Kingmaker

An Involuntary Interplanar Geometry Lesson
It's bigger on the inside!

Kingdom of Arboria, Year 6, Erastus 20th

Castle of Knives

Gathering for the final assault on the Castle of Knives took the greater part of a month. We assembled a strike force consisting of Gelros's inner cadre and a century of the Arborian First's finest veterans. We flew to the castle in the vanguard of our airship armada, planning on an aerial strike. What we found was not quite what we expected.

The castle itself was on a high plateau, on a small island, within a deep lake. It's a thing of exquisite beauty, but damaged. The architecture is warped and oddly disjointed, as if the structure can't quite conform to the normalcy of the material plane. Sections are crumbled or missing, exposing courtyards and interior rooms. Nobody answered our hails. In fact, the whole place appeared deserted from the outside, which meant that our shock troops weren't immediately useful.

Given what we'd seen in the First World, Gelros was not keen on committing regulars to combat within the castle. I can't say I blame him, especially as we could tell that this whole place reeks of magic even before we set foot inside. So, we placed a picket around the island (insofar as a sparse ring of airships can be considered a picket) and elected to do things our usual way: with an elite strike force consisting of, well, ourselves.

The front gate was closed, and the broken wall next to it too obvious. For our point of entry, we therefore chose the slit in the observatory, through which we could glimpse the lens of a gold-plated telescope that must weigh nearly 1000 pounds. There were no guards and the room was otherwise spare, but that didn't mean our entry was boring. Oh no. This is Narissa we're talking about; she makes all her assets defy physics and basic logic just for gits and shiggles. For one thing, we could clearly hear ourselves in pitched combat somewhere else in the castle. (Definitely us; Gelros's tongue-in-cheek "Lament for a Brave Kobold Full of Arrows" is unmistakable. The kobold, of course, changes with every rendition; this time it sounded like maybe a wyvern?) For another, Kris found a book labeled simply "Endings" which was a catalog of many possible gruesome ways that our little adventure might end. Literally, our adventure, with us as characters. For instance, there was a particularly compelling illustration of Narzeth being eaten by little red worms.

Narzeth, studying (I assume) the currents of magic in the air, informed the rest of us that "time is flowing strangely" within the castle walls. Evariel, on the other hand, just observed "By Gorum's sweaty sack this place is weird."

It took a moment to open the door. The door itself was unremarkable, apart from the lack of a doorknob or handle of any kind. Pushing outward did nothing; pushing it sideways did nothing. Kris muttered "must be magic." Gelros said "let me look." He looked. The door opened. "What did you do?" "Nothing. I just thought about it opening, and it opened." As he said this, Gelros turned away, and the door closed. From beyond it, I swear I heard in a droning sort of voice, "All the doors in this castle have a cheerful and sunny disposition. It is their pleasure to open for you, and their satisfaction to close again with the knowledge of a job well done." Nobody else seems to have heard this, though; when I brought it up I got some funny looks.

In our subsequent exploration of the castle/keep/mansion, we encountered a lot of bizarre stuff. There was also quite a bit of combat, but honestly, the architecture and contents of the building were way more interesting. I suppose I should summarize the combat first anyhow.

  • In the courtyard at the castle entrance, we encountered and dispatched a well-armed horde of ghosts, a plant-dragon, and a troll. (Of note here: the troll possessed an amulet consisting of a cage of pixies on a chain. Every time the troll would have taken an injury a pixie died instead. Dispatching the troll necessitated first breaking the amulet, then breaking the troll.)
  • Further along, we cleared out more ghosts. And then yet more ghosts.
  • In the throne room (more on this below), we encountered an extremely strange wizard/sorcerer-type who was invisible but, on being coated in glitter dust, seemed to be made up of… floating worms? We had a brief firefight with him and drove him off. (This could become an issue later, I suppose, but he hasn't shown up here while we're resting. Yet.)
  • We also drove off an… angel? It seems it was a hired hand of the worm-wizard's.
  • We put down a pair of wyverns on the 2nd level.

In summary, the usual ever-evolving menagerie of highly unusual creatures attacked us (as usual), and we defeated them with, mostly, our usual array of tactics, although it took an unusual amount of effort. After this selection of encounters, we found a dusty, unused section of the castle and have holed up for a rest. (Indeed, I'm writing this from a desk in one of the libraries.)

So, the architecture of the Castle of Knives! This place is fascinating. So far as my untrained mind can discern, it combines the wild nature-magic of the First World with a mildly sadistic design aesthetic wrought in smooth white stone. It also doesn't seem to follow the usual laws of geometry, such that if you view what should be the same location from inside and out it may appear entirely different. Still, I'll try to give a layout.

Along the north wing of the ground floor (to the right from the entrance) is the corridor that leads to the observatory. Other contents of note include a water well that heals you if you can find and touch the one laughing demon statuette on the shelf with dozens of his weeping comrades (I'm not making this up), plus the taxidermied bear gracefully dancing in a cage (not making this up either). In the south wing are kitchens, servants' quarters, a small library, and the long-dead corpse of Jaric. Out front, the key feature of the courtyard is a magnificent tree, previously inhabited by said tree-dragon, which, sadly, I had to put down. Can't have the king being eaten by a tree-dragon. At the west end of the courtyard is a pair of massive oak gates, which swing silently inward to reveal an ornate dining room and the rest of the castle beyond.

The dining room itself was devoid of anything living (or pretending to be), but the table was covered in a ghostly feast. Around us, we could hear the sounds of feasting, and the food itself disappeared slowly as if into the mouths of phantom diners. It looked delicious and the platters magically refilled themselves, but none of us was hungry or stupid enough to try it. Past the dining room was the throne room, where we encountered the worm-wizard. At the north end, on a dias, sits a golden throne. It pulses with strong conjuration magic (at least, according to Narzeth). At the south, a staircase spirals upward. Above, the cathedral ceiling rises a good 50 feet, and a stone bridge spans between two doors. In the course of fighting the wizard, we made it upstairs, where we found a second dining hall, a pair of wyverns, and the long-disused guest rooms were we are now.

I should mention as well that throughout our exploration (and even now), we often heard the sounds of marching feet, calls to arms, or fevered combat from elsewhere in the castle. Often, said combat involved us. Odd things happened too: Kris encountered a surprised alternate version of himself behind a door, who then poofed out of existence. At one point, we heard another Narzeth chanting and moments later a meteor swarm destroyed the ghosts we were fighting. As Evariel said, this place is weird.

Nevertheless, so far, so good. After we rest here, we'll explore the upper levels and dig Narissa out of whatever hole she's hiding in. Nithlara out.

XP

  • 102,400 XP for killing the misbegotten troll
  • 153,600 XP for slaying the ghostly guards
  • 76,800 XP for slaying the zomok (plant-dragon)
  • 153,400 XP for saving the pixies
  • 115,200 XP for killing more ghosts

Loot

  • (12) +1 ghost touch rapiers
  • (12) +3 ghost touch armor
  • 40,000 GP worth of gems for saving 8 pixies
  • +4 full plate
  • +3 vicious ranseur
  • "Necklace of lovelies"
  • Poisonous Cloak
View
Gyre and Gimble
And now for something completely different: a Jabberwock, with eyes aflame!

