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).

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Dragon Doors

It’s been some time since I’ve posted in this diary–and so much has happened . But today I remembered a song that Uncle Reggie always used to sing, and it seemed strangely important.

“Oh brother, here are we now standing before a dragon door.
Do we dare to open it and unleash what ever hell might lie beyond?
If behind this door lays the future than we must press on.
For is this hall of hell not the way humanity has pushed down for all its time? And here we are now standing at ends with the ability to make a future.”

“Oh brother, surely not all of society has come down this way.
Do we dare to open it and unleash what ever hell might lie beyond?
If beyond this door lays the future than let progress die and us live.
For is this world so evil that it will let us decide if the whole world ends? And here we are standing at the great decision with the choice to live.”

“Than let us decide for the better of the world and strive for better lives. We will never know hardship again.”

“But why must we fatten ourselves for the butcher to come in the eventual end? I say we lay down our pathetic attempts to create paradise
And build better people instead of machines.”

“But we are flawed and always will be so why work on a canvass filled with holes? I say we create a new world where life is obsolete
And build a future without flaw.”

john_howe_the_door_of_night

Into the Darkness

portal.jpg“Look before you leap,” my mum used to say. She wasn’t the only one, of course–that particular turn of phrase can be found in a thousand tongues in a thousand lands. “Aim before release,” the Wood Elves say. “Watch fer rocks afore ye watch fer gold,” say the Dwarves. “Better an eye for the Nightwatch than a year in gaol,” whisper the guildfellows of Waterdeep. Or, as my good friend Kordite von Boom often says, “Never mix without ducking.”

Well, despite my best instincts I did leap before looking—following Hedge and my fellow adventurers through the portal in the abberrants’ lair, knowing not what was on the other side. And, as a result, brave Shen now lies dead.

We had finally found Shen an hour or so earlier, wandering disoriented in the cavern of the mournful golem that Hedge and I had tried so hard to avoid. With the monks’ martial skills added to our own, and with the help of evil-dragon-Mayzine-turned-slightly-less-evil (more on that later) we had triumphed this time against the foul construct, although not without injuries. Pleased to be once more back together as a party, we had then retired to the Grell laboratory, conversed a moment, and then moved through the portal

The portal… well, you see, there was nothing on the other side of that portal. More precisely, there was a starry night sky, and a fall of a hundred feet or so through the darkness into a crater below. I had feared what might await us at our destination, and and even mentioned my concerns to my companions. However, with everyone else so brave and bold I felt self-conscious with my warnings and usual halfling caution, and so leapt into the arcane blackness. In an instant, I found myself in another place, plummeting towards the hard ground. Mayzine, whose leathery dragonwings had soon caught her fall, might have caught me too, but declined to do so. It would seem she has not entirely abandoned the path of evil, in my book at least.

Shen had proceeded me and was lying in a bloody, bruised mess on the ground when he heard my cries of alarm. Without hesitation or thought for himself, he positioned himself to break my fall—and, in so doing took some of the harm meant for me. It was, as I have come to expect of this monk, a supremely selfless act.

Although we all survived the fall, it left us battered and ill prepared for the next dangers that we might face. We were deep in a huge bowl-shaped depression, formed in some mighty explosion that had destroyed the old Dwarven mines we had been exploring only days (weeks? months?) earlier. The ground seemed polished smooth, perhaps scooped away to another plane or melted like glass in the heat of a great cataclysm. A strange dark mist swirled about our feet.

It was out of this mist that our attackers came: a gigantic dark spider, and its smaller eight-legged companions. It was then that I realised our magicks did not function here, and that Uncle Reggie’s skiprock and other weapons secured within my Belt of Thingyness were beyond reach. As Hedge reached for his swords, I grabbed his crossbow and bolts, hoping thereby to contribute to the battle to come. Ash gripped his mace, its divine powers temporarily quietened. And Shen–once more, selfless and brave–catapulted himself forward to confront our many-legged foe.

He was wounded, though. Wounded, you see, from his fight with the golem, from his fall, and from catching me. In a stronger state, he would no doubt have vanquished this beast, as he had so many dark creatures before. This time, however, he was struck down. Struck down dead.

It is odd that it should have moved me so, for I have seen death before. It is odd too that I should feel such an affinity for this honest and ascetic monk when so much of my own life has been spent in bars and taverns, among thieves and confidence tricksters, and in relocating objects of value to better places. Yet his simple moral code, his very basic sense of right of wrong, has something very hin to it. He is–or was–as straight as a gooseneck down a plughole, as the expression goes. Only his sometimes stern demeanor, excessive height, rapid pace, peculiar parentage, intolerance for creature comforts, whirling-hands-of-death, ability to glow, preference for non-alcoholic beverages, general inability to play the harmonica or to convince people he’s a visiting noble or tax collector or traveling gem-appraiser, lack of curiousity about what lies in other folks’ pockets, ignorance of the classics of literature (notable Harry Heliofont and the Magnificent Golden Badger), bald feet, and negligible experience with barmaids, grappling hooks, handcuffs, or a criminal record marked him as any different from a hundred halflings that I have known.

In any event, this was not the time for mourning. We scarcely had time to react to the sight of the monk’s broken lifeless body laying prone in the dark moonlit mist when the huge spider grabbed Tip, and started to flee with our mage. We wounded the monstrosity grievously, but evidently not enough. It vanished into the shadows. Two of our rapidly-dwindling party were now gone.

