into the darkness

Wizards-Library1We all enjoyed a good night’s rest in the sanctum, confident that we were well-protected. In the morning Tipwill and Phulgyar set about copying some of the spells in Pendaster’s library into their spell books. We also debated what to do next.

Tip, Shinzu, and Phulgyar all wanted to press on with our quest, most likely by travelling to Candlekeep to seek both Pendaster himself (now in lich-form, we believed) and to possibly study more about Memnon and the Old One in the library there. Phulgyar warned that it would be dangerous, however: in this world and time the great library was a mage school for the shadowvar and their allies.

Amra and I wished to investigate the slavers more, and strike a blow against them. True, it was but a small act set against the larger events of the world. Amra was angered at seeing his kinfolk bred and sold into slavery. Given my own world’s dark past history of selling hin into domestic slavery as cooks and houseboys (a legacy embodied by the very term “halfling,” as if we were half-anything!) I had to agree. I was anxious too that we protect the girls we had saved by eliminating their former captors. Finally, I continued to harbour doubts about our grand strategy of righting the world by loosing an unspeakable horror into it. It seemed very much to be a leap in a dark hole without a rope, something that had never worked out to well for us in the past.

Dragons. The memory of adventure past led me to wonder what had happened to the shadow dragon Mayzine, and whether our kindnesses in the past might have permanently turned her from her evil path. After all, she was one of those few from our past who might still be alive in our present…

The debate continued. With the party split, it was clear that Liam’s word would decide our course of action. He offered a compromise: we would spend a day to slay “Slaver Pete” whom we had seen at the auction in the market square, then return to our original quest. When we left the city on the Skua in two weeks we would also detour to raid the orc encampment.

Aunt Petunia used to tell my siblings and cousins and I stories—all fictional, she would insist—of how an assassin might methodically stalk its target for weeks, discovering its habits and patterns of life, before striking the deadly blow. However, there was little appetite for such prolonged stalking among most of our group. Instead we performed a hasty survey and stake-out of the warehouse where Slaver Pete did his business, planning to improvise an attack when an opportunity presented itself.

Spectre___cloack_FX_concept_by_ikkakeExcept that we were being followed, by a man in dark clothes that I had noticed the day before in the market. When we turned to confront him, he vanished. A shadowdancer, perhaps? A skilled one too, by the looks of it.

I had long been worried about scrying and spying and the such-like, and this latest episide was just more jam on the pigeon as far as I was concerned. I suggested that we abandon our immediate plans, and try to discover who might have us under such surveillance, and to what end. The consensus, however, was that we press on.

The warehouse was, on examination, a somewhat peculiar building with no windows. The doors were locked–and had no keyhole to the exterior. Pete never came out. Instead, Tip detected a flash of arcane energy from within the building.

I offered to check out the interior of the building. Tipwill transformed me into a Gaseous Form, and I then seeped into the building. It was empty!

Or so it seemed. One pile of crates seemed suspicious. On further examination I found that they were not crates at all, but a wooden hide built to conceal a horrible beast of sorts: a mass of darkness and lugubrious black tentacles, fully the size of an ox—by which I mean, of course, some otherworldly ox that looked nothing at all like an ox, but rather like a mass of darkness and lugubrious black tentacles.

I slipped back out of the building, and waited for the spell to expire so that I could inform my colleagues.

What was it? Some guardian, guarding the warehouse, or possibly tunnels beneath it? We already knew that the slavers used the sewers to hide their  human prisoners. In that case, the flash of arcane energy that Tip had detected earlier was possibly Pete teleporting to his home, wherever that might be (although it was also possible that he used any tunnels for this). Alternatively, perhaps the creature was Pete, polymorphed into his real form, possibly some aberration from the Plane of Shadow. We had no way of knowing.

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Naturally, we decided to attack. Phulgyar used a Knock spell to open the rear door of the warehouse, and we all slipped in.

Since the creature appeared to be in some sort of slumber, we had ample time to arrange our assault. Liam and Shinzu, as usual, stood in the forefront. Phulgyar, Tipwill, and Amra stood somewhat farther back, ready to use their spells—although they were constrained by the fact that we were in a wooden building the midst of the city, and anxious to neither attract attention nor start a conflagration. I hid among boxes and crates about 10 paces distant, ready to hurl my skiprock.

At a signal, Liam smashed through the false crates which concealed the abomination, while I threw my rock. It missed! Shinzu attacked, but the rubbery beast seemed to absorb her blows with little or no damage. My own rocks seemed similarly ineffective. Amra summoned a landshark to fight alongside us, while Tip tried to find a spell that would hurt the thing. The beast screamed an otherwordly scream and grabbed Shinzu, Liam, and Tipwill in its many tentacles, although the wily mage escaped with the aid of some hidden magical device.

