the return of Tip

woods1.jpgWe have Tipwill back! And I’m alive!

Despite Tip’s personal charm and impressive ability to turn people into newts, I’m sure my family would rank my survival as being of considerably more import than that of our mage. (True enough, cousin Mary-Ann might not. She had never forgiven me for dyeing her hedgehog blue as a child, and later acquired that series of increasingly scandalous crushes on the various itinerant hedge-wizards that sometimes passed through Brandykenthwaite-on-Trickle.) Regardless of their biases, however, I must say that I’m quite pleased with both sets of developments.

It was Mayzine who first found evidence of Tip’s unwashed scent with her keen draconian senses, apparently through the woods to the north. In this direction we thus all headed, Ashton and Hedge carrying Shen’s lifeless body on its crude litter. We had only the starlight to guide us through the undergrowth, and only the shadow dragon was able to see more than a few feet ahead. All of us were ill-equipped, and quite the worse for wear from our previous battles and the fall from the portal.

Eventually we came upon more solid evidence, although it wasn’t clear how it related to our missing mage: cart-ruts in the soft soil, and then the cart itself, stationary in the dark woods ahead. Hedge and I volunteered to quietly reconnoiter the area.

When we reached the cart, we found its contents looted and a dead dwarf slumped forward in the driving seat. Natural causes seemed to be an unlikely explanation for its death, given the several heavy black arrows lodged in the corpse’s back. Clearly there were humanoid foes about, and not just the eight-legged ones that we were in search of.

There was little time to ponder who those foes might be. A guttural warcry pierced the still night air, and we heard sounds of someone approaching. Hedge and I took up ambush positions (or, it might be said, hiding positions–there being little difference between the two). Before we could spot the enemy, however, Mayzine swooped low over us, and crashed into the underbrush ahead. The shadow dragon was hunting, and had found her quarry.

Although Hedge and I crept forward to help, she had little need of our assistance: she quickly knocked out one orc (whom I dispatched with Mr. Cutty), and subdued the other. Ashton joined us, struggling with Shen’s body across his back. We all turned to the orc. Perhaps we could gain some vital information from our prisoner.

There followed some considerable bickering on how best to proceed. Mayzine, who held the fellow in her claws, first threatened to emasculate him, then to hurl him to the ground from on high, and finally offered him a small compensation to cooperate. I tried to concoct a complex tale of unimaginable riches in the hope of using the Orc’s greed to loosen his tongue. All this did was complicate matters by stoking his greed still further, to which Ashton responded by solemnly promising him half of whatever treasure we might find.

Finally, Hedge found a way of cutting through the bickering and negotiations. Literally. The Orc slumped to the ground dead, an adamantine blade through its back. Ashton and even Mayzine wondered about the ethics of all this. Shen, bless his soul, would have turned over in his grave, had we yet buried him. As for me—well, while its not something I would have done, I was not unhappy to see him dead. I proceeded to loot the fallen body.

A short while later we heard more noises, this time of shouting, and of something (or somethings) crashing through the brush towards us. Mayzine advanced towards the commotion, and was surprised to see a terrified (and rather damp) Tip fleeing towards us. He didn’t need to say anything about his situation: his look made it clear that he was being pursued, and that we didn’t have much time.

I tried to convince Mayzine to take to the air, and to draw them away from our position. Once again, we clashed more than cooperated, and she rejected my suggestion. Although I’m coming slowly to the view that perhaps she truly has abandoned the path of evil, we don’t get on well. Her haughtiness is quite the opposite of we hin. She clearly doesn’t like skulking, a past-time that I rather enjoy. That she could almost gobble me up in a single bite probably doesn’t add to the weight of my views in her estimation.

We could not possibly hope to outrun our pursuers in this dark tangled forest. Given our wounds and the uselessness of our magicks, most of us considered that this battle might be our last. Nevertheless, we grimly readied ourselves to fight.

As for me, I advanced a little beyond my companions, and took up position in a tall tree. From here I could carefully choose my targets from concealment, maximizing both the element of surprise and the damage of my projectiles. It also gave me the option of trying to draw our attackers away from the others, and then seeking to evade my pursuers with well-honed stealthiness. It was a risky long shot, but it would be worth it if it might allow Ash, Tip, and Hedge to escape with Shen’s body.

