revelations

21 Kythorn 1374rory.jpg

Perhaps its this Silverymoon mead, or perhaps it is simply the after-effects of months spent in the aberrants’ captivity, but once again I find myself having the strangest dreams.

This time, I’m in Sixteen String Jack’s having a pint or six with Uncle Reggie’s gnomish accountant, Rory McNumbers. This in itself is a bit strange, since Rory left Waterdeep some years ago, after developing a system for playing “Paladins In the Pit” that broke the bank at the Golden Moon Casino. Apparently, Khraz Cheapaxe, the casino’s irritable and tight-fisted dwarven owner, was more than a little perturbed at Rory’s mathematical skills. Consequently, he hired some dark elf assassins to make sure his technique didn’t become more widely known. Having successfully dodged one poison-tipped crossbow bolt, Rory wisely vanished from sight. The gnome is reputed to now be enjoying his retirement raising racing-badgers on a small private island that somewhere off the coast of Lantan, all purchased with his winnings.

Anyway, that’s not the strange part of it. In the dream, Rory and I are discussing Shen. Our brave monk has been much on my mind as of late, as we all wrestle with the thorny moral dilemma of how best to bring him back from the lands of the departed, and whether such expenditures as this would require on his behalf would violate the monk’s solemn vow of poverty. Why Rory would care, I don’t know, since he was never a big fan of poverty–but dreams are like that.

“Aye lad, ‘e sounds to me like a valuable asset,” says Rory, blowing smoke-rings from his pipe in the shape of small gold pieces, “and one who benefits well his shareholders.” Shen doesn’t have shareholders, of course, but I imagine Rory is talking here either of the poor and orphans that the good monk cares for, or his slightly bizarre, somewhat divine origins which make no sense to me in any case and I generally prefer not to think about. “And with a valuable asset, you’ve got to nourish it, and think long term. There’s no point letting its earning potential decline because you’ve failed to maintain its productivity.”

Increasingly I’m confused by his words, but confident that he’s talking about Shen, since–again, in the dream–the gnome’s unruly green hair is slowly being replaced by a bald pate. A few swigs of Gilmour’s Gilded Green-Apple Ale does nothing to alleviate the confusion. Quite to the contrary, large dancing cheese-wheels start to appear on the table—a rather bizarre phenomenon that I attribute to Prof. Sniddle once more injecting himself into my subconscious. Sure enough, one thought of a cat and they all disappear.

“So you’re saying… umm…?” I imbibe more ale, in search of greater moral clarity.

“You need to think of more of sustainability and future value, lad, and less of opportunity cost or the fungability of scarce financial resources,” the gnome responds, nodding. The ever-growing cloud of smoke-rings around him now increasingly resemble a huge grey city, perched between the life and death, its very walls made of lost souls… or possibly, of fine aged brie. I think once more of cats.

“Of.. ermm.. what?” I can’t remember being so confused since mom explained that the storks are just storks. The constant cheese references aren’t helping.

“The sustainability of capital investments, and the dangers of depreciation.” At this point, Rory’s usual garish flowered shirt has been replaced by a plain cotton toga.

“Depreciation of..?” I take an even larger swig of my drink. Perhaps I shouldn’t have skipped economics classes in favour of lock-picking as a youth.

“SPEND THE DAMN MONEY, LAD.” This latter comment comes in a much, much deeper tone than I’ve ever known the squeaky-voiced gnome to utter before.

I wake up with a start. It must be a sign. Possibly a sign that Rory now suffers from male-pattern baldness, has changed his taste in clothes, and had a much-delayed post-puberty change in voice. Or a sign that somehow the Shadow-invasion is related to fermented milk products. It seems more likely, however, that it was a sign about what to do about Shen.

So off to Waterdeep it is, to sell what’s left of our gems, and find someone who can bring our monk back to us, well and whole. I’m quite happy for that. Before we do it, however, I think I’ll find Prof. Sniddle and share a snack together.

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fond thoughts of Sixteen String Jack

22 Eleasias 1373

It just took an instant for the darkness to fall over me, and in that instant of fear and impending doom my mind naturally turned to what it meant if my companions and I failed on this quest:

Invasion from the Shadow Plane.