TentaclesIn despair, I threw my Oil of Daylight at it, hoping that this might somehow weaken a creature of shadow. Perhaps this had some effect, but it also caused Phulgyar, unaccustomed to the bright light, to stumble about temporarily blinded. He recovered from the condition by cleverly casting a Darkness spell around himself, and also had the presence of mind to close the back door, which we had foolishly left open!

To be honest, I feared we would all die (with the possible exception of me). The creature squeezed most of the life out of poor Shinzu, then threw her limp, unconscious body to the floor. Liam’s kukris were a whir of steel and black ichor, but it was clear he was barely clinging to life.

Finally, Tip decided to risk all. “Skreuthys!” he exclaimed, invoking the name of the legendary saint of desperate causes, and cast a giant Acidball against the thing.  This killed it, leaving a steaming pool of acid and melting tentacles in a pit beneath the floor.

UnknownIt also blew out a corner of the warehouse. A crowd had already begun to form in the surrounding streets, and the shouts of the guard could be heard amid the commotion. Fortunately they were briefly scattered by the terrifying sight of Amra’s land shark galloping out of the wreckage of the building and into the market, where it devoured a cart of meat pies.

What to do? To leave the warehouse via the doors (or the hole in the wall we had created) was to risk near-certain arrest by the city guard. There were no windows, nor access to the roof.

“Down!” I urged. “There’s a tunnel or something down there, I’m certain.” I wasn’t entirely certain, but when there’s no rabbit in the stew, parsnips will do.

“Yes, but the fullness of the pit with acid of death requires most careful consideration, most honourable halfling…” replied a still-shaken Shinzu, brought back to consciousness by a healing spell from our versatile drow.

Amra step forward, and muttered a druidic incantation. “Not now. Now acid gone. We go. Kwika-sfuk!” Although only a few of us fully understood his idiomatic use of the imperative form of the third person plural of the Orcish verb kwikasfar (“to move very quickly, as if pursued by dangerous foes”), his meaning was nonetheless still clear to all.

And so, aided by the distraction of the bulette in the market square and our drow’s spell of Darkness, we descended beneath the city, where doubtless other dangers would away…

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of beggars and slaves

Captain Oloshan dropped us off outside Silverymoon, near the location where we had arranged to meet Amra. Not long after, the druid appeared, bearing a freshly-slain deer and several rabbits. Shuiba would eat well tonight!

First, however, we had some shopping to do. Tip and Phlugyar both had particular need of spell components and rare inks. The rest of us needed food supplies, and a few other mundane items. We also had a doppelganger to question.

Thus we reentered the city in disguise,  with Amra assuming the form of a raven. We made our way back to the Tall Halfling with Erided, where Grindelman awaited us.

“Thenk ye,” said the dour dwarf as he sat down to a pint of ale. “Ah hud nae desire tae track th’ orcs as a prisoners. Still, it did gezz some idea whaur their encampment micht be….”

The prisoner was still tied up and unconscious. We woke the faux-Petula up with a bucket of col water, and I began the interrogation. Tip had cast Detect Thoughts to aid us in the collection of information.

I started by telling it the plain facts of the situation. Petula was dead. It was our prime suspect. While we would not torture information from it, its only hope of living through the night was to tell us the truth.

CreatureSpotlight-Doppelganger“You’ll kill me anyway, Arnold.” it replied. It knew my name! Either it had been tasked to spy on us, or it could read my thoughts, or it was the “Petula” we had rescued. I had already noted the fresh chain marks on its wrists, which suggested either it had killed Petula hours ago, or had been among the girls we rescued.

A few additional questions made it clear that the creature had indeed been among the girls we had rescued from the Orcs. It was the only one of its kind in Silverymoon, doppelgangers having apparently been hunted to the edge of extinction by the shadowvar, perhaps because their unfixed forms violated all limits of racial distinctiveness. Living as a beggar, it had stumbled across the girls when they had been held in the sewers, before they had been taken to the exchange with the orcs. It had freed the real Petula, and nobly taken her place.

This was a lesson we would do well to keep in mind. Nobility and kindness can be found in any creature. Our own band included a demon construct, a renegade Harper drow, a halfling rogue, a mercenary of dubious origin, and a “half breed” orc. In the world in which we found ourselves, we might find allies in unusual places, among shape-changers, were-creatures, “mongrels” and slaves— all those that the shadowvar considered beneath them.

Although Tip’s magic and been unable to penetrate its mind, we nonetheless released the doppelganger from its bonds in an act of faith and trust. This world needed more of that, if the various disparate elements of opposition to Shar were to be built into an engine of resistance. We made him an offer too: he would always find a warm meal at the Tall Halfling, if might agree to pass on any information he might discover on the slavers, potential foes, or the machinations of the authorities.