Soon we could hear Tip’s pursuers rushing towards us. A large orc passed under my tree.. and as he passed, I hurled a single flattened stone which caught him heavily in the back. He stumbled a little, giving Hedge time to aim his crossbow, and finish him off with a well-aimed bolt.

A second orc charged passed, and in the distance I could see Mayzine in combat with yet another opponent, a dark elf barely visible amid the trees. Reasoning that the dragon could well handled the Drow, I took aim, and hurled a knobbly stone at the nearer foe–dropping the orc in its tracks. In the distance, the Drow fell too, laid blow with a mighty swipe of the dragon’s claw.

Sadly, this time my movements seem to have given away my hiding place, for a huge ogre roared, and hurled a massive axe in my direction. Thankfully, he missed. Less thankfully, he then rushed to my tree in an attempt to shake me out of my arboreal perch.

I clung to a branch for dear life as the tree rocked and swayed, the fearsome creature’s stench and considerable annoyance more than amply evident to me in the branches above. Mayzine moved forward to fight it, and—the ogre’s attentions momentarily distracted—I hurled a rock against its hard head, and then a second. Much to my pleasure, the thing groaned and fell dead. Chalk one up for hiding and throwing rocks.

As all this was going on, Hedge, Ashton, and Tipwill confronted a final orc in fierce hand-to-hand combat, vanquishing it too.

Happily we all greeted Tipwill, who recounted how he had escaped from the spider’s lair with the help of Mr Stabby, whom I had given him earlier in the aberrants’ cavern. Our collective celebration was soon cut short, however, by the sound of scuttling in the woods. Spiders. Many of them.

The party began to withdraw. Knowing once more that I could not keep pace with my companions, I instead hid again in the tree. Fortunately the spiders seemed interested only in the fallen bodies, which they wrapped in silk and dragged off into the darkness. On this rare occasion, I was quite happy to forgo uncollected loot if it meant they would leave us alone.

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tripping evil

22 Eleasias 1373

Note to self: given a choice between a room full of evil thugs, and an angry demon, go for the former. They trip. Demons don’t.

After Ashton’s misadventures at the Wildlands Rest, we decided to press on the town of Deadsnows on the northern flanks of the Nether Mountains. From a spellcaster’s unsent communications found earlier we had learned that, somewhere near there, an evil agent named Mayzine was building a temple to Sher.

Our complex plan emerged after much discussion within our group, but was essentially this: We would bait a trap with a body of a dead Shadowvar, and a portion of the note to Mayzine that we had captured earlier. When her agents came to investigate, we would ambush or trail them, until they led us to what we wanted to know.

It seemed to go smoothly enough. In the guise of “Roger Rodkin,” I reported the body to Captain Mannock of the Deadsnows guard. A few days later, the proprietor of a dubious ale shack in the Snowtown slum (an evil looking half orc named Vandar) came to investigate the location that we had baited, together with his thugs. We followed them back to the beer hall, and, fearing that we had spotted, mounted a quick but covert assault upon the establishment. I must admit it took me some time to convince my companions of the covert part, and the need to neither draw attention nor annoy the local constabulary. Clearly wanted local felons Ash and Hedge have had rather fewer brushes with the law than I.

Once inside, Tip’s magicks soon uncovered a secret passage, leading beneath the shack and ultimately to a dark and bloody temple. There, in the crowded chamber deep below the shantytown above, we were assulted by Vandar and half dozen of his spies and henchmen.

And what a glorious brawl it was! Hedge and I quickly and invisibly took our positions. Shen charged in, and as he did I tripped no fewer than four of the scoundrels with few quick flicks of Uncle Reggie’s beloved stone. The monk tumbled across the room to assault Vandar’s bodyguards, while Hedge quickly held his blade to the half-orcs neck. More thugs fell to my skipping. Quicker than you could recount the tale of Quacky Befuddle and the Highly Trained Ducks of Barleybridge, we had captured our target and slain his henchmen.

We soon realized that Vandar was indeed an evil cleric–but of Cyric, not of Sher. Whether this portends an evil alliance between the Dark Sun and the Lady of Loss, I cannot tell. However, vanquishing the evil cultists was clearly to our gain. Equally satisfactory was the quiet way we did this. “Roger” had a few words with Captain Mannock to direct his guards to the scene, but aside from this stalwart officer no one really knows of our involvement. Mannock himself has offered to put in a good word with his liege, Lady Icespear, a commitment that may yet prove most useful.

