Kingmaker

The Pathfinder Chronicles, Entry #5764
The Glorious Empire of Arboria

This entry into the Pathfinder Archives seeks to chronicle the spectacular changes in north east Galorion, and the truly unique individuals who have wrought such change on the land.  If one were to look to the north, where there was once a land of wilderness and warring countries, now there is a mighty bastion of light, protecting the innocent and holding back the tides of darkness for all.   

At the time of this chronicle, the Empire of Arboria holds sway over a significant amount of the landmass of north east Golarion.   Arboria is composed of 5 states.

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The central state is the civilized heart of Arboria, lands formerly known as the River Kingdoms.  Stretching from the Varn Mountains in the west all the way to the plains of Pitax to the east, Arboria contains vast deposits of natural resources, from vast forests to deep mineral deposits.  Arboria has a diverse population of humans, Elves, , Kobolds, Lizardmen, and a many types of Fey. No other nation in the world has as many natural allies as does Arboria, who has deftly used diplomacy to acquire allies left and right, resulting in a unification not seen in other lands.  Where others oppress indigenous group, arboria welcomes them with open arms, and in truth, with free arms and armor to increase the might of her armies. And mighty are the Armies of Arboria. While not bent on conquest, arboria has been known to respond to aggressions of its neighbors by overwhelming and absorbing them into its empire.  Take the northern province of Brevoy.

The province of brevoy was once a seperate and sovereign nation split by internal strife.  Indeed, it was this internal strife that set up the rise of arboria itself. Civil war broke out in the 8 years after the founding of arboria, and Arboria came to the aid of the southern faction.  Through many battles and much political intrigue, when the dust settled Arboria wound up with enough political sway to absorb brevoy into its growing empire, Setting up Arborias Spymaster Kris Longstride as Regional Command, and turning its eyes southward.

Arboria then moved to help its southern neighbors, taking control of all major cities in the river kingdoms and uniting them under the banner of Arboria.  Most were quite happy to join, as the incentives offered were extravagant. And don't forget the airships.

Arships.  Ships that fly through the air as easily as water.   The single greatest thing behind the strength and power of the empire is its creation and monopoly over airships.  These majestic vessels can be seen in most major cities now, and while other nation attempt to recreate them, no other nation has as many or as might a fleet as arboria.  Its armies move at the speed of birds, and its reach and supply lines are untouchable. Many private captain have paid exorbitant prices to acquire their own airship, and a new age of exploration and battle has dawned above our very heads.

Arboria took the smart approach, and offered airships to those leaders who were willing to join in her righteous destiny.  It helps when the diplomats are backed up by fleets of ships full of fanatical warriors, but i digress.

Eventually arboria managed to absorb the splintered nation of Galt to the south, and the barbarian wastes of Numeria to the north.  Now her armies protect the land and bring civilization and prosperity to her beloved citizens. With her northern border now touching the Worldwound, arbora has become a staunch ally of mendev, sending her most experienced troops to fight the demons and hold back the touch of chaos.

The brave Companions that lead Arboria to greatness have had interesting lives.  Once the fell threat of The Arch Nyad Nirrisa was dealt with, the 6 brave souls took a much needed break, and left the adventuring to the younger generation.   I have collected a brief set of stories from their personal memoirs.

 

Nithlara:

For several; more years, Nithlara retains her position as the Marshall of Arboria. During that time, she expands the postal service throughout the kingdom and adds airmail, making it a model of efficiency. She continues commanding the Nomen Thunder, which becomes a crack strike force able to deploy anywhere in Arboria within 48 hours. Between the Nomen Thunder and the rest of Arboria's stellar military, nobody dares to challenge Arboria's might. (Note: the centaurs would prefer home defense to campaigns abroad, so they stick around Arboria for the most part, rather than march to war elsewhere. They remain an elite fighting force.)

 

As peace descends (or, alternatively, as Shella leads Arborian armies to victories abroad?), Arboria becomes more secure, Nithlara enters middle age, she has a midlife crisis of sorts and becomes bored of the whole "defense of the kingdom" scene. With the centaurs and her scouts securing the home front, she spends a year away at a pathfinder society, retraining her first favored enemy type from humanoid (reptilian) to dragon. She joins the pathfinder society. She begins to take longer and longer leaves of absence with Haiku, hunting and destroying magical beasts, undead, and dragons of legend within a radius of 1000 miles around Arboria. She amasses considerable wealth and fame in the process. She works occasionally with Kris to assassinate powerful individuals who threaten Arboria. Rumor has it that sometimes she teams up with other intrepid explorers and makes her way back to the First World, serving as a guide and testing her skills on the strange creatures she finds there.