The destruction of the Weave.

The Triumph of Evil.

No more Gilmour’s Gilded Green-Apple Ale at Sixteen String Jack’s.

jack1.jpgOddly, of the four, the last seemed by far the most important at that particular moment. Of course, anyone who has ever drunk that wondrous ambrosia at Waterdeep’s most famous (and, indeed, only) hin public house may have an inkling of why that is so, particularly if they’ve ever had it with a warm, fresh slice of halfling barleybread and some of cousin Ned’s Brandythwaite cheese. For anyone who knows the barmaids at the Sixteen String Jack (and particularly the charming young Missy Rubytoes), my thoughts will be particularly understandable.

At the moment all went black, of course, I had no idea exactly what had transpired. I did know that it was unlikely to be good. After slaying the vrock, our exploration of this abandoned dwarven mine had yielded precious little in the way of treasure, beyond one odd and faintly magical necklace of bird bones. Instead, my companions and I had been treated to a pile of rotting corpses, a huge black amorphous blob that seemed intend on eating Ash and Hedge, ghouls, zombies-on-a-chain (much less enjoyable than the children’s game of the same name), and even a six-legged lizard that I was warned not to gaze upon too long. The one chest that we found contained—despite its ornate and complex lock—not fabulous gems or piles of gold, but rather a fearsome and incorporeal wraith with the unfortunate habit of attacking from floors, walls, and ceilings. This was clearly most unfair, especially for a hin like myself with expenses to cover. Alchemists’ fire doesn’t come cheap, Shen’s constant lectures on the “corruption of wealth” and the “dangers of opening strange boxes” notwithstanding.

Finally our party had moved against what appeared to be the enemy’s lair. Ashton was unable to pierce the conjured darkness, but Tip’s artful magicks finally succeeded in dispelling the black. We had advanced carefully into what appeared to be a large room filled with lead or iron boxes of unfamiliar design. The clawing noises coming from within these suggested some sort of angry beast, a supposition that none of us was eager to confirm after the fight with the dread wraith. Indeed, by this time Ashton and Tip were largely drained of spells both clerical and arcane, and we had much debated whether we should rest before pressing on this far. However, the risk of letting our enemies recover, regroup and prepare for us seemed too great–so here we were.

As we moved cautiously into the center of the room, Hedge carefully checked our path for traps. Tip then used his wand to reveal any concealed doors–and soon found one on the southern wall of the chamber. I walked towards it, rather incautiously as it turned out—for as I approached, I set off a trap. Our party was assaulted by a shriek, a wail, and a powerful blast of sound that penetrated to the very bone. Whatever element of surprise we might have had was now lost due to my foolishness.

No sooner had we regained our composure when a most ominous sound of stone against stone. I dove behind one of the metal boxes, and had only just voiced the command to render myself invisible when the door burst open and two huge living statues of Shar stomped into the room, their stoney visages hardly concealing their murderous intent.

We fought them as best we could, but only Hedge really had a weapon that could much pierce these fearsome golems of rock. Shen, showing extents of courage that I’ll never know, fought one of the constructs hand-to-hand. Yet his fists and feet were barely able to chip its smooth stone surface.

As the battle went badly against us, she appeared—Mayzine. It was in search of this agent of evil that we had entered this deep, dark place, hoping thereby to disrupt the shadow-plot and learn of any antidote that might save Hedge’s brother Pern.

Seeing a possible vulnerability, the indefatigable monk tripped one of the golems, sending it crashing to the floor. He then vaulted over its prone form, and struck Mayzine with all his considerable might.

FWAP!

Nothing happened.

Well, as Uncle Reggie was wont to say, that’s not strictly true. Mayzine did react.. turning her head slightly, and smiling at the surprised monk. She then did something even more disconcerting: as whisps of shadow surrounded her, she transformed. Not into a small puppy, of course, or kitten or anything else welcome and unthreatening. No, she transformed into a dragon: a huge, sleek, evil dragon, dark as the Shadow itself.

Faster than a badger in a bad place, I ran.