Thereafter, we took the bound and gagged Vandar to the nearby dwarven Hospice of of Morthammor. The clerics of Marthammor Duin had been seeking information on the recent murder of a dwarven prospector, Bromgart Ironheart, and we suspected a connection. It seems that Bromgart had been exploring an ancient dwarven mine, which in turn was likely the same mine mentioned in the captured note to Mayzine. We vowed to investigate further. I hope that we gained some favour among these honest and hard-working dwarves–one day soon we may credit friends more than gold as political and religious intrigues unfold.

(I didn’t mention it, but I knew a Shorgar Ironheart once.. he’s probably still wondering where his purse went).

After a night of very good rest, we set off for the mine. There, a greasy winch soon linked Vandar to this place. We descended down the main shaft, with Trip setting off a fire trap en route. This in turn alerted some of those beneath, and we were assaulted in turn by undead, an acolyte, and dark monks.

Ash held back the ghouls, Tip entangled the monks, and Shen made short work of both. The acolyte might have escape to tell of our presence had Hedge not felled him with shots from his crossbow. (Hedge shot me too, but I like to think that it was an accident. He’s a good fellow.. just a bit over-eager with the trigger.)

And then It came. It was most definitely an It, and not an it: a horrific, scaled, vulture-like demon. I had the fortunate good sense to bide my grandmothers oft-repeated advice: “if what’s a-coming sounds big and angry, then be small and hid.. leave it to the tall folk to be brave, for they make piss-poor ale anyways.” Of course, I had no desire to sacrifice my friends and companions, whatever their poor beer-brewing abilities.. but I was equally happy to be crouched, quiet and invisible, against a rough stone wall when the demon beset us.

A “Vrock” is what Tip later called the thing. That makes sense, because for a while there I thought were were all truly vrocked.

It was quite the fight. Shen pounded it mercilessly with his fists and feet, in perfect harmony with Hedge’s crossbow and Ash’s much needed healing spells. Tip did the best he could with magicks. In this fight, hiding and throwing rocks could do little given the foul creature’s resistance to my blows, although I did manage to shear from it a half dozen of its mirrored disguises. Finally, when it seemed much weakened by Shen’s martial arts, I aimed one careful shot at its foul head and dropped the beast to the ground. I claim no credit for this, however: mine was merely the smallest but final blow.

And so we press on. If more of Mayzine’s minions await us–and I’m sure they do–I very much hope they’re two-legged, not too big, and standing very, very close to each other. Then I can show them what a skiprock can do.

Flogging a dead horse…

16 Eleasias 1373

“Arnold,” my mother used to say—when I was young, and complaining yet again that it wasn’t my turn to feed the chickens, “lad, there be no point in arguing yer chores–yer just floggin’ a dead ‘orse.” I never really understood that expression, especially as it pertained to chickens.

Now, as I survey the bloody carnage of several dead horses in a long-abandoned temple in the ruins of a forgotten city half buried beneath the sands of the Great Desert, it makes even less sense to me. I don’t really want to flog a dead horse. I want to flog a kobold.

Why, you might be asking? That’s a rather long story.

That story begins a warm summer night in Waterdeep, more than three years ago, when I returned from a profitable night on the town to find Uncle Reggie lying dead in a pool of blood at his workbench. I was devastated: this man had raised me ever since I had left Brandykenthwaite-on-Trickle, and had taught me so much of the world and the skills needed to survive it. He was a second father to me.

Recovering from my horror, I remember running to the window and calling down to a City Watch patrol passing in the street below. The hastened to my Uncle’s home, confirmed that he was dead. After a quick search fwe ound a window that had been forced, and signs that silverware, gold, and a few other objects of value had been stolen. To the good men of the Watch, it was clear enough: a crude break-and-enter by a few ruffians. They had surprised my uncle at his work, clubbed him to death, and the stolen what valuables they could find.

I was less sure. The window had been forced sure enough, but the splinters of wood on the carpet suggested that some of damage had been done when it was already open. The drawers and cupboards had been opened and searched, but from the bottom-up as experienced thieves (but rarely uncouth thugs) have learned to do. My Uncle had been apparently surprised—which was all the more surprising in the case of Uncle Reggie, who was as an alert and dexterous a halfling as I have ever known. Had I had my wits about me that night, I would have sought help to find traces of wizardry or poison in Uncle Reggie’s demise. Sadly, I did not.