“I’ll tell the Ratcatcher,” said the doppelganger. While the comment passed by my friends, I I looked at him intently. “Ratcatcher” was the traditional term for the head of the Beggar’s Guild. My relations with the beggars of Waterdeep had been a close one in my previous world: in addition to my dues to the Thieves’ Guild I had always made it my practice to tithe to the street-folk a share of whatever I managed to relocate from the wealthy, cruel, and corrupt. I asked him how the beggars were viewed by the city authorities, and the answer was no surprise: they were seen as the dregs of society, outcasts of the shadowvar’s sense of class status and racial purity.

95052It was, in my view, a dangerous mistake by the shadowy powers-that-be. The underclass saw all. They listened, but were not noticed. They understood, but were not asked. They feigned an abject and obsequious deference to power, but dreamed of a better life. True, their lives hung by such a bare thread that they were hardly likely to be foot soldiers of rebellion. But they excelled in everyday forms of resistance, and had a code of honour of sorts.

I needed to meet this Ratcatcher, and see how we might help each other. If he was like the others I had known, he might be more than he seemed. Indeed, for all I knew he could even be the doppelganger before me.

It was late, and we had a hungry tiger awaiting us in Pendaster’s sanctum. However our magic-users were in need of their fancy inks, and I was anxious to find items that might better disguise us. We resolved to take a quick shopping trip to the market.

With the solar cycles of light and dark askew, the hours of commerce were long, and the market fairly bustled with activity. We purchased what we needed, and I nearly relocated a very magical-looking kukri strapped to the back of some important-looking human who strode past us. I failed, but only just, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to exercise old skills. As Deputy Guildmaster Whisperdirk used to say, the art only improves with practice.

We also encountered Kala, one of the girls we had freed, and her very grateful father, Kelvin. He was rather louder with his gratitude than I might have wished. I recounted Petula’s murder (without the part about a doppelganger), and urged him to keep his daughter safe. It was possible someone was trying to kill all who had witnessed the illegal trade.

orcchainAt this point, there was a commotion in the market. It was the most bitter of all economic activities—a slave auction. The slaver merchant–one “Slaver Pete” stood in front of a warehouse or sorts, displaying today’s wares: several chained half-orcs all of them, all of them young adults, and all of whom appeared to have been bred to captivity and servitude…

Bred to captivity. Twist a badger and turn it inside out—that was it! My friends and I exchanged glances as all became clear. That was why the slavers, despite practicing a legal occupation, had sought to hide some of their nefarious activities. Young women were being kidnapped for use as breeding stock, traded to the orc tribe in exchange for their half-breed offspring. Perhaps many of the city authorities knew of this, but they certainly would not want it revealed. News of it would cause outrage, protest, maybe even open revolt.

There was little we could do. We had not the funds to free all those in captivity, nor could we afford to draw attention to ourselves (although Liam, when he finished stuffing himself with meat pies from a  street vendor, tried his best).

With this bitter realization, we left the city. We briefly dropped by the farm of Mysha and her parents to warn them too of the threat to the girls. Then we teleported back to the sanctum. We had to decide on our plans and next steps.

I knew one thing, however. I would be happy to see these slavers dead.

airborne to an ambush

Harper pinI soon surmised how it was that Grindelman and Oloshan knew of the Erised’s current condition–they too, like the dwarven mage, and like my Uncle Reggie, were Harpers. Grindelman’s subtle touch of an object beneath his tunic—a Harper pin, I suspected—seemed to confirm it.

“Where? How? And how can we get there?” I asked. Any friends of Uncle Reggie’s friends were friends of my friends and I, and I had no doubt that we should do everything within our power to—once again—rescue Erised.

“’Eess been trackin’ Orcs, ee ‘as,” said Captain Oloshan in an accent so nautical it brought to mind froth on a storm-tossed sea. “We can take the Skua, and be there afore ye can scrape barnacles from a bilge.”

“This seems wise counsel,” said Shinzu somewhat inscrutably. I was unclear whether this indicated a previously unsuspected degree of familiarity with bilges or barnacles, or if this was simply the way monks always said “yes.”

“We can go on one of those airships?” said Tipwill, his eyes lighting up with almost schoolboyish enthusiasm. “Really? On one of the flying ships? How do they work? Can I take it apart?”

“We can kill Orcs?” grinned Liam as he sharpened a blade.