So too did everyone else, hoping that the low corridors the area would slow or halt the pursuit of Mayzine and her stone guardians behind us. We ran, as fast as our feet would bear us, towards the bottom of the mine shaft, praying that we might, somehow—however improbably—escape this place. First Shen, then Ashton and Tip, passed me by at their much faster paces. My heart sank, realizing that my ring shielded me from their gaze, and that my companions had no idea they were leaving me behind to become a dragon-snack…

CRACK! A fierce blue light erupted ahead at the bottom of the mine shaft, as Mayzine magicked herself there to block our very exit. Suddenly my invisibility and slow pace seemed much less of a liability than it had scant seconds before.

I remember old Grandpa Erk once saying “always be ye were the trolls isn’t, and the golds is.” He had never applied the saying to dragons of any sort (let alone agents of evil from the Plane of Shadow), and I had yet to see any treasure of any sort on this accursed adventure. Still, it seemed prudent advice. I stopped in my tracks, and slowly, quietly, and invisibly headed back the way I had just come.

Behind me I could hear sounds—undoubtedly screams of pain as my friends were devoured (or so I thought). There was little I could do. Either they were dead, or captured. Either way, the thoughts of me joining them as meal or captive scarcely appealed, certainly much less so than rescuing them at a more opportune moment or simply staying alive. As we hin say, “fortune favours the not-dead.”

As silently as I could, I crept back to the chamber from whence Mayzine and the golems had come. There I found an altar, a bloodied body upon it, and a huge, pitch-black symbol of Shar (a portal, perhaps?) behind. Despite the golem-statues now motionlessly flanking the altar, I crept still closer.. hoping for a clue, a way to destroy the portal, an escape route, or perhaps even a cask of ale with which to relieve the pain of my possibly approaching death. Even that suspicious Snakebite stuff would have been welcome at this moment.

A quick search revealed a hidden compartment in the altar… but just then my concentration was broken by the unmistakable creak of a door being opened nearby. The golems heard it too, and lumbered off to investigate, their heavy stone feet making the very ground rumble with each step. Clearly it was no one they were expecting.

Hedge! Could it be Hedge? I hadn’t seen him running with the others–no doubt he too had activated his ring and sought advantage by stealth. With his brother’s life in the balance, he had even more reason to come back this way, in the hopes of finding a cure to the Shadow Death. Perhaps he would save us all, as he had in the desert temple! Hedge, the hero! Hedge, the…

Then darkness. Nothingness. And thoughts of ale, barmaids, and Sixteen String Jack.

the plot thickens

18 Eleasias 1373

Who knew, for all his anxiety over issues of high theology, Ash would face his biggest challenge from Uncle Reggie’s rock?

Its been an odd few days. As he vowed to do, Ashton descended back into the dark caverns to retrieve the regalia of Amaunator–a move that will undoubtedly ruffle the high clerics of Lathander. Hedge and Shen also retrieved the body of Zareth, the Shadowvar agent we found beset by the Shadow Death, hoping that he might provide clues that would help us cure Hedge’s brother Pern of the same evil affliction. Tis a very nasty thing, that–a truly horrible way to go.

Thereafter, we took the fateful decision to divide our party: Tip and I returned to Silverymoon (using Tips impressive magicks to take the journey), while the others were to wait for us at The Fork. Depositing them there, we were all attacked by a pair of nasty earthen sharky beasts–Dirtmaws my Dad used to call them, although around here it seems they’re called Bulettes. Fortunately they were slain easily enough, with me adding a skiprock or five into the fray.

In Silverymoon, our tasks went smoothly enough: I sold the few gems we had acquired to Gorran the gnome, and gathered more supplies, while Tip delivered Zareth to the Temple of Lathandar and purchased some much-needed scrolls. I also had an opportunity to meet Tip’s father, a salt-of-the earth farmer whose fields and milking cows are some of the finest I’ve seen in these parts. When Tip retired early to study his spells, his father and I traded many a tale, including a few of young Tip trying transform toadstools into flying sheep. The well-worn halfling expression “as painful as an furry mushroom in your nethers” certainly has a whole new meaning for me now!

We then magicked back to The Fork, where we expected to find our companions comfortably settled into the Wildlands Rest. Instead we found them camped nearby, Ash and Shen bickering–all of them apparent fugitives from the law.