Kingdom of Arboria, Year 6, Sarenith 26th

Bandit's Rest

We'd had two days of peace since the collapse of Thousand Breaths: one to get back on the airship and the second to sleep like a log. There had been no reports of significance from the Nomen Thunder at the forest's edge, nor from my scouts or Kris's spies. Indeed, the only truly odd thing that had happened was that Briar, which had been humming quietly to itself as Kris polished it in the armory, suddenly piped up with "All mimsy were the borogroves!" and then continued humming. (I mean, leave aside that a sword humming to itself is already odd and roll with us here.)

Kris and I were the only ones present, and we looked blankly at each other. "What's a borogrove?" "Beat's me. What's mimsy?" "Dunno." In retrospect, maybe Briar was trying to tell us something, but if it wants to do that it should be less damn cryptic.

Then came noon today. At precisely noon (as far as we can reconstruct; I wasn't near a clock), a loud peal of thunder rolled out across Arboria. Given that the sky was blue and crystal clear today, this was unexpected. Three minutes later, another one came, slightly longer and more intense. By the fourth one, I had concluded it sounded suspiciously like a giant creature plodding slowly. By the sixth, Haiku and I were airborne and scouting, but finding nothing.

By one in the afternoon, the thunder had risen to a constant boil. The inner council had assembled on the airship, moored at Candlekeep, but we hadn't left because there was no indication of where to look. On the hour, there was a near-deafening peal of thunder, then (momentarily) silence. A few seconds later, a massive dragon-like creature clawed it's way through the literal fabric of reality, and out onto the airship deck.

Describe it? Its neck was long and its wings improbably small given its bulk. Flames sprang from its eyes and licked across its leathery skin. The head terminated in a gaping maw and the end of each spindly, contorted arm sported four talons the size of cutlasses. But all that was mostly a footnote to the sound.

The creature spewed forth a mixture of words uttered in every language, and quite possibly many more that meant nothing at all. It was like the experience of Thousand Breaths, but concentrated into a concerted assault on one's sanity. For a moment, I could do nothing. Strange phrases flitted through my mind: Tumtum tree; slithy toves; frumious bandersnatch. Time dilated. I found myself mouthing the words running through my mind, and could hear Kris gleefully repeating them in a sing-songy way. I was dimly aware that Haiku had taken off under me and was fleeing, just as I was dimly aware of driving an arrowhead slowly through the palm of my hand.

Then, all snapped back into focus. As I recovered my composure, I heard Gelros shout something about a "Jabberwock" and Jaric call in fervent prayer to his deity. The jabberwock rounded on Kris (it seemed particularly annoyed by and simultaneously afraid of Briar), who absorbed several blows and was forced to hastily pat away the subsequent flames. Spike, who had maneuvered around back of the beast, took a tail swipe and was promptly lit on fire himself. My arrows weren't getting through the wake from its wings and Narzeth shot some magic at it that appeared wholly ineffective. Gelros at least managed to deafen it with songbolts.

This made the jabberwock angry. Beams of light sprang from its eyes and seared Kris like a sausage on a spit. In between Kris's screams, Narzeth slapped some fire resistance and displacement magic on him. He followed it with a fly spell moments later. After that, it was simply a matter of watching Kris bring Briar to bear. (Did I mention Briar was singing in some ancient language with wild abandon?) After several more seconds of pitched combat, Kris felled the creature. It spiraled lazily into a heap in the courtyard below.

During the aftermath, I asked Gelros about jabberwocks. He says he wouldn't have recognized it except for all the First World research we'd been doing. Jabberwocks are, apparently, made, not born. Made by who, you ask? The First Lords, according to legend. I guess this one was Narissa's. It's said their sole purpose is to antagonize and destroy. I beg to differ. This one exists to decorate our museum. Assuming I can talk Kris into it, of course; this trophy is his.

XP

  • 460,800 XP for slaying the lesser Jabberwock

Loot

  • Jabberwock corpse?
View
Toasty Wyrm
Ithuliak's demise

Kingdom of Arboria, Year 6, Sarenith 23rd

Bandit's Rest

After resting for a while on, oddly, a perfectly normal grass patch beside the path, we resumed our march through Thousand Breaths toward the White Tower. This time, Gelros summoned seven phantom horses, and I used a Carry Companion spell I'd been researching to reduce Spike and Haiku to pocket-sized statues so we could bring them along for the ride. It felt… wrong to freeze them so. But it was expedient, and they did come back on command as expected when we arrived.

We reached the tower within a half a day. The tower itself was tall, white stone, but otherwise unremarkable save for the massive black dragon perched on top. (Spoiler: it was Ithuliak.) Surrounding the tower was a field of too-lifelike statues, each with a face frozen in some variation of an expression of raw horror. Gelros stepped forward to address Ithuliak (what's a sporting kill without some witty banter first?), but Ithuliak addressed him first.

Ithuliak: Do you like my garden?
Gelros: Yes, I like the number and variety, but the facial expressions are a little off-putting.
Ithuliak: Well, maybe you should look more closely!
Gelros: Well, since you invited me, yes, of course I will.

Taking another step, Gelros began a close examination of a minotaur, and was just starting on a critique of it's facial hair when Ithuliak (bored, it seems, of this game) took to the air and (to no one's surprise) called out "You should join them!"

Whatever her lack of manners and conversational skills, Ithuliak was neither stupid nor ill-prepared. As we scattered, I watched her dive: one dragon became eight, then all eight became blurry in appearance. There must have been other magical defenses up as well. Narzeth slung a complicated looking spell, but Ithuliak flew on unperturbed.

She landed, firing a line of acid that caught Evariel and Jaric off guard. I fired my flight of arrows at several of the interleaving dragon images. Judging by the roaring, one connected with the correct dragon. Kris scrambled his way under her and landed a blow with Briar, but her armor absorbed the impact. Jaric, meanwhile, made sure that a second acid attack would produce less armor melting than the first one had.

For the next few moments, most of us threw all our attacks at Ithuliak with limited success. Gelros missed with two songbolts, though a third connected. She continued to resist Narzeth's spells and my arrows mostly struck images or flew by. Meanwhile, Ithuliak was chasing me. After taking the brunt of one bite, I had Haiku keep me just a few feet ahead, playing a thrillingly dangerous game of cat-and-mouse. Dragon baiting! I should do this more often.

The tide turned when Narzeth and Gelros changed tactics and started dispelling Ithuliak's defenses rather than trying to sling spells through them. This earned Narzeth a face full of acid, but he kept his cool and cast his own mirror images. Ithuliak, after eating one image, abruptly retreated onto her tower. I'm guessing she preferred to fall back rather than face Kris and I without shielding illusions?

We weren't about to leave, though. We arrived at the tower top in various ways: teleportation, roc-back, row-claw-carry. Evariel was first into the fray, exchanging a destruction spell for an acid blast. Kris followed, with a charge. He took as well as he got, but as Haiku brought me over the lip of the tower I distinctly heard his taunt: "I'm still here, wyrm!" In the end, though, it was Gelros who finished her with scorching rays from his staff of fire.