He was lucky Amra wasn’t here. I suspect that our last fight with Orcs had upset the druid, reminding him he was in a world where neither Orc nor others would accept his mixed parentage. It was no wonder that he found comfort among the animals of the wild places. In this Silverymoon, “half-breeds” were considered an abomination fit only for slavery.

I missed my old world. For all its many vile inequalities, no one in Waterdeep had condemned a person to slavery simply because of his or her parentage, any more than the authorities would limit the language one could use in commercial transactions, or prohibit the wearing of religious symbols by public officials.

Captain Oloshan led us to the Laughing Skua, docked high above the city at the apex of a tall tower. It was a sight to behold: teak timbering, sleek lines, sails, and a huge glowing light than encircled the hull amidships. This, I understood, was Shadowvar magic that drove the vessel, however improbably. Tip could hardly contain his excitement—I’m now half inclined to buy him a captain’s hat for his birthday (or “construction day,” or whatever it is he might celebrate).

Liam continued to sharpen his kukris.

Skua

It took us about half an hour to reach the area where we believed the Orcs to be. I was worried that we would soon be spotted, but Captain Oloshan gave me a knowing wink and activated some device near the wheel. The hull, sails and rigging quickly assumed the appearance of cloud and sky. “We can’t be movin’ fast like this, ye see,” se said, “or the skyglow would give us away. But fer hiding and floating and skulking it works just fine.”

I suspected if I searched the ship well, I would also find several hidden compartments ideal for cargoes of a not-entirely-legal sort.

We decided to ambush the party or Orcs as they crossed a small river over a ramshackle bridge towards where we would be hidden among the trees. We would let most of the pass, until the moment we knew Erised was on our side of the stream. At that point we would launch our attack—Tip casting  Fireball at those nearest the bridge, hopefully destroying it and hence slowing any reinforcements. I was acutely aware that we were now in the territory of the Orcish foe. Tipwill kindly cast Darkvision on Liam and myself, so that we would have no need of lights.

orc1After a quarter or so, the enemy began to approach us, led by perhaps the largest Orc I had ever seen. He crossed the bridge, sniffed the air, and looked directly at the tree where Shinzu was hidden. I held my breath… had she been spotted?

Yes, unfortunately, she had. The enemy charged forth towards us. There was little sign of the dwarf we had come to rescue, who was apparently well to the rear of the Orcish party. Our plan was in tatters.

Shinzu stood her ground, dealing grievous blows against the first of the Orcs to reach her. Tipwill launched a Fireball towards Orcs running towards the bridge—but did rather less damage than expected. The reason for this became clear when the shamans among them launched fireballs back in our direction. Clearly this greenskin clan revelled in the fiery arts. I dodged the fires and threw my skiprock, hitting several. Trees burst into flame all around us.

Just then the huge Orc stepped forward, and swung at our elven monk. His blow connected. She crumpled like a damp paper crane in a threshing mill, barely clinging to life.

“Oh no you don’t,” cried Liam, who charged forward, twin blades in his hand. “Pick on someone your own size!”

The orc was a good two feet taller than our brave fighter, and perhaps two hundred pounds heavier. He laughed, only to find his right knee severed by the sharp edge of a kukri. “That’s more like it,” muttered Liam as the Orc staggered and fell to his knees. “Now you’re just a head taller than her—and we can fix that…”

With a  grin and another flash of his blades, he then severed the creature’s head from its neck. It rolled to Shinzu’s feet.

With this, the tide of battle began to turn. Tip and Phulgyar assaulted the enemy with arcane majicks, felling them like so many Orcs in the woods (which, indeed, they were). I dropped another with my skiprock. The remaining Orcs made as if to withdraw, guarded by a pack of snarling warg-beasts.

monkey-goatMy friends pressed forward. Not so fleet of foot as they, I had another idea. I drew one of the enchanted ivory goats from my pocket, and muttered the command word. Faster than you could say “whodiddleydo” it transformed to a most formidable goaty mount of war. I clambered on its back, and charged forward, across the bridge and deep into the enemy’s ranks!

The warg creatures fell back in fear, as did the one remain orc guarding Erised. My companions quickly slew the orc and unchained the dwarf.

“Weel, its abit time! whaur hae ye bin? ye hink Ah enjoy spendin’ time wi’ these fool-smeel creatures?” he asked in an annoyed tone. I didn’t doubt, however, that he was grateful we had rescued him.

I quickly collected whatever valuables I could from the corpses, and we retired to the Laughing Skua. Although Tipwill had directed a conjured water elemental to extinguish the blaze caused by the fight, the black columns of smoke hanging in the air were sure to attract unwanted attention. We needed to leave the area quickly, and return to Silverymoon….

enter the Tall Halfling

Thief-concept-art

Being that the shadowy powers-that-be are looking for us, it seemed essential to make our way into nearby Silverymoon as quietly as possible, lest we come to the attention of the local officials and their Shaowvar overseers. Therefore I devised a cunning plan….