In any case, I was sure that this foul crime had not been committed by thieves of the Guild: most of them disdained unnecessary violence as amateurish, my Uncle’s few magical items lay undetected and untaken, and what had been taken never did resurface among the network of merchants and fences that I knew so well in the city. Indeed, no one in the Guild had heard anything about this job at all, and I and my Uncle certainly had enough friends there to have heard whispers had this been a professional robbery.

As far as I could reason, this left two possibilities. The intruders had come to kill Uncle Reggie. Or they had come for something quite specific, something that they believed he possessed. I had no way of knowing who might want him dead and why, or what he might have had that would attract such dark attentions. I vowed, however, to find out.

Over the next three years I travelled the length of the Sword Coast and the North in search of clues. And there were clues, or at least hints of a secret past in my uncle’s life. In addition to his skill at skiprocks (a family trait that I, fortunately, share), he had apparently quite the singing voice in his youth, and for a while toured with the caravans as a minstrel. That gift had been taken from him in an orc attack one night, when a wound to his throat had left him the hoarseness that I even now remember so fondly. Tales that a youthful Reggie he had slain a dozen of the foul brigands in that encounter was another side of him that I had never seen, although I did know how determined he could be when he thought the cause was right. It wasn’t until this spring, however, that I found the post important clue: a page from his diary, torn away and hidden in one of the many secret compartments of his belt. I had found it quite by accident, while singing a nonsense song—somewhat inebriated, I’ll admit—after a night in a rather fine Waterdeep inn. Who but Uncle Reggie would have used “openy-wopeny” as a magical command word?

The belatedly-discovered page led me to Silverymoon, and confirmation from The Lady of that which I had already grown to suspect: Uncle Reggie had been a Harper, one of the shadowy band who look out for the defenceless, keep evil at bay, and maintain the balance and goodness in the world. It was in Silverymoon too that I met my current companions, as fine a band of humans (and not-quite-humans—but more on that later, perhaps) as a halfling could ever hope to find: Tipwill Erevard, a wizard of considerable power who, rather than laugh in the face of danger, casts spells while dangerously exposed (and even right beside) it; Shen, the monk whose vow of poverty so deeply contrasts with my own fondness for retailing found and appropriated objects that one would almost think it a mystic complementarity; Ashton Arn, a cleric of Lathander by whose faith and deeds light was returned to the realm, and who shares my curiousity about local breweries; and Hedge the Younger, a treasure-hunter.

It was Hedge who brought us to where I write these words, a dusty long forgotten temple beset by the sands of time and desert. Here, a few weeks earlier, his brother Pern had been afflicted with a mysterious dark malady. Neither Ashton nor the other wise and holy men of Silverymoon had been able to relieve the blight. And so here we had come, in search of answers.

It had not been an easy journey: giants had harassed us en route (I hid in a tree and threw rocks), and later a monstrous worm had risen from the desert to swallow Hedge and Shen (I hid in some ruins and threw rocks). Fortunately, in large part due to Tipwell’s skill with fireballs and Ashton’s healing arts, our compatriots were rescued from the worm-beast’s foul stomach—the stench of which was more than compensated by the rough gems in its gizzard.

To this building we had then come, to the very location where Pern had been afflicted. There were obviously others here before us, and we were propelled onwards by both the urge to pursue and a raging sandstorm closing from behind us. Whoever had been here had not covered their tracks well, and after a quick search I soon discovered the secret door and stairs that led to a vast, dark, subterranean network of caverns.

And I do mean dark. Dark magical fluids of shadow-stuff flowed like a river through this now cursed realm, blotting out the light and slowing our movement at times to a crawl. Traps we found, and ambushes too by both dark warriors and evil spell-casters. I, of course, hid and threw rocks, and did my best to relieve Shen’s angst at excessive materialism by removing whatever valuables our dead foes possessed. Finally, our spell-casters almost exhausted, we arrived at a vast underground temple to a long-forgotten sun god. Well, long-forgotten to me, at least: religion class class at school had coincided with the horse races, where many a foppish noble could be found with more wealth than sense, and I don’t remember attending many classes at all. It did all rather seem important to Ashton, however, for whom the very sight of ancient inscriptions and holy symbols is enough to set him debating theology with himself. Dad was much the same about wheat and barley…

Anyway, regarding the temple. It was a magnificent sight, rising up to beyond our view in a huge cavern sparkling with purple crystals. I’m not a religious halfling, as I’ve said before, but the sight of so many gemstones in one place did touch my soul deeply.