As Ithuliak's corpse fell, flaming, atop her pile of gold, we heard thousands of voices screaming as if in agony. The ground shifted, disorientingly, and everything seemed to change size, shape, or both. When the shaking stopped, we found that Thousand Breaths had been cast back into the material plane.

I'll spare you the magical treatise on the subject that Narzeth gave us, stream of consciousness, as he worked out what had just happened. The key thing is that Thousand Breaths is now a normal spooky forest, instead of a supernatural one, and its former contents are scattered around the vicinity of the ruins of the Castle of Knives. I've decided to name the region Wyrmfall, in honor of Gelros's victory.

This was all two days ago. We've returned to Bandit's Rest, where Gelros (as usual) was welcomed like a conquering hero. (This may have been somewhat augmented by the fact that Evariel has used some ritual magic to reanimate Ithuliak as a "skeletal champion", who she then paraded down the street behind Gelros. So much for getting her in my museum.) I've assigned the Nomen Thunderguard to watch the borders of Thousand Breaths, with orders to alert me of major threats.

And now, for a few days off.

XP

  • 204,800 XP for defeating Ithuliak
  • 153,600 XP for casting Thousand Breaths back to the material plane
  • 153,600 XP for impressing the blowhard "hero" in Pitax with Ithuliak's defeat
  • 153,600 XP for the quest "chasing lightning"
  • 153,600 XP for stopping the ettins

Loot

  • 855,600 cp, 72,300 sp, 17,925 gp, and 1,860 pp
  • Wand of barkskin (CL 12)
  • Several dozen gemstones and minor trinkets worth a total of 36,000 gp
  • Suit of +4 elven chainmail
  • +2 wild buckler
  • 1 darkwood heavy shield of reflecting
  • Small +1 dagger of speed
  • Adamantine falchion +2 of flaming burst
  • Sylvan scimitar
  • +3 returning icy starknife
  • 10 potions of cure serious wounds,
  • Ring of wizardry (III)
  • Rod of greater selective metamagic
  • Rod of the python
  • Staff of defense
  • Staff of stealth
  • A cloak of the bat
  • Bracers of armor +8
  • Gem of seeing
  • Mantle of faith
View
A Bramble Gamble
Also known as the Briar Witch Project

Kingdom of Arboria, Year 6, Sarenith 20th 

Ruins of the Castle of Knives

Two days ago, we arrived back in Arboria. After a brief check-in to confirm that Bandit's Rest hadn't disappeared, rioted, or been afflicted with some horrible plague, we set out immediately for the Eastern border to address reports of an infestation of thorns and vines. Indeed, an area of some 300 square miles was covered in a strange carpet of reddish-brown brambles.

We arrived in the early evening, and therefore waited aboard the airship until morning to investigate. The brambles grew at supernatural rates: I used some minor magic to create a landing zone for us, but it began closing in as soon as it was cleared. Kris tried moving around, but found that the undergrowth not only severely limited movement but also the plants themselves attacked him with malice—not unlike in Thousand Breaths. So we stuck to the air.

It turns out that surveying a sea of endless evil brambles from the air is exceedingly boring. However, by mid-afternoon we did locate something mildly interesting: an area of slow-moving, pulsing red light within which the brambles seem thicker. Again, I cleared a landing zone, although it took more effort this time because the local vegetation seemed resistant. This revealed three giant-like men, each with a giant scythe, a bag of glowing red seeds, and three arms.

The things were "Athachs", according to Gelros: odd humanoid giants with an independently-minded third arm that enjoys attacking people all on its own. They scattered as soon as they saw us. We unleashed a barrage of the usual (arrows, fire storms, mind-destroying imaginary monsters), but the giants made it into the undergrowth. Kris followed one, killed it, and came back; Narzeth and I softened up a second before Gelros took it out with songbolts.

The third escaped. What followed was a cat-and-mouse game, in which the creature tried to hide in a forest of unending thorny monotony, and Kris and I tried to find it. We did catch up to it some time later, surround it, and eliminate it. At which point we found out they had contingency magic. Great.

As I stood examining the third athach, a small pustule erupted from its corpse, rapidly expanding until it became a pulsating cocoon that surrounded the entire body. At about the same time that Gelros was musing that said cocoon might be part of some rebirth ritual and Narzeth was nodding in excited agreement, Haiku and I just tore the thing apart, spewing plant matter, bog filth, and foul organs everywhere. Done.

Sadly, this meant that the others were probably still out there, planting their weird red seeds. It took us until sunset to find them again and re-engage. This time, they fought back, attempting to use their seeds as some kind of explosive grenades. But Evariel got one, and then Gelros dominated the other. So then we had an athach pet.

Gelros questioned it last night. It answered reluctantly, in a distracted way, as if there were some task it really should get back to but it was trying to be polite to us.

Gelros: "Are there more of you?"
Athach: "No…"
Gelros: "What were you doing here?"
Athach: "Spreading seeds, to make more pretty thorns!"
Gelros: "Can I see your pouch of seeds?"
Athach: "Yes, sir."

Gelros, Narzeth, and Jaric analyzed the seeds for a few minutes, with the athach hovering distractedly in the background, wringing all three of its hands. Gelros then returned to questioning, while Narzeth informed Kris and I that they had concluded the bloom would not spread without the giants actively picking and planting the bramble seeds. However, it seems also that the bloom will not disintegrate like the others as long as this athach remains alive.

At this point, I decided our athach needed a name, as long as we were keeping him around. So I named him Bixby.

Gelros: "Where did you come from?"
Bixby: "Gnurly House"

We showed Bixby the illustrations in Zuddiger's Picnic. He picked out the page with the troll and the red roofed house.

Gelros: "Can you lead us there?"
Bixby: "Work to do…"
Gelros: "Yes, and your work is to lead us to the house."
Bixby: (Confused look) "Okay…"

Last night, Gelros tried some elaborate scheme to sever Bixby's link to the First World using iron filings and a cage. It sort of worked: the brambles have become weak and sickly and many died, but they aren't gone.

This morning, we are flying Bixby back to the iron gate. He's going to be our new tour guide for Thousand Breaths!

Sarenith 21st

Thousand Breaths

Bixby was great. Sadly, Bixby is no more, but we'll come to that.

When we returned through the iron gate, Bixby led us past the swan lake and up to the "Moggy Barsh" (his words). It was, indeed, very boggy and marshy: almost all under water, with depths varying from a few inches to upwards of thirty feet. The water around the reeds and marsh grasses was seething with millions of tiny, twitching worms. These didn't look so appealing, so we opted to fly across while Bixby picked his way through. Nothing disturbed us, or him. Beyond, was a beautiful grassy path flanked by gorgeous rose bushes blooming with a kaleidoscope of color. All of them smelled like sweaty donkeys. We're used to this kind of thing by now.

Not far further, Bixby brought us to the "Gnurly House"—a bizarre conglomeration of houses, stacked on top of and into each other at odd angles. In front, we found a friendly hag sitting by a campfire with a kettle on, as if expecting company. "I see you've brought back me boy. Won't you join me for tea and tell me why you've come?"

Gelros accepted. He choked down the "tea". It was a good effort, but I could see it strained the limits of even his diplomacy. (He may also be thankful that I protected him from poison before he walked over.) He and our hag friend made small talk. I had set myself on a slow perimeter patrol, but I heard parts of it. There was discussion on the relative merits of infesting our world and the leadership qualities of Gelros's rulership versus Narissa's. It became apparent that the hag was not interested in coming to an understanding, although she was quite congenial about it.