First, Kymm and I would enter as one party, me playing the role of a distant and none-too-bright relative of the owner of the inn where she lived and worked, The Tall Halfling. The others would then follow in two other groups, each with a couple of the girls. I was clad in my drab pickpocketing gear and somewhat disguised, while Tipwill cast a glamyre on the rest of our party to make them appear as a group of hunters. Amra would remain outside the city walls, to hunt for fresh food for Shuiba. His animal companion had been left behind in Pendaster’s former chambers beneath the College, and the tiger would be getting hungry for sure.

Once in the city, we would return the girls to their families, and make our way to the pub to meet Kymm’s guardian, the publican Grindelman.

Well, that was the plan.

No sooner had I engaged the guard at the gate with my story than Tip strode forward, offering a piece of gold–a month’s wages in these parts–to speed the process. Given that the plan was to enter as separate parties, it must have appeared even odder that he was suddenly offering to pay for a group of strangers, particularly one comprised of a young girl and an idiot halfling!

Fortunately, we were not detained, the lure of gold apparently having outweighed the suspicion of the gate-sergeant. We hurried on before he could change his mind.

Petula, the young prostitute among the rescued girls (who had seemed somewhat shifty in our previous discussions) quickly ran off and left us. Before she did so we gave her a share of the Orc treasure, as we had for Mysha and did with all the other girls. Each of the others then made her own way home, as we headed for the inn.

silverymoonAs we walked through the narrow alleys, I once again sought to keep some distance from my companions to avoid raising suspicions. As we neared The Tall Halfling, however, we came upon the scene of a crime–guards and Shadowvar officials standing around, as they examined the body of a freshly-murdered girl. Even more disconcerting, it appeared to be Petula, who had left our company not ten minutes earlier!

We hastened on our way, as I wondered whether this was tragic coincidence or evidence of some dark conspiracy. As Aunt Petunia used to say, you’re not likely to find two newts in the same jug of milk.

phulgyarWhen we entered the pub, Grindelman appeared to be overjoyed to see Kymm, and Kymm equally happy to see the remarkably-tall halfling who had adopted her from the streets. There were a few others in the pub, including a swarthy elf and a girl huddled in the corner. I tried to indicate to Grindelman that we needed somewhere quiet to hold discussions, but before we could do so the girl stood up and bolted the room. She was the spitting image of Petula, whom we had apparently just seen bloodied and dead in the streets. It was all more dubious than a pickle in a brass spittoon.

We ran after her. It was essential that we not draw the attention of  a crowd. I tried to trip her with my skiprock, but to no avail. The fleet-of-slippered-foot Shinzu, however, rapidly caught up with her, tripped her, and stunned her.  She told the nearest onlookers that Petula was her wayward daughter (although not an elf, it was apparent). They nodded in approval. Clearly corporal punishment was popular in these parts.

Tip, in an apparent effort to distract those in the street, summoned a dark cloud of smoke and soot. This temporarily descended from the generally clear sky to obscure the road. His rural childhood and many years of study of the magical arts in an elite boarding school had clearly given him a unique insight into what passes for normal in the back alleys. Passersby muttered and made various religious signs to themselves as they scurried away from the area.

We carried the unconscious “Petula” back to the inn, only to discover that she/he/it was a doppelgänger of some sort. Had it taken Petula’s form recent, after the murder? Grindelamn swore that he had seen a “Petula” in recent weeks, so that didn’t seem likely. Had the creature killed the real Petula upon her return, to prevent discovery? Or had the doppleganger been among the girls we rescued? My mind was swirling like a sparrow in a washing tub at the many possibilities.

oloshanAt this point, the drow introduced himself. His name was Phlugyar, and seemed to know both of Uncle Reggie and our quest. We were also introduced to Captain Oloshan the Laughing Skua, one of those strange sky-ships we had seen in the sky, and his first mate Buckminster. The captain appeared to have some sort of gem for an eye, obscured by an eye-patch. It was, I suspected, a Gem of True Seeing.  I was confirmed in my view that old-fashioned disguises of the sort I had donned might be much better for us than those of the magical variety.

Before we could question him further, however, he and and Grindelman looked at each other in alarm. “Erised has been taken!” they exclaimed in unison….

From there to here

Much has happened since last I told our tale. Fortunately, our mage has found time amid his study of things arcane to pick up the story:

From the Journal of Tipwill Erevard

TipwillI must accept that it is true. I have been made, this flesh and these bones assembled by Art of a magnitude I cannot guess at. Some form of … living construct. My progenitor, my “grandfather” Muldaven, built my mother. My mother was built in grief over the shade’s lost daughter … but was I so built, or am I truly my Father’s son – some birthed half-construct? And what is this oft hinted-at hidden purpose I am intended to fulfill?