 

Eventually, as she grows older, she decides to hand over the mantle of leadership. At some point, she takes on a promising young centaur as a protege. (Her previous cohort, Marcus Paulus, has since semi-retired himself and remains comfortably the captain of the guard for the Arborian Post and Survey. He's only human, and was aging more rapidly.) When her centaur protege is ready, as demonstrated by beating Nithlara in an archery duel, Nithlara returns SkyBolt (now a +5 Adaptive Thundering weapon) and several other of her most cherished magical items. With Gelros's permission, the centaur assumes the position of Marshall. (You can come up with a name here; it would be a female centaur.)

 

In her old age, Nithlara retires and opens a pathfinder society at the long abandoned ruins of the Great Wyrm's tower and lair in Thousand Breaths. She names it Valhalla and makes it a veritable natural fortress, self-supported by sustainable hidden farms nearby. (Note: there are many high-level ranger spells for this sort of thing.) She accepts rangers, druids, and archers of all stripes for training, provided they are willing to pay an appropriate fee. She uses her wealth and continued income to acquire vast swaths of land throughout Arboria, some of which she preserves as private game reserves and natural areas, and others of which she leases out for sustainable forestry, mining, etc., under the direction of her lieutenants.

 

Occasionally, when someone of her talents is required, Nithlara continues to accept paid contracts to drive out powerful magical beasts and other unwanted creatures. Although it's clear that her strength is no longer what it once was, she is not content sitting in one place for long. On one such occasion, she leaves on a pursuit and is never seen again. (I'll leave it up to you what happens here.) The many journals she leaves behind become a treasure trove for historians and explorers for centuries. They are impounded as an Arborian national treasure, kept in the archives at the Arborian Post & Survey under heavy guard.

 

Narzeth

The End of Time

 

Time, ever forward never back, sweeping all that is and all that will be into its eternal web of unending decay. I walk now into a realm that is beyond your touch. Beware my return, for it will mark your undoing.

– Narzeth Cenisan.

 

Raven’s malady returned two years after the defeat of Narissa. Narzeth grew frantic as he searched for anything that would cure his beloved and traveled without rest across the planes in search of any means to save Raven from the decay that withered her body and dulled her mind. For three years, he searched and his mastery of the arcane grew exponentially as he defeated the most deadly of adversaries and captured the most ancient of relics and tomes, all of which he brought back to his tower for study. In the end, however, his efforts were all in vain and Raven died alone while Narzeth was away in search of a cure.

 

When Narzeth returned, he went mad with rage and used the power of his rage to fuel the mightiest spell he knew: Create Greater Demiplane (Permanent). He needed time, or rather he needed a place where time wasn’t such a nuisance so that he could master its power and turn the clock back to save the women he loved.

 

Kris was just coming up the steps into Nazareth chamber to check on Raven, when he saw Narzeth step through a swirling silver portal, carrying a lifeless Raven over his shoulders and pulling Alyssa (Narzeth and Raven’s six year old) into the portal behind him. Before Kris even knew what was happening, the portal closed, leaving behind an ominous stone doorway that had definitely not been there before.

 

Ten years later…

 

It has been 10 years since Narzeth departed through the portal and his black tower sits vacant. There are stories from several villagers about young people going near the tower and returning as elders and it is these stories that keep people away from the cryptic tower that once belonged to the sorcerer with the glowing eye. But those stories couldn’t really be true, could they?  

 

Jaric

High Cleric Jaric retired from adventuring life, returning to bandits rest to lead the church of iomedae.  He spent the next few years in service to the people, and went on the crusade to help tame the land of Galt to the south.  Jaric now serves as the Regional Commander of Galt, providing stability to that once fractured nation, and ensuring the will of Iomedae to protect those who are downtrodden is seen.  Under his care Galt has begun the long healing process, and the number of followers of Iomedae in the Empire slowly grows.


 

Kris

Kris was instrumental to the eventual victory of Arboria over the faction of Issia in Brevoy, and in the willingness of The remaining nobels of Brevoy to decide that becoming an empire suited them well.  No one really asks how he did it, as that would lead to awkward questions. He now rules as regional commander, having goten married to Sylvanna Orlovsky of house Orlovsky. His personal entourage includes his famous companion spike they flying dinosaur that has no wings, and he has been known to put on the ocasional airship to the delight of his loyal followers.