It lasted a good twenty minutes. Kris was bored; I saw him practicing slicing blades of grass neatly in half with Briar. Then again, perhaps his play was strategic: both Bixby and the hag occasionally shot looks in the direction of Briar. She kept a good poker face, but her concern was still clear. Eventually, our hag stood up abruptly, said politely "Well, I guess we'd better get on with it," walked thirty feet into the air as if up a flight of stairs, and summoned a pair of earth elementals.

We regrouped on the threat quickly, but she was a half-step ahead. She muttered some spell I didn't quite catch, but Narzeth called out "Fickle winds!" Bitch. So instead, I grew Haiku a size larger and said, "Fetch!" Meanwhile, Jaric used some protective magic and Evariel nearly took out an elemental with a spell.

The elementals swung at us. An animated statue also came rushing over, hitting Gelros twice with some gigantic swords for surprisingly little effect. The witch did something to Haiku which caused her to let go and empty the contents of her gizzard onto the rooftop. This made me rather angry, but just then Narzeth froze the hag in a giant ice block.

The ice block threw me off, and appears to have confused Gelros', Jaric's, and Evariel's plans as well. All four of us paused momentarily, before shifting attention to and swiftly dispatching all the various beasties that were not frozen. By the time Narzeth dismissed his ice cube, Haiku was ready with a talon and Kris with Briar. But before Kris dispatched her, she stopped him, appealing to Gelros: "No! Don't kill me! I can help you!"

Gelros nodded; Kris backed off. Haiku finished her previous command (fetch), and brought the hag to the ground without a struggle. Gelros, indulgently, asked her what exactly she offered. In reply, and surprising no one, she cackled maniacally and tried, unsuccessfully, to turn Gelros into some tiny critter. We hacked her down before she could do anything else nasty. Upon her death, poor Bixby (who had been waiting patiently in a corner of the yard) made a whimpering sound and promptly crumbled into dust. A few moments later, the whole place shifted under our feet (as usual), but still did not fail completely. So much for trying to do all of this sans violence.

We searched the house: fascinating, but nothing of value. 

After the Gnurly House, we spent a few minutes deciding what to do next. I took some alone time with the First World and determined there was an overwhelmingly powerful, but non-native, entity in the direction of the White Tower. Meanwhile, the others had been having a spirited debate about the merits of collapsing this realm back into ours. Sounds like the conclusion is that its the best idea of of a group of bad ideas. So we continued on.

The path to the White Tower has been unusually long, even for here. We walked seven more hours from the Gnurly House before deciding to rest. I took first watch, so here I am wrapping up my journal entry. "Tomorrow" we'll see if we can make it the rest of the way.

XP

  • 38,400 XP each for 2 giants
  • 115,200 XP for defeating the Gnurly House
  • 38,400 XP each for 1 more giants and defeating the bloom

Loot

  • Bracers of Armor, +4
  • Scarab of Protection
  • Strand of Prayer Beads

    • Bead of Healing
    • Bead of Karma
    • Bead of Smiting
View
Plants and Birds and Rooks and Things
Or, murder, in the bird degree

Kingdom of Arboria, Year 6, Sarenith 16th

Thousand Breaths

Yeah, so, about that sleeping thing: it seems that in the first world, all your nightmares routinely come to life and try to murder you in your sleep. At least, they do in this part of the First World. In an unfortunate reprise of our experiences in Bandit's Rest, Narzeth, Gelros, and Evariel all simultaneously woke up screaming a few moments ago, accompanied by a firestorm (the literal kind) and a succubus (also literal, and who did not last long). Once things calmed down, Gelros dug around for a wand and used it on everyone. He's used it on Shella before; I believe the spell is "Keep Watch." I feel peaceful and restful, but still wide awake. Sadly for me, I already wrote in my journal three hours ago, so I'll have a hard time amusing myself.

Sarenith 18th

Ruins of the Castle of Knives

The rest of the "night" in the mausoleum was uneventful. Downright boring, in fact: no stars to watch, no dawn to wait for, nothing stirring outside except a steady cold breeze. Given that a giant crow had once again featured in the nightmares, when we finished resting we set out "northward" (per the map) to the tower where we thought a giant crow ought to be.
 
Apart from some odd, bone-wracking plant poison, it was a pretty normal hike. Sure enough, we found an open clearing, covered in weeds and thorns and with a single stone spire in the center. On the tower perched a giant rook, watching us with beady red eyes. (Side note: whatever his other First World mapping virtues, I'm disappointed that the anonymous author didn't draw a rook instead of a crow. For shame.) Said rook was scary. Not in a normal sort of way (Look, I ride a giant bird; I'm not particularly afraid of giant birds), but more in a "get in your head and mess with it" magical sort of way. It pains me to confess, when it dived toward me and Haiku, erupting into eight shimmering copies of itself, I lost my cool for a moment. (Especially given that the spells I threw at it had no effect.) Fortunately for me, Haiku is smart enough to run away from a bigger predator and Gelros is hasty with the haste spells.

While I was recovering my nerve, Kris pulled out his bow and shot it a few times, popping images. (We've been around Narzeth long enough to have a good handle on how this mirror image thing works.) I was able to shoot most of the rest. Spells were a different story: very little of what Narzeth and the others were flinging seemed to have any effect. Jaric summoned a small army of archons, who immediately duplicated themselves and formed a cordon around the bird, hemming it in.

Eventually, I got some arrows into the real one. (Pro tip: you can tell by the sound and the blood.) Narzeth threw four, yes four, of his signature disintegratation rays into it. The last one did… something. Oddly, though, instead of turn into a puff of dust as usual, the bird spiraled slowly down to land in a confused, seemingly deceased heap. Kris immediately charged it. He had a good view from ground level, and it turns out the thing was feigning death. One the rook realized the ruse was up, it stood up and tried to bite Kris on the way in, but it wasn't much use: Kris put Briar right through it's left eyeball. Once again, we felt a small earthquake as the land shifted under us. A few stones fell off the tower, then all was still again.

We decided at this point that we really ought to go back and see what horrible things had happened to the kingdom in our absence, so we trekked all the way back to the iron gate (6+ hours!) and out. The first thing I noticed on leaving was the silence: no voices! The second was that it was early morning near dawn, but the moon was in the wrong place. We contacted Baern, who opened up the mirror for us. Turns out, there's some odd time interaction between the First World and ours, and the date is now Sarenith the 18th. Which explains the moon. Day's breaking here, and Kris is taking a moment to check the perimeter. After that, it's off to the borderlands, because some new infestation has indeed arrived while we've been away.

Oh, did I mention that Briar has started talking? Not to anyone really; it just hums to itself and murmurs stuff in a sing-songy way. I overheard something about "jabber" and "wocky" and "snicker-snack"… nonsense like that.

XP

  • 102,400 XP for defeating the Nightmare Rook
View
Fey Might be Giants
Negotiation is, apparently, only for the weak?

Kingdom of Arboria, Year 6, Sarenith 15th

Thousand Breaths

The First World is a… weird place.