I have been fortunate in falling-in with capable, dependable companions once more. Can this be mere coincidence? Judging by my ‘facility’ with folk, I could certainly expect to be travelling this road alone. Yet it has never been so, and it is doubtful I’d be penning this now had things been otherwise.

The dog-headed demon awakened us from our sorcerous 160-year torpor. That I cannot gainsay. But why?

Since our flight from Zareth’s dungeon, events have largely spun outside our control, with little time for planning, or to reclaim the initiative. We had to get free of the Shadovar dungeon. In our ignorance of this new world, we stumbled into the desert and I was blinded (along with Liam) by sand-scorpions while saving a merchant named Shaffar. Joining Shaffar’s ‘caravan’ we then stumbled into a deadly shade-infested sandstorm. Forced to bargain with an illithid at the oasis, allowing the alien being to scan our minds (though I did my best to shield my innermost secrets) we renewed our sight. Knowing the illithid was apt to betray us for coin, since we refused to pay its absurd demands to buy its silence, we knew we could not tarry at the oasis. It was time we made plans and became actors in this deadly play, rather than forever reacting to our opponents

During our travels our Kara-Turan companion Shinzu revealed one layer of the mystery,  speaking of a Tesseract Mirror that holds Memnon the fabled Efreet trapped. The Shade Emperor seeks it, and hating Shade Shinzu wants it, to shatter it and open the Dragon Door between worlds (and go back in time). Shinzu said she has been tasked by one Zhian Go, to pass through that Door and prevent the return of Aumanator’s Crown to the Matins. This would rebalance the world’s Powers, for Shar gained mightily from the sudden fall of Sune, Selune, and especially Lathander Morninglord.

Taking the initiative, as we thought, we forwent Shaffar’s advice to travel to Shazuul, and instead pursued a more dangerous plan. I recalled the hidden enclave of my old master Pendaster, a place I had seen mere glimpses of as a student – but I was convinced the old mage kept a prodigious cache of lore there, and would have kept compiling more until the end. I convinced my companions to accompany me there and we teleported to Silverymoon – to a familiar place from my youth, a rocky cleft in the woods outside town.

There we assisted the dwarf-mage Erised with some orc-trouble, and made another ally (a rare thing in this time). Erised, a temperamental but ultimately benign fellow, knew of Arnold’s uncle Reggie. Thanks to Arnold’s nigh-mystical ability to charm folk, Erised gifted us with information and a coin of teleportation (of a single use).

Silverymoon, my beautiful, dear old home, was now a shadowy industrial wasteland ruled by Shade. Entering the Lady’s College by stealth, Amra’s wild-magic, and teleportation, we evaded a horrid ghostly mother-with-child apparition that doggedly followed us. Inside, an awful demon of might known as a bebelith assailed us, and we defeated it, largely by the strength of arms of Shinzu and Liam. This bebelith was not ‘ordinary’ though – rather it was of shadowy aspect, and haunted our dreams for a night – until I removed the curse by arcane force.

I bypassed my old master’s puzzles and traps, and freed Arnold and Liam from the magical ‘punishment cubicle for misbehaving students’ used by my old master, whom it must be admitted had a twisted sense of humor. Moving down into Pendaster’s secret stronghold, we encountered a clan of bizarre mushroom-men, myconids to be precise, which was time-consuming and unfortunate (for them). The caryatid columns triggered by Amra’s earth-gliding trespass were far deadlier, but by dint of the druid’s powerful magics and the formidable rebounding death-stone Arnold casts at enemies, the constructs were rubble soon, and we stood – alive, if not unhurt. Thanks be, as ever, that we had Amra’s healing to put us back on our feet!

In my old master’s library and study I found much lore and arcane spells, many more questions than answers, but we had new choices now. Also, we had a hidden base should we be able to hold it. I scanned the most important-seeming pennings in Pendaster’s journal first, and although most of it was puzzling, these things were clear:

x – Uncle Reggie did not die, at least not when Arnold thought, and was a Harper, along with Pendaster.

x – Reggie travelled with a friendly Drow (the famed Drizzt Do’Urden?), and spoke of another same named Phlugarr, who lived with the High Forest with the Wood Elves.

x – Reggie was last known to be in the Anauroch with a drow companion, seeking Memnon beneath the Finger Obelisk, to free him and awaken a ‘Thing of the Deeper Dark’.

x – Reggie requested Water Breathing, Flying, Fire Protection spells, as well as a ‘Ring Arcane’ as a key.

x – Reggie suspected Memnon’s Tomb lay beneath the Anauroch lakes known as the ‘Hand of Amaunator’.

x – Pendaster, apparently now in the dungeons beneath Candlekeep, had undergone a ‘transformation’ to stay alive. Lichdom Perhaps? The process seems to have addled his mind…

x – Pendaster seeks me, and there seemed some belief that I was the Emperor of Shade? Is this madness?