 

Shella

The iron Lady serves as Arborias mighty fist, leading the armies and overseeing the imperial games.  No nation on the face of Arboria has as many followers of Gorum as does arboria. Some say it's a good thing Arboria eventually wound up as having a border with the world wound, as what its armies would have done without a constant stream of battle to whet its whistle, no one cares to comprehend.  

 

Gelros

Mighty Emperor Gelros, 1st of his name, his royal eminence,  Keeper of the Keys of Candlekeep, Champion of Sarenrae, Grand Admiral of the Skyfleet.  The number of titles goes on and on, showing how grand a king, and emperor, the lowly bard from brevoy has become one of the mightiest rulers in Golarion.  His allies are many, his word is law, and his kindness and compassion are matched only by his cunning and his ruthlessness on the political battlefield. Gelros has managed to lead his people to fame and glory, and it was with his help that the miracle that is the airship came to be.   Married to the Lovely Ariel Zeverons, He has fathered 5 children, and leads a happy life in the safety of his mighty bastions of power. His library Of Candlekeep has become the the greatest repository of knowledge on the face of golarion, and from its hallowed halls great scientists and sages and wizards have been born.

 

Arboria, an Empire born from the efforts and struggle of simple adventures.  What lies in the future no one knows, but this record is set down on this day, the 23rd of Arodus 4850.   All Hail ARBORIA. A wonderful place to live, if i do say so myself.

 

~Gelros Zhevons, Bard.  

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A Fable Attraction
Narissa is reunited with her long lost love

Kingdom of Arboria, Year 6, Erastus 23rd

Black Forest, Arborian Western Border

Prelude

My fellow citizens of Arboria, our long national nightmare is over! The nymph demigoddess Narissa is defeated, her power shattered, her minions scattered, her… organs splattered? Ah, who am I kidding; I should leave the eloquence to Gelros. It's not like anyone but me reads this thing anyway. Still, it seems like an ordinary journal entry just won't do the event justice. I suppose the justice has already been done with sword, arrow, and spell, so the quality of a few of my words aren't going to make or break the occasion.

It's late afternoon as I write this; the others departed this morning on the Zealous Curiosity. I volunteered to guard the area until the Nomen Thunder arrive to secure approaches. I expect they'll relieve me in the morning.

I'm sitting cross-legged on the crumbled outer wall of the Castle of Knives, facing the iron gate. As dappled sunlight hits it, I can see that it's slightly rusty. I suppose now with Narissa's power broken, there's nothing to deter the inevitable effects of the elements. Nor is there anything to suggest that yesterday, this was a fortress on an island in a lake, instead of a ruin in a dark forest.

Closing In

After we rested in the second floor guest wing (very comfortable, I must say), we continued our methodical search of Narissa's castle. Across the bridge that spans the throne room, we found what must have been Narissa's living quarters: several interconnected chambers, opulent far beyond the point of good taste. The walls were covered with gold and platinum tiles; the floor carpeted with the hides of several exotic First World cats. Ironically, the only truly beautiful things in there, to my eyes, were the enslaved occupants.

We encountered the first nymph in a painting studio. She was nude from the waist up, her beauty contrasting sharply with the crude and caricatured but nevertheless truly horrifying scene of animal torture on the canvas in front of her. As she turned, both Kris and I shuddered involuntarily: in place of her eyes were only weeping black sockets. She let out a wail of agony so profound that I felt an almost overwhelming urge to simply sit down and give up on life.

Gelros, though, was stronger. As several more nymphs converged on us, responding to the call of the first, he said quietly, "These pour souls are the epitome of pain and suffering. Narissa has tortured them far beyond their breaking point. Put them down." This we did, although not before Jaric suffered some physical caresses and accompanying mental assault at the hands of a nymph and we were ambushed, again, by the worm-wizard.

Appearing behind us, the wriggling man summoned a wall of fire, followed by a swarm of meteors. He then turned poor Haiku into a rock (more on this later), and temporarily held me in place with some sort of mental compulsion. However, he didn't get too far beyond that, because Jaric had protected us from several of the spells he used last time (scorching rays, for instance). One of Narzeth's fireballs and a few quick strokes from Kris (flying, wielding Briar) drove him off again.

From my perspective, the wriggling man had cast a spell and Haiku had simply vanished. As soon as I was free to move, I leapt the balcony to see if she had fallen. I found nothing, except an oddly shaped rock, which I picked up and put in my pocket. This made for an interesting experience about an hour later, when Haiku the oddly shaped rock reverted to her normal self, knocking me down, bruising my left hip, and tearing a giant hole in the outside of my breeches in the process. At this point, I sent Haiku to wait out in the courtyard, with instructions to eat anything that showed up there that she didn't recognize.