It's hard to tell how long we've been awake (the light never changes here), but I would guess more than 24 hours. I guess that would make it yesterday that we approached the Castle of Knives with out trophies: the swans, the mandragores, and the black feather. As Narzeth and Gelros had surmised, they were keys; as we neared the gate, the portal shimmered and a doorway of sorts formed into a black forest beyond. Beyond the gate, we could hear murmured voices.

We stepped through the portal and found ourselves in a dark forest of extraordinarily tall trees. The pathway itself was clear, with sky showing overhead, but the trees formed an impenetrable barrier in all other directions. Narzeth tried to fly up, but found that no matter how high he flew the trees remained above him, warped in some non-Euclidean growth pattern that penned us in. I tried to approach and touch a tree, but the forest attacked me, literally, with thorns.

And then there were the voices. The murmur we had noticed from outside the gate was now a din. The voices all around were innumerable, insistent, and incessant. Some seemed to be the voices of fallen foes; I swear I could hear Vordekai taunting us. Others were wordless cries of extreme emotions: anguish, fear, anger, ecstasy. They made you want to listen raptly and tear your eardrums out, simultaneously. We decided it was best to ignore them.

All this focused hostility combined with the odd geometry hinted that this wasn't just an ordinary forest, First World or not. I decided to try something I'd been practicing in preparation for this place: communicating with the land itself. Communing with a plane is about focusing and feeling. Being unable to enter the forest, I sat down in the path with my eyes closed and began to gather the magical threads around me into a coherent picture. What I learned, filtered through Gelros's interpretations of my findings, is as follows:

  • Although we are within the First World, we seem to be in a semi-detached dimension almost wholly under the control of an extremely powerful entity (Narissa, we surmise). It's like a twisted, magical garden—one that is malevolent and wants us gone. The land and it's inhabitants were created to be hostile to outsiders in general, and to us in particular. (Speaking of which, it is strange but exhilarating to be once again somewhere where we are the outsiders.) This realm will actively oppose us.
  • This area of the First World has an odd connection to and affinity for the material plane (our realm), such that if we destroyed Narissa's control it might collapse into the material plane. (Whether this would be a good idea, I am not so sure.) Toward that end, however, there are several powerful creatures in the vicinity, including one very powerful entity not far away. These creatures may be acting as anchors and magical foci, such that defeating them would weaken or sever Narissa's power.
  • Although the distances, paths, and dimensions appear to be constantly shifting, the geometry corresponds roughly to the map in the back of Zuddiger's Picnic. Which, from the map, would make this place the "Trees of a Thousand Breaths."

Zuddiger's Picnic. What other secrets does this book hold? Strange that an ill-fated childrens' book has become our guide to another world. It makes no logical sense, but the evidence is there. So why not, let's follow the map.

As we stood discussing, we noticed that although it seemed to be twilight, the light wasn't changing. Nevertheless, the sense of impending darkness lent a sense of urgency to the situation. So we started along the path, in the only direction permitted by the forest. Despite the vague feeling of being herded, it felt good to be hunting something again, rather than cooped up like a prey animal.

We found the first clearing marked on the map soon enough. (It took perhaps a couple hours, though the passage of time here is hard to mark.) In the clearing we found an immense but silent whirlpool in the center of a lake, not unlike the whirlpool in the Hooktongue Slough two weeks ago. Like that one, this one was surrounded by black swans. Here, however, the trees along the sides of the lake were blackened and dying, as if burned or diseased. As we surveyed the scene, one of the trees moved toward us menacingly.

These turned out to be treants. (Some type of elemental lightning-treant, apparently; I guess the First World spawns stuff like that.) The fighting was challenging but not desperate. Kris and Spike engaged the three on our left flank, while the rest of us worked over the three on the right. They absorbed a lot of damage, and they threw around a lot of lightning (which hurt us but appeared to heal them). We bring so much overwhelming firepower to bear, though, that even with some resisted spells and deflected arrows, it didn't take too long to put them all down. Briar proved its worth here; Spike and Kris dispatched a couple of the treants by themselves. As the last one fell, we felt the ground groan under us, as if in protest.

From the lake, we took the right-most trail, toward the area of the map marked as a frozen graveyard. On the way, we walked through some bloated animal corpses that reminded me of areas of Abaddon. (Who would have thought someday I'd be comparing one horrific, extraplanar hellscape to another, clinically, like a mortician or a financial analyst?) Fortunately, despite the stench and miasma, it appears none of us caught anything icky. Beyond the corpses, it became progressively colder, until we were all shivering despite have donned our warmest gear.

Just as in the book, we soon saw haphazardly placed, frozen, windswept tombstones. In the center of the graveyard, we found what appeared to be a small army of hill giants, but made of solid ice, with rime for hair and beards. As we approached, Narzeth flew down toward us and, with chattering teeth, whispered to Gelros, "This location is primed for an incursion to our plane. A bloom, if you will. But it has not yet occurred." Interesting.

Gelros, not one to let a perfectly good army of giants go to waste, motioned for us to stand down, and approached the group smiling and with open arms. "Greetings! If you shall stand aside, I promise you no harm." What followed was one of the more masterful pieces of diplomacy I've seen from Gelros, in which he nearly convinced the leader and his cadre of frost giants to defy Narissa's will, in her own backyard, and follow him. In the end, though, the leader refused, claiming to be bound to the plane and "the lady's" will. His followers didn't look so sure about the wisdom of this course of action. The negotiation ended with a axe flying at Gelros's head, which he deftly dodged. (I suppose it must technically have been a handaxe, although it was almost as tall as Gelros himself.)

The negotiations weren't for naught, though. On seeing their leader engage this strange, new, powerful, and lyrical man, half the giants just ran. Some others moved in to support their leader, but only halfheartedly. Gelros sang a spell into the leader, who looked staggered. I put a couple of arrows in his biceps for good measure, while Haiku took the flank. Kris and Spike held the other flank. At this point, their leader, looking enraged at the loss of his authority, moved to sunder Gelros's own symbol of authority, the Rod of Razors. Poor stupid guy; I wonder if he knew the thing is adamantine. Surprisingly, he took a small nick off of it, but that was about it. I decided I'd had enough of him, and shot him dead.

It was basically over then. Gelros glared at the giants in front of him, and that was enough for several more of them to drop their axes in favor of fleeing. Kris encouraged them along with words, as did Jaric with a firestorm. They had broken and were running when we heard a voice reverberate through the cold: "Failures are not wanted here." At this, the remaining giants shattered into thousands of icy fragments. Gelros looked pissed. Behind me, I heard him call into the void, "You know you are a stupid bitch, right?" I guess maybe their leader was right not to betray her after all, hmm?

When the giants died (or, more properly, were cosmically murdered), we felt the same uneasy shifting of the earth beneath our feet as before, at the pool. This was less than an hour ago. Since then, we've searched this graveyard and found a mausoleum, in which we've taken shelter. It is nothing special, but it is less cold than the environs. We've been marching for a long time, and this appears to be as good a place as any to hole up for a rest. Several others are already sleeping, but Kris is keeping watch and I'm writing. Now, however, I've reached the end of my tale, dear journal, so I'll say good… twilight? Until… to-next-perpetual-twilight?