We had little time for contemplation or research, though, for when we’d awakened from a much-needed rest recovering from the bloody wounds of battle, we soon noted Shinzu’s absence.

Descending into the chasm (for that way did Shinzu’s tracks lead) as soon as I had a chance to prepare my spells for the day, Amra transported the party to the base of the dark cleft some 150 feet below in wind-elemental form. We soon found the missing Shinzu, but were far from prepared for this deep cavern’s inhabitant, Shinzu’s abductor.

A black-scaled dragon of majestic size strode forth from the darkness casually, releasing Shinzu disdainfully and breathing gouts of flame playfully above our heads. When the beast dispelled two of my defensive spells I knew we were in deep trouble. Liam attempted parlay but that is ever a suicidal option, where such a mighty foe is concerned. Indeed I turned invisible (successfully, I might add), preparing for the worst sort of fight, and when the dragon looked me straight in the eye I fairly assumed death was soon to follow. This was an Underworld Dragon, as far as I could tell, an evil and rare breed, not known to grow so large – of hope, I had little.

Thanks be to the glib tongue of Arnold Brandyken, who kept the monster entertained with his rapier wit long enough for me to speak our tale. When word of Uncle Reggie and Pendaster arose, the dragon’s demeanor gradually and shockingly changed to … almost friendly!

So it was that I learned that quiet, crotchety, oft-overlooked Jenkin, caretaker of the Lady’s College, turned out to be an ancient dragon of the Underdark. Moreover, this was a staunch ally of my old master’s, and by association Uncle Reggie. My mind still fairly reels … for this was not revelation enough: the dragon confirmed that my doppelganger was indeed Emperor Erevard, consort of Shar and Master of the World!

Jenkin, who preferred Fandruzsch, pledged his aid and counsel. But our next move was to address more immediate needs: we needed food, meat for Shuiba the tiger and sustenance for us all. We bade farewell to Fandruzsch and used Pendaster’s  teleportation circle to appear in the Silverwood, seeking to hunt game and thence make way into Silverymoon as simple hunters. Shuiba was left behind to guard the library.

But this is a perilous world, now more than ever, and before the hunting could begin our scouts heard whimpering and crying ahead. Arnold disappeared into the wood with such skill a ghost would be jealous, and motioned for us to do the same. Acting as bait, something he would regret moments later, Liam stood the path with Kukri raised. A band of orcs rushed him when they saw the fighter, and they brought friends: a great 2-headed ettin, a pair of ogres, and a fell orc-witch of some sort. I cast Mirror Image and waited.

The skiprock of Arnold rained death in the ensuing ambush, and Liam and Sinzu held the center, raining deadly fists and razor-sharp blades. But the tide soon turned: massive strikes from the ogre and ettin drew wells of blood from Liam; Shinzu tripped on a loose stone and faltered in her dance through the monsters’ guard, drawing easy strikes from them in succession that reduced her to near-unconsciousness. With the fighters near death, another blow came in the form of a massive Flame Strike as the orc shamaness called upon her evil deities to annihilate us. I was caught in the center, deeply burned by the unholy flame, and reeling. This was not going well…

We gathered ourselves, rallying behind the bravery of the fighters, the hit-and-fade tactics of the deadly rock-throwing halfling, and the lightning-strikes called down from an angry sky by Amra the druid. I myself released my doubts and focused on raining destruction on these evil orcs! First, an ice-ball to kill and extinguish the unholy flames that had caught in the trees. Next a Chain Lightning to seize hearts and thews.

Amra leapt ahead in wind-elemental form to assail the dangerous orc-witch, while Shinzu and Liam fought with every last breath, near to death but unbowed. Shinzu, I am certain would have died – but she seemed to have some astounding ‘self-healing’ power. The orc-witch was cunning, though, and cast a spell of Confusion on the half-orc druid. I myself was watching my mirror-images dwindle as the ogre and orcs scythed at me, but I slowly withdrew and maneuvered to assail the witch.

It was a desperate battle with inches dictating the difference between life and death, but ultimately Arnold, Shinzu, and Liam cleaned-up the orcs, ettin, and ogres.