We carefully scouted and cleared the area around the temple building first, a task that proved challenging indeed when we were beset by more Shadowvar warriors, a rather fragile spell-caster, and a feline outsider of the most devious sort. Tipwill bravely volunteered to distract the feline demonspawn by standing in close proximity, waving his hands about, and murmuring magical mutterings (sprinkled with much louder expletives), thereby drawing its ire. His unorthodox tactics—coupled with my ever useful ring of invisibility—largely kept it away from me, allowing me to hide and throw rocks once more.

Finally, with great trepidation, we approached the gates of the temple itself. Within it, the dark fluid flowed out from a supernatural portal to the shadow world—the source of the dark river that we had found before. As expected, our entrance awoke the dark guardians left there—as guardians are wont to do— to guard it: a hideous floating metal construct of sorts, and two undead creatures of bone, with a longer reach than a half-elf rogue in a room full of silver merchants. Almost immediately, battle seemed to go ill for us: the construct emitted at times a horrendous wave of penetrating evil darkness that sucked at my very soul, and yet the foul contraption was all but immune to our weapons. Realizing this, we concentrated our attentions on the bone creatures, bringing first one then the other to its well-deserved destruction, thanks in large part to the last few spells that Ashton and Tipwell were able to cast before their reserves of holy and arcane energy were exhausted (and, I should add, a rock or twelve from me as well). Ashton fell, gravely wounded–I ran to him and, by the grace of Arvoreen’s Aegis, brought the cleric back from the brink of death.

As the battle raged on–and I began to fear that the infernal construct would be the death of us all–Hedge dashed deeper into the temple to play a hunch. It was indeed quite the gamble, for only his adamantine sword had any hope of penetrating the golem’s defences, and now we were bereft of even that. Tipwell played for time with his usual strategy of standing very close to danger, and then fleeing–in this case, leading the contraption on a merry chase around the cavern, urging it on with an oddly high-pitched squeal. And it was then that Hedge’s desperate gamble played off: by destroying first a rough-hewn dark statue defiling the temple, and then by smashing a crystal skull that he had drawn from a chest upon the altar, he both closed the portal and deactivated the powerful construct. We were alive! And equally fortunate, there were more gems!

We healed our wounds, and moved on to the last location in the cavern that we had not yet explored: an ancient tomb. Within, some of the arguably most gullible guardians ever crafted allowed me admission alongside Shen and Ash as one of the “worthy”—a thought so ludicrous that it would no doubt set my old guildmates in The Reveling Rogue guffawing and snorting beer through their noses in unrestrained amusement! Inside, we found a crypt, a set of powerful, holy armour, and a holy mace to match. After yet more theological self-mumblings and internal debate, Ashton declined to take the objects. With Shen casting a wary eye on me, I decided not to examine the sarcophagus, despite the treasures it might contain. One day I must get him to explain why material possessions are best left sequestered in deep dungeons, tombs, chests, and vaults, when they could be better used to enrich the ordinary folk (myself included) of this world.

With this, we retired to the surface. Which brings me back to the kobolds.We had freed a group earlier, when exploring the mines–I’m not too fond of the scaly creatures, but these had clearly been enslaved and forced into hard labour by our foes, and I do so detest exploitation of the masses by the self-appointed elites of the world. Indeed, their very situation seemed yet again evidence of the need for a broad-based popular movement of workers, toilers, and serfs which would.. well, I digress. I gave them a more than a week of rations, and we set them on their way. I suspect now they gathered the Shadowvar weapons near the foot of the stairs, ascended, found our provisions and mounts, and proceeded to loot the first and slaughter the second (with the exception of Hedge’s rather odd horse, of which I will say more another day).

And so, you see, the sudden desire to flog a kobold. I’m sure the urge will pass me soon: after all, I’ve heard tell of a Dwarven mine, where more evil plans may be afoot. It may be yet another step in unravelling the mystery of Uncle Reggie’s murder, and it may also help us find a cure for Pern. Stopping evil is always nice. Plus, if this is one thing I know about Dwarven mines, it is that they are full of gold….