XP

  • 76,800 XP for defeating the treants
  • 153,600 XP for defeating the frost giants

Loot

  • +3 hide armor
  • Masterwork cold iron handaxes (4)
  • Amulet of natural armor +3
  • Ring of protection +3
  • Cloak of resistance +3
View
Dream Police
In which Narzeth almost becomes a midnight snack

Kingdom of Arboria, Year 6, Sarenith 12th

Bandit's Rest

After Ostnend, we had entered, again, an uneasy state of waiting and watching. All of us in Gelros's inner cadre were hunkered down in and around the capital, waiting on scout reports and the results from the librarians' continued research into the first world. Last night, perhaps around 11:30, I was resting in the palace garden when the distinct crack of teleportation magic woke me. I ran up to the balcony as Gelros emerged from his chamber. Together, we found Narzeth, Raven, and his child, looking panicked and standing in their nightclothes on the parapets.

That was odd enough. The story that Narzeth told next, though, would have been totally unbelievable under normal circumstances. "A tyrannosaur attacked me! In my bedroom!"

(Gelros) "In your… bedroom?"

"Yes, I was sleeping, and dreaming. In my dream, a tyrannosaur was chasing me. I tried to get away, even teleported, but it was always right behind me. I finally woke in a cold sweat, and there it was, hovering over me in my bed!"

(Me) "But you're here."

"Yes, yes, it tried to eat me. But I quickly teleported myself to Raven's chambers, then brought them here. I left it behind. Obviously."

After a moment, we calmed him down and convinced him to take us back to his bedroom. He seemed reluctant, but did so. I inspected the space. It was indeed clear that some large predator had been there (claw marks, torn bedclothes), but I could not trace it beyond the chambers. It was if it had evaporated, or been magically removed. I wanted to search the rest of the tower to be sure, but Narzeth discouraged further investigation. He was evasive about it too. Gelros didn't push it, though, so neither did I.

Sarenith 13th

It seems that Narzeth's dream thing wasn't quite a fluke: last night it was Jaric's turn. In his dream, by his telling, he was in a lightning storm that he couldn't escape. He took a direct hit from a lightning bolt and woke up, only to find the air charged with electricity. He reports that he received a lightning bolt in his bed chambers, at which point he used an energy resistance spell to protect himself until the bolts stopped coming. One other thing that might be relevant: in the storm he says he saw a giant black bird flying in and out of the clouds, watching him with bright red eyes.

We received reports this morning that several others died last night from strange maladies, and many more experienced nightmares. Gelros and Narzeth took most of the morning researching whether there is any magic known to be able to target creatures through their nightmares. They turned up little. There are no spells known that can do this, although "demigods" have been known to be able to create living spells. Such living magic can attack on its own, under its own purpose, with no caster present.

Sarenith 14th

Last night was a turning point. Kris and I decided to stay up, on watch, in case we could spot someone or something in the city. At first we saw nothing.

However, Jaric again received a nightmare, this one strangely similar to Narzeth's: he was being chased by a tyrannosaur, and woke to see a tyrannosaur in his chambers. Oddly, though, it vanished without attacking. Around the same time, Gelros dreamt he was being pursued by a demon. He, too, noticed a giant crow flying in the distance. Instead of running from the demon, he teleported himself to the crow, grabbed onto it, and held tight. When he awoke, he was holding a large black feather.

Up to here, I've been reporting what Jaric and Gelros told me. What came next I witnessed myself: a green-black miasma rose from throughout the city, swirled, and coalesced toward the palace tower… like water swirling toward a tub drain. It seems this… substance drained into the black feather as Gelros held it, which is now imbued with strong magic. We suspect it may be another key to the First World.

Reports of nightmares last night were particularly bad, and several dozen people died before Gelros's dream. This morning, however, the air feels cleaner and fresher, and the populace is in good spirits. Kris's contacts made sure that everyone in Bandit's Rest knows that Gelros himself personally defeated the nightmare crow.

Now that we possess what we believe are three keys, we think we may be able to activate that gate at the Castle of Knives. Maybe by exploring beyond it we can get to the bottom of this nonsense.

XP

  • Ridding ourselves of the plague of living nightmares (51,200 XP)
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Don't Threttin Me!
A Satyrical Tale

Kingdom of Arboria, Year 6, Sarenith 3rd

Black Forest

Nothing overly strange happened last night, by which I mean Arboria was not, to my knowledge, forcibly invaded by strange extraplanar entities or threatened by resurrected magical beasts. Thus, we held a council this morning and decided to do some investigation into what the griffon tits is happening around here. Hence, we left the kingdom behind and flew out to the Black Forest at Pitax's western edge.

It's not a particularly unusual forest, except that we've found an abnormal number of fey. Gelros even encountered some old acquaintance named Tittertuck, and broken into a spontaneous performance that tied up the next half hour. It's hard to be annoyed about it because he's so damn good at singing, though. Besides, we learned something useful: Tittertuck and the other minor fey like the energy here, but bigger, meaner faeries keep coming from the west so they won't go further that way.

Kingdom of Arboria, Year 6, Sarenith 4th

Castle of Knives

Exploring westward, we came today on some ancient ruins ensconced in a weirdly compelling illusion spell. It appears that a glittering castle rises from the forest, shining in clean, white marble and covered in asymmetric pointed spires. On closer inspection, though, the place is a ruin: overgrown mossy foundations with nearly no structure left. The exception is a fully intact stone arch and wrought iron gate within, set into the otherwise ruined stone fence encircling the castle.

The gate itself shimmers; Gelros and Nareth concluded that it is phasing in and out of this reality. We surmise it is a portal, key-activated, and presumably to the first world. Near it, our dead swans glow brightly with an odd inner magic, but themselves will not open the portal. Gelros believes they may be a part of the key, but insufficient on their own. We might be able to go through with them, but wouldn't be able to get back.

There's something even more odd: remember that book? Zuddiger's Picnic? Well, Kris pointed out off-handedly that this castle and, specifically, this gate bear an uncanny resemblance to the illustrations in the book. And he's right; they do. It seems there's more to it than meets the eye.

Kingdom of Arboria, Year 6, Sarenith 8th

Candlekeep

There's a tense quiet in the kingdom. We flew back to Bandit's rest several days ago by way of White Rose Abbey, where it is no longer strangely jungly but where also the veil separating our reality from… somewhere else seems to have grown thin. The air tingles with energy, not unlike being caught exposed in a lightning storm. (I don't recommend this by the way.)

On the 6th, we traveled south to consult a resident "witch", an acquaintance of Gelros and the others from before I came to Arboria. Her house was deserted and we searched for her unsuccessfully. We did, however, find a storebox with some journals, written in Sylvan. Most of the entries are filled with monotonous complaining about Arboria, it's citizens, gnomercists and anti-gnomercists, etc., but more recently she describes a weird and beautiful fey lady who she met several times. Then the journals end.

Yesterday, we checked the unicorn corpse in the forest glade. It's still there, untouched, unspoiled, and shunned by wildlife. It doesn't, however, appear to contain the same magic as the swans.

Today, we spent a restless day in the capital, pondering what to do next. We set Candlekeep's scholars on researching the black wyrm Ilthuliak, just to keep them busy.

