’s a Hand of Glory. They are very dangerous, and they have recently become a fad to have here in Emancia.”

“They have, eh?” said Prospero, “How do you keep them from harming you?”

“From what I’ve heard, you have to kill the mage who created it,” said Ellisandra.

Everytime Prospero touched something different on the desk, the hand would leap up at him, touching him briefly, then falling to the desk. Suddenly, the beating heart began to beat faster and louder, and with a sigh, Ellisandra passed out, falling heavily to the floor. Prospero shook her awake, and continued to check the room. Ellisandra stood, and began moving the books on the shelf, and the hand leapt across the room, touching her, and then flying back to the desk. Prospero opened a clothes hamper, and the hand jumped across and touched him. He said, “This thing is getting really annoying. Reminds me of the time where we came across a giant spider and found a bandit leader glued to the wall.”

The hand leapt at him again, and he swung his staff in an attempt to knock it into the chest. “Apprentice,” said Prospero in an exasperated tone, “come here, and when I knock this hand into the chest, you slam the lid shut on it.”

Prospero touched the chest again, and as the hand flew towards him, he batted at it with his staff knocking it into the chest. Ellisandra slammed the chest shut with a grin, and they slid a piece of metal through the clasp as the hand battered against the top of the chest trying to escape. With the hand no longer a problem, Prospero touched the severed head with the tip of his staff. The head rolled over to come to rest on its neck, the eyes opened and looked at Prospero. The blue lips moved and the head said, “Good morning…You’re not Kellor! I’m Trell, Kellor’s roommate, who are you and what are you doing in our room?”

“We’re friend’s of Kellor’s, he sent us here to pick some things up,” replied Prospero.

“Really, friend’s of Kellor’s, you say? I’ve never seen you before. What’s your name anyhow?” asked Trell.

“I’m not sure I want to give my name to a severed head,” said Prospero.

“Severed head? Where?” said Trell as his head swiveled slowly on the desk.

After a few minutes, Prospero realized two things, the head didn’t realize it was just a head and not Kellor’s roommate, and that he would get no further unless he gave the head his name. “My name is Prospero,” he said finally.

At the mention of Prospero’s name, Trell’s eyes rolled back in his head and said in Kellor’s voice, “Prospero, even methods such as this are not completely safe from your enemies, so I’ll have to trust that you will be able to figure the following riddles out.

What strength and force cannot get through,
I with a gentle touch can do,
and many in the street would stand
were I not a friend at hand.
What am I

No legs have I to dance.
No lungs have I to breathe.
No life have I to live or die.
And yet I do all three.
What am I?

I am what I am
but if you know what I am
I wouldn’t be what I am anymore
what am I?

It has no top or bottom
but it can hold flesh, bones and blood
all at the same time.
what am I?

Up a hill, Down a hill,
Over them I may roam,
But after all my walking,
There’s no place like my own

When is a ring not a ring”

The head then seemed to lose consciousness and toppled back over on the desk. “I think we’ve found out as much as we can here,” said Prospero.

The trip to the Bazaar was uneventful, and much less surprising than finding a talking head. It wasn’t long until Ellisandra’s haggling skills had gotten the party the troll’s rune staff and a pair of daggers for her as well as a stack of potions for a very reasonable price. While Ellisandra was browsing the wonderful menagerie located in the House of Tamlin, trying to find her familiar, a page approached Prospero with another note from his master. “Kellor is gone, meet me at the prison in the morning.”

The party entered The Orb after passing another uneventful night. They were led to Kellor’s cell, where Master Balardus stood talking to the head of the prison. Prospero looked into the cell, and saw Kellor’s clothes, laying there as if he had been teleported out of them, but that was not the most unusual thing. That honor belonged to the writing in charcoal that covered all the walls of his cell. “When is a ring not a ring.”

“Prospero,” said Master Balardus, “Danger is closing around you like a hangman’s noose – I can feel it. You must stay alert to stay alive; skip class tomorrow and study in the mage’s guild library. See if you can find more clues there.”