It seems that they had found a Hin skipper in the inn, going by the name “Stubbin the Great” or something of that sort. Hedge had been rightly suspicious of his skill, and had sought to question him closer. However the Hin had proven very suspicious, and had fled to his second-floor room when Uncle Reggie’s name had been brought up. Hedge followed him, and was promptly attacked as he loitered outside the traveller’s room. When our companion finally got the best of the fight, Stubbin fled… only to encounter Shen and Ash coming up the stairs. As the Hin tumbled past the monk, Ash drew the conclusion of evil intent, and incinerated him with a blast from his new mace.

And herein lies the bickering. Ash claims he was justified by the halfling’s behaviour. Shen claims he couldn’t have been certain of this at the time. Hedge is simply glad to be alive, and doubtless now has more regard for Hin blade. The innkeep ejected them all. And now rumours swirl that Ashton, the Lightbringer, is a murderer. I fear that when news gets out of his embrace of Amaunator, his opponents are sure to use it against him.

I did my best to fix some of this, entering the inn in disguise and pulling the stuffelglug scam on the somewhat baffled staff. With this I succeeded in muddying the waters of Stubbin’s “possible” death, and plan to muddy it still more in the days to come. I also managed to retrieve for inspection most of his kit.

And there it was: the rock. The rock. Uncle Reggie’s prized returning skiprock, not seen since his murder. You could have gagged me with a badger.

Stubbin’s unfortunate complete incineration has made it unlikely that he’ll now answer questions on how he got it, and what his connection might be to the foul deed. From what Hedge tells me, he doesn’t seem the assassin sort–but an accomplice he might well be, sent to spy on Uncle Reggie for the real killer, and to stand on guard while the foul deed was done. When time allows, I’ll ask around and find out what I can of him in Waterdeep and elsewhere–for now, I’ll have to content myself with his fiery demise.

For this I’m truly grateful to Hedge and Ash.
That’s one for you, Uncle Reggie.

Ashton’s schism

16 Eleasias 1373

We hadn’t been long with the butchered remains of our horses when I saw Ashton staring at the wall, clearly lost in thought. I hadn’t thought him all that attached to the horses, or indeed to livestock of any sort, so I asked him what was troubling him.

There followed a long attempt to explain to me the nature of Lathander, his relationship with Amaunator, and the complex theologies of twin natures, Risen Sun Blasphemies, rebirth, and who was who and how and when. It was, I must say, all a bit of how-many-sun-gods-can-dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin to me (or, as my mother likes to say, “more badgers than I care to untangle”), but clearly it deeply concerned my clerical friend and companion.

I’m not sure I could offer him any insight. I’ve always found the Gods and their meddling and demands for worship a little unsettling, although perhaps that’s coming from a society where the Gods are simply gods, respected for their role in safeguarding we Hin but not slavishly followed by right of birth or power or planar origins. I do know this, however. Ashton is a profoundly good man. He has not an ounce of greed for power or wealth, and indeed shuns and even regrets the fame that his prior exploits have brought him. He’s what we used to call “a regular reggie,” a halfling turn-of-phrase that resonates even more now that I know my own Uncle Reggie was a Harper agent that never sought recognition or reward for the good that he undoubtedly did. (Indeed, I’m quite sure that Uncle Reggie would like Ashton Arn, and would invite him down the brew-hall for a pint or six. Whether Ashton could fully tolerate six halfling ales, or Uncle Reggie’s renowned friendships with a variety of female evening social service providers, is another issue. Lucille’s propensity to dress as a nun might well have caused particular problems. But that’s another tale.)

So Ashton’s good heart is good enough for me. If Lathander is Amaunator, or Amaunator is Lathander, or they’re both second cousins of wee Bradbury Bondledooks who sold sheep down Red Rose Lane, I don’t much care. If Ashton thinks that fighting the evil we all face is best served by recovering the regalia of Amaunator, then that’s what we do. If the Church falls upon itself in bitter conflict over this “schism,” it just all shows they have narrower souls than does our Ash.

And so we take this step, and see what becomes of it.