Seeing me approaching, the orc-witch quaffed a potion and became invisible. But I was prepared: I cast Glitterdust immediately and she reappeared, blinded by the glitter as was her orc-bodyguard. Amra warned the approaching Shinzu that he was not in his right mind, but he fought the confusion spell well, ultimately finding the will to pick-up the hapless orc-witch in a whirlwind. Her death came soon after as the party converged on her with intense prejudice.

Sadly, this fight caused be to use up my much-valued Snapleaf and a Potion of Flying to escape from Orcish axes. The Potion of Invisibility we found among their treasures was only partial compensation for this (although my life was well worth the saving!).

In any case, back to Tipwill’s tale:

We kept one blinded orc to question, which turned out to be fruitless, but the source of the whimpering was revealed to be 6 human waifs taken as captives, who begged only to be returned home. Liam, bloodied as he was, nevertheless focused on the sextet enthusiastically. In questioning the girls gently, we learned:

x – Mysha (16) is the leader; we are headed for her parents’ rented farmstead.  Her parents are Kourosh (father) and Nedah (mother).  She has bright blonde hair, piercing blue eyes, and speaks with a lisp.

x – Kala (18), daughter of Malakai, a smith in Silverymoon.  Her mother has been missing for 16 years, believed dead.  Her long, red, curly hair is in tangles, and she keeps trying to untangle it, cursing under her breath.

x – Kymm (17) an orphan; she worked at the ‘Tall Halfling Rooming and Public House’ as a kitchen wench.  The owner, an unusually tall halfling by the name of Grindelman, was kindly and took her in off the streets 3 years ago, and has been like a father to her.  Kymm mentions Grindleman has no love for the Shadovaar.  She is the smallest of the girls, her fine features framed by pin straight, jet black hair.

x – BreAnn (19), the tallest of the group, stands nearly 6 feet tall.  Her brown hair is tied back in a long, now-unkempt braid.  Her parents own a small home in Silverymoon.  She comes from means, but does not know what her father, Eustace, or mother, Perinel, do for a living.  Eustace does disappear for weeks at a time and often return with large amounts of coin and baubles for his daughter.

x – Vekken (17) barely speaks, and is constantly playing with her brown hair when she’s not chewing it.  Terribly shy, and shaken by the experience, her eyes constantly well up with tears.  She, barely audibly, told us her parents are Phogrun (father) and Morridan (mother).  Phrogun and Morridan both work as custodians Rhyester’s Matins.

x – Petula (18) is a buxom, raven haired girl.  She was very obviously lying when she told us of her parents and described them as spice merchants.  Kymm whispered to us that she recognizes her as a ‘working girl’ from ‘The Alleys’: the seedier part of Silverymoon where Kymm, herself, was saved by Grindelman.

What next, you might ask? On that I’ve had some ideas. Rescuing these poor young women may prove to be luckier for us than finding a three-eyed pelican in a shoebox, if not more so! I’m think our plan might look something like this:

First, we speak to Mysha’s parents, find out what they know, and ask to eat and spend the night.  We distribute a share of the orc loot (40gp) to Mysha’s family. This itself probably represents a month’s income, so it should earn further gratitude. We similarly distribute the rest to the other girls and their families as we return them.
silverymoonfarms

We must continue to impress on the girls the need for secrecy. We assess if any might be recruited into a spy network of sorts (“Liam’s Angels”)—certainly MyshaKymm, and Petula, and possibly Kala. We’ll need to assess how willing and reliable they seem. We can arrange a system of drops where they might leave information for us.

Tall HalflingThe next morning, we lead the remaining girls into the city. We and they go in some disguise, and we perhaps briefly split the party, so as to not arouse attention.

Within Silverymoon, I believe we should first approach Grindelman (Kymm’s guardian), who has no love for the Shadowvar and who has also an inn that we might use as a local safehouse. As an innkeeper he would also be an excellent source of information.

We also seek what information he might have on the airships (without giving away our ignorance of such things).

laughingskuaWe then return the other girls (or let them return). We ask Petula where it is she lives—making it clear we know she’s not telling the truth, and that honesty is her best policy.

If Grindelman is agreeable, I might permanently rent a room from him. This would be our teleport point. I would claim to be his idiot cousin, and occasionally work in his inn (while collecting information).

We collect what materials we need, and sell some of our excess equipment. We might investigate the slavers, but our priority remains the Dragon Door (although I’ll admit more doubts in that regard than a bee has knees). I think our next visit should be the Candlekeep, likely via airship, but I’m content to let Tipwill and Shinzu decide our grand strategy, since they knows far more of these things than I do.

Finally, we ask our redoubtable druid Amra to pay careful notes of the location of local vegetation in these and all our travels, so that he might recall it should he (and we) ever need to travel by plant (a remarkable ability he claims to have).