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And Now, From Emancia

After the battle for the Thicket, Prospero and Arghmon departed with their masters to return to Emancia to walk the Conundrum. “As you know, Prospero, every time you walk the Conundrum, it changes you,” began Master Balardus, “It binds you to the magic of Shadora, makes you become closer to your apprentices, and increases your abilities to wield the magic. But it also reminds you just how infinitesimal you are in the scheme of things, and if you don’t respect it, it will destroy you and those around you. We will take the days of our travel to Thenga Velu to review your formal lessons, and ensure you are ready for the Conundrum.”

With that, Master Balardus launched into a series of questions and lessons, often making Prospero take time during “rest stops” to show him practical applications of spells. Sometimes the task was to widen the area of effect for a spell, and others to cast a spell through the tiniest of orifices to hit a target on the other side. Arghmon was being worked as hard as Prospero, possibly harder, because when they were pitted against each other for practice, Prospero won more often than not, breaking Arghmon’s defenses, and making Arghmon’s master work him even harder afterwards. Often times, getting back on the horse was more restful than the breaks had been, but once on horseback, there were quizzes on Journeyman lore, and even tips on how to use Grimclaw’s skills more efficiently. The trip was largely uneventful, as they were traveling with a full retinue of Nein centaur cavalry and a large portion of the force that had won the War of the Thicket (as many of them had started calling it when recalling past campaigns at the campfire before turning in at night). After twenty days had passed, the high walls of Thenga Velu came into view. As they made their way closer, it was apparent that the size of the walls gave a misperception as to how close they had been when they first saw the city. The walls surrounding it were over 100 meters high, and even above that massive height, the top of the Wizard Spire was visible, from where it sat on the mana nexus of Trade Island. The Nein said their farewells as the party reached the diamond gate at dusk. The masters led the procession through the town with no eye to the wondrous sights unfolding before them, but Prospero and Arghmon stared like country cousins on their first trip to the big city. Once they arrived at the Wizard Spire, the party was led into the Air wing of the spire, where they soon came to the Chamber of Motion. Within the Chamber, there was an ancient Journeyman arch, and the air hummed with the vibration of teleportation circles within the Hall of Homing surrounding the Chamber. The masters waved to the Chamberlain of the Circles as they entered the outbound queue for the arch, and as the party waited, whole platoons of soldiers marched into the arch, but didn’t come out the other side, as they were instantly teleported to where the operators of the arch sent them. In addition to soldiers, there were huge floating barges of cargo manipulated through the arch by air mages. The traffic was not one way, as new people and cargo came through the arch, with all of the transport being directed by the Chamberlain of Circles and his compatriots around Shadora through the use of arcane far speech transmission devices. Soon enough, it was the party’s turn to go through, and once they could see the image of the arch room in Liberty City, they stepped into the arch, and with a lurching feeling in their stomachs, the journey of over a thousand miles was done within an instant. “I’ll never get used to that,” muttered Prospero under his breath.

As the party stepped from the arch, they were reminded that the arch in Liberty City was built into the wall surrounding the city itself. It effectively sealed the most direct approach to the city off, because anyone trying to attack through it would find themselves transported to the other side of the world, or a battalion of soldiers from the other side of the world could be transported out to attack invaders with fresh troops from someplace that was not under siege. It was not just because the gate was made of black onyx that the enemies of Emancia had dubbed it the “Black Gate”.

Arghmon and his master make their farewells, and as they left the master could be heard telling Arghmon, “You simply must work harder, there is no excuse for sloppiness!”

With their departure, Master Balardus said, “Prospero, come. There is someone here you should meet”.

As they drew closer to the edge of the arrival area, Prospero’s attention was drawn to an enormous troll at the edge of the crowd, who was accompanied by a beautiful young woman who had a harp slung over her back. As they neared the unlikely duo, Master Balardus indicated the woman with the harp and said, “Prospero, please meet your apprentice, Ellisandra. She is a Spellsinger”.