Kingdom of Arboria, Year 6, Sarenith 10th

Ostnend

Finally an eventful day, but unfortunately, not a great one for Ostnend. But let me back up. This morning early, Tiressa reported a massive infestation of mold and fungus has begun to the southwest of Bandit's Rest. As I went in to tell Gelros, I encountered Kris, who reported seeing some slight movement at the iron gate (which he has been watching through the mirror). We left within the hour to respond to the "bloom" (which is the term we've decided to call these incursions).

At the origin, the entire landscape was covered in creeping fungus, which grew back almost as soon as it was destroyed (by fire, defoliant, etc.). Across the fungus ran thousands of what appeared to be be strange, stunted, mandragora monsters, chittering and crying with sounds that eerily mimic children in distress. From some depth of his memory, Gelros recalled that mandragores are vulnerable to darkness, so we continued to explore through the night. The creatures eventually settled down to sleep all around us, the carpet growing thicker as we moved inward.

We found nothing of interest all night. (I mean, except tiny monstrous extraplanar plants… there were plenty of those.) Just before dawn, we received an urgent sending from Baern that Ostnend was under assault. However, just then the creatures began to stir and attack us en masse. Their shrieks and wails hurt one's head; most of us were left retching in the opening moments of the encounter. Indeed, I lost complete control of my stomach for nearly a minute, during which I vaguely observed Narzeth and Raven burning through swathes of tiny plants, Gelros vibrating some to death with raw sonic power, and then Jaric igniting a wide swath of mandragores on fire. And me. And Haiku. Neither of us could summon enough energy to dodge the flames.

For a moment, it looked like the mandragores would overwhelm us: they swarmed Gelros and Jaric, who looked ok, and onto Evariel and Spike, who looked noticeably drained. By now, I was trying to roll to put out the flames, Haiku was flapping in a panic, and Kris was calmly sharpening Briar on one madragore at a time. Moments later, though, more fire from Gelros combined with a fire elemental that Jaric had summoned finished the creatures off. They imploded in a massive burst of energy.

When everything was quiet, the fungus was gone, replaced by bare dirt and scoured dead wood. Millions of mandragora corpses littered the ground. When I had recovered and self-extinguished, I scooped several hundred of them into a sack. We then teleported directly to Ostnend, leaving our companions with the airship.

We teleported onto the roof of the castle keep, and snuck inside. Outside the walls, a scene of carnage awaited: the castle guard were slain and a large number of two-headed giants that I vaguely recognize as ettins were guarding the parapets. Gelros tells us this is quite weird; ettins are usually loners and very rarely place themselves in the open like this in an organized force. They prefer to bash your head with a rock from the safety of a hidey hole. Nice fellows.

There didn't seem much for it except to clear the castle grounds, so we did. Evariel opened a door, Kris charged the nearest ettin while wielding Briar, and we followed. Several things then happened all at once. Kris noticed and called our attention to a satyr who was hiding behind the wall. Nearly simultaneously, said satyr noticed and called the attention of all the ettins to Kris: "There he is! Get him!" Ettins began running.

Oddly, the satyr did, in fact, appear to want specifically to eliminate Kris. He fired six arrows in rapid succession: one which Kris blocked, one he dodged, one that pinged harmlessly off his breastplate, and three that found their mark. In response, Evariel sent a destruction spell into the satyr's face, knocking him back and nearly flat. Kris followed with a charge and a swipe by briar that by all rights should have finished him off, but he still stood. I felt it was Kris's fight, so I held my fire and contented myself with a different fire: the faerie kind. Sort of a bluish purple. Quite a nice shade. I was admiring the effect when Gelros finished the creature off himself with weaponized song.

[Editor's Parenthetical Comment: Briar at this time gained another sharpness point. "Briar is so edgy it's emo" -Matt/Gelros]

The rest of the combat was more of a cleanup. Gelros charmed one of the ettins and hid him in a corner while Evariel, Narzeth, and I mopped up the others still threttining the castle. We weren't lettin' any of them get away. Kris then told us matter-of-factly that his sword was "Gettin' smarter." Gelros summoned his pocket ettin back from where it was settin. I'm bettin' you're tired of these puns now.

Anyhow, Gelros politely interrogated his captive ettin. The dumb bloke couldn't put a sentence together that contained more than two words. Who sent him? "Pretty lady." He was basically useless. Gelros sent him off to the north to hike until he found a nice place to ambush some poor, unsuspecting fools. Shooting him would have been easier, but somewhat unsporting, I suppose.

So, to summarize: a bloom, followed by a clever ambush by an archer with as much or more skill than myself, specifically designed to draw us out and expose Briar to recovery. The tactics are growing in sophistication, but luckily for us, our foe still underestimates us.

XP

  • Explore forest hex (6,-12) (150 XP)
  • Explore forest hex (6,-13) (150 XP)
  • Explore forest hex (5,-13) (150 XP)
  • Explore forest hex (5,-14) (150 XP)
  • Defeat the mandragores (76,800 XP)
  • Thwarting the ettins and their satyr overlord (172,800 XP)

Loot

  • +3 leather armor
  • +3 seeking composite longbow
  • Greater bracers of archery
  • Helm of teleportation
View
A Series of Unfortunate Defense
We need to work harder on the "don't die" part of fighting

Kingdom of Arboria, Year 6, Sarenith 1st

Candlekeep

Two nights ago, as I was completing my journal entry and the others pored over books, Akiros interrupted our quiet investigation of the origins of the known world with the news that multiple scroll merchants had been murdered and their shops ransacked. I immediately set about tracking the assailant. It turned out to be a single creature who hit every major magical emporium in Bandit's Rest. I followed the trail into the forest, where it disappeared abruptly. Teleportation magic?

The following morning (while I was out tracking), Gelros had one of the merchants resurrected and asked him to inventory his shop, with Kris serving as a bodyguard. Kris tells me he was extraordinarily grateful but shaken (who wouldn't be). He also relayed to me the conversation that followed. After a couple hours, he returned to give his report: "Lord Gelros, sir? Almost nothing was missing; only my…"

"Scrolls of Gate?" (Gelros interrupted.)

"Why, yes, my Lord. How did you know?"

Recall that gate is, apparently, the only reliable means to access the First World. Someone, or something, is quite interested to see that none of us can go anywhere.

That was yesterday. Early this morning, we received notice from one of my scouts that the Hooktongue Slough had devolved into some mysterious weather event and all boats in the area were reported missing. A look through the mirror told us that the whole area had transformer into a riot of nature, like White Rose Abbey but much more so. The fishing villages in the area were overrun and abandoned, and a giant whirlpool had opened in the middle of the slough.

We took the airship over as soon as we could muster, dragged out the folding boat, and went to investigate in person. Near the whirlpool, we found many strange black swans, along with multiple water elements, and… Hooktongue. So, now we know where he went and why: Narissa weaponized him.

I will spare you the details of the messy combat that followed. Let's just say we were not quite prepared for a resurgent Hooktongue. Right away, he capsized the boat, leaving us swimming (except those of us who were flying). We lost Jaric (killed by water elementals), Kris (turned to stone by Hooktongue), and Spike (eaten by Hooktongue), and nearly Briar (stolen by a water elemental by snapping off Kris's stone wrist).