Curiously, the spider actually vanished too–clearly shadow magicks, or the things that exist between The Weave, function in such dead zones where other mystical powers do not. I shall have to ask Tip about it–when and if we find him. I am hopeful we will. Presuming that the creature does not immediately snap off his head, drink his bodily fluids, and discard his lifeless drained husk of a body in its lair, I doubt that a spider can long keep possession of a mage of Tipwill’s intelligence, especially should it wander somewhere where his arcane abilities once more function. I can only hope too that the time (and cheese) that I have spent in secret training sessions with Professor Sniddle on gem-filching and rope gnawing will prove useful. In any case, we have no way of tracking where he is, or where he has been taken (although I’ll ask that cursed Mayzine to scout for him and the spider come daybreak).

For now, therefore, the priority is Shen, We must take him forthwith to somewhere where he might be be brought back from the netherlands of death–perhaps at the nearby Dwarven hospice (if it still functions following the cataclysm), or Sundabar, or if not there surely in Silverymoon. Sadly, with our mage captured and our spells useless for now in any case, we can hardly magick ourselves there. Instead we’ve fashioned a simple litter, and we will carry the body of our fallen companion as far as is necessary.

And I, for one, shall find someway of repaying him. I have no way of knowing, of course, whether the damage he took from my fall made the difference, or whether he would have been vanquished anyway. Indeed, that’s quite the point: he didn’t plot or plan or balance the risks and dangers, but simply and with his typical courage did what he thought was right. The Harpers have a saying, or so Uncle Reggie used to say: “Do good.” I had always thought it rather trite, and far too simple. But that’s the thing, you see–for the truly good, it is simple indeed.

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.

A History of Skiprocks (Part 1: Origins)

As Uncle Reggie and I used to spend long hours polishing our skiprocks before a competition, or sometimes as we enjoyed an ale or three down at our local brew-hall, he would recount to me in great detail all he knew, or thought he knew, of the origins and evolution of our ancestral sport.

At the time I put it down to his advancing years, a natural desire to set his small place in the world against the backdrop of our people and their history. Now that I know more of his past, I see in these talks his Harper predilection to learn, to record, to protect and preserve knowledge as much as one might protect the weak and vulnerable. Given my less than happy experience at school, I had given scant thought to the value of knowing the past, something that I associated with dusty books and unsympathetic tutors. Instead, the knowledge that seemed important to me was of the here and now, of staying a step ahead, of finding an advantage. As my Uncle would ramble my mind would wander, or my youthful attention would be drawn to an attractive barmaid or a handsome purse.

I wish now I had paid more attention to him. Now that he’s gone, the least I can do it try to record what he tried to tell me.

On Their Origins

There is, as one might expect, no real written record of when we Hin first used skiprocks, although it seems likely that they were first arose in Luiren long ago as a hunting weapon, where their skip could be used to great advantage among the deer herds and quail coveys so plentiful in the Rift. It seems likely too that contests soon arose within and between clans and caravans as to who could best master the skill, and that in turn those artisans who could craft them best were sought out for their handiwork. There are many oral tales among my people that refer to them, in passing or as a central part of the story. It is said too that the only Hin to ever manage a sextuple skip was Brandobaris himself, wandering the land in avatar form during the Time of Troubles.

There is little in the way of written Hin history, and so it comes as no suprise that the first written records of the skiprock are human, and a little over a thousand years old. The third volume of the Annals of Myth Drannor records that, in 294—a scant decade after the first Hin migrated through the portal to that legendary city—a Hin watchman named Lurkin Kinlur used one (oddly termed a “bouncebludgen” in the text) to fell two drow assassins fleeing the city. Uncle Reggie, it must be said, was always doubtful of the veracity of this tale, despite the considerable weight placed on the Annals by the human sages. To him it seemed a little too coincidental that a Hin so famed would conveniently be named “Stonequick Quickstone” in our native tongue.

What is certain, however, that Hin slingers in the army of Myth Drannor did use the weapon five hundred years later, during the Year of the Despairing Elves, to break up massed charges of worgs, orcs and goblins. A woodcut from the period, now on display in the museum at the University of Silverymoon, shows a slinger apparently using a skiprock to strike at foes besetting his dwarven and elven fighting companions.

The first publication on Skiprocks was Ezikiel’s Guide to Stones, Their Skipping, and Their Most Careful Manufacture, published in Beluir around about 1137, but which only found its way to the Hin communities of the northwest many decades later. As one might expect from a Strongheart publication, its tone is focused and disciplined, directed largely to the crafting of skiprocks and their employment for hunting and war, and including as an appendix a comprehensive summary of rules to be applied in contests. It is evident from this text, that Luirenian Hin have long used the skiprock as an auxiliary to bow and sling in battle, and that the hand-thrown tricks developed among the Lightfoot communities of the Sword Coast have deep roots in serious conflict as well as popular community entertainment.

Uncle Reggie was never able to find a copy of this book, much to his frustration. I too have never seen it, but only have heard tell of its contents, like him, from elders who claim to have read from its pages in their youth or travels south. I’m sure a copy could be found in Beluir. Once current mysteries are solved, and current evils confronted, I hope to voyage there, and to find a copy to study the lore and history he tried so hard to teach a distracted young nephew.

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….