The woman with the harp bowed to Prospero, then turned to Master Balardus, “I have secured a bodyguard, as you requested. He comes very highly recommended, and his name is Nightshift.”

Hearing his name, the troll nodded at the wizards, “I am mighty. I yearn for adventure!”

With the introductions concluded, the party headed from the arrivals courtyard to the city proper, where they were met by the city guard, who stopped them from going further. “Sorry gents, you’ll either have to leave the weapons here, or peace-bind them. No open blades or weapons beyond this point.”

After Master Balardus and Prospero bound their swords into their sheaths and the party headed into the city, Master Balardus told Prospero, “We have been unable to find any more information in regards to the ‘Ring of Velu’. Frankly, the archives are a mess, and have been for some time. The answer to the riddle of life is probably in there somewhere, but you’d never know, because some fool student will have covered it over with a scroll on how to make a love philter.” He sighed, then continued, “I recommend staying in The Dragonfly Inn, near the University Tower, there are libraries and such close by and it will be a good base for you. You need to be studying and practicing for entering the Conundrum, but I would also ask you to keep your eyes open for anything to do with the ‘Ring of Velu’. I will be headed to begin preparations for your walk, which should be in a tenday from now.”

Master Balardus then headed in the opposite direction of Prospero and his new apprentice and bodyguard. “I believe the Crystaline Bridge would be the fastest way to the Inn, master,” said Ellisandra. As they came through an alleyway that led to an open market area, the market stalls were being closed down for the night. However, as soon as the stall owners saw the party, they stopped what they were doing and left the area. Just as he was about to comment on the odd behavior, Prospero felt a shooting pain in the top of his head, as a tile from the roof above hit him. Prospero and Nightshift both scanned the area, but could find nothing of note. “It could have been dislodged by an animal or something like that,” said Prospero with a shrug. Moving into the square, three rough looking characters came from around the corner of a burned out building to their left. As soon as he saw them, Prospero cast Armor on himself. Smiling, the dirty faced thug who was obviously the leader said, “So, you’re this Prospero guy? You don’t look so tough to me.” He laughed, “Well, mister tough guy, I’ve got a message for you.”

Prospero said abruptly, “Then I suggest you deliver your message and be on your way before my patience runs out with you.”

The thug just laughed again, a harder, meaner sound this time, “Well, you see, the message I’ve got, it’s more of a physical message. You’ve been messing with things that you shouldn’t have been messing with, and we’re going to make sure you don’t mess anymore.”

At a silent command from his master, Grimclaw pounced forward, attacking the ruffian, who managed to jump back just out of reach. One of the men beside the leader swung down with his blade, catching Grimclaw with a glancing blow, stunning him briefly. “Behind us!” bellowed Nightshift, running to meet the three new ruffians who were trying to flank the party from behind.

Within moments, Nightshift was surrounded, and stunned. Ellisandra brought up her harp and began to play a mournful tune, but cried out in pain as the spell backlashed on her, almost causing her to drop her harp. The leader of the group rushed forward to attack Prospero, who cast Armor on his stunned apprentice, “I’d never hear the end of it if I lost my first apprentice before we even got to the inn,” thought Prospero as he cast the spell.

Ellisandra began to play the harp again, playing minor chords and singing in a key that made the listener feel very uncomfortable, and stunned the leader of the ruffians. Prospero cast a Bolt spell, and suddenly three bolts burst from his outstretched hand, killing the stunned leader and one of the men attacking Grimclaw instantly, and stunning one of the men that was attacking Nightshift. With two of the attackers dead, the remaining men kept casting glances towards the burned out building as they fought, as if they wanted to run away, but their fear of the thing in the building was greater than their fear of death at the hands of two enraged wizards and their troll bodyguard. Suddenly, the earth around Prospero and Ellisandra burst into licking green flames, stunning the young woman. Nightshift grabbed one of the ruffians, snatching him off his feet, and flung him into a nearby wall like a rag doll. As well as breaking most of the ruffian’s bones, the cutpurse’s skull was caved in when he hit and he came to rest in a heap next to the wall, dead. Roaring as he attempted to grab the last of his attackers, blasts came from Ellisandra’s casting of Bolt, but the bolts exploded harmlessly against the chests of the two remaining attackers. Moments later, the last of the attackers had been brought down by Nightshift and Grimclaw, and Grimclaw could smell the presence of something coming from within the burned out house. He rushed in, and leapt to the second floor, but the smell was suddenly stronger from the first floor. As he rushed back downstairs, the rest of the party entered, just as a door to the basement floor shut with a click. A search of the basement revealed nothing but a small broken window. Their quarry had escaped. “The smell still lingers,” Grimclaw told Prospero through their mental bond, “but whatever made it is no longer here, and I cannot tell where it went or what it was.”