We did eventually take Hooktongue down. Narzeth used some truly weird shit to get us out of that mess. My memory is scarred with the image of Narzeth, transformed into some hideous abomination, emerging from the water having just retrieved Jaric's corpse by stabbing it through the torso. Having conducted this "rescue", he stood looking forlorn and tenderly, lovingly caressing Jaric's broken body with bloody meathooks. Someday, that man is going to snap and I'll have to put him down. I'm not looking forward to that day.

As we eliminated the last of the water elementals, the whole terrain withered and shriveled in on itself. The swans croaked and flopped over dead. Strange green light rose from the terrain in a keening vortex, swirled about, and spiraled into the corpses of the swans. (We retrieved several dead swans. Gelros says they are innately magical and not from this world: they may be keys we can use to access the First World.) I cut Spike's remains out of Hooktongue's gullet, and then Narzeth disintegrated the corpse piecemeal over the course of several minutes.

We've retreated back to Candlekeep. Jaric's body is lying in state while Gelros seeks a high level cleric of his church. Kris is standing in the corner; his arm and briar are on the table in front of me. Evariel is to attend to him later.

Kingdom of Arboria, Year 6, Sarenith 2nd

Jaric has been resurrected. Apart from a dour attitude, he seems to be ok. Kris has been reverted from his stone form (after Gelros mended his hand back onto the statue). He complains his arm hurts. He's practicing with Briar now, having taken his usual: a shot of vodka followed by a Cure Light Wounds potion as a chaser.

It's mid-morning now. In an hour, we take off for the forest west of Pitax. Our research thus far points to ruins there that may hold further clues.

XP

  • 268,000 XP for killing Hooktongue and the whirlpools
     
View
Some Say The World Will End in Briar
Some say with dice

Kingdom of Arboria, Year 6, Desnus 23rd

We found many things in Irovetti's palace prison: guards, dead guards, relics, smashed relics, some very interesting technical weaponry, prisoners… a live remorhaz. Gelros had to convince it we would take it home if it would stop eating people. Yeesh. What we found in the cave, however, is what mattered.

Beyond Irovetti's hideaway lay a deep, clear pool within the cavern. Through this pool, an underwater passageway led to a beautiful and gigantic natural geode, filled with crystals and columns. In the still pool at the chamber's center we found a sword, wrapped cleanly in a white cloth and, somehow, floating. Below it, we found a waterlogged leather parcel. The sword is deeply magical (more on that in a moment).

The leather parcel contained a mostly undamaged children's storybook: Zuddiger's Picnic. It claims to be true, and follows the story of a fellow who chases a crow who stole his spoon… ultimately he trades his sword to a beautiful woman to to get his spoon back. The scenery is fantastical and the story improbable, but still oddly compelling. Curiously, there is a stylized map in the back showing a whimsical land labeled "Thousandbreaths."

Kris had his people ask around about the book. Turns out the book has a creepy past: the author worked on it for years, then went insane after publishing it. He was caught re-staging the more brutal scenes from his book on hapless children, tried hastily, and executed. The book has, understandably, fallen out of favor, and copies are now harder to come by. (Apparently they've either been destroyed or few will admit to owning them.) But none of this answers the question: why is it here, with this relic of a sword?

For the sword is indeed a relic; Narzeth and Gelros recognized that instantly. Even my untrained eye can see that it has power on par with Ovinrbaane, that sword Shella has. After a brief speech to the populace of Pitax, and the imposition of martial law, Gelros brought us all back to Bandit's Rest to consult Avendra, the water spirit who we rescued from the winery. In exchange for information, Gelros returned her shawl… which was the cloth that had been wrapped around the sword. It was a good bargain. I'm going to butcher this story, but here goes:

The sword's name is Briar, and is extremely dangerous. (Editorial snark: dangerous? Never! Nothing we find is ever mind altering, kingdom dooming, world eating or anything like that.) Avendra is high fey, from the "First World", a primal realm ruled by so-called "First Lords" that predates and gave birth to our world, at least according to this story. Avendra's task in this reality was to guard Briar, which she did before getting trapped in a water clock.

Briar is, apparently, the love of the powerful nyad Narissa, distilled and forged into a sword. Wait, it get's weirder. Narissa was not a First Lord. She was, however, beautiful and knowledgeable, but also proud and foolish. She fell in love with a First Lord and aspired to acquire the power to become one herself. Details are a little murky here, but it sounds like the other First Lords weren't keen on having her usurp some of their authority, and, in effect, said "Piss off" by way of permanently stealing from Narissa her ability to love, forging it into a sword (Briar), and tossing Briar into our corner of the material plane to keep it away from Narissa. As a side effect of all this, they also imbued Narissa with much greater power than she had previously, making her almost on par with the First Lords themselves after all. Thanks guys.

Narissa has been biding her time and, devoid of the ability to love, building her power on greed and cunning. So now, Narissa is following a new strategy to get into the First Lords' good graces: present them with a gift. What gift? Only the landmass of the entire River Kingdoms, to be broken off from our plane of existence and sucked back into the First World. From Narissa's perspective, there's a small hitch: according to Avendra, there is a rumor, or perhaps a prophecy, that a band of adventurers will defeat her with her own sword, Briar. So naturally Narissa wants it back. She's going to come after it, directly or indirectly.

Goody gumdrops.

It would probably be wise to throw Briar in an ocean far from here, but there is the complication of Arboria being on the menu, as it were, for a cross-planar feast. So we're going to keep it and use it against her, in a bid to save the kingdom. Kris is now Briar's caretaker, and it seems to like him: it has changed to become an Aldori dueling sword of the sort Kris is so fond of. Avendra tells us that as we use Briar to fight creatures of the First World it will gain power. Ok, great, but now what?

Gelros is dedicating his time and a substantial portion of Candlekeep's research prowess to finding out everything that there is to know about high fey, the First World, travel to and from it, etc. So far, what's been written boils down to this:

  • The First World exists behind, rather than within, reality. It is therefore extremely difficult to reach.
  • Reality and the laws of physics there are mutable; they are often changed at the whims of the First Lords who rule the First World. In the First World, others with powerful wills or the possessors of relics can also bend nature itself to their whims.
  • Very few forms of mortal magic that can get you there; the only reliable mortal means is Gate spell. An alternative is to find a natural rift. Such rifts are extremely rare, but are identifiable by the energy leaking in both directions.

Oh, someone is knocking rather hard and I hear urgent voices. I'll get back to this later.

XP

  • 27,000 XP for returning the missing diva

Loot

  • +5 moderate fortification mithral breastplate
  • Amulet of natural armor +5
  • Boots of speed
  • Cloak of resistance +5
  • Ring of protection +5
  • Master key (unlocks all locks in the palace)
  • Unique item: mindrender baton
  • Unique weapon: rod of razors
  • 14,750 GP from Irovetti's bedroom paraphernalia
  • 24 bottles standard wine (150 GP ea.)
  • 7 bottles of expensive White Rose Abbey wine (1,000 GP ea.)
  • +4 studded leather
  • Amulet of natural armor +2
  • Ring of protection +1
  • +5 moderate fort. hide armor
  • +1 vicious greataxe
  • Ring of protection +2
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