Below the bedchambers with the nymphs, we found a library, inhabited by a chatty water mephit. The poor chap seemed genuinely torn between following Narissa's instructions to not talk to strangers and his desire to have a conversation with someone, anyone, other than a dusty book. It didn't take much for Gelros to convince him to spill the beans. The conversation went something like this:

Gelros: Nice library you have here.

Mephit: Oh yes! Do you like it? This is Narissa's personal study, it is. I am just the caretaker.

Gelros: Have you worked here long?

Mephit: Ages and ages. I don't get out much, sadly, and [He looks around furtively. Then, whispering…] I'm not really supposed to talk to visitors.

Gelros: Oh, don't worry about that; we'll not tell on you. I do like the decorations here. [Picks a volume off a shelf.] And the books. Is this a real elf-skin cover?

Mephit: [Distracted now] Let me see… oh, that's only half-elf. [Looks disappointed.] We do have some genuine drow-hide volumes, though, just over…

Gelros: [Interrupting] Yes quite. But, say, do you know the worm-wizard fellow?

Mephit: The Wriggling Man? Oh yes yes; he is one of Narissa's favorites. Spends a lot of time with her, he does.

Gelros: Of course. Well, we were just having a conversation with him, but he had to run off. I was wondering if you knew where to find him?

Mephit: Well, I'm not really supposed to tell…

Gelros: Oh, I see. I suppose I'll just have to wander and look for him then. I thought that if you could tell me, then it would save some time and I could stay in this lovely library for a bit longer. No? Well, we understand. We must be going now… [Turns to leave]

Mephit: Wait! Uh, do stay a bit. I get so few visitors you see.

Gelros: Could you point us in the right direction, then?

Mephit: Oh, what's the harm; he's probably trying to find you anyway if you were speaking with him. The Wriggling Man has a garden on the third level where he likes to rest. You can get to it by going through the pool. He likes to rest there because it connects directly with Narissa's inner chambers… [Suddenly looks concerned.] Oh, I shouldn't have said tha…

[Mephit explodes, leaving a thin residue of water on the floor and two bookshelves.]

So that was as much information as we got from the interview. Still, it was enough to point us in the right direction. With the knowledge that this was Narissa's personal study and with an idea that there are some hidden architectural features of the castle that we need to find out about, Gelros and Narzeth spent some time looking through the record books. Narzeth found mostly hand-written journals in which Narissa recorded her unhealthy obsession with our little kingdom, and, in particular, it's rulers. Gelros, however, found a tome that described, in some detail, a network of four extra-dimensional pockets, called "fables", which constituted Narissa's inner chambers. Narissa can move among them freely, but for others the four chambers are (or, more properly, were) accessed via four objects of great power within the castle. These could be activated by touch if thinking the proper command thought. Two, we had already discovered: the golden throne and an ornate bed in the nymph's quarters. The other two were described as the giant tree in the courtyard and a serene pool of water in a private garden.

Meanwhile, across the hall from the library, Kris (bored from waiting) opened the door to a washroom and found himself faced with four large, angry air elementals. Kris closed the door, and nonchalantly strolled back into the library.

Fables

Armed with new knowledge, we visited the tree in the courtyard. We watched as Gelros walked up to it, touched it, and disappeared from sight! Apparently he had activated the teleportation effect with raw charisma. It took the rest of us longer: Narzeth first had to examine the tree and determine that the activation thought was most likely flying as a crow over an endless forest. We then linked arms, touched the tree, thought the thought, and, poof, there we all were, perched on an even larger tree suspended in a starry sky, with the trunk extending indefinitely above and below us. Gelros was present, standing on what appeared to be thin air, looking bored. "It's an illusion; the whole space is only twenty feet across, and little more than that upward." This turned out to be quite correct, as Jaric found out when he lost his balance and fell off the branch to the invisible floor below.

The tree fable was a fascinating little place, and quite peaceful. However, it lacked a Narissa, which is what we were seeking. Thus, we touched the trunk and flying-crow imagined our way back out again. We thought it wise to find the garden next, in order to eliminate the wriggling man before tackling Narissa herself. A quick fly-about on Haiku revealed no personal gardens on the outside, so we went back in and up to the third level. On our way we found several recently slain creatures, among them a trio of devourers and a medusa. The third level had suffered the most from crashing its way into our reality, and many rooms were just rubble. But we did find a private garden, with a small pool in the center.