Regrouping outside, Prospero felt something touch his mind, and a strange voice said, “Seek not the Ring of Velu.” As suddenly as it had appeared, the presence in his mind was gone.

Without further incident, the party made it to the Crystaline Bridge. It was completely transparent, giving off a faint glow, and lead to the entry hall of the University Tower. The tower itself held about three hundred practicing sorcerers, and some masters had laboratories or conducted studies there, but no one really lived in the tower. The party headed down the stairs to the lower level that would lead them to The Dragonfly Inn, and within a few minutes, they were standing outside a cozy inn with a board depicting a dragonfly resting on a leaf. The colors of the placard were so vivid that it appeared the large bug would take flight if they got too close. Once inside, they went to the front desk, and within moments, a man walked out of a back room. “Hello, my name is Ian, how can I help,” he paused briefly as he saw Ellisandra, “you.”

Ellisandra smiled at Ian, and he visibly brightened, “Ian, I hope you can help us. We need a suite for at least two weeks. Is there anything available?”

“Well, I’m afraid there’s no vacancy at the moment,” began Ian, “but I think I can work something out,” he followed up quickly when Ellisandra quit smiling and began to look sad.

“It’ll be four silver talons a week,” he followed up with a smile.

Ellisandra looked distraught. “Four silver talons a week, that’s an awful lot of money,” she said as she started to turn away.

“No,” said Ian as he did some quick math in his head to figure out how much he could afford to lose on the suite, “did I say four silver talons, what was I thinking, of course, it would be only two silver talons a week.”

Ellisandra’s smile as she turned back to him was like the sun coming through the clouds on a spring day, “Excellent, two silver talons would be fine.”

Ian gestured towards the common room and said, “Please make yourselves at home while I go ensure your suite is…made up.”

As the party entered the room, everyone noticed the troll first, but once Ellisandra walked in, no one paid attention to anything else. As they sat down at the table and waited for their meals, Prospero tried not to notice the commotion out by the desk as Ian showed a visibly irate couple of merchants out the front door. After their meal, some of the bolder souls in the common room asked Ellisandra to play her harp for them, and she pulled a stool to the middle of the room and began to play and sing. She played many of the songs that were well known in the region, and no matter what she played, the emotions of the crowd went with it. When she played a martial tune, all of the men felt as if they were ready to go off to war for their country, and when she played a lament, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. She finished her performance with a love song, and when she passed the hat afterwards, the generosity of the crowd had netted her two silver talons. One performance had gotten enough money for the party to stay at the inn for a week! When they left the common room, the good feelings from her last song had inspired one person to buy a round for the entire bar.

When they got to the front desk, Ian was waiting for them, “Lovely singing, m’lady,” he said to Ellisandra, then turned to Prospero and handed him an envelope, “This came for you while you were eating. Please, let me show you to your rooms.”

Once the party was settled in their rooms, Prospero cast a Detect Arcane spell on the letter. After determining that it was not apparently dangerous, he opened it, and found a note from an old school friend, Kellor. The note read, “You are in grave peril – Stay Alert. Meet me at the staff seller’s shop in the Bazaar two days hence, at the Hour of the Lizard.”

The two days of study and fruitless searching for references to the Ring of Velu seemed to pass very slowly, but it was soon time to head to the Bazaar…

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