Gelros repeated his brute-force approach to portal activation. Narzeth informed the rest of us that the command thought was "lying on one's back in the sun." Based on this, I thought of lying in a sun-soaked forest meadow, and successfully took myself, Jaric, and Evariel through the portal, where we immediately fell upward (toward an illusory sky). Gelros had found and engaged the wriggling man, who had used reverse gravity. Jaric summoned an archon, who didn't do a whole lot. However, Evariel conjured up a massive bolt of lightning. That was the ticket: after the flash we saw no more cloaked man but only a pile of dead and dying small red worms.

On reflection, this was the point at which our plans began to unravel. As I said, Narzeth had told us the fable was accessed by imagining lying on one's back in the sun. I, having already activated the fable once, had no trouble returning. Jaric too appeared beside me a moment later. (I later asked him what he had thought of; the answer was "lying in the grass of a sunny park when I was a little boy.") However, nobody else showed up. I pieced it together later: Narzeth had forgotten "in the grass," and therefore the command thought didn't work for Gelros (who was imagining lying by a pool). While Narzeth puzzled out his omission, Gelros, impatient, activated the fable blindly and (as you will see) ended up in another fable, not out in the private garden as intended. Right about at this point, I teleported back into the meadow fable to find Gelros gone.

Me: Where's Gelros?

Narzeth: He just left. [Moment of realization.] He wasn't with you?

Me: No…

Not good.

The order of subsequent events in my memory is a bit fuzzy here. In part, that's because we found ourselves spread across multiple fables and levels of the castle. Narzeth and I left Jaric's confused archon in the meadow fable and caught up with Kris and Jaric, who were still outside. We had an idea that Gelros might have ended up in another fable, so Narzeth teleported us all to the throne room to try that access point. (I think. It occurs to me now that Evariel hadn't come with us; somehow she  followed Gelros separately. Or perhaps he was touching her when he teleported, and dragged her along?) What is clear is that, somehow, all of us eventually arrived at the fable connected with the throne (command thought: holding court over a crowd of thousands). Gelros was already there, as was Narissa.

I should pause here to describe Narissa. Like the nymphs, she was a paragon of beauty; I got the impression that those with insufficient willpower would go blind in her presence. Her beauty seemed less emotional, though, a more a thing that appealed to raw instinct. She wore no armor, but did carry a sword. Her dress was sort of a shimmery blue-green, like the sea. She wore jewelry as well, but I didn't get a good look. She was standing proudly in a round room of well-laid stone, by a smooth shallow basin of water opposite Gelros.

By the time I made it in, Narissa and Gelros were already in a spell battle. A shimmering bubble surrounded Narissa. On the inside of it stood Evariel, looking singed. On the outside stood Gelros (singing); a second, shadowy Gelros who was also singing, in harmonious counterpoint; and a planetar. I caught the back half of a brief conversation in which Evariel agreed to pay the planetar double his usual rate, and then said planetar turned to Narissa and with a few words stripped her of a large number of magical defenses.

Narzeth followed me in, and then Kris. Kris, said, idly, "Hello," but Narissa's eyes were only on Briar. She screamed in rage and horror, "How dare you bring it back!" To punctuate her displeasure, she filled the chamber with lightning and thunder. Spells flew. Gelros told an outrageously funny joke that fell flat; Evariel tried Destruction. I had marginally better luck with physical weaponry, as did Kris. Briar was singing a nonsensical tune of happiness.

What followed was a chaotic game of cat-and-mouse. Narissa, who could move freely among the fables, left via the pool at the center of the throne fable. Kris and I both caught a glimpse of a bed as she stepped through. Thus, Narzeth took us to the nymphs' quarters, where I was able to activate the bed by lying on it and, ahem, thinking improper thoughts about the planetar. (Hey, I was under stress, and he was a convenient hunk. I mean focus. A convenient focus.) This caught us up to Narissa long enough for Narzeth to cast a black ray off a scroll that was intercepted by some type of amulet around her neck; for Narissa to dominate Spike; for Narzeth to hypnotize poor Spike; and for me to observe that bed chamber was full of treasure, which appeared to include every item of value that our small party had ever seen ever earned or found, up to and including the items we were wearing and wielding.

Then she was off again. Kris, looking visibly annoyed at perpetually chasing his quarry without once getting in a swing, volunteered to stay behind with a still hostile, mesmerized Spike and guard that fable. The rest of us exited, tried the tree (empty), and then the throne room again (there she was). Having had a few moments, I was ready this time. While Narzeth was teleporting us around like a carnival ride gone mad, I had keyed an arrow just for Narissa. When next I saw her, I put that arrow right through her heart.

Last Stand

The arrow didn't kill her. I hadn't really expected it to. It did, however, trigger a set of contingencies. Narissa stumbled back, with a shocked look on her face, and then disappeared with the unmistakable crack of teleportation magic. Over the next few moments, everything in the fables shook. The walls crumbled and the illusions faded, revealing four battered islands in the astral plane: the four fables, now in direct sight of each other. I could see Kris and Spike, less than a hundred feet away, Kris holding Briar at the ready. Kitty-corner from where I stood was Jaric's shield archon in the meadow fable, now back in action.

With a second crack, Narissa appeared again, floating among the fables and much larger now. Her eyes were wild as she exclaimed, "I will not go quietly into the night!" Narissa cast a spell and for a few moments I could not follow her movements. (Narzeth told me later it was Time Stop.) Another astral diva appeared beside her, but not long after Jaric had dispatched it, with help from Evariel. Jaric was incensed: "You are not worthy to summon such a holy creature!"

The real action, though, was with Briar. Kris, finally freed to attack, leapt his way across floating debris to close with Narissa. As Kris swung, Briar cried out "I'm finally home!" quite clearly, in Sylvan. Briar seemed able to bypass Narissa's displacement effect, and Kris pressed the attack. I still think she would have escaped but for Evariel, who had the presence of mind to cast a silence spell on herself and run up next to Narissa to inhibit her spellcasting ability. Narissa had lost one spell and absorbed another of Jaric's flame strikes when, looking flummoxed, she opened her guard just slightly. Kris brought Briar up into a reverse overhand grip and powered the sword directly through the center of Narissa's chest.

Narissa slumped forward, impaling herself further upon Briar, who was now singing a wordless song of pure joy. As she gasped out her final breaths, the whole demi-plane in which we were standing shook violently. Black lightning streamed from every available surface and flowed into Narissa, who slowly shattered into thousands of glassy fragments. The remnants of the pocket dimension vanished around us, leaving us suspended in midair over the castle, which was itself contorting and collapsing inward.

I reached for my snapleaf but found it wasn't needed: by summoning all my willpower I was somehow able to manipulate the dying magic of Narissa's home to descend slowly toward the earth roiling below. A glance around told me the others were doing the same. By the time we reached the ground, the lake had gone, the cliffs collapsed, the castle shriveled into the form of the ruins we had found in the forest months before.

We stood blinking at each other in the midday sunlight filtering through the mossy oaks above us. I saw no sign of Narissa, or Briar. The summoned creatures were gone, too. Kris spoke first: "Whelp, that's that." It seemed all that needed to be said.

Postscript

They say some are destined for greatness; heroism runs in their blood. Gelros is one of these, I shouldn't wonder. The rest of us are accidental heroes—ordinary folks who by determination, accident, and blind luck survived long enough to acquire the skills needed to aid our allies and defeat our foes. Well, several of us did die, only to return, but honestly we should have been dead ten times over. To think that a half-decade ago I was an unemployed military scout just looking for a steady job… and now, with a band of friends (one of whom just happens to be a king), I, we, defeated a demigoddess bent on the destruction of the kingdom I've come to love and devote my life to defending.

I still think Jaric is a pious arse, and Narzeth is a crazy old bastard. Raven's not much better; may the gods, such as they exist, have mercy on their poor child. Shella's bloodthirst is just plain scary and she's imbued her protege Evariel with the same frame of mind. Kris is almost relatable, but he'd put a dagger in my back for Gelros' sake without a second thought. Except, I know he never will. He'll never have a need to, because everyone one of us would follow Gelros into hell if we had to—in fact, we did.

Whatever our differences, we somehow make a great team. We survived, we conquered, and now we're running a small country with outsize prestige and a fanatical populace. Long live Arboria! But, I still need a vacation. This time, I really think I'm going to take it.

XP

No longer relevant, but so, so much.

Loot

Also not relevant, but…

  • Poisonous Cloak (cursed item)
  • (40) High-quality dresses worth 1,000 GP each
  • Horn of blasting
  • +6 headband of intellect
  • Portable hole containing all the Wriggling Man's spellbooks, which have every spell in existence
     
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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"
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
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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
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